Starcruiser Anonymous

(A Tale Within Sfstory)

Episode 18
Wherein the Beginning
of the End Concludes

Dave Menendez

George Daniels kneeled on the floor, examining the marks in its smooth metallic surface. Behind him, seven searchers waited patiently for his report. Abruptly, he stood and turned to face them. “Camel tracks,” he pronounced. “Two, maybe three days old.”

Stanford raised an eyebrow. “Camel tracks? You kept us waiting for that old joke?”

“We’re doomed, aren’t we?” Menendez moaned. “We’re never getting out of here; we’ll just wander forever through the trackless bowels of the Anonymous. We’re lost! Lost!”

“It’s only been half a day,” Stanford reminded him. “We can’t be that lost.”

“Perhaps he is practicing for later,” Masaki quietly suggested.

“We’ll have none of that thinking,” Hydrospok declared. “We are not lost, and our quest is not hopeless.” He turned towards Roy, who was standing outside the group, staring off into the distance. “Fear not, Gaelen, we will find your sister, and we will punish those who captured her for their own evil ends.”

“As opposed to capturing her for her evil ends?” Daniels asked.

Roy said nothing.

“Were you able to find any useful information, Daniels?” asked Winters.

Daniels shook his head. “There could be tracks there, for all I know, but I can’t read them.”

“So this entire excursion was a waste?” Stanford asked pointedly.

“Hey,” Daniels protested, “I was just trying to lighten the mood. I mean, between Mr Darkness over there,” he gestured at Roy, “and the Amazing Human Panic,” he gestured at Menendez.

“Feh,” Menendez interrupted. “I have not yet begun to panic. When it gets worse, then you’ll see some panicking.”

“Anyway,” Daniels continued, “it’s not like the mood couldn’t use a little lightening.

“Perhaps you could attempt this ‘lightening’ in some manner that would also be useful,” Stanford said lightly.

“You mean, more useful than wandering around aimlessly?” Daniels asked.

“You didn’t have to come,” Roy murmured.

“Nonsense!” Hydrospok declared. “No honorable person could stand by while Evil lurks, clutching innocent girls in its … er … clutches. It is both our duty and our privilege to fight Evil, no matter where it hides, no matter when it strikes, no matter how it tastes!”

The others stared, awed by this speech, until Daniels broke the silence. “‘No matter how it tastes’?” he asked.

Hydrospok gave him a knowledgeable look. “I take it you are unfamiliar with the foul, gamey taste of Evil?”

Daniels was unable to find an answer for that.

“Perhaps we should call it a night,” Winters suggested.

“That might be wise,” Stanford agreed. “Hydrospok’s getting less coherent by the minute, and I think we could all use the rest.”

“How did you get in here?” Elahte demanded.

“You’re not the only one who knows secrets about this palace,” Tvanir replied, dodging the question. She moved further into the room, still holding the two at gunpoint. “I notice you haven’t used the fifth Penguin yet, why is that?”

Elahte refused to answer. Vasta just stood quietly.

Tvanir sighed, carefully placing her helmet on one of the benches and pulling her hair out from the back of her armor. “It’s missing,” she guessed. “Which means you can’t form Ampron, and Alpha Ra can easily defeat your Penguins, unless they’ve suddenly gained some combat abilities. All I have to now is wait, and I—”

She was interrupted by a shout from behind her. Startled, she accidentally fired before whirling around to face this new threat. Said threat turned out to be Tels Garav, who, seeing the gun pointed at him, quickly raised his hands. Behind her, the Seemingly Useless Item shattered, having been hit by the stray shot.

“Who are you?” Tvanir demanded. “How did you get past my partner?”

“What partner?” Garav asked, staring at the gun and sounding scared.

“The soldier who was guarding my back,” Tvanir explained. “Where is he?”

“How should I know?”

Ignoring them, Vasta quietly moved towards the broken relic. It had broken apart to reveal a curious, dark blue shape. He resisted the twin urges to cheer and to scream in frustration. Of course it would be hidden in plain sight.

While Tvanir stalked over to the doorway, keeping Garav in front of her, Vasta caught Elahte’s eye. He held up the navy key, and nodded towards the secret command room. Elahte returned the nod.

“Kvesh?” Tvanir called, checking the hallway outside. “Hello?”

Seeing that Tvanir attention was elsewhere, they ran towards the hidden door. Tvanir, hearing footsteps, spun around again. “Stand still!” she shouted, but Vasta and Elahte had already left her line of fire. Snarling, she fired a few shots at the door closing behind them. She sighed, and then remembered her other captive. Turning around again, she saw that Garav was also running off. “Halt!” she ordered. He ignored her and disappeared around a corner. “Now what?” she muttered. “Kvesh! Where are you?”

“Right here, sir,” Kvesh replied, walking into the corridor from a nearby storeroom. “Did I miss something?”

Tvanir gave him a long, hard look. “No,” she said finally. Turning back into the shrine, she went to pick up her helmet.

“What’s going on here?” demanded Prince Lotekh as he stormed onto the bridge of the Absurd Physical Harm.

Captain-General Mselt, glanced up from the crossword puzzle he’d been filling out. “Alpha Ra has just defeated the four Penguins of Ampron,” he explained.

“What!?” Lotekh exploded. “I wanted to see that! Why wasn’t I informed of this!?”

“You were informed,” Mselt pointed out. “I sent someone to notify you as soon as Alpha Ra arrived.”

“I was asleep! You didn’t even wait for me! You knew I wanted to watch the battle,” Lotekh protested.

Mselt shrugged. “We have a recording. You could watch that instead.”

“It’s not the same,” Lotekh whined. “Besides, I wanted to bring Princess Elim up and watch her expression as we defeated her planet’s champions.”

“What if we’d lost?” Mselt asked. “That would be pretty humiliating to have her here seeing our robot get beaten.”

Lotekh considered that. “I suppose it would, at that. But you still could have waited to start the operation until I got here.”

Mselt shrugged again. “Yes. I could have.”

“Message from Captain Tvekshi,” interrupted Captain Dfale.

“On screen,” Lotekh ordered.

Captain Tvekshi appeared on the bridge’s main screen, much of his face obscured by his uniform’s enormous collar and the visor on his hat. “We have defeated the Penguins,” he reported, “awaiting further orders.”

Mselt started to respond, but was silenced by a gesture from Lotekh, who tried to give Tvekshi an imperial look, but was hampered by the fact he couldn’t see either of Tvekshi’s eyes. Finally, he gave up and started talking. “Have the Aroruans surrendered yet?”

“No, your Highness,” Tvekshi replied. “No word from Captain-General Tvanir, either.”

“Well, if they don’t surrender soon, start destroying things,” Lotekh ordered.

“How long is ‘soon’?” Tvekshi asked.

“I don’t know! Must I decide everything? Just use your best judgement.”

“And if his judgement disagrees with yours?” Mselt asked.

Lotekh narrowed his eyes. “See that it doesn’t,” he said, trying to sound ominous.

Beneath the Aroruan palace, Vasta and Elahte wished each other luck. They had briefed themselves on the situation in the Command Room, and they knew that it was looking grim. The fat was in the fire. The chips were down. The fat lady was about to sing. Vasta had taken the navy key and gone down to the hangar. He knew the score, so he put his nose to the grindstone, put his shoulder to the wheel, and prepared to roll the dice. Getting inside the small car, he placed the key in its slot and pressed the “Go” button. Within minutes, he was sitting in the cockpit of the Navy Penguin.

Captain Tvekshi saluted, and the image of his commanders vanished. He sighed. He hadn’t been too happy about being transferred to Mselt’s command, given how much experience Mselt had at commanding fleets, which was none, but he had to admit that Mselt inspired confidence when sitting next to Prince Lotekh. (Admittedly, this wasn’t saying much. Wilted lettuce inspires confidence next to Prince Lotekh.)

He glanced around, quickly assessing his crew. Although the manual the Sonar Men had provided recommended that Alpha Ra be piloted by “five teenagers with attitude”, Supreme Captain-Commander Kvasha had decided to use an older crew. Unfortunately, they hadn’t had much time to train together before being sent to Arorua—Tvekshi couldn’t even remember all their names yet. Fortunately, their enemy had been weaker than expected, and had been defeated easily. He flipped on the public address system to make another demand. “Aroruans,” he intoned, “surrender now, or your city will be destroyed.”

“Something’s happening by the palace,” one of the crew informed him.

Tvekshi looked at the display. Cracks were forming all over the surface of the enormous penguin statue in front of the palace. As large pieces started falling off, he realized what it was: the fifth Penguin. “Aroruans,” he shouted into the microphone, “this insolence will not be tolerated. Prepare for destruction.” He turned to his crew. “Start stepping on buildings,” he ordered.

The Navy Penguin let out a great squawk of defiance and launched into the air on a pillar of flame, which promptly started melting the statue’s base, as well as the stone shards scattered around it. In the air, it fired its railgun, sending another ten-foot spike hurtling towards Alpha Ra. The huge robot wasn’t able to dodge this time, either. “Again? Needlewarp,” Tvekshi cursed. “Dodge that next time, and fire those fist-knives at it.”

“Yes, sir,” the crew replied in eerie unison.

“The Navy Penguin is moving away from the City,” one added.

“Trying to draw us off, eh?” Tvekshi asked. “No matter, a change of venue won’t help it very much. Follow!”

“Yes, sir.”

Dixon watched the Navy Penguin fly off, followed by Alpha Ra’s flying fists, and, further back, by Alpha Ra itself. Powering up her Penguin, she contacted the others. Vasta wouldn’t be able to hold out for long, if their own performances were any indication.

“Is everybody all right?” she asked.

“I guess so,” McCurry replied.

“My shields have recharged,” Boltar added.

“Not yet,” said Dent, “the self-repair devices haven’t finished yet.”

“Then we wait,” Dixon decided. “Let’s hope Vasta can keep that thing distracted long enough so we can form Ampron.”

“Do we know how to form Ampron?” McCurry wondered.

“Shut up, McCurry,” Dent snapped.

Vasta flew quickly, trying to stay ahead of the two deadly fists following him. Actually, they were moving faster, but it didn’t matter since they weren’t explosive and their relative speed difference wasn’t very high. They wouldn’t do any damage even if he let them hit him, which he had no intention of doing.

Changing course abruptly, he doubled back, ducking below the fists, and heading towards Alpha Ra itself. Alpha Ra fired its deathkill eyebeams, which the Navy Penguin ignored, veering off to the right suddenly. The fists, which had turned around to follow it, weren’t able to correct in time and narrowly missed smashing into Alpha Ra’s damaged mid-section.

As Alpha Ra fired yet another cloud of missiles, Vasta ran through his weapons systems. Finding none except his own missile launchers, the now-empty railgun, and the anti-missile defences, he started to get worried.

As he prepared his missile countermeasures, Dixon’s voice interrupted his thoughts. “We’re ready for you,” she said. With a laugh of glee, he shot back towards the City.

Bentor finally found his binoculars, and got set to watch the new battle. Too late: the Navy Penguin was already headed back to the City. He grinned. Ampron was coming! Arorua was safe now!

He heard footsteps behind him. Turning, he saw a squad of Zakavian soldiers behind him, lead by Captain-General Tvanir herself. “You!” she snarled, recognizing him from her brief captivity.

“You!” he replied, as it seemed appropriate.

Tvanir was about to respond when one of the soldiers pointed, shouting “Look!”

They turned, and saw the five Penguins in the final stages of transformation. They had changed in subtle ways: the wings and feet drawn into the bodies, the necks bent at unnatural angles, and other similar adjustments. Finally, the five Penguins merged into an enormous, albeit very strange looking robot. Ampron, Really Powerful Defender of Niceness and Stuff, had finally returned.

However, Ampron’s opponent hadn’t been standing still during the transformation sequence, and it had also returned. As got closer, it became obvious that Alpha Ra was half again as large as Arorua’s greatest protector.

“Ha!” Tvanir laughed, moving towards the battlements, “this shouldn’t take long.”

Alpha Ra didn’t waste time demanding surrender, it simply fired both its fists at its smaller opponent. Ampron easily swatted them away, and moved in for the kill. The first punch sent a metallic clang throughout the City, but didn’t do any noticeable damage. Neither did the second. Or the third, for that matter. By this time, Alpha Ra had regained its hands, and decided to unleash its next weapon. Reaching behind its head, it drew an enormous sword, and settled into an en garde pose. Ampron stepped backwards, seeming confused. Alpha Ra swung, missing its target but beheading the Aroruan Trade Center, the tallest building in the City.

“Attack the stock market, will you?” rang a voice from Arorua’s protector which was probably Boltar’s. “We won’t stand for that!”

Alpha Ra merely made another strike in response.

“I don’t get it,” Tvanir commented, “they’ve got all those ranged weapons, and they’re sword fighting?”

“One of them is, anyway,” Bentor noted.

“Shut up,” Tvanir replied.

“We need a weapon,” Vasta told Elahte over their radio link. “We don’t know how to use any of the ranged attacks!” He moved Ampron back to dodge another sword strike.

“Move one block north,” Elahte ordered. “I’m sending you the Penguin Spear.”

Obediently, Vasta moved the robot over a block, where a small courtyard had opened to reveal a shaft leading down to depths unknown. Suddenly, a giant robot-sized spear sprung out of the hole. Ampron deftly caught it while it was still rising. “Okay,” Vasta said, “now we’re going to see some action.”

“Do you know anything about spear fighting?” McCurry asked over the intercom.

“Shut up, McCurry,” Dent interjected.

“Actually, I don’t,” Vasta admitted.

“I have some experience,” Boltar offered. “Let me try. I promise I won’t damage any buildings.”

“That’s comforting,” Dixon said dryly.

“A sword and a spear?” Tvanir asked incredulously. “A sword and a spear? What kind of battle is this?”

“It looks like a sword and spear battle,” Bentor said.

“Quiet!” Tvanir snapped.

Alpha Ra swung yet again, but this time Ampron had a weapon to block the blow. The collision sent another loud, metallic clang echoing off the low buildings of Capital City. While Alpha Ra tried to reverse the course of its heavy blade, Ampron moved in for the kill, punching its spear directly through where Alpha Ra’s heart would have been, had it been a human, rather than a giant, transforming robot.

“That was fast,” commented Bentor. “Kind of an anticlimax, really.”

Tvanir snorted. “A spear through the chest? Come on, it’s not a person. That shouldn’t do any major damage.”

Alpha Ra exploded.

“Gyaah!” Bentor shouted, as he ran away past the soldiers who were supposed to be guarding him but were distracted by the explosion.

Tvanir just stared, open mouthed, as the Emperor’s favorite military plaything disintegrated. Glancing up, she saw part of a shoulder flying through the air. The section of her mind devoted to ballistics calculations noted that it was going to land rather close to her position. A less rational section cheered it on: this way she wouldn’t have to explain yet another failure to Central Command.

It exploded on impact.

“It’s over?” gasped Lotekh, disbelief evident in his voice. “We lost?”

“Move the fleet back,” ordered Mselt, ignoring Lotekh’s panicked questions.

“No!” cried Lotekh. “We can’t retreat now!”

“Do you want to fight that thing?” demanded Mselt.

Lotekh paused. “I suppose not,” he said finally. “We will be back!” he shouted at the image of Ampron on the screen. “Next time I will not be so easily defeated!”

“Captain-General!” shouted Kvesh. Seeing where she had landed, he winced and started running. It looked like the armor had mostly protected her, but she hadn’t been wearing her helmet at the time. Her armor’s sensors said she was still alive, but it was obvious she’d need medical care soon. “Vtoska, give me a hand,” he called to the solder next to him, “we’ve got to find a shuttle.”

“I know where the landing pad is,” said the Sergeant, “there should be one left.”


“We won!” Boltar cheered.

“That was rather easy,” said Dent, sounding disappointed.

“Wasn’t the explosion big enough for you?” Dixon asked sweetly.

“Oh, yeah, it was,” Dent assured her, “but it means so much more if you have to work for it.”

“What now?” McCurry asked.

“We should probably split up,” Vasta decided. “We won’t need Ampron to deal with the Legion’s troops. Right, Elahte?”

“Agreed,” Elahte said over the radio link. “Even without their giant robot, they are still a threat.”

“Is that a shuttle launching?” Boltar asked, noticing some activity at the palace.

“So it is,” Vasta agreed.

“It’s probably Tvanir making her escape,” Elahte said, frowning. “I never thought she would abandon her troops, even in this situation. How dishonorable.”

“Right,” Vasta nodded, “so … how do we separate this thing?”

Although the Ampron force eventually figured out how to split the Defender of Niceness into its component Penguins, by then it was too late. The Aroruan Occupation League, demoralized by the defeat of Alpha Ra and the loss of its commander, quickly surrendered. The Aroruans, unused to having prisoners of war, moved the Legionnaires into their old barracks, after clearing them of weapons, and quickly impressed a few hundred people into the Aroruan army for guards.

In the palace, the Ampron Force and the Aroruan People’s League celebrated their second victory over the Zakavian Empire. But, once again, Elahte was worried. The Empire still had vast resources available. Who knew what they would try next?

Who knows what the Empire will try next?

Does the Shadow know?

If so, will he tell us?

How is the Emperor going to take this news?

Find out when news is delivered, Bob and Megan make their move, and Captain Harrison goes on a lunch date … with murder. All coming up in the next yak shaving episode of Starcruiser Anonymous.

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