“Elder” Ti’miquek – who mused that he could now actually carry that title if he really wanted to get a senior’s discount at the supermarket – chirped softly as he waited for his youngest hatchling to respond to him. After decades of serving his local community, he knew enough not to trust little-needs-protectings when they were in such an excited state, but the stories that they were telling him about his erstwhile pure and innocent daughter were just… well. Raunchy, out-of-character – imaginative, is a good word for it; he had been around the pool enough times to know that Karnakian biology just didn’t work that way, and that you couldn’t bend like that.

Not that he and his wife haven’t tried, mind you, but that’s a story for the emergency clinic and less-than-polite company.

But he stood there and chirped softly in acknowledgment and soft astonishment as escapade after escapade was invented before his very eyes; he would have put a stop to it, but watching his daughter sink into the well-loved cushions of his booth was worth wading through the bullshit. Ti’miquek nodded sagely, gasped when appropriate, and shook his head sadly when necessary, all to watch his little sunbeam die slowly of embarrassment. It’s the little things that make parenting worthwhile, after all.

“[-fourteen Dorarizin at once.]” Little-needs-protecting Plays-with-sand said, his food covered hands spreading wide in the retelling of this very obviously 100% real story that he’s not totally making up. After hearing that one, Ti’miquek knocked on the booth frame and cleared his throat.

“|Well. Since all of this has come to light, I have to say… I am incredibly proud of my daughter.|” Ti’miquek said, smiling as he leaned across the booth to place a fatherly kiss on the top of Seseren’s head. “|Thank you for resuscitating my other daughter during her last drug-fueled orgy at the abandoned ball-pit manufacturing plant.|”

Seseren beamed at her adopted father, as Anne Marie’s hands patted both sides of her jawline. “[Why thank you. It was difficult finding the right vein to start the saline drip, as there were so many needles I had to clear them out first.]”

“|Ah, and I bet her veins were as hard as a rock, too. And thank you, my son, for making sure her… what was it you said, plays-with-sand? [Karnussy]? Went for a high price during the illegal escort auction.|” Ti’miquek said, desperately trying to keep a straight face as the Dorarizin leaned forward, getting rewarded with another fatherly kiss on the top of his head. “|And of course, who could forget my little star!|”

Ti’miquek turned to look at his daughter, who had sunk below the tabletop at this point, desperately trying to build a nest and live underneath the faux plasteel slab to survive the lethal amount of embarrassment she was experiencing. “|Aww, now, come out. You know I’m not mad at you…|”

Tik’akri let out a very unladylike yowlp, peppering her displeasure with two-toned spat songs. Ti’miquek locked eyes with his youngest daughter, his little sunbeam, and leaned down, planting a gentle kiss on the top of her muzzle. “|…but I am going to demand at least 20% of what you’re getting out of these illegal parties to keep my mouth shut.|”

“|DAD.|” Tik’akri cried, crest splaying out in a mixture of embarrassment and anger. “|Please-|”

“|Ah! No arguing, young lady! 25%, or else I tell your mother, and she’ll want a cut as well.|” Ti’miquek said, trilling in soft laughter as his daughter looked up at him from below like a mischievous moltling, narrowing her eyes and frowning at being the object of everyone’s ridicule. Ti’miquek looked up at the other end of the table, determined to change that just a bit.

“|And as for you, plays-with-sand.|” Ti’miquek leaned over his daughter, getting very close to the human in question, who bowed his head to receive his own fatherly kiss. It never came; instead, Ti’miquek rested his chin on the human’s shoulder, slowly tilting him out of his accommodation seating.

“|Don’t you owe me roughly 1,400 GRC?|” Ti’miquek whisper-spoke, loud enough for everyone to hear, as plays-with-sand froze stiff, half-fallen from his high seat onto the broader booth below. “|Me taking 30% of my daughter’s earnings is not going to help you pay back your debts.|”

“[I … thought this food was a gift, between our cultures.]” Plays-with-sand said, recovering from being put physically off-center and leaning back in his chair. “[For me to grace your restaurant with my presence, and ah-AHAAAH~!]”

Ti’miquek tilted his head and shot a playful look under the table at Tik’akri as she grabbed the little-needs-protecting’s ankles and started to pull him under. Plays-with-sand gripped the arm rests of his chair, fighting the undercurrent before slowly sinking down, his hands scrabbling against the tabletop, his fellow customers, and eventually the remains of the singular hushed puppy, before disappearing underneath the table to his probable and apparent demise. Ti’miquek sighed and bowed his head a little in remembrance; if only Plays-with-sand had buckled in, he would still be with us to this day.

Anne Marie sighed as she watched the inevitable happen: Jack was slowly pulled under the table with the same fear in his eyes that her ancestors may have experienced from a shark attack, or from falling into quicksand and slowly being consumed. She continued to pat Sesame’s cheeks, trying to gently get the larger alien’s attention. It worked, eventually, the jornissian leaning to the side and tilting her head to make eye contact with her occupant.

“[Yes, Anne?]” Sesame said, curious.

“Can you ask Doobie for my bag? If I’m going to be held captive, I might as well pretend to be productive.” Anne said, splaying out in the divot that Sesame’s coils provided.

“[And miss this?]” Sesame smirked, tapping her dorarizin booth-mate to get the humans’ bag. “[Are you sure you want to work on spreadsheets when we’re about to bear witness to a murder?]”

“Eeeeh, he’s been killed a half-dozen times before.” Anne Marie said, smirking as she heard a human-like yelp from under the table, followed by a bang as something hit the underside of the table. “See? He’ll be fine, but me missing this assignment won’t.”

“[What’s it for? School or work?]” Doobie asked, handing the bag directly to Anne Marie as Sesame leaned back against the booth backrest, giving a little wave to some other patrons in another booth.

“A little of both?” Anne Marie said, smiling sheepishly as the table banged again, Elder Tictac crouching down to talk to the dead and dying. “I’m doing an internship at Dewey, Cheatham and Howe for efficient multi-purpose zoning laws; we can kind of do more in one square foot than y’all can, no offense.”

“[None taken, you can fit into small spaces so it makes sense.]” Doobie said, nodding sagely. “[So that’s where you’re thinking of landing after college?]”

Anne Marie rummaged around her bag, pulling out a well worn and be-stickered tablet. “As good a place as any; they do forensic accounting too, so my dual-major could be of dual-use.”

“[Sounds like dual-jobs with no bump in pay.]” Sesame said, earning a playful thap to her curled tail by her human companion. “[Well, at least Tomtom’s got it all figured out.]”

“[Mmm?]” Tictac said, his feathered headcrest peeking up over the table’s edge before his head soon followed. “[What’s this? My daughter’s got a job offer?]”

Anne Marie, as well as everyone at the table, gave the elder karnakian a look. “What… do you mean?”

“[Sweet?]” Tictac asked, stepping back to let a much-tossed Jack scramble out from the angry-karnakian-hidey-hole, the human combat-rolling out into the main diningroom floor. “[You’ve got a new job? When did you get the offer – who’s it with?]”

“[What are – what are you talking about, Dad?]” Tomtom asked, crawling back up the booth, sliding between the table and the seat itself. She frowned, searching her father’s face for some hint of explanation for the odd line of questioning. “[I told you I’d go to college to help you with the business. We talked about this, years ago – handing the baton, and all that.]”

Tictac opened his mouth, and then shut it, letting out a sigh through his nostrils. “[Oh. Oh darling, I thought… you knew. I know we’ve talked about this before; once you graduate we’re shutting down th-]”

The yell of protest was so loud as to immediately drown out any patron’s music, conversation, or semi-illicit bathroom stall deal, and no voice was louder than those that came from Anne Marie’s fellow humans; tears, cries of pain, a possible battle-cry from Jack as he leapt up from the floor and a stream of upside-down oaths emitted from Brian garnered the attention of every single living being in that restaurant, including the bugs that hid under the welcome mat. Tictac very quickly found himself the target of multiple pointed fingers, teary eyes, and possibly a broken glass bottle or two. Slowly he stepped away, holding his hands up and out in a placating gesture.

“[Everyone, everyone! Just… just breathe, alright?]” Tictac said, shaking his head and loosening his feathers. “[Now daughter of mine – biological daughter of mine, let me add – we can talk about this later if you’d like-]”

“[What, no! Dad, tell me right now.]” Tomtom demanded, turning in the booth to fully face her father. “[I thought I was going to take over ‘the family institution’! Your pride and joy – the thing you’ve built over your entire life!]”

Ti’miquek closed his forward eyes, scratching the bridge of his muzzle as he collected his thoughts. “[Alright, alright. It doesn’t matter this late in the game, so.]” With a sigh, Ti’miquek opened his eyes and patted his daughter’s shoulder with the back of his hand, Tomtom scooting over in the booth to allow for her father. Ti’miquek inhaled and was about to begin, before he was patted on the hip, and with a flat look shot straight ahead, scooted over a bit more to allow Jack to climb up and be a part of the conversation. Ti’miquek cleared his throat, and began again. For real, this time.

“[So. It’s a few things, my chicks.]” Ti’miquek said, opening his hands as he rested his forearms on the table. “[First and foremost, I am well over [600] and I would like to travel the system with your mother. Maybe even visit the old world-]”

“You mean Karnak?” Anne Marie asked, excited, before both the Karnakians just looked at her with visible confusion.

“[That’s… that’s. A word. Thank you.]” Ti’miquek said, dipping his head with a barely-hidden smile. “[Ah, but no. I mean more relative in the near-past; our family came over from [Singing skies], and our main branch of the family is still there. It’d be nice to come visit and see how everyone is… but, that’s neither here nor there. The restaurant put everyone in college, and helped us save up for a modest retirement.]”

“[Dad.]” Tomtom chirped sadly, almost cooing. “[You said we’d work together, and that … that it’d be my place. This is all I wanted.]”

“[Oh my darling sunbeam.]” Tictac sighed, leaning against his daughter in a half-hug, resting his head atop her own. “[I’m so sorry, but we just can’t afford to stay here anymore.]”

“If it’s about the money I owe, I can pay it back!” Jack said, patting the older karnakian’s side as he started to laugh softly. “We can get you that money by the end of the month.”

“[Oh, oh it’s not that.]” Tictac said, rolling his forearm feathers in a soft shrug. “[It’s just, well. Ah, as you know, we’re one of the first true interplanetary colonies for the humans – that has caused a lot of development.]”

“Well, sure.” Anne Marie said, reaching forward and stealing a bit of Jack’s abandoned hush puppy. “But that’s got to have brought you more traffic, right? More customers, more money?”

“[Certainly.]” Tictac said, letting his daughter go to face the rest of the table. “[But with that, an increase in costs; we’re not on the border with Silver City, that’s sure, but being within an hour’s flight is still pretty close. We’ve also got a mixed-species college with human professors as well, so that’s a big draw in and of itself. Over the past few years, we’ve gone from a tax of 1 GRC per [square foot] to 7, my utility costs have doubled, we’re now held to new ‘beautification’ standards – which also include safety updates, and we can’t afford those renovations.]” Tictac let his features sag, and in that moment the weight of his age and exhaustion rested on everyone’s shoulders. “[The resale cost of food from my wholesale connections has also tripled -]” Ti’miquek raised his hand to stave off the flow of questions, and continued unabated. “[- because when you grow food that’s been around humans, there’s a certain… premium you can charge for it. Almost a third of our food is now exported off-planet for that reason alone, and that’s not at all counting the human-grown foods, which. Oh!]” Ti’miquek let out a sharp whistle, shaking his head. “[Proved to me I’m in the wrong business!]”

“The fuck you are!”

All eyes at the booth turned to Bruce, who had apparently been getting more and more agitated, until he finally stood up on his boosted seat, towering over the seated people around him. “Listen here, you seppie cunt.”

“[Please don’t call my dad a cunt.]” Tomtom said, flatly, as she was immediately called a cunt as soon as she opened her mouth.

Bruce rested a boot on the table, posing like Captain Morgan, accusatory finger dancing between the Father/Daughter duo. “You can’t shut down! You’ve been here for 60 years! Longer than that! You’re an institution, and it’d be an actual crime to deny your shit food to generations to come-”

Tictac sat up, staring down the belligerent human. “[It’s quality food establ-]”

“Shut it, you cunt.” Brian spat, jabbing his finger at the air between them. “Do you have any idea how much of a legend your food is?! How many underage college students have drunk themselves into a stupor near the pool table?! How many drug deals have gone on in this parking lot?! Fucks’ sake, my parents met in your bathroom!”

“[Wh-wait.]” Doobie said, shaking his head to try to get that sentence to land properly in his mind. “[Y-your. The bathroom?]”

“He’s got a point, though.” Jack said, patting the older karnakian’s thigh in a friendly way. “You have been here for way too long to just roll up and move out like this.”

Ti’miquek sighed, exasperatedly. “[It’s not that I haven’t been trying to save the restaurant – an establishment, I’ll remind everyone at this table, that I have been running for well over [400 years] with no problems so far!]” Tictac said, a bit of anger creeping into his voice as his talons tapped against the tabletop. “[And this has been a problem years in the making. We’ve seen our profit dry up, trend sideways, and now I’m operating at a loss, and have been until my daughter finishes school so she would end her academic career happily!]”

Ti’miquek inhaled deeply, letting the anger bleed from his voice but keeping his gaze sharp as he looked between the assembled sapients at the table. “[Do you know how much this land would go for if I sold it? It would double my retirement fund. Your mother and I could quit, right now, and not be a worry to anyone. More importantly, I know, this old place has a lot of work that needs to be done, and this frees you from it, from that burden.]” Ti’miquek said, looking at his daughter pointedly. “[There’s nothing wrong with starting this up again, somewhere else, if you really want to.]”

“[But I don’t want anywhere else, Dad.]” Tomtom said, resting her head against her father’s shoulder. “[I grew up here. I like it here – my memories are here. I don’t want to…]”

Silence settled on the table, before being broken by Brian’s soft and dejected “cunt.”

“So, who is your competition?” Anne Marie asked, innocently, as she pulled up the galnet on her tablet. “How are they staying in business?”