Culmination, Part 11

“Captain Kyla Vertrane, reporting for duty, sir!” the short, brown-haired woman announced with a sharp salute as she stepped into Hana Lodimeur’s office. Hana inspected her closely before she replied. Captain Vertrane was in her late 30s, and had probably been pretty once, but now she had the hard, weathered, no-nonsense look of an experienced smuggler, which, of course, was exactly what she was. For all of Fangalin’s military might, it wasn’t that long ago that Fangalin had been an underground “terrorist” organization, hiding in the shadows and doing whatever it could to evade the Imperial authorities while growing its influence. Even though Fangalin now openly controlled more than a third of the former territory of the Empire, it was still more comfortable operating in the shadows, which meant that experienced smugglers like Kyla were in high demand.

“Good to meet you, Captain,” Hana said, standing up and extending her hand for Kyla to shake. Kyla stared at Hana’s hand blankly for a moment, and then took it and gave it a quick, firm shake. “I’m glad you could return to Numoris on such short notice.”

“When High Command calls, it’s unwise not to answer,” Kyla said without a hint of a smile.

“Very true, Captain,” Hana said with a nod. “Well, let’s get down to business. Have a seat,” she said, gesturing to one of the chairs opposite her desk. Kyla sat down rigidly, her back as stiff and straight as a measuring stick, while Hana took her own seat. Hana’s office was small, but clean and well-organized. Some of her troops believed she deserved a larger office, but there wasn’t a great deal of space in Amarise House, and Hana hated to waste it for her own purposes.

“I take it you read the mission briefing before coming over,” Hana said.

“Of course, sir,” Kyla said crisply.

“Do you have any questions before we begin?” Hana asked.

“It would be difficult to know where to start with my questions, sir,” Kyla said, a faint note of dissatisfaction creeping into her voice. “I’ve never seen a more vague mission briefing in my life. All it said was that I would be transporting a team into enemy territory. No indication as to when, or where, or who, or how many, or for what purpose, or any of that.”

“I apologize for that, Captain,” Hana said, nodding briefly. “As you might suspect, this operation is highly classified.” She pulled out a tablet and opened up a document, but before she said anything else, she paused and frowned at Kyla’s stiff posture. “You know, you’re awfully formal for a smuggler. I expected you to be a little more…laid back.”

“My apologies, sir,” Kyla replied, back as rigid as ever. “It is my experience that military officers expect formality from those under their command.”

“Well, I’m hardly an orthodox military officer,” Hana said with a small grin. “I’ve never even had any formal military training. Everything I know, I’ve learned from experience, and one thing my experience has taught me is that formality doesn’t do you any good in the field. I think you’ll find serving under me to be quite a bit more relaxed than you’re used to.”

“Good to hear, sir,” Kyla said briskly, her posture unchanged. Hana frowned slightly and sighed, but decided it wasn’t worth pressing further.

“In any case, the mission at hand is simple, at least in concept. I need you to transport my team to Trisitania.” Kyla let out a low, impressed whistle.

“You’re not fooling around, are you, sir?” she asked, her posture relaxing slightly.

“No, I’m not,” Hana replied grimly.

“Well, getting into Trisitania shouldn’t be a problem,” Kyla said. “I haven’t done it for a couple of years, but it was smooth sailing then, and everything I’ve heard says that security is even more lax now. I suspect Neminatrix thinks that his daughter might try to slip back into the capital, and he doesn’t want anyone to detain her accidentally. Although why she would even be tempted to go to Trisitania, I have no idea.” Hana inhaled sharply and a worried look appeared on her face. “Is there something wrong, sir?” asked Kyla, her brow furrowed.

“There might be,” Hana admitted. “We just received reports yesterday that Neminatrix finally succeeded in kidnapping his daughter. If you’re right, we might have a much harder time getting into Trisitania now.” Hana’s worried frown deepened, but Kyla just shrugged.

“I don’t think we have much to worry about,” she said. “Good security isn’t something you just flip on like a lightbulb. After a decade of not caring, it’s not like the ISS is going to be able to suddenly close the floodgates and keep everybody out. No matter what they do to tighten up security now, there will be cracks that we can slip through.”

“Hmmm,” Hana said with a thoughtful frown. “Well, you’re the expert. If you’re confident that it can still be done, then I won’t question you.” She handed the tablet over to Kyla. “You will need to transport twelve of us, along with all our equipment.”

“I don’t see any problems with any of this,” Kyla said, scrolling through the list of equipment. “Fluttermask can hold at least three times as much as this.” She was silent for a moment, pursing her lips as she perused the list. Suddenly her eyes widened, and she looked up at Hana.

“A Nexus bomb?” she asked, a look of alarm creeping onto her face. “Is…is that really necessary, sir?”

“I certainly hope not, but I am not taking any chances with this mission,” Hana said darkly, her face a mask of stone. “I would rather destroy half of Selorin than allow my target to live.”

“That…that’s intense, sir,” Kyla said, visibly uneasy. “I…I assume you’ve cleared this with High Command?” Hana didn’t answer, but instead just stared icily at her. Kyla shifted in her seat slightly. “Smuggling a Nexus bomb past the ISS is going to be extremely difficult, sir.”

“I don’t care,” Hana said darkly. “You’re the smuggler. Make it happen.”

To be continued…

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