Cruising Part III

By Debbie Casselbury & Janice Mergenhagen

The passengers were being seated for dinner when Governor Casselbury's comlink chimed. "Yes," he said. He listened carefully and thanked the officer for the information. The crew had been well trained and the Emperor would never know that his order for secrecy had not been followed. Luckily, the Empress was too busy to have noticed his conversation.

Everyone had just finished getting their food when the dining room doors opened and in walked the Emperor. Surprised, Azarra rose from her seat and said, "Your Majesty, another unannounced arrival? You're just in time for dinner, so please, let me have a place set for you next to me." Captain Meritt quickly got up with his plate and the steward hustled over to clear away the dirty dishes and put down a new place setting.

Palpatine watched her with a stony face. There was no trace of a smile.

Azarra continued since he wasn't saying anything, "Would you care to choose your own food from the buffet or should I get something for you?"

He allowed himself to be escorted to his chair by the uniformed steward. The Emperor turned his head around at the waiting staff and the crowded tables, his yellow eyes seeking the familiar face of his son. After a moment, he turned toward Azarra with a stern look. "An Empress NEVER serves her husband at the dinner table. That is what servants are for." He glanced at the steward near his chair. The young man bowed immediately. "Your Majesty. Allow me to bring you a plate on the menu." The Emperor nodded politely.

Seeming unconcerned, Azarra said in a low tone only those immediately around her could hear, " As you wish, Your Majesty. This is certainly a surprise."

"A surprise. . .or disappointment?" he smirked in a similar tone.

"And why would it be a disappointment? You have arrived just in time to accompany me on a day of shopping tomorrow."

"Shopping?" the Emperor scoffed at her incredulously. "Ah yes, I nearly forgot; we are now hovering over your fantasy spot...MallWorld. Of all places..." His eyes rested on her lovely shimmering silver dress. "Your wardrobe has been properly updated, I see..."

"Indeed? Since when have you become so fashion conscious, Your Majesty?"

"You know very well I have no interest whatsoever in fashion. Only you."

"I am glad that you somehow found time to join me and I do hope you will consider accompanying me tomorrow."

"I'm not here to do that kind of nonsense, Azarra...You know why I am here..." The Emperor paused and studied her expression, surprised at the innocence he sensed in her. He shrugged it off with a suspicious frown.

"To be with me for the rest of the Cruise."

By now the food arrived and he picked up the sparkling silverware and began sampling it. The rest of the meal was consumed in silence. Palpatine glanced at her every once in a while as if he wanted to ask her something but he hesitated and finished off his meal without another word.

Azarra sent one of the stewards to fetch Seleene and whispered some instructions to her. Seleene left abruptly. As the Emperor finished, Azarra turned to him and asked, "Is there anything else you would like, husband?"

"Yes. I wish to meet with private."

"Of course, we can go to my suite. Unfortunately, the suite I had prepared for you has been given to the Governor and his wife. I'm sure they would move, if asked, but I have already had some of my things moved, so you can use my suite."

The Emperor cast her an amused smile. "Indeed? My need to meet with you has nothing to do with accommodations, Azarra..."

"Shall we go?" she said, and rising from the table, started for the door, stopping to speak with the passengers at the tables along the way. The Emperor planted a forced smile on his lips as they made their exit. All the time he reached out with his mental powers searching for Trinian's signature on the ship, but he could glean nothing.

Arriving at the room with the silver doorplate, 'Empress' Suite, Azarra opened the door and walked in followed by the Emperor. He walked in behind her and slammed the door, locking it. "Sit down, Azarra."

Startled, Azarra sat in one of the comfortable chairs in her sitting room. "Is something wrong?" she questioned.

"I could pass the time away here complimenting you on the beautiful way you've designed and organized the Cruise. . .technically done in the same tasteful manner you did the palace eh?" he said quickly and gave her a nasty smile. "You know my manner is to get to the point. So I will. Where IS he???"


She could see his anger was rising at an alarming rate. "Let us not play games, my dear. Who ELSE? TRINIAN!!!"

"Prince Palpatine? I don't know where he is. Have you tried Port Lansing, or perhaps he's back on Iskandar. I'm sure Illy could tell you if he was. Would you like to speak to the Grand Duchess? I can have her sent for."

Palpatine's expression slightly softened at the mention of Illy's name. "So my niece is here. I don't believe I have seen her in a while..." He looked at Azarra and his eyes hardened intensely. "Those roses! They were sent by Trinian...I suspected you two of contriving to meet behind my back again!!" He was shouting now. "I'm amazed that you devised this ridiculous Cruise just for THAT!"

"You sent the roses!"

"No, my dear Empress...I did NOT!" He paused and looked away. "I wish I could say that I HAD...but my wimp of a son beat me to it!!"

"But...when I contacted you to thank you for them, you never said anything. You think Trinian sent them? And you think he's here now at my insistence?"

"Why do you think I would interrupt your ridiculous cruise? Just to shop at MallWorld?" he glowered. "Of COURSE I think he's responsible! Each moment since your communique thanking me for the flowers, my suspicion has grown..."

Azarra rose from the chair and stood in front of him. "When have I given you any cause for this jealousy?"

"Only in every way you have been mocking our marriage - with commercials, the Palace tours and now. . . this LOVE CRUISE!! I think you have been taking advantage of my being away teaching a Force pupil. And I have never completely trusted your past connection with Trinian. . . TELL me the TRUTH!!" he ordered, and placed his hand firmly on the side of her head, using the Force to truth read her mind. Azarra felt the Emperor's fingers pushing into the flesh at the side of her face, probing for the truth he hoped was there. She could see his eyes surveying the large rows of flower arrangements around the suite.

As her fear rose, so did her power, and trying to suppress it, she pulled away from him and fell to the floor, crying out, "Why do you always assume the worst of me?" Tears began to stream down her cheeks. The Emperor seemed momentarily stunned, shook his head, blinked and quickly recovered himself, seeming unsure of what had just happened.

His eyes shot hateful daggers at her and as he grabbed her upper arms roughly, the power rose almost automatically and Azarra hurriedly pushed the Emperor away and sank into the chair. Again he shook his head and managed to say, "I'm not finished with you yet, my EMPRESS." His lips curled into an ugly sneer, as if she were a stranger now.

"Husband, I have done NOTHING to warrant this kind of treatment at your hands."

There was a beep at the door. "Go away!" the Emperor growled in its direction. There was another beep, and a voice behind the door said cautiously, "Your Majesty. It's the Governor. I have the information you requested when you arrived..."

Azarra sat quietly sobbing.

"Wait here," Palatine ordered Azarra. And he moved toward the door and opened it. There was a brief pause as the Emperor was given a small piece of paper. He looked over at the crying Empress and suddenly realized he had created a sensitive situation.

Azarra looked up, wondering what could be so important.

The Governor's face turned impassive. "My men found it inside a floorboard in one of the neighboring corridors." The officer quickly bowed and the Emperor dismissed him and shut the door slowly, never taking his eyes off the small square of white cardboard in his hand. Palpatine stood still, eying Azarra's tear-streaked face with horror.

"Something else that you have to condemn me?" She dried her eyes with her hand, stood up and said, "I have done things that you could be angry about, but I have not orchestrated this Cruise to meet with Prince Palpatine. will believe what you want. Do I have your permission to leave or do you wish to interrogate me some more?"

He said nothing as he handed her the card and walked away, keeping his back to her. The card was from the FloraTech Company and said, "Empress - Please accept the first blooms of your rose with our compliments." Azarra, with a quiet derisive laugh at the irony of it all, looked at the Emperor's back and getting no response, left the suite.

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