Azul kept mashing the “go up” button in vain mimicry of her warm-cuddle coworkers, believing somehow that the aggression she put into the button press would be translated into vertical speed. It didn’t work, and a large part of her mind knew it wouldn’t, but it made the situation feel better and that’s what mattered. As the elevator finally reached her office suite it let out a happy series of chimes, the otherwise calming melody seeming to mock her as it delayed the opening of the doors.

Azul didn’t rush out of the elevator so much as poured herself out, pushing every inch of herself that she was physically capable of through the widening gap  as the doors slowly and otherwise majestically opened. Stumbling out into her office proper, she looked up with wild eyes to see what remained of the associated board of directors acting uncharacteristically jovial.

“[I’m back, I’m back!]” With a hurried slide she positioned herself behind her desk again, making no attempt to clean herself up as she reconnected to the call with hasty apologies. “[A thousand apologies, everyone – there was a rockslide that had to be picked up downstairs.]”

Drewgre-of-Arroz laughed, flicking his ears. “[Not a problem – we were entertained while you were gone! Your little helper came back in while you were gone.]”

Azul’s blood turned to ice, and her face dropped. “[Oh.]”

Gkrusk rested her muzzle on the heel of her palm, idly tapping at a tablet off screen with her free hand. “[Oh, don’t be so bitter, it was fine. In fact, he had some really good ideas.]” Gkrusk looked up at her camera with a sly smile. “[I quite like the idea of branching out to adventure dining locations.]”

“[Adventure dining?]” Azul parroted, the whipcrack switch between evil megacorporation and daily marketing duties causing her thoughts to skip a beat.

“[Yes. We have the materials and the money, why not build a restaurant inside an active volcano?]” Gkrusk said, scrolling through a list only she could see. “[Or a lone mountain range near some unpopulated part of our core territory? We’d have the food distribution network there already, and winter sports are always in vogue.]”

‘<Evil volcano lair.>’ Azul immediately thought, and grimaced. ‘<Secret mountain base.>’

“[Some of his ideas were ah, quaint, to say the least: Orbiting stations, asteroid constellations, things like that.]” Gkrusk continued, rumbling contentedly.

“[Was it something he called ‘starkiller base’?]” Azul asked, hesitatingly, feeling the pressure of a migraine starting to build in the center of her skull. 

“[Why yes! So he did bring it up to you before!]” Drewgre-of-Arroz said, nodding approvingly. “[It’s so good to see subordinates take the initiative, and we can completely understand your hesitation in autonomously directing so many resources for unproven projects.]”  

“[I’m sensing a ‘but’ here.]” Azul said, interrupting the director as she rubbed her clenching jawline. “[And I’d like to cut this off before you come out of the tunnel. I think there’s been a fundamental cultural disconnect between what we projected, expected and executed on, and what our human colleagues are doing. We need to readjust accordingly, immediately.]”

“[I’ll say.]” Kqi’pi said, looking over a report. “[Completely shifted my paradigms on synergistic foodservice and win-win collaborative-disruptive models.]” He looked up at the camera, completely serious as he tapped his desk with his free hand. “[We can involve shareholders and stakeholders in a staked steak model on something called a blockchain, which according to my notes is a linked butcher’s station for all kinds of meats.]”

Azul inhaled deeply, trying to center herself as the board of directors – her superiors by far – built momentum, sliding at breakneck speed towards a cliff’s edge that only she could see.

“[I believe we should shutter all our operations in regards to this new business line, effective immediately.]” Azul said, slowly, forming the words and letting them fall out of her mouth like formed stone. She was dimly aware that the conversation had quickly died down, and that realization gave her the strength to press on.

“[The humans don’t view our interstellar organization as anything other than an evil megacorporation – no offense to anyone here, we’re all in that same basket to them – and so have taken the opportunity to form a culture of scofflaws. What I had originally assumed were quirks of our new colleagues are instead purpose-built to form this corporate division into a liability for the entire conglomerate. The self-created corporate slogans are battle-cries, the PPE we’ve provided is kitted out more towards a security service, and our methods of payment and recruiting are subversive at best. Our initial marketing drive-by was an actual drive-by, for Sotek’s sake!]” Azul cried out, opening her eyes and raising her hands in exasperation. “[There is so much more, but this needs to be stopped, and stopped now!]” 

There was a moment of dead air before the conference call erupted in hearty, superlative laughter, a few of the Directors shutting off their video feed to save face from the lack of composure. Azul visibly drooped, the weight of their disbelief physically pushing her to the floor. Her chin rested against her desktop, the rest of her body slowly sagging under the camera’s horizon.

“[Oh come now, this isn’t your first pushback.]” Drewgre-of-Arroz said, his tone turning oddly paternal. “[I understand you have concerns, and we’re willing to hear them out, but given your previous reports there’s a lot of growing pains to a human-led, or partially human-managed corporation. We’ve already put a follow-up meeting next month, so we can revisit this issue then. Who knows?]” The elderly Dorarizin male shrugged, his greying muzzle opening to flash pearly-white teeth. “[This could all be over by then.]”

“[That’s what I’m worried about.]” Azul said, mainly to herself, as one by one her management signed off from the call.  

Elder Ti’miquek was no stranger to hard work, or loud work; although his career seemed to be ending in food service, he had spent some time doing everything from swinging a hammer to turning a wrench. Not on the same job, mind you, but during that hundred year or so period he was trying to find himself and settle down he wore multiple hats.

It had been a long time since he worked for a shade tree mechanic’s shop, and it
took him a little while to hold a conversation properly in-between the sound of air wrenches and plasma torches. His daughter only notified him of a nearly seven-figure purchase for the company, it’s line-item description in his accounting software only said “light manufacturing: misc”. In-between shifts Tictac decided it would be a good idea to swing by the new property and see what the new generation was getting up to, and if he would be needed to help in the quality control of what he assumed was food manufacturing.  

What they were getting up to was utterly confusing, looked concerning, had nothing to do with foodstuffs and was unfortunately very expensive.  

“[You’re telling me the cultural significance of these … machines is that important?]” Tictac half-yelled, tilting his body down to get close enough to Brian to hear what he was saying.

“Mate.” Brian fully-yelled back, the task made harder with his still-down welding visor over his face. “Nobody – no seppie, no tinhead, no bogan be they bloke or cunt would argue with this choice. It must be done.” Brian stressed, his hands spreading wide from his body as he spoke.

“[Fair… dink home.]” Tictac attempted, his translator doing it’s best to marry a respectable language to Australian. “[Did we really have to pay for shipping from Earth?]” 

“I know a guy who knows a guy, so these won’t show up on any manifests.” Brian said, slapping the aluminum panel of the vehicle in question. “Met a truckie one arvo that works for corporate – says they’ve been doin’ it since old Earth. Wherever there’s aggro, you’ll find em.”

Tictac tilted forward, mimicking to a startling degree one of those drinking bird mobiles as he looked the underside of the vehicle over. Four synthetic wheels, simple friction brakes, batteries and an engine that ran on some sort of fuel. The shocks were simple coils, the power differential nothing more than gears. To call the machine in front of him primitive would be an insult, but considering he
commuted to his company on an automatic hovercraft with inertial dampening
systems and full-preening back massage chair, it was the only word that came to

He kept it to himself, though, so as not to be rude. “[But you said this was a toy.]”

Brian laughed, which was more for show than anything given he had to go arms akimbo and yell out his laughter for it to be heard over the pneumatic hammer. “This ain’t a toy, ya dag! It’s a Toyota!”  

“[They’re not the same?]” Tictac asked, rearing back to half-height. “[No offense meant, but it looks very light. Simple.]”

Brian rested his hand on the white Toyota truck, patting it gently. “Now, yes. But soon she’ll be a technical, and then we’re delivering with style. Hot fresh fried foods and firepower in fifteen minutes or less, or you pay us double for the trouble!”

Tictac flicked his receding headcrest in mild confusion. “[Is that our new slogan?]”

“Can it be? I won’t tell anyone, promise!” Brian said, Tictac feeling the shit-eating grin spread underneath the unmoving welding mask.

Before Tictac could respond to the little human there was a loud bang – the kind of bang that came not from industry but from accidents, and the two quickly turned to look at the commotion. What looked like an AA turret had fallen the last few feet from it’s hoist onto the flatbed of a truck, the sudden weight popping one of the tires and causing the entire vehicle to lurch to the left, ultimately tipping over and spilling everything to the floor.

There was a pause in the workshop as everything came to a halt before someone yelled out “I’M OK!”. A cheer went up, a couple human managers wandered over with clipboards in hand, and most everyone took it as a cue to chitchat, check phones, or hang out at the soda fountain water coolers. Very slowly things got back to a kind of normal, save for the humans in question who had been summarily kidnapped by bright orange-masked people and pulled away into a side closet that Tictac had never noticed before.  

“[I don’t like that I’m this far out of the loop.]” Tictac said, frowning slightly. “[We were supposed to be a family establishment, serving our community.]”

“We are, and we are! Just, expand your definition of ‘family’ and ‘serving’.” Brian said, finally flipping up his welding mask to expose his soot-and-oil smeared face. “We’re simply a group of loosely related individuals who want to maintain our standing in our local geographic area through any means necessary. In that, are we not like your own founding feathers?”  

“[Fathers, and no. If I remember my history, this system was founded initially as a rest stop and resort.]” Tictac said, sighing. “[Can you just promise to be careful? I’d never hear the end of it from everyone’s families – the actual families – if something happened to you or any of the other humans in my employ.]”

“You don’t consider us family?” Brian asked, voice thick with forced and overdone emotion. Whatever he was going to stay was immediately shushed by Tictac’s hand smushing against his unprotected face.   

“[That won’t work on me, especially coming from you.]” Tictac said, a slight smile on his face. “[But it has been interesting seeing what you and my daughter have been up to. Speaking of, do you know where she is?]”

Brian shrugged, his face covered by the larger xenos’ palm. “Mffmfhfm mmff.”

Tictac looked down at the human who continued to talk into his palm, and idly wondered if whatever madness that was endemic to their race was infecting him slowly. “[You’re right! I’ll check her office first – and thanks for agreeing to work for unpaid overtime.]”  

“HHEH!” Brian yelled into Tictac’s palm, before he was swept up into a hug.