A bit of humour from outer space by the author of The Avatar Syndrome
"Ah, thank you kindly, bartender. Much appreciated. Cheers!
So when they accused me of being inebriated, me, who wouldn't even inhale the fumes while piloting my hopper, I simply told them the truth: No Sir. I said. I took every precaution possible. I even posted beacons. They said: Your objection is noted. Nevertheless, a three-month suspension is upheld by this court.
And that was that. And just how am I supposed to make a living in the meantime? Guys like me don't retire. We work or we starve. Except for what we can scrounge and then multiply. But you've got to scrounge it first, right? Anyway, to start with, it wasn't my fault. Sure my ship was invisible, but not to their radar. And I made doubly sure they already had radar. For years, now. How would I know that they would ignore it.
Thank you barman. To your very good health, too!
How did it all start, you ask? Would you believe it even if I told you? O.K.
Listen to this...
Three months ago, I found this little planet. It looked cute from up above. Nice and blue with pretty little cloud patches scattered haphazardly, but still, it made a friendly impression on me. It looked like I might be able to do a little business down there. I'm a trader, by trade. like to do a little business. Even with primitives. Why not? You never know till you try. If both parties make a profit, what's the harm in that?
I left my cruiser on their cute little moon (didn't want to show off, you understand?) and took my hopper down to the surface. I had no idea what they might have to offer. It would have taken some research, and I was feeling tired. Fifty light-years takes a lot of Umph out of you. I needed to rest.
As I already told you, I checked on their technology, found out they used radar, so I set beacons, just to be doubly safe, you understand, and went to sleep. I made the hopper invisible, of course. For all I knew, they could have started shooting at me. I might have been trespassing, or something. Don't forget, I had no idea if the natives were friendly, or not. I can see through most solids, but I am not a mind reader.
I’d hardly closed my eyes when the alarms started making a racket like you wouldn't believe. They went absolutely frantic. I spread myself across the whole cabin. My hopper viewers told the whole story! I had one blithering idiot coming straight at me. A winged craft full of Umph on my left, another on my right, and listen to this, another straight above. If I’d made a run for it, the turbulence would’ve squeezed them all out of their skins. So what the hell would you do? There was no way to go but down, (and that's when my real problems started!). I sat, I mean landed, right on top of him!
He was just standing there, in the middle of an open field. What would anybody, even a primitive, be doing in an open field was beyond me. He seemed to be picking something up from the soil. How was I to know they didn't even have food synthesizers down there yet? I mean, I ask you. Would you have guessed? Have you ever seen a Xeno in an open field? So there you are.
Anyway, I sat on him. Only then I found out he had Umph. I can read a group of them from a distance, but a single native down there, has so little Umph it's hard to read from any distance. Only he was losing it fast. I did the only thing possible. I grounded the hopper, oozed out in a split second and grabbed his mould with all I had. In a few seconds I looked exactly like the fellow. About five foot nine, half-bald, rather craggy, dumb looking face and, I later learned, 'bout sixty. Imagine, I killed a juvenile! I'm telling you, it just didn't feel good.
I stood there, scratching my head (they seem to do that there when they don't know what to do), and then an awful sound shot through my ears:
"Joshua! Come here! How long does it take to pick enough potatoes for supper?"
As I was saying. That voice wasn't a nice sound.
I looked around me. Now listen to this. I picked up most of the memories this Joshua had before his Umph left him completely. There is a thing they call brain, down there. Or should I say, up there. Anyway, it's not a bad memory storage device. Once you learn to use it, it's not that bad. The funny thing is, I found out later, most of them don't use it at all. Ever! Well, hardly ever, for all I could see.
So I looked around, picked up their 'potatoes', and carried them to the house. That was my second shock. My God, was she ugly! She was the ugliest woman I have ever smelled. I didn't know such people still existed in the Galaxy. You could, literarily, smell her character within a couple of light years. No, really. I hadn't spotted her immediately only because I'd been so preoccupied with sitting on Joshua. Wouldn't you be? You know what the Law says about displacing someone's Umph without permission? I was dead scared I would lose my licence permanently. I closed my nose and handed her the potatoes. What do you think she said? Thank you? Hah!
She said: You're too slow, Joshua. Next time I'll get them myself and you can make your own supper. That was the thanks I got for her stupid potatoes. I am telling you, talk of a primitive!
Joshua and the uglie, whose name, by the way, was Harrietta, lived out in the countryside. They operated a gas station and grew their own vegetables. Harrietta, or Harriet, was supposed to look after the vegetables and Joshua after the gas.
What's gas? Well, it’s not easy to tell. It's a foul smelling liquid they use to propel rusting boxes of metal and plastic along the ground. They move along, as slowly as an aging Gimmean snail, on wheels. No, don't laugh. I'm serious. On four, round wheels! The boxes are called automobiles. But they are auto-nothing. Without this gas, they don't get anywhere. I'm telling you, it's weird!
But let's get back to the story.
This Harriet woman was a monster. Whatever Joshua did, it was either wrong, or too slow, or too low, or too high. I'm telling you, she was a real Yahoo. They have some in a zoo on Quaqq, but here, or rather there, she was a live one, and walking around without a leash. Would you believe it?
I had to find a way out of this mess. My hopper was grounded out in the field, invisible of course, but sooner or later Harriet would bump her ugly face on it and Joshua, that's me don't forget, would get it again. On top of that, the hopper had the right recto-boosters bent, and it has been a while since I moulded one. I needed time to do the repairs.
In the meantime, I had no choice but to take Joshua's place. It wasn't easy. The automobiles kept pulling up at the gas station and I had to fill their tanks with the propellant. That alone left me with very little free time. Once I got the know-how about their mode of travel, I managed to get rid of most of my customers. At least the local ones. I simply adapted the gas molecules to keep exfoliating themselves, in liquid layers, so as to keep their fuel tanks full. So after that, these clients never came again. It got Harriet grumbling that we weren't making any money, but it gave me more time to mould my own repairs. What would you have done? Sooner or later I had to get away from the Uglie or go mad. Also I couldn't stay for ever in Joshua's body. For all I knew it might disintegrate one day. I already felt strange aches and pains. What's what? Aches and pains? That's when your body tells you about the things you did wrong before. It's a crazy way to learn, but apparently even this method didn't do the natives much good.
I'm telling you, the Yahoo was driving me nuts. She said that now that we had fewer customers, I could do more in the field. You know, potatoes and such like. Well, there was a plus side to this. It kept Harriet away from my hopper, and it kept me close to it. Who said there is no justice?
Now and again, she would call me to the garage.
Joshuaaaa! She would holler. Get your lazy ass here. Customers are waiting. I can't do everything myself, can I!?
Boy, I could tell her!
Everything herself? Like cooking the foul tasting slop they use for food there? I don't wish it on my worst enemy, with the possible exception of the Boohoos who did me out of a fair profit last year. Anyway, I’d go to the garage, fill their tank once and for all, and go back to my hopper. It’s not easy trying to mould complex shapes with constant interruptions. On the other hand, once I was in the garage, I could keep trying out new ideas. Sometimes I would fit the customers with new tires. They used rubber rims over metal wheels, which would wear out in no time at all. Instead, I fitted them a mould into which the tires continued to expand. Why not? Who wants to change tires every couple of years?
You see, after only a week or two, I thought I was beginning to think like some of the natives. Only I was wrong! In fact, their whole economy is based on obsolescence. If something works, they change it to make it worse. Mind you, that's the only way they manage to keep people employed. I'm telling you... The chief people in charge of obsolescence are called politicians. They create policies to keep people as dumb as possible by making decisions for them. You know – making sure people don't start thinking for themselves. That way, the masses are easier to control.
Control for what? How the devil do I know? Most people I met were happiest when they were doing nothing. So what is there to control?
Anyway, this dragged on for a couple of months. That's about two galactic ticks. My booster moulds were coming along very nicely, thank you, but I had very little time to work on them. After all, how often do you repair your boosters? I almost forgot their precise moulds. I've been using the same ones for the last million years. Light-years. Unless you sit on someone, these moulds last forever. It was the Umph that did the damage.
Yes, barman, I will have another one. Thank you. Yea, it sure is thirsty work. Here's to you. Cheers, and all that!
Anyway, then I got lucky.
We were sitting at the dinner table, Harriet and I, eating. I liked those moments, even if the food was lousy. Why? Because the Uglie couldn't talk with her mouth stuffed to the brim. Once the meal was over, she started yapping again. After a while, just this once, I started to listen.
After the usual half hour nagging about this, that and the other, or whatever, she was now going on and on about the goldfish. There was this fair size glass bowl, filled with water, some weeds, a few pebbles, and a solitary goldfish. She started yapping about how the goldfish had been lonely, that her own life hadn't amounted to anything, that she, herself, was like this poor, lonely goldfish, all closed off in the middle of nowhere. Then she ended up by saying that she's in a goldfish prison because I never take her anywhere.
Then she really poured her guts out. She might as well live in the bowl herself, she said. At least then, neither of them would be alone. She said she might as well be a goldfish. Since I weren't any company for her, she said, at least she and the goldfish would swim there together. Why not, she asked? And without waiting for an answer she said that I never even talked to her.
Now that wasn't quite true . Only a week earlier I had told her to shut up or... I forget exactly what my inspiration was at the time. It was a phrase I picked up from a customer in the garage. Something about rearranging her brains in her thinkbox. But that wasn't the point! You know about the rules. We're not allowed to put anyone anywhere, without their permission. And here she was, practically begging me, to stick her in the bowl. Now, I ask you. Would you refuse to make the Uglie happy. According to her, for the first time in her miserable life?
Not me. All my customers, throughout the galaxy, know me to be of a generous, you might even say, magnanimous, disposition. No, really. You don't have to ask me twice. Before she could change her mind, I studied the mould of the lone goldfish, then took one look at Harriet, her mouth still open, and, there she was. Swimming around as if she'd been practicing all her life. For a moment I thought she might sink, with all that ballast, but then I saw that Harriet had always been some ninety-six percent water. Now, wasn't that lucky?
My God, it got quiet in the house.
Now with Harriet's mouth opening and closing but no sound coming out, I could have stayed there another tick or two. But it so happened that the next day I hit the right mould for my boosters. Frankly, by that time, I had lost hope that I could make a good trade on that planet. Oh, don't get me wrong. The natives had some marvellous ideas. Their imagination is as good as any I've felt within the Matrix, but... well, how could I reciprocate? The only moulds I had would last for thousands of years. That would upset their whole economy. Whatever moulds their produce themselves, with their imagination, they make sure that the product falls apart in no time at all. And if it is more sturdy, then they manufacture a thing they call pollution. That is a complex substance which they discharge into their air, water, and even burry it in their soil, so that the acids, and such like, eat into their ideas. I'm telling you. They live in a garbage damp. And the view from the moon looks so nice. So green and blue, and peaceful....
To each his own. Right? Yes, thank you, barman. I will. You're a man after my own heart. Cheers.
So anyway, I couldn't possibly leave Harriet behind in the fishbowl with the other fish. I could try and make a mould to feed her, but it's more complex than that. Would you believe that they don't absorb all their food down there? They shove enormous amounts of it into their distended stomachs, and then, listen to this, they get rid of most of it from their other ends. Evil smelling stuff, too. What a waste!
Anyway, with my boosters ready, I took the fishbowl with me to my hopper, secured it with some good ideas, and off we went. Harriet still continued to keep her mouth open, but she couldn't complain aloud, any more. So why not take her with me? Before taking off, I reverted back to my standard navigational shape. With twenty-seven controls, twenty-seven appendages seemed appropriate. Once I was up in the air, I looked at the fishbowl to make sure Harriet was all right. Now the funniest thing happened. She took one look at me and turned belly up. Literarily, upside down! The next thing I heard was her Umph splitting. It left her so quickly you could actually hear it!
So what would you do? I absorbed her. That way, she and Joshua could be together again. Within me, so to speak. Only I'm still not sure that Joshua would have wanted it this way. Well, at least his Umph was free, and the rest was mostly water anyway.
That's 'bout it barman. Tomorrow I'm getting my licence back. I'm going back to work. Got to do something. I feel like making some really good moulds. My imagination's been itching for three months now.
So long, then. I owe you one. What? I owe you six? Well, a figure of speech. My other appendages? You mean thirty-six. Well, with six mouths, it seemed appropriate. Anyway, put it on my tab. O.K.?
Name? My name? Oh, for the tab. Sure. Only you can't really say it. You've got to, sort of, sing it. Like this: Ooohyeea! On three different notes. Go on, give it a try.
There, you got it. First time, too. You must have heard it before. People often give me credit when credit is due. They often mention my name when they get a really good mould. It's like a referral. In all humility, there's a chance, probably two to one, that I had something to do with it. Are you a betting man, barman?
Say, you wouldn't like to trade that ale for a nice barrel mould? It would stay full forever. You would? O.K., then. Only I have to remind you, moulding is very thirsty work.
Site: The Avatar Syndrome
Reader Reviews for
Want to review or comment on this
Click here to login!
Need a FREE Membership?
Click here to Join!
|Reviewed by Louisa Middleton-Blake
|Absolutely brilliant! I so enjoyed reading this short story, written with great wit and imagination. A real classic which leaves the reader wondering if we do really live on Planet Earth!|
Stan I.S Law (aka Stanislaw Kapuscinski)