Captain Quasar Saves Christmas


It was an ordinary night at the Corrosive Mold Inn.

Captain Quasar sat in his usual stool, the one furthest from the stench that emanated from the kitchen, nursing a glass of Alterran whiskey. An onlooker would have called his posture relaxed- Captain Quasar seemed unaffected by the chaos in the bar around him- but an especially observant onlooker would notice that Captain Quasar’s right hand never strayed too far from the laser pistol that rested in his hip holster.

Captain Quasar downed his whiskey, and was about to call for another when the bar fell silent. Quasar sighed. There were two things that would cause the patrons of the rowdy bar to stop and take notice of anything other than their gambling, petty squabbles, and chatting up the barmaids. Those two things were named Elmer and Ray Eris.

Sure enough, in the next moment the bartender shouted, “it’s the Eris brothers!” and dove under the bar.

“Now settle down, Tobias,” Elmer Eris sat to Captain Quasar’s left and slapped his hand on the bar. “I’m a paying customer. We don’t want any trouble.”

Captain Quasar shifted uneasily in his seat, remembering the last time Elmer Eris had said the words, “we don’t want any trouble.” Two people had been taken out of the bar in body bags, and another two had ended up in traction.

After a few moments the bartender cautiously emerged from behind the bar.

Elmer smiled, baring his mouthful of sharp, green teeth “Just give me the usual, Tobias.”

The bartender, Tobias, sat staring at Elmer. A single drop of sweat trickled down his forehead.

“What’s the matter?” Ray Eris asked, sitting down on Captain Quasar’s right. “Don’t you remember Elmer’s favorite drink?”

Captain Quasar’s head shook almost imperceptibly. Elmer ordered a different drink every time he entered the Inn.

“Of- of course I remember,” Tobias stammered, grabbing a bottle of beer from behind the bar.

Elmer grabbed the bottle from Tobias’s hand, smashed it on the floor, and looked back at Tobias, still grinning.

“So- ah,” Tobias stammered, trying another bottle, “will you boys be in town long?”

“Just long enough to get what we need,” Elmer said, smashing the second bottle.

Tobias turned around and quickly grabbed several bottles at once. Elmer smiled, grabbed the bottle of Alterran whiskey, and swept the rest of the bottles onto the floor.

“After all of these spills, I guess this drink is on the house.”

Tobias nodded, grabbed a mop, and shuffled over to the broken bottles piled on the floor.

“Hey Elmer- there’s the old man,” Ray said abruptly, and the two men stood and strode toward the far corner of the room.

“Here, Tobias. I’ve got this round.” Captain Quasar slapped 50 credits on the bar- more than enough to pay for the wasted booze. Then Captain Quasar stood and walked slowly toward the crowd in the back, which was beginning to form around the Eris brothers.

“Hey, old man,” Elmer Eris was saying to an old man who sat in the back corner, “you owe me 80 credits for the power converters.”

Elmer  and Ray had flanked the old man, each grinning their reptilian grins, but the old man seemed nonplussed. He leaned back in his chair, twirling the end of his long, white beard.

“Now Elmer- we settled on 50 credits, and I paid you fair and square.”

“Price just went up, old man. Your ship is old, and those parts are hard to come by. Let’s call it opportunity costs.”

The old man sighed. “I’ve taken a look at the power converters- the serial numbers were filed off, as though they were stolen.”

“You calling us thieves, old man?” Ray growled.

The old man stood slowly, and looked Ray right in his yellow eyes. “All I’m saying, Ray, is that it seems like you and your brother are both on the ‘naughty’ list this year.”

Elmer’s left hand reached for his ray gun. “You a bounty hunter, old man?”

At those words, Ray reached for his ray gun as well, but before either brother could draw, two shots rang out. A stunner hit Elmer square in the back, and as Ray turned to face the attacker, another blast hit him in the hand, knocking his ray gun to the floor.

Ray growled- a low, menacing rumble that emanated from an air sac under his chin. “You don’t seem to know who you’re dealing with, stranger. Why don’t you run along and mind your own business.”

“I know who you are,” Captain Quasar said. “I’ve been tracking you two across the galaxy. Thing is, tonight is my night off, and I came here to mind my own business and have a drink in peace. But you two made a mess of the joint, cost me 50 credits, and drank the last of the Alterran whiskey.”

“So?” Ray said.

“So tonight, I rid the galaxy of two more scumbags.”

Captain Quasar raised his ray gun and readied another shot.

“Now go easy on the boys,” the old man interrupted. “After all, it is Christmas eve.”

“It’s Christmas- what?” Captain Quasar said, turning to the old man.

Ray chose that moment to dive for his ray gun, but Captain Quasar  spun back toward him and hit him with a blast square in the back of the neck.

“Don’t worry- it was a stunner,” Captain Quazar said. He holstered his ray gun and grabbed the unconscious brothers by the napes of their necks. “I only get the bounty if I bring them in alive.”

The old man smiled a wide, toothless grin.




“What a night,” Captain Quazar groaned after he’d deposited the Eris brothers in his ship’s brig. He threw himself into the cracked and torn pilot seat, leaned back, and closed his eyes.

Then he opened an eye just a crack, noticing a red envelope on the dash. With a groan, Captain Quasar sat up, grabbed the envelope, and leaned back in his seat again.

Dear Captain Quasar,

I had my doubts about you, but tonight you proved yourself to be one of the good guys. You helped Tobias, saved my neck, and brought the Eris brothers in, unharmed. For the first Christmas ever, you’ve made the “good” list. In this spirit, I’ve outfitted your ship with the new railgun you wanted.

Merry Christmas,

Santa Claus


Captain Quasar jumped up, ran to the window, and there, at the front of the ship, was a brand new railgun topped with a bright red bow.

Captain Quasar really wished he’d been able to finish his Alterran whiskey. He sat back down, took the controls, and started his ship’s engines.


Merry Christmas



The Coven, Part XXI

White-robed pilgrims began to move around the room’s periphery, extinguishing the glittering lanterns one by one. The room’s glimmer faded slowly into darkness.

Mr. Filius gestured for me to follow him up the stairs, but I held up a hesitant finger, and then sought the golden-haired pilgrim, who was reaching overhead with a silver candle-snuffer.

“Excuse me, Miss-”

“If we must use titles,” the woman said, “then call me ‘Abbess.’ It is not a title I deserve, but it is still one I hold.”

“Abbess,” I corrected myself. “I wanted to thank you for speaking on my behalf.”

The Abbess snuffed a candle, and the corner where we stood was shrouded by sudden darkness. All I could see was an occasional glitter as her hair caught a still-shining lamp from far away.

“You owe me no thanks. I must speak the truth as I understand it- that is all.”

The room went dark as the last lamp was extinguished, and I stood in the darkness and silence for a moment, but then another light flickered to life behind me, and the Abbess’s face was illuminated by the halo of light.

“We should go,” Mr Filius, who had brought the lamp, spoke. “Mr. Thisbe is anxious to close his shop.”

I nodded and almost turned to go, but I found that I couldn’t take my eyes off of the Abbess’s angelic face. As I gazed at her, there was such a strong pang of familiarity that I spoke again.


“Abbess Joy,” she said.

“Abbess Joy,” I ventured. “Pardon me, but you seem so familiar, yet I can’t recall when we’ve met.’

The Abbess grinned; her white teeth were pearls in the lamplight. “We have not been formally introduced. When I attended your ball, I skipped the receiving line.”

“Oh!” I remembered the glint of golden hair I’d seen through the crowd after someone pressed the note into my hand.

The Abbess winked, and then said, “you had better leave, as Mr. Filius said. I am glad I was able to see you again, my Lady.”

“I hope we meet again,” I said.


Mr Filius escorted me down the Alley until we reached the alcove where we’d met.

“I’m sorry that we must part,” he said. “There’s so much I need to tell you. I knew that our time here would be short, however. Read this, and we will discuss the contents when we next meet.”

He took a sealed letter from his overcoat pocket.

“I will read it, and thank you. I must confess that I’ve had a much more interesting night than I’d anticipated.”

Mr. Filius laughed, and then said, “be careful on your way to the Inn. I will watch, to make sure no one harasses you. The Inn is safe- I am on very good terms with the innkeeper.”

“Don’t trouble yourself about my safety too much- I intend to learn to defend myself. I will need to, if I plan on having more interesting evenings.”

“Very good,” Mr Filius said with an approving nod. “Add it to your list of studies. Until we meet again.”

He touched his cap, and then disappeared into the alley’s shadows.


My room at the Inn was silent and empty when I returned. I shut the trap-door and moved the bed back on top of it, and then returned to the table with a lantern to read Mr. Filius’s note.

Dear Lady Frey,

First I must convey my congratulations on your recent triumph. You have been invited to join an order that is dedicated to changing the world in a much more substantial way than the litany of politics, war, and kings could ever accomplish. As I am writing this, my only concern is that you might hesitate to accept your invitation to join the Oculist Guild. If this is the case, perhaps learning the Guild’s history will help you understand our mission.

I sighed, not sure whether to smile or shake my head at Mr. Filius’s misplaced optimism.

The Oculist Guild was founded fifty years ago by two brothers, Service and Fervor Smith, who worked as tradesmen in Giroux city. Service was an oculist and glassmaker, and Fervor was a barber and surgeon.

Service and Fervor were each educated in the techniques of their trades, as fitting their station in life. The church had codified their surgical requirements at the same time the liturgy was written, and though glassmaking techniques were developed by artisans over the millennia, the church had put limits on the uses for these techniques, and the art of glassmaking had grown stagnant. Tradesmen were given just enough education to read the liturgy and perform their trade, and the practice continues to this day.

Service Smith, however, was curious by nature, and meticulous in his observations. He spent years refining and improving the glassmaking process to remove imperfections in the glass, and he quickly gained a reputation as the best glassmaker in the country. He gained a great deal of wealth selling his spectacles, and he taught his apprentices his glassmaking techniques, which freed up much of his time for tinkering with lenses and recording his observations.

He spent a lot of time both making and looking through concave and convex lenses, and so discovered many of the principles of light. In doing so, he made two inventions that would change everything- the telescope for seeing great distances, and the microscope for seeing the infinitesimal. He shared his discovery with his brother, who used the latter to analyze the tissues of his patients, and who found a world as fantastic and unexpected as the world discovered by the telescope.

Service and Fervor threw themselves into their work, codifying the discoveries the instruments had made. Service saw that Fervor was prone to over excitement in his  discoveries which lead him to imposing his own suppositions on what he saw. Because of this, Service developed a method of having a third party look through the microscope to describe what they see, without being told what to expect. Thus, the original and third-party observations could be compared, and an accurate observation could be made.

Over time, the brothers codified not only their observations, but a method of experimentation, hypothesizing, and testing every possible hypothesis before reaching conclusions. Their testing began to yield important results, and as such, they contacted a member of the clergy to review their work.

They had naively expected praise for uncovering natural laws that proved that the church was right- that there is a consistent set of natural laws that demonstrates an ordered universe, and that there is a well-ordered method for observing. Instead of praise, they received censure. They were told that they had overstepped their station in life by delving into topics reserved for the clergy. They were told that their works and methods were hubris- that no man should seek to understand the deeper mysteries of the gods.  Their treatises were burned, their instruments broken, and they were put under house arrest.

Service’s health went into sharp decline at this time, but Fervor saw the church as a group of hypocrites, and would not accept defeat. He began to publish pamphlets in secret, written by hand and distributed by his most loyal servant to trustworthy and curious tradesmen, many of whom were eager to gain the secrets of Service’s success. The front of each pamphlet was stamped with our symbol of the eye.

Over time, the movement grew beyond distributing information to making experiments and building on the brothers’ work, using their methods. This, as you may guess, must be done in secret.  If the Guild were ever betrayed, the church would kill us  and, worse, destroy our work. Our work, especially in medicine, has the potential to save millions of lives.

I have had my eye on you, Lady Frey, ever since Lord Frey ordered your telescope. (Lord Frey is not a friend of the Oculist Guild, but his late Lady was, and so he knew that I would be able to make one.) I have watched the way you approach mysteries, and you have surpassed my wildest expectations. If you join the Oculist Guild, you will be able to do a great service to humanity. I know that you will continue your work whether you join or not, but the Guild, should you join, will be able to preserve and distribute your work away from the eyes of the church.

I was both pleased and alarmed to learn that you were going to the palace at St. Blanc. I was pleased because the Oculist Guild will often meet at the crossroads of Del Sol and St. Blanc, and so I could take the opportunity to introduce you to the Guild. However, St. Blanc is a pit of vipers, filled with those loyal to the church and eager to turn rivals over to the inquisition so that they might elevate themselves. Keep your secrets well, suspend your work, and if anything goes wrong, remember that the Abbess at Del Sol will always give  sanctuary to you. The church does not suspect her true alliance with the Oculist Guild, and Del Sol is a sacred place few would breach with violence for any reason.

Stay safe, and destroy this letter as soon as you finish reading it.

Yours, etc.

I read and re-read the letter, trying to commit every detail to memory despite my fatigued mind’s refusal to cooperate. After my third read, there was a light knock on the door.

I stood and tossed the letter into the fire. “One moment,” I called.

The Inn door opened, however, and Hope entered.

“I’m sorry to disturb you so late. I was delayed-”

Hope cut off as he caught sight of the letter, which danced in the flames before curling up onto the dying embers.

“Yes, that’s quite alright,” I said. “As you see, I am still awake.”

“Indeed,” he said in a distracted tone, and then he looked at me. “I don’t suppose you would tell me-”

“Did you enjoy your card game?”

Hope shook his head and sighed. “Yes, I suppose it’s only fair we both keep our secrets. I just wanted to let you know that I am safe. I’ll leave you to sleep.”

“Don’t be silly; of course you will stay.” I held out my hand. “You must be fatigued from your travels, and you can rest quietly as long as you’re with me.”

Hope hesitated for a moment, and then smiled and came forward to take my hand.



The Coven- Part XX

Move your bed aside and open the door.  On the other side, you will find the light of knowledge.

As tired and dull-witted as I was, I stood puzzling over the note, certain that it was another riddle, before I even considered taking the obvious step of shoving the rough inn mattress away from the wall.

I slid the bed along the floor quietly enough, I hoped, to avoid waking Mercy. Underneath, I saw the outline of a trapdoor, hinged on one side with leather straps and with a loop of rope as its handle.

I pulled the door open with little effort and looked down into a tiny space, lit with a single, glittering lamp.

There was only a rope ladder, which proved difficult to climb in my crinolines. I removed the crinolines, tucked up my skirt, and clambered down the rope ladder and into a room no bigger than a closet.

I picked up the lantern from atop a three-legged stool. The lantern light fell steadily on one corner of the room, where there lay a bucket and mop, and on the other side of the room the lantern shone a pattern of spots over a door.

Something about the pattern caught my attention, and I looked back at the lantern. One side of the lantern, the side which had shone on the corner, was open, but the other side had a pattern of holes worn into the tin, outlining the shape of the widow’s veil constellation.

I checked my pocket watch. It was close to midnight, and at this time of year I knew that the widow’s veil would soon rise in the southeast. I started toward the side door, and then paused.

There was only one thing that drove me to follow Mr. Filius’s clues and step out into danger- one piece of knowledge that I craved more than anything else. I climbed up the rope ladder again and took my black valise, which contained my heretical notes in its side pocket. Then I descended the rope ladder again, pulled down my skirts, and opened the side-door.

The door led into an alleyway, and when I looked down the lefthand side of the alley, I could see the widow’s veil rising between two buildings. I turned left and walked toward it, taking deep breaths to slow the pounding of my heart. I could hear music coming from inside the Inn, as well as the sounds of men’s laughter from a building down the street. A dog barked nearby, causing me to jump.  I stopped, took another breath to steady my nerves, and continued to walk.

As I neared the end of the alley, a man in white robes stepped into my path.

“You and I share secrets,” the man said, “and in secrets, there is trust.”

“Mr. Filius-”

“Shhh, the walls have ears,” the man said. “Come with me, and we can speak freely. Do you trust me?”

“I will follow,” I said.

Mr. Filius’s lips stretched into a thin smile. Then he gestured to me, and we continued down the alley.

Mr. Filius took some keys from his pocket and unlocked a small bookshop at the end of the street. We entered the shop, which was dark and silent, and he led me down a narrow hallway that led to a cellar door.

Mr. Filius rapped three times on the cellar door, and then it opened a crack.

“You and I share secrets,” a man’s muffled voice spoke from the cellar.

“In secrets, there is trust,” Mr Filius replied. He took a card from his pocket, on which there was the picture of an eye, and slipped it through the crack.

The door shut, and we sat in the darkness for a tense moment. Then the cellar door opened all the way, and Mr Filius climbed down the cellar stairs, gesturing for me to follow.


Instead of a simple cellar, I found myself descending into a wide, open room. Hundreds of assorted candles and lanterns glittered from the shelves built into the periphery of the room, and several more lanterns swung overhead.  A round, wooden table with a large black eye painted on its surface took up most of the room’s center. Around the edge of the table sat several white-robed pilgrims, well-dressed gentlemen, and a slave, who seemed to be arguing with one of the gentlemen.

“I replicated your experiment down to the last detail,” the slave was saying, pounding his hand on the table, “but I’m telling you that the results-”

The slave stopped talking as he caught sight of me. His face went red, and he knelt in haste.

“Forgive my impudence, Lady. I-”

“Don’t fret, Trusty- she’s with me,” Mr Filius said.

The gentleman Trusty had been arguing with stood.  He was dressed in the manner of a country squire, in a well-made woolen great coat and scuffed leather boots. He turned to Mr. Filius and gazed at him with keen, dark eyes.

 “Filius, you try my patience even more than usual. It’s bad enough that you took a second apprentice without permission, but you neglected to tell us that she was a woman.”

“Time was of the essence, Sir Silas. If I hadn’t taken this young Lady as my apprentice, she might have uncovered all of our secret knowledge by the end of the month. She’s hungry, and she devours puzzles quickly.”

Trusty and Sir Silas both sat back at the table, Sir Silas scoffing as he sat.

“I recently received a message from my other apprentice, Honor. He wrote that the Lady had already passed the test that I set for her,” Mr Filius said confidently, taking a place at the table.

“Oh! No,” I said, hesitating to sit beside him as I hadn’t been invited. “I haven’t passed your test, after all. I made an error.”

“Is that so? Show me- you have brought your notes, I presume,” he said, nodding at my valise.

“Yes but- what I’ve written is heretical. You may not wish to read it.”

The room erupted in laughter at this.

“No need to be afraid,” Mr. Filius said. “Everyone in this room is a heretic. We trust each other because we all share dangerous secrets. If Sir Silas here were to send me to the gallows, he would soon follow.”

I smiled a little to myself, remembering my words to Hope- I trust Mr. Filius not because of his candor, but because of his secrets.”

I opened my valise and handed the papers to Mr. Filius.

“The finished work was destroyed, but my notes are more complete, anyway,” I said.

Mr Filius balanced a pair of spectacles on his nose and looked over the papers. The room was silent but for the occasional cough and the rustle of paper as Mr. Filius turned the pages.

Then Mr. Filius spoke. “Where did you make your error?”

“I don’t know. Everything seemed correct- all of the evidence fit, and Sir Boromir’s observations fit my new model when I plotted the wandering stars in their courses.”

“Everything seemed correct because it is correct. The wandering stars and our earth- a world we have dubbed Terra- orbit the sun. You’ve passed your test, Lady Frey. Congratulations.”

I felt almost numb with shock- much as I had the day before, when Monsignor Pius tossed my treatise into the fire. I looked around the round table, and no one seemed ready to contradict Mr. Filius.

“I was told that Sir Boromir denounced the sun-centered model.”

“Sir Boromir published a retraction of his sun-centered model under the threat of torture,” one of the white-robed pilgrims said. “The church burned almost every copy of his original treatise. Our guild only managed to save one copy.”

“Why would the church do such a thing?”

Sir Silas laughed. “You’ve really rushed this project, haven’t you, Filius? Does this girl know nothing about the Church’s true history, or the history of the Oculist Guild?”

“I couldn’t tell her, Sir Silas. Such knowledge would have affected the results of her test. She figured out the truth about the universal order without knowing about its suppression. Because she passed this test alone, I hereby nominate her for full initiation into the Oculist Guild.”

Excited murmurs flowed around the table, and then Mr. Filius stood again, speaking in a more formal tone.

“This girl has only been taught loyalty to the church, and she’s remained sheltered from heretical ideas- I know her father too well to doubt otherwise. Even so, she is bold enough to look at the stars and ask why.  She sought this test on her own, and she passed it before I could offer any help. Furthermore, I believe her character represents the values the Oculist Guild promotes- courage, curiosity, and equality. Not only is she curious enough to seek truth, but she treats her inferiors as her equals, and she values the well-being of her fellow humans more than she values the Law of Order.”

“But what about the first value- courage?” Sir Silas said. He turned to fix me with his sharp gaze.

“I believe I’ve worked out your character, Lady. You discovered an interesting puzzle and happily solved it, like any intelligent child would. Then, like a child, you ran off to tell someone, expecting praise. When you informed a learned cleric about your discovery, and he told you it was an error, you assumed he was right and you were wrong- even though you’d seen the evidence with your own eyes. Am I correct?”

I could feel my face burn with shame. “Yes, you are correct.”

Sir Silas continued. “You’re  not kind to your inferiors because you value them as equals, but because you don’t have the confidence to acknowledge your own worth. You may be sweet, and you may possess a unique genius, but you lack the strength to fight the forces of oppression.”

Sir Silas stood and turned to Mr. Filius. “This is why women don’t belong here. You have nominated Lady Frey to be initiated, and I vote nay.”

“I second her nomination,” a soft soprano spoke. I looked across the table as one of the robed pilgrims stood and lifted their cowl, revealing a beautiful woman who was crowned with hair of shining gold.

The rest of the room seemed to fade away as I stared at the woman- her porcelain face and the strangely sad expression in her blue eyes tugged at some memory buried deep in my mind.

The woman smiled at me briefly, and then turned to Sir Silas. “Really, Sir, she wouldn’t be the first woman to join our guild.”

“You are different,” he replied gruffly.

“Am I? Did any of us join the order with our characters perfectly formed? Do any among us still lack flaws? You were happy to accept me: a fallen abbess. You were happy to accept Trusty: a slave whose masters had beaten him into almost complete submission. You were willing to see that we had the potential to be something more. I believe Lady Frey has the same potential.”

“Maybe, but she isn’t ready,” Sir Silas said.

“I willingly came here, even though I knew it might be dangerous,” I said, unable to hold my silence any more. “I was afraid to defy the church when I got my telescope, but I looked through it, anyway.  That must count for something.”

“Why did you come here? Why did you look through your telescope? What drives you?” Trust asked.

“I- I don’t know. If you had asked me the same question last week I might have said that the desire for freedom drives me, but I think it would be more accurate to say that I want to be able to rely on myself. If I can see the universe for what it really is, instead of only seeing the lies that others tell, I might be able to see a way to make things better.”

Trusty nodded, and stood. “I say aye to Lady Frey’s nomination.”

One by one, the others stood and cast their votes. In the end, the room was evenly split between the ayes and the nays.

Sir Silas sighed and rubbed his eyes. “To keep us from arguing all night, I propose a compromise, Filius. Continue to teach and guide Lady Frey, and when your other apprentice has passed his test,  we will consider both of them for initiation.”

Mr. Filius frowned, but nodded. “Is this acceptable to you, Lady Frey?”

“I would like to know more about the Guild before I join, in any case. I accept the compromise.”


Part XXI