Kerrie came to a stop outside of the
door leading to Claudius and Htaere's quarters, a datapad folded neatly
under her right arm. She paused for a moment, having avoided them since
they returned after what she had seen. Her hands ran over her black
uniform, adjusting it neatly as she cleared her throat. She felt ready,
or at least as ready as she could be given the situation. Raising a
leather-clad hand, she began softly knocking on the door. She had
intended to give a preliminary report of her accident investigation to
the Admiral, unaware that he was with Doctor Tohan.
The door eased open silently after a few
moments to reveal Htaere's clean and lovely face, which eased into a
smile as her cloudy grey eyes landed on the Major. "Hello Kerrie.
Please, come in" she stepped aside and motioned her friend in. After the
much needed shower, Htaere resumed her usual appearance, immaculate,
ornate and graceful, not a spec of dirt on her or a single hair out of
Kerrie forced a smile onto her face when
she spotted Htaere, relieved to see that she appeared to be feeling
better. "Is everything well, Milady?" she asked as she stepped forward
into their quarters, her eyes scanning about for the Admiral. "I have
come to see Lord Rodney," she explained as she squirmed slightly, the
collar of her uniform feeling tight around her throat. "I checked the
bridge, but he was not there," she continued, explaining more than she
had to as she grew more nervous.
"He is finishing now with Doctor Tohan.
He should be done momentarily if you do not mind waiting" she answered,
letting the door close again as she glided from the anteroom to the
parlor. "Would you care for a beverage?" she turned to look to Kerrie
Kerrie swallowed upon learning that the
Admiral was not even there, her hands becoming a bit clammy inside of
her leather gloves. Shifting slightly she shook her head at Htaere as
they entered the parlor. "N-n-no, Milady," she stammered in reply, never
feeling comfortable when she offered to serve her. "Did you enjoy..."
Kerrie froze as she realized what that sounded like. "I mean... I
mean... did you have a good time?" she asked, fumbling to recover as she
dropped the datapad, bending to pick it up.
Htaere collected her gown and seated
herself on one of the velveteen couches in the seating area. "I am
regretful that it was shortened on account of the crash, but the planet
was beautiful and we were afforded a great treat" Htaere grinned
thoughtfully. "I do not recall the last time I went swimming" she added,
sifting through her memory if only for a moment.
Once Kerrie had picked up the datapad
she moved towards on of the seats and sat down, crossing her right leg
over her left and placing the datapad on her lap. She smiled across at
Htaere as she recounted parts of her honeymoon, but once she mentioned
swimming the mental image of Htaere and Claudius making love in the
water came back to her and her cheeks began to redden. "I..." she began,
stammering as she looked down, "...never liked the water."
"Shame. It is most refreshing" she
answered. "Were you able to enjoy time off as well, fleeting as it was?"
"I bet..." Kerrie replied quickly as a
smirk crept onto her face, before a gloved hand reached up to cover her
mouth. "I am sorry, Milady," she said apologetically as she attempted to
regain her composure. "While you were away I felt..." she attempted to
change the subject quickly, but trailed off as she continued, "...lost.
My life has revolved around serving you and Lord Rodney. I simply...,"
she paused before concluded, "...waited."
Htaere's expression looked stunned, the
pleasantness having slipped away. "That is..." she was speechless as
well, she found. "...that is terrible. Perhaps you should take up a
hobby, something you enjoy" she encouraged. "To dismiss your being
beyond a sense of service is..." her voice trailed off, head shaking.
"Surely there must be something you like to do on your own time."
"My duty is to serve, Milady," Kerrie
explained quickly as she grew a bit uncomfortable. Her life was one of
service, and while it may not have suited everyone, she was quite proud
of her life, her position, and how no harm had come to those she was
charged with protecting. "The enjoyment I draw from my life comes from
the knowledge that you and your husband are well," she explained,
calling him that for the first time.
Htaere's face softened. "It is a job
that you do very well and is most deserving of our gratitude." Her eyes
dropped to the datapad. "Is that your report?" she asked curiously.
A small smile formed upon Kerrie's lips
for only a moment as she took satisfaction in knowing Htaere was
grateful. She was pleased when Htaere changed the subject, never being
comfortable when the topic of discussion was on her or what little
personal life she had. "Oh..." she replied to the question, having
nearly forgotten her original purpose for coming. "Yes. It is my
preliminary findings. The Admiral informed me he wanted it as quickly as
possible," she explained.
Meticulously shaped eyebrows lifted in
interest. "Oh? Did you find the cause of our crash?"
"Yes, Milady," Kerrie replied without
going into much detail. The facts were quite disturbing and she was not
sure if she should reveal them to Htaere without the Admiral's
permission. Her eyes wandered down to the datapad and then back to
Htaere as she shifted in the chair once again.
Htaere's interest seemed unsatiated yet
she said nothing more, the history of her inquiring into Imperial
business never failing to end in tragedy. "I am sure Claudius will be
pleased with your haste and efforts" she nodded.
Kerrie was concerned by what she had
found in the investigation and her concern for Claudius and Htaere had
only grown stronger. "He is a very hard man to please," Kerrie explained
to her, perhaps revealing a bit too much. When she realized what she had
said, she wished that she could take it back, but she could not.
"I do not believe your talents have ever
gone unnoticed" Htaere smiled. She glanced to the door, speaking of him.
"Perhaps I should call him to le him know you are here."
"No ... no!" Kerrie paniced suddenly as
Htaere mentioned calling the Admiral. She feared being in the position
of summoning him. "I have no problem waiting," she explained as she
adjusted herself in the chair once again.
"Very well then" Htaere answered with a
good-natured shrug. There was a long silence before Htaere's wide and
innocent gaze lifted to Kerrie's face. "What would you be doing if you
were not here? In the Empire's service?"
Kerrie had never discussed much of her
life before this position with Htaere ... and for good reason as she
believed that most of what she did would alarm Htaere's delicate
sensitivities. "I...uh," she awkwardly began as she struggled to find
the words to use. "I would be continuing to work as a bounty hunter if
I'd not encountered Lord Rodney," she explained, sparing the details of
her work as an assassin. She did not want Htaere to view her as a
killer, even if it were true.
"A bounty hunter?" She repeated. After
another handful of moments, her head tilted. "Did you enjoy your career
It had been a long time since Kerrie had
thought about her previous existance and truthfully she did not ever
associate enjoyment with it. It was more of a desire to feed a hunger
inside of her that had been there since she left home. "I enjoyed parts
of it, Milady. I enjoyed succeeding," she said with a nod as her eyes
moved away, seeming to be drifting back inside of her head. "I enjoyed
the credits that I earned and there were some thrills, but I would not
recommend it..." she concluded, thinking she really would nee a stiff
drink after this conversation.
Htaere almost seemed to chuckle.
"Recommend it?" She fidgeted. "Somehow I do not think I would suffice."
She thought briefly. "When you retire from the Empire, are you returning
to said profession?"
Kerrie chuckled at Htaere's statement
and nodded slightly in agreement. "With time and training we could at
least develop your ability to defend yourself, Milady," she explained as
she leaned forward towards her. "In light of recent events it might be
prudent," she continued as her mind again drifted to her report. When
Htaere mentioned retirement a smirk curled upon her lips, knowing that
she never could retire. "Milady, I serve at the pleasure of Lord Rodney.
I cannot resign or retire," she explained without going into exact
details for obvious reasons.
"Perhaps one day the 'Lord Rodney' will
consider retirement himself, though I do not foresee such an event for
some time" she replied with a half smile of her own. She got to her
feet, brushing the flowing skirt to smooth it. "I am going to make tea.
Would you care for some?"
The sound of the door opened, followed
by the repeated footsteps of someone approaching. "I'm back, my love,"
Claudius shouted as he walked through his quarters. His hand immediately
moved to his tunic, undoing it rather quickly as he wanted to get
comfortable. His forehead was still bandaged and he looked tired, his
appointment with Doctor Tohan going longer than expected. Expecting to
find Htaere alone, a smile crept onto his face as he walked into the
parlor, but his eyes immediately moved to Kerrie when he saw her sitting
Htaere's gaze moved from Kerrie to
Claudius. Her lips spanned into a smile. "Hello Claudius. You are just
in time for tea. The Major and I were about to partake. Shall I bring
you a cup as well?"
Kerrie gasped suddenly when she saw the
Admiral unexpectedly enter the room, his face turning slightly pale as
she stood up suddenly in properly military fashion. "Milord," she nodded
her head firmly to him as she grew serious.
Claudius ignored Kerrie for the time
being, still not sure why she was here. He glided towards Htaere and
leaned his face in towards her, placing a loving kiss upon her cheek.
"Yes, please. That would be lovely," he said as he raised his hand to
his forehead and groaned as he sat down on the couch. "I am sorry it
took so long, my dear. Doctor Tohan determined I suffered a severe
concussion and he insisted he run several tests," he sighed tiredly as
he settled into the couch.
Htaere nodded and smiled. "Better he be
safe and thorough with his prognosis. Relax and I shall bring us tea."
With that, she slid from the room, disappearing out of sight to whatever
small subgalley was available to procure the beverage.
"What brings you here, Major," Claudius
asked as he settled into the sofa, moving to tuck in his tunic a bit to
avoid looking disheveled in front of Kerrie. He squinted slightly and
lowered his head, feeling a bit dizzy, as he held his hand to the
"I have a preliminary report on the
cause of your crash, Milord," Kerrie explained matter-a-factly as she
looked down to her datapad. Her face remained stern and unmoving as she
held the datapad out in front of her. "Shall I present the report now or
wait until there is privacy?" she asked, her eyes looking toward the
doorway Htaere had just moved through.
After several minutes, Htaere reappeared
carrying a delicate little tray with an elegant porcelain teapot and
three tiny matching tea cups. In the fashion of a perfectly
choreographed tea ceremony, she let it steep before pouring it and
offering it to them. She reseated herself and looked pleasantly unaware
of the nature of their conversation. "Is it acceptable?" she asked of
Claudius' eyes shifted from Kerrie to
Htaere as she returned and he gave her a polite, loving smile as she
served the tea. "We should get you someone to help with things like
making tea," he suggested as he grabbed hold of the cup of tea and
sipped it. "Mmm," he murmured softly as he sipped it. "It's wonderful,"
he said to her as he patted the part of the couch next to him. "Have a
seat, my dear. The Major was just about to make her report," he
explained, as he shifted to look at her again.
"Not necessary, I assure you Claudius"
she said, easing over beside him, and getting situated, smiled over to
Kerrie. "I apologize for interrupting" she nodded.
Claudius smiled happily as Htaere sat
down beside him and he leaned in to her, his hand moving to take hold of
hers and give it a reassuring squeeze. "I want you to hear this, my
dear, so that you will be the first to learn that it was not pilot
error," he explained to her, chuckling softly as he tried to lighten the
mood a bit before her report.
Kerrie did not laugh at his joke and
nodded politely to Claudius and Htaere as she looked down at her report.
"Very well, Milord," she began as she began reading over her findings.
"The investigation of the wreckage showed an explosive device had been
planted on the rear of the hull, near the ship's engine. It seems
designed to have triggered the reactor to explode and destroy the ship.
The device was clearly planted with the intent of destroying the ship
and those aboard. Only the internal structural supports prevented the
explosion from reaching the reactor and sparing both your lives," she
reported very grimly. Her eyes looked to them, shifting uncomfortably as
she delivered the news. "Preliminary tests of the composition of the
device and the types of explosive used show it is identical to devices
commonly used by the Rebellion," she added and then lowered her datapad,
Htaere's expression seemed to flat-line
a bit as she looked from Kerrie to Claudius. "This was an assassination
attempt? She interjected, whether it was her place or not. "I do not
understand. When was it possible for this device to be planted?"
Claudius was outraged when he heard the
report and pushed his cup of tea aside, slamming his fist down on the
coffee table and causing the tea kettle and cups to shake. Htaere's
questions were very important and he decided to allow the Major to
answer them before asking any of his own. This news did nothing to help
Kerrie took a step backward from the
Admiral during his outburst, clearly scared that he might hurt her. She
was just the messenger, she told herself as she tried to regain some
composure. Her breathing began to increase and it looked like she was
starting to panic. She lost her composure and for a moment shifted back
to her natural Clawdite state. Finally, she composed herself and her
attention focused on Htaere. "Yes, Milady. It was clearly not a
mechanical failure. It was an assassination attempt," she began to
explain, "We are attempting to find the origin of the device, but the
ingredients are very common, manufactured throughout the galaxy, and are
very hard to trace." She swallowed nervously and looked to the Admiral
as she continued, "I assume it was attached to the ship while on
Alderaan, Milord. Whoever did it, must have done so there."
Htaere jumped as well at Claudius'
initial reaction, caught off-guard. When her questions had been answered
directly, she remained quiet and instead looked to Claudius. She was
still inwardly digesting it herself, but outwardly she seemed to hold
her decorum, perhaps on account of her naive inability to grasp the
total concept of the war, its origins and its ongoing causes.
Claudius took a deep breath to calm
himself and realized his outburst was totally unnecessary. "I am sorry,
Htaere," he said as he turned to her, but he neglected to apologize to
Kerrie, whom he had scared more. He then turned his attention to her as
he took another sip of his tea. "I want you to travel to Alderaan and
investigate further, Major," he explained as he looked at her. "Do not
work with the local security forces. I will not be informing them of
your presence. Do you understand?" He looked at her sternly, never
taking chances when it came to the lives of those he loved.
"Perhaps I should return to Hapes,
Claudius. It would be safe there until the danger resides. Or Alderaan.
We can take common transport, in disguise as needed" she offered
Kerrie was quick to nod to the Admiral,
understanding by his meaning that he did not trust the local Alderaan
security. She would not either, but she realized it would make the
mission far more difficult and far less likely for her to succeed. When
she heard Htaere's suggested she lowered her head to interject, "Milady
... I do not think you should leave the safety of the ship. It is the
one place I am confident in our ability to protect you."
Claudius listened to Htaere as he
reached around her with his arm, draping it across her shoulder and
pulling her into him slightly as they sat on the couch. "Maybe some time
away is needed, my love. We never did get a conventional vacation, and I
feel as if we could use one following our ordeal," he said as he leaned
forward to place a soft kiss on her forehead again. "We shall travel to
Hapes together until the Major has had time to complete her
"I shall arrange it immediately" she
nodded, already choosing the planet to which they would plan their
escape. "We can leave as soon as we get our things together. Should I
have them send transport or shall we take one of the ship's shuttles?"
Kerrie panicked as she heard the two
making travel plans. Horrible thoughts went through her head as she
considered all of the threats they'd be exposed to, not to mention the
fact that she would be on the other side of the galaxy on Alderaan.
"Milord, I must protest," she said as she took several steps forward.
"There has just been an attempt on both of your lives and I have had not
had enough time to investigate," she said, almost begging with him now.
"With your concussion, Doctor Tohan may not even authorize travel," she
continued, attempting to reason with him.
Claudius turned his attention to Kerrie,
standing from his position in the couch. He was dizzy at first and it
took him a moment to get his balance before looking down at the
diminutive girl. "Remember your place, Major," he said angrily as he
raised his hand, pointing a finger at her. "You have your orders. You
are dismissed," he said as he ordered her.
As his hand raised to point a finger at
her, she flinched and cowered slightly, terrified that he was about to
hit her. She shook nervously, her entire body trembling as she looked
frantically from him to her.
"Claudius..." Htaere reached for his arm
to settle him. She blinked glistening grey pools at him in surprise at
his behavior. Looking at him expectantly, she got to her feet before
taking a surprising stance against the anxiety in the room. "We are
grateful for your concern, Major" she nodded to Kerrie before her eyes
shifted back to Claudius as she continued. "Perhaps we are just under
stress and weary under the recent events as of late."
Claudius knew immediately that he had
overreacted and offered no resistance when Htaere pulled his hand out of
Kerrie's face. "Quite right, quite right..." he said in response to both
of Htaere's comments as he sat himself back down on the couch. His head
was throbbing even more than before and he took a few moments to catch
his breath, moving for another long sip of tea. "I am sorry, Major," he
said, perhaps for the first time.
Kerrie nodded to the Admiral obediently
as she accepted her orders. As she began to back out of the room she
mouthed a "thank you" to Htaere silently when she saw Claudius look
down. With that, she swallowed and made her way out of their quarters to
prepare for her upcoming assignment.
A quick smile for Kerrie and Htaere
turned towards Claudius. She looked compassionate and reached out to
caress the side of his face. "Claudius, you need rest. I have not seen
you like this. Sleep first, and then we shall depart for Hapes" she said
Claudius looked up at her and nodded his
head silently, trusting her above all others. "Yes. Of course you're
right..." he said as he rose from the couch and began undoing his tunic
again. "It is late. Let's get to bed. Leave the mess for the morning,"
he said to her with a weak voice as he moved out of the parlor and
towards their bedroom. Once inside he was quick to remove his tunic and
drape it across the chair before going to work on his boots. He let out
a loud sigh of relaxation once they were off and he could lay in bed.
Htaere followed him, removing a small
metal headband as she went. She moved into her closet, reemerging in an
elegant satin gown before taking up her brush and brushing out the long
red-gold tresses. When satisfied, she slid into bed beside him, and
curled up on her side, getting comfortable. "I am glad to put away all
problems until tomorrow" she said lazily.
Claudius turned on his side and placed
his chest to her back, his arm gently wrapping around her midsection and
firmly resting upon her chest. He sighed contently against the back of
her neck, his warm breath breaking upon it like the tide upon the shore.
"I am sorry for how I acted at times this evening," he said softly as he
placed a gentle kiss on the back of her neck, closing his eyes.
"It is ok" she answered quietly. For a
long moment it was quiet before her lethargic voice broke the silence
again. "Thank you for apologizing to Kerrie" she said, her voice barely
above a whisper.
Claudius had just about fallen asleep
when the silence broke. Her words struck hard at him, as he realized
that he had been much too hard on her. Without opening his eyes, he
sighed and squeezed her closely against his warm frame. "I find it very
hard sometimes to view her as a person and not a tool," he confessed to
her in the dark, privacy of their bedroom.
Htaere's eyes were likewise closed, and
she was near sleep herself. Still coherent enough to hear and
comprehend, she answered. "It is obvious."
"I will try to do better in the future.
This vacation will allow me to return with renewed energy and a calm
sense of being," Claudius told her reassuringly as he spooned her. His
lips once again connected with the back of her neck as he felt his eyes
slowly close and he began to drift off to sleep beside her.
The comment was thoughtful and touching,
and finding in it the genuine sentiment that she'd encountered at their
first meeting, it touched a chord in her. "I love you Claudius" she
murmured sleepily, lest he feel admonished and detached. And for the
difficult effort he promised to make, positive reinforcement was in
order. Content, she succumbed to the exhaustion, letting her body sink
further into the plush mattress of the bed and the soothing
unconsciousness it offered.