Letters Editor Chaim Mattis Keller, aka Legion-Reference-File Lad, is a computer programmer who lives in New York City with his wife and four children.
Hi! Remember me, the Space Cabby? Well, you know that I'm usually a pretty solitary guy. I've never settled down or anything like that. But I'll bet you never heard about the day that I became
"Space Cabby the Space Daddy!"
by Chaim Mattis Keller
On Fifth Avenue in New City on Earth, I had picked up a human woman who looked very wealthy. She had just come out of Spiffany's, the swank jewelry store, and was carrying a load of packages in her hand. Naturally, I helped her with them and took her as a fare.
"Where to, ma'am?" I asked.
"Mercury City, and step on it," she said. "If I'm not on time for our dinner with the governor, my husband will kill me!"
"Well, now, we can't have that," I said as I turned on my meter and headed for the stratosphere. Luckily for her, she chose the best space cabby in the business, and within two hours, she was on Mercury.
"Thanks, cabby," she said, paying me and rushing out of my cab. She scooped up her packages and ran off before I could help her unload them. Like any good cabby, I looked in the back seat to see if she'd left anything, which she had. But she was already out of sight. I sighed and put my cab in gear to cruise for another fare. If she wanted her package back, she'd have to file a claim with the Interplanetary Taxi Commission, and then I'd be able to find her.
Two fares later, there's an odd whining sound coming from somewhere in the cab. "Shoot," I exclaimed. "I guess I'm going to have to pull over to find out where that noise is coming from."
"I don't think so, Cabby" said my passenger, a green-skinned, insectoid Jovian. "The noise appears to be coming from this parcel."
"Thanks," I told him. "As long as it's not the cab that's in trouble, I don't have to stop. Some woman left that package here by mistake. Do you mind taking a look for me and seeing what's making the noise?"
He did. "Oh, my!" he said. "She left her lunch behind! I hope she doesn't mind if it eat it…"
Lunch? What kind of lunch would she have left that makes noise. I turned around, looked at my passenger, and my eyes almost popped out. "Good lord, man! That's not food! That's a baby!"
"Of course it is," said the Jovian, pausing from his intended snack. Suddenly it occurred to him. "Humans don't devour their young?"
Now, as a hack, I'm as inclined to be as tolerant of different cultures as anyone, but it took all I could muster to stay calm. "No, we keep them alive," I said.
"Suit yourself," he responded, putting the baby down. "But do you know how to turn off its screaming?"
"Nope," I said.
"Then, I regret asking you to do this, but please leave me off as soon as possible. The noise grates on my aural receptors."
It was grating on mine as well…both the noise of the baby as well as the sound of a fare and a tip going down the drain. Still, there wasn't much I could do. I pulled over to the nearest civilized asteroid, accepted payment for the partial trip, and let him out.
Then I picked up the baby. As babies go, he (I could tell from the clothes that he was male) wasn't bad looking, but I did wish he didn't show the inside of his mouth so often. I've never taken care of a baby before, and darned if I knew how to stop this one from crying, but I did know that I wasn't going to get people in my cab until I got rid of him..or at least his noise.
Well, his mother (I assumed that's who she was) was having dinner with the governor of Mercury. That was a start. I placed a call to Mercury City, and I got the governor's public relations staff. "There's a woman who's dining with the governor tonight," I told the woman who answered my call, "and she left her baby with me by mistake. Is there any way you can tell me who she is, so I can contact her?"
"There will be many women at the governor's ball tonight," she responded. "I can't possibly list them all for you. If you'll leave me a contact number, I can announce the lost child to all the attendees."
I had no other choice. I gave her my number, and then headed to the local police station. "This child's mother left him in my cab by mistake," I told the desk officer. "Is there anything I can do with him until the mother contacts me?"
He checked with his superior. "If the child has parents, we can't send him to any facility that they haven't approved," the officer told me. "Looks like you'll have to babysit, Cabby."
"Aaaargh!" I screamed, which earned me two seconds of silence from the startled baby. "How will I get anyone in my cab if the noise from the baby drives them away?"
"He's probably hungry," the officer said. "Feed him, and that should calm him down."
"Is that what it is?" I asked. "Thanks! C'mon, kid, let's get something to eat."
I brought him to a human diner three blocks away from the station. "What'll it be," the waitress asked me.
"I'll have a burger," I said, "and…" I looked at the baby, and it occurred to me that he didn't have any teeth. "what do you eat?" I asked him, not genuinely expecting an answer."
"You're not a very involved father, are you?" the waitress asked scornfully. "I'm not this child's father at all," I said. "The mother kind of left him with me by mistake."
"Well, I'll help you out here, but don't expect to get help from everywhere. That kid you've got there looks to be about six months old. You'll have to get special baby formula to feed him." "I don't suppose you sell that here, do you?"
"Sorry," she said. "You can buy it at a supermarket, though."
"Thanks," I told her. "I'll be right back." I raced to a nearby supermarket and got the stuff she described to me. By the time I got back, my burger was waiting for me. I poured the formula into a cup, set it down near the baby, and told him, "Bon appetit!"
The baby, though, had other plans. He grasped the cup in both hands and spilled its contents all over himself. Then he dropped the cup, and it broke with a loud crash. And he started crying again.
The helpful waitress came over to me again. "It needs a bottle," she told me. She explained the concept and demonstrated by using a squeezable plastic ketchup dispenser. "I filled the nozzle with paper so the baby won't get too much too soon," she explained. "But you'd better get a real baby bottle as soon as you can."
"Thanks," I told her. I left my table angel a generous tip after paying for my lunch…and the broken cup, and the ketchup dispenser.
"Well, kid, it's back to work," I told the baby as we went back to my cab. "Now that you're happy, we can go around picking up fares again, which should help pay for your destructive rampage."
Sure enough, I began to get business again, and a few folks even commented on how cute the baby was and left nicer tips. But my good fortune turned to dust when we got pulled over by a traffic officer a couple million miles in from Ceres.
"What'd I do, officer?" I asked. "Was I going too fast? I didn't think…"
The officer cut me off. "You can't have that baby in your cab without a safety seat," he said. "Really?" I asked. "I've been a cabby for years and I've never needed one."
"You don't need one for passengers," the officer told me, "but if he's going to ride up front with you, he's got to be in one. I'm writing you a ticket, but I'll make a note that if you get a seat for the kid within 24 hours, the judge will let you off."
Great, I grumbled mentally. So much for thinking the kid's cuteness would pay for itself. I grabbed the ticket from the officer, who smiled at the baby and yelled "Drive Safely!" after us.
I drove safely…to the nearest place that sells child safety seats, and shelled out a little more. I don't know which was worse…the money, which I assumed the kid's parents would repay me, or the time it took out of what could have been a busy day.
Nonetheless, once I hit the road again, the fares once again began coming in. Until two hours later, when we were about to pick someone up on Titan. The fellow opened up the cab door, and the first thing he said…even before telling me where he wanted to go, was "Phew! What stinks in here?"
Now, I have no problem registering smells, but I had assumed that the odor was the planetary atmosphere. As I watched my money walk away from my cab with a disgusted look on his face, I searched my cab for something that might give off an unpleasant aroma. It didn't take me too long to find the source.
"Kid, that's disgusting!" I told the baby, who looked at me with the widest-open, happiest eyes I'd ever seen on him. What he had just done was obviously a major relief to him, which I supposed had to be a good thing…for people who don't have to deal with other people for a living. I may not know much about babies, but it didn't take an Einstein to figure out what to do.
I won't go too heavily into detail. What I will say is that for the first time that day, there was something about the baby I liked less than the lost fares, and that I had to get the cab's seat and my undershirt, which I had to use as a diaper, professionally cleaned afterwards. But that I did later; as a stopgap measure, I stopped in a fuel station and picked up a small planet-shaped deodorizer to hang from my rearview mirror.
"You're a heap of trouble, you know that, Kid?" I said to the baby. In response, he gurgled as if all he had ever wanted out of life was to ride shotgun on a space-taxi, and I couldn't stay mad at him, no matter how hard I tried.
So naturally, he had to try harder to annoy me, or so it seemed. At the end of my day, there's a place near my home where I like to relax and unwind with a few drinks. I go there because everyone knows me by name, and sometimes you've just got to go to a place like that. "Hey! Cabby!" they all shouted as I walked into the bar.
"Hi, guys," I greeted them. "Meet Kid Cabby." I showed them the little guy, who began to cry from the looks of my friends, who, whatever good qualities they have, aren't the most attractive bunch of fellows in the world. The friendly quips were quick in coming.
"Some people just know how to tip, don't they, Cabby?"
"Well, I sure hope he's a better driver than you are!"
"A round of baby formula for the house…on the Cabby!"
But what was usually a fun couple of hours of camaraderie for me was cut short by cruel reality. "You can't stay here with the kid," the bartender told me. "I'll lose my license if they find a minor in the bar. Sorry, Cabby, but you'd better go somewhere else with the kid."
I walked out of there newly upset. I looked at the baby and told him, "You know, I didn't intend to become your baby-sitter! Why are you doing this to my life?" I went a few blocks away to a family restaurant instead, where I ate a supper that, in the mood I was in, I considered inferior, although it probably was better and healthier than the stuff my preferred establishment serves. Then, being unable to stay out talking to my buddies, I returned to my apartment. "I might as well get an early night's sleep, right kid?" I said to the baby.
Big mistake. Very big mistake. I laid some spare blankets on the floor to make a soft surface for the baby to sleep on, but I needn't have bothered. Sure, he fell asleep. But he also woke up, demanding to be fed, no less than five times before the time I had intended to wake up. Each of those times I had to calm him down, which usually meant feeding him more formula for half an hour or more.
By the time my alarm went off, I was a complete wreck. I didn't feel like I had slept at all, and the baby's midnight screams still rang in my ears. And I didn't have the option of taking the day off of work, not if I intended to do so much as eat, forget about paying for the baby expenses.
I called the Governor of Mercury's office to ask if anyone at the ball had mentioned losing the baby, and I was informed that they hadn't. "Well, who was expected to come that didn't?" I asked the public relations staffer.
"There are a few people like that, sir, and we're trying to contact them all," she assured me. And so I was stuck with the little menace for another day.
How was I going to do my job when standing on two feet had become a chore? I could hardly think straight, but a free-floating memory of something I heard in a truck stop came to mind. Long-haul truckers often have to drive for days at a stretch, and now I remembered what they use to keep themselves awake.
"Come on, kid," I said. We headed down to a nearby deli. "One ultra-hyper-coffee," I ordered.
The boy behind the counter was surprised. "Are you sure you need that, sir? He said. That's very strong stuff!"
"I need it, and I need it now," I said. Soon I had it, and I drank it down.
As I was walking to the place where I park my cab, an odd feeling jolted me. My eyes opened wide, and every nerve in my body was set at edge. I wasn't just awake…I was ultra-hyper-awake!
I began the day of driving, and it seemed like an ordinary one…except for the fact that somehow, I was noticing things that would normally slip by me. In my state of over-alertness, I picked up a Neptunian fish-man walking oddly. "Marsopolis," he said, "and step on it!" Now, I'm used to seeing people in a hurry, but something odd stood out about this guy. And suddenly I realized: fish-men have gills around their necks. They're not too prominent, just a few fine lines on each side. This guy didn't have them, which I would never have realized if I hadn't been hyper-alert. I looked at him again, and sure enough, I could see the detail of his fish-face. Its texture was all wrong for a real Neptunian, it had to be a mask. He was definitely in disguise.
I pondered this fact. Should I bring him into the Interplanetary Police? Maybe he has a good reason for disguising himself. Maybe he's an actor or something. I didn't want to cause the arrest of an innocent man, but I was still suspicious of him. And suddenly I realized why.
I turned my cab around and brought him to an Ippy (* - short for Interplanetary Police) station. When he saw where he was, he yelled, "Hey, what are you doing?"
The officers surrounded us and grabbed the disguised man. I pulled down his pants, revealing the gun he had strapped to his leg. With my senses on high alert, I had realized that the reason he was walking so strangely was because he was hiding one there. "Any other questions?" I asked, mockingly.
The would-be gunman went silent, and the Police Captain congratulated me, promising me a nice reward for the capture of the master of disguise who turned out to be wanted on five planets. "Thank him," I told the officer as I pointed at the baby. "I never would have noticed the guy's disguise and odd gait if his keeping me up all night hadn't forced me to drink an ultra-hyper-coffee this morning."
"Hey, I recognize that kid!" said the Captain. "We got a missing-child report over the wire from Mercury last night. Seems the parents were supposed to go to the governor's ball, but when the mother discovered that their son was missing, she became so distraught that she couldn't go."
"That must be her!" I said, and I got her contact number from the Captain. Within three hours, I was back on Earth, witnessing a happy reunion…although it wasn't completely clear who was happier, the mother or me. "All right, Kid Cabby," said, as I held him, preparing to return him to his mother. "It's been a wild ride, and I can thank you for helping me catch that guy, but I don't think you really want to be raised by me for too long."
Certainly his mother didn't want that. But even she couldn't completely suppress a smile when the baby squealed with delight, reached up, grabbed my cabby's cap right off my head…and put it on his own. Then he dived for his mother, who grabbed him.
"Thank you so much for taking such good care of my baby," she gushed. "I can't believe that happened. Of course, I'll compensate you for all your outlays."
I let out a sigh of relief. "No problem, ma'am. But next time, leave him with a trained baby-sitter before you go shopping."
And then I turned and looked at the baby, the wide smile on his face and my cap on his head. He looked so cute. "But if you absolutely can't find anyone else," I concluded, "you could give me a call."
Space Cabby is DC Comics
This story is © 1999 by Chaim Mattis Keller.