When the alarm went off Marley pushed the snooze button. The alarm buzzed half an hour later. Again Marley pushed snooze. One of the great advantages of modern technology was its adaptability. On the verge of the third millennium alarm clocks were installed with memory chips, so after about two weeks your bedside clock knew exactly how many times you pushed the snooze button before getting irritated and pulling the blanket over your head. Marley’s clock promptly gave up. It tucked him in bed with its snooze arm and decided to try again in two hours.
Unfortunately the alarm clock had decided that at the fifth wake-up call the alarm was to play ambient music. The AI reasoned that if the human had pushed snooze this many times there was no reason for its being.
The AI prevaricated, then decided to try one more time. Marley pushed the sleep button and began dreaming that he was getting out of bed. Five minutes later he came to his senses when he discovered he was walking out the door half-naked. An Octomaid, possibly one who had given him a lovebite, was eyeing him in his boxer shorts. Marley grimaced, punched in his code and rushed back inside.
It was 1145. His examination began at 1200. “What can I do,” he said rhetorically, because there was probably nothing he could do. He had meant to spend the morning revising. Now it looked like he would miss the exam entirely.
He resolutely decided to try his best. He had reliable information that today’s IT Support test subject was a Sentient Snail. Thinking optimistically, it should take a long time getting there.
He packed his bag, grabbed his papers, threw them in, put some clothes on, and ran to the monorail. The monorail was early by two seconds. “No worries, Chuck”, he said to himself, “I’ll wait for the next one.” His plastic watch said 1201.
The next monorail came, twenty minutes late. Marley calmly sat down. “Now all you have to do with a Sentient Snail,” he thought, “is make no fast movements. That’s not difficult.” The monorail, after waiting behind a freight-rail for fifteen minutes, arrived at the Test Centre. He dashed out.
He ran through corridor upon corridor, down some stairs to room B337-F56. The watch said 1242.
He found his way to the room, stood outside the door and composed himself. “Snails are easy,” he reassured himself. There was no slimy trail outside the door. “Yes, I knew it. It isn’t even here yet.”
He opened the door in a positive frame of mind to attempt the final module on Interspecies Liaison for IT Support Specialists.
A few pupils were picking up their papers and others were queuing, handing them back to the Test Officer. His heart missed a beat. Then it beat rapidly. He quickly walked over and asked someone why the test had already finished. It wasn’t a Sentient Snail. It was a Cybernetic Spider. And it had left five minutes ago after malfunctioning and stinging Zeen along with three other pupils. The exam would be held again in another two weeks.
There was Zeen, on the floor drooling. Marley experienced a dash of schadenfreude. The infallible Zeen had failed, for once. His face was yellow, he foamed at the mouth and was writhing in pain, waiting for the Test Officer to supply him with a venom neutraliser.
Marley remembered that it was Zeen Crawdex who had said the subject was going to be a snail. He walked sternly across the room and stood over his pale, foaming misinformer.
“I don’t know why I feel sorry for you.”
“Forgive me, Marley.”
“Why did you even do the test? You don’t even need to be here. You’re rich, you can go anywhere you want.”
“Not always.” Zeen repeated this several times before fainting.
Marley walked away.
Marley knocked seven times on Gaston Dimble’s door before he heard shuffling inside. He stood outside, waited, then barged in uninvited.
“Gaston. I’ve had enough. I missed today’s test, but it was postponed anyway. I think it’s a sign.”
Dimble waited for him to finish.
“Have you got those papers? The one with the submarine spaceship?”
Dimble had been having second thoughts. All those years in academia had instilled in him the need for historical integrity and the integrity of the historian. Besides, he would never be able to research without the availability of research materials. “Chuck, we should give these papers back to the Viscount à la Carte. He’ll miss them.”
“No. No! We – I – found the papers, loose and unattended. They were obviously not wanted where they were. We can sell the manuscript.it.”
“The Viscount will find us. How can we sell it?”
“Find two non-entities like us?”
Dimble was silent.
Marley looked around Dimble’s room. V-books beeped, old gadgets ticked, mobiles of interplanetary systems hung from the ceiling. Marley grabbed the paper, turned it upside down, left and right, back to front. “Then…we can build a ship.”
“What? You and me? Build a spaceship? With the combined effort of two individuals, not allowing for mishaps and bad bone marrow, it would take us, roughly, two thousand, seven hundred and eighteen years, thirty-three days, and…”
“Zeen’s got a spaceship. You can get anything these days.”
“Zeen Crawdex? The Crawdex family gets its wealth from investments on Knossos. I’ve never owned a ship. I’ve never owned a hovercar. They’re a luxury item for most.”
“But you’ve got an electric bike.”
“I never ride it.”
Looking at Gaston’s stout frame, Marley saw that this was obvious.
“Why don’t we get a loan?”
Dimble sucked in his breath.
“Why don’t I get a loan? What have I got to lose? Only entrepreneurs succeed, and we live in an environment where this may be possible. There are any number of things we can trade. I’ve heard there’s a sudden spike in demand for fresh American tomatoes.”
“Fresh American tomatoes? Why fresh American tomatoes? I can think of seven better things to trade.”
“I merely used fresh American tomatoes as an example. We could ship spices from Tebussy to Foon, or trade electrical components between Crete and Knossos.”
Gaston swallowed and trembled. He rolled his head as if teetering between yes and no. Finally, he said: “This is a far-fetched idea. Anything could go wrong. Anything could happen. For all we know this spaceship isn’t buildable.”
“I wasn’t thinking of building this ship.” Marley pointed to the manuscript lying on the table next to a takeaway food box. “I was thinking of hiring an off-the-shelf corvette. But now that you mention it, do those diagrams make any sense?”
“I know about archaic engineering methods, but I’m no engineer. Far from it. Besides, this craft was designed over a thousand years ago. What are the chances it’ll fly? It might not even be a craft. It might just be a tube of toothpaste.”
“Let’s use it as inspiration. There’s other stuff in that manuscript. A thousand years ago amateurs began assembling their own computers. Vehicle customisation was also common. Today people assemble anything. ”
Marley realised that he hadn’t talked this much in weeks.
Dimble licked his lips. “I’m not convinced we have the organisational capacity.”
“Let’s not get down on ourselves.” Marley slapped Dimble on the back, a little too hard. Dimble coughed the faintest of agreements.
Marley wasn’t entirely sure where this was headed, but backing out seemed worse.