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Retirement Plan

"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?"
The Corlani referred to the sign Harry had put out this morning when he finally decided to retire. The letters were six inches high. Closed: Nothing For Sale! Harry finally had had enough of the inane chatter of tourists and egocentric city-folk who thought the desert was put there for them to visit, buy some trinket, then return to their air-conditioned condos to discuss the primitive conditions outside their circle of importance. The black letters on the cardboard would fade quickly in the desert sun, but the ink was barely dry before the knock on the door interrupted Harry's packing. The Corlani wanted to do business.
"Never mind the sign. I think it's a misprint anyway after what's happened here." He shrugged. "Whatever you say. You're all adults." Harry looked at the cactus-like biped. "At least I think you're adults. If you want to buy nothing and pay in gold, I'll take your money." Harry slid the bar of gold across the counter, toward the empty cash register. The bar was too heavy for him to lift comfortably. "Take as much as you want," he said magnanimously, waving to the empty shelves.
The alien folded in the middle, upper appendages brushing the floor in a sweeping motion, their version of a bow, and reached for a tool on its "belt." Working the mechanism with cilia-like fingers, the alien pointed the tool at the shelves. Six points of light appeared in the empty spaces, expanding out into twenty-four points, then forty-eight points defining six shining cubes of energy. The cubes lifted into the air, held by some unseen force and moved off the shelves. The alien directed the cubes out the door and toward his ship, watching as similar cubes were released from the ship to head for the shop. The cubes from the ship settled on the shelves, exactly where the others had emerged. The shining cubes shrank to a point of light that blinked out as the alien adjusted the tool again.
Turning to Harry, the alien extended an upper appendage, grasping Harry's hand and oscillating its own lower segment. "Thank you forr yourr assistance," the alien buzzed. "I will advise all my associates to utilize yourr establishment. We have much morre to trade with you, now that we know wherre to find what we need." Without turning, the Corlani moved toward the door, traveling on the multiple cilia of its lower appendages, much like a large, upright centipede moving across the ground.
"Sure, whatever," Harry said, dreaming of blue lagoons and women in grass skirts as one hand caressed the gold. "Have a nice trip," he yelled out the door at the creature's back.
The Corlani ship lifted quickly, disappearing into the distance.
Harry checked out the shelves, making sure he had not been left some alien equivalent of a wooden nickel. Nothing there, he thought to himself, then snorted as the idea registered. He looked over at the counter, already planning how to spend his new retirement fund. He smiled as he looked at the bar of gold that would change his life, stroking it with a finger.
The bar of gold opened its eyes and smiled back at Harry, then shuffled forward and snipped off his finger with very sharp teeth.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, July 18th, 2016

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