Htaere stood in front of a
freestanding full-length mirror set in a carved wooden frame to
evaluate herself. The usual elegant flare to her clothing was draped
over with a burgundy colored hood. She looked more dressed down then
she ever had, and that was the point. A quick glance about her room
and she was moving to the door. After a harrowing escape from the
disapproval of the Admiral's children, she lay awake for hours, cold
and lonely until she convinced a service droid to assist her in
acquiring various items that she used to make a small bedside
fountain. The only tie to her homeworld, it was the very sound of
the water trickling over a few stones from the gardens that
comforted her and put her to sleep. Grateful for the little security
blanket it had become, she let it run constantly as an anchor.
Feeling more or less reasonable to start off a new day, she crossed
the threshold of her chambers and started off down the hallway
towards the stair, taking in all the minute details that were lost
on her in the dark. Encountering no resistance, she sought out
whatever gardens were present, thankful for the warmth of the
sunlight and the peace and tranquility afforded by whatever foliage
may be present.
The Lambda Shuttle Kwai
returned to its familiar resting place on the Rodney estate's
landing platform. However, this time it was not Admiral Claudius
Rodney who descended the landing platform. Instead, Lieutenant
Allegra Ames, one of the Admiral's operations officers emerged from
the shuttle. Upon exiting the shuttle she wrinkled her nose, looking
around. It was not as nice as her father's estate on Berchest, not
by far. She studied the landscape carefully in an attempt to spot
Htaere. Finally she spotted her on the horizon and the familiar
diplomatic smile returned to her lips. Proceeding at a steady pace
she headed over towards Haere. "Milady," she said politely as she
neared her and then entered into a respectful bow.
Htaere's grey eyes flashed towards
the officer. She reciprocated with a respectful nod. Her eyes
vacillated towards the walls and back. "What lies beyond?" she
asked, her expression somewhat distant.
"Hmm," Allegra said not expecting to
have to answer a question like that. She lifted her head and
attempted to peer over the security fence. "Dangerous country,
Milady. The security perimeter is here for your protection. The
staff can travel outside and pick up whatever you require," she
explained politely. "The Admiral requested I inform you personally
that a situation has developed that requires his personal attention.
He sends his sympathies and his compliments. He suggested you take a
tour of the nearby planet Brentaal, the most prominent world in the
Htaere mentally digested the
information before looking towards the junior officer. "Alright. I
will see this planet then. Transportation is available?"
"Of course, Milady," Allegra
explained, "I have taken the liberty of requisitioning the Admiral's
personal shuttle. If you would kindly follow me to the landing
platform, it will be ready to depart at your convenience."
"Oh? Thank you" the Hapan answered,
silvery orbs settling on the Kwai. She followed after the
young woman, finding herself eager at the prospect of exploration.
The familial issues behind her for now, it was a welcomed
distraction. Being somewhat familiar with the shuttle, she ascended
the ramp and seated herself accordingly, fastening her crash webbing
and waiting in curious anticipation.
Lieutenant Ames came to a stop
of the base of the shuttle's ramp and stepped aside to allow Htaere
ample room to enter the ship. "Have an excellent trip, Milady," she
said with a smile, "May I say that you seem to have taken to the
local climate wonderfully. You are every bit as beautiful as we have
been told. If you have ever need anything ... at any time ... do not
hesitate to contact me."
"You are not coming?" Htaere's
perfectly sculpted eyebrows arched in surprise.
"The Admiral has insisted that
someone else accompany you on your journey, Milady," Allegra was
quick to explain, "She awaits you on board the shuttle."
Htaere made an effort to close her
mouth, still agape in surprise. "I see. Thank you for patience" she
said, settling back into her seat, if only slightly more at ease.
Allegra continued to smile until the
ramp of the shuttle closed and it instantly faded away once she was
positive she was out of sight. Shaking her head she took a seat by
the landing platform to await pickup.
The Lambda Shuttle Kwai made
a quick hyperspace transit from the planet Esseles to the nearby
planet Brentaal. It landed at the spaceport in the city of Cormond,
which was now under increased Imperial scrutiny. When the shuttle
touched down, Major Kerrie Kiley emerged from the cockpit and
entered the rear compartment where Htaere was seated. She did not smile
or bother with the formalities that others had insisted upon. She
was cold and to the point and would not concern herself with
impressing this woman. She would focus only on her job of protecting
her. "Welcome to Brentaal. I am Major Kerrie Kiley ... your
bodyguard," she told her, "We can proceed with the tour whenever you
Htaere studied the woman and the
unflinching stoicism she radiated. Perhaps it was paranoia at this
point, but to Htaere, more often then not, the gazes that seemed to
fall upon her as of late were all similar in their disapproval.
Htaere unbuckled her crash webbing and got to her feet, smoothing
the soft fabric of her cape before lifting the hood. "I am ready"
she stated with a mustered up bit of decorum. Where most Hapans were
considered domineering and unwilling to compromise, Htaere sought to
lay low in new territory with only the company of strangers to aid
in her adjustment. Unsure of their collective intentions and what to
expect, she simply tucked her damaged pride away and went along.
Major Kiley walked down the ramp of
the shuttle and nodded to the two Imperial Stormtroopers who had
arrived for added protection. Walking in front Kerrie proceeded
through the spaceport, glaring at each of the individuals that they
passed by. She did not entirely trust the Imperial screening process
at the spaceport. When she exited the spaceport she came to a stop
next to a LAVr QH-7 Chariot Command Speeder that had been arranged
for her tour. Opening the passenger compartment in the rear, Kerrie
took up a defensive position to cover the area until Htaere was
safely inside of the vehicle. "Please get in the vehicle as quickly
as possible, Milady," she said, instructing her.
Htaere pulled her inquisitive gaze
from the stormtroopers to follow the instructions given. She climbed
in, situating herself. "Is there something wrong?"
"No. Not at all," Kerrie told her,
lying through her teeth. Taking a final look around she entered the
vehicle and took up a seat next to Htaere. "Proceed driver," she
instructed the crew in the front of the vehicle.
"Can we not get out?" Htaere's focus
was on something out of one of the small personal viewports.
"Only if you insist, Milady," Kerrie
explained. "I understand you and the Admiral will be married?" she
inquired in an attempt to change the subject.
She pulled her focus from the
oddities beyond the window towards her escort. "Yes" she replied.
"You are under his command?"
Kerrie lowered her head for a moment
before replying, "From a certain point of you that would be true."
Her gaze refocused out the window checking for potential roadblocks
or insurgents before continuing, "Tell me ... how do you find the
Htaere's eyes dropped to her hands
in her lap. She froze for that split second, deciding how best to
answer the question. "With the exception of the non-human, my
presence was not received well" she answered, as finely tuning the
response with the best tact she could think of.
"His children are an acquired
taste," Kerrie explained to her. "In time you will get used to
she said reassuringly, "I, however, do not care for the youngest
one. I believe she, and not the Admiral, is really in command. Your
hands will be quite full with her."
"Then I will take extra care to wash
my hands. I do not believe she will ever acknowledge me as having
any authority. Nor is it my place." Htaere's soft glossed tiers
managed a mirthless half-smile. "My extensive training in the art of
etiquette has taught me to use silence to repress irritation. Since
meeting his daughter, I have called upon this training, and I
foresee I will be doing so for a long while." She looked to the
viewport again, blinking curiously. "What is that?" she inquired,
eyes taking in the flurry of the street bizarre that lay outside.
"Remember. She will be your
daughter soon," Kerrie reminded her. "Brentaal is a merchant
society, Milady. That is the Trade Hell, the center of commerce in
"May we see it?" she mused in
"Milady," Kerrie said surveying the
market, "It is very crowded. I am not sure it would be wise for you
visit such a location."
"Please Major Kiley. I am most
curious. I have not seen such a market since I was very young." She
glanced over the bustle of the crowds. "I would like to be just a
face in the crowd this day. That is a freedom not afforded to me
In a sense, Kerrie too was a
prisoner. She knew what that was like and made the mistake of giving
in to her request. "Very well, but do not take long," she insisted.
Kerrie exited the vehicle quickly and reached into the rear
compartment to withdraw an E-11 blaster rifle. She stood in a
defensive position and signaled the driver to keep the vehicle
running. "All right, Milady," she said as she peered through the
Htaere extracted herself from the
vehicle and stared into the blur of motion, enthralled with it. She
ambled into the organized chaos, the very makings of a thrilled
smile peeking through her even expression. She moved in and out of
beings of myriad species, able to glide past them without the
fanfare and formality of the world she belonged to. She found their
market interesting, taking in the wares being peddled, from food to
clothing, trinkets to weapons and beyond. The smell alone was
exhilarating, very real and very personal. There was no polished
marble, no spun copper, no shiny gems or flawless wall tapestries.
Instead, what lay before her was a living portrait, invaluable in
its inability to be replicated without cutting out the very essence
of the hustle that defined the realism of the moment. To be unknown
was a breath of air she inhaled deeply, reveling it and thriving in
it. She continued down the street, content to move leisurely and
observe, committing to memory every minuscule stimulus her senses
could take in.
Kerrie brandished her E-11 as she
followed behind Htaere several steps. This was a real challenge. Any
of these beings could be a member of the insurgency and it would
only take but a moment to snuff out both of their lives. She had
been trained to do this. Her first position off Zolan was as a
corporate bodyguard. However, this was nothing like that experience.
They were moving far from the vehicle and her nerves increased as
they became more immersed in the crowd. An Ishi Tib collided with
her and knocked her back slightly, increasing the separation between
her and Htaere. "E chu ta!" she shouted as the creature as she
surged forward to catch up.
Obliviously submersed in the
experience, Htaere strolled onward, eyes flickering from face to
face, simply ecstatic to be "one of them." With her own strange
facial markings, she merged in among them, engulfed in the ranks of
a social caste that was not her own. Unaware of the Major's
presence, she moved fluidly in and out of the sea of bodies,
intoxicated with the gritty reality of life on the street.
Kerrie struggled to keep up with
Htaere whose grace allowed her to move through a crowd. However, she
was attempting to plow through the group and hardly got anywhere.
She was becoming increasingly frustrated and groaned in dismay as
the crowd continued to fill between her and the woman she was
attempting to protect. "Milady," she called out as she continued to
force her way forward.
Above the din, it went unnoticed.
Htaere's mind was preoccupied with watching a scuffle begin in one
of the sidewalk bars. Captivated with the live brawling, she stopped
along with the rest of the crowd to watch.
Htaere's decision to stop allowed
Kerrie to catch up with her. She extended her left hand and placed
it upon her shoulder. "Milady," Kerrie began, "You have had a chance
to look around the Trade Hall. Please, let us return to the
"These people are fighting" Htaere
exclaimed, as if it were a holovid showing on a public holovision.
The crowd was closing in and pushing against them as more and more
onlookers gathered in the street to watch an increasing number of
participants jump into the fray.
"Drunk people tend to do that,
Milady," Kerrie explained, "Now. We really must head back."
Htaere nodded in submission and
turned towards Major Kiley. "Alright. I have enjoyed this
thoroughly. I submit to your insistence though" she piped, still
sporting a smile that she would brandish for hours at the brief
glimpse of true freedom given to her, much to her bodyguard's
Major Kerrie Kiley arrived at the
Chariot first. She looked around the area carefully before opening
up the passenger compartment. Once again, she took up a defensive
position by the doorway and waited for Htaere to get inside.
Suddenly one of the Imperials looked up and spotted an incoming
rocket. "RPG!" he shouted as the rocket headed towards the Chariot.
"Ugh," Kerrie groaned as she threw
herself immediately against Htaere to shield her from the blast. She
used her strength to force them both down to the ground, with her
body covering Htaere's for added protection.
Suddenly the Chariot erupted in a
massive explosion as the rocket impacted. The wreckage burst into
flames and debris was sent everywhere. A secondary explosion soon
erupted as the heat reached the fuel cells. There was pandemonium in
the streets of Cormond with the throngs of people scurrying,
trampling one another, and screaming.
Without so much as a fraction of a
second to react, Htaere found herself being thrown to the ground,
Major Kiley's bearing down on her. She felt her body sting as it
slapped the street surface before two distinct tides of extreme heat
surged over her. The parts of her hands and face left unexposed
burned if only momentarily before subsiding and leaving her in
shock. Her ears were ringing with muffled reverberations rather then
specific words and noises. As the internal hum waned, her head
lifted, complexion even more pale then usual, and strained eyes
coming into focus on the mass exodus that the market-goers were
creating in their stampede for cover.
Kerrie looked Htaere directly for a
moment without saying a word. Suddenly her eyes went wide and she
shimmered back into her native Clawdite form. She rolled over onto the
pavement next to her, leaving a small pool blood on Htaere. She
moved her hands down to her right side and felt the piece of
duarsteel protruding into her side. She closed her eyes and groaned
in pain as she returned her hands up in front of her face to look at
them, drenched in blood. "Are you alright, Milady?" she murmured
in-between groans and deep, pained breaths.
The apparent confusion was evident
on the Hapan's youthful face, simply blown away, literally, by what
had just transpired. "What has happened?" she asked, a waver in her
voice. Wide silvery eyes, on the very brim of hysteria flickered to
the Major's hands, smeared with her own blood. "You are wounded" she
gasped, her expression taut in horror. She struggled to her hands
and knees, untying the full length hooded cape she wore and balling
it up at the Major's side. The cream-colored sleeveless empire-waisted
dress she wore stood out like a sore thumb, one bright spot in a sea
of hazy dust and smoke.
"Get...," Kerrie said weakly, moving
her hands back down to apply some pressure to her wound. She started
to choke on some of the blood that was starting to flow into her
mouth from internal bleeding, but attempted to talk to her again,
"Get...get out of..."
Htaere could only stare at her
fallen guard. The girl looked as if she was about to come apart and
pitch headlong into panic. She tore her gaze from Kerrie Kiley's
crumbled body, eyes searching frantically at the beings closest to
her as they shot past in efforts to escape the carnage. "Please, I
need help" she called into the last remnants of mindless animals
racing to clear the streets. The effort was futile and she looked
about the wreckage of the chariot for any of the stormtroopers that
may have survived.
Kerrie slowly turned her head to
look at Htaere, a stream of blood dropping from the corner of her
mouth. "Tell the Admiral," she said weakly, looking over towards
Htaere. "Tell the Admiral I forg...," she said while gagging on her
own blood. Her eyes then closed and her head rolled over onto the
pavement with a final groan.
"Major?" Htaere leaned closer,
staring in disbelief. "Major?" the tone of her voice lifted, as if
by the very act of yelling she could stir the woman out of
lifelessness. "Major Kiley!" Htaere pushed against the officer's
shoulder, rather abruptly in desperate attempts to conjure some sort
of response. Her eyes burned hot with saline tears, finding herself
very much a lone in hostile territory. She staggered to her feet,
turning about to take in the vacant streets before narrowing her
somber gaze to a nearby establishment. She made the effort to put
one foot in front of another, moving steadily towards the entrance,
in dire search of any assistance.
In the distance the sound of
marching could be heard, growing steadily louder. Within moments a
squad of Imperial Stormtroopers had arrived. They scoured the area
looking for insurgents and taking up defensive positions in case of
another attack. A medic found Major Kiley and knelt down next to
her. The medic spoke in-between the familiar *click* of his helmet's
comlink system, "This one is critical. We have to move her now."
Down the street additional Imperial
speeders began approaching along with a fire suppression team that
arrived to work on the wreckage of the speeder. The medic and
another storm trooper lifted Major Kiley's unconscious body up off
the ground, leaving behind a large pool of blood that had
accumulated beneath her. Unknown who Htaere was, the Stormtroopers
ignored her as they continued their search.
Htaere's eyes panned across the
interior of the novelty store. The door had closed behind her and
all was silent and seemingly devoid of activity. She took several
steps in, moving towards the counter when a strange voice broke the
thunderous silence with very battered Basic. "Not another step. Hands
up!" She felt herself jump slightly, but lifted her hands slowly,
fingers splayed. She ventured to turn slowly to glance over her
shoulder and found herself staring into the large inky black eyes of
a Rodian. He clung fiercely to a rifle, leveled at her mid back. "I
need help please," Htaere mumbled shakily, eyes flitting for a split
second to the barrel of the weapon. The Rodian continued,
unconcerned with her plea "I should have they arrest you for
looting." Htaere's expression all but hardened, grimacing as she
felt herself going numb. She inhaled deeply and tried again. "A
woman has been injured. She requires immediate medical attention.
Can you help me?" The Rodian simply regarded her before motioning
with his rifle back towards the door. "You go" he said, jerking the
barrel to the entrance. In defeat, Htaere's shoulders slumped, her
posture manifesting the resignation she was bound in before she
moved slowly to the door and stepped out. As the pneumonic hiss
sealed her back outside, she exhaled and let her blurry vision sweep
One of the Stormtroopers walked
towards Htaere and brandished his E-11 blaster rifle in her
direction. "Clear the streets," he commanded, "You cannot be here."
She stared hard at the polarized
lenses of his helmet. "Please, I need help. My bodyguard has been
injured. I believe the others have died already" she again pled her
case to yet another stranger, incapable of understanding why no one
would come to her aid.
"Bodyguard?" the Stormtrooper
repeated through his helmet with some skepticism, "Identify
"My name is Htaere Ka`a Sha`ahr. I
am here with Major Kiley..." Htaere didn't complete the sentence.
She studied the wreckage down the street, seeing the Major's body
gone. Her mouth fell open as she stepped around the trooper,
ignoring him all together and moving briskly back down the street.
"She is gone!" she said aloud, more for herself then anyone else,
struggling with the ordeal with increasing difficulty.
"She has been taken to a trauma
center," the Stormtrooper explained, following close behind her.
"Why was she guarding you?" he asked in a commanding tone.
Htaere slowed to a stop, drawing a
labored breath and running a slender hand across her eyes. "Claudius
requested it" she answered plainly. She looked to him earnestly.
"Where was she taken? Can you take me there?"
"Claudius who?" the Stormtrooper
asked, beginning to lose patience with the roundabout way she was
going about things.
Frustrated in her own rite that he was not understanding her, she
mustered up all the diplomacy she could to retain her patience.
"Claudius Rodney" she answered, head turning to take in the wreckage
briefly before looking back to the trooper. "Can you call him
please? This is of the utmost importance" she asked, with an almost
"Come with me," the Stormtrooper
ordered as he headed towards another Imperial speeder that had
arrived on scene. "Get in," he instructed as he reached the vehicle.
Htaere hurried after him, climbing
into the speeder obediently. "I would like to see Major Kiley" she
The taxed form of the Hapan heiress
meandered into the room where the woman charged with her protection
clung to life. Htaere in no way resembled the normally immaculate
intended wife of Admiral Claudius Rodney. Her dress was tattered in
places where the blast had singed it and tarnished with smudges of
dirt and grime from the streets. The odd bloodstain belonged to the
Major but the handful of bumps and scrapes along her arms and legs
were her own trophies of survival. Her face was a little dirty as
well, having been plunged into the street. She halted, canting her
head and staring into the bacta tank at the woman to whom she owed
The Ithorian, Doctor Pilaq Tohan,
turned his attention away from the medical readout to stare at the
woman who just entered with his large bulbous eyes. He addressed her
with his unique Ithorian stereophonic voice that took careful
listening to understand, "You really should not be in here."
Htaere's eyes took in the much
larger sentient. "Respectfully, it is my honor to remain at the
proverbial bedside of Major Kiley. She is the sole reason I draw
breath" she answered politely.
"I have known this woman for more
than a year," Doctor Tohan explained, "I did not think she had it in
her." He then returned to monitoring her vital signs on the controls
in front of him.
Htaere left him to his work, moving
off to the side and seating herself on an empty medical pallet. Her
lower legs and feet dangled over the edge, crossing at the ankle,
hands folding in her lap. She sighed audibly and reflected on how
lovely it would be to emerge from the refresher all clean and
comfortable and curl up under the downy duvet on her bed and fall
asleep to the trickling of the fountain. Her eyes remained on the
bacta tank for the most part, waiting patiently for the Major's
The sound of marching once again
filled the the area as Admiral Claudius Rodney, flanked by several
Imperial Stormtroopers, arrived on seen and immediately entered the
room containing Major Kiley. He did not notice Htaere in the corner
initially and headed straight for the bacta tank. He stood there
quietly and placed his hand upon the glass tank sadly. Without
turning his head he addressed his old doctor, "Will she make it?"
"Her liver was barely recognizable,"
Doctor Tohan explained, "But then again I have never studied
Clawdite anatomy so it very well might appear as it should."
"That's not funny, Pilaq," Claudius
said, still holding his palm against the glass of the tank.
"I do not know, Claudius," the
Doctor informed him, "She is a fighter though. She has that going
Htaere did not interfere, but rather
let them have the moment. She pushed herself from the pallet and
took a few silent steps forward, bare feet inaudible on the cold
floor. She remained towards the back watching. "She left a message
for you" she said aloud from behind them all.
Claudius snapped around immediately
upon hearing Htaere's familiar voice. He had heard no reports of her
status and feared the worst. He places a hand on each of her
shoulders and looked at her carefully to see if she was hurt. "Are
you alright?" he asked in a concerned tone. He then lowered his head
and placed a kiss upon her forehead. "I thought you were...," he
stopped himself and just stood there checking her over.
Her eyes softened and she welcomed
the affection. Nodding she answered solemnly "Yes, I am alright" she
answered quietly. Her eyes met his and she looked very genuine. "I
did not understand her message, but she said to tell you that she
for-..." Htaere's thoughts seemed to turn inward, trying to recall
what the major had said in those mind-altering moments after the
explosion. "...She for-..." she shook her head, at a loss. "She
"Shh," Claudius told her, "Don't
worry about that. She'll explain it when she wakes up." He placed
another soft kiss upon her forehead before moving his head back to
look at her again. "What happened?" he asked her softly.
"It is my fault. I wanted to see the
market," Htaere admitted, biting at her lower lip. "I asked to leave
the vehicle to peruse the market on foot. We were on our way back
when someone shouted something. I am having difficulty remembering
what happened next." She lowered her voice. "I do not understand,
but I am sorry. I am responsible for this."
He stepped forward and rapped his
arms around her, holding her head against his chest gently. "Shh.
It's not your fault," he told her in a soothing voice, "What's
important is that you're alright."
Whatever nervousness she felt at
being in her future husband's embrace for the first time, she met it
head on and made an equal effort. Her own arms slipped around his
torso, close enough that her bare feet fit neatly within the stance
of his booted feet. Also for the first time, she caught his scent,
his personal scent that was singular to he and he alone. Her eyes
closed as she allowed herself to nuzzle him a bit more intensely,
memorizing the way he smelled.
Later that night Major Kiley lay in
her hospital bed, having been removed from the bacta tank. Various
intravenous tubes were hooked up to her as well as electronic
monitoring devices. To combat the great deal of pain she was on
various pain medications, which made her loopy. She groaned as she
awoke and flopped her head from side to side on the pillow beneath
"You're a tough one to kill, Major,"
Claudius said to her as he noticed her awake. He had been seated at
her bedside for most of the evening.
"Don't you have better things to do
than make jokes at a sick woman's expense?" Kerrie asked him,
struggling to move her head over to look at him. She attempted to
transform back to her human form, but she was in too much pain to
concentrate. "Ugh," she groaned in a combination of pain and nausea
from her medication.
"There's a rumor going around that
you've forgiven me, Major," Claudius said with a slight smile as he
watched over her.
Kerrie stared at him with a blank,
almost scared, expression for a moment. "Hah ow hah ow hah ow,
hahahah owwww," Kerrie murmured as she laughed, which caused her a
great deal of pain. "Unh," she mumbled before continuing, "What made
you think that?"
"Htaere said to tell me that you
forg...," Claudius explained, "Weren't you trying to let me know you
Kerrie remained silent for a moment
and rolled her head away from eye contact with the Admiral. Out of
sight she frowned before sighing a reply, "No. I was trying to
explain that I forgot to duck. Forgot ... not forgive."
"Oh," Claudius replied with a bit of