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Chapter 7

Aboard Mally, somewhere in hyperspace

This place is kind of eerie. I can't put my finger on it, but there is something evil in the air.
—Waron Danstari

Evening Delwynn sat quietly in her office, reclined in her chair. These moments were fleeting for her. As always, Mally entering hyperspace en route to some work-driven destination provided a few short moments for the weary agent to have some personal, quiet time to rest and refocus. It would not be too long before the ship, carrying the crew, would arrive somewhere within the Eriadu system and work would resume with force. Until then, Evening simply had a few moments to rest. Not just physical rest, however. Mental rest.

Following her relaxation ritual, Evening rose after clearing her mind and walked toward the hallway door. Instead of opening it, however, she unlocked it and locked it again, insuring its security. Then, she sidestepped and looked at the holopictures upon the small shelf. The one on the right was an image of herself sitting with a small Human girl in her lap, both facing forward. The young one in the picture was only eight years of age, just shy of her ninth birthday. Evening recalled the moment she held the girl, her arms draped over the young one's shoulders, holding each others hands in the small girl's lap. The two were smiling in the picture, happy, the wind blowing Evening's hair, while the small girl had hers braided down on both sides, the wind not able to overcome the weight.

In some ways, each passing case made viewing this image more and more difficult. The memory of the moment, etched so clearly in Evening's mind, had not faded even the slightest. But, it also seemed almost a touch more surreal with each adventure. The emotions in that captured instant had been so-long ignored due to the busyness of working for the GIN. Also, with more and more time separating that moment from her present, the event began to take on more mythical qualities in her mind. It was a moment that Evening pointed to with great care and happiness; it was one of the few that she chose to cling to. Of all her memories, this was one of her most dear. Nevertheless, each case also made viewing the image more easy, as it provided a measure of purpose. Deep within Evening's soul was a desire for vindication and justice. It was the engine within her that kept the agent working. In some ways, the little girl seemed to speak to her each time, reminding the agent 'to fight for all of us who cannot anymore.'

Evening sidestepped again, moving once again to her left, and peered at the second holopicture. After a couple minutes of recollecting upon the three individuals in that picture, she turned to her left, engaged a door to her sleeping quarters and proceeded through it. Viewing the pictures welled up such sadness within the agent. Yet, it also reinforced her purpose: she was ready to bring the next "scumbag" to justice. She privately hoped the mystery man on the computer in the lab would be one of the next. That man has been a burden for eleven years. 'No more will he escape my grasp,' Evening thought. 'No more.'

The agent took off her gray overcoat and tossed it on a chair, next to the bed. After using the refresher, she calmly laid on the bed and turned the lights off. She gazed down at her feet, shoes still on, the doorway to her office barely visible in the near-darkness. Evening was a bit anxious about the trip to Eriadu and simply clapped her feet together for a few minutes. While she almost regarded it as childish, she found the thick sound from the sides of the soft soles clapping together amusing. At that instant, the small girl from the holopicture snapped back into her mind, doing the same thing, in playful imitation. Evening smiled, then shed a tear. Deciding it better to sleep for a while, she kicked off her shoes and rolled onto her side. Clearing her mind of anything she could, the agent closed her eyes and fell asleep.

— — —

Beeping from the control panel woke Danstari as he napped in the pilot's seat of the cockpit. He had freshened himself, eaten a small meal, and returned to the cockpit. The boredom of hyperspace lulled him into a light sleep, but the beeping indicated that the ship was approaching the Eriadu system. He quickly surveyed the sensors to make certain Mally was prepared to exit hyperspace safely. Once he was complete, he sat at a ready position, hands on the steering column.

The vessel exited hyperspace and a yellow star appeared in the transparisteel window with numerous celestial bodies around it. Still on autopilot, the ship veered to the starboard side, heading for a green and blue planet that orbited fourth from the primary star. As Mally approached the planet, Eriadu, Agent Delwynn entered the cockpit. A medium-sized space station was seen in orbit as the approached continued.

"Danstari, casually head for that space station," Agent Delwynn commanded.

"Right on it, boss," Danstari replied, taking the vessel off autopilot and taking control manually. He flew the craft toward the space station and sought permission to land in the landing bay.

"I'm sorry, but your vessel is not recognized in our registry logs. We cannot permit you access to the station," spoke a monotone voice over the communicator.

Delwynn quickly grabbed the device from Danstari and stretched the wire, which was attached to the dashboard, to its maximum.

"This is Colonel Evening Cara," the agent spoke. "I am a Republic Official working on behalf of the Senate. We are returning to Coruscant from a meeting with various Republic officials on the fringes of the Outer Rim, including a member of the Jedi Council. We need access to the planet's surface so we can refuel, make some quick repairs, and tend to some business before proceeding."

"One moment please," the voice responded.

"Is our cover blown?" Danstari asked.

"No," Delwynn responded. "I think I was vague enough."

"You didn't exactly tell the truth," the lieutenant stated.

"I didn't exactly lie," the agent retorted sharply.

"Colonel Evening Cara?" Danstari asked.

"Yes," she replied, smiling wryly. "My maiden name. I haven't used it in years."

"Maiden name?" the lieutenant asked, turning his gaze toward the agent standing slightly behind him, to his right. "You're married?"

"Not the time, Danstari," Delwynn retorted flatly. "Stay focused."

"They are not going to give us access," Danstari replied.

"Yes they will," the agent explained. "We don't need access to the space station, but we need unrestricted access to the planet."

"I don't follow, boss," the lieutenant commented.

"You'll see, Danstari," Delwynn replied, letting out a deep sigh.

"Colonel Cara," the monotone voice finally responded after moments of silence. "You have been given clearance. According to the Republic ordinances, you are permitted to land at military installations and other Republic secure facilities except Level Eight and Nine facilities. The codes are being beamed to your ship. The Republic defense base outside Phelar is hosting war games. Land there at your own risk."

"See, Danstari?" Delwynn said upon hearing the voice.

"Did you set this up?" the lieutenant inquired.

"No, I looked up Republic protocol for landing on Eriadu. That space station is a Republic monitoring outpost."

"Oh. Still, why the pseudonym?"

"What pseudonym?"

"Colonel Evening Cara?"

"Just head for Eriadu City Naval Base."

"On it, boss."

Agent Delwynn turned and left the cockpit, leaving Danstari alone to work. He calmly piloted the ship down toward the planet surface. He spotted the capital city and the naval base just outside of it. There, he slowly landed, on a landing pad about four stories above the surface. The pad was attached to was a silver-colored building, only about six stories in height, lined with six rows of transparisteel windows. It was square at its base and top, but the exterior walls were angled inward so the base was wider. The landing pad was along an outside wall that featured several others. Each pad looked more like an extended balcony than an isolated deck.

Danstari parked the craft and secured its landing gear. He shut off the engine, grabbed his blaster, badge, and datapad and departed the cockpit. By the time he reached the rear of the ship, the other members of the team were already beginning to depart the craft down the port-side ramp. The lieutenant followed suit, walking behind the others, in a single file-line, Emra in front of him. Once stepping out onto the surface of the landing pad, the ramp rose back into the ship and locked. Agent Delwynn then silently lead the team into the building and down a sterile white corridor. Upon reaching the end of the corridor, which had no doors or windows and only a line of lights that bisected the ceiling, Danstari noticed that it intersected with another, identical corridor. The only difference was that this new corridor appeared to have doors every few meters.

Delwynn turned to the right and the team followed suit. Danstari saw Shalli and Asana moving and quickly tried to follow suit, only to trip over Emra. The lieutenant lost his balance and fell against the hard, cold wall. The droid beeped and then fell in tow. Danstari, his back against the wall, arms extended to keep his balance, re-centered his body weight and followed the team as they progressed. After passing about three doors on the left, there finally appeared a door on the right. Delwynn stopped outside the door, not making a sound. Asana and Shalli huddled close, while Emra and Danstari caught up.

With everyone near the door, Delwynn pressed something into her data-communicator. A light flashed from the screen against the agent's face as she looked at the device. Danstari turned his attention to the door, curious to their location and why no one seemed to be around. The place was hauntingly sterile: white walls with no ornamentation, plain beige tile floor, flat gray durasteel ceiling, a single row of lights in the ceiling which was continuous. The corridors were also narrow, only about a meter-and-a-half wide, the same as the corridors on the Mally.

The door in front of him was nondescript, as well, with no special markings indicating any importance. In fact, there were no signs, or lettering anywhere that had been seen thus far. It was almost as if it had been abandoned. Danstari kept peering down the corridor to both ends, not seeing any droids, trash containers, computer ports, or vermin. The place was simply empty. Hauntingly empty.

Delwynn had a sly smirk as she reached toward the top-right corner of the doorway. Not able to reach all the way, she waved her hand near it. A three red lights in the center of the door began to glow. The origins of the light were definitely within the metal of the door, but this portion appeared to have a special sensor. The agent reached toward the glowing lights, touching the left light first, followed by the right. After touching the right light once, she touched it again, then the center light, followed by the left light. Last, she touched the center light. With that, an unlatching sound was heard the and door whisked open.

Inside was a small room, two meters by two meters wide. It was the same chilling sterile white color, with a door along the right wall which appeared identical to the one Delwynn had just opened. The agent walked into the small room and followed a similar procedure to open the second door. The lieutenant could not see the code, but saw the door open. He followed the rest of the team inside, as they followed Delwynn.

The main room inside was a large expanse, with windows along the outer wall. The room had small cubicle dividers which were about one meter tall. The room stretched from the original entrance hallway to where they had entered. It had ten cubicles in the center of the room arranged in two rows of five, each with desks and chairs. Tables and computer equipment was laced along the similarly styled walls. A remarkable thing in this room, for the lieutenant, was the view of Mally on the landing deck. It could be seen clearly from the room, as the pad was immediately outside the floor-to-ceiling window. In fact, part of the landing pad connected to the building about one meter from the far wall, indicating that the entry corridor was in fact right there.

Just like the rest of the building that had been seen, this room was empty and bland looking. That did not stop from Delwynn from taking a cubicle and unpacking the small bag she had.

"Let's get to work," we said. "EIE meeting begins tonight. Emra, set these doors to unlock so we don't have to keep going through that madness."

"What meeting, boss?" Danstari asked, walking toward the cubicles.

"The business meeting for Eriadu Interstellar Enterprises," Asana answered. "Oh, Delwynn, I still can't track that name. It seems like he is trying to hide."

"Trying to hide?" Danstari queried. "Is it even possible to hide anymore in the Republic?"

"If you really wanted to," Shalli replied, staring curiously at the lieutenant.

Danstari quit. He figured he would find out what was happening soon enough. He was more concerned with the vacancy of the building.

"So, no one else is around?" he inquired.

Silence filled the room. After a few short moments, Danstari chuckled. Silence from everyone about the building being empty. Humorous, in an ironic way.

"Have nothing to do, Danstari?" Delwynn chimed.

"No, boss," he replied. "Not at the moment."

"Then, get back to the ship and change."

"Change?"

"Yes, you and Asana are going to the opera tonight."

"We are?"

Delwynn was visibly irritated at the exchange and walked over to Danstari, who was now standing next to a row of cubicles.

"Fine, I'll brief you now. You both are going to the first part, then slipping out to help secure our surveillance of the meeting room. Shalli and I are going to search for Regueny within that complex while you both take in part of a show. While you're there, we need you to keep an eye on the dignitaries and follow them if needed. I want pictures of all the big-wigs sent to Emra so she can search for their identities."

"I take it that this is our forward command."

"Yes. Go back to the ship and change. You two will meet in the meeting room when she's ready to go. Get going!"

Danstari turned and began walking out of the room, leaving his datapad and blaster on the desk.

"Forgetting something?" Shalli inquired.

Danstari stopped cold in his tracks and patted his sides. As soon as he turned around, Shalli tossed the blaster at him with the Force. The lieutenant reacted quickly and grabbed it mere a finger-width from his face. Shalli laughed, as Danstari glared harshly at the mischievous Omwati.

"Shalli, you too." Delwynn said, pointing toward the doorway. "Asana and I can finish up here."

The Omwati snapped to an obliging bow, then proceeded toward the doorway. Danstari, still unamused by the prank with the blaster, turned and walked beside the Omwati. The doorframes, too narrow for two provided Danstari a means of offering displeasing glares to the Jedi. Shalli just walked ahead of the lieutenant, ignoring his gestures and providing no facial expressions of her own.

The pair walked back to the Mally. Pressing a button on a remote sensor, Danstari unlocked the ship and the port-side ramp lowered.

"This place is kind of eerie," Danstari remarked. "I can't put my finger on it, but there is something evil in the air."

"Maybe," Shalli replied, walking toward the ramp. "Maybe you are just anticipating something evil."

"No," Danstari explained, "its not like that. It like the atmosphere is ghostly."

Back inside the base, Asana had finished setting up a mobile command station with the computers available. Emra, at her feet, had linked the systems and brought them online. Delwynn was standing over the Twi'lek's shoulder, watching how it worked. Asana kept smiling as she finished activating the final computer.

"These machines are now able to receive any remote signal we send it from anywhere within the city or base," Asana proclaimed.

"Good," Delwynn replied. "We have the various cameras and imagers in the cargo hold, right?"

"Yes, all that stuff is still there. I believe it is right next to your box of extra clothes. Speaking of which, you haven't looked in there for…"

"Asana…"

"Sorry. Anyway, this set up should operate remotely with no assistance."

"Should Emra stay, just in case?"

"That's your call, Delwynn. The room is properly secured?"

"It is supposed to be. We are supposedly in a secure facility on a secure naval base."

"Yeah, but where are all the defense personnel? They're is no one around at all."

"Look, I'm simply trusting the Republic just as much as you are."

"Yeah, well, I'm not sure. My paycheck was late last month."

Delwynn laughed. "Fine, let's get back to the ship. Emra can stay here. After all, you have to get dressed for the opera."

Chapter 8

Eriadu City, Eriadu

Asana, we have a problem… I think Delwynn needs to see this.
—Shalli

Lieutenant Waron Danstari piloted a red airspeeder through the trafficways of Eriadu City. Coming from the naval base, he wove through traffic recklessly, trying to speed ahead of the congestion. After traveling over a small hill, he saw his destination: the complex known as Seswenna Hall. The building was a sprawling complex that featured a large concert hall, arena, luxury hotel, and convention center. It was the host of all the major events which passed through the Eriadu system and was called the "crown jewel" of the planet. The concert hall area was a large hexagon shaped building that connected to a towering cylindrical hotel by a two story network of hallways and meeting rooms. From the outside, the hexagon was made of a grey and white stone which sparkled even in the twilight of the setting sun. The hotel was about thirty stories in height, featuring a contrasting blue-tinted glass posterior that glistened as well. The network of meeting rooms was a hybrid in style: stone frame with tall square glass windows in columns which encompassed both stories.

Inside the speeder, the lieutenant was growing frustrated as he continued zipping in and out of the traffic lanes, which passed through a parkland of open grass and a few trees. The traffic was moving very slowly upon approach to the Hall, as thousands of vehicles poured into the complex's parking facilities. Danstari's frustration eventually manifested itself across his face and frequently raised the vehicle's altitude to pass what he perceived as overly cautious drivers, only to suddenly drop in front of them, leaving precious little room between vehicles. Asana, sitting next to the lieutenant was less than thrilled with his driving. She clutched the safety harness, clinching her eyes closed. Every few seconds, she opened them merely to see the progress toward the Hall.

Finally, the vehicle entered the parking areas and the lieutenant parked the vehicle. Asana breathed a sigh of relief, wanting to jump out of the vehicle and kiss the duracrete that paved the parking area. The lieutenant exited first, leaving the Twi'lek an opportunity to express her disgust aloud. As the driver's-side door closed, she let out an audible but indiscernible mumble of displeasure before opening her door. However, the young Twi'lek saw Waron approach her door and paused. Opening it, the lieutenant attempted a charming smirk and held out his hand.

"Help for a lady," he smarted.

"What makes you think I need it?" Asana quipped.

"I never said you needed help, Asana," Waron replied. "Just trying to do the courteous thing, tonight."

"Is that so?" the Twi'lek replied, grabbing the lieutenant's hand and ascending out of the speeder, the skirt of her bright tan-colored dress ruffling in the breeze. "Well, you better keep it up all night, or the boss will know. Now, my handbag?"

Waron Danstari chuckled at Asana's comment for a moment and grabbed the matching bag from the airspeeder seat. It was heavier than he expected, although it was a little larger than most change purses that women carried on Coruscant.

"What's in this thing?" he asked. "Durasteel beams?"

Asana laughed. "No, just a basic forensics kit, gloves, and some feminine products."

"You think you'll need those things?" Waron inquired.

"No personal questions, Waron."

"I meant the forensics kit."

"So did I."

Waron laughed at the exchange and handed the bag to Asana, who put it up on her right shoulder and adjusted her lekku. When he looked up, concern gripped his face as he gazed upon the entrance to the concert hall. Curious to his sudden change in demeanor, Asana looked toward the stone-façade building. As she peered along the perimeter of the concert hall, she noticed a group of protesters picketing. Their shouts were too muddled to be understood from that distance, but the group was most definitely made up of Humans. Waron linked his right arm with Asana's left, startling the focused Twi'lek. Arms linked, the two pulled toward each other as they strode toward the mob. To all outward appearances, the Lethan Twi'lek looked like the escort of a fine, young, dark-skinned Human. As they approached the mob, Asana realized what they were chanting and knew Waron's concern.

"Stay with me, Asana," Waron said, continuing his steady march forward.

Asana pressed her hip close against the lieutenant, staying in exact step as if accompanied by a drummer. She heard the chants and jeers of the mob, all Humans, rallying to have the sector capitol moved from Seswenna to Eriadu. Their remarks, however, were laced with Humanocentric rhetoric, bemoaning the inter-species nature of the planet Seswenna. Hearing the chants made the Twi'lek uncomfortable. In sudden revelation, she noticed that those attending the opera were predominantly Human with only a few Twi'leks scattered through the crowd.

"Stay calm, Asana," Waron said plainly. "They'll just think you are my escort."

"Now I know why Shalli was told to stay with Delwynn," she responded. "Seriously, imagine what would happen if these ignorant idiots saw her."

"Shalli could take them, though," Waron replied.

"I bet they've never even heard of an Omwati."

"Probably not. Besides, she's not as pretty as you."

Asana smiled cautiously but continued her straightway gaze. "Are you flirting with me while on the job, Waron?"

"No, just trying to be honest when playing the part," he responded, his charming smile beaming across his face.

In spite of the slow-drifting opera audience, the pair eventually worked their way beyond the mob and up the granite steps of the concert hall. Walking through the grand doorway, the atrium was awe-striking. The vaulted ceiling was at least five stories tall, each pillar encrusted with stones and gems of various types. The atrium floor was crowded from wall-to-wall, pillar-to-pillar, with beings. All were dressed in fancy dresses or suits, talking and laughing with each other in barely organized chaos. Waron led Asana to the right, toward a grand staircase which led to the balcony seats. As they approached the staircase, an older man turned his attention to Asana, gazing quizzically into her eyes.

"What a lovely escort you have, young man," an older Human spoke, approaching Danstari with a wide, wry grin.

Asana had no reason to fear this man, but she suddenly became nervous. Very nervous. She looked up at the lieutenant, watching him simply nod in acknowledgment.

"Where did you buy her? Who sold her?" the man quietly inquired.

"What?" Waron Danstari replied with the sound of genuine surprise.

"Where did you buy her? She looks to be from a good family line."

Asana knew where the conversation was heading and became quickly enraged, but she fought the urge to respond.

"Look, sir," the lieutenant smarted. "I really don't know what you mean."

"Well, you're a lucky man to have bought a fine one like her."

Asana wanted to kick the man between his legs. Glancing up at Waron, she noticed his composure had changed. The lieutenant now fully understood this man's subversive and evil intention.

The man continued, "How much? I can pay very well."

"You know what, old man?" Danstari firmly retorted. "She wasn't bought. And, she's not for sale. She's my friend and my partner, so you aren't touching her."

The older man was visibly irritated, if not outright offended, by the response. He mumbled under his breath as he walked away, quickly being lost in the dense crowd.

"Ooh, I wanted to kick that man," Asana replied through her pent-up rage.

"I think we should just move into the auditorium and wait for the show to begin. We aren't doing any good out here."

"Really. Regueny or any other VIPs probably won't be too visible with all of these idiots around."

The pair quickly climbed the staircase to the upper levels of the atrium and moved straightway into the concert hall proper. Walking through the entrance way, the lieutenant led the forensic investigator to two seats near the left-center aisle at the first row of the middle balcony. There, they sat quietly, allowing the crowd to filter in around them. Asana thanked Danstari for defending her from the strange man, and the two chatted quietly until the lights began to dim. Sitting back, they awaited the beginning of the opera as Asana discretely pulled out her small camera.

Eriadu City Naval Base

"Emra, pull up the image on camera seven-sixty-alpha," Delwynn asked.

Shalli watched from a stool in the open room that was being used as a forward command center for the operation. Emra was attached to a computer that accessed a wide range of information from all across Eriadu. She had been flipping through camera feeds from docking stations scattered about Eriadu City, looking for the vessel that carried the kidnapped senator. Meanwhile, Shalli had only moments earlier finished sifting through all the landing logs and narrowed the search down to fifteen bays near the outskirts of the community.

Emra beeped and hummed as the image showed Regueny walking from the ship with another man. Shalli and Delwynn both leaned closer to the image, trying to spy the circumstances closely. As Regueny passed from camera feed to camera feed, the trio watched the Senator be led, at blasterpoint, down into the transit station. From there, he boarded a commuter tram which traveled to the Hotel Eriadu, via the Eriadu Center transit station.

"Amazing. Simply amazing," Delwynn commented, leaning back in her chair.

"He was basically held at blasterpoint all the way through the city on a transit line?" Shalli asked.

Delwynn nodded and shifted her lower jaw to the left in exacerbation. "You saw the images. There was no one around on that tram."

"Almost as if it was planned."

"Almost."

"You don't suspect…"

"Shalli, I always suspect."

"Oh. Who do you suspect?"

Delwynn ignored Shalli's question and asked Emra to focus in on a camera feed in the Eriadu Center transit station. Shalli was not certain what the investigator was spying for. After a minute of searching, she sat back, seemingly dejected. The Omwati decided to break the silence.

"Delwynn, isn't that hotel part of the convention center?"

"Yes. I think Waron and Asana's date-night is about to be interrupted."

Now, the Jedi was confused. Delwynn seemed disappointed, but the Omwati was not sure what the investigator had seen, or wanted to see, in the image. Turning to the droid, Delwynn tapped it on its head and then spoke. "Nice work, Emra. Can you track the exact room that the Senator is being held in?"

Emra beeped and whirred, then flashed through the files of the hotel. Shalli mentioned that technically this type of computer search was probably not legal on Eriadu without a warrant, since the entire Seswenna sector was semi-autonomous in the Republic. Delwynn did not say anything, however. After all, there was nothing to be gained by arguing on semantics when it technically was not illegal because of Eriadu's recent treaties of cooperation with the Republic. Plus, the Omwati assumed that her superior officer was well aware of the regulations anyway.

When the droid finally discovered the Senator's location, Delwynn shot to her feet.

"Room 1850," she said. "Emra, I want you to stream those feeds to my datapad. I want to see every movement near that doorway."

Emra beeped and relayed the instructions to the computer.

Satisfied, Delwynn turned to the Jedi. "Shalli, grab what you need."

"Ready, Delwynn," the Omwati replied. "Where are we going?"

"We are going to scope the hotel while Emra keeps an eye on that room," Delwynn answered, beginning to walk toward the doorway. "If we can get the senator while we're at it, we will."

"What if he's guarded?"

"Then we'll call in backup. I'm not going to lead you into a suicide mission, Shalli. Plus, you're a very experienced Jedi. I'm sure your fighting skill could be useful."

Shalli was not sure how to respond. Sure, she could probably handle the three Rodians the team encountered on Qina and hold her own. Defeating a legion of trained bounty hunters, however? Probably not. She would simply be overmatched. Still, the Omwati began to think that Delwynn knew something that was not divulging. Since landing on Eriadu, she has been very purposed and had a measured plan. Shalli wanted know what Delwynn thought and why she was acting in this manner. She just needed to know.

"Let's go, Shalli," Delwynn said, now in the hallway.

The Omwati snapped to her senses and scurried into the narrow, sterile corridor. There, she quickly lined in tow with the investigator as she paced evenly toward the exit. Delwynn did not turn the corner toward Mally. Instead, she continued down the narrow hallway toward a lift. Shalli followed her onto the lift and into the buildings garage. The garage was not large, but it had a few white speeders which were undoubtedly used by base personnel for transit. The Jedi stopped and analyzed the room, which was just as bland as the other portions of the building that she had seen. The only difference: it was a grey duracrete cavern instead of the sterile white color. Shalli noted as Delwynn quietly pulled out her datapad, searched for some information, then proceeded to the white speeder in the middle of the room. She entered a code and unlocked the door.

"Shalli, are you coming?" the investigator nastily asked.

"Yes, Delwynn," the Omwati said, snapping out of her daydreaming.

"Keep up. We don't have time to dawdle. The senator's life could be in danger."

Shalli straightened her posture and quickly scurried toward the speeder. Entering the vehicle, Delwynn instructed her to fasten the safety harness. When Shalli delayed and shrugged, the investigator slammed the accelerator pedal to the floor of the vehicle, thrusting it forward with sudden action. The vehicle was piloted down a tunnel and out of the building at a bristling speed. Shalli was in shock. All she could do was stare immediately ahead. Suddenly, Delwynn's large datapad plopped on the Omwati's lap.

"Watch this for me," the investigator commanded. "Let me know if anything changes with that room. Also, fasten that harness. That is an order."

Shalli fumbled with the datapad, and within minutes, Delwynn piloted the speeder from the wide-open expanse of the military facility to the busy streets of Eriadu City proper. Shalli still had not protected herself by the attaching and tightening the safety harness, she was bracing herself in the seat as Delwynn whipped in and out of the traffic lanes, cutting off other drivers and nearly causing multiple collisions. She reached for it a few times, but both she and the harness was being tossed by the jolting from the investigator's erratic driving.

When the Seswenna Hall complex was in sight, Delwynn reached over toward Shalli and hit a button on the datapad. Then, instead of piloting the speeder toward the concert hall entrance, she passed under the wires which marked the transit line. From the hexagonal concert hall, a two-story corridor connected to the Eriadu Center transit station and the tall Hotel Eriadu. Delwynn pulled the vehicle right up to the hotel entrance and parked illegally in a garden only a few meters from the main entrance. Grabbing the datapad abruptly from Shalli, the investigator quickly exited. Not sure what was happening, the Omwati opened the speeder door and followed close behind. On their approach to the tall rectangular-shaped entryway, a bellhop came running toward Delwynn, yelling and pointing at the speeder in the garden only a few meters away. Delwynn simply flashed her badge and kept jogging into the hotel. Shalli sighed as the bellhop simply stopped in his tracks, seemingly uncertain of how to proceed.

Shalli followed Delwynn through the entry corridor and into the main lobby, at the center of the hotel. Looking up, she saw the towering floors stacked one upon the other. Staying with the special agent, the Omwati walked onto a lift where Delwynn was already waiting.

"Do you often defy direct orders, Shalli?" Delwynn bluntly asked while engaging the lift, doors closing.

"No," the Omwati replied, uncertain of the reasoning behind the question.

"Don't make it a habit," Delwynn spat.

"What do you mean?" Shalli inquired.

"If I cannot trust you to follow an order regarding a safety harness then how can I trust you in the field?"

Shalli was stunned. She was a Jedi! Of course she could be trusted. It was Delwynn, some Special Agent and non-Force user who could not be trusted. As quickly as that emotion surged, it vanished as Shalli simply closed her eyes and focused on how to peacefully solve the issue.

"Well?" Delwynn asked, pointedly.

Shalli could not contain any anger any longer. "Would you rather I resign this post and return to Coruscant?" she spat.

"Would you disobey a direct order from the Jedi Council?"

"How dare you liken yourself…"

"Answer my question!" Delwynn commanded military-style, stopping sternly and pointing her finger at the Omwati.

Shalli stopped. She stared ahead with the trifle of anger still lingering inside her. "No," she replied.

"Their orders were for you to be a part of my team, yes?"

"Yes."

"Then, I will respect them and you as well. As a Jedi, I won't be bossing you around without reason. But, I'd rather you follow orders when I do give them. Otherwise, something could go wrong. You don't have experience doing this yet."

Shalli simply nodded as the bell of the lift rang. The door whisked open and the Jedi watched as Delwynn stepped off. She noted how Delwynn never really became angry during that argument even though she had scolded her. Maybe agent did have some respect for the Jedi. Quickly following in tow, however, Shalli walked through the hotel corridor to Room 1850. Delwynn stopped outside the door and put up her hand in a quieting gesture.

"What do you sense, Jedi?" the agent whispered callously.

Shalli closed her eyes and began searching the Force for the senator. She did not sense any life inside the room. As she looked at Delwynn to speak, the investigator's facial reaction indicated that she immediately knew. As a result, Shalli ignited her lightsaber and prepared to raid the hotel room. Suddenly, Delwynn placed a universal key into the lock and the door flew open. Peering inside, Shalli noticed nothing but an empty room, true to what she had sensed. Stepping in, the Omwati was still prepared for an ambush. Yet, nothing appeared disturbed other than some pillows and the bed sheets. It was completely empty. There was no sign of the senator at all.

They walked through the room and cleared it. Delwynn was visibly disturbed. Frustration wrenched her facial expression to resemble a bunched rag. She sent Shalli out of the room and deliberated over the communicator with Emra about something. The Jedi could not hear or make out the conversation, but it was not pleasant. It was not Emra's fault, however. When Delwynn finished, she reappeared and explained.

"They hacked the computer network," she said. "They were running a blank loop of the hallway so we could not see him leave and focus on where they were taking him."

"So, what do we do?" Shalli asked.

"We keep looking. Hopefully we'll catch a break somewhere."

At that moment, a message popped up on Delwynn's datapad. She flashed it at Shalli, who read the message. Asana and Danstari were leaving the auditorium, following the head of the EIE corporate affairs operations who had left in haste about ten minutes ago. The Jedi began to ponder any potential connection. A moment later, another message arrived, this time from Emra. "Three Rodians guarding room in second floor convention center."

Delwynn hastily walked toward the lift and continued sending more messages to Emra. Undoubtedly, she wanted the droid to focus its attention on those cameras rather than on the hijacked loops of nothingness. Shalli stayed in tow, although she disengaged her lightsaber to prevent drawing unnecessary attention with any potential passersby.

"We're not bothering with the lift," Delwynn smarted, opening the emergency stairwell doorway.

Shalli continued following behind as Delwynn they entered the cramped stairwell. There were landings between each level and no gaps between each segment of stairs. Shalli followed down the duracrete stairwell as Delwynn slid down the railings of each segment setting foot on the landings only long enough to get to the next rail. The 'over-forty' investigator quickly scaled the thirty-two segments that made up the sixteen flights and exited into the second floor reception area, which overlooked the main lobby entranceway. Shalli followed into the reception area and noted the speeder still parked in the garden through the hued glass that encompassed the main doorway.

Within moments, Delwynn and Shalli had reached the central corridor of the convention center's second floor. Delwynn drew her blaster and stealthily began checking around corners. After checking down three stone-lined corridors with red and tan carpet, Shalli spotted Danstari and Asana staked out with two very small blasters drawn. Pointing them out to Delwynn, the two quietly approached and whispered their presence.

"How did you get weapons in?" Shalli asked.

"I can hide anything in this handbag," Asana replied with a smirk.

"Plus, she blends in with the carpet," Danstari commented with his broad grin and gaze directed at the Twi'lek.

"On topic, Danstari," Delwynn said.

"Sorry, boss," the lieutenant replied.

"What's the situation?" Delwynn inquired.

"The three Rodians, an unknown Human and the head of EIE went into that room about four minutes ago," Asana noted.

"Anyone come out?" the lead investigator furthered.

"No," Danstari remarked. "Its been too quiet. Literally like something is missing from this place. It is completely dead."

"Maybe they escaped through the service entrances?" Shalli pondered out loud. "This is a convention center."

Delwynn smirked and nodded. She punched something into her datapad and then spoke up. "The cameras in the service corridor show no activity."

Shalli squatted to the ground as Delwynn rose and began walking further down the corridor.

"Where is she going?" the Omwati asked.

"Double checking," Asana replied.

At the end of the corridor, Delwynn turned around and motioned for the team to follow. Shalli ignited her lightsaber and prepared for the worst. As she reached Delwynn, she noticed that the service door into the kitchen area was open.

"That's why there's no activity," Danstari smarted.

"That's why you double check," Delwynn retorted.

"What do we do now, boss?" the lieutenant inquired.

"Danstari, you're with me," Delwynn ordered. "Shalli, Asana, take the room from the front. Give us three minutes before entering. We need to go in there and make sure it is not a trap. And of course, I don't want any of us dead, so watch your fire."

Each member of the team nodded affirmatively before parting. Shalli and Asana went back toward the room where Regueny had been taken. They staked their positions on its outside and waited for their time to enter.

"I suppose now isn't the time to have a dark confessional," Asana commented.

"What?" Shalli asked.

"I've never done a stake out before. I'm trained in forensics, not as a police officer!"

"Just aim at the bad guys and don't hit Delwynn if she comes through the other door."

"I will try. What about Danstari?"

"A few bruises and burns would probably do him some good."

Three minutes later, Shalli nodded at Asana and quietly engaged the door to the meeting room. As it whisked open, Shalli darted in. Inside the room, blood was splattered all across the floor and walls as if it was sprayed out from the center of the room. A Human—at least, in part,—was laying in the center of the room. It was not a complete body. In fact, it was only two legs, still attached to the individual's waist. The rest of the being, from the stomach up was missing. Shalli turned to Asana who did not seem to mind the scene and had put away her weapon. The Twi'lek grabbed gloves from her large handbag and began to put them on. Then, Shalli noticed the wall near the room's main entrance.

"Asana," Shalli said, gaining the Twi'lek's attention. "We have a problem… I think Delwynn needs to see this."

Chapter 9

Eriadu Convention Center, Eriadu City

I'll get on those prints right away. Of course, after I change out of this dress!
—Asana Lani

Danstari remained beside Delwynn as they continued through the kitchen. It was empty, although the scattering of pans and carts indicated that someone had run through that space only moments prior. Delwynn was checking every floor-to-ceiling cabinet as they progressed and Danstari marveled at her meticulousness. Once the kitchen was cleared, Delwynn moved into the service corridor. She lowered her weapon and waved to Danstari to keep up. The lieutenant obliged and come up behind her. With Danstari close, Delwynn continued down the corridor and to the room.

Danstari walked ahead of Delwynn and into the room where Senator Regueny had been taken. He was shocked by the sight. He stood straight up, lowered his weapon and gazed at the scene in disbelief. He turned to see Delwynn, who undoubtedly had seen more scenes like this than he could imagine, as she simply shook her head. Across from Danstari was Shalli who disengaged her lightsaber and was walking toward a corpse that was resting against a wall. Above the body was a message, smeared in blood on the stone-face wall.

"Two down. One to go." Danstari said, reading the message.

"I don't believe it, Delwynn," Asana remarked, tagging evidence throughout the room.

"Take as many pictures as you can, Asana," she replied. "Danstari, you too. I don't want the local cops messing with this. Right now, I don't trust anything on this planet. I feel like I'm being set up."

"I think that message on the wall is a good clue," Danstari said coldly. "I would think I was being set up, too."

"What do you think it means?" Shalli asked from across the room.

"I don't know," Delwynn responded with a shrug. "But I do want to know who was in this room tonight."

Delwynn dropped her hands at her side and continued scanning the room. After a moment, Danstari watched as the investigator checked the partial Human body before walking over what looked like the body of the senator. After she glanced over it, she surveyed the walls and pulled out her datapad. Danstari began to approach the legs of the partial body while Delwynn moved into the hallway. She set a holoimager down on the ground and motioned for Shalli to join her, which she did.

In the hallway, Shalli was still trying to grasp the situation. She had never worked a crime scene before and was not certain of the procedures. Suddenly, the imager lit up and communication was made via Holonet to a Human that Shalli recognized as GIN Director Pelmar Aiden, who appeared to be sitting at a desk.

"Delwynn," the holographic projection of the Director said. "What can I do for you? I was just about to check out for the day."

"I'm afraid I will be ruining your night, Director," Delwynn responded.

"I take it you have bad news."

"I'll get to the point. Regueny is dead."

The Director sighed and sat back. He paused for a moment, shook his head, and then brushed his long hair back with his hands. "I guess this means we move from corruption to kidnapping to murder?"

"I believe it was. Although, sadly that means we've gone from tips to hunches to hard evidence."

"How did this happen, Agent Delwynn?"

"We traveled to Eriadu because it was the best lead we had in the kidnapping. Regueny was brought here and set up in a room at the Hotel Eriadu. Shalli and I went to stake out the place, but he was gone already. He was spotted in the convention center and we moved in."

"Still just the three Rodians?"

"No, two others. Asana said she saw the head of EIE and another Human go in as well. When we ambushed the room, they had escaped, but Regueny was dead. One of the other Humans was, too. We have is waist and legs."

"What?"

"Director, we only have half of one of the other Humans. He appeared to have swallowed an explosive which detonated inside him."

"A terrorist, do you think?"

"Not sure. He may have already been dead."

"Do you need anything, Agent Delwynn?"

"Director, I really need a Medical Examiner who will be straight with me. I don't trust anything on this planet right now. And, knowing the volatility of this system within the Republic, I don't trust any of the locals."

"Fair enough. I'll have someone your old friend come over. He's on Seswenna right now, if that is fine with you. He was there delivering two bodies. I think he should be there in a couple of hours."

"I guess that is the best option."

"Thank you for keeping me informed, Agent Delwynn. Anything else?"

"Actually, yes, Director. Do you have the name of Senator Regueny's principle aide?"

"I do. She was here only an hour ago."

"Really? That's interesting."

"Her name is Vala Neta'ara. I'll send Emra the information momentarily."

"Could you hold her until I get back to Coruscant?"

"Why, Delwynn? Is she a suspect?"

"No. I want to make sure she's safe."

"I don't believe you."

"Director, can you hold her?"

"Fine. I'll see what I can do. But, if she is a suspect, I need to know."

"Thank you, Director. Right now, she is not. I really do think she might be a target."

"Fair enough. Anything else while you have my attention, Agent Delwynn?"

Delwynn turned to Shalli and arched her right eyebrow. Shalli nodded in the negative and Delwynn directed her attention back to the conversation.

"No, Director. I believe that is all for now."

"Fine, Delwynn. We'll be in touch."

At that, the imager flicked off. Shalli was still processing the conversation but noticed the omission of the bloody message from her report. She knew that Delwynn had not forgotten about it, but was curious why she said nothing to the Director. Maybe, the Omwati thought, that it was not necessary at this point; the big news was that Regueny was dead, murdered by those who had abducted him. Plus, no one knew what the message really meant, although it was obviously written exclusively for the team. Shalli suddenly began to sense some fear within herself. She feared for the team's safety. If someone knew that they were already in pursuit, then what would stop these evil beings from coming after them later? Nothing would, if it meant that their plans—whatever they were—succeeded.

"Danstari," Delwynn called, tossing the key to her speeder. "Go get the supplies out of my speeder. It's in the garden near the hotel entrance."

"Sure," Danstari replied then gave a look of exasperation. "The garden?"

"Just go…" Delwynn ordered. "Now."

Danstari turned and left. Then Delwynn turned to face Shalli.

"I want you to search the service corridor and kitchen for anything that is useful: a drop of blood, a drop of salivation, an appendage print, and so forth. Get me something to identify these idiots. Don't disturb the evidence, just flag it so we can gather it up."

Shalli understood her task, even though she was not trained to work crime scenes. Any evidence was good at this point, after all, a senator was dead. She walked into the metal-platted corridor and began scanning lightly. The Omwati simply wanted to get a glance at the scene before she scrutinized every centimeter. After a quick browsing of the nearly pristine corridor, she returned to the blood-covered room where Delwynn and Asana were working.

"I think I need some fresh gloves," Shalli said.

"When Danstari comes back, he should have them," she replied. "Until then, just don't touch anything. Anything."

The Omwati was simply trying to delay the inevitable. Turning around, she returned to the corridor and began scanning in detail for scuff marks, appendage prints, or any other potential residue. As she scanned with her eyes, she reached out through the Force for anything organic which graced the hallway. After a few moments, she sensed a drop of blood. Taking a few steps, she noticed it was about three meters from the room and about twelve from the kitchen, right at a sharp bend in the corridor. Lowering herself to the floor, Shalli gazed on the blood and set a marker next to it. It looked fresh. Plus, she had still sensed the living cells through the Force that made that droplet. Noticing that there was one, she hunted for another. Three other droplets were found within the next two minutes as Shalli made her way to the kitchen. At the threshold to the kitchen, however, there was more than just a droplet of blood. There was a smudge from a Humanoid hand on the wall. It was white, a streak that indicated someone had prevented themselves from losing balance while running. It must have been left behind by one of the escapees.

By the time Shalli walked back to the bend in the corridor, Asana had arrived. The Twi'lek, still wearing the elegant but fitted tan dress was bending to analyze the first blood droplet in the otherwise unblemished hallway. Shalli bent next to her and inquired of the protocols for evidence. Asana explained that the blood needed to be imaged so there was a record before it could be lifted for testing. Asana grabbed her camera and captured the snapshots needed before extracting the blood from the floor with a sterile syringe. Then, she moved on to the other droplets, completing the same process.

"The main scene is not done yet, Shalli," the Twi’lek remarked. "Danstari might need your help."

"Sounds fair," Shalli responded. "Anything you need to know from me about this hallway?"

"What did you find in total?" Asana asked, extracting the second droplet.

"Only four blood droplets and a hand smear," the Omwati admitted. "The hallway seems pretty clean."

"Yeah," the Twi’lek commented. "It does. Too clean. With all that blood in the other room, someone had to have tracked something in here."

"Not sure, but that makes sense."

"Why don’t you go ahead and tell Delwynn what you found. She’s working on her theory, I bet."

Shalli agreed and moved into the room, leaving Asana to finish the corridor. Inside, Delwynn was taking broad-scale pictures of the scene.

"We may have to reconstruct this later," she noted, staring into a vent above the main doorway.

"Do you think the local police will be on the scene?" Danstari asked, having returned and already began working in another corner of the room.

"No," Delwynn replied. "Not yet, at least. The only way they know already is if the perpetrators called them. In a way, that would have been smart for them."

"Why is that?" Shalli inquired.

"Eriadu is a special case for the Republic," Delwynn noted, but stopped short of explaining.

"How so?" the Omwati continued.

Danstari stopped his tagging of evidence in the far corner and turned to Shalli. Taking a deep breath, he replied, "Even though they have joined the Republic, they signed a special accession treaty that amounts to de facto autonomy as long as the capitol of the sector is on Seswenna. Basically, its like they have a special status similar to Corellia’s. I think they were the last planet to get this in thousands of years, too. Probably stemmed from something after the Great War."

"So, what does that mean for us?" she furthered.

"Basically, their police would have virtually unlimited jurisdiction over this case unless we appeal to the planetary government."

"Even though it was a senator?"

Delwynn walked over to Shalli and provided a strong glare. "Yes, even though it was a senator," she said. "Now, we need to work fast before the local leos get here and kick us out."

"Well, what about the bodies?" Shalli continued, unimpressed by Delwynn's orders.

"It is taken care of, Shalli," Delwynn smarted. "Again, I need your help getting snapshots of them and then moving Regueny away from the wall for the Medical Examiner."

"On it," she responded.

"Wait," Delwynn exclaimed. The investigator held up her hands and twittled her fingers while providing an annoyed look at the Jedi Knight.

Suddenly, Shalli knew. She needed gloves. She also then noticed that Delwynn was none too pleased with both the situation and the Jedi's stalling. Not wanting to disrupt the situation further, she quickly donned a pair of gloves, grabbed a camera, and started taking images of Regueny's lifeless corpse.

Back in the service corridor, Asana finished with the blood droplets and the smudge on the wall. She decided to move into the kitchen, to give it another survey. The Twi'lek really did not trust that Shalli did her job well since this was the Jedi's first time handling forensic evidence. Deciding to double check, she scanned the stone tile floor, metal appliances and basins, and even counted the number of pots hanging from the ceiling. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary except for one stack of bowls. There were three stacked inside each other, each of slightly decreasing size. The largest one, at the bottom was about a half meter across and very deep. There were two others sitting next to that short stack as if they had been removed, with the smallest about thirty centimeters across. When Asana looked, there were two drops of blood on the floor below the bowls. Following procedure, she captured the evidence and then turned her concentration to the metal bowls on the counter.

The Twi'lek lifted some prints off the smaller bowls and attempted to restack them. When she did, it became obvious that one was missing. The rest of the kitchen, however, seemed to be completely in order. The stemware was untouched, the appliances were untouched, and the basins were clean— almost. One of the basins had some water still ponding inside of it. The water would have evaporated naturally after a couple of hours, so this water had to have been fresh. The towels above the basin were not stacked neatly, but it did not appear out of the ordinary. Someone, she thought, must have washed their hands and taken a bowl. Although, it could have been from before. After scanning the faucet and nobs for prints, she found two.

Finished collecting the evidence in the kitchen, the Lethan Twi'lek gathered her equipment and returned to the main crime scene. Walking in, she saw Shalli and Delwynn moving the body of Regueny about one meter down the wall, retaining his original body position. It be came evident that nothing was behind him. The blood splattered all around the room was not found in that location. Asana spoke up.

"I guess the blood from 'Mr. Legs' sprayed after Regueny was whacked."

Delwynn smirked at the comment and nodded. "What did you find in the kitchen and hallway?"

"Shalli found some blood in the hallway. Just some droplets, but I think I got enough to analyze. There was also a smudge, but I doubt I'll get any good prints from it."

"The kitchen?"

"I am not sure, but it appears that someone grabbed a bowl and washed their hands."

"Prints?"

"Yes, I'll have them for you once we get back to the ship."

"Otherwise?"

"Clean. Sterile. Pristine. Spotless. Immaculate…"

"Asana…"

"Sorry."

The Twi'lek grabbed Delwynn's datapad and hooked up a cable to it. She began transferring some of the images from her camera to Emra through the device and gently bobbed her head from side to side as it processed. Normally, Asana would not be in the field like this. Most often, there were two or three other trained personnel who gathered evidence and either brought it to her lab on Mally or to the office on Alsakan where they most often worked.

"The Medical Examiner should be here in a couple of hours," Delwynn said. "Asana needs to get back to the ship. So, Danstari, you are on escort duty again."

"Okay, boss," Danstari obliged.

"When you get back," the investigator continued, "check in on Gallien. I am going to ask her a few questions in a couple of hours. Make sure she has something to eat."

Asana tossed her equipment back into her oversized handbag and gave the datapad back to Delwynn.

"I'll get on those prints right away. Of course, after I change out of this dress!"

As Asana and Danstari were leaving, Delwynn turned to Shalli stoically. In an almost nasty manner she ordered, "guard this scene with your life. When the Medical Examiner comes, he can look at the bodies. Otherwise, it is you and me to protect this. No other locals allowed."

Shalli understood the command. It would only be a couple of hours, she thought. It could, however, be a long couple of hours. She did not know who else might have been aware of the situation or if Delwynn's proposition that the local police might have been called was correct. It was a waiting game. In the interim, Shalli thought, it was time to put her mind to other things and focus on them. What about Delwynn? She knew precious little about the woman. Maybe it was time to ask. Maybe not. First she needed to clear the air.

"Oh, Agent Delwynn," Shalli commented.

"Yes, Shalli?" Delwynn responded, glaring at the blood on the ceiling and tracing something through the air with her arm.

"I apologize for earlier," the Omwati confessed.

Delwynn stopped what she was doing and glanced over at the Jedi. "You are forgiven."

Shalli felt a moment of relief as she watched Delwynn resume outlining something with her hands.

"But," Delwynn added, "imaging the splatter isn't going to get done by staring at it."

Shalli smirked and resumed working.


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