Era of Rebellion - Navigation

Christopher Levy and J. Kate Stasiak.
Zero years after the Battle of Yavin (35:7:17) in the Essesia system: Tenacity, Valkyrie, and Warspite.
Lieutenant Meham'ohorovi'cloca, Grand Moff Claudius Rodney, and Rear Admiral Rhiannon T'Jarell.

Over the past several days Claudius Rodney had come to learn that the pain from the loss of a child was worse than that of the pain of losing a wife. It perhaps would have been easier if she had simply passed away ... there would be closure. But the fact that his daughter had simply run away and betrayed him had magnified the loss exponentially. He had not left his quarters since reviewing her HoloNet transmission, and his command had unraveled beneath him. His manner was unkempt and he had grown unpleasant facial hair, nor had he changed his uniform. In addition, his adjutant was critically wounded and unavailable, and his advisor was battling her own personal demons. He could not face his other children, nor his subordinates, and had merely transmitted electronic orders that virtually delegated most of the operations in the Oversector to others. As he sat on the edge of his bed, looking ragged and exhausted with sunken eyes, he re-watched his daughter's transmission repeatedly ... constantly reliving the trauma.

"I will return in a few of hours," Rhiannon nodded in acknowledgment at her escort's salute and shook her head as the young man departed to resume his duties on the bridge. "Really now. If I can run a Victory-class Star Destroyer, I can certainly pilot a Lambda-shuttle out of my own hangar bay. Ugh!" Striding up the boarding ramp, the Commodore stepped through the entrance then pulled the lever that caused her mobile 'stairway' to lift up and close behind her. Walking to the cockpit now, she could not help but wonder whether heading up to the Warspite was really such a good idea. The original plan was to have contacted the Grand Moff's office and inquire after his health ... not to execute a surprise landing in his flagship's main hangar bay. Still, there was something 'special' about doing things in person. And deep inside, Rhiannon worried about Claudius' state of mind ... especially after the shocking circumstances of his beloved daughter's disappearance.

Strapping now into her safety restraints as the Hapan leaned forward in her pilot's chair, gloved hands reaching forward to execute take-off procedures as fingertips danced expertly over a series of glowing command panels. Within moments, she received the authorization to depart.

A small smile of satisfaction crossed her exquisite, angular features as the shuttle began taking off and heading out into space. It would not take long to reach the Imperial Star Destroyer; Rhia made sure that the Tenacity was always within comfortable travel distance to the Governor's vessel. It would be a few minutes before she arrived, during which time the young woman took a moment to contact the crew of the Warspite ... just to make sure that her sudden 'intrusion' would not be unwelcome in their midst.

After several moments of static the foreign sounding voice of Lieutenant Meham'ohorovi'cloca, the Warspite's tactical officer began to transmit. "Shuttle Valkyrie, we have you on our screens now," she said, rather bluntly, as she monitored it and countless other vessels that had filled the Essesia system. Her red eyes blinked several times as she read the transponder of the shuttle, noting it had been assigned to Commodore T'Jarell's flagship. She suspected it could be a courier, perhaps with orders, now that the Commodore had been assigned command of the squadron. "We will give you priority landing clearance," she said, matter-of-factly, as she turned to terminal to issue the necessary orders to the deck officer on the hangar bay.

"Thank you," replied Rhiannon in her normal, firm voice as she leaned back and gently guided the shuttlecraft toward the indicated docking point. It would not be long now, she reminded herself, and a final glance was given into a tiny mirror she sometimes carried in her pocket. Not a single trace of makeup visible to the naked eye. Nope; the Hapan rarely needed any. But upon closer observation, it would become painfully obvious that the young woman barely slept. The dark circles under her eyes were camouflaged only by the wavy wisps of chestnut that fell about her face, framing it softly. As the shuttle landed and she powered down all non-essential systems, Rhiannon sighed and unstrapped from her safety restraints, then proceeded to vacate the cockpit in pursuit of her current undertaking.

As the commodore descended the ramp, the crew came to a halt, and snapped to attention at the arrival of a flag officer. As this was occurring, Lieutenant Meham'ohorovi'cloca emerged from the turbolift and marched across the flight deck. The young Chiss' blue skinned sharply contrasted with her olive-grey uniform, which she kept immaculate. As she arrived in front of the Commodore, she came to a halt and stood before her in a proper, rigid state. "It is agreeable to see you again, Commodore. How may I be of service?" she asked, her red eyes looking over the beautiful, young Hapan intently, hoping that perhaps she was here to bring order to the chaos that they had endured these past several days.

"I am not here as your commanding officer, Lieutenant," Rhia moved up beside the Chiss, falling in tandem with the young woman's sprightly gait as the Hapan gestured onward, suggesting they start walking together. "I am here as a concerned friend. The Governor, how is he?" she asked quickly, getting right down to the point ... dark mahogany gaze focusing the crimson one beside her, as they walked.

Meham'ohorovi'cloca took a step forward towards the Commodore, and leaned her face towards her so that her voice could only be heard for her. "Quite unwell, Milady. He has ... sequestered ... himself since the incident with his daughter," she explained, quietly, with genuine concern in her voice. As it was the Grand Moff that was responsible for her career and success in the Imperial Navy, she felt a strong sense of loyalty to the man, and it pained her to see him in such a way. There were rumors surrounding the man and his relationship with the Commodore, and she thought perhaps the young Hapan might be able to remedy the situation in a way they could not.

"I am certain he could use at least a shave," Rhiannon considered as a matter-of-factly as the two of them stepped into the nearest turbolift. "Please escort me to his location. I might need your help, Lieutenant ... can I count on you? Your discretion in this matter is paramount." Dark, smoldering gaze regarded the cobalt-skinned alien as the door of the lift closed up ahead.

"I am not aware of the regulations concerning the facial hair on Regional Governors, Milady. Would you like me to check?" Meham'ohorovi'cloca responded earnestly, as she began to escort the young woman towards the nearest repusorlift. As they entered the life and began to ascend towards the level where Grand Moff Rodney's quarters were contained, she looked over the young woman once again. "If I can be of any assistance at all, Milady, I will do my utmost," she explained, with a decided lack of emotion, as she emphatically nodded her head to the woman.

A subtle roll of eyes accentuated Rhiannon's exasperation with the young woman's logic and understanding of practical, common sense matters. "No, Lieutenant. I am simply asking you to accompany me to the Governor's quarters. Rules of propriety, and all that ... I am sure I do not need to explain it all to you, word for word?" Staring down the young Chiss, the Hapan waited until the lift came to a complete stop and both of them emerged onto the desired hall which would bring Rhia ever closer to her destination.

It took several moments for the Chiss tactical officer to process exactly what the Commodore meant, and as a result she brushed slightly, briefly turning her cheeks purple. "Of course, Milady," she said, as she stepped out of the lift and began walking down the corridor towards the Grand Moff's quarters. She stopped at an unmarked door, and her body language immediately shifted, indicating she had become uncomfortable. Meham'ohorovi'cloca turned to the Commodore for a moment, and was about to speak, but stopped herself. "The ... Governor's children are in there," she finally revealed, feeling somewhat strained, before proceeding further down the corridor until they arrived at the door to the Grand Moff's quarters.

"I see," Rhiannon nodded gravely even though she did not. Why would Claudius keep them away from his person given the way he was feeling lately? Perhaps she could find out later. As they walked in silence, the Hapan marveled at the Chiss female's devotion to the Grand Moff, innately grateful that he had someone nearby that he could trust and depend upon. When they arrived at the doorway leading into Claudius' quarters, Rhiannon took a half-step back and paused, waiting in silence until Meham'ohorovi'cloca rang the chime that would (hopefully) allow them both inside.

"Forgive me for what I am about to do, Milady. But it is the only way..." Meham'ohorovi'cloca said, before turning to the access panel on the wall. A moment later, she had removed the panel's covering and began to strip two of the wires. "He has not opened the door..." she explained, with a great level of sadness, before a series of sparks emanated from the conduit she was working on. More sluggishly than normal, the door to the Grand Moff's personal quarters opened, revealed nothing but darkness and stale air. "Good luck," she said, bowing slightly at the waist, as she did not feel comfortable moving any further into the man's personal realm.

Glancing at the Chiss planting her feet firmly outside, Rhiannon simply shrugged. "Stay here, Lieutenant. Do not move, you hear me? I will check things out myself." Stepping inside the dank chamber, the young Hapan female pulled a pocket-sized glowrod and began illuminating her new and dubious surroundings. "Your Excellency," she called out momentarily as her steps brought her a meter or so, inward. "Where are you? Are you alright?"

"I prefer it dark," Claudius said quietly, with a voice that was both distant and sad. He brought his arm up to shield his eyes from her light, blinking repeatedly as his eyes adjusted to the newfound brightness. It took him several moments to realize that it was Rhiannon who was entering the room, and the revelation brought him a short, but genuine moment of relief. "Rhiannon?" he called out, his voice sounding gravelly, as his mouth was dry and he was in desperate need of a non-alcoholic drink. "Wh-what are you doing here?" he asked, bringing his hand up to his face, now covered with an unclean matt of facial hair. He had gone to a far away dark place as a result of his grief.

Lowering the glowrod, the Hapan moved in the direction of the voice, guided by instinct rather than smarts ... feeling the sudden need to be as near the man as possible. Protective or nurturing, whatever one may call it ... was the gut feeling guiding her now. "I am here to see for myself that you are alright, Sir ... something that I feel, for a great many reasons ... had to be done, before I depart for the mission at hand." She could make out his outline now, though the specifics were unclear. The Hapan was nearly blind in such surroundings and yet, here she was ... braving the impossible, to get to him. "Sir? I can't ... I am having a bit of a problem here..." And then she felt herself losing her footing, stumbling into the unknown of the dark.

"I think it would be an honest statement that I am not alright," Claudius said, making a genuine assessment of himself and his current situation. When he heard her begin to stumble, reality crashed down upon him and he began to worry about something besides himself. He surged forward from the bed, and moved towards her, to prevent her from falling. Unfortunately, a fall might have been preferable to being caught by him, as he had not showered or changed his uniform in several days and was now quite ripe. "You must be more careful," he said to her, as his face turned towards her, placing a gentle kiss upon her cheek that would reveal the presence of his unpleasant facial hair.

Shuddering slightly, Rhiannon pulled away from Claudius, still unable to see much of him as the glowrod tumbled out of her grasp and rolled on the floor and under some mysterious piece of furniture that she could not currently identify. "No offense, Sir," she managed under her breath even as her fingertips moved to clasp around his neck, for leverage ... and her mind swarmed with a dozen expletives of Hapan origin as Rhiannon cursed herself for the innate clumsiness when faced with vestiges of darkness. "But you could use a shower ... and a shave!"

"I-I-," Claudius stammered several times, as he began an incomplete thought, feeling quite confused and disoriented. "How many days has it been?" he asked weakly, relying on her for as much support as he was giving her to remain upright. He sighed softly against her, revealing that his breath was also quite bad at the moment. He was a wreck ... his daughter had destroyed him in ways that even he himself did not realize. "Will you help me?" he asked, somewhat pathetically, as he reached for the panel next to them that would finally activate the lights. Once the cabin was illuminated it revealed the full extent of the mess that had accumulated, and his weakened, disheveled state.

"Just one since I've received your orders, Sir."

It was so strange, using titles when she recalled (not without a sudden rush of blood to her cheeks), all the tenderness and intimacy they had shared recently. "Of course I will help you; just as you will help me. Oh, I am sure you remember ... my race is blind in the dark. It will take me a moment to get used to the illumination you have just provided." Smiling weakly, Rhia moved to help Claudius to the refresher as she tried to avoid looking at his slumped, defeated posture. Once they arrived, she walked him to the sink and stretched his hands over the latter, releasing a cool, refreshing stream of water to gently exfoliate and rejuvenate his tired skin.

"I've never shaved a man before," she confessed, after wiping his hands clean. "But your Chiss Lieutenant is just outside the door, standing by. I don't suppose she is well versed in grooming male facial hair?"

Claudius was grateful for her assistance, but worried his feebleness would serve to remind her of the discrepancy of age between the two. When the cool water impacted him, it jarred him into a state of consciousness he had not experienced for several days. "Ugh," he groaned softly, tiredly, as she tended to him in a manner that was both needed and appreciated. "I am not entirely convinced that her brain is not a processor," he said, only half-joking, as he referred to his seemingly frigid tactical officer. "Has my absence been noticed?" he asked her, sounding somewhat ashamed of how far he had let things get out of hand.

"Just a little," Rhiannon turned her face to press her lips affectionately against Claudius' rugged cheek. "Mainly, you did not answer any of my transmissions. I had to come here personally to make sure you were alright. And I'm ever so glad, that you are." Her hands moved to clasp at the nape of his neck as she drew him into a gentle hug and turned to whisper into his ear, "But you really do need a shower and a change of clothes. Also, some food and water could do wonders. Shall I make some of these arrangements for you, Sir?" Rhia asked, dabbing a bit of cool relief against her lover's face and cheeks before setting the damp face-towel aside.

"I am sorry ... to all of you," Claudius said, as he readily accepted her hug, and felt the warmth and tenderness flow through his body. "I did not ... could not ... answer," he explained, with a fatigued sigh, as he realized that was an unacceptable answer for a man of his position. "Please. Make them..." he said, as he looked up to the mirror to smile at her. "I am eternally thankful for your presence at this moment," he explained to her, before turning his head to the right to begin kissing the arm that she embraced him with.

Rhiannon waited until Claudius had finished imparting his 'affections' toward her, then gently slid out of his arms and turned in the direction of the door that led out of the refresher and toward the exit out of his private chambers. "I will just be a minute; please go ahead and take your shower while we wait ... we will have a few minutes before the repast arrives," she announced, walking toward the door where she expected the Chiss officer to be. "Lieutenant? If you are still there, please do me a favor. I need some food and drink brought ... the Governor is hungry. I would prefer it if you brought some broth and maybe juri juice, for starters. Nothing that would overly upset his stomach. And Lieutenant? Please keep all of this to yourself. It does not need to be announced ... who this is for, and why ... I am sure you understand." Lowering her voice, the Hapan smiled as she looked out into the hallway, nodding to her 'partner-in-crime'.

Lieutenant Meham'ohorovi'cloca blinked her red eyes silently at the Commodore's request ... if anyone else had requested her to deliver room service she very likely would have filed an official grievance, but this was different. "It will be done, Milady. I will tell the mess the food is for the bridge crew. Given the current workload, many of the officers have taken meals at their stations," she explained, complaining in an indirect way that even she did not pick up on, before turning about on her heels and marching down the corridor. At least hopefully he would eat, she thought to herself as she moved at a brisk, yet professional, pace towards the mess.

"Will you join me?" Claudius asked, as he rose from the vanity he had been washing up at, and began the process of undressing. The olive-grey uniform that he stripped out of would be better off burned than washed, and as he let it fall to the ground he got his first real look at himself in the illuminated mirror. "Oh dear..." he said with a great bit of displeasure, as he saw how weary his face looked, the unmanaged facial hair, and the bags beneath his eyes. "What you must think of me... " he said sadly towards Rhia, as his hand moved towards his shaving kit. He was not one for new technology among his toiletries, and still preferred the manner of grooming that most would have thought arcane. As he began to shave away the gruff from his face he began to look ... and feel ... more himself again.

Rhiannon was well outside of hearing range for Claudius' request or any subsequent comment he had made, and so she did not respond to anything while standing out in the hall with the Chiss officer. Instead, she glanced to her chronometer, realizing time was ticking away and it was unmercifully short. Striding back toward the refresher, she knocked on the door frame before entering. "Sir? Are you decent? The food is on its way. I hope you are doing well..." And then a glimpse of him shaving reassured her that Claudius was indeed, alright. Or so it appeared.

Once his face was once again clean shaven, he brought his hand up to his face to stroke at it carefully ... that was more like it. His attention then shifted towards the refresher unit, activating it, but did not step in. He moved towards the doorway, showing no modesty, nor any attempt to shield himself as he looked at the lovely young Hapan with whom he had been intimate with. "I asked if you'd like to join me in the refresher," he said, repeating his question, as his brown eyes scanned over her beautiful features. It was the first pleasant thing he had encountered since his daughter's betrayal.

"Ah, of course." Rhiannon stepped inside rather cautiously, keeping an eye out for any spills on the floor that could cause her to slip and fall. Seeing none, she walked in further, catching a glimpse of Claudius who took no precautions to keep his modesty afloat. Canting her head, the Hapan glanced up to his face, careful to avoid taking a peek to his more intimate parts. "Join you for what, exactly?"

"In the refresher," Claudius said, as he moved from her towards the unit, which was now powered up and operating at the temperature that he liked. "I am so glad you are here, Rhiannon. It means so much that you are helping me find my lost self," he said, keeping his brown eyes locked upon hers with genuine admiration. "What I have lost ... and what I must do... are dwelling heavily upon me, but with your support I believe I can get through it..." he confided in her, perhaps being a bit forward, as his feelings towards her had grown immensely through her devotion to him through this crisis.

Reaching up to remove a fresh bathrobe hanging on one of the hooks, Rhiannon removed the cotton garment before draping it caringly about Claudius' shoulders. "I have no doubt you will get through this, Claudius ... and I promise you, to do my best to help you through this. Though I am not certain that investing in me as the commander of your naval fleet is the best idea. I lack the experience to be efficient. Still, if you wish me to proceed, I shall do my utmost." Wrapping her arms around him gently, the Hapan delivered a caring hug to the man who was at least thirty years her senior, yet was hardly seen as that, by her. "Come. Take some ease in the comfort of your bed. Supper shall be served shortly. There are some things I would like to talk with you about before I depart on the mission that we both know, is both as difficult as it is delicate."

Claudius allowed the robe to be wrapped around him, before moving towards the bed with her. "You have my utmost confidence, and more importantly ... my trust," he explained to her, with genuine sincerity as he sat down on the edge of the bed, remembering himself this time and moving to conceal his more vulnerable regions from sight. "What is it that you wish to discuss, Rhia?" he asked, as he pushed away his own fears and concerns to focus on her own. He offered a small, reassuring smile as he looked up at her ... letting her know that he cared and wanted to hear her concerns.

Lifting her long lashes to look at him with utmost sincerity, the Hapan Commodore managed a small smile. "I have defied your direct order. The fleet has not been deployed to guard Esseles as you asked. Instead, I have had my own task force, the Omega, take up the function of policing the orbit of the planet." She took a long, deep breath in before continuing. "I did this, so the sector fleet would not become solely invested in a blockade ... a move which, I believe, could be taken advantage of ... by our enemies." Lowering her voice, Rhiannon glanced from his profile to the floor, too shy to take his hand, too bold to sit or stand away from him as she resumed her vigil of him in silence, remaining firmly installed upon the edge of the Governor's bed.

Claudius lowered his head into hands silently, as he brought his left hand up to pinch at the bridge of his nose. His eyes hurt and he had a tremendous headache. "You are right ... of course," he said, acknowledging the fact that his order was driven more by personal reasons than professional ones. "That is why I have delegated responsibility to you. In matters of family I cannot be trusted to make the right decision," he admitted, in a surprising amount of honesty not normally spoken by men of his position. "I must get her back," he said to her, raising his head, and locking his eyes to her to reveal a look of pathetic desperation to her.

Shaking her head at Claudius in his demand for having his daughter back again, Rhiannon seemed intent on stirring the pot that was already full of trouble but in fact, she was more interested in having her lover see reason than to succumb to the volatile need for control of anyone and anything he considered 'his.' Her hand came up to clasp his tightly, in an effort to have him focus on the present ... on her. "You want to get her back, yes ... but must you? No, I can't believe that. You cannot be the tyrant she accused you of being. You are a loving, nurturing father who cares about the well-being of his family. You are its guardian and protector. You are not its draconian oppressor." A soulful glance was fixed upon the Governor's features, as if seeking a confirmation that all of Rhia's beliefs of who he was or whom he aspired to be, were true.

"My daughter has fallen under the influence of a person or persons while I have been focused on my duty. I did not suspect this in the slightest. I cannot believe her capable of saying those things, of trying to kill our protector, of giving information to the Rebellion unless she was being controlled," Claudius said, trembling visibly, and presenting the image of a man who very much could not accept what his daughter had genuinely done. "The Rebellion is filled with criminals, terrorists ... rapists..." he said, as his anger began to increase, and his voice level matched his rapid heart beat. "She is in danger and she must be saved!" he said, pleading with Rhia to help him, as his mind dwelled inevitably on his family.

"Each side is filled with its own brand of vermin, Governor," Rhia said firmly, her voice seeping with quiet, determined dignity. "I serve the Empire, but I am not blind. And if you feel that I am at any point, disloyal ... it is within your right to decimate my existence. But until the day that happens, I hope to serve you in whatever way you see fit," she concluded, releasing his hand as she felt his ire rise. "As for your daughter, you must let her determine her own path ... and stop trying to dictate to her, as an Emperor would, to a slave. Do you understand me, Claudius?"

Claudius listened to her words intently, as they affected him greatly, and caused tears to begin to well up in the corner of his eyes. "Do you ... do you think I am the cause of this, Rhia?" he asked, with genuine concern, as his voice cracked and threatened to break. "Do you think I tried too strongly to control her life and she decided to rebel against me ... by rebelling against the Empire?" his lip began to quiver, as he began to logically process the events of the past week in his head. He began replaying the events of the past week in his mind, and then scanning back further in the past for any clues to her duplicity.

"Have you done any of the things she has accused you of, Claudius?" Rhiannon's eyes, passive up to this point, began to glow with a strange intensity, as she focused on every move he made. "Forget the Rebellion for the moment. Was she telling the truth in the unfortunate announcement she made? I won't hold it against you if you did. I just want to know if she was right, or whether someone has brainwashed her to say the things she did. You can trust me," her dark brown eyes pleaded; an inner voice already putting her at ease, already telling her that she would know whether the Grand Moff was telling the truth or not ... if he should speak.

"No!" Claudius insisted, not being aware of any validity between his daughter's claims. In fact, it was he who had been brainwashed, and over the years of grief at the death of his first wife had become a loyal devotee of the Emperor's New Order. In his mind he had done nothing wrong, but judging his actions largely depended on one's point of view. "Ralltiir has declared open Rebellion against us. We have retaliated with proper military means," he explained to her, feeling justified in his actions. "But, this is war ... and at times there is collateral damage. And at times there are overzealous commanders who go beyond their orders in an attempt to gain recognition. When I learn of such things I put an end to them. I swear it," speaking genuine and from the heart as he looked to her for approval. In his mind, he was bringing order to a region that had been plagued by insurgents and nothing more.

"Proper military means," she echoed soullessly, her gaze turning dim. "I don't even know what that means. Did you take prisoners? Or did you eradicate everyone? There is a difference, you see ... Claudius. Just as there is a difference between love and lust ... or whatever it is that you think we have, between us..."

"This is not lust, Rhia," Claudius said quickly, ignoring her questions about the status of the war to focus on the statue of their relationship. "My feelings for you extend well beyond the realm of the physical," he assured her, moving his hand atop hers and giving her a reassuring squeeze. "Our goal has always been to take prisoners. To gather intelligence. But, these Rebels do their damndest to ensure they don't get taken prisoner," he explained to her, as he tried to explain the conduct of the war to her thus far. "Most of those decisions are left to field commanders. I get reports, but despite the best efforts my aide they continue to pile up and I get continuously behind in reviewing them," he said, as he continued to make excuses ... all valid of course, at least from his point of view.

"As you say," Rhiannon responded with a nod, unsure of where she stood where the Rebel Alliance was concerned. She knew that they were branded the enemies of the Empire, but given that her sister decided to stand with these 'enemies' her feelings on the matter were ... conflicted. "If your daughter wishes to go, you can't really stop her, Claudius ... it is something that will happen, sooner or later ... and if later, she may end up resenting you even more so, for not letting her follow her own heart and perhaps ... never forgive you in the end. Is that something you wish to risk? Wouldn't you rather reconcile with her from afar, than to be branded her enemy, close up?"

"You do not understand the gravity of the situation, Rhia," Claudius said, as he considered his next words very carefully. "As we speak agents of the Imperial Security Bureau are hunting for her. Despite my grandiose title I have little influence over COMPNOR. They have plagued me before I even arrived in this sector. And they have cost me more than you can ever know..." he said, speaking of this miscarriage his wife suffered at the hands of ISB interrogators. "In fact, the only reason I brought my family to Esseles was because Major Zevrin, the ISB Sector Officer, ordered me to bring them here to show the locals that there was no danger..." his voice began to trail off as he spoke those words, remembering what he had forgotten. It was that woman who brought his children here ... she was to blame ... and although he did not realize it his jaw was starting to clench and his hands were balling into fists.

It was then that Meham'ohorovi'cloca returned carrying a tray of food, but did not cross the threshold to enter the sanctity of the governor's quarters. "Commodore T'Jarell?" she called out into the room, as she did her best to steady the tray of food. It was her earnest hope that the woman could get Grand Moff Rodney to eat and return sense of order to his command. They were desperately in need of leadership.

Rhiannon listened carefully as Claudius attempted to explain matters regarding his current predicament, which most surely had taken subtle yet firm roots in the past. She was about to offer a reply when Mohorovic's voice resounded from the hallway. "Do excuse me," the Hapan smiled apologetically as she drew to her feet. "Your repast is here. Allow me to fetch it for you before it gets cold." The last phrase was a statement rather than a question and before Claudius could object, Rhia was already on her way to the door, momentarily retrieving the tray. "Thank you, Lieutenant," she nodded gracefully, pivoting slightly to steal a quick glance at Rodney. "I will take it from here. Please resume your duties; I will contact you when I'm about to leave." And with that, the Hapan walked away from the door, letting it close behind her as she returned to her lover's side. She set the tray carefully on the floor, then took a seat next to him. "I would like you to try some food, perhaps a cup of stim tea?" Her dark brown eyes lifted to meet his, hopeful and serene.

"Yes. I should eat. You are right of course," Claudius replied weakly, having not eaten in a couple of days. He examined the tray, removing the covering to reveal a light breakfast, complete with an assortment of muffins. "I never much cared for muffins," he mused, before taking a large bite of one made with local grains. "Would you care for any?" he asked, offering her his food in a gentlemanly manner before proceeding. In the way that she had cared for him and saw to his well-being he began to see her in a new light ... as something much more than the mistress she feared becoming.

Shaking her head, Rhiannon smiled softly. "Thank you for offering but I have already dined. May I pour you a cup of tea?" Her hands shyly moved to embrace his arm as she leaned up against him and placed a soft kiss upon his shoulder. "I am sorry about all the things I said before. It was not my place to question you in that manner. I am trying to get to know the man beneath the uniform; I want to know everything about you, Claudius. I am afraid that there may be some things in the way ... secrets, perhaps ... that you are not ready to share and of which I have none ... that will wreak havoc in our ... relationship." Sighing, she pulled away and leaned down to retrieve the thermos containing the drink she previously offered to pour for him.

"Yes. Please. I'd love some," Claudius said as he finished the first muffin, before pushing the tray aside to focus his attention on Rhiannon. "My dear, you need not apologize. You are understandably curious," he said to her sweetly, looking up to her with his brown eyes. When he heard her say the word 'relationship' he smiled, instinctively joyful upon hearing the word, but did not share his emotions out loud. "I assure you ... I have no secrets," he said genuinely, rising from the bed to move closer towards her. The feelings he had for her were much hotter than the liquid contained within her thermos.

Having poured a cupful, Rhiannon handed Claudius his stim tea and proceeded to uncover the rest of the plates and bowls upon the tray. There was a hearty broth there, and she immediately moved to place a spoon inside the bowl before taking it up in both hands. His earlier statement reassured her a little, but there was still something lingering in the air between them that Rhia found unsettling. Finally, chalking it up to the situation revolving around the Grand Moff's missing daughter and the chaos that resulted forthwith, the Hapan decided to let it go and focus on getting Claudius back to a more optimistic state of mind.

"I have decided to take a somewhat unorthodox approach in finding your daughter. It involves a small but covert operation, something which I hope you find agreeable. The current planetary blockade will remain in place but half the fleet will be delegated to patrolling the sector as not to draw unnecessary attention to parties that may wish to take advantage of our vulnerable situation," she finished quietly, offering him a bowl of broth in exchange for the cup of tea.

When he had finished drinking the tea, he accepted the warm broth and began to consume it heartily. "Normally I would have assigned such a task to Major Kiley, but I do not know when ... or if ... she'll recover," he admitted sadly, as his attention shifted back to the more pressing concern of the broth. "Esseles is a large planet, with a massive population. When she was a child and we played hide and go seek I never could find her. Now, it would seem, she has chosen to play that game with me again..." he said sadly, his voice trailing off before taking another spoonful of the broth. "I have taken the liberty of contacting several bounty hunters ... former associates of my wounded protector ... it is imperative that if she be found, it not be by the Imperial Security Bureau," he continued, sounding somewhat concerned, before pushing the bowl of broth away. "Should she fall into the hands of COMPNOR the matter will be beyond my control," he confided in her, his voice filled with apprehension, and anger towards the one branch of the Empire that gave him concern.

"You realize of course, that they may already have a copy of that HoloNet recording. How can you be sure that every single soul on board every ship in this sector can be trusted? I don't think you realize the ramifications of Jelena's actions might be much bigger in scope than you think." Rhia set the cup on the floor and watched him push the broth away which she took up and set down beside the empty cup of tea.

"I am quite confident that they already have much more than just a mere HoloNet recording, my dear. The Imperial Security Bureau has been an unpleasant thorn in my side for long enough. They would stop at nothing to get their hands on her and use her against me," Claudius conceded bitterly, as he brought his hands together and began to awkwardly fumble with them. "There is disloyalty everywhere. In fact, there was even a recent attack against the captain of this vessel. In all of my career I have never seen anything like this. Where there was once unequivocal loyalty, there is now growing dissent ... it is spreading like a disease..." he observed, shaking his head at the situation with great distress. He was ill-prepared for these internal threats, and as he was at odds with the security forces tasked with rooting out such treachery the problem had been magnified beyond even his expectations.

"Maybe you need a thorn of your own to plant in their side," Rhia suggested softly. "Not that such a feat would be easy to pull. Do you have someone that you can trust with your very life, someone who would be loyal beyond a shadow of a doubt and sane ... or perhaps insane enough to undertake any and every bidding of yours ... bah, even willing to go to hell and back to keep you safe? And don't look at me as I say this; I am not courageous enough to offer such services, although I would like to stress that my loyalty to you is something I do not take lightly.

Such a person then, would be to you as Lord Vader is to the Emperor ... he or she could quell any dissent in the ranks and rule all those below you with an iron fist while you ... you simply feast on all that your eye surveys, high and low ... far and wide. And I have heard rumors of an Inquisitor being present within your ranks but have never actually believed it ... perhaps she could be the very ally you seek?"

"I had that person once..." Claudius revealed, before turning his back to her so that she could not see how overcome with emotion he had become. "But ... I treated her very badly, and neglected her ... and now I may have lost her..." he continued, barely speaking louder than a whisper as he struggled to maintain his composure. He was referring to Kerrie, his once loyal bodyguard who he had often used as a scapegoat for his own shortcomings and continuously diminished as their situation worsened. He had discovered far too late how loyal she truly was, and now owing to his own shortsightedness she remained in a bacta tank with an uncertain prognosis. He had not mustered the courage to down to sickbay and check on her, though he had made certain Doctor Tohan kept him apprised of her status. "Yes. We have an Inquisitor aboard," he mentioned as his thoughts returned to her, instead of lingering on the chaotic state of affairs that plagued his conscious thoughts. "Perhaps ... perhaps I need to utilize her more. But, she has had such a heavy hand since her arrival that I fear including her in the hun-," he stopped short, as he realized the word he was about to say was improper. "...the *search* for Jelena. People around her have a habit of becoming *injured*," he said, correcting the word to something he could more easily live with.

"Sounds like you were very fond of her. There is much anguish in your voice," Rhiannon replied quietly. "But you know, there is never too late to reach out to someone ... especially if they are still alive." A sudden realization struck her, and she trembled realizing that the way Claudius spoke of this poor unknown wretch reminded her exactly of the way she felt about her sister. The thought of Callista, her devoted twin, having been lost somewhere ... or worse yet, captured by those who discovered her true leanings. Inwardly, Rhiannon could never forgive herself for letting her twin sister leave Carida without so much as a farewell. An audible sigh left her throat as her attention once again returned to Claudius Rodney and the subject at hand. "I am going to do all I can to help with Jelena," the Hapan said cautiously, delivering a reassuring squeeze to his hand. "But you may have to prepare yourself for simply letting her go. Are you ready for that, if the time comes, Claudius? Will you let her live her own life?"

Rhia's squeeze of his hand was greatly appreciated, and he offered her a small smile that let her see just how much the gesture meant to him. "I do not seek her to control her, my dear Rhiannon," he said, speaking softly as he considered his next words very carefully. "I seek her to protect her. As long as the ISB is hunting her ... she will never be safe," he informed her, frowning softly, and finding the maintaining of eye contact to be very uncomfortable. "There is no planet in the Empire where she will be safe, unless I can reach her, and convince the Emperor that she was merely a pawn in some fiendish Rebel plot," he explained to Rhia, believing the words he spoke, despite how deluded by the New Order he might sound.

"Well, if the Rebel Alliance is indeed keeping her safe," and at that point, Rhia canted her head toward Claudius and smiled gently, "I don't think they would lose sight of her or allow her to get captured. She is the daughter of a Grand Moff. If anything, she would be great leverage in any future negotiations that could be taking place. Although if word of her disappearance reaches the Emperor, you yourself may find yourself under his long-reaching magnifying glass. I would lie if I did not admit that I was more concerned for your safety and well-being, than hers," the Hapan female said, ruefully.

"Thank you for your concern, Rhia, but I can take care of myself," Claudius said, in a moment of absolute overconfidence. "But Jelena ... Jelena is just a child and cannot fend for herself out there. She was not raised for that kind of lifestyle. She is not cut out for life in a terrorist camp," he continued, shaking his head with keen displeasure. "Do what you can," he said, weakly, as the need for rest began to overcome him. Twice he patted the top of her hand with the palm of his, glad for all she had done, and all for that she had yet to do.

"I promise I will do what I can to return your daughter to you, Claudius," she assured him, using his given name in a lapse of protocol. It was strange, being both this man's subordinate and his lover, and having to learn how to navigate the path between the two. "Will you get some sleep for me, please? You need it, as you will need the energy for the days to come." After a moment's pause, Rhiannon regarded the Governor inquisitively before speaking again, as if she was considering the overall propriety of the question she was about to impart. "If you wish ... I will stay with you and watch over you as you sleep?"

"Thank you. I would like that ... I would like that very much," Claudius said, as she shifted in the bed to allow her ample room to join him. He patted the side of the bed next to him gently, before laying his head upon the pillow. "Please join me. I will be a gentleman. I doubt that I am in the condition to be ungentlemanly," he said, with a joking manner, but nevertheless was quite serious. He was exhausted and it would not take him long to fall asleep, and there was much to do when he awoke. He had been away from his duties far too long.

Nodding, the Hapan slipped off her boots and removed her belt and tunic, leaving her trousers and white tee on, along with her socks and bottom underwear. She considered simply leaving her clothing as is, but did not want to wrinkle the woolen top, leaving tell-tale signs of having spent her night in the Grand Moff's chambers. It was enough for her that there was already some gossip going around ... although thankfully, nothing perturbing enough that she had to deal with, personally. "I trust you, Claudius. And I want to be here for you whenever you need me. Whatever I am now and whatever I may yet become ... I want you to know that I am, first and foremost, your friend." Climbing up on the cot behind him, Rhiannon wrapped her arm loosely about his waist and pulled herself up close to him, her breathing slow and even. Dark eyes closing, she whispered a soft, "Good night" before she too, drifted off to calm and restful slumber.

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