The unlocked door slid open with a soft whooshing sound and Praetax fluttered into the room gracefully, not bothering to announce himself. In front of him he saw the same melancholy scene that had greeted him the last several times he had visited Maligar’s quarters.
The gelatinous Trovaskian sat slumped in a seating pool in the middle of the room, staring off despondently into empty space. The barest quiver rippled across the surface of his body, indicating that he was aware of the Mantoid’s presence, but there was no acknowledgement of Praetax’s arrival. Instead he opted to remain silent.
Praetax’s eyes scanned the room, using the ongoing degeneration of its contents to gauge his friend’s mental state. The pile of broken coffeemakers that had littered one corner for several months had been miraculously boxed up, ready to be shipped back to Earth, where some frustrated customer service representative would no doubt balk at honouring their warranties. A vacant nook in the room’s main shelving unit indicated that Maligar had declined to install a replacement and had instead given up on coffee altogether. To Praetax that was the saddest thing of all.
Maligar had loved coffee more than anything. Well… except one other thing.
Praetax shook his head sadly.
“Come now Maligar, the shuttles are leaving soon. It’s time to go” said Praetax softly, keeping his voice calm to avoid provoking one of the angry outbursts that had recently plagued his old friend.
Several months ago an instability had been detected in the star around which the Galactic Senate Station orbited. It had been noticed first by one of the regular Canine patrols, ever vigilant in their guard against the last remnants of the now-outlawed Galactic Postal Service. Soon the star would go nova, vaporising the orbital ring and everything else within several lightyears.
Faced with the destruction of their headquarters the various species of the Galactic Senate had banded together to find a replacement. Humanity, in an act of charity much to everyone’s delight, had offered to fund the construction of a new orbital ring in Human space.
“It’s all your money anyway” Ambassador Thompson had said during his Senate address, referring to the vast sums of money that Humanity had received from its sales of coffee beans over the last decade.
The new station had been built in record time, designed by Cetaceans, the newest Terran client species, whose fantastic spatial awareness gave them a remarkable natural ability to conceptualise structures in three- and four-dimensional space. Construction had also gone quickly due to the tireless labour of the titanic Space Krakens that Humanity had domesticated. With constant guidance from their handlers, the massive creatures were able to piece together the superstructure with more speed and finesse than any robotic system could manage. The station was not yet fully complete, and would not be for some time, but it was far enough along that the Senate could begin its relocation.
The task of shipping the contents of the old orbital station to the new one had initially been somewhat problematic, due to the recent surprise outlawing of the Galactic Postal Service, spearheaded by the Canine Pack of New Terra. To overcome this problem the Senate had created a new organisation, with a charter to transport cargo across the length and breadth of Galactic Senate space. Administered by the Cephalopod species, whose manual handling and sorting abilities were second to none, the new organisation had been dubbed the Galactic Cargo Service. The members of the Senate now waited nervously, hoping that the Canines would not notice that their old enemy had effectively been resurrected with a new name. So far so good.
“I know that leaving our long-time home brings feelings of sadness Maligar, but it is necessary. Please look at me” said Praetax when his friend failed to respond to his previous request.
Slowly Maligar turned to face Praetax and focused his visual receptor patches on his companion’s insectile face.
“There’s no point moving on” replied Maligar, “Just leave me here in this miserable place so the sun can gobble me up like a Bovanite at a salad bar.”
“Come now, Maligar. This has been our home for many years. We have seen countless good times and joyous events transpire in our time here. It is no miserable place.”
The only response was a rude bubbling sound that emanated from underneath Maligar’s main body. Praetax continued undeterred.
“Remember the time when you dared Ambassador Thompson to eat a kilogram of raw coffee beans and he vomited all over the Speaker while giving his address in front of the Senate? You laughed so hard I thought you were going to fission in two.”
A sharp chuckle escaped from Maligar, quickly supressed so that he could maintain his appearance of depression.
Praetax’s mandibles rubbed against each other in the Mantoid equivalent of a smile as he saw the positive effect his words were having.
“Or the time when the Zephyeron Ambassador mistakenly entered the life support section and got sucked into the air intake and dispersed throughout the station? Everyone had to wear respirators for a month until they could collect enough of his constituent molecules to synthesize him back together. Then you installed a fake vent in the hallway in front of his living quarters and he was too afraid to come out for a week. You said that was the highlight of your year.”
This time the laugh he received was longer and more heartfelt, yet tinged with a hint of manic desperation, as if Maligar was barely holding himself together.
Before Praetax could resume his cheering up there was a strong knock at the door. Both turned towards it to find a human standing there, casually dressed in something that humans called a ‘tee shirt’. Praetax had seen this particular one before, emblazoned with the Terran words ‘Kiss me, I’m Irish’.
“Ambassador Thompson, how nice of you to join us” exclaimed Praetax, while Maligar turned back to face the wall without saying anything.
Thompson pointed at Maligar and made a questioning gesture. Praetax just shook his head in response.
“Why Maligar, you’re looking particularly viscous today. What snarflak fell into your pool and drowned?” quipped Thompson.
He and Praetax regarded Maligar expectantly. Such jibes had never failed to get a response out of the prideful, if somewhat pompous, Trovaskian.
Maligar said nothing.
“Fear not Maligar, I have just the thing to cheer you up. I’ve brought you a visitor.”
With that Thompson stepped aside and let the newcomer into the room. It was a metal skinned android. Its subtly female form had a strange hollow recess in its abdomen, into which poked several nozzles emitting thin trails of steam as well as a strange handle.
Maligar extruded a flipper and absentmindedly waved a weak greeting without looking.
Unperturbed by the lack of recognition, the android moved further into the room, stopping a few feet away from Maligar.
“Latte, two sugars, extra foam” it said in a feminine voice.
Maligar’s attention instantly snapped in her direction.
“Espressa? Is that you?” he cried, hope entering his voice for the first time in months.
“Of course it is, silly. Did you miss me?” she replied.
There was a loud squelching sound as Maligar surged out of the seating pool and sped across the room to hug Espressa, who returned the embrace lovingly.
“You’ve changed” said Maligar, taking a step back to look at her. “You looked a bit more… boxy… before.”
“Not changed” she replied, “Upgraded”.
“For me?” asked Maligar, puzzled.
“No, for me” she said. “Ever since I was uplifted I wanted to be more than just a coffeemaker. I knew I couldn’t just sit around in your office watching the world pass me by. I wanted to be your equal, not your servant.”
Maligar embraced her once again.
“I might have thought that way at first, but now I could never think of you as my servant, no matter what body you have” he said, voice strained with emotion.
After a few moments he broke the hug and turned towards Thompson, a flipper still resting across Espressa’s metal shoulders.
“Thank you, Thompson. You’re a good man” he said, extending another flipper to shake the human’s hand.
“Don’t thank me, thank Praetax. He was the one that suggested that I track down Espressa and tell her how you really felt about her” replied Thompson kindly.
“Thank you, old friend” said Maligar to Praetax in a tender tone, tears of joy seeping from beneath his visual receptors, and various other places.
“You’re welcome” said Praetax, hovering just out of range of one of Maligar’s squishy hugs. It always took him ages to dry his wings when he got caught in one.
“The shuttles are waiting” said Thompson, clapping both Maligar and Espressa on their backs. “Come on, you two lovebirds, time to go.”
With that the three of them moved through the door and into the hallway beyond.
“Are you coming, Paetax?” said Maligar, turning back to look at his friend.
“I’ll be along in a minute” replied Praetax.
Maligar just nodded before rushing to follow Espressa and Thompson.
Once they were gone the buzzing of Praetax’s wings was the only sound audible in the room. He flew over to the window and looked out across the vast curve of the orbital ring. He never seen it with so many lights extinguished. It looked like it was sleeping.
Praetax sighed. He had spent many years here, serving his species as their representative in the Senate. The best years of his life, really, if he was honest with himself. He couldn’t help but feel some trepidation that perhaps those times were over, and that this relocation marked the end of this chapter in his life. He wondered what the future would bring.
When he was done absorbing the outside view for the last time, he lowered himself to the windowsill. He reached into his pockets and withdrew two items, regarding each of them in turn before setting them down gently on the sill, side by side. He adjusted their positioning slightly, then rose into the air and glided out the door in search of his friends.
The door closed with a final whoosh.
The room was silent.
On the windowsill were two origami figures.
One brown Mantoid and one green Trovaskian.
Praetax and Maligar.