The orange, bulbous eyes of Doctor Pilaq Tohan studied the readout of
a medical terminal as he scanned Htaere's stomach with a scanner. "Hmm,"
he murmured without any hint of emotion, his large hammerhead eventually
nodding in satisfaction as he moved the scanner away. "Things are
progressing well, Milady," he said in the stereophonic voice caused
through speaking both of his mouths. His hand came around, resting upon
her shoulder as he offered a reassuring squeeze.
Htaere smiled from where she was partially reclined. "Is there
anything to see yet?" she asked curiously, craning her neck to eyeball
any reports or images from the scan. She resisted the urge to sit up
right away. "Are there pictures?"
"The only thing to see resembles something of an aquatic life form
rather than your species, Milady," Doctor Tohan explained as he pulled
back the curtain to allow the two an added level of privacy. "Am I to
assume that we remain the only one aboard this vessel that are aware of
your situation?" Pilaq asked, acting more the confident, than the
Htaere sat up and swung her legs over the edge. Her expression
flattened only a bit. "There is one more" she stated openly. "I told
Kerrie as well." One corner of her mouth lifted slightly. "I wanted to
tell 'someone'. I was excited" she confessed in a timid voice.
"It is a very complicated relationship," Pilaq commented, not
entirely understanding the strange dynamic that existed upon the Star
Destroyer. "...do you expect to tell him?" he asked, crossing the line
between doctor and friend as he studied her facial features for any
Smokey orbs blinked at Tohan sincerely. "Oh yes, very much so. I am
simply not sure when would be the best time. There is much that has
transpired as of late" she commented. Her eyes averted to the floor,
lost in thought. "I am not sure if Claudius would react positively or
negatively as a result of all the things that have transpired."
"A child at any time is a blessing," Doctor Tohan pointed out with a
firm, reassuring nod as his hand remained securely planted upon her
shoulder. If he had Human facial features, he would have smiled at her,
but instead all he could offer was a polite nod of his massive,
strangely-formed head. "Trust yourself. You will find the right time,"
he stated, reassuringly, very happy that his old friend was able to find
love yet again in his life.
"Yes perhaps you are right" she nodded slowly in response before her
usual smile bubbled back to the surface. "Is the check up complete?" she
asked, hopping down from the exam table and straightening her dress.
"Yes. You are perfectly well," Pilaq informed her with a gentle nod
as he moved to pull back the curtain to avoid any sense of impropriety.
"Is Claudius feeling better?" he asked in a concerned, hushed tone.
Since the ship had returned to the frontline of the war, he had been
afforded little opportunity to simply stop and chat with his old friend.
"He is...improving. This has perhaps offered an opportunity to
improve an unsatisfactory situation" she suggested quietly, turning
towards the door. Stopping in mid-stride, she glanced back to the
physician to say something, but paused herself. She thought it over and
nodded to him politely. "My gratitude for this visit" she said with a
generous smile. "Until next time..." and with that she took leave,
exiting the office briskly.
"Htaere!" the voice of Admiral Claudius Rodney shouted down the
corridor as he spotted her out of the corner of his eye. He had been
informed that she had come aboard, but he was given no reason as to why
and found it quite unusual that she would arrive without notifying him.
He was worried that perhaps something wrong and, although he was tired
and had been working to the point of exhaustion, he found the strength
to bound down the corridor like a young boy to be with her.
Surprised by the sudden cacophony, Htaere jumped slightly before a
wide smile spread across her elegant and youthful face. "Hello,
Claudius" she said excitedly. She hurried towards him as well, a bounce
appearing in her gait.
"Is everything all right?" Claudius asked as his eyes scanned over
her body quickly for any maladies. Not noticing anything out of the
ordinary his eyes locked upon hers, his arms coming up to grasp hers,
pulling her against him in a loving embrace. Since the family had moved
back to the estate on Esseles events like family lunches had become
nonexistent. It was very unusual for him to encounter her during this
time of a day. It was a pleasant surprise.
Htaere's arms encircled him as well eagerly, her expression warm and
her eyes bright as she nuzzled up to him. "Yes, everything is just fine"
she nodded. "I am glad to see you, even if only for a moment. How is
your day going?"
Claudius brought his left hand up to scratch at his eyebrow, lowering
his head slightly as she showed the wear and stress of another long day
at the office. "It is not the easiest of days..." he admitted to her
slowly, sparing her any of the monotonous details of another day at the
office. "Will you be returning to the estate soon?" he asked her, having
completely forgotten to ask why she was even here to begin with.
"I am sorry to hear that work has been tedious for you" she frowned,
one arm letting him go caress the side of his aging face. "Yes I am on
my way back now" she answered. "Is there something you require?"
Claudius paused for a moment, not answering her as he escorted her
towards the turbolift. There was a lot that he required, but he would
not ask it of her. Once inside the turbolift he gripped the arm rail to
support himself as they descended towards the flight deck. He looked at
her, noticing how young she seemed when standing next to him. She could
have been his daughter and wondered what kind of comments the crew made
behind his back. The job was making him feel old.
She looked at him expectantly, waiting for a response. Her head
canted to the side. "Claudius?" she asked, wondering if he'd lost his
train of thought in mid sentence.
As the turbolift door opened, revealing the hangar bay Claudius had
an idea and a strange expression came upon his face. The unusual smile
and raised eyebrows clearly indicated that he was up to something.
"There is something I require..." he said in an excited, youthful tone
as he took her hand into his and hurried across the hangar towards the
Htaere hastened to keep up, surprised by the sudden briskness in his
step. "Alright..." she said.
Randi Trainor had just finished surveying the Kwai when she
spotted the Admiral and Htaere hurrying over towards her. The smile that
never seemed to leave her face immediately lit up and she stood at
proper attention in front of them too, very proud of the overhaul she
had just supervised. "I got her fueled and ready. I'll have the Lady
back on Esseles in a jiffy," she announced gleefully as she leaned
against the support beam of the ramp confidently.
"No need," Claudius said as he walked right past Randi and led Htaere
up the ramp into his personal shuttle. Once they were inside he blocked
Randi's entrance into the shuttle and shook his head at her. "I will be
flying her myself," he announced as a smile formed on his tired face. He
needed a break and this seemed like the perfect opportunity for one.
"What?!" Randi exclaimed in shock and disbelief as she attempted to
force her way past the Admiral to get aboard the shuttle. "The last time
ya flew ya crashed in the middle of nowhere!" she reminded him,
genuinely concerned for his wellbeing. "Not to mention there's enemy
starfighters out there just trying to gun down these shuttles," she
continued between grunts, unable to board the ship.
"It is all right, Ran," Claudius said as he slammed down on the
control panel to close the ramp, sealing her out of the shuttle. "Do not
worry," he said to Htaere as he offered her a reassuring smile before
leading her up towards the cockpit. "I assure you," he continued as he
sat down in the pilot's seat and began strapping himself in. "...I am
completely certified in this vessel's operations," he said with a nod,
his hands moving across the control panel to begin preflight procedures.
Htaere did not have time to react, shuffled past Randi without so
much as a single word of hello. Htaere's face paled a little, looking
slightly apprehensive. "Claudius is everything okay?" she quipped, her
voice quivering a bit as she buckled her own crash restraint.
"Everything is perfectly fine, my dear," Claudius said to her as the
smile continued to widen on his face. His left pulled back on the
controls as his right hand pushed forward on the throttle. It was not a
smooth takeoff and it had been many years since he piloted an Imperial
shuttle, but he nevertheless managed to clear the hangar bay slowly on
maneuvering thrusters to his great relief. Letting out a deep sigh, he
turned to her and smiled. "There. That wasn't so bad. Was it?" he asked
as he turned to the navigation computer, attempting to download the
coordinates for the nearby Essesia system.
"Not at all" she grinned in response. "Good show, Claudius" she
nodded before gazing out of the viewport for a moment. "I am not keeping
you from your responsibilities am I?"
"My responsibility must come to you first, Htaere," Claudius said as
his right hand left the throttle, moving across the cockpit to reach for
her hand. By now the navigation computer had completed its work and the
coordinates were downloaded. Taking her hand, he guided it towards the
hyperdrive controls and pushed her hand forward to manipulate the
controls. An instant later the shuttle lurched forward, entering
hyperspace for the short journey across the Ringali Shell.
She let him direct her hand to the lever and activate it, nudging the
ship into hyperspace. She flashed a grin towards him and leaned back
slightly to get comfortable. "You are too good to me Claudius."
Setting into the seat his hands moved towards the autopilot and then
to his harness, unstrapping it to allow him to stand up and move about
the small shuttle. "When does anyone ever let us be alone?" he asked
her, stopping to help her remove her own harness. He then moved to the
rear of the shuttle, settling onto one of the benches where he would
enjoy the time alone with her away from the prying eyes of those who
Htaere trailed him to the cabin, getting comfortable next to him on
the bench, her posture visibly relaxing, safe from public view. It was a
rare treat for either of them it seemed. "No one I suppose" she chuckled
in response. She mulled over the concept for a second before flashing
him a peculiar look. "It is odd that our limit of private time is
largely factored by others. Can you not just order people to leave you
Claudius let out a tired sigh, reaching into his tunic to unbutton it
to make himself more comfortable. "Unfortunately not, my dear," he
explained as he settled back down, his eyes starting to close. He felt
himself begin to drift off, realizing that it was still early in the
day, but that the stress of work was already tiring him out.
"My poor Claudius" she said sympathetically. "This is a good time for
you to rest then" smiling and reaching over to pat his leg.
"Am I getting old?" Claudius asked her tiredly, his right hand coming
up to gently caress his face. He could feel lines that were not there
just a year ago and for the first time he began to feel the effects of
his age. As his eyes opened they scanner her facial features ... so
young, so smooth.
"Aging beautifully like a fine wine" she grinned. "But the real
question is, do you 'feel' like you are getting older?"
"Very sweet, my love," Claudius said as he let out a soft chuckle,
"...but I'm afraid this vintage is in the process of turning sour." He
shook his head slightly, a soft smirk curling upon his lips as he tried
to avoid eye contact with her. "Yes..." he answered very softly, finding
it difficult to be that honest with her about it. "I do fee as if I am
aging..." he confessed, swallowing slightly as he spoke the
"I would suggest that perhaps you are not aging as you perceive. I do
believe that your position in the Empire's employ is naturally one of
high-stress. It is not so much that you appear aged, Claudius" she
offered gently. "It is more that you appear 'tired'." She smiled
reassuringly. "You regard yourself as older then you are." She paused
for a moment to think before a charming grin reappeared on her face.
"Besides, if you become too old, then I am told I shall have to trade
you in for a 'newer model'."
"I will have to instruct Major Kiley to begin surveillance on your
social calendar," Claudius jokingly observed as he leaned forward to
move closer towards her. His face moved towards her, his eyes closing
softly, and he placed a soft, gentle kiss upon her cheek. At least there
was one part of his life that did not cause him stress and exhaustion.
Htaere accepted the kiss gratefully, loving all his affections
whenever he offered them. She smiled towards him as she turned her mind
to something that had preoccupied it for a some time. She'd spent hours
debating the best time or place, and still had no game plan. Now seemed
as good a time as any to let him know. She took a deep breath, and
jumped, in the proverbial sense. "Claudius?" she asked timidly.
"Yes?" Claudius asked as his head pulled back from hers, his face now
seeming less tired, and less worn. Somehow being close to her always
seemed to lighten his mood and wipe away the troubles of the world. A
gentle smile curled upon his lips and he reached out, taking her hands
into his with a reassuring squeeze.
She looked a little on the pale side, but managed a nervous smile.
"I...have something to tell you" she said, easing into this carefully.
Her greatest concern, and the reason she had held back in offering the
good news earlier was a negative or overwhelmed reaction from Claudius.
And given the seemingly endless train of drama that existed in their
lives, she could not stand the thought of compounding his stress.
Claudius stiffened slightly in his resolve as he looked towards her.
He swallowed, but could not muster any saliva in his mouth. He
remembered her coming aboard the ship unexpectedly and suspected the
worse. His eyes began to widen and a sense of panic instilled, his hands
still squeezing hers, but now with fear rather than love. "...the
children?" he asked nervously, fearing there had been a Rebel attack.
She blinked in surprise for a moment before recovering.
"The...oh...no. No...no, nothing like that. Well...not really..." she
started, pausing to collect her thoughts. She nearly quivered in
anticipation. Another deep breath and she charged on. "I have some
wonderful news" she began, her grin widening.
"Wonderful news?" Claudius repeatedly slowly, wondering if perhaps
she had planned some kind of romantic getaway for them. He leaned
forward in anticipation, blissfully unaware of her true motives.
She nodded eagerly "Yes." She bit her lower lip for a moment, her
face beaming and radiant. "Claudius, we have conceived" she bubbled. She
waited with baited breath for his response.
Claudius furrowed his brow in surprise and confusion at her comment.
The man had no inkling that she meant that she was pregnant, believing
he was no longer able to accomplish such a task. Still, he feigned a
smile on his way as he listened to what she had to say, pretending that
he understood more for her sake than his. "...and what is that we
conceived?" he asked slowly, tilting his head to the left as he
maintained strong eye contact.
She eyed him somewhat curiously, her bright expression started to
thin out into perplexion. Her head shifted to the side slightly trying
to figure out what he meant. Large ashen colors eyes blinked towards
him. Basic not being her first language, she struggled with the
explanation. "A child, Claudius" she said, answered, edging towards the
understanding that he was not on the same page. "I am pregnant."
Claudius remained motionless for several moments, his brain unable to
process the information as quickly as she spoke it. Slowly, his mouth
began to open until it remained agape like a fish. No words could find
their way out of his lips and he struggled to even twitch one of his
fingers. Finally, it began to set in. "I..." he stammered, caught
totally off guard by her response. He truly did not thing such a thing
would be possible. "That's...incredible..." he continued, his head
beginning to sway from side-to-side, his eyes taking on a glazed over
Htaere frowned slightly as she admitted it to him. "I apologize
Claudius that I delayed in telling you. You have been under a lot of
stress lately and I did not want to overwhelm you" she explained. She
gazed at him, waiting for him to elaborate on what he thought of all of
A strange look came over Claudius' face as he considered what she had
just told him, ignoring everything else that she was continuing to stay.
A smile curled upon his lips and he staggered backwards, settling down
into his seat. His eyes seemed to look past her, as if staring off
through the bulkhead into deep space. "A baby..." he said, sounding as
if he were in another sector.
She did not move either, her eyes fixated on him intently. Inside she
was spinning, hoping she had made the right choice. "I am...excited
Claudius" she said in a very low tone. "I hope that you are too."
Claudius' head turned to look at her, hazy eyes smiling at her
lovingly. His hand moved towards hers, trying to reach out and grab at
any part of her that he could. "A baby..." he said again, seeming to
have lost his faculties. It was then the shuttle lurched suddenly,
emerging from hyperspace in the Essesia system.
As his hands lifted towards her, hers reached toward him as well. Her
fingertips had barely contacted his when suddenly the cabin seemed to
shift, tilting slightly and jerking her about in her seat. The immediate
shift in momentum threw her forwards, knocking her off balance and
nearly off of the bench completely.
The shuttle sat dead in space, the auto-pilot deactivating as an
alarm began to ring in the shuttle's cockpit. Still in a daze, Claudius
did not react and simply remain seated on the bench. "I love you..." he
said to her, his hand moving to help her remain her position on the
bench. He still seemed as if he were far off, his eyes lacking focus and
his voice sounding distant.
Her mouth agape, Htaere stared at him. "Claudius?" she shot a glance
in the direction of the cockpit. "What is happening? Are you alright?" A
nervous feeling began to knot in her stomach, the confusion churning
into worry and panic.
Claudius' head began to shake and he finally regained his composure,
raising from his seat as he realized what was happening. "The
auto-pilot..." he explained as he hurried towards the cockpit. As he
arrived in the cockpit he realized what had happened, and moved to the
pilot's chair to begin powering up the shuttle's system. They were
drifting out of the lanes and nearing danger, but he believed he would
soon have the system online. "Strap in..." Claudius implored towards
Htaere as his hands moved over the controls.
Htaere joined him up front, seating herself as he instructed and
peered beyond the viewports towards the Essesia system. "Where are we?"
she asked numbly.
"We're almost home," Claudius reassured her as he managed to power up
the shuttle's sublight engines. "...maybe I should have let Randi fly,"
he commented as his hand moved to the throttle. Gradually the shuttle
began to accelerating, moving towards the nearby planet Esseles. As he
piloted the ship, his eyes continually darted towards Htaere, looking at
her very differently. His eyes focused on her stomach, unable to notice
Htaere eased back into her seat, a smile replacing the anxiety. She
reached over and rested a soft hand on his arm. "Be calm, my love. You
seem distraught." She was quiet for a few moments, letting her smile
wane a bit. "You are not...upset with me are you?"
"No...No I am not upset," Claudius said calmly as he looked over to
her again. Through the viewport the terrestrial planet Esseles began to
grow larger. "I am pleasantly surprised..." he admitted as he struggled
to manage the controls of the ship, visibly distracted and shaken by the
news she presented him.
Htaere nodded understandably, letting it go as it seemed he needed
time to really digest it. Her eyes wandered to Esseles as they made
their approach. "Do you have time for lunch?" she asked ruefully.
Claudius looked at the chronometer on the shuttle, realizing that
they were already late. "Hmm," he groaned softly as he considered the
situation. "Yes. Yes I have time," he said, not being totally honest,
but given the news she had delivered he could not decline her
invitation. By now the shuttle wad gliding through the atmosphere of
Esseles and the two wings had risen to allow the craft the ability to
land. In the distance the Rodney estate could be coming into view. They
were nearly home.
"Oh that is wonderful" she said optimistically. She fished about for
her comm unit, finding one of the preprogrammed channels. "Major Kiley?"
she spoke into it, depressing the speak button, flashing a grin towards
Kerrie was in the process of patrolling the grounds of the Rodney
Estate, still attempting to come to terms with the Jelena situation.
When her comlink beeped her eyes flashed wide and she fumbled to remove
it from the pouch on her utility belt. "...Htaere?" her voice asked
quietly, having expected her to have returned from the Warspite
"Hello, Major. We are on our way in now. May I have you ask the
galley droids to start preparations for lunch?" she asked, large cloudy
oculars taking in the large expanse of Esseles. She looked over to
Claudius for a moment. "I do not wish to keep you from your busy
schedule. How much time are you afforded for this lunch respite?"
Kerrie was not sure what Htaere meant by 'we,' but nevertheless
performed her duty to the utmost. "I will do so at once, Milady," she
replied before hurrying to meet with the serving staff to arrange for a
lunch. The former bounty hunter had become something of a private
secretary as of late, but she took the role as serious as any other in
"Do not worry about the time, Htaere," Claudius said to her kindly as
he moved his hand back to lessen the speed at which the Kwai
maneuvered. Letting out a soft sigh he fired one final blast from the
maneuvering thrusters and guided the shuttle down onto the estate's
landing platform. All seemed to have gone well and the ramp soon found
itself descending to the ground below. "I still got it," he said rather
happily as he unstrapped himself from the seat.
She followed suit, getting to her feet and moving to the ramp,
waiting for it to settle on the tarmac before gliding down it casually.
"Of course you do, my dear. Come, let us have some lunch. A good meal
will make you feel better" she paused, turning to wait for him
Claudius still could not believe the news Htaere had presented him
when he rose from the pilot's seat and began to weakly follow her down
the ramp. He squinted slightly as he looked up at the Essesia star,
having been forced to endure so much time exposed to nothing but
artificial night. "Gah," he grimaced as he reached out to grab at her
elbow, needing support steadying himself until his eyes regained focus.
"This didn't use to happen," he joked with her, slipping in another age
She sidled up to him immediately to offer stability. She grinned
widely. "Claudius you will be a father again. Perhaps the child will
remind you of your own youth" she said encouragingly.
"I can barely remember my adulthood..." Claudius laughed as the odd
pair moved towards the estate. His stomach grumbled loud enough for them
to hear, having once again been forced to skip lunch. As they entered
the house he could already smell the food, and his basic instincts
kicked in. His nose curled upwards as he inhaled the sweet aromas and
moved past Htaere to find the source.
Kerrie was quite startled as the Admiral entered the room, having not
expected to see him until much later this evening. The small plate she
had fixed for herself trembled in her hand and almost immediately it
slipped out and fell onto the floor. "I'm sorry, milord..." she said as
she bent down to the ground and hurried to clean up her mess. She was
just not the same around him since the attack.
Htaere's hand came to rest on Kerrie's shoulder, drawing up behind
her and whispering gently. "Kerrie? Would you like some assistance?"
Kerrie gasped suddenly as Htaere's hand connected with her shoulder,
causing her to tense visibly. "N...no, Milady," she said nervously as
she managed to pick up the broken plate and the scraps of food. She
moved to the corner, lowering her head to allow the uniform cap to
shroud her face. She then proceeded to take up the position of a
diligent watch dog in the hopes the Admiral would not be offended.
Claudius was much too hungry to notice Kerrie's awkwardness and began
the process of filling his plate with large quantities of dainty
portions of food. He thought perhaps his culinary staff was showing too
much of a Hapan influence, and he felt he had to eat large quantities of
the small finger foods to fill himself. He could not recall the last
time he ate anything unhealthy, which caused his eyes to dart
momentarily towards Htaere.
Htaere helped the service droid clean any last bits of glass or food
before straightening up. Feeling Claudius' eyes on her, she
instinctively glanced towards him. A smile appeared across her elegant
features as her eyes met his.
Claudius took a seat by what used to be a window, but was now tinted
fairly dark with blast resistant transparisteel. "Remember when we could
see the mountains?" he asked Htaere as he settled in and began to eat
With a plate of her own, she took a seat as well. "Will there ever
come a time when we can see them again?" she asked.
"Once these terrorists are done away with, my love..." Claudius
observed as he took another portion of his food. He sighed quietly and
stared at the tinted window, trying to imagine what it used to look
She nodded slowly, pulling her eyes from the darkened window. The
heightened security had given her a project in creating a beautiful
terrarium in one of the spare rooms. Averting her eyes to her plate, she
took to enjoying her lunch.
Claudius' face grew deadly serious as his eyes pulled away from the
glass to look towards Htaere's young, innocent face. "I promise you, my
dear," he began in a calm, steady voice that was much different from how
he had been previously speaking. "I will make this a safe galaxy for our
child to grow up in..." he said to her in a solemn promise, his hand
moving to firmly grasp her hand, his eyes unwavering in his directness.