When the storm dissipated, a blue porta-potty stood in the middle of the room.
I leaped to my feet, spilling a bag of Swedish Fish, snatched up the shotgun I had leaning against the couch, and leveled the barrel at the porta-potty.
Then the door squeaked open and a tall, slim man with sideburns wearing a brown pinstriped suit and sneakers stepped out and looked around.
"Hello," he said.
"State your business," I ordered, keeping the shotgun aimed at his face.
He gave me a toothy smile and extended a hand. "Professor Xip," he said. "And you are...?"
"What kind of professor shows up in the middle of a person's living room in a porta-potty?"
He winced. "Wrong place, wrong time, I'm afraid. Travelling circus out near Kappa Tucanae. Anyway, my ship--"
"Ship." He patted the porta potty. "Space-time vessel."
I gestured with the shotgun barrel at the porta potty. "That's a space vessel."
"So you must be an alien."
He nodded again. "I'm from a small planet six light years from Alpha Sculptoris, in the Scupltor constellation. Anyway, the onboard stealth circuits on the ship went dodgy while I was taking a rest stop by that circus. Caused the ship to take the shape of the nearest object."
"A portable toilet."
"A blue one at that. I would've preferred something in black or thunder gray." Xip shook his head. "Anyway, I never got your name, friend." He looked at me expectantly.
I hesitated. He hadn't attacked me. Yet. And he looked vaguely like a character in a TV show I watched off and on. Plus, I had the shotgun trained on him. "I'm Dr. Ace T. Jericho," I said finally.
He arched one eyebrow. "A doctor? Of medicine?"
"An honorific. I'm a writer. Rogue Journalist, really."
Xip's eyes widened. "Fascinating," he said. "I'm a bit of a poetry aficionado myself. Keats. Shelley. Yankovic. Golaca. The great ones, you know."
"Yes. Kraalian poet. Wrote a famous ode about the scent of space lice."
"There's lice in space?"
He nodded. "And they smell of cinnamon, apparently."
I shook my head. "No poetry. Sorry."
"What do you write?"
"Outstanding. I'm a bit of a freelancer myself."
"We have something in common," I said.
"What kind of freelancing do you do?"
"Tax collector. This week at least."
"And what brings you to Earth, Space Tax Man?"
"Call me 'Xip'."
"Nevermind," he said. "I'm here to find someone."
He started to reach into his jacket.
"Slowly, Sonny Jim," I said.
He froze and frowned at me for a moment, then smiled and nodded. "Of course. I keep forgetting some Earth people are naturally wary."
"Do you meet many Earth people?"
"I've met a few in my time. And space." He chuckled. "Science joke." He flashed a toothy grin, then gestured with the hand still near his jacket. "May I?"
He complied and drew out what looked like a stainless steel twin-bladed speculum attached to a multi-buttoned remote control
"That better not be a weapon," I said.
"It's not," Xip said. "It's a data wand."
"That's all it better be."
"Let me show you a picture."
I steeled myself for whatever heinous image he was about to show me. A space speculum and the threat of pictures conjured up a series of horrific possibilities in my mind, not including Natasha Henstridge and teeth. Sharp, Great White Shark-sized teeth. And claws. Despite her having been a San Francisco lawyer who worked with a aneurysm-inflicted prophet and the father of a covert government agent.
Xip manipulated the speculum/data wand and a image appeared in mid-air. It looked like a teddy bear with dark fur and a weird topknot.
I lowered the shotgun. "A teddy bear?"
"No," said Xip. "A Furry. From the planet Daykin."
I pointed to the topknot. "Why is that thatch of hair on top of its head shaped vaguely like a hypodermic needle?"
"It's just a Furry with a syringe on top. Very common species."
"And why is a tax collector looking for this creature?" I said.
"He owes four time ticks of back taxes. That's equal to twelve of your Earth years."
I gave a low whistle. "That's a helluva lot of taxes."
"He's number one on our list."
"And you think he's here on Earth?"
Xip winced. "Ah, no."
"Then how'd you end up in my living room?"
"Miscalculation of coordinates," said Xip. "Also, I'm out of fuel. And that's where I believe you can help me."
"How's that?" I said. "I don't think I have anything like rocket fuel in the place. Or even dilithium crystals. Or a beryllium sphere."
"I need sodium erythorbate and sodium nitrite," Xip said and gestured with the data wand. "And according to this, you have both in great abundance." He depressed a few buttons. The image of the Furry was replaced with that of a blue-labelled can that read: Libby's Potted Meat Food Product.
I had a box of those in the kitchen cupboard.
"Mister," I said. "You've come to the right place."
Come back next week for another entry of The Jericho Files!
Read previous Jericho Files entries here.
Read previous Jericho Files entries here.