Lakk’s place in the Wetwalls canton never closed. It was an unnamed, unassuming eatery on the first level of his residence that served the constant stream of the hourly workforce that were either coming or going from their jobs somewhere far away in the dark, cramped places of the station. Tonight, on the 30th hour of the 32-hour day cycle of Rally, only three beings sat at the counter.
Lakk came down the stairs from his apartment and paused tentatively to listen to their voices. He knew everyone by now. To listen to them could help gauge their mood, their resolve.
Vou; just got paid, drunk.
Sid-Sid; doesn’t get paid for another week, bothered and argumentative.
Renin; just glad to be part of the conversation, jovial.
Lakk cleared his throat and continued down the stairs, his sloppy midsection pouring into the open-air kitchen behind the counter.
“Coreseed is done, Bee,” he said to the young female tending the counter. She looked up and smiled, though he didn’t look back.
“Lakk, you finally came down,” Bee said. “On a day like today, I expected you much earlier.”
She went to the boiling pot and used tongs to remove a sphere of fluctuating noodles and dropped it into a bowl. It looked like a mating ball of green serpents, each tendril fighting towards the unseen center of their pile. They became less active as they returned to room temperature.
“Lakk, weigh in on something for us, would you?” Vou slurred. He emptied another cylinder of amber liquid and placed it next to the other two he’d already emptied. “Old Sidie boy thinks that it’s unfair that there’s not a unified pay period in place for the entire station.”
“That’s not how I said it, you bastard,” said Sid-Sid, his voice raised but still calm.
“That’s exactly how you said it!” said Renin, wearing a grin that showed the sharpened reptilian biology hidden behind his civility.
“That was the foundation of his argument. One unified structure where everyone gets their slice of the pie on the same day,” said Vou.
“Sounds like utter madness to me,” said Lakk. He walked around the counter and did a quick perimeter sweep of the tables and stools that were placed around the compact dining area. He popped out of the entrance and was immediately on the main thoroughfare of the Wetwalls. He recognized a few of the workers heading through the channel and waved. They waved back with great avidity.
“Wish I could make it tonight!” one worker shouted.
Lakk was very well liked and respected in their small community. He pulled his terminal from his pocket and used it to bring to life a sign that hung above the entrance of his establishment. In red lettering, the words Taking Bets! shouted into the channel around him. He nodded at the sign and headed back inside.
The Wetwalls was about ninety percent bipedal, humanoid species. Everyone was a hauler, a lifter, a doer. Sid-Sid was an electrician who worked in the nethers of the station. His thin body and long limbs allowed his hands and fingers to get where others couldn’t. He was turned around on his stool facing Lakk as he returned inside, his pale, hairless head allowing his dark eyes to stand out like greyscale spotlights that beamed through the five meters that separated them.
“Why is that madness, Lakk? How is it that some of us have to wait why others get to unwind?”
Lakk put his terminal back in his pocket and shook his no-necked head. Lakk’s species were always thick, but years of eating while he cooked had taken its toll.
“It’s not like one week is better than other when it comes to getting paid. If we were having this conversation last week or next, it’d be Vou who was moaning,” he said.
“No I wouldn’t!” said Vou, pointing at Sid-Sid. “I’m understanding what you’re saying. It’s him who’s too thick to wrap his skull around it.”
Renin threw his clawed hands up. “He’s got you there, Sid!”
Sid-Sid was silent, furrowed.
Lakk went on. “But think about it on a larger scale, Sid. Think not just of the Wetwalls canton, not just of the Stilted District, but of the station as a whole. How many beings do you think that is?”
Sid-Sid shrugged, arms folded. “200 million?”
“I’d say that’s a fair estimate. Now tell me, Sid. How many buttons do you think would go unpressed on this life-sustaining tank of air and water if everyone got their credit influx on the same day?”
They both looked at Vou who was leaning over the bar to grab another cylinder. From this angle, everyone had a view of the top half of his pink-hued ass as it reached above his pant line. Renin howled with laughter, his forked tongue dancing out of his mouth.
“You’re too smart for this place, my friend,” said Sid-Sid. He turned around and began to devour the now-unmoving bowl of tendrils Bee had placed in front of him.
That was something that Lakk had heard time and time again. It was something that his son, Meklitt used to tell him.
He looked at the moving picture that hung from the wall. It displayed a 15-second loop of his son adjusting his uniform before finally nodding and putting on his best stern face before losing his composure to laughter. Lakk could fill his little corner of Rally with as many handcrafted stools as he could churn out and atop each, a loyal customer but it would still feel empty without Meklitt.
“’Scuse me, you damn ogre.” said a voice from behind. A group of three were attempting to push past Lakk’s encompassing frame that stood in front of the door. He turned to see a young couple, the male with his arm thrown around the female. They smiled up at him. The other, much older leaned against the door frame and used his fist to rap on Lakk’s aproned chest.
“We’d like to come in now!” the older one shouted with a smile.
END PART ONE