Here’s the second of the tie-in short stories! The third was originally planned for tomorrow, but various circumstances have conspired against me. It might be sometime tomorrow still, or it might have to wait until Monday. At any rate, enjoy!
A Universal Truth
“This place is going to become a tourist trap.”
Toth held his breath, remembering Henry’s words as his shaky hand signed the last line for the massive loan. He handed the portable back to the bank officer, trying desperately to ignore the falseness of the man’s grin.
The banker almost certainly thought he was crazy, and Toth wasn’t entirely sure he was wrong. He had, after all, just taken out a loan for more than triple his personal assets, for the purpose of massive expansion to a hole-in-the-wall bar on a broken space station. A broken space station, to make matters even more spectacular, that virtually every other merchant was fleeing from as fast as they could move their assets off station. Which, of course, was why it was even possible to acquire every piece of station real estate next to, above, below and even outside his current bar.
Outside, as in on the outside of the station. That one had thrown both the bankers and Station 7’s temporary manager for a loop. Still, they’d been game enough, or at least wanted his money enough, to write up ownership for sections of the outer hull. They’d slipped in a proviso that he couldn’t put advertising there, thinking that had been his plan, but he’d simply smirked and signed on the digital line.
The banker rambled on for nearly half an hour longer, but Toth barely heard what the man said or explained. He already knew the basics of the loan, and wasn’t interested in the details. Either Henry was right about Station 7’s future and the loan would be childishly easy to repay, or else Henry was wrong and Toth would go bankrupt regardless of what the loan terms were.
Besides, he had a thousand other worries to keep straight in his head, and with the loan now secured, all of them needed doing yesterday. Toth drew a deep, calming breath, held it for a three count, then let it go and pushed himself to his feet. This was the hardly the first time he’d taken a gamble like this, and he’d lost it all as often as he’d won. But his left knee almost refusing to take his weight when he started walking reminded him it would probably be his last, one way or another. He was getting old, after all. He hoped this particular gamble worked, raking in the money so he could semi-retire and work the bar only when he felt like it.
Toth shook off the pleasant daydream, he was overdue to see a man about a fifty meter flex screen that was rated for space. Not to mention the high frequency com gear he was going to need.
Toth gazed around at the massive main room of his empty bar. The last of the construction crews had finished yesterday, and there were a dozen new staff milling around. Each was nervously going over final details before they opened in an hour, and Toth could only pray that the last four months of hell had been worth it.
Henry had been right about one thing, which was reassuring. Once a translation matrix had been worked out for the Imeric Whales, they had made Station 7 into a sort of gathering point, almost an embassy really, where they could speak with other species. With so many of the beautiful whales in system at once, there had been a wave of people who wanted to see the rare and gorgeous beings descending on the station.
Or, at least, there would have been, if the station’s new owners hadn’t been worried about insulting the whales and put a stop to it. That had nearly given Toth, then three months into his renovations, a heart attack. Thankfully, the whales themselves had dismissed the idea as funny. They didn’t care if people wanted to see them, and were only sad that they couldn’t interact with their admirers. That had plastered a grin on Toth’s face for nearly a week, and he remembered the ashen, affronted faces of the scientists when they finally realized what the hell the massively oversized flex screen outside Toth’s was for. The whales, on the other hand, had been utterly delighted when they figured it out.
Now, all that was left to be seen was if Toth’s own plan to make use of the tourists was true. It relied, heavily, on Toth’s lifetime traveling the highways and byways of the galaxy, and only time would tell if the observations he’d made about the basic truths of every species applied even to the Imeric Whales. Toth had never met a species yet that didn’t like games, but then, he’d never met a giant species that lived their whole lives in the vacuum of space. Smart they might be, but the Imeric Whales were so utterly alien that he still didn’t know if his plan was going to work.
His gaze trailed one last time over his massively expanded establishment, taking in everything one last time with more than a little satisfaction. From the dancer’s balcony and dining areas, to the gaming tables and bar, the appointments were some of the finest available in the sector. Combine that with attractive and well trained staff, and he had a winning combination even without the whales. With them, via the flex screen viewers on all the walls, and the miniature holos at the gaming tables, he might just have something truly exceptional.
As he spotted his floor manager take a deep breath and look his way, Toth nodded and retreated toward one of the upper areas. He hated not being behind the bar for opening day, but he needed a place where he could see anything that went wrong. He had just settled in to watch as the doors opened. For a moment, there was nothing, then Toth’s eyes widened as a rush of sentients flooded through in a crushing press. As he witnessed the sheer numbers, and the panic his people were trying to hide and failing, he was stuck between jubilation and exasperation. It was going to be a long night.
The ragged remains of functioning staff sprawled over all the most comfy perches in the room, and Toth couldn’t blame them. He pressed the ice cold glass of brandy to his forehead for long moments before taking another sip. They’d been utterly unprepared for the sheer number of people that had passed through tonight, but they’d managed somehow. Even more surprising had been the near riot among the whales outside, as they all wanted turns with the games inside.
Toth half smirked and half grimaced at that, he’d underestimated how much the species would love the idea. Underestimated it by a lot. He’d never even considered that, being vacuum born as they were, they didn’t really have a tech base, or even a tool base for that matter. The idea of the types of games other sentients played was entirely new to them, and they’d all wanted to be the first to try, and didn’t want to give up their spot once they started. It had only been his promise that he’d get to work installing more screens for them so that more could play at once that had calmed them down.
As he contemplated if it was even worth going home, or if he should just crash on a fluffy piece of floor like half his workers, Toth tipped his glass in a toast to thin air. “Thanks for the tip, Henry. May good fortune find you too,” he murmured, and drained the rest of his glass.