Dren Calabane frowned as a beeping sound from his tablet notified him that he had an incoming call. It was from his chief of intelligence, which meant it was definitely work-related. He’d known his respite wasn’t going to last very long, but that didn’t make being interrupted any less annoying.
“Yes, Vedrin?” he said to the face that appeared on his tablet.
“Sorry to interrupt you, my lord, but I have some news that I thought you might be interested in,” Vedrin Borodai said deferentially. Calabane nodded, and Borodai continued. “I’ve received some reports which indicate that Erelesk Votalin is preparing to make a move against Jimalin Redlamin. There are reports of young men and women being forced into military service on provinces such as Ynevin, Parnora, and Kefeflin, all provinces controlled by Votalin. There is also evidence of Imperial Fleet units loyal to Votalin moving to Allamanin, which may indicate that Votalin is preparing to launch an assault against Endragar.”
“Interesting,” Calabane said, mostly to himself, as he perused the files that Borodai had sent along. “Your recommendations?”
“I do not believe we need to act on this information yet, my lord,” Borodai replied. “But I do think it is important to keep it in mind, in case it turns out to be accurate.”
“I agree,” Calabane said, nodding. “Keep an eye on Votalin’s territories, and keep me appraised of any change in his preparations. We need to be ready to intervene if he moves faster than we would like.”
“As you command, my lord,” Borodai said with a salute, and his image disappeared from Calabane’s tablet. Calabane sat back with a thoughtful frown. Endragar was the second-most powerful province in the Empire. An attack against Endragar meant that Votalin was going for broke. If he was successful in seizing Endragar, then Trisitania itself would not be long in falling.
The question was whether or not to allow that. Redlamin was hardly a formidable foe, but he had proven to be the strongest Emperor to sit on the throne since the Emergence. It was well known that Votalin was a sadistic monster with a complete lack of morals, but that didn’t necessarily mean he would be a weak Emperor. Calabane needed to sit down with Commander Fortulis, and hopefully together they could decide who would be the weaker Emperor, and devote their resources to making sure that person sat on the Throne.
Kyla Vertrane yawned widely as her freighter dropped out of subspace near Endragar. It had been two weeks since she’d left Chamalar, a rural Fangalin province near the border with Hadramoris, and she’d barely slept since then. It had been imperative that she reach Endragar by a certain date, and she’d pushed herself and her ship to their limits to make it on time. She would have to spend at least a month on Endragar, overhauling her ship and making repairs to make up for the damage she’d caused in pushing so hard. She hoped that this trip would be worth it. Endragar was not a place that smugglers normally came. It was too deep in the core, too close to the heart of Imperial power. Too much risk of getting caught by the ISS or the Imperial Fleet. But some prizes were worth the risk.
She eased her freighter, which she had named Fluttermask, into a high orbit over Endragar, and sat back to await clearance to land. Hopefully clearance would arrive in a few hours, but realistically it would be more like a few days. Not a big deal. Now that she was in orbit, she had all the time in the universe.
She ran her hands through her short, thick, brown hair, smirking as she remembered the days when she used to dye it pink. Although it was only a year ago, it seemed like forever. So much had changed since Midigal. After she and Treben Holkas had collected their fee from Calaia Tromin, they had parted ways, and she hadn’t heard from him since. He had told her he was returning to Minisca to take care of some loose ends, and he had promised to contact her soon after. She didn’t know what had happened. Maybe he was dead. Maybe he was still mad that she had killed Vor Shen instead of him. Or maybe his sob story about his dead wife and child was crap, and he’d just taken her for a ride. It didn’t matter. The money she’d received had been more than enough for to buy her own freighter and become a smuggler in her own right, and that was all that really mattered. There had been a time when she’d hoped that her relationship with Holkas could become something more…meaningful, but that dream was dead and forgotten. Life was too short to spend it pining over a man.
A notification beep roused her from her thoughts. She reached over and jabbed a button on the control panel to open a channel.
“Freighter Fluttermask, this is the Endragar Transit Authority. Please respond,” said a male voice over the comm.
“ETA, this is Kyla Vertrane, captain of the Fluttermask,” Kyla responded. “What can I do for you?”
“I have received and processed your request for entry,” the ETA officer said. “You are cleared for landing. Please proceed directly to Endragar City Starport. I will transmit precise coordinates to you shortly.”
“That fast?” Kyla asked, surprised. “I was expecting to be sitting up here for a few days, at least.”
“I was ordered to bump you to the top of the list,” the ETA officer said. “I don’t know any more than that.” And with that, the channel was closed. Kyla chewed her lip pensively for a few seconds, and then shrugged. Whatever she had gotten herself into, it apparently went pretty close to the top. No matter. Her experience on Midigal had taught her that, at the end of the day, the job itself didn’t matter. All that mattered was the payoff at the end.
To be continued…