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.
Jregli had a difficult trip to the quarters where the Children of the Wind housed. It was very hard to walk in a straight line when you kept noticing so many things around you! She was seldom up at this hour, and she’d never been out in the Station at this time, so everything was a new sight.
It was surprising how many sentients were up and about at this time. Most were what one might term “common laborers,” the beings that did the simple jobs like cleaning, food preparation, carting, and the like. They ran the machines that performed the heavy labor, and some of them, from their appearance, were mechanics who cared for those machines. They were up at this unheard-of hour, either on their way to work or already doing their tasks.
A pair of Yinnions tended one of the planters that dotted the main corridor of the Station as Jregli passed by. They clipped dead and dying growth, loosened the top layers of soil, and checked the function of the watering mechanism. Jregli had never seen one of the sinuous beings before and nearly walked into a servocart that had halted in front of her while focusing on the gardeners. Yinnions looked like just a bundle of tentacles to Jregli; it was hard to determine where their heads were.
Further along, two techs in Station uniforms had a panel opened in on of the side walls and were discussing the wiring inside while a third tech lugged a box of tools of the small dolly parked nearby. Jregli itched to take a look at the panel; engineering was, after all, one of her many hobbies. She thought, however, that the Mutuality might take it amiss is a child wandered up and started fooling around with Station equipment. So, after a few moments of discreet ogling, she continued on.
Without the Twins dragging her, she had more time to observe the Station. In a way, it really wasn’t so very different than the caverns back Home. There was the main passageway, lots of spaces built into the walls, and tunnels leading off in both directions. Yes, it was a fabmake, not natural stone, but it still felt the same. Especially now that there were more beings filling the halls. Yerbra Home was crowded unless you were wealthy enough to afford a distant estate. Everyone there crammed into the areas nearest water and food sources, which were, obviously, few and far between.
The main corridor of the Station had two levels, the top one having no floor save the wide balcony that gave access to the shops and quarters built up there. More shops than quarters in this section, Jregli noted. Peddlers began setting up carts and tables in the center of the corridor, hawking all manner of wares to passers-by. A few of them even called to Jregli, who found it amusing. She’d left her apron back at the Pub and carried nothing; how did these sentients think she would pay for the wares they brandished at her? But it was still fun to look.
The eatery area of the Station had fewer shops but just as many peddlers vying for attention. Most of the restaurants were closed at this hour, though some were open and advertising breakfast. Jregli enjoyed the variety of smells wafting around her as she passed by, but she was not tempted by them; she’d eaten every last bit of the food left over from her trip with the Twins. It was a lot more than she was accustomed to eating, but it sat well enough in her belly. She’d been eating more these past few days; perhaps her stomach was adjusting.
Watching all the sentients who streamed around her took up a lot of time, too. So many Races! So many colors, and clothes, and accessories! Yerbrans seldom wore anything, and Jregli relished the chance to examine everyone around her. Some of the items were exceedingly clever; those Races whom Nature had not equipped as compactly as Yerbrans had devised many ways to protect and support their various body parts. The constant motion of their body parts fascinated Jregli. With a start, she realized that she was staring quite rudely. Then she muffled a giggle when she realized that few of these sentients would even realize that she was!
Jregli determined that she would not gawp like an idiot and looked around for something to take her attention off the beings flowing around her. She nearly caused an accident when she caught sight of the ceiling above the corridor and stopped in her tracks. Those who’d been travelling behind her were forced to dodge, which they did with little grace and loud complaints. Jregli didn’t care.
Lights, ductwork, access platforms, service panels, acoustic fab, and … was that a rodent? The ceiling was anything but featureless despite its uniform dark-grey color. Whoever had designed it had been very clever, indeed, for she’d placed things in a subtle but definite pattern. At least, it looked like a pattern to Jregli. Maybe Jregli was imagining things, imparting an artistic flair where there was only engineering. Not that it mattered. It was still fascinating.
Jregli tried to keep out of the main stream of traffic so she could walk more slowly and look more carefully. She’d started out with lots of extra time for the trip so she wouldn’t have to rush. It was nice to not be moving at a flat run for a change. She could take her time and enjoy th–
Jregli froze again, this time in shock. Was that …? It couldn’t be! Who would–? Regaining some composure, she moved casually (she hoped) towards the center of the corridor, working her way around one of the peddler carts that forced the growing crowds to part around it. Just a little further … it was! It really was! But now what to do about it? It wasn’t like anything was getting hurt … but you didn’t carry that sort of thing around unless you meant to do some damage. Jregli let the crowd carry her along for several leaps while she puzzled the situation.
Her problem was solved when she spotted a roaming Station Security officer off to one side. Fighting the crush, she made her way to his side.
“I beg your pardon, Officer. I wondered if you could tell me the Station’s policy on carrying weapons in public places?”
“What? It’s prohibited, of course. What makes you ask?”
“I happened to notice a female Deernupan standing at the stall selling fabglass vases who had yetsoo, mmm, battle stars, prominently displayed on her.”
“Yetsoo?” The officer said something in Rundion that Jregli hadn’t heard before and filed for future reference. “Where? And are you sure?”
“Quite certain, sir; the etchings are quite distinctive. She wore them … mmm, I believe the word is ‘earrings’; she wore them hanging from her ears, and they had little fabbed gems stuck on them. I made certain I’d seen it correctly before I moved on.”
The officer palmed his comm and brusquely demanded backup. “Describe her to me, ma’am, if you please.”
She ended up running anyhow; stopping to talk to the officer had delayed her more than she’d realized it would. When he’d turned to the officers who had come to assist him, she’d made her getaway after overhearing a passerby complaining about the time. Wheezing for breath, Jregli found the right doorway and stumbled through. Pausing in the entryway, she looked around.
Her perusal stopped at the sight of an enormous Wind Brother standing at the inner doorway. These quarters were sized for taller, larger sentients, but this man took up nearly the entire space; he was HUGE! His weather eye must have topped over thirteen Units, his shoulders were as wide as Jregli’s arm was long, and he had more muscle packed onto his frame than any three men she’d ever seen before. And that tail! He could probably break bones with it.
“You must be the child Jregli,” he said quietly in a rich, baritone voice.
“Nnn–mmm, yes, my lord. I am,” Jregli replied, unable to keep her tail from plastering itself to her leg in sudden fear.
“Take ease, child,” he chuckled gently, his massive tail crinkling with good humor. “I am Ssl’pnkir, not a F’wiiooo. I don’t eat little girls for breaksfast.”
“I imagine I would be more a snack than a meal, my lord,” Jregli half-whispered back. He laughed heartily at that.
“And no doubt! You are a bit of thing! Well, we’ll help with that, child; take ease. Be welcome here among the Stars Watchers family. Matron and Patron await you inside. Go on, now.” He shooed her through the door he guarded.
Jregli hadn’t explored much in her time on the Station, and she’d certainly never been in living quarters before. Still, she imagined that all the quarters on a Mutuality-built and maintained space station would probably have the same basic architecture. She’d read up on space stations, naturally, when she’d prepared her plan. The area she stepped into was open to two levels, much like the corridor outside. The color scheme matched, as well, though a few decorations scattered around gave it a bit of color. Perhaps over time, if the Dancers and Brothers stayed long enough, the place would come to look more distinctively Yerbran.
Doorways closed by typical sliding doors marched around the perimeter; Jregli counted seven on the lower level (where she stood) and eleven on the upper. The courtyard, if she could be pardoned for calling it that, was square with four raised planting beds surrounding a small fountain. Green plants and fresh water aside, it looked rather boring. The upper level held four doors in each side wall and three in the facing wall. On the lower level, three doors dotted each of the side walls with the last door being double-width and set in the center of the far wall. The landing of a utilitarian staircase created a kind of portico over that doorway, with the stairs dropping to either side as a frame.
In that framed doorway stood Kkle’drqo and Rnn’fern.
Jregli steeled herself and approached them calmly. Almost calmly.
“Fair dawning to you, Jregli,” Kkle’drqo greeted her warmly.
“Fair dawning, Lady Matron, Lord Patron,” Jregli replied, trying to copy the bows she’d seen the Dancers make. It looked horrid, of course, but perhaps she would win favors for initiative.
“She needs balance work,” Rnn’fern commented. His light tenor voice surprised Jregli. Rnn’fern’s singing voice was so deep and rich that the contrast truly startled her.
“Yes, Patron, but do give the child some time to catch her breath! She’s been here less than a minute and is not ready yet for rigorous work.” Rnn’fern was unmoved by Kkle’drqo’s gentle chiding. “Child, you do seem to labor to breathe; did you run all the way here?”
“No, Lady Matron; I ran only the last way after pausing too long to speak with a security officer. I left in good time but did not manage it well.” Jregli dipped a humble bow.
“Why did you speak with a security officer?” Rnn’fern asked, his interest suddenly sharpened.
“I noted a sentient bearing concealed weaponry, Lord Patron, which violates Mutuality law. It was my duty to report it immediately.” Plus, outbreaks of violence were bad for business.
“How did you know it was a weapon?”
“The sentient was Deernupan, who are famed for their weaponry and battle skill. As their server, should they patronize my lord Uncle’s establishment, is it not my place to express interest in the things they honor? To better serve them, I educated myself with all things Deernupan, including their weaponry.”
“What weapon was it? How was it concealed?” Rnn’fern stepped toward her, tail tensing, as he interrogated her. Kkle’drqo raised her hand elegantly to interrupt him.
“Patron, there will be time to learn of these things.” Her beautiful voice held a subtle rebuke that Jregli despaired of ever learning to replicate. Rnn’fern uncurled his tail as he acknowledged Kkle’drqo’s words.
“Well spoken, Matron. The child is of yours, after all, and not of mine. I shall bide my time.” What did that mean? Jregli suddenly wondered if she were to have combat training with the Brothers. Surely not! Kkle’drqo plucked the thought out of Jregli’s head.
“All Dancers find it useful to train at least a short while among the Brothers, child. From them, we learn economy of movement, increase our spatial awareness, build our familial rapport, and practice new steps for the Dance,” she explained.
“Knowing how to defend oneself, at least long enough for a trained warrior to arrive, is also beneficial,” Rnn’fern added.
“You are most wise, Matron and Patron,” Jregli answered. They really were; it made incredible sense.