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.
“I shall work faster, Lord Uncle,” she replied breathlessly. Fear made her voice shrill, and his lips pulled back at the sound. Shdr’edno had fed well his entire life, so his teeth were in excellent condition. They gleamed in the strong lighting, the front ones four deci-Units long and very black. Shdr’edno turned the sneer into a stretch, opening his mouth wide and revealing his inner teeth, which gleamed white in contrast to his outer teeth. The inner teeth were half the length and twice the thickness of the outer teeth but just as sharp. He finished the stretch and looked over his slave.
“I’m sure you will, little pet,” he replied smoothly. “I know you do not want to displease our guests or inconvenience them any further.”
Jregli bobbed and waved her tail in agreement.
“I wanted to tell you, little pet, that I have noticed how hard you’ve worked since you came here. It’s quite … impressive.” His tone lightened to almost playful. Which meant that he had figured it out. He was on to her. Oh, no. No, no, no.
He was also calling her “pet.” Yerbrans didn’t keep pets. Pets were just another mouth to feed, and a body to use up already-scarce resources. Yerbrans had domesticated animals used for various labors, but they were not pets. And he emphasized her stunted body, all in a way that most sentients would consider a term of endearment. Her very clever Master had found a way around his inability to call her a slave and still keep her status fresh in her mind.
“I’ve given you food and shelter generously,” which meant she should be grateful, so she obligingly curled her tail, “but I haven’t given you any treats. Hard work should be rewarded, my sire taught me. What favor would you ask of me, little pet?”
Had it been any other Master who asked that, she knew how she would have replied: she would have demurred modestly, claiming she needed nothing but the pleasure of serving or some other nonsense. That would have started a lovely bargaining session that would end with not just the favor but with a more favorable status. Shdr’edno was not going to treat her like any other Master would. She had defeated him, and he would never forgive her for that.
Have to think quickly, have to think carefully. Shdr’edno shifted slightly, easing himself backwards, giving her some room. The fabric of his vest shimmered as it rippled across his chest.
“Oh, Uncle; you are too kind!” she stammered out. No, mustn’t sound so pathetic. She’d beaten him once, when he wasn’t aware. Now he was aware, which made the battle more challenging. Wasn’t she equal to the challenge? She was smarter than he was! She was more clever! She would beat him again! If she could just get the shrill tremor out of her voice and kink out of her tail.
“If it’s not too great a thing, Lord Uncle,” she hoped she wasn’t laying the obeisance on too thickly, “I would like to have a vest to wear, such as the employees have.”
That surprised him. He’d been priming her to give away her secrets, her true motivation. She was no fool! He paused for a moment, considering his next move.
It was actually an odd request. Yerbra Home was so windy that no one wore clothing there except for ceremonies. Yerbrans had developed their thick, scaly hides to protect them from the cutting gales and did not need to cover themselves for modesty. Alien visitors quickly found their flimsy garments shredded if they stepped out of the caverns for any length of time. When Yerbrans first began traveling the stars and interacting with other Races, the issue of clothing had been a problem. Many Races considered clothing a basic societal requirement and thought the lack of clothing a heinous offense. Time and negotiations had smoothed over the worst of the friction, but Yerbrans sometimes found themselves donning outfits in certain situations.
Shdr’edno chose to wear fashionable vests while working to make himself more obviously the proprietor and more acceptable to those prudish Races, but he seldom wore anything else. His employees he required to wear a uniform of sorts (the cost of which came from their wages, naturally), comprised of an off-white shirt that buttoned from waist to throat and at the wrists, a black vest that buttoned half-way up the torso, and black pants and shoes (for those that had legs and feet; Yurs-ond wore a shirt designed for his five boneless arms and the vest, but nothing over his lower tentacles). But Jregli had gone without anything to mark her as part of the staff, save her position behind the bar. Ergo, it was an odd but reasonable request.
“Ah, my little pet,” Shdr’edno finally replied, “you are so very clever!” It wasn’t a compliment. “But this favor, I will not grant. It has not escaped my notice that you are somewhat … clumsy. Were I to give you clothing, you would surely ruin it within the hour. It is your place to clean the messes of others, and I cannot see the purpose to buy a costume that you would make filthy. I do not like the waste of my resources; it does not make me feel … charitable.” He leaned in towards her as he spoke. “You will have to think of a different favor, one that is not so unreasonable.”
“Of … of course, Lord M– Uncle,” she quavered in response, tail clinging to one leg and hands tightly clenched, causing her stubby claws to cut into her palms. Clumsy. Just because she wasn’t as graceful as a Wind Dancer, she was clumsy.
“But now, our guests are waiting. Do hurry, little pet, and get the room ready for them. Then go tend the bar; your clumsiness isn’t as evident when you have something to hide behind.” He waited for her servile bob before he slowly turned and stalked out of the room.
Jregli waited several heart beats after he left before she collapsed to the floor, shivering and gasping with terror.
Neim hurried into the conference room as calmly as he could. Representative Liteo sat at the table, a scowl drawing his thick eyebrows so far down his eyes were hidden.
“My apologies for keeping you, Representative. Something came up, as it often does.” Neim sat down across from the stocky Vun.
Liteo’s brows shot up, revealing his small, white eyes with green pupils. Vuns had no irises, which Neim still couldn’t get used to.
“Of course, Commander! Of course! You are an important sentient with many duties, and all of Vun respect and admire your great efforts!” Yeah, the Vun got over offenses fast.
“Thank you, Representative. How may I be of assistance today?”
“Commander, oh, Commander, the blessed ones are in greatest distress! They beg and plead all through the days and all through the nights for our help, our service, and we are undone! We can do so little that we weep endlessly, for we can do nothing to ease their plight!” Neim let Liteo go on for several mins. Vun needed to be expressive — which meant dramatic — and if Neim cut him off too soon, he’d never find out what the Representative’s real complaint was today. Let them feel that they had been heard on their own terms, and then they’ll get down to business. Basic Mutuality Negotiating. The hard part was not zoning out. It had been a long day.
When Liteo began repeating himself, Neim knew he could jump in. “Please, honored Representative, enlighten me as to the current, most urgent needs of the Flioim.” Liteo brightened.
“Commander, oh great one! Surely you are the greatest of the servants in all the Mutuality! Your humble entreaties, your gracious labor, all shall be accounted to you in the fabric of eternity! You shall reap a thousand-fold return of the honor you give to others, to those unworthy of you and those more worthy than you!” Liteo went on about that for several mins, too. Neim had been listening to the Vun talk for about ten mins now, which was not bad, considering. When the flowery adulation started to move from hyperbole to outright distortion, Neim cut in again.
“You honor me, Representative, with more than I have earned. Tell me how I may serve.” Liteo beamed. Neim was definitely getting better at this.
“Oh humblest of officers, we beseech you to convince the Mutuality to lessen the burden placed upon the glorious ones and their delicate abode! Surely the Mutuality, in its marvelous wisdom, can see the reasonableness of this request! Every Domain has the right to peace in its own borders, quiet in its own fields! No other Race is forced to endure the trampings of thousands of sentients across its very threshold, all through the days and all through the nights, without end! The Mutuality permits every Race except the Flioim to choose who may enter their Domain and with what frequency!”
This was the main argument, the one the Vun repeated every chance they got. Leave the residents of the ‘hole alone, no trespassing allowed. Violators will be shifted into the Void. Never mind that the residents of the Corridor made no effort to be part of the Mutuality and therefore were outside any rights given to member Races. Hearing nothing new in the Representative’s appeal, Neim timed his reply.
“Representative Liteo, I will make your request known to the Mutuality and will personally ensure that those whose decision it is to make know how serious the matter is.” Time to wrap this up.
“Oh, Commander! Commander! This is the very thing that brings me into your great presence today and causes me to weary your noble ears with our woes! This matter is very serious! The bright ones have endured too much! Their travail is too great! They can no longer protect us, if we do not protect them!”
That was different. Neim straightened up and focused on Liteo.
“Protect us from what?” Liteo frowned slightly. Neim mentally cursed himself for slipping out of proper Vunan speech.
“Oh! The greatest of all evils! The unbinding of destruction! Commander, Commander, the Flioim are all that stand between us and Trezaq!”
“Trezaq? What’s– honored Representative, please enlighten me. I have not heard that word before.”
“Oh, Commander! Oh! I tremble to be the one who must bear such distressing news to you! I curse my birth, that it should have led to burdening you with such horror! Trezaq is the end of all things! The chaos that consumes and destroys all in its path! The sacred duty of the holy ones is to preserve life from the Void, to stand between our frail existence and nothingness!” Liteo launched into the theological history of his Race, and Neim let him. There might be something useful in the religious spiel, something he could actually report to Mutuality Commerce and Passage.
After over an hour, Neim though he had the gist of it. Around the dawn of time, the Vunan god fought a bunch of demons. To end their battles, the god ripped apart the fabric of the universe to shove them back where they belonged. Or maybe it was that the demons broke through in the first place. At any rate, that’s where the wormhole came from; it was the passage between here and there. The Flioim lived in the ‘hole to keep said evil creatures from coming back and finishing what they started. What the demons wanted was to destroy everything the Vunan god had made, an event the Vun called Trezaq.
While Neim waited for Liteo to loop back around, he ran through the possibilities. First: the whole story was true. Neim didn’t believe that for a nano-sec. Theology was never historically accurate. Second: none of the story was true. Neim didn’t believe that, either. The dogma came from somewhere, some kernel of truth. Third: parts of it were true. That was most likely, but how to figure out what parts were true? Heh; that was simple, actually. Get Fruns to research it; he’d love that. But how to get him to condense it to a manageable report …?
Neim suspected that the Flioim were just being territorial and used the Vun to make their excuses. Wouldn’t be the first time that a Race had used another as religious pawns. Make up an end-of-the-world story, back it with some flashy displays of power, and there was your devoted following, ready to defend you to the death. No matter how ridiculous the reason.
Neim almost missed his chance to get back into the conversation. “Honored Representative, I cannot tell you how grateful I am that you have brought these matters to my attention.” Not going to tell, actually. “I was unaware of these important details, and I will make certain that the Heads of the Mutuality are aware. This will take time, sadly, but rest assured that I will do everything in my power to speed this information to those who may act on it.”
That sparked another half-hour of flowery gratitude from Liteo, but at least Neim had gotten something out of the meeting. Maybe, with a defined threat to close the ‘hole if the demands weren’t met, the C&P heads would take the Vun seriously.