“All docking stations start to look alike.” Jorian heaved his backpack off his right shoulder and let it clunk onto the nicked and furrowed polycarbonate platform.
Two months ago, Clarie would have protested with “the germs!” or “the thieves!,” but living on the conduit and staying in hostels in less than ideal ports had lowered her standards, or maybe she was just too fatigued to think about it.
“Second time we’ve had to make unplanned docks on this shuttle line. Next time, let’s take LaGrange,” Clarie said. “Can we afford it?”
“If we drop a few ports from our itinerary or call it quits early,” Jorian said. “I know backpacking across The Way has been your dream, but a year of eating from vending machines and not understanding the language in any port, well, I wouldn’t mind seeing home again.”
“I know, you’re right, Jojo, but, let’s not give up yet. We’ve made it here. What’s it called, Cuperport?”
“Never heard of it.”
“Me neither. Even better. Let’s make it part of our adventure.” Clarie succeeded in mustering some excitement in her voice, hoping it would be contagious so Jorian would catch it and recycle it back to her.
The two strapped their belongings back onto their shoulders and made their way to the exit, scanning their inner wrists at the customs kiosk before passing through the station door into the city outside.
“Even the towns look similar,” Jorian said.
“Let’s see if we can find a café, maybe get an actual plate of something hot,” Clarie suggested. “Can you look up what they speak here? Mine is dead.”
“I’m not getting anything.” Jorian spoke into his chip more loudly and slowly. “Cuperport.”
“Still nothing? Warm up your pointing fingers because I mean to get some food,” Clarie said.
They started down an iron roadway with iron and glass pods on each side – mainly shops and cafes, a few closed doors that possibly led back to small apartments. As they passed one establishment, what looked like a waiter was setting down platters of roast animal and large blue ceramic bowls of steaming thick green substance in front of a group that appeared to be a family.
“My grandmother had bowls like that!” Clarie exclaimed. “Oh, I miss those! Can we try here?”
“Yeah, that green stuff looks like Vegstew to me. I could crush some Vegstew right now.”
They smiled at the waiter and pointed to a table with two chairs. He said “Brlngsflng” and waved them forward with a dramatic flourish of his arm and then hopped a very small hop about an inch to the left before he turned back to the family, who stared at Clarie and Jorian intently.
“I think that means we can sit down,” Jorian said.
“Let’s do it!” Clarie felt rejuvenated at the prospect of a hot bowl of food on solid ground with an atmosphere that was quite breathable.
“Are you going to ask for a menu?” Jorian asked.
“Not up for it. I’ll point to their bowls and point to myself. You?”
The waiter returned after a moment and said, “Dmfglsnrg” and hopped a small inch to his left.
“We don’t speak your language.” Clarie smiled and pointed to the bowl on the table near them and tried to indicate that she wanted a green meal. She added “please” out of custom.
The parents at the table next to them frowned and whispered as Clarie spoke.
“Pureeze?” the waiter tried repeating and then said, “Onofolensifle?”
Jorian and Clarie shook their heads to show that they didn’t understand. The waiter tried another and another and another word or phrase.
“He doesn’t seem to get that we don’t speak his language. Couldn’t he just slide us some stew.” Jorian sighed in frustration.
“Wait!” Clarie said. “I understood that last one! That was Huzzian! I speak Huzzian!”
Clarie busted out a stream of sounds that Jorian did not understand, but the waiter obviously did. After several exchanges, the waiter grinned widely, hopped to the left, and glided back into the café pod.
“What was all that about?” Jorian asked.
“Well, we are definitely getting some Vegstew in some of those retro ceramic bowls.”
“Thank the godlings! Is that all he said?”
“He said he’s not from this planet either. He’s a Kep452ian, but he’s been a kind of interplanetary nomad, not tourists like us, living in each place for a year or so. That’s why he speaks so many languages. He was trying them out to see if we knew one. Really nice guy!”
“Great. Did he explain the hopping thing?”
“Yeah, it’s what they do here when they speak to someone they don’t know well to show politeness. He said we should do it too.”
“If we speak with anyone – not speaking their language and all, you know?”
Clarie nodded. “Just happy we can speak to someone! You don’t know how much you miss intelligent conversation until you can’t find it.”
“Excuse me.” Jorian jokingly crossed his arms and looked at her askance.
“Not including you of course, Jojo! I mean out here among the other ports!”
They hugged and gave a quick kiss before hastily separating when they heard growly comments from the next table. The parents obviously disapproved of their show of affection. The waiter reappeared and deftly slid their bowls in front of them, letting Clarie know he would be back to check on them shortly. The travelers dug into their meal with unabashed gusto, ignoring the angry looks from table next to them.
When the waiter came back, Claire asked him about the customs in the town related to hugging in public. She translated for Jorian.
“It’s not so much that we were hugging, but that we’re offporters hugging. In recent years, there has been a huge wave of hostility toward offporters who live in Cuperport. They apparently don’t harass the waiter because he’s single and works practically as a servant, which they think is appropriate for any offporters here. When they see us showing affection, it means to them that we want to settle down and have children and take their jobs and pods, and they like to say that offporters breathe more air than native Cuperporters.”
“That’s ridiculous!” Jorian said. “Studies have shown that people from all planets use the same amount of oxygen.”
“He knows,” Clarie reported, “but the politicians here say that’s liberal propaganda. They garner support by fanning fear, so no one listens to reason.”
As Clarie spoke, the growly noises from the next table became louder and almost like short spurts on a trumpet. Jorian and Clarie faced the table to figure out who was speaking with such a peculiar voice. What they saw were small gramophone-like shapes sticking out of the waist band of the parents’ pants.
“What is that?” Jorian asked.
“Their second voices,” the waiter said through Clarie.
“We’ve got no idea what that is!” Clarie said.
“Didn’t you know about this planet before you came here?” the waiter asked.
Clarie and Jorian explained that they had been waylaid there by a faulty orbiter on a shuttle.
“I thought everyone had at least heard of this planet,” he began. “As a matter of fact, I came here just because it was so hard to believe the stories I had heard about the second voices.”
“Yes, but what is it?” As the trumpets from the next table grew louder and angrier, Jorian was losing patience.
“It is an evolutionary phenomenon that the people on this planet are born with a second set of vocal chords in their sphincters that activates when they get upset.”
“Wait,” Jorian said to Clarie, “you must have translated that incorrectly. You said sphincter; you know, part of the anus.”
Clarie laughed, “Oh yeah, let me ask him to repeat.”
“You are right,” the waiter said. “I said ‘sphincter.’ So when they get upset, they speak using the second set of vocal chords, which is called their second voice. Because it gets muffled in their clothing, they hook up tubes that lead to the trumpet-shaped metal opening that clips onto belts and tops of pants.”
“That can’t be!” Jorian exclaimed.
At that moment, the mother from the table next to them stood and stomped over to Jorian and Clarie. Her face was pinched and pink as she began mouthing words on her face, but the sound came out of the metal trumpet pressed between the rolls of flesh that cascaded over her frayed pants top, which was exactly face-level to the two seated travelers.
“Flgrdslrfblrg!” she seemed to be repeating.
Clarie and Jorian’s jaws dropped in amazement.
“She says you should go back to your own planet and stop trying to steal their children’s toys,” the waiter explained.
“Toys?” Jorian and Clarie asked.
“I honestly don’t have any idea what she is talking about. That is a new one. Let me try to calm her down and explain that you are just visiting.”
Clarie and Jorian looked on as the “bgrls” and “vsmlrs” rolled gently out of the waiter’s mouth and were met with sounds less and less like decipherable syllables and more and more like a screeching trumpet. Just when they thought it could not get any more ridiculous, the father came over with an even bigger gramophone-like apparatus shoving out of his belt area.
It was like a tuba! Clarie and Jorian were stunned, but they couldn’t help but chuckle at the bizarre sound.
“Tell him we can’t respond until he jumps to the left to show some respect,” Jorian said.
“Come on now,” Clarie told him, “you’re just trying to stir things up.”
“Well, you always want me to embrace the culture where we are. Let’s have some hopping around here.”
Clarie was about to respond, but they were suddenly hit with a distinct stale scent that made them each grab for their napkins and wrap them around their noses.
“That happens sometimes,” the waiter explained. “When they get carried away with their tirades, they can’t separate the words of their vocal chords from the excrement from their colons, so it does become odoriferous.”
The parents did not react well to Clarie and Jorian’s amusement. They called their band of teen and little children over, who bared their little trumpets and commenced to add to the stinky din. Clarie found it particularly sad that the parents should pass on such hateful behavior to their children.
When the young ones seemed to tire of trumpeting, and it seemed the travelers might be left alone, another family who had apparently been dining inside came out to join in berating Clarie and Jorian, yelling various comments about oxygen percentages and quality pod homes and toy disappearances. Then the manager came out to tell the travelers they had to leave because they were causing a disturbance.
“You have got to be kidding!” Jorian exclaimed. “We are minding our own business.”
“There must be a magistrate that we can call to arbitrate this situation,” Clarie said. “That’s pretty standard on all planets.”
“There is,” the waiter told them, “but the second voice situation is even worse with the magistrates and other politicians. They become so accustomed to blowing wind with their second voices that their regular vocal chords, which are for logical and sensible speech, become atrophied from disuse. The result is the ability to use only the sphincter vocal chords, which become damaged from overuse, so there is an abundance of fecal matter released when they pontificate. I don’t believe they will help you.”
The last part of the waiter’s words was hard to hear because the two families and the manager were trumpeting vociferously. Clarie and Jorian and even the waiter had to squint because their eyes were burning from the anal particles released with the heckling.
“We need to get out of here,” Jorian said. “What do we owe you, buddy? And thanks, by the way, for your help.”
“I’ll take care of it. Don’t worry,” the waiter told them. “Just go. Get out while you still can. Run!”
“Thank you so much,” the travelers yelled over the noise as they hoisted their backpacks onto their shoulders and pushed through the Cuperporters to get back onto the road. A few of the trumpeters stepped out onto the road to shout after them as they made a dash for the shuttle station.
As they reached the door to the station, they each felt a hand on their shoulder and heard a loud “bstrklrfrtsr” from right behind them. When they spun around to see who had followed them, they found the smiling face of their Kep452ian waiter.
“I couldn’t take it anymore. I had hoped to stay and be a stabilizing influence on this backsliding planet, but there’s only so much crap flying around that a person can bear,” he said.
“Where will you go?” Clarie asked.
“It’s been awhile since I’ve satisfied my travel bug. I think I’ll move around a bit. I’ve saved up a chunk of money and gotten a ridiculous number of LaGrange space shuttle coupons for tips over the last year. I could sponsor a couple of tickets. Where are you going?”
Clarie and Jorian smiled at him and each other and handed him pieces of their packs to haul.
“You’ll have to learn Giliesian,” Jorian said. “Clarie can’t be translating between us all time.”
“Or you could learn Huzzian or Kelp452ian.” Clarie punched his shoulder. “Or do I have to get you a little trumpet tube as you lord your monolingualism over all you see?”
“Bstrklrfrtsr!” Jorian said, and the former waiter giggled.
“What did you say?” Clarie asked.
“I’m not sure,” Jorian said, “but we’ve got trillions of miles to find out from our new friend.”
Jorian faced his new friend and hopped an inch to the left. They all had a good laugh and headed toward the ticket counter, only too glad to leave Cuperport far behind.
Leea Glasheen writes on the shores of Lake Michigan; you are most likely to catch sight of her in the corner of a coffee shop, tapping, tapping, tapping her thoughts into existence. Leea packs a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing. She has recently been published in The Moon Magazine, The Writer’s Tribe Review, Latchkey Tales, Alternate Hilarities, Synaesthesia Magazine, and When Women Awake. Please watch for her novel, Backbiters, available summer 2017 from Montag Press. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.