Culmination, Part 15

Kyla Vertrane sighed wearily as Fluttermask dropped back into normal space, shuddering slightly as it did. Her new military contact, this Captain Hana Lodimeur, claimed that she wasn’t as much of a stickler for military discipline as most high ranking officers in Fangalin, but that was only partially true. Sure, Captain Lodimeur didn’t really care if you referred to her as “Captain” or “sir”, but she kept up an extraordinarily grueling schedule for herself, and she expected everyone under her command to meet or exceed that standard. You could speak your mind in front of Hana Lodimeur no problem, but if she thought you were slacking off, you’d feel the full force of her wrath.

Kyla’s gaze swept over the bank of instruments in Fluttermask‘s cockpit. Everything seemed to be in good working order. The ship she commanded now was very different from the one she had commanded when she’d joined Fangalin over a decade ago. The only things that were the same were the hull, the name, and the masking device that gave the ship its name. Everything else had been gradually replaced to the state-of-the-art. There were definitely advantages to being an officially sanctioned smuggler.

As for the masking device, even after 15 years, that still was state-of-the-art. In fact, it was so advanced that there were only five ships in the galaxy that used it, all of them owned by Fangalin. There had been talk of fitting the device onto more ships, possibly the entire fleet, but the Supreme Commander and the Grand Council were afraid of it falling into enemy hands, which would massively diminish the advantage of having it. Of course, some, like Kyla, felt that restricting it to just a few ships diminished the advantage even more.

The more she pondered the emissions masker, the more she found it puzzling. When she’d first bought Fluttermask from Grolder Hanh, her only thought about the emissions masker was that it’d be really handy for a smuggler. She’d had no idea it was such a singularly rare device. Even when Hanh had bragged that his personal transport ship was the only other ship in the galaxy with such a device, she’d given it little thought. But once she’d joined Fangalin, she realized just how mistaken she’d been. The emissions masker was one of the most advanced pieces of technology in the galaxy. She’d never known how it worked, but that hadn’t seemed odd to her because she wasn’t an engineer. She knew how to keep her ship flying and that was it. But Fangalin’s finest technical minds had marveled at the emissions masker, and that was her first clue that there was more to Fluttermask than she’d ever imagined.

How had Grolder Hanh gotten his hands on such a marvelous feat of engineering? Sure, Hanh was one of the most successful crime lords in the galaxy, but even that didn’t explain it. The Empire had kept a pretty tight lid on organized crime until it had collapsed, and although Hanh had expanded his criminal empire greatly in a short amount of time, it still didn’t make sense that he’d be able to get his hands on such advanced technology that quickly. Especially since no one else in the galaxy seemed to know anything about it. Somehow, someone in Hanh’s organization must have invented it, which made even less sense than anything else.

Kyla shook her head and snapped her attention back to her instruments. This grueling pace was starting to make her go crazy. Who cared where the emissions masker had come from? All that mattered was that her ship had it, and it had saved her life countless times. Let other people figure out the mysteries behind it. All Kyla Vertrane cared about was delivering cargo and getting paid.

Fluttermask was returning to Numoris after yet another training mission ordered by Captain Lodimeur. By the Presence, Kyla thought, rubbing her eyes wearily, that woman does keep me busy. Kyla had been training at a non-stop pace for weeks, and no matter how many times Kyla told Captain Lodimeur that this much training was excessive, it made no difference. Kyla found herself wondering what the Captain’s grudge against Neminatrix IV entailed.

Whatever it was, it was major. Detonating a Nexus bomb without authorization could get everybody involved with this mission into a great deal of trouble. Kyla had attempted, several times, to get Captain Lodimeur to reconsider this decision, but Lodimeur was unyielding. She was determined to see Neminatrix IV dead, no matter what the cost. Unfortunately, Kyla worried that the cost would be too high.

She wondered what would happen if she went to the Supreme Commander with Captain Lodimeur’s plans. Lodimeur had dodged her question about whether or not she had permission to use a Nexus bomb, but that didn’t necessarily mean she didn’t have permission. After all, if she didn’t have permission, how was she planning to get her hands on one? The vast destructive power of a Nexus bomb meant that they were kept under extremely tight security. It would be almost impossible to steal one, even for someone as high-ranking as Hana Lodimeur.

What would happen if another Nexus bomb was detonated on Trisitania? Thousands of people would die, of course, but they would anyway. This war wasn’t going to be over anytime soon. But how would the people of the Empire respond? The Nexus bomb that had destroyed the Imperial Senate had exposed the cracks in the Imperial structure. Would another one repair that damage? Kyla could see the people of the Empire uniting as never before once they realized that Fangalin would keep on using Nexus bombs indiscriminately.

That couldn’t be allowed to happen. This war was already terrible enough with one side weak and divided. If a strong Empire were to confront Fangalin, the result could be disastrous. Kyla realized at that moment that Hana Lodimeur could not be allowed to detonate a Nexus bomb on Trisitania, no matter what.

To be continued…

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