Era of Rebellion - Navigation

Liz Dorner and Christopher Levy.
One year after the Battle of Yavin (36:7:24) in the New Alderaan system: Irideon and New Alderaan (New Aldera: Medcenter).
Parka Pepper, Lady Jelena Rodney, Lady Htaere Ka`a Sha`ar, and Doctor Pilaq Tohan.

In the dark and glittering void of space surrounding the refuge world New Alderaan, a blip appeared out of seeming nothingness. That blip was the Hapan luxury yacht Irideon, arriving at the coordinates provided by Parka Pepper. The service droid in the cockpit, acknowledged the planet momentarily before compressing one of many buttons on the communications panel. "Arriving at New Alderaan, M'Lady," it warbled. "Prepare yourself for atmospheric entry."

From the opulent lounge in the cabin, the Hapan heiress finished folding an elegant sari of light blue and trimmed in gold threads over her head and wove it down around one of her arms. It was the first time in a long time she'd bothered wearing anything but a bathing suit since she'd been on a beach for many months, and as she surveyed her reflection, she had to admit she'd almost forgotten what she looked like 'cleaned up'.

Promptly she depressed a wall switch at the droid's notification. "Thank you, I shall." With a bit of a frown, she produced her personal datapad and gave a long pause before pushing in the code to reach Parka.

Lady Jelena Rodney was moving through the streets of New Aldera, which was slowly transforming from a makeshift settlement into the semblance of a city. Although she was not one to take credit, much of this was possible due to her hard work and determination. As she progressed one of the Rebel technicians arrived to inform her that they had detected a new ship entering the system, but as it was identified as Hapan in origin there was no sense of panic among the defenses. "Hapan," she said to herself, as she considered the implications of it. "It's probably just Parka Pepper," she informed the technician, before moving towards the landing platform where most traffic arrived. She only hoped that his encounter went better than the last one.

With much chagrin, Htaere dialed up her arrogant contact and waited for the face of Parka Pepper to appear. When it did, a rather sly grin touched the rebel's face. "Well well well, look at the snowflake falling out of the sky today. Finally decided to withdraw from your vacation ad risk skating on the edge of social ruin by making an appearance?" she smirked.

Htaere did her best to refrain from scowling. Having always found Parka to be a spitfire, lately she was finding her nearly intolerable. Unfortunately for Htaere, it had proven necessary to subject herself to Parka here and there, and this was no exception. "I came to visit an old friend," Htaere pointed out, managing to not grit her teeth.

"I see. And all dressed up. Last time I saw you you were hardly wearing anything. And's almost like you feel the need to impress anyone here." Parka could see Htaere's disdain and she couldn't help but smile. "What's the matter Snowflake? You look upset."

"The only thing that upsets me are your manners. I shall try harder to meet with your sartorial approval. Now if you would please spare me the platitudes and allow me to land, I should be most grateful," Htaere replied a bit more acidly.

"Coordinates incoming. Access granted," Parka smiled sweetly. "Don't take it personally Snowflake. I'm mean to everyone. See you at the pad huh." And with that, she disappeared, allowing Htaere to roll her eyes in private as the ship moved towards the surface.

Parka was marching her smug self out to the landing pad when her eyes caught Jelena. She strode up beside her and stood at near parade rest, with her hands clasped behind her back. "Have you been voted the welcoming committee?" she asked Jelena with a casual grin.

Jelena was surprised to find Parka already on the surface of New Alderaan. "Parka?" she asked, as she turned her head, arched her eyebrow and gazed upon her with a quizzical glance. "If you're here then who's in the ship?" she asked, not able to put two and two together, as it had been an eternity since she had encountered Htaere. "Don't call me a committee," she said, with a shake of her head and a soft smirk. "I thought I'd be greeting you. Sometimes ... sometimes if I take a break and stop and allow myself to think about things I get sad ... so I keep busy," she said to Parka, as the ship began to descend behind them, causing an updraft that caused her out of place dress to flutter upwards. She was not exactly dressed for a refugee camp.

Parka was genuinely touched. "Awwww and you'd come out to see me?" she put a hand over her heart. "Jelena I'm touched," she admitted. Parka tossed a few braided dreadlocks over the shoulder of her flight jacket and watched the luxury yacht land.

"Well I'm hoping it might be the next benefactor of our fledgling rebellion. I'm working hard to convince her that a good place to throw all of her outrageous wealth is in the sad lonely coffers of the cause but so far she's not entirely cooperating...yet," Parka nodded and grinned, unfazed by her lack of success thus far. "I happened to mention Doctor Tohan's presence at that's been the only progress I've made so far." Parka grew serious if only for a moment, and cast a sideways glance to Jelena. "I know, it's hard, but don't let it get to you. You need someone, you come find me," she assured the youngster solidly. "Unless of course I'm preoccupied being completely evil to Snowflake over there," she nodded towards the glittering figure descending the ramp, looking like a brilliant blue gem in a sea of uniforms and laborers.

With her lovely blue sari whispering about her sunkissed skin from her lengthy beach holiday, Htaere's grey eyes settled on Parka, and...Jelena Rodney. Ever composed, she masked her surprise and drew several yards from the two before coming to a halt. She managed a subtle nod to them both.

Parka was unbothered by any awkwardness. "Welcome, Snowflake. Look who mistakenly thought you might be me," she clasped Jelena on the shoulder.

Htaere smiled towards the young woman. "Hello Jelena. You look well."

"We could certainly use a benefactor," Jelena said, as she looked over towards the ramshackle structures that were beginning to fill out the fledgling city. "Doctor Tohan... Hapan..." she said slowly, as it dawned on her who Parka was speaking about. She turned suddenly, looking shocked when she saw Htaere. She was certainly someone that she never expected to see again, but she was certainly glad that she did. Because of what happened between her and her father she felt slightly embarrassed, so she initially broke eye contact, her cheeks flushing red with embarrassment, as she brought her hand up to the back of her neck to rub it. Of course she had a falling out with her father as well, so they were now in the same company in that regard. "You ... you look well too, Htaere," she said, as she finally looked upwards, offering her a half smile.

"Oh what? She gets a 'hello' and I get a nothing?" Parka's face briefly flashed annoyance towards the Hapan heiress. Htaere ignored Parka and continued her conversation with Jelena.

"I understand you are largely responsible for the work here," Htaere commented. "This is quite impressive, and it is very courageous of you to have followed your heart. The paths we must choose for ourselves are often...unfavorable to others."

"That's profound, Snowflake," Parka feigned a yawn before leaning in closer to Jelena. "Conjure up your best silver tongue and try to talk her out of a princely sum would you? And since you're both all BFF now, please escort Snowflake to Doctor Tohan." Parka smiled. "If you'll excuse me, I've got a lot to do."

Htaere called towards Parka's back as she shifted away. "My guarlara is being kept in a stall modified from part of the rear cabins. It needs care so be an obedient lackey and add cleaning up after it to your list would you."

Parka flipped an obscene hand gesture to Htaere as she disappeared, offering the heiress one small smile. She averted her eyes back to Jelena. "I am sorry. I did not know you would be here." She admitted quietly. "I came to see Doctor Tohan, that is all. I did not come to make trouble. I only wished to visit a dear friend."

Jelena watched the banter between Htaere and Parka, which made her eyes bounce between the two women as each spoke. Clearly there was a dynamic at play between them that she was not entirely aware of. "Thank you for the kind words, Htaere. I could not remain there anymore watching as my father continued to deny the evils of the Empire while continuing to oppress the planets of the Ringali Shell," she said, trying as hard as she could not to reference the more difficult parts of both of their lives. "Doctor Tohan is here. He's been kind enough to help get our medcenter up and running. We're severely undersupplied, understaffed, and overwhelmed," she said, with a smirk, as she extended her arm towards Htaere and began to lead her towards the medcenter. "I'm sure he'll be surprised to see you. I hope his heart can take it," she said, as they moved down the dusty street with newly constructed buildings fashioned out of whatever was available, whether it was cargo containers, ship parts, or stolen building materials.

The inner struggle that mirrored the external war in the Ringali Shell was one Htaere was all too familiar with. She allowed a rather solemn smile though it was devoid of mirth. "You know, when we choose a path different than that of a loved one, it does not mean we have to love them any less," she noted patiently. "It simply means we are unable to continue following them." Htaere recalled her own mother and let the sentiment drift a bit humorously. "And unfortunately, we are unable to choose family, so we are stuck with those we share blood," she added shaking her head.

"Oh?" Htaere nearly drew up short at the mention of Doctor Tohan. "Is he ill? I do not wish to exacerbate his condition," Htaere frowned, regarding the kind Ithorian in her memory. Like Hapans, Ithorians were known for their love of gardening and nature. If anyone empathized with her past temporary post in space aboard a cold ship, it was he.

"Not ill. Just ... old," Jelena said, as she stopped in the street and momentarily turned her attention to Htaere. She tried to keep a brave face, but there was no denying the fact that Doctor Tohan was now an octogenarian and was getting older with each passing day. "Don't worry. He'll be glad to see you," she said, as she continued on her way, past power generators, as they reached the medcenter. It seemed to be fashioned out of a component of some sort of transport and had the equivalent of a modest sickbay inside. There was 2-1B surgical droids and FX-7 medical droids inside, all of which could need servicing and a deep clean, but it was all that they had. "Doctor Tohan, we have a visitor," she said, with a cheerful voice, as she moved a power coil out of the way to reach the area where he was set up.

Doctor Pilaq Tohan had been unloading some of the cargo containers that the Rebellion had said with what limited medical supplies they had. This was hardly enough to treat the growing population of the Alliance safeworld, but there was nothing he could do at the moment to secure more. His task was simply to inventory as much as he could and develop a plan to ration it as best as possible, along with creating procedures to properly triage any wounded that the medcenter received. "Oh. I was not expecting any..." he began, but when he angled his two large, bulbous eyes and glanced Htaere trailing behind Jelena he felt his heart flutter. "Oh, milady," he said, having never expected to see her again. Grasping hold of his old walking stick, he attempted to close the distance between them, but each of his steps was labored. "It is very good to see you again. Very good indeed," he assured her, as he smiled across at her with both of his mouths.

One of the few souls in the entire galaxy that fluttered her own heart, Htaere erupted from a composed noblewoman to a giddy child. In a move completely out of character, the heiress bubbled euphorically and quickly closed the gap, bouncing towards the aging doctor with the unrestrained jubilance of a long lost loved one. Taking care not to upset his rather delicate balance, she clutched him tightly in a long overdue embrace and let giant salty tears spill out of eyes clamped shut and down the jade inverted triangles tattooed beneath each eye. "I have no words," she managed a taxed smile through her joyful sadness.

"I feared you had returned to Gallinore and I would have never gotten to see you again," Pilaq said, as he clutched his walking stick with one hand, while reaching out with his other hand to grasp her forearm. He needed to touch her, just to verify that she was real and not some vision he was having in his advanced age. "I surely never expected to see you here ... in this place," he said, as he looked passed Htaere to Jelena for a moment, trying not to sound dower about a community she had worked so hard on. Still, it was difficult to see two such regal young women surrounded by dust and debris among the refugees of two worlds so heinously treated by the Empire. "I am glad that we can at least see each other in a world that is free," he said to her, putting the most polite, diplomatic spin on things as he could.

Htaere fumbled to recollect herself and wipe anxiously at the tears on her face. Were Parka around, her torment would be eternal. Htaere chuckled just a breath or two before replacing her smile. "I took a long holiday. On a lovely beach," she replied. "Which reminds me," she unfastened a leather pouch from a tie at her hip and extended it towards him. "For you," she nodded. "A token of my travels. I know you would appreciate its beauty."

"If it can be said that anyone earned a holiday it is you, milady," Doctor Tohan said, as he moved his hand from her wrist to one of the stacked crates to better support himself. Her presence made him feel young and already his breathing from both of his mouths felt less labored. "The sun looks to have done you well," he added, as his large eyes descended from her face down over her body. He never stopped being a physician and wanted to ensure, at least visually, that she was well. "Oh. Oh my," he said, as he reached out with one of his hands, wrapping his long digits around the pouch and bringing it towards him to examine what was contained inside.

Htaere half shrugged with a light grin. "What does one do at a beach but put one's toes in the water, backside in the sand, sip beverages with paper parasols in them and tan." Inside the pouch was beautiful and ornately shaped seashell, with starburst-like rays on each end, the strange home of some odd sea creature that had washed up on the beach. A tiny hole had been bored delicately near one edge and a woven band fed through to wear it as a pendant. "It is the only of its kind I found in the entire duration of my stay," she explained. "I hope you like it."

A Pilaq found the shell within the pouch he felt himself mentally transported to the beach that Htaere described, wondering about the life the creature that once inhabited the shell once led, how far it had journeyed, and how many waves had swept over it. It was a metaphor for all life, and with a trembling hand he managed to lift the pendant over his large hammerhead and allowed it to come to a rest in front of his chest. "I will cherish this and think of you every time I look at it," he said to her, before bowing his head to her in reverence.

Htaere reciprocated by lifting her hands as if in prayer and bowing her head towards them, letting the rainbow gem in her forehead lightly contact her fingertips. "How lucky am I that you should grant me room in your memory," she said gratefully.

This was about as long as Pilaq had remained standing for quite some time, so despite his honor to be bound to protocol he stepped aside and took a seat to limit the strain on his weary, old frame. "And what brings you to our colony of *New* Alderaan?" he asked her, as he set his walking stick temporarily aside and folded both of his hands upon his lap. "Just a visit or something more?" he inquired, always curious, always pressing, as he was hopeful that this would not be a one time affair.

Following his lead and absolutely having developed a taste for the abandonment of protocol, Htaere took a seat jovially. Looking perhaps the closest to sheepish, she chuckled a little. "Admittedly, I came to see you," she answered. "Parka said you were here, and I have always treasured your friendship and your kindness. I had to see you." Teetering on the edge of vulnerability, Htaere's stormy colored eyes swept briefly between Jelena and Pilaq. "Hearing that you were doing well was much welcomed good news. I am most elated to be here with you," she confessed. "And you as well, Jelena. I hope that you know I very much worried about you throughout the course of your defection knowing the risk." She leaned forward to give the Ithorian's large elderly hand a gentle squeeze. "I am so happy to see you both alive and well here. And I mean that."

"Your words are most kind, milady. *Too* kind," Pilaq replied, in sincere admiration and appreciation for the thoughts she had just expressed to him. "I would have come to Gallinore if that were easier, but this crude facility needed my assistance and I could not deny Jelena," he explained, as he lowered his head slightly. The squeeze on his shoulder immediately caused his head to rise and new smiles to form upon his mouths. "I am equally as happy to see you," he added, gently nodding his head up and down.

"It was no easy task," Jelena was quick to point out, but she did not want to get into the harrowing details of either her original defection or second escape after being recaptured. So much had happened since she last spoke with Htaere that providing unnecessary information would only confuse the situation. "Are you staying long? Do you require a place to stay?" she asked, trying to be helpful. The colony did not have much, but what they did have, they would gladly share with anyone who needed it. Parka had mentioned that Htaere might be a benefactor, but she did not want to press her for credits or Hapan gemstones at a time like this, even though it would greatly benefit the Rebellion.

Htaere allowed for a good-natured shrug complete with innocent grin. "Truthfully, I have not considered my next course of action. I have not returned to Gallinore in some time and have no immediate plans to do so either. There is only so much I can handle of my mother's denunciations regarding all of my failings you understand," she replied. "Besides, when one is not tied down to a singular location, there are countless follies to pursue in such a vast galaxy. So many shorelines to gallop across, so many high society galas to glide through, so many establishments of questionable repute to sample peculiar beverages in, so many moons to shed light in which to dance," she grinned. "I do not wish to interfere with your constructs here. I have my ship to stay in. I understand you have yourselves preoccupied with adequate resources as it is."

"There's always room for you, Htaere," Jelena said, with a genuine smile, and welcoming tone of voice. "If you wish to stay in your ship that is fine, but you're always welcome to stay with me, or I could provide you quarters with some of the new housing that's being constructed as we speak," she informed her, sounding much more of an adult that the emotional teenager Htaere had last seen on Esseles. Out of her father's shadow she had a chance to pave her own course, and it was having a wonderful affect on her. "And I do hope you will stay," she added, before reaching out with her hand, now rough from actually having to work for a living, as she placed her hand on Htaere's shoulder.

"We both do," Pilaq quickly added as he looked towards Htaere, glad that she had a chance to be a free spirit. He viewed arranged marriages as an antiquated, almost cruel, way of life, and as always felt bad that Claudius' late father and her mother conspired to decide her destiny. Watching her grow, find herself, and walk her own path had warmed his soul. There was nothing an old man enjoyed more than watching a young person find themselves. "You could never interfere," he told her, as he brought his right hand up to clutch the seashell she had given him, while his left hand again moved to gently embrace her.

For a long time, Htaere struggled to find words. She sat in silence, nearly wringing her hands and running a million things through her mind at lightspeed and thoroughly not having been prepared to encounter such a pocket of benevolence here. "I am not certain Parka approves of my presence," she mumbled. "She has been increasingly merciless in my last two encounters with her. I think she is very disesteemed at someone like me," she continued. "She found the strength to go her own way a long time. I, on the other hand, have not been so fortunate as to have discovered my place as she has. Besides," Htaere exhaled and a pleasant and slightly tired smile touched her lovely Hapan face. "I really do not wish to cause trouble for you by my presence."

"Maybe Parka just likes being the only Hapan," Jelena said, as she tried to make the most of the situation. There was clearly history between the two that she did not understand and probably, given her unfamiliarity with Hapan culture, customs, and society, was incapable of understanding. "You could never cause trouble," she said, as she gave Htaere's shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "We would be honored to have you here," she added, as she offered her warmest, most sincere smile. She did not want the woman who had once been her stepmother to wander the galaxy in search of a home.

"Parka has secrets," Htaere commented. "I shall not betray those secrets, despite her fault finding in me, though they perhaps lend themselves as some form of explanation." Htaere considered. "I am grateful for your altruism," she smiled back to Jelena and Pilaq. "I shall consider your offer, I promise." One shoulder lifted in a haphazard shrug. "While I am here, what can I help you with?"

Pilaq exhaled a content sigh at the realization that Htaere was at least considering staying with them on New Alderaan. For now that was enough. "For now pleasant company. Someone to have tea with," he said, as he nodded his head at her, happily, as he thought this moment would never come again. He believed in a higher power in the galaxy and believed that it was that energy that had once again deemed fit to bring them all together.

"I was never good at keeping secrets," Jelena interjected, with a bit of wickedness, as she referenced her past career as a Rebel spy. "I'm sure your presence alone will inspire confidence. There are many families here. Many children whose parents were either killed or are currently fighting," she explained, as it storytime had become her most emotionally taxing task as administrator of the fledgling Alliance safe world.

"On the contrary, I recall you doing quite the job of it," Htaere pointed out. "I do not think Claudius was any the wiser as to what was transpiring, and I was too afraid to ask." Her expression flatlined a little as she stared at the floor lost in thought. "Too afraid to do a lot of things, I confess." Though it happened a long time ago, she could remember with crystal clarity the day Arden Zevrin came for her. It was easily the most terrifying experience of her entire life, without question. She let her gaze lift to Jelena. "You should be afraid. They can do horrible things, and you will beg for death. And it is til death I shall carry the permanent reminders of their punishment." Shaking off the still too vivid memories of her torture and interrogation, Htaere forced a shifty grin. "Well, I did my best to provide for the people of New Calamar. At the very least I can do the same here."

"There is nothing worse than the Empire. That is why I did what I did and do what I do," Jelena reminded Htaere, as she seemed much more confident and sure of herself than she had any point in her life. "It is my greatest sorrow in life that in their search for me they took you instead, Htaere," she said, as she bit down on her lower lip and felt tears begin to well up in her eyes. "I never thought they would make that kind of mistake. I never wanted you hurt. I never wanted *anyone* hurt," she said, with a deep sigh, that nearly buckled her knees. "For what they did to you thinking you were the spy, instead of me ... I will forever me sorry," she said, before lowering her had in a mixture of shame and defeat.

Htaere's face went ashen, widened eyes lifting to Jelena. Her chest heaved beneath the ornate jeweled collar she wore as her heart raced and her brain fogged at the words. "It was you?" she all but whispered, staring at Jelena in profound disbelief. After a handful of seconds, the disbelief gave way to pain and the anguish was evident on Htaere's pale face. Internally the truth about the incident behind her accusations felt like a knife in her heart. For several moments, Htaere digested the agony of the betrayal, scanning Jelena's face intently for deceit. Ironically, betrayal at the hands of the Rodneys was something she was already familiar with. Letting the burn subside, Htaere pulled her eyes from Jelena. "It is ok," she said quietly. "It is better that it was me and not you." She fought to keep her face fixed. She'd already shed tears once today and it wouldn't do to have a repeat performance. "You did what you had to. I understand."

"If I could have traded places with you I would have gladly done so," Jelena said, as the tears began to flow from both of her eyes. "When I stole my father's data and gave it to the Rebellion I knew I was risking my life, risking my safety..." she said, as she stopped talking for a moment to inhale deeply through her nose, trying to keep from a complete breakdown. "I knew there was a chance they would identify me as the spy, but I never thought they would misidentify the spy. I never thought they'd think it was you. I never thought they'd do what they did," she said, before collapsing into a chair, an emotional wreck. "Oh Htaere..." she said, before burying her face in her hands.

"I never knew," Htaere admitted. She pulled herself from her revelry. It had come so late, but the news provided answers she'd never had. She rose and moved to Jelena's chair, wrapping her arms around her. "It is ok Jelena," she comforted her. "It was a long time ago. There is no need to revisit that past. It is best left where it is."

"It's not okay," Jelena said, in a tone of voice that revealed she was still a teenager, with a hint of her sister Drusilla's voice creeping in. "And no matter how long ago it was it does not make it any less terrible, nor does it relieve me of guilt," she said, as she buried her head in Htaere, unable to face her. She agreed with her that it was better to leave the past where it was. They had both endured so much over the past year that it was difficult to even think about. The fact that they were both still here was something of an accomplishment.

Htaere continued to hold the adolescent, unsure of what other comforts to offer. "It is ok," she nodded before resting her head down across the top of Jelena's head. "It was a sacrifice for a greater good," she said. "We all carry a guilt. It will be alright." She flashed a glance towards Pilaq. "I am sorry. I did not know the truth behind the incident. It is over now." She sat up and used one end of her beautiful sari wrap to dab Jelena's eyes carefully. "All is forgiven. Let us set this adrift like a paper boat in the moonlight, yes?"

Pilaq watched as the two women commiserated. He would never forget the horrors that Htaere suffered at the hands of the ISB and the loss that was inflicted upon her. He said nothing, feeling that anything he could possibly add would be out of place and would only get in the way of a moment between the two. The emotion brought tears to own his eyes, which caused him to look away and lower his own head in silent repose.

Jelena remained silent as Htaere dried her eyes, still motherly if not a mother. "Yes," she said, with a nod, as she again breathed in through her nose, trying to suck all of the tears and mucus back into her head. "I'm sorry. So emotional. I didn't mean for this to happen," she said, as she tried to force a smile onto her young face. "I haven't seen you in so long ... and then this ... this is supposed to be a happy moment," she told her, as she opened and closed her palms several time to try and regain her composure.

"It was my fault," Htaere accepted her responsibility for the turn in the reunion. "I should not have said anything." She offered an authentic smile. "I am afraid my fear still overpowers me from time to time," she grumbled, still wiping at Jelena's face. "Yes, happiness. That is what we need. And rest," Htaere nodded. "We should all rest and tomorrow, tea, as the good doctor has prescribed," she nodded towards Pilaq. "There is much to be happy for. We are reunited and that has been worth every tear."

"As long as you're here you have nothing to fear," Jelena said, in a stern and serious voice as she looked to Htaere with determination. "The people of Alderaan and Delaya will no longer be trampled by the Empire. We are done being victimized. We will *fight*," she said, with a touch of anger in her voice, as she rose from the seat with extreme confidence. "Let me walk you to your ship," she said, as she took her by the arm, and gave a smile and nod to Doctor Tohan whom she knew should not be lumbering around the camp unnecessarily.

Htaere straightened as well and offering Pilaq a warm smile. "Doctor Tohan, I shall anticipate tea tomorrow all throughout my dreams," she said kissing the tips of her fingers and raising them as if to let the little peck travel towards his large head.

Htaere traversed the primitive city with Jelena in a peaceful quietude. As she stood at the ramp of the Irideon, she paused before ascending and turned towards Jelena. "You know," she began rather seriously, "I am aware of each and every one of my failings. I failed to be an acceptable daughter to my mother. I failed to be a good wife to Claudius. I failed to provide heirs for Julius Rodney. I failed to be an adequate stepmother to you and your sisters. I failed to secure a solid political ally via marriage as the Hapes Consortium expected. I am aware of everything I failed to do, and for that I am truly sorry. For what it is worth, I loved you all," she paused to smirk, "including Dru." She allowed for a smile that belied the accumulated growth and wisdom the last few years had afforded her, even at great personal cost. "I am glad to have known you, and I wish the absolute greatest happiness for you. You deserve it." And with that, Htaere planted a solid kiss on Jelena's forehead and turned to glide up the ramp of her elegant yacht. "Tea tomorrow!" her voice could be heard from inside the cabin.

Jelena's heart ached for Htaere as she detailed her perceived failings in life, but she could not muster a single word until she was secure aboard her yacht. When the ramp closed behind her, she lowered her head, and turned to return to her duties as administrator of the safe world. "You never failed us, and ... we loved you too," she said, in a quiet, dispirited voice that she knew Htaere would never be able to hear within the yacht. She swallowed, fighting back another round of tears, but as she navigated the streets of New Aldera she found a lost child. "Are you lost? I'll help," she said, as she crouched down to pick up the young girl and began moving towards the command center. There was no more time for years.

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