The Alien Commander’s Fake Princess by Alyse Anders

1

Commander Tahsin had a problem.A very large, princess-shaped void of a problem. One that if he didn’t come up with a solution for quickly, could quite possibly bring war back to their people after finally having reached a tenuous peace following three decades of fighting.

And he’d only been awake for less than an hour.

He squeezed his fingers around the hilt of the ceremonial sword sashed to his waist – it felt odd putting it back on after not requiring it for the past ten years – and tried to mentally calm his racing mind. “Say that again. Slowly.”

Standarily Sharwin Mic’ha – though everyone called him Stan – the royal clerk responsible for the details of the upcoming commitment ceremony of Princess Myra to the Ta’Roden Prince Renatar, took a deep breath, his purple-skinned face growing somehow paler. “The Princess isn’t in her room. She’s not in the palace. We’re trying to determine if she’s still on planet. Though I have to assume she isn’t.”

It was possible that Myra had simply gone on a small excursion. Perhaps this was some commitment ceremony preparation that Tahsin wasn’t aware of and that she’d return in a day or two, a scowl on her face, a curse on her lips, and a dagger in her belt.

Stan bit on his bottom lip, his large incisors nearly puncturing the skin. “Commander?”

“I’m thinking.”

What he actually was doing, was trying to ensure he wouldn’t lose control and scream at Stan for something that was clearly not his fault. Stan had set up the necessary precautions – tracking devices, drone monitors – begged the princess to behave, and had even gone beyond what Tahsin had suggested.

Princess Myra was…challenging. That wasn’t the clerk’s fault. Stan had been responsible for ensuring this ceremony went forward without problems. If the Princess was truly missing, there was a serious chance war would restart between their two planets.

Tahsin closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, hoping the pressure he felt behind his eyes wasn’t the beginning of head pain.

“Commander, I’m dreadfully sorry to bother you with this. I thought I’d be able to locate her on my own with the tracker I’d implanted into her arm. Somehow she was able to disable it and…we still have time to find her.”

Tahsin had known the Princess since she was a smalling. Rarely did she follow orders from anyone who wasn’t the King Xiox – and even then, she never did exactly what he wanted – taking perverse pleasure in causing trouble whenever possible. If she thought for a moment that Stan would use that tracker to prevent her from doing something she wanted, Myra would cut it out of her own arm before allowing that to happen.

He desperately wanted someone to blame for this, but Stan wasn’t the one. Even if he was the most convenient target. “It’s not your fault.”

The relief on the clerk’s face was obvious. “I should have tried harder to keep track of her.”

“If the Princess doesn’t want to be found, then she won’t be. There’s nothing you or I could have done to stop it.”

What they needed to do was find her before the King realized she was missing, or worse, the Matriarch of the Ta’Roden people did, and chaos ensued.

Tahsin needed a plan. Quickly. “Continue to run scans of the planet. Check her normal hiding spots. If we can’t locate her within the hour, I’ll cut off her funds. She can’t party if she can’t pay for anything. She’ll come marching back for no other reason than to scream at me.”

“Of course, Commander.” Stan gave him a small salute, one that was far crisper than anything Tahsin’s military subordinates would have done, turned on his heel and scurried down the corridor.

Tahsin remained standing still, his fingers still gripping the hilt of his ceremonial sword, while his mind explored every single possible negative outcome from Myra’s disappearance.

War was clearly at the top of that list. A return to the never-ending hostilities of the back-and-forth skirmishes between their two planets. Of course, war wasn’t the only option, even if it was the most likely.

The Ta’Roden people could simply turn their attentions to another planet, forge strong economic ties with anyone other than the Iknasian people, and leave their planet to wither and die. Their struggling planetary exports would be choked out of the larger galactic trading sector, making the struggles of the ordinary person even more painful.

Though most likely, war would be the result. The Matriarch loved a good fight almost as much as King Xiox.

They had one month to find her. If this was purely an Iknasian commitment ceremony, that would have been more than enough time to find her and get ready. Unfortunately for them, the Ta’Roden bonding ritual required several public ceremonies to get through. Each was designed to show not only the people of both Iknas and Ta’Roden, but the larger sector of their quadrant, that they’d put their differences behind them and were now moving together toward a more prosperous future.

Gods, he would strangle Myra when he saw her again.

Enough of this.Tahsin straightened, turned sharply toward his office, and marched away, taking long strides. The Princess might be missing, but he had no doubt Stan would locate her in time for the first meeting with the Ta’Roden delegation. That meant Tahsin had to work twice as hard to ensure security was up to the task of keeping not one but two royal families safe from potential threats.

The air in his office was cool, even as he glanced out his window to see heatwaves rolling off the black rocks on the planet’s surface. “It’s too cold in here.”

A soft chime from the station’s computer signaled a temperature increase. Tahsin nodded to the empty room, letting the blast of heat roll over his skin before settling down into his chair. The monitor display sprung to life, an array of information presented to him in order of importance. Details of the upcoming arrival of the Ta’Roden leaders, and the subsequent marriage of Princess Myra to the Ta’Roden Prince Renatar were listed. That was followed by a list of identified security requirements and potential fault points where Tahsin would need to assign additional guards, or have existing personnel undergo more extensive training.

Then there was the normal list of duties that his team had completed, alongside the additional protocol training they’d need to undergo to ensure that they were at the top of their –

Tahsin stood up so fast his chair fell backwards against the floor with an echoing thud. None of this was going to matter if Myra didn’t show up. All the preparation in the world couldn’t fill the void of a missing princess at her own wedding.

“Gods.”

He needed to do something. Violently adjusting the weight of the ceremonial sword at his waist, Tahsin strode back out into the corridor and marched directly to the exercise chamber. There were several youths training when he arrived, but Tahsin ignored their curious glances and headed straight for the fighting drone. He pulled his shirt off in one single motion, tossing it aside without a look.

The youths were now openly watching him, no doubt taking stock of the scars across his back and along his left side. The war with the Ta’Roden had been bloody, painful, and shaped several generations of Iknasian people; anyone who fought came away with scars.

Some ran deeper than others.

“I wish to practice.” The words came out of him far harsher than he’d intended. There was no reason to give his onlookers any reason to think there was a problem.

The AI activated a training droid that floated over to stop before him. “Level of interaction?” The monotone voice of the droid helped soothe his anger.

“Full attack. Blade weapon.”

The droid dropped lower to the ground and immediately engaged three long blades. Grabbing the hilt of his sword, he pulled it out smoothly, his gaze locked on the droid as a small smile pulled at his lips. Tahsin dropped into an attack crouch, his blade lifted above his head, pointed in the direction of the droid, the muscles in his back and legs protesting at the sudden change in posture. His left arm was out and to the side as a counterweight, and instinctively he was ready to fight. There was a long pause before the droid lunged forward, spinning on its axle like a whirling death wheel, and forcing Tahsin to immediately defend himself.

The first few hits send jolts of pain through his arms and chest as he absorbed them with the blade. It had been far too long since he’d engaged in any sort of fighting, forced to spend most of his days behind a desk or running around doing the King’s bidding. He kept his gaze locked on the right-most blade on the droid, knowing it was the weak spot he’d need to exploit if he wanted to take this thing out.

Tahsin moved around the droid, dodging its attacks as it moved but not landing any of his own yet. He needed to watch, learn the pattern, let his body fall into the rhythm of the droid’s movements before he was ready to unleash his attack. Everything around him fell away; he’d lost awareness of the others in the room, his concerns about Princess Myra evaporated. Even the ache of his muscles dissolved as he focused on the droid’s shifting movements.

Up, twist, up, pause, down. It was the single reoccurring pattern in the droid’s movements, one that he’d be able to exploit the next time it came around. Tahsin moved closer, blocking several more attacks as he moved into position, waiting for his moment. The droid amped up its attacks, the blows coming faster and stronger than before, but Tahsin kept calm and waited for the right moment.

Up, twist, up, pause –

Just as the droid hesitated in the air a moment before the unit was set to drop and begin its cycle once more, Tahsin lunged forward and pierced the droid with the tip of his blade, thrusting it in until the entire unit fell to the floor with an ear-splitting squeal and bang. With effort, he yanked his blade from the droid a slid it back into the scabbard and turned on his heel to grab his shirt.

He was momentarily startled by the crowd that had come to watch his brief practice. It had grown to more than the small group of youths who’d been engaged in their own practice, with both Stan and at least six additional youth added to the onlookers. Tahsin didn’t like being the center of attention, anymore than he liked feeling out of control of the world around him.

Yanking his shirt over his head and jamming his arms back through the holes, he glared at the group. “Why aren’t you training?”

The youths quickly returned to their exercises, while Stan smiled amusedly at them as Tahsin approached. “You’d think they haven’t seen an actual war hero fight before.”

Tahsin knew they likely hadn’t. He normally practiced in his private quarters away from unwanted attention. Something he’d remember to do from now on. “Did you find the Princess?”

It was Stan’s turn to look embarrassed. “No. However, I might have found a solution nonetheless.”

Tahsin didn’t want to have this conversation in public where curious ears might overhear. “My office.”

Stan said nothing else as he fell into step beside Tahsin, retracing his steps back to one of the few refuges he had at the capital, a small private chamber not far from the exercise room. The air was once again too cold when they entered, sending a chill through Tahsin as he strode over to the window. “Computer, privacy screen.” He waited for the tell-tale activation beep before he spoke again. “What did you find?”

“Have you ever heard of an organization called the Intergalactic Placement Agency?”

“No. Who are they?”

When Stan didn’t say anything immediately, Tahsin turned away from the sight of the rocks and heat outside to face the royal clerk. It was strange seeing Stan so excited, his body practically shivering as he shifted from foot to foot, his hands clutching either side of a large datapad.

“They specialize in finding people to fill positions. They claim that there isn’t a job too difficult for them to handle. I think they might be the solution to our…situation.”

“Ridiculous.” Tahsin stared at Stan, before letting out a huff. “How could they possibly help?”

“Well, we’re missing a princess.” Stan shrugged. “Maybe?”

“Absolutely not!” Gods, the thought of someone, anyone else knowing that Myra had up and run away, left the planet without so much as a note goodbye, it would put them all in danger. “We cannot risk anyone discovering she isn’t here.”

“I thought of that.” Stan shuffled beside him, looking far more confident than before. “We don’t need to tell them that the Princess is missing. We can simply say due to the tremendous number of appearances, we are looking for someone to stand-in for certain events. It will give us extra time to locate the Princess and keep the Ta’Roden Matriarch happy.”

Tahsin stared at him long enough for the royal clerk to begin to squirm under the attention. It was an immensely practical idea, one that would solve all their problems. And yet, Tahsin knew in his bones that something horrible would come from this if he were to move forward. It opened them up to far too much scrutiny, gave this placement agency more insight into the inner workings of the royal family than was wise.

But Myra wasn’t here.

Letting out a huff, Tahsin grabbed the datapad from Stan’s hand. “I doubt we’d even be able to find someone who looks enough like her to fool the Matriarch.” Not to mention the King Xiox. Once he learned of his daughter’s disappearance, all their livelihoods would be in danger of being taken from them. Or worse, the King would keep Tahsin with him until he fixed the problem, and then send him off to supervise the crystal mines in the depths of the Epioch moon.

“Apparently once you complete their information request, the AI has the ability to match the perfect applicant for the position. I’m not certain how it works,” Stan rubbed his hand along the back of his neck and let out a nervous laugh, “but from the few people I’ve spoken to, it does.”

There were thousands of faces in the database, and as Tahsin gave it a cursory scroll he became less hopeful. “This is ridiculous.”

“Commander, we don’t have many options available.” Stan held out his hand and Tahsin gave the datapad back. “I just need your permission to try.”

If anyone found out what they were doing, it would cause mass chaos.

The alternative was far worse.

“Do it. Keep this between you and me. If anything strange happens, if you have even the slightest inclination that this placement agency is going to use our needs against us, I want you to shut down communications and inform me immediately.”

The grin on Stan’s face made his eyes sparkle. “Yes, Commander. I’ll ensure nothing bad happens.” He began to walk away, turning around when he got a few strides away to hold up the datapad once more. “This is going to work.”

“It better.”

Because it would be literal war if it didn’t.

Tahsin continued to stand there, the sounds of the younglings working through their defense postures echoing to him. He looked in the direction of the room, as a wave of exhaustion rolled through him. He was getting too old for training, to be constantly resolving the familial problems of a royal family who didn’t see him for the individual he was. In the eyes of the King, he was Commander Tahsin Rai, leader of the squadron who single-handedly staved off an attack on the royal palace and brought the final skirmish to an end, allowing the diplomats and politicians to bring the war to a close. He’d been given a role of prestige, to serve the royal family and never have to worry about anything ever again.

Except engaging in hand-to-hand combat exhibitions for the King’s amusement.

And personally escorting the queen to the pleasure moon so she could engage in shopping and socialising without the risk of a regular person approaching her.

While also ensuring the headstrong princess did as she was told.

What he wanted was a quiet life far away from the palace and politics. Maybe on a farm where he could tend animals who would never talk back and question his motives and loyalties. He’d live out the rest of his days alone, his hands deep in the soil encouraging life to spring instead of being an instrument of death.

Someday.

But not today.

Straightening his shoulders, Tahsin pushed aside his foolish desires and turned back to the exercise room. Those younglings didn’t know the first thing about practicing, had never once faced a true threat, and it was his responsibility as a commander in the Iknasian military to ensure they’d be ready for that eventuality.

“Recruits!” He watched them all snap to attention as he entered the room and withdrew his sword and grinned. “Arm yourselves.”

Every day was a battle and the sooner they learned that the better.