Izzy stood in the guestroom she’d been guided to upon arrival at the Rigellian Palace. Stars twinkled in the ceiling’s perfect recreation of the night sky. A bed bigger than Izzy’s room took up a great deal of the floor, and on the bed rested a dress the color of vibrant rust.
“I’ve got my eye on you, fancypants formal nonsense,” Izzy said. “Sure, you’re very nice looking, and wow you are soft. But you’re so boring.” Izzy huffed, plopping down on the enormous bed, sinking into its sea of softness.
Everything about the room looked like big dollar signs, and the whole thing was enough to make Izzy want to find the nearest, greasiest fast food place.
There was a soft knock at the door.
“Captain Warpt,” CMO Carter said. “May I enter? Sorry, are you decent?”
Izzy stifled a laugh. “Sure, come on in,” she replied. “This room’s big enough for, like, a family of five and their twelve pets.”
CMO Carter opened the door, peering into the room. “That was an oddly specific number. Speaking from experience?” She hesitated, her eyes falling on the dress. She was still in uniform. She exhaled slowly.
“Not a fan,” Izzy said. “Is it poor manners to refuse?”
CMO Carter looked as if she was fighting against a smile that was winning out. “Truthfully, Captain Warpt, I was hoping to take my lead from my commander on duty.”
Izzy stared blankly for a moment, the words processing. CMO Carter continued to stand at attention.
“Oh, duh. Sorry, Carter. Still getting used to that,” Izzy said. “Izzy, please. Call me Izzy when we’re not doing official stuff. I can’t do serious twenty-four seven, it’ll kill me.”
CMO Carter smiled. “Duly noted, Izzy,” CMO Carter said. “Still getting used to helming a vessel?”
“Adjusting to the crew,” Izzy said. “It’s just First Officer deCourville, Professor Everest, and me on the Albatross. What’s your story, Carter?”
“Mel works better since we’re not being so official,” CMO Carter replied. “I was stationed at Medical Station Astras. Not much going on out here since the other Spiral Reach stations were decommissioned, so I keep an ear out. There are some interesting music stations out here if you figure out the right CommLink protocols. Heard some interesting chatter, so two others and I chose to investigate.”
Izzy nodded. “Heard there could be danger and didn’t wait for the cavalry to arrive.”
CMO Carter replied with a sheepish grin. “When you put it like that.”
“No, no,” Izzy said, holding a finger up. “I’d rather do the right thing a hundred times over doing it by the book once. Yeah, there are loads of rules you’ve got to follow, but Spiral Reach extends its arms to those in need. Right? I feel like there’s a lot of room for interpretation there.”
CMO Carter smiled. “My colleague have been released,” she said. “Though I suspect they are on their way back to the station as they didn’t seem particularly keen to join in this, well, very formal dinner with our captors.”
“Not up for being pals with the people who threw them in a dungeon,” Izzy replied.
CMO Carter laughed. “No, I suppose not. On the subject of dinner, however.” Her eyes shifted back to the dress, then to Izzy.
“Nope, no thanks,” Izzy said. “I think it’s best we represent Spiral Reach in uniform. We are proud officers who have no need to fancy ourselves up. These uniforms? Fancy enough.”
“Captain’s orders, then. I wouldn’t want to disregard those.”
Izzy furrowed her brow, her lips pursed. “Orders nothing!” She paused, considering the rest of what CMO Carter had said. “Sorry, I had a little crazy stuck in my ear. What was that?”
There was a second knock at the door, the rapid and urgent one of someone with something important to say. “Captain Isabelle Warpt,” said a nasally from outside of the room. “Please follow me to the grand dining hall. Dinner is about to be served.”
“To be continued,” Izzy said. “I’m bookmarking this conversation for later.” Izzy motioned for CMO Carter to follow. Beyond the door was a long hallway lined with doors, which Izzy assumed opened into rooms similar to the one she was in. No one, however, was waiting to guide her and CMO Carter to the grand dining hall.
“Apologies for the confusion,” a voice resonated from nowhere, but sounded like its speaker was directly next to Izzy. “I am one of the many autonomous Helper units. We have been summoned to bring you to dinner. Please observe the lights in the floor as we guide you to your destination.”
The beautiful, red carpeting glowed faintly to Izzy’s left. Izzy turned and stepped in that direction, and more of the hallway began to light up. She continued along, CMO Carter following suit.
Antique candelabras fitted with arcing plasma in place of flames lined the hallway.
The hallway reached a junction, at which point the Helper guided them to go left. This hallway had fewer doorways, paintings occupying the space between the rooms. They loomed from the floor to the ceiling, and were each different styles of painting that all depicted the greatness of the Rigellian Empire.
The hallway split off to a long, winding stairway, mirrored by a twin stairway further down the hallway. The stairways reunited at a landing just before the floor, a short few steps flowing down to just below magnificent double-doors like a pooling river.
The doors opened with ease, automated but programmed to await someone to reach out to open them. The grand dining hall was true to its name, vast and bustling with people. The center of the room was dominated by a long banquet table, levitating at just the right height thanks to the anti-grav boosters on its underside. The Ruklan President, Prime Minister, and Archbishop had gathered with Supreme Leader Calvin Rigellus.
Prime Minister Todan spotted Izzy. She smiled, waving her over. “Thank goodness, child, you’re a breath of fresh air,” Todan said, excusing herself from the group. “None of the servants bring the good sweets over for fear of some sort of political faux-pas. I don’t suppose I could convince the two of you to join me in seceding to form our own table, can I?”
“It’s tempting, but decorum or whatever,” Izzy replied. She glanced around the busy room, then returned her attention to the Prime Minister.
“Where’s the rest of my crew?”
Prime Minister Todan chuckled. “Your First Officer is still being calmed down, I believe, the poor darling. I’ve never met a Cicardox quite so…easily upset.”
“Oh man, the stories,” Izzy started. She took a deep breath, and continued. “I understand where he’s coming from, I think. He’s got brains for days and I bet he’s all soft and warm under that barrier of snootiness he puts up. He’s got a very bright future ahead of him, I’m sure. I’ll do what I can to get him there.”
Whatever thoughts Prime Minister Todan had in response to Izzy were never fully communicated. She gave a simple nod, placing her hands on Izzy’s shoulders.
“The tall fellow was looking after him, I believe,” Todan continued. “I’ll make sure a Helper is sent for them. And then perhaps a Helper for the Helper, just to air on the side of expedience.”
“There she is,” rasped the now-familiar voice of Calvin Rigellus. He was shorter in person, the wrinkles in his brow and around his eyes far more pronounced. His face was one of someone who hadn’t slept in days, but his energy was contagious. Izzy couldn’t help but smile back.
“You remind me of my Gramps,” Izzy blurted out before she could stop herself.
Calvin rumbled with laughter. “I’ve got quite a few grandbabies of my own, but given what you accomplished in so little time I think I could take on an honorary one. We’ve been busy talking, and have come to some very interesting conclusions.”
“Care to continue?” Izzy asked, eyebrows raised.
“Those details will wait for the speech I’ve prepared,” Calvin replied. “For now, please mingle. Enjoy the food and drinks! I promise you this will be a wondrous meal to signal wondrous beginnings! Excuse me, I believe the Ruklan Generals have arrived. I’d like to greet them.” He rushed off into the crowd.
Izzy watched as Calvin disappeared from sight, then turned to Prime Minister Todan.
“He’s not the same guy I threatened with a doomsday device earlier, right?” Izzy asked. “Doppelganger? Good twin to the evil one from before?”
CMO Carter and Prime Minister Todan both laughed.
“My dear, the delicate minutiae of diplomacy are tedious and boring, but when utilized well they make for all the difference,” Todan explained. “Getting a message of peace across to all of our people will take time, but it has to begin somewhere. We’ve already had a number of breakthroughs in this short time.”
“Things can only get better from here,” Izzy replied.
“With the right effort, yes,” Todan said. “I don’t suppose you’ve got your remarks prepared, do you? After all, you did threaten to blow up the planet.”
Izzy looked around the room for a quick diversion, and happily found one in spotting Professor Everest.
“Oh, hey. Brannigan’s here. Better go rendezvous with him to, uh, ship captain stuff,” Izzy replied rapidly before rushing off towards her crew.
Brannigan greeted Izzy with a warm smile and a thumbs-up. “Quite the plan you cooked up there, Captain!
“Hardly a plan,” First Officer deCourville snapped, appearing from behind Brannigan. “You could have gotten us all killed, you know, along with every Ruklan and Rigellian.”
“Didn’t hear you offering up anything better,” Brannigan chided.
“No, Professor, he’s right,” Izzy said. “it was the best I could come up with in the moment, but it was a gamble. A crap-shoot. A real roll of the dice, yeah? So next time we go in better prepared.”
“Exactly the kind of contrary response I expected…” First Officer deCourville snapped, stopping mid-thought. “Beg you pardon, what did you just say?”
“Attention, esteemed guests,” the Helper voice boomed throughout the vastness of the grand dining hall. “Please locate your designated seats as dinner is about to be served. Speeches to follow from our Magnificent Supreme Leader and his Ruklan cohort.”
“Leaving you on a cliffhanger,” Izzy said with a wink. “Speech to give and dinner to not eat because speeches give me anxiety. See you around!”
Izzy’s place setting was directly next to Prime Minister Todan’s, though she distinctly remembered it being to the immediate left of the Supreme Leader. CMO Carter was seated with the rest of the crew at one of the smaller tables that seemed to be slowly gravitating around the main table.
Prime Minister offered a polite smile and a pat on the back as Izzy sat down. “You’ll do just fine, Captain Warpt,” Todan said. “I believe in you.”
Food was brought out course by course, with each one more awe-inspiring than the last. Izzy had provided no information beforehand, but was offered dish after dish of her favorites. By the time dessert had arrived, the only thing she could think of was how nice a nap would be.
“Honored guests, Rigellian and Ruklan,” Calvin said, his seat having shifted to become a floating platform upon which he could stand. “And what an honor, I would like to add, is it to be able to greet Rigellians and Ruklans together on good terms.” He paused until the applause quieted.
“I am not always quick to admit my faults and failures, and it took our fair planet reaching the brink of war and destruction to get there,” Supreme Leader Calvin said, pausing until the laughter at his self-deprecation died down. Video screens manifested in the air around the room displaying pictures with dates from hundred years prior.
“The Ruklans and Rigellians lived in harmony for years, and though we did not always approach issues the same way we were still able to put our differences aside. We allowed a grievous and terrible rift to develop, and I certainly did my part to only worse than. I am so sorry for that, but will not stop with mere words. An apology is only as good as the actions that follow it.”
Calvin gestured to President Geln. She stood, her seat becoming a platform similar to Supreme Leader Calvin’s.
“There is still much to discuss, and even more rebuilding to be done by both sides,” President Geln added. “The road ahead is long and will take time and hard work to traverse. I am confident we will get there together.”
Supreme Leader Calvin nodded. “As part of the first step, I am stepping down as Supreme Leader as of this moment.”
“And I as President,” Geln added. “Today marks the end of old, divided factions, and the beginning of a unified government on Rigel Six. One that is an extension of Rigel Six’s people.”
“All of them,” Supreme Leader concluded. “It took a substantial wake-up call for us to come to these terms, and it is in no small part thanks to the actions of one very brave, perhaps unorthodox, Captain of the Spiral Reach Academy.”
Izzy felt her face warming and knew she had to be blushing. She quietly cursed herself as she knew what would follow.
“That very Captain, Isabelle Warpt, has joined us with her crew to celebrate on this evening as we move forward together to begin repairing our broken and divided past,” Calvin continued. He gestured to Izzy, who stumbled to stand in time before the seat was gone completely.
The room roared with applause from both Ruklan soldiers and Rigellian civilians. Brannigan, taller than anyone in the room, hooted and hollered as the crew’s table moved past. He half-stood, precariously balanced on his chair. CMO Carter also applauded.
Izzy saluted her crew, and found herself a little surprised when all–including Fontaine–returned the gesture.
“Hey, everyone!” Izzy said cheerfully. She paused, startled by the unexpected magnification applied to her voice. She couldn’t help but notice everyone in the room was watching her, and a nagging voice in the back of her head reminded her of every nightmare featuring a similar situation. She cleared her throat, straightened up, and continued.
“Families are crazy,” Izzy said. She paused, aware of the people looking around to see where this was going.
“Families are crazy. They’re a little bit of all sorts of people, with different personalities and interests and so many feelings,” Izzy continued. “And so many arguments, like when your uncle decides he’s going to try to rob a bank and no one has the sense to stop him until, like, halfway through the whole mess, but then it turns into a big, confusing conversation about who has to bail him out of prison.”
Murmurs of confusion rose among the gathered crowd.
Izzy took another deep breath and continued. “You’re all like a family,” she said. “I look out at you and I see mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. You don’t always get along, but you make the best of it. Tonight? Totally making the best of it. Tomorrow? Only one way to find out.”
“But I believe in you all. I believe you’ll all take those nasty thoughts and toss them in the trash where the belong, and give each other a chance. I may have helped push things along, but the rest is up to everyone here, and everyone across Rigel Six. The best part? You can definitely do it, and it’ll be amazing! Thank you for letting me be a part of this.”
Izzy could feel the sweat on her forehead and her palms. She shook slightly, but not enough to be seen, and waited.
Both Geln and Calvin lead in the applause. A number of others joined in, and before long the roar was so great that nothing could be heard over it. Izzy sat down as soon as her platform cooperated.
“Very personal,” Prime Minister Todan said. “I’ll have to ask for the stories behind it some day, I think.”
“A toast to Captain Warpt and Spiral Reach Academy!” Calvin added.
Glasses were still raised high in the air when the screens abruptly cut out. They returned featuring a single figure, shrouded in darkness.
“Forgive my interruption, but I would hate for such a momentous gathering to go without giving a few words,” the shadowy figure said. “After all, I sacrificed a great deal of time and money to provide the Ruklans and Rigellians with such impressive arsenals. It’s the least I deserve.”