With most of the Rogsaars back on Myaad, life at the Ploosnar Palace had returned to normal. Empress Nalau had done a spectacular job of hosting the Rogsaar reception. She was back to her usual philanthropic duties. Emperor Bartala on the other hand, was back to his usual unsettled behavior, always wanting to be on the go.
The group of travelers had gathered at the palace to plan for the expedition to Trella. They were in Bartala’s favorite sitting room, his personal room. The Muse of Mischief and Agent Brzko were sitting on one side, across the table Lelelu was seated next to Emperor Bartala. Zri of course, had stationed himself between the group and the entrance. He was one of them, but he never stopped guarding them either.
“Why can’t we leave today?” Bartala said with the tone of a pouty teenager.
“Because, we need time to pack some gear.” Lelelu said.
“I’m going home to pick up some supplies.”
“And while she’s doing that, I need to travel back to Gaznzul to reload some supplies and make some changes to my crew.” Zri said.
“Are you going to bring us the latest in Gaznzulian technology Zri?” Bartala asked with no shame.
“Of course Emperor. I have some new things that you may enjoy.”
“Good I want to ride with you Zri! Who is riding with whom and can we be ready to leave tomorrow?” Bartala said impatiently.
“OK Emperor, I’m happy to have you on my ship. How
many palace guards will be on board with you and how many of their ships will follow?”
“Two guards will be on board with me and two ships traveling with us.” Bartala answered.
Zri nodded in acknowledgement, “I assume you’re ready since the only thing you will pack is nekmid?” he teased. “Ahhhhh, you will thank me for that nekmid while we are bored out of our minds on the way to Trella!” Bartala said.
“Or we could introduce you to espidrun, although you may sleep the whole way.” M interjected.
“Espidrun? What is that and why have you not shared this before?” Bartala said, sounding truly offended.
“We only just discovered it on Smd; it’s made from fermented niptdyn. It’s very potent.” Lelelu said.
“And quite palatable!” Brzko added.
“That sounds like the perfect thing for a long journey. Maybe it will slow you down enough to finally tell me the story of how you and Brzko saved the ruler of Suus when she was a child.” he said to M.
“Maybe, if you’re lucky.” M said teasing him.
“I need to depart, but I didn’t bring the shuttle down. M?” “Oh right, sorry Lelelu. I’ll take you back.” M said standing and walking over to Lelelu.
They disappeared, and then M reappeared and took her seat again.
“I will be departing now too. Contact me if you need anything before I return.” Zri said.
“OK Zri, safe travels.” Brzko answered for all of them. After a slight manipulation of his armband Zri transported himself back to his ship. It was back to just the three of them, M, Brzko, and Bartala.
“Break out that espidrun. I want to try this stuff!” Bartala said.
“What makes you think I have any here at the palace?” M Bartala waved his hand at her, dismissing her question, “Who do you think you’re talking to? I know you have some here M, break it out.”
“OK, OK.” She disappeared from the sofa, and was back a few seconds later with a bottle in her hands. “You don’t have glasses ready yet?”
“You are such a show off!” Bartala said.
Brzko was laughing at the two of them. M loved to tease her old friend and he had no problem throwing it right back at her. They truly deserved each other. Brzko retrieved the glasses from Bartala’s side table.
“Here you two, here are the glasses. Now stop bickering long enough to try this.” Brzko said taking the bottle from M. The bottle appeared to be made of heated titanium, it was blue and pink, it was short and wide, there was a lever on top that opened a spout.
“Oh that is pretty slick!” Bartala said.
“Slick?” M asked. “Are you watching Earth television again?”
Bartala just looked at her and rolled his eyes, that meant he was busted, he had been watching trashy Earth television again.
Brzko tilted the bottle and poured the hot pink liquid into the waiting glasses. Upon contact with air it immediately began to release blue steam. He pressed the protruding spout back in to the bottle and sat it down, then handed a glass to Bartala and one to M. Lifting his own he toasted his friends, “To long life, good health, and a safe journey.”
They all sipped.
Bartala lost his mind! “Ooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhh this is good! It’s sweet but not too sweet, it’s savory but not too savory and the texture is like, well it feels like electricity in my mouth! But in a good way.”
M and Brzko both chuckled. Their friend’s reaction was priceless.
“Just don’t drink it too fast.” Brzko said. “It’s really potent. A glass this size is the equivalent of drinking six or seven nekmids.”
“Do you have enough to take to Trella?” Bartala asked. “Yes, we have plenty.” Brzko answered.
The friends sat in silence for a few minutes. They were comfortable enough with each other that they did not need to fill the time with pointless chatter. After a while the Emperor spoke.
“The surrogate will enter phase two of gestation before we return. My son is developing as expected.”
“I’m glad to hear that Bartala, but what is phase two?”
“As the child develops the host becomes somewhat incapacitated. Once the second phase begins she will remain inside, with limited movement.”
“I’ve never seen a pregnant Ploosnarian, the child develops in a sac on the back of the mother or surrogate is that correct? Brzko asked.
“Yes, which is why my beloved Nalau did not want to carry the child herself. The second phase of the pregnancy will last for almost two hundred days.”
“Interesting, so sac is the correct term, and is it opaque?” M asked.
“No, we do not call it a sac. The child develops within a membrane.” Bartala explained. “Yes, it is opaque; you cannot see the actual child until birth. When it is time, the membrane will begin to peel away and the connecting cells will retreat back into the mother or surrogate, leaving the child ready to survive on its own. The process usually takes two days.”
“Are there ever complications? Does the infant ever need to be extracted?” M asked.
“That is extremely rare. I believe it happens less than one time in over ten thousand births.” Bartala said. “It is not a risky process, but it is a great inconvenience to the mother and the other members of her family. So we do not procreate without a plan. That reminds me. Have you heard anything from Rogsaar of Xinood 5? I am very curious to see if Rogsaar and G’ist will be able to reproduce.”
“No, I haven’t heard from them since they stopped by here to pick up Rogs refurbished ship. They are both ecstatic about having their own ship now, thanks to you.” M answered.
None of them heard the door open, so they were startled when Nalau spoke, “They won’t return home for a few more days. But I’ve been in touch with the doctors on Xinood 5 and asked him to let me know if there is anything we can do to help.”
Bartala eagerly stood to greet his wife, “My darling, you look ravishing this evening!” And of course she did. With no official duties pressing, she was a little more relaxed than usual with her hair was gently pulled back in a loose ponytail. She was wearing a simple, ankle length black skirt and matching short sleeved blouse. The only color was in her casual attire was the bright orange and white broach she wore.
Always the gentlemen, Brzko stood to greet the lady of the house, well palace. “Empress, you are looking lovely as always this evening.” He bent and kissed her extended hand.
“Oh Brzko, I shall never tire of the way you treat a lady.
You could take a lesson dear Bartala. Now which one of you is going to pour me a taste of this new drink?” She said as she sat down on next to Bartala.
Her unusually casual demeanor had completely caught Brzko and Bartala off guard. Nalau looked at M and winked; she knew what she was doing and found it very entertaining.
Bartala caught the wink, while Brzko retrieved a fourth glass and poured an espidrun for her, “I think you have been spending too much time with my wife M. Your mischievous side is beginning to rub off on her.”
Before M could defend herself the Empress spoke, “Perhaps it’s not her that’s rubbing off on me Bartala.” She said as she lovingly grasped his leg. She took a sip of the espidrun. “Wow!” She covered her mouth and coughed lightly. “This is amazing. It’s very strong but I like it very much!”
Bartala beamed with pleasure. “Have we found a drink you like well enough to transform you into a drinking” buddy?” He said the last two words in this insanely funny fake John Wayne Earth like accent.
They all looked at him and laughed. They were still laughing when a butler entered, “Excuse me Your Majesties,” they quieted and turned toward the butler, “the kitchen has asked me to inform you that dinner is ready.” He turned and left.
Nalau stood, “I hope you will be staying for dinner.” she said to M and Brzko.
“I’m sorry Empress, we must return home to prepare for our trip to Trella.” Brzko said. “We hope to leave tomorrow afternoon.
“About that trip,” Nalau said, and the room paused, was she going to put a damper on Bartala’s fun? “What if I were to tag along? I’ve never been on one of your excursions. M, tell me the truth – do you think I would enjoy the trip?”
Knowing how much having Nalau join them on the trip to Trella would mean to her best friend, M did not hesitate to answer, “I think you would have the time of your life, Empress.” Bartala continued to beam. Brzko looked back and forth between M and Nalau to see if there was more to be said.
Nalau turned to Bartala with her drink in one hand, she pointed at the espidrun bottle with the other, “Bring the bottle and come love, we will discuss the trip over dinner. Goodbye M, goodbye Brzko, we’ll see you soon.” She turned and walked toward the door.
Bartala scooped up the bottle and trotted behind her, at the door he turned to M and Brzko, giving them an exaggerated wink, and then he was gone. M and Brzko returned home to prepare for the tip.
The Muse of Mischief and Agent Brzko returned to Ploosnar before Lelelu, she was stopping by Smd to pick up a supply of espidrun. The last thing they wanted to do was run out on an expedition like this. M and Brzko secured their home and returned to Ploosnar, arriving at the bottom of the palace stairs as was their custom.
As they reached the top of the stairs, they were announced by the palace guard, “The Muse of Mischief and Agent Brzko Your Majesties.”
Emperor Bartala came running out of the palace, “Where’s Lelelu? Are you ready to go?”
Empress Nalau was right on his heels, “Relax darling. We are on schedule to leave later today.”
“Emperor, Empress, good afternoon.” M said. “Jeez Bartala, at least let us put our bags down.”
Brzko kissed the Empress’s hand, “Hello Empress Nalau, a pleasure to see you again. I’m excited to hear that you will be traveling with us.”
The two of them were more casual than M had ever seen them. Bartala was wearing simple brown slacks and a brown shirt with pale green paisley, no jacket or tie. Nalau was wearing a knee length skirt made of the same fabric as Bartala’s shirt. Her shirt was a solid green, the same color as the paisley pattern. Even though the attire was more casual than usual, their garments were still crisp and there was not a single hair out place. M and Brzko must have been staring at them.
Empress Nalau stepped forward and twirled, “What do you think? I just don’t think formal gowns and palace jewels are the correct fashion for an expedition. I had Schatorren make us new, casual wardrobes for the trip.”
“I think you both look fantastic.” M said. “Well except for that hair of his.” She said as she thrust her thumb in Bartala’s direction.
“I concur!” Brzko added.
“Let’s go inside, lunch is ready and Zri is already in orbit.” Empress Nalau said.
“Oh, Zri is here.” Brzko said. “Please start lunch without me; I’d like to visit with him for a few minutes.” He didn’t wait for a response from the group. He was gone almost instantly, leaving both of his travel bags where he had been standing. M knew what he was up to. Brzko wanted to converse with Zri about the ship’s defenses before the group was on board, there was no need to cause them any concern.
He arrived on the flight bridge. Zri was there with two of his crew. “Hey Brzko, I figured you’d pop in before the others.” Zri said.
“You know me well Zri. How go the preparations?”
“We’re just about ready, preflight tests are complete. We are stocked with supplies, and all of the gear is loaded and stowed. It will only take a few minutes to transfer your personal gear aboard and of course whatever the Emperor is bringing.”
“How big is your crew?”
“There are five officers with me – you’ve met ShyUst before right?” Zri said motioning to his second in command.
ShyUst walked over to them, “Yes.” Brzko said extending his hand “It’s a pleasure ShyUst, I think the last time I saw you was when we apprehended the Brusher.”
“Yes, it was. Hopefully this will be a much quieter trip!” ShyUst said shaking Brzko’s hand before returning to his position at the main console.
“Zri is there anything else you need before we go?” Brzko asked.
“No, thank you Brzko. I’ll come down after I run a check on the transporters.”
“Sounds good, I’ll see you soon then.” and with that Brzko was gone immediately back in the palace foyer.
It is a short walk from the foyer to the formal dining room, Brzko was surprised when he entered and found the room empty. He continued on to the kitchen, as he went down the hallway he heard Bartala’s voice from up ahead, he was laughing. Brzko continued on, following his voice.
“There you are,” Brzko said stepping outside to join the group on the back patio.
“Hi Brzko, how’s Zri, all ready to go?” M asked as she stood and went over to properly greet her partner.
He grabbed her and tilted her back in his arms, one of his best Hollywood style kisses planted on her lips. He stood her upright, she was visibly shaken. She hadn’t expected such an exciting greeting.
“Wait, what were we talking about?” This caused a burst of laughter from Bartala and Nalau. “Oh Zri, that’s right.”
Brzko smiled at his love, “He’s pretty much ready. Once Lelelu arrives, he just needs to load Bartala and Nalau’s supplies, and we’re off. But first… what’s for lunch. I’m starving. Emperor, are your guard’s ships ready?
“Yes, they are loaded and ready, holding in orbit.”
Brzko helped himself to the royal buffet that had been laid out on a side table. He took his seat next to M at the table, “I
hope you are all ready to fend for yourselves, Zri will do his best to keep us safe, but his food is not this good!”
“As long as we have plenty of espidrun, who cares!” Bartala said.
“Speaking of espidrun…..” Lelelu surprised them by stepping out onto the patio.
“Hey Lelelu, how did everything go?” M asked. Which was code for did you get all of the espidrun we ordered?
“Everything went as planned, everything…” she was interrupted by Zri.
“… Lelelu brought is loaded.” Zri said as he walked out of the palace.
Bartala jumped to his feet, “Let’s go. C’mon we’re ready it’s going to take a few days to get all the way to Trella.”
Nalau tried to calm him, “Darling please, perhaps Lelelu or Zri would like some lunch.”
They both declined.
Zri walked over to the table with something in his hand, “I’d like you both to wear these at all times.” He handed Bartala and Nalau Gaznzulian arm consoles. “I’ve already distributed them to your guards.”
“OK!” Bartala said excitedly. He loved gadgets.
“Notice these two buttons at the top.” Zri said demonstrating with his own console. “If you press the one on the right, you will be transported to my ship. But if you press the one on the left, at the same time, everyone in the group is alerted that you have an emergency. If you are away from the ship you will automatically be transported back to the ship. On the screen you can navigate to the communications menu to page or send a message to anyone, or everyone.”
Bartala managed to pull his eyes away from his new toy, “Hey why don’t they have to wear them?” he said, nodding toward M and Brzko.
“The Muse of Mischief and Agent Brzko can transport
themselves to anytime or place they desire. They also have earcom links that keep them in constant contact with me, my crew and Lelelu.” Zri explained. “If you would like to give up the ability to transport, and several other functions, I can switch your console for an earcom link Emperor.” He said teasing Bartala.
Knowing that he had been bested, Bartala let it go, “No, no, this is fine Zri. Thank you.”
“OK then, gather any personal items, and press the top button on the right when you are ready to board. Questions?” Zri said.
“No, thank you Zri.” Nalau answered. “We will join you momentarily.”
The Muse of Mischief, Agent Brzko, Lelelu and Zri all left the patio at once, leaving Bartala and Nalau alone.
Bartala stood and pulled her chair out for her, “Are you ready for the adventure of a lifetime my love?”
“Yes Bartala. I am a little nervous, but I am also excited.” She wrapped her hands around his upper arm, and they walked toward the palace. Several of their staff were standing just inside the door. They had not both been gone from the palace in a very long time, but they trusted their staff. Everything on Ploosnar would be fine while they were gone. Once they reached the front steps, they faced each other and pressed their buttons simultaneously, two guards followed them directly. It was the first step of what was going to an exciting journey.
Zri’s ship was built for safety and speed, but no creature comforts had been overlooked for this trip. The ship is long and narrow, but wider at the front. There is an upper deck at the front of the ship, this serves as the command bridge. There are lifts on both sides of the bridge, basically elevators that run automatically if the sensors detect anyone in the lift. With only two levels, there is no command to give in the lift. If you are on the main level and step into a lift, you are taken to the bridge. If you are on the bridge and step into the lift, you are taken to the main level.
The command bridge is like most, the outer edges are lined with consoles and workstations. There are three seats facing the front of the room, and the main display. The display can show the view from the cameras that line the exterior of the ship, or it can show information from any of the ship’s systems.
The Gaznzulians work in rotating shifts on the bridge, there are always two on duty. Each is fully trained for all duties. The only exception is the second in command, ShyUst. He has been trained to assume command if needed.
There is a large community room at the front of the ship on the lower level. There are windows lining the front of the room, and many comfortable places to sit. The view from the room is spectacular when the ship is in motion. On the left side of the ship there is a large dining table and chairs with a kitchen area. This is the room where the group will spend most of their time. Both of the lifts are just outside this room, in a long hallway with individual rooms on either side. The rooms become progressively smaller toward the back of the ship, the smallest are the crew quarters. The very end of the hallway provides access to the cargo bay; which is basically a huge warehouse, with a large ramp that can be used for loading and unloading both passengers and cargo.
The explorers had gathered in the community room for a departure toast. Zri directed their attention to the view, “Emperor, Empress, I’ve instructed the crew to come around before we depart, giving you a view of Ploosnar.”
Everyone turned toward the window, and silently watched as they flew over the most beautifully bright blue planet there was. Once it was out of range, there was nothing to see but open space. Apparently not too interesting for Bartala.
“Let’s toast!” He had a bottle of espidrun and Nalau started handing out glasses while he poured. Surprisingly, even Zri accepted a glass. “Zri, I’ve never seen you partake of spirits.”
“Well Emperor, I do occasionally let my guard down.
And with a full crew on this ship and three additional ships behind us, I think it’s safe for me to take some down time.”
“Here here! To down time and exploration!” Bartala toasted, holding his glass high. They all took sips of the espidrun; it was far too strong to take in full shots. “Wait, four Gaznzulian ships? How much is this going to cost me?”
“Well Emperor, if it makes you feel any better, you won’t be billed for my ship. I’m technically on holiday.” Zri grinned and sipped his espidrun.
“So there are six ships in our convoy, this one, our two guards, and three more of yours Zri?” Empress Nalau asked rhetorically “Lelelu I think your decision to leave your ship on Ploosnar was brilliant. We’d miss having you here on board Zri’s ship with us.”
“Thank you Empress. I wouldn’t want to miss this fun.” She answered, taking a seat on one of the sofas. “So what is the plan once we reach Trella, or do we have a plan?”
There is a variety of couches and chairs in the lounge, the group settled in to chat about the trip.
“I think we should definitely show them the Pink River. Do you remember that forest that grows along the banks of the river M?” Brzko asked.
The Muse of Mischief turned bright red. “Yes, I remember the forest next to the Pink River.”
“M are you OK?” Zri asked. “You look like you are overheating.”
“She’s not hot my friend, she’s blushing! She and Brzko must have a history on the banks of the Pink River.” Bartala explained. “And I want to hear all about it when we get there!”
“Ha! No chance buddy!” M said, regaining her composure.
“Bartala, have you been to Trella before?” Nalau asked, rescuing M.
“Yes my love. When M and I were young we would escape there every time we had angered my father. Like the time we hid all of his bisporks. Remember that M? He thought they had been stolen but we had moved them to a hanger.” Bartala said cracking himself up.
“Ummmm I remember YOU hiding his bisporks and me covering for you and then saving your butt by bringing you to Trella until he cooled off.” M said, refusing to take responsibility for her old friend’s pranks.
“Mah… details. You hid them, I hid them.”
“Are all of the rivers pink on Trella?” Nalau asked.
“No, I haven’t seen the entire planet but it has many different colors of everything, plants, water, sand.” M said. “It doesn’t really make sense. It looks like someone chewed up a rainbow and spit it out.”
“Ehhh, that doesn’t sound appealing.” Nalau said letting her disgust show.
“When I was young it was entertaining.” M said. asked.
“Are there any structures on the planet?” Nalau asked. “Not that I’ve ever seen, have you seen any Brzko?” M
“No, no structures.” he answered.
“Since we are escorted by three Gaznzulian ships and two Ploosnarian guard ships, will you land Zri?” Lelelu knew that Gaznzulian protocol prevented a lone ship from landing on a foreign planet.
“Yes, assuming we don’t find anything of interest when we scan the planet’s surface, we will land. That way we have a base of operations.” He answered. Everyone just stared at him. “What, what’s wrong?”
M grinned, “You said if we don’t find anything of interest when we scan, I assume you meant if we don’t find anything of concern?”
“Perhaps the espidrun is having an effect on you Zri.” Bartala teased.
“Oh I’m sure that it is, I’m sure that it is.” He said finishing off his first drink. He stood and went for the bottle that Bartala had left on the table, he went around the room refilling everyone’s glass before filling his own and returning the bottle to the table. He plopped into an overstuffed easy chair and flung his legs up over the arm of the chair taking another sip.
Everyone was still staring at him, Lelelu looked perplexed and turned to M. “Is he always like this at a party?” she asked, teasing him.
“Sometimes he’s even more fun! If you’re lucky he will show you what a Gaznzulian really looks like.” M said.
“Tread carefully M. Remember I know a few of your secrets.” Zri said. “Like the day we met, I’m sure you remember that.”
“Was that the day you tried to have me eaten?” Bartala asked, smiling.
Nalau giggled, “I have hear this story!”
“Of course I remember Zri, I’m not sure it’s interesting enough to share though.” M said.
“Then tell us how you rescued Ciic when she was a child.” Bartala said. “As long as we’re in space we have plenty of time for stories.”
“Wait, first I want to hear how you and Bartala met.” Nalau spoke up.
Bartala laughed and finished off his second espidrun, “Go ahead M. Let’s tell them how we met.”