Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Glass Eye Pines
by Michael Hodges

Moving the Floral Sea
by Anne E. Johnson

Bounty Call
by Curtis C. Chen

by David Barber

Captain Quasar and the Fur Traders
by Milo James Fowler

Under a Steel Sky
by James Mapes

We Are Parts
by Matt Zandstra

A Repeating Pattern
by Michael McGlade

Shorter Stories

You Can Pay Me Now ...
by Arthur Carey

by Robin Wyatt Dunn

by M.E. Garber


Lysol Kills!
by John McCormick

Our Earth is Two Billion Years Old
by Thomas Elway



Comic Strips




Captain Quasar and the Fur Traders

By Milo James Fowler

CAPTAIN BARTHOLOMEW QUASAR WAS JUST about to regale his bridge crew with another action-packed yarn from his younger days in Earth’s United World army—before humankind had reduced their planet to a smoldering ash heap—when his first officer interrupted him apologetically.

“We are being scanned by an alien vessel, sir. Now entering visual range.” Commander Selene Wan consulted the screen on her console as the ship swung into view. “Two kilometers off our port bow.”

Quasar folded his muscled arms. Never one to appreciate interruptions, he faced the large viewscreen on the bridge’s fore wall with a narrowed, steely gaze. “Scanning us, you say? That’s rather rude.”

“We are passing through their space, Captain,” said Hank—the very hairy, four-armed Carpethrian helmsman. The only non-human crew member aboard the Effervescent Magnitude, Hank resembled a cross between a drunk sloth and an obese orangutan. “Might just be a matter of protocol.”

“Their space,” Quasar mused, strumming his clean-shaven chin. “How does that work, really? I’ve always wondered. How far into space from their home world does anyone’s territory extend? With Earth, it was simple: our solar system. Eight or nine planets, depending on the prevailing definition. But there isn’t a single celestial body in sight!”

“Would you like me to open a comm channel, sir?” Wan’s hand hovered over the display.

“Scan them first. Let’s see how they like it.” Quasar leaned back in his deluxe-model captain’s chair. “Then go ahead and open a vid-channel. I want to see what these nosy nellies look like.”

The nosy nellies turned out to be Xenodians—a brawny reptilian race known for their forays into piracy, bounty hunting, scavenging, pillaging, politics, and other unsavory pursuits. Soldiers of fortune, in other words. Their vessel carried half-a-dozen well-armed crew, and the vessel itself was a feat of modern engineering. Equipped with a reactor designed for a ship twice its size, it boasted a wide array of tow cables, a hull-breaching drill, and plenty of cargo space.

“Predators,” Quasar said as he rose from his seat. “Undoubtedly up to no good.”

“On screen, sir,” Wan said.

Immediately, the viewscreen filled with the leering face of a green, scaly-skinned Xenodian.

“Hello there,” said Quasar. “How may we be of assistance?”

The Xenodian didn’t say anything at first. Perhaps its translation software had something to do with the lag time. After a few moments of awkward silence, the pirate bared its rows of shark teeth in a hideous grin.

“Come to join the fun, Earth Man?” Its voice sounded strained, choked by gravel. Quasar doubted such was truly the case, but it was an apt description.

“Fun? I’m not sure what—”

“Hunting season. Isn’t that why you’re out here?”

“To hunt? No, not unless you’re referring to the acquisition of rare mineral deposits. We’re on a Space Command sanctioned mission of exploration, you see—”

The Xenodian barked a guttural command, and one of its subordinates held before the vidcam lens what appeared to be a very shaggy rug—one quite similar to Hank’s fury pelt. Exactly the same, truth be told. But with no Carpethrian underneath.

“Look familiar?” the Xenodian said.

Quasar glanced at Hank, who obviously recognized the fur. The very hairy helmsman sat frozen at his station, staring up at the viewscreen in unblinking consternation.

“What is your purpose here?” Quasar demanded.

“Told you already.” The pirate shook the large pelt in a taloned grip. “Carpethrian furs fetch a high price out on the edge. Nothing keeps colonists warm on a frozen moon like fine pelts. And they make good throw rugs, too.”

Hank growled low in his twin throats.

“Get to the point.” Unnoticeably behind his back, Quasar gave Commander Wan a complicated series of hand gestures, ordering her to stand by with all weapons.

“You appear to have a Carpethrian on board your ship, Earth Man. According to hunting season etiquette, he must excuse himself from your vessel in a transport pod. We will give him a generous head start before we begin the chase. It’s only sportsmanlike.”

“And if he refuses?” Quasar’s hands tightened into fists.

The Xenodian chuckled—a gruesome gargling sound. “He wouldn’t want to do that.” He paused. “A very pretty ship you’ve got there. I would hate to see it torn apart when there are more civilized options available to us.”

Hank swiveled his chair at the helm and faced Captain Quasar. “I’ll go,” he grunted, heaving himself up onto his fuzzy feet.

“No you don’t.” Quasar pointed at his favorite Carpethrian. “Sit back down and prepare yourself for some complicated maneuvers, Hank ol’ buddy. We’re not handing you over to these miscreants!”

The Xenodian guffawed. “You’ve got spunk, Earth Man. But this is not your quadrant. Here, it’s illegal for you to carry such a furry specimen aboard your ship and not comply—”

Quasar terminated the transmission.

“Did you know about this?” he asked Hank. “Before we plotted a course through this sector?”

“Xenodians have no official territory, Captain. Many hail from Narvana 6, but most are opportunistic vagabonds. Their planet was destroyed a century ago when their sun went supernova.”

“So it wouldn’t be against any law in this sector to, say, send a plasma torpedo at their engines and leave them stranded in our wake?”

“Sounds like a good plan, sir,” Hank said, his fangs appearing in what could have been considered a grin.

Quasar pointed at his first officer. “Make it happen.”

“Torpedo away, sir.” Commander Wan nodded. Then she frowned at her console. “Torpedo detonated, Captain. Prior to impact—no damage whatsoever to the Xenodian vessel.”

“Get us out of here, Hank!” Quasar leapt into his captain’s chair and gripped both armrests. “Maximum velocity.”

Hank’s four hands flew across the helm display as if with minds all their own. But before he could send the Magnitude on a different trajectory at high speeds, his console went dark—and so did every other system on board. The bridge pulsed, awash in a crimson glow from emergency light strips mounted along the perimeter.

“Reserve power now online,” the automated voice of the ship’s computer announced, sounding like a monotonous grandmother. “Life support functional within acceptable parameters. All other systems are currently offline.”

“What the heck happened?” Quasar frowned as his star cruiser sat motionlessly in the black. “Why aren’t we moving?”

“It would seem the Xenodians—” Wan began.

“The alien vessel released an EMP burst that disabled all primary systems,” the computer explained.

Wan glanced upward with a slightly perturbed expression. Like the captain, she didn’t appreciate being interrupted. “That’s what I was going to say.”

“EMP?” Quasar’s brow rumpled itself. “So navigation and weapons are completely offline?”

“Correct,” both Wan and the ship’s computer said in unison. Wan clenched her jaw and counted backward under her breath in Flexicant decimals—a trick she’d learned from the captain. It kept her calm in situations where her patience was tested. “Captain, I recommend going to full alert status—”

“Outer hull breach on Deck 12,” the computer reported.

Quasar nodded to his first officer. “Good idea.” Ejecting his Cody 52 Special from his chair’s armrest, he caught the gleaming pulse pistol midstride. “Hank, you’re with me.”

“Captain?” The Carpethrian looked uncertain about deserting his post.

“You want to keep that furry skin you’re in?” Quasar jerked his head to activate the comm link in his collar. “Chief Gruber, assemble a security detail and meet me on Deck 12. We’ve got company.” He jerked his head awkwardly to end the transmission and glanced at Commander Wan. “Figure out some way to notify the ship’s company. They need to report to battle stations.” He pumped the manual release lever at the bridge exit, causing the door to jerk open a few centimeters at a time.

“The intercom is out ship-wide, sir,” Wan said. “Short of notifying each crewmember via comm link, I don’t see how—”

“Report to battle stations. Repeat. All crew report to battle stations,” the computer announced.

Wan stared at the ceiling. Then she stared at the captain.

Quasar shrugged. “Must be part of the emergency protocols. She hasn’t said anything before.”

She, sir?” Wan looked like she’d be counting backward again at any second.

“The Magnitude.” Quasar gazed upward. Then he cleared his throat and spoke up, “Uh-how soon until ... That is, when are the intruders expected to be aboard?”

“The inner hull will be breached within three minutes,” the computer answered.

The bridge door had opened wide enough to allow Hank’s girth to squeeze through. Saluting Commander Wan, Quasar left the bridge of the Magnitude in her capable hands and charged out into the exterior corridor. Reaching the first of many ladder chutes, Quasar slid down without any regard for the rungs and found himself wondering yet again why the ship’s designers hadn’t installed a few speedlifts. He decided to ask the Magnitude herself, since she appeared to be in such a chatty mood today.

“Any sort of elevator would currently be offline,” the computer replied.

Of course. But that didn’t explain why all 1,492 members of the crew were expected to use ladders between decks even when there wasn’t a power outage.

As his boots hit the floor of Deck 12, Quasar crouched low, Cody 52 at the ready. Hank’s furry feet landed behind him with heavy thuds. Captain and Carpethrian helmsman crept forward without a word until they reached the end of the institutional gray corridor. That’s where they met security chief Gruber—a stocky, sweaty fellow who always insisted his excessive perspiration was due to an undiagnosed medical condition that in no way interfered with his responsibilities. Six of his muscular, well-armed security personnel stood nearby, ready for action.

“Captain.” Gruber saluted crisply and wiped his lip, covered in beads of sweat. He kept his voice low. “What’s going on? Are we under attack?”

“One for all, and all for one,” Quasar said, striking his most favorite pose—the Confident Starfarer. The men and women in the security detail nodded and glanced at each other with appreciation. They loved their captain. Nay, they adored him.

“What’s that mean, sir?” Gruber looked more confused than usual. “All one and the same or something?”

“Xenodian pirates have come to skin Hank and sell his fur to the highest bidder.”

“Humph,” Hank grunted.

“But we’re not going to let that happen,” Quasar added.

“I should say not!” Gruber handed over his spare pulse pistol. “Here you go, Hank. Shoots a bit to the left, but if you compensate—”

“Intruder alert,” the ship’s computer announced. “Deck 12. Two hostiles have boarded.”

“Everybody stay sharp.” Quasar strode ahead of the security team. “Times like these bring back so many memories: My early days as a young stud defending the interests of the United World government from the grasping claws of the Eastern Conglomerate ...”

Always interested in a good war story, Chief Gruber did his best to keep up with the captain’s long strides. But before Captain Quasar could regale all of those within earshot with an action-packed tale, a barrage of incinerator fire spewed from the opposite end of the corridor. Quasar hit the deck firing, sending a slew of blue pulse rounds into the melee of oncoming crimson particle beams. Gruber and the security officers had instantly followed their captain’s lead, dropping prostrate onto the floor and firing their fully charged weapons.

Everyone but Hank. Unlike his fellows, the Carpethrian trudged ahead, meeting the incinerator blasts head-on. Yet not a single beam singed his thick fur. Perhaps the pirates couldn’t have their quarry damaged in any way—not a single hair crisped—or risk a declination in value.

“Hank—get down!” Quasar shouted.

“Can’t get a clean shot, Captain,” Gruber grunted. “Hank’s fur is in the way.”

Quasar strummed his clean-shaven chin—difficult to do, considering his floor-bound posture, but he managed.

“I have an idea,” he said at length. “Follow me.”

Meanwhile, Hank had started growling deep in his furry chest. Three of his hands clenched into fists while the fourth gripped his pistol straight out ahead of him like a gunfighter from the Ancient West.

“Show yourselves!” he roared, sounding fiercer than any Xenodian had ever attempted to be in the history of the galaxy. “You want my skin? Then face me!”

A pair of ripples appeared in the middle of the corridor as two holo-emitters switched off, revealing the Xenodian who had greeted them on the bridge viewscreen, along with one of his reptilian henchman.

“You saved me a bloody rampage through this fine ship, Carpethrian,” the pirate said with a hideous grin. “Did your humans abandon you?”

“No!” Quasar leapt out from behind Hank and leveled his Cody 52 with the Xenodian’s scaly head.

“All for one and the same!” Gruber leapt out from behind Hank as well, aiming his plasma rifle.

The six security personnel would also have appeared out from behind Hank’s furry girth, had they thought the captain’s order to follow him had been meant for them and not Chief Gruber alone. So they remained on the deck floor halfway down the corridor with weapons at the ready and no clear shots, thanks to Hank blocking their line of sight.

“It appears we are in a South American standoff,” Quasar said, raising an eyebrow.

“How so?” the Xenodian said.

Quasar blinked. He’d hoped the situation would be self-explanatory. “Well, if I shoot you, and you shoot him, and he shoots him, et cetera, then everybody dies here. I don’t want that for my crew, and I doubt you do, either.”

“My crew is expendable.” The Xenodian fired his incinerator point-blank at the henchman beside him, and the wide-eyed fellow vanished in a puff of smoke. A small pile of ash sat on the floor where he’d been standing.

“That was uncalled for,” Quasar said.

“Humph,” Hank grunted.

Gruber’s mouth hung open as he stared.

“I will end you just as fast—if your Carpethrian does not lay down his weapon and join me.” The Xenodian had yet to blink, its bulbous yellow eyes staring without fear as he regarded Hank before him. “Do you really want this pompous Earth Man to die because of you, Carpethrian?”

Hank’s fists trembled with restrained fury. “No.”

“Then do as I say, and none of your humans will be harmed in the process.”

Hank glanced at the captain. “Sorry, sir.” He moved to set the pulse pistol on the floor. “You’ll have to find yourself a new helmsman.”

“No, Hank.” Quasar tightened his grip on the Cody 52, fighting a strange stinging sensation in his eyes.

“Good idea, Hank,” Gruber said with a grim nod.

“What the heck is wrong with you?” Quasar turned on his security chief. “It’s a terrible idea!”

But as Hank bent down to set his weapon on the deck, six blue streaks of lethal plasma rounds struck the Xenodian all at once. The pirate blinked, staring at the half-dozen cauterized holes in his chest, unable to see the one straight through his throat. He may have had some pithy last words to share before he collapsed to the deck and breathed his last, but no one would ever know what they were. All they heard was a pathetic, garbled wheeze. Then he stared sightlessly up at the ceiling, lying beside the ashes of his incinerated henchman.

“Well done!” Quasar cheered on the security team as they smiled bashfully and quickly got to their feet. Then the captain frowned, noting their location—halfway down the corridor. “Chief, did you know about this?”

“About what, sir?” Gruber wiped his sweat-slick forehead.

“Their failure to follow orders. I told them to follow me when I crept on tiptoe behind Hank’s shaggy girth.”

“Humph,” said Hank, stooping to retrieve his pistol.

“Uh-well ...” Gruber began. “When it appeared they may have misunderstood your order—thinking follow me was in fact directed at the chief of security and not the squad as a whole—I may have taken it upon myself to give them a series of complicated hand gestures, ordering them to shoot any intruder in their line of sight. When Hank bent over to set down his weapon, they must have gotten a clear shot.”

Quasar nodded. “Very well. But don’t let it happen again—the disobeying orders. Unless of course the situation calls for it. As this one did.” His comm link bleeped, and he jerked his head to activate the device in his collar.

“Captain,” Commander Wan reported, “the Xenodian vessel has detached itself from our hull and is veering away on its own heading with four remaining crew on board. The Magnitude’s computer has managed to bring minimal power back online, and I have installed a containment field around both hull breeches. It will hold until we reach spacedock for repairs.”

“Glad to see you ladies working so well together,” Quasar said, winking at no one in particular.

“Captain?” Wan did not sound amused.

“Be there in a bit.” Quasar jerked his head to terminate the transmission. Then he clapped Hank on his superior left shoulder. “Glad you’re still in your own skin, Hank ol’ buddy.”

“Me too, sir.”

“If we run into those rogues again—or anybody else with your fur in their sights—we’ll do this again. Kill them, that is, or send them packing.” Quasar raised a fist. “All for one, and one for all!”

The security squad echoed him to the letter—all except Chief Gruber, who wiped the sweat dribbling off his chin and piped up, “That’s right, one and all!”

“Humph,” Hank grunted, handing over his borrowed weapon and trudging toward the nearest ladder chute that would take him to the upper decks.

Quasar followed, giving the security team high-fives and butt-slaps as he passed. He didn’t even mind climbing all those ladders back to the bridge. He almost felt like a young stud again in the UW army after a successful campaign. No responsibilities. Only celebrations. Too many parties to count.

But of course there was the Xenodian ash ground into the carpet on Deck 12 to tend to. He would have to assign a deckhand to get that out. And to remove the plasma-riddled corpse as well. And the hull breach would need fixing as soon as possible. He hoped that wouldn’t leave a scar. The Magnitude was such a beauty.

Regardless, crisis successfully averted, and he’d have to remember to invite Chief Gruber and his squad over to the captain’s quarters sometime to regale them with a war story or two. He had so many to choose from.

But as soon as Captain Bartholomew Quasar reached the bridge, he knew he wouldn’t be sharing one of his own stories now. Instead, he’d share the tale of a courageous Carpethrian who stood up to a pair of Xenodian pirates and who lived to tell about it—fur completely intact. END

Milo James Fowler is an active member of SFWA. His short fiction has appeared in more than one hundred publications, including “AE SciFi,” “Cosmos,” “Daily Science Fiction,” “Nature,” “Shimmer,” and the “Wastelands 2” anthology.






thru jan-2016


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