Kyla Vertrane had never been more ready to finish a run and get a piece of cargo off her ship. There was something disturbingly ominous about that giant box in her cargo hold. Maybe it was the fact that when Fluttermask had stopped at a supply station outside of Reminalis, three unidentified light military transports had dropped out of subspace, hovered just outside of the station’s sensor range, and then dropped back into subspace as soon as Fluttermask disembarked from the station. Maybe it was the fact that the box was giving off trace amounts of vylascin, a rare but deadly form of radiation. Whatever it was, Kyla was anxious to get that box off her ship and into her past.
“We should reach the drop off point in about 10 minutes, Cap’n,” growled Grar as he stomped into the cockpit.
“Good,” said Kyla with a sneer. “The sooner we can get rid of this wretched box, the better.”
“Whattaya suppose is in that thing?” spat Grar.
“I’ve told you a hundred times, I don’t know, and I don’t care,” Kyla responded irritably. “All that matters to me is that my wallet will be a hundred times fatter once we’ve delivered it.”
“Yeah, but… Vylascin!” Grar snarled. “That stuff is nasty! What could possibly be in there that would produce vylascin! I’m not sure I want to have anything to do that.”
“Well, in about an hour, you won’t,” Kyla said, even more irritably. “And you’ll be rich beyond your wildest dreams. That’s worth a little vylascin poisoning, isn’t it?”
“Not if I’m dead,” Grar growled. Kyla just looked at him and rolled her eyes dismissively.
“Here we go,” she said. “Prepare to drop out of subspace.” A few seconds later, Fluttermask shuddered slightly, and then dropped back into to real space.
Immediately, Kyla knew something was wrong.
There were a dozen Kyloss S-class starships surrounding Fluttermask‘s position. The Kyloss S was a civilian heavy transport ship, but they were often modified to carry weapons. And one look told Kyla that these fell into that category.
“Well, this throws a wrench in our plans,” Kyla muttered with a scowl. Fluttermask was fast and maneuverable, but completely unarmed. Surrounded by a dozen armed ships, she’d never stand a chance.
“To the crew and captain of Fluttermask, you are hereby ordered to surrender your cargo to us,” said a stern male voice over Fluttermask‘s radio. “Failure to do so will result in the capture of your ship and the detainment and possible execution of everyone on board. Do not attempt to power up your Nexus drive. If you do, we will destroy you immediately.”
“Whattaya we do, Cap’n?” whispered Grar, as close to worried as Kyla had ever heard him.
“Power up the Nexus drive, and drop to these coordinates on my signal,” she said, handing him a tablet. “But DO NOT DROP until I give the signal, understood?” Grar nodded and began punching in the coordinates. Kyla reached over and pressed the button to activate the radio.
“Unidentified vessels,” she said, “I am Kyla Vertrane, captain of Fluttermask. I am carrying extremely valuable and sensitive cargo on behalf of a very wealthy and important man, and I am loathe to surrender it without more information. And adequate compensation.” That last was a ruse, intended to keep whoever was in charge on the Kyloss ships talking, make them think that if they paid her enough, she’d hand over the cargo. In reality, there was no amount of money that would convince her to hand it over. A smuggler’s reputation was all she had. If word spread that she was willing to give up a cargo to the highest bidder, nobody in the underground would trust her with anything valuable. Her ambitions were too grand to allow that to happen.
“Captain Vertrane,” said an elderly woman’s voice, “I am Trilaine Veren, head of the Veren family, and owner and CEO of the Veren Holding Company. The large box that you have in your cargo hold was stolen from the Veren Military Solutions Corporation by my son, Achave. It is not rightfully his possession, therefore, you have no right to transport it. Please return it to me, and I promise you will be well compensated.”
“Well, I’m certainly listening, Madame Veren,” Kyla said in what she hoped was a thoughtful tone of voice. Grar glanced at her questioningly, and she shook her head sharply. “It will have to be a substantial amount of money, though. Your son was promising me an absolutely ludicrous fee to transport this cargo, and I would hate to have to pass that up.”
“I see,” replied Trilaine, and Kyla could hear the displeasure in her voice. “Let’s put it this way. Are you a loyal citizen of the Empire, Captain Vertrane?”
“Of course, Madame,” Kyla replied.
“Then perhaps you would be interested to note that this cargo you’ve been transporting is a prototype of a new weapon system, a highly advanced weapon system that will tip the scales of this war in the Empire’s favor once it is deployed. However, my son has proven himself to be a traitor, and has hired you to transport this prototype to a Fangalin world, so that Fangalin will be able to deploy it themselves. If that happens, the war will return to stalemate, and will continue on with no end in sight. Do you want that to happen, Captain Vertrane?”
“Of course not, Madame!” Kyla said in her most earnest voice, and then she nodded to Grar, who pressed a button on the console, dropping them into subspace immediately.
“Ha ha!” Kyla said in delight. “Take that, you old hag!” She laughed gleefully, and punched Grar in the arm playfully. The “mask” in Fluttermask‘s name actually referred to one of its aftermarket features, an emission mask that hid the ship’s Nexus drive emissions. She’d used it to get away from suspicious authorities several times in the past year. She’d gotten the specifications from an old smuggler on Trimorin Nextis who’d taken a liking to her. As far as she knew, there were only two in the whole galaxy.
“So, where are we going, Cap’n?” Grar said with a pleased look on his face.
“Alternate drop-off point,” Kyla said. “Achave must have known his mother was on to him, cause he gave me these alternate coordinates right before we left. Sneaky guy.”
“Well, hopefully he didn’t get himself snagged,” Grar said. “I wanna get paid!”
“Don’t worry,” Kyla said with a smirk. “If he screwed up, he’ll learn the hard way that that’s a bad, bad idea.” She chuckled to herself happily as Fluttermask soared through subspace. One way or another, Kyla Vertrane would be known as the greatest smuggler who ever lived.
To be continued…