Next day Mummy called up the stairs to say there was a man at the door who wanted to speak to Dyspepsia.
Standing on the doorstep was a tall handsome American with no eyebrows and a huge backpack. He said his name was Chuck, and “…Have I got the right place? Is this the headquarters of Dyspepsia and Spookie’s Mission to Mars?”
Once again Dyspepsia had been caught with her mouth full. She’d been eating Doritos up in the bedroom with Spookie. Remembering her manners, she invited Chuck up to the bedroom and gave him some Doritos, and Spookie let him dunk them in her salsa dip.
Chuck put his backpack on the floor and took out running shorts and climbing boots from one of the side pockets. He’d come all ready to plunge into a gruelling course of basic training before the launch date in a month’s time.
Spookie and Dyspepsia looked at each other. They hadn’t been planning on doing any training. It would be as comfy inside the spaceship as it was in their bedroom, so what was the need for training?
“How about doing the Three Tops?” said Dyspepsia. It was her way of keeping him busy until it was time to go. But the next bus to the Three Tops wasn’t until tomorrow now. So she decided the best thing Chuck could do to keep himself out of mischief was to go to Sainsburys and shop for supplies. They’d got theirs already, so he only had to shop for himself.
“How much should I get?” said Chuck.
“Say, food and drink for 18 months,” said Spookie. “A month on Mars, plus 8 months going there and a bit longer coming back, because Earth will have moved away a bit.”
Spookie had been budgeting £10 a day, which means £5,500 if you’re good at maths in the head. Which Spookie was. As you’ll remember, she plays Sudoku in her head, when there’s nothing good on television.
Dyspepsia had a pile of money for supplies in the corner of the bedroom. To make things simple she had withdrawn all the money in the form of pound coins. You always need a pound coin for the supermarket trolley, so there was no reason not to get all the money out as pound coins.
Now, did you know that a new pound coin weighs exactly ten grams? It needs a new one. Older ones weigh less because they wear down a bit.
So £100 weighs ten hundred grams, which is a thousand grams, which is 1 kg. And so 55 hundred pounds weighs 55 kg. Spookie had put the money in a plastic barrel balanced on the bathroom scales, so she could instantly see how much money was left. If the scales said 135 kg then you just put two noughts after it to make £13,500, and that was what was left in the barrel. It was the easiest thing in the world to shovel out 55 kg to give Chuck his £5,500 to spend, and it saved employing an army of accountants like NASA did. After all, they only had a hundred giant microwave ovens installed at the South Pole, and the staff in them had more important things to do than administer an expense account for their one and only passenger.
Chuck stood looking at the pile of pound coins at his feet. “Hey,” he complained. “NASA spends a million dollars just on developing a single astronaut’s meal.”
“That’s too much,” said Spookie. “Here in England we budget differently.”
Of course her cat food didn’t cost anything like £10 a day, and she didn’t really know what was necessary to feed a full-grown American male. But in strolling round the supermarket with Dyspepsia she’d seen a lot of nice meals for well under £10, so it didn’t seem an unreasonable sum.
She relented. “If you see anything really nice when you’re in Sainsburys, and you haven’t got enough money for it, I’m sure we can spare you another shovelful.”
Chuck began stuffing handfuls of pound coins in his pockets, with a doubtful expression on his face. Not wearing braces (suspenders, he called them) and not having very wide hips, his chinos were in danger of falling down clunk! on his toes if he stuffed any more in. Clearly it was going to mean multiple trips.
Dyspepsia had an idea. “Why don’t you tip the stuff out of your backpack and put the coins in there? Your stuff will be safe here, and you’ll have something to carry the shopping home in.”
But that was the last thing Chuck was going to do. He wanted the backpack to stay fastened up, and he made Spookie and Dyspepsia cross their hearts and promise not to peep inside it. Dyspepsia thought at the time it was a bit funny, but she kept her mouth shut. Had she known there was a nuclear bomb inside, a miniature type known as a Davy Crockett, she’d have had something to say about it.
But at that very moment, Spookie started glowing. Because she was a quantum cat, anything quantum or nuclear made her do that. But it wasn’t dark, so neither Dyspepsia nor Chuck noticed she was glowing. But Spookie knew, because for a split-second her eyes became gamma-ray eyes, which are even better than x-ray eyes. She saw right inside Chuck’s backpack and saw the plutonium in the bomb, like a bright shining doughnut.
What was Chuck doing, bringing a nuke along on a trip to Mars, and not wanting anyone to know? Perhaps he didn’t know himself? Perhaps he didn’t even know it was a nuke? No way he’d be doing this off his own bat, without his bosses in NASA knowing. Perhaps they’d given it to him to bring along with him, and told him not to argue?
Maybe there was a perfectly innocent explanation. The nuke would certainly come in handy if they met a dangerous asteroid on the way. Spookie was a trusting cat, and always gave people the benefit of the doubt.
All the same, she thought she’d talk to Dyspepsia about it when they were alone. But it slipped her mind. With just a month to go before the space launch, there were far more urgent things to think about than one tiny nuke. Like: was the space launch actually going to happen? They’d all need to be very busy making sure it did.
In the end it did, though.
…to be continued.