The massive hulk of the Imperial
I-class Star Destroyer Warspite loomed over the small
moon, Brentaal IV. At her tactical station the sole alien aboard the
Warspite monitored her tactical display. Her brow furrowed as
she saw an alert flash as a target approached the Star Destroyer.
"Captain," Lieutenant Meham'ohorovi'cloca began, "we have an incoming target
Captain Anson turned away from
Commander Hood for a moment and proceeded down the walkway towards
Meham'ohorovi'cloca's position in the crew pit. "What do you make of it?" the
Captain inquired, "is it hostile?"
The Lieutenant lowered her head to
her displays once again as the results from the proximity scanners
flashed across her screen. "Sensors indicate it's a small transport,
Captain," she informed him, "It does not appear hostile, but I do
not see any arrivals on our schedule."
Suddenly Lieutenant Ames rose from
across the walkway in her Operations center. "Captain," she called
to her commanding officer, "the vessel is hailing us."
"Well we'll get to the bottom of
this then," the Captain announced as he walked towards Lieutenant
Ames' station, "put them through."
The display flickered to life to
reveal an attractive woman in her late 20's with finely chiseled
features, straight brown hair that hung well past her shoulders and
an intricate headband studded with jewels that radiated a soft
light. "On behalf of the Royal Hapes Consortium, the Lady Htaere
Ka`a Sha`ar arrives for her intended mate, Claudius Rodney" she
said. Her Basic was elegant and her accent thick. "Please allow us
permission to board" she continued, very matter-of-factly.
"Intended mate, sir?" Lieutenant
Ames repeated to the Captain. Her brow wrinkled with such confusion
it threatened to tear the skin from her forehead.
"Let me handle this, Lieutenant,"
Captain Anson said in a condescending tone to Ames. He stepped
forward to the display and cleared his throat. "We have received no
information regarding this ... 'mating' ...," he informed the woman
before taking a slight pause, "Nevertheless, we allow you to come
aboard." He then turned his attention back to Lieutenant
"Lieutenant ... lower the protective screens around the hangar bay."
He turned back towards the display before snapping his head back
towards the Lieutenant, "Oh ... and prepare an honor guard 'just in
Lieutenant Meham'ohorovi'cloca nodded her head
and made the necessary preparations. "Shall I alert the Admiral,
sir?" Meham'ohorovi'cloca asked the Captain.
"No," Captain Anson was quick to
interject, "No ... I would much rather have that honor. Lieutenant
Ames ... connect me to the Admiral's personal quarters."
Lieutenant Ames nodded once and
opened up a com channel to the Admiral's quarters, several decks
below the main bridge.
Admiral Rodney rose from his
position in bed when he heard the beeping on the comm panel on the
wall. He sighed as he had just about fallen to sleep. He depressed
the toggle on the panel and spoke in a slightly groggy tone, "What
is it bridge?"
"Sir," Captain Anson began, "There
is a delegation of Hapans arriving on the flight deck. It requires
your presence." The Captain and Lieutenant Ames both smirked at the
situation and did their best to cover up their mouths as they shared
"Hapans?" the Admiral repeated in
disbelief, "Captain what the hell are Hapans doing in this sector?"
"Sir, I believe that will become
clear once you meet with their ... representative," the Captain said
and then dragged a finger across his throat to instruct Lieutenant
Ames to cut the channel. Once done, he broke down and began to
hysterically laugh at the Admiral's apparent situation.
"Bridge?" the Admiral said, but
received no response as the channel had been cut. "Damnit," he said
as he rose from bed. He grabbed his tunic from where it had been
draped over his chair and threw it on almost haphazardly. He fiddled
with the flap as he tried to make him presentable as he scurried out
of the room. Walking down the dull corridor he entered the turbolift
and activate the controls for the turbolift. After several moments
descending in the lift he arrived on the flight deck. Making one
last check of himself he walked out of the turbolift and onto the
flight deck where he noticed Major Kiley and an entire company of
Stormtroopers had appeared in parade formation.
"Any idea what this is about,
Major?" he asked Major Kiley as he stood at the head of the
"None, sir," Major Kiley stated,
standing at attention, "I just received orders to form a company to
receive a VIP."
"Well this should be interesting,"
the Admiral said, having no idea what he was in for.
The transport settled smoothly on
the floor of the bay, the engines ticking as they cooled. As the
entrance ramp opened with a low *hum* and came to rest on the floor
paneling, a handful of young women appeared, all dressed in ornate
flowing robes, deep purple in color. All of their mouths and noses
were covered, revealing only their eyes and dark eyeliner, and all
were extensively decorated with jewelry around their necks, ankles
and wrists. The brown haired young woman strode down the ramp, chin
in the air and looking very pleased with herself and the whole
procession. Sandal-clad feet carried her a meter and a half away
from the Admiral before she halted, and along with the six
handmaidens, the bunch of them bowed deeply. "Claudius Rodney?" she
"Yes...," the Admiral said in a
slightly confused tone of voice. "To be entirely honest this is
highly unexpected. No one notified us about your impending visit,
nor did we receive a communiqué on to what we owe this pleasure." He
smiled, attempting to muster some of his charm from his days as a
diplomat in Alderaan's foreign ministry, "However, I assure you that
we will get to the bottom of this and those negligent will be
reprimanded. Nevertheless, we will have full diplomatic quarters
available for you and your staff aboard this vessel. I can only
assume that you've read about the recent activity on Brentaal and
would like to gather information firsthand?"
The young woman's expression
slipped, if only momentarily, into one of bewilderment. "I am not
sure what you mean." She instantly regained her composure and smiled
politely. "I am My`Ahme Renault, with the Hapan Attaché Corps. I
have been charged with the delivery of the Lady Htaere." With that,
My`Ahme stepped to the side and motioned to the transport. At the
top of the ramp stood another young woman, her face and shoulders
completely shrouded by a gauzy veil supported on a wire frame, which
descended from the top of a crown of sorts. A multi-tiered necklace
descended from beneath the veil. The fitted top the young woman wore
hugged a trim and curvey figure, the long sleeves cascading a foot
and a half beyond the tips of her fingers to conceal her hands
completely. The long skirt she wore of some pricey material skimmed
the floor, flowing around her ankles and dainty hide sandals. The
young woman descended the ramp as well and stood before the Admiral,
bowing as well. She remained silent and unmoving in anticipation for
the inspection she was sure to be given. My`Ahme glanced to the
Admiral, brow knit in concern. "The House Ka`a Sha`ar sends her
finest daughter...at the request of House Rodney." The Attaché
paused before continuing, looking deeply hurt. "Is she not
"Deliver..." the Admiral said
bewilderedly. His face reddened and he began to sweat lightly. He
coughed lightly as he began to choke up. "At the request of House
Rodney you say?" he repeatedly, as if it would make him somehow
understand it any clearer. He lowered his head slightly and fed the
information through his head again. Still, he could not accept this.
"Exactly who from House Rodney made this request?" he asked the
representative as he raised his head once again. His eyes snapped
towards the young woman being 'delivered' for a moment before
refocusing on the envoy who at this point had been doing all the
My`Ahme blinked large brown eyes,
perplexed. "The Duke Julius Rodney of Delaya, My Lord." Her head
canted slightly to the left. "You are to be wed, are you not? The
Lady Htaere was hand-chosen for you. I do not understand. Are you
not pleased?" If any of the other Hapans were equally as befuddled,
their body language did not betray them. The "bride-to-be" and her
handmaidens stood straight as pins and unflinching in demeanor.
"Damn my father and his schemes," he
cursed underneath his breath so that hopefully the Hapan delegation
would not hear him. He smiled at them politely and attempted to
regain his composure. "If you will wait here just a moment I will
endeavor to get to the bottom of this." He bowed in respect to the
delegation and moved briskly towards the far wall of the flight
deck. Coming to a stop near a comm panel he activated the control,
"Yes, Admiral," the familiar voice
of Lieutenant Ames chimed back on the control panel.
"Open up a comm channel to my father
on Delaya," he instructed the junior officer, "Immediately."
"Right away, sir," Lieutenant Ames
said. A wide smirk appeared upon her young face, fully aware that
the Admiral could not see her and there would be no harm.
A few moments later the voice of
Julius Rodney, Duke of Delaya, appeared on the comlink, "Claudius,
my son. You rarely contact me anymore. To what do I owe this
"Don't play coy with my, father,"
Claudius said in a confrontational tone, "Why is there a delegation
from Hapes here delivering me a 'wife' that you supposedly ordered?"
"It is a fine match, son," Julius
was quick to point you, "House Ka`a Sha`ar is a fine political
match for House Rodney. I am confident in the success of the union
and the quick delivery of a male heir."
"We have been through this time and
time again," the Admiral said, losing his patience, "I had a wife. I
will not marry again."
"My son, I grieve with you for your
loss," Julius said in a slightly compassionate voice, "But that was
fourteen years ago. You have to let go. You have to move on."
Claudius lowered his head and sighed
deeply. "It's pointless discussing this with you," he said as he
deactivated the comlink. Letting out a deep breath he moved back
towards the Hapan delegation and smiled politely once again. "I'm
sorry, but there's been a terrible mistake. I cannot get married,"
he told them in a polite, almost diplomatic tone. He did not want to
offend anyone because of his unwillingness.
For a handful of heartbeats, no one
moved. My`Ahme was making a very visible effort not to let her jaw
hit the floor. The bride-to-be's concealed head shifted slightly,
hidden face moving to her Attaché. Even the handmaidens looked to
her, the bunch of them in stunned stupor. My`Ahme turned and said
something in a different language to the entourage. They noticeably
bristled but it was subtle and fleeting. Her gaze returned to the
Admiral. "We offer our deepest apologies. If you allow us to refuel
and replenish our supplies, we will be taking leave shortly" she
said, reassuming her role as mouthpiece of the group.
"Of course," the Admiral said
nodding his head in respect. "Allow me to escort the Lady to our
finest quarters where our staff will attempt to make her stay as
pleasant and as comfortable as possible." He turned his attention
towards Major Kiley, whose cold demeanor had allowed her to stay
totally emotionless during this exchange. "See that they get
everything that they need, Major,"
"Yes, sir," Kerrie said as she walked
over towards the transport with several hangar personnel to deal
with the crew.
"Now, Milady, if you'll just follow
me we can try to make this as comfortable as possible," the Admiral
motioned towards the turbolift and allowed swift feet to carry him
there. "I'll get my father for this," he thought to himself as he
stood inside the turbolift, awaiting the entourage.
Htaere remained where she was, her
blank, gauzy "visage" turning again to My`Ahme. As if the words were
unspoken between them, the Attaché nodded slightly before speaking
Hapan again to the handmaidens. Two of them broke off from the group
to accompany their mistress as she moved off after the Admiral. In
the lift, the silence was deafening and the atmosphere
uncomfortable. And yet, none of them broke. Their posture was rigid
as ever, their facades blank, at least what could be seen of the
handmaidens. Safely hidden behind a border impenetrable to the eye,
Htaere was as big a mystery as the whole issue in and of itself.
"We're here," the Admiral announced
as the turbolift stopped on the level for his quarters. He had
become a bit flustered and called for the wrong level. "Finally," he
continued quietly, too quiet for them to hear. He came to a stop at
the door to the main chamber. As the door opened Claudius' face
turned pale. He swallowed and stepped forward into his own personal
quarters. He would not be getting away from this that easy after
all. Thinking fast on his feet he turned to Htaere to explain,
"These are my personal quarters. The finest on the ship. You may
wait here." He stood at attention should be called upon to provide
them with anything. He saw it as his mission to avoid a potential
diplomatic mishap. This war would end eventually and he did have a
future in the Alderaanian government to protect.
The handmaidens' eyes met each other
before acknowledging the Admiral. One of them spoke. Her Basic was
choppy and not nearly as fluent as My`Ahme's, yet it was still
gentle to the ear. "My Lady would have you to know she is most
grateful. The three of them emerged, looking about curiously. They
retreated across the room to the viewports where Htaere stood gazing
out at the unfamiliar planet they orbited. The handmaidens drew
their sleeves up past their palms to cover their hands before they
took to gently lifting the young woman's veil. Unable to let their
skin contact the crown, they took care to remove it carefully to let
their mistress rest, her back remaining to their guest, affording
him only a view of her long red-gold hair, tumbling down her back in
a soft wave. One of the handmaidens approached their esteemed host.
"It is not required that you remain. My Lady will not be an
imposition" she offered in her best Basic.
"It is my pleasure to stay,"
Claudius informed the handmaiden with a warm smile. He was able to
relax slightly since he was in the familiar environment of his
quarters. He looked over towards Htare standing by the viewport. He
felt some sadness in his heart for what this girl had been put
through. He felt it was his obligation to make sure no harm was done
before she left. He approached her slowly from behind and stood next
to her. He did not look at her directly but instead joined her in
looking at Brentaal IV below. As he did so, he caught her reflection
on the viewport. He was immediately struck by her beauty. He long
knew that Hapans were renowned for their appearance, but always
thought it was an old spacers' myth. As he stood there looking at
her young face in the viewport he lost himself and said something.
He just there quietly looking as if he were the only one on the
Htaere's eyes were the cloudy grey
color of the skies moments before a storm broke loose. Tattooed on
her forehead was a jade-colored diamond, and in the middle of it,
embedded surgically was a small mature rainbow gem, glowing softly
with a amber hue. Also tattooed beneath each eye, side by side, were
two small green upside-down triangles. Bizarre to outsiders, each
marking was a trace of her lineage and her status. As he drew up
next to her, her head turned away. The handmaidens were equally as
dumbfounded by his actions, confused by his involuntary mixed
messages. One of them spoke again. "My Lady wishes not to offend
with..." she fished for the right word..."...informalness..." she
"Informalness?" he asked the
handmaiden. His gaze never moved away from her reflection on the
"Since you will not be married, to
see her is...informal. The royalty do not show their faces to the
public," the handmaiden continued, and between the two of them, they
readied the elaborate headgear that constituted her crown, veil and
the frame that held it out around her face as if radiating
downwards. "My Lady wishes not to insult the Admiral further" she
continued. Htaere turned away from him entirely to face her
handmaidens as they took to meticulously replacing the headpiece.
"Oh," the Admiral said, slowly
beginning to understand some of their culture. "No insult was taken.
I assure you. Perhaps we might speak while they ready your ship?" he
asked, a hopeful tenor to his voice. He moved slowly across the room
towards one of the many seating arrangements in the entry room. He
swallowed nervously and wondered if her culture would even allow her
to talk to him.
The handmaidens, yet again, looked
at each other curiously. The Hapans had been under the impression
Htaere's suitor would be much like the noble who had made the
arrangements. They were as equally surprised if not more so by the
events that had played out. One of them addressed the Admiral again.
"My Lady was instructed not to speak. It is not her purpose. It was
made clear to her that..." another pause as she mentally searched
for the best word, "...eloquence was neither desired nor required."
The handmaiden fidgeted for a moment. "We are most confused by all
"I'm sorry," the Admiral said to the
Handmaiden, trying to make some sense of this, "Are you implying
that my father requested she be instructed not to talk?" His
gaze shifted over towards Htaere before refocusing on the Handmaiden
to await a response.
"It is not her purpose. Her purpose
is to be a socially acceptable mate and produce offspring. She will
answer any direct questions the Admiral asks of her." The handmaiden
motioned to her counterpart, who quickly ushered Htaere towards him.
"The men on your planet must be very
happy," the Admiral said more to himself than to the Handmaiden. He
smiled up towards Htaere and asked her the first question that came
to mind, "Did your parents try to force you into this like mine
Htaere's head dipped in a slight nod
and she spoke for the first time since their landing. Her voice was
quiet and like her companions, was heavily accented. "Yes, My Lord."
"It seems parents are equally
meddlesome in every culture," he said in a deliberate effort towards
lightening the mood some. "What about you," he continued, "Do you
want to get married?"
The question was preposterous to
her. The subject had never been made available for her to accept or
reject. "The choice is not mine to make."
"Not yours to make?" he repeated to
her, unwilling to accept it. "It's the most important decision
you'll ever make in your life," he pointed out, "there's no one else
that should decide it."
Htaere glanced to the closest
handmaiden, unsure of what to say. Her handmaiden answered on her
behalf. "My Lady will be promised to another upon her return home.
In efforts to secure peace, the Hapes Consortium is exporting...good
will...at this time."
Claudius did not allow his face to
move away from Htaere as the Handmaiden spoken. "Is that all you
are?" he asked, "An export your family considers 'good will?'"
"It is my duty to the Consortium."
"Duty," he thought to himself.
Finally something he could understand. He nodded to her quietly.
There was a sad look upon his face and his mind seemed to drift
elsewhere. "It is my ... 'duty' ... to produce a son to carry
on my family's lineage," he explained.
"Then it is my hope that you do so"
she said, seemingly faint traces of sympathy in her voice. If anyone
understood familial obligation, it was she.
"Are you in a rush to get home to
Hapes and wait for your parents to find another suitor?" Claudius
asked her in a bold gesture. Privately he hoped she said yes, but he
doubted her culture would permit it.
"I must return promptly. My family's
honor depends on it."
"Well," the Admiral said
disappointedly, "If your family is anything like mine I'm sure their
honor is very important to them. Perhaps more important than
It would go unnoticed beneath the
veil, but Htaere's lips lifted into a mirthless half-grin. "You are
not what I expected. You have been most kind to me. I will remember
this" she said, nodding slowly.
"I am nothing like the rest of my
family," Claudius was quick to point down. He looked at the floor
quietly. Their time together would soon end and for some reason this
made him sad. Silly really. Nevertheless, he had become quite
enamored by her in a short period of time.
It was quiet for a moment. "They did
not tell me you serve the Empire. You are nothing like them either.
That is...a good thing."
"Be careful," the Admiral said in a
manner half-serious, half-joking, "I wouldn't put it past the ISB
from putting a monitoring device in here." He raised his head to
look at her again with a warm smile upon his face from the joke.
"Are you sure you can't stay for a short while?" he asked one last
"I cannot. Our ship is ready most
likely. We must be going. You have been a gracious and benevolent
host" she replied. Htaere's own covered hands reached up to lift the
veil to reveal her face and fix him with a genuinely touched smile.
"Thank you" she offered quietly. She bowed slightly so as not to tip
the large headpiece. Her handmaidens followed suit, paying him the
respect he deserved.
"Very well," the Admiral said
politely. He rose from his seat and proceeded towards the room's
exit. Please, allow me the honor of escorting you back to your ship.
He proceeded slowly, as if savoring every moment, down the corridor
towards the familiar turbolift where he awaited Htaere and her
entourage of handmaidens.
Htaere lowered her veil before
gliding gracefully back towards the lift. Her form stiffened again,
ready for public scrutiny, her handmaidens taking up their positions
behind her as they waited. Her chin lifted proudly, the very posture
trained into her from early on. She let the last moments of
pleasantries fade away until she was back to being the stoic trophy
piece she was upon arrival.
The lift made its steady descent
back towards the flight deck where the crew had worked hard at
refueling her ship. Major Kiley immediately snapped into formation
when the turbolift doors opened, the Stormtroopers stepping into
place in an impressive sight. The Admiral was first to exit the
turbolift and made his way towards Htaere's transport. He cleared
his throat awkwardly and stood at attention near the ramp of her
transport, preparing to bid her a proper farewell.
Htaere and her handmaidens rejoined
the rest of the entourage at the base of the ramp. The collective
mood was less jovial but they were polite and grateful all the same.
My`Ahme bowed deeply to the crew of the Warspite and her
commander for their generous reception. "On behalf of the Royal
House of Hapes, we apologize for this infraction and thank you
sincerely for having us" she said straightening. Htaere and her
escorts bowed one last time before they shuffled her back up the
ramp. My`Ahme fixed a pleasant enough smile to her lovely face and
added "The Admiral and his crew are welcomed in Hapes any time"
before pivoting sharply and disappearing up the ramp along with the
handmaidens. When everyone was clear, the ramp lifted and the flight
crew began preparations for lift off and travel, including a
trajectory back to Hapes.
As the transport departed the Warspite's hangar the crew busied themselves and eventually
departed. Gone was the company of Stormtroopers and the technicians.
Soon all that remained were Admiral Rodney and his loyal henchwoman,
Major Kiley. He watched the transport as it moved away from the Star
Destroyer and flinched slightly when it entered hyperspace.
"Will you be needing anything else
tonight, Milord," Major Kiley asked the Admiral.
"No," the Admiral said, unmoving.
"Very well. Goodnight, sir," Major
Kiley said before exiting the flight deck.
All alone he stood there now looking
out at the vast field of stars. "Which one is Hapes?" he wondered
quietly to himself.