Rocket Science: Chapter 36 – Pre-departure checks

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Gaston Dimble and Insomniac Fluton tap-tap-tapped on their flablets. “The cargo hold is big enough for 3,000 giblets, unthrashed. They could be sold at a small profit off-world, although the margins are small.”

“Possibly? We need certainties, Gaston.” Marley took another swig of strangbrew.

They were seated around a diamond-shaped table at one of the fancier bars in the Cretan Eye: The Epicycle. And thanks to Garibaldi’s connections, in the Epicycle’s VIP section. An array of screens advertised services for all orientations, including the SVIP rooms, where off-worlders could fraternise to their heart’s (or tentacles’) content.

Moszkowski and Zeen were getting deep into a game of Go. The bar provided them with a real board and pieces. Fluton and Dimble continued to research logistics and analyse trade opportunities. Garibaldi watched Moszkowski/Zeen and Fluton/Dimble in turn.

Everyone was drinking, except for Zorgeous. He exhaled deeply, his antlers briefly glowed purple. He paced around the perimeter of the room.

Gaston looked up from his flablet, aware that purple can be a sign of resentment. “Is something wrong with Zorgeous?”

Marley swallowed. He had taken a liking to Zorgeous, while he was gentle and sad. But he was becoming more and more irascible.

Zorgeous, suspecting he was being talked about, returned to the table.
“My antlers glow not out of anger, but of shame.”
Marley ducked as Zorgeous pointed them towards him.

“Do not be afraid. I have no power. Others of my race do. And I must stop them. If you take me back to Zorge, I will do whatever I can to make your trip worthwhile.”

The last time Marley had an unsolicited proposition was with the WD35 droid. It started badly, but ended well.

“I told you, our craft is incapable of travelling that far. Just what are you ashamed of, Zorgeous?”

“My power, or rather lack of it. I used to have powers, but I lost them. My wisdom and intuition is tied to Zorge. Only on its red sands may my antlers see true. But I lost this when I was tricked. And exiled to Crete.”

Even though he was about to leave Crete, Marley thought there were worse places to be exiled to.

As if reading his mind Zorgeous responded, “I mean no harm to this, your home planet. But I sense that we were destined to meet. I did not wait in line – for 450 days – at the Centre for Uninhibited Indolents…for nothing.”

Marley put his hand to his head. “450 days? Did you take a ticket?”
“What is a ticket?” Zorgeous reddened.
“You press a button on the pedestal near the entrance. You get a number. They call your number, you go in.”

Zorgeous’s complexion pulsated madly between red and blue. “All this time. If only I had known.” His body seemed to fade. In a flash he recovered himself. “On day 451, I saw an advertisement. I left the Centre for Uninhibited Indolents and went to Binary Loans…to obtain credits for a flight home. That is where I met you.”

Marley suddenly remembered his psychological assessment. It emerged from his unconscious from a compartment reserved for itself, only to be opened by certain triggers. The mysterious epigrams reverberated in his ears. ‘Sleep and you will drown. Seek and you will stumble’.

He became mesmerised by the wan glow of the Zorgon’s antlers. A faint outline of a cowl surrounded Zorgeous’s figure. In addition to the two previous epigrams, a hollow internal voice added the following: “Watch without wanting.”

A searing flash pierced his mind. Marley tried to recall the last few minutes and felt dizzy. He lolled forward.

Moszkowksi put his hand on Marley’s wrist.

A few guests at the Epicycle watch Marley and his friends with a mixture of curiosity, amusement and boredom.

Zorgeous glared intently as Marley’s hand began shaking, until he spilt some of his drink.

This brought Marley back to reality, a little. He unsteadily put his glass down and knocked it over. He grabbed the table with both hands.

Gaston looked up from his flabet. “There is no Prismatic Pizza on Crete 581c. We could make a killing with those in the hold.”

Marley took a deep breath and said weakly, “Alright, load them up.”

“Order placed.” He tapped the flablet with a flourish. “Knowing your appetite, they’ll make good supplies.” He noticed that Marley had gone pale. “Hey, you alright?”

Marley was not sure whether he was queasy because of the recent mind intrusion, or whether it was the thought of being trapped in outer space living off the same meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He almost did this already. His last nine meals had been pizza or burger. But just pizza? He would go insane without burgers to break the monotony. But if there was a lucrative profit to be made…

He put his flablet on the centre of the table and activated the hologram camera focused on the ship moored outside Doookies’ Spare Space Parts. His mind felt strangely supple. He tried to rouse himself.

He sat up straight and banged his fist on the table. “Let’s fire up these engines and make sure they’re fully calibrated”. He entered a code. Red warning lights flashed around the parking bay. He toggled the fuel release. Blocky green graphics showed the engine at 50% power. He toggled the release for the V13. The engines hummed, only slightly off frequency. The differential in the vibrations was within tolerable limits for hull integrity. He returned the engines to minimum thrust and ended the test.

A voice from the console droned: “Test successful. Engines calibrated.”

Everyone clapped and cheered.
Marley relaxed in the chair.

He was five seconds into relaxing when the console reactivated: “High energy field detected. Systems back online.”

Everyone stopped drinking.

“You’re not leaving now are you?” Zeen said uneasily.
“Not that I know of.” Marley looked around anxiously.

“I haven’t packed,” said Fluton.
“So you’re coming then?” Dimble gave him a hug.

Fluton yawned. “Not without a change of clothes.”

Next Chapter..


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