Kiley paced outside of Admiral Rodney's cabin for a long moment. She
was never comfortable confronting him, but this time she had no
choice. She exhaled and stepped forward through the durasteel doors.
Her first sight upon entering his cabin confirmed her worst fears.
There he was packing his travel bag. She furrowed her brow and
glared at him in a manner uncharacteristic to her. "Ran informed she
was getting your shuttle ready," Kerrie sternly stated, "I thought
she must be mistaken, because I sure did not receive any notice to
prepare for departure."
virtually ignored his chief henchwoman as he folded another pair of
underwear and packed it meticulously into his travel bag. As he
looked back over towards his armoire to see if anything else
remained to be packed he finally responded to her, "That's because
you're not going, Major. This is a personal trip. Not Imperial
Admiral, I cannot accept that," Kerrie bluntly retorted, "Your
safety is my responsibility ... whether or not you're on duty."
"I thank you for
your concern, Major," Claudius responded to her, "I would almost
think you cared. But, your fear is misguided I assure you ... I'll
The Major was
slightly wounded by the Admiral's jab. After all it was his actions
that indirectly contributed to making her the 'heartless' being she
appeared to be to most. "If I may be frank, Admiral," she continued.
"You may not,"
the Admiral was quick to reply.
ignoring him, Kerrie continued without a beat, "You have not been
the same since that delegation of Hapans left. If that is where
you're going ... I must insist I accompany you. We will have not
have the protection of the Empire once inside their territory."
"Is your going
the only thing that will end this conversation?" the Admiral asked
her, "I do have a shuttle to catch you know."
"You're too slow
and old to get past me, sir," Kerrie informed him matter-a-factly.
"Then carry my
bag," Claudius told her, almost cracking a smile, as he walked
passed her and out of the cabin.
Kerrie said, as she grabbed the bag off of the Admiral's bed and
followed him out of the cabin.
As the Lambda
Shuttle Kwai entered hyperspace, Admiral Rodney sat nervously
in the rear compartment. He nervously cleared his throat and looked
at the chronometer. It would be another several hours before he
would arrive in Hapes. He had changed into a more fitting
Alderaanian attire. His head turned towards Major Kiley who had
changed into her old Mabari armor, something he had yet to see her
wear. "It still fits?" he asked, "I'm a bit surprised. You must stay
in excellent shape."
"It will always
fit," Kerrie informed him, "I'm a shape shifter remember. It
stretches to fit whatever form I take." She paused momentarily
before continuing, "But, thank you for noticing."
transpired during the course of their visit before Claudius again
decided to try and start a conversation. Less than a year ago this
woman had tried to assassinate him, now she was in charge of his
personal safety. The times caused allegiances to shift with the
trade winds he thought to himself before speaking, "Have you ever
been in love, Major?"
replied instantly, caught a bit off guard by the personal question.
She looked down for a moment thinking on her youth on Clawdite. As
she tried to remember him her face slipped back into it's natural
reptilian-like Clawdite visage. She flinched upon realizing what had
happened. She was relieved they were alone in the compartment. She
liked to keep that little trick to herself. "There was someone ...
once," she replied quietly.
"I've heard that
before," the Admiral told her, leaning forward from his seat, "What
"I was a child.
A silly child," Kerrie told him as she again slipped back into
Clawdite form. He had definitely thrown her off her game and she was
finding it incredibly difficult to concentrate. "We were at the same
monastery," she began to explain, "He didn't approve of my decision
to ... leave."
"Well I can't
say I approve of your decision to leave either," the Admiral said
trying to lighten the move, "You killed two Imperial officers and
stole a shuttle!" He then paused and realized she probably was not
in the mood to laugh. "Where is he now?" the Admiral asked.
on Zolan," Kerrie replied, still in her natural state. "It is not
like he can go anywhere," Kerrie pointed out, "the entire planet is
still under blockade."
Claudius said nervously.
shuttle shifted as it reverted from hyperspace into realspace.
Lieutenant Randi Trainor's familiar voice was soon heard over the
intercom from her position in the cockpit, "We're coming up on
at Kerrie for a moment. He could not tell if she was hurt by the
conversation, but his attention soon turned to the intercom. "Lay in
an approach course. Raise their traffic control on the comlink," he
ordered the Lieutenant over the com.
In the cockpit,
Randi Trainor fiddled with the controls as the shuttle approached
the planet, which was quickly growing in size. "Hapes approach,"
Randi began over the comlink, "This is the Imperial Shuttle Kwai.
We are requesting permission to land."
So many parsecs
across the galaxy sat the sixty-three individual star systems that
constituted the Hapes Cluster in all of its tradition-based and
secluded glory. Every spot on the environmental spectrum could be
found on amid its known worlds, from the glassy crystalline oceans
of Dreena to the largely uninhabited tourist world, Reboam, dotted
with ancient ruins. The heart of the Hapan economy, Gallinore, was
the sole planet on which could be found the very valuable rainbow
gems, the very staple of Hapes' financial success. For millenia, the
Ka`a Sha`ahr household maintained selective rights to the meticulous
mining of the delicate life forms, their very lineage traceable back
to the dawning of what would become the matriarchal society known as
the Hapes Consortium. The Ka`a Sha`ahr estate on Gallinore was but
an indication of the immense wealth of their lineage in particular,
and Hapans in general. The expansive home and surrounding land
seemed to continue for kilometers on end. Like all Hapans, the
architecture was clean-lined, soothing to the eye, ornate in decor
and built solely around the near worship of aesthetics in nature by
means of elaborate systems of gardens, running water, fountains and
In fact, part of
the massive 264 room palace which the Ka`a Sha`ahr dynasty called
home was built in a semicircle shaped pattern around the ten
story-high hanging gardens. Trellis after gargantuan trellis arched
across metal and wood frames in extensive patterns, housing myriad
species of flora from every corner of the cluster. The garden itself
was built up around a massive multi-tiered fountain that stretched
beyond three stories. The sheer weight of it was staggering with its
thirty-seven stone statues spread from top to bottom. It was near
the base of the large fountain where Htaere Ka`a Sha`ahr sat,
basking in the glow of soft golden sunlight and lavishing the rush
of water as it slid across the fountain levels. Her four older
sisters were not far away, and younger brother no where to be seen.
The meditation was a welcomed respite amid uncertainty. The young
woman's stormy colored eyes flickered evenly up into the utmost
reaches of the hanging gardens, taking in the array of nuances
present from any number of flowering plants and trees growing in the
massive bowls suspended by the bridgework.
definitive borders of the Cluster were Hapan Battle Dragons with
their odd saucer shaped hulls and rotating weapons tracks. Sprinkled
amid the Battle Dragons were Nova-class Battle Cruisers, any number
of which could disperse squadron after squadron of My`Til fighters
in the blink of an eye. The foremost Battle Dragon, Barrera
Legacy, responded first. Her commander, a tall raven-haired
woman stood over the junior officer at the communications console.
"Imperial Shuttle Kwai hold where you are. State your
business in Hapes."
By now Admiral
Claudius Rodney had made his way into cockpit of the Kwai. He
took a seat in the empty co-pilot's seat and adjusted a headset. He
signaled Randi that he would take over communications and responded
to the communiqué, "This is Admiral Claudius Rodney. I am here on
personal business at the invitation of Lady Htaere Ka`a Sha`ar."
There was a
moment of pause over the channel as the Barrera Legacy's
captain went through all the steps of contacting her superiors. It
didn't take long before the familiar voice of Hapan Attaché, My`Ahme
Renault, emerged over the com. "Admiral Rodney, we are pleased you
have taken us up on our invitation. We welcome you to Hapes. It
would be our honor to escort you to the Lady Htaere's homeworld. The
cruiser Undulatta will provide you with the nav points for
Gallinore. We will inform Security of your arrival at once" she said
cheerfully. "Is there anything else we may do for you?"
Control," Rodney said diplomatically over the comlink. He then
nodded to Randi instructing her to commence landing operations.
stood at the top of the ramp of the Kwai nervously. The ramp
could not lower quick enough to soot him. He exhaled deeply and
clenched post of his fists. The moment the ramp lowered, he
proceeded downward at a brisk pace. His eyes immediately squinted
from the effects of the natural light. He had been on a ship too
long. He looked around eagerly, taking every bit in. In his long
career he had never set foot in Hapan territory. He paused, waiting
for any potential welcoming party.
pneumonic doors of the private bay slid open to reveal several
well-dressed women and a handful of staff to provide assistance if
needed for the shuttle. One of the women stepped forward a foot or
so, and all three bowed respectfully. "Admiral Rodney, welcome to
Iisombernahy. This way please" the foremost of the group announced
in a slow but collected voice. The homestead of the Ka`a Sha`ahr
employed over 150 full time staff to maintain the massive estate.
One of the domestic assistants, the woman motioned through the doors
and down the corridor that connected the bay to the mansion on the
around looked into the shuttle and signaled a very uncomfortable
Kerrie that he was okay. He then turned his attention towards the
Handmaiden who addressed him and spoke politely, "Thank you." Taking
one last moment to inhale the fresh, clean air he stepped forward
again proceeded inside the massive estate. He was beginning to see
why his father had chosen this family ... this kind of ostentation
would be right up his alley. He had no idea where to go of course,
so he politely waited once inside for further instructions.
pleasantly, she led him through an audience hall with marble floors
and gold inlay, indoor courtyards and cobblestone terraces hosting
smaller fountains in every shape and size imaginable until reaching
the outer doors to the external hanging gardens. The large carved
wooden doors were on old fashioned hinges, swinging outwards to open
onto the immediate patio that opened into the gardens. From here the
woman stopped and glanced out towards one of the stone benches near
the base of the 3 story fountain. "The Lady Htaere" she said,
holding the door and stepping to the side for him.
only a moment to prepare himself. He inhaled deeply and then took
that first step forward. It was not just a physical step, but an
emotional one. His wife had been in the grave for fourteen years,
but he had never let go. Was he finally ready? Truly, he did not
know, but sooner, rather than later, he would find out. His eyes
nervously closed as he first entered the room. When they opened it
was like looking into a whole new world. There she was ... the woman
who had haunted his very soul since his eyes first gazed upon her in
that reflection. "Hello," was all he could bring himself to say. He
had gone through many preparations to bring him here to Gallinore.
He did not, however, prepare anything to say.
Pulled from her
silent revelry, her eyes shifted to follow the voice. As the owner
came into view, grey pools widened slightly. She rose to her feet
and gazed at him, a mix of something between perplexion and
curiosity. In the privacy of her own home, she wore a soft pink silk
kimono with silver stylized thrantas embroidered into it and a
simple band across her forehead of three golden wires braided
together, arching over the jade diamond and rainbow gem. "Admiral
Rodney..." she said. She was equally as quiet, slightly stunned and
off guard. Her head tilted slightly "You have come to Hapes?"
said, trying to lower some of the formalities that surrounded them.
"Well, you did invite me," he responded nervously. His palms were
becoming sweaty, his throat was drying and slowly closing in on him.
This was something he had not gone through in over twenty years.
"Maybe I'm not ready," he thought to himself, "but if I'm not ...
will I ever be." He exhaled, and then smiled at her warmly, "I think
I may have made a hasty decision. I would like to consider our
expression failed to straighten. If anything, it seemed more drawn
to disbelief. "But you said..." she trailed off, shaking her head
ever so slightly. She closed her mouth and regrouped her thoughts
before continuing. "I am...confused. You will agree to the arranged
marriage of our households?"
"From a certain
point of view," Claudius began to explain, "I will agree to the
union, provided you allow the proper courtship period to take place.
At the end of that time ... if you ... and not just your
family ... want it shall be done."
mentally digesting the offer, still struggling with the concept of
free will when it came to choosing a companion. What it boiled down
to for her was that she would assume the role she was assigned when
they first set foot on the deck of the Warspite.
She nodded once "Yes, my Lord." Her eyes drifted over his figure,
taking in the different clothing. She snapped back into the present
and motioned to the bench. "Would you like to sit?"
"Please ... try
and call me Claudius," he told her in a friendly tone. He smiled
politely and took a seat where he tried to make himself comfortable.
Until then, he had been stiff and rigid. He sighed as he wiped his
sweaty palms on his knees. "There's something I should tell you," he
explained, "Perhaps it'll make things easier." He paused before
continuing, "I was married once ... long ago. We had children and it
was the most wonderful time in my life. Unfortunately, she passed
away. I still love her ... I always will. I believe there's room in
my heart for you, but this is new to me and it came very
Cool grey eyes
studied him intensely. "I am sorry for your loss. I see why you
object to this." She paused again for a moment to observe his
movements, the obvious signs of anxiety. "You are nervous. Why?"
"I have found in
my experiences that what people consider to be a rumor is often not
a fact," Claudius explained to her, "However, it turns out the rumor
that Hapans possess indescribable beauty is very much the case."
The makings of
an amused smile seemed to curve Htaere's lips. "You are very funny.
You should not have seen me on your ship. It was...inappropriate for
"If I had not
seen you ... my life would have been sadly deprived of a great
beauty," Claudius said with a reassuring smile.
"An ancestor of
mine once wrote that all you needed to know in life was that beauty
is truth, and truth is beauty," he added.
"And was this
person correct?" She resituated herself on the bench beside him, her
hands folding in her lap beneath the folded silken squared sleeves
of the kimono.
remained silent for a moment, the wheels visibly turning. "We'll
find out together," he finally told her.
pause ensued before she quipped up yet another question, her
delivery child-like and singularly intensive. "Why did you change
"When you get to
be my age you become stubborn. You dig into your ground and you
don't change. I was set on being alone and I didn't plan to let that
change," Claudius slowly explained, "Well ... maybe I'm not as old
as my crew like to think I am. Maybe I should change and I thought
maybe you're the person to help me change."
She thought for
a moment before a grin flashed across her features. "We'll find out
together" she repeated his previous statement.