The starship Anonymous was launched by a group of New Jersey towns who were fleeing the destruction that was plaguing the east coast at the time. They spent the next few years quietly orbiting Saturn until they were discovered by a scouting party from the Zakavian empire. The Zakavians, concerned that the powerful starship might be a threat, captured five of its fighter pilots (the Blue Squadron).

Captain Harrison sent another five pilots (the Green Squadron) to find their colleagues. After some searching, they learned that Blue Squadron had been taken to the Zakavian capital, planet Gloom. Harrison decided to take Anonymous to planet Gloom to bargain for her pilots’ return, but found that Blue Squadron had already escaped and were most likely on planet Arorua.

Unknown to those onboard Anonymous, Blue Squadron’s arrival on Arorua accelerated the Aroruan attempts to overthrow the local Zakavian occupational force, assisted by the timely rediscovery of Arorua’s mighty robot defender, Ampron. The Zakavians are understandably displeased about this, and have sent their most destructive super-weapon to lay waste to the planet.

Meanwhile, Harrison’s decisions have drawn great criticism from certain citizens onboard Anonymous, several of whom have decided to take action. Enlisting the aid of visiting alien Anme Rifba, they plan to lure Harrison into the open and assassinate her. To accomplish this, they have also abducted Beth Gaelen, a technician familiar with the Anonymous’s secrets. Green Squadron, acting on its own, has vowed to retrieve her.

Starcruiser Anonymous

(A Tale Within Sfstory)

Episode 20
Wherein the Plot Finally
Begins to Thin

Dave Menendez

With a yawn, Horlun SoFah slowly opened his eyes and tried to focus his vision. After a few seconds, he realized that the room wasn’t so much out of focus as it was dark. What time was it? He rarely got up before the sun. ‘Never’ was a better word, actually. Of course, he probably had closed the shades before he went to bed. It could be noon, for all he knew.

Noon. There was something important about noon. Something he had to remember. Something to do with Anme. Rubbing his temples, he tried to concentrate. Whatever was coming was not a good thing. Slowly, the thoughts came to him: Anme was going to meet with Captain Harrison for lunch and

Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!

“Wagh!” Horlun cried, his right arm flailing about blindly. He couldn’t find the table; it seemed to have moved during the night. He shifted over to the right, swung again, overextended, and rolled out of bed. “Ow,” he commented wittily, rubbing his nose. When had his bed gotten so high off the ground?

As if in answer, the alarm shut off. No longer distracted, and now fully awake, he started to remember some crucial facts about his location. For instance, the table with the alarm clock was on the left side of the bed, which was quite deliberate as he’d learned to hit the snooze button without waking up, thus defeating the point of having an alarm. Leaning across the bed, he switched on the reading lamp, bringing some much-needed light into the room. Once his vision had adjusted to the point where he could unclamp his hand from his eyes, he glanced around, decided that he didn’t have time to make the bed, and went to find some clothes.

After the inevitable decision to wear black (he had been too rushed to pack his lighter clothing, assuming he still had some—he’d have to check), Horlun selected a fairly clean shirt and pants and proceeded to—

Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!

“Wagh!” Horlun cried, his right arm flailing about blindly. Reasserting control over his limbs, he hopped over to the alarm and switched it off manually. He’d have to do something about that reflex. Pulling his pants on the rest of the way, he glanced at the clock and gasped. 11:45! He must have slept through the first alarm! He rushed to the mirror, ran a hand through his hair, straightened his goatee (must have slept on it funny), grabbed his beret, and ran out the door.

He had an assassination to prevent.

There are many things in life more irritating that watching someone else pace, but Number Five was having difficulty thinking of any. Everyone in the rebels’ secret headquarters was a little jumpy right now, and the leaders had decided to work off this energy by walking back and forth over and over and over and over again. In a few moments, Captain Harrison would meet that alien girl for lunch at Sector 7G’s food court, where the snipers were already waiting. At least, that was the plan. Unfortunately, the secret headquarters was located out in the restricted areas, which was good from a security standpoint but also cut them off from breaking news.

Tired of watching his superiors pace, Five decided to check on the prisoner. Despite the help Beth Gaelen had provided them—such as leading them to the weapons cache where he had received the assault weapon he held now—he didn’t trust her. She was part of the hated crew, after all. The others didn’t share his suspicions, but eventually they either saw the wisdom of keeping her locked up or simply grew tired of him suggesting it constantly and agreed to imprison her. With Beth’s help, they managed to find a holding cell with walls strong enough to withstand blaster fire and only one exit.

The cell was located just slightly outside the secret headquarters itself, but Five had made the journey enough times that it had become second nature. He turned the last corner and gasped, quickly leaping back out of sight. The prisoner had escaped! Fortunately, she was still near the cell—fiddling with the lock, in fact, which seemed an odd activity for an escaped prisoner. Ignoring that, Five leapt back around the corner, aimed, and shouted “Freeze!”

“Gaah!” Beth cried. “Not in the eyes!” Squinting, she held up a hand to shield her face from the assault weapon’s powerful searchlight.

Five mumbled an apology and relaxed the pressure on the trigger, deactivating the light. Clearing his throat, he intoned: “What are you doing?” Inwardly, he grinned. He didn’t get many chances to intone.

Rather than trembling in fear, Beth just blinked at him, perplexed. “The lock wasn’t working right,” she finally explained. “I thought I’d fix it for you. … Is that a problem?” She seemed genuinely concerned.

Five frowned. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with that. “Carry on, then,” he said uncertainly.

Beth nodded and went back to tinkering with the lock’s electronics. Privately, Five wondered where she had gotten the tools she was using, but decided he didn’t really want to know. He felt nervous for some reason, though, as if his subconscious was trying to tell him something. Perhaps some conversation would help him figure it out.

“Tell me, prisoner,” he intoned, “I, uh, was wondering, um….” Drat! He’d forgotten to come up with a topic. So much for instilling a sense of awe.

“Wondering what?” Beth asked, turning her attention from the lock back to him.

Five thought frantically. “Do all our guns have these searchlights?” he managed.

Beth nodded. “They’re really useful out here. Lots of unlit corridors.”

Five considered that. It made sense, like all of Beth’s suggestions. This didn’t reassure Five very much. She was, after all, the enemy, even if he seemed to be the only person who realized it.

Deciding to make the best of an imperfect world, Five stood back and watched her while she finished her repairs on the lock. Just because she hadn’t tried to escape before didn’t mean she wouldn’t try if he left her alone, he reasoned. That, he told himself, was the source of his feelings of impending disaster which had started shortly after he found her outside her cell.

“All done,” Beth said finally, setting her tools down and stretching.

“Good,” Five intoned. “Now get in there.” He gestured at the cell with his blaster.

Beth smiled cheerfully and stepped inside, closing the door behind her. Five locked the door, and then tested the lock. Then he tested it a few more times, to be certain. It still worked. Five shrugged, and headed back to join the others. That sense of impending disaster was still bothering him, but he assumed it was just paranoia.

It wasn’t.

The majority of the residents on Anonymous, which is to say those neither in the crew nor rebelling against it, were mostly unaware of the power struggles happening around them. They could sense that something was wrong, though, and were a bit jumpy as a result. The signs were pretty clear, if you knew where to look. The mere fact that Anonymous was on its second interstellar voyage after untold centuries of inactivity was enough to make people nervous. The additional fact that Anonymous was coming from planet Gloom, where it had just been involved with something unpleasant (the crew were being vague about what, exactly), only made things worse.

Even in this nervous atmosphere, some people were willing to help strangers in need. One such person was leaving Sector 7G on her way home when she encountered a young man dressed in black staggering in the opposite direction and breathing heavily. It looked like he’d been running for quite a while. A quick glance showed no sign of pursuit, so she decided it was safe to get involved.

“Are you all right?” she asked him.

He paused for a moment, supporting himself on the safety railing. “Must … get … to food court,” he gasped.

The woman froze. Helping strangers in need was one thing, getting involved with People Talking Like Shatner was something entirely different. Making sure to avoid eye contact, she slowly backed away.

Across the food court, in a dark, unoccupied storefront, the elite assassination team lay in wait behind a counter, preparing for their coming strike against the establishment. Their commander, Number Three, was checking the line of sight from their hiding spot to make sure there would be no problems later. The designated sniper, Number Four, was trying to sit quietly while he awaited his chance for glory.

“This is so cool,” he crowed. “I’ve always wanted to do this.”

“You’ve always wanted to kill Captain Harrison?” Three asked, only half paying attention while he finished up the test-sightings. Four would have a clear shot at the primary elevator, which extended all the way down to the Core, where Harrison and the hated crew spent their time. As recommended, Anme had chosen a table near the elevator, which guaranteed Harrison would walk through Four’s line of sight.

“Well, not that specifically,” Four explained. “This is my chance to make a mark on history. I get to make the decisive stroke that ends our years of terror and tyranny. It’s not so much an assassination as a blow against oppression. Killing the Captain isn’t really the primary thrust of our operation. Her involvement is peripheral.”

“Oh? I figured she’s pretty central to the whole thing.” He squinted at Anme through the sights; she was absently drawing patterns on the table with her finger. Nervous, probably. Three could understand that. He couldn’t make out her expression, though. Their “supplier”, Ms Gaelen, hadn’t been able to find any telescopic sights, so they were forced to rely on their own eyesight. He figured it would be enough.

“Not really,” Four was saying. “Think about it: all Harrison does is show up, get shot, and die. I’m the one doing all the work here.”

“I suppose so,” Three agreed. He checked the digital readout on the side of the assault weapon one last time. It had a bewildering number of display options, most of them beyond even Ms Gaelen’s understanding. Those he could read told him that the weapon’s power pack was 98% charged, that it was six minutes before noon (local time), and that he should beware allies working under false pretenses (lucky numbers: 6 12 28 7 14).

“We ready yet?” Four asked eagerly. “Do I get the gun now?”

“Sure. Knock yourself out.” He handed Four the assault weapon and then leaned back against the counter, tipping his fedora over his eyes and adjusting his trenchcoat.

“Coool.” There was a brief silence while Number Four got used to the feel of the assault weapon. It seemed awfully complex for such a simple job, but Ms Gaelen had recommended it highly and she was far more familiar than they with the selection available. “What now?” Four asked.


“What should I do now?”

“I dunno. Practice aiming at something.”

“Like what?”

Grumbling, Three sat up and peeked over the counter. Not much interesting was happening by Anme yet, but there was a young man dressed like a beatnik resting on the railing one level above her. “Try aiming at that guy,” Three suggested, indicating the stranger in black.


Three sat down again and set about resting up for the big event. It wouldn’t do to assassinate someone when not fully rested, after all. Besides, Four could handle it from here.

“Hey, cool!” Four exclaimed. “These things got like a spotlight aiming system or something.”

“That’s great,” Three said. “Now, why don’t you keep quiet until Harrison shows up?”

“Right. Gotcha. No problem.”

The food court was somewhat less impressive than Horlun had expected. More precisely, it was a lot smaller than he’d expected. Not that it was small, by any means. It seemed quite large enough for the crowds it attracted, but Horlun had expected more. After all, the two dominant architectural themes on Anonymous were Large and Bland, but the food court only showed influence of the latter. The court was neither beautifully detailed nor elegantly functional; it simply was. Even the attempts at decoration by the current residents seemed generic.

Horlun paused for a few moments to catch his breath. He’d managed to make it in time and, provided he didn’t suffer a heart attack, he’d soon put an end to this whole assassination business. He squinted, scanning the food court below for Anme. From the upper level, he could see most of the court, so finding her shouldn’t be too difficult. He squinted harder, then raised a hand to shield his eyes. As if finding Anme wasn’t hard enough, some idiot had pointed a spotlight at his face.

Maybe she was getting food? Horlun moved to get a better view of the vendors. After a moment, the light followed him. At his new angle, it was shining directly into his eyes.

That did it. This trip had been a long string of irritations ever since Orliss had volunteered them to help Green Squadron search for their colleagues. He’d had to deal with Roy Gaelen, who seemed unable to spend any time in close proximity with Anme without an argument breaking out; he’d been sent to planet Gloom, which was not his idea of a vacation spot (nor anyone else’s, for that matter); he’d gotten involved with an harebrained scheme to sneak into the Zakavian command center, where Orliss had gotten them involved in another crazy quest; they had escaped that only for Anme to stick her nose into the local political scene and get involved in a plan to kill Captain Harrison; and now he was being taunted by some moron with an overgrown flashlight.

Horlun checked his watch. There was still some time left before Anme’s scheme played out. He might he uncertain how to deal with assassination plots, but idiots with flashlights was something he could handle.

“Um, Three? He’s coming this way.”


“That guy you told me to aim at? He’s coming over here.”

“What?” Three repeated blearily. He peeked over the countertop and saw the beatnik-wannabe headed in their direction, looking somewhat peeved. He was holding a hand in front of his face, which was odd, and the hand appeared to be glowing, which was… also odd. Three rubbed his temples and tried to think. Did the stranger know they were here? Why would he care? And why was his hand glowing?

“Hey!” the man yelled once he reached the darkened storefront. “Turn off that damn light!”

Light? Three turned to his companion, who was still carefully aiming his assault weapon at the stranger. To his credit, he figured out what was going on almost immediately. Unfortunately, he wasn’t fast enough to stop Four from responding.

“Stay back!” Four called. “We’re armed!”

Three facepalmed. Evidently, “low profile” was a concept foreign to his companion.

“Armed?” the stranger challenged. “With what?”

“Long range assault weap—mmpf!” Four started to say, his cheerful reply being cut off in mid-word by an application of Three’s hands to his mouth.

“Quiet!” Three hissed. “You want to give us away?” Four shook his head sheepishly and Three let go.

“Sorry,” Four whispered. “Forgot about that.”

Three ignored him, turning his attention back to the man in black, who had evidently heard enough of Four’s warning to know there was danger and was slowly backing away. Three considered letting him go, but there was a chance the stranger would go to security, which would create problems. Mentally flipping through his book of threatening phrases, he selected a likely candidate.

“Not so fast,” Three warned the stranger, who stopped. He looked rather nervous, as if he had an appointment coming up very soon that he didn’t want to miss. “Why don’t you step inside for a moment?” Three continued, trying to get the right tone of menace in his voice. His training as a telemarketer hadn’t really prepared him for this kind of work; the management generally frowned on menacing voices. They claimed it spooked the customers.

“I’d rather not,” the man said, “I have to be somewhere in a few minutes. It’s very important.”

“Oh, is this a bad time for you?” Three said automatically. “Get in here!” he quickly added.

(“Won’t he be able to identify us later?” Four whispered.

“Don’t worry,” Three whispered back, “we’re in our secret identities.”


The man gingerly stepped into the darkened store, and Three directed him to join them behind the counter. “Have a seat, Beret Boy,” he said. “This shouldn’t take too long, but don’t make a fuss or we’ll shoot ya.”

(“But, Three,” Four whispered, “we’ve only got one gun.”

“Shaddup. You want him to hear?”

“But if I’m aiming at Harrison and he makes a fuss—”

“Be quiet and aim. She’ll be here any second.”)

Four got back into position and Three turned to the prisoner, who was quietly sitting on the floor and fidgeting. Curious, Three decided to ask where he was supposed to be going.

“Hey, Beret Boy—”


Horlun? That didn’t sound like any name Three was familiar with. His whole family must be weird, Three decided. “What are you in such a big hurry about?” he continued.

“I’d rather not say,” Horlun replied, glancing nervously at Four’s assault weapon. “Girl troubles,” he added.

“Ah,” Three chuckled “that’s the worst kind.”

“Um, Three?” Four asked timidly. Three had begun to recognize this as a harbinger of disaster. “I think security spotted us.”

“What?” That was bad—the worst case scenario, in fact (aside from the one where Harrison transformed into a giant lizard and ate them all, but that scenario was generally considered implausible). Three quickly checked left and right down the row of storefronts. Sure enough, he spotted a dozen men and women in the navy and silver uniforms of Ship Security surreptitiously moving towards them, hiding behind trashcans, potted plants, overburdened shoppers, and, occasionally, each other.

“What do we do?” Four asked.

“I don’t know,” Three admitted. He pointed an accusing finger at Horlun. “This is all your fault!”

“Don’t shoot!” Horlun cried, putting his hands up. “I make a good hostage!”

“He’s right,” Four pointed out. “Maybe we can negotiate something.”

“Negotiate!?” Three said incredulously. “What are we going to negotiate?”

“Surrender terms?” Horlun suggested hopefully.

“Nonsense!” Three snapped. “Our motto is ‘Death before surrender’.”

“That doesn’t make much sense,” Four commented. “How can you surrender after you’re dead? Are you sure it isn’t ‘Surrender before death’ or something?”

“I’m pretty sure it’s ‘Death before surrender’.”

“Maybe we should go back and check? I don’t want to be doing the wrong thing, here.”

Three stared for a moment, then gave in with a sigh. To be honest, he hadn’t exactly been looking forward to death either. “Right. Let’s go.”

Grabbing the prisoner (who was smiling to himself for some reason), Three and Four rushed to the store’s back room, which connected to a maintenance/supply corridor leading out of Sector 7G.

“What are you smiling about?” Three demanded, as they entered the endless, unguarded labyrinth of the restricted areas and the immediate danger was past.

“Just thinking about the odd turn my life has taken in the past few weeks,” Horlun told him.

“And what are you scowling about?” Three asked Four.

“I missed my chance!” Four wailed. “I was gonna be all famous, and we blew it. I’ll never get a shot at Harrison now!”

He was wrong.

The vast volume of the restricted areas is not as monotonous as it first appears. While the decorative style is mostly limited to flat gray walls, structure and layout vary tremendously depending on the purpose of the local area. Warehouses, barracks, armories, security stations, power distribution centers, air/water refineries, recycling centers, the occasional micro-hydroponics farm, the empty sectors left available for future development—to say nothing of larger areas like the gravity generators or the engines—each makes its mark on the local architectural design.

The renegades had chosen an unused security station in a long-abandoned storage area as their headquarters. It was a collection of rooms located at the meeting-point of eight large cargo holds. Being centrally located, it was normally accessible from a number of different directions, but the rebels had blocked all the entrances save one. It lead into a long causeway running the length of a storeroom and eventually met with one of the primary access corridors. As any attack would have to come from that direction, the rebels had placed a guard on the far end of the causeway. The guard provided an early warning system for the rebels in the main base, giving them time to prepare for an invasion. As any of the blocked entrances could presumably be unblocked from the inside, they would have ample time to escape in any direction.

Rick Hydrospok was not concerned with this. He had undertaken this quest in order to rescue Beth Gaelen. Any defeats given to the rebels along the way were simply a bonus.

“Any change?” he asked softly.

“Negative,” replied Stan Losar, who was acting as lookout. Like the others, Losar’s mood had improved after discovering the rebels’ location. This was most noticeable with Roy Gaelen, who had been acting rather glum ever since learning of his sister’s capture, but even Sally Winters’s normally high spirits had been dampened after a day’s worth of wandering around the trackless corridors. Of those in Green Squadron, only George Daniels had seemed unaffected, although his sarcastic commentary had steadily grown bleaker as the search wore on.

The three Black Squadron pilots who had accompanied them were harder to read. Amy Masaki’s expression was as cryptic as ever and Dave Menéndez seemed more concerned with the aches in his feet than with the upcoming battle. Fortunately, their leader Marshall Stanford seemed appropriately concerned for Beth’s fate.

“I grow weary of this waiting,” Hydrospok said at last. “Let us get a move on, for the night doth get no younger.”

“Is that a quote?” Menéndez wondered. “It sounds like a quote.”

“Shakespeare, perhaps?” Daniels suggested, making yet another pointless reference to the Bard.

Hydrospok ignored them and focused on the task before him. They needed to free Beth from the miniature fortress before them, and that meant they needed some sort of plan. He had said as much earlier, and everyone had agreed that having a plan was a good idea. No one had proposed one yet, though.

“What makes you think it would be Shakespeare?”

“It’s got that ‘doth’ in it. I dunno.”

Sneaking around to another entrance was probably useless. The rebels had blocked all the ones they had checked, and had almost certainly blocked the others as well. They would have to take a more direct approach. Sneaking up was a possibility, but there was very little for them to hide behind while approaching the guard.

“Lots of people used ‘doth’, that doesn’t mean anything in and of itself.”

“Never mind.”

Perhaps they could gain entry through some subterfuge. Of course, they were all in uniform and hadn’t thought to bring a change of clothes. Well, except for Losar. He’d been almost smug about how unprepared everyone else was by comparison. His change of clothes was another uniform, though, so it wouldn’t be good as a disguise.

“It just seems like a flimsy line of reasoning.”

“Look, forget I said it, okay?”

“I think I have a plan,” Hydrospok announced. “It involves a direct attack on the main entrance and hoping for the best.”

He could actually hear the quiet hum of the air circulation system during the conversational void his announcement produced. It was almost soothing.

“Does the plan involve anything else?” Masaki asked quietly.

“Not yet,” Hydrospok admitted, “although I am open to suggestions.”

“We have some cover here,” Losar noted, peeking around the corner at the renegade guardpost. “We could try picking off the guards from here and then doing the frontal assault.”

“Do it.”

Losar hesitated. “It’s, uh, your plan,” the large man mumbled.

“Then I’ll do it.” How hard could it be? Gripping his blaster, he took Losar’s position and slowly moved his head to see beyond the corner. The two guards were drinking something… possibly a cola of some sort. He set his blaster to “low power”, aimed carefully, and fired. He hit the first guard in the ribcage, just below the heart. His companion did a perfect spit-take and fled into the causeway. “Drat!” he said, realizing his error. “The other one got away.”

Stanford snickered. “We’d better hurry,” Masaki advised, “before he can spread the word.”

On that note, the eight pilots rushed into battle.

The word spread quickly, mostly along the lines of “We’re under attack!” (One creative thug was heard to shout “The British are coming!”—an allusion their attackers certainly would not have appreciated, had they heard it.) The rebel command room fell into chaos almost immediately, with the junior renegades rushing about in a frenzy of confused activity while their leaders tried to choose between fighting and fleeing.

“This is all Beth Gaelen’s fault,” Number Five muttered, as he often did in these situations. (In this case, one could argue that he was correct: Beth was the cause of it all, indirectly.) Around him, the babble steadily grew louder. Soon, it would—

“Quiet!” Number One shouted. The chaos subsided somewhat as the panicked renegades turned to their miniscule leader. “Is this how our rebellion deals with setbacks?” he demanded. Cries of “No! Of course not!” began to fill the air. “Shut up!” One shouted again. “We must prepare our defense before the hated crew arrives. Number Five, you will command our forces in this glorious struggle.”

“Where will you be?” Five asked.

“Number Two and I,” One explained, “will seek shelter for the duration of the conflict. It wouldn’t do for us to be injured by a stray shot, after all.”

“Shelter?” Five repeated. “Do we have any place that would be safe?”

“You could use my cell,” Beth offered. “The walls are pretty strong and the door’s shielded against blaster fire. I imagine it’s the most secure place here.”


“If it’s so secure,” Five asked acidly, “why aren’t you still inside it?”

“Well,” Beth said, looking embarrassed, “I had to, er, use the facilities.”

“Oh, for crying out—”

“Be still, Five,” One commanded. “We cannot deny our guests such essential human decencies.”

“She is not a guest!” Five complained. “She is a prisoner!”

“Hush. You must prepare for the coming battle.” With that, he and Number Two strode purposefully from the room.

“I’m sorry I upset you,” Beth said earnestly. “I don’t want to cause any trouble.”

“Just go back to your cell,” Five told her. He was already trying to come up with a defense strategy—and regretting having turned down the offer to be on the assassination team. Had he gone, he wouldn’t be dealing with a problem like this, that was for certain.

Not quite like this, anyway.

Nearby, Hydrospok’s invasion force was meeting the first resistance. They had passed the now-undefended guardpost easily and ran the length of the causeway before their presence was challenged. The challenger’s initial bravado collapsed when he noticed the invaders were armed.

“Don’t shoot!” he cried, falling to his knees.

Hydrospok, who had been in the lead, ran up and grabbed the renegade roughly by the collar. “Where is Beth Gaelen?” he demanded.

“I don’t want to die!” wailed the prisoner obliviously.

(“Why join a militia if you don’t want to die?” Menéndez asked Masaki. She shrugged in reply.)

“We’re not going to kill you,” Hydrospok explained, grimacing. “If we killed you, you wouldn’t be able to tell us what we need to know.” This calmed the prisoner immensely; he took a deep breath, straightened his shirt, and smiled serenely at them. “Where is Beth Gaelen?” Hydrospok repeated.

“I’m not telling,” said the renegade, “and you can’t make me. You can’t get information from a dead man.”

“We don’t have to kill you,” Stanford noted. “We could just hurt you a lot.”

“Are you suggesting we torture this man?” Hydrospok asked, aghast.

“What do you propose?” Stanford asked in reply.

“If he steadfastly refuses to talk, killing him will make no difference to us, so it’s still a valid threat,” Hydrospok pointed out, much to the prisoner’s dismay.

“Killing is all right, but torture isn’t?” Stanford asked in disbelief.

“Captain Harrison would probably prefer a low casualty rate,” Masaki added.

Hydrospok turned to the prisoner. “Are you going to talk?” he asked flatly.

“Uh, no?” was the uncertain reply.

“Fine,” Hydrospok said. With that, he whapped the rebel over the head with the butt of his pistol and let him fall to the floor, unconscious.

“What now?” Gaelen asked from the door. He and Daniels, Losar, and Winters had been watching for a counterstrike from the renegades. Thus far, none had come.

“We will continue to search,” Hydrospok told him. He moved to join his squadron by the doorway. The anteroom was at the base of a T-intersection. The central corridor, widest of the three, looked to go directly to the command center.

“The command center is almost certainly a trap,” Losar rumbled. “I’d recommend splitting up. We can go left and they,” he indicated Black Squadron, “can go right.”

“Sounds good to me,” Hydrospok said approvingly.

“But there’s three of us and five of you,” Stanford noted.

“Then I will go with you.”

“Oh—you don’t have to do that.”

“Nonsense, we must act in the interests of the greater good.”

Stanford looked unhappy, but as he couldn’t argue with that, the two teams went their separate ways—little knowing how far apart those separate ways would take them.

Anme had been passing the time until Captain Harrison arrived by toying with an “Intelligence Tester”, a small wooden game she had found on her table. The object was to remove all but one of fourteen pegs from the fifteen holes on the board. So far, she hadn’t managed to leave fewer than four, which the instructions implied was not a particularly desireable score. Thus distracted, she had missed the activity in the level overlooking the food court. Her first hint that something had gone awry came when Louis Jackson, director of Ship Security, asked if he could join her.

“Is something wrong?” she asked once he had settled in.

“A group of assassins were hiding in that store up there,” he told her, gesturing at a now-lit storefront filled with security personnel one level above them. “For some reason,” he continued, “your friend Horlun appears to have confronted them and was taken hostage as a result.”

“Is he… all right?” Anme asked. This was not a welcome development. That idiot Horlun was going to get himself killed. Why did he have to pick now to take an interest in these things?

“We think he’s okay,” answered Harrison. Anme barely managed not to jump in surprise; Harrison had managed to take the seat next to hers without Anme noticing.

“That’s good,” Anme said, willing her heart rate to slow back down to normal. She did not enjoy being startled, something she had learned at that monster movie marathon Horlun had dragged her along to. “Isn’t it dangerous for you to be here right after an assassination attempt?” she asked.

“That’s what I told her,” Jackson grumbled.

“Yes, a bit dangerous,” Harrison replied. She didn’t look too concerned. She almost seemed amused by the whole affair.

“We’ve sent a team after them,” Jackson explained. “We’re hoping to conclude this without further violence. Or any violence, I guess, since there doesn’t seem to have been any so far.”

“Actually,” Harrison added, standing up. “I should be going if I want to catch up with that team. If you’ll excuse me?” Anme nodded and Harrison strode off. Jackson looked unhappy about it, but kept his peace; he had evidently discussed this before.

“Wait—she’s going after them herself?” Anme asked once the Captain’s statement sunk in. Jackson nodded ‘yes’, rolling his eyes and muttering something about a ‘Kirk Syndrome’. Anme stood. “Then I’m going too,” she declared.

“I don’t think you should,” Jackson told her, also standing. “It really isn’t safe. The Captain may not be taking this seriously, but… that’s her decision, I guess.”

“It’s mine too,” Anme told him. “Horlun’s the only one of us who can pilot the Finstar—I have to make sure he’s okay.”

Jackson sighed and began to remove his uniform jacket. “Take this,” he said, offering the heavy navy-and-silver jacket. “It’ll give you a little protection.”

Anme eyed it uncertainly. Wearing a military uniform—for whatever reason—seemed a betrayal of her ideals. Eventually, practicality won out over principle. “Thank you,” she said, accepting the jacket. It was a little big, but that was the least of her worries.

Number One peered into the holding cell Ms Gaelen had recommended. It would do quite nicely, he decided. “Will you join us inside?” he asked once he and Number Two had entered.

“Maybe I should stay outside,” Beth replied thoughtfully. “That way, if anyone asks if you’re in there, I can say ‘No, they’re not.’“

“You would do that for us?” One asked. She nodded. “Thank you,” he said. Stepping inside, he closed the door behind him. The engagement of the automatic lock did not faze him; he knew the combination, after all.

“These rebels are real pushovers,” Daniels commented to Gaelen. “I think you and I could take ’em all ourselves.”

“Don’t get overconfident,” Gaelen told him. “Pride goeth before a fall.”

“You’re starting to sound like Hydrospok,” Daniels warned him. The group began to round a corner. “I’m telling you these rebels are—gllk!”

“Are what?” asked the large trenchcoat-clad man who had been lying in ambush just around the corner. He jabbed Daniels’s neck with the barrel of his assault weapon once more for emphasis. His companion trained his own weapon on the rest of the team, who slowly put their own weapons on the floor.

“My, that’s a big gun you’ve got there,” Daniels commented, rubbing his neck. “I was just telling my buddy here how much respect we’ve got for you. It takes real guts to take on the Captain—you’re sure not pushovers, that’s for certain.” He laughed weakly. His large opponent just frowned and raised his weapon to fire. Daniels gulped, watching the renegade slowly apply pressure to the trigger.


“Huh?” the renegade asked, glancing at the assault weapon’s status display and trying to decipher the error readouts.

“Is the safety on?” the other rebel asked.

“Lemme check, I—”

“Hold it!” Winters interrupted. She, Gaelen, and Losar had retrieved their pistols and trained them on their confused assailants. “No one threatens Green Squadron,” she intoned.

The first rebel sheepishly raised his hands in surrender. His companion bolted. “After him!” Losar ordered. The four pilots gave chase, dragging their embarrassed captive along with them.

Beth looked up, hearing the footsteps of someone running towards her. A panicked rebel ran around a corner, skidding to a halt in front of the cell where his leaders were hiding. “Sirs,” he cried. “There’s four of them coming this way! We’ve got to get out of here!”

“Don’t be silly,” came Number One’s muffled voice through the door. “We’re perfectly safe in here.”

“But the crew will just sit out here and wait for you to leave!” the rebel cried. “They’ll be here soon, we have to leave now!”

“That’s right! There’s no other way out of here. We’re trapped!” After a moment, they heard someone inside struggling with the door. “It’s locked! My combination doesn’t work. What have you done to the door, Gaelen!?”

“All I did was repair the lock,” Beth explained. “Number Five said it was all right.”

“You’ve destroyed us!” the rebel yelled, aiming his weapon at her. “Open that door!”

Beth swallowed nervously, and began to stand.

“Freeze!” someone shouted from behind her.

“Beth!” added someone else who sounded remarkably like her brother. Turning, she saw that it was her brother.

“Roy!” she called, running towards him. They embraced. Daniels gagged.

“Get the insulin,” he groaned, sticking a finger down his throat, “I’m going into shock.” Winters bapped him.

“Is anyone in here?” Losar asked, gesturing at the holding cell while keeping an eye on their prisoners.

“No one’s in there,” Beth told him, “especially not the leaders of the rebellion.”

“You idiot!” One shouted through the door. “You said you wouldn’t tell them we were in here!”

“I didn’t,” Beth replied, sounding confused. “I said you weren’t in there.”

The rebel leader had no response for that.

“How do we get in there?” Losar asked.

“Simple.” Letting go of Roy, she walked over to the panel in keyed in five zeroes. The door smoothly slid open, revealing Number Two and Number One, the latter jumping up and down in frustration.

“Why didn’t my combination work?” he demanded angrily.

“When I fixed the lock, it cleared the memory,” Beth told him. “I didn’t know what combination you used, so I left it blank.”

Number One exploded in a vast, fiery cataclysm. Well, no, not really. But the expression on his face suggested that he would have, if given a chance. The fact that Losar and Winters were armed calmed him down, or at least prevented him from taking any violent action. While Losar ushered the other two prisoners into the cell with their leaders, Beth walked back to her brother.

“Pez?” she offered, holding out a nondescript dispenser.

“Um, thanks,” Roy said, accepting the small package. He looked at it quizzically. “Where did you get Pez?” he asked at last.

“There’s a small storeroom full of it nearby,” Beth told him. “It’s right next to the Room of Spam.”

“The Room of Spam?”

“It’s best not to ask.”


“I won’t, then.”

In the command room, Number Five lay in wait with eighteen of the rebels, ready to defend their headquarters from the invaders. The problem was that the invaders were taking an awfully long time to reach them. Five was considering sending out scouts; who knew what those cursed crewmembers could be doing?

“See anything?” he asked one of the lower-level renegades towards the front. He had taken a page from Number One’s leadership style and had stationed himself in the back, where it was safe.

“Nothing yet,” was the reply. Five could tell that the others were growing tired of the waiting as well. The invaders would be fools to ignore the command center; they had to come here eventually. What was taking them so long?

“What is taking them so long?” someone in the rearguard asked. He was quickly hushed up. It wouldn’t do for the invaders to hear them. It defeated the whole purpose of having an ambush. Five listened carefully, trying to hear the approach of the invaders over the breathing of the rebels, the almost-inaudible noises of the ship, the footsteps approaching from behind, the—

Wait a minute.

Five slowly turned to see if perhaps his mind was deceiving him. Nothing. He had almost decided it was in his mind when one of the invaders stumbled into the light.

“They’re behind us!” he shouted. “Run for your lives!”

With a great war cry, the renegades rushed forward, leaving their adversaries dumbfounded in their wake.

“What now?” asked Stanford as their quarry vanished around a corner.

“I suppose it would be best to follow them and prevent any further mischief,” Hydrospok replied.

“Um, maybe Masaki and I should stay behind to tell the others where we’re going,” Menéndez suggested.

“That won’t be necessary,” Stanford told him.

“If we’re leaving the compound, we really should tell them—”

“That won’t be necessary.”


“You are not leaving me alone with him,” Stanford hissed fiercely.

“I guess not.”

“Then let us be off,” Hydrospok said, and with that he leapt into action. After a moment, the three Black Squadron pilots followed.

The elite assassination team (plus one) was about halfway to rebel headquarters when Number Three called a halt. “I’ve been hearing footsteps behind us,” he explained. “I want to make sure it’s not an echo.” The two renegades and their prisoner halted, listening for movement from behind.

“It stopped,” Four whispered.

“Yeah. After we did. We’re being followed.”

Horlun drew a deep breath to shout, but decided against it when Four stuck the barrel of his assault weapon under his nose. “Just yawning,” he said, grinning nervously. “I—wait, do you hear that?”

The renegades listened. From the sound of it, a disorderly mob was running towards them from the other side.

“You think they got around us?” Four asked.

“I don’t see how,” Three replied. “Let’s hope it’s reinforcements.”

A short distance beyond the disorderly mob, Hydrospok and the three Black Squadron pilots were busy chasing Five’s defense force. Whenever the renegades began to slow, Hydrospok let loose a fierce war cry that sent them running again. This was beginning to annoy his companions.

“If you keep… scaring them off like that,” Menéndez panted, “we are never… gonna catch up.”

“I’m not sure we want to catch them,” Masaki told him. “We’re heavily outnumbered.”

“Oh… great.”

Ahead, they heard shouting, then silence. Their quarry had halted.

“What now?” Masaki asked.

“It sounds like they’re making a stand,” Stanford guessed.

“Come, Stanford,” said Hydrospok, “let us go forth and investigate this matter.”

“We’ll stay behind,” Menéndez said quickly, “and, uh—”

“—provide cover,” Masaki chimed in. “It’s not a glamorous job, but—”

“—someone’s got to do it,” Stanford finished. He rolled his eyes, but didn’t otherwise comment. “In any case,” he added, “we’d better hurry before they can organize.”

“Right,” Hydrospok agreed. The two squadron leaders moved forward with all the stealth they could muster, while Menéndez and Masaki followed a short distance behind. The halls were short in this section of the restricted areas, forcing them to take a roundabout route to get make significant progress in a given direction. Approaching the last corner before the renegades, they paused to listen to the rebels’ conversation.

“Can you hear any of that?” Stanford asked.

“No,” Hydrospok replied, “it’s too quiet. But, we’ll soon find out, I suppose.” With a mighty leap, he burst around the corner and trained his pistol at the rebels. “Surrender, villains!” he ordered them. “If you don’t give us trouble, we may be inclined to go easy on you.” Stanford slowly joined him and raised his own weapon.

The rebels closest to them looked to be seriously considering the offer, but their leaders were not so inclined.

“Hold it!” one of them shouted. “Throw down your weapons or we’ll kill the hostage!” Another pressed his assault weapon against the neck of their hostage, whom Hydrospok recognized as Horlun SoFah.

“You cad!” cried Hydrospok.

Stanford merely sighed and lowered his weapon.

“What should we do?” asked Menéndez.

“At this point, all we can do is hope for the best,” Masaki told him.

“This is the force you were running from?” Three asked Five in disbelief.

“There were more of them before,” Five said sheepishly. His eyes narrowed. “Who were you running from? Did something go wrong on your mission?”

“You could say that…,” Three began.

“Security found us,” Four said plainly. “Ow!” he added when Three smacked him in the head.

“So they’re chasing you?” Five snickered. Then he paled. “How close are they? Are we in danger?”

“Don’t panic,” Three told him. “I doubt they’re expecting twenty of us and we’ve got three hostages, now.”

“But not all of us are armed,” Five reminded him. “That thrice-cursed Beth Gaelen didn’t get us enough weapons.”

“How dare you soil the name of Beth Gaelen, you uncouth vermin!” one of the new prisoners cried.

“We are not vermin!” Four shouted back. “And we’re plenty couth, too.”

“Don’t talk to the prisoners,” Three admonished. “And stop hyperventilating,” he told Five. “Honestly, there are times I wonder what Number One was thinking when he promoted you two.”

“Um, we’ve got a bit of a problem,” one of the lower-level renegades said, gesturing at their rear-guard.

Three turned and saw the rebels he had set to guard against the security forces behind them sitting cross-legged on the floor and watched by several members of Ship Security. More of the security men (and women) were in front, aiming their weapons at the renegade forces. Behind them, Captain Harrison leaned against a wall, an amused half-smile on her face. She waved.

“You!” Four cried, raising his assault weapon and firing off a shot before being wrestled to the ground by the security forces. The shot hit the wall where Harrison had been leaning; she had seemingly vanished into thin air.

“She’s gone!” one of the rebels cried.

“She’s a sorceress!” another added. Three could hear hysteria spreading through the rank and file.

“Don’t panic!” he shouted. “Retreat!”

“I think that’s our cue,” Menéndez said. He and Masaki burst around the corner, cutting off the rebels’ escape.

Trapped between overwhelming forces on one end and significantly less overwhelming but still potentially dangerous forces on the other end, the last of the renegade forces quietly surrendered.

And that was that.

Anme barely waited for things to calm before rushing to greet her friend. “Horlun,” she said, embracing him, “I’m so glad you’re safe.” For the moment, she could forget what an idiot he had been and simply experience the joy of their reunion. A joy that Horlun only seemed to share halfway.

“Aren’t you taking a big risk being here?” Horlun whispered in answer to her unspoken question. “What if they find out you were part of the assassination attempt? They could arrest you… or worse.”

“That… won’t be a problem,” she told him, hoping that he wouldn’t ask why. She had made the right decision, but it still made her uncomfortable.

“Why not?” Horlun asked, not picking up the ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ vibe.

Anme took a deep breath and released it. “They already know,” she confided. “I told Harrison about it when I called to make the lunch arrangements. That’s why security was there.”

“You set them up?!”


“But, why?” Horlun asked, lowering his voice again. “Supporting the government instead of the rebels… I don’t get it.”

“I talked with the rebel leader leader,” Anme explained. “He didn’t seem as interested in ending oppression as in getting more power for himself. And… I guess Harrison isn’t so bad a person after all.”

“I’m glad you think so,” said the Captain.

“Gyaah!” cried Anme and Horlun.

“Do you have to sneak up on people like that?” Anme demanded.

“No,” Harrison told her. “We’re heading over to the renegade base, now. You’ll want to tag along; it’s easy to get lost out here.”

“Thank you,” Horlun said.

“No problem.” Harrison started off, then turned and added: “Oh, Anme, that jacket looks good on you.” She smiled that half-smile of hers and went to join the others.

“That’s right,” Horlun said, “what’s with the uniform?”

“I’m just borrowing it,” Anme said quickly. “It’s for protection.”

“Against what?”

“I’m not sure. Ray guns or something.”

“Oh.” Seeing that the security personnel and their prisoners had already gone around the corner, Anme and Horlun moved quickly to catch up. They had caught up with the others and walked some distance before Anme voiced a question that had been troubling her.

“So, you really thought I would go along with these idiots and help murder someone?”

Horlun looked embarrassed. “It seemed consistent with your attitude about these things.”

She sighed. “Oh, Horlun, Horlun, Horlun.”

“What? You could have told me about this, you know.”

Anme grimaced. “It was a secret and all. And you were kinda angry that night, so….”

Eventually, Anme agreed to be less secretive and Horlun agreed to read some of her back issues of Sullen Rebel magazine. The group had started down the causeway into the rebel headquarters when they all sensed the transition back into realspace. The great ship had arrived at Arorua, where they would hopefully find the missing Blue Squadron.

“Shouldn’t you be on the bridge?” Menéndez asked Harrison, a moment before he remembered that one shouldn’t say such things to the Captain. Fortunately, she didn’t seem to mind.

“I don’t think anything will come up,” she told him, “and if it does, I imagine Gerhardt can handle it.”

Can Gerhardt handle it?

What is “it”, exactly?

Might it have anything to do with the fact that Arorua is currently home to a Zakavian fleet and a giant robot who aren’t on very friendly terms?

Do really we have to ask these questions when the episode doesn’t leave a cliffhanger?

SFSTORY: You’re Soaking In It