4 min read
Custer On The Moon

by William Thomas  

"Wowee!" Libbie exclaimed, her light blue-gray eyes wide as Little Orphan Annie's in that New York Herald cartoon. "This is amazing! I simply cannot believe we are on the moon!" 

     Custer grinned inside his helmet. He could not hear his wife's words. But her wonder, excitement and delight were plain to see through that thick round port. He waved a gauntleted hand and started toward her, taking little rabbit-hops and inelegantly windmilling his arms to keep his balance. Each small explosion of dust kicked up by his boots and spurs did not settle like dirt disturbed by army-issue footwear and iron-shod hooves on the Western Plains, but hovered long in the air before slowly settling back to the ground. 

     Well, not really "air". Certainly not enough to breathe. Misjudging his velocity – everything was so different here! – he collided with his shorter spouse. They grappled briefly, laughing like children, hugging and grabbing at each other for handholds to prevent a dust-choked fall. Standing upright at last, they clumsily embraced, astonished and content.   

     A hug is still a hug, Custer decided, even if his delectable Rosebud was swaddled as he was in thick breeches, canvas-covered buckskins and glass-ported helmet modelled after deep-sea diving gear. Minus the lead-soled boots, chest and belt weights, air hose and recovery rope, of course. Sucking greedily on the rubber tube leading to the wooden cask of air strapped to his back, he grasped Libbie by the shoulders and turned her gently around so he could read the modified steam gauge cemented with pine resin and tar to her own air flask. Reaching around to cup a handy protuberance, he steered them through the completion of their pas de deux.     

     Facing Libbie once again, he held up five fingers. Flushed by her spouse's easy familiarity, she nodded inside her helmet. Never mind being on the moon. Sometimes, just thinking of her Autie made her breath come short!   

     Five minutes more and they would have to start back to the underground cavern where they had cached half their air supply, after cloaking Strongbow into invisibility with gray tarpaulins in the shadowless crater where they’d alighted. Everything weighed so little here, the ironwork and air casks were easily removed and transported from the ship. 

     “So we’ll have a hideout and something to breathe if someone finds our yacht,” he had told her. As if seeing wih second-sight. Something flitted past their faceplates like a passing hawk. Surely no bird could live here! They both looked up – they did everything together – in time to see a white-fletched arrow float past overhead. Without slowing further, the deadly device sailed on before disappearing like an apparition over the edge of this strange world. 

     "Comanche!" Custer shouted. "Find cover!" 

     With their helmets disconnected, her husband’s words were lost. But she could lip-read that single word all right. Looking quickly around, Libbie pointed to a nearby crater. Though hardly as commodious as the overgrown ravine that had saved her badly wounded husband at the Little Bighorn, it did look deep enough to shield them.  As they tumbled over its rim, a second arrow flew silently past, still harmlessly high, as if whomever was loosing them had not yet learned to compensate for the unfamiliar atmospherics of this odd wilderness. Disentangling themselves from the cloying dust, Custer put his helmet against Libbie's. "They must have tracked us here from Kansas," he said in a muffled voice. 

     "Are you sure they're not Pawnee?" Libbie shivered with a frontier woman’s special fear. Please not the Pawnee! 

     George Armstrong Custer drew his six-shooter. "Don't worry, bunkey," he said. "I’ve got this."   

     Suddenly, a dark, hideously-painted shape hurtled at half-speed over the crater's rim, one descending arm ending in the cruel shape of a tomahawk!   An instant before that heavy stone crushed Libbie's peerless skull, Custer's Colt emitted a silent puff of burnt gunpowder. His fiendish bludgeon dropping slowly from his hand, the savage collapsed in slow-motion with an unheard groan at their feet. 

     There was no time to ponder the warrior's lack of special suit as a prettily-decorated and lethally-tipped war lance arced overhead. Another misjudged throw. Libbie watched her man leap to the crater's lip, scan quickly, and fire two carefully aimed shots. No more projectiles came their way. 

     "Got him,” was all Custer said as he removed three fresh cartridges from the loops in his belt and pushed them into his opened revolver. Slapping the cylinder shut with a noiseless click, he spun it freely to check for unseated rounds. Only then did he bump helmets and explain, "In his murderous haste, that hostile neglected to invert the eagle feather in his headband.   Poking up over the rimrock – or whatever that is – it stood out like a flag."   

     “This place is hostile,” Libbie said.

     “Serene,” Custer rejoined. “You ever hear a stillness like this?"

     My point, Libbie thought, as she broke contact to check the chronometer strapped to her left wrist. Turning, she held up the opposite fist – no fingers. No time left.

     Her captain nodded.

     Holding hands, they scrambled out of the saucer-shaped depression. Though reduced to a slow-motion pantomime of running, each shared hop covered considerable ground before they glided back to this rock-strewn planet's fine-grained surface. The featureless terrain was confusing. Libbie still could scarce believe they had not yet seen a single tree or watercourse. But the wily Plainsman by her side pointed out their tracks leading back toward a nearby rise, otherwise indistinguishable from the surrounding low gray hills. The nondescript landmark looked far off. But the moon's close horizon made judging distances deceptive. 

     They gained the cave's disguised entrance in minutes. A moment more and they had passed through the tandem portholes, each watertight enough to retain air inside the lantern-lit chamber.   

     "That's better!" Custer exclaimed when Libbie finished twisting and removing his helmet. He helped her off with hers, a cascade of chestnut-brown hair tickling his raised hands.

     “No more last stands*, right?" Libbie said, giving him a wifely nip on the earlobe nicked by an arrow in his last big fight. "Our bootprints will remain visible until the end of time. They can easily track us. If there are any more indians in that war party."

     "Bound to be," Custer said, straightening his red cravat and smoothing his cinnamon-oild locks. He tried to sound grim, but in truth he was becoming turned on by their playful flirtations. 

     "But how did they get here?" Libbie wondered aloud, tearing her eyes from her man's obvious interest. "Surely, the indians do not possess a particular-built sidewheeler like our Strongbow with enough coal and provisions to traipse across the heavens." 

     "No. But Comanche sorcerers have powers beyond our ken," Custer came back, trying to reason out the unreasonable. 

     But then, their entire situation was impossible in the extreme! Moving to the air barrels, he hooked up Libby's flask and began working the bellows to transfer more air into her breathing apparatus. When he was done, he stripped off his heavy gear and went to work on his own.   

     By the time he'd finished, Libbie had peeled off her own suit. Corset and bodice followed. “Libbie Custer, you are hotter than a gold-plated pistol!” Facing him in her knickers, heaving bosom and roseate nipples pressing against her sheer singlet, she held out her arms. "Oh, Autie. You were so naughty touching me like that. Do you think I could sit Tomboy and have just one to send me... over the moon?" 

     The Belle of Monroe did not have to ask twice.

Photo Caption:

Libby Custer emerging from the rocketship