Bartholomew Quasar cringed as an incinerator beam took the top off the boulder he crouched behind. Cody 52 pulse pistol at the ready, he blinked back perspiration and scowled beneath the desert moon’s scorching twin suns.
“I can barely get a shot in edgewise.” Quasar aimed and fired a split-second before two blasts showered him with dust. “Not very sportsmanlike.”
“Bandits seldom play fair, sir.” Hank — the captain’s very hairy, four-armed Carpethrian helmsman — stood with a stunner in each hand. His fur clung matted with perspiration to his flabby belly.
Quasar moved quickly, firing two pulse rounds before a barrage of incinerator beams sent him diving for cover. A hoarse cry let him know he’d hit one of his targets.
“Score one for the good guys, Hank ol’ buddy.”
“Humph,” Hank grunted.
“Are you sorry I brought you along on this little excursion?”
“Doesn’t Commander Wan usually accompany — ?”
“New protocols from Space Command, I’m afraid. Our first officer is now required to remain on board the Magnitude whenever I go down to the surface of a potentially hostile planet. Just in case things end badly.”
“Didn’t realize this was a suicide mission.”
Quasar chuckled. “I do enjoy your pithy wit.”
The barrage ceased. As Quasar moved to take advantage of the lull, a gravelly voice called out, “Earth Man, we have you surrounded. If you don’t plan on dying today, I suggest you throw down your weapon and — ”
“Allow me to finish, you egotistical buffoon.”
Quasar’s mouth worked mutely.
“Drop your gun, Earth Man, and step out into the open. We’ll try settling matters like civilized folk.”
“There’s only one thing to be settled here, Desert Moon Man,” Quasar boomed in his most authoritative tone — one he reserved for ordering ensigns to swab the decks (even though robots existed for such tasks). “Stop shooting and allow us to board our transport pod. Then we’ll be on our way.”
The distant voice chuckled drily. “Well now, you megalomaniacal ass, allow me to set you straight. First off, I ain’t no man. Been a woman all my life and damned proud of it. Second, there’s no way you’re leaving this moon in possession of those mining rights.”
A slow smile spread across Quasar’s chiseled features, and he gave Hank a knowing look. “Leave this to me.”
He pointed his Cody 52 Special at the aubergine sky and stepped out into the open. Immediately, the situation became clear. While he and Hank weren’t technically surrounded, they were outnumbered ten to one by scruffy, swarthy-looking desert people in tatters and sand goggles, wielding charged incinerators.
“Thought I said to drop your weapon.” The leader of the pack was human, and while her gruff voice could have easily been mistaken for a middle-aged man’s, she was quite an attractive example of what exercise and proper diet promised for the lithe fifty-year-old.
“This gun doesn’t have a scratch on it. I’d like it to stay that way.”
“Worry about yourself. You don’t have any scratches either.”
“Thanks for noticing.” Quasar’s dashing smile caught the suns’ light, blinding the scroungy desert people closest to him.
“The data cube. Toss it.” The woman’s aim drifted down the captain’s torso. As did her gaze. “Assuming you have it on you. Those bulges in your uniform — ”
“All muscle.” Quasar winked.
“You flirting with me?”
She chuckled. “I suppose you’re kind of cute — for a space jock. Long as I get what I want, I see no need for bloodshed.”
Quasar set his jaw. “Flattery will get you nowhere, Desert Moon Woman.”
“Uh…” Quasar cleared his throat and struck his most favorite pose: the Confident Starfarer. “Well, I’m Captain Bartholomew Quasar of the Effervescent Magnitude — ”
“Oh it is, I assure you. We’re currently on a mission sanctioned by the United World Space Command to explore new worlds and locate large quartz deposits. The stuff fuels just about everything back on Earth — ”
“Didn’t ask for storytime, Captain. Just the data cube with those mineral rights. You won’t be getting quartz or anything else from this moon.”
“But we met with the mining consortium earlier today, and they granted us — ”
“Next time, work with the real folks in charge. That’d be us, by the way.” She chuckled. “C’mon out, Hairy, and we won’t kill your captain.”
Hank appeared, unarmed.
“Hand it over,” Chad said.
Quasar nodded to the Carpethrian. “We’ll do our business elsewhere, Hank. Someplace the local mob doesn’t run rampant.”
Hank reached into the folds of his sweaty belly and retrieved a crystal cube — as well as his four stunners. Before Quasar knew what was happening, the Carpethrian had started firing, whirling like a dervish and sending a shockwave of energy at Chad and her gunmen.
Quasar let out a whoop as the bandits slumped to the ground, unconscious. “Way to go, Hank! Expect the unexpected — that should be your motto.”
“Humph.” Hank tucked the cube and stunners safely into his fur flab. The path to the transport pod now lay unimpeded, and he trudged straight toward the small vessel.
“Yes, after you,” Quasar said with a chuckle.
As Hank busied himself with the pod’s preflight sequence, he cleared one of his twin throats. “Captain, do you really want to work with these people? Might be more trouble than it’s worth.”
“I think Chad was warming up to me.” Quasar cooled himself in front of an air vent. “Regardless, the consortium’s mining our quartz now, and we’ll relocate those pesky bandits to another moon far, far away. That’s the deal I struck with the miners, by the way.” Quasar winked. “Now that I know what we’re up against, I’ll be sure to bring you along next time. You’re a badass!”
Grumbling into his fur, Hank plotted a course, and the transport pod lifted off, leaving the blistering moon with a burst of dust and groans from the bandits as they came to.
“Call me,” Chad mumbled with a grimy smirk.
Milo James Fowler is a teacher by day and a speculative fictioneer by night. When he’s not grading papers, he’s imagining what the world might be like in a dozen alternate realities. Captain Bartholomew Quasar and the Space-Time Displacement Conundrum is forthcoming from Every Day Novels, and you can learn more about Milo’s other projects by joining The Crew.