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Raymond Coulombe, Michael Gallant, Timothy O. Goyette
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Jeromy Henry

The Fine Print


Bill Kowaleski

“Dammit, I paid into this insurance for what – twenty-five years and now y’all is tellin’ me you ain’t gonna give me a dime?”

A nurse rushed into the cramped, brightly lit room, maneuvering around the occupants, the heart monitor, and the roll-stand, ducking to avoid banging her head on the low-hanging television. She was young, attractive, her uniform tighter than it needed to be. A natty cap hung low on her forehead. “Please, Mr. Washington, stay calm. You’re condition is very fragile right now. I’ll get something to calm you down.”

“Ain’t no way I gonna calm down with this shark in a cheap suit standin’ there!” His face softened. “Sorry, ma’am, I knows you just doin’ your job, and you lookin’ mighty fine doin’ it!”

She smiled. The older patients like Mr. Washington were so much more considerate. She tried to imagine him younger, but she couldn’t get past his gray hair and three hundred pound bulk.

The insurance agent pushed his black-rimmed glasses up his nose and shook his head sadly as he placed the folder onto the table beside Jeremiah’s bed. “It’s all explained in there, Mr. Washington. You should have checked with us when you had the furnace put in. The policy specifically excludes all mechanicals not approved by UL or an official government agency.”

The alien directed his eyestalks at the agent. “Our devices are approved by the Galactic League’s Office of Safety. This is a far higher standard than anything you Earthlings have.”

“If it’s such a great standard, then why did your furnace burn down Mr. Washington’s house? Tell me that!”

“This incident is still under investigation, we have not yet determined the cause.”

The agent shook his head. “Our own investigation was pretty clear. Your high-tech furnace was the cause. You guys need to get those things approved before you go selling them to poor, uneducated people like Mr. Washington.”

“Now y’all gonna insult me too! Get outta my room, man. Right now!” Beads of sweat rose on Jeremiah’s dark brown forehead. He used a corner of his bedsheet to mop his face.

“They were approved,” muttered the alien as the agent grabbed the folder and retreated out the door and down the long hospital corridor.

“Marko, come around the bed here where I kin see you,” Jeremiah said. “That’s better. Let me look you right in those eyestalks and ask this: Did your furnace really burn down my house?”

Marko’s eyestalks fluttered, a reaction Jeremiah had learned meant extreme agitation. “It’s just so hard to believe. No device manufactured by Galactic Fusion Generators has failed in over three hundred of your years. The mean time to failure of your model has been computed to be twenty million years!”

“Y’all didn’t answer my question. Now come on Marko, did it?”

“Well, I have to admit, all indications are that it overheated, melting the wiring and setting off the fire. Impurities in the air and water must be the cause. Our furnaces require a very clean environment. How was I to know that you Earthlings have impurities in your basements?”

“Come on, man! You coulda at least gone down there and checked things out before you installed it.”

“I admit, you are right. But this is my problem, and it’s on every performance evaluation – I’m lazy.”

Jeremiah’s voice again rose. “Lazy? Your lazy done burned down my house, dammit!”

“I should have brought a technician along, but it’s so much trouble. You have to write out the skillset, post it, sift through the responses, work out a schedule…”
“Look Marko, you guys done come here without understandin’ our ways, and now y’all got me in a real jam. I trusted you and you let me down. You gotta make it right for me. When I get outta here I need somewheres to live.”

“Now, Mr. Washington, I’m trying to develop a new market here, and the contract specifically stated that there were risks. After all, you don’t get a free demo furnace plus two thousand a month without there being some fine print.”

“Fine print!” Jeremiah’s shouts again brought the nurse whom he waved away. “If y’all don’t make it right for me I’m gonna tell everybody I know what double-dealing scum you are!”

Marko’s eyestalks shook. “Please, no need for that. Do not be concerned, Mr. Washington. We will build you a new home, a home made to the highest standards of the Galactic League. Let me get right on it!”

The alien pressed a button on his wide, green belt and disappeared. Jeremiah sighed, “Man, I hopes their housing standards is better than their furnace standards!”

The nurse timidly poked her head back into the room. “OK to come in now?”

She handed him two pills and a cup, adjusted her cap even lower on her forehead, and said, “I’m sure glad that creepy little bear with eyes on ropes is gone. He weirds me out!”

“Why you wear that cap like that?” Jeremiah asked. “You should show off your beautiful blond hair.”

“Oh, we’re required to wear these – hygiene you know. Do you want me to chase that creepy creature away if it comes back?”

“No, he’s OK. I kinda like him, truth be told. But I’m beginnin’ to think they didn’t send me the sharpest pencil in their drawer.”


“Mr. Washington, this contract is most unusual. In which state is this Galactic Fusion Generators located?” Tim Theroux, Attorney at Law, kept his head buried in the scroll of thin material covered with print so small that it challenged even his young, fresh-out-of-law-school eyes. His boyish face, slight frame, and pale skin were a jarring contrast to Jeremiah, who silently fretted about how his attorney’s outlandish fee was funding his impeccably tailored suit and brilliantly shining wingtips.

“And, tell me, what is this material it’s printed on? I can’t tear it or make a crease in it. And this continuous scroll format…”

“Yeah, yeah, I know, I done got myself into somethin’ here,” Jeremiah said sadly, sitting up in his hospital bed. “They come by and offered me two thou a month and this free furnace. Gave me that contract. I couldn’t read that small print, but I needs the money, and that furnace worked great – for a while.”

“But where is the company located?”

“Uh, well, I thinks it’s on this planet they call Cygnus Prime.”

Attorney Theroux looked up. “Yes, it says that in the contract too, prima facie evidence that they’re trying to obscure their location. So we’re going to have to locate the jurisdiction in which they’re really incorporated. That’ll add to your bill for sure.”

“No, you don’t have to do nothin’. I’ll just get Marko over here right now. Then you’ll see that the contract is correct. I suggest you stay very still until he shows up.”

Jeremiah fumbled in the drawer next to his bed, producing a smart phone-sized device. He activated the screen and touched a large green button. At the foot of the bed, the air condensed into a whirlpool of gray swirls through which a three foot tall, blue-gray furred, panda-like creature walked. On top of its round head were two ropy, foot-long, olive-green eyestalks which immediately pointed at the attorney.

“Mr. Washington, why are we exposing additional humans to my presence? This is at odds with my request to keep our transaction confidential.”

“Marko, this here is Mr. Theroux, my lawyer. He got some questions about the contract.”

Theroux shot to his feet and retreated to the doorway. His eyes had doubled in size, and his hands fluttered as he squeaked breathlessly, “What is that thing?”

“I am not a thing, Mr. Theroux, I am a citizen of Cygnus Prime, a salesman to be precise, who has executed a legal contract with Mr. Washington. There was an unfortunate accident, probably caused by the primitive conditions of Mr. Washington’s basement, and we have promised to fully compensate him for his loss. I fail to see the need for legal intervention.”

Theroux’s mouth hung loosely open. He stared, wide-eyed, unable to speak.

“Oh, isn’t this somethin’,” Jeremiah complained. “Now my damned lawyer got his shorts in a bunch and can’t even talk. What good is a lawyer who can’t talk?”

Marko walked up to the cowering attorney, rose to his hind legs and extended a paw, revealing tentacled fingers. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Theroux. I believe it is customary to shake hands at such an occasion.”

He hesitantly raised his right hand. Marko grabbed it, shook it up and down vigorously, then let go. “Did I perform the ritual correctly?”

“Uh, yes, well done,” Theroux said, his voice a hoarse whisper.

“Excellent. I have to get used to these strange customs if I intend to fully develop this new territory I’ve been assigned.”

“So, Mr. uh, Marko, if I may call you that…” Theroux said.

“My formal name is Salesman-Marko or just Marko if you prefer.”

“OK, Marko, uh, the thing is you see, Mr. Washington hired me to protect his interests, to make sure his house gets rebuilt and that his hospital bills are paid.”

“There’s no need to hire an intermediary for that. We have promised to do those things and we shall.”

“But given your past performance…”

“Unforeseen conditions caused the product failure. I have already deposited funds with the hospital and will also ensure he has a new house.”

“How are you going to build him a new house? There’s a lot of legal and bureaucratic stuff that needs to be done; permits, inspections, a contract with a builder, that sort of thing.”

Marko’s eyestalks turned toward Jeremiah. “You never told me this.”

“Yeah, well, it’s kinda obvious, everybody knows… Oh yeah, not everybody.”

Attorney Theroux’s eyes lit up; his face brightened into a happy smile. “Mr. Marko, I would be most pleased to represent you in these matters if you would require legal assistance.”

“Why, that would be so very kind of you!” Marko said. “And perhaps, I could also hire you to get these fusion furnaces approved, and to learn more about your Earthly business customs.”

“Yes, absolutely! We could draw up a contract with all of those deliverables and have it ready by tomorrow.” Theroux was beaming now, his fear forgotten, overwhelmed by his eagerness to become his firm’s youngest rainmaker.

“Of course, there may be some challenges when my colleagues see that my new client is a three-foot tall creature that looks like a panda with eyestalks, but we comply with all anti-discrimination laws, so I see this as only a small detail.”

“Why would they have to meet me at all, Mr. Theroux? You could just tell them that I am too busy grazing whenever they wish to meet me.”

“Yes, well, something like that.  You know, perhaps an ongoing contract that would cover your continuing legal needs would be best. We typically require a retainer for such things.”

“I see,” Marko said. “Well, surely you know more about these matters than I do. How much would this retainer be?”

Theroux lowered his eyes, moving his finger as though making mental calculations. “I think fifty thousand US dollars would suffice.”

Jeremiah’s eyes widened, he sucked in his breath loudly. Theroux gave him a quick hard stare that melted into a smile. “And of course, we will include all of Mr. Washington’s legal expenses in this deal also.”

“The least we can do,” agreed Marko. “Mr. Washington, does the figure stated by your attorney seem fair?”

“Well, I don’t have a lot of experience in these things, Marko, I don’t know…”

“I understand. We can print the sum required in just a few days.”

“Uh, did you say print?” asked Theroux, alarm in his voice.

“Yes, isn’t your money just pieces of a special sort of paper? We have been making exact copies of it for our use, but this would of course be a larger amount than we’ve printed before.”

“Well, Salesman-Marko, printing money is a very illegal activity. You must stop doing this and earn the money by participating in our economy.”

“But we cannot participate in your economy until we get approvals for our products.”

“Normally,” Theroux suggested, “New business ventures are funded with seed money, commonly known as loans.”

“Ah, of course. I should have realized that. And I know just who to go to for a loan of Earth money.”

“You do?”

“Of course. The Sirians’ home planet is quite nearby so they have been operating on Earth for thousands of years. They run several of your largest banks and they buy all their power equipment from us. I’ll have your fifty thousand in a few days, as soon as I sniff out the right contacts.”

“Sirians?” Theroux asked. “Surely not the people from the Middle East…”

“You don’t know about them? Well, they look a lot like you do, so they can pass as human. Appears I could teach you a few things about your planet myself.”

Theroux turned to his client and shook his head. Jeremiah laughed and said, “Too much to take in all at once, eh? Just go with it, young man. That’s what I been doing.”

“You’re right, Mr. Washington. I think I’m going to need about two days to stare out the window and try to sort all of this out.”

Theroux walked slowly out the door. As he left, the nurse walked in with a cup and two pills.

“How y’all handling all this commotion?” asked Jeremiah. “Must be pretty strange for you.”

“Oh, not at all, Mr. Washington.”

She handed Jeremiah his meds and turned to Marko. “My husband works at First Universal Bank. He used to do deals with Cygnians back when he was stationed in the branch office on your planet. I’d be delighted to introduce you to him.”

“My, this is my lucky day!” Marko exclaimed. “But you never fooled me, I had you pegged for a Sirian the first time I came in here.”

She reached into a pocket of her uniform and produced a business card. “I always keep these handy. Never know when you’ll meet a Cygnian, Arcturan, or who-knows-what-else these days.”

Marko took the card, rose to his hind legs, executed a short bow, and pushed the button on his belt, disappearing in a puff of gray cloudy smoke.

Jeremiah stared at her, open-mouthed, then shook his head and chuckled. “Just when I thought I’d seen everything…”

The nurse pushed her cap back, gave him a wink with her third eye, and said, “I don’t miss Cygnus Prime at all – I never could get used to how odd the Cygnians look. I’m glad we’re stationed here now. I like you humans much better!”

Read more stories by this author

2014-03-01 14:58:43
Very entertaining and clever! Really enjoyed it. A fun story!

2012-07-05 15:57:16
Twilight Zone episode was better.

2012-07-03 06:11:37
So...how many of us is alien''?

2012-07-02 10:00:04
gontzagames - Good story.

2012-07-01 06:18:13
kept my interest; amusing; got a good image of each character; good, clever ending.

2012-07-01 05:37:14
Now that was funny!

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