Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Joy Ride
by Jude-Marie Green

Barnegat Inn
by Brian Biswas

Captain Quasar and the Kolarii Kidnappers
by Milo James Fowler

by Michael Hodges

Discord in Paradise
by Leslie Lupien

(225-50) Agnes
by Mark Ayling

It’s a Long Road to the Sky Train
by Michael Andre-Driussi

Not Her Kind
by Peter Wood

Down Courthouse Wash
by Steven L. Peck

Blink Twice
by Rebecca Birch

by Sean Monaghan


Mad Max, R2-D2 Return
by Adam Paul

Sixteen Shades of Ice
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Captain Quasar and the Kolarii


By Milo James Fowler

CAPTAIN BARTHOLOMEW QUASAR’S EYES could have been playing tricks on him, but he doubted it. They were so seldom unreliable, after all.

“Tell me, Hank.” He leaned over to his very hairy helmsman, tied as he was with his hands behind his back—only Hank, being a four-armed Carpethrian, had twice as many hands, all tied with a rough hemp rope. “They looked like human children, didn’t they?”

“Silence!” commanded the tribal leader—a chief or a chieftess. Quasar couldn’t be sure. He’d never met a Kolarii before. As a race, they resembled turtles but without the shells to slow them down. From what he’d seen since they captured him and his away team, the Kolarii moved slowly enough as it was. “You have trespassed into our village and have no voice among our people until one has been granted to you. Which it has not. So you will keep silent, Human.”

“I will not.” Quasar raised his tanned, chiseled chin and narrowed his heroic gaze. “Those children don’t belong to you. You stole them from the human settlers in Zeta Colony 6, and we’re here in loco parentis to take them home. All twelve of them. No child left behind.”

“Loco parentis ...” Hank grunted quietly. “Their parents are crazy?”

“With worry, perhaps,” Quasar said. “They wouldn’t dare break the treaty by entering Kolarii lands. There is a strictly enforced boundary between what is human and what is Kolarii on this moon.”

Scowling, the Kolarii chief motioned two spear-toting, muscular warriors toward Quasar. They wouldn’t reach him for a minute or two, due to their sluggish speed. It was a wonder that the Captain, Hank, and Security Chief Gruber (also tied next to Quasar) had been overtaken by such slowpokes. But then again, the Kolarii had outnumbered them ten-to-one and had been well-armed with all manner of serrated and sharp projectile weapons, while Quasar and company had each carried only a nonlethal stunner.

“Well, Hank?” Quasar persisted, nudging the surly Carpethrian with an elbow. “Didn’t they look human to you?”

“Humph,” Hank grunted noncommittally.

“Big help you are.” Quasar glanced at the two fierce Kolarii warriors headed his way, still a couple meters out. Then he turned his attention to Gruber, garbed as he and Hank were in Kolarii cloaks. They made everyone present look like spooky druids in the middle of a pagan, slow-motion ritual. “Back me up here.”

“Yes indeed, Captain, they sure did look human to me.” Gruber stared at the Kolarii and didn’t blink. Afflicted with a perspiration disorder, he was sweating so profusely that his soggy cloak made him look like a large drowned rat. The heat of the moon’s twin suns didn’t help matters. “You think we should maybe try to escape, sir? I’m almost certain we could outrun them.”

“No need.” Quasar met the Kolarii chief’s stern gaze with steely confidence. “No harm will come to us. The Kolarii have a treaty set in stone—literally—with the human colonists. Our friendly chief here would not risk disturbing this moon’s decades of peace by roughing us up.”

Chieftess!” the chief corrected.

“Fifty-fifty chance,” Quasar muttered. “Glad we’ve got that straight now.”

“It was the Humans who stole our children. We have brought them home, and now you threaten their safety—Human spies sent to sneak and steal from us. The treaty is null and void!”

The warriors were now upon Quasar and company, gripping hold of the Captain, Hank, and Gruber and shaking them in place. It was an odd sensation, akin to slow-dancing. But not nearly as romantic.

“I’m sorry.” Quasar wagged his chin toward the collar of his uniform, mostly hidden by the cloak he wore. “Sometimes my translation device can be a little ... off-target, shall we say? I’m sure I misunderstood. You could not have possibly said the treaty with the colonists is null and void. Because that would mean this situation has gone from bad to much, much worse.”

“That’s what she said, Captain.” Hank’s fur swayed as he was slowly shaken side to side by the Kolarii warrior. Quasar wasn’t sure what a seasick Carpethrian looked like, but he had a pretty good idea.

“You came to us armed—” The chieftess held up the three stunners her warriors had confiscated from Quasar and his away team. “—trod upon our land, and made threats against us. All of your actions violate the treaty. You will be punished for your dangerous trespasses and sins. Throw them into the pit!”

Warriors gradually surrounded Quasar, Hank, and Gruber and slowly escorted them toward the edge of a gaping hole in the ground a few meters away.

“I don’t like the looks of this, Captain.” Gruber struggled against the warriors who held him, but their collective grip was too strong for him. “What do you suppose is down there?”

“Something hungry. Or lethal. Probably both,” replied Quasar. “But have no fear. This is all for show, trust me.”

“You will die!” the chieftess shrilled. The Kolarii released a terrifying tumult of war cries, laughter, and what sounded like off-key opera.

“Captain.” Hank cleared one of his twin throats, giving his voice an oddly harmonic quality. “For argument’s sake, what if they do plan to kill us?”

Quasar winked. “I’ve got everything under control.”

Hank didn’t look convinced. Neither did Gruber. Half an hour later when they finally reached the pit and the Kolarii warriors hurled Quasar headfirst into it, the Captain realized he’d been very wrong about the situation from the start.

“Wait a minute!” he hollered as he plummeted headlong into fetid darkness, stretching out both his legs in a full split. His boots dug into the opposite walls of the pit and halted his descent toward whatever hissed and snapped far below. He imagined python-sized sand snakes, but he hoped he was wrong about that. As much as he’d always been curious about what a sand snake looked like, and as much as he’d hoped to catch a glimpse of one, this was not how he’d imagined first contact with such exotic creatures. Dangling below his own legs, he struggled in vain against the bonds on his wrists. “You appear to be serious. I understand that now. And I respect it.”

“Is he talking to himself down there?” said one of the Kolarii who’d tossed him in.

“Praying, more likely,” said the other one.

“Tell your chieftess I will discuss terms!” Quasar raised his voice. “And be quick about it!” His boots slid unexpectedly, and he shoved them into the pit’s earthen walls with all his might.

“What did he say?”

“He would like an audience with the chieftess.”

“He is still alive?”

“Not for long, if you keep lollygagging!” Quasar grimaced and grunted. He’d always taken pride in his flexibility, but it had not been put to the test in such a fashion before. “She’ll want to hear what I have to say.”

Thankfully, the chieftess was nearby, and it didn’t take more than ten minutes for her to make her way to the edge of the pit.

“Still alive, you say? I do not believe it. No one could survive such a fate,” said the chieftess as she approached. “Human, are you down there? In one piece?”

“Yes,” Quasar managed, gritting his teeth and sweating from every pore as he strained with his leg muscles to keep from meeting whatever horrible death awaited him below. “I would like to make a proposition. Allow us to return to Zeta Colony 6 and find out if what you say is true. About the colonists stealing your children and somehow turning the little tykes into humans. As bizarre and unlikely as that sounds, I promise you, the perpetrators will be brought to justice if such is the case.”

Silence answered him. Had he blacked out? Fallen to his death? Been swallowed by a massive, scaly creature? Was he currently being digested by the thing’s horrid innards? He couldn’t feel his legs. He had no idea if they still held him. But if this was how he met his demise, so be it. He would be spared a considerable amount of groin pain as a result.

Before he knew precisely what was happening, a hook on a long pole had taken hold of his bound wrists and hoisted him up out of the pit. Dangling in midair, he rotated past the surprised-looking Kolarii warrior who held him and faced the equally surprised-looking chieftess. Apparently, neither one of them had ever gone fishing for Humans before.

“You would do this for us?” she said in a hushed voice. “Be our detective?”

Quasar couldn’t be sure his collar’s translation software had gotten that last word right, but he nodded anyway. “I give you my word, Chieftess. If what you say about the colonists is true, then they will pay for what they have done.” He forced a chuckle, despite the tearing pain in his shoulders as he was suspended by both arms behind his back. “You can throw ’em in your pit for all I care.”

The chieftess raised her arms in exultation, and her warriors’ tumult returned as terrifying as before. They ceased abruptly as she dropped her arms and pointed at Quasar.

“To ensure that you are indeed true to your word, Human, your hairy friend and your sweaty friend will remain here with us. We will send a Kolarii warrior with you as a guide—”

“I’m sure that won’t be necessary,” Quasar said.

“I am sure it is. We cannot allow all three of you to leave on your merry way. What is to keep you from going back on your word and never returning to us?”

Quasar shrugged. “Fair enough. But I won’t need a guide.” He could travel back and forth between the human colony and the Kolarii settlement multiple times in the days it would take one of the Kolarii to reach the Zeta 6 colony. “I will be fine on my own.”

Hank and Gruber cast each other a very concerned glance.


By the time Captain Quasar reached the colony compound, he was nearly shot on sight by the sentinel on duty. Apparently, the colony had been having trouble lately with a so-called wilderness wizard, a self-proclaimed prophet of doom and gloom who had adopted the Kolarii ways, customs, and dress, and who returned every now and then to heckle the human colonists while keeping out of range of their plasma rifles. The governor had no patience for such foolishness.

“Sorry about that, Captain.” The young sentinel sheepishly ushered Quasar inside the compound and locked the formidable gate behind him, rifle slung over his scrawny shoulder. “Can’t be too careful.”

“No harm done.” Quasar may have presumed that he would arrive on the scene like a heroic Lawrence of Arabia after crossing a sea of sandy dunes, but such had not been the case. Thanks to his sore groin muscles, his bow-legged gait had been nearly as slow as a Kolarii’s, and due to his neglecting to bring water for the journey, he’d arrived at the colony parched, hallucinating, and talking back to the voices in his head. “I’m sure I resembled a crazy hermit out there. Not my intention, mind you. But—what’s that you say?”

The sentinel hadn’t said anything.

“Oh yes, best-laid plans indeed! You’re absolutely right.” Quasar nodded to himself.

“Uh—wait here, sir. I’ll go get you some hydro ... and an appropriate uniform.”

“No need!” Quasar tugged off the dusty Kolarii cloak and flung it aside, revealing his sweat-drenched burgundy-and-black Space Command uniform underneath. “That’s right. Thank you. I am fit for duty!” He swayed on his feet and caught himself against the solid plasticon wall of the compound. He frowned, shaking his head sharply. “Yes, hydro would be great. On the double, if you don’t mind.”


Governor Steele brought the topped-off canteen himself, meeting Quasar inside the gate where the sentinel resumed his post, rifle at the ready.

“Sweet nectar of the desert,” Quasar murmured happily, smacking his lips after downing half the canteen’s contents.

“Might want to take it slow, Captain.” Steele was a rigid military man, more of a commandant than a politician. But it took unyielding men and women to colonize an alien moon successfully. “I see you’ve returned empty-handed. And you’ve lost your men. Do all of your missions end this badly?”

Quasar opened his mouth to respond, but he couldn’t think of a suitable thing to say. So he poured more of the hydro down his throat instead, finishing the canteen and tossing it back at the governor. Steele caught it in one hand.

“I was told you were the man for the job, Captain. That you had experience with alien races—even going so far as to have one on your crew. A Carpethrian, is it?” His lip curled back with subconscious distaste.

“Are you sterile?” Quasar asked.

“I beg your pardon.”

“Your colony—the humans here. Have they been able to reproduce?”

“You’ve been out in the suns too long, Captain. Perhaps you have forgotten why you went into that desert in the first place.”

“I was told they might not be your children.”

“Who told you that? Those lizard-people?”


Steele stared hard at Quasar. “How’s that?”

“They move so slow, I think turtle-people might be more accurate. Or their given name: the Kolarii.”

“Don’t tell me you’ve gone native.”

“I only dressed the part. Although that soldier there—” Quasar gestured at the forward-facing sentinel. “—was prepared to shoot me on sight. Your colony is having trouble with a defector, I take it?”

“Nothing we can’t handle. Your assistance was requested regarding a delicate matter—and that matter alone. You were not invited here to criticize how my people conduct their affairs.”

“Understood.” Quasar nodded once. “Back to the kids. They’re yours?”

Steele scowled. “Not all of them. My son is among them, yes.”

“And he’s human? One hundred percent?”

“What are you getting at, Captain?”

“Could he beat me in a footrace on a good day?” Not today, obviously. Quasar would need to ice his groin muscles as soon as he returned to his quarters aboard the Effervescent Magnitude. “Because if what the Kolarii say is true—”

“Whose side are you on?”

“I would like to speak with your colony physician.” If anyone had a record of the fertility rate, it would have to be the local doctor.

“Open the gate, soldier,” Steele said. “We’re done here.”

Without a word, the sentinel moved to obey.

“I have a few more questions for you, Governor,” Quasar said.

“You’ll have to ask Dr. Wolfson. You’ll find him out there somewhere.” Steele waved vaguely at the desolate moonscape in the distance. “A raving lunatic, last time I checked. He left us over a week ago, and he won’t be welcomed back. Neither will you, Captain. I will notify United World Space Command that your mission was a failure, and I doubt you or your fancy ship will ever return to this sector. Assuming the desert doesn’t kill you.”

Quasar set his jaw as he retrieved the Kolarii cloak he’d tossed to ground earlier. “Don’t count me out yet, sir.”


Once Captain Quasar was a kilometer away from the compound and its stuffy governor, he activated the comm link in his collar with an awkward head jerk.

“Captain, is everything all right down there?” Commander Wan, his first officer, sounded concerned. As a rule, she tended toward a more stoic disposition. “Scans indicate you have been on your own for the past twelve hours.”

“I’m fine, Number Wan. Tell me how Hank and Gruber fare with the Kolarii. Still alive, I trust?”

“They are being treated to a tribal display of some sort. It could be a dance. But they are moving very slowly.”

That sounded about right. “I need you to scan my vicinity for any other humanoid life signs. A prophet of doom and gloom, in particular.”


“A hermit living outside the colony.”

“Understood.” She paused. “Yes, there is a human life sign outside of the compound—”

“Not mine, correct?”

“Not yours, sir. It’s moving in your direction.”

“You don’t say.” Quasar peered into the distance under the shade of his cloak’s hood. “Thanks, Commander. I’ll be in touch.”

“We will remain in orbit as long as necessary, ready to extract you as soon as you give the word.”

Quasar jerked his head to end the transmission and held up a hand in greeting as the cloaked figure appeared over a suns-baked dusty rise, fifty meters away. Not a Kolarii, judging by the person’s fast-paced gait, and not a man suffering from sprained groin muscles.

“Hello there,” Quasar called out. “Would you happen to be—?”

“You’ve got a ship in orbit? That’s who you were talking to just now, right? People on your ship?” The heavily bearded, suns-burnt old-timer spoke in a rush, gesturing with suns-blistered hands. “I’ll tell you whatever you want to know, just get me the hell off this rock!”

“Identify yourself.” Quasar held up a hand to slow him down. “Please.”

“Of course, you have no idea who I am. How could you? You’re not from around here. You have no clue what that bastard Steele’s forced me to do.” He stopped himself abruptly. “I request asylum under United World Space Command Frontier Article 38, Section 7, Paragraph 24. My name is Dr. Eugene Wolfson. I can’t stay here any longer. My life is in jeopardy.”

Quasar nodded to show he was listening. “Dr. Wolfson, it’s my understanding that you left Zeta Colony 6—”

“Are you hearing the words coming out of my face?” Wolfson grabbed Quasar by the cloak in two fistfuls of the sweat-soaked material. “Get me outta here!”

Quasar easily broke the man’s hold on him and shoved him back. The good doctor hit the ground on his backside.

“As much as I myself would like to leave this moon at the first opportunity, I can’t. Two of my men are being held in a Kolarii village, and I have my word to honor with their chieftess. Furthermore, I cannot have my first officer send down a transport pod at the drop of a hat. As you know, the Kolarii are a primitive race, and it would not do to introduce them to alien technology before they are developmentally ready for it. We have to be very careful when we lay in the pod’s trajectory so that it is not seen while en route, and we cannot have it touch down on the moon’s surface willy-nilly.”

“They took your weapons.”

Quasar blinked. “How’s that?”

“The Kolarii—when they captured you and your men. They took your stun guns.”

“You saw that, did you?” Quasar scratched at his chin.

“Saw the whole thing from my favorite cave.”

“Well, I’m sure they wouldn’t know how to use such advanced nonlethal weaponry. It would take them years probably to master—”

“Saw them shoot a couple sand serpents and drag the stunned creatures to a Kolarii punishment pit.”

So that’s what they called that hole in the ground. Fitting.

“Sounds like you see quite a lot from this cave of yours. Where is it located?”

“Half a klick over that rise.” Wolfson gestured in the direction from whence he’d come. “The Kolarii village lies in the valley below.”

“That close?” Quasar was astounded. “It took me most of the day to reach the Zeta 6 compound!”

“Saw you take the long way. And you were walking like a bow-legged cowboy. That probably slowed you down some.”

“Couldn’t be helped.” Quasar sniffed. “Now listen, if you were the colony physician, then you’re just the fellow I’m looking for. And if you know a faster way to reach the Kolarii, then lead on. But I won’t be taking you anywhere until I get my questions answered. Do we have an understanding between us?”

“No.” With that, Wolfson turned on his heel and set off in the opposite direction.

Captain Quasar paused to quickly formulate a plan of action. Then he followed a few meters behind. Dr. Wolfson muttered and gestured to himself as he walked, obviously out of his gourd, and Quasar struggled to keep up. The only thing on his mind right now—besides solving the mystery of the kidnapped children and rescuing his two crewmen from the Kolarii, of course—was a tub of ice to sink his groin into. Unfortunately, his gait had grown more bow-legged than ever, and if he wasn’t careful, the doctor would pull too far ahead, out of sight, and he’d be left all alone again.

He considered calling out to Wolfson to slow down a bit, but the good doctor currently gave no indication he knew he was being followed. Quasar considered it to be in his best interest to remain as inconspicuous as possible for the time being.

“We’re almost there, Captain,” Wolfson called back. “Do try to keep up, won’t you?”

“Uh-right.” Quasar ducked his chin and did his best to hasten.

“Got a bad rash or something? Or did you pull a muscle?”

“A few of them, I believe.”

“Might have a salve for you. Works as a cure-all. Hemorrhoids, hairlessness, you name it.” The doctor paused. “Or those might be the side effects, now that I think of it.”

Quasar saw what had to be the doctor’s cave in the distance. It was the only rock formation in sight with the only cleft in said rocks to be seen, wide enough for an average-sized man to squeeze himself through.

“Tell me about Zeta 6’s fertility rate.”

“Rather abrupt shift in conversation, don’t you think?” Wolfson cast him a quizzical frown.

“I’m running low on patience at the moment.”

“Understandable, I suppose. Governor Steele lost patience with me and kicked me out of the compound a while back. Said he’d kill me if I ever tried to return. Said he hoped the desert would do the job for him. But I showed him, didn’t I? Yes indeed, I did. I survived. You wanna know how?”

Quasar jerked back from the doctor, suddenly in his face.

“By drinking my own piss,” Wolfson said with a wild-eyed grin. “Hydration, that’s the secret. Got a liter saved up in my cave, if you want some.”

“And the fertility rates?” Quasar winced, swallowing the bile that burned his throat.

“What? Oh. There weren’t any.”


“Something in the atmosphere.” Wolfson shrugged. “That’s my best guess. Something’s interfering with our ability to reproduce here. Killing our gametes—eggs and sperm. Probably in the air, for all I know. But strangely enough, it hasn’t affected the Kolarii.”

Quasar held his breath. Not that he planned on starting a family anytime soon, but he liked the idea of having the prospect available to him at some point in the future.

“So unless they get some new recruits every few decades who don’t mind going sterile, this whole colony is gonna wither and die. That’s the real problem, see: nobody wants to settle here.”

“Why’s that?” Quasar couldn’t hold his breath any longer. Stupid idea anyway. The damage had been done, and he would have to live with it.

“Take a look around, Captain. Would you?”

“For the greater good? Of course. Earth needs all the minerals that can be mined from these far-flung moon colonies. All of our technological advancements depend on it.”

“Would you give up command of your vessel to work here?”

Quasar cleared his throat. “We were discussing the colonists. The folks who had their children kidnapped—which, according to you, is impossible, since they can’t even have children. Unless they brought the little tykes with them years ago when they came to settle this moon and somehow kept them from maturing through the use of a secret anti-aging serum.”

“You should write science fiction, Captain.” Wolfson looked impressed. “You have quite the imagination. But truth be told, the children that were kidnapped aren’t human at all.”

“Ha! So it is true.”

“Well, I did say truth be told.”

“The colonists kidnapped the Kolarii children and somehow made them look human, so the Kolarii stole them back—?”

“With my help.” Wolfson added. “Yep, I betrayed the Governor. Went native. When you came along, I had to warn the Kolarii that the cavalry had arrived. Sorry it got you captured and tossed into a punishment pit.”

“Couldn’t be helped. Although I must confess, nothing you’ve told me has come as a real surprise. The Kolarii chieftess already said the children are theirs. I simply needed to corroborate her story with a reliable witness.”

Wolfson beamed. “Never been called that before. Glad to be of service. But did the chieftess happen to mention that the children aren’t exactly Kolarii, either?”

“Uh ...” Quasar faltered. “Then what the heck are they?”

“You’ll see.” Wolfson turned back toward his cave and beckoned the Captain to follow. “I’ll take you to their village. But first I’ve gotta pack up my things so you can take me with you. Can’t let good urine go to waste.”

Quasar winced and nodded.


Like two desert vagabonds—one partially insane and the other partially crippled due to recent groin muscle overextension—Dr. Wolfson and Captain Quasar descended the valley toward the Kolarii settlement below. Anticipating their arrival, the chieftess scrambled her warriors, and by the time they had surrounded the two visitors with weapons raised, the men had already entered the village. Wolfson cast back his hood, revealing his wiry, disheveled mop of grey hair as he held up his hands. He adamantly suggested that Quasar do the same.

“They may be slow, Captain, but those spears are as lethal as an incinerator beam.”

“Chieftess,” Quasar called out, his voice echoing with authority. “Your detective has returned.”

“Detective?” Wolfson squinted under the suns. “I thought you commanded a star cruiser.”

“Oh, I do. The Effervescent Magnitude. Ever hear of it?”

“No. Sounds fancy.”

“It is, I assure you.”

“Can’t wait to see it.”

“About that ...” Quasar shifted his stance as he waited for the chieftess to make her way through the throng of fierce warriors. “Our roster is full at the moment, if you know what I mean. Besides, I’m sure you’ll be needed here, once we iron out everything with Governor Steele.”

“What are you saying?” Wolfson nearly yelped. “Are you going back on your word? You can’t leave me here! Steele will kill me. He’ll deny everything, say it was all my idea. Even if I don’t die by his hand, do you really think Space Command will let me live after what I’ve done?”

“Human,” the chieftess greeted Captain Quasar. Her warriors parted like plasma on a frozen tundra as she stepped between them. “You have brought only one of the culprits for justice. Where are the others?”

“Justice? Hold on a second. What’s going on here?” Wolfson yelped. “Chieftess, I warned you that these guys were headed into your village! Don’t you remember me? Doctor Wolf!”

Quasar almost snickered. A wolf ... on a moon. Perhaps it was due to the scorching twin suns which had so far refused to set, coupled with his lack of adequate drinking water, not to mention his recent groin injury, but the Captain was feeling a bit out of sorts. He struggled to maintain his composure.

“Chieftess, what you told me about the children is true. They do not belong to the colonists.” Quasar paused dramatically. “But I’m not sure they belong to you, either.”

A shocked gasp swept over the Kolarii.

“Explain yourself, Human.” The chieftess narrowed her reptilian gaze.

“According to this scroungy fellow, the children aren’t Kolarii. Which would mean they don’t belong to you. Which makes this entire matter quite confusing. And I’d like to see my men, by the way, to make sure they’re all right.”

“They have not been harmed.” She gestured languidly, and two of her warriors moved to summon the prisoners from a clay hut in the center of the village. It would be a while before Quasar, Hank, and Gruber were reunited. “Perhaps you would like to see our children again as well?”

Before giving Quasar a chance to respond, the chieftess threw back her head slowly and released what sounded like a strangled shriek. Immediately, a dozen human children darted out of various huts in the village at a speed only humans could run. Half a dozen came to stand on one side of the chieftess, and half a dozen on the other, like well-behaved students on a field trip. As if they had never belonged in a human compound. As if this had been their home, all along.

“Say hello to the Human,” said the chieftess.

“Hello, Human,” the children said in unison.

“Creepy,” Wolfson muttered.

Quasar couldn’t disagree.

“Has your companion told you what he did to these little ones?” The chieftess inclined her head toward the doctor. “No? Perhaps now would be a good time for him to do so.”

Quasar nodded, turning expectantly toward the good doctor—who had suddenly leapt forward, grabbed hold of the chieftess, and shoved a sharpened stone the size of a spearhead against her scaly throat. The warriors gasped in alarm, but there was little they could do about the situation. They were, of course, too slow.

“Nobody’s gonna railroad me!” Wolfson growled. “Stay back!” he barked at the kids who’d rushed toward the chieftess with tears in their eyes. “Creepy little monsters. Look, I’m sorry I made you, all right? It was all a big mistake. But Governor Steele kept pressuring me—”

Three stun beams struck Wolfson at the same moment, and he lurched into the air in a frozen, awkward pose. Then he dropped to the ground unconscious, shattering the clay pot of urine he’d strapped to his waist. The children cheered, rushing to embrace the chieftess who nodded and smiled down at them, assuring them that she had been all right all along. Quasar searched the vicinity for the source of the discharged weapons and caught sight of three Kolarii warriors congratulating each other with slow pats on the back, each holding one of the stunners taken from Quasar and his away team. The Kolarii had caught on fast. It wouldn’t be long until they started wanting other forms of advanced technology to make their lives easier. Such was the way of things, after all.

Quasar jerked his head to activate the comm link in his collar. “Commander, send down Dr. Yune in a transport pod. Set landing coordinates twenty meters outside the village.”

“What about cultural contamination, sir?” said Wan.

“Too late to worry about that, I’m afraid.” He watched the children—human for all intents and purposes—embrace their chieftess like a bunch of kids at a family reunion excited to see their dear grandmother. “Besides, what I’m seeing here isn’t contamination. It’s kind of sweet, actually.”


Captain Bartholomew Quasar sat at the head of the table in the Effervescent Magnitude’s conference room with a pair of freeze-bags on his groin. Hank, security chief Gruber, Dr. Yune, and Commander Wan were also in attendance. The Magnitude remained in orbit of the Zeta 6 moon for the time being. What Quasar and his senior staff decided here would determine their next course of action.

“Some sort of implant?” Commander Wan regarded the specs on the wallscreen with a skeptical gaze. They looked like the components of a twentieth-century hearing aid.

“That’s what we’ve been able to determine so far.” Dr. Yune nodded, standing beside the screen with a laser pointer. She was a small woman with great medical know-how, and Quasar was proud to have her as a member of his crew. “Somehow, the colony physician—Dr. Wolfson—”

“Currently sleeping in the brig,” Gruber said. As chief of security, he never got to use the brig as much as he would have liked. Just being able to mention the brig in passing seemed to fill him with pride. “I checked on him—in the brig, you know. He’s not going anywhere.”

Yune continued, “Wolfson managed to genetically manipulate the fauna of the moon, creating hybrids of the native species. Then, with this implant—”

“Fauna—you mean ... critters?” Gruber said.

Yune pointed to the device on the screen. “Wolfson gave them a human physiology—an external overlay, if you will, that caused them to appear human—as well as genetic enhancements that endowed them with human-like abilities. Genius, really. If it didn’t break every code of ethics in the quadrant.”

“So you’re saying they aren’t even children. They’re not human, and they aren’t Kolarii offspring.” Hank grunted incredulously and crossed all four of his very hairy arms. “Humph.”

“Yet the chieftess considers them to be as much Kolarii as any other native species on that moon. They recognize their own, regardless of external morphology,” Yune said. “So Dr. Wolfson’s creations will live on in that village for the rest of their days, despite their obvious human traits.”

“Can’t the implant be removed?” Wan frowned. “Or if not removed, then altered to give the ... children ... a more Kolarii appearance?”

“We’ll leave that to the Space Command bigwigs to decide. They’ll make sure both Wolfson and Governor Steele answer for what they’ve done.” Quasar paused a moment to stroke his clean-shaven and suns-burned chin. “Planning for the future is one thing. I don’t fault the colony for it. Where would any species be without its progeny? Dead as the dodo bird. But what Wolfson did in creating those youngsters ...” He shook his head. “It’s really messed up.”

“I still don’t get why they did it,” said Gruber. “I mean, yeah, the colonists wanted to have kids and they couldn’t. But what Wolfson did—as amazing as it is, scientifically speaking—that wouldn’t do anything for their future. Alien animal creatures that look human? Not much in the way of progeny to be found there, Captain.”

“True.” Quasar chewed his knuckle pensively. “But beggars can’t be choosers. It’s an innate desire in most humanoid species to propagate, after all. For the colonists, perhaps having children right now was all that mattered to them, and they fooled themselves into believing the young’uns would ensure the continuation of Zeta Colony 6 for years to come.”

“Regarding Dr. Wolfson and the contamination ...” Wan began.

“Right.” Quasar cleared his throat. “My first thought was to hand Wolfson over to the tribe in return for our three stun weapons. But even with him in a punishment pit and our technology out of Kolarii hands, there’s still the matter of Dr. Yune’s transport pod landing near that village, not to mention the bioscans she performed on the children. Which is to say, the damage has been done. There’s no going back. The humans and Kolarii on that moon will no longer be able to live a completely separate existence.” Quasar set his jaw. “For now, we have to decide what is to be done with Dr. Wolfson. A true Dr. Frankenstein of our time.” Quasar paused, taking a moment to meet the gaze of each of his senior staff. “My vote: Kolarii punishment pit. All in favor?”

No one besides Quasar raised a hand.

“Very well.” He sniffed. “We wait until the envoy from Space Command arrives, and we let justice take its due process and whatnot. Dismissed.”

As his staff filed out of the conference room, Captain Quasar remained seated. Only when he was sure the corridor outside would be empty, he left the room and hobbled straight to his quarters, holding both freeze-packs in place. The envoy wouldn’t arrive for another day or so, and he planned to be back on his feet by then—not bow-legged. But for now, a tub full of ice-cold hydro would be just about perfect.

“Justice,” he mused as he sank into the tub with a long sigh.

Even way out here on the sector’s frontier, there was a place for the long arm of Space Command to ensure its human colonists behaved in an ethical manner with regard to the galaxy’s native species. Perhaps such would not always be the case. Someday, humankind may spread far beyond the reach of Earth’s interplanetary governance. Then it would be up to others to make certain justice prevailed, like marshals in Earth’s ancient West—those with the fortitude to do the right thing regardless of consequence.

“Punishment pit,” Quasar murmured to himself, then snapped wide awake as he realized he hadn’t seen a single sand serpent on that moon. Disappointing. “Well, there’s always next time.”

The chieftess might require the services of her favorite detective again at some point, and Captain Bartholomew Quasar knew he’d be the right human for the job.

“Case closed,” he said with a grin, winking at himself in the mirror. END

Milo James Fowler is a teacher by day and a writer by night. He’s an active SFWA member with work published in “AE,” “Cosmos,” “Daily Science Fiction,” “Nature,” and “Shimmer.” He previously appeared in the 12-JUN-2014 “Perihelion.”