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Sten sat hunched over the comboard, knowing that the first words that came out of his mouth would set the tone for what happened next.
Or abject failure.
On the monitor screen he could see the enhanced image of the Flame and the immense spacetrain in its charge.
The spacetrain was drawn up in a circle, reminding Sten of illos he’d seen in old fiches of human pioneers on ancient Earth daring the wilderness in animal-powered wagons.
The Flame hovered over its charges, like a fierce mother Gurion guarding her charges. Instead of the starfish-like arms of the Gurion, many-colored connector beams emanated from the sleek ship, linking all the cargo barges and their tugs – spaced at 15 kilometer intervals.
In addition, several hundred small tender bots patrolled the train, on the constant lookout for mechanical breakdowns, or damage from meteor hits. Repair and maintenance units scurried over the cargo containers, like swarms of ants tending their nests.
From this perspective, the Flame looked like a living being, so large and so complex that it formed its own environment – like the great clonal colonies that forested the planet Aspen in the distant Pando Sector.
The Flame and its treasure of raw Imperium X was Sten’s goal. His target. His mission. But to think of it that way for too long would be a mistake. True, it was an engineering marvel. He could devote a lifetime studying the history of how such marvels came into being.
Why, the very ship he was on – the Jo’l Cash – was the identical twin sister of the Flame. Proof of just how successful the engineer creators had been.
But although the Flame looked, and sometimes even behaved like a living being, in the end, it was only a thing.
And to capture the thing – the inanimate object - he had to first capture the minds of the nearly two hundred crew members who formed the true core of the Flame
He put aside the ship. Flipped a switch so the image of the Flame was replaced by a roster of the crewmembers. He scrolled through the enlistment pictures, pausing here and there to study a face. Wondering how that face – looking so proud and hopeful upon enlistment – became a traitor.
He came to the conclusion that in reality, they really weren’t that much different than the sailors who made up the crew of Jo’l Cash. Their identical twin sister ship.
Never mind the ring leaders. To hell with Shaklin and his bizarre beliefs; or Rual, the enforcer; or Zheng, the toad who thought he was The Big Boss.
No, get the Unholy Three out of your mind. Aim your words at the crew, a hard-working grease-stained bunch who’d just as soon be bending their elbows and resting their butts on a stool at the nearest Local.
They’d be scared. Confused. Probably wondering how they got themselves into this mess.
And so he drew in a deep breath, keyed the mike, and said:
“This is Captain Sten, aboard the Jo’l Cash.
“We heard you were in trouble, mates, and we’ve come a long way to help you out.”
He gave it a few heartbeats to let the words sink in, then he said: “Right about now, you’re all probably worried about your future. I know I would be.
“And I’d also be wondering what my family and friends were thinking back on my homeworld.
“Would they think I was a traitor? Are my folks hanging their heads in shame when our neighbors pass?
“And my school chums. I’d be worried about what they were thinking.
“Yeah, and what about the guys down at my Local? Are they wondering what the clot happened. What went wrong?”
ABOARD THE FLAME
Sten’s words echoed through the ship. Shaklin glanced around. Everyone was transfixed. Frozen in place. Even Rual was entirely still and Zheng’s long pink tongue was nervously flicking out to lick his thick lips.
And Sten said: “I don’t know about you guys, but there was this scrote in my group who acted like he was everybody’s best friend, but soon as your back was turned, he’d be sniping at you. Putting the blame on you when it was something he’d done.
“You know the type. And he was always after my girl, you know? Telling stories. Lies about how he saw me with some slut, or other.”
Shaklin saw the looks on faces of the sailors. Nodding. Yeah, they all knew a guy like that. Frowning. Yeah, and that guy would be sneaking around their sweetheart right about now. Whispering lies in their ear. Except – well, now it looked like those lies weren’t so untruthful after all.
And Sten said: “I remember how proud everybody was when I signed up. I worked so clottin’ hard studying to pass the merchantman’s test.
“And then I went through all that training. Boot camp and specialist schools. Man, it was tough. Really tough. And boy was I proud when I went home on leave and hugged my mom and shook my dad’s hand. He had a tear in his eye, he was so proud. Said it was his allergy acting up again.”
Shaklin heard laughter, and knew some of the sailors were remembering their own homecoming, their own fathers wiping away a tear.
And Sten said: “I don’t know about you, but I was the first person in my family to make it that far. To go beyond just basic school and get an actual decent-paying job with health and pension benefits.
“I remember how proud I was at the Local buying a round for my mates. Laughing at that back-stabbing clot who was so jealous he could spit.
“And that night. After hours. What a cuddle I got from my girl. Her eyes shining. Whispering my name. Promising she’d always be there. Waiting for me…
Sten paused. Letting the silence work for him. Shaklin knew he was being manipulated. But everything rang so true he didn’t care.
And then Sten continued: “Sure, everything was wonderful back then. I figured I had life licked. Nothing but shining times ahead. Adventures in far off lands.
“And I made so many promises to myself. I’d by god, work hard, and not slough off. I’d climb that promotion ladder. Stash credits in the bank and someday I’d go home and marry my girl. I’d still be young and I’d have a pension, plus maybe another job because I was a skilled spacer, and me and my family would be living good life, man… The good life.”
Shaklin could see people nodding, eyes turned inward, remembering how it was.
And Sten said: “But then something happened. And everything changed. It was horrible. Horrible. Like the Devil Himself was whispering in my ear.
“And I went for it. Don’t ask me how. Don’t ask me why. I just did it, man. And now I’m fucked. Good and fucked. And I don’t know how to get the hell out of this clottin’ mess. If I could only turn back the clock.”
Shaklin heard Rual curse and saw her start toward the com board, intent on chopping off the deadly words that were undermining everything.
“Here there!” someone shouted and Rual stopped. Looked around. People were glaring at her. She looked at Zheng, who just shook his head. Better not.
Rual shrugged – as if on second thought she didn’t care - and backed away. But Shaklin could tell she was burning up inside.
Then he realized that the Sten had stopped speaking.
Shaklin knew damned well that Sten was artfully letting the long silence build suspense.
Even so, he ached for him to continue. To show them all the way out of their dilemma.
NEXT: TURNING THE SCREW
NOTE FROM ALLAN: I'M TAKING NEXT
WEEK OFF TO VISIT WITH MY FAMILY.
STEN AND THE MUTINEERS
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 15
NOTE FROM ALLAN: I'M TAKING NEXT
WEEK OFF TO VISIT WITH MY FAMILY.
STEN AND THE MUTINEERS
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 15
Ever since my British publisher put all eight novels in the Sten series in three omnibus editions, American readers have been clamoring for equal treatment.
Well, my American publisher – Wildside Books – was listening and beginning today Volume One in the three volume omnibus series is available all over America. The omnibus includes, Sten #1, Sten #2 – The Wolf Worlds, and Sten #3 – The Court Of A Thousand Suns. Isn’t this a wonderful country? And isn’t Wildside a wonderful publisher? Stay tuned for when the others will be available. Kathryn and I will start reading proof on Sten Omnibus #2 by week’s end.
CLICK THIS LINK TO GET
THE STEN OMNIBUS #1
THE STEN OMNIBUS #1
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.
Here's where you can buy it worldwide in both paperback and Kindle editions:
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.
Here's where to get the paperback & Kindle editions worldwide:
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.