Bartholomew Quasar never looked as good as he did in his full dress uniform. And he wasn’t the only one who thought so. Many a female in the quadrant — human and otherwise — happened to be of the same opinion.

“I hear this Princess Ularia is quite a looker.” Quasar adjusted his burgundy tunic and gold sash as he leaned against his deluxe-model captain’s chair. “How long has it been since my last hot date, Hank ol’ buddy?”

“Uh…” Hank — a very hairy, four-armed Carpethrian who served as helmsman of the Effervescent Magnitude — half-turned from his post on the bridge. “Technically, sir, this is a negotiation.”

“Don’t I know it.” Quasar winked.

Hank grunted, returning to his console where all four of his hands moved simultaneously, adjusting the star cruiser’s trajectory through a treacherous interplanetary mine field.

“Thanks for coming along, by the way.”

“Did I have a choice, Captain?”

Quasar laughed. “No one else could possibly navigate the Vyperian Death Hurdles like you!”

“There’s no one else on board,” Hank muttered into his fur.

“Figured they could use some shore leave. Besides, suicide missions are always optional on my ship. Careful!” Quasar gripped the side of his chair as Hank careened the Magnitude around an asteroid-sized mine rotating their way with wild abandon. “Nicely done.”

“Humph,” Hank grunted.

A few near-collisions later, the Effervescent Magnitude reached the Vyperian home world, a desert planet inhabited by sleek, snake-like humanoids with a penchant for Earth antiques — Victorian timepieces, in particular. There was nothing a Vyperian liked more than a shiny pocket watch on an equally shiny gold chain. They simply adored the sound of time passing.

“We’re being hailed, Captain,” Hank said.

“I should expect so.” Quasar practiced his most dashing smile and smoothed back his close-cropped blond hair. Contrary to form, a strand or two had sprung loose whilst traversing the mine field. “On screen.”

Hank nodded and tapped the command on his display.

“You have successfully navigated the Death Hurdles,” said the Vyperian on the main viewscreen, bigger than life and more seductive than Quasar could have imagined. Gorgeous, heavy-lidded eyes stared back at him. “You have our attention.”

“I hope to have more than that, Your Highness.” Quasar struck a very debonair pose. He liked to think of it as the Consummate Casanova. “Lots more.”

The Vyperian’s beautifully smooth-yet-scaly face remained expressionless.

“Hank, is the translator functioning?” Quasar hissed between his teeth.

The Vyperian hissed as well, slender tongue flicking outward briefly. “Her Highness, the Princess Ularia, was not expecting you to arrive in one piece. She assumed you would perish in the Hurdles. I am Count Slongur. I will conduct our negotiations in her stead.”

“Right.” Quasar’s expression faltered. Not the princess. He cleared his throat. “Allow me to ready a transport pod, and I’ll be right down — ”

“With your permission, I will come aboard your ship.”

“Very well.” Quasar straightened his shoulders. “We’re a little short-staffed at the moment, but I’ll be sure to have a cargo bay ready to receive your shuttle.”

“No need.” Slongur suddenly materialized before Captain Quasar on the bridge of the Effervescent Magnitude. Yet he also remained on the viewscreen, watching them with large, unblinking eyes.

Quasar remembered to close his mouth, since he could think of nothing coherent to say.

“What is that?” Count Slongur on the bridge glared at Hank.

“Uh-he’s my helmsman. A Carpethrian — ”

“We are unfamiliar with the species,” said Count Slongur on the viewscreen.

“Great bunch, really. They outfitted my vessel with a near-lightspeed cold fusion reactor a while back. More trouble than it was worth, but — ” Quasar realized he was babbling. “So you’re here. And you’re there.” He glanced up at the screen. “How the heck did you pull that off?”

“Skin shedding. Obviously not a technology you are familiar with.”

“I see…” Quasar said absently, strumming his clean-shaven chin. “Well, I know you folks are fond of clocks, so let me show you what I have in storage, and we can discuss a fair trade. From what I’ve heard, your planet is rich in premium quartz deposits, and folks back on Earth have unfortunately depleted all of — ”

“We have already taken your timepieces, Earth Man.”

“How’s that?”

“Uh — Captain — ” Hank scowled at the display on his console. “He’s not the only Vyperian on board. Well, he is, but… You’d better take a look.”

Quasar did so, and the situation remained just as confusing. “How many of you are there? How’s it even possible — clones?”

“Skin shedding,” Slongur repeated tolerantly. “In return for the ancient timepieces from your planet — many of which are to our liking — we will allow you to leave our space. If you can safely navigate your way out of the Hurdles, you will be rewarded with your lives.”

With a curt nod, Count Slongur vanished from the bridge, the screen, and everywhere else aboard the Magnitude.

Quasar’s shoulders sank. “I got dressed up for that? Our first contact with this exotic species, and we end up with squat.”

“Maybe not, sir.” Hank pointed at the viewscreen where a different gorgeous Vyperian watched the captain intently.

“The rumors are true. You are indeed quite handsome… for a human. And you have proven yourself to be worthy of our good graces. Bring us more of your timepieces, Captain, and we will negotiate terms for the superior-grade quartz dust you require. You and I alone.”

Quasar raised an eyebrow. “Princess Ularia, I presume?”

“But of course.” Her slender tongue made a brief appearance as her golden eyes gleamed hungrily.

“You — uh… have yourself a date, Your Highness.” Quasar cleared his throat as the screen returned to an orbital view of the planet. “You heard the lady, Hank. Just a couple more trips through that terrifying mine field, and we’ll be well on our way to forging a fabulous working relationship with this reclusive race of snake-people.”

“If we survive,” the Carpethrian muttered.

“I’d say we’re in good hands.” Quasar winked. “All four of them.”

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 few dozen alternate realities. His novel Captain Bartholomew Quasar and the Space-Time Displacement Conundrum is forthcoming from Every Day Novels, and his other Captain Quasar misadventures may be found here.

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