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Chapter 10

Office of the Supreme Chancellor, Coruscant

Agent Delwynn, please stop the speeder. I sense something over there. We need to find out what it is.
—Fay

Chancellor Eddicus sat at his desk with his head in his hands. GIN Director Pelmar Aiden was sitting opposite him. The situation was getting out of hand, the chancellor thought. Another senator was dead, and he had no control over the Jedi Order—who now, undoubtedly, would want to find out how Grand Master m'Ord Vinka died. He needed to think of something quickly before HoloNet News or some other media outlet rocketed this story across the galaxy.

Fay had revealed the incident in detail to the chancellor via the audio portion of the holocomm. After a few moments, the Jedi had activated the entire device, allowing the two men to see her from the waist upward. The Jedi also took a moment to survey the now deceased insectoid creature, holding it up for the chancellor and GIN Director to see.

Looking up from his hands, Eddicus noticed the sedated visage of his long-time acquaintance. Director Aiden was staring down toward the floor beside the desk, breathing slowly. Turning his head, his daughter, the senator from Taanab, was still soundly sleeping. She would need to be told first, the chancellor realized. Alta deserved to know before anyone else.

"One moment, Fay," the chancellor said to the hologram of the Jedi on Seswenna as he stirred from his seat.

The eleven steps from the desk to the couch where the senator was sleeping were arduous and cumbersome. The sheer burden of the moment's gravity weighed on the aging man. Surely this had gone from a conspiracy to a crisis.

"Alta," Eddicus said, gently shaking his daughter. "I need you to get up for a moment."

The young senator slowly opened her eyes and looked softly at her father's balding head.

"What's going on?" she asked.

"We have some news from the Jedi Fay on Seswenna," he said, sitting on the edge of the couch next to her legs.

"What kind of news?" Alta queried while rubbing her left eye.

"Look, Alta," the chancellor stammered. "Awa is dead. There's been some kind of outbreak on Seswenna. A lot of people are dying right now."

Alta Eddicus quickly sat up and grabbed her father's left arm. The look on her face was of sheer horror and surprise. The chancellor knew exactly what his daughter was thinking. Undoubtedly her mind was racing about threats, the pushing of the Seswennan to return to her homeworld, the seeming failure of the Jedi to protect a sitting senator, and so forth. There really was no solace at the moment. The Republic had just lost another senator.

"What are we going to do?" she asked with a tone of fear.

"We're going to figure this out and get justice," the chancellor said, standing.

Alta quickly stood and ferociously wrapped her arms around her father. She pressed her head into his chest, and he heard the sobbing. In empathy and with mourning, himself, he placed his right hand on the back of her head. For a couple of brief moments, the two remained in an embrace of silence. Across the room, Pelmar Aiden simply watched.

The young senator was the one who broke the consoling embrace, quickly walking toward the desk. There, the image of Fay still was broadcasting, but she was analyzing the insectoid being. Chancellor Eddicus followed, preparing to initiate conversation.

"Fay," he said. "Be prepared to evacuate Seswenna immediately. I am sending the GIN agent to you without hesitation. She will extract you from the planet's surface."

"I will wait for her," the Jedi said.

"I need to know," the chancellor added. "What is the threat here? What action do I need to do so that this doesn't spread?"

"I'm not certain, your excellency," she replied. "These things seem like parasites to me. I'm not an expert, but I'd say a person is dead within thirty minutes of being infected."

The chancellor leaned forward on the desk, his palms flat and turned out from his body.

"Pelmar," he called to the GIN Director. "Pelmar, get your agent there immediately to get Fay out. I want answers, but I need that Jedi out safely. I'm closing the borders."

"What?" the long-haired man replied with shock. "Closing the borders?"

"Temporarily," the chancellor replied with little clarification. "We'll make sure your agent…"

The chancellor snapped his fingers attempting to recall the name.

"Delwynn," Aiden provided.

Anwis Eddicus nodded, realizing he lost track of his thought trajectory. The urgency of the situation, however, kept him focused on closing the borders to the planet. He reached down and depressed an orange button on the desk. A static sound came through a small speaker. After a few moments it cleared, silence filling the space.

"Admiral Pruis," the balding chancellor stated, hoping that the connection had gone through.

"Yes, your Excellency," a voice replied.

"Admiral, this is a Level 5 emergency in the Seswenna sector," he ordered. "Close the borders to the planet Seswenna for inbound ships except for GIN Agent Delwynn. She has my clearance to retrieve a Jedi stranded there. All outbound vessels are to be held in orbit for two hours. If no one turns up dead or ill on the vessel, they can proceed to a safety point you define. Make sure no one is ill or having symptoms of sickness. They must be carefully quarantined."

"Sir, Level 5 is a major biological attack," the admiral remarked.

"Yes," the chancellor simply answered. "I know. I have Jedi on the ground there telling me it happened."

"Then I will do it sir," the voice said.

The chancellor rubbed his forehead. "Admiral, do not deplete your forces monitoring Eriadu for this. They are still on Level 2 because of that insurrection there a few years ago."

"Copy that, sir," Admiral Pruis said as the connection was closed.

"I sure hope you are right about this, Fay," the elder Eddicus said softly. "At the same time, I hope you are completely wrong."

"Anything else?" Director Aiden asked.

"Yes," the chancellor responded. "Have some scientists and a medical examiner from the Thyferra office get over there to collect the bodies and do analysis. We need to know what this outbreak is really all about."

At that point, a buzzer sounded from the main door to the office. Looking through the viewscreen on the desk, Eddicus saw that it was Master Yoda. Depressing a button, the door swished open and the short green-skinned Jedi walked gracefully forward.

The chancellor intentionally let his guard down and allowed his mind to be flooded with thoughts of the unfolding catastrophe on Seswenna—the death of Awa Moonflower and the two Jedi at the fore of his thoughts. The short Jedi stopped his gait and glanced squarely at the chancellor.

"Terrible this is," the Jedi said with a bowing of the head. "I sensed something was amiss. Please, explain to me in detail."

Alta Eddicus walked back toward the couches and sat where she had been sleeping. The GIN Director, who was frantically talking into a comlink, followed suit, sitting on the couch opposite the senator.

"Let's sit, Master Yoda," Eddicus said, grabbing the holocomm pad from the desk.

He walked toward the couches and set the pad on the table between them. He then proceeded to sit next to his daughter while Master Yoda sat opposite him.

"Fay," the chancellor said. "I hate to have you explain this again, but Master Yoda is now here. I think he will be most interested in what you have to say. Plus, it gives me a chance to reassess this one last time."

Mally, Rimma Trade Route nearing Eriadu

Asana stood over Lieutenant Danstari in the cockpit. He was preparing the Mally for arrival. The Twi'lek leaned to her side, her left hip gently pressing against his right shoulder. She brushed her lekku behind her shoulders and let out a long, loud sigh.

The cockpit door whooshed open and Delwynn entered. Asana looked up at the agent, who was carrying herself in a normal Delwynn-esque manner, if something of the sort could ever be termed. This encounter was all about business, the Twi'lek thought.

"Change course, Danstari," Delwynn instructed. "We need to get to Seswenna."

"Boss," Danstari said with concern while turning around to face his superior. "Shifting tracks in hyperspace is dangerous."

"We haven't passed it yet," the agent replied. "Punch it in the navicomputer. Now. We'll be fine. Drop out if you need, but don't take too long."

Asana walked over to the navicomputer and noted the location of Seswenna near the Rimma Trade Route. The cutoff to reach the planet was upcoming in about four minutes. Was that enough time for the navicomputer to process the change of course?

At the same time, Danstari was frantically punching in the commands to the computer. It beeped and a small light flashed, indicating that it was processing the possibility for a course change. Asana was simply too inexperienced to fully understand what was happening. Delwynn seemed unfazed and Danstari appeared to be at ease. This was probably a routine thing for the pilot of many years. If anyone had the capacity to make the change, it was him.

"We're all set to go, boss," Danstari said without turning around from the navicomputer.

"Good," Delwynn replied. "We're on a rescue mission now. I'm going to the surface alone. I will use the emergency hatch in the storage area. This ship remains sealed otherwise at all times. No one gets on or off without me personally approving."

"Where are we landing?" the lieutenant asked.

"The spaceport in the town of Combansa," she answered. "I'll use the small speeder I have in the rear of the ship. It's not much bigger than a swoop, so I should be able to get around easily and quickly."

Asana looked curiously toward Delwynn then to Danstari, who had now turned back around in his rotating pilot's seat. Delwynn said nothing and left the cockpit.

"Wait, Delwynn," Asana called holding out her right hand toward the agent.

Delwynn stopped but did not turn around.

"Can you tell us what's going on?" the Twi'lek asked softly.

Delwynn turned partway, revealing a profile view of her body to her team members. She took a couple of deep breaths before continuing.

"Senator Moonflower is dead," she said.

Asana unconsciously let out a sorrowful moan.

"You were right, Asana," Delwynn continued. "Those insects were released like a weapon. They must be on the surface of Seswenna. People are dying and the planet's under quarantine. We're going to pick up a Jedi named Fay."

Asana looked down at the floor in front of her. In the background the door closed, indicating that Delwynn had departed.

"I should have moved faster," the Twi'lek sorrowfully complained. "I've been too unfocused. I should have been able to figure this out."

Danstari grabbed Asana's left hand from behind. She turned to see his deep brown eyes try to project empathy. It was of little consolation to her.

"You did the best you could," the lieutenant said. "Let's use what we learn on Seswenna to get this guy and stop him from doing more harm."

"It doesn't mean anything to the people that died," she replied.

"You couldn't have stopped this, Asana," Danstari offered, stroking her left arm. "The stuff was too complex and we've only been at this for a couple of days. There's no way we could have uncovered all of this information."

"I should have," she whined, lowering herself into his lap. There, she sat for a few moments in silence before turning her face toward his.

"We'll stop this from getting worse," Danstari said. "I promise."

Asana closed her eyes and nodded. As she slowly opened them, the lieutenant leaned in and kissed the Twi'lek on her forehead. He leaned back with a gentle smile and the same empathetic eyes he had been trying to offer.

Satisfied, the Twi'lek rose and put her left hand behind his head. She stared into his eyes for a couple of moments then broke the affectionate gesture and walked toward the port-side doorway. She decided that it would be best to use the refresher and get back to trying to decipher ways of killing the insect parasites, if any could be found.

In the back of the Mally Delwynn was quickly checking her blaster. Body armor and shields sat on the seat of the two-seat speeder bike in front of her. She reached into a bin nearby and grabbed a short vibroblade. While it was not the weapon with which Delwynn was most efficient, it was necessary to have available in the event of an emergency. The agent truly had no idea what to expect on the planet surface.

Five minutes later, the vessel dropped out of hyperspace and Delwynn saddled the rust-colored speeder bike. She started the navigation screen on the speeder and programmed in the directions to the Moonflower residence in a gated community on the far outskirts of Combansa. After a few more moments, the Mally firmly touched down. She reached to her left and depressed a button on the wall. A two meter by two meter square on the floor beneath Delwynn began to lower down toward the ground level. The blast of warm humid air blew the agent's hair in all directions. Even before the floor finished lowering, Delwynn engaged the speeder bike and depressed the button on her remote device, sealing the Mally once again.

The agent whipped through the empty city streets, past rows of houses and businesses. The sky was partly cloudy and the trees were bright yellow and orange. Periodically Delwynn passed through a patch of air that held the foul stench of decomposition. Undoubtedly by the way this looked, Combansa had been hard hit by the ravaging parasites. There was no one to be found. Only two blocks from the residence of the late Senator Moonflower, Delwynn spied a couple of bodies in the street. The only signs of life on the planet appeared to be death.

Once Delwynn reached the Moonflower residence, she walked in the front door and began calling for Fay. After searching a few rooms, Delwynn went into the kitchen. Peering around, she noticed smoke out the rear window. Concerned, she drew her blaster and walked outside. There, a long-haired individual was kneeling with a pyre burning. All the agent could see was the backside of whoever was there.

"Don't worry, Agent Delwynn," the being said in a pleasant female voice. "These are not the bodies of the senator or the Grand Master. I left those as evidence. I'm burning my clothes from when I was with the senator last."

"Fay?" Delwynn asked, putting her blaster back into the holster.

The being stood and turned around, revealing a young-looking, beautiful female with long light brown hair.

"I have the threatening letters that were sent to the senator, if you care to have them," the Jedi said, slowly pacing toward the agent.

"My priority is to get you off this rock," Delwynn returned matter-of-factly. "Anything else is bonus for me right now."

"I believe I have everything in my bag that you need," Fay said, walking passed Delwynn and into the kitchen.

In the kitchen, Fay stood over the table and the small fabric bag on it. She placed her hands over it, as if they were acting as a scanner.

"They're clean," the Jedi said. "No insects here. I haven't seen one for a couple of hours now. Last night was a rough night."

Delwynn walked back into the house and followed the Jedi up a flight of stairs.

"Down that hall," Fay pointed. "That's where you'll find the senator and the Grand Master. You might want to take a look before we leave."

The agent sighed, brushed the hair back behind her ears and walked into the furthest room. There, on the bed, the body of Awa Moonflower was laid out. It looked as if she had simply fallen asleep. Necrosis had set in on her shoulder, and there was blood splatter nearby. On the floor near the door was a disected insect. Delwynn recognized it from the diagram that Asana had showed only a few hours earlier.

Suddenly, the thought rushed into her head: Seswenna was the target all along. The sector was already unstable. This simply provided a tipped balance. The entire motivation for this plot must have been steering business to Eriadu and diminishing Seswenna. Murdering thousands, if not millions, of people was a bit overly dramatic, she thought. Of course, there was no proof. Such a postulation was simply mere conjecture. Zranik was the only one who could prove motive for such a heinous act of terrorism.

"We need to go quickly," Fay called from the hallway. "What do you need here?"

"Nothing," Delwynn replied. "We can come back later if we really needed something. I doubt this place will be touched the way the entire city has been abandoned."

"Killed, Agent Delwynn," Fay corrected, now standing in the doorway to the senator's private chambers. "They didn't abandon this place."

Delwynn nodded and waved a gesture indicating that she was leaving as she walked past the Jedi and back down the flight of stairs. She mounted the speeder and started the engine. Fay exited the building a moment later and mounted the bike, taking the seat behind Delwynn. The pair then departed down the street and back toward the spaceport.

A few blocks from the spaceport, Delwynn slowed the speed as they passed through a shopping area. The shops were empty and dark. The agent simply shook her head and thought about all those who had died from this event. There had to have been thousands in this town alone.

"Agent Delwynn," Fay called from behind. "Please stop the speeder."

"Why?" Delwynn asked.

"I sense something," the Jedi clarified.

The agent looked over her shoulder to glance at the Jedi while halting the bike's forward movement. Delwynn was less than pleased with the delay, but she knew better than to argue with a Jedi on something that was sensed in the Force.

"I sense something over there," the Jedi reiterated, jumping off the bike and pointing to a house about fifty meters back. "We need to find out what it is."

"Fay, my concern is your safety," Delwynn shouted and the already pursuant Jedi. "Let me get you to the spaceport. We're only a couple of blocks away."

"One moment," Fay replied, continuing toward the small grey row-house.

Duty rang in Delwynn's soul. She needed to follow Fay and make certain everything was fine. She dismounted the bike and followed quickly behind. By the time she was about halfway to the clearly aged row-house, Fay had already climbed the few steps leading to the front doorway. There, the Jedi pushed the metal door open with no effort and descended into the darkness of the small hallway. Delwynn ran toward the building, only to see a door in that hallway cracked open.

Chapter 11

Agent Delwynn, do not get out of line. I will sign an order releasing whatever information you need if they put up a fight. You will get it one way or another.
—Chancellor Anwis Eddicus

Delwynn heard Fay, calling out to someone in the living quarters of a house, and entered. The Jedi was insistent that someone was present in the small tenement. Delwynn passed the Jedi, who had gone no further than a small but elegant kitchen. In the living quarters were stairs that went up to a second floor. Other than a refresher, no other rooms other than the living quarters and kitchen were present in this habitation. Delwynn opted to check the upstairs area quickly to appease Fay, drawing her blaster as she inched up the steps.

There were three doors at the top of the steps. The one to the left of Delwynn was open, revealing a refresher with green tile. The one straight ahead was also open, showing what appeared to be the master suite. Inside the suite, two lifeless bodies were laying in the bed. Delwynn stepped closer and examined them. They appeared to be a husband and wife, necrosis covering their lower necks. The white sheets near their heads had a few streaks of dried blood. They must have died in their sleep, although the ruffled covers indicate that they were squirming and uncomfortable. Their eyes were closed, but it was no consolation. They had suffered the fate of many others in Combansa, killed by the parasites.

Delwynn stepped back into the hallway and examined the other door. It was wooden and locked, but Delwynn was not deterred. She noticed a picture of a sunrise that looked hand-painted by someone in grade school—clean and detailed but not entirely accurate. Below that were two cut-outs of a pittin and flowers. The agent's heart sank at this. Should she bother to even open the door? Seeing what else had occurred in this city, was she prepared to see the body of a lifeless girl not much older than the daughter she had lost over eleven years prior? Moreover, was she willing to see another innocent victim of the evil Avar Zranik and his schemes?

Before she could react any further, Fay ascended the steps and stood by the agent's side. Delwynn simply looked at the Jedi but carefully guarded her thoughts as best as possible. She did not want Fay to see anything other than the fact that she was torn about entering the room. Her private reasons were just that—private.

"Is it locked?" Fay asked, tilting her head to the side.

"Not anymore," Delwynn said, deciding the course of action to take.

The agent stepped back and garnered every gram of strength she could muster and kicked the wooden door just to the inside of the lock. The door splintered on contact and flung open. An erstwhile yelp pierced the ears of the agent and she quickly put her arm on her blaster. Not having drawn it from the holster, Delwynn stepped into the room and looked around. She saw a shadow move on the far wall, near the bed. Whoever was present was definitely hiding behind the bed. Suddenly, Delwynn suspected that maybe—just maybe—the young child had survived the parasites. She cautiously inched closer to the bed, peering around it.

Laying on the floor, face down, was a young Human with long, light brown hair. Delwynn bent to her knees, still about two meters away, and called out.

"Are you okay?" the agent softly asked.

No response was muttered and the child did not move.

"Are you sick?" Delwynn inquired, waiting a moment again for a response. "We're here to help. I know you're living. I can see you breathing."

The girl turned her head and looked at Delwynn. Her eyes were puffy and watery, and her nose was dripping from both tears and nasal fluid.

The image tore at Delwynn's heart. This girl must have already seen her parents laying lifeless in bed and heard two strangers enter the house. Undoubtedly, Delwynn thought, she was right to lock the door and hide.

"Don't hurt me," the girl softly pleaded between sobs. "I didn't do anything."

"I know," Delwynn replied. "I'm an agent with a police agency and the lady behind me is a Jedi. We want to help you."

"I don't know you," she responded hesitantly.

"I'm Agent Evening Delwynn," the agent said, flipping open her small identification wallet. "Behind me is Fay."

The girl paused, staring at Delwynn's identification. After a couple of seconds, she looked up at Fay and then back to Delwynn. She seemed incredibly unsatisfied but loosened the tightness in her shoulders.

"My friends call me 'Skippy,'" the girl sheepishly stated.

"Well, Skippy," Delwynn called. "We know what happened. Everybody started getting sick. Are you—"

"But I'm not sick," she swiftly interrupted. "I just got back home late last night."

"Were your parents fine at that point?" the agent asked.

"Yes," the girl moaned, pulling her knees under her and attempting to sit up. "We talked for an hour, and then I went to bed."

"Oh?" Delwynn interjected, standing herself.

The young Human wiped the water from her eyes and responded, "When they did not get up after breakfast, I went in there and saw blood. Then, I heard you come in looking for someone, and I thought I was in trouble."

"Where were you before last night?" the agent asked.

"I was at a girl's camp," Skippy responded. "That was the gift for my fourteenth birthday last winter. I finally got to go."

Delwynn sighed and tried to fight back tears. Skippy, who was apparently at least fourteen, was shaken but seemed to be holding together rather well.

"Let's get you someplace safe," the agent said.

"No!" Skippy shouted. "I'm not going anywhere. I'm on my own now, and you can't stop me!"

Delwynn stepped back and held up her arms in resignation. She understood how the girl could be so angry. After all, her parents were now dead and there was no indication that she had any siblings.

"Do you have any other family you can go with?" Delwynn asked, hoping to steer the girl in the proper direction.

"No," Skippy sighed, lowering her head.

"We need to get you somewhere safe," Delwynn restated. "You could be in danger of getting sick here."

After a couple of moments, Skippy sighed and nodded in agreement. Fay stepped forward and reached out toward the girl. Touching her on the forehead and brushing hair out of her eyes, the Jedi turned toward Delwynn.

"She's clean," Fay said.

"Let's get her back to the Mally," Delwynn said. "We can get her some food and figure out if there is anywhere safe on this planet to bring her."

"If I'm going with you, I'm staying with you," Skippy hastily spat. "You're not leaving me with some strangers. If you are really a policewoman and a Jedi, then I guess I can trust you. But, I'm not going with anyone else."

Delwynn processed the implications of that remark for a moment. Did she really want a teenage girl straggling along with her while on the most important case of her lifetime? Did she really have a choice? What was the girl going to do?

"Okay," the agent said. "You can come with us for right now. The second I find someplace safe for you, I'm taking you there. I promise it will be safe."

"Fine," the teenager said, appearing completely unsatisfied.

"Is there a small bag that you can throw some clothes into?" Delwynn asked.

"I never unpacked from camp," Skippy said. "They're dirty, but it has everything I need."

"Are you sure?" the agent inquired further. "You may not be able to get back here for some time."

The girl looked around the room and sorrowfully nodded. It was plainly clear to her that she may not see this place again. Her facial expression telegraphed so. In resignation, she tossed her hands up and let them fall back to her side.

"Well, I don't think I have a choice right now," Skippy said, walking over to her closet.

The teenager looked for a moment in the closet and grabbed two dresses, hastily folding them over. Then, walking over to where she had been hiding, she picked up a small bag about the size of her torso. Skippy opened the bag and jammed the dresses inside.

"My mother gave me those," she said with a tear dripping down her cheek. "I can't leave them. They're my favorite."

Delwynn wasn't going to complain about the extra baggage. Right now, her priority was getting Fay off the planet and returning to Eriadu safely. If this teenage girl had to be a part of this mission, then some boundaries would have to be set. Throwing down the gauntlet now, while she was so emotionally fragile, was not even Delwynn's style. After all, Delwynn had been in a similar situation before. She understood the type of pain that was being pushed to the depths of the young woman's soul.

Fay began to walk out of the room, Skippy behind her. Delwynn glanced at the small room once more before following behind. Along the stairwell wall were pictures of the family, all three smiling. The agent continued walking toward the main doorway, pausing when Skippy stopped before exiting. The girl had turned and faced a small table next to the door. Reaching down, she grabbed a picture that had been resting on the table, clutched it to her chest and peered back at Delwynn, streams of tears flowing down her cheeks.

Delwynn once again felt her heart knot at the sorrowful sight and walked over to Skippy. The girl began to cry harder, the length of her breath fleeting. Delwynn quickly reached out and embraced the girl, pressing Skippy's head into her chest. This was not the first time Delwynn had comforted someone over a family loss. This was the first time since the death of her daughter, however, that she had comforted a young girl. This was the first time in over eleven years she held a young girl in her arms. Tears started to swell in the agent's eyes.

Feigning composure, the agent tried to gently guide Skippy out into the hallway. After a few moments, the pair walked toward the speeder, the girl finally walking more independently, although Delwynn's left arm still draped across the back of her shoulders.

"She can sit on my lap," Fay said, having already mounted the speeder bike. "We'll put the bag over my shoulder. It's not that big."

"Are you okay with that?" Delwynn asked, looking down at the teenage girl.

"Yeah," she simply replied, using her already saturated sleeve to once again wipe her eyes.

Delwynn nodded and helped the girl climb up into the lap of the Jedi. Once she was settled, Skippy placed the image from the small table in the house in the bag and handed it to Fay. Once it was over the shoulders of the Jedi, the girl wrapped her arms tightly around Fay. The agent knew it was time to depart and quickly mounted the bike. In an instant, she restarted the vehicle and began back toward the spaceport, traversing the remaining few blocks.

Inside the spaceport hangar, Delwynn brought the speeder up to the Mally. She pressed a button on the bike and a loud clank resounded. The floor that had been used to depart the vessel began to lower in front of the agent. She motioned to Fay and Skippy to remain seated while waiting. After a couple of moments, Delwynn moved the speeder onto the floor area and pressed the button again, causing them to ascend into the vessel.

Delwynn turned off the speeder bike and jumped to the rising floor. She grabbed Skippy under her arms and helped the teenager down as the floor finished its ascent and re-latched. Fay dismounted quickly thereafter, as well.

"This is my ship," Delwynn said. "Of course, this is only the storage room. I'm going to tell the pilot where to take us, and then we'll get you some food."

Skippy nodded in agreement and grabbed the bag from Fay, who had just removed it from her shoulders.

"Come with me for now," the agent added. "Let's find a place for you to sleep."

Delwynn opened the blastdoors to the corridor and briskly proceeded to the cockpit. Rushing in, she saw Danstari napping in his pilot's chair. She smirked at the sight and gently stepped over to the lieutenant. With a loud clap, only a mere inch from his nose, Delwynn woke the dark-skinned man and startled him.

"I'm on it boss!" he shouted, quickly alert.

"I haven't given any instruction yet," Delwynn replied.

"You want us to get you back to Eriadu quickly so that an arrest can be made on Zranik," Danstari replied, peering up at the agent with a look that showed he was hoping for her satisfaction.

In truth, she was satisfied. That was what she wanted. Of course, something would have to be done sooner or later with Skippy. She was a Seswennan, a refugee perhaps, but it would be wrong to take her away from the planet without double-checking anything else.

"If you hear nothing from me in five minutes," Delwynn said. "Then, yes, take off for Eriadu."

"Yes, boss," Danstari said.

Delwynn nodded and pivoted on her left foot, aiming to depart the cockpit. In the doorway to the corridor was Skippy, placidly standing there. Delwynn walked over to her and put her arm on her shoulder, steering the girl into the hallway and into Asana's laboratory. There, the Twi'lek was sitting on her pink cushion, frantically rifling through the stack of loose scientific papers once again. She was focused, too focused to even notice a visitor.

"Asana," Delwynn called with a harsh tone. "I have something for you to do."

Asana stood and dropped the papers she was holding. Before the files could have hit the ground, the forensicist scampered to the computer terminal.

"I need you to look up a name," Delwynn said, glancing down at Skippy. "What's your full name?"

"Dawn," the teenager replied. "Dawn Starskipper."

Delwynn peered back at Asana. "Dawn Starskipper. Look that up on Seswenna."

Asana dutifully typed the name into the terminal. A public record of a teenager flashed onto the screen.

"Daughter of Kepler and Celeste Starskipper," the Twi'lek replied.

"Any other family?" the agent asked further.

"No," Asana responded after a moment of looking. "Grandparents are deceased and no aunts and uncles are listed."

"Does this mean I have to go to an orphanage?" Dawn said, looking sadly up at Delwynn. "I'm a little old for that."

Delwynn shrugged. "We'll find someone that can take care of you. After you eat something, give me a list of your good friends. We'll see if you can stay with one of them for a while."

"That's fine," the girl replied.

"Is that Dawn?" Asana asked, pointing at the visitor.

"Yes," Delwynn said. "We found her, but her parents… well, you can figure that out."

"Hi, Dawn," the Twi'lek said, walking toward the teenager and holding out her hand. "I'm Asana."

"Nice to meet you," the girl pleasantly replied, culminating the greeting.

Delwynn then turned Dawn around and walked her down the corridor to the lounge area. There, she motioned for the teenager to sit at the table. The agent then reached into the pantry and grabbed a piece of fruit. Placing it on a plate, Delwynn opened the refrigerator and took out some shaved meat and some bread. She set that on the plate and turned to face the girl.

"It's not the best food in the galaxy," Delwynn stated.

"I'm not complaining, Miss Policewoman," Dawn said flatly.

"Dawn, just call me Evening," the agent corrected, setting the plate on the table.

"Is that what everyone else calls you?" she queried.

"No," Delwynn replied. "Most people just call me Delwynn."

"Why?" the girl asked.

"I don't have many people that close to me," the agent responded. "Only my friends call me 'Evening.' Even some of them call me 'Delwynn.'"

"Well, I'd rather call you Miss Delwynn," Dawn answered between bites of the fruit. "If that's okay with you."

"How about just 'Delwynn?'" she returned with a smile.

"Okay, Delwynn, that's cool," the teenager replied with a snarky smile. "I suppose you can call me 'Dawn,' if that is what you prefer."

"What do you prefer?" Delwynn asked.

"I kind of like my name," Dawn said. "I'd rather use it. My friends and parents called me 'Skippy.' I think I should just leave that alone for now."

"That's fair," Delwynn said, taking a seat next to the teenager. "Once you finish eating I'll give you a room to sleep in. We can wash some clothes, if you need to. I have a few things that could use cleaning."

The two sat side by side for a few minutes while Dawn ate the food. Then, Delwynn heard Fay's voice from around the corner. She was talking with someone. When the Jedi appeared, she was holding a commpad with a hologram of the chancellor showing.

"She's right here," Fay stated, handing the commpad to Delwynn. "The chancellor wants to speak with you."

"Your Excellency," Delwynn said, standing and straightening her top.

"Agent Delwynn," the chancellor dutifully greeted. "Thank you for extracting Fay from Seswenna. I just spoke with Director Aiden. We not only agree that it is time to arrest Avar Zranik, it is our highest priority. When you find him, move quickly."

"Sir, with all due respect, we really do not have enough information to link him to the plague," Delwynn explained. "Plus, I'm sure the limitations clauses prevents us from nailing him for the Core robberies eleven years ago."

"Do you have enough to link him to Regueny's murder?" Eddicus asked.

"Possibly," the agent sighed. "I need those Czerka payment records and transaction sheets to prove things. I may need to talk to the financier again while I'd be out that way."

"Then I suppose I have some good news for you," the chancellor said. "Czerka has agreed to let you view some of their documents in person on Denon."

"Some?" Delwynn snarkily asked. "Your Excellency, they're beginning to look more and more like a co-conspirator in this madness."

"Agent Delwynn, do not get out of line," Eddicus chided. "I will sign an order releasing whatever information you need if they put up a fight. You will get it one way or another."

"Thank you, sir," Delwynn responded flatly.

"Please take Fay to Eriadu," the chancellor continued. "Arrangements have been made to get her back to Coruscant."

"Yes, your Excellency," the agent obliged as the communication was cut.

"He seemed mad," Dawn said from behind Delwynn.

"He is," Fay responded. "He feels like the galaxy is crumbling in front of him. He told me that there are reports that similar things are happening on at least twelve other planets. Seswenna isn't an isolated incident anymore."

Delwynn stammered for a quick moment as the Mally lifted off the Seswennan surface. She turned and looked at Dawn, who undoubtedly knew that they were departing.

"You didn't tell him about me?" the teenager asked.

"Right now, Dawn, you're my priority, not the chancellor's," Delwynn explained. "We all have our responsibilities. And, you're mine."

The girl nodded in understanding.

"Well," the agent continued. "I suppose we have to go back to Eriadu. Let's get you a place to sleep, first."

Chapter 12

Eriadu

Yes, get some more sleep. I bet we'll have a long day once Agent Delwynn gets back here. We'll need to be well-rested.
—Sidian Greystone

Sidian Greystone sat on the cold floor of the make-shift command center in the naval station outside of Eriadu City. Meditating, he focused on attempting to discern the location of Avar Zranik through the Force. The computers that Delwynn had been using at the base were searching everything it could find on Eriadu. The Jedi Master did not trust the computers to adequately find the businessman. He suspected that they could have been easily monitored by Eriaduan officials. If not, those same officials could have information blocked.

Greystone suspected that Delwynn was ready to make an arrest. He sensed in the Force that something was not right. At the same time, he was uncertain as to how his former student's mission to Thyferra had progressed. The GIN agent's return was expected to have come. Why was she delayed? Had something happened that was a setback? Speculation aside, Greystone knew that Delwynn was ready to make an arrest. He could feel it in the Force. It radiated outwardly, in part because he was attuned to her disposition on this matter. He needed to focus.

Opening his eyes for a moment, the Jedi Master spied Shalli. The Omwati had fallen asleep on the floor, gently snoring with her right arm tucked under her head. She had been even more aloof since returning from the incident in Eriadu City. She seemed haunted. Greystone could not surmise what was truly going through the mind of the Omwati. The dark corners of her soul were startlingly closed to his overtures for help. She reverted, almost primally, to a reactionary state of being closed whenever he asked to address the issues at hand. Surely she was fighting internally, but she was also resisting his help.

As he began to gently close his eyes, Greystone heard Shalli shuffle on the floor. When she started thrashing from side to side, however, he quickly broke his meditation and jumped to his feet. He then walked to the Omwati and squatted at her side. Tossing from side to side, Shalli was beginning to mumble. The Jedi Master held out his hand and touched her forehead. Reaching forward into the Force, he tried to calm the blue-skinned Jedi.

Greystone's attempt was to no avail. Shalli continued to thrash around for a moment then sat up; her bright blue eyes opened wide, and two small white feathers fell from her head to the ground. She let out a soft yelp while breathing very heavily. She turned to the Jedi Master with an expression of mortification. As if suddenly realizing who was in front of her, the Jedi began to use her legs and arms to push herself backward on the floor in a scramble.

"Shalli, what's wrong?" Master Greystone asked, hoping to calm the fleeing Jedi.

"I…" she stammered. "I… I…"

"I'm here to help, Shalli," the Jedi Master offered.

"I can't," the Omwati finally released. "I don't know what's happening. I don't know what just happened."

"What's wrong, Shalli?" Greystone asked again. "Let's talk about it."

"I… ummph," Shalli said, backing into the wall.

The Jedi Master sensed great fear overwhelming the Jedi on account of the dream she had. Her emotions were flooding from her soul and into the room. There was no hiding from the truth on this. Still, he had no understanding as to why Shalli feared the dream. Was it the contents of the dream? Was it the fact that she had experienced the dream?

The Jedi Master had decided that maybe he needed to be more firm instead of understanding when they initially rehashed the events in Eriadu City. He had tried to walk her through the happenings from start to finish, but she simply walled off her mind and retreated. Such was incredibly unproductive. Now, a less firm approach was probably warranted.

"Shalli, tell me what is going on," Master Greystone sternly instructed, standing to his feet.

The Omwati cowered against the wall and said nothing.

"Tell me," he ordered, walking toward her deliberately.

"No!" Shalli shouted, lashing out in the Force with a blast of energy.

Master Greystone was knocked to the floor, but nothing else in the room seemed to have moved. Suddenly, he knew what was happening. Shalli was grappling with the dark side of the Force, the very thing she feared. Ironically, her fear was the source of its power. Somehow, he needed to address this without pushing the fragile Omwati to the point of no return. Somehow, he needed to bring her to understanding.

"What have I done?" the Omwati wailed as she stood and ran toward the door.

Master Greystone telekinetically pressed the lock on the door, as Shalli was about to open it.

"Wait," he said sternly as he moved to a seated position on the floor. "Let's talk, and I can help you get rid of this."

Shalli looked at him. The expression showed a measure of skepticism, even if she was unaware of what that emotion truly was. In response, the Jedi Master offered a spot on the floor directly in front of him with his hands. After a moment of internal battling that spilled into the aura of the room, Shalli relented and walked toward the Jedi Master. She eventually sat directly in front of him.

"What's going on, Shalli?" the Jedi Master asked, hoping to finally initiate conversation.

"I had a dream," she said flatly.

It seemed that the Omwati's normative non-emotive state had finally returned. This may not have been the most productive state for the Jedi Master to work, but it was a step away from the dark side, for now.

"Oh?" he asked, prompting a further explanation.

"Jedi aren't supposed to dream," Shalli continued.

"Really?" Greystone asked with curiosity. "And why is that?"

"Master Vinka says so," she replied. "He says that dreams are emotions of the brain, and that they are bad for Jedi."

"Is that so?" the Jedi Master followed. "Would you be shocked if I ever had a dream?"

"Yes," Shalli responded. "Master Vinka says that dreams are bad for Jedi."

"Well," he replied. "I'm not sure the Grand Master is right on this one, Shalli. I think dreams are fine if they happen to occur."

Shalli shook her head in disagreement. "They are emotions of the brain, and emotions lead to the dark side. So, that means that dreams lead to the dark side."

"Have any other Jedi told you that?" the Jedi Master asked.

"Yes," the Omwati replied. "Master Kommar, Master Utuc, Master Starbuck, and Master Amprex have all said that."

Master Greystone was puzzled by this remark. These four Jedi Masters on the council were all former apprentices or friends of the Grand Master.

"I'm sure there are more," she continued.

"Who have you studied with over the years?" he asked. "Who was your master when you were an apprentice?"

"I studied under Master Starbuck," Shalli said. "He was my master when I was a Padawan."

"What else did they teach you about emotion?" Greystone prodded further.

"Just that it leads to the dark side," she replied out of rote. "And, it is something no Jedi should have."

Master Greystone just nodded and sighed. Could Shalli have been one of the pawns in the power struggle of the Jedi Order? Master m'Ord Vinka was notorious for sequestering his Padawans and those of his supporters. He also had numerous run-ins with the likes of Master Yoda—who, while holding an orthodox view, were not as radicalized with regard to the discrepancy of emotions.

"Do you trust me?" the Jedi Master asked softly.

"Yes," the Omwati said straightly.

"Would you like to advance beyond knighthood?" he asked.

"A Jedi does not want such things," she replied. "A Jedi cannot want like that."

"In effect, Shalli, you are correct," Greystone responded. "A Jedi should not desire advancement for the sake of advancement. But, there is nothing wrong with aspiration."

"I don't understand," Shalli answered.

"Shalli, do you trust me to teach you?" he asked. "I can make you a better Jedi and a better investigator. You'll be able to help people all across the galaxy like Jedi are supposed to."

The Omwati Jedi sat for a moment, as if pondering the prospect that had been offered.

"Okay," she responded.

"I need you to trust me more than Master Starbuck or Master Vinka," Greystone instructed. "Can you do that?"

Once again, Shalli sat for a moment in stillness.

"Okay," she answered flatly.

The Jedi Master closed his eyes and started to meditate. Sensing that Shalli was simply sitting, her mind void of active thought, he reopened his eyes.

"Let's focus on the Force," he said. "Close your eyes and, without reacting, tell me what you see."

Greystone watched Shalli close her eyes and begin to meditate. For about ten minutes the pair sat statically. He simply watched the Omwati, her face and body posture revealing nothing more. In fact, he was unable to tell what was shuffling through her mind. Stillness simply permeated the atmosphere. Silence was not even broken by breathing. Shalli appeared, from the Jedi Master's perspective, to be barely breathing—as if she was caught up entirely by the Force in a deep trance. At the same time, he failed to sense the Force even flowing through her. It was almost as if he sensed the Force being used through him as a surrogate. He simply opted to allow her the peace of continuous meditation and closed his eyes, focusing on the Force himself and trying to discern what was actually happening.

At the same instant Greystone closed his eyes and joined the blue-skinned Jedi in meditation, Shalli began to softly mumble. The phonemes protruding from her lips were nothing more than gibberish and nonsensical. She was clearly in a state of deep meditation. Still, the aura was gradually shifting. Instead of the static peace-like atmosphere, Greystone began to sense a wave of uncertainty, a ripple in the Force that seemed to precede the outbursts in the Eriadu City alley and in the command center only twenty minutes before. The same ripple gave an invitation to intervene, as if begging for discovery.

"Tell me what you see, Shalli," Greystone calmly said, still sitting with his eyes closed.

"I don't understand," she mumbled.

"What don't you understand?" he asked.

"Everyone around me seems to have something that I don't," Shalli answered. "You, Agent Delwynn, Lieutenant Danstari… everyone."

"What does it look like?" the Jedi Master inquired further.

"It's not a physical thing," she responded with hesitation. "I'm not sure it is any… wait, Emra doesn't have it either."

Master Greystone opened his eyes. Shalli's eyes were tightly closed and her neck was pushing her head forward. She looked genuinely curious, the first display of emotion since the outburst had been dispelled. Surely this was progress? Perhaps he could gently push her into, for a lack of better words, the rediscovery of her own soul in a manner that was safe and controlled. At least, that was what the Jedi Master had rationalized in his own mind regarding the activities at hand.

"Keep looking for it," he said. "I'll bet you have it too. What do you think it is?"

"I have no answers for you," Shalli replied. He felt the trance beginning to wane and the flow of the Force lessening.

"Guess, if you have to," he returned. "I want to know what you think it is."

"I…" she stammered. "I'm not sure. It seems like something that has to do with life. It almost seems like it's a part of who they are."

Shalli snapped open her eyes and dropped directly out of the meditative trance, sending a blast through the Force that eschewed the ambiance that had settled in the room. Instead, the static emptiness returned… mostly. There was something different about the Omwati compared to other Jedi, the Jedi Master surmised. Something was markedly different.

"Am I incomplete?" she asked almost randomly.

"No," Greystone answered. "You're not. I think you're just stifled."

"How can I find what I'm missing?" the Omwati furthered. "How can I have what I need to be alive?"

"We'll find it within you," he answered.

"Am I normal for a Jedi?" Shalli furthered.

Master Greystone sat still for a moment. With each passing question, he sensed confusion and fear within Shalli. Grains of emotion that had been absent suddenly seemed to rise quickly. He needed to dispel the fear so that she did not lash out once again, but he also wanted to harness the emotions she was experiencing. This might be the key to allow the Jedi to have a more normative existence, he thought.

"Do you trust me, Shalli?" Greystone inquired once again.

"Yes," she answered straightly.

"Do not be afraid of what you are feeling," he instructed. "What you are feeling by asking those questions is normal. That's what we need to find. You have the potential within you, but you cannot be afraid of it."

"But, Master," Shalli blurted. "Emotion leads to the dark side."

"Not quite, Shalli," Greystone clarified. "Emotion that is uncontrolled can lead to the dark side."

"I need to squash this, then," she said.

"No," he replied swiftly. "Don't squash it down. Allow yourself to process it and understand it. Then, just release it to the Force."

"I… I can't," Shalli hesitatingly stated, closing her eyes. "I can't feel the Force unless… unless I… I don't know…"

"Just remain calm, Shalli," the Jedi Master instructed dutifully. "Don't be afraid of it."

Master Greystone sat there calmly as the Omwati in front of him continued to concentrate on that kernel of emotion within her. He sensed the inner conflict, and, in his opinion, the reasoning behind it needed to be explored. He felt something larger that loomed behind the scenes with Shalli. He prided himself for having stayed out of Jedi politicking over the years, being intentionally reclusive with his research and archaeology. It had been hoped that everything would dissipate. It appeared to him that not only had it not diminished, the game of ideology was being played with the very lives of the next generation of Jedi.

As Shalli continued in her meditation, Greystone sensed peace begin to take hold. There were no other indicators in the Force or within Shalli's expressions and body movements that further explained what was happening. As if on cue, however, he suddenly sensed everything shut down again. Shalli snapped open her eyes once again and stared at him blankly.

"What happened?" he asked.

"I got rid of it," she replied. "I gave my emotions to the Force."

The Jedi Master was at least partially satisfied with this answer. He paused for a moment. He failed to sense even the Force in Shalli. Had the Jedi Knight truly given the emotions to the Force, or had she simply squelched them deeper into the void areas of her soul?

"Did you really give them to the Force?" Greystone prodded.

"Yes," Shalli answered plainly. "I didn't force them to go away. I simply resigned myself to think that they can happen and released them. They just went away like I really wanted them to."

"That's progress, Shalli," he said, pleased that at least something had been done for the positive. He was still concerned that the Force seemed to not even exist within the Omwati. "Have you never been taught this?"

Shalli shrugged but said nothing. It was plain by her expression that she truly did not know. All she remembered was that emotion was the path to the dark side, a belief that, when taken out of its proper context, was viewed as very radical among even some of the more orthodox members of the Jedi Order. As he pondered further, the Jedi Master reminded himself that this would need to be emphasized to ensure that Shalli acted properly and dutifully instead of suppressing emotions in ways that were not productive to her well-being or the safety of those around her. In a way, it was almost like training a Padawan once again—something Master Greystone had not done in over five years due to his research.

"Am I free to sleep some more—for a short span?" Shalli asked.

"Yes, get some more sleep," Greystone replied. "I bet we'll have a long day once Agent Delwynn gets back here. We'll need to be well-rested."

"Thank you, Master Greystone," she said.

"One thing, Shalli," he interjected. "If you dream, you must do the same thing that you did a few moments ago. Just relax and give it to the Force. Perhaps, what you are seeing is the Force telling you something that you should know."

Shalli nodded as she slowly stood from her spot on the cold floor. After brushing off her backside with her long blue hands, she walked toward the far area of the room. There, she sat in a chair and leaned against the wall. In a matter of moments, she was soundly sleeping and without a stir. Greystone stood and walked back over to the computers. He monitored their progress, hoping that Avar Zranik could be tracked down. It was imperative, he thought, that information be available for Evening Delwynn's arrival.

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