Tuesday, October 30, 2012

HOW THE EMPEROR STEALS ELECTIONS: EPISODE FIVE - GUTTER POLITICS

THE BIG COP was in a surly mood as she paced the dock. The gnarly Santana sat silent at its berth. The ports remained firmly closed despite repeated efforts to get someone— anyone—to respond.

Lieutenant Skinner muttered obscenities, casting dark looks at the idle workers who were grinning at her difficulties. Her scab crew remained silent. If the crowd's humor turned to violence they were too far from their home ward to expect any assistance. There would be no reprisals. The SDT Union was too strong and its pockets too deep, even in this time of awful unemployment.

Skinner could not figure out what had gone wrong. Her ward captain had said this was a plum job. A little favor for Tyrenne Yelad that'd go into Skinner's merit book.

All she had to do was retrieve the Santana's cargo. A few personal and private things for the Tyrenne. It was a job to be handled with Skinner's usual discretion.

Skinner's use of scabs was hardly unusual, or even provoking. In such cases one approached the appropriate union steward who would estimate the number of beings required for the job. The mordida would be set at double their prospective wages—then scabs would be allowed to unload the cargo, while the steward spread the money around to those who normally would have toted those bales. Keeping a nice taste for himself, of course. That was only right. Skinner had picked up more than a few earners of that type herself as a Dusable officer of the law.

Okay, so what had gone clottin' wrong? They had trundled up to the freighter, but no one had come out. Impatient, Skinner had gotten on the horn to see what was the hang up. No response. She tried again. Still no answer. What kind of game was this? She had sufficient mordida in her pocket to pay off anyone, from the captain of the Santana down, if necessary.

The steward exited his office. From his look the drakh was neck deep and rising. "Get your butt outta here," he snarled.

"What the clot for? We got a deal. Remember ?”

"The deal's off. Only reason I'm tellin' you, 'stead of sendin' a couple of guys to thump you first, is we done business afore. So I owe you a warnin'. Now, get!"

Skinner blew herself out to her most coplike proportions—which were considerable. But before she could deliver her full wrath at this scrote, she heard cheering. She whirled to confront the new threat—and gaped.

It was Solon Kenna! Advancing with a phalanx of aides, a big crowd of SDT workers, and a livie news crew. Ohmigod. Skinner knew it was time to make herself scarce. She should have known. This was an election year. In fact, the election was only two weeks away, which made things even stickier. Especially since Tyrenne Yelad's challenger was Kenna himself. Clot the ward captain! She was gettin' out.

Solon Kenna took position in front of the ship. He was an immense, elderly man who bore his girth like the seasoned pol he was. His nose was bulbous from many hours and many bottles, but his eyes and instincts were sharp. And he had a smile that would swallow a swamp beast. He turned the full force of that smile on his pet newscaster.

"I will speak no further on the perfidy of my opponent," Solon Kenna said. "Instead, I will let the facts speak for themselves. They will soon reveal themselves when I assure the poor mistreated and honest laborers inside that they are among friends—and they exit with the awful evidence of Tyrenne Kenna's greed."

"Hang on a sec, boss," the newscaster said. "You sure you wanna say perfidy? I mean, callin' the butt-wipe a lyin' sack might be going too far. But—I don't know. The word's kinda thick. Might make folks think you're stuck up."

"No problem," Kenna answered. "Fix it any way you like. I trust your professional judgment."

"Second question, what do we call these guys?" the newscaster asked. "We don't wanna say they're mutineers, right? I mean, that's not the drift of this bit, is it?"

"Absolutely not," Solon Kenna said. "What we have here is an injustice of enormous proportions."

Before he could continue, there was a cheer from the dockworkers as the main cargo port of the freighter creaked open and the ragged crew members stepped out.

*****

Raschid kept to the sidelines, watching with oddly professional interest as the events unfolded. Pitcairn proved to be a great interview subject. The other mutineers took their hints from her and Raschid thought they all did a credible job. But the illicit cargo would have won the day, regardless. Kenna handled it like a seasoned pro. His expression shifted from sadness, to anger, to outrage at the greed of Tyrenne Yelad, expending dwindling AM2 credits for luxury items while his own people starved.

Not bad, Raschid thought. Although the guy had an unfortunate habit of tossing off fancy words when they weren't called for. It didn't matter that he misused them. The people he was aiming them at wouldn't know. They would possibly take offense only because he might be coming across too pompous. Still, he was mostly getting in all his shots.

Once again he puzzled at why he knew so much about this sort of thing. But he pressed the question away, along with that odd feeling he had of being watched by something or someone just out of view.

He saw Pitcairn pointing in his direction. Kenna looked over and smiled a big wolfish grin. Raschid did not know what that meant, but he would soon find out. Solon Kenna was motioning the livie crew to keep back and was coming his way. Raschid decided to stay put and play the cards as they were dealt.

Kenna planted himself in front of Raschid, lighting half the dock with his grin.

"How you doing, friend?" he said. "I'm Solon Kenna. The humble representative of these poor working beings."

Then as Raschid took his hand to shake, Kenna leaned closer and whispered. "I got word you were coming," he said. "We need to talk—later."

Raschid hesitated, then nodded. "You're right," he said. "We need to talk."

*****

The Cairene System was a dozen or so lightly populated agro-worlds and the big, dense port planet of Dusable. This is where the late Tanz Sullamora had made his second fortune—in shipbuilding. The factories, which had groaned under triple shifts during the Tahn war, were now desolate. The AM2 crisis had struck nearly every part of Dusable.

That would be bad for any planet. But on Dusable, it was disaster. Because the Cairene System was a political throwback. On Dusable there was really only one industry: politics. There was barely a being on the planet who did not owe his or her existence to patronage, from pot scourer, to sewer worker, to cop, to business owner, to joygirl, to ward boss, to the Tyrenne Yelad himself.

It was an unwieldy system, and corrupt to the core, but it had worked for centuries, and worked very well, For thirty years Tyrenne Yelad had ruled. His patronage was so vast there was little hope he would ever be defeated. Still, just because he won with ease every four years did not mean that his opponents were in any way helpless.

There were checks and balances in this system. No matter that they were equally as corrupt. Under the Tyrenne was the Council of Solons. Each member ran a group of wards, whose voters he rewarded with jobs, advice, and influence. A perfect Solon made sure no one went without. If one had trouble with the grocery money, one went to the ward captain. Same for a spouse with a brutal or drunken other. Paid hospital stays were assured. Fines were leavened, or even dismissed.

Bribe money flowed in and out of all this. Joygirls paid their pimps, who paid the cops. The cops themselves paid for prized beats such as vice, or traffic in the rich resort areas. They also paid for rank, which placed them higher on the mordida ladder. Mob bosses paid both ways: cops on one end, pols on the other. And all those people paid the ward captains—who, in turn, poured all the credits into the coffers of the Solon controlling their district.

The Solons, in turn, shared the mordida with the key leaders who actually ran the whole thing. Tyrenne Yelad was a good example of one such leader. He had come to power as a reformer, as had the Tyrenne before him. This election, the new hopeful reformer was Solon Kenna, president of the Council of Solons and Yelad's worst enemy. Kenna's power came from the unions, particularly the SDT, which was why, after three tries and three defeats, Kenna was convinced that this year was his best chance.

The hordes of unemployed beings had put big brass knuckles on his fists. He had been slugging it out with Yelad for more than six months. But now, two weeks before the election, he had not been able to deliver a knockout. If he couldn't, Kenna's long run was over—unless there was a miracle. He was hoping that Raschid was that miracle. The more they talked, the surer he became.

At one point Raschid had quizzed him about the credit situation. How full were Kenna's campaign coffers? Kenna said he had sufficient. Raschid shook his head and advised him to get more, much more. Kenna asked why.

"Unruh's First Law," Raschid said. "Money is the mother's milk of politics."

The answer spoke volumes. This man was no dry political-science scholar. Kenna had seen too many elections lost with that type. Raschid was obviously an expert street politician who knew how to play the game from the top right down to the gutter.

Kenna found it easy to be candid with Raschid, because... he knew, dammit. The guy knew! The next question, however, threw him into temporary orbit.

"Why are you telling me all this?" Raschid asked. "What do you expect me to do about it? I'm just a ship's cook. A mutinous one in some lights."

"Come on," Kanna sputtered. "You can drop that. You're among friends, here. Besides, I've already been filled in. I knew you were on your way."

"Who told you?" Raschid asked.

Kenna figured it was a try on—so he bit. "It wasn't anyone I could name right out," he said. "You know that as well as I do. I got it from... back channels. We were advised the Santana was inbound. With a cargo I'd be a fool not to inspect. More importantly, I was told there would be a man on board posing as the ship's cook. And that he was the absolute best there was in political strategy.

"I can't tell you how we all reacted here. To know that some very important outsiders were with us. And that rescue was on its way."

Raschid considered. For some reason, it all made sense to him. Although he wondered why those outsiders had not informed him as well. He buried that. It was another test, maybe the final one.

"Okay," Raschid said. "You got your boy. I'm on board." Kenna breathed a heavy sigh of relief. "Who else is in the race?" Raschid asked.

"Only one other," Kenna said. "Solon Walsh. And he doesn't have a chance. Although the guy's as handsome a pol as has come along for three forevers. But he's young. And he's stupid."

"What's his bit?"

"Reform," Kenna said dryly. "He's trying to steal the march from me, I guess. Because that's my main platform. Walsh can't seem to get any ideas of his own."

"He's probably got Yelad behind him," Raschid said. "But real quiet. Walsh is intended to bleed off support from you."

Kenna was startled, then comforted again. It was just the way he had seen it. "All right... here's how we go," Raschid said. "We need three things.

"First, we need a Dummy. Second, an Issue."

He took a long swallow from the brandy glass Kenna had been constantly filling since the meeting began.

"What's the third?" Kenna asked.

"Easy," Raschid said. "Then we steal the election."

NEXT TUESDAY: PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER ON ELECTION DAY

*****

THE NEW STEN OMNIBUS EDITIONS

Orbit Books in the U.K. has gathered up all eight novels in the Sten Series and is publishing them in three handsome omnibus editions. The First - BATTLECRY - is available now and 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 BATTLECRY, includes all three books but is only available in the U.K. and territories. (Click this link to buy it) Coming in November: JUGGERNAUT, which will feature the next three books: Sten #4, Fleet Of The Damned; Sten #5, Revenge Of The Damned; and Sten #6, The Return Of the Emperor. In the following months the nice editors at Orbit (a division of Little Brown Publishing) will issue
DEATH MATCH, which will feature Sten #7, Vortex, and Sten #8, End Of Empire. Both Juggernaut and Death Match will be issued as Kindle editions as well. Stay tuned for details. 

STEN #1 DEBUTS IN SPANISH! 


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. 

 *****

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! 

Y es gratis! Aquí está el enlace. 



*****
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!


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

HOW THE EMPEROR STEALS ELECTIONS: EPISODE FOUR - PLAY THE UNION CARD


FIVE MINUTES AFTER boarding the Santana, Raschid decided that Pattipong could have added several more deep deeps to his description of the drakh he was stepping into. Then he wondered why it had taken him so long to realize it.

It had probably been the mad scurry. Both Captain Jarvis and Mate Moran seemed to go into Overdrive Decision Time as soon as they hit the field. It could have been, Raschid thought, that if they hesitated to consider anything other than immediate lift, unpleasant alternatives would come into play.

The Santana was several generations beyond qualifying as a tramp. It must have been marked for salvage several times before its owner decided there was still life and profit in the hulk.

Beauty there had never been. As the port gravsled deposited Jarvis, Moran, and their new cook at the ship's boarding ramp, Raschid had tried to figure what the Santana had been designed for. He was blank. The ship consisted of three elongated acorns, X-braced together fore and aft. In the middle, between the acorns, a long cylinder stretched above the main hulls. Engines and drive area, Raschid guessed. But why in front? Could the tub have been originally built for some other drive than AM2? Impossible. No one would have bothered converting such a dinosaur. Nor would they have kept it in commission. Would they?

One acorn contained control rooms and crew quarters, the other two cargo. The crewpod was as puzzling inside as the Santana's exterior. Raschid got lost several times before he found the galley and his quarters. Passageways had been sealed off, then cut open at a new owner's whims. He passed compartments filled with long-abandoned machinery that must have been cheaper to chop from a system than rip out for scrap.

Raschid was expecting the worst when he reached his kingdom. He was an optimist. The twin stoves were so old that they were probably wood-fueled. Later for that problem. He found his compartment and was grateful. It was pig-filthy, of course. But at least cook's hours and cook's privileges gave him his own quarters.

The bunk—if the sagging pallet against one wall deserved the title—had safety straps. Raschid seriously, if illogically, considered strapping himself in before lift. That way, if the Santana disassembled, as it seemed to have every intention of doing, there might be a recognizable corpse for the pauper's field burial.

Raschid wryly thought that this, indeed, was going to be every bit the adventure Pattipong had promised and waited for the ship to lift off Yongjukl.

Ships did not "scream" into space, except perhaps in stone-age film documentaries or in embarrassingly amateurish livies. But the Santana did just that—or perhaps he was anthropomorphizing. He felt a little like screaming himself. The McLean generators told him that "down" was half a dozen different directions before the Yukawa drive went on. The bridge held the ship on Yukawa until the Santana was out-atmosphere. A gawd-awful waste of energy—but most likely shifting to AM2 drive in-atmosphere with this scow was an invitation to demolition.

A com buzzed.

"Cookie. Stop arsin' about. Officers' mess, one hour. Crew to follow."

Raschid went back to the galley where he was met by Moran. Raschid noted that the mate was carrying a side arm. Moran took Raschid to a storeroom, unlocked it, and told him to select whatever he needed.

"How many bodies am I cooking for?"

"From these supplies—me, the skipper, first engineer. Crew's supplies are off the galley. You'll be sloppin' twelve of them."

Raschid was not surprised to find that the supplies in the locked room were not the same as in the crew larder. Officers' rations were standard ship-issue, but the crew's victuals appeared to be long-stored military-type goods—issued to a military that would have mutinied itself into oblivion generations earlier. Yes. Mutiny.

Raschid planned menus with what he had. He was a genius, he felt, at being able to cordon-bleu any drakh given him. Genius, yes, but not a god. Spices? Some sweet syrupy-tasting synthetic. Salt... and those old military rations appeared to have been salt-cured. What other condiments were in the larder had long since passed into tastelessness.

He combined foodstuffs into a concoction he hoped would be taken for a stew, put that on the heating range, and made dinner for the officers.

He need not have worked too hard. Jarvis had retired to his quarters to reward his abilities at getting the Santana once more outward bound. Moran ate—if a conveyor-belt blur of consumption was eating—whatever was in front of him and made a valiant try at his napkin. The first engineer, a morose woman named D'veen, consumed half of what was in front of her and disappeared into the engine spaces. She, like Moran, was armed.

Then he had to deal with the crew. He was in for it.

He was not—at least not for six watches, while the sailors sobered enough to appear at the table and hold down what he put in front of them.

Raschid spent the time cleaning his galley and thinking. What was he doing there? More importantly, why did he feel he was in the right place? Unanswerable. Clean the galley. Moran turned down Raschid's request that he be allowed to suit up, seal the galley, dump the atmosphere, and let the grease boil into a residue.

"First... I don't know if the bleed valve works. Second, I ain't chancin' hull integrity. Third, there ain't no guarantee we can reseal after you get done. Fourth, ain't no pig down there'd appreciate the work. Fifth, I got drakh on my mind. Get your butt off my bridge. Next time you won't walk off."

Raschid got.

That night, Moran grudged a compliment. The mess in front of him was better than usual. Raschid blandly explained that he had used some new seasonings. Glucose, acetone bodies, minerals, fats, creatine... Moran told him to shut up before Raschid reached uric acid.

The crew had sobered enough to concentrate on their new enemy: Raschid. There was nothing that could be done about the ship, except pray it made it to a landing where one could desert. That sealed cargo—it would prove trouble in its own time. Their still-unknown next port? It would be another sinkhole—the Santana took only those cargoes that nobody would handle for worlds that no one but the desperate would land on.

The officers? Jarvis was either drunk and invisible, drunk and visible, or a sober, ghostlike image, huddling on his own bridge.

Moran? Bitch to the mate and hope there's still some med supplies left in what was called sick bay. Raschid admired—intellectually—Moran's lethality. The man seemed unable to give a command without a blow, and the blow always hurt, just enough for an instant, an hour, or a day's agony, but never badly enough to take a man off watch.

D'veen? Why bother? She kept the Santana's drive working. 'Sides, she's no different 'n any of us. Took any slot offered to get away from dirtside. Times're tough f'r any deep-space sailor. Take it out on the cook. Somehow he's responsible for the slop. Don't matter if he come on on'y an hour b'fore lift.

Raschid ignored the complaints, insults, and then threats for a while. Then the following sequence of events occurred: A tureen went against a bulkhead. The thrower went after it. Someone came out with a knife. The knife became two pieces, and Raschid attempted to duplicate the effect on its wielder. Two other crewmen jumped Raschid and went against the tureen-bulkhead.

This crew was exceptionally thick, Raschid decided, deep in the dogwatches, when he heard the fumbling at his door. After the flurry subsided, he rousted out the off-watch and had them carry the avengers to the sick bay. He bandaged as best he could. He did not have the supplies or knowledge to straighten the second man's nose, but he consoled himself that he was not the first or even, most likely, the tenth to smash it. He set the third man's leg and the next day, when Moran threatened to brig the now-useless sailor, convinced the mate he could use some help in the galley.

Not that there was much to do between planetfalls. On a normal ship there would be maintenance, cargo handling, and so forth. On the Santana, why bother? Scrape rust... and one could well go right through the hull.

That added to the mutterings—the crew had little to do when they were off watch. Moran was even a lousy bully mate—as long as crewmen stayed out of his sight and showed up for their watch, he didn't care.

Very, very stupid, Raschid thought. Matters were getting tense. The crew had gone beyond complaints into sullenness. They were beginning to talk once more, some of them, two, sometimes three at a time, talking very quietly in corridors or unused compartments. The talk could be of only two things: murder or mutiny. Or both.

Raschid watched closely and listened where he could. There were three sailors he thought would be ringleaders. He used his new potwalloper to background the three.

Then he sought them out. One had been part of the off-watch ambush party. All T'Orsten wanted was trouble, and promised that part of that trouble would be thin-slicing Raschid at the first possible moment.

The second was a basic bully. Cady. All she was unhappy about was that Moran was a more successful, more dangerous bully.

The third, however, was a bit more complex. Engine Artificer Pitcairn. She tried to sound no different than the others and mostly succeeded. But Raschid heard the echoes of some kind of education in her speech. He paid close attention to the woman—and his attention was noted.

She sought him out in his quarters.

"Wanted to ask you something about dinner," she began, and pointed to the com.

"It's clean," Raschid said. "Moran or somebody had an induction pickup inside. It don't work no more."

"Pretty sophisticated for a hash slinger."

"Not sophisticated. Just careful."

"You SDT?"

Raschid shook his head.

"Didn't think so. Pease Lines don't hire nobody but scabs. Or those who don't claim a union card."

"Like you?"

"Hard stayin' militant when you been beached for a couple of years. Plus where I boarded, union organizin' was a bit risky."

Raschid's curiosity about Pitcairn was satisfied. The Ship, Dockside, & Transport Union was on hard times. It was famed as a militant and understandably aggressive organization; the Empire's down economy made it easy for bosses not only to force yellow-dog contracts on any spaceport workers, but to blacklist any union official or organizer.

"Reason I wanted to talk... this drakh can't keep on the way it has been," Pitcairn said. "If Moran don't beat somebody to death, Jarvis'll get blistered an' navigate us into a collapsar."

"Mutiny's a hard way to go."

"Nobody said nothing about that. Yet."

"What other options do you—do we have? I don't see any grievance committees lurkin' out the porthole."

"You're quick," Pitcairn said. "Course th' others ain't figured that out yet."

"How many are in on it?"

"Ten. You'll make eleven."

"That's a start. But we don't have enough goin' for us. Run up the black flag—that closes out the options. Especially if an officer gets dead or marooned to death in the process. Bosses get hostile, somethin' like that happens. They'll hunt us all down, however long it takes, and we'll be dancin' Danny Deever."

"You talk like you've got some experience."

Raschid started to answer by saying "Not for a couple of thousand years or so," then stopped. Where the hell did that come from? He wasn't Methuselah.

"I read," he said instead. "But let's say nobody feels real logical and the drakh comes down. What then? We got ourselves a ship. Maybe half a fuel load. With a cargo. Which gives us what? This scow ain't suited for smuggling, and the on'y place people go piratin' is in the livies.

"Say we head for whatever Smuggler's Roost we can find. What are we gonna get for what's in the hold?

 "Somethin' better. Where we headed? What kinda armpit? Desert with cannibals, or someplace where we klonk Moran over the head, jump ship, and live with what we got?"

"Good questions," Pitcairn said after thinking. "We need more skinny. Can't compute with what we got. Problem's gonna be keepin' somebody from gettin' assed, goin' berserk, and we got blood on the bulkheads."

"You rabble-roused for the union. With only twelve goons to worry about, you oughta have no trouble keepin' 'em under your thumb," Raschid said.

"For a while," Pitcairn said, "I can do it. But they ain't gonna stay in a holdin' pattern forever. We better get more info quick."

Four ship-days later, they did. Their destination was the Cairenes—specifically, the capital world of Dusable.

"That ain't good," Pitcairn observed. "I organized there for about twenty minutes. If there was an honest being in the whole damn system, I never met him, her, or whatever. Plus they got a righteous depression goin'. We jump ship there, we'll be on the beach a long, long time.

"You know anything about Dusable?"

Raschid was about to say no, but didn't. Because he suddenly realized he knew a whole hell of a lot about the system and the way it worked. But he could not remember ever having visited or read anything about the Cairenes.

"A little," he lied. "That's one piece. Now, it'd be real nice to know what's the cargo."

 "I asked Moran. Got my chops slapped for doin' it."

"Hercules helps those who help themselves."

"You pray to your gods. I'll stick to Jack London. We decide to tippy-toe out th' lock, Moran sees the lock alarm go off, an' you an' me'll be out there till we figure a way to breathe space."

"The lock alarm's been disconnected for a week. I made sure at least one suit ain't leaky. I'll check another one right now."

"Well, well. First the bug, now the alarm. For a cook, you'd make a fair spy. All right. First watch. Moran sleeps like a corpse, long as you don't try to go in his compartment."

They went out the air lock as quietly as they could. Raschid winced at the air-hiss and the whine of the lock mechanism. Both of them pulled themselves out of the open lock, making sure the attractors on their boot soles had no chance to clang against the hull. Pitcairn aimed a line-thrower and fired, and the grapnel at the end of the line snagged through an X-beam.

They hand-over-handed their way across to the cargo hold and inside, then opened their faceplates, found pry-bars, and went to work.

"Bless m' clottin' sainted mother," Pitcairn swore after a while. "There's at least one somebody on Dusable ain't in no depression."

The cargo was entirely luxury goods. Exotic foods. Liquors. Wines. One case held jewelry.

"We been livin' on swill, an' all this was just across the way. I'm tryin' not to lose it, tear Moran's face off and order a hog-out. What next?"

"Interestin'," Raschid observed. "You note there ain't no customer ID on any of the packing lists. Just: As Per Instructions To Captain."

"Okay. I say again my last. What next?"

"I think... maybe a mutiny."

"That sets real easy. Then what do we do with all these goodies? Smugglers'll pay heavy credits for what's here."

"Maybe that's the option. Mutiny first, questions later."

The mutiny came off painlessly, to use the term broadly. Raschid had given explicit orders, so only four of the twelve conspirators were used—those Raschid thought would not go berserk.

Jarvis was easy. Cady, on bridge watch, waited until the captain got tired of wearing his gun-heavy uniform coat and hung it up. The next time Jarvis paced by, a bar of soap in a stocking was applied with some firmness to his medulla oblongata. He was carried to his cabin and, after the cabin was searched for more weapons and the sealed shipping instructions taken, locked in.

Moran took a bit more skill. One sailor, selected for her slenderness, draped herself on an overhead conduit running past Moran's compartment door. Moran was buzzed for his watch. He came out, and the sailor prayed and dropped.

The flurry before Moran pitched her the length of the corridor gave Raschid, Pitcairn, and T'Orsten time enough to rat-pack him. Eventually Moran was hammered into unconsciousness.

They knew he had to have weapons stashed in his compartment, so they locked him in a bare and disused room. The fresher worked, and they could slide meals through a narrow slit cut in the door's base.

Raschid fingered his split lip, then went for the engine spaces and D'veen. He carried Moran's gun as a completely empty threat. D'veen took no threatening whatever. All she asked was that when the mutineers were caught and tried, they would testify that she had put up a magnificent battle.

"We have no intentions of being in front of a court," Raschid said. "But if so, we'll save your ticket."

The mutineers held their council of war in the officers' wardroom—after Raschid and Pitcairn had made a careful selection of goodies for a victory feast. They allowed one half bottle of alk per sailor—and Raschid thought that was too much.

He was right, but Pitcairn had made sure that only she and the cook were the ones with guns. T'Orsten bellowed rage at being informed that he could not toss Moran out the lock. He could not orgy out on the luxury cargo. And he could not revenge himself on D'veen.

Raschid let him bellow, saw that T'Orsten wasn't letting steam but building for a berserker, and blindsided him. They tucked him away next to Moran and went back to the wardroom.

Raschid opened, read the sealed shipping instructions, lifted an eyebrow, and passed the sheets across to Pitcairn.

"I guess that settles what's next," she said. She was a little pale. "We look for some smugglers, dump the cargo and the ship, and do our damndest to vanish."

She quoted from the instructions: " 'Land bleat-bleah section, transmit blurt-blurt signal. Cargo will be offloaded by personnel bearing authorization personally signed by Tyrenne Yelad, duplicate signature below.'

"Just the whole goddamned system's MaxMoFo, is all. And we just took his toys away. Nice going."

There was something moving in the back of Raschid's mind. Yelad... Yelad...

"Workers of the Santana, haul ass! You have everything to lose including your chains," Pitcairn finished.

"No," Raschid said. "No," he went on. "I think we make delivery."

Ignoring the gape, he fielded a bottle and poured himself a celebratory drink. Things were going very well, indeed.
*****

NEXT TUESDAY: NEW TRICKS ON AN OLD DODGE


*****

THE NEW STEN OMNIBUS EDITIONS

Orbit Books in the U.K. has gathered up all eight novels in the Sten Series and is publishing them in three handsome omnibus editions. The First - BATTLECRY - is available now and 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 BATTLECRY, includes all three books but is only available in the U.K. and territories. (Click this link to buy it) Coming in November: JUGGERNAUT, which will feature the next three books: Sten #4, Fleet Of The Damned; Sten #5, Revenge Of The Damned; and Sten #6, The Return Of the Emperor. In the following months the nice editors at Orbit (a division of Little Brown Publishing) will issue
DEATH MATCH, which will feature Sten #7, Vortex, and Sten #8, End Of Empire. Both Juggernaut and Death Match will be issued as Kindle editions as well. Stay tuned for details. 

STEN #1 DEBUTS IN SPANISH! 


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. 

 *****

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! 

Y es gratis! Aquí está el enlace. 



*****
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!


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

How The Emperor Steals Elections: Episode Three - Eggs Pattipong


THE LIBRARIAN AND her staff were considering their futures when—or rather if—their boss ever departed. One thought fondly of suicide, another planned a complete breakdown. The librarian herself considered one of two new careers: as a staffer for an orgy livie production company, or, perhaps, as a serial murderer.

Her job had suddenly become a complete, dawn-to-dawn nightmare.

It had not begun like that, nor had it been like that for nearly five years. In fact, she had been enormously envied for getting the post.

Somewhat dissatisfied, certainly overqualified and without time to do her own research and publishing in her previous job as head librarian at a large university, she had been contacted, out of the blue, by an executive search service. She was offered what she thought was the ultimate job—at triple her present salary. Did she mind relocating to a different system? No. The headhunter seemed unsurprised, as if he knew everything about her. The position was as a private librarian. The woman demurred—she had no intention of burying herself in some recluse's dusty archives and letting the world pass.

Nothing like that at all, the man explained. He suggested she visit the planet of Yongjukl and investigate her new job. She would have a round-trip ticket. He offered to accompany her. She declined. The librarian was quite attractive—and the headhunter seemed disappointed.

The library was nearly mansion-size and was but one building on sprawling grounds. The main house dwarfed the library. It was secluded, with more than a thousand square kilometers of guarded, secure grounds. Her own quarters were lavish. There was a full staff: cooks, cleaners, gardeners.

Not that the librarian was imprisoned. She had her own gravcar, and a large, sophisticated city was no more than an hour or two away. She was allowed to keep her own hours—as long as the system remained current. If she ever needed help, she could hire as many day-workers as necessary.

Computers? Scanners? Filing robots? State of the art—and new models provided regularly.

She asked if she had permission to pursue her own studies and research. Certainly. Could she have visitors? If she chose. However, if she left the grounds, she was required to carry a remote. She must consider herself on call dawn-to-dawn. An unlikely possibility.

It seemed too good to be true. She felt like a character in one of the goth-livies she had supposedly given up when she was twelve but still "lived," somewhat guiltily, in her occasional bubblebaths.

Especially since there was no one in the mansion. No one except the staff. And none of them had ever met the mansion's owner.

When she returned to her own world, her first question to the headhunter was: Who would I be working for?

The man explained. The mansion—and its grounds—were part of a family estate. Which one? I cannot tell you that. But the mansion must remain with the family, and be maintained. If not—it is a matter of a rather elaborate and eccentric trust, my dear—an entire commercial empire would be disassembled.

At the head of the family is the young heir, the man continued. You may never meet him. He is extremely busy and prefers living closer to the Empire's center. But he is an unusual man. He might well show up one day.

Alone or with an entourage—in which case he will require absolute privacy. The man shrugged. It must be nice to be so wealthy that you can order your life that precisely.

If I take this position, the woman asked—which you can accept on a weekly, monthly, or yearly contract, the headhunter interrupted—I must keep that a secret? No, not necessarily, the man said. It seems to be a favorite topic about once a year by the planet's newsvids. Say what you wish—it is not as if there's anything to hide.

Thinking dark thoughts of windswept castles and disguised, royal lovers, she accepted the position.

For eleven years, it was paradise. Staggering amounts of material churned in daily. It seemed the unknown heir subscribed to every scientific, military, or political journal in the Empire. The material was scanned, summarized, and mostly discarded by a computer/scanner that seemed to have completely elitist tastes. It was, the woman once thought, a machine that seemed programmed to provide an instant update for someone newly risen from the grave. The computer had two sysop stations. One was in a sealed room, the other belonged to the librarian. The sealed unit seemed to contain, she learned when she snooped in boredom, some files that were inaccessible to the rest of the system.

Annually the entire files for that year were deleted. Then the machine began all over, collecting, summarizing, and storing.

Until a little more than six years before.

At that time, the computer had switched modes and begun storing everything. The librarian did not notice until year's end. She panicked—just slightly. Had she done something wrong? She did not want to lose her position. Not only was she perfectly happy on this world, having met and loved a wonderful succession of mates, but she was publishing important analyses in a steady stream, the envy of her far-lesser-paid and, to their minds, overworked colleagues in the field. The man at the other end of the emergency contact number soothed her. Not to worry, he said. Just continue. So continue she did.

Now she was going quite insane. Because, to everyone's astonishment, the heir—a man she thought most likely a legal myth by now—arrived. A small ship set down on the small landing pad. One man got out, and the ship instantly lifted away.

Guards met him. "Sir, this is a private—"

The man said words—words everyone had been told would be uttered if their boss ever showed up.

No one knew what to do and cowered for their jobs.

The man asked to be taken to his room. He showered, changed, and asked for a simple meal. Then he buzzed and asked to be shown to the library.

In the huge hall he politely told the librarian that he would appreciate it if she remained on standby. He unlocked the door to the second sysop station, and the madness started.

He seemed to scan everything—and want more. She had to hire assistants. He appeared insatiably curious. Again, the librarian thought of someone raised from the dead. No, she corrected herself. Someone who had been in longsleep, like the starships in ancient times before AM2 drive.

It went on, the man ate sparingly, slept little, but soaked up information like a sponge. Once, when the door opened for a moment, she saw that he had five screens scrolling simultaneously and a synth-voice giving a sixth stream of data.

The librarian prayed for sleep.

Then it stopped. The man walked out of the room, leaving the door open.

He said he was sleepy.

The librarian agreed blearily.

He told her he would shut down the system.

Yes. The woman and her equally zombied assistants stumbled for their quarters. The librarian noticed—but it did not register until days later—as she passed the room where the second sysop station was, that the computer seemed to be punching up files and then deleting them en masse.

It did not matter.

All that mattered was sleep.

The man slipped out an ignored side gate to the mansion onto the road. He walked down the road, briskly. He wore nondescript clothes—just another of that world's blue-collar workers.
He stopped once. The walls of the mansion's grounds stretched solidly down the road.

He felt slight regret.

The computer had told him that when he left the staff would be paid off with handsome bonuses and encouraged with larger bonuses to relocate offworld. The mansion, the library, and the outbuildings would be razed within two weeks. Then the bare grounds would be donated to the planetary government for whatever purposes it saw fit.

A pity. It was beautiful.

The computer told him there were ten others like it scattered around the Empire.

He now knew six years of history. His plans—no. Not yet. But he had been given another destination.

Lights blazed behind him. A creaking gravsled lofted toward him, laden with farm produce for the early markets. The man extended his hand.

The gravsled hissed to a halt. The driver leaned across and opened the door.

The man climbed inside, and the gravsled lifted.

"Dam' early to be hitchin'," the driver offered.

The man smiled, but did not answer.

"You work for th' rich creech owns that palace?"

The man laughed. "No. Me an' the rich don't speak the same tongue. Just passin' through. Got stranded. Dam' glad for the lift."

"Where you headed?"

"The spaceport."

"You're light on luggage. For a travelin' man."

"I'm seekin' a job."

Snorted laughter came from the driver. "Golden luck to you, friend. But there's dam' little traffic comin' in or out. Times ain't good for spacecrew."

"I'll find something."

"Dam' confident, ain't you? Like a fellow who thinks like that. Name's Weenchlors." The driver stuck out a paw. The man touched thumbs with him. "You?"

"I use the name Raschid," the man said.

He leaned back against the raggedy plas seats and stared ahead toward the lightening sky—toward the spaceport.
****
THE MAN WHO called himself Raschid looked at the sign: EXPERIENCED COOK WANTED. LONG HOURS, LOW PAY, FEW BENEFITS, HARD WORK, FREE FOOD. The man smiled slightly. It was honest, at the very least.

Above the ramshackle building a sign blinked in several colors, all of which hurt the eye: last blast tearoom and diner. Below that: prop.: dingiswayo PATTIPONG.

A knot of three very primed sailors lurched out of the barroom next door and down the cracked plas sidewalk. Raschid smiled politely and stepped out of their way. One of the sailors looked regretful but passed on.

Again, Raschid smiled, his smile broadening as he heard the Yukawa-whine of a ship lifting off from the field just beyond a blastfence. The produce-sled driver had been correct—the spaceport was full of ships that had not lifted for some time and would likely never lift again. But there was traffic.

Raschid entered the diner.

The man who greeted him was very small and very dark. There were about ten tables and a counter in the diner. The small man was the only other person inside.

"Sr. Pattipong?"

"You police?"

"No. I want a job."

 "You cook?"

"Yes."

"No. Not cook. Maybe cook where people not use knife if order wrong. Too pretty be cook down here."

Raschid did not answer.

"Where you cook last?"

Raschid muttered something inaudible.

Pattipong nodded once. "Maybe you cook. Cook never say where last. Too many wives... alks... children... police. Come. We see."

Pattipong led Raschid through the door into the kitchen, watching his expression closely. Pattipong nodded when that gawp of surprise came.

"Yes. Not good. I build station for gooood cook. Cnidarians. Stay two, almost three years. Then... go. Leave me with bathtub for cook station."

The cnidarians were intelligent aquatic corallike polyps that grew together as they matured... into mutual hatred. They... it must have been very, very good. Because Pattipong had specially built the kitchen. It was a now-drained tub, with all the necessary appliances and counters built circularly around it.

"Not good. Take gooood cook know how to use."

Raschid climbed into the pool.

"Couple eyes. Over easy," Pattipong ordered.

Raschid turned the heat on and put a pan on the fire. He brushed clarified butter from a nearby bowl on it, picked up—one-handed—two eggs from another bowl, and in a single motion cracked them both into the pan and disposed of the shells. Pattipong nodded involuntarily. Raschid chopped the heat down and waited as the eggs sizzled in the pan. Pattipong was watching his wrist closely. At just the right moment, Raschid flipped the eggs. They slid smoothly onto their blind sides.

Pattipong smiled. "You cook. No one else do that right."

"You want anything with your eggs?"

"No. Not want eggs. Hate eggs. Eggs make me..." Pattipong waved his hand across his buttocks. "Bad wind… Every-body else like eggs. I serve eggs. You have job. You cook now."

Raschid looked around the rather filthy kitchen. "Cook later. Lunch is an hour away. Clean now." Pattipong's speech patterns seemed habit-forming.

Pattipong considered, then bobbed his head. "Clean now. Cook later. I help." And so began the Legend of the Eggs of Pattipong.

Pattipong described them on the menu as Imperial Eggs Benedict. For some reason, the name bothered Raschid. He argued—mildly. Pattipong told him to get back to the kitchen. "Imperial good name. Thailand... best elephants Royal Elephants. Or so I hear."

It started from boredom. The lunch crowd had been nearly nonexistent, and it was hours until dinner. Raschid wasn't sleepy enough to walk back to the tiny room he rented for a nap, didn't feel like drinking, and had no desire for a walk. It started with baking. Raschid felt about baking, mostly at least, the same way Pattipong did about eggs. It was too damned unpredictable, and he never understood exactly what ingredients should be changed to match the temperature, the humidity, the barometer, or whatever made his loaves look suddenly unleavened. But there were exceptions and this was one of them.

He had made sourdough starter a week or so before-warm water, equal amount of flour, a bit of sugar, and yeast. Cover in a nonmetallic dish and leave until it stinks.

He used that as a base for what were still called English muffins. They were equally easy to make. For about eight muffins, he brought a cup of milk to a boil, then took it off the stove and dumped in a little salt, a teaspoon of sugar, and two cupfuls of premixed biscuit flour. After he beat it all up, he let it rise until double size; then he beat in another cup of flour and let the dough rise once more.

The open-ended cylinders were half filled with the dough. Raschid did not mention that the short cylinders had been pet food containers with both ends cut off. Even in this district, somebody might get squeamish.

He brushed butter on his medium-hot grill and put the cylinders down. Once the open end had browned for a few seconds, he flipped the cylinder, browned the other side, and lifted the cylinder away, burning fingers in the process.

He added more butter and let the muffins get nearly black before putting them on a rack to cool. For use—within no more than four hours—he would split them with a fork and toast them.

He next found the best smoked ham he—or rather Pattipong—could afford. It was thin-sliced and browned in a wine-butter-cumin mixture.

"Best, it should be Earth ham. From Virginia. Or Kerry."

Pattipong goggled. "I didn't know you had ever been to Earth!" Raschid looked perplexed. "I—haven't. I think."

Then it was Raschid's turn to goggle. "Dingiswayo—the way you just talked."

"Normally, you mean? I slipped. Normal too much trouble. Talk too much trouble. Like eggs. Just hot air. Besides... talk short, people think you not understand. They more careful in asking what they want. Not careful in saying what they think you not understand.

"And around here," Pattipong said, lapsing into a full speech pattern, "you need all the edge you can get."

That was true. The spaceport's traffic may have been light, but there were still stevedores, sailors, whores, and everyday villains looking for amusement—which was often defined as laying odds on how long it would take someone to bleed to death in a gutter. Pattipong kept a long, unsheathed knife hidden under the pay counter.

Raschid went back to his recipe. The browned ham was put in a warming oven. He had lemon juice, red pepper, a touch of salt, and three egg yolks waiting in a blender. He melted butter in a small pan. Then his mental timer went on. Muffins toasted... eggs went into boiling water to poach... the muffins were ready... ham went on top of the muffins... two and a half minutes exactly, and the eggs were plopped on top of the ham.

He flipped the blender on and poured molten butter into the mixture. After the count of twenty, he turned the blender off and poured the hollandaise sauce over the eggs.

"Voila, Sr. Pattipong."

Pattipong gingerly sampled.

"Not bad," he said grudgingly. "But eggs."

Raschid tried them on a customer, a sailor drunk enough to be experimental. The man sampled, looked surprised, and inhaled the plate, then ordered a second plate. He swore it sobered him up—now he was ready to start all over again.

"Like sobriety pill? Maybe great invention. Cure diseases. Sell through mail."

"Clot off," Raschid snorted.

The sailor came back the next day—with six friends.

The port police started dropping by around lunchtime. For some reason, Raschid felt uncomfortable—with no idea why. They ate, of course, on the cuff. Lunch was no longer slow.

Raschid came up with other dishes: something he called chili, and something he called "nuked hen." He convinced Pattipong that the customers wanted something more than the bland, airport/diner standard dishes Pattipong had previously featured on the menu.

"You talk. I listen. I do. Make curry. Curry like mother made. Customers try—I laugh. Get revenge for all yata-yata-yata talk all time."'

Pattipong's curry may not have been quite that lethal—but it was nominated. "Know why I listen to you?" Pattipong asked.

He waved an arm out of the serving window. Raschid looked out at the dining area. It was packed. Pattipong had even put tables and chairs out on the sidewalk. Raschid knew that they had been getting busier, but he really hadn't realized just how much. The crowd was different. There were still the bruisers and brawlers, but Raschid saw suits and some uniformed port authorities, as well. There were even two orange-robed members of the Cult of the Eternal Emperor. For some reason, they made him just as uncomfortable as the policemen did—also for equally unknown reasons.

"Last Blast now hot place to go. Walk wild side... eat good. It last for while. Then they find new place. Happen before. Happen again. Hard thing to remember. Not expand. Not drive old customers away.

"These people like... like insect that buzz... buzz... flower to flower. Then vanish."

"Butterflies?"

"Butter not fly, Raschid. Work. No more jokes."

Raschid went back to his stove. Another damned order for Imperial Damned Eggs. He was starting to share Pattipong's hatred for eggs.

Raschid was glad Pattipong was making money. But it meant nothing to him. He felt... as if he were waiting. For someone? For something? He did not know.

Others noticed prosperity, as well.

It was very late. The Last Blast opened early and closed late—but this was getting absurd. Around midnight they had a gaggle of guests, all caped in formal wear. The “thea-tah” crowd, don’t you know.

Raschid was exhausted. As soon as he finished stoning and oiling the grill he was for his room, the fresher, one drink, and unconsciousness. They had a new hire—a baker, one of Pattipong's innumerable relatives—coming in. Raschid was supposed to train him—a clear case of a double amputee teaching ballet.

He heard the scuffle and argument from the front. Another damned robbery. Pattipong had a dump near the pay counter—almost all money went into a sealed,

time-locked safe. Since they would lose only a few dollars in a heist, it was easier just to give the robbers the till than fight back. Safer, as well. The next morning Pattipong would tip the port police, who would find the thief and either have him make restitution or, if he had spent the money, just break his thumbs for an hour or so.

This sounded different.

Raschid picked up a heavy cleaver and went to the kitchen doorway. Then he set the cleaver down on a shelf and looked out.

He instantly knew—but did not know how he knew—what was going on. Four heavy sets. Flash expense. False smiles and real menace. He walked over to Pattipong.

"G'wan back, cookie. This don't pertain," one of the thugs said.

"Protection?" Raschid asked, ignoring the man.

Pattipong nodded. "We pay. No stinks. Furniture not busted. Customers protected."

"Are they connected?"

"Hey. We told you get out of it."

"I not see before. New. Not connected. No connections now. Old boss go hoosegow. Baby new bosses still fighting."

"Knock off the drakh. We made our offer. Polite folk respond."

Pattipong looked at Raschid. "You think we pay?"

Raschid shook his head slowly—and spun the heavy glass match bowl on the counter into one man's face.

Pattipong snapkicked the second—a man nearly two meters tall—under the chin. The man stumbled back and went flat.

A third man grabbed a chair. The chair came up... Raschid went under it, head-butting. The man dropped the chair and sagged. Raschid double-fisted him on the back of the neck, and the man was out.

Pattipong had his long knife about halfway out, and the rules changed. The last man's hand slid toward his belt. A gun.

Raschid, having all the time in the world, spun right... two steps back toward the kitchen, hand reaching inside. Whirl... the gun was coming up. Finger touching the trigger stud. Raschid overhanded the cleaver. It smacked into the tough's skull with a dull sound not unlike an ax striking rotten wood.

Pattipong hurried to the door. "No cops."

He came back inside and shook his head at the carnage and the scatter. "This not good."

"Sorry. But he was—"

"You misunderstand. Not bad he dead. Bad he dead not neat. Messy. Take two, maybe three hours to clean up. Long day. I was sleepy."

He unclipped the com at his belt. "I call cousin. He pick up bodies. Leave maybe in front of police station. Let three explain one, when they wake."

He whispered into the com, summoning his cousin.

"You not bad fighter. For cook."

Raschid was looking at the moaning or unconscious human and formerly human debris. Feeling... feeling as if there were a curious observer behind him. He felt... he felt... push it away... nothing in particular. A necessary act.

He went to work helping Pattipong.

Two men sat at Pattipong's counter. Both wore what might appear to be—after suitable degreasing, cleaning, pressing, and sewing—uniforms.
Beside one man was a captain's cover, with formerly gold braid on its bill. Raschid had seen braid go green, even black, with age, but this was the first he had ever seen what looked as if it were infested with barnacles. The cap may have suggested the man's position—little else did. It was not merely the grime: he was a tiny little rabbity person, with the twitching mannerisms of that creature, as well.

The other man, a hulk, had the peeling braid of a ship's officer on his sleeve and on his breast a command-qualified ribbon. On the man's shoulder, Raschid could make out a round patch: PEASE SHIPPING.

Both men were drinking caff and arguing. The "captain"—if that was what he was—looked fondly at the lined bottles of alk behind the counter. The other man-mate?—shook his head. The rabbit sighed and whined on. Raschid could make out bits of what he was saying.

"Undercrewed... clottin' agent... converter leakin'... bonded freight... sealed destination... client I never heard of neither. Not good, Mister Mate. Not good at all."

Raschid, pretending to wipe the counter, came closer.

"The contract good?" the mate asked.

"Cashed it this morning," the rabbit said grudgingly.

"Then what'a you care? Damn few cargoes come wi' a fuel guarantee, Captain. What's to worry what we're carry in'?"

"I'd hate like hell to finish my career gettin' taken off as a smuggler."

The mate looked the little man up and down. "Career? Pattipong, more caff."

Pattipong, unsmiling, refilled the mugs.

"Where's the best place to sign on some casuals?" the mate asked.

"For you? For Pease Lines? Maybe try port jail."

"Thanks, Patty. I love you, too."

Raschid spoke. "What slots you got open?"

The mate evaluated Raschid carefully. "Greaser. Cook/com. Second engineer. If you got papers."

"What's your com rig?"

"World's oldest VX-314. Your grampa could'a known it. We call it Stutterin' Susie."

"What's the pay?"

"Standard. Three hundred a month. Found. Got a sealed destination. You can pay off there, or stay on when we pick up a cargo and transship to a new port."

"Three hundred's cherry-boy pay."

"That's the offer."

Pattipong was signaling from the kitchen.

"Sorry," Raschid said. For some reason he thought he was supposed to say yes.

The captain was about to bleat something. The mate stopped him.

"How good a cook are you?"

"Order something."

"What about the com?"

"Bet the check whoever your last idiot was didn't triple-ground the box," Raschid said. "That'll give a Vexie hiccups all the time." He went back into the kitchen.

"You drunk? Drugs? What wrong with job?" Pattipong asked him. "Nothing, Dingiswayo. It's just... time to go."

"Look. I give you better pay. Give you... quarter business. No, eighth. You stay." The two merchant officers were arguing inaudibly.

"Those two... Jarvis, Moran. Bad. He weak. Drinker. Moran... busted down from skipper. Killed men. Ship... Santana. Boneyard. Recycled. All Pease ships same. Junk. Certificates forged. Out of date. Line pick cargo where can. Not care where go. Not care kill crew, lose ship. Insurance always paid prompt."

"Sounds like an adventure."

"You full hop. Adventure someone else, in livie. You watch—adventure. You do—deep, deep drakh."

"You. Cook," Moran growled. "We'll go 450."

"And slops?" Raschid pressed. "M'gear got left aboard m'last."

"Happens when you jump ship. But yeah. We'll go it."

The wait was over.

NEXT TUESDAY: THE POLITICS OF SPACE



*****
THE NEW STEN OMNIBUS EDITIONS

Orbit Books in the U.K. has gathered up all eight novels in the Sten Series and is publishing them in three handsome omnibus editions. The First - BATTLECRY - is available now and 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 BATTLECRY, includes all three books but is only available in the U.K. and territories. (Click this link to buy it) Coming in November: JUGGERNAUT, which will feature the next three books: Sten #4, Fleet Of The Damned; Sten #5, Revenge Of The Damned; and Sten #6, The Return Of the Emperor. In the following months the nice editors at Orbit (a division of Little Brown Publishing) will issue
DEATH MATCH, which will feature Sten #7, Vortex, and Sten #8, End Of Empire. Both Juggernaut and Death Match will be issued as Kindle editions as well. Stay tuned for details. 

STEN #1 DEBUTS IN SPANISH! 


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. 

 *****

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! 

Y es gratis! Aquí está el enlace. 



*****
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!


Tuesday, October 09, 2012

HOW THE EMPEROR STEALS ELECTIONS - EPISODE TWO: THE RESURRECTION


THE SHIP BULKED monstrous. Each of the decahedron's sides measured nearly a square kilometer.

There was but one man on board. He floated, motionless, in a shallow pool that curved in the center of one compartment. His eyes opened. Blue. Incurious, like a newly born child.

Some time passed.

A valve activated, and the liquid drained out of the pool. One side dropped away. The man sat up and lowered his legs to the deck, moving slowly and carefully like an invalid testing himself after a long time bedridden.

The deck was warm.

He might have sat there for a moment, an hour, or a day before a voice spoke. It came from everywhere.

"There is food and drink in the next chamber."

Obediently the man pushed himself to his feet. He swayed, then recovered. On a low stand beside the pool/ bed was a blue coverall. He glanced at it briefly, then walked to a wall. It was smooth and blank except for a circular palmswitch.

He touched the switch.

The wall became a screen. Vid? Imaging radar? Computer simulation?

Outside lay space/not space. It was black, and it was all colors. It hurt the man's eyes. He palmed the switch once more, and the screen became a wall.

Still naked, he padded through a doorway.

A table was set for one. The dishes were covered. The man lifted one cover and scooped food up with his fingers. He chewed, then swallowed. His expression was still unchanged.

He wiped his fingers on his thigh and walked into another compartment, where he saw a reclining chair with a steel-gleaming helmet on it. Odd tendrils curled from the helmet.

The man sat down and put the helmet on.

There were other people in the room. No. He was outside. He was wearing clothing—some kind of uniform. The other people were all smiling and laughing and trying to touch him. He let them. He heard himself saying words he did not yet understand.

He noted one person amid the throng. He had a very pale face, and his eyes gleamed. The pale-faced man stretched out his hand to shake. Suddenly he drew something metal-shining from his clothing.

The man felt blows in his stomach. Felt himself falling backward. Felt pain. Pain rising until... until...

Everything stopped.

The man took off the helmet. He was back in the compartment, back in the reclining chair.

The voice spoke again. "E-time since deactivation: six years, three months, two days."

The man's expression changed slightly. A thought drifted through his mind: Wrong. Five years late. Then the thought was discarded as meaningless. What was "late?"

He rose.

"You have ten ship-days before departure."

The man nodded once. He returned to the mess compartment. He was hungry again.

****

THE MAN STARED at the screen. His hands remained folded in his lap.

"You have not begun the test," the Voice—for he had begun to capitalize it in his mind—accused.

"What happens if I fail to obey?"

"Information will not be provided. Begin the test."

"I shall not."

"Do you have a reason?"

"I have already taken it. Three—no, four sleep periods ago."

"That is correct. Test complete."

The screen blanked.

"All test results have been assimilated. Subject determined within acceptable parameters," the Voice said.

Very odd. It was the first time It had spoken as if to someone other than the man.

"You are ready for the next stage," It told him.

"I have some questions."

"You may ask. Answers may or may not be provided."

"I am on a ship. Is there anyone else on board?"

"No."

"You are a synthesized voice?"

"Self-evident."

"You said moments ago that I was... within acceptable parameters. What would have happened were I not?"

"Answer determined not to be in your best interests."

"I shall try another way. What constraints did your programmer limit you to?"

"Answers determined not to be in your best interests."

"Thank you. You answered, however. Another question. Who programmed you?"

Silence except for ship hum.

"Answer will become self-evident within a short period of time," the Voice said finally. "Those are questions enough."

A previously sealed panel opened.

"You will enter that passage. At its end will be a ship. You will board and prepare yourself for takeoff. You may issue two orders, if you feel you know the answers. If you do not, recommendations will be offered.

"First. Should the machines be reactivated?"

"What machines?"

"The recommendation is that they should—given recent circumstances."

"Recommendation accepted. I guess."

"Second. Should transshipment begin? The recommendation is it should not until you progress further."

"Accepted. Transshipment of what? And whatever it is, how do I communicate with you?"

"Both answers will become self-evident. Proceed to the ship now."

The man walked down the passageway. At the end, as promised, was the entryway to a small ship. He entered.

Again, the ship was constructed for one person.

He seated himself in a reclining couch. Behind him, the hatch slid shut. He felt motion: stardrive.

"This is a final communication," the Voice said suddenly. "There are four separate automated navigation systems on this ship. Each of them is preset for a different destination. On reaching each destination that system will self-destruct and the next system will activate.

"Do not be alarmed.

"Do not attempt to interfere with this system.

"Your final destination and debarkation point will be obvious.

"Good-bye. Good luck."

The man jolted. The fine hair at the back of his neck lifted.

Good luck? From a machine?

NEXT TUESDAY: THE LIBRARIAN


*****
THE NEW STEN OMNIBUS EDITIONS

Orbit Books in the U.K. has gathered up all eight novels in the Sten Series and is publishing them in three handsome omnibus editions. The First - BATTLECRY - is available now and 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 BATTLECRY, includes all three books but is only available in the U.K. and territories. (Click this link to buy it) Coming in November: JUGGERNAUT, which will feature the next three books: Sten #4, Fleet Of The Damned; Sten #5, Revenge Of The Damned; and Sten #6, The Return Of the Emperor. In the following months the nice editors at Orbit (a division of Little Brown Publishing) will issue
DEATH MATCH, which will feature Sten #7, Vortex, and Sten #8, End Of Empire. Both Juggernaut and Death Match will be issued as Kindle editions as well. Stay tuned for details. 

STEN #1 DEBUTS IN SPANISH! 


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. 

 *****

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! 

Y es gratis! Aquí está el enlace. 



*****
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!