HELL ON WARP DRIVE
Sten and Alex paused long enough for a credit scan to establish their limits, got a medium grade score, and then were escorted into the airlock foyer. There they doffed their HA suits, submitted to a fairly heavy duty weapons scan and were finally cleared.
Sten had to smile to himself, thinking of the deadly little blade hidden in a fleshy sheath in his arm. Sten had built it from a rare crystal grown in the poisonous atmosphere his fellow Vulcan slaves called Hellworld. Harder and more durable than just about any other known substance, it had a blade one molecule thick. And with a motion of his arm and a flick of his wrist he could cut a throat or slice through a beam of forged steel as easily as the proverbial hot knife cleaves through newly congealed milk fat.
Once they were cleared, another airlock opened to reveal huge double doors. They pushed through, only to be hit with a veritable tsunami of sound - a thunderous cacophony of screaming, shouting beings scrambling desperately to jam in as much clotting fun as possible in a very short time. When their leave was over, it would be back to another contracted E-year in the Imperium X mines of MP914.
Gambling ‘bots pimped the odds in so many languages it was as if someone had tipped over the legendary Tower Of Babel and all the words had spilled out.
Pleasure room shills piped up here and there, boasting of their fleshy wares. Yes, cheenas, there was truly something for every being’s pleasure on offer here. No matter if you were endowed with two legs, eight legs, tentacles, or claws. No matter what sexuality, or combination of sexualities you were born with. No matter how sexually sophisticated you were, there was not one act or position illustrated in the Kumasutra For All Beings that could not be performed here.
Meanwhile, gaming machines added to the adrenaline-charged atmosphere, hooting and grinding their gears, while trumpeting the news of the latest BIG WINNERS.
Beings from all over the Empire packed the gigantic hall, milling about in mass confusion and super charged excitement and if it weren’t for the enormous security bots that roamed the floor chaos would have soon shown its ugly face.
Sten was so overwhelmed by it all that he staggered.
“Steady, young Sten,” Alex said. And he felt Kilgour’s big hand on his elbow. With his other hand he snatched a drink off a barbot tray and delivered it to Sten, who gingerly tested it.
“Stregg, by God,” he croaked. He chugged it down and felt the fiery liquid burn away the confusion.
Stregg was the belly-and-brain burning drink that the Bhor chieftain, Otho, had introduced him to when his minions joined forces with Sten’s Mantis team to topple the religious zealots who ruled the Wolf Worlds.
Alex fetched him another and he inhaled that as well and by a Bhor father’s frozen buttocks it was good. The world about him began to make some sense. Just as it made sense that he had been so disoriented in the first place.
After all, he and Alex - along with Ida and Doc - had been TDY’d to convoy escort duty for many months now, with no other company, and no apparent end to their Fringe Region tour within official, or unofficial, sight.
Sometimes they felt that perhaps the great victory they had won was pyrrhic to the extreme. And instead of honors and awards they’d been condemned to endless patrols and boring scouting missions for the Imperium X spacetrains.
As time dripped endlessly by Sten even began to feel betrayed by Mahoney, his supposed mentor, who’d rescued him from a short and miserable life as a slave laborer on Vulcan - the factory world of his birth. But had he really been rescued? Or had Mahoney merely used him to foil Baron Thoresen’s conspiracy against the Eternal Emperor, before feeding him into the Imperial military’s always hungry maw?
Sure, Mahoney had engineered Sten’s career as a member of the super elite Mantis Section, turning him into a skilled saboteur, assassin, and general all around disrupter of The Order Of Things. So what had happened? Why were his skills and the skills of his shipmates and fellow Mantis operatives, being wasted in such a manner?
Amid all this lonely tedium, the self doubt grew. And he was starting to feel downright mutinous when suddenly their ship, the Storm, had staged a bit of mechanical and technical mutiny of its own. The little Bulkeley class attack boat was overdue on every maintenance schedule deemed necessary by her manufacturers and Sten and the others had done all they could to keep her running and operational.
Then things got so bad that their superiors had grudgingly approved minimal repair and refurbishment work. Their tight-fisted bosses had consoled their bureaucratic selves by ordering the team to bleed off some of their overdue leave.
The idea of vacationing in a region many light years from any civilized fun was ludicrous. But orders were orders and there was nothing to be done about it except whine and complain, the right of soldiers everywhere and everywhen.
Ida and Doc had elected to stay with the Storm. Ida holed up with a like-minded geek she met at a spaceport bar and the two were off gaming the Imperial commodities markets. Doc’s idea of a forced good time was to blow his budget on a supply of vintage plasma, then repair to his cabin for a good and bloody drunk, while composing epic Blyrchynaus poetry.
Alex had different ideas. In no uncertain terms, he let it be known just how tired he was of cramming his heavy-worlder’s body into the miniscule living space allotted aboard the Storm.
Sergeant Alex Kilgour, late of the planet New Edinburgh, wanted out, by God! He yearned to mingle with other beings. Eat something other than Dry Pack Meals. Quaff a brew or three. Dance with some bonny lassies.
In short, he said, “Ah want to party!”
The problem, Sten had argued, was the only places in reach were on the rough and tumble mining worlds, where fortunes were being made and lost grubbing for Imperium X on some of the most inhospitable worlds in the empire.
“Probably end up on the floor every night,” Sten grumbled, “from drink and fisticuffs.”
In the end, Sten had relented and they’d been conned by a pretty blonde with flashing eyes and a short tartan kilt to choose Rec Area 477 as their playground.
And now, as he looked about at the mad scene, he was sorry as sorry could be.
But just as he was about to turn to his friend and beg that they call the whole clotting thing off, another barbot tray rolled past and he reflexively scooped up a mug while Kilgour liberated another.
“What the clot,” Sten said. “I’ve gotten drunk in worse drakh holes than this.”
Kilgour roared laughter, crashed his mug against Sten’s and they both drained their glasses and started moving through the crowd.
A couple of barbot trays later they began making woozy sense of their surroundings, pausing here and there to take a chance at a Chuckaluck ‘bot, or a roll of the holo-dice.
A largish Ceph was the boss dealer at one table that featured an ancient retro game of Blackjim. The table was shaped like a quarter moon and the Ceph held forth in the slot, four pairs of tentacles dealing rectangular pieces of plas decorated with numbers and pictures. Two big eyes, perched above a long sharp beak, kept careful watch on the players while he dealt the cards and kept up a patter.
“There’s a royal for ya, cheena. Chance another? No? Where’s yer scrote, cheena? Where’s yer scrote?”
A few trays later and they were starting to really admire the long-legged Joygirls ankling through the crowd.
“This is all right,” he shouted at Alex, as he snagged another drink.
Kilgour cupped a hand to his ear. “What?”
Sten shouted louder. “This is all right!”
Alex shook his head and shouted back: “Ah cannae hear a wuid yer sayin’, me wee mucker. Yoo’ll hae tae spick looder.”
Sten laughed, shook his head helplessly, and motioned for Alex to continue deeper into gaming hall. But then a chilling snarl brought him up short. And a hate-charged odor made his hair stand on end.
Both the snarl and the odor were frighteningly familiar.
He stepped back, pulling Alex with him, as an ugly little man carrying a large wire cage pushed past them. Sten saw a flash of green scales, a gleam of fangs and claws, and then the man was carrying the cage into a tented room.
Alex leaned close to ask: “What’s ‘at all aboot, laddie? An’ what manner ay beest is ‘at? Looks a bit loch a wee T-Rex.”
Before Sten could reply, someone in the crowd shouted, “Xypaca fight! Xypaca fight!” Immediately the cry was taken up – “Xypaca, Xypaca, Xypaca” – and a section of the crowd broke off and surged toward tent.
Sten and Alex were momentarily caught up in the craziness, but Kilgour put his heavy-worlder shoulder to it and they broke free. They found themselves in a corner partially shielded from the craziness by a large narcobeer fountain.
“What the clot is a Xypaca?” Alex asked. “An’ what are they fightin’ abit?”
“They’re horrible little clots,” Sten said. “Twenty centimeters high, or so. But they’ll take on anything up to a hundred times their own size. Hate everything, especially each other. When they meet - unless it’s the mating season - they’ll immediately try to kill each other.”
Alex snorted. “Soonds loch a pack ay bludy Campbells.”
“Yeah, but they make perfect pit-fighters,” Sten said. “The blood lust crowds love them. And they bet like crazy. Hell, my father spent all our savings on one of those horrible things. Bet his future and ours on it.”
“What happened?” Alex asked.
Sten grabbed a mostly clean mug and scooped up narcobeer from the fountain. Drank half of it. “He won, just like he thought, but ended up losing because he beat the wrong man.”
He drew in a breath, trying to restore his good mood, when a strange group of beings caught his eye. It was an obvious security detail - guarding some VIP, Sten supposed. They were coming around the Blackjim tables and were headed toward the Xypaca tent.
There were seven of them. Six formed a wedge, with the seventh in the center. He couldn’t make out the VIP, but the six were large, heavily muscled beings. Humanoid. Female. Albino white, with silver hair. They were nearly naked, with black armor modesty swatches guarding the most vulnerable parts.
Sten liked how they handled themselves. Liked how they constantly scanned the crowd for danger. Very professional. The probing gaze of one of them fell upon Sten. Measured him with glowing pink eyes. No apparent danger. The eyes moved on.
“They’re Himmenops,” Alex said. “Saw their likes once when ah was a wee lad.”
Sten nodded, remembering the odd (to him)beings from one of his Mantis socio-species courses. Warlike. Restless. Lived in fortressed colonies. Appian-like all female hive society. All powerful queen. Guarded by a special enhanced breed of Himmenops, called the Zabanya.
“Ah’m surprised tae see them,” Kilgour said. “They’re usually such loners.”
And adventurers too, Sten thought. The minute the Himmenops became technically advanced enough, they'd scattered across the empire. Staking out most the inhospitable but defendable systems, where they took up residence and made their living through interstellar trade, sharp practices, and plain old fashioned piracy.
As if reading his mind, Alex said, “Mus’ be some ay th’ local pirates.”
“If we weren’t on I&I,” Sten said, referring to what was popularly known among their fellow troopies as Intercourse & Intoxication, “I’d feel it was our duty to investigate. That’s what Mahoney would want.”
“An’ th’ wee colonel could take a flyin’ humph,” Alex said. “We’re on vacation. As FIGMO as FIGMO can be.”
Sten was about to ask Alex what the clot “FIGMO” was when he finally got a clear look at the being the six were guarding.
She was the most stunningly beautiful woman Sten had ever seen.
And she was entirely human.
She was tall, slender, her skin a gleaming ebony, her hair, long sable tresses that spilled over one bare shoulder, her breasts round and firm and high, her hips and thighs a beckoning paradise.
Then in a moment she was gone, disappearing into the tent with her coterie.
Sten stood there a moment, frozen. Mouth dry. Heart racing. Then he started toward the tent.
“Where ye be goin’, laddie?” Alex asked, following him.
“To investigate,” Sten shot back.
NEXT: THE SCARLET XYPACA
HERE IS WHERE YOU CAN BUY STEN IN ALL ITS VERSIONS: PAPERBACKS, OMNIBUS EDITIONS,
E-BOOKS, AND AUDIOBOOKS. ALSO, SAMPLE CHAPTERS AND A RUNDOWN
E-BOOKS, AND AUDIOBOOKS. ALSO, SAMPLE CHAPTERS AND A RUNDOWN
THE TIMURA TRILOGY: When The Gods Slept, Wolves Of The Gods and The Gods Awaken. This best selling fantasy series now available as trade paperbacks, e-books (in all varieties) and as audiobooks. Visit The Timura Trilogy page for links to all the editions.
NEWLY REVISED KINDLE EDITIONS OF THE TIMURA TRILOGY NOW AVAILABLE. (1) When The Gods Slept;(2) Wolves Of The Gods; (3) The Gods Awaken.
MY HOLLYWOOD MISADVENTURES
Tales Sometimes Tall, but always true, of Allan Cole's years in Hollywood with his late partner, Chris Bunch. How a naked lady almost became our first agent. How we survived La-La Land with only the loss of half our brain cells. How Bunch & Cole became the ultimate Fix-It Boys. How an alleged Mafia Don was very, very good to us. The guy who cornered the market on movie rocks. Andy Warhol's Fire Extinguisher. The Real Stars Of Hollywood. Why they don't make million dollar movies. See The Seven Pi$$ing Dwarfs. Learn: how to kill a "difficult" actor… And much, much more.
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A NATION AT WAR WITH ITSELF: In Book Three Of The Shannon Trilogy, young Patrick Shannon is the heir-apparent to the Shannon fortune, but murder and betrayal at a family gathering send him fleeing into the American frontier, with only the last words of a wise old woman to arm him against what would come. And when the outbreak of the Civil War comes he finds himself fighting on the opposite side of those he loves the most. In The Wars Of The Shannons we see the conflict, both on the battlefield and the homefront, through the eyes of Patrick and the members of his extended Irish-American family as they struggle to survive the conflict that ripped the new nation apart, and yet, offered a dim beacon of hope.
LUCKY IN CYPRUS:
A True Story About A Boy,
A Teacher, And Earthquake,
Some Terrorists And The CIA
LUCKY IN CYPRUS is a coming-of-age story set in the Middle East during the height of the Cold War. An American teenager – son of a CIA operative – is inspired by grand events and a Greek Cypriot teacher.
He witnesses earthquakes and riots and terrorist attacks, but in the end it is his teacher’s gentle lessons that keep him whole.
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Here's what readers say about Lucky In Cyprus:
- "Bravo, Allan! When I finished Lucky In Cyprus I wept." - Julie Mitchell, Hot Springs, Texas
- "Lucky In Cyprus brought back many memories... A wonderful book. So many shadows blown away!" - Freddy & Maureen Smart, Episkopi,Cyprus.
- "... (Reading) Lucky In Cyprus has been a humbling, haunting, sobering and enlightening experience..." - J.A. Locke, Bookloons.com
NEW: THE AUDIOBOOK VERSION OF
THE HATE PARALLAX
THE HATE PARALLAX: What if the Cold War never ended -- but continued for a thousand years? Best-selling authors Allan Cole (an American) and Nick Perumov (a Russian) spin a mesmerizing "what if?" tale set a thousand years in the future, as an American and a Russian super-soldier -- together with a beautiful American detective working for the United Worlds Police -- must combine forces to defeat a secret cabal ... and prevent a galactic disaster! This is the first - and only - collaboration between American and Russian novelists. Narrated by John Hough. Click the title links below for the trade paperback and kindle editions. (Also available at iTunes.)
THE SPYMASTER'S DAUGHTER:
A novel by Allan and his daughter, Susan
After laboring as a Doctors Without Borders physician in the teaming refugee camps and minefields of South Asia, Dr. Ann Donovan thought she'd seen Hell as close up as you can get. And as a fifth generation CIA brat, she thought she knew all there was to know about corruption and betrayal. But then her father - a legendary spymaster - shows up, with a ten-year-old boy in tow. A brother she never knew existed. Then in a few violent hours, her whole world is shattered, her father killed and she and her kid brother are one the run with hell hounds on their heels. They finally corner her in a clinic in Hawaii and then all the lies and treachery are revealed on one terrible, bloody storm ravaged night.
BASED ON THE CLASSIC STEN SERIES by Allan Cole & Chris Bunch: Fresh from their mission to pacify the Wolf Worlds, Sten and his Mantis Team encounter a mysterious ship that has been lost among the stars for thousands of years. At first, everyone aboard appears to be long dead. Then a strange Being beckons, pleading for help. More disturbing: the presence of AM2, a strategically vital fuel tightly controlled by their boss - The Eternal Emperor. They are ordered to retrieve the remaining AM2 "at all costs." But once Sten and his heavy worlder sidekick, Alex Kilgour, board the ship they must dare an out of control defense system that attacks without warning as they move through dark warrens filled with unimaginable horrors. When they reach their goal they find that in the midst of all that death are the "seeds" of a lost civilization.
TALES OF THE BLUE MEANIE
NOW AN AUDIOBOOK!
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.