Book Review: Dark Space Universe – The Enemy Within by Jasper T. Scott

“Perhaps Jasper’s greatest gift is his ability to yank readers out of their stream of thought by introducing a plot twist that leaves them flopping on the river bank …”

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Jasper T. Scott is an accomplished science fiction author evidenced by the tens of thousands of books he has sold over the last few years. His stories include plenty of action and suspense, but they aren’t dominated by it. Philosophical and spiritual issues are neatly woven into his plots. He doesn’t preach to the reader—far from it. Instead, he creates situations that allow the reader to raise questions in his or her own mind.

I’ve always been impressed by his respect for science in his fiction. For example, in his most recent trilogy, Dark Space Universe, the shape and extent of the universe is a plot point that he develops based on current scientific theories, and in an interesting way.

Perhaps Jasper’s greatest gift is his ability to yank readers out of their stream of thought by introducing a plot twist that leaves them flopping on the river bank saying, “I didn’t see that coming.” Yet, the hints were always there. Chubby Checker has nothing on Scott.

Dark Space Universe – The Enemy Within, Book 2 in the series, is scheduled to be released on August 17, 2017. As a structural editor, I had the great pleasure of reading an early draft and will say this, “It’s a great book, six stars, at least, and maybe Scott’s best, yet.”

So, get caught up. Buy Dark Space Universe (Book 1) or read it for free with Kindle Unlimited here.

Basic’s Lessons of Life – Number Four

latrineSweat seeped from every pore of Joe’s body. The sun hadn’t reached its zenith, yet the temperature was nearly ninety degrees. And, he had two more commodes to police.

It had taken two hours to please Tonga with their beds and footlockers. Tonga had picked random footlockers to inspect. Samsonite’s must have been perfect because Tonga appointed him platoon leader after looking at it and told him to move his gear to a two man billet across from his room.

Robert (Bubba) Roberson, from Alabama, stood proudly next to his footlocker. Tonga glanced under the lid and then picked up the locker and slammed it down so hard a hinge pin flew across the barracks and hit Samsonite’s pinky finger as he reached for his duffle bag. Samsonite emitted a Guinea pig squeal. The crime: socks should be folded, not rolled.

Policing the barracks came next. Policing meant something different in North Carolina than in California, or maybe it was the army, Joe wasn’t sure. But in his new world, police meant to clean or keep clean. Joe became the toilet policeman for the day.

Forty-odd men had paid homage to the six porcelain thrones since reveille some with less reverence than others. Joe scrubbed with a rust-stained bowl brush, a cellulose sponge, and copious amounts of cleanser. He finished the last commode, wiped his hands and stood to admire his work.

Tonga walked into the latrine, and Joe froze. The DI lifted each toilet seat, wiped its top and bottom with tissue and peered at the results. He wiped the underside of each porcelain rim and studied the tissue. Finally, he wiped the caulking around the base of each toilet. Joe stood by at attention waiting for the inevitable berating.

Tonga turned and looked at the name patch above Joe’s right pocket.

“Appleton!” he barked.

“Yes, Drill Sergeant.”

“Fine job, recruit.” Tonga left. Joe beamed. The last time he’d felt so pleased with himself was when his hand had laid on Julies’ thigh for the first time.

***

Over the course of the morning, Tonga explained that the platoon consisted of four squads and that the bunk assignment determined which squad they were in. He also selected a recruit from each squad to be its leader. Joe was in the first squad, and JL was the squad leader. Joe didn’t know it at the time, but his squad would become more important to him than Julie and his uncle, or even Paul Brown.

Lunch was fried chicken, mashed potatoes with white gravy and succotash. Joe didn’t much care for the lima beans in the succotash, but he loved the chicken. Served two thighs and two legs, he’d have asked for seconds if allowed. After lunch, Tonga instructed the newly appointed squad leaders to take their men to the assembly area next to the barracks and wait for him.

Tonga arrived a few minutes later and ordered the four squad leaders to form a line in front of him. He told JL, as the first squad leader, to extend his left arm to his side and hold it parallel to the ground. The second squad leader aligned his right shoulder to JL’s extended fingertips and raised his left arm. The third and fourth squad leaders followed suit. The remaining recruits lined up behind their squad leaders, each of them one arm length behind the one in front of them and one arm length to the left of the man on their right except for the first squad.

“Platoon. Attention. You’re now in formation. Remember how to do it. When I order Fall In or Form Up this is what I expect.” Tonga said. He surveyed the group carefully. “You, the third man in the third squad. What’s your name?”

“Dalton McMasters, Drill Sergeant,” he said in an Alabama drawl.

“You’re not my friend, maggot. I don’t care what your first name is. Do you hear me?”

“Yes, Drill Sergeant.”

“McMasters, don’t lock your knees. Stand straight, but keep your knees slightly loose.”

“Yes, Drill Sergeant.”

Tonga waited a moment before continuing. “Recruits have very small brains. If you lock your knees, the blood in your pea-brains becomes trapped in your ankles. Do you know what happens then?”

“No, Drill Sergeant,” chorused the platoon.

“You’ll faint faster than Fay Wray meeting King Kong for the first time.”

Several recruits laughed, including Joe. The laughter died quickly, but the damage was done, and everyone knew it. An evil smile formed on Tonga’s face.

“Some of you laughed at me, but not all of you. Therefore, I’ll be kind. Squad Leaders stay at attention. Everybody else, take two steps backward, drop and give me twenty pushups. Do it now!”

The men complied, but more than one mumbled, “Keep your mouth shut,” to someone that had laughed.

Tonga reassembled platoon and said, “This afternoon you’ll learn how little you know about marching called drill in the Army. Over the next several weeks you’ll learn to move as one, turn as one and halt as one.”

Tonga started with Mark Time, marching in place to Joe. He explained that every drill command contained two elements, the preparatory order, and an execution order. The preparatory order warned the recruits to listen up while the execution order told them what to do. The preparatory order took many forms the simplest ones merely identified the target for the execution order such as platoon or squad. Joe suspected Tonga was hard of hearing because he shouted every order.

“Platoon. Mark Time,” Tonga yelled. It took ten minutes to get everyone in step then he ordered, “Platoon. Halt.” And they did. Tonga looked pleased, but not for long. He never looked pleased for long.

Over the course of the afternoon, the platoon worked in squads and took turns learning various commands. A mistake by an individual resulted in a series of pushups performed by the entire squad. Usually, ten pushups satisfied Tonga’s sadistic needs, but now and then he demanded twenty.

The sun was well past noon, and the temperature had dropped to the mid-eighties.  The squads were practicing in-line marching, halting and executing an about-face when a thundershower blew through. Tonga must have expected it because he stood under the eaves of the barracks as the rain soaked the platoon. The shower ended minutes later, and the temperature quickly climbed back into the nineties. The drilling never stopped.

At 16:50 Tonga marched the platoon to the mess hall. He told them to hang-out in the assembly area after their dinner and that he’d join them there.

***

The guys milled around after their dinner of ham, mashed potatoes, and green beans, several men lit up cigarettes.

David Johnston and John Davidson from the third squad were called the New York brothers because of their accents and propensity to stick together, rubbed their cigarette butts into the ground. Bubba Roberson saw them.

“Y’all better pick them butts up, or Sarge’s gonna shit a brick. My Pa showed me how to field strip ‘em by pushing the cherry and the tobacco outta the paper and keeping the paper and filter in my pocket till I could throw ‘em away.” Roberson said in an Alabama drawl.

Johnston at 5’10” was nearly as tall as Roberson but outweighed him by at least fifty pounds. He got nose to nose with Roberson and said, “I couldn’t care less what your Pa showed you, hayseed. Stay out of my business.”

Roberson wasn’t intimidated by Johnston and clenched his fists in preparation for his next move. But his friend, McMasters, pulled him back from the brink when he said to the gathered crowd, “Some dogs gotta get castrated before they can learn a thing.”

Roberson stepped back and turned to his friend. “You’re right Donnie. Let’s see how this hunt ends.”

The deescalation disappointed a few observers, but not many, and soon everybody drifted back to their individual groups. The New York brothers received a wide berth.

Senior Drill Sergeant Cocker seemed to be in a hurry given his pace as he walked through the second platoon’s assembly area. He had almost cleared the area when he spun around like a fish caught on a hook. Cocker yelled, “Who left cigarette butts on my earth?”

Johnston and Davidson were the closest to the butts, but they didn’t speak up.  Joe looked at Samsonite, their supposed platoon leader. He was studying his boots. Joe realized things were going to get out of hand and said, “I did, Senior Drill Sergeant.”

“There are two butts here.”

“Yes, Senior Drill Sergeant.”

“Pick them up.”

“Yes, Senior Drill Sergeant.”

“Eat them. Then give me fifty.”

Joe gaped at the sergeant and considered refusing but thought better of it. “Yes, Senior Drill Sergeant.”

Joe made a big deal of chewing the butts but actually pushed the filters between his gums and cheeks. He dropped down and counted off each pushup.

Cocker watched Joe but kept glancing at his watch. When Joe grunted thirty-five, Cocker stopped him and said, “Get up maggot, you owe me fifteen more, but I can’t wait. You field-strip those butts next time. Do you hear me?”

“Yes, Senior Drill Sergeant.”

Cocker hurried away. When he was out of sight, Joe spit the filters into his hand. A crowd formed around him but stayed quiet. Finally, JL asked, “Why’d you do that? They weren’t your butts.”

“Because Cocker would have gone ballistic if nobody spoke up,” Joe said.

JL shook his head and started to say something but stopped. He smiled and said, “You’re one crazy white boy.”

***

Joe lay in bed after lights-out at 21:00 and thought of home. Home, where Julie’s selfless love glowed in his mind and Big John’s support and Paul Brown’s wise counsel gave him strength. He clung to those thoughts, but tears welled in his eyes. The world he’d known was gone, replaced by a crazy one filled with evil people. He’d learned the meaning of homesick.

To Be Continued…


(c) 2016 David P. Cantrell is a contributor and staff member of EWI.

Want more? You’ll find links to previous episodes at the following site, Basic’s Lessons of Life Series

 

Thomas the Thankful Turkey

By: David P. Cantrell

Thomas is a very special bird.

He was hatched like millions of turkeys are each year, but he didn’t have a father like most. He had the research department of FowlTech, Inc. to thank for his paternal DNA.  Wild turkey

FowlTech’s consumer research group had anticipated the Cage Free movement years before the press had coined the phrase.  Consumers living in fancy East Coast lofts and West Coast Mc-Mansions had decided animals slaughtered for their gastric pleasure should live the good life before being consumed. The irony hadn’t been lost on those living between the coasts, but their lack of purchasing power couldn’t stem the sea change that was coming.

The cage-free concept had scared the hell out of the company’s CEO and Board of Directors. They’d spent millions developing the big, immobile domestic turkeys that consumers loved to eat at a low price, but the birds were so stupid they’d starve in a cage free environment unless hand fed. Hand feeding and profits were mutually exclusive in their minds.

FowlTech’s genetic engineers worked on the problem for three years looking for the combination that would produce marketable turkeys in a cage free environment. Thomas and his 99 brothers were the Company’s hope for the future. The birds were loaded on an environmentally controlled trailer and departed the Virginia research center six months after they’d been hatched. It happened to be the third Thursday of November when they left for the Company’s Georgia production farm and a new life.

Thomas never got there.

***

Thomas was a very clever turkey.

Somewhere near Alcolu, South Carolina, on the south bound I-95, the front left tire of the Kenworth T660 hauling Thomas to his new home blew out. The driver did his best to control the big rig but momentum and a two lane bridge left him with few options. His cab made a U-turn when it hit the guardrail and his trailer broke its connection as it rolled into the Pocotaligo River.

Thomas was not only clever, he was very lucky, at least on that day, because the trailer’s roof landed on a boulder that caused the right rear door to fly open. But, that wasn’t the luckiest thing. Thomas’ travel cage flew clear of the trailer and broke open when it hit a partially submerged oak trunk that lay on the bank, which was very lucky, but not the luckiest thing. The luckiest thing was that Thomas understood his peril and escaped the cage before it disappeared in a rush of water.

He scrambled up the trunk and perched on a branch to survey the situation. The trailer sank before his eyes and as far as he could tell none of his travel mates had escaped.

He chose to go upstream. Two hours later he was glad that he had.

The narrow river opened into a five mile wide forest populated by confers and hardwoods. He continued until the stream meandered through a glen surrounded by trees and shrubs. Instinct told him to stop his trek and rest.

The next morning a flock of turkeys led by an impressive gobbler fed on the far side of the glen. Thomas watched the group carefully. He wanted to join them but fear held him back for a while. The big gobbler saw Thomas, just a jake and not a true threat, crossing the glen and halfheartedly challenged him, but let him join the group.

Thomas had a home.

 

Thomas grew to be a spectacular specimen. He looked like most wild turkeys except for his snood, which became iridescent pink when he was excited. The geneticists at FowlTech had suspected the Raven genes added to his genome had done more than increase his heart and lung capacity as intended. They’d been correct. However, a much more significant by product of their manipulations, had been his intelligence.

Thomas found it easy to defeat the other males when the old gobbler died, but it took more to become the alpha male—the hens had the real power in the flock. They found his snood and brains quite attractive and accepted him. He had plans to grab more hens from a neighboring gobbler next spring, however he felt fall was a time to take stock of life, not pester neighbors.

Thomas, perched on a gnarled oak, surveyed his realm and thought of all he had to be thankful for, but more than anything else he gave thanks for bad truck tires, large boulders, fallen oaks, and the intelligence to make a life with his loved ones.

Happy Thanksgiving.


© 2015 David P. Cantrell is a contributing member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff

Photo credit: “Gall-dindi” by Riki7 – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gall-dindi.jpg#/media/File:Gall-dindi.jpg

 

 

 

 

The New Day

By: David P. Cantrell
This story is my response to a Picture Prompt Challenge. The image was contributed by Logan Wilt.


Logan MarinaThe water’s slap against the boat’s hull was as gentle as a mother’s pat on her baby’s rump, but it woke Roger anyway. He hadn’t slept well in the boat’s bow-bunk. It had never fit his 6 foot frame, but strangely, it felt smaller alone than it had with Maribel next to him. The world felt smaller since her death. He hoped fulfilling her last request would bring some relief from the pain in his soul.

If only I could be as strong as she had been, he thought.

Maribel had amazed him with her strength and will to live, never showing weakness in his presence. To her, each day was a new day to be celebrated; there were no tomorrows, only new days. He’d known there was pain when the slightest movement brought a grimace with it, and he’d witnessed the consumption of her beautiful body, little by little, but she smiled all the time and found the strength to return his soft kisses.

The doctors had given her a month, three months at the most. Maribel proved them wrong. She’d learned how to prove people wrong during her nineteen years with the Tampa D.A.’s Office. In this case though, it wasn’t proving someone wrong that had driven her, it was her desire to celebrate their eighteenth anniversary on New Year’s Eve.

On the morning of their anniversary he’d served her breakfast in bed as was their custom. She’d nibbled the traditional cinnamon roll but hadn’t been able to eat much; it didn’t matter to her—it was perfect. She’d sent him home at noon, telling him to take a nap and shower before he returned. “Don’t be late. Be here by 7:00 p.m.”

He wasn’t late. During his absence, one of the angels hidden in scrubs dressed her up with a new bandana, penciled eyebrows and a touch of lipstick.

“Hey, Maribel . . . my sweet Maybe. You’re looking good,” Roger said from the doorway.

“Why thank you Dodger. I didn’t think you’d notice me in this glorious setting.”

They’d laughed at their weak jokes, shared soup and sipped a bit of Champagne. They’d talked about sailing and other, more mundane, things but mostly enjoyed their time together and avoided what they knew would happen soon. Maybe had dozed off from time-to-time, but was awake when New York’s Crystal Ball counted down the year’s end. They’d kissed to celebrate the moment. “I’m tired Dodger. I’ll see you in the new day,” Maybe said and closed her eyes—fifteen minutes later she died.

Roger had sat in the chair near her bed, sobbing softly into his hands while the medical staff did their job. One of the angels, Jennifer, took his arm, walked him to the waiting room, and sat with him until he’d recovered his composure. He’d thanked her for her kindness and stood to leave, but she’d stopped him.

“May I ask you a question, Mr. Montrose?”

“Of course.”

“Why did you call her Maybe? We all call, I mean called, her Maribel. Oh, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have bothered you.”

“Jennifer you’re not a bother,” Roger said. He smiled as he shared the story of their intimate pet names and the night mutual friends had invited them to a la-di-da party thrown for a Tampa politico. Roger had snuck down to the marina below the politico’s mansion to admire the boats. Unbeknownst to Maribel’s escort, she had done the same. He saw her holding a tell-tail red glass from the party ogling a 30 foot sloop and approached her carefully in the dim light, not wishing to frighten her.

Brandishing a glass like hers, he’d said, “May I have your name?”

Startled, she turned toward his deep voice and was struck by his unassuming smile and the playful twinkle in his eyes. “Maybe, if you don’t dodge the same question?”

“Nice to meet you, Maybe. I’m Roger Montrose, and I’m not a dodger.”

 

Roger had planned to arrive much earlier in order to make the Duck Key house livable after being boarded up for the winter, but mechanical problems with his plane had delayed the Tampa departure. By the time he landed it was dark and too late to deal with the house, so he slept on his boat, the Beautiful Sea Star.

Roger drank coffee and ate dry cereal while half-heartedly listening to the weather report. He heard mid-seventies and partly cloudy but wasn’t really paying attention, he was focused on his own misery, and missed the chance of thunder storms resulting from a fastmoving storm east of the Bahama’s.

He and Maybe had planned to sail the Gulf Stream to Norway when she retired, but death had come too soon. Roger promised to send her ashes where her body would never go. He sailed east from Duck Key looking for the color change that marked the great current to keep his promise.

At forty miles out, the sea color darkened, but so did the sky. Conditions were deteriorating quickly so he went into the galley for the urn. Out of habit, he hooked up his life-line before he leaned over the side to disburse her ashes. It was good that he had, because a rouge wave hit at the same time.

The wave stripped the urn from his hands and slammed his head against the gunwale. He felt no pain but was blinded by an iridescent white light and thought, it’s the new day, Maybe, as he sunk. “No! It’s not the new day. Kick! You can do it. You have much to accomplish. I’ll be waiting when your new day comes.” Maybe’s voice filled his head and drove him to clear the surface.

The sea calmed as quickly as it had angered but the current had the boat in its grasp and Roger in its wake. His only option was to pull himself to the boat’s stern ladder. Without pitons or toeholds he faced a horizontal climb as challenging as any vertical climb offered by Yosemite’s Half Dome. His head ached more than he thought possible but he pulled himself, hand-over-hand, and slowly closed the long gap. His fingers trembled and biceps ached. When he could go no further, he thought of Maybe’s struggle and found the will to push on.

Maybe’s voice was as clear as day when he breached the stern. “Well done Dodger.”

***

Life is full of tragedies. Some survivors are consumed by the wrong they think was done to them. They blame God, the government or the poor schlep that was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Roger came close to succumbing to self-pity too, but something pulled him back. Whether it was Maybe’s spirit or God talking through it, he never knew and never cared. What he knew and cared about was that Maybe’s life and death should be honored and he dedicated his life to that purpose. He felt blessed to have the opportunity and promised to never cry over her death again. But, he never watched the Crystal ball drop again either—some promises shouldn’t be challenged.


David P. Cantrell is an author and a member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff.

Alara’s Defense

“I do.”Gavel

“Please state your name and occupation for the court,” the Honorable Judge, Rafael Ortiz said.

She nervously cleared her throat. “Rose North, Doctor of Anthropology at Southern New Mexico University.”

Judge Ortiz was not a large man, shorter than many women were, still he commanded his District Court with a sharp mind and a quick gavel. “Thank you doctor. I trust you understand the purpose of these proceeding?”

Rose looked at the courtroom full of reporters and fanatics, turned to the judge and said, “To save Alara from a life of misery.”

Boos and cheers arose from the spectators. Cameras flashed. TV lights flooded the room as reporters gave their interpretation of events.

“Very dramatic Dr. North, but unhelpful,” Judge Ortiz said. The cacophony of sounds and lights repeated. The judge quieted the crowd with an angry bang of his gavel. “I warned you! Marshals, clear the court room of spectators and press.”

Rose watched the marshals do their job, minutes later two tables of attorneys remained. She took a sip of water just as the judge stared at her.

“I’m sorry Your Honor. I didn’t mean to cause a commotion, I answered from my heart.”

Judge Ortiz smiled at her. “Actually, your response was perfect. I needed an excuse to clear the room. The circus was too distracting. I’ve heard experts try to define what makes human beings unique for weeks. It’s a morass of conflicting concepts. Humans use tools, but so do chimps, otters and birds. Humans have emotions, they’re sentient, but elephants, dogs and dolphins show emotions. Humans leave artifacts, as do prairie dogs and woodpeckers. Humans have language, similar to ants and bees. What is your take?”

“I’ve lived with Alara since I found her three years ago. The university claims she’s an animal and their property because I found her on a sponsored expedition. I disagree, I found her because I reacted to an accident, which was beyond the scope of my employment. If I’d saved a human child they wouldn’t claim ownership.”

“But, you didn’t save a human being. The question is what did you save?” Judge Ortiz said.

Rose paused, ran her fingers through her hair, and sighed before saying, “We define human beings as members of the species homo sapiens, creatures with a large brain to body ratio, characterized by language and tool use. I saved a being, admittedly not human. But, she has a larger brain mass ratio than humans, learned English in six months and arrived in an interstellar spacecraft. This is a being, not human, but a being nonetheless. If you have doubts talk to her.”

“Good idea doctor, you’re excused, but I want you to remain in the room. Marshal Dunwoody, please bring our guest to the witness box.”

Dunwoody wasn’t happy dealing with the creature, but did his job. The creature’s head sat below the witness box rail. Realizing the judge wouldn’t approve he took three law books from the defense table to provide a booster seat and looked to the judge.

“Thank you Marshal. Alara, do you understand why we are here?”

“I do.”

“Can you explain it to me?”

“Yes I can. I’m here to determine earth’s future.”