*Whap* echoed through the Warspite's
meager gymnasium as Kerrie Kiley struck a full-sized punching bag with a
right forearm. "Arrr," she groaned loudly as she recoiled her arm and
sent her left leg upwards sharply to kick the bag. *Whap* echoed once
again as her foot connected. The diminutive Clawdite woman was in her
more common mimicked Human appearance. Her usually pinned up braids hung
down, dangling over her shoulder and flew through the air with each
athletic movement. Her uniform nowhere to be seen, she instead wore an
athletic-fitting black leotard that covered her chest and torso, but
left her arms and back exposed. Her lower half was concealed by a pair
of aerobic pants, baggy and loose-fitting. A pair of laced up boots
rounded out the uniform, evidence of which marked the scarred bag. She
was breathing heavily and her face was covered in beads of dank sweat,
which also matted her hair. It was a good workout, but from the
aggressive nature of her thrusts it was clear that her activities had
more reason for occurring than mere exercise.
Htaere moved with surprising silence, or
rather was it that Kerrie didn't notice. Either way, she drew up behind
Kerrie, watching curiously with a pleasant enough smile on her face.
Unwilling to interrupt, she merely folded her hands in front of her as
she usually did, fingers weaving together beneath long flowing sleeves
of some illustrious gown she wore. Htaere regarded the woman silently,
contemplating the extent of her talents seeing as though they'd never
really been tapped.
"Ahhh," Kerrie roared loudly as she
began alternating between left and right thrusts against the bag.
Although her hands and wrists were bound, her hands began to bleed ...
but this did not phase her, in fact she was oblivious too it. *Whap,
whap, whap* the sound of repeated thrusts became cacophonous as she
vented her frustrations on the unfortunate bag. Htaere's presence went
undetected, as she remained completely focused on her desire to destroy
Htaere's silly grin slipped a bit, brow
knitting in concern, yet still she resisted temptation to speak out. She
shifted a bit from foot to foot, her gaze darting about the rest of the
gym momentarily before settling back on the near angry woman. Finally,
she spoke out, her voice meek and tiny compared to the side effects of
Kerrie's exertion. "K-Kerrie?" she asked rather timidly.
*Whap* Kerrie hit the bag one final time
before hearing the voice from behind her. She was in a zone and lost to
the world, she did not know it was Htaere. She spun around on her feet
instantly, her eyes narrowing on Htaere, her eyebrows scrunching
together above her sweat-covered nose. She snarled at Htaere in a daze
as she brought both of her bloodied hands up in front of her in a
defensive position. She recoiled and prepared to strike before she
snapped back into reality. She exhaled deeply and lowered her hands,
droplets of blood and sweet trickling to the mat below. She began
breathing hard as she lowered her head, her hair matted and disheveled
by the sweat. Soon she was full-on panting as she braced her hands
against her knees and hunched over.
Htaere gasped, startling for a moment
and jumping where she stood, hands lifting defensively. As the moment
seceded, she let her posture relax, still a little pale and her heart
rate up, but none too worse for wear. "I am sorry...I did not mean..." She
took a step back to give the woman some room to recover without feeling
Kerrie remained hunched over, panting
like an exhausted animal after completing a hunt. Her cheeks face
flashed red, she was clearly flustered. "Do not ...," she paused between
words for deep breaths, "be sorry ... Milady. It ... is my ... fault."
Each word came with pain, she struggled mightily to speak between
desperate gasps for much-needed air.
Htaere's eyes moved up and down Kerrie's
winded frame, frowning a bit. It was very unlikely that Htaere had
exerted herself in such a fashion, ever in her life and to be in such a
disheveled and filthy state was foreign. "You are wounded" Htaere noted
shakily, feeling very out of place all of the sudden.
"Huh?" Kerrie groaned as she finally
lifted her head to look at Htaere. From the glossed-over look in her
eyes, it was clear she was still dazed by the flurry of attacks she had
used on the bag. She tilted her head to the right as she thought over
Htaere's statements. She looked herself over carefully for any signs of
bruising before noticing the blood coming from the bindings on her
hands. She frowned slightly, but did not think much of it. "This you
mean?" she asked, her breathing slowly stabilizing and allowing for
easier communication, "It's nothing."
Htaere looked dismayed to say the least.
"Should I come back later..?" she motioned to the door and took a step
in that direction, more then willing to let Kerrie finish.
Kerrie flung her head over her shoulder
to look at the bag, her braided pony tails cracking through the air like
a whip. She noticed the considerable damage she had done to the
blood-spattered bag and grinned, satisfied. The curious grin not leaving
her face, her head returned to Htaere. "No," she said with a soft laugh,
"No. I think I'm done. Is there anything I can do for you, Milady"?
Noting the strange grin, Htaere's
repulsion dissipated slightly. "You...enjoy this?" she mused saliently.
"I have been doing this since I was
five," Kerrie said proudly as she rested her battered hands upon her
shoulders. "It is very relaxing," she continued to explain to her,
knowing that she could not possibly relate. "I do not think 'enjoy' is
the right word," she concluded, "It is very much who I am and without it
I would not be me." She tilted her head, not even understanding what she
said. "That make any sense?" she said in a slightly embarrassed tone.
Htaere blinked large grey eyes, her
expression somewhat blank as she did her best to comprehend. Her very
sheltered mind tried to put it into a format she could relate to.
"I...suppose so" she answered, not entirely convinced by even her own
answer. "What is the reason for this..." she nodded to the punching bag
Kerrie's lips pursed upon hearing
Htaere's question. Even she was not sure where it was coming from, but
with her recent failure, exile, and emotional breakdown she felt out of
sorts and this was the only part of her life that felt natural anymore.
"I..." she began before pausing to recollect her thoughts, "I feel as if
I am losing myself, Milady. I am not the person I was when I first
arrived here. I am having thoughts and feelings that I have not had
since I was very young." She exhaled sharply, her face visibly sinking.
"I am not as effective when I have those thoughts," she uttered sadly,
concluding her thoughts.
Htaere's youthful face with not a single
stress line on it looked mystified. "What thoughts?" she asked
curiously. "You seem very effective at what you do."
Kerrie walked towards Htaere and
slightly passed her towards one of the weight machines. Slightly tired,
she eased herself down onto the bench to rest herself. "Thoughts about
you, the Admiral," she began to explain quietly. She looked down at the
ground and nervously ran her fingers over the bloodied bruises on her
hands. She looked at her fingernails. They were black and blue, damaged
from hours of frustrated punching ... the furthest thing from feminine.
"Since I left my homeworld years ago I have not been close to anyone,"
she paused to gasp in sharp pain as she pressed down on one of the
bruises, "It has kept me sharp. It has kept me focused. Until very
recently I could count my failures on the fingers of one hand." Her head
lowered slightly as she struggled to continue, "Now it seems I fail more
often than I succeed."
"The only constant is change..." Htaere
offered, her visage following Kerrie's movement. "I do not see failure
when I look at you" she added encouragingly. "Perhaps you are being too
hard on yourself."
Kerrie remained quiet for a moment,
simply shaking her head. "The Admiral has been very displeased with my
performance as of late," she began to explain, raising her head to make
eye contact with her once more. "But that is not what bothers me," she
continued trying to better explain, "It's the fact that it bothers me
that 'bothers' me." She knew that did not make the best of sense, but it
was the only way she could explain it. "In the past if someone
criticized my work I would treat them like that punching bag," she said
with a widening grin, "But I want to badly to please the Admiral and
yourself because of feelings I have developed." She lowered her head to
its usual dejected posture. "That is very unlike me," she said quietly,
"and very dangerous."
Htaere looked genuinely touched. "Oh..."
she began. "You do not credit yourself enough. I am very pleased that
you are here" she smiled, drawing closer to Kerrie. "Humanity and
compassion are never weaknesses."
"You should try telling that to your
fiance sometime," Kerrie said bitterly, without thinking. Her face
turned cold instantly once she had realized what she had done. "Oh
no..." she said in sheer terror as she moved from the bench to a
kneeling position in front of Htaere. Cowering in front of her she began
to beg, "Please ... please do not tell him I said that." Trembling she
looked up at Htaere, as if she held her very life in her next words.
Htaere looked visibly uncomfortable at
Kerrie's groveling. "Please get up...this is...not...please...just get
up" she said, fidgeting slightly. She extended her hands down towards
Kerrie, her patience and face eternally compassionate for the woman.
"Please stand up." She inhaled deeply. "I agree...that Claudius
is...cold..." she allowed quietly. "I try hard Kerrie. I really do..."
now it was Htaere's turn to beg, as if the pleading could somehow
preserve that connection despite the adverse conditions of their
Obediently, Kerrie raised from her knelt
position and stood weakly before Htaere. Her was bowed respectfully, an
awkward swallow of her parched mouth preceded her attempt at
conversation. "I do not know why I wish so hard to please him," she said
in a sad, bewildered tone, "He scolds me daily. He treats his Worrt
better than me. But..." she sighed before continuing, "His approval just
means so much to me."
Htaere was at a loss. "I believe that he
does care, I really do. After the bombing, I saw the way he reacted to
your injuries, and I hardly knew him then. I...I do not know why things
are as they are..." she conceded. "I promise to do my best in shielding
you from him." Again, she found herself unsure of what to say. "You
know...if you feel as though your fighting skills are diminished...I
could perhaps assist you in touching up you talents" she said, her
expression brightening considerably.
Kerrie shook her head slowly at Htaere.
"As always," Kerrie began in a more serious tone, "I thank you for your
kindness and sincere interest in the situation between myself and the
Admiral, but this is something I must resolve. Your attempts to 'shield'
me will only serve to justify his criticisms. I am capable of dealing
with this." She paused, swallowing nervously. "If I am not," she
continued, "Then I am worthy of his criticisms."
"I do not wish to make things difficult
between you, more then I already have, and for that I am sorry. I only
try to help" she mumbled. "I have asked if he would consider sending me
away, so I would not continue to be a problem for either of you."
"I would not worry about that, Milady,"
Kerrie said as the subject turned to a more pleasant note. The sadness
subsided as she thought about what she had said. "I have never seen the
Admiral happier," she said honestly, "Your leaving would destroy him I
think. And as for me ... you have been a kind and loyal friend. Your
presence has become 'necessary' here."
Htaere allowed the corners of her mouth
to lift, but it wasn't a real smile by any means. "I wish I could make
it easy for you" she replied, regretfully. "Perhaps I can help you in
one way...if you are interested."
Kerrie tilted her head, the smile not
fading from her carefully mimicked Human lips. "My life was not meant to
be easy, Milady," she said in a sincere tone. Her attention then turned
to her other comment. "Oh?" she asked curiously, "Help me how?"
Htaere's beautiful lips arched in a
grand smile. "In Hapes, we have excelled at a handful of technologies.
One of those is the infamous Hapan cyborgs. They are a force to be
reckoned with, and feared across the galaxy despite their restricted use
even within the Cluster. Should you be in search of an excellent
sparring partner to touch up, let me know. I can arrange to have one
sent here for a time."
"A cyborg?" Kerrie repeatedly, slightly
confused. Her knowledge of the Hapan culture was quite limited, if not
non-existent. "I'm not sure I'm familiar," she admitted honestly, "Do
you think I am a match for one?"
"I...have no real knowledge of what
combat skills you possess. The cyborgs are our fighting elite" Htaere
remarked, her shoulders lifting beneath the expensive fabric. "It was
only a thought. Even I have never seen them in action."
"I would be willing to try anything at
this point, Milady," Kerrie confessed quite honestly. "Do you think
something like that could even be arranged?" she asked, her head tilting
to the right once again.
Htaere nodded. "If you wish it, I will
make it so" she said with a committed smile. "Only, you must remain in
good health for the wedding. Which reminds me...perhaps in the next day
or so, if you should have a bit of time, we need to have you fitted."
"Fitted?" Kerrie repeatedly, not
understanding Htaere's meaning. "Fitted for what?" she asked, her eyes
narrowing on the woman, her damp eyebrows coming together just above the
arch of her nose.
"For your gown..." Htaere beamed,
bristling ecstatically. "I shall take the liberty of requesting time off
for you from Claudius so that you may have several days before, during
and after the wedding to rest."
"Oh no!" Kerrie said as she raised her
voice objectionably, "You're not getting me in no gown. I'll wear my
uniform." She folded her arms in front of her chest and stared at her
defiantly. There were few things in the galaxy she was terrified of, but
one was being seen in a gown in public.
Htaere laughed lightly. "Oh yes...it will
be beautiful. Your uniform is not necessary for such an occasion. You
will be a princess and an honorary Hapan when we are finished..." she
Kerrie's eyes widened her and her mouth
fell open, a look of both shock and dismay evident upon her face.
"Everyone will make fun of me," she said genuinely concerned for how she
would be treated. "I wouldn't look in a dress," she tried to explain,
"I'm much more comfortable in this uniform."
"I would not allow anyone to make jest"
Htaere looked shocked. "I suppose I cannot make you do what you are not
comfortable with. You do not have to be in uniform though" she conceded
with a gentle shrug.
"If it is important to you, Milady,"
Kerrie said quietly after thinking it through, "I will wear the gown. It
is the least I can do to show you my support on that day." She smiled
and raised her bloody hand and was about to pay her on the shoulder
affectionately, but she froze when she saw the blood. "Oh..." she said
sadly, withdrawing the hand, "Sorry. Almost caused a stain."
Were Htaere casual enough to let her
eyes roll, she would have. Instead she lifted part of the many yards of
fabric that constituted her skirt and with her other hand, reached for
one of Kerrie's battered wrists, wrapping her maimed hand in the fabric
of her dress to soak up some of the excess dark crimson that saturated
her bandages. "You should report to the medical levels to have these
closed" she chided, shifting part of the fabric to find a cleaner spot
once enough blood had soaked through, leaving a large red spot on the
front of her skirt.
Kerrie smiled kindly as Htaere bound her
wounds quite effectively. It was comforting. It felt good to have
someone care. "I should not bother Doctor Tohan with something like
this, Milady," she admitted honestly, "All wounds heal in time."
"Oh...but are you not worried that it
may scar?" Htaere looked astounded at the prospect of being less then
flawless. When a sizeable panel of her skirt was mired with dark red
blotches here and there, she let Kerrie go, smiling at the woman with an
unyielding sense of endearment. Her hands were smeared with faint traces
of Kerrie's blood as well, but she paid little attention, instead
cradling the woman's face and placing a soft kiss on her forehead. "I
shall leave you to your gentle serenity, my friend. I hope that you come
to realize that your own self doubt is what holds you back" she said,
withdrawing and heading for the entrance to the gym.
Kerrie watched Htaere exit the
gymnasium. She listened to what her 'friend' had said and there was
merit in it, but it was hard for her to be self-confident when she was
constantly being criticized by her superior. Once Htaere was left she
focused on her wounds and replied quietly to herself, "Scars serve as