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Alice Bee and Christopher Levy.
One year after the Battle of Yavin (36:3:35) in the Alderaan system: Delaya (Leiliani: Rodney Castle).
Governor Papius Arundel, Grand Moff Claudius Rodney, and Commander Sierra Rodney.

Claudius Rodney found himself in the throne room of his castle on Delaya. He was conspicuously dressed in the grey-green uniform of an Imperial Grand Moff for today was the day the Emperor's representative would arrive to investigate the death of his advisor at the coronation. Although he held one of the highest ranks within the Empire, his power was limited to his Oversector consisting of the Ringali Shell. He had no Imperial authority over this world, despite the fact that it was *his*. He had no idea what to expect as these individuals could be a mixed bag. Some were positive additions who got things done, whereas others were thorns in his side in the style of Arden Zevrin. He had hoped to keep the Empire off Delaya, but such a high profile assassination could not keep them away. He could only hope he could quickly resolve this and rid his planet of any Imperial entanglements. As he looked around the ancient, ornate, marble structure he could not help but think of how much he missed the sea islands. Soon, he thought to himself, as the fingers of his right hand nervously tapped out a tune on the armrest of his char.

The throne had never felt as uncomfortable as it did today. Today was meant to be full of surprises-in the worst possible manner. Sierra had known that the day would come since their family issue had resulted in the death of the Emperor's representative. At this point, no one had any additional information on the servant girl or what her plans might entail. There was no choice but to send Kerrie back to Esseles now that the Imperials had arrived. It seemed like their problems were breeding again. There was never an easy solution. That was the first thing that Sierra had learned about being Duchess.

It had been difficult to abandon the sea islands and face reality. With each hard thumping of Sierra's heart, she realized their guests were getting closer to the castle until they had arrived. Those involved in the investigation party were totally unknown to her. It had been very discrete, perhaps because her and Claudius needed to have their innocence proven before they were trusted. Until that moment, her eyes had been starting at the doors into the throne room. She willed them to open like she possessed the Force, yet nothing happened. She ripped her eyes away from it when she realized she hadn't blinked in far too long. Blinking away tears, she forced herself to correct her posture and put on a strong outward appearance. She looked to her husband and partner in everything. "It'll be okay," she reassured him, tapping a tune to accompany his own on her armrest without even realizing it. It was the end of the world as they knew it!

The doors to the throne room opened suddenly followed by the influx of an entire squad of Imperial Stormtroopers, fully armed, in their stark white suits of armor. The ensemble split into two groups, taking up position on either side of the entrance. When this spectacle was complete a human male in a grey-green Imperial uniform stepped forward with a rank insignia indicating he held the rank of Governor. He was condescending man who had reached his rank early in life through bribery and politics. Being assigned to govern a minor core world with a suspected Rebel presence was an excellent way to gain notoriety and increase his station, but it was also a way to very publicly fail and lose his station ... perhaps even his life. He offered a forced polite smile in the direction of Grand Moff Rodney as he confidently stepped forward, his finely polished leather boots slamming down upon the floor heavily. "Grand Moff," he said, nodding his head somewhat politely. His eyes then moved slowly towards the young blonde, nearly rolling his eyes. "Commander," he added politely, but with a touch of smugness that could not be denied. "By order of Grand Moff Praji I am appointed Governor of the Alderaan system ... what remains of it," he added, spitefully, as his eyes moved skywards. Although Claudius Rodney outranked him in the Empire, on this world he was merely a planetary despot who had to fall in line with the Empire. And on Delaya, *he* was now the Empire.

All this time waiting for the doors to open and she *still* jumped a mile high when they opened. They had not been back to Esseles in some time. Sierra realized then how long it had been since she'd seen Stormtroopers, let alone fellow Imperials. She was relieved that she did not have to see Arden Zevrin on a daily basis, but that didn't mean she was pleased to see this man. She represented the Empire by wearing her ISB uniform. Her allegiance hadn't changed even though her life had. She closely watched the man step forward and visually size them up. It looked pained for him to smile. Sierra didn't miss a beat. Her recovery time on the islands had made her sharp again. There was a certain *something* about the way he looked at her. She disregarded it and continued to be professional. "Governor," she began, offering him a better fake smile. "We welcome you...though we both wish it was under different circumstances.." What more could she say? If she could go back in time, the day of their succession would have gone differently. No death. A lot more cookies.

Claudius Rodney remained silently as he evaluated the governor. This was the last thing he wanted, but he was in no position to do anything about it. As much as he wanted to he simply could not kick the man to the curb. He was stuck with him, and he felt that it was in his planet's best interest to play nice. "Governor," he said with a polite nod of his head. He was beginning to understand what it felt like to have the shoe on the other foot. Was this what it felt like when he met with planetary leaders in the Ringali Shell? His eyes slowly moved towards Sierra, trying his best to read her body language and gauge her reaction. "I would prefer if you establish yourself in the city. Your protective forces are better utilized on the civilians than us," he said, in an attempt to manipulate the man out of their hair right off the bat.

The Governor arched his eyebrow at the Grand Moff's suggestion, but did not reply straight away as he wanted to carefully construct his reply. "It is my understanding that this structure has been the sight of several Rebel attacks, which resulted in the death of His Majesty's advisor," he said, sternly, as he looked about the castle. A relic that should be torn down stone by stone he thought to himself. "As well as attacks against you, an Imperial Grand Moff, and your *wife*, an ISB Commander," he continued, listing off a series of events that had led to this. "There are Rebels within these walls and I am tasked with finding them," he said, defiantly, as he glared at the couple. "I will set a team here. After all, we would not want the Rebels to take hold of your remaining daughter as they did your first born," he said, in a personal dig, designed to establish just where the two men stood.

Sierra Rodney was not happy with this situation. The man before them could strip them of their power and make their people *very* upset. She had hoped for a lighter transition into being an Imperial planet. It was going to look like an invasion when Stormtroopers marched down the street. She did her best to maintain calm, but for a man who spent a hell of alot of time with her, he'd notice her small mannerisms that showed discomfort. She had hoped Claudius' suggestion of the man operating out of the city would have gone smoother. Sadly, the Governor was well informed. He listed out event after event after event, forcing Sierra to recall how incredibly painful it was to endure a bomb. The young Duchess shivered. Could they find some good in all this misfortune, she wondered. Maybe the Governor could identify who was hurting their family, or the attacks would cease with him there. The man really showed his true colors by mentioning Jelena. It was rude and uncalled for!

Yet, she didn't stoop to the Governor's level. "You are correct. There has been several incidents involving our family over the past few months. You may set up in the West Wing of the castle. I'll see to it that any information regarding these attacks is sent to you. The culprit of our latest attack was seen retreating into the mountains. It is possible that they are operating from somewhere in them." Another attempt to sway the Governor's attention away from the castle.

The Governor was surprised by Sierra's statements, as he did not expect she was there to speak. No matter. "Mountains indeed?" he asked, repeating her words, as he made a mental note to have them searched. "A job for TIE Strikers no doubt. I'm having a squadron placed here," he noted, although he was under no obligation to inform them of his intentions. "*I* will find these Rebels and destroy them, as your Alderaan Guard has proved no use in this matter. I expect them to be full of traitors given their namesake planet's rebellious ties," he said, clenching his gloved hand into a fist. "I've much to do," he said, with a bow that was mentally painful to perform. With that he clicked the heels of his boots together smartly and began to exit the throne room, flanked on either side by the Stormtroopers. He had no favorable thoughts of the two officers he just met, and he would not let them stand in the way of his ascent.

Could someone in the Alderaan Guard be responsible for all the mishaps? If a guard and a servant worked together, the kind of access they could have would be limitless. It was not something that Sierra had considered. Even though it was out of her hands now, she felt like she should still be searching for those responsible for hurting her family. The Governor would comb through the Alderaan Guard with a fine comb and then they'd find who was a traitor. The Governor was gone roughly a millennium after he had arrived. When the final Stormtrooper exited the throne room, Sierra let out a long sigh. She didn't like the Governor one bit. His body language towards her said everything she needed to know. It was good that he was so driven, though she worried that even that would become a problem for their citizens. Forcing her booted feet beneath her, Sierra stood. She offered a hand to her husband as well as a knowing look. It wasn't safe to discuss what had just happened here. "Maybe this won't be entirely terrible. Allowing someone else to comb through the Alderaan Guard looks better than us doing it."

Claudius was silent long after the Governor and his Stormtrooper entourage exited the throne room. After a period of intense brooding he slumped in the large, ornate chair, raising his left hand to rub at his temple. "It seems quite terrible to me," he said, as he did not like this officer at all. "His statement reminded me that the Empire still officially lists Jelena as dead," he commented, shifting in his chair to look at his wife. His face began to take on a look of grave concern. "If the Empire finds her and her apartment in the city it could prove a difficult explanation for *all* of us," he said, followed by an emphatic sigh. Locking her up or sending her away was not a scenario he wished to involve himself in. The problems seemed to be piling up. "Cousin Gaius won't like this. I hope he at least has the sense to cooperate," he said, before rising from the chair and moving towards a buffet where food had been prepared. He was quick to pour himself a glass of starfruit juice, which was cold and refreshing. At a moment like this, however, he wished it had a bit of alcohol in it.

At times like this, the idea of scooping up the whole family and running away as far as possible was appealing. They had worked so hard to find Jelena after losing her. If she was discovered, then she would be arrested. What would happen to the rest of them would be highly unpleasant. "We will need to be vigilant as difficult as it is. That involves ceasing all communication with Jelena until this is over. We cannot send anyone to watch her." Nothing could draw attention to the eldest Rodney daughter. Sierra, too, thought of sending her far away. She thought of moving Jelena to the sea islands, but that wasn't going to work either.

She stood over the table housing all the buffet food. Her mind wasn't the only part of her that had recovered lately. Her appetite was starting to come back too. She was working on her stress management, so, despite the meeting, she plucked a few pieces of fruit from a tray and ate them. "I hope so too. Regardless, that is Gaius' problem. We have enough to worry about." She thought about giving Gaius the heads up, but opted not to. She was amazed to see that Claudius was drinking clean. At the intense parts of life, even Sierra felt like she needed a vice. "We're going to survive this...all of us will. I think the best route is to continue our private investigation. The sooner we find the root of all of this, the sooner it'll be over." The sooner they could sleep better. It was disturbing knowing that Julius' killer was still unaccounted for. "Do you think we should stay here and use ourselves as bait?"

Claudius did not like the idea of not being able to speak to his daughter, or even monitor her. At the mere suggestion of it Claudius broke, his head hung low, and he moved towards the window to look out onto the mountain range. "If you were not pregnant I would consider it, my love. But even the slightest brush against these fiends might complicate your pregnancy," he said, worrying about all of his children. There was just too much going on for him to deal with at the moment, and this latest Imperial intrusion was threatening to be the last straw. "Do I come off that arrogant to the people of the Ringali Shell?" he asked her, but perhaps did not want a truthful answer as seeing it from the other side gave him new perspective. "Hopefully these Rebels will be quickly dealt with so we can move on, as you said," he hoped, optimistically, but he knew that once the Empire became entrenched somewhere they did not simply withdraw.

A frown fell over Sierra's lips. Keeping Jelena under wraps was possibly the hardest part about all of this. She watched her words sink into her husband, causing her to follow behind him towards the window. She stood behind him. Her arms wrapped around his waist to offer him comfort and someone to lean on. She would need to figure out careful ways to continue communication with Jelena. It would be torturous to have her so close, yet so far away. Sadly, Claudius was right about her pregnancy. She needed to be mindful of the child in her womb. She didn't want their son hurt. "Okay. I'll continue to look into things from the islands." She would work harder.

His next question was surprising. Behind him, she blinked. "No." She answered quickly, but not so quickly that he would think it was an emotional answer. "You come off as confident in your job ... and appropriately scary for a figure of authority." You could hear the smile in her voice, though it faded quickly. She wrapped him up even tighter in her arms. "As gloomy as everything seems now, it will calm down again. After you told me about the financial problems of the planet, I've been looking into things. I think I have some resolutions we can work on. Remember, you are not alone. Let me take some of that weight off of your shoulders, my love."

"Appropriately scary?" Claudius repeated, slowly turning to look at her with a puzzled look. "I'll take that as a compliment," he said, with a soft chuckle, followed by a smirk. Until this day he had never given much thought to how local authorities felt when superseded by Imperial authority. He decided that he did not like it, and shook his head in bitter frustration. "Yes. Enough about this Imperial interlude for the time being. You are right," he said, with a stressed look, as he moved towards her. "Please. Do whatever you can to help with the fiscal crisis," he told her, before leaning his face in to place a tender kiss upon her lips. "I could not bare this burden without you, my love," he whispered softly into her ear, before leading her out onto the balcony where relatively fresh air awaited. The mountain air that surrounded them was still relatively pure, and the serene sound of thrantas screeching gently punctuated the afternoon sky. It was not all bad.

Sierra felt a smile slid over her face. It was good to be reminded of how things felt from the opposite side. It kept them modest and good...rather than cruel and greedy. She shared a lovely kiss with her husband. The feeling was mutual. Her life was made complete by his presence. All of life's problems seemed manageable with him. Because of this, Sierra found it easier to take on the stress of having the Imperials there. With her arm in his, she moved towards the balcony. The sight of the mountains would always bring back fond memories of the morning of Jelena's funeral. For Sierra, it was that moment that everything became undeniable. Through all the complexity, she knew they would be together. She nudged him. "Will you take me out for another ride after our son is born? I liked it a bit *too* much." She nuzzled her way in front of him, using her hands to guide his arms around her. Her eyes drifted from the mountain tops to the city below. "We'll do right by them, you know."

"Of course I will. I liked it too," Claudius said, as he turned his head to look lovingly down at her. The sun began to set over the mountains, causing a ray of orange light to shine down upon her face. He brought his hand to side of her head to brush some loose hands away before he placed a loving kiss upon her. His heart stopped a moment as the sun faded behind the mountains, the lights slowly going out around them as the kiss finally broke. "I love you," he vowed to her, as his hands moved to clutch each of hers. It was moments like this that made everything else bearable. It was moments like this that made him enjoy life. She was the best thing that ever happened to him and he knew it.

Sierra thought back to the meeting with the Governor which had taken place not long ago. The way he looked at her mind, it implied that he felt their marriage was ridiculous. It wasn't something she was oblivious to. Sometimes she caught herself looking at the comment section on certain Holonet articles. She'd seen the look before. What no one seemed to grasp was how much in love the couple was. While the sun descended, Sierra was caught up in his eyes. She felt happy. She felt at peace. Her heart danced in her chest as they kissed. The sun set on yet another day in Delaya. She was grateful for these moments. "I love you too," she told him sweetly. Her hands both squeezed his. "I love you so much. You alone have proved to me that true love exists. It doesn't seem to be unrealistic to think that we can conquer anything. Whenever you start feeling the hard times weighing down, just remember that. I'll punch anyone in the face who tries to hurt you." Like Arden! "Now, I think it's time I whisk you away to our islands. I know the perfect way to numb your mind." She winked.

Claudius was basking in the joy of their marriage before the unpleasant name of Arden Zevrin once again entered the conversation. "Arden..." he said, ruefully, with a deep and longing sigh. "It pains me to imagine what she must be up to back in the Ringali Shell acting in my name," he said, looking down at the ground, a hint of a tear in his eyes. He had a lost command and he worried what would become of his Oversector, but it was what the Emperor wanted for some reason. He would not go against the Emperor ... the man who had brought peace and order to the galaxy after such a terrible conflict that cost him so much loss personally. "Yes. Let this Governor do his work while we get a tan and inspire our contractors to move faster," he said, letting go for the first time in his life. If the Ringali Shell could go on with him, so could Delaya.

There was no way to stop what was happening on Ringali Shell. Sierra saw how stretched thin he was. She kept hold of his hands like she was trying to anchor him down during the harsh storm. "After the investigation is over..." She started anxiously, "Perhaps we should request to see His Majesty? It is impossible for you to function as both the Duke and a Grand Moff. There simply isn't enough Claudius to go around. Maybe there's a way to fuse the jobs and make everything work so you are no longer affiliated with whatever happened in the Ringali Shell. Your work as an Imperial should be centered here." Sierra began to lead him away from the balcony, unsure of how he'd react to her proposal. The Emperor knew that Claudius wasn't affiliated with the current doings on the Ringali Shell after all. They ascending the castle towards the landing pad where their shuttle rested. Somewhere in their conversation, Claudius had energized her. She felt significantly less fearful about messing up as Duchess. With her freshly boosted confidence, she decided she'd do anything in her power to aid the planet.

"I expect His Majesty is quite displeased with me given recent events," Claudius said apprehensively, adjusting his collar instinctively as he walked with her through the castle towards the shuttle. "The Alderaan system is part of Grand Moff Praji's White Cuirass Command. I cannot see His Majesty redrawing the oversectors. To ask would invite too many questions I do not have answers for," he admitted, wondering how he had survived as long as he had given his many shortcomings and failures in command ... both in the Ringali Shell and here. He would be foolish to see the Emperor, but perhaps there was another avenue for him to explore. The grand vizier or perhaps Lord Vader might provide assistance in this regard, and he felt he had better relationships with both. For now, he needed another respite on the sea islands and private time with his wife.

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