For the first few weeks, they fought against the machine – purposefully working slow in protest.

The next few weeks after that, they returned to routine, albeit grumbling all the time.

However, It was within Month 5 of the great staffing, resupply and fitting of Reach, in the Year of Our Lord 2184, in the third dimension, in the Sol system (wherein Humanity was born and accidentally yeeted into the stars) whereupon arguably the most momentous occasion of the last 40 years occurred:

Jonathan Protaganista and Aisha Batal Alrawaya completed an honest-to-God full day’s worth of work.

It was such an anomaly that at first HR believed it to be a mistake; this forced both Jon and Aisha to spend an additional 15 minutes at work past their leave-by time to verify that yes, they were in fact at their stations doing their jobs, and no – it wasn’t a motorized blow-up doll sitting at their desks. Again. Their supervisor was eventually called in, who corroborated their stories – and furnished further proof of his eyewitness account by producing no less than 100 lottery tickets for the Powerball 37 drawing that same day. In a bizarre twist of fate (and the sudden, totally rational fear that the two of them were replaced by body snatchers from Pluto) HR decided to give them the next few days off – as a thank you for actually doing real work for once.

“I just don’t get it.”

Aisha shrugged, pouring herself another shot of tequila. “Who cares? Shit, if I knew working hard would get us more time off I would’ve started earlier! Like in college. Or preschool.”

“Well, ok, fair point – but I mean more what they’re doing with the first round of colonists. The Reach is going to be jumping with a full escort, right?”

There was the sound of glass-on-table as the empty shot was slammed down, Aisha grunting for a moment before replying. “Fuck. Yeah, I guess so? Couple of our own navy with some Senate heavy-hitters. I mean, it is our first colony ship, and everyone wants to make nice. Bury the hatchet and all that.”

“No.” Jon murmured, staring out the digital “windows” of the bar that they were currently occupying at 11AM on a Tuesday. Reach sat heavy and fat, like a bundle of cigars taped together a little to thickly in the middle, a swarm of lights dancing around it’s entire form in a symphony of engineering, operations and logistics. The majority of work was done; seeds and soil, livestock and pets, people and personnel were already on-board with their families, settling in to what would amount to a couple-month stay on-ship before a final drop to the new world.

Literally, in their cases.

“I mean more like… Sure there was a waitlist to go, but they’re doing 3 rounds of colonization? And it’s not to meet demand – It just seems weird.”

The bottle of Tequila was upended, the last few drops splashing into the half-full shot glass. “Mmm. Grunts first – grunts first always. Then the middlemen to make shit difficult for the grunts, then the upper class to pretend they did it all by themselves and never needed the grunts in the first place.”

Jon laughed mirthlessly, rolling his eyes. “Dramatic today, aren’t we?”

Aisha whined something half-heartedly mocking in response, downing the half-shot of tequila with absolutely no fanfare whatsoever. “Nngh. Jon, what’s your actual fucking question? Whenever you start thinking you get moody – your brain’s not used to working that hard-”

“Firstly, fuck you, you fuck like a limp fish and Faiza told me she thinks of Batgirl when she fucks you.”

“Good taste. S’why I’m gon’ marry her.”

“Secondly, the mix seems super weird. Construction crews, fine. Electricians – ok. Doctors, no shit. But Botanists? Xenobiologists? Survivalists? This world’s been occupied before we fucking discovered fire or some shit, why are they going?”

“Iunno. To prove that their shiny new degree actually means something? Gotta prove to daddy that his creds were worth spending, or that you really did need that decade to backpack around pan-africa to find yourself~”

Jon turned to look at his now very drunk comrade, scooting his beer closer to his side of the table and away from longing eyes. “Wow. I mean, I always heard lesbians had daddy issues buhOWWWW~” The statement died in his throat by a savage – well, ‘savage’ drunken kick connected with his shin.

“Asshole.” Aisha stated, resting her chin on the table.

Jon responded to the insult by slamming back his beer, letting the larger glass thunk heartily against the faux wood table. “Yeah, yeah. Anyway, we got 3 days off – fucking finally – so what do you want to do with ‘em?”

There was a small pause before Aisha looked up from her headrest, eyes only taking a few moments to focus. “Hey. Do you suppose the raid servers are empty cause everyone’s pulling overtime?”

They shared a look – You know the type I’m talking about. The sudden realization that all the cheaters, wall-hackers, chinese gold farmers (yes it’s still a problem in the future), enemy guilds, faction whores and tryhard powergamers were otherwise offline and their game would be… untainted. Pure. NPC-rich. Loot rich.

There would be nobody to stop them from powergaming.



– + – + – + –

Ngruzren-of-Arzgr was sweating, hard. Figuratively.

It had been 6 months of blood, sweat and tears to get to this point; the general orientation class was a breeze, and so he foolishly signed up for the intermediate offering. Then the advanced. Soon, what started as an undefined but necessary urge to work with the new colonists had morphed into an almost full-blown obsession. He parlayed his connections, his ‘life experience’, and his damn good grades to end up in the group that was presenting a final student project to the Gentle Expanse/Silver City tourism and public safety board.

It was 6 months worth of work condensed into a wordless set of diagrams that would help educate any Senate species, regardless of what their base written script was, or if their translators were working, on how to interact with the tiny-chompers. Hundreds, literalhundreds of iterations were put together in order to make the best possible collage of information, presented in the most clear possible way. Ngruzren’s team wasn’t even presenting the entire library of work; theirs was literally just a small chunk of a larger effort. Still, it was before both a city and planetary board of directors, and needed to be given the due weight and respect of the job put before him.

Ngruzren-of-Arzgr was sweating, hard… over a free safety pamphlet.

He stayed in the sideline, letting his body language show that he was extremely interested in what his Jornissian colleague was saying – he wasn’t really, the team lead had rehearsed the speech so often that he could say it from memory in a pinch, but presentation was everything at this stage and so he let his body show he was occupied in rapt attention while his mind wandered.

His dad kept looking at him with a look, a looky look that looked… looky, and Ngruzren didn’t know what to make of it. The night-rage thing… ok, granted, he looked fine but black was so limiting as a color and really, he looked better when he highlighted his own natural fur color and stayed with pastel clothing and bright accessories. The large mane wasn’t such a big pain-in-the-tail to keep as he was cautioned about, and… ok, it was nice that Mom was taking more time at home after winning the bid. But that’s not why he stopped with the night-rage hassle… honest.

Ngruzren kept going back to that look, like a hunter to the tracks of his missing prey. It didn’t make any sense! Sure, he might have suddenly found his passion in these new aliens, but is that such a bad thing? His life before was going to be reviewing drone core samples and sitting at a desk doing paperwork! Sure, steady and well-paid work, but boring as all get-out. At least here he could interact with people! Sure, they might be smaller, and weaker, and need help and should be herded properly and sometimes needed their food prepa-

Ngruzren inhaled, sharply, as the realization hit him so hard he physically swayed. He was packless, he went into season, the tiny-chompers were so small and cute, his father’s knowing look-

A sharp round of applause broke his epiphany, and he looked around confused for a moment – until he stood up, joining the rest of his team, clapping for some reason.

A female Dorarizin – the name escaped Ngruzren at the moment – stood, professionally adjusting her chest stays. “{Excellent presentation! We are most pleased to accept this addition to the localized training directory! I’m also speaking for my associates here – but given your team’s drive and dedication, that it would be remiss of us to not allow you all the chance to work with the tiny-chompers as well.}” Was she – was she looking directly at him? “{We still have many more positions to go through, but I’m almost certain your passion will intertwine with those open gaps and fill them quite nicely.]”

Ngruzren tilted his head slightly… Was. Was that a wink?

Ngruzren-of-Arzgr blinked, hard, as the female who was old enough to be his mother and was probably happily married already, continued to talk about next steps, promoting synergy, and other managerial talk, giving that same look to… to everyone else in the room.


– + – + – + –

Swipressnssren stared, unblinking, at his Dorarizin table-mate as he downed another bag of Hufflepuffs – what were essentially triple-fried skin-rinds of some sort of animal, the things powdered and coated with various savory and sweet flavors. Nori had to have devoured at least 12,000 calories in the past 10 minutes, and that’s just what Swipressnssren had personally witnessed.

“<Um. I take it the meeting didn’t go well?>”

Nori growled something noncommittal before swallowing another mouthful of the trashy junk food. “[No. Went fine, everything’s fine.]”

“<Hmm. Doesn’t sound fine.>”

Ngruzren-of-Arzgr crumpled up the tinfoil packaging, dropping it onto the heap of it’s bretheren on the table. “[The design was approved, the presentation went off without a hitch, and I am almost totally certain that I’ll have a position as a warmcuddle tour guide within the year. Frozen hells, I’ll probably even be in charge of an entire city block or two. Yay.]”

Swipressnssren sank into his coils slightly as he studied the alien-yet-familiar body language of his friend, his hands resting idly on his midsection coil. “<The amount of venom you just spat in that statement would make any old tooth proud. What’s going on, really?>”

Ngruzren – Nori, as he was called in the Jornissian’s tongue – frowned, grumbling something untranslatable as he stared at the tabletop before him, almost boring a hole through it with the intensity of his gaze.

“<Come on. I know that thing with your last… girlfriends didn’t work out->”

“[Why are you assuming it’s a girl problem?]”

“<Well, is it?>” The Jornissian hummed, rolling his shoulders in curiosity. “<It’s either women or work at this stage in life – unless you’ve found out you’re a proud papa->”

There was another nondescript mumble, and Swipressnssren stuttered. “<Wh-what? With whom->”

“[Ugh, you’re sounding as bad as my Mother.]” Nori smirked, his hands reaching up to play with the metal wrappers to what was left of his prodigious feast. “[No, it’s not girls, I promise. It’s just… well, like. Have you ever just caught yourself doing something stupid-]”

“<Me? Never.>”

“[Hah. Try to pretend you’re mortal, for a moment. But like. You catch yourself doing something stupid and then realize why?]”

“<…Introspection. You’re telling me you just now discovered introspectio->”

“[No, you coiled shit.]” Nori grinned – ah, finally a smile! – flicking a rolled up ball of tin at the Jornissian. “[I just… Well, you know I’ve been in an extended season because I have no pack.]”

“<Right. I mean, I thought you looked good with the whole black-sun thing going on->”

“[Just. Ok. Um, Thanks. But. So I’m in extended season with no female packmates. Brain’s flooded with all sorts of hormones and stuff.]”

Swipressnssren quirked his eyebrow as high as it could physically go – which wasn’t too far, given his physiology and the musculature of his hood, so it was a true feat. “<A… are you trying to tell me where hatchlings come from?>”

That comment earned him an entire fistful of wrappers bouncing off his head.

“[No, UGH. Look. Just… I’m in a mood right now – and I know, shutup – and like. I’m nearing the end of my development, and historically guys would’ve paired off by now – and a few months ago, we started to get into this warmcuddle research kick, right?]”

“<Riiight…. I’m not… you’re a cuddlefucker?>”

“[No.]” Ngruzren-of-Arzgr deadpanned, his hands kneading his forearms roughly. “[I just realized why I wanted to even do all of this.]”

“<Why’s that?>”

Nori looked up at his friend, as 1 million KM above him – at that very moment, in fact – Reach broke warp, gravitational waves rippling through the first alien star system that Mankind would call home.

“[I want pups.]”