Culmination, Part 31

“What’s our status?” asked Hana Lodimeur, coming into Fluttermask‘s cockpit and sitting down in the empty copilot chair.

“We’re about twenty minutes out from Trisitania,” replied Kyla Vertrane, not taking her eyes from the controls in front of her.

“Good, good,” Hana replied vaguely, staring intently at the kaleidoscope of colors visible on the viewscreen. Kyla glanced over at her, and then turned back to the controls, shaking her head slightly. She’d encountered people who were this obsessed with revenge before, and it never ended well. She was thinking of one person in particular, an old friend named Treben Holkas. Treben’s burning desire for revenge had left him in a shallow grave in one of the outer colonies. Of course, knowing that hadn’t kept Kyla from taking the opportunity to get revenge of her own for Treben’s death, so maybe she sympathized with Hana more than she thought she did.

A beeping sound brought her out of her reveries and back to the present. “Got a report here, Captain,” she said briskly, looking at the text appearing on a display mounted to her left. “You might be in luck. It looks like Valador’s forces haven’t arrived in the Trisitania system yet.”

“That is good news,” Hana said with a sharp nod. “All right, I’m gonna go get my team ready. Let me know when it’s time to deploy.”

“Yes, sir,” Kyla replied. As Hana left the room and Kyla turned her full attention back to flying, she wondered what Treben would have thought if he could see her now.

***

Hana was nearly buzzing with excitement as she walked back through the narrow corridor toward where the other members of Starfengt were waiting, although she didn’t let it show on her face or in her posture. This is it! she thought, This is the moment I’ve been working towards for ten years! No matter what happened today, she would not leave Trisitania until Emperor Neminatrix IV was dead. No matter what it cost her, she would have her vengeance today.

“This is it!” she announced, repeating her earlier thought, as she entered the compartment where Starfengt was waiting. “In a few minutes we’ll be dropping out of subspace, and we’ll be able to commence the operation.” She paused a moment, and took in all of the calm, expectant faces looking her.

“You are the best of the best,” she continued quietly, “and no matter what happens today, you’ve proven yourselves a thousand times over, to me, and more importantly, to each other. I won’t lie and say this is the most important mission we’ve ever had. I know it’s stupid for us to be here when Valador’s forces are supposed to arrive anytime. Maybe we should have just left these two pretenders to duke it out amongst themselves and weaken the Empire further. But killing Neminatrix is something I have to try and do myself. And it means everything to me that all of you were willing to come along with me on a personal vendetta.”

“You’re the best, Cap’n!” called out one of the youngest members of Starfengt, a red-haired, freckled young man named Sholin Ilimace. “Starfengt wouldn’t exist without you, sir! If helping you take care of the man who killed your father will show you how grateful we are to be together, in this unit, then it’s the least we can do!” The rest of the team murmured their agreement and nodded.

Hana looked overwhelmed by this at first. She closed her eyes tightly for a few moments, and then she cleared her throat and her expression was back to normal.

“Thank you, Sholin,” she said, her voice slightly huskier than usual. “And thank you to all of you. Now, let’s go get this bastard.”

***

As soon as Fluttermask dropped out of subspace, Kyla engaged the emissions masker. With the masker running, the only way that anybody in the Trisitania system would notice Fluttermask was if they looked out a window and saw her. Which was always possible, but highly unlikely. Space was a pretty big place, after all. Not for the first time, she prayed to whatever god might be listening, to thank he, she, or it for putting her in the cockpit of this ship. It was a smuggler’s dream. Also not for the first time, she wondered about where the masker had come from. But, that was neither here nor there. At the moment, she had a job to do.

She was just entering orbit around Trisitania when an alarm bell sounded, causing her to look over at her sensor display. What she saw there made her eyes widen, and she swore under her breath. Then she smacked her hand down on her control panel and said, “Captain Lodimeur, you better get back up here. We have a problem.”

A few seconds later, Hana burst into the cockpit. “What is it?” she barked. In response, Kyla pointed to the sensor display. “By the Presence,” Hana breathed. “I’ve never seen anything like that.” She was silent for a moment, thinking furiously. “We need to get down to the surface. Now!”

“On it!” Kyla replied. Her hands flew over the controls as Fluttermask pitched forward sharply and screamed into Trisitania’s atmosphere, causing Hana to hold on tightly to the back of the copilot’s chair to avoid falling forward into the viewscreen. A few seconds later, Fluttermask leveled out and Kyla turned to Hana.

“We’ll be landing in just a few minutes,” she said. “You should go get your team ready to disembark, sir.” Hana nodded sharply and rushed out of the cockpit.

***

“Grab your gear and get ready to move as soon as the hatch opens,” Hana said as she strode into the compartment where the rest of Starfengt was waiting.

“What’s going on, Captain?” Xeliana Merane asked.

“Valador’s fleet is here,” Hana replied, her words clipped. “Over a hundred warships. We need to move faster than we ever have if we want to do this and get out of here alive.”

To be continued…

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