The call had been surprisingly short. A captain's tired face on the holo: "Lieutenant Bast Emblai and ranger Darmus Onn-" a pause as he rubbed his eyes. They'd been without a headquarters on Coruscant for so long now it was taking its toll on the people. Darmus' rig made overtime trying to track the culprits of the attack, but the cost of all that extra equipment didn't come out of his ranger salary.. him renting his dataplagues out to Czerka corporation did that. It was a necessity. Chief Hudson was in the hospital still, every almost getting killed by the Sith and most of the already spare captains were off doing their own thing, like Captain Rook, who was always off somewhere doing Force knows what. Anyway, the captain on the holo continued; "-go to Cybot Galactica offices. There's been a suspicious death. Report to me directly."
Now, Darmus didn't like it one bit, but he still got up in the morning, showered, shaved and threw on some clean clothes before heading off to the nearest transit terminal. He was supposed to meet the lieutenant at the corporation's office, so he thought, so he endeavored to make her wait. He liked Bast, but for some reason the young one was a lieutenant now just like Darmus' protege Corran and it stung a bit. They never even offered him a promotion in almost thirty years. So in his effort to make the girl wait, Darmus decided to go get a breakfast bagel at a place two districts away from corporate plaza and take one of those slow droid-driven speeder cabs from there. Just to make sure he'd have her waiting for at least five minutes.
When he finally arrived he smiled apologetically, half-eaten bagel still in hand, "Sorry, lieutenant Emblai. Traffic, what can I say?" Darmus smiled and extended his half-eaten bagel towards his superior as if to suggest she was free to finish it if it made her feel better. The old ranger was nearing fifty now and stationed in the core for so long that he knew all the tricks to make this job not ruin his life. It did, ofcourse, but on some days it was the little things like making a new lieutenant look bad that made up for all the death and destruction that surrounded them.
Before him the Cybot Galactica's skyscraper rose into the clouds. Kriff, this really was one of the galaxy's mega-corporations and this wasn't even their main office. it was the regional office for the Galactic Core, far away from actual Headquarters in the corporate sector. For a moment there Darmus was reminded of the fact that Czerka wasn't the only mega-corp in existence and that somehow humbled him. "So, suspicious death. Rather vague. What do you think it is?" he asked Bast as he turned to her and, for the first time, smiled earnestly. He counted her among his few friends. Maybe that was only because they suffered trauma together on Outpost Blue and had a mutual friend.. or, maybe they just clicked.
She was thankful the call video only went one way as she had just risen. Having not yet layered powder over the green-yellow bruise atop her left cheekbone, showered, or pressed her shirt, she listened attentively while gently prodding her face. The mark had been squarely dealt by a street thug selling spice. A stun bolt took him down easily, but not before the devaronian had landed a solid punch. It was really a miracle she had turned her head and saved herself a broken nose, but the bruise was enough humiliation in itself. It was a tell that she had not been fast or prepared enough, and any sign of weakness was preyed on in the Ranger profession. Therefore, it was with reluctance than she loaded the blaster pistol and locked the apartment door to head to the Cabot Galactica offices.
As per usual, the Corellian woman arrived precisely five minuted early. The block was clean, the windows of the office building freshly washed, several potted trees growing near the doors. it was odd that millennia ago, similar trees had been destroyed to make rooms for buildings, and now greenery was a luxury only the richest corporations could afford to landscape and maintain. Buildings farther from the surface relied on plastoid, grimy plants due to the lack of sunlight, so the living trees made her glad she had decided to wear dress pants and a jacket. In the corporate world, appearances came only second to deep pockets.
Thankfully, the Lieutenant would not be alone. Ranger Onn had been assigned the mission as well, and what he lacked in rank, he made up for in easy company. The man had been on the service for several decades, and likely seen more than she and Corran put together. He had accompanied her shell of her body on the way to the hospital after she had been captured. The fact that Bast technically outranked Darmus did not matter in the slightest. Seniority, then title was what she would abide by for the time be. Any over-fondness towards the man dissipated as quickly as fog on the Dantooine plains when his taxi rolled up, revealing the clean shaven, sharp looking man holding a bagel, a smug look on his face. As if to appease her glare, he offered the breakfast. She simply raised an eyebrow, though a momentary irked expression had slipped through her cool facade. Darmus found great joy in teasing her, and while the heart of it was endearing, the result was annoying. They were going to be late for the meeting.
In response to his question, she looked at her watch. “Seven minutes late, Onn. Thankfully dead bodies aren’t in urgent need of care.“ A small smirk played at the corner of her mouth. She was glad he was with her, after all. Then, more seriously,“I would assume a murder or wrongful death case. Anything else, and local enforcement would have been called, not us.” Either that or there was suspicion of corruption. The rulers of business machine would do more that add a few extra zeroes to balance sheets to make credits, and she was in well over her head.
Kriff, had he misunderstood? He thought they were just following up, but.. kriff, this actually made more sense. Hopefully the body hadn't been baking in the sun... that stench would be worse than that of burning flesh and-
Driving away the bad memories with a bite of the bagel he had just offered to Bast, Darmus shrugged as he used the chewing pause to get his head back in the game. "Probably right," he agreed, considering that usually a corporation had enough sense and resources to just dispose dead bodies somewhere else and keep law enforcement far away from their offices. Not with this one, though, and that certainly was intriguing.
Looking at Bast, Darmus realized how much she sometimes reminded him of Corran. They were both still so committed to their pursuits of justice. Had he been like that, too? Sure, he had exposed his own family back on Boonta for being cheats on the podracing track and for some reason held down a shitty ranger job for three decades thinking he made a difference taking on the Five Syndicates. Kriff. Bast didn't remind him of Corran at all. The younglings reminded him of himself. Maybe he could stop them from making the same mistakes he had? Again his mind had drifted off and he took another bite of the bagel, the last, as an excuse as to why he was so uncharacteristically quiet.
"Well, lieutenant." he motioned for the door, "Ladies and lieutenants first." Alright, so even if someone had died, when hadn't in their profession, Darmus was going to enjoy his first assignment with the newly promoted Lieutenant Bast Emblai.
Inside they'd find a large lobby, richly adorned with tropical plants and a small Chandrilan garden in the center where the pair would have to walk around to reach the reception. Their badges on display was seemingly all the introduction they needed and a rather serious-looking security guard, carrying what Darmus noticed was definitely not a stunblaster, approached Bast. "Lieutenant Emblai?" he asked after a confused look at the much older ranger of lower rank and no doubt wondering what had happened to the oldtimers career to get passed over by someone that looked twenty years his junior, "They're waiting for you on level 378. If you would follow me."
She caught the momentary shadow that passed over the man’s face at the thought of the body, the slight involuntary wrinkle of his nose quickly obscured by a mouthful of bagel. Likely Darmus had not wanted her to see his reaction, so she did not acknowledge anything out of the ordinary for his sake. Living past one’s mid-thirties was a rarity, and those who survived bore the scars to prove it. He had every right to hide his scars just as she had done with hers, but the woman hoped her partner trusted her enough to come to her if needed. Suppressing the temptation to roll her eyes, she nodded a thanks to the man for holding the door.
The lobby was impressive. The smell of humidity and expensive perfume hung oppressively in the air. A gentle gurgling emanated from a fountain in the garden. It was clear the death wasn’t a simple street-gang shooting.
The detective had seen enough bodies that the sight did not faze her. A man dressed in business casual lay unceremoniously slumped on the floor, dried blood on the corner of his desk and matted in his hair. The eyes were milky, half open, the mouth slightly agape. He was very much dead. Slipping on gloves, Bast tilted her head slightly, hazel eyes scanning the room. Gesturing to Darmus that he was welcome to join her if he so desired, she knelt carefully.
Any emotion or human sympathy supposedly tied to death had left Bast years before. Some nights she would think about the five year old boy, sent by his grandmother to buy fruit at the market. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Blaster bolt to the throat. He had likely not even known he was shot. Then, in the darkness and privacy of her room, she could grieve at the distant and cruel way in which the galaxy dealt death. On the job, however, she betrayed no revulsion, sadness, or fear- only a cold professionality required for telling mother’s their daughters had died and children that they would be wards of the state. Therefore, it was with methodical confidence she ordered an autopsy, mouth swab, and toxicology report. The first order of business was to figure out whether the head would was the primary cause of death or accidental. After Darmus had finished his own investigation of the body, she drew a black shroud over it. Only so many answers could be found within the victim.
“What do you suggest as the course of action while we wait for results. Motive is half the case for a crime. Interviews perhaps? I have a warrant for the office if needed.” Still, the woman sensed something was off. No large corporation would approve such a sloppy death over a business matter, much less allow the Sector Rangers to investigate, unless something had gone wrong, fallen out of their sphere of influence. Looking to the captain, she awaited further instruction.
The crime scene was.. something. Darmus couldn't quite put his finger on it. The victim was dressed in a suit that screamed Cybot Galactica. They didn't wear uniforms at this level of corporate, but at the same time you could definitely distinguish a Blackwell executive from a Cybot one by the cut of their suit. The office was pristine. Either they had cleaned it this morning to get rid of confidential information, or to cover tracks of wrongdoing, or the deceased wasn't in the habit to display personal trinkets and clearly hadn't bothered to personalize the interior. It was as standard as standard could be.
When Bast gestured for him to join her at the corpse, the older ranger waved it off. "No, thanks. I-" he scanned the room once more and spotted the console on the desk, "-can be more useful there." it wasn't like he couldn't stomach dead bodies. It was just.. he had never seen such an obvious-seeming accident to be labeled as a 'suspicious death' and there just... there had to be more to it.
The security guard eyed him suspiciously as Darmus pulled out his datapad and made no effort to disguise the fact he was going to try and bypass the login system. He was about to stop him when another corporate suit entered the office and waved him off. "Welcome, rangers-" the suit flashed immaculate white teeth, "-I'm Denn Vasich. I oversee counter intel for the core offices." Darmus looked up for a second to make sure the head of counterintelligence had seen him slicing into their network and made a mental note that apparently the man didn't care. Kriff. Was this going to be a waste of time?
Lieutenant Emblai was still busy with the autopsy and Darmus couldn't care less, so the suit stood there for a moment and then walked over to the liquor cabinet to pour himself a glass of Corellian whiskey. Apparently he had time to babysit two rangers. Strange.
Then, before Darmus could reply to Bast's question the suit popped up. "Interviews sound like a splendid idea! Pat Cee was one of our top logisitics men. His assistant is waiting in the conference room and I suppose -I- can be interviewed as well. He was up for promotion towards the Corporate Sector and I vetted him for it recently."
If Bast turned to see Darmus' take on it, the older ranger would just shrug. It couldn't hurt, right? Meanwhile he managed to bypass the login and found himself knee-deep in dozens of unanswered messages, reports to be signed and orders to confirm. Wading through all of this was going to take a bit.. "Best you talk to them, lieutenant. I'll join you when I finish up here."
These were the moments she worked for, the ones of efficiency and seamless teamwork. An assistant handed her a swab and test tube. Drawing back the shroud, Bast ran the swab over the deceased man’s teeth, tongue, and the roof of his mouth. The toxicology report would come back faster with the sample collected, and something told the Lieutenant that while the condition of the victim was no longer urgent, the need for justice was. An autopsy would reveal the size and effect of the head wound, as well as any possible injection sites or injuries cleverly masked under the expensive suit. Darmus had begun gathering evidence from the console. He was renowned among the rangers for his technical skill. It was the sense of mutual trust and the confidence of a thorough job that put an expectant smile on her face as Vasich answered her question.
The head of counter-intel, if not for his grand title, could have been mistaken for another employee. The long, square cut of his jacket mimicked the Cybot style to an uncanny degree. His hair, dark and full of gel, was combed straight back, and he reeked of expensive cologne. She wondered if he had ever had to lie, shackled, in his own vomit or wade through sewage to locate a crime lord’s hideout. One look at the shiny shoes and the smug expression confirmed her suspicions. Still, Bast was duty-bound to follow his orders. Even though his pedestal was likely built from credits, she stood on lower ground. Therefore, the most the Corellian woman could do was throw an unimpressed look at her partner while the man helped himself to whiskey.
Well, if there was poison in the whiskey, they would know soon enough, she thought wryly. Nevertheles, she monitored Vasich closely. Perhaps he had little experience working on site at crime scenes, but helping oneself to a food or beverage was both highly discouraged and either foolish or brave. Interviewing him was becoming a less desirable task by the second.
- - - -
The man drew a long breath from his cigarra. So he smoked too. Licking her lips and inhaling deeply, Bast began.
“Sir Denn Vasich, you are being recorded. If at any time you would like to revoke your consent to be recorded, I will turn off the datapad and terminate the interview. Do you agree to these terms?”
“Heh. Yes, of course. The pursuit of justice is my utmost responsibility.” He took another sip of whiskey. “This makes me sound like some sort of criminal or the like. Do you begin all interviews like this?”
“Yes, sir. It is the standard procedure. We have no suspects as of yet and the case has not been declared criminal.“ Bast’s voice was a tired rasp. “When did you receive the call about the death? Can you please describe the scene at the time of the incident for me? I assume you pulled the record of sentients on this floor from this morning?”
“I received the call to come in about an hour before you were summoned. I ordered the scene blocked off. Since the tragic passing of the employee is currently only classified as ‘suspicious’, I did not ask for the holocam footage.“ “I see. Did you guard the potential crime scene?”
“There was no need.” Bast‘s eyes flicked up to the clock. It was going to be a long interview. Whether intentionally or not, the man was making the case difficult by his mere presence. Hopefully Darmus would arrive soon.
While Bast went off to interrogate Denn Vasich, Darmus scrolled through his options. The dead man's workstation was immaculate, like most of his office, and somehow that irked the old ranger the wrong way. No one was this organized in his filing habits. Information was carefully and exclusively locked between password protected folders, which was a smart move but also made Darmus suspicious. If you're this good at hiding information then you usually had something to hide.
It took the slicer longer than he cared to admit but he found a recently opened folder, coincidentally the one with the highest level of encryption. Class 3. Not usually seen on internal servers and it sure did look like it wasn't Cybot-design. It did feel strange as the other folders hadn't seen any activity for at least 24 hours and yet this folder had been opened -not edited- this very morning. The old ranger looked over the desk at the victim, "What we're you up to, Pat Cee?" A theory already started to form in Darmus' head, one where whatever was in this encrypted folder was directly related to the poor man's supicious death.
But, however much he wanted to join Bast in her interrogation of mr. Vasich and wave around a smoking gun.. cracking this folder wasn't going to be easy or fast. Taking a seat behind the console, Darmus decided to run his class 3 decryption software, hoping that-
Succes? That was way too fast for class 3 encryption. Almost as if the password was simply four identical digits. What Darmus then saw on the screen made the hairs on his head stand upright. Pat Cee was a corporate spy. Not only that. He worked for Czerka, just like Darmus. Kriff. If ranger command had known about him moonlighting for Czerka then he probably would never have been send on this investigation... which, made sense. What stopped him from downloading whatever classified information was on this folder and then deleting it altogether? Denn Vasich did. Kriff, ofcourse, this was the exact reason the head of counter-intelligence just happened to show up. Why this death was flagged as 'suspicious' in the first place! Cybot Galactica was out to expose Czerka for corporate espionage and murdering their own mole when his cover got blown. Kriff, news like that could burn all Czerka assets and deeply erode their intel operations...which, coincidently, Darmus was part of.
The old ranger sat back in his chair. What was he supposed to do with this information?
Denn Vasich was far better at deflecting questions than answering them. Of course, it was natural to deflect uncomfortable questions. In her years investigating violent crimes, Bast had found people who answered surely and perfectly were rarely innocent. A thorough answer to every question indicated a script. A script indicated premeditation. Premeditation indicated undisclosed involvement. Some called her suspicions before even receiving evidence a ‘Woman’s Instinct’, but she knew better. On the other hand, deflecting every question also drew scrutiny. The man seemed to gain more confidence the mode he evaded her grasp, as if he was proud of his trickery. A more masterful liar would have sprinkled in some truth and uncertainty. Nevertheless, now was not the time to let him know she was critical of his story. After all, any accusation would be baseless unless... until Darmus found something.
Where was the man? Either he had found nothing and was vainly searching for some morsel to impress her with or he had hit a spice mine of information. Meanwhile she was stuck suffocating on the smoke of a fancy cigar. Of course she was.
“Tell me about this employee. Did he make connections? How long ago was he hired? Where did he work previously?”
”Lieutenant or Ma’am, please”
”Pat was always a bit of an odd man. He was not secretive, overly friendly, in fact. But his smile reflected money so, according to his coworkers, they were always on edge. Naturally he rose through the ranks quickly. According to his record, he was hired six months ago after taking a leave of absence from an accounting job at a corporate bank a year ago.”
”Unfortunately-“, though it was not at all unfortunate, she thought, “time is running short. Thank you for your insight.”
”Wait!” So it had worked, her little trick. He had played his part, but he had one line left, and he refused to leave the stage without saying it. He was seeking to plant information, likely. “Maybe, I was just thinking, it could be something from his past work associates, you know? He failed to pay a debt? Or maybe a jealous rival?”
- - - -
Indeed she was thankful. The interview, while entirely too long, had finally yielded some clue. Shaking her head slightly to clear it, she returned to the office.
Darmus was snapped from thought as Lieutenant Bast Emblai returned to the office. Kriff, she was a lieutenant. That meant she had to sign off on any reports on this investigation and.. that could prove to be a problem. Darmus might not be a stickler for paperwork, but he figured all young lieutenants like Corran where just like him; stoic and a stickler for the damned regulations. Darmus not informing Ranger Command he was moonlighting for Czerka was not going to sit well.. at all. A scandal like this could easily cost him his career, not that he had much of a career, but still. What was ever worse was the damage it would do to Czerka, his credit-bantha, and his retirement money.
No, when Bast asked him if he had any luck, the old ranger had made up his mind and shook his head. "Nothing. Apparently our victim here was extremely well organized in everything. No files out of place. No personal data and no strange net-communication." All true, ofcourse, except for the part about him finding nothing useful for the investigation. Darmus looked at Bast with inquisitive eyes, wondering how he was going to convince this troubled yet experienced ranger to file Pat Cee's death as an accident and stop any further digging. Maybe throw some credits around, get her dinner at some fancy place.. no, Bast wouldn't go for that, he thought. Maybe he could hit a nerve with her. Remind her of Outpost Blue a bit too often for her to be able to focus properly on the job at hand.. kriff, that would be cruel, making her relive over and over again. He hated himself for it, but it was probably his best bet. Be the comforting veteran, take over writing the report while she was distracted.
He raised his eyebrows and tilted his head in the direction of where the lieutenant had come from; "The suit have anything useful to say?"