Edition 8: The Traveler by Laura Haddock
When you’re travelling in the infiniteness of space, the smallest miscalculation can result in a nightmare. So it was for Carl, looking for a quiet break. His error would send him to one of the worst places to end up: Earth. SY
It was the damn Dot Bug screwed it up.
Carl used the first two days of his vacation to plot his course with paper and pencil, just like great-great-great grandpa did it. His calculations were accurate—even beautiful. Travel computation was an art, really. Auto-plotters were for cretins.
The tiny Dot Bug did what Dot Bugs do. It scuttled into Carl’s note pad and settled in between a 3 and a 5 to suck on the paper-pulp.
It looked like this: .
Decimals make a difference in space travel.
Because he was an Arterian, and because Arterians are endowed with hyper-sensitive olfactory senses (thus the large, bulbous noses), Carl was very particular about where he vacationed. He would never voluntarily travel within one galaxy of any of the Trash planets, for example. The stench emanated for light years, no matter what the Universal Containment Council said in their press releases.
Only a few planets met Carl’s criteria as essence neutral, and for this trip he chose the wonderfully smell free Prospero. It was a rock planet with no native life, just miles and miles of resort hotels and water parks. He booked his room months ago and had been counting down the days.
Carl unfolded and charged his space cube and grabbed extra batteries for the remote navigator. He packed his swim trunks with the slimming black side panels. Done! In a few hours he would be clinking glasses with his chums on sterile Prospero.
Or would he?
When Carl plugged in the numbers meant to transport him to the lobby of the Hotel Caramba, he included the . and found himself instead on the pungent, human infested planet Earth. In an alley. Next to a reeking dumpster.
He took a step out of the space cube and landed in a puddle of brown goo.
“Damn!” Carl grunted Arterian curse words and stomped around to dislodge the foul gunk from his gravi-boots. He spritzed the air with Zapit air-sanitizer, then folded up his cube and hid it along with his helmet and gear.
He took a deep breath. Immediately he regretted taking a deep breath. Stinky Earth air. He shot a spritz of Zapit in his mouth.
Carl scanned his surroundings. Good—there was a public establishment off the alley where he could sit and plan his escape. He’d pass as a native in the dim bar room light.
“What can I get ya?”
In a few blinks Carl’s eyes adjusted to the darkness and he did his best imitation of an Earth walk toward the hairy bartender. It was complicated, the awkward shuffle of Earthlings. At first he forgot the pattern and tried to take two steps in a row with the same leg. He almost fell twice.
“Little early, ain’t it? Last place cut you off?” The bartender eyed him suspiciously. “Well? What’ll it be?”
Carl tried not to gape. These humans with their odd furry patches—it was just weird. This one even had it growing on his face like an Arterian Forest Badgerine.
“H 2 O.”
“What? You want water?”
“Please. Thank you. Condolences.” Lucky thing he’d taken Primitive Languages of the Universe in college. He knew it would come in handy some day.
“Ain’t got nothing in a bottle or with bubbles.” The bartender swatted at a fly, then wiped the counter with the towel. “Just plain old faucet water.”
Carl cringed. The man smelled of anchovies and garlic. It seeped from his pores. “No matter. Just—” He quickly shot three squirts of sanitizer while the man’s back was turned “—H2O.”
“Gotta charge you for it. House rules.” He thunked a glass down at Carl’s place.
Carl ignored the hovering smorgasbord of stink and set to work filling pages with numbers. He bent over his notebook, avoiding the bartender’s gaze. Pay no attention regular Joe havin a drink go about your business nothing to see here–he sent out a loop of thought prompts as he worked.
Carl hunted for his error. He’d aced manual space travel in school. So how did he end up here? He worked and reworked his calculations, but it became increasingly difficult to concentrate with the noxious miasma that surrounded him.
The door opened, lighting the bar for a moment. Carl knew it was a woman without turning because the barkeep straightened up and sucked in his gut. Plus…the smell. Perfume on top of floral body lotion with an underlying base of stale cigarette encased in hair spray. She was slightly less hairy than the man.
“What can I get you?” Same words, different tone and meaning. Horny humans.
“How ’bout a margarita?”
The high pitched voice set Carl on edge.
“Sorry. Blender’s broke.”
“Shit. Something cold and low-cal, then.”
“Perfect!” The woman sat next to Carl, despite all the other empty seats. “Whatcha working on?”
Carl ignored her and kept scribbling. He covered his nose with a napkin.
“You a writer or something?”
The overwhelming stench of the woman and the garlicky aura of the bartender combined to give Carl a headache. He fought the urge to vomit.
He held up his pad full of numbers. “Math problem. Thank you. Regards. ”
“Ooh. Math. I suck at math.” She poked a finger at Carl’s notes to drive home the point.
“Most of you do.” He wondered if she would take offence should he spritz her with sanitizer? Best not chance it. Wars had begun over less on Arteria.
The woman tittered, and Carl realized she was flirting with him. These people with their overactive libidos. He wasn’t even the same species!
“Are you a student?” The woman lowered her voice slightly, and Carl caught the first whiff of pheromones. That did it. He had to get out of here or he would pass out.
“Thank you for your interest. Salut. I’m a traveler. Have to leave now. I have…a thing.”
“That’ll be a dollar.” The bartender scowled and held out a meaty hand. Probably he didn’t like the competition for the woman’s attention.
Shit! Carl didn’t have any Earth money. He had packed for Prospero. He had P-credits, not bacteria drenched, musty Earth dollars. He made a show of patting his pants even though he didn’t have pockets.
“Aw, all he had was a water. Can’t you let it go? “The woman turned her attention to the barkeep. “Or you could add it to my tab.” She blinked excessively.
The bartender waited for Carl to speak up. They eyeballed each other and Carl was momentarily distracted by the man’s eyebrows. Bizarre things, eyebrows. Hair over the eyes. And freckles. Freckles were like Dot Bugs. Dot Bugs…
“You sick or something?” The bartender was leaning in to look at Carl’s hairless, slightly gray, face. “I’ll let it go, but only because the lady asked. And you’d best leave.” He flung his towel at another fly, squashing it on the counter. It left a splotch.
“Dot Bug!” Carl smacked his forehead.
“Dot Bug.” Carl waited for it to hit them. “Looks like a little dot? Exactly like a little black dot. No? Oh well, not 3.5—that throws it way off—all the way here!” Carl shrugged. “Just a blasted Dot Bug!”
The bartender and the woman stared blankly.
“35.” Carl chuckled knowingly. “Simple, yes?” Carl gave them an Arterian salute which looked much like he was picking his nose. “Farewell. Felicitations.”
“See you later,” said the woman.
“I will not see you later. I will see you never again!” Carl waved and spritzed at the same time.
The bartender shook his head. “Don’t worry yourself about that guy. Got a nose like a kumquat, didja see? Drinkin’ water. Weirdo.”
“To each his own.” The woman lifted her glass for a refill.
Outside in the somewhat less stinky air, Carl retrieved his equipment and unfolded his travel cube. He popped his helmet on and began punching numbers into the handheld navigator. A passing homeless man looked him up and down, but kept his space.
“35, not 3.5, stinky human man.” Carl smiled. His voice was only a muffled growl under the helmet, and the man hurried away. Carl pumped a few last spritzes into the air, but there wasn’t enough Zapit in the universe to neutralize the stench of Earth.
Carl punched “enter” and waited for the remote system to respond. He’d soon join the guys for drinks on the Caramba patio and they’d have a chuckle over this fiasco. It made for good cocktail hour chatter.
3 point five! Ah, well. It could have been worse. He could have landed on one of the Trash planets, or even the Dog Planet. It was so overrun with Pugs and Pekignese that you couldn’t move without squishing one of the google-eyed brutes and risking an interplanetary incident.
Carl squinted at the too bright Earth sun and relaxed his shoulders. Any second now…he glanced at his notes again, noticing the small smudge the woman had made with her finger.
Wait, was that a 9 or a 4?
Laura Haddock lives next to the muddy Mississippi River in Memphis, Tennessee with her very patient husband, and two daughters.
Laura’s stories can be found online on Postcard Shorts and SQMag, and in the 2012 anthology The Old, Weird South.
When she’s not writing about ghosts and aliens, Laura volunteers as a moderator on MywritersCircle, and works a desk job to keep the lights on.