As conquering empires go, the Zakavians are among the more polite. Of course, they aren’t the most polite by any means. That particular honor goes to the Dread Masters of Shananah VII, who made sure not to damage private property, never killed women or children, and always brought enough gum for everyone. They did surprisingly well (which made a few gamblers very happy) until they ran across the Bloodthirsty Female Infants of Kabuki IX, who defeated the Dread Masters so soundly that they attracted the attention of InterPlanet, which quickly merchandised them out of existence. On backwater planets you’ll still see children playing with their Fully Poseable Action Female Infant Warriors™ and Dread Master Terror Toys™ (each sold separately).

But Jen Kadar was not thinking about these things, which isn’t too surprising since she didn’t know about them (and if someone were to tell her this tragic tale, she’d probably laugh to the point of illness, which illustrates the depressing tenancy for humans find humor in the misfortune of others—although we should excuse Jen since, given how much stress she’s had in her life lately, she could use a good laugh). Instead, she was thinking about her mysterious benefactor. She was wondering who he was, and why he was helping her, and when he would give her a name so she wouldn’t have to keep thinking of him as “the mysterious stranger” or some variant thereof.

“You know,” he commented, “I just realized I don’t know your name.”

She smirked. “I’m Squadmember Jen Kadar of the starship Anonymous.”

“I see,” he said, nodding. “You may call me … Bob.”

“Bob?” Somehow that didn’t seem right for a humanoid reptile.

“It’s a code name,” Bob explained.

“Oh. I guess you can call me Jen, then.”

“Very well. Now, to use this weapon,” he said, holding the small handgun with lights, some blinking, on it that Jen had, with his instructions, taken from a vending machine back in episode eight, “you simply fire the trigger.” He demonstrated on a small objet d’art, which shattered (oddly enough, this increased its price in certain markets).

“So what are those lights for?”

“Oh, they don’t do anything. They’re just for looks.”

Starcruiser Anonymous

(A Tale Within Sfstory)

Episode 10
Wherein Captain Harrison
Gets a Speaking Part

Dave Menendez

Defending a planet against an alien invasion isn’t usually easy. This is especially true when the entire defense force consists of one battle platform that can only move in two directions and shoot straight up. Of course, it’s somewhat easier if the aliens all attack in a big group and only fire slow-moving bullets straight down. It still takes some skill, though. Skill that Lieutenant Gordon evidently lacked as the aliens managed to destroy his platform utterly. “Damn,” he commented, “I’m just no good at this.”

Behind him, Commander Gerhardt, second in command of the Anonymous, looked on with amusement. Idly, he wondered where the technical crew had gotten the time to port video games to the computer systems of the Anonymous and why they had chosen “Space Invaders”. “Anything going on in the real world, Mr. Gordon?” he asked.

“Those rings out there appear to be orbiting Saturn, sir,” Gordon replied.

“Still? You’d think they’d get tired of it eventually.”

“Maybe they’ve got arcade games too, sir.”

“Does this mean you aren’t tired of orbiting Saturn?”

“No, sir. But then, television and popular culture have destroyed my attention span.”

“I hate it when that happens.”

“Me too, sir. In fact, I—” he cut off as the proximity detector sounded. The bridge crew stared. None could remember the last time that had happened.

“What is that?” Gerhardt asked.

“The proximity alarm,” Gordon replied.

Gerhardt made a note to mention that in Gordon’s performance review. “I meant, what is it alerting us about?”

“It’s detected a SCSI-class vessel on an intercept course. I think it’s the Green Squadron.”

Gerhardt blinked. “They gave up already?”

“No, sir,” the communications officer said. “They say they’ve got news for us.”

“Inform Captain Harrison,” Gerhardt said, standing up and heading for the door. “I’ll meet them as they arrive.”

After Gerhardt left, Gordon turned to his neighbor. “You know what this means, of course.”

His neighbor thought for a moment. “No, I don’t.”

“Oh. Well, I guess we’ll find out eventually.”

The Futility smoothly touched down in the landing bay. Computers are handy that way. “Another mission completed by … the Green Squadron,” Rick Hydrospok announced as his team of fighter pilots exited their craft.

“How exactly have we completed the mission?” Sally Winters asked.

“Well, we found out where the Blue Squadron is.”

“But we were supposed to bring them back,” George Daniels reminded him.

“Fine. ‘Another mission left incomplete by the Green Squadron.’ Happy now?”

“You bet,” Winters said.

“Happy as a clam,” Daniels added.

“Two clams.”

“Half a dozen oysters.”

“I always found oysters to be kind of sad,” Stan Losar commented.

“You may have a point,” Daniels conceded.

“But don’t worry,” a new voice added, “if you wear a hat, it won’t show.”

As one, the Green Squadron turned to face the newcomer, whom they quickly recognized as Squad Commander Marshall Stanford, leader of the Black Squadron.

“So,” Stanford continued, “I see you have failed at your task again, Hydrospok.”

“Again?” Hydrospok asked. “When was the last time?”

“We sent you guys out for soda at the last pilots’ picnic, and you forgot the Ginger Ale,” Stanford explained.

“That was three months ago.”

“Well,” Stanford shrugged, “not much has happened since then.”

“Whatever. I assume you’re here to give us a message?”

“Nah, I just thought I’d say ‘Hi’.” He paused. “Hi, guys.”

“Hi,” the Green Squadron replied.

(“Still think he’s our ‘arch enemy’?” Hydrospok whispered to Daniels.

“It’s just a clever ploy,” Daniels whispered back.

“I see.”)

At this point, Commander Gerhardt arrived. “Hi, everybody!” he said.

“Hi, Commander Gerhardt!” the others replied.

“I’ve informed Captain Harrison that you’ve arrived, she should be arriving shortly.” He noticed Stanford, and looked concerned. “There’s not going to be any violence, is there?”

“Violence?” Hydrospok asked. “What could possibly make you think…” He turned and looked at his squad and Stanford, who guiltily avoided his gaze. “What happened?” he asked, his voice suggesting that he didn’t really want to know.

“You don’t really want to know,” Daniels told him.

“You know, if you’d bothered to tell me about this rivalry, I wouldn’t be so uninformed.”

“It is the commander’s responsibility to keep informed,” a voice intoned behind him.

The assembled crewmembers jumped. Captain Harrison had an unnerving habit of sneaking up on people, which had lead to many rumors about her profession preceeding her command of the Anonymous.

“Captain Harrison,” Gerhardt said, being the first to recover, “shall we head for the debreifing?”

“Yes, but first,” she turned to the Green Squadron, “weren’t there five of you before?”

Hydrospok grinned nervously. “That’s an interesting story, Captain.”

“You were right,” Harrison said after Hydrospok had finished describing what the Green Squadron had done since leaving the Anonymous, “that was an interesting story. It also leaves us with an interesting problem: what do we do now?”

“Well,” Hydrospok said, “I assumed we’d go check out Planet Gloom.”

Harrison raised an eyebrow. “You want us to take a largely untested starship carrying over a hundred-thousand civilian passengers into the capital system of a probably-unfriendly empire, there to face an unknown reaction from an unknown number of defenders?”

“Hmm. When you put it that way…,” he trailed off, uncertain how to finish the thought.

Harrison stood and walked over to the conference room’s window, which would have provided a majestic view of Saturn, except that it opened into the landing bay. Instead, it provided a view of the Futility, which would have been pretty majestic if the remainder of the Green Squadron weren’t currently playing hockey against the Black Squadron right next to it. She couldn’t tell who was winning. “What do you think, Gerhardt?” she asked.

“Huh?” Gerhardt said, snapping awake and looking around quickly in a futile attempt to convince the others that he hadn’t been daydreaming.

Harrison sighed again, then winced as one of the Black Squadron (It looked like Menéndez, although it was hard to tell from this distance.) got hit with the puck. “I suppose,” she said, returning to the business at hand, “that the Anonymous would have a better chance against whatever’s out there than the smaller ships….

“Gerhardt, prepare the ship for overly-hyped speed. We’re off to see Planet Gloom.”

“Yes, sir.”

Horlun SoFah, currently unemployed resident of the planet Foobarh, was sitting in an observation deck in the Fortress of Gloom. There weren’t that many observation decks in the Fortress of Gloom, not for security purposes, but because the landscape of Planet Gloom isn’t something most people want to look at. While Horlun was, technically, staring out the windows, he wasn’t seeing the landscape. His subconscious mind, after a few seconds of exposure to the view, had decided that it was Something Horlun Was Better Off Not Knowing About, and had blocked it from his consciousness. Instead, Horlun was thinking about his friends, Anme, who was even now distributing revolutionary pamphlets to the soldiers stationed below, and Orliss, who had gotten them into this mess in the first place. Of all the ways to sneak into a fortress of evil, Orliss had chosen to masquerade as reporters for a magazine that didn’t exist. Despite everyone’s expectations (except Orliss’s), this plan had worked. To Horlun, this was more of a comment on the enemies’ intelligence than on the effectiveness of the plan.

“Yo, Horlun,” a voice called from behind him. It was Roy Gaelen, whose friends they were searching for. “The Emperor wants us all to come to the Communications Room so he can gloat about that EDIT project he mentioned.”

“Sounds exciting,” Horlun said dryly.

“Oh yeah. I’m quivering with anticipation.”

“We’d better hurry then, before you shake yourself to pieces.”

The Communications Room, normally filled with activity, was quiet. The main screen, which could be used as an Omnimax theater (if Kodak dealt with space aliens, which they don’t (so far as we know)), was dark. Before it stood Emperor Vakaz and his military commander, Kvasha. Facing them stood Orliss, Horlun, Anme, and Roy.

“I’ve called you here,” Vakaz began, “because I— Say, aren’t you missing someone?”

“‘Aren’t you missing someone?’” they repeated.

Vakaz frowned, but didn’t otherwise reply.

Eventually, Roy took the hint and answered. “Um, our companion is probably off … getting statements from the soldiers.”

“You need statements from the soldiers for an interior design article?” Kvasha asked.

“Of course,” Orliss replied. “It wouldn’t be a balanced article if we didn’t get everyone’s opinions.”

“I see,” Kvasha said.

There was another pause.

“Anyway,” Vakaz continued, “I’ve called you here because I wanted your fine magazine to be the first to see … our ultimate weapon.” He gestured at an officer, who turned on the main screen.

At first, all they saw was a fairly normal view of space around the planet, the star Abgila dominating the display. In the corner, they could see the A/600 (which was now labeled “Alpha Ra”, for some reason). Suddenly, something began moving between them and the star, creating an artificial eclipse. The view zoomed in as the shape rotated, revealing that it was not a sphere, but a disk. A large, thin disk. As they watched, the disk folded into a cylinder, closed on one end.

Vakaz, seeing the moment had come, spoke up again. “I give you: the Enormous Destructive Interstellar Tortilla!”

The four fake reporters stared, mouths hanging open. Words failed them, although Orliss got a chance to use his knowledge of Heroic Gasps of Amazement. On the screen, orbiting Planet Gloom, was the largest single piece of Mexican food they had ever seen.

Horlun was the first to recover. “Words fail me,” he said.

“That’s the largest piece of Mexican food I’ve ever seen,” Roy commented.

“Guh,” added Orliss.

This sparkling example of wit was followed by another moment of silence.

“So,” Anme said finally, “how does it … er … work?”

“I’m glad you ask,” Kvasha replied. He did sound glad. Very glad. As if he’d been waiting months for someone to ask that. “Its interior contains a great deal of complex circuitry and some Automatic Beet-Peelers/Subatomic Re-Integrators.”

“Guh,” Orliss said again.

They waited for Kvasha to continue. When it became clear that he wasn’t going to, Anme spoke up again. “And what does that do?”

“Oh. It opens a gateway to an altiverse which consists entirely of fajita toppings. [Most likely 648SFSTORY, although we can’t be sure since the Zakavians won’t show us the schematics—Ed.] In that configuration, the fajita components quickly accumulate in the center until they reach critical spice levels, at which point they release a blast of spicy energy capable of destroying planets.”

“Gah,” Orliss said, for variety.

They watched the EDIT unfold into its disk shape—that form was easier to send through overly-hyped space, according to Kvasha—and then excused themselves to go “copy down their notes.”

In Jen Kadar’s quarters, the mysterious alien known only as Bob turned off his comlink. He had heard enough, now was the time for action. He could afford to delay no longer.

“Food’s ready,” Jen called.

Actually, Bob reflected, he could probably afford to wait until after dinner.

Can it afford to wait until after dinner?

What is it, anyway?

Will the Zakavians use the awesome power of the EDIT for good or for evil?

Will the Anonymous encounter its terrifying spice ray?

Who won the hockey game?

Will Squadmember Menéndez be all right?

Menéndez? Waaait a minute…

Some of this and some of that when Elahte explains his plan in the next knee-tingling episode of Starcruiser Anonymous.

SFSTORY: It Does a Body Good