Friday, March 15, 2013

An Alex Kilgour Tale From Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Note from Allan: Jacqueline Lichtenberg is a name revered by a vast legion of science fiction fans. She is probably best known for her remarkable Sime~Gen Series, in which she created a unique world and evolving society of delicious complexity. She's also a great supporter of the Sten series, and I am honored that she took the time to make this contribution to Empire Day 2013. Meanwhile, here's what Jacqueline has to say about herself: Jacqueline Lichtenberg's Sime~Gen Series, written in collaboration with Jean Lorrah, has been picked up by Wildside Press, Borgo imprint, re-issued with four new titles in 2012. Both e-book and Print are available, with many in audiobook. Currently, a videogame company has Sime~Gen under contract. In addition, many of my other titles have been reissued in ebook and paper with audiobooks forthcoming. Clickhere for more information. Join the SIMEGENFacebook Group by clicking here. 

A note frae Alex Kilgour: Ah mit thes bonny lass, Jacqueline, oan a lang voyage frae Prime Warld tae mah haem planit - Edinburgh. Uir staurn liner suffered engine problems tois thirds th' way ben th' trip an' we hud tae trade th' comfort ay a luxury liner fur th' roogh accomodations ay a mink freighter. Thaur was nae entertainment ay a brain new sort, an' sae Ah took it upon myself tae teel puckle ay mah famoos tales. Ah started wi' "Spotted Snakes" an' continued oan wi' "Red Rory" an' others. Some ay th' passengers waur a sorry lot an' complained 'at th' stories waur tay lang. others said naethin' - but as each e-hoor passed they grew grimmer an' their een becam quite radge. Jacqueline, however, laughed at each an' every tale wi' sic' gustae 'at we becam fest friends. She especially liked a body tale - Th' Damsel An' Th' Dude - an' speart if she coods record it an' send a translation oan tae 'er friends. "Translate?" Ah speart, mair than a bit surprised. "Thy dae ye need tae translate it? Dornt they spick imperial sassenach?" She said they spoke it huir uv a weel, but micht nae kin mah accent. "Accent?" Ah said. "Whae accent? Ah dornt hae an accent." Jacqueline only smiled, refilled mah glass ay stregg an' by an' by Ah said, "Weel, wa nae. If ye hink it's necessary. But Ah main teel ye lass, oan Edinburgh ye will be th' a body wi' th' accent. wa, Ah didne want tae say anythin', but Ah can barely kin ye."

Haur 'en, is th' tale:

The Damsel and the Dude: An Alex Kilgour Story

Translated By Jacqueline Lichtenberg

As a newborn baby, Dassa Gordon-Russel inherits a big, bright emerald set in a ring made of Imperium, dotted with tiny diamonds. Dassa wears around her neck from the time she turns five, until she's grown enough for it to fit.

Then she wore it on her first finger until she lost it.

She would cradle the ring in her palm whenever her parents told stories of her grandmother, breathing on the ring and wishing with all her might for her true love to take her from the bleak poverty her family, and her seven siblings, didn't seem to mind much.

She breathes her dreams into that ring, and hangs onto it for dearest life as she writes down all the stories her parents told of her grandmother who had traveled to more planets than Dassa had then heard of. On one such grand adventure, her grandmother finds her one true, great love.

Her grandmother, she learns from family stories, settles on Prime, raises a family that scatters to all the galaxies of the Empire. When her husband dies, again grandmother takes to the stars, not just to visit her children's families but to other places you couldn't even find a decent fiche about.

Dassa being of romantic bent, caught the wandering bug from these stories.

She spends all her birthday gift money and every moment of spare time watching vids of romantic adventures on other worlds. She collects vids of travel advertisements, especially those her grandmother had visited. She collects accounts of expeditions to explore wild planets, historical accounts of building settlements on those planets, and whole numbered collections of every great adventurer chronicled by both credible sources and scam artists selling investment properties.

A girl of vast ambition, she's well on her way to being a woman of guts and determination while still in basic education! She focuses on her studies, plotting her course out of poverty through education. She earns her higher education by taking just the right government jobs and volunteering for all the right charities to gain scholarship merit points.

Dassa Gordon-Russel is determined to travel, to see with her own eyes all the vast reaches of the galaxies of this Empire and to find her true mate.

Between scholarships, frugal living, and hard work, she emerges from school without any debt. Not even the deaths of her parents, or the scattering of her siblings slows her trajectory.

Then for three years Dassa works and gains promotions, living as her parents had lived, scraping by on almost nothing. Every night, she'd fall asleep cradling her grandmother's ring and dreaming.

The only thing she spends money on is her vids. She added and added to her collections, and skimped on sleep to watch every one several times. The closer she got to her savings goals, the more time she spent on her vids and on choosing her itinerary. 

Right at the brink of her greatest promotion yet, she pours all her savings into booking a Grand Tour. She chooses the tour company with great care, wanting to visit all the best (and wildest) places, because if the company stranded her, she'd have to stay wherever she landed with no funds to live on. But she had crammed in some courses that might let her survive on a real frontier if she had to. It's just that it wasn't the life she had in mind, merely surviving, as her parents had.

Impala Tours was a company that had named itself after an extinct animal of Old Earth, an animal known to run very fast in long leaps. It wasn't an animal known for stamina, but the Tour Company had conducted hundreds of tours with thousands of clients, never stranding them anywhere.

Even when a remote planet suffered a violent revolution, spaceports shut, banking paralyzed, Impala Tours had sent in a fleet of private yachts, landed them on a desert, and collected their Tour Group on time without even a single battle wound among them, most not even knowing the desert adventure wasn't part of the itinerary.

That story seems familiar to her and so Dassa searches and finds it in one of her records of the stories her parents had told of her grandmother.

But the real clincher for Dassa is when she finds, in the oldest fiche of the Impala Tours records, that her grandmother had in fact been on that desert adventure and had married the owner of one of those rescue yachts, her grandfather. She dreams of her grandfather giving her grandmother the very ring she clutches each night as she falls asleep.

So Dassa books her tour with Impala Tours First Class, determined to find her man, one with the means to travel at will.

Dassa parties her way through eight planets and voyages between. After a life of severe discipline, she approaches the society of First Class travel with the same determination. She makes herself into a sophisticated partier. She learns how much of what she can drink without disgracing herself, and what to drink in what order to avoid the worst aftermath.

Blessed with a fast metabolism, she can drink most any man under the table. Once she'd matched Stregg shot-for-shot with a Bhor and almost won. (But only because she cheated)

Then the Tour arrives at Whistler's Waste, at that time, a frontier world, settled barely a hundred years, and even now has one vast continent nearly unexplored and another, North Underland, only sparsely settled.

On North Underland, Dassa meets her match and loses her ring.

Riding colorful local beasts, the Tour trudges into the frontier settlement of Karl's Town.

Karl's Town is a shabby looking, bleak dust-bin with one rambling hotel surrounded by brown weeds. But the people had money. Maybe even wealth. The shabby look could be just for the tourist show.

Dassa is pleased to note the signs on the local bars were all larger, brighter, and in better repair than the signs on any of the other establishments. And the bars roar with happy gamblers while their back lots overflow with the shiniest, latest model gravsleds and gravlighters rigged to transport riding beasts. There are even some suborbital hoppers.

Dassa had read up on Whistler's Waste, and North Underland in particular. But Karl's Town was one of the four unscheduled stops the Tour made on each planet, depending on local weather and imponderables known only to Impala Tours.

So Dassa's Group rode into town after camping across the flat landscape. The most notable experience during this bit of the trip was the silence. As soon as the tall, spindly legged, misshapen beasts had quit moaning for the night, a silence descended such as none of the tourists had ever experienced.

But they could hear, and smell, Karl's Town a full half-day's travel out.

The local industry was the domesticating and raising of the indigenous herd-beasts that had originally covered this prairie before people moved in, exterminated the large predators and took charge of the reproductive proclivities of the herd beasts.

They were called Ringbeasts because they tended to form perfectly round herds, packed densely at the edges, leaving a hole in the middle. Corrals full of them surrounded the town, producing the aroma.

Every tourist wanted a vid of themselves in the center of such a herd, so locals had trained several herds to accommodate the tourist trade and kept them at hand.  Ranches spread around the town to breed and raise the creatures by the thousands.  

The Ringbeasts were the economic base of the North Underland continent, providing exportable ornaments fashioned from their horn and hide as well as succulent meats for the galaxy's luxury trade.

The tourists, once thoroughly vid recorded among the beasts and caroused among the best of the Establishments, retired to the hotel, and the next morning headed out for a five-day adventure on a local ranch.

The straggling line of riding beasts reaches the elaborate gateway to the Reid Ranch when a fancy gravsled streaks up the lane to block their way.

The tour guide and the rancher congregate at the entry, leaving the tourists sitting astride restless beasts controlled by annoyed hostlers. With the sun beating down and the day wasting away, the tour guide and the rancher finally agree.

The tourists dismount and wait. Their riding beasts are led away, and the sun is setting by the time a line of none-too-clean gravlighters caravanned down the lane to pick up the tourists.

While her companions grumble, Dassa smells an adventure, a real one, approaching. Her eyes are wide and bright, her lips smiling as she twists the ring on her finger which is loose because she's a little dehydrated in the hot sun and dry air. 

She dresses for dinner with special care, grateful their luggage had been sent ahead and unpacked with the precision her cabin steward always exhibited. The Tour's service was exemplary as always.

Dassa descends the formal staircase with the gliding gait learned in special courses in deportment. And at dinner, her grandest expectations are fulfilled. Impala Tours has screwed up.

No, she learns, they weren't stranded here. But this unscheduled stop should not have been on the itinerary. Impala had been informed that this ranch was not accepting tourists, but they had dispatched the group anyway.

No one in the group could understand what the problem was. Their rooms had been ready, the service unobtrusive, the dining table had been exquisitely set, the food easily to the highest standards, and the staff had been courteous. They could find no deficiency.

Dassa rises before dawn to explore on her own.

She intends to slip out the kitchen door and circle the house, looking for anything amiss, maybe watch the dawn. She wears the costume of the day, supplied by Impala, tough pants and shirt with hide boots and leggings, and a furry hide vest. A wide brimmed hat completes the costume.

But she gets no farther than the kitchen where the staff is creating breakfast from stacks of ingredients that have no packaging. She's never seen anything like it outside of a vid. Before she knew it, she is talking to one woman while helping another move a big, unlabeled cloth sack full of something heavy that she didn't recognize.

Within minutes, she's seated with a group slicing skins off of locally grown roots. And she learns why the owner of Reid Ranch, Pepper Reid by name, tried to turn this tour group away.
The Ringbeasts on Reid Ranch had become infested with ringworm, a local parasite.

At first she laughed, thinking it a joke. But the staffers were very serious. Sr. Reid didn't know what to do except keep all other Ringbeasts and local animals off his ranch.

Non-native creatures didn't seem vulnerable to this local parasite, but it roared through the Ringbeast herds eventually killing them. The staff is worried Pepper Reid will have to destroy the whole herd, maybe sterilize the ground. They'll could all lose their jobs.

Breakfast is a tense affair. She isn't about to tell her fellow travelers what she'd learned, or how she'd learned it. They weren't the sort who could be comfortable gossiping with servants. It is only breakfast of their first day on the ranch, and already she is wishing for stregg, which was always an included beverage choice on her Tour ticket.

Pepper Reid is introduced as the owner of the ranch and gives a practiced speech while standing in front of a huge cured hide carved with an unmistakable portrait of himself, but he claims it is his father's likeness.

Dassa thinks he is trying to give the place a sense of history, but he captures her imagination. He seems harried, distracted. Worried. She thinks the threat the servants sense must be real.

The tourists are escorted, via gravsled, to observe a leather tanning factory, then a leather tooling factory where people carve fancy designs into Ringbeast leather freehand, creating one of a kind originals (which the tourists could commission and watch made on the spot).

Dassa took only the bracelet with her name and visit date carved in it, the price already included in her Tour package. Others bought and had shipped home some very large items, lamps, chairs, and leather coats. She noted one man who bought a made-to-measure riding saddle. He hadn't shown any interest in her, alas.

Clearly Reid Ranch was making a lot of profit from the tourist trade, so it seems odd Reid would have tried to turn this Tour away. What sort of man would be so careful?

After lunch, they visit a shed where bones and antlers are prepared, and the next day they see artisans carving extravagant creations from the antlers. Dassa accepts the earrings made for her, also part of her Tour package. As she dons them and inspects herself in the mirror, she notes Pepper Reid watching her.

The following days were supposed to see them ride out among the herds and watch the herders work with the animals, and even learn some of the herders' skills.

At breakfast, Reid confesses the infestation problem among his herds. But instead of just cancelling the excursion, he calls for volunteers.

The tourists would have to go by gravsled, as he couldn't risk any riding beasts getting infested, though offworlders should be immune. They'd have to sign a waiver in case any of them did become infested. Impala Tours required the waiver which included a three day quarantine inspection before leaving the planet to prevent exporting the parasite.

Naturally, Dassa grabs the chance for adventure, not knowing she was about to lose her grandmother's ring.

She wasn't about to stay in the ranch house and be entertained by singers and dancers, even with copious applications of stregg and two dozen liqueurs of every color of the rainbow, not when there was real adventure at hand. Besides, Pepper Reid was leading the excursion.

The four tourists who sign up with Dassa were not human, but had been among the first to volunteer for everything on other planets they'd visited.

The group reaches the herd after four hours of dusty travel under blistering sun in an open gravsled. The herdsbeings were camped out in mobile homes at the site. The work of the day included trapping and inspecting each animal for ringworm.

The parasite nested under the thickly furred hide in circular formations. Blood testing and urine testing wasn't enough to clear an animal. They had to hand-inspect each beast's skin using a scanner that was about two hands-breadth wide and four fingers deep. The beasts were huge. It took nearly an hour apiece.

The animals fought to keep from being trapped by ropes, and once tied up, wriggled and fought to get free -- sometimes succeeding, occasioning much running and shouting.

The mobile lab, meanwhile processed specimens. The Ringbeasts were separated into three corrals, one that hadn't been tested or inspected, one that was being tested but yet to be inspected, and one that had been tested and inspected, and been found free of infestation.

The fourth category, the infested beasts, were sedated, pushed into a deep trench and killed. Gravsleds stood by with incendiaries to burn the corpses before dirt movers fill in the trench.

Pepper Reid was losing a lot of money, minute by minute.

As the proceedings advanced, refreshments are served to the tourists, and the four non-humans wander off to indulge.

Dassa, however, finds herself a place to sit on a fence rail near enough to Pepper Reid to hear him talking on his com unit. She gathered that a way had been found to cure the Ringbeasts of ringworm. They just had no method of applying the cure to thousands of the restless, horned and dangerous, irritable from itching, beasts.

Reid drops his conversation when gravsleds bringing the overnight luggage for the tourists arrive. He directs staffers to a row of mobile homes where the tourists would sleep. But the moment everything is squared away for his guests, he is back on his com, pacing and yelling.

As her fellow tourists carouse, and Pepper Reid works his com, ordering all his crews working all over his ranch to stop killing infested Ringbeasts, organizing another quarantined corral for each location, and frantically calling in search of a practical method of saturating the furry hides of thousands of huge, obstreperous, horned animals with a water soluble chemical powder, Dassa sits on the splintery fence rail and searches her mind for a tantalizing memory.

She knows she's seen the solution to this problem. It is simple. She knows it.

She stares at the milling beasts as the herd is separated into parts, stridently complaining. Even as unschooled as she is in Ringbeast behavior, she spotted the leaders, the ones all the others followed or imitated. When a leader bawled and moaned, all the others did, too.

While a particularly loud wave of moaning rippled through the herd, Reid was declaiming for the umpteenth time to his harried manager on the other end of his call that he didn't care what the applicator device cost, he just needed it on-planet NOW! He was frantic because drums of the necessary chemical would be delivered to his herds within a few hours. He had to get his beasts cured before infestation spread to the soil, then throughout the area.

"Applicator device," thinks Dassa visualizing gleaming apparatus run by various delicate programs, all measuring, targeting the ring-shaped infestation spots, spurting exact amounts of chemical on those spots regardless of how the animal wriggled. What a monstrously expensive device that had to be, and rare - where in this galaxy could such a thing be found?

She knew that the answer, but just couldn't figure out how to implement it. And the more she watched Reid's distress grow, with the solution to his problem almost in hand, the more desperate she felt. Maybe you could build one by combining some common items?

As the sun set, the Reid Ranch staff set up a banquet table for the tourists complete with gleaming glasses and a well stocked bar, a table that looked like something out of a livee cast depicting the most inappropriate place to set a formal table. She had seen the like on some vid. Mud spattered people sitting at a white table with sparkling flatware.

And then she was off the fence rail and running after Pepper Reid shouting, "I know the answer!"

Always polite to the paying guests, he turned to face her squarely, muting his com. "Excuse me?"

"I know the answer," she said in a more reasonable tone. "I know how to soak the Ringbeasts and it won't cost you anything. Nothing to import, nothing to rent that you don't already own. You just need that chemical powder they're already shipping. You can be ready by the time they deliver it in the morning."

Pepper smiles apologetically. He said, "I guess I was shouting too loudly. I'm sorry to have bothered you with my problems."

"But that's what we came here for, to get involved in your problems!" Dassa said with much feeling. "That's what we're paying you to allow us to do - learn what it's like to ranch Ringbeasts for a living!"

Pepper asks, "Well, so how would you soak Ringbeasts in a chemical solution they're going to hate the smell of?"

"Hate the smell?" she says all deflated.

"Hate the smell," he repeats with a grimness to be feared.

"It might not work," she says, and now she's worrying her brilliant notion just won't apply to this planet's animals.

"Well, if it might not work," he allows, "then obviously you shouldn't tell me how to do it."

"I'm sorry!" and she's all but stamping a foot to be put down like that.

And don't think he's going to apologize, not Pepper Reid. So he says, "Spit it out, young lady."

"My name," she replies archly, "is Dassa Gordon-Russel," as if that ought to mean something to him, but of course she knows it doesn't.

Sometimes, you say your name as if everyone knows it, and people get embarrassed that they don't. Pepper Reid wasn't embarrassed.

"So Dassa Gordon-Russel, as you may have noted, dinner is served." He's not offering her an elbow or anything like that, oh, no. He's just waving his com in the general direction of spicy aromas and turning his back on her. And he's examining his com as if reading an incoming message.

"A trough," she announces to his back.


"In the ground."

"Trough!" he scoffs. He turns to frown at her.

"You dig it with that mover you dug the burial pit with. Dig as deep as a Ringbeast is tall, tamp the bottom real good, fill it with water, dump in the right amount of your chemical, then drive or pull the Herd Leader through it, and the others will accept their plight, they will. Soaked Ringbeasts come out the other end."

"Herd Leader?"

"Whatever you call it. Like that one with the blood red eyes and twisty horns." And she points out the one she's been watching bawl and moan first, starting the others up.

"Can't be done. Ringbeasts don't swim."

"Can. They did it on Earth thousands of years ago. The beasts not so big as these, maybe not so hairy or horny, but truth is they were mean, nasty creatures that ran in herds, didn't like getting wet, and didn't think they could swim either, and acquired parasites. Trick of controlling them was to find the leader and push it where you wanted the rest to go. To get them into the trough, you just build a chute. Through the trough is the only place they can go to get to whatever you know they'll want to get to. Push or pull the Herd Leader through and the others will follow."

"And you are knowing this ... how?"

Well, she's not about to admit to watching vids. She just stares him down and says, "Think about it." And off she sways to the banquet table.

Pepper doesn't know what to watch, her lovely behind or the lead beast she'd so unerringly pointed out.

"A Tourist," he's scoffing to himself. But wheels are turning.

Before dawn, Dassa wakes to the sound of digging and bleating beasts. When she gets outside, she finds the other tourists complaining breakfast isn't ready, but Reid's workers are jockeying a huge gravsled down onto a mound of dirt heaped up from where they'd dug a trough deep into the ground.

Others unloaded fence posts and rails from another gravsled to make two corrals on either end of the trough.

By the time breakfast is over, more gravsleds have arrived pulling tanks with vast amounts of water, some Ringbeast food that stank but got the animals all excited, and another large group of workers pile out of a string of battered gravlighters.

By noon she realizes Reid had stopped trying to sort infested from un-infested beasts and intends to soak all of them in chemical.

It is quite a show for her fellow tourists, who stay well back, watching the shouting ranch workers catch beasts by the horns with ropes and haul them through the trough, swatting their flanks. But the more beasts go on through and to find the food in the other corral, the more willing the next were to chance the acrid smelling water.

As the day wears on, they hone the process into a strict routine. Reid shoots a vid to send to his other crews to show them how to do force the Ringbeasts through a trough one by one.

Dassa, however, climbs up onto the rail forming the chute. She leans out over the trough watching the animals flailing and bawling. She is so close, horn tips grazed her knees, as she uses her wide-brimmed costume hat to smack the wet beasts on their flanks to keep them moving.

Eventually, she loses her grip on her hat which flies into the now thick muddy water. She laughs harder, and keeps yelling until she's hoarse. Her plan works, and she has never been so happy in her life.

She doesn't notice until she's falling asleep that night that her ring is gone.

She's up before dawn, as soon as she hears men stirring. To his credit, Pepper Reid has his tired men help search the grounds with her, but it is mostly churned mud that has apparently swallowed the ring.

She tells him a detector could probably find the ring because it's made of Imperium. She didn't tell him the stones are worthless. To her, they were worth everything.

Pepper has a detector flown in, and a crew searches the area.

The tour group gets packed up to leave because they must sit out the quarantine before leaving the planet. As they board gravlighters, she lingers hoping the ring will turn up any moment.

It does not, though she stands on the entry as the vehicle starts to move.

At the last second, she jumps down and tells Reid, "I can't leave without my ring."

And he says, "I'll have it shipped to you when we find it. It's the least I can do for all your help."

She thinks that over and over, and the tour guide calls her. Finally, she waves the gravsled off. "I can't leave without my ring."

When all the yelling back and forth, and com calls, and all were done, she had officially left the Tour, stranding herself on Whistler's Waste.

"Well, I understand why you won't leave without that ring," allows Reid as the sun set once more. "I saw how valuable it is."

"To me it is."

The fare that night is trail rations like the working hands eat, but she bunks in the Tourist housing.

Three days later they find her ring inside one of the Ringbeasts.

The searchers guess that the ring came off when she lost her hat, swatting Ringbeasts through the trough, then got kicked or tracked into the corral by the animal, then somehow eaten with some bit of their food.

Since it was expected that it would take another four days for the ring to work its way out of the creature's other end, Pepper Reid gifted that Ringbeast to her, and he did plight his troth beside her trough, via that Ringbeast.



The entire 8-novel landmark science fiction series is now being presented in three three giant omnibus editions from Orbit Books.  The First - BATTLECRY - features the first three books in the series: Sten #1; Sten #2 -The Wolf Worlds; and Sten #3, The Court Of A Thousand Suns. Next: JUGGERNAUT, which features Sten #4, Fleet Of The Damned; Sten #5, Revenge Of The Damned; and Sten #6, The Return Of The Emperor. Finally, there's DEATHMATCH, which contains Sten #6, Vortex; and Sten #7, End Of Empire. Click on the highlighted titles to buy the books. Plus, if you are a resident of The United Kingdom, you can download Kindle versions of the Omnibus editions. Which is one clot of a deal!
Here's the Kindle link for BATTLECRY
Here's the Kindle link for JUGGERNAUT
Here's the Kindle link for DEATHMATCH



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.  



Venice Boardwalk Circa 1969
In the depths of the Sixties and The Days Of Rage, a young newsman, accompanied by his pregnant wife and orphaned teenage brother, creates a Paradise of sorts in a sprawling Venice Beach community of apartments, populated by students, artists, budding scientists and engineers lifeguards, poets, bikers with  a few junkies thrown in for good measure. The inhabitants come to call the place “Pepperland,” after the Beatles movie, “Yellow Submarine.” Threatening this paradise is  "The Blue Meanie,"  a crazy giant of a man so frightening that he eventually even scares himself. Here's where to buy the book. 


Diaspar Magazine - the best SF magazine in South America - is publishing the first novel in the Sten series in four 
episodes. Part One and Part Two appeared in back-to-back issues. And now Part Three has hit the virtual book stands.  Stay tuned, for the grand conclusion. Meanwhile, here are the links to the first three parts. Remember, it's free!

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