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.
Shdr’edno kept his position in front of the brat for appearance’s sake. He stayed there to keep anyone from getting to close to her, as well; he didn’t want her to lose that shattered ego she’d so recently acquired. He’d planned carefully to bring her to this point, so carefully that it had felt like he was doing nothing. He’d allowed her to build herself up in the eyes of the employees, done nothing to defend himself against her indirect attacks. Ah, but patience was a mark of superiority, and he had learned to be patient.
When the Hunsids had first approached him with the idea of taking the brat our on some kind of holiday, he’d rejected it immediately. Treat a slave to anything special? Make a child the focus of a day’s excursions? Ridiculous! Only a half-witted alien would think of something so stupid. But then he’d thought about it for a few moments. The brat was trying to make herself important, wasn’t she? And wouldn’t be treated like a real person make her feel important? And wasn’t she foolish enough that she couldn’t see what kind of disaster she was creating for herself? Oh, yes. This definitely bore consideration.
And here, now, was the result of his patience. His slave wallowed in the mess she’d made of things. She’d pretended to be a person, and her little mind had finally worked it out that she was not a person and never would be.
He’d also realized that she stank; maybe she’d managed to fall into a midden? Even as his stomach twisted from the smell, he rejoiced in the thought. Filthy, exhausted, and finally convinced of her proper place … mmm, his slave had made him quite happy this day.
Shdr’edno’s happy contemplation ended as a new sound filled the air. It started softly, but quickly grew in volume, coming from behind and below him. The brat was keening. So, she’d finally gotten enough breath back for that, had she? Time for some “paternal” concern.
He turned without haste and crouched down beside her. She had her eyes shut, but she could still sense him there and pressed herself into the floor. Her wailing continued, growing even louder. “Be quiet,” he whispered in Yerbran. She paused for a second, and then she continued her pathetic cry at a much lower volume.
“That’s not what I meant, little pet, and you know it,” he whispered calmly. Knowing his actions would be reported to every employee and many of the customers, Shdr’edno reached out and stroked the back of his hand across the brat’s head. He hated touching her, but he also knew that the other sentients would interpret it as a caring gesture. Her crying wavered as she tried to flinch away, knowing that he did not mean for his touch to be comforting. Shdr’edno finally allowed himself a cheerful, triumphant little tune.
“Do you see now, little pet? Do you finally know? You are a slave, and you belong to me. Defy me and pay the price. Have you learned this yet, pet, or do you need further instruction?”
Commotion at the entrance drew his head up, so he didn’t hear whatever reply she might have made. So, the Hunsids had arrived. And they brought extras, how droll. Shdr’edno held his spot in front of the brat, waiting for them to come to him. Blasted Hunsids all looked alike to him, but he could tell which two were his employees, which was all that mattered. This was his territory and his slave. He wanted to bare his teeth like a predator, but modesty prevailed.
Before they got close enough to start jabbering at him, Shdr’edno issued his demands. “What is the meaning of this, my niece in a hysterical fit on my floor? What have you done to her? Why does she shake as though terrified? Speak up, you two! Tell me what you did to her!”
“We didn’t do anything to her!” one of them cried. Shdr’edno had never bothered himself to remember which names went with which one, since they came as a set.
“We treated her like one of our own!” the other added angrily.
“Mmm, then that may well be the problem. She isn’t one of you.”
“Yes–” the second one began before Shdr’edno cut him off smoothly.
“No, she is not one of ‘your own’. She is Yerbran, and she is my child. She belongs to me and with me, not with sentients who don’t know how to take care of her properly. Oh, I’m certain you treated her the way you might treat one of your children, but this child isn’t a Hunsid. You can’t treat a Yerbran child the same way you would treat a Hunsid child.” Shdr’edno was fiendishly happy that he had no trouble calling the brat his child in Mutual speak; after all, the Yerbran words for “child” and “slave” were almost identical.
“We know that! We know that she is different and must be treated differently than our own babes! We have learned many of those differences, and we are ready to learn more! Though all of the children born to us are Hunsid, each one is still unique; we know that we must handle each of them in their own unique way. And we apply this to our little sister, as well!”
That defiant speech drew another crowd, though smaller than the one the brat had generated. Some of them began murmuring to each other at his last words. No matter.
“You would appear to have applied too little of that to my child, and this I cannot tolerate. I do not think you are fit company for her, at all.”
“You are not fit kin for her, ‘at all’!” the second one spat. One of his followers put a cautioning hand on his shoulder, and he predictably shrugged it off and jabbed a finger at Shdr’edno. “You neglect her and abuse her with your words, and you didn’t even realize that she had been dangerously injured!!”
“What do you mean, injured?”
“You see?” the first one cried, to whom Shdr’edno had no idea. “You didn’t know! She’d cut her hands, both of them, and they were severely infected! What kin-adult doesn’t know that his child was injured weeks ago!” The other Hunsids began voicing agreements. With at least fifteen of them clamoring at once, it made far too much noise.
“Enough!” Shdr’edno pitched his voice to cut through their chattering. “This is neither the place nor the time to discuss this. I suggest that you take some time to cool your heads. You may come back tomorrow to discuss this with me; right now, I have a sick and injured child to tend.”
The fact that they were fighting so hard for her gave Shdr’edno another good idea. Why, if they wanted her, what might they be willing to do to have her? And how would they respond when they found out that the only way to get her away from him would be to buy her? Oh, this could make for Cycles of ‘tainment!
“You will leave now,” Shdr’edno told them evenly. “Whether you go of your own will or not is, of course, your choice.”
“Jregli comes with us!”
“No. She does not.”
“She has the right to–”
“You continually miss the point, which I confess to finding most astonishing. The child is not Hunsid; she is Yerbran. Hunsid concepts do not apply to her. Hunsid laws do not apply to her. She has no rights. She is Yerbran, and Yerbran children do not have ‘rights’. They belong to their parents or guardians, who make all decisions concerning them until they achieve adulthood. Is that not clear to you?” Oh, how much fun this was!
The second one started to say something when the first one cut him off with an angry gesture. Then they started arguing with each other in their bleating language. Shdr’edno allowed his tail to wave gently over the brat in carefully damped satisfaction. She was still keening, though it was nearly inaudible now. She would feel the passage of his tail, know that he stood over her, literally, figuratively, legally, and symbolically. He was glad, now, that she’d beaten him, tricked him into buying her. He’d grown soft, complacent, here on the Station. There weren’t many challenges here, and he’d needed the reminder to never allow himself to slack. Perfection took constant work, after all.
The first one made a decision for the group. “This is not ended, ‘Uncle’ to our sister. We will return tomorrow at the eighth hour to discuss this further. If that is agreeable to you?” Mmm, the creature almost managed to say all of that with his teeth shut; how amusing!
“I will be tending another matter at that hour. And then, of course, I must see to the opening of the Pub, so that timeframe is taken. Mmm, it would appear that I may not have the time to speak with you tomorrow at all … Perhaps on First Dayday? I do not have anything planned for eighth hour on that Dayday.” Oh, just look at the impotent fools fume!
“We will be here then,” the first one replied in a low, threatening voice.
“Mmm, one other thing to note; my office is not large, so there is not room for all of you. If you could limit your company to just one or two extras …?”
“We will.” With that muttered reply, the group turned and walked out, dragging the second employee with them. He looked ready to explode, which would have been amusing despite the mess .
Shdr’edno waited until they had left and everyone had returned to their duties before looking back at the brat.
“Little pet, if you’re feeling up to it, why don’t you go to the back room and lie down for a while? Stay there until I come to you, dear.” He deliberately spoke in Mutual so that the fools who were carefully not listening would have more proof of his good care. It was not as much fun to perform for them as it had been to perform for the Hunsids, but he was in a fine enough mood that he didn’t mind.
The brat didn’t respond for a moment; she continued to lie there like something a F’wiiooo had chewed on and given up as a lost cause. He shifted his weight pointedly, and that finally got her going. Opening her eyes, she slowly scrambled up onto her feet, though she crouched so low she might have been on all fours. Hunched over like the whipped cur she was, the brat shambled around the bar and into the back, where her now-uncluttered bedding awaited her. When she finally removed her decrepit carcass from sight, Shdr’edno turned happily back to the business at hand. Let her stew for a day or so. It would do her good.
Jregli didn’t really know what was going on. She knew she’d made it back to the Pub. She knew she was back with her Master. Why did it still hurt? Why couldn’t it all just go away? Master said something to her, and she heard the command behind the soft words. Did she obey? Perhaps she had; she didn’t feel any blows raining down on her back. There were other noises, other sentients there, but they didn’t matter. Must listen for Master’s commands. When the Twins came, their voices broke through the outer edge of the haze.
Oh, why had they followed her? Why were they trying to take her away from her Master, from her rightful place? Why did they think she could be anything but what she was? She wanted to tell them to go away. She wanted to tell them to leave her alone.
She wanted them to stay, to take her with them.
Master spoke to them, and that frightened her all over again. They mustn’t anger Master! Didn’t they know, couldn’t they hear, the sharpness within him? He toyed with them, played with them, the way the winds drove the flesh from bones. They must go away before he destroyed them! She tried to speak, tried to say something, but she couldn’t. She had no voice left, no strength. She was empty.
Finally they left. Oh, finally they were out of Master’s reach. Now she was back where she belonged, alone as she belonged. When Master told her to go to the back, she really did try to obey immediately. Not until he threatened her did she find the energy to move somehow. She made it to her nest of blankets and collapsed upon it.