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Chapter 7

Eriadu City

Now, Shalli, let's talk about what happened in Eriadu City.
—Master Sidian Greystone

Clouds blocked all sunlight in the skies over Eriadu City. Still, Shalli continued to peer at them, looking for a break. Occasionally, an avian flew overhead, breaking the monotony. Right now, she was waiting. Master Greystone had gone into a store to purchase some food for the pair. Shalli was waiting, leaning against the stone masonry building. It was a warm day, but she remained covered in a veil more often attributed to the servant women of the Colonies than to the elites of Eriadu. She was not willing to let her blue skin be shown, however. Such could have had disastrous implications on this world.

The Jedi Master returned from the store and handed Shalli some bread with a spread on it. She was surprised by the cuisine, as it was of a lighter fare and largely insubstantial. Still, it was food—something of which they had not partaken for about twenty hours. Their mission right now, as Master Greystone had indicated to her earlier, was to canvass the streets near the EIE headquarters. The Jedi had been able to sneak into the complex after the fire and copy documents and files. Since then, they have been waiting for Avar Zranik to make an appearance. He was rumored to have been arriving within moments, but nothing had come of fruition to this point.

About three blocks down the street, however, Shalli began hearing a crowd of people. Glancing in that direction, she noticed that the local police had blocked the street access. Behind them was a large mass of beings. Curious, she began drifting toward the crowd. Within minutes, she was at the police barricade.

"You will let us two Humans through," Master Greystone said from behind.

"I will let you two Humans through," the officer said, obviously swayed by the Jedi Master's mind trickery.

"Thank you," he replied to the officer.

Shalli continued walking, meandering back into the center of the street. Master Greystone, from behind, put his right hand on Shalli's left shoulder.

"Use everything within your power to project yourself as a Human," he said.

"What do you mean?" the Omwati asked, peering at the Jedi Master.

"Concentrate on the Force," he returned. "Think of this as a broader mind trick. Focus the same energies, but use it to imagine yourself as a Human."

"I don't understand."

"You are skilled with the mind trick, no?"

"Yes."

"It uses the same skills. Envision yourself as a Human and project that through the Force broadly—to everyone around. Most of these people will buy it easily."

Shalli tried, but she was unable to garner an image.

"Keep focusing," the Jedi stated. "This is a skill that could save your life one day. Of course, with our mission today, this could be that day."

"What am I trying to tell people?" Shalli asked, eyes still closed.

"You're not speaking it," he replied. "You should be pushing forward and image with your mind in the same way as if you were deflecting someone's attention."

Shalli tried again. Focusing all her energy, she formed an image of herself in her mind with pale, peachy skin and blond hair. Then, she glanced toward the crowd and began 'telling' them with her mind that she was this image.

At that moment, an unassuming man walked passed the two Jedi. All the while, he kept staring at Shalli. His glare, however, was flirtatious and not sinister. Surprised, but not upset, by this development, Shalli assumed she was successfully accomplishing the Force power. Master Greystone, too, seemed satisfied, and ushered her forward into the crowd.

Greystone led Shalli through the sea of Humans to an area that was within visual distance of a large stage. Nevertheless, behind them was a long alley. Undoubtedly, Shalli surmised, the Jedi Master had intended to use this as an escape route should things become challenging. There were only a few people blocking their exit. Trying to relax but not loose the image she was mentally projecting, Shalli turned toward the stage. A short, balding, overweight man was ranting on the stage. His voice was cascading through the speakers, and his arms flailed around with vigor. He was surrounded by military-type officers and wealthy businessmen. There was only one woman on the stage, and all were Human. Still, the crowd seemed to be lavishing the man with attention and cheers.

"It is the duty of everyone on Eriadu to make this planet better," the man shouted.

"You know who this is, right?" Master Greystone whispered to Shalli in her left ear.

"No," she replied.

"This is B'Rhea," he returned.

"Who?" Shalli questioned, turning her gaze to the other Jedi.

"He's the Governor-General of the planet," he stated.

"Never heard of him," she whispered back.

"You better learn him quickly," he said. "He's going to be a major player in everything over the next few years. I can sense his future. Darkness surrounds what little remains. His legacy will surely be long-lasting."

"Everyone care for your brother and sister in this fight!" B'Rhea shouted toward the crowd. "This is the only way we can defeat those aliens who want to destroy us. We will take back this sector from them and make ourselves their masters once again! Eriadu is the jewel of the sector, not Seswenna. Let those vile aliens and alien-lovers perish in Chaos!"

The crowd let forth a deafening roar of approval. Shalli was surprised by the xenophobic remarks, and the praise that met them.

"Should anyone stand in our way, we will take them down. Seswenna can no longer prosper at the expense of the hard working Humans of Eriadu. Men, double your efforts at your jobs. Women, tend to the needs of your men. Let's prove to the galaxy that we are economically and technologically superior to everyone. Our planet will no longer be this small speck in the outer reaches, we will be praised as the glory of the southern galaxy!

Once again, the crowd cheered. Not only was he xenophobic, Shalli thought, he was chauvinistic. She was also beginning to feel something inside her that was not right. It was almost like a tension, but she was unable to explain it. Something, somewhere on this planet was making her unsettled. Perhaps, she thought, it was the rants of this despotic madman. Still, she sensed something elsewhere. Something dark, and it began to cause a physical tension to encroach into her muscles.

"Do your part, my brothers and sisters," the politician continued. "And, I will do mine! We are pushing for great change that will bring our planet glory. The Hydian Way will be rerouted to our planet, not Seswenna. The link will become the main route! The Rimma will too be rerouted to connect to us directly. We will strengthen our hold on commerce, and we will rule the southern areas of the galaxy economically and culturally. Beside me are great men. Avar Zranik's company is expanding daily! Czerka is investing once again in our southern hemisphere. The guilds have pledged their support to rerouting the hyperlanes, and the Bank of Eriadu has just acquired the Rimmaline Bank, giving us access to every system between here and Thyferra!"

The crowd began chanting something indiscernible, but Shalli was growing uncomfortable. Through her feelings, however, she continued to push forth the mental image of her as some blond-haired Human. It was growing more difficult, however, and Shalli began to struggle internally with whether or not her emotions could be controlled. It was the perpetual battle that she faced. Everything she was ever taught was that emotions led to the dark side. The growing tension in her made her assume that her growing sense of emotion was the source of the darkness she felt.

"We will then take over their systems!" he shouted. "We will make them our servants! We will enslave all those alien scum that walk those worlds, and spread our true social democracy. Then, the Republic will have to listen to us, and we will be triumphant!"

Shalli was now feeling tight and nauseous. Here, this arrogant dictator was bloviating about partial galactic domination. How had she not heard of this man before? Surely he would have been viewed as a threat to the security of the Republic. That was, of course, if they took his comments seriously. Glancing at the crowds, she noticed that the entire park area seemed filled with beings. There had to have been over one million in the area listing to this indoctrination and ranting of a madman. This psychopathic and arrogant man was damning them to servitude and conflict, and they embraced him! What were they getting in return? Some false sense of radical planetism and xenophobia?

Shifting in place, Shalli's arm bumped the back of the man in front of her. He turned and looked, with a glare of disgust before turning back toward B'Rhea. An instant later, he turned around again—this time with inquisition and suspicion. Shalli felt the urge to run but did not move. She suddenly felt the Force slip out of her control, as the man pointed his finger at her.

"Alien!" he shouted. "She's not one of us! Alien! Get her!"

Shalli looked at Master Greystone, he nodded his head to the side discretely. Shalli understood. She ran.

As she took off through the few people that blocked direct access to the alley, the Omwati looked over her shoulder. Around twenty men were now chasing her. Master Greystone was also following, but he was directly in front of the stampede, as if leading the charge. Suddenly, Shalli felt concern. She began to be afraid that she was going to be captured and bludgeoned to death. The concern began to overwhelm her, spawning an emotion that she could not identify. As she ran down the alley, she fought with herself. 'Emotion is bad,' she chastised mentally. All this did, however, was serve to stir it more within her. 'No emotion, only peace,' she mentally rehashed.

The mob that flowed behind her had swelled to around fifty men. Master Greystone had caught up to Shalli, which surprised her given his age, and was now running by her side. Shalli pointed down another street, and the two Jedi turned to the right. The Force seemed to have left her. She was unable to sense where she was going or what was occurring. Instead, she only sensed the angry mob and her own… fear. It was raw fear that she was experiencing!

"No!" she shouted out loud. "Fear is an emotion. Emotion leads to the dark side!"

Master Greystone looked at the Omwati curiously but seemed to sense what was going through her mind.

"Just calm yourself, Shalli," he said between heavy breaths. "Emotion is not bad… Fear is not even bad… Embracing it is… the problem. Calm your mind… and allow yourself to be proactive… instead of reactive. Remember your training!"

Shalli finally stopped running, but the crowd was gaining ground. She ducked into a paper repository. Master Greystone followed behind. They peered out a crack in the large metallic bin as the crowd largely ran by. A few of the stragglers, including the original accuser, were standing directly in front of the Jedi’s position. There was no exit, Shalli noted. They had to wait inside the heaps of papers for a while. At the same time, she tried to eliminate the emotions. She rehashed her training, focusing on eliminating emotion by chastisement.

Nothing worked, however. The more she reprimanded herself, the more she began to fear the very fear that had built up within her. Instead of relaxing, she continued to mentally stir. In a matter of minutes, her fear of fear had caused her to become far too overwhelmed. Now, she was feeling something else within her. Uncertain and completely oblivious to its consequences, the normally non-emotive Jedi began fidgeting. The ruckus caught the attention of the accuser, and he opened the bin.

The Omwati looked squarely into his eyes. She understood him, as she sensed the same series of emotions he had. They both were afraid of each other, and they both were in dislike of the other. Then, Shalli realized, they both wanted to kill each other.

"Shalli," Master Greystone called softly, placing his hand across her chest, as if to gently restrain her. "Shalli, focus. Focus on peace. Let me handle this gentleman."

Even though the Omwati heard the words, she could not reconcile what she was feeling. It seemed to overwhelm her; it seemed to permeate everything around her. Everything was tense and strained, yet she seemed to be able to feel the Force again.

The man took one step forward. Shalli's emotions came to the fore. In an instant she envisioned him attacking her, even though he had only inched forward. Reaching out, through the Force, she gathered her strength. By the time the man was only a mere step from her and the now-standing Jedi Master, she could not contain everything that was being experienced. Lashing out, she thrust her arms forward; telepathically ejecting a blast in the Force that flung the unsuspecting man across the alley. He landed four meters away. A sudden surge of power came over her, and the Jedi jumped out from among the papers. She ignited her lightsaber and charged the man, impaling him in the chest.

Three of the other Humans, who were now looking on, darted off down the alley. She could sense their fear, and it she felt reassured that they, too, would meet their demise. So, she grabbed the lightsaber and followed in pursuit. After only one block of buildings, Shalli had caught up to the three men. She slashed at the legs of one, cutting him down. Leaving him on the ground, she reached out through the Force and grabbed another. As she ran forward, she pulled the man toward her with the Force, her lightsaber aimed outward. The man, unable to overcome the power Shalli now wielded, slipped and lost his balance. The Omwati continued pulling him toward her, until her blue lightsaber went through his back.

The last man slipped and fell to the ground. Shalli ran to him as he rolled onto his back. Their eyes met, and she saw both his fear and hatred. Yet, he said nothing. She raised her lightsaber over her head and pointed it downward. As the man remained, his face became hollow and expressionless. She felt his fear subside as he closed his eyes. Yet, it was not replaced by confidence. Rather, Shalli thought, he was resigning himself to his fate.

Although she had killed three other men only moments earlier, could she really kill this man? A swirl of thoughts flooded her mind. What if his only transgression was hate? Had he really been among the belligerents who had chased her with the intent of attacking?

The more Shalli hesitated, the more her strength seemed to wane. She sensed Master Greystone behind her; she sensed stark disapproval. This was an emotion with which she was very familiar. After all, she had sensed it from all her masters on so many occasions.

Turning around, the Omwati disengaged her lightsaber and started walking toward the Jedi Master. She began to sense something else within herself. Another emotion, she surmised. This time, however, she did not fight it. Mentally overwhelmed from having suddenly discovered fear and hatred, she collapsed on the ground at the feet of the Jedi Master. Guilt overcame her. She understood guilt.

Master Greystone grabbed Shalli and deftly pulled her upright. Then he walked down the alley in complete silence. By the time he was fifteen meters away, she knew he was not going to turn back. Realizing that she had just fully wrought his disapproval, she quietly followed in tow.

Over the next hour, Shalli slowly marched back to the Eriadu City Naval Base. She had fully regained her composure and had felt the surge of energy and emotion dissolve. Now, everything seemed almost more like the normative than the terrible experience in the alley. She still sensed something dark somewhere on the planet, but it was inconsequential. She had reestablished her meticulous self-control and was shutting down all aspects of her mind.

The Omwati knew that Master Greystone would need to be faced. The entire situation had become a blur, and she honestly was unable to remember what had been true and what had been imagined. She knew that an account would have to be given for chasing the three unarmed men through the network of alleys. His demeanor clearly indicated that she had acted improperly. The Omwati still felt completely justified for having dispatched with the initial man, as he had intent of attacking her, according to her recollection. Then again, a Jedi Master might have seen it quite differently. After all, she was not certain what had actually occurred any more.

Once back at the base, Shalli retired to a sitting area and laid back. As she closed her eyes, she sensed Master Greystone enter the room.

"We have a guest," he said straightly. "Prepare yourself."

"Who?" the Omwati inquired, slowly standing.

"The Grand Master has arrived," Master Greystone returned.

Shalli immediately snapped to attention. Searching through the Force, however, she could not feel the Grand Master. Had the arrival already taken place? How was she unable to sense one of her former masters? Then again, she was not even able to sense the Force, and that thought caused every other mental synapse to dissolve.

Master Greystone stepped into the hallway, and Shalli regained her senses quickly enough to dutifully follow in tow. Passing through enumerable corridors, they arrived at the main garage where the speeders were being stored. Shalli recognized the cavernous room of duracrete. There, along a far wall, the Grand Master was powering up a speeder.

"Master m'Ord Vinka," Master Greystone called.

The being simply looked up at the two Jedi who were approaching. There was no other form of acknowledgment, and there was no gesture of greeting. The two Jedi continued their march toward the Grand Master. With each step, Shalli slowly felt the Force regaining its presence. Even with this, it felt differently than it had.

"Master m'Ord Vinka," the Jedi Master called once again.

"Yes," the Grand Master replied flatly. "What a surprise to see you here, Sidian. What brings you Eriadu? I thought your work was out in the Moddell sector."

"It is good to see you, as well," Master Greystone politely returned, brushing off the obvious lack of interest.

Shalli was confused at this point. Surely, the Grand Master had traveled to Eriadu for a reason. Did he not know that there were two Jedi already working the investigation into Avar Zranik? If not, should she tell? Was it her place to divulge information? At the same time, she sensed that Master Greystone felt in control of the situation. If he was able to handle the Grand Master, it would be better. Remembering the past, the Omwati recalled how the then–Council Member m'Ord Vinka had perpetually chastised her and attempted to block her knighthood with a tirade in the Council chambers.

"So," the Grand Master spat. "Why are you on Eriadu?"

"My investigation brought me here," Master Greystone replied. "My research crossed paths with some interesting findings on Qina. My presence on Eriadu was warranted to make sure that all the pieces fell into place."

"Odd," the Jedi returned while adjusting the controls on the speeder. "I would have never guessed such a connection."

"What brings you to Eriadu?" Greystone inquired. "I wish I had known you were coming, I would have been more prepared to greet you."

"Bah! Save the pleasantries," the Grand Master spat. "I'm only here to check out the alleged fire before going to Seswenna. I'm hoping to get off this planet within an hour or two."

"Why Seswenna?" Shalli blurted without thinking.

Both Jedi Masters glanced at Shalli in surprise. She had not spoken to the Grand Master for over three years. Their history was checkered at best, and she understood that he had no love for her. Still, she was curious and thought that Delwynn would approve of her attempting to investigate suspicious activity.

"That's not your concern, Omwati," the Grand Master nastily chided.

At that, m'Ord Vinka hopped in the speeder faded out of sight toward Eriadu City. As he departed, the Force faded once again.

"What was he doing?" Shalli finally asked.

"He's going to Seswenna to be with Senator Moonflower," Master Greystone said matter-of-factly. "His thoughts betrayed him. He's so overwhelmed with paranoia that the Jedi are slipping out of his control. He's also trying a—let's just say—'more hands-on approach' to this now. He believes taking charge of the situation will make the politicos on Coruscant give him whatever rights he demands in this case."

Shalli was now even more confused. A Grand Master was power-hungry? That did not seem like something that aligned with the Jedi Code. Maybe Master Greystone was mistaken. Maybe he just was concerned about the factions within the Jedi Order. After all, it was clear to everybody that there were two distinct factions: one that embraced development of the light side of the Force thoroughly—even allowing a being to function within its own capacity to love and have compassion; the other group shunned anything that could possibly lead to the dark side and was adamantly against any emotion. Shalli was definitely within the latter camp. That is, she was taught to be of that persuasion.

"Now, Shalli," the Jedi Master said with displeasure. "Let's talk about what happened in Eriadu City."

Shalli's mind went blank. It was as if a computer had been abruptly unplugged.

Chapter 8

Mally

Get me Master Yoda and Director Aiden quickly. Wake them both, if needed. I need the Jedi Master in my office for a meeting as soon as possible. If the director is still on Coruscant, I want him to be here, as well. This is highest priority.
—Anwis Eddicus

Lieutenant Danstari entered into the laboratory, where Asana was working. There, the Twi'lek was frantically rifling through the pieces of paper. She was singing loudly, and her feet were fidgeting. Danstari watched as the Twi'lek, in frustration, took a fistful of the papers and threw them violently toward him. She did not seem to even regard him, although her singing had stopped. After a few moments, Asana resumed her song and continued through the stack of paper.

About half way through the stack, she quickly stood, clutching a small square piece that was no bigger than a datadisc. The Twi'lek's song fused into cheers as she started jumping around the room. Danstari was about to ask the reason for such excitement, but Asana quickly embraced him before he could mutter a single word. She released her hold on the lieutenant after a moment without saying a word directly to him. Then, the Twi'lek turned back toward her computer and scanned the paper. On the screen, an image of an insect flickered.

"Tell Delwynn I need only a few more moments," Asana said as she strutted back toward the lieutenant.

"You know she's not going to like that," he replied.

"Please," she pleaded with flirtatious eyes.

"Sure," he reluctantly capitulated. "Of course, the second I turn around, she'll be right behind me."

Quickly, Danstari looked over both shoulders and then leaned back to peer down the hallway. Delwynn was nowhere to be seen. As he stared down toward the cockpit, he suddenly relaxed at the void.

"I'm already waiting," Delwynn said, smacking Danstari on the top of his head with a thick folder stuffed with paper.

"Do I need to ask where you came from, boss?" the lieutenant queried.

"No," the agent replied flatly.

"Delwynn, I need more time," Asana said straightway. "Actually, only, like, five more minutes. In fact, if I had those five minutes, I could guarantee that you would have something big. Really worthwhile! I had a breakthrough about ten minutes ago, when the encryption key opened on the last set of files. It's being processed right now, so can I have the five more minutes? I don't think you'll be disappointed. I think I might know what is going on."

"I think you've just wasted five minutes asking me," Delwynn said non-bemusedly. "I'll be in the meeting room. You have no more than five minutes."

Hoping to anticipate the next request, Danstari mouthed and gestured to Asana, asking if she needed help. The Twi'lek shook her head in the negative and shooed him with her arms, so the lieutenant quickly followed behind Delwynn into the meeting room. Once there, he walked over to the table and sat in a chair. On the tabletop, across from Danstari, the agent sat—her seat part way on the table, her left leg still anchored to the ground.

"It is times like these that I wish I could simply crawl up in my chair at home and eat a piece of freshly baked wintenberry or blatberry pie," Delwynn revealed.

Danstari was stunned by the candidness of the moment. Delwynn was speaking personally again, even as she stared off into the empty air of the room. Of course, within a moment, the seasoned agent stood from the table and sat in a chair, regaining her more common stoic demeanor.

The situation was awkward, at best. Danstari was unsure what to say—if anything. Undoubtedly, he thought, it would be best to not say anything. He had nothing of note to contribute to the case right now. At the same time, was Delwynn expecting him to step up? After two silent minutes passed, Asana quietly entered the room with Emra in tow. The droid docked with the meeting room computer and began to upload information. The lights in the room dimmed and the screen illuminated with an image of an insect.

"Delwynn," Asana said straightly. "This is what the doctor was working on."

"What is it?" the agent asked. "Is that some kind of bug?"

"Let me guess," Danstari interjected hastily. "Czerka offices are infested. On Denon, I would definitely believe that."

Delwynn simply glared at Danstari before turning her attention back to Asana. Danstari's stomach wrenched, knowing he had made another mistake with the agent.

"This is a parasitical insect of some type," the forensicist replied. "I'm not an expert on these, but the paperwork indicates this. Of course, I'd be speculating as to the reason."

"He's a biologist," the agent returned. "That shouldn't surprise me. Still, his emphasis is on weaponry. Why look at parasites?"

"Perhaps there was a personal reason?" Asana offered. "I cannot corroborate any motivation for his research without his own words. Of course, he is very dead, so that is not going to happen. I can only say that everything leads back to Czerka—messages, notices, purchase forms. He may have been working on a new weapon for the company that involved parasites. Unless I have access to those documents, I can't confirm that."

"Where are the parasites?" Delwynn asked.

"Not sure," the Twi'lek replied with a shrug. "I can say that he worked with producing nearly fifty million of them. Apparently they need very specific conditions to breed. He was only able to make that in the lab. When they do lay eggs, they can do so in hundreds at a time."

"That's quite a weapon," the agent said. She let out a sigh. "So millions of parasitic insects are floating around the galaxy. Well, what were his connections to Zranik?"

"They appear limited, at best," Asana confessed. "The only thing I could find were encrypted documents through Czerka on behalf of EIE. If anything is actually there—"

"We'd need a subpoena and a lot of help," Delwynn sarcastically interrupted.

"Basically, yes," the Twi’lek affirmed.

Danstari simply shook his head and leaned back in his seat. He began to ponder the connections to Czerka. Perhaps this company was much more involved than originally had been indicated.

"Boss," Danstari called, sitting upright. "Don't you think we could get into the Czerka Building to look at those documents without getting the courts involved?"

"What are you suggesting?" the agent inquired, squinting at the lieutenant.

"If the scientists are in a separate building, then couldn't we hack into that one computer system?" he offered.

"Hacking?" the agent sneered. "And who do you expect is going to pull that one off without getting caught?"

Emra let out a loud, chirping array of sound. Then, an image of a small glass building appeared. Under it was a description: 123 Czerka Place, in the Greenground District of Denon. That specific building was the tower that housed the scientific development and research departments. Emra flashed a series of statistics before Danstari's eyes. All were vulnerabilities within the Czerka system.

"I really can't approve this right now," Delwynn said while rubbing her face. "Danstari, technically you are correct. We could hack into their network, but I need to get an order from the director that will allow us without getting into too much trouble. Let me emphasize—too much trouble; there's always trouble involved."

A collective sigh filled the room.

"Now, let's refocus for a minute," Delwynn added. "Asana, please tell me everything you know about these parasites. What are they? What can they do?"

Asana sighed. "All I know, Delwynn, is that they are virtually indestructible medically."

"Indestructible?" she asked, shocked.

"Well, there's no medicine that can kill them," the Twi'lek clarified. "There's evidence that they're susceptible to amirite in some way, but that's it medically. It seems to me that the only way to kill these things is through more traditional means, like stepping on them, slicing them with Master Greystone's lightsaber, or something like that."

"What else?" the agent asked.

"That's really it," Asana confessed. "The documents were not clear. It seems like not all of them were in the pile. Based on the electronic message trail, a lot of the documents are in someone else's hands. With the Czerka firewall in place, I simply cannot get to them."

"Okay," Delwynn replied. "I'll send a quick message. We need to recess for a few moments. I just don't want to have to go back to that stinky rock unless I have a reason."

"She means Denon," Danstari sarcastically interjected, smirking.

Both Asana and Delwynn glared at the lieutenant while Emra let out a sigh-like sound.

"I think I have a ship to tend to," he said, rising to his feet.

No objection came from anyone, so Danstari dutifully walked from the meeting room and back to the cockpit. As he was leaving, he could hear Asana and Delwynn begin to talk. Rather than eavesdropping, he assumed his regular position, seated in his pilot's chair, watching hyperspace whiz by.

Coruscant

Alta Eddicus depressed the call button on the outside the office of the chancellor. She waited for a few moments, but no reply came. She pushed the button once again, hoping for some type of response. The guards had mentioned that no meeting was taking place, so the delay perplexed her. She brushed her hair behind her ears and glanced through her black-framed spectacles at the guard to her right. He had not flinched and remained at attention, staring into the hallway.

With her patience growing increasingly thin, the Taanabi senator depressed the button once again. This time, however, the door suddenly whisked open. Immediately inside the office, her father was standing. He ushered her in silently. Obliging protocol, she quietly followed the chancellor to the sitting area as the door closed behind.

"I'm sorry, Alta," Anwis Eddicus apologized. "I was detained for a moment."

"I suppose you heard me ringing from the refresher," she sarcastically returned.

"That's too much information," he replied. "Even for my daughter, that's too much information. So, what have you for me?"

Alta leaned back in the seat, allowing her arms to fall to her side. She simply nodded her head back and forth for a moment while taking a deep breath. Across from her, the elder Eddicus sat stately, his face exemplifying deep sensitivity to his daughter's aura of stress.

"Awa should be arriving on Seswenna any minute now," the young woman stated. "My guess is that Grand Master m'Ord Vinka is either waiting for her or arriving simultaneously. The GIN agent is almost back on Eriadu. She and her team should be there within an hour or so, I would wager."

"You seem so dissatisfied," the elder Eddicus softly spoke.

"I'm just frustrated, father," she replied, dropping any sense of formality. "I've been working the back channels to get the budget bill some traction. Drawoh won't budge right now. We need him, too. He's the lynch-pin for the exploration crowd. I don't want to capitulate to his demands right now."

"That's the art of compromise, my dear," he returned.

Alta closed her eyes and started rubbing her temple. "There's no compromise, Father. None at all. He wants a blank check, and I'm not willing to bankrupt the Republic for his pet projects. I'd be willing to support some money, as his ideas have merit, but I can absolutely not give him the treasury."

"What about postponing any investigation?" he inquired. "What progress have you been able to make there?"

"No more than you, I'm afraid," Alta confessed. "The usual Core suspects are at it again. I was able to talk down Myr Pilp of Duro, however. Of course, he waffles between our views and the Core's anyway. But, still, I've gotten him to stand down."

"That's one less, then," the chancellor uttered.

Alta opened her eyes and leaned forward, staring into the eyes of the chancellor. "Father, I'm honestly so surprised the Senate is so impassioned about actually doing something. They're never this motivated. Even Cos Peradhi is being vocal right now!"

"That's because their livelihoods are at stake," he replied. "The fear of death is a strong motivator."

The two sat staring at each other for a few moments. With each passing second, Alta Eddicus's demeanor gradually softened and her posture reflected this. Her eyes slowly closed as she melted into the couch. Suddenly, a beep woke the senator from her encroaching slumber. She looked down at her datapad, which had a small green light flashing with an alert. Glancing across to the other couch, she noted that her father had not moved from his position, still watching her as she had descended to the verge of sleeping.

"You look so much like your mother," the elder Eddicus muttered with a smile. "You're probably even more beautiful, though."

Alta smiled sheepishly. "I can only hope that I got her intellect, too."

"I'd say you have," he furthered. "What's the alert?"

"It appears Awa has arrived at her house," she answered. "We probably should make contact to see what the status is."

"Fair enough," he replied. "Fire up the screen."

The two Eddicuses simultaneously stood from the couches and walked to the main desk. There, on the desk, Alta flipped a switch and depressed the orange button. On the floor, the communications pad lit up. She punched in the code to access Senator Moonflower via the secure encryption. The hailing signal was sent and the two stood waiting. After five long minutes, a holographic image flickered in front of the father-daughter pair.

"Chancellor and Senator Eddicus," the image of a short lady with flowing hair and wide eyes greeted as her image appeared. "I am Fay, one of the Jedi dispatched to attend to Senator Moonflower."

"Thank you for your assistance in this," the chancellor said. "I trust that everything has been satisfactory thus far."

"As far as Senator Moonflower is concerned, yes," the Jedi replied. "We have experienced a complication, however."

"Oh?" he reacted.

"It appears that Grand Master m'Ord Vinka arrived on Seswenna a few moments before we had," she solemnly remarked. "He was waiting at the senator's residence. Once we arrived, he relieved me of command and instructed me to depart."

"The Grand Master did what?" Chancellor Eddicus spat.

"I am sorry to bring this news to you," the Jedi responded, bowing her head in shame. "I remain at your disposal, however. Whatever you instruct of me, I will do."

"What is m'Ord Vinka thinking?" he asked, illustrating his ire with an outward hand gesture.

"I cannot say," Fay responded. "He instructed Master T'dal to remain with him."

"This certainly complicates things," Alta sarcastically mentioned under her breath.

"Fay, can I request something of you?" the chancellor asked, attempting to soften his anger.

"Absolutely, your excellency," she replied.

The elder Eddicus shuffled his feet for a moment before speaking. "Please remain on Seswenna for a few hours. We have a GIN agent on Eriadu. I'll send her your way to pick you up. In the interim, collect the death threats that the senator received and encrypt them on a datapad. Those are to be deemed evidence in a larger investigation. Stay out of the Grand Master's way. If necessary, stay outside the house."

"That's fair," the Jedi agreed. "I can do that, as I do not see this conflicting with his mission."

"Good," the chancellor replied. "Whatever you do, however, do not tell the Grand Master what my instructions were."

"Is there a specific reason?" she inquired.

"Yes, but I'd rather not say anything right now," he offered.

Fay nodded in agreement. "Understood. Would you like to speak to the senator?"

"Absolutely," both the chancellor and Alta replied with haste.

Fay's image flickered outside of the transmission zone for the device. During the pause, Alta looked at her father, who was now wincing, as if in pain. He shook his head slowly from side to side, tension wrenching his entire body. Two minutes passed before the senator appeared before them. She addressed both the chancellor and senator respectfully, before the Taanabi senator spoke.

"Awa, I trust you are safely where you belong," the young Eddicus remarked.

"I just hope everything will be better here," Senator Moonflower confessed. "I'm a bit unnerved by the Grand Master here. What is he doing here? I thought you were only having me be with two females."

"That was not part of the plan," Alta said. "Can you live with it for a few hours until we get some things figured out?"

"I can manage, as long as he stays out of my quarters," she snarkily replied, itching the right side of her nose. "Alta, before I forget, I've sent instructions to the parliamentarian on my votes for tomorrow's session."

"Good, I'll check with her," the young Eddicus replied.

Senator Moonflower nodded. "So you are aware, I'm voting against the Peradhi-R'shsk Banking Bill and in favor of the Fraajic-Neumassa amendment to the Rimward Exploration Bill to make a new spinward sector off of half of the Mieru'kar sector. There are enough sparsely populated planets in the far western end of this sector to finally warrant a split."

"Sounds fine, Awa," Alta acknowledged. "I'll make sure she casts those votes as dictated. Now, do you have anything or need anything? Your safety is our priority right now."

"I think I'm fine, my friend," she said. "Chancellor Eddicus, thank you for sending the Jedi with me. I only wish that Fay could remain. I would feel much safer with her around."

"I've told her to remain nearby in case anything happens," the chancellor spoke. "That is a direct order on my behalf, and she will follow through with that. Please cooperate with anything she asks."

"Absolutely," the Seswennan affirmed.

"Even if it is deeply personal, Awa," Chancellor Eddicus reinforced. "Whatever she needs should be hers."

"Thank you both," the senator said, bowing her head. "I'll make sure I accommodate Fay, as needed. I'm pleased she is remaining. Enjoy your night, both of you."

The transmission ended and the chancellor quickly depressed a button on the desk. A voice softly spoke on the other end.

"Get me Master Yoda and Director Aiden quickly," he hastily instructed. "Wake them both, if needed. I need the Jedi Master in my office for a meeting as soon as possible. If the director is still on Coruscant, I want him to be here, as well. This is highest priority."

Alta turned and walked back toward the couches. There, she picked the one facing the desk and laid across it. A sudden feeling of guilt and sadness swept over the senator. She did not know why these emotions quickly escalated within her, but she suspected that it had something to do with Awa Moonflower.

The chancellor moved back toward the couches and sat opposite his daughter. He sat back and attempted to feign composure. Alta knew the truth, he was insatiably irate. His face was wrenched with anger and his movements were sharp and crisp. There was no denying how angry he was.

Chapter 9

Your Excellency, I believe we have a substantial problem.
—Jedi Knight Fay

Pelmar Aiden nodded to the guards outside the Office of the Supreme Chancellor. About two hours ago, he was awaken by the frantic call from a secretary. Now, tired and hungry, he gently shifted his weight, rocking back and forth as he waited. Once the door whisked open, the GIN Director saw the chancellor standing in the door-frame, the profile of his hand crossing his lips. Aiden wanted to ask why the silence was necessary but opted to quietly follow into the center of the office. There, on one of

the couches, Senator Alta Eddicus was quietly sleeping, having laid down on her right side.

Director Aiden continued to follow the chancellor as he walked over to another door, not far from the large panoramic window that overlooked the Coruscanti skyline. The pair entered through the doorway and into a small study room no bigger than the cockpit of a transport. Inside that small room, however, were two soft chairs and a wooden end-table covered with antique books. Aside from the metallic trim to the walls and window that let in the light of the city, the room looked more like something from before the invention of the hyperdrive.

"I tell you, Pelmar," Eddicus said, breaking the silence. "She's still my little girl. Even now, she still is."

"She turned out both lovely and intelligent," Aiden responded. "Mai would be very proud."

"I agree," the balding chancellor returned. "Although, Mai hated politics. She wouldn't have been too happy with Alta's career choice."

"With you as a father, Anwis, it was either this or the military," the GIN director smarted.

"She'd have been safer in the military," he said.

Aiden sighed. "While I love talking with you on the side, Anwis, why did you have your secretary summon me—rather, wake me—an hour after midnight? The better question is, why were you even awake an hour after midnight?"

"We've had a development politically that I had not foreseen," the chancellor calmly said. "Grand Master m'Ord Vinka has arrived on Seswenna and relieved the Jedi that I sent to guard Senator Moonflower. He defied the urgings of Master Yoda to be hands-off. He's decided to take this upon himself, I suppose."

"That's a Jedi problem, Anwis, not a GIN problem," the director said, sitting forward in his chair. "What's really the issue?"

"I don't trust the Grand Master," he returned. "Still, he's your problem, too, if he gets in your way. I told Fay to stick around and to keep an eye on things. She's essentially working for me until Master Yoda signs off on it."

"Is he coming?"

The chancellor gave a curious expression at that question. "Master Yoda? Of course. I had my secretary call for him the same time you were summoned. I'd expect him momentarily."

"What do you expect me to do in the mean time, Anwis?"

"Let's get in contact with your agent. Perhaps she'd have something more to share. Plus, I need her to go to Seswenna and pick up a Jedi Knight. Perhaps she might even be a valuable asset to the investigation."

The two men walked back out to the desk in the main office area. There, the GIN Director typed a series of codes to connect to Agent Delwynn via comlink. Before the connection was complete, he turned the volume down, remembering the sleeping senator only meters away. A few hailing signals later, he tried another series of codes, this time attempting to connect to the Mally proper. When Lieutenant Danstari acknowledged the signal, Aiden asked for Agent Delwynn.

"Director," a female voice said through the comlink.

"Delwynn," he replied. "I'm sorry to do this to you, but I'm with Chancellor Eddicus right now. Do you have a moment?"

"Of course," she responded. "Your excellency…"

"Agent Delwynn," the chancellor addressed. "Senator Moonflower has arrived on Seswenna with her two Jedi escorts. One of them needs to be picked up. Could I trouble you with that?"

"When would you like me to do this?" the agent inquired flatly.

"Within the next twelve hours," he qualified. "How long does it take you to get there from Eriadu?"

"Not long," she answered. "But, I'm not on Eriadu right now. We're on our way back there now, but we could easily divert."

"That would be perfect," the chancellor responded.

"Agent Delwynn," Aiden interrupted. "What is the status right now?"

"Honestly, Director…" Delwynn responded, her voice trailing off. "Honestly, we've made very little inroads. Our best leads point back to Czerka. I either need a subpoena to get the information I want from them, or…"

"Or?" the GIN Director asked, suspecting the answer be permission to hack.

"Permission to hack their system by order of your office," she continued.

"I figured you'd ask that," he answered.

Director Aiden glanced at Chancellor Eddicus, who was staring at him expressionlessly. The elder statesman nodded his head in affirmation.

"Why do you need permission?" Eddicus asked.

"With all due respect, Chancellor," Delwynn replied. "I work very hard to stay within the confines of the law. There has to be 'probable cause' before doing anything not only illegal, but dangerous. Unlike the holodramas you see every day, we don't often take the liberty of doing things like this without permission from higher up the chain."

"Is that the truth?" the chancellor asked, crooking his eyebrow.

"Only when lives are in direct danger, sir," she clarified.

"I suppose this constitutes that type of a scenario," he stated. "I personally give you permission to do whatever technological means necessary to get these files if I cannot deliver them to you in 24 hours. I might be able to put a request in personally to a friendly judge to give you a warrant."

"Thank you," the agent replied.

"Now, Delwynn," Aiden added. "What leads have you anyway?"

"Asana got inside the encrypted files," she said. "I can tell you that he was working on a parasite."

"Go on," the GIN Director ushered.

"He was probably trying to weaponize it," she confessed. "Samit was documenting the growth and reproduction of the parasites. He bred around fifty million of them, and they are very hard to kill. Once they get into someone's blood stream, they have probably under an hour to live."

"Potent, for sure. You have no idea how or where they were going to be used?" he furthered.

"I have no idea how he planned to use them," the agent said. "I can't even tell you what the target is; we haven't found a planet or city name anywhere in these papers. I can confirm that. Maybe those Czerka documents will have more information."

"Do you have reason to believe this is linked to the murder of Regueny?" Chancellor Eddicus interjected.

"Yes," Delwynn replied. "I am convinced. Samit had direct dealings with EIE and was being paid through Zranik's financier. Catiene Gallien spilled that much."

"Do you have enough to arrest this Zranik?" the chancellor asked impatiently.

"Yes…" the agent muttered. "We can nail him for armed theft, conspiracy to commit theft, at least five counts of murder or conspiracy to commit murder, terrorism. You name it, we probably have it. We just need to find him first."

"Huh?" Eddicus blurted.

"I only have four beings with me, your excellency," she stated. "If he knows we're after him, he'll go into hiding, and we'd never be able to find him with his resources or allies. Basically, we need to just catch him when he's not at a public rally or surrounded by fifty armed guards."

"I trust you are working on that," Pelmar Aiden chided.

"Of course, Director," Delwynn replied with a hint of frustration in her tone. "I'm doing everything I can to catch him and stop whatever scheme he has afoot."

"Thank you for your time, Agent Delwynn," Chancellor Eddicus said, terminating the connection. "Pelmar, how comfortable are you with Agent Delwynn?"

"What do you mean?" the GIN Director asked, looking up at the Chancellor.

"How much do you trust her?" he inquired with a telegraphed expression of inquiry.

"Anwis, she's the best we have," Aiden said almost defiantly. "I trust her with my life. If I had to have a 'number two,' I'd want her, except that she hates politics."

"Good," Eddicus said. "I trust you. If you trust her, I trust her. Although, if this gets out of hand, I'd want to meet with her personally to find out why."

Seswenna

Fay sat in a sleek blue speeder one block away from the senator's residence in the small town of Combansa. The Jedi had been dismissed by the Grand Master but had remained around the premises by order of the Chancellor. She sat quietly, drifting in and out of sleep. It was three hours after midnight, and the city streets were barely lit by the lights on the house-fronts. She was fatigued, but duty was still her first priority.

As instructed, the Jedi had acquired the death threats and uploaded them to a datapad to be delivered to whomever was picking her up. She was not entirely certain of how everything would transpire, but she was even less certain about the Grand Master's motives for being there. He had been particularly irate upon his arrival, and he insisted that Master T'dal remain with him. He also carried one small bag of luggage, something that the young Jedi Knight had neither foreseen nor expected. His intentions were not clear either. She sensed that he was displeased with the senator and distrusting of the two Jedi that were guarding her. It was an unsettling feeling.

Fay continued to gently sleep, allowing the Force to monitor the situation around her. After two more hours, she began to sense something change. A series of ripples sputtered through the Force, but she was unable to sense what was causing it. Stirring in her seat of the speeder, she looked around at the houses that were dark for the night. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary until she sensed another ripple from a house up ahead and to her right. As she looked in that direction, a light flickered on through a window. Five minutes later, she sensed another ripple from that same house. It was a strange feeling, and it was even more indescribable.

At that moment, a large disruption whipped through the Force. Unlike the other sensations, this one was both substantial and even frightening. Out of caution and call of duty, the Jedi started out of the speeder and walked on foot toward the Moonflower residence. Fay noticed something was amiss as she approached the house. Walking up to the back garden entrance, a set of ornate Alderaanian doors with wide windows, Fay noticed that the lights were on in the kitchen. Using the Force, she unlocked the door from the inside and quietly walked into the lit room.

Fay suddenly sensed the danger. She grabbed her lightsaber and ignited it. The bronze-colored blade pulsed with her heartbeat and each step that the Jedi took. Fay spied each of the seven lower level rooms with the Force. They were all empty. Instead, she felt things reverberating from upstairs. Reaching the stairway, the Jedi slowly ascended. One foot was placed deliberately beside the other, climbing the stairs with her right shoulder leading the way. With her body facing the wall and her head peering over her right shoulder, she prepared for the worst.

Thoughts swirled her mind. She sensed an intruder, yet the sensation was small and minuscule. She also sensed something different about the Grand Master, as if his footprint in the Force was incomplete. The same applied to Master T'dal.

Suddenly, a scream of pain came from one of the rooms. Fay used the Force to create a burst of wind that blew open each of the five doors in the corridor. Inside the last one, she heard crying. The Jedi ran in its direction, trying to discern what was there. Upon reaching the door, she saw the senator crying and shuffling in pain on the bed. She looked ill and frail as if she had been poisoned.

"Fay," the woman softly cried. "Help me!"

Fay was about to walk toward the bed, when a loud crash came from another room in the corridor. Motioning that she would return in a mere moment, the Jedi stepped back and walked into another lit room. There, on a bed, a body laid motionless. She walked over to it. Surprise filled Fay's soul as she turned the head toward her. It was the body of Master T'dal. Fay immediately sensed that her fellow Jedi was dead and quickly turned around. She walked into the room across the hall and saw yet another body. This time, it was indisputably the Grand Master. He was on his knees and doubled over. A blue lightsaber was impaled through his torso and poked through his backside.

Fay pushed the body of the Grand Master over, revealing his hands on the hilts of the weapon. He had committed suicide, she noted. The reason for this was unfathomable to the young Jedi. Suddenly remembering the senator, Fay rushed back into the master bedroom. Senator Moonflower was still squirming in the bed and looked sickly. The Jedi walked toward the bed and stood at her left side in the corner formed by the bed and an end-table. After deactivating her lightsaber, Fay reached out with the Force to uncover the issue. She sensed something wrong but was unable to identify it. Whatever it was, it seemed to feed on the Force power that she was using.

In that instant, the skin near the senator's left shoulder started to bubble and crawl. Fay watched until suddenly something broke through the flesh and jumped toward her. In surprise, Fay fell backward, but she quickly reacted with the Force and caught the flying entity midair, only a foot from her face. The Jedi was now on her back, an insectoid being hovering mere inches from each of her hands. The Force was strong with this being, but it also seemed evil. Almost out of fear, she tossed the insectoid against the far wall with the Force. Then, she quickly flung her lightsaber at it, spearing it through its abdomen.

Now, the only life the Jedi sensed in the entire building was the senator. Even at that, the woman's life was fledgling. Fay quickly reached her knees and crawled to the senator. Senator Moonflower's cries had softened, but she was still obviously in a tremendous amount of pain. The Jedi spotted the landline device on the end-table and immediately picked up the receiver.

"Press the red button," the senator softly said.

Fay followed suit but no response was ever found. She set the device down, even though it was still trying to contact to emergency services, and remembered her own communications device. Grabbing it, the Jedi quickly sent a hailing signal to the chancellor on Coruscant. Rather than using the holocomm for visual, she enabled the audio stream to pick up everything in the room.

"Fay," the Seswennan called. "What happened?"

"I'm not sure," the Jedi responded.

Suddenly, Fay realized what was transpiring. The senator was not the only one afflicted with whatever was ailing her. The ripples she sensed in the Force were from the same event happening other others, elsewhere. The large burst must have been either T'dal or the Grand Master dying. The image was clear to Fay, and her senses were suddenly opened to what was happening all around the city. People were dying everywhere.

"Is this the end?" Moonflower asked. "Am I going to die?"

"I'm trying to contact someone to help us," Fay said. "I'm not going to let you die."

"What about everyone else?" the senator pleaded. "What about my people? Something doesn't feel right."

Fay simply nodded, understanding that the senator was perhaps slightly sensing what Fay now felt all around her. In fact, the waves of death seemed to be washing over the Jedi like breakers along the seashore of her homeworld.

"I didn't make a mistake," Senator Moonflower said, looking up at the Jedi. "I didn't make a mistake in returning. If I die, at least I've died with my people."

The senator's defiant dark eyes pierced through Fay. The Jedi watched as the woman took one large gasp of air, her eyes still affixed on Fay's face. Then, a wave of peace seemed to fill the room.

"Thank you, Fay," the senator softly mumbled.

With that, the senator died. Fay remained still by her bedside, peering into the now lifeless dark brown eyes.

"Fay?" a voice cracked through the holocomm. "This is Pelmar Aiden, GIN Director. I'm with Chancellor Eddicus. What can we do for you?"

"Your Excellency," Fay sadly said. "I believe we have a substantial problem."

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