Open 28 Hours
by Darin Ramsey
The seven-pointed star was pink and gold, and hung in the night over the dome like it heralded more than just a refueling stop and convenience store. The dome sat alone on a rocky, airless orb at the outer reaches of the system, so small and distant it didn’t have a name. From a ship on approach, the dome resembled a fallen globe on a tripod, with the three docking rings at the end of the airlock.
Tan was restocking Queen Shooga’s Sodium Sulfate Bars and thinking, “Thirteen more hours. Thirteen more hours.” The airlock chimed, then lensed open with a whine and hiss, and a Miradalina slid from it. She was young; none of the seven brood polyps behind her ears had hatched, and the shell on her back only spiraled three times. Probably on her first holiday without a chaperon.
“Greetings, daughter-of-the-sea!” Tan called out. “Welcome!” She glanced in his direction, waved her ears gently, and slid down the aisle of cold drinks. Tan was relieved to see that she trailed a slick salvager; Miradalin trails did a number on the mop. He set the box of sulfur candies down and heaved to his feet, tucking his sandy hair behind his ears as he walked to the Galactacard Omni-denominator register.
As he stepped behind the counter, the airlock chimed again. A meter-tall mass of scarlet centipedes half-writhed, half-rolled into the store, stopping at the counter, where several of them raised their heads to click at him. Tan glanced down at the Galactacard’s translator screen, then back up and said, “Gentlemen, you honor me by advancing the Hive here at Snak-E-Star. You’ll find the ecdysium down this hall on my right, after the relief stations for males, females, and drones.” He didn’t relish cleaning up the shell remains later. And it took days to get the smell out. He shrugged; at least the Hive tipped well.
The Miradalina slid up to the counter and extruded her selections
“Ah, excellent!” Tan tapped buttons on the omni-denominator. “One large greenleaf tea, two phytobars, and a tin of krill mints. Fourteen and four-sevenths, please.”
Three cubes fell onto the counter. Tan swept them into the omni-denominator, which spat out three flat squares. She absorbed her change, burbled a brief melody, and slid out.