The consistent beeps of the scanner drowned out the too-quiet music that played over the speakers.
I was serving two Ophiums, short, round, purple beings from Venus. From what I’d gathered, scanning their items, they were having a party.
‘Are you having a party?’ I asked. The telecommunication device around my neck would translate everything from my Earth English to the Ophius language, and vice versa.
The taller one smiled at me, revealing two rows of jagged teeth. ‘Oh yes,’ the flat emotionless AI voice translated for me. ‘We have some human friends coming over, so we thought we’d buy some Earth food.’
Ah yes, Earth food. A seven layered teriyaki chicken stir-fry pizza dip with sprinkles, chickpea cola, and a rope of fruity flavoured bubble gum so long that I could wrap around my neck six times came to mind when I thought of Earth food. I packed the last of their items into a holographic bag: sour blueberry flavoured oxygen tank, four-dimensional Twister, and fluffy handcuffs. Looked like a party you didn’t want to miss.
Despite their slime covered bodies, the couple looked like tourists, wearing open floral shirts and straw hats. Their several eye stalks stuck out from underneath the brims.
Moon Markets was a suave supermarket with high-end products that orbited the Moon. The inhabitants of the Moon were the same. Some of the Moon’s citizens included the universe’s highest paid residents. You never missed them when they walked through the sliding doors—bright bleached white suits designed for withstanding the rough terrain of the moon. Not that you needed a suit to walk the suburbs as huge domes filled with oxygen covered communities. It was just the latest look.
I sniffed at the air. I found myself breathing a little slower and wondered if someone had just forgotten to change the oxygen tank for the store.
‘So why are the meats mixed with synthetics these days?’ the shorter Ophium asked, handing me a packet of mince with a large sticker that read ‘40% real beef!’ It was the most expensive in the range of mixed beef. Never in my life have I ever eaten anything higher than ten percent.
‘The cows went on strike,’ I joked.
‘Oh really? Good for them.’ I think they thought I was serious.
I thought about my own dinner waiting for me at home, a few hours bus ride away, back on Earth. The only reason I’d taken a job outside of Earth was because the Moon offered free dental, and their minimum wage was higher.
‘Are you paying by card or cash?’ I asked. Orbiting the Moon meant we had to stock our tills with a few different currencies. The taller Ophium held up a Premium Galaxy Debit Card stuck to one of their four tentacles. The plastic was holographic, shimmering pinks and purples in the bright overhead lights. I’d only ever seen a couple of the cards before—they were so good you got paid back for shopping. Although to be eligible, your credit score had to be in the thousand percent range.
I finished up their transaction and waved them goodbye.
Today the Earth stood between the Moon and the Sun, casting everything in darkness. The lights in the building and out in the petrol station attached to the store were working overtime, set to the brightest setting.
I didn’t get two seconds to myself before Arbor, my wire-thin manager, sauntered over to me. Every time he approaches you hesitantly, you know it’s not going to be good.
‘So,’ he started. ‘The company has had to make a few cuts; we’ve started thinning the store’s oxygen for a while.’ So that’s why I was feeling lightheaded. ‘Soon, staff are going to have to supply their own oxygen.’
‘What? That’s ridiculous. Oxygen isn’t cheap. What about customers?’
‘Customers will also have to supply their own.’
‘Are customers going to have to supply their own food to purchase too?’ I crossed my arms over my chest.
‘Yeah, yeah, very funny. You’ll get a staff discount, an oxygen allowance, and you’ll be able to claim it come tax time.’
He walked off to tell some of the others the news.
Buy our own oxygen? Soon we’ll look like aliens with fishbowls on our heads. More alien than the actual aliens who shop here. I bet this is all because our competition started doing the same. It’s always a copycat game.
The doors opened and a human walked in from the petrol bay, lifting their sunglasses on top of their head. ‘Just paying for number two,’ they said.
I turned and looked through the window at the spacecraft parked in the second bay. It was last year’s model Mercedes. The silver colour glistened in the bright lights and towered taller than our three-storey store. I could see a pair of fluffy dice dangling in the windshield. On the side of the shaft was a promotion for a financial manager.
I pulled up their total. ‘Just four hundred and six thousand, four hundred and seventy-two dollars and twelve cents.’
‘Four hundred and six thousand, four hundred and seventy-two dollars?’ They asked gobsmacked.
‘And twelve cents.’ I made sure to smile.
They sighed and shook their head, pulling out their holographic credit card. ‘I can’t get over how expensive rocket fuel is.’
‘Well it is rocket fuel.’
They paid and left.
Although we were on the moon, we still used Earth’s twenty-four-hour time system. When the digital clock on the register ticked over to nineteen hundred, I clocked off and went in search of some shopping.
I walked through the illuminated aisles, past rows of banana flavoured salsa, chocolate corn chips, and automated microwaves that double as personal assistants. Up the escalator to the second floor revealed countless more rows of shelves. Bottles of water, bottles of salt water for the species that drink it, carbonated dragon fruit drink, dog food. And finally: oxygen.
There were all the flavours of oxygen imaginable: orange, blueberry, apple and blackcurrant, strawberries and cream, chocolate, daffodil, roses, petrol, eucalyptus. The petrol flavoured oxygen was more popular than I wanted it to be. The organic oxygen from tree farms in Italy was twice as small and cost twice as much. The cheapest stuff was the off-brand stuff and smelled like a factory. I opted for the standard flavourless oxygen.
I slapped a staff sticker over the QR code without bothering to scan it and left the store.
Author: Ella Witney is a Brisbane-based writer and poet. Currently she is studying a Bachelor of Fine Arts, majoring in Creative Writing at Queensland University of Technology and works on the content team for ScratchThat magazine. As a third-generational member of Brisbane’s folk scene and an Irish Fiddler, Ella is inspired by traditions and lore, and is always on the look-out for what can be amended to better suit modern audiences. Her works include elements of fantasy, psychological, and horror, and explores the way mental health affects individuals.
Artist: Emma Bruce is a multi-disciplinary visual artist from Yugambeh country working out of Meanjin. Her work discusses the relationship modern society has with the environment through an archival style in hopes to preserve the experience of being in the natural world. Her work hopes to invite her audience to partake in activities that nurture native flora and fauna as well as create a sense of pride to be part of it.
Editors: Bea Warren and Fernanda Bustos Venegas