Padi unlocked the door after turning off the comp screen, and ushered the 
Emperor out of the office where they were joined again by the waiting 
Imperial Guard who fell into formation behind them. She guided them through 
the lab down a short corridor to the conference room. When she opened the 
door to the conference room, all inside automatically looked towards her.
Faces paled as they scrambled to their feet and bowed as Palpatine entered 
the room, his Red Guards following him.

"Guards, take them out into the corridor and bring them in one by one," he 
instructed with a low menacing voice. Then Palpatine turned toward the 
Doctor and said "Padi. I want you to be in the room with me."

"As you wish, sire." Her voice held a tremor of nervousness despite her 
loyalty. She seated herself in a side chair at his command.

"Bring in the first staff member," he ordered.

The Red Guard silently turned out into the corridor and motioned to the 
first person in line--a middle aged man who was going bald early. His lab 
coat was rumpled and he was sweating profusely. The frightened man took two 
steps into the room and dropped immediately to his knees, bowing low before 
the ruler.

The Emperor peered down at him with hard yellow eyes. "Your name?"

"E-e-evin Lessiter, your majesty,": he stuttered briefly glancing up into 
Palpatine's face and immediately stared back at the floor. He swallowed 
hard. "I-I-I'm a g-g-g-genetic tracker, sire."

"Indeed. So, you should know who was manning the security lock to this 
facility these last few months, should you not?"

"Y-y-y-yes, sire."

"And as one of Dr. Padi's efficient staff, you would be aware of any 
unusual activity within the lab and the supply station, would you not?"

Evin looked confused, "Y-y-y-yes, sire." His habitual stammer was worsened 
by his fear.

"So--now you will tell me who came in this facility and removed the missing 
supplies and genetic samples, Mr. Lassiter." Palpatine extended a Force 
probe into the sweating man's mind, seeking for truth and evidence of 

"I-I-I d-d-d-don't know. I didn't know anything was missing." His terror 
made his voice rise in pitch.

The probe The Emperor frowned. "You do now." He turned to Padi. "This one 
seems clueless. Do you have any other questions or remarks before I dismiss 

She gazed expressionlessly at Lassiter. She recognized his fear, but 
knowing the ultimate fate of her staff members once they were no longer 
useful, she had made a concerted effort to avoid developing a friendship 
with any of them. She paid the price of being thought unsympathetic, but 
her loyalty to Palpatine came first in her life. "Sire, he is very good at 
his job, but that is all he concentrates on. He becomes fully involved in 
his task and would miss meals and sleep periods if we did not remind him."

"Humph! Guards--take this one away. Bring in the next staff member."

Evin bowed down again before trying and failing to get to his feet. The 
guards simply took him by the upper arms and lifted him from the floor. 
Padi and the ruler heard a sudden thump once he was through the door. The 
guards escorting in the next technician had to step around his unconcious 
body, sprawled in a faint.

The female techician was also middle aged, of indeterminate feature and 
coloration--one of those women who fade into the woodwork at meetings and 
parties. She looked nervous and cast a glance at her boss before sinking to 
her knees before Palpatine.

He leaned forward menacingly on his cane. "Your name."

"Emmelee North, Sire. I am with cylinder maintenance. I feed and maintain 
the growing clones and their chemical and nutritive balances." She bowed 
down as she spoke and didn't raise her head until he spoke again.


She did so and steadily met his eyes, lifting her chin as if to grant 
herself courage. She was fearful but she hid it well.

Palpatine suddenly poked the end of the cane at her. "Are you aware of any 
suspicious activity within the lab during the last few months?"

"No sire. We have been innoculating new cylinders with gametes to provide 
future bodies for you. That is all."

"That is commendable. My question is whether any person or persons, say an 
unusual visitor, came in to your area or in the central storage area?" His 
Force probe went questing into her mind.

"On my shift? No one without clearance, sire. We are very careful about that."

"Who was manning the security locks during the last few months?" he 
demanded, scowling.

The woman's cheek twitched as she controlled her reaction to his 
displeasure. "That would be Timmis, Wensley, Inkja, and Torne, Sire. They 
have had that duty for well over a year."

Palpatine's frown transformed into a smirk. "This one also can be released. 
Send in the next staff member, or do you have something to add, Doctor?"

Padi stared at the woman briefly. "No, Sire."

"Good." He turned to the guard. "Next."

North bowed again and hurried from the room ahead of the escorting guard. 
She nearly bumped into the tall, lanky man in a beige jumpsuit who was 
being guided in by another guard.

(to be continued)

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