THE HOSPITALITY BUSINESS:
A Voyeuristic Morsel of Life on Jupiter.
by Electric Keet
It was half an hour before practice in one the many air-conditioned locker rooms of the Agriotek Athletic Training Centre – in my exercise wear and in the middle of a particularly satisfying stretch, I must add – that I felt the buzz just below my left ear. I relaxed my back and subvocalised a click to acknowledge the call. The identification came through bone conduction loud and clear; “Call is audiovisual from Yaz Lenslight.”
He never called unless it was important. I grumbled my way through the stack of street clothes in the open locker until the receiver nearly skittered off my paw. After slapping it to the bridge of my muzzle, I growled, “Receive,” and sat lengthwise on a bench.
I expected to see my favourite perpetually scrawny wolverine. Instead, the projection was that of a young, slightly soft otter girl who looked like she hadn’t worked out a day in her life or slept in three. Her voice was barely controlled, but her accent certainly matched Yaz’s timid vowels. “Hey, Eekay,” she forced through a ragged smile.
Even with the rapid onset of concern, casual nonchalance came naturally. “Yaz, new look? Snaz. How’s th’ ’ospitality business treatin’ y’?”
She burst into tears and tried desperately to babble. “The regional… training… two days as a spider… halfway….”
Her melee of expressions told me half the story, though only half. Emotional aggregates don’t carry over a call. “’Ey, ease it, Yaz. Ease it. Slow up, an’ yer on an audiovis; enunciate. Let’s start over.”
Yaz took a deep breath and let it out as slowly as one can in that state. “Hey, Eekay.”
I couldn’t resist a bit of a smile for one of my closest mates. “’Ey. What’s your stat?”
She lowered her head and said, “I’m up for promotion to hotel manager. Regional manager, the k’r’roc son of a—” She clenched her eyes like a fist, fighting back frustration. “Regional manager said I needed training. Shuttled me to Ganymede for transformation camp. I’m supposed to familiarise myself with twelve major species, two sleep periods each, and I… I….”
I edgewised some words in before she could cry again. “I’ve only done a couple changes m’self, but they didn’t seem—”
“Yeah, what? Terran snow-leopard? Real challenge there.” Without permission, my tail hooked in annoyance. She carried on. “They made me a Belt spider for two days. Oh, of course it was brill at the time, but… it’s like somebody replaced a little part of my psyche with a gearbox made of lit magnesium.”
Part of me wanted to object, but nobody who wasn’t a spider at the time could describe it with anything but nonsense similes. Of course, anybody who was a spider at the time spoke in entirely nonsense anyhow. “Oh, Yaz. But that’s over now, right?”
“I go in the tank again tomorrow morning. Hypnosquid.” The last time I heard Yaz say something with such hollow dread was coincidentally the last time he wiped out on the ribbon. When racing at barely sub-sonic speeds with one’s body exposed a decimetre from magnetic mesh, things can get ugly fast… but they reconnected his arm just fine, so I never understood why he stopped there. “I can’t do this, Eekay. I can’t. It’s all… and the study is…. just want to make people happy….”
I drew a knee toward my chest and tapped stubby digits on it. To muster what seriousness I could manage, I reached deep within to that dark place B.C. – Before Cat. “I grok. Here’s the Q, an’ be honest: Can y’ do th’ job without this training?”
She sniffled and nodded. “I didn’t get this far by—”
“No, no, save it. I trust you. Hold for, ah, two minutes, would y’?” Her mouth opened, but before sound could come out I’d tapped twice beneath my ear and was already growling, “Call: Alba.”
A familiar faint green glow, mostly in feline shape, appeared before me. “Oh, Eekay, how have you been?”
“Snaz, but I’ve got no ticks to spare. I’ll promise you a chat an’ a Martian Sea-feast if you’ll favour me a spot of data work.” I grinned toothily, already knowing the answer. “Lookin’ for Yaz Lenslight, stuck on Ganymede….”
I battered the ex-rabbit with details, and she absorbed them like a champ, responding only with, “Done and done. Four hours from now?”
“Reserve us a table, an’ wear somethin’ shiny.” I tapped once, canary-catching grin blipping out from Alba’s screen and onto Yaz’s. “Check yer inbox. Shuttle’s at oh-five, appointment at oh-seven with the Shapemaker, and you’ll be my fave wolverine lad again before lunch. That’ll do?”
Seeing Yaz’s jaw hanging open was easily worth five times the cost of the amount of fish Alba could pack away in one evening. “What about the training?”
“Completed with flying colours. Y’ get yer Species Awareness Badge after all. Just do me one favour.” I put on my best kitten eyes. “Don’t cry again, please?”
Yaz blew a kiss to me. “Promise.”
I swished my tail enough to be seen on the vid, disconnected the call, and tugged at my unitard with a sigh. There was barely a quarter-cycle left to stretch for training, and I’d hoped to be out early for dinner.