The breathtaking monotony of space suddenly gave way as the Passion’s Flame approached the luxury liner. The massive ship loomed large through the transparasteel viewport, dwarfing the yacht as they drew closer to the hangar bay. Aidenne’s hand rested lightly on Bralor’s shoulder as he maneuvered the ship toward their destination. The vibrations of the engine shifted then faded away as the primary engines were shut down, leaving the Flame to coast into the wide open bay.
Glancing down at her hand, the Diva’s lips curled into a small smile. For a moment her mottled skin took on a blue tint as they passed through the doorway with room to spare. In that brief instant, under the lights that signified the field generator that kept the atmosphere in the bay, she’d been nearly the same color as Krynn… or perhaps some strange Theelin/Chiss hybrid. Krynn stood across from her watching quietly. He felt much more at home in his armor. He leaned back against the wall opposite her and watching her skin shift and flicker in the passing light. He held his helmet under one arm so she could see his red eyes on her.
“Here we go.” She didn’t need to watch as Bralor used the Flame’s maneuvering thrusters to steer to a respectable landing. Instead, she looked across to Krynn, her lips falling into that wicked little smile. “Are you ready to guard me?”
He looked down at himself and took stock of his gear. Then he looked up and said, “I could put my helmet on, but being without it wouldn’t hamper me unless you were attacked by non-conventional means.”
Seated in the pilot’s chair, Bralor groaned.
Krynn looked quizzically at Bralor, and then at Aidenne.
The Diva drummed her fingernails on Bralor’s armor, a reprimand in soft staccato. “It’s a good thing I’m so extraordinarily patient,” she said without a trace of irony.
The Mandalorian’s hands ran over the flight console, fingers dropping switches that settled The Soul into a peaceful sleep. His chair, Arden’s chair, swiveled about. He looked up at the Theelin, that scared brow cocking up. “Indeed…” There was just the barest curl at the edge of his lip.
She didn’t need to see the look to know it was there. Looking past him, Aidenne gave a small nod of approval to see an appropriately large welcoming committee slowly approaching their ship. The First Officer was easy pick out of the small crowd, his uniform was impeccably neat and the Diva had to laugh silently at the obvious display of his medals and commendations. Beside him, the Entertainment Director was nearly as distinguishable. Standing a full head shorter than the majority of the all human crowd around him, he exuded that uptight air that undoubtedly drove his underlings crazy but that Aidenne, as a performer could appreciate. The man would be no joy to talk to, but it was clear he would ensure her part of the evening went smoothly.
“It’s nice to see they know how to greet an important guest,” she chuckled, enjoying herself immensely. Her golden eyes took in the other lower level officers and general flunkies who had gathered outside. Uniformed bellhops–undoubtedly eager to help–waited with them along with a fair number of security personnel. “We’ll dismiss their security as soon I’m introduced. After all, I am far more comfortable with my own, highly competent, staff.”
“I’m sure they will understand,” Bralor stood, hooking his fingers under the lip of his helmet. There were few things in the galaxy quite as imposing in a security detail as a Mandalorain in full armor. He slipped it over his head, locking it in place. His voice taking on that metallic ting. “Lets go pick up the Ambassador.”
An absent flick of her hand, encouraged Krynn to don his own helmet. “She’s my dear guest. We will not be fetching her. She can meet us at the doors or stay on the ship for all I care.”
Krynn lifted his helmet and slowly pulled the polished red metal down over his blue skin till the cobalt chevron of transpara-steel covered his red eyes then locked the collar into place atop his armor.
That glossy black T visor regarded the woman a moment. “She’s your dear guest…” He repeated, if with a somewhat differently, a small subtle reminder to put her game face on. She knew her job, and Bralor trusted her to do it perfectly, despite her feelings for the Zeltron. “Lets go pick her up.” He ducked under the opening and headed down the neck to the belly of the ship.
Those golden eyes blinked with completely false innocence. “Are you sure we’ll be able to lift her?”Then, having gotten the last of it out of her system, for the moment, she settled back into her professional mindset and followed along.
Seated in her room, Tiila sighed and stared into the mirror of her vanity. It was time to play nice for a while and she had a lot of hard work ahead of her. The settling of the ship on the dock told her it was only a mater of moments before everything began. “Good luck.” The face in the mirror stared back with a touch of doubt in her eyes just before it was wiped away with an easy smile.
Bralor hit the lounge, and was met by their T3-E7 unit. The old droid beeped and whistled. “Not this time, old man. You hang back and wait for Trey to come back.” He checked his pistols and secured them in the holsters at his hips. PAl whirred and tweeted in discontent.”But if somebody strange comes knocking… It’s all on you.” A quick look over his shoulder saw Aidenne behind him, her blue puppy following suit. He nodded and walked to the cargo dock.
“All set, Ambassador?” he called ahead, hearing the quick pneumatic rush of Tiila’s door.
Stepping out the door, Tiila wore what could be mistaken for a genuine smile. “I have been ready for hours.” A solitary cerulean curl bounced beside her brow before being brushed back to the rest of her pinned hair.
To her credit, Aidenne’s lip did not curl in disgust. “You look acceptable. Stay at least a step or two behind me and, if you can, between our guards. I trust you’ve dealt with Imperials in your former position.”
Tiila’s face and voice never wavered from the kind and somewhat placid replies. “Yes, I am very familiar with Imperials.” She looked between the pair of helmeted men before taking her place. “Shall we?” She could already feel the ache in her face from controlling her expression.
The Diva’s lips curled in amusement. “You can wait a moment longer.” Her amber eyes grew speculative as she turned to Krynn. She trusted him to follow orders to the letter, to keep her safe and shed blood for her only if necessary. But to conceal his lack of knowledge about this part of the galaxy? Her gaze shifted to the expressionless T in Bralor’s visor. “Krynn needs a quick overview.”
Krynn looked at the diva through the visor of his own helm at the two of them. With a soft mechanical crackle to his voice through his own he said, “The Galactic Empire, also known as the New Order, the First Galactic Empire, Palpatine’s New Order, the Imperium, or simply the Empire. The government established by Supreme Chancellor Palpatine to replace the Galactic Republic on the capitol planet of Coruscant. To which he declared, we stand on the threshold of a new beginning. In order to ensure our security and continuing stability, the Republic will be reorganized into the first Galactic Empire, for a safe and secure society, which I assure you will last for ten thousand years. An Empire that will continue to be ruled by this august body and a sovereign ruler chosen for life.”
He paused for a moment then continued. “The Empire then went on to defeat the armies of the separatist Trade Federations, and to eliminate the Jedi Council for conspiring to overthrow the Senate and the Supreme Chancellor. Would you like a listing of military etiquette, protocol, and a listing of high ranking officers in the Imperial Navy? They may be a bit out of date, as the ship’s database was incomplete after a certain point. I could use more contemporary information to study.”
“Textbook perfect,” Aidenne chuckled, her extraordinary patience seeming to actually exist when she talked with the Chiss. “But I doubt very highly that they will have done such research on you.”Her golden-eyed gaze flickered across the Zeltron’s vibrant skin and Bralor’s unmistakable armor.”Near-human as we may be, we’re a very recognizable group here, made more so by my fame. Keep your helmet on if you can; we don’t need more reasons to catch the eye. Not when we have a job to do.”
Krynn nodded his obedience.
A wicked smile twisting her lips, the Diva offered one more suggestion before turning to lead their little party down the ramp. “Be sure to ask Bralor if you have any questions at all. He’s dying to help you out.”
The Mandalorian’s helmet hissed a little, the static of a grumble. The Diva couldn’t see it, but she knew a narrow set of eyes looked on her behind that black tint. It fizzled into a chuckle, and he nodded. “Don’t open your mouth unless the Diva tells you to,” he said, turning to the Chiss. “You’ll raise less suspicion. Silence is menacing.”
For a fleeting moment the Diva’s amber eyes met the Zeltron’s–looking for a female to share in her amusement–before remembering how much she disliked the the only other woman present. “I think we’re ready then. Try not to embarrass me; I’d hate to have to kill anyone today.”
Tiila opened her mouth to respond but closed it again quickly. It would do no good to try and make light with this group, it was a waste of her time to even try. She tipped her chin up and painted on her work smile, making every muscle in her body relax to play her part as the friend and guest to Adienne.
Though the faint hiss that sounded as the ramp lowered to meet the deck below them was hardly an appropriate fanfare, the light that spilled from the Flame highlighted Aidenne’s glow nicely as the Diva made her entrance. In the few steps that led them down from the ship, she took in the attitudes of her welcoming party and prepared herself accordingly.
The Linathi Princess played host to many important people, both rich and famous. Her crew, while not seeming to be completely jaded, clearly had come to expect certain things from the honored guests. Knowing this, the tiny Theelin immediately set about to prove them wrong.
Her steps slowed almost imperceptibly until she was walking directly between her towering bodyguards. Her golden eyes took in their surroundings, the gleaming crystal and synth-marble, with just a hint of wonder. As they reached the bottom of the ramp and crossed the remaining space to greet the First Officer and the rest, Aidenne steeled herself and reached back to give Tiila’s hand an impulsive seeming little squeeze, a girlish gesture that included her dear friend in the excitement of the moment.
“Welcome to the Linathi Princess, Diva.” The First Officer held out his hand in a formal welcome.
Already weaving her spell, the Diva took his hand with both of hers, folding her tiny fingers over his large hand. “Thank you very much.” Her smile was reflected in the shining chrome around them.”Your ship is simply beautiful. I can’t wait to see the whole thing.”
Krynn stood at the ready examining the procession and the hanger around them. On the other side, the Mandalorian sized up their surroundings as well. Security cameras, one over every door, each corner. Armed guards, high priced ones too. Every bit down matched their details down to the letter. No surprises. He stifled the groan. There were always surprises. No problems in the hanger meant bigger ones later.
The T across Bralor’s helmet slowly turned to The First Officer and his entourage. One of them stepped forward to greet the Diva and her honored guest. He was a small man of low stature. He chittered in a watery Rodese. He reached forward to take the Diva’s hand. Bralor stepped forward, one hand against the DC-17 at his hip, the other flat to catch the advancing Rodian.
Aidenne let the little man sweat for a minute or two before stepping in front of her guard again. With another disarming smile, she crossed the space and took the Rodian’s hand. It couldn’t have gone better if it had been staged. The message was clear: you do not touch the Diva… but she may choose to bless you.
After taking another few moments to make sure she’d heard the name of everyone in the welcoming party, the tiny Theelin made sure to properly introduce her dear friend while the bellhops began their task of carrying the Diva’s belongings to her room. The infectious smile and slightly guilty laugh she used while talking with the Zeltron spoke volumes about how close the two women were and, therefore, how Tiila was to be treated.
Finally, growing bored with the easy game, the Diva’s attention returned to the First Officer. “Promise me you’ll give me a tour of the ship.” The man opened his mouth to respond but she cut him off. “But first…” That faintly naughty smile graced her lips again. “…my friend and I need to see our room.”
Tiila’s own stained lips curled into a knowing grin. A light aura of general well-being scented the air from her rose colored skin. It would be conspicuous for her not to. She was, after all, ‘among friends’. Her surprise at Aidenne’s unspoken insinuation was perfectly masked with a cheeky crinkling of her nose. She would almost be flattered if she didn’t know better. Every word coming from the little Theelin was as fake as tin jewelry.
Not afraid of a little competition, Tiila set out to prove she could be just as deceiving. It was her job to make others believe what she wanted them to. Her silver tipped fingers stroked the bare back of her ‘friend’s’ arm in silent agreement, enjoying the ripple of disgust that only she could sense.
Aidenne could feel her skin crawl. Her first response was to lash out at this unwelcome physical contact. But beyond that there was a second emotion she didn’t want to examine. Truthfully, she was almost enjoying this… two masters, locked in competition. It was strangely exhilarating. And probably the reason why she had no female friends. Her golden eyes met the Zeltron’s for a brief second as they followed along behind the First Officer. This game was far from over. And the entire ship was their playground.