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.
Commander Franklyn O. R. Neim was not pleased with life. Being universally despised puts a damper on everything, he decided. He’d made it farther in his career than anyone had thought (farther than many had wanted), earned top honors for his performance, and become the first Human to command a Mutuality Space Station. He stood on the bridge of that Station, overseeing the day’s operations.
“Hourly inbound Corridor report, Commander. All scheduled arrivals accounted for at this time. Forty percent were late, five percent were early. Three collisions in approach channels, one vessel lost. Security searched seventeen vessels, confiscated cargo from five, detained twenty passengers, arrested five…”
Neim half listened to the Rundion giving the summary of the report that scrolled across his screen. Sar was a good officer and one of the least troublesome. Her voice was pleasant to listen to, unlike that of Drifn, the Westro who began the hourly outbound Corridor report when Sar finished. His shrill voice always set Neim’s teeth on edge, and he refused to use a translator that would lessen the pain he inflicted on other sentients. Probably because he hated Neim for getting the promotion he had wanted. Possibly because the Westros were just nasty sentients to begin with. Neim had never met one (or heard of one, for that matter) who had been more mannerly than survival required.
Drifn’s report was thankfully short, and Neim nodded to Fruns to begin the hourly Station report. Fruns, a Qwadesixo who delighted in keeping up with the hundreds of mini-dramas that comprised life aboard a Space Station, chattered into his report at light-speed. Neim resisted the urge to rub his forehead; he’d told Fruns that the report could only be three mins long, hoping that the Qwadesixo would learn to summarize. Fruns just talked faster to get as much in as he could. He didn’t seem to care about being subordinated to a Human as long as he got to keep tabs on everything.
His officers, at least, weren’t much of a problem. They were professional enough to hold any negative opinions until they had an audience that would actually be able to do something about whatever they said. They knew that causing their superior officer trouble while on duty wasn’t going to benefit them, so they did their jobs well, if sometimes annoyingly.
“Commander N’im! What is the meaning of this outrage!!”
No, subordinate officers of the Mutuality weren’t too much of a problem. It was the civilians who were the pain in the ass.
Ambassador Trogvan of The Exalted Empire of Uffniorn oozed onto the bridge, his fury causing his normally malodorous slime trail to singe Neim’s nose hairs. Uffniorns always reminded Neim of the slugs his granny had warred with in her kitchen garden, though the resemblance was only passing. Uffniorns had arms, warts, a ridge of bristling hair down their backs, and tempers. They also had credits.
“How may I help you, Ambassador?”
“Don’t pretend you don’t know, Human!” Oh, Trog was playing that card today. “The excellent Captain Gorktad of the Exalted Empire vessel Inborsad was harassed and abused by your sentients! His ship was searched without cause! His passengers were detained, publicly humiliated, and three of them are in your custody even now! I want them released this instant!”
“They will be released when the Mutuality court orders it.” Neim tried to be patient. “If you would like to discuss this, please, let us step into the conference room. Judge Rednot will join us there.” Neim gestured for the Ambassador and his small entourage to precede him.
Trog’s face went from yellowish-brown to something like greenish purple. He hadn’t missed Neim’s subtle insult, and he wasn’t going to forget it. Neim tried not to sigh as the group slithered past, as much to stay professional as to not have to smell them. Uffniorns did not like Humanity and had opposed their involvement in the Mutuality from the start. He wasn’t quite sure why, but it had as much to do with religion as politics. Not caring for either topic, he just accepted the fact that Uffniorns hated Humans and left it at that.
Neim waited for the service bots that trailed the Ambassador and entourage to finish cleaning the deck before following the group into the conference room off the bridge. He really shouldn’t have needled the Ambassador; Trog was hard enough to deal with when trying to be pleasant. As he walked, Neim glanced down at his hand-held to read more on Sar’s report.
“Judge Rednot indicates she will be available in fifteen mins, Commander,” Sar spoke up helpfully.
“Excellent, lieutenant,” Neim muttered as he continued scanning the report. “Direct her to this room.”
Neim’s update to the daily Corridor report would have to wait because Trogvan wouldn’t. According to the Mutuality, overseeing the Corridor was Neim’s most important task. According to reality, keeping the dozens of Races invested in the Station happy was Neim’s most time-consuming task.
Based on the report Sar had compiled, the Uffniorns in question were suspected of smuggling a Grade-4 banned substance, samples of which were also in custody. Great. Trog was not going to be happy.
Jregli clicked her inner teeth as she waited for the last two first-shift employees to arrive at the Pub. Shdr’edno had stalked off to his office several Star-Standard Minutes ago, and he’d been more tense than usual. Jregli’s peripheral vision was better than most Yerbrans (who had better peripheral vision than ninety-five percent of sentients), so she’d seen when he’d stiffened and glared at her just before Immud had spoken to him. That worried her. Had he figured it out? More importantly, would he … no, what would he do to her now? She’d been the best possible slave; staying completely servile in his presence and playing the dutiful, deferential niece in public. Would he send her back?
A thrap on the service door diverted her thoughts. She flipped the lock to let Hevrit and Harvit in.
The Twins bounced in cheerfully, which was completely normal; Hunsids were an optimistic race and welcomed almost galactically. Shdr’edno employed them because their good natures encouraged many sentients to play the chance games and their cheeky wit effectively disguised their swift hands. They’d been teaching Jregli how to manipulate cards, balls, and the gaming machines, but Yerbrans just weren’t as dexterous as these seven-fingered Hunsid Twins. She was a good learner, though.
“Jregli, light of the Mutuality!” Harvit cried, throwing his short arms wide.
“Darling of a thousand systems!” Hevrit wasn’t about to be outdone by his brother.
“She of the sharpest claws and most gracious nature!”
“The most genius of sentients!”
Jregli coaxed her lips into a smile. It was easier now than it had been when she’d arrived; Yerbrans didn’t use a facial grimace to express positive sentiment. She’d practiced, making sure to not bare her teeth. Many sentients smiled with their teeth, but few had teeth as proportionately long and sharp as Yerbrans did. Sharp teeth were considered frightening or threatening by many Races, so she focused on keeping hers covered and her too-thin lips pleasant. It helped that Yerbrans didn’t use their mouths for speaking. The Twins were just such marvelous creatures.
“Ah! She smiles!” Hevrit clutched his torso. “Such a smile I would wait a thousand years to see, and I have seen it on this day!”
“Such grace! Such glamor!” Harvit swooned.
“Enough, you rogues!” Jregli ground out in the Hunsid language. It was hard to not laugh at them, and they did their utmost to trick that out of her. It had become a game, now, for the three of them. “Your flattery falls on deaf ears, and I’ll have neither of you! I have seen your fickleness, how you torture the hearts of every female sentient you come across. I’ll not be another conquest!” She swept past them with all the hauteur she could muster, which was quite a bit; she’d observed Mistress carefully.
“Forbid it! She has rejected us!” The Twins pranced behind her in mock despair, wailing and proclaiming undying devotion. Jregli was very glad they couldn’t read Yerbran body language; she was too close to cracking up.
“Can it, blokes,” Mahl put in, speaking the Mutual language. She continued rolling napkins for the private party room as she glanced back towards the office. “You want to get him out here?” She glared at the pair. “He’s already in a mood as it is, so you’d best watch yourselves.”
The Twins grinned, mimed horror, and skipped off to their respective stations. Jregli made a tiny chuckle once they were out of aural range and helped Mahl with the napkins. As she stacked the finished napkins, Mahl rolled her eyes, a motion that continued to fascinate Jregli. Truthfully, movable eyes had taken her quite a while to get used to; Yerbran eyes remained fixed in their sockets, and seeing the tiny, glistening orbs of other Races change positions was…unsettling. Yerbran eyes were large and faceted, having anywhere from three hundred to three hundred thirty facets each and covered by a clear, protective membrane. Jregli’s side eyes had seven hundred sixteen facets each, and her top eye had seven hundred twenty-two.
Placing the napkins in their bin, Jregli covertly watched Mahl blink, another fascinating movement. Yerbrans had eyelids, of course, but not like other Races had. Mahl was Rundion, a bi-ped much like Engrads and Humans, and they all needed to blink often to keep their eyes moist. That’s what Yerbrans had their membranes for, so Jregli never blinked. She only used her eyelids when she wanted to close out light or when she was caught in a particularly bad windstorm.
It was also bizarre that so many sentients had two lids per eye, one on top and one on bottom. Jregli’s lids were as shriveled as the rest of her, but they worked properly, folding neatly at the front of each eye when opened and stretching back to cover the whole orb when at rest. Aliens were just so fascinating.
The seven employees (including Jregli, who was not actually an employee) busied themselves with their opening duties. Lunch time on Fourth Day was usually light, though the dinner crowd would be thick. The other ten employees would likely all have to come in tonight. Jregli hoped that she could be the reason the dinner crowds had picked up so much in the last month; she’d worked so hard.
Maybe that was a problem, she mused as she carried the napkins to the private room. Maybe she was working too hard. Most of the slaves back Home hadn’t done much more than was required, unless they were trying to be noticed and thus granted favors. Wesf’er would have been pleased, granted the favors, and thought nothing more of it. In fact, most of the masters on Yerbra Home would not have thought much about it. Shdr’edno obviously was thinking more about it. And Jregli had made a tactical error in assuming he would be like the others.
That uncomfortable admission aside, now what to do? She called up the reservation list on the private room’s console. Ick; a Werdsulian Feast Day celebration, and a large group of them at that. They always left a huge mess. Jregli would not be allowed to serve them, but the cleanup would keep her out of her Master’s way until she could develop a new strategy for dealing with him.
Hearing the hum of the pub’s main lighting begin, she flicked the private room’s lights to the Werdsulian setting and scampered back to the bar.