- Published on Wednesday, 18 June 2014 18:26
by Joseph Musters
The small group of Earthling tourists followed their Toomsian
tour guideon a wide, enclosed catwalk several dozen boolts (close enough to metres) above the Toomsicle factory floor. They were the kind of tourists that just want to have an easy, moderately good time, facilitated by the tried and tested routine that isa guided tour. Only a small perimeter of sunlight seeped in from the top of the circular room the group filed into. Down below, a spectacular mess of gadgets and
machinery assembled what vaguely appeared to be a series of varying styles of mobile toilets. A frail, ancient-looking human father and his short but stout little monster of a boy were front and center. The Toomsian Toomsicle factory tour guide, sitting in his mobile Toomsicle, began:
“Life on planet Tooms is just about perfect this afternoon. Aside from world peace, everlasting clean energy and enough farmland to perpetuate the Toomsian species, we have perfected the art of convenience. It is the reason nobody ever wants to leave the planet; an addiction to luxury. Instead of enduring bad weather, we constructed a series of domes over their major population centres. To dispensewith the need to do laundry, nobody wears clothing anymore; this made possible in part due to the domes. Need to do the shopping? No you don’t! Just order whatever you need from your armrest interface at any time, and it’ll arrive the next quarter cycle at your door (about 3-5 Earth business days). Perhaps the Toomsians’ greatest achievement is the invention of the Toomsicle.”
At that point, the fat little human boy took his fist out of his mouth long enough to pull on his father’s pant leg and whine.
“This is stupid. I wanna go to Disneyland!”
His father, a meek, elderly man with an aluminum hip replacement and thick bifocals (who was just then silently berating all those who opposed the metric system) responded, “Oh, well you know we don’t have the money for that, Tim. Space flights all the way to here from Earth are cheaper, plus the tours are free. Let’s just enjoy the tour, shall we?” Fat Tim’s mother thought of him as a “happy” little accident, but even she wouldn’t take this kind of guff from her son. Too bad hers was an even sadder misfortune, leaving him alone. Well, NEARLY alone. When she was alive, all the best of Old Tim’s pleading amounted to nothing – rather, he WISHED it had. Instead, it had amounted to this insatiable troglodyte he now had in tow.
His creaky bones ached from walking. It’s not that it was a terribly long way to walk, this tour route, it was more that he felt about ten times too old to be his son’s father. He agreed with his son: this was a boring tour. Even the Toomsians looked boring. Just like humans in every way, except a sickly, translucent pastel orange colour of skin. It made you a bit sick to look at. More so than the thick row of dead flies collected in the deep hollows of the drafty window frame bottoms. Someone must have thought nobody would notice. At any rate, the tour wasn’t really supposed to be interesting at all, just manageable.
“Even if you do mind, sir,” spoke the smug-looking Toomsian from his sitting position in front of the long row of massive factory windows in the breezeway, “your child.”
“Of course, sir,” said the father whose name was also Tim.
Old Tim put a cupped hand over Fat Tim’s mouth for half a second before it was aggressively bitten. Satisfied enough, Fat Tim stood in grinning silence.
The guide forged on:
“For countless cycles on Tooms now -really, we’ve lost count-, a parasite has infected the entire population. This parasite lives in relative symbiotic harmony with the Toomsian host, though the bowels of the infected are in constant distress,. So much so that the affected must use the restroom facilities many dozens of times a day. Unlike most parasitic afflictions, to remove this one is to kill the host, every time. As a result, in any facility on the planet in which one sits down for any lengthy period of time, one sits in a shallow cubicle of sorts,” (the Toomsian factory tour guide used an armstroke to display the large white cube containing his lower torso), “hermetically sealed from the outside once the affected sits in it. There is a seal around the area the affected sits up, thereby keeping any unwanted smell or particulate matter away from the upper torso area. In this way, the affected on this planet live more comfortably, so that we are not constantly in the restroom. Many jobs have been created this way in the form of cubicle cleaners. Each time a cubicle – a word synonymous with Toomsicle - is occupied an anti-pathogenic mist is automatically sprayed within the cubicle, and the toilet cleans itself to some degree.”
Life with Fat Tim hadn’t always been terrible. When he was first born, his father a profound sense of wonder and awe at the miracle of life, and pride at having given life to a tiny little miracle – even if said miracle WAS a bit on the chunky side, even for a baby.
Phoort carried on: “Deep cleaning still requires the employment of cubicle cleaners. The affected on this planet almost never stray far from home, as the lack of, “cubicles for the affected,” on other planets leaves them quite uncomfortable. The entire planet is a bit like a retirement home. The affected are envious and jealous of, as well as angry with, those who travel through space free of this parasitic affliction. The parasite is affectionately referred to as the ‘Bungworm’.”
A human tourist from the back of the group piped up a moment, “How many off you are affected by the bum worm?”
“All of us,” said Phoort, the male Toomsian tour guide, “are affected by the BUNGworm as the parasite is passed down through birth.”
“Bum bum! Bum worm!” chanted little-yet-still-fat Tim, “Bum bum, bum!"
The tour guide exploded, “SIR!”
Old Tim knelt down beside his aggravating little miracle and said, “Ok, I promise we’ll go to Disneyland once we’re done here, ok? I’ll pick up a few more shifts at work, and we can go in a month or two, ok?”
Fat Tim quit harassing the guide, and turned to his father, “Ok, but I want ice cream soon.”
Fat Tim made his father feel, well not proud, but a bit more complete as a person. Having a son made him feel like he’d done something worthwhile with his life, even if Fat Tim continued to be a huge pain to everyone around for the rest of his rotund existence. Sometimes Old Tim wondered if it wouldn’t be best to just leave him somewhere dangerous and walk off.....
The tour progressed beyond the factory floor to a holo-projection room with a much thinner veil of civility due to the lighting. The lamps were all located on the floor, pointed upward. Every person standing now had giant, evil eyebrows, even if they didn’t have glasses on. The guide composed himself for a full five doogs (strangely enough, exactly the same as 5 Earth minutes) before returning to his patter:
“On the planet Tooms, regular restrooms still exist, though they are frequented mostly by offworlders. The affected do not keep these restrooms in as good order or repair as their cubicles, as they care little for off-worlders who travel so freely and without need of cubicles. The wealthier members of the affected on this planet have the means to purchase mobile cubicles, and do so. Someone traveling by mobile cubicle, therefore, is seen as having quite a high status. Different aerodynamic designs and fancy jewel-encrusted hoses and basins are all the rage amongst the rich affected. Frequently, the affected can be seen running from one building to the next wearing tense expressions. Only several years after other worlds heard of the condition of this parasite-affected population, elderly rest homes for off-worlders were set up on the planet as a source of revenue for foreign investors as well as the planet’s government itself, which takes a percentage of the profits of these homes. There formed immediately, and still remains, a negative cultural response to these homes on the planet.”
“Tim!” shouted Fat Tim to his father, interrupting the tour once again.
“I wish you’d call me ‘Dad’, Tim.”
“I wish you’d shut your face, TIM!” Then, with a lower tone of general interest, Fat Tim said, “Hey, that guy’s poop machine looks like your little car.”
Tim modestly arched and cracked his back. “My car is electric; I’m saving our environment.” At least he didn’t live his whole life with a parasite eating away his insides. Fat Tim slowly eating away at his soul was pain enough.
Old Tim wanted nothing more than respect from his son, but after this savior-like statement, Fat Tim began laughing uncontrollably, until the tour guide glided over and leaned down to meet Fat Tim face to face, their foreheads touching. Phoort spoke in a whisper barely audible even to Fat Tim or his father:
“If you don’t shut up and let me finish this so I can have some time alone in my Toomsicle, I’ll snap your fat little neck and throw you in the compost.”
Fat Tim heard the whispering loud and clear, as was apparent in his wide, bulging eyes and newly acquired tremor. The lovely putrid scent of Toomsian baking coming from the Toomsicle had nothing to do with it. Now it was Old Tim’s turn to laugh. He had never stood up to his son like that himself...... and why hadn’t he? His own laughter caught him by surprise, though truly, it was the most liberating chuckle he’d ever had. Phoort began laughing with him, just long enough to make things a bit awkward for the rest of the group. Old Tim hadn’t laughed – or even smiled – since the day after Fat Tim was born.
After wiping a few joyful tears away, the guide hit several buttons on the armrest control of his Toomsicle. A slowly rotating three-dimensional hologram of the entire planet of Tooms popped up in the middle of the room as the lights dimmed. Vast, dark oceans, several barely connected land masses, variable weather systems...... it looked a bit like Earth. The dumbfounded tourists snapped photos of it (knowing full well the pictures would not turn out properly), and the walls, for some reason; the plain, black ceiling and floor, too. As Fat Tim scanned the room for Mickey Mouse and ice cream dispensers, Phoort carried on:
“The existence of Toomsicle-related facilities is an embarrassment to the Toomsian population, as people from other worlds make jokes about the whole planet being a giant old folks’ home. There is also a political war between the government and the foreign investors as to what the taxable percentage of the revenue from these homes should be. Still further, off-worlders who have lost control of their personal faculties exist as members of the general population in the more common communities, and quite enjoy a life that does not involve these people freely roaming around without fear of inopportunely timed incontinence issues. The people of this planet are humanoid, and so our cubicles work quite well for any humanoid off-worlder. Sometimes, however, the newly-arrived off-worlder becomes confused and frightened when the cubicle cleaners - always small children, as it is a right of passage for them into the world of work as well as convenient, as their size at this age is restricted approximately to the height of most cubicles- come by an occupied cubicle to cleanse, regardless of whether or not it is occupied.”
To his father, Fat Tim was seemingly incapable of crying for attention, so instead the little monster began to scream instead: “I WANT ICE CREAM! I WANT DISNEYLAND! I WANT A NEW FAMILY!”
At that moment, Old Tim gave his head a wild shake. What was that? A smell? Had he ever been able to smell before? Likely, but he couldn’t remember. It was a bad smell, probably his own body odour. Excellent! Fried eggs on Sunday morning with a kind, gentle prostitute, also, would be excellent. Perhaps he’d buy a gun, too. Not to harm anyone, or even to use it; just having it around would be a real kick. maybe he would finally try drugs, too. Tim would be fine; a job would teach him a thing or two about life. In the five years they’d spent together, Old Tim had been completely unable to teach him anything about respect, etiquette, or anything else that made you a real person. This would be the equivalent of sending your kid to boot camp..... except, forever. Wonderful forever.
While Fat Tim was kicking the shins of one of the older tourists a few metres away, Old Tim said aloud to no one in particular that he needed to use the restroom. He walked out of the factory the same way they’d all come in. Old Tim smiled as he shifted his small electric rental car into first and cruised off into the golden Toomsian sunset back toward the spaceport.
Back in the factory, Fat Tim looked around confusedly for his father before resuming the search to end his search for Disneyland cream. The guide spoke with a lighter cadence now as he tied up loose ends:
“..... how inefficient it would be to have to make many trips down the same aisle of cubicles in hopes that one is not in use that was before! Some cubicles would never get deep cleaned this way. The cleaners MUST do their jobs, occupied Toomsicles or not. This concludes our tour of the Toomsicle factory. If you’d like to purchase anything from the gift shop, we’ll be passing it on the way back to the parking lot. If you’d like to order your own Toomsicle complete with cubicle cleaner payment plan..... then you’ll just have to move here!” (Phoort paused for a delayed and pathetic applause.) “Thank you all, and have a nice sit.”
The tourists filed out of the factory and into their cars, driving several kilometres back to the spaceport. Old Tim didn’t feel awkward at all when one of the more elderly tour group members asked him where his son was when he ran into her there. The tour guide certainly didn’t either when he forcibly offered Fat Tim a job in the highly lucrative cubicle cleaning industry of Tooms.