"Dame Arabella Viksne, where are all the Ready-Maids?" demanded his Majesty. "All the Ready-Maid's tracking chips show that they came here. Every single Ready-Maid on the Sky Islands came here last night....and vanished. What have you done with them?"
"Ready-Maids?" Arabella asked. She looked around. "Where's my Hazel?"
"The Hazels decided they wanted to be free," Jazzlyn said. "They left to be free."
"Get them back! Immediately!" ordered the king.
"No," Jazzlyn said. "Hazels are sentient beings. Owning a sentient being is wrong."
"Your Majesty, it's not my fault the Ready-Maids left," Arabelle said. "I was in a trance, risking my life to obtain the magic dust we must have to run the alcoves...to cure thousands of people. That's much more important than a few cleaning drones."
"The dust is important, yes, but those drones were unique! They took the instructions with them, meaning that we can't make any more. You lost them and you are responsible for returning them to their owners!"
"We can't do that," Daire said. "The 'drones' are sentitent and deserve their freedom. You're talking about slavery! Moreover, the balance was seriously upset. If they hadn't gone through the portal, along with a great many other things, the portal would have imploded and wiped out this entire island. You would all have died....or worse."
"According to you!" his Majesty shot back. "What proof do you have? You're wrong about the drones being sentient. You say you have to exchange equal weight? Fine! Do it with rocks not valuable machines! Open the portal and bring the Ready-Maids back. That's a royal command! Don't you understand that they were traced here? That makes YOU responsible for them. Unless you can return them, you will have to compensate all their owners. You can't afford to do that and neither can I. I can't protect you, not even to keep the portal a secret. Too many people know about portals now, anyway."
"You are the portal keeper," the king continued. "It is your job, a job for which you have been well rewarded, to run the portal safely and for the benefit of all the Sky Islands. So, do it!" He ordered the others to take the magic dust for distribution to all the hospitals in the Sky Islands.
"Dame Arabelle, you are soon to be raised to the rank of Baron, to become Lady Viksne. I have shown a great deal of trust in you. It is time for you to show me that my trust was not misplaced."
"I have to do what he commands," Arabelle said. "Hazel and the other Ready-Maids aren't really sentient, they're just programed to act like it."
"They're not acting," Daire said. "You could open the portal but there is no way they will return to slavery and there is no way you can make them do it. That realm is too bizarre, too dangerous, to play with."
"But what else can we do?" Arabelle said. "You heard the king. The other owners of Ready-Maids will sue me for the return of their property and the portal will become common knowledge and.....it's going to be a nightmare! Worse! I can't leave this portal any longer. If I try to leave, I become terribly ill the moment I touch the door. I can't live in here for the rest of my life!"
"There's one thing we can try," Daire said. "We can invert the portal."
"Invert the portal? That's crazy!" She nodded. 'Crazy it is!"
They got right to work, bringing in Arabelle's possessions. Inverting the portal would change which reality the outer doors opened onto and break the hold the portal had on Arabelle. It wasn't to be a big jump, just a small shift so that they were still in the Sky Islands. Not the Sky Islands as they were in this reality but the changes would be minimal. Zane had his talisman and, combined with Daire's, it should be able to relocate this portal to their home dimension.
That was the theory.
"Out of the way, Sunny!" ordered Zane. You can't sleep there. Silly pup! You'll get stepped on!"
"Yes, Sunny, you're a big help. Now off the nice chair and I'll put it in place."
Jazzlyn smiled. Life with those two was going to be fun, if a little crazy at times. Sunny was much different than the bugs she had tried to make pets out of. She admired Zane's relationship with his pet. It showed her, as if she needed any further proof, that he would be a considerate, caring husband and father. She was lucky and would have to be very caring and considerate of them.
Unseen by the four friends, Dr. Miranda Waldemar and Sir Cecil Shay slipped into the portal and hid under a pile of clothing. Miranda knew Arabelle was planning to access the treasure realm. That treasure had made the king proclaim Arabelle as Dame Arabelle Viksne, the 8th baronet of Dolphin Heights. This time Miranda Waldemar would profit too. With dreams of glittering jewels dancing through her mind, Miranda burrowed deep under the clothes.
Sir Cecil wasn't as optimistic, as he hurriedly followed. Miranda was impulsive and hot-headed but the king's granddaughter's status should also protect him. The thought of gaining a fortune was very tempting.
The portal opened.
"So there you are! Where have you boys been? Never mind, we can catch up later. It looks like you've brought home everything except the kitchen sink!"
"It would have taken too long to disconnect the sink," Zane said, with a wink at Jazzlyn. "Good to see you too, Dad."