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.
Shdr’edno hummed happily as he worked behind the main bar. It was well worth demeaning himself to working alongside the employees given what he knew was happening to his slave. The kinds of things that were happening to his little pet were most pleasing to contemplate, oh, yes. She wanted to make herself the darling of the employees? Well, let her. And let her realize how futile that was, how self-defeating. The thought made him want to dance.
Of course, he had better self-discipline than that. Gloating too openly was in poor taste, and he held himself to the highest possible standard, both professionally as well as personally. Which is why he’d put himself behind the bar instead of taking one of the Hunsids’ spots in the Arcade. He’d spent most of his time, these last two Months, back there, so he knew his skills at the tables were sharp. He hadn’t worked the bar much even before the brat came, and he couldn’t afford to allow himself to be lax.
The brat’s organization left much to be desired, but he’d figured it out. He’d curled his lip when he found her stash of rotted food and dumped it into the disposal bin immediately. Wasteful, wasteful brat. Allowing anything edible to go bad … what a wretched thing she was. He added a throaty bass line to his humming. He would have to remind her to be more careful with his resources.
He’d arrived early enough so that none of the employees would witness him familiarizing himself with his own operations. It took less than half an hour to remember how to operate all the formulators and learn the new ones. Another half hour, and he had the menus memorized. By that time, the drudges began arriving and he could play the all-knowing proprietor he was. Although he didn’t know how the brat had managed to leave the Pub spotless for opening and have that lavatory in mint condition. That thought had upset him until he realized that she must have stayed up all night to get it all done. She’d be so exhausted that everything she went through today would have double the impact. That cheered him up considerably.
Working the main bar was a good refresher for him; he’d allowed himself to forget how much of a command center it could be. He’d been so relieved to be able to move around at will, keeping two weather eyes on everything and everyone that he’d allowed himself to forget. Being behind the main bar gave him another kind of visibility, another kind of power over every sentient in his personal domain. He was tall enough, at eleven and a half Standard Units, to be seen by everyone despite the bar, and putting himself where they could always see him instead of lurking through the shadows had its own benefits. Yes, he couldn’t surprise them or catch them slacking as easily, but they would constantly be checking to make sure he was still there. None of them wanted to give him a reason to leave the bar. As was proper.
The patrons would be able to see him more clearly, as well. They would remember that he was the owner, the Master, of this Pub. He’d been neglecting the customers in the Pub because of their disgusting habits. At least those in the Arcade kept themselves reasonably clean and orderly; the patrons in the Pub were disgusting. Watching them eat made Shdr’edno want to gag. The smell of meat was still nauseating, even after all these Cycles. He’d learned to tolerate it, to not show his distaste, but it still made him miserable. But there were far worse things in the Galaxy than smelling cooked flesh, and he was great enough to overcome this inconvenience.
Another benefit to working the bar more often would be the effect it would have on his slave. He’d been so furious at the defeat that he’d kept as far away from her as possible. That has been a mistake, and he would correct it now. He’d allowed her too much time to herself, too much time to entrench. Well, now he would invade her defenses, put himself firmly within her encampment. He’d already tidied up her sleeping hole in the back room, getting rid of the unnecessary things that accumulated there. He’d begun reorganizing the bar, putting it back to rights as well. He’d made his mistakes, allowing his control to relax, but that time was over.
The brat would remember her place, he would make certain of that. He would spend at least a few hours each day behind the bar with her, where he could watch the light go out of her eyes and that defiant, stubby tail droop. Theirs was an unusual relationship, to be certain, but he was man enough to make it work. He was still the Master and she was still the slave. Maybe no one else would know it, but she would know.
He continued humming as he mixed up a fresh batch of drinks.
Neim took a few moments to stretch his legs in between meetings. He didn’t go very far; in fact; he didn’t leave the CC area. Just over to the small mess and ordered a cup of steaming coffee. Or whatever they called coffee at this mess. It did the trick, though, warming him up and sharpening his mind. The meeting with Commerce & Passage had actually gone fairly well, all things considered. His reports were never complete enough for them, so he’d endured that lecture for the fiftieth time with practiced patience. It didn’t matter to those esteemed admirals and policy makers that running the third-largest Station by tonnage in the Mutuality and the busiest by traffic volume in the Galaxy left him little time to cross-reference the endnotes of his reports. Or that they wouldn’t allow him to assign one of his junior officers to that task. Or hire a civilian to do it, for God’s sake.
He brooded over his coffee for a few minutes longer, watching the wall-mounted opti of the Corridor and the ships moving to and from it. Busy little bees, flying to and from the nest, each one convinced that it was the queen. He snorted humorlessly over his cup. No, there were actually only a few “queen bees” in the traffic out there, but they were large, fat, and very dangerous. His granny had raised bees, and she’d told him time and again that there could only be one queen in any colony. New queens either were killed by the incumbent or killed their predecessor. And damn if these little bees weren’t trying to do the same thing to each other and everyone who got in their way.
The meeting had gone well, though. The updates on which multis were currently highest in favor and were entitled to the most royal treatment was necessary and the changes were not entirely unexpected. The Uffniorns and Jeftryos had been vying for the top shipping slots for the last decade, and the slugs were slightly ahead at the moment. Neim frowned at that thought and mentally cursed.
He had to stop thinking about them in those terms. Sure, it was satisfying to call them that, but one day it was going to move from brain to tongue, and then his career would be over. You thought something long enough, you’d start saying it. And if the Uffniorns heard him say anything even remotely insulting, they’d eat him alive. Neim took another sip of coffee and wandered over to a chair.
At least C&P hadn’t blown off his report on the Vun’s Trezaq. Neim could tell they were as skeptical as he was, but they took it in stride. Fruns’ preliminary findings were as wordy as any bureaucrat could want and actually had some facts worth noting. Vunan history didn’t go back far enough to evidence when the Flioim showed up. In fact, there wasn’t a scrap of reliable documentation that didn’t include some mention of the ‘hole residents, and that was from going over 53,000 Star-Standard years of records. Remarkably, the Vun weren’t so far off when they claimed their angels were as old as time itself. At least, “time” as the Mutuality knew it. Such a long-standing relationship might actually entitle the secretive sentients to some collateral protections from their … well, what were the Vun to them? Servants? Dupes? Officially, it was probably “colleagues”.
The opti showed another transport vanish into the æther as Neim leaned back in the chair. Those Flioim might well be one of the oldest civilizations known to the Galaxy. If it was true they had established contact with the pre-historic Vun that long ago, there were a lot of possibilities to consider. For one, the Mutuality would want to pump the sentients for information about life way back when. There were a lot of gaps and contradictions in the official records, and any information was better than none. Plus, if the “angels” were going to threaten cataclysm, maybe the diplomats could turn that into a bargaining session to get some of that nano/bio tech the Vun had such a monopoly on. Give and take, that’s the rule. Neim smiled derisively.
Of course, that assumed that the ‘hole dwellers were, in truth, the Flioim of Vunan legend. It could very well be that the sentients had learned of the legend and styled themselves to fit it. There were a few “manifestations” Fruns hadn’t gotten to the bottom of yet, so that remained a possibility. Another point was that since the sentients did have such obviously impressive tech, maybe they’d altered the history books to include themselves. Why they’d do that, Neim hadn’t a clue, but it was still something to consider.
Neim drained the rest of his coffee and stood up. Couldn’t avoid work forever. He especially couldn’t avoid unpleasant work forever. C&P had dominated his morning, and his afternoon was packed. There was the surprise drill at 1345 Standard, another meeting with Trogvan about the trial (which would be very short, whatever the Ambassador thought), the inspection of Engineering, the daily write-up of the Corridor Report, and all the other “normal” activities. Oh, damn; he’d almost forgotten about going in for his quarterly physical. So, shift over the inspection a half-hour …