News travels fast on Arorua. This isn’t because of any high-tech information infrastructure. This is because news worth repeating is very rare on Arorua, so when some comes along it doesn’t have a lot of competition from other news items.

This applies to other bits of information that aren’t really news, such as celebrity gossip. Of course, the closest Arorua comes to celebrity is the royal family, which tends to stay out of the public eye because of the respect given both to their position and to their media enforcers. Despite that, it wasn’t long before the word got out about the romance between Princess Elim and Governor Jjana.

Captain-General Tvanir heard the news fairly early, and was stunned and disappointed. Her own plans been wrecked; Jjana would never accept her advances if he was already seeing someone else. Worse, her immediate superior was dating someone that, according to intelligence, was highly placed in the rebellion. What was he thinking? Didn’t he see what a risky position he was putting himself in? She smiled. Didn’t he see what an advantage that gave her?

The Aroruan People’s League was also stunned and disappointed. Their own leader, dating their arch-enemy. Quickly, they moved their headquarters and changed all their codes. (It’s easy to be quick when your forces can be counted on two hands.) As an afterthought, they sent Tels Garav to write a nasty message about Elim on the Aroruan Civic Building.

Starcruiser Anonymous

(A Tale of Sfstory)

Episode 5
Wherein Captain Mselt Arrives
at Planet Gloom
Lots of Guards Get Shot

Dave Menendez

With a flash of light the Imperial Zakavian Starship Absurd Physical Harm dropped out of overly-hyped space and reentered realspace (although some have commented that the later is pretty overly hyped as well). At its helm sat … well … the helmsperson, but behind her sat Captain Mselt, who was eager to continue down to the surface of their destination: Planet Gloom. Captain Mselt’s eagerness, it must be noted, put him firmly in the minority, as everyone else on board was actively trying to avoid getting stuck with shore leave. Even the members of the Blue Squadron, who were currently prisoners of the Empire and had never even heard of Planet Gloom before, weren’t that happy about their destination, although that was probably because of their status as prisoners more than anything else.

“We have arrived at Planet Gloom, Captain,” the helmsperson stated unnecessarily.

“Indeed,” Mselt replied. “Have the prisoners sent down and inform the Emperor I have … disturbing news for him.”

They ended up taking one transport ship down to the surface. Mselt hadn’t been too pleased about sharing a transport with his prisoners (and, to be honest, they hadn’t been all that pleased either), but, by astonishing chance, all of the normal transport pilots had come down with some vague illness upon arrival in the system. Despite that, the transport went smoothly.

The landing pad they had been assigned was high in the Fortress of Gloom, and would have provided a stunning view of the landscape, except that the landscape in question was that of Planet Gloom. ‘Stunning’ is not a word usually used to describe Planet Gloom’s landscape, except when used in a phrase like ‘stunningly desolate’. Nonetheless, when standing on the landing pad, a person could see for quite a distance—although it’s debatable why he or she would want to.

Roger Vasta, leader of the Blue Squadron and currently a prisoner of the Zakav Empire, glanced once at the view, shuddered, and turned to the three figures before them. Two were obviously guards, the third looked to be a high-ranking official of some sort. He glanced at Vtami, their guard.

“Prince Lotekh,” Vtami said, quietly (which is tricky to do when your armor amplifies your voice, but Vtami was a professional).

Lotekh stepped forward, wearing a grin that said “I can have you killed if you don’t grovel before me.” “Captain Mselt,” he greeted. “Welcome to Planet Gloom.”

“Your Highness,” returned Mselt, “to what do I owe this honor?”

“Not much, really,” Lotekh replied. “I just thought I’d stop by. We don’t get that many visitors these days. I’m afraid you may have to wait a while for your audience, though. My father is currently meeting with a representative from the Sonar Men.”

“The Sonar Men?” asked Mselt. “What kind of a name is that?”

Lotekh shrugged in response, and then turned to Vtami. “You,” he ordered, “will be working with Guard-Lieutenant De’alh to contain these prisoners.”

“Um, Your Highness,” Vtami said, sounding nervous, “I actually need to return to the Eighth Fleet so I can finish transferring to the fighter squadrons.”

Mselt shook his head. “That wouldn’t be wise, not if Rtali turns out to be a trai—” he suddenly cut himself off.

Lotekh stared at Mselt, his eyes lighting up. “Traitor?” he asked. “Rtali a traitor? This is news for my father. De’alh, take the prisoners to the detention block.” He rushed off.

“Hey!” Mselt yelled. “It’s my piece of news!” He ran after Lotekh.

After Mselt and Lotekh had vanished into the fortress, De’alh motioned to Vtami and they began walking, De’alh’s companion walking in front, Vtami in back, and De’alh himself by Thomas Dent.

Inside, the fortress was a festival of uninspired architecture: walls seemingly made out of white molded plastic, the occasional panel full of blinking lights that didn’t actually seem to signify anything, shadowy [But not Shadowy™ —Ed.] cross-corridors, and so forth.

Thomas Dent, glanced over at Guard-Lieutenant De’alh and then looked at his weapon. “Say,” he said, trying to strike up a conversation to pass the time, “that’s a nice gun you’ve got there.”

“’That’s a nice gun you’ve got there’,” De’alh replied.


“Actually, it’s a Kilemov Industries MultiMode S13.”

“MultiMode, huh? That mean there are different settings?”

“Yeah, it’s a combination deathkill/sleep-o-stun rifle.”

“Neat. Laser targeting?”

“That too. Actually, you can adjust the targeting laser to do damage as well. You just flip this lever here, and adjust this slider here.”

“Cool. What’s this one do?”

“That sets the strength of the beam.”

“I see. And this is how you set it to deathkill?”

“That’s it. Now, be careful where you aim it, because….” De’alh trailed off and looked at his gun, which Dent was pointing at him. The group stopped walking. Dent smiled. De’alh managed, despite his full combat armor, to look embarrassed.

The other guard raised his weapon—only to see that Vtami was aiming at him. “Huh?” he asked, confused.

“Like he said,” agreed Alex McCurry. The others nodded agreement.

“Well,” Vtami explained, “Captain-General Rtali’s pretty much been declared an Enemy of the Empire, and, all things considered, I’d rather serve him than Mselt or the Emperor.”

“That’s treachery!” gasped De’alh.

“Real quick on the uptake, there,” Jen Kadar said.

“Very well,” Vasta said. “We’ll just disarm these two, and be on our way. Kadar, McCurry: take their weapons.”

“Right,” they said.

That taken care of, the Blue Squadron, plus Vtami, prepared to move out, having only forgotten one thing.

“Wait a minute,” Dixon said. “Where are we going?”

“Ooh! Right,” replied Vasta. He turned to the guards, “Say, where can we get a ship of some sort?”

“’Where can we get a ship of some sort?’” they repeated.

Vasta smacked his forehead. Dent decided to take charge. “Answer the question,” he growled, pointing his S13 at the two guards.

“What?” asked De’alh.

“Answer the question,” Dent repeated.

“I can’t hear you. Speak up, lad.”

Dent sighed. “Answer the question,” he repeated, this time in a normal voice.

“Um … actually, I’ve forgotten what—”

“Where can we get a ship?” Dent shouted.

“Oh! Um, there’s a hangar just down that shadowy hallway over there,” De’alh said, pointing. “I think it’s the second left.”

“Third left,” corrected the other guard.

“Yes, that’s right. Third left.”

“Thank you,” Dent said, smiling. He fired. De’alh and his companion responded in the time honored tradition of those who have been shot: they fell over and didn’t move.

“Uh, Dent,” Vtami said, “That wasn’t sleep-o-stun.”

“I am aware of that.”

“Father!” Lotekh said, bursting into the throne room. “I have important news!”

“It’s my news,” corrected Mselt, as he also ran in.

“News?” asked the Emperor, speaking through a mouthful of caramel-covered popcorn.

“Um…” Mselt said, words failing him. Before him sat Emperor Vakaz, whose unattractive green-blue color, a product of his mixed heritage, didn’t so much clash with his Imperial Robes as wage all-out war. This was a man who commanded vast armies of destruction. This was a man who inspired fear in entire planets. This was a man who had had his nanny killed when she suggested that he not talk with his mouth full. Mselt tried hard not to stare, reminding himself that his life, his very career was on the line here. Any false move could mean disaster. Like bursting in unannounced and interrupting the Crown Prince. Idly, he wondered if his will was up to date.

He also noticed some guy dressed in off-white body armor, standing near the Emperor. No doubt one of the Sonar Men.

“News?” repeated the Emperor.

“Father, I have discovered—” began Lotekh.

“I have discovered,” interrupted Mselt, “that Captain-General Rtali is—”

“Stop,” Vakaz commanded, managing to convey a tone of authority through the food in his mouth. He turned to the armored figure, “Lord Ganush, if you would excuse us?”

“Of course.” Ganush turned and strode out of the room. An aide closed the doors.

“Come closer, both of you,” the Emperor commanded.

Lotekh and Mselt moved closer.

“Now then,” the Emperor continued, pausing to stuff another handful of popcorn into his mouth, “Whatsh thish about Rtali?”

“Well, Your Majesty,” Mselt began, “It all started when—”

“Your Majesty!” the Security Chief yelled, running into the throne room.

“What now?” Vakaz sighed.

“The prisoners have escaped!” the Chief continued. “We found two disarmed corpses. We think they’ve taken a hostage.”

“Needlewarp!” Lotekh swore, running towards a side door. “We’ve got to catch them!” He ran out of the throne room to intercept the escapees.

Vakaz, Mselt, and the Chief stared in the direction he went. After a few seconds, there was a loud thump, followed by a cry of pain.

“He gets it from his mother’s side,” Vakaz said.

“Of course,” Mselt agreed.

“Should we turn on the alarm?” the Chief asked.

“And show weakness in front of the Sonar Men!?” Vakaz replied, sounding shocked. “I’d sooner put Lotekh in charge of the military.”

“You know,” Vasta said as they ran, “when De’alh said ‘third left’, I didn’t realise how far that was.”

“Yeah,” McCurry agreed.

“I don’t get it,” Dent said from ahead, “where are the guards?”

“Don’t say that,” Dixon yelled back, “you’ll invoke Murphy!”

“Dixon,” Dent replied, “you put too much faith in—”

He cut off as the shadowy corridor abruptly turned into a well lit atrium containing some potted plants, a few tables, a row of vending machines, and some very surprised guards.

Vasta: “Oops.”

McCurry: “Hello.”

Dixon: “Told ya so.”

Guards: “What’s this?”

Dent: “Graaarh!”

This last comment was accompanied by the sound of Dent’s blaster firing deathkill blasts at high speed, which, in fact, it was doing at the time.

Some of the more intelligent guards who had been unable to get reassigned to the EDIT project so as to get off the planet ducked under a table which, they quickly discovered, did not deflect deathkill blasts. The barrage of energy blasts continued, puncturing furniture, potted plants, enemy soldiers, and vending machines with ease.

“That,” Dent said when the smoke had cleared, “makes it all worth it.”

“It all what?” asked McCurry.

“Shut up, McCurry.”

“The horror,” Vtami breathed.

“What, the violence?” Dixon asked, arching an eyebrow. “Don’t worry, hanging around Dent long enough will desensitize you. Then you can rob others of the precious gift of life all you want and never feel guilty.”

“Actually, while that is horrible, I was referring to the vending machines. Do you know how hard it is to get those repaired?”

“Um … very hard?” Dixon suggested.

“Yes. The Guild of Vending Machine Technicians rarely sends people down to Planet Gloom.”

“Gee, I wonder why.”

Continuing on their way, the Blue Squadron Plus One quickly made their way to the hangar.

“Okay,” Vtami said as they entered the large room. “There’s a fighter for me, and a transport for you.”

“Sounds good to me,” said McCurry.

“Ah, but you’re forgetting one thing,” said a new voice from behind them.

They stopped and turned to face this new threat. What they saw was an unarmed Caphanite with delusions of grandeur.

“What would that be?” asked Vasta, looking around for a threat.

“Me, of course,” the Lotekh replied.

“We’re not so much forgetting you,” Dixon said, “as ignoring you.”

“Ignore me?” Lotekh said, blood rushing to his face in anger. The resulting color combination was not very attractive. “I’m a prince!” he shouted, waving an arm about. “I’ll harm you!”

“But we’re all armed, and you’re not,” Dixon pointed out.

Lotekh considered that. “Okay,” he said, “I’ll let you go. This time, but when we meet again….” he trailed off, trying to sound ominous.

“What?” asked McCurry.

“What do you mean?” Lotekh asked, flustered.

“What’ll happen when we meet again?”

“Shut up, McCurry,” said Dent.

Whatever reply McCurry had for that was cut off by the sound of a fighter taking off. McCurry and Dent turned to see that Vtami was gone.

“You coming or what?” asked Kadar from the hatch of a transport.

“Yes,” Lotekh added, “go before my benevolence runs out and I’m forced to take violent action.”

Dent looked back at the Prince, glanced at the remaining charge on the deathkill power cell, shrugged and walked into the transport.

The transport launched and sped off into the atmosphere, getting about 100 feet out before it got hit by one of the deathkill cannon that ringed the Fortress of Gloom and crashed into the city.

“Hah!” Lotekh shouted with glee. “Ignore me, will you? Take that!”

Uh oh.

Did Blue Squadron survive?

Did Vtami make it out all right?

Does this mean Rtali is coming back as a character?

If he does, will he be a hero or a villain?

How will he react to the Futility?

Who will reach the Eighth Fleet first?

Are the Sonar Men even part of this storyline?

SFSTORY: It’s Everywhere You Want It to Be

(Next: Tvanir makes her move.)