Era of Rebellion - Navigation

Alice Bee and Christopher Levy.
One year after the Battle of Yavin (36:2:5) in the Essesia system: Retributor.
Lieutenant Sierra Dakkar, Grand Moff Claudius Rodney, and Major Arden Zevrin.

Major Arden Zevrin sat upon her makeshift throne deep within the bowels of the Executor-class Star Dreadnaught Retributor as it orbited the planet Esseles. In front of her were a bank of monitors that gave her a view of nearly every aspect of the ship, but the one that interested her the most was the one of Grand Moff Claudius Rodney in his office. The man looked broken by the 'death' of his daughter, and she observed that he was slumped over on his desk with a bottle of Alderaan Ruge. For the time being she had neutralized him and would continue her reign of terror over the Ringali Shell, but she was a long term thinker and knew that he would eventually recover. To that end she had been reviewing Imperial personnel files until she came across the perfect individual to enlist in her scheme: Doctor Sierra Dakkar, a friend of the 'late' Jelena Rodney who had the good sense to enter the Imperial Academy rather than remain on Alderaan to be destroyed like the rest of their classmates. She was young, but she suspected that was exactly what the Grand Moff needed at a time like this. Expecting her shortly, she deactivated her monitors, and spun her chair back to face the entrance of her office. The young woman had better not be late, she thought to herself, as she began to tap her gloved fingers upon her desk in annoyance. She had things to do ... people to kill.

Doctor Sierra Dakkar was preoccupied. The news of Jelena Rodney's death had hit *hard*. It seemed like no one else was suffering as she was. Frankly, she was in the wrong place for that. Her fellow Imperials cheered when they heard the news that the bomb within Jelena's chest had detonated. Sierra had excused herself. She choose to hide inside of her office, where the locked door created a false sense of security. Yes, she remembered Jelena. The Rodney girl had been her best friend for years. She was different from the other girls at the Academy. She was someone who could relate; a father who abandoned her, destroyed the memory of Jelena's deceased mother, and paraded himself around the galaxy like none of it mattered to him. Jelena had been the perfect friend. She had always regretted that they had parted ways after their time at the Academy for Young Ladies ended.

Her comlink was beeping annoyingly. Sierra's light blue eyes lifted from the holopad she was holding. Pictures of her, Jelena, Leia, and various other classmates were on display. These were her very special memories, as well as the ones that could get her in trouble the most. It was necessary to keep them in an encrypted file guarded by passcode after passcode after passcode. Her moment of reminiscence ended when Major Zevrin summoned her. Sierra didn't waste a moment. She collected herself within several deep breaths. Though her eyes felt hot, they gave up no indicator that she was suffering from her friend's loss.

The young woman was fast to come when she was called. The whole Imperial experience was still new to her. She was looking to impress those above her and gain their respect. Thus, she was not late. She arrived a minute early. Sierra approached slowly, like the right movement might make her flutter away like a shy butterfly. She bowed respectively to the Major, up righting herself. "I received your message, Major. How can I be of use?"

As a matter of politeness, Arden waves her right arm gently at one of the chairs in her office, although she did not expect their meeting to take long. "The Empire is about to begin a major operation here in the Ringali Shell. The execution of this plan is the culmination of years of work ... *my* work," she said, as her petite frame seemed to rise somewhat, her hand instinctively curling into a fist as she spoke. "It just so happens that you know the Regional Governor of this Oversector ... Claudius Rodney," she informed him doing her best to maintain a fake smile upon her ruby lips ... she found it very difficult to smile whenever she said that name. She rose from her throne, circling her desk like a predator, until she arrived mere inches from the younger Sierra. "I must confess to you that because of his late daughter's ties to the Rebel Alliance there are some who question Lord Rodney's loyalty..." she began, her voice trailing off, as she pulled off her black leather gloves. Her exposed hand went to the woman's blonde hair, her fingers separating and moving between Sierra's locks like a plow through a field. "Oh, yes. You'll do," she mused to herself, with a soft laugh, before withdrawing her hand. "Unfortunately, there are some in the Empire who question your loyalty as well. In these troublesome times anyone with ties to Alderaan is a potential liability. In these instances it might be better to simply rid ourselves of all potential threats, justified or not," she explained, inferring that her life was now in jeopardy.

"There are two ways in which you may serve the Emperor and prove your loyalty," she said, as she moved away from the girl, reactivating the monitor that showed the Grand Moff sprawled out on his desk with the bottle of wine. "First, you can use your skills as a psychologist to fix this mess. An Oversector needs a Regional Governor, if only as a figurehead," she explained, bitterly, as she pursed her lips. As she stared across at Sierra she wondered how much of her plot she was truly capable of understanding. Was she talking too fast? Could anyone in the Empire keep up with her intricate web of plots and plans? "Second, you are to use your personal connection, and..." she paused, to clear her throat. "...whatever else you can think of to *endear yourself to the man*. You will report on his activities to *me*. Ensure that he is loyal, and ideally, gain influence over him that will allow you to control him for *me*," she added, before she settled back into her makeshift throne, crossing her legs, and eyeballing the young doctor again. "The man has just lost a daughter not too dissimilar to you ... my condolences by the way," she said, politely, which she always hated having to do, but she very well could not let this underling know the death was a ruse to set the Grand Moff up for precisely this eventuality. "I'm sure you'll find a way to use that to get very, *very* close to the old man," she said, snickering, as she rolled her eyes at some of the personal lives of those aboard the command ship. "Did you get all that? Any questions, doctor?" she asked, before arching her eyebrow and studying the young woman for any and all reactions.

Sierra felt increasingly uncomfortable inside of Arden's office. She had allowed herself to display some sort of reaction to Jelena's death. Instead of celebrating, she surrounded herself with the good memories. She longed to have those days back, long before all of this mattered so much. If she could turn back the clock, then there may have been more that Sierra could have done to stop her friend from joining the Rebellion. Now wasn't the proper time to think of all of this. Major Zevrin reminded her like a powerful lioness, meaning she had become the delicious, fat zebra; the prey. One wrong move would attack the fierce woman's attention. She never wanted to feel Major Zevrin sink her teeth into her soft meat. So, she internalized her suffering. A calm expression remained on her face while she sat. One leg crossed over the other tightly like she was trying to curl up into a rock. Her little shoulders had slumped. Everything about her nonverbal communications said that she was scared. Fear had such a distinct, wonderful smell to it.

Her attention was unwavering from Arden's moving mouth. The woman had so much to stay. She laid out the foundation for her scheme to the good doctor. No one had mentioned her relationship with the Grand Moff before. Though they dwelled within the same ship, Sierra had never made it a point to see him, or show any niceties towards him. His name made her feel angry. He was to blame for this! If he had been a more present father...if he had been better to Jelena..! It was hard to keep up with the Major, not because her words were difficult, but because Sierra felt more comfortable by the second. All this talk was leading up to something.

Her face was as white as a tauntaun. Before her, every worst fear came to the surface. The prowess was too close for comfort. Arden's touch was terrifying. Sierra broke eye contact. She shivered beneath the fingers that raked through her short, wavy curls. She focused on an object on Arden's desk, simply waiting for it all to end. A plan had been set in motion already. She didn't understand what the Major wanted yet, but she soon would. Her eyes were right back on the woman, large and terrified. Her loyalty was being questioned. It didn't come as a surprise. She had not proved herself. She didn't attempt to deny it. The Major didn't end her pathetic life right there. Instead, she showed her the light. Arden showed her how to *live*.

The monitor buzzed on, showing someone she was beginning to feel too familiar with; Claudius. The man was clearly suffering. The bottle of wine was close to drained. Seeing him like this tugged at her heart. Becoming a psychologist had been about helping people. She enjoyed being an Imperial psychologist because she could help people comprehend things. Hate replaced what pity she had for him. It was his fault. *His*. Arden's first request was easy. It was part of her job. Her head nodded slowly. Sierra still was following Arden all up until part two of her elaborate planning was revealed. She did she say *endear*? Her eyes snapped back to the monitor. The Major had caught her entirely off guard. Her eyes were wide. Her mind, slowly accepting her new mission. How was her first question. Why me was her second question. Above her head, Arden was still talking. Sierra had fallen off of the bandwagon.

The Major's condolences didn't begin to phase her. The death of her friend had just been thrown to the back of her head. The doctor wanted to deny the mission, even if it meant Arden ending her life now. A hand reached up to her face, brushing away a tear that had collected at the corner of one eye. A coldness had settled in all around them. She felt sick. She felt like her back was against a wall.

"I...I got it..." Sierra stumbled. Her legs uncrossed. Both of her booted feet hit the ground. She stood, weakly shifting from side to side until she found strength again. "I can do it, Major." There was no second option here. Her dead friend would hate her for all of this. She was sorry.

Arden noted that Sierra did not exactly sound confident, but these things had a way of sorting themselves out. She stared at her silently, before rising from her seat, and moving back towards Sierra. She stood in front of the young woman, bringing her hand up to Sierra's chin, and stroking it almost affectionately. The stroke soon turned into a grasp, intentionally painful, as she squeezed her face together and lifted her head so that she could more easily look her in the eye. "One last question, my dear," she asked, as she tilted her head to side and stared intently down to her. "Is that your natural hair color?" she asked, before she released her from her clutches, and tossed her head away roughly. "Do not fail me!" she warned her, as she backed away from her, with murderous intent. "Now ... to your duty ... before he sobers up," she added, with a wicked grin, and a soft chuckle. The time for politeness had ended, for now she was content to return to her throne, and watch the footage of Claudius Rodney's office. It was her not too subtle way of letting Sierra know that *she* would be watching the affair to come.

Oh no. Arden was closing the distance between them again. Sierra's body instantly began to shake. She was reporting poorly to the Major while massive conflictions developed inside of her. The doctor cowered. The affection wasn't sweet like a lover's. It was cold like a snake. All at once, she was caught up in her rough grasp. Her eyes were forced back to hers. The terror inside of her was breeding with itself. If the Inquisitor was around, then she was receiving one hell of a nice snack. She whimpered, stepping back once her head was finally free. She instinctively put space between them. While she began murderous, Sierra fell into her submission. If she failed, Arden would see that her death was prolonged and painful.

She said nothing more to Arden, in fear of inspiring the woman's abuse to continue. The footage of the Grand Moff spoke for itself. She knew where she was needed. Arden's eyes would always be on them, watching Sierra attempt to gain his affections. Only the rapid sounds of her boots hitting the hard floor as she ran out of the Major's office announced that she was gone. Just outside her office, she pressed her back to the wall and her head into her hands. Sierra cried. Her body was shaking so hard. She was in over her head.

The doctor knew where she needed to go. With Arden's touch still embedded in her memory, Sierra made her way to the Grand Moff's office quickly. The sooner Arden saw her on the monitor, the better. She made a single pit stop to her office to collect her holopad. Sierra appeared at the door leading into his office quickly. This time, she looked like she had cried recently. Her eyes were puffy. Her cheeks were stained with tears. All of her visage could be written off to the loss of Jelena. It was a place where they shared common ground. Her finger pressed the button to the comm on his door. "Governor... It's Doctor Sierra Dakkar. Can we talk?" She lingered there. She wondered if the Major was watching her right now.

Grand Moff Claudius Rodney had lost his daughter to the Rebellion only to see her recaptured by the ISB to be utilized as a tool against him, but at least she was here with him. Now she was dead and he would never get a chance to reconcile with her. The days had all blended into one another as he drowned his sorrow in a bottle of his beloved Alderaan ruge. When the young doctor entered the room he momentarily stirred, raising his head to look up at Sierra. His skin was stuck to his desk and he had to peel it off as he raised his head. The room was still dimly lit and he had to blink his brown eyes in rapid succession to focus his vision. When he saw her, he initially thought it was Jelena, given his drunkenness, mental state, and her closeness in age and physical similarity. His initial excitement was tempered as his vision focused, revealing that it was just another of the tens of thousands of nameless Imperial officers that were stationed aboard his mammoth command ship. "Doctor ... what doctor?" he asked, as he leaned back in his chair, released a groan of pain, and brought his hand up to rub at the bridge of his nose. He did not recognize her as the young Sierra Dakkar that he from time to time encountered during visits to the Select Academy for Young Ladies on Alderaan to visit his daughter. Perhaps as she drew nearer, reminded him, and he sobered up he would.

The man was a mere shell of what she remembered him as from his visits and the handful of times she had seen him in recent times. He was suffering much worse than she ever could. The desire to help him was hard to ignore. She wished things had been different. Like she could have placed a bandage on him and left, continuing to hate him from afar for the rest of his days. Without a word, Sierra crossed his office. She opted to occupy the seat in front of his desk. "A psychologist." She replied, blue eyes flickering towards him. Her eyebrows furrowed. "Don't you remember me, Governor?" As if to spark some memory, she fixed the parting of her hair so it wasn't all cascading down a single side. She redistributed it, making herself look more like she had in her Select Academy days. "Jelena was my best friend." He may have been too drunk to make the connection to the young blonde who had spent so much time with his daughter. Her heart ached. She needed a drink.

Before Claudius could comment on her unpleasant position as psychologist, she revealed the startling development that she was her daughter's best friend. His hand moved to the control panel on his desk, which raised the lights in the room so that he could get a better view of her. The raise in lighting caused a sharp pain to his eyes, which prompted him to quickly bring his hand over them to shield himself. As he became more accustomed to the light he was able to properly see her, but the hangover did not leave him ... his temples were pounding. "My..." he started, raising from his desk quickly, perhaps a bit too quickly. He placed the palms on his hand in front of the desk to steady himself, as he hunched forward to examine the young woman carefully. "Sierra?" he asked her, questioning himself in a state of disbelief. Surely she *had* to have been killed when Alderaan was destroyed by the Rebellion. It was something of a miracle to see her alive, and he moved around the desk to rush towards her as best he could given his situation. "You have heard then?" he asked, not sure of how many days had even passed since her 'death' at the hand of the Rebel strike team. His weary old visage examined her flawless features, and he could not help but smile as he gazed upon her. She was a memory of the simpler times of his old life before the war.

Arden really had thought this out. Sierra saw how she had become to appointed individual to get under the Grand Moff's skin. The death of Jelena quickly humanized him in her eyes. It was possible that everything could work to her advantage too. At least she had someone to talk to about Jelena who wouldn't suspect that she was being disloyal. The light was bright even for Sierra, who hadn't drank. She recoiled from it, pressing her back into her seat. The realization passed over him. She could see it in his eyes. She dropped her hair, placing her hands on his desk. The doctor rose to her feet just as he did. He was unsteady. Her hands were already moving across the table to help him when he studied himself. Sierra sat, nodding her head slowly. "I've been positioned here for months." She explained to him. "I wanted to talk to you sooner." She expressed to him. Seeing Claudius would have landed her in an immense amount of trouble. She had gained the trust of no one.

Her body began to shake, just as it had in Arden's office, then he rushed toward her. She could feel Arden's cold, venomous hand on her face. Her words played on repeat endear yourself to the man. She shifted in her seat so that she was facing him. The sadness on her face was real. "Yes, I heard.." Her voice cracked. "It's hard to swallow. Jelena was such a good person. I wish I had been able to see her one more time." A tear ran down her cheek. She rubbed it away. "I...I have something I wanted to share with you." She said, offering him the smallest of smiles. She patted the empty chair next to her with one hand, snatching up her holopad with the other. "Our little secret." She reminded him.

Several taps later, she handed him the holopad. There was a large gallery of photos on display from the days of the Academy. Most of the pictures included Sierra and Jelena. Sometimes they were smiling, sometimes they were laughing. There was a horrible picture of Sierra attempting make up for the first time on Jelena, it was a jewel among many others. At the very end, there was a video of Jelena and Sierra singing a song they had created about how much they hated the Academy.

"Months? You should have come by," Claudius said, as he raised his right hand to place a reassuring grasp upon her upper arm. "I would liked to have seen you. There aren't too many from the old days left to discuss things with," he said, with a sorrowful sigh, as he sunk into himself slightly at the depressing thoughts that were at the forefront of his mind. Just when he thought it could not get any worse, Sierra produced the holopad with the image of her and Jelena when they were young. He was overcome almost immediately, with the tears beginning to flow from his brown eyes. He reached out for the image, placing his hand upon hers, and squeezing it gently. But he could not maintain this state of uprightness, and he fell forward into her arms, a broken mess of a failed father. His weight threatened to collapse them both and his head took refuge in her shoulder, while his tear stained eyes buried themselves in the cloth of her Imperial uniform. He was a blubbering mess of a man, barely kept upright by his young subordinate. Had he known her true purpose he would have sent her away, but drunk and desperate, an arm wrapped around her to steady himself and share his sorrow. He *needed* her.

From that very first meeting, Sierra had let herself expose a real piece of her to the hated Rodney man. This was all very emotional for her too. The Major had caught her at the perfect moment. Jelena's death had hurt both of them, leaving the potential for Sierra to sneak into his life greater. "I understand..." Everyone else was dead. Alderaan was gone, thus creating the hardest year in her young life. "I was afraid someone would suspect something. We can see each other more now." She reassured the Grand Moff. The pictures stirred him, just as they had her. Suddenly, he was crying. It came out of nowhere, just as his first touch on her hand did. His squeeze was comforting in her time of need. She had made no foes on the Imperial ship. She had been alone for too long.

His weight collided with her much smaller body. She tried to stabilize them. Her arms wrapped around him in more of a cling than an embrace. Something happened there while Claudius cried into her shoulder; Sierra began to cry too. Her hands adjusted on him. One remained on his back weakly. The other pressed against the back of his head to encourage him to let it all out. Overcome by a bout of emotion, she pressed her face into his hair and cried. She cried for Alderaan. She cried for Jelena. She cried for what might happen if she failed Arden. They were clinging to each other for support while waves swept in from all around them. Beside them, the holopad continued to show pictures of the best friend's teenaged years. Jelena was smiling in those pictures...but was she smiling from where ever her spirit might be? Sierra knew one person who had to be smiling right now. Arden.

Claudius pulled his head up from her shoulder, immediately struck by the fact that she was crying too. A fatherly hand moved to her face to dry her tear, as the image reminded him of the times they had met in her youth. "You've really grown up," he said to her, as he gazed affectionately down towards her with eyes that were getting increasingly red. His head turned towards his desk, eyeballing the crystal decanter of Alderaan ruge that remained there. "Will you ... will you have a drink with me?" he asked, as he felt he needed one at the moment. He wanted to hear more about her, more about the time she spent with Jelena while he was absent, and what she was doing aboard the ship. His hand on her trembled, a combination of exhaustion and a need for more alcohol. His eyes then turned back towards her, trying his best to offer her a smile, but it was proving to be more difficult than defeating the Rebellion.

The seething hate she had for the man was parted by a single gesture. Her tears stopped shortly after he dried them. Her lips quivered. Terror still was alive inside of her. She doubted that she could do this. Walking the line between failing and dying at Arden's hand, or the Grand Moff discovering her true meaning and punishing her anyway, was difficult. Crying made her head hurt and exhaustion slip in. Gazing into his brown eyes, she wondered how in the galaxy they'd landed themselves in such an unfortunate situation. "It's been so long..." *Years*. She was a girl last time he saw her. Out of sheer paranoia, her eyes followed his towards the desk. Alderaan ruge, a memory of a time that was gone. She sniffed, nodding her head. "I...I will." Feeling raw, Sierra decided she wanted to take refuge here for as long as she could. She allowed herself to believe that Arden couldn't reach her as long as she was close to him.

Her hands slipped off of him slowly. She could feel his hand trembling. It caused her to draw him back in. Her arms wrapped around his waist securely. "You don't have to try to smile for me.." She whispered to him. "It's okay to unravel." She coaxed him back against her petite body for a little longer.

Claudius moved to his desk with more swiftness than he had thus far exhibited to snatch his decanter of Alderaan ruge and two glasses from the bar set. "I am not permitted to unravel," he explained to her, as he led her over towards a more comfortable seating area on the other side of the room. He allowed her to sit on his loveseat before moving to join her, but then his attention seemed to shift towards the Alderaan ruge. He poured her a glass of the red wine, before moving to do the same for him. "We leave for Delaya soon. There will be a memorial service for Jelena, and I am expected to renounce my claim to the Duchy..." he said, as he was quick to take the glass and drink from it too rapidly. "Will you ... will you come with us?" he asked, as he looked towards her with the hope that she would say yes. At the very least she could help him tend to Drusilla and Ewwiekewwieikkie, but he secretly hope she could help with him as well. "So how did you end up in Imperial service? I have to admit it was not a popular line of service for our people," he asked, as he finished the first glass of wine. He could feel his body temperature rising, and his cheeks were beginning to flush a rosy shade of red.

Sierra rose. She had stopped shaking. Her tears had dried for now. It wasn't right for her to pile her own sadness on top of his. The young woman moved towards the loveseat with his words sticking in her mind. Everyone unraveled at some point. For Claudius, she needed to continue to be there to catch him while he fell. Placing herself on the couch, she crossed one leg over the other. She sat sideways again as to maintain eye contact with him. "Thank you," she said, taking the glass of wine from him. Sierra took a small sip. The liquid brought her back to sneaking into her parent's liquor cabinet, and drinking with Jelena until they both greatly regretted it. It tasted ... *bittersweet*.

She took another sip. The mention of the memorial service brought on more emotions. She wanted to go. It was her last chance to say goodbye. There was something else he said that was shocking. He intended to renounce his claim to the Duchy. He also wanted her to come too. Arden would be pleased with that. Sierra smiled. She reached out towards him, squeezing his leg modestly close to his knee. "I'll come. I want some closure for all that's happened.. You shouldn't renounce your claim to the Duchy. It's something you've been groomed for all of your life. You deserve it for all that you've been through." She drank as they spoke. She would be there to become his human emotional shield. Sierra had met to meet Drusilla and Ewwie. That meeting would be... interesting! Before the knew it, the liquid was gone from her glass too. She took the bottle and refilled both of their glasses. Tonight, they'd be as drunk as the current Duke and Duchess of Delaya.

As to his question, it disappeared somewhere when the alcohol hit her system. She was required to stay sharp for her occupation, so she drank very little. Today was a special exception, one which she'd continue drinking to even as they spoke. Sierra was continuing to rant about his future. "You have to do it for Alderaan."

Claudius leaned back on the loveseat as he listened to her words, wondering if she was correct in her assessment. "I have not been to Delaya in a long time," he explained to her, as he moved to both pour himself a second glass of wine and top off her's. "The people don't know people. I'm told they don't even want me," he explained, ruefully, as he drank his second glass of wine. "Plus I have my duties here..." he continued, making another in a series of excuses that her generation was more known for. He lowered his head, becoming deeply disturbed by a subject he thought he had resolved days earlier. "My wife doesn't want it either," he explained, as he wondered she she even was, or what she was up to ... they rarely saw each other anymore. She was being held a virtual captive in his estate on Esseles, surrounded by Stormtroopers and even armor, to keep her 'safe'. "You think I should do it?" he asked, as his eyes rolled back over her beautiful, young feminine form. This time he smiled a genuine smile at her, as he leaned in towards her, moving dangerously close to her as the wine settled in upon him.

All she heard were excuses...and Claudius had his fair share of them. She shook her head in disappointment, short curls swaying this way and that. The people of Delaya should be much kinder to the first born son of the Duke. This was his birthright. It didn't matter what anyone else thought of it. The conversation led her into a subject she hadn't thought about: the Grand Moff was *married*. The wife, which she had never seen, existed somewhere in the galaxy. Her sense of logic and reasoning was quickly escaping her. Arden had set her up to ruin Claudius. She wanted them to be so much more than they currently were. The complexity of the situation washed away in her next sip of wine. Nothing else mattered. Jelena was dead. Her home planet was gone. What did she have to lose other than her life?

Sierra smiled widely, this time her head nodded. "Mhm. It's *your* choice, not anyone else's. It doesn't matter what the people think. You said it yourself, you haven't been there in a long time. They fear out of ignorance. I'm sure you could convince your wife otherwise. You'd be a great Duke. I think so, anyway." They were both stupid and drunk. She was oblivious to her advances because she was busy making her own. She inched closer on the loveseat. He was but a breath away. Her hand reached out. Her bare fingers connected with his cheek. They danced down his jawline in slow, sweet affection. Her nose touched with his next. Every movement she made was so slow and shy. "You should be the Duke of Delaya." She reiterated to him, only this time she had broken through his personal bubble.

"Have you seen my wife?" Claudius asked, sounding like a man who had misplaced the keys to his speeder. Truthfully he was not sure if she was aboard this vessel, down on the surface of the planet, or gone from this system entirely on some errand. "I know not where she is," he admitted to her, as the increase in drunkenness caused him to lay upon her side. "You think I should?" he asked her, as she became more pillow than companion. "My brother, Marcus, who I'm not sure if you ever met is expecting a son. That child is the best hope for Delaya's future," he confided in her, as he revealed a side of himself only shown when most inebriated. "But I am told his wife ... a commoner ... has influenced him away from his duty," he explained, sounding a hypocrite, as he too was planning to shirk his responsibility. "I never had a son, but not for a lack of trying..." he said, remembering his first wife Julia and the tragic fate that befell her in childbirth. "...and now Jelena is gone and Drusilla is, candidly, unsuited," he explained to her, before rolling his head up to look at her sympathetically. "I am an old man. My reign would not be long. And then when I pass the title would again fall into contention. My wife is barren ... I shall have no son," he admitted, sounding more and more like his father, but with a dramatic addition of personal loss.

Who was his wife? Her head shook. Sierra had never kept an eye on Claudius. She preferred that they both ignored each other. That had all been foiled, hadn't it? Her body pressed against the arm of the couch now that he was slumped over her. She slid an arm out from between them so she could wrap him back up in it. The Delaya succession problem sounded terrible. It had to have been one of the things weighing on his mind lately. His father was dying. Delaya's future was in the air. It seemed like everyone in the galaxy had seen the leaked footage of Marcus and Zara Rodney's wedding. It wasn't a good foot to start on for them. As someone who had been raised as a noble lady, she knew Zara Ta'em wasn't cut out for that line of duty. Her free hand idly resided in his hair. Her fingers worked through it. She was thinking, but not straight. The poor man had endured so much. He had no son. He might never have a son unless...

"Given what's been on the Holonet about your brother and his wife, I'm don't think they are ready for the responsibility." She stated matter-of-factly. Her single arm squeezed him. She had become sympathetic and weak. "Don't say that! You can make use of the time that you have to reign. Everything isn't over yet. You have no son now, that's not to say you'll never have one. Your wife may be barren. You could take a concubine for the sake of your blood. For the sake of your family. I'd give you a son if you became the Duke." Sierra's mouth was writing checks that her body would need to cash. "You're too far in everything. Take a step back." Her voice had taken on a soothing tone. It was easier for her to relax when she drank. All the tension and fear ran dry from her body. "I'll be there with you in Delaya. If you decide not to renounce your claim, I'll stay with you and help you."

Claudius listened to Sierra as she inspired him to accept his birthright and succeed his father as Duke, when the conversation took a sudden and unexpected twist. When she suggested *she* would be his concubine his body tensed noticeably away from her, and he pulled slightly back. He looked at that little girl he had known back on Delaya and found it hard to imagine taking advantage of her in such a way. "You are from a fine family, Sierra. You are *no* concubine," he told her, as he brought his hand up to momentarily caress her jawline. "I welcome your help, but not in such a way. It is beneath you," he said, though it was hard not to consider given how long it had been since he felt the love of a woman. He swallowed, causing his throat to bulge against the collar of his uniform, which prompted his shaky hand to move towards his glass. A quick sip of wine was needed to break the tension he felt and prevent the night from getting out of hand. She could be a blessing to him, but she could also be a curse.

You didn't have to think twice to know what Sierra had said to shift the situation. He moved away from her. She was left, lying in an awkward sideways position on the loveseat. Inside her chest, her heart thumped rapidly. The insanity of the day was never ending. "It isn't beneath me. Not when it's *you*. I support you. If you ever needed that help, you should know where to go. I would never use it as leverage against you like a commoner might." She was drunk. The brief caress was the sweetest touch she'd ever experienced. She shivered beneath it. Things had gone from bad to worse between them. Sierra felt the sudden need to have another drink, which she procured for herself after she sat up. There wasn't much space between the two. "When do we leave for Delaya?" she questioned him. "We should see each other again soon." Sierra was touching him again. This time, she set her hand loose on his arm. She didn't push any further. The guilt had taken to the back seat of her mind. For right now, Claudius was the first decent man who gave her his time.

"Would you see to my children?" Claudius asked, having been unable to spend much time with them since Jelena's initial defection. He worried about them, but their presence reminded him of his failure, and he had not the answers to the questions they posed. "Have you met them? That is to say, did you know them back on Alderaan?" he asked her, as he tried to shift her away from the improper thoughts that began to dance upon his inebriated mind. "We should ... we should leave soon," he explained to her, though he did not admit that his drunken state had made him forget when the memorial service was. He needed her ... more than he knew.

"I've met Drusilla and Ewwiekewwieikkie. We all used to play together." She told him, recalling watching a young Drusilla buy out every hat in a boutique. As horrifying as it sounds, it really was an amazing sight. The girl was so swift and fast. Ewwiekewwieikkie needed to be watched for shiny things. Sierra needed to decide how best to keep Ewwie's attention on her and away from trouble. "I will see to them. Let me take some of the weight off of your mind. Do you need assistance with any of the departure preparations?" She didn't know that she had become necessary. It was not something she'd suspect until the words came out of his mouth. With her mind scattered this way and that, she tried to resume her role as his emotional support. She took his free and and squeezed it. Though she didn't say it, she fully intended to help him through all of this.

Claudius was pleased there would be someone with an able hand to help with his children during the difficult trip to Delaya. "I confess to you now that none of the preparations have been made," confessing to her, with some embarrassment, as he attempted to stand from the loveseat. He got about halfway up from the seated position when he felt the room begin to swim and he crashed back down upon the loveseat *and* Sierra. Feeling quite embarrassed, as he sat upon her lap, he quickly lifted himself, and slumped over on the loveseat beside her. "Inform Lieutenant Anson to prepare the shuttle. Should we ... should we bring security? If so, inform Major Kerrie Kiley ... my wife hates Stormtroopers, but..." his voice trailed off, and he raised his hand to cover his face. It was all too much to deal with. His daughter was dead. His little girl was dead. And the mourning of her had become a public spectacle as society dictated. There was not even a body to bury ... the Rebel scum had left nothing of her behind for him to cling to.

Sierra felt that her first private visit with Claudius had come to an end. Her glass was empty. Her heart was raw. No sooner did the thought of leaving cross her mind, did the man stumble into her lap. She made a surprised noise. The weight of his full body falling on her hurt. "Ugh!" Sierra recovered. She moved to her feet rapidly. There was much to be done before they could depart for Delaya. An instant later, she had crossed his office and gathered her holopad. Her fingers adjusted her hair. She didn't want anyone to know about what had transpired in the Grand Moff's office. She hovered a few feet from him, but close enough to the door that she could easily make an escape.

"I'll take care of it all, Governor. I will report to you in the morning with the status of preparations." Now she sounded infinitely more professional. Her mind was putty. She'd be swaying back and forth all the way to her room. Before making her grand departure, she shyly approached him. She leaned in, sneaking a kiss on his cheek. "I'm here for you," she reminded him. He knew how to reach her if he needed her. Her boots clicked against the ground. She departed from his office just as fast as she had from Arden's. Her life had gone off the deep end. She couldn't tell if she was making the right moves with Claudius or not. Her head hurt.

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