The woman was easy to spot, even in a crowded cantina. Merit deDannan had never believed in making herself unobtrusive, unless her job required it. She was wearing her favourite contacts, the pale ones that provided a stark contrast to her dark skin, and her fashionably cut hair was dyed in a particularly violent shade of electric blue. Veluona smiled as she made her way towards her cousin.
"Hey Vel", Merit said and gestured invitingly towards the empty seat next to her. "Nice to see you."
"Hello Merit", Veluona replied and sat down. "It is always fun to guess what colour your hair will be when we meet."
Merit laughed. "I may actually stick with this one for a while, I kind of like it. She pushed the datapad with the menu towards Veluona. "Have a drink, tab’s on me."
"So this is business", Veluona stated as she studied the datapad. When Merit offered to buy, it usually meant the tab would be filed under "expenses".
"Afraid so", her cousin said, looking not the least bit apologetic.
Veluona punched her order into the datapad, then leaned back in her seat. "All right, Agent", she said. "Tell me what you need."
"Sendron Aurelis", Merit said without further preliminaries. "Name ring a bell?"
Veluona frowned. "I can’t say it does. Should it?"
"Possibly. Since we are talking about Master Sendron Aurelis, Jedi diplomat."
"A colleague of mine, then?" Veluona said.
"Yes and no. He’s a full-time diplomat. He’s not in… your second line of work."
"Ah." Veluona took her zoochberry juice from the serving droid’s tray and sipped it thoughtfully. "What is your interest in him, then?"
Merit lowered her voice. "While Master Sendron isn’t a spy, he has helped us out with crucial information a few times. He doesn’t officially work for us, indeed he rejected a couple of requests because he felt that forwarding the intel we asked for would jeopardise the negotiations he was conducting at that point. Still, he has been a valuable asset."
"So what went wrong?" Veluona asked. "Because you wouldn’t have contacted me unless something was wrong."
Merit shrugged. "Possibly nothing. Fact is, we don’t know. I tried to call him yesterday and didn’t get a reply. That may not mean anything, he might have a perfectly harmless reason for not answering, but…"
"...but you have a hunch", Veluona finished the sentence for her.
"Yeah", Merit admitted. "Something tells me that it might be a good idea to ask my favourite cousin to look into this."
Veluona slowly swirled her drink in her glass. "I have learned to trust your intuition", she said. "If the Force is suggesting to you that something is awry, then we should investigate."
"I don’t know that the Force is suggesting anything", Merit said drily, "but glad you agree. As I said, there may be nothing to it, and in that case I’ll apologise for wasting your time and buy you another drink. But I’d just like to know."
Veluona nodded. "Anything you can tell me about Master Sendron?" she asked. "His last assignments?"
Merit shrugged. "I don’t know. I haven’t been in touch with him for a while. I’d call him on the holo every few months or so to see if he had anything for us, but it’s not like I kept tabs on him. Not closely, anyway."
"I see. Well, it should be no problem to get the necessary information from our database. If he’s on an official assignment somewhere, he won’t be difficult to find."
"Not for someone who can access the Jedi’s data without stirring up a diplomatic incident", Merit agreed. "Thanks, Vel."
"My pleasure. Out of curiosity, just what did you want from him?"
Merit hesitated. "We are trying to find someone, and I think he might be able to help with that. Sorry, but I really can’t go into any detail."
"Fair enough." Veluona drained her glass and stood. "I’d best get right to it. I will dig around a bit and let you know what I find."
"I appreciate it", Merit said, then grinned a little. "May the Force be with you, Master Jedi."
"And with you, Agent", Veluona replied with a smile, and vanished in the crowd.
"Ah, here we are." Veluona nodded in satisfaction as the requested data appeared on her ship computer’s screen. As a member of the Jedi order’s diplomatic service she had access to the personnel database, and finding Master Sendron’s files had been a matter of minutes.
She scanned the information and found that Sendron’s career in the order had been a fairly typical one. At 31 years of age he had been a diplomat for 12 years now, and his file listed a wide variety of assignments all across the galaxy. An experienced negotiator, he had a knack for defusing potentially dangerous situations and working out deals that allowed all involved parties to save face.
Attached to the data was a holostill of a tall, dark haired Mirialan in formal robes. His elegant tattoos enhanced rather than marred the handsomeness of his face, and his posture and expression bespoke the calm confidence that was expected of a Jedi Master.
The file also listed his personal holofrequency and his current assignment. According to the data, Sendron was currently on Coruscant where he served as an advisor to Senator Kilian Vere of Salvara, an agricultural world in the Mid Rim whose main importance lay in its convenient location on the Perlemian Trade Route. Veluona had never heard of Senator Vere, but then it had been a while since she had last visited the Senate tower in an official capacity.
Merit had already told her about her unsuccessful attempt to contact Sendron on holo, but Veluona decided to try it anyway. She entered the frequency and waited, but there was no reply. That in itself was unusual - normally, there should at least have been an automated response and a request to leave a message.
Veluona decided that she had done all she could do remotely, and went to the bridge to set a course for Coruscant.
"I’m sorry, Master Jedi, Senator Vere is in session at the moment and cannot receive visitors." The aide looked at Veluona with an air of self-importance that did not seem entirely justified.
"I do not wish to disturb the senator", Veluona explained patiently. "I am looking for someone on his delegation, a member of my order. Jedi Master Sendron Aurelis."
"Oh." A faint blush coloured the aide’s cheeks. Veluona sighed inwardly while keeping a perfectly straight face. "But Master Sendron isn’t on Coruscant at the moment." The woman obviously regretted this.
Veluona frowned. "According to the information I was given he is currently assigned to Senator Vere and working directly with him."
"That is true", the woman replied and brushed back a strand of hair that had escaped from her bun. "I am afraid that I can’t give you any more details. Master Sendron's work for the senator is strictly confidential."
"Of course", Veluona said smoothly. "Well, in this case I will simply have to wait until he returns from wherever he went." She nodded at the aide. "Thank you for your help. Have a good day."
She turned around and walked unhurriedly out of the office. As soon as she was out in the corridor, she looked around to make sure there was no one watching, then she reached out to the Force and pulled it around her, becoming all but invisible to eyes and security cameras alike. Then she ducked into an alcove opposite the door to the senator’s office, and waited.
Before long an elderly man in an attendant’s uniform appeared carrying a small package. He entered the office, and Veluona deftly slipped through the door before it closed after him. "Package for His Excellency", the man said and put it on the aide’s desk.
The woman, who was busy giving herself a manicure, looked up briefly and just gave him a curt nod. The attendant left, rolling his eyes as soon as his back was turned. The aide was in no hurry to concern herself with the delivery, but calmly continued polishing her nails.
Veluona looked around. The aide’s desk was spotless and didn’t look like a whole lot of work was being done there. Her primary function was probably to be decorative, guard her master’s door, and make sure no undesirables went in while the senator was busy. The door behind the woman was closed, but from her remark earlier Veluona inferred that the senator was currently at the assembly hall and wouldn’t be back for a while - sessions typically lasted several hours, and it wasn’t even noon yet.
Veluona noiselessly stepped up to the aide and made a quick gesture with her hand while reaching out for the woman’s mind. The aide stiffened momentarily, then her eyes glazed over and she stared away at nothing, swaying slightly in her chair. Veluona quickly moved around her, opened the door, and slipped through.
Closing the door quietly behind her, she looked around. The senator’s inner sanctum was obviously intended for representation; the furniture was real wood rather than veneered plasteel, thick carpets covered the floor and several large plants in decorated clay and metal pots dotted the room. A bronze statue stood in one corner, the highly stylised figure of a woman that was tastefully illuminated from below.
The senator’s desk, which unlike his aide’s showed evidence that some real work was done there, held a state of the art computer terminal which immediately piqued Veluona’s interest. If Vere had sent Sendron on an errand, it was likely that there was some evidence of it in his system. Veluona studied the terminal for a moment, then pulled out a data probe and got to work.
There were of course the records of the usual day-to-day matters - official correspondence about formalities which was so devoid of any real information that Vere hadn’t even bothered to encrypt it. Veluona dismissed it and turned her attention to more interesting matters - an archive of files that were encrypted with standard diplomatic protocols and had been accessed during the last week.
Veluona raised her head and listened intently, but all was quiet outside. The aide had likely snapped out of her Force-induced daydream by now and had probably not even noticed that she had been out of commission for a minute or so. Nothing indicated that she was aware of anything being amiss, so Veluona returned to the task at hand. Being in possession of the proper keys, decrypting the files was a matter of seconds, and moments later she was digging through Senator Vere’s confidential data.
It took her about five minutes to find what she had been looking for. Among the communiqués to and from several other senators and ambassadors and the minutes of various meetings there was a recording of a holocall. The call dated three days back and had been made to Sendron's frequency. Veluona turned down the volume to a mere whisper, then started the playback.
To her disappointment, it appeared that the call had not been recorded in its entirety. When the recording started, Vere was saying, "...I don’t need to stress that this matter is highly sensitive, Master Sendron. Nar Shaddaa is not exactly the choicest location in the galaxy, and I absolutely cannot be seen to be involved. I am putting a lot of trust in you by sending you there."
Sendron's image bowed slightly. "I shall endeavour not to disappoint you, Senator", he said. "It has been a while since I last visited the Smugglers’ Moon, but I still have contacts there. I should be able to find something out." He smiled faintly. "I will do my best to make myself inconspicuous."
"See that you do." Vere nodded at him. "You should leave as soon as possible. Good luck, and I hope to receive word of your success soon."
Sendron bowed again, then the recording ended. Veluona stared at the screen for a moment and thoughtfully tapped her chin with her finger. Incomplete as it had been, the recording still had provided her the information she had been looking for. Sendron was on Nar Shaddaa, and whatever he was doing there was sensitive enough that it had Vere really nervous. This of course also explained the comm silence - if Sendron was on a delicate mission for the senator, he wouldn’t want to be traced.
There was one thing left to do. Veluona accessed the system’s logs and carefully wiped all evidence that anyone had used Vere’s computer during his absence. Once she was satisfied that she had covered her tracks, she logged off and arranged everything on the desk as it had been. Moments later she was gone as discreetly as she had come. Time to set course for Nar Shaddaa.
The Red Light Sector was just as noisy, garish, and grimy as Veluona remembered it. Holos in all colours of the rainbow flashed at every corner, and music seemed to blare from every doorway. Veluona, who had covered her robes with a nondescript brown cloak and pulled up the hood, carefully made her way through the revellers, none of whom paid her any attention.
The Karagga’s Hat Club still appeared to be popular, judging by the size of the crowd that was milling around outside waiting to be admitted. Veluona had neither the time nor the inclination to get in line, so she simply faded from view with no more than a thought and stepped past the queue. The bouncers never even looked at her.
Inside, the noise was deafening. On a stage in the main room a band was playing so loudly that Veluona didn’t even recognise the song. Next to them three twi’lek dancers, one male and two females, were twisting their bodies at absurd angles more or less in time to the beat. Their costumes, if it was even fair to call them such, were sparse to nonexistent, but each of them sported a ridiculously large, bell-shaped, purple and gold hat. The dance floor was packed with a mass of writhing, twitching bodies that were fitfully illuminated by flickering, coloured lights.
Veluona made her way through the crowd to a side room where the noise level was at least somewhat more bearable and communication wasn’t entirely impossible. A few groups of patrons populated some of the tables and a pazaak game was going on in one corner, but compared to the main room things were fairly quiet here. Veluona looked around, then went over to the bar behind which a Rodian bartender made a show of polishing some glasses.
The Rodian looked up and flinched. "Uh… hello, Master Jedi. Long time no see." Judging by the tone of his voice he didn’t think it had been nearly long enough.
Veluona smiled faintly. "Indeed. You seem to be doing well for yourself here."
Gigo gave her a wary look and nodded. "Can’t complain. What can I get you?"
"Just some water." She lowered her voice. "And some information."
"Figured this wasn’t a social call", he muttered and filled a glass with water. "There", he said as he set down the glass before her. Veluona noticed that it was bell-shaped and painted purple and gold. "And I have to tell you that I don’t know anything! I’ve gone legit since our last meeting, just as I promised!"
"You don’t even know yet what I’m going to ask", she pointed out mildly and took a sip of her water.
"Doesn’t matter, I don’t know anything about anything. And don’t even think about using your Force mojo on me!"
"I wouldn’t dream of it", she assured him. "Besides, the information I’m looking for is perfectly harmless. I simply want to find one of your patrons."
The Rodian flashed her a suspicious look. "Who you looking for?"
"Not one of your regulars. A member of my order who supposedly came here a few days ago. At least that is what I heard from someone who knows someone who talked to him."
The Rodian shrugged. "Glowsticks don’t come here that often, thankfully." He flinched, realising that his choice of words might have been a poor one under the circumstances. "Sorry. Anyway, haven’t noticed any of you guys around lately, but I might have missed him. I’m not on duty 24/7."
"You’re not", she conceded. "But your security cameras are."
He stared at her. "You wanna view our security records? Are you serious?"
"It would be very helpful if I could have a look at them, yes. You see, I’ve been trying to reach that Jedi on holo. He didn’t answer, which is unusual. So I’m concluding that he might be in trouble. His last known destination was this club." She sipped at her water again. "It would be very unfortunate if something had really happened to him and your establishment was connected with his disappearance in some way, wouldn’t it?"
The Rodian snorted, but it didn’t sound very convincing. "This is Nar Shaddaa, lady. Hutts don’t give a bantha’s backside about a vanished Jedi."
Veluona looked at him calmly. "The Hutts don’t. I do."
He took a step back and swallowed nervously. "Okay, okay… got it. Right. No need to do anything rash, we’re all friends here, right?"
"I never do anything rash", Veluona pointed out. "It is against our code, you know." She gave him a pleasant smile. "And it will not be necessary anyway since you are going to cooperate and let me look at those security logs, aren’t you?"
He sighed. "Guess so. Follow me."
He came out from behind the bar and went over to an unobtrusive side door that was marked with a sign, "Staff only". Stepping through the door was like stepping into another world. Gone were the noise, the heat and the flashing colours - the corridor beyond might as well have been located on a starship, with its bare metal floor and walls that were only broken up by a couple of heavy durasteel doors.
Gigo opened one of the doors and led Veluona into the room beyond. It wasn’t large, but its walls were covered in security monitors and there were several consoles controlling them. Veluona nodded appreciatively. State of the art technology; apparently the Karagga’s Hat took security very seriously.
A scrawny Twi’lek whose green skin looked strangely mottled lounged in a chair in front of one of the consoles. When Gigo and Veluona entered, he jumped up, then sharply let out his breath. "Cripes, boss, you know you shouldn’t sneak up on me." He eyed Veluona suspiciously. "Who’s the broad?"
Gigo winced. "Henry, this is Master Veluona of the Jedi order. She… needs a look at our records of the last couple of days."
Henry stared at him. "You gonna let a robe rifle through our records?" he asked incredulously.
"I am looking for someone", Veluona replied smoothly, ignoring the insults. "You can just carry on with your work, I will not get in your way."
"Riiight", he huffed. "Like I’d let some amateur touch my tech."
Veluona shot him an unreadable look. "These are Czerka CX-367 security stations, last year’s model. You’ve made some custom modifications to them, but the control layout still looks standard to me. I see that you swapped the external power supply module for a Micron-V5, which makes sense since they’re much more reliable than the out-of-the-box component, but of course I can’t tell what other surgery you performed inside this little beauty. Still, I’m fairly confident that it shouldn’t interfere with a basic task like playing back recordings."
Henry’s mouth hung open as he stared at her. "Okay, so not quite an amateur", he finally said.
Gigo sighed. "Just let her watch those recordings, okay?" he said. "I need to get back to the bar." He nodded at Veluona. "Good luck."
Henry didn’t voice any further protest as Veluona sat down in a chair and studied the console. A moment later her fingers danced over the controls and the screen switched to a recording of the club’s entrance area. The timestamp showed that the recording had been taken a little over two days ago. Veluona increased the playback speed and leaned back in her chair, preparing herself for a long wait.
Two hours later, her hand shot forward to stop the recording. "There he is", she said quietly.
Henry looked up without much interest. "Found something?"
Veluona nodded and resumed the playback at normal speed. Silently she watched as Sendron stepped into the club, then made his way through the crowd to one of the side rooms. She noted the time, then switched the view to one of the other cameras. A second later, the screen showed Sendron entering the side room.
He scanned the crowd for a moment, then unhurriedly walked to the bar, ordered a drink, and carried it to a small table by the wall. He seated himself, took a sip, and leaned back, obviously settling in to wait for someone.
For half an hour, nothing happened. Patrons milled in and out of the room, but Sendron took no notice of any of them, nor they of him. He simply sat there nursing his drink. Suddenly he raised his head slightly as if listening for something, then turned to look towards a group of three men who were approaching his table.
They were Nikto, and from their demeanour Veluona inferred that two of them acted as the third one’s bodyguards. The two remained standing while the third sat down at Sendron's table and started talking to him.
Veluona paused the playback and turned to Henry. "I don’t suppose you have audio probes as well?"
Henry shook his head. "Guests’ chats are none of our business. We just make sure everything stays nice and peaceful." He came over to her, finally showing some curiosity. "What’d you find?"
"Do you know these men?" She pointed at the three Nikto.
The Twi’lek winced. "Ouch. Bad news, lady. Guy sitting down is only known as Blaze. He’s an enforcer for Varnas Cresh who is the boss of the Wannschok Prowlers over in the Nikto sector. Cresh’s right hand man, in fact. The Prowlers aren’t as big as the Kintan Kings, but at least as mean, and lately Cresh seems to be getting ready to grab some territory from another gang down there called the Rancors. Gang war in the making, if you ask me. Why a glowst-- a Jedi would get involved with them I can’t imagine."
Veluona resumed the playback and thoughtfully watched as Sendron and Blaze talked. The Nikto’s face was mostly unreadable since their reptilian skin didn’t lend itself to complex facial expressions. Sendron, on the other hand, appeared relaxed and entirely unconcerned, although her trained eyes noticed that underneath his calm exterior he was alert and wary. Finally both of them got to their feet, and to Veluona’s surprise left the club together, Blaze’s bodyguards trailing after them.
"Now that was unexpected", she mused and stopped the recording. "It appears I will have to look for my colleague in the Nikto sector."
"Good luck with that", Henry said. "Not that I doubt that you can handle yourself", he added hastily. "But the Prowlers don’t exactly control the choicest part of town, if you take my meaning."
"I didn’t think they would. Nevertheless, I have to go there." Veluona pulled out her commlink. "Here is my holofrequency. If you see this Jedi again, I would appreciate if you’d call me. There is a chance that he has since returned, but somehow I don’t think he did."
The Twi’lek nodded a little doubtfully. "This looks pretty fishy", he said.
"It does", she agreed. "Now, if you can just tell me where I can find the Wannschok Prowlers, I will let you get back to your work."
"Dunno exactly", he shrugged. "Like I said they’re in the Nikto sector, and anyone who isn’t a Nikto better stay out of there. All I know is that they’re in the lower levels of the sector, somewhere in the south-east. Upper parts are Kings territory, mostly."
"That’s a start", Veluona said and rose from her chair. "I thank you for your assistance, you have been most helpful." She bowed slightly. "May the Force be with you."
He stared at her. "Uh, yeah, whatever, I guess. Bye." He looked after her as she left the room, then with a slight shake of his head went back to his consoles.
The elevator screeched to a halt and the doors opened with alarming reluctance. Veluona quickly stepped outside into the corridor, glad to escape the untrustworthy contraption. The Nikto sector as such wasn’t one of Nar Shaddaa’s best addresses, and it appeared that Henry hadn’t been exaggerating when he had warned her that the Wannschok Prowlers’ territory was even less savoury than the rest of the district.
The corridor ran straight ahead for a few metres, then opened into a wide plaza that looked just as dirty and run-down as the corridor itself. Several small shops and a dingy little cantina lined the perimeter, and some market stalls were clustered in one corner. Near the corridor’s exit stood the remains of a public holoterminal that had probably ceased functioning a decade or two ago. The whole scene looked dreary and incredibly depressing. How can anyone live like that? she wondered. For it was clear that there were people living here - there were some figures moving around the shops and along the perimeter of the plaza, although Veluona noticed that they seemed to avoid the open space in the centre.
Veluona slowly walked past the smashed holoterminal and towards the stores. As uninviting as it looked, the cantina was probably the best place to get some information. If Sendron had really been down here, he would have stood out among the residents, and someone must have seen him.
She sensed the thugs just before they stepped out of a shadowy corner next to her. There were five of them, and while they looked no different from the common street rabble, they walked with the typical swagger of those who were convinced they were running things. Four of them hung back while their leader flashed Veluona a toothy grin. "Lost your way, missy?" His Huttese was thickly accented, but understandable.
Veluona returned his gaze evenly. "I am exactly where I intend to be", she replied quietly in Huttese, shifting her cloak so her lightsaber became visible.
The Nikto’s grin faded and gave way to a scowl. "Another blasted Jedi? What is it with you guys, you think our turf is a frigging vacation spot?"
"So there has been another of my order down here lately." Apparently Blaze had indeed taken Sendron right into the gang’s territory, just as she had expected. "Tell me about him."
The thug snorted. "I ain’t tellin’ you nothing", he said flatly.
Veluona was unperturbed. "The person I am looking for came here with a man named Blaze. I would like to speak with him."
The Nikto stared. "You wanna talk to Blaze?"
One of his cronies coughed. "Hey, Tek, maybe we should just, ya know, take her to Blaze?" Tek whirled around, and the other man hastily added, "Hey, man, she’s a Jedi. She can probably take us apart before we can say ‘oops’. Why not let Blaze deal with her?"
Tek scowled at Veluona. "Okay, I’ll take you to him. But no funny stuff, okay? There’s guys watching us right now."
"There is no need for violence", Veluona said placidly. "I merely wish to talk."
"Yeah, whatever", the Nikto grumbled and led the way. Veluona followed, while his friends fell in step around her, casting slightly nervous glances at her. Tek led them down an alley which branched off the plaza and looked even more run-down and dreary than the market square. After a few hundred metres he ducked through a door which, according to the sign above it, led to "Roscoe’s Tech Emporium".
The grandiose name notwithstanding, the inside of the shop looked like a trash heap. Rusty metal shelves were stuffed with crates and boxes, most of them unlabelled and some spilling their contents onto the dirt-caked floor. Tek stepped over the mess without so much as a glance and pushed open the back door. "Wait here", he said, then disappeared into the darkness.
A couple of minutes later he reappeared and jerked his head towards the door. "Go on in", he said. "Blaze’ll see you. He’s a busy man, so make it quick."
"Thank you", Veluona said and bowed decorously, then stepped through the door which promptly closed behind her.
To her surprise she found herself in a clean, tidy, neatly furnished office. The room wasn’t large, but unlike the saleroom it was well lit. The furniture was simple and had seen better days, but it was clear that this was the place where the actual business of the "store" was done. There was even a slightly frayed rug on the floor, and a small table next to the desk held a large pot of caf, a mug, and a decanter filled with an amber liquid next to a couple of tumblers.
Behind the desk stood a large Nikto whom Veluona immediately recognised as the one from the recording. As far as she could tell he was not in the least perturbed by her presence, instead he merely looked at her calmly and waited for her to speak.
"Greetings", she said in Huttese and bowed slightly. "I take it you are the one they call Blaze."
"That’s me." To her surprise, he replied in flawless Basic. "As a matter of fact, my name is Blaise, but I’ve given up trying to teach these morons how to pronounce that properly."
Veluona smiled faintly. "Blaise, then. A pleasure. I am Veluona deDannan."
"Charmed." He indicated a chair. "Have a seat and let me know what you want from me. Can I offer you anything?" He waved towards the decanter.
She shook her head and seated herself on the proffered chair. "Thank you, but your man outside took pains to impress on me that your time is valuable, so I won’t take up too much of it." She watched as he poured some of the amber liquid from the decanter into a glass and sipped from it. As gang underbosses go, she thought, he’s remarkably refined. Dangerous though. Better tread carefully. She decided that beating around the bush was not a promising strategy in this case.
"I am sure you can guess why I sought you out", she said. "I am trying to find someone, and as far as I know you’re among the last people to have seen him. Jedi Master Sendron Aurelis, he came to this area with you. Is he still here?"
Blaise looked at her thoughtfully while swirling the liquid in his glass. "He isn’t." He took another sip. "Do you think I am responsible for his disappearance?" He seemed genuinely curious, but there was a steely glint in his eye.
"I do not." She returned his gaze calmly. "If you were responsible, we would not be sitting here chatting so amiably."
He grinned toothily. "Possibly not. May I ask why you are looking for Master Sendron?"
She shrugged slightly. "A favour for a friend. It seemed simple enough at first, but the longer I search for him, the more it looks like there is something not quite right about his trip to Nar Shaddaa." She looked directly into his eyes. "I think he may be in trouble, and I don’t mean from you."
"Ah, the heroic damsel rushing to rescue the knight in distress. Touching." He sat down behind his desk and put down the glass, then leaned back in his chair and looked at her over his steepled fingers. "Give me a reason why I should tell you what I know."
Veluona shrugged slightly. "I can offer payment, if credits are what you want."
"Credits", he repeated slowly. "With most other people I’d take that option, yes. But I think you have something more… tasty to offer." Veluona arched an eyebrow, and Blaise laughed. "Oh, not what you’re thinking. I’m really not into humans, you’re too squishy for my taste. I prefer sticking with my own kind. No, I was thinking of something else you might do for me."
"I am listening", Veluona said.
"You may or may not be aware", Blaise said, "that the Wannschok Prowlers aren’t the only gang in this area. The Rancors have become a real pain lately, and my boss wants them gone. I, of course, exist to make my boss happy." He grinned sardonically. "Now, I’m not asking you to take them on and wipe them out single-handedly. With a Sith I might, but you Jedi always have those inconvenient moral issues. So I’m only asking you to give us an edge, or rather, to take away theirs." His face grew serious again. "Over the last months, the Rancors have come into some money. Enough money to buy them some pretty fancy weapons with which they’re killing our boys, and that makes my boss sad. So why don’t you go and find out exactly where that money is coming from, so we can do something about it?"
Veluona gave him a thoughtful look. "You are suspecting something." It was not a question.
"I’m so glad you said that", he replied drily. "Yes, we are, and if anything that should provide further motivation for you to look into the matter. There are rumours that the Rancors have taken up slave trade."
"I see", Veluona said. Slavery was of course perfectly legal on Nar Shaddaa (there were very few things that weren’t), but as far as she was concerned that was no reason to tolerate it.
Blaise grinned. "Thought that might get you interested", he said. His grin faded and he gave her a hard look. "Just so we understand each other: I couldn’t care less about a bunch of slaves. If those rumours turn out to be true and you find any of the Rancors’ merchandise, then free them or don’t, I don’t care one way or another. I want to dry up the Rancors’ cash flow, that’s all."
Veluona nodded slowly. "And if I agree to procure the information you want, you will tell me where Sendron Aurelis is?"
"Oh, I’ll tell you." Blaise reached for his glass and sipped from it, looking decidedly smug. "I know you Jedi. The moment you heard ‘slavery’, you had already agreed to my proposal. And in fact", he put the glass down and leaned forward, "by helping me, you’re helping yourself. For you see - your friend Sendron headed straight into Rancor territory."
Veluona frowned. The more she learned about Sendron's mysterious assignment from the senator, the less sense it all made. What does a senator on Coruscant have to do with a third rate street gang on Nar Shaddaa? "Tell me about your meeting with Sendron", she said.
Blaise shrugged. "Not much to tell. We were introduced by a friend of a friend who apparently knows Sendron from way back. Sendron said the Rancors had something that was stolen from his boss or something, and he had been sent to get it back. So he figured we could help him get to their base - enemy of my enemy, that sort of thing. I told him the same thing I told you, that I’d help him get there if he brought back some information for me." Seeing Veluona’s surprised look, he grinned. "And now you’re wondering why I’m making the same deal twice, right? Well, you see, the first thing the Rancors did with their new-found wealth was to get some spiffy new toys for their base. I’m pretty sure your friend could use some backup when he tries to get in there. Sending both of you after the information increases the chance that I’ll actually get it."
"All right", Veluona said. "I will help you stop this slave operation."
A broad grin spread over the Nikto’s face. "A pleasure doing business with you, Master Jedi", he drawled. "Let me bring up a map, and I’ll show you where you need to go…"
The ceiling lights flickered fitfully, casting bizarre shadows on the dirty metal floor. Veluona almost wished they would die altogether - total darkness would have been easier to navigate than this erratic illumination. She was slowly making her way through an apparently disused part of the sector, keeping the Force drawn around her like a cloak. Not that there was anyone around to notice her, the corridor seemed completely deserted even by the normally ubiquitous vermin, and except for a constant low humming and the occasional creaking of metal everything was deadly silent.
The Force screamed a warning in the back of her mind, and Veluona instantly dropped to the ground. Something heavy swished above her, narrowly missing her head. She rolled over her shoulder and flowed back to her feet, igniting her saberstaff in the same movement.
Around her, three figures winked into sight as their stealth generators shut down. They were Nikto, large, heavily built, and obviously trained fighters. All three of them wore dark red armour that almost looked like a uniform of some kind, and they were armed with vibroswords and blasters. With a sinking feeling, Veluona realised she had seen that kind of armour before.
Elite warriors belonging to a cult that hunted down Force users. Jedi or Sith, it made no difference to them - if it used the Force, it was prey. Veluona had faced them before and got an impression of their prowess. One wouldn’t have been a problem, and under normal circumstances two or even the three of them would have been manageable. However, the Morgukai had chosen the place for their ambush well - in the narrow corridor, Veluona didn’t have room to maneuver, and the Nikto’s short vibroswords were much more suited to the confined surroundings than her saberstaff.
The Nikto closest to her lunged at her with his blade, which she managed to deflect just in time. One of his companions used the momentary opening in her defense to slash at her, and she twisted aside at the last instant to avoid him. This was no good, she decided. She needed room, and if she just stayed here they would rip her to pieces. She reached out to the Force and wrapped it around her, and a split second before she vanished from sight she lashed out with the Force and pushed aside the Nikto closest to her, then dove past him. Veluona hit the ground a few metres away, rolled off, and was already running when she got back to her feet, tearing down the corridor with all the speed she could muster.
The Nikto’s surprise didn’t last long. A blaster was fired repeatedly behind her and one of the shots missed her narrowly. Veluona dropped her camouflage since it was obvious they could see her despite it, and concentrated on running. She skidded around a corner - and found herself at a dead end.
She felt a great calm descend on her as she turned around to face the approaching Morgukai. There is no emotion, there is peace. She raised her saberstaff and awaited them without fear, determined not to go down without a fight.
Seconds later they were there, and the first one raised his sword with a howl of triumph. At least now Veluona had the wall at her back, so they couldn’t all attack her at once. She deflected the attack with a twist of her saberstaff, then twirled and stabbed low in retaliation.
The agonised creak of metal sounded from above. A chunk of debris suddenly dropped from the ceiling between two of the Nikto, striking her opponent in the back before it crashed to the floor. Veluona blinked as she saw a figure appear behind her attackers - a tall, green-skinned figure in a grey robe, one hand igniting a copper-coloured lightsaber and the other hand raised as if it had just hurled the piece of rubble.
One of the Nikto turned around and yelled something Veluona didn’t understand. Both he and his companion next to him immediately started attacking the stranger, while the third kept his attention on Veluona. His movements were noticeably slower now, apparently the hit he had taken in the back had been quite serious.
Now that the odds were evened a bit, it didn’t take her long to dispatch her already wounded opponent and move on to aid the stranger, who was doing his best to keep the other two Morgukai at bay. She raised her saber to stab one of them in the back, but somehow he had noticed her approach and whirled around, swinging his sword in a wide arc. It knocked her saberstaff aside and bit deeply into her left shoulder, opening a wide gash that immediately started bleeding profusely.
Veluona instantly shifted her grip on her weapon to avoid dropping it. Reaching out with her mind she grabbed a piece of rubble and smashed it into her opponent, momentarily knocking the wind out of him. He staggered briefly, but quickly regained his balance and closed in on her. She warded him off as best she could with only one hand on her saberstaff, and she was very relieved when she saw his companion go down under the stranger’s saber.
With only one of the Nikto remaining, the fight was over quickly. Moments later the last Morgukai went down, and Veluona lowered her weapon and looked at her rescuer, who also switched off his saber.
"Master Sendron Aurelis, I presume?" she inquired politely.
He bowed formally. "The same, although I’m afraid you have the advantage on me."
She returned the bow with equal formality. "Master Veluona deDannan. Thank you for the rescue. I’m pleased to meet you at last, you are certainly not an easy man to get hold of."
"I seem to be extremely popular these days", he remarked drily, prodding one of the corpses with his foot. "These gentlemen were apparently looking for me as well."
She raised an eyebrow. "They were?"
"It would seem so. Didn’t you hear what one of them shouted when I got here?"
"Hear, yes, understand, no", she said. "I don’t speak Nikto."
"I do. He yelled, ‘There he is, that’s the one!’ and then attacked me. So I’m assuming that they were specifically after me, and you simply got in the way of their little ambush while you were trying to track me down." He frowned. "You’re wounded."
"One of them got me", she admitted. "I don’t think it’s serious though, the tendons and joint seem to be intact."
"It should still be treated", he objected. "I’m not much of a healer, but I have medpacs which will at least prevent an infection."
"All right", she conceded. "But we should probably find a safer place first. If those three were really after you, there may be more of them."
"Agreed", he said. "I found a nice little hiding place not far from here. A bit cramped, but it should be safe for the moment." He started walking down the corridor. "And I admit, I can’t wait to hear just why you were looking for me."
Sendron's hiding place turned out to be an abandoned storage room that was little more than a walk-in closet. The door only gave way under protest, but at least the dirty ceiling lamp inside gave off some dim, but steady light.
After he had closed and barred the door behind them, Sendron ceremoniously dusted off a plasteel crate and gestured at it invitingly. "Please, have a seat. I’m sorry I can’t offer anything more comfortable."
Veluona chuckled. "This is perfectly fine, thank you." She sat down while Sendron produced a medpac and without further ado proceeded to treat her injury. With calm efficiency he cleaned the wound, applied some kolto, and finally dressed it. "There", he said at last. "Not perfect, I’m afraid, but it will do for now."
Veluona carefully moved her shoulder and noticed how the kolto was already starting to work. "Thank you", she said.
"Don’t mention it." He leaned against the wall and folded his arms in front of his chest. "So now that that’s taken care of… I gather you came to Nar Shaddaa looking for me. Why?"
"I am here on behalf of a mutual friend", she said. "Merit deDannan, SIS agent and, incidentally, my cousin. She tried to contact you a few days ago and got nervous when there was no reply."
"I’m touched", he said with a wry smile. "So the SIS requires my assistance again. What is it this time?"
Veluona shrugged. "I don’t know. Some vague hints about needing your help to locate someone, but no details. Merit simply asked me to find out whether anything had happened to you."
"I see. Well, I will be happy to get in touch with your charming cousin at the earliest opportunity, but I have some unfinished business here first."
"Yes", she said. "So do I. In order to find out where you had gone, I had to make certain promises, and I need to make good on them before we leave." Her hand unconsciously went to her wounded shoulder. "Besides, I would very much like to know why the Morgukai are after you."
He nodded grimly. "Believe me, that’s what I would like to know as well. Something is very wrong here, and I intend to find out just what’s going on."
"It would be my honour to help you in any way I can", she said sincerely. "You saved my life back there, I owe you for it."
"Nonsense", he said briskly. "Who knows how things would have turned out if you hadn’t sprung that ambush prematurely and warned me. You owe me nothing." He smiled. "Having said that, I’ll gladly accept your help. The Masters teach us that there is no such thing as coincidence, so there must be a reason why you showed up here when you did."
"I agree", she said. "So, if we are going to make a plan, why don’t you start by telling me what exactly you are doing in this lovely part of Nar Shaddaa?"
"Fair enough", he said. "Since you tracked me all the way here, you are probably aware that I am currently working with Senator Kilian Vere on Coruscant. You may also have found out that it was the senator who sent me here."
Veluona nodded. "That much I was able to learn, yes. I also know that you met with a Nikto named Blaise and that you asked him for information about the Rancor gang, who apparently have something that was stolen from Senator Vere."
"From an associate of his", Sendron corrected, "but other than that, yes, that is essentially the story. The stolen item was a chip containing highly sensitive data which the associate had procured and was supposed to bring to Coruscant and deliver to the senator. Before he could do so, he was assaulted and the data was stolen."
Veluona frowned. "How can you be sure that the gang still has the data? They might have sold it."
"That’s what I thought as well, but Senator Vere insisted that if the data had been sold, he would know. Since I don’t know exactly what kind of data it is, I had to take his word for it."
"How are you supposed to find the data if you don’t know what it is?"
He smiled slightly. "According to the senator, the chip is encrypted with a diplomatic passkey. There shouldn’t be too many of those around in the gang’s base. I also suspect that it won’t just be lying around somewhere in the open."
"True", she conceded. "It all sounds logical, but something still seems off about the whole story."
"That’s what I’m beginning to think too", he agreed. "It all seemed pretty straightforward - until those Morgukai showed up. They don’t fit the picture, and I’d really like to know why they were after me."
"Yes", she said, staring thoughtfully at the dirty floor. "Who knows that you are here?"
"Not a lot of people", he said. "Senator Vere, of course. The contacts I spoke to in order to set up the meeting with Blaise. And Blaise himself."
"Do you think that Blaise betrayed you?"
He shrugged. "It is possible of course, but I don’t see what he has to gain by that. I never had anything to do with him before, and right now I’m going after his rivals, so it doesn’t make any sense for him to sabotage me." He shook his head. "We don’t have enough data to form a solid hypothesis", he said. "I suggest we see about getting that stolen chip back, and worry about the Morgukai later."
"As you wish", she said. "You assume that the chip is somewhere in the Rancors’ base?"
"Yes." He smiled wryly. "So it is simply a matter of infiltrating a fortified complex, grabbing the chip, and making our escape."
Veluona returned the smile. "Infiltration is what I am trained for", she said confidently. "Let’s see what we know about that base, and I’m sure we can come up with a plan."
"No guards outside", Sendron said quietly. They were crouching behind a stack of old crates, watching the door which according to Blaise’s information led straight into the Rancor gang’s headquarters. It was a heavy durasteel gate that could probably withstand the explosions of a few grenades, and unlike the slightly rusted walls elsewhere in the area it looked new and shiny.
"There’s probably a security station right inside that door", Veluona replied softly. "There are two cameras and at least three automated gun turrets covering the entrance."
"Inconvenient", Sendron remarked and shifted slightly. "Any ideas?"
Veluona shrugged. "I could try to slip inside unnoticed, take out the guards, and then let you in. Or we could look for another way."
He glanced at her. "No offense, but seeing that you are wounded I’d rather you didn’t sneak in there alone. There has to be some other way of access - maintenance shafts, ventilation ducts, whatever."
"Possibly", she said a little doubtfully. "Although I’m guessing that those will be secured as well. Still, it can’t hurt to look."
Sendron pulled out his datapad. "Blaise gave me some information about this sector", he said. "The plans are not complete and probably slightly out of date, but the general layout should still be as shown here." He frowned as he studied the plans, then pointed at a spot near their current location.
"Here. This looks like a ventilation pipe, and it leads straight inside the base. No telling exactly where inside the base of course, but it’s a start."
Veluona looked over his shoulder and nodded. "The duct will likely be secured, but we’ll know more once we are inside. Let’s go."
They slipped out of their hiding place, and a few minutes later found themselves at the hatch that lead to the air vent. Sendron doubtfully eyed the heavy lock and the rusted hinges. "I guess I should have expected it to be locked", he said somewhat ruefully.
Veluona studied the lock. "Standard issue", she said dismissively. "The rust on those hinges is a more serious barrier than this thing."
She pulled out a spike and applied it to the lock. Seconds later there was a faint click, and a green light flashed briefly. Sendron raised an eyebrow, but refrained from commenting. He reached out to give the hatch an experimental tug, and was unsurprised to find that it didn’t budge. "You wouldn’t happen to have any lubricant with you, would you?"
"Unfortunately not", Veluona replied. "I’m afraid this will get a bit noisy."
Sendron shrugged slightly. "Can’t be helped, I suppose. Ready?"
When she nodded, he raised his hand and started channelling the Force. A moment later he felt her joining him, and together they reached out for the hatch and started pulling. The rusty hinges creaked loudly in protest, but ever so slowly the hatch started moving. Veluona glanced around, but the area appeared deserted and the noise didn’t seem to attract any attention.
As soon as the opening was wide enough for them to slip through, the two Jedi released their grip on the Force. Veluona peered into the darkness. "I’ll go first", she said. "If they really planted some surprises in there, I’ll take care of them."
Sendron silently acknowledged her with a slight bow and stepped aside. Veluona slipped inside, then paused for a moment to let her eyes adjust. The duct was not high enough to stand in, but it wasn’t quite as cramped as she had feared. A slight breeze wafted through it, indicating that it was still in use. Nothing moved, and after looking around for a bit Veluona concluded that this part at least was safe.
She signalled for Sendron, and a moment later he joined her. He said quietly, "We should probably close the door behind us. We don’t want anyone at our backs while we go exploring."
"Agreed", she said. Together they reached out again and pulled the hatch shut. It closed with a creak and a dull clanging sound, plunging them into complete darkness. The sound echoed through the shaft for a moment, then everything was silent.
Veluona shifted her perception to the Force, then slowly started moving down the duct. "This way", she said. Sendron followed her silently.
Half an hour later they were crouching at a grate that overlooked a large room below them. As Veluona had suspected, the pipe had been secured, but apparently the Rancors’ security upgrades hadn’t extended to the ventilation system yet, and the obstacles had been fairly easy to get around.
The room below them lay in half darkness, and from what they could see it appeared to be a storage area. Judging from the layer of dust that coated the crates, it was mostly unused. Quietly they removed the grate and dropped to the grimy floor below. Sendron looked around and grimaced. "Charming", he commented drily.
Veluona nodded. "And I’m sure it will get even better." She went over to the door and tried it. It was not locked. Carefully she opened it and peered through. Beyond lay a corridor that ran straight ahead for a few metres and then took a turn. No one was in sight.
They stepped out and followed the corridor around the bend. There still wasn’t anyone around, but a bit ahead the corridor opened into a larger room from where a faint noise was coming. Sendron stopped suddenly and sniffed the air. "Do you smell that?" he said quietly.
Veluona nodded. "What is that awful stench?"
"Burnt rubber and oil, hot metal… and something else", he said grimly. "I’m not entirely sure what, but whatever it is, it’s not pleasant."
Veluona’s mouth hardened. "Let’s find out", she suggested and started walking towards the room. There was no door, only an open archway beyond which lay a spacious hall that looked like a maintenance area. The floor was cluttered with metal parts of all kinds, stacked crates and boxes and a couple of oil barrels. In the midst of the mess, four Nikto were working on two half assembled droids.
"Sentinel droids", Veluona said softly. "Military models, from what I can tell."
"Makes one wonder where they acquired them", Sendron whispered back.
Veluona shrugged. "This is Nar Shaddaa. Everything can be acquired, for a price. Most likely a very steep price in this case, even for two partly disassembled units." She carefully scanned the room. "The exit is just across from us, and those gangsters look quite distracted. We might be able to sneak through without being noticed."
Sendron seemed about to say something, then hesitated briefly. "Yes", he agreed then. "It is certainly advisable to avoid a fight if we can."
Veluona shot him a brief look, but his face was perfectly neutral. He must have noticed the fresh red stain that was beginning to spread on her bandaged shoulder, but apparently he had decided not to comment on it.
They quietly made their way across the room and past the gangsters who never glanced up from their droids. Through the doorway on the other side came a slight breeze which brought some stale, but less smelly air. Sendron breathed a small sigh of relief. "This is better", he said. Suddenly he stopped and listened. "Someone is coming."
They ducked behind some crates and waited, and seconds later Veluona too could hear footsteps approaching. Peering around the crate she saw a heavily armed Nikto walking down the hall and towards the archway. He never noticed the two Jedi, but stepped into the next room and started yelling at the gangsters inside. "Just how much longer you gonna take with these droids? Boss wants them up by tonight, and all I see is parts and junk!"
The reply was inaudible, at least to Veluona, who gave her companion a quick nod. They left their hiding place and hurried down the corridor towards the next hall. Sendron cautiously peered ahead. "Looks like another storage area, but this one seems to be in use. I sense several people inside. Can’t really see much with all those containers and crates everywhere."
"At least they should provide some convenient hiding places", Veluona said pragmatically. She paused briefly. "I think I will take a quick look around in there, if you don’t mind."
He gave her a searching look. "How is your arm holding up?" he asked quietly.
"I will be all right", she assured him. "I’ll just look around, I don’t intend to get into a fight."
He nodded a little doubtfully. "If you say so. But please be careful."
She smiled. "I appreciate your concern and I promise I won’t take any unnecessary risks. I’ll just have a look and return immediately." She drew the Force around her and vanished before his eyes.
As promised, she returned a few minutes later and became visible next to him. "What did you find?" he asked.
"There are roughly a dozen Nikto in the room", she reported. "They are going about their business, I don’t think they are aware of intruders in their base. There’s an elevator in the back going up, but there’s a guard at the door."
"Anything that looks like a possible hiding place for that datachip?" he inquired.
"Nothing obvious. Our best bet is probably to take out that guard and try the elevator. He’s by himself, I should be able to deal with him without anyone noticing." She paused for a moment. "There are cages at the back of the room, behind those huge crates", she said. "They were empty, but…"
Sendron nodded grimly. "As expected. Let’s put an end to this operation."
They silently made their way to the back of the hall where Veluona had seen the elevator. As she had said, a single guard was at the door, lounging in a chair and looking incredibly bored. Both Jedi could sense other gangsters in the vicinity, but none were within view.
Veluona quietly stepped behind the guard and reached into his mind. He immediately sagged with his eyes glazed and his head lolling, and she motioned to Sendron to follow her. They entered the elevator, and moments later were on their way upwards.
The elevator opened into a room that was obviously used as an office. It overlooked the warehouse area below, and Veluona noticed that one wall was a large window which permitted a view over most of the warehouse, while from below it had been completely opaque. There was a desk with a computer on it, and a Nikto was bending over the machine, fiddling with it and muttering under his breath. As the two Jedi entered, he straightened and looked at them with evident surprise that quickly turned to alarm.
"I told you this would take at least-- you?!" He stared at Sendron. "How the frag did you--" He slowly backed away from the terminal until he bumped into the wall behind him.
"How the frag did I what?" Sendron inquired mildly and took a step towards him.
The Nikto shook his head. "Two karking Jedi", he muttered. "No one ever said anything about two karking Jedi!"
Sendron cocked his head and gave him a quizzical look. "I’m afraid I have no idea what you are talking about, my friend", he said pleasantly. "Why don’t you start at the beginning and explain?"
The gangster gave him a defiant stare. "I ain’t tellin’ you nothin’", he said flatly.
Sendron sighed. "An unfortunate decision", he said regretfully. "You see, you really made me curious by dropping those hints, and I’m afraid I will have to insist on you telling me what you meant. And a few other things besides."
"Go crink yourself, Jedi", the Nikto grumbled.
"That would be a little awkward in public", Sendron told him, then sighed again and turned to Veluona who was watching the scene silently. "I was hoping I would not have to do this, but…"
She didn’t know what he was up to, but decided to play along. "He does not seem very helpful", she said blandly.
"No, sadly." Sendron turned back towards the Nikto. "You are aware that I can simply reach into your mind and extract everything I want to know, aren’t you?"
The gangster snorted. "Yeah, right. Likely story."
"It is a somewhat intrusive procedure", Sendron went on unperturbed, "and of course there’s no telling what else I might find while looking around. I very much prefer not to use this approach, but we really need to find out what is going on here, so I suppose the end justifies the means in this case."
"You’re bluffing", the Nikto scoffed, but there was a slight note of doubt in his voice.
Sendron sighed again and turned to Veluonya. "Would you mind keeping an eye on the elevator while I deal with him?"
"Of course", Veluona replied and took up position next to the elevator door while Sendron knelt down on the floor and brought his hands together in front of his chest.
"Don’t worry, you won’t feel a thing", he told the the Nikto, who stared at him anxiously. Sendron lowered his head and closed his eyes.
"Wait!" the gangster called nervously.
Sendron raised his head. "Why should I?"
"I…" the Nikto swallowed. "I can’t tell you anything. You got any idea what they’ll do to me if I squeal?"
Sendron shrugged. "We will escort you out of here and put you safely onto a transport if that is what you’re worried about. With your mind and limbs intact."
The Nikto slumped. "Okay. I’ll talk. Just remember what you promised, all right?"
Sendron got back to his feet with a smile. "Of course, my friend. We will get you to safety as soon as we’re finished here. Now, why don’t you start at the beginning? Who are you?"
"Name’s Jindo", the Nikto said. "I oversee security for the boss."
"Do you, now", Sendron mused. "You must see and hear all sorts of interesting things then. Like, for example, when your boss happens to acquire a datachip with highly sensitive data."
"Don’t know nothing about any chip", Jindo said. "And if anything like that had come in lately I’d have heard about it." Suddenly something seemed to occur to him. "Guess that’s what they told you to get you here, huh?"
"To get me here?" Sendron repeated. "Does that have something to do with why you recognised me?"
"Yeah, although you were never supposed to show up inside our fragging base. Morgukai were supposed to take you out before you got here."
Veluona raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. So Sendron had been right, and the Morgukai had really been after him.
"The Morgukai", Sendron said slowly. "Yes, we have met these gentlemen, but sadly they were in no condition to tell us who sent them once we were done with them." He crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Why were they after me?"
Jindo shrugged. "We got paid to remove you, and my boss got connections. Figured that Morgukai would be best for dealing with a Jedi. No one ever said there’d be two of you."
"Yes, we got that part", Sendron said mildly. His face hardened. "So, if I understand you correctly, someone paid you to specifically remove me. Who was that?"
"Big shot from Coruscant", Jindo said.
"And does the big shot have a name?"
The Nikto hesitated. "A senator", he said finally. "Senator Vere."
Veluona blinked and glanced at Sendron, who was doing his best to keep a straight face. "Is that so", the Mirialan said, his voice dangerously calm. "And just why would Senator Vere pay to have me removed?"
"Guess he figured you might be on to something", the Nikto said with a shrug. "If you’re running a nice little side business that is profitable but not quite legal, I suppose you don’t want a Jedi nosing around."
"A side business." Sendron leaned forward. "What side business?"
"Slaves", Jindo said matter-of-factly. "Perfectly legal on Nar Shaddaa of course, but Coruscant’s another matter. He got us started in the business a while ago, and he’s been making a nice bunch of credits from it. As have we, of course."
Sendron’s eyes were cold, but his voice betrayed no emotion. "Do you have any kind of proof that Senator Vere is involved in slave trading, and that he set killers on a Jedi?"
"Told you I oversee security here", Jindo said smugly. "Boss had me take some recordings Vere doesn’t know about. You know, as insurance." He moved over to the side and started opening a safe that was set into the wall. "Good thing the boss doesn’t know I can open this." Seconds later the safe door clicked open, and Jindo immediately started to rifle the contents. He grabbed some datasticks and handed them to Sendron, then removed a large stack of credits and shoved them into his pocket. "Severance package", he grinned.
Sendron turned the datasticks in his hand with a thoughtful expression. "I’ll have to trust you that these contain the information I seek", he said, then raised his head. "If they do not, I will find you."
"Hey man, no worries", Jindo said hastily. "Everything’s there, I swear." He glanced around anxiously and coughed. "Do you suppose we could leave now? Boss will be back soon, and I don’t wanna be here when he does."
"Certainly", Sendron agreed, returning to his previous pleasant demeanour. "It would seem we are done here."
Leaving the base turned out to be a lot easier than getting in, and shortly afterwards they found themselves outside once more. Veluona turned to Sendron. "I need to take care of something while you escort our new friend to safety", she said. "I had to make some promises in order to find you, and while I don’t intend to give Blaise the full story, he should at least know that the Rancors’ influx of credits is about to dry up."
"That should make him happy", Sendron agreed. He bowed. "It has been a pleasure working with you."
"Likewise", she said with a smile. Then her face became serious again. "Once you forward that data to the proper places, it might be a good idea to stay away from Coruscant for a few days until the dust settles. You know, just to make sure you don’t have a last minute accident."
He frowned. "Yes, you are probably right. It would be a shame if Senator Vere managed to score a hit on his way out."
"That it would", she agreed. "So, why don’t we meet on my ship after we have each finished our business here? I have a secure holoterminal from which you could send the data, and then I’ll call my cousin and ask her to set up a meeting in a safe location."
"An excellent idea", he agreed with a smile.
Veluona bowed slightly. "Take care of yourself then. I will see you at the spaceport soon."
He bowed in return, then watched as her Force presence moved away and finally winked out. With a slight smile he shepherded his anxious charge towards the speeder, and a little later they were but a speck in the garish brightness of Nar Shadda’s night sky which quickly grew smaller and then was gone.