Era of Rebellion - Navigation

Liz Dorner and Christopher Levy.
Zero years before the Battle of Yavin (35:3:33) in the Brentaal system: Warspite.
Major Kerrie Kiley, Vice Admiral Claudius Rodney, Countess Htaere Rodney, and Doctor Pilaq Tohan.

Major Kerrie Kiley stood defensively behind Htaere in the cargo bay that had been converted into an arboretum. Her arms were folded over her chest, expressing the discomfort she had with the silence that had filled the area. Neither of them had seemed much like talking so far. Her head robotically scanned slowly from left to right and she maintained a constant state of vigilance over her charge. Danger seemed just as likely to come from within these days, further putting her on edge. Finally, she broke the silence with a deep sigh, her concentration shattering as she was forced to bring a gloved finger up to massage her eyelids. The raised lighting levels in the bay needed to sustain the plant life were unusual for a starship, and had placed considerable strain upon her eyes.

The rigid frame of the Hapan heiress shifted, after what seemed an eternity of statuesque inner revelry. Trapped within the bowels of the Warspite once more, Htaere felt comfortable neither here, nor on the estate, where the ISB had abducted her with no difficulty, and no just cause for doing so. In combating the residual psychological effects of the ordeal, Htaere spent most of her time remaining isolated, away from the eyes of the crew, skeptical of each and every one. Upon hearing the faintest sound of disgruntled impatience behind her, Htaere pulled her distant and broken gaze from the pristine white flower of a trumpet vine to glance over her shoulder at her bodyguard. "It is not necessary that you remain. I shall be fine here," she offered a passive dismissal.

"I am just not used to light is all, Milady," Kerrie defiantly insisted as she lowered her hand from her eyes, "I will be fine." She moved forward, seeing an opportunity to break the awkward silence of it all. Standing next to one of the plants she roughly grabbed hold of one of the leaves to examine it, having no dainty sense to her touch. "Are there many plants where you are from, Milady?" she asked as she turned her head slowly over her shoulder, making eye contact for the first time. "Zolan is a wasteland and I cannot say that I see the appeal of such things," she admitted as she released her death grip on the plant, it quivering slightly as it shook back into place. Clearly she was a woman without a green thumb.

Apathetic to her friend's untrained approach to the foliage, Htaere instead let a wistful grin shift her lips into a patient smile. "Yes. Everything is green, lush, alive. Hapans admire nature, and thrive on it. We surround ourselves with it, incorporate it into our architecture, our lives, homes, ceremonies and traditions," she answered, her voice trailing off a bit towards the end as she recollected the warmth and vitality of natural flora and manicured gardens Hapans across the entire cluster subscribed to, a hallmark of their race. "It is soothing," she added. "It provides solace, a small reminder of who I am, where I come from." The memories were bittersweet and seemed ages old against the endless and cold prison that was the Empire and its war machines.

Kerrie listened to the words spoken by Htaere, but they did not seem to have much meaning as the life she was describing was far from the one she had experienced on her own homeworld. The pair seemed to come from as far apart a set of circumstances as possible. As she turned back to take in the sheer size and scope of the converted cargo bay, she could not help but not that it was presumably against countless regulations. It was good to be an Admiral, she thought to herself as she felt nearly lost and overwhelmed by the towering plants that had been plucked from throughout the core to make this sanctuary. "Doctor Tohan is a plant lover too," she pointed out as she navigated her way back to Htaere. "Those Ithorians are a bunch of nature lovers. I've been to Ithor. Very green," she continued to elaborate, though leaving out the key detail that she had been trying to kill the Admiral at the time.

"Yes, they are talented gardeners," Htaere affirmed, recalling the ultra rare Tree of Wisdom she'd gifted to Pilaq Tohan for his exceptional care of the Rodney family, Kerrie included. Despite her quotidian elegant and pricey gown and headband, Htaere still bore the faintest traces of ragged exhaustion, dark circles starting to form under her eyes as night after night, precious sleep was robbed of her as it gave way to the endless vid of nightmares. She let her cloudy grey eyes lift towards Kerrie. She had not seen much of Kerrie since her return, and had been relieved to know the major survived being shot. She certainly was a sturdy and resilient being.

Kerrie's nose began to twitch slightly and then suddenly without warning she erupted into a massive sneeze that disrupted her concentration and sent her briefly into her true Clawdite forum. Quite embarrassed she turned her face to shield herself from Htaere's view and began furiously sniffling as she attempted to deal with the situation. "I apologize, Milady," she said nervously as she brought a glove up to her face to attempt to clean the mess. "The plants seem to be emanating a ... toxin ... of sorts that has affected me," she said as her hand twitched nervously over her blaster pistol. She glared angrily at a thousand different unseen enemies in the form of the flowers and leaves, clearly not having been trained in the science of pollination.

"I am sorry, I do not have a handkerchief with me at present," Htaere rose from her seat on a bench. "Come, let us depart and get you clear of the allergens," she offered.

"I will be all right. Just give me a mo- a mo-" Kerrie struggled to get out the words as she began to succumb again, closing her eyes as she unleashed another massive sneeze that had the same crippling effect on her shape-shifting ability. "Ugh..." she groaned unpleasantly as she refocused her energy on maintaining her disguise, much of her face now covered with the unpleasant slime. It was clear that her youth spent free of plant life that had not developed any tolerance to pollen and had made her easily susceptible to allergies. "Do they not affect you in such a way?" she queried as she staggered towards the door, her eyes beginning to fill with an unpleasant moisture, forcing her to rub at them futilely.

Htaere frowned, shaking her head, "No, they do not." The idea of being unable to live among plants was unfathomable to her, and dreadful. She hastened towards the entrance of the bay, waiting for Kerrie to catch up. "Come quickly as they are affecting you greater then before."

Kerrie emerged from the cargo bay and began to take deep breaths of the recycled air that filled the corridors. Completely unladylike she shook her gloved hand in the air, scattering some of the mucous to the deckplating below. "I apologize for interrupting your tranquility, Milady," she said as her eyes began to tear up, her cheeks reddening and swelling slightly. She closed her eyes and groaned, her paranoid instincts wondering if she had perhaps been poisoned. Her hand came up to her eyes once more, pressing them shut as she rubbed them slightly in a vein attempt to alleviate the irritation.

"It is fine," Htaere winced at the unhygienic approach Kerrie took, but still leaned closer to her friend for keener scrutinizing. "Shall I call Dr. Tohan? You do not look well."

Kerrie opened her eyes, struggling to clear them of the irritation. "I am trouble him more than any other member of the crew," she sheepishly admitted, shaking her head dejectedly at her behavior. "I am quite sure I can there on my own power," she protested as she began making her way towards the turbolift. Her hand moved to her head, removing her uniform cover. Having no other recourse she placed it over her face and proceeded to blow her nose into it, unleashing a disgustingly audible sound just before entering the lift.

It was all Htaere could do to keep from shuddering, left standing in the corridor looking utterly dumbfounded at Kerrie's anaphylaxis. She lifted a hand towards the lift to wave at Kerrie. "Are you sure I cannot assist you?"

Kerrie did not wish to accept assistance, but once inside the lift she realized that she could barely see to operate the controls. "Perhaps, you could operate the lift, Milady?" she suggested reluctantly, lowering her head in obvious shame at having to request her help with such a rudimentary task.

Htaere nodded and hurried inside, selecting the med bay level before stepping back and casting a concerned glance to Kerrie. "We shall be there momentarily," she assured her.

Kerrie staggered into the medical bay, which had been a familiar stopping point for her on her journeys aboard the Warspite. She walked right past the medical droid in the entryway and tiredly plopped down on the nearest available bed, looking very out of sorts. She did not utter a word, unable to deal with the embarrassment of what had transpired and how easily she had been disabled.

Doctor Pilaq Tohan's large bulbous eyes blinked nonchalantly as he saw Kerrie stagger once more into his medical bay. His head lowered slightly as he wondered what the cause might have been this time. He began making his way over towards her, when he spotted Htaere bringing up the rear to her. "What did you do to her?" he asked, half-serious, half-jokingly, in his distinct stereophonic Ithorian voice. He was glad to see Htaere up and about, having seemingly pulled back from social functions since the incident.

"I did nothing. We were in the garden and she said she is having a reaction to one of the plants," Htaere drew to a halt beside the aging physician. "It came very suddenly. I do not know which plant she might be reacting to, though she did touch the leaves of a Mycosia flower plant," Htaere thought on it.

"This girl succumbs to more medical mishaps that any patient I have encountered in my journeys," Doctor Tohan admitted as she moved towards the dispensary. This was by far a new low, and he would be sure to have some fun at her expense. A moment later he returned with a hypospray loaded with an anti-histamine, and with no attempts to be delicate he jabbed the Major in the arm and injected the medication into her system. "Yes. You should be quiet. You have a right to be embarrassed. Disabled by a powerless plant," he said as he erupted with a loud, booming laugh that was distinct to Ithorians and caused several of the glass specimens on the shelves to reverberate. "How did she get exposed to a Mycosia flower plant aboard a star destroyer?" he asked of Htaere, thinking fondly to his days among the lush vegetation of his native Ithor.

Htaere's strained eyes flashed to take in the shattering beakers momentarily before looking back to Pilaq. The Ithorian was one of the few souls Htaere encountered that she trusted since her marriage to Claudius and her relocation into the environment that he thrived in. Without fear of repercussion, she confided to him about her secret. "A garden that Claudius built for me," she answered in a hushed tone. " secrecy" she added for good measure to drive the point home.

Pilaq blinked silently at Htaere as he considered what she had told him. He always knew Claudius was a 'softy' at heart, but felt slightly insulted he was not consulted on all matters agricultural in nature. "You mean to tell me there is a garden aboard this war machine?" he questioned in somewhat disbelief, his long narrow digits moving up to press at Kerrie's chest to send her unceremoniously down into a laying position without so much as looking at her.

The Hapan's youthful countenance nodded slowly. She pulled her gaze off to the side to find a chair in which to seat herself. Folding her hands in her lap, she continued to wait patiently. "It is...the only refuge I feel I have," she continued lightly in confession.

"I should think so," Pilaq quickly added, feeling the need to dispense medicine of a different sort as he continued the conversation. "This is no place for someone like you," he explained as his large, yellow eyes scanned the cold, metallic surroundings that were with them at every waking moment. "This is no place for someone like myself either," he felt the need to share as he lamented on his position.

A small smile worked across Htaere's lips. "And yet, here we are," she remarked quietly. "I am hopeful that this conflict will resolve itself sooner rather then later." A silly optimism to be certain, but one that Htaere clung to. It was quiet for a moment before she spoke. "If you like, I shall show you the garden. You are welcome to take advantage of its serenity as well."

"Conflicts tend to burn themselves out quickly," Pilaq noted, though he did not share her optimism, he nevertheless would not make the mistake of embroiling her in the complex galactic politics of the day. "I would love to see your garden," he noted, as his eyes finally turned back towards Major Kiley. "Well, there is no more I can do here," he said as he placed a long arm around Htaere's shoulder and began to escort her back towards greener pastures.

"Will she recover quickly?" Htaere cast a glance back towards Kerrie where she lay. She was a constant source of tribulation for the woman, and it never ceased to amaze her that the major never waivered in her duties, no matter how frustrated she must continuously be with Htaere's shortcomings as a charge.

"It was just an allergy attack. Children have been having them for millennia," Pilaq joked as he dismissed Htaere's concerns. "It is her least serious mishap to date," he noted as they left the medical bay to its own devices and proceeded down the corridor towards the turbolift. With the Admiral in less than ideal condition, he felt the need to look after his friend's wife during these troublesome times.

Htaere nodded once before selecting the appropriate level. It was remarkably quiet as she seemed to be at an overall loss for words as of late. When the lift eased to a halt and the door slid open, she emerged and headed aft down the corridor until stopping at a nondescript door on the left. She moved slower on account of the large and less-spry frame of the Ithorian accompanying her. Keying in the code, she all too eagerly stepped inside. While not a humid environment, the moisture in the air within the converted bay was noticeable, the illuminators still shining brightly as the rotation the timers had been programmed to was still in daylight hours. She stepped aside and motioned Pilaq to come in.

Pilaq's eyes went wide as he stepped into the converted cargo bay, witnessing it that was much larger and more complex than he had anticipated. "I could see how this could cause quite the attack," he said with a slight chuckle as he eagerly moved past her to inspect some of the foliage more carefully. His long digits carefully caressed each leaf with delicate sensibilities and he took in the pleasant aroma that had so long been out of his life. "Magnificent," he said as he took in the size and scope of it all. He was truly impressed.

Htaere smiled as she moved after him and took a seat on the bench once more. Still in the tree nearby were the initials that Claudius himself had carved while revisiting a moment of boyish bliss. "I try hard to forget that I am in space," Htaere stated. "This facilitates the process considerably."

"Alderaan is a green world, but I would not suspect old Claudius would have been capable of all this..." Pilaq commented as he continued to pass through the garden. "Still..." he said, sounding slightly out of sorts, "It does not compare to the majestic beauty of my native Ithor." The aged doctor felt almost at home among the flora, but it still was not quite the same as being home.

"Alderaan is a green world, but I would not suspect old Claudius would have been capable of all this..." Pilaq commented as he continued to pass through the garden. "Still..." he said, sounding slightly out of sorts, "It does not compare to the majestic beauty of my native Ithor." The aged doctor felt almost at home among the flora, but it still was not quite the same as being home.

"Nor does it compare to Gallinore or Hapes," Htaere agreed wistfully. "It is kind of him still, and I am grateful for the retreat it provides." She watched the old being shuffle carefully amid the footpaths through the flower beds. "How is the Tree of Wisdom doing?"

"It is in excellent health as only an Ithorian could maintain," Pilaq boasted proudly as he made his way back over towards her. "The real question is ... how are you doing?" he asked thoughtfully as he seated himself down upon the bench to study her features for the true nature of her response.

Thankful for Tohan's unwavering calm kindness, Htaere felt herself relax into what could almost be described as a slump in posture, something highly out of character for the regularly prim and proper decorum of the Hapan noble. "I am..." she began, yet words were hard to conjure. There was much to tell, and yet nothing to say, a heart full of dread and terror, and yet an empty void at the same time. "I am..." she tried again for the answer. "...improving..." she said with finality. It wasn't exactly the truth, yet it seemed an appropriate response. Htaere's eyes drifted back across the gardens as they had hours early, vacant and listless, the once noticeable glow of naïveté and blissful innocence permanently snuffed out. Where once trust and optimism monopolized her perception, in its place now festered the dark disease of paranoia, skepticism and distrust.

Doctor Tohan studied her carefully and felt a great deal of empathy for the young woman. As he surveyed the gardens around them he could not help but notice the quiet that surrounded them. There was an absence of animal life that made the illusion less than complete in his eyes. "I believe you have an excellent chance at recovery," he said in an optimistic tone that was accompanied by genuine emotions. "How are you sleeping?" he asked, getting a bit personal as it was one of the rare times they would be afforded privacy. "Rest is very important," he added as he shifted his focus against from the vegetation to her.

Htaere had to chuckle. "What is this...sleep you speak of?" She frowned and took to wringing her fingers in frustration. "My sleep is interrupted habitually. I live it over and over again." Htaere made a very uncharacteristic move by letting her head rest in her hands. "I do not even understand exactly what happened. And...something is happening with Claudius. Something seems wrong and I do not know the answers to any of these things."

Doctor Tohan grew concerned as he listened to Htaere's words, pausing briefly to consider his options. "Sleep is very important. Very important," he began as he tried to broach the subject cautiously. "I could prescribe a sleep aid..." he said slowly, not wanting to be too off-putting. "A number of the crew take them given the high stress levels as of late," he added, trying to be as reassuring as possible.

"Claudius has been pushing for me to take whatever pills it is you have already sent over. I admit I am reluctant. I do not know what it is, what the effects are. I am not one to favor heavy chemical-based narcotics, especially those capable of becoming an addiction," Htaere replied.

"I assure you, Milady, that I would not prescribe anything harmful," Pilaq was quick to point out as he concerned her criticism. "The side effects are minimal and there is very little chance at addiction," he added for good measure as he rose from the bench to stretch his legs once again. His hand reached out to grab one of the leafs, and stroked it as he would a dear pet. "Beauty has a way of adapting to whatever surroundings it finds itself in and will endure..."

"I shall consider it then, thank you," she said. After a long pause she spoke quietly. "I received an irate transmission from my mother, as expected. In response to the holovid coverage of this incident," she frowned as she spoke. "I was not aware such an atrocity warranted sensationalist media coverage and fanaticism. Still, I have been considering a vacation back home, to escape all of...this..." she motioned a slender hand to encompass all that surrounded them, the ship, space beyond, and the war beyond that. "Perhaps Claudius will allow you to come with me."

Claudius Rodney Doctor Tohan nodded in affirmation of her statement. "A trip home could greatly aid in your recovery process," he stated as his hand moved from one plant to another as he took everything in. "I do not think I have ever encountered an Ithorian who has been to the Hapes Cluster," he added excitedly as his attention gradually returned to Htaere. "It is something that I would very much like to see," he informed her as he wandered happily through the garden.

"I shall petition him tonight then," Htaere's refined chin likewise dipped in a nod. "And what of you? How is it that you have come to be in the service of the Rodneys, on a war machine in space? Ithorians are like Hapans. Space faring and conflict is not the habitat we are inclined to surround ourselves with."

"It is a long story. The kind of story that can only be shared by two people who have known themselves a very long time," Pilaq explained to her, moving to take a seat beside her once again. "Years ago ... before the Clone Wars ... when your husband was about the age you are now he was serving as Alderaan's representative to Ithor. We developed a good working relationship in those early years..." He paused, blinking slightly as he considered how best to continue. "Some years later when the Empire imposed a ... quarantine ... on Ithor the Admiral used his influence to have me transported off world in his career." It was something of a difficult subject to discuss, and being in the constant company of those who sought to oppress his people was something of a hardship for him. "I am forever grateful and remain dutifully in his service," he said with a reassuring nod, "...and yours, Milady."

The word 'quarantine' caught Htaere and with it in her mind's eye appeared again the dark festering side of the Empire she had bore witness to first hand. "Have you returned to Ithor since?"

"No." Pilaq responded quickly without going into much detail as clearly it was a sensitive topic. "Traveling to Ithor would be very difficult under the present circumstances," he slowly began to explain to her, attempting not to raise too much alarm. "Your husband has done me a great favor by getting me off world," he informed her, not quite sure what she would make of all this. "Too many favors elicit too many questions. This is not the climate to draw unwanted attention..." he concluded, already wondering if he had perhaps said too much.

For a long time, Htaere regarded Pilaq Tohan in utter silence. She digested his comments, able to separate them into parts, some subtle hints, some gratification, some cautionary. She felt something bubble inside of her, something that was unfamiliar to her, something antagonistic to her normally good nature. Resentment. At long last she spoke. "Then let us vacation on Ithor before going to Hapes. We shall make a gardener's delight out of the trip. If I go, it will not illicit questions. I shall take you if that is what you wish."

"It has been many years since I have looked upon Mother Jungle," Pilaq confided to her, unable to contain the sense of longing he had for his home. "As a patient in my care it perhaps would not garner as much attention..." he pondered out loud as he considered the merits of the trip, not wanting to put her in any undo jeopardy. "It will still require the appropriate transit papers and your husband's permission..." he informed her reluctantly, considering their options. "Are you sure it is something you wish to do?"

Htaere stood with a sense of purpose. "I am the regional governor's wife. I vacation where and with whom that I choose," she smiled with a sense of good natured bravado. "It will be a much needed respite for us both," she stated a bit more seriously. "I am afraid here, that at every turn I might encounter those people again, that any of Claudius' crew believe the accusations against me and work in tandem with the Security Bureau to monitor every aspect of my life now. I am having difficulty finding trust," Htaere confessed a bit of her own preoccupations and fears as of late.

"You are wise to be cautious. These are troubling times for us all," Pilaq quietly warned her as he stood up from the bench and placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. He was hesitant to speak of the matter further as the potential to place them all in danger grew with each word that they spoke. "Your husband is a good human. There are others here who are good as well. Do not lose all your hope," he said encouragingly as long fingers gripped her shoulder reassuringly. "I will allow you to get back to your thoughts now. Be well, young one," he said to her pleasantly as he moved towards the exit.

"I shall speak with you later regarding our trip!" she called over to him as he took leave. With the prospect of a retreat, especially one centered around natural splendor, Htaere brightened a bit. It was just the thing needed to sooth the young woman and help her to heal. With Tohan now gone, and left in solitude, Htaere moved down one of the flower paths and knelt down in front of a tiny white flower amid the bed. Close to it was a pile of smooth round pebbles, which she took to using to outline a circle around the delicate little flower, her private little memory of the child lost during her incarceration.

It had been another in a series of long days for Admiral Claudius Rodney. Since the increase in Rebel activity, the arrival of an Inquisitor, and the treacherous behavior of the ISB against his own family it had been very difficult for him to get more than several moments rest. His wife had not been sleeping well either, and frequently her waking nightmares would interrupt what little sleep he was allowed. He was aging rapidly it seemed, and as soon as he exited the turbolift on his living quarters he began unfastening his tunic, in a rapid hurry to rid himself of the uniform. As he entered his quarters he stopped for a moment at the door, kicking off his dress boots and carelessly discarding his tunic on the nearest chair. "I am home," he announced, never quite sure who was around these days.

Htaere sat curled up in one of the seating areas, curled up with her legs drawn up against her and a warm blanket draped around her. She'd already bathed for the evening, and was sans the usual array of ornamentation that glittered further her Hapan beauty. With the lights dimmed a bit, the glow of the holovid monitor cast flickering amounts of illumination across her features at the live coverage of an opera broadcasted from Coruscant's famous Coruscant Opera house. Stormy grey eyes took in the opulence of the production, occasionally blinking in lethargy as she had finally taken two of the sleeping aids Tohan had prescribed after speaking with him earlier. At the sound of Claudius announcing his arrival, she remained where she was, head rested on the plush backing. "In here," she called out lightly.

Claudius followed the sound of his wife's pleasant voice into the adjoining room where he soon heard the melancholy sound of the Opera. It seemed to be another overly dramatic piece from the Republic Classical period that his parents had forced upon him in his youth. Looking rather haggard, and not the slightest bit like the man of stature and rank, that he was, he tiredly staggered over towards her and placed a brief, polite kiss upon her cheek. "Is there anything to eat?" he queried, clearly sounding like a man who had his priorities in order.

Htaere untucked herself from her blanket and stood. "Yes, in the galley. Sit, I shall bring it for you," she instructed lightly. In her sateen and elegant night gown, she paused, canting her head towards her husband, dismayed at what she saw. "Claudius, you do not appear well. Would you have me call a medical droid? Perhaps a fluid drip to revitalize you?"

"Oh. Thank you, my dear, but the last thing I want to have to deal with is the inane prattling of a medical droid," Claudius called out to her as he took a seat on the sofa. He brought his right leg up onto his left knee and began to rub at his food, desperately. His boots felt tighter lately and they were becoming increasingly more difficult to wear. He was getting old. "Just something to eat and I'll be back on my ... feet," he said with a slight laugh as he realized his predicament.

Htaere refrained from a frown, but said nothing, instead disappearing to the galley and reappearing with a silver plated tray heaping with warming dishes full of food, serving utensils and a linen napkin. Setting it on the coffee table before him she sat down next to him and readied herself. "Claudius?"

Having not had the opportunity to eat during his shift, he heartily leaned forward and began devouring the first dish that had been served to him. He was eating at such a hurried rate that he nearly choked. "Yes?" he replied to her awkwardly, a mouth still full of food. A gentleman indeed.

"I am not feeling well, and I would like to take some time away to heal in private," she began carefully, her accent charming and elegant. "As my treating physician, I would like Dr. Tohan to accompany me. We wish to visit the gardens of Ithor, and then Hapes," she continued, watching him carefully for his response.

"Ithor?!" Claudius reacted with complete and utter dismay, being caught so off guard that he nearly choked on a tender of morsel of food he had only so recently placed in his mouth. "Why would you want to go to Ithor?" he asked her, placing the plate of food aside for the moment as it had become clear this would now command his full attention. "I've lived on Ithor. There's not much to see and they don't even set foot upon the surface..." he pointed out, doing his best to dissuade her.

"I am aware of their floating cities, to keep the pristine surface of the planet unmarred by civilization. I wish to go because the Ithorians are renowned for their horticulture, like Hapans. I have never seen the Ithorian gardens, but I would like to. I am certain Dr. Tohan would not mind a visit to his homeworld as well," she paused and placed a hand on his arm. "Perhaps you might be able to go also. A brief sabbatical may do you well."

"Ithor..." Claudius again repeated, blinking several times before responding. This was a very unexpected request, and one he was not entirely sure to deal with. "It will take dome doing. Ithor is under bloc...quarantine," he said quickly, correcting himself mid-sentence. He lowered his head slightly, rubbing his hands nervously against one another, his restless mind finding itself turning back towards the food once more.

"Well, I wish to go," Htaere replied persistently, gazing at Claudius intently. Finally she leaned back to give him space and let him finish his meal. Tugging the blanket back up around her she leaned back against the velveteen backing of the luxurious sofa, giving into the ever-growing sense of tire from her medicine. She continued to watch him, unwilling to let it go or let him conveniently move on to another topic, which he excelled at when it behooved him.

Claudius sat there for a moment and brought both of his hands to press down firmly upon his cheeks. This was a battle he knew he could not win. He was facing too much opposition at the moment, and an argument with his wife was one he could least afford. "Very well," he said in defeat as he turned his attention to his rapidly cooling meal. "Unfortunately, I can not get away at the moment as I am needed here to oversee the developments..." he told her, with genuine disappointment. He was glad she would be getting away from the turmoil of the Ringali Shell and out of the reaches of the ISB, but he wished that she had not picked such a controversial location like Ithor.

Htaere sat up, happy at his approval, albeit reluctant, and disappointed at his inability to join her. Still quiet, she let him eat a few more bites before venturing a question. "When will all this end, Claudius?"

"It cannot go on forever, my love," Claudius said to her reassuringly as he considered her question. "This ... rebellion ... is small and poorly organized," he explained to her, believing the words, which he was saying. "It is nothing but a small band of terrorists determined to disrupt the peace the Emperor has brought to the galaxy. We will crush them," he boasted confidently as he completed the makeshift meal that had been hurriedly assembled for him.

To this, Htaere said nothing for a long while. She was not interested in debating the validity of the rebellion...or the Empire for that matter. "Have you ever considered retirement?" she asked out of the blue, genuinely curious?

"Retire?" Claudius asked in shocked disbelief. "My dear, I hope you do not think of me as being *that* old," he said, still recovering from the notion of her suggestion. "I still have many good years left in my career," he told her confidently. "These are times of crisis and it would be wrong of me to shrink from my responsibilities and return home to Delaya to take up knitting or some other thing," he explained, feeling genuine pride in his conduct in the war thus far.

"I meant no disrespect," Htaere answered quickly, realizing her question was not taken so well, based on his response. She thought on it for a moment, and started to ask why it was a crisis if the rebellion was small and poorly organized. Instead she refrained and managed a smile instead. "I would never suggest disregard for one's responsibilities. I only meant that it would be nice to have immeasurable amounts of time together, without any of these distractions or issues."

"There will be plenty of time, my love," Claudius reassured her, and also himself at the same time. "Every day we make great strides and I'm confident this can not last much longer," he explained to her, having been hard at work each day now trying to combat the problem first hand. "Will you be taking any of the children with you?" he asked her, as he tried to shift the subject once again from politics.

This time it was Htaere's turn to be taken back by a question. "I had not thought of it, yet, but I can if they are interested in going." She fell into silence as her eyes dropped to her lap. She had not seen the children or returned to the estate since her abduction. She had not even been informed of their condition from the attack. "Perhaps I ought to return to Esseles," she suggested quietly.

"I'm sure they miss you," Claudius said sincerely, hoping that his cobbled together family would develop some sense of togetherness. He did not like the idea of his family so spread throughout the galaxy, but he had done much to protect them when they were all grouped together.

Htaere believed they did, at least in their own ways. Perhaps not Drusilla, who was never satisfied with anything, and Jelena's tolerance for her waxed and waned depending on the adolescent's mood. She nodded at long last. "Alright," she conceded quietly. In addition, she was looking forward to seeing her Guarlara, stabled at the estate. She'd hoped no harm had come to the animal, and found riding the majestic creature to be therapeutic in and of itself.

"I'll see that a shuttle is ready in the morning," Claudius informed her as he moved his attention to look at the opera that was still playing on Imperial Holovision. "I first saw this before you were born," he conceded much to his chagrin. "Was your day eventful?" he asked of her, looking to make the conversation somewhat less serious than the subject they had been earlier discussing.

Htaere glanced at the vid momentarily before reverting her focus back on Claudius. Without asking his permission she sidled next to him and curled up as close as she could, letting her head rest on his shoulder. "It was...just a day, I suppose," she answered numbly. "And what of yours?"

Claudius placed a reassuring arm around her as she moved next to him, enjoying the moment of tranquility between them. "Meetings. Paperwork. Briefings," he tiredly muttered, shaking his head tiredly. "The thankless tasks of the bureaucracy..." he continued, realizing that he was in danger of boring her. His body began to feel weak, drained of the energy from another long day. "If I had your youth and energy I would resolve this situation much more effectively," he said sweetly to her as his head leaned down to place a tender kiss upon her forehead.

"I fear this conflict is destroying you, Claudius," Htaere mumbled absently, her eyelids were beginning to sink, succumbing to the slumber imposed on her by her sleeping aids. "I implore you to be careful. Your ISB agent said many awful things and I fear for your safety as well," she continued, though perhaps in her groggy state she was unaware she was revealing such things.

"I am the embodiment of caution, my sweet..." Claudius said confidently as his grip tightened around her, as if he were afraid to let her go. His head began to sink and his eyelids felt as if they were made of durasteel as they began to shut. His fatigue combined with the effect of the melodramatic opera were combining to overwhelm what was left of his stamina.

"Do not trust them, Claudius. They are deceivers..." Htaere mumbled again as her voice trailed off in exhaustion. Slipping into unconsciousness, the Hapan youth's body fell into relaxation, in need of a solid, uninterrupted night's sleep. By the will of the goddesses hopefully she would have it.

Unable to struggle any further, the aged Admiral's chin pressed firmly against his chest as he slumped down, falling into a deep sleep on the sofa with his wife.

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