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.
“Me??” Jregli had wanted to ask how so many could all be the eldest at once, but that was no longer important. “I … you … I’m part of your family?”
“Of course you are, dear one; we wouldn’t call you sister if you weren’t.” Harvit looked put out.
“Ah, I see that you have not researched that part of our culture, sweet sister; our apologies.” Hevrit gave Harvit a sharp jab in the ribs for some reason. “You are so astute that we assumed you already knew our ways. You are one of our true siblings, part of our first circle. We spoke at length about you with our dear Mother and honored Father and all our siblings, and we all agreed that you belonged with us!” He smiled broadly.
“You … you …” They had no idea what they had done! Jregli groped blindly, frantically, for words. Of course they had no idea! How could they know? She pulled up everything she could recall about Hunsids and their family ways. What cloud-blessed reason could they have had …?
“We’ve been watching you from the day you arrived,” Harvit piped up. “It was obvious to us that your ‘uncle’ was not expecting you and did not care that you had come to him.” Harvit laced his tone with contempt. “His own kin, and he neither knew nor cared that you were orphaned! Completely alone and destitute! Why, even these months later, we can still see your bones! He is obviously unfit t–”
“We were so very concerned for you, sweet Jregli,” Hevrit interrupted his agitated brother. “No child should look so wretched as you did when you came to us! And no child should be so alone in the Galaxy. Your parents dead and gone, no family on your Home world to care for you, slaving away,” Jregli hid a wince at the term, “for obviously irresponsible masters, and finally, when you do find a relative to look after you, he does not even care!”
“Yerbrans do care!” Jregli protested desperately. “We do! Just because we don’t act the way that you do doesn’t mean we don’t!”
“We have seen how Yerbrans care!” Harvit spat contemptuously; Hevrit grabbed his arm and glared his brother to silence.
“Yes, we have seen how Yerbrans care for one another,” he agreed more calmly. “And we have seen that Yerbrans do care, in their way. But we have also seen that your kin-uncle does not care for you, and this is not right. You should be allowed a happy childhood with loving family surrounding you.”
“But I am happy! Can you not tell how happy I am to be here, on the Station, with my Uncle?” They tried to interrupt, but Jregli didn’t let them. Couldn’t let them. If they tried to take her away from her Master … it would be an InterGalactic incident! They just couldn’t understand how it was right for her to stay with the man who had bought her, legally. “My Uncle may not ‘care’ for me the way you think he should, but he cares far more than anyone else ever did! He does not beat me! He does not starve me! He lets me sleep when I am tired and learn whatever I want to. I may speak when I wish and to whom I wish. I get to meet so many different sentients from all over the Galaxy, and, for the first time in my life, I have friends!”
Her voice had long since gone from desperate to keening. Yerbrans didn’t waste bodily fluids the way that other Races did when upset, but the shaking in her voice produced a similar aural effect. The words began to tumble out, and a fraction of her mind hoped that she wouldn’t blurt out something she shouldn’t. It was just so … so … how in the Galaxy was she going to talk her way out of this one? And not dig yet another pit to climb out of? She didn’t want to lose the Twins, but she couldn’t, just couldn’t run away from her Master! It was impossible! Bad enough that she openly defied him, but running away–!
“Maybe I should have something different, more affection or whatever. But I have more now than I have ever had in my entire life combined and multiplied! Do you know, can you imagine, how it felt the first time I realized that you liked me? Actually liked me? No one has ever liked me before!” She threw her bandaged hands wide in Hunsid fashion. “I was nothing, and no one! Back Home, I was just another body to do work. Here, I am doing work, and I am rewarded for it. Sentients enjoy the work that I do, the fact that I am the one doing the work. And even if I weren’t doing anything useful, I think you would still like me!” She dropped her hands and her volume. “And that makes me so very happy.”
Hunsids were one of the Races that did exude clear fluid from their eyes when emotionally aroused, and the eyes of both Twins leaked large drops as they reached to put their arms around her waist. Jregli took the moment to try to think of some coherent argument. Mmm– aha!
“Perhaps my kin-uncle is not the most demonstrative of men,” she allowed, “and perhaps he has reason to be that way. After all, I am a reminder of an embarrassment.” The Twins’ heads popped up at that. “The reason he didn’t look for me is because he didn’t know about me. We are related because his great-great-grandsire was … indiscreet … and I am the most recent result.” The Twins looked horrified. “Yerbrans don’t enjoy the idea of illegitimacy, so having me around is not something that pleases him. Legally, he must provide for me, but it is not something he enjoys.” Just enough information to confuse the scent, she thought.
“Oh, tragedy! Oh, shame! That a child should be made to suffer for the faithlessness of adults!” Harvit looked even angrier now. Not good.
“All the more reason for you to be part of a family that gives no thought to such nonsense!” Hevrit asserted. “It is no fault of yours what your ancestors did or did not do!”
“And it is for me to climb above it! I am Yerbran,” Jregli said firmly and not, she hoped, desperately, “and I must do this the way that Yerbrans do things. Oh, I am so honored that you think so highly of me! But I must stay with my Uncle and be what I am. You want me to be one of your family, though I am of a different Race. Could I perhaps be both? Yerbran and Hunsid? I do not think it right that I should give up one heritage for another. Here at the Station, I have both. My Uncle to provide for me and you to … love me.” She tripped a little over that word.
Love was not a great part of Yerbran life. At least, not the exuberant, elaborated “love” she had witnessed in other Races. Yerbrans did care; she knew this. There were incredible dances about the caring of mates for one another, and there was the saga of Unip’onthru, who defied the ancient Council of Elders to save his young from being sold to cover his debts. Even in recent times, there were stories of Yerbrans who sacrificed themselves, even in small ways, to help someone else. Perhaps it didn’t look the same to an alien, but it was there. It was caring. That was Yerbran “love”. Yerbrans just didn’t put it into words.
The Twins sniffled noisily, wiping suddenly draining sinuses on squares of cloth they’d pulled from somewhere. “Ah, precious sister; marvelous, darling sister Jregli!” Harvit bawled.
“You are so wise, so wise beyond your tender years!” Hevrit managed. He didn’t know that she’d cobbled her little speech together from half a dozen epic ‘tainments. She wasn’t that wise, but she was clever. “We will honor your request, dear one–”
“Oh, yes! We will!” Harvit blubbered.
“And we will give you so very much love!” They both threw their arms around her again and squeezed.
That was one storm outrun, Jregli thought, patting the Twins awkwardly. She was glad they were holding her, actually. For one, she was so worn from trying to think of how to convince them to not try to take her away from her Master that she might have fallen down. For another, she thought she might actually enjoy the sensation of another living being in non-violent contact with her. It was … nice. This alien comfort might have some merit to it, after all.
It took the Twins nearly half an hour to calm down and dry their faces. Jregli didn’t mind, since it also gave her time to mentally recoup. She really wanted to curl up in her little pile of blankets back in the storage room, but that wasn’t an option. She’d learned long ago that slaves never had the option of resting when the Masters were still awake. The Twins were her Masters this day, so she had to do whatever they wanted to do. Though she really did want to see the Glass Room and the–
“–Dancers! We are so fortunate indeed that this group decided to come to the Station!” Hevrit bubbled. “We were given to understand that the Children of the Wind rarely left Yerbra Home.” He glanced quizzically at Jregli.
“Mmm, well, the Wind Dancers don’t often leave Yerbra, this is true, but the Wind Brothers have ever been the first to explore new territory. The Sect of the Wind is very old, and they have always been outside regular Yerbran society. They do not hold with many of our most cherished ways, which makes their exalted status somewhat confusing. They don’t focus on business or commerce the way that most Yerbrans do, yet they manage to keep themselves solvent. They don’t seek status, and yet they have it. The Brothers embrace combat and the use of arms, and the Dancers focus exclusively on the Dance and history. And still, they are the most forward-thinking of our people.”
The Children of the Wind were all that and so much more, Jregli mused. The fact that held highest place in her mind was that they rejected slavery. That was enough to make her revere them, all their other traits aside. If she were one of them, she would not be a slave. But since she was a slave, they would never buy her, so she could never be a part of their enclave.
“Dearest little sister,” Harvit said slyly, “do you secretly long to be a Wind Dancer?”
“Dear brother, that’s impossible. I could never be a Wind Dancer!”
“Ah, but he asked if you wanted to be one, not if you could,” Hevrit teased. “There’s no harm in wishing you could be one of them!”
Oh, but there was such great harm in wishing when you were a slave.
“If you must know, I have thought that it would be so wonderful to be a Wind Dancer,” Jregli played along. “They are so beautiful, so graceful! But I am unable to dance, and, more importantly, I cannot sing.”
“Why not?” Harvit asked. Hevrit looked at his brother as though he couldn’t believe his Twin was that thick. “Oh,” Harvit said after a moment.
“Wind Dancers sing the great histories as they dance, and since I cannot sing, I can never be one of them.” Well, that and … “So, yes, I have thought about it, but I have put it from my mind. Still, I would greatly enjoy seeing them dance! I’ve never seen a full performance before!”
“Then let us make haste!” Hevrit cried and sprinted off down the corridor. It wasn’t much of a sprint, given his short legs, and even Jregli had no trouble catching up with him. The Twins, of course, couldn’t keep the pace very long, so they soon slowed to a fast walk that Hunsids could maintain.