1st Place – January 2021


By JJ Rushmore

I called him Moe.
Moe’s full name was Mohammed dor Xylane, Crown Prince of the Seven Planets, Heir to the Burrlian Empire. Our friendship allowed me to dispense with ‘Your Royal Highness’ when we were alone and call him by a nickname no one else dared use. He called me Larry, but I’m just plain Laurence Gore. Mostly.
Officially, I was Moe’s chauffer and extra-palace bodyguard. Palace intrigues made his life precarious, and he only trusted off-worlders like me to protect him outside the palace walls, people not susceptible to local politics and ideologies. Inside the palace the Royal Guard safeguarded him and his family.
Yesterday a Guardsman came to my door. I could see his distaste for me even through his sleek, full body fur. And then there was his scent.
Burrlians secreted unique aromas to match their moods. There were subtle differences in their scent to match a specific emotional state (say anger versus annoyance), but a human nose could only detect a native’s overall mood. The odors weren’t always familiar, but they were distinct. The Guardsman at my door exuded an odor like sour vomit.
“His Highness requires your presence,” he said. He spun on his claws and left, his silvery robe swirling.
Burrlians were bipeds who had no need for shoes. They reminded me of cats as they glided along, but on two legs instead of four. Although Burrl’s climate made clothing unnecessary, Burrlians customarily wore hooded robes. The robes displayed different colors and fabrics to designate membership in their complicated caste system.
There was nothing unusual about Moe’s summons. He required me to be on call at all times.
I picked him up at the palace gate. A Guardsman placed a bag in the boot of my armored gravmobile, and Moe settled into the rear passenger compartment. We spoke via the vehicle’s intercom.
“Where to, Moe?”
I raised my eyebrows.
Xylane, in addition to being the royal family’s name, was the capital’s spaceport.
“So, what planet are we going to?” I wished he had let me know so I could have packed. His potential destinations varied from the Empire’s third planet Volusia, which had eternal icy blizzards, to the seventh planet Morgon, which was hotter than a Sirius IV mud bath. I was prepared for neither.
“Not we—me. I am traveling on the Drenz.”
Drenz was short for Conchran Drenz, which loosely translated meant “The Emperor’s Fist,” an Empire battle cruiser. The Burrlian Star Force forbade off-worlders on their ships. Moe, as the Star Force’s Commander-in-Chief, could have made an exception for me, but must have thought my presence on a military ship with a crew of 50 superfluous.
“First take me to the bazaar,” he said.
My eyebrows worked overtime. Moe never visited the Grand Bazaar. It was a security nightmare.
When we arrived, he told me to stay put. I protested, but he silenced me with an upturned paw. He raised his hood, exited the vehicle, and disappeared into a teeming multi-colored swarm of cloaked Burrlians. I quickly lost Moe’s brilliant white robe in the crowd.
After a while he returned, but not alone. His companion also wore the white robe of the royal family. They settled themselves in the back of the gravmobile, the two cloaked figures nearly identical cloaked in their raised hoods.
Over the intercom Moe said, “To Xylane, Larry.”
I watched my passengers in the rear view. They barely moved and did not appear to speak.
We arrived at the spaceport’s main gate.
Moe instructed me to return his companion to the bazaar and left the gravmobile. A phalanx of uniformed Space Force sailors surrounded him, the sparkling jewels dotting their jet-black robes complementing his pure white one. Moe’s hood bobbed above those of the sailors as they entered the terminal.
A few hours later my cochlear comm buzzed. It could only be one person.
“What’s going on, Gore? Where were you, Lieutenant?” Colonel Trank of the Galactic Police sounded like he was in the same room, but his voice was only in my head, his voice projected through a cochlear implant radio. We avoided communicating this way because it required me to speak out loud, but he was always listening in.
“What do you mean? I was right here,” I said to an empty room.
“I meant where were you when the Drenz exploded, incinerating all aboard including the prince. You were supposed to protect him!”
“Wha…a…a…t? I just dropped him off.” I was stunned. Full fur and Simian tail notwithstanding, Moe had been a good friend.
“You were supposed to stick with him. Why didn’t you?”
“They don’t allow civilians on their battleships,” I said. “Besides, he didn’t want me to go. He could have got me aboard, but he didn’t.”
 “Fix this, Gore. We need the Burrlians to re-sign the mining contract or the GP is grounded. Your relationship with Prince Mohammed was supposed to guarantee that. Now the contract’s in jeopardy.”
He terminated the connection.
My mission was to preserve the Galactic contract for mining Diamagnetite, the essential mineral for the gravitron star drives powering Galactic Police cruisers. The Burrlian Empire controlled 80% of the mineral’s known galactic supply.
Without an entry into the palace hierarchy, I was nowhere. I only had one option, and her name was Rihanna.
Pounding on my door brought me back to reality.
Another Royal Guardsman. Another summons. “Her Highness requires your presence.”
“Her Highness” had to be Princess Rihanna, fifth wife and now widow of Prince Mohammed dor Xylane. My afterburners screamed in protest as I raced to the palace.
“Take me to the zoo,” she ordered as she entered the vehicle.
Burrlians didn’t cry. At least this one didn’t.
“Walk with me,” she said when we arrived.
Somewhere around the Norgonian monopods she began.
“Where were you, Laurence? You were supposed to protect him!”
“I did what he told me. He didn’t want me to accompany him.” Almost like he knew…
“Now what do we do?” she said.
“There is no ‘we,’ Rihanna. You’re Prince Mohammed’s wife, and I’m his chauffeur.”
“You were supposed to be his bodyguard. And I was only Mohammed’s fifth wife. Thanks to you he is dead, and now I belong to his brother Rashid, which makes me Rashid’s ninth wife. A ninth wife is lower than Volusian Kinker dung.”
She grasped my arm with both of hers and curled her tail around my waist as we walked. The strong scent of cinnamon wafted up from her fur, a sure sign of her arousal, and a precursor of my succumbing to her charms. In spite of the obvious differences of fur and claws, Burrlian anatomies were surprisingly human-like, and coupling between the species was entirely possible. We had enjoyed testing the scientific theories with much creative experimentation.
“Will we ever see each other again?” she moaned.
“I don’t know. Maybe Rashid will allow me to escort you on trips to the city like Mohammed did. We must be discreet. That’s the only way we’ll get to see each other. Maybe you could ask him.”
Her tone abruptly changed. “Rashid dislikes humans. They are untrustworthy. You, for instance, violated your friend’s trust by sleeping with his wife.”
I was surprised to hear it in such harsh terms, especially from Rihanna.
“You do not defend yourself,” she said.
“What you say is true, but what about you? You slept with your husband’s friend.”
“These things mean much less to us. I do what I have to for my planet, for my empire.”
Several figures emerged from the shadows; figures cloaked in jet-black robes dotted with sparkling jewels. The Space Force troops surrounded us. A lone hooded Burrlian in a brilliant white robe approached. He lowered his hood.
“M…Moe?” I stammered.
“Your Royal Highness, if you please.”
“But I thought—?”
“—I was dead? You are easily manipulated, even for a human. Did you think we did not know your real identity, Lieutenant? That you still report to Colonel Trank with your implanted radio? That you came to save the Diamagnetite contract? As Crown Prince I am also Chief of Burrl’s Secret Police.”
The acrid aroma of brimstone had replaced Moe’s familiar musky scent. Rihanna had moved close to Moe, her cinnamon odor now gone.
“So, who died in your place?”
“A patriot and a martyr,” he said, “along with several royal family members plotting against me. You humans are too transparent; you have no honor. We will keep our minerals, ground your Galactic Police cruisers and keep them out of our quadrant.” He glared at me. “And we will exact punishment on those who conspired against us. Do not forget we punish crimes by removing the offending body part.”
“Uh, Colonel?” I said aloud.
“Sorry, Gore. I can’t help you.”
Moe smirked. “See? He will not save you, Larry. You humans have no honor.”
I exuded an unpleasant odor, one related to fear and loss of control of bodily functions.

Writers’ workshop and writing group