He had always found the Baconians a little scary. Tall and slender with deep black angular eyes, eerily similar to aliens of humanity’s imagination before first contact. And just like the idea of aliens in early Earthling pop culture, many walked around naked.
Chuck Marley turned away from the observation bubble just as a Baconian tour group appeared around the corner, bald heads bobbing about this way and that. He prodded Milton Moszkowski.
They followed a few metres behind the group. The leader wore a skullcap upon which a bauble attached to a wire wobbled back and forth as she walked. She spoke into a handheld microphone and some of the Baconians nodded slowly while others ignored her.
“So much for the Fermi Paradox,” said Marley.
“They almost destroyed their own planet too.”
The Baconian tour group split into two. Half of them entered a gift shop, the other half walked into a nearby nature reserve simulating early Earth environments.
Moszkowski and Marley walked on in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. Tourist shops and observation bubbles were replaced by mechanics’ workshops, metal foundries, 3D printing labs and electronic component stores. It was more cost-effective to manufacture many materials in space.
Up ahead a flashing bulb-lit sign drew attention through its sheer tackiness when compared with the more professional shopfronts.
As they drew closer, three words flashed one after another in downward sequence.
‘Spare Space Parts’ looked out of place among the tidier and more professional shopfronts. Chaos reigned inside the store, but not of people. Disassembled maintenance droids waved their arms about; telescopes pointed the wrong way; in the empty space outside, satellite modules and escape pods attached to tethers were also for sale.
“Glad we didn’t bring Gaston,” said Marley, “We wouldn’t have been able to drag him away from this place.
Moszkowski retracted his walking stick. “I’m sure he’d remind us that rare artefacts can turn up anywhere.”
“What’s this?” Marley took a rusting silver cup from a shelf and turned it in his hands.
A figure slid out from a crevice in the wall. It flung itself past Marley and whisked the cup out of his hands.
“This is the Holy Grail.”
Marley was face to face with a Fooolzian, a supple race from the moon Khanak in the Procyon system. Fooolzians were flexible, both in body and mind. First contact was made by the Baconians of Delta Pavonis relatively recently – 2740. But the Fooolzians who did venture forth preferred the company of humans, if they preferred any company at all. They were also known to be harmless tricksters.
“The Holy Grail?” The Arthurian Chronicles had interested Marley as a teenager, but he had never understood why the women made the knights work so hard to save them. He shrugged his shoulders and took another item off a nearby shelf, a digital gyroscope, probably extracted from the mechanism of a decommissioned ion thruster.
The Fooolzian performed a somersault followed by a forward roll before snatching the gyroscope out of Marley’s hands.
“Antique gyroscope from primitive Alcubierre-Frome-Kaku warp drive. Works no more.”
“Elegant tech,” said Moszkowski. “Could sit on my desk. How much are you asking for?”
After briefly looking at Moszkowski the shopkeeper pulled a calculator from his sleeve and tapped a few digits.
“1,200 elon.” He slipped it back on the shelf. “Want the latest flight stick? Have a look around.””
Marley did not see any flight sticks amongst the endless stacks of circuit boards, cooling fans, scanners and radio dishes.
“200 for the gyroscope,” said Moszkowski.
The Fooolzian jumped in the air. “Who do you take me for? 400 elon.”
“Deal.” Moszkowski and the Fooolzian tapped wrists and the transfer was complete.
Marley noticed the flashing badge the shopkeeper wore that imitated the sign outside. In soft blue underneath glowed the name Doooki.
“Doooki, I’ve never seen such an assortment of things, things and more things in my life. Selling these pays the rent up here?”
Doooki twisted his head 180 degrees then back again and clicked his neck. “Don’t remind me. I make ends meet.” Doooki retrieved two wires connected to a capacitor and thrust them together. Electricity sparked and hissed.
Marley jumped back.
“Antique capacitor from the electronics bay of a V-Class Centauran Inspector.” He pushed the two wires together creating more sparks.
“Not what I’m after,” said Marley, “But I’ll invite you to my next party.” He started to head to the door. Doooki leaped in front of Marley with one bound. “I have much more. Don’t leave yet.” His Fooolzian flexibility made him both a versatile mechanic and saleman.
“This is your lucky day, I received things yesterday. New things!”
Marley heard a crash from a far corner. A door forced itself open and a pile of Doooki’s newly acquired wares spilt out into the room. It was quickly followed by an awkward configuration of robotic arms trying to order the items.
“Still to sort everything for display. Just received.”
Nothing in Spare Space Parts looked sorted to Marley.
Doooki stepped in front of the mess and gestured at another shelf. “I have many flight sticks here, all the latest with many buttons.”
They looked exactly the same to Marley as the elaborate game controllers he used in deep space simulators.
“I don’t have a ship. Why would I need a flight stick?”
“You’ll have a ship one day. Better buy the flight stick now.”
“If I ever buy a ship, I’m sure it’ll come with mechanisms of control.”
“Who knows?” said Mozskowski. He had been looking at a bunch of system bios launch modules. Now he absently wandered over to a box of electronic components. He ran his hand through them as if they were grains of sand on a beach.
Doooki’s head quickly switched between Moszkowski and Marley, keeping an eye on both customers. If he was this vigilant, Marley wondered how rapidly the Fooolzian’s head would twitch should more customers enter. He further speculated what Doooki was doing here. There weren’t many Fooolzians on Crete, and this was the only one he had seen so far at the Cretan Eye.
He asked casually, “Last time I was here I didn’t see this shop. Spare Space Parts is just what the Cretan Eye needs.”
“I expand soon. Already am acquiring second-hand satellites, exotic metals and more advanced robotics.”
The robotic arms hanging from the ceiling and protruding from the walls didn’t seem very advanced to Marley.
“Much of this stuff still in disassembled state. Soon you will see robots.”
A robotic torso lit up and fell from the shelf. It vibrated on the floor. Doooki pushed a button on its shoulder and returned it to its original spot.
“Arrived only a year ago. Too much more stuff keeps getting adding to stuff.”
Marley was having difficulty understanding Doooki’s Galactic Standard. “You arrived only a year ago, or that robotic torso?”
“I Doooki, Fooolzian from the moon Khanak, arrived a year ago.”
A copper coloured leg lying on the floor started flexing its knee. Doooki kicked it aside.
“Buy stuff while business is good.”
“Then you won’t be leaving any time soon.”
“This station above your planet,” he waved his arms in the air, “my new home.”
“Don’t you miss Khanak?”
“Khanak nice place, but not for me. Khanak have nice yellow clouds, but I prefer pink clouds.”
“The clouds aren’t very pink on Crete. I would say they’re more greenish. Anyway, you’re all the way up here.”
“Sunrise, sunset four times a day. A Cretan day – 20 hours long. The Cretan Eye performs four orbits of Crete a day.” Doooki spun around four times. “I see three sunrise, three sunset, every five hours.”
From a draw he retrieved an electronic abacus to check the calculations. Marley tried to do them manually in his head: “Cretan day: 20 hours, sunrise at 0, sunset at 4, sunrise at 8, sunset at 12…
His thoughts were interrupted by Moszkowksi placing a handful of microchips on the counter. “I’ll take these. And what’s that, an electronic abacus?”
Doooki juggled it then extended his arm. “Buy three, get one free.”
“Why would he need three abacuses?” said Marley, using the plural term of abacus as used in Standard Galactic.
“These abaci,” said Doooki showing he wasn’t completely ignorant of Standard Galactic Standard, “may be wired together. More complex calculations can compute.”
“Like how many Fooolzians does it take to change a lightbulb?” Marley tried not to smile.
“How many?” said Doooki. He frantically began flicking the four abaci in search of an answer.
“My friend here,” said Moszkowksi, “is having you on. There is no answer to that question.”
Doooki continued to flick. He wired together another two abaci. “If Fooolzian population is 300,000,000 and there is one lightbulb.” He stopped. “What is the wattage of the bulb?”
“I’ll take two electronic abaci,” said Moszkowski.
“Two is 600 elon. Good abaci. Manufactured on Songtang.” The planet Songtang had been settled by the Chinese in 2330 and was known for its lean production processes and nanotechnology.
“200 hundred elon for three,” said Moszkowski.
“These were delivered from Kapteyn’s Star only a month ago. Now with cosmic ray panels so you’re always charged, even in deep space. 300 elon for three.”
“Deal.” Moszkowksi and Doooki tapped wrists again.
Marley addressed Moszkoswksi: “Professor, was engineering all you studied?” He said to Doooki: “I didn’t know he drove such a good bargain.”
“Engineering requires diplomacy,” said Moszkowski, “Especially when you’re dealing with physicists.” He wagged his finger at Doooki: “Your inflationary tactics are better directed at non-Cretan customers.”
“Thank you sir. You help me, I help you.” Doooki bowed so low so that his head touched his feet.
He sprang up. One of several clocks on his desk sounded. He sorted through the analogue and digital clocks until he found the one that was ringing. He slapped it off.
“Time for third sunset!” With Fooolzian flexibility he jumped over the desk and with five skips was at the observation window.