Wednesday, May 30, 2012

THE 'BACKROOM BOYS' COME CALLING

NOTE FROM ALLAN: I'LL BE ON VACATION FOR THE NEXT COUPLE OF WEEKS. THE ETERNAL EMPEROR'S TALE WILL RESUME JUNE 20 WITH "THE PRICE OF MORTALITY."
*****
"I used to get things done by saying, 'Please.' Now I dynamite 'em out of my path." - Huey Long
****

Ganymede—A.D. 2212

ONE WAS THE prime minister of a commonwealth. He represented the big families. One was a businesswoman, a member of the board on two thousand blue-chip firms. Another represented Big Money. He controlled the skim on two-thirds of all electronically transmitted cash. The last was labor chieftain of three continents­

“Most of the military is behind us,” Labor said. “The rest will follow if we do a deal.”

“Amazing how timid generals can be,” Kea said.

“They would have come,” the prime minister said, “but they were worried—despite our assurances to the contrary—that they might be spotted… They send, however, their humblest apologies and warmest greetings.”

Kea snorted. “Like I said… timid.”

Big Money cut to the bottom line. “But still with us,” he said. “You know we wouldn’t be here, Mr. Richards, if we didn’t have all our i’s dotted and t’s crossed.”

“The point is,” the businesswoman said, “the Federation’s presidential election is upon us. Time is short. We need to know now if you’ll be our nominee.”

“I’ll have to be honest with you,” Kea said. “The other side has come to see me as well.”

Labor laughed. “If you didn’t figure we already knew that, Mr. Richards,” he said, “you wouldn’t have let our shadows fall upon your doorstep.”

“We’re not amateurs,” Big Money said. “We came prepared to substantially increase the offer.”

“I think we had better stop right here,” Kea said, “while I explain my position.”

“Explain away,” Labor said.

“I’ll tell you the same thing I told them. I don’t need this. I’m richer than anyone has a right to be. I’m forty-seven years old. I was thinking of taking it easy for a while. Resting on my laurels, as it were.”

The businesswoman clapped. “Lovely speech. We’ll see the spin doctors use it.”

“The mink-piece writers will devour it with relish,” the prime minister said. “I can see the Op Ed headline now: ‘Hero who saved civilization spurns all offers from grateful public.’”

“We let that kinda thing bounce around for a week or so,” Labor cut in. “Then play up the mess the fat cats and back-room boys have got the Federation into. Before you know it, folks will be beggin’ you to save ‘em again.”

“Then you reluctantly… and humbly… agree to a draft,” the prime minister said.

The businesswoman graced him with her most charming smile. “Is that what you had in mind, Mr. Richards? More or less.”

Kea laughed. “The others believed me just a little longer than you people,” he said.

“That’s why we’re number one,” Big Money responded.

“Number one… but without a candidate,” Kea said. “Which is the same boat your competition is in. At this rate, both parties will wind up in a tie out of sheer electoral boredom. And even if you win… The Federation is in a mess. You guys have put it in the crap house. What are you going to do about it? What are your big ideas?”

Dead silence greeted this. But Kea believed it necessary to drive his point home.  “The current state of the Federation is no fantasy, my friends,” he said. “The economy is in shambles. You’ve got twenty wars of various sizes. Famine. Drought. Industry is stalled. Inflation running amok. Interest rates sky-high… if there was anyone with money to borrow. Besides that, lady… and gentlemen, you look in fine shape to me.”

“You must be interested,” Labor said, “or you wouldn’t have bothered to fill up your stone bucket before we got here. If you get my point.”

“I got it,” Kea said.

“Which brings us back to the price,” Big Money said.

“What could I want?” Kea asked. “I’ve got AM2. Which means I already control everything-—-from the stars on down.”

“You tell us, Mr. Richards,” Labor said. “What do you want?”

Kea told them. Unlike the first group, there was no quibbling. No negotiation.

The deal was cut right there.
  
NEXT: THE PRICE OF MORTALITY




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! 





*****
EMPIRE DAY 2012 - A COMMEMORATIVE EDITION


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?


THE STEN COOKBOOK & KILGOUR JOKEBOOK





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 COMPLETE MISADVENTURES: IT'S A BOOK!


THE VITAL LINKS:
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!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

THE DOOMSDAY MIRACLE


Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being snared. - Proverbs 3:23-26-
*****
"God is not dead. He is alive and working on a much less ambitious project." - Graffito (circa 1975)
*****


Clarke Central, Luna, A.D. 2211

THE MIRACLE ARRIVED in late spring. It was first observed and tracked by a Callisto-Mars Yukawa drive ship. It was an irregular chunk of rock not much more than a kilometer in diameter. It might have been considered a small asteroid, but its characteristics showed no semblance to the rocks tumbling beyond Mars. The navigator noted the orbit and roughly calculated the meteor’s speed. He reported and forgot it. The report was logged, and the navigator’s figures checked, rechecked, and extrapolated. The tech at MarsNavCentral blinked, swore, and ran the problem again.

The figures indicated that this chunk of interplanetary/stellar debris was on a collision track with Earth’s moon, plus-minus 15 percent probability. The tech told his supervisor. His supervisor, realizing the navigation center’s annual budget was up for review, commed the existence of this hurtling rock to a local vid science-news reporter. And the reporter’s editor knew what built ratings and sold ads:

FLASH: Scientists Report a New Interstellar Meteor on a Collision Course with Luna! Superspeed Asteroid to Crash into Moon in 158 E-Days! Mars Entire Population in Jeopardy! Earth Itself Endangered!

Chaos and craziness, from scientists to the media to the public. Early on, a literate antiquarian named the rock Wanderer. The name was seized on as the only thing everyone agreed about as the Solar System’s sanity level dropped like the long-ago ocean in Hilo Bay.

 Kea, from Ganymede, watched and read in growing amazement and concern.

Theories were offered. Studied. The Solar Federation set up an emergency headquarters on Mars, in the central Arthur C. Clarke complex. It took a week or so, but eventually enough pols had been reassured there’d be more than enough time and ships to evac them before Wanderer impacted. And then the speeches and the “viewing with concern” went on.

A state of emergency was declared.

But nothing was done.

Worse, as the probable impact time grew closer, nothing was even suggested.

Should the Moon be evacuated.

How?

There were almost two million people living under its cratered desolation. And what about Earth’s population? Should everyone move to high ground, in the assumption Earth would experience the most erratic and deadly tides in humankind’s history? And what about  the debris, which would surely impact Earth?

Words, words. No actions.

Kea had thought his cynicism to be unshakable in his belief that society, as presently constituted, could muck up a rock fight. He should have been unsurprised as the media hollered, the pols debated, the scientists chased ever-receding decimal points, and the people clamored. The clamor included new prophets preaching that the sins of the past were about to be paid for. Mobs who knew that the world was coming to an end, and therefore utter license should be the order of the day. Cops and soldiery who seemed more worried about the possibility of riots than what response they would have to catastrophe.

Words, and more words, as Doomsday grew nearer and nearer. There were even some utter stiffs who suggested nothing should be done. This was part of nature, was it not? Man had evolved through catastrophe. This was Intended to Happen. This would usher in the Next Level of Being. Intended by Whom varied from fruitbar to fruitbar.

Seventy-three days.

Kea sent for Doctor Masterson, his head scientist. He respected the man, as much for his pragmatism as for his ability to keep secrets and administer equally individualistic and iconoclastic scientists and technicians.

Masterson ran his own prognoses: Prog: that Wanderer would collide with the Moon. 85 percent. Prog: that Wanderer would bankshot and crash Earth. 11 percent. Prog: that the Moon will shift its orbit closer to Earth. 67 percent. Prog: that the impact would be great enough to shatter Luna completely. 13 percent. Prog: that Wanderer would knock some fairly impressive chunks off the Moon. 54 percent.

Prog: that one or more of those moonlets could impact Earth. 81 percent.

The effects…

Kea did not need to listen. He was enough of a scientist to envision the radioactivity that would be produced if a decent-sized chunk of Luna, say about the size of Wanderer, hit land. And to consider the likelihood of great earthquakes and even the slight possibility of tectonic plateshift? Wanderer promised the cataclysm—but still no one proposed any action as it rushed onward. Pols were besieged with solutions, it was true, from using all the Solar System’s rockets to push the Moon out of the way to building a great cannon that would blast Wanderer out of its lethal orbit. But none of them, even those that might be possible, were implemented. Studies were authorized. Military and police forces were put on alert.

Forty-one days.

Kea thought there were only two alternatives. First was that he was living in a completely mad universe. The second was that he was mad himself. Because a solution seemed quite obvious. But no one had taken it At least yet.

Kea moved. First was to punch a com through to Earth. He snarled at the time it took to get through, and then at the fuzziness of the hyperspace link. Someday, he thought, he would have to find himself an R&D dwonk, give him assistants, a few million credits, some AM2, and tell him to come up with some kind of system that’d enable one being to talk to another across a distance without both of them sounding like they’re sitting in barrels and looking like so many triple-imaged blurs.

Someday.

He eventually got through to his target—Jon Nance, the highest-rated liviecaster going. Nance was busy. The world was coming to an end, or so everyone said, and he was occupied being Chicken Little. Kea said very well. He would go to the competition. What did Kea have? He would not say. But it was big. And it involved Wanderer. Nance was very interested—there had to be something new to the story besides reporting the latest hysteria or drone of inaction. Richards told Nance to pack. Stand by with a full crew. A complete recording setup, plus two remotes. And a link to go live to Terra. A ship was on its way to pick them up.

“O Joy,” Nance said sourly. “I’m going to have to unfasten an entire crew. Walk away from the desk, and put in my summerman to anchor. And just a smile for the cheeses and the producers. You’ve got to give me more than that.”

“Never mind,” Kea said. “This link isn’t secure, and I don’t always trust you, anyway. I’ll still have the ship at Kennedyport in… two E-hours.”

“Christ, it’ll take me longer’n that to get a gravcar out to the port!”

“Sounds like a personal problem. Two E-hours. Or else I’ll rent a doculivie crew and your net can bargain for their reels. Along with everybody else.” He shut off.

Then he let himself grin. Masterson may have been the prog specialist in some areas, but Kea wasn’t that bad himself. Prog: that Nance would be there with bells and recorders? 99 percent.

Minimum.

****

He ordered the ship that was on standby at his own field to lift for New York. That was one ship. He needed two more. One of his newer transports would serve. He ordered Masterson and the best sober pilot he could winkle up to get ready. He sent for his own ship, the starship he had seen so many eons before in its junk orbit off Mars. The ship that had been the first fitted for AM2. So what?—he had avoided sentimentality when it came to objects. He had never even given the ship a name beyond its registry numbers. It was time to get rid of the starship— increasingly he’d wondered, if the ship ever fell into the wrong hands, if it might somehow provide a clue to the Alva Sector. This would be a fitting way—if Kea was correct—for its end.

He had a pilot lift it to a clear area outside one of his experimental workshops. One minor modification was made to the controls. Starships are not normally fitted with timers. Then he himself lifted the ship, and hovered it into the supersecure AM2 storage areas. A remotely controlled, Imperium-sheathed cargoloader took a chunk of Anti-Matter Two from a vault. Kea, as he delicately took it in his own snip’s grab-claw, thought the less-than-500-kilogram-in-weight block might even be what was left of that first chunk of AM2 he’d grabbed on this ship’s maiden voyage into the alternate universe. He was ready to roll.

The two ships cleared Ganymede and set an orbit to intersect Wanderer. Waiting for them was the third ship. And, as Richards had known, a grumpy, evil-tempered Nance was aboard. Evil-tempered, until Richards told him what he proposed. And then he melted.

Kea had one remote set up in the control room of his own ship, the second in the port of the ship Masterson was aboard. The three ships were powered into Wanderer’s path. Richards fancied he could feel the whirling chunk of rock moving toward him, like a railbound train in a tunnel. Enough. He told Nance he had better patch down to New York, to his net.

There wasn’t much time left.

Nance’s ship hung about fifty kilometers from the other two. Richards thought it was far too close, but Nance said uh-uh. He had to get his “picture,” and little dots of dark against a greater dark wouldn’t cut it Kea shuddered again, thinking about the nature of livies. How could anyone allow—let alone spend a career lifetime ensuring—other beings to gather in his mind, smelling what the liviecaster smelled, seeing what he saw, and even experiencing the ‘caster’s conscious, controlled thoughts? Masterson’s ship was less than fifty meters from Richards’s. Kea donned a spacesuit and dumped ship atmosphere, leaving both lock doors open. A line linked the two ships.

Nance was ‘casting. Inside Mars’s orbit, he said, in his calm-but-excited patented manner. About to witness what might well be the most spectacular feat in man’s history. Kea Richards was about to attempt to destroy Wanderer, using a new and unspecified method, but one that involved his secret engine. And as coached by Kea, Nance wondered why the Federation hadn’t even tried anything, but were still sitting on the Moon, jacking their jaws… (though he worded it far more politely than that).

Kea was ready. The remote—a vid, of course—showed a spacesuited man moving around a control room. What was not shown was the outside bay port opening and the ship’s grab-claw extending that huge chunk of Anti-Matter Two in front of it, exactly like a fearful peasant trying to ward off the evil eye.

For melodramatic effect, Richards had told Nance to begin a countdown when signaled. It started. There wasn’t much to do— the trajectory was set, and the controls were linked to the down-counting timer. At three minutes thirty seconds, Kea headed out. He swarmed across the rope, severed its connection to his doomed starship, and closed the lock door, his every action recorded by that second remote. He shut the vid off—Masterson had been emphatic that he never wanted to be seen on vid or livie—and went into the other ship’s control room.

One minute, he heard Nance cadence. Twenty-seven seconds. And ten…

And zero… the timer closed, and the ship across the way vanished. Vanished into full-power stardrive. Not even a second later, it impacted into Wanderer.

The livie-recorder that Nance wore like some great helmet, and the accompanying vid camera aboard his ship, overloaded into the ultra and burnt out. Kea had warned him. But the audio pickup was still active, and Nance’s voice continued, live» straight to the net headquarters in New York, and from there to man’s worlds.

Kea barely noticed the ‘caster’s excitement. He was busy-He’d taken the ship controls and sent the transport, under half Yukawa drive, toward the meteor. What meteor? A collection of gravel in loose formation. Of Kea’s ship, there was nothing whatever remaining.

Kea listened to the broadcast, still live, coming from Nance’s ship. He had not known there were so many synonyms for “hero.” Richards smiled. Actually, this time, he was a bit of hero.

He was surprised he felt a shade embarrassed. Hero, eh’? Kea the Galactic Hero, he thought in amusement.

Now Kea had the name. The tools. And Wanderer had given him the stage and the floodlights for his grand entrance.

All he needed was the fanfare-

And he was fairly certain what it would be, even if he didn’t know who’d show up first to blow in his ear.
  
NEXT: THE BACKROOM 'BOYS' COME CALLING



STEN #1 DEBUTS IN SPANISH! 

Told in four parts, Episode One now appearing in Diaspar Magazine, the best SF&F magazine in South America! And it's free! Here's the link. 
 *****
Sten debuta # 1 en español! Narrada en cuatro partes, Episode One ahora aparece en la revista Diaspar, la mejor revista de SF & F en América del Sur! 





*****
EMPIRE DAY 2012 - A COMMEMORATIVE EDITION


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?

THE STEN COOKBOOK & KILGOUR JOKEBOOK





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 COMPLETE MISADVENTURES: IT'S A BOOK!


THE VITAL LINKS:
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!



Wednesday, May 16, 2012

TO REACH FOR THE THRONE

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.

NEXT: THE DOOMSDAY MIRACLE

*****

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! 





*****
EMPIRE DAY 2012 - A COMMEMORATIVE EDITION


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?

THE STEN COOKBOOK & KILGOUR JOKEBOOK





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 COMPLETE MISADVENTURES: IT'S A BOOK!


THE VITAL LINKS:
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!


Wednesday, May 09, 2012

RETURN TO ALVA SECTOR

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.

“What—”

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.”


NEXT: TO REACH FOR THE THRONE
*****

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! 





*****
EMPIRE DAY 2012 - A COMMEMORATIVE EDITION


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?

THE STEN COOKBOOK & KILGOUR JOKEBOOK





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 COMPLETE MISADVENTURES: IT'S A BOOK!


THE VITAL LINKS:
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!