For a Friday night, the club wasn’t as packed as it usually was. There was still plenty of noise and activity to induce a headache in all but the heavily inebriated, but it all felt muted compared to the usual level of overstimulation. Dr. Raehith Daanruano sat at the bar, his claws idly stroking the sides of his sweating glass. Occasionally his eyes would wander towards the dancefloor, observing an attractive woman gyrating under flashing colored lights, or his ears would prick as he honed in on a conversation, drawn in by a particular word or phrase in the public stream of rumor and gossip that happened to intrigue him. But for the most part he kept his head down, gradually nursing his drink and trying not to bother anybody.

He wasn’t waiting for something to happen. But as luck would have it, something did.

“Excuse me, are you Dr. Daanruano?”

At the sound of a friendly and distinctly female voice, the Bothan raised his head. A moment later, he swiveled in his chair and beheld a vision of unparalleled beauty. Well, maybe not—he didn’t find human women all that attractive, but this one caught his attention. Her features were exotic and strange—she had the face of an Atrisian warrior princess, a lithe and athletic figure wrapped in a virginal white gown with something shimmery sewn onto the front as decoration. They locked eyes—hers seemed to emanate a faint pink glow from within. Cybernetics, maybe? Or just a trick of the colored lights. Either way, she stood out in a crowd. Wore a perfume that smelled heavenly, too.

“Yes, I’m him,” he answered. “May I help you?”

She gave him a small smile. “I’m sorry if I’m disturbing you,” she said, perching delicately on the stool next to him. “I called your office and explained to them that it was urgent, and they told me you were here. That’s why I didn’t simply make an appointment.”

“You’re not disturbing me,” he reassured her. “But I gotta ask, just what is it that’s so urgent?”

She broke eye contact with him, her gaze darting around the club. “It’s a… a health matter, of course. I’d rather not discuss it here, with all these people around.”

Daanruano nodded in understanding. Perhaps it was the alcohol shortening his patience, but he was already making assumptions. A health matter. She was probably yet another of the dozens of women who flocked to him because they wanted a child. After all, that was his area of expertise—fertility treatments, designer babies, pod surrogacy, and so on. Having already guessed what this unannounced meeting was all about, his interest in the mysterious woman began to wane, though he could at least look forward to payday.

“There’s no need to be ashamed,” he replied reassuringly. “We doctors are required by law to keep patient confidentiality. Whatever it is you need to see me about will stay a secret.”

“I know, of course.” She smiled again. “It’s just that, I’m interested in some of your… more unorthodox services.”

Daanruano paused, his canine nose twitching. He glanced around to make sure no one was listening, then leaned toward her and said, “You’re right, this isn’t exactly the best place to be discussing that.”

“Well, we can go outside,” she suggested. “I have a speeder waiting, and my own driver.”

A speeder? He liked the sound of that. “I’d be happy to talk to you. Would you mind giving me a ride home?”

“Not at all.”

The two of them got up, Daanruano tossing some credits on the bar before he followed her out of the club and into the chilly winter night. It had started to snow. Zipping up his jacket, he couldn’t help noticing that the woman wore no coat. Just the white gown, some jewelry, and a pair of silver heels.

“Are you cold?” he asked.

“I won’t be once we get to the speeder,” she replied without slowing down.

Shrugging, he kept pace. “Sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”

“Mina. Lydia Mina.” Intentional or not, the Bond reference hardly felt out of place.

She led him to a parked airspeeder. It was a vintage yellow convertible that had been refurbished, no doubt at great expense. Sitting in the driver’s seat was a dark-haired man with classically handsome features (at least, by human standards—Daanruano thought he looked like every other holofilm star). He wore a nice gray suit and tie as though he were about to attend a business meeting. Still no coat.

“This is Dr. Daanruano,” Lydia told the driver. “He’s asked for a ride after we talk.”

“Where to?” the driver asked.

Daanruano told him. The driver nodded. “I’m familiar with the area.”

“Doctor, you can get in the back,” Lydia said, opening the door. Daanruano climbed in, savoring the feel of genuine Corellian leather seats. To his surprise, Lydia slid in next to him. The driver pressed a button and the top rolled up, shielding them from the elements as they took to the skies.

Lydia began playing with the air conditioning, blasting warm air throughout the speeder. “Now that we have some privacy, we can begin.”

Daanruano made a sound of approval, feeling very comfortable and relaxed. “What can I do for you?”

“I’d like to ask you a few questions.”


She smirked. “What do you know about a Sith Lord named Messala?”

Daanruano’s heart nearly stopped. Glancing out the window at the night sky and the passing traffic, he did his best to hide his shock, fear, and guilt at the mere mention of the name. “About as much as the next person, I guess,” he replied, clearing his throat. “He’s a Sith Lord, a “scientist”… and a total recluse. Why do you ask?”

“What about Project Warlock?”

What about it?” Daanruano snapped, not bothering to hide his anger. “What does any of this have to do with you?” His blood suddenly ran cold. “Is this some sort of trick? What’s going on here? Look, I think you better let me outta here—”

A loud clicking sound interrupted him in mid-sentence. Whirling around, he found himself staring down the barrel of a gun. He didn’t know where Lydia had gotten it, but she was now pointing it straight at him.

What the hell are you doing?!

“Relax, doctor,” she said coolly. “I still have some more questions. I wouldn’t have had to do this if you would’ve just answered truthfully from the start, but now you’ve given me no choice but to resort to more… persuasive methods.”

“Who are you people?” Daanruano sputtered, his gaze darting between her and the driver. “What do you want with Messala and Project Warlock? Dammit, I left all that chit behind fething decades ago!”

“What we want with Messala is none of your business. But we do know that you were violently interrogated by him not too long ago, and yet you refused to press charges.”

“Yeah, he ripped the information right outta my head with that fething space magic of his.” His voice and body trembling, Daanruano squirmed in his seat, trying to angle his body in a way where she wouldn’t see him reach into his pocket for his datapad. “Listen lady, just because I didn’t press charges doesn’t mean I’m an easy target. I’m under Sith protection. You hurt me, they’re gonna be angry. They’re gonna want revenge.”

“That’s exactly it, doctor,” Lydia said—right before swatting away his arm with a quick swipe of her left hand. With the gun still trained on him, she reached into his pocket, grabbed his datapad and tucked it somewhere out of sight. “I don’t want to hurt you. Pull yourself together and answer my questions. You were part of Project Warlock, correct?”

Daanruano gathered his wits about him. “Yes. I was a young, stupid, ambitious moron straight out of college.”

“What was your primary function?”

“I operated the cell substructure splicer—which is a sanitized way of saying the insemination machinery—and I modified the DNA of individual cells.”

“You created the children born under Warlock?”

“Most of them, yes.”

“Did you create Messala?”

Daanruano hesitated for several seconds before replying, “He was a mistake. I wanted to correct the error I had made, but the one in charge prevented me from doing so.”

“Who was in charge?”

Taranis Kuhl,” he growled. “I’m pretty sure he’s dead now. What does any of this have to do with you?”

“Why did Taranis stop you?” Lydia asked, ignoring his question.

“It was in the early stages of the experiment. Results were difficult to obtain. We had very few successes. Messala was considered a success because he tested as Force sensitive and was considered viable. But there were so many other things that were wrong with him. I don’t know how it happened, but it must’ve been when I was modifying his genes...”

The memory of a woman’s face floated to the surface of his mind like a drowned corpse rising from the depths. Daanruano shut his eyes and leaned back, his throat bobbing as he swallowed hard. “Taranis insisted that we try. We had to try all of the viable Force sensitives, no matter what...” He trailed off again.

“Go on,” Lydia insisted.

“I can’t.” He shook his head. “I made a vow that I wouldn’t tell another soul about this.”

“Who did you make a vow to? Messala? Did he threaten you into silence?”

“It’s not because I’m scared of him,” he growled. “It’s a matter of honor and respect for the dead. Or I guess it is—look, I choose to keep one last secret. Used to be that nobody else knew but me, but then Messala came to me following a trail of his past, and he dredged it up again. He dredged it all up.”

“Doctor, I strongly suggest that you make an exception for me,” Lydia said, her tone cold. “I need to know this information. It’s very important.”

“Oh hell, honey.” Daanruano snorted. “Do you realize how many enemies Messala has? How many people there are who don’t trust him? I doubt his own family does. Besides, I hear his HQ got glassed by the Bryn’adul—he may not even be alive, for all I know!”

Lydia sighed. “Keep the speeder steady,” she told the driver, then pressed a button to open one of the doors. Cold air rushed in, and white flecks of snow blasted past like stars streaking in hyperspace.

“What are you doing now?” Daanruano sputtered, only for the breath to be stolen from his lungs as she grabbed his collar and jerked him backwards, pushing him until he was dangling upside down outside the speeder.

Other vehicles shot by, horns honking and lights flashing, the sounds drowning out whatever screams and cries left his strained throat. She kept him there for what felt like a full minute before dragging him back inside and closing the door.

“Are you more willing to talk now, doctor?”

Daanruano fought to speak through shattering teeth. "I'm an old dog, lady. You can't do that chit with me. You're gonna give me a heart attack—"

"Will you talk?"

“Yes. Yes, I’ll talk,” he whispered. “Wh-Where did we leave off?”

“Taranis Kuhl prevented you from fixing Messala.”

“No, uh, he didn’t prevent me from fixing him.” The Bothan wiped melting snow from his snout with his claw. “There was no fixing a screw-up that bad. Not with the limited resources we had, anyway. I mean, we didn’t even have artificial wombs. That was one of the things I always asked for every supply run, but we could never get them. Not until the Sith started funding us, and they only did it for the sake of efficiency.”

“Get to the point.”

“Right. I wanted to get rid of him, y’know, don’t implant him… Messala would’ve never been born if I’d had any say in it. But Taranis insisted. He had a willing volunteer, a surrogate, and he had me send the embryo in to be implanted, and that was that.”

“‘That was that’?” she echoed mockingly. “What was Messala so intent on learning from your memories? And why didn’t you press charges when he drained the knowledge from you?”

“His mother died. In childbirth. As if this was the dark ages.” He grimaced. “I… felt partially responsible. It was my mistakes that created the health issues he had in the first place, and I’m sure those contributed to her death.”

“It sounds to me like this Taranis Kuhl guy was more to blame than you were,” Lydia remarked. Pausing, he felt her strange eyes studying his face. “You’re not telling me the whole story.”

“No, I…” But what use was there in lying anymore? She would either dangle him out the door again, or do something even worse to get him to talk. “I’ll tell you the rest, but you have to promise not to tell anyone else. Let’s keep this a secret between us, okay?”

“Fine,” she said. “I promise.”