REVENGE OF THE DAMNED

(Sten No. 5)

By Allan Cole and Chris Bunch

 
 

UK Cover of Sten 5 - Revenge Of The Damned
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CHAPTER ONE

He tugged at the last piece of rubble, wincing as rough masonry bit into soft fingertips. Straining under the weight, he lifted it to knee height, then staggered a few paces and dropped the mass onto a pile.

Senior Captain (Intelligence) Lo Prek stepped back to review his work. Only a large, twisted steel door remained. The Tahn officer had labored for hours clearing that door. Beyond it, he hoped, was the key to the puzzle he had been fitting together for more years than he cared to remember.

He hesitated a few minutes as if afraid that he would be disappointed. Almost daintily, Prek wiped his face with a silk handkerchief, which he


 
  then returned to his uniform sleeve. For a Tahn, Prek was a tall man and painfully slender. His body was all angles of jutting bone topped by a long horselike face with small eyes set too far apart and a short nose that left him with an overly long upper lip.

Prek unclipped a small laser torch from his harness and began cutting through the door. Prek was not the kind of man who hummed to himself while he worked or who used a string of favorite obscenities when the task became momentarily difficult. At his former post, where he had worked for almost his entire career, he had been notorious - even among Tahn - for insisting on absolute silence and complete dedication to even the smallest job. He did not allow his mind to wander when performing rote tasks and insisted on the same from his underlings. The joke at his old bureau was that if Prek had his way, every intelligence clerk would have a monitor surgically implanted in his brain as a requirement for employment.

Prek had heard the joke, and although he did not see any humor in it, he acknowledged its truth.


 

 

Captain Prek knew he had an obsessive personality. He did not particularly like it or dislike it. It was just so. It was a character weakness that he had learned to use to his benefit.

There was a shriek of metal as the door sagged under its own weight and then crashed to the floor. Prek reclipped the torch and stepped inside the record center of the Imperial Navy’s defeated 23rd Fleet. If the Tahn had gods, Prek would have whispered a prayer. He had traveled very far and taken many chances to come to this point. If Prek was correct, in this room he would pick up the trail of the man who had murdered his brother.

STEN, (NI). Commander Imperial Navy. Last known post: OIC, 23rd Division TacDiv, asngd Imperial 23rd Fleet. Prev: Cmdr, Imperial Personal Bodyguard. Prev: Records show assigned to various Guards units. NOTE: IntelEst those records fraudulent, prob. Cat. 1. STEN actually assigned various Imperial Intelligence duties. GENERAL DESCRIPTION: Species: Human. Sex: Male. Age: Unknown. Records destroyed. Estimated first quarter of life span. Place of


 

 

Birth: Unknown. Height: Slightly below Imperial norm. Body: Well formed, low body fat, high muscle ratio. Hair: Blk. Eyes: Blk. General Health: Excellent. Distinguishing Marks or Characteristics: None. Family: Unknown. Interests: Unknown. Friends: Unknown.

Prek was not dismayed when he saw the shattered ruins inside. File vaults had been twisted into bizarre shapes by intense heat. There were large spots of white ash scattered uniformly about where office dividers and furniture had once stood. As he walked, his boots stirred up a fine dust that drifted upward and clogged his nose and throat. He fitted a rebreather into place and began combing through the litter of what had once been the 23rd Fleet.

Once his heart jumped when he found a tiny scrap of microfilm lying under a steel joist. He slid it into the slot of his reader and then felt like crying when he saw that it was nothing more than part of a bill for general office supplies.


 

 

Prek berated himself for his reaction. Yes, his mission was personal. But his only hope for success was if he behaved like a complete professional.

Prek reorganized himself. He went all the way back to the beginning - to the outlines of what might have been the desk of the chief clerk of the records center. He began sifting through the rubble, starting in the middle and slowly working out to the edges. He was looking for much more than the chance minutiae of one man’s life, he reminded himself. Even more valuable would be to discover the pattern of record storage. Prek knew that every office had its own individual logic. Things might have changed over the years as chief clerks came and went, but there would always be the face of the first being who had received and filed the first and then the second and then the thousandth document.

The Tahn captain was convinced that once he had determined the procedural map, he would find his man.


 

 

Although they had worked in private industry, Prek’s parents had also been lifelong bureaucrats. They had been equally dull in personality and unattractive in appearance. True, they had both been intelligent people, but their intelligence was what a personnel psych might have called “highly focused.” Prek was ten years old when his brother, Thuy, was born. From the moment the infant had drawn its first breath, the family knew it was blessed with a golden boy.

Thuy was everything his family was not. To begin with, he was beautiful. Blond, curly hair. Blue eyes. And a physique like an Adonis even as he entered puberty. He was quickwitted and consumed with curiosity about everything. Thuy also saw humor in nearly any situation. It was hard to be around him long and not be infected by his cheery outlook on life.

Far from being jealous, Lo had loved his young brother more than anything in the world. He had lavished all his attention on him, going so far as to strap himself financially so that the boy could have the benefit of the very best education the Tahn System could offer.


 

 


The investment had proved to be well placed. Thuy was instantly snapped up by the diplomatic corps, a situation that allowed him to blossom even more. The only argument any of his superiors had ever had concerning him was who the young Tahn’s mentor really was.

And so, when the delicate peace negotiations with the Eternal Emperor were undertaken, Thuy had instantly been assigned to accompany Lord Karghiz and the other Tahn representatives as a junior diplomatic officer. It was to be a career assignment, which everyone agreed would be just the beginning of a rich career.

The Imperial and Tahn fleets met under the blinding pulsar shadow of NG 467H. The initial negotiations went quickly and well. Everyone believed that an agreement beneficial to the Tahn was only a formality away. The Eternal Emperor had invited the Tahn dignitaries aboard for a treaty celebration. Lord Kirghiz had quickly picked the Tahn who would accompany them. Included among


 
  them had been Thuy.

No Tahn knew what exactly had transpired next.

Prek believed the facts spoke for themselves.

Every Tahn who had boarded the Normandie died in a horrible bloodbath as they sat at the Emperor’s banquet table.

The Eternal Emperor, through his toady judges and special prosecutors, had claimed that the Tahn had merely been the tragic victims of a plot against himself. As far as any Tahn - especially Prek - was concerned, that was too obvious a lie even to comment on. And the only answer to the lie and the treachery was a war of vengeance. It was a war to the death, to the last ounce of air and the last drop of blood.


 
 


It was a war that Prek believed in as intensely as did every other Tahn. But the larger war merely underscored his own private battle.

Prek did not remember when he had learned of his brother’s death. He had been sitting in his office at Tahn Intelligence headquarters, and his superior had entered. The next thing he knew, Lo found himself sitting up in a hospital bed. Four months had passed. During that time, he was told, he had been a virtual catatonic. War was at hand, and so Lo had been declared “cured” and sent back to work.

It was then that his private war began. Prek examined every dot of information surrounding the deaths of his brother and the other Tahn diplomats. And gradually he had determined which beings had been responsible. He had not included the Emperor. That would be pointless. To go for the Emperor would be not only impossible but the act of an insane man. No. Go for the possible: the men who had actually wielded the knives or fired the guns. Sten, Prek firmly believed, was one of those men.


 
 


He had obtained a copy of Sten’s military record, a tissue of lies, he was sure, but at least a beginning point in forming a profile of the man. The official record showed a man who had held a series of slightly above average posts, who had won a little more than his share of military awards and honors, and who had been promoted regularly. Then, suddenly, for no apparent reason, his career had taken a sharp upturn. For no readily apparent reason, he had been appointed head of the Emperor’s bodyguards. That had been followed by another sudden shift from the army to the navy and a promotion to commander.

Prek believed the promotion was because of special service to the Emperor. Sten’s record was a fake. Actually, Prek thought, Sten had been a valued intelligence agent. The shift to the navy and, ultimately, to his command of four tacships had been a reward for services rendered. Those services, Prek was sure, included the murder of his brother.

Prek had tracked Sten forward to the final battle for Cavite City, where enormous casualties had been suffered on both sides. Tahn records indicated that Sten had probably died in that battle, although his remains had never been found. There had been some out-of-the-ordinary official effort to determine Sten’s fate because of “criminal actions instigated by said Imperial officer” prior to the battle for Cavite.

Prek did not believe Sten was dead. His profile showed him to be a man who would do anything to survive. Prek also did not believe that Sten was serving elsewhere. He was an officer who would always be in the forefront of battle, and he was also the kind of hero the Eternal Emperor liked to feed into his propaganda machine.

No. Sten was alive. And Prek was determined to run him to the ground. He would find the man and then . . . The Tahn brushed that thought from his mind. He could not allow emotion to interfere with the hunt.

Senior Captain (Intelligence) Lo Prek was right.

Sten was alive.

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Last Revised: January 29, 2011