|Author||Chris Bunch |
|Cover artist||Bruce Jensen|
|Publisher||Del Rey Books |
reissued by Orbit Books
|Media type||Print (paperback)|
|Preceded by||The Return of the Emperor|
|Followed by||Empire's End|
Vortex is the seventh book in Chris Bunch and Allan Cole's The Sten Adventures.
Sten has fulfilled many tasks in service to the Eternal Emperor and his empire as special forces agent, tacship fleet captain and admiral. Now he is going to add a new one – a diplomat.
The Eternal Emperor, who was assassinated six years ago, is back from the grave and once again he can lead his merchant Empire. However, the domestic situation is desperate: A war against the warrior culture known as the Tahn, followed by six-year shortage of Antimatter Two, the Empire's main fuel source, brought many regions of the Empire to the brink of economic collapse that can't be prevented just by restoring flow of AM2. Even the Eternal Emperor can't manage this whole situation alone, so he asks his friends for help – friends like a certain Karl Sten.
Sten, after proving his worth on the field of diplomacy, is sent to the Altaic Cluster, a very important region of the Empire, which shows a lack of stability. The Altaic Cluster has 4 factions of different beings that want to control the cluster: the Jochians, who are human miners, the Torks, another human group, the Suzdal, which are wolf-like beings, and the Bogazi, which are described as chicken-like. One of Sten's tasks is to gain the support of the dictator Khaquan, whose rule by an iron hand is the only thing that keeps the whole Cluster in check.
Sten goes to the Altaics prepared as never before, with plenty of information (especially one provided by his friend and former boss, admiral Ian Mahoney), his best friend Alex, Cind, Sten's lover and an excellent sharpshooter, contingents of Bhor and Gurkha, and the Emperor’s personal flagship Victory. Upon arrival to the Cluster's central world Jochi, Sten discovers that dictator Khaquan is dead and there is a bloody civil war between all major factions. Sten brilliantly stops all fighting, but he receives an unpleasant wake-up call in the form of an extremely well prepared assassination attempt, which he and his friends barely survive.
Over Sten's objections, the Emperor (who is showing signs of instability) assigns a banished member of one faction as ruler of the whole cluster. This new ruler proves as much a despot as Khaquan, with storm troopers and mass arrests happening daily. Sten is powerless to stop him; his complaints to the Emperor fall on deaf ears. While Sten and Alex are collecting evidence to compel the Emperor to rescind his decision, the Emperor secretly agrees with Sten's conclusion and decides to assassinate his newly appointed ruler - and at the same time make Sten a martyr - to cover suspicion. However, Cind and her sniper team kill the assassin before he can kill Sten.
Fortunately, Sten knows about the Emperor’s wavering loyalty. He receives many warnings from his friends, that not only is the Eternal Emperor the actual cause of continuing economic downfall, but also he doesn’t trust his former friends anymore and plans to dispose of Sten in case of failure. This is cemented when admiral Ian Mahoney, who was sent to help Sten, is imprisoned and charged with treason against the Empire.
The situation on the planet continues to spin out of control (thus the title of the book). Sten tries one last attempt at a peaceful solution, which horribly fails (through no fault of his), and Sten and his entourage are forced to flee under fire from Altai, against the order of the Emperor.
As they are leaving, Sten hears that admiral Mahoney was executed. A few minutes later, Admiral Mason, whom readers met in an earlier part of Sten's career, is ordered by the Emperor to use a planet buster to destroy Jochi. We leave Sten and his fleet in shock after Sten and a tacship pilot destroy Mason's ship, making Sten and company mutineers and rebels, declared outlaws by Imperial forces.