An original short story written by Robert Chestney
A fiery comet blazed past the moons of Talus, leaving a trail of amber dust. It spent only moments in view of the pilot's seat, but it caught the attention of Hylo Visz. A comet was a sign of change -- an omen that could be either good or bad. She wanted to consider its meaning later, when she had more time. Just now, the Crimson Fleece had dropped out of hyperspace, and Hylo was steering the ship toward its destination, the still-distant form of Corellia. Normally, she enjoyed the peaceful moments between completing a hyperspace jump and entering a planet's atmosphere, but not today. Today, the Fleece was carrying valuable cargo, and two passengers Hylo would just as soon have left back on Nar Shaddaa.
The flight from Hutt Space had taken no longer than planned, but Hylo had been counting the minutes. The goon camping in her co-pilot's seat--his name was Musk--gabbed incessantly in his own form of crude Basic. Musk was trying to show off his knowledge of the inner politics of the Hutt Crime Cartel. Based on his naïve analysis, he was criticizing his boss, Barrga the Hutt, for making all the wrong decisions. Hylo had no basis for knowing the wisdom of Barrga's actions, but she was willing to bet that Musk didn't either. Of course, this kind of talk was no surprise; most of the Hutts' hired guns spent their time gossiping about their bosses' behaviors. She could have forgiven him this; Musk was a Nikto, not exactly known for their brilliance. But he hadn't stopped there.
"Good for me to get off Nar Shaddaa." Musk scratched his scaly chin. "Ever since we pull Star Cluster Cantina job, I always have to be watching my back."
Hylo stifled a laugh.
"You weren't in on that operation."
"What do you know, girl?" Musk bristled at having his lie challenged. "You think Barrga the only boss I work for?"
The Star Cluster Casino job was one of the most notorious operations in years. Professional thieves had broken in and fixed the casino's computers. The thieves returned the next business day and made a fortune in a series of inconspicuous bets. It was weeks before the Star Cluster's owners discovered the glitch, and by then, the thieves had vanished. Like anyone else even slightly "plugged-in" on Nar Shaddaa, Hylo knew the Star Cluster job was too delicate to have been pulled off by anyone from the usual underworld circles. Apparently, Musk didn't realize the absurdity of his claim. He was obviously trying to impress her, though, and that was a card she wanted to keep in her hand for now. She decided to back down.
"I figured whoever pulled that job was long gone by now." She shrugged in acceptance of his lie. "If you say it was you, I have no cause to doubt it."
"Yeah, I made many credits on that deal. Soon I'll be running my own gang. You'll see." Musk tightened his lips, probably wondering if she really believed him.
Turning back to the controls, Hylo unconsciously slid her hand down the side of her blue leather pants to touch the holster strapped to her thigh. There was no reason to think she'd need her blaster, but it was always nice to know it was there if she did.
After a few minutes of silence, Musk started off on another rambling monologue, apparently as glad as she was to let the Star Cluster conversation die.
The Crimson Fleece was nothing like the ship she originally purchased. In the decade since she scraped together enough credits to buy the old wreck, she had replaced nearly every part, some of them more than once. Because of its age, most of the original parts were no longer available, but Hylo had improvised -- buying scraps from other ships and rigging them together. After her latest round of upgrades, the Fleece was probably worth triple its original value, but it would take an expert mechanic to recognize that fact. She'd never be able to get even half of what the ship was worth if she tried to sell it, so she didn't bother. It suited her needs well enough for now, but she knew someday she'd have to replace it, just to give herself another renovation project, if nothing else.
"Unidentified vessel, please transmit identification and clearance codes." A business-like voice blared from the communication console, stunning Musk into a welcome silence. Hylo looked out the window, quickly locating the orbital security station from which the request came.
"Transmitting now," Hylo replied, as her fingers danced across the control panel to send the information. She then leaned back in her seat, knowing it would take a few minutes for Corellian security to cross-check the codes.
Musk grunted as he reached up to cockpit ceiling. "Power down the hyperdrive generator?"
"No!" Hylo sat up in a flash and slapped his hand away from the switch. "Leave it on standby. I never turn it off until the job's done. Bad luck."
Musk's first reaction to having his hand slapped was anger, but he decided to laugh it off instead.
"You Mirialans crazy." He shook his head and chuckled before standing up and leaving the cabin.
Hylo watched him go, feeling more than a little uncomfortable. Leaving the hyperdrive generator on had nothing to do with her being Mirialan, of course. Like having her blaster on her side, having the hyperdrive generator on standby was just something that felt reassuring.
She presumed Musk left the cockpit to update his partner, a Weequay with a name Hylo couldn't even pronounce, let alone remember. Unlike Musk, the Weequay was quiet, darkly quiet. Hylo knew the type well; his deadly, cold-blooded stare told her all she needed to know. He was the type she'd typically avoid working with at all cost. In this case, however, she'd had no choice. Barrga the Hutt had sent the two thugs as her "escorts." What that really meant is they were watching to make sure Hylo didn't try to cheat the boss. When the stakes were high, this was standard operating procedure.
In general, Barrga, like most of the other Hutts, actually trusted Hylo. She had worked for the Cartel on and off for years now, and before that, she had practically grown up as a grease rat working in the Cartel's cargo docks.
Hylo lived on Nar Shaddaa most of her life, but she was born on Balmorra. Her father worked as a droid designer until the war started, when he was caught in the crossfire during an Imperial raid. Only a child at the time, Hylo fled the planet with her mother and hundreds of other refugees.
Weeks later, during a pit stop on Nar Shaddaa, her mother had fallen ill and the refugee transport had left them behind. Her mother died soon thereafter, leaving Hylo with nothing but a handful of credits and the clothes on her back.
She wound up running with a gang of similarly-orphaned alien street urchins, sneaking through Nar Shaddaa's ducts and alleyways, stealing and scrounging to survive. Most of those kids wound up getting killed or becoming thugs for one of Nar Shaddaa's numerous crime lords. Hylo had been lucky, though. As a teenager, she discovered her natural skill with machines and became a mechanic in the grimy shipyards deep in Nar Shaddaa's Undercity. It earned her enough to get by. From the first time she actually sat in the pilot's seat, though, Hylo knew she wanted to spend more time flying starships than fixing them.
She saved every credit she earned until she had enough to buy the Crimson Fleece, and then she began hiring herself out as a freighter captain. The Hutt Cartel didn't hire just any ship available, though. She'd had to take any work she could get those first few years. That's when she made the mistake of picking up a job from the Sith Empire -- a mistake she'd never make again. She had learned the hard way that the only time the Imperials hired freelancers is when they were looking for expendable labor. Fortunately, working her connections among the mechanics, and earning a reputation for success, Hylo finally got the attention of the Hutts, and never looked back. Running black market goods and technology all over the galaxy, the Hutts had no shortage of work for freelancers. Hylo made a decent living and still got to be her own boss.
Hylo was, in fact, thinking about how she was going to spend the credits for this job when Musk returned to the cockpit with a new air of urgency.
"Why we still waiting?" He didn't sit down, but looked through the window at the orbital security station with irritation.
"Well, somehow I suspect they won't let us enter Corellia's atmosphere until they give us clearance," Hylo smiled, confident that Musk wouldn't detect her sarcasm.
"Tell them we need to land now," Musk ordered angrily. "We have business." He looked at her expectantly.
She reminded herself that Musk was just hired muscle. He couldn't know the stupidity of his suggestion. "This isn't Nar Shaddaa, Musk. They have rules here," she smiled patiently.
"We break no rules." Musk shrugged and looked at Hylo suspiciously. "They should be expecting us. You call now."
"Listen friend, just because I let you up here doesn't make you co-pilot." She looked him in eye with firm resolve. "This is my ship, and I'm in charge."
Hylo leaned her chair back against the console, projecting an air of relaxed confidence. "We wait until they call us. That's the way it works." Go ahead and push it; I dare you. She was ready to reach for her blaster, if necessary.
She watched the wheels turn slowly in Musk's head as he considered how to react. His puzzled expression suggested he would back down, but then it ceased to be an issue.
"Crimson Fleece, your codes have been verified. Welcome to Corellia." The voice of Corellian security was no friendlier than it had been before. "Please proceed directly to landing pad A-17 at the Rendili Corporate facility. Sending coordinates."
Now it was Hylo's turn to look puzzled. She sat up with a start and keyed into the communication console.
"You mean we're not landing at a military spaceport?" Barrga had never specified where the deal would take place, but Hylo knew the drives were going to the Republic military. She had assumed they'd land at a military facility.
"Says here you're delivering a shipment to the Rendili Vehicle Corporation." The voice sounded irritated, expressing some degree of humanity for the first time. "All Republic military facilities are strictly off-limits to non-military personnel. We are at war, you know."
"I'm not stupid," Hylo sighed and shook her head. "All right, fine, just tell them we're on the way."
"You're welcome." The security agent spat sarcastically and closed the connection.
Hylo laughed and settled back in her seat. She looked back and noticed that Musk had again left the cockpit. She didn't bother to wonder why. She enjoyed the moment of solitude and simply reminded herself this would all be over soon. This might be the last job I do for the Cartel, she reminded herself.