The slender frame of Htaere Ka`a
Sha`ar slipped from the bright sterile halls of the med bay into
the recovery room of Major Kerrie Kiley. Her appearance had returned
to its normal shimmering and flawless state, sans the dirt, bumps
and bruises from their episode in the market place. She was the
picture of radiant health in a mid-calf length skirt with vertical
stripes of alternating pastel blue, white and soft grey and a white,
form-fitting spaghetti-strapped bodice. Over the shell she wore a
baby blue knitted poncho with fringe along the hem, crocheted in
large stitching with centimeter-sized spacing. Her hair was pulled
back neatly in a bun at the base of her head, on which sat a white
woven hat with a wide brim that descended downward to nose-level.
The brim was a gauze material, easy to see-through, and offered no
substantial cover the way her veil did. Dainty white thong sandals
with thin firm soles pattered across the clean floor as she drew to
a halt near the side of Major Kiley's medical pallet, taking a
moment to admire all the bouquets of flowers and plants she had sent
the Major as a token of her esteemed an unyielding gratitude. She
shifted slightly, her many bracelets jingling a bit with the
movement as her focus turned to the Admiral's assistant.
Major Kerrie Kiley was a fair sight
better than previous days and even managed to find the composure to
return to her human form. She did not enjoy her stay in hospitals
and hated people fussing about on her account. She was used to doing
things for herself and that was the way she had liked it. Her room
had become a veritable jungle, filled with one more exotic plant
after another. She was from a barren wasteland of a world and had
not seen plants until just a couple years ago. Their symbolism was
lost on her. She turned her head and saw the familiar sight of
Htaere enter her room. She smiled politely, but could not understand
why anyone would go through so much trouble on her account.
Especially when she considered what happened to just be part of her
The young woman reciprocated with a
warm smile of her own. "How are you feeling Major Kiley?" she asked
in earnest, her brown knitting in concern.
"I would feel better if they would
let me out of the darn bed," Kerrie explained. She attempted to push
herself into a seated position but stopped suddenly when she felt
something give on her side and groaned in pain, "Ahhaaah."
"Perhaps you ought not to move"
Htaere agreed, her smile giving way to worry. Her expression
straightened a moment later and another pleasant grin reappeared.
"The Admiral asked that I give this to you" she said, offering a
stuffed bantha. "It is...yours?"
"Booki!" Kerrie cried out as she saw
the stuffed bantha. She took it from her eagerly and hugged it
tightly. Her face momentarily shimmered to its natural Clawdite
appearance as she lost herself in the moment. Suddenly she realized
that she had let her guard down and shimmered back to her human
appearance, cleared her throat, and released her death grip on the
stuffed bantha. "Thank you," she said, regaining her composure. "I
did not think he knew about him ... uh ... it ... He must be spying
on me," she explained.
Htaere was surprised to say the
least at the display but masked it well. "He does care a great deal
about you" she nodded slowly. "I have seen it when he did not know I
was there." Her fingers wove together in front of her as she
evaluated the woman, intrigued by the very childish outpouring so
completely polar opposite the major's regular facade.
Kerrie turned her head away from
Htaere for a moment. She did not want her to see the expression that
had formed on her face. It was hard to deny her claim that the
Admiral did care about her, but he destroyed her family and she
wanted so desperately to hate him. She probably would have died the
other day if she did not have the hate inside of her to cling to.
She swallowed uncomfortably before finally replying to Htaere, "You
think that, huh?"
"I *know* that" Htaere corrected her
gently. "You are very misguided if you believe otherwise."
"It's guilt," Kerrie explained,
squeezing her stuffed bantha a little tighter than before, still not
able to face Htaere.
"Guilt? I do not understand. I do
not observe 'guilt' in the Admiral."
"He has a lot to be guilty for,"
Kerrie told her. Her legs curled upwards slightly as she lay on her
side in the fetal position, her back turned to Htaere.
"Do not we all?" She glanced about
the room, feeling intrusive all of the sudden. Cloudy grey eyes
moved to the major's back. "Perhaps I should leave you to rest. Is
there anything else that I can do for you?"
"Do you believe there are things
people can do in life that you can never forgive them for?" Kerrie
asked, rolling over slightly to finally look Htaere in the eye. She
wanted to be able to look her in the eye so that she could judge if
she was getting an honest reaction.
Htaere's brow furrowed in perplexion,
regarding the question thoughtfully. "Why would you want to remain
consumed by hatred? Are there not situations that repair
themselves?" The young Hapan turned the question over again in her
Kerrie scrunched her nose as she
listened to Htaere's question. "I don't know," she replied sadly,
"that's why I was asking you."
Htaere opened her mouth to speak,
and for the first time, made the effort to close it, the breech in
her formal protocol mind shattering. Another handful of heartbeats
passed, and she decided to proceed with what she intended to say, as
offensive as it may be. "With the utmost respect, Major Kiley, it
seems that you harbor more guilt then most."
"I did not always make the right
decisions in my life and it has cost me dearly," Kerrie explained.
"But this is who I am now," she continued, "and this is the life I
live. The Admiral made me into this person though and I believe I
will always hate him for it."
"You were conscripted into service?"
"Yes," Kerrie told her, "It is a
prison sentence of sorts. I ... I ... tried to kill the Admiral."
Htaere thought on her statement for
a moment, and again looked to her, bewildered. "You tried to kill
him...and he took you on as his personal assistant?" she said aloud,
making the connections verbally. She half frowned, her expression
very frank as she let her serene gaze settle on the major's face.
"The Admiral trusts you with his very life, despite your effort to
take it. Is that not forgiveness? Is that not a compliment to your
character, a tribute to what he sees? Would it not have been easier
and less risky to simply have you executed?" Htaere muddled a few
things over before lowering her voice to address her own personal
thoughts. "I do not believe Claudius Rodney to be an evil man. If I
did, I would have requested my mother deny his request to re-examine
our union when he arrived in Hapes. The Admiral was very kind to me
on your war ship. He had no reason to be, as I believe we were a
greater hindrance to you then you led on. He says that we all have
choices. Initially, I did not, as our marriage was arranged. His
rejection allowed me the choice of accepting his apology and
proceeding, or dismissing his request. Thus, I *was* given a choice"
Htaere shrugged haplessly, analyzing her own predicament and the
series of events that led them to the present.
Kerrie took a moment to think about
that Htaere had said. He did forgive her for her attempt on his
life, but she still was not sure if he had only done so because of
guilt he had for what had happened to her family. All of this talk
was starting to take a toll on her and she decided it was best to
change the subject. "Do you love him?" Kerrie asked, a sincere
expression on her face. She genuinely wanted to know.
"I hardly know him" she answered
honestly. "He has brought me here because he has offered us a period
of courtship to allow us to choose each other...or not. We do not
get to spend much time together as he is away mostly, but I am
willing to wait for his attentions." Htaere's shoulders lifted and
fell beneath the woven poncho in a subtle shrug. "From what I know
of him thus far, I find him very likeable and enjoy his company. I
aspire to make him happy" she replied honestly.
"That is very good to hear," Kerrie
explained, "I feel he is very ... lonely."
The room was quiet for a few minutes
before Htaere answered, out loud, but really more for herself. "All
of us are."
"I have Booki," Kerrie said with a
smile and gave her stuffed Bantha another hug.
Htaere smiled but said nothing. As
curious as she found it, it wasn't her place to question such a
hardened woman about an innocent habit. "Then let us be grateful for
kindness wherever we find it, even in the inanimate." She looked to
one of the bouquets. "Are the floral arrangements acceptable?"
Kerrie looked around the room and
studied each of the floral arrangements for a moment. She had never
studied botany and did not know what qualities were important to
look for. Rather than admit her shortcomings she smiled at her, "Yes
... they are wonderful."
"It is the very least I can do for
someone who has done for me what only my mother has done" Htaere
responded, admiring the flowers absently, her Hapan obsession with
nature evident in the twinkle of her eyes.
"It was only a job," Kerrie said to
Htaere, genuinely unable to understand why everyone had made such a
fuss over her actions. She had simply performed her duty as she saw
"It is significant to me. Perhaps
one day when your heart is not so preoccupied, you will accept my
gratitude" Htaere insisted and left it at that.
"I am sorry," Kerrie said to Htaere,
hurt by her comment, "Nobody has ever thanked me for anything
Htaere could not help but smile,
witnessing in the course of their conversation the major's cold
exterior slip to give way to a surprising facet she was doubtful
anyone else had seen. "Do not worry Major Kiley. I will tell no one
that I have been privy to your tender side" she grinned, head
canting to the right.
Kerrie groaned loudly as she shifted
again in her bed. "You're right," Kerrie said as she held her wound,
"I do have a tender side." She smiled at her, laughing in-between
groans of pain.
"You should consider visiting this
other side more often. Maybe you will find it is more pleasant to
exist in this galaxy rather then to be a prisoner to your own anger"
Htaere offered. Her glistening grey eyes flickered to a wall
chronometer momentarily. "I shall leave you to rest now. The Admiral
has arranged for me to dine with one of his daughters and I must be
going." She flashed one last smile to Major Kiley. "It has been a
pleasure. Until next time, my friend" she nodded respectfully.
"I certainly hope it is not with
Drusilla," Kerrie said as Htaere left. She then curled back into the
fetal position and snuggled with her beloved stuffed Bantha.
Lady Jelena Rodney sat alone at a
table in one of Brentaal's most fashionable restaurants. She was
wearing an elegant blue dress that her father had bought for her. He
had told her that her mother had one like it once. That made her
happy. What did not make her happy was the news that her father
intended to remarry and she would soon have a stepmother. More
troublesome was the fact that the woman he was going to marry was
only several years older than her and half her father's age.
However, her father had been there for her at certain times
throughout her life and promised him to try and get to know the
woman before rendering a final judgment. She did the best to plaster
a smile upon her face as she waited patiently for her dinner guest
Fresh from her visit with Kerrie
Kiley, Htaere Ka`a Sha`ar moved with regal poise into the
designated restaurant. The maitre d' exchanged a few words with her
before promptly ushering her to the table where Claudius Rodney's
eldest biological daughter sat. He disappeared promptly, leaving the
two to stare at each other in discomfort. "May I join you?" Htaere
asked, waiting where she stood.
"Of course," Jelena said with a kind
smile, mustering every ounce of her diplomatic training. "My father
said you were coming from the hospital," Jelena said, making
conversation, "How was it?"
Htaere took a seat and returned the
smile across the table. "Very enlightening" she exclaimed, her words
and expression not watered down with false flattery. "I have had the
privilege of taking away with me an insight I never thought
possible." Large silvery eyes blinked through the gauzy brim of her
"There's something not quite right
about that woman," Jelena said, "I can't quit put my finger on it
Htaere's lips curled in a smile. "I
do not believe there is, no more so then what could be wrong with
the rest of us."
"Is the food similar on Hapes?"
Jelena asked nervously, "I mean ... do you know what to order?"
Htaere's expression thinned out
somewhat. "I am afraid nothing thus far has been similar to Hapes.
This is all very strange to me. I regret to admit that after
visiting the galaxy beyond our borders, I am all but naive."
"Try the spiceloaf with the side of
malla petals," Jelena said politely, "They do that very well here."
Htaere's elegant chin dipped in a
nod, going along with the recommendation whole-heartedly. When the
ordering was done, she risked leaning back in her chair to get
comfortable. The face she gazed at across the table was just shy in
age of herself. Given the girl's initial reaction, she was clueless
as to what to say.
"Why do you want to marry my
father?" Jelena asked, breaking the silence. "He's a bit old for
you, don't you think?"
"His age never occurred to me until
he introduced us" she replied. "Your grandfather and my mother
arranged it, for political reasons. Your father initially turned us
down when I was delivered to him. For reasons he may not be able to
explain, he asked to reconsider. For reasons I may not be able to
explain, I accepted" Htaere explained.
"So for you this will just be a
marriage of convenience?" Jelena asked, "I saw my father hurt when I
was very young. I do not want to see him hurt again. Your youth and
beauty may be clouding his mind."
"I cannot answer on his behalf.
Perhaps you should speak with him directly. I can say that at
this stage, this is not convenient. When he rejected me, I was
returned to Hapes to be..." she pondered what word to use
"...'issued' to another suitor in another arranged marriage. *That*
would have been a convenient union. As I explained to Major Kiley, I
am here because he would like us to court before we make a
"Did he tell you about my mother?"
Jelena asked as she took a few bites of her recently delivered
"Yes, he did" Htaere answered,
eyeing the comestibles before straightening the linen napkin in her
lap. She thought for a moment and softened her voice. "If we proceed
with the marriage because we have chosen it for ourselves, I
am not here to, nor could I ever, replace your mother. He loves her
very much, even still, and no matter what feelings we may have for
each other, I am certain she can never be rivaled in his heart"
Htaere admitted. "He made that very clear on our second meeting."
"No, she cannot be replaced," Jelena
said sadly, looking down into her spiceloaf, which she was playing
with more than eating. "I apologize for my sister," she told Htaere,
"But she did not have the most normal of developmental years."
"The only difference between your
sister and nearly everyone else I have been introduced to is that
your sister does not conceal or falsify her disliking of me with
pseudo-pleasantry" Htaere answered brazenly, and for a fraction of a
second, her own expression slipped into one of solemn resignation.
"Please do not think that I dislike
you, Lady Htaere," Jelena said sincerely, "It is just that this came
as quite the surprise. It is not like my father to race halfway
across the galaxy for a woman. It was like you bewitched him."
"Htaere" she re-supplied.
"Bewitched? I do not know how that could be possible. We hardly
spoke. I was instructed not to speak to him, only to provide a
suitable mate and a male heir" she continued.
"It is not their words that Hapans
are renowned for," Jelena was quick to point out.
"If your father is simply pursuing
because I am easy to his eyes, then maybe it is not I that you
should be cautioning."
"I do not know what my father is
thinking," Jelena said, "Him and I do not talk about things like
this and lately he has been impossible to reach."
"All that I know regarding his
reasons for pursuing this after all was that he mentioned that
perhaps he was not as old and set in his ways as many believe him to
be. He thought that maybe I was the one to help him change, or
something to that effect. What I know of him is that I find him
remarkable genuine and extremely benevolent and patient. These are
likeable qualities, for anyone. I believe he deserves to be happy
and I shall do what I can to make it so," Htaere stated.
"Well," Jelena said reluctantly,
wondering if perhaps she judged her a bit too quickly, "You have
described my father quite accurately. He is a good man. He has been
hurt so much by the loss of my mother. I just don't want to see him
hurt again. Can you understand that?"
"I can. But death is a part of life.
It is no one's fault. I cannot promise that I will not pass. Nor can
you, or anyone." She stopped, shaking her head slowly as she tried
to grasp what she was learning about people on a personal level.
"Why is it that everyone here holds so dearly to negativity, wanting
it justified and blame to be assigned? Why are so many so
preoccupied with retaining hurt?"
"Maybe you just have been fortune to
avoid the type of hurt that some of us have experienced, Htaere,"
Jelena observed as took another few bites of her spiceloaf.
"No one is exempt from pain and
suffering. It is how we choose to handle such things that dictate
the condition and direction of our lives, more often then not. It
has been said that life is ten-percent what happens to us, and
ninety-percent how we react to it" she replied.
"Do you want to have children?"
Jelena asked Htaere in a rather bold gesture.
Htaere's usually pristine composure
slipped and she actually laughed out loud. She put a hand in front
of her mouth to conceal it and bit her lower lip to further suppress
the outburst. Her posture straightened, though she still sported a
wide smile. "That is a question which I was not prepared for" she
admitted, masking a chuckle. "I would like to have children, if the
opportunity presented itself" she answered.
"That will make my grandfather very
happy," Jelena pointed out, "That is most likely why he arranged
Htaere dismissed the notion of
Julius Rodney's "divine" intervention. "Should your father and I
wed, having children will be the result of what he wishes, not your
grandfather. I must be honest in my assessment of your
grandfather..." Htaere's eyebrows arched in bemusement. "...For a
man he is extremely brazen. In Hapes, we are a matriarchy and it is
inappropriate for men to be as pushy and vocal as Julius Rodney. The
fact that my mother has collaborated with the man as much as she has
is remarkable, given that normally, we believe family members would
do well to teach their male members to hold their tongues in a
"A Rancor could not hold my
grandfather's tongue," Jelena explained as she finished her dinner.
"We shall see" Htaere said, and for
the very first time, her eyes narrowed subtly, flashing with a
hidden command that remained locked away in the dark recesses of her
persona. "He has done what he set out to do, arrange our meeting.
Through no manipulation of his own, we are evaluating our potential
union, however, at this point, any commentary he may have is purely
unsolicited and completely unwelcome. Respectfully, his opinions are
neither desired, nor required" Htaere smirked. "I will do whatever
Claudius asks of me, but I will not yield in my unwillingness to
allow a third party with ulterior motives dictate the course of our
relationship" she remarked with a firm tone.
"My mother once felt as you do,"
Jelena confided in her, "I will watch how you respond with great
Htaere replaced her determined
expression with one of grace and gentile. "As tactfully as possible"
she answered simply with a generous grin.