There was a ‘boom’ as the swirling lights of witchspace were replaced with the plain old pinprick stars of normal spacetime. I powered down the thrusters instinctively, taking stock of what lay around the ship.

The destination station twinkled ahead. It was an Ocellus-class starport, the diameter of its great habitation rings many kilometres across. Thousands of souls lived within. I set a cautious speed towards it, and kept an eye on my distance.

The journey had been dull. Dull is good, when your cargo is highly illegal. I’d stepped into the cargo hold earlier, just to look; the rows of stasis canisters, squat and silent, brought back the same old uneasiness.

Who were these people?

I’d been brought up with slaves; some would say by slaves, when Father was away on a campaign. They were a quiet, ubiquitous feature of daily life. Beige and drab, but essential.

I had no problem transporting them. Hell, some of these people chose to be here.


I glanced at a tracking panel. There was no Empire tag. These people had come from anywhere.

Everyone knew that slavery outside the Empire was barbaric.

At times like these I never knew whether the slight pinprick of conscience was my own, or some kind of vestigial idea of what Vex would say.

Vex hates slavery.

Well, you would, wouldn’t you?


When I reached the no-fire zone I quickly sent the docking request. I was still far enough out to avoid any cargo scanners.

“Docking request accepted”.

Right. By now I could see the swarm of local law enforcement vessels whizzing around the letterbox-shaped docking window. Once I got within a couple of kilometres they’d spot me, and possibly scan me.

Only if they can see me…

At that moment, I punched the command to shut down the ship’s heat vents, followed quickly by ‘Eject Heat Sink’. The ship’s heat signature dwindled almost immediately, and almost all the heat in the hull was purged and ejected. My sensors registered the tiny thermal block as it shot from the rear of the craft.

Screenshot_0003 (3)

The cockpit frosted. My breath fogged in front of my face.

Scanners work on heat. They detect a ship’s heat signature, so the lower yours is, the less likely another vessel is to detect you. At this point, I was running silent. I was all but a ghost to the police ships.

Then, the heat started climbing.

But with heat vents shut, none of the heat from the ship’s essential systems can escape, so it quickly builds. The trick is to navigate the swarm of ships entering and leaving the dock before your heat climbs so high you have to open your heat vents, and risk being spotted.

I watched a Viper class enforcement ship pass the entrance. There was my chance.

I boosted the engine and shoved the throttle forward. The ship leapt within seconds to four hundred metres per second, and I cleared the remaining couple of kilometres to the docking window in moments. As I screamed towards it, the chasm yawning to swallow me, I peered anxiously inside to check for outcoming traffic…

…A Lakon Type 9 heavy trader looming out of the darkness would not be helpful at this moment.

And then I was in, the artificial atmosphere rushing past the glass. I smashed the command for reverse thrust, keeping my throttle to the floor, as the Mule diverted all its power to reversing direction.

In truth, this is the terrifying moment. Even now I still catch myself thinking: can I stop in time? The docking bay was hundreds of metres deep, and yet I’d reached the rear wall before the Mule gradually came to a reluctant stop.

Phew. I found I’d been holding my breath. I let it out with relief.

I nudged the ship gently towards her allotted docking pad, deploying the landing gear. Her metallic claws scraped the steel with a bump. I closed my eyes for a moment and unbuckled.


A quick browse of the console brought up the station services interface. I navigated towards the bulletin board section, seeking my contact. It was a proxy of course. We quietly arranged the collection of my cargo, and seconds later I heard the welcome sound of the automated cargo handlers unloading my sleeping charges.

Well, that was entertaining. Now what?

I browsed the services. Ah… Messages. I input my access codes and checked the exchange.


A bland, encrypted message appeared, the timestamp familiar.


Firstly, accept my apologies. Discretion is paramount I’m afraid. As I’m sure you understand, delicate operations of this kind have a higher chance of success if the participants remain unaware of the significance of their role.

I trust the cargo has been delivered to the contact specified with no further ‘events’.

You are of course welcome to meet her. She has made time on the day before your birthday. Be at Dashiell Orbital at noon, and report to our local office. You will be directed.

With my best wishes

A friend


I smiled slightly, and reached across to tickle the cat’s chin.


Some time later, as I returned from an uninspiring canteen, my eye caught a Galnet holoscreen through the window of the control tower. I stopped and squinted.

The Pleiades. Something had been found there.

I craned my neck to see better. A leading researcher from the Canonn Research Group was congratulating a pilot on the discovery, and they were looking for more. They’d yielded some kind of unusual organic metal, already the subject of tests.

The feed cut to images. Thrusting out of the sandy surface of a distant moon was an utterly alien object.

It was a ridged mound taller than a human, surrounded by glowing blue sparks. Eerie green light pulsated slowly from its base. The camera panned out slightly, showing a clumsy-looking landing vehicle navigating a cluster of spiky, green structures emanating from the base of the mound.

“…certainly alien in origin…”

The audio cut from the commentator to a recording, and through the glass of the control tower window came a series of low whistles, clicks and moans.

Sounds that reminded me of something I’d seen recently. Something else that had terrified me.

I turned and rushed back to the ship.



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