Kerrie thought she looked ridiculous.
She remained in the fabric prison Htaere had labeled a bride's maid
dress, her normally stoic human face covered in traditional Hapan
decorations that irritated the oils of her true reptilian skin. She
grimaced, her jaw contracting awkwardly as she passed a row of
Alderaanian and Imperial dignitaries that lined the hallway leading
toward Lady Htaere's preparation room. She raised her hand, knocking the
door three times in succession and pushing the door forward. She stepped
inside and immediately closed the door behind her to prevent the
passersby from peeking inside the room. "Congratulations, Milady," she
said in a pleasant tone, having her first opportunity to speak privately
with her since the ceremony less than half an hour ago.
Htaere's wedding attire and
ornamentation was beyond extensive. She was nothing short of
spectacular, which was what was expected and appropriate of Hapan
aristocracy. Every inch of her glittered with temporary paste tattoos,
gems glued to her arms, chest and face and an extravagant get up and
head piece that left little to excessive movement. She sat looking
unhappy given she was just married, and as Kerrie entered, she turned to
gaze at her chosen maid of honor before reaching over to terminate a
connection on a terminal screen she sat in front of. The picture of her
mother's angry face disappeared instantly as Htaere turned carefully so
as not to upset her extensive headgear. A forced smile appeared, grace
under fire at its truest, genuine enough for her friend. "Thank you" she
nodded singularly. "I also wish to extend my sincerest gratitude for
standing in the ceremony. I know the request made you uncomfortable, and
I am honored that you undertook such an ordeal on my behalf" she stated
formally. A few seconds rolled by and Htaere seemed to visibly let her
guard down, at least some. "Thank you again, Kerrie. It means the world
"I cannot wait until I can get this
accursed thing off, Milady," Kerrie informed her in a polite, if not
frustrated manner. Her hands reached to her sides and adjusted the
portion of the dress that covered her bosom. No matter how hard she
tried she just could not get it to fit comfortably. After a moment of
focusing entirely on herself her attention refocused on her charge. "I
wish you would speak to your husband, Milady," she said in a more
serious posture, her tongue drawing over the word husband playfully as
she used it for the first time. "I think it is unwise that he's refused
all escort and protection," she said as she sat down on the bed and
folded her arms across her neatly tailored dress.
Htaere's smile lasted that much longer.
"Nor can I wait to get out of mine" she stated matter-of-factly. "I am
sure Claudius has a contingency plan though I do not foresee any sort of
issue arising. This will be a chance for you to take a holiday as well,
a vacation as it were for you" she encouraged. "If it puts you at ease,
I shall keep your comlink designation at hand."
Kerrie ran the fingers of one hand
across the other nervously. It was the happiest day of Htaere's life and
she knew this, she wanted so much to push the issue but knew if she did
she could ruin the day and perhaps their friendship. She swallowed,
biting her tongue to prevent herself from any inappropriate comment that
might sour the mood. After a quiet moment she smiled without sincerity
and faked the happy emotion, "I am sure you are right, Milady.
Everything will be fine." As she concluded her thoughts her comlink
buzzed and she clicked back an acknowledgment. "It would seem the ship
has been fully loaded," she reported casually, "Are you ready?"
Htaere got to her feet slowly. "Yes, I
am" she said with finality. Her attendants had already moved her
luggage. She started towards the door, pausing only briefly. "You know,
I do not believe Claudius and I have had the luxury of spending any real
amount of time together. I am almost having difficulty with the idea of
no interruptions" she remarked casually. "Perhaps a good vacation is in
order for us all indeed."
Kerrie stepped in front of the door to
block Htaere's exit. She squirmed visibly as her hand reached into the
fabric of her dress and she fumbled about within. Her facial expression
became strained and her cheeks swelled noticeably as she pulled her hand
back out and produced a small hold-out blaster. "It would ease my
tensions a great deal if you would keep this on you," she explained
quietly as she extended her hand with the weapon towards her.
Htaere's youthful eyes lowered to study
the weapon curiously before lifting back to Kerrie's face. "I have never
held such a thing. I am afraid I do not know how to operate it."
"It's simple, Milady," Kerrie explained
as she pushed the weapon towards her again. "Simply aim the weapon at
the desired target and pull back on the trigger," she informed her as
she looked down at the small, concealable weapon, "It's very easy to use
and very easy to hide."
Htaere reluctantly reached for the
blaster, looking uncertain to say the least. "I must be honest, I am
uncomfortable with this..." she started.
"It is my sincere hope that it is a gift
that is never used, Milady," Kerrie said quietly as she withdrew her
hand, hoping that she would accept the gift in good faith. "I feel
better knowing it is there," she said with a smile as the comlink beeped
again, indicating the transport was ready and Claudius was now waiting.
Htaere fumbled with the weapon but
accepted it, wrapping it in a silken scarf from her vanity and tucked it
in the back of the intricate skirt. "If you insist" she conceded. "Shall
"Thank you, Milady," and with those
words for the first time that day Kerrie seemed to relax. A wave of
tension seemed to be released from her body as she turned around to open
A chorus of cheers going up as Htaere
came into view. The hallway leading towards the landing platform was
filled with the best and brightest of Imperial and Alderaanian society.
There were Imperial officers and bureaucrats, Alderaanian nobles and
elected officials, Senators and even Moffs. Everyone was there to
celebrate Htaere, or more appropriately be seen celebrating Htaere to
build up their political relationships with other individuals who were
also there on this joyous day. As they reached the landing platform the
sun twinkled over the snowcapped mountains as it set behind him, causing
Kerrie to squint several times. Near them now were only those closest to
them ... the crew of the Admiral's flagship, Bail Organa and his family,
Doctor Tohan, and of course Claudius and Htaere's immediate family. The
small transport sat out on the docking platform and next to it stood
Claudius, remaining in his best Alderaanian dress. He was seen
exchanging words with Viceroy Organa, his best man as he prepared to
Htaere's cloudy grey eyes panned over
the collection of people gathered around the tarmac. Her gaze filtered
over them coolly before settling on Claudius. Present among those
gathered were Htaere's sisters, her mother nowhere to be seen. A
grievous insult to be sure, yet one Htaere could have cared less about
given the circumstances of their argument. Mentally, she cast them all
out with the exception of her new husband, drawing within a yard of him
and stopping, waiting for him to finish his conversation.
Claudius stood beneath the aged hull of
the Nella 342 light freighter that he had purchased decades ago before
the onset of the Clone Wars. It had served him well in his youth during
his time as an ambassador, having to frequently travel between his home
and far off embassies. However, since enlisting in the Navy it was only
on a rare occasion that he would pilot his own ship. The look on his
face turned instantly into a warm smile as he saw Htaere approach.
"Hello, my dear," he said kindly as he walked passed those he had been
speaking to and focused his attention on her, "I hope I did not keep you
waiting too long."
Kerrie came to a halt next to Claudius
and relaxed momentarily, content that no one in their inner circle would
make an attempt on the newly married couple's lives. She looked around
for a moment and her facial expression soon soured, the obvious look of
confusion appearing upon her face. "Milord," she asked in a questioned
tone as she leaned in towards the Admiral so that others could not hear,
"Where is Lieutenant Trainor?"
"Hmm?" Claudius said as he turned to
Kerrie for a moment, barely noticing her in the presence of Htaere.
"Oh," he said as he peered through the crowd. He spotted Randi in the
distance with members of the Warspite's crew. It appeared she had spent
too much time at the open bar by the look of her, and a nervous grin
formed upon his lips. "She's over there," he said quickly, not caring as
he motioned with a nod of his head.
Kerrie peered over towards Lieutenant
Trainor and observed her obvious drunken state. "But..." she began,
choosing her words carefully, "Who is going to fly the ship?" In the
back of her mind, she knew the answer, but needed to hear it from him to
"I am, Major," Claudius responded,
dismissing his overzealous protector and moving to put his arms around
Htaere in a comforting gesture as he welcomed her.
Kerrie did not respond. Instead, she
swallowed, her throat bobbing visible as she came to terms with the
obviously hazardous nature of their upcoming trip.
Htaere welcomed the public display of
affection, whether it was acceptable socially or not, reciprocating with
an embrace of her own. Beneath the gauzy veil of her headpiece, she
smiled up towards Claudius' matured facade. "I thought perhaps I kept
you. I am sorry if I was the cause of any delay" she answered softly.
"Just a moment, my dear," Claudius said
to her with a kind smile. He moved aside from her for just a moment and
turned to look at his children. He leaned forward and placed a kiss upon
Jelena's cheek. "Be good," he said to her like an overbearing parent.
"...and take care of your sister," he added as he looked down at the
"I believe there is one last matter,"
Kerrie added as she stepped in next to Htaere and handed her a bouquet
of handpicked flowers from the ancestral garden of the Rodney family on
Delaya. "I would advise you to aim away from the children," she
whispered quietly as she stepped back into the crowd of glowing
Htaere examined the flowers for a moment
before shrugging with a smile. "Oh yes, I forgot about this." With that,
she turned her back to the crowd and with a wide arc of a throw, tossed
the bouquet up behind her and into the gathering around the transport.
The ever-conniving Lieutenant Allegra
Ames pushed an elbow into the drunken Lieutenant Trainor and stepped in
front of the crowd. With a lunge worthy of an athlete she snatched the
flying bouquet and basked in the cheers and applause from all onlookers.
She was always one to use occasions such as this to draw attention to
herself and the ambition she had long sought. Her father, the Senator
she oft spoke of, looked on and shook his head nervously as he observed
his daughters theatrics.
"Shall we, my dear?" Claudius said as he
rejoined his wife and took her by the arm and began walking up the ramp
of the transport. He turned at the top of the ramp and waved to the
cheering crowd, thrilled that he had survived the day and overcome the
hardships brought with it.
"Yes we shall" she agreed cordially,
letting him do all the polite waving as she simply played the according
part of a glorious piece on his arm, content to be no more before they
moved into the transport.
"Why don't you go and strap yourself
in," he said as he moved his hands to the controls that closed the
access ramp. A moment later he was making his way to the cockpit of the
ship. He leaned over his shoulder for a moment to make sure she was
getting along fine as he put the straps across his chest. "Let's see if
I remember this..." he said to himself as his hand moved to the overhead
controls and began toggling a series of switches that powered up the
main reactor. The old ship began to shake as the power systems came
online, a resounding *humm* beginning to echo through the passageways of
the ship as everything came online. "It's supposed to do that," he
shouted loud enough for her to hear. He swallowed then raising his
eyebrows, at least he hoped it was supposed to do that.
Htaere removed the giant headpiece,
sighing visibly in relaxation at being relieved of the burden of being
glamorous and aristocratic. She lowered herself into a seat after
abandoning the giant crown and veil, fastening herself in and leaning
back, enjoying the ability to completely let her composure go in the
absence of the public eye.
Claudius reached around the flight stick
and groped the controls, squeezing them as he tried to regain
familiarity. He pulled back on them, the repulsorlift engines activating
and lifting the small transport off the landing platform. His hands
instinctively moved for the throttle, sending the craft accelerating
into the atmosphere at its top sublight speed. He enjoyed being back at
the controls, feeling the power of the craft emanate through his hands.
"I let subordinates have all the fun," he said to himself as he punched
the sublight engines and sent the craft into orbit over the planet.
"Come take a look," he said to his wife sweetly as he angled the craft,
giving them a better view of the glistening jewel that is Alderaan
gently rotating beneath them.
Htaere moved obediently to the cockpit,
gazing out the front viewport at the eyeful of swirling blue and green.
"It is quite beautiful" she mused genuinely, since Hapans took every
opportunity to appreciate natural beauty wherever they found it. Moving
in and out of any atmosphere, no matter the world's environment was
always something to behold, especially in her mind. It was a simple
wonder that she had always preserved for the sheer magnificence of the
views it offered, as well as a humbling experience in how small and
unimportant the drama of many a being was in the grand scheme of the
"Take a seat," Claudius said to her as
he turned his face towards her, the loving smile only a new husband
could give. He motioned with his hand towards the co-pilots seat, giving
him a rare opportunity to experience the workings of a ship up close and
personal rather than locked away in a passenger compartment away from
the action. "Maybe one day you can fly me," he said as he angled the
ship away from Alderaan and moved his hands to the Nav-Computer,
beginning the download of the coordinates for their destination.
Htaere moved to the open seat and
settled into it, leaning forward briefly to untuck the hold-out blaster
from the back of her hem as she was reminded of it when it pushed its
way into her spine. Settling the weapon in her lap, she shifted back in
her seat and draped her arms leisurely across the arm rests. "I have
never flown before. I would not have the faintest idea as to how to do
such a thing" she answered bluntly with a slight shrug. "It was never
something that was necessary to learn."
Claudius let go of the controls of the
transport, and the nose began to bank down sending the ship into a
downward descent. An overhead light began to blink ominously red,
followed by a the tone of a warning alarm. "It would seem necessary
now," he said as he folded his arms in front of his chest and looked at
her, waiting. "Go ahead and take the controls," he told her confidently,
as his eyes motioned to the flight stick in front of her. "Just ease
back and steady us out," he said encouragingly, "You can do it."
Htaere's relaxation and ease gave way to
alarm. Widened eyes flashed from the bulkhead to Claudius, mouth ajar in
shock as the craft began to pitch. Unpeeling her fingers from their
tight curls around the edge of the arm rests, she reached forward with
one hand to take the control want deftly, unsettled to say the least.
"Claudius...I am not sure this is the appropriate time for
instruction..." she began, her mind fast forwarding to a most horrendous
descent from the atmosphere as she envisioned their honeymoon endeavor
ending in fiery oblivion.
"Go ahead," Claudius said in a sweet
voice, encouraging her actions. "Just ease back on the stick and we'll
level out," he explained to her, his own hands moving forward in case
she was unable to bring herself to do it. He watched her closely,
encouraging her with every breath he took.
Htaere's shaken visage returned to the
control wand, easing it back as he said to. Glancing around, she waited
for the ship to even back out, her manipulation of the controls
rudimentary and unpracticed, but not overly jarring or choppy.
"There you go," Claudius said happily.
He leaned forward across the space between them and placed a gentle kiss
upon her cheek. "Do you feel the power of the engines flowing through
your fingertips?" he said as he leaned back watching her, taking a great
enjoyment in her performance. His eyes moved across her body, as he
watched her nervous movements. His eyes went wide when he noticed the
blaster upon her lap. "Planning to assassinate me?" he asked, obviously
joking as he motioned to the weapon.
A slightly antsy and shaky smile
appeared as she busied herself with piloting, intent on maintaining
their momentum, lest she be responsible in her mind for the craft
dropping out of the sky like a rock. "It is definitely a sense of power
and control one is awarded" she remarked. Her eyes flickered down to her
lap for a moment as he gestured to the blaster. "Oh...heh, no. It is a
gift from Kerrie to ensure our protection in her absence. I have never
shot a weapon before, but she assures me it is simple to use in the
event it must be called upon" she replied, equally as unsure of
gun-handling as she was of piloting a ship.
Claudius made a mental note to speak
with Kerrie about this when they returned, but for now he would not
spoil the occasion. "I have never felt more safe," he said, pleasantly.
He leaned in once more to place another thoughtful, reassuring kiss upon
her cheek before turning back to the controls again. "Let's be on our
way," he announced as he grabbed hold of the controls once again. His
right hand moved toward the controls for the hyperdrive, and he pushed
the levels forward in a quick gesture. The starfield in front of the
streaked by as the small craft streaked across the galaxy towards its
destination through hyperspace. When the craft had settled he moved his
hands away from the controls and activated the auto-pilot and began
unfastening the traps. "All we can do now is wait," he told her as he
raised from his seet and walked through the narrow passageway that
connected the cockpit with the passenger lounge. "C'mon," he beckoned as
he sat down on one of the comfortable seats.
Htaere's concentration yielded to an
enthusiastic grin as she got to her feet, leaving the blaster on the
seat she previously occupied. Following after him, she took a seat to
his left, sitting close enough that their bodies touched, from the bend
of their knees, up through their hips and sides. She leaned towards him
comfortably and slipped her right arm around him, barring no objections
from him for invading his personal space. "I believe this is truly the
frst time we afforded our own company and no one else's for an
indefinite period of time...free of any and all interruption or time
constraint" she mumbled lazily. "I almost do not know what to make of
Claudius looked around the cabin and
said nothing. He closed his eyes and basked in the silence, savoring it
as if it were a fine wine touching his palette for the first time. After
a few moments his eyes opened and he smiled at her. "We don't have to go
back," he said to her, laughing at his own words. "This is wonderful he
said," enjoying his time alone with her away from the troubles of work,
family, and his increasing entourage. He leaned forward, raising his
hand to her face. He cupped her chin in his palm and held her face as if
on a pedestal for him to look at. "You're beautiful," he confessed to
her as only a man in total and absolute privacy could. He leaned
forward, his eyes closing as he placed a kiss upon her lips with more
passion behind it then all of the kisses in his life thus far.
The gesture was painfully sincere,
enough to warrant a shiver on Htaere's part as he took a gentleness with
her despite any number of preoccupations in his goings-on. He tasted
wonderful to her, refined, elegant and familiar. His kindness from their
first meeting had always stood out in her mind as one of his most
endearing qualities, an unparalleled compassion for the parameters of
their introduction that she failed to find in anyone else. "I do believe
you have taken my heart with reckless abandon" she mumbled dreamily.
Claudius took her hand in his own and
caressed it lovingly, handling it with the same care one might show a
newborn child. He slowly moved her hand to his chest and placed it upon
his heart. He said nothing, he did nothing. He allowed her to feel the
pulsating beating of his heart through his chest, the sound echoing
through the compartment through the otherwise silent room. He pressed it
against his chest, his fingers intertwining with her own. "If I know
only one thing in this life, Htaere," he began, his voice almost
quivering, "Let me know that I love you."
Htaere's flawless Hapan face gazed at
him intently, basking in the sentiment behind his eyes, and never
doubting it. "We are wed now. We have been afforded our lifetimes to
love" she conceded, her lips arching slightly. "I hope there is never a
doubt in your mind how much I am absolutely in love with you" she
avowed, her palm flattening more firmly over the thundering heart beat
buried beneath his chest.
There was a glimmer in Claudius' eyes
that might have been the formation of tears, but he held his composure
and moved his face towards her. He rubbed the tip of his nose against
hers in a circular motion, the playful act sending shivers down his
spine. A smile formed upon his lips once more as he leaned in, closing
his eyes and placing another kiss upon her lips. He moved his hand up to
her shoulders and began the work of pulling down her dress, lost in the
moment and no longer feeling the need to wait until they arrived at
The ship shook violently as an explosion
rocked the outer hull. The interior of the ship went dark, the only
light coming from flashing alarms. The shrill ring of the klaxons broke
the peaceful serenity of their brief encounter, snapping him back into
action. He broke the kiss and ran for the cockpit. As he got to the
passageway the ship lurched, sending his head flying forward into the
bulkhead. It tore into his scalp, making a sizable gash that caused
blood to trickle down over his face. He could feel the ship dropping out
of hyperspace, spinning out of control as he made his way, partially
blind to the cockpit. He had no time to strap himself in as he forced
his way into his seat. "Hang on," he shouted as loud as he could,
grabbing the controls in his blood-stained hands. "Come on you son of
bitch," he groaned through gritted teeth as he fought to regain control.
He had no idea the extent of the damage, but he could see from the
readouts the ship was losing fuel and spinning out of control. He looked
at the Nav-Computer frantically, but he did not recognize where they
were. "Grr," he grunted as he twisted his arms as hard as he could,
nearly causing one of his arms to break as he steadied the ship
The jolt was nothing short of violent
and sickening, lurching her from a blissful dream-state of budding
passion to a heart-stopping crash. Jarred against the lounge couch, she
reached for the nearest ledge to grab onto to keep from being shoved
about further or onto the floor. "Claudius?!" she called into blackness,
the fear evident in her voice. "What is happening?"
"Just hang on!" Claudius shouted
through, not even sure if she could hear him over the now numerous
alarms and sirens blaring through the small transport. After steadying
the ship he raised his hand to his head, and felt nothing but the warm
blood covering most os his face. "Uck," he groaned, trying not to think
about the extent of his wound at the moment. He looked out the viewport
and spotted what appeared to be a planet and only through exerting
himself was he able to point the ship in his direction. The computer was
fried. There was no way to get any data on it. For all he knew it was a
gas giant they'd be lost in for all time, but he had no choice. He used
what acceleration he could and blasted the battered craft towards the
planet. As it came into view he could see nothing but lush green. He
lowered his head slightly, beginning to lose consciousness from the
blood loss. "Strap yourself in!" he yelled to her as they rapidly
approached the looming unknown planet.
Htaere's heart raced, on the brink of
its own meltdown as she fumbled around in the pitch black for the crash
restraints. Finding two straps, mismatched or not, she groped at the
ends, feeling for the interlocking parts that would secure her in.
Unable to steady herself as the ship bucked, she hastened by simply
tying both straps together and leaning back into her seat as she stared
into the nothingness, her other senses heightened as her vision became
"Damn you," Claudius cursed as he fought
with all restraint to keep the controls stead as it descended at a rapid
speed through the planet's atmosphere. Lush tropical plants began to
impact the transports as the ship crashed through the jungle. There was
nothing he could do to slow the speed of the ship, nor could he ease the
angle of the approach ... the controls had entire locked up. He slumped
forward, the loss of the blood finally proving to be too much for him.
"Ugh," he groaned helplessly as he slumped forward against controls. The
ship impacted the murky jungle floor with a violent impact, sliding
across the tropical jungle floor before coming to a final resting place.
Sparks flew through the ship as several electrical fires broke out.
Pressure gasses were released from the hydraulic conduits as they burst
at the seems. The jarring impact forced the unstrapped-pilot back
against his sheet and then down against the controls again, breaking his
sternum. If we were conscious, he'd be screaming in pain.
The ride was hellacious, even more so
blind. When finally sliding to an uneasy stop on the planet's surface,
the ship was in unforeseen disrepair that one could only imagine having
been a passenger in its untimely descent. Stunned by the truculence of
being jostled about, Htaere sat motionless for a moment, the dead weight
of her body leaning completely into the haplessly tied crash restraint
straps. When a few minutes of recuperation afforded her some sense of
being, her head lifted slowly from against her chest, vision still
scrambled slightly. Her arms hanging limp, she moved them albeit with
effort to push herself back into the seat and offer at least a bit of
room in the restraint to take the pressure off of it enough to get it
untied. The feat in itself took time, being she could see next to
nothing. Sliding from the couch, the only thing audible was her own
heart beat in her ears, pounding mercilessly in her head as she eased
slowly across the floor, hands outstretched to feel her way to the
corridor wall paneling. The tattered cockpit was the only source of
immediate light, which her poor vision managed to pick up enough to act
as a guide. Still staggering a bit from her shaken vertigo, she picked
her way towards the light gleaming in from the shattered viewports and
smoldering bulkheads. "Claudius?" she called quietly, voice trembling.
Blinking as her pupils adjusted to the sudden influx of sunlight, his
motionless body came into focus, stopping her heart in her throat.
"Claudius?" she repeated with an increasing tone of urgency and
impending panic. Reaching him, she wrapped a shaky hand around his
shoulder, nudging him slightly. "Claudius..." she mumbled a third time,
mind whirling in hysteria, clueless as to what to do and plagued with an
impending sense of dread as a result.
Claudius did not respond to her
pleadings, as much as he would have liked to if he were conscious. His
motionless body lay haphazardly against the controls in front of him,
the blood from hire forehead running down over his finest wardrobe.
After a few harrowing moments he began to groan in pain as consciousness
returned him. "Ungh," he murmured, still unmoving. He began to gasp and
then wheeze, finding it difficult to breath under the strain of the
broken sternum. His hands instinctively went to the controls, still
trying to stead the ship. He was unaware, even now, in his dazed state
that the ship had crashed.
"Claudius!" she urged at his stirring,
pressing against his shoulder slightly to nudge him back into the chair
and off the controls. "I shall see if I can get help" she stated
frantically, glancing around nervously, unsure of where to start. Trying
to allocate her luggage and com link in the dark belly of the transport
was an effort, let alone knowing what to do as a starting point.
Claudius pressed down weakly on the
control panel in front of him, forcing himself, through sheer will and
determination, back into his seat. "Oh," he whimpered in pain as he
settled into his seat. His eyes, barely focused, slowly opened and he
tried to take stock of their situation. Outside of the cockpit all he
could see was green ... nothing but green. "Beacon," he said quietly,
unable to find the strength of voice to shout. "We need to activate," he
stammered, not even sure if she could hear, "the beacon."
"Beacon?" she repeated. "Where is that?"
she asked anxiously, eyes flickering across the array of controls.
"Which one is it?" She repeated looking back to Claudius, her lovely
face tarnished with worry.
Claudius' arms flailed around aimlessly
as he tried to move himself, his hand grazed her cheek leaving only a
streak of red blood behind. He finally grabbed hold of the arms of the
chair and pushed himself up out of it with what limited strength he had
left. "Argh," he cried in pain as he blindly stumbled out of the
cockpit. As he entered the passageway, he staggered, slumping up against
the wall. He braced himself, the strength in his legs draining like the
blood from his forehead. He made his way into the passenger compartment,
but he could no further. He fell, much like a sack of potatoes, one arm
extending in front of him as he lay prone against the floor. He tried to
reach for the locker against the far wall, but he could not quite make
She moved after him, trying in vain to
prevent him from toppling about. "You must not move Claudius...tell me
what to do and I shall make it so. But you must rest" she knelt down,
cradling his bloodied face in her hands.
"Get to the locker," Claudius instructed
her, weakly. His glazed over eyes shutting again for a moment. As she
cradled his head he could feel his limbs growing cold and numb. It was
clear to him that he was nearing a state of shock, but he knew that he
had to maintain composure long enough to instruct her.
Htaere released her tender hold on him
and got to her feet, moving carefully to the locker and opening it. The
contents poured out instantly at her feet, jumbled about from the ride.
Recomposing herself from the sudden spook, she knelt down and began to
rummage through the items. The beacon was obvious, being that she could
rule out first aid equipment, and with a bit of tinkering, she figured
out how to activate it. That done, she returned to his side, opening the
blanket over him and finding a handful of gauze pads in the kit to press
against the gaping head wound. "It will not be long now before help
arrives" she consoled him, pressing several more pads on top the ones
she was already applying.
Claudius reached with a hand for her and
weakly tugged at her dress. He looked up at her, his vision fading in
and out. By now she looked like an angelic white blur. He pulled at her,
though he lacked the force to move her any great deal. "Love," he
murmured weakly as his head tilted to the side, followed by a series of
unrecognizable words and murmurs as he settled in under the blanket. His
hand clung to her even as he faded in and out, not wanting to let go.
Htaere cupped his extended hand in her
own. "I am here, Claudius" she whimpered softly, settling down on the
floor beside him, with nothing to do but wait, her own eyes sinking
slightly, suddenly overcome with exhaustion brought on by the ordeal.
Claudius groaned one final time as his
head rolled over and he lost consciousness once more. His hand fell from
hers impacting on the cold ground below with a dull *thud*. The
emergency beacon sat next to them, beeping a distress call that they
could only hope would be answered before time ran out. Outside the ship
the sound of the nocturnal jungle echoed through the dark, battered
The sound of thunder echoed through the
passenger compartment of the downed transport, breaking the silence that
had existed through much of the night. A moment later a series of soft
impacts were heard impacting the hull. The chorus soon of sounds began
to increase, growing in volume and speed ... it was the unmistakable
sound of rain. "Ugh," Claudius groaned as he started to regain
consciousness. For the first few seconds of consciousness he had
forgotten their situation and forgotten his pain. Reality soon came back
to him as he shifted and stretched through habit. "Ah," he exhaled in a
sharp burst of pain as he stretched, disrupting his broken ribcage. His
head turned, the bleeding stopped by the gauze but still stained with
blood and badly swollen. His eyes looked at Htaere, still sleeping next
to him. "Some honeymoon," he said quietly as he watched her, a smile
forming upon his fatigued lips despite their situation. He placed his
hands next to him to brace his movements as he sat up. "Oh," he groaned
as he still felt dizzy from the events of the past day. His attention
next turned to the distress beacon ... by the look of things, it was
functioning normally, but help not yet arrived.
Having fretted and kept nervous vigil
through most of the night, Htaere had finally passed out at some ungodly
hour in the morning. The compartment where they sought refuge was still
dark, even more so with the skies overcast and the rain falling. The
only true light was what managed to make its way through the cloud cover
and at least partially illuminate the planet with a hazy gloom. Within
the ship, it was still dark, with the exception of Htaere. The rainbow
gem embedded surgically in her forehead, as well as those temporarily
attached to her arms, chest and face as ornamentation for the wedding,
were all illuminated with their natural light, a soft and soothing glow
produced by the organism itself. Like a collection of gentle beacons,
Htaere's sleeping form stood out amid the ominous shadows like lights on
a darkened runway.
Claudius exhaled deeply as he boosted
himself up off the cold durasteel deckplating. As he first took a step
he wobbled, but this time he did not fall. After a few cautious moments
he caught himself and was able to begin walking through the compartment.
He looked around, but did not see anything really salvageable ... at
least not with the limited visibility he had. His hands moved around
through the darkness as he felt the bulkhead to navigate himself.
Finally, he stood beneath the emergency access hatch on the top of the
transport and activated the controls. Weakly, the hydraulic mechanism
kicked in and the top hatch opened. Almost immediately the rain water
poured through, landing on his face. He looked up, and let the clean
waters falls upon him, washing away the blood and soothing his battered
flesh. He squinted as he got his first look at natural light in some
time and inhaled the fresh jungle air.
The noise, subtle as it might have been,
was enough to rouse Htaere from the meager sleep she'd been afforded.
Her eyes opened, focusing carefully before sitting up. Noting Claudius'
absence, she sat up slightly, looking towards the access hatch as it
seemed to let in a single column of light across the compartment.
Claudius turned his now soaking wet head
as he heard Htaere stir. He stepped aside for a moment, allowing the
rain water to splatter on the deck plate below him. "Good morning," he
said to her kindly, trying to act 'normal' and avoid drawing attention
to the obvious dire situation they found themselves in.
She blinked sleepily for a moment before
looking him over. "Good morning...you look much better today.." she
remarked, her face still languid with concern and worry.
Claudius' raised his eyebrows at her,
but grimaced slightly as it strained his wound. "I'm going to take a
look around," he told her as he raised his hands above him, pulling his
body weight up through the access hatch. "Arr," he groaned loudly as it
put strain on his ribcage. As his face emerged from the hatch he was
able to see the lush tropical vegetation all around him. The sun was
shining, the rain was coming down all around him, and the climate was
warm and tropical. Finally, he pulled himself out complete and stood on
the hull of the broken ship. He looked around, but saw nothing of
interest bur dense jungle 360-degrees around where the ship had crashed.
Htaere got to her feet slowly, drawing
close to the hatch and gazing up at the blinding circle of light. "Do be
careful Claudius..." she called up at him, feeling the splashes of
raindrops as they cascaded down through the top of the craft.
Claudius looked back down through the
hatch at his new bride and his mood turned pleasant. "It appears safe,
my dear," he explained to her as his head raised to take another look
around, "Why don't you come up and take in the scenery?" Despite their
situation, Claudius had to admit to himself that it really was quite
"Oh...alright" she said curiously before
climbing up onto the elevated paneling. Watching Htaere climb, it was
painfully obvious that she was out of her element. It was like watching
a toddler try to manipulate her way up a parking curb, though with a big
of effort she managed to get to the top of the transport, brushing
herself off as she stood. A useless gesture to be sure, but an ingrained
one. She gazed around in wonder, the rain drops saturating her in short
order. "Do you know where we are?" she asked absently.
"Of course I know where we are, Htaere,"
Claudius said in an usual tone of confidence. "We are standing on top of
our crashed starship," he began to explain, "in the middle of a jungle
on some planet." He turned to her and smiled, trying to laugh. As a man,
his instinct was to make her feel comfortable and prevent her from
becoming overly concerned or frightened. Suddenly the silence was broken
by the sound of chirping. A moment later a pair of ornately colored
birds buzzed by, singing a love song to one another as they maneuvered
their way through the tropical growth. "Well if there's life here," he
thought silently to himself, "We won't starve."
Htaere's starry-eyed gaze pulled from
the rain clouds and the glorious leafy canopy of natural foliage to her
husband's charming face. She could not help but smile at his efforts and
good nature despite the adversity of their situation. "What should we do
"I do not think we should stray too far
from the craft," Claudius warned as he approached the edge of the hull.
"This may hurt," he whispered to himself as he jumped down the short
distance from the top of the hull to the ground below. "Oof," he grunted
as the vibration from the impact reverberated throughout his weakened
body. "I'll go have a look around," he said to her, turning his head
over his shoulder to look at her. He pushed forward through the
vegetation and noticed the light beginning to get brighter. The sound of
rushing water grew louder as he approached and he wondered if he might
be coming towards a clearing. As he pushed aside the last of the
vegetation he realized the precarious nature of his situation. He was
standing not too far near the edge of a cliff, overlooking the largest
waterfall he had ever seen in his life. "Magnificent," he said loudly as
his jaw dropped in awe of nature's beauty. "Come see this," he shouted
over his shoulder back to his wife.
Htaere worked carefully and somewhat
uneasily to extricate herself from the dilapidated craft to follow the
sound of Claudius' voice. As she moved away from ship, she glanced at it
to survey the damage from the outside before pushing through the brush
after him. As she drew up beside him rather abruptly, she stopped short,
eyes pulled to the cascading tower of tower, enthralled with it
entirely. A little smile began to work its way across her face as it hit
her like a breath of heaven.
Claudius took a moment to allow the sea
mist splash upon his face as he took a deep breath of the fresh air.
"There is nothing like this on a Star Destroyer," he said to her with a
kind smile. He leaned forward looking over the side of the cliff and his
eyes went wide as he looked down. He sat down on the edge of the cliff
carefully. He sighed contently as he let his legs dangle, seemingly down
Htaere, sporting a magnificent grin,
began to work her way down. "This is to be enjoyed in its entirety" she
commented, starting down to the bottom of the waterfall and consequent
body of water it kept replenished. Whatever inhabitations she had in
regards to personal safety were gone as she moved rather eagerly.
Claudius turned his head towards Htaere,
reaching up and taking her hand into his own. "They'll find us soon I'm
sure," he told her in a steady voice, attempting to ease any concerns
she might have. Once she was beside him, he moved his head forward,
connecting with her own. He let the tip of his nose connect with hers
for a tender moment, sighing contently. "...but I hope not to soon," he
continued, tilting his head to the side. His eyes closed, his lips
softly connected with hers and the small planet they were stranded on
Their moment was tender and savory
before Htaere broke the contact with an enthusiastic grin. "Come
Claudius...I wish to swim." With that, she darted off to the water's
edge, throwing an encouraging grin back over her shoulder towards him.
One by one she slipped her shoes off and deftly reached behind her to
unfasten the bustier shell of her wedding dress. As it fell at her feet,
her bare back indicated there was nothing beneath it. The intricate and
multilayered skirt was next, sliding from her slender hips and likewise
piling up around her ankles. The undergarment beneath was barely there,
yet seductively elegant and it too was discarded. Whatever other jewelry
she wore was left in place, taking only the time to cast away her
clothing before lowering herself into the gloriously refreshing water.
Claudius' eyes followed her as he
watched her walk to the water's edge. His eyes moved over her as she
stripped, not quite sure what she was doing. His mouth began to dry up
and he found it difficult to swallow. Hie eyes went wide and his mouth
hung slightly ajar. He stood up, his hands immediately reaching to pull
off his blood stood stained tunic. His trousers were next to join his
clothes on the floor, his boots being kicked off with a series of slight
grunts. Remaining his underwear, he came upon the water's edge and stuck
his toe in it. He shivered as the initial coldness ran through his body.
"Turn around," an embarrassed Claudius chided her. With that he reached
around the waistband of his boxer shorts and slipped them down. Covering
himself with his hands, he walked into the water and waded towards her.
Up to her shoulders in the lake, Htaere
looked at him curiously. As Hapans went, she was comfortable in her own
skin, and failed to equate nudity with sex. She simply grinned casually
and taking a deep breath, plunged down into the water to completely
submerge herself before resurfacing, still smiling at the magnificent
feeling of being enveloped in nature. "Is this not a wonderful
The gentle current of the water was
soothing against his aged, aching body. He squatted down in the water,
allowing it to rise up to his neck. His eyes closed as he remained lost
in the moment. This had turned out to be a better honeymoon that he ever
could have planned. "Enjoying yourself" he asked as his legs kicked
slightly moving slowly closer to her.
With the casual brush of a hand, she
pushed hair back from her face and a few water droplets from her eyes.
She was beaming, very much at home in this element and lavishing in its
splendor. "Oh yes, very much so" she answered eagerly. "And you?"
Claudius waded his way over towards
Htaere nervously. It had been a long time since he had been with a woman
and he felt virginal, his stomach fluttering and his mouth growing
somewhat dry. He started to tremble, but kept the gentle smile on his
face as his eyes remained locked on hers, never penetrating below the
water to sneak a peak. "I love you," he cooed softly in her ears as his
two masculine arms moved underneath the water to wrap around the small
of her back, bringing her slowly closer to him until their bodies gently
Htaere did not resist, allowing herself
to glide towards him at his beckoning. She still wore all of the extra
gems that adorned her face, chest, shoulders, arms and midsection for
the wedding, her body emitting a soft luminescence about the water
around her. A smile appeared, comfortable and confident as she was,
finding no inhibition about being unrobed. "And I you, Claudius" she
replied tenderly, slender arms encircling his neck.
"I could not have planned a better
honeymoon..." Claudius whispered happily in her ear before his mouth
lowered to first nibble on her ear lobe before taking it into his mouth
and beginning to gently suck. He sighed contently as he pulled the
earlobe from between his teeth, his lips then kissing the side of her
face, working their way lower still as they moved to her neck. His hands
moved up and down her back, rubbing her flesh both above and below the
water as they made love. Since his wife had died, he had not even
considered being with another woman.
Htaere cradled his older face in her
hands, placing kisses over his lips, chin, eyelids and forehead. Below
the water, her legs gracefully lifted to wrap around his hips. "This is
a wonderful honeymoon" she mumbled in response between tender kisses. "I
am grateful for this time we share." Her face registered a very serene
expression, the sensations of their interlude evident across her lovely
Even in the cool water Claudius' face
began to glow red, becoming flushed as his body temperature rapidly
increased. His breathing began to increase to well as he savored every
moment of his first time with her. It was so slow and so gentle that
there was not even the slightest splash or ripple in the water near
their intertwined bodies. Quietly he let out a gasp and his body
rhythmically quivered against hers as he finished. "Oh..." was all he
could managed to say as he slumped forward against her, resting his head
against her shoulder for a few quiet moments.
Htaere shared an incredibly satisfying
climax, responding to his build and response with a series of shutters
that ran the length of her body, before her posture went slack in
relaxation. Her fingertips curled into the back of his shoulders and
neck, grazing patterns lightly in the afterglow of their coitus.
Claudius refrained from any movement for
several moments as he held himself against his wife. Suddenly he felt
his body begin to shake and assumed it was just an side-effect of their
love making, but then he saw the water begin to shake and heard the roar
of an engine above. Before he could even look up, a bright spotlight was
shining down upon them from the craft above. He squinted looking up at
the light, but it was too bright for him to make out. "Stay behind me,"
he warned Htaere as he positioned his body between her and the
Htaere's eyes lifted, shifting behind
his larger frame as her right hand came up to shield the light from
straining her eyes. Her youthful face looked curiously towards it, the
water rippling around them from the reverberation of the engines. "A
rescue party perhaps" she called out over the din of the repulsors that
steadied the ship over them.
The familiar voice of Major Kerrie Kiley
echoed from the hovering craft as it began to move towards the shore
near the side of the lake. "When you have ... finished ... we will pick
you up," in an obviously embarrassed voice. It would take her many years
to recover from what she saw tonight, but nevertheless she was glad to
find them alive and seemingly unharmed. When they had received word the
transport did not receive it's destination they had feared the worst.
The search had been winding down if not for a passing freighter
detecting their distress beacon it would have been very likely they
never would have been found.
Claudius' cheeks flushed red in
embarrassment as he reaches his hand under the water to grab Htaere's
hand. Somewhat sheepishly he began moving through the water, towards the
shore where his clothes were waiting. As he emerged from the water he
looked over his shoulder at her and smiled lovingly. For the first time
it felt acceptable for him to admire her physical beauty, and he savored
each glimpse as he began to get dressed.
Without batting an eyelash, and
unhindered to say the least, Htaere emerged from the water, her lithe
and sleek body glistening with the residual droplets of water. She
redressed in her dirty and bloodied wedding attire before glancing back
to her new husband. "Shall we?"
As the shuttle touched down in the
clearing above the lake, Claudius' hand tightened around Htaere's hand
as he helped her climb up the embankment with wet feet. "We will be home
soon, my love," he said to her reassuringly as they moved closer to the
craft. Realistically, he thought their chances at survival would be very
limited having crashed on this planet so far from the known space lanes.
He smiled happily as the ramp of the shuttle descended and Kerrie came
into view. He had never been that happy to see her before. "Maj...Kerrie!"
he exclaimed uncharacteristically, remember he was still technically on
leave, a warm smile growing from ear-to-ear.
Htaere grinned from aside Claudius, eyes
gleaming with gratitude as Kerrie Kiley appeared from within the
shuttle. Her gaze briefly fluttered to Claudius. "I am still thankful
for this twist in plans. It has proven to be a special and unexpected
addition to the story of us." Her attention shifted back to the shuttle
and to her close friend and confidant. "As enjoyable as this has been, I
am glad to see you" she admitted to her earnestly.
Kerrie was a bit surprised by their
reactions, usually being unaccustomed to such shows of affection. Her
eyes wandered over their bodies, noticing all of the unfortunate bumps
and bruises and letting out a slight grimace. "We had feared the worst,
Milord," she explained as she moved aside on the ramp to allow them
enough room to easily board. "What happened?" she asked inquisitively as
she proceeded back in to the passenger compartment of the shuttle. "Are
any of your injuries severe, Milady?" she asked Htaere, moving towards
Claudius let out a soft groan as he made
his way up the landing ramp, making a beeline towards the nearest
comfortable seat as he avoided answering any of the Major's questions
for the time being. Only once he got himself situation and strapped
himself in did he bother to address her points, bringing his hand up to
sooth his injured head. "There was ... an explosion," he tried to
explain, as he replayed the image in his head over and over. "We dropped
out of hyperpsace ... I lost control ... we crashed ... we were lucky we
weren't killed..." he explained to her, his body shaking with the stress
of having to recount it.
Htaere smiled reassuringly at Kerrie.
"No I am fine, thank you." She followed Claudius, taking a seat as well
and instantly savoring the feel of the soft cushion after the ordeal.
Inwardly, she could not wait to have all the extra gems removed, take a
nice hot shower and let her attendants pamper her with a good massage
and facial. She looked to the Major. "Perhaps the wreckage may provide
insight as to the incident" she suggested.
Kerrie nodded to Htaere's as she
strapped herself in across from them. The shuttle began to shake as it
lifted off the planet's surface, proceeding through the atmosphere back
towards the Star Destroyer. "Yes, Milady," she said in clear agreement
as he body began to shake in the straps. She never got used to the speed
at which Randi would lift off the planet's surface. "Definitely against
regulation," she thought silently to herself. "Major Zevrin has
volunteered to lead the investigation, Milord," she informed him, "She
has offered to put the full resources of the Imperial Security Bureau
towards finding the cause."
Claudius' head was hurting enough before
having to put up with one of Lieutenant Trainor's notorious takeoffs,
but for now he was more concerned with what Kerrie had just said than
disciplining one of his pilots. "Major Zevin has volunteered you
said...?" he asked Kerrie to confirm. In the back of his mind he
wondered how the troubling ISB agent knew there would be anything to
investigate. "No..." he interjected quickly as his voice grew stern,
"You will handle the investigation personally, Major."
Htaere's eyes narrowed only slightly as
she recognized the name and the hysteria it had put Kerrie into at one
point. She looked to Claudius curiously. Her eyes shifted between the
two for a moment as they discussed it before leaning back in her seat.
"She suspects something?" she asked, intruding slightly on the
"Yes, Milord," Kerrie said in a proper
military nod as the shuttle stabilized in space and began rapdily
approaching the increasingly looming Star Destroyer in the distance,
"Once we are aboard I will assemble a team and return to the surface to
recover the craft." Her attention turned to Htaere's question now,
feeling slightly uncomfortable as she was not sure if she were free to
discuss this matters with her. "The ... uh ... Major," she began
nervously as her eyes darted between the Admiral and his wife, "simply
informed me that her office had jurisdiction when it came to
investigating the Admiral's .. disappearance."
Htaere nodded, but the insinuation was
lost on her. Always the optimist, due in part to her naïveté, a smile
reappeared. "Perhaps the investigation will lend us an opportunity to
recover before we are summoned back to our responsibilities" she
offered. "You should see your physician as soon as possible, Claudius.
Your wounds bled substantially. He can assess your condition for
infection and provide the treatment you require."
Claudius said nothing to Kerrie or
Htaere about this previous topic, feeling slightly reassured when she
changed the topic of his own. As the shuttle entered the Warspite's
hangar bay and prepared for its landing, his hand moved over her's and
intertwined with her fingers, giving it a squeeze. "Already sounding
like quite the experienced wife," he said to her with a soft chuckle.
"Before I see my doctor I am getting something to eat. I am famished,"
he said to her as the shuttle touched down roughly on the hangar floor,
giving them another jolt.
Htaere likewise gave his hand a squeeze
in return before unfastening her crash restraint. She felt embarrassed
to be appearing in front of the crew as a disgrace, her clothing
disheveled and tarnished with stain. She hesitated at the top of the
ramp. She turned to glance at Kerrie and Claudius, her expression grave
and sheepish. "I am...unpresentable..."
Claudius was equally a mess, but his
strong desire to have a freshly prepared cut of meat overcame any fear
he had of the crew seeing him in such a state. "Come, my dear," he said
to her confidently as he extended a hand to help her down the ramp once
he had reached the bottom, "The crew understands the ordeal we've just
been through. You have nothing to fear." A smile curled upon his face
happily as he looked at his wife, admiring her every movement. "I am
with you. No harm shall come to you," he explained to her reassuringly.
A thoughtful grin flashed ever so
slightly. "I am not afraid, only...ashamed." Reluctantly she made her
way down the ramp and from the shuttle. Her eyes flickered nervously
over the surrounding crew. She couldn't get past them fast enough and to
the lift where again she thought fondly of her upcoming shower. With
their enjoyment cut short, she made plans to visit the "garden" Claudius
had built for her in the belly of the ship as a comfort and semblance of
Claudius' held Htaere's hand the entire
time they walked across the hangar deck from the shuttle to the lift
that would return them to their quarters. He stopped from time-to-time
to give a polite nod to each junior officer that saluted him. Soon they
were in the lift and he could feel his stomach begin to growl, his mouth
watering as he dreamt of a nice warm meal. "Home at last," he said to
her lovingly as they exited the life and he opened the door to their
quarters. "This is going to hurt," he thought to himself as he reached
his arms beneath her and lifted her into his arms, carrying her despite
the pain across the threshold into their quarters.
She looked surprise. "Claudius, what are
you doing?" she asked as she was whisked off of her feet. Blinking, her
arms hooked around his neck. "You are injured and should not be
straining yourself as such."
"It is tradition, Htaere," Claudius
explained through several pained controls as they made their way further
into their quarters. His face was flushed red and thin layers of sweat
were forming upon his forehead as he carried her towards the sofa.
"Ugh," he let out a pained groan, nearly stumbling forward just as he
placed her gently down on the sofa. "There ... there we go..." he
stammered, fighting to get his words across as he tried to catch his
breath. Finally, he too sat down on the couch, and he began to feel
himself drifting off to sleep, more tired than he thought from their
"Oh thank you" she replied gleefully
despite her concern regarding his condition. As they settled onto the
plush luxury of the sofa, she leaned towards him and brushed at his
hair, normally fixed neatly. "You should rest Claudius. There is always
time for a steak dinner tomorrow" she said softly. "You are not looking
well" she added softly.
Claudius' battered and bruised head
tilted to the sight as he lay it to rest on her shoulder. He did not
have the strength to get to their bedroom and he was content to spend
the night on the couch. It was a vast improvement from where they had
slept while stranded and he could already feel his breathing begin to
slow as he drifted off to sleep. "Well..." he said as he mouthed a huge
yawn, "Did you enjoy your honeymoon?"
A smile warmed her features as she
sidled up next to him to make herself comfortable as well. "Yes my love"
she replied lazily. "It matters not where I go, as long as I go with
you." Her own eyelids were heavy and sinking, letting the fatigue
overcome her. Her legs drew up underneath her, her head resting solidly
on his shoulder.
As Htaere's sweet words reached him a
blissful smile curled upon his middle-aged lips and his eyes fluttered
shut. Seemingly just an instant later Claudius had fallen asleep,
exhausted from their ordeal and glad to be home. He had come very close
to losing her after just so recently getting her.