by Jack Hillman
"Let me get this straight," Harry said, gesturing to the empty shelves behind him. "You want to buy four shelves worth of nothing. You'll move it to your ship and replace it with nothing from your ship and you'll give me this in exchange." Harry tapped the gleaming metal of what looked like a bar of gold with one finger.
The alien Corlani was upright, bipedal, and oxygen breathing. From there, the differences from humans added up quickly. But Harry had gotten used to seeing aliens at his little curio shop in the desert. Corlani liked the desert, for some reason. Maybe it was because their appearance resembled a cactus, needles and all. Harry guessed it reminded them of home, but nobody knew for certain what their home was like.
And they had been given the "Keys To The Earth," as it were, by the United Nations as part of the new Human-Corlani Trade Agreement. The huge Corlani ship floating in Orbit did much to convince the humans that working with the Corlani was in their best interest. But the Corlani had been nothing but polite, so far. They were told they could go anywhere they liked on the entire planet. How else were the Corlani going to find out what they wanted to buy? According to their spokesbeing, new planets always had something to trade, but usually it was something they didn't know was worth anything. All planets had native artwork or knick-knacks that could sell for staggering sums off planet. But Apparently the visual spectrum of the Corlani and humans was too different for any artwork to attract them as yet. This was the first time one of the Corlani had offered to make a purchase. Harry was going to be famous at least, and very rich at best.
"You are corrrrect," the Corlani replied, buzzing his r's the way they all did, in a flat monotone.
"Okay, I'll bite," Harry said. "Why?"
"We must rreforrmat the drrive in ourr ship," the alien answered, sounding like a buzzsaw. "The nothing from yourr shelves is rrequirred to do this. Yourr nothing has a differrent flavorr than ourr nothing and will ease the change. Yourrs is the firrst establishment we have discovered to sell what we need. We werre confused by yourr sign, howeverrr. You arre closed for business but have items forr sale?"