But when, once again, they raced into the galley, disappointment would torment them horribly…
Returning to the control room, Flaxwell whispered to the Oracle…
“I just thought you ought to know: I hate you. I hate this ship. I wish I’d never liberated it. I want my dinner.”
Then he noticed Gideon giving him a furtive sidelong glance. In an instant he read his colleague’s mind. “The coffee machine!” He bellowed manically.
It was a foot race, and both competitors were evenly matched…
They stared at each other over the coffee machine – their stomach’s rumbling.
“I dare you to make the first move.” Flaxwell ground out – as if he had a mouth full of coffee beans. “I bet you go for crappachino.”
“What – and have you jump me whilst my back is turned?” Gideon growled back. “Not a chance, sucker.”
It was a stand-off – broken very easily and quickly when the Oracle said: “I have access to food. Listen to me, you dolts. You silicon wallies. You blisteringly turd-like life-forms.”
It then explained that its short-range telescope had detected a Space Slug…
“A Space Slug?” Gideon complained with a whine in his voice. “I don’t eat slugs. What are they – molluscs or something?
“Shut up and let the Oracle talk.” Flaxwell – his common sense restored – snapped at Gideon.
“Space Slugs are scavengers.” The Oracle continued. “They clean up waste products and left-overs from the garbage holds of space ships and other space-born stuff.”
“Left-overs?” Gideon interrupted again. “Waste products?”
Flaxwell said nothing: he simply slapped Gideon around both cheeks.
“Thank you, Flaxwell.” The Oracle said.
“Yes, thank you, Flaxwell.” Gideon also mumbled.
“Space Slugs,” the Oracle continued a second time, “also hang around space that is being worked. Space full of asteroids. Asteroids that are worked by Asteroid Miners. There’s one on screen now. Look.”
It then added: “Would you like me to hail them for you?”
“Do they have egg mayonnaise sandwiches?” Gideon inquired.
“Probably not.” The reply came.
Naturally Gideon was disappointed. His shoulders slumped. But he said: “Okay. Well hail them anyway.”
A few minutes later, and after hearing the sad tale of the hungry earplugs, the Asteroid Mining Company’s Shift Manager appeared on-screen…
“Get yourselves down to our Moon-Dome home.” It said through a pair of unfeasably pursed lips. “We have plenty of off-cut raw materials that are not worth us processing. You can take as much as you can carry.”
“Raw materials?” Flaxwell queried of the Oracle when the Shift Manager had signed-off.
“Off-cuts?” Gideon added.
“I’ve discovered something very significant.” The Oracle replied. “The problem with the Psycho-Chef doesn’t lie in your inability to cook mentally. The problem resides within the galley. Because this ship was not intended to embark upon a lengthy mission, the victualling company did not fill the biological raw material tank with the stuff that the Psycho-Chef requires to create its meals. In short – we are running on empty.
It had not occurred to either Earplug to question where the meals they visualised would actually come from. They just took it for granted. But now that they understood, they realised what their next move should be. A short while later the Scroton Five had landed – somewhat awkwardly and resembling a beached whale…
…next to the Asteroid Miners Moon-Dome home. Or Moon-Dome Town, as it transpired…
…inside which Flaxwell and Gideon were given free access to the spoil pit…
Neither of them were terribly impressed; and Gideon wondered why he’d gone to the bother of wearing his best hat.
“These mouldering biological remains are what are left of a food cache deposited here, thousands of years ago, by a space-wandering race of beings that have long-since departed our galaxy for places unknown?” Gideon said in a tone that suggested that he didn’t truly believe what he was saying.
“Yes.” Flaxwell replied. “And the Asteroid Miners dig it out; process it into something edible; and sell it to planets that have food shortages.”
“Do you think they could process a few lumps into something edible for us?” Gideon suggested. “I’m not sure I really want to touch this stuff with my bare hands. Especially these lumps of something icky that glows.”
“No.” Flaxwell answered him. “That’s what we have the Psycho-Chef for. Now fill your pockets: believe me – it’ll be delicious.”
Well an hour later, and after having enjoyed baked beans on toast by the bucket full, Gideon had to agree that it had tasted “Lovely.” But a short while after tossing his plate into the dishwasher, he was called for other duties…
Unfortunately the ‘beans’ had been of the more vitriolic kind. And even before Gideon had finished, the energy-converter had cried, “Enough!” and given a visual warning on-screen.”
“Oh, by the Saint of All Earplugs.” Flaxwell wailed in horror. “The brochure was wrong: it does smell!”
© Paul Trevor Nolan 2020