There are many people who ‘live’ and ‘work’ in space; trillions of sapients, collectively, worked in ships, on stations both large and small, on tethered asteroid colonies and a dozen other forms of interstellar habitation and industry besides. However, there is a particular line of demarcation between those who ‘live and work’ within the bellies of these massive beasts, enjoying the purified air, recycled water and faux greenery and parks of the relative safety that kilometers of reinforced bulkheads and metal shielding can provide, and the people who actually went out into the void to make their daily bread.

There’s always been a disconnect between the two, and the core decoupling is because there are so many things that just don’t work in true vacuum. For starters, and most obviously, there’s no breathable atmosphere – so you wear a suit, which isn’t too far removed from other activities one could find themselves doing, but every conversation you have comes via a radio set, and there’s still delay between sentences. If you’ve got three or more people working together on a project, you can have an unfortunate side-effect of multiple overlapping conversations happening at once, bouncing around the workzone for hours.

Take gravity – for granted, of course. You step outside the range of the local graviton field generator of your ship or station and suddenly everything is weightless. Everything. It’s almost a rite of passage for new exo-workers to ignore the “no really strip your body of everything or else you’ll be in a snowglobe” orientation for their first day of work only to find that snack, loose hair tie or earring floating about their head for the rest of the shift. This, of course, doesn’t speak to the general discombobulation of having magnetic boots or hands keeping you steady while the rest of your form becomes a wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube-human.

But that’s what unites all the species of the Galactic Senate: we’re all tubes, at the end of the day, wrapped around an anus.

Speaking of, sound is another thing that just doesn’t work when it comes to exo-work; the thousand small bits of feedback your brain gets working in an atmospheric environment are absent when working in space, and have to be intentionally artificially added for both safety and sanity’s sake. Most suits now have built-in speakers around the interior of their user’s helmet to give them audio cues to what their camera-fed-suit-computer sees around them.

With all of that being said, the workers who were repairing the micro-cracks on the outside of [The Starlight Flower]’s viewing windows could have sworn they heard lightning crackle and thunder rumble from somewhere.

= = = =

Azul, nee Sreshec, laughed in her observatory, as her mirrored walls slowly twirled, casting a kaleidescope of colors and vistas that dazzled the eyes and confounded the mind. Gone, swept away in her madness were the stacks of carefully compiled notes, the decision trees of planetary and solar organizations, reams of ordinances with meticulously-highlighted loopholes and notes scribbled in the margins. The tower of televisions had been cast down – or up, the gravity just outside her platform was purposefully shut off, a demented snowglobe of broken technology, static-fuzzed screens and glitching newscasts orbiting around her.

Sreshec knew. After her… dinner experience, and trading contact information with her ambitious rock-climbing dining companion, she spent the ride up and out of atmo in deep rumination. She reflected, turning herself more and more inwards, trying to fit the non-euclidean thought patterns into her own. It was enlightening; it was shocking. Horrifying, in a way, and yet somehow cozy. Somehow right. Her mind expanded, and crossed over from the warm sands of sanity and common decency – common business best practices – and rested on the perch between reason and madness. Laying on that fine line, she looked down, one eye into the abyss and one onto the firmament, and laughed.

Was this how her ancestors felt, when the first integration began with the Dorarizin, or the Karnakians? When an alien mind touched her people’s own, did the very strangeness of it make them curl up in fear – or was it something else entirely? Perhaps an exultation that struck down at the very core of the soul as the recently-finite vista of possibility and potential was moved, far and past the horizon – Azul reasoned this was what filled her being, drowned her mind, and opened her eyes.

“<Antagonistic food service is the future. Of course!>” Sreshec roared at a captive view-screen, laughing at her reflection as she flung the offending item against the observatory glass, it’s crunch and bounce going largely unnoticed. “<How could I h- no, how could we have been so blind? For millenia!? It was sitting right there, unused, unwanted! Romance, adventure, joy, authenticity, novelty, family, speed – worked, tirelessly into the ground, but hate! We- we never used hate against our customers!>”

Sreshec let out a scream – primal, freeing, as she twirled in on herself, tripping over her own tail and landing on her back against the cool floor. The impact pushed the air out of her lungs, and for a brief few moments Azul struggled to inhale, relishing slightly in the burning of her lungs. The discomfort cleared her mind, and the mad joy bled from her features as she stared up at [The Starlight Flower], her former magnum opus. The solution had displayed himself, and she had taken him with all the fury and passion she could muster, but now – now came the other questions, now came reality and the morning after.

Her breathing slowed, then settled, as she stared up at the ceiling, a thousand thoughts racing through her mind as the part that could never be switched off began to sort and filter through the necessary next steps. It would do no good to just hire a mercenary company to serve flatbread, and neither would it be acceptable to flood certain politicians’ coffers with a bounty of election donations; she was part of a conglomerate, and such things eventually radiated out to the rest of the network and put those investments in jeopardy.

Besides. If you couldn’t crush your adversaries within the bounds of the law then what was the point?

“<Functionally unlimited creds does make things a lot easier.>” Azul mused, folding her hands over her stomach as she thought out loud. “<They’ve put together a network on the cheap, which I admire, but that obviously can’t be replicated elsewhere on the planet or else you’d have competing factions – eventually that spills out into the open, and, hm.>”

Sreshec blepped her tongue out slightly. Although a mercenary company would cost too much, would it be too far-fetched to hire some small-time criminals?

She frowned as she turned that thought over, eventually discarding it outright; criminals wouldn’t do – racketeering charges are how they get you. Aligning with a political movement might work in the short term, but that movement would then dictate what and where you did from then on, lest you lose the core.

There was also the pesky problem of political movements becoming radical, and the last thing Sreshec needed was a branded transport bomb going off outside of a rival’s cafe. Terrible optics and all that, although it usually did lead to an increase in search volume and ridge-traffic. No, the answer lay somewhere else. As Sreshec continued to turn over the question, every solution came saddled with it’s own problems.

How did they solve it?

Sreshec blinked, slowly, as a slightly-manic giggle bubbled out of her throat before being tamped down. That was such an obvious trail of thought that… well. With a smile she raised her arms, her implants triggering and connecting with her computer network. She pulled up the information the warmcuddle handed her, her recording of his face, the location, all the little bits and bobs of data she had clandestinely taken, and fed it to the machine. Slowly, imperceptibly, a puzzle piece took shape and a network formed.

This warmcuddle worked here and was related to that warmcuddle, potentially, given what public records she could pull. These suppliers here and there were vendors of that secret restaurant – given their location and menu options. Transport traffic and tail-traffic would probably pull from these local neighborhoods – the web grew, and Sreshec lost herself in it’s growth for a few hours, happily rummaging down through ous’st-burrows and laughing when the came to dead ends.

After months of slithering in a circle, she was finally out – she was finally making progress. She let her exhausted arms fall to the floor, splaying out as the network finally crystallized.

A family restaurant.

A loyal, but small customer base.

A dozen, dozen little warmcuddles, and enough implied behind-the-scenes dealings to actually make this business plan work.

They all went to the same university, Shreshec noticed, and clenched her hood tightly in thought. Warmcuddles, for all their many flaws and idiosyncrasies, were very good at building communities and integrating themselves into the nooks, crannies and unused spaces between people and places. The network they made in this college is probably what the restaurant crew was relying on in order to function. Disable that, and you break the only competition in the system…

Or, you could co-opt it, Sreshec thought. If that network is as tight knit as she suspected, then word was probably out already. If that was the case, then coming in as the second-choice job offer could work – and would work even more brilliantly if they paid more and had better benefits.

Sreshec smiled. Having functionally-unlimited creds really was unfair.

Sreshec rolled over onto her side, staring down at the planet below as her mirrored walls continued to spin. But how to continue making the playing field unfair? Now that was the market-dominating question. Getting the permits required to build a physical space was already damn difficult, and if she actually floated what she was thinking of doing to any regulator or inspector her restaurant group would most likely be banned from a good many systems.

No, a static building was right out. That means her restaurant must travel – a perch would be a bit too conspicuous; nothing says “pay attention to me” than a permanently floating building. Interplanetary construction also had it’s own red tape, and that tape usually doubled when you brought warmcuddles into the picture, so a wandering celestial restaurant was also out.

For a brief moment Sreshec thought about a potential aquatic, or even submersible establishment – certainly a new challenge, but working with a warmcuddle shipwright might be an interesting experience. That idea was quickly crushed once she very quickly realized that (1) this business model would need to be replicated, and not all planets had massive bodies of water to travel in/under, and (2) according to galnet gossip, warmcuddles had a bad habit of being violently ill when you wiggle the floor underneath them and sometimes popped if they came up from underwater too quickly. 

That left land. It would have to be big enough to seat a few clients, and a kitchen, and wait staff – Sreshec sighed, as she stopped that runaway caravan of thought. That line of thinking was way too large, and her competition was small – in both size and, ah, stature.

What if you shrunk it? Maybe, make it delivery only? A small transport, big enough for a kitchen and quick-turn crew. Add in a couple more warmcuddles to really sell the idea and to actually be the stars of the show – it would bring the idea out to the public, so they would immediately have competition, but first-mover advantage in these kind of paradigm shifts was huge and if parlayed correctly, her conglomerate could be writing the conduct rules for everyone else.

With an activated thought, the supercomputer built into her restaurant-station complex began to churn out potential business names, the translation coming out stilted but still readable. [Schwarma-Queen Saboteurs], [Pizza Palace Punishers], [Burger Lord Hit Squads],  [McMan’s Authentic Northern Ireland Experience and British Daycare] –

As the names scrolled past and were fed into a separate neural network for weighted sentiment analysis against the planet’s culture, Sreshec paused for a moment. Warmcuddles were adorable, they were friendly, they were hearty and scrappy and other things besides, but they were also alien. She was about to embark on a targeted campaign to disrupt and destroy something they had created, and potentially co-opt it as her own.

Would that come back to bite her?

Would they even care?

Sreshec gave herself a little mental shrug as those thoughts came and went. Warmcuddles had such short lives – most likely, they didn’t hold grudges, and if they did it’d be over very soon.

It’d be fine.