Starcruiser Anonymous

(A Tale Within Sfstory)

Episode 16
Wherein the Plot
Inches Forward

Dave Menendez

With a groan, Jen Kadar clawed her way back to consciousness, noting with irritation that this becoming a familiar experience for her. Before she had encountered the Zakavians, she had never been knocked unconscious except for medical reasons, and now she was recovering from her third such incident. The analytical section of her mind noted that each of the three methods employed had different after-effects, and noted that the headache this time was much lighter than the time they had applied a club to her head. The pain center, hearing this, told the analytical section to shut up.

“Are you all right?” someone asked her. She gave a vague nod and tried to identify the speaker. Eventually, it occurred to her that opening her eyes might provide some information, and she put this plan into action.

The first thing she noticed was bright light, but a quick memory search revealed that, in all probability, she was not a vampire, so bright light shouldn’t be a problem. After focusing, she looked around and visually identified the speaker: Orliss SoFah. “Hi Orluhhs, hows go’in?” she slurred.

Orliss blinked. “What?”

Jen decided to try an alternate phrase. “Good morning.” That seemed to go better, although she wondered if it actually was morning.

“Good morning,” Orliss replied. “I see you’ve recovered … somewhat.”

“I’m getting better,” Jen protested. “What’s going on?”

“The Zakavians are holding us until they figure out what to do with us,” Orliss explained. “Hopefully, we’ll be gone before they come to a decision.”

Jen smiled. “I’ve got a little surprise for them.”

“If you’re referring to your handgun with the blinking lights, they took it.”

“I thought as much,” Jen admitted, looking around, “but they can’t confiscate what they don’t know about, right?” She reached down to her left uniform boot and pulled out a small gun. “This,” she explained, “is the gun that came with the uniform. I think even Bob forgot I had it.”

“Clever,” Orliss said, “but not really necessary.”

“Why not?” Jen asked, returning the weapon to its concealed holster.

“Occasionally, our guard has been relatively short.”

Sensing that Orliss’s statement was indeed intended to answer her question, Jen sought some sort of connection between those statements. Failing that, she decided to get more information. “So?”

“What short person with Zakavian combat armor do we know?”

Jen considered, and remembered her sister. But, surely Roy wouldn’t let her pose as a guard—it was dangerous, especially for someone Megan’s age. “Assuming that means what you think it means,” Jen argued, “why are we still here?”

“First, you have been unconscious,” Orliss explained. “Second, the others have greater freedom of movement since the Zakavians think they’ve already captured the spies.”

Jen nodded reluctantly. “That makes sense.”

They sat quietly for a few moments. Jen glanced over at Orliss, who was sitting patiently. “You seem to be taking this rather well,” she ventured.

“Every Space Hero gets captured eventually,” Orliss said philosophically. “I had hoped to avoid it until after I graduated, but….” He spread his hands.

“I thought you were only minoring in Space Heroism.”

“Well,” Orliss explained, “I’ve always been interested I Space Heroism, but my grandparents thought I should try something I could make a living at, so I ended up majoring in Comparative Literature.” He grinned, an unsettling light entering his eyes. “But, if we’re successful, I’ll already have foiled the Schemes of an Evil Empire, which is pure gold in terms of Heroism. That’s how Buzz Williams got started, you know.”


“Space Commander Buzz Williams,” Orliss repeated, “one of the oldest heroes still going around doing heroic stuff. I think he’s even visited your home planet. It was during that whole thing with Satan’s body and the Nasty Killer Death-Beetles or whatever ten years ago.”

“I’m not familiar with the name,” Jen admitted, “although I do remember New England blowing up a lot during that period. That’s why the Anonymous was launched in the first place.”

“Anyway, this whole affair could help get me a reputation as a heroic kind of guy—unless my association with this…bounty hunter becomes well known,” he added distastefully.

Jen shrugged. “I don’t have a problem with Bob, myself. He’s been very helpful. In fact, his career seems more interesting than mine.”

“Don’t say you want to become a bounty hunter!” Orliss gasped. “Please, before you make a decision like that, come to Interstellar University and talk to the faculty there. Heroism may be less profitable, but it’s far more satisfying.”

Jen shrugged. “As you wish.” (She did not, however, mean “I love you” when she said that. Just so we’re clear on that.)

Unlike the residence sectors on the Anonymous, the restricted areas had no mechanism to simulate the day/night cycle; the lighting was generally kept at a constant level. However, that level varied depending on where you were in the ship. The important areas that saw a lot of activity were kept fairly well lit, but the outer passages, which existed mostly for maintenance or in case something happened to the main passages, were usually kept dark, to save power. Fortunately, the ship’s designers, realising that people would need light when they were in the passages, had installed motion sensors which lit long passages of corridor when someone moved through them. Of course, the security logs kept a record of when the lights were activated, which is something of a disadvantage for people trying to sneak around.

These security measures, however, were utterly failing to detect the six people wandering through the maze of twisty corridors, all alike, that comprised this portion of the restricted areas, since one of them had disabled the motion sensors in the immediate area. That person, walking towards the middle of the group, was Beth Gaelen. Next to her walked one of the interchangeable fedora-and-trenchcoat-wearing conspirators, who was nominally in charge of this particular expedition. His name was unknown, but the others called him “Number Five”. In the front and back of the group walked two pairs of thugs, currently armed with blunt objects, although they hoped to have something better once the expedition was over. These particular blunt objects doubled as lanterns, which they used to keep the area lit, or at least visible.

They no longer remembered how long they had been walking. Their destination wasn’t that far, really, but they had needed to avoid elevators and the more populated areas of the ship, which meant many, many stairs. Some in the group had expressed amazement that the ship even had that many stairs. One of the more clever thugs had suggested that these areas be opened up as an inexpensive alternative to the stairmaster.

The pair in front paused. They had reached a T-intersection, and needed a decision on which direction to take. They stood in silence for a few moments, each trying to ignore the oppressive weight of the darkness surrounding them.

“Well?” Number Five asked at last. “Where to from here?”

Beth frowned, trying to remember this area of the ship. “Give me a moment,” she replied, “I know one of these passages leads to Sector 2B.”

“We’ll take the other one, then,” Five declared, moving forward.

“Actually,” Beth said absently, “the other one leads to certain death.”

Five froze. “Certain death!?” he demanded.

“Well, probably not certain death,” Beth clarified, “if we all went at once, a few of us might make it. We’d have to be fast, though.”

“Never mind,” Five replied. “I suppose we’ll have to try Sector 2B.” He frowned. “Although I thought we were supposed to be avoiding detection.”

Beth shrugged. “Sector 2B is deserted—no one’s lived there in centuries, as far as we can tell. We’ve never settled there, since people prefer the higher sectors.”

“Well, do you remember which way we’re supposed to go?” Five asked.

Beth stepped forward and looked closely at the wall, gesturing for one of the thugs to shine his light on a panel. After wiping the dust off, Beth was able to read it. “SR388,” she said aloud.

“What?” Five asked.

“I remember now,” Beth told him, “we go right.”

“Okay,” Five said uncertainly, “as long as it doesn’t lead to a deathtrap.”

“It doesn’t,” Beth assured him. She paused briefly, searching her memory of the area for verification. “But keep your hand at the level of your eyes, just in case.”

Despite the chill in the air, Five began to sweat.

Roy’s entrance into the famed pilots’ lounge was not accompanied by an ominous thundercrack rumbling through the early morning like the herald of a new era of darkness, which was a shame, as that would have enhanced the mood considerably. Instead, his entrance was accompanied by the soft sound of the lounge’s door sliding open and closed again while he walked over to the Green Squadron’s usual table, sat down, sighed, and buried his head in his arms.

“Something wrong?” Daniels asked. “Ow!” he added, after Winters smacked him.

Roy’s mumbled response was muffled by his arms.

“What?” Daniels asked.

Roy sat up and took a deep breath. “Sorry, I guess I was being a bit overdramatic.” He exhaled, looking worried. “I just spoke with security. It seems likely that Beth was kidnapped last night.”

Before Winters and Daniels could do more than look shocked, a new voice entered the conversation. “Kidnapped!?” Hydrospok exclaimed from behind Roy, who jumped, startled. “What fiend would have the gall to do such a thing?”

“We suspect anti-Harrison activists,” Roy explained as Hydrospok took a seat.

This only fueled Hydrospok’s rage. “What!? Not only do they oppose our leader, but they kidnap her citizens? As we are friends of your sister and loyal followers of the Captain, we cannot allow this!” He jumped to his feet. “Come, Green Squadron, we must seek these criminals in the dark holes where they nest and expose them to the harsh light of Justice!”

“Sit down,” Winters hissed, “you’re making a scene.”

But Hydrospok was too wrapped up in his monologue to notice. “These villains must learn that the crew of the Anonymous is its lifeblood. Without the tireless efforts of the technical crew in their eternal quest to better understand the high technology that surrounds us on all sides, our time here would be devoid of luxury, happiness—nay, the very air we breathe wouldn’t be here if not for them! And without air, we’d all asphyxiate and die horrible, painful deaths, writhing around on the floor and screaming for our mommy, but she can’t help because she’s suffocated or else she’s back on Earth or dead already from some other cause, or—”

“What are you ranting about?” interrupted Stanford, walking up behind Hydrospok.

“Stanford!” Hydrospok cried, whirling about and grabbing him by the shoulders.

“Waah!” replied Stanford.

“I know, despite the differences that (I’m told) our squadrons have had in the past, that you are an honorable man, and, as an honorable man, you must share the rage that I feel on hearing of the kidnapping of our own Beth Gaelen who, while not an actual fighter pilot, can be considered one of us, since her brother’s a pilot and she stops by here occasionally to watch movies and such. Yet, we must keep this rage in check, for unchecked rage can lead only to sadness, destruction, suffering, and death; we must focus our energies on seeking out the scoundrels who would dare to kidnap our friends and teach them the True Ways of Justice! Will you join us?”

“Well, I—”

“Wonderful!” Hydrospok exclaimed, grabbing Stanford in a tight, but manly, hug.

“Gllch!” protested Stanford.

“We will seek them together, then! Your squadron and mine, united by our common cause to save our friends from the evil clutches of those who would remake this ship in their own twisted image. Come quickly, time waits for no one!”

With that, Hydrospok released Stanford, leapt to the door, and, urging all those who stood for niceness and goodness to join him, bounded outside. Once the door had closed behind him, Stanford turned to Roy. “Shouldn’t Security be handling this?”

“Security is handling this,” was Roy’s annoyed response. “Hydrospok is off in his own little world right now.”

“Nonetheless,” advised Amy Masaki, “we’d better find him before someone gets hurt.”

Elsewhere, Anme Rifba was taking a walk through a public park located in scenic Sector 5E. She had awakened late in the morning, almost in the afternoon (‘late’ being a relative term—to some college students, this would be considered ‘early’), as she had had some difficulty sleeping the previous evening, what with the mysterious figures stumbling around her balcony late at night.

Technically, there had only been one mysterious figure, but he had promised a meeting between her and his leaders—neglecting to tell her where or when said meeting would take place. “They will come to you,” he had said. Anme had considered spending the day in her room waiting for them to come, but decided that wasn’t something she wanted to do. They had said they’d come to her, and she felt like testing that claim.

So, she had decided to take a walk, eventually finding herself in Sector 5E, which she had to admit was rather pleasant, despite being a haven for the bourgeois.

She paused, as a thought occurred to her. According to her classes in Revolutionary Theory, the bourgeois were generally the oppressing class, living off the labor of the workers and growing rich and fat from the profits. Except, in this case, it was the military, or pseudo-military, that was doing the oppressing. Was it worth freeing the bourgeois from the pseudo-military?

“Psst,” came a voice from a nearby thicket of trees. (Anme hadn’t quite adjusted to the idea of trees on a starship; she had vowed to ignore the topic altogether.)

Anme looked around. No one else was in the area; the voice was evidently talking to her. She moved closer. “Hello?”

“‘I’ve lost my wafers in the hovercraft,’” the voice informed her.


The voice sighed and stepped out from the trees. (Technically, it was the source of the voice, not the voice itself, since voices are abstract concepts and can neither hide behind trees nor walk out from behind them.) “Are you Anme Rifba?” asked the voice’s source, a small man who was wearing another identical trenchcoat and fedora set. Unfortunately, as he was smaller than the other conspirators, they were both too big for him.

“Yes,” Anme confirmed. It seemed the legion of mysterious figures had found her after all.

“Then give the countersign,” the small man demanded.

“What countersign?” Anme asked. “I was never told of a countersign.”

The small man hopped up in down in frustration, as small, frustrated men are wont to do. “Argh,” he commented wittily, “I can’t believe they forgot the countersign. What were those morons thinking?” He hopped a while longer, until his foot caught the trenchcoat the wrong way, tripping him. “Mfflmf,” he noted, face planted in the ground.

“Who are you?” Anme asked.

The small man picked himself off the ground, stood, and dusted off his trenchcoat. “I,” he said in a voice almost totally unlike Patrick Stewart’s, “am Number One.”

“Here we are,” Beth announced as the group stopped before a large blast door.

“The secret weapons cache?” Number Five asked eagerly. At last, he thought, the long walk was over. Despite the dark, and the cold, and the constant danger of deathtraps, they had made it to the end of their quest. Soon the revolution would begin and Captain Harrison would be deposed and he, being the fifth most important person in the new regime, would finally be able to get that pony he’d always wanted. Surely there had to be ponies on the ship somewhere—Captain Harrison was probably hoarding them all for herself and her crew.

“Well, no,” Beth admitted. “But we’ve reached Sector 2B, so we’re getting really close.”

Ah yes, Sector 2B. He’d forgotten about that. Once again, he wondered if Beth Gaelen could be trusted. Perhaps she was leading them into some elaborate trap—actually, she’d already done that a few times. Of course, she’d warned them beforehand and they’d all gotten through safely. Except for poor Smythe. But then, he’d always hated that smug twerp. “Only a sissy would want a pony,” he had said. He wouldn’t be saying that anymore. Or anything else, for that matter.

“So,” Beth asked, “should I open the doors, or what?”

“What? Oh, yes. Open them.”

Beth turned to a nearby control panel and pressed the large button labeled “Open” in friendly, easy-to-read letters. The door slowly slid open, revealing a blasted, desolate cityscape. Above them, the fake sky hung in the air, gray and ominous. Buildings stood half-open, their walls crumbling into piles of rubble. Their empty windows almost seemed to smile, the jagged remnants of their glass panes like so many hideous teeth. The largely undamaged roads taunted him, reminding him of the long walk ahead.

“My God,” one of the thugs exclaimed, “it’s Newark.”

“Yeah,” another sighed, sounding homesick.

“Let’s head out,” Beth said. “The sooner we get started, the sooner we’ll get to those weapons you’re so excited about.”

The thugs let out a cheer, Five sighed, and the group moved forward.

“Stop laughing!” Number One demanded. He hopped up and down a few more times for emphasis.

“Sorry,” Anme managed, eventually. “I … was just remembering something funny I heard a few years ago.”

“Really?” the small man asked. “What?”

Anme shook her head. “Nothing. Forget it. What did you want to see me about, anyway?”

Number One scowled at her, glanced around, and moved back into the trees, gesturing for Anme to follow. She did, noting with annoyance that she had to crouch in order to fit. Number One, to his credit, managed not to look too smug about that. Anme sighed. The things she had to put up with in order to end oppression and bring freedom to the masses.

“I am meeting with you,” One explained, “because you seem to share our belief that Captain Harrison’s reign here must end. She rules this ship with an iron fist and answers to no one! She has a forked tongue and foul breath! Serpents spring from her shadow and a cloud of darkness accompanies her every step! She must be stopped!”

Anme nodded. Aside from the apocalyptic imagery, it seemed like a rational argument, although she wondered where exactly the oppressed masses were. So far, she hadn’t seen any of them. Even the revolutionaries seemed rather well-dressed. “Where do I come in?” she asked.

“Harrison is concerned about how she appears to outsiders,” Number One explained. “She’ll be willing to talk with you about your concerns so she can feed you propaganda and lies. If you ask her to meet you for, say, lunch at an outside cafe, we can pick her off with a sniper.”

“You want to assassinate her?” Anme gasped.

“Keep your voice down!” Number One admonished.

“Sorry. But, assassination?”

“It’s the only way! You think peaceful protest or petitions are going to stop her?”

“Have you tried them?”

“Look, who’s leading this revolution, you or me?”

“You are.”

“Then we do it my way. Here’s the plan, you ask her to meet you tomorrow at the food court in Sector 7G. We’ll do the rest.”

“Why tomorrow?”

Number One looked embarrassed. “We … don’t have the weapons yet. We’re hoping to get them today. There’s a team searching for some right now.”

Anme shook her head. Amateurs. Violent amateurs, to be sure, but they wouldn’t last two seconds among the rebels of Foobarh. “Right,” she said. “I’ll see what I can do.” She stood, hitting her head on a low branch. Stupid trees.

“You’re going to do what!?” Horlun demanded.

Anme sighed. “Horlun, I know you aren’t ‘into’ the revolutionary scene, but I don’t think—”

“You certainly haven’t so far!” Horlun interrupted. He stood and began pacing. “Let’s consider the facts here. Putting aside the fact that this isn’t our place to interfere, just where are these masses Captain Harrison is oppressing, anyway? What has she done that’s so wrong? The only halfway-decent argument you’ve got against her is that she took the Anonymous into a war zone, and even that’s not too strong, considering how powerful this ship is.”

Anme didn’t answer, which only irritated Horlun more. Muttering under his breath, he stormed over to his own temporary quarters, leaving Anme alone. Anme sighed, staring at the door. She knew what she had to do.

Commander Gerhardt looked up as Captain Harrison strode onto the bridge, a thoughtful look on her face. “We’re ready to head for Arorua,” he informed her.

“Excellent,” she said, sitting in her command chair. She looked forward, not quite seeing what was going on around her.

“Is something wrong?” Gerhardt asked.

The Captain shook her head. “I just got an interesting phone call from Anme Rifba, one of our ‘guests’.”

“Really?” Gerhardt wondered what that had to do with anything.

“Evidently,” Harrison explained, “she and her friend want to discuss my ‘government’ tomorrow at lunch.”

“Why not today? Lunch is just a half-hour from now. Or does she already have plans?”

Harrison shrugged, putting her thoughts aside for the moment. “It’s not important. Let’s get going to Arorua. Hopefully the Blue Squadron will actually be there when we arrive.”

Will the Blue Squadron be there when they arrive?

Will Captain Harrison be killed at lunch tomorrow?

Will Hydrospok find Beth?

Will the others find Hydrospok first?

Will Number Five ever get that pony he wants?

None of these questions will be answered, since we’ve got a giant robot battle scheduled for the next toe-thrilling episode of Starcruiser Anonymous.

SFSTORY: The Choice of a New Generation