Polaris Rising: Chapter 1, Part 2

Fancy place setting

This is a rough draft excerpt from Polaris Rising:

The kid gripped the stunstick like he expected me to jump him at any moment. I guess word of my arrival had already spread to the rest of the crew. And, honestly, if they’d sent anyone else, I probably would’ve made an attempt at escape. If it came down to it, I would go through the kid if he stood between me and freedom, but it wouldn’t be my first choice.

As we walked, I took in my surroundings. The captain had not spent much on interior upgrades. The walls were flat gray metal, the floor was steel grating, and the lights were few and far between. I saw at least three major wiring issues that would get them grounded if a safety officer ever bothered to do an inspection. The ship was holding up well for her age, but it was apparent that either the captain or his crew didn’t truly love her.

I, however, saw plenty to love. Access panels were open or missing. The wiring issues would be an easy way to disable some key ship systems. And the layout matched the reference layout, so I could find my way around even in the dark.

The kid led me to the captain’s chambers, which were exactly where I expected them to be. Yamado had been making this style ship for approximately a thousand years, give or take a few, and I was suddenly very glad that they liked to stick to tradition.

The captain’s entertaining space was brightly lit, with real wood floors, thick rugs, and antique furniture. A table that could seat sixteen dominated the middle of the room. Two place settings were laid out on the right side. The captain sat in an overstuffed chair next to a sideboard that was being used as a liquor cabinet. He rose to meet me. The skin around his left eye was already darkening.

I pulled on my public persona, affixed my politest smile to my lips, and tried not to think stabby thoughts. “Thank you for the dinner invitation, Captain.”

“Of course, my dear, of course,” he said. “Ada, may I call you Ada?” He continued before I had a chance to respond, “I know we got off to a bad start, but now that we are underway, I thought we could put all of that behind us. I know your father is quite eager to have you home.”

“I’m sure he is,” I murmured. Albrecht von Hasenberg was nothing if not thorough. When his security team couldn’t find me and drag me back for my engagement party, he went above and beyond by posting an enormous bounty for my safe return. Of course, he told the news, he was devastated that I was “missing.” He failed to mention that I had left of my own volition. Or that I’d been gone for two years.

“Can I get you some wine? Or perhaps brandy?” the captain asked.

“Wine would be lovely, thank you,” I said. I knew where this road led. I’d been playing this game since I could talk. The captain wanted something, and he thought—rightly—that House von Hasenberg could help him get it. As patriarch of one of the three High Houses, very few people in the universe wielded more power than my father.

As the seventh of nine children, I wielded no power in House von Hasenberg at all. But the good captain didn’t know that, and outside of the Consortium, my name carried its own power.

“Captain—”

“Please, call me Gerald,” he interrupted as he handed me a glass of wine with a shallow bow, “Gerald Pearson, at your service.”

I let a chill creep into my expression and he flushed. You did not interrupt a member of a High House if you wanted to keep breathing. By acknowledging who my father was, he’d moved me from bounty to potential ally, and now I was quickly moving to superior. It was his first mistake, but I didn’t hold it against him. He’d never had to swim with the glittering sharks of the Consortium. I had, and I excelled at it.

I hated it, but I excelled at it.

“Gerald,” I said with a dismissive little sniff, “have you already sent word to my father that I was found?”

“Of course, my lady,” he said, practically tripping over himself to get back into my good graces. “I let him know as soon as I returned to the ship. I also sent along a copy of our flight plan.”

Damn. Interstellar communication could be slow, but we were close enough to the gate that the message had probably already made it through. I would not put it past my father to send a fleet escort to meet us at the gate. My escape time just dropped to three or four days.

I sized the captain up as I toyed with my wine glass and made polite small talk. He was not a merc who had worked his way up to captain. He didn’t have the hardness, the craftiness that mercenaries wore like second skins. A true merc commander would never be so easy to play.

“Shall we dine?” he asked.

“Yes, thank you,” I said.

I made sure his wine glass was kept topped off and waited until the second course had been cleared away. “How can I help you, Gerald?” I asked in my warmest tone.

It took two more courses, but eventually the story came out. He was a merchant fallen on hard times, but he still had a ship. He’d partnered with the bounty hunters specifically to hunt Loch. They’d found him, but Loch had killed two men during his capture, including the previous commander.

The mercenaries didn’t respect Gerald and he was afraid they were plotting his demise. And he was just so lucky to have found me because his third cousin once removed was married to a von Hasenberg second cousin’s sister-in-law and he just knew he had a great deal he could contribute to the House, considering he was almost family.

I nodded along and made all the right encouraging noises. The picture became clear. Even if I managed to overpower Gerald and take him hostage, the mercs wouldn’t care. He’d already created the flight plan, so the ship would deliver us to Earth without any further input from him. It was time to end the evening.

“I should go,” I said.

“You should stay,” he slurred. “You can sleep in my room.” He staggered to his feet.

I considered it. He was drunk enough that he’d probably be asleep as soon as he hit the bed. But I needed time to devise an escape plan and I couldn’t be caught wandering around the ship. So I just had to make sure this wasn’t my last dinner with the captain. I stood as well.

“Gerald, you naughty man,” I laughed and lightly touched his arm. “I never sleep with a man on the first date.”

He flushed and spluttered. “I didn’t mean—”

The tone of the engine changed and my stomach dropped as the FTL drive engaged. We’d travelled far enough away from the station for our first jump. The lights flickered as the ship switched to auxiliary power. The hum of the engines ratcheted up and then went silent. Less than a minute later, my stomach settled and the main engines started up again. Depending on the age of the ship, it would take up to a week to recharge the FTL drive for the next jump. I had to be gone before that time was up.

“I will see you tomorrow for dinner, yes?” I asked with a coy smile.

“Yes, yes, of course, my lady. The lad’ll see you back to your quarte—” He flinched. “I’m terribly sorry for your accommodations, but I’m afraid the mercs won’t like it if I move you.”

“It is fine. I like it; it makes me feel safe.” And I was surprised to find that it was true.

———————–
Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik. All rights reserved. Coming early 2019 from Harper Voyager.

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