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Sfstory Log 092

=========================================================================
Date:         Wed, 08 Apr 1998 00:32:02 -0400
From:         "Gary W. Olson" (swede at acd.net)
To:           superguy at eyrie.org
Subject:      SF: Now It's Your Turn: Death for Sale or Rent (3/3) + Epilogue

(concluded from part two...)

     Dr. Cerulean Brazier woke to find himself dead.  He took this as a
sign that the battle had gone less splendidly than he had hoped.  On the
other hand, since he could see the Pearly Gates (which caused him, like all
sentient beings upon seeing said Gates, to say "Wow"), he decided it could
be worse.
     An hour later, he decided it was worse, as he was stuck in a long line
of souls waiting to be admitted, and it had barely budged.  Angels were
flitting about, singing, chatting with waiting souls, talking on cell
phones with their Earthly agents to conclude their angel-related book
deals, and so on.
     One of the closest put away his cell phone and headed directly for
Brazier.  Before Brazier could so much as protest, the angel picked him up
by the waist and hoisted him into the air.
     "Hey," Brazier commented.
     "You are Dr. Cerulean Brazier, yes?" the angel asked.
     "Um, yeah."
     "I'm Duane," the angel told him.  "Patron Saint of Hairdressing and
Elective Surgery.  Sorry for the rush, but St. Peter asked that you be
brought directly to him, and when Pete says 'flap,' you just ask 'how
hard?'"
     "Another Patron Saint," Brazier mumbled.
     "You've met a few?"
     "Here and there."
     "Hmm," Duane hmmd, noncommittally.  "Well, here's the gates.  You
don't happen to own a sheep, do you?"
     "Not that I'm aware of, though I've attended some poker games where I
don't exactly remember what I won or lost."
     "Well, you're required to own a sheep to get into Heaven," Duane said,
"but we'll leave that up to St. Peter to fix.  Mind your arms."  Brazier
pulled the indicated appendages close to his chest, just in time to avoid
having them chopped off by the sharp edges of the gold arch.  How Duane
avoided getting his wings chopped was a mystery that completely failed to
occur to Brazier, who was more concerned with why they were heading
directly towards a large storm cloud, instead one of the nicer, angel-laden
formations.  Once inside, he saw why.
     Before them was a large, gaudily colored nightclub, next to an equally
gaudy hotel, both located in close proximity to a brightly sunlit beach
which featured a number of beings engaged in activities and exhibitions
that won't be described here, but which exceed even the most sordid
imaginings of any U.S. Senator or President.
     "Club Nympho, Hotel Nympho, and Nympho Beach," Duane commented.
"Dreadful, isn't it?"
     Brazier was about to reply with an emphatic negative when Duane
swooped sharply down, flying through a door in the side of Club Nympho
marked 'service entrance.'  They negotiated hallways, stairwells, elevator
shafts and air ducts with similar recklessness, finally arriving in a back
room occupied by a large desk, a safe, some very expensive-looking blue
plush carpeting, an archangel, and a red robot.  Duane dropped Brazier on
the carpet.
     "Here he is, Pete," said Duane.  "Anything else?"
     "Yes," St. Peter replied.  "Don't call me Pete!"  Whether St. Duane
would obey was a question left unanswered, as he simply shrugged and flew
out, while Brazier staggered to his feet.
     "Dr. Brazier, I presume," Peter prompted.
     "Yes," Brazier replied, as he looked for someplace to sit.  Finding
nothing, he settled for collapsing again upon the carpet.  "You wanted to
see me," he added.
     "Before we start," said Peter, "you realize you're dead, right?"
     "I gathered that," Brazier answered.  "I died in the crush of the
crowd when it stormed into the execution chamber in the Tyrant's palace on
Angilus Prime."
     "Well, not exactly," Peter corrected.  "One of the followers of the
'Awaited One' tossed his cookies upon you, so to speak, only they were
doritos, not cookies, and...."
     "I'd rather die than come into contact with a dorito," Brazier
finished.  "Mother warned me that neurosis would be the death of me
someday."
     "Well, don't think of it as 'death,' as such," Peter counseled.  "Look
at it as a career change."
     "What career do you have in mind?"
     "Have you ever been a bartender?"
     "In the sense that I've poured drinks and mixed drinks and drank
drinks, yes," Brazier answered.  "In the sense that I've had a job title of
'Bartender,' no."
     "Close enough," said Peter.  "You want the job of Chief Bartender here
at Club Nympho?"
     "What's it pay?"
     "Nothing.  However, your accommodations in the hotel are free, meals,
drinks and your favorite substances are free, and you get to meet the most
amazing people."
     "Well..."
     "Of course, there's other places in Netherspace, such as Club Satyr,"
Peter went on, "or you could just stay in Heaven, though you'd have to buy
a sheep and get some cosmetic surgery done."
     "This isn't part of Heaven?" Brazier asked.
     "No," Peter replied.  "Clubs Nympho and Satyr are located in
Netherspace.  Makes it easier for the non-dead to drop in for a while, see,
though they have to pay through the nose."
     "Do I have other options?"
     "Jillions," Peter told him.  "Other afterlives, other stretches of
Netherspace, even the Sfstory Home for Forgotten Characters, though you'll
have to wait six months before you can get into that.  You could even go to
Hell, though I don't think you'd like their interdiction policies."
     "Your offer sounds fine," Brazier said.  "I was just puzzled about the
speed of it all.  I was in this long line...."
     "Your Patron Saint called in a favor," Peter explained.  "In fact, he
used to be our Chief Bartender.  The position's been open since he left."
     "That was kind of him," Brazier commented.  "When do I start?"
     "Immediately," said Peter.  "Megabot, take the good Doctor to the
club, and make sure he fills out his paperwork before he begins."  Megabot,
the aforementioned red robot, hovered over to Brazier, pulled him to his
feet, and ushered him out the door.
     As he left, Brazier saw Peter turn to a nearby computer (a G3
MacIntosh, Brazier noted with approval) and start to type.


     Bubba the Wanton and Invincible Death Merchant from Hell woke to find
himself not dead.  He did not take this as a sign of anything, but when he
observed that he was in the cockpit of his ship, the W.S. The Larch (which
he'd purchased from the port authorities of Eroticon III months ago, after
learning its previous owners had abandoned the ship), and that it, and he,
were heading into space together, and there was no one else in the cockpit
either holding a gun to his head or making sincere statements about how his
spleen would be roasting on a sharp stick if he so much as thought about
escaping, he decided it was a good thing.
     "Spleen," he mumbled.  "That reminds me... hmmm...."
     He got up, checked the readouts from the automatic pilot, then
strolled into the main cabin.  As cabins went, it lacked the usual
furniture, such as couches, holographic chess sets, TVs, or giant
inflatable beer can replicas, and for good reason, namely, to make room for
the large porta-prison in the center.
     The sole occupant of the prison, visible through the shimmering blue
force screens, was also awake, though he seemed considerably less
enthusiastic about that condition than Bubba, which Bubba found mildly
surprising, as said occupant should have been happy to wake up at all.
     "Oh, it's you," Belzor grumbled.  "So what is this all about?  Ransom?
Revenge?  Rodentia?"
     "None of those," Bubba answered.  "I'm taking you in."
     "I'm a bit old for adoption."
     "No, I mean in to jail."
     "I thought I was already in jail."
     "A bigger jail.  One with guards and stuff."
     "Oh."  Belzor thought for a moment, then added, "Can I see your I.D.?"
     "I gave you my card earlier," Bubba pointed out.
     "But that identified you as an arms smuggler," Belzor said, "not
someone who's prone to taking Tyrants-at-large in."
     "Look at the back of the card."
     Belzor pulled out Bubba's business card and flipped it over.  This is
what he saw:
     +----------------------------------------------------------+
     | Bubba the Wanton and Invincible Death Merchant from Hell |
     |                                                          |
     |                           a.k.a.                         |
     |                                                          |
     |    Bubba Wojahowitz, Intergalactic Time Police Deputy    |
     |                                                          |
     |                                                          |
     |                  "You're under arrest."                  |
     +----------------------------------------------------------+
     "It's a fair cop," Belzor sighed.  "Was it your plan all along for me
to get shot with... what was that, a matter transportation beam?"
     "Yep," said Bubba.  "My assignment was to take you in, which I planned
to do by shooting you with it during my demonstration.  That's why I wasn't
worried when you were trying to shoot me.  Even if you did somehow get it
to work, it would have only sent me back to my ship."
     "In this cage," Belzor pointed out.
     "I have the key," Bubba countered.  "Anyway, when I discovered Dr. Von
Spleen was your prisoner, I modified my plan so that I'd be rescuing him
and that other fellow, Dr. Cerulean Brazier.  But it didn't work out that
way, quite."
     "What *did* happen?" Belzor asked.
     "After you disappeared, Petrey and Deesh made their claim for power,
much as I expected them to--"
     "What?  Those two ninnies?"
     "Yes, those two ninnies.  Only they were hardly ninnies, as they were
the ones who set up Dr. Von Spleen as the 'Awaited One' in the first place.
Once they made their intentions clear, I opened up sales negotiations for
the same armaments I was pretending to sell to you.  Had that worked as I
intended, they would have accepted a load of weapons that functioned much
like the Mark III E-Z-Deth Autocannon, in that they would transport their
targets to places of safety, the theory being by the time they figured it
out, a genuine revolution would have already taken place, and they'd be out
of power.  Or not -- it's kind of a vague theory."
     "But it didn't work as you intended."
     "Greez Hyperiok, the other fellow who landed on Angilus Prime today,
showed up and started doing violent things, one of which caused the wall
separating us from thousands of rampaging cultists.  Dr. Brazier died
during the attack, but I was able to knock Dr. Von Spleen out, carry him to
my ship, take off, and have a light nap."
     "So where is Dr. Von Spleen now?" Belzor asked.
     "Um... oh, yeah.  Before I went into overly-hyped space, I met up with
Dr. Brazier's ship, the V.S.S. Vatican II, and traded the Doctor and my
last six kegs of 'Strohs' for a better map of this sector and three
packages of twinkies."  The look on Belzor's face told Bubba that Belzor
was having trouble working out the Strohs keg-to-Twinkie package exchange
rate, so Bubba added, "The Captain didn't really want the Strohs, and
frankly I couldn't blame him because I didn't want it either, but he needed
it to power his engines.  They're heading to some planet called Schlitz, I
believe."
     "Sounds dreadful."
     "Oh, probably.  In any case, we'll be arriving at Time Central in
approximately three days.  Your guest facilities are through the trap door
and to your left.  Let me know when you want to use them."
     "Trap door?" Belzor asked.  "Where?"
     Bubba pulled a lever, and Belzor fell through.
     "There," Bubba added, unnecessarily.


     Dr. Bing Von Spleen woke to find himself a large, gaily-decorated
futon, currently unfolded and supporting a ravenous crocodile and an
equally-ravenous George Will.  The two battled for supremacy and George's
bow tie, a sign Von Spleen took as meaning that he was high.
     With tremendous effort, Von Spleen focused and saw that he was in the
medbay of the ship he had been unceremoniously dumped upon only hours ago.
Dimly, he remembered the Captain of the vessel, one Pope Joe Don I, telling
him that since it was his fault that their previous doctor, Cerulean
Brazier, was dead, he would have to fill in until further notice.  On the
bright side, they had left Greez Hyperiok on the planet, and his mother,
Priscilla, had left in a shuttle to join him.
     Shoving aside Will and the croc, Von Spleen moved back to the console
where he dimly remembered sitting earlier, catching up on the news of the
galaxy and chatting away on his GOL (Galaxy OnLine) account.  One chat
window was still open, and, after a brief time of indecision and a round of
hysterical shrieking at an enormous black blob that he belatedly realized
was a distorted reflection of his left nostril on the computer screen
glass, he resumed his conversation with St. Peter.
     (BVS) You still there, Peter?
     (BigWingz) I have always been here.
     (BVS) Don't mess with my head, please.  I've had a rough day.
     (BigWingz) But it all worked out in the end.
     (BVS) I don't know.  Did you find Dr. Brazier?
     (BigWingz) I was able to track him down.  He accepted the job.
     (BVS) Good.  I don't know why, but I sort of feel it's my fault he died.
     (BigWingz) I understand the Frito-Lay Corporation had something to do
with it.
     (BVS) That as may be.  I wonder if there was something to what he told
me, about my having developed a conscience as a result of being named a
Saint.
     (BigWingz) I find that mildly implausible.
     (BVS) Why?
     (BigWingz) You wouldn't have been named a Saint, even by an Author,
unless, underneath your relentlessly self-seeking, hedonistic, callous
exterior you had something resembling one of humanity's better bits in you
to begin with.
     (BVS) Hmmm.  You may have something there.
     (BigWingz) Even if it is very tiny.
     (BVS) Oh, I wouldn't say--
     (BigWingz) I mean, there you are, in his old job, using his chemicals
and all.  You don't feel guilty about that, do you?
     (BVS) Nope.
     (BigWingz) My point.
     (BVS) Whatever.  I think I'll be signing off now.  Fidel Castro is
chewing on my leg.
     (BigWingz) He'll do that.  Later, Doc.
     After signing off and pushing Fidel away, Bing Von Spleen leaned back
in his swivel chair and contemplated the future.  Should he jump ship at
the first available port (second, he corrected, doubting with good reason
that he'd want to jump ship in any system named after a beer that tasted
like fermented dung beetles), and if he did, where would he go?  Back to
Earth, to retake the lead in the spamological research that had undoubtedly
foundered in his absence?  Off to search for Time Agent 357, in the hope he
would have need of an assistant who wouldn't be expected to handle the more
dangerous parts of catching the galaxy's most vile criminals?
     Von Spleen was distracted from further ruminations by a renewed attack
from Fidel Castro, joined now by George Will and Bella Abzug.  In a
desperate attempt to dispel his hallucinatory demons, Von Spleen opened up
a web browser window and started calling up the Sfstory archives, knowing
that, in his current frame of mind, such reams of text would make enough
sense to chase such phantasmic beings away.
     Several hours of speed-reading later, hallucinations long gone, Von
Spleen reached the end of the archives.
     "Unknown to Hosoqob, the Cheese Orb was just seconds away from
assimilating both him and his ship-- what the hell?  Cheese Orb?  Even
*I'm* not that high."  He shut the computer off and staggered off in the
direction of bed.


                                     -~-_-


	Hosoqob at-Dbstui rubbed his eyes, scarcely daring to believe that
he had at long last reached the end of reading the entire Sfstory archives,
the cumulative result of the message he sent ten years ago to a machine
named CS_NOTICE.  Simultaneously, he was trying to figure out the meaning
of the end of the last story.
	"Correct me if I'm wrong, computer," said Hosoqob, "but that last
story had one of the main characters reading a line from the logs that
featured... me."
	"Got it in one, sir," the computer replied.
	"How can that be?"
	"My exhaustive analysis, sir, indicates that we must be part of the
story."
	"But how can we be part of the story, and the party responsible for
its existence in the first place?"
	"Given the nature of the story," the computer replied, smugly, "how
could we not?"
	"Yes, but where was this Von Spleen character reading from?"
Hosoqob asked.  Unknown to Hosoqob, the Cheese Orb was just seconds away
from assimilating both him and his ship.
	"Sir, we're just seconds away from being assimilated by the Cheese
Orb," the computer informed him.
	Now known to Hosoqob, the enormous Cheese Orb was even fewer
seconds away from assimilating both him and his ship.  Hosoqob made
effective use of these seconds, yelling out requests for mercy to over
thirty separate deities and finishing all the beer in his micro-fridge.
	In a sequence so fraught with terror and speed that no amount of
hyperbolic narration could do it justice, the Cheese Orb ate Hosoqob's
ship, dipped down to Earth, ate Wisconsin, and sped off into space.
	"Well, look on the bright side, sir," Hosoqob could hear the
computer say, though several tons of what felt like sharp cheddar prevented
him from opening his eyes or moving any part of his anatomy.  Something
massive was grinding into his back.  "Our mission to uplift the primates of
Earth to make them worthy of assimilation by the Cheese Orb was a partial
success."
	"Easy for you to say," Hosoqob groaned.  "You don't have Wisconsin
digging into the small of your back."
	"I don't have a back, sir."
	"Oh, shut up and digest."
	"Glub glub, sir."
	"Argh."


WELL, WAS THAT ENDING REALLY NECESSARY?
WAS THIS ENTIRE POST REALLY NECESSARY?
DID IT MAKE ANY SENSE, OR DOES IT ULTIMATELY COLLAPSE UNDER THE WEIGHT OF
THE UNEXPLAINED BACKSTORY THAT INFORMED MY CHARACTERIZATIONS OF VON SPLEEN,
BUBBA, ST. PETER, AND SO ON AND SO FORTH?
IF IT DID COLLAPSE, DOES IT MATTER?
IS IT LIKE HAVING WISCONSIN DIGGING INTO THE SMALL OF YOUR BACK?
WITHER INTERPLANET?

SFSTORY.  Behold, the power of cheese.
=========================================================================
Date:         Wed, 22 Jul 1998 00:36:43 -0700 (PDT)
From:         Plaid Author (kafkadreamer at hotmail.com)
To:           superguy at eyrie.org
Subject:      [SF] Crossbones! #1

	Reddrac carefully held his cards, and exmained the holographic symbols 
on each. After several seconds of this, he looked up, staring across the 
banged-up, metal table at the five other players, a menagerie of 
different species.
	"Well?" This was the Primate, a bulky beast with impossibly broad 
shoulders and green skin that looked like half-melted rubber. Smelled 
pretty much like it, too. The shrivelled up, silver bullets that the 
Primate called eyes stared down his stumpy nose at Reddrac.
	"Well what?" Reddrac broke into a smile. A galaxies wide grin, in fact. 
He shuffled his five cards. Ran thin, pale fingers through his stringy, 
blue hair. Toyed casually with the rusted safety pin poking through his 
earlobe. Always stall as long as possible, Reddrac thought.
	"He means," said a withered figure with dark horns protruding from red 
skin, "Do you want any cards?" A voice that could have doubled for 
clawed fingers over a dirty chalkboard.
	There was a moment of dead silence. Silence is always dead, isn't it?
	"...ah," Reddrac said. Play the innocent. "I'll have..." Pause. "...one 
card."
	The beings capable of breathing exhaled, in unison.
	A card was given to Reddrac, who shuffled it in with his five cards. 
"'kay."
	More dead silence.
	The Primate stared across at Reddrac, murderous rage barely contained 
beneath the surface. Reddrac used the smile again. The Primate looked 
away. The smile could always unnerve anyone. Reddrac adjusted his 
leather jacket, pulling a few credit chips out of his chequered pants' 
pockets, for the wagering.
	Chips piled up in the centre of the table, as all six players breathed 
in the smoke and dankness of the only bar to be found on the entire 
station.
	Soon, only Reddrac and the Primate remained, playing against each 
other, the other players having folded, watching the action.
	Eyes locked.
	"I call," said the Primate, after five minutes of silence.
	Reddrac dropped his cards down on the table. "Saturnian Flush," grinned 
Reddrac. "Read 'em and weep." He stood up, and proceeded the deposit the 
credit chips into his satchel. 
	The Primate moved to get his blaster. The other players, minus Reddrac, 
started to push their chairs away from the table.
	Dead silence.
	As the blaster was raised, there was a flash of silver and a swish of 
air.
	A clang, as the blaster's barrel fell to the ground.
	"Reach for de starshine, boys." Five heads turn, to look at the single 
exit from the bar. There was a woman standing in it, light streaming in 
from behind her. Her lips were parted into a toothy grin, and she 
brandished a long, gleaming sword. "Don'tcha come too quiet-like, 
now..." There was an eerie gleam in her deep green eyes, hidden behind 
way too much red eyeshadow.
	Four of the players dispersed rather quickly. In fact, truth be told, 
they ran out with their tails between their legs...literally, in one 
case. 
	But the Primate remained, breathing in McGraw's face. Reddrac finished 
with the credits, closing up the satchel. McGraw stared up at the 
Primate's rubbery face. "Right. An' you would be...?"
	"...Primate," growled the Primate. "You hurt my blaster!"
	"...oooh. Articulate, ain'tcha?" A rush of movement. A second later, 
the Primate crashed to the ground, groaning. "...'kay, Reddrac.  You 
ready? I picked out a ship that's sooo sweet!" 
	"Yuh," answered Reddrac, stepping over prone body. "...what's the ship? 
Andarian freighter?"
	"Better," grinned McGraw, "Much better."
	"...what? A Time Agent's cruiser?"
	"No. One of the Syndicate's private star yachts...down on level three. 
We just have to take out the Watchmen they left onboard..."
	"A...Syndicate ship? Cool. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
	"Maybe, but where can we get the rubber...erm. Nonono. I refuse to get 
into /that/. Ever. Torture wouldn't make me walk into that one again..." 
McGraw sheathed her rapier, hands falling to rest on her hips.
	Reddrac sighed, his voice lowering slightly as he prepared to 
elaborate. "I was just meaning, if we have a star yacht, we can, like, 
plunder the Syndicate's smuggling routes." He roughly kicked the 
Primate's prone form. "Instant access. And, like, plundering's what we 
do best, after all." 
	"Well," said McGraw, "I wasn't thinking of that. Ever hear of a little 
planet called Terra? The locals call it 'Earth'..."
	"Lemme guess. That's the local word for 'soil,' right? But yeah, I've 
heard of Terra. What can we get there? They don't even have reliable 
space travel yet..."
	"True. So, we just use some of the Syndicate's forbidden technology..." 
McGraw grinned once more. "Say we're, oh, space gods or something, take 
some resources, jet off back to space. Then we can check those smuggling 
routes..."
	"Oooh," said Reddrac, "Sounds like a plan. Let's go hijack that 
starship..."

Crossbones! (A Tale of SFSTORY)
episode one, "Introduction to Piracy,"
by Ben Rawluk, Author in Plaid

	Smoke rings filled the cramped confines the Syndicate's star yacht. The 
watchman, a tall, spineless youth leaned back in the Captain's Chair, 
combing his blonde hair, which had seen a bit too much chlorine. The 
others had, of course, gone on to the Station to sell their smuggled 
wares. Maximum profits, of course. He stubbed out the cigarette, and 
twirled his blaster on his index finger. It was a low-grade blaster, of 
course, for the Syndicate always used such technology to cut costs.
	"Computer, what time is it?"
	"klik. Fourteen hundred hours. beep," answered the computer. The 
watchman always wondered why Syndicate ships used military time.
	There was another click. Doors opened at the back of the bridge, and 
the watchman swirled around, to see two figures, standing in the 
doorway. "Interlopers?!"
	"Something like that," said McGraw, unsheathing her sword.
	"Come quietly? Or shall we get rowdy?" Reddrac aimed his own blaster.
	"No! I..I have a duty," said the watchman, and fired his blaster at 
McGraw.
	The bundle of energy sailed through the air, and slammed into McGraw's 
blade, deflecting up at the ceiling. "Idiot. Reddrac?"
	"Right," said Reddrac.
	Click goes the trigger, bang bang bang.
	Pulses sailed through the air, on either side of the watchman.
	"No...no witty buh-banter?"
	"We're pirates, not space heroes," McGraw stuck out her tongue. Reddrac 
fired another blast, stunning the watchman, who fell to the ground.
	"That was...easy. Don't we ever get any tough crews?"
	"Don't spoil it. Let's just throw this guy off, disembark, and warp 
outta here."

	Two men walked along the main Concourse of the station, holding a large 
suitcase filled with credit chips. They were the classic pair; one tall 
and far too gangly, the other short and portly. They wore the dark 
uniforms of the Syndicate. Casually, the tall one looked out one of the 
transparent viewports. "...erm. Hey, Stan...?"
	"Yesssss, Gerald?"
	"Isn't that our star yacht?"
	Stan followed Gerald's gaze. "...ohmigod. Ohmigodohmigod! Someone's 
stealing our ship!"
	"...erm..."
	"What the Hell(tm) was that kid thinking?! Plaidface'll fry our bones!"
	The star yacht pointed itself away from the station, and flashed off 
into Warpspace. "...oh. I hope he doesn't cut off all our limbs..."
	"This is what I'm thinking..."
	"On the other hand, we were probably already going to be killed, 
anyway. I mean, have you heard from John since that smuggling run to 
Barbados?"
	"Good point. Decapitation is starting to look up."
	"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
	"Change our names to Rod n' Todd and become Repo Men for Time Central?"
	"Pretty much."
	"Know where we can get some identity papers?"
	"...I think I have some spares on the ship...dowh!"
	"So, what do we do now?"
	"What we do every night, Gerald..."
	"...Get drunk?"
	"Get drunk. But I refuse to wake up tomorrow morning wearing any kind 
of gelatin product."

	"McGraw?"
	"Reddrac?"
	"How'll the Terrans take it when we just sort of pop up near their 
planet...?"
	"Oh, it'll probably shatter their primitive worldview, and they'll glom 
onto us."
	"Really?"
	"Probably. We'll give them baubles. Demand they worship us."
	"We could stop their planet to show how close they are to their own 
destruction!"
	"..."
	"Sorry."
	"It's been done, Reddrac. Anyway, we go in, screw them up real good..."
	"Then we zip off into the Horizon?"
	"Faster than the speed of light."
	Minutes passed, Reddrac staring at a speck of dust on the viewscreen.
	"McGraw?"
	"What is it /now/?"
	"I love being a plundering Space Pirate."
	"Me too, Reddrac."
	The speck was joined by a second.
	"But..."
	"...but?"
	"Isn't sending their economy into a downward slump enough?"
	"What do you mean?"
	"Well, isn't shattering their worldview a bit...extreme?"
	"Not for us! We're Space Pirates! Badass is our middle name!"
	"Ah."
	"Exactly."
	"Right."
	"Good then..."
	"Can we stop talking now?"
	"...probably a good idea."

	The man known only as Plaidface sat in what a master of understatement 
would call an office. In truth, it was something between an office and a 
throneroom; the focus was a desk, on which papers had been neatly piled 
up according to date and importance. However, all around the desk was 
archaic architecture and art, stolen or copied from a thousand worlds. 
Or some other really, really high number. Behind the desk one could find 
an amazingly comfortable chair, and opposite the desk was a portal 
leading out into the corridor, crafted of the strongest metal ores. 
Defence is always a good thing.
	Plaidface sat behind the desk, on the chair which is probably far too 
comfortable to safely exist without destroying worlds with each use. His 
face, with its plaid skin and beady eyes, was the picture of absolute 
calm; meditation made him one of the greatest intergalactic crimelords 
be have been created. Or so his PR claimed. He was waiting for word on 
the smuggling mission to the space station Albatross.
	There was a distant buzz. Someone was outside, in the corridor. He had 
given specific orders that no one was to bother him, until the report 
came in, meaning...
	"Come in," said Plaidface, with a raspy voice.
	The portal spiralled open slowly, and in to the stateroom stepped a 
timid, pathetic creature with dopey ears and burnt sienna skin. 
"...Milord?" A whimper, no more. The wretch held in his hand the report.
	"Ah," said Plaidface, and leaned forward, "The report."
	The statement hung in the air for a moment, and then the wretch nodded. 
"Yes, Milord. I hate to say this, but, ah, there was trouble."
	"...Oh?"
	More dead silence.
	"...Yes, sir. After the mission was carried out, someone...stole the 
star yacht being used." The wretch began to quiver in his cheap shoes. 
"We believe it was, ah, space pirates. The crew were onboard the station 
at the time."
	"Why wasn't there a watchman appointed?" Plaidface stood, his face 
beginning to contort in growing anger.
	"...there was one, sir. He was...dispatched." The wretch fumbled about, 
eventually producing a small, black box. "Reports indicate it was, ah, 
these two..." He tapped the box, setting it down on Plaidface's desk. In 
the air about the box, an image of Reddrac and McGraw formed. "They've 
been seen before, definitely pirates, sir. Had run-ins with the Astro 
Rangers...even the Time Agents, I gather."
	"Interesting." Barely contained rage. Slowly, deliberately, a 
plaid-skinned finger moved over to the desk, tapping lightly on a button 
inset on the desk.
	"Yes, miloooooooooo," screeched the wretch, as energy began to course 
around him, generated by a sphere dangling from the ceiling. In mere 
seconds, he had completely disintegrated into ashes.
	Plaidface cleared his throat, and touched the intercom. "Send someone 
in to clean up the ashes. Then, start tracking the stolen star yacht and 
this," he paused, glancing at the hologram, "Reddrac and McGraw."
	"klick-klik. Aye, Milord. buzz," said the intercom.
	Plaidface turned, walking carefully over to the window which looked out 
onto his private treasure chamber. Gold, jewels, credit chips were all 
piled high, gleaming in the artificial lights. His heart warmed. He 
always found greed to be so inspiring. His hands rested on the metal 
windowsill, and his lean body slouched forward. He took to his old game, 
counting the skeletons strewn in, amongst the gold. Prizes of another 
kind. Prizes of failure. A small, purple-skinned man scuttled in, with a 
dustpan and broom. Very deliberately, but quite quickly, the man scooped 
up the ashes, and charged out of the room. To stay longer would mean 
another pile of ashes.
	"I think," said Plaidface, in a moment of divine inspiration, "I think 
I will have these pirates drawn and quartered. Or force them to work for 
a Corporate giant, slowly being dehumanized by endless hours of 
servitude. I wonder if McDonalds is hiring..."

Now what?! To learn the fate of McGraw and Reddrac, you pretty much have 
to wait around and see for yourself, when the next episode comes down 
the pipeline called SFSTORY -- science fiction with cheezy diction...

'Crossbones!,' 'McGraw,' 'Reddrac,' 'Plaidface' and all other elements 
contained herein are (c) 1998 by Ben Rawluk. All rights are reserved. No 
bills are posted. All drivel is dabbled. No demons are exorcised. If you 
care to drop the Author in Plaid a line, please send comments to 
aa213 at pgfn.bc.ca, thank you.
______________________________________________________
Get Your Private, Free Email at http://www.hotmail.com
=========================================================================
Date:         Fri, 24 Jul 1998 23:43:25 -0400
From:         David Menendez (zednenem at psu.edu)
To:           Superguy (superguy at eyrie.org)
Subject:      SF: Starcruiser Anonymous #20 (1/2)

The starship _Anonymous_ was launched by a group of New Jersey towns who
were fleeing the destruction that was plaguing the east coast at the time.
They spent the next few years quietly orbiting Saturn until they were
discovered by a scouting party from the Zakavian empire.  The Zakavians,
concerned that the powerful starship might be a threat, captured five of its
fighter pilots (the Blue Squadron).

Captain Harrison sent another five pilots (the Green Squadron) to find their
colleagues.  After some searching, they learned that Blue Squadron had been
taken to the Zakavian capital, planet Gloom.  Harrison decided to take
_Anonymous_ to planet Gloom to bargain for her pilots' return, but found
that Blue Squadron had already escaped and were most likely on planet
Arorua.

Unknown to those onboard _Anonymous_, Blue Squadron's arrival on Arorua
accelerated the Aroruan attempts to overthrow the local Zakavian
occupational force, assisted by the timely rediscovery of Arorua's mighty
robot defender, Ampron.  The Zakavians are understandably displeased about
this, and have sent their most destructive super-weapon to lay waste to the
planet.

Meanwhile, Harrison's decisions have drawn great criticism from certain
citizens onboard _Anonymous_, several of whom have decided to take action.
Enlisting the aid of visiting alien Anme Rifba, they plan to lure Harrison
into the open and assassinate her.  To accomplish this, they have also
abducted Beth Gaelen, a technician familiar with the _Anonymous's_ secrets.
Green Squadron, acting on its own, has vowed to retrieve her.

                            -------------------

                           STARCRUISER ANONYMOUS
                          (A Tale Within Sfstory)

                                Episode 20
                         Wherein the Plot Finally
                              Begins to Thin
                                    by
                               Dave Menendez

                            -------------------

With a yawn, Horlun SoFah slowly opened his eyes and tried to focus his
vision.  After a few seconds, he realized that the room wasn't so much out
of focus as it was dark.  What time was it?  He rarely got up before the
sun.  'Never' was a better word, actually.  Of course, he probably had
closed the shades before he went to bed.  It could be noon, for all he knew.
    Noon.  There was something important about noon.  Something he had to
remember.  Something to do with Anme.  Rubbing his temples, he tried to
concentrate.  Whatever was coming was not a good thing.  Slowly, the
thoughts came to him: Anme was going to meet with Captain Harrison for lunch
and--
    BEEP!  BEEP!  BEEP!  BEEP!
    "Wagh!" Horlun cried, his right arm flailing about blindly.  He couldn't
find the table; it seemed to have moved during the night.  He shifted over
to the right, swung again, overextended, and rolled out of bed.  "Ow," he
commented wittily, rubbing his nose.  When had his bed gotten so high off
the ground?
    As if in answer, the alarm shut off.  No longer distracted, and now
fully awake, he started to remember some crucial facts about his location.
For instance, the table with the alarm clock was on the _left_ side of the
bed, which was quite deliberate as he'd learned to hit the snooze button
without waking up, thus defeating the point of having an alarm.  Leaning
across the bed, he switched on the reading lamp, bringing some much-needed
light into the room.  Once his vision had adjusted to the point where he
could unclamp his hand from his eyes, he glanced around, decided that he
didn't have time to make the bed, and went to find some clothes.
    After the inevitable decision to wear black (he had been too rushed to
pack his lighter clothing, assuming he still had some--he'd have to check),
Horlun selected a fairly clean shirt and pants and proceeded to--
    BEEP!  BEEP!  BEEP!  BEEP!
    "Wagh!" Horlun cried, his right arm flailing about blindly.  Reasserting
control over his limbs, he hopped over to the alarm and switched it off
manually.  He'd have to do something about that reflex.  Pulling his pants
on the rest of the way, he glanced at the clock and gasped.  11:45!  He must
have slept through the first alarm!  He rushed to the mirror, ran a hand
through his hair, straightened his goatee (must have slept on it funny),
grabbed his beret, and ran out the door.
    He had an assassination to prevent.

                                 *   *   *

There are many things in life more irritating that watching someone else
pace, but Number Five was having difficulty thinking of any.  Everyone in
the rebels' secret headquarters was a little jumpy right now, and the
leaders had decided to work off this energy by walking back and forth over
and over and over and over again.  In a few moments, Captain Harrison would
meet that alien girl for lunch at Sector 7G's food court, where the snipers
were already waiting.  At least, that was the plan.  Unfortunately, the
secret headquarters was located out in the restricted areas, which was good
from a security standpoint but also cut them off from breaking news.
    Tired of watching his superiors pace, Five decided to check on the
prisoner.  Despite the help Beth Gaelen had provided them--such as leading
them to the weapons cache where he had received the assault weapon he held
now--he didn't trust her.  She was part of the hated crew, after all.  The
others didn't share his suspicions, but eventually they either saw the
wisdom of keeping her locked up or simply grew tired of him suggesting it
constantly and agreed to imprison her.  With Beth's help, they managed to
find a holding cell with walls strong enough to withstand blaster fire and
only one exit.
    The cell was located just slightly outside the secret headquarters
itself, but Five had made the journey enough times that it had become second
nature.  He turned the last corner and gasped, quickly leaping back out of
sight.  The prisoner had escaped!  Fortunately, she was still near the
cell--fiddling with the lock, in fact, which seemed an odd activity for an
escaped prisoner.  Ignoring that, Five leapt back around the corner, aimed,
and shouted "Freeze!"
    "Gaah!" Beth cried.  "Not in the eyes!"  Squinting, she held up a hand
to shield her face from the assault weapon's powerful searchlight.
    Five mumbled an apology and relaxed the pressure on the trigger,
deactivating the light.  Clearing his throat, he intoned: "What are you
doing?"  Inwardly, he grinned.  He didn't get many chances to intone.
    Rather than trembling in fear, Beth just blinked at him, perplexed.
"The lock wasn't working right," she finally explained.  "I thought I'd fix
it for you. ... Is that a problem?"  She seemed genuinely concerned.
    Five frowned.  There didn't _seem_ to be anything wrong with that.
"Carry on, then," he said uncertainly.
    Beth nodded and went back to tinkering with the lock's electronics.
Privately, Five wondered where she had gotten the tools she was using, but
decided he didn't really want to know.  He felt nervous for some reason,
though, as if his subconscious was trying to tell him something.  Perhaps
some conversation would help him figure it out.
    "Tell me, prisoner," he intoned, "I, uh, was wondering, um...."  Drat!
He'd forgotten to come up with a topic.  So much for instilling a sense of
awe.
    "Wondering what?" Beth asked, turning her attention from the lock back
to him.
    Five thought frantically.  "Do all our guns have these searchlights?" he
managed.
    Beth nodded.  "They're really useful out here.  Lots of unlit
corridors."
    Five considered that.  It made sense, like all of Beth's suggestions.
This didn't reassure Five very much.  She was, after all, the enemy, even if
he seemed to be the only person who realized it.
    Deciding to make the best of an imperfect world, Five stood back and
watched her while she finished her repairs on the lock.  Just because she
hadn't tried to escape before didn't mean she wouldn't try if he left her
alone, he reasoned.  That, he told himself, was the source of his feelings
of impending disaster which had started shortly after he found her outside
her cell.
    "All done," Beth said finally, setting her tools down and stretching.
    "Good," Five intoned.  "Now get in there."  He gestured at the cell with
his blaster.
    Beth smiled cheerfully and stepped inside, closing the door behind her.
Five locked the door, and then tested the lock.  Then he tested it a few
more times, to be certain.  It still worked.  Five shrugged, and headed back
to join the others.  That sense of impending disaster was still bothering
him, but he assumed it was just paranoia.
    It wasn't.

                                 *   *   *

The majority of the residents on _Anonymous_, which is to say those neither
in the crew nor rebelling against it, were mostly unaware of the power
struggles happening around them.  They could sense that something was wrong,
though, and were a bit jumpy as a result.  The signs were pretty clear, if
you knew where to look.  The mere fact that _Anonymous_ was on its second
interstellar voyage after untold centuries of inactivity was enough to make
people nervous.  The additional fact that _Anonymous_ was coming from planet
Gloom, where it had just been involved with _something_ unpleasant (the crew
were being vague about what, exactly), only made things worse.
    Even in this nervous atmosphere, some people were willing to help
strangers in need.  One such person was leaving Sector 7G on her way home
when she encountered a young man dressed in black staggering in the opposite
direction and breathing heavily.  It looked like he'd been running for quite
a while.  A quick glance showed no sign of pursuit, so she decided it was
safe to get involved.
    "Are you all right?" she asked him.
    He paused for a moment, supporting himself on the safety railing.  "Must
... get ... to food court," he gasped.
    The woman froze.  Helping strangers in need was one thing, getting
involved with People Talking Like Shatner was something entirely different.
Making sure to avoid eye contact, she slowly backed away.

    Across the food court, in a dark, unoccupied storefront, the elite
assassination team lay in wait behind a counter, preparing for their coming
strike against the establishment.  Their commander, Number Three, was
checking the line of sight from their hiding spot to make sure there would
be no problems later.  The designated sniper, Number Four, was trying to sit
quietly while he awaited his chance for glory.
    "This is so cool," he crowed.  "I've always wanted to do this."
    "You've always wanted to kill Captain Harrison?" Three asked, only half
paying attention while he finished up the test-sightings.  Four would have a
clear shot at the primary elevator, which extended all the way down to the
Core, where Harrison and the hated crew spent their time.  As recommended,
Anme had chosen a table near the elevator, which guaranteed Harrison would
walk through Four's line of sight.
    "Well, not that specifically," Four explained.  "This is my chance to
make a mark on history.  I get to make the decisive stroke that ends our
years of terror and tyranny.  It's not so much an assassination as a blow
against oppression.  Killing the Captain isn't really the primary thrust of
our operation.  Her involvement is peripheral."
    "Oh?  I figured she's pretty central to the whole thing."  He squinted
at Anme through the sights; she was absently drawing patterns on the table
with her finger.  Nervous, probably.  Three could understand that.  He
couldn't make out her expression, though.  Their "supplier", Ms Gaelen,
hadn't been able to find any telescopic sights, so they were forced to rely
on their own eyesight.  He figured it would be enough.
    "Not really," Four was saying.  "Think about it: all Harrison does is
show up, get shot, and die.  _I'm_ the one doing all the work here."
    "I suppose so," Three agreed.  He checked the digital readout on the
side of the assault weapon one last time.  It had a bewildering number of
display options, most of them beyond even Ms Gaelen's understanding.  Those
he could read told him that the weapon's power pack was 98% charged, that it
was six minutes before noon (local time), and that he should beware allies
working under false pretenses (lucky numbers: 6 12 28 7 14).
    "We ready yet?" Four asked eagerly.  "Do I get the gun now?"
    "Sure.  Knock yourself out."  He handed Four the assault weapon and then
leaned back against the counter, tipping his fedora over his eyes and
adjusting his trenchcoat.
    "Coool."  There was a brief silence while Number Four got used to the
feel of the assault weapon.  It seemed awfully complex for such a simple
job, but Ms Gaelen had recommended it highly and she was far more familiar
than they with the selection available.  "What now?" Four asked.
    "Huh?"
    "What should I do now?"
    "I dunno.  Practice aiming at something."
    "Like what?"
    Grumbling, Three sat up and peeked over the counter.  Not much
interesting was happening by Anme yet, but there was a young man dressed
like a beatnik resting on the railing one level above her.  "Try aiming at
that guy," Three suggested, indicating the stranger in black.
    "Gotcha."
    Three sat down again and set about resting up for the big event.  It
wouldn't do to assassinate someone when not fully rested, after all.
Besides, Four could handle it from here.
    "Hey, cool!" Four exclaimed.  "These things got like a spotlight aiming
system or something."
    "That's great," Three said.  "Now, why don't you keep quiet until
Harrison shows up?"
    "Right.  Gotcha.  No problem."

    The food court was somewhat less impressive than Horlun had expected.
More precisely, it was a lot _smaller_ than he'd expected.  Not that it was
small, by any means.  It seemed quite large enough for the crowds it
attracted, but Horlun had expected more.  After all, the two dominant
architectural themes on _Anonymous_ were Large and Bland, but the food court
only showed influence of the latter.  The court was neither beautifully
detailed nor elegantly functional; it simply was.  Even the attempts at
decoration by the current residents seemed generic.
    Horlun paused for a few moments to catch his breath.  He'd managed to
make it in time and, provided he didn't suffer a heart attack, he'd soon put
an end to this whole assassination business.  He squinted, scanning the food
court below for Anme.  From the upper level, he could see most of the court,
so finding her shouldn't be too difficult.  He squinted harder, then raised
a hand to shield his eyes.  As if finding Anme wasn't hard enough, some
idiot had pointed a spotlight at his face.
    Maybe she was getting food?  Horlun moved to get a better view of the
vendors.  After a moment, the light followed him.  At his new angle, it was
shining directly into his eyes.
    That did it.  This trip had been a long string of irritations ever since
Orliss had volunteered them to help Green Squadron search for their
colleagues.  He'd had to deal with Roy Gaelen, who seemed unable to spend
any time in close proximity with Anme without an argument breaking out; he'd
been sent to planet Gloom, which was _not_ his idea of a vacation spot (nor
anyone else's, for that matter); he'd gotten involved with an harebrained
scheme to sneak into the Zakavian command center, where Orliss had gotten
them involved in _another_ crazy quest; they had escaped that only for Anme
to stick her nose into the local political scene and get involved in a plan
to kill Captain Harrison; and _now_ he was being taunted by some moron with
an overgrown flashlight.
    Horlun checked his watch.  There was still some time left before Anme's
scheme played out.  He might he uncertain how to deal with assassination
plots, but idiots with flashlights was something he could handle.

    "Um, Three?  He's coming this way."
    "What?"
    "That guy you told me to aim at?  He's coming over here."
    "What?" Three repeated blearily.  He peeked over the countertop and saw
the beatnik-wannabe headed in their direction, looking somewhat peeved.  He
was holding a hand in front of his face, which was odd, and the hand
appeared to be glowing, which was... also odd.  Three rubbed his temples and
tried to think.  Did the stranger know they were here?  Why would he care?
And why was his hand glowing?
    "Hey!" the man yelled once he reached the darkened storefront.  "Turn
off that damn light!"
    Light?  Three turned to his companion, who was still carefully aiming
his assault weapon at the stranger.  To his credit, he figured out what was
going on almost immediately.  Unfortunately, he wasn't fast enough to stop
Four from responding.
    "Stay back!" Four called.  "We're armed!"
    Three facepalmed.  Evidently, "low profile" was a concept foreign to his
companion.
    "Armed?" the stranger challenged.  "With what?"
    "Long range assault weap--mmpf!" Four started to say, his cheerful reply
being cut off in mid-word by an application of Three's hands to his mouth.
    "Quiet!" Three hissed.  "You want to give us away?"  Four shook his head
sheepishly and Three let go.
    "Sorry," Four whispered.  "Forgot about that."
    Three ignored him, turning his attention back to the man in black, who
had evidently heard enough of Four's warning to know there was danger and
was slowly backing away.  Three considered letting him go, but there was a
chance the stranger would go to security, which would create problems.
Mentally flipping through his book of threatening phrases, he selected a
likely candidate.
    "Not so fast," Three warned the stranger, who stopped.  He looked rather
nervous, as if he had an appointment coming up very soon that he didn't want
to miss.  "Why don't you step inside for a moment?" Three continued, trying
to get the right tone of menace in his voice.  His training as a
telemarketer hadn't really prepared him for this kind of work; the
management generally frowned on menacing voices.  They claimed it spooked
the customers.
    "I'd rather not," the man said, "I have to be somewhere in a few
minutes.  It's very important."
    "Oh, is this a bad time for you?" Three said automatically.  "Get in
here!" he quickly added.
    ("Won't he be able to identify us later?" Four whispered.
     "Don't worry," Three whispered back, "we're in our secret identities."
     "Oh.")
    The man gingerly stepped into the darkened store, and Three directed him
to join them behind the counter.  "Have a seat, Beret Boy," he said.  "This
shouldn't take too long, but don't make a fuss or we'll shoot ya."
    ("But, Three," Four whispered, "we've only got one gun."
     "Shaddup.  You want him to hear?"
     "But if I'm aiming at Harrison and he makes a fuss--"
     "Be quiet and aim.  She'll be here any second.")
    Four got back into position and Three turned to the prisoner, who was
quietly sitting on the floor and fidgeting.  Curious, Three decided to ask
where he was supposed to be going.
    "Hey, Beret Boy--"
    "Horlun."
    Horlun?  That didn't sound like any name Three was familiar with.  His
whole family must be weird, Three decided.  "What are you in such a big
hurry about?" he continued.
    "I'd rather not say," Horlun replied, glancing nervously at Four's
assault weapon.  "Girl troubles," he added.
    "Ah," Three chuckled "that's the worst kind."
    "Um, Three?" Four asked timidly.  Three had begun to recognize this as a
harbinger of disaster.  "I think security spotted us."
    "_What_?"  That was bad--the worst case scenario, in fact (aside from
the one where Harrison transformed into a giant lizard and ate them all, but
that scenario was generally considered implausible).  Three quickly checked
left and right down the row of storefronts.  Sure enough, he spotted a dozen
men and women in the navy and silver uniforms of Ship Security
surreptitiously moving towards them, hiding behind trashcans, potted plants,
overburdened shoppers, and, occasionally, each other.
    "What do we do?" Four asked.
    "I don't know," Three admitted.  He pointed an accusing finger at
Horlun.  "This is all _your_ fault!"
    "Don't shoot!" Horlun cried, putting his hands up.  "I make a good
hostage!"
    "He's right," Four pointed out.  "Maybe we can negotiate something."
    "Negotiate!?" Three said incredulously.  "What are we going to
negotiate?"
    "Surrender terms?" Horlun suggested hopefully.
    "Nonsense!" Three snapped.  "Our motto is 'Death before surrender'."
    "That doesn't make much sense," Four commented.  "How can you surrender
after you're dead?  Are you sure it isn't 'Surrender before death' or
something?"
    "I'm pretty sure it's 'Death before surrender'."
    "Maybe we should go back and check?  I don't want to be doing the wrong
thing, here."
    Three stared for a moment, then gave in with a sigh.  To be honest, he
hadn't exactly been looking forward to death either.  "Right.  Let's go."
    Grabbing the prisoner (who was smiling to himself for some reason),
Three and Four rushed to the store's back room, which connected to a
maintenance/supply corridor leading out of Sector 7G.
    "What are you smiling about?" Three demanded, as they entered the
endless, unguarded labyrinth of the restricted areas and the immediate
danger was past.
    "Just thinking about the odd turn my life has taken in the past few
weeks," Horlun told him.
    "And what are you scowling about?" Three asked Four.
    "I missed my chance!" Four wailed.  "I was gonna be all famous, and we
blew it.  I'll never get a shot at Harrison now!"
    He was wrong.

                                 *   *   *

The vast volume of the restricted areas is not as monotonous as it first
appears.  While the decorative style is mostly limited to flat gray walls,
structure and layout vary tremendously depending on the purpose of the local
area.  Warehouses, barracks, armories, security stations, power distribution
centers, air/water refineries, recycling centers, the occasional
micro-hydroponics farm, the empty sectors left available for future
development--to say nothing of larger areas like the gravity generators or
the engines--each makes its mark on the local architectural design.
    The renegades had chosen an unused security station in a long-abandoned
storage area as their headquarters.  It was a collection of rooms located at
the meeting-point of eight large cargo holds.  Being centrally located, it
was normally accessible from a number of different directions, but the
rebels had blocked all the entrances save one.  It lead into a long causeway
running the length of a storeroom and eventually met with one of the primary
access corridors.  As any attack would have to come from that direction, the
rebels had placed a guard on the far end of the causeway.  The guard
provided an early warning system for the rebels in the main base, giving
them time to prepare for an invasion.  As any of the blocked entrances could
presumably be unblocked from the inside, they would have ample time to
escape in any direction.
    Rick Hydrospok was not concerned with this.  He had undertaken this
quest in order to rescue Beth Gaelen.  Any defeats given to the rebels along
the way were simply a bonus.
    "Any change?" he asked softly.
    "Negative," replied Stan Losar, who was acting as lookout.  Like the
others, Losar's mood had improved after discovering the rebels' location.
This was most noticeable with Roy Gaelen, who had been acting rather glum
ever since learning of his sister's capture, but even Sally Winters's
normally high spirits had been dampened after a day's worth of wandering
around the trackless corridors.  Of those in Green Squadron, only George
Daniels had seemed unaffected, although his sarcastic commentary had
steadily grown bleaker as the search wore on.
    The three Black Squadron pilots who had accompanied them were harder to
read.  Amy Masaki's expression was as cryptic as ever and Dave Menendez
seemed more concerned with the aches in his feet than with the upcoming
battle.  Fortunately, their leader Marshall Stanford seemed appropriately
concerned for Beth's fate.
    "I grow weary of this waiting," Hydrospok said at last.  "Let us get a
move on, for the night doth get no younger."
    "Is that a quote?" Menendez wondered.  "It sounds like a quote."
    "Shakespeare, perhaps?" Daniels suggested, making yet another pointless
reference to the Bard.
    Hydrospok ignored them and focused on the task before him.  They needed
to free Beth from the miniature fortress before them, and that meant they
needed some sort of plan.  He had said as much earlier, and everyone had
agreed that having a plan was a good idea.  No one had proposed one yet,
though.
    "What makes you think it would be Shakespeare?"
    "It's got that 'doth' in it.  I dunno."
    Sneaking around to another entrance was probably useless.  The rebels
had blocked all the ones they had checked, and had almost certainly blocked
the others as well.  They would have to take a more direct approach.
Sneaking up was a possibility, but there was very little for them to hide
behind while approaching the guard.
    "Lots of people used 'doth', that doesn't mean anything in and of
itself."
    "Never mind."
    Perhaps they could gain entry through some subterfuge.  Of course, they
were all in uniform and hadn't thought to bring a change of clothes.  Well,
except for Losar.  He'd been almost smug about how unprepared everyone else
was by comparison.  His change of clothes was another uniform, though, so it
wouldn't be good as a disguise.
    "It just seems like a flimsy line of reasoning."
    "Look, forget I said it, okay?"
    "I think I have a plan," Hydrospok announced.  "It involves a direct
attack on the main entrance and hoping for the best."
    He could actually hear the quiet hum of the air circulation system
during the conversational void his announcement produced.  It was almost
soothing.
    "Does the plan involve anything else?" Masaki asked quietly.
    "Not yet," Hydrospok admitted, "although I am open to suggestions."
    "We have some cover here," Losar noted, peeking around the corner at the
renegade guardpost.  "We could try picking off the guards from here and
_then_ doing the frontal assault."
    "Do it."
    Losar hesitated.  "It's, uh, your plan," the large man mumbled.
    "Then I'll do it."  How hard could it be?  Gripping his blaster, he took
Losar's position and slowly moved his head to see beyond the corner.  The
two guards were drinking something... possibly a cola of some sort.  He set
his blaster to "low power", aimed carefully, and fired.  He hit the first
guard in the ribcage, just below the heart.  His companion did a perfect
spit-take and fled into the causeway.  "Drat!" he said, realizing his error.
"The other one got away."
    Stanford snickered.  "We'd better hurry," Masaki advised, "before he can
spread the word."
    On that note, the eight pilots rushed into battle.

    The word spread quickly, mostly along the lines of "We're under attack!"
(One creative thug was heard to shout "The British are coming!"--an allusion
their attackers certainly would not have appreciated, had they heard it.)
The rebel command room fell into chaos almost immediately, with the junior
renegades rushing about in a frenzy of confused activity while their leaders
tried to choose between fighting and fleeing.
    "This is all Beth Gaelen's fault," Number Five muttered, as he often did
in these situations.  (In this case, one could argue that he was correct:
Beth _was_ the cause of it all, indirectly.)  Around him, the babble
steadily grew louder.  Soon, it would--
    "QUIET!" Number One shouted.  The chaos subsided somewhat as the
panicked renegades turned to their miniscule leader.  "Is this how our
rebellion deals with setbacks?" he demanded.  Cries of "No!  Of course not!"
began to fill the air.  "Shut up!" One shouted again.  "We must prepare our
defense before the hated crew arrives.  Number Five, you will command our
forces in this glorious struggle."
    "Where will you be?" Five asked.
    "Number Two and I," One explained, "will seek shelter for the duration
of the conflict.  It wouldn't do for us to be injured by a stray shot, after
all."
    "Shelter?" Five repeated.  "Do we have any place that would be safe?"
    "You could use my cell," Beth offered.  "The walls are pretty strong and
the door's shielded against blaster fire.  I imagine it's the most secure
place here."
    Pause.
    "If it's so secure," Five asked acidly, "why aren't you still _inside_
it?"
    "Well," Beth said, looking embarrassed, "I had to, er, use the
facilities."
    "Oh, for crying out--"
    "Be still, Five," One commanded.  "We cannot deny our guests such
essential human decencies."
    "She is _not_ a guest!" Five complained.  "She is a _prisoner_!"
    "Hush.  You must prepare for the coming battle."  With that, he and
Number Two strode purposefully from the room.
    "I'm sorry I upset you," Beth said earnestly.  "I don't want to cause
any trouble."
    "Just go back to your cell," Five told her.  He was already trying to
come up with a defense strategy--and regretting having turned down the offer
to be on the assassination team.  Had he gone, he wouldn't be dealing with a
problem like this, that was for certain.
    Not _quite_ like this, anyway.

    Nearby, Hydrospok's invasion force was meeting the first resistance.
They had passed the now-undefended guardpost easily and ran the length of
the causeway before their presence was challenged.  The challenger's initial
bravado collapsed when he noticed the invaders were armed.
    "Don't shoot!" he cried, falling to his knees.
    Hydrospok, who had been in the lead, ran up and grabbed the renegade
roughly by the collar.  "Where is Beth Gaelen?" he demanded.
    "I don't want to die!" wailed the prisoner obliviously.
    ("Why join a militia if you don't want to die?" Menendez asked Masaki.
She shrugged in reply.)
    "We're not going to kill you," Hydrospok explained, grimacing.  "If we
killed you, you wouldn't be able to tell us what we need to know."  This
calmed the prisoner immensely; he took a deep breath, straightened his
shirt, and smiled serenely at them.  "Where is Beth Gaelen?" Hydrospok
repeated.
    "I'm not telling," said the renegade, "and you can't make me.  You can't
get information from a dead man."
    "We don't have to kill you," Stanford noted.  "We could just hurt you a
lot."
    "Are you suggesting we torture this man?" Hydrospok asked, aghast.
    "What do _you_ propose?" Stanford asked in reply.
    "If he steadfastly refuses to talk, killing him will make no difference
to us, so it's still a valid threat," Hydrospok pointed out, much to the
prisoner's dismay.
    "Killing is all right, but torture isn't?" Stanford asked in disbelief.
    "Captain Harrison would probably prefer a low casualty rate," Masaki
added.
    Hydrospok turned to the prisoner.  "Are you going to talk?" he asked
flatly.
    "Uh, no?" was the uncertain reply.
    "Fine," Hydrospok said.  With that, he whapped the rebel over the head
with the butt of his pistol and let him fall to the floor, unconscious.
    "What now?" Gaelen asked from the door.  He and Daniels, Losar, and
Winters had been watching for a counterstrike from the renegades.  Thus far,
none had come.
    "We will continue to search," Hydrospok told him.  He moved to join his
squadron by the doorway.  The anteroom was at the base of a T-intersection.
The central corridor, widest of the three, looked to go directly to the
command center.
    "The command center is almost certainly a trap," Losar rumbled.  "I'd
recommend splitting up.  We can go left and they," he indicated Black
Squadron, "can go right."
    "Sounds good to me," Hydrospok said approvingly.
    "But there's three of us and five of you," Stanford noted.
    "Then I will go with you."
    "Oh--you don't have to do _that_."
    "Nonsense, we must act in the interests of the greater good."
    Stanford looked unhappy, but as he couldn't argue with that, the two
teams went their separate ways--little knowing how far apart those separate
ways would take them.

[ Continued in Part 2 ]

--
David Menendez (zednenem at psu.edu)    |  "In this house, we obey the laws
http://www.personal.psu.edu/dmm264/  |        of thermodynamics!"
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