“Name,” droned the myriad-eyed female Goobalob, wedged into an ergonomic chair designed for a humanoid half her girth.
“Captain Bartholomew Quasar.” He put on his most dashing smile, but his brow wrinkled with uncertainty. The transparent plasticon barrier between him and the Goobalob official was smudged with unknown substances. Could she even see the irresistible radiance of his pearly whites?
“Quasar — is that your surname?”
“Uh-well, no — ”
“Name,” she repeated without a change in inflection, her oily tentacles hovering over the console that carved itself into her gelatinous midsection.
Captain Quasar leaned in close to the circular grillwork serving as a two-way intercom. “No one knows me by any other name. It would be unclear to the voters — ”
“Contest rules, sir.”
“Just give ‘er your name, pal,” grumbled a swarthy privateer in line behind Quasar. The fellow had a bruised, broken-but-badly-reset face and a mouthful of teeth stained various shades of brown due to chewing Goobalox tunneling worms — a rare local delicacy. And a disgusting habit. “We ain’t got all day here.”
How could such an unsavory character even consider entering the same event as Quasar? It was ludicrous. The murmuring queue had multiplied exponentially since he’d arrived, but if this degenerate represented the competition, then the quadrant’s voters would be presented with a real no-brainer.
“Bartholomew Quasar,” he told the Goobalob. “That’s my given name.”
“What kind of name is that?” the pirate guffawed, and others in line echoed his sentiment.
The captain’s frame tensed, but he did not favor the fellow or the mob with another glance.
“Sir,” countered the Goobalob, “you stated that ‘Quasar’ is not in fact — ”
“I gave myself the name, all right?” he hissed into the intercom. “Captains name their starships all the time. Why can’t we name ourselves?”
The Goobalob had no response to that. Her slick tentacles swept over the console, entering his data. “Name of vessel,” she droned.
Quasar grinned. “The Effervescent Magnitude,” he said with great pride and even greater posture, straining the seams of his burgundy and black uniform as every muscle stood at attention.
“Effer-what?” chortled the filthy buccaneer. “What the heck does that even mean?”
Captain Quasar clenched his teeth and both fists.
The pirate jabbed him between the shoulder blades with a sturdy finger. “What is it, some kind of giant gas-ball?”
Quasar whipped around to face the ugly degenerate. “Mock my name if you will, sir, but do not think to blackguard my vessel!”
The fellow’s bloodshot eyes widened. Tugging at the charred braids dangling from his heavy beard, he bowed slightly. “I must apologize. I did not realize.”
Quasar’s jaw muscle twitched. He inclined his head forward a millimeter. “Apology accepted. Now, if you will excuse me.” He turned back to the Goobalob’s cubicle.
“I didn’t realize we had such a nancy pants in our ranks,” the fellow continued. “Sure you’re in the right place? The beauty pageant is next door, Captain Starburst of the Enormous Flatulence.”
The Goobalob official’s tentacles froze in midair over her console. Through the smeared plasticon, it was apparent that every one of her eyes focused on Captain Quasar. The other Goobalobs in their cubicles had also stopped moving and stared at the captain with unguarded interest. Even the rabble behind the loud-mouthed privateer had fallen eerily silent.
Quasar took a moment to gather both himself and his thoughts, counting backwards from Zorthe in Flexicant decimals. The process took a good twenty Earth seconds, and by then, blinking and inhaling deeply through flared nostrils, he was able to pivot on one heel to face the mongrel.
The fellow grinned up at Captain Quasar.
“You sir, have overstepped,” Quasar said.
The pirate laughed. “Get a load of this guy!” He snickered, elbowing the muscular woman behind him. “Our big competition: ‘Captain Nebulous of the Great Gassy — ”
Quasar seized him by the beard-braids and pulled him up onto his toes. “A man such as yourself should know his place!”
“You think you’re better than me or something?” He wheezed foul breath into Quasar’s face.
“Of course! To call yourself a captain. Look at you. You’re a disgrace!”
“You hear that, folks? Fancy Pantaloons here thinks he’s better than the rest of us!”
The rabble rumbled their dissent. Even the Goobalobs scowled with most of their eyes.
“Wait — ” Quasar course-corrected. “I did not say — ”
“He must be planning on a landslide vote!” shouted the pirate. “Cuz I’m pretty sure I saw him skulking around earlier, rigging the voting machines!”
The captain seethed. “You, sir… are a liar.”
The buccaneer’s eyes bulged. “I am besmirched!”
His tattooed knuckles arced through the air, but of course, Captain Quasar dodged the grimy fist easily. And of course, Quasar’s own knee jerk of a retaliatory strike made solid contact, breaking more than a few of the degenerate’s rotten teeth.
And so, being the first to land his blow, it was Captain Quasar who found himself thrown out of the Office of Voting Services by numerous Goobalob security. Landing on his backside and sliding a few meters across the moon’s slick, frozen surface, Quasar activated the communication device in his collar with an angry jerk of his head.
“Hank, bring the transport pod around.” His breath came out in puffs. He got to his feet and rubbed his hands together for warmth.
“Already?” grunted the voice of the Effervescent Magnitude‘s very hairy, four-armed navigator from orbit.
“There will always be next year.” Quasar stomped his feet and breathed on his bare hands, glaring at the icy wasteland around him and the towering, obsidian edifice of the quadrant’s voting center — the only structure on this moon.
“That’s what you said last time.” Hank remained on the line.
“‘Starship Captain of the Year.’ Stupid popularity contest.” Quasar grumbled. “Who even votes, anyway?”
“Who’d you vote for last year?”
Hank paused. “A write-in.”
Captain Quasar almost grinned as Hank brought the pod into view, sublimating the ice in billows as it descended.
Milo James Fowler is a junior high English teacher by day and a writer by night. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Daily Science Fiction, Shimmer, and Macmillan’s Criminal Element. In his spare time, he collects rejection letters.