Rocket Science: Chapter 6 – A short history of the Orion Arm

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He preferred to think he’d consulted a prophet, not a psychiatrist. That’s what he told Elysia in Server Assembly. She had been quite surprised how quickly he wired cords to their correct patch panels. He asked her about the final message from his psychological readout.

“It means what it says. There is no hidden meaning. If you look too hard for what you want, you will not find it.” She flicked her white Sirian hair.

This was promising…more than a one-word response.

“What about the words, ‘Sleep and you will drown’?”
“That’s easy! If you oversleep you lose motivation.” She went back to work.

Marley was not satisfied. He wished the conversation had gone on longer.

Zeen Crawdex walked up to him.
“Hello!” Zeen was in a cheerful mood, as usual.

Zeen Crawdex seemed to have an answer for everything, although often he was wrong, deliberately. He did everything except study and always achieved high marks. When Marley repeated the sentences to him, Zeen parroted them back slowly with an absurd grin: “Sleep, and you will drown!” He drew the shape of a bubble and drawled, “seek and you stumble.” Whisking his hands away from each other, bursting the bubble, he laughed and sauntered off.

Marley had no idea why Zeen was doing the course in Server Assembly. He had his own private jet, courtesy of “family connections.”

He thought of Gaston Dimble, the historian who lived next door. Dimble was easy to talk to, unlike a lot of academics. In fact you didn’t need to say anything.

He asked Dimble to the Quasar Bar but he nervously replied that he didn’t drink. He invited him for a cup of tea. Dimble excused himself, saying he was researching his third doctorate on the causes of the Exomoon Wars.

Marley despaired. How could he persuade him? There were no causes for the Exomoon Wars other than great powers running out of worlds to colonise.

Dimble’s previous conversations with Marley occurred in the food court. Always one-sided, Dimble jabbered away about the heroics of Don Bero, hero of the Exomoon Wars and maybe also the Asteroid Wars.

Abundant exomoons. Could one harbour red dust? Image by ‘Astronomo g’, an actual astronomer (Wikimedia)

Gaston Dimble was harmless, and knowledgeable. He, if anyone, might shed some light on the meaning of the bothersome epigrams.

Unlike the whimsical Zeen Crawdex, Gaston took you seriously. He took everyone seriously and everything literally. He had something to say on every subject under the suns, if you could get him away from his books. Marley thought he was mad, but as the Baconian saying goes, “There is more to a nut than its shell!”

One item might tweak Gaston’s curiosity: a manuscript in the Great Library, wedged between two electronic book readers. While looking up every subject except what he should be studying, Marley had noticed it, two inches thick, bound with string. On the vellum cover was a circle of symbols, like animal icons.

At the entrance to the library, on the frieze now before him, were similar symbols.

For some reason he remembered his youthful idealism when he had toyed with joining LOL, the underground collective. Its origins, its leader, its headquarters: unknown. Its sole purpose: afford all races dignity. He shouldn’t have mentioned LOL to Olan. She literally gave herself a stomach cramp laughing.

Sculpted on the library frieze were pioneers and astronomers: Tobias Sheldon, his arm raised towards the sky, on his palm resting the first inhabitable world sighted from Earth using really powerful glasses. Captain Harvard Akbar, leader of the first expedition to the third-closest star to Sol, Wolf 359 — Captain Akbar found nothing but a small red sun surrounded by three dead rocks. He planted a flag on each of these rocks, claiming them as his own.

Astride a pillar atop the frieze was Earthling Overlord Salman Manfred, financier of many technologies, including the alarm clock with advanced AI (the Great Library rented space to Manfred after being defunded by the Cretan government). On either side of the Overlord other flags fluttered in a breeze that could not be felt.

Crete 581d, a rocky planet the size of Mars, drew its energy from wind, geothermal and hydrogen extraction from the brown dwarf Luhman 16A. The structures and satellites on and around Crete supported 5 billion people, roughly the same still remaining on an Earth barely clinging to existence following the great climate catastrophe.

Crete did economic heavy lifting although Earth had the prestige. In just over 500 years since its founding, Crete had developed into a complex society despite its unbreathable atmosphere. Business was conducted from towers, self-repairing domes and subterranean bunkers.

Another one billion humans had forsaken the human alliance of Earth, Crete, Sirius and Proxima Centauri for Betelgeuse, linked by ancient (and not fully understood) wormhole tech from an unknown race known merely as the “Predecessors”.

The Betelgeusian flag was ovular, orange with a deep red centre. The Betelgeusians declared their independence after the Asteroid Wars. They controlled all access to the Wormhole, which connected with Sirius. The Wormhole was heavily guarded despite the League of Worlds declaring it the property of all species . Tensions regularly flared up with the Baconians ever ready to exploit mistrust on both sides.

Marley had never met a Betelgeusian, although he had eaten many Betelgeuse Burgers from Jinko’s Takeaway. But Jinko’s had nothing to do with Betelgeuse.

There were quite a few Sirians on Crete. Their flag: a collection of blue stars on a grey background (shaped like a dog’s head). Centuries of radiation from Sirius A and B had altered their DNA. Some argued that there was no such thing as a pure Sirian due to constant fluctuations in their genetic code.

The flag of the Nunchians of Foon idealised a Nunchian male with flowing locks and folded arms, leaning on what looked like an olive tree. Marley wasn’t sure why this flag was here. There were hardly any Nunchians on Crete. They preferred not to mix with other species, even holding them in contempt.

Species newly incorporated into the Orion Arm Collective, like the Zorgons, didn’t have a flag. As for the sentient snails, communication on a sensible level had not been established. One of the great debates of the age was whether the snails were sentient.

Jovian Jellyfish had been petitioning for a presence at the Great Library for hundreds of years. But the library had refused their application as the Jovians demanded a fountain instead of a flag. Despite being carried around in tanks, Jovian Jellyfish need no affirmative action. Most specialised in law, and there were also Jovian accountants and quantum physicists.

As for the Baconians (humanity’s rivals in the Orion Arm), the Cretan government threatened to withdraw more funding from the universities and urged them not to accept any more Baconian Institutes on their campuses.

The flag of Crete 581d flew in the centre: two brown balls held together with a black ribbon.

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