Starcruiser Anonymous

(A Tale Within Sfstory)

Episode 21
Wherein the Ampron Force
Returns to Space

Dave Menendez

Prince Lotekh of the house Entesh—heir to the Imperial throne, Captain-Commander in the Imperial Military Aggregate, ranking officer over all Zakavian forces in the Aroruan system, and exactly the sort of person Machiavelli was talking about when he said it was safer for a leader to be feared than loved—had been in a foul mood ever since the Aroruans had defeated Alpha Ra. Oddly enough, the crew onboard his flagship Absurd Physical Harm saw this as a good thing, as it meant Lotekh spent his time being moody in his room rather than wandering around the ship finding faults and picking nits and generally threatening the careers of anyone he came across. It might be a little hard on the furniture at times, but furniture could be easily replaced. Some of the wiser crew members were concerned that the prince was merely bottling up his anger and would eventually release it in an explosion of irritability, but they could do little beyond waiting for their transfer requests to get processed. The rest of the crew went about their business with a hollow cheerfulness, knowing in their hearts that Lotekh would eventually get over his problems and then they’d have to deal with him again.

Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, Lotekh’s mood had only grown darker after receiving a response from Lord Ganush regarding Alpha Ra’s maiden battle. The Sonar Men’s armored sales representative had sent his regrets about Alpha Ra’s destruction, but pointed out that the battle with Ampron had voided its warrantee. He had offered to discount their next giant robot purchase, but there would be none available for the next month or so. Lotekh didn’t have that kind of time. The last message from planet Gloom had said they were sending “additional forces”. Lotekh didn’t know what they had meant by that, but he was sure it wasn’t good. His idiot father had been severely displeased by the reappearance of Ampron. The defeat of Alpha Ra could only have made things worse. He needed to act now if he was to redeem himself. He couldn’t let victory be attributed to those “additional forces”.

The fool Mselt didn’t agree. “Let’s wait for the reinforcements,” he had said. “The Aroruans aren’t getting any stronger,” he had said. “Bombing them from orbit seems excessive,” he had said. The advice of a coward. A whiny, sniveling, irritating coward. What Lotekh needed was action!

“Gyaah!” he shouted, hurling a paperweight against the wall. Being made of advanced plastics, it bounced to the floor unharmed. “That wasn’t very satisfying,” the frustrated prince muttered. Maybe the storeroom still had some glass ones left. He had already gone through all the crystal ones.

He needed a diversion, something to take his mind off the interminable waiting. Passing over the book his stepmother had given him, he switched on his viewscreen. He had mostly absorbed Captain-General Tvanir’s space forces into the Third Fleet after her incapacitation, and that included the local military entertainment department. Their low-budget productions ranged from the poorly acted to the spectacularly awful, but it was less work than reading.

He flipped through the entertainment and news channels aimlessly, waiting for something to catch his eye. He found one quickly, but it took him a moment to identify what it was: neither news nor entertainment nor any public broadcast. It was the signal from the hidden camera outside Princess Elim’s cell.

Officially, the Aroruan princess was a guest on the Absurd Physical Harm to protect her from rebel terrorists. As such, she had been shown some courtesies at the beginning of her stay. They’d decided to forgo most of them after that disaster during her tour of the engine room. The chief engineer still hadn’t forgiven Lotekh for that, but the prince grudgingly withheld his wrath. Mselt had convinced him that the chief engineer was too important to execute.

The princess was evidently something of an athlete. She had managed to stand her bed on its side and was using a leg as a chin-up bar. Lotekh had to admire her resourcefulness. While he was at it, he made a note to have her bed bolted to the floor.

While Elim passed the time in exercise, her brother wandered through the Aroruan palace accompanied by the soft bap-bap-bap sound of his paddleball. Since the defeat of Alpha Ra and the Zakavian retreat into orbit, the rest of the Ampron Force had been busy preparing the great robot for its next battle. Boltar had been excused from these preparations out of deference to his position. With King Gisp dead and Princess Elim supporting the Zakavians (or so the Aroruans believed), he was now the planet’s ruler. Thus far, his only official actions had involved re-appointing Desir Elahte as Chancellor so that he could handle the actual details of ruling the planet, which were numerous and often quite complicated. That kind of stress Boltar didn’t need.

In the library, he found what he’d been looking for. Samantha Dixon was standing by the windows, intermittently sipping a glass of tonic water. Normally, the windows were opened in the morning, allowing easy access to the balcony just outside, but today had been overcast with occasional showers, so the windows were closed.

“Good morning, Ms Dixon,” he said in greeting. She turned to face him and nodded.

“Good morning, Your Highness.”

“Don’t be so formal,” he told her. “We’re both on the Ampron Force. Just call me Boltar.”

She took a sip of her tonic water. “I suppose I’d rather die with people I know on a first-name basis,” she mused.

“That’s the spirit!”

“Then you may call me Samantha, I suppose.”

Boltar grinned and turned his attention out the window for a moment. From here, he could see the final preparations being made for Ampron’s next battle, which would hopefully take place in space. Although the vast, high-tech hangar they had discovered beneath the palace was large enough to hold the great robot, no one had figured out how to get Ampron into it. Thus, they worked on the robot’s space frame on a hastily-constructed platform just outside Capital City. To hide it from the Zakavians in orbit, they had hung an enormous tarp over it and placed a sign advertising half-schilling cups of lemonade nearby. Finding a tarp big enough to hide a hundred-meter robot had been a challenge, Boltar understood, but the palace’s attic held many strange things.

“You’re up bright and early,” came the cheerful voice of Alex McCurry from behind them.

“I’d hate to oversleep and miss the launch,” Dixon replied. “What with destiny and all.”

“It is a momentous day, isn’t it?” McCurry commented, stepping up to the window and rubbing his hands briskly together. “Pity about the weather, though. Kinda gloomy. Not too auspicious.”

“I don’t know,” Dixon said. “It seems appropriate enough.”

“You know, Samantha,” Boltar interjected, “it’s almost like you don’t think we’ll win.”

“There are times when I’m not certain,” Dixon told him, “but then I remember what we’re up against.”

“Oh yeah, I can see why that might concern you.”

Dixon raised an eyebrow. “You’re not concerned?”

“Not me,” Boltar said, grinning again. “We’ve got fate on our side. We met up with you four, we found Ampron, we beat that other robot… we’re on a roll, here. If that gloomy weather’s a bad omen, then I’ll bet it’s for the Zakavians.”

“The fleet is in space,” Dixon noted. “It’s not raining in space.”

“Well…, yeah,” Boltar admitted, “but it’s still fate.”

Dixon shrugged and the conversation drifted into silence. Boltar’s paddleball continued beating its soft rhythm. Dixon finished off her tonic water. Outside, workers explained to some out-of-town travelers that they weren’t really selling lemonade.

“Well,” McCurry said at last, “I’ll see y’all at the briefing.”

“How long do we have?” Dixon asked.

“About an hour.”

She rattled the ice in her glass. “I think I’ll get another drink. See you two later.”

Dixon and McCurry wandered off. After a moment, Boltar left as well. He hadn’t visited the shrine to Microtron, Goddess of Giant Robots, in a while, and—while he knew fate wouldn’t let him down—it never hurt to hedge one’s bets.

Beneath the mighty tarp which concealed Ampron from the Zakavian eyes above, Tels Garav sat at a makeshift desk, carefully looking through the status reports on Ampron’s refit. Garav had little experience managing a giant robot repair crew, but Bentor had assured him that he could do an adequate job and given him a copy of Giant Robot Maintenance for the Truly Ignorant which had been found in the mysterious chambers beneath the palace.

Ampron lay on its back on a platform which avoided being condemned as a safety hazard only because the Aroruans had no laws setting guidelines for giant robot repair platforms. The newly-reassembled space frame augmented Ampron’s unique physique rather nicely, in Garav’s opinion. The strategically placed blast shielding and maneuvering engines actually made Arorua’s defender look more like a death-dealing war machine and less like a mad scientist’s attempt to create a human being using only penguins. (When shown the plans, Thomas Dent had made a comment about the enhanced Ampron looking like it was “all out of bubble gum”. Garav hadn’t had the courage to ask what that meant.)

Officially, the project was proceeding smoothly and without incident. This was a lie. There had actually been several incidents, which Garav had covered up at the insistence of his workers. He wasn’t comfortable about it, but he would not have to do it much longer. The operation was virtually completed, and after today he would never have to deal with giant robots or people trying to buy lemonade or those… other problems again.


Garav swore and looked up from his papers, trying to guess where that scream had come from. His search was aided by a burst of gunfire and shouting that followed a few moments later. It was coming from the left elbow this time. “Is the whole frame infested with those things?” he muttered.

“What things?”

Garav jumped and spun around to see Roger Vasta and Thomas Dent. “Um, good morning,” the lanky ex-waiter said uncertainly. “You gentlemen are a little early; the launch isn’t for a few hours yet.”

Vasta shrugged casually. “We thought we’d see how things were going,” he said. The two pilots had just finished a series of tests in the Penguin simulators, which is to say that Vasta had spent several hours honing his skills at piloting giant penguins and robots while Dent sought to discover just how large an explosion the simulator could produce. (The final result was, in fact, quite large, but Dent felt it couldn’t really compare to the real thing.)

“Things are going pretty well here,” Garav told them. “We’ve finished putting things together, and now we’re cleaning up before the launch.” Behind him, something in the general area of Ampron’s left elbow exploded.

“Not bad,” Dent said, nodding in approval. Garav laughed nervously.

“Does the clean-up process normally involve explosions?” asked Vasta, eyeing the prone form of Arorua’s defender.

“Um,” Garav said, scratching the back of his neck, “I’m sure the workers know what they’re doing.”

“Ow! Careful with that, you moron!”

Vasta looked uncertain.

“Really,” Garav assured him, “everything is fine. Nothing whatsoever to get concerned about.”

“Look out! They’re all over the walls!”

“Oh, the fun we have,” Garav chuckled. “What a bunch of cut-ups.”

Now Dent looked uncertain. Vasta looked flatly suspicious.

“Garav,” asked the leader of the Ampron Force, “are you sure everything is all right?”

“Aaaagh! Get it off me! Get it off me!”

“Absolutely,” Garav assured him. “Everything’s going smoothly.”

Vasta looked at Dent. Dent looked at Vasta.

“You know,” Dent said sagely, “the first step to dealing with a problem is admitting you have a problem.”

Garav opened his mouth to respond, but was cut off by another burst of gunfire and shouting. He sighed in resignation. “Well, we’re, ah, kind of having a problem with cave squirrels,” he admitted.

Vasta blinked. “Cave squirrels?”

The cave squirrel is the only aspect of Arorua more widely known than Ampron—not that this is saying a whole lot. Little is known about them, save their general appearance and disposition. The creatures are slightly smaller than a cat, with six legs and a bushy tail and soft, white fur and a vicious set of claws and fangs. Aroruans generally avoid their lairs, heeding their reputation as fierce fighters who are not above ganging up on an opponent. Off-worlders take the legend less seriously, and occasionally a band of hunters will drop by, head off to the caves, and never be heard from again. One such expedition was loosely adapted into a low-budget horror movie called Cave Squirrel Rampage, described by Leonard Maltin as “an embarrassment to the cinema.”

Even the name “cave squirrel” raises unanswered questions. Although cave squirrels do live in caves and do look and move much like their non-cave counterparts, regular squirrels are not native to Arorua. Several theories have been put forth in an attempt to explain this, but most authorities agree with Kasak Llan’s conjecture that this is “just one of those things.”

“Cunning and vicious, eh?” Dent said, smacking a fist into his palm. He chuckled. “That could be amusing.”

Garav groaned. He was not looking forward to the next few hours.

Elahte had been reluctant to start the briefing with two-fifths of the Ampron Force missing, but even his patience was limited—especially when hostile fleets were lurking in orbit. He had hoped to begin with a report from Tels Garav about Ampron’s status, but Garav hadn’t shown up either. Instead, Elahte had gone over the known composition of the Zakavian Third Fleet. Dixon and McCurry both seemed to benefit from the review, and Boltar… well, there was a reason Elahte had let an off-worlder like Vasta lead the Ampron Force instead of Arorua’s ruling prince. Of course, Vasta’s absence wasn’t exactly filling Elahte with confidence. Elahte was beginning to worry that something terrible had happened.

“We’re here,” Vasta said, walking into the conference room with Dent and Garav. All three looked somewhat worse for wear, like they’d been in some sort of fight. Dent, the scruffiest-looking of the three, had a satisfied grin which did not comfort Elahte at all. He looked at the newcomers and frowned.

“You gentlemen are late.”

“Did we miss anything important?” Vasta asked, taking a seat. The other two followed suit, Garav pausing to brush some dust and ash off his pants.

“I was just starting to describe the battle plan,” Elahte told him.

“Ooh, ooh!” Dent cried, waving his hand in the air. “ ‘Kill the enemy,’ right?”

“That’s your solution to everything,” Dixon chided.

“It’s a flexible plan,” Dent said with pride. “What’s more, you can apply it to any enemy without major modifications.”

“It seems more like a goal than a plan, if you ask me,” McCurry commented absently.

“I don’t recall doing that,” Dent told him.

“It, er, occurs to me,” Elahte interjected, “that the sooner I can finish describing the battle plan, the sooner you can head out and implement it.”

“I’ll be good,” Dent said quickly, straightening in his seat and looking at Elahte attentively.

“Right.” Elahte cleared his throat and began the briefing. “Now, the legends state that Ampron was able to defeat forces even when vastly outnumbered—with one exception—but, unfortunately, they don’t go on to explain how. As a result, Bentor and I have had to come up with something based on the known capabilities of the Third Fleet and Ampron.

“The first step will be getting into orbit. The space frame by itself doesn’t carry enough fuel for this, so you’ll be using an temporary external fuel pack. Unfortunately, Ampron can’t walk with the pack attached, so you’ll have to launch while standing on the repair platform. Once in space, you’ll—yes?”

“How will the exhaust affect the city?” Dixon asked.

“We’re advising people to stay inside with the windows shut,” Elahte replied. “Once in space, you’ll need to jettison the pack for maximum maneuverability. At that point, you’ll be able to see the fleet in the long-range sensors. Don’t head straight for it: you’re not experienced enough to take the entire fleet at once. You’ll want to draw ships off individually and fight them one-on-one. If possible, you can try to get them to destroy each other in their attempt to destroy you. Yes, Vasta?”

“How many ships are there?”

“Including the supply ships, around thirty. The flagship appears to be the Absurd Physical Harm. We’re hoping that if you manage to take it out, the remaining fleet will be demoralized and retreat.” He stopped and looked at the others expectantly. They looked back at him. “Are there any questions?” he asked, signaling that he was finished.

Dixon voiced her concerns first. “Our plan is dependent on the enemy being stupid?”

“It seems more like a tactic than a plan, if you ask me,” McCurry commented.

“Shut up, McCurry,” Dent said.

Elahte cleared his throat again. The petty bickering of the Ampron Force was beginning to wear on his nerves. “The truth of the matter, Ms Dixon, is that we’re working without any real knowledge of Ampron’s more advanced abilities. If you can think of a better plan, please don’t keep it from us.”

Dixon arched an eyebrow, but remained silent.

“Any other questions?”

“I have one,” Vasta said. “Assuming we survive this—and I know I plan to survive—will we be receiving any sort of benefits package?”

Elahte winced. This could turn ugly.

Lotekh leaned back in his chair, idly munching some popcorn. (He’d gone to a lot of trouble to get it; the ship’s vending machines were clearly unsuited for a flagship.) After a quick meal and a surprise inspection of the life support staff, he had returned to his office and resumed watching the camera feed from Elim’s cell. She had long ago completed her chin-ups and returned her bed to its original orientation. At the moment, she was staring blankly at the ceiling. Lotekh had been watching for some time, lacking anything better to do while Mselt made plans to deal with the Aroruans. It was oddly relaxing, like staring at an aquarium. He wasn’t sure why. It was a new experience for him.

Abruptly, the dark-haired princess sat up and looked directly at him. Lotekh’s throat caught. She knew he was watching! She was challenging him! Lotekh wasn’t about to let a challenge go unanswered, and was standing up to storm down to her cell when he was interrupted by the intercom.

“Lotekh to the bridge.”

He bristled. How dare they address him so familiarly? Had they no respect for his position? “I am a prince!” he shouted, slamming his fist onto his desk.

“Are you there?” the voice from the intercom continued, unruffled. “You need to hit the reply button to respond.”

It was Mselt. It had to be. Keeping a tight reign on his temper, Lotekh swatted at the control panel. “I am on my way,” he said through clenched teeth.


Lotekh glanced back at the viewscreen. The princess was still staring, an odd, inquisitive look in her eyes. Snarling, he switched it off and stomped out of his office.

Elim squinted at one of the random protrusions in the ceiling. Was that the security camera? She shook her head, mentally deriding Zakavian industrial design. It was like they deliberately made things hard to identify.

“This had better be important,” Lotekh raged as he stormed into the bridge, “because if it isn’t, by Amsa, I swear I’ll—”

“The Aroruans have launched a counter-attack,” Mselt interrupted casually.

“They what!?”

“Launched a counter-attack,” Mselt repeated. He gestured at the main screen, which showed a zoomed-in view of Ampron leaving Arorua’s atmosphere. The damage from its fight with Alpha Ra had been repaired and it sported new weapons, new armor, and a set of zero-gee maneuvering thrusters. According to the tactical display, it was slowly heading in their direction.

“So,” Lotekh sneered, quickly regaining his composure, “they dare to launch an attack against us.” He turned to his fleet’s commander and jabbed a finger at the viewscreen. “Mselt! I want that robot destroyed!”

“It’s an awful lot bigger than I am, sir,” Mselt said blandly.

Lotekh fixed his subordinate with a withering glare. “Is there a problem with my orders, Captain-General?” he asked quietly.

“Not at all, Your Highness,” Mselt replied. He quickly ordered two cruisers nearest Ampron to begin the initial attack.

Smiling, Lotekh returned his attention to the viewscreen, which showed the Golden Spider-Duck and the Squat Crimson Pig moving towards their prey. “Perhaps I should have the Princess brought up so she can witness her planet’s final defeat,” he mused.

“We haven’t won yet,” Mselt reminded him. “Remember Alpha Ra?”

Lotekh scowled. “I am unlikely to forget that.” Unfortunately, so was everyone else. “Very well, you have made your point. Once we have defeated this Ampron, I will show her the highlights of the battle. Space battles can be rather tedious, after all.”

Vasta had been pleasantly surprised at how well-prepared he felt for this mission. The simulators beneath the Aroruan palace had proven to be quite accurate in giving a feel for how Ampron flew, and the controls were surprisingly similar to the fighters on the Anonymous in terms of basic principles and organization.

They didn’t expect to be splitting Ampron into its component penguins, so the five pilots were sitting together in the primary command center located in Ampron’s chest. Vasta, being the leader, had the fewest button-pushing responsibilities. His job was to make sure the other four pilots didn’t work at cross-purposes and keep an eye on the larger strategy. In a separate room behind them, Dixon hung in a control frame suspended in a display sphere, giving her the best idea of where Ampron’s various limbs were in relation to the outside world. This was a good thing, since the control frame transferred her movements to Ampron’s control software. On the ground and in close combat, this job was the most important and the least comfortable. In space fighting starships, the job was less important, but equally uncomfortable. Dixon had taken the job after getting annoyed when the members of Ampron Force had spent fifteen minutes declining to accept it.

The remaining members of Ampron Force were in charge of functions that didn’t translate well into body movement. McCurry was in charge of the maneuvering thrusters, and Vasta was confident that he would do a competent job. Prince Boltar had communications, which disquieted Vasta for reasons he couldn’t quite identify. Dent had weapons control, which disquieted Vasta for reasons he could identify. He would have preferred Dixon or McCurry for that job, but Dent had given him that “lost puppy with a howitzer” look he did so well and Vasta had relented with the cryptic reminder that ammunition was expensive.

“We’ve left the atmosphere,” McCurry announced. “Or at least the official boundary. Technically, there’s still atmospheric particles this far out, but they’re so diffuse that—”

“Any reaction from the fleet?” Vasta asked, cutting off McCurry’s exposition before Dent had a chance to. He didn’t really need to ask—the displays at his station were just as informative as McCurry’s—but Vasta was trying to encourage a more professional feel in the group. Also, it gave McCurry something useful to talk about.

“Two ships have broken off and are headed this way,” McCurry told him.

“Should I contact them?” asked Boltar.

“Not yet,” Vasta decided. “Let’s see what they do.”

McCurry eased up on the thrust and Ampron glided slowly towards the Zakavian fleet. (Of course, how one defines ‘slowly’ depends a great deal on context. If, instead of being surrounded by thousands of kilometers of nothing, Ampron were in a narrow trench on a large battle station, it would appear to be going quite fast indeed.) Between the robot and the fleet, two cruisers drew closer to their target. They were nearly within fighter range before they attempted to make contact.

“This is the Captain of the Imperial Zakavian Starship Golden Spider-Duck,” began the message. At Vasta’s request, Boltar had put the message on the command center’s speakers. “On behalf of the Empire, we ask that you identify yourself and explain your attack on our forces.”

“Sure, they’re all diplomatic after we beat them,” Dixon muttered over the intercom.

“We are the Ampron Force, representing the free people of Arorua,” Boltar replied. “For too long, our people have toiled under your yoke. Today, we swear that we will end it! We have defeated your army! We have defeated your robot! Leave this system, or you too will face our might!” He and Dent high-fived.

“Nicely direct,” Vasta commented, leaning back and steepling his fingers, “but try to be less belligerent in the future.”

“Ampron Force,” came the reply from the Zakavians, “I am not authorized to propose a truce, but I can request that a diplomat be sent to discuss—”

“That will not be necessary,” Boltar interrupted. “The time for talk has passed!”

“I am certain that a peaceful—”

“There can be no peace with the likes of you, villain!”

Vasta had identified why Boltar’s position had made him uneasy. He resolved to pay more attention to those feelings in the future. As for the Captain of the Golden Spider-Duck, he merely replied, “So be it,” and cut the transmission. What he had meant by that became clearer a few moments later, as both ships launched fighters.

“Remind me to thank you for this later,” Dixon commented acidly as she watched the fighters approach.

“As you like, Samantha,” the young prince replied. Vasta raised an eyebrow. First names? If Boltar and Dixon were having some sort of relationship, it might impact the team as a whole. On the other hand, this wasn’t the best time to be concerned about such matters.

“Warm up the small-craft defenses,” Vasta ordered.

“Right, Boss,” Dent replied. He chuckled slowly, dry-washing his hands, before activating the defensive shields and short-range weapons.

Like a swarm of mosquitoes, the fighters closed in. But these annoying pests weren’t just out to suck blood—they wanted death and weren’t powerful enough to cause it. So they were more like a swarm of biting black flies or an angry hive of hornets or something. Wasps, maybe.

It didn’t take long for Vasta to notice a problem. Individual fighters were no problem for Ampron, but a coordinated group posed some difficulties. The small craft had the capability to cause serious damage, and while these attacks could easily be blocked, it did require some effort. Ampron’s larger weapons were oriented towards full starships; using them on fighters would be wasteful. Ampron’s smaller weapons were appropriate for smaller craft, but also required some effort to use. Thus, Ampron could defend itself, attack its foes, or do a real half-assed job of both.

As it was, their attacks currently consisted of Dixon occasionally taking a swing at a nearby fighter, and most of the pilots had learned to keep out of reach.

“This isn’t working,” Vasta said finally, a sentiment with which the others quickly concurred (except for Dixon, who was trying to kick a fighter into oblivion).

“I’ll bet the Zakavians are just watching and laughing,” Dent seethed. Again, the others were generally in agreement.

“We need a new plan,” Boltar declared. The others felt this was pretty much obvious, and noted that any suggestions would be appreciated.

“Perhaps it would be best if we pulled back and regrouped,” McCurry suggested.

“Regroup?” Dixon asked. “There’s only one of us.”

“I don’t think we all need to be manning the barricades,” Vasta said at last. “Let’s see if we can’t keep these pests off our back while we attack the bigger ships. Dent, what can we do against a cruiser?”

“We have three Plasmic Destructo-Pods,” Dent told him, “and we might be able to do something with the Penguin Spear.”

“Like what?” asked Dixon.

“Stab ’em, I guess.”

“I’m having doubts about this plan,” Vasta muttered. “Let’s try this then,” he added more loudly. “Dent?”

“We’ll want to get a little closer,” Dent said.

“Okay, take us in, then.”

McCurry activated the thrusters, and Ampron moved towards the Golden Spider-Duck, the cloud of fighters trailing behind it. Unfortunately, they had forgotten that their target was armed. The first Megadeathkill blast nearly broke the giant robot into pieces. Dent quickly redirected the shielding, but this left them vulnerable to the fighters, which were massing to strike from the rear.

“Okay, people,” Vasta barked, “I want ideas, fast.”

“Something’s translating into realspace,” said McCurry.


There was an off-white flash.

The mood on the bridge of the Absurd Physical Harm was one of glee, particularly that part of the bridge occupied by Prince Lotekh. He had been watching Ampron’s largely ineffectual attack on the fleet and found it most amusing.

“So this is the great Ampron?” he crowed. “Tvanir was a fool to be routed by that. Twice, even!”

“Both those battles took place on the ground,” Mselt noted. “Ampron may be less effective in space.”

“Bah.” Lotekh went back to watching the struggle, his good mood only slightly dampened. Around him, the bridge crew went about its business, most keeping one eye on their instruments and the other on the fight. A few contemplated placing bets, but Lotekh’s presence made the safety of such an idea uncertain.

One station lit up a warning. Sensors had detected a disturbance in the local structure of space. It was a moment before the warning was noticed, interpreted, and passed up the chain of command.

“Something is dropping out of overly-hyped space,” Commander Dfale informed Mselt in a low tone. “It’s big enough to be a fleet.”

“A fleet?” Lotekh asked. He had been waiting for such an announcement. “It seems my father’s ‘additional forces’ have arrived.”

“Perhaps,” Mselt agreed, “but let’s not jump—”

There was an off-white flash.

“—to conclusions… It… I… oh no…”

“What?” Lotekh asked. Mselt looked unusually distressed, even frightened. It was unnerving. Lotekh glanced at Mselt’s viewscreen to see what had upset his subordinate. Whatever had just translated in-system had ended up just outside the Third Fleet’s formation, which meant it wasn’t Zakavian. The fleet had taken a position far from Arorua, but still close enough that Zakavian ships could not translate in or out of overly-hyped space safely. That way, the fleet would have time to prepare for attacks coming from any direction.

Lotekh didn’t need to know the details of the ship’s engines to know it represented a higher technology. Its sheer size was enough for that. He looked at Mselt again, and saw that the Third Fleet’s commander had partially regained his composure.

“That ship,” he said, a hint of panic in his voice. “The pilots I captured were from that ship. It must have followed me, somehow. It’s looking for them!”

“Those Terrans?” Lotekh asked, thinking back. “Didn’t we leave them on Planet Gloom? No, wait, they tried to escape and got shot down.”

“Wonderful,” Mselt snapped, “I’ll let you tell their friends that.”

“First a legendary robot, and now a massive starship from the past that you annoyed,” Lotekh mused. “I wonder if any other threats from the past are going to show up.”

“Something else is dropping out of overly-hyped space,” Dfale noted helpfully.

“It had better be those additional forces,” Lotekh growled.

It wasn’t.

Captain-General Rtali stood proudly on the bridge of his flagship, the Valorous Moon Yak. At last, his forces had arrived at Arorua, their first target in their campaign against the Empire. The local garrison was said to be weak, so he anticipated an easy victory. Perhaps he might even sway Tvanir to his side.

“Today,” he intoned, “we cast away our old lives as the Eighth Fleet. Today we formally end our service to the Zakavian Empire. No longer will we hide in the shadows! Today, we… we…”

“We what, sir?”

“Is that viewscreen accurate?”

Before the former Zakavian Eighth Fleet was the largest starship Rtali had ever seen. Beyond that appeared to be a giant robot fighting two Zakavian cruisers. Between them was an entire Zakavian battle fleet.

“This is Arorua, right?”

“All evidence says so, sir.”

Rtali bit his lip. This was not looking like the quick and easy battle he had anticipated.

Will the Zakavians destroy Ampron?

Will they destroy the Anonymous?

How about Rtali?

For that matter, what the heck is Rtali doing back in the plot?

More confusion, a long-awaited reunion, and the introduction of another participant in this battle in our next throat-gobbling episode!

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