The great golden sitting room is the grandest room in the Ploosnar palace. As the name suggests, it is decorated with gold. The golden sofas seem to sparkle, if it wasn’t for the black accent pillows, they would have been too much. The ceiling peaks in a tower, there are golden tapestries suspended from the top.
Empress Nalau, Kiik, all four of Kiik’s crew, and two of Bartala’s staff were already present. Emperor Bartala turned on his official charm upon entering the room, giving Kiik and her crew a warm welcome to his palace. There was no need to serve refreshments to beings that sustained themselves off of vapors. Once everyone was seated Bartala’s staff served nekmid to all but the Suus.
The group exchanged pleasantries about their recent trip but everyone seemed very uncomfortable. It was as if there was an elephant in the room, as they say on Earth. The Muse of Mischief decided to try something she’d never done before.
She attempted to project a thought to Kiik, “You seem uncomfortable, is everything alright?” She didn’t really think it would work, so when she “heard” Kiik’s answer it literally made her jump.
“Yes, we do not frequently socialize with other species, especially those of royalty. We are cautious to ensure we do not offend.” Kiik projected back to M. It would be terribly rude to continue communicating this way while in a group. M decided to take control of the situation and attempt to put everyone at ease.
She asked aloud, “Kiik is there anything you or your crew would like to do while on Ploosnar? There are amazing blue forests filled with intoxicatingly beautiful flowers that may interest you.”
Empress Nala’s look expressed her gratitude and relief toward M for initiating a comfortable conversation.
Kiik projected her response to the entire room, “Yes, thank you for asking. We are of course anxious to spend time with the Rogsaars but we will have plenty of time for that on the journey to Myaad. I am very interested in the flowers of Ploosnar, as you know the cultivation of scents is very important to us. For me personally, it is a hobby. Because Ploosnar adheres to acceptable scanning and safety standards, I have been authorized to obtain specimens if they are available.”
Empress Nalau did not allow this opportunity to escape her, “Absolutely Kiik! We will arrange for you to tour the palace gardens with our lead botanist first thing tomorrow. She will provide you with any specimens you would like.” She nodded to one of her staff. He promptly left the room, no doubt to arrange the botany tour.
“You are most gracious Empress, thank you. My first has an interest in bisporks. Ruur would like to meet one, and possibly ride one, would that be possible?” Kiik projected.
“Absolutely. We will arrange for a tour of the bispork stables tomorrow. Do you have transportation animals on Suus?” Bartala asked.
“No” both Kiik and Ruur projected at the same time.
“This is why they intrigue me so, Emperor.” Ruur answered, “My field of study is mammalogy. I am familiar with the mammals of many planets but I have not yet seen an animal that is used for transportation and able to communicate with language. I find this concept very intriguing.” Ruur projected.
“Oh yes, you will find them intriguing. I don’t care for them as transportation but the Muse of Mischief and Agent Brzko sometimes ride them when they are here.”
With the entertainment plans set for tomorrow theconversation stalled. Smalltalk was not the forte of the Suus.
There was a brief knock, the main door to the great golden sitting room opened. A palace butler stepped in to announce a visitor, “Your majesties, Afrit the Great of Jinn.” Afrit entered the room. Both the Emperor and Empress stood, as did the Muse of Mischief and Agent Brzko, this was a formal meeting of dignitaries. All five of the Suus stood as well, at first M thought they were following the example and behaving with formality, but then she saw that they were actually recoiling from Afrit. Every needle like hair on their green skin was sticking straight out. Kiik’s thoughts were projected throughout the room.
“Danger! There is a shapeshifter among us. Maintain your defenses.”
“Oh, relax sister! That stuff on Suus happened a very long time ago, before either of us was born… or hatched?” Jinn shrugged and as he casually plopped down in a large armchair.
Kiik was a little confused by his familiarity, his comfort at taking a seat amongst them, “You know this shape shifting being?” she projected.
Bartala, as the lead dignitary answered “Yes Kiik, he is our guest. We have no reason not to trust him. But it seems that something happened to cause the Suus to distrust Jinns. Please sit I assure you nothing will happen here.”
The Suus had been huddled in a small group, their posture reminded M of hissing cats. They relaxed just slightly and took their seats again. Before everyone was seated Afrit the Great offered an explanation.
“OK so check it out, a long, long, long time ago some of my ancestors thought it would be fun to explore Suus. They of course presented themselves as Suus in order to move freely about the planet. The only problem is that Jinns are not telepathic. Things got a little frantic when real Suus tried to communicate with them. There was a lot of name calling, and banishing, and things like that. No big deal really. I mean we pissed them off and they banished up from Suus forever.” he shrugged as if it had been no more than a childish game.
“That is not quite accurate shapeshifter.” Kiik projected. “My name is Afrit, but you can call me Afrit the Great.” “Afrit the Great, the Suus version of history includes the Suus that were hurt during the apprehension of the Jinns. To our knowledge, Suus has never been infiltrated by an unknown at any other time.”
“Well at this point it’s vapor in the clouds kid. We have to get past it, it wasn’t me and it wasn’t you. I think we could learn a lot from each other. Jinns have a huge database of navigational charts and I hear the Suus have a huge database of everything. As a gesture of goodwill, I offer you full access to the navigational databases of Jinn. I’ll even have a copy of it sent to you.”
After a moment Kiik stood and walked toward Afrit the Great, “Afrit the Great you are correct in your assessment that we should put the past behind us. It was not you that caused the chaos on Suus. You are also correct that we have much to offer each other. I request that you forgive my inappropriate judgment of you, and I offer you my friendship.” Kiik bowed her head and waited for his reply.
“No issues here sister, the past is the past.” Afrit said.
Kiik returned to her seat and this time Brzko jumped in to move things along. “How many Rogsaars are here Emperor Bartala?”
“I think the last count was 118. Some of them will be returning to the planets they were on when we found them, and a few have requested to become residents of Ploosnar. I will of course grant them residency. For those that want to return to other planets, they will need to know if Myaad will allow them to take their ships. If they will, I can have their ships refurbished, if not I will provide them with transportation.”
“Emperor Bartala, your generosity is remarkable. You and Empress Nalau are very giving.” Kiik projected.
“My beloved Nalau has brought about much change. She has helped me settle down and taught me the value of giving.”
Empress Nalau, seated in the chair beside her husband’s turned to face him. As she did, the Muse of Mischief caught her gaze – their eyes lock for just a second, but that was all it took. They both burst out laughing.
“Oh darling Bartala you never cease to entertain me.” Nalau said reaching for his hand. He looked a little bewildered.
“You, settled down?” M asked. “How long ago was it when we found you betting with weary travelers on the Planet of Portals?”
“Oh well, that was different. I was, well it was…. Um that is to say… OK I concede, let’s just go with the giving part then.” He said dismissing the subject entirely.
The visitors were no doubt a little lost with the conversation. Once again Brzko jumped in and saved the day, “While you are showing Kiik and Ruur around Ploosnar tomorrow, M and I will visit the Rogsaars and make sure they are ready to depart. We can also check with Myaad about the old Rogsaar ships.”
“Your majesties, we feel the need to retire. We must rest in preparation for tomorrow’s activities.” Kiik projected as she and her team stood. “Thank you for an enjoyable evening, the hospitality is appreciated.”
Both the Emperor and Empress stood, Bartala addressed the Suus. “It is our pleasure to have you visit the Palace of Ploosnar. If there is anything we can do to make your stay more comfortable, please do not hesitate to let us know.”
The Suus projected their gratitude.
Empress Nalau stepped toward the door, “If you’ll follow me, I will show you back to your rooms. The palace can be a little confusing.”
The group left the room. As soon as the door was closed Bartala addressed Brzko, M, and Afrit “I’m starving! Let’s go to the kitchen and eat. Do you mind a casual meal without all of the ceremony?”
“Nope, that sounds great to me. Are you hungry M?” “Hell yeah, always.”
They headed for the door. Kitchen meals were nothing new to them. It was often how they had dined after excursions. Raiding the refrigerators of a foreign planet was always an experience.
“Ewwww! What is that? It looks slimy, like squid.” Agent Brzko said with disgust, as he watch the Muse of Mischief eating long strips of something out of a bowl that Emperor Bartala had handed her.
They were having a great time raiding the royal the refrigerators. They had thus far killed off the lusimis, a bowl of salad, and a couple of fruit trays.
“You’ve got to try this! It’s pragma, kind of a cross between grass and fruit. It only ripens once per year and it doesn’t keep well. You have to eat it while you can.” the Muse of Mischief explained.
“It is quite a delicacy hear on Ploosnar.” Bartala added. “Hmmmmm” Brzko was still skeptical, but given the way
Bartala and M both loved food, he knew they could not make a bad suggestion. He also knew that it was not squid, all Ploosnarians were vegetarians. They considered the eating of animals, or products derived from animals, to be barbaric. “OK, hook me up M.” He tilted his head back and opened his mouth. M took a piece of the pragma from the bowl and dangled it above Brzko’s mouth after it unraveled it was easily a half meter long. She slowly lowered it into his mouth.
Bartala and Afrit were both laughing at this exchange.
He began to chew, and all three fixated on him, waiting to see what he thought, “SHIT, that’s good!” He took the bowl and fished out another piece, and then he handed it to Afrit, “You’ve got to try this!”
The friends laughed. “Yes it is delicious. We grow fields of it to the north of the palace, after it’s harvested, we let it ferment slightly. Some say it has a flavor that starts sweet and then becomes savory, others say it is just savory. It is a very healthful food, full of vitamins and minerals. But most important, the taste is divine.” Bartala explained.
One of Nalau’s personal staff entered the room and approached Bartala, “Emperor.”
“Yes, what is it?”
“Empress Nalau has asked me to inform you that she has retired for the evening. She will not be joining you for dinner.”
“Thank you. Please tell her I will retire soon.” “Certainly Emperor.” he said leaving the room.
“That sounds like a good idea. I think I’ll retire too. M are
you ready?” Brzko asked.
“Not yet, I’ll help Bartala straighten up and then join you.” M said.
Brzko knew that meant she needed to have a private conversation with Bartala. He kissed her cheek and headed to their rooms. “G’night Bartala, Afrit.”
Afrit the Great also took his leave “Later kids.” “Rest well my friends.”
Alone with Bartala, M decided to approach the subject of a child. They had known each other for long enough that there was no reason not to just ask him, “So what’s the story behind your comment about having a child when we were walking through the hall of ancestors earlier?”
Bartala was placing the empty dishes near the sink for his kitchen staff to deal with. He paused and looked at the Muse of Mischief “Empress Nalau has invoked her right to use a surrogate to have our children.” He was clearly disappointed.
“Isn’t that an old custom, a really old custom?”
“Yes very old, it has not been done for generations. I think that my great-great-great grandmother was the last one.”
“So what does it actually mean? Is it just the way it sounds, you’re and Nalau’s child is carried to term by another? M asked.
“Precisely. And we now know that the bond between mother and child is not as strong when a surrogate is used. That is why the practice was abandoned long ago.”
“Why does she want to use a surrogate?”
“She does not want to be a mother.” “Ouch.”
“Yes, ouch. She sees women like you, free of parental responsibilities and she wants the same thing.”
“But she understands that as Empress of Ploosnar she is obliged to at least attempt to produce a child, an heir.”
“Yes, but she does not have to actually “mother” the child. It is a great disappointment.”
“I can understand both sides of this Bartala. Not all women are meant to be mothers. But without an heir your family line will end with you. This seems like an honorable solution. Why can’t you be the main parental figure? There is no requirement that it be a mother. In fact we both know that there are many species where the male cares for the offspring. Besides it is better that she knows what she wants before she has the child. Otherwise the results could be disastrous. A poorly raised child is of benefit to no one. This way you still have an heir and she maintains her happiness – and some of her freedom.”
“How do you do that?”
“Do what?” M asked.
“Take away my self-pity and show me the logical side of my wife’s decision.”
“C’mon Bartala, I’m the Muse of Mischief!” M said ribbing him with her elbow “And I’ve known you since we were young. I also have a little bit of insight into the female mind.” she said rolling her eyes. “I’m female…”
“Not feeble!” Bartala finished one of her favorite sayings for her. “Thank you my friend.” he said embracing her in a bear hug. He let her go and they began walking toward the door. “I hope Nalau is not asleep yet. I must tell her that I have come to terms with her decision and I will embrace it with my usual gusto.”
“Gusto? Really? You have been watching way to much Earth television my friend!”