Surprisingly, the Peace and Light Bar & Grill had not closed after the collapse of its floor caused by revolutionary activity. In fact, business had increased, mostly due to the twenty-odd Zakavians spies who hung around trying to find the Aroruan People’s League. They were unable to find anything, which wasn’t too surprising since the League wasn’t about to visit a restaurant filled with enemy spies. Prince Boltar and Captain-General Tvanir didn’t really care about that, though. They were at the Peace and Light for a quick bite to eat, nothing more.

“Hello,” their waiter greeted them, “I’m Tels Garav, and I’ll be your waiter this afternoon.” He leaned in close. “Today I recommend holding very still or I’ll shoot you, Captain-General.” Tvanir noticed his hand was currently under the table, where the spies in the room couldn’t see it. Boltar continued looking at his menu.

“You’re with the rebellion?” she asked quietly.

Garav nodded. The spies in the room continued to read their newspapers.

Tvanir grinned. “You’re doing an excellent job.”

“Huh?” Garav replied, a look of confusion spreading across his face.

“The rebellion,” Tvanir clarified, “if it keeps up I’ll have an excuse to increase my forces and improve my bargaining position in the Empire.”

“So why go on a date with Prince Boltar?” Garav asked. Boltar, hearing his name, glanced up.

“You ordered yet?” he asked Tvanir.

“Not as such,” she replied. Boltar nodded and returned to his menu. “It is not a date,” she told Garav, “We just wanted something to eat.”

“Whatever,” Garav said, “you’re prisoners of the People’s League of Arorua now.”

“That’s Aroruan People’s League,” a passing waiter corrected.

“Right, sorry,” Garav replied. “Anyway, if the two of you will come with us…?”

Starcruiser Anonymous

(A Tale Within Sfstory)

Episode 8
Wherein Jen Kadar Meets
a Mysterious Stranger

Dave Menendez

The first thing Jen Kadar noticed upon regaining consciousness was that she had a headache. The second and third things she noticed were that she seemed to be wearing her stolen uniform and sleeping on a couch. She opened her eyes and saw that she was indeed wearing the uniform of a Vending Machine Technician and lying on a couch. The couch seemed to be in a rather upscale hotel suite and faced something that looked remarkably like a television set, so she concluded that she must have fallen asleep on the couch watching television. In an attempt to verify this hypothesis, she thought back to her last memory: watching a transport shuttle carry the rest of her squadron away from Planet Gloom and getting hit on the head with a blunt object. While that explained the headache, it contradicted her theory. Something didn’t match. Specifically, how did she get from being knocked unconscious to waking up in a plush hotel suite?

“You awake in there?” a voice called from outside the room.

“No,” she answered.

“Okay,” the voice replied, “we’ll come back later.”

Deciding to ignore that confused exchange, Jen turned back to the problem at hand. There had to be some sort of logical explanation for this. She remembered one of her attackers saying that the Emperor would be pleased. How so? What were his intentions? She dismissed some sort of physical attraction, she would’ve awakened in the Emperor’s chambers if that were the case. She kept telling herself that as she walked over to the kitchenette to fix a quick breakfast.

“Is she awake yet?” Emperor Vakaz asked.

The guard who had been sent to check shook his head. “She says she isn’t.”

Vakaz scowled. “Kvasha,” he said, turning to his most trusted advisor, “make a note: look into replacing those machines with ones that can be serviced by our own people. I’m sick of depending on that guild.”

“Yes, your Majesty,” Kvasha said, nodding.

“Your Majesty!” an aide called, running across the spacious throne room.

“Yes?” Vakaz asked.

“Lord Ganush has reentered the system. He’s brought the A/600 with him.”

“Excellent. And the EDIT?”

“It will be arriving within the hour.”

“Wonderful,” Vakaz said, smiling. “If only that technician would wake up and repair that machine, so I can get some pretzels, or potato chips, or those crackers with that spreadable ‘cheez’ stuff—I like those.”

The aide looked puzzled. “Why not just take them out of the machine?” he asked.

Vakaz gasped with such horror that the aide cringed, hoping for a quick death. “Steal from a vending machine? Do you know what the Guild would do to us?”

“Kill us?” the aide squeaked.

“Probably not, but they’d almost certainly raise our prices.” He and Kvasha shuddered at the thought. “Inform us when Lord Ganush or the EDIT arrives.”

One hot cup of tea later, Jen had still failed to come up with an explanation for her current status. Or even a description for her current status. She hardly thought the Zakavians would be storing prisoners in hotel suites. “If only I knew why they captured me,” she said. “They didn’t seem to recognize any of us.”

“Perhaps it’s the uniform you’re wearing,” the large, humanoid reptile wearing a black trenchcoat suggested.

“Aiee!” Jen replied, managing to jump in startlement (unless that isn’t a word) without spilling her tea. Of course, her cup was empty at the time, but the point is that no tea spilled out. “Who are you?” she asked. “What are you doing here?” She looked around and noticed he was between her and her sidearm. Typical.

“Who I am is not important,” he replied, speaking in the time-honored, yet irritating, manner of Mysterious People Who Know Stuff You Don’t. “I’m more interested in why you’re wearing the uniform of the Mysterious and Powerful Guild of Vending Machine Technicians.”

“I happened across a dying man called Agent 125 who gave me the uniform to help me and my companions escape from this place,” Jen explained.

He nodded in understanding. “That explains a lot. I take it your friends escaped?” Jen nodded. “And the folks here are looking for you?” Another nod. “Do you know anything about repairing vending machines?” Jen shook her head. “Well,” he said with a grin, “I think I can help you….”

Orliss SoFah glanced around the cramped cockpit of the Finstar F6000. Horlun was checking the various displays, making sure their trip went smoothly. Megan was evidently reading a book stored in the Finstar’s memory banks, which meant she was really bored, since the books available were selected by Anme Rifba’s father (not surprising, since he owned it) and all had to do with business practices on Foobarh. Roy and Anme were in the back, in separate quarters, which suited the others just fine. They had had about all they could take of political rhetoric.

The computer pinged. “We’ve reached the Abgila System,” Horlun informed them. “We’ll be dropping to realspace soon.”

“Great,” Orliss said, “now we’ll get some action.”

“Orliss,” Horlun asked, “you do have a plan, right?”

“Plan?” Orliss replied with distaste. “Feh. How can we plan when we don’t know what we’re up against?”

Horlun and Megan shared a worried look. Behind them, Roy stepped into the cockpit. “We’re almost there?” he asked.

“Dropping out of overly-hyped space now,” Horlun replied, just as they dropped out of overly-hyped space.

“So this is Planet Gloom, eh?” Orliss said. “I’d expected more.”

“We’re pretty far out,” Horlun reminded him.

“What’s that ship there?” Megan asked.

“Hmm,” Orliss said, trying to remember his classes in ship identification. “It looks like a Sonar Men design.”

“The A/600 Warrior Ship is all yours,” Lord Ganush said, handing Emperor Vakaz some forms and a complimentary keychain. “We processed your check yesterday. The warranty is good for twenty years, although it doesn’t cover damage acquired in battle.”

Kvasha snorted. “Lot of good that will do,” he muttered.

“Can we see a demonstration of its … interesting feature?” Vakaz asked.

“Certainly,” Ganush replied. “Observe the viewing screen.”

“So who are the Sonar Men?” Roy asked.

“Arms merchants, mostly,” Orliss answered. “They’re best known for—”

“Look!” Megan interrupted, pointing at the A/600.

The others turned to look, and saw something none had expected. Several sections of the A/600 were shifting position, changing its shape from your average interstellar warship into something quite different. Something quite recognizable. Something cliche.

“A giant, transforming robot,” Megan said, reverently. “Coool.”

“A giant, transforming robot?” Kvasha asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah,” Vakaz confirmed. “Neat, huh?”

“What do we need with a giant robot? We’ve got the EDIT. It can destroy whole planets—assuming it works like it’s supposed to.”

“Oh, sure, the EDIT is neat too, but it doesn’t have the style of the A/600.”

Kvasha grumbled to himself.

“Sir!” an aide called, rushing into the throne room. “We’ve detected an unknown craft nearby the A/600. It appears to be a Finstar F6000.”

“Who’d fly one of those?” Lord Ganush wondered.

Kvasha looked at Vakaz, who shrugged. “Hail them,” he ordered.

The aide nodded and worked the controls, then nodded to Kvasha.

Kvasha cleared his throat. “Attention, alien vessel,” he began.

“Yes?” a voice replied.

Kvasha blinked; he was unused to being interrupted. “Identify yourself. Why are you in the Abgila System?”

“We are … reporters for Conquerors Quarterly, a magazine for the Conquering Empire. I assume you’ve heard of us,” the voice replied. It was followed by what sounded like a muffled argument, or possibly just interference.

Conquerors Quarterly?” Kvasha quietly asked Vakaz, who shook his head (Vakaz’s head, that is, not Kvasha’s). Ganush also indicated unfamiliarity with the publication. “Of course we’ve heard of you,” Kvasha replied.

“Ah, good,” the lead reporter answered. “We were wondering if we could to an article on your fortress there for our interior design section.”

Kvasha looked at Vakaz again. Vakaz nodded. “Sure,” Kvasha answered. “We’ll make up some press passes for you.”


“Gloom Out.” The aide cut the connection. “So we’re letting them in, huh?” Kvasha asked Vakaz

“Sure, why not?” Vakaz answered.

“Whatever. I’ll be in my office, talking to the listening devices.”

“There aren’t any in your office.”

Kvasha grinned mirthlessly, which is quite a trick, when you think about it. “Of course there aren’t,” he agreed.

“Your plan is to sneak us in as reporters, right?” Roy asked.

“Yep,” Orliss answered.

“For Conquerors Quarterly, right?”


“You’re insane, right?”

“Ye— stop that. It got us in, didn’t it?”

Roy sighed in resignation. Horlun piloted the ship, shaking his head slowly. Megan continued to stare at the A/600, which was folding back into a neat-looking starship. If nothing else, the Sonar Men were stylish.

“Concentrate,” the mysterious, trenchcoat-wearing, humanoid reptile advised. “Become one with your tool.”

Jen gave him a look that suggested she’d had quite enough of his pseudo-Zen crap, and would like him to shut up now. Returning to the task at hand, she gave the Allen wrench a slight turn, stopping when she felt the vibrations change subtly, applied minor pressure, and was rewarded with a soft click.

“Excellent,” her instructor told her, “you have just deactivated the Quaternary Safeties. Now press the red button.”

She did so, and the front of the vending machine swung open. “What now?” she asked wearily. Just getting the thing open had been an ordeal, she didn’t want to think about trying to repair it. Of course, her advisor hadn’t given any indication of why he was having her open the machine. He hadn’t even given a pseudonym so she could think of him as something other than “the humanoid reptile wearing a black trenchcoat”. And who wears trenchcoats in space, anyway?

“Do you see a small display?”

Jen nodded. “It says ‘Status Nominal’.”

“As it should. Now the broken ones are a different matter.” he gestured at the other side of the atrium, which was littered with shattered components.

“Surely you don’t expect me to repair those.”

The man shrugged. “Of course not. You need at least a five person team for one of those, and the team the Guild sent is dead. No, I had you open that for a different reason. Look at the left side of the interior, do you see a small compartment? Open it.”

Jen did so, and pulled out what looked to be a small handgun, only there were several small lights, some blinking, on its surface. “What’s this?” she asked.

“A small handgun. The Guild keeps them in the vending machines just in case.” He started to walk off. “Come on, I’ll show you how to use it.”

“Why are you helping me? How do you know so much about vending machines? For that matter, who are you? And who are you working for?”

“All good questions, and all ones that will be answered in time.”

To say Orliss and company, who don’t have a good collective name yet, were surprised to see Emperor Vakaz greeting them on the landing pad would be incorrect. This is not because they had expected him to greet them—quite the opposite, in fact. It was because they didn’t recognize him as none of them had ever seen him before and he wasn’t wearing a name tag or anything. They just assumed he was some guy sent to meet them. This misperception lasted right up to the point when he smiled and said, “Welcome to Planet Gloom. I’m Emperor Vakaz.” Now it would be correct to say they were surprised.

“Emperor Vakaz,” Orliss said warmly, stepping forward to shake his hand. “We’re thrilled to see you.” Orliss had been the best student in his section of Heroics 415: Deceiving the Enemy—which, at Interstellar University, is actually a bad thing, since Space Heroes aren’t supposed to lie.

“I’m sure you are,” Vakaz replied. “We’re all big fans of your magazine here, you know.”

“You are, are you?” Orliss asked, failing to completely hide his nervousness. He hadn’t thought the magazine actually existed. Next time, he swore, he’d do more research.

“Oh yes,” Vakaz assured him. He gestured at an aide. “This aide here has your press passes. They’ll give you non-secure clearance throughout the Fortress of Gloom.”

“Fortress of Gloom?” Anme asked (See? She is in this episode!). “Who came up with that name?”

“We had a contest,” the Emperor answered.


“Your Majesty!” another aide called, running up to him. “The EDIT has arrived!”

Vakaz grinned. (Orliss recognized that particular grin as one used when the villain’s plans are coming together nicely.) “Excellent,” he said. “If you’ll excuse me?”

The alleged reporters watched the Emperor walk off into the shadows. “So,” Horlun asked Orliss, “what now?”

“Hmm?” Orliss replied. “I dunno. Snoop around—they won’t be suspicious, after all. We’re reporters! We’re supposed to snoop!”

“What if Conqueror’s Quarterly is actually a magazine that exists only for the self-congratulation of its bloated, oppressive readership?” Anme asked.

Orliss sighed. “Must you dump on everything I do?”


Handguns in vending machines?

Mysterious dark-clad aliens?

Giant transforming robots?


Action! Adventure! Romance! You won’t find any of that when the Blue Squadron reaches Arorua in the next episode of Starcruiser Anonymous.

SFSTORY: Try Our Thick, Creamy Shakes