Starcruiser Anonymous

(A Tale Within Sfstory)

Episode 22
Wherein the Hostilities

Dave Menendez

There was a sense of relief on the bridge as, for the second time anyone could remember, the Anonymous dropped safely out of overly-hyped space. For a moment, no one spoke; the bridge crew quietly listened to the hums and whirs and clicks and beeps and heavy breathing and other bridge noises. Then someone told Carl to knock it off with his Darth Vader impression. After all, there was work to be done.

Commander Gerhardt quickly ordered the usual battery of tests, verifying the status of the Anonymous, checking that they were indeed in the Aroruan system, and making sure they weren’t dangerously close to anything. As a matter of taste, Gerhardt also ordered the viewdome set to “outside view”, making the multistory, hemispherical screen approximate what a window might show if there weren’t several kilometers of starship in every direction. During the transit through overly-hyped space, the viewdome had been set to a neutral pattern, except when the bridge crew was using it to watch old Marx Brothers movies.

As expected, nothing was close enough to show up as more than a dot, save Arorua itself. For the bridge crew, the lush planet was a wonderful change of scenery after years of orbiting Saturn and a few harrowing hours over Planet Gloom. Up in the command deck overlooking the rest of the bridge, Gerhardt leaned back in his chair and waited for the tests to complete.

“The tests are complete,” Lieutenant Gordon announced as he rushed up the stairs to confer with the commander personally. “We may be in danger,” he added more quietly.

“Zakavians?” asked Gerhardt. Arorua was a Zakavian protectorate, he reasoned. Some Zakavian presence was to be expected.

“Right in one, sir,” Gordon confirmed. He called up a tactical display on a nearby viewscreen and gestured. “From what we can tell, we’re between two Zakavian fleets. This closer fleet seems to be fighting a giant robot. The other fleet appears to have translated in-system shortly after we did. We can’t be certain of how powerful they are, so we’re assuming they’re roughly the same as Planet Gloom’s defensive forces.” He paused, trying to find a positive note to end on. “The planet itself does seem to be Arorua, though.”

“That’s fortunate. What’s our defensive capability?”

“We’re still repairing systems that overloaded during the encounter at Planet Gloom. According to the technical staff, the best we can hope for is point-oh-three percent power on the shields.”

“You mean three percent, right?”

“Um… no, sir.”

Gerhardt grimaced. “Will that even protect us from space debris?”

“I think so. If it isn’t too big or too fast.”

“At least we have that.” Gerhardt began to massage his forehead. They were up against multiple alien fleets with no real defenses. This was not a good time for the Captain to be seeking personal vengeance on the rebels or whatever it was she was doing.

“Even without the shields, our hull is pretty strong,” Gordon said. “Space debris shouldn’t be— One moment.” He paused as a message came over his headset. Gerhardt took a moment to study the tactical display. “We’re receiving an audio message from that first fleet,” Gordon said at last. “It’s the fleet commander speaking from the Absurd Physical Harm.”

Absurd Physical Harm?” Gerhardt repeated quietly. “Where have I heard that name before?” At his gesture, Gordon played the message on the local speakers.

“Unidentified spacecraft,” the message began, “This system is claimed by the Zakavian Empire. We have no desire to instigate hostilities, but we must request that you leave immediately.”

“You think they’ll just leave if we tell them to?” Lotekh asked Mselt.

“It’s standard procedure,” the fleet commander replied defensively.

“Has it ever worked?” the prince pressed.

“Not to my knowledge.”

“Bah,” Lotekh grumbled. “I hate fighting people bigger than I am.”

“I must say,” Gordon commented once the message had completed, “I’ve never been told ‘Get the hell out’ so politely before.”

Gerhardt didn’t answer. He was still trying to remember the significance of the enemy flagship’s name.

“How shall we respond, sir?” Gordon prompted.

Gerhardt thought a moment, trying to come up with a polite way of explaining what they were doing in Zakavian space. Once again, he wished the Captain were there. She could do this sort of thing in her sleep.


Right, forget politeness. “Here’s our response,” Gerhardt said. “We are searching for five missing pilots. We have evidence they are in this system.” He paused, as the pieces finally came together in his mind. “We also have evidence they were taken by a Zakavian ship called the Absurd Physical Harm. Do you know anything of this?”

“They recognized me,” Mselt groaned. “I knew it was a bad idea to paint the name of the ship on the hull.”

“Let’s strike now,” Lotekh urged, “while they’re not ready.”

“Not yet. I’ve got another idea.”

“Regrettably,” came the reply from the Zakavians, “my ship was involved in that capture. It was done under the orders of Captain-General Rtali, who has since been revealed as a traitor to the Empire. No doubt the capture was intended to spark a war between our people.”

“Oh God,” Gerhardt groaned. “Not intrigue. I don’t want to deal with intrigue.”

“Response, sir?”

Gerhardt took a deep breath, and activated the audio pickups. “We have no wish for war. We just want our people returned.”

“We will be happy to assist you, but we are currently under attack from Rtali’s forces. Since he is a common foe, perhaps we could work together?”

“Worse and worse,” Gerhardt moaned. Another deep breath. Ahh, that’s better. “Our ship is badly damaged,” he told the Zakavians, “so we can’t promise much help, but we will not interfere with your forces.”

“Badly damaged?” Lotekh repeated gleefully. “That’s wonderful! How nice of them to tell us!”

Mselt didn’t answer for a moment; he was already thinking of how he was going to deal with Rtali. Ampron had proven to be a smaller threat than imagined, and he effectively had a cease-fire with the Terran starship. Once he wrapped this up, he would have two down and one to go.

“Very well, we will respect your neutrality. We will continue this discussion at a more convenient time.”

The connection closed and Gerhardt let out a sigh of relief. The Anonymous was safe from at least one fleet. Still, he would feel safer if Captain Harrison would return. “I hope the Captain’s all right,” he muttered. “Wherever she is.”

The once-secret rebel command center was pretty crowded, as those involved in the rebellion’s collapse took a moment to rest their feet and talk with acquaintances. Among those taking a break were Captain Harrison, Beth Gaelen, Horlun SoFah, Anme Rifba, three-fifths of Black Squadron, all of Green Squadron, a squad of Ship Security, and most of the rebellion itself— although the latter weren’t so much “taking a break” as “sitting quietly while being watched by people with guns.” The mood was cheerful, but tired. Defeating the rebellion had involved a lot of walking and running around, which only Ship Security was really prepared for.

The security force and the fighter pilots had gone after the rebels separately and for different reasons, and both groups were surprised to find the other involved. Security, in fact, demanded to know why the two squadrons had gotten involved, as the entire matter was clearly a security issue, but Hydrospok explained that helping friends and relatives was a sacred duty that Green Squadron gladly accepted.

“Besides,” added George Daniels, “it’s not like we have anything else do while we’re in overly-hyped space.”

“Which we aren’t any more,” noted the Captain. “We should be getting back; I don’t want to leave the bridge unattended for too long.”

“I thought you said Commander Gerhardt could handle it,” said Dave Menéndez, once again remembering too late just who he was addressing. “I mean, he seems like a reasonably competent guy and you don’t have to be on the bridge twenty-four/seven and all. Uh, sir.” He laughed nervously, trying to cover up the way he’d just questioned the Captain’s decisions to her face again.

“You’re right,” Harrison said, “and I do have confidence in Gerhardt’s ability to handle things, but I doubt he’d appreciate me leaving him all the hard work.” She glanced over the crowd, noting those she knew personally. Horlun and Anme were talking quietly off to one side; both seemed embarrassed to be involved in the affair (for different reasons) and they were making a valiant attempt to fade into the woodwork. On the other side of the room, Stanford and Hydrospok were talking with Beth Gaelen. Nearby, Beth’s younger brother Roy appeared to be passed out at the mess table. “Is he all right?” Harrison asked, gesturing at the fallen pilot.

Daniels nodded. “I think he’s just tired from all the walking. And from worrying about his sister.”

“I see. He’s not going to like my next order, then.”

“Return to our posts?” Daniels guessed.

“You got it.”

Daniels nodded. While he woke up Roy, the security force rounded up the prisoners and prepared to bring them to the Core. Harrison asked one of them to show Horlun and Anme back to the residential sectors. The fighter pilots decided—over Hydrospok’s objections—to follow the security forces at first, since none of them were sure how to get directly to the hangars from their present position. Harrison warned them not to take too long, as there was no telling what the Anonymous faced in the Aroruan system.

“For all we know,” she said, “we could be under attack right now.”

Rtali looked at the figure on the viewscreen distastefully. He hadn’t expected the Aroruan operation to be sunshine and roses—the simple fact that his old friend Tvanir commanded the Imperial forces there made things difficult—but finding an entire battle fleet already in system had been a major blow to his confidence. Then the fleet contacted him. Finding a fleet was bad enough, discovering that it was commanded by the same captain who had betrayed his cause to the Empire was positively galling.

“I’m surprised to see you here, Mselt,” he said coldly. “I figured a man with your obvious devotion to the Emperor would be given better duties than baby-sitting the Prince out here in the boondocks.”

That last comment seemed to touch a nerve with Lotekh—the Prince looked angry enough to try and get at Rtali through the viewscreen—but Mselt simply raised a hand, silencing whatever retort he might have given.

“I’m not ashamed of doing my duty,” Mselt replied calmly. “As for Prince Lotekh, my fleet is accompanying him on a state visit to Arorua.” He paused. “I take it from your attitude that you have not come to surrender yourself to the Empire?”

“I see you’re as perceptive as always, Mselt,” said Rtali. He paused for effect. “We’ve come to liberate Arorua from the Empire.”

Mselt and Lotekh glanced at each other for a moment and burst into laughter. Even some of the bridge crew in the background were sniggering.

“What?” Rtali demanded. “What is so funny?” He had been wrong, this was even worse than discovering that Mselt was in charge of the local fleet.

“Give it up, Rtali,” Mselt said at last, wiping a tear from his eye. “Between my forces and that big ship out there, you don’t stand a chance.”

“We shall see.” He cut the transmission and turned to his crew. “Begin the attack on the Third Fleet,” he commanded, “and send the Fifteenth Squadron to investigate that big ship.”

“The rogue squadron, sir?”

“Do I need to repeat my order?”

“No, sir.”

“You’re going to tell them, then?”

“Yes, sir.”

“So, why aren’t you?”

“I’m, er, talking to you, sir.”

Rtali blinked. “Oh. Carry on, then.”

“Yes, sir.”

There had been a pause in the fighting when the Anonymous appeared, more out of surprise than any desire for lasting peace. The Ampron Force, beset by two Zakavian cruisers and a swarm of angry fighters, took advantage of that moment to catch their breath. Dent additionally used the lull in their opponents’ concentration to fire a Plasmic Destructo-Pod at the nearer cruiser. The deadly sphere crackled with energy as it shot towards the Golden Spider-Duck, overloading the shields before slamming into the hull. For a moment, great spider-like arcs of blue energy crawled over the surface of the ship, leaving darkened windows and silenced guns behind them. (Not that the guns were making noise before. This is space, after all.) When the Pod ran out of energy, the Golden Spider-Duck was still largely in one piece, but it clearly wouldn’t be participating in the battle any further.

The fighter pilots that had been harassing Ampron simultaneously decided they’d rather be someplace else, and retreated to the remaining cruiser.

“Good job, Dent,” said Vasta, “but don’t use the next two just yet. There are a lot of ships still out there.” Too many, Vasta thought to himself. It was madness to expect them to take on an entire fleet alone with their level of experience.

“Hey!” Dixon called over the intercom. “That ship that just jumped in is the Anonymous!” Vasta nearly choked, and scrambled to check the tactical display.

“It’s true!” he said. “Ri’Tala, open a channel to the Anonymous!”

The young prince did not respond. As near as Vasta could tell, he didn’t even move.


Prince Boltar remained frozen in his seat. The others noticed he was staring at a small, white-furred animal with a big, bushy tail and a cute little nose and some nasty-looking claws on each of its six legs. At some point during the conflict, it had leapt up onto his controls and stayed there, engaging the prince in a deadly staring contest.

Dent was the first to act. “Cave squirrel!” he shouted, drawing his handgun and lunging at Boltar’s console. The cave squirrel hissed and leapt away towards McCurry’s station. McCurry was somewhat confused, never having heard of such a creature before, but he quickly got out of the way. Dent wouldn’t be acting like that if there weren’t a good reason, he reasoned. Not during a space battle, anyway.

“Careful,” Vasta warned Dent, as he drew his own sidearm. “If you hit something important, we all die.” Dent nodded acknowledgement and began moving towards the deadly creature. Vasta moved to cover him, trusting Dixon to keep the robot out of danger while they dealt with the stowaway. McCurry just backed away, utterly baffled by the experience.

“Incoming!” Dixon shouted, just as the missiles from the Squat Crimson Pig began striking the robot’s shields. In the confusion, the squirrel leapt at Dent’s neck. Dent dodged and swung at it with his gun, missing by mere millimeters.

“What should we do?” McCurry asked frantically as Dixon tried to dodge another round of rockets.

“Activate the Ultimate Defense Barrier,” Vasta ordered. He and Dent were having difficulty cornering the creature, as the command center didn’t have much in the way of corners.

“Right.” McCurry scanned the controls on Vasta’s console and stabbed at the first likely candidate. It beeped cheerfully at him, and then the universe around them abruptly vanished.

“What was that?” Dixon asked. While she wasn’t unhappy that the missiles she’d been dodging were gone, she was a bit unnerved that the fleet, the stars, and planet Arorua itself had apparently joined them in oblivion.

“The ‘Ultimate Defense Barrier’?” McCurry suggested sheepishly. “Unless I hit the wrong control…”

“Don’t worry,” Dixon told him, “I’m sure the ‘Destroy Everything Else in Universe’ command requires confirmation.”

“I would hope so. Otherwise, you’d—wagh!”

“Sorry,” Dent called, chasing the squirrel towards the back of the command center. Vasta mirrored his actions, running along the side of the room in an attempt to catch it between them. The cave squirrel saw this coming and leapt towards Boltar, who was still sitting motionless in his chair.

“Behind you!” Vasta shouted. With a start, the prince lashed out with his paddle, smacking the airborne rodent in the head and redirecting its trajectory into a wall. It fell to the ground, stunned.

Vasta and Dent stopped in mid-step and stared. Boltar stared back and took some deep breaths to calm himself.

“… Nice shot,” said Dent. Boltar nodded weakly.

“Dent, get that out of here,” Vasta ordered. With that crisis over, he collapsed in his chair and took a few moments to stretch. Then he returned his attention to the larger battle around them. Judging by the readouts at his station, it seemed the Barrier had worked. “If I understand this correctly,” he told the others, “the Barrier will keep us safe, but we’re pretty much blind as long as it’s up. The hyperwave should still work, though, so we can call for help. McCurry, go contact the Anonymous.”

“Right, Boss.” McCurry sat back at his own console, glad to know what to do again.

“Er, if we’re planning to wait for assistance to arrive, you think one of you could help me out of this thing?” Dixon asked. “All I’ve got to look at here are tactical displays and darkness.”

“Let’s see what the response is, first,” Vasta said. He smirked. “Just hang in there.”


The door to the bridge’s command deck made a soft swishing sound as it opened. (It hadn’t originally, but Gerhardt had quietly convinced a technician to tweak it slightly. The Captain had the irritating habit of entering a room in complete silence, and Gerhardt had quickly tired of being startled in front of the bridge crew.) Gerhardt looked up from the repair estimates he’d been reviewing and swiveled his chair to see who it was. “Captain!” he said, springing to his feet. “Welcome back to the bridge.”

Captain Harrison nodded distractedly and dragged herself over to her chair. She looked tired.

“Are you all right?” Gerhardt asked quietly, once she had taken her seat. “You look tired.”

“I’ve been doing a lot of walking,” she said. “What’s our status?”

“We’ve reached Arorua.”

“I thought so. The transition from overly-hyped space isn’t particularly subtle.” She tapped a nearby intercom and asked the page to bring up some water.

“How’d the campaign against the rebels go?”

Harrison shrugged. “We caught them. We’re not completely sure what to do with them.” She turned to face Gerhardt. “Kidnapping is a pretty serious charge, and breaking into the restricted areas and stockpiling weapons isn’t much better.”

“Not to mention conspiracy to commit treason.”

“Hmm? Yeah, we could probably get them for that, too, but then we’d have to set up a judicial system, and… well, Security’s arguing with the civilian leadership over who has jurisdiction….” She trailed off again and glanced at a nearby tactical display. Blink. “Is that a Zakavian fleet out there?”

“Two, actually. Nobody was hurt, I hope?”

“Nothing serious. We were pretty lucky.”

“That’s good.”

“Yeah, I—wait, two Zakavian fleets?”

Gerhardt waved a hand dismissively. “One’s rogue or something, so I figure they’ll fight each other for a while, and then we can deal with the winner.”

“Well, that sounds reasonable,” Harrison said, “but don’t you think the presence of two potentially hostile fleets is a little more important than my adventures with the rebels?”

“Your water’s here,” Gerhardt noted.

“Don’t change the subject.” Harrison accepted the bottle and thanked the page, then returned her attention to her second in command. “Have you spoken with either of them?”

“The non-rebel ones contacted us and told us to get out, but I mentioned Blue Squadron and they backed off. Get this—their flagship is the same ship that captured Blue Squadron in the first place. Small universe, eh?”

“Not from what I hear.”

“Anyway, the other fleet’s commander ordered the capture and later went rogue. Now he’s invading the Aroruan System and the Zakavians want our help to defend themselves.”

Harrison blinked again and suddenly looked more alert. “What did you tell them?” she asked quickly. “Did you promise anything?”

“Uh, no. I said we were too damaged to get involved.”

Harrison groaned. “Gerhardt, can’t I leave you in charge of the bridge for one alien encounter without you giving away our weaknesses?”

“What—am I supposed to lie to them?”

“We’ll talk about this later.” She drank some of the water and grimaced. “Any idea if Blue Squadron’s here?”

“Well,” Gerhardt joked, “it turns out they’ve already left the system.”

Harrison grinned and theatrically smacked her forehead. “D’oh!” She started to say something else but broke off, noticing Lieutenant Gordon coming up the stairs. “Yes, Lieutenant?” she asked.

“We’re receiving a message from that giant robot that was fighting the Zakavians—it put up some kind of shield, and…,” he trailed off, realizing that was an irrelevant point. “Anyway, the robot’s crew claims to be Blue Squadron.”

Gerhardt glanced at Harrison, but she had already swallowed her water: no spit take. (It was too bad, Gerhardt reflected. That had been a perfect opportunity for one. But perhaps his thinking was influenced by one too many Saturday-morning cartoons.)

“What fortunate timing,” the Captain was saying. “We were just talking about them. Can we confirm it’s them?”

“They gave the right countersign,” Gordon said. “I think it’s really them.”

“That’s good enough for now,” Harrison agreed. “Do they require any assistance?” Gordon nodded, and Harrison turned to Gerhardt. “Send the fighters out to escort Blue Squadron back here.”

Gerhardt winced. “The Zakavians won’t like that—their fleet is between us and the robot.”

“It is?” Harrison checked the tactical display. “You’re right, but there shouldn’t be a problem. They’ve already broken the truce by attacking Blue Squadron.”

“Actually, they aren’t anymore,” Gordon pointed out. “There’s some kind of shield up, and the Zakavians can’t get through.”

“Oh.” Harrison thought for a moment and smirked, the light momentarily highlighting the scar on her left cheek. “Well, launch them anyway. We’ll see what comes up.”

“Let me see if I understand the situation,” George Daniels demanded incredulously. “We’re going to launch fighters with the explicit mission objective of hanging around outside waiting for people to shoot at us?”

“Well,” Hydrospok said slowly, “that’s one way to describe it.”

Daniels sputtered for a moment, unable to find a response. With an explosive “Bah!”, he stomped off, leaving Hydrospok, Winters, Losar, and Roy alone at their table. They had returned to the pilots lounge once their adventures with the rebels and the subsequent debriefing with Jackson from Security had ended. Hydrospok had been called away almost immediately for a meeting with the other squad leaders and Commander Gerhardt. He had returned with Gerhardt’s orders and the news that Green Squadron had been selected to fulfill them. Hence Daniels’s irritation.

“I don’t see why we’re the one’s doing this,” Roy commented while Winters went to retrieve Daniels. “Didn’t we just risk our lives rescuing Beth and thwarting the rebellion?”

“A warrior’s life is constantly at risk,” said Hydrospok.

“That doesn’t mean some other group of warriors can’t be at risk once in a while,” Roy countered. “Red and Gold squadrons haven’t been doing anything lately.”

“We talked about this at the meeting,” Hydrospok explained, “and the others felt we were best suited for the job.”

“And you didn’t object?” asked Roy.

Hydrospok blinked. “Object? Why would I object when the opportunity for glory is dropped right at our feet?”

“Or on our feet, as the case may be,” added Losar darkly.

Hydrospok frowned and glanced across the room, where Black Squadron was having a noisy reunion. Stanford caught his eye and mimed checking his watch. “We’d best be going,” he said, rising to his feet. “Destiny awaits.”

Roy waited until he was out of earshot before whispering, “It always makes me nervous when he says that.” Losar smirked, but didn’t otherwise reply.

Daniels’s snit and Losar’s ominous pronouncements notwithstanding, Green Squadron soon worked its way to the hangar and then into space (presumably after boarding their fighters, as none of the pilots were adept at breathing vacuum). Hydrospok had briefed them on the nature of the forces arrayed against them, so they didn’t expect to meet any resistance until they got closer to the fleet. While the Anonymous was uncomfortably close to Mselt’s fleet, it was still pretty far away in terms of the distances fighter pilots were accustomed to.

Thus, it was something of a surprise to encounter a Zakavian squadron almost immediately. It was another, lesser surprise to learn it was part of Rtali’s fleet, meaning there wasn’t even an uneasy truce between them. While Hydrospok called the Anonymous for advice, the two squadrons tracked each other warily, like sharks tracking each other through space while piloting fighters.

The response from the Anonymous, properly decoded, amounted to little more than a suggestion that they “wing it”. Winters suggested that they head towards Blue Squadron’s robot rather than circle endlessly below the Anonymous, and if Rtali’s fighters interfered, then so be it. Hydrospok wasn’t entirely certain he liked this plan, as it meant ignoring a potential enemy, but it did have the advantage of actually accomplishing something, which was lacking in their current strategy. At his order, the five fighters headed towards the Third Fleet and, slightly beyond it, the black shield-sphere which concealed Blue Squadron’s giant robot.

“They’re moving towards the Third Fleet,” reported Raider Six.

“Yes, I can see that,” replied Raider One. Vtami considered what to do next. The Fifteenth Squadron—known as Bestiv’s Raiders to themselves and as the rogue squadron to everyone else—had been ordered to check out the Anonymous, but it wasn’t clear whether that involved attacking any fighters the great ship launched. That is, it wasn’t clear to Vtami; not all of Bestiv’s Raiders shared this uncertainty.

“I’ll take care of ‘em,” said Raider Three, putting him firmly in the non-uncertainty-sharing category. “No problem, just leave ‘em to me.”

“You’re not going anywhere alone,” Vtami reminded him. “But I do think we shouldn’t let them get too far away.”

“Quite,” agreed Raider Five. “It’s obvious they’re working with Mselt—why else would they be going to join his fleet?”

“Perhaps they’re attacking,” Raider Six suggested.

Raider Five laughed. “With only five fighters? Don’t be an idiot, Six.”

Vtami tuned out Raider Six’s response; it was rarely productive to get involved in these squabbles. In the distance, a group of fighters from Mselt’s Third Fleet was closing. They were either reinforcements for the Terrans or a counter-attack. While Vtami was inclined to take a wait and see approach, Bestiv’s Raiders were not a squadron known for their patient sensibility.

“We had best strike before yon reinforcements arrive,” said Raider Five.

“Yaargh!” agreed Raider Three, breaking off from the formation and unleashing a volley of Splattergore missiles at the Terran craft. The fighters quickly scattered and moved to return fire.

That settled it, Vtami thought. There was no way they could avoid a fight now. With a silent apology to Blue Squadron—wherever they were—Vtami ordered the raiders into the fight. If they survived, they’d be getting another lecture on the virtues of not attacking without orders.

The arrival of Mselt’s forces turned what had begun as a stalemate into a complex, bewildering free-for-all. (Hydrospok later expressed dismay at Green Squadron’s performance, although he was secretly pleased they held their own against an actual enemy. Vtami was just annoyed by the whole affair.) In theory, the squadron from Mselt’s fleet was allied with Green Squadron, but between Green Squadron’s difficulty telling one Zakavian fighter from another, Bestiv’s Raiders’ tendency to attack anything that moved, and the new squadron’s general apathy towards non-aggression pacts, the alliance didn’t last very long.

All the pilots involved quickly discovered the difficulty of fighting in a vast, open space with no cover against multiple enemies while attempting to avoid (a) getting shot, and (b) accidentally hitting a friendly fighter. The imperial squadron tried clustering together for mutual support, and discovered that particular tactic’s weakness against area-effect attacks. Bestiv’s Raiders gravitated towards an uncoordinated, random style of attack, although that wasn’t the result of any deliberate choice. Vtami just focussed obsessively on getting Green Squadron’s ace pilot, George Daniels.

The revelation of Daniels as Green Squadron’s best pilot came as a surprise to everyone involved. It was a surprise they would later come to regret, as the gloating and self-promotion wore on their nerves. But Daniels had little time to gloat during the battle itself, as he was busy dodging and swerving and making sure he didn’t crash into anyone. It was harder than it looked.

“Can I get some help here?” he called after a particularly narrow scrape.

“We’re a little busy right now,” was Roy’s strained response. Daniels knew that was probably true, but he was too occupied to keep track of the others. There were three fighters closing on him from three sides, and it would take some fancy flying to avoid them all.

Maybe I could play dead, he thought.

A more skeptical part of his mind pointed out the problems with that plan, so Daniels instead turned to face the fighter coming from below. It was an unexpected move, and it caught that pilot completely off guard. He wouldn’t be making that mistake again. A second fighter zipped past him, and Daniels reflexively blasted the third fighter, which had been following the other. Then he realized that the other two pilots had been fighting each other, and not him.

“Thanks for the save,” quipped the pilot he’d saved, whom Daniels recognized as the one who’d been following him obsessively. He’d just saved the life of his stalker.


“Never fear!” came a new voice over the Anonymous pilots channel. “Black Squadron has come to save you once more!”

“That is good news,” said Hydrospok. “You take over here, and we’ll go help Blue Squadron.”

“What? Come back here!”

On the other side of the Third Fleet, Roger Vasta absently watched Dixon work a kink out of her shoulder. While Ampron hid behind the Ultimate Defense Barrier, they were safe from enemy attack and Dixon didn’t need to spend every moment strapped into the control frame. She had chosen to visit the others in the control room while they waited for help to arrive. Vasta steepled his fingers and waited. The Anonymous was here. The reinforcements would arrive.

“Aren’t those reinforcements here yet?” groused Dent. He had taken to pacing back and forth and occasionally casting longing glances at the weapons console. Unfortunately for him, the Barrier worked both ways.

“Patience,” counseled Vasta. “Captain Harrison said the reinforcements would contact us as soon as they arrived.”

“The reinforcements are contacting us,” Boltar announced.

“There, you see?” asked Vasta brightly, but Dent merely grunted something non-committal. Vasta repeated himself: “Do you see?”

Dent grudgingly admitted that he did, in fact, see.

“Good. Boltar, tell them to draw in close,” Vasta ordered. “We’ll lower the Barrier just long enough for them to get inside. Then we’ll plot an exit strategy.” Boltar nodded and began relaying the orders to the rescue party. The prince seemed to be recovering well after that cave squirrel unpleasantness. Good. Vasta turned to Dixon. “Some of the enemy may slip through while the Barrier is down.”

Dixon stood before he could continue. “I’ll be out back, then.”

“Are they ready?” Vasta asked Boltar.

“They’ll be in position soon.”

“Then let’s do this.”

The Squat Crimson Pig recognized Green Squadron as reinforcements and launched fighters to intercept, but the newcomers quickly vanished into Ampron’s protective sphere. While the rest of the Third Fleet struggled against Rtali’s forces, the Pig quietly watched its target and waited. When nothing seemed to happen, it fired a round of Megadeathkill blasts to no apparent effect. After that, it waited some more.

Then: a great disturbance, like yet another fleet dropping out of overly-hyped space. With an off-white flash, the “fleet” revealed itself as a ten-kilometer disk of steel and wheat that quickly began folding into a vaguely-cylindrical shape.

The EDIT had arrived.

Will the Rtali liberate Arorua from the Empire?

Will the EDIT destroy Arorua instead?

Will it resume its Attack on the Anonymous?

What happened to Bob, Jen, Megan, and Orliss after they snuck onto the EDIT a few episodes back?

The magic eight-ball says to check the next ear-juggling episode of Starcruiser Anonymous for the answer to that last question. (The other answers were hazy, but we plan to ask again later.)

SFSTORY: The Hands of Fate