Title: Dr. Nema and the Assassin in Yellow Author: Mechalich Timeframe: 22 BBY, 35 Days after the Battle of Geonosis Characters: Rig Nema, Ven Morne (OC), Takul (OC), Major Kayi (OC) Genre: Science Fiction Adventure Keywords: Jedi, Doctor, Clone Wars, Coruscant Underworld, Police, Bioweapon, Assassin, Militia Summary: As a wave of mysterious killings spreads through the Coruscant Underworld Dr. Nema must struggle to solve the puzzle and secure a solution before chaos explodes. Notes: This story is connected to my Dear Diary Challenge 2020, being an extension of Dr. Nema's overall tale. It takes place between entries 7 & 8 of that work. Readers who haven't read that should be able to understand this piece, but some context will be missing. Dr. Nema and the Assassin in Yellow Cracked raw, furiously red, and stained with dark patches of dried blood, the head tendrils twitched and shuddered as the scanner slowly slid its way along their surface. Each motion, an inevitable somatic reaction despite the patient's best efforts to stay still, caused him to clench in pain. Slender and delicate, elongate ribbons of stiffened cartilaginous tissue, the tendrils responded to tiny motions in the scalp muscles, shifted in feedback to changes in air motion so slight that normal human-standard1 senses could not perceive them. Motion was intrinsic to their sensory function, even as it wracked the body with pain and exacerbated the damage. “The root cause is a bacterial infection,” Nema spoke softly, her voice calm, controlled, careful. Talking often served to reassure her patient, but it depended upon a specific tone of voice. People, especially those in trying circumstances, a category that encompassed almost the entirety of the Bucket's resident population, placed immense trust in professional doctors. Such faith carried expectations. Pressure to be infallible, to know everything with absolute certainty and confidence beyond all reasonable medical expectation. It weighed heavily upon each interaction. Doubly so, Nema believed, in her case. The wealthy residents of Galactic City might sneer at Jedi and regard them as religious parasites on their glitzy society. Almost four thousand levels down the people lacked the luxury of such prejudice. Whether driven by reverence or fear, they just wanted miracles. “Standard antibiotics should have purged the infection, but it looks like the medical droid didn't take into account the unique epithelial structure that comprises Mikkian2 tendrils and treated it with a compound suitable for dermal conditions instead. As a result, it took a long time for the drugs to penetrate across the scalp-tendril barrier and your body metabolized the majority of the active dose before it could have an effect.” Carefully she withdrew the scanner and placed it aside for disinfection. “Consequently, the infection lingered and led to secondary damage that penetrated into the cartilage rods.” Nema circled about the lone examination bed in her tiny clinic space with small steps, no rapid motions. “The good news is that your body has almost completely eliminated the infection.” She reached down and offered the unfortunate Mikkian a gentle tap on the shoulder, hands far away from the long tendrils. “And we can finish it off right now.” Without turning, she shifted her tone of voice subtly, modulation dropped into cold and business-like formality. She directed a command to her sole assistant, a frightful black tripod of too many limbs and gleaming edges that rested on the opposite side of the station, tucked in under the stairs. “Dee-Dee, I need 10 mLs of Actenicsin3 suitable for deep muscle injection, standard physiological base.” “Acknowledged.” The black-plated machine's torso spun and its fear-inducing limbs began to extract supplies and process materials with extraordinary speed and rapidity. Confident in the droid's abilities, Nema shifted over to look down directly into the dark blue eyes of her patient. Olive-skinned, the Mikkian's broad face struggled with the distortions of constant pain. Streaks of red marked the edges of those eyes. Even the green forehead tattoo, its geometric design unknown to Nema but apparently of incredible importance among the species, seemed wracked and faded. The doctor pressed a soft smile she did not truly feel across her features. It would seem genuine, she knew, long practice had insured this. “Now, the tricky part here is healing your tendrils.” Carefully, motion isolated to eyes alone, she let her expression move up and across the damaged tissue before returning to mirror her patient's vision. “The simplest and most effective method would be bacta spray to saturation.” Nema fought hard to keep her expression positive. It was not easy. The circumstances, and the growing nervous feedback pushed up through the Force by the subject pressed up against her resolve. Jedi-trained mental architecture insulated against this, but never completely. “However, that is also the most expensive, and I'm afraid my own supplies of bacta are too limited to expend in a non-critical case. Do you understand?” “Yeah,” he did not nod. That would have required him to move his head. The Force confirmed his recognition of the circumstances, along with a virulent red blast of resentment at them. Nema was better at filtering that expression. Knowing she was not the target aided immeasurably. It did not, however, prevent bitter contemplation of the context. That current was not so easily escaped. “So what can I do?” the Mikkian pleaded. Waves of pain passed through him with each word. “We must minimize further damage and promote natural healing,” Nema announced. She tried to express maximum confidence and suppress all hesitancy. “I'm going to prescribe a powerful muscle relaxant, in cream form. It needs to be applied directly to the scalp, twice each day. That should cause the tendrils to relax and droop down. Once that happens, have them gathered together and wrapped up in a bag filled with warm saline solution.” She paused, considering. “Make certain it’s thoroughly cleaned beforehand. Do you have access to the materials?” “Yes,” the patient winced but spoke anyway. “I can get them from work.” Nema vaguely recalled that his profile stated he worked at some sort of metal-shaping workshop. “Good,” she confirmed. “Then you need to rest.” Knowing he would fight this instruction, for everyone on these levels was far too busy simply surviving, she bent closer to stress the importance. “I mean that. Your tendrils provide essential sensory feedback. With them wrapped up you'll be disoriented. If you try to work or drive you run a serious risk of hurting yourself or someone else. Do you understand?” The sternest physician's stare she could muster appended this remark. “Yes.” The truth, at least for now. Nema was very good at catching lies in the Force when dealing with a patient on the exam table, but their convictions had a distressing tendency to shift after they walked out the doors. She could only hope he listened. Without protection the damage might take weeks to heal, and the risk of secondary infection across such a wide surface area was extreme. Force send that the Mikkian's supervisor understood the need. Technically Republic law protected his job and his earnings due to medical needs, but Nema knew such rules meant little here. It made her furious to think about. She exhaled slowly and consciously extruded the anger into the nothingness beyond. Difficult, but necessary. Rage, righteous though it might be, would help neither her nor her patients. “Let me just formulate an appropriate relaxant.” She shuffled back to her scanner and pulled up the results. Such a unique tissue pattern would require a specific combination. Even as she processed commands through her pharmaceutical database she was greatly surprised when loud knocking resounded through the far door. Anger rushed back in. “I'm in an examination.” Nema shouted back, imperturbable medical voice lost. “You'll have to wait in line.” She knew it could not be an emergency case, Dee-Dee monitored the camera feed from her overcrowded little waiting room and operated a slightly callous but extremely efficient triage protocol. The droid's failure to speak up meant it wasn't any sort of medical issue. “It's Morne, Doctor,” the voice passed through the door deep and loud, accompanied by the distinct tenor of mechanical modulation characteristic of a helmet microphone. “And sorry, but it can't wait. You can come out or let me in, but it needs to be now.” Nema paused. For a moment she considered protesting, but swallowed it before the idea progressed anywhere. Office Morne visited every day, usually in time to help her close up, and while she was quite certain the regular attention from her largely unnecessary police liaison was driven by hormones, he had at least learned to recognize her work as important and serious. He would not interrupt her out of hand, so whatever the circumstances behind this demand, they were presumably important to someone with the authority to give him orders. Whether that made it significant to her remained to be seen. “I'm terribly sorry,” she apologized to her patient. Regret and aggravation spread through her, and she let them break through Jedi calm and walk across her face. “But Dee-Dee will be able to finish up the prescription.” The Mikkian blanched, but Nema forced out the internal reminder that the droid was highly competent despite being scary. “I'm afraid none of us can keep the CSF waiting.” She spun on one heel and shouted through the door, letting loose just a bit against the insulation. “Thirty seconds officer. Your speeder.” He'd be parked out front. He always was. That deadline gave her just enough time to briefly wash up, grab her field bag, and offer terse but sincere apologies to the dozen plus beings from almost as many species waiting in the compact back that served as the front of her improvised clinic. This last act transformed more irritation into real smoldering anger. “This had better be worth it,” she groused, voice hard, as she climbed into the passenger seat of the underworld police airspeeder. Officer Ven Morne, like every other member of the Underworld Police, wore a combination of mask, helmet, and red mechanical optical covers that completely obscured all facial features. Designed to protect the officers from the very real threat of reprisal by the underworld's seemingly endless array of crime syndicates4, they were quite effective at thwarting conventional identification methods. Even Nema, aided by the Force to recognize variance without vision, sometimes struggled to tell offices apart. They shared a remarkable commonality of surface mindset and emotional response. This particular officer, at least, no longer presented such difficulties. Familiarity had bridged the gap. The moment Nema strapped in Morne launched them into traffic. He switched on his flashers and plunged through the packed airspace expanse at a speed the doctor instantly discovered she was decidedly not comfortable with. Especially when the pilot lacked Force-guided reflexes to back up his reckless maneuvers. “What's going on?” she questioned in between sharp turns. Extreme haste and several all-too-close encounters with large garbage scows served to mollify her anger and imply the extraordinary importance behind this demand. “Priority One Case,” Officer Morne kept his red optics forward as he wove and pitched between speeders and cargo haulers. “And the Level Prefect5 himself sent the order to get you. No official details, but the chatter says someone important wound up dead.” “I'm not a Jedi Investigator6,” the response was practically reflex at this point, though the frustration remained. Aside from her patients, whose boundless gratitude formed an essential pillar supporting her resolve, seemingly everyone in the underworld expected her to be something she was not. “Or a medical examiner. The dead are beyond healing.” “Maybe,” Morne shrugged through the blatant noncommittal deflection of one who has heard the same thoughts voiced repeatedly and lacks the energy for an argument. “But you're the only Jedi for a thousand levels. That means you get the call.” He paused, silent for a moment while the speeder piloted a tight curve around several transmission towers. “Must be serious though. Management doesn't like to call for help. They think it’s bad press.” Nema registered nothing but confusion at this remark. “I don't understand,” she admitted after a long pause of trying and failing to solve the problem internally. “The higher-ups think that if we need Jedi help it means people will think we can't do our jobs,” Morne explained. Cynicism practically dripped out of the central notch in his mask. “Or at least that the Senate will think so and they'll cut the budget again. That means they not only think this one can't be solved without help, but that it’s more important to solve it that to take the hit for letting it go.” “That's awful,” Nema recognized the naivete of those words the moment they emerged from her mouth, but at the same time she felt no desire to recall them. No matter that this thing was true, a necessary reality of life here, it should not be so. She had no desire to accept it. Morne shrugged again. “That's just how it goes.” They fell into silence for the few remaining minutes of the journey. Somewhere during all the maneuvering Nema had completely lost track of where she was. They might have gone up a level, possibly two or three, and she suspected they'd traveled some distance northwest, but beyond this she had no idea. Everything in the Bucket tended to converge toward yellow industrial sameness, and landmarks were essentially non-existent. Machine built by droids working off identical pattern slates, the entire region did not resemble any city designed and built by sapients. Rather it appeared to have been extruded by some sort of gigantic city-molding industrial press. Disorientation was common even to natives. A recent visitor was helpless to maintain her spatial awareness. She wished, not for the first time, that she possessed a Knight's sense of place in the Force, and of the whole of the universe. Then she silently uttered a rebuke for entertaining such pointless daydreams. A Jedi must not be distracted by what they wish might be, but must focus instead on what is. The teaching carried her only a little ways, for it reminded her that if she was a better Jedi she'd not struggle so much with distractions. It left her in a circle without escape. Morne put the speeder down on a docking pad clamped to the outside of one of the peculiar multiple-column towers that the underworld generated, one whose central spire stretched from the base of the level all the way to its ceiling. A glance at the construction work was enough to mark it out as among the finer class of housing structures available, one deliberately constructed for habitation rather than re-purposed. Such places held the domiciles of the underworld's native rich, the private fortresses for use by those whose businesses, family ties, or general criminality prevented ascension to greater heights. Stout duracrete walls and narrow, slit-like windows masked the wealth behind a secure industrial veneer, but the high-end environmental systems, well-maintained docking mechanisms, and modern electronic network linkages gave the truth away even to Nema's inexperienced eyes. “Busy,” Morne noted upon arrival. Half-a-dozen other police speeders clustered on the pad, sufficient crowding that he had to squeeze his way in carefully. As he powered down the repulsors he tapped the unit's centrally-mounted comlink panel. “This is Officer KX-62347, arriving at scene with Jedi Rig Nema.” “Copy that,” another distinctly police voice replied. “Head in, we'll meet you at the hatch.” Nema anticipated a turbolift ride, but the masked officer merely led them two doors down the hall from the exterior hatch. Apparently whoever was involved in the case possessed enough money and influence to afford a suite with direct launch access. Two officers, faceless like all the others, stood outside the stout suite doorway. One of them held up a datapad and without a word snapped a quick picture directly in front of Nema's face. He tapped the screen several times, ignoring the furious look the Jedi shot him. “You're cleared to access the scene,” he announced. Unexpectedly he added a warning. “Crime scene analysis has swept the place, but it's been ordered left undisturbed for you. Watch out, it's not pretty.” When the door whisked open in the next moment the two new arrivals instantly discovered that this was a severe understatement. “Hell,” Morne muttered, an entire world of reaction compressed down to one stark syllable. Nema managed to hold on to silence, but her teeth clenched tight. It was considerably worse than she'd imagined. The suite itself was spacious and sumptuous, at least by underworld standards. Three bedrooms, a private office, two refreshers, full kitchen, and a wide common room waited just beyond the door. The visible furnishings appeared to be genuine nerf-hide, imported and expensive. On the open market the suite was probably valued above multi-story buildings with dozens of apartments, and doubtless exceeded the worth of Nema's tiny Jedi safehouse by at least an order of magnitude. It would have been a very nice residence, normally. Except gore liberally coated the common room. Blood spatter managed to touch every surface, floor to ceiling. Furniture stood darkened and blanketed by it. Puddled stains soaked through the plush carpeting. Some reached far enough that they dripped off the refresher door. Body parts, stained crimson above their natural coloration, lay scattered about the floor, mangled in a horrifyingly extensive number of ways. Three people, some part of Nema's mind calculated. Everything else had gone numb, but the trauma course training remained and asserted itself as her consciousness struggled to blot out the horrors. Bare assessment, devoid of caring, alien to the Force, took over. Pattern-matching gathered pieces together, assembled them, cleaned them up, and correlated them against other reports, images held deep in memory. Each body had been ripped apart, torn to pieces, limbs shredded from their sockets by a combination of immense power and wild savagery. The remnants were structured similarly beneath the skin, only the remaining epidermal fragments, some pinkish, others lime green, and the largest fraction coal black, differentiated them now. They were not alone in their terrible abattoir with the dead, and some semblance of order returned when the room's other living occupant spoke. “You're looking at the remains of Sector Administrator Ran Mikuris, along with his mistress and his bodyguard.” The speaker wore the same mask, helmet, and optics as Morne, complete with the armored coat, but he bore rank armbands on both forearms, and they were gold rather than yellow. He, for the speaker was clearly male by his timbre despite the helmet modulation, spoke with authority and strode across the blood soaked murder scene as if nothing could be allowed to impede him. This man, Nema suddenly realized, must be the Prefect, the highest ranking police official on the whole level, and, if the administrator was really dead, the senior remaining authority in the sector. “And this was not an isolated attack,” the prefect continued. “In the last twelve hours there have been eight brutal homicides, all directed against high-ranking officials on level 1316, including Level Governor Lwamanad. There were no survivors.” The political situation being what it was, Nema could fill in the rest herself. Not a murder, but an assassination, a series of coordinated attacks against the most senior officials of the Republic within reach. It could only be Seperatists, or at least their sympathizers, and it represented a strike stratospherically more substantial than the random bombings they'd been conducting too date. Nema had little experience with crime scenes, but the deductions behind this event were obvious. A plastic patch over a shattered window revealed that the attacked had simply slammed in through the transparisteel. The wounds on the bodies were clear, quite literally torn limb from limb by main force; no cutting or piercing injuries. Shocking in brutality, but utterly simple in mechanism. “A terrible crime, Prefect,” Nema looked directly at the obscuring optics to avoid contemplating the destroyed lives she stood among. “But why have you called for me? This seems very straightforward.” It hurt her to speak that sentence, true though it was. Monstrous as the crime might be, it was entirely the opposite of a complex mystery. “It does, doesn't it,” the Prefect turned about, head bent down towards the largest remaining section of the administrator's remains. “But Ran Mikuris was a pit fighter in his youth, kept himself in shape despite his age, and I know for a fact he always kept a vibroshiv in his boot.” The masked head turned toward a clump of large coal-shaded remains. “Then there's the bodyguard, over two meters and three hundred kilos of Herglic. That's a one on one match for a Wookiee, and Mikuris would have only hired a real fighter. But somehow our assassin blasts in through the wall and takes down both of them and the unlucky mistress before they can even call for help.” His whole body pivoted seamlessly until the red optics bored down on Nema. A tall man, he loomed furiously beneath his armor. “But I could almost believe that, seen plenty of deadly things crawl out from the lower levels in my day. No, the part I can't explain is that while I have a buffet of every possible piece of forensics you could imagine for the victims spread out on demand my best forensics team has been through this crime scene and all the others and they haven't found a single thing, not one tiny fragment, tied to the assassin.” He raised his arms, hands spread wide in a sweeping motion to encompass the devastation. “Can you tell me, Jedi, how in the hell a massacre like this could happen and there be no forensic evidence?” Nema could not. The statement was unbelievable. Even to her inexperienced eyes the signs of struggle were clear. The Herglic's body, in particular, had been grasped and torn with incredible force. Such a maneuver would inevitably leave evidence of contact, even if only plastoid scrapings from armor surfaces. She stood stock still, searching her memory for some exotic possibility that might achieve the result the prefect claimed only to find nothing. Morne, silent until now, stepped in to fill the emptiness before the dead could loom. “Sir, are we sure it wasn't a droid?” Nema shifted her feet. The Prefect boiled white-hot in the Force, impossible to miss, filled with the particular rage of one common to power reduced to impotence. It pulsated in time with his heartbeat, a red fury as if his gray metal plating had been submerged in a forge for hours. Rather than allow it to pour out over Morne, she injected herself into the breach first. “Droids leave signs of their own, just like living things. Oil, paint, plastoid scrapings, and the various degradation compounds of their motor and combustion processes8. Also,” she spared a glance for the blood-soaked floor. “A droid strong enough to do this and still fit through the window,” the gap was barely wide enough to permit a standard humanoid frame turned sideways, the Herglic would not have fit. “Would be extremely dense. There would be track marks on the carpet.” Droids could not be traced in the Force, but Nema's work meant she spent her days surrounded by them. She'd learned to read the signs in order to avoid accidents. “This was not done by a droid.” Her confidence in this response surprised her, especially since a killer droid seemed an obvious Separatist assassin, but she did not retreat from the conclusion. “My techs said the same thing,” the Prefect growled. “But that still leaves me with no evidence, no leads, no witnesses, and no ideas.” His shifted from Nema to Morne and ended up somehow glaring at both at once. “Whatever did this was smart enough to smash the exterior security cameras, and it was fast enough to get them before they cached. Right now even if I knew exactly who did this I'd have nothing to support an arrest. This isn't going to stop, they'll be more deaths to come until we find this assassin. Work me a miracle Jedi.” A miracle. The way he said the word, if was if he believed that was something perfectly reasonable to ask of a Jedi. Weight settled atop thin shoulders, heavy and oppressive, enough to make her desperately desire to run from the room. She belonged in a clinic with patients, or a research lab surrounded by chemicals. This was beyond her. Perhaps a Jedi Knight could find the residue of the attacker in the Force and track them somehow. Whether or not that was possible she suspected it was the sort of thing the Prefect imagined. She did know it was completely impossible for her. This room offered up only blackness. One hand dropped down to finger the hilt of her lightsaber. Briefly the old longing shot through the skin, the desire to be the person these officers wanted her to be, that other person she'd once wanted to be more than anything. But you are not that person. She felt it rather than heard the words. The path of the Force shifted, sands ran backward. The Jedi Order had sent a doctor, not a knight, so it fell to a doctor to provide the police what they desperately needed. “There has to be some evidence,” the words escaped her mouth suddenly, so unexpected that Nema could barely identify herself as the speaker. Nevertheless, they spooled out almost unconsciously. “Everything leaves traces, even in full bio-hazard gear it is almost impossible to pure all signatures.” This was not conjecture. She had experience working in ultra-sterile laboratories. “And even then the protective measures themselves leave traces. This,” she spun sightly to take in the slowly cooling carnage. “Was not done cleanly. There must be evidence.” “Are you saying my crime scene teams are incompetent?” the Prefect’s fury lashed out. His voice rose many decibels behind his mask. “No.” Even limited exposure had impressed upon Nema the violent nature of the Coruscant underworld. She was certain the police technicians were quite experienced. “I am suggesting that the evidence may be in a form their equipment is not able to detect. Perhaps we need to re-calibrate our expectations.” She tried to sound certain, but in truth this hypothesis was barely formed and wildly speculative. “I want to see a solid sample, magnification only, no software analysis.” The techs surely relied on sniffers and analysis droids to process the samples, but everything in Nema's career told her droids could be remarkably oblivious to anything that existed outside their preset expectations. “On the left hand,” Morne's suggestion was immediate. He gestured at the ruined corpse of the Herglic bodyguard. “There's a strike mark there for sure.” He was correct, it seemed the Herglic had managed to slam at least one fist into his killer before he succumbed. A few moments later Nema found herself in the kitchen peeling nanometer-thin slices of skin off the scuffed knuckles with her laser scalpel. Embracing the Force to steady her hands she placed them on thin plastoid slides and coated each with a spray-film of inert sealant. Once ready, she slotted a series of five into the intake slot on the side of her bioscanner. The automated analysis program pinged only Herglic tissue. Carefully and thoroughly she proceeded through a series of menus, a step by step progression to disable all the automatic enhancements, analytics, and labeling aides until only the raw image remained. With this finally accomplished, she dialed in the zoom. “What in the Force...” Nema blinked repeatedly. She shifted the display back and forth in a battle for focus. “What is it?” Morne leaned over her shoulder. In truth, he stood unreasonably close, but in her excited state she failed to notice. “Nothing I've ever seen before,” no other answer could be true in that moment. The debris fragment on screen displayed a clear structural pattern, a thin layer of tissue scrapped off when the knuckles contacted the integument, but it resembled nothing she'd ever seen through a scope before, not even in university. “There's no cells,” her voice fell to a near-whisper. An instinctive impulse to hush such wild speculation. “No familiar structures at all.” She increased the magnification as far as it would go and then, tentatively, allowed the scanner to run a very basic chemical analysis. “No proteins, and the elemental balance is wrong. Arsenic and silicon represent major components of the system, and there's an abundance of super-heavy trace elements. The whole structure resembles variable-sized ball bearings suspended in a matrix of gelatinous fibers.” “What's any of that mean?” Morne interjected. “Just looks like moldy gunk to me.” Slowly, for her limbs felt strangely numb, Nema put the scanner down. Her mind raced. A thousand thoughts warred for attention. It took deliberate effort coupled to a Jedi breathing technique to coral them sufficiently to offer even the most basic of answers. “It means a completely different biological system, one foreign to almost all known life. That's incredibly rare, practically unknown.” Memories of early classes, studies even before her reassignment to the medical corps, played back before her eyes. “Almost all life in the galaxy, even incredibly exotic forms such as crystalline beings, shares a common molecular and mechanical structure9. The only examples we have that lie outside this are simple organisms, usually tiny, native to extreme environments. This thing, this assassin, represents an unprecedented existence.” Endless research possibilities danced through her mind. The avenues were boundless. “Unprecedented or not,” the Prefect growled from behind. “There's an assassin cadre out there and they will kill again if we can't identify them and stop them. Can you supply my men with a tracking method Jedi Nema?” “Doctor,” Nema corrected, feeling suddenly deflated. The objection was reasonable, some part of her acknowledged, but that did not make it welcome. “And I believe I should be able to develop a program that would allow scanners to identify the unique polymers the support matrix must possess.” That was a fairly simple task, really, she could do it without any understanding about how the fibers actually functioned. “But I'll need to isolate it first and develop a chemical compound that can tag it.” Her mind rushed ahead of her lips, contemplated, planned, and charted steps at lightning speed. “There is a problem,” the amendment slipped loose before the Prefect could speak again. “The equipment at my clinic is not sufficient. This requires a fully equipped research lab. I will need to return to the Jedi Temple.” The Medical Corps facility there was among the best in the galaxy, and familiar to her. This did not seem to please the Prefect. “In order for any crime scene evidence to pass beyond the boundary of my direct jurisdiction requires an official chain of custody, and a lodged legal agreement with the receiving agency, which would be the Jedi Order.” He sounded somehow sour. His optics flashed, indicative of some significant switch on their projected internal HUD. “And the property officials have clocked out for today. That means I’ll have to get a legal droid to do it. The paperwork will take hours we don’t have. Can you use one of the local hospitals instead?” Nema blinked. It took her a moment to catch up and translate this bizarre bureaucratic barricade suddenly imposed before her. She desired nothing more than to settle into a lab and get to work, and if she was honest with herself not simply because lives were at stake. She needed to examine this material, this utterly new system of life. Every part of her intellect demanded it, required understanding. Until she could fashion a frame for it within her mind it would override all other pursuits. This made her inevitable refusal doubly difficult. “I’m sorry Prefect Xeril,” she vaguely recalled this man’s name from Morne’s initial briefing, and was grateful for it. “But this sort of work requires state of the art equipment and a workplace with advanced cleanliness and containment protocols. None of the medical centers in the Bucket meet such standards even on official listings.” She left unsaid that hardly anything down this far even came close to matching its on-paper capabilities. The Prefect stewed in silence. Head tilted back, his optics sought in vain to find some way to bore a hole in the bloodstained ceiling. Even without embracing the Force Nema could feel his frustration. She wanted to offer some alternative, wished she could, but the equipment requirements were a necessity. If the task could be done at all, it absolutely mandated the proper tools. They did not have it here, and no amount of regret could change that reality. She wondered if the police prefect would be willing to bend the rules to save lives, if that was what he sought to read amid the spatter. She also wondered if he offered whether she could reasonably accept. To her great surprise it was Morne who broke the silence. “Sir, I’ve checked the homicide case logs,” he began, surprisingly jovial despite the seniority of the stressed man he addressed. “One of them was in Sector Two-One-Eight. We could use the samples there, if we…” He dropped the sentence in the middle, pointedly. Nema turned back and forth between the two officers. In vain she struggled to discern the unspoken element of the exchange. Its significance was laid bare in the Force, a storm of emotions roiling out from the Prefect. She failed to learn anything more, stymied by masks and the limits of her perception. “That is a very dangerous suggestion Officer Ven Morne,” the Prefect’s voice dropped to a whisper. “One that might be considered treacherous by some.” “I am aware sir,” Morne stood his ground, back straight. “But how many people die if we wait? And what will the administration do if they think we can’t protect them? You can give the approval sir, in person, and it never needs to leave this room.” The gray-armored form walked a slow circle about the chamber, carefully stepped over the slowly-congealing disaster. When he stopped there was a single nod of the concealed skull. “Fine, but no one else is brought in. Go to two-one-eight in person and get the samples from Captain Mikirn. Whatever Jedi Nema needs stays in your personal custody and you keep eyes on it at all times. Officially you conducted the analysis at her clinic. As far as the reports are concerned that’s what happened. Am I clear?” “Perfectly sir,” Morne answered without hesitation. “May I ask what is going on?” Nema completely failed to parse the details of this exchange, but it sounded highly dubious. “I’ll explain on the way,” Morne tugged her arm once. “There’s no time to waste.” Footnotes In a galaxy of perhaps millions of sapient species, there will be many, highly-varied baselines in terms of capabilities such as sensory perception, metabolism, physical size, and so forth. ‘Human-standard,’ represents a baseline based on humans, the most abundant species in the galaxy. Nema uses it as a technical term of medicine. Mikkians are a canonical species introduced in TCW in the forms of the Jedi sisters Tiplar and Tiplee. Actenicsin is an entirely fictional antibiotic created by the author. There do not appear to be any named antibiotics in either canon. There are other reasons for the hood-mask-optics combination, but fear of reprisal is significant. The Underworld Police lack the public authority to patrol openly in the fashion of surface police in Galactic City. Prefect is a Coruscant Security Force rank with responsibility for administering an entire level. This rank is canonical and was established in the new canon novel Tarkin. Jedi Investigators were Jedi with specialized training in crime prevention and joint operations with law enforcement. Dr. Nema’s predecessor in her current post was a Jedi Investigator. The CSF is a massive organization, so each officer is assigned an official callsign for procedural purposes. There is powerful canonical evidence that this is true, specifically “Look sir, droids.” There is very strong evidence that essentially all living things commonly known in the Star Wars galaxy share a common evolutionary origin through some combination of panspermia, meddling by ancient nearly divine beings, and the direct influence of the Force itself (midichlorians among other things). However, there is no particular reason why other variations on life cannot exist. This story represents Nema’s first encounter with one.