Standing before a window in his office, Captain-General Rtali smiled and watched Foobarh’s landscape crawl by as the Valorous Moon Yak slowly moved along its orbit. He had been nervous about striking so soon after severing his ties to the Zakavian Empire, but the boredom of the Crelm system had finally convinced him to act. Thus far, no one seemed to have noticed. Of course, there were rumors the Zakavians had not one, but two megaweapons in their possession, but Rtali did not concern himself with them. He had chosen a fairly remote system for his first conquest, and he felt it unlikely the Zakavians had even heard of it. The battle had gone well: the defense armada had only lasted three hours before choosing to surrender. As Rtali had conquered the place mainly as a source supplies and entertainment for his troops, he left the native government in place. After a few hours of adjustment, they went right back to debating shifting funds from public television to mass transportation.

His doorbell chimed, interrupting his thoughts. “Enter,” he called, moving to sit behind his desk.

The door opened and Lieutenant Vtami entered. “Good day, sir,” Vtami greeted, voice obscured by the armor’s speakers.

“Good day, Lieutenant,” Rtali replied. “I was looking over the combat records from the battle here, and I must say you did well. Especially considering that this was your first combat.”

“Thank you, sir. I’ve always wanted to be a fighter pilot.”

Rtali smiled. “Tell me, Lieutenant, are you familiar with the Rogue Squadron?”

“Yes, sir. It struck me as an oddly appropriate name.”

“It is appropriate, actually. Rogue Squadron is where we stick the hotshot pilots who just don’t work well with others. That way, they can only irritate each other. I mention them because their squadron leader was killed in the recent battle … evidently by ‘friendly fire’.

“I’d like you to replace him.”

Vtami was silent for a few moments. “You want me to lead Rogue Squadron? Sir, with all due respect, I don’t have the experience to lead any squadron, much less one as disorganized as Rogue Squadron.”

“Not at all,” Rtali explained. “We know leading Rogue Squadron is hopeless, so we don’t expect much from you. Plus, you get the increased pay and respect of a squadron leader. It’s my way of thanking you for the information you gave me about Captain Mselt and the Terrans. You betrayed your commander and the Empire right on Planet Gloom itself because of your loyalty to me. I’d like to recognize that.”

“Very well,” Vtami said, eventually, “I accept.”

“Wonderful!” Rtali replied. He stood and the two shook hands. “You won’t regret this decision.”

“I hope not.”

“Don’t worry. You’ll probably want to meet the squadron and practice a bit before our next move, though.”

“If I may ask, what is our next move?”

“We’ve done pretty well on a minor world, but it’s no good if no one knows about it. Our next move will be to attack a minor world that’s also part of the Empire. That gives us the best chance of victory for our first high-profile strike. There are a few possibilities, but I think I’ve found the perfect choice. You’ll find out what that is when everyone else does.”

“Good enough. Thank you, sir.” Vtami stood and walked towards the door.

“One second, Lieutenant,” Rtali said suddenly.

Vtami stopped and turned.

“Do you sleep in that armor?”

Starcruiser Anonymous

(A Tale Within Sfstory)

Episode 13
Wherein Giant Penguins
Attack the Zakavians

Dave Menendez

After discovering the small, single-car high-speed trains in the hangar below the Control Room, which was itself hidden below the Aroruan Palace, Chancellor Elahte and the Ampron Force were faced with two difficulties. The first was simply getting to the trains. They all agreed that there had to be controls for the door leading to the hangar somewhere in the room, but the room design was so ultra-high-tech that actually locating the controls became difficult, since virtually every wall surface looked like a control of some sort. Eventually, Dent noticed a large lever in the wall next to the door. Curious, he pulled it into the “up” position, which opened the door.

“D’oh,” commented Vasta.

“Figures,” added Dixon, smirking.

Once they had gotten past the door and walked down the steps to the hangar, opening that door with another lever, they were faced with the second difficulty: how to activate the trains. Surprisingly, it was Boltar who found the solution.

“Hey,” he said, climbing into the ebony train, “these things open right up.”

“That isn’t the problem,” Vasta reminded him, “we can’t figure out how to make them run.”

Undaunted, Boltar began fiddling around with the controls. He soon stopped, however, when he noticed that the car evidently had no power. Then, he noticed an indentation on the control panel about the size of the ebony key that Elahte had given him earlier. Shrugging, he placed the key in its slot, activating the car’s controls. Seeing a button labeled “Go”, he did the logical thing: he resisted the temptation to push the button and told the others what he had found.

Ha! Just kidding. On seeing the button labeled “Go”, he hesitated about half a second before pushing it. His car, in turn, hesitated even less before it shot down its tunnel at clearly unsafe speeds.

“Looks like Boltar figured out how to start them,” observed McCurry.

“Indeed,” Elahte agreed. “So it shouldn’t take too long for us to figure it out.”

Several stories above them, Princess Elim paced her cell, bored. Prince Lotekh didn’t feel confident enough to have her killed, but he felt fine about throwing her in the “dungeon”. Technically, the palace didn’t have a dungeon, but Lotekh had gotten around this by declaring one of the empty pantries unpleasant enough to serve as a substitute. This made pacing hard, as the pantry lacked sufficient space for a pacer to get used to moving in one direction before running out of room and turning, but Elim did the best she could. After a few hours, she had memorized the layout of the pantry to the point where she could pace without thinking about it—which defeated the whole purpose, really, but she wasn’t going to let that stop her.

An unexpected knock on the door caught her by surprise. “Hello?” she called, just before her legs, which had kept moving in the absence of instructions to the contrary, propelled her into a wall. “Oof,” she added, pushing away from the wall and rubbing her face.

The door opened and Captain-Generals Tvanir and Mselt entered. “Good day, Princess,” Tvanir greeted, “I trust you are well?”

“Oh sure,” Elim lied, “never better. And you?”

“I just returned from … an encounter with the rebellion, actually,” Tvanir replied.

“How ironic.”

Tvanir grimaced. Mselt looked confused, but said nothing. “I was wondering,” Tvanir continued, “if you know of anything called ‘Ampron’.”

Elim blinked. “Ampron? The Really Powerful Defender of Niceness and Stuff?”

“That’s the one. What can you tell me about it?”

“No much, really,” Elim admitted. “I never paid much attention to the old legends. Supposedly, it was a giant robot that defended the planet against several invasions, until the Dread Masters of Shananah VII destroyed it a while ago. Why do you ask?”

Tvanir and Mselt exchanged glances. “Chancellor Elahte has joined the rebellion,” Tvanir explained, drawing a shocked expression from the Princess. “He plans to use four giant penguins which were once part of Ampron to attack our forces. Evidently, there are four ‘keys’ in the palace that control them. Recently, four small artifacts in the Royal Shrine have disappeared. I suspect this ‘Ampron’ may be real.” She grimaced again. “Any advice you might have would be appreciated.”

Elim snorted. “Advice. Yeah, right.”

Tvanir shrugged. “As you like.”

“Since it’s likely they’ll attack here,” Mselt said, “we’ll be taking you up to the Absurd Physical Harm with Prince Lotekh and me—for your own safety, of course.”

“Of course,” Elim replied. “Does Lotekh know about this?”

Mselt hesitated. “Well … not yet. But he’ll see reason eventually.”

Elim was still laughing when the door closed.

In the shadows of the mountains miles north of the palace, those Aroruan farmers who had gotten up early—which was most of them, as farmers generally wake up at times others would consider very early—heard an explosion seeming to come from the mountains themselves. Turning north, they saw an enormous ebony penguin rising on a pillar of fire from a hole halfway up the third-tallest peak. Confused, they sought the advice of the local soothsayer, who checked her Book of Portents and discovered that giant ebony penguins rising out of fiery mountains was a sign that the local soothsayer wasn’t charging sufficient amounts for her services. Chastened, she swore to appease the gods by raising her prices. The thankful farmers declared a feast in her honor and went out looking for a fatted calf to slaughter.

Back in the Control Room, Elahte explained his plan to the four remaining members of the Ampron force. “Since we’ve already found the Penguins,” he explained, “we can strike tonight.”

“What about the other rebels?” asked Vasta.

Elahte shrugged. “They mean well, but there’s not much they can do that will help or hinder us.”

“What about the mayhem that Boltar’s probably out causing?” Dixon asked.

“Actually,” Elahte smiled, “I planned for that. There are three major concentrations of AOL forces and three Penguins, plus Boltar’s, so I assigned him to sort of wander around aimlessly. I think he can handle that.”

“Sounds good,” Vasta said. “What about you and me?”

“We will search the palace for the fifth key. We must be able to form Ampron before the Empire can send something really dangerous after us.”

“Right.” Vasta turned to the others. “You three get going.”

They nodded and headed off to the hangar. Within moments, three more high-speed train cars were heading off to points unknown.

Having lived through the Zakavian conquest, the assassination in the palace, the Elim-Jjana scandal, and the constant, although ineffectual, police actions against the Aroruan People’s League, the inhabitants of Arorua’s capital city (known as “The City”, although it’s real name is “The Capital City”) considered themselves pretty worldly, especially compared to the rural majority of Arorua, most of whom had never even seen a Zakavian. At this point, they figured, nothing was going to surprise them. After all, what could be stranger than a romantic link between Princess Elim and Governor Jjana? Evidently, an enormous ebony penguin landing on the outskirts of town and trading fire with the local Aroruan Occupation Legion garrison was one of those things, and the reaction of the citizens could be summed up in a single word: flee.

Even the Arouran People’s League, who were as close to jaded as Aroruans got, were thrown into a panic by this turn of events. They calmed down after they realized that (a) this was a good thing and (b) they had been expecting it. Having realized that, they immediately began a raid on the palace, reasoning that the Zakavians would surely reduce palace security when giant, hostile robots attacked.

Inside the palace, Mselt had just finished suggesting that Prince Lotekh accompany him on a visit to the Third Fleet in orbit when the first reports came in. Lotekh’s reaction was immediate: “Bomb the city flat!” he ordered.

“That would kill us, your Highness,” Mselt reminded him.

“But it would also destroy the Penguin, right?” Lotekh asked.

“Maybe. But then we’d be dead, and there would still be Penguins to deal with.”

Lotekh stared. “There’s more than one?”

“Yes, sire.”

“How do you know that?” Lotekh asked, narrowing his eyes.

“Um…I…that is…,” Mselt fumbled, “these things usually come in packs.”


Mselt nodded.

“Huh,” Lotekh said, also nodding. “I did not know that.”

“We’d better leave as soon as possible,” Mselt advised. “It will be safer in orbit, and we can send a distress signal to Planet Gloom.”

Lotekh nodded, reluctantly. “You’re right. But tell Tvanir to sell her life dearly, okay?”

“Ah … right.”

In the AOL’s Command Room, which was far less advanced and far more stylish than the secret Aroruan Command Room several levels below it, Captain-General Tvanir was trying to organize her understaffed forces against the sudden threats. She was also trying to ignore the voice that was telling her that if she won she’d always be expected to work with insufficient forces.

“Another one,” a tech reported. “It’s attacking our installation on the west continent.”

“That’s one here, one attacking the local garrison, one at the coastal installation, and one on the west continent, then,” Tvanir summarized. “Any on the south continent?”

“No, sir.”

“Do we have any forces there?”

“No, sir.”

“Any way to contact the fleet?”

“We couldn’t get funding for a communications array because we could just use the Aroruans’ array,” another tech answered, “but no one knows how to work the Aroruans’ array except the Aroruans, and they keep laughing when we ask them to contact the fleet for us.”

“Lousy non-user-friendly software,” Tvanir sighed. “I knew I should have learned it when I had a chance. Anything else?”

“A group of rebels just broke into the palace,” a third officer answered.

“What!?” Tvanir demanded. “How did they defeat the guards?”

“Evidently they threw a lot of sticks and stones at them. The guards just couldn’t handle it.”

“Wonderful,” Tvanir sighed, sinking into her chair and rolling her eyes. She returned her gaze to the monitors just in time to see the rebels defeating one of their expensive Model S-IVa Walking Tanks by crushing it between two heavy logs. Idly, she made a mental note to report that design flaw.

Elsewhere in the palace, the Aroruan People’s League’s strike force ran through the mostly-empty corridors, some holding stolen deathkill blasters. Giddy with their first real taste of victory, they cried out “Whoo-hoo!”, “Yee-hah!”, “Gizzle fimp!”, “I am the Walrus!”, and other such nonsense phrases.

At their head, their somewhat less excitable leader Bentor did, in fact, have a specific destination he was leading the group to: the launch pad. Since there hadn’t been any launches lately, he figured, it meant Prince Lotekh was still on the palace. If he could capture Lotekh, he could probably trade him to the Emperor for his planet’s freedom.

The strike team burst out onto the launch pad in time to see Mselt help Princess Elim into the shuttle. They came to the obvious conclusion: “It’s the traitor!” they shouted in unison. “Let’s kill her!”

“I am not a traitor!” Elim shouted back.

“Yes you are,” Lotekh said, from inside the shuttle, “you worked against the Empire, remember? Since you’re an Imperial subject, that means you’ve betrayed it.”

“True,” Elim admitted, “but I didn’t betray the rebellion.”

“Couldn’t we just leave her here?” Lotekh asked Mselt. “She’s a girl, for crying out loud!”

“Shut up,” Mselt replied. “Launch!” he yelled to the pilot, noticing that the rebels had been running towards them.

The pilot complied, and the shuttle began to lift off, forcing the last few escapees to grab onto the landing skids. Fortunately, the shuttle rose with enough speed to avoid the rebels, barely. The rebels, furious at their failure, could only shake their fists in anger. By the time they remembered they had guns, the shuttle had already established its shields.

Tvanir watched with a mixture of frustration and despair as her forces were devastated by four giant robot penguins while rebels wandered freely though the palace. Eventually, it occurred to her that she would probably want to leave the area if she wished to remain free. “Okay,” she told her command staff, “we’re getting out of here. Tell the troops to retreat as soon as they start losing. We’ll meet in the Mountains of Tallness as planned.”

Oddly enough, the Zakavian forces began losing within seconds of receiving Tvanir’s orders. At least, that’s what their commanders later claimed. Bereft of opponents, the Ampron Force ceased their attacks and returned to the Palace. After parking their Penguins by the palace, they met up with Elahte, Vasta, and the rest of the rebellion.

“Great job,” Vasta congratulated them.

“Thanks,” Dixon replied. “Did you manage to find the fifth key?”

Elahte shook his head. “We will continue looking, though,” he added.

“I must say,” Dent commented, “I enjoyed that.”

“You would,” McCurry told him.

“Shut up, McCurry.”

While McCurry engaged in shutting up, the six were joined by Bentor and Tels Garav, who had no doubt done many brave things in the battle, although he got rather vague when asked about it.

“Great job, Ampron force,” said Bentor.

“I am amazed that worked,” added Garav.

“Well, I’m not,” Bentor announced. “We Aroruans have finally struck back successfully! I say we celebrate!”

A cheer went up from the crowd.

“I advice against premature merriment,” Elahte cautioned. “The Zakavians still have a large fleet in orbit.”

“But the Penguins could just smash it, couldn’t they?” asked a rebel.

“Maybe,” Elahte admitted, “but our pilots also need time to become more proficient in their abilities. We will need all the advantage we can get to defeat the Third Fleet: it’s taken on entire planetary armadas in the past.”

The crowd considered that for a few moments.

Someone shouted “Let’s party anyway!”

And so they did.

Far, far above the Aroruans, hanging menacingly above the planet, was the Zakavian Third Fleet. It’s commander, Captain-General Mselt, had just arrived on the bridge of his flagship, and was exchanging news with his flagship’s commander, Dfale. Not surprisingly, little had happened in orbit; the only interesting news Dfale had to report was the unveiling of the EDIT and the A/600 “Alpha Ra” Warrior-Ship. Mselt’s news was significantly less cheerful.

“Open rebellion?” gasped Dfale. “I thought the Aroruans lacked the spine.”

“As did I,” Mselt replied. “Perhaps there was some outside influence. In any case, the Aroruans may soon have their hands on a giant robot which, it is said, can take out whole invasion fleets. I suspect we should respond in kind. I will record a communication to Planet Gloom in my office.”

Dfale nodded. “Yes, sir. If I may ask…?”

“We will fight giant robots with giant robots,” Mselt replied, “This ‘Ampron’ versus our A/600.”

“Ah. That should be … interesting.”

Will it be interesting?

Or will the author chicken out and do all the combat implicitly again?

Why has Rtali suddenly reappeared again? Hasn’t he already done enough to move the plot along?

Does Vtami sleep in that armor?

Wouldn’t that be uncomfortable?

More questions like these will be asked after Captain Harrison’s plans change unexpectedly in the next episode of Starcruiser Anonymous.

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