Wednesday, May 09, 2012


I am the son of peasants and I know what is happening in the villages. That is why I wanted to take revenge, and I regret nothing. - Gavrilo Princip
His hands would plait the priest's guts, if he had no rope, to strangle kings. - Dennis Diderot

MARS - A.D. 2195

Two days before his planned disappearance, Richards was working out—on his private, single-station, no-links computer— the erratic series of orbits he would take to the Alva Sector. He was buzzed.

His receptionist—Kea quite deliberately hired men or women for their competency and, preferably, homeliness, in deliberate contrast to Austin’s office harem—said he had a visitor. She refused to announce herself. What should the receptionist do?

As she spoke, appearing to be puzzled, she kicked a pickup under her desk in the outer chamber, and a screen lit up, as instructed. This would not be the first person who preferred not to give a name to arrive at the boss’s sanctum.

Kea stared at the image. He was quite proud that he took less than two seconds, by his count, before he said, in a clear, normal voice, “Ah yes. Show her in.”

Tamara. Still lovely. She wore a business suit that appeared to be styled for a man—once again, androgyny was the in cycle—but with a silken-looking blouse underneath, a blouse whose colors shifted and changed as sunlight and shadow crossed it. Under the suit, she would have nothing on, Kea knew. She still had that look.. You may take me, any way you wish. If you can. He swam weightless for an instant. But he did not show it. He would be damned if he did.

He was delighted to see her. Embraced Tamara like a long-fondly-thought-of friend. He refused to let his mind tell him he felt her erecting nipples under the coat against his chest. Hold all calls. A drink. He seated her on his office couch, and sat close to her. But not that close.

Richards had dreamed of seeing her again, all these years, he said. What was she doing in town? Recovering, Tamara said, her voice still sending chills, chills to match the time she’d showed him what could be done with nothing more than a few ice cubes and a leather strap. Recovering from what?

“My husband and I… are no more.” She shrugged. “He’s obsessed with his racing, although he certainly hasn’t won anything of late. Boys and their toys, and that. I guess he never grew, and I did.”

Well. Sorry, and that.

“I’ve been thinking about you a lot. For a lot of years. And I thought…” She stopped, waiting for Kea to pick up on the signal.

Richards waited, his expression patient, interested. Perhaps this old, respected friend was about to present an entirely new idea? Tamara tried again.

“You know, there are a lot of things I remember very, very well. Fireplaces. Silk. Laughing a lot. A hard-to-explain wind-burn.” She forced a giggle, and Kea frowned for a moment, then visibly “remembered” the circumstances. Tamara’s brows furrowed for an instant. This was not going as she’d planned…

“But mostly, I remember mistakes. Especially one.”

“Yes. I do, too.”

“I think,” Tamara said, her eyes now humbly down, on her hands clasped in her lap, “that all I can say is that I was a little shit in those days. And it took me a while to grow up. And that you’ll never know how sorry I am, and how much I want to make it up to you.”

She managed a tear. Kea found her a handkerchief. He shrugged. “Neither one of us,” he said, “was exactly an adult in those days. One mistake balances another.”

Tamara started to say something, then stopped. She puzzled, unsure of what Kea had meant by his last. Then she went on. “At least,” she said, “Austin wasn’t as stupid as I was. So it’s not like you vanished, and it’s not like life only gives you…

I mean, we’re in the real world. And people get a second chance, don’t they?”

He took her in his arms. Kissed her. Not in a brotherly manner—but not with any marked passion. “Of course they do. And… you know, I’ve never forgotten you.”

Kea stood and gently lifted her with a genteel hand under the elbow. “Now we have the time to get to know each other properly. Look. As soon as I’m back from this… business trip, I’ll give you a call. Maybe have dinner or something. We have a lot to talk about.”

He walked back to his desk. Tamara stared at him. She painted a smile across her face. He responded. She slowly went to the outer door, and opened it. She looked back at him. He was still smiling. Tamara stepped outside, and the door hissed closed. Just before it shut, and just before the insulation cut sound, Kea laughed.

Loudly. A harsh, unrelenting laugh. A Martian laugh. Then he forgot her.


Kea Richards disappeared from man’s haunts. He and the star-ship he had never bothered to name. He zigged his way across the galaxy toward the Alva Cluster. He tracked toward the discontinuity. Against interstellar blackness, he saw once again the sparklers flashing, an independence fireworks against the moonless night as tiny bits of normal matter collided with AM2 particles.

He set his course. Through the discontinuity, and into that other universe, the universe of black and all colors. He navigated, at quarter-drive, by the blind-flying system he had developed after years of hard thought, a sophisticated evolution of the navigational system Murph and Doctor Fazlur had improvised..

He had a prox detector mounted in the ship’s nose. It signaled. He was closing on some interstellar debris. Perhaps no more than half a meter in size. But it would be Anti-Matter Two, more than enough to shatter this tiny ship he was aboard. He killed stardrive, went to secondary Yukawa drive, then cut all power, braked, and let inertia close him on the chunk of Anti-Matter Two.

He looked at another instrument and felt hope. This registered any object impacting on the ship’s skin and was sensitive enough to go off if an Earth raindrop landed on it, when the ship was parked. Or less, actually. The readout showed his starship had been hit by particles after entering this mad universe. AM2 particles. With no adverse effect to the ship.

The prox detector’s signaling was a continuous banging.. Richards moved to another workstation. He fitted his hands into waldos and concentrated on instruments. From a bay just below the ship’s nose, a probe extended. A claw. Another modification of Kea’s. A scoop. Plated with Imperium X.

He worked for long minutes with the unfamiliar controls. Sweat spattered on the controls in front of him. If he had been wrong, not only would all these years have been wasted, but he would be very dead as well, if Imperium X was not the perfect shield he had thought it to be, and the AM2 detonated in its beyond-nuclear hell.

The probe’s instruments said the chunk was inside the claw. Eyes involuntarily closed, brain expecting mindshatter explosion, he closed the waldos. And again, nothing happened.

He was the proud possessor of a chunk of Anti-Matter Two. He moved the long arm back inside the ship and the bay hatches closed. The inside of the bay was also plated with Imperium X. He touched controls, and the ship went to lightspeed, on an orbit out of the discontinuity. This was the moment of real victory.

Right now, even before the research, development, mining, and the rest, Kea Richards had just made himself lord of the universe.

The world ended less than a year later, in two cataclysms. The catastrophes occurred a month apart. The first bannered every liviecast throughout the Solar System and to the scatter of settled worlds beyond. Deimos had blown up.

The moon was now a blasted irregular asteroid like Phobos. An impossibility. Moons do not self-destruct. Deimos was uninhabited, except for three or four caretakers at the old First Base. More facts surfaced. In fact, Deimos had been well-populated. Several hundred men and women had been working in a secret complex of laboratories around the old First Base. The development belonged to Bargeta Industries.

The screamers grew larger. Five—no, six—no, four hundred and fifty beings had vanished. Someone must pay.

The livie and newscasters stalked Bargeta Ltd. headquarters. Its CEO, a white and shaken man, stumbled through a prepared statement. Yes, the laboratory was a project center for his corporation. No, he would not say what it had been developing, except that it pertained to spaceship development. No, Austin did not know what happened. Bargeta scientific investigators were already trying to determine the cause of the disaster. No… no further comment. The ‘casters found Kea Richards. He had no statement. No ideas. And absolutely no comment.

“What the blazes happened?” Bargeta screamed.

“I don’t know,” Richards said. “I had a com two E-days before, from Doctor Masterson, the director. He said that one of the exploratory teams had a new and fascinating lead, but it was so out of the ordinary he declined to be specific, for fear of embarrassment until further tests were made. Maybe something went wrong with those tests.”

“Christ,” Austin moaned. “All those people. The best scientists we could find. It wasn’t like they were worker bees or anything. My God, my God. Do you realize what they’re going to say at the annual meeting? How am I going to explain this to the stockholders?”

Kea didn’t know.

The second disaster was internal. Auditors had prepared a final report on Operation Suk. It was like some kind of financial black hole, Austin thought as he scanned the fiche. Thirty-eight percent of all convertible assets of Bargeta Ltd.—not just the transport company, but some of the holding company’s assets as well—had vanished into the project.

Worse was the classified scientific report attached—it appeared that the attempts to synthesize Kea’s X substance had not only failed, and in the failing destroyed Deimos, but the entire idea had been proven absolutely fallacious. The Philosopher’s Stone. A pollution-free oxygen-combinant combustion engine. Cold fusion. Bargeta was… if not bankrupt, lurching toward it.

The huge conglomerate was broken now. It would be lucky to survive two more fiscal years, unless some kind of miracle happened, a miracle no one could see on any horizon.

Austin scrolled through the last page, and went looking for Kea. He found him in his office. The chamber was stripped bare. Travel boxes were stacked in one corner.


Kea indicated an envelope, hand-addressed to Austin, on his desk. Bargeta read it. It was Richards’s resignation. “All this,” Kea said, in what appeared to be a shell-shocked monotone, “was my fault. I… I was wrong. No gold, no rainbow.”

Bargeta looked for words and didn’t find any. Kea started to say something, but merely put his hand on Austin’s shoulder. Then he left.

Bargeta walked to the window and stared out and down the two hundred stories to Madison Avenue. The world had just ended for him, for his family, and for Bargeta Ltd. What next? What now?

Next was Bargeta and allied stocks plummeting even before the emergency stockholders meeting was called. Somebody had leaked the report to the Street—and Wall Street had divisions on every continent and planet. Investigators later found someone had also dumped Bargeta stock a day or so before the report had been released internally by the audit department.

They could never determine just who’d been the original holder of the stock, since the certificates had traveled through a dizzying number of hands before being sold.

Kea Richards was gone, abandoning his Earth estates, his friends, his women, and his possessions. It was odd, and showed a previously unknown Spartan side, that in fact he didn’t own that much. His mansions were only half-furnished, the half that someone on the outside might happen on. Or else they were leased furnished. The same with his yacht and his gravcars.

Austin Bargeta stammered through the emergency meeting. The corporate shareholders were as shocked after they had read the report as Austin had been. They adjourned, to meet again on the morrow. Austin was not there for the meeting. Immediately after the adjournment, he had taken a pistol from his private wallsafe. It was an antique 13mm caseless automatic, firing gunpowder-charged rounds, that had been in the family since the beginning.

He had recently had shells custom-made. Now he pulled the slide back, and let it go forward, chambering a round. Turned the large pistol awkwardly, held it against his temple, thought at least the Bargetas had some honor, and pressed the trigger. The bullet blew most of the frontal half of his brain away.

Unfortunately, it did not turn him into a corpse. Austin Bargeta, blind, mute, brain capable of only providing motor responses, lived on.

Kea Richards, from his self-exile on Ganymede, sent a shocked com. Could he help? He had some personal credits, and if they could be used to keep Austin from becoming a public ward, the family had but to ask. The family declined. Bankrupt they might have been—but they were not reduced to charity. Kea felt a flicker of regret—the bastard should have been a better shot.

Kea was revenged. As, he felt, were many, many others. His unknown mother, driven to the horrors of a longliner. His father and grandmother and the other citizens of Hilo, drowned because most likely whichever fat-cat company had been supposed to maintain the tidal barriers had cut corners on maintenance to fatten their coffers. Leong Suk, who had never had a chance to know anything but poverty, from her native Korea to Maui.

Hell, even that poor sad bastard Tompkins, who surely deserved better than to spend his life as a crackpot down a filthy alley. All the bluecollars he had grown and lived with, who sweated, worked, and died, so that people named Bargeta could have trimarans on Mars. The spacemen who killed themselves with alk or died in industrial “accidents” because shipline owners had little interest in safety standards beyond the letter of the law.

The Bargetas and their gutted conglomerate were on the first. There would be more. Many more.

Kea was ready to build his “weapons” for the takeover. Only one man had died when Deimos blew up. He was one of the blasters Richards had hired from Mars’s underworld, a demo expert who evidently hadn’t been as expert as he had bragged.

All the others, scientists, machinists, support people, and their mates, had been evacked days earlier to Ganymede, where the real task would begin.

Kea Richards was ready for his “wilderness years.”



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 Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!

No comments:

Post a Comment