Twenty Parsecs East of the Earth Bypass, Closed on Sundays
by Robert Lowell Russell
Edited by Brian J. White
The bell on the door jangled and a pair of Korgalaths entered Samuel’s store. The tripedal aliens were robin’s-egg blue with patterns of green splotches covering their knobby flesh. They had six arms, and three eyestalks sprouted from their thin, conical heads, making them look like giant sprinkler toys. They rotated like tops as they made their way slowly past shelves filled with homemade jams and jellies, a variety of syrups and honeys, and salted snacks that Samuel’s wife Ruth bought in bulk and carefully parceled into half-pound bags. The aliens each kept two of their eyestalks fixed on Samuel’s wares and the third squarely on Samuel himself.
The pair muttered to one another in their own language, so Samuel activated his translator implant.
“Honestly, Morgnar,” said one alien, “they built the bypass so we _wouldn’t have to come to [untranslatable expletive] holes like this.”_
“Come on, Beverly, where’s your sense of adventure?”
“I prefer adventures that don’t smell like feet,” replied Beverly. “Just ask the human for what you want so we can leave.”
Morgnar’s eyestalks shifted to Samuel and the alien’s voice boomed in English from one of its many orifices. “Take me to your leader, Earthling scum, or I will destroy you!”
Samuel tipped his round, straw hat. “Good day to you, too, sir. What can I help you find?”
“We demand animal sacrifices of smoked cow flesh, crisped pig skins, and the desiccated testicles of one-horned equines!” Morgnar shouted more loudly. “Or I will destroy you,” the alien added.
“I have what you want right here.” Samuel pointed to a display piled high with bags of jerky, pork rinds, and corn nuts. “They’re buy two, get one free.”
The Korgalaths approached the display.
“My Uncle Mike used load up on this stuff whenever he visited Earth,” said Morgnar. He ripped open a bag of jerky and jammed a leathery strip into one of his orifices. “Try it. It’s teriyaki flavored.”
Beverly popped a piece into her own orifice, and for two full minutes the aliens made slobbery, smacking sounds as the they chewed, or did whatever Korgalaths do.
“This is fantastic,” said Beverly.
“Right?” said Morgnar. “My Uncle Mike loved this stuff so much he tried to make it himself.”
“Is that why he eviscerated all those cows?”
“And the cavity probes and abductions?”
“That’s just because my uncle is a crazy [untranslatable expletive].”
The aliens heaped piles of salted snacks onto Samuel’s counter while he tallied it all on an old cash register.
“Say,” said Samuel. “Could I interest you two in some hand-crafted furniture?” He indicated an area of the store filled with wooden rocking chairs, tables, and a lava lamp duct-taped to a hydrogen bomb.
“Oh my Xenu!” _said Morgnar as hurried over to the bomb-lamp. _“Beverly, do you know what this is?”
Morgnar rubbed his three-fingered hand over the bomb, which resembled a giant metal football with fins.
“Pure Earthling kitsch, that’s what,” _said Beverly, joining Morgnar. _“What a find! We _have to buy it! Can you imagine Jivatz’s eyestalks when [untranslatable pronoun] sees this in our living room?” _
“[Untranslatable pronoun] will absolutely freak!” replied Morgnar.
The aliens’ eyestalks turned to fix on Samuel.
“You think the human knows what he has?” asked Beverly.
“I don’t know, but let’s play it cool. I’ll talk while you probe his thoughts.”
The aliens approached Samuel at his counter.
“That will be one hundred and fourteen dollars,” said Samuel, finishing his tally.
“Earthling scum,” Morgnar said in English, “how much for that item?” The alien indicated the bomb-lamp.
“Well…” Samuel stroked his beard and thumbed his suspenders, then removed his wide-brimmed hat to reveal a shining cap of aluminum foil pressed over his skull. “Let me think.”
“[Untranslatable expletive],” _muttered Beverly. _“I can’t probe…”
“I know, I know,” said the other alien.
“You folks seem like nice people,” said Samuel after a moment. “I could part with it for a billion dollars. I’ll even throw in the snacks.”
“Do we have that much Earth currency?” asked Morgnar, turning his eyestalks to Beverly.
“Will you take gold?” asked Morgnar. The alien withdrew a gleaming metal bar from an orifice in his body and thudded it onto the counter.
“Afraid not,” said Samuel.
“Diamonds?” asked Beverly. She scattered gleaming gems on the counter.
“Sorry, no,” said Samuel.
“Credit card?” asked Morgnar.
“Machine’s busted,” said Samuel.
“Morgnar, do something,” said Beverly.
The other alien blinked its eyestalks but said nothing.
“Say, you don’t happen to have any sacks of shiny beads?” asked Samuel.
The aliens turned their eyestalks to one another.
“Are you [untranslatable expletive] kidding me?” asked Beverly.
“Told you Earthlings were rubes,” said Morgnar.
“I think I might have a few sacks in my saucer,” said Morgnar to Samuel.
A few minutes later Samuel was dropping beads into a portable matter analyzer as Ruth and their two sons wrestled the bomb-lamp into the Korgalaths’ saucer parked outside the store.
“I feel kind of bad about this,” Beverly said to Morgnar as the aliens came back inside the shop. “Hey, you don’t think…?”
“Maybe,” said Morgnar. “Want to play along, just for fun?
Morgnar turned his attention to Samuel. “Thanks for the lamp, Earthling. I sure hope it doesn’t detonate and destroy my people’s secret invasion force.” The alien winked one of its eyestalks at Beverly.
“Yes. It’s our great shame that our technologically superior security systems and sensor arrays cannot detect objects disguised as other objects,” said Beverly. “Morgnar, I’ve got to take a [untranslatable expletive]. That smoked cow flesh isn’t sitting well in my stomachs. I’ll meet you outside.”
After the Korgalaths had blasted their saucer back into space, Ruth came up to Samuel at the counter.
“How’d we do?” she asked.
“Great!” said Samuel. “General Conrad’s plan to get rid of old military surplus is working like a charm. There are elements in these beads that aren’t even on the periodic table. His R&D guys will be busy for years.”
“That alien plugged the toilet up with something awful,” said Ruth.
“Even better. When I let the general know we need more bombs, I’ll let him know we have a biological sample to go with the beads.”
“Aliens are such rubes,” said Ruth, grinning.