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.
Before long, they arrived at the intersection of the eateries and the residences; this was where the most important sentients lived, so this was where the nicest eateries were. The Glass Room dominated the intersection, towering three levels over the main walk way. The outer walls were plastofab, of course, not real glass, but it was still impressive. The façade must have been designed by an artist who had been given free reign; it defied the mostly utilitarian look of the rest of the Station. The walls curved gracefully around the corner of the corridor, lit from behind with softly colored lights. Frosted patterns etched on the panels, which were all three Units wide by four Units high, caught the lights and threw beautiful shadows on passers-by.
A live garden extended a Unit from the base of the walls, filled with exotic plants and flowers and even a few water features. Jregli was fascinated by the trickling water and the tiny animals that darted through it. She was about to reach out to touch one when Harvit grabbed her wrist and pointed to a small device hidden by the large green leaves. Jregli instantly recognized the muzzle of the anti-theft projectile launcher; her hand had almost crossed its line of engagement. In fact, that looked like one of Shdr’edno’s designs, a emnios 257 multi-dart launcher. In that case, there should be a … yes, there was the unrewd-class alarm, a forty-two model, it looked like. That was how the Glass Room could afford to keep real foliage in full public view. And if they had Shdr’edno’s systems guarding the place … her estimation of the Glass Room went up several more points.
“Thank you,” she said to her brother (she was determined to re-order her thinking). “Although Uncle might be as pleased as he would be upset to see I had proven the efficiency of his systems.” She made her smile wry.
“Hmmf,” Harvit grunted. “You are certainly right about that, precious one.”
“Now, before we go in to dine, let us take a few moments to freshen ourselves!” Hevrit announced. “Standing reservation or not, we should not appear in so fine a place as the Glass Room with the day’s dust on our feet! Come this way, sweet sister!” The Twins shooed Jregli around the corner to the second doorway beyond the Glass Room. Not giving her a chance to get more than a glance at the unremarkable portal before moving her through it, they entered into a large room filled with comfortable if boringly designed furniture and sentients from several Races.
“Cousins!” several voices chorused from across the room. By virtue of her well-placed eyes, Jregli didn’t need to move her head to see the gaggle of Hunsids jump up from a grouping of upholstered bench-seats and hurry towards them. She managed to sort out four sets of Twins and one extra who could have been either a triplet or an add-on like Anos. Mmm, three females, five males, and the extra was female.
“Cousins!” her Twins replied, moving forward to meet the family. After a few seconds of hugs and pressing their lips to each other’s cheeks (was that kissing?), her new brothers turned to her. Hevrit motioned her forward.
“This is our little sister, Jregli!” The light-speed introductions sorted the cousins out into one set of female Twins (Unid and Enid), two sets of male Twins (Trinds and Frends and Ontrup and Ontret), one set of female-male (Wondi and Wopna), and the extra was waiting for her female twin to finish her shift at the Glass Room. They were Yepna and Yapne. Jregli hoped that she could keep the right names with the right faces. Hunsid names were nothing like Yerbran names, so they didn’t make much sense and were hard to pronounce. And there were just so many of them!
The cousins, all the children of Uncle Frindes and Aunt Eundos, spent a brief five Minutes welcoming and gushing over Jregli before the Twins — Jregli’s Twins, not the other sets of twins — cut them off .
“There will be ample time later to greet dear Jregli!” Harvit announced. “Now, we must tidy up for dinner!” That brought a chorus of approval, and the female cousins grabbed Jregli’s arms and hands. The doctor had done good work; Jregli managed to not make a sound at the small stabs of discomfort in her palms.
“Careful!” Harvit barked, bringing the group to a halt. Nine heads whipped toward him and five pairs of eyes narrowed in a familiar manner. “Her hands are injured; we must take gentle care of her!” Those five sets of eyes widened and joined the other four to stare at Jregli’s hands, which had by now been turned upwards. Jregli pretended to not mind.
She focused instead on the five who had responded so curiously. They glanced covertly at one another and at Harvit, communicating in that secret way she’d seen her brothers use before. They were … acting like Harvit, as though they wanted to find someone to hurt. Because she was hurt. Jregli had to conclude that some Hunsids were more protective than others, and it looked like one per set was more … aggressive than the other. How did that work with triplets?
The protective cousins (Enid, Trinds, Ontrup, Wopna, and Yepna) finished their silent conversation and turned sunny smiles back to Jregli, as though nothing had just happened.
“Oh, do excuse us, dear cousin!” Unid said contritely. “We shall not be so careless again!” The others, naturally, chorused their agreement.
Then the females dragged Jregli up several flights of stairs and around three corners into a chamber smaller than the gathering area downstairs but still quite spacious. Three walls bore some shiny substance Jregli didn’t recognize, the wall to the right held mirrors on the top and small basins on the bottom, and furniture Jregli couldn’t figure out filled the floor space. There were three-quarter-doors along the far wall, apparently leading into small stalls, medium-sized … well, the best she could call them was reservoirs along the left wall, with fabric suspended from the ceiling pulled to one side of each (curtains?), and the heavy smell of purified water in the air.
“Now, darling little cousin,” began one of them, “we have learned that Yerbrans consider ‘cleaning up’ differently than we do, so we have prepared most carefully!”
“Oh, yes,” added Wondi, “we researched most carefully when dear Hevrit and Harvit told us about you!”
“We think you will like what we have found, but be certain to tell us if even the least little thing is less than perfectly agreeable!” Yepna added.
With that, the cousins produced a shockingly familiar box.
“Is that …” Jregli couldn’t make herself say it.
“Indeed, little cousin!” Yepna seemed to take great delight in calling her that, given the disparity in their heights. “This is an authentic lady’s toiletry box! Now, it wasn’t actually made on Yerbra Home, but it was made for Yerbran ladies such as yourself!”
Jregli was afraid to touch the box, so shiny from hours of hand-rubbing the synth-wood. It was exquisite, beautifully crafted by a master, surely! The box was the standard size, 0.53 Units long by 0.45 Units wide by 0.37 Units deep. The grain of the wood proved it be synth-yinrit’h, the most expensive material to make such a thing from (well, real yinrit’h was the most expensive). Yinrit’h wasn’t edible, but its rich fragrance more than made up for that. The smell, Jregli thought, taking a shuddering breath, was almost as good as eating. Formulating the wood made it easy and cheap to created the aged, well-cured look that made the box look even more expensive than it was. And inside …
Wondi lifted the lid with a flourish, and all the cousins wore now-familiar grins as Jregli stared at the rows of hand-carved stone bottles. Synth-stone, of course. No one could afford real bottles such as these! Wed’sinl, ui’nitsd, reugn, blena’c … Jregli recited the minerals as though reciting a ballad. Surely this was straight from a tale! Even Mistress had never had such gorgeous toiletries!
The box’s lining was a rich synth of tryy’tr fabric, whose thick pile was a deep blue that once could only have come from the powdered shells of the tiny oonuy bugs on the Plains of Deepness, the Unri’horia nn Wis’naire. The bottles nested gracefully in the royal color of the box, while the similarly-lined lid held the tools every Lady considered daily requirements. Carved from synth-F’wiiooo bone, the delicate instruments for shaping, smoothing, and sharpening claws, polishing scales, and trimming cuticle sheaths gleamed in anticipation of service.
“And, of course, let’s not forget this!” Enid said, pulling out a smaller box of the same make. Lifting its lid, she proudly showed Jregli the granulated contents. Nearly any sand would do for scrubbing scales, but the cousins had continued their extravagance by filling the box with powdered lgo’tce crystals. Unid hefted a small mountain of soft cloths onto a bench. Wondi and Enid set the boxes on another bench as Yepna produced a synth-wood tray; the three of them began arranging the bottles on the tray while Unid began sorting the towels.
“You’ll have to forgive us, darling cousin, but we couldn’t determine how to pronounce the proper names for all of these,” Yepna said conversationally.
“The large box is a ma’ekeu, the smaller box is an ott’resg. The bottles are called llot’ebs. How could you afford all this?!” Jregli’s initial numbness vanished under her astonishment. “Even being made of synths, just one of these llot’ebsu would cost more seeds–more mutuals than most could make in a Cycle! A year! A Star-Standard year!”
The cousins had the same mischievous looks Jregli had come to know from the Twins. Her stuttering also seemed to amuse them. Unid answered for them.
“Well, telling would be revealing our sources, wouldn’t it? Now that we have a Yerbran in the family, we have to learn to not embarrass her in public! You’re not the only one who can make a clever deal, sweetling!”
“Do not worry yourself, sweetling! We did indeed make a very clever deal, and acquiring these gifts for your welcome gave us no great hardship! They were neither difficult to procure nor harmful to our finances. It is so very thoughtful of you to have such concern for us!” And unwise to continue arguing.
Jregli just couldn’t believe it. But she’d have to accept it. These Hunsids, she was coming to learn, were quite determined to spoil her. Which made no sense.
“I have come to know, from the example my brothers have set, that showing concern for one’s family is proper,” Jregli tried to be diplomatic. “And that learning as much as possible so as to be well-mannered is also proper. And giving gifts is proper. But what possible justification is there to spend so much on me??”
All four cousins stopped and looked at her. After several breaths, Yepna reached out and shoved Jregli. Obligingly caught off guard, Jregli stumbled backwards into a bench and fell onto it. The four arranged themselves to stand over her, their heads now barely topping Jregli’s.
“There is no need to justify anything for family,” Yepna told her quietly. They stared at Jregli; Jregli stared back at them.
“Yes, ma’am,” Jregli whispered, leaning back slightly.
Yepna, Unid, Enid, and Wondi stared down at her for several beats longer. “Wonderful! Now, let’s get started!”