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.
Neim wasn’t satisfied, but he could probably be described as mollified. The Uffniorns had wriggled out of the fullest measure of justice, but they had been slapped with heavy fines and officially blacklisted by Mutuality Security. The comprehensive genetic scans attached to their profiles would make it hard for them to move around the Galaxy for a long time. It wasn’t as good as seeing them incarcerated for ten or twenty years in a heavy labor camp, but it was better than Neim’s worst-case projections. And it was definitely worth it to see Trogvan fume.
Neim sighed as he waited for the lift to drop him off at the Bridge. He’d gotten a lot done today, and it was almost time to go meet Sam for ‘fishing. The ‘tainment session wouldn’t last nearly long enough, but it never did. Still better than nothing. The lift doors swished open and Neim stepped into his second-favorite spot on the Station.
“Commander on deck!” Drifn snapped to the crew on duty. Everyone who wasn’t engrossed in something came to attention as Neim paced over to his console. Drifn, his face twisted into his customary scowl, saluted and stepped back.
“Thank you, Lieutenant. I have command,” Neim nodded to Drifn.
“Sir.” Drifn was always perfectly correct, but his attitude left so much to be desired. He did his job well, and Neim was slightly confused about why he hadn’t been promoted already. Politics, most likely. Pissed off the wrong sentient somewhere along the line. Neim settled into the command chair and set the console to reconfigure to his preferred settings. Sar was off today, so he turned to Ensign Yum.
“Begin reports, Ensign.”
“Sir. Hourly inbound Corridor report: Eighty-seven percent of scheduled traffic accounted for at this time. Fifteen percent of those were delayed; ninety-one percent of those delayed credit Corridor hyper-fluctuations for the delay. No collisions in the approach vectors …”
Neim hid a frown as he scrolled through the details on his console. That was a lot of delays and a lot of late ships. Were the Flioim making another point? He’d never heard of anyone being able to create large enough disruptions to the gravitational flow of hyper-space to seriously delay a ship. But the Flioim had tech they weren’t sharing, even with the Vun, because none of the other ‘Hole’s residents could even dream of closing off their Corridors to traffic. The Flioim had done it twice: the first time by narrowing the diameter of the sub-space variance that was the entrance/exit of the ‘Hole so much that not even a slip could get through it, and the second time by masking that variance so that no one’s sensors could pick it up to plot a course.
It was entirely possible that they were doing something like that again, this time by allowing ships in and then making it too dangerous for them to pass through. Looked like the fluctuations reported by the traffic were all along the Corridor and not localized to any particular area. The ships not delayed also reported that the hyper-space readings were closer to the red zone than they liked. It wasn’t unheard of for normal hyper-space waves to fluctuate and come apart in response to astronomical changes, like a star going nova or even a really big battle explosion, but Wormholes were, by anyone’s definition, far more stable than that.
Neim’s grasp of astro-physics was solid enough for him to have passed his required courses and continuing education programs, but he wasn’t an expert. Still, Wormhole 101 was something you learned in Primary. Wormholes were permanent, specifically directed passages within hyper-space, which was otherwise just the area defined by the gravitational effects of the galaxy.
Star systems, black holes, comets, and just about everything else contributed to the river of energy that swirled just beyond the grasp of pre-space Races. The more gravities an object commanded, the greater its influence on hyper-space. But Wormholes weren’t as easily affected by those everyday little changes; their hyper seldom shifted, even for a M-7 nova. And their gravitic flow also seemed unimpressed by the events that often buckled the stronger parts of hyper. Wormholes were virtually immutable.
So what the hell could make the Fredan-Unlind Corridor shiver like Granny in the wintertime? And were the Flioim the ones doing it?
Fruns had dug up a lot of data on the Vun’s history, but it still didn’t provide much insight on the ‘Hole residents. The Vun insisted hotly and at length that their celestials were not dangerous whenever a hint of concern came up. Neim was inclined to agree. For now. What data they had showed a pattern of peaceful interactions. And the fact that every story consistently backed up the idea that the “angels” stood between Life and Trezaq was impressive. Not even the religious dissidents among the Vun would argue against that, which was telling. But just because there wasn’t any evidence (yet) that the residents had unpleasant motives didn’t mean that they were everybody’s friends.
So, boil it all down. The Flioim had lodged an official complaint through their proxies. Traffic reported dangerous sensor readings from an area that should not have dangerous things to sense. Ships were significantly delayed or unaccounted for. And C&P had agreed to look more closely at the situation. Which they definitely would now, since merchants were not making their runs on schedule. Unhappy merchants were the bane of ever–
“Hold a moment, Fruns. Did you mention something about Yerbrans?”
She awoke with a start and a small gasp. That was completely normal, but the noise out in the Pub was not. She always woke up quickly, ready to serve, hopefully before anyone decided she needed help getting up. But it was not supposed to be noisy. This time, however, Jregli was not disoriented, and she felt far less awful. But she was still confused about many things.
Firstly, she needed to determine what duties she was supposed to be performing . Opening her eyes, she listened carefully to the sounds of the Pub. Someone mixing drinks at the main bar, quiet voices discussing the drudgery of being a ship hand, the clink and clatter of tableware in the distance … no music, no loud voices. So, possibly still early in the day. What day was it? It had been Fifth Dayday when she went out with the … when she went out, so it was at least Sixth Dayday.
She needed to get up and help open … no, Mahl had said that everyone else had come in to open. Was it First Dayday already? Had she slept that long? No! Master would be furious–
But he said to stay back here, hadn’t he? Jregli forced herself to remember. He’d said … to stay … in the back room, that was it! Go lie down and stay there until he came. When would he come? How could she let him know that she was awake and able to get back to her duties? There was no lavatory in the back room, and now that she was awake …
Oh, he would delay for as long as possible, wouldn’t he? Make her lie back here until she became either bowel-bound or lay in her own filth. That would be a fitting punishment for her behavior. And it would be just like him, too. He couldn’t be content with making his point. He had to drive it home again and again. It was perfectly acceptable to humiliate an enemy more than she had humiliated you, but there came a point when it was really overkill. Didn’t it? Come to that point? Maybe it was only for free people that that line of temperance appeared; slaves weren’t worthy of such niceties.
“Ah, good! You’re awake again!” Ressnib came around the corner into the storage room, making enough noise that Jregli should have heard him moving before he’d begun. But she hadn’t; she’d been caught up in thinking, and this was just another item to add to the long list of her inadequacies. Any Yerbran worth her tail should have heard any sentient coming–
“How you feeling, kiddo?” Ressnib asked as he pulled a sack of formulator MS-087 off the shelf. “You hungry yet? Thirsty?”
Master hadn’t said she couldn’t speak, had he? She didn’t think so. “I’m alright.”
Ressnib frowned at her and lowered the sack to the floor. “Not gonna call you a liar, kiddo, but I don’t believe that for a minute. You started out here pretty bad off, and the way you looked when you come in Fifth Night … I don’t think you’re ‘alright’. Answer me straight, now. You hungry?”
“Yes, sir.” She tried to shrink into the blankets, but it wasn’t as easy as it usually was. It was almost as though there were fewer blankets in her nest …
“Yes, sir.” Glancing around, she noticed that several things seemed to be out of place.
“Yes, sir.” Her data pad was the only thing on the shelf she’d claimed for her own. Where were her …?
“You need the lav?”
“Yes, sir.” And what–
“Fine, then. First things first. See if you can get up, and we’ll get you to the lav. Then Wilson’ll–”
“I can’t get up.”
“You hurting that much, kiddo?” Ressnib left the sack propped against the shelving and came over to her, his face all wrinkled up in concern.
“Mmm, no, not that much, but Uncle said I had to stay back here until he came to see me. Check me over, I mean.” Was it bad that her voice sounded so flat? She usually tried to be upbeat and project happiness so other’s wouldn’t have to be distracted by her attitude. She was failing miserably at that now, wasn’t she?
Ressnib grunted unhappily. “He did, didn’t he. I’ll go get him then– ‘cept he’s holed up with the Twins right now. They been at it for hours now.” He frowned again, and Jregli just lay there. It didn’t matter now. Didn’t matter at all.
“Fine, then. I’m calling it. You’re going to the lav with Mahl, and if he’s got a problem with it, then he’ll talk to me about it.”
Whatever. It didn’t matter now. Ressnib helped her up and guided her out to the Pub. Her feet shuffled, her tail dragged, and her hands lay limply along her thighs. The storage rooms were kept dim unless someone was in them, but Ressnib hadn’t turned up the lights when he’d come back for the mix. When they got to the bar, the stronger illumination of the Pub hurt Jregli’s eyes. Not that it mattered.
“Mahl? You wanna get the kiddo to the lav and back? She’s not too steady.”
“Of course, Rassnib.” Mahl set down the glasses she’d been wiping dry and took Ressnib’s place at Jregli’s side. Right, to the lavatory. Jregli shambled around the bar and to the closest lavatory.
When she was done, Mahl quietly guided her to a small table hidden by the corner of the bar. An upholstered square of adequate size replaced one of the chairs, and Jregli dropped onto it at Mahl’s gesture. Someone put a glass of water in front of her, so Jregli drank it. Someone put a plate of food in front of her, so Jregli ate it. The glass was full again, so Jregli drank that, too.
She was starting to feel better when Shdr’edno’s voice cut through the quiet chatter of the Pub.