THE BRUSHER (I-III)

As always, the Muse of Mischief arrived at the foot of the stairs and was announced by the palace guards. Emperor Bartala was waiting for her. He had a concerned look, almost nervous.

“Quickly M, come inside.” he said whisking her through

the front entrance of the palace. She followed Bartala down a hallway and palace guards followed them. That was highly unusual, there was virtually no crime on Ploosnar and palace guards did not usually follow the Emperor around his palace. Outside of it yes but not inside.

Rather than one of the usual grand sitting rooms, Bartala

led her to his small sitting room deep within the palace, one of his private rooms. Once the Muse of Mischief entered the room he closed  the  door  and  the  guards  took  their  station  outside. Bartala’s rooms are very masculine, the lower half of the walls paneled in a dark, exotic looking wood. The upper half of the walls painted a burgundy color. The main furniture consists of two large sofas that face each other over a glass topped coffee table.

“What’s wrong Bartala is Nalau ok?” M asked.

“Yes, she is fine, she is unhappy with me, but she is fine. I am worried about you, you and Brzko.” he said taking a seat and motioning for her to be seated on the sofa opposite his.

“An unidentified ship entered our orbit yesterday. They

did not respond to our communications, when approached by our defensive squadron they left quickly. This has happened before, nefarious individuals end up here, realize where they are, and leave.” he said.

“Sure, it happens all over. But what does that have to do with me and Brzko?”

“One of the other security reports of yesterday described an individual who was stopping Ploosnarians on the street and asking  them  if  they  knew  you  or  Brzko.  Sometimes  this individual used your names, sometimes only a description. Knowing that you are dear friends of mine that often stay in the palace, someone alerted the palace guards. They were not able to locate this individual, but they did obtain a description, and an image from security cameras.” Bartala said.

“So who was it?” M asked as Bartala took his tablet from his jacket pocket and unrolled it. He turned the screen so the Muse of Mischief could see it. She was looking at a short video clip playing in a loop. The individual in the clip was about the same build as Brzko, he had a long jagged scar running down his right cheek, and also his right forearm. He looked like countless other humanoids, except he was brushing his hair. He had extremely short black hair, and in his right hand he held a small soft bristled brush with no handle. He continually ran the brush over his head, front to back, front to back, front to back.

“The  Brusher!”  M  exclaimed.  “I  expected  his incarceration to last longer, after all the trouble he caused on Cazoova. But I’m not surprised that he came looking for me.”

“You  apprehended  him,  and  he  wants  revenge.  He’s dangerous so I’ve taken the liberty of contacting Zri. You need protection.” Bartala said.

The  Muse  of  Mischief  waved  her  hand  and  made  a dismissive shrug, “I kicked his ass once, and I’ll do it again. I might be female, but I’m not feeble.”

It took just a second for Bartala to realize what she had said. He let out an enormous laugh, and stomped his feet. So loud in fact, that a palace guard opened the door and stuck his head in. “Emperor? Is everything OK?”

“Yes, yes, yes. The Muse of Mischief just cracks me up! Please alert us when Zri arrives from Gaznzul.”

“As you wish Emperor.” the guard said and closed the door.

“You’ve never told me what happened with the Brusher. I just  know  that  you  apprehended  him  alone  on  Cazoova  and turned him over to the Gaznzulians.”

“Pour me a shot of nekmid and I’ll tell you the story.” M said playfully. “But first I need to ask you a question.

Bartala raised his eyebrow at that, “Kiik has offered to transport all of the Rogsaars to Myaad. She has a ship large enough to take them all. Then your barge could take all of the ships back to Myaad sometime…”

“Barge? What is a barge?” Bartala interrupted.

When the Muse of Mischief smiled at him, he knew he was about to receive a playful insult. M removed her tablet from the pocket in her jacket, unrolled it, and called up an image of an Earth garbage barge. She turned it so Bartala could see it.

“Oh very nice M, very nice. Are you saying my state of the art transport ships are meant for hauling trash?” Bartala said, pretending to be insulted.

“So what do you think are you OK with the Kiik visiting Ploosnar  for  a  few  days  and  transporting  the  Rogsaars  to

Myaad?” M asked.

“Yes, yes, of course. I approve of this plan M. I have never met a Suus. Will Kiik be able to stay in the palace for a few days? Nalau will be very upset with me if she does not get to entertain a Suus,”

“Kiik is planning to stay on Ploosnar for two rotations, and then it will take her four to get here.” M explained.

“Excellent, Nalau will have time to prepare. What will Kiik need to be comfortable? How big is a Suus? I heard they have four arms and that their skin is like needles, is that true?” Bartala asked, clearly excited by the idea of meeting a new species.

“Jeez, relax would ya?” M jabbed “I don’t think you need to do anything special for Kiik. The Suus are entirely telepathic, they do not have mouths. Kiik will provide her own sustenance, vapor, while she is here. And yes, Suus have four arms, and their skin is covered with fine needles. But as long as you don’t go around hugging them, you’ll be fine.”

“Oh no, will she be able to read all of my thoughts? How will I converse with her, I am not telepathic” Bartala asked.

“Yes, she has that ability but she will not read your thoughts unless you are conversing. Suus are very disciplined. Unless you two are alone, you will converse by speaking for the benefit of the non-telepaths in the vicinity. Suus “hear” non- telepaths just fine, they have ears.” M explained.

“Please tell her I look forward to her arrival. I will notify the Rogsaars that they should prepare for departure in approximately six rotations. And I suppose that story I want to hear will have to wait, I must go speak to Nalau.” Bartala said as he stood. “You are staying here I assume?”

“Ummm  yeah!  You  still  owe  me  a  nekmid.  And…  I should wait for Zri.” M said.

“Excellent, please inform Kiik that we are eager to have her here on Ploosnar. I will break the news of guests to my beloved Nalau and be back here to hear your story. DO NOT get into that nekmid before I return!” Bartala said while wagging his finger at M. He was clearly cracking himself up as he turned to leave the room.

Rather  than  go  through  the  trouble  of  activating  her earcom link to contact Brzko, M just went to Myaad. She had a hunch that Brzko and Kiik would be at the Myaad administration building  making  plans  for  their  departure.  Brzko  was  not surprised to see her.

“Hello M, how’s Bartala?” he asked.

“He’s fine, good. He is delighted by the idea of meeting you Kiik, and very grateful for your offer of help.” she answered.

A general feeling of feeling honor emanated from Kiik. “Are you going to stay and help us prepare for the trip?”

Brzko asked.

“No, I have to get right back, before Bartala returns. He stepped out for just a minute to speak to Nalau. Also I need to be there when Zri arrives.”

“Zri?  What’s  wrong?  Why  are  you  waiting  for  Zri?” Brzko asked with serious concern.

“The Brusher is free and has been asking about us on Ploosnar. Bartala took the liberty of contacting Zri to meet me on Ploosnar while they look for him.” M explained, trying to put his mind at ease.

“So he’s free and he’s looking for you. No doubt he’s pissed he got his ass kicked by a girl, even though that girl is the planet jumping, time traveling, Muse of Mischief, it would still piss most males off. I don’t like it M, please go straight back to the palace and wait for Zri. If anything happens contact me.” Brzko said kissing her cheek.

“I will, you two have a safe trip, and have fun playing spaceship Brzko.” M said giving him a big hug. Then she was gone.

II

“Why  can’t  you  use  a  communicator  like  everyone  else?!” Bartala asked. “You’ve missed the first round of nekmid.

The Muse of Mischief had arrived back on the sofa where she had been seated when Bartala left the room, but she wasn’t fast enough. Bartala had returned before her. He sat across from her, attempting to look perturbed. “Why use a communicator when I can just go talk to someone?” she fired back.

“I see your point; I guess if I had that ability I would do the same thing. But now Brzko and Kiik will be on the ship for four rotations, and Nalau will be preparing for their arrival, so you and I have plenty of time for those stories you owe me!” Bartala exclaimed.

“Pour me a nekmid and I’ll tell you about the Brusher.” M said.

Bartala eagerly complied, pouring nekmid for them. He knew they would want more before M was done with her story, be brought the bottle back to where they were sitting. The old friends settled in, Bartala kicked off his shoes and put his feet up on the coffee table, M kicked off her heels and drew her legs up on the plush sofa, towards her.

“Brzko and I received a request from the Ruling Council on Cazoova,” she began, “they had been receiving consistent reports of young Cazoovians being removed from their parents, stolen. We went to Cazoova and started looking for patterns in the disappearances.”

“How old is a Cazoovian before it can be raced?” Bartala asked.

“Even  though  they can  communicate within  their  first year, Cazoovians don’t begin to express free will until they are four or five years. They cannot race until they are seven, this ensures that they choose to race, and have plenty of time for training.” M explained. “The Ruling Council is advised by Cazoovians and is tasked with making sure they are not exploited.”

“I don’t see how there could not be exploitation involved in non-indigenous beings using them for racing, and for the sole purpose of betting. It’s preposterous!”

“This from  the  man  that  bets  weary travelers he  can return faster than they if they depart together through a portal on the Planet of Portals?” M asked.

“OK, well, I see your point. Maybe exploitation is too strong of a word.” Bartala said, making a dismissive gesture with his free hand.

“It didn’t take long for us to see that The Brusher had been lurking near the family of each Cazoovian that had lost offspring. With the help of the Gaznzulian surveillance, Brzko and I were able to catch The Brusher in the act.” M said, as if it were no big deal.

“But there was an altercation between the Brusher and you, was there not? Rumor has it that you are responsible for that scar on his arm.” asked Bartala.

“Yes. Brzko and I separated in order to trap him. I was alone when I confronted him and demanded that he release the infant Cazoovian he had just stolen. He complied and released the Cazoovian, but came after me. He made the mistake of assuming that I was weak. I shooed the Cazoovian away from the area so it would not be injured and the Brusher attempted to restrain me from behind. His elbow and his nose were broken in the struggle. By the time Brzko and Zri arrived he was in restraints. I suppose it devastated him that he got his ass kicked by a human girl.”

“But you’re not human.”

“He doesn’t know that.” M said grinning.

“You will never cease to amaze me M, as tough as the best on my security team yet, always a lady with compassion and sometimes even grace. Maybe someday you will finally tell me the story of how you and Brzko met.” Bartala teased.

“That would take some time Bartala, it was long ago, and it is a long story…” there was a knock at the door.

“Yes, what is it?” Bartala called.

The door opened and Zri entered, “Muse of Mischief, I am relieved to see you are safe. Emperor Bartala.” he said, nodding in the Emperor’s direction. “We are sweeping Ploosnar for the Brusher now. It should not take us long to locate him. As per the terms of his parole he has an embedded tracker. Coming after you is a violation of his parole agreement. He will be re-

incarcerated on Gaznzul.” Zri said, taking a sentry post near the door.

“Thank you Zri.” M said.

“So have you been to the races on Cazoova?” Bartala asked M.

“I’ve never attended the races as entertainment – sporting exploitation doesn’t really appeal to me. But I’ve seen a few of them while working with the Ruling Council.”

“I enjoyed them a few times many years ago, but they have lost their appeal. At first they seemed to be good fun. After awhile it seemed that they were just exploitation. I know they participate based on their free will, and that they are paid well, but   I   suspect   that   they   do   not   understand   the   lifelong repercussions that this type of extreme physical activity will have on them later in life.”

“It’s interstellar NFL.” M said, leaning forward to reach for the bottle of nekmid.

“Oh  yes,  I’ve  heard  of  this  Earth  NFL.  They  call  it football, no?”

“Yes, football. And it’s similar, the exploitation of young athletes for the entertainment of others. Only the athletes often end up with bodies that seem to age much too quickly. Humans, like Cazoovians, are rather fragile.”

“I wish I had seen you kick the Brusher’s ass my friend! The shock you must have given him when he thought he could subdue you as easily as a human female.”

“Well I look human.” M replied with sarcasm.

“More like a freak of nature eh?” Bartala teased, “Especially with those striped stockings.”

“You do realize that you are the only being that could say that to me and not be swallowing his teeth right?” M asked, sort of kidding.

“Oh yes, oh yes, I know that M. But we go way back, back to when you were but a child. A child with abilities you didn’t  understand.  I  suspect  the  only being  you  have  known longer than me is Brzko. I have always done everything I could to protect you. Not that you need much protection from the likes of the Brusher!”

“I think Zri would argue that point, wouldn’t you Zri?” M said turning towards Zri standing at the door.

“Muse of Mischief it is true that you need very little protection; however, you do sometimes, well, tend to… “Zri was looking slightly uncomfortable “rush in and then deal with the consequences.”

At this Bartala couldn’t help himself, he let out a very hearty laugh “Ha! I see that Zri knows you very well indeed.”

“Yes, Zri has been looking out for me for quite some time and…”

Zri turned from the door and stepped toward where the Muse of Mischief and Bartala were sitting “M, my team has located and apprehended the Brusher. He was hiding on one of the moon outposts. He has been placed in the secure holding cell on my ship, he will be returned to his incarceration cell on Gaznzul within the hour.”

“Great news Zri! Let’s go talk to him.” M said.

Bartala had known M for so long that he should not have been surprised that she wanted to face her stalker, but he was. He watched the conversation between Zri and M quietly.

“It will infuriate him to see you, but since he is back in our custody I suppose you will be safe enough.”

“Great! Bartala, as always thank you for the hospitality. I should return within the hour, and then I will tell you story of how Brzko and I met if you still want to hear it, and you can tell me why your lovely wife is unhappy with you.”

“I will be right here waiting M, drinking my nekmid.” Bartala said with a smile.

M turned to Zri “Is your ship in a standard orbit above us?”

“Yes.” Zri answered.

“Perfect, I’ll see you there…” and with that M was gone from the room.

Zri disappeared a second later.

Gaznzulians were not able to create and use apertures, but they do have a few tricks up their sleeves. They have perfected transporters that are similar to the ones the Rogsaar ships used to return findings to Myaad. They can easily and instantly move between the surface of a planet and one of their orbiting ships. Which means, that even though they have some of the fastest ships in the Universe, there is no chance of them being able to keep up with the Muse of Mischief, even if she stays in the present.

III

“You! I should have killed you when I had the chance!” the Brusher was clearly very agitated by the Muse of Mischief’s presence outside of his holding cell.

She had arrived on Zri’s ship just a second or two before him. But it wasn’t shocking to his crew. They all knew the Muse of Mischief well.

“Ahhh I missed you too Brusher.” she teased “I just stopped in to say hi and ask how that arm healed. I see the break left you with a nasty scar.”

He just glared at her through the invisible force field that sealed  his  cell.  The  Gaznzulians  had  taken  his  brush  so  he resorted to running his hand over his head. It was like watching a nervous dog lick its paws. The Brusher just kept running his hand over his head, front to back, front to back, staring at the wall in front of him.

“I wonder how long your incarceration will be this time, now that you’ve broken the terms of your release and come after me.” That did it, M got a response.

The Brusher turned toward her, then tilted his head back and let out blood curdling roar.

M  walked  away,  over  to  where  Zri  was  standing, watching the exchange. “Zri, is that a smile I see?” M asked.

“Smile? No, of course not. I take your security very seriously, there is no room for humor.” he said, busting out in a full on smile.

“And I appreciate the hell out of my friend.” she said extending forward and kissing his cheek. “Do you need anything from me?”

“No, not at this time. I’m sure the Universal Security Council will contact you for a statement before they decide on the Brushers fate. Take care of yourself and call me if you need anything. I’ll be close.”

“Lucky for me, you always are my friend.” and she was gone.

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