Tyson grunted as he hefted the filled plastic drink pitchers onto the table, the multiple buttons, ribbons, bells and doodads pinned to the straps on his suit jiggling with the effort. “That’s one redleaf tea and one sparkling mist! I’ll come back for your appetizer orders in a few minutes.”

“[Thank you very much.]” Sesame said, dipping her head slightly at the jingling,  retreating warmcuddle as she picked up the pitcher, centering it on her side of the table.

Sreshec – known by the warmcuddles as Azul, since she never bothered to change her nameplate – looked at the pitcher with rapt attention. It was a warmcuddle establishment, sure, but she had assumed they would make some concessions to the biology and comfort of their multi-species patrons. The booths were the first indication of this, and the menu of drinks was the second; there were staples for every race, with most of the menu being cross-species compatible, if not a little unpalatable without some doctoring up.

However, the drinks were served in a warmcuddle drink pitcher – at least, that’s what Azul assumed; given it’s size, the relative size of an average warmcuddle and the fact that she had trouble gripping the handle, she deduced it was simply re-purposed from being a shared carafe into a single drink order. ‘[But why?]’ Azul thought, pulling her own drink forward to mimic her boothmate. ‘[Aesthetics, or cost cutting?]’

“[You know they do wash these out after every drink.]” Sesame said, smiling as she sipped her sparkling mist from a side of the pitcher that had a little dip in it. “[It’s fine. A little awkward, but fine.]”

“[That’s good to know.]” Azul said, chuckling softly. “[I was just trying to understand the theme of this restaurant: at first, I assumed it was secretive, exclusive fine dining. Once I came in, it looked more like a…]” Azul paused for a moment as she searched for the properly unoffensive words. “[Family-style restaurant.]” Azul took a moment to look up at one of the warmcuddle turret ball gunners, who was aiming his weapons from booth to booth while shaking his arms and torso in mock recoil, a military-style helmet bouncing up and down on his head as he apparently got into the really good shooting. “[Family militia, maybe.]”

Azul gripped her pitcher of tea and pulled it halfway to her lips, before realizing she might be using the wrong side of the carafe. She turned it around in her hands a few moments before shrugging and dipping her head down, taking a very un-ladylike slurp from the top.

Sesame pointed at the spout of her pitcher. “[Fluid only.]” She then pointed to the dipped side. “[Fluid and ice. Also a good place to drink from in a pinch.]”

Azul smiled, as she took a proper sip from her pitcher. “[Thank you.]”

“[Is that what I should expect?]” Sesame asked, leaning back against the booth wall. “[If I want to be like you, I have to be always on? I’ve noticed you haven’t stopped studying this place since you got here, and at first I thought it was novelty, but now I’m not so sure.]”

“[Ah.]” Azul swayed a bit from side to side in thought, eyes wandering before eventually settling on looking only at her boothmate. “[Yes and no. You’re never truly ‘off’ once you get good at something, but that doesn’t mean you obsess over it night and day. You become a student of the industry, and your hobbies start to overlap with what you do for a living.]”

Azul looked at the laminated menu that was left with her, and gave an appreciative rumble. “[That kind of background always-on is also a good indicator of if you’re ‘doing what you love’.]” Azul said, anticipating one of the most-asked questions she usually got from her juniors, and smiled as Sesame started to take quick notes.

“[Often times, people will be misled into doing something professionally that they enjoy as an amateur hobbyist – for example, someone who likes to cook goes and becomes a professional chef.]” Azul purposefully slowed down her conversation as her companion furiously wrote on her tablet, the stylus tapping a staccato rhythm against the screen. “[But in a job, you’re going to have bad days… weeks. Months. Sometimes longer – the point is, something that you used to pick up and put down when it got difficult turns into something you must grind through, and that starts sucking out the joy of living. Going back to our chef example, an amateur chef can always order out when they’re too tired to cook, but a professional one can’t. Eventually, you’re stuck in a job you hate, have nothing you like to do for fun anymore and have nowhere to go.]”

“[But earlier]” Sesame started, pausing as she finished up her notes. “[You said your hobbies mix with what you do for a living, and that’s how you know what you love.]”

Azul took a sip from her pitcher, trying to slot her thoughts into the right words. “[That comes eventually. First, you start off with something you’re good at doing, something you’re passionate about doing, not necessarily what you love. As you get better and better at doing the job, you want to be better. So for my own example, I started off running a few restaurants as part of a team in junior management, then was given a shot with operating a fusion joint by myself, and worked my way up from there. As you get more knowledge, you seek more knowledge – that’s the student of the industry bit – and then you start gaining professional curiosity.]”

Azul looked around, asking rhetorical questions as her gaze covered the restaurant. “[How does the competition advertise their main courses? What are the new tastes coming out from the fringe settlements? What about from new immigration patterns? How do you position yourself to attract a certain type of person?]” Her eyes settled on Sesame again, and she shrugged slightly. “[Now I find myself not only as a galaxy-travelling gourmand, but someone who enjoys eating out and going to clubs – I’ve developed hobbies from my job that reinforce my performance at the job, and I can pick them up or put them down as I please.]”

“[As an aside, for here, specifically?]” Azul flipped the menu card over in her hands, showing Sesame the front and back. “[As the humans say, ‘game recognizes game’. Menus without prices very much speak to the affluent clientèle they’re trying to catch, I haven’t been able to identify any of the food on this menu, which given my expertise usually means it’s something exotic in either ingredient sourcing or culture-of-origin, which given the context of where we are makes perfect sense. Combine those two data points with the dust-and-mist secrecy to just get here and the blackmail threats once you get in… there’s a lot of self-selection going on, so whoever put this together very much thought this through.]”

Sesame nodded with an inscrutable expression. “[I could see that, a lot of that. Have you worked with humans long, or before?]”

The two Jornissians noticed that their server was approaching again, and both sat back to give the server their full attention.

“Ladies, good evening!” Tyson smiled, running a hand through his short-locked curly black hair, his brown eyes beaming with genuine warmth. “Your hostess has already been selected; Anne Marie saw you come in, Sesame.” He said with a smile, hooking a plastic numbered card on the end of the table facing the kitchen. “But that just means she’s going to get fatter-“

Tyson’s conversation was interrupted with a loud “HEY!” coming from the kitchen, but he pressed on anyway. “So we need to know what she’s going to get fat on. Any ideas for appetizers?”

“[I’m… going to let Sesame order for me.]” Azul said, and tilted her head at Sesame’s surprised expression. “[What? You’re a local here, you’ve had more of this food than me. Give me something hot and sweet to start the meal off right.]”

Tyson coughed into the crook of his elbow, failing to hide his grin as Sesame sighed. “[It’s not that kind of dinner, and I don’t even curl that way.]” 

“Sure thing, I totally believe you. So?” Tyson asked through a wide, smug grin.

Sesame inhaled, deeply, before losing an internal battle with herself, looking at Tyson flatly. “[I hate you. Pepper poppers snake style, holy frittatas and volcano dip to share.]”

“Aaaalright.” Tyson drawled out the first syllable, writing the order on a paper notepad. “If you need anything else, ask your host when she arrives – otherwise, I’ll be back when I see you’re thirsty or done with the first course.”

“[Thank you.]” Azul said, and was rewarded with an adorable little bow before the server turned on his heels.

“OI KITCHEN!” Tyson yelled, walking away from the booth and through the double-doors, bellowing the entire time. “TABLE NINE WANTS PYTHON PECKER PUNISHERS, RENEGADE ANGEL AND A MAUI WOWIE, SNIDDY STYLE.”

“[I. Hm.]” Azul said, blinking slowly as she watched the scene unfold, before turning to face Sesame again. “[I don’t know… if I should be offended or what. Are they all like this?]”

“[The adults at least hide it better.]” Sesame grumbled, sipping from her sparkling pitcher. “[Which is why I asked if you’ve ever worked with them before – and uh, before we continue, you know I have no trouble with anyone who-]”

Azul waved her hand, rolling her arm in a placating gesture. “[Don’t be so sensitive; not everyone’s out to trip you up and punish you when you fall. You were saying?]”

Sesame placed her drink back down on the table gently. “[I was just taking mental note of your diagnosis of this establishment, and I’m beginning to see how you could come to those conclusions. I’ve also realized one of my own competitive advantages, which I think means I’ll have a higher perch when I finally start job searching.]”

“[What would that advantage be?]” Azul asked, resting her arms in her lap as she leaned back.

“[I know how the humans operate.]” Sesame said with a slight laugh, turning to look as the double-doors swung open to show Anne Marie in all her glory, half-crouched and smiling wide under the burden of a titanic amount of flair.

“Well hey there, stranger!” The small warmcuddle called out, bouncing her way over to the booth, purposefully making as much noise and distraction as possible as bric-a-brac, junkque and shiny bits cascaded off of her uniform. With absolutely no forewarning or acknowledgment of the dining party Anne-Marie scrambled over the cushion to crawl over Sesame, the local very much reacting to the new intruder like one would a friendly, but frustrating cat. “Where’s my finished homework? Where have you been? Who’s your friend? What did you order?”

“[Weren’t you the human who checked us in?]” Azul asked, somewhat rudely pointing to the offending warmcuddle. “[Shouldn’t you know?]”

“So?” Anne Marie asked, kneeling on part of Sesame’s coils much to the Jornissians’ slight discomfort. “That doesn’t mean I remember anything – that’s why I write it down somewhere!”

Sesame shot Azul a half-smile and a shrug, as she casually knocked the warmcuddle flat onto her coils with an idle push of her free arm. “[You’ll see what I mean.]”