THE EMPEROR BY THE SEA (I)

I

“I swear! You look just like him! You even sound like him. Luckily though, you don’t have his hair.” The Muse of Mischief enjoyed teasing her old friend.

“Bah!” Emperor Bartala said waving his hand toward M, “You are only telling me this because you want me to return home, to distract me from the fun! I could not possibly look and sound like an Earthling theatre star. Wait, what’s wrong with his hair?”

The Muse of Mischief laughed, she was having fun. Emperor Bartala, M’s oldest friend, was a fun loving jokester from Ploosnar. He was someone who was actually able to understand and enjoy her mischievous side. They had known each other since they were children.

“I’ll tell you what my dear Bartala. We will show you an image of Londo Mollari, and if you honestly don’t think you look like him at all, I will enter the portal of your choice, and race you back here. BUT! If you concur, that there is a resemblance, you will return home to Ploosnar. Deal?”

Bartala lifted his fifth or sixth glass of Nekmid and tossed it back like it was a shot of Tequila. Nekmid was his drink of

choice. It is a colorless alcohol that tastes something like spicy teriyaki sauce. It is awful, but somehow the taste of it grows on you. M guessed it was at least twice as strong as the spirits of Earth. Agent Brzko and M had been here for several hours, trying to convince Bartala that it was time to go home, back to Ploosnar. But he was having none of it. This was not the first time they’d been in this situation with the Emperor. The three had done a little planet hopping together before he ascended to the throne of Ploosnar.  Bartala’s  wife,  Empress Nalau,  had  asked  for  their help. Bartala is a betting man and he seems to have created the ultimate game here on the Planet of Portals.

They were in a small establishment in the community of Vassbr,  seated  outside  on  the  shore  of  the  Vassbr  Sea.  The weather was a perfect temperature, a light breeze blowing in from the water. The Vassbr Sea is a green the shade of emeralds. Bartala was being incredibly stubborn today, but M and Brzko were not in a hurry, this place was just too lovely. The Planet of Portals has three suns; two of them are very small and hang just below the main sun. They were slowly progressing toward the horizon over the sea. Their color was just beginning to reflect off of the water, it was stunning. After growing up on a planet with only one sun, seeing the reflections of three on the water still seems odd to M and Brzko.

The Portals here, in Vassbr, lead to random places, they are a little dangerous. A traveler could step through a portal and end up on the Black Sea Planet. If you couldn’t swim, you’d be in real trouble. Or you could end up on Chyke 2C95, and that might be a little too hot for most travelers, considering the planet is pretty much covered with active volcanoes and Haplogawas. The inhabitants live underground in old lava caves.

There are tamer places on the Planet of Portals, for example Unilond where all of the portals lead to a habitable place in the Glion Galaxy. But a traveler has to pay a small sum to access these portals. There are even portals that lead to different times. The random portals here in Vassbr were free, and dangerous.

Bartala had started a betting game with weary travelers, but unfortunately for them, the game took much longer than they usually anticipated. Bartala would bet them that if they walked through the same portal together, he could return to this spot faster than they could. Whoever made it back first would collect the money or item of value that the game players had agreed to leave in escrow with the owner of this establishment.

“Hey wait a minute, how much Nekmid do you think I’ve had?” Bartala said, hitting the table with his open palm, doing his best to sound perturbed. “That bet means nothing from you two, because you are able to open your own apertures, travel through space and time, and return here immediately. But I do like your wit my friends.”

As Emperor of Ploosnar, Bartala commanded the entire fleet of ships, unfortunate for the travelers he toyed with. Most of his unsuspecting prey had come to the Planet of Portals because they couldn’t afford to travel any other way, and those that traveled via the random portals of Vassbr were often desperate, criminals on the run. Space travel for the masses was still quite slow compared to the immediacy provided by portals. But the portals were one way, so these unsuspecting betters had little chance of returning before Bartala. He only had to contact his fleet and await their arrival. It was still dangerous, but not nearly as dangerous as it was for the common traveler.

“All right then, show me this image of the Great Londo from Babylon 5 and I will consider returning to Ploosnar.”

Brzko took his tablet out of his inside jacket pocket, unfolded it, and sat it on the table. He opened the database app, scrolled through the list and found Babylon 5, he scrolled through the character images until he found one of Emperor Londo Mollari, of Centauri Prime.  He lifted the tablet and turned it toward Bartala.

Bartala jumped from his seat, knocking his chair over. He began stomping his feet, both of his hands flew up to cover his mouth, a feeble attempt at stifling his excitement. He emitted something like a scream. Brzko thought his squeal sounded just like that of a twelve year old Earth girl at a boy-band concert. Bartala started bouncing up and down.

“OK, you win, you win, you win! I cannot believe this. Tell me the truth you have altered an image of me, no? Oh I do not care this is priceless. This Londo even dresses as I do – beautiful coat with a jeweled medallion. And I want that hair! We have to go. I must return to Ploosnar and find a coiffeur. I need this image, please print me a copy.”

“Of course Bartala, in fact we’ll just take you back to

Ploosnar with us.”

“Brzko, you are just as witty as the Muse of Mischief! I do not need an escort back to Ploosnar. But I cannot resist the immediacy of your style of travel. I will contact my ship and tell them to return without me.”

Brzko settled the bill with the keeper while Bartala contacted his ship. The trio walked a short distance from the bar, Agent Brzko and the Muse of Mischief had learned long ago that most beings were not comfortable observing the immediacy of

their travel. Either of them could transport a willing being with them, they just needed to maintain physical contact.

The Muse of Mischief took Bartala’s arm as though he were her escort, “Ready Bartala?”

The trio vanished.

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