The Rodney estate on Esseles
had become the most heavily defended structure in the
Ringali Shell. The once serene estate in the mountains
outside of New Calamar now resembled a military
installation complete with perimeter walls, low altitude
TIE fighter patrols, Stormtroopers, Storm commandos,
even AT-ST walkers. It was more a prison than a home ...
part of the Grand Moff's plan to cling to the two
children he still had left. Lieutenant Haven Anson found
herself once again at the controls of a high priority
shuttle flight, and this time her passenger was the
Grand Moff's personal physical ... Pilaq Tohan. She
wondered why the Governor would trust the care of
himself and his family to an alien, particularly from a
world that the Empire had placed restrictions on, but
this was just one of a series of complexities that an
officer of such a low rank dared not spend too much time
thinking about. "I shall have you on the surface
momentarily, doctor," she said, as she entered her
clearance code to land. The lower wings of the shuttle
began to fold upwards, as the landing gear descended,
and the shuttle Kwai touched down upon a landing
In the rear of the shuttle
the venerable Doctor Pilaq Tohan had remained silent,
his hands wrapped tightly around the staff artfully
crafted from fallen timber from his native Ithor. He
remembered when the Imperials came to Ithor and the harm
their blockade and restrictions had made upon his
people. It was Claudius Rodney that had intervened to
rescue him from that blockade, and now he was forced to
watch in horror as that same man inflicted even harsher
restrictions on the people of Esseles. His large,
bulbous eyes blinked silently as the young officer
informed him that they were landing. While part of him
was glad that Htaere had returned, a larger part of him
wondered if it might not have been better if she had
stayed on Gallinore. He let out a soft grunt from both
of his mouths as he rose up, shifting his weight to the
walking stick, before descending down the shuttle ramp
to seek out Htaere.
Htaere stood a short
distance away, the breezes of afternoon air and the
blasts from the shuttle's repulsors causing the gauzy
gown she wore to billow around her wildly for a moment.
Her eyes took in the unique shape of the Ithorian, a
smile instantly brightening her features. Without
waiting, she hurried towards him eagerly and instantly
took him into a sincere and loving embrace. "I am so
glad to see you, Pilaq," she said. "Your presence is as
much a great comfort as it is a request."
Pilaq reached out with the
hand that was not gripping the staff, and with long
digits he gently grasped her at the shoulder. "This
place has changed..." he said, speaking from both of his
mouths, as he woefully gazed at all the damage that had
been done to the natural beauty of the land to protect
this structure. "I trust then ... that you have heard?"
he asked, referring to the events surrounding Jelena
while she was away. He had been the one to deliver
Jelena, and helped raise her after her mother died. Her
actions pained him as much as anyone, and the sadness
was visible even in his alien face.
"Yes, yes I have," she
nodded. "A lot of things, and people, have changed it
seems." The Hapan motioned him towards the manor. "I am
hoping to perhaps alleviate some of the misfortune."
Pilaq did his best to hurry
into the estate, relying heavily on the staff to propel
him forward. He was getting old, and life was catching
up with him. He could not get around like used to, and
each hurried step forward burdened his knees. "It is my
hope that you can, milady," he said to her quietly,
until they were in the relative safety of the structure.
It was one of the few places he believed the ISB had not
penetrated and filled with surveillance devices. "Now.
How can I help?" he asked, his large, bulbous eyes
widening to take a careful study of her young features.
"A detailed evaluation of
Claudius, if you can. It is my understanding he has been
isolated from all for some time. He appears...delusional
and ill. I am simply hoping as his physician you can
rule out any physical ailments before we tackle mental
ones," Htaere replied. "I cannot say when Claudius has
last bathed, or tended to hygiene of any sort, or
existed any place but his command room from the Warspite."
She worded it carefully. "Perhaps you may fill in gaps
for me that I may be missing."
"Sit, young one," Pilaq
said, as he circled about until he was in front of her.
He placed both of his hands upon the staff, whose base
he placed between his legs, resting the entirety of his
weight upon it. "When Claudius returned from Kuat he
found Kerrie near death in his office, with Jelena's
holonet message being broadcast..." he recounted,
nodding his head at Htaere as he recounted the events
for her. "We very nearly lost Kerrie that day, and I
cannot take credit for saving her life. The Inquisitor
used powers that are beyond my knowledge to
understand..." he said, leaning forward slightly, before
rocking back and forth, using the staff as an anchor.
"Claudius devoted all of his attention to the hunt for
Jelena. I do not believe he has even fully explained the
situation to Drusilla, or poor Ewwiekewwieikkie who I
doubt could even understand..." he informed her, sadly,
as his eyes moved towards the upper level where they
were likely sleeping. "I have not seen him since. He
refused me access," he said, raising his staff and then
slamming it emphatically down on the ground below.
Htaere's expression hardened
just so. "Well I am granting it to you now," she stated
so solidly that it left nothing to negotiation. "Kerrie
has supplied me with the details during my respite. I
have returned home to nothing short of absolute chaos,
in which no one seems able to do anything. If it is up
to me, then so be it. I have removed Claudius from his
state room and brought him here. I am insisting upon his
evaluation, I shall likewise insist upon his full
cooperation." Htaere paced back and forth for a moment,
her frustration spilling out beyond the barriers of her
decorum. "I am growing wary of such oppression and
inaction." She paused, lowering her voice. "I see
nothing around me but madness, and I am loathe to
swallow it down any longer as I always have. Please,"
she motioned towards their chambers. "Come with me to
see him. Let us start there. The longest journey of a
thousand parsecs begins with the first step."
"Of course, milady," Pilaq
said in his kind voice, drawn from the past as if from a
well. The climb up the stairs to the second level where
the family slept was difficult for the old Ithorian, and
he had to stop about halfway up the flight of stairs,
but eventually he made it to the upper level. He was
quiet so as to not disturb either Ewwiekewwieikkie or
Drusilla, who he presumed were sleeping, and eventually
made his way into the master bedchamber. The room was
shrouded in darkness, but in the large bed he could
still make out the outline of a familiar human form. "Do
you want to wake him, or shall I?" he asked, as he
waited near the entrance to the room for her to decide
how to proceed.
"I shall take that risk of
my own volition," she conceded, turning on the lights
but so the dimmers were on and it wasn't overly glaring
and bright. Moving to the bed, she placed a hand on
Claudius and gave him a gentle nudge. "Claudius," she
called to him in a low voice.
"Unh. Unh," Claudius
murmured as he started to stir, not immediately aware of
his surroundings, or where he was. The bed was somehow
familiar, but also foreign at the same time ... it had
been quite sometime since he had slept in it. "Jelena?"
he asked, a sound of slight excitement in his voice as
he moved to rub at his eyes. "Is there news of Jelena?"
he asked, growing increasingly optimistic, as he
struggled to sit up in the bed.
"No," Htaere answered
patiently. "Doctor Tohan is here to help you." As if
speaking to a child, she pointed towards the Ithorian
"I don't need a doctor. I'm
fine," Claudius reassured her, as he sat up in the bed,
and nestled his back comfortably against the pillows.
"What I need is to find Jelena," he pleaded with her, as
he realized that he was on the surface of Essles. It was
very likely that they were on the same planet, and that
knowledge brought him some sense of comfort. "I'm sorry
to have troubled you, Pilaq," he said, offering her a
kind smile in his direction, before nodding at him and
dismissing him with a motion of his hand.
With a brazen and utterly
shocking display, Htaere pushed down his hand as he
signaled the physician. "Doctor Tohan will evaluate you
to ensure you are in fine health to carry out whatever
your assignment is per the Empire," she stated firmly.
She stepped back and nodded towards Claudius. "Doctor
Tohan, if you please."
The Ithorian doctor had
stood silently at the door, not wanting to interfere in
the middle of a private conversation between the married
couple. When Claudius attempted to dismiss him, however,
he did not flinch, and then when Htaere beckoned him he
moved forward. He had a satchel that contained a device
that would make a quick medical scan of the man. It did
not take long to detect that he had not been eating or
sleeping properly, nor had he been keeping up with his
hygiene. His head turned to look towards Htaere,
frowning slightly with both of his mouths, realizing how
bad the situation had truly become.
Doctor?" Htaere asked, not surprised by Pilaq's dire
expression. She waited with arms folded, nearly daring
Claudius to challenge her further.
Pilaq's heart was heavy, and
he did not relish the words he was about to speak. He
considered for a lengthy moment whether or not he should
go down this path, as he had known Claudius for more
than two decades. "Claudius, you are in need of rest.
You are in a weakened, debilitated state, and only
proper rest, diet, and exercise will restore the natural
order of things," he reported, in a steady voice,
drawing back on his medical training for when it came to
deliver a patient bad news. He knew he would not take it
well, but how badly he would take it he just did not
"See, my love? Pilaq says
rest. Who are we to argue with a doctor," Htaere pointed
out with a charming smile. She tugged the covers up
around him, guiding him back down to the pillows and
placing a very tender kiss on his forehead. "Then do as
he says and rest. I shall return shortly," she promised
endearingly before moving to the door of the elaborate
Claudius was furious that
the doctor had done this to him. He was not an Imperial
doctor ... he had no real authority to force rest upon
him, but he would not cause a scene in front of Htaere.
Without saying a word, he rolled over onto his side, and
brought his knees up to his chest, taking up the
position he had when in the womb. He was exhausted and
in mental anguish, It did not take him long to slip back
off into a slumber, passing out rather than gracefully
Pilaq followed Htaere out of
the bedchamber, leaving Claudius alone for the time
being. "That ... that was very difficult," he conceded
to Htaere, his chest heaving from a combination of
tiredness and anxiety. He was growing weak, and would
need rest himself soon. "Now. Are you all right,
Milady?" he asked, his orange eyes looking over her
graceful young features for any sign of distress. He
imagined that this would all be too much for her, but
instead it seemed she was handling it better than any of
Htaere watched Pilaq with a
somber gaze, perhaps the first time all evening she
allowed a glimmer of her worry to surface. "I...I am not
sure yet," she admitted. "I feel as if I am on some
autopilot who has yet to disengage." Htaere ran a hand
through her hair and sighed. "I am with Claudius and
yet, I feel more alone than I did on Gallinore." For a
brief moment Htaere let her eyes trace beyond the
closest window to the stars beyond as if they offered
some comfort. She composed herself visibly and offered a
smile as she turned towards the physician. "I am certain
I shall be fine."
Pilaq was silent for a
moment, still examining her, before reaching out with
his hand to guide her further from the bedchamber lest
they risk being heard. "What I am about to say, I do not
say lightly," he told her quietly, resting one of his
hands on her, and other on his walking stick as he
braced himself in the corridor. "I have lived a long
life. I have seen darkness creep over the galaxy. I fear
no matter what you do ... no matter what any of us do
... this situation is beyond repair. You are still
young. You must look to yourself," he said to her, his
voice in a guarded whisper, stopping every so often to
listen for any sound of stirring, and his eyes on the
door to the bedroom rather than on Htaere.
Htaere nodded very slowly.
"That is what I am afraid of," she conceded. Her eyes
dropped momentarily before lifting back to the large
hammer-shaped head. "No matter what happens, in the soon
or distant future, please know that I shall forever hold
a place for you in my heart. I am indebted to you for
your kindness. In the future many things may become
subject to doubt and skepticism, but please, never doubt
my fondness for you."
"In these confusing times
that is one thing I can be sure of, Milady," Pilaq said,
with kind confidence, reaching forward with those digits
to give her a reassuring squeeze on her shoulder once
again. With that, he bowed his large head, and turned on
his feet to withdraw. He moved slower and less
gracefully than he arrived, but he managed ... he still
had several good years ahead of him.
Htaere's gaze remained staid
on him until he disappeared from sight. With a notable
melancholy to her character, she turned and ascended the
stair, moving towards the master chambers to resume in
her place in bed beside Claudius.