Catching the Sun, Part 24

Kyla Vertane had certainly never seen starship repair facilities as shiny and well equipped as those belonging to Achave Veren. It was definitely making her job easier, but the damage she’d done to Fluttermask trying to get to Endragar in time was so extensive that it had still taken her and her crew two weeks of working around the clock to get ready to depart. In retrospect, it was foolish of her to push her ship so hard when the real deadline had been for getting away from Endragar, not to Endragar, but she hadn’t known that at the time. Oh well. She’d be ready in time. She had to be. She needed the money too badly.

“Cap’n,” said her first mate, a large, thuggish-looking man named Grar. That wasn’t his real name, of course, but he’d never volunteered anything more, and Kyla hadn’t bothered to ask. “We should be ready to go in less than hour.”

“Not a minute too soon,” Kyla muttered, noticing Achave Veren himself entering the hangar. He was accompanied by a team of cargo handlers pushing a large box on a hovercart. The box was a perfect square, and twice as tall as Grar.

“This must be the cargo?” Kyla said to Achave, nodding in the direction of the box.

“Indeed, my dear,” Achave said with a sniff. “Now, I know you are aware of this, but this cargo is extremely valuable and extremely fragile. This container must not be opened under any circumstances. If it is, you will forfeit your payment, and your reputation.”

“I know, I know,” Kyla replied, rolling her eyes. “Last time I checked, you didn’t hire a baby in diapers. You hired the best damn smuggler in the galaxy. I’m gonna get your cargo safely to its destination, don’t you worry. And you really don’t need to worry that I’m gonna open that stupid box. I don’t give a crap what’s inside. I just wanna get paid.”

“Excellent, my dear,” Achave said with a thin smile. “Such attitudes are exactly why I hired you.”

“Cap’n!” yelled Grar suddenly, holding his hand up to the subspace radio transceiver in his ear. “We’re pickin’ up a transmission from the Imperial Fleet! Looks like Votalin’s forces are here!”

“What!” screeched Achave, a horrified look appearing on his face. “You were supposed to be gone before Votalin got here! The deal is off!” He whirled around to yell at the cargo handlers. “Let’s get out of here!”

“Wait!” yelled Kyla, grabbing Achave by his sleeve. “You want this thing off the planet before it falls to Votalin, right?” He glared at her and tried to shake his arm free of her grip, but she held on tighter. “Listen to me! I’m still your only hope of that happening! If we leave right now, I can elude the Imperial Fleet and drop into subspace before they know I’m even out there. And if I fail, the cargo will be destroyed. That would be better than Votalin getting ahold of it, right?” He continued to glare at her for a few seconds, but then his expression softened and he nodded.

“Fine,” he said coldly. “Load it up!” he roared to the cargo handlers. As he turned away, Kyla breathed a deep sigh of relief. For a second, she had been afraid that he really was going to leave with the cargo. She couldn’t let that happen. She needed the money too badly.

***

Less than 15 minutes later, Kyla was strapped into the pilot’s seat in Fluttermask‘s cockpit, with Grar sitting to her right, the seatbelt straining to contain his massive girth. Achave Veren’s precious cargo was safely secured in the hold, and Fluttermask was just spinning up its engines to take off. She still needed the Endragar Transit Authority’s permission to take off, which Kyla couldn’t imagine they would normally give during a battle, but Achave had assured her that she would have it.

“Freighter Fluttermask, this is ETA. You are cleared to enter orbit,” a voice said over the radio suddenly, “and may the One have mercy on your souls.”

“Copy that, ETA,” Kyla replied, rolling her eyes. As if she didn’t know this would be tricky. She certainly didn’t need a clearance officer flinging corny religious sentiments at her. “You ready for this, Grar?” said Kyla with a mischievous grin.

“For 50,000 trinar, I’d take on the whole Imperial Fleet with a pistol,” Grar grunted in response. Kyla laughed wickedly.

“You would be dumb enough to try that,” she snorted. “Alright, let’s do this.” She punched a button on her control panel, and Fluttermask started rising into the sky.

For the first few minutes, their flight could have been any routine flight on any other world in the Empire. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, and there was no sign of a battle going on above the planet’s atmosphere. But as soon as they breached the upper limits of the atmosphere, all hell broke loose. Imperial ships were shooting green blasts of energy at other Imperial ships, and getting hit with green blasts of energy in return. It was impossible to tell just by looking which ships were on which side, but it sure seemed to Kyla like one side had a lot more ships than the other. It seemed unlikely that this battle would last long.

“Proximity alert!” bellowed Grar a split second after an alarm started blaring.

“Crap!” screamed Kyla, who immediately banked the ship hard to the left, just barely missing a large, flaming chunk of a destroyed cruiser. She slammed on the accelerator to speed past another hunk of debris, and then quickly whipped back to the right to avoid a third piece. “That was too close!” she yelled, sweat streaming down her face.

“Three fighters headed straight for us!” yelled Grar in response.

“What the hell!” exclaimed Kyla in frustration. “Why do they care about us?” She spun the freighter in a tight spiral to minimize the fighters’ chances of hitting them, and turned back to the left, away from the fighters.

“They’re still gainin’ on us, Cap’n!” Grar bellowed.

“Punch it!” screamed Kyla, who slammed her foot on the accelerator.

“No good!” he yelled back. “They’re still comin’!”

“Prepare to drop!” Kyla ordered.

“What!” Grar roared. “We’re not high enough yet!”

“I know that, but we need to drop as soon as we are!” Kyla yelled back. Seconds ticked by as Fluttermask crept higher and higher, the three Imperial fighters gaining on them with every passing second. The fighters fired on the freighter a few times, each time just barely missing. Kyla gripped the helm control tightly as she desperately tried to weave in and out of the fighters’ shots.

“Dropping!” howled Grar as soon as they reached the necessary altitude, and suddenly the black space, white stars, and gray battleships outside the ship’s viewscreen were replaced with the swirling rainbow of subspace.

“We did it,” breathed Kyla in amazement, and then she laughed. “We did it!” she yelled, punching Grar in the arm.

“Heh, we sure did,” grunted Grar, a rare smile splitting his ugly face.

“Now, we just have to deliver this cargo, and we can retire in style,” Kyla said with a grin. Or pay off our debts, she thought to herself, but even that depressing thought didn’t put a damper on her mood.

To be continued…

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