Ebook available here.
Paperback available here.
“Any reputable biologist will tell you that evolution is caused by happenstance. Let me tell you about the happenstance that caused our race to exist.
“Towards the end of the Galactic Dark Ages, a star went nova in the northern half of the galactic core. The noted astronomer Wang Reinhart warned that this nova would produce radiation that could pose a threat to human life. Now, anytime someone says “radiation” and “threat to human life,” it tends to make humans freak out a little. Reinhart stressed that the hazard was limited to 16 inhabited worlds in the northern half of the galactic core, and that even the world closest to it would have 14 years to prepare for it. But chaos and ignorance ruled the day.
“The first to flee were the rich and powerful of those 16 worlds. Trillionaires, billionaires, and planetary officials abandoned their businesses, their offices, and their homes. They boarded their personal transports, filled them with their families, and set a course for the hell out of there. Public transports sold tickets for one way evacuation trips for exorbitant prices. Two adults and two children could be seated for 80,000 credits: the average annual salary before taxes. Forget about mortgaging your home; no bank would accept a soon-to-be irradiated home as collateral.
“After every starship had left, very few of them went back to pick up more refugees. Even the owners of fully automated transports refused to put their own property at risk. Yet the radius of radiation predictably expanded slowly at the speed of light, thousands of times slower than any starship in use at the time.
“Dozens of billions were left behind. Some looted and burned. Far too many killed themselves and/or others. Many fornicated with whoever would have them. The rest cowered in shelters.
“The radiation came and went. Nothing happened, until nine months later. It seems that when people think they are going to die, contraception is the last thing on their minds. Unfortunately, there were very few medical doctors left on these worlds. Quite a few people started careers as unlicensed midwives and doulas. Their training consisted of watching a 30 minute video. And they were caught off guard when their patients started giving birth to cyanotic infants who were breathing normally. These blue babies grew into blue children, then eventually into blue adults. Entire generations on 16 worlds all had skin shades that ranged from deep ocean to clear midday sky.
“We had became a race. Then we reclaimed the abandoned factories and shipyards, and built a force to put an end to the pirates and bandit gangs that plagued the Core. Finally, we had become a nation.”
We, the Azul People”
“On the Argean planet Markle f, Marklegrad is in ruins. Months of grinding urban combat between Utopian guerrillas and Neo-Soveriegnists was interrupted by Azul peacekeepers. The peacekeepers first surrounded the Argean city. Then they dropped leaflets ordering both sides to lay down arms. Shock troops were send in, searching house to house for weapons. All adults or teenagers found in homes containing munitions were detained. Buildings were simply razed to the ground wherever someone was brazen enough to resist.”
Correspondent Perry Tomlin
Interstellar News Network
The Azul had removed the GPS satellites, rendering all automated vehicles useless. It had been a long bicycle ride from the New Magellanic Cloud consulate to the Azul green zone.
Three armed people were guarding the checkpoint. Ambassador Georgia Turner of the New Magellanic Cloud turned to her bodyguard, Diana Quid.
“These people should know where the detention center is.”
“Those look like guerrillas,” observed Quid. “They’re not wearing uniforms.”
“They’re Azul militia. They consider their blue skin to be their uniform, so they consider it acceptable to wear civilian clothes in the field.”
“They all have blue skin?”
Turner wished that the State Department had sent someone more qualified than Quid to work in the Marklegrad consulate. Unfortunately, most people familiar with the local situation would do their best to avoid an assignment here. The more you knew about this part of the Milky Way, the less you wanted to be here.
“The vast majority of them are naturally blue. Their ancestors were survivors of the radiation from the Rinehart Supernova. The rest have their skin chemically dyed or genetically altered to fit in. Look, all I need you to do is hide in that building, and record this. If these guys have itchy trigger fingers, I want people to know about it.”
Quid got into position. Turner approached the checkpoint, and one of the naturally cyanotic humans challenged her. “Who be you?” asked the militiaman in bad Argean. “Identity give!”
“I am Ambassador Turner,” she replied in fluent Azulish. “I want to go to the detention center.”
The soldiers stared at her in disbelief. Lots of people went there, but she had to be the first who asked for the privilege. One of them held out a palmscreen, then presumably conducted a biometric scan.
“Let’s go,” said the armed blue man with the palmscreen. “I will take you there.”
She had to watch her step around craters in the sidewalk. Railgun shots could still be heard in the distance. After walking for a couple city blocks, the escorting soldier decided that they should cut across the downtown park. All the benches were burnt, broken, or missing. The bio-engineered grass stayed cheerfully green in spite of a year of neglect.
The wind blew a bad smell into Turner’s nostrils. She looked over and saw a man hanging from a lamp post. The man’s face was a lighter, grayer shade of blue than the Azul. His hands and bare feet had turned black; the blood in his veins and arteries had collected there after his heart stopped.
Behind some ruined buildings on the other side of the park, there were a series of prefab modular buildings in new condition. Blue skinned sentries patrolled around the perimeters while UAV’s buzzed around overhead. The blue and black Azul flag hung limply from a pole in the still air.
After talking with one of the guards, Turner was escorted to an office. Two armed bodyguards stood by the door. An Azul woman wearing an elaborate dress uniform sat behind a stainless steel desk. Turner recognized the blue woman by the rank insignia on her collar.
Field Marshall Nadiya Fosej rose from her chair and shook Turner’s hand. “Please have a seat Ambassador. What can I do for you?”
“My sources tell me that you have 2,000 civilians detained here.”
“Your sources are somewhat mistaken. We do have 3,132 prisoners here, but none of them are civilians.”
“You are holding children here.”
“Some of the prisoners are child soldiers,” Fosej admitted. “Both the Utopianists and the Neo-Soveriegnists have been known to stoop to such measures.”
“Do you know which faction these children fought for?”
“No. Does it matter?”
“What about the adults? Do you know any of their allegiances?”
“None of them were in uniform, and we’ve only had the chance to interrogate a few of them.”
“How do you know that they aren’t civilians?”
“This city is under Azul military jurisdiction. Under Azul law, civilians do not possess weapons. Therefore, anyone found with a weapon or munitions on their person or in their dwelling is a belligerent by definition, and not a civilian.”
“These are Argeans. You can’t expect perfect obedience the day you show up.”
“I’m aware of that, Ambassador. That’s why I offered a three day grace period for people to turn in their weapons. We are here to bring an end to the fighting.”
“Now that they have been disarmed, it should be safe to release them.”
Fosej laughed. “Oh Ms Turner, you know that is not possible. You are wasting both of our time if that’s why you are here. We cannot release any combatants before the end of hostilities. We don’t expect the Argeans to quit fighting each other for at least a year. And since we don’t have enough food to feed these people, I have only one humane option left. They will be shot as soon as I get permission from High Commissioner Rayleigh.”
“That is not acceptable.”
“Will your government allow these people to resettle on one of your worlds?”
Turner winced. “No.” The Magellanic Legislature had blocked new immigration from the Milky Way over 50 years before.
“Then why do you pretend to care so deeply about their welfare? You might try to paint me and my people as monsters, but you won’t lift a finger to help the Argeans. And yet we are bringing civilization to these people.”
“If you murder these prisoners, it could provoke all Argeans to unite against you.”
“I would welcome that. If their leaders can learn to work together with each other, they can learn to work with us.”
“My government will file a formal-” Turner paused.
“’File a formal’ what, Ambassador?”
“Nevermind. It doesn’t matter.” Turner left the compound. Upon returning to the embassy, she filed a full report about the planned atrocity with the New Magellanic Cloud Department of Foreign Affairs. She wondered why she bothered, since the Meyer Administration would likely just sit on the info until and unless it served national interests to reveal the atrocity publicly.
It was frustrating to be a representative of a government founded on the principles of justice and freedom that wouldn’t save these people. She became a NMC diplomat, not just because she wanted to represent NMC policies and interests but so she could work towards peace and the greater good. If she could not save these people, she didn’t want the job anymore.
She went back to Nataya Fosej's HQ the next morning.
"Some of the Argeans that you have in custody hold dual NMC citizenship. I have their passports.” Turner held up a tablet screen that showed a list of documents. “If you release them, I will return them to the NMC."
Fosej looked at the list of documents and smiled. "You forged these this morning. What sort of game are you playing? I know that you don't have the authority to grant these people asylum.”
“That matter is between me and the NMC Department of Foreign Affairs. All you need to know is that these people will be resettled and won’t trouble you again.”
Fosej eyed her skeptically. “Are you really prepared to sacrifice your career to save the lives of 2,000 foreigners?"
Turner shrugged. "I'm out of a job when the consulate closes."
"Still, you're burning quite a bridge there. I'm not an expert on NMC law, but won't you face charges for immigrant smuggling?"
"Let me worry about that."
"That's pretty noble of you, but I will need time to think about it. Come back later today at 1800hrs."
Turner held out some hope that Fosej would perform a token humanitarian gesture, even if was just something to rub in the NMC's face.
But when she did return, she was led to a court yard. Twenty prisoners were lined up against a concrete wall pockmarked with bullet holes.
"Here I have what you want," Fosej said, gesturing to the prisoners. "You will get them in exchange for what I want. I will give you these people in exchange for the truth."
"What is it that you want to know?" asked Turner.
"I'm going to ask a series of questions. For every truthful answer, I will release two hundred prisoners. But for each time that you lie, I will order the execution of two hundred prisoners. And each time you give me an evasive answer, I'm going to have one hundred shot and ask again. To show you that I’m serious, I will make you watch what happens to the prisoners in this courtyard. There are only 20 prisoners here, one percent of the total that you asked for. So whatever you see happen to one person here, that will happen to 99 other people on the other side of this facility. Because I don’t think you have the stomach to watch 200 people die all at once."
“I don’t think I have the stomach to see anyone murdered…”
Fosej smiled. “Then I’m sure you will tell only the truth and this will be a very productive conversation.”
"Are you sure that you'll know if I'm lying?"
"I'm not claiming that this is a perfect method of interrogation. I just thought of it today, and I know you aren’t prepared for it." Fosej stood next to the prisoner on the far left of the line.
"First question: What made you ask for these prisoners in particular?"
"I was trying to keep families together."
Fosej pulled the blindfolds of two prisoners and sent them over to Turner. She then stood next to two teenagers, a brother and a sister. Turner winced and hoped that Fosej would like her next answer.
"And what made you ask for 2000 prisoners? Why didn't you ask for more?"
"I figured that 2000 was a credible number. I would have asked for every Argean you have if I thought you would believe me."
Turner released the siblings. The next pair on the line was a mother and daughter.
"Why is the NMC government building a military base in intergalactic space?"
"For defense, of course."
Fosej fired into the mother's head, who then crumpled to the ground. Turner looked away and shut her eyes instinctively. The daughter screamed, but her screams were interrupted by a second shot.
“Two hundred people are dead because of your fib.”
“Marshall Fosej, please. If you could-”
“You have a rare privilege here. People die all the time as a result of the words and actions of bureaucrats and politicians. Yet you never get to see the bodies. You sit in your nice clean office, never knowing the consequences of the decisions that you make.”
Turner bit her lip. She knew she had to keep her composure in front of Fosej. But she couldn’t think of anything coherent to say.
The field marshal continued. "Ms. Turner, I know you've never been a soldier, but you're not an idiot either. If you think I'm foolish enough to believe NMC propaganda about Onyx Station, then these prisoners will pay the price for your lies. A base built to defend the NMC would be located within the NMC. Why is the NMC seeking the capability to conduct offensive operations inside the Milky Way?"
"I have not been briefed on NMC military strategy."
Another shot was fired, another body fell.
"Same question. Give me a better answer."
Turner took the time to gather her thoughts. "I would imagine that there are multiple reasons why the base is there. Bear in mind that I'm just speculating on things that I have no direct knowledge about."
"By all means, please speculate."
"The base might be there to help protect civilian convoys against bandits. And perhaps the base is intended as deterrence, so that we can retaliate against any of the Milky Way starclans who attack the NMC."
Fosej freed one prisoner.
"What does the NMC intend to do about our occupation of Argean worlds?"
"We've already imposed economic sanctions. These sanctions will be lifted once the occupation ends."
"We both know this occupation won't end in the foreseeable future. What will the NMC do after the next election year?"
"That would depend on who wins the election of course."
"Let's say Gloria Meyer is re-elected. Are her puppet masters going to push for war against the Azul?"
"If the people of the NMC re-elect Gloria Meyer, that is a strong sign that we are committed to peace. Her approval ratings are at 63%, last time I checked."
Fosej released another pair of prisoners. By her own rules, she should have released more than that, but Turner dared not pester her about it.
"But you can make no guarantees as regards to what a future administration would do?" Fosej asked.
"It would be unreasonable of you to make such a demand, and dishonest of me to make such a promise. But the Magellanic people have always valued peace, and I cannot imagine that would ever change."
Two more prisoners were allowed to join Turner. "Tell me what your government would do if the Azul left Argea. Would you send 'advisers' who were armed to the teeth? Would you 'appropriate' local supplies of deuterium to 'offset costs'? Would you install your own puppets?"
"Is there an answer that I can give that will keep you from shooting anybody else?"
"Yes. You can tell the truth."
"We do share your concerns about Argean bandits and warlords. The NMC has intervened here in the past, and would do so again if there was a need to do so."
"Then why don't you join us? Send your own peacekeepers to serve alongside ours."
"The Galactic Legislature will not allow that. As a matter of principle and necessity, we avoid entangling alliances."
"Enough of this," Fosej released the rest of the hostages. "These people are your problem from now on. Do you know what I hate about diplomats?"
"I don't know why you hate us. Diplomats make it so soldiers have less work to do."
"You are a bureaucrat and a politician in one package. You stick to the rules when it suits you, and you lie when it suits you. But you seem different, Ms. Turner. You have ideals that you adhere to, even if they are foolish ideals.”
Turner nodded. "Thank you, Madam Field Marshal."
"If you are serious about protecting life and promoting peace, then you should deliver a message for me to Gloria Meyer."
"Such a message really should go through the proper channels."
"You know very well how useless the proper channels are. This is where the action is taking place and real work can get done. This back channel will stay open until I get recalled home to Delpi f."
"I'll put what you have to say in my final report."
"That will have to do. Tell Mrs. Meyer that she has two choices if she wants to avoid war with the Azul. Either end the embargo or dismantle Onyx Station."
"Are you threatening us? Even as a field marshal, you don't have the authority to make such demands on behalf of your starclan."
"I am telling you what our own worthless diplomats lack the courage to say at the moment. Both of my sons and all three of my daughters serve under me in the Azul Legions. Their lives will be on the line if war breaks out. No one wants peace more than I do, and I've just told you our best hopes for a lasting friendship between my starclan and your galaxy."
Fosej offered her hand, and Turner shook it. She noticed that the field-marshal literally had blood on her hands, and her blue face had wet red specks on it.
“The Tipperary system was discovered by accident. The Voyage Horizon Colony ship was supposed to to travel to the Monterrey system. But the navigational computer and all communication systems bricked while the ship was in extradimensional space, sending it off course by thousands of light years. Since the Voyage Horizon found itself in uncharted space, the crew gave up on finding Monterrey and decided to settle for and settle on the first habitable planet they could find. Their new home was christened ″Tipperary″, since they had traveled a long, long, long, long, LONG way. They were further from Earth than any human had traveled before. Because they could visually see all the spiral arms of the Milky Way at night on Tipperary d, they knew that they were in a different galaxy. Without access to their navigational computer, and lacking any competent astronomers, they assumed that they were in the Greater Magellanic Cloud. They began calling themselves ″Magellanicans″.
“The lost colony was discovered by a Commonwealth unmanned probe in 26 NUC. The colonists had to be told that they were actually living in the Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy. Since none of them wanted to be known as Canis Major Dwarves, their home galaxy was renamed as the New Magellanic Cloud.
“The good news was that contact had been re-established with the Milky Way. The bad news was that the Commonwealth would start sending convicted criminals to live in the New Magellanic Cloud. This practice would continue until the outbreak of the Sovereignty War.”
A Concise History Of Our Galaxy
The oppressors came
to the New Magellanic Cloud
They told us what's required
and what was not allowed
We fought back with raid after raid
So they deployed their foul solar shade
The enemy had blocked out our sun
With that, they thought they had won
But after a year long night
We never gave up the fight
And the sun rose again on Gibran d
And the people rose up, another world set free!
First verse of ″Siege of Gibran d″, Galactic Anthem of the New Magellanic Cloud. This verse is performed prior to all major sporting events in the NMC.
The glowing orange orb whizzed past Sabiha’s head, grazing her ear. The woman who threw it looked pissed. Sabiha looked at her jersey. It was still glowing green. The dodgeball’s sensors didn’t register a hit. Sabiha was still in the game.
The two types of players in null gravity dodgeball are porters and grunts. Each team begins the round with three porters and nine grunts. Players are eliminated from play whenever they are struck by a ball thrown by an opposing player, when they throw a ball that is caught by an opposing player, or when the player commits a foul.
Equipped with compressed-air maneuvering thrusters strapped to their wrists and ankles, porters are the only players with the ability to change direction while flying through the middle of the playspace. Grunts must use their arms and legs to push off walls, the ceiling, and the floor. Games last for 15 minutes or until all of the opposing team’s porters are eliminated. If both teams have porters at the end of 15 minutes, then the team with the most surviving players wins.
It was the last game of the last match of the season, and the Meridian Tech Quasars needed this win to proceed to the Hemisphere playoffs. Dawkins U was just playing for pride and a .500 finish, but spoiling their archrivals’ playoff berth would go well with that pride. Sabiha Soyuz was the last remaining Dawkins U porter. All eyes in the stadium were on her. She still had five grunts left, while two porters and three grunts remained on Meridian Tech’s side.
“Guys, give me a good screen!” Her grunts already knew this, but much of college sports is shouting out the obvious at the top of your lungs. She floated at the rear, moving fast from side to side while trying to stay a hard target.
She grabbed a stray floating ball. The dead gray ball turned bright green to show change of possession. She passed it to Karl Young, a senior year grunt. But as he was trying to catch it, one of the Meridians slammed him with a orange ball that flashed to indicate a hit. Karl’s uniform turned dark, and he left via the exit door in no man’s land.
Some clown in the crowd threw a inflatable sex doll dressed in a Dawkins cheerleader outfit through the exit door. The marital aid floated across no man’s land, and there was a sign taped to its chest that said “FUCK DAWKINS!” The ref blew his whistle to stop the game.
Porters could stop in mid-air, but grunts couldn’t. Everyone had to grab a hand hold as soon as they reached a wall. The ref used a vacuum cleaner to pull the inflatable cheerleader towards him so he could collect it with a net. Everybody knew that you don’t want to handle objects thrown onto the field with gloves that you like.
“That’s a cheap trick to use when they’re out of time outs!” Dawkins grunt Birmingham “Birm” Fulton yelled as stadium security hauled the asshole Meridian fan away. He was fluent in Neo-English, commonly referred to as Neng, but his accent gave him away as a foreign student from the Cygnus Starclan.
“Let’s try a cheap trick of our own,” said Sabiha. She pointed to one of the freshmen. “Miguel, you and I are going to go for those loose balls. I’m going to hide behind you. Birm, I want you to stay by this wall and distract them.”
“Three of their guys are holding balls right now,” Birm noted. “As soon as the game restarts, they are going to aim for you and Miguel.”
“No they won’t,” said Sabiha. “Here’s why.” She kissed him full on the lips. Cheers erupted from the Dawkins section in the stands. The other two remaining DU grunts were on the other wall. Sabiha didn’t want to shout her plan out to them. They did grin at Sabiha’s uncharacteristic public display of affection, and knew something clever was afoot.
Sabiha made her body parallel to the floor and ceiling, lying prone in midair to reduce her target profile. The ref noticed this. While he hadn’t seen this tried before, there was no rule against it so he didn’t say anything. Sabiha had considered lying prone in midair in previous games, but decided against it because it made it that much harder to throw a ball fast and accurate. But as long as she was hiding behind Miguel, there weren’t any foreseeable drawbacks to being prone.
The ref blew his whistle to resume play. Miguel pushed off towards the loose balls, and Sabiha used her airjets to match his speed. The Quasars launched all three of the balls they had at Birm. He caught one, and it flashed green. The Quasar who threw it was ruled out. His jersey turned gray. But both of the other two balls made contact, and Birm was obliged to follow that Quasar grunt out the exit door.
But Sabiha’s tactic worked better than she thought it would. She had sacrificed Birm in exchange for eliminating a Quasar and now all five balls were in the Dawkins’ court. Sabiha broke from cover and grab one of the gray orbs. Everyone one on her team had a ball and a target.
Stacy Gustafson, a green-skinned Quasar porter, floated towards the front of Meridian’s court directly in front of Sabiha. “Come and get me, you sky-skinned bitch!” she yelled. The ref should have called Stacy out for unsporting conduct, but perhaps he did not hear or recognize the racial slur.
One rule of thumb in dodgeball is to never aim for someone who is taunting you because that person is going to be ready. Instead she settled for a grunt. She threw and tagged him in his hip. However, Miguel foolishly tried to avenge the insult. Stacy caught his ball, then used it to knock out another Dawkins grunt.
But then Stacy looked around. The five ball onslaught from Dawkins had wiped out all of her teammates. The timer was running down. She had to hit Sabiha to win.
Sabiha knew the math as well. As long as she stayed in play, Meridian would lose or tie. And a tie wouldn’t get them into the playoffs, and would probably piss their fans off more than a loss. That thought made Sabiha relish the idea of a draw; a rare attitude for an athlete.
Stacy hurled the ball one last time at Sabiha, who simply flew sideways to avoid it. The timer ran down to zero, and it was over.
The nullifier field was powered down so that all airborne players were lowered to the floor. Birm walked up and embraced her. There would be no trophies this year or ever again for Sabiha, but a victory means a good day, even at the end of a bad season.
Karl and Miguel walked up to her. “You know what really sucks?” asked Karl. “We may have just saved Coach Stabler’s job.”
“How can that be?” asked Birm.
“We’re 15-14-1, and that counts as a winning season. So we’re stuck with that shithead for another year.”
“Your problem, not mine,” said Sabiha. She was a senior. Within a few short months, her biggest concern would be starting a career in logarithmic AI design. It was a growing field when she picked out her major, but then the depression hit. Jobs were growing scarce… but she pushed that out of her mind and enjoyed the moment. The real universe would wait for tomorrow.
“At least we stuffed Gustafson,” said Miguel. “Remember all the buzz about her at the start of the year? Anytime you see somebody green on a college team, that person is a ringer. They’re student athletes without the studying.”
By “green”, Miguel was referring to Gustafson’s skin that contained chloroplasts, and not her experience. All of Sabiha’s teammates and most of her classmates had Earth-tone skin that varied from a very light shade of pink to a dark shade of brown, based on melanin content. There was no obvious visual evidence that any of their spaceflight era ancestors had been subject to accidental mutation or deliberate genetic engineering.
Miguel never made much of the fact that Sabiha was blue, at least not where she could hear it. But he would go on and on about what he called humanity’s greatest mistake: engineering humans as a replacement for androids during the Galactic Dark Ages.
Just less than a century ago, a Magellanic private firm called Crickson Industries developed and marketed artificial humans with photosynthetic skin as laborers that weren’t necessarily entitled to wages and health benefits. They claimed that these humans were incapable of self-aware consciousness and reproduction. They turned out to be wrong on both counts, and Crickson Industries’ headquarters was destroyed in a suspicious, unsolved explosion. Even though the NMC government recognized them as citizens, many Earth-toned folks just didn’t like having green people around.
Whenever Miguel went on a tirade about green people, it made Sabiha wonder what he thought of blue people. Of course he was polite to her face; he had to be to stay on the team. She headed out to the women’s shower room.
She got her palmscreen out of her locker. “Let’s go out tonight,” she texted to Birm.
He texted back. “Would you like to go somewhere expensive?”
“How about someplace secluded?”
“I cherish Earth and its diverse cultures. This is where humanity's story first began. I feel very privileged to return to the world where my ancestors were born.
I have come here in person to remind you all what the Sol System was like before joining the Commonwealth. People were suffering in poverty while multiple governments competed and schemed for supremacy. We have brought Earth the peace and unity that its people have desired for millennia. Earth relies on us for protection from external threats.”
Commonwealth President Omar Helgrane
Transcript of the speech he gave in Chicago during his first visit to Earth
“The Commonwealth is an external threat! Imperialists, go home!””
Slogan appearing in graffiti and protest signs in the wake of President Helgrane’s visit
Earth attracted over 300 million tourists and religious pilgrims every year. Kekionga Municipal District catered to these visitors with a wide variety of pre-space flight buildings and replicas cleverly built to fool non-scholars.
La Casita Restaurant was a recently opened diner that pretended to be around for over a thousand years. Mounted on the walls were old bicycles, TV’s, books, and other artifacts recovered from landfills. The eatery was very popular among people who didn’t know better.
Sven Carlton worked at La Casita as a waiter. Customers liked the novelty of a human bringing them food as if it was his or her sole purpose in life.
A couple from the Democratic Association of Worlds had been bickering with each other in their native language several minutes after they had been seated. Other tourists seemed to take an interest in the scene. Sven wondered if it was a deliberate attempt to get service quicker. If that was the case, it was working. Sven walked up to them to take their order in the hopes that it would get them to change the subject.
“Hi, my name is Sven and I’ll be your server today. Can I get you anything?”
“Bring you food to me,” said the male customer.
“Have you had a chance to look at the menu?”
“Food to me.”
Sven held up the menu. “Can you point to what you want?”
The man pointed to a picture of the pizza he wanted.
“And for you?” he asked the woman.
“Split,” the man answered for her.
“So you are going to split it? Do you want it to be a large?”
“Food to me,” the man said again, smiling.
Sven showed them the drink menu. They both wanted coffee. The man seemed pleased that he was able to order food in Neo-English. La Casita was the only restaurant in the Kekionga Municipal District that banned its employees from using translator apps. Some customers seemed to like the challenge of practicing what they learned in school on their home worlds. Most fell back to using their own translator apps when they realized they couldn’t pronounce Neo-English words well enough to make themselves understood. The fellow from the DAW was very proud that he could say a dozen words in a foreign language.
Customers tended to tip more if you could understand them. Sven entered the order into his palm screen. Two more customers walked into his section; a gorgeous blonde and what looked like a deformed robot. It had a translucent dome for a head and stumbled around on two multijointed legs. They picked a seat by the window.
“Is that an alien?” asked a preteen boy.
“Horatio! We don’t use that word!” his mother scolded.
“He’s a fletcher,” said the blonde. “The fletcher species is named after Tayna Fletcher, the scientist who first discovered them. Would you like to come over and talk to him?”
Horatio walked over as his mother watched from her seat. “What is its name?”
“Bill,” the fletcher said through a speaker wired into his suit.
The boy looked at Bill, but didn’t see a mouth. “How do you eat?”
“I am unable to eat food produced from Earth life,” the fletcher said in a monotone voice. “So I attach a nutrition pouch to my suit.”
“Why can’t you eat Earth food?”
“All Earth life uses levo-amino acids in their cells,” the fletcher stated. “Fletchers use dextro-amino acids. So you and I cannot live in the same biosphere.”
“If he can’t eat here, why would you bring him to a restaurant?” the mother asked.
“Because I’m hungry,” replied Bill’s handler. “Also Bill is an anthropologist. He wants to observe humans in their day to day activities.”
“Where were you born?” Horatio asked Bill.
“I don’t know. I was formed on a transport, but I was never told which transport or its location at the time.”
The DAW couple walked up to Bill. They talked to him in their language, and the fletcher responded in kind. Bill agreed to pose with the wife as the husband took a picture with his palmscreen.
Sven took their order. The handler, Madalina Reyes, wanted tuna salad and iced tea.
“The tuna is cruelty-free, synthetically-grown meat. Is that ok?”
“Really? I don’t want to eat that on Earth. I can eat that back home.”
“They’ve finally outlawed fishing.”
She wrinkled her nose. “I’m all about the rights of cows and pigs, but fish?”
“On Earth we have environmental regs. Everywhere else, you can flush plutonium down the toilet and nobody cares.”
“So much for traditional cuisine. If fake fish is what you have, that’s what I’ll eat. But it better be good synthetic tuna.”
Sven turned to Bill. He noticed the writhing mass of tentacles beneath his dark tinted dome. Sven couldn’t think of anything to say besides “Can I get you anything?”
“Water,” was all Bill wanted. Water was essential to all known life.
Randolf Higgins, the owner of La Casita, came out to greet Bill in person. Bill posed for another picture, which was to be printed, framed, and displayed on the wall with all the other knick-knacks that were meant to give the restaurant atmosphere.
Sven brought out the tuna salad, iced tea, and tap water. “Mind if I ask a question?”
“Please go ahead,” said Bill.
“The fletchers have known about humans for centuries. What do you hope to learn about humans in a restaurant that you haven’t learned before?”
Bill just sat there. “Human culture is dynamic and always changing,” Madalina answered. “Even on Earth. You seem to have a healthy interest in fletchers.”
She tapped her own palmscreen, which prompted a friend invite to appear on Sven’s palmscreen. “You should visit one of the fletcher consulates sometime.” She gave him a wink.
Having a woman flirt with him on the first meeting made Sven suspicious and excited at the same time. It wouldn’t hurt to at least message her, though…