Stationed back on the bridge of the VSD
Tenacity, Commodore T'Jarell stood tall and rigid, her dark gaze
transfixed upon the viewport of the ship and not at all keen at reading
any more blasted, useless reports. They had places to be, Grand Moffs to
appease. This latest fiasco, known as a 'hyperdrive malfunction' was not
doing her any favors. They were already late, and it was a miracle that
the comms systems were not ablaze with angry demands from the
Warspite. Then again, given the nature of that ship's commanding
officer, there would be no such demands. But there could be severe
disciplinary action taken, Rhia thought, as her face turned grim in
tandem with receiving a datapad from an intensely flustered
communications officer. She scanned the data briefly, stifling a sigh of
relief that rose in her throat.
"About bloody time. Let's get under
Power couplings were significant little
nuisances which Rhia did not care for. Now that they had been taken care
of, perhaps they could make it to Rodney's bloody conference, on time.
"Set course for the Essesia System," she directed the navigations
officer. "Engage hyperspace on my mark."
It would not be a particularly long
trip, especially considering the jump, but the seconds were mercilessly
ticking by, each passing one making Rhiannon more late and her
predicament more severe. On top of the ship's mechanical failure and the
undue tardiness that followed, was a much more delicate matter - that of
Rhiannon's own opinions considering the Grand Moff's actions at Esseles.
To put it more succinctly, she deeply resented Rodney's actions in the
system, believing them to be reckless and illogical. Still, she kept her
opinions largely to herself, not wanting to provoke the man's ire. The
very last thing he needed right now, was to have his lover (and
staunchest supporter) to waver in her beliefs in his regard. But the
tenacity with which Claudius Rodney pursued his wayward daughter's
supposed whereabouts was very unsettling; it also seemed to pull with it
a string of unfortunate consequences that would take a grave toll on the
inhabitants of any planet or system the Grand Moff found himself hunting
Grand Moff Claudius Rodney stood
silently within the confines of the conference room aboard his command
ship, the Imperial I-class Star Destroyer Warspite, with
his back turned to those in attendance. Instead, his focus was shifted
on the transparasteel viewport that his hand was pressed upon, as he
looked sorrowfully down at the blue and green surface of Esseles that
loomed beneath them. His daughter was down there ... and so he thought ...
and that was all he cared about, and as the officers prattled on he grew
increasingly disinterested by their reports and frustrated at their
failure to produce any news concerning his daughter. He could feel the
strain of the past month upon him, and he lowered his head, closing his
eyes as the voice from behind him began to be drowned out by the sound
of the ship's motion as he began to drift.
"Governor?" the decidedly exotic voice
of Lieutenant Meham'ohorovi'cloca said, as she tilted her head like a
confused animal at his lack of interest in her very well thought out
presentation. "Governor?" she asked again, clearing her throat as she
spoke somewhat louder this time. The others in the room shifted their
attention uncomfortably from the projection of the daily briefing to
that of the weary Grand Moff clinging to the viewport. "As I was saying,
sir," she continued, desiring to refocus the attention of the officers
back to the matter at hand. "Our blockade has crippled Esseles's
economy. The planet has depended on its shipping industry since the
formation of the hyperspace lanes. While I certainly understand your
desire to prevent the lady Jelena from transiting the system..." she
paused, uncomfortably, as she lacked the tact to discuss the topic
delicately. "If we continue this blockade the planet is likely headed
into open revolt as a result of the economic calamity. Already General
Zethe is reporting an increased in protests and demonstrations. The
Ringali Shell Security Force is refusing to arrest them claiming their
facilities are full, and we simply do not have an adequate garrison to
police an entire populous in revolt. As you can see in the General's
memorandum dated..." she continued, going into laborious detail, as was
her nature, before she was unceremoniously cut off.
"Enough!" Claudius shouted, as he
suddenly turned to his Chiss tactical officer in an unprecedented rage.
"If the good General is claiming he is inadequate to deal with the
situation then perhaps I should have him replaced," he continued, moving
away from the viewport and swiftly approaching the tactical display with
broad steps. "The blockade will continue until we have rescued my
daughter from the clutches of her Rebel manipulators," he insisted, as
his eyes coldly looked over the officer corps that he could sense were
increasingly losing their confidence in him. "I should replace all of
you ... like Major Zevrin," he continued, raising his index finger
directly in the face of the younger, Chiss officer who had served him
faithfully thus far.
Major Kerrie Kiley had thus far remained
silent, like a watchful guard dog at her master's feet, but while she
was not political, she could easily take the temperature of those in the
room. She took several steps forward towards the Governor, and placed a
reassuring a hand upon his shoulder, which was initially shrugged off.
"Milord, we will find her," she said, exuding a false sense of
confidence. She was a skilled tracker, but had uncovered nothing ...
privately, she doubted that Jelena remained on Esseles, but she felt
revealing her thoughts would only add to his consternation. "Everyone
here knows their duties, and they have the skills, training, and
experience to carry out this mission," she said quietly, so that those
further from them might have difficulty distinguishing her words. As his
aide she felt it her duty to protect him from what he was risking as he
threatened his staff, and nervously looked over them to attempt to read
their reactions. The physical attack on Arden Zevrin and her sudden and
unexpected fall from power had sent shockwaves through the command, and
she of all people knew that the Imperial Security Bureau was not about
to let such an affront go unchecked. These were difficult times where
Imperial rivals were just as dangerous as the Rebellion.
Standing on board the bridge unmoving,
Rhia let her thoughts sweep her attention away until the alarm
signifying their exit out of hyperspace resounded. Blinking, she snapped
back to the reality of the now and, licking her lips, walked over to the
communications pit, staring down at the officer who had been in charge
of compiling reports. "Signal the Warspite," she directed the man
below, calmly. "Let them know we apologize for the delay but it could
not have been helped due to mechanical failure. I shall transport on
As her orders were acknowledged,
Rhiannon wasted no time in getting her briefcase and proceeding down to
the hangar bay. Moments later, her shuttle was seen launching and making
its way to the Grand Moff's flagship. Arriving without incident in the
underbelly of the Warspite, the Commodore gathered her belongings
and exited promptly, heading down the landing ramp and to the nearest
turbolift. She did not expect an escort, rushing down the durasteel
plates without returning a single salute or acknowledgment. Her mind
buzzing with thoughts of what would happen after the conference took
place, wondering if she would have the mental stamina to tell the Grand
Moff exactly what she wanted to say to him, the day this whole
ridiculous mess started.
With the turbolift doors opening on the
desired floor, Rhia headed for the conference room where everyone was no
doubt already deep in the thrall of heated discussion. Stopping in front
of the door, she pressed the activation button without engaging the
chime and waited for it to open. She had no idea whether the proceedings
would be highly classified or not, and fully expected to be denied
access. Without surprise, she noticed that the doors would not open, so
she removed the rank cylinders from her uniform and tried again, this
time with the desired outcome. As the door swung open with a dull thud,
she stepped through, reaffixing her 'insignia' before taking the first
available free seat at the table. Her gaze snapped to the figure of
Claudius Rodney and remained there as she set down her briefcase and
pulled out a datapad, setting it in front of her.
Undoubtedly, she had missed some
substantial portions of the conference, but that did not matter now. All
that mattered, was that she was here - ready to listen and participate
in what remained.
"Good of you to join us, Commodore,"
Claudius sarcastically said, as he turned his attention from Major
Kiley, who he had otherwise ignored. "Had you been earlier you could
have listened to my tactical officer narrate the whining complaints of
General Zethe in her unmistakable tones for our amusement, as if we were
watching a documentary on the HoloNet," he said to her, being
uncharacteristically cruel and xenophobic of the junior officer. He
could have continued, unnecessarily, before other matters captured his
attention. "She wants to end the blockade," he said, as he moved towards
Rhia, while still referring to the Chiss. "They all do," he said a bit
louder, as he looked over each of the officers that were seated in front
of him. "As I know you do also," he said, quietly and more reserved, as
he allowed a hand to fall upon the black table in front of her, leaving
a moist palm print from his clammy hands.
It was then that a ubiquitous naval
officer appeared as the conference room door suddenly opened, but he was
not conscious and almost immediately his body was carelessly thrown to
the ground. Behind him emerged the unmistakable image of Mandalorian,
but not nearly as tall or physically imposing as had been popularized in
holovids. This woman was adorned in a set or orange armor that signified
a lust for life amongst her people, and from beneath her T-shaped visor
a playful grin was plastered among her young face that none could see.
She was quite proud of herself for making it this far, but having been
denied access to the Grand Moff ... and her credits ... she decided to make
an alternate means of entry. "I'm sorry for interrupting," El-Nay Darr
said sarcastically from beneath her helmet, as she stepped over the body
and moved towards the middle-aged Moff. "But a girl just can't seem to
get an appointment these days, and there is the matter of my reward,"
she said, as her left hand revealed the presence of a primed grenade.
"So ... if you'll just pay me, I can be on my way," she said, tilting her
head slightly to the left as she studied the man, sticking her pink
tongue out at him from beneath the safety of her helmet as it could not
"You hired El-Nay Darr?!" Kerrie asked
the Grand Moff incredulously, unsure of whether to be angry or to burst
into laughter. She had worked with her father, but that was another
life, and had knew her when she was a child. She had never thought much
of her and when she read reports that she had taken up her father's
trade, she had assumed that El-Nay would not last very long. The
grenade, however, was no laughing matter, and she realized that in this
confined space the explosion would likely kill everyone in the room
indiscriminately. All she had was her sidearm, and she dared not draw it
and provoke the inexperience, young hunter.
"Well ... you were in a coma, and she was
in your files, Major," Claudius said to appease his aide, before
shifting his focus to the Mandalorian mercenary. He remembered her as
being one of the bounty hunters that had answered his call when his
daughter first went into hiding, but had not heard from them in some
time ... he had all but given up on them. "Now look here, Miss Darr," he
said, defiantly, seeming unmoved by her brash display, as he took a step
towards her. "The reward was for the safe return of my daughter. Not for
the incapacitation of an Imperial officer. So unless there's something
you're not telling me ... get off my ship!" he snarled, his hand clenching
tightly into a fist as if he were prepared to incapacitate the young
El-Nay froze for a moment, narrowing her
gaze at the man, as she processed his words, which caused her to grow
increasingly confused. Her left thumb slid over the arming mechanism of
the grenade and deactivated it to the relief of all in the room, but as
she attempted to reattach it to her belt, she dropped it, and after
landing with an ominous *clank* it rolled harmlessly upon the ground.
"Oops," she said with a tinge of embarrassment, before refocusing on the
matter of hand. "The Nerf Herder captured her two weeks ago. She was
hiding in the slums of Nurrale," she explained, folding her arms in
front of her chest as she looked over the man quixotically. "His girl of
the month got the drop on me and tried to cut me out. I'll deal with her
later, but I figure I'm owed a third of the money for her capture," she
said, tilting her head upwards slightly towards the Grand Moff. "And the
last I saw of her ... she was safe," she continued, not seeing fit to
reveal the savage beating she had unleashed on the girl before she was
attacked by the other hunter.
When the grenade rolled across the
floor, Kerrie instinctively moved to pick it up before the inexperienced
hunter accidentally blasted them all into space. Once the explosive was
firmly secured, she took several steps towards El-Nay and glared at her.
"This is not a toy," she said, in a chastising tone, which echoed the
words spoken by her parents years ago when she knew her father. "If you
don't know how to use something ... don't use it," she added, her own
brand of wisdom, as she reached up with a gloved hand and pounded on the
side of her helmet, in a literal attempt to knock some sense into her.
What a sorry state of affairs the Bounty Hunters' Guild must have been
in, she thought silently to herself. The mention of the Nerf Herder
troubled her, however, as he was the hunter whom she knew the least
about, and respected the most ... if he had Jelena she believed it would
be a far more difficult proposition of getting her back than if she was
merely with some local Rebel cell. But, there was no ransom, no demands
... what was going on here was beyond her capacity.
Rhiannon's gaze continued to linger upon
Rodney's features even as the bounty hunter made her 'splashy'
appearance in their midst. She retained cold blood in the face of the
grenade threat, wondering just what kind of Mandalorian this newcomer
was, appearing clumsier than a bantha in a china shop. Perhaps
appearances were deceiving in this case, she thought to herself;
although there was little to be gained by such 'play'. The thought of
inexperience entered Rhia's mind, but was quickly dismissed as the Grand
Moff would not hire anyone even remotely inept at their art. Registering
the comment made by another, Rhia's peripheral gaze quickly registered
the astute little persona of Kerrie Kiley; an officer that was not yet
of her acquaintance yet with some semblance of 'familiarity' to her.
Rhiannon could not put her finger on it, wondering what this young Major
was doing at the conference as she assumed this was a meeting of highest
and most important 'brass' in the Grand Moff's employ. The little Major
must have been someone of utmost significance to Rodney; a supposition
Rhiannon made a note of in her head, to ask the Grand Moff about at a
later date. In the meantime, her gaze shifted to El-Nay.
"Hmm, cad olyay nayc ne'waadas par
sarcuryr vaii buse'e ta'yr liser tekara."
Smiling pleasantly, she addressed the
bounty hunter in a language she should have immediately recognized and
hopefully, comprehended. It meant, simply, "there is no need for
violence where common sense can prevail", though its proper
pronouncement did not come without difficulty. It was quite sometime
since Rhia had the chance to practice the Mandalorian tongue; it was
something of a by-product of her early days of service seen under
Admiral Kabak and something he felt, was wise and useful to master.
Well, now it seemed to have come in handy.
"If I may, who is this ... Nerf Herder?"
Canting her head at the bounty hunter, Rhia let her gaze pulsate between
the Grand Moff and the beskar-gam clad female. "But forgive me, I speak
out of turn yet I find it difficult to take part in a meeting where
one's mind is filled with blanks. And further, where is any evidence
that this so-called Nerf Herder has the Governor's daughter? Or are we
simply forced to take your words at face value while you scramble for a
petty reward and run, beroya?
Picking up the datapad from the table,
Rhia let her fingers do an elaborate dance pattern upon the surface,
entering some information as she waited for the bounty hunter or the
Grand Moff, to address her concerns.
"K'uur di'kulta aruetii!" El-Nay snapped
at Rhia as she heard her native tongue spoken by one of the Imperials.
She felt disgusted to hear the words spoken by ones who had caused so
much difficulty for her people. She suddenly felt surrounded, and the
audacity of her plan now made her uneasy as while she had found a way to
get in, she had not bothered to find a way out. Perhaps it was time to
play nice, she thought to herself, as she looked over the Imperial
Commodore. "The Nerf Herder is a bounty hunter ... and an asshole," she
added, the tone of voice making it clear she was speaking from personal
betrayal. "I do not lie. We captured her in the city of Nurrale two
weeks ago. Him, myself, and that bitch Dimona. We were on our way to
bring her here ... or so I thought ... when they got rid of me," she said,
angrily, as her hands instinctively curled into fists.
"He is the second finest hunter I have
had the pleasure of encountering in my journeys," Major Kiley quickly
interjected as she considered the situation. "Milord, despite my
misgivings regarding her talent, I nevertheless believe she is telling
the truth," she said, as her attention shifted from the hunter to the
governor. "If there was anyone in the region most likely to find her it
would have been him, and if he got her offworld two weeks ago it would
explain why we've had no success in our searches," she reasoned,
logically, but she realized how little logic played into the mind of a
man so stubbornly driven by emotion.
Claudius Rodney could not find words at
the moment as he watched the drama play out in front of him. If this
bounty hunter did indeed have his daughter he would use every possible
resource at his disposal to hunt him down. He said nothing, however, and
allowed his subordinates to handle the questioning. He was content to
listen and brood as the developments unfolded, with each trickle of
information bringing him one step closer to his daughter and one step
closer to rage.
Rhiannon smirked under her breath as she
was 'commanded' to hush. She expected as much, truth be told, and so did
not take any of it to heart. Instead, she chose to listen to the woman's
explanation, finding much anger in her, on top of the arrogance she
already encountered. Again, she was not amazed by it. In a time of war,
such things were expected.
"How did they get rid of you?" she
asked, incredulous. "You do not come across as the type that is easily
dispensed with." Did they outrun the Mandalorian or merely plied her so
high on spice that she could scarcely remembered her own name?
"Regardless, this isn't exactly leading us anywhere ... special,"
Rhiannon's lips pursed mischievously as she accented the last word for
the bounty hunter. "And now we have a useless blockade to contend with.
Perhaps it is time to put simple logic to use, Governor." Watching her
lover closely, she tried to read his most minute gestures, his most
seemingly insignificant body language, and gauge just how far she could
push. Ascertaining that his emotion was still peaking beneath that
perfectly starched uniform, the Commodore decided to play a risky game
based upon its volatile state.
"Just how much in terms of liquid assets
or portable wealth does the Lady Jelena command, would you say,
"Cui ogir'olar, cyar'ika," El-Nay
replied to Rhia sarcastically, as she listened to enough of the woman's
mockery. "There's still the matter of my credits, Governor. And then
I'll be on my way..." she said, as she turned her attention from the woman
to the man once again. Defiantly, she folded her arms in front of her
orange colored chestplate, tapping her booted foot upon the deck as she
expected him to pay her right there on the spot. She still had a lot to
learn about the business her father so much hoped she would avoid.
"Enough with the credits," Claudius
said, dismissively, as he turned his attention to more pressing matters.
"Lieutenant Meham'ohorovi'cloca ... terminate the blockade," he said after
a pause, somewhat reluctantly as he considered his next options. "In
terms of personal wealth, Commodore?" he asked, as he shifted his gaze
back to the beautiful, young Hapan. "Not much. An allowance ... a trifle.
As to the bounty? I offered 50,000 to attract significant attention," he
continued, as he thought about all that had just transpired. "I want
this Nerf Herder found and dealt with," he ordered, as he moved back
towards the datapad to look up the files that Kerrie had prepared on the
notable bounty hunters for him sometime ago.
At the other end of the table Major
Min Traebor had quietly remained seated, listening to the briefing, the
arguments, and the theatricality of the novice bounty hunter. She was
the one woman in the room who knew the true identity of the Nerf Herder.
She had captured him, and could have killed him if she wanted, but he
was too much of an amusement to simply dispose of. In fact, he was the
one she had contracted for unsuccessful assassination of the Grand Moff
last year. She could open her mouth and speak the words that would
resolve this mystery and end this sorry affair. She could do this, but
she would not ... for she perceived the Governor as an incompetent and any
attempt to undermine him would suit her perfectly. Privately, she knew
the Nerf Herder would not harm or ransom the young noblewoman ...
afterall, she was his niece.
"Hmm, fifty thousand ... undoubtedly word
has reached many ears, although some of it will have garnered the
unwanted significant attention, as well. Also, it is possible ...
however unlikely ... that the young heiress, your daughter, might want
to buy her own freedom citing family assets on Delaya or anywhere else
she could find relatives that would give her sanctuary from you, sir. Is
there any way of tracking this Nerf Herder? Preferably without
interference of our current 'help'," she smiled pleasantly in El-Nay's
direction, "as I am sure she is eager to get her payment and be on her
way. As for our current state of affairs, I would ask that you allow me
to travel to the Alderaan system, my lord - and let me have a closer
look at the beauty of the planet. I would also inquire after your
family's health on your behalf, of course ... but I would intend to make
this visit a most obscure one. Traveling incognito is all the rage these
days, is it not?"
The last thing he wanted was to speak to
either of his parents. Dealing with them on a regular basis was an
ordeal, but with Jelena missing it would be a nightmare of a
conversation. There was a great sense of relief at her volunteering to
investigate on Delaya, freeing him of any involvement. "Yes. Do what is
required, Commodore," he said, offering a subtle smile in addition to
the firm nod of his head. "Take Major Kiley with you. She's familiar
with the eccentricities of my family, and knows the lay of the land," he
said, as he looked over to his aide, who he had vowed to make greater
use of since her recent ordeal. He started to walk from the conference
room when he noticed the fallen body on the ground that had slipped his
mind. "...and take El-Nay Darr as well. She has the most recent contact
with this individual, and has a personal motivation that exceeds this
merely being a 'job'. It should more than make up for 'this'," he
pointed out, as he stepped over the body.
Kerrie's excitement about being sent on
a mission was immediately shattered once she heard about the inclusion
of El-Nay. "I swear if you commit even one offense I will personally
feed you to the Grand Moff's worrt," she threatened, placing her gloved
index finger squarely against the woman's T-shaped visor. She had
seemingly transitioned from babysitting children to supervising
untrained mercenaries ... she had yet to decide which was worse.
Rhiannon was about to protest about
having to take the bounty hunter along, but decided now was not the time
to start an argument, especially with having all the others present and
looking on. Such an altercation could easily compromise her and the
Governor, given that the Hapan was a passionate woman and often given to
bouts of such passion which were not easily controlled. Thus far, they
were limited only to private 'functions' and that is where Rhia intended
them to remain.
"As you wish, Governor. I welcome Major
Kiley's assistance ... and Darr's as well," she replied with a forced
smile. "I am sure we will all get along splendidly. Especially once we
are all decked out in Saava silk." A pointed glance was offered to
Kerrie, along with a wink. "I think the Major favors the royal purple ...
although I believe I will opt for emerald green." Jotting down a few
more details on her steadfast datapad, the Hapan once again locked her
gaze with the Grand Moff, in tandem with a subtle yet provocative smile.
"If time allows, I would like to go over the particulars of this trip
with you, Sir. As for the ladies, I believe we can be ready and under
way within twenty-four hours, pending the Governor's approval."
Seeing Major Kiley in a dress was almost
reason enough for him to make the trip with them, but then he remembered
the presence of his parents and quickly purged the thought from his
mind. His wife, whom he had been allowing to languish in isolation, had
once gotten her into a dress, but he was not permitted to see. "By all
means," he said, with a knowing smile, as he proceeded down the corridor
towards the turbolift, stopping to wait for her before going any
further. It had been a long day ... a long month, and the meetings had
seemed to blend into one another. He regretted his outburst ... morso
because he had ultimately taken the exact course of action that he had
so vehemently protested ... it had all been for naught.
Gathering all of her belongings and
placing them securely into the briefcase she came in with, Rhiannon
wasted little time in acknowledging those still seated at the conference
table before heading to the door, joining the Grand Moff before stepping
through it. At that point, she did not care what the others thought,
though her blunt invitation and request for a private meeting could
scarcely be ignored.
As soon as the doors closed behind the
two of them, she glanced to Claudius' profile, peripheral gaze making
sure they would not be overheard. "It will be alright," she murmured,
fingertips lightly brushing over the woolen fabric that covered his
forearm. "You need to trust me. You will get through this, one way or
another." She wanted to tell him that now was not the time for letting
one's emotions cloud his judgment but her own feelings were becoming
increasingly more and more clouded with the troubling emotions she felt
for the man. Even though every bone in her body told her that what she
was doing was inexplicably idiotic, the young woman would not deny
herself the bliss she felt in his arms. Age be damned, she thought as
they walked together to the nearest turbolift, basking in dreamy
silence. It did not matter - nothing mattered, as long as it felt right.
And for Rhia, it did, in spite of the enormous mayhem taking place in
their lives right now.
Perhaps it would be the one steady thing
in their lives that would keep them afloat, holding onto whatever
vitality in their life, that remained. Stopping in front of the lift,
Rhia reached out to press the button activating the door, then waited
for the lift to arrive. Biting down on her lower lip, she stole a quick
glance to Claudius, wondering if he thought of the same things as she.
Moments later, when she lay enveloped by his warmth and closeness, she
felt thoroughly pacified, needing no further reassurances. If this was
love, it was worth it ... and that in itself, was enough.