Escape Velocity: Chapter 1 – Moonlake

Tales from the Outer Rim: Book 3

They filed out of the hall, bustling with excitement. A bearded young man in hipster jeans, brows furrowed, chatted to a young Sirian woman, who gave him her full attention. Everyone gives Zeen Crawdex their full attention. Crawdex looked around as if someone had called his name, or was talking about him. He shook his head slightly before returning to the Sirian. They sauntered past a small chubby man of indeterminate age huddling before the exit. The Associate Professor clutched a bundle of papers tied with string and a very large book – unusual in the holo-digital age, but not completely out of the ordinary.

Associate Professor Gaston Dimble retrieved his flablet and meticulously went through the list of apps in need of updating. He postponed most updates. Then he scrolled through the latest videos on UpLink, posted to Dither (“About to give my talk on the Orion Arm”) then flirted on HeadNog. Not that the Professor called what he did, ‘flirting’. For the past fortnight he had dithered and flirted at least three times a day to promote his upcoming talk.

As people filed out he felt uncharacteristically nervous. Everyone was leaving – students, businessmen, pensioners, even the odd Tentacled Shrew from Soricidae. But no one was filing in.

A few stragglers remained in their seats. After all, education was free on Crete 581d.

Caspar Moonlake, the previous lecturer, was supposedly famous for his motivational talks, and was still animatedly chatting at the lectern with excited young fans, posing for photos, and signing autographs.

Now that he thought about it, it was this that was making Dimble nervous. He looked up Moonlake in Dr Boson’s Cosmogony. Moonlake’s entry had been updated only yesterday:

“Want to sail the solar winds from Crete 581d to Luhman A? Join Moonlake Tours, we make it a breeze. Think you can’t climb Olympus Mons? Easy. How about running the marathon on Sirius A4? With a backpack of stardust? No problem! Caspar Moonlake has done it.

Further down, the Cosmogony stated that Moonlake had climbed Olympus Mons without any arms – in fact he’d had them surgically removed for the challenge then reattached after his successful ascent.

True, Moonlake’s entry in the Cosmogony sounded almost like a marketing blurb. It was hardly written in the neutral tone befitting the Orion Arm’s most trusted open source encyclopedia. Dimble had never heard of Caspar Moonlake before so the least the encyclopedia could do was provide a neutral entry. Perhaps he was asking too much. He was a historian after all, responsible for facts, and he disdained ‘looseness of truth’ wherever he suspected it.

Perhaps the fact he hadn’t heard of Moonlake was not surprising. Zeen Crawdex had recently asked him what rock he’d been hiding under because he didn’t know that the Seven Sisters had a new member. One had split from the RnB group and formed a punk trio with a Sirian guitarist and a Tentacled Shrew on drums.

Dimble agreed with Crawdex’s view of him, and he didn’t care. He preferred to lock himself away in his condominium studying forgotten periods of history. Caspar Moonlake was obviously famous. His latest video on TruthTube had over one billion views.

But despite this obvious fame, it seemed that not everyone had come away from his talk with a positive opinion.

“I thought he made it sound all too easy,” the Sirian girl said to Crawdex.

“Yeah, he sounds like a bit of a fraud.”

Dimble was about to add that Crawdex had a point, but didn’t want to appear to be eavesdropping.

The Sirian girl hugged her flablet closer to her chest. “And that slogan of his ‘If I can’t do it, nobody can’. That’s a bit lame, don’t you think?”

“I quite like it actually.”

“Hey, do you want to come to the Quasar Bar for a drink?”

“Actually, I thought I’d stay and watch Professor Dimble’s lecture.”

Dimble’s heart thudded. He quickly opened one of his books and pretended to be studying. He had to dispel any last minute doubts about his talk. More people rose from their seats, chatted with Caspar Moonlake and marched out. This didn’t deter Dimble anymore. His confidence had been bolstered by the fact that Chuck Marley’s friend, Zeen Crawdex, was staying to watch. But at the same time, for some reason, Dimble felt he would more comfortable if there were fewer people. What he was going to propose was quite outlandish, if he had the courage to announce it.

8-bit style representation of a lecture hall
The remaining attendees settled in for a classic lecture.

Truth be told, he hadn’t lectured in a while. His public speaking was rusty, judging by the practise he’d been doing in front of the mirror. He’d hosted the odd tutorial, but it was his students who mainly talked in these. But he didn’t mind. There’s was always at least one student who wouldn’t shut up and Dimble was preferred this.

In the end, he’d only agreed to give this lecture because Cretan Normal University, along with the Great Library, had offered 5,000 elon for talks on emigration throughout the Orion Arm. Did the flow of different species, races and social groups benefit social cohesion and trade?

Dimble was more than a little surprised when his application for a one hour slot was accepted. His proposal hadn’t been that complicated: For the Orion Arm to flourish, the League of Worlds must relax creeping immigration restrictions the human colonies were applying to Sirians and Baconians. If we did not, the Baconians and Sirians could form an alliance, and this might end humanity’s traditional dominance of the sector.

But populist sentiment was running high. What had Councillor Prune said the other day? Proxima b had a housing crisis, and the Sirians were taking their jobs. Dimble was going to point out that the Sirians did all the jobs the Proximals turned their noses up at, like vending machine maintenance, data entry, accounting and public sanitation. On top of that, Baconian tourism now accounted for more than 10% of revenue in the Proxima and Cretan systems. These arguments wouldn’t ruffle any feathers. However, what Dimble planned to say about the Zorgons – that could raise a few eyebrows. Or just make him look like a fool. That’s how everyone saw him anyway, wasn’t it?

He thought about Chuck Marley again. Marley owed him at least 20,000 credits after their successful Zorgon ‘trade’ mission. But Dimble’s share of the funds were locked away in the systems of the Anaconda, Marley’s ship.

Dimble assumed Insomniac Fluton was still aboard the Anaconda, orbiting Zorge, waiting for news of Marley. Fluton said he would report back to Dimble as soon as he had clues as to Marley’s whereabouts. He hadn’t contacted Dimble in six weeks.

He resolved to call Fluton after the lecture. Marley might not be anywhere near Zorge. If space and time had warped during the photon annihilation, it could have teleported him anywhere, inside a black hole for all he knew. They may as well search Teegarden’s Star, Lalande 21185 and even Cygnus X-1. Before all was said and done, they at least needed to find out if Marley was dead or alive.

Although the Anaconda had no functioning hyperdrive, it certainly used to have one. Zorgeous the lonely Zorgon had miraculously activated its burnt out core for a one-way trip to Zorge. Maybe Zorgeous could work out how he charged the hyperdrive. Otherwise Futon was pretty much stuck there.

He could always take a freighter back to Crete. That’s what Dimble had done. Except he’d chosen his route badly. The Carrion Corvette he boarded took a detour via UV Ceti, dropping off unmarked cargo. The trip took almost two months, when better planning would have seen him home in a fortnight.

During that time he had thoroughly absorbed himself in the pictographic texts he had scanned before leaving Zorge. The material was enlightening. But could he reveal that-

“Professor Dimble, are you ready to go?”

Dimble hastily got his papers in order before realising that the speaker was Crawdex. Three minutes remained before the scheduled start of his lecture.

“Er, it’s Associate Professor, actually.”

“What are you going to talk about?” The Sirian girl leaned forward.

Dimble looked down at his books then dropped his flablet.

As he stooped to retrieve it Crawdex patted him on the back. “We’ll leave you to prepare.” He winked, then led the Sirian back into the auditorium.

Dimble stood in the lobby of the Great Library’s lecture hall, feeling a little cold. He should have brought his jacket; you never could predict the air-conditioning in these places.

The clock struck 12. Moonlake still stood before the dais, surrounded by about seven or eight of his former audience.

Then it was five past the hour. He was eating into Dimble’s time. Crawdex hadn’t noticed and was animatedly pointing at the Sirian’s flablet.

The Associate Professor decided to wait a few more minutes.



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