Rocket Science: Chapter 9 – In denial

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The VT was playing hits of the 2670s. Chuck Marley had fallen asleep.

Gaston Dimble was relishing the opportunity to study a rare historical document. The closest he had come to anything like this was when the curator of the Cretan Museum allowed him to glance at Harvard Akbar’s geological survey, Asteroidal Tendencies, and he had accidentally sneezed on it.

But right in front of him was something older, for his eyes only. He sifted through the papers, putting them in order.

Marley snuffled when the Seven Sisters began their introduction to ‘Please Don’t Leave my Solar System’. He looked towards the floor once more at the diagrams. Then he fell asleep and dreamed of toothpaste.

Dimble was no longer sure of Leonardo’s intention. Maybe these were blueprints for a submarine before they were invented. Perhaps it was a space boat with underwater capabilities; maybe the diving apparatus doubled as an astronaut suit. He took a logical leap towards the exit, carrying the paper with him.

The door panel slid swiftly into place. Marley propped himself up, relieved.

The Seven Sisters had finished their performance. On the VT an Asiatic woman discussed the latest news: “The LOL, or Liberation of Life movement, continue to deny responsibility for recent attacks on Baconian frontier colonies, despite fresh evidence pointing to their involvement. A spokeswoman for LOL issued the following statement:

‘Never have we condoned violence as a means of restoring justice. Deliverance will come to the oppressed through class consciousness, it is inevitable.’

Newsreader: ‘But class consciousness hasn’t emerged after more than a thousand years of class struggle.

The LOL spokeswoman changed the subject: ‘We don’t have the resources to skirmish with the Baconian frontier fleet, but let me say right now: they have no right to any star system that has resources they don’t have.’

The newsreader continued: “That was a spokeswoman for LOL who chooses to remain unnamed. The Baconian ambassador to Crete has warned that his vessels will not tolerate any more interference in their planetary expeditions. They have threatened to arrest all ‘hippies’ and ‘anarchists’ in interstellar space and bill their governments for the trouble. Next we have Professor Rosenkrantz of Crete Normal University discussing the recent increase in tensions between Crete and Bacon.”

Marley pushed a button above his bed and switched the VT off. He had to rise early for the exam. He yawned loudly and told the speaker to wake him at 645 then walked to the sliding door.

As he was punching in the lockup code, Dimble bumbled in with three packages from Jinko’s Takeaway. He tripped over Marley’s foot and sent Betelgeuse Burgers, chips and gravy flying everywhere.

“Gaston, you fook!” (‘fook’ was an illegal word, censored by the Intergalactic Prudence Board. But the Intergalactic Prudence Board’s oversight only applied to Crete, much as World Series Baseball in former times only applied to North America. If Marley could get off Crete he could say fook as much as he pleased.

“There’s still leftover popcorn chicken. Look at the cleaning I have to do.”

His auto-cleaning-server had broken down from neglect. He despairingly pushed a few buttons above his bed. Four robotic claws emerged from underneath the mattress. They roamed the room, retrieved portions of the Betelgeuse Burgers and left the gherkins.

“The cleaning server’s broken, Chuck. Ever since you tried to feed it that experimental seafood pasta. I think it objected to the clams.”
“There were no clams. But that’s not the point! What am I going to do now?”
“You don’t have to do anything. I was going to celebrate.”

Comparative sizes of planets and stars
If one compares a Betelgeuse Burger to the star Betelgeuse, then compares that star to other stars, you may get a good idea of the size of the burger compared to other burgers. (Wikimedia)

Dimble breathed. “You know the diagram you thought was a spaceship. Well I think you may be right. Chuck, we may have stumbled across the most revolutionary design for…”

Marley sliced the air with his hand. “No! Here you are coming up with grandiose plans to do who knows what, and I’ve got an exam. Look, take those pages. All I wanted to know was the meaning of a few sentences.”

“And what may these sentences be?”

Marley swallowed. “Don’t tell anyone.” These words were redundant. Gaston Dimble never talked to anyone. “I had a strange experience. My PriMate delved into my unconscious and took me to a psychiatrist. In my head.”

Dimble chuckled. “Are you out of your mind?”

“I wasn’t out of my mind at all. I was in my mind. If it wasn’t for his advice, you wouldn’t be here. The counsellor spoke these sentences: ‘Sleep and you will drown. Seek and you will stumble.’ I think I get the first. If I sleep too much, people like you will come bumbling into my life spilling the entire inventory of Jinko’s, causing me to drown in mess.”

“Sounds reasonable.” Dimble was eager to be exonerated for the mess.
“But what about the other line? ‘Seek and you will stumble.’”
Dimble collected his thoughts. “A meaningless epigram designed to provoke. A zen koan exposing the futility of logical reasoning.”

Marley was not satisfied.

“Perhaps Chuck, you will never have to study again, you may even be off this planet very soon, and on your own terms. If this is a blueprint for a spacecraft,” he pointed at the diagram, “I need to do some field study, visit foreign libraries. You can go to Tebussy and sip tea if you like, or Epicurus, and do whatever it is they do on Epicurus.”

Marley began to listen, “Epicurus.” He thought better. “That’s absurd. I don’t care who that genius is, but he couldn’t know anything about space travel, five hundred years before we’d left the Earth.”
“You’re right, aren’t I silly. I’m a historian. The thought of travel…”
“To think we’re so advanced, yet so confined to our planets.”
“I’ve only left this system once in my life and I’ve never been to Knossos.”
“Why would you go to Knossos?” Knossos orbited the other brown dwarf star in the Cretan system.
“In some ways, getting to Knossos is harder than getting to Epsilon Eridani or Tau Ceti.”

Marley remembered his first year in engineering, when he only passed five of eight subjects. Propellent drives were needed to navigate solar systems; these drives were not efficient due to cumbersome braking, readjustment and gravitational calculations. As for hyperdrives, the human standard required lots of “negative energy”, which was difficult to store and usually acquired at orbital recharge stations. Baconian craft used dimensional shift, a technology not suited to human biology.

“Let’s not get carried away.” It was all starting to sound so complicated. Marley’s mind needed to know every first principle before it could understand secondary concepts. This was a great attribute in disciplined minds, but not so great in a mind whose reach exceeded its grasp.

He remembered the day he dropped out of engineering for the third year in a row. He had made the mistake of going to the Quasar Bar with Insomniac Fluton the day before his mid-semester finals. Fluton had begged him to come for one drink. One drink turned into two, two into three, three into five, then eight, thirteen. He’d finished the night with a Fateful Fibonacci. Next morning he had woken up in the tentacles of an Octomaid — that was not going to happen again. “Gaston: I’m afraid the answer is no.”

Gaston Dimble looked disappointed. He retrieved some of the papers and quietly reassembled two of the burgers.

Marley did not get back to sleep until five minutes before his alarm was due to sound. The words “Sleep and you will drown,” echoed through his head all night long.

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