Rocket Science: Chapter 19 – Cuthbert the Mutant Camel

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Moszkowksi placed his bag of the day’s purchases on the floor and pressed a button on his wristwatch. “I can only give you 50,000 elon now, I am over the day’s limit.” He offered his wrist.

Doooki wasted no time accepting the exchange.

“Congratulations,” said Doooki, “Whether you strip it or fly it, it will not regret it.”

The craft flipped on its access again, showing the rear thrusters. “First we’ll have to stabilise it,” said Moszkowski.

“This ship, if I remember correctly,” said Marley, “is flipping due to instability around the intermediate axis. I never understood this. There’s much in engineering that’s simply beyond my grasp.”

“Really?” said Moszkowski. “You’re too hard on yourself. It’s not intuitive to visualise. You gave up too easily.”

Marley had always been impatient to understand things. Not understanding things always deflated his worth. And in pressure situations, it made him panic.

Moszkowski saw his shoulders slumping. “I’m sure it wasn’t just your inability to conceptualise the Euler equations.” He briefly placed a hand on Marley’s shoulder. “Here’s your chance to solve them with a real world example.”

Marley looked at the slowly revolving ship that Moszkowski had just bought, seemingly on a whim. It was not the type of ship to take a girl on a date in. But if you found a couple of profitable trade routes, you might eventually make enough to afford a ship you could take a girl on a date in.

Moszkowski was grinning from ear to ear, almost laughing at himself.

“You just bought a ship,” said Marley, “I’m jealous. That’s half the reason I came here. Not to buy a ship, but to at least consider the possibility. You’ve gone ahead and done it.”

“If you’d asked me at the beginning of the day whether I’d own a trawler manufactured by Fooolzians, who only learnt the art of spaceflight recently – from us – then I’d have asked my PriMate to check my medication.”

“You’re not going to strip it for parts are you? Let’s take it for a test.”

Doooki leaned in. “It’s ready to fly.”

“Not exactly,” said Moszkowski, “at the very least it needs stabilising.” The craft performed another flip. “We need to conduct all necessary system checks. I trust my deposit will allow us the time to do so.”

“Of course!” Doooki grabbed three cables and plugged them into various outlets. A bank of six monitors flared up. A seventh briefly flickered on then switched off. Doooki sheepishly moved in front of it.

“You have full access to all system checks and condition reports. You can conduct them from here or from the surface.” He handed Moszkowski a thumb drive. “This will grant you encrypted entry to my array here from any terminal on Crete.”

Moszkowski placed the key in Marley’s palm. “Feel what it’s like to own a ship!”

Marley looked at the thumb drive. It was warm in his hand and a blue light on its end flashed intermittently.

“If you work out the exact force vectors needed to balance the ship, I’ll give you the cabin.”

“Then I’ll own half a ship,” said Marley.

“The beautiful thing about this design, is you can fly the cabin by itself.”

Marley looked at the two small ion thrusters protruding from the front wings. “It would be like a box flying through space.”

“Not very manoeuvrable and slow acceleration. But you could get to Barnard’s Star in seven years if you really wanted to. No hyperdrive required.” Moszkowski’s belly was jiggling.

“You’re so cruel, Professor. You know I’ll never solve the problem of intermediate axis rotation. And even if I did, spending years in a box flying through empty space is not what I have a mind to do, at least not yet.”

“Don’t give up so easily.” This time he left his palm on Marley’s shoulder.

The sound of many pattering feet approached. Doooki sprang to attention and wiggled a pointy ear. He leaped to the entrance and peered down the walkway. Then he flung himself back inside and began hopelessly rearranging his merchandise.

“Baconians are coming! Could be customers.”

The leader of the Baconian tour group continued walking by Spare Space Parts, beckoning the tour group onwards. The tour group followed behind, until one broke off and looked inside Doooki’s shop. Another paused to look inside too, then they both entered.

This caused a chain reaction. Soon most of the Baconian tour group had entered the shop, leaving the leader standing with hands on hips while the bauble on her skull cap emitted a faint alarm.

Within no time, Doooki, Marley and Moszkowski were surrounded by Baconians. Some were pale skinned, others grey or light yellow. The shorter ones were probably children and most were wearing clothes.

All the Baconians had one thing in common: bulbous black elliptical eyes which slanted towards an almost non-existent nose at a thirty-degree angle. Around their small mouths each wore a small filter-mask to compensate for the differing amounts of nitrogen and oxygen in their atmosphere.

The tour guide reluctantly gave up trying to control the group and entered the store. Doooki looked on in desperation as some of the Baconians unwound wires and put them back in a tangle. Two of them started spinning the wheel of a dynamo until it sparked. Another was trying to prove his strength to his companion by bending a metal pole.

Doooki ran around the room putting misplaced items back in their original haphazard positions. The speed with which he sorted while at the same time trying to sell could not be processed by human vision.

A tall Baconian reached for a telescope on a top shelf and fumbled it. It rolled off to the floor.

Doooki yelped. “Now you must buy.”

The Baconian placed a pile of bacoins on a nearby bench and continued rummaging.

Doooki looked at the pile. “You can’t pay with bacoins. I not go to Delta Pavonis to use bacoins.”

Marley picked up a coin. They were silver with a green alien head on one side and a star system on the other. “The bacoin to elon exchange rate has gone up five per cent in the last week.”

“What?” Doooki quickly wrapped his arms around the pile of coins. He shoved them in a box and placed another box on top of it. He ran around ushering customers. “Buy or break, buy or break. If break you buy. Bacoin payments accepted.”

The tour guide tapped Doooki on the shoulder apologetically. “Please forgive my group. Especially the ones from South Bacon – they’ve never travelled before.” The tour guide spoke perfect Standard Galactic Standard with a Baconian accent, meaning it sounded like she was speaking underwater.

Marley and Moszkowski left Doooki to deal with the customers and strode out into the never-ending walkway. They had almost made a full circuit when they came across another tourist shop.

“We can’t leave without a souvenir,” said Marley.

T-shirts, pocket storage batteries, mugs and backpacks were just some of the wares on display. But these weren’t what attracted Marley.

The shop-assistant had caught his eye and had given a welcoming smile. He brushed his head against a series of soft-toys hanging from the ceiling as he entered. The assistant immediately approached Marley.

Moszkowski leaned in. “I’m going to find Crawdex. He’s our ride home remember?”

Marley tilted his head in half-acknowledgement.

“Can I help you?” The assistant spoke with an off-world accent.

“I plan on doing some travel soon.” Marley looked at the shop assistant’s name-badge and saw her name was Kandy.

“I love travelling.” Kandy briefly stood on her toes. “Where are you going?”

“Not entirely sure yet.”

“Then you want our super-multi-adapter: fits powerpoints on every planet within twenty light years.”

“You can guarantee that?”

Kandy smiled uncomfortably, I’ve been using that plug since I arrived from Earth.”

Marley didn’t know how he’d missed the Earthling accent. There were other giveaways: the slightly creviced skin due to high levels of particulate pollution; the fake eyelashes – for both cosmetic and protective effect.

“You left Earth?”

“For now. I want to see what’s out there in the galaxy, the universe!” Her hand swept a wide arc.

“I’d like to visit Earth. It’s easy to get out, not so easy to get in.”

“You’re not missing much. You can’t see the sun, and we mostly live in domes and underground too, like here.”

“You’re living up in the sky.”

“I get down now and then. There’s a SpaceBus service four times a day.”

“Don’t remind me. The last time I got the SpaceBus I thought it was going to disintegrate on reentry.”

“That’s not how you got here today?”

“I got a lift in my friend’s Thundercat.”

“Wow! That’s cool.”

Marley reflected that he hadn’t done anything ‘cool’ in a while, other than open the fridge. This was progress. He also realised that while Moszkowski had been spending money as if he had unlimited funds, Marley hadn’t purchased a thing.

“I’ll take one super-multi adapter.”

“I forgot to mention: All customers who buy the super-multi adapter on the day of a double eclipse get a free souvenir.”

Attack of the Mutant Camels, Commodore 64 game
Mutant camels have a long history.

“Aren’t I lucky? I witness one of the magnificent sights of this system and get a free gift.”

Kandy walked Marley past a row of shirts and tea-towels to a shelf stacked with cuddly soft toys of all sizes, piled next to and on top of each other.

“You can choose one of these! Except the big blue octopus. Oh, you can’t have the fluffy Borsk either. That’s mine. I’m buying it today.” She picked it up, gave it a little shake and a hug. She placed it behind the counter.

“Don’t worry, I wasn’t thinking of taking Bob the Borsk,” said Marley.

“How do you know he’s called Bob?” She looked at him with round inquiring eyes.

“I’m psychic,” said Marley, placing his finger on his temple.

“No you’re not. I tricked you. I haven’t given him a name.”

Marley let out a puff of air.

“But I’ll call him Bob now. I like it,” she said excitedly, “Bob the Borsk!” Kandy briefly stood all the way up on her toes then back on her heels, looking as cute as humanly possible.

“I’ve decided what I want,” said Marley, randomly reaching into the pile of plush toys. He put his right palm over his eyes as he fumbled about. “My left hand always knows what it wants!” He couldn’t resist having a peek and making a few pretend grabs at Kandy.

She let out some playful shrieks. “I’m not a bear.” She redirected his hand to the pile.

Marley thought this encounter was going surprisingly well. Compared to his last forty-five attempts at flirting, it was.

Then he remembered he was in a shop and Kandy was a sales assistant. What he perceived as flirting was probably her superior customer service skills.

His fingers clasped something small and soft and without thinking he placed it on the counter. “I choose this.”

It amused him to discover he’d chosen a three-humped camel with sunglasses.

“Congratulations to Cuthbert the Mutant Camel who has found a new home.” Kandy announced this as if she was hosting a gameshow.

“He’s called Cuthbert?”

“You named mine, I name yours.”

“Cuthbert the Mutant Camel.” Marley liked it. “Sounds perfect.” Marley extended his wrist. He rarely paid by wrist-chip, but he’d make an exception for Kandy.

“I’ll buy Bob the Borsk too.” The payment terminal processed Marley’s decision and automatically updated the subtotal.

“But I’m getting the Borsk!” Kandy looked dramatically disappointed.

“I’m getting it for you,” Marley briefly placed his hand on her shoulder. Her cheeks reddened ever so slightly.

Just as Marley thought he was finally having ‘a moment’, Professor Milton Moszkowski briskly entered.

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