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.
IT WAS A GENTLE sloping hill, carpeted with a thick lichen-like plant—purple with green pinhead buds—that released a heady perfume every day at dusk. Kea breathed in the scent as he strolled up the hill—alone, except for the ever-present security screen spread out around him. He stopped to rest just before he reached the summit, puffing with effort.
Kea turned back to view his vacation campsite. The cynical street kid in him laughed. The encampment consisted of his personal tent—a two-story-high gold fabric pavilion, really—and more than sixty smaller tents to house staff, security, and other bits of his entourage. Kea snorted. Publicity had billed the trip as a simple camping vacation. A well-deserved rest from the awesome burdens of his office as President of the Federation. The fact that he had chosen to take his vacation upon a newly opened world—named in his honor—in the Tau Ceti system, was given much significance by his pet livie commentators.
“Is it not fitting,” one commentator had said, “that this simple man… this ordinary man of the people… President Kea Richards… should seek to refresh his spirits in the stars?”
“Most analysts see this journey as symbolic,” another said. “Through Kea Richards, civilization has pushed its boundaries into the great beyond. Now, President Richards is reminding us that there are many more worlds to conquer. That our future is a never-ending frontier.”
This trip to the frontier was just another stone mortared into the legend Kea had been building for ten years. The legend of the common man. A self-made man. A man who remembered well the plight of the poor from whose ranks he had emerged. A genius in the rough, continually seeking new ways to better life for all.
Some of that was even true.
In ten years he had created a commercial empire greater than anything before. New ideas and renewed vigor had birthed industries that churned out goods—priced within easy reach of all. Food flooded out of giant agricultural combines in unprecedented volumes. Science and invention had exploded. Star probes were bridging vast distances. Terraforming engineers were at work on scores of worlds like Port Richards—adding territory to the Federation. Even the arts flourished in an atmosphere of free-flowing money and ideas.
There was no denying Kea Richards was the engine that had made all those things possible. And AM2 was the fuel powering that engine. The robot delivery system had been tested and perfected. AM2 was being shipped regularly, and in large quantities—with zero chance of anyone learning the source.
Naturally, he had enemies. Many enemies. Kea watched one of his guards aim a sniffer at the path ahead, checking for booby traps. He divided his enemies into three groups: the idealists, the covetous, and the insane. The idealists he nurtured. Especially the weak. Free expression and open debate gave such a wonderful patina of democracy. The covetous he co-opted, or crushed. As for the insane… Kea saw two other guards swing to the top of the hill, weapons ready… well, there was not much you could do about them. Except take care.
Kea’s intellectual side insisted he’d accomplished a miracle in ten years—two terms in office. Fazlur had been a pessimist when he had predicted AM2 would turn the known world upside down. With Richards controlling it, Anti-Matter Two had also turned it inside out. But his gut twisted in revolt. Beware, it said. If you stop now, all will be lost. All will be reversed. The Bargetas and their ilk will be running things again. And all will return to inbred stagnation. Some of the old families were still holding out on Earth. These were a few of the covetous ones Kea had allowed their head. Let them have their outmoded factories. Let them continue spewing their pollutants across the planet. Let them break the back of the Earthbound poor. Each day hundreds were joining the migration off Earth. Climbing aboard ships powered by AM2 supplied by Kea Richards. Fleeing the chaos and misery Kea’s enemies had created to new worlds their president was opening up.
It’s going so fast, Kea thought. So fast and so well. In ten years, what I’ve built will easily double again. In fifty more… who knows? Pity I won’t live to see it. A great yearning pit opened in Kea’s stomach. A yearning as deep as the one that had clutched at him when Fazlur first proposed that they enter another universe. God, he wished he could see how it would all play out.
He heard a thundering from the far side of the hill. Kea hurried to the hilltop. He saw an official Federation ship settle into its berth. Around it was the enormous raw wound of the new spaceport being hurled up on Port Richards. It was the official delegation from the Federation’s electoral college. Come to tell him that the people had begged him to stay on us as president. Not just for a third term. Not for another five years.
Kea Richards had been elected President For Life.
The boys in the back room had come through.
But that had been the deal.
On Ganymede—ten years before—the guy from labor had gawped. “Whaddya mean, for life?”
The businesswoman had hissed at him. “Until he’s dead, stupid. Or wants to retire.” She had turned to Kea. “Right?”
“That’s the deal,” Kea had said. “If I’m going to run it… I want to run it like my own company. Elections every five years will tie my hands. I’ll always be forced to take the short view.”
“What’d the other side say?” Big Money had asked.
“They weren’t happy,” Kea had answered.
“Because they couldn’t swing it?” Labor’d guessed.
“Yeah,” Kea had said. “They said they couldn’t swing it.”
“I don’t see the problem,” the businesswoman had said. “Not for us, anyway.”
“We couldn’t do it all at once,” the prime minister had said. “We would have to smooth the way. Prepare the groundwork.”
“We could do it by the end of his second term for sure,” Labor had said. “He’s pretty damned popular. If you get my drift.”
“If we agreed to this…” Big Money had ventured. “As your loyal supporters… and dearest friends…”
Kea had bowed… almost kingly… “and soon to be trusted advisers…” he had added.
Big Money had smiled… acknowledging… “Yes. We would. And as your advisers, could we presume you would listen if we had a word or two about your policies on AM2?”
“Absolutely,” Kea had said. “As a matter of fact, I have been discussing my long-range strategy with my managers. It has become time for what people have termed a monopoly to end. We’re presently arranging a plan to license sales of AM2, Imperium X, and the modified drive engines to… the proper concerns.” He’d given them a meaningful look. “I’d be happy to listen to your suggestions… for individual cases.”
The room had brightened immensely. Aglow in the vision of new private fortunes to be won.
“Let me be the first to call you Mister President,” Labor had said. He stuck out a hand. Kea shook it.
That had been it. A presidency conferred with a handshake. Details to be filled in later by constitutional lawyers. It was the first time Kea had really tugged on the AM2 line and reeled in the fish. And as time had gone by, he had gotten better and better at it.
Kea watched the delegation descend from the ship. A gravlighter was waiting to take them to his encampment with formal word of his new title. Tonight they would all celebrate. Tomorrow he would pay off a few more lOUs.
Then it would all be his.
It was like an old-fashioned marriage, really. The monarchs of old had understood. A kingdom was both the source of your greatest grief and happiness. You were wedded to it. For life. Kea was Emperor, now, in all but name. He didn’t have even a niggling of guilt for having bought and paid for it by keeping one of the greatest discoveries in history to himself. The Chinese emperors had kept the secret of the workings of time – and even clocks to measure it by - for centuries. They asked their court scholars, what would the people do with it? They do not have the skills or fortitude to take responsibility for its appointment. This should be left for us to decide. This should be our burden, and our burden alone.
Kea remembered a line from his early childhood. “What’s time to a damned hog?”
He thought of the piggish greed aboard Destiny I. Ruth murdering Fazlur and the Osiran. Her murder at Murph’s hands. Murph’s intentions on his own life. Kea had vastly refigured his concept of evil since that time. He had drawn up his own scale, and found civilization wanting. But shouldn’t these things be left to a Higher Authority? To God? Maybe.
But Kea had been to another universe… and returned.
And found no god in either place.
Perhaps there was Something. A god on his throne far beyond the stars. But until that god was found, this world would have to make do with Kea Richards.
He started back down the hill. If he hurried, he would have time to change before he greeted the delegation. Kea picked up the pace. The guard beside him looked surprised. And began to lope. Kea ran faster. Feeling young… and lightheaded.
Suddenly, there was a sound in his ear of a thunderclap. Distant, but somehow very close. A red haze fell before his eyes.
His mind shouted, “Not yet! I’m not… done.”
Kea was unconscious before he hit the ground.
A panicked guard knelt beside him. Tumbled him over. Clumsily felt for signs of life. Found the faint hammer of the pulse.
Frantically she keyed her com unit. In moments, the hillside was thick with frantically rushing vehicles and people— fighting to save the life of their new President For Life.
NEXT: A DESPERATE GAMBLE
***** 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!