Or “Here’s the next Warpt Factor, despite doing a poor job maintaining a regular schedule.”
The high, sleek gunmetal walls offered Izzy nothing to focus on as she waited in the reception room just outside of Headmaster Cosgrove’s office. The Headmaster’s assistant, Katarina, tapped away at her keyboard, her focus not leaving the computer once since High Chancellor Driscol and Kadimova had dropped Izzy off, entering Headmaster Cosgrove’s office quietly. Izzy stared at her feet, fidgeting anxiously in the chair.
“Mom. Dad. Gammy,” Izzy said quietly to herself. She glanced up quickly, checking to see if Katarina was paying attention to her. “Sorry, I got myself expelled from the Academy on my first day. And possibly exiled from the galaxy.” She sighed loudly, leaning back in the chair.
“What’s buggin’ you, kid?” Katarina said, glancing over the semi-transparent computer monitor. “It’s probably nothin’ to worry about, you know?” She snapped her gum loudly, and small sparks flew off of it.
“I guess,” Izzy said. She opened her mouth to speak again, and the door to Headmaster Cosgrove’s office slid open. High Chancellor Driscol stepped out of the room, and motioned for Izzy.
“Off to my execution,” Izzy said with a gulp. She stood up, and slowly walked toward the High Chancellor. “Tell my parents I love them?” High Chancellor Kadimova smiled for a split second.
“Headmaster Cosgrove and High Chancellor Kadimova would like a word with you,” High Chancellor Driscol said. “And if you could, please tell Bennett that if he dallies, or finds himself in one of the neighboring bars, I will happily leave him here.” She offered Izzy a polite salute, and walked away without another word.
Headmaster Cosgrove’s office was a stark contrast to the waiting area. Dense, fluffy red carpeting covered the floor. Izzy’s eyes were immediately drawn to the ornate crystal chandelier that hovered high above the headmaster’s desk. She could hear the gentle hum of its anti-gravity boosters as it gently bobbed up and down. The small, golden nameplate on the old-style wooden desk reminded Izzy she was in the office of Headmaster Archibald Cosgrove. The small, round man behind the desk, of course, was Headmaster Cosgrove himself. Izzy snapped out of her reverie when the door slid shut behind her.
“Sir!” Izzy said, standing at attention. High Chancellor Kadimova chuckled quietly.
“At ease, Cadet Warpt,” Headmaster Cosgrove said, his voice filled with the gentle lilts of a native-born Martian. “Please, take a seat.” He gestured behind her, and a chair rose up from the floor. High Chancellor Kadimova sat down next to her in a similar chair.
“Do you know why the High Chancellors brought you to me?” Headmaster Cosgrove said, the vast expanse of wrinkles on his forehead obscuring his eyes as he leaned towards Izzy. Izzy glanced at High Chancellor Kadimova, who smiled broadly. He stood up, straightening out his coat as he did so.
“I think I’ll just put her out of her misery, Archie, if that’s quite all right with you,” High Chancellor said. The color drained from Izzy’s face, and she tightened her grip on the arms of the chair.
“Your phrasing is as questionable as ever, Bennett,” Headmaster Cosgrove said, his eyes drifting from Izzy to the High Chancellor. “Perhaps you could continue before her grip on the chair transforms it to diamond.” Izzy loosened her grip slightly, smiling sheepishly. High Chancellor Kadimova walked around the desk, his arms behind his back, and stood next to Headmaster Cosgrove.
“You’ve got a certain sense of wonder and awe about you, Warpt,” High Chancellor Kadimova said, smiling. “Reminds me of myself, back when I wasn’t so damn old and full of aches. I’ve got a hunch you’re just the cadet I’ve been looking for to take on a pet project I’ve cooked up recently. Care to know the details?”
“Yes, sir,” Izzy said nodding. “Unless it’s some sort kind of space junk janitorial job. I think I’ll have to just request you go ahead and exile me for my future time travel shenanigans.” High Chancellor Kadimova raised an eyebrow, silently mouthing the word ‘what’ as he did.
“Bennett, Cecilia, and I have been talking about this for a few years now,” Headmaster Cosgrove said. “What you are about to hear does not leave this room. Are we clear?” Izzy nodded once again.
“Spiral Reach Academy is dying a slow death, I’m afraid,” Headmaster Cosgrove said. He retrieved the pocket square from his shirt and dabbed the sweat from his leathery red skin. “Companies like Plutonic Revival Command, formerly just known as Pluto, are working hard to privatize the exploration of space.”
“Quite sad, really,” High Chancellor Kadimova said. “It also means, given how well they attract new students, if you can even call them students, tuition here has to be raised fairly regularly to maintain operating costs. As a former headmaster of Spiral Reach, it pains me to see all of this happening.” Izzy leapt to her feet, saluting.
“What can I do to help, sirs?” Izzy said. High Chancellor Kadimova reached into his coat pocket, produced a wrapped piece of candy, and handed it to Izzy.
“Have a caramel chew. They’re quite splendid,” High Chancellor Kadimova said. “Sit down and relax for a moment.” Izzy unwrapped the candy and popped it in her mouth, sitting back down in the chair. The caramel made Izzy think of warm summer days at Gammy Margaret’s cabin back on Earth.
“You seem to have a great deal of potential, and I’ve offered to do something we’ve not done since Spiral Reach’s early days,” High Chancellor Kadimova said. “I’m going to act as your silent mentor. You’ll be fast-tracked into the Captain’s program as soon as possible. Don’t let Instructor Emerson know anything about this, though. He already seems rather displeased with you as it is.”
“He’s such a miserable thing sometimes,” Headmaster Cosgrove said. He placed a hand over his mouth, his eyes wide. “That comment does not leave this room. Ever. Do you both understand?”
“Yes, sir,” Izzy said through her laughter.
“At any rate, I trust Bennett’s judgment,” Headmaster Cosgrove said. “If he sees this much potential in you that you could turn things around for Spiral Reach, you could very well have a future as the face of Spiral Reach Academy.” Izzy gasped, her mouth agape.
“We’ll discuss the particulars as you and I walk back to the lower levels,” Bennett said. “I could use the exercise.”
“Those sweets aren’t doing you many favors, Bennett. You’ve gotten somewhat pear-shaped in your twilight years,” Headmaster Cosgrove said, his face immediately turning a deep purple as he finished speaking. “Yes. You may leave now.” High Izzy leapt up from the chair, trying to hold back her laughter until she had left the room, and High Chancellor Kadimova followed behind her.
Ursula walked along the brightly lit corridor from the Solarium. Tristan ran along behind her, trying to catch up.
“Hey, uh,” Tristan said. “Sorry, I didn’t catch your name.” Ursula slowed her pace enough for Tristan to catch up.
“I don’t recall talking to you, really,” Ursula said. “Is there something you needed, or do you just like following strangers down hallways?” Tristan blushed, his eyes wide.
“Sorry!” Tristan said. “I was just wondering, er, if you knew why the two High Chancellors took Cadet Warpt.” Ursula stopped, leaving Tristan to walk past her.
“Curious about Izzy, are you?” Ursula said, her eyes locked with Tristan’s. “That, in itself, is awfully curious. Are you secretly some sort of axe-murderer who’s trying to figure out the best way to get to her?”
“What? No!” Tristan said, backing away. “I just wondered if you knew why she was taken away from the class by such high-ranking people.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Ursula said, shrugging. She stepped over to the nearest telepod, and smirked. “I’m sure she’ll have lots of interesting thoughts on your curiosities, though.” She winked, selecting her destination. The telepod sent Ursula away, leaving Tristan to stare at the empty space she’d previously occupied, a look of horror on his face.
High Chancellor Kadimova shooed Katarina into the Headmaster’s office. Once she’d left the room, he looked around to make sure none of the telepods were activating, and winked at Izzy. He tapped a few keys on the computer. There was a dull whirring sound, and a panel behind the desk slid aside to reveal a series of catwalks.
“Oh, and before I forget,” High Chancellor Kadimova said, reaching into his shirt. There was a familiar click again.
“Yeah, I can’t just ignore that twice,” Izzy said, eyeing the High Chancellor suspiciously as he stepped out on the catwalk. He motioned Izzy to follow, and the panel slid shut after she exited the reception room.
“Stygian Corridors. They’re cloaked by the best active camouflage I could afford. I built them as a pet project, back when I ran Spiral Reach,” High Chancellor Kadimova said, smiling. “Complete privacy up here.”
“Oh, wow. That’s really interesting,” Izzy said, looking around. They were high above Terminus Major, but no one seemed to notice.
“Right. So the correct term is plasmyriad. I’ve got star-stuff flowing through my veins,” High Chancellor Kadimova said, offering a polite smile. “And you’re right. It’s not very smart to just out and ask that. Still a very touchy subject. Drives Maddie crazy because she’s worried what people will think if they find out one of the top members of the Galactic Senate is a cyborg.”
“Your secret’s safe with me,” Izzy said, offering a thumbs up. “So what all will this deal involve? I don’t want to find out I’m just signing up to be a mascot, even if my parents say I’m a cartoon character.”
“No. No, nothing like that,” High Chancellor Kadimova said. He gestured forward, walking ahead of Izzy. “This way, please.” Izzy followed along the gently sloping catwalks downwards, a few steps behind High Chancellor Kadimova.
“I have a friendly wager with High Chancellors Theodore Concord and Aphophis Olivia,” High Chancellor Kadimova said. “Concord is of the opinion that big business is the way to go for exploring all of time and space. Phi’s divided, but doesn’t seem to think Spiral Reach should fade into obsolescence like the state-funded colleges of old.”
“What about you?” Izzy said, walking faster to catch up. She wanted to see what kind of reaction Bennett would have.
“There’s a question certainly worth addressing,” High Chancellor Kadimova said, fidgeting with the fluffy expanse of his mustache. “My dear child, I think you are precisely the sort of enthusiastic, starry-eyed youngster who could turn things around in favor of this fine institution. If Spiral Reach Academy could outshine its competition just enough, I can only begin to think of all the things that could be accomplished.”
“That sounds really amazing, but how did you think we could do that?” Izzy said. High Chancellor Kadimova laughed, shaking his head slightly.
“First, we need you to be a Captain for Spiral Reach,” High Chancellor Kadimova said. “Given that time is a very large factor, the favor I must ask of you is urgent indeed. This is a grave and dangerous task, and it will test everything about you and your love of space travel.” Izzy smiled broadly, her hands on her hips.
“I’m your gal,” Izzy said. “Besides, how crazy could it be?”
“Funny you should ask that,” High Chancellor Kadimova said, smirking. “I’m going to need you to commandeer a Spiral Reach ship under the guise of being hired on as a new Captain. That won’t be an issue, will it?”