Achave Veren’s alternate coordinates put Fluttermask in an empty sector of space, far from any inhabited solar systems. It was a spot that would be impossible to find if you weren’t looking for it, and sure enough, there was only one ship there, a small freighter that was broadcasting the authentication code that Achave had given her. The two ships docked with each other, and when the airlock opened, Kyla was stunned to see Treben Holkas on the other side.
“You!” she gasped, her eyes wide.
“Me,” he said with a satisfied smirk. “Been a long time, hasn’t it, Kyla?” In response, she stalked over and slapped him on the face so hard his head jerked back. He rubbed his jaw with a rueful grin and chuckled. “Yeah, I probably deserved that.”
“You abandoned me, you jackass!” she yelled. “What the hell did you do that for!”
“Actually, I had a very good reason,” he replied. “I work for Fangalin now, and I was ordered to cut off contact with you until we could be sure you were trustworthy.”
“I see,” she frowned. “Well, you’ll understand if that explanation doesn’t exactly make me forgive you.”
“Of course I understand,” he said with a sigh. “But I hope you’ll at least let me try to make it up to you.”
“And how will you do that?” Kyla asked skeptically.
“Is the cargo secure?” he asked in response.
“Of course!” Kyla replied, offended.
“Well then, here you go,” Treben said with a grin, handing her a tablet. Kyla took it with a scowl, but that scowl faded as she gazed at the tablet, a look of wonder appearing on her face.
“This…how is this possible?” she whispered, her eyes wide.
“Easy,” Treben replied, his grin widening. “Fangalin has deep pockets and vast resources. It was a simple matter for me to figure out how much you owed on Fluttermask, and who you owed it too, and my superiors valued your services enough to authorize me to pay your debt in full. Fluttermask is all yours now.”
“I…I had intended to use my fee from this job to pay off Grolder Hanh,” Kyla said breathily, still overwhelmed by this turn of events. “I never imagined things would turn out like this.”
“Well, now you can use your fee for more entertaining things,” Treben said cheerfully. “Speaking of which, the access code for your money is on that tablet too. As soon as the cargo is safely on my ship, it’ll go live, and you’ll be filthy stinking rich.” He grinned cheekily at her.
“I have to admit, this almost makes me want to forgive you,” she said with a rueful smile.
“Well, it was the least I could do,” he said with a wink. They moved off to the side of the cargo bay while their crews started moving the box from Fluttermask to Treben’s ship. “So, what do you think you’ll do now? Retire in style? Go live in a palatial villa on one of the beaches of Amaladua?”
“Are you saying that Fangalin doesn’t expect me to work for them, now that they’ve paid for my ship?” Kyla said, arching one eyebrow.
“Of course not!” Treben exclaimed with a dismissive hand gesture. “If you had a debt to Fangalin, delivering this cargo paid it off. You know what it is right?” Kyla pursed her lips and didn’t say anything. “It’s okay. We know you had a run-in with Madame Veren. It doesn’t matter now. Achave didn’t want you to know what it was, cause he thought you might try to sell it to the highest bidder. I know you better than that. In any case, now that Fangalin has this weapon system, it’ll neutralize any advantage the Empire will get from having it. With Fangalin’s superior numbers and organization, we’re certain to win this war soon. And it’s all thanks to you. No, I don’t think you owe Fangalin anything, my dear.”
“Well,” Kyla said thoughtfully. “Fangalin’s treated me pretty good so far. If you wanted to make me a job offer, I just might consider it. I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to have another smuggler, right?”
“Atta girl,” Treben grinned, patting her on the shoulder. “I knew I liked you.”
Hana Lodimeur stood on Ranger‘s bridge, her arms crossed and her face as hard as stone, as the cruiser raced through subspace toward Numoris. She’d stayed by her father’s side until the medics pronounced him dead, and then she’d gone to the bridge and had been standing there ever since. None of the bridge crew spoke to her or otherwise acknowledged her presence, which was what she preferred at the moment. She had too much thinking to do.
In one sense, she was pleased with how everything had turned out. Her father had died, not as a fat drunk, but as a man, a soldier. He had fallen in the line of duty, protecting his only daughter. Hana hoped that when her time came, she would face it with as much dignity and bravery as her father did. In one sense, she was content.
But that contentment was almost completely swallowed up by a consuming fury. She had thought, once she’d joined Fangalin, that she had escaped the Empire’s reach, that they would never again be able to do anything to harm her. But she had been wrong. The Empire had struck again, and they’d taken the most important person in her life away.
Of course, as a member of Fangalin, she was sworn to destroy the Empire anyway, but her father’s death made it personal. And the person she blamed more than anyone was Erelesk Votalin. He would suffer for what he had done to her. No matter how long it took, no matter who stood in her way, if she accomplished nothing else in her life, she would see Votalin dead.