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Alice Bee and Christopher Levy.
One year after the Battle of Yavin (36:5:7) in the Essesia system: Retributor.
Lieutenant Meham'ohorovi'cloca, Sate Pestage, Grand Moff Claudius Rodney, and Commander Sierra Rodney.

As the Kwai entered the expansive hangar bay of the Executor-class Star Dreadnaught Retributor, Grand Moff Claudius Rodney prepared to enter the unknown. Technically he did not have ground to stand on, and he knew it. He had exceeded his mandate as governor of the Ringali Shell by taking his military forces into another oversector without authorization. Further, he had engaged Imperial forces and undermined the authority of an Imperial governor. He would not lie about what he did, nor would he try and make excuses or weasel out of it. "Come let's not keep the man waiting, Commander," he said to his wife, as he transformed into a more militaristic figure right in front of her eyes. There was a bit of theatrical element to these meetings and playing the role of a Grand Moff was a difficult one. The walk down the ramp felt longer than usual, and as he walked passed the assembled officers and Stormtroopers he did not make eye contact with any of them. He entered the turbolift with his wife, moving to clutch her hand as soon as the door closed. He lowered his head and exhaled sharply, as he mentally went through preparing himself for what was to come.

It was incredibly difficult to pilot the Kwai. Sierra Rodney had done it so many times, yet this time she felt like she needed to focus hard on it in order to arrive at the Retributor safely. No one knew what was going to happen next. There was nowhere to hide or run. Sierra only prayed that the repercussions wouldn't include the death of her husband. She had no idea how she managed to make a smooth landing. It took her a moment to summon her legs to move. "Yes, Governor." Sierra said smoothly. She understood that she needed to be on her best behavior from here on out. She wouldn't be able to function as his wife, but as a Commander and his adjutant.

Conquering the ramp was a whole other issue. There were so many troops assembled outside of the Kwai. You could feel the eyes moving with the Grand Moff as he made his way down the ramp. Sierra put on a calm exterior that melted away briefly within the turbolift. Her hand held his, squeezing it lovingly. "I could *really* use some pudding right about now." Sierra admitted. Her hormones were all over the charts. She regained composure, moving to stand in front of her husband briefly. "I believe in you." She reminded him. "You're an incredible man and you do incredible things." She offered him a confident smile. "Now let's go take care of this. You owe me pudding when it's over." She released his hand and returned to his side at the turbolift's doors slid open. They were now standing in a corridor with various meeting rooms. Together, they passed by three viewports before stopping at a door. Behind that door, the Emperor's advisor was waiting. Sierra's blood pressure hit the roof. She began to feel miserable again. She wished she could grab Claudius and run, and run, and run. It was a vital moment. Sierra put away her worries and gave his hand one last squeeze. "I believe in you." She reminded him just as the door opened up.

"Too late for pudding, my love," Claudius said, wondering how she could think about food at a time like this. The pep talk as much needed and just as the turbolift door opened he released his grasp on her hand, and professionally marched forward into the seemingly empty conference room. At the opposite end of the room he could see the advisor with his back turned to them, staring out the window at Esseles and the space traffic beyond. He brought his hand up to his mouth and cleared his throat loudly, before slowly walking across the room to greet the advisor. "Your Excellency. You honor us with your presence," he told the man, as he waited for what he was sure would be a formal dressing down and reprimand.

The advisor was dressed in an elaborate purple robe complete with hood that concealed his old, lanky frame. Slowly he turned around to face the Governor and his adjutant, revealing his worn and gnarly face with his pointed, hooked nose. He was Sate Pestage, one of the Emperor's closest and most loyal servants going back to the last days of the Republic. "I should not be here. I do not wish to be here. Do you know why I am here?" he asked, as he raised both his face and his tone of voice. "I am here to put an end to this mess before the Emperor finds out. *None* of us want this," he said, as he glared across at the man. "The sector governance decree was enacted to prevent just sort of an occurrence from happening ... but it only works if you stay within the lines," he said, as he raised his bony finger at the man. "Even children know how to stay within the lines, Governor. Perhaps His Majesty should replace you with one of your children," he explained, as he circled past the man, throwing a glance at Sierra. "One of your *loyal* children," he added, with a pointed dig, as he waited for the man to explain himself.

There, dressed in purple robes, was the man Sierra did not want to see: the Emperor's advisor. With any luck, this one would return to the Emperor *alive*. Gaius' strange child had ensured that the last one died on their balcony at Castle Rodney. She stayed beside her husband, lingering there quietly while Sate Pestage began to speak. She wasn't entirely sure where all this was going. The man was taking a proactive approach, but she was pretty sure the Emperor would find out one way or another. He was a vicious old man, digging at Claudius for acting so rashly. Sierra realized that she was the one responsible for all of this. It was she who caused him to bring the Retributor across the lines. She tried to remain calm, but a bigger part of her was beginning to panic. Claudius had been a Grand Moff for sometime. She didn't want to see him stripped of his position, thrown in jail, or even worse. Something bad was going to happen. Knowing that alone was scary. Though they stood side by side, in this situation, Claudius was a million miles from her. Professionalism came first and she maintained it. In the back of her mind, she knew that Jelena had to be off of Esseles now. Anything could happen and they would be safe.

Claudius was silent while Pestage lectured him, but he took some relief that knowledge of what had occurred had not yet reached the Emperor. That meant there was still time. "Governor Arundel overstepped in his authority. He caused untold damage and loss of life to the citizens of my planet. And her personally endangered the life of my family," he told the advisor, calmly, as he tried to explain himself in a calm and collected manner. He knew he was wrong according to the letter of the law, but there was a moral code and responsibility that he felt superseded the law.

Pestage listened to the Grand Moff, but none of his words moved him. He raised his right arm away from his body and pointed at the planet Esseles. "*There*!" he shouted so loudly that spittle flew from his mouth and impacted with Claudius. "There are your planets, *my* lord," he said, condescendingly, as if he needed to explain the boundaries of his oversector. "His Majesty has seemed fit to place you in command of six of his planets. Delaya is not one of those," he explained, as he moved towards the monitor and brought a map up for them to review. "Your title of Duke of Delaya is meaningless. The Emperor has declared that the regional governors will have direct control over their systems," he reminded the man, as the map focused on the Ringali Shell. "Grand Moff Praji has decided that it is in neither of your interest for the Emperor to intervene, and I am inclined to agree. He must not think his regional governors are at cross purposes when there is a Rebellion to crush," he explained, as he slowly turned towards the man again. "Abdicate," he ordered him, as he brushed past Claudius and moved towards Sierra. His bony, gnarled hand moved to her chin. His flesh was cold and felt dead, and the texture was very rough. "I see you've traded in for a newer model since we last met. Good choice," he said, as he squeezed her chin and lifted her face.

There was data behind the words Claudius was saying. The number of innocent impacted by Governor Arundel's foolishness was immense. She had been preparing this information so that her husband could attempt to take Arundel down through more proper routes. She was ready to speak up, to recount Arundel's lack of helping rebuild the city. Yet, this man could not be moved even by mountains. He shouted so loudly that he rain spit down upon them. Sierra felt like she was growing increasingly smaller and smaller. Compared to the two men with her, she had no power. She was a mere Commander just beginning to work her way through the ranks... Did she want to even do that anymore?

She stared at the map which he brought up and began pointing it out repeatedly that Delaya did not belong to him anymore. It was becoming more and more difficult to hold her tongue where these things were concerned. Delaya had been in the Rodney family for eight centuries. She was bothered that everyone supported Papius so much. In her mind, it was he who acted like a child, not Claudius. The first repercussion had arrived: abdication. Claudius would have to surrender Delaya to that damn Imperial Governor. Sierra's body temperature rose as the man seemed to notice her for the first time. He made her feel massively uncomfortable. She sucked in her gut as much as she could. If he didn't know, she didn't *want* him to know. It wasn't fair to use his unborn child and his wife as leverage. The discomfort grew as he touched her. It was cold to the point where she wondered if he was simply an animated corpse. She felt like a show pony as the man lifted her face and examined her. "Your Excellency, you honor us with your presence." She spoke calmly, hoping that it would be enough to get him to let go of her. "With all due respect," she began, "What is the point in abdicating? No one wants Delaya anymore. The planet's greatest city is in shambles. The people are bitter towards both sides for what occurred there. If Grand Moff Praji allowed Grand Moff Rodney to return to governor the planet, it would only be a struggle up the steepest hills."

"Ah. She speaks," Pestage said, as he released his grip on her and turned his attention back to Claudius. His hand moved towards her stomach, as a sinister smile curled upon his gnarled, wart stained face. "I understand you are pregnant with a male child, Commander," he said, as he groped her stomach unpleasantly. "I understand that is something you have wanted for a long time, Governor. It is fitting that after two failures success should come in the form of an Imperial commander," he said, before he pulled his hand away. "The point, Commander, is that we cannot have Grand Moff Rodney meddle in the affairs of Grand Moff Praji's territory every time he does not *approve* of the actions of Governor Arundel," he explained, wondering why he was even having to bother speaking to her. "We must remove the conflict of interest and squash this conflict before His Majesty decided to squash you all for simplicity's sake," he explained, as he looked to both of them with a high level of disapproval.

She did a whole hell of a lot more than just speak. She considering snapping her face away from his grasp... This man, oh, this scary, hideous man beast decided to push it. His freezing cold hand pressed against her stomach. He groped her there. She could do nothing but accept it. Her eyes drifted up towards her husband. It looked like she might croak *help me* silently to him, though she managed to handle herself. She hated the way he spoke about their son. Sierra didn't breath again until he had removed his hand and stepped back into his personal bubble.

Her heart was racing continuously in her chest. The last thing she wanted was for the Emperor to become involved in this conflict. "So the only resolution is abdication?" Sierra clarified. "Does the weight of his word mean nothing at this point?" Sierra wanted to go home. She wanted to rewind to napping in her husband's arms when all of her worried had turned off.

"Grand Moff Praji informed me that he attempted to resolve the matter with you some days ago, but despite all that you brought your command ship to Delaya and engaged his forces," Pestage said to Claudius, before turning his attention back to Sierra. "So no. His word no longer carries any weight," he explained, as he waited for them to make a decision. "So what is it to be. Are you to be a Grand Moff or a Duke? You have shown you cannot be both," he said to them both, as he grew increasingly impatient. "Step aside. Let your daughter, Fusilli, 'run' the planet," he said, as he looked them over again. "Think of your son. Do you want him to grow up with you in his life or a Grand Moff? Or as a memory as a failed planetary leader?" he asked, with a clearly implied threat that really left him no choice.

Claudius was prepared to fight, but there was only so much he could do. He was not willing to risk a life with Sierra and his son over this squabble with Governor Arundel. It would be akin to giving him victory. He had been silent for quite some time, letting Sierra speak for him, as he was focused on the viewport. "No. I will not subject *Drusilla* to that," he said, as he looked towards the advisor. "Very well," he said, as he raised his hand in surrender. He was content that Sierra had succeeded in her mission, rescued Jelena, and returned safely to him. He cared not about titles and possessions ... he cared about his family and they were safe. "I will abdicate, as you wish," he said, in subservience, as he moved towards the wife to take comfort in her closeness. "My brother, Marcus, will reign as Duke," he declared, as he looked towards Sierra, hoping to smile. He hoped she would understand.

Pestage effectively shut down Sierra with the implications of his words: a memory as a failed planetary leader. He had just clenched the decision, she thought. She prided herself on knowing her husband well. He was not a man who valued titles above his family. She took in a deep breath. Her head turned to the side. She was with him. She was on board with him one-hundred and ten percent. Before her eyes, Claudius Rodney abdicated so that he could live another day with his family. Her eyes met with his. She looked like she was about to cry. They weren't going to kill him. They weren't going to take him away from her. She offered him her best smile and a nod of her head. She absolutely understood. In front of the Emperor's advisor, her small hand hooked his. She held it tightly. The tension had started to release in her chest. She wondered if Pestage had brought any more repercussions. She pitied Marcus and Zara, but decided that it was better this way. Even if Zara wasn't noble born, the girl possessed a huge heart. Her people would be safe with her.

"Wise decision," Pestage said, before bowing his head to the Grand Moff. "I will inform Praji and convince him it is in his best interest to never mention the incidents on Delaya again," he said, as he started to leave, but then stopped suddenly. "I wanted to express my apology for missing your wedding, Lady Rodney," he said to Sierra, as he turned his face to her again. "However, due to what happened to His Majesty's emissary perhaps it was fortuitous that I was unable to attend," he said, before taking several steps towards her. "Please allow me to kiss the bride," he said, as he moved his face towards her, placing a kiss upon her cheek that lasted longer than it should. As he pulled his face away, his tongue slithered from his lip and licked her. "I trust you will enjoy a continued life with this lovely specimen, Governor," he said, before moving from the room to return to his ship and, eventually, the Imperial Palace on Coruscant.

Oh thank goodness, he was leaving. She was happy to see that man's backside. It was in her best interests to never see him again. Sierra had begun to celebrate prematurely, for he made his way back towards her. "Oh," she said softly. She was about to tell him not to let it worry him, knowing full well that it wasn't. All of the muscles inside her body clenched hard. *Kiss* the bride?! To her relief, his lips landed on her cheek. One, two, ten seconds went by. Her discomfort had come back in full swing. She muffled a sound of unhappiness as his wet, cold tongue licked away her taste from his lips. When he had left the room, Sierra shivered. She wiped her cheek off. He was *not* on the guest list for her baby shower. She slowly turned on her heel towards her husband. The room was empty. They were as alone as they were going to be. Without a word, she stepped forward into him and hugged him tightly. "I'm sorry you had to abdicate, my love."

"No. It is I who is sorry," Claudius said to Sierra, as he wrapped his arms around her to return her embrace. "I have been a terrible Grand Moff and an even worse Duke," he admitted to her, in a rare moment of humility. "I have lost this command to Colonel Zevrin and Inquisitor Thanor, and I allowed Governor Arundel to decimate my people," he said, from beneath the heavy weight that was crushing him. "I see now that it was wrong to assume the throne in the first place. It divided my attention and caused both to suffer. I wanted to make you proud. I wanted you to be a Duchess and for our son to be a Duke, but my vanity nearly caused us to lose *everything*," he said to her, as he tightened his grip on her. "This is for the best. I am confident that Marcus will be a good Duke and can rebuild Delaya. I was not sure before, but after seeing the affect Zara has had on him I am now," he said, confidently, as he began to breath more easily. "We will redouble our efforts here, pick up the pieces, and make this work," he vowed to her, before pulling away to look at her more carefully.

To his statement, Sierra looked confused. She said nothing, listening to him fully reveal the weight that sat on his entire body. Her heart ached for her husband, who had been buried underneath the weight of the galaxy and then some. Her hands rolled up the front of his body until she took hold of his face. She made sure his attention stayed on her while she began to speak. "Claudius, you make me proud every day. It has nothing to do with you being Duke, or a Grand Moff. I apologize for not realizing how stretched thin you were sooner and coming to your rescue." Her fingers slid down his jawline. "I agree that this is for the best. It is better for Marcus and Zara. It is better for you and I. I stand beside you now until forever, my love. I will help you regain control here." She reassured him, grasping his hands and guiding them to her stomach. "I don't want to be Duchess if you can't be Duke. That's a packaged deal." She winked, not really caring for the titles or anything else. "Our son is going to be one heck of an amazing man because he has *you* for his father. The titles don't matter. Nobility doesn't matter. What matters is that we will continue to live each day *together*. That involves taking down all of these obstacles and improving our life."

"Thank you for your support, my love. Without it none of this would be possible," Claudius said, as he pressed his lips to hers in a loving, passionate kiss. "I must ask some difficult things of you now," he said, as she bared the responsibility of not just being his wife, but also his adjutant. "First, you must attempt to find what Jelena has done with the children," he said, wondering how far his headstrong daughter had run this time. "Second, you must travel to Ithor and tell my brother that not only is his mother dead, but he must assume the awesome responsibility of Duke of a shattered world," he said, as he put everything on his wife. He was afraid to even leave the Ringali Shell while under the watchful eye of Sate Pestage and seemingly one failure away from death.

Sierra needed that kiss ... though she wouldn't know how badly until he laid some difficult tasks on her. She listened, remembering that she would now have to help save the Rebel Commander in order to get her children back. *Great*. The second task was even bigger than stealing Xergo out from under Papius. "Oh my," she said, considering how on earth she was going to deliver all this information to Marcus and his eight-month pregnant wife. "Okay. Don't worry. I'll take care of *everything*." She brushed her hands over the wrinkles she had created in his tunic. "You are going to owe me so much pudding, *Governor*. Shall I leave immediately?" She was looking forward to seeing Pilaq again. In fact, she was going to start by visiting with him and then worry about delivering the news to Marcus and Zara. Perhaps he could advise her.

The door to the conference room opened suddenly, revealing the presence of Lieutenant Meham'ohorovi'cloca. She marched swiftly across the floor until coming to a stop in front of Commander Rodney. "Commander, please advise Governor Rodney that Rebel forces have engaged the picket ships in the Rhinnal system," she said matter-of-factly, despite the fact that he was standing right there. Protocol dictated that she speak with his adjutant rather than address him directly. She snapped the heels of her finely polished leather boots together, as she extended her hand to offer her a datapad with a preliminary report. With a nod of her head, she spun around to return to duty as swiftly as she came.

"Thank you, my love," Claudius began, before silencing himself about personal matters when the Lieutenant arrived. More bad news it seemed. The work of a regional governor never ended. "Yes. Leave immediately," he informed her, once the Lieutenant had left again. "I'll handle this. You put the family back together," he said, as he reached out and took the datapad from her. But which task would be more difficult? Destroying the Rebellion or rebuilding the Rodneys?

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