The Stench King

by Justin Coke © 2001

The stench on Ice-8 is unbelievable. It is so bad that around the docks peddlers wait all day to sell the cream morticians put under their noses when they have to deal with especially rancid corpses. The competition is fierce, and the profits exorbitant. Tourists, the poor, uninformed bastards, often didn't realize that something could smell as bad as Ice-8 did. Simply beyond their worst imaginings, and when it that odor hits them, half the time they would be willing to sell their mothers for the slightest relief. As soon as they can control the vomiting, they fork over any amount of money so they can stop the nasal assault on their sanity.

People never believe how bad the smell here gets. It's only common sense though. Water is scarce in space. It's expensive to take a shower. So you take one every other day. Then the rent goes up, or some pirates snagged one of the food transports, so you take one every three days to save money. Then you get used to the filth, get fed up with all the dirty bastards around you, and give up to the filth. After all, the old queen Elizabeth the First was considered extremely hygienic in her day. She bathed once a year. So it's not like Earthies pathological cleanliness is actually necessary to your health. Constant cleanliness becomes something perhaps vaguely dreamed of, like a favorite toy in childhood, and after a while your scent-detectors get so clogged with rancid B.O. molecules and dried sweat quanta that Ice-8 smells normal.

Some historical anthropologists come here to study the middle ages, which is something that confuses a lot of people. I talked to one once. I asked him how he could expect to learn anything about the Middle Ages from a space station in a hollowed out asteroid.

"The smell. The smell. Out here is the only place were people live together in a community that smells anywhere near as bad as cities did back then. I mean, it could even be worse here--- at least the peasants could look forward to a strong rain to clean things out a bit. Here, you're breathing the same air for the past fifty years, and nobody's bothered to clean up since before my father was a strapping toddler."

He's about right, I think. Once I went to Mars, after I'd been here for a few years. This is relating to how I get make my living actually, since I got my idea there.

I stepped out onto that deck from my spacecraft, and, like Moses parting the Red Sea, the crowds parted for me, usually with a look of disgust usually reserved for especially nasty farts. Children cried, and I was almost arrested. Seems most people coming from Ice-8 remember to take a long shower before stepping out into the clean world. When they don't, it causes quite a scene.

I was beyond really noticing, because I was paying attention to my nose, thinking I had somehow snorted some wonder drug into my nostrils. Of course I hadn't--- it was simply clean air. They can afford showers and cleanliness on Mars, and stepping out into a clean world--- orgasmic. That's the word.

That was my idea. I got some canisters of clean air for my trip back to Ice-8. I put an ad in the paper, and people came. I'd strap a gasmask on them and let them breath for an hour or two, depending on how much time they'd bought.

Usually they were crying by the end. Sobbing like children. It was pitiful, but after a few customers I started thinking--- I've reduced them to this vulnerable state, so why not take advantage of it? So I also started a travel agency, and pitched a trip to Mars or Earth to them right after the mask came off and they had a good idea of the difference. They always bought a trip... hell, half the time they bought a one-way ticket. Some people blame me for destroying Ice-8s population, and maybe it's true--- but really, all I did was let them know what it smelled like to be clean again. Only people with serious business stay there now, and the place actually smells quite a bit better now. Nothing fantastic, mind you, but at least it isn't cosmically smelly anymore.

The travel business is why I'm a billionaire right now. Times magazine calls me "The Stench King". I have resorts on every planet in the system--- even one in the asteroid belt. They're meticulously clean there, and I had plenty of water shipped out there, even though it cost a ridiculous amount of money. So the Stench King thing is kind of unfair, but I don't mind too much. It's all in good fun.

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