Starcruiser Anonymous

(A Tale Within Sfstory)

Episode 24
Wherein a Multitude
of Things Go Boom

Dave Menendez

If anything, the arrival of the EDIT only made the fighting fiercer. Rtali’s rebels immediately stepped up their attacks, perhaps on the theory that if they defeated the Third Fleet quickly enough, the EDIT would just go away. Mselt’s forces also stepped up their attacks, on the theory that just sitting around when someone steps up an attack on you is generally a bad idea. The Anonymous kept to itself, and surprisingly the combatants respected that, although both sides used the great ship for cover. Ampron and Green Squadron hid behind the Ultimate Defense Barrier and were generally ignored.

Fighters fought, missiles flew, Megadeathkill blasts, er, blasted, drinks were spilled. It was unpleasant all around. A squad of fighters from Rtali’s fleet broke through the Third Fleet’s perimeter, weaving their way past attacks and other fighters. Being small, speedy craft, there wasn’t much they could do against Mselt’s capital ships except distract them, but powerful forces were sent against them anyway. People don’t like being distracted during combat.

Overwhelmed by superior forces, the fighters pulled back, dashing their chances of being immortalized in song. There isn’t much of a market for stuff like “The Brave Warriors Who Retreated When Outmatched”. But not all were so cowardly (or ‘prudent’, as they called it). One unfortunate pilot saw a chance to strike at Mselt’s flagship, the Absurd Physical Harm. He knew that a fleet which has lost its flagship is often at a severe disadvantage. Of course, the fleet commanders know this too. That is why flagships are typically very heavily defended. Attempting to take one out alone is a brave gesture, but ultimately a futile one.

On the bridge, Prince Lotekh and Captain-General Mselt tracked the pilot’s progress with varying degrees of concern.

“Are you certain it poses no threat?” Lotekh asked nervously. It was his first time on a ship being attacked, and he was not entirely comfortable with the idea.

Mselt nodded. “It’s a brave attempt, but ultimately futile.”

As if to illustrate his point, the pilot dodged in a way the targeting teams had anticipated and was tagged by a Megadeathkill blast. With the list moments of control, the pilot managed to give the crippled fighter a new trajectory that just happened to intersect the Harm’s bridge.

“Increase power to the deflectors,” Mselt ordered calmly. This was not the first time he had seen this tactic. Though less destructive than a missile, as missiles tend to carry an explosive payload while doomed fighters do not, fighters are actually more difficult for deflector shields to stop. Missiles explode on impact, releasing their energy in a single, easily-blocked spike of energy. A large, fast-moving object crashing into the deflectors will transfer its momentum to the shield and then sit there, irritating the shield generators like a fleck of dust caught under a contact lens.

Lotekh watched the fighter’s progress with badly-concealed concern. “Will that be enough?”

“Don’t worry, Your Highness. We know how to deal with this sort of thing. Otherwise, all our enemies would have to do is throw big rocks at us.” He chuckled. “I’m sure they’d like that. Rocks are a lot cheaper than missiles.”

“What about diamonds?”

“In general, rocks are cheaper than missiles.”

Any deflector shield has weak spots and holes for the gunners to fire through. Creating these portals is a complex business involving all sorts of advanced calculus, which is why most crews leave it to the computers. Often, there are unanticipated weak spots caused by the interaction between portals. The fighter didn’t hit one, but it came pretty close, which was enough to briefly overload the generators.

The resultant power surge momentarily scrambled electronics all over the ship. Lights flickered, monitors blinked out, non-backed-up files in progress were lost forever, and a few electronic locks switched state.

In the brig, Princess Elim of Arorua looked up from her solitaire game when the lights flickered and a loud click came from the door. It was the door part that really interested her. When the guard didn’t come by to check things or explain what was going on or make vague threats, Elim decided to see what had happened. A quick look around the room revealed the guard’s location: asleep at his desk.

“Moron,” she muttered. She gave the barred door an experimental push, and was pleasantly surprised to see it quietly swing open. Glancing warily at what was probably a security camera but could easily have been a smoke detector or a ceiling-mounted automated shoe polisher for all she knew, she crept over to the guard. Being asleep, he didn’t seem to notice. Her eyes fell on the combination deathkill/sleep-o-stun blaster leaning against the desk. He didn’t wake up when she grabbed it. He also didn’t wake up when she snuck out of the room. He did wake up when his superior checked in, but by then it was too late.

Despite already being armed, Elim headed for the armory Lotekh had shown her on one of his ship tours. Escape was at best a minor part of her plans. She wanted revenge.

From the outside, the Anonymous had little reaction to the EDIT’s arrival. The inside was a different story. Over Captain Harrison’s objections, the general public was kept informed of the status of the battle outside. As she had predicted, the result was mass hysteria. Entire squadrons of crazy old men with placards foretelling doom milled around the residential sectors. Concerned parents called to excuse their children from school, wanting to spend what might well be their last day together. The schools refused, wanting to spend what might well not be their last day educating their charges. Eventually, they compromised by letting the parents join the children in class. The teachers weren’t too pleased by this, but they were used to being ignored.

On the bridge, Harrison watched the tactical displays with her usual look of half-amused detachment. Her voice betrayed no concern over their situation. Still, many in the bridge crew had worked with her for years and could recognize the subtle signals that showed she was upset, like the way she was slowly pounding her forehead on the inactive console before her.

“Captain?” asked Commander Gerhardt. “How do we react to this?”

Harrison glanced at her second-in-command and then looked at the tactical display. The Zakavians’ newly-arrived Enormous Destructive Interstellar Tortilla was still a ways off, but it dominated the display, represented as it was by a big cylinder glowing an evil red with exclamation marks and skull-and-crossbones orbiting it. “Has Green Squadron contacted Blue Squadron yet?”


“Tell them to get back here. I am not staying in the same system as that thing any longer than necessary.”

“The EDIT, you mean?”

Harrison quickly rechecked the tactical display, concerned that perhaps she’d missed a second terrible threat that could destroy them at any second without expending much effort on its part. To her relief, there didn’t seem to be any. “Yes,” she said. “The EDIT.”

“What about it?”

Harrison’s eye twitched. In the bridge crew’s experience, that was not a good sign.

It is dark in space, but it was even darker behind Ampron’s Ultimate Defense Barrier, which blocked missiles, death rays, space debris, radio waves, and the light from the stars with equal effectiveness. It was kind of spooky. Vasta could understand Dixon’s reluctance to stay in the control pod, where the simulated blackness surrounded her on all sides, but this time she hadn’t asked if she could return to the command center. She knew they’d be going into action soon, and getting in and out of the control harness was a pain.

The command center itself was abuzz with conversation, as Dent and McCurry chatted with the newly-arrived Green Squadron. Vasta was keeping out of it, trying to think of their next move. Prince Boltar was also keeping quiet, probably because he didn’t know any of the newcomers.

“We’re receiving a message from the Anonymous,” Boltar announced. “They say a burrito-like superweapon has entered the system, and we’re supposed to hurry over to safety.”

Vasta frowned. “Let me talk to them.”

Outside, the five members of Green Squadron held formation a safe distance from Ampron but within the confines of the Barrier. They were taking a break after their skirmish, and Daniels was telling the others how he’d accidentally saved the life of the enemy squad-leader he’d been duelling.

“So, then the jerk says ‘Thanks for the save’! Can you believe that?”

“I can believe that,” said Losar.

“Actually, it sounds like something you would do,” said Roy.

“I know,” complained Daniels. “That’s what’s so irritating!”

They all laughed, even Daniels. No point in holding a grudge against someone you would never see again, right? He resolved not to let it get to him.

“Say, Roy,” started Winters.

“‘Roy’,” repeated the others.

She ignored that. “I was wondering if you were all right. You were flying kind of funny before.”

“I’ve been feeling weird since we found Beth,” Roy replied. “I think I caught something from the rebels.”

“‘The path of righteousness is beset with inconvenience’,” Hydrospok quoted from something, possibly his overactive imagination.

“Why can’t we ever take the path of worldly pleasure?” muttered Losar.

Before anyone could answer, Vasta broke into the conversation. “I just spoke with the Anonymous about our status.”

“Commander Vasta,” said Hydrospok, who had been itching to formally address Blue Squadron’s leader since his own team had arrived, “let me express Green Squadron’s delight at finding you and your companions safe and well.”

“Uh… thanks, Hydrospok. Anyway, there’s some Zakavian superweapon here that’s even more powerful than the Anonymous, so they want us to hurry back over there so we can all get out of here.”

“If it’s the EDIT,” Roy said, “we could be in serious trouble.”

“But we can’t let them blow up my planet!” Boltar protested. “We’re the Ampron Force! We defend Arorua.”

“It would be ungracious for us to abandon a people who have provided so much assistance to our colleagues,” Hydrospok declared. “We cannot retreat simply because the enemy has a weapon of terrible power that could easily destroy any of us.”

“I don’t know,” said Losar. “If anything would be a reason to leave, it would be that.”

“It’s kind of a moot point.” said McCurry. “We’ve been ordered to leave.”

“Actually,” said Vasta, “I think I’ve found a way around that.”

Gordon rushed up the steps to the command deck, and Harrison waved him over to give his report. “We’ve received word from Green and Blue squadrons,” he said. “They, er, have decided to attack the EDIT instead of returning here to escape.”

“Did they say why?” asked Harrison with a deceptive calmness.

“Um,” said Gordon, who was not at all deceived. “Blue Squadron is evidently working with the local ruler, and they’ve evidently sworn to help defend the planet. Oh, and Squad Commander Hydrospok said something about the lives of innocents being more treasured than even a warrior’s career.”

Harrison suppressed a laugh. She wasn’t entirely successful. “Yeah, that sounds like something he’d say.”

Gordon glanced at Gerhardt, uncertain what to make of the Captain’s sudden change of mood. “If they attack,” Gerhardt noted quietly, “it’s likely to break the truce.” Harrison had that gleam in her eye again; it was making him nervous.

“They broke it first,” she said. “And besides, I don’t really care.”


“Launch the attack on the Zakavians!” she ordered loudly. “They cannot be allowed to use their superweapon for evil!”

The cheers from the more overzealous bridge crew members drowned out the odd strangling noises coming from Gerhardt’s throat. Picking a fight with the Zakavians seemed like the worst course of action available to them, but he didn’t vocalize his objections. He could tell it was too late. The dice had been cast, and the gauntlet thrown down. They had crossed the point of no return and left the bridge that spanned it aflame. They could not back up, or they would face severe tire damage. Captain Harrison was gambling a great deal with this move, but the stakes were high all around. Would it pay off, or would the Anonymous be revealed as a paper tiger with feet of clay living in a straw house of cards?

Gerhardt hoped it wasn’t the latter. That would just suck.

The shouting match in Captain Etsushin’s office eventually worked its way to the inevitable conclusion: the Captain remembered that he was in command of several dozen armed guards and ordered one of them to shoot Jen if she didn’t shut up. (Jen later claimed this as a moral victory.) Having ended that minor unpleasantness, Etsushin returned his attention to making threats and demanding information. Who were they working for? Why were they here? What was their favorite color? Jen didn’t answer, either out of irritation at Etsushin’s heavy-handed debating tactics or fear of being shot if she said anything. That left Bob to answer the questions, a task he accepted gladly. He fancied himself a master of saying nothing at great length.

He was busily explaining how relativistic effects combined with Faszger of Octaleb Minor’s teachings on the universal dignity of laborers (except telemarketers) made it impossible to truly know who he worked for, when the Captain was paged by the bridge crew. The leaders of the Zakavian forces at Arorua wanted to talk with him. He replied that he would be there shortly; he had unfinished business to deal with.

“Guard,” he ordered, “take these two to the brig.”

The guard glanced at Jen and Bob and then looked at his Captain. “I don’t think we have room in the brig. You’ve, er, uncovered so many traitors that we’re running out of places to put them.”

Etsushin blinked. “I had not realized that, but surely there is room for two saboteurs such as these.”

“I don’t know, sir. The brig filled up a while back. We’ve been sticking people in extra conference rooms, but I don’t know how long we can keep that up. Our pastry supplies are dangerously low.”

“That is distressing news.” He gave Bob an appraising glance, and the trenchcoat-clad bounty hunter casually smiled back. “I don’t think we can hold spies of their caliber in a mere conference room.”

“Sure you could!” Bob said cheerfully. Jen just sniffed in derision.

“Silence!” Etsushin shouted. “No, we must find another way. Our foes must have forseen this and deliberately choked our brig with so many traitors that we would be unable to hold their real agents should we successfully capture them.”

“The fiends!” gasped the guard.

“I don’t have time to consider this decision fully,” Etsushin continued. “The fleet commanders have summoned me, and I dare not keep them waiting longer.” He looked at the guard. “You have disarmed them?”

The guard gestured at Etsushin’s desk, where Bob’s utility belt and Jen’s super-advanced handgun sat. The status lights on the latter blinked hypnotically at them, as if to say, Look at me! I’m a Handgun With Blinking Lights!

“Excellent.” He turned to address Bob and Jen. “No doubt you were hoping I would send you away so that you could make your move. Well, forget it. I’m keeping you two where I can see you. Guard! We’re going to the bridge; make sure they don’t touch anything.”

“Where have you been!?” shouted an enraged Prince Lotekh as soon as visual communications were established. “Do you think Captain-Commanders have nothing better to do than twiddle our thumbs and wait for you?”

“Where is Captain-General Mselt?” asked Etsushin.

Lotekh paused. “He’s coordinating the battle efforts, but that’s not important now. I’m the ranking officer here. You will respect my authority!”

“Did they get back to us?” asked Mselt as he stepped into frame. He squinted through the visual link-up at the group on the EDIT’s bridge. “Ah, Captain, we—you!”

“Me?” asked Etsushin in confusion, but Mselt wasn’t addressing him.

“Weren’t you one of the Terrans I captured back at Sol VI?” Mselt asked.

Jen started to answer, but stopped with a look at Etsushin. She was taking his gag order quite seriously. Too seriously, in Bob’s opinion.

“One of your captives?” Etsushin was saying. “I’ve read your report. I rather doubt an agent of the Guild of Vending Machine Technicians would be hanging about some backward star system.”

“I rather doubt she’s a Guild agent,” Mselt replied.

“And what about the uniform?”

“It’s most likely stolen.”

There was an audible gasp, both from the EDIT’s bridge crew and from those on Mselt’s ship. Even Etsushin was taken aback by that suggestion. The idea that someone would steal from the Guild… well, suffice it to say that being in the general area of such a person was likely to be hazardous to one’s health.

“Getting back to the point,” Mselt said, “your arrival appears to have upset the balance of power somewhat. We’re now under attack from three sides: the Aroruans, the Anonymous, and the rebel forces. I think it would be most effective to destroy the Anonymous first and then move on to Rtali’s fleet.”

The mention of rebels had caught Etsushin’s attention, but he simply declared, “I have been ordered to destroy the planet Arorua.”

Now Mselt looked taken aback. “We still have troops on Arorua.”

“Those are the orders that came directly from His Majesty the Emperor.”

“Prince Lotekh and I are in command here,” Mselt said coldly. “You will get your chance to destroy Arorua, but there is a battle to be won first. Is that clear?”

Etsushin started to protest, but then Lotekh stick his head into the shot and glared. He gulped. “It shall be as you desire. First the Anonymous, then the planet.”

Thus far, Ampron’s attack on the EDIT hadn’t been very dramatic. Acceleration was difficult but not impossible while the Ultimate Defense Barrier was active, so they had decided to leave it up while they moved closer to the titanic tortilla. Well, closer to where they thought it was, anyway. They couldn’t see through the Barrier, and the telemetry the Anonymous had sent them was only good for guesses unless it got updated. Unfortunately, the Zakavians had started flooding the hyperwave with noise and “lite” music, making communication impossible.

The control pod was helpfully projecting the telemetry readings, augmented by the projected locations of the various starships. Those in the command center could see essentially the same information, but the control pod’s 3D effect made it look like one was right there, although “there” was looking more and more like a scene from the movie Tron.

Dixon was only half paying attention to the increasingly speculative data surrounding her. Her leg itched, and she was trying very hard to ignore it. It was a simple five-minute procedure to deactivate the control link, release the catch on her arm straps, unlatch the leg greaves, roll up her pant leg, scratch the itch, and then put it all back, but she knew that scratching the itch was only a temporary solution. In a few minutes, it would just start itching again.

“We’re almost there,” came Vasta’s announcement over the intercom. They were approaching the sphere the computer projected as the EDIT’s most likely range of movement. Better to drop the Barrier too far from the target than to run into it. (Unless one is on a suicide mission, which the Ampron Force repeatedly assured itself it was not.)

Dixon watched as Green Squadron moved into position. They weren’t sure where the enemy would be once the Barrier was deactivated, so they were trying to cover Ampron as best they could. Hydrospok signalled that his team was ready, and Vasta dropped the Barrier.

Immediately, there were five missiles flying at them. Green Squadron took out two, and Dixon frantically managed to dodge two others. The last hit Ampron’s deflector shield, weakening it but doing no lasting damage.

“Wake up!” Dixon yelled at McCurry through the intercom. He was supposed to be handling large-scale maneuvering; she couldn’t dodge effectively if he froze up.

Over the intercom, she could hear Boltar’s panicked “How did they know when we’d drop the shields?” and Vasta’s less panicked explanation that the missiles had probably been programmed to follow them and attack as soon as the barrier dropped.

Out of the corner of her eye, Dixon could see that the EDIT was still a ways off, but the two missiles she’d dodged were headed back, and she couldn’t be distracted by more distant concerns.

Daniels had been surprised by the sudden missile attack, but he wasn’t able to do more than blast the one that came near him. The Squat Crimson Pig had followed them, and its fighters were closing in rapidly.

“I hope these guys are worse than that last batch,” he muttered.

As it happened, they were, but there we so many of them that it didn’t matter.

McCurry had recovered from his surprise and was piloting the mighty robot towards the EDIT like a hummingbird filmed by MTV. Dent and Dixon were holding back the fighters while Vasta kept an eye on the capital ships. Some of those nearby were moving to join the Squat Crimson Pig, evidently figuring that Ampron and its escort would be easier to handle than the Anonymous or Rtali’s fleet.

Ahead of them, the EDIT loomed closer, its open end slowly angling to face the Anonymous. They would arrive before long and… do something. Hopefully not die.

Daniels glanced at the tactical display and swore. There were more enemies coming. Ahead of him, the fighter he was following swerved left, then right, then left, then right, then left, and then right into the shot he’d fired. He grinned, but there wasn’t time to gloat. Enemies were coming as fast as he could deal with them.

There was one coming up fast behind him. He tried a few tricks he’d picked up, but it kept getting closer. Soon, he wouldn’t be able to dodge reliably.

He spun around without changing his direction of travel. Flying backward like this was risky, but it gave him a better shot at his pursuer. Or pursuers, as the case seemed to be. He was attracting a crowd. It was not a trend he liked.

With a sudden burst of speed, his tail shot off to the side and started to swing back well outside Daniels’s range of fire. He started to swivel to face his opponent, but before he could do so his opponent abruptly exploded. A familiar fighter flew by.

“Now we’re even,” signalled the pilot. It was the one Daniels had accidentally saved during the previous battle.

Not about to let this stand, Daniels moved to follow… but then he noticed something. The enemy fighters were gone. Even the one who had saved him was leaving rather rapidly. Ampron and Green Squadron were alone in an eerily empty swath of space.

“What happened?” asked Dixon. “Did someone declare peace while I was distracted?”

“No,” replied Vasta, “they just don’t want to follow us into the EDIT’s line of fire.”

Dixon called up the appropriate display mode. Sure enough, they had just crossed into the projected path of the Zakavian superweapon’s kilometer-wide beam. She could understand the Zakavians’ reluctance to follow them.

“Has it occurred to anyone else that this is a really bad place to be?” she asked.

“Don’t worry,” said Vasta. “These super-big guns always have a light show before they fire. We’ll have time to get out of the way.”

Dixon didn’t find that thought very comforting and was about to say so when Dent fired their second Plasmic Destructo-Pod. The blue energy sphere flew straight down the EDIT’s gaping throat, or would have, if it hadn’t hit the EDIT’s powerful deflector shield first.

This development did not bode well for their chances of victory.

An alert from the computer snapped Megan out of her daydreams. She and Orliss were still holed up in the EDIT’s Shield Control Center, and the thorough job they’d done blocking the only entrance, combined with the angry crowd of Imperial guards just outside that entrance, meant that they wouldn’t be leaving any time soon.

“What was that?” asked Orliss. He was trying to be heroically stoic about their situation, but Megan could tell that he was rattled. Not having an escape route really bothered him.

She called up more information about the alert. “It looks like something big hit us,” she reported. “Most likely a weapon.”

“Thank the stars,” Orliss breathed, “We have allies also seeking the EDIT’s destruction… who don’t know we’re here.”

“Or don’t care,” put in Megan.

“This is terrible! If the Empire doesn’t get us, those idiots outside will! How can we save Arbora—”


“How can we save Arorua if our enemy, or our enemy’s enemy blasts us to smithereens?” He staggered about dramatically. “What cruel fate has lead us to this point, has set us on the path of righteousness only to dump us into a quagmire of despair? We’ve detoured off the road to victory and ended up in a four-way gridlock of disaster! What vicious humor is this? What gods have we upset? What… what, exactly, are you doing over there?”

Megan looked up from the console. “I figure, if I’m going to die, I want this thing to go with me.”

Orliss grimaced. “I suppose that would be the heroic thing to do.” He sighed and took a seat next to his teenage co-conspirator. “It is a pity that I failed to inform Interstellar University of my activities. Although I cannot vouch for this myself, I have heard that those who perish that they might aid others receive hefty bonuses to their GPA.”

“How noble.” She was in luck: someone had forgotten to reset the maintenance password, despite the “Please reset the maintenance password, or people will break into your system with presumably malicious intent” warning that popped up when she logged in.

“What are you doing?” Orliss asked curiously.

“I’m not sure yet,” Megan replied. She’d given herself full access privileges and was looking for something she could use against the Zakavians. She tried a likely candidate and got the message: Are you sure you want to disable the deflector shield? With a grin, she chose “OK”.

On the bridge of the EDIT, the nerve center of the Empire’s most dreaded superweapon, a place where dastardly schemes were a dime a dozen and sold at that price by a little, ragged orphan girl, Captain Etsushin stalked back and forth like a jungle cat pacing its cage like a big, powerful thing moving back and forth in an enclosed environment. There was tension in the air. Captain Etsushin could feel it. The crew could feel it. Jen and Bob could feel it. The little orphan girl could feel it. In mere moments, the last Zakavian ship would be out of their way, and they would activate the Spice Beam. Once fired, it would destroy everything in its path, be it a massive starship or a puny, irritating robot. The anticipation in the room was think, like a gooey paste.

“Great Amsa!” cried one of the bridge staff. “The deflector shield just deactivated!”

Etsushin leapt to his feet. “What!?”

“The deflector shield just—”

“I heard that! It was a rhetorical question!” The Captain seemed quite agitated by the news, as did the rest of the crew. Jen didn’t blame them. The news had startled her, too.

While Etsushin and the bridge staffer attempted to determine what had happened, Bob leaned over and whispered, “This would be a perfect time to do something.”

“I’ve got just the thing,” Jen whispered back. Keeping an eye on Etsushin, she reached for her boot, as if to scratch an itch. The guard looked at her—or something in the same direction as her, the helmet made it difficult to tell—but he didn’t say anything.

Etsushin had finished talking with the crew member and was stomping back to Jen and Bob. “This was part of your plan, wasn’t it?” he growled. “Your saboteur friends waited to strike until I got distracted by you!” He started doing that scary laugh again. “But that’s okay. I have you two, and soon I’ll have you all!”

“Planning to collect the whole set?” Jen asked lightly.

Etsushin was instantly in her face. “You may joke now, but soon it will be I who jokes! Puny Vending Machine Technician! I—gllk!” He cut off and stared at her, his eyes bugging out so far that they seemed in danger of flying out and smacking her in the face. He made some incoherent noises of rage, but didn’t say anything. He couldn’t see the gun Jen had pulled from her boot, but he could feel it pressing against the soft part of his chin.

“Hey!” said the guard once he noticed what had happened. “We told you to give us all your weapons.”

“Yeah,” Jen agreed. “You did tell us that.” She looked around at the shocked and confused faces of the bridge staff. “Why doesn’t everybody leave Bob and the Captain and me alone for a while?”

“Wouldn’t that be a security breach?” asked one of them.

Jen nodded. “Allow me to rephrase that: Clear the bridge, or I will shoot the Captain. You don’t want that, do you?”

The bridge staff looked at each other indecisively. “I think this is one of those cases where the good of the ship comes before the good of the Captain,” one of them said.

Etsushin didn’t seem very happy about that sentiment, but the gun kept him quiet. Jen adopted a sad voice and said, “Well, I guess if you don’t leave, I’ll just have to give up and let Etsushin free… here… in the room with all of you who were willing to let him die.”

She had never seen a room empty so quickly before.

“What now?” asked Dent. “We tried the big gun, and they shrugged it off.”

“That’s true,” said McCurry, “but perhaps that strike weakened them so much that another one would destroy them.”

“We only have one of those left,” noted Dixon. “If it doesn’t work, we’ll have to take on the whole Zakavian fleet with just the small stuff.”

“Not the whole fleet,” argued McCurry, “most of them are busy fighting the Anonymous and that other Zakavian fleet.”

“They won’t be fighting the Anonymous if the EDIT destroys it, and there’s already a big crowd of Zakavians just waiting for us to try and dodge the EDIT’s beam.”

“Once the EDIT gets a clear shot, we’re space toast,” said Dent.

“Yes, but—”

“Shut up, McCurry.”

“So why don’t you tell us your plan, then?”

Dent didn’t have an answer for that.

“What do you mean, there’s no self-destruct mechanism?”

“Are you dense? I meant just what I said! And even if there was a self-destruct mechanism, I certainly wouldn’t be telling you about it.”

Jen glared. Etsushin met her stare with a sneer.

“Have I put a crimp in your plans? You and your buddies thought I’d just let you win? ‘Oh, here’s the keys. Go ahead and blow up my spaceship.’ Hah! Your cleverness is but a candle in a tanning booth next to my superior intellect!”

“Perhaps that giant robot out there could help us,” Bob suggested.

“Forget it!” said Etsushin. “Our wheat-alloy hull could take a thousand shots like the one they fired.”

Bob shrugged. “Let’s talk to them anyway.”

“Oh good,” Jen grumbled, “more talking.”

“All the talking in the world won’t save you now! There—” Smack! Etsushin glared at Jen and rubbed his cheek, but he didn’t comment further.

“I’ve got them,” said Bob from over by the communications console. “Let’s see if they can hear us…. Hello?”

A familiar voice came through the bridge speakers. “Um… hi?”

Jen blinked. That had sounded like Roger Vasta. “Boss, is that you?”

“Kadar? Jen Kadar? This is incredible! We thought we’d never hear from you again.”

Jen gritted her teeth. “You know, you could have spared yourself that uncertainty if you had waited for me when you left Planet Gloom.”

“Aheh… sorry about that.”

Jen started to reply but was cut off by Etsushin’s sudden laughter. While she had been distracted by her old squadron leader, he had snuck off to a nearby console. She immediately retargeted him with her backup gun. “What,” she snarled, “have you done?”

The Zakavian captain had that maniacal gleam in his eyes again. “I don’t care if our ships aren’t all clear,” he raved, “we’re firing this thing! The Anonymous and your friends on the robot are as good as dead!”

“Oh no they’re not,” Jen countered, waving her borrowed handgun for emphasis, “because you’re going to stop the firing process or we’re both going to discover just what this gun does when I pull the trigger.”

“Wouldn’t it be nice if I could do that? Unfortunately for you, the process is unstoppable. It’s an automatic, self-powered chain reaction.” He gestured to the communications system. “You still have a few seconds, I suggest you clear up any unfinished business while you still can.”

Jen glanced at Bob, but he shook his head in defeat. “I’m out of ideas, I’m afraid. At least we saved the planet.”

“How comforting.”

“We’re almost out of range,” McCurry reported.

Vasta nodded wordlessly. He felt ill. The Anonymous was about to be destroyed and there was nothing he could do about it. He had met many nice people on Arorua, but it was no replacement for his home. His friends and family lived there. It was where he kept his stuff. About the only thing worse than knowing that the Anonymous was doomed was knowing that as soon as Ampron got out of the EDIT’s line of fire, about half the Third Fleet was going to do its best to kill them.

“Wait!” said Jen over the communications link. “Don’t get out of the way yet.”

Vasta waved Boltar into silence and answered her himself. “Um, if we don’t get out of the way, we’ll kinda get obliterated.”

“The shield is down; fire another one of those blue things! Fast!”

Before Vasta could say “Why? It didn’t work before,” Dent had already launched their last Plasmic Destructo-Pod. The blue energy sphere rocketed towards the oversized fajita’s cavernous maw faster than Vasta imagined possible. Dent must have traded power for speed, making it even less likely to have an effect. In less than a second, it disappeared, lost in the EDIT’s formidable interior.

Vasta turned to his weapons officer. “I assume there was a point to that?”

Dent didn’t look up from his display. “We’ll find out soon enough.”

Deep within the EDIT, the great induction machines were silent. The fuel they had drawn from the altiverse of fajita toppings was being compacted by the slightly-less-great-but-still-impressive compression machines. The process would stop just before the high-energy Dense Spice Matter reached critical mass and exploded in an unstoppable salsa of death. At that point, a controlled explosion would create the fearsome Spice Beam, which would lash out and destroy all in its path. It was a simple process, but one which called for great precision. A premature explosion—caused, say, by an underpowered Plasmic Destructo-Pod slamming into the fuel—would be disastrous.

The walls of the reaction chamber were strong, but they were designed to withstand stress in specific places. Faced with an explosion in the wrong place, they passed the stress to the EDIT’s durable wheat-alloy hull, which blew apart like a cheap water balloon and sent a shockwave along its entire ten-kilometer length.

The shockwave moved faster than the eye could see, but it had such a great distance to travel that Captain Etsushin had to time to consider the honor of going down with his ship. He made a quick decision to reject that honor and slammed the panic button hard, blowing the command complexes free from the EDIT’s hull before the weapon’s death throes tore them apart.

Tortilla chunks the size of Buicks flew in all directions, crippling nearby Zakavian warships and sending the EDIT’s abandoned control complexes spinning through space, but mostly burning up in Arorua’s atmosphere. The entire planet smelled like charred toast for days, but this was a small price to pay for peace of mind.

The EDIT had been destroyed. A terrible shadow over Arorua had been lifted.

Of course, this left over two dozen other terrible shadows over Arorua, in the form of the Zakavian Third Fleet. Their greatest weapon had been destroyed and they faced a renegade fleet, an giant starship, and a relatively insignificant robot, but they could still strike Arorua with deadly force. They were down, but they were not out.

“That looks like our cue to get out of here,” Mselt said. His fleet was still in good shape overall, but he was not liking the way the battle had gone at all. Seeing the Empire’s most fearsome tool of destruction tear itself to pieces before it could dispatch its enemies had sapped his confidence.

Prince Lotekh did not share his misgivings. “We fight on!” he shouted over the general channels. “Our ships are strong, our crews are skilled, and our planet-killer bombs are pretty darn destructive! The Aroruans must learn that to cross Lotekh is to invite death into your homes and places of business! Renew the attack! Let none who stand against us be spared! We may be down, but we are not out!”

“Much as I hate to douse your righteous fire of rage,” Mselt said quietly, “we do need to consider the odds against us. We don’t know what the Anonymous is capable of, Rtali has a spotless combat record, and Ampron did manage to take out the EDIT. I don’t think preserving our control over Arorua is worth dying for.”

“Speak not of odds to Lotekh! We will come out of this battle triumphant, or we will see to it that nobody wins. Ready the planet killers! Let the Aroruans feel our wrath!”

Mselt winced. Devastating a planet’s biosphere was unlikely to win the Empire any friends in their sector of space. Except maybe the producers of The Galaxy’s Scariest Planetary Disasters. He felt a vague sympathy for the Aroruans, but he wasn’t going to save them. That would imply that he was in some way in command of the fleet, and therefore responsible for its actions. Mselt was quite content to let Lotekh take credit for its successes and failures. Mostly the failures.

“Sir,” said a nearby bridge staffer, “we’ve detected an escape pod launch.”

Mselt blinked. An escape pod launch was unexpected. Why would someone leave the relative safety of the flagship for the uncertainty of space? “Was anyone on board?”

Before the officer could reply, the lights died and the artificial gravity lurched. Within a second, the emergency lights came up, but many of the bridge displays remained dark. From the looks of things, there had been explosion somewhere in the power distribution systems.

“What happened?” asked Lotekh, his aggressive confidence gone as quickly as it had come.

Mselt glared at the prince. “If I had to guess, I’d say it was a bomb planted by someone who has become intimately familiar with our ship—say by being led about on numerous tours.”

Lotekh paled.

From her escape pod, Elim could see the running lights on the Absurd Physical Harm go dark. The bombs she had placed had worked as hoped. “Take that,” she said quietly. They couldn’t hear her, but it made no difference. She had escaped and taken her revenge; she had nothing more to say to them. Now all she had left to do was clear her name among the Aroruans. She would prove she was no traitor if it killed her.

Before she could even begin, she needed to reach Arorua. She estimated that her pod had enough fuel to weave through the fleet and avoid burning up on re-entry.

“Princess Elim,” came Lotekh’s voice over the ship-to-ship communications. It was not a good omen. “You’ll be happy to know that your little sabotage has convinced us to retreat. Normally I’d launch our planet-killer bombs and lay waste to your planet, but it seems we can’t with our power failure. Very clever. It’s too bad you weren’t able to affect any of the other ships.”

Elim gasped. A quick glance out the window showed several nearby ships firing on her planet. “You monster!” she cried, not caring that he couldn’t hear.

“Oh, it might also interest you to know that our Megadeathkill cannon are independently powered.”

It became clearer what he had meant by that when her pod suddenly jerked and the world went dark.

“The Third Fleet is retreating. It looks like they had some sort of failure on their flagship and decided to cut and run.”

Rtali waved his hand in acknowledgement. That, at least, had gone according to plan: they had defeated the local Zakavian garrison. Said garrison had been far stronger than anticipated and they’d received some unexpected assistance and the world they were trying to liberate was all but dead, but at least the garrison was defeated. It was sort of like victory, just a lot less satisfying.

“Recall the fighters and signal our retreat,” he ordered. “We got what we came for, and I don’t want to be around if the Terrans get all bent out of shape when Arorua dies.”

It wasn’t the most inspiring victory speech he had given.

“Hurry!” cried Prince Boltar. The first bomb had almost reached the atmosphere, and none of the Ampron Force particularly desired to know what would happen when it detonated. Green Squadron had abandoned its role as body guard once it became clear that the Zakavians were retreating, and its members were busily taking out the rearmost bombs. Only Ampron was fast enough to reach those furthest along.

They had exhausted their long-range weapons fighting the fleet and the EDIT, so they moved in close. Dixon drew the Penguin Spear and stabbed it at the deadly warhead. It exploded quite dramatically, almost blinding the Ampron Force before the anti-flare windows could compensate.

“Let’s not try that again,” said McCurry. They had taken almost as much damage from that one blast as from the entire battle before it. They had even lost their grip on the Penguin Spear, which was tumbling towards the surface.

Dent was too busy searching the weapons database to tell McCurry to shut up. “I’ve found something that should work better,” he told Dixon. “Just a second, I’ll get it ready.”

The mighty robot reached into the space frame and drew a flat, oval-shaped object with a red sphere attached to its center and a handle on one end. It held the weapon perfectly still for a few seconds.


The bombs drew closer to Arorua, while Green Squadron continued to destroy those furthest from Ampron. In the distance, the Anonymous dealt with Zakavian stragglers. Arorua’s defender hung in space, its arms and legs motionless.

Dent turned to Vasta. “I think something’s gone wrong.”

Before Vasta could answer, Boltar leapt from his seat and ran for the control pod. With an order for Dent and McCurry to stay where they were, the Ampron Force’s commander followed. They found Dixon hanging from the control frame, her pose mimicking Ampron’s. But where Ampron held its head high, a stern, unyielding expression carved onto its face, Dixon appeared to be unconscious and was bleeding from the forehead.

“What happened?” wondered Vasta, but he knew it didn’t matter. He and Boltar quickly got their wounded friend detached from the frame. Vasta was about to get in himself, but Boltar stopped him with a raised hand.

“Let me do it,” he said. Vasta didn’t feel like taking the time to argue. He nodded and carefully carried Dixon back to the command center.

McCurry had maneuvered Ampron to a safe distance from the bomb nearest Arorua. Mirroring Boltar’s movements, the mighty robot drew back its weapon and swung, sending the red sphere flying towards the bomb. It struck with tremendous force, detonating the bomb, and then returned to Ampron, pulled by the super-stretchy Space Elasto-Band which connected it to Ampron’s ovoid device.

Boltar expertly met the returning sphere with another swing, sending it towards another bomb with similar results. McCurry quickly grasped how the system worked and guided Ampron towards other targets, mindful of the red sphere’s angle of return.

They moved from bomb to bomb, slowly taking Lotekh’s revenge apart, piece by piece. Green Squadron worked the edges until its ammunition ran out, stopping the warheads too far away for Arorua’s protector to handle. The rest were Ampron’s responsibility. Boltar was having a great time, albeit a stressful one. He had made a great study of the interaction of ball and paddle, and now it was time for him to use the skills he had learned. If the ball picked up a bad vector from a bomb, he could compensate. If the ball lost its momentum, he could restore it.

On the surface, the Aroruans watched the explosions in the sky, breathed the burnt-tortilla-scented air, and wondered what in the gods’ name was going on up there.

Some targets were easily hit, others presented a challenge. Boltar met them all, and eventually none remained. The tactical readouts showed no active Zakavian ships in system. The Ampron Force had successfully freed Arorua. The Anonymous had finally located its missing pilots.

That night, there would be a celebration. Until then, it was nap time.

Did any of our heroes onboard the EDIT survive its destruction?

Did Princess Elim survive the attack on her escape pod?

Will Prince Lotekh survive once the Emperor finds out what happened?

Will the Ampron Force survive, or will its members return to their old lives?

The battle may be over, but Starcruiser Anonymous has one more episode to go. The epilogue is coming, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it.

SFSTORY: It’s Sfstoriffic!