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 know of several who may be able to provide what we need, my Lord. And I will make certain the vendor pays for its error and does not charge us. By your leave, my Lord, I will devote myself to this task.” Was she being servile enough? She cringed a little more. Shdr’edno sighed gustily.
“So not only did you fail to make certain the order would be completed, now you wish to take time away from your current duties to attempt to correct your failure? This is not an efficient or effective use of resources, child.” He emphasized the last word in case she might have missed his implied meaning.
“I will complete the work assigned me, my Lord,” Jregli replied. Really, when a Master was in a mood like this, you couldn’t defend yourself.
“Mmm,” was Shdr’edno’s reply. He ignored her and continued to work at his console. Knowing better, Jregli stayed put behind him, patiently waiting for him to give her orders. She carefully kept her submissive pose, noting in passing that her trembling was actually contributing. While she waited, she looked around to see what the employees (her friends!) were up to. Naturally, they were busy at their assigned duties, but Jregli took a closer look at how they were going about their tasks.
‘P seemed to really enjoy serving the tables. He moved with his customary energy, yet all the guests seemed to respond as though he’d spent hours with them. How did he do it? It must be a subtlety, a small thing that he was doing, since Jregli hadn’t yet been able to pick it out. Immud plodded between his tables as he always did, and Jregli had a hard time determining if he enjoyed his work or not. Engrads were so … colorless that Jregli had more trouble interpreting their signals than she did the more expressive Races. Yet Immud didn’t complain.
Wilson joked with his tables, teasing his customers into better moods and bigger tips. He flirted outrageously with all of them, and most of them replied favorably. Occasionally, one wouldn’t take it well, and Wilson would have to correct himself. Still, he didn’t get many complaints, and Jregli hadn’t heard that he was looking for other work.
Yurs-ond had made it clear both that he wasn’t going anywhere and that he wished he could. He seemed to hate working for Shdr’edno, yet he never tried to leave. But he was one of the best sono-tainment jockeys on the Station, and Jregli knew the Pub needed him to stay.
Chinu and Dillone were off tonight; there wasn’t enough custom to call them in. Eddes worked the small party room, and Jregli hadn’t seen him in a while. Those three were the type who knew they were good enough at their jobs to get away with a lot of grumbling. Any time anything changed, no matter how small, they complained about it. They’d hated when Jregli came to the Pub and still didn’t quite trust her. Every Station inspection threw them into a dither. The new items on the menu had caused such a fury that Jregli had felt sure they hated her. They were pleasant enough to the customers, and Jregli knew that they were the best choice for serving the Onifubs, but honestly! Did they ever draw breath for something other than griping?
Jregli wasn’t sure that Eddes, Dillone, and Chinu realized that competency would only carry them so far. She’d seen it often enough back Home; employers would only overlook bad attitudes so long before casting off a capable employee. Those sentients convinced that the Galaxy owed them were not pleasant to work with, at all, and Jregli had carefully avoided those three for the almost-three months she’d been at the Pub. But was that a good thing? Maybe she should try to add them to her little band of followers.
Jregli continued to wait for her Master to bother answering her. She knew he was trying to unnerve her, so she didn’t take it to hearts; she just played along, cringing and waiting.
As she watched the activity in the Pub, she had another strange thought. She was having a lot of those! She could see nearly all the activity in the Pub by virtue of her well-placed eyes. Harvit had pressed her at that dinner at the Glass Room on what it was like to see so much at once. How limited he was, to see so little. Other Races had to move their heads and swivel their eyes to see things that weren’t directly in front of them. That seemed to Jregli to be terribly inefficient. She would feel blind if she couldn’t see all around her! Why, at this moment, she could see the Pub, the floor behind the bar, the ceiling, and the reflection of everything in the mirror-fab behind the bar shelves. Did other sentients find it strange to see double? Or triple?
It would be quite an experiment to cover one (or two!) of her eyes and try to function for a time without it, she mused as Shdr’edno shifted his weight. He was enjoying making her squirm, so she obliged him with a tiny fidget. Keep him happy, keep him unawares.
The Arcade was nearly empty tonight, and the balcony was closed off. First Nights were always slow. For once, Jregli hadn’t minded the slowness, since Shdr’edno was giving her so many systems tasks. She was learning a lot about how the Pub functioned, more than Shdr’edno seemed to realize. Didn’t he think that by ordering her to slog through all those back office reports that she would thereby be learning how to use them? How to keep the Pub running without him? He must not, or he would have kept her running around cleaning or organizing the shelves in back by the number of grains in each bag of lerrinth. Were she his heir, he could be accused of preparing her to take over for him. But she wasn’t, so he wouldn’t. He couldn’t be aware that he’d inadvertently taught her how to run the Pub without him.
Shdr’edno watched his slave carefully from the back of his eyes. She was properly submissive, but he couldn’t help but think there was something … off about her pose. What was she thinking now? Too bad all the bone and chambers in Yerbran heads made telepathic observation of their thoughts nearly impossible; he might toy with the idea of hiring a ‘path to deep-scan the brat. That would be worth spending the cred on. It would be invasive, demeaning, and the next thing to rape, which was why it was illegal and would cost him quite a lot of mutuals to find someone willing to do it. It occurred to Shdr’edno that considering such actions was not the mark of a civilized man. Fah; it wasn’t as if he could do it, anyhow.
“Why are you still standing there, child? You have work to do!” he snapped at her. Her guilty jump was mildly satisfying, as was her disgusting tripping over her own feet. She scuttled to the main console and began frantically punching things into it. Shdr’edno continued watching her and his other employees as he worked on his own console. He mixed some drinks and fabbed some food, but mostly he kept careful eyes on things. Things seemed to be going well Tonight, and that made him uneasy. It meant that something was about to be screwed up. The next order that popped up on the console confirmed his suspicions.
Someone had ordered fresh food. Shdr’edno looked at the table number and then out into the Pub to find the customers. Oho; a pair of Uffniorns. A courting pair, by the look of it. The male probably wanted to impress the female by ordering freshly made … likvr nu uniunz? What was– oho!! His tail curled with malicious glee.
“Pet!” he snapped at the brat. “Fresh food order! Go prepare it now!”
She froze for two beats before falling all over herself in order to get back to the prepper in the back room. Shdr’edno repressed a happy trill as he thought about what the brat would have to do to prepare the meal. Not only was the order a meat dish, it was one of the most disgusting ones ever created. He flipped on the vidfeed in the back so he could watch her from his console.
Jregli scrambled to pull the ingredients together. She flicked the prepper to life as she passed it, headed for the cold storage where the fresh stuff was kept. Likvr nu uniunz had to be one of the most evil inventions she’d ever heard of, right up there with bomb-strafing planets, religious murder, and Gerbdisan folk music. The stuff smelled atrocious, the meat jiggled even when cooked, and the vegetable was so over-seasoned and over-cooked that you couldn’t even tell what it was supposed to be.
She knew exactly why her Master had ordered her to make it; it wasn’t because there was no one else who could. Too bad for him that she was used to horrible-smelling stuff and had made herself very familiar with how to prep alien meals. The customers who’d had the poor taste to order this culinary horror would find it the best-made one in the sector! Jregli clenched her teeth as she pulled the pack of chilled meat off the shelf and grabbed a pair of uniun roots from the bin. She placed them carefully on the counter by the prepper and ran back for the seasonings.
Putting it together wasn’t too bad, particularly since she’d had the foresight nine weeks ago to rig one of the unused fab accessories for the prepper. Now, all she had to do was dump the roots into the hopper and direct the chute to dump the shredded vegetable onto the hot prepper plate. The mass hit with a loud sizzle, and she hastily covered it with powdered spices. After a quick stir, she left it to caramelize (whatever that originally meant) and turned to the meat. It was so gross!
But no, she had work to do. She carefully slid it out of the sealed wrapping and into a dish. She doused it liberally with the flavored sauce, turning the pieces to coat both sides. As she stirred the uniunz again with the spatula, she was very glad she hadn’t had to touch them after they’d been cut; she’d never have gotten that acrid scent off her hands!
The stinging odor of the uniunz burned her sinuses, but she ignored it. Judging the vegetable sufficiently caramelized, she scraped it all off the plate and into the dish with the likvr meat. Pulling open the prepper’s cook-chamber door, she popped the entire dish in, barely managing to not slosh herself. She closed the door, set the timer, and began cleaning the prepper plate and shredding device. Again, she blessed her foresight as she cleaned the juicy scraps of roots out of the accessory without having to touch it. She finished with barely enough time to grab the fancy serving plates before the timer sounded.
Jregli walked back out to the Pub very carefully; the tray was heavier than she could safely manage. Turning sideways to navigate the corridor, she eased her burden out to the bar. She stumbled slightly and began falling forwards, the tray nearly sliding from her grasp. Horrified, she struggled the keep her feet underneath her and just managed to get the edge of the tray on the bartop before she crashed. It slid crazily a few deci-Units and stopped. Jregli took a deep, rattling breath as she steadied herself. The sauce hadn’t slopped out of the dish, so disaster was averted. She straightened the meal just as ‘P rushed up.
“Ah, me, Jregli; you fixed this up? Splendid! It smells delicious, biba!” The tiny sentient hefted the tray easily over his head and dashed back to his waiting customers without making the sauce so much as quiver.
Jregli took another deep breath and felt pleased with herself. Especially once she realized that Shdr’edno did not look pleased.