There are two main features of the guest house on Misko; a huge dining room that can seat up to 24 and an equally large sitting room. Empress Nalau was doing a fantastic job of making sure the head of each group involved was kept in the communications loop. She had borrowed Whotov, Ferocity’s butler, to help with the tangible things – making sure there was food and beverage available and gathering and dispersing supplies. The guest house has only two bedrooms, but that is of no consequence, all of the visitors have ships available to them. Nalau was the only one that needed to actually reside at the house.

After receiving the ransom message, the Muse of Mischief requested everyone’s attendance at the massive dining table to share the VReoria’s demands and come up with a plan. The table was so large that she and Agent Brzko were both able to sit at the head of the table. Immediately to her left was Nalau, ready to take any action requested. Immediately to Brzko’s right was Ferocity, but surprisingly, he wasn’t the only dragon at the table. Hasira had made it in time for the meeting. He had confidently positioned himself between Zri and Vustia. Also at the table were Waaw and Xiix, commander and sub-commander of the Suus fleet, Pruglar, commander of the Ploosnarian fleet, and of course ShyUst.

Agent Brzko opened the meeting, “We’ve received the ransom demand from the VReoria.” He looked at his tablet, laying on the table in front of him he read the message aloud.

We the VReoria have your precious Trelod. We will only exchange her for the Muse of Mischief. You will meet us on Cazoova at the following coordinates one rotation from now.”

“That doesn’t make sense.” Zri said. “The VReoria know that you and Brzko can travel at will, they can’t detain you.”

“They must think they’ve found a way.” M said slowly. “Or… they think they have a way to instantly kill me. Why the hell do they want me?”

“Specimen logging.”

Everyone turned toward the voice. Hasira took a second to gather himself. “Please forgive me if I have spoken out of turn. We have kept ourselves secluded for so long that I am unfamiliar with your protocols.”

“Honest communication is the only protocol here, Hasira. Please continue.” Ferocity said aloud, putting the other Dragon at ease.

“When Dragona was enslaved we observed many things about the VReoria. They looked upon us as though we were lower life forms so they spoke freely around us. But we listened and remembered every detail we heard. They spoke of another classification of VReoria, the collectors.”

“More than one kind of VReoria? I don’t like the sound of this.” M said.

Hasira continued, “The collectors have a small fleet of specimen ships. These ships are said to travel around this Universe, and others, collecting perfect specimens of higher life forms. The beings are suspended in state of existence that is neither living nor dead. They intend to use the genetics from the collection to alter their own genes. Some said they were attempting to create a master race of warriors by adding the strengths of every species they encounter to their own DNA.”

“Is that how they were able to cloak their appearance when they attempted to kidnap us on Trella?” Brzko asked.

Hasira considered his response carefully, sharing information with other species was new to him. “Possibly but I don’t know for certain. It was the other classification, the enslavers, that occupied Dragona. I don’t think they ever cloaked their appearance, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t have.”

“They sound ruthless.” Vasira said.

“Mmmm. They are. They poisoned Dragona, altering the atmosphere in order to dominate us. It took us a very long time to figure out why we could no longer fly or breathe fire.”

Hasira’s comments weighed heavily on them all. It was such a barbaric thing to do. The room stayed silent while everyone thought about a fleet of VReoria collectors on specimen ships.

ShyUst broke the silence, “Muse of Mischief, I don’t understand. You and Agent Brzko can time travel, is there a reason you don’t travel back in time and prevent this, or leave a warning for Lelelu?”

“I wish it were that easy but it doesn’t work that way. If we change something in the past it doesn’t stop it from happening in this Universe, because it already did happen. Changing history just creates fractures in the timeline, or what some call parallel universes.” M explained.

“You can’t exchange yourself for Lelelu, we can’t allow the VReoria to capture you. Can you imagine what they could accomplish if they actually were able to use your genes to obtain the ability to travel through apertures?” Zri said. “Once we hear the details of the exchange we’ll need to find a way to make them think you’re exchanging yourself for Lelelu, just long enough to get her back.”

A clone.” Everyone turned toward Waaw, and Xiix, unable to tell which telepath had projected the thought. It was Waaw, he continued, “We all know that members of the Universal Coalition have agreed not to participate in cloning activities. But given the circumstances, they may be willing to hold an emergency vote and allow a single deviation from the agreement.

“That could work.” Zri said. “I’m sure that Gaznzul would give their approval.”

“As will Ploosnar.” Nalau said.

“I think the ruling council of the Planet of Portals will also agree.” Vustia said.

“Dragona will approve of the plan as long as we are assured that the equipment used is to be destroyed afterward.” Hasira said.

Brzko looked across the table to Waaw, “You must think that Ciic will approve of the idea?”

I do. You and the Muse of Mischief have served Suus on many occasions. She will not approve of the Muse of Mischief exchanging herself for Lelelu.

Brzko turned to M, “So what do you think?”

“Uhhh, other than being a little creeped out by the idea of cloning myself I think it could work. Waaw, who has the technology and how long will it take? We don’t have long to prepare.”

Please allow me to return to my ship and consult with Ciic. The Suus database contains the details of successful cloning processes. The practice was common for cloning diseased organs long ago. I will need to review the data in order to give you an accurate answer.” Waaw projected.

“While you’re doing that, we need someone to contact the Universal Coalition and inform them of what’s going on.” Brzko said.

“I already have.” Nalau and Vustia said in unison.

Vustia gestured to Nalau, suggesting that she continue. She did, “They were already aware of the situation, the kidnapping. They have approved of the plan to use a clone, as long as it’s a single clone, destroyed after the rescue, and the equipment is also destroyed.”

“Wait, so it’s a clone of  me, then wouldn’t it have my abilities?” M asked.

No.” Waaw projected. “It will only look like you, we will not clone your entire brain.

“Wow, this just keeps getting creepier. OK so Waaw, while you return to your ship to get started on the clone idea, the rest of us need to come up with a plan for taking down these VReoria specimen ships once and for all.” Brzko said.

“It won’t be that easy.” M said. “We have an obligation to rescue all of the specimens that are still alive.”

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