He butted his head on a plastic replica of the Cretan Eye dangling in his path. It swung back and hit him again in the same spot just above the eye.
“Ow!” Moszkowski gently pushed the item away.
“Marley we have to go. Zeen’s not coming with us. His craft’s been impounded. We have to get the-”
Marley shot both Kandy and Moszkowksi a look of pain he could not hide.
“Do you have to get the SpaceBus?” asked Kandy.
“Looks like it.”
Moszkowski summed up the situation. “I didn’t mean to be so hasty, Chuck. But if we don’t get the next flight in 30 minutes we’ll have to wait another five hours. I’ve already got our tickets.”
“Hooray.” Marley couldn’t work out what disappointed him; the fact that he was leaving Kandy so soon, the fact he had to get the SpaceBus, or because Kandy knew he had to get the SpaceBus rather than his new friend’s Thundercat.
As he rushed out with Moszkowksi he heard Kandy call out from behind him.
“You forgot your receipt.”
Marley turned around and was about to head back when Moszkowski grabbed his wrist. “No time for receipts.”
Marley waved apologetically. Kandy grinned lopsidedly and waved her hand like a cartoon character.
“Glad you got good service,” said Moszkowski.
“A good customer gets good service.” It was all Marley could think of. His first romantic encounter in months receded behind him.
A high pitched bell sounded at regular intervals, followed by a hollow female voice. “Flight 657 to Reticulum Aerodrome is now boarding.”
Moszkowski was limping as fast as he could and was breathing heavily.
“It’s not worth it,” said Marley “Check-in closes ten minutes after the last boarding announcement.” A sign ahead pointed out that Check-in was fifteen minutes away. Even if they ran on the walkway conveyor-belt, they wouldn’t make it.
They didn’t hear the vehicle approach. A robot torso pivoted towards them as the vehicle cautiously passed. The robot’s AI registered Moszkowski as a human in distress.
The robot was embedded in the car, but there were places for two passengers and a tray at the back for luggage.
Moszkowski tried to wave the car away with his with his walking stick. When it didn’t oblige he prodded the metal side, leaving a small dent.
“Professor, not all robots are as kind as this.” Marley thought of his PriMate. Strictly speaking it was an AI as it did not move about. Although it did have a robotic arm.
Moskowski ceased the struggle against himself and climbed aboard with considerable effort. The retractable steps which he had declined to use retracted back into their housing.
They retracted back just as Marley was about to use them. He was left flailing, sneakers skidding along the slippery floor. But he managed to climb on as the car sped off.
The robot AI weaved between the stray tourists and trailing luggage like a Formula E1 racing champion on the final lap of the Neptunian Grand Prix, which incidentally, was being held on Proteus this year.
An image of the current Formula E1 champion, Herbert Herbert Jr, flashed on a nearby advertising board. He was advertising a very expensive watch that could also tell the time, anywhere, even near a black hole.
The cart skidded up to the check-in counter. A robotic arm extended just in time to prevent Moszkowski tumbling out of his seat. He hoisted himself off the cart.
They didn’t have to wait long to be called to the counter. They’d made it with five minutes to spare.
As they approached the lady beckoned them to wait. She lifted a receiver which had been blinking behind the console. She listened for three minutes all the while nodding.
She put the receiver down and looked at them half-apologetically. Without speaking she pressed a button and blandly gestured towards the ceiling.
A voice, decidedly neither male or female, announced over the terminal speaker, “Flight 657 to Reticulum International has been delayed by two hours due to necessary maintenance. We apologise for any inconvenience.”
The check-in lady handed them their tickets and said, again half-apologetically: “Sorry.”
If two half-apologies amounted to a full apology, it didn’t make Marley feel any better.
“We have had both good and bad luck today,” Moszkowski said resignedly.
“Which is not quite the same as having no luck,” said Marley.
Moszkowski brightened, “I’m meant to be the wise old man.”
The robot-car was parked at a charging station but was all too-obliged to give them another circuit of the Cretan Eye. The tourist shop was closed. Kandy had disappeared to wherever her quarters were in this immense structure. Doooki’s workshop was also shut. But the sounds of devices clicking, gears grinding and things falling still came from inside.
There were no set business hours on the Cretan Eye. Some stuck to a regular schedule, like Kandy’s tourist shop, due to reopen in ten hours.
Other proprietors, like Doooki, opened and closed as they pleased. This was a common trait of the Fooolzian shop owner; predicting their opening hours was like predicting the orbit of Uranus with a notepad and pencil and only one month of historical data.
They did not disembark from their cart on their second circuit. Marley retrieved his flablet and played some 50s cabaret. The music of 2950 had a nostalgic tinge compared to the directness of the beats and outward proclamations of promiscuity prevalent in today’s hits.
The music added a certain retro filter to the ride, which took thirty minutes in total. Mozskowski nodded his head in approval at the music, then he started to nod off. He woke with a start when they arrived back at the main terminal and allowed Marley to assist him.
An hour and a half remained until departure. Their flight back had only just taken off from Nutol.
Staff were obligingly efficient in processing them through security. A bewildering array of duty free shops glittered like a xmas pageant as they walked to their boarding gate.
Marley saw Moszkowski looking at a row of Falernian port. Strictly speaking, Falernia were not allowed to call their fortified wine “Port”. But the Earthen law restricting sales of the port appellation solely to wine produced in a now uninhabitable region of Earth was not enforced on Crete.
“The good thing about having checked-in our shopping,” said Moszkowski, “Is that I can carry more.” He looked at Marley’s empty hands.
“And I can carry more too,” Marley finished for him.
“I will give you half of all that you can carry.”
“I jest.” Moszkowski briefly impeded Marley’s progress with his cane. “You’ll get a quarter.”
He looked briefly at a curvaceous bottle of liquor, pretended to read the liner notes then placed it on the counter.
“This trip has rejuvenated me Marley. Despite Zeen and our return trip.” He grabbed another bottle of port. This one was a 200 year old vintage, about the time that Porto finally became uninhabitable. But that was just liner-note trivia as the stamp on the bottom clearly said “Made in Falernia.”
Marley looked absently at the cigars on the next shelf.
Moszkowski followed Marley’s eyes.
“Vintage Cuban, the best from Earth.” Moszkowksi took one out from its steel tubing and rubbed it under his nose. “Let’s go to the smoking room.”
They flagged down another robocart and sped 750 metres. From there they followed a sign to a lift that didn’t seem to move anywhere. But when the doors reopened they emerged on floor 511.
It wasn’t a large floor by any means compared to some of the structures that were part of the Cretan Eye. There was a small cafe and three vending machines. No souvenir shop.
But there was a souvenir stand. It was manned not by a pretty sales assistant, but by half a robot. The robot couldn’t move – it was part of the stand. Whether the robot considered itself a robot or a souvenir stand was hard to determine. It was designed to follow tourists and sell them silly hats, t-shirts saying “I Heart the Cretan Eye” and overpriced soft-drinks.
Marley could not reason why the souvenir-stand-robot believed there would be more tourists on the smoking level than on the main concourse.
They walked past the souvenir-robot-cum-stand to the smoking room. The robot blandly peered at them through green “ready-to-serve” eyes.
Moszkowski prodded the door release button with his cane and the mechanical door slid open.