Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Down to the Ghenna, or up to the Throne/ He travels fastest who travels alone. - From Rudyard Kipling's "The Winners."

"We have the best government money can buy." - Mark Twain.

Ganymede, A.D. 2202

KEA HAD GIVEN himself twenty years to reach a throne—a throne that he would have to create. But it didn’t take him that long— everything went to lightspeed. Some of the acceleration was deliberate.

Richards knew he had only so much time to establish a completely secure physical, moral, and economic stronghold before They would try to take it away from him. The “They” would include not just business tycoons and supercorporations, but planetary governments as well. So he moved fast. What little personal life and recreational time he’d had as Bargeta’s troubleshooter appeared like a lifetime of idle luxury now.

At first, it seemed to everyone Kea Richards really had retired to piddle about on his vast Ganymede estates with scientific toys. What actually happened was that his starship was modified to accept AM2 for fuel.

The “fuel tank” was no bigger than Richards’s torso and was made of Imperium X, as were the feed lines and chambers in the engine itself. There had been a seemingly insurmountable problem keeping the engine lubricant from ever contacting Anti-Matter Two, but eventually the problem had been solved.

When all ground tests were completed satisfactorily, Richards and Doctor Masterson quietly boarded ship. Overhead, filling the sky, was the reddish bulk of Jupiter. Kea lifted the ship on McLean power, then went to Yukawa drive (named for Hideki Yukawa, the first Japanese Nobel prize winner - physics - and dubbed the "Japanese Einstein, by the popular press.)

Offworld, Kea checked the ship’s ultrasensitive receptors. The ship was not being monitored. And then the ship went to stardrive. 

AM2 stardrive.

Nothing spectacular happened. Stardrive was stardrive was hyperspace was boring. Nothing was exciting about this test flight—except that the drive-activation control was closed, and drive automatically cut before Richards could take his hand from it. Arcturus’s red-yellow bulk and its twelve worlds hung onscreen. Three other star systems were reached that E-night. And on return to Ganymede the fuel “tank” appeared to be as “full” as on departure.

Cost? Not calculable. The fuel was a bit of the small chunk “mined” by Kea beyond the Alva Sector. There was still three quarters of the debris left, held in an Imperium X vault on Ganymede. Now the dream was a reality.

The ship was further modified, its hold gutted and lined with Imperium X.

Again, Kea vanished. Three E-months later he returned with a full cargo of AM2. That was enough Anti-Matter Two to provide energy, he calculated, for the entire career of every spaceship ever built, with enough left over—but this was on fairly shaky mathematics—to run all of Mars’s power plants for three E-years.

Sooner or later Kea knew he would have to build roboticized mining ships, everything in them either made of or plated with Imperium X, move them through the discontinuity into the other universe, and set them to work. He would also have to come up with some kind of long-distance on/off switch, a com whose signals would have to be at least as eccentrically targeted as Richards’s chosen orbits to the Alva Sector.

Kea had studied, with some amusement, the attempts of the so-called oil sheikhs to use their control of the petroleum resource to reshape the culture of Earth. Perhaps admirable in its appalling egocentricity, the plan had of course failed in unreality, greed, and hypocrisy, and the buzzsaw of their own dissatisfied masses.

If Kea had to play that card, however, he was determined it would be the highest of trumps. But the on/off power switch could wait. Now it was time to start rattling some cages.

Kea stepped out of retirement and announced plans to build luxury ships—spaceyachts, really—and run them from Earth to Mars as a first-class service. At a rumored price three times that of conventional passage.

There was some quiet scoffing in the resorts, bars, and clubs catering to the gigawealthy. Nice thought, but there weren’t that many superrich fools. Not enough to support Kea’s scheme. Oh well. He would go bankrupt, and come looking to them for a position, which any of them would be happy to provide.

The ships were built. They looked to be more medium-size freighters than luxury carriers. And back of Barrier Thirty-three, some compartments were left empty. Modifications would be made on Ganymede. Kea had some odd ideas of his own, which would be made at the small port on his estates. On Ganymede, the ships were fitted with stardrive engines. Fueled. And crewed.

Since no one gave a diddly damn about spacemen, no one had noticed that recruiters had been filtering through spaceports. Looking for the best, those who hadn’t lost their illusions and those who looked to the stars as a challenge, not a swamper’s scut job. Those who passed the amazingly stringent tests were brought to Ganymede and trained.

Surprisingly, about 15 percent were paid off and regretfully returned to their home worlds— psychologists discovered that even a spaceman might be afraid of the stars beyond the “known” worlds. Eventually the men and women were shown the new ships. Taught to navigate, pilot, and service them. And sent out. To the stars. Looking. For valuables. And for extraterrestrials.

Two years after Kea had launched the first starship, seven intelligent—human or near-human equivalent as a minimum— extraterrestrial races had been found. Three of them were evolved enough to have interplanetary travel. None had stardrive. They would. On Kea Richards’s terms.

Kea’s espionage reported, a little worriedly, that there were some amazing rumors about what Richards was doing out on Ganymede. Kea sighed—the secret couldn’t have been kept for-ever. Too many people on Ganymede, in spite of precautions, had seen starships lift from Richards’s port and simply vanish. And spacemen/women tell bar tales.

It was time for the next stage.


A new corporation was chartered in the no-questions-asked, flag/bank-of-convenience Province of Livonia. Ch’ve, Anon. The charter was carefully written to be so vague that the new company could do anything from painting itself blue and dancing widdershins to terraforming the sun. Livonia’s laws being what they were, the only person whose name appeared on the charter was a local, one Yaakob Courland, as Livonian law required. He was paid, in cash, for the use of his name when the papers were filed, and promptly forgot about the event, since it was the fifth set of papers he had signed that day. But that was the last time the company was anonymous.

Earth vid/livie crews were asked if they would be interested in attending a press conference, in which Kea Richards would make a major announcement. It was to be held at New York’s near-abandoned Long Island spaceport, at a certain time. Another conference was announced. On Mars, at Capen City’s port. Kea Richards would appear, to make a major announcement.

Both conferences were on the same day, two E-hours apart. No one noticed the apparent error. Both conferences were moderately well attended—although not one-tenth as many journalists actually showed up as later claimed to have been present.

Because Kea did attend both events. In fact, having gotten lucky with takeoff clearance, he had to waste almost a full H-hour on the ground at Capen City, waiting for the press. His announcement was simple. His research company had made certain major improvements in the stardrive engine - improvements which, the best patent attorneys said, in fact, qualified the engine as an entirely new invention. Some thousand patents were being filed in The Hague, on Mars, and on Earth. Any infringement on these patents, once they were granted, would be met with the most severe legal penalties.

Kea figured the crockola of Superengine would satisfactorily murk up the cesspool for a while, anyway.

On Mars, after he had made his announcement, some fifteen starships that had been waiting offworld landed. Each of them carried a cargo like man had never seen before. Unknown minerals. Gemstones. Sealed “plants” from beyond the stars. In two cases, extraterrestrials landed with the humans, ETs previously unknown.

Kea offered man the stars. But at a price. The new, improved engines would not be offered for sale, nor would they be licensed. All transport with the new engines would be the sole province of the Clive, Anon., starships. The little corner of creation man thought of as his universe went insane. And everyone went after Kea Richards.

He retired to Ganymede and went deep into his bunker. Quite literally—he’d had many levels excavated below his mansion. He could take anything up to and including a nuke with zero damage—at least to himself and his immediate staffers. And he watched the fun.

Everyone wanted to ship aboard his craft. There was a monstrous waiting list, a waiting list that almost made it practical to ship or travel conventionally. Almost, but not quite. And Richards had set his rates to be exactly what they should be—he allowed a 30 percent markup for profit and, for the moment, another 20 percent for risk.

His fellow capitalists were frothing, lawyers charging back and forth from court to suite to corporate headquarters. The situation was quite simple—Richards had just announced the steamship to his friends, who were sitting, paddles in hand, on their floating logs. This sounded like Kea Richards had a monopoly. Incredibly illegal. Civil and criminal charges were made.

Richards, through his lawyers, had but one standard announcement. He was innocent. But he firmly believed in justice, and had full faith in the wisdom of the courts. Unfortunately, though, he had been advised that he would have to cease shipping to any city, province, country, or world where such charges pended.

That immediately brought battalions of new heavyweights onscene, filing amicus curiae briefs on behalf of Clive, Anon. Their companies were as varied as mankind’s choice of trades, but all of them had one thing in common—they wanted/needed to be able to ship/receive something from Point A to Point B in less than a lifetime. The shipping companies, and their hastily if massive filings, vanished.

Still heavier guns rolled up. Governments themselves. Kea Richards was seen as a Threat. He should share this miracle engine with everyone, for the Good of Mankind.

Richards declined.

Mankind would benefit quite well, thank you, through Clive, Anon.

Orders were issued for his arrest. One came from the tiny province of Rus, the other from Sinaloa, both traditional places where influence and credit could purchase anything. Kea’s lawyers informed the courts that under no circumstances, being in fear of his life, would Kea surrender to these warrants.

Very well, he would be arrested on Ganymede and extradited. Armed forces would be provided by the as-yet-unnamed men who’d charged Kea with crimes. The furies after Kea next discovered that all the credits invested in Ganymede’s politicians had been well spent.

The pols were honest—that is, they stayed bought—and Richards remained free and unextraditable. ‘Trapped,” at least for the moment, on Ganymede. But what of it—he had access to any ship he wanted and any destination that could be navigated. With galaxies opening in front of him, Kea imagined he could live without caviar or cabrito for a spell.

Eminent domain was suggested next. His ships would be seized. It was pointed out it might be a little difficult to “stop” a spacecraft that would out perform, at quarter-drive, any conventional starship. And how, exactly, did any government propose to do this, in deep space? Eventually even the bureaucrats were convinced that Halt in the Name of the Law was a little ludicrous between planets, let alone between stars. It was rumored someone had laboriously defined inertia to them.

Government ships could be armed, came the bumble. That brought a stinging release from Richards’s headquarters. First, all basic interplanetary treaties had banned military development in space. Second, and more to the point, Kea’s ships were armed. This was a fact—Kea had purchased some tiny lunar lighters, given them AM2 stardrive, put in a prox detonator in the nose next to a warhead—also AM2, of course—and adapted a standard commercial robot piloting system to the lighters.

Each starship had been given a missile. Now each looked like a chubby shark with a remora. The ships themselves were also equipped with remote-controlled chainguns mounted inside each ship’s cargo port.

Very well, the pols floundered. His ships would be arrested— seized for an Admiralty court—when they made planetfall. Kea’s main lawyer announced quite coolly that, first, if Clive, Anon., became aware of any warrant being issued, the firm’s craft would blacklist the city, province, etc., as before. If force was used, that would be regrettable. Any such country attempting this deviousness would be considered as beyond the law. No better than a corsair nation. And not only would charges be filed in the still-extant if ludicrous World Court, but force would be met with force.

The uneasy peace continued. It was prolonged by the rumor—never verified—that all of the new starships were booby-trapped, so that any intrusion beyond Barrier Thirty-three would be a disaster.

Evidently there were disbelievers. Because, quite suddenly, as one of Richards’s ships were clearing for lift from Ixion Port— Alpha Centauri’s most developed world—the ship, most of the port, and some of the city’s industrial section vanished in hellflame.

Richards’s enemies seized on this—the new engines were unsafe, and should be banned, and Richards himself prosecuted. Kea was worried—and then an amateur shipfreak surfaced with an amazing audio track. He had been recording ship-tower chatter, and, quite clearly, any listener could hear the takeoff drone being interrupted by shouts, the clanging of a hatchway out of crewspace, gunfire, and then silence. The critics were not only answered, but somewhat discredited. But that was too close for Kea.

He had been carefully winnowing through the personnel roster of his retained spookshop, and hiring away the absolutely loyal, and those who were qualified in certain irregular areas. The truehearts he used for personal and estate security. The others made up a very specialized hunter-killer team. They went looking for whoever had hired the hijackers. And they found them—the woman and her son who headed SpaceWays/Galiot.

Somehow a commercial gravlighter went out of control and crashed into a mansion on a tiny, private Aegean island. Without any surviving heirs, SpaceWays went into receivership until the situation could be sorted out Just to make sure that the robber barons and their thugs got the message, Kea hired more security people. These had a new task—to baby-sit, unobtrusively, his space personnel.

Anyone interfering with one of his crew members, whether it was pumping for info in a barroom or trying a back-alley snatch for interrogation, was intercepted and “handled roughly.”

Kea bought more shipyards and commissioned more ships, and they went out to the stars. For deployment around the worlds of man, he had a different class of ship built. These were AM2 warships, missile/rocket/laser/chaingun-armed partrol craft, which escorted the liners and freighters safely away from the dangerous—i.e., inhabited—worlds.

Governments may have been banned from building warships, but no one had mentioned private enterprise, for the simple reason that before AM2 drive, a spaceship/starship built for combat was absurdly wasteful. Kea was spending a fair amount of his time thinking about weaponry.

One of his technicians, a Robert Willy, had pointed out that there was no particular reason a tiny particle of AM2 could not be given a shroud of Imperium X and made into an explosive bullet, if the shielding was cast with a deliberate, high-impact-sensitive fault. He also believed that, if this “bullet” was made small enough, and the latest generation of hyperpowerful portable lasers was used, that the AM2 bullet could not be “fired” by laser.

Kea Richards, thinking grimly of Alfred Nobel, his invention that was intended for the benefit of all mankind, and the effective if terribly dangerous “dynamite guns” that were produced, gave Willy his own research team and access to Anti-Matter Two.

The vids and the livies, reflecting public perceptions and feelings as the media have always done instead of creating it as too many fools believe, were beginning to banner Kea as a liberator. Greater than Edison, greater than Ford, greater than McLean, even.

Kea knew they weren’t even close, although the thought sounded like it came from a megalomaniac. They still didn’t understand, any more than someone in the middle of massive change ever does, the total revolution that was going on.

But they would.


Everything was running at full drive. Kea was worried, because he knew what would come next and wasn’t sure that he would be able to block the next attempt to deny the stars to human-and Being-kind.

Perhaps the assault team had forgotten about Jupiter light and thought they would have complete night for their cover. Or perhaps they didn’t care. But it was no more than three-quarters dark when they attacked, Jove hanging overhead like the largest color-streaked party light ever built. They were well-trained commandos and must have practiced on full-scale models or at the least livie-simulations of Richards’s estate.

Alarms screamed, and Kea rolled out of the bed he had slumped into, exhausted, less than an hour before. Not awake, he stumbled to a closet and pulled on a dark coverall. Hanging nearby was an LBE harness with a pistol and ammo belt. A machine carbine dangled next to it.

Wishing that he’d had more time, and Willy’d been able to perfect his AM2 weapon, he jacked a round into the carbine’s chamber, tugged on zip-closure boots, and headed down the hall.

The ground roiled beneath him, and Kea tumbled down. He didn’t find out until later that was a small picketboat, under robot control, that had been sent smashing into one of his compound’s perimeter labs as a diversion to attract emergency crews. Kea came up, ran on. Into one of the mansion’s lobbies.

“Mr. Richards! The bunker!” Security’s watch commander was waving at him. Then a crash, and supposedly impactproof plas and reinforcing alloy fell into the chamber. The officer spun, shouted, died, as two black-dressed men dropped into the room, weapons firing.

One of them saw Richards, gun came up, recognized their target, the gun was knocked away, and they dived toward him. Kea held the trigger back and three rounds on full auto/control shattered the pair.

 So they were under explicit orders, he thought. I’m not to be killed.

That’ll slow ‘em down a little.

Richards’s security men swarmed into the lobby. One of them flipped a blast grenade up, through where the skylight had been blown away. Another explosion, and screams. The hell with the bunker, Richards thought If the bastards know enough about mis mansion to hit close to my bedroom, they’ve probably got that targeted as well.

Gunfire chattered from outside the main entrance and lasers flashed seen/never-seen red eye-memory. Shouts.

“Let’s go,” he yelled, and ran toward the main door. Absurd, absurd, he thought. Are you leading from the front, or are you playing Roland? You are an engineer and maybe a back-alley brawler. You’ve never been a combat soldier, nor been much interested in being one, or even watching the livies that glorify their slaughter.

The mansion’s main anteroom was a haze of smoke and gunfire. Kea watched his “soldiers”—and most of them had been trained in one or another of the various armed forces of the Solar System—fire, cover, and maneuver forward. Amazing, he thought. Just like the vids. Just like the livies. Another thought came: Did the livies reflect reality, or are all of us aping what we’ve seen done by actors?

Come on, man! You don’t have time for this slok! There were four attackers left, crouched behind the solid planters, containing now-bullet-shattered ferns. More grenades rained—never liked the ferns anyway, and there’ll sure be a redecorating bill after this, amazing how the mind can spin all these stupid things out—and the first wave was obliterated.

Kea’s security may have been surprised by the first assault— but now their training and constant practice took over. Great doors that appeared to be part of the three-story walls slid open, and wheeled autocannons were rolled out. They were set up—as intended—behind those planters that had been designed to double as a firing point, and ammo drums slammed home.

Outside, on the vast reaches of the grounds, Kea counted three, no four, small ships. This was not a small-time operation, he realized. The second wave rose from cover and charged. The front of Kea’s near-palace had been laid out with graceful, flowing, low, close-barred railings that swept the viewer’s eye toward the splendor of the house itself. It was considered part of the magnificence that had made the house a prizewinner in architectural circles.

In fact, the flowing walls had been drawn up by Kea himself, working with his head security man, and were intended to channel not the viewer’s eye, but an attacker’s charge.

The railings were just high enough to be hard to hurdle, and the bars were far enough apart so they offered neither cover nor concealment. Now, they worked as intended, channeling the attackers directly toward the main entrance. Directly into the killing zone of the autocannon.

Guns yammered again, and blasts fragmented the night, and men and women shouted and died. A wounded, bloodied man stumbled through the smoke, gun hanging down, and was shot down. He was the last. Without a pause, the autocannon were pushed out into the open, and opened up on the four spacecraft. Two of the ships blew apart, the other smoked menacingly, and the last gouted flames.

Kea’s security split into three elements. One group took up a defensive perimeter around Kea, a second charged the ships, their task to make sure all the attackers were down. The third element quickly, skillfully, began searching the bodies and, after making sure the wounded were disarmed, dragging them toward a common collecting point. Kea watched, his mind suddenly dulled.

Then his Head of Security approached. “Sir, I have a report.”

“Go ahead.”

“There were at least seventy-three invaders, possibly more. We don’t know how many were aboard the ship. Twelve are still alive.”

“Who are they?”

“No IDs on any of the bodies. The two that’re talking claim they’re indies, hired out of Pretoria by freelancers they’d worked with before. Neither of them know who’s the original hire. Assuming that this was a for-hire hit, which I don’t.”

“Keep looking. Will your two injured stand up to interrogation?”

“Negative, sir. Not now, maybe not ever. Those thirty-mill rounds tear hell out of everything.”

“Do you have a prog?”

“Not really,” the security commander said slowly. “Maybe mercs, working for one of your enemies. Maybe coverts that got sheep-dipped and this is a deniable black.”

 Kea nodded. It could have been the Federation, Earthgov, Mars Council, or any of the supercorporations.

“What about the wounded, sir? I mean, after we’ve gotten whatever we can?”

Kea hesitated, as an aide approached.

“Sir, we have a com from NewsTeam Eleven.  Leda. They say they’ve gotten six calls reporting gunshots and explosions, and want to know what happened. They’d like to talk to you… and they want to dispatch a team.”

Kea thought quickly. At first his reaction was to welcome the newsies. He’d have time to change into a bathrobe and bewildered expression, and throw a conference on the basis of Who Would Dare, Why Would Anyone Attack an Innocent? and so on and so forth. He reconsidered.

 “You can tell them that my security was conducting an extremely realistic exercise. They’re welcome to send a newsteam—Ganymede is a free world—but they are not welcome to land on my property. As for me—I’m offplanet. Testing a new ship. You have no contact with me at the moment. You can tell them that when I return, you imagine, I would be willing to talk to them, although about what, you have no idea.”

The aide blinked—a thickie, Richards thought—frowned, then scurried away. Kea turned back to his security commander. “Does that answer your question?”

“Yessir.” The officer took his pistol from its holder, chambered a round, and walked toward the enemy-casualty collection point.

Kea walked out of the shambles and looked up, beyond the sky-filling bulk of Jupiter, his eyes going beyond, toward the settled worlds. Now we’ll wait. Until someone whines. And then we’ll know who my biggest enemy is.

But he never found out. There were not even rumors in the grayworld of the mercenaries.

Kea grew even more concerned. This attempt could have worked. And it wouldn’t be the only one or the biggest. It had been handicapped because “They” wanted Richards alive. But sooner or later someone would determine that at least the status quo must be maintained—and surely one of Kea’s people knew the secret of stardrive.

No one did, of course. But that would not bring Kea Richards back from the grave.

For that, he needed a miracle.




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!

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