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Sfstory Log 090

Date:         Sun, 13 Apr 1997 19:13:50 -0700 (PDT)
From:         Author Crash (brainy9 at
To:           superguy at
Subject:      SF: Silver and Shadow #1

	Heart fluttering nervously, Fara waited by the giant doors of the
terminal. The flow of people had slowed to a trickle, after practically
inundating her moments before. She tried to control her overactive nerves,
but was far too excited to stay still. Finally, she wound up pacing back
and forth in front of the gigantic portal. Where -was- he? She was
supposed to meet Colm Silver, pilot and warrior, hope of her people.
They'd set it all up: the backwater spaceport, the anonymous
registrations, the untraceably hacked IDs. All she needed to do was find
Silver, and get to his ship, and they'd leave for her planet.
	Of course, she didn't see the boy approaching until it was too
late. Actually, she didn't see him at all until he was sitting on the
floor in front of her, with a rather dazed look on his face.
	"Mmmf..?" he mumbled, not too clearly.
	"Ohmigosh! I'm so sorry! I didn't see you! Here, let me help you
up!" exclaimed Fara, holding out her hand. As the boy took it, a cacophony
of emotion and foreign thought exploded in her mind...images, sounds,
feelings and instincts flooded her consciousness, then slowed to a trickle
as their source attempted to control himself.
	Fara froze, and stared at the boy in front of her. He appeared to
be merely a harmless kid, but he was also apparently a -very- powerful
telepath, and there was something *else* about she clutched his
hand, as if to a lifeline. *Colm,* came a stray thought into her mind. *My
name is Colm. And yours is what, Fara? Yeah, I think that's right, right?*
	The boy raised an eyebrow, clearly questioning. Again came the
voice into her mind. *It -is- Fara, right? Fara Shadow? You're the one
who's supposed to meet me here?*
	She looked down at the boy's hand, holding her own, then back at
his face, disbelievingly. -This- was the pilot and warrior, hope of her
people, romantic hero? But...but...
	"I'm Fara," she said disbelievingly. "You've -got- to be kidding

			   Silver and Shadow
			       Issue One
			        by Gina
			  AKA The Author Crash

	Hanna looked at her room in dismay. There were no buts about
it...her mom had told her that there was no way she'd get the phone line
installed until this place was clean. She gazed at the piles of stuff and
junk, and a feeling of dread washed over her and sank into the pit of her
stomach, like that extra box of french fries eaten at midnight.
	The piles of clothing, clean and dirty, would have to be sorted
through, leaving her to hang up what was clean and wash what wasn't; the
stacks and bundles of old school papers and greeting cards would also have
to be sorted, and thrown out; the tons of jewelery and writing implements
and foreign coins and miscellaneous junk had to be dumped into containers
or something; the piles of comics needed to be taken off the floor and put
on the shelves, once the shelves actually held books rather than machine
parts and stuffed animals. She'd have to clean out her closet, giving away
the clothes that didn't fit, the games she didn't play, and the books she
no longer read. She'd have to sweep behind her dresser and desk, clearing
out the candy wrappers and cobwebs, the socks and dust bunnies. Even the
ceiling corners had to be cleaned - ragged, dusty spiderwebs crisscrossed
the unlit regions like a Girl Scout's attempt at arts and crafts.
	All this, however, was nothing compared to that which lurked
beneath her bed. Even the junkmail-eating grizzly bear in her closet
seemed tame when placed against the Things Under the Place of Rest. Hanna
hadn't gone digging in that netherworld since she was eight, and she still
had the scars. Thus, it was no wonder she shuddered just thinking about
	Wearily, Hanna dug her stereo out of its hiding place (under the
pile of clothes on her bed) and plugged it in. She sorted through her
tapes, looking for something to fit her mood.
	"They Might Be Giants?" she asked herself. "No, too cheerful.
Besides, I need adventure music. Ska? Not unless there's a
scooter under my bed that I wasn't aware of. Uhm...Bush? No, too
depressing. Oasis? Nah, I've listened to that three times today. Uh..
Star Wars! That's IT!"
	The teenaged girl eagerly shoved the tape into the deck and
pressed play, cranking it up to nearly top volume. She shut the door to
her room quickly, opened the windows, and set to work.

	Fara and Colm hurried along the corridors of the terminal. They
tried to look inconspicuous, but that was kind of hard to do when in such
a rush. People glanced curiously at them as they went by, but no one
seemed to be calling station security in their wake. Fara took this as a
good sign.
	*You don't have to worry,* came Colm's voice in her mind. *They
won't really notice us.*
	"Now you're reading my mind, too? Why won't they notice us, may I
ask?" whispered Fara, pulling on Colm's hand to make him go faster.
	*I wasn't reading. You were projecting.*
	"Well, that's nice to know," she whispered back scathingly.
	*I thought you'd like it.*
	Suddenly, as they came to a turn in the corridor, inspiring music
filled the air. It was orchestrated, and sounded like the soundtrack to a
movie. Not just any movie, but an -adventure- movie! "What the--" started
Fara, looking around wildly.
	*Hmm. A little late, but still workable,* observed Colm. A Static
Neural Impressment Pulse Emitter (or SNIPE for short) appeared as if by
magic in his hand, and he stepped in front of Fara. She sputtered, and he
shushed her, putting his back against the wall and assuming the classic
ambush stance.
	Just as he did this, the music in the background changed. Now it
sounded like a march - a military march, imposing and impressive. He
glanced back at Fara, a manic grin on his face. *Don't worry...*
	"Worry? Whyever not? You've only gone insane, and this horrid
music is coming from nowh-"
	*And don't talk!*
	Fara shut up, and just in time. A tall, thin man wearing a
Hegemony uniform strode into view, completely missing the two youths
standing pressed against the wall. THe music was nearing a crescendo, and
Colm tensed. Fara groaned inwardly, anticipating his next move. As it
turned out, she was right. He dropped some giant ants, sticky on one
	[Stop! STOP! Who the heck...Dvandom? No, Rob! That was ROB! Would
you knock it off? This is -my- story! It has a point, really! So go away!
Just read! Quit- HEY! STOP it! Quit messing with the- KNOCK IT OFF! *A
scuffle ensues, and the Author returns, dusting her hands off.* Hah.
	Colm jumped out from behind the cover of the wall, and pointed his
SNIPE at the tall, thin man. "Let us pass, or we will shoot!" Fara found
herself yelling. She glared at her 'charge', knowing full well that he'd
literally put those words in her mouth.
	The tall man blinked at Fara and Colm. "I don't think so."
	"You don't?" asked Colm/Fara.
	"No. Semper ubi sububi."
	The music seemed to agree with the tall guy this time. It got
louder, and more rigid - and the two kids could hear the sound of troops
	"Look, sir, we didn't mean friend here is just a little
enthusiastic," supplied Fara quickly, trying to compensate.
	The tall man tugged at his bowtie. "I don't think so. Salve
	"It's true!" yelped Fara, looking behind him at the approaching
	"Men!" called the tall guy nasally, "These -children- are
disturbing the peace. Deal with them. Veni, non vidi, migravi!"
	"Yes, sir! General Wrathgebb, sir!" replied the foremost men, who
leveled their rifles at the two.
	Colm let out an inhuman yell and fired his SNIPE at Wrathgebb,
then at the troopers behind him. He grabbed Fara's hand and dove into an
adjacent corridor, starting to run. They could hear Wrathgebb whining,
"Stop sniping me! They were sniping me! Get them!"
	The music sounded victoriously in their ears as they sprinted down
the hallway. Fara's cloak flew heroically behind her, and Colm shoved the
SNIPE into his belt.
	*C'mon, let's get to your ship,* Colm spoke into Fara's mind.
	"My ship..?" she panted.
	Suddenly, and without warning, the music came to an abrupt halt,
as did Fara. "My -ship-?" she demanded. "Just how old do you think I
-am-?? YOU were supposed to have the ship!"
	Colm's face paled considerably, as he backpedaled to where Fara
stood. * don't have a ship? I...I thought that the Greeter, the
Shadowy one, would be old enough to pilot..*
	"Look, you. YOU'RE supposed to be the pilot, warrior, and hope of
the people. Sure, you don't look old enough to pilot, but I figured you'd
gotten a dispensation or something. I'm only 17. You can't get a license
until you're 19," she growled. "Are you sure you have the right minion,
	*I -am- a pilot! How old do I look? I'm 20! It's not my fault if I
don't look it. If you don't have a ship, how did you get here? Could we go
the way you came?* he queried desperately.
	"I hitched a ride with a freighter. They didn't know it," said
Fara loftily.

	Hanna took out the Star Wars tape. She'd finished cleaning off her
bed, and the area in front of her bookcase, and felt she needed a change
in mood. Digging through her tapes again, she pulled out her friend's mix.
	"Hrm. 'She Blinded Me with Science'? 'Convoy'? 'No One Knows My
Plan'? Cool. This'll work," she said, putting it in and turning it up.
	She looked skeptically at her closet, and dug in.







Find out next issue! SFStory, the Science Fiction with indigestion!

Everything here copyright 1997 by me, Gina Donoghue, except the music.

GU d-- H+)* s--: g? p?+ !au a17 w+++ v+++(*))! C+++ UL+++ P+ L++ 3- E----
N++ K++ W--- M- V-- -po+ Y+)+++ t+++ 5- jx R+ G'' tv-- b++++ D B----
e*)++++ u+(-/**) h! f* r++ !n x?
*---------acrash at at at LSH.Org-----------*
Date:         Mon, 19 May 1997 23:38:29 -0400
From:         David Menendez (zednenem at
To:           superguy at
Subject:      SF: SA #17, Wherein the Empire Strikes Back

                           STARCRUISER ANONYMOUS
                          (A Tale Within Sfstory)

                                Episode 17
                            Wherein the Empire
                               Strikes Back
                               Dave Menendez


[Author's Note: Since none of these characters have appeared since episode
thirteen, which was posted four months ago, I thought a quick refresher
might be in order.  When we last left them, the Ampron Force (consisting of
four pilots from the _Anonymous_ and Prince Boltar) had just won the first
victory against the Zakavians.  The Zakavians, annoyed by this, requested
the aid of the Zakavian Empire's new transforming starship/giant robot,
Alpha Ra.  The Ampron Force, meanwhile, still hasn't found the fifth key
which will allow them to activate the missing Navy Penguin and form Ampron,
Really Powerful Defender of Niceness and Stuff.]

There was a flash of off-white light, abruptly increasing the Zakavian Third
Fleet's size by one ship.  Captain-General Mselt, who just happened to be on
his flagship's bridge at the time, smiled.  At long last, Alpha Ra had
arrived.  Thanking his lucky stars that Prince Lotekh wasn't also on the
bridge, sparing everyone a long, incoherent speech, he quickly signalled
Captain-General Tvanir to begin the plans.  The rebels on Arorua were about
to learn just who they were dealing with.

Tvanir, of course, was asleep when the signal came.  However, once she had
finished trying to find the snooze button on the Subcommander who had
informed her of the signal, she was able to adjust quickly, ordering her
command team to meet her in the newly-constructed communications shed.
    "Gentlemen," she said once they had all arrived, "the time we've all
been waiting for has arrived."
    "We're leaving?" asked Captain Kvirot, the eagerness to get off Arorua
shining in his youthful eyes.
    Tvanir sighed, pushing a stray strand of black hair from her eyes.  (One
of the privileges of high rank and a remote assignment was the ability to
ignore regulations regarding hair length.)   "In a sense.  We _are_ leaving
the Mountains of Tallness, but we're headed for Capital City.  You'll be
moving out in an hour."
    "Won't you be coming with us?" rumbled Captain Avotkesh.
    Tvanir grinned, as if she was looking forward to something.  "I have a
different fight ahead of me."

The Aroruan palace was quiet that night, which was not uncommon, as Aroruans
tended to go to bed at sunset, since most of them had no artificial
lighting.  The palace, however, was equipped with such luxuries, allowing
Roger Vasta to sit up late in the library, pondering the rather odd turn his
life had taken in the last few weeks.  Just a short time ago, he and his
squadron had been living a fairly stable life on the _Anonymous_, and now
four of them were charged with piloting a giant robot to defend a planet
against interstellar invaders.  As for their fifth member, he had no idea
where she was.  Probably still on Planet Gloom;  possibly even doing well. 
Jen Kadar had always been the best of them at adapting to the unexpected.
    He noticed a rhythmic sound, like a rubber ball repeatedly hitting a
wooden paddle.  Turning, he saw Prince Boltar walk over to Samantha Dixon,
who was staying up late to ponder dark thoughts.  "Good evening," Boltar
said to her in greeting.
    "What do you mean?" Dixon asked absently, still staring out the window.
    Boltar blinked in confusion.  He stood, evidently deep in thought, for a
few moments, still paddling.  "I'm not sure," he said eventually.  "It's
just something you say."
    "But what does it mean?  We only exist for such a brief period, it seems
a shame to squander that time going around saying things and not even
knowing what they mean."
    "True," Boltar admitted, "but it _is_ a good evening, isn't it?  Just
look at the stars."
    Dixon shrugged.  "They're nice.  It's good to know that, as long as I'm
trapped here, defending this primitive planet from vast alien armies by
piloting an ancient robot of unknown design, I'll at least have some pretty
stars to look at."
     "Yeah," Boltar agreed, evidently taking her statement at face value. 
It occurred to Vasta that with the Zakavians out of power and Princess Elim
either a guest or a prisoner of the Third Fleet, depending on what side she
was really on, Boltar was the legal ruler of the planet.  He made a mental
note to discuss that with Chancellor Elahte.

There were others awake that night as well.  Most of them weren't too
pleased about it.  "I hate this," commented one of them, who evidently fell
into the displeased category.  "It's well past the time any decent person
would be in bed.  Why do _we_ have to stay awake?"
    "Because the Zakavians _know_ everybody's asleep at this hour," his
companion answered.  "Therefore, if they attacked now, no one would notice
until it was too late to repel them."
    "Ah, but you are forgetting the four Giant Penguins, with which our
forces were easily able to defeat the Zakavians in the last battle.  Surely,
they could be used again to repel any threat of invasion."
    "True, but the actual repelling would no doubt involve property damage
the likes of which you or I could not imagine.  Thus, we are out here to
make sure that--" he stopped suddenly.
    "Did you hear something just now?"
    "I heard you talking, but then you stopped and I heard only silence."
    "You can't _hear_ silence.  By definition, silence is the absence of
sound.  You can't hear what isn't there to be heard."
    "While that is true from a technical standpoint, I was using 'silence'
in the sense of--  Did you hear _that_?"
    "What?  I heard you _say_ 'that'."
    "No.  I thought I heard a footstep outside."
    They listened for a few moments.  For a few moments, they could only
hear themselves breathing.  Then:  a crash, a muffled "Ouch!", and a few
angry cries of "Shh!"
    "I believe something is happening outside," the first guard observed.
    The door to their guard post suddenly burst open, and six Zakavian
soldiers stormed in, their gray combat armor rustling softly.
    "Indeed," the second guard agreed, stealthily pressing the "Alert!"

Within ten minutes of the alarm going off, the Ampron Force and Chancellor
Elahte had gathered in the palace's ultra-high-tech command room.  It would
have been five minutes, except for some minor trouble opening the secret
passage that lead to the command room.
    "Our fears have come to pass," Elahte opened, once they were all
    "A giant spider attack?" McCurry asked, sounding worried.
    "Er... no.  The Zakavians have begun a ground assault."
    "Thank goodness," McCurry sighed.
    "Shut up, McCurry," Dent advised.
    "They're still a good distance away," Vasta said, continuing the
explanation.  "Dixon, Dent, and Boltar will go out and stop them.  McCurry,
you'll stay here and defend the City, in case this is a bluff."
    "What about you?" Dixon asked.
    Vasta shrugged.  "I guess I'll start looking for the navy key again. 
Any questions?"
    Four hands shot up.
    "_Relevant_ questions?" Vasta clarified.
    The hands were lowered.
    "Then get started, the Zakavians are advancing even as we speak."
    Dent, Dixon, McCurry, and Boltar sprinted into the hangar, leapt into
their transports, and were soon hurtling towards their Penguins.  Elahte and
Vasta, meanwhile, headed upstairs to the shrine to see if the navy key was
hidden in an as-yet-undiscovered alcove somewhere.

One of the late Governor Jjana's several public works projects was the small
network of underground tunnels that connected the Aroruan palace with a few
secret locations.  Originally, they had been built to provide an escape
route in the case of a revolt, but the Zakavians were quickly convinced that
a revolt was rather unlikely.  Jjana decided to continue the project,
reasoning that the tunnels could provide electricity to the people of
Capital City without requiring ugly above-ground cables.  Tvanir had opposed
this plan, feeling that other objectives, like paving the streets, should
have higher priority.  Now, however, she was glad that Jjana had overruled
her, as the tunnels provided the perfect route for an elite band of
commandos to sneak into the palace unseen.
    "We've reached the palace entrance," announced the team leader.  "It
appears to be locked."
    Tvanir nodded, moving forward towards the door.  "Let's see if my access
codes still work," she said.  Her decision to accompany the strike force had
surprised her command staff, but she had overruled their objections by
reminding them that she was in charge and they were not.  It was, she knew,
a rash move.  An act of senseless bravado.   A stab in the dark.  A pig in a
blanket.  Three coins in a fountain.  But she didn't care.
    "Be careful, sir," the Sergeant warned, "it may be a trap."
    Tvanir snorted.  "I doubt the Aroruans would even _think_ of that --
assuming they knew about this entrance, which they don't".  She tried her
code.  The door failed to open.  "Odd," she remarked, "they shouldn't be
able to change the codes."
    "Your passcard, sir?" the Sergeant suggested.
    Tvanir blinked.  "Right, thank you."  A few solders chuckled;  she
ignored them while she tried the code again, this time remembering to swipe
her passcard through the reader.  The members of her strike force had also
been uncertain about her decision to join them, concerned that yet another
clueless officer was trying to gain personal fame and glory by entering
personal combat.  However, Tvanir had transferred to ZIMA:Command after
several years in the Ground forces, where she had been the only female to
earn membership in the elite Order of Blargol.  Once informed of this fact,
the strike team had mostly accepted her as one of their own.
    The door slowly opened.  "Whoo-hoo!" one of the commandoes cheered,
"we're in!"
    A short distance beyond the door sat several members of the Aroruan
People's League, who looked about as surprised as the Zakavian strike team
at the unexpected meeting.  The Zakavians, being skilled professionals,
quickly began to attack while the Aroruans, being mostly volunteer amateurs,
engaged in a equally quick strategic withdrawal.
    As her commandoes surged inward around her, Tvanir smiled behind the
opaque visor of her gray armor.  Now it was only a matter of time before she
could implement her revenge.

Outside the palace, Alex McCurry sat in the control module of the Saffron
Penguin, waiting.  Had the penguin possessed the appropriate range of
movement, it would have mimicked his bored posture.  He wasn't exactly upset
about his assignment to guard Capital City -- he much preferred it to
actually confronting the attacking force -- but that didn't make it any more
interesting.  After a few moments standing outside city limits and making
sure that any hypothetical enemy forces in the area weren't making a
nuisance of themselves, he had started looking for a solitaire game in the
Penguin's computers.  He was so involved in this search his first clue that
the situation had changed was the proximity alarm.
    "Waah!" he cried as the alarm went off, startling him.  "What's going
on?"  Glancing about the various displays, he discovered that something
large was entering the area from ... above?  Curious, he looked up, his
Penguin mirroring his actions, and saw what appeared to be a mid-size
starship hovering over Capital City.
    McCurry quickly decided that an unknown starship hovering over Capital
City could probably be counted as a hostile force, which made it his
responsibility to handle.  The Saffron Penguin leapt into the air, headed
towards the starship which, unexpectedly, backed off.  While McCurry tried
to figure out that strategy, the ship began reconfiguring.  Before McCurry
could reach it, the ship was gone.  In its place stood a giant robot, far
larger than his Penguin.
    ((Surrender,)) the robot advised, its public address system awakening
any residents of the City who had managed to sleep through McCurry's arrival
and subsequent launch, ((you will be unable to defeat Alpha Ra.))  As if to
demonstrate this statement, it fired a salvo of missiles in McCurry's
    McCurry dodged easily, as he was still airborne, and tried to consider
his options.  Alpha Ra looked a lot more powerful than the Saffron Penguin,
and it was considerably larger, so physical combat was out.  He guessed that
he had air superiority, as Alpha Ra had needed to land immediately after
transforming, but his flight fuel reserves were already running low, and
gliding wasn't a viable option (penguins aren't really designed for it).
    The proximity alarm startled him again, noting that the missiles he had
dodged were evidently guided, since they were once again aimed at him. 
Annoyed, he activated the anti-missile defenses, and went back to
considering his options.  Behind him, Alpha Ra's missiles met a fine array
of airborne gravel and exploded, raining hot metal shards on whatever
Aroruans were still running around the streets instead of getting to
    The fuel alert began to sound, reminding McCurry that he needed to get
out of the air before he lacked the fuel to fly his Penguin back to its
secret hiding place.  Deciding he didn't feel like wasting the momentum he'd
built up, he prepared to transfer it to Alpha Ra through his Penguin's feet.
    Unfortunately, Alpha Ra's crew saw this coming, and dodged, taking care
to swipe at McCurry while he hurtled past.
    The resulting hit threw the Penguin's balance off, forcing it to land in
a particularly undignified manner.  It rolled a few times before coming to a
stop.  "Okay," McCurry noted, "that wasn't smart."  While he tried to get
the Penguin back on its feet, he noted Alpha Ra coming closer.
    McCurry decided to call for backup.

Thomas Dent was enjoying himself immensely.  The Crimson Penguin he piloted
was, without a doubt, the most entertaining weapon of mass destruction he'd
ever gotten to play with.  It was probably the most dangerous as well,
although the QuiteLarge Cannon he had been testing before he suddenly became
an interstellar traveler had an edge in sheer destructive capability.  There
was just something more _satisfying_ in being able to stomp on your enemy. 
Or shoot arrays of missiles.  He was pretty sure the Penguins' beaks
contained energy weapons as well.  Pity they hadn't found a manual yet.
    The only problem now was that the enemy kept running away from him.
    "Cowards!" he shouted, his voice further amplified by the speakers
somewhere in the Penguin's head.  "Come back and fight!"
    The Zakavians chose not to answer, not that Dent could have heard them
if they had.  Spitefully, Dent obliterated a nearby barn.  Scanning, he
couldn't detect any motion in the area.  He decided to join the others, in
the hopes that they had more enemies to fight.
    He had just launched into the air when McCurry made his distress call. 
A giant robot attacking the City?  It certainly sounded more fun than
attacking Zakavian infantry.  "I'm already on my way," he told McCurry.
    "What?" Dixon demanded.  "Wait for us!"
    Dent ignored her.

From his post of relative safety atop the palace walls, Bentor watched the
fight between the Saffron Penguin and Alpha Ra with a growing sense of fear
and anger.  It just wasn't fair.  He had managed to lead the Aroruan
People's League to the successful liberation of Arorua (with some help from
the Ampron Force, and despite Princess Elim's treachery), and now the
Zakavians looked ready to take it back.
    ((Surrender,)) Alpha Ra ordered again, ((rebellion against the Empire
will not be tolerated.))
    The Saffron Penguin chose not to answer, instead firing some missiles at
its opponent.  They were quickly shot down.
    Alpha Ra pointed its right hand at the Penguin, forming its fingers into
a blade shape, and launched it.  The hand/knife struck hard, and the Penguin
staggered back.
    Bentor turned to Garav, who was standing nearby.  "Quickly," he ordered,
"go tell Elahte what's happening.  I think he's in the shrine."
    Garav nodded and ran off.
    A sudden explosion brought Boltar's attention back to the battle.  The
Crimson Penguin had joined the fray.  ((Die, foul robot!)) it shouted,
standing near its fallen companion.
    Alpha Ra calmly fired its left hand at the new arrival.  The Crimson
Penguin, however, was able to dodge in time.  Unfortunately, it dodged right
into the path of the right hand, which was on its way back.
    With a crash, the Crimson Penguin joined its colleague on the ground.
    "Needlewarp!" Bentor swore.  This was hopeless.  He turned to follow
Garav, but was stopped when he heard more noises behind him.  Turning back,
he saw the Teal and Ebony Penguins arriving.

Dixon sighed, quickly assessing the situation at the City.  It was _so_
typical of Dent to run off like that without considering the consequences. 
Now he looked to be out of the picture, leaving her with Boltar.  Planning a
coordinated assault with Boltar wasn't high on her list of fun things to do.
    ((Quit destroying Capital City!)) Boltar ordered.
    ((Surrender, rebel,)) Alpha Ra replied.
    ((Never, Imperial scum!)) was Boltar's predictable response.
    Alpha Ra shrugged and fired yet another salvo of missiles, which quickly
followed Boltar as he tried to fly away.  Unfortunately, the missiles were
faster, and the shields on the Ebony Penguin were rather weak.  Damaged, it
slammed into the ground just inside city limits.
    Leaving Dixon alone.
    "So much for a massed assault," she muttered, as she brought her Penguin
into a steep dive.  Alpha Ra, anticipating this, dodged, and tried to throw
the Teal Penguin to the ground.  Dixon had forseen this, and altered her
course slightly to avoid Alpha Ra's reach.  At the low point, she fired the
railgun, sending a ten-foot spike into Alpha Ra's chest.
    The robot staggered back, giving Dixon time to gain altitude.  She
didn't expect it to do much good.  The only weapons she knew how to operate
weren't going to be enough to stop this thing, especially not by herself.
    Alpha Ra fired both fists at her, which she easily dodged.  Keeping an
eye on them, she maneuvered around for another pass.  The Teal Penguin's
beak might do some damage in a ramming attack.  Unfortunately, Alpha Ra
chose this moment to reveal another attack.  Two powerful deathkill blasts
shot out of its eyes, both hitting their target.
    Dixon swore.  Her shielding had been enough to protect her, but who knew
how many attacks this thing had?  She decided to play dead, to prevent
further damage to her Penguin.  As it made a surprisingly soft crash
landing, she imagined she could hear the disappointed cries of the Aroruans
as their last protector fell.
    She hoped Vasta and Elahte found something fast.

"Find anything?" Vasta asked.
    "Not in the last five seconds," Elahte answered.  "I'm beginning to
suspect the navy key isn't here at all."
    "But that doesn't make sense," Vasta protested, "the other four keys
were here and the control room is accessed from here.  Where _else_ would
you put it?"
    Elahte shrugged.  "Who knows?  Maybe some past king gave it away.  Maybe
it was hidden inside the control room itself.  Maybe there _is_ no navy key
and only the True Heir can activate the fifth Penguin."
    "I hope not.  There's no way we'll get _her_ in time."  Vasta looked
around.  They had searched every conceivable place several times.  The
shrine really only had two altars:  the main one, where the relics were
stored, and a smaller one dedicated to Microtron.  Everything else was
either small alcoves or simple wall decoration.  He paused for a moment,
closing his eyes;  perhaps something would come to him if he stopped trying
so hard.
    He heard footsteps and a rustling sound.  Someone shouted "Freeze!"  He
opened his eyes to see an armed Zakavian soldier standing in the doorway. 
He froze, wondering how the Zakavians had breached palace security.  Were
things really that bad outside?
    Carefully, the Zakavian removed the armor's helmet while managing to
threaten them both with the gun.  "Tvanir!" Elahte gasped, recognizing the
face behind the armor.
    "Greetings, traitor," Tvanir replied with a predatorial grin.  "It's
_so_ good to see you again."


To find the answers, one must first understand the questions.  Focus your
mind and eliminate all distractions.  When your soul is at peace, then you
can begin your quest for knowledge.  Alternately, you could check out the
next episode.
    SFSTORY:  Don't Leave Home Without It
Date:         Mon, 26 May 1997 23:34:41 -0400
From:         David Menendez (zednenem at
To:           superguy at
Subject:      SF: SA #18, Wherein the Beginning of the End Concludes

                           STARCRUISER ANONYMOUS
                          (A Tale Within Sfstory)

                                Episode 18
                          Wherein  the Beginning
                           of the End Concludes
                               Dave Menendez


George Daniels kneeled on the floor, examining the marks in its smooth
metallic surface.  Behind him, seven searchers waited patiently for his
report.  Abruptly, he stood and turned to face them.  "Camel tracks," he
pronounced.  "Two, maybe three days old."
    Stanford raised an eyebrow.  "Camel tracks?  You kept us waiting for
_that_ old joke?"
    "We're doomed, aren't we?" Menendez moaned.  "We're never getting out of
here;  we'll just wander forever through the trackless bowels of the
_Anonymous_.  We're lost!  _Lost_!"
    "It's only been half a day," Stanford reminded him.  "We can't be _that_
    "Perhaps he is practicing for later," Masaki quietly suggested.
    "We'll have none of that thinking," Hydrospok declared.  "We are _not_
lost, and our quest is _not_ hopeless."  He turned towards Roy, who was
standing outside the group, staring off into the distance.  "Fear not,
Gaelen, we will find your sister, and we will punish those who captured her
for their own evil ends."
    "As opposed to capturing her for _her_ evil ends?" Daniels asked.
    Roy said nothing.
    "Were you able to find any useful information, Daniels?" asked Winters.
    Daniels shook his head.  "There could be tracks there, for all I know,
but _I_ can't read them."
    "So this entire excursion was a waste?" Stanford asked pointedly.
    "Hey," Daniels protested, "I was just trying to lighten the mood.  I
mean, between Mr Darkness over there," he gestured at Roy, "and the Amazing
Human Panic," he gestured at Menendez.
    "Feh," Menendez interrupted.  "I have not yet _begun_ to panic.  When it
gets worse, _then_ you'll see some panicking."
    "_Anyway_," Daniels continued, "it's not like the mood couldn't use a
little lightening.
    "Perhaps you could attempt this 'lightening' in some manner that would
also be useful," Stanford said lightly.
    "You mean, more useful than wandering around aimlessly?" Daniels asked.
    "You didn't have to come," Roy murmured.
    "Nonsense!" Hydrospok declared.  "No honorable person could stand by
while Evil lurks, clutching innocent girls in its ... er ... clutches.  It
is both our duty and our privilege to fight Evil, no matter where it hides,
no matter when it strikes, no matter how it tastes!"
    The others stared, awed by this speech, until Daniels broke the silence. 
"'No matter how it _tastes_'?" he asked.
    Hydrospok gave him a knowledgeable look.  "I take it you are unfamiliar
with the foul, gamey taste of Evil?"
    Daniels was unable to find an answer for that.
    "Perhaps we should call it a night," Winters suggested.
    "That might be wise," Stanford agreed.  "Hydrospok's getting less
coherent by the minute, and I think we could all use the rest."

                                 *   *   *

"How did _you_ get in here?" Elahte demanded.
    "You're not the only one who knows secrets about this palace," Tvanir
replied, dodging the question.  She moved further into the room, still
holding the two at gunpoint.  "I notice you haven't used the fifth Penguin
yet, why is that?"
    Elahte refused to answer.  Vasta just stood quietly.
    Tvanir sighed, carefully placing her helmet on one of the benches and
pulling her hair out from the back of her armor.  "It's missing," she
guessed.  "Which means you can't form Ampron, and Alpha Ra can easily defeat
your Penguins, unless they've suddenly gained some combat abilities.  All I
have to now is wait, and I--"
    She was interrupted by a shout from behind her.  Startled, she
accidentally fired before whirling around to face this new threat.  Said
threat turned out to be Tels Garav, who, seeing the gun pointed at him,
quickly raised his hands.  Behind her, the Seemingly Useless Item shattered,
having been hit by the stray shot.
    "Who are you?" Tvanir demanded.  "How did you get past my partner?"
    "What partner?" Garav asked, staring at the gun and sounding scared.
    "The soldier who was guarding my back," Tvanir explained.  "Where is
    "How should I know?"
    Ignoring them, Vasta quietly moved towards the broken relic.  It had
broken apart to reveal a curious, dark blue shape.  He resisted the twin
urges to cheer and to scream in frustration.  Of _course_ it would be hidden
in plain sight.
    While Tvanir stalked over to the doorway, keeping Garav in front of her,
Vasta caught Elahte's eye.  He held up the navy key, and nodded towards the
secret command room.  Elahte returned the nod.
    "Kvesh?" Tvanir called, checking the hallway outside.  "Hello?"
    Seeing that Tvanir attention was elsewhere, they ran towards the hidden
door.  Tvanir, hearing footsteps, spun around again.  "Stand still!" she
shouted, but Vasta and Elahte had already left her line of fire.  Snarling,
she fired a few shots at the door closing behind them.  She sighed, and then
remembered her other captive.  Turning around again, she saw that Garav was
also running off.  "Halt!" she ordered.  He ignored her disappeared around a
corner.  "Now what?" she muttered.  "Kvesh!  Where are you?"
    ((Right here, sir,)) Kvesh replied, walking into the corridor from a
nearby storeroom.  ((Did I miss something?))
    Tvanir gave him a long, hard look.  "No," she said finally.  Turning
back into the shrine, she went to pick up her helmet.

"What's going on here?" demanded Prince Lotekh as he stormed onto the bridge
of the _Absurd Physical Harm_.
    Captain-General Mselt, glanced up from the crossword puzzle he'd been
filling out.  "Alpha Ra has just defeated the four Penguins of Ampron," he
    "_What!?_" Lotekh exploded.  "I wanted to see that!  Why wasn't I
informed of this!?"
    "You _were_ informed," Mselt pointed out.  "I sent someone to notify you
as soon as Alpha Ra arrived."
    "I was asleep!  You didn't even wait for me!  You _knew_ I wanted to
watch the battle," Lotekh protested.
    Mselt shrugged.  "We have a recording.  You could watch that instead."
    "It's not the same," Lotekh whined.  "Besides, I wanted to bring
Princess Elim up and watch her expression as we defeated her planet's
    "What if we'd lost?" Mselt asked.  "That would be pretty humiliating to
have her here seeing _our_ robot get beaten."
    Lotekh considered that.  "I suppose it would, at that.  But you still
could have waited to start the operation until I got here."   
    Mselt shrugged again.  "Yes.  I could have."
    "Message from Captain Tvekshi," interrupted Captain Dfale.
    "On screen," Lotekh ordered.
    Captain Tvekshi appeared on the bridge's main screen, much of his face
obscured by his uniform's enormous collar and the visor on his hat.  "We
have defeated the Penguins," he reported, "awaiting further orders."
    Mselt started to respond, but was silenced by a gesture from Lotekh, who
tried to give Tvekshi an imperial look, but was hampered by the fact he
couldn't see either of Tvekshi's eyes.  Finally, he gave up and started
talking.  "Have the Aroruans surrendered yet?"
    "No, your Highness," Tvekshi replied.  "No word from Captain-General
Tvanir, either."
    "Well, if they don't surrender soon, start destroying things," Lotekh
    "How long is 'soon'?" Tvekshi asked.
    "_I_ don't know!  Must I decide _everything_?  Just use your best
    "And if his judgement disagrees with yours?" Mselt asked.
    Lotekh narrowed his eyes.  "See that it doesn't," he said, trying to
sound ominous.

Beneath the Aroruan palace, Vasta and Elahte wished each other luck.  They
had briefed themselves on the situation in the Command Room, and they knew
that it was looking grim.  The fat was in the fire.  The chips were down. 
The fat lady was about to sing.  Vasta had taken the navy key and gone down
to the hangar.  He knew the score, so he put his nose to the grindstone, put
his shoulder to the wheel, and prepared to roll the dice.  Getting inside
the small car, he placed the key in its slot and pressed the "Go" button. 
Within minutes, he was sitting in the cockpit of the Navy Penguin.

Captain Tvekshi saluted, and the image of his commanders vanished.  He
sighed.  He hadn't been too happy about being transferred to Mselt's
command, given how much experience Mselt had at commanding fleets, which was
none, but he had to admit that Mselt inspired confidence when sitting next
to Prince Lotekh.  (Admittedly, this wasn't saying much.  Wilted lettuce
inspires confidence next to Prince Lotekh.)
    He glanced around, quickly assessing his crew.  Although the manual the
Sonar Men had provided recommended that Alpha Ra be piloted by "five
teenagers with attitude", Supreme Captain-Commander Kvasha had decided to
use an older crew.  Unfortunately, they hadn't had much time to train
together before being sent to Arorua -- Tvekshi couldn't even remember all
their names yet.  Fortunately, their enemy had been weaker than expected,
and had been defeated easily.  He flipped on the public address system to
make another demand.  "Aroruans," he intoned, "surrender now, or your city
will be destroyed."
    "Something's happening by the palace," one of the crew informed him.
    Tvekshi looked at the display.  Cracks were forming all over the surface
of the enormous penguin statue in front of the palace.  As large pieces
started falling off, he realized what it was:  the fifth Penguin. 
"Aroruans," he shouted into the microphone, "this insolence will not be
tolerated.  Prepare for destruction."   He turned to his crew.  "Start
stepping on buildings," he ordered.
    The Navy Penguin let out a great squawk of defiance and launched into
the air on a pillar of flame, which promptly started melting the statue's
base, as well as the stone shards scattered around it.  In the air, it fired
its railgun, sending another ten-foot spike hurtling towards Alpha Ra.  The
huge robot wasn't able to dodge this time, either.  "Again?  Needlewarp,"
Tvekshi cursed.  "Dodge that next time, and fire those fist-knives at it."
    "Yes, sir," the crew replied in eerie unison.
    "The Navy Penguin is moving away from the City," one added.
    "Trying to draw us off, eh?" Tvekshi asked.  "No matter, a change of
venue won't help it very much.  Follow!"
    "Yes, sir."

Dixon watched the Navy Penguin fly off, followed by Alpha Ra's flying fists,
and, further back, by Alpha Ra itself.  Powering up her Penguin, she
contacted the others.  Vasta wouldn't be able to hold out for long, if their
own performances were any indication.
    "Is everybody all right?" she asked.
    "I guess so," McCurry replied.
    "My shields have recharged," Boltar added.
    "Not yet," said Dent, "the self-repair devices haven't finished yet."
    "Then we wait," Dixon decided.  "Let's hope Vasta can keep that thing
distracted long enough so we can form Ampron."
    "Do we know _how_ to form Ampron?" McCurry wondered.
    "Shut up, McCurry," Dent snapped.

Vasta flew quickly, trying to stay ahead of the two deadly fists following
him.  Actually, they were moving faster, but it didn't matter since they
weren't explosive and their relative speed difference wasn't very high. 
They wouldn't do any damage even if he let them hit him, which he had no
intention of doing.
    Changing course abruptly, he doubled back, ducking below the fists, and
heading towards Alpha Ra itself.  Alpha Ra fired its deathkill eyebeams,
which the Navy Penguin ignored, veering off to the right suddenly.  The
fists, which had turned around to follow it, weren't able to correct in time
and narrowly missed smashing into Alpha Ra's damaged mid-section.
    As Alpha Ra fired yet another cloud of missiles, Vasta ran through his
weapons systems.  Finding none except his own missile launchers, the
now-empty railgun, and the anti-missile defences, he started to get worried.
    As he prepared his missile countermeasures, Dixon's voice interrupted
his thoughts.  "We're ready for you," she said.  With a laugh of glee, he
shot back towards the City.

Bentor finally found his binoculars, and got set to watch the new battle. 
Too late:  the Navy Penguin was already headed back to the City.  He
grinned.  Ampron was coming!  Arorua were safe now!
    He heard footsteps behind him.  Turning, he saw a squad of Zakavian
soldiers behind him, lead by Captain-General Tvanir herself.  "You!" she
snarled, recognizing him from her brief captivity.
    "You!" he replied, as it seemed appropriate.
    Tvanir was about to respond when one of the soldiers pointed, shouting
    They turned, and saw the five Penguins in the final stages of
transformation.  They had changed in subtle ways:  the wings and feet drawn
into the bodies, the necks bent at unnatural angles, and other similar
adjustments.  Finally, the five Penguins merged into an enormous, albeit
very strange looking robot.  Ampron, Really Powerful Defender of Niceness
and Stuff, had finally returned.
    However, Ampron's opponent hadn't been standing still during the
transformation sequence, and it had also returned.  As got closer, it became
obvious that Alpha Ra was half again as large as Arorua's greatest
    "Ha!" Tvanir laughed, moving towards the battlements, "this shouldn't
take long."
    Alpha Ra didn't waste time demanding surrender, it simply fired both its
fists at its smaller opponent.  Ampron easily swatted them away, and moved
in for the kill.  The first punch sent a metallic clang throughout the City,
but didn't do any noticeable damage.  Neither did the second.  Or the third,
for that matter.  By this time, Alpha Ra had regained its hands, and decided
to unleash its next weapon.  Reaching behind its head, it drew an enormous
sword, and settled into an en garde pose.  Ampron stepped backwards, seeming
confused.  Alpha Ra swung, missing its target but beheading the Aroruan
Trade Center, the tallest building in the City.
    ((Attack the stock market, will you?)) rang a voice from Arorua's
protector which was probably Boltar's.  ((We won't stand for that!))
    Alpha Ra merely made another strike in response.
    "I don't get it," Tvanir commented, "they've got all those ranged
weapons, and they're _sword fighting_?"
    "One of them is, anyway," Bentor noted.
    "Shut up," Tvanir replied.

"We need a weapon," Vasta told Elahte over their radio link.  "We don't know
how to use any of the ranged attacks!"  He moved Ampron back to dodge
another sword strike.
    "Move one block north," Elahte ordered.  "I'm sending you the Penguin
    Obediently, Vasta moved the robot over a block, where a small courtyard
had opened to reveal a shaft leading down to depths unknown.  Suddenly, a
giant robot-sized spear sprung out of the hole.  Ampron deftly caught it
while it was still rising.  "Okay," Vasta said, "_now_ we're going to see
some action."
    "Do you know anything about spear fighting?" McCurry asked over the
    "Shut _up_, McCurry," Dent interjected.
    "Actually, I don't," Vasta admitted.
    "I have some experience," Boltar offered.  "Let me try.  I promise I
won't damage any buildings."
    "That's comforting," Dixon said dryly.

"A sword and a spear?" Tvanir asked incredulously.  "A _sword_ and a
_spear_?  What kind of battle _is_ this?"
    "It looks like a sword and spear battle," Bentor said.
    "_Quiet!_" Tvanir snapped.
    Alpha Ra swung yet again, but this time Ampron had a weapon to block the
blow.  The collision sent another loud, metallic clang echoing off the low
buildings of Capital City.  While Alpha Ra tried to reverse the course of
its heavy blade, Ampron moved in for the kill, punching its spear directly
through where Alpha Ra's heart would have been, had it been a human, rather
than a giant, transforming robot.
    "That was fast," commented Bentor.  "Kind of an anticlimax, really."
    Tvanir snorted.  "A spear through the chest?  Come on, it's not a
person.  That shouldn't do any major damage."
    Alpha Ra exploded.
    "Gyaah!" Bentor shouted, as he ran away past the soldiers who were
supposed to be guarding him but were distracted by the explosion.
    Tvanir just stared, open mouthed, as the Emperor's favorite military
plaything disintegrated.  Glancing up, she saw part of a shoulder flying
through the air.  The section of her mind devoted to ballistics calculations
noted that it was going to land rather close to her position.  A less
rational section cheered it on:  this way she wouldn't have to explain yet
another failure to Central Command.
    It exploded on impact.

"It's _over_?" gasped Lotekh, disbelief evident in his voice.  "We _lost_?"
    "Move the fleet back," ordered Mselt, ignoring Lotekh's panicked
    "No!" cried Lotekh.  "We can't retreat now!"
    "Do _you_ want to fight that thing?" demanded Mselt.
    Lotekh paused.  "I suppose not," he said finally.  "We will be back!" he
shouted at the image of Ampron on the screen.  "Next time I will not be so
easily defeated!"

((Captain-General!)) shouted Kvesh.  Seeing where she had landed, he winced
and started running.  It looked like the armor had mostly protected her, but
she hadn't been wearing her helmet at the time.  Her armor's sensors said
she was still alive, but it was obvious she'd need medical care soon. 
((Vtoska, give me a hand,)) he called to the solder next to him, ((we've got
to find a shuttle.))
    ((I know where the landing pad is,)) said the Sergeant, ((there should
be one left.))

"We won!" Boltar cheered.
    "That was rather easy," said Dent, sounding disappointed.
    "Wasn't the explosion big enough for you?" Dixon asked sweetly.
    "Oh, yeah, it was," Dent assured her, "but it means so much more if you
have to _work_ for it."
    "What now?" McCurry asked.
    "We should probably split up," Vasta decided.  "We won't need Ampron to
deal with the Legion's troops.  Right, Elahte?"
    "Agreed," Elahte said over the radio link.  "Even without their giant
robot, they are still a threat."
    "Is that a shuttle launching?" Boltar asked, noticing some activity at
the palace.
    "So it is," Vasta agreed.
    "It's probably Tvanir making her escape," Elahte said, frowning.  "I
never thought she would abandon her troops, even in this situation.  How
    "Right," Vasta nodded, "so ... how do we separate this thing?"

Although the Ampron force eventually figured out how to split the Defender
of Niceness into its component Penguins, by then it was too late.  The
Aroruan Occupation League, demoralized by the defeat of Alpha Ra and the
loss of its commander, quickly surrendered.  The Aroruans, unused to having
prisoners of war, moved the Legionnaires into their old barracks, after
clearing them of weapons, and quickly impressed a few hundred people into
the Aroruan army for guards.
    In the palace, the Ampron Force and the Aroruan People's League
celebrated their second victory over the Zakavian Empire.  But, once again,
Elahte was worried.  The Empire still had vast resources available.  Who
knew what they would try next?


Find out when news is delivered, Bob and Megan make their move, and Captain
Harrison goes on a lunch date ... with murder.  All coming up in the next
yak shaving episode of Starcruiser Anonymous.
    SFSTORY:  The Brand Doctors Recommend Most
Date:         Tue, 29 Jul 1997 12:05:29 -0400
From:         David Menendez (zednenem at
To:           Superguy (superguy at
Subject:      SF: SA #19, Wherein Jen and Orliss are Freed

                           STARCRUISER ANONYMOUS
                          (A Tale Within Sfstory)

                                Episode 19
                          Wherein Jen and Orliss
                                 Are Freed
                               Dave Menendez


Supreme Captain-Commander Kvasha suppressed a sigh;  he was getting rather
tired of bearing bad news, especially to the High Council.  Ever since
Captain-General Mselt had brought news of Captain-General Rtali's possible
rebelliousness and Rtali's subsequent disappearance, the amount of bad news
he had to deliver had only increased.
    The other ministers were busy discussing the report Kvasha had just made
regarding Captain-General Etvol's continuing failure to locate Rtali and the
Eighth Fleet.  Etvol had received information placing Rtali in the Crelm
system, but Rtali had already left by the time Etvol had arrived.  Kvasha
wished he could see the ministers' expressions, but the raised semi-circular
table behind which the Council sat was generally kept dark during
presentations, with only the presenter (and his visual aids) being lit.
    He could guess what Commissioner Sedoc was doing.  The idiot was
probably making some snide comparison between the Zakavian Imperial Military
Aggregate and his own Caphanite Defense Armada.  Kvasha ignored him.
Thinking about Sedoc would only annoy him, and he refused to give him even
that much power.
    Seeing that the discussions were slowing down, he glanced at Prime
Minister Varis, who was technically in charge of the meeting.  Varis, who
was standing in front of the table, nodded and rapped his staff on the
floor, quieting the room.  "I believe you have another report?" he asked
    "I do," Kvasha replied.  He suppressed another sigh;  he _knew_ the
Emperor wasn't going to like this one.  "I have just received word from
Captain-General Mselt that the Aroruans have managed to field Ampron, and
used it to destroy the A/600 Warrior Ship, known as 'Alpha Ra'."  He paused,
impassively watching the Emperor's face contort in rage.  He had never
understood what Vakaz saw in giant robots, and he especially didn't trust
the merchants they had bought this one from.  He'd have to see if the Sonar
Men would refund the purchase.  "During the battle, much of the Aroruan
Occupation Legion was taken prisoner and Captain-General Tvanir was severely
injured in an explosion.  In addition, Prince Lotekh has ... requested that
we help him 'seek revenge on those who dare defy the Empire'."
    "Sounds like another flawless ZIMA operation," Sedoc sneered.  "What
will you do for an encore?"
    "Your Majesty?" Kvasha asked, ignoring Sedoc.
    The Emperor did not look happy.  "Destroy them," he snarled.  "Send the
    The ministers gasped;  Kvasha merely bowed.  "As you command."  He
walked to the side of the table, and around to his seat at the Emperor's
right side.
    "Our next order of business," Varis began, as Kvasha sat down.
    "I'm warning you," Vakaz told Kvasha, interrupting the Prime Minister,
who shrugged and waited his turn, "do not fail me again."
    Kvasha looked at the man he had helped make Emperor.  "Prince Lotekh has
assumed command of the Aroruan operation," he reminded him.  "He considers
himself outside of my authority."
    Vakaz scowled.  "I'll have to have a talk with that boy."  He slouched
down in his chair, looking angry.
    Varis, seeing that the Emperor was finished, began introducing the next
topic.  Kvasha, however, wasn't really paying attention.  Relieved to have
that report done with, he idly ran his hand along the underside of the
table, just in case there were any listening devices lying around.  Sure
enough, he found one.  Detaching it, he brought it up to his face for a
closer look.  Grinning, he blew into the microphone.  He had long ago given
up trying to prevent people from spying on him.  These days, he was content
to annoy them.

When Megan Kadar had stowed away on the _Futility_, she hadn't been sure
what to expect.  Out of all the possibilities that she considered, however,
she had not forseen infiltrating the army of a hostile empire.  Neither had
she forseen passing time watching surreal Caphanite romantic comedies in
that empire's chief headquarters.  She wasn't complaining, though.  They
were quite entertaining, and while she knew that, in principle, the
Zakavians were the enemy, she had to respect a culture that could come up
with such bizarre programming.
    All she really needed was some popcorn.
    Idly, she glanced around the cluttered storeroom that Bob had found to
serve as their base of operations.  Most of the room was filled with old,
dusty crates.  Advanced, high-tech crates to be sure, but she wasn't about
to call them "Modular Storage Devices", as their labels suggested.  The
central area of the room was fairly clear, and some unknown custodians had
set up a portable table and chairs and forgotten to remove them when they
were done.  Megan had found the video receiver while rummaging through one
of the crates.  Possibly, one of those crates contained popcorn, but she'd
no doubt need some way to prepare it, and she didn't feel like looking for
    Hearing soft footsteps, she glanced up and saw Bob walking in from the
other room, looking like he'd slept in his trenchcoat (which he had).  The
headphones he'd been using to monitor the bugs he'd placed still hung around
his neck, which hopefully meant he had some news.
    "Hi, Bob," she said.
    "What?" Bob asked, gesturing where his ear would have been, were he
    "I said, 'Hi'," Megan repeated, more forcefully.
    "Oh.  Hi."  Bob walked over to the table and took a seat, absently
rubbing the side of his head.  "You off for the day?"
    Megan nodded.  "My group's shift is later tonight, so the guys went out
to a movie.  I chose not to join them, for obvious reasons."  She gestured
at her visibly non-Zakavian features, which were normally masked by her
    "So you'll be working tonight?" Bob asked.  After receiving confirmation
from Megan, he continued.  "We've got to start moving.  Vakaz plans to blow
up a planet with the EDIT."
    "Which one?"
    Bob gave her an annoyed look.  "Arorua, but that's not really
    "I imagine the Aroruans would disagree," Megan pointed out.
    "Anyway," Bob continued, "we've got to free Jen and Orliss, sneak onto
the EDIT, and disable it before the Empire has a chance to use it."
    Megan leaned back, folding her hands together.  "Isn't Arorua where we
sent the _Anonymous_?" she asked, thinking out loud.
    "Yes," Bob agreed, "although I haven't heard anything to suggest that
they've arrived yet.  Evidently, the Aroruans got access to a giant robot
and destroyed Alpha Ra."
    Megan sighed.  That would have been worth seeing.  "I always miss the
fun stuff."
    "I hope you won't find this _too_ boring," Bob said, dryly.

                                 *   *   *

Rtovka Emor slunk into the central security office.  Thankfully, his meeting
with Asrien, the Fortress of Gloom's Majordomo, had ended, meaning he
wouldn't have to deal with her for a while.  Once again, she had upbraided
him for the recent failures of Fortress Security -- as if _he_ had had any
control over those events.  Did he get credit for the uneventful years of
service before these visitors?  "Yeah, right," he snorted.
    "Huh?" came a voice from the monitor station.
    "Nothing," Rtovka assured the voice, which was most likely that of
Subcommander Kshalti, his liaison to the Guard.  Just to be sure, and to
have something to do, Rtovka went over to check.  Sure enough, it was
Kshalti sitting at the station.  Above and around him, a series of monitors
displayed useful security-related bits of information, such as camera views
and data from the motion detectors.  Directly in front of him, the primary
monitor was displaying Kshalti's viewpoint in a networked video game.
    "How was the meeting?" Kshalti asked, keeping his attention focused on
the game.
    "Oh, fine," Rtovka lied.  "We were discussing punishments for playing
video games on duty."
    "That so?" Kshalti asked, uninterested.
    Rtovka turned and walked towards his office, ignoring Kshalti's
question.  He needed something to take his mind off his problems.  Perhaps
there was still some Dr Ploodux left.  That might distract him for a while.
    There was an odd noise and a curse from behind him.  "What happened?" he
asked opening the Food Cooling Unit (or, "fridge") and looking for a soda.
Kshalti probably lost again, he thought.
    "The network just went down!" Kshalti exclaimed.
    "Oh?"  Unfortunately, it looked like someone had drunk the last can
without ordering more.  He wondered if anyone had fixed the vending machines
yet.  Probably not;  no one seemed to care these days.
    "What do you mean, 'Oh?'  The _network_ is _down_."
    "So?  Can't you go without your synthetic combat until they get it up
again?"  He eyed some Iced Behin warily;  foreign drinks were generally not
something he enjoyed, but he had to weigh that against his thirst.  Thus
far, thirst appeared to be losing.
    "That's not the problem," Kshalti protested.  "We can't access the
monitoring or communications systems until they fix this."
    Perhaps some water would be--  "We can't?"  _That_ didn't sound good.
Closing the fridge, he rushed back to the station and saw that the screens
were all dead.  "Don't we have a backup system?"
    "That _was_ the backup system.  They never actually got the main one
    "That's right.  I forgot."  Technical Services would be getting a stern
memo about this, just as soon as they got the system back up so he could
access the memo-writing software.  "I guess we'll have to wait until they
fix it."
    "We should probably send a team to check the dungeon," Kshalti said,
swiveling around and standing.
    Rtovka blinked.  "We have a dungeon?"
    "The Emperor had us put one in," Kshalti reminded him.  "It still looks
like a normal cell right now, but we're getting in a shipment of moss-
covered stone and we're going to turn down the lights.  It should be quite
unpleasant, eventually."

All in all, Orliss decided, the Fortress's dungeon wasn't that bad.
Granted, his only experiences with dungeons were the simulated ones at
Interstellar University, but he felt confident in giving this one high marks
for comfort.  Relatively speaking, of course.
    He heard a noise by the door.  One of the three guards was passing them
dinner on a covered tray.  Most of the guards were indistinguishable from
each other, their glossy black armor hiding any distinguishing features,
like faces.  This one, however, was slightly shorter.  Orliss and Jen had
some suspicions about this guard's actual identity, but had had little in
the way of verification.  Nodding to the guard, he walked over to the tray,
lifted the lid a little, and quickly slammed it back down.  The meal was the
usual Zakavian prisoner fare, but it seemed to be garnished with the Jen's
confiscated handgun, which was blinking away merrily beneath the tray's
cover.  Orliss subtly nodded at the guard again -- he was certain it was
Megan now.  Rather than respond, she walked over to the panel that
controlled the locks.
    Orliss picked up the tray, and walked over to his cellmate.  Jen was
trying to pass the time by sleeping a lot, but was meeting with little
success.  "Good evening," she said, as Orliss sat on the floor by her bunk.
"Dinner already?"
    "It would appear so," Orliss confirmed.  Jen sat up to join him on the
    "The usual?" she asked, reaching over to check for herself.  She
started, seeing what was inside, but recovered quickly.  "I'm getting mighty
sick of it," she added, in case the guards were listening.  Orliss checked;
they weren't.  "What now?" she whispered, quietly pocketing the gun in her
stolen vending machine technician's uniform.  Orliss could just make out the
blinking lights through the fabric.
    "We wait for a signal, I guess," he whispered back.  He wasn't too sure,
actually.  His classes hadn't covered jail breaks in depth.
    He heard a soft click coming from near the door, which he recognized as
the lock disengaging.  "That sounds like it," he said quietly.
    "Right."  Jen sprang towards the door, smoothly retrieving her weapon.
She hit the door shoulder-first, slamming it open and startling the guards.
    ((Huh?)) one of them managed, just before Jen fired.  The surprisingly
loud discharge caught the guard in the chest, easily penetrating the combat
armor.  The other guard soon joined his companion, downed by a blast from
Megan's rifle.
    "Good job!" Orliss congratulated, stepping out of the cell.  He stooped
to grab one of the guards' rifles for himself.  "You're really handy with
that," he told Jen.
    Jen smiled, and replaced the gun.  "I had some instruction."
    "From whom?"
    "Oh."  Orliss frowned.  He wasn't too fond of the mercenary.
    ((If you two are finished, we'd best get moving,)) Megan told them, her
voice unrecognizable through the filtering in her armor's speakers.  ((Bob
told us to meet him at Landing Pad 4H.))
    "Let's go, then!" Orliss said.  At last, a chance to be heroic.  He
rushed over to the door and leapt outside.
    Right in front of a security squad.
    Momentarily forgetting his training, he raised his rifle and prepared to
fire.  Then he remembered the need for a Heroic Introduction.  "Halt, evil
... guys," he floundered, trying to remember his classes, "or I'll ... see
that ... um ... that is, I ... needlewarp.  Can I start over?"
    The squad started firing, and Orliss leapt back out of the hallway.
    ((Good job, speech-boy,)) Megan told him.
    "Quiet, Megan," Jen told her.  "You're not helping."
    ((Not helping?  _Who_ broke you out of the dungeon?))
    "Could we discuss this later?" Jen asked, firing at one of the
    "Wait!" Orliss called.  "I've got one."
    Jen and the guards stopped firing, and looked at him expectantly.
    Orliss cleared his throat.  "Beware, villains, for Orliss SoFah and Jen
Kadar are once again free to thwart your nefarious schemes!  In the name of
Space Heroes everywhere, we shall destroy you!"  He paused.  "How was that?"
    "I thought it was pretty good," Jen told him.
    ((Feh,)) Megan spat, ((I guess I'm just sitting this out, then.))
    ((Don't the Space Heroes mind you killing people in their name?)) asked
one of the guards.
    "No," Orliss replied.  "Killing the minions of Evil is just part of the
Space Hero's job."
    ((But we're not evil,)) protested the guard.
    "Yes you are," Orliss explained, "and that's why you must die."
    ((Come on, I've got a wife and kids!))
    "An evil wife, and evil kids."
    ((My kids aren't evil!  At least, not two of them.))
    Jen fired again, catching the unfortunate guard in the shoulder.
    ((Feeling a mite bloodthirsty, are we?)) Megan asked, sitting at the
command desk, her chin resting on her palm.
    "I just wounded him," Jen protested.
    The firefight resumed in earnest.

                                 *   *   *

Rtovka whistled an old Blargoloid soft-drink-drinking tune as he walked back
to the central security office.  The local snack bar had just gotten in a
shipment of Transparent Sparkling Beverage, a favorite of his, so he'd
bought a case.  Stepping in to the office, he saw that Kshalti was still
talking with the man from Technical Services.  "Any progress?" he asked,
walking over to the fridge.
    "Everything's great!" the technician assured him.
    "We're almost connected again," Kshalti clarified.
    "Which is great!" the technician added.  "Our progress is just super!"
    Kshalti snorted.  "I suppose it's better than noth-- What happened?"
    Rtovka turned to see what Kshalti was referring to.  One of the guards
had just limped in, the natural shine of his armor dulled by carbon scoring
and smoke.
    ((The prisoners have escaped,)) he said.  ((They had inside help.))
    Rtovka dropped the can he was holding, which, fortunately, wasn't
opened.  Kshalti frowned.  The technician continued smiling cheerfully.
    "Do you know where they went?" Kshalti asked.
    ((I ... left to come tell you what was going on.  Communications are
    "Lousy network failure," Kshalti grumbled.  "I guess that answers the
question of why the system was sabotaged."
    "What now?" Rtovka asked, retrieving his soda.
    "Well," Kshalti said, moving towards the monitor station and calling up
a three-dimensional schematic of the Fortress, "they weren't able to
sabotage the entire network, so they probably only took out the parts they
needed to."  He pressed a button, and a series of red boxes appeared on the
schematic.  "We may be able to figure out where they're going from this."
    They stared at it for a few moments.
    "There's a path from the dungeon to Secondary Entrance C that's
completely within the blacked-out areas," Rtovka noted.
    "That's probably it, then," Kshalti declared.  "We'll send a team to
watch that exit."
    "Excellent."  In celebration, Rtovka opened his soda, which promptly
sprayed all over his uniform.  He groaned.  This just wasn't his day.

With the skill of a student of a stealth master, Orliss SoFah skulked
through the endless, repetitive corridors of the Fortress of Gloom.  All
around him, the minions of the Empire sought he who would dare invade their
sacred halls and then escape from their dungeon.  They would not find him,
though, for he was a Space Hero.  (Well, he was _training_ to be a Space
Hero, which was close enough for him.)  He lived on danger, he thrived on
impossibility, he did reasonably well with those sweepstakes things that
fast-food restaurants occasionally give out.  You know, the ones where you
scratch off that gray gunk with a coin to see if you're an Instant Winner?
What _is_ that stuff, anyway?
    Suddenly -- a hand on his shoulder!  A cold, hard, _armored_ hand!  He'd
been spotted!  With a cry of defiance, he spun around, driving his fist into
the armored guard's black visor.
    He regretted it instantly.  That armor was pretty hard, and he'd made
the classic error of punching with his thumb _inside_ his fist.
Fortunately, nothing felt broken.  His opponent seemed unimpressed with his
efforts, aside from staggering back a few feet.  ((Calm down, Hero-boy,))
the guard said, sounding annoyed.
    "Sorry, Megan," Orliss apologized, realizing who he was dealing with.
"I was getting into the 'sneaking around' mindframe, and I forgot you were
    Megan grumbled something, and then spoke more clearly:  ((That's
actually what I want to talk about.  Do you think you could _not_ sneak
around like that?  You're practically wearing a 'Suspect Me' sign.))
    "I'm trying not to be seen," Orliss protested.  "It's simple logic,
really:  if the Zakavians can't see us, they can't recapture us."
    Megan shook her head.  ((The Zakavians can see us no matter what you do.
The point is to avoid doing anything that would call _attention_ to you,
like doing a bad spy impression.))
    "I imagine Orliss knows what he's doing," Jen put in.  "He _is_ studying
this, after all."
    "Exactly," Orliss agreed.
    ((Uh huh?)) Megan asked, turning to face her older sister.  ((And _who_
managed to infiltrate the Zakavians without being caught?  I think that
would be _me_?))
    "Then educate us, Learned One," Jen replied, her voice leaving a
slippery trail of sarcasm.
    ((Just act like you belong here.  There're so many off-worlders
wandering around, that you'll just be lost in the crowd.))  With that, Megan
began walking again, pausing to give one final bit of advice:  ((And don't
stay too close together, either.  You'll draw less attention if you're
    Jen rolled her eyes.  "Clearly," Orliss sniffed, "she has never read
Goodliver's _Heroic Sneaking_."
    "She gets like that sometimes," Jen said.  "When you're a teenager, you
know _everything_."
    Orliss glanced at Megan's receding form.  "Get ready," he said.  A
bureaucrat had just turned into the hall, and was about to pass Megan.  Jen
moved a hand closer to her concealed weapon.
    "'Morning," the bureaucrat said, nodding to Megan.  Megan silently
nodded back, and the two continued walking uninterrupted.  Orliss blinked.
Perhaps she was on to something.  He'd have to discuss this with his
professor once break was over.

Rtovka sat at his desk, trying to sop some of the soda out of his livery.
Nearby, Kshalti and the man from Technical Services were arguing about the
network outage.  That is, Kshalti was arguing and the technician was making
blithe assurances.  A small two-way radio com-unit (or "walkie-talkie") lay
on the monitor station.  As internal communications were still out, they had
resorted to less-advanced methods to keep in contact with the men guarding
Secondary Entrance C.  Thus far, things were quiet.
    " if there's no damage, why can't they bring the system back
online?" Kshalti was saying.
    "The saboteur cleared the network addresses in the hub," the technician
explained.  "We can't get the network up until we reset them."
    Rtovka went to get another paper towel.  He had never realized just how
much liquid his livery could absorb.  Of course, it would happen to my
formal outfit, he reflected bitterly.  At least it had been after the
meeting, rather than before.
    "So?  How long does that take?"
    "Not long, but first we have to get all the network addresses so we can
set them correctly."
    "Isn't that recorded somewhere?"
    "Yes, but the saboteur stole the sheet we'd written them down on."
    Fortunately, Transparent Sparkling Beverage was ... well, transparent,
which meant it wouldn't stain.  He'd only have to worry about being sticky.
    "A _sheet_?  You keep this information on a _sheet_?!"
    "Well, yes.  Why?"
    "I don't know.  I thought that maybe the _computer_ department would
store its vital _computer_-related data on a _computer_."
    The technician shrugged.  "I'm not really a software man," he admitted.
    Kshalti sighed explosively.  Grabbing the walkie-talkie, he requested an
update from the team watching Secondary Entrance C.
    ((Nothing so far, sir,)) was the response.
    "What could be taking them so long?" Kshalti asked the ceiling.
    ((Maybe they tried to take an elevator?)) the guard suggested.
    The ceiling remained mute, concentrating its attention on absorbing
whatever spilled soda had been flung upward.
    "Rtovka," Kshalti said, "I think we may have missed something."
    "Like what?" Rtovka asked, continuing to wipe off his shirt but failing
to get any drier.
    "Like, why did they escape now?  Is there something going on?"
    "There's the film festival at the University," Rtovka suggested.
    "It's also double-coupon day at Desokhs," the technician noted.
    Kshalti tapped his chin.  "No, I think it's something more important."
He paused, lost in thought.
    "Like the EDIT leaving?" Rtovka asked.  "They should be sending up the
last supply shuttle in a few minutes."
    Kshalti gasped.  "You're right!  We've got to send a team!"  He ran out
of the room, towards the barracks.
    Rtovka smiled, confident in Kshalti's capabilities.  Glancing down at
his shirt, he saw that now it was wet _and_ had bits of paper towel stuck to
it.  He grimaced.  This was going to take some thought.

Even with her limited grasp of the Fortress of Gloom's layout, Jen could
tell that they were approaching the landing pads.  All around were clues
that the wary could detect, like the sudden increase in storage areas
labeled 'Rocket Fuel'.  The distant roar of shuttles launching, landing, or
just hovering overhead, their pilots having last-minute doubts about landing
on Planet Gloom.  The wall-mounted map they had passed, which placed its
'You Are Here' marker squarely in the 'Landing Pad' zone.  The picture
windows in left wall overlooking the landing pads themselves.  It was pretty
obvious, if you knew what to look for.
    Ahead of her, Megan had slowed down, taking time to check the labels on
the access ramps.  Jen slowed accordingly.  After some discussion, she and
Orliss had agreed with Megan's suggestion to split up.  Thus far, the
strategy seemed to be pretty effective, although admittedly they hadn't
actually met up with any security personnel since the break-out.  Presumably
Bob had left a false trail for them to follow, or else they were just really
    Megan stopped and headed into one of the access ramps.  Evidently, they
had arrived.  Jen snuck a quick look behind her, saw that Orliss was still
there, and moved forward to follow her sister.  Once through the door, she
let out a sigh of relief, followed by a cry of recognition:  "Bob!"
    The reptilian alien glanced up at her call.  "Greetings, Jen," he said.
"It's good to see you made it."
    Behind her, the door opened once again, admitting Orliss, who glanced
around the room and blinked in confusion.  "Where's everybody else?"
    "They had to leave to warn the _Anonymous_," Megan explained,
interrupting the neck exercises she had commenced shortly after removing her
helmet.  "We think they arrived safely."
    "So it is the four of us, then?" Orliss asked.  "So be it.  Space Heroes
work best when the odds are against them."
    "The odds were against us before," Megan reminded him.
    "Well, yeah.  I guess."
    "So what now?" Jen asked Bob.
    He stood, adjusting his trenchcoat.  "The last shuttle to the EDIT will
be launching very soon.  As usual, the garbage bin has been emptied to
minimize launch weight.  We will be hiding there."
    "In the trash heap?" Megan asked flatly.
    She raised an eyebrow.  "If you weren't an alien, I'd say you'd been
watching a certain George Lucas film too much."
    "_Star Wars_?" Bob asked.
    Megan blinked.  "Yes.  How do you know about that?"
    "My uncle was an extra in the cantina scene," he explained.

                                 *   *   *

For the second time that day, Rtovka Emor was walking towards Majordomo
Asrien's office with a sense of despair.  Once again, his faith in Kshalti's
troops had been misplaced.  They had been unable to find the escaped
prisoners anywhere, and Kshalti's search of the last EDIT-bound shuttle had
proved fruitless:  no sign of anyone hiding in the crew quarters, the cargo
bay, or even the maintenance access areas.  So much for the alleged Pride of
ZIMA, he thought bitterly.  Feh.
    Worse, his suit was still wet.
    With a silent prayer to Amsa, he stepped into Asrien's outer office.
The secretary, seeing him enter, quickly informed the Majordomo of his
arrival.  Getting the expected response, he waved Rtovka towards the door.
    Rtovka hesitated momentarily, taking in the room's plush furniture,
complete with lacy throw pillows and doilies, and the walls, which were
painted in a color somewhere between white and pink.  Steeling himself, he
opened the doors and stepped into the inner office.
    Asrien, seeing him enter, adopted her frowny face, which she used when
delivering bad news, such as elevator failures or overcooked brownies.
Rtovka stepped carefully towards the desk, hoping the meeting wouldn't be
_too_ bad.
    The pile of waterballoons by the desk did not bode well, though.

"We're almost there," Bob announced, sounding slightly apologetic.  He had
neglected to mention that emptying the garbage bin didn't necessarily mean
_cleaning_ it.  Jen had long ago given up on trying to hold her nose.  After
a while, her fingers had begun to get rather tired.  Currently, she was
concentrating on breathing as little as possible.  Orliss, after making some
comment about Space Heroes being able to handle adverse odors, had adopted a
similar strategy.
    For her part, Megan had limited herself to one comment on the advantages
of an air filtration system, which Jen appreciated.  She certainly wasn't
envious, though.  She didn't need to steal a suit of enemy armor to feel
comfortable.  Nope, she was perfectly content.  Really.
    Of course, she planned to be the first one out of the bin when they


SFSTORY:  Use Only as Directed

David Menendez (zednenem at

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