The space station hung in the quiet, empty corner of the sector between the M’toh Republic and the Amn Democracy. It was not a pretty station, nor one that won any practical design awards. The station, more properly referred to as Graygante Station, had a bulbous kind of upper portion that made up the majority of the station’s residential districts, business offices, and the observation deck. The blobby portion was cut off neatly by a weird, flat cylinder that had most of the station’s shops and restaurants, underneath which had all of the factories and repair shops in a dozen or so odd cuboids of various widths and lengths that terminated in long, spindly antenna-looking docks. Graygante had once been described by a passing philosophy student as a “jellyfish wearing a corset,” which made the local tourism agency furious, until one of their more apathetic members pointed out that it was a correct observation.
Functionally, it was a weigh station, ensuring that passing ships obeyed proper load procedures and verified that they were obeying the local mass limits while traveling on the warp speed lines nearby. Practically, the station did nothing. Warp speed lines had gone the way of train tracks with the latest in lightspeed engine technology and the M’toh Republic and Amn Democracy had so many embargoes placed on each other that trade was limited to smuggling graphic novels and out-of-date industrial toilets back and forth across the border.
The residents of the station were split between minding their own business and feeling every ounce of existential dread that came from living in a pointless tin can. Despite this, only a few actually tried to leave. Most of the population had been born there, so they didn’t see a need to leave. The outsiders were either criminals running from the law or people that accidentally ended up on the station and became trapped, like a reluctant fly resigned to its fate, caught i n a carnivorous plant. They lived their lives, whether good, bad, or indifferent, to the best of their abilities. Sometimes they had good days, sometimes they had normal days, and sometimes they had the kind of day that Torin Hask was having.
His helmet clanked loudly against his cybernetic ear as he stalked down the carpeted boulevard. He should probably invest in some kind of padding to keep that from happening, but he felt the rhythmic metal-on-metal ringing sound that rattled around his skull and it was the perfect soundtrack to his current misery. And the misery that came before it. And the misery that came before that misery.
His boots came to a defeated halt along the boulevard. He stared out into the distance, bald head slightly cocked, shirt stained, and posture sagging. He looked — and felt — like a smoldering crater of a man. Middle age had hit him hard, just as the inevitable hair loss had.
A group of women with shopping bags hanging off their arms passed by. They whispered to each other about what his issue might be and why he looked the way he did. He turned toward them and contemplated giving them his entire life’s story but they picked up their pace before he could. It was just as well; they wouldn’t be interested in the life of a mid-level weigh station manager.
Unfortunately, he stood there a moment too long and a holographic advertisement popped out of the station’s metallic grey wall. A life-size woman dressed in silk appeared less than twelve inches from Torin’s face. She reclined on a champagne-colored plush couch, holding a bottle of perfume in her hands. She blinked thick, two-inch eyelashes that looked like caterpillars threatening to eat her violet eyes.
“Try L'eau de Oiseaux,” she said in a low, smooth voice, “the new scent from Amn luxury designer Rossene.”
Torin blinked at the advertisement in apathy and confusion. The holograph did not acknowledge this awkward pause, clicking her long nails against the perfume bottle enticingly.
“I think you’re looking for a different type of customer, ma’am,” Torin finally said.
“The scent includes cool overtones and warm, spicy undertones for the perfect balance of ‘professional’ and ‘seductive’,” the holograph continued. She made little figure eights with her head and shoulders in an attempt to catch Torin’s attention.
“Respectfully, ma’am, that sounds like nonsense,” he said with growing exasperation. “Can you even see me? Do I look like I’m going for ‘seductive’?” He did a half-hearted twirl in front of her, holding his arms out. His thick, ill-fitting work clothes were practically draped over his thin arms and fat stomach.
The holograph didn’t respond with words, tapping the bottle more aggressively, as if the sound of someone’s fingernails drumming against the bottle was a suitable method of advertising the characteristics of perfume.
“Ma’am, if you don’t have anything more to say, I’m gonna leave,” Torin said with all of the politeness he could muster. He was never entirely sure if these ads were just computer programs or real people being filmed somewhere else and broadcasted live.
“Try L’eau des Oiseaux, the new scent from—”
Torin ignored her as something in the background that was shaped like both a rocket ship and a donut caught his attention. That was beyond intriguing. He had never thought of putting a nose cone, fins, and a rocket on a sprinkled donut to make a sign so appealing and so adorable. He stared beyond the advertisement’s shoulder, thoroughly enraptured at the dusty pink storefront, delighted as he read what the rest of the shop’s sign said: The Cosmic Donut.
“I need a donut,” he said with no apology in his voice as he stepped around the holograph and booked it for the shop . The doors chimed cheerfully as he stepped in.
The inside was just as quaint and pink as the outside, with the heavy scent of yeast and sugar as an added tantalizing bonus. The store was roughly divided down the middle, with the left half dominated by the large “L” shaped counter, while the right half was dotted with small, decorative tables and chairs and a few booths against the wall.
The counter’s long arm held four massive display cases, about a quarter filled with delicious snacks in a riotous variety of shapes and colors, spanning from normal-ish looking, round, frosted donuts to nearly fluorescent pastries that seemed to be reminiscent of birds-of-paradise. The short arm held the cash register and just enough cleared space to allow four barstools. Those seats immediately appealed to Torin, and he selected the one closest to the register.
He glanced around at the rest of the shop as he settled into the seat. It looked quaint, at the very least. The rickety barstool shuddered under the weight of the mid-level weigh station manager’s mass and existential dread but carried on bravely.
“What can I get you?” the man behind the counter asked. He had materialized out of nowhere, wiping a spoon with a soft blue cloth. Torin startled, upsetting the delicate agreement he had come to with the barstool. He waved his arms around aimlessly, trying to find something to grab onto when a sudden jerk and he found himself no longer falling.
He blinked, dumbfounded. He looked up at the shop proprietor for answers, finding all of them. The proprietor was both stronger and faster than he looked. Stretched across the counter, he held a fistful of Torin's shirt to keep him from falling.
“Would you mind sitting back up?” the proprietor asked with urgency in his tone.
“Oh, right,” Torin replied. He put his feet back under him and stood up, catching the chair, and setting it upright. “Thank you.”
“It was my fault,” the proprietor said, shaking out his hand. He turned toward the other customer and called. “Pierce, make a note to replace the stools at the counter.”
“On it, Mr. Han,” the other patron said readily. This man was dressed casually, occupying a chair and table that seemed far too small for his large-in-all-directions bulk. He looked something like one of those round, cartoon plushes Torin often saw in the supermarkets. He typed on his laptop with an agonizingly slow hunting-and-pecking technique, obsidian eyes locked onto the screen, making only the most minute movements.
The customer reached for a notepad and began to write in it. Much to Torin’s horror, the man’s right eye disengaged from the screen he was looking at to look down at what he was writing. It was as if the man had suddenly become part chameleon, or half of his body was entirely at the mercy of some foreign influence that had no sway over the other half. Torin didn’t like either of those ideas in the slightest, although he knew that organic cybernetic technology had come a long way since he had his ear implant put in.
Torin watched the man work on two separate tasks simultaneously, unable to look away. It felt like his own brain was being torn in two, and he began to unconsciously trying to mime writing with his right hand and typing with his left. He was about to lose his appetite when Pierce held up a thumb to indicate the note had been written. His right eye slowly moved back, returning to synchronicity with its obsidian twin.
“Heh,” Torin said nervously.
“Back to what you want to eat,” the proprietor, Mr. Han, said patiently.
“Oh, yes, right,” Torin said, choosing the chair that had an excessive number of cross braces between the four legs to sit on. “Do you have a menu?”
Han jerked a thumb up at the holographic menu on the wall behind the counter. The bank of faded screens showed a complete bevy of options for both drinks and pastries. It also flickered and spasmed as if every second could be its last to report the day’s current specials, which were M’toh Coffee Crème [Medium Only] and Bitter-Blue Nebula Bites.
“I’ll just take the specials,” Torin said.
“Are you sure?” Han asked.
“Er, what’s the ‘bitter-blue’ part?”
“Do you want to try one?”
Han walked back to the display cases, grabbing a plate and a piece of parchment paper on his way. Torin took the opportunity to observe the faded pastel mural that took up most of the shop’s wall above the booths. Or at least pretended to observe the mural as he watched Pierce, suspicious of what might happen next. Nothing else seemed strange about the man, at least.
“Thanks,” Torin said as Han handed him a singular donut bite. It looked like a tiny, bright, blue planet dipped in clear icing. The color was slightly off-putting, but the mid-level weigh station manager had nothing left to lose at this point and popped the entire thing in his mouth, puckering instantly against the sourness.
Whether the bite was technically “bitter” or “sour” was a debate many scholars at the Graygante Remedial College had engaged in since Han introduced the flavor two years ago. The debates usually ended with the passing around of digestive aids and soothing, cold milk for sore mouths. After one professor was briefly hospitalized for acute indigestion after he ate twelve bites in a row, Han placed a warning label on the display where they sat:
DO NOT CONSUME MORE THAN SEVEN  ‘BITTER-BLUE NEBULA BITES’ IN 26 HOURS.
This was largely ignored by the scholars, as most warning labels are.
Suffice it to say, the bite evoked a strong reaction from those who ate it, whether or not they were in camp “bitter” or camp “sour.” It also caused their mouths to turn bright blue, or purple, depending on which type of food dye Han used per batch — supply of any baking ingredient that was deemed ‘very fancy’ was notoriously spotty on the station — and the amount of swelling the person’s natural immune defenses produced.
“I need more,” Torin exclaimed through a mouthful. Han bobbed his head in an unsurprised nod, taking the plate and placing six more near-fluorescent bites onto it. He set it in front of Torin and turned to make the coffee.
“This is so good,” Hask said with great reverence around a mouthful of donut. He shoveled the little blue planets into his mouth with more energy than anyone — including his own mother — thought he possessed.
“Eat them more slowly—hey, hey, hey! Slowly.” Han set the coffee on the counter in front of Torin. “You’ll knock yourself out and destroy your tooth enamel.”
“What’s in thesthe?” Torin asked, barely heeding Han’s instructions. He swallowed and reached for the coffee. “Pure ambrosia?”
“Some spices from Forty-One-Saints. It’s a secret recipe, I don’t think you would be interested,” Han said, edging Torin’s plate farther away from him as he was distracted by the coffee. He almost had it finished in three gulps, the thick, sweetness of the drink working to offset the donuts’ bitterness.
“Nah,” Torin said with bright, excited eyes, “I don’t want to run you out of business by making my own recipe.” His raucous laughter was cut off as he spied his errant plate and grabbed the last two bites to eat in one go.
“That is very generous of you,” Han replied in a flat tone.
“Ah,” Torin said as he licked his fingers to get the last of the icing off. “Those were dee-licious. My compliments to the creator.”
“You are flattering me,” Han said absently as he counted metal straws.
“No, I really mean it,” Torin said, leaning back as much as he dared in the barstool. “I feel like I’ve become a new person since eating those. I feel alive. Energized.”
“I had an overly confident spirit fall into the dough this morning ,” Han mused.
Torin let out another obnoxious laugh. He slammed his hand onto the counter, leaving behind far, far too many credits to cover a medium coffee, a set of donut bites, and a good tip.
“Have a good day, Mr. Han,” he said as he stood up.
“I will, you too,” Han replied absently as he put the credits into the register.
“Oh, I think I’m going to,” Torin said cheerfully, “I’m going to go kill my boss.”