The room was so quiet the anti-grav thrusters in the tables could be heard clearly–something that, with a gathering so large, should have been impossible. Whoever had hacked the system to contact the Rigellian Palace remained cloaked in artificial shadow, their voice altered several times over.
Neither the Rigellian Supreme Leader nor the Ruklan Leadership trio spoke up, and so Izzy turned her chair and stood on it, waiting for it to adjust to the shift in weight so as to not fall off.
“Sorry, don’t see you on the guest list so maybe, I don’t know,” Izzy said, “Maybe just leave. Especially if what you said is true. You’ve done enough here, thanks. But no thanks, ever, actually.”
The figure on the screen tilted their head. “Forgive me, young woman, but I can’t say I’m familiar with who you are,” they said. “I am addressing the Ruklan and Rigellian leaders.”
Izzy huffed. “And I’m talking to you, creepazoid! Show your face and stop hiding behind boring, old spy tech.”
“Supreme Leader Rigellus, were you not pleased to have the defensive capabilities to keep the Ruklans at bay?” the shadowy figure on the screens asked. “Archbishop Geln, do you not recall your promise to topple the Rigellian Empire?”
Archbishop Geln has gone a sickly shade of green, sweat accumulating along his forehead.
“Fortunately, I was made aware of the circumstances of your collective…” the shadowy figure continued. “Well, failure is the only word that really encompasses it properly. Geln failed to lead the Ruklans to victory. As for you, Calvin? Perhaps you’re more clever than I thought, as you found the kill-switch I had built into the shielding equipment.”
The atmosphere in the room great significantly less warm and jovial, with many of the people at neighboring tables having hushed conversations.
“I bought plasma-driven shielding for the Capitol and the palace, these things are true,” Calvin replied. “From a reputable seller with Orion’s Blade.”
Geln didn’t speak a word, his face a mask of horror.
“As for you, child, perhaps you would do well to learn when you should speak up and when you should stay silent,” the shadow-shrouded figure said. “Eagerness to stand out can have unfortunate consequences.”
Geln let out a strangled gasp. “Give me another chance, please,” he begged.
The figure on the screen shook their head. They held aloft a modified comm-link–a very old model, modified from the look of it. They pressed a button.
Archbishop Geln fell the short distance from his seat to the floor, motionless upon landing.
“A pity,” the shadowy figure said. “I had such high hopes for our relationship once he had taken Rigel Six. Do take care, everyone. Remember that life and government are fleeting, unstable things, and one never does quite know when their role or their rule may come to a sudden end.”
The transmission ceased and many of the guests fled the room. President Kelran leapt down to the floor to examine Geln. CMO Carter ran past Izzy and began attempting to resuscitate the fallen Archbishop.
“What in the hell just happened?” Izzy asked. “Who was that?” Before she could register what was going on, her crew was by her side.
“Are you all right, Captain?” Brannigan asked, looking her over as if he expected her to combust at any moment.
First Officer deCourville rested a hand on Izzy’s shoulder. “That was quite concerning, Captain, so I must echo Professor Everest on this. Are you quite all right?”
Izzy blinked, staring off into the distance.
“Thank goodness you didn’t immediately declare who you are, as you do,” First Officer deCourville added. “Whoever that is would have found out very quickly where to find us, I fear.”
“Yeah,” Izzy replied. “You’re right.” She got down from her chair and approached CMO Carter.
“He’s dead, isn’t he?” Izzy asked.
CMO Carter sighed. “Whatever killed him left no physical evidence of what it did. His heart stopped.” She stood, turning to face Izzy.
“It’s okay to not be okay right now, Captain,” CMO Carter said. “No amount of training truly prepares for this moment. When you see someone die, needlessly, for the first time. Wish I could say it gets any easier.”
“Thank you, Carter,” Izzy said. “Mel. I’m sorry.”
Izzy returned to Professor Everest and First Officer deCourville, who stopped speaking to each other in hushed tones when they spotted her.
“I’m fine, you two. Right as rain,” Izzy assured them. “What a dumb saying.” She shrugged, shaking her head.
“Time to depart,” Izzy said. “We’ve done enough here.” She turned and whistled sharply.
“CMO Carter!” Izzy shouted.
CMO Carter raised an eyebrow.
“Ship departs…” Izzy hesitated. “Whatever, just be aboard in the next hour, please. I’ve got a headache that could kill an AI and I need a nap.”
Calvin went to follow, but Prime Minister Todan stopped him as Izzy left the Grand Dining Hall, tracing her steps back to her room. She gathered her things and made her way back to the private hangar The Lofty Albatross where The Lofty Albatross waited. It sparkled with a newfound shine.
“Damn it, they washed you,” Izzy muttered. “They washed my ship with blood-money from being awful.” She let out a strangled scream, covering her mouth halfway through.
The Lofty Albatross’ crew was waiting on the bridge of the ship when Izzy boarded.
“I’ll be in my quarters,” Izzy grumbled.
“Captain,” Professor Everest said. “A word, please? Just a moment of your time, we promise.”
Izzy hesitated at the doorway, turning around. She realized she had missed seeing CMO Carter, but it looked like the Lofty Albatross had gained a crew member after all.
“Go on,” Izzy said.
“Well, we did some talking, as we do,” Professor Everest said. “This one especially.” He pointed at Fontaine but didn’t allow enough time for a response, the Cicardox already clicking his mandibles in frustration.
“General consensus is we find a nice make port and unwind for a bit,” Professor Everest said. “You’ve certainly earned it, Captain.”
Izzy frowned. “I did no such thing,” she said. “If anything, I deserve to be thrown into a black hole far away from an inhabited system. By a robot so a person doesn’t get stuck with me that long.”
“That was…specific,” CMO Carter replied.
“Someone is dead because of me!” Izzy shouted.
First Officer deCourville stepped forward, both sets of hands clasped behind his back. “Captain, what you did today…What you achieved? You brought peace to two warring factions, and in doing so you uncovered something far more insidious at play. We’ll have to report the details back to Spiral Reach, but…”
First Officer deCourville hesitated. “You’ve earned a measure of rest first before we tackle filing the various reports needed.”
Izzy offered a half-hearted smile. “Very sweet of you, First Officer,” she said. “Guess I’ll leave it up to you three. Give me a heads-up when we’re there, okay? Like, more than a five-minute warning.”
“Of course, Captain Warpt,” First Officer deCourville said, offering a salute.
Izzy returned the salute. She turned to leave the bridge. “If you guys need anything, not that you’ll need anything of course,” she said before she departed. “If you do though, my door’s always open to you, my crew.”