Htaere stood straight as a pin in front
of the large triangular view-ports of the ISD Warspite, hands
folded in front of her, staring out across the seemingly infinite reach
of space. She wore a sateen kimono, midnight blue in color with tiny
golden stars embroidered across the yards and yards of expensive fabric.
The sides of her illustrious red-gold hair were twisted up into curled
buns, held in place with crepe paper fans on hair sticks that encircled
the top of her head like a halo, joining to a bent gold band curving
around her head and arching across her forehead to allow for the rainbow
gem. In her thousand credit slippers, typically any single garment from
her wardrobe cost more then most people made in a month. She remained
motionless, save for a deep breath, soft slate colored pools drifting
about the countless pin pricks of light that constituted the starscape.
Soft footsteps echoed through the
walkway on the Warspite's bridge, heralding the arrival of the
young Jelena Rodney. She had come to look for her father, but instead
had found the Lady Htaere. The young woman was wearing a light blue
short-sleeve top, and a grey skirt that flowed just below her knees. Her
brown hair was pinned up neatly to provide the simplest of appearances.
She did not follow the ostentatious nature of her future mother-in-law.
She smiled pleasantly as she came up behind Htaere, her reflection
becoming visible in the view-port they were both looking out of. "I did
not expect to find you up here," she said quietly, as her eyes nervously
darted over the crewmen on the bridge. Her hands rubbed together
nervously and she seemed very uncomfortable.
Htaere smiled kindly at Jelena, via her
reflection. "I have never come here before. I was not certain I was
welcomed here" she admitted. She shook her head just a bit. "But the
view is worth any scolding."
Jelena laughed slightly, quickly raising
her hand to cover her mouth in embarrassment. "Do not worry about these
people," she explained quietly, "They will pretty much let us do
anything. They want to stay on our good side." She lowered her hand from
her mouth as she regained her composure. "I was looking for my father,"
she explained, "I had hoped to have lunch with him, but he is
unavailable. Would you care to join me?"
"I would be honored" she replied
gracefully, turning from the view-port. "After you" she waved elegantly,
the long square sleeves of her kimono nearly concealing her hands
Jelena smiled at Htaere pleasantly and
then walked down the platform towards the turbolift. The doors
automatically opened as she approached, allowing her to easily step in.
Once inside, she programmed the appropriate level for their suite, where
food had been arranged. She waited patiently for Htaere to follow.
Htaere followed suit, eyes glancing
around to the various arrays and bulkheads that constituted any number
of controls and communications panels. She stood motionless in the lift,
fingers woven together again in front of her as she waited, inwardly
surprised at Jelena's invitation.
Jelena remained quietly as the turbolift
descended the tube. She was still not entirely comfortable with the
prospect of this woman, less than a decade her senior, becoming her
'mother.' However, she had to talk to someone and her options were
limited. As the turbolift doors opened, she walked forward into their
living room where a platter of different food selections had been
prepared for them. She turned to smile towards Htaere before sitting
herself down on the sofa and neatly crossing her legs, right over left.
Htaere took a seat as well, observing
the arrangement. "This is very nice. Are you certain you would not
prefer your father's company?" she asked.
Jelena raised her eyebrows slightly at
Htaere's question. Truth be told she would have rather be speaking to
her father, but she was happy for the company all the same. "No," she
said pleasantly, "I look forward to this." She reached forward and
grabbed a small plate, placing several pieces of food on it.
Htaere looked over the assortment,
choosing a few items before leaning back. She smiled across at Jelena,
sampling one of the things on her plate. The silence was uncomfortable,
having done very little communicating with Claudius' daughters despite
the length of her presence.
"How are you acclimating yourself to
life aboard ship?" Jelena asked, breaking the silence as she took a bite
out of a cheese puff.
"It has been...an adjustment" she
answered honestly. "Claudius has done a superlative job making the
transition easy" she beamed, thinking of her garden. "And you?"
"I do not understand why I need to be
here anymore," Jelena replied quite honestly and visibly disappointed.
"I no longer serve a 'public relations' purpose like I did on Brentaal,"
she continued, the bitterness emanating from her, "I should be able to
return to Alderaan and finish my education."
To that, Htaere did not have an answer.
Her smile was diluted a bit as she contemplated Jelena's predicament.
"I...do not know" she allowed a slight shrug. "Sometimes, we must do
what is asked of us, whether we are in agreement or not" she said,
regarding her own fate.
"Did my father mention why he was
reassigned?" Jelena asked curiously. Her father had not mentioned the
reasons, but she had overheard bits of conversations.
Htaere grinned a bit nervously. This was
territory on which she would need to tread carefully. "As I understand,
there was some concern regarding...a particular..." she fished mentally
for the word. "...mission...and the questionable outcome of such" she
finished, sealing the statement with a politically trained smile.
"I heard he lost a disk," Jelena said as
she leaned forward towards Htaere to speak in a lower voice. She was
pleased to have someone to gossip with about, and to probe for
information. "I did not think it would be that big of a deal," she
commented oddly before correcting herself, "After I heard about it, I
mean." She sipped her water quickly, feeling uncomfortable.
Htaere almost let a ridiculous chuckle
slip. "It seems that it was" she replied. Once again her jovial
expression seemed to wither. "Major Kiley brought the woman responsible
on board the other night." Htaere stared down at her plate for a moment.
"Woman...girl is more like it." Another pause before she added quietly.
"She was Hapan."
"Hapan?" Jelena said as she tilted her
head curiously. She had not heard this bit of information before. "That
must have been," she paused to find the word, "interesting ... for you."
Htaere managed a smile but there was no
significant emotion behind it. She refrained from further comment, still
unable to determine her own real reaction to such a thing.
"Did you hear what they were talking
about?" Jelena asked, probing a bit deeper. She took a long sip of her
water, but her eyes never left Htaere's face as she listened intently.
Htaere's gaze was on the plate still,
but her focus was elsewhere, somewhere inside. "I do not remember..." she
mumbled pensively. "But she was one of...'them' I think " she said, her
eyes finally lifting to Jelena's face. "She called me a traitor..." she
revealed, looking hurt.
Jelena finished her water and placed the
empty glass back on the table. "During times like this, Htaere," she
said as she looked down nervously, "Being loyal to one person makes you
a traitor to another. It can be very difficult to tell the difference."
"Oh?" Htaere's eyebrows lifted.
"And...how *do* you tell the difference?" she asked curiously.
Jelena brought her hand up to side of
her forehead and rubbed her temple slightly as she considered Htaere's
thoughts. "I don't think I can anymore," she said quietly, with a hint
She nodded once as if she understood,
but in truth, her thoughts were more foggy then when she sat down. "Am
*I* a traitor?"
"We cannot be all things to all people,
Htaere," Jelena said quietly, unable to look at her directly. "From that
point of view," she continued to explain, "We're all betraying someone.
What's important is that we're true to ourselves."
Htaere recollected herself at that. "I
see" she said at long last. In that context, she was very content to
rally behind Claudius. "I suppose that does make sense" she allowed,
from her limited viewpoint.
Jelena no longer wished to discuss such
philosophical points of view. She felt torn enough as it was. "How is my
father taking to the change?" she asked, genuinely concerned for him
giving his recent state.
"Very well. He seems less forlorn" she
answered enthusiastically. "The change has allowed for more between us.
I must confess that I am pleased with the outcome of his reassignment,
even if for selfish reasons."
"You must be excited," Jelena said as a
smile finally appeared upon her face, "Your wedding is less than two
weeks away now." She was happy for Htaere, provided she did not having
to refer to her as her 'mother.' "Is everything in order?" she asked,
having not heard much in terms of details.
"Two weeks?" Htaere repeated, rather
stupidly. Her face became ashen for a moment, digesting the input in
near stunned panic. Her breathing escalated briefly as she struggled for
a bit of self control, a shaky smile appearing. "I...had not yet been
aware of the specific date" she said.
"How can you not know the date of your
own wedding?" Jelena asked quickly, her face looking just as confused as
Htaere's. "Well," she continued, "You at least knew it was coming 'soon'
"Yes...'soon' as it was described to
me..." She lifted her chin indignantly. "I respectfully submit that
'soon' is a rather ambiguous term" she stated in defense. "Well, as far
as I know, things are falling into place. The dowry ship arrived months
Jelena could not help but laugh slightly
at the mention of the 'dowry.' "Have you picked out your dress?" she
asked, allowing the conversation to drift towards a more pleasant topic.
"It is not so much a matter of choice as
it is custom and tradition. But yes...it lies in wait..." Htaere thought
on it, but a semi frown still made its way to her face. "I am dreading
the presence of my mother and sisters, in truth. They
"Please," Jelena said with a wide grin,
"Let's not get started on the topic of 'unpleasant' sisters." She
chuckled slightly to herself and then allowed a more serious state to
form upon her young face. "Thank you, Htaere," she said politely and
seriously, "Thank you for the time we have shared today."
Htaere stifled a chuckle of her own,
glad to dodge the topic of Drusilla. "You are welcome. I thank you for
considering me as company" her head bobbed in a polite nod.
"We should do this more often," Jelena
said pleasantly as she rose from the sofa and dusted what few crumbs
there were from her skirt. "I should get some rest before my father
returns," she said, excusing herself. She nodded her head respectfully
before withdrawing towards the room she shared with her sisters.
"Good evening.." Htaere said softly to
her retreating form before leaning forward to begin tidying up. She left
the dishes stacked in neat piles, one clean, one dirty with discarded
napkins and soiled utensils atop before leaning back again into the
cushions, her eyes and hands settling in her lap as her mind spun,
reflecting on the series of topics they had explored.