Cruising Part II

by Janice Mergenhagen

Azarra, feeling a bit out of sorts, decided not to make the journey to Rikon's estate, but to leave the hosting in his capable hands.

The three shuttles left the hanger bay to touch down in fields about a 20-minute walk from the vineyards. Azarra was surprised that the Ministry had given her special permission to land there. The group would enjoy walking through the far end of the vineyard and the working part of the winery surrounded by forested mountains and flowering meadows.

Thankfully, the day was perfect, so the cold buffet could be served outdoors instead of cramping everyone inside. Tables were set up in the narrow area between the Vineyard proper and the winery sheds on the concrete apron in front of the shop.

Deciding to go visit her mother, Azarra took the remaining shuttle to the Palace in the center of the the capital city, Darevek. Upon announcing her arrival, Azarra could just imagine the chaos that would ensue when tragic control announced that the Empress' shuttle would be landing shortly. Unannounced visits were so much fun.

As Azarra entered the Palace she was greeted by an officious man she did not recognize. He bubbled a 'Greetings, Empress,' but was interrupted when Azarra said, 'And you are?'

"Minister Kedrar, Your Majesty."

"Where is Minister Marchek?"

"Recently retired. I am his replacement."

"Please tell my mother that I am here to see her."

"She is away from the Place, but I will send someone immediately to find her."

"I shall be in my quarters until she arrives," and she strode off leaving the Minister to find her mother.

She never really liked these rooms, but she'd always thought it was because of the unhappy memories they evoked. Now she realized that they were the most unattractive rooms in the Palace - no warmth, windows that had poor views of the outside and a generally depressing feeling. Well, she didn't plan on staying here anyway, not with her luxurious quarters inboard the Empress. Her thoughts were disturbed by the opening of the door. Turning from the window, she said, "Mother, I've come to. . .Hello, Father - King Sarid. Forgive me. Old habits die hard."

"Empress. What brings you to the Palace a day early?" The years had been kind to him. He never seemed to age, but Azarra did notice a hardness around the mouth which made him look disapproving even when smiling. Funny, she had never noticed that before. Perhaps it was because she had spent as little time as possible in his presence once she grew old enough to realize how much he disliked her.

"I thought I would spend the day with Mother and make sure things are ready for tomorrow."

"Of course, we are not capable of providing your passengers with the level of opulence they are used to; our hominess will just have to suffice."

"I didn't mean to imply. . ."

"Yes, you did. We were never good enough for you, Azarra; you always wi shed for something more than we could give you."

"A father who loved me would have been nice. But, I guess I did have that, didn't I? Only I thought of him as my uncle." Sarid visibly winced at the mention of Lord Vader. Azarra continued, "I do hope bringing the Cruise passengers here was not a mistake. The Emperor would not approve if you were to embarrass me in front of my guests. Maybe you would rather not attend at all. Excuses could be made for your absence."

The silence was deafening. Finally Sarid said, "I shall behave as befits our House, Azarra. Threats are not necessary. I shall play the dutiful father, while they all laugh behind my back," the bitterness unmistakable in his voice.

"Just be gracious and forget about being my father, a part you played very poorly. Be the King; you're good at that." Without a farewell, he stalked out of the room. After all these years, he still knew how to push her buttons.

When her Mother arrived, Azarra did not mention the confrontation with the King. Looking a bit better than at her last visit, Queen Audris warmly welcomed her daughter and they talked of nothings for quite a while. Azarra's marriage, which her mother did not approve of, was never brought up. They spent the day roaming the Palace making sure everything was perfect. Azarra had offered the Cruise chefs, but Mother prided herself on her kitchen staff and refused any help. She had thought she might stay the night in her old room, but found it too depressing, so she shuttled back to the Empress, took a hot bath and dressed for dinner.

The passengers had obviously enjoyed themselves at the Winery, some perhaps a bit too much. After dinner, Azarra spent some time in the ballroom dancing with Captain Merritt, Brent Fournier, Captain Rocasy and Lord Taras, to the excellent music provided by the band. Many urged her to stay, but she left for her nightly meeting with Seleene and sleep.

The next morning she was on her private shuttle well before most of the passengers were even up to make sure all went well. Darevek's merchants outdid themselves; the returning shuttles were packed with passengers and purchases. Mother and her kitchen staff rose to the occasion and awed their guests with a variety of native dishes, some of which Azarra had never tasted. And, of course, Rividh wine flowed freely. Shuttle crews were commandeered into helping a good portion of the passengers inboard, who needed the next day in transit to recuperate.

Azarra finally got to see a stage production, after which she was taken on a 'behind-the-scenes' tour of her ship by Captain Merritt. Not wanting to miss a moment of shopping, she retired early.

Aboard the first shuttle to arrive at MallWorld, Azarra immediately launched into what she lovingly referred to as 'power shopping', her 2 Stormtroopers guards being lost 'in the dust' after the first hour. Leaving the stormtroopers in a convenient spot , Azarra left her packages with them and made her way around the first section of the Mall. Tired, but happy, sh e was aboard the last shuttle to leave, hurriedly readied for dinner and even found a burst of energy to spend quite a few hours in the ballroom.

She had formulated a plan when she awoke in the wee hours of the morning. Disguising herself as she had done at the Port Lansing cantina and having Captain Merritt pilot her personal shuttle to a little known docking bay, she explored the seamier side of MallWorld - its gambling dens, black market outlets and the like. She was fascinated by the advertisements for VidSim parlors, finally deciding to try out the one with 'Hot Jedi Nights'. It was 2 of the most entertaining hours Azarra had spent in a long time. Captain Merritt was as prompt as ever and she was even dressed and ready to greet the passengers earlier than usual.

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