They did not look like the kind of ex-hipsters Marley expected at an exhibition. Too many smart jackets, trim hairstyles and no boots. Between the legs of the crowd, he perceived a cardboard sign leaning against the wall. It was too far away to read so he pulled out his flablet. He pointed the lens, took a photo and enlarged it.
What he read made him uncomfortable, but also gave him hope. He was about to enter “Mr Kibbles’ Amazing Arms and Rocketry – An Exhibition of Excessive Force”.
Marley approached the heavy guard at the entrance, who eyed him up and down. He scanned the ticket Marley gave him.
“They’re meant to be others aren’t there?”
“They’re coming later.” Marley looked over his shoulder, as if expecting them at any minute.
“Legs apart. Arms outstretched.”
The security guard felt between Marley’s legs for any concealed weapons. He squeezed underneath his armpits.
Marley felt like a fruit being tested for ripeness. “The only concealed weapon on me,” said Marley, “is strictly for the ladies.”
The security guard almost smiled.
Marley entered the vaulted exhibition hall. A serving-bot on tank treads immediately rolled up and offered some cheese and wine.
The interior of the hall was vast. The ceiling was high enough to hang the latest state of the art stealth fighters and armoured personnel carriers. Steel girders supporting the roof seemed to have no problem with their payload.
Beneath the diamond-shaped chassis of a Jovian Escort, a portable 12-slot anti-aircraft battery was ready to take it out of the sky. Next to the Jovian Escort a surveillance satellite swung on wires that disappeared high into the shadows. Beside that was a conical satellite with wide triangular wings. Three plasma turrets were mounted so as to point directly at the group below. Any aircraft entering the atmosphere near one of these better have good stealth or risk being vaporised. A red light flashed at the tip of each turret. Next to the gun emplacement, a group of Sirians were deep in animated conversation.
“Is that thing switched on?”
“I tell you, this would be useless against even the C-Class stealth fighters currently employed by LOL.”
“Two months ago they evaded all our counter mechanisms, including four of these suckers that we purchased from this fair last year!”
“That was because we hadn’t calibrated the targeting systems.”
“Causing them to target our ships instead.”
“If we’re going to defeat this renegade group we need to be smarter than them. LOL have access to technology that we don’t.”
“That is a brave admission.” A representative of Kibbles Industries had joined the group. “LOL has nothing of the sort. Liberation of Life would love to get their hands on that Jovian Escort above you.”
“It’s just a Sports Coupé dressed as a military scout.” The Sirian twirled a fine moustache.
The representative pulled out a square control box from inside his jacket. “But do you have the latest Sports Coupé? It practically is a military vehicle.” He punched a three-button combination and looked expectantly above him. Pulleys lowered the wires holding the Escort and it descended daintily to the floor. Its gold-plated hull glinted under the beams cast by the many spotlights. The cockpit soundlessly flipped open and the Sirians eagerly gathered around to peer inside.
“This is what we’re up against.”
“Maybe we should order some ourselves.”
“But then we might have difficultly telling apart our ships from their ships.”
“These certainly look better than our ships.”
“I’ll purchase one for myself.” This Sirian had green hair. His hair was green not because Sirians have green hair, but because he had dyed it.
“This is government money we’re spending.”
“I’m using my own money.”
“You can’t afford that.”
The Kibbles representative left the Sirians quibbling and walked towards Marley, who was on to his second glass of wine. Real Falernian wine.
“How can I help you?”
Marley swilled the wine in his mouth before replying. “I was hoping to view your propulsion systems. I can’t find them. Maybe I’m enjoying the wine too much.”
“I’m from Falernia, like the wine you sip. We produce only the best.” The representative winked. Falernia was 45 light years away. Discovered 300 years ago with a perfect jungle ecosystem and virtually no sign of animal life – there was one plant that imitated the speaker by rubbing its leaves together, but botanists did not view this as any sign of sapience. Besides, when the plant was uprooted the fertile soil was perfect for winegrowing.
“That is a vintage semillon you sip, matured in nano-oak barrels. The grapes have an ancestry stretching over 1000 years. And my planet, Falernia, is the premier wine-producing region in the sector. We are proud of that. It is also where everyone comes to retire.”
“And those that can’t afford it wind up on Debussy, right?”
“A worthy second. But Debussy is not Falernia. Come with me, propulsion is at the other end of the hall.”
As Marley turned to follow the representative of Kibbles Industries he noticed some agitation near the entrance. He couldn’t quite see whom the burly guard was talking to, but he briefly looked at Marley, then strode straight toward him.
The representative beckoned Marley onward. “Sir?”
A rough hand planted itself firmly on his shoulder.
“The only way you’re going..is out.” Without a word of explanation the guard grabbed Marley’s arm and escorted him towards the door. The Kibbles representative panted alongside. “What do you think you’re doing? We don’t treat our customers this way.”
“He’s not one of our customers.” The guard pointed towards a group of slightly dishevelled ruffians. The same ruffians whose boss Marley had recently beaten at Nunchian snooker, and by the looks of it, should have beaten with the snooker cue as well. But Gonzalez was nowhere to be seen. In his place, was his girl.
She laughed as Marley was heaved outside and ejected 30 feet…onto the tarmac.
“So much for graceful losers,” said Marley.
Gonzalez’s girlfriend approached. “You want to be slapped?”
Marley thought about it. She looked scrumptious in her skinny black jeans, hypercolour sweatshirt and wide-brimmed baseball cap. It had the name ‘Rico’ printed across it in white, angular letters. “Actually, I do want to be slapped, Rico.”
Marley got to his feet and presented his right cheek.
The other cheek met with a playful slap.
“You like?” Rico’s snarl turned to a lopsided grin.
Marley turned the other cheek.
Rico swung a right hook that sent Marley back to the tarmac.
“That, I don’t like.” Marley rubbed his jaw. As he watched Rico swagger to the entrance Marley thought perhaps it was worth it. It was the closest romantic encounter since he had met Fulucia at the Quasar Bar. Three days later she was engaged to a banker from Betelgeuse, who she had met that very same night.