Recouping Losses (Part 2)

Alyssa hoped that her nervous breathing was not evident to everyone in the docking bay, especially Wilanto. She tried to appear as nonchalant as possible, maintaining a steady, casual gait toward The Bantha's Burden. It must have worked, as very few individuals seemed to be willing to look her way, risking her wrath.

In truth, she had earned the reputation of the so-called 'Lady Mania' and was quite aware of its effects on some. It certainly wasn't a facade, but it was exaggerated...if only by a little. It had worked in her favor many times. Unfortunately, it had also worked to her detriment nearly as often.

This time, though, it was primarily a bluff. She had not been joking when she had said to Wilanto that she had not planned on shooting him. Besides being one of her father's oldest friends, he was damned good at what he did. She stood to lose far more than any satisfaction blasting his head off would have provided. In truth, she liked the man, however slimy he might come across on occasion.

Alyssa climbed the ramp leading to the airlock, just behind the cockpit of her ship. After confirming that no one else was now looking, she tapped in the entry code. Her sigh of relief that the confrontation was done drowned out by the hydraulic hiss of the door quickly rising then closing after she entered. She enabled the lock again, then made her way to the portside cargo bay.

Normally, the roughly rectangular area could hold nearly 70 metric tons. Instead, a small box, not much bigger than a standard shipping crate, sat on the deck, with a dim blue glow indicating that it was powered. Alyssa groaned as she realized just how much space was being wasted, but there wasn't much she could do about it. She removed the datapad from behind her, kept clipped on her belt. After confirming the link between it and her ship's computer was steady, she connected to the container's onboard system.

As she expected, the temperature readouts were all in the green. Wilanto's estimate on how long the coolant would be good for looked to be accurate, with at least a couple more days, maybe slightly more. After that she would have to either pass it off to another buyer or purchase another cooling unit. They were not insanely expensive, but they were not dirt cheap either.

Alyssa set container's controls to sync with the ship's computer, allowing her to monitor it from pretty much anywhere on The Burden, slipped the datapad back onto its clip and left the cargo bay for the cockpit. Before she could truly take a breather, she had a call to make.

It was several minutes before an ghostly image appeared in the mini holo-projector installed in the cockpit. Alssya's eyebrows rose in muted surprise when Hela appeared in what looked to be a sleeping gown. "Sorry, sis! I didn't mean to wake you."

Lady Hela Maniford did not bother to hide her yawn. The unfortunate thing about intergalatic calls was not always remembering the time differential between planets. Alyssa's sister was older by nearly three years, but they were nearly twins in appearance. Both had their father's dusky skin color and their mother's red hair, though Hela's was currently loose whereas Alyssa's was in a ponytail.

"It's quite all right, Alyssa," Hela said, waving off the apology. "Though I was actually expecting your call about a hour ago. I went to bed shortly thereafter. Problems with customs, I take it."

Alyssa snorted without humor. "Do know how hard it is to convince these people that all you have is a bunch of fish eggs on board? They didn't want to believe that I'd come all this distance to drop them off." Through gritted teeth, she added "Which brings me to the real problem."

Now she had Hela's full attention. "Oh?"

"Wilanto says that the buyer refused to pay for this stuff. Believe it or not, his wife's allergic to the roe."

"Honestly, I'm not surprised. I tried Thraxian roe once." Hela made a face at the memory. "To say that it is an acquired taste may be understating things. I take it he'll try to find another buyer?"

Alyssa nodded. "The container has about two more days of coolant left in it. He's got that long before the eggs go rotten to find someone with that acquired taste. After that, this run might be a bust cost-wise."

Hela paused a moment and then lowered her voice. "And the previous...package. Was it delivered with better success?"

"Yes," Alyssa answered just as soberly. "That's the only reason I can eat the cost on this trip, if the eggs don't sell. You can tell father that his contact on Ainan will get that list decoded and distributed as soon as he can." She leaned back in her pilot's seat, sulking. "Though tell them that the next time can they come up with a better cover delivery than the roe. The Bantha's Burden might not be a large ship, but a single container like this hard to justify as a reasonable cargo for me."

"Father pretty much said the same thing to his contact." Hela shrugged with a lopsided grin. "It was the best that he could do with such short notice. At least this way your cover for the real delivery was kept secret." She yawned again. "So what are your plans while you're stuck planetside? Hit the casinos?"

"Are you kidding? It costs more to get into one of those places than I've made in the last couple of jobs." Alyssa ran a hand through her hair. "No, I'm just gonna find what passes for a cheap hotel here and hole up while Wilanto finds a buyer."

"You realize that your definition of 'cheap' will be significantly different than the Perian version."

"Yeah, yeah." She waved off her sister's concern. "Then if it come down to it, I'll stay aboard The Burden. If anyone asks, I'll just tell them that I need to monitor the container. It's not too far from the truth, especially if it gets closer to two days on from now."

"Do as you see fit, Alyssa," Hela said with a smile. "I'll let father know about the previous delivery. He might even know of someone who can take your current one. I'll be in touch."

"Give mother my love, will you? And you all take care."

"I will and we will. You do the same." Then the image turned to a brief blur of static, as Hela ended the call.

Alyssa stretched in her seat. Being a businesswoman and a part-time spy was tiring. Still, if that list of the codes for Imperial Intelligence operatives was enough to get them rooted out, then just about any cost was worth it.

Even if she was stuck looking after a bunch of fish eggs as a result.

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