One of the many mysteries about the Anonymous was its original function. The two major schools of thought suggested that it was either a battleship or some sort of colony ship. The battleship group pointed to its numerous weapons, powerful shields, thick hull, and fighter squadrons, suggesting that these made the Anonymous rather heavily armed for a colony ship. The other group pointed to the large farming section and twenty-two residence sections and suggested that only an idiot would put room for so many people on a warship. A third group suggested that it had originally been a warship that was later converted to a colony ship, but they were generally ignored.

Of the twenty-two residence sections, Sector 7G (so designated for reasons that are quite logical, but can’t be easily explained without a three-dimensional map) was the largest. Ranging from seven to ten stories tall, depending on where you were, it’s layout was vaguely reminiscent of an immense mall, only much more convoluted. As it happens, Sector 7G was chosen rather early on to serve as the primary commercial area on the Anonymous, making it’s resemblance to an immense mall even stronger.

Of the many restaurants in Sector 7G, the most respected was Chez Casa. It was founded long ago by Clive Jonson, who had previously been a chef at the world-spanning, five-star restaurant McDonalds (where, it was said, he was among the top five preparers of such specialty items as McSnails, McCordon Blue, and Veal McCutlets). Needless to say, there was always a rather long line to get in. However, for reasons better left unsaid, the elite fighter pilots (who numbered twenty-five because there had only been twenty-five applicants) were always assured a table there.

After the hockey game between the Green and Black Squadrons (they tied, six-six) ended, Stan Losar, Sally Winters, Dave Menéndez, and Amy Masaki headed off to Chez Casa for dinner. Afterwards, they passed the time playing a lengthy game of whist (Clive was a big whist player, and often granted free beverages to participants) while discussing the upcoming visit to Planet Gloom.

“Personally,” Menéndez was saying, “I think it’s madness taking an untested starship into the heart of enemy territory.”

“Yes,” Winters agreed, “but the Anonymous is a very tough ship. I can’t imagine we’ll be in too much trouble. I mean, the Futility did pretty well against a whole fleet just the other day—although they weren’t really aiming that well, now that I think about it.”

“Both of you have good points,” Masaki said quietly. “I think you may both be correct in this case: it’s a bad idea, but we’ll probably survive.”

“Unless they’ve got a secret weapon,” Losar commented.

“Well, yeah. That goes without saying.”

“I wonder what the civilians think?” Menéndez wondered.

“They’re too upset about losing cable,” Winters replied.

“It figures. Here we are, in the majesty of spa—”

“Attention,” the public address system boomed, cutting him off. “The Anonymous will be activating its overly-hyped drives in five seconds. Please make appropriate preparations.”

Masaki blinked. “What would those be?”

The others shrugged. “Finish your drink,” Winters suggested.

There was a slight lurch, and then the PA system spoke again. “We have entered overly-hyped space. For your own safety, please avoid looking at outside views, as extreme boredom or death may result. That is all.”

Starcruiser Anonymous

(A Tale Within Sfstory)

Episode 11
Wherein Elahte
Explains His Plan

Dave Menendez

Deep within the generic hallways of the Fortress of Gloom, the capitol and primary hot-dog stand of the Zakavian Empire, strode the tall, trenchcoat-clad form of Bob. Beside him was Jen Kadar, who was having to alternate between walking and running in order to keep up. Bob had wanted to go alone, but Jen had insisted that she be allowed to accompany him to make up for the favors he had done for her. He had relented, although he refused to clarify exactly what his mission was, which meant that Jen was only partially able to match his look of firm resolve. Any Zakavians that they encountered tended to leap out of their way, in an over-dramatic manner. They were ignored.

The exception was an armored Zakavian soldier who nearly collided with Bob as they were turning a corner. As armored Zakavian soldiers tend to be rather violent and armed, Bob decided to acknowledge this one’s existence.

“Pardon me,” he said. “I wasn’t watching where I was going.”

The soldier, however, didn’t seem to be paying attention to Bob, instead seeming to stare at Jen. Finally it spoke: “Jen?”

Bob and Jen shared a confused glance. They were the only two on the planet who knew Jen’s name. “Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?” Jen asked nervously, trying to change the subject.

The armored figure gave the impression of blinking. “What? Oh, the uniform.” With that, it removed the armor’s helmet, revealing features that were neither Caphanite or Blargoloid, but human. And familiar ones at that.

“Megan?” Jen gasped, recognizing her younger sister. She opened her mouth but was too surprised to say anything. Trying again, she managed to ask “How did you get here?”

“That’s a long story,” Megan replied. “I think I’ll let Roy tell it.”

“He’s here too?”

Megan nodded.

Bob cleared his throat. “I assume,” he said, “you two know each other?”

“That’s a pretty safe assumption,” Jen replied. Seeing the impatient look on Bob’s face, she elaborated. “She’s my sister.”

“Ah. Well, I’m on a tight schedule here.” He glanced around, saw that no one was in the area, and continued in a more quiet voice. “I’ve got to make sure the Zakavians don’t cause massive destruction with their new ultimate weapon.”

“An ultimate weapon?” Megan asked. “Maybe I should tell Orliss about that. He’s into the whole good/evil thing.”

“He’s a space hero?”

Megan shrugged. “Not really, but he’s minoring in Space Heroism at Interstellar University.”

Bob slapped his forehead, the scales on his hand making a thwapping sound as they hit the scales on his forehead, and sighed. “We’d better work together then. I don’t want him to suddenly show up and try something heroic and get us all killed.”

“Great! Now just let me remember where they are….”

The problem with ironic situations, Captain-General Tvanir decided, was that you can’t appreciate them when they’re happening to you, instead of some other person. Had she heard of anyone else trying to spark a rebellion to justify his or her position and then getting captured by those rebels, she probably would have found it immensely amusing. Worse, if the newly-arrived Captain-General Mselt freed her, he’d get the credit for stopping the rebellion and her career would stagnate even further. She didn’t want to think about what her assignments after that would be like. Probably internal security in the Fortress of Gloom or something.

The door to the room she shared with Prince Boltar of Arorua opened and two Arorans walked in. They were Garav, who had captured her, and Bentor, who seemed to be in charge.

“Hi, Secret,” Boltar said in greeting.

“Huh?” Bentor replied.

“I said—”

“I heard that,” Bentor interrupted. “Why do you keep calling me Secret?”

“It’s your name, isn’t it?”

“I am called Bentor.”

“No, not your code name. Your real name.”

Bentor made a strangling noise. “My real name is not ‘Secret’.”

“It isn’t?” Garav asked. “Then how come you’ve never told any of us what it is?”

“It is a secret,” Bentor replied through clenched teeth. Regaining self-control, he turned to Garav. “Garav, get Boltar.”

“So how come I don’t get a secret name?” Garav asked.

Bentor slapped his forehead. “No one knew ‘Garav’ was your real name until right now. Now go get Boltar, our … ‘new prisoners’ want to speak with him.”

“But they aren’t prisoners.”

Bentor visibly restrained himself from strangling Garav, and instead gestured at Boltar.

“Right.” Garav quickly untied Boltar’s hands and walked him outside. Bentor glanced at Tvanir and then left, closing the door behind him.

“Idiots,” Tvanir mumbled. As if being imprisoned wasn’t embarrassing enough, she had to be imprisoned by amateurs. She doubted they were even keeping a guard on the door. With that cheerful thought in mind, she went back to loosening her bonds.

Roger Vasta looked up as Bentor returned, along with someone else who was, presumably, Prince Boltar. Somehow, Chancellor Elahte had convinced the Aroruan People’s League that, although he seemed to have been working for the Zakavians, he was actually on their side. More importantly (in Vasta’s view), he had also convinced them that Vasta and his companions were also on their side—despite the fact that none of them knew exactly which side that was.

“Prince Boltar,” Elahte said in greeting. “I hope you were treated well?”

Boltar shrugged. “Sure, except that they tied me up and left me in a room with Captain-General Tvanir.”

“We assumed they were working together, like Princess Elim and Governor Jjana,” Bentor explained.

“Ah,” Elahte said sagely. “Well, hopefully we can avoid similar misunderstandings in the future. Allow me to introduce these people I just met, they are … um … enemies of the Zakavians.”

Vasta sensed that that was his cue to explain his group’s origin. “We’re from the starship Anonymous. We were out testing some weapons systems when Captain-General Mselt—he was just a Captain at the time—showed up and captured us for reasons that I’ve never really heard explained. We were taken to Planet Gloom,” those familiar with that planet shuddered, “where we managed to escape. Then we snuck back onto Mselt’s ship.”

“Why?” Bentor asked.

“It was better than Planet Gloom,” Samantha Dixon answered.

“Indeed,” Thomas Dent agreed, looking up from the copy of English Syntax that Alex McCurry had lent him (no one knew why McCurry was carrying a book about grammar, and that suited them just fine). “We also knew it was going somewhere else, where we would stand a better chance at escape.”

“The point,” Elahte continued, “is that all the primary anti-Zakavian forces (with the possible exception of Princess Elim, whose loyalties are suspect) on the planet are gathered here today. Since we can no longer lay low and hope the Zakavians will get so bored they’ll leave for a more interesting planet,” he cast an irritated look at Bentor while he said that, “we’ll have to take a more … direct approach.”

“Like what?” Bentor asked. “The only bargaining chip we’ve got is Tvanir, and I don’t think the Zakavians really like her that much.”

Elahte shook his head. “I wasn’t thinking of bargaining. It’s time we attacked.”

“Attacked?” Bentor demanded. “Are you out of your mind? Even if they join us,” he gestured at the Blue Squadron, “we’ve still got less than twenty people. What can we do against the Legion?”

“Actually, my plan requires only five people to succeed, but they must be familiar with high technology.”

No one spoke for a few moments.

“Well,” said McCurry eventually, “we’re familiar with high technology.”

“Some technology,” Dixon corrected. “I doubt that would be much of a help in this situation.”

“You’d be surprised,” Elahte said.

“So what’s the plan?” Vasta asked.

“Well, as offworlders, I assume you’re unfamiliar with the legend of Ampron, right?”

The Blue Squadron expressed agreement.

Elahte nodded and took a deep breath. “Many years ago,” he began, “our peaceful planet was defended by a powerful force of good. That force was called Ampron, the Really Powerful Defender of Niceness and Stuff.”

“Nice title,” McCurry interjected.

“Er… yes. That particular phrase was created by the chief of public relations… a Ms. Varneyloop, I believe. [She may or may not be related to G.X.P. Varneyloop. We had asked the research department to go check, but they spent their budget on inflatable weasels instead. Evidently, there was a sale or something — Ed.] Anyway, Ampron was a giant robot—”

“Typical,” Dixon snorted.

“What is it with the giant robots?” Vasta wondered. “How come planets are never defended by vast armies of fanatic celery or something?”

“They’re not as appealing to adolescent boys,” Dixon explained. “Harder to merchandise.”

“If I may continue?” Elahte asked acidly. After the others finished mumbling apologies, he continued. “It’s commonly believed that Ampron was destroyed it its last battle. As you might expect, that’s not completely true. It was split into five components, which were rebuilt by various secret organizations and hidden should the need for their use arise again. Five keys to the components were also created and hidden. Unfortunately, I only know the location of four of them. They’re in the palace at the moment. I should be able to sneak some people in to fetch them.”

“Will four be enough?” McCurry asked.

Elahte pursed his lips. “Without all five, they can’t combine to reform Ampron. They’re not as effective individually.”

“We can’t partially form Ampron?” Vasta asked.

“No. The missing key is for the primary unit.”

“Rather inconvenient, that.”

“Could we try to start it without the key?” Bentor asked.

Elahte grinned weakly. “That brings us to the other problem: the location of the units has been lost. The keys receive a homing signal, but it’s unlikely they’re all in the same place.”

There was another moment of silence as the rebels and displaced Terrans considered.

“So what’s your plan?” Bentor asked at last.

“Well,” Elahte said, “on the off chance we can find the fifth key, we’ll need five pilots.” He paused and looked at the Blue Squadron. “Will the four of you be willing?”

Vasta looked at his group. Dent was still scanning his book on syntax, but McCurry and Dixon looked fairly interested. He wished Jen were still with them—she’d provide a good fifth pilot. Plus, he wouldn’t have to feel guilty for accidentally leaving her on Planet Gloom. “We’re willing,” he said, “but who will be the fifth pilot?”

“Ooh, ooh! Pick me!” Boltar said, waving his hands around.

“You?” Bentor asked, raising an eyebrow. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“But, I’ve got political connections! And I’m familiar with Aroruan customs! You’ve got to pick me. Please?”

Elahte sighed. “I suppose,” he said, sounding reluctant, “it would be a good move politically. Certainly, the public likes you more than they like Princess Elim right now.” He turned to Vasta. “Do you accept?” he asked.

“I suppose so,” Vasta replied. Glancing around at his team, he saw that they agreed. He turned to Boltar. “Welcome to the Blue Squadron,” he said.

“Not the Blue Squadron,” Elahte corrected, “the Ampron Force.”


“So,” Dixon asked Elahte, “what’s the plan? How are we going to find these … units? And what are they?”

Elahte hesitated for a second, and then spoke. “Penguins,” he said. “I’m told they’re robotic penguins.”

“How do you make a giant robot out of penguins? More importantly, how do you make five penguins out of a giant robot?”

“With an instruction manual?” Dent suggested.

Elahte shrugged. “As for your first question, I plan for a small group to infiltrate the palace—it should be fairly easy, since they still trust me—and return here with the keys. Then we can sent larger groups out to find the penguin units and then we’ll be ready to plot our assault on the Zakavians.”

“Sounds good,” Bentor said. He was about to continue when Garav suddenly burst in.

“Bentor!” he cried. “It’s Tvanir! She’s escaped!”

“What?” Bentor demanded. “How could this happen?”

“She managed to untie herself, and then she snuck out,” Garav explained.

“She may have heard our plans,” Elahte warned. “We must move quickly.”

“What about the guard on her cell?” Dixon asked.

A silence descended on the room; had there been any crickets in the area, this would have been the cue for their solo.

“I knew we forgot something,” Bentor groaned.

Will Tvanir’s escape derail their plan?

Will they succeed in retrieving the keys?

Will they manage to locate the fifth penguin?

If so, do you suppose Ampron might possibly get involved in some sort of fight with that giant, transforming robot the Zakavians have?

Well, there won’t be any giant robots fighting when Orliss and Bob discuss strategy in the next phone-mangling episode of Starcruiser Anonymous.

SFSTORY: It Stays Crispy, Even in Milk