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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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."
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
"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
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