The inside of Elder Ti’miquek’s Home Style Food had undergone a tremendous amount of change, and not all of those changes were related to keeping everyone safe or dodging the inspectors/cops; certainly there were panic shelters, secret exits, smoke-bombs hidden in every table candle – the usual precautions – but a significant amount of work was put into making the place actually seem like an upscale, but secret hideaway. The floor tiling was replaced with a very durable carpet, illustrated with human games involving what looked like white vases and three-holed balls, and the faux-vinyl booths had been… well, cleaned, and re-upholstered into something a little more classy and that could be hosed off pretty easily. Small candles lit each of the 10 or so tables that still existed, with bar-seating at the counter and along the spots of un-booth’ed walls. The walls themselves were painted an off-white but not the same off-white, and in the warm, soft light of the restaurant only the most anal-retentive of interior designers would notice. Past the dining area there appeared to be groupings of low chairs and pillow-bowls scattered about in an almost haphazard way, next to an open area that suggested a bar. Past that were two double-doors that lead to areas beyond; Borkbork took all of this in the moment he stepped through the security threshold, and questioned none of it.

Questions lead to answers and answers means you lose plausible deniability.

Borkbork frowned a bit when Tiny-chomper Dropped-on-Head took Bluebell’s hand and led them to one of the booths; his hands were properly moisturized and trimmed and would have most likely been a better handholding experience for the tiny-chomper, but that was a battle he would win later. As he looked around the Tiny-chomper babbled a bit, giving them all the “necessary information” that they could ever need: He was their “host”, we should totally trust him to do a “[chef’s choice]” course, almost anything necessary for inebriation was on-tap in one way or another, and substances were frowned upon if you were doing them without sharing. Borkbork and Bluebell squeezed into the booth seating, propped up against the table by the factory-new rigidity of the plastic padding they were pushing against, as the tiny-chomper rattled off some very interesting menu items before just leaving.

“[Well.]” Borkbork said as Bluebell rubbed his hands together gently, staring at the spot where the tiny-chomper had held him. “[This… is an experience.]”

“[Yeah.]” Bluebell replied softly, grinning as he rubbed his palm slightly. “[They are quite the little charmers.]”

“[I wonder what he meant by the pre-food food.]” Borkbork mused, looking around the totally-empty restaurant as ez-listening musak started to play over hidden speakers. “[Does he mean starter dishes? Or do you think it’s more of a buffet-style where they just bring you a bunch of small dishes and you finish them up as you go?]”

“[I don’t know, honestly, I wasn’t paying that much attention – it’s all a bit overwhelming at first.]” Bluebell said, resting his hands on the table. “[But it seems nice! And we are getting plenty of access after all.]”

“[True. Speaking of!]” Borkbork said, delicately resting his elbows on the table as dropped-on-head walked back to the booth, placing down two laminated table mats that happened to double as menus. It was an interesting design choice, Borkbork thought, as he looked at the menu with a bemused smile.

“[I already got some [quiet] puppies frying for you both!]” Tiny-chomper Dropped-on-head said, showing off his tiny chompers in his little suit. “[They should be free in a few minutes, but until then, is there anything you’d like to drink? We have [soda], [soda], [soda], [soda] and tea.]”

“[Could… I get a [soda]?]” Bluebell asked, randomly picking one of the words that the tiny-chomper listed.

Dropped-on-head hummed to himself, furrowing his brow. “[Well that’s not one of the good ones but sure, to each their own. How about you?]”

“[Ah, tea please.]” Borkbork said as Bluebell attempted to study the menu a bit harder.

“[Correct or incorrect?]” Brian asked, his suit squeaking a bit as he started to squat once more. The two sapients looked at each other, the silence stretching out between them before Borkbork sighed deeply.

“[The correct tea?]” Borkbork asked, less as a question and more as a statement. “[Why would anyone order the incorrect tea?]”

“[That is correct!]” Brian said, reaching up to pat Borkbork on his forearm – and proving beyond a shadow of a doubt in Borkbork’s mind that he was a chosen tiny-chomper whisperer and was their “host’s” favorite. “[I’ll go ladle those drinks out of the tub and by the time I’m back the [quiet] puppy should be ready!]”

“[Wait, ladle?]” Bluebell asked, but the tiny-chomper had long since skittered away to parts unknown behind the “Employees Only” swinging door. He turned to ask Borkbork what he thought, but was immediately turned off by the amount of smug coming from his partner.

“[He touched me~]” Borkbork sing-songed, giving Bluebell the smuggest look he possibly could. “[He didn’t just pick the closest hand to him~]”

Bluebell looked flatly at his friend. “[He lead with the best, and dealt with the rest.]”

“[Ooo, that’s a good one, I like it.]” Borkbork replied, cut off before he could continue as the double-doors swung open, the tiny-chomper wheeling a cart out from the kitchen. The two Dorarizin removed their arms from the table and watched with rapt attention as the tiny-chomper wheeled his way over to them. On the cart were two whole tiny-chomper pitchers (!) that were used by authentic tiny-chompers to share beverages with each other (!!!) and what looked like two steaming orbs of fried dough. With slight effort, Dropped-on-head handed each Dorarizin a whole pitcher; the first was given to Bluebell and had a black, sparkling liquid inside it, and the other was placed before Borkbork; slightly brown, chilled, and see-through tea. Before he could continue to contemplate exactly what nondescript beverage he ordered, Brian slid two heavy plates across the table, each with a singular, watermelon-sized [quiet] puppy. Brian assured them both that it involved no real puppies, and that it was somewhat edible!

With the niceties out of the way, the two guests looked at each other, and then back at the tiny-chomper, who had refused to leave their tableside.

= = = = =

Brian had never served anyone in a professional capacity, and he was thankful that it showed; it added to the overall brand experience of the place. He also slept through the rebranding meeting – it was a point of Australian Pride to ignore marketers, after all, even if it was his own meeting and he himself was going to college for marketing – and so didn’t quite really know what kind of service he should be offering. Should it be white glove? Should it be more family-friendly or even college oriented? Or should we just attempt to see what we could get away with before the house of cards all came crashing down?

We all know which option he picked, dear reader, so let’s not pretend otherwise.

“Big Crunch!” He said, gathering the Dorarizin’s attention as he raised his arms above his head. “Big crunch!”

“[I’m… sorry, I think there’s a problem with our translators.]” Borkbork said, smiling softly with his ears as he leaned towards Brian – and was beaten back with a boop to his snoot.

“It is time for the BIG CRUNCH.” Brian repeated, pointing at the singular over-sized hush puppy on both diner’s plates. “You must. You gotta.” Brian said, really leaning into the mistranslations of off-planet communicators. “I brought you the food so that’s how it works.”

The two Dorarizin customers looked at each other across the table, passing an inscrutable expression between them before the light-blue one reached for the giant mound of fried dough. As he raised it, Brian began to chant.

“Big crunch, big crunch, BIG crunch, BIG CRUNCH-” Brian hooted, his chanting soon being joined by the other humans in the incredibly upscale and illegal dining establishment. “BIG CRUNCH, BIG CRUNCH!”

Bluebell inhaled deeply as he looked over the Hush Puppy; it was fried, thawed, and fried again – that he could tell. What he could not tell was exactly what was inside it: there were flecks of green, yellow and red, with a few chunks of something white and fleshy in there, along with what looked like a claw.

“Aww, come on mate! It’s just a shrimp ball! Shit, half of the real crab in there is the imitation stuff.” Brian said as the chanting continued, the human resting his arms on the chest-high table.

“[Wait.]” Borkbork said, pointing at the still-sizzling-hot lump of dough on his plate. “[This has authentic [earth] ingredients?]”

“Well yeah!” Brain said, laughing as he rolled his eyes. “What else did you think you were going to eat?”

Brian couldn’t continue further as he was interrupted by a gigantic cromsch, Bluebell taking the plunge and devouring an entire mouthfull of the stuff. Brian cheered, the kitchen staff cheered, Borkbork laughed and Bluebell looked just a little sick.

= = = = =

There was another nondescript cry from the dining area, and Ti’miquek spared a glance from the grill to look out through the serving window. His patrons were enjoying their dishes; the dusk-blue Dorarizin male had ordered a baked lasagna dish – well, his interpretation of the dish – along with some garlic knots and a light salad. His partner had ordered the spaget, which in true human tradition was a single piece of dough stretched into a noodle and served on a plate, along with party chips – the bowl of fun that changed based on what could be stolen from the college vending machines that day. Neither of those flavor vacations were what caused the cry of joy, no. The cry came from the fact that Brian was spider-crawling over both of the patrons, apparently trying to steal the last heavy garlic knot for himself, and being teased by the two Dorarizin males as they tossed their knot between them.

No jokes came to Ti’miquek’s mind, but he’s certain there should be something there.

“What’s up?” Little-needs-protecting Plays-with-sand asked as he cleaned the warming trays for the fifth time that night. “Everything ok?”

“[I still can’t abide this.]” Ti’miquek said, checking the temperature of his still-idling grill. “[I was fine with all of you trying to help my daughter, and I was even surprised with the amount of work everyone put in to refurbish the place; it’s not to my style, but it does look good.]”

“So what’s the problem?” Jack asked, sliding a step-stool over to his partner-in-cook. “You look down.”

“[No, I’m looking out there to my patrons.]” Ti’miquek said, correcting the human. “[I’m not serving them much of anything different – sure the menu’s cut down, but most everything translates to the new one – but they’re… well.]”

Jack looked out the same window, watching with morbid curiosity as Brian spiderman crawled along the wall to follow the garlic knot that was being tossed between the Dorarizin. “They… seem to be pretty entertained. They’ve also eaten most of the food, which is also a good sign, right?”

“[Well, yes.]” Ti’miquek said, nodding softly. “[But is it a good value? Are they going to be happy with the final experience?]”

“Whelp.” Jack said, turning off burners on the stove. “It’s an experience and also an experiment. If it works out, it’ll be great – and if it doesn’t, then they at least have a story to tell, right?”

Ti’miquek sighed as he wiped his hands on his apron. “[Fair. However, I’m going to be a bit of a tusker-taker here and demand to cut their bill.]”

Jack huffed as he pulled one of the larger cookpots from the back burner, stepping down the stepstool as he pulled it closer to the edge. “A bit of a what?”

“[Ah, hm. Tyrant?]” Ti’miquek said, pondering as he walked over to the ticketing machine, punching in his code to change the order bill. “[I am ignoring the plan and doing what I think is right for the customer.]”

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions!” Jack grunted, wrapping his insulated arms around the bottom of the still-uncomfortably-warm pot. “So what’s the goal?”

“[We’re overcharging them for what they’re getting.]” Ti’miquek stated, matter-of-factly. “[So I’m going to reduce their cost by a factor of 10.]”


“[We’re still going to make off of these two the same amount I’d till in a day, so it’s not so bad.]” Ti’miquek said, smiling to himself. “[Still insane to see that many zeros on a print out, though.]”

There was a grunt of effort as Jack shifted the weight of the pot onto his body, his legs shaking a bit at the sudden unexpected heft. “Wh. Well just remember – you’re. Hoo. Paying us illegal wages, so that money won’t go as far as y-hew, think. Oh dear.” Jack said, as he suddenly felt the weight get away from him.

Ti’miquek turned around just a bit too late to help. “[What do you mean – OH DEAR!]”

= = = = =

Borkbork picked up the 4,000GRC tab, not because he was being altruistic – both he and Bluebell shared the same vacation savings fund, so it’d all wash out in the end anyway – but because the tiny-chomper presented it to the table after being fed their garlic knot, and if Bluebell started this whole thing then it was only fair that he get to end it. He didn’t mind the payment either; almost every other tiny-chomper spotting restaurant or spa cost 10 times as much, and even then a sighting wasn’t guaranteed, but this? This little hole-in-the-wall restaurant was everything he could have hoped for and more.

Bonus points for the tiny-chomper letting out a “victory screech” before shutting the door to the restaurant behind them, leaving the two Dorarizin alone in the nearly-abandoned parking lot.

“[Well.]” Bluebell said, smiling wide as he adjusted his robe. “[I think we should come back here again~!]”

Borkbork laughed a bit, zipping up his dress-vest. “[Mmm, the new safe word is speak easy? That should be easy to speak.]”

Bluebell inhaled deeply, sighing in the cool night air. “[Well, what now? We don’t have to go to the hotel just yet, and the night is young…ish.]”

Borkbork looked at his friend with a grin, spinning on his heel to walk backwards to the car. “[Why, my dear, we go find some college students to tease.]”  

“[Wait, really?!]” Bluebell said, suddenly blushing a fierce azure. “[I-I was just teasing you!]”

“[Oh? But the whole ampitheatre and everything?]” Borkbork said, giggling. “[Besides, what’s a good trip without a few misdemeanors? They’re not reported, after all, especially if they’re just against property…]”

“[Wh. Ah.]” Bluebell stuttered, the dusky-blue Dorarizin following his friend, dumbfounded. “[Ehn. Can we please stay out of jail?]”

“[Mmmmmmmaybe.]” Borkbork said, smiling as he leaned against their transport, the vehicle leaning slightly against his weight. “[Tell you what. I’ll make sure not to get us into jail, again, if you let me share.]”

Bluebell growled, ducking his head as he unlocked their transport. “[The tiny-chomper told us to keep silent – we could all get in trouble!]”

The two Dorarizin looked at each other, separated only by the distance that their luxury transport provided, as a desperate battle of wills was waged.

Borkbork grinned, ferally. “[Oh?]”

He opened his door, and Bluebell did the same, the two men sitting down almost in unison. He said nothing, but stared out the window as the transport eventually spooled up to full power and lifted off… just to where the signal was the strongest.

“[I’m telling everyone.]” Borkbork said to his reflection in the window, and laughed.