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Chapter 4

Senate Office Building, Coruscant

She's a complete wreck right now. I'm not sure what those letters said, but she normally doesn't get this emotional.
—Alta Eddicus

Sitting in her office, Alta Eddicus was quickly typing messages to her fellow senators, asking for patience while the Governmental Investigative Network looked into the death of their colleague, Hanik Regueny. To keep the messages slightly personal, she addressed each note individually and added a short sentence or two to the end that was unique to each senator. Her breathing was regular and straight, as she was intensely focused on her task. It took nearly two hours to finish, having sent the message to over three hundred senators. Satisfied with this step in the process, she turned in her chair toward the large window next to her computer. She closed her eyes for a few moments and pondered the earlier meeting with Director Aiden. Her next task was to send a message to Master Yoda to make certain the Jedi were kept at bay for a little longer.

Suddenly, a buzz sounded at the door. Eddicus spun around in her chair and flipped a switch on her desk. A viewscreen popped up off the desk that showed the office doorway and any potential visitors. Looking at the screen, she saw another fellow senator. The door whisked open and a short, thin woman entered. She was wearing a silver dress and had long dark brown hair and almond-shaped, dark eyes. The visitor was in her thirties but appeared to Eddicus as older on account of being mentally worn and saddened.

"Senator Eddicus," the woman replied, sitting in a chair near the large window.

"Senator Moonflower," the Taanabi senator replied, pressing a button to close the office door.

"I need to speak with you for a moment in confidence," the woman replied.

Alta Eddicus sat back in her chair and nodded. Even though she was six years younger than Senator Moonflower and had held a position in the Senate for even fewer years, Eddicus knew that she had become well-respected by her peers. Senator Moonflower often turned to the junior senator for advice in brokering deals and for confidential discussions.

"Of course, Awa," Eddicus returned mercifully.

"In light of Hanik's death, I have confession to make," Moonflower said.

"What do you mean?"

"Alta, for about eleven months I have been receiving death threats from xenophobic radicals on Eriadu. They've been sending me secret hand-written letters each month. They've all been delivered here, to Coruscant. I've told none of my staff, and none of the letters have ever made it back to Seswenna."

"Awa, why didn't you say something?"

"The first few were vague, and I assumed that it was due time that I received something like this. In my fifteen years as senator, I had never had a death threat before. I thought it was normal."

"Okay, so, why say something now?"

"With Hanik dead—and maybe murdered…"

The senator from Seswenna's voice trailed off and she began to gently cry. Senator Eddicus sat quietly for a moment while her colleague wiped her face with her hands. Reaching over, she handed the Seswennan a hygiene cloth.

"I didn't think it was a serious threat until everything started happening," Moonflower blurted. "Now, there are riots, Humanocentric rallies, my sector is internally divided, and… and I don't know. I've never been this emotional about something."

"We need to tell somebody," Eddicus stated carefully.

"I know, but I trust you. I don't know who else I can right now."

"Awa, are you sure you're just not being paranoid? We all get death threats periodically."

"No! I'm not! The one I got today said that I will be dead before the next letter could even arrive!"

Eddicus quietly leaned forward and embraced the emotional senator. In her few years of experience, she had known Senator Moonflower to be aloof and shy but never overtly emotional. In fact, she seemed almost on the verge of a meltdown. The admission of death threats, however, seemed to connect why the Seswennan had been paranoid and fearful of late. In fact, it seemed logical to assume that this oppressed her so much that this was why the woman's face seemed to have aged and grown more and more pale.

"What do you want me to do, Awa?"

"Tell your father. I think I'm going to go back home for a few days to rest and calm down. The last place I want to be is on Coruscant. I need to see trees; I need to see a flowing brook; I need to see my home."

"Okay, I'll tell him. Can I see the letters? Is there a way I can get them from you?"

"Why?"

"The investigator might want to see them."

"So they can see if the threats are credible?" Moonflower quipped, standing quickly and turning around. She was bordering on hysterical now, rubbing her forhead with her hands. "Alta, for the love of the Force! I know they are credible."

"I didn't say that. They will need to check… to find out what ways they need to protect you."

"I don't want police all around me."

"Awa, if I tell my father, he's going to have at least a Jedi or two go with you to Seswenna."

The Seswennan senator turned around and sat back in the chair. Her eyes swelled with tears, but none fell off her face. She breathed slowly and appeared to be calming herself and deeply thinking.

"Fine. I can live with that," she slowly said.

"Okay, Awa. That is what we'll do. I do confess that it would probably be easier to protect you here."

"No, Alta, I'm leaving. I need to go home."

"Fair enough. I'll tell my father in a few minutes."

"Thank you. I'm going to finish gathering some belongings from my office."

Awa Moonflower rose from her seat, straightened her silvery gown with her hands and wiped her eyes once more. She then walked toward the exit of the office and tossed the cloth in a disposal bin.

"Awa, don't leave until I've talked to my father. He may want the Jedi to go with you."

"If they get there by the time I leave, then fine. Otherwise, I'm going. The less people that know, the better. I haven't even told my staff. I don't want them to even know I'm leaving."

"Then let the Jedi shuttle you home."

"I'll wait a touch for them, but I cannot wait long."

The senator from Seswenna turned and left the office, the door closing quickly behind her. Concerned, Alta Eddicus quickly grabbed her datapad and entered a memo that simply noted that a meeting had occurred. Then, she made a note to postpone contacting Master Yoda until after something was discussed about these new threats.

Eddicus noted the time before rapidly running to the hallway door. She exited and locked the office behind her. Without regard for the corridor traffic, she scampered between the passersby and through the maze of corridors to the central repulsorlifts. Depressing a button, she rode one to the top floor. From there, she exited the lift and ran down the hallway, almost knocking over three well-dressed Gands in the process. She finally arrived at the Chancellor's office and depressed the buzzer on the door. Identifying herself with the computer screen next to the doorframe and nodding at each of the guards, the metal barriers whisked open.

"Chancellor Eddicus?" the senator called as she entered the office suite, the door sealing behind her. "Father?"

"Yes?" the chancellor said, looking up from his desk where he was reading. He quickly stood, obviously noting the informality that Alta had just displayed. It was usually a breach of her own personal protocol to call the Supreme Chancellor "Father" except when the two were together on personal time.

"We need to talk," she replied, walking toward the desk.

"About?" the chancellor said, setting aside his datapad.

Alta Eddicus sat quietly opposite her father and gathered her thoughts. He stared at her straightly and without expression. Finally, she handed him her datapad that noted a meeting with Senator Moonflower.

"Awa was just in my office," she said.

"And?" he chided impatiently, reading the memo on the datapad.

Alta sneered back at her father. "Look, she was nearly hysterical as she mentioned that she was receiving death threats."

"I see. How many?" the senior Eddicus questioned.

"She said she's been getting one a month for almost a year," she replied. "You don't seem surprised."

"I'd be lying if I said I was," he returned, handing the datapad back to his daughter. "What are the threats, exactly?"

"She didn't exactly say," Alta stated. She leaned back and plopped in a nearby chair; a quick recounting of the scene that had played out only moments earlier in her office flooded her mind. "She did note that the most recent guaranteed death before the next message could arrive. She left out any other specifics but insisted that they were credible. Oh, and she did mention that they were from some type of Humanocentric radicals on Eriadu. She made a point to mention them twice."

Chancellor Eddicus moved away from the desk and walked along the wall window toward a statue of his late predecessor, Rosock Mekosk. Alta watched as he brushed off some dust and continued down the length of the wall, glancing at artwork. She knew that he was thinking and processing, his arms folded tightly across his chest.

"Where is she now?" he asked, having reached the main office doors.

"She went back to her office," Alta replied. "She said she's going back to Seswenna as soon as she could throw some belongings together."

"Alta, that's not advisable."

"Father, I agree, but I could not convince her otherwise," she spat in frustration. Then, she stood and walked over to her father, who was now half-way back toward the desk. "She's in no mental state to be considering alternatives. Still, she's going to need some type of protection, if in the least, for her own sanity."

"Perhaps we can have a Jedi or two go with her," he offered. "I'll contact Master Yoda and see what he can do."

"She was intent on keeping this secretive. She said her staff doesn't even know about this."

"But, why does she want to go home? It seems far easier to keep her safe here, where we know how to defend this building and her apartment."

"That's what I thought, too, but she says she really wants to see her home."

"She must really be afraid."

The two sighed and leaned against the wall simultaneously. Alta took her right hand and brushed the hair away from her face then looked back up at her father, who was looking upward. Breaking the stillness, the chancellor quickly walked away. Alta turned and watched as her father went to the desk and pressed a series of buttons. A quiet, albeit inaudible from such distance, voice said something through a speaker on the desk, to which the chancellor replied that he wished to speak with Master Yoda immediately. He then walked around the desk and activated the hololink for incoming communications.

Alta walked toward her father as the image of Master Yoda flickered into place. She opted to join him in range of the device, so that Master Yoda would see her, as well.

"Greetings, Chancellor Eddicus and Senator Eddicus," the Jedi said.

"I am sorry to bother you again, Master Yoda," the chancellor replied. "My daughter has made me aware of a series of threats against another senator."

"Oh?" the Jedi interjected.

"Senator Moonflower of Seswenna appears to be targeted," he answered.

"Targeted you say?"

"She did not give specifics, but noted that they were from radicals on Eriadu. With that conincidence, I'm not willing to take a chance with her safety."

"Logical to assume a connection, Chancellor Eddicus," the Jedi remarked while closing his eyes.

Alta looked up at her father, who was still intently staring at the image of the Jedi, and then peered over to Master Yoda himself. Finally, he broke the silence with a long sigh.

"There are Jedi we can send," Yoda commented. "Travel with the senator to Seswenna Masters Fay and T'dal will."

"I will tell Senator Moonflower to meet her here, in my office," he added. "That way, it looks like a meeting rather than an arranged escape."

"Excellent idea," the Jedi said. "Keep this secretive we must. Master T'dal will arrive on Seswenna shortly, once I contact him. Master Fay will be in your office within one hour."

"Wonderful," the chancellor remarked. "I'll have the senator here shortly."

"Now, questions have you for me, Senator Eddicus?" the Jedi asked.

Alta stepped slightly forward and bowed her head out of respect. "Master Jedi, I have contacted many senators telling them to essentially hold off on launching a separate investigation yet. Have you spoken with the Jedi Council on this yet?"

"Many members of the Jedi Council have spoken to me," he returned. "Tell each one of them quietly, I am—the Grand Master included. To our benefit it is that this be treated as secretive."

"I understand," she added. "Is there a way we can help appease Grand Master m'Ord Vinka?"

"No," he returned with a small sigh. "Deal with him quietly I will."

"Thank you for your time, Master Yoda," Alta said.

"May the Force be with you," the Jedi said as the connection terminated.

Alta walked back over to the chair near the desk but did not sit down. Her father walked behind her and quietly wrapped his arms around her waist. When she turned around, he planted a tender kiss on her forehead. She smiled as he released the embrace and walked back around to his desk. Once he sat, she returned to a somewhat stoic state and sat.

"Thank you, Alta," her father spoke, adjusting the seat position at the desk. "I'd like for you to contact Senator Moonflower. She'll trust you. Come with her here and once she departs with the Jedi, we'll go have dinner."

"Fair enough," she returned. "I just hope that the senator doesn't decide to act irrationally over the next few hours."

"I'm certain that she will be fine," he replied.

"Is there anything else we need now?" she volleyed.

"Actually, yes, there is." the chancellor said with a long breath. "In an effort to have some type of normalcy, I want you to propose the new fiscal year budget at the session tomorrow and make a motion that it should be voted upon after the recess."

"I can do that," Alta replied. "I've been meaning to ask you about it because it has been sitting on my desk for a week, now. How much support do we have for it?"

"The same as always, Alta," he confessed while sitting back in his seat. The chancellor folded his arms across his chest and closed his eyes tightly. "Too much squabbling in this senate session. It's almost like the Republic doesn't want to stay together."

"So, I need to start pestering our usual friends for concessions and deals," she said. "Any objections to starting with Drawoh from Brodo Asogi? He's a very staunch proponent of exploration. I'm sure I could broker a deal with him and his allies to shift funding toward his pet projects if we can increase the funding for planetary aid that planets like ours need."

"You're the master politician now, Alta," he responded. "I trust you on this. My biggest concern is making sure we pass something that holds this Republic together while not stripping power and credits away from smaller planets—planets like ours."

"I'll see what I can do," she returned as she stood and reclaimed her datapad. "First, I need to make certain that Senator Moonflower comes here to meet with the Jedi. I'll be back shortly, your excellency."

The chancellor nodded and grunted an affirming sound as Alta turned toward the door to exit the office. Reaching the doorway, she noticed that his breathing seemed to have become loud and laborious. She turned and noted that her father was simply sitting and reading from a piece of paper. Convinced it was her imagination, she exited the office and traversed back toward the repulsorlift. From there, she meandered through the Senate Office Building to Senator Moonflower's office.

Upon reaching the office, however, the door whirred open and the Seswennan senator darted through. Alta was unable to dodge the woman and was knocked to the floor. Senator Moonflower put out her hands to break her fall as she lost balance, but the woman fell directly atop her colleague. In the calamity, a small case of documents spilled throughout that area of the hallway. As Senator Moonflower stood, she began to profusely apologize for not having paid attention. Alta simply grunted as she postured herself into an upright sitting position on the dark blue carpeted floor.

"I did not mean to almost put you through that window, Alta," the Seswennan apologized, now standing.

"Friendly fire," the young Eddicus replied.

Senator Moonflower then began to quietly and dutifully pick up each of the papers that had been strewn across the carpet. Meanwhile, Alta took herself off the carpet and dusted off her backside with her right hand.

"I spoke to the chancellor about what you had told me," she said.

Awa Moonflower froze in place, hunched over in the middle of the hallway.

"He has requested an impromptu meeting with you, me, and another in his office as soon as possible," Alta continued.

"I can't do that, my friend," the Seswennan said, finally grabbing the piece of paper directly beneath her.

"Why not?" the Taanabi asked, throwing her arms up in frustration. "Even for safety—safety that you should have?"

"I don't want this to get out," the woman replied softly and coldly.

"We know that, Awa," Alta said with angst. "That's why we want to meet with you in private and… and not discuss this in the hallway anymore."

"Fine," Senator Moonflower capitulated, reaching for the last piece of paper. "If you insist."

The two senators once again meandered through the corridors of the building and to the chancellor's office suite. The walk was slow and arduous. In a way, the Seswennan senator looked as if she was walking the march of death. Finally upon entering the Chancery Suite, Chancellor Eddicus rose and met the two ladies near the couches.

"Please, Senator Moonflower, have a seat," the chancellor said, gesturing toward the large blue couch.

Alta watched as her father walked to the hallway door, spoke to the guards, and locked the entryway with the security door. She glanced over at her colleague, who was now leaning forward, her hands tightly wrapped around her legs below the knees.

"Jedi Master Fay is on her way here, Senator," the chancellor spoke as he approached the distressed woman. "She will escort you home."

The senator looked up at the chancellor, smiled softly and thanked him.

Awkward silence filled the room for a few moments as no one moved. Then, Alta rose and pulled her father toward the windows behind his desk.

"I've never seen her like this," he confessed in a whisper.

"I know," Alta said. "She's a complete wreck right now. I'm not sure what those letters said, but she normally doesn't get this emotional."

"I still don't like her going back to Seswenna," the chancellor continued.

"Neither do I," she returned. "I just don't think we are going to convince her otherwise."

Alta stared out the window for a moment, watching the dense traffic go by on the skylanes.

"I got word a few moments ago that our friend, Cos Peradhi, is not relenting," the chancellor quietly blurted, causing he and Alta to make eye-contact. "He's demanding the Jedi investigate Regueny's death. He held a press conference with Grand Master m'Ord Vinka right after you left my office. He's leaving for Eriadu tonight."

"Who's leaving for Eriadu?" Alta asked.

"The Grand Master," he returned.

"That's a problem," Alta replied, turning her sights back toward the bustling traffic.

"It is," the chancellor continued. "First, Director Aiden is going to be irate about this move; next, the Eriaduan authorities are not willfully cooperating anyway, so the Jedi there will only make matters worse; and, of course, he's not Human. On that planet, that is a recipe for disaster."

"We need someone to stall him," she said, turning her gaze to her father's moustache and goatee. "Still, why is he somehow teaming up with Peradhi? That power-hungry crook wants nothing more than a Corellian-run dictatorship."

"He needs Jedi approval to continue his crusade of amassing power, Alta," her father replied. "He needs a good conflict, and someone who is also power-crazed on the Jedi side gives him an ally to consolidate power."

Disgusted, Alta walked away from the windows and sat on a couch opposite Senator Moonflower and slumped backwards.

Chapter 5

Mally, somewhere on the Rimma Trade Route

Don’t underestimate him either. Zranik knows what he is doing. He’s completely in control right now.
—Catiene Gallien

Asana Lani sat on the floor of her laboratory with her legs crossed. Rocking back and forth, her eyes were closed. Her hands were tightly crunching her toes together as she rocked, and her lekku were bouncing gently against her back. The rhythm of the rocking atop the floor and the lekku against her back was helping her focus. She had finally reviewed all the files found on the Doctor Samit's computers. She also had finished reviewing everything that was stored on the hidden computer chip. Connections abounded, and she wanted to unveil them.

The most important connection, the Twi'lek recalled, was the common thread of seemingly random words that meant other things. Phrases such as 'the supply,' 'the eggs,' 'the test-subjects,' and—more ominously—'the plan' permeated the documentation. The only thing that was certain was the research into biological antidotes or remedies that involved high bases, strong acids, and odd combinations of minerals. Tangential to that was the parasite research, it seemed. This was not entirely unexpected, as Samit was a biologist and specialized in weapons. Parasites, however, were not commonly used weapons; viruses or bacteria were far more likely. Maybe the parasites were being used to find a cure for a disease that was being tested for potential weaponry? Delwynn needed answers as strong as a duracrete slab, not speculation, and Asana wanted to provide that for her.

At the same time, there were plenty of other interesting leads. Email and ComNet messages to Samit seemed to indicate that his relationship with Czerka was not ancillary. Sure, he was an employee, but someone in the company seemed to know where he was. Quite a few of the messages even mentioned 'Eriadu' within them. That was not a coincidence, the Twi'lek thought. Back-tracing the messages only led to the Czerka firewalls—another dead-end for the time being. Discovering more there would require a subpoena to accomplish, and involving lawyers against such a high-powered company was neither going to be easy nor beneficial for anyone in the end. There would have to be a Republic-wide catastrophe, she surmised, in order for any judge to allow the GIN to confiscate Czerka documents. By that point, they all would likely be destroyed.

Asana continued to rock back and forth, concluding that the hand-written documents were the best possible link. Deciding it best to explore those documents, she opened her eyes and stopped the rhythmic motion of her body. Standing, she moved her lekku in front of her shoulders, rubbed her eyes and started for the computer lab, which was directly across the corridor.

Inside the computer lab, Emra was plugged into the main computer. When Asana entered, she watched as the droid meticulously told the computer how to sort and store the files. Beside the droid was a messy heap of papers. She bent down and flipped through them, noting that they were the documents from the lab. The astromech droid did not even bother to acknowledge the Twi'lek as she knelt to its side. This indicated to Asana that these documents had already been scanned and were now in the computer itself.

"We're approaching Thyferra," Delwynn's voice boomed from behind.

Asana turned and saw the agent standing in the doorway. She looked fatigued and worn. Her grey overjacket was loosely draped over her shoulders, while her arms dangled freely. The agent's hair was disheveled, and her eyes projected despondency.

"What do you need me to do?" the Twi'lek asked.

"We'll be dropping out of hyperspace in about ten minutes, according to Danstari," she replied.

"That was fast," Asana blurted. "Of course, I did sleep for about five of the last ten hours."

Delwynn opened her eyes widely as she bent her head down slightly to stretch her neck. The erstwhile gaze never broke from Asana, however.

"Wake Gallien and prepare her to leave," the agent said flatly. "Don't tell her anything. Just get her to freshen up and then put her back in interrogation. I want to talk to her one last time before I turn her over to Agent Slorfit."

"Sounds good," Asana chirped. She quickly rose and took a step, slipping slightly on one of the loose papers. Regaining her balance, the Twi'lek scurried down the hallway.

She punched in her codes to the secure doorway and walked toward the room where Gallien was being held. Buzzing the comlink, she called to the young woman inside.

"Who is it?" the voice sharply chided from the inside.

"It's… Agent Lani," the Twi'lek responded, trying to sound formal. "Would you like to use the refresher and clean up for a moment before Agent Delwynn speaks with you again?"

"Fine," the young woman spat.

Asana opened the door and the young woman, as if by routine, walked into the refresher room right next door. After a few moments, the young woman emerged and the forensicist ushered her into the interrogation room, directly across the corridor.

Gallien was secured inside, and Delwynn entered the corridor. She carried two datapads, one in each hand. Her hair was now at least combed, and she was not donning her overjacket. Asana nodded as the agent briskly entered the interrogation room. Deciding that she did not want to miss what Delwynn was planning, the Twi'lek scampered into the adjacent meeting room and watched quietly through the one-way glass mirror.

"Catiene, I want facts now," Delwynn harshly snapped. "I've gone easy on you hoping that you were just an innocent by-stander in this."

"I don't know what you're talking about," the young financier said, leaning back in her chair confidently.

Delwynn, facing the mirror, smirked wryly. "Of course you do."

The agent accessed the datapad tossed it on the table without fully turning around.

"And what am I supposed to be looking at?" Gallien queried, suddenly sounding nervous.

Delwynn sharply spun around, slammed her hands on the table, and leaned forward—stopping mere inches from Galliens face. "I think it is time you tell me how you and Avar Zranik really know each other. You know, that mysterious man that you 'never met in person.'"

Gallien's face became wrenched with anger. "You don't know anything, you—"

"Don't even say it," Delwynn interrupted, remaining close to Gallien.

"They'll kill me," she retorted loudly, repeatedly pounding the table with her fists. "The second I step off this ship, they'll kill me."

"Not if I have anything to say about it," the agent retorted.

"You don't," the young woman spat back. "Trust me. You don't."

"Well, if you are going to die, you might as well tell me why," Delwynn chided, leaning back.

"What is that supposed to mean?" Gallien sassed.

"In about ten minutes, you're going to leave this ship. I guess that means you'll be dead in ten. So, tell me why."

Gallien laced profanity at Delwynn in a loud tirade that lasted for almost two minutes. Finally, the woman collapsed on the table and started wailing the same phrase repeatedly: "You just don't get it. You just don't get it."

Delwynn sat on the table next to Gallien's chair and gently pushed the woman off the table and back into the seat. The agent then sat quietly with her arms folded in her lap, her back toward the mirror. Asana could not take her eyes off of the situation. She leaned forward, trying to spy what Gallien was doing. She appeared to be only crying.

"They will kill me," the financier said softly, raising her tear-filled face. "I've told you before. All I did was do what I was told. I transferred money when told. I never met that man in person. I only met the senator on Qina, and that was it."

"What's the connection to the Dark Moon crimelords?" Delwynn asked.

"None that I know of," the young woman responded between gasps of air. "There were five bounty hunters that were commissioned. That's it."

"Five?" the agent questioned, not seeming surprised by the number.

"Yeah," Gallien stated. "Five: three Rodians, a Human, and I think a Duros."

"Are these four of them?" Delwynn asked, handing Gallien the datapad that was on the table.

"Yes," she replied flatly. "Those are four of them. But, the Duros isn't listed there. His account was separate. The three Rodians are all related, and—well, you now have their account numbers, from what I can see. The Human was that bounty hunter on Qina, Lind. The Duros is… if I remember… oh, Sans Venret. His account went to a fund on Coruscant that I could never trace. Every time I tried, another name appeared on the registry. I just thought it was one of his aliases or something."

Asana was shocked with how open Gallien was being. Delwynn did not seem surprised, however. More confusing for the Twi'lek was how Delwynn seemed to already know this.

"You know that Sans Venret is a very dangerous being," the agent stated in a way that feigned concern, as if to provoke Gallien.

"I know," Gallien replied. "Still, he's not the one who will kill me. He's only been in it to help shuffle goods from Czerka. At least, that's my suspicion. I'm not sure, though."

"In other words, you're saying that one of the most notorious bounty hunters in the galaxy is simply a middle-man?"

"I think so. Look, I managed small accounts on Aargau. My boss told me to take this client,

this Zranik guy. I never did meet him. He always contacted me in a way I could never see his face. His payroll goes only a little beyond EIE. He paid the bounty hunters, the senator, this biologist man who worked for Czerka, and a mistress."

"A mistress?"

"Some skanky prostitute, I think. She hasn't been paid for a couple of months. I remember him saying that she was not actually part of the payroll. She got random lump sums—nothing regular."

"Catiene, is this all you know? The second I find out you are lying to me, I will have you thrown into jail for eternity."

"I know. I know. There is one other thing."

"And that is?"

"Senator Regueny told me on Qina right before that bounty hunter arrived that we were in big trouble. He said that he had been played. He thought he was helping out an honest business by mediating for the two companies. He said that he was being framed for smuggling because his ship had been commandeered. He told me to get out of everything fast, because he said that I was in danger. He discovered something, I'm sure of it. He had to have known what was coming."

"What else did he say?"

"That was it. I'm convinced from what I see that EIE is basically another crime ring. I told Zranik that I wanted to pass him off to a more experienced financier who could serve him better. He simply said that no one left once they were in. He reminded me that dangerous, wanted beings were on his rolls. He emphasized that if anything got out, it would be worse than death."

"I already know you've been lying to me, Miss. Gallien."

"No, Agent Delwynn, I have not. This is the entire truth. You have the documents right there on your datapad to prove it! Although, I'm not sure how you got them."

"I got them from EIE offices about two hours ago. You keep clean and orderly documentation."

"Then I suppose you know the police there are in on this, Agent Delwynn. I'm telling you, they are."

"Why do you say that?"

"EIE hires them as private contractors for security and other 'interstellar affairs.' Zranik owns them, too. I wouldn't be surprised if he owns the entire planet. His friend is the governor-general. You'll find his account in there, too."

"Ah, yes, Governor-General B'Rhea. Still, I think you're giving that evil man more credit than he deserves."

"I'm serious! Don’t underestimate him either. Zranik knows what he is doing. He’s completely in control right now. Plus, he owns the police and the government. Check the payroll! The police in Eriadu City are almost all on there."

Delwynn took back the datapad and appeared to be sifting through the payroll lists. Asana suddenly felt the vessel land strongly as the gravity of Thyferra took over the artificial force. Having ignored the last comment that Delwynn made, the Twi'lek watched as the agent left the interrogation room. Asana followed suit and walked out into the corridor. She followed Delwynn as she walked forward to the front of the ship.

"Go back and get Gallien," Delwynn said as she continued walking. "Hold her by the left wrist tightly. She won't go anywhere. Meet me at the port-side ramp."

The forensicist obliged and turned back toward the interrogation room. Entering, she saw that Gallien was once again crying, declaring that she did not wish to die. Asana suddenly had a small sense of compassion. The woman was an accessory to this plot, but that may have been her only involvement. Still, her duties were here duties, and Asana was required to follow Delwynn's orders. She linked her right arm with Gallien's left and ushered her out of the seat and into the corridor. Taking hold of her left wrist with the other arm, Asana led the financier down to the port-side ramp, which was directly beyond one security door. There, the two waited for about three minutes.

From around the corner came Delwynn and Danstari. Both had blasters on their waist, but no other armament. Delwynn gestured for Asana to follow as the ramp lowered to the ground. Delwynn led the small party with Danstari in tow. Asana, sandwiched in between, retaining custody of Gallien by the linked arms and held wrist. She marched the young woman in step behind the senior agent off the ramp and onto the duracrete ground of a landing platform.

The landing pad was an extension of a large hangar. The Mally seemed to be a little large to fit comfortably inside the hangar itself, so landing outside seemed logical. Asana spied a familiar agent and two other armed guards approaching from within the hangar bay. They walked with the same steady march as Delwynn. The man in front was Agent Slorfit, she remembered. His tightly curled short grey hair and dark skin was a complete give-away. The other two beings were tall and well-built. Upon closer inspection, however, they were definitively not Human. In fact, one of the armed guards was most definitely a Herglic while the other appeared to have an elongated head, although Asana did not recognize any exact species immediately. They both carried blasters and some type of heavy weapon over each shoulder.

After a few moments, Delwynn and the other agent had reached each other and extended their hands. They shook each other’s hand in a friendly gesture. Delwynn handed the agent a blue datapad, which he surveyed diligently for a minute. All the while, the sun was blazing brightly upon them. They were standing just outside the hangar proper, but a slight breeze was keeping it from being too warm.

"I take it that this is Miss. Gallien?" Agent Slorfit asked, pointing toward the financier.

"That would be," Delwynn responded. "Asana, release her. Agent Slorfit is now in charge of her care."

Gallien’s face became flush with fear as Asana let go of the woman.

"Any special instructions, Delwynn?" the agent asked. "Director Aiden already relayed your earlier statements. I am certain that we will be fine taking care of this woman."

"I trust you, Eloban," Delwynn returned. "I just don't trust the beings that are after her."

"Well, then, let's get her inside," Agent Slorfit said.

The Herglic reached forward and ushered Gallien in between himself and the other guard. Delwynn then leaned forward and whispered something into Agent Slorfit’s left ear. He nodded as she continued talking quietly. He responded to Delwynn, whispering in her left ear, to which she nodded. Seemingly satisfied, Delwynn turned around and started back for the Mally. Slorfit, as well, turned and started walking toward the hangar bay.

At that moment, a security siren sounded. Asana looked all around and saw nothing. Agents Slorfit and Delwynn, who had only been a couple of meters apart quickly flocked to Gallien and pushed her to the ground. Suddenly, a skiff came over the edge of the landing pad. It started firing shots on the assembled transfer party. The Herglic guard threw a metallic pad on the ground, which put up a small blast shield around everyone almost everyone on the landing pad. Suddenly, Asana was pushed hastily to the ground by Danstari, causing her to fall inside the radius of the blast shield as he stood over her, his head poking through the shield.

Asana watched the small skiff turn toward the side, showing three figures. Two of the beings jumped off the vessel and started running what seemed like directly at her, shots firing in all directions. The being that remained on the skiff set the vessel down and launched what appeared to be a grenade. The metallic device passed easily through the small shield, hit the ground, and started to release a green gas. Asana began to panic.

By this point, it was clear who the attackers were: the Rodian bounty hunters. Asana noted how Delwynn, Slorfit, and the long-necked guard dragged Gallien out of the shield radius, which was becoming filled with gas. Asana herself crawled toward the edge of the shielded area, aiming her head away from the toxin. A firefight ensued as Delwynn and Slorfit both pulled out blasters and opened fire. In a matter of seconds, the Rodians had gunned down the two guards, and Danstari was grimacing like he had been hit. Agents Delwynn and Slorfit kept firing return blasts. Finally, the two nearest bounty hunters collapsed on the surface of the landing pad. The third quickly lifted the skiff off the ground. Danstari leapt from his stance over Asana and ran toward the gunned-down Herglic guard. He grabbed what appeared to be a small, half-meter long grenade launcher and hoisted it over his head. She stood, watching the lieutenant take aim at the skiff.

Danstari finally, what seemed as if an hour later, fired a shot, hitting the small craft in the rear. The skiff started spinning out of control and veered back toward everyone on the pad. Asana's eyes widened as the craft started coming closer and closer. Suddenly, the lieutenant ran to Asana and grabbed her. He pushed her to the ground about a meter away, causing her to roll a few times across the harsh duracrete.

The skiff crashed into the ground where Asana had seen Delwynn and Slorfit standing over Gallien. A small explosion knocked Danstari off his feet and atop of the Twi'lek. All the while, the sirens kept wailing.

Chapter 6

That tone of voice sounds ominous. Please tell me this isn't more bad news.
—Sidian Greystone

Delwynn groaned as she rolled over. She had been thrown onto her back by the explosion. Only seconds before, she and Agent Slorfit had picked up the young Catiene Gallien and pushed her away from the incoming skiff before diving out of the way themselves. Now, the agent was atop Gallien with Slorfit laying face-down about a meter away.

The agent grunted with each motion she made in an effort to stand. With the strength sapped from her, however, she was only able to get to her knees. Instead of forcing the issue, she reached down and touched Gallien. She had a small gash on her neck and her clothes were torn. Yet, she was still breathing, albeit slowly. The young financier may have been unconscious, but she was definitely alive.

About two meters away, Agent Slorfit was struggling to his feet. He had scrapes along his face from where he appeared to have been pushed along the duracrete floor. He eventually stood but limped heavily as he made his way to Gallien.

"Is she alive?" he asked.

"Yeah," Delwynn said, checking for a pulse once again. "She's out cold, but she's alive. Are you hurt?"

"Not badly," Slorfit replied.

"Some limp for not badly," the female agent quipped while standing.

He sighed heavily. "I think my foot might be broken. Nothing I can't handle, you know. Just like those espionage days on Brentaal V, you know."

Delwynn looked around but could not see beyond the wreckage of the small three-person craft. A burnt body of a Rodian still hung over the edge of the skiff, its head resting on the ground a half meter away. Beyond that, the skiff had not fully disintegrated upon impact. Instead, it appeared that just one of the fuel cells exploded because of the crash. The rest of the vehicle simply burned violently.

"Its about time they showed up," Slorfit snapped as he turned to the hangar bay, where a legion of security officers was running toward them.

Delwynn nodded, then looked squarely at her fellow agent as she grabbed his shoulder. "Get Gallien off this planet."

"What?" he replied.

"Get her off this planet as fast as possible," she reiterated. "There are other bounty hunters that will be looking for her."

"Where should I take her?" he asked.

She tossed her hands up in frustration. "Anywhere! Alpheridies, Ithor, Carida, Kuat, Shola, Ryloth… anywhere but here."

"How will you know?" Slorfit queried, not seeming to have completely grasped the sense of urgency.

"We'll go through the director," Delwynn replied. "Get her to some medical care here, quickly, then get her off-world. We need her in hiding."

"Okay," he acknowledged. "I'll bring her down to the coroner to make sure she's fine. I should have her off-world in thirty minutes. You should leave as quickly as possible, too."

"I need to get into SafeCom first," she said. "I don't know how the Rodians found out Gallien was coming here. There's either a leak somewhere or our transmissions were intercepted."

Slorfit nodded and gestured for Delwynn to follow. At the same time, Delwynn told the barrage of security guards to bring Gallien to the coroner and that she was not deceased. Suddenly, from around the wreckage, Delwynn heard Asana scream her name. The agent raced as quickly as possible on her still-tense legs to find the Twi'lek and Danstari standing a safe distance from the wreckage. Beside them were the two dead Rodians that he been shot in the firefight.

"Delwynn!" Asana shouted, running toward the agent.

Danstari followed immediately behind. "Are you fine, boss?"

Delwynn nodded expressionlessly and allowed Asana to hug her.

"I was so worried," the Twi'lek confessed.

"I'm fine," the agent replied. "Agent Slorfit is fine; Gallien is still alive."

"What now, boss?" Danstari asked.

Delwynn smirked with pleasure. The lieutenant was starting to get it, in her opinion. It seemed as if he was making a concerted effort to be ahead of the curve, to anticipate her moves. The agent appreciate that.

"Prep the ship for takeoff, and then clean yourself up," she said. "I'll be back in about fifteen minutes, after I contact the director."

"On it, boss," he replied. "Back to Eriadu?"

"Yes," Delwynn said, returning to her normative stoicism.

Danstari and Asana turned and walked toward the Mally. Delwynn watched until they were at the ramp of the vessel before she started toward the hangar bay. Slorfit was talking to a group of beings, pointing out different aspects of the site. As Delwynn walked past, he joined her stride toward the main building. After a few steps, however, it was apparent that he could not fully keep up, so Delwynn slowed her gait.

"I have my team working the landing pad," he said. "They'll confirm the Rodians so that you can have official documentation for your report."

"I appreciate it," she replied. "I have to get my team back to Eriadu as fast as possible. This jaunt almost wasted a day even without this fiasco."

"I've also instructed the crew in the hangar to refuel your ship and refill the water tank with fresh water," Slorfit added.

"Thank you," Delwynn said. "I'm glad you thought of that. That kind of slipped my mind with everything that has happened."

"I know you too well, Evening Delwynn," he chided. "I've known you for too long not to have thought of it."

Delwynn laughed. She had known Agent Slorfit for seventeen years. In fact, they began their careers in the GIN at the same time in the Alsakan office. While Delwynn quickly became a lead investigator within two years, Slorfit went into more managerial roles, eventually becoming the head of the Thyferra Office. Even though their careers went different tracks, they remained casually in touch. Slorfit was even one of the only seven beings that Delwynn had allowed to be present at the funeral of her husband and daughter.

The two agents walked side-by-side through the hangar and down a corridor into the main office area of the building. It was a wide open complex with desks and cubicles smattered across the lower level. The upper level had simply a walkway along the outer perimeter that had access to rooms. Beings of enumerable species and scores of droids were working below. Slorfit led Delwynn to a door that simply read "SafeCom" on it. Delwynn touched the biometric pad. It only let out a beep that indicated denied access. The agent tried again, but once again it was for naught. Slorfit smirked.

"Shall I call for technical assistance?" he chided.

"Shall I call for a female escort?" she smarted.

"I'm still celibate," he retorted.

"I'm still competent," she returned. "These things are older than me."

"So is your datapad, my friend, but you still have trouble with that," Slorfit smarted with a smirk.

Delwynn cocked her head back with a wry look as the biometric lock accepted Slorfit's handprint and the door opened. She briskly walked into the dark room. The far wall was a series of screens, a holoprojector rested on the floor in the middle of the room, and a control panel was against the near wall. Delwynn walked dutifully to the control panel but paused with hesitation. On it was a myriad of dials, buttons, keypads, and card scanners.

Slorfit stepped forward and stared at the panel, standing to Delwynn's right. He smiled at the irony and started pressing a series of buttons, turning a couple of knobs, and scanning a card. After a moment, the very dim lights within the room shut off in their entirety. In the darkness, the large screen illuminated, with Director Aiden appearing at his desk.

"Director," Delwynn said with shock. She had not anticipated he be available for visual conferencing.

Slorfit pointed to a spot in front of the chairs for Delwynn to stand. Obliging, she moved there and faced the screen.

"Agent Slorfit told me thirty minutes ago to be on standby about now," he said, brushing his long hair back. "I've been waiting to make sure everything went smoothly on Thyferra. My wife is waiting at home for me to come home and sleep."

"She's going to have to wait a little longer, Director," she said. "We had an incident."

"What happened?" Director Aiden sighed.

"We were attacked," Delwynn began, taking a seat in a chair.

"Attacked?" he interrupted.

"The three Rodian bounty hunters ambushed us," she said, rocking gently. "They are now dead."

"And Gallien?" the director asked.

"She's alive," she responded. "Everyone else is fine, too, so thanks for asking. Now, Director, I am very concerned with how the Rodian bugs found out where we were. I'm having Danstari check for leaks or message intercepts."

"Don't bother, Delwynn," he spat with angst. "Have Agent Slorfit's team handle that. I trust him to oversee that investigation. You have far bigger issues to be concerned with."

"Oh?" Delwynn asked, trying to feign sarcasm.

"I want Gallien brought to one of the old safe houses," the Director said. "You and Agent Slorfit must have a score of those littered across the galaxy from your, well, not-so-investigative days."

Delwynn glanced over at Slorfit. He glared into her eyes, then softly took a breath.

"Aleron," Slorfit spoke. "I'll take here there shortly. It is a quick ride up the Shapani Bypass."

"Good," Director Aiden said.

Delwynn turned her attention back to the screen. "So, what needs to be done?"

"I want you to stop on Seswenna when you return," he said. "Senator Awa Moonflower has been receiving death threats from Eriaduan radicals. Just to be safe, I want you to get the documents from her."

"I suppose you believe this is related," she smarted.

"Yes, I do," he returned.

"Fine," Delwynn replied. "I'll make a quick stop. It's on the way and only a twenty minute-or-so jump—"

"On second thought," Director Aiden interrupted, rubbing his forehead. "Don't go there first. Go to Eriadu and tend to your team. Senator Moonflower won't even be settled in by the time you arrived. I don't want her to feel pressured. Plus, if you're already on Eriadu, you can simply tell her you were in the area. She'd probably buy that more than if she thought you went out of your way."

"I take it she isn't cooperating much," Delwynn snickered.

The director let his left hand fall flat on the desk in frustration. "Yes and no. She's rebuffed everyone's admonishment not to go back home to Seswenna, but she did allow for two Jedi Masters to go with her. Master T;dal and the Jedi Knight Fay should be by her side at all times. Of course, Delwynn, no one else knows about this."

"Of course not," she sarcastically said, standing.

"Now, Delwynn, where are we on discovering what the doctor was working on?" he asked.

"I'll know more by the time I reach Eriadu," she said. "I will conference with you from the facility. By then, I'll have been fully briefed by my team and will have met up Master Greystone and Shalli, who are still on Eriadu."

"That reminds me, Delwynn," he said. "Tread carefully on Eriadu. Grand Master m'Ord Vinka is en route as we speak. He's taken a small group of three Jedi with him to begin his own investigation. Keep your Jedi associates out of sight. He does not know they are there. As far as he knows, Shalli is with you planet-hopping."

Delwynn wrinkled her face in disgust as she turned to the side, facing Agent Slorfit. "Ok, Director, I'll contact you on Eriadu."

"Thank you Delwynn," he said. "I'll expect a report in fifteen hours, promptly."

Delwynn saw the screen go dark out of the corner of her eye as the lights slowly brightened. Still dimly lit, the room seemed far brighter now than it had. The two agents simply stared at each other for a few minutes. Through the silence, Delwynn was processing how to handle the complication the Jedi were now incurring. Plus, having to eventually take a couple of hours and hop over to Seswenna was an inconvenience. In some ways, she saw the writing on the wall: the case had grown too far beyond a simple GIN investigation. Now, it was a galaxy-wide conspiracy that needed the cooperation of the entirety of the Judicial Forces, the Jedi, and the Senate. It seemed only inevitable that Delwynn would be recalled home to Alsakan or to the Coruscant office and turn over the investigation. That was not what she wanted. Not at all.

Agent Slorfit broke the stillness as he walked up to the doorway once again. Pressing his hand against the biometric lock, the door briskly opened. A blinding light poured into the room, and Delwynn started a methodical march into it. Entering back into the main atrium of the Thyferra office, she squinted at the sudden brightness. The agent kept walking, however, and followed Agent Slorfit back to the hangar. The two shared not a word along the way, Delwynn's erstwhile thoughts retracing the evidence surrounding Catiene Gallien.

Having arrived back at the wreckage of the marauding skiff, Delwynn stood and watched as Slorfit's team was swiftly surveying the scene. The burnt corpse of the one Rodian was being sealed in a body bag while two others rested on a repulsorcart. The control panel of the skiff was disassembled and being imaged by a Duros, while a Human and Sullustan were performing a general cleanup of the scene. Delwynn was satisfied that she did not have to bear the responsibility for this event, for now, and that she could rely on Slorfit's team. In the end, however, she would be responsible for putting the pieces together.

"I suppose I should let you go," Slorfit said, standing next to Delwynn.

"One of these days we need to meet for something positive," she replied.

"Well, we don't really cross paths that often anymore," he commented.

"Managing a whole office will do that," she said in response. "One day, you might be the director."

"No desire right now, Evening," Slorfit said, putting his right hand on Delwynn's left shoulder.

"Until we meet again, my friend," she said with a soft smile.

"Until then," he said before turning away and walking back through the hangar.

Delwynn watched the agent limp through the hangar before beginning her trek back toward the Mally. Boarding the vessel, she went immediately to the lounge area. There, Danstari and Asana were sitting side-by-side and talking. Two empty plates rested on the table in front of them indicated they had just eaten. Delwynn smirked as the two sat up and attempted to look innocent.

"Danstari, take us to Eriadu," she said hoping to portray a sense of urgency. "I want off this rock faster than this ship can fly."

"On it, boss," Danstari said dutifully, as he smiled almost flirtatiously at Asana.

"Asana," Delwynn said unamused. "What do you have for me?"

The Twi'lek looked a touch confused. "The doctor's notes?"

"Yes," the agent said.

"Ah," Asana returned. "I'll bring them to your office in one hour."

"Make it twenty minutes," Delwynn said callously.

The agent then turned and walked straight to her office. There, she sealed the door and sat at her desk. Delwynn could easily feel the vessel lifting off the surface of Thyferra and tapped the hailing signal for Master Greystone. About two minutes later, the Jedi called from the other end of the connection.

"Master, we are leaving Thyferra now," she said.

"Sounds good, Evening," he replied. "Everything go according to plan?"

"Never does," the agent responded. "We were attacked."

"Are you fine?" he asked.

"Yes," she said flatly. "Most importantly, the team is fine, and Gallien is alive."

"I take it, then, that the team on Thyferra didn't make it?" the Jedi inquired.

"The guards didn't," Delwynn answered. "Agent Slorfit only has a broken foot. The three Rodian bounty hunters are now dead."

"Is the agent taking up that investigation there?" he furthered.

"Yes," she once again responded. "Everything is set there. I'll await their report. Now, onto the most important order of business."

"That tone of voice sounds ominous," he commented. "Please tell me this isn't more bad news."

"I'm afraid it might be," the agent added. "Apparently Grand Master m'Ord Vinka is on his way to Eriadu right now. He might get there before I return. You and Shalli must not be seen by him at all. Whatever you do, stay out of his sight."

"Who told you about this?" Master Greystone asked.

"Director Aiden," Delwynn replied.

"Well, then," the Jedi said.

"We will be there in a matter of hours," she stated. "Until then, lay low for a while."

The Jedi Master said a goodbye, and the connection was broken. By now, the Mally was in hyperspace. Needing to cancel Danstari's orders to investigate the leak, she left the office and walked toward the forward area of the vessel. Inside the cockpit, Danstari was quietly double-checking the data readings on the control panel. She stood there a moment as he then began tapping on the panel, beating out a rhythm that seemed like a dance beat.

"Maybe I shouldn't cancel those orders," Delwynn said snarkily.

Danstari snapped to his feet and swiftly turned toward the agent. "I was just double-checking the readings, boss. Don't want to be flying through a nebula or something."

"Don't bother looking into the Rodians, for now," she said unmoved by his reaction.

"What would you like me to do, then?" he asked cautiously.

"Go help Asana get everything together," the agent ordered. "I'm expecting a report in only a few minutes."

Danstari nodded and quickly left the cockpit. Delwynn then returned to her office and once again sealed the door. She paused for a moment and glanced at each of the two holoimages on the mantle next to the door.

"Once again I've somehow stymied death. You weren't even given the chance."

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