Amid the vast shopping and museum districts of Dimitor, the capital
of Gallinore, Htaere roamed with her guests, strolling up and down the
sidewalks, in and out of patio cafes, column laced historical buildings,
sparkling fountains and archways covered in vines and giant vases
brimming with flowering plants. Some distance behind them to afford them
privacy, two members of the estate security trailed them in plain
clothes and kept vigil. The crowds were measured and busy but passive,
everyone appearing painfully clean and healthy, and true to the original
pool of genetics contributed by the beautiful women hidden by the Lorell
Raiders, all of the people were elegant and attractive.
Looking glamorous and very much fitting into to her natural
environment among her people, Htaere, draped in rose pink gown and
matching elaborate half-moon headpiece, drifted carrying shopping bags
they had collected from the various boutiques, antique dealers and so
Ewwiekewwieikkie followed behind Htaere, her basket now completely
filled and proving to be a difficult thing to carry. She was still
draped in the dress she had fashioned out of the curtains, and was
wearing a pair of oversized shoes of Hapan design that Htaere's
handmaidens had brought her. She looked all around at the beautiful
items, but shrugged in frustration as she had already achieved her
allotment of trinkets she was allowed to acquire on this vacation. Her
adopted father had labeled her a 'hoarder,' and had placed restrictions
on how much she could add to her collection.
Drusilla had picked up a bracelet featuring Gallinore rainbow gems
that was paid for with the credits her father had given her for the
journey. It was by no means an expensive piece, but it had a shine to it
that had impressed the young girl. She certainly considered it better
than any of the junk Ewwie had acquired. Now that her money was spent,
she had little interest in parading around the markets. It was fun only
to be out and about when there was money to be spent.
Doctor Pilaq Tohan brought up the rear of the group, relying more
heavily on his walking stick than normal. He was very excited to be on
Gallinore, and was perhaps pushing himself beyond his normal limits.
"The children seem to be enjoying themselves, Milady," Pilaq stated to
Htaere, as he took in the sights, sounds, and smells of all that was
Htaere waited patiently for the aging Ithorian to catch up, privately
scolding herself for moving too quickly. She allowed a genuine smile to
lift her lips. "It feels good to be home, and able to move around
without constant heavy supervision," she agreed. "How are you feeling?
Shall we stop and rest at a patio cafe for a bit?"
"Please do not alter your plans on my account," Pilaq insisted as he
finally caught up with the group. His head lowered slightly as he caught
his breath, his dual mouths expanding to suck in a large amount of air.
"We have no plans," Htaere grinned, putting a hand on his arm. "That
is the beauty of this trip. We are free to do as we please, at whatever
pace we choose. There is a small cafe just up ahead. Let us rest for a
bit," she offered before looking to Ewwie and Drusilla in turn. "Is that
satisfactory to everyone?"
Drusilla twisted her wrist several times, catching the rainbow gems
in the light to make them shimmer. She did not bother making eye contact
with Htaere, or showing her the respect of an acknowledgment.
"Whatever..." she said, as if in a trance, reflecting the light from the
gems into her young eyes.
Ewwiekewwieikkie placed her basket on the ground, the sound of an
assortment of metal objects clanging against one another echoing through
the market. "Food," she said happily, as she placed each of her hands
against her hips and stuck out her chest in a victorious pose.
"The cafe it is..." Pilaq deduced, nodding his head at Htaere as he
began laboring in the direction Htaere had motioned.
Htaere nodded, slowing her pace substantially to match that of Pilaq
Tohan. As they moved up the street, Htaere heard the sound of her name
from behind her. "Lady Htaere." Pausing to turn, the two estate security
guards had closed the distance between them, and beside them stood two
women Htaere had never seen before. "Yes?" One of the estate guards
lowered his voice considerably, "These agents are from Hapan Intel.
They'd like to speak to you, in private."
Htaere's eyes shifted between the two agents, a nagging sensation
pulling at her. "Is something wrong?" The first Hapan Intel agent
answered in Hapan, a woman in her late 30's with sandy blonde hair
pulled neatly into a pony tail at the base of her skull. <<Please come
with us, Milady. It is quite urgent.>>
Htaere gazed at Pilaq a moment before looking back to the security
guards. "Please take the children to a boutique of their choosing, and
have the proprietor put it on my family's account," she instructed
lightly before gazing back to Tohan. "Something has happened, we must go
Pilaq grew slightly concerned as he watched the commotion between
Htaere and the Intel agent. "Yes, Milady..." he said cautiously as his
attention quickly turned to the children. His hands found its way onto
each of the children's shoulders as he hurried them away towards the
cafe that Htaere had mentioned. In his mind he had wondered what had
transpired, but his focus needed to remain on the task at hand of seeing
to the children. "This way," he said to them politely as he moved deper
into the gallery district.
The estate guards followed after Tohan as Htaere called to him.
"Doctor, this way!" she nodded for him to come with her and waved at him
with her hand.
Pilaq turned when he heard Htaere's voice once again, hearing her new
instructions. "Very well, Milady," he said as he turned about suddenly,
guiding the children back into the group. He looked them over
cautiously, not sure what to make of them or the situation. He felt
comfortable in Htaere's company, however, and felt he had little to be
"No food?" Ewwiekewwieikkie asked as she dragged her basket along
happily, keeping up with the group. The ignorant Squib was completely
oblivious to the events that were transpiring and was happy just to be
in the company of her friends and family, along with all of her
wonderful new things.
"Yes food," Htaere explained, motioning to the estate guards. "They
will take you girls to the cafe. Dr. Tohan and I have something to take
care of, we shall return in short order, alright?" she asked leaning
down a bit to Ewwie's eye level, and nodding slightly.
Straightening up Htaere looked to the Intel agents. <<Alright, we are
ready,>> she addressed them in Hapan. The agents escorted them to a
sleek speeder a short distance away and motioned them inside. As she
seated herself in the vehicle, Htaere cast a concerned glance to Pilaq,
wondering what could possibly have happened that Intel was tracking her
Pilaq situated himself in the speeder next to Htaere and placed a
reassuring hand upon her knee. "I have a bad feeling about this," he
conceded as he look one last glance out the viewport of the speeder
towards the direction the children were led off in. He was getting
slightly nervous at this point, being an alien in a strange culture. He
was unaware of the protocol and would rely heavily on Htaere for
guidance during what was about to transpire.
"As do I," she whispered quietly. The speeder ride was short, and
when they finally stopped, it was outside of a magistrate building. The
Intel agents escorted them inside the building, through the security
gates and measures and to the lifts. Several levels up, they stopped and
were taken to a room with a table and chairs, and a large vid monitor on
the wall. The agents motioned for them to be seated and Htaere followed
It was a mere moments until the vid flickered to life to reveal the
face of the Attaché, My`Ahme Renault. As usual, her appearance and
decorum were pristine and unflappable. She smiled, but it was different
then her usual well rehearsed air. "Lady Htaere, I do so apologize that
I was unable to seek you out in person today. Our office is a bit busy
at the moment," My`Ahme began. Htaere masked the frown that was hiding
just beneath the surface. "Please do explain what all this is about,"
she replied, less then enthused with the arrangement.
"It is my deepest regret to inform you that the rim world border just
beyond Dreena was attacked a short while ago by an Imperial-class
Star Destroyer. Recent holovid news broadcasts placed this ship in the
Ringalli Shell," My`Ahme began, her expression failing to waiver in any
capacity aside from the most subtle traces of sincere dismay.
Instantly Htaere felt the breath lock in her throat, eyes widening in
horror. "W-what?!" it was the most unceremonious thing to ever escape
her lips. A hand went over her heart, clutching at it as if the very
gesture would aid the wayward organ back into function.
Doctor Tohan's large yellow eyes widened as he heard the words that
were being spoken by the Hapan attache. He found it somewhat
unbelievable, but he refrained from a dramatic outburst as he thought
better of the situation. His head slumped down dejectedly and his hand
rose to press against the center os his face. "This cannot be so," he
uttered after some silence, speaking in a calm and collected tone
befitting the diplomatic nature of the discussion talked. His head
turned to Htaere, looking over her dismayed response, feeling somewhat
in agreement to her sentiments, but not nearly express them in such an
Taking a few moments to recover, Htaere struggled to draw breath,
trying to sort through the information and process it accordingly. "It
cannot be..." she shook her head emphatically. My`Ahme spoke something
to someone off camera to the side before looking back to Htaere. "There
was no apparent cause for such, and the ship's commander refused any and
all efforts to hail him," she continued. "Even taking on severe damage
they continued their attack. They have since retreated, again without
word, though the craft seems to be in trouble, they are still refusing
our communiqués." Htaere's eyes flashed to Pilaq for a moment, locked in
a moment that she didn't know how to cope with. "What ship?!" she
demanded of My`Ahme after a moment. "What is the name of the ship?"
My`Ahme's focus again was pulled off-screen to someone else briefly
before her gaze centered back on Htaere. "The Eleemosynary," she
answered. Htaere released the breath she'd been holding for the longest
handful of seconds in eternity. Her glossy eyes darted towards Pilaq, a
sigh of relief washing away the tightest holds of anxiety and panic.
Pilaq nodded encouragingly at Htaere when he heard the name of the
ship. He was confident that Claudius would not have attacked the Hapes
Consortium, particularly with his wife and two of his children in their
territory. "I know of that ship..." he said, with a firm nod as he
considered the situation carefully. Even though it was not Admiral
Rodney who was behind the attack, they nevertheless were citizens of the
Empire who might have declared war.
My`Ahme nodded to them both respectfully. "I must return to my duties
as we are still making efforts to hail the troubled ship to ascertain
any information we can regarding the attack. Intel does need to ask you
a few questions," she stated. "Please contact me upon completion of your
interview to advise if there is anything I can do to assist you with
this incident." With that, the screen blipped off, leaving the room in
Htaere shook her head again. "There must be an explanation for this.
The Empire would not attack without cause," she insisted. She looked
towards the agents who had already pulled any dossiers or information on
Htaere and Tohan, their recent activity and travels, residence, and
political affiliation outside the cluster. The second agent, a dark
haired woman addressed them both, folding her hands together on the
table before her. Her accent was very thick as her Basic was minimal at
best. "Apologies for the inconvenience, My Lady. You are both associated
with the Galactic Empire, yes?" she asked, eyes vacillating between
Htaere and Tohan both.
Pilaq was very concerned for the children at this point, who had been
left in the care of Hapan officials. "Where I come from it is impossible
not to be affiliated with the Galactic Empire," he answered very coyly.
At this point he was not sure if he was being detained, or had been
placed under arrested. He would tread very cautiously going forward.
"Of course we are, my husband serves the Empire," Htaere snapped. The
dark haired agent quirked an eyebrow. "Z'at is the problem," she
answered, her accent making it almost difficult to understand her Basic.
"What exactly are you suggesting?" Htaere's eyes narrowed. The blonde
agent answered, her Basic nonexistent. <<We are suggesting nothing, only
asking questions,>> she replied in Hapan. Htaere's brow furrowed in
irritation. <<Are we being charged with anything?>> she demanded. The
dark haired agent answered her, <<No.>>
Htaere got to her feet at once. <<Then if you will be so kind as to
excuse us,>> she retorted before looking to Pilaq. "Doctor," she offered
her arm to assist him.
Pilaq looked from the two Intelligence agents to Htaere cautiously,
believing she might be acting a bit too hasty. However, he was beholden
to her during the duration of the excursion and he felt compelled to
follow her instructions. "Yes, Milady..." he said with an air of
trepidation as he rose from his chair with Htaere's assistance.
As she moved quickly from the magistrate building, Htaere paused at
the steps descending the building front to produce her personal com to
her estate, where she requested immediate transportation, as well as a
vehicle to collect the children. Standing out in the sunlight and fresh
air, she drew a ragged breath and looked to Pilaq. "I needed to
breathe," she mumbled quietly, feeling utterly defeated. "It is as if
the fates have conspired against us, and it is continuous."
"Well, at least they let us walk out there without much of an issue,"
Pilaq said as he slowly, and at times feebly, descended the stairs in
pursuit of Htaere. "If there were a war I doubt they would have done
that..." he explained as he finally reached the bottom of the staircase.
"If it were a war I doubt the Empire would have set a single star
destroyer either..." he concluded, seeming somewhat confused as he went
over the events that had transpired in his head trying to make some
sense of it.
"They are wise to let us leave without incident. One call and that is
the end of their jobs," Htaere replied matter-of-factly, and with the
Ka`a Sha`ahr influence, she was right. "I cannot understand," she
ruminated again on the news. "The Empire would not go to war with Hapes."
As the luxury transport from the estate appeared within minutes, the
chauffer droid opened the doors for them to climb in. Inside the
vehicle, Htaere pushed a few buttons on a terminal within the vehicle's
side compartment. A few of the estate security members came to life on
the small screen. "Have the children been collected yet?" she asked. The
guard commander nodded. "Yes Milady, they are en route to the estate as
we speak." Htaere sighed and nodded. "Good. Open a channel to the
Warspite, immediately. I want it locked down and completely secure,"
she added firmly. With a glance over to Pilaq she smiled. "Influence has
"Indeed it does," Pilaq said, having not been prepared for the level
of power apparently wielded by Htaere's family. He knew she was from
noble birth and deemed worthy by Claudius' parents for marriage, which
was not a considerable feat, but the fact that they were this
influential came as a surprise to him. Feeling quite drained from their
day of shopping followed by the stress of the interrogation he felt the
need to take a seat as his attention turned towards the communications
After several moments of static the distinct blue face of
Meham'ohorovi'cloca appeared on the comm panel. The Chiss officer's
piercing red eyes stared forward, seemingly devoid of any emotion. "This
is the Star Destroyer Warspite," she responded, sounding more
machine than woman as she went about her duties of tactical officer.
They were in the midst of a complex and lengthy repair, and her eyes
shifted off screen for a bit to check a readout on her terminal as she
awaited a further response.
Htaere felt herself exhale again, having considered only after she
had made the transmission she may not be able to get through.
"Lieutenant, I am so very relieved I was able to get through," she
started. "Something awful has happened, is Claudius available?"
A Human officer might have expressed some concern or compassion for
the seriousness of the words uttered by Htaere, but for the strict
discipline of Meham'ohorovi'cloca it was simply another routing task for
her comm panel. "One moment please..." she said coldly as the comm panel
temporary went blank.
After several tense moments the face of Claudius Rodney appeared on
the viewport. He looked rather concerned, and his face appeared to be
slightly flushed. "Are the children all right?" he asked, before
anything else was said. The information he had received from his
tactical officer was limited and nondescript and his first fear was that
Htaere was calling to tell him of some characteristic misfortune that
might have befallen the easily excited Ewwiekewwieikkie.
Htaere's face instantly melted into one of relief and joy. "Claudius!
You are all right!" it wasn't really a question. "The children are fine,
Pilaq is with me now," she shifted in her seat slightly. "Claudius,
Hapes was attacked by a Star Destroyer form the Ringalli Shell," she
stated, her countenance appearing uneasy. "What is happening?"
A blank expression formed on Claudius' face as he listened to the
words spoken by Htaere. "Lieutenant, see if you can boost the
transmission. I do not think I am receiving the transmission properly,"
he said as he turned his head to the side, barking off an order to his
faithful officer. "Can you repeat your last transmission, my love? I do
not think I heard you correctly. It sounded like you said a Star
Destroyer attacked Hapes..?" he repeated, sounding somewhat confused as
he looked back towards Htaere. He found the whole thing rather
impossible to believe.
"Yes, that is correct. Hapan Intel collected Dr. Tohan and I as
persons of interest. The Hapan attache told us that short while ago, a
Star Destroyer attacked the Hapan border, no cause, no response to hail,
nothing. It was..." Htaere glanced to Tohan. "...do you recall the name
Claudius shook his head defiantly as he listened to Htaere's words. "Htaere.
That is simply out of the question..." he said to her, the look of shock
refusing to leave his middle-aged visage. "The Empire simply would not
attack Hapes. Not with one ship ... not with 100..." he said to her as
his eyes glared off screen as his tactical officer.
"It was the Eleemosynary..." Doctor Tohan chimed in from his
corner, where he had been quietly listening to the exchange. He was
inclined to agree with the Admiral, not accepting that the Empire would
suddenly declare war on Hapes and then send such a token force.
"The Eleemosynary?" Claudius repeated as he lowered his head,
stroking his chin slightly as he considered the situation. "That's Grand
Admiral Teshik's ship..." he said as he flicked his wrist at Lieutenant
Meham'ohorovi'cloca to begin jotting down the information. "He was
conducting an operation in the Ringali Shell while I was reassigned some
months ago..." he explained to Htaere, still not understanding how this
could be possible or what the implications were. "Is there anything else
you can tell me?" he asked, as his brow tightened somewhat, as he
considered all the facts that were at hand.
Htaere's head shook. "I do not believe so. My`Ahme informed us they
refused all attempts to communicate, and continued to attack even as
they took on considerable damage, before making a retreat at last. She
did say they were still attempting to reach the ship's commander, to no
avail." She looked again to Tohan. "Is there anything else you can
recall that I am perhaps forgetting?"
"No. I belive you covered everything very well, Milady," Pilaq
replied as he listened to the information being given to them by
Claudius. It seemed their attempt to get away from the war was ill timed
and perhaps ill advised.
"I will look into this at once, Htaere," Claudius said reassuringly
as he sent hand signals to his officers. "Are you sure the children are
all right?" he asked, his concern shifting back to them as he considered
the gravity of the situation. "Do you think you should come home?" he
asked as he studied the situation, wondering if perhaps the Grand
Admiral had gone mad and was performing a rogue action. It was the only
thing that made sense to him at this point.
Htaere managed a small smile. "They are making the journey fruitful
and will return home with far more belongings then they can carry I do
believe," she admitted. Drawing herself up momentarily to take a deep
breath she thought on it. "We shall all discuss tonight if we should
like to stay and complete the vacation as originally intended or if
everyone would prefer to return home," she answered, leaving such a
crucial decision to the whole group. "I shall let you know what course
of action we pursue."
"I am worried about you, Htaere," Claudius conceded, speaking very
quietly to minimize the number of bridge officers that would hear what
was transpiring. "Please contact me when you've reached a decision," he
informed her, as he prepared to make serious inquiries into the meaning
of this attack. "Please give my best to the children. I love you all
very much," he admitted, not caring what the bridge would think as he
said the words as it was important that they be heard.
One corner of Htaere's mouth lifted in a melancholy smile. "It is you
that we are concerned about," she replied quietly. "I shall tell them. I
am grateful we have all been able to take this time. Our best to Jelena
and regrets that she could not attend." Pausing briefly, Htaere conceded
to his time constraint. "I should not bother you further, as I am
certain you are busy," she straightened up a bit. "I miss you Claudius.
Please be careful."
As the transmission ended, Doctor Tohan turned his attention to
Htaere. "It would seem our two governments are not at war, for if they
were surely he would have been informed," he said, in his best attempt
to paint a positive picture of the situation. "Is it your desire that we
stay here or return?" he asked of her, as he rose from his seat and
moved to a serving tray where some water had been placed. As he served
himself a glass of the refreshing beverage his attention again shifted
to the young Hapan, uncertain of what the best course of action would
be. Privately, he was not sure if the Hapan government would even let
them leave if they wanted to.
Htaere leaned back in her seat and relaxed for the first time in
hours. Rubbing her forehead with her hand, she let her eyelids sink
momentarily. "I shall leave that to you and the children, as either
option is acceptable to me." Taking a deep breath, Htaere sought to
soothe her nerves. "It seems there is no rest for the wicked," she
allowed a half grin, racked with exhaustion. "At present, I simply am
ready to return home, take a soothing bath and curl up somewhere
Pilaq laughed slightly at the situation, as there was a humor in it.
"We have come across the galaxy to relieve ourselves from the war and it
has followed our every move..." he felt the need to point out to her, as
he slowly made his way back to his seat. He let out a tired sigh as he
plopped back in his chair, the trip having taken a larger toll on him
that he had expected. "Well if you leave it to the children I'm sure
they'll vote to return home as they have bribes awaiting them..." he
admitted with a firm nod of his rather large, oddly shaped head.
"Indeed," Htaere muttered from beneath the hands folded over her
eyes, in agreement on both accounts. "Then that is the collective wish,
we shall make it so," she relented. "At least we were afforded a small
measure of time."
"Life is a series of small measures of time strung together, Milady,"
Pilaq philosophically stated as he considered the ups and downs of their
excursion. "As long as at the end of your life the good time outweighs
the bad you can say that you have lived a happy life. No one can be
expected to have a good time all the time, Ewwiekewwieikkie not
withstanding..." he added, unable to resist the urge to lighten the mood
at least to some degree. "We had some good times on this journey and we
shall carry those memories with us," he concluded as he set himself
towards the journey back to Htaere's estate where he could get some much