“I’ve already made some of my calamari gumbo. Here, try a bite. Truth told, it’s based on an Asari recipe. Seems a little cannibalistic to me, what with their tentacle heads and all. But they know good grub.” — Mess Hall Sergeant Gardner, Mass Effect 2 (2010).
The Nexus Point.
If you’ve been to an airport in the last ten years, then you can already surmise where this is going. If you haven’t been to one in a while, allow me to set the scene:
When you step into an airport — maybe on a busy weekend or holiday — the place bustles with human activity. Most people are trying to catch their flights while others are hanging out in lounge or waiting through a layover. Others still are at the food court getting something to eat while a staff composed of clerks, cashiers, security, and operations managers are busy trying to direct traffic and solve problems as they arrive. It is a facility operating on a 24/7 basis; the entire machine threatens to deteriorate if one wrench gets thrown out of the loop. A delayed flight or power outage can lead to a domino effect of customer dissatisfaction and thousands of dollars lost.
There’s something to be said for people watching;You usually get people from all parts of the world coming to and from your major international airports. If you’re lucky you may strike up a conversation with somebody and learn something new; novelist Walter Kim’s book Up in the Air (2001) has the main character operate out of an almost borderline obsession with meeting new people and places in what he calls ‘airworld.’ (This would later be adapted as a film of the same name in 2009 staring George Clooney with a few key differences; notably absent is the main character’s obsession with such a world). With these types of environments in mind, it can almost serve as a 21st Century menagerie of both international-relations and technology colliding together.
But what about in a hopefully-not-so-fictional future?
What if hundreds of years from now — or thousands, who knows how long it may take — there exists a place like an airport but on a galactic scale. Let’s just say — for the sake of the argument only — that we can make ships travel at light-speed and the reaches outside the Milky-Way are at our fingertips. What if we find — or help create — space-stations that will serve a purpose like how airports serve the one for travel?
And if they did exist, what exactly would they hold inside?
An Alien Food-Court.
Can you imagine how insane this would be? Each intergalactic space-station-restaurant would have to have a record not only of species’ diets but any possible food allergies as well. Imagine you’re milling about through the buffet line and you see a marketplace containing plants and creatures you never would’ve eaten in your wildest dreams — some side-orders might be dead or they might be alive. It’d be an absolute nightmare trying to find a dietary collection suitable for every civilized species to consume.
To combat this, a digital menu would have to be created; this menu would not only have to be capable to showcase items in multiple languages but also tell consumers what is readily available or in stock. Since this is an intergalactic space-station, food-courts will have to rely on ingredients being shipped from their distributors. This in turn will likely have some dishes marked as ‘regular’ or ‘seasonal’ depending on how the years are measured.
If a pantheon of ‘alien food’ is reached, there’s no telling what kind of bizarre plates the cooks would be responsible for preparing, let alone keeping from spoilage. And speaking of cooks trying to work together in the same space…
A Universal Translator That Actually Works.
Let’s be honest — most translation software and communicators are rudimentary. While developments are getting better by the decade, the apps most commonly found on a phone or computer leave a lot to be desired. There’s nothing more deflating than trying to use translation software on your phone in a foreign country and you end up asking the poor native ‘why they killed their mother’ instead of ‘where the restroom is’. You know, the classic ‘comedy of errors’ but with a sick, international twist.
Although products developed by startups like Waverly Labs are slowly eroding the grounds where most language barriers arrive, there are still kinks to be worked out with grammar, tense, and context. An app or earpiece cannot always translate the exact word you want to use, nor can it substitute for cultural learning; those are things that process on a gradual, learned basis by learning things the old-fashioned-way.
Because of this — assuming this wondrous, hopefully-not-science-fiction-setting takes place — there may be a breadth of personal translators in addition to software. Assuming such a futuristic place would have a digital currency exchange, creatures speaking multiple languages may be needed if room-and-board services are also provided. And speaking of room-and-board services…
Multiple Businesses Vying for Consumer Attention.
Think of the retail businesses you see in an airport — everything from an abbreviated newsstand/book store to tourist-traps selling knick-knacks. Regardless if the space station is orbiting a star or a planet, watching intergalactic-businesses battle for travelers’ paychecks would be a thing of entrepreneurial beauty. This could run the gamut of chain-fast-food-restaurants to even equipment services like packs and whatever strange tech-gear may be available (…intergalactic-language-translators…anyone?).
Keeping up with the digital age, there will be a lounge area where travelers can keep up with the local news from their home planet. These products and services would do more than help make travelers feel at home…they would help establish loyalty for brands everywhere.
Let’s also be honest about another thing — this article is a little silly. It not only requires a belief that there are civilizations equivalent in intelligence and capability, but also that there are multiple habitable planets where this could take place. It also assumes that near-faster-than light travel becomes reliable and cheap enough to shuttle people around from one galaxy to another in reasonable time-frames. As this whole thesis stands, it most certainly operates out of a love for not only science-fiction but fantasy as well.
One thing will be true however:
If a foolproof intergalactic-language-translator is invented, whoever owns the company could probably buy multiple space-stations…
…and have complete control of whatever food-court-combination tickles their taste buds — or wallet — the most.
For the sake of all that is good and holy…may no alien race be allergic to chicken tenders.