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.
“Ai, I’ll bet many,” Wilson said. “The chicos told me she seemed tired when they picked her up, and I remember that lav incident was the night before. Funswrub left early, y’know?”
“And you know that he had something to do with that!” Mahl cried, clenching her hands tighter.
“In fact, we don’t, Mother,” Ressnib patted her arm comfortingly. “We suspect, but we’ve no proof. Trying to uncover proof isn’t going to get us anywhere, either. What will be useful is helping the kiddo. We make sure we don’t leave our own tasks undone and we keep the others on top of their work. Make sure they don’t leave extra work for her.”
“Hey, we could compliment her more, too,” Wilson added. “Everyone likes to know they’re doing good work and they’re appreciated!”
Mahl waved her hands in a negating motion. “No, no; the poor child would be embarrassed! Besides, Yerbrans consider compliments a form of manipulation; she’ll wonder what we’re trying to get from her. No, we can’t do that. But we can do things that compliment her. We’ve been using those new procedures she developed, have we not? Let us continue! Any mention we make of them should be slight, but she will hear it and mark our kind regard. Let us ask her for her opinion, for her guidance!”
“She is still a child, Mahl.” Ressnib cautioned. “We can’t go acting like she’s the Mistress of the place.”
‘P objected. “She is incredibly smart for a child, Ressnib. And don’t forget that she’s older than she looks; Yerbrans age slowly, so she’s had time to increase her mental faculties. Why, when I was her Standard Age, I was barely six Standard years old! Jregli’s been alive for over nineteen Standard years, and she’s not let any of them go to waste. Funswrub tells me that lav nearly cleans itself now. She must have spent hours in there, not just cleaning up the mess but repairing the machinery. How many children think to do that? And how many children can do that? Outside of my Race, not many; we can repair reactors by the time we’re six Standard Units of Age, but that’s not common in the Mutuality.”
“So, hey,” Wilson interjected, “why don’t we ask her to help us with stuff? Y’know, how we should fix something, or how we can make something work better. She loves that stuff; she’s always tinkering at the console, figuring ways to do things easier, si? We don’t dump it on her, and we don’t act helpless, but we can act like we value her input.”
“That might work,” Ressnib grudgingly allowed. “I just don’t want to make the Boss feel that we’re trying to pull something over him. He owns the place, and she’s just a kid.”
“Well, we just make certain we don’t act like the poor dear is in charge,” Mahl suggested. “We make her feel valued and appreciated, is all! Oh, this is something we can do!” This time, her hand-rubbing was gleeful.
“And here’s another thing we can do: we can make sure the others keep in line,” Wilson added with a scowl. “Eddes, Dillone, and Chinu are real bums, y’know? And Yurs-ond complains all the time. We make sure they don’t give Jregli any grief.”
Ressnib put a restraining hand on Mahl’s arm. “Mahl, let us talk to them. You focus on the kiddo, and we’ll keep the boyos in check.” Mahl grunted softly but nodded.
When the alarm went off the next morning , Jregli was ready for it. It was still far too early after not nearly enough sleep, but she was ready for it. Mostly. Grumbling quietly, she reached over, slapped the pad to silence it, and hauled herself up.
She tried to haul herself up. Wind and sand! She hurt! Every muscles felt like one big cramp; had Llnnoo’drrp massaged her or run a herd of hh’kkledre over her? She could easily imagine hundreds of paw prints stamped into her scales. Grunting with the effort (and not keening in the slightest), Jregli pulled herself to her feet. Taking a min to catch her breath, she slowly began stretching up to her full height. That took a good five mins to accomplish. At least Shdr’edno would get a good laugh out of it when he played back the ‘feed.
Jregli bit back a moan as she lumbered out to the Pub. After visiting the lav, she pulled up the main console and got to work. A bit of stiffness was no excuse for shirking her duties. Ressnib and Mahl had closed out last night, and they’d done a thorough job of it. But it wouldn’t hurt to put an extra pair of eyes to things, so Jregli went over their logs. She found a negligible error in Mahl’s report, fixed it, and wondered what she was going to do with herself for the rest of the hour and a half before going to the Dancers. The cleaning was basically done, and what little was left took less than ten mins. She took apart another ‘fabber and reconditioned it, eating up another twenty mins. Then she ran the bots over the floors again for good measure while she emptied the lower shelves behind the bar and scrubbed them down.
After updating the inventory logs, scheduling orders for the next three weeks, tallying the log of broken dishes against an actual count, and climbing up to the ceiling to straighten a row of area lights that was slightly off center, Jregli’s muscles had loosened up and the time had trickled by. If she’d known there would be so little to do, she would have slept longer! Leaving everything in order for opening, she dashed to the door and opened it.
And leapt back with a startled cry. A lean Yerbran man stood next to the door; Jregli had nearly run into him. It took her a second to remember him from the lunch with the Stars Watchers. Hearts pounding, Jregli reassembled her wits as he turned to face her.
“Brother Yy’qundffe, my apologies. I was in too great a hurry,” she said respectfully in Yerbran. Jregli bowed low, wondering what in the Galaxy he was doing, obviously waiting for her. She was very glad that he did not leave her to wonder for long.
“Fair dawning to you, too, Daughter Jregli! Given the uproar of Yesterday, Patron thought it best that you not wander around the Station unaccompanied.” Yy’qundffe had a light, mellow voice and a cheerfully sly flick in his tail. He leaned down and whispered confidentially, “He also hoped that you could teach us more about the Station. We’ve been learning what we can, but you have far more experience than we do. Patron was quite astonished by the depth of your knowledge, and he always bids us learn from the best sources!” He stood back up, radiating good humor.
Jregli stared blankly at him until he stepped forward. “Come, Sister! Time we get going!” She numbly pattered after him. Just as Ssl’pnkir had done, he asked her many questions about everything they passed. Jregli focused the larger portion of her attention on answering him fully and trying to ignore the smaller portion of her brain that was trying to figure out why the Stars Watchers thought she needed protecting.
Yy’qundffe set a brisk but not arduous pace, so they arrived quickly at the quarters the Children had taken. Jregli bowed to Kkle’drqo, who was waiting for her in the guise of checking the potted shrubs in the courtyard, and scurried into the room set aside for her “lessons”.
Llnnoo’drrp was ready for her and had a bright gleam in his eyes. Jregli wondered if the man had a bit of sadism in him; he was certainly eager to work her over again! He checked her over, pronounced himself pleased with her condition, and had her lay down again. As Jregli wondered where her keepers were, the pair of Dancers burst into the room and skidded to a stop.
“Fair dawning, young Sisters,” Llnnoo’drrp greeted them without turning. As the tardy Dancers guiltily bowed and mumbled excuses, Jregli decided that before she finished here, she would have to learn just how these people managed to deliver an entire lecture with an offhand remark.
When Jregli awakened, she felt even worse than the day before. Jujk’anrl was rubbing the ffneri oil into Jregli’s legs, which lay uncomfortably stretched to their full extent, while Gp’nifse chattered. Jregli decided to pretend she hadn’t come to, but a groan managed to escape and alert the two.
“Oh, fair dawning, little Sister! I’m so glad to see that you are with us again!” Gp’nifse lowered herself to the floor, trying to come even with Jregli’s eyes. Jujk’anrl finished with Jregli’s legs, so Jregli began scrambling into a sitting position.
“Take ease, little Sister!” Jujk’anrl scolded mildly. “You don’t want to undo all of Llnnoo’drrp’s effort, do you?”
“No, my lady,” Jregli answered quietly, and sat very still for the rest of the oiling. Gp’nifse picked up a datapad and assumed a lecturing posture and tone.
“We’ll continue with Yinfi’elr’s lesson from yesterday , Sisters. Jregli, please recite the four principles of conversation.”
Jregli answered that one easily and spent the rest of thehour proving to the Dancers that she wasn’t an idiot. Spending more time with these two convinced Jregli that between them, they had almost an entire brain. They were pleasant enough, and they were naturally excellent Dancers, but they weren’t much for conversation. This hour of her lessons was likely going to be the longest one.
Just before the mid-morning break, Jujk’anrl had Jregli stand up and stretch out to prevent stiffness. Jregli was so relieved to stop answering inane questions that she jumped to her feet. Naturally, it took a mere nano-sec for her to regret it and she spent the next ten mins listening to another lecture, but she got herself stretched out and followed her keepers to the large room where they’d had lunch the day before. The long table was stacked in sections against the side wall, and the Children gathered loosely around two smaller tables to the right of the doorway.
The snacks on the table brought a rumble to Jregli’s belly. Gp’nifse laughed and waved Jregli forward. “You younglings are always hungry! Go, get a plateful and a glass. We’ll meet you over there in a few minutes.”
Jregli made her way carefully over to the tables, hoping to avoid attention. She knew it was a vain hope, but she tried anyway. She meekly returned the greetings of the family as she sidled up to the table. Grrnoth had just finished piling a small plate with a mountain of this and that when she got there.
“Fair morn, Sister Jregli,” he said shyly with a bow made awkward by the overfilled plate in his hands.
“Fair morn, Brother Grrnoth,” Jregli replied quietly, returning an equally awkward bow caused by her natural lack of balance combined with a sudden twinge in her tail from all the massaging. She heard a few chuckles behind her from the adults and a whisper about adorable younglings. Grrnoth apparently heard it too, since he stiffened, curled his tail in embarrassment, and hurried off.
“Making friends, are you, Tiny One?” Ssl’pnkir strode up and grabbed two of the small plates. He thrust one at Jregli, saying, “Young Grrnoth is a good lad, but he needs to work on his social skills! You’ll be good practice for him for that. Now, load up; it’s been a long time since breaksfast! No need to be shy; growing younglings need to eat, and you need a lot of growing!”
Again, Jregli found it difficult to take any offense at Ssl’pnkir’s words. Anyone else she would automatically have assumed was insulting her, but Ssl’pnkir just obviously didn’t mean it that way. When she hesitated to select food, he filled her plate for her, cheerfully lecturing her on nutrition and commenting on the health of the others in the family, including Gp’nifse and Jujk’anrl, who were now at the tables, getting their own snacks.
The Dancers flirted shamelessly with the giant man, who returned the favor. After several moments, they herded Jregli over to their chosen spot and began gossiping quietly. As Jregli quickly munched through the load on her plate, she wondered if her keepers thought they were being nice and including her in their chatter, or at least making certain she wasn’t left alone during the break. Of course, Jregli couldn’t offer anything to the gossip, so the two ignored her, and no one seemed inclined to join their triad, which made Jregli feel completely isolated.