Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other.  ~Oscar Ameringer


Politicians and diapers should be changed frequently and all for the same reason.   - José Maria de Eça de Queiroz


Chris said, "Okay, if we're gonna go with an Emperor kind of schmuck, instead of a President-For-Life kind of schmuck, what kind of a guy would he be?"


"The fucker's gotta be a man of the mother fuckin' people," said Karl The Biker, who was the president of a local outlaw motorcycle club and a frustrated poet.


I said to Chris, "Let's make a note, here. No cursing in Sten, except with maybe some curses we make up."


"I fuckin' agree," said Karl The Biker. "We gotta get your general fuckin' audience. No fuckin' cursing allowed."


Chris sighed. "Karl," he said, "the only 'We' around here when it comes to writing the Sten series, is the me and Allan 'We.' You're just here because you brought the beer."


This was more than true. Chris and I had been laboring hard to build the characters that would populate the Sten series and then we heard the distinctive thunder of a fat-bobbed Harley outside and then Karl had come knocking at the door toting a case of cold beer.


"Hey, guys," he said, "I gotta get away from those ignorant fucks at the Club House for a couple hours. Thought I'd come bug you fucks for awhile."


Chris and I eyed each other. This was an interruption, to be sure. But Karl had been having problems with his warring biker/poet nature and was seeing a psychiatrist. Two facts that his Brothers Of The Road would not have appreciated knowing.


In short, we felt sorry for him. Also…


"He did bring beer," Chris said. "And we're just about out."


So, we welcomed him to our brain-storming session, and as it turned out he made some excellent contributions.


Karl did not take offense at Chris' admonishment. "Sure, sure," he said. "I just got interested. Carried away, like. Not a lot I don't fuckin' know about leadership - being one myself." He drained his beer, popped another and added, "But you two mother fuckers are the artists. You outrank me."


I said, "Back to the Emperor. I agree with Karl that he has to be a man of the people. But not a made up one. He has to be the real deal."


"Not like that fuckin' peanut farmer we got for president," Karl came in. "Turns out that was all bullshit. He doesn't get his fuckin' hands dirty. He just buys and sells peanuts. Inherited the business from his old man." Karl snorted. "What a wimp!"


Chris said, "Even better - what if we build in some street smarts? Literally. Make him a gutter snipe. If somebody hadn't stepped in, he'd end up a criminal, instead of Emperor."


"I like that," Karl said. "I was a trailer park punk. But,  fuckin' look at me now!"


We didn't look, but drank more beer instead.


Sight, sounds and smells from my CIA brat past jumped up and I said, "Let's put it some place really exotic. Like old Hong Kong, but in America."


"Fuckin' A," Karl said. "I fuckin' love that. I was in Hong Kong when I was in the Merchant Marines. The whole  harbor was so packed with fuckin' house boats you could fuckin' walk from one fuckin' end to the other without gettin' your fuckin' feet wet."


"Yeah, but where would we get a blast-from-the-past Hong Kong in America?" Chris said. "I mean, I think the Emp's definitely gotta start out in America. Or, something like America. But like a couple of centuries from now."


I said, "How about Hawaii?"


"Fuckin' A," Karl said…. 


MAUI, A.D. 2174

THE BOY HURTLED across the sagging plank onto the next hulk, arrowing across its foredeck. He saw the tarred cable anchoring the scow to its brother just in time, and jumped—foot skittering on the gunwale—then he was in the air, the muck and slime of Moaloea Bay below him, sullen tide splashing the polluted water against the black hulls. 

He landed, almost falling, and darted around the high-piled scrap on the bow’s deck and flattened.


Behind him yelps turned to shouts. There were six of them. All of them older, all of them bigger.

All they had wanted, they said, was to see what the boy had in his ragged military-surplus knapsack. What they said, what they wanted, did not matter. Their intent was clear.

The boy had taken a new way across the bay, moving through the maze of grounded ships, half-sunk hovercraft, trawlers of the fisher families, and oared houseboats that might have belonged to the rich two generations ago.

He slipped past the tiny junks of the Chinese boat families, unchanged for thousands of years, working steadily toward the ship channel. Across the channel was the far shore and Kahanamoku City.

The boy knew that when the six found him, they would not kill him. Probably not, at any rate. But he would certainly be beaten. That was not a problem. He’d taken beatings before, and would take them again. And those who would thrash him would have bruises of their own for mementos.

It was what was in the knapsack that had made him run, and would make him fight.

Because they would take the pack from him, and open it. The treasures inside would be mocked, ripped, and tossed into the murky waters.

Three books.

Real books.

Books the old man who owned the pierside junkshop had not wanted. One fat book. Two slender. The fat one was very old, had small type, and was called The Thousand Nights and a Night.

He knew nothing of what it was about, but a glance inside promised adventures with strange beings in strange places, with creatures called rocs and djinn.

The second book looked equally impenetrable, but was equally promising: Freedom From Gravity, The Equations and Early Experiments of Lord Archibald McLean.

Perhaps he could understand just how those great landbarges could fill themselves with cargo, and then effortlessly lift into the sky and float over the watery slum of the bay, out past the barriers to where the great torchships berthed.

The last volume was medium-sized: Starchild - Growing Up In Deep Space. The holo of the author inside the front cover made her look a proper dwonk, but what did that matter? She’d at least gotten off this planet, and she looked to be not much older than the boy.


Now they were on this barge. Gleam of violet, gleam of yellow. No. Leong Suk would be shamed.

A thought crossed his mind—a thought far older than the boy’s years. There’s nothing wrong with being ashamed of yourself—if you’re alive to feel that way later.

A howl.

He’d been seen!

A hand clawed down at him, to drag him up to meet a balled fist or a stick. The boy grabbed the long-abandoned glass vase and slapped it across the stanchion next to him. The glass shattered, and the boy bounded up, whipping the vase like a saber across the face of the older boy.


A scream.

Another scream, from the boy himself, as the older one fell away, and the boy leapt toward the second of his pursuers.

Again he slashed, and blood spurted from the second one’s arm. Then there were shouts, clattering, and five teenagers ran like a demon of the sea was behind them.

One lay writhing on the barge, hands covering the ruins of what had been a face.

The boy came back to himself. He twisted sideways and pelted down the deck of a dredger, ignoring the shouts of the crewmen cleaning the chains and buckets, jumped over its stern, onto a small boat, then another leap… and he disappeared.

He did not stop his flight until he’d scrambled onto the stern of a just-departing crosschannel towboat. He slumped against its wire railing, panting. He still held the broken vase in one hand. Now it was violet, yellow… and scarlet.

The boy dropped it into the water.

He thought about what had happened. He did not feel as if he’d won a victory. He didn’t feel proud. But the three books were still safe in his knapsack. He decided he knew something he hadn’t known before. You had to anticipate what you might encounter. And you always should give yourself an edge. More than anyone knew you had. Maybe a weapon… maybe… maybe just knowing something.

He shook his head. He was not sure where this thought was taking him, but he would return to it later. He had learned something valuable this day.

The boy’s name was Kea Richards. He was eight years old.

By the twenty-second century, Hawaii was a rotting slum. Its few natives were living on reservations, supported by government guilt checks. Its native flora and fauna were nearly extinct outside of a few botanical gardens and zoos. And its population was close to twenty million humans.

As always, world events had not been kind to the islands, from the Chinese rise, then terrible descent into barbarism before they once more closed the bamboo curtain at the end of the Twenty First Century, to the anarchy that disrupted Japan, the religious wars that turned Indonesia into an illiterate theocracy, and the earthquakes and exclusionary (anti-Asian) laws passed by the government of North America in the opening decades of the century, before its collapse and takeover when Earth finally achieved a single government.

Of the islands, Kaui and Oahu were the least spoiled, since they had the greatest wealth. Least spoiled from original paradise in the same sense that Manhattan Island of the twentieth century was identical with the rock Peter Minuit purchased in the seventeenth century. The Big Island of Hawaii was not rural, not urban, but dirt-poor, serving as a labor pool for cheap manual workers.

The center of Hawaii was now Maui/Molokai/Lanai/ Kahoolawe/Molokini. In the dim past, they had been a single island, and Man was now in the process of making them one again, with floating barricades and causeways. The reason was Space. Hawaii was the perfect midpoint launch station for torchships headed offplanet to the terraformed worlds of Mars and some of the Jovian/Saturnian moons. Or else, less frequently, to where the great sailships waited to build their crews for the generations-long journey to the stars. And Hawaii had been the launch point for two of the five true starships Earth had been able to build and send out on their government-bankrupting explorations.

Businesses blanketed Maui, from bars to machine shops to import/export to who-really-knew. The sea itself was covered with ships, anchored or tied one to another, from skiffs to huge restaurant boats. The islands were encircled with huge floating Hamilton barriers, patterned after the Thames tidal palisades that required only a few minutes to automatically lift into floating breakwaters, in the event of hurricanes or tsunamis. There were even larger breakwaters circling the deeps—what had been Kealaikahiki Channel—where the torchships ported.

When Kea Richards was born, his family ran a small diner on Big Island, in the city of Hilo. Kea vaguely remembered his father and grandmother talking about the old days back on the mainland. The diner served anything and everything, and Kea remembered his father boasting they could make anything anybody wanted, given a recipe and the ingredients. He even thought they’d been challenged a few times, and, he dimly remembered, had been victorious making some strangely named and even-more-strange-tasting dishes. He himself was thrilled when his father would pile a box on a chair near the grill and put his infant son atop it, and pretend to consult him as he cooked. To this day, he still remembered recipes or parts of recipes.

He had trouble remembering his mother, except that she was very pretty. Or maybe he remembered her beauty because Leong Suk would talk about it. But not in a complimentary way. She was half-Thai, half-Irish, which is where Kea got his eyes, as blue as the skies above in the winter, when the trade winds blew away the pollution. Kea was her only child and that was just as she wanted. The boy never knew why his father would sometimes sing a song, which Kea couldn’t remember any of the words to except “Oblahdee/Oblahdah/Life goes on…” but it would instantly spark a blazing row.

When Kea was only five, his mother disappeared. His father searched, fearing the worst, not sure what the worst meant. And he found his wife—or, rather, found what had happened to her. She had volunteered for a longliner. The elder Richards shuddered, a reaction Kea did not understand for years, until he was able to find some of the declassified accounts of the misery, murder, and insanity that happened on the monstrous sailing ships, even before they were beyond contact in their reach for the stars.

Kea Richards cried a little. Then they told the boy that it did not matter. His mother would be happier, somewhere out there. And they could be happier here. Just the three of them. Two years later, the tsunami struck.


Kea was climbing a tree when the ocean left. A girl had said that the tree had a coconut, and Kea wanted to see what the fruit looked like. Pollution had killed the native coconut palms decades earlier. He looped rope between his feet, put a single safety line around the tree trunk, and was shinnying up the palm when he chanced a look out to sea.

He gaped.

It was as if the tide was going out, except going out in a roar, receding far into Hilo Bay. He had never seen such a sight. There were fish, stranded and flopping in the exposed bottom mire. A wreck of a boat was being turned over and over as the Pacific was sucked away, just as if someone had pulled the plug from a washtub.

Two thousand kilometers at sea, there had been a suboceanic earthquake. The quake set three waves in motion toward the Hawaiian Islands. Each of them was only half a meter in height— but there were a hundred kilometers between wave crests. Instruments sensed the quake. They should have sparked alarms. But there were none shrilling across the city of Hilo when the tsunami struck. The great barriers protecting the Maui Complex and the torchship port slid smoothly into position.

There were none around Hilo.

Kea heard screams. Saw people running. Some were running for the waterfront in curiosity, others were running away. Down the street he saw his father. He was shouting for Kea. Kea whistled, and saw his father gesture frantically. Kea obediently started to slide down the tree.

He heard the roar. And the sea returned to Hilo as it had four times in a little more than a century. The ocean floor had slowed the base of the seismic waves and now, as the water shallowed before land, the waves crested. The first wave was not the biggest Kea had seen—his father had taken him to Oahu and shown him the North Shore during a winter storm, and he’d shuddered as the great breakers, as high as ten meters, thundered against the land. This wave was only five meters tall, they said later. But it traveled at a speed of almost eight hundred kilometers per hour.

The first wave shattered the great breakwater as if it had never existed and rolled on, breaking, foaming, destroying. It ripped apart buildings, ships, houses, groundcars, hovercraft, men and women. Ripped them apart and used them as battering rams. The front of the wave was a solid wall of debris.

Kea thought he remembered seeing his father try to run, and the wave catch him and their tiny home and diner. But perhaps not.

He woke, a day and a half later, in a charity hospital ward. He had been found by a fishing boat, still lashed to that tree, floating nearly a kilometer out to sea.

No one ever found the bodies of his father and grandmother.

Kea did not end up in an orphanage. An elderly woman appeared at the hospital. Leong Suk. She told the officials that she had once worked for the Richards family, and they had treated her well. Kea did not remember her. Kea went home with Leong Suk that day. She had a small shop on a back street in Kahanamoku City, selling nonperishable groceries and sundries. She and Kea lived upstairs.

That first day, she informed Kea what the rules were. He was to be a good boy. That meant he was to keep certain hours and help in the store when she needed him. He was not to give her trouble. She said she was too old to be able to raise a hellion. She did not know what she would do if he was bad. And one more thing. Kea was to learn. That would be the only path out of the slum. She did not care what he became, but he was not going to spend his life in Kahanamoku City.

The boy nodded solemnly. He knew she was right. This place had already cost him his entire family. He felt it was trying to kill him, as well.

Kea, already a well-behaved child, gave Leong Suk little trouble—except when it came to school. He came home after two weeks at the local grammar. He was not learning anything. Leong Suk was skeptical. The boy proved it by reciting, chapter by chapter, what his class was supposed to learn during the next quarter. She wondered whom they could find for a tutor. Kea soon ferreted out a likely candidate.

Three streets away was the Lane of the Godmen. Tiny storefronts, each one with a different shaman or priest, each one looking for converts and acolytes. Kea came dashing home, shouting about one. The Temple of Universal Knowledge. A bit bigger than the other hovels—and filled with fiches, microfiches, and piles and piles of books. It even had a battered computer link to the university library.

Leong Suk told the boy they would go to this temple. Inside, it smelled a little musty, a little bad, as did the “priest,” a balding, obsequious man who called himself Tompkins. Yes, he meant what he said. No one could know too much. Only when a being knew All Things could he achieve perfection, and he must study all his life and, if blessed, other lives to come. Then would come translation. He listened to Kea read aloud. Asked him some questions—questions that might have puzzled a secondary-school graduate. Tompkins beamed. Yes, he would happily take Kea as a student. His fee would be… it was astonishingly cheap. Leong Suk saw the way Tompkins was looking at the boy, and told Kea to go outside.

She told the man that he was not to preach his religion to the boy. If Kea decided to become a believer… that was as it would be. That was not a problem, the little man smoothed.

One more thing, the old woman said… and Tompkins shrieked slightly, as mother-of-pearl blurred around Leong Suk’s wrinkled hand, and the point of a double-edged butterfly knife touched his chest. “You will never touch the boy,” she said, nearly in a whisper. “You will never think about touching the boy. Because if you do… you will wonder why your friend, death, took so long to find you.”

Tompkins shuddered… and the knife vanished.

Whether Leong Suk was correct or not, the man was never anything other than a perfectly correct teacher to Kea. In fact, whatever Tompkins’s private desires might have been vanished in his awe, as the boy seemed to effortlessly inhale anything that was put in front of him. He particularly throve on mathematics. Engineering. Physics. All practical, though. He seemed to have little interest in pursuing theories. When he was twelve, Tompkins asked Kea why he seemed less interested—even though he read voluminously—in the social sciences.

Kea looked at Tompkins seriously, as if not sure whether to trust the man.

“Hard science is what will get me out of here, mister. Out of here… and up there.” He gestured upward—and it took Tompkins a moment to realize that the gesture swept out, out to the stars themselves.


Richards learned other things. How to make change quickly and efficiently. How to spot snide, and refuse it without making a bother. To speak four, and get along in three others, of the more than twelve languages spoken in his neighborhood. He grew tall, strong, and handsome. His smile, and his blue eyes, brought him other teachers, in other subjects. Some were the giggling girls his own age. Some were young and teenaged. And some had husbands. He learned to look behind all curtains in a bedroom before he took off his pants. He learned how to jump from a second-story balcony and roll-land on the mucky street below without breaking something.

He learned where to hit someone and hurt them worse than you hurt yourself. And, more importantly, he learned when to hit and when not to. Sometimes he needed more than a fist. Sometimes he needed an edge. He learned how to use those things, too. He did not lack teachers. The riot police found it necessary to patrol Kahanamoku City in squads, with gravsleds overhead for backup.

When he was fourteen, Tompkins gave him a series of examinations. He passed them, handily. Tompkins did not tell Kea what they were—but he did inform Leong Suk that the boy had just passed the standard entrance examinations for the Academy of Space on the mainland.

“Should he go there?” Leong Suk wondered. Tompkins shook his head. Even though Kea wanted to go into space, that was not the way. The Academy would fit Richards for the military—and that would be not enough for what he thought Kea was capable of. But he refused to tell her more.


The spaceship was tiny—at least compared to pictures Kea had seen of the longliners that hung off Earth, or the torchships that sat like so many oranges, torches underwater, out beyond the barrier. There was no sign on the ship, nor a special marking on the berth. But Kea knew the Discovery was a starship. It was one of the five true starships, and the only one still on Earth. Two others had been scrapped: the others were in mothball orbits off Mars.

The ship’s stardrive was simple. Idiot-proof. A blink—Alpha Centauri. A word—Luyten 726-B. A full sentence—Epsilon Indi. Half a cup of caff—Arcturus. The problem was fuel for that engine. It had made two voyages and was unlikely to make a third. The fuel for each voyage, an exotic synthetic, had taken five full years, a manhattanproject commitment, and the resources of an entire government to synthesize. Even so, the synthetic only let the engine develop half-power. The ship was a freak, like Leonardo’s tank, Lilienthal’s airplane, the Great Eastern, or the Savannah.

Kea stared, hypnotized at its sleekness, dreaming of where it had gone and where it might go again. He left the port at dusk. But he came back again. And again.


Kea was sixteen when Tompkins died. After the morgue crew had left, he and Leong Suk looked at each other. “We must find,” she said firmly, “if he had a family, and communicate with them.” They searched through the ruins and baled papers of a failed man’s life. They found no sign that Tompkins had any friend or loved one anywhere on Earth or the planets. But they found a small antique safe. Leong Suk agonized, but eventually told Kea that perhaps they should open it. Perhaps he knew someone with that skill?

Kea did: himself. An older boy had taught him. Kea twisted the dial, ear pressed against the door, listening. And he could hear the tumblers fall, just as the other boy had told him he would. Inside, there were two envelopes. One of them contained almost two thousand dollars in new credits, and a will. The money was for Kea. The other contained forms, and exact instructions on how they were to be filled out and who they were to be sent to. The old woman and the boy stared, in that reeking, moldy store. But the instructions were clear.

Kea filled out the forms and sent them off to the named person on the mainland. Within a week, a thick letter came back to him. He was to contact a certain person in Oahu. That person would have him take some tests. Kea followed those orders, too. They waited.

Six weeks after they had decided the whole matter was either a joke or complete madness, another letter came to him. This one was from the Director of Admissions, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena City, Province of California. He was welcomed to the Entering Freshman Class, Fall, A.D. 2182. Kea Richards had won. He would not live, or die, in Kahanamoku City. Now he would be free.

*** (Adapted from Sten #8 - End Of Empire - by Allan Cole & Chris Bunch)  ***



Relive the fabulous four-day Stregg-laced celebration.  Alex Kilgour's Worst Joke Ever. New recipes from the Eternal Emperor's kitchen. Alex Kilgour's Worst Joke Ever. Sten's thrill-packed exploits at the Emp's castle. How to make your own Stregg. And, did I mention, Alex Kilgour's Worst Joke Ever?


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 110,000) 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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