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Gregor stared morosely at the dinner plate. It was divided into three sections. Drakh-brown glop with lumps the size of marbles filled the largest section. This was the entrée. He’d never had the nerve to ask what the lumps were.
More glop was mounded in the second section – but it was grayish green with yellow streaks and had the consistency of garbage pail slime. This was the starch.
The third section contained the alleged sweet. It was purplish glop, with orange spots.
He sighed and with great reluctance jabbed a plas spoon into the brown glop. Raised it to his lips, trying not to notice the long, snot-like strings stretching between spoon and plate.
Gregor got ready. The trick was not to breathe. He stuck the spoon into his mouth - face contorting at the taste - and then he forced himself to swallow. Half-gagging and choking as he got it down.
He let his breath out in whoosh, grabbed a mug of badly-recycled water and drank it down, doing his damndest to dilute the disgusting taste.
The water was almost as bad as the brown glop and for a moment he thought the battle was lost and nearly vomited. By sheer force of will he kept it down.
Then he slumped back in his chair, gathering the courage and strength to start on the starchy slime.
Gregor began by cursing the traitorous crew members in general and their back-stabbing ringleaders in particular for humiliating him so.
He was their Captain, by God. A being they had sworn to obey when they joined the Emperor’s Merchant Service. It was as solemn an oath as any Imperial Guardsman made. Well, almost as solemn. They weren’t really professionals. Only quasi-military, as some of his old prep school chums cruelly reminded him when they got together at their fathers’ clubs.
But only a few dared say it to his face. And then only if they were drunk enough to forget just how important his old man was. His dad, Lord Wichman, was not only the president and CEO of Wichman XII, the most exclusive resort planet in the Empire, but he had been presented at court, was a board member on a dozen or more vital businesses and industries, and was a regular honored guest at the annual Empire Day festivities at Arundel Castle.
When Gregor was a lad he’d actually sat in the same box as the Eternal Emperor. During one performance an aerialist had slipped and fell thirty feet, hitting the ground so hard it looked like she bounced. It was one of the funniest things Gregor had ever seen – the young woman’s arms flailing, the gaping fish-like look on her face, emitting hilarious squeaky noises, topped off by the humorous double bounce when she hit the ground.
Naturally, he’d laughed, and then he heard someone snort and he turned to see that the Emperor was looking at him. And he was smiling. Well, it was sort of a smile.
On bad nights – and there had been many since he washed out of the Guard several years before – it seemed to him that the smile looked more like grimace of disgust. But when he woke with the cold sweats he calmed himself by thinking that at the worst it was merely the look of royal indigestion.
Remembering the self doubt, Gregor’s stomach roiled and he pushed the plate of three glops away. Please, God, why did he have to eat this swill? There was plenty of good food in his private locker – seized by the mutineers, no doubt.
Zheng and the others were probably enjoying this very minute. Laughing at him all the while. All those delicacies: real beef steak, lobster, caviar, pate, foie gras, plus all those special breads and cheeses and other gourmet treats. Washed down with fine wines and champagne.
Instead, they were feeding him the barest minimum. Contractually, merchantmen were entitled to three BCM (Basic Crew Meal) containers a day, totaling 1,800 calories for humans, with different nutritional requirements for ETs. Gregor was a little over two meters in height and before starvation was forced on him he weighed a slightly chubby 88 kilos. He didn’t know how much he weighed now, but there was no chub at all on his frame and his uniform hung off him like a clown suit.
Of course, no one in their right mind would eat this garbage, much less try to subsist on it. Which is why Gregor, who considered himself an enlightened captain, had instituted a generous program with special menus for a small percentage of the crew members’ wages.
Naturally he made a profit, but his father had taught him that profit was as essential to life as clean air – which was another little side business Gregor had going. For a fair price, sweet-smelling air – instead of the oily recycled shipboard atmosphere – could be had by turning a nozzle above each being’s bunk.
It was sweet and cool and made for easy sleep. Of course, if a being wasn’t frugal and was burdened with family responsibilities, they obviously couldn’t afford that inexpensive luxury and nothing but foul air would be emitted when the nozzle was turned.
But that was to be expected. Fair was fair. After all, Gregor wasn’t in the charity business. And he worked hard to supplement his wages and the allowance his father regularly banked for him. He constantly, and assiduously, searched for new ways to turn a profit.
Skimming and reselling supplies, buying refurbished equipment and clothing for the crew and pocketing the difference, as well as selling favorable shifts and appointments whenever the opportunity arose. And charging for little things, like emergency leave to visit ailing family members.
It wasn’t much, but when it came to maintaining a ship and crew of 120, as well as a 100 kilometer-long space train, even a small percentage made a handsome sum when the mission was complete.
And if a crew member made so bold as to complain, Gregor heaped on enough demerits so they could never go on leave and make their subversive objections known to others.
Gregor repositioned the dish of three glops. He had to eat, damn it. The mutiny was already over a month old and there was no telling when the ordeal would end. He had to keep his strength up. His wits keen. And keep a constantly lookout for anything that might aid his chances of survival.
Gingerly, he stabbed the spoon into the purple blob with orange stripes. As a sweet it would surely have more calories, so he might not have to eat as much.
He held his breath.
Took a bite.
Then vomited his guts on the floor.
He was bent over heaving when the cabin door banged open. There was silence. Then laughter. He looked up to see Zheng’s gloating face.
Zheng was short and squat and had habit of constantly licking his lips with a shockingly pink tongue. Not unlike a toad, Gregor thought. Behind him was Rual, a tall, skeletal, vaguely humanoid female of indeterminate age. She had a long, stern face with large black unblinking eyes. Gregor had never seen her smile, much less laugh.
“Gutt damn! Vhat a filthy miststuck you be, Gregor,” Zheng said. “Drakh for brains, also you have.”
He glanced over his shoulder at Rual. “I think maybe Poppa had to pay somebody big credits to make him captain.”
Rual measured him with cold eyes. Gregor shivered. “If we can’t get a deal with the Emperor,” she said, “I want to be the one who cuts his throat.”
Before Zheng could answer, someone else came forward. It was Shaklin. A tall, handsome young man, with dark skin, beaded dreadlocks and misty brown eyes that always seemed as if they were searching for things no one else could see.
“Zheng, you swore there would be no killing,” he said, elbowing Rual aside. “Otherwise, my teammates and I would have never agreed to join you.”
Shaklin was a self-proclaimed bishop of the Church Of The Universal Location, a religion Gregor had never heard of before. More importantly he and his team of nineteen beings came from a race of tribal navigators who had obsessively roamed their home planet, mapping every conceivable position, from the molten interior to the upper atmosphere and eventually on to uttermost space.
In short, they were the only beings aboard the Flame who could safely navigate from one place to next. They were also the ace up Zheng’s sleeve. If boarders threatened the ship, Shaklin and his team could swiftly plot a series of jumps so complicated they would be impossible to follow.
Rual wasn’t happy with Shaklin’s interference. Her hand went to the haft of the long knife sheathed in her belt.
“If we take Venatora’s deal,” she said, “we won’t need you, or Gregor. So back the clot off, holy man.”
Then she turned to Gregor. “In fact,” she said, “I have a mind to kill the scrote right now. To slice his lying throat from ear to ear.”
As she advanced on him, Gregor felt sudden wetness at his crotch.
“Please,” he squeaked to the others. “Please!
NEXT: A MATTER OF PROFIT
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A True Story About A Boy,
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.
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.