Sreshec’s work room hung suspended over Gentle Expanse, the blue-green world hanging like a chandelier in the glass observatory. She liked to work at the “bottom” of the station-resort she owned, partly because the views were usually uncluttered, partly because the “top” had the same views but you could charge 10x to put a client there, and partly because no one was going to to sneak through both maintenance and security to get to her quarters anyway.

She hummed to herself as she looked at the simple circular table, bathed in a soft white light, as she attempted to figure out her next steps: color. It is incredibly important to note that colors mean different things to different people, cultures and species. Blue might be the color of the sky, but it’s also the color of blood – if you’re a Dorarizin. Purple is royalty, but it’s also the color of bruising. Green can be grass and ripened fruit, but it can also be the color of mud. It was incredibly important, at an establishment like Sreshec’s, that these things were taken into account for the little details, not just the big “we have the wrong chair for your species” or “this appetizer is a literal poison to your people” ones. Was red lucky, or evil? Was orange a symbol of abundance, or a color of war?

Sreshec sighed as she pulled out a pure, white strip of linen from her worktable. The warmcuddles were incredibly simple – well, that may have been too harsh; they were simple in their tastes, and a lot of what was good in one culture was good for another. White seemed to symbolize purity, and with the research Sreshec had performed before attempting to put together a dining experience for the new species, she was confident she could get it close in one try. Not perfect, but close enough. She draped the tablecloth over the relatively small table, letting it hang. The edges were embroidered in a silver thread that was also tastefully and randomly woven into the fabric itself, causing the cloth to sparkle ever so slightly. Sreshec leaned back and crossed her arms, pacing around the innocent arrangement like a detective about to strike at an unsuspecting suspect.

‘<Should the corners hang like that?>’ She thought, seeing the angled edges of the cloth square dip to the floor. ‘<Maybe a round cloth with no edges, give it a straight line look.>’

She slithered back to her work table, leaning over the side to get a standard prop chair. This she was at least confident in; the humans were not shy in sharing the design schematics for simple furniture as a way to “help with the exchange of cultures”, so the simple flat plane with a straight back would work. It may not be comfortable, but this was all prototyping anyway, so it didn’t matter. She slid the chair under the table, slightly, and imagined a warmcuddle sitting there.

‘<Hmm. His legs are exposed; is that alright? If we seat them between the corners, the corners would provide cover.>’ Sreshec thought, leaning down and adjusting her pince-nez glasses to ride a bit lower on her muzzle. As she was doing so, a soft chime echoed through the silent room, and Sreshec stood up, adjusting her tailored vest and waist sash before letting the call through. Sreshec turned fluidly to face the screen, dipping her head slightly in greeting to the other assembled members of her team.

“<Good evening, everyone.>” Sreshec said, greeting everyone warmly as the interstellar group settled in for a call. “<I’m very thankful that you and the rest of the board have been so patient.>”

“[Oh!]” A greying Dorarizin female said, chuckling. “[We’re already getting to the pleasantries? That either means great news or terrible news.]”

“<I am simply thankful that the rest of the board allowed me so much capital to place this bet.>” Sreshec replied, smiling softly. “<Besides, you loved the idea [Gkrusk].>”

Gkrusk leaned in conspiratorially towards Sreshec, which since this was a conference call she did that to everyone, grinning wide. “[Now now, don’t tell them that! I have to keep my iron bitch persona intact!]” This exclamation was met with cascading cries of bullshit, a couple other playful jokes, and a few muted mics in general. Sreshec smiled a bit wider; the rest of her executive team were in high spirits, which was good – she had a lot rope, and a lot of pull. She snapped her tail against her floor as a call to attention, and eventually the rest of the team focused forward.

“<First, thank you all for your time and resources. We’ve successfully warped in [The Starlight Flower] and have been able to encourage the Gentle Expanse tourism board to use us as a gem on their hood, so to speak; with all things remaining the same this should continue by our playbook, and I expect being allowed to make a planetary bid for land within the next few months.>” Sreshec said, before an indicator ping popped up on-screen. Sreshec tapped an invisible indicator to all but herself, and her cybernetics muted herself and let the boardmember speak.

“[How is the traffic on site?]” Kqi’pi said, smoothing out his crest as he looked off-screen.

“<Surprisingly good, which is a problem.>” Sreshec replied, pulling up and sending reports off to the rest of her team. “<Our initial projections expected to take the diplomat and investor route, but there’s still way too much traffic for them to be system-only patrons; we’ve been handling a lot of outside money clients as well.>”

“[So the dinner call has been crowed, literally.]” Kqi’pi replied, smirking. “[Well, this pivot was already a success, if only to capture that traffic and information; well done.]”

“<Yes, the increased credflow is going to help with operations tremendously; I don’t anticipate dipping into our retained earnings for this project at all, if the pace continues. But, well.>” Sreshec shrugged. “<Since when are our projections perfect?>”

Sreshec muted Kqi’pi as the information was shared with the board, and as they studied the reports Sreshec started her lecture. “<We’ve had a few disagreements with our shipping and material providers; we’ve been able to negotiate around most of those contracts, and for the ones that are adamant about keeping their old routes and not stepping up for us, we’re going to let them go. We already have other providers being screened, so we should not have a disruption in service at all; we are going to double-order for at least 3 months to make sure there will be no disruptions: those additional costs are estimated on page 5, and are relatively negligible. The real issue, is what’s behind me.>”

Sreshec turned from the camera and began to pace around the circular table that stood, defiantly, under the cool spotlight. “<We do not have any real examples of multi-species dining, or fine dining experiences, that incorporate warmcuddles; every bit of data we can glean from interviews and media are always existing infrastructure being used with immediate help, existing infrastructure being retrofitted haphazardly, or, what I’m going to kindly refer to as ‘temp-permanent’ solutions, are things that work just good enough to allow warmcuddles to eat safely. A pit seat might work for everyone, but won’t be comfortable for everyone; same for benches, same for saddles. What you see here,>” Sreshec said, motioning to the lone table between the board and herself, “<is what I’m personally putting together based off of selected warmcuddle media.>”

There was another indicator on the screen, and a second Karnakian – I’krii’t – cleared her throat. “[With the mass appeal of warmcuddle media, I have to ask: why is this taking so long?]”

“<Ah, and there’s the question I was looking for.>” Sreshec said, waving back at I’krii’t who rolled her eyes. “<Ever since joining our wider communities, they’ve been adopting our styles in an attempt to play nice and blend in. Although the dimensions are right for their physiology, it doesn’t help us to look at a repurposed s’ikrii and draw conclusions from that – and yes, I did actually see that, and no, apparently no one told them it was a martial cloth.>” Sreshec looked up, and held back a chuckle. “<Once they learned, they kept it as a table covering though.>”

I’krii’t laughed, very unladylike, and immediately muted herself as she let it all out; the rest of the management team was on mute, and Sreshec laughed at the silent laughter of her colleagues.

“<Ah, but, let’s get back to business everyone!>” Sreshec said, snapping her tail once more to punctuate her request. “<We can take many things from the warmcuddles, we can glean many things from the others who have served with them, but we want to become the brand group for interspecies fine dining, and that takes time. We are already flirting with various floor layouts on Deck 7 – the one we had gutted – to try to figure out a way to have all species coexist and dine peacefully.>” Another ping, another question.

“[So why can’t we just buy and build? There has to be regulations already in place.]” Gkrusk rumbled, brow furrowed in thought. “[Or are we trying to make a statement?]”

“<We can tread on both sand and gravel, you know.>” Sreshec said, coyly. “<But, the unfortunate truth is that there is so much red tape that it’s bogging us down; Our staff has to be trained on how to handle warmcuddles, our products have to be tested and approved by multiple warmcuddle inspectors, we have building codes for interstellar and terrestrial buildings but our construction crew needs to be trained in how to handle warmcuddles so the warmcuddle inspector can safely go on site and nose around without being backhanded out a window.>” Sreshec rattled off with ease, as she picked at an errant but not yet loose scale on her temple. “<And that’s honestly just the top of the mountain here. We would have better luck building a megaplex on endangered land than buying and building that resort we initially forecast.>”

“[What about walkthroughs? We acquired that one cafe a few weeks ago, right?]” Gkrusk interrupted, looking down her nose at the camera not in disdain but in an attempt to get the data to focus on her screen. “[I thought we had some great success coming from that program.]”

Sreshec grimaced a bit, slowly shimming her body as she spoke. “<The only good news that came from that is that we didn’t attach our brand to the cafe; yes, having warmcuddles do walkthroughs and place dummy orders was helpful, especially in bringing in more off-world and out-system dollars, but the added expense for physical and legal defense killed that as a marketing avenue; we had one incident of a well-meaning patron slamming one of our warmcuddles through a display case. Accidental! Accidental, of course, but->”

“[But that’s why revenue dipped last month.]” Gkrusk muttered. “[That must’ve been an expensive one.]”

“<We’ve scuttled the cafe over it; we’ll re-brand and re-launch, but that’s very much a dead idea per legal’s advice.>” Sreshec said, patting the warmcuddle table. “<If we’re going to do it, we have to do it right, and everything needs to be rebuilt and retrained from the rocks up.>”

Sreshec sighed, adjusting the tablecloth as she spoke. “<We cannot afford direct brand damage, and I have been paying attention to our competition; don’t think I haven’t put out leylines to see what moves. Bubble tables can work for… low ticket clientele, and sequestered dining areas seem to be the only way other avenues have answered this question. I’m aiming to have warmcuddles integrated into the overall dining experience; that will play to our exclusive clientele, position us as a safe leader in warmcuddle fine dining, and give our other locations the ability to immediately copy and attract the same. Take, for example, this tablecloth.>”

Sreshec ran her hands over the top of the table, gently smoothing out the fabric. “<White, because it symbolizes purity, and it symbolizes wealth and status because it was apparently incredibly difficult to clean. But note, the nice touches of silver, which not only mean the moon and purity as well, but also righteousness.>” Sreshec looked up at her team with an inscrutable expression. “<I only learned 5 hours ago that if the silver is alloyed with copper, it turns their skin green.>”

The reaction on-screen of a dozen or so high-value, incredibly important businesspeople all lose their train of thought at once was a scene that Sreshec would remember until her dying day. “<I know, I know. Point being, we have to get it right; this station resort will be the go-to destination before anything planetside, and we want every high net worth individual who wants an authentic, upscale experience to have it here, first, and then at any additional properties that we will build within the system, and that can’t happen if the warmcuddles are turning green at dinner.>”

Kqi’pi pinged to talk, but then removed his ping, desperately trying on-screen to keep it together enough to ask his question. “[S-sorry, but.]” Kqi’pi closed his eyes to focus himself. “[Is there any way we can have warmcuddles as part of the dining experience, maybe as staff? Would that. Mitigate. I’m sorry I just – they turn green?!]”

Sreshec raised her hands in defeat. “<Apparently! It’s just the skin that’s in contact with the metal, but it still sends a message and an experience that we do not want to have associated with us. In regards to having them on as wait staff; that is more red tape. Our staff needs to be trained regardless of if we serve or employ warmcuddles, but if they’re on our payroll then it becomes even more difficult; we have to warmcuddle-proof our kitchen, our break rooms, our offices, our public and private bathrooms, and a host of other things besides.>” Sreshec stepped back from the table and went to her workbench, picking up a nondescript crystal vase. “<There’s still a lot of legal gray area when it comes to what foods warmcuddles can prepare without supervision, or are allowed to prepare at all, given the nature of … well, nature. Stomach acid from preparing a fish, let’s say, may tingle our hands but might be a chemical burn for theirs. Certain pollens and scents can have effects on them ranging from psychoactive to catatonic, and the list continues on longer than I’d like. Since we deal in the high class and exotic, let’s say, we might be the tip of the spear when it comes to discovering warmcuddle gastronomic tastes, but no one can tell me who foots the hospital bill or the legal bill.>”

“[Stay exotic, but known. Only approved foods, be daring but not stupid.]” Kqi’pi recovered, nodding to himself. “[Chef’s menu changes based on location, season and brand… that’d be a nightmare.]”

“<I figure, with some of our suppliers that we’re going to drop, that we can submit those foods to the warmcuddle inspectors and governments to test on their own as a gift.>” Sreshec said, smiling. “<Build goodwill, get good data and write it off all at the same time.>”

“[Well take a bow, my dear.]” Kqi’pi said, grinning widely. “[You very much are the right person for this job… and at least our competition isn’t getting ahead of us.]”

Sreshec dipped her head once more. “<I can assure you; no one else in this system is as advanced in the warmcuddle dining experience as we are.>”