If Chuck Marley wanted to know more, now was a good time to execute his plan. It had only been a skeleton thought, until he’d seen the salad. As Rothball Hazard voraciously tore at a piece of dodo flesh, Marley discreetly removed a vial of red dust. He was unsure about the correct dosage so he took a pinch between finger and thumb.
Calmly he gestured to the Venus flytrap of Venus and gave the signal for some salad. The flytrap twisted in the salad bowl and filled its gullet with black lettuce, fresh American tomatoes and lighter fluid. Its mouth strained with the load.
It dumped the salad on Marley’s plate (and lap) and was flexing its leafy jaws when he deftly sprinkled red dust into the dripping red cavity. It swung around and reassumed its position.
“I love fresh American tomatoes,” said Marley. “About the last decent thing that comes from Earth.”
“Perhaps not the last decent thing.” Hazard briefly lowered the dodo limb. “The Council of Plutocrats runs things smoothly enough.”
“And this black lettuce. If there was one thing the first human colony achieved it is the perfection of black lettuce.” Marley shoved some down his throat.
“Ah!” Hazard grinned at Marley and threw the dodo limb away. He laughed uproariously. Ninkin Spheel Galabos’s companion-droid hurried around the table and carried the limb off to the kitchen. Nexus and Plexus bounded after her. Hazard fondly watched as the cyberdogs bounded down the hall. “I’m glad you enjoy my fare.” He took a large swig of the dichotomous wine before clicking his fingers at the flytrap.
A vibration shuddered down the stem. The flytrap stiffened, mechanically grabbed a load of rocket salad and deposited it onto Hazard’s plate. The head of Roboto-Genetic Engineering dipped his hands in a crystal finger bowl, seized a generous helping of fresh American tomatoes and black lettuce and crammed his mouth so that his cheeks puffed. He chewed for two minutes before swallowing, folding his arms and leaning back.
Gaston Dimble was not used to the tender flesh of the dodo and had been chewing the same mouthful for ten minutes. Hazard laughed louder, reached over and gave him a slap on the back. “You two put on a good show for Health Protectors. I am starved for company on this lifeless planet. Thuris Thranganis doesn’t count. He just talks to his clouds…his head is in the clouds ha!”
If red dust was supposed to make one more intelligent it wasn’t working, yet. Perhaps this was how the professor behaved drunk, or maybe Marley hadn’t given him enough of the dust. He was about to wave to the Venus flytrap when it stretched bolt upright, lowered its gaping head and carefully rotated itself 360 degrees.
It seemed to be surveying the table. It bent over briskly and began rearranging the food. The cluster buns were arrayed in a series of interlocking circles, a salad face was made from the tomatoes and lettuce, the remains of the dodo were reformed into an upright version of the original bird with only one arm, one leg, and black lettuce as feathers. The three diners watched in amazement. They loudly clapped when the Venus flytrap finished its gastronomic artistry.
The flytrap was amazed with itself, and had also ingested too much lettuce when putting the finishing touches to the dodo. It lurched towards Dimble, swung at Marley, then hovered near Rothball Hazard. The long stem was at full stretch. It curled into a spring and in one fluid motion regurgitated a jet of black lettuce, dodo flesh, cluster buns, and fresh American tomato juice.
Hazard weaved to one side as the stream shot past. It splashed onto the shiny floor in an expanding puddle. The result looked not unlike a pizza from the Bad Ends on Crete 581d.
Marley and Dimble had chosen the climax of the Venus flytrap’s self-realisation as a good time to stop eating. Rothball Hazard was laughing so hard he could barely breath. He snapped his fingers and Tycho Brahe cleared the table, which basically involved drawing his duelling sword and sweeping the leftovers onto the floor for the companion droid to collect.
Hazard glanced wistfully at his statue. “How is my good friend Thuris Thranganis? Was anything amiss in his laboratory or, should I say, was anything in order?”
“Everything is clean enough,” Marley said, “although I feel for the safety of Frilo and Bilo. But they don’t seem to mind.”
“Of course they don’t,” Hazard snapped, “Frilo and Bilo are all Thuris can afford! He doesn’t have the credit, or the power, to command anything more. But, you have a report?”
Gaston retrieved his flablet and projected the report against a particularly large piece of black lettuce hanging from the flytrap’s mouth.
Hazard lifted his eyebrows with one hand and peered at the readout. “As I expected. Still working on the conscious cloud. It will be the death of him. What use is it anyway? Personal weather pet? Next he’ll be making a sentient ooze.”
“How did you know that?” Marley looked serious.
“An educated guess. And Thranganis is an intelligent mess! Conscious clouds, sentient oozes… Nothing like what I do.” He stuck his neck out. “My projects require skill, care, innovation. They lead to advancement, utility, progress. I do not work on novelties.”
Marley nudged the Professor, indicating that he should press the record button on his flablet.
The Head of Roboto-Genetic-Engineering continued rambling: “The robot of Tycho Brahe, the hard-light hologram of Ninkin Spheel Galabos and his sex-droid, yes I am not ashamed of them. I am proud, intensely proud. These are the tip of the iceberg. I create historical reproductions of eminent scientists in my spare time. The results are before you in this hall.” He waved his hand in a dismissive gesture.
“Have you heard of FaceMash?” Marley finally remembered that he had promised to promote Insomniac Fluton’s facial recognition app.
Professor Dimble walked up to the scientist. “Do you mind? This scan will determine your past life.”
“Please do. Be my guest. You are my guests! Hahaha. But who could I have possibly been? Napolean, Albert Einstein, Ludwig Van Beethoven?”
Dimble opened FaceMash on his flablet. He held the device’s camera steady.
“There’s a match.”
“Who? Charles Babbage, Francis Bacon, Mark Zuckerburg?”
“It’s a match, from 8000 years ago. I didn’t know Insomniac Fluton had done so much research.”
“You can’t imagine the lengths he’s gone to create that app, the databases he accessed.” Marley had no idea which databases Fluton had used. But he had new-found love for public relations.
“8000 years ago.” Hazard stroked his beard. “Who of importance was alive then?”
“It says you were may have been in the project team that invented the wheel.”
“Really? Astounding! Aren’t I a genius!” Rothball Hazard leaned back smugly. “But the purpose of constructing replicas of human beings – and other beings – is far more important than the wheel. They have no problem being slaves. They can also think – and act – as if they were real. I bet you could not tell the difference when you first saw them.”
“I was particularly impressed by the sex, er companion droid,” Marley said, “until I perceived the abundance of silicon. And she was all too willing to do anything…That’s when I realised she was a robot. But still, you’re a lucky man.”
“I am a lucky man! And I will be even luckier when Frint Nono finishes testing my grand design. Nothing like this has been done before. Zorgon anatomy is very hard to simulate.”
Marley’s heart started thudding.
Hazard signalled to Tycho Brahe, who creeped over and pulled back his chair. The hairy scientist paced around the table. “Despite their passivity, Zorgons are burly and durable… creatures. But what do they do? They spend half their life with their heads in the sand. They make flacsacs and teach their children how to play catch the scrab.
“What do they do? They worship a so-called Guardian, have rituals and festivals and useless ceremonies where they record what they have done since the last festival. What have they done? They’ve put their land to no use. An entire planet is occupied by a species that has done nothing and will do nothing.
“The Zorgons also claim areas they do not occupy: the peaks of mountains they never ascend, valleys they don’t know exist. Here we can test the durability of the Nucleon Battledroid. I was tempted to send it down to Thranganis’s lab, but I have ethics. Thranganis tries to make use of red dust. Pah! He hasn’t made anything useful for years, unless you’re a connoisseur of special sauce.
“But come, I will show you Frint Nono’s lab, where he is executing the final tests on my…but come!” He sped through a door at the end of the hall.
The sound of feet patting the floor was the only indication of where he had gone. It was obvious Rothball Hazard was wrong about the chemical abilities of Thuris Thranganis. How long the effect of the ionised red dust would last was another question.