About Space & Time
The Galaxy is a big place. No matter how well you prepare, you aren’t ready for it.
Jregli thought she was tricking someone into buying her; she got more than a new Master. Shdr’edno thought he was buying a machine, and he got a slave who outsmarts him at every turn. Frank Neim thought he was pursuing a military career, and he got an opportunity to fail. Their lives collide as they try to survive Space & Time.
Before too long, her keepers (as Jregli privately named Gp’nifse and Jujk’anrl) returned and the Matron left. They made Jregli stand and helped her through a few stretches to “begin the blood flow.” After that, they took her to see Qsaw’lppi and left her there.
The less said about the time with the ancient Cousin, the better. Her condescension and incessant critique of Jregli’s non-existent abilities grated on Jregli while at the same time putting her at ease. This was how a slave should be treated, quasi-apprentice or not. Qsaw’lppi put Jregli back in her familiar, hated place. The lore lesson actually went fairly quickly.
The keepers returned after an hour and took Jregli back to what had become “their” room. A few more stretches, and then they began basic steps of a simple Dance. It was not, as Kkle’drqo had promised, strenuous, but Jregli was incredibly tired before they were done. That, too, was as it should be. A tired slave was less likely to say or do something she shouldn’t. Like mouth off to a pair of Wind Dancers who had mastered the art of subtle insults.
The midday meal was a surprise. In retrospect, Jregli wasn’t sure what she’d truly expected, but the simple, generous fare set out on a traditionally long, low table wasn’t it. The Children of the Wind did not eat extravagantly, but they did eat well. Four kinds of root, three sauces, chilled water, and a dessert of chewy ooplyt twigs was just the kind of hearty meal that the busy group needed.
Jregli observed the Dancers and Brothers and– mmm, listing all of them out was a chore; she decided to just lump them together under “Children”– Jregli observed the Children unobtrusively as she quickly ate her portion. Kkle’drqo and Rnn’fern presided over the group, sitting at opposite ends of the table and making quiet conversation with the others. The two ancient Cousins sat next to their respective leader, alertly discussing various business. The rest of the family sat on either sides of the table, alternating male-and-female down the entire length. Jregli sat between two Brothers and across from a Son, who looked young enough to not know his tail from his teeth but was actually already an accomplished fighter.
The family was quietly animated during the meal, engaging one another in spirited conversation that never rose above a gentle murmur. Jregli’s experience of family meals was admittedly limited. She’d only ever served at Wesf’ser’s table, where the Master had put forth his shallow opinions loudly, Fun’gryu had gossiped and complained in her shrill way, Drecnal had tried to make himself sound intelligent, and slaves and servants were generally ignored. This was the first time Jregli had ever eaten from a Yerbran table – the outing with the Twins didn’t count -, and she really didn’t quite know what to do with herself. So she watched, answered when spoken to, and kept her opinions to herself.
Ssl’pnkir, however, was determined to draw her out. The massive Brother sat one to the left of the little Son, whose named turned out to be Grrnoth, and seemed to take up half the table on his own. He constantly directed questions to her about life on the Station, working at the Pub, various aliens, and news from around the Galaxy. He also joked with Grrnoth about having “finally found a sparring partner your own size!” Jregli was apprehensive about that; she really didn’t want to learn the use of weaponry. It was fine and well to know about fighting techniques and combat but an entirely different thing to know how to do them. Jregli embraced the general Yerbran distaste for physical violence and couldn’t imagine why the Brothers seemed to think it a worthy pursuit.
The brief hour spent on the meal wasn’t enough time for her to gain insight into this particular topic, so Jregli filed it in her mental to-discover list and headed back to the Pub. She bid Rnn’fern and Kkle’drqo fair nooning and dashed out the door.
Hearing rhythmic footfalls behind her brought Jregli to a sudden halt.
“Something amiss, little Sister?” Ssl’pnkir asked, twitching his tail with good humor as he stopped behind her.
“Mmm, wh– may I enquire of the Brother his purpose in leaving the family enclave?” Jregli tried for formality, which brought a great laugh out of Ssl’pnkir.
“I’m making certain you arrive safely, Tiny One! I know that you’re scrappy and savvy enough to care for yourself, but it’s our duty to take good care of you. Patron investigated the incident you mentioned this morning, with the female hiding weapons, and found that it was a bigger even than you knew! So he’s sent me along after you, to make certain nothing happens to you on the way back. I’m also supposed to learn from you what kinds of dangerous things to keep the weather eye on around here. Come along, then, Tiny! Let’s get you back to your Uncle!”
At Ssl’pnkir’s urging, Jregli dumbly continued her jog. It wasn’t long before the crowds forced her to a quick walk, though the sentients who saw Ssl’pnkir quickly gave them both a wide berth. The enormous Brother noticed this cheerfully and then quickly ignored it in favor of grilling Jregli on the Station.
Her first answers were automatic and to the point as Jregli tried to absorb the concept of herself having a bodyguard. After a while, as they continued through the press, she got past the shock and could answer more normally, even volunteering a few things. It was still a truly bizarre circumstance, however.
They arrived at the Pub in good time, with ten mins to spare. Ssl’pnkir expressed interest, so Jregli brought him inside and gave him the quick tour. Inop, standing at the host’s station, welcomed the huge man without a qualm. Ressnib, coming out from the storeroom, went very still when he saw them. After a moment, however, he came out of it and greeted them easily.
Ssl’pnkir didn’t linger; he bid Jregli a cheerful farewell and ducked out the main door. Somehow, having her size mentioned by this Brother didn’t sound as derogatory as it should. The employees on duty in the Pub peppered Jregli with questions about her time with the Children, which she answered as cheerfully and briefly as she could.
After a few minutes, Shdr’edno came out of his office. “It is good to see you return, little pet. Do come into my office and tell me of your morning.”
Jregli followed Shdr’edno into his office submissively.
“She always looks like she’s going in for a whipping when he calls her in,” Wilson noted as he hefted a tray of food to his shoulder.
“That may it be, that it she expects,” Immud replied, trudging off with his own orders. No one else said anything as they resumed their duties.
Shdr’edno sat before his screens, letting his slave stand by the door as it closed. “You reek of fnneri oil; did you fall into a vat of it?”
“No, my Lord. They rubbed it in to alleviate the muscle soreness caused by the physical therapy,” the brat mumbled.
“What physical therapy?” he snapped. “You are there to learn how to walk with tripping on your own feet, not for therapy!”
“They determined that, in order for me to learn anything, I need extensive reconditioning. Each day with them will begin with an hour or so of such treatments, to strengthen my muscles and straighten my spine. It was decided that I couldn’t learn properly with this,” she rasped out.
“What did they do to your voice? Are they trying to turn you into a Singer?”
“They steamed dried ffc’ial for me to breathe, my lord. I was told it would not fix anything, but it would help somewhat.”
“Then they aren’t complete idiots. How many are there?” Shdr’edno flicked on a recorder and turned part of his attention to the daily log.
He grilled her on the layout of the group, their quarters, their habits. A few hours wasn’t enough time for anyone to fully infiltrate a place, but he wasn’t going to give her any footholds to hang an excuse on. It was irritating that the brat got such preferential treatment. As he thought about it, though, it made sense. The Dancers did have a habit of fawning over everyone they met.
Shdr’edno was definitely not pleased to hear that his slave would receive weapons training. She babbled that she would do her best to refuse as many lessons in that as possible while claiming she couldn’t get out of them entirely. Mmm, he would have to see about that. It was not proper for a female to learn weaponry, after all, the baseness of combat itself aside.
Hearing that there were two old crones advising the Matron and Patron was interesting. Perhaps there was an opportunity there. Wise and learned they might be, but they would still need someone to help them with all these aliens, wouldn’t they?
And there were more of this family back Home, were there? He chastised the brat for not finding out how many. Stupid slave; that should have been the obvious follow-up question. She also should have probed for more information on those others, particularly if they were to join this group or stay back Home. How did they grow their membership? Brat didn’t know. He gave her some more derision.
He was pleased to note that she seemed very tired and worn, not to mention sore. She kept shifting from side to side, trying to stretch without seeming to. Were he not paying very careful attention to her from the backs of his eyes, he might not have realized what she was doing. But he was the wiser; he knew he had to keep the weather eye on her, the conniving little brat. Mmm, though the training she was getting might augment her skill to the point that even his caution would not detect her body language. Good thing he’d thought of that.
Shdr’edno kept questioning her for about an hour; he thought that was an appropriate length of time to keep her there. He went over every detail she gave him, phrasing the same question in different words to trip her up, see if she was hiding anything. Several times her words stumbled, but it seemed more due to sloppiness than sneakiness. Once of twice, he felt certain she was keeping a fact from him. He leapt to an unrelated question, then to another, and then back to the topic in doubt, but the mumbling brat kept the same story. He didn’t quite trust her, but it would have to do for now. He did, after all, have other sources.
She’d already been fed, so Shdr’edno sent her to update the inventory and shelve the most recent shipment, which had carefully been left for her. That should keep her occupied for at least two hours. He hoped; the brat had a nasty habit of completing things ahead of his estimations.
Watching her and the employees on his screens, Shdr’edno began compiling the data on the Dancers that he had dug up so far. There wasn’t much that was new, but every bit was useful, if one were careful. He pulled up the imagery of the giant who’d followed the brat back to the Pub. His name was … Ssl’pnkir, yes. Just under eighty-one Cycles, no mate, no young. Member of Uunfe Dpolqr since he hatched, sire and dam deceased. Shdr’edno dug out everything he could on the big man before turning to the other, more important Stars Watchers.
- Kkle’drqo: 78 Cycles; Became Matron at 71; Mated at 56 Cycles to Gpo’wkil; Had some medical training; No young.
- Rnn’fern: 112 Cycles; Became Patron at 82; Mated at 100 Cycles to Oonh’kill; Two younglings.
- Gpo’wkil: 84 Cycles; Mated at 62 Cycles to Kkle’drqo; Left family and inheritance to mate her; Chief legal advisor to Stars Watchers.
- Oonh’kill: 62 Cycles; Mated at 50 Cycles to Rnn’fern; Chief of Public Relations for Stars Watchers.
- Qsaw’lppi: 207 Cycles; Chief Advisor to Matron & Grand Dame.
- Tuue’plk: 210 Cycles; Chief Advisor to Patron & Grand Don.
How very interesting.
Shdr’edno sat back as he mused over these findings. As with all good research, this raised far more questions than it answered. He was very eager to see if the brat would be able to dig up anything on the “Grand Don” and “Grand Dame” and if it would come close to what he would find out.
So very interesting, indeed.