Htaere sat on a small stool near the
open balcony of her room where she watched the world within the estate
walls as well as the world beyond. She sat straight as a pin, her
posture painfully perfect as usual. One of the servants worked
diligently on her hair, melding it some big extravagant style. Htaere
remained motionless to facilitate the task, her hands folded in her lap.
About here chambers were various potted plants and small table top
fountains. The sound of the water trickling was soothing to her,
nourishing to her soul and calming her demeanor. Grey eyes were fixed on
the colors and sounds of nature, amid the garden and the surrounding
Kerrie Kiley's brisk stroll through the
Rodney Estate came to a sudden halt as she reached the entrance to
Htaere's bed chamber. She froze in her tracks and shook lightly. She
closed her eyes and wondered whether or not she was doing the right
thing. She had made the mistake of pushing too hard before and wondered
if she was doing the same thing now. She swallowed nervously and crossed
the spacious bedroom and headed towards the entrance to the dressing
room. As she prepared to enter, she did something unusual for her
... she took the uniform cap off her head and crushed it in her hand
nervously. She wasn't feeling very formal, and had hoped to speak off
the record. She did not speak first, but quietly cleared her throat to
alert Htaere to her arrival.
Both Htaere and her attendant turned.
Immediately, the attendant returned to Htaere's hair. Htaere's herself
smiled and motioned Kerrie in. "Kerrie..." she began. "Please, come in."
Kerrie moved her hands behind her back
as she stepped forward, hiding the nervous reaction she had involving
the cap. She walked forward slowly, coming to a stop several feet from
her. "I'm sorry for the intrusion, Milady," she began to explain. She
closed her mouth and tightened her jaw, the stress of the situation
"It is no intrusion" Htaere replied,
eyeing the major. "What is the matter?" As the servant finished and
withdrew, Htaere shifted on her stool completely to face the major,
providing her with undivided attention.
"I've been thinking about the situation,
Milady," Kerrie explained, her voice very low and subdued. "I was
wondering whether ot not you find me..." she paused noticeably, almost
unable to speak the word, "...inadequate?" She swallowed, bracing
herself for the worst possible response.
"Inadequate?" Htaere looked bewildered.
"I do not understand. I have yet to encounter a capacity in which you
are inadequate" she replied. "Why do you ask this?"
A sense of relief came over her as she
heard Htaere's response. A smile cracked upon her lips for a moment
before she caught herself. "I was a bit concerned by the arrival of
another bodyguard," she explained, revealing her own self-doubt.
"Kerrie..." Htaere chided, canting her
head slightly. "I did not send for Ishamael. I would not have done such
a thing. I don't feel it necessary nor have I ever questioned your
abilities." She motioned to any numbers of chairs and furniture in the
seating area. "Please, sit."
Kerrie nodded politely and moved towards
one of the chairs. She sat down slowly, crossing her right leg over the
left. She then folded her hands, crushed cap included, on top of her
lap. She smiled politely to Htaere before continuing the conversation.
"I guess your mother does not agree with you," she said in a nervous
attempt at humor.
Htaere's pleasant smile half melted to a
noticeable look of discontent. "My mother is quite opinionated about a
great many things. It is near impossible to alter to mind. Until I find
a way to get rid of Ishamael, I will do my best to keep him out of your
hair" Htaere nodded firmly.
Kerrie raised her left hand above her
head, running her gloved hand across her short, tightly braided hair. "I
sometimes forget I have this stuff," she explained to Htaere, making
reference to her true appearance. "I hope the Admiral is not too
disappointed with this development," she continued, her fear noticeable
as she was already in hot water for the Parka situation.
"I am unsure. Thus far, I have not
spoken to him regarding the topic. I wish I could honor the possibility
that Claudius would have some influence in sending Ishamael back to
Hapes. I very much doubt that will be the case, not against my mother."
"Do you speak to your mother much?"
Kerrie asked Htaere, a somewhat personal and invasive question. She
turned her head slightly, her mind drifting away for a moment as she
considered her relationship with her own mother.
"Not too frequently. I find no need. The
disapproval we have for each other is quite mutual, and we both accept
that as fact" Htaere answered simply. "What about you?"
"My mother was killed," Kerrie
explained, not liking to talk about it much. She sighed, lowering her
head dejectedly. Her hand tightened around her cap, trying to squeeze
the tension right out of her body.
Htaere stifled the urge to bite at her
lower lip. "Oh...I am sorry. I did not know" she replied quietly. "Have
you any family?" Htaere continued, equally as intrusive in her
conversation yet insatiably curious about the mysterious woman's
"Not anymore," Kerrie said, twisting the
cap in her hands to the point it nearly broke. Her concentration broke
to the point where her natural Clawdite form shimmered back momentarily.
"They're all gone," she said as she refocused her efforts and returned
to the Human form she was more comfortable in around others.
Htaere's shimmering grey pools drank the
major in without reaction, except to furrow her brow with concern. "I am
sorry for your losses" her chin dipped once in a reverent nod.
"Kerrie...what bothers you so?" she said solidly after regarding the
major for a brief pause.
"I just try to put it out of my mind,"
Kerrie explained quietly, breaking eye contact. "They were out of my
life long before they died," she continued to explain, her voice nearly
quivering. "It's in the past ... nothing I can do about it," she finally
concluded, looking around the room nervously.
Htaere persisted, eyes shifting about
the room vaguely in search of whatever it is that Kerrie fretted about.
"What is wrong? Has something happened?"
"No..." Kerrie responded quickly, hoping
she had not caused too much alarm as that was not her intention when she
arrived. "Just..." she continued, feeling she should explain, "Bad
"I am sorry if I have caused you
trouble" Htaere's apology was genuine. "I will cease this discussion so
that it does not offend you further" she said. In attempt to switch the
topic and keep from embarrassing herself further, she fished for topics
casually. "How is the conflict going? Any improvement on establishing
diplomatic relations with the rebel influence?"
Kerrie looked to Htaere, stiffening her
upper lift to avoid making a further embarrassment of herself. "No,
Milady," she said apologetically, "It was I who have given offense. I
should learn to keep my emotions in check." Her mind then shifted
towards her question. The truth was things were not going well, not
since that disk fell into the hands of the rebels. "Things are as they
are," she replied cryptically.
Htaere's blank expression softened,
melting into a warm smile "Kerrie, you may always consider me an ear to
bend. I hope that you remember that when you feel you have nowhere else
Kerrie looked around the room,
considering what she was about to do. She sighed and broke down,
deciding, perhaps unwisely, to share her concern with Htaere. "I..." she
began, obviously embarrassed, "Recently failed an assignment for the
Admiral." She paused for a moment before going all the way, "I guess
when your new bodyguard arrived I felt like I had failed the assignment
to protect you as well." She looked at her right boot and twiddled her
thumbs, "Failure is not something I am used to..."
"You have not failed in any capacity"
Htaere answered. "I am still indebted to you for your brave actions
concerning my safety. I hope you do not consider yourself in such a
negative light further. It is an unfair assessment of yourself" Htaere
chided her slightly, admonishing her for cutting herself short. "As for
your assignment for Claudius, perhaps you will have another opportunity
to rectify the situation."
"I really messed things up badly,"
Kerrie explained, shaking her head at herself. She looked down in her
lap and saw how badly wrinkled her cap was. In vein, she began trying to
straighten it back out. "If I get a second chance," she stated
confidently, "I will not allow myself to fail again."
Htaere was quiet for a moment,
contemplating her words. She prodded gently "Is that why Claudius was
upset the other night?"
"Yes..." Kerrie admitted, as it was no
big secret and suspected he would ultimately confide in her himself. "I
let him down," she explained to her own great shame, "He was counting on
me and I blew it. It has made things very difficult."
"Oh..." Htaere digested the self
loathing that Kerrie seemed to demonstrate at every opportunity, one
corner of her mouth sliding downward. "Perhaps you can remedy the
situation" she offered encouragingly. It was quiet for another moment
before Htaere approached the conversation from a different angle. "You
ought not to cut yourself down so readily."
"I hold myself to high standards,"
Kerrie said to Htaere, once again making eye contact and showing slight
traces of a smile. "The work is all I have," she explained, quite
honestly, "I want to do well at it."
"I doubt that your quality of commitment
is every taken into question" Htaere supplied evenly. "Still, there is
plenty that you have to offer. You should focus on promoting all of the
facets you excel at. Claudius certainly could not do without you" she
"It seems to be a case of 'what have you
done for me lately'." Kerrie informed her, considering the Admiral's own
responsibilities. He had people to answer to just as she had to answer
to him. "His is not an easy job," she continued, stating the obvious,
"When someone beneath him fails ... like me ... that failure is
reflected on him." She paused for a moment, smiling at Htaere with a
shared sentiment, "He does not like to fail either."
"I do not see failures in either of you"
Htaere responded genuinely. "I do worry about him, about his health and
the burdens he shoulders. Perhaps one day things will settle and we will
be able to spend more time, and maybe the two of you will be afforded
the luxury of pursuing pleasures instead of business." Htaere thought
about it for a moment, blinking at the major curiously. "Do you enjoy
your service to the Empire?"
Kerrie looked down and examined the
uniform that so careful fit her body like a second-skin. It had become
an extension of her and she had always worked hard to keep it clean and
neat. She took her service seriously, but she had never before
considered the question as to whether she 'enjoyed' it. "I'm not sure
'enjoy' is the word, Milady," she explained as best she could, "It was
not how I planned for my life to be, but it is where the circumstances
of life have brought me." She paused for a moment, considering
her situation, "It's really the only option left to me."
"Why would you say that? Eventually your
service term will be up. You will have whatever you choose laid out
before you" Htaere pointed out, reasoning very simply. "If you were not
with the Empire now, what would you be doing?"
Kerrie was starting to feel very
uncomfortable, worried that Htaere might be disappointed by her past
life. However, with all of the previous confessions she thought it would
be pointless to stop now. She swallowed nervously and answered
truthfully, "I suppose I would return to my previous job as a ... bounty
Htaer's grey pools narrowed beneath a
furrowed brow. "A bounty hunter? That is your profession of choice?" she
seemed noticeably surprised by it, yet respectful. "Will you return to
it when you are done here?"
"The profession sort of chose me,"
Kerrie tried to explain, "When my parents gave me up as a child, I spent
most of my life training to be a 'warrior' ... as silly as that might
sound." Kerrie paused for a moment, realizing that she never sat down to
tell anyone this before, "When I left my homeworld I tried different
kinds of work. I eventually came across a bounty hunter and I learned to
appreciate the work. It's a rewarding challenge and the money is great."
Kerrie paused, somewhat satisfied with her answer. "As for the
second part," she continued, "I really cannot even think about life
beyond this current assignment. I am bound to the service ... it is not
something I can simply 'quit'."
"Yes, but surely you do not with to be
an indentured servant forever. Surely there is something you yearn for
beyond this, is there not? Htaere appeared confused. She thought for a
moment, then got to her feet. "Here...sit here..." she said, offering Kerrie
"It is not entirely up to me," Kerrie
explained as she moved over towards the stool. She sat down, and
adjusted herself for a moment before continuing. "There are
circumstances beyond my control," she continued ... it was something she
did not like to think about.
"Our futures should always be our own to
choose..."Htaere began, recounting her first conversation she had with
the Admiral before adding quietly "...but I certainly understand
commitment to responsibility and fulfilling one's obligation, despite
personal feelings" she finished. As she did so, she circled Kerrie
slowly, moving around her and studying her features intently. Her
fingers brushed at Kerrie's immaculate and regulation hair style as
Htaere moved around from behind her, pausing in front of her to lift
Kerrie's chin with her fingers, contemplating eye color, shape,
complexion and so on. "Hmmm" she withdrew to her boutique, rifling
through various implements of beauty. She returned with a hair brush and
stood behind her, untying her hair and letting it down. She ran the
strands through her fingers, noting the health of her hair and the
overall condition. She then proceeded to brush Kerrie's hair,
experimenting with a few twists and ideas as she worked.
Kerrie laughed at what Htaere was
attempting to do. "It's really not necessary," she confessed, "After all
it's not even my true appearance." Still, there was something relaxing
... almost soothing about what she was doing. It was certainly an aspect
of her life that she certainly never paid any attention to. "But," she
continued not wanting to leave things unsaid, "My life is in other
people's hands. I try not to think about it."
"Why do you hide?" Htaere asked
curiously, using a comb to section Kerrie's hair into four parts. Taking
care, she began to weave delicate and perfect braids in her hair, before
twisting them into loops that intertwined, and pinning the ends down.
"I've been hiding so long I sometimes
feel like *this* is the real me," Kerrie confessed, "Humans do not treat
aliens well. In my job it is important that all around me believe that I
am a Human. There are some who wouldn't take too kindly to the Admiral
keeping an alien like me around." She sighed before continuing, "My
species is not highly regarded either. It is for everyone's sake that I
do this. I no longer mind."
Htaere finished Kerrie's hair, observing
the elegant masterpiece like softly interlocked lattice. She retrieved a
small tiara with a single rainbow gem on it, surrounded by other pricey
minerals. She set it firmly across the top of Kerrie's head, tucking the
ends of it beneath the forward-most braided loops along the sides of her
head. With that finished, she located a small bench and with cosmetics
in hand, sat down in front of the major. "Close your eyes" she
instructed gently. "Perhaps one day you will not have to hide" she
Kerrie closed her eyes obediently, still
believing this whole situation was ridiculous. She found it ironic that
the work she was doing for the Empire was what was keeping her species
and countless others from being free in the galaxy. She was a traitor to
her people, but of course she would never confide that to Htaere or
anyone. "Perhaps..." she said quietly, knowing what line not to cross.
Htaere shadowed her eyes, top and bottom
with shades of blue to accent the blue in her eyes, using a lighter tone
on the top and a darker on the bottom. When finished, she fixed with
temporary cosmetic adhesive small tear-sized rhinestones in the corners
of Kerrie's eyes, and in gentle arcs that followed the natural curve of
her eyebrows. Htaere continued to 'doll up' Kerrie, adding tint to her
cheeks and lips, using cosmetic pencils to draw exaggerated curls
radiating from the outer corner of each eye towards her temple. Finally,
she stepped back, looking over her work and amazed to see that Kerrie
looked nothing like the woman that was sitting there moments prior. "Do
not move just yet" Htaere said, waltzing off to her gigantic walk in
closet with its electric belt system to rotate clothing.
Kerrie opened her eyes when she felt
Htaere finish. She looked at her reflection in the mirror and could not
believe what she saw. Her only response to begin chuckling lightly at
the situation. "I look ridiculous," she insisted, continuing to laugh,
"Oh if the Admiral saw me now he'd never let me hear the end of it." She
smiled as she saw herself in the mirror, not sure she truly believed the
reflection, "I do not understand why you Humans put so much effort into
enhancing your physical appearance in such a strange manner."
Htaere returned with an attractive gown
of a baby blue color, light and airy, flowing in gentle swirls with
every movement. "Put this on" she extended it to Kerrie. "The refresher
is there" she continued, pointing to the large water closet. "It is not
ridiculous. This is imperative. For some of us, this is all we have, all
we will ever be regarded as having with respect to admirable qualities."
Kerrie rose from the stool and took hold
of the dress. She held it up against herself and again turned to look in
the mirror. "Me?!" she exclaimed in disbelief, having a hard time taking
Htaere serious, "In this?! You can't be serious." She sighed, not
wanting to get into a debate she could not win and headed towards the
refresher. Several moments went by as Kerrie had to first remove her
uniform and all of the accessories ... quite time consuming. Then, she
had to figure out how to put the dress on. She struggled with it
... she rarely wore what was considered women's clothing. Finally she
emerged from the refresher wearing the dress, looking nothing like her
'normal' self. She stopped and looked in the mirror, her mouth agape.
"I..." she said quietly, not quite sure what she wanted to say.
Htaere slipped up behind her, fixing a
stunning collar of precious metals and rainbow gems across Kerrie's
shoulders. Straightening it and observing the multi-layered necklace in
the mirror, she moved Kerrie's arms one by one to slide an arm band up
around each bicep. Htaere gazed into the mirror for a long time, nearly
equally as amazed with what she saw. Last of all, she retrieved the veil
made to fit atop the tiara Kerrie wore, a gauzy material stretched over
a shaped wire frame that attached to the very top of the tiara and
extended outwards in a large spacious triangular shaped frame that
concealed everything above the shoulders. "I guess we all hide" she
mumbled absently. She brushed the tops of her fingers on her right hand
beneath Kerrie's chin, nudging it upwards. "Self confidence begins from
within. If you want others to believe that you are in control, then you
must convince yourself first of the part. You look down to no one" she
Standing at just slightly over five feet
tall, Htaere's statement was indeed correct. It was very unlikely that
she ever looked down at anyone. Kerrie smiled as she thought that in her
head, but did not share it. Instead, she took a lasting look in the
mirror at herself ... realizing it would not last long. "I do not
understand how you can do this every day," Kerrie said, not sounding
quite all there. "I thank you for the experience," Kerrie said kindly,
"I think it gives me a better understanding of certain aspects of
your life that I could not previously comprehend."
"I consider myself fortunate that my
original arrangement was to the Admiral. I cannot say that I ever liked
the concept of marrying a stranger, but I am lucky that this particular
stranger allowed me the opportunity to make a choice that otherwise
would not have been offered. I am fortunate that he is benevolent. An
arranged marriage is not required to be a pleasant one" Htaere commented
before shifting her gaze out to the terrace, visible from the balcony.
"Would you like some tea in the garden before you return to your usual
guise?" she asked. "Join me for a spot of refreshment, and then we will
change you back" she smiled, offering her arm to Kerrie.
"Thank you," Kerrie said respectfully,
but demurred, "but I should retire before taking up any more of your
time." She turned to look at herself in the mirror one last time,
"Besides ... I would not want any of the security patrols to see me ...
like this." She turned to face Htaere and smiled beneath the veil, "If
it's quite alright I really should issue the night's orders and get some
rest during the next shift change."
Htaere smiled and nodded. "Of course.
Good evening then" she said, bowing politely. Htaere moved towards the
old fashioned monstrous pair of carved wooden doors to her chambers and
swung one of them open, holding it for her. She smiled at the major
warmly "I apologize if I have made it uncomfortable for you. Pleasant
dreams Kerrie" she nodded.
"Not uncomfortable, Milady," Kerrie
clarified as she returned to the refresher to change, "...just a tad out
of my element." She smiled before disappearing into the refresher. It
look a long time, but eventually a slightly-frazzled Kerrie emerged in
her uniform, still cosmetically enhanced but no longer in the most
feminine of attires. "I shall deposit this dress with one of the
servants to be cleaned," she informed her, holding it folded neatly in
her arms. "Thank you again, Milady," she said before bowing
respectfully and beginning her exit. "I apologize if I took too much of
your time," she concluded on her way out. Secretly, Kerrie worried that
she was becoming a bit too attached to Htaere. It would make guarding
her all the more difficult. She was acting very unprofessionally.
Htaere stood right beyond the threshold
of her chambers, watching Kerrie leave. "I will always have time for
you" she called innocently down the hallway, content at what a pleasant
evening it had become. She sighed slightly before retreating back into
her chambers to get ready for bed.