Routine was a big thing for the young princess. However, the only routine thing going for her was her usual dressing up. She was in her undergarments already, so all that was left was for her to get her dress on and do her hair up. She got her shirt on over her head and adjusted the sleeves so her shoulders had the right amount of puffiness. After which, she stepped into her skirts and pulled up to her waist. The opening then adjusted itself magically so it was snugly around her waist. She managed to get her nine fox tails through their opening so she felt less restricted. After all that, she sat at her vanity to put her hair up into a bun and tied it off with a long pink ribbon. After that, she pinned a rose hairpiece to her bun where the ribbon kept it together. She stood up and made a few twirls before stopping. “I am Arsha Royana,” she muttered to herself encouragingly. “I am the Crown Princess, native to the Mid-realm’s capital, Largandra, and future ruler of the Mid-realm. I will be a kind, but firm, ruler. I WILL command my ship with dignity.” At that last statement, Arsha released a breath.
“Nervous?” asked a woman’s voice. Arsha yelped and whirled around to see her castle Genie maid, Domesta, giving a knowing smirk.
“Don’t do that!” yelped Arsha. “Giving me a heart attack like that! I’m tense enough as it is!”
“Still worried about commanding the Endeavor?” asked Domesta.
“Unbelievably so,” confirmed Arsha.
“You’ll be a fine Captain,” assured Domesta.
“I wish I could convince myself that,” gulped Arsha.
“I’m sure you will, eventually,” replied Domesta. “Breakfast is being served.”
“Thank you, Domesta,” bid Arsha. Domesta phased through the floor as Arsha left her tower room for the dining hall. Her human father and kitsune mother greeted her warmly.
“Good Morning, my little Captain!” cheered her father, Elgrad.
“Good Morning, Precious One,” called her mother, Hanako.
“Good Morning, Mom, Dad,” replied Arsha. She received a hug from both parents. Through that bit of contact, they could sense their daughter’s worry.
“It’s the whole tour of duty,” guessed Elgrad.
“I’m scared,” admitted Arsha as she sat at her place.
“It IS daunting, I freely admit,” mused Elgrad, “but rewarding. I know you’ve heard me tell this story numerous times, but my tour of duty was how I met your mother.”
“When I saw the Endeavor coming out of the Mid/Over Realmgate,” recalled Hanako, “I was stunned. After seeing your father, infatuation gripped my heart and soon, I joined his crew and, after his tour, moved to the Mid-realm and married him. Who knows? You might experience something like that on YOUR tour.”
“Maybe,” conceded Arsha, “but kitsunes aren’t known for seeing into the future, even Blenders like me. Besides, I’ve already got five other romantic partners across the Realms. I might see them during my voyage.”
“True,” replied Hanako, “but if you do, keep your mind on the job.”
“I will,” promised Arsha. As they continued breakfast, the communicator on the table buzzed.
“I’m not expecting a call,” said Hanako, confusion crossing her face.
“Neither am I,” replied Arsha. The communicator buzzed again.
“Can’t it wait?!” snapped Elgrad. He pressed a button on the edge of the table. “Yes?” he asked.
“This is Realmfleet command,” called a woman’s voice. “Your Majesty, your ship is needed at Falgreth. Alpha Priority.”
“Falgreth?!” yelped Arsha.
“That far?!” quizzed Hanako.
“Realmfleet, are you aware of the Endeavor’s current condition?” asked Elgrad.
“Condition confirmed,” replied the Realmfleet woman. “Regretfully, that is irrelevant. Arsha must depart at once.”
“A week before my scheduled departure date?!” protested Arsha. “Realmfleet, isn’t there another ship to handle this?”
“Negative,” countered the Realmfleet woman. “You will be briefed once you arrive on your ship.” The call ended. Arsha sighed as she leaned back in her chair, looking through the ceiling to the After-realm, asking “Why me?” silently. A knock on the door resounded through the dining hall.
“Come in,” called Elgrad. Domesta and her husband, the Genie head butler, Dumarith, floated in once the door opened.
“Is the meal to your liking?” asked Dumarith.
“Yes,” replied Arsha, “but, regretfully, we need a bag for us to finish on the way to the Endeavor.”
“I thought it takes off in a week,” mused Domesta.
“Realmfleet has other ideas,” replied Arsha. “They couldn’t spare any other ships and so assigned me an Alpha Priority mission to Falgreth.”
“That’s on the outskirts of the Under-realm!” protested Dumarith. “The Endeavor’s overhaul isn’t finished!”
“Alpha Priority missions don’t wait for such niceties,” countered Arsha. “‘Duty waits for no one’, I believe is Daddy’s favorite phrase. Could you package the rest of our breakfast for us? We’ll finish it on the way.”
“Very good, Your Highness,” replied Dumarith.
“Domesta, a masterpiece, as always,” complimented Arsha.
“I do my best,” answered Domesta as she summoned travel food containers. As she and Dumarith moved to clear away the other dishes and package the remaining food, Arsha and her parents headed to their carriage. The horse was ready, as always.
“Where to?” he asked telepathically.
“The shipyards,” directed Elgrad as he received the travel food.
“Got it,” confirmed the horse. He then realized where he was told to go. “Already?!”
“Alpha Priority mission,” replied Arsha as they climbed into the carriage. The horse then stared ahead of him in confusion, then snorted and trotted off once the carriage door was shut. As he left the castle, he went higher into the air, trotting as if he were on the ground. He entered the busy skylanes of the busy Mid-realm capital of Largandra. He stopped when a fairy gave off a red glow at an intersection, then proceeded to move once the fairy’s light went green but stopped suddenly when a harpy flew across from him.
“WATCH IT, BUB!” snapped the horse.
“HEY, I’M FLYING HERE!” screeched the harpy. After the altercation, they proceeded, without incident, to the Largandra shipyards.
The Endeavor is a thing of beauty on the outside, with concealed attack wings safely nestled in a large, silver, cloud-like vessel. Lights studded the vessel to communicate its current state of standby. Inside, however, was another story. On the main bridge, a pair of large, thick boots on short, tree-trunk legs were sticking out from the underside of a console. “¾ maho-wrench,” directed the owner of the legs as his stocky hand poked out, ready to accept a tool. The Chief Science officer, a brunette Elf man named Elmar, handed him the tool and the hand disappeared under the console. The voice came back. “I said ¾! Not ⅝! Aren’t you the Chief Science Officer?!”
“I am not familiar with engineering tools, Thangred,” replied Elmar. The hand and its pair came out and pulled the Dwarf out from under the console. He then waved the tool in Elmar’s face.
“They’re plainly labeled!” snapped the Dwarf Chief Engineer, Thangred. “Get me the ¾ one!”
“He’s yanking your chain,” called a woman’s voice. A special chair then glided in with the seat filled with water for the mermaid sitting in it. “You know Elves yank people’s chains a lot,” said the mermaid as she winked, pulling her long pony-tail back and adjusting the bun it was connected to.
“Commander Shalvey,” protested Elmar, “we Elves do not ‘yank people’s chains’.”
“Sure, you don’t,” giggled Shalvey. She moved her chair over to her station at Communications to check on the systems. As she tested, she noticed her inbox had an Alpha Priority message from Realmfleet. “Thangred, did you take care of the inbox’s systems?” she asked. Thangred groaned.
“I KNEW I forgot something!” he groaned.
“I think we can forgive this one,” mused Elmar. “There were other tasks that demanded our attention.”
“Mine, maybe!” snarled Thangred. “You, I could do without!”
“Enough,” rumbled a voice. Everyone turned to see a middle-aged Dryad come onto the bridge. “These arguments you two have,” rumbled the Dryad in his slow voice, “are interfering with the overhaul on this ship, making the repairs hasty.”
“Apologies, Commander Oak,” gulped Elmar.
“This won’t happen again,” assured Thangred.
“Good to hear,” replied Oak. “Now, Commander Shalvey, have you received an Alpha Priority communique from Realmfleet?”
“I have one here in my inbox,” answered Shalvey. “I figured it was a mistake.”
“Regretfully, no,” replied Oak. “Please read it.” Shalvey opened the message and read it twice over to make sure she didn’t misread anything.
“Falgreth?! Now?!” she yelped. Oak nodded. “But the overhaul isn’t finished!”
“Besides,” supplied Elmar, “sending us out when Arsha has not gone through the Captain’s ceremony is a breach of tradition.”
“It’s just not logical!” yelled Thangred.
“…It must be my birthday to hear you cite logic,” chuckled Elmar with a wry smile. Thangred rolled his eyes.
“I have already spoken to Realmfleet about this,” replied Oak, “as has our Captain and her family. Nevertheless, our orders stand.”
“…Well,” sighed Shalvey, “better call Nazay and Dalengor.”
“They’re not on the ship?” asked Oak.
“They’re tooling around Largandra,” answered Thangred. “I objected to that as well.”
“It’s only logical for you to do so,” mused Elmar. “Nazay may be an excellent navigator when the ship is in motion, but outside of the bridge, he could get lost easily.”
“Add that to Dalengor’s temper,” supplied Thangred.
“Oh, poor Nazay!” gulped Shalvey as she started to call the two that were absent, her pink seashell glowing as it connected.
“This way,” directed Nazay, a red tailed Naga.
“You’ve said that the last 10 times we were here!” snarled Dalengor, a shadow-dragon in humanoid form. “At this specific intersection, no less! Just admit that we’re lost!”
“We’re not lost!” protested Nazay.
“Then where are we?!” demanded Dalengor.
“Somewhere north!” he replied. “Or, possibly south.”
“THAT GOBLIN SAID THE SHIPYARDS WERE EAST!” roared Dalengor. “I can’t believe it! The Helmsman can’t get us through a city!”
“Look, navigating from the air,” argued Nazay, “is a lot easier than navigating from the ground! You can see the points of reference more clearly in the air!” The instant he finished; a voice came through their comms.
“This is the Endeavor, calling Dalengor and Nazay,” called Shalvey’s voice.
“Rescued at last!” cheered Dalengor. She switched her comms unit on and Shalvey’s face came through. “Shalvey, get us out of here! Beam us over!”
“Would that I could,” replied Shalvey, “but the transporters are offline.” Dalengor groaned. “Don’t worry, I have a lock on you guys. I can guide you back to the shipyards.”
“Thank you!” sighed Dalengor, grateful for any help.
“Is there a problem?” asked Nazay, wondering why they were called so early.
“We’ve got an Alpha Priority mission from Realmfleet,” replied Shalvey. “We’re going to Falgreth once Arsha gets here.”
“But the overhaul…!” yelped Dalengor.
“Isn’t finished, I know,” interrupted Shalvey. “And it’s a week early for Arsha to take command. We don’t have a choice. I can see you’re in the vicinity of the Largandra Chocolate Factory. Which entrance are you guys at?” The gate had a huge E on top.
“Eastern entrance,” reported Dalengor.
“We’re facing the factory,” supplied Nazay.
“Perfect,” replied Shalvey. “The shipyards are right behind you. Just continue down the street and you’ll be there in no time.”
“Shalvey, I owe you one!” called Nazay.
“You owe me big for this,” answered Shalvey.
An Olog, Lieutenant Commander Malak, the Tactical officer, was already on board the Endeavor, specifically, Sick Bay. The CMO, a mermaid dressed in fiery colors, Marshii, was putting his left hand through physical therapy with gripping exercises while she tuned her mechanical legs. “98, 99, 100,” she counted. “100 perfect grips. Your hand’s all healed.”
“Maybe a kiss will make it more better?” said Malak in a cutesy voice. He got slapped upside the head for that remark.
“Get Anya to kiss it for you,” hissed Marshii as she slid off the table and moved to her desk when the comms rang. Marshii rolled her eyes. “No rest for the wicked!” she mumbled. She pressed the call button. “Doctor in the house,” she greeted.
“Is anyone with you?” asked Shalvey’s voice.
“Just a Troll Tactical Officer that finished physical therapy,” replied Marshii.
“Perfect,” answered Shalvey. “You two need to come to the bridge. We’re leaving once Arsha gets here.” Marshii and Malak looked at each other in stark confusion.
“…Say that again?” asked Marshii.
“Realmfleet gave us an Alpha Priority mission to Falgreth,” explained Shalvey. “Objections were already raised, but the orders stand. We’ll be briefed by the one who sent the message to Realmfleet.”
“That’s the Capital of the Troll Republic,” recalled Malak.
“We’re on our way,” confirmed Marshii. Malak grinned as they left Sick Bay.
“No arguments?” asked Malak.
“I’m waiting for the right moment,” replied Marshii.
“…You’re gonna rip the caller a new one,” guessed Malak.
“Damn right, I am!” snarled Marshii. “Sending us out when the medical inventory isn’t fully stocked!”
A poker game was going on at the Recreation Deck. “Call,” directed a female drider, her spider half being covered in white, fluffy hair, called Thengo, the ship’s counsellor.
“I call as well,” answered a female Dwarf, Orthena, the Deputy Science Officer.
“Calling as well,” muttered a male drider, his glossy black spider body shining in the light of the room. This was Melandra, an Engineer under Thangred.
“Well,” chuckled a male Centaur Diplomat, Laverda, “if you lot are going to kick me, I must, respectfully, kick back.” He showed his hand. A pair of 10’s and a pair of 9’s. He reached for the pot.
“Hands off!” snapped Thengo. She showed her Straight and reached for the pot.
“No touchy!” hissed Melandra as he revealed his Flush and reached for the pot.
“Hold it!” boomed Orthena. She revealed her Full house. The other players threw their cards down in disgust as she took the pot. The comms then rang on the poker table. Orthena took the call. “Lieutenant Orthena here, with Lieutenant JG Thengo, Lieutenant Melandra, and Lieutenant Commander Laverda!”
“Perfect,” replied Shalvey’s voice. “The last of the Bridge Crew. We’re all needed on the bridge. We’re gonna be leaving when Arsha gets here. At her last known position, she’s half an hour away.”
“…Is this a joke?!” boomed Orthena.
“We have an Alpha Priority mission from Realmfleet,” answered Shalvey. “We’ll be briefed on the specifics when all Bridge Crew are assembled. And don’t remind me about the incomplete overhaul of the Endeavor! I’ve been inundated with such reminders since I called the rest of the crew!” The poker players sighed.
“All right,” groaned Laverda. “We’re on our way.” They left the table and headed for the door. As they did, Orthena left a trail of cards! Melandra was behind her and spotted the trail!”
“Hey!” he called. “How many cards did we play with again?!” He pointed the trail out to his friends. Orthena then sprinted down the hall.
“CHEATER!” shouted Thengo as everyone chased Orthena.
Arsha and her family had to open the door manually once they arrived on the ship and went up the elevator. “Allow me,” rumbled Oak as he helped open the door.
“Thanks, Oak,” bid Arsha.
“The caller is waiting for you, Your Highness,” reported Shalvey. “It’s Enfanti Glarosa, Co-Head of the Larkentha Family’s Blue Rose Harem.”
“Put her through,” directed Arsha. It took a while to clear the static, but a woman appeared on the screen, dressed in a blue harem-girl’s outfit and a blue rose pinning some of her hair behind her right ear.
“Arsha, is that you?” asked the woman.
“It’s me, Enfanti,” confirmed Arsha.
“Why are you asking for my daughter’s aid right now?” asked Elgrad.
“Because Lord and Lady Varsek were murdered in Falgreth while Master Delga and I were visiting,” answered Enfanti.
“During Freedom Day?!” asked Malak. “The leaders of all Troll-kind?!”
“Yep,” replied Enfanti. “I’ve been trying to find leads, but even I’M stumped where to start. I need you to help me solve this mystery.” Arsha winced as she looked around the bridge.
“I hate to say it,” she sighed, “but the Endeavor’s condition is…not its best.”
“I’m aware of that,” replied Enfanti. “I even asked if you guys could borrow another ship, but Realmfleet said no. Come to Falgreth and help me solve this mystery. We’ll hold a massive celebration when the situation is settled.”
“I look forward to it,” answered Arsha. “See you there.” The call ended and Arsha turned to her parents. “Well, this is it,” she sighed, her eyes getting misty. The same held true for her parent’s eyes as they hugged her.
“Come back safe,” whispered Hanako.
“Treat this ship like a lady,” directed Elgrad, “and she’ll bring you home.” The embrace ended as Arsha dried her eyes and her parents left the bridge.
“Captain,” rumbled Oak, “the bridge is yours.” He gestured to the Captain’s chair. Arsha sat down slowly, noticing that it gave comfort for her and allowed for space for all of her tails. Oak sat to her right and Thengo sat to her left. Consoles popped, jarringly, out of the floor in front of them and they had to pull them up to their armrests. Malak sat behind Arsha in a rotating seat surrounded by consoles. Shalvey was on Malak’s left and sat in a tank of water. Elmar sat to Malak’s right and Orthena sat to Elmar’s both consoles in the wall of the bridge, like Shalvey’s seat. Laverda sat on Shalvey’s left, with a book opened for all the various cultures and their diplomatic proceedings. Dalengor was surrounded by consoles as well, sitting in the same chair as Malak, on his left. Sitting to the right of Malak, in the same configuration as him and Dalengor, was Marshii in a tank like Shalvey. Thangred and Melandra were seated behind Malak with Thangred on the left and Melandra on the right. Nazay was in a seat directly in front of Arsha and allowed his large tail to be at its fullest length under the helm control console.
“Here we go, the uglier side of my people awaits,” muttered Malak, confusing everyone on the bridge. It was soon dismissed.
“Okay, Helm,” directed Arsha, “nice and easy.”
“As easy as I can make it,” replied Nazay. “We better get our straps on.”
“Not a bad idea,” confirmed Thengo.
“Agreed,” answered Arsha. All bridge crew pressed a button on their consoles and safety buckles came out. For humanoids, it was simply shoulder and waist straps connected at the center. For species like Merfolk and Nagas, additional straps were available for the tails. For species like Centaurs and Driders, straps were placed across their rears.
“All right,” gulped Nazay once the crew was secured, “here we go.” The Endeavor left the dock, but despite Nazay’s efforts, it was still a shaky departure. Good thing he suggested the safety harnesses.