Monday, November 05, 2012

How The Emperor Steals Elections - The Grand Finale

He started with the Dummy.

Raschid stayed in the background for an hour or so while Kenna laid the groundwork with Solon Walsh. Even Walsh's keen-eyed aide, Avri, started ignoring him after a while as her boss played the political mating game with Kenna.

It was Raschid's professional opinion Walsh had most of the makings of an ideal candidate. He was young and sleekly handsome. He spoke without stuttering. He had a steady, clear gaze. There were no food spots on his clothing, and his carefully arranged coif had a charming habit of going slightly out of kilter after a few minutes of conversation. It made him seem more relaxed and genuine. In some areas Walsh had received some expert advice.

The man exuded honesty. That had everything to do with lack of IQ. That open, wide-eyed look was there because there was nothing behind the optic system. But stupidity could be a candidate's greatest asset—as long as he listened to the right people. Raschid figured the right people in this case was Avri.

"I'm surprised to learn there's so much common ground between us," Walsh said as the political dance wound down. "I mean, I had no idea you felt that way about taxes, for instance. Wow! After all this time our whole argument with one another disappeared, just like that." He snapped his fingers by way of illustration.

Solon Kenna made with a gentle, fatherly smile. "A misunderstanding, that's all," he said. "See what happens when two honest beings speak frankly?"

"That's real good drakh, and all," Avri interrupted. Walsh shot his aide a nervous look, ready to fold if Avri gave the word. Good. He could be handled. "But where are we at? What's the deal? There's gotta be a deal, else you wouldn't be blowin' all this smoke.

"Now, if you think Solon Walsh is gonna take a little earner and fold his tent... I don't know... Whatcha got in mind?"

Kenna handled it without a blink. More points for him. Raschid was feeling better and better about his plan.

"Right on the mark as always, young Avri," Kenna smoothed. "I'll let Sr. Raschid help me with this. I really can't stress too hard that this being's credentials go far deeper than I can say. Far deeper."

Avri's eyes narrowed as Raschid joined the game.

"Solon Kenna and I have run through this every which way we can," Raschid said. "Thing is, everybody agrees we have to have a change. Tyrenne Yelad just isn't making it anymore. Trouble is, any way you cut the deck, Yelad keeps coming up on top. Because Walsh and Kenna cancel each other out. Am I right?"

Avri nodded firmly. She had a hint of a smile at her lips, which Raschid knew meant he had to beat Yelad's mordida, plus the after-election promises.

"So. What Solon Kenna proposes to do is pull out. And throw his support to you." He nodded in the direction of the stunned Walsh.

There was much surprised babbling. But Raschid got the meeting back on track and spelled out the details. Kenna would slip a hefty wad of credits to Walsh, who would put his campaign into high gear, splashing his name all over and hitting the stump hard. That would be just the outward display, however. The real money would be aimed at those few mighty wards with a big number of independent voters, folks who held out to the last so they could get the biggest payoffs.

Meanwhile, Kenna would ran a lackluster campaign, letting some of his support bleed off.

"Two nights before the election," Raschid said, "Kenna pulls out. Says he's seen the light, and all. Credits it to the persuasive words of his worthy opponent-one Solon Walsh. Then throws his support to you."

They did not go for it right off. Nobody ever does. There had to be bullet-proof assurances that there would be no last-minute betrayal. These were made. And the rest of the terms were set. Walsh would be Tyrenne. In return, Kenna would wield even more clout than before. Avri did not give a clot about the giveaways. She was more interested in being the power behind a Tyrenne's throne.

"It still ain't enough," Avri said. "Even if we join forces, Yelad's still got the vote edge. Too many independents. Maybe we can squeak through on that.

"But he's the man with the pad. He can always top whatever we got by voting the graves."

What Avri was referring to was that delightfully old-fashioned system still in play on Dusable. There was a joke that no one ever really died. The death certificate got dumped into Yelad's computer banks and that person's name remained on the voting rolls. When Yelad's people saw the count going against them, they voted the dead. Or the living, in the case of people who had emigrated from the Cairenes but were still there on the voting rolls.

Of course, Yelad could not be too blatant about it. Millions and millions of nonexistent voters would be too much even for the corrupt people of Dusable. Appearances were important. So Yelad's staff kept careful watch on the real voting, an easy task because of the deliberately out-of-date method of vote-casting. First off, every adult being was required by law to vote. The ward/mordida system could not work unless everybody was in the game, physically and psychologically. Second, each person registered with the solon of his or her choice. An ID card was presented at the polls, and the vote cast was registered upon it for a ward captain to examine later. So much for the secret ballot. Finally voters were physically required to go to the polls, rather than voting by computer at home, unlike most citizens of the Empire. This gave a master thief like Yelad all kinds of interesting ways to cheat.

"How do we get away from that," Avri asked.

"We got it covered," Raschid said. "It'll be tricky, but that's what makes the game fun. But we'd like to keep all that to ourselves awhile. If you don't mind."

No one did. Kenna was taking all the risks. Avri knew nobody would be mad at Walsh. He was just the Dummy.

The deal was done. Then Raschid tackled the next part: the Issue. Yelad represented the status quo. Kenna, labor. But Walsh had nothing but empty words. He needed a target. Raschid had the gringo ploy in mind. Nobody in the room knew the term's origins except Raschid, and he wasn't saying, but they knew what it meant. Attack the outsider, somebody big and far off you could blame all troubles on.

So Walsh's issue was the privy council. It was their fault things had been bungled since the death of the Emperor. It was their fault there was no AM2, creating such bleak times. Yelad would be forced to defend them. If he did not, he was doomed with the all-powerful Imperial council.

When Raschid had brought it up prior to this meeting, Kenna had been so excited he contemplated forgetting the whole deal with Walsh and keeping his own campaign running. Raschid doused that idea. He pointed out since Kenna was already President of the Council of Solons, the privy council would be highly annoyed at this attack. Kenna did not want or need that kind of attention, Raschid strongly advised. The thought also made him feel personally uncomfortable, although once again, he did not know why.

"Let the Dummy do it," Raschid said. "They'll figure he's just grabbing for straws because there's no way he can win. They won't care one way or another what a Dummy says, and they'll ignore the whole thing."

It was not necessary to spell that out to Walsh. Avri knew what it meant, which was more than enough.

Kenna was in high spirits as they exited the bar. Everything was on track. Raschid wanted him to stay happy, so he praised his performance.

"The trick you just pulled was invented by a master," Raschid said. "It's called a rossthomas."

"Which means?" Kenna asked with lifted eyebrows.

"It means that now the fools in town are on our side," Raschid said.

Kenna laughed all the way back to headquarters.

There were other meetings with key beings who had to be bribed, clued in, brought into line, or a combination of the three. The results were happily similar.

One meeting, however, Raschid thought best to handle alone.
The mob boss's name was Pavy. She was known as the hardest, canniest, and most unforgiving of all Dusable's crime royalty. Her turf was a dozen of the biggest independent wards. Not one coin came through any of them that did not have its edges well skinned.  She ran all vice—from joygirls and joyboys to the most addictive narcotics. Her loan sharks were the toughest and most knowledgeable. Her thieves the wiliest. Pavy was also stone gorgeous.

She was of average height, but in the clinging body suit she wore when she greeted Raschid her legs climbed into the upper atmosphere. Her hair was a dark, close-cropped skullcap, and her eyes were as black as any he had ever seen—with hard, gleaming, diamond points of crafty intelligence. They met in a cozy little room deep inside the one-square-kilometer warren of vice she called The Club.

Pavy ordered her thug assistants out of the room after the preliminaries. Raschid had already been fine-toothed for weapons in the bombproof room just inside the entrance. Not that Raschid could not have snapped that long slender neck with one hand—which Pavy knew as well as he. Still, she had dismissed her bodyguards. From the look in her eyes, Raschid knew that the woman had already taken his measure. He was there for a deal, not to kill.

After they left, she refilled their glasses with the aromatic liquor she favored, dropped the jeweled slippers from her feet, and settled back on the soft settee, her legs tucked up under her. She gave Raschid a silent toast with her glass and sipped. He followed her lead.

"Now tell me what you have in mind," she purred. Raschid did not make the mistake of thinking the purr was anything other than that of a very deadly tiger.

He spelled out the program. The fix was in, he said, although he couldn't tell her exactly how it was going to come off. Pavy nodded. That groundwork had been more than satisfactorily settled by Kenna's people. Then he told her what he wanted her to do, just sketching the main points; the little details could be spelled out later. Pavy's smile grew as he talked. She liked this. It was going to be very expensive for someone. She laughed a couple of times, then told him what she wanted in return, a sum that would keep a small planet happy for a year. Raschid shaded the price by one fourth, but only because he sensed she would distrust him if he didn't try. Then Pavy surprised him.

"What's your end?" she asked. "What did you tell Kenna you wanted?"

"I didn't say," Raschid answered.

"That's wise," Pavy said, nodding. "If you win you can probably get at least as much as he's giving me."

Raschid figured she was right. In fact, Kenna had asked him the same question. What did Raschid want in return? He knew it disturbed Kenna to be told he would find out when it was over. Why had he done that? Raschid was not sure. All he knew was that the price would come at the proper time.

Pavy asked him about other political battles he had been involved in, as one criminal to another, giving him the out of dodging anything that might be incriminating. But that was no problem. As far as Raschid could figure, this was the first election he had ever worked, so he lied. Political events came tumbling out of him, complete with victories and desperate setbacks and stunning reversals. Oddly enough, as he told the stories and she kept their glasses full, he realized that he was not lying at all.

Finally, it was getting late. Time to go. Pavy's hand hovered over the button to call for her thugs to escort him out. Then she flashed him a most peculiar smile. It was glowing, and her lips were soft, her eyes wide and wanting.

"You could stay longer if you liked," she whispered very softly. Long nails brushing the microthin body suit. The rasping sound gave Raschid the shivers.

He considered her request—because that was what it was. Why was this woman so suddenly attracted to him? He saw the reason. It was from being so close to power—real power. But he was just Raschid. Wasn't he? Where was the power? Then he knew it was there. Inside him. But not why. Nor who. Yet.

Raschid stayed the night. 
The 45th Ward was one of Tyrenne Yelad's lesser bailiwicks. It had not always been so. The chief occupation of the sprawling neighborhood involved the plasfill contracts for the Tyrenne's massive public-works programs. Before the AM2 crunch, all of Dusable had been busy one way or another in these projects. Bridges were built duplicating perfectly good arcs a few klicks away. As were unnecessary roads. Or tall, gleaming public offices that were always in short supply. The reason for this was that each time the public payroll was padded, new offices were required for patronage. Departments continuously warred with other departments for more employees, thus increasing their power, and posh offices to house them in, thus increasing their prestige.

So there was always a tremendous need for plasfill. The 45th had always prided itself on supplying the thinnest gruel at the highest price possible. These big profits made the world go around.

Then came hard times. Yelad had to throw one of his wards off the plasfill sleigh—the 45th. Now people were beginning to hurt in the 45th. Long lines lined up daily before the ward captain's door. By day's end, the captain had barely whittled into the line.

So when the official gravcar hummed into the neighborhood, it was greeted with quiet but keen interest. The windows were shut and darkened, but it was no mystery who was inside. The car flew the tiny flag of Tyrenne Yelad.

It cruised slowly through the neighborhoods, as if inspecting the shuttered shops and "For Sale" signs on the businesses. The people of the 45th who were about that day—and there were many, since jobs were scarce-wondered about its purpose. Was the great Tyrenne Yelad there with some great surprise? A bonus contract for plasfill? A few shabby vehicles chose to follow at a discreet distance.

The Tyrenne's car made the turn that led to the ward captain's house. Aha! Good news.

Suddenly, the gravcar sped up. As if harsh orders had been given and the driver was heading back.

At that moment, a small, tubby, darling child of a boy darted into the street after an errant ball. The gravcar sped on. The child looked up with wide, innocent, and oh, so frightened eyes, frozen. But there was still plenty of time for the car to stop. On it came. People screamed warnings. Mothers wailed in empathy. The child turned and half stumbled toward escape. Then the gravcar accelerated. Almost as if it had been done on purpose. The car clipped the child, and, to loud shrieks of horror, the boy was hurled into the air. He crashed to the ground, blood spurting. The gravcar came to a fast stop. A uniformed driver leapt out. People ran toward the accident. The driver drew a pistol and shouted for them to stay back. They did.

Then he marched to the corpse of the boy and stood over it. He looked back at the gravcar. A window hissed open, and people thought they could see someone motioning an order. The driver scooped up the body and dumped it in the gravcar as if it were trash. Someone shouted a protest. The driver snarled an oath and waved the gun. But the crowd was furious. Beings started running for the gravcar. The driver leapt inside and sped away, leaving angry voters behind. Voters who now cursed the very name of Tyrenne Yelad—a being who scorned them so much that he killed their children.

Inside the car Raschid flung the driver's cap into the back. Beside him, the corpse stirred, then sat up.

"Gimme a clottin' rag," the boy's corpse said.

"Pretty good first act," Raschid said as he handed a cloth to the boy, who began wiping away the fake blood.

One close look at the "boy" would reveal the lines in his face and the cynical twist around his eyes. He lit up a giant tabac, inhaled deeply, and blew out, filling the car with the cloud. This was a boy who had been in the acting business for fifty years or more.

"Think you can do it again?" Raschid asked.

"No problem," the boy said. "I could do it three, maybe four more times before I get too tired. And careless, if you know what I mean."

Raschid said he did.

"How about a little drink break?" the boy asked.

"Nope. The thirty-sixth first. Then you get that drink."

The boy cursed, but Raschid did not mind. Raschid could tell the actor was very happy with the work.
Lieutenant Skinner was one pissed off cop. It was collection day, and the first stop had put her in a foul mood.

She always started her rounds with a tidy little joyshop. It was a private deal, so she didn't have to share the earner. She also had a cute little joyboy she had been diddling every collection day for the past few months. That morning, however, there was no earner—and no joyboy.

The frightened and confused manager burbled out that the earner had already been picked up. He said a couple of real scary cop thugs had dropped by an hour before. They were there for the juice—said from now on Skinner was out. It had not taken much in the way of heavy leaning—the manager's face was bruised, and he walked with a limp—to make the message stick. They had also picked up the joyboy and said he would be working at another house.

Skinner was damn sure the toady manager was not lying, especially after she administered a professional beating of her own. Afterward, she stormed out of the joyshop, vowing revenge. Then it sank in. It would not be that easy. Her captain didn't know about this little caper. Frustrated, pissed, and confused about who the cop interlopers might have been, Skinner continued her rounds. Each place she went, the story was the same. Skinner began to realize that the beat she had spent so much money in payoffs to acquire had been turned upside down.

Steaming through her big beak like an ancient engine, Skinner headed for the cop shop to clue her captain in. An interdepartmental turf fight had just been launched.

Skinner had one more large jolt awaiting her. It was no mere fight, nor was it over a single piece of turf. Somehow or other, outright war had been declared. But by whom, no one would know until it was too late. 
Kym was young and blond with innocent eyes and a not-so innocent body. She was also a wicked little number who haunted pickup spots outside her home ward. A Lolita lick of her lips, a hip thrown just so, a jut of milky breasts, and the mark was soon in her clutches—thanks to the knockout gas and sharp knife she kept tucked away in her skimpy costume.

Kym was also the apple of her daddy's eye and a minor hero in her neighborhood. Well-raised child that she was, Kym always brought all her loot home to Poppa. Since he was a sewer superintendent on Yelad's pad, that equaled large local clout.

But there had been a wee misunderstanding one night. Kym got picked up by cops who were too stoned out on narcobeer to check her out, so they hauled her to the slammer and booked her. To everyone's dismay, there was no choice but for Kym to go on trial. Nobody liked that, even Tyrenne Yelad's enemies. After all, juice on Dusable had to stay universally sweet, or the whole jug would go sour.

But such slips had been made before. The procedure was to have a little trial. The cops would get a minor scolding for busting somebody so obviously innocent, and Kym would be home again in her daddy's loving care and back out on the streets pursuing marks.

That was not what happened. The judge convicted the child of all charges—and threw the book at her.

In the howl of outrage that followed—picked up and played for all it was worth by Kenna's pet livie casters—the judge slipped out of town to retire to a life of newly wealthy ease, leaving Tyrenne Yelad holding the bag.

Avri praised Raschid to the heavens for the inspired dirty work. "Stick around," Raschid said. "I got a new twist on that new twist." 
The juice went so sour in a score of key wards that it consisted almost entirely of solid matter.

Cops went after cops. The mobs went after everybody. Shops were bombed out, joyhouses raided, and gambling dens ripped off. Muscle banged muscle, and the innocent got in between—assuming that anyone on Dusable fit that description. The capper was the Mother's March for Kym.

Two thousand angry women from her ward hit the streets. Huge banners bore the innocent profile of the dear child. There was wailing and weeping and much colorful tearing of hair. Kenna's livie crews were out in force to cover it for the home folks, running down the dreaded incident for the thousandth time for their viewers. There were lots of close shots of her stunned daddy, who wobbled along at the head of the parade. Pop looked great, blasted on narcobeer, with eyes red-rimmed from cavorting on the cuff at a joyshop Raschid's people had steered him to. He was the portrait of stunned sorrow.

Screaming oaths, the women converged on the Tyrenne's headquarters, where a phalanx of cops waited. The lawbeings were in full riot drag—helmets and shields and clubs and gas and blister guns.

The women drew up before the line of cops. There was more shouting and screaming. Livie crews recorded the standoff.

Suddenly a big gravtruck burst out of a side street. Cops identically clad to the Tyrenne's guards boiled off, kicking and punching and flailing about with clubs. The women howled in agony as the stunned real cops gaped on. Who were those guys? The phony cops ducked out of sight as the women recovered and went for blood. The battle would go down in Dusable history. Hundreds of mothers were injured in a scene witnessed by the entire planet.

Yelad's good name was quickly being reduced to a synonym for drakh. 
The Dummy performed like a champ.

The best researchers and speech writers mordida could buy spilled out a tsunami of attacks on the privy council. Ad spots that would stop an overheated ox in its tracks were created. Raschid was all motion, ripping and tearing and putting the whole back together.

Solon Walsh delivered. In spades.

He started with a rather sad talk on the hardships of the beings of Dusable, leaving open the question of who was to blame for the troubles. But at his next appearance, he struck the pose of an outraged and betrayed citizen. He was aboil with facts that had just come to his attention. AM2 was being deliberately withheld from the Cairenes. Prize contracts had been wrested away. Solon Walsh bellowed for justice in speech after fiery speech. Dusable needed a strong hand now, he preached. One who owed nothing to those devil rulers on the privy council.

Tyrenne Yelad reacted mildly at first. He was surprised at the slickness of Walsh's campaign. But Avri assured Yelad that it was all part of the plan to leech off reform support from Kenna. Since Yelad was personally handing over mordida for Walsh's campaign kitty, he was reassured. As for the attacks on the privy council, what did he care? Those exalted beings certainly didn't, since the attacks came from a noncandidate like Solon Walsh.

Just to keep things square, however, he had his own speech writers make some minor course corrections. He delivered a few mild speeches defending the privy council.

Raschid made sure that each and every one of them was exploded out of proportion. He turned Yelad's mild defense into gigantic ad spots in the skies, complete with thundering volume, which warped every word Yelad spoke.

Then the other drakh started hitting the fan: The curdled juice. The internecine cop warfare. The mob attacks. Et cetera, et cetera. Yelad was so busy rushing about trying to plug the spurting leaks that he did not notice that Solon Kenna—his archenemy—was barely running a campaign at all.

Three nights before the election, the Tyrenne called an emergency meeting. His confidence was shaken.

Yelad looked like a ball top—skinny bottom and skinnier uppers, with a big round bulge in the middle. He chose his tailors so that those defects were emphasized rather than lessened. The clothes themselves were of materials just above middle class. Yelad lived in the same small ward home he had grown up in. He was nice to his mother, spoke well of his wife, and was understanding about the mishaps his brat children got themselves into. All of those artifices he had developed over many decades of campaigning. The message was: As a man of the people, Yelad possessed many of the people's flaws—but also many homespun strengths. It was one of the many reasons he had won term after term.

Not counting his vast patronage, of course, or his giant, smooth machine. On that night, however, nothing was smooth. Yelad was half drunk, one of many bad habits he had slipped into after years of easy victories.

"Whaddya mean, ya don't know what's behind it? What am I pay in' ya clots for? Clottin' lazy bastards, that's what ya all clottin' are. Drakh under my feet."

He stormed and raged, and his aides cowered, waiting for the awful storm to break. It didn't.

"I'll tell ya what's goin' on. It's that clottin' Kenna. Pullin' a sly one. Yeah, well... we'll see what's what, we will. I'm pullin' out all stops. Ya hear! Dumb clottin' low-down piece of drakh bastards...'s'what I got."

Many, many yessirs later, he was soothed enough to grit out orders. With times so tight, he needed a mandate. A mandate of historic proportions.

Teams of thugs and poll riders were doubled, the hired phony voters nearly tripled. Waiting in the wings were those grave vaults to be voted when the final count came in.

Tyrenne Yelad had plenty of funds. What he lacked was organization. After so many years of constant victories, he required a far smaller team to administer the elections. Now he ordered heavies hired by the hundreds. They all hit the ground running—and instantly stumbled into each other and crashed to the ground. But the worst blow came before all that, on the night following the meeting. Less than forty-eight E-hours before the election. 
Raschid watched calmly from the sidelines as Kenna oiled onto the big outdoor platform. His eyes swept the audience, making sure his shills were at work, pricking up the vast crowd. Every news livie crew on Dusable was accounted for. Even Yelad's pets had come running when word was leaked a few hours before Kenna's regularly scheduled speech. The talk was that a stunner of a development was about to unfold. The news crews forgot their loyalties, overwhelmed by that headiest of all scents: political bloodshed.

Kenna took up position. The ovation aroused by the shills was deafening. Solon Kenna bowed humbly and raised a weak hand, grinning and begging them to stop... "Stop... I really don't deserve all this outpouring of love."

The shills hit the button again just as the crowd was starting to believe that they really ought to stop as urged. The ovation was louder than before. Raschid let it go for half an hour, then motioned to let it gradually subside.

Kenna laughed and thanked everyone for such a spontaneous show of support. Then composed his face into a portrait of somber wisdom. He briefly sketched his long career of public service, reminding one and all of the hard fights in their behalf. Then Kenna confessed that he had been overwhelmed by doubts in the course of this campaign. He was getting on in years, he said, and he realized that he might not be able to carry on the banner as Tyrenne.

The crowd was hushed. Beings were beginning to get the drift. A few shouts of "No... no..." could be heard. Raschid's magic was such that they were truly spontaneous, not the work of shills. Finally, Solon Kenna reached the end. There was a dramatic pause.

"I have been listening most carefully to the views of my opponents," he said at last. "And I have come to the conclusion that only one true voice speaks for us all. I therefore announce... I am withdrawing from the race... and—"

The crowd erupted in fury, but Kenna commanded them to silence with his august presence.

"And I throw my support to that most worthy of all beings on Dusable..."

On cue, the Dummy walked out on stage to the amazement of the entire planet.

Solon Walsh approached his colleague, tears streaming from his eyes—it had been Raschid who suggested to Avri the astringent in the kerchief.

"I give you... our new Tyrenne... A being for the new ages... Solon Walsh!"

People went mad. Fights erupted. Livie crews smashed into each other trying to get tighter shots, or sprinting off for their standups.

But in the middle of all the madness, the perfect picture was on the stage. As soon as the news crews realized it, they were back to work shooting the image, breaking heads and standing on fellow beings to get it.

It made a grand, instant campaign poster. Solon Kenna and Solon Walsh, weeping in joy, their arms flung about one another in loving unity.

Raschid thought the whole performance had gone well enough. He had done far better in the past, but all in all, he had to admit... Then his mind did a small, dizzy slip. When had he done better? With what? Then the roar of the crowd took him, and he banished the doubts.

The hard part was next. There was still an election to steal. 
Election day dawned to the thunder of Tyrenne Yelad's shouts of outrage. His eyes were two blood holes from railing all night at the Judas Solon Walsh. Finally, his aides got him calmed enough to order the counterattack.

Yelad slammed down at his desk and began pouring over his illegal options. Confidence quickly returned. He believed his political arsenal would have made even the late Eternal Emperor weep.

The steam hissed to a stop. Yelad composed himself and ordered up a jug of his headiest brew to steady the nerve for the long day and night ahead.

At that moment a badly frightened aide burst in. Bad news in the 22nd Ward—one of Yelad's greatest strongholds, with one million honest votes in pocket and two hundred thousand from the grave vaults.

In his fear, the aide told it badly—which meant from the beginning, each detail drop by drop. Yelad shouted at him to bottom line it at once. But the being stumbled so badly that Yelad gritted his teeth and told him to start anew.

The 22nd Ward was an island, surrounded by factory-polluted seas. For the working class, which meant all of the voters, there were only two convenient routes in and out of the ward, great bridge spans built with a vast hurrah and a flurry of mordida twenty years before.

"Yes! Yes! I clottin' know that. Spit it out, you little drakhbutt!"

"Well..."the aide wailed. "One of them just collapsed."

"Clot!" was all Yelad could gobble. The voter traffic would soon make the other bridge impassable. And although there had been no injuries, people might fear to even chance that one.

Yelad sucked in half his jug of spirits in one go. The day was not beginning well. 
As Yelad tried to gather his wits, Raschid was being let into the deep, gloomy underground heart of the big building that housed Dusable's computer balloting system.

The toady ushered him and his three-being team of techs to a steel vault. The heavy door hung open. Inside was a snakes' nest of boards and old-fashioned optic wiring.

It was almost too easy. But Raschid knew that in politics, one took it any way it came.

Where earlier there had been two thousand women marching for Kym, election day saw fifteen thousand mothers march out from two wards. Whole gravtrucks of police fled before them.

For three hours they paraded from one ward to the next, gathering beings of all sexes behind banners bearing the likeness of the martyred girl mugger.

Then they all went to vote, sixty thousand of them. Some particularly irate women voted 130 times or more before the polls closed.

Solon Kenna hit the docks and SDT Union hiring halls at dawn. He spread the bribe money so thick and wide the grease could have easily launched a fleet of destroyers, and as he shook each hand and filled each pocket with credits, he looked each being straight in the eye and issued the order for the day.

"Go vote. Go cause trouble."

The masses of workers swarmed out the gate. The voting and fighting raged deep into the night. 
Solon Walsh addressed the livie crowds armored in solemn, youthful honesty. But his wrath was so great that even his steely hands shook. The bit of paper with the latest awfulness fluttering in his anger as he shook it before the cameras.

"Yet another betrayal, my fellow citizens. The privy council in its wisdom has just ordered our credits devalued by one half! What does my cowardly opponent, Tyrenne Yelad, have to say to that?"

If anyone had looked closely, they would have seen only a few handscrawled words written on it. They were from Raschid, a heavily underlined reminder:

"Don't tell this lie with a smile." Walsh's stormy brow was a work of art.

At midday, Yelad's emergency press conference to refute Walsh's charges was canceled. There was more grim news from the 22nd: Huge cracks had been found in the remaining bridge.

No more than seven hundred people from the 22nd voted—which meant that Yelad would also not be able to cast the votes of the dead. 
The first of several hundred gravtruck loads of phony voters lumbered into Dusable's capital just after dark. All over the planet Yelad was bringing in similar reinforcements. The beings would be escorted from poll to poll to vote for the Tyrenne, receiving a chit for each vote. The chits were redeemable in cash. There were some seasoned pros on board each of the trucks, beings capable of hitting two to three hundred polling spots before the midnight shutoff. For them, it was very lucrative piecework.

Raschid's force waited in the alley until the first truck passed. They swarmed out, swinging clubs and hurling bottles filled with fiery liquid. The beings on the first truck were dragged off and beaten. The truck was dumped off its gravlifts onto its side. Then it was set on fire—blocking the way with its flaming wreckage.

Not that a barricade was really needed. The other trucks were either quickly overwhelmed, or turned tail to run. There was no pursuit. Raschid had drummed it into every thick skull: stick to detail, no matter what.

Somebody smashed in the strongbox aboard the truck and started handing out the counterfeit voting cards—just one more detail in Raschid's list. 
Gillia was a hardened twenty-year veteran of campaign strong-arming and dirty tricks. But he had found himself getting weary of late, and was thinking of retirement. Out of loyalty to Yelad he had decided to stick through one last campaign. Adding weight to that decision was the notion of the experts that this would be the easiest election of them all. Kenna did not stand a chance, so all kinds of opportunities were left for Gillia to do far more skimming than usual. If he used his wits, he would retire almost as rich as a Tyrenne himself.

When Gillia ordered the lead vehicle to turn into the 103rd Ward, he already knew he had been a rosy-butted fool for thinking that way. The word on the street was that all over Dusable, Yelad was taking a tremendous licking. Punishment squads out to do a little lightweight thumping were on the receiving end of their own beatings. Some fights had erupted into full-scale riots. Gillia himself had seen a Yelad ward office in flames—and that was in the first hour of the night's work. Burning barricades and screaming mobs had blocked his entrance into eight wards.

Meanwhile, Yelad's top operators were doing a great deal of screaming on their own. Gillia had never been greeted by such hysteria from the election brass. His poll-riding teams were under tremendous pressure to produce. Snap poll after snap poll showed that the Walsh vote was big and getting bigger. It had to be subverted, and clottin' fast.

Gillia's specialty was seeing that committed voters—committed to the other side—never reached the polls.

As in most places, the elderly and infirm on Dusable tended to vote the ticket. First, after years of backing one party, they were unlikely to change at this stage of the game. Second, they tended to owe their present existence, enfeebled though it might be, to that same ticket. All social welfare, obviously, was under the direct supervision of the local ward captain.

However, it was hard for such beings even to get to the polls. That problem was dealt with using traditional tools. The names of these prized voters were gathered up by the ward captain, who handed out the list to transport teams. On election night vehicles marked with the name of the proper candidate toured the wards, picked up the elderly and the crippled, delivered them to the polls to cast their vote, and then returned them home.

Gillia, and other beings like him, made sure that never happened.

Tonight he had twenty gravcars at his command, all repainted and bearing the name and likeness of Solon Walsh. The game plan was always the same. Spies in the enemy's camp would leak the schedule and names. Gillia would hustle his people out into the appropriate wards. They would go street to street, door-to-door, if necessary, and con the old beings into the gravcars. Then they would dump them fifty or sixty klicks away, stranding them far from their home polling places.

When Gillia's people hit the business center of the 103rd Ward, he issued instructions. The convoy split up and headed for their assigned neighborhoods. Gillia and his two goons continued on alone.

The old being at the first row home he approached greeted him at the door with a confused smile. "Why... what are you doing here, young man? I've already done my duty."

Gillia figured she was having him on. He sighed. There were always a few citizens who used any excuse to get out of voting. Oh, well. He would have to bruise her some, just like a legitimate poll rider, or she would be suspicious. He raised a weary arm to strike.

The old being scampered back, remarkably swift for her age. What a lot of drakh. He would have to chase her down.

"Wait," the old woman wailed. "There's been a mistake..."

"Right, lady," Gillia growled as he cornered her and got into position to smack. Then he became the startled one as she clawed out a voting card. It was stamped with Walsh's name, and time and date of voting. Aw, clot! The old bugger had already cast her ballot.

Gillia hit her anyway. He was too worried to make it his best shot—just enough to get her on the ground so he could give her a kick in the ribs.

Then, as his boot swung forward, a heavy hand grabbed his collar and he felt himself flailing back. He slammed onto the floor. He tried to roll to avoid the next blow, but he was past it and the roll came out more like a flop. The club caught him in the belly, and air whooshed out.

Gillia fought for breath. A red haze blurred his view. But through it, he could see a grinning young woman standing over him. She had sloping shoulders, a muscular neck, and shapely arms bulging with muscle. Nearby, he heard the old woman's gloating cackle. Above him, the young woman shifted her grip on the club and brought it down.

Just before it hit and pain and blackness descended, he heard his goons outside screaming in terror.

An hour later, Gillia's unconscious body was dumped in a far-off woods, as was every member of his poll-riding team.

Meanwhile, all the gravcars were seized and repainted with Yelad's name and likeness. Raschid's own dirty tricksters spread out through the Tyrenne's own wards.

"Can't let a good move like that go to waste," Raschid had told Avri.

Pavy had been more than happy to supply some of her best mob muscle to the game. 
Tyrenne Yelad attacked one hour before the polls closed. Three hundred handpicked goons raided Walsh's headquarters, under orders to break every head, wreck every office, and carry off every document they could find.

The small force outside the building put up a token fight. It was quickly overwhelmed and put to flight. The bonfire team got busy outside stoking up a blaze into which furniture, documents, and anything else flammable would be hurled. A squad hastily assembled a steel ram and smashed through the double doors. A moment later Yelad's goons poured inside.

Raschid laughed as the goons rushed up the stairs. Just before the first wave hit him, he gave the signal. His shock troops leapt out of their hiding places and counterattacked. There were five hundred of them, all just as big, mean, and willing to hurt as Yelad's forces.

Raschid caught the first goon by the club arm. There was a dry snap as he broke it; then he spun to the side and grabbed the next goon by the ear, which he used as a lever to hurl his attacker to the floor. The ear came away in his hand and the being's head gave a bounce on a jutting stair. Raschid hurled the torn-off ear into the startled face of a third brute. As he booted the goon in the crotch and reached for a fourth victim, he saw Yelad's forces buried under the wave of counterattackers.

This was going well.  There was nothing  Raschid  liked better  than hands-on electioneering. 
Lieutenant Skinner reached the last Walsh polling spot a few minutes before the doors closed. Despite the lateness of the hour, she was in no hurry. 
Election night was usually one of Skinner's favorite times. There was always plenty of pleasant hitting to do and heaps of spare mordida about.

This time, however, she was one unmotivated cop. All over, the juice had stopped. She was starting to feel poverty-stricken, and her captain whined that he was no better off. Well, clot him! She was sure he was just looking out for himself. In other wards, her colleagues were moaning over the same misfortune.

So she had hit the streets with no hopes and little oomph. It did not improve her mood any to learn that she was right. Not only was there no mordida, but every citizen was as likely to attack her as to spit in her eye.

Her main job was to greet Yelad's phony voters when they arrived at the polls. She and her six-being team were supposed to hustle them off the gravtrucks, make sure they voted fast and correctly, then load them back on the vehicle to be rushed to the next spot.

Almost no one showed. Skinner got on the horn right away. The first time the shrieking voice on the other side shouted that it was just a mess up, some kind of delay. Skinner said sure and got off. She was not calmed by the hysteria in that voice. The second time, same thing. But, from then on out, all lines were jammed. Skinner realized with a shock that all over Dusable the same thing was happening. Cops like her were making the same panic calls.

Oh, well. She would just duck her head, do her job, and go home and get drunk when the election was over.

During the whole night only a few gravtrucks arrived. But even that was no solace. Because there was a surprise awaiting them at each poll. Joygirls and joyboys were out in force, guarded by so many mob pimps Skinner would have had to have been afflicted with a death wish to interfere. The pleasure sellers would mince up to the mark, throw a little seduction into the air, and the deal would be made. Instead of Yelad, the phony vote would go to Walsh. The payoff, a few sweet minutes in a handy dark place.

There was nothing Skinner could do about it. She didn't have the muscle. After a while, she started getting horny herself. By the time she reached the last stop, she didn't know whether she was too pissed to be horny, or too horny to be pissed.

Her jaw dropped when she saw one of the joyboys working the line of voters. It was her own little lad! Ah, how she had missed him. When she saw his curly locks and soft mouth, all thoughts of anger disappeared.

Lieutenant Skinner fished out her voting card and joined the line. Clot it! Her vote was going to Walsh. 
In the Cairenes—especially on Dusable—there was a puzzling mechanical law that struck every election period. No sooner were the polls closed than the main computer would jam up and crash. There it would sit for half the night while teams of expensive techs were rushed in to tinker at its works and shake their heads over bitter caff.

At the appropriate time, there would be huzzahs of victory from the techs, and the computer would kick in, counting the votes and spitting out the results.

There was never any suspense in this final act. Yelad always won.

The Tyrenne huddled in his yawning office with his top aides. Despite the nightmare that had stalked him all day and night, Yelad's mood was fairly light. It helped that he was drunk. It helped still more that the mechanical law of Dusable elections had cut in right on time. Saved by a crashing computer! He chortled, took a slug from the bottle, and growled for his chief registrar to get to it. The screen lit up on Yelad's desk. Now he would see what he would see.

The way it was supposed to work—clot, the way it always worked—was that now the real count would begin. The broken-down computer would hum into action. Its first task was to tally the enemy wards. That would let Yelad know his opponent's strength. Then he would have his own vote counted, and the margin of victory adjusted by the millions of grave votes he had at his command.

He had to be careful. If he cheated too blatantly, the shrill questioning could wreck the first year of his new term. This time, however, Yelad was throwing caution off the roof. Walsh's tactics had him aching for revenge. He would bury the little clot in a landslide of historic proportions.

Yelad jumped when he heard his registrar groan. What the clot?

Walsh's vote was coming in. "Flooding in" was a better description. In ward after ward he was sweeping to victory!

A half hour later Yelad was suddenly sober. He was in deep drakh. Walsh's margin was so great that Yelad would have to vote every dead being in his files. He steeled himself and chugged down half the bottle. Fine! He'd do what was necessary. Hang what happened next. He would still be Tyrenne.

Impatiently he ordered his registrar to start the tally of wards. He settled back for a long night of counting.

The night proved short. One hour later the awful truth began to sink in.

Yelad's vote was nearly nonexistent.

Later, he would figure it out. Somebody had mickied the computer. All across Dusable, every time a committed voter hit the button, it would be recorded instead for Walsh. The official total gave him less than half-a-million votes.

Dusable's dead rested easy in their grave vaults that night.

Yelad had lost.

From that time forward he would be mocked as "Landslide Yelad." 
Raschid did not attend Walsh and Kenna's victory party. Instead, he had a very private meeting with Solon Kenna in his offices. It was time to set his price.

The thought came to him as he was watching the election feed on the livie box. It was followed by an overwhelming feeling of urgency. He had to act. Fast.

As he rushed to his hastily arranged meeting with Kenna, the dense clouds that had boiled in his brain for all this time began to thin out, then lift away.

He had passed the Final Test.

Kenna was relieved when Raschid told him what he required: a fast ship, loaded with all the AM2 it could hold, ready for lift within six hours. Kenna thought that no price at all. He figured Raschid would beggar the mordida coffers. Not that it wasn't well worth it. In fact, from his viewpoint, Raschid's payment was so little that even Kenna's crooked soul stung a bit.

"Are you sure," Solon Kenna pressed, "that we can't do anything more?"

"Maybe you can," came the answer. "I'm not sure. But right now, why don't you just stick tight. Enjoy yourself. I'll get back to you."

The Eternal Emperor shook the hand of one singularly happy politician.

And now it was time for him to retake his throne…


Sten Omnibus #2
Click this link to buy the book!

Orbit Books in the U.K. has gathered up all eight novels in the Sten Series and is publishing them as three omnibus editions. The First - BATTLECRY - features the first three books in the series: Sten #1; Sten #2 -The Wolf Worlds; and Sten #3, The Court Of A Thousand Suns. Click this link to buy it.  The Kindle Edition OF BATTLECRY, includes all three books but is only available in the U.K. and territories. Click this link to buy it. Available now: JUGGERNAUT, which features the next three books: Sten #4, Fleet Of The Damned;  Sten #5, Revenge Of The Damned; and Sten #6, The Return Of the Emperor. Click this link to buy both the trade paperback and Kindle version. Next month months Orbit (A division of Little Brown) will publish DEATH MATCH, which will feature Sten #7, Vortex, and Sten #8, End Of Empire. Those will be issued as Kindle editions as well. Stay tuned for details. 

Told in four parts, Episode Two now appearing in Diaspar Magazine, the best SF&F magazine in South America! And it's free! Here's the link. And here's the link to the first episode. 
Sten debuta # 1 en español! Narrada en cuatro partes, Episode Dos 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!