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Sfstory Log 086

Date:         Mon, 7 Oct 1996 12:13:15 -0400
From:         David Menendez (zednenem at PSU.EDU)
Subject:      SF: Wherein Jen Kadar Meets a Mysterious Stranger (SA #8)

Surprisingly, the Peace and Light Bar & Grill had not closed after the
collapse of its floor caused by revolutionary activity.  In fact, business
had increased, mostly due to the twenty-odd Zakavians spies who hung around
trying to find the Aroruan People's League.  They were unable to find
anything, which wasn't too surprising since the League wasn't about to visit
a restaurant filled with enemy spies.  Prince Boltar and Captain-General
Tvanir didn't really care about that, though.  They were at the Peace and
Light for a quick bite to eat, nothing more.
    "Hello," their waiter greeted them, "I'm Tels Garav, and I'll be your
waiter this afternoon."  He leaned in close.  "Today I recommend holding
_very_ still or I'll shoot you, Captain-General."  Tvanir noticed his hand
was currently under the table, where the spies in the room couldn't see it.
Boltar continued looking at his menu.
    "You're with the rebellion?" she asked quietly.
    Garav nodded.  The spies in the room continued to read their newspapers.
    Tvanir grinned.  "You're doing an excellent job."
    "Huh?" Garav replied, a look of confusion spreading across his face.
    "The rebellion," Tvanir clarified, "if it keeps up I'll have an excuse
to increase my forces and improve my bargaining position in the Empire."
    "So why go on a date with Prince Boltar?" Garav asked.  Boltar, hearing
his name, glanced up.
    "You ordered yet?" he asked Tvanir.
    "Not as such," she replied.  Boltar nodded and returned to his menu.
"It is _not_ a date," she told Garav, "We just wanted something to eat."
    "Whatever," Garav said, "you're prisoners of the People's League of
Arorua now."
    "That's Aroruan People's League," a passing waiter corrected.
    "Right, sorry," Garav replied.  "Anyway, if the two of you will come
with us...?"


                           STARCRUISER ANONYMOUS
                          (A Tale Within Sfstory)

                                 Episode 8
                          Wherein Jen Kadar Meets
                           a Mysterious Stranger
                               Dave Menendez


The first thing Jen Kadar noticed upon regaining consciousness was that she
had a headache.  The second and third things she noticed were that she
seemed to be wearing her stolen uniform and sleeping on a couch.  She opened
her eyes and saw that she was indeed wearing the uniform of a Vending
Machine Technician and lying on a couch.  The couch seemed to be in a rather
upscale hotel suite and faced something that looked remarkably like a
television set, so she concluded that she must have fallen asleep on the
couch watching television.  In an attempt to verify this hypothesis, she
thought back to her last memory:  watching a transport shuttle carry the
rest of her squadron away from Planet Gloom and getting hit on the head with
a blunt object.  While that explained the headache, it contradicted her
theory.  Something didn't match.  Specifically, how did she get from being
knocked unconscious to waking up in a plush hotel suite?
    "You awake in there?" a voice called from outside the room.
    "No," she answered.
    "Okay," the voice replied, "we'll come back later."
    Deciding to ignore that confused exchange, Jen turned back to the
problem at hand.  There had to be some sort of logical explanation for this.
She remembered one of her attackers saying that the Emperor would be
pleased.  How so?  What were his intentions?  She dismissed some sort of
physical attraction, she would've awakened in the Emperor's chambers if that
were the case.  She kept telling herself that as she walked over to the
kitchenette to fix a quick breakfast.

"Is she awake yet?" Emperor Vakaz asked.
    The guard who had been sent to check shook his head.  "She says she
    Vakaz scowled.  "Kvasha," he said, turning to his most trusted advisor,
"make a note:  look into replacing those machines with ones that can be
serviced by our own people.  I'm sick of depending on that guild."
    "Yes, your Majesty," Kvasha said, nodding.
    "Your Majesty!" an aide called, running across the spacious throne room.
    "Yes?" Vakaz asked.
    "Lord Ganush has reentered the system.  He's brought the A/600 with
    "Excellent.  And the EDIT?"
    "It will be arriving within the hour."
    "Wonderful," Vakaz said, smiling.  "If only that technician would wake
up and repair that machine, so I can get some pretzels, or potato chips, or
those crackers with that spreadable 'cheez' stuff -- I like those."
    The aide looked puzzled.  "Why not just take them out of the machine?"
he asked.
    Vakaz gasped with such horror that the aide cringed, hoping for a quick
death.  "Steal from a vending machine?  Do you know what the Guild would
_do_ to us?"
    "Kill us?" the aide squeaked.
    "Probably not, but they'd almost _certainly_ raise our prices."  He and
Kvasha shuddered at the thought.  "Inform us when Lord Ganush or the EDIT

One hot cup of tea later, Jen had still failed to come up with an
explanation for her current status.  Or even a description for her current
status.  She hardly thought the Zakavians would be storing prisoners in
hotel suites.  "If only I knew _why_ they captured me," she said.  "They
didn't seem to recognize any of us."
    "Perhaps it's the uniform you're wearing," the large, humanoid reptile
wearing a black trenchcoat suggested.
    "Aiee!" Jen replied, managing to jump in startlement (unless that isn't
a word) without spilling her tea.  Of course, her cup was empty at the time,
but the point is that no tea spilled out.  "Who are you?" she asked.  "What
are you doing here?"  She looked around and noticed he was between her and
her sidearm.  Typical.
    "Who I am is not important," he replied, speaking in the time-honored,
yet irritating, manner of Mysterious People Who Know Stuff You Don't.  "I'm
more interested in why you're wearing the uniform of the Mysterious and
Powerful Guild of Vending Machine Technicians."
    "I happened across a dying man called Agent 125 who gave me the uniform
to help me and my companions escape from this place," Jen explained.
    He nodded in understanding.  "That explains a lot.  I take it your
friends escaped?"  Jen nodded.  "And the folks here are looking for you?"
Another nod.  "Do you know anything about repairing vending machines?"  Jen
shook her head.  "Well," he said with a grin, "I think I can help you...."

                                 *   *   *

Orliss SoFah glanced around the cramped cockpit of the Finstar F6000.
Horlun was checking the various displays, making sure their trip went
smoothly.  Megan was evidently reading a book stored in the Finstar's memory
banks, which meant she was really bored, since the books available were
selected by Anme Rifba's father (not surprising, since he owned it) and all
had to do with business practices on Foobarh.  Roy and Anme were in the
back, in separate quarters, which suited the others just fine.  They had had
about all they could take of political rhetoric.
    The computer pinged.  "We've reached the Abgila System," Horlun informed
them.  "We'll be dropping to realspace soon."
    "Great," Orliss said, "_now_ we'll get some action."
    "Orliss," Horlun asked, "you _do_ have a plan, right?"
    "Plan?" Orliss replied with distaste.  "Feh.  How can we plan when we
don't know what we're up against?"
    Horlun and Megan shared a worried look.  Behind them, Roy stepped into
the cockpit.  "We're almost there?" he asked.
    "Dropping out of overly-hyped space now," Horlun replied, just as they
dropped out of overly-hyped space.
    "So this is Planet Gloom, eh?" Orliss said.  "I'd expected more."
    "We're pretty far out," Horlun reminded him.
    "What's that ship there?" Megan asked.
    "Hmm," Orliss said, trying to remember his classes in ship
identification.  "It looks like a Sonar Men design."

"The A/600 Warrior Ship is all yours," Lord Ganush said, handing Emperor
Vakaz some forms and a complimentary keychain.  "We processed your check
yesterday.  The warranty is good for twenty years, although it doesn't cover
damage acquired in battle."
    Kvasha snorted.  "Lot of good _that_ will do," he muttered.
    "Can we see a demonstration of its ... interesting feature?" Vakaz
    "Certainly," Ganush replied.  "Observe the viewing screen."

"So who are the Sonar Men?" Roy asked.
    "Arms merchants, mostly," Orliss answered.  "They're best known for--"
    "Look!" Megan interrupted, pointing at the A/600.
    The others turned to look, and saw something none had expected.  Several
sections of the A/600 were shifting position, changing its shape from your
average interstellar warship into something quite different.  Something
quite recognizable.  Something cliche.
    "A giant, transforming robot," Megan said, reverently.  "Coool."

"A giant, transforming robot?" Kvasha asked, raising an eyebrow.
    "Yeah," Vakaz confirmed.  "Neat, huh?"
    "What do we need with a giant robot?  We've got the EDIT.  It can
destroy whole _planets_ -- assuming it works like it's supposed to."
    "Oh, sure, the EDIT is neat too, but it doesn't have the _style_ of the
    Kvasha grumbled to himself.
    "Sir!" an aide called, rushing into the throne room.  "We've detected an
unknown craft nearby the A/600.  It appears to be a Finstar F6000."
    "Who'd fly one of those?" Lord Ganush wondered.
    Kvasha looked at Vakaz, who shrugged.  "Hail them," he ordered.
    The aide nodded and worked the controls, then nodded to Kvasha.
    Kvasha cleared his throat.  "Attention, alien vessel," he began.
    ((Yes?)) a voice replied.
    Kvasha blinked;  he was unused to being interrupted.  "Identify
yourself.  Why are you in the Abgila System?"
    ((We are ... reporters for _Conquerors Quarterly_, a magazine for the
Conquering Empire.  I assume you've heard of us,)) the voice replied.  It
was followed by what sounded like a muffled argument, or possibly just
    "_Conquerors Quarterly_?" Kvasha quietly asked Vakaz, who shook his head
(Vakaz's head, that is, not Kvasha's).  Ganush also indicated unfamiliarity
with the publication.  "Of course we've heard of you," Kvasha replied.
    ((Ah, good,)) the lead reporter answered.  ((We were wondering if we
could to an article on your fortress there for our interior design
    Kvasha looked at Vakaz again.  Vakaz nodded.  "Sure," Kvasha answered.
"We'll make up some press passes for you."
    "Gloom Out."  The aide cut the connection.  "So we're letting them in,
huh?" Kvasha asked Vakaz
    "Sure, why not?" Vakaz answered.
    "Whatever.  I'll be in my office, talking to the listening devices."
    "There aren't any in your office."
    Kvasha grinned mirthlessly, which is quite a trick, when you think about
it.  "Of course there aren't," he agreed.

"Your plan is to sneak us in as reporters, right?" Roy asked.
    "Yep," Orliss answered.
    "For _Conquerors Quarterly_, right?"
    "You're insane, right?"
    "Ye-- stop that.  It got us in, didn't it?"
    Roy sighed in resignation.  Horlun piloted the ship, shaking his head
slowly.  Megan continued to stare at the A/600, which was folding back into
a neat-looking starship.  If nothing else, the Sonar Men were stylish.

                                 *   *   *

"Concentrate," the mysterious, trenchcoat-wearing, humanoid reptile advised.
"Become one with your tool."
    Jen gave him a look that suggested she'd had quite enough of his
pseudo-Zen crap, and would like him to shut up now.  Returning to the task
at hand, she gave the Allen wrench a slight turn, stopping when she felt the
vibrations change subtly, applied minor pressure, and was rewarded with a
soft click.
    "Excellent," her instructor told her, "you have just deactivated the
Quaternary Safeties.  Now press the red button."
    She did so, and the front of the vending machine swung open.  "What
now?" she asked wearily.  Just getting the thing open had been an ordeal,
she didn't want to think about trying to repair it.  Of course, her advisor
hadn't given any indication of _why_ he was having her open the machine.  He
hadn't even given a pseudonym so she could think of him as something other
than "the humanoid reptile wearing a black trenchcoat".  And who wears
trenchcoats in space, anyway?
    "Do you see a small display?"
    Jen nodded.  "It says 'Status Nominal'."
    "As it should.  Now the _broken_ ones are a different matter." he
gestured at the other side of the atrium, which was littered with shattered
    "Surely you don't expect me to repair those."
    The man shrugged.  "Of course not.  You need at least a five person team
for one of those, and the team the Guild sent is dead.  No, I had you open
that for a different reason.  Look at the left side of the interior, do you
see a small compartment?  Open it."
    Jen did so, and pulled out what looked to be a small handgun, only there
were several small lights, some blinking, on its surface.  "What's this?"
she asked.
    "A small handgun.  The Guild keeps them in the vending machines just in
case."  He started to walk off.  "Come on, I'll show you how to use it."
    "Why are you helping me?  How do you know so much about vending
machines?  For that matter, who _are_ you?  And who are you working for?"
    "All good questions, and all ones that will be answered in time."

                                 *   *   *

To say Orliss and company, who don't have a good collective name yet, were
surprised to see Emperor Vakaz greeting them on the landing pad would be
incorrect.  This is not because they had expected him to greet them -- quite
the opposite, in fact.  It was because they didn't recognize him as none of
them had ever seen him before and he wasn't wearing a name tag or anything.
They just assumed he was some guy sent to meet them.  This misperception
lasted right up to the point when he smiled and said, "Welcome to Planet
Gloom.  I'm Emperor Vakaz."  _Now_ it would be correct to say they were
    "Emperor Vakaz," Orliss said warmly, stepping forward to shake his hand.
"We're thrilled to see you."  Orliss had been the best student in his
section of Heroics 415:  Deceiving the Enemy -- which, at Interstellar
University, is actually a _bad_ thing, since Space Heroes aren't supposed to
    "I'm sure you are," Vakaz replied.  "We're all big fans of your magazine
here, you know."
    "You are, are you?" Orliss asked, failing to completely hide his
nervousness.  He hadn't thought the magazine actually existed.  Next time,
he swore, he'd do more research.
    "Oh yes," Vakaz assured him.  He gestured at an aide.  "This aide here
has your press passes.  They'll give you non-secure clearance throughout the
Fortress of Gloom."
    "Fortress of Gloom?" Anme asked (See?  She _is_ in this episode!).  "Who
came up with _that_ name?"
    "We had a contest," the Emperor answered.
    "Your Majesty!" another aide called, running up to him.  "The EDIT has
    Vakaz grinned.  (Orliss recognized that particular grin as one used when
the villain's plans are coming together nicely.)  "Excellent," he said.  "If
you'll excuse me?"
    The alleged reporters watched the Emperor walk off into the shadows.
"So," Horlun asked Orliss, "what now?"
    "Hmm?" Orliss replied.  "I dunno.  Snoop around -- they won't be
suspicious, after all.  We're reporters!  We're _supposed_ to snoop!"
    "What if _Conqueror's Quarterly_ is actually a magazine that exists only
for the self-congratulation of its bloated, oppressive readership?" Anme
    Orliss sighed.  "Must you dump on _everything_ I do?"


Action!  Adventure!  Romance!  You won't find any of that when the Blue
Squadron reaches Arorua in the next episode of Starcruiser Anonymous.
    SFSTORY:  Try Our Thick, Creamy Shakes

David Menendez        (zednenem at
Sfstory Author and DNRC Member
Minister Of The Recursive Acronym MOTRAM
Date:         Mon, 14 Oct 1996 22:52:06 -0400
From:         David Menendez (zednenem at PSU.EDU)
Subject:      SF: SA #9: Wherein the Blue Squadron Reaches Arorua

Like all high-tech, sprawling fortresses, the Fortress of Gloom was rather
monotonous on the inside.  The hallways all tended to meet at right angles,
the walls all looked vaguely alike, few areas were labeled, and so forth.
Many people, finding themselves in such a place, would proceed to get lost
rather quickly.  Megan Kadar, however, had spent a lot of time playing video
games such as "Wolfenstein 3D", and was used to finding her way around
repetitive, featureless complexes.  With her press pass in hand (and by "in
hand" we mean "clipped to her Generic Science-Fiction Character's
Jumpsuit"), she had access to most of the Fortress, and spent her time
looking around.  She got the occasional suspicious glance from guards, to
whom she usually smiled and waved, but they rarely gave her trouble.
    While wandering through the fortress, Megan considered the search for
her sister and the Blue Squadron.  Anme had learned that the _Absurd
Physical Harm_ had, in fact, been on Planet Gloom, and that it had brought
five Terran prisoners with it.  These prisoners, however, had escaped and
seemingly vanished into the City of Gloom.  The occasional Zakavian
searching party reported fighting with them, but these all turned out to be
false alarms.  Orliss assured Megan that the Blue Squadron was fine, and Roy
agreed, although he claimed they were probably off-planet by now.  Having
gotten there, no one was really sure what to do next.  Orliss, to the
derision of Anme and Roy, assured them that something would come up
eventually, which was partially why Megan was wandering.
    Abruptly, something came up.  Specifically, an opened door came up.  An
open door into an armory, that is.  Megan glanced around -- no guards.  She
looked at the rows of unused Zakavian combat armor, the light playing off
their smooth, black surfaces.  "All _right_," she said, grinning.  This
would be fun.


                           STARCRUISER ANONYMOUS
                          (A Tale Within Sfstory)

                                 Episode 9
                         Wherein the Blue Squadron
                              Reaches Arorua
                               Dave Menendez


"Ow," commented Captain-General Tvanir of the Aroruan Occupation Legion as
she walked into a wall.  This was not something she did frequently, mind
you, but at the moment her considerable wall-avoiding skills were hampered
by the blindfold she was wearing, which was preventing her from seeing the
walls before she hit them.
    "Careful of the walls, there," Garav, her captor, advised.
    "I would be," Tvanir answered, "except I can't _see_ them."
    "Have a seat," Garav said.  "We're there."
    She sat, and immediately regretted it since the chair was too low for
her to stand up without using her hands, which were currently tied behind
her.  Garav removed her blindfold, and Tvanir looked around.  Nothing in the
room identified where they were.  "So much for that," she muttered.
    "Eh?" asked a voice behind her.
    "Who's there?" Tvanir said, unable to look behind her.
    "I am called Bentor," the voice said, walking around her.  "My real
name, obviously, is secret."
    "If you say so," Boltar said uncertainly.  Tvanir looked at him, and
noted that he was tied up as well.
    "So," Tvanir said, "are you the group working with Princess Elim?"
    "We were," Bentor replied, "until she betrayed us to Governor Jjana."
    Tvanir blinked.  "But ... he's working _with_ you, isn't he?"
    "Er ... not that I know of," Bentor said, sounding confused.
    They paused for a few seconds, trying to deduce who was lying, or just
    "Hey, Secret," Boltar said, "did you ever notice that 'Bentor' and
'Boltar' sound really similar?"
    Tvanir sighed.  This was going to be a long captivity.

                                 *   *   *

With a soundless burst of light, the Zakavian Third Fleet arrived at Arorua.
In its flagship, the IZS _Absurd Physical Harm_, Captain-General Mselt sent
a message to inform Prince Lotekh of their arrival and prepared to travel
down to the palace.
    Elsewhere in the ship, the four members of the Blue Squadron who had
managed to escape Planet Gloom, argued with a minor officer over whether
they should be allowed to visit the surface.  "No," the minor officer said.
"I can't let you leave the ship until you upgrade the food dispensers to
flagship specifications.  It's why you're here in the first place."
    "Listen," Roger Vasta, their leader, said, "philosophers have debated
for _centuries_ about why we're here -- I think it's highly unlikely
_you've_ somehow stumbled across the answer."
    "That's not what I meant!" the minor officer fumed.  "Anyway, you can't
leave until you do your job!  Keep arguing and I'll tell the
    Vasta grimaced.  Captain-General Mselt was unlikely to have forgotten
that they used to be his prisoners.  "Dent," he said, gesturing to the minor
    "Right," Dent said, a smile on his face.  He pulled his Kilemov S13
rifle from somewhere in his borrowed uniform and blasted the minor official.
Several times.
    "Er, Dent," Alex McCurry said, "those were deathkill blasts."
    "We knows that," Dent replied, his smile taking on a disturbing aspect.
    "Will you knock that off?" Samantha Dixon said, smacking him over the
    "Stop it!  You hurts us!" Dent cried.
    "No need to get violent," McCurry told Dixon.
    "Feh," Dixon spat.
    "Anyway," Vasta said, "we now need a way to get to the planet.  I guess
we'll have to sneak onto Mselt's transport."
    "_What!?_" Dixon demanded.
    "'Sneak onto Mselt's transport'," Vasta repeated.
    "I heard that.  I'm asking if you've lost your mind."
    "Not at all.  We'll go in disguise."
    "Good idea!" McCurry said.
    "Of course it's a good idea!" Vasta snapped.

Captain-General Mselt, whose position has been described earlier in this
episode, relaxed as the transport touched down on the surface of Arorua.
Beside him, Prince Lotekh stared out the window, unused to a landscape that
was merely bland, as opposed to bleak and foreboding.  Behind him sat four
people that Mselt swore he should remember, except that their false noses,
thick mustaches (even on the female), and black eyeglasses didn't match
anyone he recognized.  Presumably they were the Vending Machine Technicians
that Supreme Captain-Commander Kvasha had sent.
    The hatch opened and Mselt and Lotekh walked out onto the landing pad,
where Governor Jjana awaited them.  The four technicians hurried off into
the distance, but Mselt paid them no mind.  Judging by the bill they'd left
him they'd done an impressive job.
    "So, Governor Jjana," Lotekh said in greeting.  "I understand you've
betrayed the Empire."
    Jjana blinked.  Mselt groaned and pulled Lotekh aside.  "What are you
_doing_?" he demanded.
    "Careful who you're grabbing," Lotekh said, pulling away.  "I outrank
    "_I'm_ in charge of the mission," Mselt retorted.
    "On the contrary, _I_ have the honorary rank of Captain-Commander,
whereas you are merely a Captain-General.  Hence, I am in charge."
    "Whatever," Mselt said, giving up.  "I'll be in the ship."  He walked
back into to the transport and sat down.
    Lotekh turned back to Jjana, who was looking rather concerned.  "Well?"
he asked.  "How do you explain your relationship with the known rebel
Princess Elim of the House Ri'Tala?"
    "I was trying to get information about the rebels," Jjana replied.  "I
have no intention of betraying the Empire."
    "That's not what Captain-General Tvanir said," Lotekh countered.  "She
said-- say, where is she?"
    "'Where is she?'"
    "If you do that again," Lotekh snarled, "I _will_ kill you."
    Jjana sighed.  "I don't know, she and Prince Boltar vanished recently.
We suspect the rebels."
    "Isn't that convenient," Lotekh sneered.  "You associate with the rebels
and suddenly your accuser disappears."
    "I didn't know she accused me!" Jjana protested.  "And I'm _not_
associating with rebels.  I only pretended to like Princess Elim so I could
spy on them."
    "You _what_?" Princess Elim yelled, storming onto the landing platform.
    "But Princess," Jjana said, sounding flustered, "you _knew_ it was an
    "You said you were trying to stop Tvanir from seducing you."
    "That's also true.  Besides, weren't you trying to use _me_ for
information for the rebellion?"
    "Well ... yes," Elim admitted.  "But it didn't work out so well since
they all assumed I betrayed them."
    Jjana snapped his fingers.  "So _that's_ why I couldn't get any
information out of you."
    "A clever plot," Lotekh said.  "But you won't confuse me with your
convoluted lies!  Taste the cold steel of Lotekh!"  So saying, he drew his
ceremonial sword and stabbed Jjana in the side.
    "Gaah!" Jjana said, giving the traditional response to being stabbed.
He fell to his knees.  "You idiot," he said, clutching his side, "you can't
kill anyone with that blow, but you let your blade get so rusty, it'll ...
poison me."  With that, Jjana collapsed.
    "Eeek!" Elim said, giving the traditional response to seeing someone
just get stabbed ineffectually and then die from rust poisoning.  "You
killed him!"
    "Yes!  I did!" Lotekh cried.  "I'm the god!  _I'm_ the god!"
    "You bastard!" Elim continued, following the insult with a punch to the
jaw.  Lotekh collapsed on top of Jjana.  "For the representative of a
conquering army, he was a pretty nice guy," she said, obviously referring to
Jjana, as few people would consider Lotekh a "nice guy".  She followed this
statement by collapsing herself -- not because it looked like fun (after
all, everyone else was doing it), but because she had been shot with a
sleep-o-stun ray.
    The source of that ray, Captain-General Mselt, looked at the three
unconscious and/or dead bodies and sighed.  Actually, the ray had come from
Mselt's gun, but the distinction isn't too important.  "I hope she hurt
him," he commented to no one in particular.

The Blue Squadron, meanwhile, had changed out of their Vending Machine
Technician uniforms and removed their disguises and had regrouped under a
statue of an enormous penguin to try and plan their next move.
    "Why would anyone build a statue of an enormous penguin?" McCurry
    "We thinks maybe they likes penguin?" Dent suggested.
    Dixon sighed.  "Dent," she said, "could you _try_ to talk normally
    "People," Vasta said, "we've got to try and plan our next move.  Or do
you want those accursed Zakavians to find us again?"
    "Accursed Zakavians?" a new voice asked.
    Dixon and McCurry managed to wrestle the gun away from Dent before he
sent their visitor on a tour of the afterlife.
    "Who are you?" Vasta asked.
    "I am Chancellor Desir Elahte," the elderly Aroruan told them.  "Like
you, I have no love for the Zakavians.  I think we may be able to help each
    "Well," Vasta said, "that sounds--"
    "Freeze!" another new voice said.
    Elahte and the Blue Squadron (which would be a good name for a band, by
the way) turned and saw a small group of heavily armed Aroruans who had been
hiding behind the giant penguin.
    "We," their leader said, "are the People's League of Arorua."
    "Aroruan People's League," his followers corrected.
    "Right," Vasta said.  He turned to Dixon, "Give Dent his gun back."
    Dixon turned to Dent.  "All right," she said, "if I give you this, will
you promise to speak the Queen's English?"
    "We don't have a Queen," McCurry reminded her.
    Dixon sighed.  "Will you promise to speak Captain Harrison's English?"
    "Does he have to imitate that British accent?"
    "She doesn't _have_ a British accent.  She's from New Jersey, like the
rest of us."
    "Sorry, I was thinking of George Harrison."
    "Are you through?" the leader of the rebels asked.  "We'd like to take
you prisoner now."
    "Go right ahead," Vasta told him.


Some questions, not necessarily those above, will be answered when Captain
Harrison gets a speaking part in the next episode of Starcruiser Anonymous.
    SFSTORY:  Anything Less Would Be Uncivilized.

David Menendez        (zednenem at
Sfstory Author and DNRC Member
Minister Of The Recursive Acronym MOTRAM
Date:         Mon, 28 Oct 1996 23:17:30 -0500
From:         David Menendez (zednenem at PSU.EDU)
Subject:      SF: [SA #10] Wherein Captain Harrison Gets a Speaking Part

As conquering empires go, the Zakavians are among the more polite.  Of
course, they aren't the most polite by any means.  That particular honor
goes to the Dread Masters of Shananah VII, who made sure not to damage
private property, never killed women or children, and always brought enough
gum for everyone.  They did surprisingly well (which made a few gamblers
very happy) until they ran across the Bloodthirsty Female Infants of Kabuki
IX, who defeated the Dread Masters so soundly that they attracted the
attention of InterPlanet, which quickly merchandised them out of existence.
On backwater planets you'll still see children playing with their Fully
Poseable Action Female Infant Warriors(tm) and Dread Master Terror Toys(tm)
(each sold separately).
    But Jen Kadar was not thinking about these things, which isn't too
surprising since she didn't know about them (and if someone were to tell her
this tragic tale, she'd probably laugh to the point of illness, which
illustrates the depressing tenancy for humans find humor in the misfortune
of others -- although we should excuse Jen since, given how much stress
she's had in her life lately, she could use a good laugh).  Instead, she was
thinking about her mysterious benefactor.  She was wondering who he was, and
why he was helping her, and when he would give her a name so she wouldn't
have to keep thinking of him as "the mysterious stranger" or some variant
    "You know," he commented, "I just realized I don't know your name."
    She smirked.  "I'm Squadmember Jen Kadar of the starship _Anonymous_."
    "I see," he said, nodding.  "You may call me ... Bob."
    "Bob?"  Somehow that didn't seem right for a humanoid reptile.
    "It's a code name," Bob explained.
    "Oh.  I guess you can call me Jen, then."
    "Very well.  Now, to use this weapon," he said, holding the small
handgun with lights, some blinking, on it that Jen had, with his
instructions, taken from a vending machine back in episode eight, "you
simply fire the trigger."  He demonstrated on a small objet d'art, which
shattered (oddly enough, this increased its price in certain markets).
    "So what are those lights for?"
    "Oh, they don't do anything.  They're just for looks."


                           STARCRUISER ANONYMOUS
                          (A Tale Within Sfstory)

                                Episode 10
                         Wherein Captain Harrison
                           Gets a Speaking Part
                               Dave Menendez


Defending a planet against an alien invasion isn't usually easy.  This is
especially true when the entire defense force consists of one battle
platform that can only move in two directions and shoot straight up.  Of
course, it's somewhat easier if the aliens all attack in a big group and
only fire slow-moving bullets straight down.  It still takes some skill,
though.  Skill that Lieutenant Gordon evidently lacked as the aliens managed
to destroy his platform utterly.  "Damn," he commented, "I'm just no good at
    Behind him, Commander Gerhardt, second in command of the _Anonymous_,
looked on with amusement.  Idly, he wondered where the technical crew had
gotten the time to port video games to the computer systems of the
_Anonymous_ and why they had chosen "Space Invaders".  "Anything going on in
the real world, Mr. Gordon?" he asked.
    "Those rings out there appear to be orbiting Saturn, sir," Gordon
    "Still?  You'd think they'd get tired of it eventually."
    "Maybe they've got arcade games too, sir."
    "Does this mean you aren't tired of orbiting Saturn?"
    "No, sir.  But then, television and popular culture have destroyed my
attention span."
    "I hate it when that happens."
    "Me too, sir.  In fact, I--" he cut off as the proximity detector
sounded.  The bridge crew stared.  None could remember the last time that
had happened.
    "What is that?" Gerhardt asked.
    "The proximity alarm," Gordon replied.
    Gerhardt made a note to mention that in Gordon's performance review.  "I
meant, what is it alerting us about?"
    "It's detected a SCSI-class vessel on an intercept course.  I think it's
the Green Squadron."
    Gerhardt blinked.  "They gave up already?"
    "No, sir," the communications officer said.  "They say they've got news
for us."
    "Inform Captain Harrison," Gerhardt said, standing up and heading for
the door.  "I'll meet them as they arrive."
    After Gerhardt left, Gordon turned to his neighbor.  "You know what this
means, of course."
    His neighbor thought for a moment.  "No, I don't."
    "Oh.  Well, I guess we'll find out eventually."

The _Futility_ smoothly touched down in the landing bay.  Computers are
handy that way.  "Another mission completed by ... the Green Squadron," Rick
Hydrospok announced as his team of fighter pilots exited their craft.
    "How exactly have we completed the mission?" Sally Winters asked.
    "Well, we found out where the Blue Squadron is."
    "But we were supposed to bring them back," George Daniels reminded him.
    "Fine.  'Another mission left incomplete by the Green Squadron.'  Happy
    "You bet," Winters said.
    "Happy as a clam," Daniels added.
    "Two clams."
    "Half a dozen oysters."
    "I always found oysters to be kind of sad," Stan Losar commented.
    "You may have a point," Daniels conceded.
    "But don't worry," a new voice added, "if you wear a hat, it won't
    As one, the Green Squadron turned to face the newcomer, whom they
quickly recognized as Squad Commander Marshall Stanford, leader of the Black
    "So," Stanford continued, "I see you have failed at your task again,
    "Again?" Hydrospok asked.  "When was the last time?"
    "We sent you guys out for soda at the last pilots' picnic, and you
forgot the Ginger Ale," Stanford explained.
    "That was _three months_ ago."
    "Well," Stanford shrugged, "not much has happened since then."
    "Whatever.  I assume you're here to give us a message?"
    "Nah, I just thought I'd say 'Hi'."  He paused.  "Hi, guys."
    "Hi," the Green Squadron replied.
    ("Still think he's our 'arch enemy'?" Hydrospok whispered to Daniels.
    "It's just a clever ploy," Daniels whispered back.
    "I see.")
    At this point, Commander Gerhardt arrived.  "Hi, everybody!" he said.
    "Hi, Commander Gerhardt!" the others replied.
    "I've informed Captain Harrison that you've arrived, she should be
arriving shortly."  He noticed Stanford, and looked concerned.  "There's not
going to be any violence, is there?"
    "Violence?" Hydrospok asked.  "What could _possibly_ make you think..."
He turned and looked at his squad and Stanford, who guiltily avoided his
gaze.  "What happened?" he asked, his voice suggesting that he didn't really
want to know.
    "You don't really want to know," Daniels told him.
    "You know, if you'd bothered to _tell_ me about this rivalry, I wouldn't
be so uninformed."
    "It is the commander's responsibility to keep informed," a voice intoned
behind him.
    The assembled crewmembers jumped.  Captain Harrison had an unnerving
habit of sneaking up on people, which had lead to many rumors about what her
profession preceeding her command of the _Anonymous_.
    "Captain Harrison," Gerhardt said, being the first to recover, "shall we
head for the debreifing?"
    "Yes, but first," she turned to the Green Squadron, "weren't there five
of you before?"
    Hydrospok grinned nervously.  "That's an interesting story, Captain."

"You were right," Harrison said after Hydrospok had finished describing what
the Green Squadron had done since leaving the _Anonymous_, "that _was_ an
interesting story.  It also leaves us with an interesting problem:  what do
we do now?"
    "Well," Hydrospok said, "I assumed we'd go check out Planet Gloom."
    Harrison raised an eyebrow.  "You want us to take a largely untested
starship carrying over a hundred-thousand civilian passengers into the
capital system of a probably-unfriendly empire, there to face an unknown
reaction from an unknown number of defenders?"
    "Hmm.  When you put it _that_ way...," he trailed off, uncertain how to
finish the thought.
    Harrison stood and walked over to the conference room's window, which
would have provided a majestic view of Saturn, except that it opened into
the landing bay.  Instead, it provided a view of the _Futility_, which would
have been pretty majestic if the remainder of the Green Squadron weren't
currently playing hockey against the Black Squadron right next to it.  She
couldn't tell who was winning.  "What do you think, Gerhardt?" she asked.
    "Huh?" Gerhardt said, snapping awake and looking around quickly in a
futile attempt to convince the others that he hadn't been daydreaming.
    Harrison sighed again, then winced as one of the Black Squadron (It
looked like Menendez, although it was hard to tell from this distance.) got
hit with the puck.  "I suppose," she said, returning to the business at
hand, "that the _Anonymous_ would have a better chance against whatever's
out there than the smaller ships....
    "Gerhardt, prepare the ship for overly-hyped speed.  We're off to see
Planet Gloom."
    "Yes, sir."

                                 *   *   *

Horlun SoFah, currently unemployed resident of the planet Foobarh, was
sitting in an observation deck in the Fortress of Gloom.  There weren't that
many observation decks in the Fortress of Gloom, not for security purposes,
but because the landscape of Planet Gloom isn't something most people want
to look at.  While Horlun was, technically, staring out the windows, he
wasn't seeing the landscape.  His subconscious mind, after a few seconds of
exposure to the view, had decided that it was Something Horlun Was Better
Off Not Knowing About, and had blocked it from his consciousness.  Instead,
Horlun was thinking about his friends, Amne, who was even now distributing
revolutionary pamphlets to the soldiers stationed below, and Orliss, who had
gotten them into this mess in the first place.  Of all the ways to sneak
into a fortress of evil, Orliss had chosen to masquerade as reporters for a
magazine that didn't exist.  Despite everyone's expectations (except
Orliss's), this plan had worked.  To Horlun, this was more of a comment on
the enemies' intelligence than on the effectiveness of the plan.
    "Yo, Horlun," a voice called from behind him.  It was Roy Gaelen, whose
friends they were searching for.  "The Emperor wants us all to come to the
Communications Room so he can gloat about that EDIT project he mentioned."
    "Sounds exciting," Horlun said dryly.
    "Oh yeah.  I'm quivering with anticipation."
    "We'd better hurry then, before you shake yourself to pieces."

The Communications Room, normally filled with activity, was quiet.  The main
screen, which could be used as an Omnimax theater (if Kodak dealt with space
aliens, which they don't (so far as we know)), was dark.  Before it stood
Emperor Vakaz and his military commander, Kvasha.  Facing them stood Orliss,
Horlun, Anme, and Roy.
    "I've called you here," Vakaz began, "because I--  Say, aren't you
missing someone?"
    "'Aren't you missing someone?'" they repeated.
    Vakaz frowned, but didn't otherwise reply.
    Eventually, Roy took the hint and answered.  "Um, our companion is
probably off ... getting statements from the soldiers."
    "You need statements from the soldiers for an interior design article?"
Kvasha asked.
    "Of course," Orliss replied.  "It wouldn't be a balanced article if we
didn't get everyone's opinions."
    "I see," Kvasha said.
    There was another pause.
    "Anyway," Vakaz continued, "I've called you here because I wanted your
fine magazine to be the first to see ... our ultimate weapon."  He gestured
at an officer, who turned on the main screen.
    At first, all they saw was a fairly normal view of space around the
planet, the star Abgila dominating the display.  In the corner, they could
see the A/600 (which was now labeled "Alpha Ra", for some reason).
Suddenly, something began moving between them and the star, creating an
artificial eclipse.  The view zoomed in as the shape rotated, revealing that
it was not a sphere, but a disk.  A large, thin disk.  As they watched, the
disk folded into a cylinder, closed on one end.
    Vakaz, seeing the moment had come, spoke up again.  "I give you:  the
Enormous Destructive Interstellar Tortilla!"
    The four fake reporters stared, mouths hanging open.  Words failed them,
although Orliss got a chance to use his knowledge of Heroic Gasps of
Amazement.  On the screen, orbiting Planet Gloom, was the largest single
piece of Mexican food they had ever seen.
    Horlun was the first to recover.  "Words fail me," he said.
    "That's the largest piece of Mexican food I've ever seen," Roy
    "Guh," added Orliss.
    This sparkling example of wit was followed by another moment of silence.
    "So," Amne said finally, "how does it ... er ... work?"
    "I'm glad you ask," Kvasha replied.  He did sound glad.  Very glad.  As
if he'd been waiting months for someone to ask that.  "Its interior contains
a great deal of complex circuitry and some Automatic Beet-Peelers/Subatomic
    "Guh," Orliss said again.
    They waited for Kvasha to continue.  When it became clear that he wasn't
going to, Amne spoke up again.  "And what does that _do_?"
    "Oh.  It opens a gateway to an altiverse which consists entirely of
fajita toppings.  [Most likely 648SFSTORY, although we can't be sure since
the Zakavians won't show us the schematics -- Ed.]  In that configuration,
the fajita components quickly accumulate in the center until they reach
critical spice levels, at which point they release a blast of spicy energy
capable of destroying planets."
    "Gah," Orliss said, for variety.
    They watched the EDIT unfold into its disk shape -- that form was easier
to send through overly-hyped space, according to Kvasha, and then excused
themselves to go "copy down their notes."

In Jen Kadar's quarters, the mysterious alien known only as Bob turned off
his comlink.  He had heard enough, now was the time for action.  He could
afford to delay no longer.
    "Food's ready," Jen called.
    Actually, Bob reflected, he could probably afford to wait until after


Some of this and some of that when Elahte explains his plan in the next
knee-tingling episode of Starcruiser Anonymous.
    SFSTORY:  It Does a Body Good

David Menendez        (zednenem at
Sfstory Author and DNRC Member
Join the Revolution! Kermit/Gonzo '96
Date:         Mon, 18 Nov 1996 17:07:59 -0500
From:         David Menendez (zednenem at PSU.EDU)
Subject:      SF: [SA #11] Wherein Elahte Explains His Plan

One of the many mysteries about the _Anonymous_ was its original function.
The two major schools of thought suggested that it was either a battleship
or some sort of colony ship.  The battleship group pointed to its numerous
weapons, powerful shields, thick hull, and fighter squadrons, suggesting
that these made the _Anonymous_ rather heavily armed for a colony ship.  The
other group pointed to the large farming section and twenty-two residence
sections and suggested that only an idiot would put room for so many people
on a warship.  A third group suggested that it had originally been a warship
that was later converted to a colony ship, but they were generally ignored.
    Of the twenty-two residence sections, Sector 7G (so designated for
reasons that are quite logical, but can't be easily explained without a
three-dimensional map) was the largest.  Ranging from seven to ten stories
tall, depending on where you were, it's layout was vaguely reminiscent of an
immense mall, only much more convoluted.  As it happens, Sector 7G was
chosen rather early on to serve as the primary commercial area on the
_Anonymous_, making it's resemblance to an immense mall even stronger.
    Of the many restaurants in Sector 7G, the most respected was Chez Casa.
It was founded long ago by Clive Jonson, who had previously been a chef at
the world-spanning, five-star restaurant McDonalds (where, it was said, he
was among the top five preparers of such specialty items as McSnails,
McCordon Blue, and Veal McCutlets).  Needless to say, there was always a
rather long line to get in.  However, for reasons better left unsaid, the
elite fighter pilots (who numbered twenty-five because there had only been
twenty-five applicants) were always assured a table there.
    After the hockey game between the Green and Black Squadrons (they tied,
six-six) ended, Stan Losar, Sally Winters, Dave Menendez, and Amy Masaki
headed off to Chez Casa for dinner.  Afterwards, they passed the time
playing a lengthy game of whist (Clive was a big whist player, and often
granted free beverages to participants) while discussing the upcoming visit
to Planet Gloom.
    "Personally," Menendez was saying, "I think it's madness taking an
untested starship into the heart of enemy territory."
    "Yes," Winters agreed, "but the _Anonymous_ is a very tough ship.  I
can't imagine we'll be in too much trouble.  I mean, the _Futility_ did
pretty well against a whole fleet just the other day -- although they
weren't really aiming that well, now that I think about it."
    "Both of you have good points," Masaki said quietly.  "I think you may
both be correct in this case:  it's a bad idea, but we'll probably survive."
    "Unless they've got a secret weapon," Losar commented.
    "Well, yeah.  That goes without saying."
    "I wonder what the civilians think?" Menendez wondered.
    "They're too upset about losing cable," Winters replied.
    "It figures.  Here we are, in the majesty of spa--"
    ((Attention,)) the public address system boomed, cutting him off.  ((The
_Anonymous_ will be activating its overly-hyped drives in five seconds.
Please make appropriate preparations.))
    Masaki blinked.  "What would those be?"
    The others shrugged.  "Finish your drink," Winters suggested.
    There was a slight lurch, and then the PA system spoke again.  ((We have
entered overly-hyped space.  For your own safety, please avoid looking at
outside views, as extreme boredom or death may result.  That is all.))


                           STARCRUISER ANONYMOUS
                          (A Tale Within Sfstory)

                                Episode 11
                              Wherein Elahte
                             Explains His Plan
                               Dave Menendez


Deep within the generic hallways of the Fortress of Gloom, the capitol and
primary hot-dog stand of the Zakavian Empire, strode the tall,
trenchcoat-clad form of Bob.  Beside him was Jen Kadar, who was having to
alternate between walking and running in order to keep up.  Bob had wanted
to go alone, but Jen had insisted that she be allowed to accompany him to
make up for the favors he had done for her.  He had relented, although he
refused to clarify exactly what his mission was, which meant that Jen was
only partially able to match his look of firm resolve.  Any Zakavians that
they encountered tended to leap out of their way, in an over-dramatic
manner.  They were ignored.
    The exception was an armored Zakavian soldier who nearly collided with
Bob as they were turning a corner.  As armored Zakavian soldiers tend to be
rather violent and armed, Bob decided to acknowledge this one's existence.
    "Pardon me," he said.  "I wasn't watching where I was going."
    The soldier, however, didn't seem to be paying attention to Bob, instead
seeming to stare at Jen.  Finally it spoke:  ((Jen?))
    Bob and Jen shared a confused glance.  They were the only two on the
planet who knew Jen's name.  "Aren't you a little short for a stormtrooper?"
Jen asked nervously, trying to change the subject.
    The armored figure gave the impression of blinking.  ((What?  Oh, the
uniform.))  With that, it removed the armor's helmet, revealing features
that were neither Caphanite or Blargoloid, but human.  And familiar ones at
    "Megan?" Jen gasped, recognizing her younger sister.  She opened her
mouth but was too surprised to say anything.  Trying again, she managed to
ask "How did _you_ get here?"
    "That's a long story," Megan replied.  "I think I'll let Roy tell it."
    "He's here too?"
    Megan nodded.
    Bob cleared his throat.  "I assume," he said, "you two know each other?"
    "That's a pretty safe assumption," Jen replied.  Seeing the impatient
look on Bob's face, she elaborated.  "She's my sister."
    "Ah.  Well, I'm on a tight schedule here."  He glanced around, saw that
no one was in the area, and continued in a more quiet voice.  "I've got to
make sure the Zakavians don't cause massive destruction with their new
ultimate weapon."
    "An ultimate weapon?" Megan asked.  "Maybe I should tell Orliss about
that.  He's into the whole good/evil thing."
    "He's a space hero?"
    Megan shrugged.  "Not really, but he's minoring in Space Heroism at
Interstellar University."
    Bob slapped his forehead, the scales on his hand making a thwapping
sound as they hit the scales on his forehead, and sighed.  "We'd better work
together then.  I don't want him to suddenly show up and try something
heroic and get us all killed."
    "Great!  Now just let me remember where they are...."

                                 *   *   *

The problem with ironic situations, Captain-General Tvanir decided, was that
you can't appreciate them when they're happening to _you_, instead of some
other person.  Had she heard of anyone else trying to spark a rebellion to
justify his or her position and then getting captured by those rebels, she
probably would have found it immensely amusing.  Worse, if the newly-arrived
Captain-General Mselt freed her, _he'd_ get the credit for stopping the
rebellion and her career would stagnate even further.  She didn't want to
think about what her assignments after that would be like.  Probably
internal security in the Fortress of Gloom or something.
    The door to the room she shared with Prince Boltar of Arorua opened and
two Arorans walked in.  They were Garav, who had captured her, and Bentor,
who seemed to be in charge.
    "Hi, Secret," Boltar said in greeting.
    "Huh?" Bentor replied.
    "I said--"
    "I heard that," Bentor interrupted.  "Why do you keep calling me
    "It's your name, isn't it?"
    "I am called Bentor."
    "No, not your code name.  Your _real_ name."
    Bentor made a strangling noise.  "My real name is _not_ 'Secret'."
    "It isn't?" Garav asked.  "Then how come you've never told any of _us_
what it is?"
    "It is _a_ secret," Bentor replied through clenched teeth.  Regaining
self-control, he turned to Garav.  "Garav, get Boltar."
    "So how come _I_ don't get a secret name?" Garav asked.
    Bentor slapped his forehead.  "No one knew 'Garav' _was_ your real name
until right now.  Now go get Boltar, our ... 'new prisoners' want to speak
with him."
    "But they _aren't_ prisoners."
    Bentor visibly restrained himself from strangling Garav, and instead
gestured at Boltar.
    "Right."  Garav quickly untied Boltar's hands and walked him outside.
Bentor glanced at Tvanir and then left, closing the door behind him.
    "Idiots," Tvanir mumbled.  As if being imprisoned wasn't embarrassing
enough, she had to be imprisoned by amateurs.  She doubted they were even
keeping a guard on the door.  With that cheerful thought in mind, she went
back to loosening her bonds.

Roger Vasta looked up as Bentor returned, along with someone else who was,
presumably, Prince Boltar.  Somehow, Chancellor Elahte had convinced the
Aroruan People's League that, although he _seemed_ to have been working for
the Zakavians, he was actually on their side.  More importantly (in Vasta's
view), he had also convinced them that Vasta and his companions were also on
their side -- despite the fact that none of them knew exactly which side
that was.
    "Prince Boltar," Elahte said in greeting.  "I hope you were treated
    Boltar shrugged.  "Sure, except that they tied me up and left me in a
room with Captain-General Tvanir."
    "We assumed they were working together, like Princess Elim and Governor
Jjana," Bentor explained.
    "Ah," Elahte said sagely.  "Well, hopefully we can avoid similar
misunderstandings in the future.  Allow me to introduce these people I just
met, they are ... um ... enemies of the Zakavians."
    Vasta sensed that that was his cue to explain his group's origin.
"We're from the starship _Anonymous_.  We were out testing some weapons
systems when Captain-General Mselt -- he was just a Captain at the time --
showed up and captured us for reasons that I've never really heard
explained.  We were taken to Planet Gloom," those familiar with that planet
shuddered, "where we managed to escape.  Then we snuck back onto Mselt's
    "Why?" Bentor asked.
    "It was better than Planet Gloom," Samantha Dixon answered.
    "Indeed," Thomas Dent agreed, looking up from the copy of _English
Syntax_ that Alex McCurry had lent him (no one knew why McCurry was carrying
a book about grammar, and that suited them just fine).  "We also knew it was
going somewhere else, where we would stand a better chance at escape."
    "The point," Elahte continued, "is that all the primary anti-Zakavian
forces (with the possible exception of Princess Elim, whose loyalties are
suspect) on the planet are gathered here today.  Since we can no longer lay
low and hope the Zakavians will get so bored they'll leave for a more
interesting planet," he cast an irritated look at Bentor while he said that,
"we'll have to take a more ... direct approach."
    "Like what?" Bentor asked.  "The only bargaining chip we've got is
Tvanir, and I don't think the Zakavians really like her that much."
    Elahte shook his head.  "I wasn't thinking of bargaining.  It's time we
    "Attacked?" Bentor demanded.  "Are you out of your _mind_?  Even if they
join us," he gestured at the Blue Squadron, "we've still got less than
twenty people.  What can we do against the Legion?"
    "Actually, my plan requires only five people to succeed, but they must
be familiar with high technology."
    No one spoke for a few moments.
    "Well," said McCurry eventually, "_we're_ familiar with high
    "_Some_ technology," Dixon corrected.  "I doubt that would be much of a
help in this situation."
    "You'd be surprised," Elahte said.
    "So what's the plan?" Vasta asked.
    "Well, as offworlders, I assume you're unfamiliar with the legend of
Ampron, right?"
    The Blue Squadron expressed agreement.
    Elahte nodded and took a deep breath.  "Many years ago," he began, "our
peaceful planet was defended by a powerful force of good.  That force was
called Ampron, the Really Powerful Defender of Niceness and Stuff."
    "Nice title," McCurry interjected.
    "Er... yes.  That particular phrase was created by the chief of public
relations... a Ms. Varneyloop, I believe.  [She may or may not be related to
G.X.P. Varneyloop.  We had asked the research department to go check, but
they spent their budget on inflatable weasels instead.  Evidently, there was
a sale or something -- Ed.]   Anyway, Ampron was a giant robot--"
    "Typical," Dixon snorted.
    "What is it with the giant robots?" Vasta wondered.  "How come planets
are never defended by vast armies of fanatic celery or something?"
    "They're not as appealing to adolescent boys," Dixon explained.  "Harder
to merchandise."
    "If I may continue?" Elahte asked acidly.  After the others finished
mumbling apologies, he continued.  "It's commonly believed that Ampron was
destroyed it its last battle.  As you might expect, that's not completely
true.  It was split into five components, which were rebuilt by various
secret organizations and hidden should the need for their use arise again.
Five keys to the components were also created and hidden.  Unfortunately, I
only know the location of four of them. They're in the palace at the moment.
 I should be able to sneak some people in to fetch them."
    "Will four be enough?" McCurry asked.
    Elahte pursed his lips.  "Without all five, they can't combine to reform
Ampron.  They're not as effective individually."
    "We can't partially form Ampron?" Vasta asked.
    "No.  The missing key is for the primary unit."
    "Rather inconvenient, that."
    "Could we try to start it without the key?" Bentor asked.
    Elahte grinned weakly.  "That brings us to the other problem:  the
location of the units has been lost.  The keys receive a homing signal, but
it's unlikely they're all in the same place."
    There was another moment of silence as the rebels and displaced Terrans
    "So what's your plan?" Bentor asked at last.
    "Well," Elahte said, "on the off chance we can find the fifth key, we'll
need five pilots."  He paused and looked at the Blue Squadron.  "Will the
four of you be willing?"
    Vasta looked at his group.  Dent was still scanning his book on syntax,
but McCurry and Dixon looked fairly interested.  He wished Jen were still
with them -- she'd provide a good fifth pilot.  Plus, he wouldn't have to
feel guilty for accidentally leaving her on Planet Gloom.  "We're willing,"
he said, "but who will be the fifth pilot?"
    "Ooh, ooh!  Pick me!" Boltar said, waving his hands around.
    "You?" Bentor asked, raising an eyebrow.  "You've _got_ to be kidding."
    "But, I've got political connections!  And I'm familiar with Aroruan
customs!  You've _got_ to pick me.  Please?"
    Elahte sighed.  "I suppose," he said, sounding reluctant, "it would be a
good move politically.  Certainly, the public likes you more than they like
Princess Elim right now."  He turned to Vasta.  "Do you accept?" he asked.
    "I suppose so," Vasta replied.  Glancing around at his team, he saw that
they agreed.  He turned to Boltar.  "Welcome to the Blue Squadron," he said.
    "Not the Blue Squadron," Elahte corrected, "the Ampron Force."
    "So," Dixon asked Elahte, "what's the _plan_?  How are we going to find
these ... units?  And what _are_ they?"
    Elahte hesitated for a second, and then spoke.  "Penguins," he said.
"I'm told they're robotic penguins."
    "How do you make a giant robot out of _penguins_?  More importantly, how
do you make five penguins out of a giant robot?"
    "With an instruction manual?" Dent suggested.
    Elahte shrugged.  "As for your first question, I plan for a small group
to infiltrate the palace -- it should be fairly easy, since they still trust
me -- and return here with the keys.  Then we can sent larger groups out to
find the penguin units and then we'll be ready to plot our assault on the
    "Sounds good," Bentor said.  He was about to continue when Garav
suddenly burst in.
    "Bentor!" he cried.  "It's Tvanir!  She's escaped!"
    "_What_?"  Bentor demanded.  "How could this happen?"
    "She managed to untie herself, and then she snuck out," Garav explained.
    "She may have heard our plans," Elahte warned.  "We must move quickly."
    "What about the guard on her cell?" Dixon asked.
    A silence descended on the room;  had there been any crickets in the
area, this would have been the cue for their solo.
    "I _knew_ we forgot something," Bentor groaned.


Well, there won't be any giant robots fighting when Orliss and Bob discuss
strategy in the next phone-mangling episode of Starcruiser Anonymous.
    SFSTORY:  It Stays Crispy, Even in Milk

David Menendez        (zednenem at
Sfstory Author and DNRC Member
He's back! In pog form!
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