The Galaxy, and the Ground Within Page 1



Received message Encryption: 0

From: Goran Orbital Cooperative Info Team (path: 8486-747-00) To: Ooli Oht Ouloo (path: 5787-598-66) Subject: Possible service outage today This is an update from the Goran Orbital Cooperative regarding satellite network coverage between the hours of 06:00 and 18:00 today, 236/307.

We will be performing routine maintenance and adjustments on a portion of our solar energy fleet. While we hope to avoid any disruptions in service, there is a possibility that residents and business owners in Neighbourhoods 6, 7, and 8 (South) may experience a temporary decrease or loss in power during the hours stated above. Our maintenance crew will do everything in their ability to prevent this from being the case, but please prepare accordingly. We recommend activating and testing your back-up power system ahead of time.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact our info team via this scrib path.

Thank you for supporting your local planetary co-op!



In the Linkings, the system was listed as Tren. The science section in those same files was remarkable only for its brevity, as even the most enthusiastic astronomer would find it hard to get excited over this lonely section of the map. Tren’s namesake star was middle-aged and run-of-the-mill, and when you discounted the assorted dust and debris you could find in any stellar system, the only thing orbiting it was one bone-dry planet of mediocre size, possessing no moon, no rings, nothing to harvest, nothing worth mining, nothing to gasp at while on vacation. It was merely a rock, with a half-hearted wisp of atmosphere clinging meagrely to its surface. The planet’s name was Gora, the Hanto word for useless.

The sole point worth noting about poor Tren and Gora was that on a navigation chart, they had the accidental chance of falling at a favourable distance between five other systems that attracted a lot of to-and-fro. The interspatial tunnels branching from these more vibrant ports of call were old, built with technology that lacked the range of modern wormholes. Tunnels couldn’t stretch as far back in the day, is what it came down to, and the old routes from the Harmagian colonial era were commonly punctuated with spots where ships could pop out into normal space before heading down the next leg. At last, the boring little rock that spun around the drab little sun was given a use: that of an anchor between the places people actually wanted to visit.

Traffic at a tunnel hub like Gora was complicated, as the comings and goings through wormholes had to be meticulously tracked. Swooping out of one tunnel and into the next without any sort of regulation was a perfect recipe for accidents, particularly if you were entering a tunnel someone else had yet to exit. As was the case in all such places, Tren was under the watch of the Galactic Commons Transit Authority. Any ship exiting or entering had to first submit a flight plan indicating their time of arrival, their point of origin, and their final destination. The Transit Authority would then grant access to the destination-bound tunnel in question and assign a departure time. Crossing normal space from one tunnel to the next would only take a few hours, but waits in the Tren system were rarely that short. A layover of at least half a day was common, unless traffic demand was unusually light. And so, the solitary planet had acquired much more company over the decades. Gora was flocked with bubbled habitat domes, each containing diversions and services of varied flavours. There were hotels, tech swaps, restaurants, repair shops, grocery vendors, sim vendors, kick vendors, smash vendors, gardens, tet houses, and swimming pools, each courting weary spacers in need of some real gravity and a brief change in scenery.

One of these domes, on a flat plain in the southern hemisphere, encased a modest-sized establishment. Its name – as was painted in a wreath of multiple languages on the shuttlepad outside – was the Five-Hop One-Stop.

It was Ouloo’s self-appointed mission in life to make you want to land there.

She awoke, as she always did, before dawn. Her eyes opened easily in the ebbing dark, her body long accustomed to transitioning out of sleep at this exact hour in this exact lighting. She stretched against the nest of pillows heaped in her sleeping alcove, pulled her head out from where it rested beneath a hind leg, and shook errant locks of fur from her eyes. She reached out a paw and shut off the alarm that hadn’t been needed (she couldn’t even remember what it sounded like).

Ouloo swung her long neck out into the room and saw that the sleeping alcove across from hers was empty. ‘Tupo?’ she called. It wasn’t like her child to be awake this early. Every morning in recent memory had begun with a prepubescent war, each more tedious than the last. Ouloo felt a faint glimmer of hope arise, a fantastical fancy in which Tupo had gotten up on xyr own, started xyr chores, perhaps even cooked.

Ouloo nearly laughed at herself. There was no chance of that.

She padded across the room, entered her grooming cabinet, shut herself in the spacious compartment, put her feet on each of the four placement markers, and tapped a button with her nose. She sighed as a company of clever machines got to work, combing and curling, washing and rinsing, massaging her paw pads and cleaning her dainty ears. She loved this part of the morning, though she did somewhat miss the days before Gora, when her morning routine included scented soaps and herbal powders. But as the host of a multispecies establishment, she knew all too well that what might smell delicious to her might trigger anything from an allergic reaction to a personal insult in someone else, and she valued the long-term satisfaction of her customers exponentially higher than the fleeting indulgence of a rich springweed lather. Ouloo was a woman who took details seriously, and in her mind, there was no detail too small to note, not where her customers were concerned.