CHAPTER 46: LELELU VISITS SUUS

“Why am I nervous?” Lelelu was pacing back and forth on the bridge of her new ship. Zri was seated in the command chair, just watching her.

“Lelelu.” He waited for her to stop and look at him. He stood up and went to her, embracing her. “You’re just excited. You thought you lost your father so long ago, and now you have him back.”

“You’re right. But it’s also being invited to Suus. They don’t invite many outsiders to the planet, I just don’t want to make a bad impression. I…”

“Lelelu, you’re not an outsider. You’ve worked personally with Ciic, you are the assistant to the Muse of Mischief, one of her dearest friends, and now your father has partnered with one of the Suus rescued from the VReoria. Relax, I assure you, they aren’t going to see you as an outsider.” He could feel her begin to relax, she sat down waiting for clearance to land.

“Excuse me, Lelelu.” Her communications officer approached. “You’ve been cleared to land, the shuttle is ready.”

Too nervous to speak, she stood and nodded before heading to the shuttle. Zri followed. She was too nervous to pilot the shuttle, she seated herself in the co-pilot’s chair and let Zri fly them down to the planet. As they neared the landing coordinates they’d been given, she could see an entire group of Suus gathered, waiting for her. They were flying the customary red banners used for ceremonies. Now she was really nervous. After setting the shuttle down, Zri stood and took her hand.

“Come Lelelu.”

She obeyed.

He led her to the side door, opened it, and allowed the ramp to descend. There was in fact a group of Suus waiting to greet her, and one of them was Ciic.

They made their way to the bottom of the ramp where Ciic and Muum greeted them. “Lelelu, Zri, on behalf of Suus, I welcome you both. And offer our sincere gratitude for rescuing some of us from the Vreoria.” She stepped forward and embraced Lelelu first, then Zri. Muum presented her with a huge bouquet of Leel flowers, the vines were woven together to create a handle with a complete sphere of flowers hanging from it. The smell was intoxicating.

I know that you have much lost time to make up for with your father. We won’t keep you.” Ciic turned toward a small crowd.

“Ciic, thank you for allowing us to visit Suus. It is an honor to be here.” Lelelu said.

Ciic looked back toward her. Projecting only to Lelelu, she took her arm with her upper arm and encircled her waist with her lower arm. “I consider you to be family Lelelu. Should need anything, you have only to ask.

Before Lelelu could respondIysuno came rushing forward with Faaf beside him. Ciic and Muum stepped back.

“Le!” He exclaimed, scooping her up and holding her. When he finally let her go, he stepped back and looked at her beaming with joy. He turned to Zri. “Commander Zri, thank you for coming.” He took a slight step back and with his arm around her, he presented Faaf. “And you both remember Faaf, now my wife.” He looked at Lelelu to see her reaction to the news that he had remarried. The only emotion her face displayed was joy. Her mother had lived a long, full life – why shouldn’t her father have a partner now that he was back?

Thank you both for coming to Suus. We are honored to receive you.” Faaf projected.

Lelelu handed her bouquet to Zrie and went to her, and embraced her. “Thank you Faaf, I’m so pleased that you and Baba are together.”

As the pleasantries died down, Ciic came forward again. She reached for Lelelu’s hand, “I hope that you will join us at the palace for a reception this evening Lelelu.

“Thank you Ciic, we will be there.”

The small crowd dispersed, and they headed to Faaf’s home. The walk was enjoyable, Suus is a very clean, heavily floral planet. It’s also a very safe place. Lelelu and Zri could feel eyes upon them as they walked, but there was not hostility in the stares, only curiosity. They arrived at a small residence, tucked away on a path with many others that looked similar. Each had a stone wall and a wooden gate. When they arrived Faaf opened the gate, Lelelu and Zri stepped into the courtyard. It was overwhelming – like stepping into a different world.

“This is amazing Faaf!” Lelelu exclaimed.

Thank you Lelelu. I am honored to have a home such as this. It is very similar to the home I had before, before I was captured.” She paused, momentarily overtaken by memories of the decades she spent in a stasis tube on the VReoria specimen ship. “Luckily Iysuno is also passionate about gardening, we enjoy cultivating here in the courtyard.

The courtyard will filled with a variety of flowers, most of which Lelelu had never seen. There was every color and shape imaginable. Along the fence line to the left she noticed a vine that was growing long bean pods.

“Are those atus beans, like we grew in the garden when I was a child?”

“Ah yes!” Iysuno said, heading over to the vine. He was very proud of them. “This is one of our experimental plants, and it’s been a great success.”

“Experimental?” Zri asked.

“Uh-huh, you know that Suus sustain themselves on vapors, but I need actual food. We’ve been experimenting with plants that create food for me, and flowers that can be vaporized for Faaf. Sort of allowing us to ‘eat together’ even though we have such different needs.”

The vapor created from the flowers of the atus bean are surprisingly flavorful. It is unlike anything here on Suus, sort of hot.” Faaf projected.

“Hot like spicy?” Lelelu asked.

 “Yes, I think spicy would be the correct description. Suus do not have anything like this. We’ve shared it with friends, and it has been well received. Others are now growing the vine here on Suus.

“Oh I see. You two are becoming trendsetters here on Suus.” Lelelu teased.

Faaf looked at Iysuno and her eyes sparkled. It was as close to a smile as a being with no mouth could get. Lelelu assumed they had shared a private moment via telepathy.

“Let’s go in, we can continue our visit inside. I want to show you the plans for the greenhouse and garden we’re adding on to the house on the Planet of Portals. Are you hungry?” Iysuno asked.

“No Baba, we’re fine.” Lelelu said as they all followed him into the house. She was happy to see that her father seemed to have recovered from being held in a stasis tube for decades – recovered physically at least. Lelelu knew that having a partner who had suffered the same incarceration would be a benefit to his emotional recovery, she felt a weight lift as she realized that Baba would be fine.

They sat in the living room, sipping tea and reviewing the plans for the greenhouse addition that was to be built onto the house that Lelelu had grown up in.

“This tea tastes like jasmine, the tea that M gets on Earth.”

Yes, it is the same. After The Muse of Mischief shared the tea with Ciic, she began to cultivate it here on Suus. Vapor from the jasmine flowers are enjoyed by many here.

“Well, we should prepare for the reception. It’s not everyday that we’re invited to a reception at the palace!” Isyuno said, gather up the tea cups.

CHAPTER 45: PREPARE FOR DEPARTURE

The next morning the group once again gathered around the huge table in the dining room of the house on Misko. The Muse of Mischief had already told Zri about their concerns for Wisssi and Nguvu, and Empress Nalau had of course heard the details from Emperor Bartala. Agent Brzko had brought Ferocity up to speed the night before. They began the morning by explaining the situation to the others. Once they were up to speed, Zri explained the steps they’d taken to ensure Wissi’s safety.

“He will have a Gaznzulian guard with him at all times. They’ll be clothed in the uniform of the Ploosnarian palace guards, in order to attract less attention. Wisssi has also been fitted with a personal alarm. It’s similar to your armbands but his does not provide any transport, instead, it simply sounds an alarm. I’m not sure that he really understands what an emergency is yet, but Emperor Bartala assures me that they will work on this.”

Lelelu and M both looked toward the Empress to see if she had anything to share about her son’s safety. At first it didn’t seem that she did, but after taking a moment she addressed the group.

“I’m confident that Bartala will be able to teach Wisssi how and when to use the alarm. I find it sad that these conversations need to happen with my son at such a young age. But as the future Emperor, it was inevitable that he would need to be made aware of his personal safety at some point.” She said.

The group stayed silent for a few seconds, giving the Empress a chance to continue. She did not have anything else to say, so Brzko spoke up.

“Ferocity, what did you decide about speaking to the Great Assembly on Dragona?”

“I spoke with Kwaii. I did not want to bring our concerns to the Great Assembly yet. Kwaii has agreed to that I am to be recognized as the official guardian for Nguvu. Although her upbringing is different than other Dragons, she is to be groomed for a bond. She is to be bonded to Ezopica Mischievous Wisssdartai of Ploosnar.” He paused and looked across the table at Empress Nalau. This was the first time the bonding had been confirmed.

The Empress was speechless for a moment. “Thank you Ferocity. Please extend Ploosnar’s gratitude to Kwaii.”

“I will Empress, I presume you will inform the Emperor?”

“With pleasure.”

The conversation momentarily lagged, Lelelu took the opportunity to move the conversation along. “OK, so if Wisssi and Nguvu are reasonably protected, what’s the next step. What are you and Agent Brzko planning to do next?”

M looked down the table toward her faithful assistant. “You know me well Lelelu. Brzko and I are thinking of exploring the portals on Clyrea X9. We’d like to meet other Clyreans, to…. Uh ‘validate’ the information we received. And supposedly we can only be near them on Clyrea X9, so that’s where we’ll start.”

“I know that you don’t need a ship to get there, but I’d like to orbit the planet while you’re gone. I was just barely able to communicate with you while you were on the surface. I’ve boosted my com signals, so I might be able to get through the interference now. And I’d like to keep watch for the VReoria.”

M looked at Brzko to see if he wanted to respond. He did. “Even though I don’t think the VReoria can get to the planet’s surface, that’s a good idea Zri. And appreciated. We don’t want to be surprised by the VReoria. But you have to promise to jump out of there if you detect VReoria, we can’t have them capture you.”

Zri nodded, accepting the terms.

“Lord Brzko, you said that you could each take one being with you…” Ferocity said.

“I think I know where you’re headed with that Ferocity, and you know I always prefer to have you with me, I don’t think it would be wise on our first mission.” Everyone stayed quiet, hoping for more of an explanation. Brzko obliged them. “Each of the portals is guarded by a Hekwagter Gatekeeper, an AI being that can be difficult. We need to get comfortable with them first. And we’re not sure how other Clyreans would react. We just found the planet, we wouldn’t want to offend anyone so soon.”

“I understand.” Ferocity said.

M looked around the table, she could tell that Numia had something to say. But she was not yet comfortable enough to address the group without being called upon. “Numia? Is there something you’d like to ask?” M said.

“Thank you Muse of Mischief. Yes. Will you be looking for something specific as you explore the portals?”

“If you mean, will we be looking for the universe that you’re from, yes. That is one of our goals. Your home planet is called Keatera?”

“Yes, that is correct.”

“What is unique about it – for example Ploosnar is vividly blue and full of roinad.”

“Half of the planet is uninhabitable – the atmosphere at the northernmost pole is in constant turmoil. ‘Storms’ I think you would call them.”

“OK, that might help us to find it.”

Again the conversation lagged. Xiix took the opportunity to seek direction. “I understand that Zri will be in orbit around Clyrea X9 while you are exploring. What would you like the rest of us to accomplish?” He projected.

“We may not be gone long, but in case we are – there are still evacuees on Gaznzul that need to be taken home, or relocated to new homes. Please continue to aid them. And Lelelu, I assume there is no shortage of requests for help?” M asked.

“Never. Afrit has even asked for our help, again. It seems he needs a ride home to Jinn.”

M really wanted to say something about Afrit, but managed not to. “Prioritize the requests and do what you can. I think you should stay here on Misko – that will leave three ships to work with. Work together to decide if you should handle things alone or as a group.”

Everyone at the table nodded in confirmation. The plan was understood.

“Anything else?” Agent Brzko asked.

“Two things.” Lelelu said. “The Myaads have requested a meeting. I think they are looking for some advice on how to re-initiate the Rogsaar explorations. And Iysuno has been invited to take up permanent residence with Faaf on Suus. They will actually split their time between her home on Suus and his home here on the Planet of Portals, but you know what an honor it is for him to be accepted on Suus. I’ve been invited to visit Faaf’s home. I’d like to go before you leave.”

“Of course! That’s an honor you can’t pass up.” M said. “When were you planning on going?”

“As soon as we’re done here today. Zri, will you accompany me?”

“Yes. ShyUst can prepare my ship for the Clyrea X9 trip while I’m gone.”

CHAPTER 44: AFTER CLYRA

The conversation continued much the same, the only thing they didn’t share with the group was the mention of Wisssi and Nguvu. They decided to head back to Misko – they weren’t ready to start traveling in other universes so there was nothing more to do here right now.

The Muse of Mischief and Agent Brzko elected not to return via ship with the remainder of the group. Instead they returned via aperture.

I think we should go to Lincoln City.” M projected to Brzko, before they left Zri’s ship.

Agreed.”

It was early morning in Lincoln City, the fog still clung to the trees. Even though there was a chill in the air, they took their coffee out on the deck.

“So what do we do now?” M asked, pulling a chaise lounge cushion out of the storage bin and handing to Brzko before she retrieved a second for herself.

Brzko took a deep breath and let it out. “Uh I don’t know for sure. We need to keep watch over Wisssi and Nguvu, but we don’t know what we’re watching for.” He rubbed his face, they were both tired. “M, they suggested that you didn’t meet Bartala by chance. It was arranged. I’m really sort of creeped out to think that one, we were ‘created’, and two, things have happened due to someone else’s influence.”

“It is annoying isn’t it. But then again, we were hidden on Earth, so we sort of already knew that someone, or something, else was influencing our lives.”

“That’s true, that’s true.” Brzko acknowledged. “It seems like we need to do something to increase the safety of Wisssi and Nguvu. But I don’t think we can do that without divulging – to at least a select few – what we were told about them. Maybe we should share the information with everyone.”

“Maybe we should. What do you think it means? I mean what do you think Agent Qmkos and the Muse of Banter were suggesting?”

“Well if it’s true that you meeting Bartala was arranged, maybe the reason for that was to protect Wisssi from something in the future.”

“Or maybe just to guide him through something.”

“True. And Bartala has already expressed a desire for Nguvu to be bonded to Wisssi, so maybe that’s where she fits in.”

“That’s probably where it starts, but there’s got to be more to it than that.”

“I agree. But whatever it is may not happen until they are both adults. And how do we even know if what we’ve been told is reliable? How do we know that they’ve provided us accurate information, or that they can be trusted? What if they are attempting to influence us in a way that benefits them?”

“Great. So after finding Clyrea X9, and meeting other Clyreans, we have more questions than we did before.” M said getting up to get more coffee.

When she returned with refilled mugs Brzko continued. “I don’t think we have more questions M, I think we have different, or more specific questions.”

“Good point Brzko. So what do we do about it?”

“Ensure the safety of Wisssi and Nguvu, just in case Agent Qmkos and the Muse of Banter are right, and then return to Clyrea X9 and see if we meet anyone else.”

“Do you want to use the portals to explore other universes?”

“Maybe. Are you up for some adventure M?”

M paused for a second, looking at what remained of her coffee. She looked up, met Brzko’s gaze and said, “Oh hell yes, I’m always up for an adventure.”

Brzko laughed. He loves her sense of adventure and enthusiasm. “OK. Do you want to tell everyone about Wisssi and Nguvu together?”

“Bartala first, then everyone else.”

“That’s what I figured. I think you two have a few things to talk about.”

“Indeed, and there’s no time like the present.”

Brzko got up and stretched. The sun was fully up by now, providing enough warmth that the fog was almost gone. “I’ll catch up with you back on Misko, my love.” He bent and kissed her before heading inside.

The Muse of Mischief used her earcom link to contact Emperor Bartala.

“Bartala, are you busy?”

Bartala was in fact busy – in a meeting with a transportation liaison. He could tell that his oldest friend had sent her message privately, to just him. That meant something was wrong, or something important was going on. Instead of answering her while the liaison was in the room, he touched the earcom link and activated the microphone. “It sounds like you got it all under control.” He said to the liaison. “I trust that you will continue to handle things with your usual expertise. If you would be so kind as to excuse me, I’ve just received a message I must respond to.” He stood to make it clear that he expected his guest to leave.

“Of course Emperor. I thank you for your time today. You’re confidence is appreciated.” The transportation liaison said as he headed toward the door.

Once the door was closed, Bartala answered the Muse of Mischief. “M, are you OK?”

“Yes. I need to have a private conversation with you. Where are you?”

“I’m in my public study.”

He hadn’t even finished speaking when she appeared before him.

“Where have you been? You look like you’re dressed for the frozen tundra.”

She was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt that said Female not Feeble, standard Earth garb. “Almost, late fall on Earth.”

“It’s a good look for you.” He teased, moving from behind his desk to take a seat on the sofa. “So what’s wrong M?”

She sat down on the other sofa, facing him. “Nothing’s really ‘wrong’ but there are a few things I think you need to know. You know that we recently went to Clyrea X9 right?”

“Yes, Nalau told me about the trip. She said you confirmed that you are Clyrean, and met other Clyreans.”

“Right. Where is the Empress today?”

“She’s on a mission with Xiix, something about delivering medical supplies and food to refugees in the Zenbliuq Galaxy. I expect her to return late tonight.”

“Good, and Wisssi?”

Bartala consulted the clock above the door. “At this time of day he’ll be in a language class with other children. Why?”

M ignored his question. “There is a guard with him anytime he leaves the palace correct?”

“Two, and now you’re causing me concern. What’s going on M?”

“On Clyrea X9 we met Agent Qmkos and the Muse of Banter, and they told us some interesting things. First, they claim that we didn’t meet by chance. You and I.” She said.

“Hmmm, we’ve considered that before. When we went to Trella, we talked about that possibility.”

“Yes. But they suggested that it wasn’t necessarily about you and I, instead it has to do with Wisssi.”

“Exactly how does us meeting have to do with Wisssi?”

“They didn’t provide details, they only suggested that Brzko and I make sure to keep him safe.”

Bartala inhaled sharply, held it for a second, and slowly released the breath, calming himself. “Do I need to send for him? Have him return to the palace?”

“I don’t think there’s any immediate threat. But there’s more.”

Bartala looked as though he wasn’t sure he could take any more. He stood up and went to a side table, poured two glasses of nekmid, and returned, handing one to her without saying anything.

“It’s about Nguvu. The Muse of Banter suggested that she has something to do with this as well. But we don’t know what ‘this’ is.”

“Is Wisssi in danger M?” Bartala asked with almost no inflection. Which M knew meant he was having to keep himself calm.

“I don’t think so Bartala. But… I can’t be sure. I don’t even know if the Clyreans we met can be trusted. Did they suggest that we watch over Wisssi and Nguvu out of kindness, or do they have something to gain?”

Bartala finished his nekmid and motioned for M to drinkup, to finish hers. She did and handed him her glass. Nekmid was not nearly as strong as the espidrun they had been drinking lately, it had a nice mellow calming effect. He handed a refilled glass to her and took his seat again.

“Gaznzulians. Zri can help.”

“I agree. But first we need to speak with the Empress. I don’t want…”

“I’ll tell her.” Bartala said, interrupting M.

“OK. If you think that’s best.”

“I do.”

“Look Bartala, I know that you have your own palace guards, and I know they’re well trained, but…”

“You want Zri to assign a Gaznzulian guard to Wisssi.”

“Right, so are you developing telepathy now too?” M teased.

“No, no….” He laughed.

“So Bartala, we never really explored the details of the idea that us meeting was arranged. Do you think your father or anyone on Ploosnar could have been involved?”

The question startled him. “Oh! I… Hmm, I never considered it before, but I suppose it’s possible. You know my father was the Emperor of Ploosnar for a very long time, I suppose it’s possible that he obtained information about our futures. After so many years of leading the ronaid empire, his social network was vast. And we did find crystals identical to the ones that grow in caves here on Ploosnar on Trella.”

“Are you sure he was Ploosnarian?” M interrupted.

Bartala opened his mouth, intent on saying that he was, but he then he paused. “My father, I um never considered that he wasn’t. But I guess it’s possible. If…”

There was a knock at the door, a butler stepped in. “Your Majesty, please forgive the intrusion, Commander Zri is here, he said he was summoned.”

Bartala looked at M as he said, “Yes, yes, send him in.”

The butler opened the door wide and Zri came in. His posture demonstrated that he was on high alert. “Your Majesty, Bartala I came as soon as I could, is everything alright?”

Instead of answering him, Bartala looked at M. “Really? You called him in my name? Why didn’t you just call for Zri yourself?”

“It’s more fun this way, more mysterious, don’t you think?” M said, standing up.

“More mysterious no, more mischievous, yes!” Bartala scolded.

“Hey Zri, thanks for coming on such short notice. Please have a seat.”

“Hello Muse of Mischief.” He said, taking a seat as asked. There was a hint of question in his tone.

“Zri. We want to hear your ideas for providing additional security for Wisssi.”

“Has Wisssi been threatened? What are we protecting him from?”

“We aren’t sure yet.” M said as she got up to retrieve the nekmid bottle and another glass for Zri. It would take a while to bring him up to speed.

CHAPTER 43: TRYING TO EXPLAIN THE CONFUSION

The time that the Muse of Mischief and Agent Brzko had been out of contact with their team had been very stressful for Zri. He’d spent almost the entire time pacing back and forth, across the bridge of his ship. When they returned to the bridge, he did something he rarely does, and never in front of his crew, he displayed emotion.

He rushed over to M and grabbed her. “Muse of Mischief, you’re back!” He released her, stiffened slightly, gaining control of his emotions, and turned to Brzko. “Agent Brzko, I’m relieved to see you.” He said, extending his hand and grasping Brzko’s elbow.

They stood looking at each other, M finally broke the silence. “I think we should gather everyone together so that Brzko and I only have to go over this once. Zri, can you have them all transport here?”

“Of course, of course.” He looked at ShyUst who was already on it.

Ferocity was the first to arrive. “Lord Brzko!” He said telepathically, as he embraced his bond.

It took less than two minutes for them all to arrive, they headed down to the lower level of the ship. The room that had been set for the group’s comfort on the trip to Trella has been returned to it’s normal, slightly sterile state. The sofas have been replaced with a large meeting table. The Muse of Mischief, Agent Brzko, Ferocity, Nalau, Numia, Lelelu, Zri, ShyUst, and Xiix were all seated at the table.

M started to explain what they’d learned, or most of it anyway. “We learned a few things, but ended up with more questions. But here’s what we do know – Brzko and I are Clyrean, but this place is not where we’re from, it’s not even a planet.”

This piqued everyone’s interest.

Brzko jumped in, giving M a chance to take a sip of water. “The World Engine is a series of portals that lead other universes. There doesn’t seem to be any kind of map or guide to the other universes so it would be difficult to use the place to track the VReoria.”

“Is this place how they travel in multiverse?” The Empress asked.

“No.” M answered. “Only Clyreans can access Clyrea X9, well other beings can but they would need to be with a Clyrean. We were told that the VReoria exploit fractures between universes in order to travel between them.

“Told?” Ferocity asked.

“Yes.” Brzko started to answer.

M sent him a telepathic thought, “Don’t mention Wisssi or Nguvu yet.

“Told.” He continued without missing a second. “We met two other Clyreans, Agent Qmkos and the Muse of Banter.” He let that sink in for a second, but before he could continue, Numia raised her voice.

“Excuse me, may I speak?”

“Of course Numia, you don’t need to ask for permission first, you’re one of us.” M said.

“Thank you Muse of Mischief. Is there any chance of using these ‘portals’ for me to return to my home? She asked.

“We’re not sure yet. It seems like it, but it wouldn’t be easy since universes don’t have official names and there doesn’t seem to be any sort of guidance system.” M said.

“Oh I understand.” Numia said, leaning back in her chair.

“We would have to investigate each universe to see if it’s ‘the one.’ If we could find a way to get information from other Clyreans, and figure out a way to quickly identify the universe we’re looking for, that would speed the process.”

“Other Clyreans? Did you meet anyone other than the two you already mentioned?” Zri asked.

“No.” Brzko answered. “We’re not even sure how, or if we could contact other Clyreans. They told us that there is a certain ‘friction’ when we are near each other, and that Clyrea X9 somehow stifles the friction. I suspect that was the cause of the lightning when we first arrived on the surface.”

“So do you think what Baba said his grandfather told him about Clyreans scattering around the Universe is true?” Lelelu asked.

“Yes and no. Clyreans are scattered, but it could be intentional, not due to any actual event. And it’s not just throughout this Universe, it’s all universes.”

CHAPTER 42: FINDING CLYREA X9

“I think we should assume Iysuno’s grandfather was right, and the Clyreans had scattered after an attack by the VReoria. And if that’s true we need to be extra cautious as we approach that area of the Universe.” The Muse of Mischief suggested to the group.

Once again they were gathered around the large table in the guest house on Misko. They were planning how to approach Clyrea X9.

“We should drop out of jump farther away than we normally would and approach slowly, while we scan the area.” Zri said.

“Why don’t we approach from all sides?” Agent Brzko suggested. “We’ve got five ships, let’s space them out and come at the area from all sides. We’re more likely to find any cloaked VReoria that way. And with jump drives we should still be close enough to each other in case of trouble.”

“Good strategy Brzko.” M said. It seemed that everyone agreed. “If everyone is ready we should go.”

All five of the ships dropped out of jump at the same time, equal distances from the planet – a distance that put Clyrea X9 just at the edge of their scanner range.

The Muse of Mischief was on Zri’s ship and Agent Brzko was on Ferocity’s. She reached out to him with her mind, “Do you see it Brzko?”

Yes M, it looks like a big dust cloud off in the distance.

M activated hear earcom link and video screen on the bridge of Zri’s ship.. “Begin long range scanning.”

“Confirmed.” Ferocity replied.

“Affirmative.” Lelelu replied.

“Affirmative.” The Empress replied.

Confirmed.” Xiix projected.

“Check your scan data and begin approaching Clyrea.” She said via earcom link, taking a seat in the commander’s chair. She noticed Zri standing nearby and jumped up.

“Oh, sorry Zri. Please,” She motioned to the seat.

He laughed. “No, I insist M. It might be my ship, but you’re leading the mission.” She sat back down and he took the secondary seat next to her. She adjusted the front video screen to show the view from the other ships.

“It still looks like a giant dust cloud from here.” She said.

“Yes, it does. It almost looks like a storm. Look at how you can see the dust, or whatever it is moving there on the left.”

“I wonder if that’s where the rings intersect. ShyUst, can the scanners detect anything solid in the dust cloud yet?”

“No, Muse of Mischief, we are still not able to detect a mass.” She and Zri continued to watch the cloud get larger as they slowly progressed toward it. Again she adjusted the front video screen to display the other ships for the benefit of Xiix. He needed a visual connection to non-telepaths to be heard.

“Is anyone detecting any activity in the area, anything unusual that would suggest we are not alone?”

Everyone responded with a negative so she changed back to watching the target dust cloud.

M?”

Hey Brzko what’s up, everything OK over there on Ferocity’s ship” She projected.

Yes, we’re fine. When we get there I think one of the ships should land on the surface while the others stay in orbit.

And something tells me you’d like to be the one to land, right?”
Zri looked at her with concern, he could tell she was communicating telepathically with Brzko. She gave him a brief smile to reassure him that everything was OK.

It makes sense for Ferocity and I to land. His ship is sentient and if we run into trouble it may react faster than the other ships in an effort to protect itself.

I understand. We’ll be there in a few hours, I assume Ferocity concurs.

He does.

M turned to Zri. “So, Brzko thinks a ship should attempt to land once we’re all in position. And of course he’d like it to be Ferocity’s ship.”

“That makes sense since Ferocity’s ship is sentient.” Zri agreed.

“Exactly what he said.”

They all slowly watched the cloud that presumably surrounded Clyrea X9 come into view over the next hour. No activity was detected in the area, maybe they really had eliminated the VReoria from this Universe.

The cloud was gold and brown with streaks of bright red. It looked like an emission nebula, bright and glowing. Their scans were not able to detect any significant solid mass beneath the clouds.

The ships were evenly spaced in position around the cloud, continuing to scan what they presumed was the surface as well as what may be approaching from space. Brzko made a visit to Zri’s ship.

“Are you sure you still want to take the ship down? None of our scans can penetrate the clouds, we can’t tell what the surface is like.” Zri said. “We can’t even confirm that there is a surface.”

“I don’t think there’s any other way for us to find out what’s down there.” Brzko answered.

“Brzko, I don’t like it. I think we need to find another way to see what’s down there.” M said disapprovingly. “Zri, do we have any drones with us, anything that we could physically send to the surface?”

Zri considered her question. “Actually yes. I’ve got a hive drone in the cargo hold. Give us a few minutes to prep it. ShyUst,” He called as he looked toward his first officer.

“On my way commander.” ShyUst left the bridge with a quick jog.

“OK, so we’ll send the drones down and at least try to get an image of the surface before anyone goes down then.” M said, looking at Brzko.

“OK.” He said reluctantly. “Let’s see what the drones find.”

Once the drones were prepped, all of the ships tied into the image feed. ShyUst released the drone from the cargo hold. Zri piloted the drone from the bridge of his ship, taking it directly down through the clouds. At first the image was just a blur, it was in the thickness of the cloud. Then it began to clear and there was indeed something below the cloud. Looking straight down the image the drone transmitted looked like a soft white clouds. The images disappeared.

“What happened?” M asked.

Zri looked at ShyUst, knowing that he was scanning for the drone. He looked up and shook his head. “It’s no longer in orbit commander. It seems to have been repelled from the atmosphere, and it’s been crushed. It’s not worth retrieving.”

“Iysuno mentioned that the unusual effect of the dual rings could make it difficult to get through the atmosphere.” Brzko said. “I still think the sentient ship is the way to go.”

“I still don’t like it Brzko. At least make sure that Ferocity is ready to transport here if there’s any trouble.” M said.

“Will do.” He swept her back in one of his infamous Hollywood style kisses. “I’ll see you soon my love.” He said releasing her, and then he was gone.

ShyUst adjusted the front video panel to display Ferocity’s ship. They stood silently watching it approach the cloud.

Are you ready Ferocity? Is your ship ready?” Brzko projected.

Yes. We are both ready. The ship will take immediate action to keep itself safe should it need to.”

And your transporter is ready to transport you to Zri’s ship.”

Confirmed, it’s programmed, I would need only hit one button.”

OK, then let’s make our first attempt.”

The ship began to slowly descend. Their view was completely blocked by the clouds as they descended. Just as the clouds began to thin the ship began to shake. The surface of the planet came into view. There were dome like structures that seemed to be on individual cliffs, floating in clouds. Ferocity’s ship began to emit a high pitched whine, it could not take anymore of the odd pressure and reversed course. It began to ascend. As it reached the top of the cloud the shake and whine ceased.

What happened?” Brzko asked.

Ferocity remained silent for a moment. He was communicating telepathically with his ship.

“Pressure.” He answered with his earcom link engaged for the benefit of everyone. “A crushing pressure, the ship could not withstand it. We would have been crushed.”

“We’ll find another way.” M said, also via earcom link. Brzko transported himself to Zri’s ship again while Ferocity guided his ship to a comfortable distance..

Brzko looked up at her. She could see his disappointment. “M, I know you’re going to object but I’m going to use an aperture to get to the surface.”

“I don’t object Brzko. Iysuno’s description makes it seem like only some beings can get through the effect of the dual rings. And I wonder if that means only a Clyrean. I know you’ll be careful. If you can, send me images of what you’re seeing.”

“I will. I’m going to attempt to get to the dome we saw.” Brzko began sending M his current vision via their telepathic link. She closed her eyes and saw herself.

Brzko opened an aperture and focused on the floating dome, instantly he was there. M could see what he saw – randomly spaced floating surfaces seemingly suspended in clouds. She could see rings above him.

Those rings don’t look real Brzko.

The look like part of a machine. And…

It suddenly became very bright. “Brzko, what’s wrong?

There’s some kind of energy building up, it’s like lightning. I can hear something under the dome.

Brzko, either get back here or wait for me.” She opened her eyes and looked at Zri.

“He made it to the surface there’s sound coming from under the dome. I’m going down, I can’t let him go alone.”

Zri reached out and put his hand on her shoulder. “Be careful Muse of Mischief. We’ll be here waiting for you.”

“OK Zri, keep everyone safe.” She left Zri’s ship and arrived on the dome’s platform, next to Brzko. The lightning jumped from Brzko to her and back. There was a loud grinding sound.

“What is that sound?” She asked Brzko.

“I think it’s where the rings intersect. Look.” He pointed to an opening in the dome, just at the edge of their sight. Just as she turned to see what he was pointing at, a short being with red hair stepped out and walked toward them. “Welcome, welcome. I am Hekwagter Gatekeeper. We weren’t sure you’d be able to find us. Oh! Where are my manners. I know you have questions. Please come inside.” He turned and walked toward the dome.

Neither M nor Brzko moved from where they were.

When he realized they weren’t following him, he turned back. “Oh of course, of course. You are just as skeptical as the others.”

“The others?” M asked.

“Yes Muse of Mischief, the other Clyreans.”

“Where are the others?”

“Oh well, scattered throughout every universe.”

“Is this where they used to live?”

“No, no. No one ever lived here. Well, Hekwagters do. But we’re just Gatekeepers. This is Clyrea X9, it is technically not a planet. It is a World Engine.”

“What is the purpose of a World Engine?” Brzko asked.

“Very good question Agent Brzko!” Hekwagter said, turning toward him. “A World Engine is a machine. It provides a permanent transfer point between universes – for beings that don’t have the ability to travel between them on their own.”

“So if Clyrea X9 isn’t actually a planet, where are Clyreans from?” M asked.

This seemed to confuse the Hekwagter Gatekeeper, he looked off in the distance as though he was searching his own mind for the answer. He regained his focus. “I either do not know or am not authorized to answer that question.”

Both M and Brzko wanted to pursue this line of questioning but knew that it would not get them the answers they were looking for. M tried to take them in another direction.

“Do you know where we can find any other Clyreans? We’d like to speak to them.”

“Oh yes. Of course. There is two visiting here now. I think they have been waiting for you. Clyreans always seem to know when there are others around.” Hekwagter Gatekeeper turned toward the doorway. He stopped in front of it and seemed to be speaking with someone. He turned and looked at them, and then stepped back.

Someone stepped out, it was a tall dark being. It looked like a black human. He said something else to Hekwagter Gatekeeper and then turned toward the M and Brzko. While looking at them he extended his right arm and reached into the doorway. His hand was taken by a smaller, fair skinned being. She stepped out and turned toward the Muse of Mischief and Agent Brzko with a smile. They began to approach.

“Greetings and salutations. I am Agent Qmkos and this is the Muse of Banter.” He extended his right hand toward them, “The Muse of Mischief, it is an honor to meet you, Agent Brzko, a pleasure.” The Muse of Banter also extended a greeting. She had light hair and skin; she was wearing heels with a long dress, slit all the way up one side – and a black wool beret. She looked very similar to the Muse of Mischief. Agent Qmkos also wore a black wool beret. And like Agent Brzko, he wore a long black jacket over black slacks and a button up shirt with a vest. He also had dark skin.

“Are you Clyrean?” M asked.

“Yes, Clyrean, just as you two are.” Agent Qmkos said.

“I’m sorry, we don’t mean to stare, we’ve just never met anyone similar to us.” Brzko said.

“Mhmm, mhmmm, we understand.” the Muse of Banter said. “You probably won’t see another Clyrean anywhere but here.”

Agent Qmkos looked from the Muse of Banter to M and Brzko, picking up where she left off. “You see Clyreans are too powerful, too complicated to be comfortable in close proximity to each other, but the world engine seems to absorb the friction.”

“Do all Clyreans look like us? I mean our skin color…” Brzko asked, holding up his hand looking at the back of it.

“Yes, all of the males have dark skin and the females have light skin. It’s how we’re created.” Agent Qmkos answered.

“Created?” M asked.

“Yes, we are specifically created for each other – we’re created in pairs and then placed with pretend parents. We are naturally drawn to our partners once we’re mature. Clyreans do not raise their own offspring. And most, but no all, usually make their way here at some point.” Agent Qmkos said as he used his left hand to gesture toward all of the other domes that could be seen from where they were standing.

“What’s the purpose of the domes?” M asked.

“They are noplaces. Protected areas that lead to other universes. This one here leads to a young universe where most of the planets have very little gravity. We call it No-grav. That one over there leads to a universe where the timeline is broken – we call it Fractured-time, and that one over there leads to a universe where every planet seems to be ruled by some evil force.”

“Is this the only way to travel in multiverse?” Brzko asked.

“No, but it’s the safest way and the World Engine is the only place that has multiple portals. There are fractures that lead to other specific universes. Like the ones that the VReoria are using to stay hidden from this universe.” The Muse of Banter said.

“You know about the VReoria?” M asked.

“Yes, they’re always trying to capture one of us. Hey we heard about you destroying two of their specimen ships and rescuing all of the beings. Very impressive.” She said looking M up and down.

“Do you know what universe the VReoria hide in?” Agent Brko asked, looking at Agent  Qmkos.

“No not for sure. They’ve been spotted in what we call the Furverse, but we’ve never seen them there.”

“Furverse? Let me guess, the beings there are all covered in fur?” M asked.

“Yeah, mostly.” The Muse of Banter said. “None of the universes have actual names. The inhabitants always think their in THE UNIVERSE, but little do they know… Anyway, Qmkos and I use a naming system that work for us. Other Clyreans probably call them something else.”

“So do all Clyreans move around through Multiverse?” Brzko asked.

“No, no, not at all. Some of them stay in one universe. But some do like to be on the move, like us. We rarely stay in any place for too long.” The Muse of Banter said.

“Can other beings be taken through the portals, into a different universe?” M asked.

“Hmmmm, yes and no. Technically yes, you can each take one non-Clyrean with you, just like you would when you travel using an aperture. But each dome is home to a Hekwagter Gatekeeper, and they can be a little, mmmm persnickety.” The Muse of Banter said, placing her hand on her hip to emphasize the point. “Maybe that’s not the right word. You see, they’re AI’s – you know artificial intelligence – and sometimes they can be a little unpredictable. Never dangerous, more like illogically logical.” She looked over at Agent Qmkos to see if he had anything to add. He didn’t, so Brzko asked another question.

“So we could, technically, use the portals to return some of the beings we rescued from the VReoria to their home universe?”

“Yes, but because universes don’t have names it would take a lot of exploring to find the right one. By the time you find the place you’re looking for, they would have settled into a new life. Besides, you two have more important things to do.” Agent Qmkos said, looking from Brzko to M.

“We do?” M asked.

“Uhhhh yeah.” The Muse of Banter said with serious attitude, as if M should have already known that. “It wasn’t a coincidence that you met the father of your namesake.”

“Emperor Bartala?” M asked. But before she could finish her thought her earcom link came to life.

It was faint and broken, but they could hear Zri, “….Muse…. Boost… Can you…  Status…“

Ignoring their new friends for a minute, M looked at Brzko to see if he had also heard the transmission. He had. She attempted to respond to Zri. “Zri, we are OK. Please hold your position until further notice.”

“….Af…tive.”

She looked back toward Agent Qmkos and the Muse of Banter.

“And that’s our cue to leave. You have much to do, we ALL have much to do. We’re going to check out a place we call Water-verse.” They turned and headed back in the direction they came from although the door was now closed. They walked arm in arm, much as the Muse of Mischief and Agent Brzko often did. They disappeared. But before M and Brzko could even contemplate their next action, the Muse of Banter appeared before them again.

“OK, one more thing.” She said quietly, leaning toward them. “That little Dragon is part of your future too, protect her.” And with that she was gone.

M and Brzko looked at each other. M opened her mouth to speak but couldn’t find the words. Instead she pictured the bridge of Zri’s ship, shared it with Brzko, and they left Clyrea X9 with a few answers, but more questions than they had when they’d arrived.

CHAPTER 41: NGUVU ARRIVES ON MISKO

We’re landing now.” Ferocity projected to Agent Brzko and the Muse of Mischief. They headed out, so they would be there when they landed. Xiix was still recovering from his overindulgence.

The rear ramp descended from the back of Ferocity’s ship. He walked down the ramp, Nguvu followed a step behind him. “Lord Brzko, Muse of Mischief, I’m sure you remember Nguvu.” He said, motioning for her to step forward.

“Thank you for granting me the opportunity to live with Ferocity Muse of Mischief and Lord Brzko, I am in your debt.” She said, bowing her head. She was very different from the terrified, feisty little Dragon they had recently pulled out of a stasis tube on a VReoria ship.

“Welcome to Misko Nguvu.” Brzko said, extending his hand.

Whotov, with the impeccable timing of a seasoned butler, arrived, “Nguvu. Welcome. It’s good to see you again. If you will follow me, I’ll show you to your quarters so you can settle in.”

She nodded toward M and Brzko, then Ferocity, before dutifully following Whotov into her new home.

“How was the trip Ferocity?” Brzko asked.

“Fine.” There was something about his tone.

“But….” M inquired.

Ferocity looked past them, over the edge of the island to the shwarth sea, considering his words. “Dragona has a different feel now that Dragons have come out of hiding and taken a place in the Universe.”

“And do you think that’s a good thing?” Brzko asked.

“Yes. It’s long overdue.”

M and Brzko waited to see if he had more to offer, but he didn’t. He needed time to adjust to the idea of Dragons no longer isolating themselves.

“If you don’t need anything right now Lord Brzko I’d like to see how Xiix is. Maybe he’s ready to move into his new home. And I’d like to take Nguvu flying later. I need to assess her abilities.”

“Of course, we don’t need anything.”

CHAPTER 40: BACK ON MISKO

“I take it you went to Ploosnar?” Agent Brzko had just returned home to Misko. The Muse of Mischief was at the kitchen table eating lusimis, drinking espidrun and reviewing correspondence.

“What makes you say that?”

“Because it looks like you’re a few espidruns ahead of me.”

She grinned at him. “You’re right. Here.” She offered him her glass. He gladly took it and poured another, taking a seat at the table.

“Did you hear what they found in Traphus?”

“Yes, I was just talking to Zri about it.”

“I wonder how many portals there are leading to, or from, akenn kote.”

“Me too.”

“I also wonder if they’re all on Jinn.”

“I have a feeling we’ll never know.”

“Will Nalau be back in time to leave for Clyrea X9 tomorrow?”

“Yes, they’ll be back later today. Having the jump drive technology from Dragona is really helpful.”

Brzko sat down at the table. “I agree. Did you hear Xiix’s house is finished? I think he’s settling  in now.” Brzko said, refilling her glass and keeping it for himself.

“Oh I’m sure. Did you see the size of his greenhouse?”

“I know, it’s the biggest part of the house.”

“Luckily for him, Ferocity lives right next door. He won’t have to venture very far for philosophical conversations.”

“Philosophical conversations? What have they been talking about?”

“They seem to be having a great time when I was over there earlier. They were in the midst of a deep conversation – debating the origins of Ploosnarian opera. Xiix thinks it sounds like the melody of a bird found in the forests there, and Ferocity thinks it sounds like screams of a dying Koblenipi.”

Brzko was laughing so hard that espidrun came out of his nose. He put the glass down. “I don’t even know what a Koblenipi is, and I find that hilarious.”

“It’s basically a wild boar, found on Ploosnar.”

“So then Ferocity is not a fan of opera?”

“At least not Ploosnarian opera.”

“Did you see the thank you that Princess Cluthea sent?” M asked, getting up to get another glass.

“Briefly, is it here?”

M slid something that looked like a folded note across the table to him. Princess Cluthea had written a note to them on a leaf from a Neter tree.

“I’m glad to hear that she was able to reconnect with her parents. It sounds like Queen Eyjdra was serious when she threatened to leave the King if he didn’t accept their daughter’s marriage to a Blenia.”

“Sometimes the females just have to put their foot down.” M winked at him.

“Ha! Like you ever have to do that with me. This leaf is really amazing, it seems dry but it’s still flexible – and I love the color. How do you feel about framing it?”

M didn’t answer, she just shifter her eyes to the perfectly sized, empty frame leaning in the corner.

“Always a step ahead, I love that about you M.”

“Yeah well, I’m female… not feeble.”

“That you are. I was thinking about checking on Ferocity and Xiix, want to go?”

“Sure.”

Ferocity. Are you up for some company?” Brzko reached for his dragon telepathically.

Yes please Lord Brzko. Xiix and I discovered something that you should probably see. We’re in the library.

Brzko looked at M to see if she had picked up Ferocity’s answer. She had – they both went to Ferocity’s library.

Xiix was sitting on a stool, he was slumped really. Since they both had tails, the furniture that Ferocity had selected also provided comfortable accommodation to a Suus.

“What’s wrong with Xiix?” M walked over to him, thinking there must be something seriously wrong with him. “Xiix, can you hear me? Are you OK?”

Fine, fine, fine. Oh my.” He projected back.

What’s wrong, are you ill?”

Espidrun.

She turned toward Ferocity. “He’s a Suus, how could espidrun have an effect on him? He can’t drink it.”

The blue steam is basically a vapor.” Ferocity projected.

“Oh shit, he’s drunk!” M’s hands flew up to cover her mouth.

Ferocity and Brzko both laughed.

Xiix, are you OK, do you need anything, how do you feel?” M asked.

I feel marvelous! I see why you drink espidrun now. But… But… four is too many for me. Next time I want to stop at two. Wait….” He grasped the edges of the stool he was sitting on with his lower arms and sat up straight. “If Ciic finds out what I’ve done, there won’t be a next time. I don’t know what she will do, I’ve never heard of a Suus misbehaving to this degree, I just wanted to celebrate my new home with Ferocity. Oh no, I’m doomed. I will be banished.” He slumped again.

Agent Brzko stepped forward to handle this, projecting calm as he spoke telepathically. “Xiix, that’s not how we do things around here. We’re a tight group and we watch out for each other. Ciic won’t hear about you from us, what you tell her is your business.

Xiix sat up straight again and looked at Brzko, blinking his eyes a few times. He stood, and extended all four of his arms, intent on embracing all of them. “I love all of you. I finally feel like I belong here, I’ve found my home.” They shared a momentary group hug. “OK, Xiix sleep now.” He turned and headed to the guest room without another word.

Whotov appear right away, “Do you require anything master Ferocity?”

“No, thank you Whotov. I’m going to leave for Dragona soon.”

“Very good then, I will be here to help Xiix should he require any assistance.” Whotov turned around and headed for his quarters.

We’ll see you when you get back with Nguvu.” Brzko projected as he and M left.

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.”