Troubles and tomorrow come soon enough
Graamin had not been as fruitful as they had hoped. The information, though, did reveal a new connection that was even more worrying: a storage and freight conglomerate with warehouses and ships on thousands of worlds. If Xanatos had his fingers in that business than his holdings had grown quite a bit indeed. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon had left after only a few days and were heading back to Coruscant where the headquarters of the business were located. Obi-Wan was more than a little nervous, fearing that, as he was on planet the temple might just revoke their permission for him to accompany Qui-Gon.
The duo reported in at the temple to update the Council in person and to allow Obi-Wan to speak with them not over the comm unit.
As they stood in front of the council Obi-Wan focused on what Qui-Gon was reporting and gave his input when asked. It was a rather long meeting and Obi-Wan was trying to inconspicuously shift his weight from one foot to the other by the end of it.
"To Qui-Gon we will speak alone, Master Windu with Obi-Wan will speak," Yoda said when they had finished rehashing every tidbit of information they had. Obi-Wan bowed to the council and followed Mace Windu out of the Council Chamber. They entered one of the gardens and Mace indicated for him to sit with him on one of the raised garden walls.
"Are you nervous Obi-Wan?"
"Yes Master Windu."
"Why are you nervous?"
"I am afraid that being here in the temple will make you change your mind about allowing me to remain with Qui-Gon on the mission," Obi-Wan answered honestly, his face flushing slightly.
"Do not be ashamed for feeling that way, it is natural. But you should meditate on them and let your anxieties go."
"I heard what you said to Qui-Gon, that I would have a final evaluation at the conclusion of the mission, I asked Qui-Gon to help me meditate so that I could focus on the mission. I did let those anxieties go, but coming back to the temple has brought some of them back."
"Obi-Wan it is not our desire for you to feel uncomfortable in your home. Returning to the temple should bring relaxation and peace. How can I help you achieve peace?"
Obi-Wan was silent, contemplating the question as he gazed at the shrubs in the garden. "I understand that I should let my anxieties go and simply focus on being a Jedi, but at times it is difficult to do so when I am unsure as to my status. I am…," Obi-Wan gave a painful pause but then spoke the rest of the sentence, "weak; I am uncomfortable because I am unsure."
"You are not as weak as you think, Obi-Wan Kenobi," Mace Windu's voice rumbled deeply, "we all have weaknesses and you know one of your greatest weaknesses has always been your insecurity with being wanted and fitting in. But let me tell you, you have grown a great deal in a year. To admit out loud that this is your weakness is something you never would have done last year. Qui-Gon tells me that you have been working admirably to overcome your insecurities. It is not a weakness to want validation Obi-Wan. It is a natural need that every adolescent of any species has. How has your Master been helping you to belie your insecurities?"
"On occasion he has comforted me, but mostly he has simply supported and encouraged me. It is enough. Despite his reluctance to take me as his Padawan at the beginning, I know now that he does want me now. He has helped me to understand the purpose of my probation and the role of the council in it. I know my probation is not really meant as punishment, but as a way to find guidance. But being unsure is the worst. If I knew that I was continuing on the mission for sure, or if I knew I wasn't continuing for sure, I would be able to make peace with it." Obi-Wan looked into Mace's face, "It would not be easy to accept remaining here instead of continuing, but I would accept it."
Mace studied Obi-Wan's face for a moment and then replied, "I believe you would. But let me ease your mind Obi-Wan, you will be accompanying Qui-Gon for the remainder of the mission. You have done well with releasing your anxieties about your status after the mission, but I would recommend that you meditate some more on your insecurities. May the Force be with you." Mace rose and Obi-Wan followed, executing a quick bow before the two parted ways, Mace back to the council and Obi-Wan to the rooms he shared with Qui-Gon.
"How do you think Obi-Wan will perform on this mission?" Adi Gallia asked Qui-Gon Jinn after Mace had lead Obi-Wan out.
"I think he will perform admirably. He has matured greatly and learned much these past few months."
"True this is. But prepare him you must. Xanatos knows this weakness Obi-Wan has. If meet him you do, try he will to use that knowledge against him," Yoda said.
"I will prepare him. But Obi-Wan knows his own vulnerabilities now and he will not allow himself to be easily swayed."
"Obi-Wan will continue on your mission with you and you are still in charge of his meditation and study schedule. We would like an update on his status every 72 hours but do not endanger yourselves unnecessarily, we understand that this is a dangerous mission. Please make regular mission updates as appropriate as well," Depa Billaba said.
Qui-Gon nodded, "He will be relieved to know he is allowed to accompany me, it worried him."
"Tell him Mace will. But wonder I do how handle this you will. Difficult I sense this mission will be, for you and your Padawan." Yoda said peering up at the tall Jedi.
Qui-Gon opened his mouth but paused, not sure how to answer.
Yoda's face was grave, "Death there will be on this mission, whose I cannot tell, but darkness shrouds you and your Padawan both. It is a darkness that seeks to overwhelm. Strong you must be."
"Master Yoda, I…."
"Be mindful at all times Qui-Gon Jinn. Be mindful of the Force and of yourself and your apprentice."
"Yes Master Yoda."
"Now, rest you both will tonight. Troubles and tomorrow come soon enough." Qui-Gon bowed to the council and left the chamber. His mind turning over what Yoda had said.
Qui-Gon had never been strong in the unifying force, he had never been on to have visions of the future (though once in a very long while he was granted a small view), and so he played to his strengths. He lived in the present; he breathed the living force, the force that bound all life as one, and that brought everything together into an untamed but beautiful masterpiece. But Yoda was a master of the unifying force, his visions of the future, some learned the hard way, were not to be ignored. Whose death would come from this mission? A chill passed through him as the unifying force granted him a small vision.
He was helpless, utterly helpless to stop the descent of the red blade…
Qui-Gon gasped for breath as the vision left him, as though it had simply been a breeze that had brushed his hair and then gone on, with no thought to the one whom it disturbed.
He quickened his pace to his rooms trying to center himself in the Force.
He gently fingered the scroll's encasement. It had taken him a long time to find this, not to mention great expense. He thumbed open the case and activated the read mode. The scroll, preserved with a special coating and connected to a track that made touching unnecessary, unwound itself before his eyes. It was of course in an ancient Sith dialect, but he would be able to translate it.
The Scroll of Empowerment the heading translated to.
They got the right one after all, maybe I shouldn't have killed them he mused before burying hmself in translating the words of the scroll.
Obi-Wan could tell immediately that something was wrong when Qui-Gon stepped into the room. "Master"
Qui-Gon's gaze shifted to him sharply, flitting across his face and down as though ensuring he was all in one piece.
"Master?" Obi-Wan asked again, growing more worried.
Qui-Gon let out a sigh, "Do not worry yourself, Padawan, just a brief…foreboding about this mission." Reaching further into himself Qui-Gon managed to find his center and let his fears flow out.
Obi-Wan's tense face loosened, responding more to the apprehension he had felt released rather than the words spoken.
The two spent the evening in relaxation as per Yoda's instruction. For trouble iwould/i come soon enough.
Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan emerged from the freighting conglomerate with no new information to speak of and, unfortunately, no new leads. Over lunch they reviewed all the information they had found, trying to look at it from some new angle, trying to follow up on something they had not thought about before. However, it truly looked like they were at a dead end. Obi-Wan rubbed his head tiredly. Even though it was only midday and he had gotten a full night's rest, the tedious work of repeating steps was draining.
"What do we have again on what the council found?" Qui-Gon asked, referring to the information the council had revealed about Xanatos' interest in the Sith.
"Three dead bodies," Obi-Wan said grouchily.
"Padawan," Qui-Gon reprimanded gently.
Obi-Wan sighed, "Sorry Master. Three bodies were found on Talus. Two were known information dealers. All three died by lightsaber wounds. Their contacts only revealed that they had been offered a large sum on money for information about the Sith. There are no transaction or communication records, they were erased by what looks like a very advanced slicer"
Now it was Qui-Gon's turn to rub his head in frustration. "No trace on the slicer?"
"Just a signature—Xanatos' broken circle."
"So he is taunting us," sighed the Master.
"So what do we do now?" Obi-Wan asked.
"We'll go to Talus and look at those dead bodies."
ooOOoo Travel to the Correllian system was easy to find and, once again, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan went as civilians. Not that they thought they really could fool Xanatos if he was taunting and watching them, but it was better not to attract attention anyway.
They made their way from the Talus space port to a government office complex where they were immediately ushered to the head of information security. The temple had informed her to expect them.
"This slicer is good, whoever he is. I've had my best people working to trace his work, but they haven't had any luck," Trinkt Malaoui, the Drall information security head, told them as she lead them to a console and activated the display. It showed the information network pathways for a small sector of Talus. "There were two different slices from two different terminals. The first we aren't sure what was altered, if anything. It looked like someone was simply accessing a public record. The second slice is where it got into the financial transaction records and the communications records. We've traced the terminal he worked at and the exact databases he sliced but it was public access so there is no way to trace the physical location of the user."
"Did he use a netID to log into the system?" Obi-Wan asked.
"That is what is puzzling us the most. He didn't use an ID either time so he should have only been able to access the public information—maps, local restaurant menus, public transport schedules and the like—but he obviously could access much more than that. And we can't even find the slice of that."
"Is there any way to log in undetected?" Qui-Gon asked.
She shook her head, "Only certain security personnel have that ability and they are only allowed to use it under specific circumstances. Those IDs have to be programmed into the system for the amount of time of the investigation and expire afterwards. Even if he had somehow gotten a hold of one it would not have worked. The governor and myself are the only ones with the power to tell the system to ignore or hide a user."
"Thank you for your time." Qui-Gon said indicating to Obi-Wan that it was time to go.
They walked to the area of the city where Xanatos had used a public access terminal to erase the records of the communications between himself and his sources.
"Who was the third?" Qui-Gon suddenly asked.
"What?" Obi-Wan said, nonplussed.
"Two of the three found dead were known information gatherers, who was the third person?"
"A small time slicer. He had been charged before for data damages, but never anything big and not very good at it either."
"Do we have anything else on him? Any associates or friends?"
Obi-Wan retrieved his datapad from a pocket and flicked through the information. "Jorgan Olpin, human, middle aged, had recently lost his job at a network management firm because he was caught trying to slice a system."
"Just a daughter Yaveth Olpin, his wife left them years ago."
"Has anyone talked to her yet?"
"She was interviewed but was understandably distraught according to the security report."
"Do we have an address?" Qui-Gon asked, an idea forming in his head.
"Yes, she has kept her father's flat."
"How old is she"
Obi-Wan took a moment to find that information, "She's nineteen."
"Network and communications monitor at the governor's palace. Clean record. Low level security clearance, meaning she has access to the building blueprints, and can tell her superior if she notices something unusual."
"When did the slice occur in relation to the three deaths?"
"The coroners estimate they died around 1800 hours local time so it was three hours iafter/i the slice. That doesn't make any sense!"
"Of course it does, what better way to cover your tracks than to have your collaborators help you?"
"But none of them could have done the slice."
"No, but I have a feeling that they helped in getting the invisible log in."
"So where are we going now?"
"Back to the Head of Information Security."
"Back again?" Trinkt said when they entered her office.
"Yes Ma'am. Could we look at the financial records of the three men found dead?"
"This is for the same investigation?"
"Very well," she tapped out a few commands and then allowed them to look at the records.
All three of them had fairly large deposits from untraced sources and all three of them had withdrawn the amount onto credit chips shortly thereafter.
"Any trace of those credit chips again?" Qui-Gon asked. Most credit chips had security traces on them so the money could be traced if the chips were stolen.
"Only one of them. The Olpin chip was deposited into the daughter's account before her father was killed. The other two have not shown up. They were not on the victims so we assume the killer took them. Given his slicing ability I doubt we'll find the trace."
"No holds have been placed on that account the money was deposited to on that one chip?" Obi-Wan asked.
"We can't. No proof of wrong doing on the part of the girl. The money was legally deposited to the first account and withdrawn and re-deposited. The illegal part was someone going in afterwards to erase the source of the transaction. As far as security can tell it was a simple, legal buying of information. We wouldn't even be investigating if the slice or dead bodies hadn't shown up."
"That's because the buyer doesn't want us finding him." Obi-Wan said.
"So who is this buyer?"
"A very rich, very well-connected, very intelligent criminal. And the information we think he bought was very dangerous." Qui-Gon said.
"Apparently," the woman said dryly.
"When was the most recent invisible netID set up?"
"The governor set one up three weeks ago for a routine monitor of a paroled offender. Before that, eight weeks ago I set up one for an investigation that was going on, and nine weeks ago the governor set up one for a Republic security inspector."
"Does the governor notify you when he sets up an ID?" Qui-Gon asked.
"Yes. There is no other way to detect it if the other system is used to set up one. The palace network has security protocols similar to ours here, the two are connected but neither can access the other without bio-security verification. Only I, the governor, a few ministers and the head of security are bio-security identified. Finger-print scans, and vocal patterning are used to open the security gateways between the two systems. Anything else you need? I have some things I need to get done."
"I think this is all for now, thank you again for your cooperation," Qui-Gon said.
"Why did we visit there again?" Obi-Wan asked as they exited the building.
"Why don't you tell me. What did we learn?" Qui-Gon asked.
Obi-Wan almost rolled his eyes. His question had just begged for Qui-Gon to turn it into a lesson. He was silent as he reviewed the information. "We learned that she doesn't have a way to detect if the Governor sets up an invisible ID. She could detect it by opening the security gateways, but she has no reason to do so. Could the governor have been in on it?"
"That is a possibility, but I think it is something less sinister than that. I think our small-time slicer had a stroke of luck and was more successful in one of his slices than we know."
"How do you figure that Master?"
"Did you notice what system he was trying to get into when he was fired from his job"
Obi-Wan's face showed very clearly that he had not noticed.
"He was trying to break into the governor's network. That was three months ago."
"Do we have access to his personal terminal?" Obi-Wan asked.
Satisfaction shown in Qui-Gon's eyes.
The head of security was reluctant to release the terminal that had been confiscated at the time of the crime, but finally did so after putting in a call to Trinkt Malaoui (who was very annoyed at the interruption). Flicking on the display Qui-Gon quickly located the information he had needed on how the man had constructed the program he had attempted to use to infiltrate the palace system. Looking at it Obi-Wan realized the man had been better than he thought.
"Master, this program is very well written, the only problem is the introduction file. If he re-wrote that portion to be undetectable the rest would work fine. He would have been into the system. It's a sleeper program, when it flared it would look like just an amateur slice and be deleted right away, but it is written for reduplication," he pointed to the portion of the program coding that allowed this, "it would repair itself and retrieve the information that was deleted with the original activation, without detection."
"The first slice is a ruse, so that the second goes undetected," Qui-Gon nodded his understanding, "You can recognize all that?"
Obi-Wan blushed and looked down, "Some of the Young on Melida/Daan show me some things. And while I was at the temple I asked Tahl to clarify some of what I learned."
"Thank you for putting it to good use Padawan. According to the record, Jorgan Olpin's ID was put on open monitored status. That means that everything he did under his own name was monitored and he knew it was monitored. Had he attempted to re-write his program they would have caught it."
"Master I am not seeing your point," Obi-Wan said in frustration.
"Simple, he could have used someone else's ID."
"His daughter's," came Qui-Gon's reply as he returned the terminal and evidence record to the head of security.
"So are we going to visit Yaveth?"
"Yes we are."
Yaveth was off duty and so they found her at the flat she had shared with her father.
"What do you want?" she asked them as they stood outside her door. She looked worn out and her tone was not belligerent, simply devoid of emotion.
"We're investigating your father's death and would like to ask you a few questions," Qui-Gon answered.
Her face took on a frustrated look, "I already told security everything I knew."
"Even about the slicer program he wrote under your ID?" Qui-Gon pushed.
Her eyes widened and she let them in.
"How did you know about that?" she asked looking somewhat defeated, after they introduced themselves.
"It stands to reason that he would. The program that got him fired three months ago, according to my Apprentice, was almost perfect."
Obi-Wan nodded, "If the introduction protocols were adjusted it would have done its job spectacularly."
Yaveth nodded, "Yes he re-wrote it and tried again."
"Did it work?"
She shrugged, "He wouldn't even tell me what it was supposed to do."
"Miss Olpin, would you please tell us all you know about it."
She sighed and started speaking, "Part of my job is to delete slicer programs and viruses that show up in the palace system. The security system could do it automatically but they like to have us manually take care of them and send the information to security for them to investigate. A little over two months ago a slicer program was detected trying to retrieve data from the system. I quarantined it like usual and was about to send it to security and then delete it, but I noticed it had my system signature attached. I couldn't send that over to security. So I simply deleted it. I asked Dad about it and he said it was nothing, just a failed attempt. So I let it go. I wasn't about to turn my father in, who on top of that was using my ID. It hadn't done anything as far as I could tell. Three weeks ago it popped up again, I deleted it again without sending it to security. I told Dad that the next time it showed up I would report it. He told me he wouldn't try again because he had what he needed. I didn't ask any more questions."
"Does your terminal still have the information on it, the program and what he got from the system?" Qui-Gon asked.
Yaveth shook her head, "A week ago he deleted it all out of my system after putting something on a datachip."
"What did he do with the datachip?" Obi-Wan asked.
"He kept a copy of whatever it was and then sold the other."
"Yeah, that's the money he gave me to deposit into my account."
"He took the precaution of keeping a copy of his work, did he take any other precautions?"
Yaveth knew what the master was asking, but hesitated.
"Yaveth, we are trying to track your father's killer. Did he keep any information on the transaction?"
"He did. He retrieved the transaction logs and downloaded them to a datapad. It would not have been updated when the rest of the network was sliced."
"Can we have that?"
Still the girl hesitated, a look of panic on her face, "They killed him for that information. It's dangerous enough for me to have kept that money but even if I didn't want it I wouldn't know what to do with it."
"Yaveth, we are trying to stop this man. You are the only lead we have at the moment. We can arrange for your protection if you help us," Qui-Gon promised.
Yaveth sat there contemplating, but finally agreed. She went into the bedroom and retrieved a datapad. "The chip he kept is loaded in here too."
Qui-Gon handed the pad to Obi-Wan, "Go back to our hotel and start reviewing that, while I go with Miss Olpin to organize security measures."
It took two hours, but Obi-Wan finally figured out what the sleeper program had done in the Governor's network. The best clue had been the information on when it had flared, or been noticed. It correlated to the times when the Governor had set up an invisible ID. Going on that Obi-Wan realized that the program had simply copied the protocols for setting up the ID. The chip contained a program that would set up an invisible ID that could be used for about ten minutes before it could be detected by regular security systems. Jorgan couldn't slice so far into the system that he could set up a real invisible ID, but for a short time he could trick the system into believing one had been set up and as long as the ID was not logged on when a security program went through it would not be detected. So now they knew how Xanatos had been able to erase the transaction information with an invisible ID and why Jorgan Olpin had been involved in the first place.
Eagerly Obi-Wan accessed the stored data on the transactions. The trace on the deposit was complete. The source of the deposit was an account registered to an Offworld office on Haritha 3.