Era of Rebellion - Navigation

Christopher Levy and J. Kate Stasiak.
Zero years after the Battle of Yavin (35:F2:3) in the Essesia system: Esseles (New Calamar: Claudius Rodney's estate), Kwai, and Tenacity.
Flight Lieutenant Haven Anson, Grand Moff Claudius Rodney, and Captain/Rear Admiral Rhiannon T'Jarell.

Grand Moff Claudius Rodney sat silently on a chair positioned outside his expansive estate in the mountains outside of New Calamar on the planet Esseles. He was wearing his olive-grey uniform, that had just been pressed by his staff, and looked neater than it had in more than a year. The estate sat empty ... his wife and his children in orbit aboard the Warspite for their own protection. He was alone. He knew that when he requested this meeting with Captain T'Jarell at his private residence, rather than aboard his command ship, he was already taking the first step down a possible irrevocable path. His marriage had been under strain since his wife was tortured to the point of miscarriage by the ISB, and she had grown both cold and distant ... it was understandable. The business of a regional governor was far more intense than that of the commander of a battle squadron, and he felt as if he had very little free time and that he was at fault for what had been lost between them. His father's message of chastisement for failing produce a male heir still lingered in the back of his mind, but although at vowed at the time it meant nothing to him ... the thought of ending an 800 year line of Rodneys did eat away at the back of his thoughts. And so, there he sat, waiting for the most beautiful woman he had ever encountered in the Navy ... who had the added benefit of bringing him victory ... with one of the last bottles of Alderaan Ruge he had access to. What had he gotten himself into?

The invitation to dinner at Grand Moff Rodney's private residence came as nothing less than a shock to Rhiannon, who merely expected to be called to attend him on the Warspite and give her report of all that had transpired. Not that she had not already sent multiple transmissions to the same effect; communiques which were as rich in detail as they were in scope. The Hapan captain left nothing to chance, lest her ability as a commanding officer was to be called into question. Given the unusual nature of the invitation then, it was essential that Rhia did not end up tripping over her own feet. Being under a jurisdiction of a planetary governor was not the same as answering to a fleet admiral ... and it made the young woman feel very self-conscious and at times, very small. While small mistakes could have been afforded with the latter, none could be made with the former ... especially where one's career advancement was concerned. Thus, even when it came to the matter of dress, Rhiannon had to make sure everything was impeccable.

Hair management proved to be the toughest challenge of the night. No matter how hard she attempted to pin up the glorious mass of chestnut waves, they continued to defy her to the point Rhiannon simply decided to let her hair loose about her shoulders. Not being 'officially' on duty, there was no regulation to stop her from doing so. As for her choice of outfit, the Hapan opted for classic black, wearing a floor-length, near-strapless chiffon gown which cascaded about her slim frame with elegance and grace. Then came the matching pumps and a small clutch (which she innately detested), with a small silver ring on her right pinky accentuating the only jeweled detail in her display. It was a family heirloom, given to Rhia by her grandmother on her 13th birthday. The band was formed into a vine-like strand, with a sprinkle of tiny jade-hued jewels highlighting the sheer simplicity of the ornament. She never parted with it, and it seemed the most precious object she considered in her possession. Taking a quick glance at it, the Hapan smiled, then turned to walk out of the captain's suite, having thrown on a matching chiffon shawl.

"C-captain on the ... bridge?" someone stammered, seeing their commanding officer looking like a Nar Shaddaa casino star.

"At ease," Rhiannon scowled, making her way with all possible grace, down the catwalk. "Commander Krauss, you are in command of the Tenacity until my return." She did not care to hear back acknowledgments, content to breathe freely while disappearing within the bowels of the nearest turbolift.

In the hangar bay of the Victory I-class Star Destroyer Tenacity, Flight Lieutenant Haven Anson stood at attention outside the Lambda-class shuttle Kwai. She had recently been transferred, through the influence of her father, to be Grand Moff Rodney's personal shuttle pilot. The beautiful, young Corellian had striking features and tightly coiffed blonde hair. She wore the black uniform of a TIE fighter pilot and her small blue and red rank insignia indicated she had the lowest of ranks that was cleared for flight operations. She was provided only the thinnest of details concerning her assignment, and had only been informed that she was to deliver Captain T'Jarell to the surface. Her flight had not been recorded in official records, and her father, the captain of the Governor's command ship, had done his utmost to ensure maximum discretion.

Rhiannon emerged from the turbolift, already dreading what would come next. A huge, uncomfortable helmet. Tight, enclosing chassis of the Imperial starfighter. This is ridiculous, she thought, tossing a glorious cascade of chestnut over her shoulder just as something unusual came into view: a Sienar Fleet Systems Lambda-class shuttle. Blinking, Rhia moved in closer, wishing she had a heavy blaster strapped to her hip right about now. Surprise and suspicion flashed in her eyes as the Hapan caught a glimpse of a buxom little blonde female, appropriately attired in a starfighter pilot's uniform. Was the Grand Moff ... sending a personal transport for her? It seemed the only logical conclusion, Rhia thought as she approached the young woman and flashed a small smile and a nod in her direction.

The junior officer blinked repeatedly, not at all expecting what stood before her. It was a striking young woman, her age, in a fashionable dress. A series of assumptions flashed through her mind, but she dared not voice any of them. "Captain T'Jarell, I am Lieutenant Anson," she said quietly, as to not be overheard by the others in the hangar bay. "I have orders to transport you to the planet's surface. If you'll just follow me..." she informed her, with a graceful nod of her head, before turning on her heels and walking up the ramp to take her position in the Kwai's cockpit. What was the meaning of this? she thought silently to herself, but she knew full well if she asked or shared this with anyone there would be dire consequences and the wrath of her father.

"Good to meet you, lieutenant," Rhia nodded and followed the young officer up the ramp. She could already imagine the confusion Anson must have felt, seeing an Imperial officer decked out as if she were going to a family wedding. The remainder of the time spent on getting settled in the cockpit was spent in silence, as the Hapan did not want to stir up additional, possibly uncomfortable questions in the young woman's mind. Once she strapped herself in, seated in the co-pilot's chair, Rhia looked to Haven, waiting to see if the blonde needed any assistance with piloting of the vessel. She expected no action on her part would be necessary, but thought to stand willing and ready just in case ... as this whole evening was turning out to be quite bizarre and unexpected, with every passing moment.

Unlike the Governor's last pilot, Haven was a more straightforward, no-nonsense officer and with ease she lifted the shuttle off the hangar and began descending towards the nearby planet Esseles. "I did not expect to see so much Rebel activity in the Core. It was different than what they taught us aboard the Vensenor," she said, making uncomfortable small talk as the shuttle fell into formation with four TIE/ln starfighters that had been dispatched from the command ship. Her hand moved to a series of switches on the control panel above them as they prepared to enter the atmosphere of Esseles.

"They are getting bolder," Rhiannon admitted, shifting in her seat as she turned to face the young lieutenant's profile. "I feel much safer having such a seasoned, brave young officer along to escort me down to the planet surface... Never been to Esseles before," she added the last bit as an afterthought. "Have you been in the service of the Grand Moff ... long?" came the soft inquiry as Rhia's hands clasped and folded in her lap.

"Thank you, Captain," Haven replied, as she flashed her a satisfied grin at the compliment. "Not long. My father commands the flagship, and well ... you can assume how I ended up here," she said, with a soft laugh as she brought the shuttle closer to their destination. In the distance the majestic estate that the Grand Moff had ... acquired ... when first arriving in the Ringali Shell soon came into view. It was a fairly ornate and modern structure, high in the mountains, that seemed more like a retreat than a home. It was his place of solitude, meant to relieve the tension of the war, but as the war intensified it became something of a fortress. As they approached the landing platform, she could observe the Grand Moff waiting for them, and with relative ease she touched the shuttle down on the platform. "I am instructed to go no further, Captain," she said politely, as her hands moved to the controls to lower the ramp in the rear of the craft.

Taking in the breathtaking view of the Rodney estate, Rhiannon momentarily forgot that the young woman was there. She had forgotten that she was coming to this place for dinner, that she was an Imperial captain, and that the man waiting for them at the foot of the platform was her dinner companion. Her entire attention span was engulfed in devouring the precious beauty before her, in a way reminding her of the home she left behind so many years ago - the home that she was missing with every ounce of her noble Hapan soul.

"Beautiful ... simply ... beautiful," she whispered quietly, mesmerized by the sight even as the shuttle touched down onto the landing platform below. If anything, the Grand Moff possessed excellent taste ... not bad for a middle-aged stiff-assed Alderaanian, she thought idly while unstrapping her safety restraints and getting up from her seat. She near well tripped over the long, flowing hem of her gown as a quick turn and inexperience with high heels almost caused her to end up in a heap on the shuttle floor. Not a good start, Rhiannon thought idly while attempting to straighten her posture and appear dignified in spite of the near-mishap. Let's hope the meal portion goes better than the arrival bit.

"Splendid flying," Rhia tossed over her shoulder as she paused at the cockpit threshold and cast one final look towards Lieutenant Anson. "Thank you for your assistance. I wish you best of luck with your Naval career."

Turning back toward the door now, the Hapan proceeded to let herself out of the shuttle. Not unfamiliar with her surroundings, she found the craft floor simple to navigate and soon enough met with the opening that led her to the lowered boarding ramp. Taking a small breath in, she picked up the edges of her gown at the hip level, then stepped through the exit, heading down to meet her host, who waited below.

Before she could descend the ramp completely, Claudius surged forward and offered her the use of his arm to ease her descent. "Thank you for coming, Rhia. May I call you Rhia?" he asked, quickly correcting himself and request permission before he went too far. "It occurred to me that meeting here would be much more preferable to an office on a Star Destroyer with poorly circulated air, thousands of watching eyes, and the potential for Rebel espionage..." he said, obviously lying to hide his true intentions, but done so in the nicest possible ways. "I trust your trip was pleasant?" he asked, having never used the pilot before. Still, she was certain to be a marked improvement over the last one who nearly thrashed him about the cabin each time she flew.

At first, Rhiannon was taken aback at the Grand Moff's familiar use of her name, but there was something in the way Claudius said it that brought a small smile and even a slight blush to her delicate features. His proffered arm was accepted graciously and they proceeded down the ramp with no further mishaps from Rhiannon or her dress - thanks in part to the fact that the tall Hapan took special care to fix her gaze upon the ground and hold up a part of her dress to prevent a possible accident. "I ... appreciate your offer of meeting here more than you know," she confessed looking up to him briefly before her gaze once again dove to the ground as they walked. "Especially now that I have discovered just how beautiful this planet is. I think I have fallen in love with it upon first sight. There is something about it ... I can't put my finger on it just yet ... but it reminds me of home. So, thank you ... Sir." She was unsure what to call him, since he had not given her the proper encouragement to use his given name. Best to remain respectful, she reminded herself silently. Respect wins trust. Trust wins power.

"Do you believe in love at first sight then?" Claudius asked, doing little to hide the double meaning of his words. He breathed in deeply, and his chest expanded, before once again compressing. "Yes. It is quite lovely. I feel as if I can breath here. Life aboard a Star Destroyer is suffocating..." he continued, as he led her towards the entrance to the estate. "I've had a meal prepared. I hope you have not eaten..." he said, with equal amounts of hope in both his eyes and his voice. He stopped before they entered, not yet removing the aid of his shoulder, as he turned to face her for a moment.

Rhiannon paused to think for a moment before replying, "I do believe it is possible to gaze upon something or someone for the very first time, and feel as if your soul is connected to theirs, yes. By the same token, it is very, very rare. For those of us born into ... nobility, it is a near-impossible accomplishment. Our life is often dictated by that which we must do. Very little of it is spent on doing that ... which we want to."

Duty, before love.

Rhiannon remembered that phrase with perfect clarity as it was spoken by her mother before her daughters departed Hapes in search of a bigger, brighter future. It was the sudden pause in their momentum that tore Rhiannon away from the memory and brought her back to the here and now. She watched as her companion inhaled deeply and kept his gaze trained on her at all times. There was something unsettling and yet beguiling in that stare, but Rhiannon imagined that he was merely being polite, as if they appeared to be the only two people here at present.

"No, I have not yet dined," came a soft shake of her head as she reflected upon his earlier words. "I imagine that you are glad to take a break from the mundane rituals of directing this sector of space and simply breathe. Be yourself. For this isn't the standard uniform for receiving battle reports, is it ... Sir?" she grinned, at once silently admonishing herself for such outward display of playful behavior.

"I fear that if I remove this uniform I may not be able to get it back on," Claudius confessed, slightly blushing as he realized how physically close he was to her at the moment. An instant later he pressed forward, crossing the threshold and entering his estate. The entryway felt cramped as he had a much larger space on his native Delaya and it was populated with Alderaanian art and decor ... fragments of a destroyed world. There were representations of his first wife who had died in childbirth, his two biological daughters, his adopted Squib daughter, and yes ... his wife. He was embarrassed by that, but he did not allow them to linger. Pressing still further he led them to a balcony, that hung over the cliffside, and looked directly down the precipice into the valley below. And in the distance ... the magnificent sight of the city of New Calamar. He stood there for a nervous moment, finally releasing his assistance when they arrived, and rather than sit he moved to the edge of the balcony to take in the view. His hands folded behind his back, and he rose on his feet eagerly, as he took in all that nature and civilization had to behold as the two blended seamlessly.

Passing by precious memories of a once exquisite world of Alderaan, Rhia's face fell as she recalled the terrible fate that befell that exquisitely beautiful planet. The representations of the females they passed by (rather hurriedly) made her glance up to her host and cant her head questioningly before she uttered, "A handsome family. I assume at least one of these was your consort? Do forgive me ... it's none of my business. I am ... a curious being." Was anything going to go right tonight? A little restraint would suit you better, the young woman reminded herself. You are not an Imperial Security Bureau agent; stop acting like one ... you do not want to make him nervous. Stopping at the balcony where Claudius appeared to take his ease, Rhia stepped up to stand beside him and attempted to follow the direction of his gaze, guessing at whatever it was that caught the man's attention. The view of the valley was splendid and she did enjoy it immensely, but she could not help but notice that her host was almost relieved to relinquish the use of his arm and put a little distance between the two of them. Typical. Though he tried to play the perfect host, Claudius would drop little hints here and there as if to indicate that he still saw himself as her superior, in every way. On Hapes, that would have been a much different story ... but Rhia was far away from home, on the Grand Moff's turf and bound to play by his rules ... a man's rules.

And the Empire was full of them: bigots, who never saw further than the tip of their own nose.

Claudius did not acknowledge the word 'consort', as he was still very much a married man and this put him in a particularly difficult predicament. He took a step behind her, and moved towards the small bistro table that was filled with a rather extravagant meal that the droids had prepared for them. He pulled the chair out for her, the durasteel awkwardly screeching against the duracrete surface of the balcony. "Sorry," he murmured quietly, as he lifted it slightly to minimize the noise. "It seems we have perfect weather for this meal, but I cannot take credit for that..." he said, making awkward, almost uncomfortable small talk with an unfunny joke. It would not take a Force-sensitive to detect how nervous he was.

Glancing to her side and slightly behind her, Rhiannon watched as Claudius moved to the nearby table which she had not noticed up until this very moment. Her eyes widened slightly at the fanciful fare that had been placed upon it and realized that it was the dinner meant for the two of them. "It is ... the perfect setting, isn't it?" she remarked quietly, stepping over to the chair which he pulled out for her shortly after. Taking great care in sitting down without tearing a gaping hole in the hemline of her gown, Rhia took up the napkin almost instantly and spread the generously sized fabric across her lap. "Thank you," she looked up to catch his gaze, still attempting to read the man. All of this just seemed 'off', somehow. Unless, of course, the Grand Moff arranged 'victory dinners' for all of his successful captains. And worse yet, the awkwardness of it all just made him seem nervous, somehow. Perhaps there was something else behind this meeting, something more altogether ... sinister in nature. Rhia decided to tackle her suspicions decisively.

"Sir, am I being transferred?" she asked outright, barely waiting for him to take a seat.

"Transferred? I intend for you to be with us here in the Ringali Shell for a long time," Claudius began, as he took a seat across from her. His eyes darted between the mountain range and Rhia's face, trying in vain to decide which was more beautiful. "When you return you will find additional assets have been assigned to your command. You'll also see I've pushed forward your promotion to Commodore," he said with some delight, as he grasped the stem of his glass and took a sip of the Alderaan Ruge that had been poured for them. "Not much of this left. I only use it for special occasions now," he explained, with some hesitation, as millions of his people had only recently perished ... at the hands of the Rebels he thought. "Are you pleased?" he asked, leaning forward at the table, as he eagerly awaited her reply.

Suddenly, Rhiannon found her throat to have gone completely dry. For a while, her mind wandered aimlessly, attempting to find words only to come up empty. She mulled over everything that was just said to her, as if to make sure she heard correctly. It still did not seem to make sense. Her logic simply could not process the reasoning behind the Grand Moff's decision. When she finally recovered her powers of speech, the young woman locked her dark, smoldering gaze with her host's and shook her head slowly. "There must be some mistake, Sir. I've only just arrived here a week ago. I've seen one engagement, took no prisoners and lost a full squadron of fine starfighter pilots. These men ... they can never be replaced," she whispered, as if taking a measure of personal loss in light of their unfortunate demise.

Pausing briefly as he poured the wine, the Hapan nodded in acknowledgment of its great value then reflected back on the loss of life in her most recent battle. What a trade-off: they died, she got the ultimate reward. A pang of guilt and shame stabbed at Rhia's conscience, and she looked away to the distant city of Calamar, a part of her wishing that she were anywhere but here.

Claudius nodded his head slightly as he detected her survivor's guilt ... he had seen that look before going all the way back to the Clone Wars. "Weep not for those lost, Rhia. Before this war is over they will only be a drop in the bucket of lives that must be shed to defeat this rabble and preserve the New Order," he spoke, having become radicalized after being told it was the Rebellion that was responsible for the destruction of Alderaan. "You deserve all this is coming to you. Fairly or unfairly, it is the leader who is always rewarded ... but also blamed," he warned her, and himself incidentally, as he began to cut into his meat.

Watching him quickly dive into his meal, Rhiannon shook his head and picked up her fork but did not move it anywhere near her plate. Suddenly, she wasn't hungry but did not wish to appear ungrateful. "Thank you, Sir." She looked up to level her gaze with his, though the Grand Moff seemed to be rather too preoccupied with his food, to take notice. "I do appreciate this gesture of trust. I confess, this added responsibility is exactly what I was hoping for. The fair gender does not get many of those within the Empire, and I count myself especially fortunate to have garnered your support." Having spoken, the young woman finally reached over to pick up her knife and began to chip away at her meat, alternating small bites with light sips of her drink.

Even though he had intended this to be informal and off duty it seemed their disparity in ranks was disrupting the solemnity of the meal. "Please, Rhia. You do not have to refer to me as 'sir' or any other title for that matter," he explained to her, before sampling some of the dish. As he chewed the meat and looked across the table towards her, and had thoughts that a man should not have about a woman such as her. Especially not a married man. And so his attention turned not to the ruge, but to the chilled water that he found himself in need of to cool himself down.

The young woman considered his words for a moment, reaching for her glass before taking a sip and then setting it back down. "All right, then," she conceded amidst the confusion felt when looking into his eyes. "Claudius it is." He was still immensely difficult to read. The kinder he appeared, the more suspicious the Hapan became. But perhaps this was merely Rodney's way of being ... a facet of the man she had yet to learn about. "I do wish to apologize about being so intrusive, earlier," Rhia watched his face carefully as he sipped his water, paying special attention to his body language as she reminded him of the inquiry made about his significant other. "I just wondered if you have someone special to share all of this with. This estate is simply magnificent. On Hapes, we believe that one's home reflects their soul. Is this what the innermost facets of Grand Moff Claudius Rodney are like?" She offered a child-like grin, intending to set him more at ease as her free hand gestured at the splendid finery about her.

The question she posed wounded him deeply, and he squirmed, visibly shaken by the words that were directed at him. He coughed slightly, before taking an even deeper sip of the glass of cold water. "I did- I mean, I do..." Claudius told her, growing increasingly remorseful about what was occurring. It would be clear that so much was going on, so much more than he could ever make clear with words. Finally, he let out a dejected sigh and released his grip on his fork and nothing but silence escaped his lips. What was he doing? What had he already done? he thought silently to himself, his eyes looking over each and everyone one of her lovely features. Could she give him what the others could not? Was it even fair to ask? His mind was ablaze with questions that he could not answer.

Seeing the obvious signs of dismay that Claudius was exhibiting, Rhiannon was feeling instantly contrite. She had said something that inadvertently seemed to make him uncomfortable. The comment about a spouse, perhaps? Well, this dinner was going smoothly! Don't be surprised if he chooses to just pick you up by the rump and shoulder, and toss you off the balcony into the precipice below! "I'm- I'm sorry," the young woman stammered as she began to silently curse her obvious inexperience in social situations - other than those that involved the military chain of command or being around her family. "I can be so insensitive at times ... my mother often used to say that both my feet live in my mouth. But I don't think I've ever agreed with her before ... until tonight." Picking up the napkin off her lap, Rhiannon touched it to her mouth, then pushed away from the table, walking over to the ledge of the balcony. A cool breeze seemed to blow just then, causing the young woman to pull her flimsy shawl tighter about her shoulders.

"As you are no doubt aware sometimes ... most times it is difficult to be noble," Claudius said, before he too discarded the remainder of his meal, and moved to join her at the edge of the balcony. "So much of my life has been dictated for me. As have the people I've associated with. All in service to my people. A people I seldom see," he said to her, revealing an inner vulnerability that he rarely displayed to others. He could see that she was trembling in the breeze, and therefore rather than move beside her, he instead came up behind her and attempted to wrap both his arms around her to keep her warm. It was a bold move to be certain.

"You sound ... unhappy."

It was the only thing that came to her mind, as Rhia's slender frame shuddered beneath his fingertips. Given the circumstances, Claudius might have thought it was from the chill of the wind, and thus not give away that in reality, it was the unexpected touch that caused the inner tremor. The breeze continued to tug away at Rhiannon's shawl, tousling her hair then whipping it back as it flew into Claudius' face. It smelled of jasmine and dewberries, and it was soft yet strong. The young woman's mind was a blank at that very moment, devoid of any thought ... though her hands seemed to have an intent of their own as they moved to wrap over his forearms. It was a strange moment ... much like most of this evening ... and she waited in silence as it ran its course, afraid to speak or move ... not prepared to break the spell that wrapped her in a warm, protective embrace.

The foolish, middle-aged man, brought his right hand up to move away from of the hair that was blowing in the wind towards his face. As he exposed the back of the neck he took in a deep breath, before releasing a dispassioned sigh. In an instant his head descended, as if he were about to devour her, but instead he placed the most tender of kisses upon it. As he pulled his lips away, his tongue remained a moment longer to linger, and tease at her senses. Immediately upon the occurrence he froze, wondering what happened, and felt racked with guilt, but also driven by lust ... the struggle of every man since creation.

Rhiannon felt his lips upon her skin, warm, and firm and gentle, coaxing rather than demanding, igniting an unfamiliar flame within the young woman that heated her blood and stirred the need to respond ... only she did not know, how. So she stayed put; unmoving, holding her breath, and allowing his lips to taste the silky sheath of the nape of her neck ... slowly, leisurely, filling her with an accepting languor that blocked her ability to think. She sighed and moved back ever so slightly, as if seeking further refuge within his embrace, enjoying the warmth and strength he exuded. He seemed to sense she was on unfamiliar ground and ventured forward boldly, the tip of his tongue lightly tracing some unknown motif upon her skin.

And then it happened.

Suddenly sheer panic flooded through the very core of her being. He was too close, too powerful, he was trapping her as surely as any dominant man would have - and the overwhelming, terrifying maleness of him cut through her lethargy and shattered the spell he might have been unwittingly weaving over her. Responding by pure, unchecked instinct, she clenched one hand into a solid fist and spinning around in a swift attempt to face him, she smashed it into the underside of his jaw, expecting him to grunt with pain and stagger back. At once, the horror of what she had just done overwhelmed her, and her mouth came ajar just hanging there, without any words to follow. Shame, guilt, pleasure and most of all, confusion seemed to overwhelm Rhiannon at this time as she failed to understand just why all of this was happening, and why now? Was this all a part of some elaborate plan for him to seduce a young, inexperienced woman who had to rely on the power and influence of men to get ahead in this galaxy? This, and many other thoughts crammed into her skull all at once, causing her face to twist into a grimace of pain ... and anger.

The punch caught him completely unaware, and the uppercut to his jaw rendered him immediately unconscious. He had not been punched since his youth, and even then it was only by children who were ordered to be delicate with him due to his position in society. His body lifted up for a moment, before falling backwards on top of the table. The Governor's weight collapsed the table beneath him, and eventually he, the table, and what was left of their food and drink were all shattered on the balcony floor. It was the most memorable kiss he had ever had ... if only he would be in a position to remember it.

Of all the gross incompetencies Rhia had ever committed, this one had to be the worst. Not only had she just assaulted a regional governor, but she had most likely sealed her own fate in the Imperial Navy. Forget the transfer, she thought bleakly, looking at the unmoving body at her feet, You'll be lucky if you don't get a court martial for this. A sharp sigh tore from her chest as the young woman lowered her tall frame into a crouch and leaned over her unconscious host.

A small, slender hand ventured forth to touch his upper arm, attempting to shake him lightly.


Glancing over the man and his ruined uniform, she thought back to moments before when everything was still perfect and pristine. Was it really so bad, the feeling of his mouth on her skin, and the tightly enveloping feel of his embrace? Was she afraid of him, or merely of what it all meant, where it could possibly lead? No. He was a married man, she reminded herself, recalling all the representations of his family they passed by upon first entering the estate. He had a family. There was no reason for him to be doing this. Or was there? He never did answer her question. Was he ... truly unhappy?

"Wake up ... Please, wake up."

She shook him again, with more force and this time, she used both hands to clasp at his upper arms. A quick toss of her head over her shoulder confirmed that no one was coming in spite of the commotion the accident had caused. A part of her wanted to flee, but there was no place to go, anyway. And even if she managed to pull it off, it would make her look even more guilty than she already was. Hmm. Perhaps, with some luck, he would not remember what happened, Rhia attempted to reason within herself. But then again, he'd have a fat bruise on the underside of his jaw, to tell him otherwise, she frowned. Either way, this dinner was over.

There was a moment of disorientation as he began to stir, and as his brown eyes opened he saw what appeared to be thrantas flying above him. During the first few moments he could not see Rhia, nor much else, but then he was overcome by a sharp twinge of pain in his back. The pain began to radiate and became more severe ... typical of men of his age ... and a deep, pained groan began to escape his beleaguered lips. "Wha-what has happened?" he asked, forgetting for the moment where he was, and who he was with. As he stirred, his head shifted from left to right, as he struggled to regain his composure. It was only then that he felt the pain in his jaw, and his right hand moved swiftly towards it. As he examined it, he grimaced and jolted with pain as he gave it a squeeze. Still ... much remained a blur and he could not exactly place what had befallen him.

Rhia froze the moment he began to stir, and she watched with a pained look as he began to ascertain his injuries, undoubtedly attempting to recall all that had just taken place before he woke. Now was the time for truth ... or lies. And Rhia was fairly certain that a man as astute as he would have no trouble in eventually seeing through the latter. Summoning up all her courage (though she wished there was one last sip of Ruge nearby), the young woman withdrew her touch from his person before offering up a quiet admission. "I hit you."

Just that. No embellishments, no explanations or reasonings or justifications for her actions.

"And ... you fell."

Master of the obvious, she commended herself inwardly as she continued to kneel at his side.

"Don't move."

She cast a swift glance nearby, her eye catching a glimpse of the ice bucket which tumbled off the table as it fell. A handful of ice cubes lay scattered nearby. Rhia leaned over and grabbed her old napkin which landed next to Claudius' left leg, then picked up a handful of ice and wrapped it within the fabric. Bringing the makeshift ice pack toward the man, she touched the cleanest side to his swollen jaw. During all of this, she remained silent, but her eyes never left him - always watchful ... mindful of anything and everything that was going on, about her.

Although Claudius heard the words that she spoke, it took him longer to process than was the norm, as if his brain had been replaced by an outdated processor. No words were spoken ... only more groans of the disoriented kind. But when the ice touched his jaw there was a sharp intake of air as his system was shocked, and it was as if in that instant his whole body had shriveled some. "Oh believe me. I'm not moving," he said weakly, content to remain where he lay, the feeling of pain in his back growing larger by the minute. He would have almost enjoyed laying there, being cared for by her, if not for that excruciating back pain. The fact that she had hit him did not anger him, as he truly felt that he had deserved it for what he had done. He was a married man ... and she was a *much* younger woman.

After a while of her ministrations, Rhiannon put the ice pack away and regarded his immediate surroundings with a critical glance. "You cannot remain laying here. Is there some place else you could rest?" Drawing to her feet, she offered him her hand as an indication she meant to help him stand up.

He tried to sit up, but the instant he attempted to move without assistance he felt nothing but tension and discomfort in his backside. Claudius considered calling for help, but there was no way he could explain this to any of the security forces that patrolled the perimeter of his estate. There was something unchivalrous about asking this young woman to help him up, but he realized that she was his only hope. "Would you ... would you help me to my bed?" he asked, after some hesitation and struggling to speak the words. There was something wrong about all this, but he was in no position to stop himself at the moment.

Rhiannon heard the words, but they only registered after a little while ... she was too preoccupied watching Claudius struggle as he attempted to move and speak. Feeling slightly helpless and not wanting to call for help (which would undoubtedly attract too many unwanted questions), she knew it was all up to her to somehow 'fix' this. What was he asking again? Oh, yes, to help him to the bed. But where? Glancing around, she quickly nodded, then crouched down again to offer him the use of her arms. "That's fine. Just tell me where to go," she managed a small smile, encouraged by the fact that he wasn't intent on having her escorted off the premises and arrested ... just yet.

"It is through there," he weakly indicated through a motion of his head, rather than with one of his arms. As she led him further into the estate they passed the rooms that belonged to his daughters, and some of the toys that belonged to his adopted Squib daughter still littered the floor, making their navigation somewhat more hazardous. When they arrived at the end of the corridor they would be greeted by an expansive room, with massive windows that exposed them to the mountain ranges. There was a secondary room that contained a walk-in closet and en suite with a massive walk thru refresher. But everywhere around them were signs of a woman's touch. But not just any woman, the kind that would be familiar to a Hapan like Rhia, as Claudius' wife had been drawn from the Hapes Star Cluster as well.

Rhiannon passed the opulent interiors without blinking an eye, paying more attention to the convalescent man on her arm than anything else. Their final stop garnered somewhat more focus from her, as the young woman perused her surroundings carefully, scouting out some of the more pertinent details, such as the refresher, any tables, chairs, lamps, and the like. The night had not fallen just yet, so there was plenty of ambient light coming in through the massive windows that she could make out all the details of the bedchamber with ease.

"Easy now," she instructed, as they approached the side of the bed and she waited for Claudius to lower himself gently onto its surface. "Just try to relax. I will get some water." Waiting only until he had made himself comfortable (as much as his current predicament would allow), the Hapan would proceed to the refresher, in search of a clean glass and some water to drink.

The refresher was populated with living flowers ... not fresh cut ... transferred from the garden he had made for his wife aboard his command ship. There were traces of her everywhere as she spent more time here than he. As he settled into the bed, his feet kicked against one another, to slide them off and allow his feet come comfort. They fell to the ground with dull *thud*s breaking the silence, and he began to flex his sock covered feet to relax them ... he found the boots to be tremendously painful. He sighed softly, looking up at the ceiling, through the skylight, and at the wondrous heavens above. He almost did not feel the pain.

Rhiannon had never seen so many flowers in her life. Even her home gardens on Hapes failed to feature that many different species, she thought, devouring the exotic beauty before her with a deep exhale. But that wasn't something a man would want for his surroundings ... no ... this was decidedly a feminine touch. Perhaps this was his wife's chamber? Yet the size of the room dictated it was more than likely their love nest. Feeling suddenly awkward, Rhiannon quickly scanned the shelves and sink area for an empty receptacle. She found a clean glass soon enough and moved to fill it with cool tap water. Grabbing a fresh face towel before leaving, she offered one last glance to her surroundings and frowned.

None of this made any damn sense.

Hurrying now, back to where her host lay, she noted the absence of boots on his feet and the haphazard way they were strewn about on the floor. "I could have taken those off for you," she remarked, bringing the water to his side. She considered sitting down on the edge but there wasn't enough room ... so the Hapan remained standing, leaning over him with the towelette in hand. "I brought you some water," she offered quietly, reaching out toward him with the glass.

It was his manner to make jokes during times of duress and his mind instinctively moved to humor upon her return. "If you had been near my feet the odor would have likely rendered you unconscious as well. And I am in no position to care for you..." Claudius said to her, in a playful manner, allowing a smile to form upon his middle-aged face. "Thank you," he said, reaching to take the glass from her. He brought it to his lips and drank from it heartily, but he was sitting at such a low angle he immediately began to choke. Pulling the glass away for a moment he regained his composure, before attempting to sit back higher before continuing. "So I hear you did the same thing to the Rebel transport fleet at Ralltiir as you just did to me..." he said, in an attempt to change the subject, and shift slightly back to business to make them both more comfortable.

As much as she attempted to stay serious, Claudius' clumsy attempt at humor did bring forth a crack of a smile. She nearly chuckled as he tickled her ego, referring to her latest military success. "It wasn't exactly like that," the chestnut head shook softly as she moved to position an extra pillow behind his back. "They were overwhelmed against sheer superior firepower of a Victory-class battle cruiser." Remembering her towelette in hand, the Hapan left the room for a moment, only to return with a slightly more moisturized cloth in hand. Without asking for his permission, she leaned over to dab his forehead and temples with cool, refreshing relief.

"How do you feel?" Rhia asked, dark gaze studying the man's patrician features as if she were seeing them for the very first time. "I'm sorry I ruined dinner. But ..." she looked to him carefully; taking her time, weighing the words to come. "...why did you do that? Is this some kind of a test? Do you doubt my loyalty? Or do you think that I would be so easy to seduce and then discard, like some kind of paid escort that you could then re-assign to the Unknown Regions?" Her voice betrayed disappointment; it was a clear and direct accusation that poured out in spite of her better judgment - but for now, she simply had to know the truth.

"I feel ... old," Claudius said after some deliberation, as he shifted in the bed uncomfortably from the pain that was still radiating from his back. "I do not know why I did that. I do not know why I do most things," he confessed, his voice lingering, before trailing off as if he were talking past her. "No. The only test was mine, and I failed..." he confessed, his voice cracking, as he let his head slump against the pillow in utter dejection. "I apologize for my actions. They were unbecoming of an officer ... and a gentleman," he added, no longer able to look at her, and he only wished he could avoid looking at himself as well.

Deep lines suddenly creased her forehead as Rhia's delicate features contorted into a grimace of dismay. "Apology accepted." And then, "You are hardly old. The pain from the fall will fade in time. And I think you do know, but you are unwilling to speak the words." A mysterious smile suddenly appeared on her lips, before she took the glass from his hand and leaned over him, contemplating something.

Just do it.

Her head lowering, Rhia's mouth brushed ever-so-gently against Claudius' forehead before setting down the glass and moving back to the edge of the bed.

"You don't have to say anything. Just promise me something, if you can?"

"Hmm," Claudius murmured sweetly as her lips made contact with his forehead, a dash of color rushing to his cheeks in a combination of pleasure and embarrassment. He lay there for a moment, wishing it had lasted longer than it had, but like everything else in this war it had been too fleeting. "What is that?" he asked, in regards to her question, as his brown eyes studied her face intently, trying as best he could to reassure himself for justification of his actions.

"Do not enter this incident into my official records? Under whatever guise ... I know that those in higher echelons of power have the ability to erase a life with a flick of a keystroke ... and I'd like to think that I'm worth keeping around. Having an assault on a Regional Governor noted in my file would likely seal my fate, never mind my career." She wondered whether he had cameras installed around this place, keeping accurate record of every passing moment. "It is not a habit of mine to go around punching people - but to be perfectly honest, it was an instinct-based reaction. In my culture, men are considered somewhat 'inferior' to women ... present company excepted, of course. On Hapes, my actions would have been considered proper ... but we are nowhere near my home. Thus, while I realize that I could have handled the situation better, I reacted purely on instinct as my upbringing dictated. I hope you consider this, before changing your opinion about me ... or contemplate taking any disciplinary action for this past incident. In any event ... I do apologize," she murmured and lowered her gaze to the floor.

"Enter it in official records?" Claudius asked, his head tilting slightly in confusion, as if in disbelief that she would even ask such a thing. "Surely you can't be serious," he continued, trying his best to reassure her with a comforting facial expression. "And how exactly would I enter this into official records? How would I justify your presence here ... like this?" he asked in rapid succession, becoming quite embarrassed about the whole incident. "Believe me. The last thing I want is anything official concerning this. Which is why I have the Captain's daughter out there," he said, motioning with his wrist towards the exit where the shuttle patiently waited. "...and there is no need to apologize, as it was I who acted inappropriately," he concluded, before releasing a sharp groan of pain as he attempted to sit up properly.

"I see," Rhiannon replied, still not entirely convinced, "but how will you explain away a huge bulge warping your face? Your wife ... will want to know." She nearly choked half way through the statement, the repercussions of her earlier violence beginning to sink through deeper and deeper. "Do you wish for me to leave now?" It just now occurred to the Hapan that her presence might be taxing on the man and that she had overstayed her welcome, even if Claudius hadn't said a word to that effect. He could simply have been prolonging the inevitable, playing the gentleman.

"I rarely see her now..." Claudius confessed, showing every obvious physical characteristic of someone incredible uncomfortable ... increased heart rate, suffered breathing, a tense jaw. "We have grown distant," he said, in defeat, rolling his head against the pillow to look out the window at the serenity offered by the mountain vista. "Do you want to leave. No one will be here for quite some time," he mentioned, perhaps going too far with his statement. Her presence added to the calmness of the moment, but he would not ask her to stay.

"I am sorry to hear it; you have a lovely family, nonetheless ... all girls."

There was a decidedly approving tone of pride in that statement, and given her cultural upbringing, it made perfect sense. Something told her, however, that Claudius did not share her sentiment - although perhaps her gut feeling was off, after all. She would not press the matter, merely considered his last question which was phrased more like a statement.

Do I want to leave?

A part of her wanted to, yes. Given the circumstances, the longer she stayed in the governor's bedroom, the more inappropriate it became ... even if it was all innocent. A part of her felt ill at ease leaving him alone, still in obvious pain and seemingly starved for company. He was turning out to be a complex man, she thought. With one hand, he would hold her close ... with the other, he would try to push her away. An interesting tactic, one to which she had no response to for the time being...

"If you don't mind, I would rather stay for a little while longer - if anything, to make sure you are going to be fine," she decided, looking him right in the eye.

"Yes. All girls..." he said, as his hands subconsciously moved to one another, rubbing roughly against each other as she had unintentionally hit his soft spot. "On Hapes this would be considered a blessing, but on Delaya..." he stammered, dancing around the issue, before finally starting to lock his eyes on her. "Yes. Please stay," he said, finally revealing his intentions, but as shifted once again he finally felt it ... wetness. "Oh dear..." he murmured softly, as he reached around with his hand to examine his backside. His uniform was badly soiled and there were still remnants of food and drink upon it, causing him greater discomfort. "I seem to have ... soiled myself," he revealed, perhaps using a poor choice of words ... or rather, she had soiled him.

Blinking, Rhiannon felt all the blood in her body rush to her cheeks. "Soiled," she repeated quietly, trying to figure out what he meant because the first image that came to her mind was altogether disquieting. "Oh! You mean ..." Frowning and abashed, the young woman stood up and turned to inspect the room for a hint of a closet. "I can get you something else to change into, if you like," she offered timidly, becoming more and more flustered with every passing moment.

"Yes. What was left of our dinner now adorns my back," Claudius revealed, with some dismay, as he started to get up from the bed. "Here. Let me..." he started to rise, but then the familiar grown of unpleasantness escaped him as his back locked, and he could go no further. Defeated, as if he had just lost some great battle, he merely sat at the edge of the bed and sighed with exasperation. "No. You'd better..." he informed her, somewhat humiliated, emasculated in a sense, as he motioned for one of his robes in the closet.

Nodding, the Hapan moved toward the indicated closet and pulled open the door, then began to shift through the assembled vestments before producing a dark navy blue robe, spun from the finest Lashaa silk. She removed the garment from the accompanying hanger before handing it to Claudius. "I hope this will do," she bit her lower lip before turning her head toward the door. "Let me give you some privacy and I will see about having some light refreshments brought."

"We are both adults, Rhia," Claudius said, but there was clear embarrassment, and hesitation in his voice ... each word was labored and delivered with some obstruction. "I fear that I do not have the ability to do this myself..." he conceded, as he started first by unbuckling the belt ... easy enough. But as he raised his arms to begin unfastening the olive-grey tunic of his uniform he flinched and felt nothing but pain. He could go no further.

Rhiannon's eyes widened as she saw Claudius attempt to remove the belt and then the upper part of his clothing. She felt intensely uncomfortable, a feeling that went away only when she saw him flinch in pain, and instinct pushed her forward, as if some invisible force guiding her to him.

"Yes, adults ... I know. But it's unseemly to have me here while you're disrobing yourself and flashing your ... unmentionables."Shaking her head, Rhia helped him unbuckle and remove the belt before helping the man attend to the buttons of his tunic. Once those were undone, she assisted him with sliding the garment from his shoulders and arms, before tossing it to the floor and starting a dirty clothes pile. "Alright," she sighed, staring at the broad expanse of his back, not daring to come about to face him. "Let me get a droid. You'll be more comfortable in no time."

Beneath his tunic he wore the standard issued undergarments that every soldier of the Empire wore. There was nothing special, nor ornate, about his garb, and he often was accused of being a wealthy, out of touch noble, he preferred to share the experience of the common sailor. He slid his trousers off, and kicked them over to the pile as well, and without losing too much modesty he soon found himself wrapped in the robe she had provided for him. "Now there really mustn't be a report..." he explained to her, wistfully, as he shifted back into bed to consider his predicament.

Thankful to all the powers that be, that Claudius decided to keep his lower undergarments on in her presence, Rhiannon turned to see him comfortably attired before moving to pick up all the discarded clothing. "I think it's fair to assume that I won't be uttering a word of this to anyone," she sighed, before glancing toward the refresher once more. "Is there a laundry hamper anywhere I could deposit these? Also, what can I get you to put you more at ease?" she wondered aloud, considering that he was probably looking forward to getting some rest.

"I draw the line at you assisting in my laundry, Rhia!" Claudius protested, as he turned his head to look at her more carefully than he had done prior. "Leave it to the droids. It is their lot in life," he concluded, nodding his head as he began to cover himself with the bedsheets for an even greater level of modesty and decorum. "Will you sit with me a while, until I fall asleep?" he asked, sounding more like a child, than the governor of a priority sector.

The young woman shook her head and a genuine smile finally set her face aglow. "This is quite unprecedented - but as you are my superior officer, I can't really deny you that request." She was referring of course, to his request for her to stay a while longer, and not the soiled clothing that was promptly deposited on a nearby chair. Moving over to the side of the bed, she waited until Claudius shifted over slightly so she could acquiesce to his desire, then carefully lowered herself onto the mattress with both hands folded in her lap. Dark gaze perused his features for any signs of grimacing or guarding - surefire signs of pain. Finding none for the time being, the Hapan offered her host a reassuring smile and pushed the covers up to his chest.

"I forgot to thank you for the promotion ... I think? It is the least justified advancement of my career, which naturally made me rather suspicious when you first mentioned it. Claudius ... I do not want to be one of those females in the Imperial Navy promoted solely on the basis of my gender's charms ... I want it to happen because I've earned it - because I deserve it." Biting her lower lip in trepidation, she looked away to focus upon the nearest mountain vista.

"You do deserve it. You have earned it. You have eradicated an entire Rebel convoy, whereas others let untold resources slip through!" Claudius exclaimed, sounding genuinely impressed with her behavior. There was real pride in him for her, and everything he saw in her, and had done was because she brought him what he cherished much of all ... victory. "Do you not feel you have?" he asked, rolling over onto his side, as he felt himself begin to tire. But he still forced his eyelids open to look at her thoughtfully as she replied.

"I suppose if you put it that way ... yes. But I wish to do more. I want to be someone ... a force to be reckoned with. I've never really had the opportunity because I am only a woman," she mouthed the last phrase with undisguised disdain. Noting that he was shifting in position, Rhia assumed he was tiring already and so decided not to drain him with further talk. "I am grateful you've given me the opportunity to try and be more. I suppose that's what I'm trying to say," she looked at him, able to see only the man's profile and their eyes met - only this time, in spite of an obviously emotional moment - she did not look away.

"It seems you've made the most of your life thus far. You made Captain more than a decade before me..." Claudius laughed slightly at himself, almost jealous of her accomplishments when compared to his own. "You have earned your opportunity, Rhia. I am confident that you will put the resources I have assigned you to greater use than those who have come before you," he explained to her, with confidence, wanting to assuage any fears she may have had as to his true intentions. "...and with continued success comes continued reward," he added, as he dangled the carrot in front of the proverbial stick.

Looking down to the covers for a moment, Rhia nodded slowly. "I hope never to disappoint, then." She was grateful that he thought highly of her, though could not help but wonder whether he still harbored some ulterior motive. She was still haunted by the memory of the caress he had bestowed upon her earlier, and could not stop wondering whether his feelings were genuine. Likely not, the Hapan thought grimly. To a middle-aged man with a family in tow, Rhiannon likely represented a mere temporary ... diversion. Something pretty that would look splendid enough on his arm, but would never amount to anything other than an ornament ... never the crown.

"You look ... displeased," Claudius said, as her body language alerted him and he found himself suddenly less tired. "When you spoke of something ... more, did you not mean an Admiral's commission?" he asked, furrowing his brow slightly as he narrowed his gaze upon her. Who or what was standing in front of him? He had to be very careful, as one wrong move could jeopardize both his personal and professional lives. By birth she was an excellent match, but to leave his wife ... would hurt her ... and he was not sure he could hurt her in such a way. She had tried ... oh, how she had tried ... but it was the Empire that caused her to fail, not his actions. The inner torment flowed through him, causing him the greatest sense of displeasure as he stared across the room at her. She might as well have been kilometers away.

Shaking her head, Rhia looked toward Claudius but her eyes were clouded by a thought which she found both intriguing and perturbing. "Not displeased, just uncertain. We live in very uncertain times, after all," she whispered quietly. "Which is why my family took the risk to have me study at the Imperial Academy on Carida rather than have me married with children to some shallow count on Hapes." She wondered whether he understood just how important her career was to her; that she would rather die than fail to excel at whatever task she set for herself to accomplish. As for everything else? Rhia had no time to think about that. Love. Family. Perhaps they were the two things that would always elude her. A successful career would not keep her warm at night, but there were plenty of young officers that she knew could fill the role if required. The problem was, she did not simply want a plaything to satisfy momentary lust; she wanted a lifetime companion, a commitment that would make her life complete.

That, it seemed, would have to wait. Perhaps ... in another lifetime...

"I just want to be happy in a time and place where I feel safe and loved. Is that so much to ask?"

You can stop talking now. Yes. You have said entirely too much. He is not your mother. He is not your lover. He is not your father confessor. He is your superior!

"I think ... on that note, I should return. You should rest now."

A soft tear formed in the corner of his left eye as he listened to her words. What his wife must have been put through. She was *forced* to marry him, not even a Count, but the mere son of a Duke, for the sole purpose of breeding. Did she feel the same way that Rhia did? Had it been a life of disappointment for her as well? What had she sacrificed for him? These questions ... and more ... would plague his night of restless slumber. "Thank you for all you have done. Lieutenant Anson will see you back to your ship and ensure no one learns of this encounter. I hope that next time we can finish the meal..." he said, without thinking, revealing that he planned to invite her again. With that, he turned to his side, and rolled over with the earnest hope of getting some much needed rest.

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