Author : Benjamin Fischer

“King Midas believes that his days as absolute ruler of Crete are ending.”

McCarran coughed, a single bead of coffee escaping his left nostril. His big, pawlike hand wiped it out of the air.

“Say again?” the burly pirate finally managed.

“Forces outside the King’s control have conspired,” continued the baldheaded eunuch, “to engineer his imminent downfall. For that reason, he has dispatched me to secure the services of a ship in the event that he should need to depart this asteroid. With speed.”

McCarran flung his spent coffee bulb at the gaping maw of his stateroom’s recycler. He missed, and the soft plastic baggie rebounded, spinning madly and spitting brown flecks of liquid in every direction. The pirate captain sighed and pushed off from his broad velcro-laced sofa to recover the spent container.

“And he wants me,” McCarran said, mid-flight.

“No, he does not,” replied the eunuch.

“Oh,” said the pirate. He reached for the bulb, missed, and knocked it away with a light touch of his scarred knuckles.

“It’s my lack of stereoscopic vision,” said McCarran, poking a thick finger at the black patch over his left eye socket.

“As the master of the only vessel within the vicinity of Crete that has the capabilities to seriously impede his escape, the King is willing to offer you a small retainer,” the eunuch said. “You would be required to do nothing.”

“Well, now we’re talking,” said McCarran, coming to rest on the far wall.

“Of course, he expects that you will be approached by the other involved parties,” his potential employer said, “and in fact they may have already been in contact with you.”

“I honestly can’t say,” McCarran said, ignoring the coffee bulb as it lazily spun by his left temple.

“The King can be most generous.”

“Then I’ll need to see one hundred thousand examples of his generosity,” McCarran replied.

The eunuch didn’t even bat an eye.

“It is done,” he said.

“Outstanding,” McCarran said. “I think I hear my targeting computer eating itself right now.”

A shadow of a smile crept across the eunuch’s lips, and then he was gone, the connection broken and his hologram evaporated.

McCarran finally remembered the stray bulb. His right hand whipped out, snatching the tiny satellite from the air. His fingers collapsed into a fist, crushing it. Then he touched his temple.

“Your Lords-ship,” he said, “Captain McCarran here.”

“Pirate! Make your report,” boomed a disembodied voice.

“Your majordomo just swung by my ship. Said you were planning on taking a trip in the near future. Didn’t want me to interfere.”

There was a howl of rage that was only checked by McCarran’s timely application of the volume control.

“So I take it that won’t be you on the outbound ship?” McCarran asked once the King’s fury subsided.

“There will be no such ship!” King Midas roared.

“Aye,” the pirate replied. “And all subjects are loyal.”

More cursing.

McCarran snapped his thick fingers, and the deck of his stateroom dissolved into an overhead view of the asteroid Crete, feeble sunlight creeping across its pockmarked face and sparkling where it caught the diamond windows of the King’s palace. The pirate flipped his patch up, and blinked a few times, bringing his eye online. A thin red cross hairs flashed into view, tracking across the craters of Crete.

“Now, your Eminence, if you’d like to talk contingency plans . . .”

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