“[-And now, in local news. Another illegal personnel smuggling operation was busted earlier today operating around the Gas Giant Cloudpearl; Senate Teams lead by the H.S.T.’s own regional law enforcement discovered a network of hollowed-out asteroids at the edge of the gravity well. As they were discovered within 5 calendar years of creation squatters’ rights will not-]”


“[-letion of the dome, which allows for their own day-night rythm.]” The Jornissian professor on-screen said, shifting slightly in his seat.

“[I see! But won’t they be able to adapt like the rest of us?]” The Karnakian host questioned, leaning over his table with an eager expression on his face. “[I thought one of the reasons why we won the bid was because our planet and theirs are so similar?]”

“[From an atmospheric and gravitic comparison – yes, absolutely. However, we rotate much slower so no – a day on Gentle Expanse is roughly 1 1/2 of their entire day/night cycles on Dirt. It’s not a question of adapting to a couple extra hours of work or rest, but an extreme marathon of staying up and sleeping. I’ve been assured by the tiny-chompers that staying up longer than 13 hours at a time begins to impair their judgment, with extreme cases – 20 hours or so – even leading to audio/visual hallucinations.]”

“[Good heavens! So is that also the reasons for those isolation pods popping up around the colonization zo-]”


“[-ning is complimentary, but mandatory if you wish to be a tiny-chomper local guide or coworker. For an introductory rate of 500GRC you can enroll in our 10-week certified basic training course, enabling you to qualify for further specialized interaction opportunities. Top Mark Training Company: Preparing you for the workplace of tomorrow, today.]”



Dzgranra-of-Arzgr sighed as he worked the hard light projector, the remote long lost to him. His wives had thankfully put the lump of titanium in some reach of the house that would be safe from all prying eyes and paws – including those of his eldest son, all of his daughters, and the wives themselves. It wasn’t the first time the remote had been lost, but the fact that they put a child-lock on all remote broadcasting to the panel was both touching, and infuriating.

As if his children were so ill-mannered to watch a pay-to-own series without asking first.

As if he didn’t deserve to watch more pay-to-own series!


“[-st saying, if you’re not planning on serving them you shouldn’t be forced to qualify! These new regulations are going to put me out of business – I’m a Jornissian-only establishment; I can’t and don’t cater to anyone else, and that’s never been a problem-]”

The not-insignificant pile of pups that were congealed on the center rug began to wiggle as one; Dad was concentrating, and this could not be allowed to continue.

“{Daaaaaaaad it’s gonna staaaaart~}”

“{I know, loves, I know.}”



“{-THE SUPER SPACE TEAM, HOORAY!}” The entire mass of under-9-year-old pups cheered at once at the top of their lungs, temporarily deafening their father and quite possibly rattling all the windows in the house.

For the first – or last – time that week (depending on when you consider the week to start and end), Ngruzren-of-Arzgr was woken up 15 minutes before his alarm clock by the cacophony of voices, and smiled.

The evil Dr. Dark laughed triumphantly as she held the tiny-chomper fiercely by the shoulder, the smaller alien crying out in pain as the stonification ray was pressed to his head. “[Not another move forward, Super Space Team! If you move a single micrometer, I’ll petrify this tiny-chomper – and then move onto the rest of his family!]”

“[No! Help me, Super Space Team! If Dr. Dark petrifies us all, the life-day celebration will be ruined!]” the tiny-chomper said, interrupted in real-time in the entertainment den by gasps of shock from the pup-pile. Ngruzren-of-Arzgr, for his part, rolled his eyes as he watched the unfolding ‘drama’ from the stairwell hall, making sure to stay silent and still lest he be noticed and dragged into the pile himself.

The actor playing the evil Dr. Dark shook the very obvious hard-light automaton of tiny-chomper soft-but-helpful. “[Not another word out of you!]”

“[Enough!]” Prince Solaris said, the male Dorarizin posing dramatically – or as dramatically as you could – in his ‘super sun suit’, beads of pure stars charging up. “[You won’t be turning him or any of the other tiny-chompers into stone today!]”

“[Or any other day!]” the absolutely garishly pink Karnakian Time Priest chimed in, her own suit turning a few painful shades of color that made Ngruzren-of-Arzgr physically flinch but drew excited cheers from his little siblings.

“[At the end of this battle, I’ll be adding you to my heat rock collection!]” the disturbingly blood-blue Jornissian Space Ranger finished, his last pose forming the final link between the other two Super Space Teammates, glyphs of power glowing on their bodie-

“{Ancestors. Kill me now.}” Ngruzren-of-Arzgr murmured as he watched his little sisters become absolutely absorbed in the ensuing scripted fight/acrobatics scene. He looked around the den with a wry grin, finally noticing his father at the opposite end of the room waving him over with a bowl of Drzulr in his hand. Ngruzren-of-Arzgr would have taken a long, slow time to sneak around the hyper-attentive siblings, but … well.

Saturday morning cartoons.

So instead, he just quickly – but still somewhat quietly – made his way around the back of the pile, every so often catching a glance of the tiny-chomper being physically tossed to safety from one Super Space Team-member to another in a bid to yadda yadda yadda.

“{Good morning, Dad.}” Ngruzren said softly, gently bumping his head against his father’s.

“{Good morning, Son. Sleep well?}”

“{Mmhmm.}” Ngruzren murmured, walking into the kitchen to see if the pot was still full. “{We out of dryspice?}”

“{No, but if the tumbler’s useless let me know. I had to throw at least half of it out because someone left the lid open and some flea-prawn got into the spice.}”

“{Nk-Grenz? If it’s not one of my moms’ it’s another-}”

Dzgranra chuckled softly as he rested against the kitchen wall, keeping an eye on his children as he sipped the slurry from the bowl. “{Mmmm. Well, with us winning that settlement bid – which, I’ll have you know I gave your mother no end of tongue-lashing over keeping that secret from me-}”

“{I know, I heard – both types.}”

Dzgranra growled a somewhat embarrassed, impressed and chiding retort at his sons’ liveliness. “{Well, it had been a few weeks, and I’m not seeing you move out young man-}”

“{I know, I know. It just didn’t work out.}”

Dzgranra hummed softly into his bowl, taking another deep dreg of the sauce-like concoction, his senses perking up the more he imbibed. “{Mmm. Well. Regardless, I’m glad to see that your studies have improved – and that your fur color is back to normal.}”

Now it was Ngruzrens’ turn to hum softly, his eyes playfully narrowing at his father. “{It just became too much of a hassle to keep up. I’m keeping the long mane, though.}”

“{Ah.}” Dzgranra acknowledged, leaning into the den to see the screen again. The tiny-chomper was riding on the back of the Karnakian hero, the entire team escaping from an exploding secret lair of some sort. “{Well, still. I know you’ve thrown yourself back into your studies – which is good – but we can’t keep putting off a fitting, son. You’re at least a year overdue-}”

“{Dad. Now?}” Ngruzren said, adding the finishing garnishes to his bowl of morning pick-me-up. “{Look. I’m mostly sitting in lectures and modeling classes, I’m not giving oral presentations, and as you can hear my words aren’t slurred-}”


“{…well. Not badly.}”

“{Look, I’m certain if you wanted to work with your mother she could arrange an internship-}”

“{I-it’s not that, Dad.}”

Dzgranra spared a hard side-glance at his youngest, unmarried son – who looked away at the gaze. “{Well? What’s got you doing a complete turnaround then?}”

“{I… uh. I wanna work with them.}”


“{withthetinychompers.}” Ngruzren murmured all at once, not so much savoring his bowl of Drzulr as just taking the entire thing down as a shot.

“{You want to work. With the tiny-chompers. Son, your mother may have some sway but you’re very young and I’m pretty sure all those slots are taken-}”

“{Well then maybe as a tour guide then?! I don’t know – why are you so quick to-}”

“{Son. You’re studying to be a geochemical engineer.}”


“{… and you’re applying to be a tour guide. What’s this really about, really?}”

“{I just…}”

Dzgranra looked at his son, hard, as the boy murmured half-truths and full lies to the both of them. Ngruzren was doing his best to convince his father – or himself – that he just needed some time to think, to see what the new species had to offer, to broaden his horizons, and it’s not like he was dropping out – really! He just wanted to take a break and make new friends and-

‘{Oh dear.}’ Dzgranra thought to himself as he watched his son stammer through excuse after excuse. ‘{His biological clock is hitting him hard this year.}

The internal and external monologues were broken by another deafening cheer from the entertainment room – Dzgranra poked his head in to just miss the end-of-episode terrible joke, and the Super whatever team all laughed together with about a couple dozen generic tiny-chompers all dancing around them celebrating… life day, apparently.

“{Alright! Get cleaned up – we’re going to the park today-}”

There was another cheer and the excited babbling of voices, the thumping-patter of little feet, and the sudden tight pressure around his legs as his smallest instinctively found their favorite post yet again.

“{You coming, son? I could use the – no biting – help, if you’re interested.}”

“{Nah, I’m going to meet up with Trilly and Sweeps today.}” Ngruzren said, uncouthly licking the bowl clean before dropping it into the washbasin. “{He’s already done the first level of certification clearance, and he’s helping us both pass.}”

“{Alright… If you’re sure that’s what you want.}”

“{It is, Dad.}”

“You sure that’s what you want?”

Jonathan nodded, crouched behind the hard-light brick barricade. His HUD showed Aisha on a rooftop not 300m away, gun trained just over his head. Behind him, the shambling dead – both those hit with the nanovirus, and the robots who became unwitting carriers.

“Alright. When I start firing, you start moving. Ready?”

Jon tensed.


The staccato rapport of Aisha’s plasma sniper rifle broke the silence of the abandoned city, alerting both the other scavvies and roidroids to their location. Jon moved with purpose, the jump-jets in his boots activating to fling him against the plastic-glass of an abandoned clinic, the additional noise a distraction to the malfunctioning robots that shambled towards his new position. Thankfully their own AI didn’t give them complete object permanence, and Aisha was far enough outside of their AoE that her bolts-

There was an alarm.

“Awwwwww” Jon complained, his dead-sprint down a hallway turning into a light jog, and that into a lazy faceplant on the mossy, wet floor. A few moments later, the entire world glowed a pure white, and he was alone.

Jon’s rented holodeck was a 10m x 10m x 10m cube; large enough for any human to do most any activity in and not hit the walls with just basic movement. Combine that with a “moving” omni-directional floor and realistic hard-light feedback, and the fat l337 G4m3r was no more; you wanted to wall-ride then you had to git gud and ride that wall. You wanted to be a super soldier? I hope you like tackling people for actual finishing moves! And you wanted to be a scavenger in the reboot of the best post-apocalyptic FPS of all time –

Well. You had to be a jack of all trades, sure, but you also had to make sure to have enough money on your card to keep your session running.

“Jon you cheap fuck, if you timed out and left me to the horde-”

“Aisha, I swear to God I didn’t time out – The uh, game booted me out-”

Fuck you, Jon! This is an endgame scavvie run – AAAAGGGHH FUCK I’M IN A STASIS FIELD. JON YOU LIMP-DICKED-”

There was an aggrivated sigh as Jon lifted the helmet from his face, the exit door now the only thing well-illuminated enough to see. “Sorry, Aisha.”

“Yeah, so am I, fuck. Now I gotta repair my Epics.” Aisha pinged inside his ear, grumbling. “You owe me some sunshards.”

“Yeah, yeah. I could’ve sworn I put in 20 creds, though.”

“20?! Four days off in a row and you’re planning on an all-nighter?”

Jon shrugged – not that anyone else could see it – and began to walk out of the holodeck. “Yeah, yeah. You tried Zero-Bean yet? Shit’s super concentrated-”

As he opened the door the corresponding door across the hallway opened up, his battle-buddy/slacker-buddy/work-wife Aisha emerging with a slight frown on her face. “Don’t think you can bribe me with coffee, Jon. That was a fucked thing to… Huh.” Jon followed her gaze to the panel on his room; it still said he was paying, and that he had a good 9 hours left on the rental. “Huh.”

“Ah! I fucking knew it! What the hell, my chip works fine-”

“Maybe their reader fucked up? I guess I can’t be too mad at you now, seeing as how it’s a hardware failure or somethin.”

Jon pressed the ‘assistance’ button on the panel, and an obnoxious red light appeared over his door. “Yeah, well, that shit still sucks. It ate my creds and fucked up our run; we’re gonna be back in lobby for another hour to get an open slot-”


Jonathan turned to look at Aisha, who had pulled up and unlocked her tablet with her implant. The frown on her face had deepened considerably over the past few seconds, and she scrolled down what seemed to be an unnecessarily long email chain rapidly. “What?”

“Well I figured out what fucked up our session – Admiral Smalls.”

“Whaaaaaaaaat? He can fucking do that?”

“Yep. We’re on duty again; Reach is coming back ahead of schedule, and…” Jon deafened himself temporarily to his teammate as he subvocalized a few commands, his implant responding to and unlocking his own personal tablet/assistant. He quickly picked up on the email thread that was growing by the second, skimming responses almost as quick as they came.

“Fuck’s sake. No teardown? Refuel, check, and load up?”

“Fuck. So that cocksucker turns around Humanity’s first colony ship in record time-”

“-and we get a month of overtime pay. Fucking great. I’m filing with the Union after this.”

“As am I, this is bullshit.”

Jon let out a soft grunt as the realization hit him. “Fuck, you and Faiza had that thing, right?”

“Had, yes. But at least she’s on call too, so-”

“Bullet: Dodged.”

“Right? Fuck this. We’re supposed to load up and be shipped out in… 6 months? 6 Months overtime-”

The two slackers grumbled much louder than they really should have as their anger fed off one another. By the time they had exited the recreation wing, they were joined by a group of other slacker ne’er do wells, who all agreed upon one fundamental fact:

Mandatory 8 hour workdays were barbaric.