When he came to, his body was aching all over. Trying to shift his arms hurt, moving his legs even more so. Even his eyes hurt when he opened them.
Ethan blinked to clear his mind and turned towards the voice.
A man in a suit, not a grav suit, mind you, but a well-tailored burgundy suit. Ethan could tell he was very tall, with olive skin and smile wrinkles around his eyes.
The man smiled, and Ethan tried to place him.
“How are you feeling?” He had a deep, brass voice, the kind that would put you at ease.
“Hurts all over,” Ethan said, wincing as he shifted.
“Well, I would expect it,” the man laughed. “You were in terrible condition. The doctor said you had a minor concussion, a dislocated leg, broken shin, and a fractured arm.”
“Whew, that must have been a mess,” Ethan joked. “My limbs are still intact, right?”
“Most of them, yes.”
Ethan stared at the man, and he laughed.
“I’m playing with you son,” the man chuckled. “They’re all there.”
Ethan let out a sigh of relief. That’s good news. Everything would have gotten a whole lot harder without all his limbs.
Then he remembered the other person.
“Where is the princess?” Ethan shot up, looking around, and immediately fell back down, his head spinning.
“Careful,” the man cautioned. “Though it’s accelerated, you are still very much healing.”
“How is the princess?” Ethan asked again.
“How did you know it was the princess?” The man looked surprised, and very interested.
“The galactic royal insignia,” Ethan snorted. “Not very hard to miss.”
The man chuckled. “Right. Of course, my daughter didn’t remember to change her suit.”
Ethan nodded, and stopped.
“Wait, your daughter?” His eyes widened as he realized the man in front of him. “Your Majesty, my humblest apologies.”
He tried to stand up, but the king gently, but firmly pushed him back down.
“None of that stuff,” he said firmly. “I’m extremely thankful that you saved my daughter. She’s a bit foolhardy.”
“If you don’t mind me asking,” Ethan said cautiously. “What was your daughter doing in a D-grade ship in gray space, and in Alba of all places?”
“She was in Alba?” The king’s eyes widened, then he sighed. “She’s trying to run away.”
“Well, she didn’t do a good job of that.” Ethan froze, remembering who he was talking to, but the king just laughed.
“Tell me, what really happened?”
Ethan recounted everything, leaving out the princess’s language. When he was done, the king looked contemplative.
“She couldn’t open the docking bay?” the king asked slowly.
“No, the docking bay was working just fine,” Ethan said. “She just didn’t know how to open the docking bay.”
The king covered his face with his hands. “What was she thinking?”
“If I’m not being rude, sir, I don’t believe she was thinking.”
“Yes, that would explain my daughter.” The king looked at Ethan. “And you managed to dodge, not one, but two Hammer Shark missiles, and take them out as well? I think I need to see your credentials.”
The king pulled out a small, incredibly thin tablet. “What’s your full name?”
“Ethan Sanders,” Ethan replied, waiting for him to enter the name.
When he did, the king’s eyes shot up. “Sixth level license?”
“Yes, sir,” Ethan smiled.
“In a ship?!”
Ah, the license levels. Every mission you completed added to your license, and certain missions had to be completed to get to the next level license. Most people are only first or second level license, some better get to third.
Getting to the fourth was incredibly hard, around four or five percent of the entire galaxy, but you could get a Trident if you had a good reputation and enough people to man the Trident.
Fifth license was even less, but it meant that you were extremely experienced. A lot of job offerings, with very high pay. And if you enlisted in the military, you got to commandeer an entire fleet.
Sixth license was just ridiculous, but let’s just say I was bored.
Think navy officer levels. You’ll get a good understanding.
“A captain?” the king asked incredulously.
The king kept looking, and more outbursts followed.
“Fourth license navigation? Sixth license weapons? Sixth license piloting?” the king asked. “Why do you have a seventh license in ground?”
Ground meant on planet. Extremely dangerous because you didn’t have the protection of a ship. Most people, if they can help it, don’t even bother going down.
“I was bored,” Ethan replied.
“What’s your education?”
“Elite training in navigation, ship weapons, piloting, and hand-to-hand combat,” Ethan replied offhandedly. “Though the hand-to-hand combat was just a lot of bone-breaking exercises.”
“What about your crew?”
“The twin girls took Elite in navigation, the twin guys learned Elite in ship weapons, the cuckoo guy Elite in piloting,” Ethan said. “I liked studying, and to commandeer a crew, I needed to learn at the same level my crew was learning, so I took all of them.”
“So, you could theoretically fly, fight, and navigate with a Trident by yourself,” the king contemplated.
“Theoretically, yes,” Ethan replied. “But that would be ridiculous. Too much strain.”
“Yes,” said the king. An awkward moment of silence. “Well, either your extremely resilient, or you have a lot of luck. You survived an atmosphere entrance and a near-full speed collision. And you managed to save my daughter. How can I repay you?”
“Teach your daughter the basics of flying a spaceship,” Ethan replied immediately. “She won’t survive the next one. She was extremely lucky that we were there.”
“Yes, that seems to be a good piece of advice,” the king muttered. “I am cordially inviting you and your crew for a dinner to the palace.”
“We would be honored,” Ethan replied.
“Now, rest,” the king said. “Your crew is waiting outside.”
Ethan smiled, and the king left. Immediately afterwards, everyone came crashing through, and he felt that he was in surgery the way everyone was poking and prodding him.
“Guys, I’m fine, really,” Ethan cried. “Catherina, ow, that hurts, still healing! Sorry!”
“We were so scared,” Catherine said, looking furious. “Don’t ever do that again.”
“Not planning on it,” Ethan joked. “Not at all.”
They had seen palaces before, like the Winter Palace back on Earth. But this one was simply astounding, in sheer size and beauty.
“This is amazing,” Ethan breathed.
“Truly, nothing like this back on Earth,” Catherine said wistfully.
Ethan felt a pang in his heart. They’d been searching the entire galaxy for Earth, every sector, every system. It was the main reason he took so many missions, putting them in danger again and again. But to no avail, they couldn’t find Earth.
“Welcome, my dear friends.” The king walked up to them. Behind him were two attendants, an older woman, and a frowning girl.
“This is my wife, Terara.” The king motioned to the woman. “And you must have met my daughter, Tiara.”
“We are honored to be here, your majesties,” Ethan said, bowing. He kept his eyes trained on the king, trying to ignore the angry princess.
“The honor is ours,” the king replied. “Come, wait outside no longer. Tonight, we feast for joy.”
“As you say, your majesty,” Ethan replied, bowing once more.
“Please, call me Jared.”
The interior of the palace was beautiful. Cut stone provided the interior structure, beautiful paintings adorned the walls. Every hall was guarded by a soldier, who bowed when the king passed.
Jared led them to the grand dining hall, where a table for eighty took the space.
“Please, take your seat,” Jared said.
“Thank you,” Kevon said.
The waiters brought platters of food, delicacies that Ethan had never seen before, and smells that were too good to be true.
“Feast, my friends, we will talk while we feast.”
The king took a platter of what looked like meat and placed a generous piece on his plate. He gestured to the platter.
“Have you ever eaten Atlean Fowl?” the king asked, smiling. “They’re quite delicious when made correctly.”
“We have not had the pleasure,” Ethan said, taking a small bite. Flavor burst into his mouth, and his eyes widened in surprise. “This is incredible.”
They ate until they were stuffed.
“I haven’t had a meal like that in ages,” said the queen. She had a soft, melodious voice.
“That’s because you cook every day,” the king said, grinning. He leaned over to Ethan and whispered, “If she gives you anything that she made, under no circumstances
,should you eat it. Unless you have a lavatory in the near vicinity.”
The king laughed, and the queen swatted him playfully. The princess however, continued picking at her food.
“So, Captain Ethan Sanders,” the king said. The queen and her daughter looked over at Ethan, shocked. “What are your plans?”
Ethan took a moment before replying. “I’m not really sure, sire. Continue ridding sectors of rogues, single-man raids on pirates.”
“You are extremely close to getting your seventh license,” the king said, earning another shocked look from his family. “Do you have any breakthrough missions?”
“No,” Ethan said, downcast. “No one’s willing. I don’t have any affiliations with the Galactic Alliance or the Central Coalition, and they give out the majority of breakthrough missions.”
“And if we make affiliations, then we need to enlist in the military,” said Catherina. “Border scuffles are something that we don’t want to get involved in.”
Border scuffles were something that a lot of people would rather leave out of their to do list, and it was dangerous if Catherina didn’t want to get involved.
“Smart move,” said the king. A lot of people died in the border scuffles, and it didn’t really achieve anything. “Keeps you alive.”
“Yes, there is that small benefit,” Charlie joked.
“How about I offer you a breakthrough mission?” Jared waited for an answer. Ethan was just shocked.
“Are you sure, your maj- Jared?” Ethan caught himself when Jared gave him a pointed look. “I mean, if you would like to, we would be honored.”
“I’ll take that as a yes.” Jared motioned for the servants to clear the table, and in seconds, it was empty. “The Techoguil Empire is currently at war with another planet, the Arax Empire, on the other side of the galaxy. Since it’s all the way there, we’re attacking each other in gray space, and frankly, I’m getting tired of it. It’s petty, really.”
“What would you like us to do?” Ethan asked, not getting where this was going.
“I want you to do two things,” the king replied. “We’re going to send a peace delegation, a very important person, and I want you to escort this person. It’s a long journey, about a month or so to there, and a month coming back. It shouldn’t be too dangerous, nothing you shouldn’t be able to handle. We also want you to aid this person in the delegation, make peace, make a few treaties, easy tasks.”
Ethan was silent, and his crew was looking at him expectantly.
“What do you guys think?” Ethan asked.
“You are the captain,” Kevon said. “You decide, we follow.”
Ethan deflated. That was not the answer he was expecting.
Escort shouldn’t be too hard, Ethan thought to himself. Any trouble, we shouldn’t be troubled if it isn’t too many. Making treaties is going to be hard though, as well as making peace.
His dad’s memory came to him then. He was thinking of learning how to pilot a plane.
“But you’re a businessman,” Ethan had said. “Why do you want to pilot a plane?”
“What’s life without a little fun?” his dad had replied. “The fun is in doing different things. Doing the same thing is boring.”
“What’s life without a little fun?” Ethan muttered. He looked at the king, who was looking at him expectantly. “How high are the stakes?”
“If we don’t make peace, this war will continue,” the king said firmly. “It will continue to claim the lives of our soldiers, and theirs as well.”
“That’s what I thought,” Ethan said, nodding. “We’ll take the mission. Who are we escorting?”
“Princess Tiara of the Techoguil Empire.”
Oh, Grayson’s blasted seventh toe.