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.
They began with simple stretches to loosen up their limbs and prepare both body and mind for Dancing. Jujk’anrl demonstrated the movements carefully, explaining the particulars, while Gp’nifse helped Jregli position herself.
It was, predictably, a humiliating start. It was also very painful. Jregli shouldered aside the discomfort and determined that she would defeat this as she had everything else she’d come across.
Jregli’s center of balance was nearly non-existent, which made many of the upright stretches difficult in the extreme. She could not make her body fully extend as Jujk’anrl could. She could not hold any position for even a second without severe trembling. The strain caused her to breathe harshly (when she wasn’t holding her breath from the effort).
After perhaps fifteen mins of trying, Gp’nifse called a halt. “I think we had best try something different. Sister Jregli, you’ve not had the opportunity to perform these stretches before, and it is unreasonable of us to press you so. Jujk’anrl, what do you say to leading sister Jregli in some meditations while I prepare a massage?”
“I think, sister, that a peaceful meditation would benefit our new sister well; for the massage, perhaps you should consult with Llnnoo’drrp before making any preparations,” Jujk’anrl replied thoughtfully. Jregli wondered who Llnnoo’drrp was and why his advice was worth anything. Her twitching muscles made her very uncharitable, she noticed.
Gp’nifse agreed and left. Jujk’anrl directed Jregli to sit on the floor while she fetched some water. Jregli took the proffered cup and drank, still out of sorts enough to not be bothered much that an adult served her. When Jregli’s breathing returned to normal, Jujk’anrl had her close her eyes and focus on slow, deep breaths.
As Jregli ordered her breaths, which were so loud and rasping compared to the Dancer’s, Jujk’anrl began a soft, wordless song. The melody was simple, with only three parts, the tempo slow yet steady. When the sound began, Jregli tensed again, waiting for anything to happen. After some mins, nothing did happen. Slowly, Jregli let the tension go and began listening to the song.
Jujk’anrl’s voice was light and fluttery, like a scrap of cloth on the Verdant Winds. She wove the tune expertly, with all the grace and dignity one would expect of a Dancer. The piece was uncomplicated, little more than background noise, and despite herself, Jregli relaxed.
Not that she enjoyed it. Oh, no. It was merely another reminder of all that she could never have. With such mutilated chambers, Jregli would never be able to sing even the simplest songs. She would never be able to match the pleasant singing Jujk’anrl made so effortlessly. Were she made of less stern stuff, she might give in to a heartsbroken keen.
Gp’nifse’s return shattered the mood. Which was appropriate, after all. “It was wise of you to suggest speaking with Llnnoo’drrp, Jujk’anrl. He had many ideas to help Jregli which I think will be quite effective. Come, sister Jregli; let me introduce you.”
Jregli climbed to her feet, dismayed at how stiff she’d become in such a short time. Mmm, it was a short time, wasn’t it? She’d lost track, listening to Jujk’anrl sing.
They walked to an upstairs room on the Brother’s side of the quarters and entered without pressing the announcer. Inside, an older man, perhaps one hundred seventy-five Cycles, continued arranging a blanket on the floor. Several plastofab bottles sat to one side along with several rubbing cloths. To his other side were three bowls filled with dried leaves and a hotplate holding a steaming carafe.
“New one, mmm?” he stated, flicking the blanket into its final position. Standing and stepping over it, he approached.
“Brother Llnnoo’drrp, this is Jregli, who has come to study with us and learn the code of the Wind. She has never practiced such movements as we make, and so it is hard on her. Jregli, this is Llnnoo’drrp, one of the senior Brothers and our fisiker. He has much practice with muscles both untrained and injured, and he will help you bring yours to better health.”
Llnnoo’drrp and Jregli regarded one another in silence. He was somewhat short, with muscles beginning to show the effects of age. A few scars traced pale lines across his chest and forearms, making Jregli wonder just what sort of life he’d lived. Scars were not common among their people; some of his were parallel and reminded Jregli of claw marks.
“Right,” Llnnoo’drrp broke the stalemate. “You look a smart child, so I won’t give you pretty, empty words. Plain as my eye that you’re in bad shape, so we’ve a lot of work to do. We’ll start now with some adjustments and massage therapy, and I will tell you now that you’re going to hate every second of it. It’s going to be very painful, even though we’ll take it slowly. It’ll be hard work, and you’re going to have to work the hardest. You do stick with it, and I promise you’ll be in the best possible shape. You’ll feel a sight better than you ever have, too.”
The best possible shape still wouldn’t be much, given what they had to work with. Still, if it helped her have better balance and poise and made her less offensive to look at …
“I have never turned from hard work, lord Llnnoo’drrp. I wish to do honor by the honor done me by this family.” Jregli practiced some of Yinfi’elr’s lesson by matching Llnnoo’drrp’s posture and straightforward tone. She also made certain to keep her posture open and to counter his tail position. It seemed to please Llnnoo’drrp, who grunted and turned to the blanket.
“Right. Lay down here, and stretch your legs out to the back. Dancers, you two fetch the cloths in the warmer over there. Child, we’ll start with damp heat on all the major joints and muscle groups. These herbs we’ll steep so you can breathe the steam; it’ll clear some of your sinuses. I want you to relax, now; if you tense up, we’ll get nowhere. Here are the hot cloths; you’ll get used to them in a minute. close your eyes so I can drape this one over your head and the bowl. Breathe easy and long …”
It wasn’t so bad, really. Until Llnnoo’drrp began squeezing her scrawny muscles with his large, very strong hands. Before it was over, Jregli’s screams had dissolved into whimpers.
Jregli regained consciousness to the sound of soft humming and gentle pressure on her back. Her head lay turned awkwardly to one side, allowing someone to rub oil between her shoulder blades. Groaning, she opened her eyes.
“Good morning, Daughter,” Kkle’drqo greeted her quietly. “Yes, it is still morning; you’ve been asleep less than an hour. Llnnoo’drrp is finished for today, and we won’t have you do anything strenuous for the rest of the time you’re here.”
“Nnnn,” was Jregli’s intelligent response.
“That was not a pleasant experience, I am certain, but you did very well. No, don’t get up just yet; you need time to get your bearings. You’ll be rather sore, I’m afraid, for a while. I’ve been massaging fnneri oil into you, and that will help prevent stiffness. When you feel up to it, there’s a cup of water for you there. It has iibupfrn in it to ease the pain.”
“You … why are you doing this? You’re the Matron, not a s—slave,” Jregli rasped.
“I’m also the fisiker’s second for our family. I spent many of my hours as a Daughter assisting with medicinals and injuries. Llnnoo’drrp needed to teach his lesson on defensive tactics, Gp’nifse and Jujk’anrl went to their meditations, the Dancers rehearse, the Brothers train or stand guard, Rnn’fern meets with Station Security, and the Cousins have particular duties. I am the only one available to tend you.” Kkle’drqo tucked the blanket under Jregli’s tail.
“You could have let me be; I – I can see to myself,” Jregli began.
“Nonsense,” the Matron shushed her. “You’ve undergone the first of a series of intensive medical treatments. No one expects you to care for yourself in this condition.”
“Medical treatments? But … it was only a massage!”
“Mmm, but a massage of a medically therapeutic sort. In order for you to be able to learn to Dance, you need a great deal of physical therapy to recondition your body.”
“But … medical treatments have to be done by a Mutuality physician, not just a fisiker! You have to get approval, a license, to practice outside the Med Center.”
“Calmly, Daughter,” Kkle’drqo pressed Jregli back down, “or you may do yourself an injury. Yes, we are aware of these rules. Don’t worry about it; it’s taken care of. Now, do you feel that you can have a drink?”
“Yes, Matron.” Giving up, Jregli accepted the cup. After drinking, she lay back in the blankets.
A sudden realization jerked her halfway upright, causing Kkle’drqo to scold.
“My voice! It’s … it’s not as bad as it usually is! And I can breathe better, too!”
Jregli’s voice was still harsh and painful to listen to, but it was noticeably less so than usual. Taking a deep breath, Jregli felt shocked at how easily the air passed through her secondary chamber. For so many Cycles, air had always “caught” when moving from her sinuses to the tertiaries, creating a buzz that was now absent.
Well, not entirely absent, but she doubted anyone else could hear it now.
“Ah, that would be the result of the ffc’ial herbs that Llnnoo’drrp steamed for you; they’re quite cleansing. We use them often to remove phlegm and hydrate the membranes. It won’t reverse damage, and it doesn’t heal infections, but it is excellent for daily use.”
“I don’t sound so bad,” Jregli marveled.
“It is an improvement, and you will see much more in the days to come. Given that your situation is far different than most apprentices we take, I think now is the time to tell you what you may expect. Most younglings who come to us for training are under contracts that clearly define their duties and ours. You have no such contract and therefore no such definition. This, then is what your days among us will be like:
“You must arrive by the fifth hour of each day except Sixth day, which shall be your time for personal reflection upon what you have learned. Your first exercise will be with Llnnoo’drrp, who will continue your therapies. After this, you shall rest and regain your strength. Jujk’anrl and Gp’nifse will sit with you during this time and teach you deportment and social graces.
“At the eighth hour, we have a brief pause for refreshment (although you are expected to drink as much water as you wish during all lessons). Following this, you will go to Cousin Dsno’ee for song lessons. Then, you will go to Qsaw’lppi for lore at the tenth hour. Following this, Jujk’anrl and Gp’nifse will teach you Dancing. Lastly, you will take Midday repast with us, and then return to your Master no later than the thirteenth hour.”
That meant, converting the Yerbran twenty-two hour day into the Mutuality’s Star-Standard twenty-hour day, that Jregli would have to be at the Dancers’ quarters by 0600 and back to the Pub by 1230. To complete all her morning chores before leaving, she would have to rise no later than 0400. To complete all her evening chores after closing, she would not get to sleep before midnight. If she made certain to nap after sessions with Llnnoo’drrp, it was just doable. She’d be running to meet herself every day, but it could be done. She thought.
“Matron? If I may … I wonder why I must have singing lessons. It’s obvious that I can’t sing. After all, I’m not here to become a Dancer or to perform. I’m just here to learn some balance and manners. It isn’t that I’m going to become one of you,” Jregli put in, as humbly as she could.
Kkle’drqo eyed her for several mins before replying.
“No, child, you are quite correct. You will never be one of us. However, you will learn more that mere ‘balance and manners.’ We would fail in our duty if we taught so little, and so you will learn the songs whether you perform them or not. What use you put these things to is your own choice. Our choice is to do our duty.”
So, that meant that all this was just the Dancers doing their duty, upholding their status. That was a relief to Jregli. She’d been getting worried, thinking they had some other, sneaky motive.