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Chapter 13

Mally, Eriadu City Naval Base

Get some sleep, Evening. You need it.
—Master Sidian Greystone

Walking down the port-side boarding ramp, Evening Delwynn brushed the hair out of her eyes. The wind had suddenly picked up and it appeared that a nighttime storm was stirring around the naval base. She glanced at the sky as she walked, peering at the towering clouds which were glowing from the moonlight. She continued her steady stride, however, traversing the landing pad and walking into the sterile white corridor of the building. Seeing the storm arrive gave the agent a sense of urgency. She did not want to leave in a storm. Danstari did not have enough experience with this kind of ship, she thought, and the agent definitely did not want to let on that she could fly it. After all, it was her vessel.

Delwynn grabbed her comlink and depressed a button. "Asana," she said. "Can you spare a minute?"

"Yeah, Delwynn," the Twi'lek cheerfully said through the device.

"I need you to get Shalli and unload all the equipment from the naval base that we brought. We are leaving shortly."

"On it," Asana replied.

Delwynn took a deep breath and thought about what needed to be done. Once the Palt Bimwera was on his way to the main GIN office she could depart. The ship needed to be prepped first.

Clicking another button, the agent continued. "Danstari?"

There was no response. She waited a moment and clicked again.

"Lieutenant Danstari?" the agent asked with a hint of agitation.

"Sorry, boss," the lieutenant said through the comlink. "I was in the refresher. I don't think the food quite agreed with me."

"Did not need to know that, Danstari."

"Sorry, boss."

"Prep the ship for departure. Wait until I get back before we leave, though. I will be the last one aboard."

"Of course."

"Did Master Greystone tell you where we are going?"

"Denon."

"Good. Do you think you can handle this girl in a storm?"

"What do you mean, boss?"

Delwynn shook her head and paused, quelling the frustration. Of course, it was not really Danstari's fault. The timing of the situation was what made it annoying.

"Lieutenant, look out the transparisteel when you get to the cockpit. Tell me what you think of the weather. Be honest, Danstari. If you can't handle her we'll wait."

"I'll let you know as we get closer to leaving."

Delwynn put her comlink away and continued around some corners and into the makeshift autopsy lab. The bodies were in bags on top of repulsorcarts with force fields holding them steady. Next to the bodies, Palt Bimwera was typing something into his datapad.

"All set, Palt?" she asked, looking at the medical examiner.

"Of course, Agent Delwynn," he replied without looking up.

"Need help moving them?" she queried.

"Sure," the medical examiner replied, putting away his datapad and smiling at the agent. "Just grab the legs."

Delwynn walked over to the corpse of Senator Regueny and started pushing it from the legs.

"Agent Delwynn," Bimwera interjected, gesturing toward the partial corpse. "I meant, the legs."

"I have the legs!" she retorted with a broad grin.

The medical examiner just shook his head and laughed. Delwynn knew exactly what he had meant, but decided to have some fun with the man. Still pushing Regueny's lifeless corpse, she followed the medical examiner down the hall toward the landing pad. On her way to the shuttle, the agent began to think once again about how a company such as Eriadu Interstellar Enterprises could keep the information of its owner and CEO so secretive. All it said on the reports and HoloNet information as to be announced. Of course, she could subpoena those reports with a court order, but that could take weeks in this part of the galaxy. As soon as a name is found, however, could the connection even be confirmed? Would that name be a lie?

Even with the questions, doubt was not entering the agent's mind. She knew that ultimately something would be exposed. The fear, however, was that the 'something' would be too much further down the road and come at the expense of innocent lives. Regueny may have been an accessory, knowingly or unknowingly, but his life should not have been lost in a perfect galaxy. Then again, in a perfect galaxy, she thought, the crimes would have never been committed and her employment would not be needed.

"Okay, Delwynn," the medical examiner interrupted. "Let's load him onto the ship."

Delwynn nodded and positioned the cart in front of the loading ramp.

"Let me help," Palt added, coming around the cart. "These things do not always like the ramp."

"Don't think I can handle it, Palt?"

"Agent Delwynn, if anyone could, you could."

The pair laughed as they pushed the repulsorcart that carried Regueny's corpse up the loading ramp. On the ship, they maneuvered it around a corner, and into a frigid room. The medical examiner went back down the boarding ramp to grab the other cart while Evening scoured the cold room. She checked behind every bag, cart, and storage bin. Satisfied, she began walking through the other three cabins on the small craft, checking each nook for a stowaway or some other unwanted device. Having checked everything but the cockpit, Delwynn drew her blaster. At that moment, Palt exited the chilled storage room and froze in place. A look of shock was on his face; although, the agent thought, he probably understood what was going on.

Delwynn reached for the controls to the cockpit and opened the door. Jumping into the doorframe as it opened, Delwynn pointed her blaster at the pilot's chair. If anyone was against the back wall, however, she could not see them. Cautiously, she slid into the cockpit, ready for anything.

"Clear," she said, taking a deep breath. The cockpit was completely empty.

"Good," Palt confessed. "You had me scared."

"Never take any chances," she replied.

"This is supposed to be a secure facility… oh, never mind. I'll wait for your signal to take off."

"We'll follow you out of the system. Once you make the jump to hyperspace, we'll head to Denon."

"Denon?"

"Unfortunately."

"Delwynn, that planet smells worse than my cooler with the corpses in it."

Delwynn laughed and nodded. She shook the medical examiner's hand and left the ship, allowing him to seal his small transport vessel. Walking backwardly, she entered the building, viewing the ship along the way to make certain everything was satisfactory. Inside, she ran through the halls and to her modified Traverser-class vessel, at which she arrived a couple minutes later. Upon re-exiting the building, Delwynn looked up at the sky. Concern flooded her mind. The swirling clouds had significantly darkened and it was beginning to rain.

"Asana?" Delwynn said, activating her comlink.

"Delwynn," the Twi'lek cheerfully chirped.

"All set with the equipment?" the agent asked.

"Right behind you," Asana shouted, walking out on the landing pad. The Twi'lek was carrying a bag and two black cases.

"That's the last of it?"

"Yeah."

"And Shalli?"

"She should be on the ship already."

"She did help you, right?"

"Of course! She just used that Force trick to carry the other three bags all at once."

Asana smiled and trotted onto the ship. Delwynn glanced at the sky once again and shook her head, wondering if Shalli really understood what she was involved in. Turning her attention back toward the weather, she watched as lightning began to crackle on the horizon. She hoped Danstari could navigate this weather. Still, she needed to hurry. She did not want to miss meeting with Tordana. So far, that could be their best lead. She shrugged at the sky and walked onto the Mally. Once on the ship, she raised the boarding ramp and sealed the vessel. The agent then walked through the corridor and into the cockpit where Danstari was waiting. It was time for departure.

"Can you handle this ship?" Delwynn asked straightly.

"Boss," Danstari replied with a mile-long grin.

"Fine. We'll go, but take it easy," Delwynn ordered. "I don't want this girl to come apart in the atmosphere."

"Yes, boss," Danstari replied, unlocking the docking controls. "I understand."

"Good," she replied, sitting in the other cockpit seat, next to Danstari. "Just wait for the medical examiner to take off first. I want him in front of us."

Danstari nodded and began to lift the ship off of the pad, but he did not accelerate forward. Delwynn then pressed a button on the control panel and activated the com device.

"Palt, go ahead. We will be right behind you."

"Sounds good, Agent Delwynn," he replied through the radio.

Delwynn disengaged the communicator and sat back. Relaxing for a brief moment, she took a deep breath while Danstari gently scooted the ship forward to prevent idling. Looking out the transparisteel window, she saw the medical examiner's white and red ship fly overhead and gestured Danstari to follow after it.

"I have the coordinates for Denon in the navicomputer already, boss," Danstari commented.

"Good," she replied. "Do not make the jump until after Bimwera does. I want to see him leave for Alsakan before I take any chances with our trip to Denon."

"Nervous, boss?"

"Danstari, when you've been in this business as long as I have, you never take anything for granted."

"Always in the details?"

"Always. Details like leaving this planet can't be overlooked. By the way, you never answered my question."

"What question, boss?"

"Can you handle this girl in the storm?"

"I believe I can. If I can't manage it, I'll put her right back down. Faster than…"

"Danstari! Not fast. Easily."

"Sorry, boss."

Danstari shifted in his seat and looked stoically ahead. Slowly, he began moving the ship forward and into the path of the swirling clouds. Lightning began striking as they approached. Delwynn watched the lieutenant as he casually took a forty-five degree angle with the ship, powering through the clouds as fast as possible. Delwynn gripped the padding of the chair as the vessel accelerated. The turbulence was minor, but noticeable. Too noticeable. Lightning was flashing across the window in a frantic array while the clouds kept swirling in all directions. Thankfully, the shields were up, so damage would be minimal if any. Palt's ship, however, was not in sight and she had nothing on the scanner to go with. The storm was causing too much interference.

Within one eternally long minute he was above the storm, but condensation had collected on the cockpit transparisteel window. Free from the storm, the scanner reactivated and a blip on the screen showed the agent where the other craft was at. More relaxed, Delwynn chuckled as the lieutenant began hitting controls to regulate the humidity and temperature. After a minute of fruitless of searching, the natural course of leaving the atmosphere removed the liquid. Danstari looked noticeably relieved.

Delwynn watched as the medical examiner's vessel, which remained directly in view, skipped above the Eriaduan atmosphere and jumped into hyperspace. Now other work needed to begin. There was so much to do in preparation for meeting with Tordana. Sitting back, she anxiously began brushing her hair back with her left hand, only to ruffle it again. Her nervous habit. Resisting the urge to continue, she slapped the top of the control panel and stood. As soon as Danstari made the jump to hyperspace she retreated to her quarters for rest and to refocus. There was plenty of time to do more work while traveling to Denon. First, she needed to shower and sleep.

Walking back to her quarters, she spotted Master Greystone. He was sitting in the lounge area relaxing and having a drink. Listening carefully, Delwynn could hear Shalli saying something, although it was intelligible at that distance and angle. Shalli must have been around the corner in another part of the small lounge area. Stalling for a moment, she waited for a break in the conversation. Then, she motioned for the Jedi Master to join her and unlocked the office door. Having caught his attention, she walked over to her desk and sat at it. A moment later, the Jedi took his common spot under the mantle.

"Sorry to pull you aside if you were busy," Delwynn confessed.

"No," Master Greystone replied. "I was just sitting with Shalli and listening to her talk about what has happened so far."

"Enjoyable?" she asked.

"Somewhat. More interesting than anything else. She's an interesting being."

"Tell me about it."

"How is it that she is on your team?"

"As opposed to another Jedi?"

"No, what I mean is, why did you request a Jedi?"

"Master, consider it self-preservation," Delwynn replied as reclined and folded her hands behind her head before continuing. "but I didn't want to request a Jedi. Director Aiden figured this would get become a larger issue than what we were investigating, and you and I both know how much the Jedi Council loves getting their hands in these things. I requested a Jedi at his very strong recommendation so that we could appease any power-grabbing they might try for just in case this got a lot bigger."

"I suppose you think the Council really would?"

"Absolutely. Grand Master m'Ord-Vinka wants the Council to have significantly more power."

Master Greystone sat forward and put his elbows on his knees while rubbing his face. He sighed and allowed Delwynn to continue.

"I believe you know what I mean, Master."

"I do, Evening. The politicking of that one Jedi is wearing on all of us who are trying to take the high road. Still, what about Shalli?"

Delwynn sighed and allowed her hands to fall onto the arms of the chair.

"Well, Master," she spoke. "Shalli had been with Senator Valorum for about three weeks while he was touring the Mid Rim as part of this diplomatic relations thing he has been doing. She was assigned by the Jedi Council to protect him. The protection request, however, came from the chancellor. He wanted Servius to have a Jedi around just to be safe. So, after two of the three weeks were up, he recommended that she be the Jedi placed on my team as a liaison, if that was ever needed. He figured since she was quiet and stayed out of his way, it would work out well for me."

"And, what do you figure?"

"It's been fine. Nothing to write home about, if you ask me. She stays out of everyone's way, but she is quite uncooperative at times and either somewhat dense… or something. I don't think she's stupid. She's just… I can't even think of words to describe her."

"Interesting you say that."

"Why?"

"Evening, she's different. Not the type of being I would have put with you on this mission."

"Master, I postponed the promotion of a very promising young Ithorian to take her on. Please tell me you approve of her being here."

"I do, to a point. I understand your need to save face with the Jedi Order."

Delwynn sat forward and leaned on the desk. Master Greystone gently eased back and reclined in his chair.

"She said she was warned," the Jedi recounted. "She was warned to be skeptical of you. She was told not to fully trust you unless you proved it. The good news is that you've earned her trust through your competence. She does not fully approve of your tactics, but she does trust you. That is a good sign."

"I'm not surprised," Delwynn replied, sitting back in her chair. "Most of the Jedi Council doesn't trust non–Force users."

"Well, Shalli is an interesting case. She shows so much skill and promise, but equally lacks on social and interpersonal matters. She is a tremendously flawed individual. Well suited for combat and dealing with conflict, she does not have the aptitude to be an investigator at this point. She has learned a lot even over the last few days. But, her flaw is deeper than a lack of knowledge. You see, Evening, it is almost as if she has no soul. Other than being mischievous with Danstari, the only other emotion I ever sense from her is fear. Aside from that, it is like talking to a droid."

"Surely she isn't devoid of a soul, although that would explain a lot of it."

"No, she has one. Somewhere in there. She works way too hard to bury it instead of simply controlling it. She definitely is following in the new trend within the Jedi Order."

"That explains why she seems so distant."

"It should, Evening. Maybe this case will be good for her."

"How so?"

"Something within her is beginning to unravel. She mentioned that you greeted her like a traditional Omwati when you first met. Interestingly, she doesn't eat traditional Omwati cuisine, or hold to any customs or habits of her species. She's also a bit of a brute and not graceful. That's probably why that greeting has stuck with her. She doesn't know what to do with it. She intellectually knows about it but hasn't experienced it otherwise."

"So, she's been culturally neutered."

"Interesting choice of words… but, in effect, yes. She just doesn't understand life outside of the Jedi Order. That's why her being here is so odd."

"That explains some of our conflicts."

"It should."

Delwynn sat in silence with the Jedi Master across from her for a few minutes. In a sudden motion, he rose and walked toward the door.

"Get some sleep, Evening. You need it."

Delwynn did need sleep. As Master Greystone exited the office, she walked over to the door and locked it. As was her custom, she caught a quick glance at each of the holoimages on the mantle before walking into her quarters. There, she tossed her grey overcoat onto a chair and began to change her apparel to something more comfortable to sleep in. Satisfied, she fluffed her hair and laid on the bed. Within moments, she was asleep.

Chapter 14

Oh. Shame. I kind of like having you around.
—Asana Lani

Inside the cockpit, Danstari double checked all the controls and leaned back in his chair. He was a bit bored. Of course, he could always work on things related to the case, but he needed a break from it. Rising from his chair, he walked out of the cockpit and into the corridor. Turning to his right, he walked to Asana's lab to see what was happening there. Inside, the Twi'lek was putting another droplet of blood into a machine. Her backside toward him, he watched as she skillfully deposited the liquid, which had been taken from the scene on Eriadu, and put it into an analyzer.

"Are you going to stare at me, or are you going to come in?" Asana asked, without turning around.

"I didn't want to bother you," he said.

"Just sit over there and don't touch anything," she smarted, feigning toughness.

"How did you get quite the setup in this place?" Danstari asked, walking toward the door to the maintenance bay alcove where the pink cushion was.

"The Judicial Forces paid for it."

"I thought this was Delwynn's ship."

"It is. She owns it and uses it as a mobile office."

"She must be rich to afford a ship like this."

"Danstari, Delwynn is definitely not rich," Asana remarked, leaving the machine to analyze the data. She walked over to the lieutenant and sat on the pink mattress.

"How did she get this then?" Danstari inquired, sitting next to the Twi'lek. He put his knees up and folded his arms in front of them.

"Her parents owned a small shipping company on Alsakan that shipped across the Core. They left the thing for her when they died."

"Oh. Still, there is so much stuff in here."

"Yeah, but the other side of the ship, where all the rooms and cabins are, that was already like that. On this side, the walls and lights for this room and the computer room were already in place."

"What about the rest?"

"The rest was one open storage area for boxes and crates."

"Come on, Asana." Danstari could not believe what she was saying. "How do you know this?"

"I was here."

Danstari was even more flabbergasted. "You can't be that old."

"I'm not!" Asana said, giving a stern look. "But, I'm older than you think."

"Yeah right."

"Guess, Danstari. How old do you think I am?"

Asana smirked. Her facial expressions lit up as she asked. Danstari was completely confused as to how old the Twi'lek could really be. She was fairly young; far more intelligent than most beings he knew; and yet, she seemed to have been around a while. Still, she had been quite stunning in the tan dress during the opera and did not appear any less pretty with the casual dark blue shirt and off-white pants.

"Thirty?" he hesitating asked.

"You're wonderful!" Asana said, moving directly against the lieutenant in obvious flirtation. "I'll stick with your answer."

"What?" he softly and sheepishly responded. "I'm not right?"

"Try thirty-five."

Danstari was surprised. He thought he was stretching his perception a touch with thirty. Amazingly, she was the same age as him.

"I figured you wouldn't guess it," she replied, leaning back against the wall.

"How long have you worked for Delwynn?"

"Nine years."

"So, when did she get the ship."

"She got it seven years ago and made a deal with the Judicial Forces."

"What kind of deal?"

"They wanted to give her a small ship that she would use to go from planet to planet as needed. She offered to have them convert the storage area of a shipping craft if she provided the vessel. They agreed."

"So, that's how you got this?"

"Yes. They installed the machinery. Although, it is still their property. If Delwynn ever retires, they take the lab stuff back."

"What about the computers?"

"Actually, those are Delwynn's. She keeps them."

Danstari just looked about the plain room filled with forensic machinery. So many objects, all designed to make Delwynn's job easier and all run by this Lethan Twi'lek sitting next to him.

"So," Danstari continued, restarting the conversation. "Delwynn is from Alsakan?"

"I think so." Asana responded. "She lives there now, of course."

"What do you mean, 'of course?'"

"The GIN has its largest branch office on Alsakan. That's where Delwynn and me are stationed."

"Really? I didn't know that."

"Oh, yeah. There are five offices," Asana remarked, holding up her hand to count them off. "Coruscant, obviously, Alsakan, Bothawui, Ord Mantell, and somewhere in the Tapani sector. I can never remember where that last one is. It is so small."

"Basically, all the major Judicial Forces outposts."

"Basically."

The two sat next to each other in silence for a few moments as the machines inside the lab made their soft buzzing sounds. Occasionally, Danstari glanced over at the Twi'lek who appeared to be doing the same. He still could not believe she was thirty-five. For whatever reason, it shocked him. Sure, he was physically attracted to her. Yet, it had been her demeanor during the incidents on Eriadu and her intelligence which piqued his interest. Asana was his coworker, however. He would just have to keep his emotions in check. Plus, he thought, any type of advancement would probably violate some rule that Delwynn had.

"Are you moving to Alsakan?" Asana asked, turning her head toward Danstari.

"Do I need to?" he asked.

"If you are going to be part of the team full time, you will. Otherwise, you're going to have to travel home every night to some other planet."

"I don't know if I've been slated here full time, Asana."

"Oh. Shame. I kind of like having you around."

Asana smiled at Danstari and stood to check the machines. With one of the timers nearing zero, she pulled out a datapad and stood ready. The lieutenant was still tired but did not want to impose.

"I'm going to take a quick nap," he said, standing. "I'll be back in a bit to help get some stuff done."

"Sounds like a plan," she said, looking up at him. "I'll just be working, or napping in here."

At that, Danstari left the lab and walked into the cockpit. Double checking the figures and the status, he sat in the pilot's chair, reclined, and fell asleep.

— — —

A small shadow moved slowly under a wrecked speeder. Sirens wailed, plumes of smoke filled the sky between skyscraper buildings. Laying on the ground, it was impossible to stand. Voices flooded from all around the scene. Beings were panicking as they ran from one side of the street to the other. One of the shadows was able to finally crawl from the wreckage. A young girl, but one never before seen. She wailed, reaching out. Cannot reach back. Too difficult to move. Suddenly, the entire scene shifted. Now, it was a more familiar street, and almost the same scenario. The familiarity was overwhelming. Once again, a scene unfolded as it had many times before. As before, it was now possible to move. Over at the wrecked speeder, the shadow, a small young girl, clung to an older man. She was barely breathing and the man was surely dead. Blaster fire suddenly rings out.

Evening Delwynn snapped awake and sat up. Her heart was racing, her breathing short and frantic. She was sweating profusely and was completely soaked. Her hands shook as she left the bed and walked toward the refresher. How long had she slept? Turning on the light, she stared at herself in the mirror. Her face, worn and fatigued, complimented her disheveled hair and sweat-covered sleepwear which was barely hanging from her shoulders. The clock indicated she had slept for about four hours. The abrupt end to her sleeping did not help the fatigue either. Nevertheless, she had experienced the same dream before. At least thirty times, in fact. This time, however, there was someone new in it. Someone she had never seen. Although the girl was plain and her features barely visible, she was not identifiable. No physical traits could genuinely be discerned. The more she focused on the girl, the less she could remember how she appeared. She was simply a phantom in the dream.

Exhausted and disconcerted, Delwynn showered again and changed into something dry and clean. Stripping the bed, she tossed the wet sheets into a basket and pulled clean ones out of a drawer. Maybe she would try sleeping again. Still, a deep-rooted ache in the core of her being had been unnerved. It was the same ache that could be her driving force through investigations. It also was all the unresolved hurt and pain of so many years. After dressing the bed, she sat on the corner and softly cried. It was not often that she cried, but the dream had prompted the emotion. The dream, as her pain, haunted her at random times. The slight change, though, upset her even more. Yet, she did not know why.

Pulling herself together, Delwynn stood and left the cabin, walking into the office. She avoided looking at anything of sentimental value and proceeded directly into the hallway. She needed to eat something quickly and did not want Danstari to see her in mere sleepwear. Although, there was nothing revealing about the garments. Reaching the lounge, Master Greystone was quietly sleeping on the long bench. His simple, breathy snoring filled the space. Delwynn walked carefully past the Jedi and opened the refrigerator. Taking a piece of bread, some meat, and a container of enriched water from it, she walked carefully back through her office and into her private quarters. She sat on a chair in the corner of the room, the office door to the right and the bed in front of her.

Nibbling on the meat, she tried to turn her attention to the case. Such futility. All she could think about was the dream, and it was beginning to irritate her. Right now she needed something to break her concentration. Maybe some ridiculous holodrama would fit the bill. She never liked that type of entertainment, though. Too unrealistic. Of course, she had too much realistic drama on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps if she recounted the case and tried searching for more loopholes in her logic.

Finishing the bread, Delwynn continued to ponder the case in an effort to defeat any thoughts of the nightmare. After a few minutes of sifting details, she decides just to lay down and rest. She opened the container of the water and quickly drank it, hoping to replenish what she lost from sweating so profusely. Finishing the container, she violently chucked it across the cabin and into the refresher room, where it clanked just under the sink. Sighing, she resolved to make an attempt at sleeping. The mental relaxation was more important. Crawling into the bed, she slid under the sheets. Turning out the lights and rolling over, Delwynn slowed her breathing and just tried to think about nothingness. It felt like an eternity, but eventually Delwynn dosed and fell into a deep sleep.

Six hours later, Delwynn arose again. This time, more naturally and slowly. There was no violent or abrupt end to this slumber. She walked into the refresher room, accidentally kicking the small canister which she had flung in there earlier, and washed her face. She then grabbed some clothing that was more appropriate for daily business and changed. It was time to get to work.

Delwynn moved from her personal quarters into her office. She plugged her datapad into the computer on the desk and began looking up details about Hazar Tordana, the owner and executive officer of Czerka Arms. The company, Czerka, had an extensive list of strikes against it throughout its history: from allying with Sith invaders to slaver operations. Even almost three thousand years after the Great War, Czerka was still notorious for dealing in black market and back-water channels. As she searched through Republic records, however, Tordana was so contrastingly clean it shocked the seasoned agent. Not one incident of impropriety was recorded. Not even a speeding ticket.

Delwynn kept browsing, but Tordana was clean. Too clean. Either his minions did the dirty work or it was a concocted identity used to throw off the authorities. She decided to turn her attention to his business proceedings. Searching through public records, the agent learned that Tordana had bought the then-struggling company ten years earlier by his own personal wealth, an expense that caused him to incur great debt. After four years of restructuring, he was able to pay off the loans as the company turned profitable. He led a strong business model, and all his transactions were filed with the necessary boards and commissions for purchases, buyouts, contracts, and wages. Delwynn was not an expert at business law, but everything seemed to be in order.

Perhaps, the agent thought, Tordana was really that clean. Maybe he was one of the good guys. It would be a great relief, she thought, if he in fact was a good businessman at the head of such a bellwether of crime, corruption, and scandal. Contrarily, if this was all a highly complicated ruse designed to cover illegal activities, such as those Regueny was inadvertently mediating, Tordana was someone to be feared. With his power and wealth, he could almost command whole systems to war. Such was the price of large galaxy-spanning corporations.

Delwynn memorized a few details about some recent transactions and deals before turning her attention to dealings with Eriadu Interstellar Enterprises. When Senator Regueny had supposedly visited Denon, the head of EIE had, as well. Either this, or the mystery being's signature was forged on the transaction documents for biological materials. Staring at the screen, the signature was illegible and under the scribbling was simply the title as head of EIE. Reading through the list of purchases, EIE was stockpiling vaccines, antidotes, and large quantities of organic compounds. In a way, it almost appeared that the head of EIE was expecting a biological war to break out. Delwynn was curious why the prices seemed so far above what she believed market value was. Three hundred thousand vials of an anti-parasite medication, for example, were bought for 7.3 million credits. Surely that was not market value. Plus, there is no record of how it was shipped. This was supposed to be filed with the purchase.

This must have been Regueny's further involvement. He must have transported the payload of pharmaceutical supplies, along with war materiel stashed in between. The price of weapons could have been subsumed into the price of the legal purchase. Of course, that was complete speculation. But, a leak about the smuggling or dealing of weapons supposedly did come from somewhere within the realm of those who had direct contact with the senator. Then again, even Delwynn had no idea who the tipsters had been. They were completely anonymous.

The last order of business in the search was his office staff. Five Human women and six female Twi'leks made up his support staff in the office. Typical sex-driven chauvinist, the agent thought. His two top advisors were Human males who specialized in advertising and marketing. These men would be virtually inaccessible, she thought. Maybe the secretaries and office staff would know something. Thinking about how to approach that, she decided to take Danstari to the Czerka headquarters. Danstari seemed to have a way with women. Maybe his charm could be successful. Master Greystone and Shalli could tend to the vessel, and Asana could pilot it a short distance in an emergency. Delwynn could defend herself on Denon.

Satisfied with what she found, she transferred the findings to her datapad and left the office. Walking into the lounge, she greeted Shalli, who was eating a piece of necufruit with alnut butter. The small meal looked appetizing and the agent decided to grab a piece of fruit as well. Taking one off the counter, she walked over to the jar of alnut butter and smothered it on the outside of the fruit. Smiling, she took a bite and walked down the hall, toward the cockpit.

Inside the cockpit, Danstari was soundly sleeping. While there was not much for him to do, Delwynn wanted to make certain he had followed up on the lead about the maintenance droid. Still, it was not quite time for him to awaken. He would have to pilot the boxy vessel through the busy, if not ravaging, skylanes of Denon where accidents were common. He needed to be at his best. Plus, she had been tough on the lieutenant recently. This was only his first foray into the world of investigative activities. Better to let him sleep another hour or so while it was safe to do so.

Moving from the cockpit out the port side door, Delwynn walked to the converted maintenance bay where Asana had her lab. The Twi'lek, too, was sleeping. Her head rested in a corner against the wall while she was in a sitting position on the pink mattress. Not wanting to disturb her either, Delwynn walked through the lab and peered at the various tests that were now finished. The results, sitting on the screens of the machines, revealed precious little to the investigator. Mostly, it was more confirmation that the three Rodians had been in the room where Regueny had died and fled out the kitchen. A few blood tests were finished, but the agent was not sure which droplet was which. As a result, nothing was gained from looking at those.

Moving from the lab, Delwynn continued her journey through her ship. The hallway area made a large oval-like pattern and she had already traversed over half of the vessel. Deciding to pass by the computer lab and the meeting room, the agent checked on Catiene Gallien, who was still being held in the small bedroom-like chamber. It was, at least, a comfortable room. The problem was that the young woman had now been trapped in there for quite some time. Through the com device, Delwynn asked the financier if she needed anything. Gallien did not respond loudly. She just sighed and whispered "no." The agent realized that despondency was setting in and she needed to get the young woman to Coruscant or somewhere safe, but still in the custody of the GIN. Perhaps she would allow Gallien to take a short supervised walk around the ship just to get her out. She was not a threat to the agent and was not being charged with anything as of yet. If not for their travel and her vulnerability to the Rodian bounty hunters, she would legally be free to go at this point.

Instead of turning left down the last portion of the corridor yet traversed, back to the lounge area, Delwynn turned around and walked back to the computer lab. She needed to update the files within Emra's memory banks and wanted to give a cursory look to the progress of computer number three. Walking into the lab, Master Greystone was quietly meditating in the far corner near the computer Asana usually claimed. After all, it had her name scribbled on a placard above it. To her right, computer three was still briskly scanning Republic documents looking for matches of the mysterious man.

MR-A7 scooted across the room, chirping along the way. It approached Delwynn and gently bumped the agent's feet like a pittin looking for attention. Delwynn smirked as she looked down at the silver-colored droid. She plugged her datapad into the input on Emra's "torso" area and waited for the file to transfer. She did not have to push a button. Emra knew exactly what to do. The last time Delwynn attempted even a simple file transfer, she almost deleted the contents of her entire datapad. It was best to just let the droid do the work.

With the transfer done, Delwynn instructed Emra to update the backup copy of the case files with the new information. Then, the agent walked over toward her former teacher and quietly sat next to him on a nearby chair. She closed her eyes and tried to relax. As soon as she did, the memory of the nightmare flooded her mental sight. Trying not to act rashly, she slowly opened her eyes. The entire change of aura would undoubtedly be noticed by the Jedi, she thought. Attempting to evade any questions, she closed her eyes and simply tried to endure whatever her mind recalled.

"Nightmare, Evening?" the Jedi asked, remaining in the meditative position with his eyes closed.

"Eh. It was minor," she lied.

"Evening, why do you deny it?"

"Master, it is the same dream I've had before."

"Oh? Then why the angst?"

"Just something about it seemed different. Not sure. I just was really wrecked for a little bit."

"Were you able to get back to sleep?"

"Yes. I slept fine after."

"Good. Will you come get me when we make our final approach to Denon?"

"Sure, Master."

Delwynn rose to leave, but the Jedi grabbed her arm. He finally opened his eyes and looked up at the agent.

"Evening," he quietly and deliberately spoke. "Denon will have a break for you, I feel, but do not expect things to get any easier."

"What do you mean?"

"I sense such cloudiness and uncertainty about this man, and the entire case has some larger revelation. I believe you will have this on Denon, but I have been wrong before."

Delwynn nodded, not sure how to take such advisement at this point in time. She rarely became consumed by any case. While this was consuming time and energy, she still had her wits. Almost. The nightmare was rattling and the prior case had opened some wounds, as well. Yet, these instances were not the normative occurrence. Deciding that the Jedi had a reason for the comments—he never talked trivialities in such a way—Delwynn resolved to keep the thoughts in her mind and not reject them.

Thanking Master Greystone, she walked from the lab and returned to the cockpit. There, Danstari was beginning to wake up. Snapping to stoicism, Delwynn walked up behind the pilot's chair where the lieutenant was stretching and yawning.

"Danstari!" she shouted.

"Yeh… ah… b–boss," he said, stammering to his feet.

"Did you check into the maintenance droid from the convention center?"

"A bit, boss."

"A bit?"

"I still needed to double check something like you usually do."

"What were you waiting for, lieutenant?"

"N–nothing."

"Get to work, then. I'll mind the ship."

Danstari briskly left the cockpit, heading toward the port side of the ship. Delwynn chuckled and smirked at the scene. That time she was being a little mean to the lieutenant. Deciding to make certain he did not misinterpret the issue, she connected the comlink to Danstari.

"Danstari," she said.

"Yes, boss."

"I'm not mad."

"Ok, boss. Whatever you say."

"Danstari, don't push it. I am not mad, I just want it done."

"No problem boss. I'll have it right away, if not sooner."

Delwynn disengaged the connection and laughed. She was very pleased with how he was learning. Danstari just might make a good addition to her team, she thought. Taking out her datapad, she made a note to recommend him for permanent transfer once this case was resolved. He was becoming more and more reliable, and it pleased her greatly.

Chapter 15

Mally, approaching Denon

Come on, Shalli. It's Delwynn. It's always an interrogation.
—Asana Lani

Danstari ran back into the cockpit and jumped over the side of the pilot's chair, landing in the seat. He took a deep breath and sat back. Just in time, he thought. The ship was still being autopiloted through hyperspace en route to the commerce-controlled world of Denon. Slowly, the lieutenant glanced across the now empty cockpit. He had not noticed that Delwynn was no longer there. She must have gone to take care of something, he thought. He had hoped to report his findings. Or, in this case, the lack thereof. Of course, he had been gone about an hour. She probably had better things to do.

Then, Mally dropped out of hyperspace and into the Denon system. Grabbing hold of the controls, Danstari took a deep breath and braced himself for traffic that was even wilder than on Coruscant. At least there skylanes and skytunnels were generally observed and traversed somewhat orderly. On Denon, it was almost like a free-for-all. He carefully appraised the situation and disengaged the autopilot. Now fully in control, the lieutenant glanced at the scanner to assess surrounding traffic heading to and from the planet. Only visible as a fist size object, Denon appeared a dark, dirty brown ball from space.

"It smells even worse than it looks," Delwynn said, suddenly entering the cockpit.

"I'm going to have to get used to this, aren't I boss?" he asked.

Delwynn smirked and gestured toward the planet.

"Take us in," she said. "Safely."

"What's the address?" he asked.

"Fourteen-hundred Czerka," she replied. "Somewhere in parcel yirt-three-dorn."

Reaching over to the navicomputer, Danstari punched in the location on the planet. After a moment of calculating, a dot appeared on the sun-lit side of the southern hemisphere. He pushed the forward controls away from him, accelerating the craft. Within twenty minutes, the ship was entering the atmosphere near the southern pole.

"Does this Czerka guy know we are coming?" the lieutenant asked, still staring straight ahead. He was more occupied with the increasing traffic that was erratically weaving in and out of skylanes.

"No," Delwynn replied. "I did contact ahead to make certain he would be there. You're coming with me, you know."

"Oh?" Danstari responded in shock. "Why? I mean… Thank you, boss."

"I think you'll be good with the ladies," the agent replied with a chuckle.

Danstari was not sure how to take the comment, but he could not dwell on it. Traffic was everywhere. Even that was an understatement. He had grown up on Coruscant and learned how to fly in the busiest skylanes in the galaxy. Still, this chaos intimidated him.

"That must be the building," Danstari said, pointing ahead at a tall minaret-shaped structure that towered above the others in the vicinity. As he looked, vehicles were blitzing by at all angles, some even crossing the skylane he was in perpendicularly.

"Good," Delwynn said. "By the way, give your report on the droid to Asana so she can analyze it, then meet me at the port side boarding ramp when ready. Shalli and Asana are going to guard the ship. You and Master Greystone are coming with me."

Danstari nodded, and Delwynn left the cockpit. He focused on the building and saw an open parking area on an attached tower. This would probably be fine, he thought. As the ship approached, Danstari gently set it on the space he had eyed. There appeared to be no paystations around, but the lot was mostly full. The Czerka building, its tall minaret spire was only about one hundred meters away. Securing the vessel to the parking area surface, he disengaged the primary controls and idled the engine until it turned off.

It was time for work, Danstari thought. He stood and began walking out of the cockpit. Before he departed the room, however, he patted his sides, looking for his blaster and datapad. Realizing they had fallen out and onto the pilot's seat, he trotted back to the chair. He secured the weapon to his belt but retained hold of the datapad. The lieutenant then departed the cockpit and walked down the port side corridor to Asana's lab. There, he set the datapad on the lab stool next to the machine that was running a test of some kind. He then scribbled a note for Asana and proceeded to the boarding ramp where Delwynn and the Jedi Master were waiting.

"Everyone has their instructions," Delwynn said. "Shalli and Asana will continue working on those forensic results to identify the pair of legs that Palt Bimwera took to Coruscant. Asana has the testing for it all done. Now comes digging through records."

"Whatever happens, Danstari, let Agent Delwynn do the talking," the Jedi Master stated. "And, do anything she tells you."

"Yes, sir," the lieutenant replied.

"Anything," Master Greystone furthered.

"Absolutely, sir," Danstari affirmed.

"Let's go, then," Delwynn ordered. "I don't want this Czerka guy to get away."

Danstari followed Delwynn and the Jedi Master off the boarding ramp and onto the large parking area. No one said anything as the trio walked across the lot and into the grey-and-black building. As he walked, however, Danstari noticed a strange smell. Maybe Delwynn was right. Maybe the planet did have a subtle, but very foul order. Reaching the building, Danstari rushed ahead to engage the door. Acting with courtesy, he allowed the others to enter and fell in line behind them.

The interior had a pleasant aroma to it. Perhaps, considering the vile smell of the open air, it was the first thing someone would notice. Aesthetically, the place smelt nice but looked dreary. Dark colored hallways of various tones with dark tile floors made up the maze of offices and reception desks. Danstari simply continued to follow the agent and Jedi Master as they walked briskly and dutifully through the corridors, almost as if they knew where they were going. Or, at least, they were acting like it. Periodically, Master Greystone leaned over and whispered a short statement to Delwynn. Perhaps he was guiding her to this Hazar Tordana being with the Force. He had heard of that type of feat being possible with experienced Jedi.

Hallway after hallway, the environment was the same. Danstari also began to notice the demographic of the Czerka employees. They were all Humans. Other than the occasional droid, every being that he had seen was a Human. The lieutenant shuttered at the thought that Czerka was running a Humanocentric operation on Denon. At the moment, it sure looked that way.

"Next office," Master Greystone said. His lone words shook Danstari back to the moment.

Delwynn stopped in front of a light brown doorway and paused. Danstari watched as she typed something into her datapad and looked to both sides. Seemingly satisfied, the agent opened the door and walked in. The lieutenant dutifully followed her and the Jedi Master into a pleasant beige-colored reception area with stone floors and fine furniture. Three secretaries, all Human females, were working at along row of desks along the far wall. Next to the desks was a set of double-doors.

"Can I help you?" a young blond-haired secretary asked in a cheerful voice.

"I would like to speak to Mister Tordana," Delwynn replied.

"Do you have an appointment?" the secretary chirped.

"No," Delwynn answered. "But, it is urgent."

"I'm sorry, ma'am," the secretary peacefully continued. "You need an appointment to see him."

Danstari caught Delwynn's facial expression. It was calm and collected, even though the young woman had just called her "ma'am." Trying to portray the same demeanor, Danstari shifted his weight to the back of his right foot and placed his hands on his hips. At the same time, the secretary stood and moved out from behind the desk, only to stand in front of it.

"Your name, miss?" Delwynn asked pointedly.

"Yawa," the blond-haired woman responded.

"Miss Yawa," Delwynn furthered. "I work for the Republic and I came a long way to talk with your boss. It is very important you let me see him."

"I'm sorry," the secretary remarked.

The young woman did not seem willing to back down, and Delwynn obviously knew it. Danstari eyed the other two secretaries, one with brown hair, the other with blue hair. They each had shifted in their seats and appeared to be in a position to draw weapons. Concerned, Danstari thought he should be prepared to draw his. Before he could, Master Greystone turned and glanced at the lieutenant with a horizontal nod. Danstari understood. The Jedi did not want weapons drawn to cause a scuffle. Still, Danstari wanted to make sure he was the one to shoot first. Not some secretary for a businessman.

"You work for the Republic?" the blond-haired secretary chided. "I've heard that one before. Get out before I have security throw you out."

"Jedi Master Sidian Greystone," the Jedi proclaimed, stepping forward. "I am here as part of my duties, and I trust that you are not willing to stand in the way of Jedi business."

The young woman did not seem completely impressed and depressed a button on the desk.

"We'll see," she spat.

Danstari prepared for anything. Was there a secret chamber under their feet? Was a security droid coming? Suddenly, a voice was heard through a speaker.

"Yes, Yawa," the voice said.

"Three people claiming to be Jedi working for the Republic want to see you, sir," she said.

"Tell them to sit," the voice continued. "I'll get them when I'm done with this meeting in about five minutes."

Delwynn did not wait for the secretary to relay the instructions. Immediately upon hearing the voice state delay, she turned toward the fancy light brown furniture and sat. Master Greystone followed suit while Danstari continued to gaze upon the women. He was still concerned about a trap. Something did not feel right.

"I have a bad feeling about this," the lieutenant quietly said as he walked toward Delwynn.

"Calm down, Danstari," she replied. "This is easy compared to some people I've had to deal with."

"Maybe," the Jedi interpolated, turning his stare toward Delwynn as if ready to speak. Instead he simply shook his head and looked at his feet.

— — —

"Yes, yes, yes!" Asana shouted, jumping up and down like a teenager in front of the "spectrometer," as Asana called it. The machine had finished the last of the results from the mysterious blood splatter.

Shalli simply sat there, watching the forensic specialist celebrate. To her, the finishing of test results was not that exciting. Of course, the whole idea of testing blood, and other bodily fragments, did not impress her. She tried to sense why Asana was so pleased, though. She felt nothing. Perhaps, the Omwati thought, there was nothing overly spectacular about what had happened.

"They matched!" Asana exclaimed as she turned toward Shalli.

"What matched?" Shalli asked.

"The legs, the blood splatter, and that entire mess."

"I could have told you that."

Asana provided a nonapproving glare toward Shalli as she postured righteously on her stool. The Twi'lek then took a couple of steps forward and began to shake her index finger of her right hand.

"But…" Asana retorted with a broad smile, still shaking her finger. "Could you have told me that those legs belonged to a Human male about thirty years of age who was part Kuati?"

"What?" Shalli asked, dumbfounded. She cocked her head to the right and tried to ponder how that could have happened. "You're guessing."

"No, I'm not," the Twi'lek affirmed.

"That little machine told you all that?"

"Absolutely. I analyzed the blood for the DNA. The cells belonged to a Human male. That was the easy part."

"But, Kuati?"

"Kind of strange, but I thought to look at the DNA structure. We needed some kind of lead, and I've done it before. Inside the blood cells, there was one particular chromosome that stood out. It is unique to people of Kuati origins."

"Why would you think to do that?"

"Shalli, when you've been doing forensics as long as I have, you learn to look for anything when you have nothing."

The Omwati had no response for that remark. What could she say? She had no experience in investigating, let alone the sciences of forensics. In fact, she had no idea what she was even doing in the lab other than following orders. Delwynn had instructed her to help Asana finish the test results and to contact the medical examiner, if possible, with those results. The agent obviously wanted to identify the second body found at the scene.

"Shalli," Asana said. "Could you hand me those pictures of the two legs?"

Shalli reached over and grabbed the pictures from the counter beside her and walked over to the Twi'lek. Asana was taking the test samples out of the spectrometer and placing them in a secure portable bin. Having emptied the machine, Asana grabbed the images from the Jedi and started looking through them with earnest. After a few seconds of staring at each one, she walked over to an empty counter and started spreading them out.

"Come over here," the forensics expert chirped, still staring at the images.

Shalli obliged, but said nothing. She was not quite sure what she was looking at other than images from the gruesome scene on Eriadu.

"Take a look at this one," Asana said, pointing at the pair of legs, buttocks upward.

"It looks like a pair of random legs," Shalli casually replied with the hope that the Twi'lek had a purpose to this excursion.

"No, look closer. Look at the way the body is shaped. If an explosive detonated inside the person, then it should be uneven."

Shalli was confused, and Asana must have noticed it.

"Look, if the body was severed by a sharp object or by, say, a lightsaber…"

Shalli glared at Asana, interrupting her. "Jedi don't do things like that."

Asana tossed her hands in the air and shook her head.

"Anyway," the Twi'lek continued. "Take a look at the way the legs are cut off of the body. The cut is jagged and torn apart. It is kind of the way a frag detonator explodes."

"What does that mean?" Shalli asked.

"Frag detonators leave behind traces. Somewhere. There were none at the scene."

"I'm don't follow."

"The only other option would be an anti-compression detonator. That would generate enough force to tear the flesh rather than burn it. It also would splatter the blood."

"Anti-compression detonator?"

"Yeah, I've never seen it be used before, so I'm not certain. Delwynn might know more about it."

Asana then trotted over to the computer and briskly typed something in.

"Let's see what we can find in the database."

Shalli walked over to the computer as Shalli continued typing and flipping through data. This was far beyond her understanding. Until a moment ago, she had never even heard of an anti-compression detonator. What did it even do?

"There we go," Asana blurted, pointing at the screen. After a pause, she started reading the file aloud. "Anti-compression detonators are military grade compact explosives used most often by planetary defense forces in covert operations. These devices are about the size of a humanoid eye and can easily be placed in just about any location. Their impact range is about one half meter. Everything within this one meter radius is violently pressed outward at speeds near the speed of sound by super compressed air. It leaves no residue behind and scatters all matter."

"Are they even legal?" Shalli asked.

"I guess so," Asana hesitatingly replied. "Wait… no, they are not for public use. They are only permitted for use by the Judicial Forces or local planetary governments with approval for a special operation."

"You mean, the Judicial Forces is involved?" the Omwati asked.

"No, but Czerka might. It says here they make this kind of an explosive."

"Should we contact Delwynn?"

"Probably, but send the message through the datapad. She has a rule about bothering her while interrogating."

"But, she's not there to interrogate the Czerka owner."

"Come on, Shalli. It's Delwynn. It's always an interrogation."


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