Saturday, March 17, 2012



Madea watched the door of the Interrogation Room, grinding his teeth, heart trip-hammering against his big Bhor chest, his veins running with ice, his breath coming with so much difficulty he was practically hyperventillating.

In short, he was feeling something very close to fear - an emotion no self-respecting Bhor would ever admit, even to his dear, long-bearded mother. And certainly not to his icy-buttocked father. Madea hadn't slept, nor eaten for two days. Whatever he drank, he immediately threw up.

It wasn't that they weren't feeding him. In fact, that scrote Alex Kilgour had ordered that he be offered the finest food and drink. Nor had he been roughly handled by the brutal guards. They grudgingly obeyed Kilgour's orders that he be treated gently and with respect.

No, he had suffered none of the typical interrogation techniques. White noise. Forced positions. Endless light - or darkness. Waterboarding. None of that.

Even so, after two days he felt close to breaking. He suffered from constant hallucinations about a man named Jack and a rattlesnake named Nate and endless burning desert sands and a tale that went on forever.

Madea cursed himself. Took a shuddering breath. He couldn't - he wouldn't betray his mates. He only had to last a few more days. Then the Eternal Emperor would be forced to bow to the demands of his pirate brothers and sisters and pay the ransom that would save the life of the Crown Prince Of

Either that. or suffer the humiliation of the entire Empire seeing the head of one of the Emperor's closest allies displayed on all the news livees.

Yes, he would endure. He must. He must endure.

The door creaked open. He felt that his heart might burst through his chest.

And then the big Heavyworlder, Alex Kilgour, entered. Followed by two guards who set up a table, a chair and two large jugs of spirits.

Kilgour grinned at him. "Ye'll nae be talkin', I sp'ose?'

"Never!" cried Madea.

"Good. Ah want t' hear th' tale meself…"

"Noo, when Ah left off, th' Snake was jus' tellin' Jack….

… Nate reared back a wee, looked aroond fur a second, an' 'en continued. "Yoo, Jack, ur sittin' in th' middle ay th' Garden Ay Eden."

Jack looked aroond at th' sain an' dunes an' 'en looked back at Nate sceptically.

"Weel, that's th' best Ah can figure it, anyway, Jack," said Nate. "Stain up ain swatch at th' symbol oan th' rock haur."

Nate gestured aroond th' mirk stain they waur baith sittin' oan wi' his beak. Jack stuid up an' looked. carved intae th' staine in a bas-relief was a representation ay a large cabre.

Th' angled-pole 'at Nate was wrapped aroond was comin' it ay th' trunk ay th' cabre, reit belaw whaur th' main branches left th' truck tae reach it athwart th' staine. It was huir uv a weel dain - it looked mair loch a cabre hud bin reduced tae almost tois dimensions an' embedded in th' staine than it did loch a carvin'.

Jack walked aroond an' looked at th' details in th' fadin' lecht ay th' settin' sin. He wished he'd looked at it while th' sin was higher in th' sky.

Wait! th' sin was settin'! 'at meant he was gonnae hae tae spend anither necht it haur! arrrgh! Jack looked it athwart th' desert fur a wee bit, an' 'en cam back an' stuid next tae Nate.

"In aw th' excitement, Ah almost forgot, Nate," said Jack. "Which way is it back tae toon? An' hoo far? aam eventually gonnae hae tae heed back - Aam nae sure Ah''ll be able tae survife by eatin' raw desert critters fur lang. An' e'en if Ah can, aam nae sure i'll want tae."

"It's abit 30 miles 'at way." Nate pointed, wi' th' rattle oan his tail this time.

As far as Jack coods teel, it was a direction at reit angles tae the way he'd bin gonnae when he was crawlin' haur.

"But that's 30 miles by the way th' craw flies. It's abit 40 by th' way a man walks. Ye shoods be able tae dae it in abit half a day wi' yer improved endurance, if ye heed it early tha' moorns nicht, Jack."

Jack looked it th' way th' snake hud pointed fur puckle seconds mair, an' then sat back doon. It was gettin' mirk. Nae much he coods dae abit heading it reit noo.

An' besides, Nate was jist in th' wey o gie tae th' interesting stuff.

"Garden Ay Eden? as best as ye can figure it?" he said.

"Weel, yeah, as best as Ah an' Samuel coods figure it anyway," said Nate. "He figured 'at th' story jist got a wee mixed up. Ye ken, snake, in a 'tree', offerin'  temptations'… makin' bargains…. At kin' mince.

"But he coods ne'er quite figure it hoo th' Hebrews foond it abit thes spot frae across th' brine. He woriat abit 'at fur a while."

"Garden Ay Eden, hunh?" said Jack. "Haw lang hae ye bin haur, Nate?"

"No idea, pure," replied Nate. "A lang time. it ne'er occurred tae me tae coont years, until recently, an' by 'en, ay coorse, it was tay late. But Ah do min' when thes whole place was green, sae Ah figure it's bin thoosands of years, at leest."

"Sae, ur ye th' snake 'at tempted Eve?" said Jack.

"Beats me," said Nate. "Maybe. Ah cannae min' if th' first a body ay yer kin' 'at Ah talked tae was female ur nae, an' Ah ne'er got a nam, but it coods hae bin. An' Ah suppose she coods hae considered mah offer tae grant requests a 'temptation', thocht Ah've rarely hud refusals."

"Weel, umm, hoo did ye gie haur 'en? An' wa is 'at white pole stuck oot of th' staine thaur?" asked Jack.

"Dad left me haur. ur, Ah assume it was mah dad. It was anither snake - much bigger than Ah was back 'en. Ah min' talkin' tae heem, but Ah dornt mind if it was in a leid, ur jist kin' ay understandin' whit he wanted. But ain day, he brooght me tae thes staine, tauld me abit it, an' speart me tae dae somethin' fur heem. Ah talked it ower wi' heem fur a while, 'en agreed.

"Ah've been haur ever since."

 "What is thes place?" said Jack. "Ain whit did he ask ye tae dae?"

 "Weel, ye see thes pole haur, stickin' it ay th' staine?"

Nate loosened his coils aroond th' tilted white pole an' showed Jack whaur it descended into the staine. Th' pole was tilted at abit a 45 degree angle an' seemed tae enter th' staine in an eighteen inch slot cut intae th' staine.

 Jack leaned owre an' looked. Th' slot was mirk an' th' pole went doon intae it as far as Jack coods see in th' deem lecht.

Jack reached it tae tooch th' pole, but Nate was suddenly thaur in th' way.

"Yoo cannae tooch 'at yit, Jack," said Nate.

"Why nae?" speart Jack.

"I huvnae explained it tae ye yit," replied Nate.

"Weel, it kinda looks loch a lever ur somethin'," said Jack. "Yoo'd push it that way, an' it woods move in th' slot."

"Yep, that's whit it is," replied Nate. "A lever."

"What diz it dae?" speart Jack. "End th' warld?"

"Oh, nae," said Nate. "Nothin' 'at drastic. it jist ends humanity. Ah caa it 'the lever ay doom'."

Fur th' lest few words Nate hud used a deeper, ringing voice. He tried tae swatch serioos fur puckle seconds, an' 'en gae up an' grinned.

Jack was initially startled by Nate's pronooncement, but when Nate grinned Jack laughed.

"Ha! ye almost hud me fooled fur a second thaur. Whit diz it really dae?"

"Oh, it pure ends humanity, loch Ah said," smirked Nate. "Push th' lever and y'r all be dead.

"I jist thooght the voice Ah used was funay, didne ye?"

Nate continued tae grin. "a lever tae end humanity?" asked Jack. "What in th' warld is 'at fur? Wa woods anyain need tae end humanity?"

 "Weel," replied Nate, "Ah gie th' idea 'at mebbe humanity was an experiment. Ur mebbe th' big bloke jist thooght, 'at if humanity started gonnae pure bad, thaur shoods be a way tae end it.

"Ah'm nae pure sure. Aw Ah ken ur the rules, an' th' guesses 'at Samuel an' Ah hud abit wa it's haur. Ah didnae hink tae ask back when Ah started haur."

"Rules? whit rules?" asked Jack.

"The rules ur 'at Ah cannae teel anybody abit it ur lit them tooch it unless they agree tae be boond tae secrecy by a bite.  An' 'at only a body human can be boond in 'at way at a time. That's it." explained Nate.

Jack looked somewhat shocked. "Yoo pure techt 'at Ah coods pull th' lever noo? Yoo'd lit me end humanity?"

"Yep," replied Nate, "If ye want tae."

Nate looked at Jack canny. "Do yoo want tae, Jack?"

"Umm, nae." said Jack, steppin' a wee further back frae th' lever. "Why in the warld woods anyain want tae end humanity? It'd tak' a psychotic tae want that! Ur waur, a suicidal psychotic, coz it woods kill heem tay, wooldnae it?"

 "Yep," replied Nate, "bein' as he'd be human tay. He'd be dead as weel."

"Has anyain ever serioosly considered it?" asked Nate. "Any ay those boond tae secrecy, 'at is?"

"Weel, ay coorse, Ah hink they've aw serioosly considered it at a body time or another. Bein' given 'at kin' ay responsibility makes ye sit doon an' think, ur sae aam tauld. Samuel considered it several times. He'd aft gie disgusted wi' humanity, come it haur, an' jist hauld th' lever fur a while. But he ne'er pulled it. ur ye wooldnae be haur."

Nate grinned some mair. Jack sat doon, weel back frae th' lever. He looked thooghtful an' puzzled at the sam' time. Efter a bit, he said, "so thes makes me th' judge ay humanity?

"Ah gie tae decide whether they keep gonnae ur jist end? Me?"

 "Tha' seems tae be it," agreed Nate.

"What kin' ay criteria dae Ah use tae decide?" said Jack. "Haw dae Ah make thes decision? am Ah supposed tae decide if they're guid? Ur tay mony ay them ur bad? Ur 'at they're gonnae th' wrang way? Is thaur a sit ay rules fur 'at?"

"Nope," replied Nate. "Yoo bonnie much jist hae tae decide oan yer ain. It's up tae ye, however ye want tae decide it. Ah guess 'at yoo're jist supposed tae ken."

"But whit if Ah gie radge at someain? Ur some lassie dumps me an' Ah feel horrible? Cooldnae Ah make a mistake? Hoo dae Ah ken 'at Ah willnae screw up?" protested Jack.

Nate gae his kin' ay snake-like shrug again. "Yoo dornt. Ye jist hae tae try yer best, Jack."

Jack sat thaur fur a while, starin' aff intae th' desert 'at was rapidly gettin' mirk, chewin' oan a fingernail. Suddenly, Jack turned aroond an' looked at th' snake.

"Nate, was Samuel th' ain boond tae thes afair me?"

"Yep," replied Nate. "He was a guid bloke. Talked tae me a lot. Taught me tae reid an' brooght me books. Ah hink Ah still hae a guid pile ay them buried in th' sain aroond haur somewhaur. Ah still miss heem. He died puckle months ago."

"Soonds loch a guid bloke," agreed Jack. "Haw did he handle thes, when ye first tauld heem. Whit did he dae?"

 "Weel," said Nate, "He sat doon fur a while, thooght abit it fur a bit, an' then askd't me some questions, much loch yoo're daein'."

"What did he ask ye, if yoo're allowed tae teel me?" asked Jack.

"He speart me abit th' third request," replied Nate.

"Aha!" it was Jack's turn tae grin. "Ain whit did ye teel heem?"

"Ah tauld heem th' rules fur th' third request. 'At tae gie th' third request yoo hae tae agree tae thes whole hin'. 'At if it ever comes tae th' point that ye pure hink 'at humanity shoods be ended, 'at yoo'll come here ain end it. Ye willnae avoid it, an' ye willnae wimp it."

Nate looked serioos again. "Ain yoo'll be boond tae dae it tay, Jack."

"Hmmm." Jack looked back it intae th' darkness fur a while. Nate watched heem, waitin'. "Nate," continued Jack, "what did Samuel ask fur wi' his third request?"

 Nate soonded loch he was grinnin' again as he replied, also quietly, "Wisdom, Jack. he speart fur wisdom. as much as Ah coods gie heem."

 "Ok," said Jack, suddenly, standin' up an' facin' awa' frae Nate, "Gife it tae me. Nate looked at Jack's backside.

"Gife ye whit, Jack?"

"Gife me 'at wisdom. th' Sam mince 'at Samuel speart fur. If it helped heem, mebbe it'll help me tay."

Jack turned his heed tae swatch back ower his shoolder at Nate. "It did help heem, reit?"

 "He said it did," replied Nate. "Gut he seemed a wee quieter afterward. Like he hud a lot tae hink abit."

"Weel, yeah, Ah can see 'at," said Jack. "So, gie it tae me."

Jack turned tae face awa' frae Nate again, bent ower slightly an' tensed up. Nate watched Jack tense up wi' a wee exasperation. If he bit Jack noo, Jack woods likely jump it ay his skin an' mebbe hurt them baith.

"Yoo min' 'at yoo'll be boond tae destroy humanity if it ever looks loch it needs it, reit Jack?" asked Nate, shiftin' position.

"Yeah, yeah, Ah got 'at," replied Jack, een squeezed tightly shut an' body tense, nae noticin' th' change in direction ay Nate's voice.

"Ain," continued Nate, frae his new position, "do ye min' 'at yoo'll turn bricht purple, an' graw big horns an' extra een?"

 "Yeah, yeah...hey, bide a minute!" said Jack, openin' his een, straightenin' up an' turnin' aroond. "Purple?!"

He didne see Nate thaur. With th' moonlicht Jack coods see 'at th' lever extended up frae its slot in th' rock withit th' snake wrapped aroond it.
Jack heard, frae behin' heem, Nate's "joost kiddin'!"

Teit afair he felt th' naw familiar piercin' pain, thes time in th' other buttock.

Jack sat oan th' edge ay th' mirk staine in th' rapidly coolin' air, his feet extendin' it intae th' sain. He stared it intae th' darkness, listenin' tae the win' stir th' sain, occasionally rubbin' his butt whaur he'd bin recently bitten.

Nate hud left fur a wee while, hud come back wi' a desert-rodent-shaped bulge somewhaur in his middle, an' was noo wrapped back aroond th' lever, his tongue flickin' it intae th' desert night's air th' only sign 'at he was still waukin'.

Occasionally Jack, wi' his toes absentmindedly diggin' in th' sain while he thooght, woods ask Nate a question withit turnin' aroond.

"Nate, dae accidents coont?"

Nate lifted his heed a wee bit. "What dae ye pure techt, Jack?"

Jack tilted his heed back loch he was lookin' at th' stars. "Yoo ken, accidents. If Ah accidentally faa oan th' lever, withit meanin' tae, diz that still wipe it humanity?"

 "Yeah, aam bonnie sure it diz, Jack. Eh'd suggest ye be cannie abit 'at if ye start feelin' wobbly," said Nate wi' some amusement.

A wee later: "Does it hae tae be me 'at pulls th' lever?" asked Jack.

"Thae's th' rule, Jack. nobody else can pull it," answered Nate.

"No," Jack shook his heed, "Ah meant diz it hae tae be mah hain? Coods Ah pull the lever wi' a rope tied aroond it? Ur push it wi' a stick? Ur flin' a rock?"

"Yes, those shoods wark," replied Nate. "Thoogh aam nae sure hoo complicated yoo coods gie. Samuel thooght abit tryin' tae build some kin' ay remote control fur it ance, but gae it up. Everythin' he'd build woods be gain by the next sunrise, if it was toochin' th' staine, ur ower it.

"Ah tauld heem 'at in th' pest others 'at hud bin boond hud tried tae bury th' lever sae they wooldnae be tempted tae pull it, but every time th' stones ur sain or whatever hud disappeared."

 "Waw," said Jack, "Cool."

Jack leaned back until only his elbows kept him off ay th' staine an' looked up intae th' lift. "Nate, hoo lang did Samuel bide? A body ay his wishes was fur health tay, recht?" asked Jack.

"Yes," replied Nate, "It was. He lived 167 years, Jack."

"Waw, 167 years. that's almost 140 mair years Ah'll bide if Ah bide as lang. Do ye ken whit he died ay, Nate?"

"He died ay gettin' wabbit ay livin', Jack," Nate said, soondin' somewhat sad.

Jack turned his heed tae swatch at Nate in th' starlecht.

Nate looked back. "Samuel kent he wasnae gonnae be able tae bide in society. He figured 'at they'd eventually see heem still alife an' start questionin' it, sae he decided 'at he'd hae tae disappear efter a while. He faked his death ance, but changed his min' - he decided it was tay early an' he coods bide fur a wee longer.

"He wasnae huir uv a fond ay mankin', but he liked th' attention. most ay th' time, anyway. His dochter an' 'en his guidwife dyin' almost did heem in thocht. He didne stay in society much longer efter 'at. He eventually cam it haur tae spend time talkin' tae me an' thinkin' abit pullin' th' lever. Puckle months ago he tauld me he'd hud enaw. It was his time."

"Ain 'en he jist died?" speart Jack.

Nate shook his heed a wee. "he gart his forth request, Jack. There's only ain hin' ye can ask fur th' foorth request. Th' lest bite."

"After a bit Nate continued, "He tauld me 'at he was wabbit, 'at it was his time. He reassured me 'at someain new woods shaw up suin, loch they aye had."

After anither pause, Nate finished, "Samuel's body disappeared aff th' staine with th' sunrise."

 Jack lay back doon an' looked at th' lift, leavin' Nate aloyn wi' his memories. It was a lang time until Jack's breathin' evened it intae sleep.

Jack woke wi' th' sunrise th' next morn.

He was a wee chilled wi' the morn desert air, but overaa was feelin' bonnie guid. Weel, except that his stomach was grumblin' an' he wasnae willin' tae eat raw desert rat. So, efter gettin' directions tae toon frae Nate, makin' sure he kent hoo tae git back, an' reassurin' Nate 'at he'd be back suin, Jack started th' long walk back tae toon.

Wi' his new health an' Nate's guid directions, he gart it back easily.

Jack caught a bus back tae th' city, an' showed up fur wark th' next day, little waur fur th' wear an' wi' a story abit gettin' tint in th' desert ain walkin' back it.

Within a coople ay days Jack hud talked a mukker wi' a taw truck intae gonnae back it intae th' desert wi' heem tae fetch th' grav-sled.

They foond it efter a coople ay hoors ay searchin' an' towed it back withoot incident. Jack was cannie nae tae e'en swatch in th' direction ay Nate's lever, thocht their path back didne come within secht ay it.

Befair th' next weekend, Jack hud gain tae a coople ay stores, includin' a book stair, an' hud gotten his grav-sled back frae th' mechanic, wi' a warnin' tae avoid onie mair joyridin' in th' desert.

Oan seturday, Jack headed back tae see Nate.

Jack parked a wee way it ay th' wee toon near Nate, loaded up his new backpack wi' campin' gear an' th' things he was bringin' fur Nate, an' 'en started walkin'. he figured 'at walkin' woods lae th' leest trail, an' he knew 'at while nae mony fowk camped in th' desert, it wasnae unheard ay, ain shooldnae pure raise suspicions.

Jack hud brooght mair books fur Nate - recent books, magazines, newspapers. Some things 'at woods catch Nate up wi' whit was happenin' in th' warld, others 'at waur jist guid books tae reid.

He spent th' weekend wi' Nate, ain 'en headed it again, tellin' Nate 'at he'd be back again suin, but that he hud things tae dae first.

Owre fower months later Jack was back tae see Nate again. Thes time he brooght a wee computer wi' heem - a specially modified computer. It hud a solar recharger, special filters an' seals tae keep it th' sain, a satellite link-up, an' a special keyboard an' joystick 'at Jack hoped 'at a fifteen-foot rattlesnake woods be able tae use.

An', it hud bin hacked tae nae gie oot its location tae th' satellite. After 'at Jack coods e-mail Nate tae keep in tooch, but still visited him fairly regularly - at leest ance ur twice a year.

After th' first year, Jack quit his job. Fur some reason, wi' th' wisdom he 'd bin given, an' th' knowledge 'at he coods bide fur ower 150 years, workin' in a nine tae fife job fur someain else didne seem 'at worthwhile any mair...

There was a slam of a big fist and the rogue Bhor jumped as far as his chains would allow him.

"Weel, thae's it for t'day," Kilgour said, polishing off his drink and rising to his feet.

"What do ya mean, that's it?" cried Madea. "That's no place to stop a story."

"Ye wan' more, do ye laddie?" Kilgour asked, a sly grin. "Ye wan to hear more a th' tale a Nate n' Jack?"

"No. No. No more… I mean… Yes… I mean… I can't bear it! Just shoot me and get it over with."

"Weel ya' nae talk tae me, then?" Kilgour asked. "Where be th' wee Crown Prince?'

Madea almost cracked then. Almost spilled the coordinates to where his mates and the Crown Prince could be found.

He opened his mouth to speak, then snapped his jaws shut with a loud click!

Gave a violent shake of his head.

"Ah, weel. Tae's tha' then. Ah'll be back in the morry."

And Alex went out the door, leaving the big Bhor sobbing like a baby.


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!

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