Rocket Science: Chapter 18 – Second hand satellites

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“Go and have a look,” said Moszkowski. “It’s a sight not to be missed.” He extended his cane and started prodding through the pile of circuit boards that had tumbled from the storage room.

Marley joined Doooki at the window.

The Fooolzian pressed himself against it, hands splayed against the glass. Crete orbited at 0.1 AU, or about a tenth the distance from its host star, Luhman 16A, as the Earth from the sun.

“This will be a double sunrise,” said Doooki. “Luhman B is right behind it.” Luhman 16B was also a brown dwarf and both were barely 30 times the mass of Jupiter. Crete, as one of humanity’s earliest exo-colonies, had grown from frontier settlement to one of the important trade and transportation hubs in the Orion Arm.

As the Luhman twins rose above the horizon of Crete, the twinkling sun of the Earth set below the opposite horizon. A squad of five Cretan Gunships cruised westward. Three Commodore G-Fighters escorted the Gunships from a distance, reminding Marley that without Crete, and to a lesser degree Alpha and Proxima Centauri, the Earth would not be able to fend for itself. This applied to matters both economic and military.

Doooki was also watching the patrol boats. But he pivoted quickly as soon as the deep orange glow of Luhman 16A pierced the outline of the thin Cretan atmosphere below. He bounced on his tiptoes excitedly.

The sight was admittedly impressive to Marley, dispelling the cloud of cynicism that had enveloped him lately. Doooki flung his left arm behind him and retrieved what looked to be two ordinary pairs of sunglasses.

“Sun not bright,” said Doooki, “Precaution only.”

Marley put on the grey glasses. He noted his reflection in the observation window. The glasses quite suited him.

Luhman 16A was a quarter above the horizon and rising rapidly. It was hard to know what to look at, the Alpha-Centauri system setting after Earth, the Cretan defence squadron drifting in the space above, or the shiny brown-orange ball that was Luhman 16A.

Doooki’s thin flexible body stretched sideways and upwards as he tried to get a better view of the sunrise. The network of blue veins on his arms and legs expanded. He seemed to be expending an awful amount of energy to get a slightly better view.

What was spectacular became amazing as soon as Luhman B began its rise over Luhman A, which was now detaching itself from Crete and floating freely in the sky.

Just as Marley’s jaw was beginning to drop in awe, his flablet vibrated. His PriMate reminded him to take his blue pill. He had not brought one with him. The sight of the double sunrise had already lifted his spirits more than the prescribed psychosubstance. He would take it when he got home and enjoy this moment of clarity.

“Remarkable,” said Doooki.

Moszkowksi had joined them. “And now for the pièce de résistance.” He squinted at the suns, not bothering with glasses. The luminosity of Luhman 16A and 16B would only affect human vision if stared at for longer than 30 minutes. Marley conjectured that Fooolzian retina were more sensitive than human, hence Doooki’s precaution.

“5, 4, 3, 2, 1 …” Moszkowski pointed.

Doooki and Marley looked in the direction of Moszkowski’s fingertip. To right of Luhman A, another body slid into view. Viewed from the Cretan Eye, at only 3AU distant, the gas giant Seth was the size of a penny and to a casual observer could be mistaken for a moon of Crete. The moons of Seth, conveniently close to Crete, provided much of the system’s energy and resource needs.

The light of the two brown dwarfs could be felt as a faint tingling on the skin.

A brown dwarf, much like the Luhman brothers, innocently spinning

Doooki whisked off his sunglasses and threw them into a box of capacitors.

“Show is over. Must tidy must sell.”

As far as Marley was concerned the show was just beginning. The light from the suns illuminated a non-electronic sign that seemed to be hovering in free space by some floating machinery a hundred metres from the window. By squinting Marley could make out that the sign read, “Second Hand Satellites.”

“Let’s check these out,” he said to Moszkowksi.

Doooki skidded back to the window on his flat feet.

“Mine too. So cheap, almost pay you to take them.” Doooki had actually been paid to host them in his orbital space. Disused satellites floating around Crete were a major issue and the government offered incentives to anyone willing to take them off their hands.

Marley could not think what he would do with a satellite. But he would let Manager Baines know that the option was available so he could feedback more business ideas. Insomniac Fluton might also be interested in something that could provide accurate geo-location data for FaceMash.

The collection of satellites varied from the size of a football to the size of Marley’s and Gaston’s living quarters combined.

“If you don’t want an entire satellite, I can strip for parts.”

Not all the parts looked functional to Marley. But the twisted antennas and cracked solar panels could be refurbished.

One the larger objects was spinning stationary in space along the axis of its fuselage. After several rotations the extraordinary happened. The object, which looked like two cargo containers attached together, lurched upwards and flipped over the axis it was spinning on. It then settled and resumed spinning along the original axis of rotation, but was now facing the opposite direction.

Marley now saw that attached to the rear of the previously hidden segment were three bell nozzles in triangular formation. He could not think why a cargo container would have bell nozzles. It was much easier to haul cargo through space than propel it to its destination with rocket engines.

Which meant that he was looking at a ship. As he was trying to work out if he had seen a ship like this, it once again pivoted over the axis of rotation. The front end was facing them again.

“Does any of this stuff work?” asked Marley.

“All works,” said Doooki. “But may need more work to work perfectly.”

“I do know someone who might have need of a satellite,” said Marley thinking of Fluton. “He might not be coming up here anytime soon though.”

“That’s ok,” said Doooki. “He can call.” The Fooolzian pressed a power button on a nearby monitor. The screen flickered on, followed by a succession of screens above and below it. “Video link.”

Marley looked at the ceiling and corners of the shop. “Looks like you’ve got the whole area covered.” He pointed at a couple of cameras. One turned to focus on him and he saw his image reproduced on a monitor.

“I sell on the multiwebs.” Doooki clicked his long fingers and thumb.

“Good for you,” said Marley. He could see that Doooki was proud of his expanding business. “My friend will give you a call.”

Moszkowski had finished looking through the piles of circuitboards, cartons of capacitors, boxes of batteries and now rejoined them.

He immediately asked Doooki, “What is a cargo container doing with bell nozzles?”

Doooki looked a little hurt. “That’s my ship. Was my ship.”

“You came all the way from Khanak in that?”

“I did.” Doooki bent his knees then stood erect, a Fooolzian way of being defensive.

“It’s getting stripped down for parts too is it?” said Marley.

“Maybe, no parts bought yet. Everything still working.”

“Everything? Why are you getting rid of it?”

“Doooki don’t need ship no more. Doooki stay here.” His nose wiggled as if sniffing around for someone who might deport him.

“If you came here in this,” said Marley, “then it has a hyperdrive.”

“Burnt out,” said Doooki. “Core exhausted. Guaranteed not to work. Everything else guaranteed.”

“I would need to know what everything else is before purchasing it,” said Moszkowski.

“Don’t tease him,” said Marley.

“I’m genuinely interested. We don’t have this class of ship in our faculty. All our demonstration models are Vulcan F7s. Nifty little craft. Good for a joyride to Luhman B but can’t get much further than that. A cargo privateer vessel would be perfect to explore more complicated mass-fuel ratio configurations.”

Doooki started oscillating up and down on his flat feet. “Yes, very solid craft, modular design, can add further cargo containers. For one million elon I include truss extender for free. So you attach more boxes.”

Moszkowski thought about this for a moment. He half extended his cane and traced the outline of the ship. “Thirty by ten metres comprised of two main modules. Flight deck and cabin 10x10x5m, cargo 20x15x10m. A bit of a squeeze.”

“But expandable with truss beam. Attach and haul as much as you like.”

Marley noted the spherical bulge between the cabin and cargo decks. “The decommissioned hyperdrive unit would add considerable weight.”

“Thanks for pointing that out,” said Mozskowski.

“Cleaned of dark energy contaminants,” said Doooki, scrubbing the window with his suction-tipped fingers.

“Still, seems like unnecessary bulk. A million elon is asking too much. While the Department of Engineering could use an entry level cargo class ship like this, we’d have to run a full diagnostics rundown, find suitable mooring space.”

“You can park here,” said Doooki.

Marley and Moszkowski laughed. Doooki quickly joined them.

“Right purchase for right person,” said Doooki

It seemed the negotiations had become somewhat of a farce; whether they were ever serious from the beginning was open to question.

Marley couldn’t resist trying a little of Moszkowski’s Fooolzian negotiation tactics. They seemed better than anything taught in Interspecies Liaison.

“With the added bulk of the disused hyperdrive I honestly don’t think we could take this off your hands for more than 200,000 elon.” He looked at Moszkowski, who gave him a slight nod.

Doooki looked pained. His rubbery head wiggled back and forth. “But free parking, extra truss beam.”

The rotating ship performed another flip on its axis.

“I’m not good at parking,” said Doooki, backing himself up against the window.

“300,000 elon,” said Moszkowski.

“Deal,” said Doooki.

And the deal was closed before Marley could blink and assess what had happened.

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