A selection from Moon Garden
Copyright © 2019 Patrick Walts
All Rights Reserved
“Humans.” Gax wrinkled his proboscis in disgust. “Always traipsing about the galaxy with such reckless abandon, doing as they please without repercussion.”
Kanak gurgled his agreement, his antennae twitching in annoyance.
“They won’t stop until they’ve polluted the entire universe,” Gax continued. “Do you know what they call it when they colonize a planet? ‘Terraforming!’ Egomaniacal little parasites.”
Kanak hissed and sputtered angrily in concurrence. His well-known contempt for humans surpassed even that of his employer’s.
Gax rarely made use of the translator when conversing with his Kravashian head waiter. More often than not, he was able to comprehend the gist of what Kanak was trying to convey.
“Look at them,” he continued. “So arrogant and self-assured. What the Gryk are they doing this far out, anyway? And in my Gryking restaurant?”
Kanak made a rattling sound with his pincers.
“Tourists?” Gax scratched his chin thoughtfully with his upper left appendage. “I suppose that would make sense. I’ve heard from a few of the traders that Terrans often possess an unusual inclination toward recreational travel.”
Something resembling a laugh, or at least a chortle, emanated from the insectoid waiter’s speech orifice.
“Yeah, I know. I don’t understand it either. Watch them, Kanak. I’ll wager a thousand cretes that they’re going to try and order something incompatible with their species’ digestive system.
Gax was not disappointed. Kanak’s service alarm began to chirp even as the Terrans twisted their repulsive little craniums to and fro in bewilderment.
“Better let me get this, Kanak. Humans are reputed to be terrified by any creature with an insect-like appearance.”
Kanak hissed angrily.
“Yeah, they are pretty hideous themselves, at that.”
Another hiss, followed by a series of clicks.
“No, I don’t know where they get off judging other species’ looks when they’re so repugnant themselves. I was once informed, though, that I bear a passing resemblance to a creature called an ‘elephant.’ Species native to their world, you see. Apparently one that they find quite endearing.”
Gax plodded over to the humans’ table.
“Good evening, gentlebeings.” He paused, allowing for the translation to take effect. How may I be of service?”
The male–Or so Gax assumed; determining a human’s gender was difficult without a thorough examination of its reproductive organs–thrust a pink, hairless digit at the menu screen.
“Yes, I asked for the Meleek K’Trom,” it said, “and your computer is denying my order.”
“Ah,” said Gax with as much cordiality as he was able to muster, “I see the problem. Meleek K’Trom is an aquatic mammal from the fireseas of Tolox Three. Very poisonous to humans, I’m afraid. Can I interest you in another dish, one more palatable to your species, perhaps?”
“Look,” said the creature rather indignantly, “I’ve had Meleek K’Trom on numerous occasions, and I am fully aware of its detrimental effects.”
“To humans,” added Gax.
“Yes, to humans. Which is why I’ve come prepared.” It produced a small cylindrical container from one of the pockets of its strange coverings.
“See these pills? They’re designed to combat the toxic effects of certain alien cuisines. Now, why don’t you just override the restriction and give me what I’ve asked for?”
Gax gritted his teeth with displeasure. How characteristic of a human to be desirous of something not meant for it. The stories were true; man was indeed a stubborn creature.
“Very well,” he said. “However, I must ask you to place your personal identification mark upon a notarized wavier, absolving my establishment of any culpability should any harm befall you.”
“I’m familiar with the procedure,” it said edgily.
Stubborn and rude. Gax leaned forward and entered the override code into the table’s terminal.
“There you are,” he said. He suddenly became aware of Kanak’s presence behind him as the face of the other human, the one with long, sand-colored fur adorning its cranium formed an expression of what seemed like revulsion. Gax ignored it.
“What is it, Kanak?”
A string of frantic clicks, hisses and other strange sounds issued forth from behind the Kravashian’s chattering mandibles.
Gax felt the color drain from his face. “Where?” he whispered after a moment.
Kanak pointed toward the far end of the crowded dining hall.
“Well I’ll be condemned to the fires of Mitla,” said Gax. “It is Rebu Kholtan.”
“Uh, excuse me?” It was the human again. Gax had almost forgotten it was there.
“Not now, Earther,” he said with a dismissive wave.
Rebu Kholtan was by far the most wealthy, powerful being in the known universe. He was also one of the most dangerous. And there he was, in all his grandeur. In Gax’s restaurant, no less.
Two armed members of his rather large entourage stood in front of him, each extravagantly dressed in outfits made of the finest Krayhides available. They exuded an air of menace that Gax suspected couldn’t be good for business.
Kholtan’s personal assistants guided the specially designed anti-grav tank that enabled him to travel comfortably outside of his native habitat.
Tiny jets on either side of the tank periodically sprayed him with a fine coat of lubricating slime, mimicking the humid, marshy conditions of his homeworld.
“Prepare one of the private dining rooms,” said Gax, not taking his eyes away from the lavish spectacle.
Kanak uttered a hiss of protest.
“I don’t care if they’re all in use. Do whatever is necessary to clear one of them out. Refund their meals if need be. Just make it happen.”
Begrudgingly, Kanak scuttled away, muttering what Gax suspected to be some particularly obscene curses in the waiter’s indigenous dialect.
Gax straightened his garments, took deep breaths into all four of his air sacs, and sauntered over to greet his illustrious guest.
“Welcome, Rebu Kholtan,” he said in his best approximation of Drichsnakian. “It is indeed an unexpected honor to receive you at my humble establishment. I am Gax, owner and proprietor.”
Kholtan’s tentacles spashed about in his tank, sending tiny droplets of slime over its edge and onto the carpet. Gax pretended not to notice.
“You honor me, sir,” said Kholtan, “by speaking to me in the language of my people. I am most impressed by your hospitality.”
“The honor belongs solely to me,” said Gax. “Come, allow me to escort you to one of our private rooms.”
“Splendid,” said Kholtan, extending a dripping tentacle outward. “Lead the way!”
They passed a cluster of Miliads who seemed extremely unhappy, chirping away angrily at one another. Gax assumed them to be the former occupants of one of the private rooms.
When they arrived at the table, Gax heaved a sigh of relief upon discovering that all evidence of the previous diners had already been cleared away. Good old Kanak. And they say Kravashians are unreliable.
When the party of distinguished patrons were seated–Except for the two armed guards, who remained standing–Gax hastily retreated to the kitchen.
Sheirza, a member of his wait staff from Caldeyro was generally regarded as stunningly beautiful by any species’ standards.
Her long, flowing tendrils and purplish, silky outer membrane rarely failed to command one’s attention. Even Gax, whose species reproduced asexually, was not entirely immune to her charms. He hoped her exquisiteness would not be lost on Rebu Kholtan.
“Sheirza,” said Gax. “Rebu Kholtan and his associates are currently occupying room eight. Go and take their orders. I shall personally oversee the preparation of their food, to ensure that the results are nothing less than perfect.”
Sheirza furrowed her lovely, ridged brow quizzically. “Take their orders?”
“Yes, yes,” said Gax impatiently. Beings of Kholtan’s ilk don’t order from menu terminals. I’ll consider it good fortune if we even keep the ingredients in stock to make whatever it is he wants.”
Sheirza shrugged. “You’re the boss.” She picked up a stray memo pad and exited the kitchen.
Head chef Creelan, a blue-skinned Rigellian, watched her leave, whistling as the door sealed shut. “I’d like to Gryk that from here to Alpha Centauri,” he said.
Gax’s translator was off, therefore he didn’t understand the remark; but he had a good idea as to what its implications were.
“This is no time for jokes, Creelan,” he chided. “This might very well be the high point of your career.”
Creelan switched his translator on. “Who’s joking?”
Gax groaned and shook his head. “Be serious for once in your lifespan, Creelan. If Kholtan’s not impressed, this may be the end of it.”
Creelan shrugged indifferently and began chopping up a stalk of Muutshu herbs.
Sheirza burst back into the kitchen a few minutes later, looking very much panic-stricken. “Uh, Gax?”
“What is it? Did you take their orders?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I did. Thing is, Kholtan has requested something a bit, shall we say, unusual.”
Gax sighed. He’d been afraid of that. “What’s he want?”
Sheirza handed him the pad. He stared at it incredulously for a few moments before placing it face down on the counter.
“He was very persistent,” said Sheirza.
“I’ll speak with him.”
Nothing could have prepared Gax for the panorama of decadent disarray that awaited him in room eight.
Two of Kholtan’s female companions performed a nude dance on top of the octagonal table, covered in slime. Splotches of said substance oozed from the ceiling and walls.
Several other members of his entourage were busy enthusiastically pelting the females with centerpieces, utensils and whatever else they were able to throw.
Gax tried not to think about how many cretes it was going to cost him to have the room thoroughly cleaned and refurbished. Matters of greater importance demanded his attention at the moment.
“Ah, Gax!” said Kholtan jovially. “Do my slaves amuse you?”
“Er, yes, they’re quite nice,” he said hurriedly. “Forgive me, but there is slight problem I must discuss with you. It’s nothing really, but…”
Kholtan’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “What is the nature of this problem?”
Gax gulped. Few who incurred the ire of Rebu Kholtan had lived to tell the tale.
“Well,” he said, shuffling his feet nervously, “it’s your order. I’m afraid we’re not equipped with the means necessary to fill it.
Kholtan was silent for a moment, while the other beings at the table exchanged nervous glances.
“I see. Perhaps you could explain to me, Gax, how it is that I witnessed two humans sitting in your main dining hall. Do you mean to imply that my vision is faulty? Have my eyes deceived me?”
Kholtan silenced a snickering member of his entourage with a raised tentacle. “I await your answer, Gax.”
Both of Gax’s hearts skipped a beat. He would have to choose his next words carefully. “Your eyes did not deceive you, Rebu Kholtan. If I have offended you in any way, I offer my sincerest apologies.”
He hesitated before continuing. “The humans, you see, well,” he stammered, “they’re my customers. More importantly, under interstellar law they’re considered sentient. If I were to serve them to you as food, there could be certain, er, legal repercussions.”
Kholtan’s lips stretched into a hideous smile, exposing his jagged, razor-sharp teeth. “Oh, is that all? My dear Gax, every law enforcement agency across five sectors is on my payroll. I can assure you, unequivocally, that there would be no legal ramifications whatsoever.”
His smile vanished, replaced an ominous glare. “And now, if you please, Return to your kitchen and instruct your chef to make haste in preparing my meal. I am unaccustomed to waiting.”
Gax nodded dejectedly. It seemed as if his options were limited. “As you wish.” He bowed and exited the room.
As soon as he caught sight of Kanak, Gax seized him by the arm and quickly ushered him into the kitchen.
Kanak listened eagerly as his employer brought both he and Creelan up to speed.
“We’re short on time,” said Gax without waiting for a response, “so here’s the plan. I’ll lure them back here under the pretense of signing that wavier, Where you and Creelan will club them over the head with tenderizing mallets as soon as they come in. From what I gather, that’s the most efficient way to render humans unconscious.”
“I’ll tell Sheirza to keep the rest of the staff out of here,” he continued. “You may split the entirety of Kholtan’s tip three ways between yourselves and Sheirza, provided that nobody informs.”
Creelan and Kanak exchanged knowing glances. There would be no snitching. Kanak needed no excuse to kill a human. The sheer pleasure of the deed would have been payment enough.
As for Creelan, Gax was unaware of his stance on Terrans, but his unquenchable thirst for cretes was a well-established fact. For the right price, he’d keep quiet.
Gax nodded. “Good. So we have an understanding, then. I’ll be back momentarily. Be ready.”
He dashed back to the dining room, weaving in between waiters and customers as he made his way to the humans’ table.
They looked less than pleased to see him, but Gax was unconcerned. “I’m sorry,” he said, “But it seems as if we’re having systems difficulties at the moment. If the two of you would just join me in my office, you can sign the wavier there and we’ll get that Meleek K’Trom out to you straight away. Again, I apologize for any inconvenience.”
The two humans looked askance at one another. The one who appeared to be male stood up, puffing out its chest like some sort of featherless avian. “This is absolutely absurd,” it said. “The service here is the most appalling I’ve seen in all my travels. We’re leaving.”
Gax placed a paw on the creature’s shoulder. “Come now,” he pleaded, “surely we can reach some kind of understanding. Tell you what. Your meal is, as you say, ‘on the house.’ Tonight you will both dine as my personal guests.”
The human jerked its shoulder free of Gax’s grip. “I think not,” it said huffily, before turning to its companion. “Let’s go, Samantha.”
The long-furred human rose from its chair, hanging a strapped bag over its shoulder.
Gax watched helplessly as they made their way to the exit. “Gryk!” he spat under his breath. He raced back toward the kitchen, bumping into a waiter along the way, sending a tray of appetizers tumbling to the floor. “Sorry!” he said without stopping.
Kanak and Creelan were waiting behind the door as instructed, mallets in hand.
Kanak made a quizzical buzzing sound when he realized Gax was alone.
“They’re leaving!” said Gax urgently. “We’ve got to stop them!”
His two co-conspirators followed him through the fire exit, into the darkened alley outside of the restaurant. They arrived at the docking lot in time to see the male assisting the female into the passenger’s side door of their rented transport.
“Wait!” Cried Gax, stampeding toward them.
The pale-skinned creatures froze, looking up in astonishment.
Kanak, who was less bulky and consequently faster than Gax, was the first to catch up with them. He seized the male roughly by its arm. The female emitted a high-pitched shriek and produced a tiny handheld stun weapon from its bag.
Gax immediately recognized it as one of the personal protection devices commonly sold to inexperienced travelers by merchants in the souvenir shops. It was disposable; good for two, maybe three discharges max before the battery was drained.
Its hand trembling, the human fired off a shot, missing Kanak entirely but hitting Creelan square in the chest. He stiffened and fell backward, his head slamming into the ground with a heavy thud.
The male struck Kanak in the jaw, freeing itself, and dived over the female’s lap into the driver’s seat.
The transport roared to life and rocketed past Gax, nearly running him over. There was a shower of sparks as it sideswiped the exit on its way out into the Rabelais City streets.
Gax shoved Kanak into a steel support column. “you gryking idiot!” he shouted. “You let him escape!”
Kanak sputtered and hissed in protest, raising a threatening pincer to his boss.
“Alright,” said Gax,pausing to catch his breath. “Alright. But you’re coming with me when I go back in there to apologize to Rebu Kholtan. Your Abdomen’s on the line, too.”
They re-entered the restaurant through the front entrance, heading straight for room eight. Gax’s mind raced with a myriad potential excuses, but ultimately he decided that Kholtan would see right through them. It was the truth or nothing.
He steeled himself as he stopped in front of the door, exhaling deeply. Closing his eyes, he opened it and stepped inside.
The party was still going strong. No one seemed to notice Gax and Kanak, until one of Kholtan’s minions pointed them out.
The affluent cephalopodan swiveled around to face them. “I see you have returned, and with one of your table slaves in tow.”
Gax elbowed Kanak in thorax before he got the chance to object to being called a “table slave.”
“And while I have enjoyed our little chats immensely, Gax,I find myself wondering why my food has not yet arrived.”
Well, here goes, thought Gax. “Most honorable Rebu Kholtan,” he began, trying to ignore the bursts of laughter rising up from around the table. Clearly, they were going to enjoy watching him grovel.
“It is with much regret that I have come to inform you that despite our best efforts to capture and prepare them, the humans have escaped our grasp.”
Kholtan smiled. “Come here, Gax.”
Hesitantly, Gax obeyed. A long, slimy tentacle wrapped itself uncomfortably around his neck. He could feel the wretched, slippery substance trickling down his leathery hide.
“I’m disappointed in you Gax,” said Kholtan calmly. “I was informed by what I once considered a reliable source that yours was an establishment worthy of my patronage.”
“Gax knows how to treat his customers,” he said mockingly. “Gax? Oh sure, he can prepare anything you want.”
Gax felt the tentacle’s grip begin to tighten. “Seems they were mistaken,” said Kholtan dryly. “Tell me, Gax, how do you propose to rectify this little problem?”
Speech came painfully, but Gax managed to squeeze out the words through his constricted air passages. “Very… sorry,” he breathed. “Anything you want…yours. Please, give…another chance.
Kholtan released his hold on Gax’s neck. “Let it never be said that Rebu Kholtan is without mercy,” he said. “Perhaps you can compensate for the astonishingly poor service you have insulted me with tonight, after all.”
He lowered his voice so that only Gax could hear. “I have always wanted to try Kravashian.