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.
The injured man “awoke” just as the Winds charged again, this time breaking through the defenses and swarming over all the Brothers. The Brother lying down sat up slightly and pulled the healer close. They huddled together, heads bowed and tails low under the brunt of the furious Winds, whose song was now the vicious chant of Deep Winter, the time when Yerbra was the farthest from its sun, at the farthest end of its orbit, and the farthest from hope.
This is the lesson, Jregli thought. They spent effort on him when they should have spent it on themselves, and now they will all die. But I don’t remember reading that the Dance ends this way; there must be another group of Brothers that stays focused and make it through. You can’t survive if you let weak people distract you. Can you?
The Frozen Winds dragged the hems of their dresses over the Brothers, “freezing” them and sucking the warmth they tried to conserve. The two Brothers on the edge of the stage dragged themselves over to the other two, and the four of them crowded together as the Winds surrounded them, closing for the kill.
The Dancers exploded backwards to the sound of heavy percussion and a sharp, brassy crash. The Brothers half rose from their circle, all their hands holding up a fluttering scrap of loget painted with several strategically placed lights as a brilliant flame. The song crescendoed with hate for the heat the Brothers had “discovered. Try as they might, the Dancers could not overcome it. The Brothers stood as a group, congratulating one another on their accomplishment. Then they turned and attacked the Winds.
Each scrap managed to keep its color-giving light as the Brothers wove in and out of the Dancers, laughing as the cold was forced to retreat. Jregli suddenly realized that the Frozen Dancers retreated as much from the fire as because the “seasons” were changing and it was the end of Winter’s rule. But the Frozen Winds were not finished with the bold men.
As the Brothers rejoiced at having survived the onslaught, one of the Dancers crept up and managed to snatch the flame from the Brother who had been injured. Another came right behind her to pounce on him and claim his life.
Jregli gasped as she watched the Dancer leap towards the Brother whose flame was now gone. He held up his hand in astonishment, as though expecting the cloth-fire to still be there. Just before the Dancer reached him, the Brother who had healed him shoved his “brand” into the other’s hand and put himself directly in the path of the Wind. The Wind didn’t care; it snatched the Brother now closest to it and dragged him back to the waiting embrace of the other Dancers. He disappeared without a cry.
The surviving Brothers looked as stunned as Jregli felt. What could have possessed the fool to do that? She trembled from more than just the excitement of the Dance. What were these Dancers doing? What were they trying to prove with this crazy story?
And why did it make her tremble deep inside her hearts?
The other two Brothers dragged the twice-rescued one back to the main stage. They stared at one another, shocked by the senseless sacrifice the one had made. For nearly three beats, they stood stock-still, trying, as Jregli was, to understand. Then the handsome Brother stood as tall as he could, straightened his tail, and began to sing.
The Dancers muted their song for the Brother’s lament. His voice was powerful, like silken aurelate, and better even than Shdr’edno’s. His were the first words sung in the performance, and their beauty made Jregli want to keen. He honored the fallen man as he had not the Brothers who had perished under the Fire Winds, promising to remember him and to live worthy of the gift he had given. The others joined his song after the first round, adding their own resolve to his. Even the Winds began to respond to their words, tuning their songs to support the melody made by those rich masculine voices.
Would– would anyone ever do that for me?
The lighting on the stage grew warmer and greener. Vague shapes began moving behind the Brothers, who now circled one another deftly. Those shapes slowly resolved into yet more Dancers wearing viridian-colored dresses. In fact, the lighting made the five of them look green all over. They surrounded the three Brothers just as the Lament ended, wisping around them with a gentle sigh of fabric. These were the Verdant Dancers.
The Brothers relaxed for the first time since they had come on stage, easing into the “embrace” of the life-giving Winds. The Fw’nnae nn Str’enb sang, as their sister Winds had, without words, but their song was so rich, so soothing, that surely even the non-Yerbrans in the audience could understand it! Jregli relaxed as well in the restful embrace of their music.
The Dancers swirled around the Brothers without the viciousness of the other Winds, who yet swarmed around their respective stages, their shrieking songs now a mere backdrop to the song of the Verdant Dancers. One Dancer paired up with the handsome Brother while the others split between the remaining two Brothers. As the lead pair slow turned around each other, the Dancer came into full view, and Jregli’s hearts missed a double-beat.
In small patches all down her back, the Dancer’s scales glittered with an undeniably emerald tint. Her scales were gorgeous enough, a rich, deep brown that any woman would give her claws for, but to have the Rain of Life markings! Many women counterfeited those markings, but this woman had hatched with them. She swept across the stage with the handsome Brother, whose black scales glittered as brightly as her brown ones, both of the them the perfect image of Life. Jregli’s insides clenched and she ground her teeth.
How long the Dancers and Brothers swept around one another, Jregli could never remember. It was an instant that lasted forever. When the steps brought the Brothers to stand next to one another again, the Verdant Winds withdrew, gently caressing the Brothers one last time. The Brothers looked at each other and heaved great, contented sighs.
With a howl, the other groups of Winds sprang from their stages and pelted towards the Brothers. The men gave a howl of their own, triumphant and defiant, and charged down the center of the main stage, over its lip, and into the audience. They swept past the tables , almost close enough to touch Jregli, and out of the room. The Winds, angry at the escape of their victims, turned on the audience. Repeating the wild moves of their entrance, they swept through the tables and out the side doors.
When the music had faded, the general room lights came back up on a crowded room of diners who looked much like they had been in a real wind storm. Finally, someone began clapping, which started someone else cheering, and soon there was another storm in the room.
“Oh, that was simply marvelous!” Hevrit exclaimed, clapping wildly.
“Oh, yes, stunning! You were right, dear sister; there was so much going on, but if you simply focused … Jregli? Are you alright?” Harvit leaned towards her and gently touched her arm.
Jregli flinched away from him. She didn’t mean to, but she did. She wanted more time to soak in the Dance, to puzzle over the story, to … sit in the wonder of it all. The noise of the diners, the voices of the Hunsids … it was nearly a sacrilege to destroy that beauty with mere words.
“Mmm, I apologize, Harvit, I did not mean to … it was so beautiful, and then to hear you speak; it was like breaking something fragile, and–”
“Ahahaha! Do not worry, little one! We know just what you mean!” Harvit patted her arm jovially. “But it could not be helped. Now, do you think you could manage to lift your hands for a moment …?”
Jregli swiftly cocked her head to the side so she could see her hands and squeaked in horror. She recalled clenching her hands several times during the Dance, but she hadn’t realized that she’d dug them into the table. Who knew her grip could be strong enough to sink her pathetic claws nearly two centi-Units into the woodfab? She released the tension in her fingers, but it still took several seconds and much wriggling to pry herself loose.
“We want to make certain you haven’t injured yourself, dear one,” Hevrit said, scooting around to take her other hand. The Twins turned her hands over, checking the dressings, which were intact, and gently picking tiny splinters and threads from the table cloth from her claws. Fortunately, Jregli hadn’t hurt herself or reopened her wounds, though the Twins still made little disapproving noises as they quickly cleaned her hands.
“I am very sorry; I should have paid more attention to what I was doing,” Jregli babbled, a dull lump in her belly. “I will repay the damages I have–”
“None of that,” Harvit rebuked her mildly. “Accidents will happen, and I am certain that this was not the greatest done during the performance.”
“Indeed,” Hevrit snickered. “I believe the group of Uffniorns over there is a bit more embarrassed than you are, dear one.” Jregli looked in the direction of Hevrit’s head jerk to a table surrounded by the non-pedal Uffniorns. There seemed to be a lot more slime than usual on the floor, and some of it was … purple? The Twins snickered derisively as the ever-present floor bots struggled to clean the goop, which was apparently far thicker than normal.
The Uffniorns were flailing their stubby arms and whispering frantically at one another; when Jregli caught the edge of their hushed conversation, she barely swallowed the burble of laughter that tried to escape. Yes, deep though the gouges in the table were, they would be far easier to repair and conceal than that mess. As well as more sanitary!
The thought of sanitation made Jregli realize that she had ignored something for far too long. “Mmm, your pardon, brothers, but I must excuse myself. I, mmm, need to find the lavatory.”
“Oh, but of course! It’s over there, just beyond that Durish sculpture.” Hevrit pointed the way as Harvit finished cleaning her right hand. Jregli got up unsteadily, unsure of how long she had been sitting, used the table to regain her balance, and made her way carefully to the lavatories. The farther she went, the more difficult it became to move. All the food she’d eaten that day was not sitting well, at all. In fact, she might actually–
Jregli stumbled into the lavatory just in time. The next quarter hour was perhaps the worst of her life; Yerbran bodies were not designed to move food in that direction. Add to that the additional discomfort of bile on her gums, and she was very miserable. And then she discovered that a violent muscle spasm in one gastrointestinal direction could cause additional spasms in another … it was humiliating. And painful. And draining.
Jregli was very glad that the lavatories were divided into private sections so that no one else could witness her collapse. She spent another five mins regaining her composure (and breath, despite the smell) before locating the service panel and starting on cleaning up her mess. It took her nearly twenty more mins to finish because her arms and legs trembled so much.
Once the lavatory was clean (she would not leave the slightest trace of her shame for anyone to find!), she set about cleaning herself up. It would not do, not at all, to go back into that elegant restaurant smelling of fluids! The Twins would be frantic, she was sure, but they would just have to wait. When she felt reasonably clean, she sat on the floor for several moments to regain her composure. It didn’t really work. She was too tired, too drained, too sick. Hauling herself up, she took a long drink of the water from the sink and steeled herself to go face the Twins.
Jregli walked with carefully slow steps, hoping desperately that she looked composed and not still sick.
“Sweet rains! What is that?” a dulcet voice exclaimed in Yerbran.