Roland stepped into the house once again. Overhead the numerous ship yards seemed like tiny toys in the sky. The evening night put a dark backdrop behind some of the shipyards above Fondor. The light from the system's sun reflected off of those far enough in high orbit to still get direct light from the sun. Other ships in the distance towards the star port came and went. The clouds had thinned only recently and every surface had the smell of rain. Chances were that it would rain again according to the news that Roland could hear comming from the living room of the home.
Inside, the Mandalorian Ranger walked over to Phyllys Vasser. The Chief Financial Officer of Transport Automata Unlimited was rightfully distressed. Her son had been kidnapped not long ago. "His things are here so he must have come back from the starport Mrs Vasser. Do you have any security system around here?" He asked, his helmet looking around for any sign of camera.
The eyes behind his cross-visored helmet settled on the Zeltron jedi who had come to assist. This was the first time he had met either of the women in the room. No police lights or any obvious signs showed the home to be a crime scene. The kidnappers left a message for Phyllys. They had yet to call about demands and the crime had only recently occured. The worried mother got up and began to pace, her eyes glancing between Nykoria and Roland.
Despite being a fully-fledged Knight, Kori rarely ventured off Ajan Kloss. Ever rarer did she get involved in business not directly related to the Jedi Order. But when an opportunity to help a person in need presented itself, the Zeltron jedi couldn't pass up. Especially since it involved solving a crime—something that Kori had been training for at the academy on Coruscant prior to joining the Order.
With a black flight suit, a dark-brown leather jacket over it, and a stun blaster in the holster on her hip, the Zeltron looked like an average spacer. Only the lightsaber clipped to the belt indicated her Jedi nature. Next to her, the sector ranger with his helmet on would surely stand out in the crowd much more.
Roland must have been quite an intimidating sight for the already shaken mother. Kori's Zeltron nature meant that she could sense the emotions of the woman. Instead of answering the ranger's question, the distressed Mrs. Vasser began pacing around the room, perhaps trying to distance herself from the grim reality with each step. The Jedi's own foot tapped quietly and unwittingly in response. Calm down, Kori. Emotion, yet peace.
As a Jedi and a Zeltron, Nykoria understood what the mother felt. But if the investigation were to succeed, that just wouldn't do. "Mrs. Vasser," she addressed the woman quietly. The hope was to get the woman's attention, stop her from walking around, and turn to the Jedi.
"I can't imagine what you're going through right now," Kori actually could, but she was saying what she thought the mother wanted to hear. "We'll do everything in our power to bring your son back." the Zeltron glanced at the ranger to make sure she wasn't overstepping her boundaries. She continued with calm and soothing confidence: "But right now, every minute counts. Apart from the security system, could you also tell me if any items are... out of place? I'd need to take a look at them."
Hopefully, this question would get the woman back on track. The Zeltrons were inherently likable, and sometimes had a calming effect on people. Allegedly, it was due to pheromones that they involuntarily produced. Kori rarely had a chance to test the validity of that claim. But it would certainly come in handy right now...
He could tell she was trying to contain her emotions. So far she had done a pretty good job. Plenty of people would have not done anything at all out of fear or do something that risked the hostage's life.
Roland knew a few Jedi in his experiences but Nykoria was a new one. At least she was a Knight though he had been informed to not underestimate even a padawan. I was a pretty scrappy when I was a kid. He admitted to himself.
"Uh....no. Not as far as I can tell at least." Her eyes looked at the walls to see if there were any works of art and began walking around the house to confirm. As the Jedi spoke, he scanned the rest of the room and the view of outside. There were other tall buildings around so there must have been some camera that caught footage of the pent house. Then again, people in high rises didn't like being recorded without their permission.
"Mrs Vasser..." He repeated himself coolly and looked at some of the furnishings and family pictures. "Yes?" She stopped herself. "...do you have any security in place? Guards, blasters, cameras, anything like that?" Slowly but surely she would nod. "I have a stun blaster by my bed. There's also two security droids I keep though they weren't active when I got home." Roland nodded and began heading towards the bedroom. She pointed out where there were charging stations for the droids. He wanted to inspect them.
As Roland headed off to inspect the bedroom, Kori remained with the distressed mother. It made sense—the ranger had more experience with solving crimes and finding clues, whereas the Zeltron had to rely on her rusty investigative training, empathy, and the Force. And the Force compelled Kori to stay where she was.
"Did you notice anything unusual about Thyrs lately, Mrs. Vasser?" she asked the first playbook question that came to her mind, while glancing over the room. Kori hadn't explored the entirety of the crime scene yet, but there were no visible signs of struggle or break-in so far.
Someone would have to check if the door had been sliced. That wasn't Kori's field, but she made a note to herself to offer this suggestion to Roland later. She then turned back to Phyllis to finish her question: "New company, a change in behavior, anything at all?"
"No... I don't think so... I don't know," while Mrs. Vasser appeared calm and distant, the Zeltron jedi could feel the emotions building up in her. "I work long hours, and Thyrs... We barely get a chance to talk..." To that, Kori replied with a nod and a comforting comment: "It's ok, I understand. You are a corporate executive. Could this be related to your professional life? Do you have any enemies?"
The Zeltron sensed that she hit a nerve, although not in a way she expected. The executive scoffed at the amateur question that already contained the answer. "What do you think?" the CFO rewarded Kori with a wry smirk. "Of course I have enemies, and not just on Fondor! Why else would I keep a stun blas..."
CHIRP! The communications console on the table caught Nykoria and Phyllis off guard. While it spared the Zeltron a barrage of upcoming reprimands from Mrs. Vasser, it also filled her with the same fear and anticipation. The woman who acted powerful moments ago now stared at the Jedi briefly, as if unsure what to do.
But Phyllis wouldn't be where she was if she couldn't make decisions. Her finger was reaching for the button when Kori raised her palm briefly. "We've got a call!" Kori raised her voice, so that it would reach Roland in the adjacent room.
The Jedi then nodded to the executive and made a quick quiet comment: "Take it. Act naturally, don't contradict them too much. Remember: for them, we aren't here."
As Phyllis prepared to answer, Kori went quiet, closed her own eyes and strained her ears. Letting the Force flow through her, the Zeltron sought to sharpen her hearing and other, less natural senses. Hopefully, she'd gain as much information as possible from this call. Maybe even a clue where the kidnapped Thyrs Vasser was.
Heading to the bedroom he opened a few drawers, confirming the stun blaster that was there as well as doing some looks around the rest of the room too. The voice of the jedi making an announcement had him return back into view. He didn't add anything to what the Zeltron said to the the mother.
The Mandalorian brought out a signal tracer, making sure it was primed to begin narrowing down where the call was coming from. Phyllis clicked the answer button and brought it fully to her ear slowly. Her mouth opened as if to ask a question but a voice came in from the other side. "Mrs. Vasser, we have your son. Do as we say and no harm will come to him." She swallowed and steeled herself before answering. "W-what do you want?" Her eyes looked between the Jedi and the Ranger for a sense of whether or not she was alright to respond.
"As CFO of your company you have access to a certain codes that are highly valuable. You will retrieve these codes and then deliver them yourself, in person, alone." The type of information this criminal was asking for could end Transport Automata. Roland already had an idea of who these guys were but it just meant they were using proxies for their dirty work.
"Let me...let me see my son." Phyllis said. Roland nodded to show that was a good move. It was important to get confirmation of life otherwise she could be giving into demands for nothing. A pause followed. "Hello?" She looked at the commlink to check if it was still on. A moment later an alert came up on her holoprojector. She reached for it but Roland reached out and grabbed her wrist. Silently, he pointed at Nykoria and waved for her to move further away. He didn't want either of them showing up in the holoprojection that could be showing up back on the other end.
The executive seemed to understand and made a few taps on the controls while the Ranger made sure he wouldn't be in the range of the holoprojection capture. Phyllis answered the call and took a gasp of relief and then burst into tears. Before her was the face of her son, his hair dangling in front of his face and looking like he was in rough shape but in one piece.
With a room between them, Roland couldn't talk to the Zeltron without giving away their presence while the signal tracer worked. Behind the Jedi he saw some of the bags belonging to Thyrs and gestured towards them. Hopefully she got the message he was suggesting she use her psychometery on it.
Kori remained quiet and tense throughout the call. Her hopes to pick up anything—a sound, or any other hint at the kidnappers' location—were in vain. All she did pick up was the stress of Mrs. Vasser. For Zeltrons, emotions of others could become contagious, so the Jedi had to summon all her training to isolate herself from them. Still, she did notice Roland's quiet gesture and step further away from the console.
Where the Force didn't work, perhaps the ranger's tracer would. The Jedi remained standing aside until Roland pointed at something behind her. Unsure what the ranger meant with that gesture, Kori turned to that direction nonetheless. What she saw was a bag; she didn't know whose it was, or why Roland would point at it. Still, she obliged and headed over to it quietly. Maybe the ranger needed something from there?
As Kori knelt and touched the bag—still unaware whose it was—her eyes closed almost instinctively. For a few brief moments, the Force had taken her out of the there and into another, not so distant when.
The sound of multiple ships landing and taking off, slowly going quieter and quieter, as the airspeeder gained distance from the starport. Dialing tones. You have reached Phyllis Vasser, CFO of Transport Automata Unlimited. I'm afraid I can't respond right now. Please leave a message. More dialing tones. Hi, it's Phyllis Vasser. I'm busy right now, please call another time. Engaged tone. Frustration. Resentment?
With a gasp, Kori snapped out of her vision and back into reality. You're onto something, girl. She couldn't make sense of what she felt just yet. But there were probably more clues like that in the apartment. Maybe even the identity of the kidnapper.
It seemed just as quickly as Thyrs had been brought into view of the holocaster, it was turned to show a masked being in his place though due to the angle of the holoprjector and obvious fact they were still in the back of a seat speeder, there were no other discernable indicators of their location. "Mrs Vasser, I need your answer." Her hand tightened around the commlink turning her knuckles white. "Alright...fine..." There was a pause. "Good. Th-" But the voice was interrupted as the CFO's voice spoke to interrupt the kidnapper. "...when will you let my son go?" Another pause and Roland hoped she had not pissed off the people that likely had a blaster pointed at Thyrs.
"We will arrange for that after you have delivered on your end of the deal Mrs Vasser." The voice sounded cooler which just made Roland feel a little suspicious. "We will contact you again. Don't delay." The businesswoman stood up in protest but the projection went dark as it was cut from the other end. Roland looked at the tracer and was glad to see they got both a location and also a decent heading over the course of the call.
Walking over to the mother and stood for a moment. "You did great Mrs. Vasser. That call helped us a lot." He gave her a moment, wiping away tears from her eyes and clearing her throat. "Do you think you could show me those security droids you mentioned?" She looked at him and then simply nodded and began to worldlessly lead the way to where their charging stations were located.
The Zeltron snapped out of her vision just in time to catch a glimpse of the kidnapper and from where he or she was calling. She shook her head and made a light shrug to Roland, as if to say Sorry, I've got nothing. I'll keep at it. Hopefully, Phyllis wouldn't even notice that small sign of failure. Getting more upset was the last thing the Mrs. Vasser needed right now.
As the ranger and the CFO left to see the security droids, Kori stayed behind. She wouldn't be of any use viewing the droids' memory. If someone had tampered with the droids up close and personal, however, she could probably sense something...
The Jedi shrugged off the thoughts as she walked around the penthouse. There were no signs of struggle... apart from an upturned holo-projector. Jackpot! Kori knelt by it, placing her palm on the device...
Nothing? That outcome caught Kori by surprise. Usually, she could sense echoes in the Force from an object. Especially if emotions were involved. Tripping over an object while being kidnapped had to leave a strong emotional trace. Unless the perpetrator caught his target completely off guard.
Disappointed, the Zeltron stood up with a sigh. Perhaps she could check the console at the entrance? Sure, Kori wasn't a techie, but at least she could try and sense someone tampering with it. Good call!
Admittedly, a part of her simply wanted to impress the Sector Ranger. So far, she had shown herself less capable than she would've wanted. Returning empty-handed would add insult to injury.
However, when Kori went outside and touched the console at the entrance, she got the same result as from the holo-projector. Nothing at all! The Jedi didn't know what to make of it. Were the kidnappers so good that a cracking a high-end security system felt like simply opening the door? Or maybe they had a key already.
Regardless, Kori would return inside, intent on sharing her findings (or lack thereof) to the ranger.
Roland was led by the business executive to a portion of the house where two inert security droids stood. She reached out to look at the pad but Roland raised a gloved hand to stop her. "Mrs. Vasser, if you don't mind..." He infered it would be better for her to refrain from touching potential evidence. The woman nodded and took a step away from the control panel.
The Mandalorian looked each of the droids over. Both of them to be in excelent condition. No signs of fighting or so much as a scuff from a paparazi. They had stun blaster pistols as their means of weaponry as well. "You said when you came home they were inactive." He repeated what had been said earlier and she nodded.
With a few taps he was able to get basic information about the droids. At one point or another he asked for Phyllis to put in her code while he checked the logs. "Active...every few hours," His helmet looked towards Phyllis. "Yes we still have them walk the apartment once every few hours on a timed schedule and its active for fifteen minutes and should then have gone inactive, unless it detected something." Her face turned worried, wondering if there was a clue there after all.
Roland didn't stop looking at the droids. He made sure that both were inactive and wouldn't be waking up unless they triggered it. The Mandalorian wasn't well versed in the newest security controls of an upper class place like the Vasser family apparently had. "These logs say it was up for an additional five minutes. But its security protocol was over ridden and recalled to its guard station." It lined up when Thyrs may have already been home. That was just one of the two security droids. The second droid activated for a few minutes as well but the same thing on the diagnostics returned say it had left for a few minutes and commanded to return.
The Ranger pulled out his commlink and began making a request to get access to the traffic footage around the bulding at that time. Now that they had a window of roughly twenty minutes out of the entire night they could narrow down possible vehicles, a make, a model, anything. "Knight Tallis, you mind coming in here?" He said, pulling the commlink away from his face while making the outcall. "You mind feeling this access panel?" Unbeknownst to Roland, Thyrs had been the one that had rushed to the access panel in a panic but had been forced to deactivate the security droids at gunpoint by the same masked men that held him now.
Kori entered the apartment just in time to hear the ranger's call. Luckily, Roland seemed to have found some clue. Examining it seemed like a better option than recounting her failures to find any good evidence. She was surprised that the ranger had heard about psychometry, but didn't show it. "Yes, sure," the Zeltron placed her pink palm on the evidence... and shuddered!
"Turn them off or you're dead!" A painful hit of something metallic on the temple, followed by another intimidating yell: "TURN THEM OFF!!!" A pained gasp and a tear in the eye. Sliding down the wall, fainting, as the perpetrator does something to the console. Something devious.
It took Kori a while to understand that she was the one sliding down the wall like Thyrs had before her. The pained gasp and the tear running down her cheek were also hers. How Mrs. Vasser and ranger Rook would react to that moment of weakness was anyone's guess. Kori was oblivious to the world around her, focused on one thing she had sensed.
"The droids," she mumbled coarsely and gulped, as if she were the one hit with the handle of a gun. "They've rigged them to feed data to them once they go on patrol..." Kori hadn't seen the droids patrolling the area ever since she arrived. But that could change at any moment, giving away the involvement of the rangers and the Jedi.
Roland had become more and more educated in the force as he worked more with some of the members in the Jedi Order. He saw how painful it was for Indyana when she assisted him in purifying a lightsaber crystal. It was not like looking up an old holo-recording. It was more intense than that. It was not exactly a surprise the Zeltron acted though he did feel spike of concern as she acted strangely and looked distressed.
"What is she-" The CFO's question was stopped as Roland held a gloved hand up. The mumbled words from Nykoria caused Roland to walk over to the droids beside the access panel. "As long as we keep them inactive then, we should be fine." He knew he could override it and prevent them from seeing the information with the Mandalorian's counter-slicing capabilities. But the security system had already been tampered with and was considered evidence. It would be best if they didn't alter it for the time being.
"Knight Tallis, Mrs Vasser I'll look up the traffic recordings. For now, stay by the commlink. They might call again." His helmet turned to angle more towards Nykoria. He wouldn't push her to take a rest after her use of psychometery even though it looked like it had been taxing. As far as he could tell after examining the access panel the droids wouldn't activate unless manually activated or when their schedule required them to patrol again.
Tapping the controls on his wrist he made a call with the commlink in his helmet. The following moments he connected with the local law enforcement and went through the process of requesting the footage. After a few minutes he would get it sent to his datapad. Silently he began speeding through at a fast-forward speed until an air taxi brought the familiar figure of Thyrs exited and entered the house. There was still more to look through but he needed to find the make and model of the vehicle the kidnappers had used or if there was any recording of their identities.
Kori nodded to the ranger's comment, gulping as she stood up. The intensity of the vision was unexpected. Usually it happened either when the event was recent enough, or when the associated experiences were strong. This time, it had to be both.
"We should return to the comlink, Mrs. Vasser," the Jedi commented in a voice still coarse from what she had just been through. She cleared her throat: "Once the droids activate, it's best if they don't see anyone in the room. And anyone but you in the penthouse."
"You saw him, didn't you?.." that question from the grieving mother caught the Zeltron by surprise. Kori was still getting over what she had seen and felt. How do you even tell a mother that you have just felt how her son was hit on the head? That you have just lived through all of his fear and pain at that very moment? "...My son," the CFO elaborated, reminding about the question that the Jedi was taking too long to answer.
Kori slowly walked towards a free chair. "No..." she took a seat before turning to Phyllis again. "It doesn't work like that... Not quite. I usually sense emotions, intent... In this case, tampering." It was a lie... No, a partial truth. This time the Zeltron had felt more than that. But she didn't technically see Thyrs—she saw through his eyes. An important distinction that allowed the Jedi to avoid upsetting Mrs. Vasser even further.
"They probably wouldn't expect you to go right now and retrieve the codes... It would draw attention." Kori tried to change the topic, while exercising her rusty detective skills. "But they would expect you to have those codes tomorrow. That's when they'd name the meeting point as well. In case you wanted to prepare."
Unsure in her own conclusions, Nykoria tried to hide it behind a convinced tone nonetheless. However, so far there has been no call, so maybe the Jedi was right. But that remained to be seen.
The recordings he sped through quickly were slowed to normal speed. Behind his helmet his eyes squinted while his hand brought the datapad screen a little closer to his face. A minute would pass after Thyrs disappeared into the home. Two air speeders would park within view of one of the cameras. Four men would get out each airspeeder.
They moved calmly but with purpose. They weren't total amateurs. Not all of their identities were visible and some had masks but they were carrying blasters in hand. Someone went up to the access panel people would normally use to get into the building. The thug stood between the camera and the panel for a minute and then must have sliced it because the door unlocked.
Silently, the group of eight men walked into the home of the Vasser family and were lost from sight again. Roland fast forwarded until he saw them again. Only a few minutes passed and it was obvious the youth was being dragged out against his will rather roughly. He was taken to one of the airspeeders. A group of swoop bikes came down the street and slowed. They looked to communicate with one of the thugs and coordinate with them. But the traffic recording didn't have sound.
Roland was glad Nykoria had taken the woman away since seeing that many thugs just come to kidnap one teenager was an indicator of the group behind this act as well as the danger that the son was in. The Ranger sent out a call to the other group of Sector Rangers that were en route already. He would still want to keep looking for information since there were so many questions left unanswered.
Roland heard Nykoria mention reactivating the droids. But the Mandalorian had no intention of doing so just yet. A gloved hand raised to the chin of his helm. His finger pushing it slightly, almost like a man with spectacles pushing them closer to his eyes. The armored figure leaned closer, trying to examine the automatons closer.
"Did they give a timeframe with their demands?" He asked aloud. "I think they intend to hold your son for an extended period of time Mrs Vasser, if they think getting these, codes, might take more time to get." He wasn't too knowledgeable on what type of encryption these criminals were asking for.
"No... I don't think they did... Did they? I mean, you two were here," the CFO gave the Jedi and the Ranger a perplexed look. The exchange had been so sudden and the demands so big, that Mrs. Vasser didn't seem to be sure about anything. "I think they said soon, and that was it," Nykoria interjected.
"If I were them, I'd expect the codes by the end of next working day," the Zeltron continued her trail of thought. "Otherwise they would've named an exact time already. Mrs. Vasser returning to the office at night and taking sensitive data would undoubtedly draw attention." Nykoria shrugged, uncertain if her "educated guess" was correct.
Phyllis nodded to confirm what the Jedi said. As she spoke, she would pause from time to time, trying to come to terms with her predicament: "We have authorization codes for important... transactions. They're... stored on cylinders. They never leave the corporate building. Security... checks everyone... Especially after shifts... I don't know how I'm supposed to get them out of the building! It's impossible!!!"
There were hints of desperation in Mrs. Vasser's otherwise calm explanation. The events of the evening were starting to take the toll on her. The woman had kept her cool throughout most of the evening, despite the dire circumstances. But now her voice was half-a-tone higher... It wouldn't be long before she'd give into desperation.
Seeing that, Nykoria stood up, walked over to the CFO and placed the purple hand on her shoulder. Her voice trying to instill at least some calm and confidence: "If it comes to that, I'll help you. Impossible is the Jedi's speciality. But I know I won't have to do that. The Rangers will find your son and get him back before those kriffards call again." The Zeltron glanced at Roland, as if seeking support from him; a simple backing up of the statement would do.
"Let me get you some water," Nykoria added softly yet confidently, with the expression of a concerned samaritan. "After that, I suggest you try and rest a little. If they wanted to, they'd call already. Tomorrow will show us a plan." With that, she'd head to the kitchen to get a glass of water. Hopefully, the Ranger had gathered enough data... Kori wasn't certain she was of much use at this point, apart from helping the distraught mother stay calm.
Roland doubted that the thugs had set up any sort of listening device in the house. But all the same he didn't want to give too much information, even if it would help releave the stress Phyllis was feeling. "I agree." He said with a nod.
The woman spoke about the difficulty of acquiring the codes which made sense given their importance. "That's probably why they didn't just take you as a hostage Mrs Vasser. It's easier for you to go there alone and come out with a code cylinder in your pocket then to be walked in with you as a hostage. All that security still makes criminals think twice." It was clear they were willing to wait a day, they had her son. It was actually one of the smarter ways to get an illegal code cylinder if he had to admit it.
Nykoria comforted the fearful mother better than he could have. Roland wondered if it was a jedi, zeltron or just who she was. But it was more than he offered in the moment. The CFO would agree to the Jedi's suggestion and go to her bedroom. It would surprise him if she got any sleep.
An hour would go by until Roland recieved a call that Ranger Velt and Embali had been successful in recovering Thyrs. "Good, thank you. We'll meet you at the hospital." There had been some injuries and Thyrs was probably a bit banged up just as much as the Rangers. It would be good to also make sure they had a security detail for the family.
"Mrs Vasser, I can drive you to the hospital if you want. Our Rangers are watching over your son at the hospital." She shot up from her bed. The Mandalorian held up a hand knowing what question was coming. "Thyrs is fine. I think he's just a bit banged up." For the first time that night Phyllis gave the slightest hints of relief.