Admiral Claudius Rodney sat in his study
on his estate on Esseles. A small fire was crackling away, providing
shadowy illumination upon his aged face. He remained in uniform .. at
least partially ... by now his tunic had come unbuttoned, revealing the
crewneck t-shirt beneath it. A faint stenciling of the word 'RODNEY'
could be seen, applied long ago, and faded by countless washings. A
snifter of half-consumed brandy swirled in the firelight, having
recently been disturbed. The look on anger and frustration leapt
off his face, made particularly more ominous as the light rhythmically
danced upon it. Finally his face moved away from the fire and locked
horns with the object of his displeasure. "You say you were unable to
recover the disk?" he repeated, somehow expecting to hear a different,
less irritating answer this time.
The antithesis of this powerful man
stood before him in the form of Kerrie Kiley, his ever-faithful and
obedient lackey. Her lips quivered slightly before her response this
time. In all of the time she had served him, never before having seen
him this displeased. The most ferocious of all the Admiral's associates,
she reverted into a sniveling child the moment she entered his presence.
"N-n-no, Milord," she explained, her voice beginning to crack, "I
searched her ship ... but it was not on board. I nearly killed her,
but..." she paused, never liking to admit defeat, "she must have had
someone with her ... the shot ... it came from no..."
"Enough," Claudius interrupted and
raised his hand in a frustrated 'just stop already' gesture. He lowered
his head silently and sunk into his chair. He ripped open the remainder
of his tunic and reached for his glass. Not bothering to stop to sample
the flavor, he merely took another quick swig to begin numbing the anger
beginning to build in the back of his head. As he placed the snifter
back upon the desk his attention finally returned. "Have you any leads?"
he asked, trying to secure some good from this.
"Y-y-yes, Milord," Kerrie eagerly
replied to her 'master.' "She entered Hapan space ... of all places,"
Kerrie explained, noting the irony, "The planet Ut. The Hapan
authorities confronted her ... but she escaped." She lowered her head,
fearing what she was about to say. "My tracking device indicates the
ship is still there ... she must have gotten offworld by some other
"Do you have any idea what is on that
disk, Major" Claudius asked her, rhetorically. "No of course you don't,"
he said in a frustrated tone as he reached for the glass. He held it in
his palm for a moment, heating the fluid with his body temperature ...
higher than normal from his frustration. He sunk in his chair and stared
at the liquid once more, but rather than consume it this time he hurled
the glass into the fire. The glass shattered and the fire roared to life
for a brief moment, before settling back down. "I suggest you
start by trying to identify who helped this woman," Claudius explained,
not bothering to even acknowledge her with a glance, "They may be
helping her again." He paused for a moment, ignoring the woman for a
noticeable duration, "That is all."
"As-as you wish, Mi-milord," Kerrie said
nervously as she began to back her way out of the room. She had never
seen him like this and she had never failed an assignment so miserably
Htaere hastened down the long
high-arched hallway of the Rodney estate, bare feet silent on the long
runner that stretched the length of the corridor. Having settled in for
the evening, she was in an elegant yet simple white night gown, and a
satiny light robe of soft pink that swirled behind her, grazing the
floor as she walked. Long red hair hung down her back and shoulders,
brushed out and gleaming. She stopped at the tall doorjamb of Claudius'
chambers and looked about, concern evident across her elegant and
youthful face. "Claudius?" she called quietly, noting Kerrie's quick
The serene voice of Htaere seemed to
break Claudius from the evil trance that had been cast down upon him by
the negative report. "Yes, my dear?" he called towards the door that
remained open, as Kerrie's exit had been made so hastily that no bother
was made to close it. He tried to make his tunic presentable but he was
too tired, too fueled with brandy, and just plain old tired to bother.
Still, some semblance of his smile appeared upon his lips from knowing
Htaere was near.
Htaere moved towards him gracefully, her
gait so light it seemed she floated. "What happened? I heard something
fall..." she began, her focus pulling momentarily about the room yet
finding no trace of disturbance. "Is everything alright?"
Claudius sighed and looked to the small
shards of glass scattered upon the carpet in front of the fire. "Just a
glass my dear, just a glass..." he said, his mind clearly elsewhere. He
shook his head, displeased at the way he was behaving. "Pay it no
matter," he said as he turned his full attention towards her, a smile
forming upon his lips. "The weight of the galaxy just particularly more
heavy upon my shoulders this even," he explained to her, only
Htaere came to a halt next to the chair
in which he sat, eyes darting to the broken glass for a moment before
shifting back to her fiancé. She didn't pretend to understand what it
felt like to walk a mile in his boots, and thus could only offer her
unyielding support through his trials and tribulations. "I am sorry for
your troubles. May I get you some tea?" her eyes locked on his aged
face, her expression soft and eager to please.
Claudius' mind immediately considered
another glass of brandy, but he thought the better of it and eventually
reached the same conclusion as Htaere. "Yes," he said tiredly, sinking
deeper into his arm chair, "tea sounds lovely."
She smiled and pivoted on her heels. "I
shall be right back" she called as she left the room. Some ten minutes
trickled by before she reappeared carrying a dainty silver tray,
complete with a matching tea pot, two cups and saucers and a small plate
of biscuits. She set the tray on the coffee table and fixed him a cup of
tea, moving in front of him and holding the cup and saucer towards him,
smiling pleasantly and admiring him all at once. "Here my love. This
will help" she urged.
"I fear what might have become of me
without you," Claudius said to her sweetly as he reached out and took
hold of the cup and saucer. He raised the cup to his lips slowly,
extending his pinky in the dainty manner of his noble upbringing. "Mmm,"
a murmur escaped his lips as it began to sooth his soul. "Please, sit
down," he urged her as he took another sample of the fine tea ... his
mood noticable improving already.
Tending to her own cup, Htaere took a
seat in a chair near his. She sipped her tea a few times before placing
the saucer and cup down on the table, and allowing herself to lapse in
protocol out of the public eye, she got comfortable in her chair,
pulling her legs up underneath her and leaning to one side to rest
leisurely against the arm.
"Come now," Claudius began, his smile
widening as he began to raise in his arm chair, his posture beginning to
return normal, "We mustn't be so glum." He laughed slightly and decided
it best to change the mood. "I heard you've had some adventures while
I've been working," he said in a curious tone, hoping to stir a
conversation as he took another sip from his tea.
"We have been experiencing a variety of
local customs. It has been enjoyable" she nodded with a slight grin. "My
regret is that you have been unable to join me." Htaere's eyes were
pulled to the fire, lulled into an almost transient state by the way it
flickered and danced, crackling here and there, all consuming and
Claudius lowered his head slightly, a
bit dejected by how his work has been eating away at his personal life.
He raised his head and smiled confidently at her. "That is something I
shall endeavor to correct," he said in a reassuring tone. "Tell me about
some of what happened," he continued, "As I could not be there allow me
at least to know what I have missed."
Htaere's smooth creamy shoulders
shrugged beneath the sateen fabric of her robe. "We returned to the
markets and spent some time there, and we took in the cometary games on
Chandrila, the sun jammer races and swoop bike races and such. It was
very exciting to watch, yet quite dangerous."
"Returned to the scene of the crime?"
Claudius asked in a joking matter, thought it was not a particularly
funny one and he soon realized that. "I'm sorry," he said, his cheeks
flush with embarrassment, "That joke was out of place. I was not
thinking." He looked down, ashamed. He narrowed his eyes and soon
returned his gaze to her. "Did you enjoy yourself?" he asked, hoping to
quickly get passed that faux pax.
"It was very uneventful this trip and
consequently all the more enjoyable. I had a lovely time. Kerrie
tolerates my simple delights" Htaere answered, unbothered by the remark.
"I have to admit that I enjoy simply watching the marketplace, the
swarm, the scents, the peddlers and beings...it fascinates me."
"Did you purchase anything?" Claudius
asked as he sat forward in his chair, actually taking pleasure in the
mundane routines of ordinary life. He smiled at her and half-considered
tearing off his uniform, carrying her out of the room and blasting off
the world on the next transport to just enjoy a normal life, but he
could not do that ... he had his honor to consider ... it could be quite
pesky at times.
"No...but we looked at small companion
animals for sale" Htaere thought back on it. "I did not know what to
buy" she continued haphazardly. "Much of it seems to be inexpensive
items that do little but occupy space."
"Is a pet something you would enjoy, my
dear," Claudius asked her with genuine interest. It could be easily be
arranged, but honestly he had thought he had already given her a pet in
the form of Kerrie ... a somewhat cruel thought, and one he would dare
not say aloud.
Htaere's thoughts were interrupted by
the snoring. She glanced over to her right, eyebrows lifted as she
observed his passing into unconsciousness. Htaere rose quietly, setting
her tea down, as well as retrieving his lest he spill it in his lap in
slumber. She grabbed at one of his arms. "Claudius, move to the bed" she
said firmly to stir him, tugging at him to get him at least mobile.