Change of Plans Episode One

Hank Polaris

I walked into the room, my hand on my pulser, my expression as blank as deep space.

There was one table, one chair, and one enormous view screen behind it. Currently it showed nothing but the lonely view behind the ship. Just space, just dust, just the endless void.

I slid into the seat, my hand still on the pulser.

The second my body was in the chair was the second I felt the reliable hum indicating a long-distance communication was initiating. Sure enough, a few short seconds later, a hologram crackled into position on the opposite side of the desk. It even brought its own chair. How accommodating.

The figure was predictably dressed in a long black hood. It hid their face. I could see one bony knuckle protruding from their sleeves, but that was it.

For several seconds, the figure neither did nor said anything. You could just assume that it was a problem with the communication. Or perhaps the guy, more likely, was assessing me.

“You are the famous pirate Polaris,” the guy hissed.

My hand still on my pulser, not bothering to take it off despite the fact it was an obvious and aggressive move, I shrugged. “Yeah, that’s me.” Grabbing my jaw with my free hand, I let my fingers trace across my stubble. While I watched the guy nominally, with the rest of my attention, I assessed the room. This could be a trap. I doubted it was, but it still could be. Over the years of bounty hunting and working for pirate scum, I’d done a pretty good job of hiding my old life. But at times like this, a lick of nerves always got to me.

With another quick survey of the room, I tamped them down.

The Royal Palace wasn’t going to come for me. Yet.

“We have a job for you,” the shadowy figure said. It used the Royal we. That, or it had a whole bunch of other aliens stuffed under its hood somewhere. That could be a possibility. I wasn’t about to lean over and try to yank it off to find out. Plus, it wouldn’t work. I had no idea exactly where this long-distance communication was coming from, but from the substandard quality, I could tell that it was either from the opposite side of the galaxy or further.

I sat there and nodded. “For a price, I’m willing to track anyone down.”

“Then you are the right man for us. Here are her details.”

In a seamless move, information flashed to the left of the man. It looked as if it had just been spray-painted into the air. The rest of the holographic transmission might be crappy, but this was perfect.

My eyes narrowed as soon as I saw the long name. Emilia Safire Centurai Astrid. My eyes narrowed even more as I saw the prefix right at the end. Princess of the Astrid Royal Family.”

My gut kicked hard. I didn’t show it. You would have had to have medical scanners, and they would’ve had to be damn invasive to even pick up an inkling of my fear.

Excuse me if the words Royal Family always got to me.

“What has our wayward princess done?” I managed to ask in a neutral tone.

“She has been sold by her family to the Dark Traders.”

“Ouch,” I muttered. I let a little laugh split the air. It was more to diffuse tension than anything else. I gripped my jaw again. I let my fingers brush down my stubble once more until I grabbed my chin hard in a steely grip. “Will she be any trouble?”

“She has led a sheltered life. She will be an easy mark. You will retrieve her and take her to the Dark Traders.”

“She ran away on her own, then? Surely the Dark Traders are looking for her?”

“You will find her first.”

I didn’t blink an eyelid at that. While the Dark Traders weren’t the kind of scum sucking low lifes to ever let one of their contracted souls go, obviously my employer here wanted me to deliver the princess before they could find her themselves. Maybe there was a penalty in the contract. Or maybe my shadowy friend here just wanted to save face – which would be pretty weird considering he didn’t even look like he had one.

“Do you accept this mission?”

I paused. Not that this bastard knew – not that any single person in the galaxy would know it, either – I was a runaway prince, too. Not from the Astrid Royal Family. No. I came from the worst Royal Family out there. The Orions. My family hadn’t sold me, unlike poor Emilia here. Instead, my brother had skipped me on his way to the throne. And he had turned every single significant resource of the Orion Family against me. For years, I’d been hunted, until finally I’d figured out how you lived in this twisted galaxy. If you didn’t want to be hunted, you did all the hunting first.

I made no attempt to hide the fact that I was clutching my gun anymore. I pushed to my feet with my hand still on it and shrugged. I scratched my chin one last time. Then I nodded. “Send the details over to my cruiser. Consider this mission done. Our wayward princess will be hand-delivered to the Dark Traders. And I will get,” my gaze flashed down to the bottom of the information displayed beside the alien, “50,000 credits.” I grinned. I turned and walked out.

I had a mission to do, after all.

Our little princess wouldn’t stand a chance against me.