Thursday, March 15, 2012


N-Space - Year One marked the founding of the Eternal Emperor's Galaxies-wide kingdom. Socio-historians have debated for centuries on where to place this event on the old Gregorian Calendar. Most agree with noted Sten scholar, Dr. James (Jimmy) Harris whose studies show that it arguably occurred either in late 2024 or early 2025 AD. One expert - Time Traveler Extraordinaire Matt Kaufmann - went so far as to calculate that it fell on what was classically known as The Ides Or March - March 15. Professor Frank Gessel - head of the Department Of Imperial Studies - confirms both these findings.

However,  the Emperor didn't introduce the celebration itself until late in his reign, patterning the sporting events and parades after the ancient Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoos in the Earth province of Scotland. Only a few accounts survive of the actual festivities at the Eternal Emperor's Court On Prime World. This is one of them.

From Sten #3 The Court Of A Thousand Suns
By Allan Cole And Chris Bunch


Court Of A Thousand Suns
THE MAN IN THE BLUE boiler suit had his long knife against the throat of Admiral Mik Ledoh. With his other hand, he forced the Eternal Emperor's Grand Chamberlain closer to the edge of the battlements, "Either our demands are met immediately, or this man dies!" His amplified voice echoed across the castle's stonework, down the 700 meters of emptiness and across the parade ground.

One hundred meters below and to the right, Sten checked his foot/handholds. His clawed fingers were barely clinging to mortar notches in the stone. One foot dangled over emptiness, the other was firmly braced on the face of Havildar-Major Lalbahadur Thapa. 
Sten's willygun was slung from a clip-strap on his dark brown combat suit. Snapped to one arm was a can of climbing thread. At its end was a grapnel.

From above them the terrorist's voice came again: "You have only seconds left to reach your decision and save this man's life!"

Sten's left hand went up and out, stretching for a new hold. At first he thought he had it, then the mortar crumbled and he almost came off. Sten forced his body away from its instinctive clutch at the wall, then inhaled deeply.

"Kaphar hurinu bhanda marnu ramro," came the pained mutter from Lalbahadur below him.

"But cowards live longer, dammit!" Sten managed as he one-handed out, lifting both feet clear. Then his climbing boots found a hold, and Sten was momentarily secure. Breath . . . breath . . . and he once again became a climbing machine. Below him, Lalbahadur and the rest of the Gurkkha platoon moved steadily up the vertical granite wall toward the two men above them.

Five meters below the parapet. Sten found a stance — a protruding knob of rock. He touched the second can of climbing thread attached to the Swiss seat around his waist, and a spidery white line spat out, touched the rock facing, and bonded to it.

Sten motioned outward then toward his waist, signaling that he was secure and could belay the rest of the troops below him. From a third can, on the rear of his harness, a thread descended to the Gurkkhas below.

Lalbahadur came up into position, on a single line to Sten's immediate right.

Sten paid no attention. He touched the nozzle of the thread can on his arm, and allowed about fifteen meters of thread, the grapnel at the end, to reel out. He freed one hand from the wall and weaseled it into the thread glove clipped to a carabineer sling, then began rhythmically swinging the grapnel back and forth. Suddenly he cast upward.

The twenty-gram-weight grapnel flickered upward and then caught, spinning twice around the muzzle of an archaic cannon which protruded from the crenellation above him.

Sten clipped his special jumars on the thread and snaked upward while the man in the boiler suit was staring out, into the lights. He never saw Sten lizard up, past the cannon and onto the battlement.

"We have waited for enough time," the voice boomed, on cue. The knife arm came back for the fatal stroke, and Sten came out of the shadows low, coming straight up, one clawed hand slamming into the man's face and a blocking hand snapping into the knife.

The man in the boiler suit staggered away, and the Chamberlain tottered for a minute on the edge of emptiness, then caught his footing. The man with the knife recovered, long blade ready.

But Sten was already inside his attack, double-fisted hands swinging. The strike caught the terrorist on the side of his head, and he dropped limply.

Behind the battlements, the other terrorists spun toward the threat. But they were far too late. The Gurkkhas swarmed up from the darkness and came in, 30-cm kukri blades glittering in the spots. And, once again, the cry "Ayo Gurkhali" rang around the castle, a battle cry that had made thousands of generations of violent men reconsider their intentions.

To a man, the terrorists were down.

Lalbahadur checked the downed men to ensure they were, indeed, out. NaikThaman Gurung unslung the rocket mortar from his back and positioned it. Sten nodded, and the mortar bloomed fire as the round lofted up, out into blackness, and then curveted down to thud onto the parade ground far below.

Gurung bonded the line that ran back from the mortar, impacted far below in the parade ground to a battlement, then grinned at Sten. "We barang now, Captain."

"Platoon up," Sten shouted. "By numbers — move!"

The first to go was Thaman. He attached jumar clamps to the thread that reached more than 700 meters down to the parade ground, swung his feet up, and was off, whistling down the near-invisible thread to safety.

Sten saluted the Chamberlain. "Sir."

Admiral Ledoh grimaced, shoved the ceremonial cocked hat more firmly on his head, took the pair of jumars Sten handed him, and then he, too, disappeared down the thread.

Sten was the next to go, freewheeling off the tiny clamps toward the solid concrete ground. He braked at the last minute, took his hands from the jumar handles, hit, and rolled twice.

Behind him, Lalbahadur and the others descended the thread, hit, recovered, and doubled into platoon formation. Admiral Ledoh, a bit breathless, took two steps forward and saluted. Above him, the Eternal Emperor applauded. Following his cue, the half a million spectators filling the grandstands that lined the five-kilometer-long parade ground broke into cheers — applauding as much for the "terrorists," who were taking their bows high above, as the Gurkkhas, Ledoh, and Sten.

Ledoh broke his salute and puffed toward the steps that led to the Imperial stand. By the time he'd made it into the stand itself, the Emperor had a drink waiting for him. After Ledoh shuddered the alcohol down, the Emperor asked with a grin, "Who had the idea of that stupid hat?"

"I did, Your Majesty."

"Uh-huh," the Emperor snickered. "Howinhell'd you hold it on down that Slide for Life?"

"A superior, water soluble glue."

"It had better be. No way am I going to live with that — that — bedpan attached to the head of someone I must see every day." Without waiting for a response, he added, "Have another drink Mik, for godsakes! It isn't every day you play Tarzan."

The second order was followed quickly and thankfully.

The Emperor was celebrating an invention of his own. Empire Day.

He'd begun the ceremony more than 500 years earlier to celebrate winning a war that he'd since forgotten.

The premise was simple: Once a year, every year, all Imperial Forces put on a display, on whatever world they happened to be assigned to, with everyone welcome.

There was, of course, more purpose to Empire Day than just a parade. There was a second or tertiary purpose to almost everything the Eternal Emperor did. Not only did the display of armed might reassure the citizens of the Empire that they were Protected and Defended, but also, Empire Day served to discourage potential Bad Guys from developing Evil Schemes, at least toward Imperial Interests.

The most massive display on Empire Day occurred on Prime World. Over the years, Empire Day had become the culmination of a two-week-long celebration of athletics and the arts as well as of military might. It was a cross between Saturnalia, Oktoberfest, the Olympics, and May Day. For that one night, the Imperial palace was thrown open to everyone, which by itself was a major encouragement.

The Emperor's main residence and command center on Prime World, the palace, was set in a fifty-five-kilometer-diameter circle of gardens. The fifty-five-kilometer measure was significant, since that was the line-of-sight horizon limit on Prime. The Emperor was not fond of stumbling across people whose presence he had not planned on.

At the center of the circle of manicured and wildly varying parklands was the main palace itself, possibly the ultimate motte-and-bailey design, occupying an area six by two kilometers.

The "bailey" consisted of high, fifty-degree-banked walls that vauban-vee-ed back and forth, from the main entrance gate toward the palace itself. The walls were 200 meters high, and buried within was a high percentage of the Emperor's bureaucracy. They were not entirely nuke-proof, but it would take direct hits to wipe out the structure, and the Emperor could continue operations even if his palace was completely sealed off; decade’s worth of food, air, and water were tanked below the walls for his staff.

The palace itself, a large-scale copy of Earth's Arundel Castle, stood at the far end of the five-kilometer-long parade ground that made up the center of the bailey.

Even more so than the bailey walls, the castle had been built on the iceberg principal. Imperial command barracks/living quarters tunneled underground below the castle itself for more than 2,000 meters.

The castle was faced with huge stone blocks behind which were nuclear-blast shielding, and meters of insulation. The Emperor liked the look of Earth-medieval, but preferred the safety and comfort provided by science.

The palace was open to the general public on Empire Day, when huge Imperial Guard gravlighters carried the tourists in. During the remainder of the year, only palace employees boarded a high-speed pneumosubway thirty-four kilometers away in Fowler, and were blasted to their duty stations.

Since attendance at Empire Day on Prime World was roughly akin to being presented at Court, the Emperor had figured out long ago that many more millions of his people would want to go than there was space for. So he'd set up attendance much like what he'd described to an uncomprehending official as a "three-ring circus." Nearest to the castle were the most desirable seats. These the Emperor allowed to be assigned to Court Favorites, Current Heroes, Social Elitists, and so forth.

The second "ring," and there was no easy way to tell where the dividing line was, went to the social climbers. Those seats could be sold, scalped, threatened for, and otherwise acquired by those people who knew that seeing Empire Day on Prime World was the culmination of their entire life.

The third area, farthest from the Imperial reviewing stand itself, was carefully allotted to Prime World residents. Of course, many of these tickets ended up in the hands of outworlders rather than in those of the Prime Worlders they'd been assigned to, but the Emperor felt that if "local folks" wanted to make a credit or two, he certainly had no objections.

Seating was on bleachers that were installed weeks before the ceremony, on the banked walls of the bailey that surrounded the parade ground.

Technically, it didn't matter where the attendees sat; huge holographic screens rose at regular intervals atop the walls, giving the spectators access to instant close-ups as well as to occasional cut-arounds to those people in the "first circle" who were somehow Noteworthy.

Some events, such as Sten's "rescue", were only held at the far end of the parade ground, next to the castle itself. But most were set up to run continuously, down each area to an eventual exit at the far end of the parade ground.

Empire Day was the most spectacular staged event of the year. The Court still proclaimed itself the Court of a Thousand Suns, even though the Empire numbered far more systems than that, and Empire Day was when those suns shone most brightly.

It was also a night on which anything might happen.
Wheezing, Sten leaned against the wall of the concrete tunnel— a tunnel normally sealed by heavy collapsed-steel blast doors. Now the doors were raised to permit the Empire Day participants entry onto the parade ground.

Beside him, panting more sedately, was Havildar-Major Lalbahadur Thapa. The other Gurkkhas had been praised and dismissed, to spend, for them, a far more enjoyable evening devoted to gambling and massive consciousness-alteration by whatever substances they chose.

"That was a famous display," Lalbahadur grunted.

"Yuh," Sten said.

"I am sure that, should any evil man desire to hold our Chamberlain for ransom, he will never do it on the edge of this castle."

Sten grinned. In the three months he'd commanded the Emperor's Own Gurkkha Bodyguard, he'd learned that the Nepalese sense of humor matched his own, most especially in its total lack of respect toward superior officers. "You're cynical. This has given us much honor."

"That is true. But what puzzles me is that one time I made my ablution in one hand, and waited for the other hand to fill up with honor." Lalbahadur mocked sadness. "There was no balance."

"At least there is one thing," Lalbahadur brightened. "Our heroism will be shown to the parbitayas back home, and we shall have no trouble finding new fools who want to climb walls for the glory of the Emperor."

Sten's comeback was broken off as a band crashed into noise behind him. The officer and the noncom straightened as the Honor Guard of the Emperor's Own Praetorians thundered forward. Sten and Lalbahadur saluted the colors, then shrank back against the wall as the 600-plus men of the palace guard, all polished leather, gleaming metal, and automata, slammed past.

At the head of the formation the Praetorian's commanding officer, Colonel Den Fohlee, ramrodded a salute back at Sten, then snapped his eyes forward as the honor unit wheeled out onto the parade ground, to be met with cheers.

"My father once told me," Lalbahadur observed, "that there are only two kinds of men in the world. Normally, I do not listen to such nonsense, since it is my thought that the only two kinds of men in the world are those who see only two kinds of men in the world and those who do not." He stopped, slightly confused.

"Two kinds of men, your father said," Sten prompted.

"Yes. There are those who love to polish metal and leather and there are those who would rather drink. Captain, to which group do you belong?"

"Pass, Havildar," Sten said with regret. "I'm still on duty."

Sten and the noncom saluted, then the small, stocky man doubled off. Sten had a few minutes before guard check, so he walked to the end of the tunnel to watch the Praetorians parade.

They were very, very good, as befits any group of men and women whose sole duties and training consisted in total devotion to their leaders, an ability to stand motionless for hours on guard, and colorful ceremonious pirouetting.

Sten was being unfair, but the few times he'd been told off for parade duties, he'd found it a pain in the moulinette. Parading soldiers may be interesting to some types, but those people could never have spent the endless dull hours of shining and rehearsal that a parade takes.

Although Sten had to admit that the Praetorians were highly skilled. They paraded with archaic projectile weapons; the stubby, efficient willygun wasn't spectacular enough for any manual of arms. And the willygun had no provision for a bayonet. By the fortieth century, the benefits of mounting a can opener on the end of a rifle were long gone, save for ceremonial purposes.

And so the Praetorians jerked to and fro in intricate array with near-four-foot-long rifles.

The soldiers initially had their weapons at the shoulder. On count, the weapons came down to waist-carry, the bayonets gleaming before them like so many spears.

Marching in extended order, on command, each rank would wheel and march back toward the next rank's lowered bayonets. Sten winced to think what would happen if a noncom missed a beat in the continual chant of commands.

The unit pivoted back on itself, then wheel-turned in ranks. By chant, they began a progressive manual of arms; as each line's boots would crash against the tarmac, that rank would move from carry arms to port arms to shoulder arms to reverse shoulder arms.

Simultaneously, squads broke apart and began doing by-the-count rifle tosses — continuing the progressive manual, but after the shoulder arms command each soldier would pitch his weapon straight up and backward, to be caught by the next person in ranks.

Sten, watching with give-me-strength cynicism, hadn’t enough history to have met the old line: "It's pretty, but is it war?”


1. Five copies each of The Sten Cookbook and The Alex Kilgour Jokebook are up for grabs. Autographed, of course. Send me an e-mail ( with Empire Day in the subject line and I'll put it into the hopper. The drawing will be March 17 - Saint Pat's Day.

2. Download the Sten #1 E-Book for free, courtesy of my publisher, Wildside Books. Send me an E-Mail ( with Sten E-Book in the subject line and I'll send you the link. Suitable for all e-book flavors, including Kindle, Nook, etc.


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.    


The MisAdventures began humbly enough - with about 2,000 readers. When it rose to over 50,000 (we're now knocking at the door of 100,000) I started listening to those of you who urged me to collect the stories into a book. Starting at the beginning, I went back and rewrote the essays, adding new detail and events as they came to mind. This book is the result of that effort. However, I'm mindful of the fact, Gentle Reader, that you also enjoy having these little offerings posted every Friday to put a smile on your face for the weekend. So I'll continue running them until it reaches the final Fade Out. Meanwhile, it would please the heart of this ink-stained wretch - as well as tickle whatever that hard black thing is in my banker's chest - if you bought the book. It will make a great gift, don't you think? And if you'd like a personally autographed copy you can get it directly through my (ahem) Merchant's Link at Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!

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