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Chapter 1

Eriadu

More bureaucracy isn't what is going to help us. Excess bureaucracy got us into this mess in the first place!
—Senator Alta Eddicus

Special Agent Evening Delwynn sat in her office aboard the Mally, rifling through information about Torrik Samit. It had been a long six hours since the raid on the doctor's house had occurred. As it stood now, his death was a blow to her investigation. She had wanted to question him desperately. Now, the Czerka employee was laying on a repulsorcart with a medical examiner probing his lifeless corpse. The different aspects of this case were far too elusive for her liking.

During those six hours, she had made a request for the body to be picked up, Asana and Danstari had finished processing the house basement, and the loyal MR-A7 had begun scanning through the computers that were recovered to trace what was being researched along with any communications between Samit and anyone of suspicion. All the while, Master Greystone was in contact with the Jedi Order, trying to diffuse a potential situation between Grand Master m'Ord Vinka and other members of the Jedi Council.

Delwynn glanced at an image of all the documents that were stacked in the cellar of the house. All of Samit's research would have to be looked at, she thought, but they would probably have to hire a scientist to analyze it. No one on the team was acutely qualified for such a task. Delwynn’s heart sank, however, thinking that all the information, about whatever scheme was afoot, was most likely already in the hands of Zranik. Avar Zranik… what an evil name.

Tired of sifting through the information, the investigator stood and walked over to the holoimages on the shelf. Looking at her daughter, she let out a slow, deep breath. Not allowing her emotions to swell uncontrollably, Delwynn turned back toward the desk and grabbed the comlink and her datapad. She then walked out of the office, down the hallway and into the computer room. There, Emra was busy scanning all the files on the computer taken out of Samit's cellar for important communiqués, keys to the research, or anything else linking the doctor to the case.

Delwynn watched for a moment as the droid worked dutifully. She then decided to check in with the rest of the team. Walking back into the hallway and down the port side ramp, the agent marched stoically through the high grass to the white-washed house. Entering the building, she made her way to the cellar where Asana, Shalli, and a Zabrak were working.

"Agent Delwynn," the Zabrak called, flagging her down with his arms. "Agent Delwynn, I will get this body to Doctor Bimwera on Alsakan immediately. We're ready for transport now."

"Thank you, Agent Aor," Delwynn replied. "What about security, since you came alone?"

"I can contact headquarters and get permission to use the Protectorate's hyperspace routes, if you want."

"That would be good. I prefer we take no chances."

"You being out here really saved us," Asana interrupted.

"Not a problem," the Zabrak replied. "We owed you guys one, anyway."

Agent Aor zipped up the body bag and pushed a repulsorcart to the stairway. Depressing a button, the cart inclined to an angle and ascended the stairs in an automated progression. Once the agent and the cart were out of sight, Delwynn turned her attention to her team members. Asana was sorting papers into boxes and labeling them while Shalli was imaging the ground where the body had been.

"Who was that being?" Shalli coldly chided.

"Agent Aor," Delwynn calmly replied while walking toward a computer. She ignored the Omwati's apparent indignation.

"So," Shalli retorted with an indignant expression. "Who was he?"

Agent Delwynn was annoyed by Shalli's suspicion. Glancing at Asana, Delwynn noticed that the Twi'lek had turned her back and moved away from the Jedi. Rather than escalate the situation, Delwynn decided to quell her fear.

"He's an assistant to the medical examiner in our Thyferra office," Delwynn replied. She moved over toward Asana and started glancing at the labels on the boxes. "He was on Aitrien, dropping off unclaimed bodies when I called Thyferra for assistance a few hours ago."

"Oh," Shalli returned. "What's Aitrien?"

Delwynn desired to no longer continue the interrogative conversation. She saw how this was progressing along with the deeply calloused nature of Shalli's suspicion. The agent glanced at Asana, who had stealthily peered over her right shoulder.

"The graveyard moon in the Seswenna system," Asana interjected with a sigh, handing a note to Delwynn. "I think this is what we are looking for."

Delwynn took the note and noticed it was handwritten. How archaic, she thought. Even so, hand-written pieces of paper remained the best way to communicate in secret. No electronic trace could be done on this message. The agent noticed that while the wrinkled piece of paper was unaddressed, it contained a signature. It looked as no more than a scribble upon first glance, but it was definitely a piece of evidence. The message was rather lengthy, however.

Inside the four vials is a compound that seems to affect your test-subjects, but I cannot find anything that outright kills them. The formula slows their growth and stops them from feeding, but it is toxic to Humans and Twi'leks. It would have to be administered apart from them. My best conjecture is that we would have to wait for these things to kill themselves off first, although they do react strangely to some of the amirite crystals you provided me. Still, they do not appear to be indestructible once they are absorbed. The same acids that eat away flesh do eventually kill them. I advise you to reconsider some aspects of the plan because of this. This could become out of control and effect far more beings than originally hoped.

"What is this supposed to mean?" Delwynn exclaimed after finishing the note.

"Not sure," Asana replied. "Unless… maybe this has something to do with that evil man's plans."

"Shalli," the agent called. "I want you to read this, then dig through those four stacks of paper and find any hand-written notes that seem related."

Shalli sighed and said, "But, that will take…"

"As long as it needs to," Delwynn interrupted.

As soon as the Omwati took the note and began reading it, Delwynn turned her back to the Jedi, as if disciplining a small child. She then walked up the stairs and to the main level of the house. There, Danstari was flipping through the papers in the study. When the agent entered the room, he snapped to attention.

"Still working, boss," the lieutenant replied.

"Uh-huh," Delwynn responded with a small nod. "What have you learned?"

"Not a whole lot. Most of his research is electronic, and it appears to be closely tied to someone within Eriadu Interstellar Enterprises. Nothing official connects them, but the dead doc has clearly communicated about some 'business deal' with at least two, maybe three people in that company."

"Names?"

"I'll take them down and run a search."

"Now would be a good time for you to learn how to request a warrant."

"What do you mean, boss?"

"I'm going to show you what you have to do to get a fast-tracked warrant request. Master Greystone and Shalli are going to have to raid the EIE offices in Eriadu City for us. Once the Master gets back, that is."

"Don't bother," Master Greystone said, entering the room.

"What do you mean?" Delwynn inquired as she turned to see the Jedi walking toward her.

"The building burned down an hour ago," the Jedi responded. My meeting with the Jedi Council was interrupted by a communiqué that just came for you about five minutes ago. The locals claim it was a gas leak, but the headquarters has been destroyed. A few injuries, but mostly the comm servers are undoubtedly beyond our ability to trace anything."

"Great," the agent spat with exacerbation. "Just what we needed: the one lead we didn't follow is now burned to oblivion."

"All fifty-three employees in that building escaped," Master Greystone continued. "The media is completely engrossed by this right now, and Humanocentric radicals are rioting in the streets."

"You know how I feel about the media," Delwynn quipped. "Zranik probably had it burned down to hide evidence. I would put every credit I have on it."

"Don't be so sure," the Jedi returned. "I sense something else… something… elsewhere."

Delwynn gave her former teacher a look of anticipation, hoping that he would explain such a vague statement.

"I began to sense something strange in the Force while talking with the Jedi Council," he continued. "We may be too late to prevent whatever Zranik's latest move is, but we can still anticipate anything thereafter."

"Master," Delwynn sighed before turning toward the wall. She leaned against it, her forehead resting on the cold wall surface, her arms dangling lifelessly. Internally, she was frantically reviewing anything, looking for a lead. She reviewed the initial discovery of Regueny on Eriadu, the explosion in the hotel, the encounter on Denon, and each interrogation of Catiene Gallien. Then

the question of motive struck her. Why would Zranik want to do any of this? Was it a simple embezzlement and smuggling rung gone amuck? Was there actually anything more sinister? Maybe these ties to Czerka, for one, were more business-related and not connected to the criminal activities. The key to this must be somewhere.

"The bank robberies," the agent blurted. She stood up straight and started for the doorway.

"Lieutenant," Master Greystone called. "Keep looking through these papers and then contact me in a few minutes with those names. I'm going with Agent Delwynn."

Delwynn kept walking, leaving the house and tromping through the field briskly. By the time she reached the Mally, Master Greystone had caught up. The pair entered the ship and promptly walked to the computer room where Emra was working.

"Emra, pull up the pictures of the bank robbery on Alsakan," she instructed.

The droid paused its search through the chemical formulas and biological images of insects. Then, putting those to the side of the screen, it pulled up an image of the bank robbery on Alsakan.

"I'm missing something somewhere," Delwynn chided herself. "Four beings… two outside, two inside."

The agent then closed her eyes and focused on the images, fiercely blocking out those of her loved ones. She mentally reviewed the bank, the layout, the robbers, and the aftermath. The scene flooded back into her mind with ease, as if she had been standing there, within the bank itself. She had seen the holoprojections of the robbery in process and knew the bank intimately, for it had been her local branch. The scene rushed around her in her mind, elapsing in real time. Patrons hustled around her, as she stood looking toward the doorway. Suddenly, two armed men entered and rushed the counter. They fired blasts that missed the passersby who were frantically diving to the floor. As she continued to experience the scene diachronically, she placed Zranik as one of the robbers. The men lined up the staff and grabbed a Sullustan manager. They flogged him once in the chest before forcing him to open a vault. With the vault open, they executed him with a shot to the back of the skull. The robbers plugged a device into the mainframe that was in the vault, and started for the entryway. As Zranik fled the scene, he unleashed his projectile launcher.

"Evening," Delwynn heard from a calm voice. "Evening…"

Delwynn suddenly snapped out of her trance.

"Evening," Master Greystone spoke softly, his eyes closed. "Don't retrace that next part."

"I just cannot seem to see anything unexpected."

"Evening, you're trying too hard."

"Always the teacher."

"Always a student."

"I know, Master. Details are the key." Resignation filled the agent's voice.

After a moment of pondering, Delwynn acquired a series of quick thoughts. Maybe the Sullustan was important. Possibly the staff on duty was notable. Perhaps the amount stolen had finally surfaced in the current affairs, and the connections between the past and present would need to be checked… again.

"How much was taken in this robbery?" she asked.

Emra pulled up a chart, outlining the amounts that were reported stolen from the Anaxes, Brentaal IV, Shawken, and Alsakan heists. Delwynn peered upon them, noticing that the total sum was well over seven hundred million credits.

"That explains how Zranik got rich," the agent smarted. "Maybe Miss Gallien has seen some of that money."

"You suspect her?" Master Greystone asked.

"I have my suspicions," Delwynn answered as she moved over to a chair near the doorway. "She is certainly not as innocent as she appears. I'm just trying to keep her talking and comfortable. Maybe if she is a part of this scheme, then she would believe that I'm being soft on her."

"When are you taking her to Thyferra?"

"As soon as we can. I'm poking the rancor by holding her on my ship like this."

"Why don't I stay with Shalli in Eriadu City for a couple of days to monitor the situation at that fire? Then, you can bring the girl to Thyferra."

"I'm fine with that. I trust you."

"We could stay at that base outside the city. Honestly, Evening, I'd rather not bring Shalli to where those riots are."

"I can pull my connections to get you in there. There is a bigger issue, however. I have to hand this site over to the locals soon."

"Why?"

"Master, I'm hamstrung by Eriadu law on this." Delwynn paused as thoughts swirled into her mind. "Well, on second thought, let's make the locals find it. Zranik does not want to be traced. He would be foolish to turn in a prime murder site. I'll have Danstari and Asana set up surveillance of the house. Then, we can let it sit and see if anyone returns. It's not going to pop up on the radar of the local police since, after all, there is no body. It's sitting in a cooler on the way to the Core right now!"

"At worst, Shalli and I would be about two hours away, but that is still quite a distance."

"I'll take my chances."

"Seems like you have it all planned out."

"You know as well as I, Master, the plan rarely holds."

At that moment, Danstari walked into the room, a stack of papers in hand. He smirked, leaned up against the door-frame cockily, and held out the stack.

"And these are?" Delwynn quipped.

"Everything you asked for," Danstari responded. "The names are on the top sheet, and underneath that is every handwritten scientific document I could find."

"Good," the agent replied.

"What's next, boss?" the lieutenant asked, placing the heap of papers on a desk near the doorway.

"Give those names to Master Greystone to investigate. Then, check on Gallien and prepare everything for departure," Delwynn instructed.

"Where are we headed?" Danstari inquired.

"Thyferra," she said straightway.

"On it," the lieutenant returned before handing the top paper to the Jedi Master. He then walked back into the hallway and departed out of sight.

Delwynn turned back toward the stack and flipped through the side of it with her thumb. She sighed and shook her head before glancing up at the robbery statistics. Closing her eyes, she attempted to formulate a mental chart of where the money could have been spent. She envisioned some of the loot being squandered, after having been split four ways—after all, it appeared that there had been four known members involved. With the money split four ways, Zranik would only have acquired 1.75 million credits. While that amounts to a substantial total, the agent thought, that should not necessarily have been enough for him to have bought Eriadu Interstellar Enterprises outright. Of course, investigating that assumes that she could actually get access to the incorporation paperwork.

"Master," Delwynn asked, turning toward the Jedi, who was sifting through the stack of documents. "I have a request for when you go to Eriadu City."

"EIE documents?" Master Greystone queried.

"Yes, but specifically documents about when Zranik became involved. I want to know everything about when the company was formed; who all owners are, were, and will be; a list of shareholders; and a list of facilities."

"Basically, you want everything."

"Almost, Master… almost."

"With the fire, and Eriadu law protecting those documents, I might not be able to get my hands on things that otherwise would have been less heavily guarded. The local police are certainly involved."

"I know, but that was my mistake. I let this lead slide. I just hope it doesn't cost me the case."

"Acquiring those without court order would have been illegal, so you didn't do anything wrong by putting it off."

"I could have had Pelmar put pressure on them to give us the documents."

"Don't worry, Evening. I'll see what I can do."

At that, Master Greystone turned and walked out of the room. Delwynn quietly walked over to Emra and tapped the droid on its head. The droid cooed and whirred before quickly returning to its investigation of the electronic scientific documents that it had previously been undertaking. The agent then walked back over to the stack of papers and picked them up. Walking over to the droid, she placed them on the ground.

"I owe you one, Emra," she said, turning to exit the room. "I'll make it up to you."

— — —

Inside the house, Asana had wrapped up her work and was taking her equipment up the stairs to the main level. There, Shalli was still looking through a pile of papers. The Twi'lek passed the Omwati, carrying her bags of forensic investigative utilities, but Asana noticed something above the main doorway to the house. There, above the door, a one meter-long wood panel appeared ever-so-slightly loose. The Twi'lek set her bags down and moved a chair to the door-frame. The screeching of the chair legs along the floor caught the Omwati's attention.

"What are you doing?" Shalli asked, her voice flat and distant.

"I just want to see what is up here," Asana said.

"What do you mean?" the Jedi continued.

Asana ignored the question and pulled out a pair of gloves. Donning them, she climbed the chair and placed her hands on the panel. She gently shifted it in place and tried to put her fingers around it. After a moment of fussing with it, the Twi'lek was able to grip it with two hands. Slowly, she pulled it from the wall. Behind the panel was foam insulation with a divot. Asana jumped off the chair and grabbed her imager. Swapping the imager for the wood plank, she remounted the chair.

Asana aimed the imager into the divot in the insulation and captured some images. She quickly checked them and noticed something solid and black in the viewscreen. Deciding to hunt for it, she reached her hand up and into the opening and searched with her glove-encased fingers. Nestled within the insulation was something solid, relatively flat, and square-shaped. Pulling the object out, Asana continued to capture

images. The Twi'lek was satisfied and stepped off the chair. Suddenly, she noticed it was a computer chip.

"What's that?" Shalli asked, walking over to the chair.

Asana remained peering closely at the chip, trying to see if anything was inscribed on the object or if there were any distinctive marks. It simply appeared as a plain computer chip.

"Well?" the Jedi pressed, although there was no angst in her voice.

"It looks like a computer chip," the forensic expert chirped. She unleashed a wry smile. "It also looks like I have another job to do."

Asana grabbed an evidence bag from her supplies and put the chip inside it. Sealing the bag, she gathered her belongings together again and headed out the door.

"Where are you going?" Shalli asked, calling toward Asana.

"Back to the ship," the Twi'lek replied without turning around. "I've got work to do."

"What about me?" Shalli called to the exiting forensicist.

Asana ignored Shalli as she kept walking. She put the thought out of her mind and focused solely on the chip in the evidence bag. First was checking it for any fingerprints or DNA traces. Next was to then plug the chip into a computer and see what was being stored. Hopefully, she thought, this could be done swiftly so that the next step Delwynn had planned could be executed.

Chapter 2

Sure, we'll talk over dinner. There's nothing more romantic than a pre-cooked salt-preserved frozen gizka steak that has to be heated up by an ion warmer.
—Lieutenant Waron Danstari

Danstari was walking briskly down the secure corridor toward the cockpit of the Mally. He had provided Catiene Gallien with some food and fresh linens to sleep, as instructed. Now, he was readying everything for travel to Thyferra. He darted into the bridge passageway and through the cockpit doors. He jumped over the back of the pilot's chair, his feet flying outward and to the right. Landing squarely in the seat, he started up the navicomputer and life-support systems. A series of beeps came from the console as the systems began operating. The lieutenant, waiting for the systems to fully start, began drumming out the rhythm of the vessel's mechanisms with his palms on the steering column.

After a few moments of tapping the rather regular rhythm, Danstari engaged the navicomputer and found the coordinates for Thyferra. He then activated the long-range communicator and sent a hailing signal to the GIN Thyferra Office. The pilot then stood and spun around, his weight on the ball of his right foot. He stopped, facing the cockpit doors. The lieutenant calmly, but confidently, strode back into the main hallway area.

"You have one more assignment before you take us to Thyferra," Delwynn said as she turned the corner toward Danstari.

"And that would be?" Danstari inquired. He was amazed at how she seemed to have just appeared when he needed to speak with her.

"You and Asana need to set up some surveillance cameras around the house so we can monitor it while away," the agent stated.

"Sounds good," the lieutenant replied. "If I might ask, boss, why are we going to monitor it?"

Delwynn paused her gait and smiled wryly at the inquiry. "I want to see if any of those jerks we're pursuing return to the scene of the crime. Maybe someone will come looking for his papers and research—"

"Or maybe this," Asana said, interrupting the conversation she stumbled upon.

"And this is?" Delwynn asked.

"It looks like a computer chip." the Twi'lek replied. "I'm going to run a quick check for prints or DNA. Even if those fail, I'm going to plug this in and see what's on it. I'll know more in a few minutes."

"I need you to set up some cameras," Delwynn returned.

"I'll be on it in just a moment," the Asana responded. She then walked between Delwynn and Danstari as she continued down the hallway toward her laboratory. "Let me start the print scans first. They can run while we put up the cameras."

Delwynn simply sighed, her wry smile now gone. Instead, it seemed to have been replaced by an understanding, yet reluctant expression.

"Well, then," the agent smarted before retracing Asana's steps and into her lab.

Danstari quickly followed in tow, not wanting to be left behind. When he entered the lab, he watched as the Twi'lek took the chip out of the bag and placed it on a scanning device. After a few seconds, the machine beeped and the chip was removed. Delwynn then walked over toward the far wall, where a computer was stationed, and leaned against the grey durasteel with her right arm on her hip. Asana, at the same time, simply sighed and brushed the backs of her lekku, gently pushing them in front of her shoulders. The two remained for a couple of silent moments.

Suddenly, the awkward stillness was interrupted by the machine beeping again. While Delwynn remained with her left shoulder against the wall, Asana jumped over to the device and looked on a little screen. Seemingly unsatisfied, she uttered a few inaudible words and smacked the side of the screen. She then walked over to the computer next to Delwynn and feverously typed. Curious, Danstari started moving toward Asana, watching her type lines of what appeared to be computer code. Once he was standing next to the Twi'lek, she took the chip and plugged it into a connection device on the computer.

"Nothing came up in the scan," Asana said. "I'm checking the files now."

"There were no prints at all?" Danstari asked, somewhat confused.

"Just some smudges," the Twi'lek remarked flatly.

Asana was now looking at a list of files and glanced toward Delwynn. The agent pushed herself away from the wall and stood very closely behind her red-skinned associate.

"What am I looking at?" Delwynn asked after a couple moments of blank staring.

"I knew you'd ask that," Asana chided.

"And the answer is?" Delwynn smarted back, her face expressionlessly glaring at the screen.

"He appears to have been researching parasites," the Twi'lek responded. "I'm not sure what it is all about, but it seems like he was researching ways to cure people of parasitic infections, if that's how you say it."

"What does this have to do with anything?" Delwynn questioned.

"Actually," Danstari interjected, which wrought a dense stare from Delwynn. "Well, I think he was looking at that in those papers I brought you. Remember, it was on the computer in his basement."

Delwynn simply turned back toward the computer screen and stood tall. She then turned and walked toward the hallway door.

"We'll have plenty of time to analyze these on the way to Thyferra," the agent commented. "I need you two to set up the surveillance and make sure we have everything we need from that house. I'll be in my office talking to the director. I don't want any interruptions unless it is an emergency."

At that, Delwynn left the room, leaving Asana and Danstari only to stare at each other.

"So, where do we get the cameras?" Danstari asked.

"They're in the storage area near the ramps," Asana replied.

"I guess we better get going on this," the lieutenant returned.

"Probably," she commented. "I wonder what's going through her head."

"Why?"

"She's thinking something. I know it. She's putting pieces together, but she's not saying anything."

"I take it that this is normal with Delwynn?"

"Oh, yeah— it is. Still, I'm completely in the dark."

"Well, I'm completely confused, if that makes you feel any better."

Asana offered a pleasant smile and then gestured for Danstari to follow her. The two walked to the rear of the Mally and entered the storage area. The room was substantial for a personal vessel but cluttered. It was easily four meters by three meters, containing nearly a hundred of labeled boxes and containers stacked in a seemingly disorderly manner.

"Carry these, Waron," Asana said, handing Danstari a half-meter long cube.

Asana then began walking backwards out the room, smiling flirtatiously at the lieutenant. Danstari smirked back and followed the Twi'lek as she sashayed toward the ramp. The box was not heavy, but the contents were loosely rattling around on the inside with each step. Once down the ramp, Asana and Danstari walked side-by-side into the house and prepared to work.

With Asana and Danstari working, Delwynn sat in her office at her desk. She typed a few miscellaneous notes into her datapad then glanced up at the doorway. There, Master Greystone had walked into the room and was standing in front of the closing door.

"Normally, I want all my conversations with the director to be confidential," Delwynn said as she gestured toward a seat under the picture of her daughter.

"I can excuse myself at any point, Evening," the Jedi responded.

"For the first part, I want you here. I need you here."

"And the second part?"

"We'll see how this all shakes out. Where's Shalli?"

"Hopefully she's sleeping. I told her to nap before you departed so she would be well-rested."

"That's probably the most productive thing should be doing right now, anyway."

"I sense your frustration with her."

"I've never had a chance to train her, so I'd rather she sleep and be rested for going with you than be standing around aimlessly and asking me annoying questions."

"Fair enough."

Delwynn turned around in her chair and grabbed a comlink from the corner of her desk. Placing it squarely on the center of her desk, she flipped a switch and straightened the wire that was connected to the wall.

"Lalu, is the director ready?" the agent asked she sat back in her chair.

"I'm already here, Agent Delwynn," a voice responded through the speaker on the device.

"How's Coruscant?" Delwynn inquired.

"Same as always," the director replied.

"Glad to know some things don't get any better," she retorted.

"What is the status, Delwynn?" the director asked.

"I am going to be departing in about thirty standard minutes for Thyferra. I know that I'm already

pushing the limit with Gallien, and I need to get her there."

"What about Eriadu? What's going to happen there?"

"Lieutenant Danstari and Asana are setting up surveillance of the doctor's house to see if anyone returns or comes to retrieve some of his documents. In the interim, Jedi Master Sidian Greystone and Shalli are going into Eriadu City to recover some data from the EIE fire."

"I heard about that. Now, Delwynn, when did Master Greystone become involved in this?"

"I told you he was my contact on Qina."

"Yes, but—"

"But, I enlisted his help once things turned ugly here on Eriadu. You know that I've never compromised my team nor my command, even during the other three cases we've had to involve him. I trust him, and I know you do as well."

Silence filled the room as Delwynn stared directly across at the Jedi, who was quietly sitting with his head resting on his crossed fingers.

"You are right, Delwynn," the director said slowly. "I trust him. He did help us in those other three cases, and I'm grateful to him for that. I just don't trust the Jedi right now. What assurances do I have that he and Shalli will keep this under wraps while I handle the politicking here on Coruscant?"

"What's going on, Director?"

"Off the record, Evening, a lot. I'm sure Master Greystone, who is probably listening to this conversation, knows more than I do."

"Yes, he's listening. Do you want him to step out?"

"No, I'll talk to you both. Let me first explain what's going on. Grand Master m'Ord Vinka is trying to power-play the Jedi into taking over the investigation into Senator Regueny even though he knows absolutely nothing about it. Chancellor Eddicus has met with the Grand Master and Master Yoda twice in the past three days. I'm going to meet with them, along with four senators as soon as we're done here. All I can tell you is that you need to act quickly. I'm not sure how long all these political forces can be held off."

"But, Pelmar, what other forces? Hasn't Chancellor Eddicus given us his full support?"

"Yes, he has, but that hasn't stopped the Jedi. Oddly enough, Master Yoda is supporting my position right now, saying that he doesn't see a need for the Jedi to step in at the moment. Plus, word has somehow reached the media that Regueny's death was not an isolated incident. There are reports of threats against other senators. HoloNet News is beginning to ask some loaded questions and so are the senators. I only plan to talk to a few trusted people. Senator Valorum is among them, as is Master Yoda."

"Do you have confirmation of other threats?"

"Not at the moment, Evening."

"Perhaps the Jedi could best serve us by protecting those who feel threatened. We're too overextended."

"I'll mention it. Regardless, back to official business. We're back on the record."

"Of course, Director."

"I'll have the Thyferra Office on alert to expect you with a Class-Aurek individual. She'll be held in proper care within the adjacent Judicial Forces facility. As soon as I finish on Coruscant, I can travel to Thyferra myself, if necessary."

"I don't believe it will be, Director. Right now, we're simply gathering evidence and trying to connect the pieces. The arduous process of investigation is all that we have right now unless Zranik makes another move. I'm doing the best I can with what I have."

"An interrogation team will be on standby on Thyferra. They are the best we have. Anything you want to know, they can ask for you."

"Who's overseeing them?"

"Your old friend, Eloban Slorfit. He is the head of the Thyferra Office, after all."

"That's fine. I trust him, but I don't want them pressing her without me knowing. I'm trying to keep Gallien flexible, as her involvement may or may not be consequential."

"I'll relay that to them. You might want to say something, as well."

"How will the transfer go down, Director?"

"The plan is for you to bring her directly to the Judicial Forces facility on Thyferra, and then I'll arrange for Agent Slorfit and his team to take custody of her."

"Fair enough. Usual landing site?"

"Yes. Now, Delwynn, what about the situation… rather, any update on Zranik's plans?"

"No, not at this time. We have piles of scientific papers to sort through to see what the doctor was working on. Asana will be tackling the computer files while we are en route to Thyferra, while Emra and Danstari scan all the papers."

"That droid of yours sure works a ton of overtime."

"She's wonderful. Anyway, I hope to have more by the time I make the transfer."

"I'll await your update. For now, I'm off to meet with Chancellor Eddicus. Does Master Greystone have anything to add?"

Delwynn paused and looked at the Jedi. Master Greystone gently raised his head and pushed his long brown hair out of his face.

"Director Aiden, thank you for permitting me to be apart of this operation," the Jedi Master peacefully stated. "I assure you that I will neither become a distraction nor a pawn for the politicking parties of the Jedi Order."

"Master Greystone," the voice replied with a lengthy pause. "I personally trust you as you have been an asset to us before. I want you to know that. My only fear is that I do not want the Order using you to usurp control. If we can keep this alliance, if you will, secretive for now, then I believe this can be beneficial."

"I agree," the Jedi remarked. "I do implore you, however, to keep the Jedi available in case their assistance is required later, should we be unable to stop Zranik."

"What do you imply, Master?"

"I'm only stating that I sense something on the horizon attached to this case. I've been meditating during your discussion. If I could be so bold, I would state that Zranik's motives and actions indicate that he's moving toward interstellar terrorism. I'm not sure what he hopes to accomplish, but I feel that systems could be destabilized and senators targeted."

"Do you have any evidence of this?"

"No, Director Aiden, I do not. I only see the same circumstantial evidence that you already have. I just don't want politics to become the primary obstacle should we, meaning the Republic, need to respond to the threat of an internal conflict."

"Consider it noted, Master Greystone. I'll see what I can do. Anything else?"

"I believe we are finished," Delwynn interjected. "Thank you for your time, Director."

"Thank you," Director Aiden offered. "We'll be in touch."

With the conversation finished, Delwynn flipped the switch on the comlink to off and leaned backward in her seat. She closed her eyes and cleared her mind. She sensed the Jedi Master rise and heard the door whisk open. She gently opened her eyes and looked toward the sounds. Master Greystone stopped in the doorway and peered down the hallway to his right, his back remaining toward the agent. After a moment, her turned and looked at his former student.

"In all the years I've known you, Evening, I've never known you to act irrationally or without detailed thought," the Jedi said.

"I'm not an irrational being, Master," the agent replied with curiosity.

"You've never been one to obsess over the details of what 'should have been' or 'could have been.' Don't start now because of the fire in Eriadu City."

"And what are you implying?"

"Evening, try not to let the personal connection over-motivate you to a point where you second guess yourself. We're going to hunt this evil man down and stop whatever he is planning. I assure you that. As I've told you before, I also sense that this will ultimately bring some type of healing to you. Just continue to be the same Agent Delwynn that has propelled you this far. I, myself, will stop at nothing to bring this man to justice. I give you my word."

"Master Greystone, your word means a lot to me, but I do not require it. I trust you; I trust you with my life."

"Now, I'm off for Eriadu City in a few moments. I'll prepare everything and wake Shalli."

"Let me know if you find anything of interest. I'd be happy with anything at this point."

"I'll look into whatever is needed. We are going to find out what Zranik is up to."

"May the Force be with you, Master."

"And with you, Evening."

Master Greystone turned and departed from sight. Delwynn then leaned forward and grabbed the comlink from the top of her desk. Rising from her chair, she slowly meandered toward the door. There, she paused. Asana and Danstari would surely need a few more moments, she surmised. With this thought, Delwynn retreated to her private quarters to use the refresher.

Inside the weather-worn white house, Asana was standing atop a chair while mounting a two millimeter size device above the front doorway. Next to her, Danstari was making a note of the frequency and position of the device on his datapad. The Twi'lek grunted a couple of times as she pushed the device into the corner, where it would be out of sight to a casual visitor. Satisfied with the location, Asana stood straight and brushed off her dark blue shirt.

"I think that's it," she said, removing a pair of gloves.

"Okay," Danstari replied, looking up at Asana. "Let's get back to the ship."

The Twi'lek jumped off the chair, landing immediately in front of Danstari. As she hit the ground with her feet, she lost her balance and tumbled forward. Danstari caught her as she landed against him, her breasts pushed into his chest and her face right beneath his chin. He helped Asana regain her balance as he pushed forward slightly, but the two remained a mere inch from each other. Now standing straight, Asana looked up the couple of inches to his eyes. Suddenly, she snapped out of her daze and stepped back, patting the lieutenant on the chest twice with her hands.

Asana had nothing to say. Nothing would have sufficed. She grabbed her bag and the now empty box she had carried and began walking toward the ship. Her thoughts were completely consumed with indecipherable ramblings. By the time she reached the Mally, Danstari had caught up. He was carrying his now-empty container. The two simply exchanged a brief smile as they boarded the ship.

Delwynn arrived from around the corner, startling Asana as she walked toward the storage room.

"All done?" Delwynn asked.

"Yes, boss," Danstari replied.

Asana just nodded.

"Good," Delwynn smarted, turning toward the secure hallway. "Let's prepare to leave immediately. Master Greystone and Shalli just took the speeder to Eriadu City. We're on our own."

Asana and Danstari both put the empty boxes in the storage area, but looked at each other with a long pause before departing.

"I'm sorry, Waron," Asana said.

"For what?" Danstari asked, sounding completely oblivious.

"I'm acting unprofessional," the Twi'lek replied while attempting to quell a volcano of emotions. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't act this way."

"Don't worry, Asana," Danstari responded straightly.

Feeling suddenly dejected from the lieutenant's seemingly apathetic or oblivious remarks, Asana lowered her head, pulled her lekku in front of her shoulders and walked toward her lab.

"Do you want to talk?" the Human called from behind.

Asana paused. "No, not right now."

Danstari ran down the hallway toward the Twi'lek and gently put his left arm over her shoulders.

"Please don't," she replied as she kept walking.

"I suppose I should be the one apologizing now," he smarted.

Asana simply looked at him and wrinkled her mouth into a faint smirk. He was trying, she thought; maybe he was not so oblivious to her emotions after all.

"Once we get to space, we'll talk," he offered.

"Over dinner?" she said, quickly catching herself for seeming so desperate.

"Sure, we'll talk over dinner," he said. "There's nothing more romantic than a pre-cooked salt-preserved frozen gizka steak that has to be heated up by an ion warmer."

Asana chuckled and walked into her lab, leaving Danstari in the hallway. Before turning to shut the door, she smirked and said, "Yeah, that beats the buzz of my spectrometer. Give me thirty minutes."

Chapter 3

At least I didn't hear 'something, something, something dark side' from the Jedi for once.
—Pelmar Aiden

Lieutenant Waron Danstari sat in the cockpit of the Mally and finished preparing the vessel for departure. Agent Delwynn was standing over his left shoulder, albeit around one meter behind him. Even with that distance, her presence kept him on edge. She seemed irritable by the way things had transpired in the case. Of course, for something as deeply personal as this investigation was, such irritability was largely understandable. For now, they were off to Thyferra to handle required duties—duties that took Delwynn away from the investigation proper. This, Danstari thought, was probably the most damning of all for the agent. Catiene Gallien, a possible conspirator in this whole plot, had to be shuttled to another planet because of procedure and not because of what the investigation itself dictated.

With the ship ready to leave the surface of Eriadu, Danstari turned and looked at the agent. She nodded and quietly left the cockpit, heading down the hallway toward her office and quarters. Dutifully, the pilot engaged the engines and lifted the vessel off the ground. Carefully climbing in altitude to about thirty meters, he then initiated forward thrust, ascending quickly out of the planet's atmosphere. After about five minutes, the Mally was free from the planet's gravity well, and Danstari confirmed the pre-entered the coordinates for Thyferra. The navicomputer beeped as it traced the route through the network of hyperspace routes that crossed southern part of the galaxy. With a lock on the location, the lieutenant depressed a button on the control panel and watched as the stars suddenly started to streak by. One depressed button later, and the Mally was securely on autopilot.

It had already been a long day for the team, and Danstari was incredibly hungry. Remembering his promise to Asana, he double-checked each dial and sensor in the cockpit for safety and then walked out the same door Delwynn had exited only ten minutes prior. Traversing the hallway, he passed by the different rooms that housed the team's quarters and into the lounge area. In there, Asana was already sitting on one of the two benches with her eyes closed. He looked at her, noting the plain buff-colored shirt and knee-length white skirt. Not sure if she was asleep, the lieutenant quietly walked to the freezer, which was next to the bench, and pulled out two gizka steaks. Atop the freezer was a cooling chamber with some fruit. Taking some for dietary balance, he tip-toed to the ion warmer and grabbed two plates. He placed a steak on each of the plates and set them in the device. After a minute, both of the frozen gizka slices were well-heated.

Asana must have been exhausted, Danstari assumed. She remained stationary, even as he quietly placed a plate on the table in front of the Twi'lek. Grabbing a fork, he decided it best to eat elsewhere rather than to wake her. Suddenly remembering the fruit, he turned back to the counter with the warmer and placed three small fruits on his plate. He then took the other two and set them on Asana's. He then turned to leave but heard the Twi'lek shuffle.

"Aren't you going to eat with me?" Asana quietly queried before letting out a small yawn.

Danstari stopped his gait and turned around. "I thought you were sleeping," he said.

"Nah, I was just resting," she replied. "Wait. Where did this food come from?"

"I just cooked it," Danstari replied with a chuckle. "You must have really been out, because I've been in here for a couple of minutes."

Asana laughed and gestured for the lieutenant to join her. Willingly, he obliged and sat on the bench where it curved around the wall so that he was to Asana's left, but facing the same round table as she.

"We have a lot of paperwork to go through with this scientist," the Twi'lek offered casually.

"Yeah, but I'm not good at that stuff," he replied.

"Emra's going to be working overtime again," she snarkily said.

"Yeah, otherwise you'd have to do it all!" he jokingly exclaimed.

"That surely isn't happening. I have way to much to finish right now."

The two took some bites of their respective steaks and munched quietly. Danstari noticed how Asana nibbled on the meat with little bites on the edges but willingly shoved larger chunks into her mouth after having chewed off the circumference.

"Have you ever been to Thyferra?" he said, breaking the silence.

"Yeah, but not recently. I was working with Delwynn on a case that brought us there at one point. I think we partnered with an Agent Slorfit, or something like that."

"Is that who we're going to meet this time?"

"Not sure. Delwynn hasn't said."

Danstari was actually at a loss for conversation topics. He did not want to push the Twi'lek or provoke her to react harshly. He certainly was attracted to her, but he did not want to reveal this and cause a breakdown in professionalism. He suspected that Delwynn would not approve of such behavior. Plus, he thought, Delwynn would ultimately find out if anything did happen. She always found out.

"Have you ever been there?" Asana inquired.

"No. The Forces never stationed me that far. I've only been stationed throughout the Core. I'm actually quite unfamiliar with the rest of the galaxy."

"Waron, we need to get you out more."

Asana's smile rippled through the lieutenant as he watched her eyes light up.

"Thyferra has an excellent nightlife," she added. "You'd love it."

"Thyferra?" Danstari asked with confusion.

"Yeah," Asana replied. "You probably wouldn't expect it, but it is pretty good by Judicial Forces–standards."

"I'm not sure that's the best thing for me, anyway," he replied.

"Why not? You'd have a chance to experience something other than Coruscant."

"I never really even did the nightlife on Coruscant."

"Somehow I find that hard to believe."

Danstari was a little put off by the inquiry into his social life, although he was not surprised in the slightest that such had occurred. He recalled his time stationed on Coruscant. Unlike when he was growing up, he had no time to enjoy the wide array of clubs, bars, and cantinas. The majority of this time was spent either on patrol or doing other Judicial Forces duties.

Casting aside the recollection of his past, the lieutenant smiled across the table at Asana and took the last bite of his steak. There was a lot of work that needed to be done, and he wanted to stay on Delwynn's good side.

"I think I'm going to start sorting some of those papers," Danstari said.

"Sounds good," Asana replied, visibly noting Danstari's reluctance to explain further. "I'm going to take a quick nap before getting to all the computer files. You'd probably have some time if you needed the rest."

"I'd rather try keep up with Delwynn than fall behind, especially if it helps me stay on her good side."

Supreme Chancellor's Office, Coruscant

Supreme Chancellor Eddicus sat quietly in his chair as he rubbed his face with his wrinkled hands. Having wiped his eyes, he ran his hands over his short beard and dropped them into his lap. Across from him sat a young woman, reclining gracefully in her chair. Her hair was brown and long, reaching past her shoulders. She was young and thin but also slightly pastey in skin-tone. The woman was dressed formally in a dark blue skirt-suit.

The two sat quietly for nearly three minutes before the door to the office whirred open. With the rising sun visible through the hallway windows, Chancellor Eddicus watched the silhouettes of four men and a short non-Human figure walk closer. When the door closed, he stood and gestured toward a set of couches.

"Let us sit over here," Eddicus said calmly.

Each of the five individuals, along with the young woman, claimed a spot on the three couches. Three of the Humans, Senators Servius Valorum of Coruscant, Mithrel Merian of Alderaan, and Zallen Fraajic of Telos sat together. On the couch to their left, Director Pelmar Aiden sat with Jedi Master Yoda, a short green-skinned individual with long pointed ears who held a seat on the Jedi Council. On the last couch, Chancellor Eddicus sat next to the young woman.

"Senators, Director Aiden, Master Yoda," Eddicus called as he bowed his head in a welcoming gesture. "I would like to discuss the current situation that the GIN is investigating with regards to the death of Senator Regueny and the scheme that seems to have been uncovered."

All of the visitors sat quietly as the Chancellor paused. Then holding out his hand toward the three male senators, he looked toward Master Yoda.

"Forgive me, Master Yoda," the Chancellor said. "I should introduce everyone."

The Jedi nodded silently and rose from the couch. He walked over toward Senator Valorum and bowed his head.

"Know Senator Valorum I already do," the Jedi replied turning toward his left. "And this?"

"Senator Mithrel Merian of Alderaan," Eddicus answered.

"It is a privilege to meet you, Master Yoda," Senator Merian quietly spoke.

"Next is Senator Zallen Fraajic of Telos," the Chancellor continued.

"An honor to meet you once again, Master Jedi," the Senator offered. "It has been many years."

Eddicus pointed his hand to his right, toward the young woman, and said, "And this is Senator Alta Eddicus of Taanab."

"Ah yes," the Jedi responded as he approached the female senator. "Your daughter she must be."

"Yes, Master Jedi, she is my daughter," the Chancellor stated. "Lastly, you already know Director Aiden very well, as you two have known each other for years. I'll defer to him for an update on the situation."

"Thank you, Chancellor," Director Aiden said as he leaned forward, allowing his long grey hair to cascade in front of his shoulders. "Right at this moment, my best agent and her team are sifting through information gathered from the murder site of a Czerka employee. This murder, according to her, is connected to the death of Senator Regueny, a handful of smaller incidents on Eriadu, and possibly a series of eleven year old cold case bank robberies that happened in the Core. There is substantial reason to suspect that Avar Zranik, who has now been confirmed to have been involved in the robberies, is involved in a possible plot that involves biological weapons."

"A loaded statement that is, Director," Master Yoda interjected. "Have you any proof of this?"

"The contacts and paperwork all point to Zranik looking to acquire some type of biological weapon," Aiden replied. "The doctor who was killed specialized in such."

"Forgive me for asking, but why call this meeting?" Senator Fraajic asked, crossing his legs.

The GIN Director paused, carefully crafting his words. "While irregular, I believe the threat is more than substantial. I asked Chancellor to summon you all to lay out what is needed. Our agency cannot and is not able to do anything should a biological terrorist attack occur. We would need local militias, the Judicial Forces, and the Jedi to officiate in peace-keeping and rescue operations."

"This is assuming, of course, that something actually happens," Fraajic continued.

"Absolutely," Director Aiden returned. "I believe the threat is credible enough. I'm not at liberty to divulge all the information, but I plan to lay out some of it for you as we discuss this. Chancellor Eddicus has assured me that you are the most trusted group of individuals for this task. He personally requested that each of you be involved."

"Director Aiden," Senator Valorum called, his voice sounding husky and dry as if from a combination of fatigue and deep introspection. "I trust you and your agent wholeheartedly, but I cannot help but to think, that if this threat is credible, that we should be pre-emptively pursuing Zranik and his team with the full force of the Republic."

"I respect that, Senator," Aiden said, glancing at his long-time acquaintance. "However it be, my agency is devoting almost all of its available resources to finding him. Our team is both tending to a suspect and possible accessory in a young financier named Catiene Gallien and tracing Eriadu for any sign of Zranik. On Courscant and Alsakan, our offices are scouring every communiqué we can legally search on the HoloNet for information of his whereabouts and doings."

At that moment, Director Aiden rose and walked toward the panoramic windows that were behind the Chancellor's desk. He then turned and faced the sitting audience. Depressing a button on his datapad, he began to read off a prepared statement that he had made in advance of the meeting.

"As of now, Avar Zranik is considered a fugitive of the Republic. He is, according to what we know, hiding on Eriadu or likely somewhere nearby. During this investigation, the EIE headquarters in Eriadu City was destroyed by a gas explosion, and the Eriadu City Convention Center was the site of Regueny's murder and a bomb explosion at the crime scene. Eriadu also has seen the murder of Torrik Samit, a biologist for Czerka who specialized in biological sciences. The other associate, the long-wanted bounty hunter 'Grems' Lind was killed by Zranik–linked bounty hunters on Qina. My agent, Evening Delwynn, is leading a team of investigators to tie all these pieces together. They've visited Qina, Denon, and Eriadu. Right now, they are on their way to Thyferra to drop off a potential suspect, who was detained during the incident on Qina. That gives you an overview of everything that has happened. I am waiting word on what the doctor was working on before his death on Eriadu. You all will be informed immediately."

Chancellor Eddicus stood and looked at the senators and Jedi Master who were listening to the GIN Director. "I believe that we need to be prepared for an internal conflict. I'm only sorry that this is even being brought up, but I personally believe that we are at risk, having seen even some of the details of this case."

"Nice prepared statement, Director. What do you expect us to do?" Senator Fraajic asked.

"Be prepared and vigilant," the Chancellor added. "If you see or hear of a credible threat against a senator, tell me and Director Aiden immediately. It might be a lead. Any suspicious activity on your homeworlds should be monitored. While I don't want to be an alarmist, I don't want to take any chances."

"Quietly prepare the Jedi I will," Master Yoda added. "If only to quell your fears, Chancellor Eddicus, I will relocate some training of a few key Jedi Knights to the Seswenna sector. On call they essentially will be."

"Excellent idea, Master Jedi," the chancellor replied as he rubbed his right hand along his receding hairline.

"I will be in touch with each of you individually to keep you informed," Director Aiden added. "Until then, this is of course classified to the utmost extent."

"Of course," Senators Valorum, Merian, and Fraajic resounded simultaneously.

At that, the three male senators rose and shook hands with the GIN Director before walking out of the office, leaving Director Aiden with Master Yoda, Chancellor Anwis Eddicus, and Senator Alta Eddicus. The young senator remained seated in her chair, her left hand now set under her hanging hair to provide support to her head. Master Yoda had stood, but his pacing toward the center of the room was slow and methodical. Aiden pondered the deliberate pace and thought it was likely necessary to allow the three senators to exit.

"Director Aiden," the Jedi called. "A word with you, please."

"Of course, Master Jedi," Aiden obliged.

"I am aware of a Jedi Knight named Shalli on the investigative team. Requested her presence I did. It appeased our Grand Master, so I allowed it be. I will make sure she becomes not a distraction for your investigator. Move quickly she must, however. Master m'Ord Vinka has been demanding updates. Delay the spread of information further I will, but only to give you some time. I cannot appear as intentionally underminding the Order to protect you."

"I understand, Master Jedi. I will try not keep you in an awkward place on this. I trust that we will know details shortly."

"Understand this, Director. The Jedi are not in a place to help, but do our best… we will."

"I appreciate any honest help that can be given."

Seemingly satisfied, Master Yoda bowed his head and exited the office, leaving Director Aiden with the Supreme Chancellor and his daughter. The three exchanged glances as an awkward silence settled over the room.

"I will do my best to keep the Senate at bay for the time being," Alta Eddicus said flatly and without a change of expression.

"What is it that they want?" Aiden asked.

"They're asking for a thorough inquiry into his death since it leaked that it was likely murder," she replied. "I've told them that we have to wait until someone officially declares it such. I met with twenty-seven senators over the last few hours just to broker some deal to get them to wait. I'm running out of favors fast."

"It seems they only want to move fast when it has nothing to do with the good of the Republic's citizens," the chancellor quipped.

"Yes, please keep them off our trail for a while," the director replied. "The last thing I need to deal with is some good-for-nothing politician. Who knows, we might just be saving their lives."

"How would you assess this meeting, Director?" the chancellor asked.

"On the whole, useless," he replied. "There was not much I really could say. I was more laying the groundwork for what's to come. At least we didn't hear 'something, something, something dark side' from the Jedi for once. Master Yoda seemed willing to work with us,

and I'm very grateful."

"Hopefully this was nothing but a false alarm," Senator Eddicus chimed.

Director Aiden sighed. "Yes, hopefully."

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