CHAPTER 39: A QUICK CHECK ON THE EMPEROR

“The Muse of Mischief, Your Majesty.” The palace guard announced as she reached the top of stairs and Emperor Bartala stepped out of the palace with a rug rat in tow.

“Autuania, Autuania, Autuania!” Wisssi called running to her. She whisked him up and twirled him around.

“Ezopica Mischievous Wisssdartai you are getting big! How are your piano lessons going?” She asked setting him down.

“Good.” He trotted off saying something about playing the piano.

M embraced her old friend. “Bartala, how are you?”

“I’m fine M. Is everything OK?”

“Yes, Nalau is fine if that’s what you mean.”

“It is. She said the trip to Earth was successful and she would be home later today.”

“Yes, the mission was successful. Did she tell you it was Afrit the Great of Jinn?”

“Yes, what was he doing on Earth?”

“It’s a long story. I’ll let your wife fill you in on the details. I’m really just here to raid the kitchen with my old pal, it’s been too long.”

Bartala lit up. “Fantastic! I could use some fun. Let’s go find Wisssi. He’s probably playing the piano, waiting to show his Autuania his latest song.”

Sure enough. The young pianist was playing something that sounded classical, Motzartesque, when they entered the green sitting room. He played for a few more minutes and then jumped off the bench, bowed dramatically and declared the end of his performance with an enthusiastic “Ta da!”

“Bravo, Bravo!” M said clapping.

He was delighted to have pleased his Autuania, but he was done performing. He went over to the corner of the room where a small table held a three dimensional puzzle and settled in with a serious look of determination.

“He’s been focused on that for a few days now. It’s a Xinood puzzle, a gift from G’ist.”

“How are G’ist and Rogs? And G’saar?” She said the name G’saar with a little question, as though she weren’t sure she had correct hame.

“They’re all doing well. G’saar is even bigger! He is growing so quickly, they must employ a full time tailor to keep up with him.” 

“Speaking of tailors, how is Scomia adjusting to life on Ploosnar? Is she getting along with Kilome?”

“Yes, they are very close. In fact Kilome registered the documentation needed to make Scomia his official heir. He said he wanted to make sure that she’ll be cared for should anything happen to him. I told him that the palace would always provide for her but I think part of the reason he did it was to make sure that she knows she belongs here, with him.”

“Oh that’s great. So she adjusted to the Ploosnar schools OK?”

“She’s a little behind the other students in language, but her mathematics knowledge exceeds that of her peers.”

“Good. I’m glad she’s not so far behind that she’s uncomfortable. So how are you old man?” M said asked.

“Ha! I’m no older than you.”

“Yeah, but you’re a dad and I might be immortal.”

Bartala laughed and finished his drink. “I’m doing well. I’m very thankful that I’ve got Wisssi now that Nalau has found a new calling. Or did Nalau find a new calling because I had Wisssi? Hmmm. Either way, the palace seems quite large when you’re alone. But I’m hungry. Hey Wisssi, let’s go raid the kitchen with your Autuania.”

“Hey when he’s old enough maybe he can take over for you and you can work with Nalau. She’d probably give a place in her crew. Well, after you went through some training.”

Bartala opened his mouth to respond but couldn’t think of a good come back. Instead he just laughed. They laughed like old times, when they were young and free of responsibilities as they headed to the kitchen. Wisssi wasn’t sure what ‘Raid the kitchen meant’ but he wasn’t going to miss a chance for adventure with his Autuania. He followed them down the hall.

M got to the kitchen first and peaked around the door. She put her finger up to her lips and looked at Wisssi “Shhhhhhh, the coast is clear.” She whispered.

He just stared at her with his huge, bright blue eyes as she opened the door and motioned for him and Bartala to enter. She scooped him up and plopped him down on the counter across from the main refrigerator while Bartala started removing containers and setting them on the counter next to Wisssi.

M uncovered one of the containers, it was filled with lusimis. “Mmmmm” she said, as she dipped her finger into it and licked it . “Lusimis.”

Wisssi had never seen this before! He plunged his fingers into the bowl “Lusimus.” he declared and starting licking his fingers.

“Close buddy, it’s lusimis.”

He didn’t bother to try the word again, why would he, he was busy licking his fingers.

Bartala handed him a vegetable that looked like a carrot, “Here Wisssi, use this instead of your fingers. M you’re going to turn my son into a barbarian!” She could tell he wasn’t serious, his grin covered his entire face.

“Mmmmmmm” Wisssi said as he dipped the vegetable into the lusimis, attempting to get more attention from M.

“Hey, remember that time we took a picnic up to the top of Mt. Brara and then found out we didn’t have anything to eat with?”

Bartala laughed. “Oh yes. I remember that. We didn’t even have serviettes with us. But we were far too hungry after hiking up there to forgo the food. We ate like animals.”

“Aminals, aminals.” Wisssi chanted as his father handed him a slice of fruit cake.

“So are you going to let him have fun as he grows up, the kind of fun you had, or will you shelter him?” M asked as she slid herself up on the counter, diving into a bowl with some kind of pasta.

“I want to shelter him, to protect him.” Bartala said with a serious look. “But I know that I can’t protect him from everything.”

“And you wouldn’t be who you are, if your father hadn’t given you the freedom to explore yourself and the Universe.” M said.

“I know. Sometimes I think that he gave me more freedom after you stumbled into the palace.”

“Ha ha.” M said sarcastically.

Wisssi immediately picked up on that one and started mimicking her, “Ha ha, ha ha…”

“No really, I think it’s true M. He knew you had some.. unusual? abilities, and that you would protect me.” M nodded in agreement, thinking that might just be true. Bartala continued. “That’s why I wanted to explore the idea of Nguvu being bonded to Wisssi. If they’re bonded by the time he’s old enough to explore I would worry less.”

“Hm, I see your point. Hey Wisssi, do you like Dragons?” M teased.

“Dragons, Dragons like Fercty.” He answered.

“Yes, like Ferocity.”

One of the nannies peaked in to check on Wisssi, her face momentarily displayed shock when she saw the Emperor and his son sitting on the kitchen counter sampling food directly from the storage containers. “Your Majesty.” She said.

“Oh yes, yes. Come in. Wissdartai are you ready for a nap or a bath or both?”

The look on his face was priceless as he realized his first kitchen raid was about to end. He shook his head no and started to pout.

“Ezopica Mischievous Wisssdartai, is that how an Emperor would behave? Suck it up and behave with dignity.”

Instantly Wisssi’s posture changed and he was ready to be whisked away. M took him off the counter and hugged him, “See you later little Bartala.”

“Bye Autuania M.”

The nanny took him away.

Just as M was about to ask Bartala about Nguvu one of the kitchen staff appeared. No doubt taking advantage of the Nanny’s interruption. “Your Majesty. Shall I straighten up now?”

“C’mon M, we’ve overstayed our welcome in the kitchen.” He said smiling. “Yes, please. We’ll get out of your hair now.” He said to the servant.

As they headed to the door he turned to M and in a quiet voice said, “Kitchen raids are much better in the middle of the night, don’t you think? Let’s go have a drink.”

“OK, so what’s up with that suck it up think? Are you purposely teaching Wisssi about Earth slang?”

“Sort of.”

“What does that mean?” It took her a few seconds to figure it out. “OH! You’ve been letting him watch Babylon 5 haven’t you?”

Bartala didn’t answer, he just grinned. They were almost to his study, once inside he said, “Yes, I let him see a few episodes and it was hilarious. He thinks Londo is me, or I’m Londo. But then I became concerned that it might confuse him.”

“Oh I bet it is confusing for him. Although he’s developing so quickly.” M said pouring the first round of espidrun.

They settled on the sofa, feet up on the table, slowly sipping the hot pink liquid with blue steam floating down the sides, it was still early. After a few minutes an idea occurred to M, she blurted it out. “So are you going to have another kid?”

“I’m not done raising this one yet!”

“Uh huh, but I bet you’ve already been thinking about it.”

“So you read minds now?”

“Ha! I knew it!” M said, punching her old friend in the arm before reaching for the espidrun bottle.

“I’ve been thinking about it, once Wisssi is independent I may want to have another child. I want him to have what we have, we bonded like siblings while we were young. But that is a few years off, IF I even do it. When was the last time you heard about Nguvu? How is she doing?”

“Hold on.” M reached for Ferocity. “Ferocity.

Muse of Mischief, what can I do for you?”

I’m with Bartala, and he’s wondering how Nguvu is.

I spoke with Kwaii earlier today. He feels that she is ready to return to Misko under my supervision. If you and Lord Brzko don’t need anything tomorrow morning I will return to Dragona to retrieve her.

OK, sounds good Ferocity, I’ll see you later at home.

Understood.

Bartala was staring at M. “I really hate that telepathy thing.”

“Hmm. I think you’re just jealous.”

“You’re right.” He said filling their glasses. “What did he say?”

“Nguvu will be returning to Misko tomorrow. Kwaii feels that she’s ready to be mentored by Ferocity.”

“Excellent!” He lifted his glass and clinked it against M’s, “To Wisssi and Nguvu!”

“To Wisssi and Nguvu!” M said, finishing her shot in one gulp.

Bartala immediately reached for the bottle.

CHAPTER 38: THE NEW SUPERHEROINES HEAD TO TRAPHUS

The guest house on Misko, originally intended as a getaway for Emperor Bartala and Empress Nalau, has been dubbed “the house”. The huge dining room, with it’s massive table makes a great meeting space for planning, and with multiple guest rooms there is plenty of personal space. It is here that the team gathers for the first time.

The Muse of Mischief and Agent Brzko sit at the head of the massive table, while Lelelu, Zri, Xiix, Nalau, Numia, and Ferocity take their places along the sides of the table. They were all chatting, excited about their new union.     

M stood up, grabbing their attention. “OK, listen up.” She was met with immediate silence. “Let’s get  started, we need to talk about our first mission. We’re going Clyrea X9.” She sat back down and Brzko jumped in.

“Zri, who is your new first officer?”

“Actually it’s still ShyUst. He also resigned from his official position on Gaznzul to work with us.”

“That’s great news.” Brzko continued. “Nalau, how is your new crew working out, have you had enough time with them to trust them in a potentially dangerous situation?”

“Absolutely. We worked well together when we took Isyuno to Suus.”

“Good. Nalau, how empathic is Snov?” M asked.

“Very. It seems that many of the beings held in stasis by the VReoria were able to develop the power of their minds. I think it helped them survive.”

“Right, like my father being able to develop the ancient Trelod ability of telepathy.” Lelelu interjected.

“Exactly.” The Nalau confirmed. “So when do we leave for Clyrea X9 M?”

Just as she was about to speak Lelelu interrupted. “There’s a small situation that I think needs to be handled before you head out on that mission.” Everyone just looked at her, so she continued. “We received a message from Vustia, the Ruling Council has requested assistance.”

“What’s wrong?” Brzko asked.

“The portal in Traphus seems to have been hijacked. It leads to Luchybos and is generally used for transporting small goods. But it’s been closed and the locals say they can hear someone in them, singing.”

“Singing?” M, Brzko and Zri said in unison.

Lelelu smiled, here eyes sparkled, making her even more beautiful. “I know it sounds crazy. And if it’s OK with you, I’d like to help handle this.” She said looking at M.

“By all means, please do. If you can work it out quickly then we’ll leave for Clyrea X9 the day after tomorrow.”

“Nalau, would like to come with me?”

“Most definitely! Wouldn’t we Numia?”

“Yes, When would you like to leave?”

“Now?” Lelelu said looking back and forth between Nalau and Numia.

“OK, let’s go.” Nalau said, standing up. As she activated her transporter she said “Hopefully we’ll be very soon. Lelelu, there’s no point in taking two ships, why don’t you ride with us?”

“OK, I’ll be right there.” Lelelu turned to Zri and kissed his cheek. “I’ll be back soon.”

“Be careful Le.” She activated her transporter and all three of them left for Nalau’s ship.

After a quick preflight check, they were off, it would only take a few minutes to get to Traphus from Misko. Nalau let Numia handle the landing without comment.

Vustia was there waiting for them.

“Vustia, it’s a pleasure to see you again, are you well?” Lelelu asked taking his extended hand.

“I am very well. How are you Lelelu? You look good. How is your father? Has he recovered?”

“Oh yes, mostly. He’s visiting a friend on Suus right now. And you remember Empress Nalau I’m sure, this is Numia, Guug, Snov, Strupa and G’uld.”

Nalau stepped up and extended her hand. “Of course.” Vustia said. “It’s a pleasure to see you, thank you all for coming to help.”

“It’s our pleasure, please show us where the portal is.”

“Right this way.” He led them to a solid metal doorway, standing alone in an open area between what looked like small warehouses.  

M turned to Snov, “Can you feel anything? Anything from the other side of the door?”

Snov stepped forward and placed both his hands on the door. Something from the otherside pounded against it and he jumped. He placed his hands back on the door, turned his head to the side and closed his eyes trying to focus.

“I feel frustration, despair, sadness.”

“No anger or hostility?” Lelelu asked.

Snov turned his attention to the door again, focusing. After a moment he moved back. “No, I do not sense anything threatening.”

Nalau turned and looked at the group, they were ready. She nodded to Guug, he grasped the handle and something pounded again.

Open this door now or we’re coming in!.” Guug projected with as much force as he could. He turned the handle and with is incredible strength, he was able to turn it enough for the door to unlatch. They all heard the click, and readied themselves for an attack. A massive force pressed into the door, slamming it all the way open. There was a loud hissing sound as a bright blue cloud surrounded Guug. Numia grabbed his shoulders attempting to pull him back. But it was too late, the blue cloud surrounded both of them. It wasn’t causing them any harm but it was too thick to see through. Before they could decide which way to go to get out of the cloud they heard Nalau.

“Afrit, stop this NOW! I demand that you take a solid form immediately.”

Afrit? Lelelu thought that sounded familiar, then she remembered why. Was Nalau right, was this Afrit the Great of Jinn?

“NOW Afrit. Or I’ll have the Dragon breathe fire in your general direction. You’ll be scorched no matter what form you’re in.” Nalau continued.

The blue cloud began to get thicker in front of Nalau, slowly it began to take shape. The shape of Afrit the Great. Afrit looked around, taking the time to note each individual. “Hey! There’s no Dragon here! Empress you’ve changed!” He said looking her up and down.

“Afrit.” Lelelu called, getting him to turn in her direction. “How did you find your way to the Planet of Portals?”

“This is this is the Planet of Portals?”

“Look Afrit, we’re not in the mood for games. How did you get here?”

“I was banished. Well, sort of. I was actually given a choice. A choice between akenn kote or banishment from Jinn.”

“Akenn kote?” Nalau asked.

“Right, akenn kote.” He looked at her and realized she wasn’t familiar with the term. “It’s an ancient way to say nowhere.”

“What did you do to deserve banishment?” Nalau asked.

“What makes you think I deserved it?”

“You were my houseguest for a while, I’m confident that you deserved it.”

“Ohhh you really have changed! I bet you’re a blast at parties now, Nalau.”

She didn’t take the bait and scold him for addressing her by her first name. Instead she stood still and gazed at him. Once again he looked around the room.

“So where’s this Dragon you were threatening me with?”

When no one answered him, he finally gave up. “OK, OK. I was involved in a little scandal on Jinn. I had a little bit too much fun at a party and it turned out my drinking pal was the daughter of the ruling Jinn. He was furious, accusing me of corrupting her. Ha! Little does he know.” He looked around, looking for sympathy. He didn’t find any so he continued. “So he gave me a choice, I could step through a portal leading to akenn kote or be banished from Jinn. I chose the portal, but it seems like the same thing because now I’m stuck on this hideous planet. No offense to my blue friends here.” He said nodding toward Lelelu and Vustia. They all turned and looked at him.

“What is akenn kote like?” Lelelu asked.

“Lonely, that’s what it’s like.” Again no response, so he continued. “It’s like a single, huge room, there’s lightning dancing at the top of the room. But no other discernible features.”

“How long were you in there?”

“I don’t know for sure, a few weeks maybe.”

“You can survive that long without sustenance?”

“Ha! I was a houseguest on Ploosnar wasn’t I?”

“Let’s put him back.” Nalu said, sort of kidding, but taking a step forward to emphasize her point.

“No, no, no. I’m sorry sister. I just hate being alone, I can’t help myself. I don’t know how to describe it in there. It’s almost like time stands still, but not really. It’s a terrible place. The door on the other side should be locked”

“Where is the other door?” She asked.

“One of them is on Jinn, and it’s one way.”

“There are more of them?” Vustia asked.

“If the stories are true, yes. Jinn children are told stories of akenn kote being used to travel between places undetected, or to hide. But it’s risky. If you can’t find an exit, or if it’s locked, you may be trapped nowhere for eternity because time doesn’t move the same in akenn kote. I don’t know how long I was in there looking for a way out. Once I realized I was hearing industrial sounds, I stayed in this area because I figured there was a way out.”

“So now what do we do with you? I don’t think you can stay on the Planet of Portals.” Numia said.

“Well technically I wasn’t banished from Jinn….. But I don’t think I want to go back there. Maybe I should spend a little time here. My ancestors spent time on this planet.”

“No.” Vustia, Lelelu, and Nalau said in unison.

“Umm OK then.” Afrit put his hand on his chin and looked up at the sky tapping his foot. It made the pointed tip of his shoe jiggle. He snapped his fingers as he lowered his hand. “I’ve got it! Foskpruchu.”

“Do you speak Foskpruchu?” Lelelu asked.

“How difficult can it be? Besides I love a riddle!”

“OK, Foskpruchu it is. Where’s your bottle?”

“Back on Jinn.”

Nalau rolled her eyes at him. “Fine. We’ll take you to Foskpruchu but if start anything on my ship I’ll have Guug and G’uld put you down.” She began walking toward her ship.

He ran after her, “Wait, this is your ship? And HEY what do you mean ‘put me down’? I’m not some feral Koblenipi on Ploosnar!”

She kept walking at a quick pace, knowing that she’d gotten to him pleased her. But he couldn’t see the grin she was wearing from behind her. The remainder of her team followed Afrit aboard the ship.

Lelelu and Vustia were still standing in front of the portal. “I’m sorry Vustia, we solved one mystery but have given you another. How the Jinn were able to send someone through a portal… I can’t explain that.”

“I’ve heard of other portals that lead into the Planet of Portals but I’ve never seen them. They are supposed to be in a deserted area, and locked down. But those were stories I heard as a child, I never believed them.”

“But maybe it’s true. Maybe there are portal that aren’t one way. That would change the planet, wouldn’t it?” She knew Nalau and here crew were waiting. “I’ve got to Vustia, I guess we’re going to Foskpruchu. You know how to reach us if you need anything else.” She turned and as she jogged toward Nalau’s ship, she realized that for the first time since being captured by the VReoria she felt completely recovered.

CHAPTER 37: THE NEW DIGS…

Emperor Bartala stopped in front of the main entrance to the west wing of the palace. There is a huge double door, ornately carved from the bright blue wood of a native tree. He waited for everyone to gather in close. “Long ago this was the original palace, it’s been renovated many times and used for many different things. I had them keep the great hall as it originally was, three stories tall.” He nodded to the guards at the door, he opened the doors and stepped back, the small group entered the room. No one spoke, they just stood there absorbing the opulence. The main room, or great hall, has been refreshed since Ferocity lived here. There is a variety of furniture, all of it brilliant shades of blue, from the peaked ceiling there are blue tapestries billowing lightly. On each side of the room there is a large fireplace, Bartala had both of the fires lit for their arrival.

Bartala clapped and a stocky being immediately came from another room and stood next to him.  “This is Zushiri, your head butler. He will take care of anything you need.”

Zushiri stepped forward and bowed to them, they all just stared at him. Empress Nalau broke the awkward silence. “Zushiri, it is a pleasure to meet you, this is Numia, Guug, Guld, Snov, Strupa and Kyruzia. Please tell us a little about yourself.” What she really meant was tell us what you are. Zushiri wore a suit similar to the style worn by most of the palace staff, the visible parts of his body are covered in fur, even his face. He is a luxurious brown color, with a cat like nose and whiskers. His face is surrounded by a mane.

“Ah yes, pleasure. I am a Feliovis. Like many others I was taken by the VReoria and I cannot get back to my universe, at least not yet. Feliovis are social beings, like most advanced beings we live in family groups. The questions I hear most often are, am I completely covered in fur and do I have a tail. Ah and the answers are yes and no. I look forward to getting to know each of you.” He stepped forward and took the time to greet each one, repeating their names to make sure he was saying them correctly. “If you will follow me I will show you around, there are private rooms for each of you, and a garden patio out back.” He didn’t wait for a response, he turned and headed out of the room knowing they would follow.

“Oh Bartala, you’ve outdone yourself this time!” Nalau exclaimed as they headed to the door.

“Do you really think so? So you’re pleased then my darling?”

“Well I don’t know.” She teased. “I think so, but I haven’t seen my new ship yet.”

“Ha! Listen to you! Would you like to see your ship? I had a special hanger built for it, you may have noticed it when you landed the shuttle.”

The couple slowly walked down the path leading from the west wing to the main palace entrance. Empress Nalau took a deep breath, enjoying the scent of the flowers along the path. “Actually darling, the ship can wait until tomorrow. I’d love to spend the evening alone with you and Wisssi, maybe some quiet time in your study. Do we have any espidrun?”

“Of course! We’ll never run out. The Muse of Mischief keeps a large supply of it hidden in her rooms. I could always ‘borrow’ a bottle from her. Why don’t you go and change into something more comfortable and meet me in the study. I’ll find Wisssi and have the kitchen prepare a casual dinner for us.” Bartala said as they entered the main palace.

“That sounds divine my love. I just need to return Zri’s shuttle so he can leave.” Empress Nalau veered away from the entrance, heading to the shuttle. She activated her earcom link.

“Zri, are you on com?”

“Yes Empress. What can I do for you?”

“We’re all settled in here, I’m sending the shuttle back up. I’ll see you tomorrow on Misko.”

“OK Empress, enjoy your evening at home.”

Empress Nalau manipulated her armband and watched as the shuttle ascended until it was out of sight. She had two more calls to make before she was ready to relax with her husband and son. Again she activated her earcom link.

“Numia, are you on com?”

“Yes Empress Nalau.”

“How are your accommodations?”

“They exceed all of our expectations, thank you.”

“Good, I’m glad to hear that. We’ll be leaving for Misko first thing tomorrow. Please make sure everyone is ready. Until then, enjoy your first evening on Ploosnar.”

“Will do Empress, thank you. See you tomorrow.”

“Muse of Mischief, are you on com?”

“Yes Empress Nalau, I’m here. Is everything OK?” M answered.

“Yes M, everything at home is fine. I just wanted to confirm that I’ll see you tomorrow on Misko.”

“Are you at the palace now?”

“Yes, in the side garden.”

The Muse of Mischief appeared before her. “Empress.” M walked toward her and embraced her. “It seems like you’ve been gone for so long. You look fantastic! I heard all of your training went well.”

“It sure did. I realized I’m even stronger than I thought I was.”

“I’m not surprised. You impressed all of us on the VReoria rescue mission. How’s the crew? Are you comfortable with all of them.”

“Yes, so far. I’m looking forward to taking them on a mission though. They all excelled at the training and testing on Gaznzul but in action things could be different.”

“We’ll come up with something tomorrow, something you and your crew can do right away.”

“Good. I haven’t seen the ship yet, but I’ve reviewed the specifications. So I don’t expect any delays tomorrow and….”

“Oh I should have known it was you that was detaining my wife.” Emperor Bartala bellowed as he walked toward them. He grabbed his oldest friend in his usual bear hug. “How are M? I haven’t seen you for a while.”

“I’m doing well Bartala, doing well. How are you and that little rugrat of yours?”

“Oh he keeps me on my toes, we can’t thank you enough for the piano. He’s really learning to play. Come in, please, have a drink with us and let Wisssi play for you.”

“Next time Bartala, tonight enjoy your wife. Tomorrow she’ll be busy.”

“OK, Give Agent Brzko my best.”

“Certainly will, g’night.” M left Ploosnar, returning to her dining room.

“How’s the Empress, glad to be back at the palace?” Agent Brzko said as he sat their dinner plates on the table.

“She’s great. I’m sure she’ll enjoy her own bed and shower tonight but she’s also eager to get to work. Oh and of course she’s glad to see Bartala and Wisssi.” M said mischievously.

“Of course. So what’s the plan for tomorrow?”

“We need to work out a plan for getting to Clyrea X9. I think we should ask the Empress to take Iysuno and Faaf to Suus. It will give her a chance to test out her ship and her crew.”

“Good idea. But you know Iysuno is going to object, he’ll want to be on the mission with us, to see if his grandfather was right about Clyrea X9.”

“I know, but it’s just too dangerous. Besides, we can’t let anything happen to him for Lelelu’s sake.”

“Agreed.”

CHAPTER 36: NALAU BECOMES…

The training on Gaznzul hadn’t just changed Empress Nalau physically. While it was true that her muscles were larger, she was much more limber, and her body was toned, the training had also enhanced her confidence. She is now a fully trained pilot, able to plot courses and handle most ships on her own. But Nalau isn’t on her own – she hand picked a team of six from the beings that she helped rescue from the VReoria specimen ships.

Her first officer is Numia, the Keateran that first though she’d like to return to working in shipping. After meeting Empress Nalau she wanted nothing more than to be at her side. As far as they knew, there were only four Keateran’s in this universe, and she would not find her way back to her universe if she spent everyday hauling roinad from one place to another.

The remainder of her team consisted of Kyruzia a Wrexnian with amazing technological abilities; Guug, a young Suus; G’uld, a Xinood; Snov, a Sarfett; and Strupa a Ploosnarian. They had all been captives of the VReoria for so long that they no longer had homes or families to return to. Each of them had attended the training on Gaznzul with Empress Nalau and Lelelu, and each of them had done exceedingly well. Zri could find nothing wrong with any of them.

After the intense training, Nalau was looking forward to being home on Ploosnar. Her  ship was ready, honestly she didn’t know if she was more excited about seeing her husband or her new ship. She stood on the bridge of Zri’s ship – he was taking Nalau, her crew, and the other Keaterans to Ploosnar. She was deep in thought, gazing at the universe as they rushed through space. After a while she became uncomfortable, Nalau realized someone was looking  at her. It was Zri.

“What?” She said turning to look at him.

“I’m wondering if Emperor Bartala will recognize you.” He grinned.

“What do you mean, I haven’t changed that much have I? It’s only been a few weeks.”

Zri laughed. “Have you really looked at yourself? Look at how you’re standing. You’re a soldier on assignment. And you’ve traded in your evening gown for a flight suit, and your palace jewels have been replaced by a pulse weapon on your hip.”

Suddenly aware that she was standing military stiff, with her feet exactly shoulder width apart, and her hands clasped behind her back. She tried to relax. “Oh, you’re right. I see what you mean. Maybe I should stow the weapon before we land.”

“Good idea. Go easy on Bartala.”

“And maybe even let my hair down.”

This made Zri laugh. She handed the weapon to one of Zri’s crew, and sat down beginning to release her hair from it’s tight restraint. “I’m sure he’ll be very proud of you Empress. You did even better than I thought you would.”

“Thank you Zri. So do you think I’ll be able to handle myself in tough situations?”

Zri looked down at his lap for a second, finding just the right words. “Empress, I’d gladly have you at my side on any mission.” There was no better compliment he could give, and she knew it. Empress Nalau let the compliment surround her like the embrace of a dear friend, for that is what it was.

She felt the ship slow just slightly, a quick look at the nav station confirmed what she thought. “Oh we’re there.”

“Sir, we’ve been cleared for landing.” Zri’s officer announced.

“Thank you, we’ll be staying in orbit. Empress,” He turned toward her. “Take the shuttle down, when you’re ready for your crew send it back on auto pilot. You’ve been gone a while, take as long as you need. We’re fine up here.”

“OK Zri, thank you.” She headed for the cargo hold and the shuttle.

Technically Gaznzulian protocol prevented Zri from landing on the surface, anyway. Lone ships were not to land on the surface of alien planets unless there was another Gaznzulian ship in orbit, or of course extenuating circumstances.

Even though she was more excited than she’d been in a long time, Nalau handled the shuttle with calm precision. She landed next to the palace, knowing that her beloved Bartala would be there waiting for her. After shutting the engines down, she opened the door and stepped out. Wisssi came running toward her, screaming, “Maaaaaaaaaa!”

She grabbed him and twirled him around, making him scream. He had grown but he seemed lighter because she was so much stronger. She buried her face in her son’s neck kissing him, taking him in. She put him down and turned to her patiently waiting husband, “Bartala my love. Oh I’ve missed you.”

He didn’t say anything, he just embraced her and held her for at least a minute. Finally he stepped back and looked her up and down. “Wow! I didn’t think you could be more beautiful than you were but… My darling you have left me speechless. He looked past her toward the shuttle door. “Where’s Zri.”

She cocked her head slightly, a little confused. “In orbit.”

Bartala covered his mouth with his hands, trying to hide a smile, “Oh, of course. My darling this is going to take some getting used to. Not only are you a pilot now, you’ve got a crew at your disposal. Where is your crew? I can’t wait to meet them.”

“They’re on Zri’s ship. I’ll send for them soon. Now tell me what you and Wisssi have been up to.” She said taking his arm and walking toward the palace. “C’mon Wisssi, I’m hungry, let’s see what we have to eat shall we?”

Wisssi trotted up alongside her, “We shall, we shall, we shall.” He chanted as they walked.

Seated comfortably in the green sitting room, Nalau looked around. The room looked different. “Has something changed?” She asked Bartala.

“Only you my love. The palace is the same.”

“Interesting. I do see things a little differently I guess. Wait a minute, what’s that over there?”

“Ahhhh, that is a gift from the Muse of Mischief. It’s called a piano, it’s a musical instrument. She gave it to Wisssi. One of the humans you rescued is something she calls a ‘musical genius’, he has been teaching Wisssi to play.”

Upon hearing his name Wisssi jumped up from where he sat on the floor playing with building blocks, “Wisssi pay Wisssi pay…” He laid his belly across the bench in front of the piano and wiggled until there was enough of him on it to climb up. Nalau covered her mouth, it was a priceless scene but she feared that if a giggle escaped her, she’d ruin the moment.

Wisssi placed his little hands on the keys, lowered his head and said something that sounded like ‘focus’. He started to play an amazing melody. When he finished, he slid off the bench and bowed  toward his mother as he said “Ta-da!!!!” He then returned to playing with his building blocks as if something extraordinary hadn’t just happened.

“How did he learn to do that? In just a few weeks?”

Bartala’s smile covered his entire face. “We have M to thank for that, she provided the instrument and the tutor. But it’s our son that has the talent.” He said beaming with pride.

Empress Nalau got up from her seat across from her husband and joined him on the sofa, “You are an amazing father Bartala. Thank you for all you do to raise our son.” She snuggled up next to him, and they sat this way for a short time, just watching Wisssi build a tower with his building blocks.

“I suppose it’s time for you to meet my crew. Is their residence ready?”

“Oh yes, I think you will be pleased with the way Ferocity’s quarters were refurbished.”

Nalau manipulated the Gaznzulian armband she wore, she was returning the shuttle to Zri’s ship via autopilot.

“I’m sure that you have provided them with every possible luxury. Are you ready?”

“Yes my darling.” He said standing up and smoothing the wrinkles from his jacket. “Wisssi, let’s go. It is time for us to behave like diplomats, we have official business.”

Wisssi immediately stood up, running his hands down the front of his little jacket, smoothing the wrinkles,, then spit on his hands and ran them over his hair. He stiffly walked over to where his parents stood.

“Eh, we’re still working on the official palace walk.”

“I see.” Nalau said and giggled.

Wisssi fell in step with his father as they left the room, one step behind the Emperor, and  to his right, as he always escorted his wife on his left. By the time they got to the landing pad, the shuttle had arrived. The aft door was open and the crew stood in a single line, standing at full attention. Numia stepped forward, “Empress, your crew reporting for duty.” She stepped back in line with the others, again standing with her feet shoulder width apart, hands clasped behind her back.

“At ease, all of you. You are not on duty today. Today you will meet my family and receive your accommodations.” Nalau said as she stepped forward. “I present to you my husband, Emperor Bartala and my son Ezopica Mischievous Wisssdartai.”

“Bartala, this is my first officer Numia.”

He stepped forward and grasped her hands, providing her an official Ploosnarian greeting. “Of course Numia, it is a pleasure to finally meet you. I’ve heard about you from Chuna and Blona. And of course Scomia. Kilome tells me she is hoping to follow in your footsteps and become a soldier.”

“It is an honor to meet you Emperor. I… Your Majesty, you have my sincere gratitude for providing employment for Chuna and Blona, and a home and surrogate for Scomia.” She bowed her bright yellow head toward him.

Because Bartala could feel the bond that was already developing between Numia and his beloved wife, he already felt a certain intimacy with Numia. He waved his hand in typical Bartala fashion, dismissing the compliment. “It’s just what we do here on Ploosnar. We…”

He was interrupted by Wisssi, who had suddenly realized that the being they were speaking to was yellow. “Yellow, yellow, color yellow. She yellow.” He announced as he reached out to touch Numia’s leg exposed beneath her bright red skirt.”

She squatted down, coming to his eye level. She extended her hand, “I am Numia, and yes I’m yellow. I also have pointy ears see?” She turned her head so he could get a good look at her ears. He reached out and touched the tip of her ear, she wiggled her ear.

Wisssi squealed with delight. He ran off to his nearby nanny, feeling it was important for her to know about the yellow being he had just met.

“He is wonderful Empress, probably a real handful but very entertaining.”

“A handful indeed, but lucky for him, he has the Universe’s best father caring for him.”

They continued down the line until Guug, G’uld, Snov, and Kyruzia had been introduced. The last member to meet Bartala was Strupa, the Ploosnarian. Bartala embraced him. “Welcome home Strupa, welcome home.”

“Thank you Emperor, thank you.” Strupa said with tears in his bright blue eyes. “I never thought I would see home again, none of us did.”

“How long has it been since you’ve been here on Ploosnar?”

“Three generations have passed, maybe more.”

“Well we are glad to have you home, and I am very pleased that you have decided to be a member of the Empress’s crew. Now come, all of you, we have renovated a wing of the palace for you.” Taking Nalau’s arm, he started walking toward the palace. She could feel him caressing her bicep, admiring it. “Mmmmmmm, I look forward to having you all to myself later.” He said quietly as they walked.

CHAPTER 35: TERRACE PARTY

It has been a while since the friends have gathered, not since their trip to Trella. On the way there they had a wonderful time telling stories and just hanging out together. But after the VReoria had attempted to kidnap the Muse of Mischief and Agent Brzko, a dark cloud hung over the return trip. As it turned out, that dark cloud was farther reaching than they first thought. They were just beginning to come out from under it, and it felt great. Gathered on the lower terrace of Misko, overlooking the Schwarth Sea, the odd group is together again. To say they are an odd bunch is an understatement – the Muse of Mischief and Agent Brzko look human but aren’t, they possess powers that not even they know of yet; Emperor Bartala and Empress Nalau, both look regal, he in a formal jacket, she in long gown, but both are far more than the dignitaries of Ploosnar; Ferocity, the Dragon bonded to Agent Brzko, able to breathe fire and ice, and fly; Lelelu, a Trelod blue from her bald head to her nailless toes; Zri, a Gaznzulian, a reflective being that to the observer look to be the same species as themselves, rarely does a non-Gaznzulian see them in their true form (in this group only M and Lelelu have had that honor); and tonight, there is one more, Iysuno, Lelelu’s father, also a Trelod, thought to be long since dead but actually held in captivity by the VReoria.

Sensing that Ferocity may be in need of sustenance, his well seasoned Ploosnarian butler, Whotov, has taken it upon himself to deliver a tray of food and a fresh bottle of espidrun. “Please forgive the intrusion Master Ferocity.” He said announcing himself as he came down the stairs. “But I thought you may need something to eat.” He placed the large tray on the table, followed by a beautiful titanium bottle filled with espidrun.

Before Ferocity could respond to his butler, Empress Nalau was up and hugging Whotov. “Whotov! How wonderful to see you! We miss you at the palace.”

“Oh your Majesty, please forgive me. I didn’t see you…. and the Emperor sitting there.” He said with the hint of a question because he knew that the Emperor of Ploosnar was expected to travel with palace guards and there were no guards here tonight.

“Hello Whotov.” Bartala said. “Is the Dragon treating you well? If not, you are welcome back at the palace anytime.” He teased.

“Oh, I should say your Majesty! No, no, Ferocity is a pleasure to serve. And if you will all excuse me, I do not want to be gone long, in case the young Dragon should wake.” He headed for the stairs.

“Stop trying to steal my butler, Bartala! You can’t have him back.” Ferocity teased. When Whotov heard this he grinned from ear to ear. He loved living on a remote island and being the butler to a Dragon, it was like something out of a children’s story – spend a lifetime in service at the Ploosnar palace and retire to become butler to a real Dragon.

“OK, OK, don’t shoot fire at me.” Bartala teased. And that made them all laugh. “So do I know you well enough now to ask you something Ferocity?” Bartala continued.

“Considering how much espidrun I’ve had this evening, you can ask me anything.” Ferocity said, helping himself to an apple off the the food tray.

But before Bartala could ask his question Lelelu interrupted. “Wait, you told us on the Trella trip that alcohol doesn’t have an effect on Dragons.”

“I lied.” He said, offering no further explanation, making everyone laugh.

“Wow! You certainly do hold your liquor well.” She said.

Ferocity grinned at her, and a grinning Dragon is rather frightening. He tossed the apple up, opened his snout, grabbed it and began chewing the entire thing with his mouth closed.

“OK, back to my question. How does one request being bonded to a Dragon?” This grabbed everyone’s attention.

“A request is made to the Great Assembly or to a young Dragon’s parents.”

“And do females ever bond?”

“Some do, yes. Most stay on Dragona to raise other Dragons, but some do not want to be parents.”

“Uh -huh.” Nalau said, like this was confirmation of all females having the right to choose not to be a parent, as she looked over at M with a satisfied nod.

Bartala ignored her and continued, “And what criteria is used to determine if a request is to be honored?”

“Are you going to ask for a Dragon, Bartala?” M asked confused.

“No, of course not, but…”

“Wisssi!” Nalau interrupted.

“Yes, Wisssi. What is to become of the young Dragon that was rescued from the VReoria?”

Ferocity held Bartala’s gaze for a moment. “This is an interesting idea, Emperor. Preparing to be bonded would give her a purpose. But it is too soon to tell if she will be up to the challenge. She is at a disadvantage, having not been raised by Dragons.”

“Or perhaps that is an advantage.” Bartala said, snatching vegetables sticks that looked like purple carrots, off of the tray.

Ferocity tilted his head, “Explain.”

“If one only learns the ways of their ancestors, they may be ill prepared for our ever changing universe.”

“I see your point and I agree, but the knowledge of our ancestors should create the foundation of knowledge.”

“What will she be called?” Nalau asked.

“Nguvu.”

“Does that name have special meaning?”

“Yes, it means strong in one of our ancient languages.”

Nalau decided to change the subject, “I have a question.” Everyone turned in her direction, she looked at Lelelu, “Were the two of you together on the trip to Trella?”

Silence hung over the group, it was a very direct question about an intimate relationship.

“Yes. But we weren’t ready to share it with everyone yet.” Lelelu answered.

“I told you!” Nalau said as she slapped Bartala’s shoulder.

“I should never doubt the intuition of a female!” He said.

Taking a softer approach, Nalau had another question for Lelelu, “So how are you Lelelu? Were you injured during the abduction?”

“Not physically, just a few sore muscles from fighting back. But… my self esteem.” She paused, considering her words before she continued. “I used to think I could handle anything, I didn’t think I was invincible but I thought I was better prepared. But it turns out, I’d just been lucky. I’m going to make some changes, I’ll be training with you on Gaznzul and…”

            “Oh yea!” Nalau squealed, allowing the effects of the espidrun to be heard.

            “And I plan to upgrade my ship. If your husband is so inclined, I’d like him to have his engineers build one like yours for me.”

“Of course, of course, Lelelu. I’ve already requested a trio of them, just in case. And they are going to be like nothing we’ve seen before!” Bartala said.

“Thank you Bartala. I intend to give my ship to Baba. You’ll need something to get around in, I know you won’t want to stay put for long.” she said turning to him.

He’d been so quiet that they almost forgot he was with them tonight.

“Thank you Le. I’m sure it will be a while before I’m ready to travel, and when I do I think I’ll employ some of your security team Zri.”

“Good, I wouldn’t have it any other way Iysuno.” Zri said standing up to pour everyone another round of espidrun.

“Is there any specific place you want to see?” Brzko asked.

“Yes. There were a few telepaths in stasis, my contact with one in particular kept me from going insane. Over the years, we managed to keep each other’s minds challenged, thinking of something other than our situation.”

“Where was he from?’ Brzko asked.

“She is from Suus.” Iysuno said. “And the knowledge she shared of her home leads me to believe it is one of the most beautiful planets. I’d like to see it with her, if she survived.”

“I’m sure we can arrange that for you.” Brzko said taking his tablet out and unrolling it, calling up the list of evacuees on Gaznzul. “Do you remember her name?”

“Her name is Faaf, but aren’t the Suus uh… selective about who visits their planet?” He asked.

“Yes, they are Baba. We just learned that a Suus named Xiix will be moving to Misko with us, as a member of our team. The Muse of Mischief and Agent Brzko are good friends with Ciic of the Naan family. They saved her life as a child.” Lelelu explained.

“The Naan family? Aren’t they the leaders of Suus?”

“Yes.” Lelelu answered.

“You know the leader of Suus?”

“Yes Baba, she is a friend, an ally. M and Brzko attended her wedding.”

This rendered Iysuno speechless for a moment. He leaned forward so he could see past Lelelu, to Bartala and Nalau, “So I suppose you really are an Emperor and Empress too? I thought maybe those were just nicknames.”

This made everyone laugh. “Oh no, I assure you Iysuno, we really are the Emperor and Empress of the planet Ploosnar.” Bartala said, still smiling.

“Le, you seem to have fallen in to a good crowd here.”

“Faaf did survive, Iysuno.” Brzko said, putting his tablet back in his pocket. “Her prognosis is good, she has the same muscle atrophy that you do. But she’s expected to make a full recovery. Would you like to go see her tomorrow?”

“Oh my, yes. I would like that very much.”

“So Iysuno, you’re telepathic then?” M asked.

“Yes. Ancient Trelods were telepathic and the children’s stories suggest that some Trelods could even fly. I spent a very long time alone, unable to move, only my own thoughts to keep me company. At some point I realized I would go mad, so I started focusing my mind on ‘hearing’ others. At first I only heard noise, like static on a communications device. Eventually I was able to receive clearly. And later I developed the skill of projecting. I think all Trelods have the ability, but it lies dormant. It’s not comfortable for us.”

“That’s the truth!” Lelelu chimed in. “When I was on that ship Baba had a Suus send me images of the stasis tubes telepathically. I thought my head would explode with pain.”

“When we met you Iysuno you suggested that you’d heard of beings that could travel through their own apertures, I think you called them Clyreans?” M asked.

“Yes, that’s right. My grandfather would tell me stories about them while we were on seaweed gathering trips.”

“Do you remember any of the stories?”

“Oh yes, those were my favorite times. I loved being alone on the water with him. He told me about Dragons too, but I wasn’t sure I could believe him. Most other adults thought he was a little ‘off’ if you know what I mean.”

“We do, we do.” Brzko stood and grabbed the open espidrun bottle, making the rounds to refill everyone’s glasses.

Iysuno continued, “Grandfather told me that something had happened in their homeland and the Clyreans had scattered around the Universe, trying to blend in with others. He thought that no more than two were on any given planet, and the children were hidden with host parents. So was I correct, you two are Clyrean?”

“We don’t actually know Iysuno. We were both raised by pretend parents on a planet called Earth.” Brzko said. “We know we’re not human, as Earthlings are, but we don’t know for sure what we are.”

“Can you travel back in time?”

“Yes.”
Iysuno nodded at Brzko. “Telepathic?”

“Yes.”

“Given the magnitude of the rescue operation, I’m sure that you have high levels of strength and endurance. What about invisibility?”

“Invisibility? I wish!” M said.

“Ha! Really!” Brzko added. “No, we aren’t able to make ourselves invisible, at least not yet.”

“Obviously you’re omnilingual, and I assume immortal?”   

“What? The Muse of Mischief is immortal? No! Say it isn’t so!” Bartala quipped, getting up to retrieve more snacks.

“So I assume those are all things your grandfather said about Clyreans?” M asked.

“Yes, they were looked upon favorably long ago. They were always helping others, it seemed to be their purpose – defending the weak, protecting the vulnerable. The heroes of the Universe.”

“Did he say who had attacked Clyreans?” Brzko asked.

“He described them as tall and slimy, with tentacles on their faces, he said it was a species that wanted to take their powers. Sounds like the VReoria to me.”

“Yes, it does.” Brzko said. “We can chat about this again, once you’ve had more time to recover. We don’t need to tire you out completely. But if you don’t mind one more question?”

“Not at all.”

“Did your grandfather ever tell you where Clyrea was? And would you be able to find the location on a chart?”

“Oh I think so. It’s a very special planet.” Iysuno said.

“How so?” Lelelu asked.

“Grandfather called it a world engine. It has dual rings – they cross at a ninety degree angle. He said the dual rings create a bizarre effect that outsiders can’t seem to withstand, and that’s if they can even get past them to land on the surface. But if it’s true that they scattered throughout the Universe then maybe the VReoria figured out some way to get through. Oh Le, I wish you could have met your great-grandfather. You are very much like him, an explorer.”

            M and Brzko had to make an effort to stay calm. Could they actually be close to finding the planet where their species originated?

Brzko once again unrolled his tablet, this time he extended it and used it to display a chart of the Universe, he started with the area near them on the Planet of Portals.

Iysuno leaned over the chart, taking his time. “We’re here.” He said, pointing to the Planet of Portals. “So if my grandfather was correct Clyrea would be out this way.” He was dragging his finger along the tablet toward the left, it responded by extending the chart in that direction. “Oh, I see there have been advancements in technology.” He continued. “So do you see this ‘hazy’ looking area here? Grandfather said the ‘haze’ is created where the rings intersect, it keeps Clyrea hidden.”

“Interesting.” Brzko said. “That’s not too far from Trella.”

Zri got up and went over to the chart to see the area they were discussing. After studying the chart for a moment, he asked Bartala a question. “How soon will the new ships be ready?”

CHAPTER 34: BABY DRAGON

“Master Ferocity, welcome home. Who is our young guest?” Whotov asked, meeting him at the door.

The young Dragon was surprised by the appearance of the Ploosnarian butler, still sporting the Londo style hair that was popular on Ploosnar before he left. She edged closer to Ferocity, until her shoulder was touching his leg.

“This is one of the evacuees from the VReoria specimen ships, we will call her Nguvu. She will be staying with us for a short time Whotov.”

Whotov stepped forward and extended his hand. “Hello. My name is Whotov, if you are in need of anything while you’re here, you have only to ask.”

She cringed with fear. Ferocity placed his hand on her shoulder, giving her courage. She extended her own hand. “Hello.” was all she could manage.

“If you would be so kind as to follow me, I will show you to the guest room. Are you hungry?” Whotov said moving toward the hallway.

She looked up at Ferocity for guidance. “Please follow him. Whotov will care for you, you can trust him.” She didn’t speak, she just did as she was asked.

Ferocity was exhausted but not quite ready to sleep. He reached for Agent Brzko. “Lord Brzko, are you on Misko?

Yes. I’m on the lower terrace. If you’re here, join me. The espidrun seems to compliment the waves nicely this evening.

After letting Whotov know where he was headed, just in case there was an issue with the young Dragon, Ferocity joined his bond. He took a seat on one of the stools, near where Brzko sat. Brzko poured him a drink.

“Espidrun, although I know it doesn’t have the same effect on Dragons, you may still enjoy it.”

The hot pink liquid released its blue steam when he poured it. Ferocity stared at it and chuckled.

“What? Did I miss a joke?”

“I lied.”

“I’m sorry?”

“The effects of espidrun and other alcohols are not lost on Dragons.”

This gave Brzko a good laugh. “Seriously? So you’ve been enjoying the effects of espidrun and nekmid all this time?”

“Yes.” Ferocity said with a smile that reveals his large jagged teeth. It’s not really a friendly look.

“And so you lied because….”

“I was intimidated.”

“Intimidated? You’re a Dragon, you can breathe fire and ice, not to mention you can fly, and you were intimidated? By who?”

“I was the outsider to a tight group of friends visiting Trella. Just being a Dragon was enough to frighten the others, I didn’t want to add to their concern.”

“Hmm. I see your point. That was probably a wise decision. Well I’m glad to know that we have another way to enjoy each other’s company.” Brzko held his glass up to Ferocity in toast, and then drank it. Ferocity did the same.

“So how are you? As tired as I am?”

“Yes. I look forward to a long sleep. Whotov is caring for the young Dragon we found.”

“What’s her story? Did they grab her when they were oppressing Dragona?”

“Her egg, and many others that did not survive their experiments. She was the only Dragon they had.”

“So she’s never really been to Dragona, she doesn’t remember it as her home?”

“No. Her memories begin in the lab of a VReoria ship. And they are horrible and painful.”

“What do you want to do with her?”

“I would like to raise her myself, but she needs to be around other Dragons, and she is too young to be left here alone when I’m out. She needs to learn how to be a Dragon. I will take her to Dragona once she’s stabilized and find someone to host her.”

“OK, let me know if you need anything.”

“Thank you Lord Brzko. Where is the Muse of Mischief.”

“Ha! Beating up on her old friend Emperor Bartala.” Ferocity tilted his head waiting for more. Before continuing, Brzko refilled their glasses. “It seems that Empress Nalau has decided she wants to work with us. And as you can imagine…. Bartala was not happy to hear that. Nalau asked for M to help her convince him.”

“She will be a great addition to the team. I sense that she is much stronger than she seems.”

“I agree. She’s also highly intelligent and dedicated. I think…”

“Hey, got room for one more?” They turned in the direction of the voice. It was Lelelu, she had come down the stairs so quietly, they didn’t know she was there until she spoke. She wore a long flowing sarong wrapped around her. The white color provided a great contrast to her bright blue skin.

Brzko jumped up and went to her. “Of course. Lelelu, how are you?” He said as he hugged her. He hadn’t heard Ferocity move but he was right behind Brzko and as soon as he released her, Ferocity embraced her, wrapping his wings around her.

“Lelelu.” Was all he said.

She took a seat next to Brzko and he poured her an espidrun.

“Thank you.” She said watching the blue steam spill over the side of the glass.

“So how are you Lelelu? How’s your father?” Brzko asked.

“Baba’s doing OK. It hurt him to know that my mother died a few years ago. Once he realized his freedom was a reality he wanted to see her. I hated telling him but… Anyway, he seems to be doing well. I’m going to give him my house on the mainland and move in here permanently. If that’s OK with you and M.”

“You know we’d both love to have you here all the time.”

“Thanks. It just feels right, my father used to share that house with my mother; and of course Zri would prefer that I live here. He designed the security systems here on Misko.”

“How’s he dealing with everything?”

“Hmmm, as well as can be expected. He wants to keep me locked up so that I’m always safe, but my independence and strength are the things that drew him to me. He knows that if I lived that way, I wouldn’t be me. So….”

“Speak of the devil.” They turned toward Zri, walking down the stairs to the terrace.

Brzko stood to greet him. He was laughing. “You got that wrong Zri. It’s not the actual devil that says ‘speak of the devil’ it’s the ones that are speaking that would say it.” He shook his hand and welcomed him.

Zri shrugged and sat across from Lelelu, she moved to the other side of the deck, sitting next to him. “Eh, what do I know about Earth sayings. Is there more espidrun in that bottle? I could use about five shots in a row.”

Brzko accommodated his request while his mind was with M.

“Have you and M had time to read the message from Ciic?” Lelelu asked.

Hey Brzko, I’m home. Where are you?

On the lower terrace with Ferocity, Lelelu, and Zri.” Brzko answered M telepathically, aloud he answered Lelelu, “Yes, M and I haven’t talked about it yet but I don’t see why we wouldn’t honor her request. It will just make us stronger.”

M appeared at the bottom of the stairs and walked over to the group. “M and I haven’t talked about what?”

Brzko stood and gave her the best Hollywood kiss ever, sweeping her back and giving her a lengthy kiss. He released her, stepped back and said, “You’re drunk.”

“Shit. You have no idea! I had to get Bartala drunk to calm him down enough to even converse. He was literally spitting mad when I got to Ploosnar.” She took the chair next to Brzko’s. “Hey guys,“ she said acknowledging Ferocity, Lelelu, and Zri. “Oh I bet you were saying we haven’t talked about Xiix yet. Right?”

“Yep.” Brzko answered

“I don’t see any reason not to have Xiix work with us.” M said shrugging, and looking around to see if anyone had comments.

“Xiix wants to join us?” Ferocity asked.

“Yes.” Brzko answered. “Ciic has provided him with a small ship that he can easily handle alone. It seems like a good idea, he’d be a great asset, and give us quick access to all of the Suus knowledge.”

“Agreed. And then I won’t be the only non-humanoid on the team.” Ferocity smiled, revealing his jagged teeth. Where will he stay?”

“Hmmm. Don’t know yet.” He turned toward M, raising his eyebrows to solicit her opinion.

“I think we’ll need to build another house on Misko. We’ll just need to get some specifications from him so that we can make sure the design is conducive to a being that sustains itself on vapors. I suspect we should build a greenhouse into it, so he can grow some of the flowers and herbs they enjoy.” M said.

“He is welcome to stay with me until his house is ready. I have more than enough space.” Ferocity said.

“Thanks Ferocity I’ll suggest that, how’s the young Dragon?”

“I think she will be OK, M. Whotov is looking after her right now.”

“Good, and how’s Iysuno?” She asked, turning back to Lelelu.

“He’s doing OK. I still can’t believe I have my father back. I never dreamed that it was a possibility. I was telling Brzko that I’d like to take up permanent residence in my house here, on Misko, and give him my house on the mainland. After all, it was originally his home.”

“That’s great news Lelelu, I’d love to have you here all the time.”

“So how’s Bartala, did he come to terms with the idea of Empress Nalau working with us?” Brzko asked.

“Yep. Under a few conditions.” M said. “Pour me an espidrun and I’ll tell you all about it.” Brzko of course complied by pouring everyone another round. “So first, I’ve asked Nalau to attend personal defense and flight training on Gaznzul. She’s a lot tougher than any of us realized, but the training will give her some new skills and boost her confidence.”

“Agreed. I’ll make the arrangements.” Zri paused, he clearly had something else to say but was considering his words carefully. Everyone just waited.

Lelelu looked at him, “What?…. Oh! You think I should learn personal defense too?”

“Yes.” He said carefully because he wasn’t sure how she’d react.

“OK, it’s a good idea, I think I’ll enjoy it.” Zri looked relieved when she answered. “What are the other conditions?” She asked, looking at M.

“Bartala is going to have a new ship built for her, something that is very fast, and heavily armed, with cloaking abilities.”

“Can he build two? I know I don’t travel as much as Nalau probably will, but it would be nice to have an updated ship.” Lelelu said.

“I’m sure he will, I’ll talk to him tomorrow.”

“Anything else?” Brzko asked.

“I’ve asked her to select a small team to work with her. She’s going to consider some of the evacuees. I suspect some of them would love this type of work.”

“Good plan, I assume they’ll be attending training with her?” Zri asked.

“Yes. That will also give you time to observe them and make sure they are…. Mmmm ‘right’ for the position. If you know what I mean.”

“I understand. We’ll test their mental status while they’re on Gaznzul.” Zri said.

“She also has an idea for a host for the young Keateran, Scomia. She thinks Kilome the designer might enjoy providing her with a stable home while she completes an education.”

“That would work well, assuming Bartala was willing to employ the other three Keaterans.” Brzko said.

“He is. He might be temperamental but his heart, well hearts, really are in the right place.” M said.

“Hmmmm does that sound like anyone else you guys know?” Brzko teased her.

The friends sat quietly for a while, they’d recently been through a lot. The sound of the waves from the Schwarth Sea below was soothing, allowing them to all be lost in their own thoughts. A fair amount of time had passed when they heard Iysuno approach.

“Hello all, may I join you?”

“Baba! Yes please, how are you feeling this evening?” Lelelu asked.

“Better, a little stronger every day. It’s just going to take time. The doctors said that stasis prevented me from aging, so once my body recovers I’ll feel young again. Can you imagine that?”

Zri stood up and offered his seat. “Please, sit here next to Lelelu, Iysuno.”

“Thank you Zri, now what are you all drinking out here next to the ocean waves?” He said as he took a seat next to Lelelu and Zri pulled up a chair on her other side.

“Espidrun, have you heard of it?” Lelelu asked.

“No, but it looks toxic with that bright pink color. Are you sure it’s not poison?” He laughed. “Who’s going to pour an old young man his first espidrun?”

Brzko was already pouring when he asked. Iysuno’s face scrunched up when he saw the blue steam. “This has got to be poison!” He blew the steam away and took a careful sip. “And I don’t care if it is!” He tossed back what remained in his glass. “Pour me another would you?”

“M are you still on com?” She heard Bartala call via earcom link.

“Yes Bartala what’s up are you OK?” Everyone looked toward M when she spoke, Bartala had called only to her, probably because of the late hour.

“Neither of us can sleep, we were thinking about how much fun we had sitting around sharing stories on the way to Trella. We were just wondering if you and Brzko were still up.”

“Yes, Bartala, we’re having a party on the lower terrace. Would you like to come?”

“Yes please. We’re in my sitting room, if you come here directly the guards won’t see me leave.” Bartala said.

“I understand. We’ll be right there.” She turned to Brzko. “Bartala wants to sneak out of the palace unguarded, will you come to his sitting room with me to get him and Nalau?”

“Of course.”

They were both gone instantly, only to return to the deck less than a minute later, each with a guest in tow.

CHAPTER 33: NALAU GETS A NEW JOB

“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?”

“Yes.”

“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?”

“Scomia.”

“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.”

CHAPTER 32: THE EVACUEES

“Currently there are 279 individuals here. Unfortunately we were unable to resuscitate a few of them. For the most part their physical condition is good, of course their muscles need time to recover from stasis. We encourage everyone to participate in a body movement regime in the morning, and a stretching regime in the evening.” Dr. Q’osp is the lead medical professional on Xinood 5. Because his specialty is species other than Xinoods, he is the lead on the medical team serving the evacuees on Gaznzul.

“What about their mental state?” The Muse of Mischief asked.

“Some of them will need some time. As you can imagine, some of them are delirious. Left in stasis for so long, they resigned themselves to accepting that this was to be their eternity. Now that they are free, they have to change their outlook. Sadly, there are almost thirty beings that I suspect will not recover from the dementia. They have been moved to a special facility, where they can be properly cared for.”

“How many different species have you identified?” Agent Brzko asked.

“Identified? Seventeen. There are several that none of us have seen before. Most of them are humanoid, but not all of them. Luckily we have some very skilled veterinarians, they are helping to create the proper environments for the lesser beings. We suspect the species we’ve never seen before are from a different universe. Assuming of course that it’s true that the VReoria can travel the Multiverse.”

“We think it’s true.” M said. “In fact we suspect they hid there when Dragona fought them off. The Dragons were convinced that they had eradicated them, but they may have been hiding in a different universe.”

“That would make sense.”

“Do you have a list of the evacuees by species?” Brzko asked. Dr. Q’osp handed him a tablet with the list. “There were humans? The VReoria had humans?” Brzko asked, looking up from the list.

“Yes, as you can see there are four.”

“Are you aware of humans any place other than Earth?”

“Actually yes. There is a small colony of them in the Glion Galaxy, I’ll have to research exactly where. And interestingly these four all have similar genes, they are related.”

“I know there was one young Dragon found on the second ship, were there any others?”

“No, there are no Dragons here, but there are a few haplogawas. Luckily they are too young to be dangerous.” As Brzko scanned the list, with M looking over his shoulder, Dr. Q’osp continued. “We’ve already begun making arrangements to transport anyone who has recovered to their original home. So far, every official we’ve contacted has been willing to help the evacuees reestablish their lives.”

“I’m glad to hear that.” M said. “What about the new species, what’s the plan for them?”

“We don’t know yet. I think that there are concerns for not only their safety but the safety of others, given that we know nothing of them. That is a decision for the Universal Coalition. Would you like to meet some of the evacuees?”

“Yes! We definitely would.”  M said.

“Follow me.” Dr. Q’osp said. He turned and headed to the entrance of the barracks.

He scanned a key card to gain access, just inside the door was a small reception area, there was someone seated at a desk, reviewing information on a tablet. He looked up, took note of Dr. Q’osp and returned to his work.

The main room is a large day use area. One side of the room opens to a cafeteria style counter with small tables and chairs clustered in front of it. There is a sitting area with sofas and stuffed chairs, and a few gaming areas. There are a variety of individuals scattered about, some eating, some talking, some sitting quietly.

“Come, follow me please.” Dr. Q’osp headed across the room toward a sitting area with several yellow individuals. Zri had returned from Misko, he was there with a large tablet spread on the table in front of them.

“Oh, Muse of Mischief, Agent Brzko, I’d like to introduce you to some new acquaintances of mine.” He said standing up. “This is Numia, Chuna, Bloma, and Scomia. They are Keaterans, we were just trying to locate their home world.”

The Keaterans are bright yellow humanoids with pointed ears. Each clothed in bright red sarong type garment. Following Zri’s example, they all stood to receive M and Brzko. After the greeting, everyone took their seats again.

“You honor us with your presence, thank you for rescuing us.” Numia said.

“You’re welcome Numia.” M said. “I’m glad to see that you all seem to be faring well. Do you need anything?”

“We are attempting to find our home on these navigational maps but we do not see our planet. In fact we do not see anything we are familiar with. These planets are all different.”

“Is that chart from the Suus?” Brzko asked.

“No, it’s actually from the Jinn – who have more detailed charts.” Zri said.

“How many galaxies have you looked at?” Brzko asked.

“We’re most of the way through our Universe.”

“Does anything look familiar?” Brzko asked.

“Yes, the position of the planets in this area is similar to an area I worked in, but it is not precisely the same.” Numia said, scrolling to a map of the area near Trella with a hand made up of a thumb and two wide fingers.

“What type of work did you do?” Brzko asked.

“Cargo. Chuna, Bloma, and I worked on a cargo ship. We mostly hauled food to and from Keatera. Our captain did not survive the fight, she was killed when the VReoria overtook us.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. So was your crew entirely female?” Zri asked.

All four of the Keaterans tilted their heads, and slowly blinked their almond shaped eyes as if Zri were suddenly speaking a language they could not understand.

“Yes, Keatera is a matriarchy. Males do not usually leave their homes.” Numia said.

“Interesting.” M said smiling. “I can see the benefits of that! What were some of the characteristics of the planets in that area that looks familiar.”

“Tren is a unique planet.” Chuna said.

“How so?” M asked.

“It is entirely pastel, with colors that are beautiful but not normal.” Chuna explained.

“So what planet on this chart is the closest to where you would expect to see Tren?” Zri asked.

“Here.” Numia said, pointing to Trella.

Zri looked up, he M, and Brzko stared at each other for a few seconds. He looked back at the tablet and called up images of Trella. “Does Tren look like this?”

“Yes! That’s Tren.” Numia said.

“Interesting, this is actually a planet we call Trella. So, it would seem that you are from a different universe.” Zri said.

“How do we get back to our universe, to our home?” Chuna asked with desperation.

“We don’t know.” M said. “The VReoria are the only species we know of that can travel purposely from one universe to another with accuracy.”

“We don’t want to rush you into making any decision, but please consider what you would like to do now that you’re here.” Zri said. They all four just looked at him. “There are many planets that will take you in, help you establish housing, employment, a place in the community.” They could see the disappointment on their faces. “We’re not suggesting that we will give up on trying to find a way to get you home. But, living here at a temporary medical facility? Well that doesn’t seem like a good option.”

“You’re right.” Numia said. “We are all still in shock about our situation. We need some time to think about it. Do you think it would be possible for us to work together on a cargo ship again?”

M decided to jump in. “Yes. I have a friend that does a lot of shipping, his planet produces an element called ronaid, they ship it all over this Universe.”

“That might be a good fit for us. We will discuss it. But a ship is no place for Scomia. She needs to finish her education in a stable environment.” Numia said.

“If you decide you’re interested in shipping ronaid, we may be able to find a home for her on the same planet. What do you think Scomia, are you interested in continuing your education in a home on the same planet where Numia, Chuna, and Bloma work?”

She shrugged, again looking at her feet. “OK.”

“If there’s a different place that you’d like to live please feel free to tell us. We’ll try to accommodate your request.” M said.

Again she shrugged. “OK.”

“Well, Brzko and I need to check in with some of the other evacuees.” M said, standing up. “If you need us for anything, just ask one of the medical staff to contact us. They can reach us anytime.”

M and Brzko made their exit and walked a ways away from the group of Keaterans. “Hey, I need to go see Emperor Bartala. Empress Nalau sent me a message while we were chatting. I need to go see them.”

“So what did she tell you when she got off the ship, before she left for home?” He asked.

“Well, basically… she wants to work with us.”

“OH!” His face displayed his surprise. “I see why you need to speak with Bartala, I’m assuming he’ll try to stop her.”

“Of course. So you can see why I need to go to Ploosnar, I need to verbally slap some sense into  him.”

Brzko laughed. “I’d love to watch but…” He hugged her. “OK be careful M. I’m going to visit with a few more of the evacuees before I call it a day. I’ll see you at home later.”

CHAPTER 31: A FRIGHTENED DRAGON

The Suus had managed to coax the young dragon into a private room. That had calmed her enough that she stopped throwing fire, but as he approached the door to the room, Ferocity could see burn marks on the walls and floor. He gave the door a single knock and opened it a crack.

“Hello. I’m here to help you get home.”

She was standing against the far wall, looking at him.

Not sure if she heard him, he spoke again. “Can you hear me? Can you understand my words?”

“Yes.”

He entered the room, a little on edge, he didn’t want to get burnt. “I can help you get home.”

“I don’t know where home is, I don’t remember home.”

“Close your eyes, and try to accept my thoughts.” To his surprise she complied, he projected his memories of Dragona to her. After a moment he spoke again, “Do you remember this place? It’s called Dragona, it’s the place where all dragons come from.”

“Not me. I’m not from there.”

He didn’t want to argue with such a small being, she’d been through enough. “OK. Do you have any memories from before we got you out of the stasis tube?”   

“Yes.” She closed her eyes and focused on sending him images. “This is where I came from.”

The images he received were of some sort of lab. She was in a bin of some sort, looking at other hatchling Dragons. There was still debris from the eggs in the bin. He could see VReoria on the other side of the room.

“You’re egg was stolen before you hatched. I see. Do you know what happened to the other dragons, the ones that hatched with you?”

She sent him another image, there was a hatchling Dragon pinned to a work table. Three VReoria stood around the table, the Dragon was screaming in agony as they did something to it.

“Dead, all dead.” She said. “They kept only me.”

“I see.” He said. “What do you want to do now?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well you can’t stay on this ship, it belongs to the Suus and they have other missions to perform. We are on a planet called Gaznzul. You can stay here at the medical facility as long as you want to, or I can take you to Dragona…”

“Is that where you live?” She interrupted.

“No, I am bonded to Lord Brzko. I live on his island, it’s called Misko.”

“That’s where I want to go. I want to live with you.” She broke down, ran toward him and grabbed his leg, just as Wisssi had grabbed onto M. She was so small the top of her head only came up to his waist. “Please, please don’t let them hurt me.” She sobbed.

He reached down and gently picked her up, cuddling her just as he had cuddled Wisssi. He began to making the purring sound, it calmed her. “OK, OK, you can come with me for now. But I need you to make a promise first.”

She leaned her head back so she could look at his face.

“I need you to promise that you will not throw your fire again unless I direct you to do so. Dragons are honorable, and we do not, under any circumstances, purposely hurt the innocent. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“Do you promise?”

“Yes. I promise.”

“Good. You are a Dragon, you are strong, you are proud, you are honorable, and you carry the honor of all Dragons with you. You will walk off of the ship with your head held high, and you will apologize to the Suus before we leave for Misko.”

“What should I call you?”

“My name is Ferocity.”

“OK Ferocity. I will do what you have asked.”

“Because you are a Dragon, because you are honorable.” He coached.

She caught on right away. “I will do what you have asked because I am a Dragon, because I will be honorable.”

Ferocity turned and walked out of the room, assuming that the young Dragon would follow, and she did. Xiix,a few other Suus, M and Brzko were standing at the bottom of the ramp, waiting to see how Ferocity faired with the young Dragon that they could not control. Ferocity stopped just past the group. The young Dragon stopped in front of the Suus.

“I am sorry, I behaved without honor.”

Thank you little one, we understand how difficult this has been for you. We wish you the best.” Xiix projected.

The little Dragon accepted this as a dismissal and went to stand next to Ferocity.

By this time all of the evacuees had debarked the ship. Xiix said his goodbyes to the Muse of Mischief, Agent Brzko, and Ferocity, and boarded his ship to ready if for departure.

“I want to check in with the medical staff here before going home. What are you two going to do?” M asked.

“I’ll come with you.” Brzko said.

“Lord Brzko, if you do not need me with you, I would like to return home. I want to spend some time with…” He gestured toward the young Dragon, not sure what to call her. “…her. She has reguested to stay with me on Misko.”

“Of course Ferocity, M and I will join you later.”

CHAPTER 30: THE EVACUEES ARRIVE ON GAZNZUL

The Gaznzulians had cleared the Suus cargo ships transporting the evacuees for landing. It just wasn’t practical to transport over 100 beings to the surface via shuttle, especially when many of them suffered from muscle atrophy from being confined for so long. They’ve converted a training facility into temporary quarters for the evacuees. Originally there had been a very small wing of the facility that served the medical needs of the trainees – they’d tripled the size of the wing as soon as the rescue plans were made. They also brought in a team of medical professionals to help – Gaznzulians could handle the security of almost any species but not the medical needs. In addition to Gaznzulians there were Suus, Ploosnarian, Trelod, Myaad, Dragon, and Xinood medical professionals all standing by, ready to receive and evaluate the evacuees. A few of them were specialists in psychology. Each wore a white band around a forearm to identify them as part of the medical team.

The Muse of Mischief, Agent Brzko, and Ferocity, made sure to arrive before the ship did. As soon as they heard it land, they went out to meet it. They were all three anxious to see Lelelu and Zri, and to meet her father.

Zri stepped off the ship first and was greeted by the highest ranking Gaznzulian general. With the formalities over, he turned back toward the ship, motioning for someone to come down the ramp. It was Lelelu and her father.

“M! Brzko! Ferocity!” She called as she descended the ramp. She walked slowly, holding her father’s arm, supporting him. Lelelu approached each of them, hugging them as she went. Ferocity wrapped his wings around her as they hugged. Once released she stepped back and looked at him, “No one hugs better than a Dragon!”

“Hey…” Zri teased.

“I’d like you to meet Iysuno, my father.” They greeted him one by one, approaching him. He was walking, but with great effort. The muscles needed time to strengthen after decades in stasis.

They heard commotion at the top of the ramp and turned that way, first off the ship were those too injured to walk on their own. Always efficient, the Suus had loaded their beds onto hovering cargo transports, two per transport. Life support equipment blocked their view of the first two beings. After six of the hover transports containing the invalids had passed, two Suus came down the ramp with a group of young beings. M quickly counted them – there were eleven, including one that was carried.

One in particular caught everyone’s attention. Walking with small blanket wrapped around its shoulers was a yellow being with pointed ears. The facial features looked like most humanoids, with almond shaped eyes. M reached for the Suus telepathically, “What species is that?

We can find no record of such a being in the database, they call themselves Keateran.

Male or female? Do they speak?

Female, yes she is able to communicate. We have not alerted her to the fact that we have never seen her kind before. There are others on the other ship, adults.

By now they were at the bottom of the ramp, passing M and the others. “Oh, that’s good. She won’t be alone.

“Iysuno, do you want the medical team to attend to you?” Zri asked.

“No, no, I’m fine. Well going to be fine. The Suus gave me a once over on the way here. They did not find anything concerning with my health, it will just take time for my muscles to recover.”

“And how are you Lelelu?” Brzko asked.

“I’m OK Brzko. I… “ She paused, considering her next words carefully. “I’m OK physically but I have to come to terms with the reality that the Universe is more dangerous than I like to believe, and I either need to upgrade my weapons and shields or stop traveling alone. It feels like a betrayal, a betrayal of my freedom. Right now I just want to go home and sleep in my own bed.”

“We can help you with that, which home?” M asked.

“The one on Misko, I look forward to nothing but the sound of the waves.”

“Will you be going too Iysuno?” Brzko asked.

Lelelu answered before he could. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“There you have it, I indeed will be going with her. Do you have a ship here?” He said looking around, expecting to see a small ship somewhere nearby.

“Not exactly.” M said. “We can travel a little faster than that. Lelelu can explain once we get there.” She stepped forward and gently took Iysuno’s arm. “Zri, I’ll be right back to get you.”

M moved Iysuno to Misko before he knew what was happening. She kept a firm grip on his arm and used her other hand to help steady him once they’d arrived. “Easy now, the dizziness clears in just a second.”

Lelelu and Brzko arrived a second later. “Baba, are you OK?”

He didn’t answer her directly, instead he turned toward M, “You’re one of those beings, no wonder you led the rescue.”

“Those beings? Do you know others that can travel like we do?”

“No, no, just stories from childhood, stories of beings called Clyreans.”

They both really wanted to question him about these stories but it wasn’t the right time.

“I’ll get Zri.” Brzko said and left, returning with Zri a few seconds later.

“We’re going back to Gaznzul, call us if you need anything.” M said before she and Brzko left.

Back on Gaznzul, all of the evacuees had gotten off the ship. Waaw was waiting for them with Ferocity outside the converted barracks. “I’m glad you have returned.

Is something wrong?

No, no, nothing is wrong. The second ship is almost here, I need to go and I just wanted to thank you. A rescue mission of this size never would not have succeeded without great leadership. It has been my honor to work with the three of you.

It was our honor to work you Waaw.” Brzko said. “You have represented your home well, and without YOU this would not have worked. We all look forward to the next time we can work with you, but hopefully it won’t be a cause such as this.” After addressing each individually, Waaw headed for her ship.

“There you are! You always keep me waiting!” The familiar voice of Emperor Bartala was a welcome comfort, even if he was his usual sarcastic self.

M, Brzko, and Ferocity turned toward him as he walked out of the barracks, followed by two of his guards and a nanny. He was carrying a struggling miniature version of himself. “Now go get your your Autuania.” He said setting Wisssi down. They were dressed in identical outfits, both of them making serious fashion statement with identical long black jackets trimmed in purple, purple shirts and a black scarf secured with a jeweled family crest.

Wisssi ran over to M and grabbed onto her legs in bear hug. “Auta, Auta” he chanted. M picked him up.

“Hey little Bartala, how was your trip?”

“Auta, Auta….” he giggled, reached for hat and almost got it.

“Careful Wisssi, I might feed you to the Dragon.”

He tried to say Dragon, it came out more like a grunt. Apparently he’d already had enough of his Autaunia and started struggling again. M sat him down and ran over to Ferocity, who gladly picked him up. Ferocity made the purring sound that Wisssi loves, making him giggle again. Then he settled in, completely content to be held by a Dragon that could breathe fire.

“Huh… what’s he going to turn out like after being exposed to so many different species as a baby?” M asked rhetorically.

“For real.” Brzko said. “He’s going to think that Suus, Trelods, Dragons and Xinoods are part of everyone’s family.”

“Aren’t they?” Bartala asked sarcastically.

They heard the second evacuee ship before they could see it. Bartala was overwhelmed with the anticipation of seeing his wife. He started walking toward the ship as soon as it was down.

“Oh it’s OK Bartala, Ferocity can watch Wisssi for you!” M called after him.

He turned halfway toward her and waved his hand at her dismissively, knowing that if Ferocity tired of Wisssi the nanny would be right there to attend to him.

The ramp descended and Xiix walked toward them, “Hello.” He projected to all of them.

“Hello, I am Emperor Bartala of Ploosnar, I don’t think we’ve met.”

Ah, hello Emperor, it is a pleasure. I must tell you, your wife, Empress Nalau was of great service to the evacuees. She is a wonderful person.

“Yes she is, and I can’t wait to see her.”

She’s coming now.

Empress Nalau somehow managed to look regal as she descended the ramp, even though she wearing pants and work boots, was covered in a combination of dried stasis fluid and baby drool, and was carrying an infant and surrounded by a crowd of little evacuees. She was met at the bottom of the ramp by two of the medical team. They quickly whisked the children away. She fell into her husband’s arms and laid her head on his shoulder. They stayed that way for quite some time.

Ferocity, we are going to need your assistance. The young dragon you rescued had to be secluded. Everytime anyone approaches her she attempts to burn us with her fire.

Of course” Remembering that they were in mixed telepath company he switched back to speaking, “Of course. Right away.” He was still holding Wisssi, he was about to hand him back to M when Nalau left her husband’s embrace.

“Ezopica Mischievous Wisssdartai, I missed you!” She said as she reached for him. He lit up, squealing and kicking his feet and waving his fists. Ferocity sat him down and he took off, running toward his mother.

Ferocity followed Xiix up the ramp and the debarkation began as soon as they were out of the way. The same process as before, the most infirm were taken to the barracks first.

“Darling, are you ready to go home? There is a full medical team here, they can take care of the evacuees now.” Bartala said.

Nalau handed Wisssi to him, “In just a minute darling. I want to speak with M.” She didn’t wait for an answer, she just walked a little ways away. M followed, as did one of Bartala’s guards at a distance.

Once they were out of earshot she spoke, “M, this mission has changed me. It was dangerous, and disgusting…. I mean look at me.” She gestured toward the grime on her shirt, “I’m covered in dried stasis fluid, infant puke, and I don’t know what else. But I feel stronger than I ever have.”

“I’m not surprised Nalau, you kicked ass. You were much more of an asset than I had envisioned. You impressed all of us.”

“More, I want to do more.”

“What do you mean? More with the evacuees?”

“No, I want to take an active role in helping others. Like you, Brzko and Ferocity do.”

“You’re husband might not be…. shall we say agreeable to that.”

She laughed casually, “I’m certain that he won’t be, at first. But if anyone can help him understand that it’s what I need to do, it’s you. You two go back a long way, he listens to you, he trusts you. That’s why I wanted you to know first. So that when he comes to you and tells you he disallows it, you’ll be ready to squash his objections.”

“You know Nalau, I’m starting to feel sorry for my old friend.”

“Why?”

“Because with the two us working together, he doesn’t stand a chance!” They both laughed. “I’ll be ready for him, but please, at least wait a few days OK?”

“I don’t know if I can, but I’ll try.”

“Now go home and take a shower, you stink!”