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.
Harvit actually growled. Jregli hadn’t realized that Hunsids could produce sound in that range. Hevrit placed a restraining hand on his brother’s shoulder, but the tension in his body told Jregli that he didn’t want to have to hold back. In fact, the workers standing between her and Wuns (and his backup) all looked ready to pounce. Jregli, of course, was just as tense as they, but her tension was from fear, not … whatever these males were thinking. What were they thinking? It was almost as if they were … protecting her.
That thought thawed Jregli a bit. She looked over the sentients in front of her That wasn’t too hard, since only Gurts and Draon were taller than she was, but now Jregli wondered. Why would they protect her? What would they gain from protecting her ? She didn’t have money or status to give them. Mabe they thought she would some day. Yes, that must be why they helped her now: they expected future payout.
The sentients who’d replied to Wuns’ signal arrived at their little group. Bigger and brawnier than those facing them, they glowered at everyone, including Jregli. She tried to not cringe. Couldn’t show fear.
“‘S’matter, Boss?” one of them rumbled.
“These inriipiin need to be reminded of Protocol!” Wuns snapped. “No unauthorized sentients in the bays, no taking unauthorized breaks, and no insubordination is ever allowed!” One of Wuns’ sentients put his left fist into his right and pressed it, creating multiple horrid popping sounds that scraped through Jregli’s chambers and down her spine.
“Hah, now, Wuns, an’ we a’member Protocol, nice an’ all. We’ll us get back ta work an’ double-time; just yeh ‘pologize ta th’ lady an’ we’ll be done.” Gurts shifted carefully, as did the others standing with him. Jregli tried to carefully shift backwards. When free sentients started arguing, it was always the slaves who got caught in the middle.
One of the sentients standing behind Wuns flinched at Gurts’ statement. His eyes widened which was an indication of … surprise, wasn’t it ? and darted to Jregli, giving her a more thorough look. Jregli looked at him, too, and realized that he must be from the same Race as Gurts, Pug, and Draon. Wait, hadn’t Ungrut called them … mmm … Tingort? What did she know about Tingorts? Something about manners?
“There’s no need for me to apologize to anyone! Unlike you layabouts, I’m doing my job!” Wuns jabbed a stubby finger at Jregli. “Now get that thing out of here and ge–”
A massive hand landed on Wuns’ shoulder just before Ungrut and Fardes reached out to restrain the Tingorts in their party. Wuns yelped (Jregli winced at the piercing sound) and looked up at the Tingort behind him.
“Hah, Boss; they do have th’ right ta short breaks, an’ visitin’ is allowed right o’er here. Th’ Union ‘llows it, an’ they could make trouble if they’d mind ta. An’ Frudorn, he’d be might upset a’ trouble wi’ th’ Union.”
“How dare you support their insubordination!” Wuns was nearly screaming now, and his face had changed colors.
“Rund’s got a point, Boss,” another one muttered. “Union’s fierce about the agreements for working, and Frudorn don’t pay us to get them angry.”
Jregli could actually hear Wuns’ heart pounding, and she watched with sick fascination as a blood vessel swelled in his neck. The short manager whipped his head back and forth, trying to glare at all of them at once. Several tense seconds passed, marked only by the distant sounds of machinery and Wuns’ rapid breathing.
“Fine!” he snarled. “Five minutes, and not a second longer! And you’re all still going to be written up for insubordination! Including you, Rund!” He spun around, planted a booted foot on the decking, and launched off into the bay. His followers left more slowly, glaring at Gurts and the rest and muttering quietly to one another. Except for Rund. He and Pug stared calmly at one another for several beats. Then he turned to Jregli.
“Sorry f’ th’ trouble, m’lady,” he bobbed his head in an abbreviated bow to Jregli. “But yeh might be wantin’ ta move along quick an’ all. We’ve work ta do here, Union ‘r no, an’ we can’t be too long ’bout it.” Rund bobbed his head at the group and then again at Jregli and shoved off.
Jregli’s defenders relaxed as Rund left. Jregli did not relax. What had that all been about? Was visiting in the docking bays truly forbidden? No; Rund had gotten them all to agree that it was, within limits, allowed. And if visits and breaks were allowed, what had Wuns been so upset over?
Oh, think for a moment! she chided herself. Of course Wuns was desperate to prove himself superior. He would seize any opportunity to exert his power. He was shorter and less physically capable, and nearly every sentient in the Galaxy would feel threatened by someone bigger and stronger. Jregli certainly did. Plus, Wuns was a Westro. They were just mean sentients.
“Glad ta see yer brother haint fergot his manners,” Draon said casually to Pug.
“Nah, he’s only lost his good sense. Bein’ mannerly is fer survival,” Pug replied just as calmly. “D’ya think our Da would’a let him live if he weren’t?” Soft chuckles helped relieve the tension.
Manners; that was it. Tingorts had a deep-rooted set of social behaviors that dictated every part of their lives. The rules of greatest concern to the situation that had just played out were how to treat a female. Female Tingorts (and, by extension, all females of any Race) were to be cherished, nurtured, and protected from harm. That was because there were so few of them and reproduction was so hard on them. Yes, so Tingorts like Gurts, Pug, Draon, and even Rund were socially hard-wired to be courteous and careful with females. That made sense. That explained their actions, yes.
“Well, Zreggo, m’love, I hate ta say it, but I guess yeh’d best be goin’ on now,” Gurts turned to her with apparently genuine regret. “We do have th’ cargoes ta offload. But don’ yeh worry none ’bout Wuns an’ them all! We’ve th’ right of it, so they’ll no harm be done for yeh comin’ out T’day.”
“‘Tis truth, Dreggo,” Fardes put in helpfully. “We’ve had worse from that ‘un. Afore yeh go, though, how’s ’bout yeh give us a rek-o-men-day-shun, eh? Since yeh won’ tell us no secrets!” He grinned cheerfully as the others chorused their approval.
“Mmmm …” Jregli scrambled to think. “I’d recommend a Grasil Reaction Drive with Revory Dry, Butres dark mix, and a twist of Wunit Argent.”
Fardes’ mouth opened in a comical fashion, Ungrut whistled through his nose, Gurts groaned, and Draon and Pug burst out laughing.
“Bright Stars, darlin’!” Gurts exclaimed. “Tha’d cost me a whole paycheck, fer jus’ one drink!”
“Trust th’ barmaid ta sell ya th’ most a-spensive bottle o’ th’ top shelf!” Pug managed around his laughter.
“Are … are yeh serious?” Fardes demanded.
“Well, an’ why not?” Jregli dared to shoot back. “If yer goin’ ta spend yer whole pay on booze anyhow, yeh might do so well as spend it on the good stuff!” The five laughed even harder, some agreeing, some disagreeing. Jregli decided to dare a little more. “‘Sides, can yeh blame a girl for makin’ a livin’?” She turned her head to the left, angling her right eye at Gurts, and flipped the eyelid closed and then back open in a credible (she hoped) imitation of a wink.
The dock hands actually howled in amusement at that (except for Gurts, who turned a unusual shade of brown). Four meaty hands began pounding on Gurts’ shoulders and back, sending him shooting forward towards Jregli. He flailed his arms, caught by surprise. Jregli somehow had the sense to not try to dodge out of the way; she’d only have wound up upside down and bouncing off the bulkheads, certainly! Gurts recovered quickly; there was no way for him to not bump into Jregli, but he made it more of a catch than a crash. Jregli instinctively flinched, pulling her arms close to her body as the massive alien reached for her.
“Hoo, now, Gurto, yeh’ve got yerself a good ‘un now!” Ungrut called out.
“Hah, and now yeh’ve got ta be proper ’bout it, lad!” Draon hooted. Gurts turned himself and Jregli towards the group, his arm now around her shoulders and his hands gently clasped around hers. He started to say something (he looked more than flustered, Jregli spared a second to notice) when the Twins suddenly shot into the middle of the group. Where had they been?
“Remove your hands from our sister!” Harvit snarled.
“How dare you! To place hands upon a child!” Hevrit snapped. They looked ready to take on all five of the larger, stronger, dock hands. For some reason, Jregli almost believed that they could.
The five immediately stopped laughing.
“Child? What d’ yeh mean, lad?” Gurts looked from the Hunsids to Jregli and back. “Sure an’ she’s not reached majority yet, but nineteen haint still a child!”
“Nineteen Yerbran Cycles, you lump; not nineteen Standard years!” Harvit growled through clenched teeth.
“Yerbrans age far more slowly than most Races. Her nineteen Cycles only equal eight Standard Units of age!” Hevrit glared at all of them.
“WHAT?” Gurts’ bellow joined with the other’s to ring painfully in Jregli’s chambers. She flinched again at the sound, drawing Gurts’ attention, and unfortunately, startling him into squeezing her hands. Which is how the Twins found out about her palms.