Starcruiser Anonymous

(A Tale Within Sfstory)

Episode 23
Wherein Depressingly Little
is Accomplished

Dave Menendez

Bob watched the pair of guards with a practiced eye. They hadn’t seemed to notice him, but it was difficult to tell since their opaque visors concealed their expressions. He couldn’t risk letting them see him; he wasn’t sure how well guarded the area was. Security had been light so far, but he didn’t expect that to continue. Only an idiot would leave something as important as the EDIT’s dimensional induction coordinator completely unsecured. The two guards turned into a cross-corridor, and after making sure no one else was in the area, Bob dropped to the floor. They never look up, he thought wryly, with silent thanks to whatever engineer had made the hallways narrow enough that he could wedge himself up by the ceiling and tall enough that he could hide between the lights and not be seen.

Back on his feet, the reptilian bounty hunter quickly moved to a nearby door and knocked twice, once, and then twice more. The door slid open and Jen Kadar looked out. “We’re clear?” she asked.

Bob considered and rejected a number of sarcastic responses, choosing simply to nod affirmatively. “We’re almost there,” he said, drawing his datapad and calling up the area map he’d put together from stolen blueprints. “The induction coordinator is just ahead.”

Jen squinted at the map. “Looks like a big target,” she said. “Maybe we should try something smaller.”

“Like what? I’d rather not sabotage the engines while we’re in transit.”

“We could sneak into a secondary control center,” Jen suggested.

Bob shook his head. “Too easy to override. Hardware problems are harder to fix.” He checked the map again. “This way, come on.” Jen nodded and the two moved on.

Originally, Bob had planned on the entire group helping to disable the induction coordinator. In fact, Megan’s ability to pass as Zakavian while in armor had been a central feature of his plan. When he mentioned this a their first planning session onboard the EDIT, Jen had surprised him by vetoing that idea rather vehemently.

“You want Megan to infiltrate the guards?” Jen asked, aghast. “You can’t be serious! It’s far too dangerous for a girl her age!”

Bob blinked. After breaking Jen and Orliss out of prison, sneaking onto the EDIT in a shuttle’s garbage bin, and finding a place to hide while they tried to get the smell out of their clothes, he’d assumed the next challenge would be getting Orliss to accept his ideas. Jen’s opposition caught him completely off-guard.

Orliss, for his part, didn’t look too happy with the plan either, but the young hero-to-be was apparently willing to let Jen raise the objections for a change.

Megan just seemed irritated by Jen’s intrusion. She had removed her black Zakavian combat armor and was passing the time polishing it. (Bob had to marvel at the foresight involved in stealing a set of armor and a tube of armor polish to go with it.) “Well,” she said lightly, “it’s a good thing this is safe for girls your age, then.”

“That’s not the point,” Jen snapped.

“Then why mention age at all?”

Jen glared at her sister a moment before turning her attention back to Bob. “Look,” she said, “our parents are gonna be mad enough that she’s here to begin with. If I get her involved any further, they’ll kill me.” That got a derisive snort from Megan and a startled gasp from Orliss.

“Great galaxy, that’s strict!” he said. “Perhaps you—no, wait. You probably meant that metaphorically, didn’t you.” Jen nodded. “Of course you did. My sense of justice must have reacted faster than my sense of idiom.” He grinned weakly and Jen smiled back. Megan rolled her eyes, but didn’t otherwise comment.

“Getting back to the point,” said Bob, “it seems a waste to have a set of Zakavian armor and not use it. Are you sure Megan can’t get involved?”

“Bob,” said Megan, “Jen may be a lot of things, but she is not the boss of my life.”

“Mom and Dad and Tom aren’t here,” said Jen. “That puts me in charge. I’m next in the chain of command.”

“The… chain of command.”


“You have been hanging out with the fighter squadrons too long.”

“Um, I think we’re getting a bit afield,” Bob commented. “I think we can get through this without causing too much friction in your family—” Megan grumbled a bit at that “—but that means we’ll need another plan. Maybe the three of us could sneak into something important and break it.”

“That leaves Megan alone,” said Orliss. He raised a hand to stall another objection from her, and continued. “We shouldn’t be leaving anyone alone. I’ll stay with her.”

“Very well. Jen and I will infiltrate the ship while you two keep an eye out down here.”

“Any objections?” Jen asked Megan.

“Oh, it’s purely your decision,” Megan said sweetly. “I wouldn’t dream of breaking the chain of command.”

Things had moved quickly after that, as Jen generally preferred action to talk. As she pointed out, they were drawing ever closer to Arorua, and none of them could guess how much longer they had. It would be better if they could disable the EDIT before it blew up another planet.

“You think this will work?” Jen asked.

“I hope so,” Bob replied. “If not, we’ll probably all be killed.”

“You’re as cheerful as always, I see.”

They ducked into a machine room as two guards walked past. Bob waited until they were out of sight, and then motioned them forward again.

“If we make it out,” Bob said as they walked, “would you be interested in joining the ISO?”

“Really?” Jen gasped. “I, well, Orliss has been telling me a lot about the space heroics program over at Interstellar University, and I’d like to check that out first.”

Bob shrugged. “No problem. I just mentioned it because I think you’d be good at it, and I know how you like blasters and such.”

“I see.”

“And I get a bonus when I can recruit new members.”


“Actually, I was thinking of asking Megan, too, but I didn’t realise your culture considered her too young.”

“Are we almost there yet?”

“Pretty much.”

Before them was a heavy set of double doors, and beyond them was the induction coordinator. If they could disable it, the EDIT would be unable to draw its deadly ammunition from the universe of fajita toppings and create its fearsome Spice Beam. Bob typed a stolen passcode into the keypad by the door. It opened smoothly and Bob ushered Jen inside. Once inside the complex, they would need to find something important to break.

The loudspeaker over their heads crackled to life. “Attention,” it said, “Attention. The silent alarm in the Induction Control Complex has been tripped. Security, report to the Induction Control Complex at once.”

“Needlewarp,” Bob cried, “we tripped the silent alarm!”

“Then we’d better hurry,” said Jen. She drew the handgun with blinking lights she had gotten back on Planet Gloom and rushed forward. Bob drew his own weapon and followed, pausing only to slag the access keypad outside the door. If they were lucky, it would buy them a few seconds.

“See anything?” Jen asked.

“Nothing useful,” Bob replied. Thus far, all they had found were computer consoles. Smashing them was pointless, as it would leave the induction coordinator itself unaffected, and Bob didn’t know enough access codes to do anything destructive with them.

Except, there was a panel nearly hidden next to the console he’d been trying. Perhaps it allowed access to the hardware itself. Bob started looking for a release or a catch to get it open.

“I don’t think that you will find anything.”

Bob froze. That wasn’t Jen’s voice.

“Perhaps you should be turning around now, yes?”

Bob did as the newcomer suggested. It was a Blargoloid guard, and evidently a high-ranking one. His armor was black edged with gold, and he wore a fancy-looking cap instead of a helmet. On his left eye was a mirrored monocle.

Jen was nearby, under the watchful eyes of a group of guards, all armed with Kilemov S13 dual-mode blasters. The remainder were standing behind the gold-edged one. From the looks of it, he was the leader of the group.

“I am Liskviro, fourth degree Master guard, and I am the leader of this group,” the newcomer said in introduction.

“I’m Bob,” said Bob. “Pleased to meet you.”

“Charmed,” said Liskviro, raising an eyebrow. He stepped forward, motioning a group of guards to follow. Jen glanced at Bob, and then sprung into action, grabbing the blaster from the guard nearest her and smashing him over the head with it. She spun to face the other two, but not fast enough to avoid getting hit with two sleep-o-stun rays.

“Rats,” was her last comment before losing consciousness.

Liskviro looked at the fallen Terran and stepped closer to Bob. “I hope you realise that escape is impossible,” he said. He grabbed Bob’s trenchcoat and stared closely at the fabric.

“You like it?” Bob asked casually. “I can tell you where to get one at a reasonable price. My brother owns a—”

“Quiet!” snapped Liskviro. He released the trenchcoat and turned to a subordinate. “He was hiding in cargo sector gamma. We will need to search for others.”

The other guard blinked. “How do you know?”

“Do you see these fibers?” Liskviro asked, holding up something that could have been a fiber, or possibly a shadow. “They could only have come from the fruit of the shtilo tree, which, you will agree, is quite edible and therefore stored with the food stock in cargo sector gamma. Thus we conclude that he was hiding in cargo sector gamma, unless you see a flaw in my logic…?”

“Shtilo fruit?” the guard said, squinting at the alleged fibers.

“It is quite recognizable. Do you require a lens?”

The guard looked at the fibers some more, and then at Bob. “Were you in sector gamma?” he asked.

“I’m not sure,” Bob lied smoothly. “I think it was sector alpha.”

“He’s lying,” said Liskviro. “Come, we must hurry before the others grow suspicious.”

“What others?” the guard asked.

“Come!” Liskviro ordered. He pointed at the guards holding Jen. “You three take the prisoners to the Captain. He will decide what to do with them.” He swept out of the room, and the other guards quickly followed.

Bob looked at the remaining three guards and then at Jen. The blond Terran groaned as she began to regain consciousness. He’d made it this far only to be captured. All told, it was not the smoothest operation he’d been a part of.

Megan had never realized how much of space adventure consisted of waiting for things to happen. It was disheartening to learn the truth of the matter. Next time she stowed away on an adventure, she’d have to remember to bring a book. A nice, long one, from the looks of it.

Orliss was sitting by the door, ostensibly to listen for anyone approaching. It wasn’t clear what they would do if someone did come, but Orliss insisted on doing it. Perhaps it entertained him. To Megan, sitting in one place and waiting was much the same as sitting in a different place and waiting. She could pass the time by polishing her armor again, but it didn’t really need it and she preferred not to use up all the polish before she even got back to the Anonymous. There was no telling when she’d get a chance to pick up another tube.

Megan stood and walked over to the stack of equipment she’d carefully organized and pulled out her helmet. The chronometer was still displaying the time at the Fortress of Gloom; she hadn’t figured out how to set it. She frowned. It was almost time for “Otaphi Shopping Adventure”, one of the more surreal Caphanite romantic comedies she’d grown fond of during her stay on Planet Gloom. In fact, today was the climactic episode and, given that the availability of Caphanite sitcoms onboard the Anonymous was nil, that meant she’d likely never know how it turned out. “As if things weren’t bad enough already,” she muttered.

“Pardon?” Orliss asked from his spot by the door.

Megan paused, trying to come up with an explanation for her irritation that wouldn’t sound frivolous. “Just thinking out loud,” she said at last.

Orliss seemed to accept that answer and went back to his waiting. Megan didn’t really have any activities to return to, so she started pacing. Jen and Bob were off doing exciting spy stuff, and she was stuck hiding in a warehouse. It wasn’t fair. Neat things were happening all around, and she kept missing them. If only something would break up the monotony.

“Attention,” blared the PA system. “Attention. The silent alarm in the Induction Control Complex has been tripped. Security, report to the Induction Control Complex at once.”

It seemed the gods of ironic timing had heard her prayer. Megan honored their efforts with the traditional one-fingered salute.

“I think they’ve discovered the others,” Orliss said nervously.

“Yeah,” Megan agreed, “unless there’s another group of saboteurs onboard.”

“You think there could be?”

Megan shook her head. “Never mind. Any idea what we should do?” She didn’t have a great deal of faith in Orliss’s hero training, but this mission comprised her entire experience with the subject. Maybe he’d had a class that had covered this situation.

“I think we covered this in class last semester,” Orliss said, tapping his chin, “and I think I was absent that day.”

“You were absent?”

“I had an economics exam that evening and I needed to study.” Megan smacked her forehead, and Orliss looked a little sheepish. “If we knew what the security forces were doing, maybe we could tell how Jen and that bounty hunter are doing,” he suggested.

It took a little time for Megan to tune her armor’s com-unit to match the EDIT’s security communications network. What they heard was not encouraging. Jen and Bob had been captured and, worse yet, security forces were headed for the very cargo sector they were hiding in.

“I think running might be a good idea,” said Megan.

Orliss agreed, and suggested that Megan put on her armor. “It would be a shame to lose it, and you might need the protection,” he said. Megan quickly suited up, and the two grabbed some smaller items they might need later. Fortunately, by accident or design they had all packed light.

Orliss slowly opened the door a crack, and then slowly closed it again. “The hallway is being searched,” he said.

Megan swore. “I’ll try the emergency exit.” She rushed to the other side of the cargo bay and started moving crates until she could see the do not block this door sign; the control panel was right below it. Megan wasted no time in stabbing open.

There was a guard right outside, his hand halfway to the control panel on his side of the door. “I thought I was searching this room,” he said.

“There must be a screw-up,” Megan replied. “I’ve just swept this room and I didn’t find anything.”

“What about that guy behind you?”

Megan glanced behind her and saw Orliss standing right in the center of the room. He grinned weakly and waved. “He says he got separated from his tour group a few days ago,” Megan told the guard. “He can’t find his ticket, so we’re going to check the logs once we’re done looking for the other spies.”

“Are you sure he isn’t a spy himself?”

“Him?” Megan took a look. Orliss was still grinning self-consciously. “He doesn’t look smart enough to be a spy.”

“Hey!” Orliss protested.

“It could be a disguise,” the guard noted.

“Yeah! I could be a spy!”

Megan gave him the evil eye, but then remembered he couldn’t see it through the helmet. “I’ll mention that spy thing to my commander,” she said to the guard. “Thanks.”

“No problem.” The guard half-saluted and went on about his business. Megan closed the door behind him and pulled off her helmet.

“‘I could be a spy’?” she demanded. “Did you learn that tactic in your hero school?”

Orliss brushed some invisible dust off his shirt collar. “If there are guards searching outside both exits, we must find another way out of here.”

Megan had any number of scathing retorts for that, but she reluctantly decided that escaping with their lives took precedence. “Maybe we could try the air ducts.”

They found a grate up towards the ceiling, behind a stack of boxes. It was a little high, but the boxes were easily made into a makeshift platform. Orliss immediately set to work trying to pry the grate off while Megan sealed the two doors. It wouldn’t hold the Zakavians out for long, but hopefully they’d be gone soon. Orliss worked diligently to get the grate open, but his efforts were stymied by a lack of appropriate tools.

“You wouldn’t happen to have an Allen wrench, would you?” he asked.

Megan shook her head.

“Perhaps I can pry it off.”

Orliss soon discovered that he could not pry it off. Megan offered to give it a try, since her armor had servos to bolster her strength. At full power, they traded dexterity for force, but ripping a grate off a wall doesn’t require a lot of subtlety. Megan started to climb the boxes, but the combined weight of her, her armor, and Orliss was enough to make the stack of boxes start wobbling in an alarming fashion. Orliss quickly leapt to the floor while Megan set to work on the grate. It came off without too much trouble, so Megan stuck her head into the duct to check it out and hit her head on the opposite side.

“We’ve got a problem,” she said, glad that she was wearing a helmet. “The duct’s only ten centimeters across.”

To his credit, Orliss kept his cool. “Very well,” he said, “we shall move on to the next plan.”

“What’s that?”

“I’m not certain yet.”

Bob and Jen were taken to the Captain’s office, as he didn’t trust potential saboteurs on the bridge. This was a perplexing rationale, as the office was only accessible through the bridge, but they chose not to question it. Best not to annoy a man whose underlings are poking guns in your back.

Captain Etsushin didn’t look up when they entered. He continued not to look up when their escort followed them in and closed the door behind them. He was scribbling in a notebook and muttering softly. The three guards, unfazed by this behavior, stood at parade rest just inside the door. Bob applied the old proverb “When in a secret Zakavian superweapon, do as the Zakavians do” and stood quietly. There was little to be gained by making a scene.

“You think we can get this over with?” demanded Jen, pounding on Etsushin’s desk. “Some of us have other things—”

“Silence!” shouted the green-skinned Captain. The guards winced and took a step back. “You do not touch my desk! Is that understood? My desk is inviolate!”

“Look, fine, I’m not gonna mess with your desk.”

“Silence! I will not abide shouting in my office!”

“You’re the one shouting,” Jen muttered, taken aback by his vehemence. In spite of himself, Bob nodded in agreement.

“She’s right,” one of the guards added.

Etsushin narrowed his eyes and pointed to the guard next to the one who had spoken. “Take that traitor to the brig,” he ordered.

With a shrug, the guard escorted his associate out of the office.

Etsushin fixed the two fugitives with a look that made Liskviro’s seem positively friendly. Standing from his chair, he walked around the desk to come face to face with Jen. He gave her borrowed uniform an appraising glance.

“Tell me,” he said, “why is an agent of the Mysterious and Powerful Guild of Vending Machine Technicians wandering around my induction control complex?” Jen started to protest, but Etsushin had already moved on to Bob. “And you, I don’t know who you are or who you work for, but you’re certainly suspicious.”

“How so?” asked the reptilian bounty hunter.

“Silence! I do not explain myself to saboteurs!”

“So I’d noticed.”

For a moment, Etsushin stared at Bob with a rage as hot as a thousand suns, but then he shook his head and laughed. A big, deep, belly laugh, complete with dismissive hand waving. “Very clever of you, trying to make me mad and increase my blood pressure so my head would explode.” He laughed again.

“Um,” Bob started to say.

“Silence!” He stabbed a finger at Jen. “You! What is the Guild planning?”

“How should I know?” Jen asked.

“You should know because the Guild told you before they sent you here on the mission you’re tying to complete. Do you expect me to believe the Guild sent you here without telling you what to do? Hah!”

“I’m not in the guild!” Jen protested. “I never even heard of it until a few days ago.”


“Stop saying that!” Jen shouted, pounding his desk again.

Etsushin’s eyes bugged out. Bob winced, and the remaining guard took another step back. It seemed the shouting match had only begun.

Megan had given up on finding another escape route. Instead, she was concerned with how they would handle the Zakavians once they got into the room. There were a number of possibilities she could think of, but they all shared one flaw. They were all unlikely to work. Orliss wasn’t much help. He was still convinced that escape was possible.

“I found it! We can get… oh, wait.”

“Another closet?”

“Never mind.”

They would need to think of something soon. She’d heard guards gathering outside both doors. They’d be inside before long. While Megan had been able to pass herself off as Zakavian in the past, she didn’t think her act would withstand scrutiny. Orliss couldn’t pass for Zakavian at all. Their only option might be to hide in some empty boxes and hope the Zakavians didn’t search too thoroughly.

“A-ha! I… ah, shazbot.”


“It’s a panel painted to look like a door.”

Megan didn’t like the idea of hiding. Hiding was basically waiting, but with more stress. Not the most appealing of concepts. A sudden noise brought her attention to the main entrance. There was a small glowing spot on the door. With a shower of sparks, it moved and left a trail of melted metal behind it.

“They’re burning through!” she cried, but Orliss was too deep into a pile of boxes to hear her. She looked around. All the crates they’d found were full of food—no good for hiding. Even working together, they’d never be able to eat fast enough.

The Zakavians were nearly halfway finished with the door. She needed more time!

“I found it!”

“Orliss, we don’t have time for this. They’re almost through the door.”

“It’s not another closet, this time. I think it’s a maintenance shaft.”

A maintenance shaft? “Let me see that.”

The guards stormed into the room mere seconds after the engineers finished burning through the door. To their surprise, they found an empty room (aside from the dozens of crates and boxes stacked, piled, and scattered about the room).

“What a mess.”

“If they ate all the shtilo fruit, I’m not going to be happy.”

“I don’t see them anywhere.”

“You think they escaped?”

A guard went to check the other exit, but it was still shut and its controls were destroyed. They hadn’t gotten out that way.

“Maybe they’re hiding in the boxes?”

“Perhaps, but I feel there may be a more likely solution.”

The guards didn’t ask for an clarification. They’d get no more information out of Liskviro until he was ready to give it. He quietly walked around the room, absently adjusting his mirrored monocle. He stopped, seeing an area where the box-cover was light.

“What is behind there?” he asked.

The guards quickly moved the boxes out of the way, revealing a small access panel. Behind it lay a vertical maintenance shaft.

“They must have escaped through here!”

Liskviro smiled thinly. “It does look that way, does it not?”

The guards started to select two teams to explore the shaft in both directions. When offered to join, Liskviro just shook his head. He had destinations of his own to reach. If all went well, he would locate the remaining saboteur before Captain Etsushin extracted its identity from the prisoners.

“Stop saying that!”


“Just shut up!”


“Stop it! Stop it!”


With a soft hiss and a squeak from a long-unused hinge, Orliss cracked the access panel ever-so-slightly open. He and Megan had climbed and crawled their way through a number of the maintenance shafts, and they were both quite sick of them. Fortunately, the corridor the panel opened into looked to be empty.

“I’m going out,” he said. “Wait here until I give the signal.”

Megan nodded. She seemed calm, but she had donned her helmet to avoid having to carry it, so Orliss couldn’t read her expression very well.

With another, louder squeak, Orliss pushed the panel the rest of the way open and stepped outside. No one seemed to be coming in either direction, so he stepped farther into the hall.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” came a voice from behind.

Orliss spun around. Leaning on the wall next to the access panel was a high-ranking Zakavian guard with gold-edged armor and a nifty cap. “Who… what… how…?” he stammered.

“I am fourth-degree Master Guard Liskviro,” the stranger said. “Perhaps you are wondering how I deduced your location?”

Orliss nodded wordlessly.

“It was quite simple,” Liskviro said. He smiled mirthlessly and stepped closer to Orliss. “I suspect that even you will concede its obviousness once I have explained it. First, I noted that—urk!”

Orliss watched, nonplussed, as the Master Guard cut off in mid-sentence and collapsed to the ground. In the access panel, Megan hefted her blaster and gave the “V-for-Victory” sign.

“A pity you didn’t wait until after he explained how he found us,” Orliss commented.

“I’m sorry,” Megan replied. “For a moment, I thought we were being chased by a large number of armed guards.”

“Let’s find a more defensible spot to argue.”

“I’m all for that.”

After a quick, scientific decision that involved a coin toss, they headed off to the left. Megan muttered something about Virgil, but refused to explain any further. Before long, they came to an important-looking door. There were a number of features proclaiming its importance, such as its size, its elaborate frame, and the way it was labelled Shield Control Center. It did not appear to be locked.

“Shall we go in?” asked Orliss. “I suspect that wandering around the hallways forever will get tiresome.”

“You think it’s locked?”

“It doesn’t appear to be.”

Orliss stepped forward, and the door quietly slid open. Also, the world seemed to shudder and a pulse of disorientation swept over them.

“What was that?” asked Megan in alarm.

“I think we’ve dropped out of overly-hyped space,” Orliss replied. “I’ve never felt it so strongly before. It must be a cheap engine.”

“That must mean we’ve arrived at Arorua. If we don’t do something, they’re going to—”


There was a squadron of guards rushing down the hallway. Without a second thought or much of a long-term plan, Orliss shoved himself and Megan into the empty Shield Control Center, closed the door behind them, locked it, and lowered the heavy blast shield. He figured it would take a while for the Empire to burn through that.

“And so we’ve traded one hiding spot for another,” said Megan, who had removed her helmet and was stretching her neck. “I think we’ve effectively removed ourselves from the game.”

“Perhaps we will find something of use in here,” Orliss suggested. “There must be something important here, judging by the security measures and general impressiveness of the doorway.”

Megan shrugged. “I don’t figure they’d put a self-destruct button in the ‘Shield Control Center’.”

As it happens, she was right.

Have Megan and Orliss effectively removed themselves from the game?

Will the EDIT destroy Arorua? Ampron? The Anonymous? Something that doesn’t start with “A”?

Will Jen out-shout Captain Etsushin?

Is that really a victory to be proud of?

Is any of this actually going to get resolved?

The answer for that last question is: Yes! It all “comes together” in the next “weight-carrying” episode of Starcruiser Anonymous! (Except for the stuff that doesn’t.)

SFSTORY: It Came In Through the Bathroom Window