Sometimes I wonder. Would it have been easier or worse if she hadn’t died in my arms? If I’d not been there, would I feel less guilty, or more?
My name’s Aria Diabet, and I am not a Dark Jedi.
Sure, I’m not a peace-spouting, sandal-wearing Light Side Jedi Knight. I’m more of a death-dealing, boot-wearing, do-what-I-want Force adept. If my job requires the “Dark Side,” whatever. If it takes the Light…well, I’ll get by. But I’m not a Sith lord.
Speaking of my job. My brother Wes is a freelance detective, partners with the genius investigator Djerro Lydon. I’m what you might call their muscle, or bodyguard, or whatever. I bail them out of sticky situations and perform other odd jobs. We call ourselves Hyperspace Investigations – Wes’s idea.
The boys were out cracking some kind of black market operation. So I was alone in the office when an old acquaintance showed up in red – lots of red.
I opened the door and she was standing there, covered in blood, looking dazed. She fell, and I caught her. She touched her hand to my head and suddenly my brain was full of someone else’s memories. I could see glimpses of what had happened, but everything was chaotic and strange. She died in my arms on the way to the hospital. It’s a strange thing, seeing a person die. Well, one whose death I didn’t cause, anyway.
Her name was Imako Rei. She and I were students at Skywalker’s academy on Yavin IV. She was everything I hated about the place, and about popular blonde girls. I was, like, twelve, you must understand. Anyway, she was completely into harmony, and peace, and all that rubbish. Skywalker seemed to like her. I identified more with his wife.
Even so, Imako seemed, for whatever reason, to think we were pals. The bubbly little nuisance never ceased talking with me at meals, or trying to help me float little rocks in the air.
Incidentally, I did once use that lesson. I floated a pebble straight through an assassin’s throat. It was him or me, and frankly I’m biased in favor of myself.
Apparently Imako left the Order, like I did years ago, but I don’t know why. I do know that she showed up three weeks later here on Corellia, sans lightsaber, bleeding out fast. So, with the detectives gone, it’s down to me, a hokey religion, and the blaster at my side to solve this.
I walk out of the hospital and into the pouring rain. Imako’s last act was to put images in my brain. Clues. She was always good at that empathic Force stuff. I was awful.
Which might be why the clues are all scrambled. I think back to the familiar image of a young white-haired girl. It’s something.
For a moment, I think I see Imako in the rain. After that moment, I know I see Imako in the rain. She’s translucent and blue, like a cheap hologram.
“I don’t understand. You…”
“Died? That was, like, ten minutes ago,” she says lightly. “Tell me you’re not just now getting that, or my death will take forever to solve.”
“Then you’re…” Needless to say, this is totally and completely freaking me out. Makes me want to shoot something, just for the comfort.
“A ghost,” Imako says. “Do I have to finish all your sentences, silly?”
“What happened? What killed you?” I ask, desperate enough not to care that I’ve just lost my mind.
Imako’s otherworldly image laughs quietly – the same flirty giggle as always. “Oh, Aria. What killed me? My friendship with you.”
And she’s gone.
I’m not an expert, but I’ve got a feeling this is not routine for most cases.
Visions of the Future, Inc., 39354 Antilles Lane, Temphos City, Temphos
The girl I saw in Imako’s mind is a friend of mine. Her name is Urôr, and, like me, she’s not what you’d call your typical Force-sensitive. I decided to pay her a visit out on Temphos, a moon over an obscure Mid-Rim planet with no unique export, no extraordinary environment, and no real reason to be populated. But it is, and that’s where she set up her shop.
I walk in, and find everything arranged as usual. It looks like a seer hut out of a myth. There’re stars painted on the ceiling, candles are everywhere, and other fortune-telling odds and ends are hanging about. Everything’s made of wood or at least something natural. Except her holovision, computer, and digital music player in the back room, but most people don’t see that. On the door to that room, a dusty brown robe is hung.
The girl herself is an oddity. She’s only seventeen or so, but her hair is like snow. Either it always has been, or she dyed it that way to seem exotic. Urôr’s eyes have the look of those of a far older woman. She has a presence, that’s for sure. As I approach, she’s sitting cross-legged on the floor barefoot. There’s a strange symbol drawn in front of her, with some kind of foreign chance cube in the middle. She finishes saying something in a language I don’t know, opens her eyes, and pops the brightgum in her mouth.
“Yo, Aria. I’d ask what brings y’ here, but you know me.” She gets to her feet and catches sight of herself in a mirror intended for protection against spirits. She uses it to fix her hair. “Omniscient seer, and all that. You think I’d seem less respectable as a future-seeing prophetess if I wore a lower-cut shirt?” She glances at me, in my usual all-black. “Oh, look who I’m asking. The only skin you show below your chin is your fists.”
Yes, Urôr’s her usual self. A teenage girl having Force visions for profit between readings of magazine questionnaires on how to catch a boyfriend. Somehow, we’re friends. I think it’s the cynic side of her where we connect. Imako didn’t have that streak that would lead her to charge for prophecy, if she’d had that gift.
“Did an old acquaintance of mine come through here recently?” I hold up a picture of Imako I printed out back at the office on Corellia. “Imako Rei?”
She doesn’t even look at it. Instead she walks over to the counter and puts some leaves in a small pot. “Yeah, she came by a few weeks back. Tea?”
“Suit yourself, but if you drink it, you get luck in love.”
“How much have you had?”
“Seven glasses today. It’s a total rip-off.” Urôr turns and takes a seat perched on a nearby stool. Experimentally, she tries pulling her dress up to her calves to see how it looks. “I foresee tanning,” she murmurs. She notices me again. “She knew me through you, and wanted her future. I gave her the spiel, the price list, the waiver form for prophecies of doom, all that. She wanted to find a certain person. Sym Beccalon was his name. He’s a merc in a guild here called the New Shadow Watch. I don’t know why; I’ve never heard of an old Shadow Watch. I guess there must have been one.”
This isn’t making much sense. I can’t see Imako knowing a mercenary, much less seeking one out. “And what did you see?” I ask.
Urôr downs her tea and shrugs. “Not much. I gave her his name, and the intel on him I just gave you. Albeit in a more mystical and vague way, mind you. It was odd, how little I was seeing about her. You know, I think she was blocking me out. I think she was using the Force to keep me in a very contained area of her mind. I don’t know what a sweet girl like her was trying to hide.”
I nod. “She was always good at that kind of stuff at the academy.”
I shoot her a glare. “Careful.”
“We both know you prefer the hurting-people aspects of the Force,” says Urôr. She frowns. “Aria, you know I never try to read your mind, but it’s like a sign on your forehead there’s something you’re not telling me.”
I take a breath. “Imako died last night.”
“I did see one thing in her future.”
So I’m not alone in holding info back. “What’s that?”
She swallows, and looks uncomfortable. “Aria, I saw you.”
The Dusk Club, 11015 Zang Avenue, Temphos City, Temphos
The New Shadow Watch is a mercenary guild on Temphos comprised of a small subset of purely skin-deep Mandalorians. The armor is more for looks than representative of any ideals whatsoever. A little research tells me that there was in fact a previous incarnation of the organization, led by one Zye Contra. She was killed nine years ago. Her replacement is a man who was her top assassin, a man who goes by the name “the Gentleman Butcher.” Seriously.
Apparently they like to meet in a place called the Dusk Club. I head down to check it out. Even as I’m opening the door, my senses are already assaulted. The club is dark with lights pulsating to a fast rhythm – a rhythm heard only by them, because the speakers are blasting a classic sonata. The air is hazy with smoke. Disreputable patrons of all kinds fill the place. I see three already wearing Mando gear. With my hand near my blaster pistol, I head in that direction. One’s a man in green armor, another a Quarren in minimalist brown armor over a brown cloak, and the third has his helmet and full silver armor on.
“Excuse me, are you from the Shadow Watch?”
“Sure are,” the man in green says with a slightly demented smile. His long brown hair falls over half his face. “Tex Hai-soz. And who might you be?”
“Aria Roserain,” I lie. My mom’s old alias causes him to twitch. It has that effect in the underworld sometimes. “Do any of you know Imako Rei?” They answer positively. “What can you tell me about her?”
Hai-soz shrugs. “What kind of drink can I buy you?”
The stench of alcohol is coming out of this creep’s mouth in waves that could knock over a bantha. “Phorim Rainwater. My question?”
“She was no fun. One of those judgmental types. Holier-than-me Jedi princess who thinks death ‘isn’t funny.’” He makes air quotes with his fingers. “Whatever, I ain’t trainin’ for the priesthood here. She came by a couple weeks back. She was your friend, right, Beccalon?”
The helmeted merc turns his head but says nothing.
My drink arrives. I take it from the server droid and deposit it forcefully in Hai-soz’s face. “I find the Phorim Rainwater has the best combination of shocking temperature, eye-stinging alcohol, and noxious odor post-toss. What do you think?”
Hai-soz’s face quivers, twitching like it’s about to explode. Slowly, a smile spreads across his face, even as he glowers through his disgusting, sopping wet hair, and the evil mercenary laughs. “You’re a good kid, Aria Roserain! Y’ know, I was worried you’d make fun of my hair, ‘cause then I’d a had t’ kill you. But I love a sense of humor; my whole family loves to laugh, you know. Well, the survivors after the last reunion, that is. Am I right?” He nods. “I really am; three people died at the harvest dinner this year. But enough about Hai-soz family tradition; let’s drink!” The maniac takes a swill of brandy.
“Can you tell me where I can find the Gentleman Butcher?” I ask them.
The Quarren points to a table closer to the back, where a man in blue Neo-Crusader armor is speaking with a man in a business suit. As I approach, I notice the armored one has a beautiful Mandalorian iron sword at his side. A horrible scar marks him between his wide-set eyes, a parting gift from my mother to the Gentleman Butcher. He had reconstructive surgery. My father shot him in the back. He came back. The man just refuses to die. Longevity is not his only quirk. Not by a long shot.
“Good evening, young madam. I do hope you are engaged in an agreeable and productive visit to this establishment. I have just requested my favorite movement from Alderaan’s last opera; you are quite fortunate you weren’t here to listen to the tripe it was blasting before, forgive my bluntness. If anyone is bothering your sensibilities, I’d be glad to slay them.”
“Ah, thanks for the offer, but I’m not looking for blood.”
He raises an eyebrow; I see his intelligent green-eyed gaze. I hope he doesn’t recognize me. “For what are you searching, Miss – I’m sorry, we haven’t exchanged names.”
“Charmed.” I shake the killer’s hand and put a little extra telekinetic crush into it. He doesn’t seem to notice. “I am the Gentleman Butcher, leader of the New Shadow Watch. This is Knivys Vendici, our benevolent benefactor.” The man in the suit nods.
“Hello. To answer your question, I’m looking for answers. Like what do you know about Imako Rei?”
“I know that she is a former student of the Jedi arts, and that she is in something of a debt to this organization,” the Gentleman answers. “That matter is private, and any discussion of its details shall be between Miss Rei and myself. Have you any other inquiries?”
“Yes. What do I have to do to you and your men before you give me a straight answer on what happened to Imako here?”
Our eyes lock; a battle of wills plays out to the tune of a long-dead soprano’s ode to the mountains of a long-dead planet. I don’t break eye contact to look, but I can sense Vendici’s discomfort.
At last, the Butcher speaks, in the same prim, friendly tone. “Well, I suppose killing me and the majority of our guild would make one of our members more inclined to speak freely, but as long as I am here, death awaits those who divulge such affairs to outsiders, no offense intended. They are in complete understanding of that arrangement. And I must warn you, killing me is not an easy prospect, Madame Jedi.”
“I’m not a Jedi.” I jab a thumb in Hai-soz’s direction. “Tex over there seemed pretty chatty.”
He leans forward. “To be terribly frank, we don’t trust him with much in the way of information. He’s – gosh, I hate to be so forward – afflicted with a slight psychotic disorder.”
My eyes widen. “No!”
Gent frowns. “Yes, I’m afraid it’s true. I hope you don’t think me a gossip, or I might have to kill you.”
“Not at all. The power is obviously in the hands of the sane here. So, can you tell me where Imako went when she left Temphos?”
“Our latest intelligence placed her on Corellia, if you must know. What is all this about, exactly?”
“She’s dead, GB. And you just landed the first suspect role. Congrats.” I point my saber hilt at the pair while I walk away. “I’ll be watching you, boys.”
The Gentleman turns to Vendici. “GB? I have deciphered the meaning of the acronym, yet my confusion persists.”
I’m out of the club and walking down the street when I hear my name. I turn; it’s the helmeted merc from inside, waiting in an alley along my route. The friend of Imako Rei, according to Hai-soz. “Aria Roserain.”
“Why are you asking about Imako?”
“Is this my first get-off-the-case intimidation?”
“Did…did something happen to her?”
“Not something. Death.”
“Oh Force. Oh Force.” Beccalon, that’s what Hai-soz called him. This is the man Imako was seeking at Urôr’s shop. Sym Beccalon. What’s the connection?
“How do you know her?”
He takes off his helmet. The resemblance is startling. “I’m her brother. My name is Lang Rei.”
“Not Sym Beccalon,” I note.
“It’s an alias. I’m a non-user mercenary with a Jedi sister. Did you expect me to wear my real name?” He sighs. “I hadn’t seen Imako in years ‘til she found me somehow.”
She showed your face to Urôr. But you don’t know that, and don’t need to.
“She’d left the Order. Got involved with the Shadow Watch, and of course got into trouble with Gent. I told her to flee the world, gave her some credits.” He wipes his hand over his face. “I’m an awful brother. I wish…I wish she’d never found me. Her face is so clear in my head. She’s…How did it happen?”
I swallow. “Murder, Lang. Exactly how big was her trouble with the Shadow Watch?” He walks away, into the darkness of the alley. “Lang?”
Hyperspace Investigations, Apt. 12B, 3692 Fifth Street, Coronet, Corellia
Corellia’s a lead, but it’s a vague one. Planet-size vague. I decide to try and dive into the clues Imako gave me. There has to be something of use in there, locked up in my brain from our little psychic connection.
I sit in the office and close my eyes. I search my subconscious for the memories that don’t belong to me. I’m finding nothing. Suddenly, it’s all there at once, nothing makes sense, I’m drowning, but my throat burns. Fragments flash by but never whole. A blaster bolt hits me in the gut. Just as quickly, I’m back in the office, gasping for air. I ended up on the floor somehow; the chair is upturned a meter away.
“Ow.” Eloquent, I know. I don’t know if your brain has ever convinced your body you’ve taken a lethal pistol blast, but it hurts. I slowly get to my feet.
I did get one clear clue out of it. I saw a business card – Jal Tsulen, director of Aroq Enterprises. The address is right here in Coronet. I go to the desk to start researching. A moment later, a flood of information pours from the Holonet to my fingertips. Aroq Enterprises is a private security firm, selling protection to the rich and powerful. But a cross-reference to the database Djerro’s been putting together tells me it’s a cover for the army of crime lord Graff Cross. Jal Tsulen is a disgraced New Republic Intelligence officer. As associate director, he sold information to an evil organization called The Network. Now he’s stuck on Corellia, working for a mobster – and not even an important one. I wonder aloud how Imako knew him.
Oh Force, she’s there again. I am officially haunted. “Why didn’t you tell me about your brother?”
“I’m not just a character in your story, Aria. I have – well, had – my own life, and I didn’t tell you everything in it. Lang and I had been separated for years. It’s complicated, but we didn’t part on good terms. He told you all this; is it so hard to imagine me not divulging that?”
“Well…I guess not.” I’m being admonished by a ghost. It’s so surreal I want to scream.
Then she says something more constructive. “Friends don’t give friends their business cards. Well, I should go. I’m dead tired!” Imako laughs that bubbly laugh behind a ghastly blue hand, and then she’s gone again.
Silent victims have to be more cooperative than this.
Aroq Enterprises, 4818 Thirteenth Street, Coronet, Corellia
I head down to Aroq headquarters. It’s a large building, but far short of skyscraper requirements. I still ache from feeling Imako’s murder from her perspective, and now it’s raining. I put up my hood, not caring about the Dark Jedi image Wes would accuse me of exuding. After all, my lightsaber’s still green. When it works.
You see, my saber is an unreliable homemade model I cobbled together shortly after Skywalker kicked me from the Jedi Academy. His lips said I was more than welcome to come back with a more receptive attitude. His eyes said he didn’t trust me with the floating rocks, much less an unstoppable beam of green energy. Of course, it’s not like I could afford to switch to Sith red if I wanted to. I wonder if I’d scare thugs more with crimson.
Anyway, I hit a bit of luck right from the start. Aroq’s long-legged secretary girl is weak-minded enough for even me to pull off a mind trick. I’m in a personal meeting with Jal Tsulen in moments. Or rather, interrupting one.
Both he and a woman in the Aroq uniform rise when I barge in. She’s a tall pale Core native with high cheekbones and the physique of an amphistaff – improbably thin and deadly if used as a weapon. He’s a powerfully-built brown-skinned man with harsh features bearing a harsher expression. Over his gray Imperial-style suit is a deep ruby cloak or something – it looks like some kind of culturally significant scarf, but I’m not exactly a fashionista. Tsulen’s eyes are framed by dark circles and lines; his beard is a perpetual unshaven shadow. This job hasn’t been good to him. I figure this all out by observation, because the Force just disappeared. My eyes flick to a strange animal in a cage in the corner of the office. Ysalimiri.
“Ah, Mr. Tsulen. You spoke with an associate of mine?”
“Who are you?” His voice doesn’t change a bit. A cool customer.
“My name’s Aria Diabet. I’m not a Dark Jedi, but I hit as hard as one. Our mutual friend is Imako Rei.”
“Oh, Miss Rei. Has she considered my offer?”
“I doubt it. She’s dead.”
“A shame.” Ice-cool. Unlike the lady, who’s focused intently on the carpet like the secrets of the universe have been printed in the fabric. Regret? Something secretive, anyway.
“Where did you get the pet, Mr. Tsulen?”
“The ysalamiri came directly from Myrkr by special order. I’ve owned one for years. The species fascinates me.”
“So you kept one in your NRI office too? Of course, something as unmystical as a Holonet message exposed your betrayal, no Jedi mind-reading required.”
He squints. “I’ve committed no crime.”
“You were convicted of no crime, but we both know better. You did, however, lose your job, and descended to working for a gangster’s militia. Here on Corellia, you met Imako Rei, for whom mind-reading is no difficult feat. You met her away from your office. No cushy chair, no…pets.”
I lock glares with the older man. “So you gave her your card and had her come by the office, where she was just a regular girl. You shot her, Jal, or had someone else do it, and took her lightsaber. You dumped her on meaner streets to bleed to death.” I raise an eyebrow. “Did I hit all the highlights? What secrets did you fear she read? Evidence against your pal Cross? Or maybe old Network conspiracies that haven’t been figured out yet? What was worth Imako’s life?”
“I met with Imako Rei,” he replies, “to offer her a job. Her talents could have been of value to our firm.”
“Or, you offered her a bribe because her knowledge could have been damaging to your firm? She was too squeaky clean for that, Jal.”
“She left alive and unharmed, Miss Diabet. I and Aroq Enterprises had nothing to do with her death. You would do well to leave now.”
I wait a couple seconds before departing. I’m outside the building, considering hailing a speeder, when the tall skinny woman from Tsulen’s office comes up to me. She’s got a cigarette in her mouth that she’s trying to light in the pouring rain.
“Miss Diabet? My name is Zee Baduis.”
“Jal Tsulen didn’t take Imako Rei’s lightsaber.”
“That is the accusation you choose to deny?”
“You took a perfectly healthy, fit Force-sensitive’s lightsaber? One, how; two, why?”
“The ysalamiri helped, but I’ve had…training.” The dirty mob security lady has extralegal skills. Big surprise. “I wanted her to live.”
“By taking her weapon?”
“That weapon,” Baduis says earnestly, “identified her as a Jedi. It made her a target.”
“A target for what?”
She glances about conspiratorially. “The terentatek!”
“The serial killer targeting Force-users. He killed a Jedi out on Muunilist three and a half weeks back, and another two here on Corellia in the past two weeks. I liked the kid, okay? I didn’t want to see her end up a victim of that monster. Looks like she did anyway.”
I can’t believe I haven’t heard of this “terentatek” business. If Baduis is right, and Imako was hit by a serial, I’m in serious danger. I know immediately who I need to talk to.
“Hey, Miss Diabet?”
I turn back and look at the lady. She takes the cigarette out of her mouth and tosses it down a drain on the curb. “Watch yourself out there, all right?”
CorSec Coronet Headquarters, One CorSec Plaza, Coronet, Corellia
What kind of killer does it take to eliminate armed Jedi – and maybe one unarmed Force-user – on a weekly basis? One with an ysalamiri perhaps? An alien with fantastic reflexes? A battle droid or cyborg with the same?
Or another user?
I head down to CorSec HQ through the continuing downpour to find some answers. I enter, shake the water from my hair, and approach the reception area.
“I’m looking for Detective Mueller.”
The droid at the desk hesitates a moment. “Name?”
The droid hesitates again, tilting its head. “Detective Mueller says he is not in today.”
“Tell him it’s for truth, justice, and the Light Side.”
“…He’s just laughing.”
I roll my eyes. Why is that so hard to believe? I’m not a Dark Jedi, really.
“He wants to meet you in the morgue,” the droid reports.
Marth Mueller is waiting for me in the crisp white room with gloves of the same color on his dark-skinned hands. He’s a young man with a patch of hair on his chin, and uncontrollable locks curling off his head like a black halo in need of upkeep. Mueller went to CorSec Academy with my brother. He’s Hyperspace Investigations’ CorSec contact.
“I hate these visits.”
And he’s oh so happy about it.
“Mueller…” I start.
“Helping out private eyes is not CorSec policy, believe it or not. We apparently have cases of our own to solve, without your interference, not to mention all that peace-keeping. Protect and serve? No thanks, some freelancers would like some autopsy reports accidentally slipped into their computer files. First things first, you know,” he rants. He always gets like this.
“Marth,” I try again, “why the morgue?”
He raises a finger and pulls on a sleek silver drawer in the wall. A Falleen corpse is in the drawer, with a wound to the chest. “Recognize him?”
I look again. Vaguely. “He was at the Jedi Academy for a couple of my earlier years there.”
He holds up a clear evidence bag with a lightsaber hilt inside. “He was found in Correalis last week. Week before that, a human male with an old saber, a loud mouth, and a non-existent midichlorian count, was killed the same way in New Iodef.”
“We’re working on that.” He frowns. “Just…be careful, Diabet.”
“You’re not the first person to tell me that today. It’s getting old.”
“So is this information sharing, and here I am,” Mueller says with his face set in a stony frown, “smiling bright.”
“All right, so do you think Imako Rei was killed by the same person?”
“You’re asking for my opinion? My investigative brilliance?” He sticks his hands in his trenchcoat pockets. “You people usually just take the evidence and run.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not a detective.”
“Yeah right, and you’re not a Dark Jedi either, I suppose?” Mueller gives my all-black outfit a look up and down. He sighs. “It’s hard to say. This killer has practically no defining traits, no signature. It’s just bam, blaster shot to the torso. Not sure how he sneaks up on them, or gets that bolt past their sabers – except in the New Iodef one, where he wasn’t really a Jedi, just a braggart. Until we figure out the murder weapon and can match them all up, there’s no way to tell.”
“Okay. Thanks, Mueller.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m a kriffin’ saint. Get out of here before I arrest you.”
Hyperspace Investigations, Apt. 12B, 3692 Fifth Street, Coronet, Corellia
I’m in the office again, thinking over the case and where to go next. Did the Shadow Watch catch up with Imako Rei for whatever grievance came of her interaction with them? Was it her estranged brother Lang? Family problems can get heavy – murder heavy. Or did the mind-reader-paranoid Jal Tsulen fear being compromised? Or was it the serial killer still at large, targeting Force-users? One of my enemies trying a very strange way to get to me? Someone else entirely?
Maybe I’m not cut out for this investigative thinking business. I prefer already knowing who the bad guy is and shooting that guy in the kneecap.
The doorbell chimes. I open it to a young, clean-shaven, soft-faced, red-headed man who seems to have just stepped out of Cute Innocent Children Digest, possibly alongside Imako. “Aria Diabet?”
“I’m Milo Nolav. I’m a friend of Imako’s.”
“Of course you are. Come in.”
He does. Nolav skitters to the nearest chair and hovers over it awkwardly. What has him so spooked?
“You okay?” I ask.
“I’m a Jedi.”
He finally collapses into the chair, looking exhausted. “It’s the terentatek. He’s still out there.”
“Worried he’ll attack you too?”
“Yes. Imako and I were at the academy together. I joined after you’d left, but she spoke of the great Aria Diabet, who left Yavin for her own way in the galaxy. And then, that’s what she tried to do. She left us because…” The rage in his voice is enough to tell me he thinks my example is what got Imako killed. He chokes back the tears and dabs at his eyes with a red handkerchief. “I came here to try to convince her to come back.” If he starts ranting about our place in the Force and Master Skywalker’s grand vision, I’ll have to vomit. “She wasn’t interested. She blew me off. I…I should have said something else, done something more.”
I nod in a supportive listener kind of way. It feels unnatural. “I’m working on bringing her killer to justice right now,” I tell him. “The case is…” My comlink again. I sigh and answer.
“It’s Mueller. We got him.”
“You got who?”
“Inaius Bane. The terentatek. He’s the guy, Aria. I think I can get you into the interrogation. You interested?”
“You, Mueller, are my favorite cop ever. Leave some killer for me.”
Milo looks more confused and sad than ever. “What was that?”
I answer, “A break in the case.”
CorSec Coronet Headquarters, One CorSec Plaza, Coronet, Corellia
I came down immediately, and now I’m meeting Mueller outside the holding room. Through the one-way transparisteel, I can see this “terentatek,” Inaius Bane. He’s a skinny, nearly skeletal man, but he doesn’t look weak. He looks like a lean predator. His eyes are dark and set back so that his heavy brow bathes them in shadow. A line-thin mustache makes a constant shadow on his upper lip. Bane pulls a deep ruby cloth from his pocket and dabs at a minor wound on the back of his hand.
“We sure that’s him?”
“Positive,” Mueller assures me. “We just don’t have quite enough evidence yet. We’re hoping the interrogation will point us to something else we can use to put him away.”
“Then let’s go.”
“Not so fast, Diabet. I only convinced the chief to let you in because he thinks you’ll be able to read Bane’s thoughts,” reveals Mueller.
I neglect to mention that I can do no such thing.
Mueller and a burly CorSec officer I don’t know enter the cell with me. Bane eyes my lightsaber and licks his chapped lips. Mueller starts, taking a seat across the table from Bane. “Hello, Inaius. Tell me, how did you hurt your hand?”
Bane ignores Mueller entirely to fix his dark eyes on me. “Do you have a name, young lady?”
“Inaius.” Mueller snaps his fingers in front of Bane’s face. “I’ll ask the questions.”
Bane’s gaze moves from me to Mueller and back again. Again he addresses me. “Is this man your…” He bites his lip as he looks for the right word. “…special friend? Hmm?”
Mueller shoves the table forward sharply, into Bane’s ribs. “Was I unclear before?” he hisses.
Bane blinks away the pain, and refocuses on me. “What’s your name, girl? You seem local. I bet your address is listed.”
I don’t give him the pleasure of a reaction.
“I don’t have to hurt him, Madame Jedi.”
“You don’t want to threaten an officer,” Mueller informs him.
For the first time since we walked in, he speaks to the CorSec detective sitting across from him. “It’s not about what I want. It’s about what’s best for the galaxy. I even have your interests at heart, Detective.” He leans forward, looks up from under his heavy brow, and lowers his voice further. “I really, really do.”
“Then maybe you can tell me how you hurt your hand.”
“I burnt it cooking.”
Mueller raises an eyebrow. “Cooking.”
“Even bad men must eat, Detective.”
“And what makes you a bad man?”
Bane sits back and shrugs his shoulders. “My upbringing? My nature? Perhaps a traumatic event in my life story? Would that make you feel better? Hmm?”
“Do you own a blaster, Inaius?”
“A BlasTech pistol, to be precise,” he replies.
“Where is it?”
Bane’s lips tighten. “I’m afraid I already jettisoned it into space, Detective. If you want to look, be my guest, but it’s a lot of area to cover, even for Corellia’s finest.”
Mueller tosses pictures of the victims onto the table. “This woman was killed on Muunilist almost a month ago. She’d been attending the Yavin IV Jedi Academy only a year. This man was killed in Correalis; he was a Jedi knight who fought the Yuuzhan Vong. This man was killed in New Iodef. He used his Jedi training and lightsaber to make his way through the underworld.”
“I recognize them.”
“From where?” asks Mueller.
Bane squints. “Have you ever fired your weapon in – how do you say it – the line of duty? Hmm?”
Bane clears his throat. He gives the officer a look as if Mueller is the maniac in the room. “I’ll, uh, I’ll take that as a yes?” Bane leans forward again. “Do you remember the men you killed? Yes? Then you know them, the way I know these… people.”
I interrupt with a question, causing Mueller to shoot me a quick glare. “Why?”
That catches Bane’s attention. “And there it is! The Force is evil, Madame Jedi. Maybe inherently, maybe not, but that…that point is moot because it is put into practice by universally flawed sentient beings. The Jedi, just because they spout peace and have all these vague moral precepts, are not good. All the wars, do you know what they boil down to? Hmm? It’s a couple factions of users with petty differences, the most substantial being their names. The Jedi – heh – the Jedi can always be counted on to produce a new madman every decade or so, label him a Sith, and the two will start a conflict that’ll kill more innocents. How noble.”
Bane goes on. “They have to be stopped.” He points at me with bound hands. “You, you have to be stopped. Or at least controlled. My old namesake Darth Bane had the right idea limiting the Sith to two. But even then that was enough to destroy countless lives. You think we need them; we don’t. There’ll be life after the Force. Paradise.”
“I lied, Inaius. Just like this man.” Mueller points to the man from New Iodef. “We did the tests, and he wasn’t any more Force-sensitive than the next guy. He found an old Clone Wars lightsaber and claimed to be a user because he wasn’t really that remarkable of a thug. Does killing normal bystanders fit into your grand scheme to end the Jedi’s casualties?”
Bane is amused. “You actually think midichlorians matter? I know you work in law enforcement, but are you really that dim? It’s the idea of Jedi and Sith and what-have-you. The Force philosophies are the danger, Detective, th- the high seat our so-called culture has placed these wizards on. And those things…Those are much more powerful than any lightsaber.”
Mueller tilts his head. “Okay. What do you know about this woman?” He slides a picture of Imako onto the table. “Did you kill her too?”
Bane leans forward to examine the picture. “Was she a Jedi? I assume she’s dead, and that’s why you show me this? Trying to increase your Solved Cases pile? Hmm?” He shakes his head. “I didn’t kill this girl.”
“So you admit to these other killings, but not to this particular one?”
Bane raises his eyebrows. “Why? Are you worried you might have to do your job? Don’t expect sympathy from me, Detective.” A horrific smile creeps over his face. “I like mine.”
Once we’re back outside the interrogation room, a Devaronian technician from the forensics lab comes to Mueller with a report in her hand.
“What is this?” he asks.
“Imako Rei, sir. We matched her wound to a blaster pistol in the database.”
“Her own, sir.”
Mueller looks over the report. “She was shot with her own blaster?”
“Since when does she have a gun?” I ask.
The tech replies as if Mueller posed the question. “She bought it two and a half weeks ago on Temphos.”
“No,” the tech and I answer at the same time. I’m ignored. She elaborates. “For one, the angle is all wrong. She was shot at about a 45 degree angle from below, at extreme close range. She and the killer were standing face to face, very close, when the killer shot her with the weapon at her gut level – probably hip height for our murderer. Secondly, no one shoots themselves in the gut, then wanders away. It just doesn’t make logical sense.”
“Sometimes things don’t,” Mueller says. “But I see your points. Do we know where her pistol is now?”
“Well, we still don’t know where our original crime scene is; our people are still combing the vicinity around the Diabet woman’s office, but we’ve not found anything yet.” I flash the tech a glare that also goes ignored. “Could have been left there, or the killer might have taken it with him or her.”
“Any word on the terentatek victims?”
“Matches, sir. They were killed by the same weapon. Except for Rei, of course.”
“Unfortunately, if Bane really did destroy the blaster, we’ll have nothing to match them against. We’ll need a warrant; I want to search Bane’s place A.S.A.P.,” Mueller declares. His eyes flick to me. “Anything from Bane’s head we can follow up on?”
I improvise some Jedi-sounding blather. “His mind is clouded with, uh, insanity. I couldn’t get anything.”
Mueller smirks briefly before hiding it. “Okay then. Good luck with your side.”
“Same to you, Marth.”
Hyperspace Investigations, Apt. 12B, 3692 Fifth Street, Coronet, Corellia
I’ve just finished dressing after a shower to clear my mind and am lacing up my boots. This case is driving me crazy.
Speaking of which, my hallucination is here.
“Imako, please, just tell me what happened.”
The ghost smirks. “Aria, haven’t you learned anything from our friend Urôr?”
“Was it Bane?”
She’s ignoring my question. Imako strolls past me, hands clasped together behind her back. She stops and I can see the desk through her. “If you talk straight, nobody’s fascinated. We mystics – doomed to be spooky and cryptic. Tell me, does this ghost business bother you more or less than my bubbly Jedi self in life?” She holds up a hand. “You don’t have to answer that. I don’t want to be a burden…or much of a help, right?”
“Imako, what did you mean?”
The ghost of the girl I didn’t care for smiles in a confused way. “By what?”
“Imako, how did your friendship with me kill you? Was it our association? One of my enemies? I’m helpless here doing the detective work.”
“Oh, I’m sure you can work violence into the investigation somehow to keep yourself in your element,” she teases. “Aria, right now, it’s not the dead you should concern yourself with, but the fate of the living. Your answers aren’t in a grave. Not yet anyway.”
I hang my head between my knees for a moment. My comlink buzzes on the desk. Sighing, I sit back up on the edge of the chair. Imako has disappeared, of course. I go and answer it.
“Aria? Mueller here. It’s about Bane. He escaped.”
“It was while we were moving him,” explains Mueller. “He killed an officer, Aria. This man is inhumanly fast. I don’t know if he has some kind of enhancements our scans didn’t see, or what, but he took out three of our best in as many seconds. We’ve checked satellite records, but we lost him in the underground.
“Meanwhile, we’ve been doing our best to find evidence. We’re pretty sure the place we searched – and are currently staking out – is something he keeps, and that he lives elsewhere, but we can’t figure out where.”
“I have to go, Marth, thank you.”
I shove the comlink into my pocket and grab a spare blaster pack from the desk. I rush out of the office, hoping I’m not too late.
The UnderTerra Coronet Hotel, Room 40A, 2203 First Street, Coronet, Corellia
Milo is staying at this hotel; I know that from background research after Bane’s interrogation. So’s Bane; they both had those distinctive red handkerchiefs with the hotel logo embroidered on them. I’d wager that a room here is Bane’s real home that Mueller’s been looking for.
I rush past the reception droid and past the turbolift to the archaic spiral staircase. I bound up two steps at a time. His room’s on the fifth floor and Bane surely had a head start. Once I arrive at the proper story, it’s a race down the hallway to his room. The door is closed and locked. I pound on the false wood.
“Milo! Milo! Open the door, Nolav!” I hear a crash inside and reach out with the Force. I sense Nolav and an evil presence that must be Bane. My homemade lightsaber sparks to life on the second try, and I slash my way in. The serial killer is standing over Milo, who lies on his back among the remnants of a decorative vase that simulated real art.
“Bane.” I point my saber at him. “Put the blaster down.”
His eyes are lit with murderous glee – pure focused insanity, in fact. I’d be more than happy to take him down permanently, but I really don’t want to deal with him shooting Milo as he goes down. I don’t know him, but I didn’t even like Imako and her dying in my arms was horrible.
Nolav speaks, tears running from red eyes. “Let him.”
“It’s my fault, Aria. It’s my fault Imako’s dead!”
I give him an annoyed glare, then fix my eyes back on Bane for any sudden moves. “We covered this, Milo; you’re not to blame. Imako didn’t want to go back to the Jedi Academy, and you couldn’t have changed her mind…” The idiot’s emotional driveling is almost enough to convince me to do just what he asks.
“You don’t understand,” he sobs. He closes his eyes and grabs my leg just above my boot.
Suddenly the rest of the story is playing out in my head like a nightmare. It’s like before, with Imako. But this time, I don’t feel the pain of Imako’s mortal wound; instead I see through Milo Nolav’s eyes. He’s arguing with her, but she’s too stubborn. She’s lost her saber, carries a blaster now of all things, gotten mixed up with criminals, where’s her friend Aria now? He reaches for the pistol to take it from her, he has to talk some sense into her, she won’t give it up, blast it, Imako–
In my mind, in Milo’s memories, Imako dies by an accidental close-range shot by her own blaster pistol in an argument with her friend. No grand schemes, or revenge plots, or deep family dispute between the Jedi and the hired killer, or murderer with a vendetta. Just a mistaken jostle of the trigger among two excessively nice people who’d probably never held a blaster in their lives.
I come back to the present and not a moment has passed.
Bane’s lips curl into a smile as thin as his mustache. “You heard the man, Madame Jedi.”
He fires. Time slows. I reach out to deflect the bolt with my saber. Its tip slides in front of the scarlet beam, but the sword flickers in and out of existence, green sparks lighting the air around it. I hear the blast hit its mark.
With a shake of the hilt, my lightsaber stabilizes again. Bane’s blaster is turning to me now, even as he takes a step back. I slash from high left to low right, but he backs out of the way. He’s fast, impossibly fast. He fires a shot at my face. My saber swats it away. We stand about four meters away from one another, his pistol trained on me, and my lasersword poised to defend.
“Bane, I’m not the Jedi here.”
Bane rolls his eyes. “Oh, of course, you’re a Force adept for hire. I’ll admit, the least damaging of users, but a user nonetheless.”
I scoff. “Gee, thanks. But I don’t mean Nolav either. You’re Force-sensitive, Bane. You’re what you hate.”
“How were you able to kill those Jedi? You’re just a human. The Dark Side is strong in you, Inaius; I can feel it.”
“You’re lying,” he growls.
“You’re lying to yourself.”
Bane’s dark eyes seem to be hiding under his brow; they’re darting back and forth nervously. “This…This is a gift to help me accomplish my purpose,” he says with a wavering tone.
“From the Force,” I say.
My lightsaber is ripped from my hands. It deactivates in the air and lands harmlessly on a chair in the corner of the room. Telekinesis. Unharnessed, misunderstood, but there. He could rip everything in the room apart, but he’s in such deep denial, he can’t focus it. The man is a storm he can’t control.
He says something about Jedi scum and pulls the trigger. I dive to the right, but the bolt catches me in the calf. I fall into a weak pseudo-wood table, which shatters on impact. I immediately try to get back up but my leg buckles under me. I’m wounded. I can’t move. My saber is far from reach. Bane approaches, one foot placed deliberately in front of the other. I reach to the Force and call my saber to me. Bane snarls, and his rage manifests itself in a telekinetic burst that sends me sliding across the floor. My saber lands behind him somewhere. “Aria,” he says, finally having learned my name, “you came so close. You rejected the Jedi and Sith. But the gray path you chose is – in the end – a Force-using path.” He points the blaster down at my head. “You could have been somethi–”
His pistol drops to the floor, scarred from the shot I put into it. Next Bane drops, from the one I put in him.
I scoot over to the nearest chair and use it to pull myself to my good foot. I holster my blaster again and reach out. This time the lightsaber flies into my hand. I clip it to my belt, and then reach to the Force again to make sure Bane’s dead. He is. The bolt went through his heart. Surprising he had one.
I hobble over to where Milo still lies. He’s not gone yet, but he will be soon. “Milo. Milo, hang on. I’m going to take you to the hospital. Don’t stop fighting. Don’t die on me.” I reach to pick him up, but he’s using his waning strength to make it hard for me.
“Aria.” His innocent baby face has turned ashen, and there’s blood coming from his mouth. “I loved her. I already died…when she did.”
I wonder. Would it have been easier or worse if he hadn’t died in my arms?
Hyperspace Investigations, Apt. 12B, 3692 Fifth Street, Coronet, Corellia
After getting my leg wound patched up with bacta and giving my statement about a million times to CorSec, I finally am able to return to the office. Mueller vouched for my honesty, but he warned me afterwards that I am on “favor-probation” and shouldn’t expect him to do anything for me for at least two months. I give him a week and a half ‘til he begrudgingly forgets about that.
I collapse into the chair behind the desk and look at the stenciling on the door. A serial killer is dead. But so are Imako and Milo, tragic lovers meeting early ends like some kind of old play I’d read in literature class. She left the Order searching for her brother, though she didn’t want anyone to know their connection. Neither did Lang. Found him, got in deep with a mercenary guild, and fled out of that into the crosshairs of a criminal organization, and the target demographic and area of a serial killer. Yet her killer was the noble Jedi friend who loved her too much to let her throw her life into such a mess. I didn’t even get a cool bad guy to hit with evidence at the station in one of those here’s-what-happened monologues that my brother and Djerro get when they solve a case.
But I did get to shoot Bane, so that was nice.
And maybe, just maybe, I restored my sanity.
“Hi, Aria,” Imako says.
“I learned the truth, Imako. The case is closed. Can you please stop haunting me?”
Her eyes widen. “Please, Aria? That’s not something I expected from your mouth. Maybe, Stop haunting me or I’ll kill you again?” She smiles. “I’m just kidding, of course. Your blaster bolts would go right through me. No, I’m done now. It was an unfortunate accident.”
“Then why did you want me to find your killer?”
“To do exactly what you did. Try to save him. You’re a good friend, Aria Diabet, whether you know it or not, and with Bane and all, you just saved some of the Jedi you dislike so much.” She holds out her shimmering blue hand as if I’m supposed to shake the ethereal thing. “Welcome to the good guys.” She pulls her hand away, instantly dissolving into the air. Her disembodied voice comes next. “Psych.” And then she’s gone forever.
I feel like vomiting. I didn’t get paid, I did something “good,” and I am quite possibly a hallucinating lunatic. I have earned some time off to wind down. I think I’ll go shoot some mob enforcers; that should calm my stomach.
I’m standing up to go for my lightsaber when the door opens. Wes and Djerro are back, and they’re arguing as usual. Wes’s hair is oddly spiked and damp.
“I’m just saying you could have pulled me back into the vehicle before taking it over the water.”
Djerro shakes his head. “That gang was right on top of us; there wasn’t time. It’s mostly your fault you were hanging halfway out the door in the middle of a high-speed chase anyway. Hello, Aria. Anything interesting happen while we were out?”
I glance to where Imako’s ghost had been standing, then meet the detective’s eyes. “Nothing at all.”
Original cover by The_Face. HTML formatting copyright 2009 TheForce.Net LLC.