Mixed vapours of tobacco invaded their nostrils. Havana cigars shared their scent with Asian beedis and Victory Diamond ready rubbed rolling tobacco. Several butts of Cowboy Reds lay on the floor near the entrance, as if the smoker had consumed them one after the other while waiting for an announcement.
Moszkowski unwrapped the cigar from the plastic wrapper. He retrieved a red metallic device from his pocket that fit snugly in his palm. With a flick of the wrist a pair of small scissors appeared by magic.
“Offiziersmessr,” said Moszkowski, unintentionally spitting.
“What?” Marley raised an eyebrow.
“Swiss army knife.” He clipped the end of the cigar with the scissors. “Nineteenth century technology.”
He put the cigar between his teeth. With his other hand he clicked a button on the knife’s hilt. A small steel tube extended from the end of the red hilt. When pointed at the cigar it ignited the tobacco.
Moszkowski took a long pull then coughed violently for a minute.
Marley placed his hand on the small of Moszkowski’s back. He looked up at Marley, his face red, tears streaming down his cheeks. Then he straightened himself, smiled and took another heave.
“Just needed to line the lungs. Here.”
Marley carefully took the cigar between his two fingers. The thick smoke tickled the back of his throat. He drew a little into his lungs and let the rest swirl in his mouth. He coughed for a few seconds then took another drag.
The chemicals in the tobacco worked their effect. He felt slightly light in the head. As they exhaled smoke, unseen fans activated and drew the fumes into vents which recycled some of the air and ejected the rest into deep space.
The view from the smoking room was by no means ordinary. A Centauran Pontoon was docking in a bay in front the Cretan Eye’s Casino, Circle of Life. Two U-Tugs exited from crevices in the Cretan Eye’s hull and sped towards the pontoon.
Six shuttles launched from small circular pads near the casino. They sped past the tugs. Two of them attached themselves to airlock hatches on the side of the pontoon.
The pontoon would not dock for another forty-five minutes. However, the shuttles would immediately convey passengers straight to the Circle of Life so the travelers could be throwing chips and flipping cards before you could say “bring me a plate of raw prawns.”
Marley took a healthy drag on the cigar Moszkowski passed him. The dense fumes scratched at the front of Marley’s throat. He struggled to hold in the smoke without coughing and went red in the face trying to do so.
He wheezed a dry cough and handed the stub back to Moszkowski. “This could grow on me.” It was certainly a better experience than the stench of Manager Baine’s office. But the money-lender at Binary Loans had no ventilation in his office. To Manager Baines, oxygen was a novelty.
But here in the smoking room on the Cretan Eye, Marley could appreciate the delights of both oxygen and tobacco fumes. Although, according to some scientists, filtered oxygen was not quite as healthy for the lungs as that formerly produced by the planet Earth.
But this type of oxygen was rare.
“I heard, “said Marley. “Actually I saw this on a documentary, but did you know, Professor, that the Sirians possess a canister of original Earth oxygen from 2077?”
Moszkowski let out half a laugh that morphed into several coughs. “I haven’t heard! What a fascinating fact young man.”
“I’m full of them,” said Marley.
Moszkowski took one last drag and dropped the butt in a trough on the floor that served as an ashtray.
Two things happened: both were faster than the eye can see or the writer can chronicle.
An alien of a species Marley had not seen before sped along the floor, around his legs, and retrieved the butt that Moszkowski had thrown. It looked up at the two men with a bulbous eye, squeaked what could have been a thank you or apology, then sped off.
A TidyBin cleaning bot entered as the naked slimy shape was leaving. The TidyBin paused in front of the trough, before realising that the cigar butt Central Cleaning had told it to retrieve was no longer there.
It sped around the room in confusion several times then synced itself with the cleaning server.
Marley looked at the departure screen in the corner.
“Yes let’s go,” said Moszkowski. He took one last sniff of the stale smoke of the smoking room (which by current Earth standards was rather clean air).
Marley took one last look at the underside of the Cretan Eye. The pontoons had delivered their human cargo to the Circle of Life.