Chancellor Desir Elahte looked through the various reports on his desk. The rebels, evidently, had been at it again. Idiots. Elahte had some knowledge of Arorua’s past. He knew that Arorua’s primary defense in recent years had been their very lack of defense—no self respecting conqueror would bother to conquer them, or, if they chose to, they’d quickly get bored and leave. A rebellion was just the sort of thing they didn’t need at the time.

His thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door. Well, technically it was a buzzer … um … buzzing rather than a knock, but the effect was the same: Elahte knew someone wished to enter the room. “Come in,” he called.

The door swung open (this had confused the Zakavian invaders, who were used to automatic sliding doors, and there had been a brief period when a lot of noses were injured by people unused to the low-tech nature of the castle) and Captain-General Tvanir, leader of the Aroruan Occupation Legion, casually walked in. “Chancellor Elahte,” she said in greeting. She was smiling again, which, to Elahte, always looked odd on Blargoloids as their greenish cast made them look perpetually queasy.

“What can I do for you?” he asked. This failed to have its usual effect: she did not smirk in disgust at his subservience. Instead, she sat down.

“I need to send a message to Central Command,” she replied. Elahte wondered what she was so happy about. After all, Governor Jjana had rejected her advances in favor of Princess Elim—much to everyone’s surprise. He had expected her to be furious. Or at least confused.

“Very well. I will go and activate the sending equipment.” He stood and walked into the next room, where he had a remote station for the communications equipment. She needed him to prepare the system for her as the Zakavians were unused to the command-line interfaces used by the Aroruan computer systems and had shown little interest in learning.

Behind him, he thought he heard Tvanir chuckling softly to herself. This, he thought, was not a good sign.

Starcruiser Anonymous

(A Tale of Sfstory)

Episode 6
Wherein Mselt Gets Promoted
Vending Machines Get
Mentioned a Lot

Dave Menendez

Orliss SoFah, college student minoring in space heroism, around the quarters shared by him, his cousin Horlun, and their companion Roy Gaelen. He and Horlun had retreated there to escape an argument between Roy and Horlun’s girlfriend, Anme Rifba, whose father owned the ship they were in. Megan Kadar had joined them, rather than be alone in the room she shared with Anme.

They sat in an uncomfortable silence, occasionally hearing phrases like “military-industrial complex” through the inadequate sonic shielding. Anme, discovering Roy’s membership in a pseudomilitary organization, had accused him of being a “mindless thug of the upper-class parasites” and he evidently hadn’t taken that very well.

“So Megan,” Orliss said in an attempt to start a conversation, “you stowed away on the Futility so you could help find your missing sister?” She nodded. “Pretty brave move, if you ask me.”

“Pretty stupid move, if you ask me,” Horlun added.

Orliss turned to Horlun. “There’s a fine line between stupidity and bravery,” he countered. “As the great poet Givmor Mon-ii wrote—”

“Actually,” Megan said, cutting him off, “I’m not so sure now if it was a wise move, but at the time I was really worried about Jen and I was also really bored on the Anonymous. I mean, you can only orbit Saturn for a while before it gets really old, y’know?”

“Such devotion to your family is commendable. I often wish I had a family I could be devoted to.”

“What about me?” Horlun asked.

“No family?” Megan asked.

Orliss sighed, evidently ignoring Horlun. “Well, my mother died when I was young and then my father turned to a life of evil, so I grew up with my grandparents.”

Megan gasped. “That’s terrible,” she he said, moving next to him in sympathy.

“Don’t worry,” he said as he put an arm around her shoulders, “we’ll find your sister. And we will find the people who abducted her, and we will make them pay!” He stood dramatically, gesturing with his fist.

“Orliss!” Horlun snapped, “Watch what you’re doing!” He gestured at Megan, who was being strangled by Orliss’s heroic pose.

“Sorry,” he said, letting her go. “I got carried away.”

“No problem,” she replied, rubbing her neck.

“So, Megan,” Horlun asked, “did you tell anyone at the Anonymous where you were going?”

The look she gave Horlun suggested he was out of his mind. “Do you think they would have let me come if they knew?” she asked. “I only hope Tom isn’t too worried.” They looked at her blankly. “He’s my brother,” she clarified. They nodded in comprehension.

“I’m sure they’ve figured out what happened by now,” Orliss assured her.

Deep within the Anonymous, Tom Kadar looked up from the circuit he was probing and turned to his partner. “Hey, Beth,” he asked.

“Yes, Tom?”

“Have you seen Megan around lately?”

“No, not really.”

“Huh. Odd, that.”

Agent 125, elite field operative for Mysterious and Powerful Guild of Vending Machine Technicians, glanced around the atrium, one of many in the Fortress of Gloom. It was, in his official opinion, a mess. Tables overturned and riddled with holes, shattered potted plants, dead guards lying on the ground, except for the ones that were being carried out by their non-dead colleagues. He did not concern himself with them for long. It was the vending machines that caught his attention, and that of his repair crew.

“Well,” asked their liaison to the Imperial Government, “how long until you can fix these?”

Agent 125 looked at the twisted dispensers of beverages and snack foods, and turned to his crew. They numbered four, as all repair crews had since the long-forgotten youth of the Guild. One who could construct the machines and most of their components. One who could take them apart, occasionally seeming to reduce them into individual vending machine molecules. One who could mix and match components, often from several different technologies, in order to get a machine working. One who made sure the repaired machine worked in perfect order. Agent 125, their leader, didn’t do any actual work himself. He was there mostly to provide balance between the other four.

Judging by the facial expressions on the crew, it would not be easy. “It won’t be easy,” he told the liaison.

“Can it be done?” the Zakavian asked.

Agent 125 thought. “We’ll need some parts from the truck,” he said at last.

Roger Vasta listened to the blaster fire in the distance. It didn’t seem to be getting closer, although that didn’t answer his primary question. “If we’re over here,” he asked, “what are they shooting at?”

The remaining members of the Blue Squadron shrugged in response. They were still a little shaken from their unexpected landing in the City of Gloom (which surrounds the Fortress of Gloom and is the capital city of Planet Gloom; as noted before, the Caphanites are not known for their nomenclature). Only Thomas Dent seemed active, and only repeated orders from Vasta had kept him from joining the firefight they were hearing. As it was, Dent merely kept running his hands over his stolen Kilemov S13 combination sleep-o-stun/deathkill blaster and muttering quietly. The others were giving him a wide berth.

“Perhaps it’s target practice?” suggested Alex McCurry.

“Feh,” spat Sam Dixon. She seemed about to continue when she noticed the sudden lack of blaster fire in the air.

They waited, unsure what the silence meant. Vasta scanned the area and wished that he had some scanning equipment.

Jen Kadar spoke up: “I think maybe we should move on.”

“Why?” asked McCurry. “There’s no evidence they know where we are.”

“Yess,” Dent agreed, “they cannot sees us, Precious, so they cannot hurts us with their nassty gunss.” He directed this comment to his weapon, which chose not to respond, although Dent didn’t seem to notice.

Off in the distance they heard an armored soldier yell, “Hey, there’s one!” The yell was followed by more blaster fire.

Dent stood, pointing his gun in various directions, looking for targets.

“Get down, Dent,” Vasta ordered. “There’s no one here.”

Reluctantly, Dent did so.

“You think they even know what we look like?” Kadar asked.

The others shrugged in response.

Agent 125 gathered the last piece of equipment from the “truck”, which was actually a small starship, and prepared to exit when he heard someone outside shout “There they are!” followed by the sounds of gunfire. He rushed outside and got hit in the shoulder by a stray deathkill blast.

Supreme Captain-Commander Kvasha, leader of the Zakavian Imperial Military Aggregate, strode confidently into the throne room deep within the Fortress of Gloom. Emperor Vakaz, hearing his approach, looked up from the conversation he was having with Prince Lotekh and Captain Mselt.

“Kvasha,” he greeted, “I see you have returned.”

“Yes, I have,” Kvasha replied, a bit concerned. Vakaz wasn’t one to state the obvious. “The EDIT has been completed and is on its way here.”

“Excellent.” Vakaz paused, looking uncertain. “Have you, by any chance, brought back those security personnel you temporarily assigned to the EDIT Project?”

“Not yet, your Majesty. Is there a problem?”

Vakaz sighed. “We had a problem with some prisoners: they’ve escaped.”

Kvasha blinked. “Prisoners? Here? Since when?”

“Captain Mselt found them,” Vakaz said. He gestured at Mselt, who grinned sheepishly. Lotekh just sort of glowered and tried to look dangerous.

Kvasha looked at Mselt. “Well?” he asked.

“While on a scouting mission, I discovered these ‘Terrans’,” Mselt said. “They have great technology on their side and they’re fiendishly clever— they managed to escape from Prince Lotekh himself!” Lotekh grimaced. “Anyway, I didn’t dare return to the Eighth Fleet as I believe Captain-General Rtali is planning to overthrow the Empire. So I brought them here but they managed to escape and tried to leave in a transport, but we shot it down. We’re not sure where they are now; several units in the city report being in conflict with them.”

Kvasha regarded Mselt for a few moments. “This,” he declared, “is not good. But it’s not too bad, either. There isn’t much on Planet Gloom for them to damage, and we’ll be able to monitor all outgoing ships with the EDIT—”

“What if it’s on the opposite side of the planet?” Lotekh interrupted.

“—in conjunction with the remaining defense fleet,” Kvasha continued. Lotekh grinned weakly. “I’m more concerned about Rtali. If word gets out, the Empire could divide along Blargoloid/Caphanite lines.”

“But you’re Blargoloid,” Lotekh pointed out.

“My loyalty is to the Emperor,” Kvasha said icily.

“Of course it is,” Vakaz agreed. “I am glad to hear about the EDIT, it’s nice to hear some good news for a change.”

“Supreme Captain-Commander!” an aide called, bursting into the room. “There is a priority message for you from Captain-General Tvanir!”

Finally deciding that they were about as safe moving around as if they stayed in one place, the Blue Squadron wandered through the back streets of the City of Gloom.

“What’s that up ahead?” Kadar asked, pointing at a public landing pad.

“It looks like a public landing pad with a damaged ship on it,” McCurry said.

“What’s that you say, Precious?” Dent asked his gun, “you thinks McCurry should shut up?”

“Quit talking to your gun, Dent,” Vasta ordered. “It’s not healthy.”

“Neither are they,” Kadar said, pointing at some figures laying around the damaged ship. “C’mon, we better go see what happened.”

“Why?” Dixon asked, but Kadar had already started heading over. The others followed.

There, they found four dead bodies and one almost-dead companion. The almost-dead one turned to face them. “Hello?” he croaked.

“Er, hello,” Vasta greeted. “We’re the, um, Blue Squadron.”

“I am Agent 125 of the Mysterious and Powerful Guild of Vending Machine Technicians,” the man replied. “You probably shouldn’t be wandering the city right now. Some crazy soldiers are shooting everyone.”

The Blue Squadron winced, except for Dent, who was looking around rapidly and pointing his gun at anything that moved or seemed like it might move, given half a chance. “As it happens,” Vasta said, “they’re looking for us.”

“Ah,” Agent 125 said. “In the ship you will find five spare uniforms. Using those, you can get into the fortress, and probably get on a ship heading elsewhere.”

“Why … thank you,” Vasta said. “But why help us?”

“You think I want to help the Zakavians? They just shot me, after all.”

“Won’t they recognize us?” McCurry asked.

“Given their luck so far, I rather doubt it,” Kadar replied.

“Could you repeat that?” the Emperor asked, sounding rather peeved.

“According to Captain-General Tvanir, Governor Jjana on Arorua is plotting with anti-Imperial forces,” Kvasha replied.

“Anti-Imperial forces? On Arorua?”

Kvasha shrugged. “Evidently they’ve got some.”

“This has not been a good day,” Vakaz groaned. “First Rtali, now Jjana.”

“Don’t forget the escaped Terrans,” Lotekh piped up.

“Oh yes,” Vakaz said, icily, “the Terrans. We won’t forget them, will we?”

“Heh, no, I guess we won’t,” Lotekh said sheepishly, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. Beside him, Mselt began an in-depth study of his right shoe.

Vakaz grabbed a handful of pretzels and chewed for a while. “Captain Mselt,” he said, finally.

“Yes, Lord!” Mselt replied, snapping into attention.

“Since you’re so good at ferreting out traitors, I’m sending you to Arorua. You’ll be commanding the Third Fleet—Kvasha will deal with your promotion to Captain-General.” Vakaz glanced at his son, and grinned. “So they don’t suspect anything, you’ll be taking Lotekh along for a state visit.”

“Yes, your Majesty,” Mselt said. Lotekh started to say something, but then decided against it.

“I’ll deal with final preparations, your Majesty,” Kvasha said.

“Excellent,” Vakaz replied. “You’re dismissed.”

Kvasha, Mselt, and Lotekh hurried out. Vakaz watched them go, idly grabbing the last of his pretzels.

He sat a few moments, considering recent events. He hoped Lord Ganush could come through with the Warrior-Ship A/600—the Sonar Men were supposedly unmatched when it came to high-tech weaponry. Ganush had had to leave temporarily, explaining that he was being followed by some Hero named Commander Buzz or something. Absently, Vakaz reached for his pretzel bowl and found it empty.

“Guard!” he shouted.

“Yes, your Majesty?” a guard asked, poking his head in the throne room.

“Get me some more pretzels.”

The guard winced. “I’m sorry sir, but the vending machines are broken.”

“Needlewarp,” he muttered. “Well, get someone to fix those.”

“Yes, your Majesty,” the guard replied, taking that as a dismissal.

Preparing the Third Fleet for Mselt’s command wasn’t too difficult, as Mselt’s ship, the IZS Absurd Physical Harm, was capable of being a flagship. More difficult would be getting the various food-dispensers on the ship up to flagship specifications. Kvasha had almost given up hope when he chanced by the main gates of the Fortress of Gloom and ran into a team of vending machine technicians. He smiled. “How’d you boys like a job on a ship headed to Arorua?” he asked.

“Boys?” one of the two females repeated, raising an eyebrow.

Their leader quieted her with a glance, and then turned to Kvasha. “If it means getting off this planet, we’re all for it.”

This seemed to agitate a few of them, but their leader silenced them again.

“Excellent,” Kvasha said, “a shuttle for the flagship of the Third Fleet will be leaving shortly. Your job will be to upgrade the food-dispensers.”

Their leader grinned. “No problem.” He turned to the female who had spoken before, “Kadar, you go pick up our equipment.”

The female, evidently Kadar, shot the leader a nasty look, but turned and went to fetch the equipment.

Kvasha walked off towards his office, his mood considerably improved: Lotekh was going to Arorua, the EDIT would be arriving at Planet Gloom soon, and he had found vending machine technicians for the Third Fleet. If only they could locate those Terrans.

As soon as the Zakavian military commander had left, the remaining members of the Blue Squadron turned on Vasta. “What do you think you’re doing?” Dixon asked. “Upgrade the food-dispensers? Need I remind you we’re not really technicians?”

“Calm down, Dixon,” Vasta said. “We’re union, or a reasonable facsimile at least. We can find dozens of excuses not to work.”

“And how will Kadar find our equipment, huh?”

Vasta shrugged. “She’ll manage. We’d better get to the transport to reserve seats.”

“And where is this shuttle?” Dixon asked.

“I’ve got a map,” McCurry suggested.

“You’ve got a map?” Vasta asked, astonished. “Where did you get a map?”

“In this brochure,” McCurry replied, pulling it out. “You know: ‘The Visitor’s Guide to the Fortress of Gloom’.”

“Works for me.”

With McCurry’s map, it didn’t take long to reach the transport—at least, once they got McCurry to stop pointing out items of historical interest. At the pad, they found the pilot waiting, eager to get off the planet. “Hurry,” he yelled as they walked onto the pad, “I’m eager to get off this planet.”

“Right,” Vasta replied. “Just a second.”

With that the Blue Squadron entered the transport, which took off almost immediately at a rather unsafe speed. In the passenger compartment, they watched the Fortress of Gloom shrink to nothingness.

“You know,” Vasta commented, “we’re really lucky we didn’t end up on a transport with anyone who’d recognize us. At least we’re leaving Captain Mselt and Prince Lotekh behind.”

“Yeah,” Dixon said, “but I keep feeling like we’ve left something else behind.”

“Hmm,” Vasta said. He looked around at the four of them, everything seemed all—


“Oh no,” he gasped, “we forgot to wait for Kadar!”

Back at the shuttle pod, Jen Kadar watched the transport shrink to nothingness. “This,” she said, letting the equipment she had gathered fall to the ground, “is not good.” She was about to continue, but her words were cut off by a sudden blow to the back of the head. As she fell, she heard someone say “…the Emperor will be pleased….”

They forgot Kadar?

How stupid is that?

How will they avoid Captain Mselt and Prince Lotekh on the Absurd Physical Harm?

What will happen when they reach Arorua?

What will happen when the others reach Planet Gloom?

Will Tom ever notice megan is missing?

Will Emperor Vakaz ever get more pretzels?

Will he be pleased about Kadar’s capture?

“You know,” the first guard commented, “you didn’t have to hit her.”

“Eh,” his companion replied. “Bite me.”

“Well, if she’s hurt, the Emperor won’t be so pleased.”

“Hey, as long as she can repair the vending machines, right?”

Few, if any, of these questions will be answered when three subplots converge in the Crelm system during the next episode of Starcruiser Anonymous, coming soon to SFSTORY: The Other White Meat.