Claudius Rodney stood at the bottom of the staircase in his estate on
Esseles, waiting for the shuttle that would take him up to his command
ship for what he expected would be another grueling day at work. He was
distracted, however, by the fact that his wife would be visiting the
Trade Hall in Cormond. She had nearly been killed there once ... and
that was before the Rebellion got a foothold in the region. There would
be no Stormtroopers with her this time ... just one indiscreet body
guard. He was not pleased. "I am trusting you with the life of my wife,
Major," he said as he glared towards his obedient servant. "Do not fail
me," he said sternly as he raised a finger towards her face.
Major Kiley stood before the Admiral, no longer in the black Imperial
uniform that so often adorned her body. Today she was dressed in the
ancient armor of the Mabari, where she had spent the earliest parts of
her life. The black armorweave clung to her body like a second set of
skin and was designed to mold to each of the changes her Clawdite form
was capable of. Her distinct KYD 21 blaster pistol shimmered brightly in
the holster and her braided hair was pinned up beneath her helmet. She
looked the part of a bounty hunter this day ... she would go unsuspected
as an Imperial. "I will allow no harm to come to her, milord," she said,
her voice never wavering and sounding supremely confident. "You have my
word," she promised, followed by a firm nod.
Htaere appeared, all grins, in her nondescript hooded robe. Beneath
it she wore a modest gown, sans any kind of jewelry or tiara, only the
markings and gem on her face evident. She was nearly beside herself and
fidgety. "I am eager to go and revisit the market" she squealed in
Claudius turned to Htaere and smiled at her pleasantly. He took a
step forward, leaning his face in to hers and placing a gentle, brief
kiss upon her younger lips. "Enjoy your day in the market, my love," he
said to her as he proceeded towards the doorway. "...but above all else,
be safe. Follow the Major's instructions. She does her job well," he
added with an uncharacteristic wink to Kerrie as he headed out the door
and moved towards his shuttle.
"I shall indeed" she called after him, turning her wide smile to
shine on Kerrie. "Are you not excited by this?" She asked, taking
in Kerrie's attire curiously.
"Excited is not the word I would use, Milady," Kerrie pointed out as
she checked the chronometer Their shuttle would be arriving soon, once
the Admiral's had time to depart. She smiled at Htaere doing her best to
keep spirits up. She knew this was important to her.
Jelena had been watching at the top of the stairs and when she noted
her father disappearing, she quickly bounded down the stairs. No formal
attire was being worn this day ... instead she was wearing a rather
plain pair of trousers, a shirt, and a cloak of varying degrees of
brown. She looked dress more for a day of hiking than shopping. "I have
decided to go with you," she announced to no one in particular as she
moved past them, towards the door.
Htaere appeared surprised at first before easing into a joyful grin.
"That is wonderful. The fresh air and change of scenery will do us
well." The Hapan heiress glanced towards Kerrie. "Are we ready then for
Kerrie was dumbfounded at Jelena's surprise announcement and took her
a moment to recover from the shock of the news. "What do you mean you're
going with us?" she asked as she moved towards Jelena, following her out
the door. As they exited the house, the shuttle landed exactly on
"I'm not staying pent up in that house a moment longer," Jelena said
to Kerrie, without missing a step as she continued forward, walking up
the ramp into the shuttle. "Besides," she said as she sat down in the
chair, finally making eye contact with the Major and offering a cruel
grin. "You owe me one for covering for you yesterday," she told her as
she strapped herself in to the shuttle.
Htaere followed suit, buckling her crash webbing as well. "Did you
let your father know you would be coming?" she asked as she got
situated. "Should he come home to find you missing, he will be quite
"No. I didn't tell him," Jelena confessed as the ramp to the shuttle
was raised and the craft began to elevate into the atmosphere. "I did
not want to cause him additional stress," she explained, rationalizing
it in her mind. "Not to mention he won't be back until hours after we
return," she reminded Htaere with a familiar nod.
Kerrie grumbled as she strapped herself in, throwing an unpleasant
glance towards Jelena. Not only was she going to have to guard an extra
person than she planned for, but she was doing so without the Admiral's
knowledge or consent. It was then that she felt the shuttle lurch
forward into hyperspace, sending them on their short journey across the
region to Brentaal. "You'd better stay close to me," Kerrie warned
"We can do a little shopping, perhaps find a place for lunch, make a
day of it" Htaere suggested, hoping to difuse any tension between Jelena
and Kerrie before it started. "Perhaps some site-seeing as well..."
The remainder of the journey to Brentaal proved to be quiet and
uneventful, filled with awkward silences and unpleasant glances. Soon
they were entering Cormond's famous Trade Hall where vendors from across
the region had come to sell their wares. The atmosphere was certainly
less jovial than their last visit, the locals having experienced first
hand the effects of the Galactic Civil War on their economy. Many of the
transports that brought goods to the planets came under Rebel attack and
were subject to the tariffs imposed by the Empire for their protection,
which resulted in a crippling price increase. There were Imperial
Stormtroopers present throughout the market, but they were unaware of
the VIPs in attendance. Imperial patrols were now a way of life on the
once peaceful, commerce-driven world.
Jelena followed, several steps behind Kerrie, her hand slipping into
her small bag where she fumbled around with the tube of lipstick the
Alliance had provided her. Doing her best to conceal her actions, her
finger slipped inside the tube and depressed the button that would alert
Parka Pepper to her presence. While she waited, she played the role of
an obedient charge, staying close to the Major like a pet to appease
Htaere's eyes drank in the spectacle, staring already to thrive on
every moment. She moved down between all the tables and kiosks, simply
captivated by all the hub and din.
On the opposite side of the galaxy, Parka Pepper threw a sideways
glance to Derek, buckling herself in. "Got the coordinates loaded yet?"
Derek stood at the transponder signal on the Gilded Thranta's
sensor display and frowned in dismay, shaking his head at Parka. "Right
in the very heart of Brentaal," he said as he transferred the
coordinated into the navigation computer. "Here we go again..." he
bemoaned as the computer chirped, sliding his hand forward to activate
the shuttle's hyperdrive. This was not where he wanted to be going.
Kerrie watched over Htaere and Jelena carefully as the three of them
moved through the marketplace. At each vendor she saw the potential for
danger, locking eyes with each of the spacers who crossed her path. Most
were innocent freighter pilots who were delivering goods to the
merchant, but any one of them could prove dangerous. She would need
something to calm her nerves after this day.
Jelena waited impatiently for Parka, not sure when, or even if, she
would arrive. The young girl did her best to smile at some of the
merchants, feigning interest in some of their substandard goods. Nothing
particularly suited her fancy, though she did considering purchasing
something if only to stimulate the local economy.
Htaere immediately moved out among the general populace, the
collection of traders, spacers, miners, pirates, business men and
nondescript jacks-of-all-trade that shuffled up and down the streets.
The busy atmosphere and continuous movement resembled and insect colony
that had been disturbed, the inhabitants springing to life en masse. The
senses were immediately bombarded with not only the sights of the
thoroughfare, but the din of talking and music, as well as the delicious
smells of common street cuisine that dotted the street whether from
sidewalk cafes or individual vendors peddling comestibles from shaky
carts. It was so raw and gritty that it was captivating entirely to
Htaere, finding such an existence new and enthralling. Preoccupied by
the spread before her, she slipped in and out among the crowd, moving
easily yet trying to remember to stop here and then to wait for Kerrie
A particularly large Houk slammed into Kerrie, sending her diminutive
frame reeling as it pushed her away from Htaere and Jelena. "Hey!" she
yelled as she glared at the bulbous creature, clenching her right hand
into an angry fist. "Watch where you're going..." she demanded of the
beast, who only seemed more intent on pushing her aside to get to his
destination. "Oof," she groaned as she backpedaled, tripping over a cart
and landing on her backside on the floor of the market.
Jelena witnessed the small woman being Houk-handled and immediately
moved away from the trio, deciding it was her best chance to get away to
meet with Parka. Raising the hood of the cloak over her head she began
to push her way through the crowd, hoping to reach a quiet area where
she might be able to meet out of the prying eyes of the occupied Major.
Htaere pulled her smiling face from a local peddler she was watching,
turning to gaze over her shoulder in search of Kerrie. When the Major
failed to come into view, her grin thinned out, flattening into
bewilderment. And yet in the swarm of activity, her vision was a blur of
moving color, despite her best efforts to focus. "Jelena? Kerrie?" she
called out, her beckon lost in the bedlam. She took a few steps back in
the direction from whence she came, looking about in disbelief. She
could not understand how she'd lost them already.
It was at that moment that Htaere was distracted with something
familiar, and yet a complete mystery. Her eyes narrowed into a singular
focus as she pushed through the hustle bustle towards the object of her
fascination. It was the platinum white hair of the young Hapan she had
seen with Claudius and Kerrie that one night. The youngster was
strolling towards a local diner, and Htaere wasted no time in following
suit. As she likewise stepped into the diner entrance, her cloudy pools
panned left to right, searching. The art of being inconspicuous or at
the very least, not obvious, was one Htaere had never been instructed
As Parka slid into a booth and lifted her head, she noticed the
likewise familiar face of the Hapan wedded to her contact's father.
Rather schooled in laying low, Parka dropped her head slightly to her
com unit. "Derek...you won't believe who just showed up at the party"
she all but whispered.
Jelena waited patiently in a lopsided chair in front of one of the
main ubiquitous food vendors that was serving hastily prepared foods of
varying degrees of quality. She was not there for food, however, she was
there for something much more unappetizing. She clung to the dark brown
cloak that surrounded her young body, shrouding her face from the crowd.
It would only be moments before the Major would be seeking her out.
Kerrie struggled to pick herself up off the floor, letting out an
angry groan as she dusted the muck off her suit of armorweave. She
scanned the crowd, seeing neither Htaere nor Jelena, a sense of dread
immediately setting in. Letting out a snarl of frustration she began
pushing throug the crowd, her eyes searching in every direction.
Derek sat in the cockpit of the Gilded Thranta, monitoring
Parka's transmission. He never felt at ease operating this deep in
Imperial territory and undercover assignments were the type of
assignment he most detested. "Who?" he asked grimly through the comlink
as he monitored both Parka and Jelena's signal on the transponder.
"The Hapan..." Parka said in near contempt. "Tashi? You want to do
the honors?" She glanced about casually. "Derek, where *is* the contact?
We're running out of time."
From some shadowy doorway, the light glow at the end of a cigarra
flared to life for one last hefty drag, before dropping to the ground
and being snuffed out by the thick sole of a lace-up combat boot. "I'm
on it..." came the response.
Derek stared at the transponder, noting they were now practically on
top of one another. "She seems to be about fifteen meters to the
northeast," Derek replied through the comlink, watching the two white
blips on his tracking console. "She is not moving," he added as he
continued to provide support from the shuttle.
Parka slipped from her seat and moved to the door. On the way out,
she flashed an intentional glance to Htaere who was walking slowly
through the diner, studying the patrons intently. As was her intention,
their eyes met briefly before Parka moved out of sight, Htaere hastening
towards the door in pursuit. Parka deliberately followed a less obvious
alley way as she moved in the direction Derek had provided for
appropriate contact, shifting for a moment into the doorway of one of
the shops, occasionally venturing a peek around the door frame.
She did not have to wait long. Within a matter of minutes, the
traitor was following, and as she moved past one of many entrances, a
single hand snapped out long enough to grab a generous handful of her
hood and cloak before withdrawing inside, bringing Htaere with it.
Without so much as a moment to react, a pair of arms pulled her in, one
pulling her into a sleeper hold, the sinewy bicep closing tighter and
tighter on her throat. It only took a handful of seconds given Htaere's
state of panic for oxygen levels to deplete before she went limp. She
dropped like a rock at the booted feet of Tashi Ling, who paused to
pluck another cigarra from a cargo pocket, light it up and carry on
with wrapping the body up in the cloak, folding her up and pulling all
the corners as if it were a burlap bag. "All clear..." she sang, almost
happily as she tugged the dead weight towards the back of the shop.
Parka emerged and continued on herself, drifting a block back towards
the major thoroughfare of the market, eyes scrutinizing the crowd keenly
before spotting her. "Confirmed visual" she reported before moving in
that direction. She took up a position casually behind Jelena before
addressing the vendor. "One of those..."
Jelena tensed as she heard the familiar voice of Parka speaking
behind her, but she made no motion and remained silent, continuing to
nurse the cup of tea that had gone unconsumed in front of her. She
looked down at the table, closing her eyes and attempted to imagine it
all away. She could not believe that she was about to do this yet again.
In the opposite side of the expansive Trade Hall Major Kerrie Kiley
searched in vein for both Jelena and Htaere. A panic came upon her as
she stopped dead in her tracks and begin to search visually all around
her for any recognizable sign. She saw nothing. Her heart was beating
and she considered her options, the first one being to call in a squad
of Stormtroopers. That would cause the Admiral to be notified and she
would not have that. She reached down to her belt and retrieved a small
device with a viewscreen. A moment later she was tapping into the
surveillance system of the Trade Hall and cycling through viewscreens
for any sign of them.
Parka squatted down to tie her own boot as she waited for the fast
fried salted meat-on-a-stick sort of treat the vendor was preparing
short order style. A little less towering, she didn't glance towards
Jelena. "You bellowed?"
Tashi had hefted the large 'bag' over her shoulder, carrying it off
to the speeder and stuffing it in the trunk before taking up a semi
reclined position in the driver's seat, one foot casually propped up on
the dash, flipping through the channels in the console until she found a
live shockball tournament to follow along, taking her time with her
Jelena took a sip of her tea, not moving an inch to acknowledge
Parka's presence. "I want you to know that you have them scared," she
said calmly as she looked over everyone around her with suspicion. "I
want you to know that you have me scared too," she added as she
uncomfortably turned to finally look at the woman. "I need you to make
sure that nothing happens to my family..." she said to her in a serious
voice, removing the hood from her head so that she could see exactly who
she was talking to.
Major Kiley continued to cycle through the visual displays of the
events inside Cormond's Trade Hall. She spotted the speeder with Tashi,
but to her it was just one of countless vehicles that would pass through
the market this day and immediately cycled past it without a second
though. She let out a sigh, realizing the immensity of this location's
size and the amount of people present would make this task seem
"Here's something you need to acknowledge, Princess." Parka replied,
her tone equally as serious. "I'm sure you're scared. It's about time
for you to put that baby to bed. You chose to be a willing participant
of the war." She looked at Jelena squarely. "You want an omelet, break
an egg. I'm not going to pamper your feelings the way everyone else
does. I don't really care who you are or who your father is. You have a
job to do." She offered a fake smile. "Now, if we're done revisiting how
catered to we are, some information would be nice."
Jelena's face turned red with anger as she confronted the Hapan spy.
"I've heard that the Empire is moving an additional regiment to Ralltiir,"
she revealed as she turned her head away to look back at her tea. "My
father said that Lord Tion is embarrassed by what has occurred and is
going to take it out on the people of Ralltiir," she admitted sadly as
she took another sip of her tea.
Kerrie's face went wide when she spotted Jelena in one of the obscure
holocameras on the opposite side of the Trade Hall. She took a deep
breath and began running across the market, pushing her way between the
crowd who seemed to slow her process at every step. She was going to
explode when she finally reached her charge.
Parka was quiet, digesting the bad news in solitude. "Anything else
that may be pertinent?" she asked, getting to her feet and accepting the
snack from the vendor.
"No," Jelena sighed as she rose from the table, spotting the hustle
and bustle caused by Major Kiley's approached. She swallowed and raised
the hood back over her head. "Ralltiir is going to be a blood bath," she
said sadly as she began to move towards Kerrie. "Now get moving before
there's a blood bath here..." she warned as she began to move into the
Parka took the hint and ducked off behind the line of vendors,
hurrying towards the speeder.
Tashi waited for her to get close before sitting up and punching the
engines, making it necessary for Parka to vault into the moving vehicle.
When they had cleared a safe distance, Tashi glanced towards Parka.
"Double cross?" she asked.
Kerrie arrived in front of Htaere and snarled at the young girl and
almost smacked her, the rage flowing through her body. But then she
noticed ... Htaere was not with her. "I will deal with this later," she
said angrily as she shook her head at the disobedient child. "Where is
Htaere?" she asked as she placed her hand on the girl's shoulders
Parka and Tashi stood over the Htaere's body as it lay on the floor
panels of the ship. "All loaded, ready for lift-off" she called to Derek
in the cockpit.
"What do we do with her?" Tashi sniffled, chewing on one side of her
mouth and looking unimpressed. Parka's head shook, her hands resting on
"I haven't the foggiest idea..." she confessed, shaking her head.
Tashi meandered over to travel couch and dropped onto the cushions
lazily. "Derek will probably be pissed when he sees her" she said
Parka's hands flew up exasperated. "What else could we do? She
recognized me. We couldn't let her just go so she could run her
oblivious mouth about the encounter and put the contact's life at risk?
As is it I had to be rough on the girl. She was on the verge of coming
unglued" she replied firmly. She shook her head and paced the floor as
if trying to sooth her rare uncertainty. "There were no other
"I thought she was with you..." Jelena said in a panic is she looked
to Kerrie in absolute fear. She turned to look for Parka, but she was
already gone. "Come on. Let's find her," she said sincerely to the
Major, her heart racing. This was all her fault she said as she hurried
through the marketplace, the Major close behind as they began a search.
"You two all set," Derek said casually as he began to prepare the
Gilded Thranta for takeoff. It was only then that he looked over his
shoulder and spotted the rolled up 'package' and a look of concern came
over his eyes. "What is that?" he asked as the shuttle began to take off
from the spaceport, using its maneuvering thrusters to move into the
atmosphere. "Don't tell me you killed someone..." he said as he shook
his head, turning to actually watch as he piloted the craft.
Parka and Tashi's eyes met for only a second before Parka drew a deep
breath. "No, she's not dead..." she answered, her tone clinging
desperately to humor to keep the situation light hearted. "Bit of an
unexpected hand in the sabacc game."
Derek shook his head as he accelerated the Gilded Thranta's
thruster sending it closer towards the Imperial Star Destroyer that
loomed over the planet. "Did you at least get any information?" he asked
as he turned to the navigation computer to begin downloading the
coordinates for the Alderaan system. As the shuttle moved through the
Brentaal system it glided beneath the massive hulk of the Imperial Star
Destroyer. A moment later the navigation computer began to beep,
indicating it had the coordinates for Alderaan locked in.
On the planet's surface Kerrie completed her exhaustive search of the
Trade Hall, having found no trace of Htaere. Imperial Stormtroopers were
filling the market now, tossing over the various vendors and harassing
the locals. The once glorious market was in ruins, with everyone in the
market being rounded up and brought into questioning. In the middle of
the scene stood an exhausted Kerrie, tears visibly showing in each of
her mimicked Human eyes. This was her greatest failure and she did not
know how to tell the Admiral.
Jelena stood next to Kerrie, her clothes covered in soil. She had
searched for hours, assuming Htaere had just found a vendor with
something interesting. She too was beginning to cry, the guilt of
knowing that her activities today may have caused Htaere great
suffering. How would she ever look her father in the eye again...
As the Sigma-class shuttle Gilded Thranta lurched
settled into hyperspace, Derek activated the autopilot and unstrapped
himself. He had to get to the bottom of what had happened, and so he
quickly moved to the passenger compartment of the shuttle. His eyes
roamed first to Parka and then to Tashi, unsure of which was responsible
for this. The as-of-yet unidentified body laying ominously in front of
his concerned eyes. "Will one of you explain to me what happened and who
this is?" he cried out in desperation, raising his hands and then
letting them fall quickly down to his legs.
Tashi and Parka exchanged nervous glances before silently deciding
Parka would do the honors. She leaned over and unwrapped the cloak,
pulling it away from the unconscious woman's face. "It followed us
home...can we keep it?" she said rather flatly, an attempt at humor but
was having a hard time even convincing herself.
Derek turned to look at the woman for just a moment before shaking
his head at Parka discouraging. "No. No you can't keep..." his humorous
voice trailed off before his head turned back to the face and he began
to freeze. "No...No..." he began mumbling in disbelief as he dropped to
his knees and began to place two fingers upon her neck to search out a
pulse. She was alive and he sighed in relief. His stressed body slowly
plopped down on the ground as he looked up at them in dismay. "...what
have you done?" he asked sadly.
Parka's hackles raised slightly. "Oh stop your sniveling. She's
alive. I had no choice. She was following me. It's the contact's
stepmother...I don't think the contact is a double agent...but I have no
idea why 'she'..." motioning to Htaere "...was in the market place." She
dropped down into a nearby seat. "I had to do something quickly before
she went and started dropping hints to the Imps that she saw me at the
Trade Hall." Folding her arm she leaned back, brain firing rapidly as
she calculated a million outcomes to the situation that had developed.
"I figure we'd deal with it later, since, at the time, the most
important thing was recovering information."
Derek stared up at Parka and looked at her, a blank expression upon
his face as he considered what he told her. "You mean you planned on me
dealing with it later..." he said as he looked down, resting his head
between his legs. "Oh I'm going to be sick..." he groaned as he felt his
lunch quickly coming back upon him. He made a mistake grabbing that
fried ... something ... from the spaceport vendor
"Well, I planned on 'us' dealing with it later." She drew in a deep
breath. "So...we should probably let Organa know that we're bringing
another mouth to the 'party' so he can put out enough appetizers..." she
said getting to her feet and moving towards the cockpit. She stopped to
throw a glance over her shoulder towards Tashi. "You should probably
wake her up and make sure she's not retarded or anything on account of
Tashi nodded getting to her feet as well and shuffling about for
binders or anything that would suffice as such around the cargo area.
Instead she opted for a cup of water and her blaster. Walking towards
Htaere she stood over her thinking for a moment, before turning the cup
upside down and letting its contents drop unceremoniously onto the young
In a surprisingly hasty reaction time, Htaere's head shifted, fingers
numbly rubbing at her face and brushing water away as she was pulled
rather abruptly from the unconscious state she'd likewise been hefted
Without so much as a flinch, Tashi withdrew and retook her seat on
the couch, blaster pointed towards the youngster.
Htaere's eyes opened, and as the blur faded and she took in the
unfamiliar surroundings, she sat up quickly, her face pale and her
brow knit with worry. Her eyes immediately locked on the barrel of the
weapon pointed at her, before following up the line of the arm to the
face of the person who held it.
"My recommendation is to sit quietly" she muttered coldly.
Derek stood suddenly and glared at the young Hapan woman on the
floor. "I advise you to follow her instructions," he warned as he moved
swiftly back towards the cockpit. "Once the
uh...ransom...yeah...ransom...is paid you'll be released," he said as he
started to form the basic outline of a plan inside his head. He sat back
down in the pilot's chair and let out a deep sigh, moving his hand
towards the communications unit. How was he going to explain this?
Parka was at the communications console fine-tuning the secure link
to Organa. She did npt bother to look up as Derek returned. "Did you
Tashi eyed her charge in nothing short of contempt. The prim, the
proper, the elegance, it made her ill. Despite the fact she had been
chucked around on the ground, thrown into a trunk and plopped on the
deck of the cargo area, the woman still appeared clean. No grit, no
dirt, no filth. The very thought of such an existence made bile rise in
the back of Tashi's throat. With that she fidgeted until she found a
cigarra, setting the blaster in her lap if only for a second to light
it before repositioning it towards the potential target. She took a deep
long drag of the cigarra, letting it soothe her sickened nerves.
Htaere mustered up some naturally occurring Hapan bravado and pierced
her lips "Claudius does not negotiate with terrorists" she snapped
finally, her eyes narrowing at the heathen holding the blaster.
Tashi exhaled, letting the stream of smoke project into the little
witch's face before answering her. "Then I guess you're mine forever,
aren't you princess?" she mumbled half heartedly. "I'm pretty sure I'll
get a return on you as an investment, if not in ransom...then maybe that
nice rainbow gem" she nodded towards Htaere, eyes settling on the soft
glow of the highly valuable rainbow gem on the mounting plate in the
Htaere's eyes widened momentarily before she recouped her attitude.
"It is not removable" she said sternly, her accent sharp.
Tashi's face hardened as she leaned forward, her eyes narrowed
threateningly "Oh I doubt it..."
"I feel like I'm about to," Derek confessed to Parka as the
transmission to Alderaan slowly flickered to life. His eyes roamed to
Parka nervously before looking down at the viewscreen of Viceroy Organa.
"We will be making an unscheduled visit to Alderaan, your highness," he
awkwardly reported as he tried his best to smile. He had hoped that
Tashi and Htaere's conversation was not able to be heard.
On the other end of the transmission, Viceroy Organa looked towards
Derek and Parka with some concern. He tilted his head slightly as he
tried to gauge their facial features and get any kind of a read. "Is
everything ... all right?" he asked as he gently scratched at his
bearded chin. These two were usually trouble and he had come to expect
"Oh. Yes..." Derek fumbled nervously on the comm as he looked towards
Parka and began nodding his head. "We just need to..." he paused and
looked down, his brow furrowing as he considered his next words
carefully. "...to...to drop someone off," he finished explaining
nervously as he moved to terminate the transmission. He let out a deep
sigh as he turned to Parka once again. "Go see what you can find out
from her, won't you?" he instructed as he took a moment to wind down in
the chair. "And make sure Tashi doesn't shoot her," he said to her as he
put his head down, believing she was capable of it.
"Find out what exactly?" Parka grumbled pushing herself up. She
shuffled towards the back, looking none-too-thrilled.
As she came into view, she and Htaere locked eyes again. "You..." she
started, recalling the night Parka first appeared aboard the Warspite.
"...You are behind this?"
Parka's expression was steady. "Not exactly" she answered. "You just
happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Htaere eyed her cautiously. "Who are you?" she asked. Parka sniffled
a bit. "A huge thorn in your husband's side" she smiled. It was
mirthless but intended to taunt all the same. "Trust me, it's not you
we're interested in" she added.
Htaere looked somewhat confused, though trying to conceal it with a
brazen front. "I do not understand" she admitted.
Parka found a seat nearby and produced a datapad. Working on it, she
continued speaking without glancing up. "Of course you don't. Great
measures have been taken to keep it that way. How well do you know the
family you married into?"
Derek stood from his seat in the cockpit and moved to the passenger
compartment of the shuttle, his eyes moving from Parka to the Htaere.
"Do you know why you're here?" He folded his arms in front of his chest
as he leaned against the bulkhead. He had to determine whether or not
she had identified them as members of the Rebel Alliance. Her answer
would largely determine her fate.
Htaere's callow features shifted towards the male who'd entered. She
regarded him skeptically, chewing at the inside of her lip before
shaking her head slowly. Her ashen orbs shifted between the three of
them as if searching for a friend amongst foes.
Derek rolled his eyes to Parka as he took another step forward,
towering over the young Hapan female now. "Perhaps you did not hear me.
Do you know why you are here?" he asked again, dropping down to one knee
to look her squarely in the eyes as he continued his interrogation.
Htaere folded her arms across her chest and looked away, her chin
lifting indignantly. "I shall not be badgered by you a moment longer"
Derek turned his attention away from Htaere, standing and walking
over towards Parka. "What do you think?" he asked plainly. He had to be
careful talking in front of Htaere, but his meaning was clear. He needed
to know whether or not Htaere suspected they were members of the Rebel
Alliance. Since he was not there, he would rely solely on Parka's
judgment to determine Htaere's fate.
Tashi piped up from her couch, waving the blaster muzzle in circles
at Htaere. "I know what I think..." she called out, smiling. "I think
you should let me shoot her. I 'promise' I can get that gem out..."
Parka all but scowled over towards Tashi. She turned her back to
Htaere to converse in mouthed silence to Derek. "I doubt it...she
lipped, shrugging slightly.
"Not yet," Derek said to Tashi, giving the impression that killing
her was still an option on the table. He turned to Parka and nodded his
head, using her judgment to base his next decision. "We're going to get
a lot of credits for you, my dear," he said to her as he dropped back
onto his knee and looked her squarely in the eye. "If you behave and
don't cause any problems you'll walk out of here with a story to tell
your grandchildren," he said with an emphatic nod. He had heard that
cheap line in a holovid once, but he never thought he would actually use
it. He was no kidnapper.
Htaere gasped before her expression hardened...considerably. In a
fraction of a second, her right hand lifted and swung towards his face,
landing squarely on the left side of his face with a resounding 'slap.'
"How dare you to threaten me..." she scowled, probably one of the first
times in her life she'd edged towards agitation.
Parka's reaction was to laugh out loud, almost doubling over in
hysteria, appreciating the display. "See, she 'is' Hapan after all.
Despite being subjected to training and etiquette, and being submissive
to a war-monger husband and his army of lackeys, she still possesses a
bit of fire and belligerence" she managed between gut-busting laughter.
Tashi did not share the humor...entirely...and in a moment's time was
on her feet and pushing Derek away to shield from any further
'cat-scratch' the captive tried to duke out. She issued a back-handed
punishment of her own, catching Htaere in the right side of the mouth.
Without so much as giving the youngster a moment to recover, she grabbed
at one of her arms, nearly hefted her to her feet and dragged her
towards a small storage closet, most of which contained assorted tools,
cleaning supplies, a couple candy bars that had been in there for months
and an assorted collection of dust balls. Thrusting the woman's form in
she slapped at the door release, the pneumonic trigger sliding it shut
immediately, closing her into pitch black. It was only after the door
was closed, she turned and flashed an amused grin towards Derek. "Was it
good for you?" she chuckled.
Derek rubbed at the side of his face where she smacked him and shook
his head discouragingly towards Tashi. "Just keep her locked up," he
added as he moved forth into the cockpit. "We're coming up on Alderaan
and this is going to be a big headache to sort out," he added as he
plopped down in the pilot's seat and deactivated the autopilot. He still
had no clue how he was going to explain this to Organa.
Claudius Rodney sat silently in his study in his expansive quarters
aboard the Imperial I-class Star Destroyer Warspite. He
had not moved since he had learned his wife had gone missing during her
trip to Brentaal. It had only been five months since he first laid eyes
upon her. The memory vividly replayed itself in his head. A small smile
curled upon his lips with one quick snort of a laugh, remember how
foolishly he dismissed her. Despite the fact that it was an arranged
marriage, he had come to love this young woman ... perhaps even more than
his first wife. But now all he could do is feel that he lost her and
looking down through teary eyes he watched as his hands began to shake.
Claudius was tired ... the kind of tired only a man with the weight of
six worlds on his shoulders could know. It was burden enough to worry
about the events on these worlds, but when it spilled over to affect his
own family it nearly broke him. His shaky hand moved towards a bottle of
Alderaan Ruge and he poured himself a glass, spilling a large quantity
of the liquid onto his finely crafted, antique desk. It had been made
out of the finest Kriin-wood from his native Alderaan centuries ago and
had been in his family for generations, but now it was in a cold, dark
room aboard an Imperial war machine far from its tranquil origins. His
hand brought the glass to his lips and he began to drink. He would
continue drinking until the pain would stop.
Major Kerrie Kiley had returned to the Warspite to personally
deliver the news to the Admiral. She had searched every centimeter of
Cormond's Trade Hall for Htaere, but she could not even find a trace of
her and the disguise she wore made visual identification through the
surveillance system an impossible task. Her uniform was
uncharacteristically soiled, covered in the metallic soot the natives of
Brentaal had become so accustomed to. She had been on her hands and
knees searching for hours and even descended into the sewer system. The
brown hair that was always pinned up within regulations was sweaty and
matted, hanging down in two long braids behind her. Her eyes were red,
clearly indicating that she had been crying. The crew of the vessel
could smell her long before they could see her. She was exhausted, both
physically and mentally, and while many officers would take the time to
shower and change before meeting with the Admiral she saw the need to
waste no time.
Kerrie froze for an instant outside of the Admiral's study, her
heart pounding painfully fast in her chest. It seemed that all she could
hear now was the sound of it beating and she became overcome with
dizziness, the room beginning to spin. She shook her head, forcing a
deep breath into her system. She seemed to have temporarily recovered
and forced her way forward into his room. Her eyes widened at the sight
in front of her. She had never seen him like this before. She wondered
if anyone had. "Milord?" she asked nervously in a voice that seemed to
tremble. She took a nervous step towards the desk, trembling slightly as
she entered the darkened room. She considered activating the light, but
believed it would only upset him.
Claudius could barely hold his head up at an even keel as he
witnessed the arrival of the creature he had entrusted with the safety
of his wife and children. "What are you doing here?" he asked in a
mixture of both drunken anger and sadness as his eyes attempted in vein
to focus on her. His hand tightened around the glass and he hurled it
directly at her. Her mere presence sickened him and he wanted her out of
Kerrie gasped suddenly and relied on the reflexes she had learned
during her time studying with the Mabari to barely duck out of the way
as the glass flew over her head and impacted on the bulkhead, shattering
into a thousand tiny pieces. "I came..." she fumbled over the words, a
panic coming over her like she had never before experienced. She
resembled something of a woodland creature staring down the headlights
of an oncoming speeder. "I came to make my report, milord," she
explained, finally forcing the words out as she took another step for
him. As concerned as she was about Htaere, she began to grow more
concerned for Claudius.
"Get out! Get out! Get out!" Claudius snapped back at her angrily as
he stood from his chair and stumbled around the desk, moving swiftly
towards her. "If you had found her," he began to explain, the scent of
alcohol oozing from his every breath, "...she would be here instead of
you!" He shook his head at her in disgust, a rage inside of him flowing
like he had never before experienced as his shaky right hand began to
curl into a fist. "I trusted you with my family," he said bitterly
towards her as the spittle intentionally flew from his lips towards her
face. "I should have known better than to trust an animal!" he angrily
shouted as he lifted his fist swiftly towards the left side of her face.
Kerrie was caught completely off guard by his punch. He had never
struck her before and it was the last thing she was expecting. "Ah," she
cried out in pain as his hand connected with her jaw causing her veil of
deception to momentarily fall, revealing her true Clawdite form. The
bone broke almost on contact and the crackling noise echoed throughout
the dimly lit room. Blood began to pour from her mouth and she raised
her hands defensively over her mouth to try and stop the bleeding. She
bent over, her young eyes looking up at him, welling up with tears as if
to ask 'why?'. The tears did not come from the pain from her jaw, but
out of concern for both Claudius and Htaere who she had come to view as
a surrogate family, replacing the one that had been taken from her.
As Kerrie hunched down in front of him the anger inside of Claudius
only grew deeper and more fierce. He looked into those pathetic,
helpless eyes of hers and could only imagine what horrors his beloved
Htaere was suffering right now. He looked down at her, nodding his head
as if to agree with what he had done. He had never uncurled his fist and
he swung it at her face again. He was not just punishing her for failing
to protect Htaere, he needed someone to blame for all of the problems in
his life ... and she was the closest target.
This time the Admiral's fist connected with Kerrie's left eye,
causing it to swell up and nearly close as her weakened body fell to the
cold surface of the deck plating with a dull *thud*. As she lay on the
ground, helpless, the blood began to flow down into her throat and she
began to choke, spitting it out over her face in a weak gasp. She looked
up at him with the one good eye she had left. He was an old man and he
was drunk, and even in her present condition she believed she could
easily defeat him, but she would take no action against him. He was
right to do this to her. She had failed to protect Htaere and whatever
was now happening to her was solely her fault. In her mind, as well as
his, she deserved this. "Oh," she groaned as she turned her bloody face
to the side.
Claudius stood over the fallen Major, shaking his head at her in
disgust. "You cannot protect yourself," he said as he recoiled his right
leg before sending a forceful kick into her midsection. "How can I
expect you to take care of my family?" he asked her angrily, but before
giving her any chance to respond he raised his booted foot above her and
stomped down forcefully onto her ribcage. This moment, right here, was
the worst thing he had ever done in his long and eventful life.
"Ahhhh!" Kerrie's blood curdling scream echoed throughout the entire
metallic shell of the Warspite as his foot connected with her
ribs. Several of her ribs shattered, one of them piercing her left lung
which began to fill with her blood and bile. She struggled to breath,
audibly gasping as she rolled over onto her side and curled into the
fetal position. She began to wheeze pathetically, choking on the blood
from the wound in her mouth while not being able to get enough air into
her penetrated lungs. She tried to lift her head to regain eye contact
with the man she had come to love like a father, tried to speak even a
word, but she could not find the strength. Everything in front of her
began to blur and a moment later her head slumped against the deck,
laying in a puddle of her blood. The battered Human face faded away,
revealing the equally disfigured grey reptilian-like skin of her true
Clawdite appearance. She was unconscious and her body was beginning to
Claudius looked down at her and he held his hands out in front of his
face. They were covered in blood. Most of it was Kerrie's, but some of
it was his from where the impact of the punch had caused the skin on his
knuckles to break. His hands began to shake and then he felt his knees
begin to give. It was a case of age combined with drink that caused him
to drop to the deck alongside his fallen protector. He sat there in the
darkness, not moving, nor speaking. No attempt was made to call help for
the young woman, nor even himself. He could not get his hands to cease
shaking, no matter how hard he concentrated. He leaned back, using the
front of his desk as a back support and he began to drift off.
Hours later Doctor Pilaq Tohan, the Admiral's oldest and dearest
friend, made his way through the Admiral's quarters having personally
supervised the rest of his family's transit to the Star Destroyer once
news reached them of Htaere's disappearance. He had brought a tray of
the Admiral's favorite foods, hoping he could convince him to eat
something to muster his strength. The large Ithorian had known the man
before the Clone Wars and was with him when his first wife died. He
remember what that had done to him and he could only hope against hope
that this story would have a happy ending. He believed that if Htaere
were murdered that his dear friend would not survive.
"Claudius?" the Ithorian's distinct stereophonic speech pattern
echoed throughout the chamber. There was no response. Pilaq moved
forward towards the darkened study, unable to make anything out. When he
turned on the lighting system his large, bulbous eyes widened at the
horror laid out before him. The fine silver tray fell from his hand and
landed upon the floor in a loud *clank*. He looked down at Kerrie, who
appeared to be deceased, and then over towards Claudius who was slumped
down against the desk. He dropped down to one knee and places his large,
brown finger upon Kerrie's jugular vein. There was the faintest of
pulses ... it would take all his years of medical knowledge and experience
if he were going to save her. "Oh Claudius," he asked as he began to
piece together what had happened in sheer disbelief, "...what have you
Once the Gilded Thranta had landed in Aldera's spaceport,
Derek moved towards the rear of the craft and looked sternly towards
Parka and Tashi. "Parka," he said in a frustrated tone. "This is your
doing. You're coming with me to meet with Viceroy Organa," he informed
her as he proceeded down the shuttle's ramp to the glistening capital
city of Alderaan. "Oh," he said as he stopped suddenly, turning around
to look at Parka. "Don't make this situation any worse," he said to her
sternly. He could not afford the Hapan being hurt.
Parka's eyes rolled, looking slightly exasperated. "Fine. I'll do the
talking" she grumbled, plodding down the ramp after him, leaving Tashi
at her spot on the couch again, smoking a cigarra, and casually gazing
off towards the door of the storage closet where the young woman had
been hitting on it and yelling for the last ten minutes. Finally, it had
just started to get quiet. Parka took the lead, striding towards the
Royal Palace without so much as a flinch of hesitation.
Derek moved through the winding corridors of the Royal Palace,
feeling his collar growing tighter every moment. He could find no saliva
in his mouth as they strode to where Bail Organa was waiting, and so he
began by attempting to clear his throat. "Excuse me, your highness," he
said to him as he coughed several times. He was stammering, beads of
sweat beginning to form upon his reddening forehead.
Prince Bail Organa rose to his feet and extended his arms as he
looked to the two of them with grave concern. "Could one of you please
tell me what is going on?" The venerable former Senator shook his head
in dismay as he looked at the unconventional pair. He wanted answers and
he wanted them now.
"Indeed" Parka answered, drawing to a halt before him, her confidence
never wavering despite the debacle. She failed to dispense with any show
of reverence, having abandoned that lifestyle a very long time ago. "We
have Rodney's Hapan" she stated rather matter-of-factly. "She was in the
market along with Jelena, she recognized me, and we abducted her to keep
her from saying anything and jeopardizing the contact" she continued.
Viceroy Bail Organa stood there for a moment, absolutely speechless.
This is not why he had assigned them this mission. He paused, and took a
literal step back as he considered what to do next. He shook his head in
both disbelief and disappointment as he tried to comprehend the
implications of it all. There was nothing he could say. There was
nothing to be said.
Derek stepped forward and raised his hand and tried his best to
dissuade and calm the Viceroy. "I have a plan," he said in a positive
voice, trying to ease the rising level of tension in the room. He forced
his best smile onto his face, trying to reassure him. He had really
stepped in Bantha fodder this time, and it would take all of his charm
to extricate them.
Viceroy Organa finally spoke as he listened to what Derek had to say.
"A plan?!" he said in a combination of shock and disbelief. "You had
better have a plan," he said as the anger raised in his voice. Not only
did he disapprove of kidnapping civilians, but a woman whose wedding he
only recently presided over blurred the line between personal and
professional. The irritation was evident in his every movement.
Parka was still largely unfazed. She rested her weight on one foot
and looked at Organa, still solid in decorum. "There's no point in
getting upset about it. What's done is done. Besides, when Rodney
finds out it was me, I'm as good as dead" she said somewhat languidly
considering she was referring to her demise. "He and I already
"No one is going to die," Derek explained as he stepped between them,
trying to calm them down. "All we need to do is tell the Admiral it was
a ransom and that the Alderaanian government paid it and we can just
release her," he said with an emphatic nod. A smile curled upon his lips
as his eyes roamed from each of them. "It'll work," he said confidently,
Bail remained silent, listening to Derek's words carefully with a
firm nod. "It just may work..." he said as his hand came up to stroke
his beard. He considered the plan, wondering if his old friend would
believe it. His attention then focused on Parka, turning his head and
giving her a stern glance. "Do you believe she suspected you were part
of the Rebel Alliance?" he asked her, speaking very slowly as he
evaluated it in his mind.
"I don't think so. At first I was suspicious that Jelena had double
crossed us, but it didn't make sense to send that woman" she shrugged.
Her expression thinned out a little. "If there is any doubt, I will take
care of her" she remarked stoically. "You wanted me to protect that
contact at all costs...and that's what I'm willing to do if you'd rather
play it safe." She was punch serious.
"Very well then," Bail said as he moved back towards his chair. He
would need a sedative to remove the headache that was currently pounding
in the temple of his brain. He was not pleased, but if Derek's plan
worked it might get him out of an otherwise unbearable situation.
Derek turned to Parka and smiled successfully towards her, beginning
his movement back towards the ship. Once the door had closed, he looked
to her and gave her a nervous glance. "You think this will work?" he
asked her as they moved back towards the landing platform where he hoped
Tashi had not complicated the situation.
"I sure as hell hope so..." she conceded, moving quickly back to the
ship. It was time to retrieve the bargaining chip. She was pleased to
see that Tashi had not killed the Hapan yet, she was reading casually
over a datapad in fact. Parka pushed the button to open the door to the
storage closet, the light splashed in, temporarily blinding Htaere
inside. Her arm raised over her face to shield her eyes as a result.
Parka wrapped her fingers around the youngster's arm and tugging her to
her feet and plucking her out of the closet. "Come on, precious.
Somebody actually cared enough to pay your 'bail'" she remarked nearly
dragging Htaere along. In short order, she was standing before Organa
again, nudging Htaere forward. "Signed, sealed and delivered."
Bail stepped forward towards Htaere, looking her over with genuine
concern. "...you are unharmed?" he inquired nervously, genuine concern
attached to his words as he spoke to her. This part was no act. He then
turned towards Parka and glared, a fierceness in his voice was
uncharacteristic. "If we see you in the Alderaan system again," he
warned as he raised his hand towards her, "...you will pay dearly for
this." And with that two members of the Alderaan Guard stepped forward
and flanked Htaere, helping her towards the palace.
Parka's eyes narrowed for a moment before she turned on her heels and
moved back towards the ship. When Htaere's smoky grey eyes took in a
familiar face, she looked relieved, smiling in exhaustion "Viceroy
Organa?! Oh thank the goddesses..." she exhaled. "I am so glad to see
you." Htaere welcomed the assistance from the guards for her escort.
"Let's get out of here," a very tired Derek Atio said to Parka as he
boarded the shuttle. It only took him a moment to hop into the cockpit
and begin lifting the ship off the landing platform. "Let's try to let
that happen again," he said as he moved his hand over the throttle to
begin accelerating the ship into Alderaan's atmosphere.
"I need a drink" Parka muttered as she stomped up the ramp and into
the ship. On the way in, she snatched whatever remained of Tashi's
cigarra and finished it, huddling up in some corner to sulk in peace.
"I have just sent word to your husband," Bail said kindly as he
offered her the use of his arm as a support. "He will be heading here to
retrieve you immediately," he explained as he began guiding her through
the extensive palace towards the medical bay. "Is there anything you
require?" he asked of her as the medical droid began to perform a scan
Htaere seemed embarrassed dressed as she was. Her attire and jewelry
was modest as she had been in the market, but she was starting to look
wilted, beat up and frazzled. "I am most grateful for coming to my aid.
I can arrange compensation for your efforts" she replied. She stood
still for the medical droid, letting it do its work. "I should very much
like to enjoy a warm shower and fresh clothes."
"As we speak my staff is preparing a room for you," Bail explained as
he supervised the work of the medical droids. Thankfully it seemed as if
she were relatively uninjured. "It will take some time for Claudius to
arrive from Brentaal," he continued as he reached to place a comfortable
blanket around her shoulders. "Please use the time to shower, rest, and
try and put this horrid event behind you," he began escorting her again,
the droids having finished their work. "And think nothing of it," he
said as he offered a soft kiss to her right cheek as they arrived at the
guest room. "You are one of us now and we were glad to pay to see that
you were safe," as he bowed to her formally, bidding her goodnight.
Htaere welcomed the blanket around her shoulders, pulling it snug
around her. She bowed to Organa gracefully, still regal in stature if
not in appearance. "Thank you, Viceroy" she managed a weak smile before
letting a service droid usher her in to make her comfortable in her
Viceroy Bail Organa walked away from the guest room, exhaling in a
deep sigh. It seemed to have worked ... Htaere seemed to suspect
nothing. For now, he needed to prepare for Claudius' arrival. It was
going to be an awkward and unpleasant experience that would force him to
lie to his old friend. He would only hope the people of Brentaal would
be spared his wrath in the wake of his wife's abduction. He would never
forgive Derek ... never forgive himself ... if a single soul perished in
his old friend's desire for revenge.