Episode 5-04: War Crimes
An outbreak of an unusual infection on Estran draws the attention of Garm Larcus and Vay Udra. They soon discover that it was no random outbreak, but instead the start of something far more sinister...
“Doctor Lordin could you quickly please?” the orderly asked as he
poked his head around the doorframe of the doctor’s office.
“I know sir.” The orderly replied, accompanying the doctor form the office towards the emergency treatment unit.
As soon as the pair burst in Doctor Lordin saw the patients he had been summoned to inspect. The pair were both human, one male and one female of similar age – their mid twenties by the doctor’s guess. Linking his datapad to the computers built into the treatment stations the doctor called up the details for both cases and saw that they matched exactly what he expected to see. Headaches, fever and blurred vision. As he got closer to the nearest, the young man he saw the red in his eyes where blood vessels had ruptured.
“How long have your symptoms been like this?” he asked the man as he peered into his eyes and shone a light into them.
“Since this morning.” The man told him, “It was only when I contacted Krysti and found out she had the same that I though we should come and get it looked at.” Then he blinked and from one his eyes a drop of blood came running down his cheek.”
“And it’s a good job you did.” Doctor Lordin
“Not yet.” The doctor replied, “But it could become if not treated. Tell me have either you travelled off world recently?”
The two young people looked at one another and then at the doctor.
“No. Why?” the young man asked.
“Because the parasite you have picked up is only found in the lakes of one world in this sector. Now I’m going to prescribe you both a course of drugs to remove it from your system and it’s important you start taking it right away. The blurred vision and bleeding is from pressure on the optic nerves and unless the parasites can be removed there could be permanent damage.” Doctor Lordin explained and he began to enter the prescription into his datapad. When he was done the device bleeped once and the entry on the screen turned yellow. This told him that the prescription had been automatically processed but that the hospital pharmacy was beginning to run low on the medication involved.
Agent Garm Larcus of the Imperial Security Bureau started his day in the same way as he always did, turning on his computer and then going through the myriad of security alerts and messages that had arrived since the end of his last shift. Like all experienced agents he had configured his messaging system to sort the unread messages to pick out those most likely to be worthy to his attention and move them to the top of the list, but it was one further down that suddenly caught his attention. The message had been tagged as a potential nuisance by the filter; apparently it had been bounced around from one agent to another over the last week without any of them taking any action other than to give it to someone else. But Garm took notice of the sender, a Doctor Lordin with a government sending identification.
Garm opened the message and started reading whereupon he saw why the previous agents had all decided to pass it on rather than deal with it themselves. The message described how numerous patients had all come to Doctor Lordin’s hospital within a short space of time complaining of symptoms that matched only a parasitic infection not normally found on the world of Estran and the doctor believed that someone was breaking quarantine laws. Typically this would be a job for Imperial Customs or Estran’s own local police forces rather than the ISB and Garm’s finger hovered over the button to forward it on again, this time to the correct agency.
“Sorry I’m late.” A woman’s voice said and Garm looked up to
see an attractive blonde woman clad in a skin tight bodyglove enter the
“This would be so much easier if we didn’t have to keep arriving separately.” Vay said as she walked around behind him and leant over him, wrapping her arms around his shoulders and kissing his cheek. Then she glanced at the screen, ”What’s this? Our next mission?”
“No its nothing. I was just about to send it to customs.” Garm replied.
This is important Vay.
The warning in Vay’s head came from deep within the Force itself in the form of a woman’s voice. A voice that Vay now knew belonged to Lara Udra, a distant ancestor of her who had been a member of the Jedi Order almost four thousand years earlier. Apparently the collected spirits of the Udra family felt that serving the Empire was not what Vay should be doing and were attempting via Lara’s intervention to get her to change her ways.
“Wait.” Vay said, “Maybe we should check this out.”
“Call it a feeling.” Vay replied.
Bad. Very bad.
“I’ll let you know.” Vay said.
The emergency treatment unit was not particularly busy when Gram and Vay arrived, but there were still queues of people waiting to be seen. One of these was a particularly large man stood by the reception desk and apparently arguing with the woman behind it regarding the cost of treatment.
“All I need is some krffing skin sealant!” he yelled as Garm and Vay walked up behind him and noticed that there was a deep cut on his forehead. From the odour around him Garm guessed that the man was intoxicated and had injured himself by falling over, “What does it matter how I’m going to pay?”
“Only the doctors can-“
“Look you damned rancor-faced-“ the man began and Garm decided to step in.
“Excise me sir, but are you aware that under the local penal code offering abuse to hospital staff is grounds for you to ejected from this facility regardless of your medical condition?”
The large man turned to see Garm standing behind him in his ISB uniform with his hand resting on the blaster pistol holstered at his waist and he snarled.
“Big man hiding behind your uniform and blaster huh? Well you better hope I never find you without them.” He said, standing up straight so that he towered over Garm. Then he noticed Vay and he smiled, “Hey baby, how’d you like to kiss this better?” he asked, pointing to his forehead.
“No cure for stupid.” Vay replied and the man’s eye’s widened.
“Get over here! I’ll teach you a lesson!” and he reached out to grab hold of her.
Knowing what to expect Garm stepped aside and watched as Vay caught hold of the man’s wrist with both hands and rotated it sharply, causing him to scream in pain.
“I do believe I’m next.” Garm commented as the man dropped to his knees and Vay delivered a kick to his face. Ignoring the brawl Garm then stepped up to the reception desk and lent on it, “Could you direct me to Doctor Lordin please?” Garm asked the receptionist who seemed more interested in seeing the abusive man getting the beating of his life from the slender and unimposing Vay.
“I’ll summon him.” she replied and she tapped at her computer to issue an automated call, “If you could please take a seat.” She then said, “I’m sure the doctor will be with you soon.”
“Come on Vay.“ Garm said as she let go of the man and he slumped to the floor.
“Coming.” Vay replied and then she looked down at the man and added, “Now be polite to the people who’ll have to stick you back together if you speak to me like that again.”
It took only a few minutes for Doctor Lordin to arrive and the receptionist pointed out Garm and Vay to him.
“Doctor Lordin.” He introduced himself, holding out his hand
“So I see. What took so long? I contacted your office a week ago.”
“Careful there doc.” Vay commented, “Ask him what happens if you’re impatient.” And she pointed towards the large man whose face was now badly battered and cut.
“Unfortunately your message was caught in our system until this morning.” Garm said before the doctor could respond, “We came as soon as we could.”
“Well if you’d come with me I’ll show you what I need to speak with you about.” Doctor Lordin said and he led Garm and Vay to his office where he turned the display of his computer to make it more easily visible from both sides of the desk.
“I understand you suspect a breach of planetary quarantine laws.” Garm said.
“Yes I do.” The doctor replied and on the computer screen he
called up the heavily magnified of a blood sample that contained something
other than just blood cells, “Last week we had more than twenty people
come in suffering from infection by a water-borne parasite that is not
found here on Estran. The larval aqua-notris.”
“The Tot-Eh system.” The doctor told her.
“I thought of that. Of the twenty-six cases only three had been off planet within the timeframe for the infection and none were to anywhere in the Shadow Worlds, let alone Tot-Eh.” Doctor Lordin said.
“And what does this bug do?” Garm then asked.
“If either the eggs or the larval stage of the parasite get
into the blood stream then the larvae make their way towards the cranium
where they feed off blood cells from within the bloodstream itself. This
wouldn’t be too bad, the number of cells eaten is rarely enough to cause
anaemia, but when the larva excrete waste they push it into the sides of
the blood vessel to prevent blocking the path of their food and this
causes internal haemorrhaging. To make matters worse if they get near the
optic nerves the pressure and bleeding can damage eyesight, even make
someone go blind in an extreme case.”
“Why do I get the feeling that you’re not telling us everything?”
“As well you might,” Doctor Lordin said, ”You see the adult aqua-notris is carnivorous Agent Larcus and when it hatches out it generally finds itself surrounded by brain tissue.”
“So they eat their victims brains from the inside out?” Vay
“So what can be done about the earlier stages doctor?” Garm asked.
“Well there is a counter agent based on a form of algae that’s found in the parasite’s native environment that attacks both the larval form and the chrysalis while not harming most host species. But we retain only limited stocks of the agent here. In fact on the entire planet I doubt there’s enough to treat more than ten thousand people. We exhausted our stock of twenty-five treatments and had to send for extras from another facility for the final case. We were lucky no one died.”
“Doctor I’m going to need a list of all the patients treated for
infection.” Garm said, “If I’m going to find out how they were infected
then I’ll need to establish a link between them.”
“Thank you doctor.” Garm said, getting to his feet, “Hopefully your
diligence will prove to be most beneficial.”
“Didn’t we both?” Garm responded.
Doctor Lordin then showed Garm and Vay back to the reception area and as he turned to return to his office a second doctor approached him.
“What was that ISB agent doing here?” he asked.
“Oh Agent Larcus was here about all those cases of larval aqua-notris last week.” Doctor Lordin told the other man, “They’re going to look into how so many cases suddenly cropped up at once.”
“Well someone ought to.” The second doctor said before he turned and walked away, making his way to his own office. Once there he locked the door behind him and activated the communication unit on his desk.
“What?” the bald-headed human whose image appeared on the screen said sternly.
“Well the ISB finally turned up. I think the Agent’s name was Larcus and he had some young woman with him.”
“Larcus? Are you certain?”
“Yes. Why? What’s so special about him Mister Fallir?”
“He’s someone who never let’s go, even when he should.” Fallir replied, “Hopefully he’ll be just efficient enough to solve the part of this we want him to.” And then the screen went blank.
“Why do I get the feeling that by the end of this I’ll never want to go near water again?” Garm asked on the landspeeder journey back to the capital building where his office was located.
“You could always ask for a transfer to Tatooine.” Vay suggested.
“Would you come with me?”
“Then I guess I’ll just have to stay here and risk having my brain eaten by bugs.” Garm said and the pair smiled at one another.
“So I take it that we’ll be going to visit all those people who got infected.” Vay then asked.
“No. Not yet anyway. Maybe later on.”
“Because I’m hoping that we can get more information at the office.
If we just ask all those people what they did and where they went they’ll
probably describe things differently, even if the places and events were
“Using a computer of course. With the names and addresses of the victims we can find employment locations, vehicle registrations and credit details. That tells us where they go and what they do. Then we go and see them once we know exactly what we want to ask them. Keep the questions simple and don’t give them the chance to stray from the vital details.”
“I love it when you get all super secret agent guy on me.” She said.
“I know.” Garm replied.
The names and addresses of all of the victims of the parasites were waiting in Garm’s message inbox when he and Vay got back to his office and just as he had explained in the landspeeder he immediately ran these through the public records databases to find out what other information was available about them while Vay simply sat down cross legged on the office floor and closed her eyes to meditate.
“Vay while I’m doing this I need you to get in touch with other hospitals.” He said without looking away from the screen.
Vay opened one eye.
“Let me guess. To see if any other cases were seen at any of them?”
Vay sighed and got to her feet before moving a chair around the desk so she could sit beside Garm and reached for the communicator.
“Do you have a list for me?” she asked before activating it and Garm brought up a list at the side of his screen, “Thanks.” Vay said, kissing his cheek and then activated the communicator.
Three more cases of infection were reported by other hospitals in the city, none of which had reached the adult stage and the details of those patients were added to Garm’s list. At first there seemed to be no link between any of the victims, but when the final new name was added a common source for the infection was finally found.
The man was a petty thief with a string of convictions by local courts. He was the sort of street scum that most people would cross the street to avoid and so the other people on the list would expect only to encounter him as the victim of one of his crimes.
Which was exactly the link Garm found.
The man had been treated by a doctor called to a police station when he began bleeding from his eyes while under arrest for stealing the purse of one of the other victims. The evidence file against him included a security camera feed from a local mall and although it did not show the exact moment the crime took place it did prove how come the just under thirty people had come to be infected by the parasites. The video showed the man watching his victim as she stood in a queue for a bus outside the mall along with numerous other people. All of who happened to be among those infected. All together there was only one victim missing from the queue and he appeared a few minutes later when the bus arrived, empty except for the final victim. The driver. The people in the queue boarded the bus and then the arrested man rushed up and leapt aboard just before the doors closed and the vehicle departed. All this happened two days before the victims were admitted to hospital for the infection.
“That’s it.” Garm said, ”They were infected on the bus.”
“And we can use traffic control footage to find it.” Vay
“The day’s not over yet.” Garm replied, “But we’ll need help. Someone that doesn’t need to worry about being infected by waterborne parasites.”
The bus driver was in a good mood today. None of the passengers had tried to pay with ridiculously large denomination coins or notes, no one had abused him and nothing had been spilt that he would need to clean up at the end of his run.
Yes today was a good day.
All of a sudden there was the sound of the bus’ repulsorlift engines was drowned out by the more powerful sound of the engines belonging to the gunship that flew so low overhead that he and his passengers all instinctively ducked.
“Stang!” the driver exclaimed loudly, an exclamation that would have drawn harsh words from the elderly lady sat immediately behind him with her two young grandchildren had he not also been forced to slam his foot down on the break as the gunship pivoted and touched down on the road in front of his bus.
Stormtroopers in full armour began to spill out of the gunship and the driver steered to try and drive around them. But as the bus began to gather speed again the stormtroopers ran out across the road, waving at all traffic to halt. They waved at the bus as well, but that was not all they did. The stormtroopers aimed their blasters directly at the driver.
Perhaps today was not so good after all.
Terrified looking faces stared out of the bus as the stormtroopers formed a cordon despite the fact that most of them held their blasters low, only those in front of it actually aimed their weapons towards it.
“This is the Imperial Security Bureau!” Garm called out, using the gunship’s public address system to amplify his voice, “Everyone is to evacuate the bus and form a single line. Leave your belongings where they are.” At first nothing happened and so Garm issued another warned, “Driver open the door or we will open fire.” And the door then opened before the driver emerged and one at a time the passengers began to follow him.
“Come let’s go find out what’s on that bus.” Garm then said to Vay and they too disembarked from the gunship and headed towards the cordon of stormtroopers.
All of a sudden a young man amongst the passengers broke away from the group and tried to run.
“Stop him!” Garm yelled and just as he tried to run between the
stormtroopers there was a bright blue flash as one of them opened fire
with a stun blast that sent him tumbling to the ground. The two closest
stormtroopers were then on him in moments, holding the already
incapacitated man’s arms behind his back as they bound him.
“Yes sir.” The stormtrooper replied and then with a few hand signals he indicated which of his troops were to carry out which tasks.
Garm then turned to Vay.
“So now we just wait and see what they find.” He said.
“You really think that whatever was used to infect the passengers will still be aboard?” she asked him, “There haven’t been any more cases.”
“I know. I’m hoping that whatever it was that infected them will have left some traces that the scanners can pick up. Even if it stopped being effective more than a week ago.”
As it happened Garm and Vay did not need to wait for the results of the scanner sweep, the low light vision provided by the MFTAS built into the helmets of the stormtroopers revealed the presence of an object behind a vent located at the front of the bus and they removed it and sealed it in a transparent evidence bag before taking it to Garm.
“This was aboard the vehicle sir.” A stormtrooper told him, “It
does not seem to be part of the standard equipment and the driver denies
any knowledge of it.”
“It looks like a vaporiser.” Vay said.
“A what?” Garm said, looking around at her.
“It’s the heating element from an oxidiser. They turn the liquid oxygen into a gas before it can freeze your face off. Bigger ones are used in hospitals and starship life support systems when anaesthetic or vital gases are stored in liquid form.”
“Let me guess. Once the liquid has been turned to a vapour, that
vapour gets sprayed out of that little nozzle.” Garm then said, pointing
to a small aperture on the device and Vay nodded, “Well this definitely
changes things doesn’t it?” Garm then said, “Rather than someone just
breaking quarantine rules about hazardous materials we’ve got someone
building a device to deliberately infect people.”
“Exactly. What we’re dealing with here is a weapon of mass
destruction and I’m willing to bet that this was just a test run.” He
“Agent Larcus, would you mind explaining why you have dragged us all here?” Gayal Tharr, head of Imperial Intelligence for the demanded when Garm and Vay were shown into the briefing room. Garm had called an emergency meeting the moment he had determined that a bio-weapon was involved and so they were the last ones to arrive. Seated around the table were all of the sector’s highest ranking Imperial officials whether from the military, intelligence or the Committee for the Preservation of the New Order that included the ISB and Garm’s own superior Director Helios was present. Most significantly though, sat at the end of the table was Moff Gregor Horatian.
“This was discovered concealed in a public bus Miss Tharr.” Garm replied, tossing the vaporiser onto the desk in front of her.
“And what is this?” Gayal asked, picking up the evidence bag and examining the contents.
“The delivery system for a biological weapon.” Garm
A hint of a smile appeared on Vay’s face as she felt Gayal’s reaction.
The reactions from around the room that Vay sensed were
understandable, but it was not necessary to be Force sensitive to notice
everyone in the room shifting in their seats slightly at the mention of a
“Jealous Gayal?” Director Helios asked.
“That one of my agents uncovered something that Imperial
Intelligence knew nothing about.” The director replied and then he too
turned to address Moff Horatian, “Sir this is why counter terrorism is
best left to my department.”
“Because it was just a test sir.” Garm replied, “Perhaps to test the weapon or perhaps our response.”
“Which if it took a week isn’t up to much.” Fleet Admiral Vretan of the Imperial Navy commented.
“So what does this weapon do then?” the Imperial Army’s General Dern then asked and Garm glanced at Vay.
“It releases a mist containing the eggs of a parasite that attacks its host’s brain general. If untreated it is fatal.” She explained.
“A doctor at a local hospital noticed a sudden spike in the number of cases.” Garm then added.
“So where did this weapon come from?” Moff Horatian then asked.
“The parasite exists only in the Tot-Eh system sir.” Garm replied, “The doctor’s first thought was a quarantine issue. It was only the discovery of the device that revealed the involvement of a weapon.”
“Then you will go to the Tot-Eh system.” Moff Horatian said, “There
you will locate the source of this bio-weapon and neutralise it. You will
have whatever support from the military you need.”
“Tot-Eh’s in the Shadow Worlds isn’t it admiral?” Rodge Larrs asked, “Close enough to react to any threat from the nebula. One star destroyer admiral. That ought to be enough.”
“So you’re a military expert all of a sudden are you?” the admiral replied with a frown.
“I don’t see the need for the navy to be diverting a star destroyer
for this mission.” Moff Horatian said and he looked at Fleet Admiral
Vretan, “Could you spare a couple of lines of smaller ships? A skirmish
line to intercept anyone trying to get weapons away from the planet and an
attack line of interdictors maybe?”
“Excellent. Then while Agent Larcus is heading for Tot-Eh I suggest
that the rest of us-“
“Yes Mister Kellesen?” the moff asked.
“Agent Larcus will have back up.” Director Helios pointed out, “The marines aboard the navy ships, a unit of COMPForce troops and he’ll have the authority to requisition whatever local forces he wants.”
“Perhaps so.” The gaunt man replied, “But it cannot be denied that
Imperial Intelligence has other assets around the sector that may come in
Don’t let that happen Vay. Keep him away from this.
“I don’t think that will be necessary.” Vay said suddenly in response to Lara’s warning.
“And why not Miss Udra?” Ibram asked glaring at her and Vay sensed his attempt to probe her mind.
Better for him to track down the people who used the weapon here.
“Perhaps it would be better for you to remain here on Estran to track down the people who carried out the test attack.” Vay replied, hoping that Ibram would continue to be unable to detect Lara’s presence.
“As Director Helios has already pointed out, such counter terrorism is best left to the ISB.” Ibram replied, “No. I believe that my skills will be best employed dealing with the source of the weapon. Wouldn’t you agree Moff Horatian?” he then added and he looked around at the moff.
“Yes I would.” The moff replied and after a slight pause he went
on, “I want reports from everyone on how well placed we are to deal with a
full scale attack in the near future. That includes the availability of
“Then you’ll have to arrange for more to be supplied.” Moff Horatian said, “Now go. I want this dealt with before it becomes public knowledge. The last thing we need is panic.”
The meeting then broke up, with each person heading back to their
office to prepare the information demanded by the moff. However, as Vay
was following Garm out of the door she felt a hand on her shoulder and
turned to see Ibram standing right behind her.
“Because I saw no need for you to go on it.” She told him.
“Perhaps you have forgotten why I remained in this sector to begin
with. To keep an eye on you.” Then he glanced in the direction Garm had
gone, “You and him now.”
“In a way yes.” Ibram replied.
“You’re after the parasite aren’t you?” Vay said and for a brief moment Ibram was silent.
“A naturally occurring biological weapon. Such a thing could be of great value to the Emperor and the Emperor rewards those who bring him such things. Help me and together we can share his reward.”
Vay pushed Ibram’s hand from her shoulder and without speaking she walked after Garm.
“I should have known it.” Garm said, frowning as he watched the company of COMPForce trooper loading their equipment aboard the shuttles that would carry them up to the navy cruisers waiting for them in orbit.
“Hello Agent Larcus.” The commander of the COMPForce troopers said in reply when he looked in Garm’s direction.
“Major Kramm.” Garm said, then he looked at the major’s second in command and added, ”Captain Layne.”
“Agent Larcus.” The captain said, “The blonde not with you this time?”
“I thought you two were joined at the hip.” Kramm added.
“That wasn’t the part of their anatomy I was thinking about.” Layne commented, “But not far out.”
“Vay is just checking on some of our supplies.” Garm replied, “And I’ll remind you both that as far as you are concerned, she outranks you.”
“She’s an intern.” Layne commented.
“A little girl.” Kramm added.
“Oh look, she’s brought her grandfather.” Layne said and both he and Kramm smirked as the pair approached.
“What the hell is all that?” Kramm asked, looking at the pallet.
“Bottled water.” Vay replied.
“The drinking water’s not dangerous is it?” Kramm
“Yes sir!” Kramm responded and he and Layne both snapped to attention as something about Ibram’s demeanour told them that he was not a man to be taken lightly. Then as the pair marched away Ibram turned to Garm, “Time for us to get aboard as well I think Agent Larcus.” He added and without waiting for a reply Ibram walked aboard the nearest shuttle.
Tot-Eh, primary world of the system of the same name was an unimpressive world from orbit, most of its surface appearing as either dull grey or green from orbit with only the shallow oceans standing out as dark blue. Quite close to its star, the atmosphere was hot and humid when Garm disembarked the shuttle and he began to sweat almost immediately. Vay had no such difficulties, her bodyglove featured full temperature control and with the turn of a dial set into her belt the atmosphere became irrelevant. The COMPForce troopers were largely unaffected as well, their all-enclosing armour possessing the same environmental control and protection as stormtrooper armour or Vay’s bodyglove.
Enquiries made about the parasite and the algae known to be lethal
to it led Garm to a water treatment plant. He was surprised to discover
that the locals actually drew water from the lakes where the parasite
lived to supply their settlements. What did not surprise him though as he
went along with Ibram and Vay drove to the plant were the large signs put
up around the lake itself that carried the simple warning ‘NO
“No that’s me.” Garm replied as he got out after Ibram, “I’m the one who called you.”
“Well I’m Devid Tarr. You want to know about the bugs in the water I hear.”
“That’s right. I’m afraid that someone may have taken some to
Estran and we’ve had a number of people taken ill.”
“So only this world is suitable for the aqua-notris parasite to grow?” Ibram asked.
“That’s right.” Devid answered.
“Not at all.” Devid told her, “We draw our water from the shallows
where algae grows.”
“That’s it. We draw water from there because the parasite can’t survive in it. They live in the deeper water on the far side of the lake. Then we filter out the algae and process it into tablet and liquid forms for treatment for anyone who either falls into the lake or decides that the warning isn’t for real and goes for a swim. We still get a few fatalities every year of course. But no more than a dozen or so.”
“We’re going to need a large amount of the counter agent. Enough
for the population of Estran City at least.” Garm told Devid, but the man
shook his head.
“You will find a way.” Ibram then said sternly, “Or else.”
“Look, I don’t care what sort of threats you make it just can’t be done. Come on inside and you’ll see.” Devid told him and Vay sensed his irritation.
The worker led the trio of Imperial agents into the treatment plant. Inside the water from the lake was pumped through the purification system to where it was then sent on to the nearby settlements. As it came into the plant the water had a distinct greenish colour to it, but by the time it was treated it was as clear as the water in any other modern settlement around the galaxy. Devid led his guests to where the main pipes had several smaller ones projecting out from them that in turn led to some storage tanks.
“This is were the algae is removed.” He said and climbing up a ladder that led to the top of one of the tanks he opened up a hatch and reached inside. When he removed his hand it was covered in a thick green slime, “This is what we make the treatments from.” He added as he descended the ladder and held out his hand towards Garm who subconsciously backed away from the foul smelling sludge.
“And how many treatments would what you have there produce?” Ibram asked.
“Treatments?” Devid replied, “There isn’t enough here for a single
tablet. You see the active agent in the algae is only a small part of its
physical makeup and it spoils rapidly when the algae dies because of the
decomposition. We need to extract that active element and then concentrate
it so that it has a decent shelf life. The IV liquids tend to last longer
because we can store a small amount of live algae in it, but even then it
goes off after a couple of years. It’s not a problem in the lakes because
the algae is continuously reproducing, but it’s a different matter for
industrial production. That’s why just ramping up production isn’t viable.
We need to process tens of thousands of litres of water to produce enough
to treat even one person.”
“There’s someone else isn’t there?” Ibram said.
Doctor Torr Vissal’s home was unusual for the world of Tot-Eh. On a planet where the population tended to avoid the lakes filled with potentially deadly parasites the doctor had acquired a house mounted on a repulsorlift platform and deployed it right over the deep water where the parasites swarmed and multiplied. A walkway wide enough to take a landspeeder connected the building to the land and Garm kept to the middle as he led Ibram and Vay across. At the front door he activated the intercom and waited.
“Yes?” a voice that Garm took to be the doctor asked.
“ISB. Open up.” He said.
Garm was about to reply when Ibram spoke up first.
“Doctor Vissal. Open the door before I do it myself. Consider that an order.”
The intercom went silent and Garm was just beginning to think that Ibram’s threat had backfired when the door slid open to reveal a white haired man.
“You are Doctor Torr Vissal?” Garm asked.
“You purchased algae from the local water treatment plant.” Vay said, “Rather a lot of it.”
“Yes. I wanted to see if there was a better way to produce the
counter agent to the aqua-notris parasite.” The doctor answered.
“Unfortunately no. You see the problem is that the algae is a
disposable product available in almost limitless quantities. When I bought
some I was only really paying for the containers and shipping.”
“Well the algae multiplies depending on its food source, just like
any other life form. So by providing a concentrated growth medium I was
able to promote growth of the algae in the lab at a much faster rate than
occurs in nature. I was even able to harvest the chemical they produce
that kills the aqua-notris without killing the algae. From an algal colony
that would fit in a bathtub I was able to produce enough of the chemical
for a full treatment every single day.” The doctor explained.
“Larcus.” Gram replied, “And my associates Miss Udra and Agent Kellesen.”
“Thank you. Well Agent Larcus, as you said the issue is money. The
water treatment plants do not need to pay for the algae, provide it with
any nourishment or growth medium or maintain a controlled environment. All
of which regrettably I have to do. Since the number of cases of
aqua-notris infection each year is very small it just wasn’t economically
viable to set up a production plant.”
“Like I said it isn’t-“
“The Empire will pay the costs doctor.” Ibram interrupted, “Your work has become a matter of Imperial security and your co-operation is not up for discussion.”
“Imperial security? But why?” the doctor asked, looking at each of the three agents in turn, “Wait has the aqua-notris been found somewhere else? No, it’s more than that isn’t it? A natural colony would just be a public health matter, not security. Someone’s found a way to weaponise it haven’t they?”
“That’s classified information doctor.” Garm told him, “Under Imperial authority I am ordering you not to discuss this with anyone else without prior permission.”
“Yes of course. But I will need to speak with suppliers for the
equipment we’ll need.”
“We’ll need to do a security sweep of the area.” Vay said and she looked at Ibram, “Perhaps Agent Larcus and I should handle that task while you return to the starport and inform the moff of our status.” She added.
Vay noticed the brief flash to emotion when she told Ibram what she thought his role ought to be, but it soon vanished and was replaced by a fake smile back at her.
“That seems appropriate.” He replied and then he looked at Doctor Vissal, “Good day doctor. Keep me informed of your progress.”
“Certainly.” The doctor replied and he followed the agents to the door to show them out. Then as soon as they were gone he headed for his communication unit and requested a connection to Estran. He waited while the link was made and a bald man appeared on the screen, “Mister Fallir.” He said with a smile, “Good news. We’re going to be rich.”
Keeping as far away from the water’s edge as they could get while
still being able to inspect the shore line Garm and Vay made their way
along the muddy lakeshore to look for places that could be used to mount
an attack on the house. The lake itself was tidal and at that time the
water level was close to its lowest, leaving wide muddy flats around much
of the water that would become flooded when the level got higher.
“Because I knew that Ibram wouldn’t want any part of it. He’ll
think it’s beneath him.” Vay replied.
“Really? Because that sounds nice.”
“Doctor Vissal knows more than he’s telling us.” Vay said and Garm
came to a sudden halt.
“Perhaps because he was looking for evidence of being lied to and as far as I could tell the good doctor was being truthful in the information he gave. He just left a few things out.”
Garm’s head whirled back to face the house.
“Maybe. Maybe he just realised that it was a possibility and that’s why he went looking for a way to mass produce the treatment.” Vay replied.
“So why not tell Ibram about this?” Garm asked, “I mean I know you don’t like him any more than I do, but he could help us.”
“Because I don’t trust his motives either.” Vay answered, “Garm, I think that he wants to find a way of making us fail.”
Making you fail? What, don’t you think he’ll object to the Empire getting its hands on the parasite as a weapon?
Vay frowned briefly, but Garm was facing the other way and he did
“Pretty much yes.” Vay said.
“To get some answers.” Garm replied.
Rather than return to the house to question Doctor Vissal again,
Garm began to walk back along the road in the direction of the starport
with Vay walking alongside him. Ibram had taken the landspeeder when he
left ahead of them and so Garm and Vay had no choice to proceed on foot
It was then that there was the sound of a repulsorlift engine and a
pair of troop carriers with COMPForce markings came into view. As they
drew closer Garm waved to flag them down.
“I’ve business elsewhere.” Garm said, “And I want you to be careful
when you deploy. Place a couple of men at the house and then keep the rest
out of sight along the lakeshore. Most important is that whatever you do
you are not to stop anyone from approaching the house unless they present
a clear threat. Just make sure that you record everyone who pays the
doctor a visit. I want to know who his friends are.
“I don’t.” Garm said, glancing at Vay as he spoke.
“They won’t need these APCs.” Vay said softly.
“No they won’t.” Garm replied and then he looked back up at the commander of the lead vehicle, “Have your men dismount lieutenant. They can proceed on foot. One of your vehicles can stay here to act in support of the troops if they come under fire if you want, but I’m commandeering the other to take me and Vay back to the starport.”
“You know you’ve got COMPNOR troops all around your house?” Devid told Doctor Vissal as he stepped from the submersible into the module attached to his house and concealed beneath the water level. Only a narrow vertical access shaft connected the module to the main house and there was insufficient room between the house and the water for it to be visible from the shore.
“Yes, I thought they were planning on deploying some. I think they’re worried that the people making the bio weapon will attempt to murder me.” The doctor replied.
“Speaking of which. How’s it going?” Devid asked.
“Come and see.” Doctor Vissal told him and he led him into the next room.
The room was configured as a hybrid of laboratory and manufacturing area where a row of droids assembled vaporiser units from piles of components. Meanwhile on the far wall were rows of transparisteel tanks into which water from the lake was being kept. This water had a particularly cloudy appearance and monitors placed next to each one displayed heavily magnified images of the tiny creatures that swarmed within.
“It looks like this half of the operation is coming along well enough.” Devid said as he studied each display in turn.
“Oh it’s coming along perfectly. Just like I promised you and our backers on Estran. They’ll get their cheap bio weapon right on schedule and then we’ll all make a fortune selling an overpriced treatment to the Empire. Who knows, maybe we’ll be able to find some more groups who want the weapon. For a premium of course, the PLAE funded this set up so they deserve a discount. The Rebel Alliance maybe, they’ve got money. I know they claim to abhor such things, but haven’t all terrorist groups in history said such things?”
“Your backers are certainly experts at saying one thing and doing another.” Devid commented, “Are you sure we can trust them?”
“Of course not. But if they try and double cross us then we can just use the weapon against them can’t we?”
“Agent Larcus, why do you have my men skulking in weeds instead of
establishing a visible perimeter?” Major Kramm demanded the moment that
the APC’s rear hatch dropped open, “And what’s all this about not stopping
people from approaching the house?”
“Actually Agent Larcus this is a joint operation between the ISB and Imperial Intelligence.” Ibram’s voice called out and Garm turned to see the gaunt looking man striding towards him, his cloak wrapped around him to hide the lightsaber Garm guessed he would still be carrying, “And considering that my rank in Imperial Intelligence supersedes yours I am amending your order and instructing the major’s men to move in closer. Anyone approaching within one hundred metres of the doctor’s home will be turned back. Anyone who refuses will be shot.”
Major Kramm smiled and glared at Garm briefly.
“In the spirit of interdepartmental co-operation I shall pass on
the new orders sir.” he then said to Ibram and saluted him, lowering his
hand and marching away without bothering to wait for the salute to be
Ibram turned to Vay.
“Keep him quiet Vay. If you can’t then I will.” And then he too turned around and walked away.
“Well so much for keeping tabs on who pays the doctor a visit.” Garm said to Vay as he watched Ibram’s departure.
“The troopers could still provide a list of everyone that they stop.” Vay pointed out.
“Yes, but we’d have no idea if they were going to see the doctor or if they were just passing by. Somehow I doubt the sorts of people we’re interested in would just say that was where they were headed to.”
“So what now?” Vay asked.
In addition to the starport facilities that they had requisitioned, the Imperial forces had brought with them numerous prefabricated components that had already been assembled into a command and control centre, providing communications and planning systems that were superior to anything that the limited forces normally deployed to the world had access to. In addition it meant that Garm had access to an office and computer terminal that was not used by anyone else and it was here that the results of the background check on Doctor Vissal was sent. As was typical when Garm sat down to use the computer Vay instead opted to sit and meditate on the floor in front of him.
“Well the doctor was right about his research not being financially viable.” Garm commented as he took a quick glance through Doctor Vissal’s bank records. These were helpfully separated into personal and research accounts. Clearly the doctor did not want to attract the ire of the Imperial Revenue Service by mixing them together.
“Uh-huh.” Vay commented without opening her eyes.
“In fact I’m surprised he’s stayed here at all. The money he was
awarded to do his research ran out over a year ago. Since then there’s
just been the occasional payment in while his outgoings kept
“Then they just stopped.”
“What do you mean stopped?” Vay asked, opening one eye.
“I mean all of a sudden eight months ago Doctor Vissal stopped
spending any money at all from his research accounts.” Garm said, “No cash
withdrawals either. The account has been static since then.”
“Yes he did and Doctor Vissal backed up the claim that he paid for it. Even if he did say it was a trivial amount.”
“But neither of them showed us a receipt or invoice.” Vay pointed out as she got up and approached Garm.
“No they didn’t and we never asked.” Garn replied and then he paused, “Come to think of it why would anyone need to pay for the algae? All you need to do is go up a shallow bit of the lake where it grows and dip in a bucket. Job done. But the guy at the plant wanted us to know about the doctor and he wanted us to go and see him. So the simple question is why? What could be in it for him?”
“An investor maybe?” Vay suggested, “We practically told him that
we were desperate and he would have known that the Empire would be willing
to stump up the cash to pay for something that no-one else would
“You mean where are we going? We’re going to see Devid Tarr. I want to know how well he knows Doctor Torr Vissal and since we’ve not got the doctor’s communications records yet, we’ll just have to ask the question face to face.”
Devid was at home when Garm and Vay caught up with him.
“Sorry to bother you at home Mister Tarr, but I’m afraid I have to ask you a few more questions.” Garm replied.
Vay remained silent when she felt Devid’s reaction, not wanting to give anything away to the man and when he stepped aside to allow Garm in she followed him and just smiled at Devid.
“So what do you want to know?” Devid asked as they all sat down in his living room.
“Its just a few basic security questions really.” Garm replied, “My
associate will being making notes.”
“But I thought I’d already given you everything you need.” Devid then said, ”I can’t offer you any more help in sourcing the treatment than I already have.”
“Actually this concerns anything you may know about Doctor
Vissal.” Garm explained, “Since this is a matter of Imperial security we
need to be aware of exactly who we’re dealing
There it was again and it was more than the discomfort that many citizens suffered from when confronted by the authorities. A person’s fear of being tricked into making themselves look guilty even when they hadn’t done anything was understandable, but Devid was clearly hiding something and it had something to do with his connections to Doctor Vissal.
“Very well. Ask away.” Devid said.
“How well do you know Doctor Vissal?” Garm asked.
“Not very well. We only really spoke about his work. Nothing else.”
Vay did not sense any specific lies, but at the same time she could not help but feel that Devid had been very careful with his response.
“And when did you last see the doctor?” Garm then asked.
“Oh about a month ago I think. When he made his last purchase.”
There it was. Vay sensed the lie and reached up to scratch her nose. Garm noticed the action and was immediately alerted to the fact that she had just picked up on something.
“Did you ever happen to see him anywhere else?” Gram asked, “Even just notice him across the street?”
“Oh no. From what I understand he’s a very wealthy man. We
just don’t mix in the same
Again Vay scratched at her nose, making sure not to look at Devid
as she did so and risk him noticing what she was doing.
“Go on.” Devid replied.
“Before we arrived on this planet had you ever heard anyone mention the possibility of purposely infecting people with the aqua-notris parasite. Even something that you could have taken to be a joke?”
“No. No, I’ve never heard that said.” Devid answered.
“Agent Larcus,” he then went on, “everyone at the plant understands
how dangerous the parasite can be and we just don’t make jokes like
“Every word.” She replied.
“Good, then we can leave Mister Tarr to his own business and get back to ours.” Garm said, getting to his feet,” We’ll show ourselves out.” He then added.
The moment the apartment door closed behind them and they were
heading for the turbolift Garm glanced at Vay.
“He was lying left right and centre Garm. About where and when he
last saw Doctor Vissal and about using the parasite as a bio
“This is Agent Larcus of the Imperial Security Bureau. I have an urgent request for a communications intercept. Sector fourteen, block eleven, hab unit thirty-eight. I want all incoming and outgoing calls traced and recorded and I need records for the last year.”
Garm then waited for a response.
“Copy that. Data will be forwarded to local ISB field office under your name Agent Larcus.”
The local field office of the ISB was not even as large or well equipped as the modular command centre that Garm’s force had brought along with them. Apparently there was little subversive active within the area and so the ISB devoted few resources to it. What the field office did have was about half a dozen agents, three of whom were present when Garm arrived, a private office for only the most senior of these and a single interrogation room.
In the absence of the office’s most senior agent Garm promptly commandeered his office for himself and Vay while they waited for Devid’s communications records to be patched through to them. When this finally happened just over an hour later Devid was in the middle of talking to someone.
“-made all the arrangements.” Garm and Vay caught him saying as they entered in the midst of the conversation, “Are you ready?”
“Of course I am.” The other person involved replied and Garm and
Vay looked at one another and smiled.
“Doctor Vissal.” Vay replied, “So much for them not speaking in months.”
“I’ve got half a dozen cylinders ready to ship.” The doctor
“No. Those COMPForce troops have made their presence more obvious
and I wanted to find out what had happened. I couldn’t get down into the
lab to take the call.”
Vay looked at the display screen of the computer terminal they were
using to monitor the call and then checked her datapad.
“How long until you can arrange pick up?” Doctor Vissal asked Devid.
“Sometime this evening. Do those troops have any sensors in place?”
“Yes. Another one turned up about the time they started making their deployment more obvious. But neither has any enhanced sensor arrays fitted. So long as your people remain below the water line they should be invisible.”
“Did he just say ‘below’ the water?” Garm commented.
“Sounded like it.” Vay replied as she continued to focus on her datapad. Then she looked up, “What sort of laser brain goes for a swim around here?” she asked.
“Let’s see if they explain.” Garm said and both stared intently at
“Oh now that wasn’t nice.” Garm said, “He should be happy that his conversations are actually worth listening into. Never mind the technical skill it takes to set this sort of thing up. Now do you have anything on that comm. ID?”
“It’s a portable unit.” Vay said, “Registered to a local office of
an Estranian company.”
The water Vay. Remember the water.
“The water?” Vay commented.
“When we were at the house it was low tide right?” she
“And be filled with brain eating parasites yes. That’s why it’s on repulsorlifts.”
“But why repulsorlifts? Why not just build it on stilts?” Vay asked.
“Because Vissal wants to keep it a specific distance above the water.” Garm replied, smiling, “Close enough that it’s not possible to see an extra level concealed below the water line.”
“And the doctor warned Devid to make sure that whoever he’s sending
to make the collection should stay below the water. Which probably means
some sort of submersible.” Vay added.
The first line of COMPForce troops just waved Garm and Vay’s speeder past when Garm slowed down enough for them to see his uniform, but they found their way blocked when they came to the crossing to the house.
“No admittance to the house sir.” One of the unit of guards told Garm.
“Trooper do you see my uniform?” Garm asked him.
Garm looked at Vay.
“Check your datapad.” She said to him, reaching out through the Force for his mind. The recruitment and training of COMPForce troopers did not stress analytical thinking and so when Vay found it she found a mind that was wide open to manipulation. Then as the guard looked at his datapad she added, “We are authorised.”
“You are authorised.” The guard said.
“You don’t need to call this in.” Vay told him.
“Move along.” Vay added as she sat back in her seat.
“Move along. Move along.” The guard repeated, waving Garm towards the house.
Garm took the speeder right up to the door before bringing it to a halt and then he and Vay got out.
“Agent Larcus.” Doctor Vissal said as the front door suddenly opened, “What brings you back here?”
“Could we have a word inside please doctor?” Garm said, glancing back to the shore where he noticed that the guards who had let them across the bridge were now in conversation with one of the vehicle commanders, “Quickly please.” He added.
“Of course do come-“ the doctor began before Garm and Vay suddenly barged past him, “What is the meaning of this?” he exclaimed as Vay sealed the door behind them.
“Where is your laboratory doctor?” Garm asked.
“I had to give it up when my research hit a dead end.” Doctor Vissal replied.
“I mean the one you have here at your house.” Garm said, walking further into the house and peering into every room he passed.
“Agent Larcus this is ridiculous.” The doctor said, “I do not have laboratory here.”
“He’s lying.” Vay said simply, “And worried.”
“Miss Udra has an uncommon ability to notice such things doctor.” Garm said as he entered the lounge and walked towards the couch.
“Of course I have.” Vay replied and as she walked over to the hatch she produced her lightsaber from a pouch and there was a ‘snap-hiss’ as it ignited.
“You’re a jedi!” Doctor Vissal exclaimed and he turned and ran from
“Oh look. A ladder.” She said.
“Keep an eye on the good doctor for me.” Garm said as he pulled Vissal towards the shaft, “Send him down after me and then follow.”
“Sure.” Vay replied as she took hold of the doctor.
“I take there aren’t any traps waiting for me?” Garm asked him and he shook his head. Garm then looked at Vay.
“He’s telling the truth.” She said.
As he climbed the only illumination was what came from above him, but as soon as he foot touched the floor at the bottom of the ladder a sensor activated the lights and he saw the room around him. There was a heavy door set into one wall that had two small viewports set into it and when Garm looked through he saw the dark water of the lake, suggesting that this was some sort of docking port for a submersible vehicle. In the opposite direction was a more conventional doorway that for now was sealed with what looked to be an electronic combination lock but from behind it Garm could hear the sound of some sort of machinery and finally along one of the other walls there were six large cylinders, each one fitted with an enlarged version of the vaporiser that Garm had seen fitted to the bio weapon on Estran.
“Okay Vay, send him down then come down yourself.” Garm called out, drawing his blaster and waiting for Doctor Vissal and Vay to descend the ladder, “So doctor,” he said when they were both standing right in front of him, “care to explain all of this?”
“This was for my research.” He replied.
Doctor Vissal frowned and punched a four digit code into the keypad. But as the door opened he dived out of the way.
“Seize them!” he yelled and the droids that had been hard at work assembling more of the delivery units for the bio weapon got up from their work and advanced on the two Imperial agents.
“Stang!” Garm exclaimed, levelling his blaster and firing a shot right into the chest of the closest droid. All of the droids were basic labour units, with no combat programming, offensive weapons or armour plating. Therefore the powerful energy bolt blew the droid apart, even though it did nothing to halt the advance of the rest.
Then Garm heard the ‘snap-hiss’ of Vay’s lightsaber as she activated it again and leapt past him. A droid raised its arms to try and grab Vay, but the attempt was so clumsy that Vay simply swung her lightsaber in a vertical arc and sliced off the limbs. Confused, the droid then began to stagger about as it tried to determine how to follow its instructions now that it had no hands until Garm pressed his blaster to its head and blew it off. Vay then continued to slice her way through the droids, leaving only damaged ones for Garm to pick off as she pressed onwards.
“Call them off doctor!” she yelled as she broke through the droids and reached out and grabbed Doctor Vissal by the collar. Pulling him closer she held out the blade of her lightsaber to his throat.
“Stop!” he yelled and in unison the remaining droids came to a halt and lowered their arms.
“Now that’s better.” Garm said as he stepped into the laboratory and looked around,” Now this is interesting.” He said, “What does all this look like to you Vay?”
“Like an automated production line that takes parasite-infested
water from the lake and places them in tanks to be deliberately released.”
Vay replied without taking her eyes off Doctor Vissal.
“Doctor Vissal! Are you safe? Agent Larcus identify you location!” Ibram’s voice called out and Garm headed back to the ladder.
“Down here!” he shouted back up it, “I think you ought to come down here and take a look at what our friend Doctor Vissal’s been up to.”
Vay, quickly. You have to destroy this room before he can see it.
Vay felt the warning from Lara, but paid it no attention as she
heard the sound of Ibram descending the ladder.
There was a hollow ‘clang’ as the submersible docked, followed by a hiss as the docking port hatch slid open. Devid stepped into darkness that vanished as he foot hit the floor and the lights came on. Looking around him he saw that the room was completely empty, despite Doctor Vissal having promised to have the weapons ready for shipment. Devid looked up the ladder shaft and saw only darkness, suggesting to him that the hatch above was closed. Aware that there could be Imperial troops in the house above he did not call out. Instead he looked back into the submersible.
“This way men.” He said, “The stuff must be in the lab.” And four
more men exited the submersible and headed for the closed door opposite.
When they got there the door slid open automatically and Devid saw that
there was someone sat inside with their back to him.
“Run!” Devid yelled and he turned away from the door to the laboratory and ran back towards the submersible. As he ran he heard the sound of someone sliding down a syntherope line and narrowly avoided Captain Layne as he suddenly appeared at the bottom of the ladder.
Though he missed Devid the captain was in time to block the retreat
of the rest of his men and he sung the butt of his rifle into the face of
Inside the submersible alarms were staring to sound as Devid
disengaged from the underwater module and acrid smelling smoke began to
fill the interior as the damage inflicted by the shot caused fire to
spread. Devid triggered the emergency repulsorlifts to take the
submersible to the surface and he rushed to the top escape hatch, throwing
it open. But as he clambered onto the top of the vessel and looked to
where the emergency raft was stored he heard the sound of powerful
repulsorlifts from overhead and looking upwards he saw a gunship
descending out of the sky. The downward thrust of the gunship’s engines
made the submersible rock and Devid screamed as he found himself falling
over the side into the water.
Armoured hands reached down as the gunship settled low over the
water and Devid was dragged up into the troop-carrying compartment of it.
When they let go of him he lay on the floor spluttering and coughing as he
tried to clear himself of the water.
“Oh now what’s the hurry?” Major Kramm asked, “I’m sure that the ISB will be only too happy to get you all the medical care you need. After you’ve answered all their questions of course.”
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