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.
Jregli froze at the exclamation. Someone had seen her! An instant later, she realized just who had seen her; it was one of the Dancers. No, two of them! They stood to her left, near the wall, where they might (presumably) have been discretely observing the remaining diners. And they had just seen her. These beautiful, talented, ethereal creatures had just seen … her.
“It appears to be a child,” the other Dancer said.
“Are you certain?” the first one snorted delicately. “I’m not quite certain it’s even Yerbran. It has the general shape of it, but …” She trailed off flippantly.
“The child is a little girl, Gp’nifse,” the second replied levelly. “It’s not polite to speak of her thusly.”
“Come now, Jujk’anrl! I can see that the child is a girl; but have you ever seen such and ugly little thing? Truly, she’s hideous!”
“Her appearance does not excuse us from our manners.”
“Do you not agree that i–she is … somewhat misshapen?”
“She is, at that. One must wonder, then, at her upbringing, that she takes so little care for herself.”
“‘T’would appear she tried to clean herself up tonight, but it was perhaps not as effective as hoped for.” Gp’nifse flicked her tail with mild distaste.
Jujk’anrl sniffed the air carefully. “I do believe the child has just come from the lavatory … one might wonder if the facilities in this establishment are quite safe, such an odor clings to her!”
“Perhaps, given the child’s general appearance, she does not yet know how to properly use facilities.”
The two had been speaking quietly to one another, and it was quite likely they didn’t think that anyone could possibly overhear them. They didn’t know how sharp Jregli’s hearing was, how carefully she paid attention to what adults said.
“She has stopped,” Gp’nifse said, surprised.
“Perhaps she has never seen a Dancer before and merely wishes to enjoy our presence,” Jujk’anrl murmured.
“I do hope she doesn’t try to come any closer. I, for one, have had quite enough of the closeness of admirers for one evening.”
“And the air that clings about her is …”
Jregli finally managed to unhinge her joints, breaking free from her shock with a sharp jerk and shambled away from them clumsily. These beautiful, talented creatures shouldn’t have to be offended by her presence, she shouldn’t insult them by gawking, she had to get away …
“Oh, and see how it moves! How terrible!” Gp’nifse exclaimed. Jregli tried to steady herself, which naturally made her gait worse.
“Jregli! There you are, beloved! We were so worried; you were gone so long!” Jregli lurched again as Hevrit’s loud call distracted her. Both Hunsids hurried over to her, ducking around the tables and seats with another Hunsid and a server whose Race Jregli didn’t have time to determine close on their heels.
“What are those? What did they say? Why, they seem to know the child!” Jujk’anrl twitched with surprise, though it was an elegant twitch.
“I don’t know; they spoke so quickly that I could not catch it,” Gp’nifse replied.
The Twins reached Jregli and threw their arms around her waist. As the Dancers gasped in quiet horror, Harvit cried, “Oh! Sweet little Jregli! We were so afraid that something terrible had happened!”
“Yes! We were about to send someone in to check on you!” Hevrit added, using his head to motion to the server and the Hunsid. Jregli could tell that the Hunsid was female, but her head was spinning so fast now that she still couldn’t identify the server’s Race, let alone gender.
“Oh, dear little Jregli, is everything alright?”
“Why, Jregli, you are trembling! We must have you seated at once!”
“I … I do not feel well …” Jregli managed to say and the Twins began urging her away, exclaiming over her and issuing commands to the server and their cousin.
“I think its name is Jregli,” Jujk’anrl whispered behind them.
“What an awful name,” Gp’nifse sniffed.
“What are you two gossiping about now?” Another Dancer appeared behind Gp’nifse and Jujk’anrl. Jregli’s hearts sank as she recognized the most beautiful of the Dancers, the one with the Markings of green down her back. With the dress gone, Jregli could see a few of the lovely splotches on the Dancer’s chest, as well.
“We were merely wondering about that little girl over there,” Jujk’anrl answered innocently. The third Dancer saw Jregli and stiffened in shock.
“Blessed clouds!” she half-whispered.
It was too much. Just … too much. The day had been too long, filled with too many things, too many thoughts and experiences. Too much wonder, too much discovery. The Twins meant well, but they had tried too hard, pushed too far. Suddenly, Jregli couldn’t bear their touch, couldn’t bear the sound of their voices. She didn’t belong here, didn’t belong with them. She didn’t belong anywhere but with her Master! A slave was not supposed to do any of the things Jregli had done today. A slave wasn’t supposed to act like a free person, wasn’t supposed to think like an adult … wasn’t supposed to offend anyone (especially not Wind Dancers!) with her presence. And Jregli knew what she had to do now.
Jregli ran as fast as she could. The tables and seats got in her way, tried to slow her down, but she ignored them. Tripping over the leg of a chair, she stumbled out into the foyer and finally made it out the door.
There were sentients in the corridor, but she ignored them. With more room, she could stretch her pathetically thin legs to their fullest and really run. Oh, it was not graceful. It was not elegant. It was merely forward motion. But it got her away from the shame, the hurt, the Dancers, the Twins, and all those strange, uncomfortable things she’d been through today. Every pounding step took her away from all of that and brought her closer to where she was supposed to be.
Jregli didn’t really see the sentients she ran past. She noted their presence they way she would note a rock or a skeleton lying in the sand, as something to not step on and avoid. Some cried out, some tried to dodge her, many yelled at her after she’d gone flying by. Let them yell. It was their right to yell. Slaves learned to accept the scorn and wrath of their betters. To accept it and continue to perform the tasks given them. Slaves knew their place. Jregli’s place was with her Master.
She ran and ran and ran, ignoring the yells, ignoring the pain in her side, in her feet, in her head … in her hearts. Someone up ahead of her saw her coming and dove out of her path. He’d left his luggage cart in the way, though, but Jregli didn’t pause. She couldn’t. Gathering herself up, she jumped as high as she could, clearing the five-Unit-high cart and its contents with centi-Units to spare. Her tail, however, slapped the case perched atop the pile, sending it crashing to the floor. That brought even more yells and curses from behind her. But she could not stop. Dared not stop.
Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! her mind chanted as her feet pounded the flooring. You were stupid; ARE stupid! Stupid slave, thinking you could pretend to be a Lady! Thinking you could act like a free person, an adult! Stupid child, stupid, stupid, stupid! Go back to your Master! Never again forget your place! Never again reach for things you can’t have! Never again be stupid!
The corridor curved on endlessly in front of her as she slithered and scrambled through the crowds that never seemed to leave the Station. The Pub was on the far end of the row of restaurants, opposite from where the Glass Room ruled. It was less than a third of the way around the Station, more like a quarter, and Jregli’s panic brought her there far faster than even one of the emergency response carts could have. After all, those carts were programed to be careful of the crowds.
When the façade of the Pub finally appeared around the bend of the Corridor, Jregli stumbled. She barely kept herself from driving her face into the floor with whatever scrap of inner balance she had and kept going. There was a crowd in front, a small one. They, too, saw her coming and got themselves and their less-observant companions out of her way.
Jregli flung herself into the Pub, past the welcome station and Inop, past the tables and seat. She was almost to the bar, with the safe storage rooms and her bedding beyond, when a sharp command slashed out.
Jregli stopped running, but she could not stop moving. Her momentum carried her several leaps further as she tumbled to the floor, striking her chin and shoulder and turning end-over-end. She finally halted when she slammed into the bar.
“What is the meaning of this?!” Shdr’edno stalked over towards his shivering slave. “What is going on? What happened?”
Jregli couldn’t reply; her breath had been gone since she’d run ten leaps away from the Glass Room. She gasped, needles of pain slashing through her lungs, and just lay there on the floor against the bar. Her whole body shook with the exertion of the run, blades of pain slicing through every one of her bones.
“Speak, you! What happened?” Jregli couldn’t reply. She couldn’t have replied even if she’d had control over her lungs. It was too much, too much.
Shdr’edno glared down at his slave, trying to contain the fierce glee that surged through his hearts. Oh, he could not wait to hear what had reduced his arrogant, foolish slave to this quivering mess. Look at her; how pathetic! He’d never been delighted or even pleased with his slave before, but he was both now. Now, where …?
“Where are the Hunsids? They were supposed to be taking care of her today.” He glared around at the crowd that had gathered, trying to find the wretched game-sharks. They weren’t there, and two of the employees rushed out into the hall, one would hope to locate the pair. Mahl shoved her way through the crowd and rushed over to the brat.
“Stay back,” he ordered. She paused and stared at him in astonishment.
“But she’s hurt! We should check–”
Shdr’edno cut her off with concealed satisfaction. “You will not touch her; you know nothing of how to care for Yerbrans. If you startle her, she could hurt you with her claws. And I think you know how little she would like that, once she is well again and realized what she had done.” Mahl’s expression held a different kind of worry now; let the filthy alien think about that! She would hold back because she wouldn’t want the brat to have anything to be ashamed about. As if that mattered.
“Everyone should stand back and give her room to recover. She does not need to be crowded when she is in such patent distress.” It took great force of will to keep his tail uncurled and the delight out of his voice. The brat was now the focus of everyone’s attention; let her realize that they were all staring at her, disapproving of her appearance and her actions. In fact, given how hysterical she seemed, all she probably realized was that everyone was staring and no one was doing anything.
Shdr’edno swept around, taking what the other sentients would assume was a protective position in front of his wretched “niece”, and stared at them all until they began to slip away to whatever they had been doing. Most of the customers had stayed in their seats, and the few that had come to take a look now went back to their meals and drinks. One or two, sitting at the end of the bar where the brat huddled, kept glancing down at her, but they kept their thoughts to themselves.
He remembered, looking from the backs of his eyes at the slave, that he had once been in that very position: on the ground, heaving for breath, shuddering like a building exposed to the Wind. Actually, he had been only a few Cycles older than the brat. Ykn’frkol, Shdr’edno’s sire, had never taken particularly great care for his appearance, and Shdr’edno had become determined to make his physical prowess as attractive as his mental. He’s thrown himself into a brutal conditioning program, and the first night after he’d begun, he’d lain on the ground of his personal chamber, in little better shape than the brat was now. His dam had come in then, bringing him cool water and a tender root and a slave to massage his exhausted muscles. She knew that his status would affect hers, so she’d made certain to give him every chance to raise her up. It had felt good to know that he had value, that he was worth such effort. He’d made certain to repay her investment with interest.
The brat, however, was not worth any investment. And once she got over her panic, that too-clever mind of hers would realize it.