The Muse of Mischief stood in the center of their living room. “Well?” She said, with her feet planted a shoulders width apart and her hands on her hips.
Agent Brzko was circling her, looking her up and down. “Hmmmmm. Well M, I’ve just got to say… I love it!” He teased.
They had both had new garments created for the trip. Their new derbies had hidden compartments, the inside of their long coats were lined with invisible pockets, and surprisingly, M had decided to wear solid black leggings, no stripes.
“I know, I know.” She said. “It just doesn’t seem like me without the stripes right?”
Brzko laughed and hugged her. “Nah, I don’t need striped stockings to know who you are. Zri is already in orbit around Clyrea X9, are you ready to go?”
“Oh I’m more than ready! We haven’t really gone exploring since we took the Jeeps out in the forest on Earth to find Rogsaar. Let’s go!”
Arm in arm they left the Planet of Portals, and arrived on the World Engine known as Clyrea X9. They were on the same stone cliff floating in the clouds, where they had met Agent Qmkos and the Muse of Banter.
M reached up and activated her earcom link. “Zri, can you hear me?”
“Yes, M, I can hear you. Your signal is faint but it’s clear.” He answered.
“As is yours. Standby, we don’t know how long we’ll be here.”
“Affirmative, good luck and travel safely.”
“Thanks Zri.” She said. Then she turned to Brzko. “So where do you want to go first?”
“Well, if we’re where we think we are, this noplace leads to the young universe with very little gravity. Numia didn’t mention low gravity in her description of Keatera. Let’s try….” he turned and looked at the seemingly endless domes on stone cliffs, floating in the clouds, “that one!” He pointed to one that was a ways away, a little behind them.
“OK, let’s go.”
On the cliff of this new dome, they began to circle it slowly, looking for the entrance. “This reminds me of ancient Ireland and walking around the cairn at the Mountain of the Hags.” Brzko said.
“Oh don’t say that! I don’t want to run into Mahb today!”
They continued on, walking slowly. A doorway opened, sliding upward, and a short, redheaded Hekwagter Gatekeeper stepped out of the dome.
“Welcome to noplace! Won’t you please come in?” The little being said as he gestured toward the doorway.
“Where does this portal lead?” M asked as they slowly approached the door.
“The place you need to be. Or maybe it’s the place you want to be. Or maybe it’s the place you should be. I guess you will find that out once you’re there.” The Hekwagter Gatekeeper said.
“I can see what the Muse of Banter meant about illogically logical!” M projected to Brzko.
They stepped through the doorway, the Hekwagter Gatekeeper followed and the door closed. Leaving them in complete darkness. They both tensed. M let go of Brzko’s arm and stepped aside just slightly, preparing to defend herself. The ceiling lit up with a map of a universe.
“Take your time, look around.” The Hekwagter Gatekeeper said.
They both just looked at him. The colored lights from the ceiling were reflecting on his skin, they gave him a sickly multi-color glow. But they did nothing to lessen the shocking red of his hair.
“Ah, yes. I see. You are new to Clyrea X9 no?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Point at any galaxy and more detail will be revealed.”
“Can you provide any information about this universe?” M asked.
He looked them up and down. He was AI but he was certainly displaying emotion – her question annoyed him, he didn’t hide his impatience.
“Tick tock tick tock, I am a Hekwagter Gatekeeper. I am not an information provider.”
“Wow.” She decided to use telepathy with Brzko.
“Interesting attitude. OK, why don’t you try?”
“So Hekwagter Gatekeeper, how long ago did other Clyreans pass through here?” Brzko asked.
“Tick tock tick tock, time is a relative term.”
“Hmmm. OK then, what did the last Clyreans to pass through here call this universe?”
“Gears.” The Hekwagter Gatekeeper answered.
“Show me the planet they went to please.”
The Hekwagter Gatekeeper looked Brzko up and down. He pointed to the map above their heads. It shifted and brought a small solar system into view. He pointed to one of the large planets in the system and brought it in close. Clearly he wasn’t going to volunteer any information. They would have to learn the right questions to ask.
“Is this planet a frequent destination?” M asked.
“Tick tock tick tock, frequent is a relative term.”
“Have the last Clyreans to go to this planet been there more than once?” Hekwagter Gatekeeper opened his mouth to respond, but M wasn’t done yet. “And if they have, how many times have they traveled there from this portal.”
“Have Clyreans used this portal to travel to any other planets in this solar system?” Brzko asked.
The Hekwagter Gatekeeper manipulated the map to bring the other large planet into view.
“Is there a significant difference… “ Brzko realized significant would no doubt be a relative term to the Hekwagter Gatekeeper. “Which planet is more often a destination and what percentage of the time is it the destination.”
The Hekwagter Gatekeeper gave Brzko a hideous grin, confirming that he had noticed they were catching on. “This one,” He manipulated the map back to the first planet. “eighty nine point four.
“That’s all for now.” Brzko said, hoping the Hekwagter Gatekeeper would give them some space. It worked, he retreated to the wall waiting to be called upon again.
“Let’s see if we can get closer.” Brzko said pointing at the planet. The map zoomed in on the surface close enough to see land and bodies of water. He took it even closer and slowly rotated the planet. They could see signs of advanced civilizations in some areas, other areas seemed mostly uninhabited. “This looks like an interesting place, it seems like an advanced culture – you can see some kind of hovercraft or low flying ships.” Brzko pointed to one of the smaller communities.
“It looks interesting, like it might be worth a visit at some point.” She looked over her shoulder to see how close the Hekwagter Gatekeeper was. He was still standing next to the wall, waiting to be needed again. M decided to switch to telepathy in order to keep the conversation private.
“Do you want to see more of this universe or move on to a new portal?”
“Let’s move on.” He turned and headed toward the doorway.
The Hekwagter Gatekeeper moved toward them. “Tick tock tick tock, leaving so soon?”
“Yes Hekwagter Gatekeeper. But we appreciate your hospitality while we were here.” Brzko said.
The Hekwagter Gatekeeper cocked his head to one side, like a puppy that was trying to understand it’s new master. “Good bye then.” Was all his AI mind could think of to say.
The door opened as they approached, they stepped out of the dome and the door closed behind them.
“Where to now?” M projected.
Brzko looked up, they were directly beneath one of the rings. “Let’s try to stay in line with the ring.”
“Sounds good, so that one next?” M said looking at a nearby dome. Brzko turned in the direction she was looking.
“Sure, why not. Ready?” He took M’s arm and they went. Again, they slowly walked around the dome until the door opened.
This time they weren’t greeted by a Hekwagter Gatekeeper, it was an Agent. He greeted them as he walked out of the door, donning a long heavy duster and a cowboy hat. “Well howdy! Y’all must be the Muse of Mischief and Agent Brzko. Darlin’ c’mon over here and say howdy!”