“No, no, no, no. Go away Muse of Mischief!” Emperor Bartala said, sort of spitting the last word, as he walked out of the palace to meet her. She could hear the espidrun in his voice.

“Oh we’re using full names today Kufeter Whakeclyte Wissswara Bartapulnye, you must be really pissed.”

“Why did you do this? Why are you attempting to steal my wife?” Bartala said, shaking his fist at her.

“Let’s go inside Bartala, I don’t want to discuss this here.” What she really meant is that she didn’t want the Emperor of Ploosnar to air his dirty laundry on the palace steps where guards and other staff could hear him.

He waved his hand, dismissing her, as he turned and walked into the palace. “Fine, but I’m not giving you any espidrun.”

“That’s OK, I brought my own bottle.” And indeed she had. She still had rooms here at the Ploosnar palace, and she kept a supply there. She had quickly visited her rooms before she officially arrived at the palace.

He turned to see if she really was carrying a bottle. When he saw that she did indeed bring a bottle with her, he offered no more than a harumph. He walked down the long hallways to his private sitting room. When they turned the last corner, M could see Empress Nalau standing at the end of the hall in the shadows. She smiled at M and mouthed the words ‘thank you’. M just smiled and nodded.

“Sit.” Bartala said, taking glasses from the side table and filling them with espidrun. “We can drink from my bottle, and I’ll keep yours for later.”

“OK.” There is no need for toasts or formalities with these old friends, they both tossed back the first drink. He immediately refilled them. And then took her bottle and stashed it on a side table. “So…”

“Ah. No.” He held up his hand in stop gesture. “Not until I’ve had three of these, I like my drinks in three now. Another BAD habit I picked up from you.”

She laughed. “OK, works for me. There’s two, pour up old man.”

He did and they drank the third. He filled the glasses a fourth time but they both just let them set on the table with the blue steam slowly rising. Espidrun was really strong, and three shots, back to back? M could already feel it. But she sensed it had worked, her oldest friend was now calm enough to discuss his issues.

“So what did Nalau tell you, Bartala?”

“That she wants to work with you, she wants to run around the Universe risking her life for the benefit of others.”

“Really? That’s how she put it?”

“No, but that’s what I heard.”

“I bet you were shocked, weren’t you?”

“Yes! My lovely wife is the definition of refinement and grace. She came home covered in stasis fluid and baby alien puke. But did that disgust her? NO! It made her realize she has a higher purpose and it’s your fault. Because you asked her to help you while Lelelu was held captive by the VReoria.”

“You done? If there’s more tell me now.”

“Damn it M. I had everything just how I wanted it, and now it’s going to change.”

M raised an eyebrow at him, waiting to see if he knew what she would say. He didn’t continue. Instead he took his fourth shot, she copied him.

“So let me get this straight. When Nalau had everything in her life just how she wanted it, you announced that you wanted a child. And despite your long lifespan, you wanted the child now. She complied, with the use of a surrogate, but she still complied. Did that change her life?”

“Yes. It changed her life.” He said, she detected a hint of shame in his voice.

“So, are your wants more important than hers? Because you’re the Emperor? Because you are male?”

“Not when it comes to our marriage, no, I am not more important than her. But M, I’m worried, terrified. I know some of the situations you get into. I mean look at what just happened to Lelelu!”

“OK, so that’s what the problem is? Not that she wants to do something but that she wants to do something that could be dangerous?”

“Yes. And I will miss her whenever she’s gone. She’s my partner, my best friend.”

“What about Wisssi?”

“Wisssi? He is not a replacement for his mother!”

“No, of course not. But you do devote a lot of time to him right? You have assumed the role of the main parent?”

“Yes, that was our agreement. Nalau did not want to be a mother.”

“Hmmmm so, with a fair amount of your time devoted to your son’s development what should someone as intelligent and as capable as Nalau do with her time? Should she take up knitting, underwater basket weaving, or perhaps advanced floral arranging?”

“You’re not being fair.”

“I’m not being fair? What do you think years of a mindless hobby like that would do for someone such as your brilliant, fearless, lovely wife?”

Bartala took a deep breath and met M’s gaze. “It will kill her spirit.”

“And we both know you love her far too much to do that to her.”

“Yes I do.”

“OK then, get over yourself and help us develop a plan that will ensure her safety.”

“I hate you.” He said as he poured a fifth espidrun for them.

“It’s mutual buddy. And by the way. This isn’t my fault. You’re the one that wanted to go to Trella, and that adventure is what piqued her interest.” She got up as she was speaking, extended her hand to him and pulled him off the sofa. “Careful there, that espidrun hits hard.”

“Yes, and I started before you got here.”

With her hands on his shoulders, she looked him directly in the eyes. “Bartala, you are my oldest and dearest friend. I cherish your friendship above many things. I promise you, I will do everything I can to ensure that the love of your life is safe.” She embraced him in a bear hug, as he so often did to her.

“I know, and I’m holding you to that.” She released him and he stepped back. “I’ll go and find my wife, we have some plans to make.”

Nalau opened the door and strolled into the room. “There’s no need darling, I’ve been listening at the door the entire time.”

M couldn’t help herself, she laughed out loud. Then covered her mouth.

Bartala looked at her. “Your influence on my wife has been…”

“Shut up and pour me a drink Bartala.” Nalau said. “You know you love me just as I am.”

“You are correct my darling. And I do like it when you take charge!”  He said as he complied with her demand. He continued to pour for her until she’d had three shots. “Are you sure this is what you want to do my love?”

Nalau sat her glass on the table and met Bartala’s gaze. “Yes.”

“That’s it? Just yes.”

She reached forward and grasped his hands, he expected her to say something very regal and reassuring, but she didn’t. “Darling, I’m Female not feeble! Now let’s toast to… me!”

“Wow, you’ve really built up a tolerance for the espidrun Nalau.” M said laughing.

“Yeah well, that trip to Trella changed me.”

M yawned. “Oh sorry, it’s been a long couple of days. I have some ideas that I’d like to share…” She paused, waiting to see if they were ready to get down to business. “First, Nalau I think you should take personal defense and flight training. Both of those skills need to become intuitive. If you’re in a crisis you don’t have time to think about reacting, you have to just do it.”

“OK. Who would I train with?”

“Zri.” Bartala answered for M.

“Yes, Zri, or actually a Garznzulian training facility. The physical training will be tough, but if you stick with it, you’ll gain a lot of strength and confidence. I also think the Gaznzulians have some of the best flight training.”

“Will you arrange it or should I contact Zri?”

“I’ll take care of it. And Bartala, while she’s in training I think you should have a special ship designed for her. Something that’s really fast, but also heavily armed. You have access to cloaking and transporter technology now. Instead of installing that on a ship that you already have, build her a new one. And if you ask real nice you might be able to get a hold of the Dragonan jump drive technology. It needs to be large enough for Nalau and a few guards. ”
“Guards? As in palace guards?” Bartala asked. He clearly approved of the idea of his wife having guards with her.

“I don’t know that’s up to Nalau. She’ll need to select her own team. But whoever you select, they need to go through the same training you do.”

“Oh, I hadn’t thought of that. A great idea M.” Nalau said as she tossed back another shot.

“You’ll want to select the best candidates, figure out what your criteria is and then search for them. Please don’t just take palace guards because you have access to them.”

“What criteria would you suggest?” Nalau asked.

“First, loyalty, loyalty to you, loyalty to the missions. And also, intelligence, physical abilities, and integrity. For example most palace guards have families here on Ploosnar right?”


“On a mission they may be distracted worrying about or missing their loved ones. But if your team was made up of those that are free from family responsibilities there should be fewer distractions. Do you see what I mean? “

“Yes. What about some of the evacuees? Are any of them suitable candidates?”

“I don’t know. You’ll have to spend some time with them. I also suggest that your team be comprised of multiple species. A variety of perspectives can help you find a solution in tough situations.”

“Brilliant idea. OK, I’d like to start by talking with some of the evacuees. There are so many that need to find a new place in the Universe.”

“Yeah, that’s something I wanted to talk to Bartala about. Have you ever heard of Keaterans?”

“No. What’s a Keateran?” Bartala asked.

“Oh, aren’t they yellow? With pointed ears?” Nalau asked as M unrolled her tablet and showed them an image of a Keateran.

“We rescued four of them, three adults and a child. The adults used to work together on a cargo ship. Bartala, assuming they have the right skills, would you employ them in shipping?”

“Of course, But why don’t they just go home?”

“Because Keatera is in a different universe. We don’t know how to get them there.”

“Oh, what about the child?”

“I’ve suggested to her that she can have input on where she lives. But if she doesn’t have a different idea, I think she should live  here on Ploosnar so that she can see the other Keaterans from time to time.”

“Kilome.” Nalau said. Both M and Bartala just looked at her. “The last time I was at Schatorren having clothes designed, I spoke with Kilome. He expressed his desire to adopt someone. As you know there are rarely Ploosnarians in need of adoption, so he was considering a displaced Sarfet from his home on Drolla O0. But he may actually enjoy helping this Keateran. What’s her name?”


“I’ll talk to him tomorrow.”

“Thank you Nalau. Now if you two don’t need anything else tonight, I’m going home to see the love of my life.”

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