His Royal Majesty - The Eternal Emperor - hereby requests and requires that all his subjects join him at Arundel Castle on Prime World, March 15-17, to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of his empire. Special guests to include Sten, Alex Kilgour, Ian Mahoney and oceans of Stregg.
Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being snared. - Proverbs 3:23-26-
"God is not dead. He is alive and working on a much less ambitious project." - Graffito (circa 1975)
Clarke Central, Luna, A.D. 2211
THE MIRACLE ARRIVED in late spring. It was first observed and tracked by a Callisto-Mars Yukawa drive ship. It was an irregular chunk of rock not much more than a kilometer in diameter. It might have been considered a small asteroid, but its characteristics showed no semblance to the rocks tumbling beyond Mars. The navigator noted the orbit and roughly calculated the meteor’s speed. He reported and forgot it. The report was logged, and the navigator’s figures checked, rechecked, and extrapolated. The tech at MarsNavCentral blinked, swore, and ran the problem again.
The figures indicated that this chunk of interplanetary/stellar debris was on a collision track with Earth’s moon, plus-minus 15 percent probability. The tech told his supervisor. His supervisor, realizing the navigation center’s annual budget was up for review, commed the existence of this hurtling rock to a local vid science-news reporter. And the reporter’s editor knew what built ratings and sold ads:
FLASH: Scientists Report a New Interstellar Meteor on a Collision Course with Luna! Superspeed Asteroid to Crash into Moon in 158 E-Days! Mars Entire Population in Jeopardy! Earth Itself Endangered!
Chaos and craziness, from scientists to the media to the public. Early on, a literate antiquarian named the rock Wanderer. The name was seized on as the only thing everyone agreed about as the Solar System’s sanity level dropped like the long-ago ocean in Hilo Bay.
Kea, from Ganymede, watched and read in growing amazement and concern.
Theories were offered. Studied. The Solar Federation set up an emergency headquarters on Mars, in the central Arthur C. Clarke complex. It took a week or so, but eventually enough pols had been reassured there’d be more than enough time and ships to evac them before Wanderer impacted. And then the speeches and the “viewing with concern” went on.
A state of emergency was declared.
But nothing was done.
Worse, as the probable impact time grew closer, nothing was even suggested.
Should the Moon be evacuated.
There were almost two million people living under its cratered desolation. And what about Earth’s population? Should everyone move to high ground, in the assumption Earth would experience the most erratic and deadly tides in humankind’s history? And what about the debris, which would surely impact Earth?
Words, words. No actions.
Kea had thought his cynicism to be unshakable in his belief that society, as presently constituted, could muck up a rock fight. He should have been unsurprised as the media hollered, the pols debated, the scientists chased ever-receding decimal points, and the people clamored. The clamor included new prophets preaching that the sins of the past were about to be paid for. Mobs who knew that the world was coming to an end, and therefore utter license should be the order of the day. Cops and soldiery who seemed more worried about the possibility of riots than what response they would have to catastrophe.
Words, and more words, as Doomsday grew nearer and nearer. There were even some utter stiffs who suggested nothing should be done. This was part of nature, was it not? Man had evolved through catastrophe. This was Intended to Happen. This would usher in the Next Level of Being. Intended by Whom varied from fruitbar to fruitbar.
Kea sent for Doctor Masterson, his head scientist. He respected the man, as much for his pragmatism as for his ability to keep secrets and administer equally individualistic and iconoclastic scientists and technicians.
Masterson ran his own prognoses: Prog: that Wanderer would collide with the Moon. 85 percent. Prog: that Wanderer would bankshot and crash Earth. 11 percent. Prog: that the Moon will shift its orbit closer to Earth. 67 percent. Prog: that the impact would be great enough to shatter Luna completely. 13 percent. Prog: that Wanderer would knock some fairly impressive chunks off the Moon. 54 percent.
Prog: that one or more of those moonlets could impact Earth. 81 percent.
Kea did not need to listen. He was enough of a scientist to envision the radioactivity that would be produced if a decent-sized chunk of Luna, say about the size of Wanderer, hit land. And to consider the likelihood of great earthquakes and even the slight possibility of tectonic plateshift? Wanderer promised the cataclysm—but still no one proposed any action as it rushed onward. Pols were besieged with solutions, it was true, from using all the Solar System’s rockets to push the Moon out of the way to building a great cannon that would blast Wanderer out of its lethal orbit. But none of them, even those that might be possible, were implemented. Studies were authorized. Military and police forces were put on alert.
Kea thought there were only two alternatives. First was that he was living in a completely mad universe. The second was that he was mad himself. Because a solution seemed quite obvious. But no one had taken it At least yet.
Kea moved. First was to punch a com through to Earth. He snarled at the time it took to get through, and then at the fuzziness of the hyperspace link. Someday, he thought, he would have to find himself an R&D dwonk, give him assistants, a few million credits, some AM2, and tell him to come up with some kind of system that’d enable one being to talk to another across a distance without both of them sounding like they’re sitting in barrels and looking like so many triple-imaged blurs.
He eventually got through to his target—Jon Nance, the highest-rated liviecaster going. Nance was busy. The world was coming to an end, or so everyone said, and he was occupied being Chicken Little. Kea said very well. He would go to the competition. What did Kea have? He would not say. But it was big. And it involved Wanderer. Nance was very interested—there had to be something new to the story besides reporting the latest hysteria or drone of inaction. Richards told Nance to pack. Stand by with a full crew. A complete recording setup, plus two remotes. And a link to go live to Terra. A ship was on its way to pick them up.
“O Joy,” Nance said sourly. “I’m going to have to unfasten an entire crew. Walk away from the desk, and put in my summerman to anchor. And just a smile for the cheeses and the producers. You’ve got to give me more than that.”
“Never mind,” Kea said. “This link isn’t secure, and I don’t always trust you, anyway. I’ll still have the ship at Kennedyport in… two E-hours.”
“Christ, it’ll take me longer’n that to get a gravcar out to the port!”
“Sounds like a personal problem. Two E-hours. Or else I’ll rent a doculivie crew and your net can bargain for their reels. Along with everybody else.” He shut off.
Then he let himself grin. Masterson may have been the prog specialist in some areas, but Kea wasn’t that bad himself. Prog: that Nance would be there with bells and recorders? 99 percent.
He ordered the ship that was on standby at his own field to lift for New York. That was one ship. He needed two more. One of his newer transports would serve. He ordered Masterson and the best sober pilot he could winkle up to get ready. He sent for his own ship, the starship he had seen so many eons before in its junk orbit off Mars. The ship that had been the first fitted for AM2. So what?—he had avoided sentimentality when it came to objects. He had never even given the ship a name beyond its registry numbers. It was time to get rid of the starship— increasingly he’d wondered, if the ship ever fell into the wrong hands, if it might somehow provide a clue to the Alva Sector. This would be a fitting way—if Kea was correct—for its end.
He had a pilot lift it to a clear area outside one of his experimental workshops. One minor modification was made to the controls. Starships are not normally fitted with timers. Then he himself lifted the ship, and hovered it into the supersecure AM2 storage areas. A remotely controlled, Imperium-sheathed cargoloader took a chunk of Anti-Matter Two from a vault. Kea, as he delicately took it in his own snip’s grab-claw, thought the less-than-500-kilogram-in-weight block might even be what was left of that first chunk of AM2 he’d grabbed on this ship’s maiden voyage into the alternate universe. He was ready to roll.
The two ships cleared Ganymede and set an orbit to intersect Wanderer. Waiting for them was the third ship. And, as Richards had known, a grumpy, evil-tempered Nance was aboard. Evil-tempered, until Richards told him what he proposed. And then he melted.
Kea had one remote set up in the control room of his own ship, the second in the port of the ship Masterson was aboard. The three ships were powered into Wanderer’s path. Richards fancied he could feel the whirling chunk of rock moving toward him, like a railbound train in a tunnel. Enough. He told Nance he had better patch down to New York, to his net.
There wasn’t much time left.
Nance’s ship hung about fifty kilometers from the other two. Richards thought it was far too close, but Nance said uh-uh. He had to get his “picture,” and little dots of dark against a greater dark wouldn’t cut it Kea shuddered again, thinking about the nature of livies. How could anyone allow—let alone spend a career lifetime ensuring—other beings to gather in his mind, smelling what the liviecaster smelled, seeing what he saw, and even experiencing the ‘caster’s conscious, controlled thoughts? Masterson’s ship was less than fifty meters from Richards’s. Kea donned a spacesuit and dumped ship atmosphere, leaving both lock doors open. A line linked the two ships.
Nance was ‘casting. Inside Mars’s orbit, he said, in his calm-but-excited patented manner. About to witness what might well be the most spectacular feat in man’s history. Kea Richards was about to attempt to destroy Wanderer, using a new and unspecified method, but one that involved his secret engine. And as coached by Kea, Nance wondered why the Federation hadn’t even tried anything, but were still sitting on the Moon, jacking their jaws… (though he worded it far more politely than that).
Kea was ready. The remote—a vid, of course—showed a spacesuited man moving around a control room. What was not shown was the outside bay port opening and the ship’s grab-claw extending that huge chunk of Anti-Matter Two in front of it, exactly like a fearful peasant trying to ward off the evil eye.
For melodramatic effect, Richards had told Nance to begin a countdown when signaled. It started. There wasn’t much to do— the trajectory was set, and the controls were linked to the down-counting timer. At three minutes thirty seconds, Kea headed out. He swarmed across the rope, severed its connection to his doomed starship, and closed the lock door, his every action recorded by that second remote. He shut the vid off—Masterson had been emphatic that he never wanted to be seen on vid or livie—and went into the other ship’s control room.
One minute, he heard Nance cadence. Twenty-seven seconds. And ten…
And zero… the timer closed, and the ship across the way vanished. Vanished into full-power stardrive. Not even a second later, it impacted into Wanderer.
The livie-recorder that Nance wore like some great helmet, and the accompanying vid camera aboard his ship, overloaded into the ultra and burnt out. Kea had warned him. But the audio pickup was still active, and Nance’s voice continued, live» straight to the net headquarters in New York, and from there to man’s worlds.
Kea barely noticed the ‘caster’s excitement. He was busy-He’d taken the ship controls and sent the transport, under half Yukawa drive, toward the meteor. What meteor? A collection of gravel in loose formation. Of Kea’s ship, there was nothing whatever remaining.
Kea listened to the broadcast, still live, coming from Nance’s ship. He had not known there were so many synonyms for “hero.” Richards smiled. Actually, this time, he was a bit of hero.
He was surprised he felt a shade embarrassed. Hero, eh’? Kea the Galactic Hero, he thought in amusement.
Now Kea had the name. The tools. And Wanderer had given him the stage and the floodlights for his grand entrance.
All he needed was the fanfare-
And he was fairly certain what it would be, even if he didn’t know who’d show up first to blow in his ear.
NEXT: THE BACKROOM 'BOYS' COME CALLING
STEN #1 DEBUTS IN SPANISH!
Told in four parts, Episode One now appearing in Diaspar Magazine, the best SF&F magazine in South America! And it's free! Here's the link.
Sten debuta # 1 en español! Narrada en cuatro partes, Episode One ahora aparece en la revista Diaspar, la mejor revista de SF & F en América del Sur!
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 115,000) 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 Amazon.com. Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!