Thursday, March 15, 2012


NOTE FROM ALLAN: This four part (really) Kilgour tale was so hated last year, that it bears repeating. What would Empire Day 2013 be without it? Okay, Okay, I don't really want to know. So here it is:


Sten and Alex examined the Bhor renegade chained to the wall of the Interrogation Room. The room was soundproofed, the one-way plas viewing port three-layers thick, but even so the bellows of rage shook them to the very bone.

The Bhor was huge, his beard long and thick - with a red knife scar cutting through the beard from one eye to the massive chin. As he bellowed he jerked at the heavy chains that bound him, and they could see pieces of plas cracking off the wall and raining to the floor.

Behind them, Otho spoke. "By my father's frozen buttocks that Madea is one tough Bhor. Comes from the Conde Koma clan, the fiercest of our breed. It's said he's killed 2,000 beings in hand-to-hand combat."

"I can believe that," Sten said, noting the bulging muscles, knotted fists, knuckled brow and missing ear.

"Tough as he is," Sten added, "we have only five E-days to break him. Five E-days to track down the clotting pirate gang he runs with. If we don't, the Emperor is going to be in the embarrassing of refusing to ransom the Crown Prince Of Al-Hidij."

"Aye, th' emp will nae be payin' ransom tae pirates an' other clots," Alex said. "If he gi'es in, we'll be bleedin' credits frae noo until Hades grows icicles on his hairy erse."

"The Crown Prince is a snotty little piece of Drakh," Otho observed. "Not worth the clottin' hair off his mother's beard."

"Even so," Sten said. "The Emperor will be embarrassed when the kid's pretty head shows up on the livie cast. And one thing our boss does not like - is to be embarrassed."

"Ah don' want to be around to see it, wee Sten."

Sten nodded at the Bhor. "Think you can break him, Alex?"

Alex considered a moment. Then sighed, cracked his knuckles. Rolled his shoulders. And said:

"Aye. Ah kin do tha little thing fer ya, lad."

A few minutes later, Alex entered the interrogation room. Several guards entered the room after him, carrying a table, a chair and two jugs. Madea bellowed at him, pouring out a string of the filthiest curses that even Alex had never heard.

Although Alex admired the Bhor's ingenuity, he pretended to pay him no attention whatsoever and the big Bhor fell silent for a few minutes as the guards set up the table and chair and placed the large jugs on the table.  A thick Narcobeer mug sat next to one. The next, a double-shot glass suitable for Stregg.

When they exited the chamber, the Bhor began screaming filth at Alex again. Unmoved, Alex filled the mug with narcobeer and the shotglass with stregg. He knocked back the stregg, drank off half the mug, then belched politely and wiped his chin.

"Weel, noo laddie," he said tae th' Bhor. "Yoo seem tae fin' yerself in a wee bit ay bortha haur. Ye hae some information we require. An' yit ye refuse tae teel us." 

The Bhor growled, "You can break all my bones. Pluck out my eyes. I'll never talk."

"Oh, aye. Violence will ne-er wark. Ah can see 'at reit aff."

"Well what are you clottin'  gonna do, big man? Cut off my ears? My nose? My testicles?"

Alex smiled. "Och, Ah hae a much mair terrible fate in stair fur ye, laddie... Ah'm gonnae teel ye a story. An' at th' end ay it, Ah hink yoo'll be canty tae sin' loch a coalminer's canary."

The Bhor just stared at him. "You think you can make me talk just by telling me a story?'

"Aye," Alex said. "Ah do."

And then he began….

Sae, there's a poor wee lad crawlin' ben th' desert. N' he's in a sorry state. You sae, he'd decided tae try his new grav-sled in a wee bit ay cross-coontry travel, hud stoatin fin zoomin' ower th' badlands an' ben th' sain, got tint, burst a big rock, an' 'en he cooldnae gie it started again.

Thaur waur nae ceel phain towers anywhaur near, sae his ceel phain was useless. He hud nae fowk, his parents hud died puckle years afair in a grav-car accident, an' his few friends hud nae idea he was it haur.

He biddin wi' th' grav-sled fur a day ur sae, but his a body bottle ay water ran oot ain he was gettin' thirsty. he thooght mebbe he kent th' direction back, noo 'at he'd paid attention tae th' sin an' thooght he'd figured it which way was north, sae he decided tae start walkin'.

He figured he only hud tae gang abit 30 miles ur sae an' he'd be back tae th' wee toon he'd gotten gas in lest. He thinks abit walkin' at nicht tae avoid th' heat an' sin, but based upon haw mirk it actually was th' nicht afair, an' given 'at he has nae flashlecht, he's afraid 'at he'll break a leg ur step oan a rattlesnake.

Sae, he puts oan some sin block, puts lae in his pooch fur reapplication later, brings an brolly he'd hud in th' back ay th' grav-sled wi' heem tae gie heem a wee shade, poors th' windshield wiper fluid intae his water bottle in case he gits 'at desperate, brings his pooch chib in case he finds a cactus 'at looks loch it micht hae water in it, an' heids it in th' direction he thinks is reit.

He walks fur th' entire day. by th' end ay th' day he's pure thirsty.

The wee lad's been sweatin' aw day, an' his lips ur startin' tae crack. He's reapplied th' sunblock twice, an' tried tae bide under th' brolly, but he still feels sunburned. Th' windshield wiper fluid sloshin' in th' bottle in his pooch is pure gettin' temptin' noo. He knows 'at it's mainly water an' some ethanol an' colorin', but he also knows 'at they add some kin' ay poison tae it tae keep fowk frae skitin' it.

Course, he wonders whit th' poison is, an' whether th' poison woods be waur than dyin' ay thirst. He pushes oan, tryin' tae gie tae 'at wee toon afair mirk.

By th' end ay th' day he starts gettin' woriat. He figures he's bin walkin' at leest thee miles an hoor, accordin' tae his watch fur ower 10 hoors. 'At means 'at if his estimate was reit 'at he shoods be close tae th' toon.

But he doesnae recognize onie ay thes. he hud tae cross a dry creek scratcher a mile ur tois back, an' he doesnae min' comin' ben it in th' grav-sled. He figures 'at mebbe he got his direction aff jist a wee an' 'at th' dry creek scratcher was jist aff tae a body side ay his path.

Sae he tells himself 'at he's close, an' 'at efter mirk he'll start seein' th' toon lights ower a body ay these hills, an' that'll be aw he needs. As it gits deem enaw 'at he starts stumblin' ower wee rocks an' things, he finds a spot an' sits doon tae bide fur foo mirk an' th' toon lights. Full mirk comes afair he knows it.

He main hae dozed aff. He stands back up an' turns aw th' way aroond. He sees naethin' but stars. he wakes up th' next morn feelin' absolutely loosy. His een ur gummy an' his gob an' beak feel loch they're foo ay sain.

Th' lad's sae thirsty 'at he cannae e'en swallaw. He barely got onie sleep coz it was sae braw. He'd forgotten hoo braw it got at nicht in th' desert an' hadnae noticed it th' nicht afair coz he'd bin in his motur.

Course, he knows th' rule ay threes - thee minutes withit air, thee days withit water, thee weeks withit scran - 'en ye die. Some fowk can make it a wee longer, in th' best situations. But th' desert heat an' havin' tae donner an' sweat isnae th' best situation tae be withit water.

He figures, unless he finds water, thes is his lest day. He rinses his gob it wi' a wee ay th' windshield wiper fluid. He waits a while efter spittin' 'at wee bit it, tae see if his gob goes numb, ur he feels dizzy ur somethin'.

Has his gob gain numb? Is it jist in his min'? He's nae sure. He'll gang a wee farther, an' if he still doesn't fin' water, he'll try skitin' some ay th' fluid. then he has tae coopon his next, harder question - which way diz he gang frae haur? Diz he keep walkin' th' sam way he was yesterday (assumin' 'at he still knows which way 'at is), ur diz he try a new direction?

Our lad has nae idea whit tae dae. Lookin' at th' hills an' dunes aroond heem, he thinks he knows th' direction he was headin' afair. Jist gonnae by a feelin', he points himself somewhat tae th' left ay 'at, an' starts walkin'. As he walks, th' day starts heatin' up. Th' desert, tay braw jist a coople ay hoors afair, suin becomes an oven again.

He sweats a wee at first, an' 'en staps. He starts gettin' woriat at 'at - when ye gonnae-no sweatin' he knows 'at means yoo're in trooble - usually reit afair heat stroke. He decides 'at it's time tae try th' windshield wiper fluid. He cannae bide any longer - if he passes it, he's deid.

He staps in th' shade ay a large rock, takes th' bottle it, opens it, an' takes a moothful. he slowly swallows it, makin' it lest as lang as he can.

It feels sae guid in his dry ain cracked throat 'at he doesnae e'en caur abit th' mingin' taste. He takes another moothful, an' makes it lest tay. Slowly, he drinks half th' bottle. He figures 'at since he's skitin' it, he micht an aw bevvy enaw tae make some difference an' keep himself frae passin' it.

Sae, now he's quit worryin' abit th' denaturin' ay th' wiper fluid. If it kills heem, it kills heem - if he didne bevvy it, he'd die anyway. Besides, he's bonnie sure 'at whatever substance they denature th' fluid wi' is jist designed tae make ye boak - their way ay keepin' winos frae buyin' hoddin wiper fluid fur th' ethanol content.

He can handle throwin' up, if it comes tae 'at.

He walks.

He walks in th' hot, dry, windless desert. sain, rocks, hills, dunes, th' occasional scrawny cactus ur dried bush. 

Nae sign ay water.

Sometimes he'll see a wee movement tae a body side ur th' other, but whatever moved is usually gain afair he can focus his een oan it.

Probably kimmers, lizards, ur mice. mebbe snakes, thocht they usually move mair at nicht. He's cannie tae bide awa' frae th' movements. After a while, he begins tae stagger.

He's nae sure if it's fatigue, heat stroke finally catchin' heem, ur mebbe he was wrang an' th' denaturin' ay th' wiper fluid was waur than he thooght. He tries tae steady himself, an' keep gonnae.

After mair walkin', he comes tae a large stent ay sain. thes is guid! He knows he passed ower a stent ay sain in th' grav-sled n' he remembers daein' donuts in it. Ur at leest he thinks he remembers it - he's gettin' woozy enoogh an' wabbit enaw 'at he's nae sure whit he remembers onie mair ur if he's hallucinatin'.

But he thinks he remembers it. Sae he heids aff intae it, tryin' tae gie tae th' other side, hopin' 'at it gits heem closer tae th' toon. He was headin' fur a toon, wasnae he? he thinks he was.

He isnae sure onie mair. He's nae e'en sure hoo lang he's bin walkin' onie mair. Is it still morn? Ur has it moved intae efternuin an' th' sin is gonnae doon again?

It main be efternuin - it seems loch it's bin tay lang since he started it. He walks ben th' sain. After a while, he comes tae a big dune in th' sain.

Thes is bad.

He doesn't remember onie dunes when drivin' ower th' sain in his grav-sled. At leest he doesnae hink he remembers onie. Thes is bad. but, he has nae other direction tae gang. Tay late tae turn back noo. He figures that he'll gie tae th' top ay th' dune an' see if he can see anythin' frae thaur 'at helps heem fin' th' toon.

Sae he keeps gonnae up th' dune.

Halfway up, he slips in th' bad footin' ay th' sain fur th' second ur third time, an' falls tae his knees. He doesnae feel loch gettin' back up - he'll joost faa doon again. sae, he keeps gonnae up th' dune oan his hain an' knees. While crawlin', if his throat werenae sae dry, he'd laugh.

He's finally gotten tae th' hackneyed image ay a cheil tint in th' desert - crawlin' ben the sain oan his hans an' knees. If woods be th' perfect image, he imagines, if only his clase waur mair ragged.

Th' fowk crawlin' ben th' desert in th' cartoons aye hud ragged clase. But his hae lasted withit onie rips sae far. somebody will probably fin' his dessicated corpse half buried in th' sain years frae noo, an' his clase will still be in braw shape - shake th' sain it, an' a guid wash, an' they'd be wearable again.

He wishes his throat waur dreich enaw tae laugh. He cooghs a wee insteid, an' it hurts. he finally makes it tae th' top ay th' sain dune. Noo 'at he's at th' top, he struggles a wee, but manages tae stain up an' swatch aroond.

Aw he sees is sain. sain, an' mair sain. behin' heem, abit a mile awa', he thinks he sees th' rocky grin he left tae heed intae thes sain. aheid ay heem, mair dunes, mair sain. thes isnae whaur he drove his grav-sled.

Thes is heel. Ur close enaw.

Again, he doesnae ken whit tae dae.

He decides tae bevvy lae ay th' wiper fluid while figurin' it it. He takes it th' bottle, an' is removin' th' cap, when he glances tae th' side an' sees somethin'.

(...At that moment, Kilgour paused the story. Grinned at the Bhor, who still looked defiant, but beads of sweat were glistening on his forehead. Alex drank his narcobeer, had another shot, refilled both vessels and as he resumed the story he heard the big Bhor groan...)

 Somethin' in th' sain. At th' bottom ay th' dune, aff tae th' side, he sees somethin' strange. It's a flat area, in th' sain. He staps takin' th' bunnit ay th' bottle aff, an' tries tae swatch closer. Th' area seems tae be circular. An' it's mirk - darker than th' sain. an', thaur seems tae be somethin' in th' middle ay it, but he cannae teel whit it is.

He looks as stoaner as he can, an' still can teel frae haur. He's gonnae hae tae gang doon thaur an' swatch. He puts th' bottle back in his pooch, an' starts tae stumble doon th' dune. After a wee bit, he realizes 'at he's in trooble - he's nae gonnae be able tae keep his balance.

Efter a coople ay mair slidin', totterin' steps, he falls an' starts tae roll doon th' dune. Th' sain it sae hot when his body hits it 'at fur a minute he thinks he's caught fire oan th' way doon - loch a movie motur wreck flashin' intae flames as it goes ower th' cliff, afair it ever e'en hits th' grin.

He closes his een an' gob, covers his coopon wi' his hans, an' waits tae gonnae-no rollin'. He staps, at th' bottom ay th' dune. efter a minute ur tois, he finds enow energy tae try tae sit up an' gie th' sain it ay his coopon an' clase.

When he clears his een enaw, he looks aroond tae make sure 'at th' mirk spot in th' sain it still thaur an' he hadnae jist imagined it.

So, seein' th' large, flat, mirk spot oan th' sain is still thaur, he begins tae crawl towards it. He'd gie up an' donner towards it, but he doesnae seem tae hae th' energy tae gie up an' donner reit noo.

He main be in th' final stages of dehydration he figures, as he crawls. If thes place in th' sain doesn't hae water, he'll likely ne'er make it anywhaur else. thes is his last chance.

Sae he gits closer an' closer, but still cannae see what's in th' middle ay th' dark area. His een willnae quite focus onie mair fur some reason. an' lifting his heed up tae swatch takes sae much effort 'at he gi'es up tryin'.

He jist keeps crawlin'. finally, he reaches th' area he'd seen frae th' dune.

It takes heem a minute ay crawlin' oan it afair he realizes 'at he's nae longer oan sain - he's noo crawlin' oan some kin' ay mirk staine. staine wi' some kin' ay markin' oan it - a pattern cut intae th' staine.

He's tay wabbit tae stain up an' try tae see whit th' pattern is - sae he jist keeps crawlin'. He crawls towards th' center, whaur his blurry een still see somethin' in th' middle ay th' mirk staine area.

His min', detached in a strange way, notes 'at either his hans an' knees ur sae burnt by th' sain 'at they nae longer feel pain, ur 'at thes mirk stain, in th' middle ay a burnin' desert wi' a poondin', punishin' sun overheid, doesnae seem tae be hot.

It almost feels stoat.

He considers havering doon oan th' braw stoat surface. Cool, mirk staine. Nae a guid sign. He main be hallucinatin' thes. He's probably in th' middle ay a patch ay sain, awreddy haverin' coopon doon an' dyin', an' jist imaginin' thes whole hin'.

A desert mirage. Suin th' beautiful kimmers carryin' pitchers ay water will come up an' start givin' him a bevvy.

'En he'll ken he's gain.

He decides against layin' doon oan th' stoat staine. If he's gonnae die here in th' middle ay thes hallucination, he at leest wants tae see what's in th' center afair he goes.

Out wee lad keeps crawlin'.

It's th' third time 'at he hears th' voice afair he realizes whit he's hearin'.

He woods swear 'at someain jist said:

 "Greetings, traveler. Ye dae not swatch weel. Dae ye hear me?"

He staps crawlin'.

He tries tae swatch up frae whaur he is oan his hans an' knees, but it's tay much effort tae lift his heed.

Sae he tries something different - he leans back an' tries tae sit up oan th' staine. Efter a couple seconds, he catches his balance, avoids fallin' oan his coopon, sits up, an' tries tae focus his een.

Blurry. he rubs his een wi' th' back ay his hans ain tries again.

Better thes time. Yep. he can see. He's sittin' in th' middle ay a large, flat, mirk expanse of staine. Directly next tae heem, abit thee feit awa', is a white post or pole abit tois inches in diameter an' stickin' up abit fower ur fife feet it ay th' staine, at an angle.

Ain wrapped aroond thes white rod, tail wi' rattle oan it hoverin' an' seemin' tae be ready tae start rattlin', is whit main be a fifteen fit long desert diamondback rattlesnake, lookin' directly at heem.

He stares at th' snake in shock.

He doesnae hae th' energy tae gie up an' rin awa'. He doesnae e'en hae th' energy tae crawl awa'.

Thes is it, his final restin' place. nae matter whit happens, he's nae gonnae be able tae move frae thes spot. Weel, at leest dyin' ay a bite frae thes monster shoods be quicker than dyin' ay thirst. He'll coopon his end loch a mon.

He struggles tae sit up a little straighter. Th' snake keeps watchin' heem. He lifts a body hain an' waves it in th' snake's direction, feebly.

Th' snake watches th' hain fur a moment, 'en goes back tae watchin' th' wee lad, lookin' intae his een.

Hmmm. mebbe th' snake hud nae interest in bitin' heem? It hadnae rattled yit - that was a guid sign. Mebbe he wasnae gonnae die ay snake bite efter aw.

He 'en remembers 'at he'd looked up when he'd reached th' center here because he thooght he'd heard a voice. He was still huir uv a woozy - he was likely tae pass it suin, th' sin still beat doon oan heem e'en thocht he was naw oan stoat staine. He still didne hae anythin' tae bevvy.

But mebbe he hud actually heard a voice. Thes staine didne swatch natural. Nur did 'at white post stickin' up it ay th' staine.

Someain hud tae hae built thes. Mebbe they waur still nearby. Mebbe 'at was fa talked tae heem. Mebbe thes snake was e'en their pit, an' that's wa it wasnae bitin'.

He tries tae clear his throat tae say, "hello," but his throat is tay dry. Aw that comes it is a bowfin' ur wheezin' soond. Thaur is nae way he's gonnae tae be able tae gab withit somethin' tae bevvy.

He feels his pooch, an' th' bottle wi' th' wiper fluid is still thaur. He shakily pulls th' bottle it, almost losin' his balance an' fallin' oan his back in th' process.

Thes isnae guid. he doesnae hae much time left, by his reckonin', afair he passes it.

He gits th' lid aff ay th' bottle, manages tae gie th' bottle tae his lips, ain poors some ay th' fluid intae his gob. He sloshes it aroond, an' 'en swallows it. He cooghs a wee. His throat feels better. mebbe he can gab naw.

He tries again. Ignorin' th' snake, he turns tae swatch aroond heem, hopin' tae spot th' owner ay thes place, an' croaks, "Hello? is thaur anyain haur?"

He hears, frae his side, "Greetings. Whit is it 'at ye want?"

He turns his heed, back towards th' snake. That's whaur th' soond hud seemed tae come frae. Th' only hin' he can hink ay is 'at thaur main be a speaker, hidden under th' snake, ur mebbe built intae 'at post.
He decides tae try askin' fur help.

"Please," he croaks again, suddenly feelin' dizzy, "I'd loove tae nae be thirsty onie mair. I've bin a lang time withit water. Can ye help me?"

Lookin' in th' direction ay th' snake, hopin' tae see whaur th' voice was comin' frae thes time, he is shocked tae see th' snake rear back, open its mooth, an' spick.

He hears th' snake say, as th' dizziness overtakes heem an' he falls forward, coopon first oan th' staine:

 "Very weel. comin' up."


Alex stopped. He poured what was left of the narcobeer into the mug, the sweetened it with the last of the Stregg. Polished it off. Burped, then rose.

He looked the Bhor prisoner over. The poor lad was quivering with exhaustion. His skin was gray, his bearded cheeks pinched from his ordeal.

When Bhor saw Alex looking at him, and cried, "You're a monster! You should be locked up."

Alex looked hurt. "Ah'm on'y tellin' you a wee story, lad."

The Bhor laughed wildly. "It's torture, that's what it is. Pure torture of the meanest kind."

"Is it now, lad?" Alex said.

The Bhor drew on all his strength and shouted, "I'll not talk. No matter what you do, I won't snitch on my mates. Nothing you can do will break me!"

Alex shook his head - sad. "It's no my intention to break you, lad. It's only my tale Ah meanin' to tell you."

He strode to the door. "Ah'l be back tomorrow wi' th' next part ay the story."

"You mean there's more?" shrieked the Bhor rogue. "More?"

"Oh, aye, lad," Alex said with a chuckle. "There's plenty more to this tale of the wee lad n' the desert and the wise old snake."

And he went out the door, the Bhor screaming, "This is hell! Hell I say!"

In the other room, Sten heard the screams and shuddered.


The entire 8-novel landmark science fiction series is now being presented in three three giant omnibus editions from Orbit Books.  The First - BATTLECRY - features the first three books in the series: Sten #1; Sten #2 -The Wolf Worlds; and Sten #3, The Court Of A Thousand Suns. Next: JUGGERNAUT, which features Sten #4, Fleet Of The Damned; Sten #5, Revenge Of The Damned; and Sten #6, The Return Of The Emperor. Finally, there's DEATHMATCH, which contains Sten #6, Vortex; and Sten #7, End Of Empire. Click on the highlighted titles to buy the books. Plus, if you are a resident of The United Kingdom, you can download Kindle versions of the Omnibus editions. Which is one clot of a deal!
Here's the Kindle link for BATTLECRY
Here's the Kindle link for JUGGERNAUT
Here's the Kindle link for DEATHMATCH



Two new companion editions to the international best-selling Sten series. In the first, learn the Emperor's most closely held  cooking secrets. In the other, Sten unleashes his shaggy-dog joke cracking sidekick, Alex Kilgour. Both available as trade paperbacks or in all major e-book flavors. Click here to tickle your funny bone or sizzle your palate.  



Venice Boardwalk Circa 1969
In the depths of the Sixties and The Days Of Rage, a young newsman, accompanied by his pregnant wife and orphaned teenage brother, creates a Paradise of sorts in a sprawling Venice Beach community of apartments, populated by students, artists, budding scientists and engineers lifeguards, poets, bikers with  a few junkies thrown in for good measure. The inhabitants come to call the place “Pepperland,” after the Beatles movie, “Yellow Submarine.” Threatening this paradise is  "The Blue Meanie,"  a crazy giant of a man so frightening that he eventually even scares himself. Here's where to buy the book. 


Diaspar Magazine - the best SF magazine in South America - is publishing the first novel in the Sten series in four 
episodes. Part One and Part Two appeared in back-to-back issues. And now Part Three has hit the virtual book stands.  Stay tuned, for the grand conclusion. Meanwhile, here are the links to the first three parts. Remember, it's free!

No comments: