Warpt Factor, installment two

Or “I did a really poor job of not getting really involved in this new project, because I’m already working on entry three and I’ve had entry two done since Monday.” That subtitle sure got wordy.

Here’s some more spaced-out outer space shenanigans. Enjoy!

            Three suitcases, each packed to near-bursting, sat on the floor by a collection of books, additional clothes, and other assorted things Izzy had gathered from around her room. She glared at the unpacked items, her hands on her hips. Izzy’s mother stood in the doorway, trying to work out how long they had until the three pieces of luggage exploded from being stuffed beyond capacity.

            “There’s a free shuttle back to Earth every weekend, dear. You don’t need to have everything packed for the first trip,” Izzy’s mother said. Izzy gasped, turning to face her mother.

            “Yeah, but I’ve got to be on top of my game. Perfect preparation is key, mom,” Izzy said. She returned to glaring at her suitcases. “Besides, it’s not really free. You know they hide that somewhere in the tuition. I’m weighing going for scholarships against selling a kidney.”

            “Our family craziness seems to be genetic, so I’m sure you’ll get more money from scholarships,” Izzy’s mother said. Izzy turned back to her mother. She opened and shut her mouth a few times, searching for the best response.

            “You might be onto something there,” Izzy said.

            “Maybe you could ask Jett to lend some of his ships to haul your metric ton of books to your new room?” Izzy’s mother said. Izzy let out a forced laugh.

            “You’re a real comedian, mom,” Izzy said. “Also, the language in his restraining order was pretty clear that his agents feel I’m a threat to his overall well-being. Give a guy one measly concussion and he calls his lawyers on you.” The holoprojector on Izzy’s nightstand switched on, its blue-only tones slowly forming a face in the air above it. The blocky blue shape gradually changed to show Izzy’s father.

            “You two know we’ve got to be at Grant Street Shuttle Bay in half an hour, right?” Izzy’s father said. The hologram shifted its gaze to the mess of packed and unpacked belongings on the floor. The image arched an eyebrow. “There’s a two-bag limit for freshmen, kiddo.” Izzy groaned, throwing her hands up.

            “Well, shit,” Izzy said. Izzy’s mother shot her a disapproving look. “Sorry. Crap. I meant crap. Dad, on a scale of one to ten, how likely would you be to disown me if I chose to take my books over half of my clothes and embraced the nudist lifestyle of yesteryear?” Izzy’s father rolled his eyes, shaking his head.

            “I’m hanging up now,” he said. “Pick what you really want, and I’ll see about getting your Aunt Victoria to loan us one of her personal cruisers.” The image of Izzy’s father disappeared, and the holoprojector clicked off.

            “Even if she agrees to it, I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” Izzy said. She picked up each of the three bags in turn, a thoughtful expression on her face.

            “Why’s that?” Izzy’s mother said, eyeing her suspiciously. Izzy picked up one of the bags, frowned, and threw it onto her bed.

            “Anything you guys pack in it will end up dusted in a fine layer of cocaine,” Izzy said.

            “Isabelle!” Izzy’s mother said, her voice raised ever so slightly. Izzy put her hands up in protest.

            “I’m not the one who joked about how Aunt Victoria’s favorite way to have a white Christmas doesn’t involve real snow,” Izzy said.

            “For that, you can lug your bags down to the car on your own,” Izzy’s mother said. “Captain Isabelle Wiseass.” Izzy offered a mock-salute, and hefted two of the bags up by their handles.

            The short car ride to the Grant Street Shuttle Station was quiet, save for the occasional whirring Izzy’s family car made when it switched between solar power and its back-up batteries.

            “What happens when I get homesick, I and miss you guys so much I eat my weight in ice cream?” Izzy said, finally breaking the silence as her mother parked the car.

            “You can visit whenever you’d like, little terror,” Izzy’s father said. Her mother had gotten out of the car and started to remove Izzy’s bags from the trunk. The vehicle lifted a few inches with the removal of each bag, and the car’s frame issued a distinct groan. Almost as if it were relieved its cargo had just been cut down by half.

            “I know,” Izzy said. “Just promise me you’ll both be there when Spiral Reach names me their first captain to earn her own ship before completing all the required classes.” Izzy’s father chuckled.

            “Wouldn’t miss it for anything,” he said. Izzy leaned forward, hugging her father around the seat before she got out of the car. Izzy’s mother stood hunched over behind the car, rubbing her lower back.

            “These things weigh a ton,” Izzy’s mother said. Izzy hugged her mother tightly, ignoring the sound of vertebrae popping back into place.

            “Probably from all the old-school chastity belts, highly illicit drugs, and black market explosives I hid in there,” Izzy said. A tall, somewhat pudgy man in Spiral Reach Academy uniform stopped mid-step next to the car, staring at Izzy.

            “Please do not give me cause to search your bags, child,” the man said, his eyes narrowed at Izzy.

            “Oh, yeesh. Sorry, sir,” Izzy said, smirking. She extended her hand, and the man regarded it suspiciously. “Name’s Izzy Warpt. Off to my first year at the Academy. I’m guessing you’re the Minister of Stoic Expressions, or maybe the Chief Inspector of Jokes.” She attempted a sly wink, but the gesture came across more like a spastic twitch.

            “Instructor Grant Emerson,” the uniformed man said. He stared at Izzy for a long, quiet few minutes. “I’ll be watching you, Warpt. That sense of humor won’t be taking you far in the Academy. Oh no, it won’t.” Instructor Emerson stormed off towards the shuttle without another word. Izzy’s mother shook her head, smiling at Izzy.

            “And here I was worried you weren’t going to make any new friends,” Izzy’s mother said. Izzy reached for the handles of her suitcases, but another person in a Spiral Reach uniform stepped between her and the luggage and picked it up.

            “Sorry, miss,” said the uniformed man. “We’ve been instructed to run these through special precautionary screenings before they’re allowed onboard the ship.” He walked away with Izzy’s bags, leaving Izzy standing with her mouth agape and a hand reaching towards where her luggage had just been.

            “On the plus side, the day can only get better from here,” Izzy said. “Or the shuttle could get ambushed by Mercurian bandits, and you’ll get my ear in the mail along with a ransom letter.”

            “That’s my girl, the eternal optimist,” Izzy’s mother said, patting Izzy on the back. Izzy turned around and hugged her mother tightly again.

            “I’m going to miss you guys,” Izzy said. Her mother nodded, frowning.

            “Your father and I will miss you, too. Oh, I almost forgot!” Izzy’s mother said. She reached into her coat pocket and produced a small black case. “Your very own Captain’s Companion, so you can keep track of all your adventures at Spiral Reach. It’s also a solid replacement to your handwritten journal, which may have gotten washed last month with your sheets.”

            “So that’s what happened,” Izzy said, laughing. She took the Captain’s Companion, turning it over in her hand. “I think I’ll name it Minion.” One of the Spiral Reach Shuttle captains stepped to the front of the platform, and her image projected high above the crowd.

            “The shuttle will be departing for Spiral Reach Academy’s Mars Campus Theta Epsilon momentarily,” the captain said. “If you have not yet done so, please board the shuttle, find your seat, and get situated.” She recited the Spiral Reach Academy mission statement, and the projected image disappeared.

            “You better get going,” Izzy’s mother said, hugging her one more time. “I expect updates on how you’re doing, and how amazing everything is.” Izzy smiled, offering her mother a quick salute before she turned and ran to the shuttle. The outside was made up to look like the old NASA shuttles from centuries prior, but the inside reflected a far more luxurious approach to space travel. Rows of seats lined the interior of the ship, and the cockpit remained closed off from the rest of the shuttle. Izzy found her seat, secured herself, and looked out the window. Her mother and father waved at the ship, unable to see Izzy through the radiation-shielded portholes. Izzy waved back all the same.

            “Good afternoon, new and returning students,” the shuttle’s captain said over the intercom. “We’ll be taking off momentarily, and it looks like we’ve got perfect solar storm conditions to make a safe and easy trip.” The intercom cut off, and Izzy could hear the subtle hum of the shuttle’s fusion engines powering up. In a matter of seconds, the shuttle had breached the upper atmosphere and was moving steadily out of Earth’s grasp. Izzy watched as the familiar blues of Earth’s sky transitioned to the inky blackness of space. She smiled at her reflection in the window before dozing off in her seat. A gentle tap on Izzy’s shoulder interrupted her in the middle of her Excellence in Everything about Being a Captain Award. She sat up slowly, blinking the sleep from her eyes. A young man, clad in a cadet’s uniform, stood next to Izzy’s seat. Izzy blinked a couple more times.

            “Mornin’, Tristan,” Izzy said, spotting the cadet’s name embroidered just beneath his Spiral Reach patch. She yawned loudly. “If that is indeed your name, and not just a clever ruse put on by your shirt. What can I do for you?”

            “Oh, uh, sorry,” Tristan said. “That is my name. The shuttle’s docked and everyone’s getting off. I figured you might not want to end up back on Earth right away.” Izzy removed her harness and hopped to her feet.

            “Good thinking. Oh, right. Manners. My name’s Izzy,” Izzy said. She extended a hand to Tristan. “Some people call me Isabelle. Don’t be one of those people or I’ll kick your ass.”

            “I’ll keep that in mind,” Tristan said. “Are you doing your Captain’s Courses?” Tristan said. Izzy eyed Tristan suspiciously.

            “What makes you say that? You’re not being a wiseass, are you?” Izzy said.

            “No, no! Sorry,” Tristan said. “I don’t know. You’ve got this sort of confidence about you, and no one other than the Captains seemed to sleep on the trip to campus while the rest of us stare out the windows.” Someone cleared their throat, and Izzy looked past Tristan. Instructor Emerson stood by the shuttle doors, his arms behind his back. It was a stance that exaggerated his pudgy form, effectively preventing him from looking intimidating.

            “I see you’re going to be a thorn in my side, Warpt,” Instructor Emerson said, puffing out his chest. “Run along, Cadet Richards. The last thing a promising young student like you needs is a troublemaker dragging you down.” Tristan snapped to attention, saluting Instructor Emerson.

            “Well, it was nice meeting you,” Tristan said. He saluted Izzy, turned, and ran off the shuttle. Instructor Emerson crossed his arms, scowling.

            “I’m watching you, Warpt,” Instructor Emerson said. “You’re a bad apple.”

            “Tell me something my dad hasn’t been saying for years,” Izzy said with a shrug. She walked to the front of the shuttle, saluted Instructor Emerson, and walked out onto the docks. Izzy moved carefully through the crowds, stealing glances of the Martian dust as it swirled about the docking station’s see-through dome whenever she could. She retrieved the crumpled paper from her pocket with her room number, and location, and looked for the nearest telepod.

            “Here goes nothing,” Izzy said, stepping into the transporter. She selected her dorm from the listing, and punched in the floor number. There was a brief, bubbly feeling just behind her eyes, like someone had filled her brain with soda water, and suddenly Izzy found herself staring out of the telepod at a different location. The clear glass door slid aside, and Izzy stepped out into the long corridor. Room numbers shined brightly in large, impossible to miss LED lights from the doors. Izzy followed the corridor until she reached room forty-two. She looked to the left, then the right.

            “Maybe I should have gone to orientation after all,” Izzy said. She glanced around again to make sure she was alone in the corridor, and then placed a hand on the door. Nothing happened. “Open? Permission to enter? I don’t know.” The door to the left of Izzy’s slid aside, and a tall, blonde girl poked her head out.

            “Hey, neighbor,” she said. “Having some trouble there? You’ve got to look into the little camera at the top of the door. It’ll verify that you’re you, unless you’re really someone else.” Izzy looked up, and a small camera at the top of the doorframe zoomed in on her face. A small light next to the camera changed from red to green and the door slid open.

            “Thanks,” Izzy said. “My name’s Izzy. I’m going to be Spiral Reach’s greatest Captain ever.”

            “Well, that sure sounds fun. I’m gunning more for a weapons expert job, myself. I’m Ursula, by the way,” Izzy’s neighbor said, smiling. “How do you feel about horror movies? My brothers got me a bunch of really cheesy ones from way back around the nineteen nineties.”

            “I might just have to stop by later and check some of those out with you,” Izzy said with a smirk. “Nice to meet you, Ursula. I think I’m going to get some unpacking done.”

            “Just so long as you stop by later, neighbor,” Ursula said. “I got here last week, and damn it has been boring.” Izzy nodded, stepping into her room. It was large enough; practically palatial compared to her room back at home. Her two confiscated suitcases sat in the middle of the floor, each marked with tags reading “Suspected Hazardous Materials”, and notes saying the bags were only a threat to someone if they weren’t lifted carefully. Izzy looked closer at one of the tags, and saw a doodle of two eyes over an unsettlingly detailed drawing of her. She leapt onto the bed, which bounced up and down in the air as its anti-gravity regulator adjusted. Reaching into her pocket, she retrieved Minion. She sped through the set-up screens, and pressed the blue “Record New” button.

            “Uh, I’m not sure how to start, I guess. Hey, Minion. That’s your name,” Izzy said. “It’s August twentieth, year twenty-five fifty-one. I’ve got a week of settling in and potentially skipping such exciting orientation activities as All Aboard the Trust Ship to Learning About Yourself. Already met two people who seem pretty cool, so I bet mom will be happy to know I won’t continue my tenure as a hermit. The other hermits will be so disappointed when they find out.” Izzy sighed, staring at the ceiling. A real-time display of the Milky Way galaxy spun endlessly above her bed.

            “I might have packed too much,” Izzy said. “Or maybe not enough. I wanted to make sure this felt like home, or at least like a good home substitute for now until I’ve achieved fame and glory, and can afford to put them up in a nice Saturnian condo. They deserve it. Pretty sure I’ve got an arch-nemesis already. Instructor Grant Emerson. I bet he’s sitting in a dark room right now, wringing his hands and plotting my downfall.” Izzy sighed again, glancing at her two suitcases.

            “Anyway, I have plans tonight,” Izzy said. “It feels weird saying that. I have plans tonight? Yeah. I definitely do like how that sounds. Until next time, this is Izzy Warpt signing off.”

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