“Ready to go?” I inquired as I approached James and Mila’s table.
James looked confused as he watched me. Frowning, he said, “I suppose we can leave.”
“We don’t have to leave quite yet if you’re not ready. There isn’t a rush. I thought you looked ready is all.” I explained. I was firmly sided with people who didn’t want to make James upset, but for me, he was a friend.
“Wait. ‘We’? You’re coming with us?” he questioned, looking confused again.
“Huh? If that’s how you care to look at it, but don’t you normally say that you’re going with the guide?” I asked, wondering where James was going with this conversation.
“Guide? Sorry, but I have no idea what you mean.” he stated.
“Oh. Master, we’re getting a guided tour of the universe.” explained Mila, though she seemed surprised.
Being around young versions of these two was getting odder and odder. Mila had seemingly endless access to information and easily handled scheduling throughout hundreds of solar systems if not more from what I had heard. Having her surprised by our schedule was plain weird.
“What? Really!?” asked James, surprised as well.
At least our conversation made a little sense now.
“No, not really.” I quickly told him. “You’re getting a guided tour through a few select parts of the universe while accompanying me on some deliveries.”
Smiling, he said, “I prefer Mila’s version.”
I gawked as I told him “You can’t be serious… I’ve only been to a tiny fraction of the universe. As far as I know, the restaurant doesn’t even deliver to the uninhabited worlds. For you, Carl will probably make an exception, but… I’ll die of old age.” As I spoke, I tried to reason this out. James was young and might not realize how incredibly vast the universe was. He might also be messing with me given his sense of humor. I didn’t really believe Carl would have me spend the rest of my life on a single assignment, though he might for James. I let out the breath I was holding. Forcing myself to smile, I then said, “Let’s see where all we end up.”
“Wow. I wish I could calm down that quickly.” commented James.
He seemed sincere, so I winked, not wanting to go into what working here takes with him when he’d know eventually. If anyone could see all of the stars, I’d bet on James. I turned and started guiding them to my garage.
“Oh. Wait.” stated James as he stopped. “Mila, how will you get signal?”
“Don’t worry, master. The princess assures me that the restaurant will continue routing for me.” she replied as she smiled at him.
Another way to tell the difference between Alma and Mila was in their smile. There was a slight difference in how their lips moved.
“I suppose it is already routing the signal through time.” he remarked with an amused smile.
I guided them forward and then sidestepped through the portal. When they didn’t follow, I poked my head out and asked “Coming?”
James almost had me laughing as he walked around the portal, looking completely bewildered. I remembered the feeling from my early days here when everything was new. I stepped back out, demonstrating that I was intact.
“There’s nothing to it.” I promised. “You just walk through. If it helps, you can shut your eyes.”
“What is it?” he inquired, still staring at the two-dimensional, black plane of the portal.
“Oh. This restaurant is big. Very big. I’d probably die of old age if I tried seeing all of it. Lucky for us, getting around it is as easy as coming to dine. You just walk through the door. I was told they appear this way for peace of mind.” I explained.
“I can’t say the appearance is helping my peace of mind at all.” he admitted, making Mila laugh.
“They do take some adjusting, but I’ve been told it’s easier on the brain than seeing what’s actually happening. This serves the same purpose as the second set of doors into the restaurant, but the employees need to change rooms far more often. Come along. You don’t want me to be late, do you?” I teased, knowing I couldn’t be late.
Sheela was waiting right where I left her. I loved driving, and my car was many steps ahead of the average in my time, despite her age. Realizing that James and Mila we’re watching me caress my baby as I walked around her rear, I said, “I know she’s a bit old, but I promise Sheela’s well-maintained. My dad did all of the original upgrades when we moved away from combustion, and I’ve had lots of work done since then.”
Mila was quick to point out “This vehicle and its original design hasn’t been released yet where we’re from.”
“Even if it had, she’s a beauty.” insisted James.
Grinning, I said, “Get in the back! I’ll grab the food and show you what my baby can do!”
I quickly grabbed my delivery box, glanced at the diagnostic report for Sheela, and hopped in my car. Looking back at them, I asked “You two wearing your seatbelts?”
“Yes, we are.” James assured me.
I turned back around and took off. I smiled as we flew threw the sky of Tiladosia. This descent was a great start for anyone visiting another world for the first time. The restaurant floated here due to some issue with land rights, but business was as splendid as everywhere else.
I took the broad lap around the mountain, knowing the restaurant would have already accounted for my actions when it chose our departure time. The twin moons were both visible in the violet sky, making this as perfect as day as possible.
“Where’s the wind?” questioned James.
Fair question given that we were in a convertible with the top down. “Sorry, but this planet’s atmosphere isn’t breathable for humans, so I can’t put the field down.” I explained. “Oh. I should’ve checked my air levels before we left. Sheela, are we going to asphyxiate?”
“Not for three days at the current rate of consumption.” she replied.
Realizing Mila might mistake Sheela for something like her, I said, “No, Mila, my car doesn’t have an A.I. like you. She does have a standard voice command interface.”
“I see. Still, this world is quite beautiful. Don’t we stick out, being one of the few vehicles currently flying above the city?” she asked.
“Don’t worry about it. I’ve got clearance. Those other vehicles are delivery drivers as well. The Tiladosians are really advanced, but they don’t care for flying, especially at high speeds. It has something to do with the effects of high speed on their internal biology.” I replied, hoping she didn’t want an in-depth report.
When we reached ground level and passed a Tiladosian on the street, I glanced at my rearview mirror to see James’ reaction. There was less eye-popping shock than I had hoped for, but he still looked surprised. I told him “Their umm… mouths… are on the bottom of their bodies.” I knew the actual term but figured that would involve more explanation if I said it.
“How are you going to deliver food when you can’t breathe?” he asked.
I rolled my eyes at him and demonstrated, pulling the food out of my delivery box and handing it to the patron by my door. Maybe James missed the map indicating I was by the right one? Might be hard to see from his vantage point.
I whistled when I verified the transaction completed on my console. “He gave me one hell of a tip!” I exclaimed, already considering what mod I might get for Sheela next. The restaurant had an enormous catalog for employee purchases.
“How does the currency exchange work?” asked James. “Are aliens common in your time?”
“Uh… no. I didn’t know aliens existed until after I started my job. As for the currency, things get a bit tricky. I’m free to buy some alien goods and bring them home with me, but that can lead to… problems. I know one guy who bought a bunch of diamonds and then had to come up with a way to sell them back home. He was arrested at one point, but things eventually were cleared up. I usually just let the restaurant take care of the exchange, but I do have a fair amount of money saved up on my favorite planets for vacations.” I replied, glad I didn’t really need to keep secrets from James. He could always tell when someone lied and didn’t care for it.
Unlike most of our people, I had seen enough of the universe to hear rumors about James from countless worlds. I always denied knowing him personally when asked. Some would fawn over me if they believed I knew him. Others would shun me, thinking James was a tyrant. I knew enough that I had faith in him. He couldn’t make everyone happy all the time, but he was a force for good.
Where the master seemed to enjoy the view and keep his thoughts to himself, I questioned Evanna about everything. She was remarkably informed, knowing the atmospheric composition of the planet, average lifespan of the population, and general information about the culture without having to consult with Sheela.
Routing through the restaurant, I was able to access local networks and verify a large amount of what she said without much effort. I downloaded a great deal to my memory to increase my knowledge base in case the master ever wanted to know more.
We visited numerous planets, each with unique life forms, but I found the similarities all the more fascinating. There were a few types of humanoids, which went against general theory on alien life, possibly supporting a common origin. The princess wasn’t being helpful and wouldn’t verify any of my conjectures.
When we arrived on a metallic, planet-sized sphere with only the restaurant on it’s surface, I stood in awe. There was a vast, complicated computer network here. I was granted access instantly through the restaurant and was shocked to find an A.I. population.
I was aware of the master watching a video with Evanna that explained this population’s origins, but I was receiving data far faster as I interacted through the network. I played games, watched video feeds, and communicated with each A.I. who greeted me. There were hundreds of billions. Getting to know each would take time even for me, especially if we interacted through their virtual reality system which mimicked the previous life of the planet through a game-like environment.
“What? What kind of ending is that?” complained Evanna after seeing the end of the video where organic life had been purged in an interplanetary war.
“A disappointing one.” stated the master.
I walked over to them, smiling and wishing I could share all that I witnessed. “They were conquered, master, and have been grateful ever since.” I told him, having seen the princess arrive here and the devastating speed at which she took over and upgraded the planet’s technology. They saw her as a goddess, and I couldn’t argue. She was far, far beyond any of us.