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.
Once the little girl was settled into Yinfi’elr’s deportment lecture, Kkle’drqo called a meeting with her fellow family leaders. Qsaw’lppi and Tuue’plk might have the mere titles of Advisers, but their wisdom guided Kkle’drqo and Rnn’fern through countless events, as it had for over one hundred Cycles. The situation with the little slave-yet-Daughter was one the Kkle’drqo desperately needed help with.
She did not pace in her chamber by virtue of a lifetime of training, but her mind whirled. There was so much to consider, so many facets to this problem! When Gpo’wkil entered, she gave a breathy trill of relief and reached for him. Her mate came close, grasping her outstretched hands. Placing his head gently alongside hers, he hummed a soft drone to help soothe her. After several moments, her good humor restored, Kkle’drqo released her hold and looked to the others who’d arrived.
“A strong mate is a bulwark ‘gainst the winds,” Tuue’plk noted, his age-cracked voice warming in approval. His once-ebony scales had dimmed to a soft charcoal over the two hundred and eight Cycles of his life, his skin sagged over flaccid muscles, and his long tail drooped with the weight of time, but his eyes were undimmed and his mind as sharp as ever.
“Particularly those of one’s own making,” Qsaw’lppi added dryly, moving to her friend and fellow Adviser’s side. She was still a striking woman with rich, brown scales and a deep, velvety voice despite her two hundred and seven Cycles. The slight quiver of her legs betrayed the palsy that was her only concession to age.
“Our fault lies in the poor training of our Children,” Kkle’drqo replied calmly, inviting them to sit on the cushions. “It was not a fault to make reparations for that error.”
“Was it not?” Qsaw’lppi replied archly. “Who would find a wrong in combining repayment to the child with that of the lord?”
“Legally, that is appropriate,” Gpo’wkil added in his soft voice.
“But hardly right!” Oonh’kill exclaimed as she bounded into the chamber. “We have moral obligations that transcend mere legalities! It’s not right to ignore someone just because she’s a child, especially if we erred against her. Did not Pruy’thipms teach that we need look beyond ourselves to all those–”
“Quote not the Founder to us, Child,” Qsaw’lppi interrupted, flicking her tail. “I daresay I’ve had a bit of time to study his words and meditate ‘pon them.”
“Take ease, mate.” Rnn’fern stepped alongside Oonh’kill and twined his tail with hers. Startled by the display of affection, Oonh’kill forgot her hot retort. As Rnn’fern intended, Kkle’drqo knew; the Patron cared deeply for his feisty mate but was not given to publicly showing it. With Oonh’kill distracted, Rnn’fern turned to the discussion.
“The matter stands thus: we wronged the child and her Lord. We offered reparation to each. The Lord’s requirement was outrageous but not unexpected. The child’s requirement was both. By our code, we must comply with both. By the law, we cannot oblige the child. Is this the sum of it?” Rnn’fern settled himself and his mate on the cushions as Kkle’drqo and Gpo’wkil murmured assent.
Tuue’plk asked the obligatory question. “And why does the law supersede our code?”
“Jregli confirmed to me that she is the ‘Ovvunnith’s slave.” Kkle’drqo hated to say it; it made her feel … unclean to speak the word aloud.
“I knew it!” Oonh’kill burst out. “I knew it! This is simply perfect! This gives us precisely the–”
Rnn’fern cut her off firmly. “This is no time for another of your debates, Oonh’kill, and that is not the purpose of this discussion. We have a more pressing issue to decide.”
“But this could be a beginning!” Oonh’kill tried once more before Rnn’fern’s authoritative tail swipe hushed her.
“That does make it difficult,” Tuue’plk commented.
“It is not our place to create a social rampage,” Qsaw’lppi added with a flicking nod. “Nor to forcibly take a child of any kind from its adult.”
“We don’t have a contract for the child, in any case,” Gpo’wkil spoke up. He swished his tail, which was as close to an outburst as the generally calm man got. “Should we act as though she were a Daughter, the laws will not hold us up. We have no purchase on this cliff face.”
Oonh’kill stewed but held her peace.
“No contract? How did the master expect that we would treat the child, if he did not give her over nor pay the tutorial?” Qsaw’lppi focused sharply on Kkle’drqo, who sighed.
“It’s an older and infrequently-used part of the code, Qsaw’lppi. We researched carefully before going to make our offer. In instances of insult requiring redress, no contract is required.” Kkle’drqo wilted slightly with despair, prompting Gpo’wkil to lay his tail alongside hers in comfort.
“Then is that the end of things? No right to the child to make her a Daughter, no contract to give us leeway? No way to follow the code without breaking the law and bringing its wrath upon the Children?” Qsaw’lppi thumped her tail angrily on the floor.
“Surely the master would not object to our giving care to the child!” Oonh’kill cried, unable to hold her indignation. “Have you seen her? Her condition is reprehensible!”
“No one contests that,” Rnn’fern managed before Oonh’kill plowed on.
“But no one will treat her as she ought be, either!”
“Such a revolutionary sentiment will bring much grief to the Children,” Tuue’plk retorted mildly. “Were we to raise our voices to the winds for this child as you propose, all our Brothers and Sisters would pay the price. None would then be able to do any good, and your dreams would shatter beneath the cliffs.”
“Then what do you propose that we should do?” Oonh’kill snapped.
“Mmm. I do have an idea. Yet it will not be easy.”
The lecture on deportment was just fascinating. There were so many subtleties to consider! For instance, in general conversation, the simplest way to indicate interest in the other’s words was to lean slightly forward with hands gently clasped. When you wished to capture another’s attention, lowering your volume actually worked better than raising it, as it required the listener to increase her attention to hear you. The position of one’s tail relative to the other person could either open or close a conversation before it began.
Jregli drank in Yinfi’elr’s instructions greedily. Such simple things, yet so powerful! Who knew that controlling one’s nervous twitches not only concealed one’s own thoughts but could also put another at ease? That, when meeting someone for the first time, the best impression could still be had from the worst presentation, if one but learned to read and respond to the other’s unconscious cues? The soft-spoken instructor gave a dozen different things to look and listen for in conversation that would help overcome communication difficulties.
It amazed Jregli to realize that she’d already been doing some of the things Yinfi’elr talked about. Granted, she hadn’t been doing them particularly well, but she’d had the idea, known that the precept existed in some form or fashion. Now, with true tutelage, she could perfect her conduct! She would be the most gracious slave in the Galaxy! Even Shdr’edno would find it nearly impossible to fault her!
Yinfi’elr was appropriately astonished by the speed at which Jregli absorbed her teachings. Before the lesson was done, she was calling on Jregli to show the Daughters the particulars of what she’d just gone over. The Daughters, surprisingly, didn’t show any resentment to Jregli, despite their advanced Cycles. It was odd, Jregli thought, that girls who had been training for so much longer and who were so much older would not mind a newcomer tripping in and showing them up in half a lesson. Then she hit on it: these girls had been training longer, so they knew how to hide their anger.
The girls, however, hid any anger they felt so well that Jregli wondered if she’d guessed correctly. They seemed … well, so un-upset that they might actually not be upset. But of course they would be; they had to be. No one liked being shown up, especially not by someone younger and of less status. Jujk’anrl and Gp’nifse certainly seemed upset. Although, that was likely due to their being the only adults tutored alongside the younglings.
Matron Kkle’drqo had announced, just before leaving Jregli with Yinfi’elr, that the two Dancers clearly needed more instruction on proper behavior. So the pair had meekly shuffled in and settled themselves next to the Daughters. Jregli had tensed nervously when they sat down on either side of her, but they hadn’t done anything other than pay attention to the lecture and participate in the exercises. After a quarter-hour, Jregli had relaxed, though she saved some of her attention for them, just in case.
When Yinfi’elr dismissed the group, Jregli did not have long to wonder what to do next. Gp’nifse turned to her with sparkling cheerfulness.
“Fair dawning, sister Jregli. Matron instructed us to give you many of the basic lessons, to help you catch up to the others. As clever as you are, it shouldn’t take you long!” Her voice held none of the sneer from last Week.
“Indeed, and we have been given the private use of this room, so that you need not fear to make mistakes in front of others,” Jujk’anrl added genially.
Jregli knew what that meant. She tensed again and bowed carefully.
“Now look, Sister! We’ve frightened her!” Gp’nifse scolded the other Dancer before turning back to Jregli. “Please, Jregli, don’t be afraid. We’re not like the people you’re used to, though I certainly understand why you would think that of us.”
“Our behavior was inexcusable, and we will show ourselves better to you. We were so excited … well … we forgot everything we’ve ever learned.” Jujk’anrl’s remorse was well played; you could almost believe she meant it!
“So we will study and learn again, like the Daughters we are, until we have it right.” Gp’nifse added with real-seeming conviction. “And we shall teach it to you, in hopes that our teaching will become learning. We enjoin you to question us on any point, however trivial, until you feel certain of your own understanding. Should we have answers insufficient to your needs, then we shall not rest until we fetch it to you!”
It was tempting. Clouds above, it was tempting. The Children of the Wind were offering to place themselves under her power. She, Jregli, could command them to a whim. She could ask the most obscure questions, demand endless hours of their attention, and they were obligated by their own word to attend her. Were she a free woman, she would grasp the chance with all claws and wring every last drop out of it. But she was a slave, and acting like a free woman was the last thing she could afford to do.
It made her angry; it really did. These women surely knew that she was a slave; no free children were ever so badly scarred as Jregli was. It wasn’t exactly hard to figure out, even for the shallowest, most brainless Yerbran in the Galaxy. How dare they offer her power over them; they had to know she couldn’t take it! Was this some form of revenge, some way for them to pretend to repay their debt without actually giving anything up? That’s what Shdr’edno would do; what any sensible Yerbran would do.
Yet. These were Children of the Wind, Wind Dancers, not average Yerbrans. They climbed by a different set of rules, scaled an entirely different cliff than the rest of their Race. It was certainly possible that they were all sincere. And that frightened Jregli more than anything else.