Era of Rebellion - Navigation

Liz Dorner and Christopher Levy.
Zero years before the Battle of Yavin (35:2:14) in the Malastare system: Warspite.
Lieutenant Trent Irso (death), Major Kerrie Kiley, Vice Admiral Claudius Rodney, Countess Htaere Rodney, and Lady Jelena Rodney.

Claudius opened his eyes slowly, the image of Htaere's still sleeping form hazily coming into view. His tired old knees ached from being arched over the arm of the couch for the duration of his sleep and there was a cramp in his neck from using her lap as a pillow. "Ugh..." he groaned painfully, still not able to move. He was getting old and no matter what kind of physical regimen he maintained there was no exercise that would halt the progress of time.

At the first inkling of stir, Htaere shifted a bit, readjusting her position. Despite the inherent discomfort of having sat upright all night, she had slept remarkably well, on account of sheer exhaustion most likely. Her body went rigid for a moment as she seemed to stretch, the muscles tightening before easing back into relaxation. Her eyes opened momentarily as she squirmed in her seat, taking in a blurry setting before drifting closed again.

"Forgive me," Claudius said to her weakly as he raised his hands above his shoulders and attempted to stretch, still laying upon her. "When you feel asleep I should have carried you to the bed instead of permitting us to lay here," he explained as he slowly began to sit up. With some effort and strain he managed to position himself seated on the couch, his elbows resting on his knees as he rested his head in the palms of his hands.

Htaere drew herself up as well, looking somewhat distraught that she had fallen asleep sans shower the previous night. "No apology is needed. We were both very tired. The sleep was much needed." She got to her feet, disappearing towards the refresher unit, where she began discarding clothing and jewelry for a soothing shower.

"I did not set an alarm. I've probably missed the morning staff meeting," Claudius bemoaned as he rose from the sofa, finding himself still wearing the same underwear he put on before their trip home. That was acceptable during his time at the University of Aldera, but not today. "Ugh," he said as he caught a scent of himself and stripped down almost immediately, leaving his undergarments in a carless heap, as he too headed for the refresher. "Oh..." he stammered when he noticed she had the same idea. "You go first," he said tiredly as he sought out a robe.

After a few moments, she emerged in a plush luxurious robe, hair pulled up into a towel. Some careful wardrobe selection and assistance from a service droid in doing her hair and adorning herself in the usual array of spectacular jewelry, and she appeared more content to be what she deemed presentable. Content to complete the finishing touches on her own in front of the mirror, the service droid disappeared to procure breakfast of sorts for them. "You have much to do today. A good breakfast would do you well, Claudius" she commented towards him, fixing the last few golden red tendrils so they fell perfectly around her shoulders.

As he watched the ordeal she put herself through to make herself ready, he thanked the maker that he was a man. "It may already be time for lunch, dear" he explained as he stepped past her and entered the sonic shower. He closed his eyes and let out a contented moan as the unit began to clean his body. The muck that had accumulated over the past day were blasted away and he began to feel like a human being again.

Outside of the Admiral's personal chambers Major Kiley arrived, believing herself to be late. In her mind, she began to formulate a possible excuse, but none seemed acceptable enough for her tardiness. In her hand she gripped a datapad with disturbing reports she had been granted access to while preparing for their return to the Ringali Shell. A gloved hand raised to knock three times lightly upon the door, and then she took a step back, expecting to find an agitated man on the other side.

Lucky for the major, Htaere had the serving droid get to the door first. The droid opened the door, greeting her with the soft voice Htaere had requested be programmed into it. It welcomed her in, motioning inside and eager to usher her to the parlor where the late-blooming couple had spent the night, and were in the progress of recongregating in the name of breakfast. Htaere had eagerly accepted a cup of tea when the droid offered, looking over a menu of items for the droid to prepare.

Kerrie blinked as she looked at Htaere sitting in the chair, seeming to have just awoken. Her eyes immediately turned as she looked to her wrist chronometer to double check the time, but indeed it was already quite late. She thus far had not experienced much in the way of the Admiral's married life and wondered if perhaps this would be the norm from now on. "Good after...morning, milady," she said, stuttering as she corrected herself.

"Who is it, my love? Is it the breakfast already?" Claudius shouted to compensate for the noise of the sonic shower, having remained in the sonic shower a bit longer to remove the last of the grime from the long shuttle trip. He could only assume it was an officer arriving to inquire about his absence at the morning staff meeting.

"Good morning" Htaere answered cheerfully, unaware of the hour. "You are just in time for breakfast. Would you care to join us?" she nodded to the tray as the serving droid continued in and out of the galley undertaking the preparation. "Breakfast is ready, Claudius" Htaere's voice sang out melodiously, the thick accent always adding an elegant and charming ring to the words.

Claudius extricated himself from the sonic shower at long last and stepped back out into the room expecting just to find Htaere and the serving droid. He stopped dead in his tracks when he spotted Kerrie and immediately moved to cover himself. "Why didn't you tell me she was here?" he complained to Htaere as he embarrassingly darted back into the refresher to find some towels.

Kerrie was caught completely off guard by the Admiral's sudden appearance, her eyes immediately going wide with a look of shock and dismay as she did her best not to look, but could not avoid it. Her cheeks remained flushed red and she raised a hand to cover her face. "Oh..." was all she could murmur, believing her punishment might be as severe as the Admiral's embarrassment.

A brow quirked towards him. "How silly, Claudius. You knew someone had arrived" she tried to conceal the smirk, becoming more and more surprised by the increase in gumption she observed in him lately.  "You did take a robe into the refresher when you entered, did you not?" she added, eyes glistening at the outplay of the moment. "I suppose I will have to monitor you more closely now, Admiral" she called out to him. "I shall not have you parading around in front of other women without your vestiges." It was all she could do not to laugh before looking back to Kerrie. "The tea then?"

"When you said nothing I assumed it was the droid," Claudius sheepishly explained as he returned, wrapping in a robe but still wearing the same, embarrassed facial expression. "I am sure it is nothing the Major has not seen before," he said, half-jokingly, as he moved towards Htaere to await breakfast.

Kerrie remained speechless, her hand slowly coming down from her face. She began back up slowly, feeling the tunic of her uniform growing increasingly tighter as she looked to them. "...I shall return at a later time," she nervously explained, wondering if she would ever truly recover.

"Do not mind Claudius" she replied to Kerrie. "There is plenty here for you. Stay and eat before the two of you are whisked away on account of business dealings."

"Something tells me she did not come for the buffet," Claudius said to Htaere as he looked to the Major. His hands moved towards the food and he promptly applied some jam to a piece of a toast that he enjoyed with his tea as he waited for her to state her purpose. "Out with it," he said rather abruptly, already feeling behind on the day.

"I...I...was not aware you were still eating breakfast, Milord," Kerrie stuttered awkwardly. There was a time in her life when she faced down some of the most dangerous men and creatures throughout the galaxy and she was never phased, but somehow this man consistently turned her into a substance with a spine no firmer than the jam he applied to his toast. "Lord Tion has provided us from disturbing reports about what has been transpiring since our departure, Milord," she explained as she placed the datapad on the table before them. "I feel we may need to dramatically increase the security presence at your estate. I would like to install a perimeter fence with guard towers," she began to elaborate in specific details that seemed to lose most audiences, "And deploy an entire platoon of Stormtroopers in a guard house we would construct. I would also like to keep a ready alert flight of two TIE fighters at all times."

Htaere's expression manifested her uncertainty about such changes. "Why is this necessary? The estate is peaceful. Why must we assign a significant military presence to a residence?"

Claudius placed his tea and toast down on the table and let out a deep sigh, placing his hand against his temple and suddenly feeling as if he could use another shower. "Not exactly going to suit Major Zevrin's propaganda about a happy Imperial family leaving peacefully in the region now is it Major?" he replied, utterly exasperated by the news she had delivered.

"The estate may be peaceful, Milady," Kerrie explained as she shifted her focus from Claudius to Htaere. "But, unfortunately the Rebellion has managed to become quite daring and audacious in their methodology as of late," she disappointedly explained, having known and served with many of the officers who had been killed. "The present defense protocols were developed before certain ... unexpected ... events," she concluded, nervously dancing over pointing out some of the hostile acts the Empire had conducted to inflame the local population in order to spare her sensibilities.

"I do not understand. Where are the negotiations? The peace talks? Is there no compromise that can be reached to pacify the present hostilities? Surely these people are not unreasonable" she deduced between delicate sips of tea.

Claudius snatched the datapad out of Major Kiley's hand and began to study it, a look of disdain forming upon his still awakening face. "Hmph," he muttered condescending as he studied Lord Tion's reports. "Well I could have told you this would have happened," he said irritating as he threw the datapad to the floor. He rose from the couch, moving away from Htaere to brace himself against the wall. "All my work ruined in three months by this blundering fool whose father handed him everything he got in this life," he said, the irritation evident in his every movement. "You know he had the nerve to invite Jelena to dinner?" he shouted angrily to Htaere as he confused the personal outrage with the professional one.

Claudius snatched the datapad out of Major Kiley's hand and began to study it, a look of disdain forming upon his still awakening face. "Hmph," he muttered condescending as he studied Lord Tion's reports. "Well I could have told you this would have happened," he said irritating as he threw the datapad to the floor. He rose from the couch, moving away from Htaere to brace himself against the wall. "All my work ruined in three months by this blundering fool whose father handed him everything he got in this life," he said, the irritation evident in his every movement. "You know he had the nerve to invite Jelena to dinner?" he shouted angrily to Htaere as he confused the personal outrage with the professional one.

Htaere's expression flashed one of hurt momentarily. He had never yelled at her before. Cloudy grey pools shifted briefly to Kerrie before returning to Claudius. "I..." her voice trailed off, letting the momentum die a passive death. She regrouped her thoughts and summoned the diplomacy that had been ingrained diligently. "Clearly the Empire things highly enough of your command. They trust you to perhaps solve the problems here and rectify the disastrous situation that has unfolded in your absence."

Claudius realized what he had done and immediately the guilt became overwhelming. He stopped dead in his tracks and his body language shifted to that of dejection. He let out a deep sigh and lowered his head. "I am..." he paused, raising his head to look her in the eye, "I am sorry, Htaere. I lost myself for a moment." His voice trembled and his hands began to shake. It was starting again and he had not even arrived in the Ringali Shell yet.

Htaere's expression softened. "You have a difficult task ahead of you" she said sympathetically. "There is no doubt of your capabilities. And now you have the benefit of a refreshed perspective from your sabbatical." She placed her tea cup and saucer down, the contents all but gone, and rose. "I shall depart for a bit and let you address the tasks before you." Her head dipped slightly to the major as she turned towards the anteroom, departing from the suite and leaving them to tend to business.

"Milady," Kerrie bowed politely to her as she excused herself, but then faced the realization that she was now alone with the Admiral and was no longer protected. Bracing herself, she turned to face him.

Claudius turned to Kerrie, but not with the anger he had previously displayed. "Institute all security protocols recommended in your report, Major," he instructed as he bent down to pick up the datapad he had thrown. The shock of having yelled at Htaere had not left him, nor would it for some time. "I will study this in greater detail..." he said, sounding withdrawn aid distant as he sat back down to inspect what remained of his tea. Without looking up at her, he concluded his orders, "Inform the senior staff I'll meet with them later this evening. Dismissed."

"I will do so at once, Milord," Kerrie said quickly, lowering into a quick bow. She had never seen him like this before and it was a bit unsettling. She slipped out of the room quickly, hurrying to begin her assignments, but in the back of her mind she began to wonder if the old man was slipping.

Jelena had been seated on one of the luxuriously appointed chaise lounges watching Imperial Holovision when she observed Htaere emerging from what used to be just her father's room. She was not yet used to the idea and when she saw her, she immediately rose and offered a pleasant smile. Something seemed slightly off and she took a step forward. "Is everything all right?" she asked as she tilted her head to the side sympathetically.

Htaere drew to a halt, reciprocating the pleasantry. "Oh, yes...They have business to discuss and I thought it prudent to take leave" she recited perfectly. "If you require something, I am certain he would not mind an intermission" she offered optimistically.

"No," Jelena interjected quickly as she looked towards the closed door longingly. "I learned at a very young age not to interrupt my father while working," she explained, the many disappointments in life echoing through her young voice. "Are you looking forward to returning to Esseles?" she asked, changing the subject as she fidgeted uncomfortably. The young noblewoman was dressed very casually, in how she might imagine herself looking if she had been permitted to attend university.

"Yes very much so. My poor guarlara is ready to have his feet on solid ground, I do believe. And you? What do you make of your father's reassignment?" She asked curiously.

"No... Not really..." Jelena confessed honestly to Htaere in a way she could not do with her father. It seemed as if the guilt of what she had done was filling her with grief. The thought of returning to the scene of the crime was almost unbearable. "Being paraded on the local holonet... Living in a war zone..." she continued sadly, recounting but two of the events that she used as excuses to attribute her grief.

"I am afraid I do not understand the conflict" she likewise admitted. "I do not understand why no resolution can be attained." She shook her head slightly. "I have resolved to stay out of it, as my naïveté has often left me feeling very much a detriment to the conversation when the subject abounds." She thought for a moment, and with a sigh collected herself and smiled. "I do know that Claudius regards the three of you very carefully and makes the decisions he does based on that need for protection." She resisted a chuckle. "I know that it offers little consolation to you, but at least you understand where his train of thought derives from."

"It's a very complicated conflict, Htaere," Jelena admitted, her voice trembling with some doubt as she moved back towards her chaise lounge. "I do not think this is a battle my father can win," she continued, speaking to what many would sound as treason, but she knew it was safe to talk to Htaere. "You can crush an army ... but you cannot destroy an idea," she concluded as she wrapped herself in a light blanket and returned to watching the Holovision.

"Idea?" despite Jelena's retreat, Htaere stayed where she was. "I have been among the people in the market, the ones with no home, or food. Claudius would not allow further action besides providing them with a hot meal as the rebellion would seek out their camps and destroy them en masse as collateral."

"Is that what they tell you?" Jelena asked, fighting back the urge to laugh at her naivety. She turned around on the chaise lounge to look towards her, tears beginning to form in her eyes now, as she wrapped herself in the blanket, trying to make herself more comfortable.

"Claudius would not lie. Not to me."

"Maybe he's lying to himself..." Jelena replied, speaking to herself as much as she was Htaere. Letting out en impassioned sigh she turned her back around, curling up in the fetal position as she waited for the day to simply end.

Htaere's eyes narrowed slightly, taken back by Jelena's words. Locked in an internal battle, she turned slowly, expression still registering her stunned disbelief as she drifted slowly down the corridor. The fringes of the comfort she'd been living in for months now felt slightly frayed, creating a guilt for harboring such thoughts and at the same time a spec of doubt that like mottled the once clear landscape of her mind with  a singular point of contrast. She boarded the lift, mentally fighting off the thoughts she was having. "He would not...he would not lie to me. Kerrie would not lie to me" she announced to herself. When the door chimed she was eager to step out, moving towards one of the recessed bays where the beautiful and towering guarlara had been housed, the long flowing hair of its tail, leg feathers and forelock silken and shining. She moved into the giant "stall" that had been constructed for it, extending a small hand towards its nose, the warmth of its breath instantly putting her at ease, if only slightly. The stifling choke of uncertainty began to melt, feeling an incredible relief to be in the magnificent animal's presence.

Moments later, Claudius, now dressed in his Imperial uniform emerged from his quarters and began to search for Htaere. "Htaere?" he shouted in no specific direction as he spun around the large living room, looking in no particular direction.

Jelena's hand emerged from beneath the blanket and without uttering so much as a word she pointed towards the turbolift.

Claudius looked towards Jelena for just a moment, wondering what her problem was. "It never rains, but it pours..." he commented to himself, making a mental note to check on her at the end of the day. With that, he stepped into the turbolift and headed towards the bay where her creature was kept. It was the most logical spot she would head to at a time like this he deduced, but he was not quite sure what he was going to say to her. As the lift arrived at the floor he stepped out of it and walked towards her slowly, so as not to spook the creature.

The animal's ears pricked forward, it's massive head turning to gaze at the newcomer with intelligent eyes.  Tiny in stature next to it, Htaere turned to follow the her pet's focus. Upon seeing Claudius, she offered a small smile. "I hope that my interjections did not offend."

"You could never offend me, my love," Claudius said as he leaned in towards her, moving to place a soft, tender kiss upon her left cheek. He then pulled back and looked at her, lowering his head slightly. "Please forgive my outburst," he said as his hand reached for hers, taking it in his own hand as he stood before her in all humility.

Htaere found herself feeling slightly edgy in his presence, a tension she had not experienced she was first delivered to him as a total stranger. Inwardly she scolded herself for allowing the ramblings of teenage angst cloud her thoughts and feelings. She focused on offering a rather soft smile. "Think nothing of it Claudius. I know you are under a lot of pressure."

"Things..." Claudius began, but then stopped him, throwing around the words in his head like a shockball before continuing, "...things will be different on our return to Esseles."  He paused, moving a hand to gently pet the Guarlara as he turned his head away from her for a moment. "I want to prepare you so that it does not come as a shock," he continued, feigning his attention towards the beast to avoid coming off overly concerned.

Htaere's lips pursed ever so slightly, accompanied by a small swallow. A brief nod of her head signaled her focus on him, at least outwardly. The notion of Claudius discussing a situation with her all but fanned the tiny little ember of doubt that Jelena's commentary had planted.

"Tion is a fool," Claudius explained quietly as he continued to stroke the Guarlara's neck affectionately. He shook his head, lowering it for just a moment as he managed his anger this time. "He has squandered all of the good will I built up with the local population," he continued, slightly turning his head towards her. "Many of the people on those worlds now despise the Empire and the men and women who serve it," he informed her with a contemplative sigh. "Because of this they will not be fond of our presence on their world and that is the reason why Major Kiley recommended the increase in security," he informed her as he placed a hand upon her shoulder. "I promise you ... if I thought it was not safe I would not let you or the children set foot on the planet," he said, looking her directly in the eye and speaking more serious than he had before.

"I know" she answered quietly. "I shall do a better job of staying out of your affairs Claudius. I know there is much work for you to do here."

"I need you in my affairs, Htaere," Claudius confessed to her quietly. "You keep me tied to reality..." he said, his voice growing weak and tired. "Sometimes... sometimes... it can all be too much and I lose sight of things," he continued on, his voice breaking and revealing a vulnerability he had not previously shown. "You give me perspective," he admitted to her, his head raising and his eyes locking directly upon hers once again.

"I have come to see that the perspective I offer is one of ignorance" she  avowed. "I assure you my intentions have been only the best." Her eyes took him in for a moment, her expression compassionate and empathic. "I am always here for you Claudius."

"Ignorance?" Claudius repeated, his voice sounding gravely concerned. He took a step towards her, tilting his head as he looked down towards her. "What do you mean ignorance?" he asked, his hand moving to gently caress the side of her face as he began to worry.

"That I have often interposed thoughts or opinions regarding matters that I am not qualified to make." She derailed the line of questioning with a smile. "Do not fret on my behalf Claudius. You have more pressing matters that deserve your attention" she quipped genially. "I am simply anticipating being planetside and back to the estate." She gave his hands a tender squeeze.

Claudius' life involved a daily walk across a tightrope above a pit filled with spikes. Each of the people close to him in his life could very easily be set off within even the slightest slip on his part. Making matters worse was the fact that each of them was a woman. He smiled at her as she squeezed his hand, but in the back of his mind he began to wonder if Htaere's comments and Jelena's sour mood were part of the same problem.

Htaere lifted onto her toes to place a tender kiss at the corner of his mouth before withdrawing. "I am not keeping you am I?"

"To my satisfaction I am no longer a junior officer who must run around at the beck and call of others, my sweet," Cladius responded to her happily. "I have found that there is not a single person upon this ship who will not wait for me," he said with a nod of his head, the strength of his position giving him quite the sense of confidence.

"This is fact" she agreed. The conversation seemed to dwindle, leaving her gazing at him in an uncomfortable silence, yet maintaining what could easily pass as a pleasant enough smile. Her eyes flickered about, looking for something to detract from the seriousness of the conversation and the line it was following.

Claudius let out a soft sigh as he parted company with her, his hand slowly releasing hers he turned and walked away. As he approached the turbolift he stopped suddenly, and he turned to look at her. "Do not serve dinner until I return," he said to her sweetly. "We need to make sure we always make time for the simple things like that..." he added, sounding quite contemplative as he reflected on what transpired. With that, he stepped into the turbolift and proceeded to attend to the business of the squadron.

Htaere nodded obediently, looking after Claudius with a blank expression. The change in him was palpable already, and she felt guilty that her behavior had played a part in it. She exhaled a deep breath, turning towards the guarlara an stroking the immaculate coat over the animal's shoulder, seeking a comfort she was finding nowhere else.

Annoyed, Kerrie Kiley moved through one of the ubiquitous corridors of the Warspite, having been called away from planning the defenses of the Rodney estate on Esseles for an as of yet unknown purpose. Arriving at what seemed like any other door on the ship, she punched in a four digit access code and the door swung open revealing a dark room with complex computer equipment and numerous monitors. Determined not to let anyone observe what was inside, she immediately stepped in and let the door close behind her.

Inside the room, Lieutenant Trent Irso of Imperial Intelligence sat watching one of the monitors. His eyes were focused on the screen, listening intently as he played it back for what seemed like multiple times. "Major," he said quietly so as not to distract from the broadcast. "I had thought you most of all would be interested in seeing this..." he said as he spun the video up yet again.

Major Kiley stood behind Lieutenant Irso, the blue light from the monitor the only light source that served to illuminate her mimicked Human face. She listened in horror to the conversation between Jelena and Htaere, each word spoken by Jelena causing a tendril of pain to move throughout her entire body. When she installed the monitoring system as part of an improved defense system she never imagined it would be used for anything like this.

"I think we know why our investigation into that disk three months ago failed, Major," Irso reported confidently as the video concluded and immediately began replaying. "And to think," he added with a slight grin, "...most of us had felt it was the Admiral who was the one with Rebel sympathies."

Kerrie remained speechless and motionless, a sick feeling building within the pit of her stomach as she watched it a second time. "That does not prove anything, Lieutenant," she said sternly, lying to the man to avert suspicion. Logically her mind processed the information. It made perfect sense ... Jelena had access and none of the senior officers, including the Admiral, had been under any suspicion. "Has anyone else seen this, Lieutenant?" she asked as she continued to look on in horror.

"Not yet," Irso explained as his hand moved towards a datadisk sitting in front of him. "I had just burned a copy for Major Traebor," he said to her as his hand motioned to the disk. "But given how much time you put into the investigation ... and what it cost you ... personally ... I felt you deserved to see it first," he said, referring to her temporary exile following her failure to recover the disk.

"Thank you, Trent," Kerrie said sweetly as she smiled to him, her eyes glancing toward the disk. Her hand slowly moved towards her holster, slipping her KYD21 blaster pistol silently out and moving it upwards. Without hesitation she placed it to the back of the officer's head and snapped off a quick blast.

The blaster bolt connected at point blank range with Lieutenant Irso's head, frying his brain and causing his lifeless corpse to fall forward onto the controls.

Kerrie let out a deep sigh and slid the blaster back into her holster. She pushed the lifeless body of the Lieutenant to the ground and sat down in the chair and began the process of erasing the data on the computer's hard drive. She quickly grabbed the disk and slid it inside of her uniform. She had chosen family over duty and only time would tell if it was a decision she would regret.

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