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.
Due to a grav-lorry collision, she was several minutes late getting back to the Pub, earning her a few snide remarks from Shdr’edno. He wasn’t important right now, so Jregli shoved that to the back of her mind and set to making the centerpieces. Wilson and Eddes were early, so she drafted them to help. After getting some of her breath back, she hurriedly drilled them on the etiquette for the party, emphasizing certain aspects so much that Wilson finally laughed and told her to stop worrying.
Jregli carried the centerpieces to the tables in the balcony personally and fussed over them for a while. She did want this to go well, and being up here meant she was away from her hovering Master for a few minutes. The centerpieces overflowed with plant life native to Onifub Home, lots of delicate little leaves that stirred in the slightest draft and tiny flowers in a half-dozen colors. Jregli arranged them according to the research she’d done and studded the groupings with little luck-charms and bless-pieces. The bowls and platters were scribed with a swirling motif that happened to closely resemble the clan’s design, which Jregli was most thrilled to have found.
The servers set out the servingware and other odds and ends while Jregli fussed. ‘P settled the platters Ressnib had found so odd into place while Chinu and Dillone readied the serving carts and filled the pitchers. Wilson brought up the appetizers, and Eddes made the final checks on the console. When they were all done, Jregli shooed them down the stairs and took a small pouch out of her apron pocket (which had proved useful, indeed!)
“Now, remember! The Clan Chief must be the first up the stairs! He’ll be easy to recognize because he’ll be the best-dressed and the one the others defer to, and if you aren’t perfectly servile, he’ll be very offended! This stuff I’m spreading around will feel like the sands they use in their ceremonies. They’ll take off their footwear; offer that if they don’t realize they can here , and it will make them feel more comfortable. This is the first time they’ve held this celebration away from Home–”
“And we need to make sure it’s perfect; we know, we know!” Wilson was smiling, but Jregli could feel the muted hostility of Dillone, Eddes, and Chinu.
“I know, you know,” she said by way of apology, “I’ll stop berating you about it. But just think! Once word gets out that you served an Onifub Clan Chief to his satisfaction, why … well … you could write your own tickets! You could go anywhere!”
Eddes’ eyes lit up at that, Jregli noted. Dillone and Chinu still looked put out, but she was reasonably certain they would do the job. Reasonably certain.
For being Second Night, the time certainly flew by. The Onifubs arrived precisely on time (which was ten Minutes after they’d said they would be there) and seemed pleased with the preparations. Shdr’edno had left Jregli in charge of the main bar and gone back to the Arcade, and this Second Night was, of course, far busier than usual. Not busy enough to spoil the Onifubs’ celebration, but busy enough to keep Jregli rushing from one end of the bar to the back room to the front.
The party must have been going well, Jregli decided as she saw the orders ticking across the console. They’d even ordered two bottles of 2kay Wisc! That was true top-shelf liquor! In this case, literally top shelf; Shdr’edno liked to have certain things on display. Were Jregli fully grown, she would have been able to simply stretch up and gently lift each bottle from its carefully lighted (and guarded) case. As it was, she would have to climb up the shelves and bring them down one by one. Best not keep the Chief waiting.
Jregli swarmed up the shelving to the display case and punched in the codes. When the display read all-clear, she punched in the secondary codes and waited for the backup trips to deactivate. When that read clear, she opened the case and carefully grabbed one of the bottles. With a quick flip, she climbed back down head first, set the bottle under the bar, and went back for the other. When it was safe on the ground, she went up one more time to reset the alarms. This time, she didn’t bother with climbing down; she just let go and dropped to the floor. It wasn’t that far, really, and she’d seen Wilson and ‘P headed her way. Good thing she had the glasses and trays ready. A quick swipe with a damp cloth, and the bottles were quite presentable.
With the extra beverage order on its way, Jregli dabbed a damp rag on a spot that had appeared on her apron. From what she’d read, it would be improbable that her gift of favor would remain pristine if she chose to wear it while working, and she was determined to keep it visible. People wouldn’t know about it if she never wore it when they could see it. So she’d studied up on how to clean it and keep it looking neat, which was why the rag was damped with a mixture of water and carbon-soda. The splotch of sauce came out rather easily, which pleased her to no end.
Wilson glided up to the bar with his customary quick-step. “Hey, chica! You have the desserts ready?” His eyes sparkled; the party must be going rather well.
“Yes, Wilson, here you go. Mmm, isn’t anyone else going to help you carry these trays?” Jregli slid the second tray onto the counter.
“Yep; you are.” Wilson grinned, baring his blunt teeth.
“Me? I have to mind the bar! And the others are sup–”
“Special request, chica. Chief wants to talk to you. I paged Ressnib; he’ll mind the bar for a few while we do this.” Sure enough, Ressnib had left the Arcade and was making his way over.
“Oh. Well. Very well, let’s not keep the Chief waiting, then,” Jregli replied. She wasn’t sure whether to feel excitement or dread, but she hopped over the bar and carefully grabbed the heavy tray of desserts. Onifubs liked their sweets, and she’d found a traditional recipe she thought would please them. Fortunately, it required no special formatting of the ‘fabbers, but they didn’t need to know that. Ressnib stepped behind the bar, not being equipped to jump it as Yerbrans were, and tossed her a wink and she trundled carefully behind Wilson.
Negotiating the stairs was an experience all its own. Yerbrans didn’t often include stairs in their architecture, and Jregli hadn’t had a lot of experience with stairs, even since coming to the Station. What experience she had gained did not include balancing a large tray of delicate sweets while going up them. At least she wasn’t going down with a full tray! She caught her toe claws on the edges of a several stairs but managed to not stumble. Much.
They finally made it all the way up, and Wilson lead the way to the table where the Chief sat. Jregli eyed everything critically as she approached; it looked to be in reasonable order. ‘P and Dillone were tidying away the last of the platters, and Chinu and Eddes were refilling drinks. Good, good. She set her tray down on the server’s stand and turned to the Chief. As gracefully as she could, she dipped an Onifub bow, right hand to her chest and left extended in entreaty. She hoped it didn’t look too silly coming from a non-Onifub.
The Chief ignored her, as was proper. It was for one of the underlings at the far end of his table to make mention of her, and one of the females quickly did so. Just as quickly, a male three seats closer to the Chief echoed her announcement, and the male seated on the Chief’s left (the one who had arranged the party with Jregli, Etro) casually glanced at Jregli. He was doing a much better job of maintaining his composure than when he’d come in, Jregli noted with approval. Probably because it was quieter.
“Honored Lord-Uncle, great Chief Itre. It seems the creature is here,” Etro said in an elegantly bored tone.
“Is it now?” Itre’s voice was rich, melodious, and beautifully tinged with just the right amount of scorn. He must be very great among his people! “Such a strange thing it is. What is it?”
“The type of thing is a Yerbran, my Chief. This one answers to the call of Jregli.” He deliberately mispronounced her name, and Jregli silently applauded him. He would go far in his society, she decided. If he managed to balance this with knowledge of which aliens he could insult and when, he would even do well in the Mutuality. Jregli was a menial servant, so she “deserved” all the scorn they chose to heap on her, especially in the context of this Clan celebration. Any other time, though, they would have to treat her according to Mutuality custom, not their own. Yet the fact that they were treating her like this was a good sign; they were enjoying the feast and felt relaxed enough to slide into tradition.
Chinu and Dillone wore carefully neutral expressions, but Jregli could tell they didn’t like the Onifubs at all. Eddes didn’t seem to mind them one way or the other, but Wilson and ‘P were hiding huge grins. Jregli could tell which of them had read the etiquette manual and which hadn’t. She held her bow, trying to not tremble with the strain of the unfamiliar position, as the servers glided behind her to begin serving the sweets. Itre sighed gustily.
“Don’t stand there like a fool, Yerbran Jregli,” he said, waving a pudgy hand at her. “Approach.”
Jregli gratefully dropped her hands, walked up to the table, and crouched in front of it so she wouldn’t tower above the guests. She had to suppress a giggle at the thought; imagine, a scrawny runt like her towering over anybody! Three months on Station wasn’t enough to overwrite the idea that she was half-sized. She knew that few aliens were as tall as Yerbrans, but it hadn’t really sunk in. She tilted her chin up toward Itre, who toyed with his cup.
“When Etro informed me of his choice for this sacred day, I was displeased. Such a place is not in keeping with our ways. Still, the boy must be allowed to chart his own course and set his own sails, so I held my peace; I determined to see where he would navigate.” Itre then stared directly at Jregli for several beats.
“I have determined that I am no longer so displeased.”
Etro nonchalantly sipped from his cup to hide his elation, and several others at the table either drank as well or nibbled at their desserts. ‘P was nearly dancing, Wilson could no longer hide his grin, and even Eddes perked up. Itre spent several moments sampling his dessert.
“It is not an entirely appropriate location, and the absence of all the traditions glares in my eyes. Yet for all these failings, Etro did not wreck upon the reefs, and you managed to weather the journey. I have heard that you encountered certain dangers and hardships for the sake of the Clan.” He looked at Jregli with mild disdain, as though he doubted she had gone to any effort. Jregli could see his intense curiosity carefully hidden behind the noble façade and felt a surge of exultation.
“Revered Chief Itre, it was but a small thing to extend myself on behalf of the Clan,” she began, ducking her chin humbly. “I did merely what was needful to properly honor the festival.”
“Merely needful!” the one female at the far end of the table exclaimed, right on cue. “Great Chief, I am told she labored day and night on our behalf!”
“And when others failed her, she personally sailed out to find the merchants and secure our feast!” a male put in.
“Did no one see how she bravely scaled the heights to fetch a whim?” the female to Itre’s right (his mate, perhaps?) added quietly, flicking her glass of the 2kay Wisc. Jregli covered a start at that. Mmm, yes, Onifubs weren’t great climbers; of course they would find it exciting that she’d gone up the shelves without a ladder. She hadn’t realized they could see the bar from … well, yes, they could, Jregli noted.
“She also drilled us in proper etiquette, that our alien ways would not so greatly offend,” Wilson put in quietly, refreshing Itre’s glass of the Wisc. He had been studying!
Itre gazed at the glass of intoxicant for several beats before taking a slow sip. The other Onifubs followed his lead, and the servers arranged themselves in the background. Jregli remained crouched in front of the table.
“Yes, it would appear that you have gone to some lengths, at least, for the sake of the Clan. Very well. Etro will arrange some suitable recompense for you. Go now. We must complete the ceremonies.”
Jregli managed to not skip down the stairs. Much.