Warpt Factor, installment six

Or “Wait, what? I actually wrote another one of these?”

This is long-overdue, and even more embarrassing because it was half-drafted for at least two months now. However, let’s not focus on that. Let’s focus on what shenanigans Izzy Warpt and the rest of the Lofty Albatross’ crew are getting themselves into now. Shorter entry, I’m afraid, but I’ll make up for it soon.

The distance from Spiral Reach Academy’s Mars campus to Rigel Six, in the most simplified space travel terms—the kind instructors enjoyed to use with newer cadets, children who dreamed of attending Spiral Reach, and lesser scholars—fell somewhere between a skip and a jump. In the earlier days of space travel, it fell somewhere between a jump and you’ve-better-got-cryogenics-on-your-side. More technically, a ship equipped with an engine with two fully functioning quantum confounders would take a little under two days to make the trip. The Lofty Albatross, in all of its lackluster glory, happened to have three fully functioning quantum confounders, and a fourth one that worked well enough with Persuasion.

Persuasion happened to be the name of the light pulse cannon Brannigan kept for the times his fists didn’t quite cut it.

“I really don’t think this is a task for a crew of three,” Fontaine said, chirping.

“Pipe down, you cranky cricket,” Professor Everest said. “Focus on getting us there.” He took several of his mighty, too-big-to-be-human steps, making his way to the captain’s chair. Izzy sat still, completely eclipsed by Brannigan’s shadow, and tried her best to make eye-contact with a point higher than his stomach.

“You have a plan, yeah?” Brannigan said quietly, leaning down ever so slightly.

“Getting there,” Izzy said, her tone betraying her. She had no idea what she would do once they got there. “I’ll be in my room for a bit if you need me. Important captain things or something.” She stood up quickly, and retreated to her room. Once she was sure she hadn’t been followed, she retrieved Minion from a convenient secret compartment behind her bookshelf. Izzy flopped down on the bed, which bobbed gently up and down as its anti-grav engines adjusted to the additional weight.

“Captain’s journal,” Izzy said. She paused, furrowing her brow. “Whatever. Hey, Minion. Still about five hours until we make it to Rigel Six. I hate to say it, but I have no idea what I’m doing at all. I can’t contact High Chancellor Kadimova unless it’s an absolute emergency, so that means I might be contacting him soon.” Izzy pressed the pause button on Minion’s screen and sighed. She sat up tall, straightening her outfit out.

“You can do this, Warpt,” Izzy said. “You survived learning sex education from your father. Stepping into a potential warzone is nothing compared to the terrors you went through then.”

Still some distance away from the Lofty Albatross, amidst the glimmering silver sand dunes on Rigel Six, the Ruklan Liberation Army gathered. Ruklans typically shied away from conflict, favoring long, televised tirades about their upcoming place as the overlords of Rigel Six. The Rigellian population entertained their Ruklan counterparts by allowing such broadcasts to happen every Wednesday, during the height of prime television gathering hours, and so the Ruklans were placated.

Of course, the balance of power shifted somewhat dramatically when a hundred or crates of new, highly sophisticated photon rifles destined for a Plutonic Revival Command base meandered off course. The Ruklan command embraced this as a gift from their benevolent star-beasts, who the Ruklans believed would guide them toward violence at only the most appropriate times.

Such times as when a medical convoy from Spiral Reach had landed to refuel and help the local population with some basic supplies.

Izzy scowled, pausing Minion and stowing it beneath her pillow, after a sharp knock at the door interrupted her.

“Young captain,” Fontaine said through the door. A few stray chirps escaped, and Izzy could almost hear her first mate shaking his head in frustration.

“Be right out,” Izzy said. “Just finishing up phase one of my plans for once we arrive.” She was met with an unexpected silence.

Lurking in the silence, high in the atmosphere of Rigel Six, was a highly-cloaked war drake-class ship. Two men sat at stations in the vast, largely unmanned bridge of the ship.

“Incoming vessel of unknown origin,” said one of the men. The consoles hummed and beeped.

“Spiral Reach Academy ship,” the other man said. “Designation Lofty Albatross. Should we attempt contact?”

“No,” the first man to speak said flatly. “We observe, as we were instructed.”

The Lofty Albatross entered Rigel Six’s dense atmosphere with a shudder that challenged Izzy’s balance as she walked back to the Lofty Albatross’ control center.

“All right, gents,” Izzy said. “I’ve come up with a plan. We land. We evaluate. We conquer.” Brannigan hoisted Persuasion high above his head, its metal clinking against the ceiling.

“What? Absolutely not,” Fontaine said. A machine gun series of chirps escaped, and Fontaine placed two of his hands against his mouth until the tick subsided. “This is irresponsible, and veers so far from our purpose.”

“We are charting the uncharted here,” Izzy said. “Do you doubt your captain?” Fontaine raised his hands in protest, only to fall to the floor as the Lofty Albatross was caught in an entanglement beam.

“Spotted before we could act,” Brannigan said. He sniffed, stroking his beard. Izzy took a deep breath, her expression still harsh.

“Let’s take a look at what we’re up against,” Izzy said. Fontaine clenched his mandibles, but complied. The monitors at the front of the Albatross switched from their internal readings, in rapid succession, to a breath-taking view of the ruby red sands below. A small encampment, well dug into ramshackle barracks, grew closer with each passing moment.

“Ready the blasters,” Fontaine said. Izzy raised a hand, her eyes narrowed at Fontaine.

“Belay that,” Izzy said. “I’ve got a good feeling about this.”

“A feeling? A feeling?!” Fontaine said. “What kind of starry-eyed, fresh-from-Academy foolishness are you trying to get us into?”

“You’re just cranky because you got passed up ‘gain,” Brannigan said, having spotted the look of rage on Izzy’s face. “For now, perhaps we can focus?” The Lofty Albatross touched down gently, and the power cut out completely. Brannigan, Fontaine, and Izzy exchanged glances, varying degrees of anxiety breaking through for each of them. Izzy sat down in the captain’s chair, legs crossed and fingers steepled in front of her.

“Now we wait,” Izzy said. “No guns. Understood?” Brannigan set Persuasion down on the floor quietly. He stood back up to his impressive height and saluted Izzy.

“As you command, Captain Warpt,” Brannigan said. “Best hope our visitors aren’t about to make an appearance, weapons held high.”

“If we die here, know you are a far greater disappointment than I could have ever anticipated,” Fontaine said, both sets of arms folded across his chest. Izzy offered a mock-salute.

“Thanks, First Officer deCourville,” Izzy said. “Your vote of confidence is more uplifting than all of the solar tides in the universe.” Brannigan fought visibly to suppress a chuckle. The sound of boots making their way in slow, calculated steps along the corridor grew louder. Izzy took a long, deep breath, and turned her chair to face the door.

“Brace yourselves, gents,” Izzy said. “Stand tall and look official. Maybe that’ll help out a little. I hope so. No guns, no matter what.”

“Very well,” Fontaine said.

“Yes, Madame Captain,” Brannigan said. The door to the control room moved inwards the fraction of an inch it needed to clear the doorway, then swung up. Four armed soldiers entered the room, each taking up a post along the exterior walls. A woman, tall and stately, walked into the room. She stopped in front of Izzy and stood at attention, the angular features of her face framed by her short blonde hair.

“Pleased to meetcha, Chief Medical Officer Carter,” Izzy said at last, smiling. She stood, offering a salute. CMO Melissa Carter returned the gesture.

“Captain Warpt, you are certainly a sight for sore eyes,” CMO Carter said. “We’ve managed to secure the area, but I don’t know for how long. Might I say it’s about damn time you got here.”

The two men in the war drake exchanged uneasy glances.

“I will contact Weapons Master Roderick Weston,” the one said.

“He will be most interested in watching this play out,” said the other.

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