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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
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.
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 ...
"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
"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
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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
"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.