THE RETURN OF THE EMPEROR

(Sten No. 6)

By Allan Cole and Chris Bunch

 
 

UK Cover Of Sten 6 - Return Of The Emperor
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CHAPTER ONE

The ship bulked monstrous. Each of the decahedron’s sides measured nearly a square kilometer.

There was but one man on board. He floated, motionless, in a shallow pool that curved in the center of one compartment. His eyes opened. Blue. Incurious, like a newly born child. Some time passed.

A valve activated, and the liquid drained out of the pool. One side dropped away. The man sat up and lowered his legs to the deck, moving slowly and carefully like an invalid testing himself after a long time bedridden. The deck was warm.


 
 

He might have sat there for a moment, an hour, or a day before a voice spoke. It came from everywhere.

“There is food and drink in the next chamber.

Obediently the man pushed himself to his feet. He swayed, then recovered. On a low stand beside the pool/bed was a blue coverall. He glanced at it briefly, then walked to a wall. It was smooth and blank except for a circular palmswitch. He touched the switch.

The wall became a screen. Vid? Imaging radar? Computer simulation?

Outside lay space/not space. It was black, and it was all colors. It hurt the man’s eyes. He palmed the switch once more, and the screen became a wall.


 

 

Still naked, he padded through a doorway.

A table was set for one. The dishes were covered. The man lifted one cover and scooped food up with his fingers. He chewed, then swallowed. His expression was still unchanged.

He wiped his fingers on his thigh and walked into another compartment, where he saw a reclining chair with a steel-gleaming helmet on it. Odd tendrils curled from the helmet.

The man sat down and put the helmet on.

Thee were other people in the room. No. He was outside. He was wearing clothing - some kind of uniform. The other people were all smiling and laughing and trying to touch him. He let them. He heard himself saying words he did not yet understand. 


 

 

He noted one person amid the throng. He had a very pale face, and his eyes gleamed. The pale-faced man stretched out his hand to shake. Suddenly he drew something metal-shining from his clothing.

The man felt blows in his stomach. Felt himself falling backward. Felt pain. Pain rising until . . . everything stopped.

The man took off the helmet. He was back in the compartment, back in the reclining chair.

The voice spoke again. “E-time since deactivation: six years, three months, two days.”

The man’s expression changed slightly. A thought drifted through his mind: Wrong. Five years late. Then the thought was discarded as meaningless. What was “late?” He rose.

“You have ten ship-days before departure.”


 

 

 
The man nodded once. He returned to the mess compartment. He was hungry again.

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Last Revised: January 29, 2011