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.
Hanging her apron carefully beside her nest in the back room, Jregli allowed herself a small, contented sigh. It had been a very good Second day, if she did say so. And she did. Herself. She repressed another giggle. Stars, but she was tired! Far more tired that usual, in fact. Her legs and arms were shaky, her belly still rumbled painfully, and her mouth felt … burned. At least her hands didn’t hurt anymore, though.
She was closing up the main bar when Shdr’edno sauntered over. Jregli knew she should cower or cringe or otherwise acknowledge him, but she was just a bit too worn out to make the effort. Tomorrow. She would cower tomorrow. Right now, she needed all her mental energies to correctly complete her closing duties.
“So, my little pet, you seem to have satisfied our guests,” Shdr’edno purred in Yerbran. “They had many fine things to say about you as they left. One of them indicated that he would be in touch with a special gift of some kind.”
“Yes, Uncle,” Jregli murmured, sparing him a small amount of attention as she punched up the night’s tallies.
“You must tell me, little pet, just how you accomplished this feat. I recall that you had several obstacles to clear, and I am most interested to hear your version of events.”
Yes, and the greatest obstacle was you, Jregli thought sourly. And now you want to tear me away from my duties, keeping me up far too late and still expecting me to have everything done right. Big jerk.
A small lump that had nothing to do with her physical aches and pains formed in the pit of her belly. Dutifully, she abandoned the console and turned to her Master. Carefully (to hide her weariness), she recited her actions regarding the party, from the moment she’d spied Etro last Week until the clan had left just before closing. Ressnib and Eddes came behind the bar while she talked, and she moved out of their way without thinking about it.
“Mmm, you have been very busy, little one. Very busy indeed.” Shdr’edno eyed her obliquely for several beats after she finished her recitation. His tail waved gently, giving no hint to his thoughts. Jregli’s tail gave no hint to her thoughts, either, but that was because she was too tired to have any body language.
“So well, in fact, that you deserve a reward. You may keep whatever gift the Onifub sends you, provided that it is not currency. If it is currency, I will use it to buy you some new aprons. How does that sound?”
It sounded like a trap. He was too smooth, too conniving, too … stingy to give her favors. Besides, there was also the small matter of his humiliation at her claws to consider. Probably trying to lull her into complacency so he surprise her and destroy her. Worked on the Merchants’ Forum back Home, hadn’t it? Wouldn’t work on her. Oh, no. Not on her. After she’d have … had some sleep, she would show him. Wouldn’t show him . After some sleep.
“That sounds most generous, Uncle. I thank you!” She must have sounded appropriate because Shdr’edno stalked off with a pleased flick of his tail. Jregli stood there for several beats more, waiting for her brain to catch up. Console. Right. Finish that.
“All good here, kiddo. You go get some sleep. Look ’bout done in.” Ressnib smiled gently at her from the other end of the bar.
“Mmm. All … done? The console is closed out? I have to tally my count … count my tally–”
“Ai, chica! You’re about to fall over! We remember how to get this place shut down, so don’t worry. Besides, all these little fixes you’ve made over the past coupla months makes closing a lot easier. So go get some shut eye, eh?” Wilson turned her toward the back room and gave her shoulders a gentle shove.
“Trust us; we’ll do you proud, kiddo,” Ressnib added.
“Trust you; yes, I can trust you. Trust my friends. I can do that. I have friends …” Jregli mumbled as she stumbled to her nest. She drew up short when she realized that someone was in her space. Mahl looked up from arranging the blankets.
“Ah, there you are, urbii! You look exhausted, poor dear. Come, come! Your bed is all ready for you. There’s a dear, lie down now. Don’t worry about your apron, I’ve washed it out for you and hung it up to dry so it will be fresh for tomorrow. Why your Uncle makes you sleep back here, I don’t know. Seems strange to leave a child all alone in a back room while he goes off to his own quarters, but that’s Yerbrans for you! I’m only a simple alien, aren’t I? I can’t pretend to understand all your ways, so I won’t; I’d make a fool of myself, wouldn’t I?”
The soft sound of Mahl’s voice faded as Jregli closed her eyes. As she slid into sleep, Jregli wondered what in the Galaxy Mahl thought she was doing.
The sweet darkness of slumber shattered with a chamber-splitting shriek that sent Jregli about five Units into the air. Hearts thudding erratically, she searched wildly for the source of the alarm. After agonizing seconds, she realized it came from her little ‘pad, which she kept on the shelf next to her nest. With hands made clumsy from shock, she grabbed the ‘pad, knocked it to the floor, sent it skittering halfway across the room, and finally got her hands around it. The screen was locked, and it took her long enough to figure out the code that she was fully awake by the time she silenced the alarm.
What, by all the scouring Winds in the Dun’dresnn desert, was her Master up to now?
She located the event linked to the alarm, a sono file. She felt her shoulders tighten as she keyed it to playback.
“Dear little pet, I thought that you might not recall your appointment to meet with the Uunfe Dpolqr, so I took the liberty of setting a reminder for you. They rise early; you will need to be there before the fifth hour. Don’t forget to complete your chores before you leave.”
The smooth, silky voice of her Master made Jregli want to gnash her teeth. Of course she wouldn’t remember the time of the appointment; he’d never told her! He’d sent her off on her errands before arranging that with Kkle’drqo. He’d deliberately not told her just so he could do this to her. And he’d made certain to wake her up with almost no time to get anything done, too. If her followers hadn’t taken all the duties last night, she would have been critically short of sleep.
The dull lump in her stomach flared hotter. She gripped the ‘pad tighter.
Well, it would do no good to get upset about it. Jregli took a deep, long breath. It was the right of Masters to do whatever they wished, and if it brought her Master pleasure to do this, then it was for her to accept it. It didn’t matter whether or not she liked it, but getting her tail in a bend wasn’t going to make it any better. Besides, not being upset would be a grain of sand in Shdr’edno’s eye, now, wouldn’t it? She kept telling herself that as she stomped out to the Pub.
When she punched up the console, a message light flashed at her. Surprised, she saw that it was addressed to her, from Ressnib. She brought it up.
Kiddo, enjoy your morning. We took care of everything before we left, so you shouldn’t have anything to do when you get up. There’s a meal for you in the cold box; maybe left from when you went out last week. Have fun with the Dancers. Don’t think you heard, but the reason the Twins aren’t around is Shdr’edno made them take two weeks without pay for all the trouble they caused. Some other things, too, but that’s all we’ve heard of for sure. Yurs-ond sees them each night, and they’re fine. Missing you and send their love. See you tonight. R
Jregli stared at the message for several Minutes. Then she checked the console. What do you know; they actually did take care of everything.
Shdr’edno sighed as he stretched, feeling his muscles loosen after a good night’s sleep in his luxurious nest. He kept his quarters modestly decorated, in keeping with his status as a simple Pub owner, but anyone with a considerate eye would see the quality carefully hidden beneath the modest veneer. He always awoke ravenous, so he headed to the prep room of his simple quarters to sate his belly.
Mindful of nutrition, he served himself first a generous piece of w’rrdll root marinated in its own leaf-oil. Most people would consider that a plain meal, but it was good for you. Shdr’edno actually liked the subtle, woody taste of the root, particularly in contrast with the bitter tang of the oil. Once he finished that, he allowed himself a serving of fresh, succulent shoots imported directly from Home. That was an extravagance worthy of his status as the most powerful man of Yerbra.
Savoring the green flavor of the tender plants, he took some time to reflect on where he’d been, where he was, and, most importantly, where he was going. He was already incredibly powerful, controlling vast portions of the Yerbran economy and substantial portions of the economy of the Fredan Space Station 5. His claws hovered above several possibilities in Uffniorn, Ferlindis, Vun, Human, and Enndes. Since the delightful debacle of the last week, he’d begun probing into Hunsid and Tingort.
He had so much already. What more could he acquire? Mmm, he knew exactly what he wanted next.
He put the platters into their slots in the cabinet, closed it, and activated the sterilizer. He then went to his spacious lavatory for his morning toilette. Setting the buffer to begin on his back, he began thinking.
He’d always accomplished what he’d set out to do, even when it took several tries. He didn’t give up and didn’t allow set-backs to deter him from his goals. He’d hatched with ambition in his hearts and passion in his eyes, tools he’d used to make himself the man he was today.
His sire was a fool, an idiot unworthy of his noble lineage. His greatest accomplishment was siring Shdr’edno, but that was not enough to redeem his pathetic existence. Shdr’edno’s grandsire, Dsunf’ppo, was a man worth admiring. He had taught the young Shderd cunning and business, encouraged him to practice, attempt, and persevere, had sponsored his adulthood and given him his adult name. Shdr’edno had made certain to repay his grandsire handsomely, with a beautifully-crafted coup of the family security business. Dsunf’ppo now proudly served under Shdr’edno, maintaining things back Home. Shdr’edno had, of course, made him the chief of the servants.
Servants that he lacked here in the Mutuality, Shdr’edno reflected as he turned the buffer off and began applying oils. A simple Pub-owner could never afford to employ more than the occasional cleaner, certainly not all the staff that was Shdr’edno’s right to have. But he made do without them; he made do.
Keeping the low profile here on the Station was not due to any concern of actions from Home. Oh, no, the Merchants’ Forum belonged to him now. He’d gained the contracts to design their security systems, which gave him access to all of their files. He’d built in back-doors and programmed special sub-routines purely for his own use. He’d carefully arranged a variety of “accidents” to give him the excuse to work on-location and impress them with technical jargon. It had taken less than three Cycles for all of them to become completely dependent on him to maintain their systems. Sensibly, they had been terrified of him.
They couldn’t prove anything, of course, so they’d had to let him continue. Watching them gnaw themselves into a frenzy, waiting for his strike, had been a joy. He could and did give them the most ridiculous excuses for why programs and machinery failed, and they had to accept it. Solar magnetism, indeed! Shdr’edno had also maneuvered his competition into public shame (and occasional injury), thus removing them from his sight. And when the heads of the Forum awoke that one morning to find Shdr’edno now owned the controlling interest in all of their businesses … it still gave him a shiver of delight.
Shdr’edno began a sprightly song as he went to the public room of his quarters to perform his daily exercises. He’d eventually divested himself of most of those ventures; they weren’t really useful to his plans. He’d kept several of them, however; namely the ones involved in irrigation, innovation research, and medical supplies. Shdr’edno now controlled food production, the facilitation of new technology, and the availability of health care products for nearly all of Yerbra Home.
Shdr’edno had long been a great supporter of new ideas and better medicine for his people. New ideas created new opportunities, and healthy, well-fed people were more inclined to pay for those new ideas. And inventors of new ideas had to pay Shdr’edno to give them the opportunity to market to the people. Those funds in turn went into ensuring that appropriate laws were passed to keep the system working just the way it was.
And now, he had reached many of his goals and most of his dreams. His power spread over not only Home but several systems. He had any number of fronts taking attention away from him, freeing him to operate efficiently. He had … an … interesting diversion in his slave. Who would now enable him to shape another dream into reality. She would give him the Dancers.