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 had to correct the cousins several times on how to properly use everything, but not as much as she’d thought she would. They had definitely done their research.
A proper Lady’s toilette began with general cleansing; Jregli could have recited these steps in her sleep, so often she had assisted Mistress with them. But not once had Jregli ever received the attentions of others. She could tell her new family members what to do, but she couldn’t tell herself how to act.
Wondi poured a small amount of emd oil from the first llot’ebsu onto one of the cloths, dumped a handful of the powdered lgo’tce on that, and began gently scrubbing Jregli’s right arm. Yepna did the same for her left arm, Unid started on Jregli’s back, and Enid began on her tail. Jregli tried to cover her discomfort by giving extra instructions: use the scoop for the powder, always set the jars upright on the tray and put the stopper back on immediately, scour in a circular motion towards the hearts …
It was very uncomfortable. The scrubbing itself wasn’t so bad, but there were so many cracks, scratches, nicks, and bruises for the oil and powder to get into! The Station was far more humid the Yerbra, and some of the sore spots had begun to heal, but not all of them. Without the sharp rocks and constant winds to aggravate them, the innumerable small wounds in her hide had faded enough that Jregli had been able to ignore them for almost four weeks now. But the kindly ministrations of the Hunsid sisters found all too many of them.
Enid’s touch on Jregli’s tail was soft, but a Yerbran’s tail was extremely sensitive. Aside from being nearly prehensile and used to create the subtleties of communication that most other Races needed their entire bodies to generate, tails had a large number of nerve endings. This made it useful for gathering information from the winds, whose force could be deflected by the head to flow down the back and over the tail.
This also made the tail, particularly its base, an intimate part of Yerbran anatomy. Not entirely the most intimate, but it was a ticklish area, if nothing else. And the one spot Mistress had aimed her stick at more than any other.
So when Enid first touched the cloth to the base of Jregli’s tail, Jregli couldn’t hold back a yelp. Enid apologized, and Jregli made excuses. The base of Jregli’s tail hurt more than any other part of her body. It had always hurt more, it seemed, even more than the time Mistress had beaten her hard enough to lay open a gash on her back from her shoulder blade to her hip. It had taken almost two Cycles for that wound to heal up, and the scar wasn’t as bad as it could have been. But even that didn’t hurt as much as the constant ache in her tail. And now Enid was rubbing right on that spot.
The cousins made pleasant chatter as they worked, and Jregli supposed that she must have made appropriate responses, since she didn’t later recall anything out of the ordinary. There was some exclamation over the poor condition of her scales, which Jregli explained easily enough; she was poor, and poor people didn’t have access to good grooming tools. The cousins seemed to accept that, though they made it clear that Jregli would always have good grooming tools after this. How they thought they would get that by Uncle, Jregli had no idea. But she was long past arguing by now.
Jregli expected this, her first grooming, to take a long time. The cousins, however, moved with a speed Jregli had thought impossible. Before she realized it, they had scrubbed her from head to toe-claws and begun oiling her down. The subtle fragrance of the im’of oil filled the bathing chamber (Wondi had been chattering about the function of everything in the room for over fifteen mins now) as Jregli’s parched skin soaked it up. The cousins were embarrassed that they didn’t have enough oil; Jregli was humiliated that so much was needed.
Mistress Fun’gryu was a vain woman and spent a great deal of time, effort, and resources on her appearance. Jregli had assisted her former Mistress for hours each day on the very things the Hunsid cousins were now doing for her. But even Fun’gryu had never used as much oil on herself as Jregli’s new relatives had used on her. Of course, Mistress had been caring for her skin her entire life; one could absolutely argue that maintenance was far easier than repair.
Jregli’s tattered hide definitely needed repair, so the amount of resources required should not be surprising. In truth, it would take months of intensive treatment to bring Jregli to the merest appearance of respectability. The cousins seemed determined to start on that with a focus bordering on aggressive mania.
Maybe it was more than simply a cultural thing, she thought as Wondi and Unid began on her hand claws and Yepna and Enid began on her foot claws. Or perhaps there were additional factors that created the cultural differences. Yerbra Home and Hunsid Home were vastly different worlds, so only a simpleton would think it odd that the Races that grew up on them would also be different from one another.
Hunsid Home had lots of resources: plenty of water, plants, minerals, an easy climate, a good location relative to other inhabited worlds … In contrast, Yerbra Home was isolated and limited, with inadequate resources to support a growing population of sentients. Small wonder that Hunsids thought nothing of being lavish and wasteful. No, Jregli corrected herself sternly, they were not being wasteful. That was a Yerbran mentality.
Yerbrans had little to work with, which created the hoarding nature that so many in the Mutuality complained about. Sentients, Jregli had come to realize, could be incredibly short-sighted. People were the way they were for often valid reasons. This didn’t mean that they should stay that way, of course. Take the situation Jregli now found herself in: being polished, oiled, sharpened, and generally dandified by a pack of Hunsids that had claimed her as kin. Hunsids who insisted on spending large amounts of resources for her, such large amounts that there was inevitably inefficiencies that led to waste of resources.
They came from a background that made some amounts of waste acceptable; they did not need to conserve every spare drop. In fact, they expected that not every input would go towards the final product. And if Jregli insisted on holding to the conservationist attitude of her Race, she would offend these sentients needlessly.
But they shouldn’t be spending anything on her, something inside Jregli howled. She hadn’t earned this, she hadn’t paid for it, and she hadn’t beaten them for it. She could philosophize all she wanted, but that didn’t change the fact that this all blew directly across everything she’d ever known. Jregli was not Hunsid, she was Yerbran. She was a genius, intelligent and educated far beyond her years, smarter than the smartest of her Race!
And she was also still a child! Not a social child, a real child. And this real child had had just about enough for one day.
Somehow, Jregli got through the rest of the “cleaning up” and the fawning approval of the males. When she’d been allowed back downstairs to the common room, she found the Twins dressed in neatly pressed suits talking with two more sets of cousins. She didn’t bother trying to remember their names. She saved the last bit of her reserve for the dinner and hoped the Twins would let her go back to the Pub immediately afterwards. They were kinder Masters than most, so … yes … mmm, so tired!
She regained some focus when the Twins guided her out of the residential building and into the Corridor. The Glass Room glittered ahead of them, and Jregli tried to take it in. Many other sentients roamed the corridor now, heading to their residences after their Dayday’s work. Some were heading into the Glass Room, just as Jregli, Hevrit, and Harvit were. The Twins were in a fine mood, strutting arm-in-arm with Jregli as though escorting a princess. They did look sharp in their matching suits, with their hair combed and styled and their shoes polished. And Jregli supposed that she looked better than she ever had before, with her scales cleaned (though still ashy-gray; not the brown they should have been) and her claws properly sharpened for the first time in her life. Those sentients who saw them gave them odd looks, but they seemed more surprised than disgusted. So that was something.
A small queue had formed outside the Glass Room, and the trio took their places in it. Jregli spared a moment to find it odd that someplace as nice as the Glass Room would make its customers line up outside. Then she realized that it was perfectly logical: the Glass Room was a place of status, and those who patronized it wanted everyone else to know they did so. Being seen at a place of status increased one’s own status. So what did that do for a slave and a pair of Arcade workers?
The Twins chattered quietly; Jregli didn’t really pay attention to them. She concentrated on staying upright and mostly cognizant of her immediate surroundings. Her weariness tended to sneak up on her, she’d realized. She could go for hours at a time, all day long, and then it would all hit her at once. Of course, she’d started the day tired, hadn’t she? Had it really been only this morning that they’d started out? This day felt like it was taking weeks to get through, and it wasn’t finished yet. She still had to get through yet another meal (the first one was still rumbling through her shriveled gut) and a Dance.
A Dance! She perked up, the realization giving her a small spurt of energy. She was going to finally see a Dance, with real Wind Dancers! She’d seen a Wind Dancer once before, in passing. Mistress had sent her to the market for more ypren’r (as if the woman needed more calorie-filled delicacies), and there Jregli had seen one of the beautiful, ethereal Sisters. The Dancer had moved like a … a dream, a fantasy, too smoothly and gracefully to describe. Her scales had glimmered a soft, dark brown in the bright lighting of the market cavern, flowing gently over her trim muscles and stopping at her perfectly shaped claws. Her tail had swung gently with good humor as she spoke with the lordling who accompanied her.
It had been such a brief glimpse, but Jregli had treasured it. She had been only nine Cycles old, scarcely old enough to go out on her own, but Mistress’ cravings took priority over other considerations. Jregli had been a little scared; the market was a big, bustling place, and one tiny slave would have easily been lost under the throng. But seeing that Dancer had made the trip more than worth it. Jregli held carefully to that memory, bringing it out late at night when she hurt too much to sleep, when she was too cold to shiver, anytime Mistress decided to yell at her. There was beauty and goodness and right among her people. That gave Jregli hope.
“Are you well, dear little sister?” Hevrit asked.
Jregli’s attention crashed back to the Station and her brothers. “Mmm, yes, I am well. I’m just a little tired, is all.” Surely she had performed well enough today to hope they would let her– Fool! she chastised herself. These were her brothers. Moreover, they were her Hunsid brothers; she didn’t have to earn favors from them. When was she going to get her thinking straightened out?
“Oh, no doubt of that, dear one! This has been a long and exciting Dayday for you! Well, do not worry yourself about it; you are entitled to your weariness! Why, we shall have a quiet, relaxing dinner, enjoy a lovely performance, and then we shall take you back to your bed and tuck you in!”
“That sounds wonderful. A good ending to a good day.” What ‘tainment was that line from? Nnn, never mind.