As the money floated over the counter and Barnabus clumsily grabbed for it, he muttered to himself about the store’s stupid gravity mechanism never being fixed properly. But, of course, it wasn’t a cashier’s place to complain about these sorts of things.
The reduction of gravity would turn out to be mildly helpful, however, when the entire convenience store suddenly lurched and began a rapid rotation upside down, spilling Barnabus, wares, displays, and customers to the ceiling.
Of course this happens on my shift, the clerk thought.
Barnabus Weatherby worked at Smarmine’s #4001 located on the outskirts of Bode’s Galaxy, and just hovering on the rim of the populace consumer planet Venalicium Mundus, or as the Bworx residents called it, Nc-Nc-Tpltek (roughly translated: Ours, Not Yours). There were Smarmine Orbiting Convenience Stores in almost every sector, and almost twelve different planetary systems had easy access to Smarmine goods. Most orbiting stores were warehouses more than anything, but Barnabus—lucky him—was employed at one of the stations where Smarmine was trying to resurrect a lost tradition that was slowly making a comeback: personalized customer service. Station #4001 was an extensively spacious store with shelves upon shelves of anything highly demanded in the sector, with a minimal staff of greeters and clerks forcing smiles and half-hearted words of welcome. It was required that the staff be fluent in at least Bworx, Lorgian, Narp-Silic, and three of the archaic tongues of Terra.
Barnabus deserved a much more challenging job per his skills and education, but the job market was poor for those of Terra-human descent, ever since the majority of Terra-human abilities could be cheaply replicated by androids, which never complained or demanded better wages (or any wages, for that matter). Yet Barnie’s species did boast one trait lacking in others, and that was being personable with customers—something even androids could not fulfill effectively, as of yet, given their inability to “think outside the box,” or adapt their set programming to improvise. Most other organic species tended to be at one extreme of customer relations or the other: the Sporese, for example, were far too compliant, and often to please a slightly unsatisfied customer would give away cartfuls of “complimentary” goods as recompense. The Lorgians, on the other hand, were the epitome of anti-social: one crooked look from a customer would result in a swift and clean decapitation by shark-toothed jaws.
Barnie kept his cheery smile as he grabbed the money with an awkward swoop, as the Bworx customer across the counter from him snickered. She was elderly, the wormy tendrils on her head and backside a tangled mess. She spoke in broken Terra, presumably because she didn’t believe a mere Terra-human cashier would know Bworx. “Gravity problems, eh?”
“It should be fixed soon,” Barnie replied, having given the same response to various customers for well over a week now. The store’s maintenance controllers had confirmed that the gravity had been tampered with by vandals, possibly hired by a rival conglomerate—it was a standard business practice in these parts. It was not that bad of a problem, as most items in the store were staying on their respective displays, and people could still get where they needed to go with ease.
It was just after he said this that the store had its unexpected tilt, preempted by a loud roar from the engines of the external boosters located under the receiving dock of the station. Those rockets overpowered the rest on the station, and were causing the store to rotate lopsidedly, throwing the whole station off kilter.
Barnie was thrown upwards, but gently, like an inflated balloon being tossed by a child. Everything and everyone was languidly thrown into the air, but for what little gravity was still being generated, the heavier people and merchandise were sucked back towards the floor, which was now a wall, given that the station was on its side. The less dense customers (although Barnie would say everyone who shopped there was equally dense) were taking a bit more time to touch back down. The knick knacks and snack bars by the checkout were rolling about through the air in a confetti-like jumble. Barnie returned to the floor softly, sighing in exasperation. This was going to take forever to clean up, and surely he was going to have to pacify a flock of startled customers, even though it did not look like anyone was hurt.
“Those fliff-goshing gremlins!” came the familiar bellow of Barnie’s manager, as the imposing stature of Melanie came storming out from the receiving area. She was a Rhink, less brutal and certainly more intelligent than a Lorgian, but as equal in muscle and intimidation. She was screaming and cussing as she walked with a maintenance controller, a sheepish mole of a man—or just possibly mole, from the looks of him. “I just know it’s those spineless wiplunks from Nova-Mart, trying to throw us into Venalicium’s gravitational field so we’re shot around to the other side of the planet. They’ve been trying to sabotage this station for years, to commandeer this sector for one of their mega-stations. If those breggan-narf-dwangers think they can run us out without me calling a Level 12 and ripping them a new black hole, they’ve got another thing coming!”
Melanie stopped for a second to look straight at Barnie, as if the store’s upheaval was his fault. “Barnabus, why is half the store in the air and not on the shelves?”
“Nothing I did,” Barnie replied nonchalantly.
“I get that. What I don’t get is why you’re just standing there, and not putting things back in order. If you spent less time reading that Holozine and more time doing your job, like wrapping the kiosks with the plastic sheets as I asked you to, then you wouldn’t have to go fetch all that junk off the ceiling, would you?”
As Melanie went off with the controller, Barnie frowned as he retrieved an extendable net to scoop the snack bars out of the air. He couldn’t believe the company couldn’t fork over a little more money to get them a hover-bot for occasions like this, and left him to do this the old fashioned way.
His eye caught a Sporese girl, who was still suspended a foot above the floor in pharmacy aisle #22, as her willowy frame had very little density. She looked like a perfect cross of a Terra-human and a tulip; the spot on her head where hair should have been blossomed into bright red petals, and her skin a pale shade of jade. It was her big, solid emerald green eyes that had captivated Barnie from the first time she had visited the store, and she was now a regular that he anxiously waited to see. Yet he still hadn’t gotten the gumption to ask her on a date—he knew very little about her. He knew her name was Tarafa, but her friends who sometimes joined her called her Fafa.
He was knocked out of his reverie as red alert lights on the ceiling started to flare and shriek, indicating an emergency. This had happened only once before since Barnie had been hired, and it had been for an escaped venomous Lunar Pool Crab-Spider that some idiot had brought onto the station after shopping at a Rare Pets Faire. Given all the technical difficulties going on lately—the gravity mechanism, the dock rockets, now this—it gave Barnie cause to weigh the severity of the situation.
His suspicions were confirmed as a voice came in over the speakers, speaking in Bworx. “Attention Smarmine shoppers. At this time, we need to close the store and request that everyone immediately vacate the premises. Due to competitive saboteurs’ repeated offenses at attempting to annex our station, we have initiated a Level 12 Counter-Offensive Measure. No further details can be given at this time. If Station #4001 is still operational post-encounter, we will reopen our doors tomorrow at 5900 Venalicium Dual Sun Time. Thank you for shopping at Smarmine’s.” Holograms from various emitters around the store displayed, in ten languages, “Please Evacuate, Thank You for shopping.”
So, as the customers quickly vacated the store—some with surprising calmness, some with such wild panic that they mowed down anything in their way—Barnie did the only thing he could think to do in light of the fact that Smarmine Station #4001 was going into highly destructive combat with its rival, Nova-Mart, in which one convenience store or the other could be blown to microscopic specks and thus ending the relentless competition, and that the pay-credit he received earlier that day might possibly be the last that he would receive for a while.
“Uh, Tarafa?” Barnie wiped his brow as he assisted the beautiful Sporese girl towards the exit doors. “My name’s Barnabus. I’m getting off work early today, so I was wondering…Are you doing anything tonight?”