The massive arena was filled to capacity with aliens of all shapes and sizes and smells. They’d gathered for one reason: to watch the Earth Man die.
But Captain Bartholomew Quasar didn’t intend for them to go home happy.
Faced on the arena floor by a house-sized cat, he maintained his fighting stance: legs shoulder-width apart, torso leaning forward, arms up with every muscle at attention. Already, he’d survived an attack from not one, but two Xenodian hornbeasts — vicious creatures with razor-sharp claws covering their reptilian bodies. Quasar’s uniform bore the tell-tale scars of their altercation: torn across the front to bare his tanned chest, stained with his own blood and that of the creatures he’d lured into the middle of the coliseum before ducking at just the right moment. The hornbeasts had plowed headfirst into each other, shattering their oddly fragile skulls, and now lay where they’d fallen, never to rise again.
But this massive cat was a different matter entirely: powerful and very fluffy. Quasar’s eye contact with the creature never wavered.
Until the monster coughed up a colossal hairball that reeked with such fetor that Quasar cried “Foul!” and staggered back with a hand over his nose, imploring the queen where she sat on high with her attendants. “How can I be expected to fight under these conditions?”
Queen Kronikthalia was not amused. Nor had she been earlier when Quasar attempted to seduce her. Instead of taking his advances to mean what they did everywhere else in the galaxy — that he wanted something in return: usually reactor components for his ship — she had assumed he wanted her to lay eggs inside his skull. It was a great honor, the queen declared, perplexed that Quasar hadn’t seen it that way. Instead, he’d attempted to flee from her presence, shooting two of her guards in the process.
The queen deigned to look upon him now. “You will fight until we have seen your true virtue.”
“My what?” Quasar caught his breath. “I’ve killed two hornbeasts. What more do you want from me?”
“Your blood!” shouted her right-hand man — who wasn’t a man but a Xenodian as she was: a tall, spindly humanoid species that resembled an upright mantis. “You will pay for your disrespect!”
Captain Quasar assumed his most favorite pose: the Confident Starfarer. There would be a statue made of him someday, he knew. Probably not on this planet, but certainly elsewhere.
“How could I have shown the proper respect? She wanted to lay eggs in my head, for crying out loud!”
“Any Xenodian male would be honored to carry my eggs to term!” the queen roared.
“Well, there we are then. I’m Human. And I’m captain of a gorgeous star cruiser, the Effervescent Magnitude — ever hear of it?” The Xenodians glowered down at him. “I’d lay down my life for just about any member of my crew. The good of the many and all that. But to have your younglings eat me alive as they burst forth from my skull? No thanks.”
The Xenodians grumbled among themselves, chitin jaws click-clacking sounds the translation device in Quasar’s collar couldn’t decipher.
“Captain?” came the voice of his first officer from the communication device also sewn into his collar. “We’ve been monitoring your situation…”
He wished she wouldn’t do that. Couldn’t a ship’s captain strike out on his own every now and then for a little fun?
“Got everything under control here, Commander Wan,” he reassured her. “Did you get those reactor components from the village?”
“Yes, sir. In exchange for certain exotic foodstuffs.”
Quasar stifled a grin. “Protein rations?”
“Queen Kronikthalia’s people are starving, Captain.”
Quasar narrowed his heroic gaze at the Xenodian monarch on her throne. Clenching his jaw until the muscle twitched, he made a mental to-do list. First, he would best this giant, hairball-spewing kitty. Then he would escape from the arena more or less unscathed. Finally, he would arrange for a transport pod to bring down a few tons of exotic foodstuffs from the Magnitude in orbit. Then he’d call it a day. Maybe take a long sonic shower in his quarters, followed by a little nap.
If only all had gone according to plan.
First, the cat pounced on him, smothering him in its copious fur as it batted aside the corpses of the hornbeasts like playthings. Pinned to the ground, Quasar wheezed as his lungs compressed.
“What was that, sir?” said Wan.
“Does she even know?” he managed.
“About her people? I would assume she doesn’t care, sir.”
“We’ll see about that.”
Desperate times called for desperate measures. With his last breath, he blew a raspberry into the creature’s underbelly. The monstrous kitty leapt into the air wide-eyed, its four legs splayed. The creature had never felt so sullied. Quasar rolled out from underneath it, dashing straight for the Queen.
“Seize him!” She ordered her soldiers into the arena.
“Wait a minute!” Quasar spit hair out of his mouth. The feline sulked in a corner, keeping its distance now. “Your Highness, perhaps we can reach an agreement.”
“I do not see how,” the queen said in disgust. “To think I ever considered you worthy of bearing my young.”
Quasar cleared his throat. “Starving villagers tend to overthrow their monarchs. I can keep that from happening. If you let me go.”
She contemplated his offer. “You will exterminate the vermin for me?”
“What? No. I’ll feed them.”
“How virtuous of you, Earth Man. Oh, very well.” She sighed, nodding to her soldiers. They tossed Quasar headlong outside the arena gates.
Rolling in the dust, he activated the communication device in his collar.
“Captain, you’re still alive,” said Commander Wan.
“Send down a transport pod filled with protein packs. Set coordinates for the village.”
A thunderous rumble reverberated the ground beneath him. He reeled to find he hadn’t been the only one banished from the arena. The giant kitty purred, eyeing him with keen interest.
“On second thought,” Quasar said. “Set coordinates for right here.”
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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