Sep 122011

There’s One Born Every Minute

By Slava Heretz

“What a ripoff! Twelve credits for this nasty looking kebab?!”

“First of all, human, this is my family’s prize winning recipe. Secondly, we use base four here. When we say twelve credits, that means six to you.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

The street vendor put his slimy hands on the counter.

“Look at both my hands. How many fingers do I have?”


“Now look at your hands. How many fingers do you have?”


“Ok. So when your sad, pathetic race first started counting, they thought it intuitive to use base ten, much like ours did, by looking at our fingers. Does this make sense yet?”

The human shook his head and threw his arms up in disgust.

“Base ten. Base four. All I know is I’m starving and I’m not paying twelve credits for this tiny meat-on-a-stick.”

“Ok, human. I’ll make this easy for you to understand. Count to ten.”

“Is this some kind of joke?”

“No, I’m trying to explain to you why this so-called twelve credit delicacy you are about to purchase and enjoy will only show up as six on your account.”

“Fine.” The human counted from one to ten then stopped with an expectant look on his face.

“Now I’ll count to ten in base four.” The alien cleared his throat and held all four fingers up. “One, two, three, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two.”

The human stared at him with glazed over eyes. Hordes of alien species raced past in the crowded marketplace, bumping into the human without hesitation or apology.

“Listen, Datendi. I don’t have time for this. I have a shipment due on Rigel III in under an hour. I’m going to put six credits in your little machine and you’re going to give me my food.”

The Datendi sighed.

“What is the number after nine, human?”

The human rolled his eyes. “This again?”

“You were doing so well before. I think this last exercise will help you understand.”

“Alright, I already told you. Ten.”

“How do you write the number ten?”

“A one then a zero.”

“Aha! So! You reused numbers. Meaning there are no more unique digits after the number nine, correct?”

“I guess.”

“In my culture’s system there are no unique numbers after three. We know of only zero, one, two, and three. That is why if you want to count higher than three in base four, you must reuse numbers just as you would do when counting higher than nine in base ten.”

The human scratched the side of his head.

“Oh. Maybe I get it now.”

He then paused.

“Wait, so why do you use human numbers and not your own.”

“Not my rules. This entire space station and the market you’re in right now conform to the galactic standard, which fortunately for you is the Human Arabic system.”

“Ok, so four of my credits would be ten of yours?”

“Very good!”

“Five would be eleven?”


“And six would be twelve?”

“That’s right!”

The human smiled then nodded understandingly.

“Alright. Twelve credits it is. How do you say that in Datendese?



The Datendi held in a smirk. He wasn’t in the business of laughing at paying customers, no matter how badly they butchered his language.

The human slid his paycard through the scanner and pushed a few buttons on the screen.

“Here you go,” the Datendi said and handed him a kebab.

“Hey thanks. And thanks for the math lesson.”

“Any time, human,” he said and finally let out that smirk he held in so tightly.

The human turned around and took a chunk out of the piping hot meat. He smiled and wandered off towards the docking terminal, smacking his lips as he gnawed on the rubbery flesh.

“Sucker,” the Datendi muttered.

He was about to turn back to his rotisserie when he caught the merchant beside him giving him a stern glare.

“One of these days, Jado,” other alien said.

“Aw, come on. He’s just a stupid human.”

“How long you been running this little base four scam?”

“Relax, Git. So what if I make a little extra profit here and there. No one’s ever complained.”


Jado shook his head. “You just mind your stand, Git, and I’ll mind my own.”

“Suit yourself.”

Jado reached for the rotisserie and shaved a few slices off the front of the rotating loin. The meat fell onto a tray below and he quickly rubbed the top with a concoction of spices and herbs. Just as he was about to cut another piece he heard a voice call out from behind him.

“Excuse me.”

Jado turned around and a big smile formed on his face.

“Human! You’re back! Did you enjoy the kebab?”

“I sure did.”

“Would you like another one?”

“Oh, no. No thank you.”

“How can I help you, then?”

The human reached inside his jacket and pulled out a wallet-like leather billfold. He flipped it open and held it up over the counter.

“Special agent Michael Ingram with the Department of Interstellar Trade and Commerce. You’re under arrest, Mr. Jado.”

Jado’s eyes widened. His smile instantly disappeared and he swung his head towards Git. The alien in the veggie stand beside him now poked at a datapad. He sat back in his chair with a self-indulgent grin plastered across on his face. Git paused and looked over at the poor, helpless Datendi. There was nothing to say. He just kept that grin as he watched the alien get cuffed and escorted out of his kebab stand.

Git grabbed a vooyan root and took a small bite out of the stringy vegetable.

“Who’s the sucker now?” he whispered to himself.