Rocket Science: Chaper 25 – Trader Etiquette

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Marley lent Gaston Dimble the Da Vinci manuscript. The historian pored over it in his quarters. Unusual antique spectacles didn’t help Gaston at all. But they looked good. Gaston studied his reflection in the glass coffee table. He beamed a message to Marley. “Leonardo was a genius. He foresaw everything. Even in space, clothes get dirty.” He pointed to the rear of the hull. “The washing machine goes here, right next to the warp drive.”

Marley groaned. He had enough problems with lost socks already.

“I know what you’re thinking,” said Gaston. “Exactly what I’m thinking. But you’re going to have the opposite problem. If anything, you’re going to be finding socks.”

“The warp drive is dead. The core is burnt out. And we don’t have enough negative energy to power it even if we get it online.”

“I agree, negative energy is expensive. I just thought it was kind of funny to place a washing machine next to the warp drive. Hahaha, every sock you lost makes its way back to your reality.”

Marley groaned outwardly. “Did you know: the Quasar Bar hosts standup comedy every Friday? You could use that as a joke.”

Marley hung-up on Gaston and dialled Doookie on the Cretan Eye.

“Doookie, we need another container to stabilise the ship. And with another container, we’ll need more thrust.” As he spoke, the pet Chitter leaped into the wall, briefly knocking itself out.

Doookie leant forward into the screen. “I had a niggling suspicion that might have been the issue. But I wasn’t sure and didn’t want to look stupid.”

“You shouldn’t worry about looking stupid, Doookie. I’m feeling stupid. Like a man with a ship without sails. I should expect that flying out of here isn’t going to be easy. Do you still have the container?”

“No. You need container?”
“How else can that thing fly steadily?”

“Good point. I’m don’t want to go back to Khanaklooose, so I gives container away. To Feeekie. She is also from Khanaklooose. Has more junk than me.”

“Is he also on the Cretan Eye?”
She be ground dweller. But not in the city.”
“Don’t tell me, she’s in the Bad Ends?”
“You know Feeekie?”
“Never. The last place I want to go is the Bad Ends, so I figured it’d be there.”

“Go to Feeekie’s Scrapyard. It’s in the Not Very Bad Ends. She’ll have a cargo. And a container. And direct access to the orbital docking platform.”

Crete had an orbital docking platform, a suborbital docking platform and various standard to substandard ground-based ports.

“Feeekie uses container to transport from Cretan Eye to suborbital platform. I will let her know you’re coming.”

Doookie disconnected. Marley reran a simulation of the ship. Without a container, the only way they could achieve sufficient ballast was the old-fashioned way: tying cargo to the ship. Marley tried simulating the effect. His calculation skills were painfully inadequate. He watched the monitor. The ship, represented as a green cone, strained, shook. It flopped over. A big red X flashed on the screen. A big red ‘FAIL’ replaced the X.

Marley took a sip from a takeaway bottle of Strangbrew. He slammed it on the desk, splashing the screen. A big red ‘EPIC FAIL’ replaced the ‘FAIL’. Marley waved his arms in the air and jumped up and down.

“What is this? I don’t understand why a spaceship would need ballast.”

“It’s only needed in large gravitational environments. Near a planet. Do you want to be stuck in space? Or enter an orbit tumbling about like a Garibaldi cocktail?” Doookie’s face again appeared on the room’s viewscreens.

“You’re still there? I thought you’d disconnected. You like Garibaldi’s cocktails?”

“Doookie always online. Doookie never sleep. Doookie saw advert for Garibaldi while watching late-night TV.”

“Have you met Insomniac Fluton? You could exchange sleep stories.”

Doookie leaned closer and stared at Marley.

“Never mind. I’ll visit Feeekie. See if I can track down that container. Doookie, you got me into this mess. See if they’re any heavy elements I can transport, anything worthwhile that’s also…heavy.”

The following day, Marley joined a line of desperate characters waiting outside Feeekie’s Spare Space Parts for the Wednesday morning opening. A neon sign flashed the letters “F. S. S. P.”

Every third Tuesday evening Feeekie received a shipment of space junk from Betelgeuse VII. The clank of iron on iron could be heard as robotic cranes manufactured order from chaos.

Marley joined the queue. Thirty bouncing, shivering, chattering beings. Feeekie should have opened 40 minutes ago.

“Don’t worry.” A short Sirian bounced in front of Marley. “It’s worth the wait.”

“Last month I snapped up a satellite antenna,” said another Sirian. It can receive radio transmissions 30 light years away.”

“Let me guess. Now you can watch 30-year-old episodes of Little Sister.”

“Precisely. How did you guess? You must be psychic. I’ve also been watching Dr Charlie’s Channelling Channel. He’s a genuine clairvoyant. Though it was broadcast 10 years ago on Epicurus it’s amazing what he successfully predicted.”

“Like the cancellation of his show?”

“Precisely. How did you guess? It was such a suspenseful final episode. Everything happened so suddenly. Charlie announced that he foresaw bad ratings ahead. He was sure the producers were going to axe him. So he cancelled his show before they could.”


The tall Nunchian further in front whispered to Marley, “That’s nothing. Look out for the ultraviolet tanning machines. I bought five of them recently. All sold at a profit.” He winked.

The thick metal door guarding the entrance to Feeekie’s rattled open. Eager shoppers hurried inwards. They spread out in all directions, some to the appliance dock, where disused microwaves and gammawaves were piled on cryogenic containers.

Others went towards the terminal centre in Junkyard 7B, where flatscreen vidifexes and VTs could be scavenged for a tenth of their value. Feeekie not only collected discarded ship materials. His wares consisted of unclaimed pirate booty and overstock from trader missions.

Marley paced to Junkyard 7F. The yard was chock full. Empty containers balanced precariously, canisters rolling about as scavengers rummaged through the refuse.

One container may be suitable for his ship. His ship. It felt like he owned it already. But he hadn’t yet spoken to Moszkowski.

Near containers, old rocket thrusters piled like a plate of dirty chopsticks. Not the safest addition to any ship. But desperate people, perhaps fugitives, refugees, and used-car salesman might need to get off the planet quickly. A used thruster strapped to a second-hand car might just do the trick. In fact, Marley saw just that. In the far corner of the yard, a V3 rocket was strapped to a Volkswagon Beetle. On the roof of the Beetle cabin a depressurisation tank showed that this ‘vehicle’ was once flightworthy.

Want to go to further than Mars? You’re unlikely to in this craft, but it’s still a bargain for collectors.

He clambered over the containers and eyed the thrusters protectively. None of the other customers were interested in this scrap. He gave it one more survey before heading to Feeekie’s office.

The office was empty.
But it was alive with activity.

Like a clockmaker’s shop, levers swung to and fro, springs released themselves then mysteriously retracted under an unseen force. Sparks flew between ionised bars, leaping away from the circuitry at irregular intervals.

Marley kept his distance. In the corner he spotted something less mechanical. A bluish green ball made of many elastic tubes woven together. It expanded and contracted. His curiosity aroused, he walked over and stood before the pulsating blob. He bent, and cautiously touched it.

Immediately it unfurled. Marley jumped back. The unfurling continued for half a minute. It soon became clear this was no machine. The green tubes were appendages. Arms and legs! They had been tightly bound in one of the five higher Fooolzian yoga positions.

Feeekie sprung to his feet.

“It’s you.”

“Yes it is you. Doookie announced your coming.”
Marley recovered. “Indeed.”

“You’ve been having a look around. Good choice.” Feeekie did a backflip. “You’re building a spaceship?”

“Not really. I’m making a spaceship flightworthy.”

Feeekie did a front-flip. “It has a Venusian V3 thruster. But needs an extension. And more thrust.”


Feeekie sniggered. “I not mean tell you. Doookie told all. But said don’t tell human Chuck Fooolzian Doookie knew ship had … concerns.”

“He wanted to get it off his hands hey?”
“Doookie wants to declutter. Free up parking bay. Start drive-through selling.”

“Well he won’t have a drive-through unless I can drive out.”
“Craft not spinning. Good job.”

“But we’re still stuck. We need more cargo, and more thrust to move more cargo.”
“It has one V3 engine.”
“Seems one’s not enough.”

“V3’s very rare. V4 incompatible with the V3. Or, I could say, the V3 incompatible with the V4!” Feeekie cartwheeled several times around the office.

Marley tapped his foot. Fooolzian excitement was too fast for the human eye. Not only could they jump three times their height, they could outrun the fastest human over 100 metres on all fours. It was useless to try and keep your eye on an excited Fooolzian.

“What you’re saying then, is that I can’t use the thruster in your junkyard with the one I already have? There’s a V3, strapped to a vintage car.”
“V3 not enough power. You need V4 power.” He nodded like a jackhammer.
“But the V4 is incompatible? Why? Can’t they run off separate systems?”
“What if I hook it to a different canister?”

“Don’t even think about it. Think about it not. The onboard computer will never make the adjustment calculations.” Feeekie rotated her head 360 degrees. Her neck snapped back into like a cap on a bottle.

“I don’t believe you. A computer can do anything.
“Yes but the V4 is power without finesse. That’s why it was followed by the V6.”
“What happened to the V5?

“It was based on the V4. So never released. V6 and onwards, new direction, very good.”

“Feeekie, I know trajectory calculations aren’t easy. But in the age of quantum computing a computer can do anything.”

“Oh, you might be right.” Feeekie spun around. “But not a computer you can afford.”

“I can afford…” Marley checked himself.

“Besides, the Venusian V3 uses solid state alcohol as backup fuel, primitive by modern standards, while the V4 in Junkyard 7F needs, as you must know, ammonium perchlorate, aluminium, iron oxide, and fish oil.”

“Er, yes. Frozen alcohol as fuel. What a waste.”

Feeekie giggled. “Not during the First Asteroid Wars. No no. A carbon shortage threatened to ground the Earthling fleet, but Don Bero, everyman hero, thought of using vast quantities of frozen vodka stored by the Russians.” Feeekie clapped his hands in glee.

Marley was glad Gaston wasn’t here. He would have wet his pants and discoursed with Feeekie until the suns went down.

“I can’t help you. Mr Marley, I can’t help you.” The Fooolzian looked quickly at the ground and up again, a fractional display of remorse. “If I mis-sold an item and there were consequences, such as customer death, it would be bad for business, no?”

“Fact. I will not sell you the Venusian V3 or the V4.”
“Great. Do you have a V5? Or a V6 or V7?”
“No V5s. There is no such thing as a V5, I told you. I have no V6s or V7s, never have, never will have.”
“Never say never.”
Feeekie looked slightly angry. “Nor is there a V8, V9, V10, V11, V12–”
“I get the message.”
“There is, however, a V13.”
“And it’s compatible with the V3.”
“But I don’t have one.”

Marley turned around slowly. He gazed out the round window. The juncture of the four panes formed a target. He swivelled further and looked briefly out the door. A few figures scurried past, one with a trolley full of circuit boards.

Feeekie said slowly, very slowly for a Fooolzian, “I do, however, know where you might find one.”

Turning back, Marley was surprised to find himself within an inch of the Fooolzian’s rubbery nose.
Feeekie shook with glee.
“Where might I find one? Tell me, now!”

“Or what, what will you do? You can’t catch me.” Feeekie zoomed around the office. He came to rest exactly where he was before. “What will you do what will you do?”

“I will shake my fist.”
“Alright, I’m not going to tell you.”
Marley shook his fist in the air.
“Alright. I’ll tell.”

Marley knew how to weasel information out of a Fooolzian. He’d learnt it all in Xenophobic Etiquette. Get them excited, play their game.

“No don’t tell me.” If Marley had immediately asked for the information he would have failed.

Feeekie did a star-jump. “The Bad Ends.” He stuck his head forward and the pupils in his eyes rolled up and around like a mad poker machine. “The Very Bad Ends.”

“I’m not going to the Bad Ends.” Of course Marley would go to the Very Bad Ends.

“Mr Kibbles.”
Feeekie shook his head vigorously.
“Who, or what, is Mr Kibbles?”

This was the wrong question. The Fooolzian head spun around fifty times, his arms wrapped around his body, legs knotted within arms, his arms flipped over his head. A large green ball of rubbery yarn bounced back into the corner. Feeekie had reassumed the Fooolzian lotus position.

Chuck Marley recalled why he had not passed Xenophobic Etiquette the first time.

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