Starcruiser Anonymous

(A Tale Within Sfstory)

Episode 19
Wherein Jen and Orliss
Are Freed

Dave Menendez

Supreme Captain-Commander Kvasha suppressed a sigh; he was getting rather tired of bearing bad news, especially to the High Council. Ever since Captain-General Mselt had brought news of Captain-General Rtali’s possible rebelliousness and Rtali’s subsequent disappearance, the amount of bad news he had to deliver had only increased.

The other ministers were busy discussing the report Kvasha had just made regarding Captain-General Etvol’s continuing failure to locate Rtali and the Eighth Fleet. Etvol had received information placing Rtali in the Crelm system, but Rtali had already left by the time Etvol had arrived. Kvasha wished he could see the ministers’ expressions, but the raised semi-circular table behind which the Council sat was generally kept dark during presentations, with only the presenter (and his visual aids) being lit.

He could guess what Commissioner Sedoc was doing. The idiot was probably making some snide comparison between the Zakavian Imperial Military Aggregate and his own Caphanite Defense Armada. Kvasha ignored him. Thinking about Sedoc would only annoy him, and he refused to give him even that much power.

Seeing that the discussions were slowing down, he glanced at Prime Minister Varis, who was technically in charge of the meeting. Varis, who was standing in front of the table, nodded and rapped his staff on the floor, quieting the room. “I believe you have another report?” he asked formally.

“I do,” Kvasha replied. He suppressed another sigh; he knew the Emperor wasn’t going to like this one. “I have just received word from Captain-General Mselt that the Aroruans have managed to field Ampron, and used it to destroy the A/600 Warrior Ship, known as ‘Alpha Ra’.” He paused, impassively watching the Emperor’s face contort in rage. He had never understood what Vakaz saw in giant robots, and he especially didn’t trust the merchants they had bought this one from. He’d have to see if the Sonar Men would refund the purchase. “During the battle, much of the Aroruan Occupation Legion was taken prisoner and Captain-General Tvanir was severely injured in an explosion. In addition, Prince Lotekh has … requested that we help him ‘seek revenge on those who dare defy the Empire’.”

“Sounds like another flawless ZIMA operation,” Sedoc sneered. “What will you do for an encore?”

“Your Majesty?” Kvasha asked, ignoring Sedoc.

The Emperor did not look happy. “Destroy them,” he snarled. “Send the EDIT.”

The ministers gasped; Kvasha merely bowed. “As you command.” He walked to the side of the table, and around to his seat at the Emperor’s right side.

“Our next order of business,” Varis began, as Kvasha sat down.

“I’m warning you,” Vakaz told Kvasha, interrupting the Prime Minister, who shrugged and waited his turn, “do not fail me again.”

Kvasha looked at the man he had helped make Emperor. “Prince Lotekh has assumed command of the Aroruan operation,” he reminded him. “He considers himself outside of my authority.”

Vakaz scowled. “I’ll have to have a talk with that boy.” He slouched down in his chair, looking angry.

Varis, seeing that the Emperor was finished, began introducing the next topic. Kvasha, however, wasn’t really paying attention. Relieved to have that report done with, he idly ran his hand along the underside of the table, just in case there were any listening devices lying around. Sure enough, he found one. Detaching it, he brought it up to his face for a closer look. Grinning, he blew into the microphone. He had long ago given up trying to prevent people from spying on him. These days, he was content to annoy them.

When Megan Kadar had stowed away on the Futility, she hadn’t been sure what to expect. Out of all the possibilities that she considered, however, she had not forseen infiltrating the army of a hostile empire. Neither had she forseen passing time watching surreal Caphanite romantic comedies in that empire’s chief headquarters. She wasn’t complaining, though. They were quite entertaining, and while she knew that, in principle, the Zakavians were the enemy, she had to respect a culture that could come up with such bizarre programming.

All she really needed was some popcorn.

Idly, she glanced around the cluttered storeroom that Bob had found to serve as their base of operations. Most of the room was filled with old, dusty crates. Advanced, high-tech crates to be sure, but she wasn’t about to call them “Modular Storage Devices”, as their labels suggested. The central area of the room was fairly clear, and some unknown custodians had set up a portable table and chairs and forgotten to remove them when they were done. Megan had found the video receiver while rummaging through one of the crates. Possibly, one of those crates contained popcorn, but she’d no doubt need some way to prepare it, and she didn’t feel like looking for one.

Hearing soft footsteps, she glanced up and saw Bob walking in from the other room, looking like he’d slept in his trenchcoat (which he had). The headphones he’d been using to monitor the bugs he’d placed still hung around his neck, which hopefully meant he had some news.

“Hi, Bob,” she said.

“What?” Bob asked, gesturing where his ear would have been, were he human.

“I said, ‘Hi’,” Megan repeated, more forcefully.

“Oh. Hi.” Bob walked over to the table and took a seat, absently rubbing the side of his head. “You off for the day?”

Megan nodded. “My group’s shift is later tonight, so the guys went out to a movie. I chose not to join them, for obvious reasons.” She gestured at her visibly non-Zakavian features, which were normally masked by her armor.

“So you’ll be working tonight?” Bob asked. After receiving confirmation from Megan, he continued. “We’ve got to start moving. Vakaz plans to blow up a planet with the EDIT.”

“Which one?”

Bob gave her an annoyed look. “Arorua, but that’s not really important.”

“I imagine the Aroruans would disagree,” Megan pointed out.

“Anyway,” Bob continued, “we’ve got to free Jen and Orliss, sneak onto the EDIT, and disable it before the Empire has a chance to use it.”

Megan leaned back, folding her hands together. “Isn’t Arorua where we sent the Anonymous?” she asked, thinking out loud.

“Yes,” Bob agreed, “although I haven’t heard anything to suggest that they’ve arrived yet. Evidently, the Aroruans got access to a giant robot and destroyed Alpha Ra.”

Megan sighed. That would have been worth seeing. “I always miss the fun stuff.”

“I hope you won’t find this too boring,” Bob said, dryly.

Rtovka Emor slunk into the central security office. Thankfully, his meeting with Asrien, the Fortress of Gloom’s Majordomo, had ended, meaning he wouldn’t have to deal with her for a while. Once again, she had upbraided him for the recent failures of Fortress Security—as if he had had any control over those events. Did he get credit for the uneventful years of service before these visitors? “Yeah, right,” he snorted.

“Huh?” came a voice from the monitor station.

“Nothing,” Rtovka assured the voice, which was most likely that of Subcommander Kshalti, his liaison to the Guard. Just to be sure, and to have something to do, Rtovka went over to check. Sure enough, it was Kshalti sitting at the station. Above and around him, a series of monitors displayed useful security-related bits of information, such as camera views and data from the motion detectors. Directly in front of him, the primary monitor was displaying Kshalti’s viewpoint in a networked video game.

“How was the meeting?” Kshalti asked, keeping his attention focused on the game.

“Oh, fine,” Rtovka lied. “We were discussing punishments for playing video games on duty.”

“That so?” Kshalti asked, uninterested.

Rtovka turned and walked towards his office, ignoring Kshalti’s question. He needed something to take his mind off his problems. Perhaps there was still some Dr Ploodux left. That might distract him for a while.

There was an odd noise and a curse from behind him. “What happened?” he asked opening the Food Cooling Unit (or, “fridge”) and looking for a soda. Kshalti probably lost again, he thought.

“The network just went down!” Kshalti exclaimed.

“Oh?” Unfortunately, it looked like someone had drunk the last can without ordering more. He wondered if anyone had fixed the vending machines yet. Probably not; no one seemed to care these days.

“What do you mean, ‘Oh?’ The network is down.”

“So? Can’t you go without your synthetic combat until they get it up again?” He eyed some Iced Behin warily; foreign drinks were generally not something he enjoyed, but he had to weigh that against his thirst. Thus far, thirst appeared to be losing.

“That’s not the problem,” Kshalti protested. “We can’t access the monitoring or communications systems until they fix this.”

Perhaps some water would be— “We can’t?” That didn’t sound good. Closing the fridge, he rushed back to the station and saw that the screens were all dead. “Don’t we have a backup system?”

“That was the backup system. They never actually got the main one working.”

“That’s right. I forgot.” Technical Services would be getting a stern memo about this, just as soon as they got the system back up so he could access the memo-writing software. “I guess we’ll have to wait until they fix it.”

“We should probably send a team to check the dungeon,” Kshalti said, swiveling around and standing.

Rtovka blinked. “We have a dungeon?”

“The Emperor had us put one in,” Kshalti reminded him. “It still looks like a normal cell right now, but we’re getting in a shipment of moss- covered stone and we’re going to turn down the lights. It should be quite unpleasant, eventually.”

All in all, Orliss decided, the Fortress’s dungeon wasn’t that bad. Granted, his only experiences with dungeons were the simulated ones at Interstellar University, but he felt confident in giving this one high marks for comfort. Relatively speaking, of course.

He heard a noise by the door. One of the three guards was passing them dinner on a covered tray. Most of the guards were indistinguishable from each other, their glossy black armor hiding any distinguishing features, like faces. This one, however, was slightly shorter. Orliss and Jen had some suspicions about this guard’s actual identity, but had had little in the way of verification. Nodding to the guard, he walked over to the tray, lifted the lid a little, and quickly slammed it back down. The meal was the usual Zakavian prisoner fare, but it seemed to be garnished with the Jen’s confiscated handgun, which was blinking away merrily beneath the tray’s cover. Orliss subtly nodded at the guard again—he was certain it was Megan now. Rather than respond, she walked over to the panel that controlled the locks.

Orliss picked up the tray, and walked over to his cellmate. Jen was trying to pass the time by sleeping a lot, but was meeting with little success. “Good evening,” she said, as Orliss sat on the floor by her bunk. “Dinner already?”

“It would appear so,” Orliss confirmed. Jen sat up to join him on the floor.

“The usual?” she asked, reaching over to check for herself. She started, seeing what was inside, but recovered quickly. “I’m getting mighty sick of it,” she added, in case the guards were listening. Orliss checked; they weren’t. “What now?” she whispered, quietly pocketing the gun in her stolen vending machine technician’s uniform. Orliss could just make out the blinking lights through the fabric.

“We wait for a signal, I guess,” he whispered back. He wasn’t too sure, actually. His classes hadn’t covered jail breaks in depth.

He heard a soft click coming from near the door, which he recognized as the lock disengaging. “That sounds like it,” he said quietly.

“Right.” Jen sprang towards the door, smoothly retrieving her weapon. She hit the door shoulder-first, slamming it open and startling the guards.

“Huh?” one of them managed, just before Jen fired. The surprisingly loud discharge caught the guard in the chest, easily penetrating the combat armor. The other guard soon joined his companion, downed by a blast from Megan’s rifle.

“Good job!” Orliss congratulated, stepping out of the cell. He stooped to grab one of the guards’ rifles for himself. “You’re really handy with that,” he told Jen.

Jen smiled, and replaced the gun. “I had some instruction.”

“From whom?”


“Oh.” Orliss frowned. He wasn’t too fond of the mercenary.

“If you two are finished, we’d best get moving,” Megan told them, her voice unrecognizable through the filtering in her armor’s speakers. “Bob told us to meet him at Landing Pad 4H.”

“Let’s go, then!” Orliss said. At last, a chance to be heroic. He rushed over to the door and leapt outside.

Right in front of a security squad.

Momentarily forgetting his training, he raised his rifle and prepared to fire. Then he remembered the need for a Heroic Introduction. “Halt, evil … guys,” he floundered, trying to remember his classes, “or I’ll … see that … um … that is, I … needlewarp. Can I start over?”

The squad started firing, and Orliss leapt back out of the hallway.

“Good job, speech-boy,” Megan told him.

“Quiet, Megan,” Jen told her. “You’re not helping.”

“Not helping? Who broke you out of the dungeon?”

“Could we discuss this later?” Jen asked, firing at one of the newcomers.

“Wait!” Orliss called. “I’ve got one.”

Jen and the guards stopped firing, and looked at him expectantly.

Orliss cleared his throat. “Beware, villains, for Orliss SoFah and Jen Kadar are once again free to thwart your nefarious schemes! In the name of Space Heroes everywhere, we shall destroy you!” He paused. “How was that?”

“I thought it was pretty good,” Jen told him.

“Feh,” Megan spat, “I guess I’m just sitting this out, then.”

“Don’t the Space Heroes mind you killing people in their name?” asked one of the guards.

“No,” Orliss replied. “Killing the minions of Evil is just part of the Space Hero’s job.”

“But we’re not evil,” protested the guard.

“Yes you are,” Orliss explained, “and that’s why you must die.”

“Come on, I’ve got a wife and kids!”

“An evil wife, and evil kids.”

“My kids aren’t evil! At least, not two of them.”

Jen fired again, catching the unfortunate guard in the shoulder.

“Feeling a mite bloodthirsty, are we?” Megan asked, sitting at the command desk, her chin resting on her palm.

“I just wounded him,” Jen protested.

The firefight resumed in earnest.

Rtovka whistled an old Blargoloid soft-drink-drinking tune as he walked back to the central security office. The local snack bar had just gotten in a shipment of Transparent Sparkling Beverage, a favorite of his, so he’d bought a case. Stepping in to the office, he saw that Kshalti was still talking with the man from Technical Services. “Any progress?” he asked, walking over to the fridge.

“Everything’s great!” the technician assured him.

“We’re almost connected again,” Kshalti clarified.

“Which is great!” the technician added. “Our progress is just super!”

Kshalti snorted. “I suppose it’s better than noth— What happened?”

Rtovka turned to see what Kshalti was referring to. One of the guards had just limped in, the natural shine of his armor dulled by carbon scoring and smoke.

“The prisoners have escaped,” he said. “They had inside help.”

Rtovka dropped the can he was holding, which, fortunately, wasn’t opened. Kshalti frowned. The technician continued smiling cheerfully.

“Do you know where they went?” Kshalti asked.

“I … left to come tell you what was going on. Communications are down.”

“Lousy network failure,” Kshalti grumbled. “I guess that answers the question of why the system was sabotaged.”

“What now?” Rtovka asked, retrieving his soda.

“Well,” Kshalti said, moving towards the monitor station and calling up a three-dimensional schematic of the Fortress, “they weren’t able to sabotage the entire network, so they probably only took out the parts they needed to.” He pressed a button, and a series of red boxes appeared on the schematic. “We may be able to figure out where they’re going from this.”

They stared at it for a few moments.

“There’s a path from the dungeon to Secondary Entrance C that’s completely within the blacked-out areas,” Rtovka noted.

“That’s probably it, then,” Kshalti declared. “We’ll send a team to watch that exit.”

“Excellent.” In celebration, Rtovka opened his soda, which promptly sprayed all over his uniform. He groaned. This just wasn’t his day.

With the skill of a student of a stealth master, Orliss SoFah skulked through the endless, repetitive corridors of the Fortress of Gloom. All around him, the minions of the Empire sought he who would dare invade their sacred halls and then escape from their dungeon. They would not find him, though, for he was a Space Hero. (Well, he was training to be a Space Hero, which was close enough for him.) He lived on danger, he thrived on impossibility, he did reasonably well with those sweepstakes things that fast-food restaurants occasionally give out. You know, the ones where you scratch off that gray gunk with a coin to see if you’re an Instant Winner? What is that stuff, anyway?

Suddenly—a hand on his shoulder! A cold, hard, armored hand! He’d been spotted! With a cry of defiance, he spun around, driving his fist into the armored guard’s black visor.

He regretted it instantly. That armor was pretty hard, and he’d made the classic error of punching with his thumb inside his fist. Fortunately, nothing felt broken. His opponent seemed unimpressed with his efforts, aside from staggering back a few feet. “Calm down, Hero-boy,” the guard said, sounding annoyed.

“Sorry, Megan,” Orliss apologized, realizing who he was dealing with. “I was getting into the ‘sneaking around’ mindframe, and I forgot you were there.”

Megan grumbled something, and then spoke more clearly: “That’s actually what I want to talk about. Do you think you could not sneak around like that? You’re practically wearing a ‘Suspect Me’ sign.”

“I’m trying not to be seen,” Orliss protested. “It’s simple logic, really: if the Zakavians can’t see us, they can’t recapture us.”

Megan shook her head. “The Zakavians can see us no matter what you do. The point is to avoid doing anything that would call attention to you, like doing a bad spy impression.”

“I imagine Orliss knows what he’s doing,” Jen put in. “He is studying this, after all.”

“Exactly,” Orliss agreed.

“Uh huh?” Megan asked, turning to face her older sister. “And who managed to infiltrate the Zakavians without being caught? I think that would be me?”

“Then educate us, Learned One,” Jen replied, her voice leaving a slippery trail of sarcasm.

“Just act like you belong here. There’re so many off-worlders wandering around, that you’ll just be lost in the crowd.” With that, Megan began walking again, pausing to give one final bit of advice: “And don’t stay too close together, either. You’ll draw less attention if you’re separate.”

Jen rolled her eyes. “Clearly,” Orliss sniffed, “she has never read Goodliver’s Heroic Sneaking.”

“She gets like that sometimes,” Jen said. “When you’re a teenager, you know everything.”

Orliss glanced at Megan’s receding form. “Get ready,” he said. A bureaucrat had just turned into the hall, and was about to pass Megan. Jen moved a hand closer to her concealed weapon.

“’Morning,” the bureaucrat said, nodding to Megan. Megan silently nodded back, and the two continued walking uninterrupted. Orliss blinked. Perhaps she was on to something. He’d have to discuss this with his professor once break was over.

Rtovka sat at his desk, trying to sop some of the soda out of his livery. Nearby, Kshalti and the man from Technical Services were arguing about the network outage. That is, Kshalti was arguing and the technician was making blithe assurances. A small two-way radio com-unit (or “walkie-talkie”) lay on the monitor station. As internal communications were still out, they had resorted to less-advanced methods to keep in contact with the men guarding Secondary Entrance C. Thus far, things were quiet.

“…so if there’s no damage, why can’t they bring the system back online?” Kshalti was saying.

“The saboteur cleared the network addresses in the hub,” the technician explained. “We can’t get the network up until we reset them.”

Rtovka went to get another paper towel. He had never realized just how much liquid his livery could absorb. Of course, it would happen to my formal outfit, he reflected bitterly. At least it had been after the meeting, rather than before.

“So? How long does that take?”

“Not long, but first we have to get all the network addresses so we can set them correctly.”

“Isn’t that recorded somewhere?”

“Yes, but the saboteur stole the sheet we’d written them down on.”

Fortunately, Transparent Sparkling Beverage was … well, transparent, which meant it wouldn’t stain. He’d only have to worry about being sticky.

“A sheet? You keep this information on a sheet?!”

“Well, yes. Why?”

“I don’t know. I thought that maybe the computer department would store its vital computer-related data on a computer.”

The technician shrugged. “I’m not really a software man,” he admitted.

Kshalti sighed explosively. Grabbing the walkie-talkie, he requested an update from the team watching Secondary Entrance C.

“Nothing so far, sir,” was the response.

“What could be taking them so long?” Kshalti asked the ceiling.

“Maybe they tried to take an elevator?” the guard suggested.

The ceiling remained mute, concentrating its attention on absorbing whatever spilled soda had been flung upward.

“Rtovka,” Kshalti said, “I think we may have missed something.”

“Like what?” Rtovka asked, continuing to wipe off his shirt but failing to get any drier.

“Like, why did they escape now? Is there something going on?”

“There’s the film festival at the University,” Rtovka suggested.

“It’s also double-coupon day at Desokhs,” the technician noted.

Kshalti tapped his chin. “No, I think it’s something more important.” He paused, lost in thought.

“Like the EDIT leaving?” Rtovka asked. “They should be sending up the last supply shuttle in a few minutes.”

Kshalti gasped. “You’re right! We’ve got to send a team!” He ran out of the room, towards the barracks.

Rtovka smiled, confident in Kshalti’s capabilities. Glancing down at his shirt, he saw that now it was wet and had bits of paper towel stuck to it. He grimaced. This was going to take some thought.

Even with her limited grasp of the Fortress of Gloom’s layout, Jen could tell that they were approaching the landing pads. All around were clues that the wary could detect, like the sudden increase in storage areas labeled ‘Rocket Fuel’. The distant roar of shuttles launching, landing, or just hovering overhead, their pilots having last-minute doubts about landing on Planet Gloom. The wall-mounted map they had passed, which placed its ‘You Are Here’ marker squarely in the ‘Landing Pad’ zone. The picture windows in left wall overlooking the landing pads themselves. It was pretty obvious, if you knew what to look for.

Ahead of her, Megan had slowed down, taking time to check the labels on the access ramps. Jen slowed accordingly. After some discussion, she and Orliss had agreed with Megan’s suggestion to split up. Thus far, the strategy seemed to be pretty effective, although admittedly they hadn’t actually met up with any security personnel since the break-out. Presumably Bob had left a false trail for them to follow, or else they were just really incompetent.

Megan stopped and headed into one of the access ramps. Evidently, they had arrived. Jen snuck a quick look behind her, saw that Orliss was still there, and moved forward to follow her sister. Once through the door, she let out a sigh of relief, followed by a cry of recognition: “Bob!”

The reptilian alien glanced up at her call. “Greetings, Jen,” he said. “It’s good to see you made it.”

Behind her, the door opened once again, admitting Orliss, who glanced around the room and blinked in confusion. “Where’s everybody else?”

“They had to leave to warn the Anonymous,” Megan explained, interrupting the neck exercises she had commenced shortly after removing her helmet. “We think they arrived safely.”

“So it is the four of us, then?” Orliss asked. “So be it. Space Heroes work best when the odds are against them.”

“The odds were against us before,” Megan reminded him.

“Well, yeah. I guess.”

“So what now?” Jen asked Bob.

He stood, adjusting his trenchcoat. “The last shuttle to the EDIT will be launching very soon. As usual, the garbage bin has been emptied to minimize launch weight. We will be hiding there.”

“In the trash heap?” Megan asked flatly.


She raised an eyebrow. “If you weren’t an alien, I’d say you’d been watching a certain George Lucas film too much.”

Star Wars?” Bob asked.

Megan blinked. “Yes. How do you know about that?”

“My uncle was an extra in the cantina scene,” he explained.


For the second time that day, Rtovka Emor was walking towards Majordomo Asrien’s office with a sense of despair. Once again, his faith in Kshalti’s troops had been misplaced. They had been unable to find the escaped prisoners anywhere, and Kshalti’s search of the last EDIT-bound shuttle had proved fruitless: no sign of anyone hiding in the crew quarters, the cargo bay, or even the maintenance access areas. So much for the alleged Pride of ZIMA, he thought bitterly. Feh.

Worse, his suit was still wet.

With a silent prayer to Amsa, he stepped into Asrien’s outer office. The secretary, seeing him enter, quickly informed the Majordomo of his arrival. Getting the expected response, he waved Rtovka towards the door.

Rtovka hesitated momentarily, taking in the room’s plush furniture, complete with lacy throw pillows and doilies, and the walls, which were painted in a color somewhere between white and pink. Steeling himself, he opened the doors and stepped into the inner office.

Asrien, seeing him enter, adopted her frowny face, which she used when delivering bad news, such as elevator failures or overcooked brownies. Rtovka stepped carefully towards the desk, hoping the meeting wouldn’t be too bad.

The pile of waterballoons by the desk did not bode well, though.

“We’re almost there,” Bob announced, sounding slightly apologetic. He had neglected to mention that emptying the garbage bin didn’t necessarily mean cleaning it. Jen had long ago given up on trying to hold her nose. After a while, her fingers had begun to get rather tired. Currently, she was concentrating on breathing as little as possible. Orliss, after making some comment about Space Heroes being able to handle adverse odors, had adopted a similar strategy.

For her part, Megan had limited herself to one comment on the advantages of an air filtration system, which Jen appreciated. She certainly wasn’t envious, though. She didn’t need to steal a suit of enemy armor to feel comfortable. Nope, she was perfectly content. Really.

Of course, she planned to be the first one out of the bin when they arrived.

Will Jen be the first out of the garbage bin?

Will she and the others succeed in disabling the EDIT?

Wasn’t Captain Harrison supposed to be in this episode?

Given his track record, why does Dave bother trying to predict what will be in the next episode?

SFSTORY: Use Only as Directed