Friday, March 15, 2013


Andy And His Duck

Note From Allan: Andy Murgas is a longtime Sten reader and good friend. It was with much delight that I received this little story, especially with his humorous homage to my late partner, Chris Bunch. Meanwhile, here's what The Man has to say about himself: "Andy runs a computer department by day and enjoys reading and writing science fiction in his free time. He lives in Illinois with his patient wife, two active kids and a dog who makes sure he keeps active."



By Andy Murgas

Sten watched the vid, thinking that something was very wrong. But what?

The mainframe aboard the tacship he was testing hummed with activity, sniffing for suspicious transmissions.

The Emperor may have been dead, but Sten hopes for the future had hit a snag when it came to maintaining the lifeblood of the Empire. AM2 production was down and the prices were steadily going up.

While many companies smiled at this, Sten was none too happy as the newly formed Republic had been trying to stabilize the new regime, which was based on an old Earth government. The elections had gone amazingly smoothly "vote early, vote often," and even though the choice of the newly elected president had not been his first pick of a shifty lot, he couldn't complain too loudly since he had narrowly avoided having that job foisted upon himself a only an E-month before.

"Something isn't right," he thought, absently scratching behind his ear, trying to figure out where the "leak" was coming from. Shipments one, two, and three came through the anomaly okay, but four and five were missing.

He watched the computer projection again, and realized he would have to simply "ride" one of the automated freighters himself. This was harder than it sounded because many key life support systems simply weren't installed in most of the freighters.

Sten sighed and carried out a standard issue spacesuit and inflatable cabin designed for a couple of weeks of life support, and climbed into the small airlock.

With a clang, the freighter began its flight toward its destination: Bunch III, a jungle planet known for its large fauna. The first week went uneventfully, while Sten sat in his inflated cabin inside the maintenance room watching yet another feelie vid, and occasionally worked out in the cramped space.

The following week, Sten was busy adjusting an ancient toilet back into working order when suddenly he felt the shift in the course of the freighter. Fingers flying over the keyboard, he watched the statistics zip past and realized that the flight computer had been, as the former Emperor would have said, "Hacked".

"One of the hardest things to do is to harden a computer system from outside attack" the Emperor once told Sten, drinking some strange drink he called tequila, which had a worm floating in the bottle.

He explained: "There used to be automated drones flying around different parts of old Earth, acting like automated guards. But the problem persisted… They had to stop it, of course."

"What was the problem?" asked Sten, fascinated that an automated system was so easily tossed aside.

"Hacking, of course," the Emperor said. "Anyone with a decent enough transmitter would be trying to break into the system. No matter how many times they hardened it against outside attack, the bad guys kept finding ways to get in.

"Finally, they realized the best defense is to have someone sitting at the other end of the gun. And when the Hacker popped up - Boom! One very dead Hacker." He poured Sten another libation of tequila, adding,  "Robots are great for some things, but the human mind will always win out over something with no imagination."

Sten shook himself out of his reverie, and watched the approaching ship appear on the monitor. As it began to dock, Sten looked at it, realizing these were pirates, who never left survivors. Sten reached for his Willygun, then realized with a start he could set up a very bad chain reaction if he used it.

Cursing under his breath, he reached over to the secondary controls, and pulled the panel labeled "remote drones."

Starting up the repair drones, he guided one carefully over to the loading bay, and fired up the small arc torch, which began to burn a small hole into their maintenance panel.

Finally, as the orange glow faded, Sten manipulated the tiny waldoes to pull small optic cables from the Drone to plug into the circuit boards in front of his camera. Then he remotely tied into their control system.

The crew of the other ship, unaware of what had transpired, began to crowd into the loading bay to get ready to pull cargo off the ship by hand.

One laughing man was seen through the viewport Sten monitored with another one of his drones, wiped sweat and made the universal gesture of money as he climbed into the portable loading crane and approached the large airlock door.

Sten overrode the air pressure sensors of the doors carefully, bringing the door maintenance test mode online, simulating a pressurized atmosphere at the other end. Sten also overrode the automatic pressure system in his freighter at the same time, pumping air from the loading bay, and opened the venting system to space.

The man in the portal turned to the door panel, and hit the "open door" switch as the sensor indicated a green light.

A panicked look came on his face as a tornado suddenly formed in the room, pulling all the crew in the room to suddenly lose air and smash tons of cargo into crewmen who suddenly had nothing to breathe.

Sten's freighter shook as tons of air whistled out of the nearby ship, which suddenly came loose as strained docking ports metal finally gave up and broke from the ship.

The nearby pirate ship floated out. Then its engines suddenly lit.

"Clot!" Sten thought. "A survivor".

 One of the pirates must have had the good sense to have a suit ready. Tapping into the controls, he noticed the survivor, flying the ship solo, began to slowly turn the vessel into an attempted collision with the freighter's loaded bay.

Sten worked his remote quickly.  

Hacking into the flight systems wasn't possible, but overloading all electrical systems was something he could easily do from these controls.

Overriding the small AM2 reactor's controls inside the Pirate ship, he began overloading the reactor's output by 500 percent.

Via a spy bot, he watched as the pirate slam his hands on the smoking console, which began to suddenly pitch.

The ship shot past the freighter, it's engines suddenly cut off, pushing the ship out into space, unable to control its course.

The pilot walked into the engine room and pulled the shielding that held the small piece of AM2 in containment, and flipped his middle finger at it. A small star exploded in front of Sten's freighter briefly, then faded.

Switching off the remote, Sten breathed a sigh of relief.

Despite the Pirate's attempts to hide his information from Sten, he'd managed to download the file for the rendezvous for the dropping off of the AM2.

He began setting the controls to return to their original course of Bunch III, and leaned back.

Sten pulled out a small flask that Alex had thoughtfully left in his spacesuit pouch and chuckled.

He took a healthy slug of Stregg, and began the long journey home.



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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