Thursday, November 10, 2016

To Disinfect and Serve

"I'm very happy you decided to hear my proposal Mr. Xibalboa. Can I offer you anything?" Steen Prigo asked leading the tall Inerzan through the kitchen of his automat. Xibalboa held his face scarf closer as a ward against the food, handled by human hands, unclean by his standard. It annoyed him that the food smelled so good.

"Thank you no, Mr. Prigo. Now as to your proposal?" Xibalboa asked. The short restauranteur led his guest to a back door and gestured for Xibalboa to precede him. the tall man complied.

It was an alleyway. There was little light and the smell of garbage. Xibalboa stiffened. It was only the pursuit of more credits that steeled him against the germs, stenches, and darkness, though the laser pistol at his side helped a bit. Some forlorn creature rattled a trashcan further down in the alley's recesses.

"This is what I wanted to show. This building next to the automat is empty and available for rent. I wanted to turn it into a true restaurant. An Inerzan restaurant," Prigo said. Xibalboa tilted his head studying the building. Prigo could bet he was estimating square footage, rent, remodeling. Prigo could just about hear the credit signs clicking in the merchant's head. He broke out his elevator pitch.

"There may be an embargo on trade between our planets but a lot of your ships till pass through here. your crews have to eat. There's no place in town that caters to your ... culture."

"We do not eat foods prepared directly by human hands. We require automation to prepare our food. Our chefs often use remotes. where are you going to get robotics, Prigo?" Xibalboa asked sternly. Prigo stepped over to a large crate with a lock and worked to unfasten it. It opened with a creak and Xibalboa regarded a huge metal humanoid standing immobile.

"Where in the Last Hell did you get a robot?" Xibalboa asked reaching a gloved hand to brush his fingers on a chrome fitting. It was rather ornate. The locals had an eye for style that was growing on him.

"The frame and fittings are built locally. The brain was imported  couple years back to be used in a servitor bot for an elderly aunt of mine who ... passed before the bot was built," Prigo answered.

"How unfortunate."

"Ehh. She had a good run. The Tech Knights give her an dispensation on humane grounds. I got the brain in the will. Bobo here is being reprogrammed as a fry cook. Jorge Guttman is doing it for me. Guttman? The ginger ... the redhead like yourself."

"Useful fellow. I wonder what his stor ..." A can fell over stopping Xibalboa's ramble. A man scrambled to his feel from the ground. Xibalboa drew his pistol. Prigo chose the better part of valor and ducked behind the Inerzan. Hell he probably had top notch armor too under that combination hazmat suit and lounging pajamas.

"Come out where we can see you with your hands up!" Xibalboa ordered.

The man complied slowly. He was nearly as tall as the offworlder and a good deal broader. He wore the rude clothes of a laborer from the Bends perhaps. He also needed a shave and shower.

"Close enough," Xibalboa snapped.

"I'm sorry Mr. Prigo. I was just catching some snores here. It's Theddy. You gave a 'C' to unload some trucks for you this morning," the vagrant said.

"Oh, he's all right Xibalboa," Prigo said. The laser pistol never wavered. "Lots of bums around here, Prigo. Perhaps a restaurant would need a better location?"

"I ain't a bum! I work wherever I can get it. I used to work at the starport unloading cargo. Your Embargo quashed that. Now I get whatever I can. I bet I bust my ass twice as hard as your best crewman! I'm no bindal!" Xibalboa's eyes widened at the last word. The laser pointed in a slightly more friendly direction.

"Parsa Ergot?" Xibalboa asked.

"Whazzat?!" Prigo asked.

"I asked does he speak my language. Bindal is our word for a derelict."

"Parso genoo!" Theddy said. Xibalboa chuckled a bit. The laser went back under his robes.. "I hadda learn what the bindale on your ships was saying about me and the boys!" Theddy said.

Xibalboa snorted. "Yes I have some bindale in my crew. There's some in every crew. Prigo ... do you think he could wait tables?"

"It don't take no rocket surgeon. I could learn him," Prigo said. "After he gets cleaned up."

"Excellent. This restaurant might be a good idea ... tell me, Theddy, have you ever passed plates using half meter tongs?"

***

There are many different mores and preferences even among Earth cultures. These customs and preferences are multiplied a hundred fold when you deal with a cluster of worlds. They are multiplied again if you assume some civilization crash cutting off contact between such worlds. Different kinds of worlds have different requirements for survival or at least prospering. Perhaps foods will be the greatest variations travelers have to put up with but there are certainly others: decor, manners, forms of address, and other protocols. 

Some have said one of the greatest hurdles to an interstellar society will be the variety of languages making communication impossible. Computer systems are providing translation services now (albeit with partial success). Understanding a person's upbringing is sometimes harder than simply communicating. 

As an example the same animal might be unclean vermin to one culture, a companion to another and food to  third. This can lead to all kinds of fun when you ask the server to take your beloved pet to the kitchen for some dinner. 

Some organizations strive to provide a common reference across interstellar distances. The starport food court is going to look very similar no matter where you are for one example. Local organizations will do their best to be cosmopolitan. Using guides familiar with visitors' culture and language is one way to prevent trouble. If it works for tourism here in NYC it can work darn near anywhere.

All of this becomes seeds to generate scenes and ideas whether you are writing or running a game. The best part is you really don't need to flesh out an entire culture. You could improvise one or two details to catch the eye ("Why is everyone wearing those scarves around their faces? How do we meet our contact?!") Let the players figure out why people do things that way.