Responses to subjects brought up by this blog are welcome. I can be contacted by e-mailing me from my website.
Subjects this month: Protected Species Act Gone Crazy, Question from Bainstorming, Bain Quote, A Series Worth Reading, Book Reviews, My Brother’s Dog, My Take On God, Religion, Evolutionary Genetics and a Quote From Trinity by Sean Chercover, State of America: Our Mixed Up Foreign Policy, Excerpt from rogue Program, Excerpt From Rogue Program, Excerpt from Space Trails, Story from Life On Santa Claus Lane.
Rogue Program is my latest book and my longest. As of the 19th of October it was already available at Amazon.com in an ebook edition. It should be at most ebook stores by the time you read this. It should also be out in Print by the time you read this or shortly thereafter. Here’s what the book is about:
#DON’T MISS THIS ONE!
Rogue Program is an outgrowth of my popular novel, Savage Survival, which is combined with the sequel to make one giant book, essentially two books for the price of one!Almost from the time Savage Survival was published, fans and readers wrote asking, “What happened next?” This novel not only answers the question but includes a greatly expanded and revised version of the original novelwhich then segues directly into the sequel of that book. The two together make up Rogue Program. This is the longest work I’ve attempted and I’ve worked hard to make it an interesting and highly satisfying read. Lyda Brightner is a female protagonist anyone can identify with as she grows up with millions of other human captives of an unknown Alien species. Conditions are so harsh and change so often that death is a constant companion, winnowing the Survivors inexorably down to only a few thousand out of fifteen million. And then comes the hard part, trying to divine the motives of the Aliens who have never been seen. Only their mechanical avatars have been intermittently present during five long years of terrible struggles to live, with each change bringing ever-harsher conditions. What do the Aliens want? Why did they push millions of captive humans into environments where Survive or Die was the only option? What do they intend to do next? Read about Lyda Brightner and how she manages to stay alive by her quick wits, her innate bravery, her compassion for those weaker than herself and a determination never to give in to the tortures of captivity that leave so many older and physically stronger than her by the wayside. Rogue Program is a coming of age novel like no other and Lyda is a character you’ll remember for a long, long time. Follow her life from a privileged tween into an unimagined hell where she must constantly fight for her life. The biggest puzzle of the galaxy waits to be solved by the few Survivors of alien captivity. Failure to find the answer may mean oblivion not only for Lyda, her lover, and her fellow survivors but for the whole human race! Don’t miss Rogue Program!
Protected Species Act Gone Crazy
Our congress and our bureaucrats can never seem to act reasonably, either in writing laws or enforcing them. The latest episode in the Protected Species Act is a 15 million dollar highway overpass project that had already been under construction for six months was suddenly (and legally) halted because of an itsy bitsy spider that wasn’t in a drainpipe but was in the way of the project. The whole thing was immediately cancelled because the spider is a protected species.
Now mind you, I’m in favor of protecting species of plants and animals but it should be done reasonably and within reason. Anyone except bureaucrats know that species go extinct on the order of probably at least a thousand a year with neither help nor hindrance from us. It is fine to protect many species but not when it becomes ridiculous as in the example above. Most of us can remember reading of other similar incidents, beginning with the notorious snail darter which got in the way of a dam or something and that whole thing was cancelled.
Why can’t laws be written and bureaucrats be given the leeway to act sensibly? Damned if I know but such incidents as the spider occur all too often. Next thing you know the human species will be executed because it is causing too many other species to become threatened or extinct.
Remember, folks: we are at the top of the food chain. We should act like it, taking what we need to live and preserving some for future generations. I just don’t believe every little plant and microscopic animal can or should be protected even if we tried. Has anyone noticed that it is the warm fuzzy mammals like ferrets, prairie dogs and polar bears that get the attention? That’s because they are more like us.
Okay, enough for this time. But congress critters, please try thinking before you write all-encompassing laws. Please?
Get Ready For Christmas
And a perfect Christmas present for your reader friends is Life On Santa Claus Lane. I’ve included one complete story at the end of this Bainstorming to give you an idea of the content. Hilariously funny and five star reviews!
Or if you have dog-lover friends or family then Doggie Biscuit is the book to give! The life story of an exceptionally intelligent dachshund. Loads of laughs but some sadness, too. Don’t wait until the last moment. Books are always a treasured gift and you can’t go wrong with either of these. Both by Darrell Bain.
Question from Bainstorming
Can someone tell me why Muslims go apeshot when anyone says anything bad about their religion, yet all other religions are false and believers in them are heretics and subject to execution for blasphemy while Muslims go right on putting down all other religions, but expect us to make nice about theirs? Forgeddaboutit! When Muslims act sensibly about other religions I’ll act sensibly about theirs. “Nuff said.
Anything good always has a catch to it. That’s the real catch-22.
A Series Worth Reading
Hardly anyone knows that the three books, Life On Santa Claus Lane, Laughing All The Way and Doggie Biscuit are a series, best read in that order. However, any of the three can be enjoyed read as a stand alone book. They are all humorous but Doggie Biscuit, while funny, will bring some tears to your eyes. Guaranteed.
John Varley is one of the best science fiction authors writing, in my opinion. His latest is just a bit different from his usual off the wall books. The theme of Slow Apocalypse is a microorganism released that destroys all the liquid oil in the world, forcing us to go back to coal, etc. It follows one family as society slowly appears to be coming to a halt and disintegrating--but not quite. The process is slow and communities and individuals work to survive. A great story of courage and endurance and something that could very well happen.
David Weber and John Ringo work well together. I just finished re-reading the four book series about Prince roger, Heir to the empire of man, who is stranded on a hellacious planet after an assassination attempt, protected by a single company of elite Marines. During the march across the planet in order to seize a spaceport and thereafter a ship and get back home, Prince Roger matures from a whiny brat to a stone-cold killer. As his marines inevitably dwindle from repeated fights with the horrendous fauna and aggressive barbarian inhabitants he helps take up the slack until in the end only he and 12 survivors live to try taking back the throne from usurpers. This is one of Weber and Ringo’s very best.
Trinity by Sean Chercover is mentioned in another segment of this month’s Bainstorming. Suffice to say it is about a scam artist of a minister who suddenly and indisputably becomes able to predict the future while talking in tongues.
I wrote the five books of The Williard Brothers Series and I’ve reported on them before. Now I’m re-reading them while finishing up Rogue Program (which may be published by the time you read this). The series follows three rapscallion but very tough brothers from the Vietnam war years to this century and beyond. In the fourth book they inherit a way to restore some of their youth and continue on, fighting and adventuring while making plans to head for Mars--as soon as they can figure out who or what the beings are who are trying to prevent them from going. But a lot of others have gotten in the way of the Williard brothers over the years and most of them are no longer amongst the living. The series, in order, are Medics Wild, Postwar Dinosaur Blues, Bigfoot Crazy, Three For The Money and Space For Sale. For anyone who likes pure adventure and craziness this series is for you. I am very pleased to be its author.
My Brother’s Dog
My brother has had his dog, Lucky, returned to him to live out the rest of his life after being with his Mother-in-Law for a while. In Gary’s words, Lucky was always a good dog except Rosemary fed the dog everything she didn’t eat and Lucky is about 20 pounds overweight and follows us everywhere as she smacks her mouth and licks her chops and thinks she’s gonna get something to eat. Still doesn’t come when called, well she’s deaf too we think-lol-but the good news is I made them take her to vet, at Rosemary’s expense, for full complement of shots, frontline, the works including grooming and all future expense will come out of her pocket. Of course Barb wanted her to be a house doggie, oh boy what f’n fun that’s gonna be. Oh well, give her a good life if we can, she was a great dog in a lot of ways, except for running away every day, not coming when called, digging holes under fence, eating chickens, eating guineas, rolling in carrion after bringing it to our yard for display,, chasing horses, terrorizing the barn cats, killing squirrels, possums, armadillos, lizards, gophers, moles, and any other farm animal or bird she could catch, bark all night long, howl at the coyotes all night, and probably a bunch of other things that would make this list so long ya wouldn’t read it but perhaps fodder fer Bainstorming!
My Take On God, Religion, Evolutionary Genetics and a Quote From Trinity by Sean Chercover.
The following is quoted from a character in the book, Trinity (and please note that the view is not necessarily that of the author. I have no idea what he thinks about the subjects).
“Julia was an atheist, sure. But unlike many of the other skeptics she’d known, she didn’t consider herself intellectually superior to the vast majority of humans who did believe. She felt, rather, like a bit of a mutant. Like maybe 10 per cent of the world’s population had somehow been genetically deprived of whatever neurological wiring caused the other 90 per cent to perceive this thing called God.
That didn’t mean there was a God. It just meant the mass illusion was invisible to her. There was a level on which she would never be able to relate to believers, and while they might derive great comfort from their belief, that didn’t excuse turning a blind eye to all the destructive influence of religion in the world.
All the wealth and time and labor we pour into propping up our respective priests and reverands, rabbis and imans, monks and gurus, building grand cathedrals, churches, temples, mosques, and mansions; sacrificing our young on the alter of war, war over whose imaginary friend is the real imaginary friend (might as well print My God Can Beat Up Your God T-shirts); the bigotry, misogony, subjection, intolerance and guilt. All that human energy, wasted, in response to the simple fact that we know we are going to die, and we don’t know what happens after, and we’re afraid this life is all there is. The question haunts us--from the chilling childhood moment when we realize that we and everyone we love will die, until we exhale our final breath. And if a kind of mass self-hypnosis called religion helps us cope with our fear, fine, but we have to look at the unintended consequences of embracing an irrational philosophy. We don’t’ have to look far. Ground zero in Manhattan will do. Or the Gaza Strip, if you’ve got some air miles burning a hole in your pocket. While you’re over there, make a stop in Africa, where the pope is preaching to a country ravaged by tribal war, overpopulation, chronic food shortage, and AIDS. The pope tells them to stop using condoms, or the all-powerful and all-loving God will cast their souls into the fiery furnace of eternal damnation. Nice.”
I have written short essays very similar to the quote above but I feel like repeating a few observations. First, though, I want to state that I have no quarrel with anyone who finds comfort in their religion. I do have objections to any person or religion that tries to foist their views off on other people, sometimes violently. So…
Did you know that “Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You” is found in every major religion with only minor differences in wording? And yet…I see hardly anyone really living up to it full time. It appears to me that most people in America, anyway, follow the dictates of their religion that they find convenient. The ones that aren’t are sort of put on the back burner. Ah well, we’re imperfect, aren’t we?
I find it hard to sympathize with any particular religion when of the hundreds or more likely thousands of them, each and every one believes that if their religion isn’t the only one worth pursuing it is at the very least better than any other religion in the world. Now how can that be? Is only one religion right? Are they all right? Are none of them right? How in hell is a poor person looking for answers able to tell? Easy. You can’t. And saying you have to have faith is just begging the question.
All of us have read or heard stories of miraculous survival while others around them died. Almost always the survivor attributes it to God doing the saving. But for me, that only opens a big bag of worms, e.g., why did God pick that person to save and let the rest of them die, including innocent young children? Hmm. God playing favorites, maybe?
Prayers are said to be answered by Gods. If someone prays and doesn’t get what they pray for, the usual answer is that their God always listens but sometimes says no to their prayers. Well, heck, I could get that kind of result by praying to our big old pine tree in the front yard. If I get what I prayed for, the Pine Tree answered my prayer affirmatively. If I don’t get what I prayed for then the Pine Tree answered but said no. See?
I hear and read tales of an “all-loving God” and in another story read about a ten year old girl abducted, kidnapped, tortured, raped and killed. God doesn’t sound so damned all-loving to me. Does he/she/it to you? How can you say that when atrocities even worse occur every second of every hour of every day on this planet. And yet people continue to believe.
In fact, people will believe the most out of this world stuff, such as Gods with the head of an elephant and body of a man, of a God in three parts and not only that but born of a virgin. Or four-armed Gods, Ancestors who hang around after death and their attention can be gained by clapping hands. Honest. They believe a man elected by other men can speak for God and be infallible. They believe they have to have a priest to interpret and intervene with God to get their imagined sins forgiven. Honest. People really believe such stuff. Sincerely, too. You don’t commit suicide by blowing up dozens of innocent people unless you really believe in their concept of God and Paradise and the man who told them this 1400 years ago. They really believe this. And I could go on and on.
Then there are the prophets, who claim they’re speaking for God (in whatever guise they imagine). And notice, these prophets are always men. Hmm. God speaks only to men when giving out his views? If I were a woman I think I’d be a bit peeved. In fact, I know I would. I don’t think I’d care much for a God who favored one sex over the other.
How about being “saved” and going to a heaven no one has seen or knows anything about simply by saying they believe in a Deity of a certain nature (or in this case three natures). It apparently doesn’t matter how evil a person has been beforehand or afterward. Just believe and be saved and live eternally. I don’t think I’d care for a God who forgives evil that easily.
Would anyone care to guess how many people have been killed, homes wrecked, women raped, people tortured and so on by one religion trying to induce people believing in another religion to believe in theirs? Religious wars have caused more death and destruction than any other kind of war in history.
I guess I’m one of those 10 per cent who are mutants because none of this makes much sense to me. Personally, I think somewhere back in pre-history a belief in some sort of Deity and afterlife was a survival trait and we still carry the genes or the propensity for our brains to be wired in a way that enables us to believe in religion and Gods and life after death to this day. Except for us mutants, of course.
And what about the cost to society of religion? Untold vast amounts of money is spent on magnificent cathedrals and churches and mosques while people are starving or going hungry or without shelter, sometimes right in front of those buildings erected to the glory of one God or another. Couldn’t the money be spent on something better, like feeding the homeless or educating kids who can’t afford college, or…why go on? And what about all church property being tax-exempt? Heck, I bet we could balance the federal government if we taxed church property like any other. In fact, exempting churches from taxes is probably unconstitutional, at least in my mind.
I think I’ve said enough now to annoy most of my readers since probably 90% of them are not mutants like me and do believe in some kind of religion and God who created the universe and watches what goes on here on earth.
So let me close by saying that if religion and a belief in a Supreme being gives you comfort and you don’t try to force your views on anyone else, then I’m your friend. More power to you. And who knows? Maybe one of those religions is the right one but damned if I know how anyone could pick it out. And I really don’t think any of them are anything more than fantasy and based on fear of death and the unknown and unknowable (at our present stage of evolution).
State of America Series: Our Mixed Up Foreign Policy
Sometimes I wonder about our presidents and the way our diplomacy is conducted. It isn’t even-handed. Nor even very logical. Take the “Arab Spring” for example. Our President is firmly in the corner of this Arab Spring, thinking it’s going to lead to democracy and all things good. Has he and the diplomatic corps forgotten that these Arabs belong to a religion that condones suicide bombers who blow up innocent people? And that even if some of those nations do eventually manage a true democracy that doesn’t mean they are automatically on our side. Islam is an expansionist religion and the fastest growing major religion on Earth, perhaps growing so fast because of the birth rate but growing all the same. Personally I would like to see some caution in this area.
I also wonder why we help one revolution but not another? NATO bombed Libya until Ghadafi said “Uncle”, metaphorically anyway, by means of a hole in his head. What did we get out of it? Nothing positive that I can see.
There are feuding militias all over the country and no real organized government and terrorist organizations doing their best to move into the vacuum. In fact, they’re there already, as proved by the slaughter of our ambassador and three staffers by terrorists. In Syria a despotic regime is killing its citizens at the rate of hundreds a day but we do nothing. What is the difference between Libya and Syria? Actually, I agree with my wife Betty: Leave them alone and let them fight it out among themselves. Most of the Arabs hate us anyway, and some of them, like Afghanistanis are mostly still living in the dark ages and show no inclination to change no matter how much money we spend. Like a trillion in Iraq and what did we get? A regime that is sucking up to Iran, a country ruled by crazies that are hell bent on acquiring a nuclear weapon and which is guaranteed to lead to another war. And have we forgotten Saudi Arabia, our so-called friend that allowed its imams to preach terror against foreigners, specifically America, that led to 9/ll? So far as I know they’re still at it. Why go on? The Arab world is stuck with a mind set appropriate to the dark ages, not modern times. In the meantime, we don’t need their oil any more so why spend more of our treasure there?
But how about the “Arab Spring”? Yes, the Arab in the street is tired of dictators and stagnation but for all their suffering and fighting for the right to express their idea and for a democratic government, I don’t think it’s going to work. Look at Egypt. Yep, they got rid of a dictator that had kept the country in thrall and poor for thirty years while taking our money for making peace with Israel. But what did they get in the place of what they had before? The Islamic Brotherhood, a retrograde Islamic movement that wants to see the country ruled by sharia law, i.e., religious law set forth by the Koran. The Islamic Brotherhood is nothing we want to see ruling any country in the Middle East but that’s the likely outcome of the so-called “Arab Spring”. And we’re still giving them money. For what? Beats the heck out of me.
How about China? For years they’ve been practicing currency manipulation and raking in the loot from us and none of our presidents have been brave enough to call their bluff. I don’t know why not, because you see, it’s not China that hold the high cards, it’s us. We owe them so much money that if we told them to either let their currency float or we would begin imposing tariffs I sort of think they would decide maybe they ought to play nice. Either that or they would get paid back in greatly inflated dollars or maybe not get paid at all. And once their currency is floating like the rest of the word’s, I believe a lot of our manufacturing jobs would rotate back to America. All it would take is some intestinal fortitude on the part of our president and congress. In the meantime, our leaders are doing next to nothing about China’s cyber attacks stealing our technology and copying it and selling products made from it back to us. And they’re supposed to be playing fair? No Way.
How about trying to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons by those stupid “Sanctions”? Any fool can see it ain’t working. We should have helped Israel kill their nuclear program two years ago if not sooner but we keep dithering and depending on sanctions despite how many times they’ve lied to us. It’s just like North Korea when our idiot diplomats tried to buy them enough stuff to keep them from going nuke. What happened? They took billions of our money, billions of dollars of our food, used it for their army and now they have missiles that can reach thousands of miles and nukes to go on top of them. Trying to buy off lying psychopaths never works and any idiot should have known that much.
How many readers today even know what “The Cold War” was about. I won’t go into it except to say that it ended over two decades ago. We haven’t had diplomatic relations with Cuba since the missile crisis way back in 1962. The Cold War ended in 1990. Cuba should be one of our best trading customers but our diplomatic corps is in bondage to the voters of South Florida who are descended from Cubans who have escaped from Cuba and settled here. For some reason I sure don’t understand they and our diplomats seem to think the cold war is still going on. There is no reason any longer why we shouldn’t have normal relations with our neighbor only 90 miles from Florida but the way it’s going we still may not fifty years from now. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
I’ve already covered immigration but our foreign policy with Mexico suffers because of all the illegal immigrants from there which our leaders won’t do anything about. Hell, they can’t even agree on a simple compassionate act to allow children brought here illegally when they were too young to do anything about it to earn citizenship instead of trying to ship them back to a country they know nothing of. Just another little craziness.
I know that it is a global economy now but that doesn’t mean we have to give the store away like we are to China and probably to India in the near future.
How about the fact that we allow thousands upon thousands of kids from other nations to attend our finest universities, getting Masters and doctorates but then not being allowed to stay in the country. They have to go back home and use all that education to take away more of our business. How idiotic is that?
We have troops all over the world and military bases everywhere while we’re running trillion dollar deficits. Do we really need to play policeman to the whole world? Couldn’t we at least pick out real threats to our national security and do something about the threat and not try to be everything to every nation?
Excerpt From Rogue Program
She wrapped her arms around herself and went on, trying not to shiver. After what seemed like ages, the Moon rose over the horizon, in half-full phase. Together with the myriad stars visible in the thinner air, and away from city lights, the desert seemed to glow with a dim, surreal light.
It got colder and colder as she traveled, and people became fewer and fewer, the ones she could see anyway. She suspected she passed many who were huddled down for the night. She thought of her warm cozy bed back home and shivered violently but never gave a thought to going back to Big Bill or risking capture again by asking one of the other groups for shelter. Better to freeze. The cold night wind made that seem like an increasingly likely proposition.
Finally she slowed as she neared another of the rugged cluster of rocks thrusting up from the desert floor. She wondered if she could find a hideaway of some sort in the rocks, out of the wind. Maybe even a cave or a cubby hole where her body heat wouldn’t be blown away from her into the night. She approached cautiously, aware that it wasn’t necessarily humans she had to be scared of. Earlier in the day one of Big Bill’s ruffians had killed a small rattler that lost its caution while slithering slowly toward a mouse busily feeding on a dead scorpion. And there had been the howl of coyotes as dusk approached. The desert wasn’t lifeless. She pulled the rock from her jeans pocket and held it ready, thinking it was a poor weapon to defend herself against an adult, or a pack of coyotes, but she was too cold to care. She crept on.
She worked her way into the rocks and found some blessed relief from the cold wind. She was so intent on what might be in front of her that she failed to see the body on the ground until she stumbled on a soft obstruction and knew immediately that it was something living. Or maybe dead. She kept to her feet, just barely, and managed to swing her hand holding the rock in a hard arc just as the figure said something unintelligible and rose from the ground. She connected solidly with its head and it fell.
“I give up, don’t hit me again,” a scared female voice said.
Lyda held the rock ready. “Be quiet.” She looked around fearfully, hoping the noise hadn’t awakened someone more dangerous.
“Who are you?” the voice asked in a whisper.
“I’m Lyda. Who are you? No, stay down or I’ll hit you again!” Lyda ordered in the strongest voice she could manage while still trying to stay quiet and control her shivering body. She was trembling and scared and felt a little sick from the sudden violence she was responsible for. She had never hit anyone like that before.
There was silence for a moment while Lyda examined the woman as best she could in the darkness. She was a small person with short hair, but looked to be an adult. Lyda felt guilty for a moment for hitting her, then stifled the thought. So far, adults had proved to be worse enemies to her than the Spider Mechs or the unseen aliens who ordered their movements.
“I’m…why, you’re just a child!”
“Well, I’m a mad child, so don‘t try anything,” Lyda said, threatening with her rock. “Who are you? Is there anybody else around here?”
“No, I’m alone. I’ve been hiding here with my baby.”
Lyda hunkered down out of the wind but still kept her rock handy, even though she wasn’t quite as fearful as before. She wondered how the woman had survived, how she was getting supplies for her and her child.
“Do you have any water? Or food?” Lyda asked.
“There’s a little seep back in the rocks. It’s muddy, but drinkable. I had some food in my backpack when the…the spider things herded us out of the park and into their spaceship.”
“Park? Where were you?”
“On vacation. We were planning on going hiking in Oak Creek Canyon and picnicking at Slide Rock. That’s the reason for the backpack. My husband…my husband was killed, I think.” Her voice broke.
Lyda had no idea where Oak Creek Canyon was nor what Slide Rock referred to. She shivered again. It was very cold. She could see well enough to tell that the woman was dressed much more warmly than herself. She wondered where the baby the woman had spoken of was.
“You didn’t tell me your name,” Lyda said for lack of anything else to ask at the moment.
“I’m sorry. It’s Ginella. Ginella Sparks.”
“Where’s your baby?”
“Over here. She’s been sick since we were brought here.”
Lyda saw a small, unmoving bundle several feet beyond the woman. And for the first time she noticed the smell, like a dead animal or some very ripe garbage.
On impulse Lyda walked around the woman and toward the baby. The smell grew stronger.
“Don’t touch her,” Ginella said pleadingly. “She’s been real sick.”
Ignoring her appeal, Lyda leaned down and touched the baby’s skin. The flesh was as cold and lifeless as a slab of roast that had been sitting in the refrigerator overnight. Abruptly she knew there was no chance of waking this child. She was dead. She looked back at the woman who still sat with her arms around her knees. Lyda didn’t know what to do. She had read of people who refused to accept reality but this was her first experience with one. She started to just leave, then changed her mind. This was probably a safe place to spend the rest of the night and she didn’t think she could face the wind again. It was cold enough without it; she was already shivering again. She would deal with the woman in the morning so long as she didn’t cause trouble tonight.
“Do you have anything I can borrow to wear until morning?” Lyda asked.
Ginella fumbled in her backpack and handed her up a flannel shirt. Lyda gratefully accepted it and pulled it on. It was too large but that made it even better. The tail was long enough to sit on and give some added warmth. She leaned back against a rock and was surprised to find that it was still faintly warm. Of course! The rock retained some heat from the daytime sun.
Ginella didn’t seem inclined to talk and Lyda wasn’t in much of a mood either. After a while the smell of the dead baby faded as her nostrils became accustomed to it. She gradually stopped shivering and finally dozed and didn’t wake again until the first rays of the morning sun hit her face, rousing her from a nightmare where a dozen men were closing in on her, their intentions horribly apparent. She shook her head and looked around. The woman and her baby were gone.
Lyda stood up and gazed into the distance. She oriented herself by the sun and looked back the way she had come, or thought she had come, the night before. In the remote distance she could see part of one of the giant transports rising from the desert. It was either the same one she had seen the day before or another, bringing more people. She turned, and now she could see something new, a green shimmering band in the opposite direction. Curious, she started that way, then stopped when she felt her body beginning to tingle. She squinted her eyes and saw what looked like bodies scattered in a rough line along the periphery of the shimmer. She backed up and the tingling sensation stopped. This then, must be the limits of the desert prison. It looked as if death waited on anyone who tried to force their way past. She turned back the way she had come. She was beginning to hate the aliens with an intensity that scared her, even more than she hated the vile men who traded in living human flesh, in young victims just like her. It was the aliens who provided the conditions that made it possible.
With just a little searching, Lyda found the seep Ginella had talked about. It was right at the level where an uprising rock met a damp sandy area that expanded for a few feet then began narrowing again. Five yards from the rock, the ground was as dry as the rest of the desert. She saw signs of digging and handprints in the sand, along with tracks of small animals leading to little holes they had dug. She squatted and began digging with her hands. A satisfying amount of muddy water began to fill the hole she dug. She drank first, then shed her clothes and washed as best she could, shivering in the shadowed alcove where the sun hadn’t yet reached. Then she sat down and ate her other food brick and wondered what to do next.
A little later that morning Lyda began cautiously working her way back in the direction she had come from. She knew she needed company but she vowed to never again place herself in a position of helplessness. If she hadn’t used her mind and the strength of her young body to run faster that the men chasing her she would still be a captive and undergoing vile acts she had a hard time even imagining. One narrow escape was enough, though. Never again. Her determined thoughts somehow seemed to imbue her with a new strength of mind and body that gave her confidence in herself and her abilities even in this kind of environment. The change inside made her feel a bit strange, as if she had accidentally discovered some forbidden knowledge, but she soon forgot about it except for a determination to survive. To survive and if possible to help others in positions like she had been in to win their freedom.
After going only a few hundred yards, she stumbled over Ginella’s body and the decaying corpse of her baby. She stared at the sight for long moments. The woman had used a sharp piece of rock to scrape ragged gashes across both wrists, then sat quietly and bled to death.
I guess she finally realized her baby was dead, Lyda thought. I will never do that, though, no matter what happens. Not even if the men catch me again. I’m going to live and someday I’m going to fight the Aliens for all the cruel things they’ve done and I hope I get a chance to kill Big Bill along the way!
The thought of killing him didn’t upset her at all. He’s a bad man and deserves to die, she thought.She started to move on, then stopped. She stood and pondered for long moments, then hating herself, but knowing it was needful, she stripped Ginella’s jacket and shirt from her body, trying to avoid looking at her face with the dead glassy eyes. She took the shoes even though they were two or three sizes too large, then explored the back pack. It contained several packages of trail rations, a set of metal utensils to eat with and most importantly, a small revolver and a handful of loose cartridges. She wondered why the woman hadn’t just used the gun on herself. It would have been much quicker and simpler, but perhaps she hadn’t wanted their bodies to be disturbed, or maybe she was so deranged by then that she fixated on her wrists and forgot all about the gun. The whole situation was new and strange to Lyda, like all the other happenings. Strange and horrible and frightening, but she vowed to herself that she would somehow prevail. And again, she felt a change within herself, a strengthening of mind and body that was almost as strange and frightening as the scenes she had been a part of, but she held fast to the feeling, knowing that wherever it came from it would help her to survive.
That led to another thought. The seephole was a source of water that no one controlled and now only she knew about. She thought about burying the bodies by scraping at the soil with her hands but finally decided that if she left them where they lay, it might discourage others from coming close to the water source. It was a cold thought, and that was new to her, too. She hadn’t had to make decisions like this before and it was disconcerting. But I want to live, she thought. Live, but not like those horrible men and women have captured me are doing. Those men and the few women with them were going to sell me like a piece of meat. I will never be like that she decided with fierce resolve. Never, never, never!
Lyda walked on out of range of the bodies to where she could no longer smell the baby’s corpse and found a little round rock to sit on. There she thought of what she must do. Dad had always said thinking and working should be done by priorities, the most important things first. She thought of him with tears in her eyes. In his gentle way he had taught her to do her homework and her other household duties like that, by setting priorities and then doing the work in order. She had found no fault with the system. Home and this situation were far removed from each other, though. There was so much to think about—and there were things she must do if she wanted to live and remain free of the gangs that had apparently taken over the source of supplies necessary to survive.
She fingered the revolver. That would probably help if she dared to use it. She didn’t know whether she could shoot anyone or not, except maybe Big Bill. Priorities. While thinking, she began fashioning a crude holster for the gun with the paring knife from the utensil set and the tail of one of her shirts. She fixed it so that it was concealed but where she could get to it quickly if it became necessary. While she was doing that, it occurred to her that all the men and women and especially the kids couldn’t be as bad as the ones she had first met. There had to be lots of good people here. The problem was finding them and deciding who to trust. Mom always said you should trust people until you found out otherwise, but Lyda didn’t think that dogma applied here. Trust the wrong man or woman and she was likely to wind up behind a rock again, being stripped and raped or sold or forced into other unspeakable acts in order to eat and drink.
Excerpt from Space Trails
It has been said that there aren’t any more really original themes to be found in science fiction now because they’ve all been used. That is pretty close to the truth but I do believe I came up with one that is both original and has not been the theme of a novel or story yet. For many years I had the idea in my mind of writing a novel where colonists going to planets of distant stars traveled to their destination in covered wagons as they did in the days when the western part of the United States was being settled. I thought of several different ways of accomplishing my thought but didn’t like any of them and doubted that readers would either. It had to be believable. And finally I did think of a way of doing it. Space Trails is the result. One of my friends on Facebook gave me lots of kudos for coming up with the idea for this novel and the reviews so far have been great. Following is an excerpt from Space Trails. I sincerely think that if you read this book you will enjoy it, if for no other reason than the unique theme it is based on, traveling between stars in covered wagons by means of the newly discovered spaceways.
Excerpt from Space Trails
As it turned out, we got through the stop with no problems other than loss of sleep listening to the constant gobbling from the jabbers in the haze, but after we got going the next day, the haze edged closer and closer, until finally Sandy called a halt. I happened to be near enough to hear the discussion. There was nothing secret about it.
“I’m going to turn us around,” Sandy told Mr. Brogan.
“Nonsense. We can go on. It’ll open up again.”
“You can assure me of that, huh?”
“There’s no reason it shouldn’t. I’ve never heard of a ‘way narrowing this much.”
“Just my point. We’ve barely got room to turn the train around now, even reversing the order. Much more and we’d have to go into the haze to do it. And listen to the jabbers. They’re closer now.”
“Sanders, there’s no danger from those beasts. Look what we did to them last time.”
Sandy was having none of it. “Sure, when we had plenty of room to take them down before they got close. And those beasts had never seen what our firepower could do. They’ll be a little more careful next time. They learn pretty quick. No argument; we’re starting back. You can go on by yourself if you like.”
And with that, Sandy halted the train and began going down the line, telling each driver as he came to them to get ready to turn around, and that we’d sort out the regular order when we camped. The methods of reversing the wagon train had been practiced back at the marshalling yards. There were two different maneuvers. In the first, where there was plenty of room, the leading wagon simply made a big curving turn and the rest followed, allowing the wagons to stay in the regular sequence. In this case there wasn’t room for that; the haze was too close. What we would do was have each wagon turn in place and head back, then reform the normal order of the train at the next stop. The wagons had to open up a bit for this, widen the spaces between them, before they all turned on the captain’s command. Unfortunately, some drivers had forgotten what they were supposed to do, or got this type of turn confused with the other. They got the train all tangled up at the signal, leaving Jim, Ellen and Sandy to try straightening out the mess.
“Take care of mama and Angel,” Jim called to me, almost as if he knew in advance that trouble was brewing. He galloped down the line of wagons with Sandy on the other side. Ellen went with them. I saw her stop midway down the line to help, where there were already two wagons locked together, with the drivers shouting epithets at each other. Jim and Sandy had suddenly halted and were looking toward the haze. I felt a chill run through my bones at the sight of them staring like that. Jim wormed his way between two wagons and joined Sandy, so that both were watching the haze on that side of the wagons. I knew they must be either seeing or hearing something I couldn’t from our distance back in the train.
Most wagons were only partway through the turn, and some were still struggling to untangle themselves from neighbors when the jabbers hit us.
The wagons, being strung out like they were, kept us from concentrating our firepower at the spot where the jabbers attacked—the back half of the train after the rest had already passed. That happened to be where we were, as a consequence of normally being up front. We and Merlin’s wagon and Sandy’s and the two exec wagons were last in line after the reversal. In front of us was the usual mix of expos and family wagons.
The tangles had occurred in the middle section of the train, where the wagons hadn’t separated enough before the command to turn. It was those, plus some between them and our wagons, which took the brunt of the attack at first. And the jabbers had learned a lesson; this time they weren’t massed, but strung out along that section of the train.
The jabbers boiled out of the haze like before, but now there was hardly time to spot them before they were in amongst us. We were fighting for our lives almost immediately. The situation was made worse by some individuals having become careless after defeating the wilders, then turning back the first jabber attack without a fatality. Rifles had been stowed out of sight and some of them weren’t even carrying their sidearms. It went hard with the people in those wagons, especially the mixed up ones which couldn’t move immediately.
From my position I could see the scene play out like watching a wide screen holovid. I sat helplessly in the driver’s seat of our wagon as a horde of jabbers swarmed over several wagons at once, some of them going for the drivers; others taking down the horses. The noise was terrific, even from my position back toward what was now the end of the train. The jabbers were screaming and gobbling in their weird voices with other, human screams, joining in the cacophony. The popping sound of handguns and neighing of hurt and panicky horses mingled with the other noise, making it hard to hear anything else.
Margaret had already climbed up beside me when we stopped. Angel had mounted Lazy, despite my protests. She had grown to love the animal and wasn’t about to leave it to fend by itself.
“I’ll be safer up here,” Angel said, raising her voice to make herself heard over the burgeoning noise.
I nodded and called back “Stay close!” To Margaret, I said “Take the reins. I’ll do the shooting!”
She didn’t argue, knowing my talent with firearms, but right then I didn’t have a clue how we were going to get out of the mess we were in. I shouldered my rifle and began making long, aimed shots where the jabbers seemed to be thickest. I quickly realized it was almost a useless gesture. The whole train from the point of attack back to us was becoming disorganized and there wasn’t much to do about it. We were so strung out there was no way to bring a lot of firepower to bear where it would do the most good. My efforts were as useless as one man trying to stop a mob. There were simply too many jabbers and we were too disorganized.
When I saw we weren’t moving, I decided to act on my own. “Angel!” I called, pointing to the side. “This way!”
Margaret whipped Blacky and Reddy into action, the first time they’d ever felt the touch of the electric prod. The only choices I could see were to go around the stalled wagons or sit there and wait for the jabbers to get to us after finishing off the part of the train in front of us. As I passed one wagon after another, I could see some of the drivers sitting as if paralyzed, not doing anything. Others had rifles and were firing into the melee ahead. Some were shooting with handguns; at that distance they were as likely to hit friend as foe. None of them were moving; each seemed to be waiting on the wagon in front to go first.
As I passed each one, I shouted as loud as I could at them. “Go around! Hurry, or you’ll be trapped!”
Some listened, some didn’t. Others started, then refused to follow me as I deliberately urged Margaret to steer our wagon into the beginning of the haze on the opposite side of the train the jabbers were coming from. Actually, the haze was so close there was little choice but to penetrate the edges of it.
Just before it got too thick to see very far ahead, I saw Ellen from astride her steed trying to lead a pair of horses harnessed to a wagon. The driver was slumped backward, a jabber on top of him. Ellen pointed her pistol at it, then fumbled, trying to reload. Another jabber raked her horse with its stabbers, causing it to rear up. Ellen was thrown from her horse and lay twitching in the gritty dirt of the ‘way.
I couldn’t just leave her there, lying helpless. Margaret had the same thought. She swerved back and whipped the horses again, speeding them up. I used my pistol to keep jabbers away from Ellen for the few moments it took to get to her, but before jumping down to help, I made sure Angel was still close. She was and had her handgun out, too, using it as effectively as she was able.
Ellen was up on her hands and knees as I reached her. At the same time I heard Angel scream and swirled around, just in time to shoot a jabber coming directly at me. It got my leg with a stabber as it fell, but not enough to slow me down. I lifted Ellen up onto my shoulder then handed her up to Margaret while the fighting swirled around me. A wagon thundered past, throwing grit everywhere. I saw it was being driven by Brogan, whipping his horses furiously. His mouth was open in a grimace, showing gritted teeth. Another passed and then I was back aboard, hoping someone was looking out for Ellen’s kids, Ramona and Randy.
It was like a nightmare where you were trying to run in several directions at once. Jabbers seemed to be everywhere, clambering over tipped wagons, mandibles snapping and swinging their front appendages in deadly arcs. Men and women were running or standing to fight as the notion moved them. Bodies of jabbers, horses and humans lay in bloody poses impossible for living beings. Dusty grit clouded my vision and stung my eyes. My rifle was empty and I had no more power packs or clips of ammunition on my person. I couldn’t remember expending it all, nor when my shirt had gotten so bloody.
All the time, men and women were shouting commands no one listened to, women were screaming for their children and men for their wives. It was total chaos, with nothing to do at that point but try to escape the carnage. I used the last of the power for my pistol then cursed at it for not firing. Margaret pressed hers into my hand. I took it, getting a momentary glimpse of her face. She was scared to death but not panicking like some of the others. I continued trying to pick off the nearest jabbers, not wasting shots at any that weren’t close. It was hard enough to get hits from the moving wagon as it was. In the meantime, Margaret used all the skills gained in weeks on the trail to contain the horses and keep them from running off into the haze and taking us with them.
When I finally recognized Jim up ahead, standing up in a wagon seat and firing a rifle past us into the struggle still going on behind us, I realized we were saved. And then I saw Angel had disappeared.
Story from Life on Santa Claus Lane
TRACTOR AND THE THREE LEGGED IRON SCORPION
If I were still a drinking man I would certainly have had a few that day of moving beds and furniture. On the other hand, I sometimes wish I hadn’t been a drinking man when we ordered our first tractor, the year after moving to the farm. I might have had an easier time of things. Or maybe not. That tractor was too uppity for its own good and I probably needed some strong drink to put it in its place.
The truck from the tractor dealer unloaded our new machine and all its attachments then drove away, leaving me to sort things out. It was my first encounter with a tractor.
“Hello, Tractor,” I said. “Show me what you got.”
Tractor didn’t answer. All right, be that way, I thought. I’ll learn to use you anyway.
Tractors are psychic. This one read my mind. “That’s what you think,” it said.
“What could be so hard about it?” I answered. “You’ll find out,” Tractor said.
I hate smart-alec machines. I hooked up the bush hog, only losing two fingers and a kneecap in the process. I started bush hogging tree stumps, small ones, only about twelve inches in diameter. I heard a god awful noise behind me. I looked back. The bush hog was bouncing in four different dimensions and screaming at me to stop before it tore itself to pieces. While I was watching behind me I ran into another stump, except it still had a tree attached. The god awful noise stopped. Another god awful noise started as the tractor wheels kept turning, digging deep holes through rocks and roots. I screamed for the tree to get out of the way. Tree didn’t listen. I pulled the emergency stop thingy. I got off Tractor and went to the house and called Tow Truck to get Tractor back to level ground, but first he used a big industrial jack to untangle bush hog from the tree trunks so Tractor could move around a bit.
Tractor’s radiator grinned at me through its new snaggle-toothed grill. “Had enough?” It asked.
“That was just an aberration. Besides, it was your fault, not mine. You shouldn’t have tried to mow down such big stumps.” “Me? I would have to get bought by an idiot,” Tractor muttered.
“What did you say?” “I said you hurt me, and if you try to use me again, you’ll be sorry,” Tractor told me.
“Oh yeah?” “Yeah. I bet you can’t dig some post holes with that auger attachment,” Tractor said.
“What’s an auger?” I asked. “That thing over in the corner of the barn,” Tractor said.
I went to the corner of the barn. No wonder that thing was hiding in the corner. It looked like it had come out of an ugly factory. There were two great curved arms with little holes in the ends of them. The arms joined the rest of the contraption about where another big straight arm was loosely attached. It sported what was clearly a hand-grip on the end of it and depending from where all these things met was a great big corkscrew.
Well, I’m not dumb. I could tell right off that the corkscrew was the functional piece, the part intended to dig the holes. Now don’t ask me why anyone would call a big corkscrew an auger. I know what an auger looks like. It’s the little thing on my Swiss army knife I use to drill new holes in my belt every year or so as it shrinks. I figured Tractor was just trying to confuse me. I decided to show him right off I could dig a hole with that auger thing, as he called it. I bent over and lifted it by the two curved arms, propping it up by the other arm which is what I figured it was for except I couldn’t see why what looked like a hand grip was gouging a hole in the dirt, but you know engineers, always screwing good machines up by adding unnecessary parts.
Anyway, I kicked the big corkscrew into position, and holding on to the big curved arms with both hands while simultaneously avoiding that other useless arm by gripping it with my third hand, I began turning in circles to dig me a hole. Tractor began laughing like all get out just as I tripped over another unnecessary part, causing the whole thing to collapse and the corkscrew to drill a hole in my leg instead of the ground.
“What’s so funny?” I asked. “Anyone can fall down.” “You’re supposed to put the auger on me, you dummy,” Tractor said.
“I knew that,” I said loftily. “I was just checking it out.”
Tractor laughed some more. “All right, you checked it. Now put it on.”
I proceeded to do so. Or tried to. Getting that dratted thing upright and holding it there by the middle and using a hind foot to lift the curved arms to the bottom arms of the three point hitch while holding onto the PTO attachment with a third hand and bracing the apparatus with the other hind foot while trying to keep from getting swatted across the face by the free-swinging third arm isn’t as simple as it sounds. I got one arm hooked on then it slipped off and took my other kneecap with it. I tried slipping the female part of the auger over the male part of the PTO first and the big corkscrew, hanging freely, swung between my legs and ended my sex life for the next six months. I grabbed for my crotch and the whole unwieldy thing crashed to the ground, bringing me with it.
I started to get up. One of the curved arms lay across my chest. The corkscrew was between my legs. The PTO arm pinned one of my arms. The handgrip arm was digging into my ribs. I could wave but I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t even slide out because the blasted contraption was still in the corner. Fortunately, I could reach my cooler with my free arm. I lay there, pinned to the earth, and drank three or four beers while I waited for Betty to find me when I was late for supper. Since I had already drank three or four before deciding to get into a wrestling match with a tractor attachment, I was feeling no pain when she finally did find me.
“What are you doing laying under all that iron junk?” She asked
“Fixshing damn Tractorsh corkshrews,” I said.
Betty was used to me working while drinking by this time. She handed me a screwdriver and went back in the house. As soon as I ran out of beer I managed to extricate myself. Tractor was still laughing as I crawled away.
I came back out to the barn the next day. “Not again,” Tractor said.
“I’m going to dig a hole,” I told him. “You better stay away from that auger,” Tractor said. “I’m warning you.”
“Consider me warned.” I tilted another beer to my mouth. I didn’t tell Tractor but I had to drink a whole six-pack before getting up the courage to tackle that corkscrew again. “What did I do to deserve this,” Tractor muttered. I pretended like I didn’t hear him and proceeded to hook up the auger. Drat. Now Tractor had me calling it by the wrong name. That wasn’t the only thing I called it. Four hours and six more beers later I finally had the thing hooked onto the tractor. Standing back and looking at it reminded me of a giant iron scorpion, with the Tractor representing the body and the auger, representing the tail, lifted high and dangling ready to sting.
I climbed aboard, slopping beer onto my pants as I swung my leg over the gear case and plopped into the seat. I killed the engine a couple of times, put it in the wrong gear and jerked out of the barn in fits and starts. I overran the place I intended to dig a hole and backed in circles for thirty minutes trying to get centered in the right place. Then I just sat where I was for a few more minutes because in order to operate the auger you had to hold onto the hydraulic regulator with one hand and onto the hand grip of the thin arm with the other (which I had figured out by now was to guide the corkscrew into position and hold it there until the hole got started). I sat there because that didn’t leave me a hand free to finish my beer and I didn’t want to waste it.
Finally I was ready. Can’t dig a hole, he says. I’ll by gosh show Tractor just how good of a hole I can dig. I put the Tractor in PTO, revved him up, guided that big corkscrew into place and pushed down on the hydraulic lever. The corkscrew bit into the dirt. It swirled in circles. Dirt flew out the hole I was digging. “Hot dern!” I yelled. The corkscrew really got into gear. It dug deeper and deeper, until most of its length had disappeared into the hole. That’s enough, I thought. I jiggled the hydraulic lever. The corkscrew went deeper. I had forgotten which way to pull or push the lever to make it reverse. The whole length of the corkscrew disappeared into the earth. I finally figured out how to reverse the process but by that time it was too late. Tractor began to tilt backward, pulled by that still-revolving corkscrew, by now headed for China. I hung on for dear life, unwilling to let go and fall backward. The nose of Tractor rose into the air and his hind end sank down until it covered the hole the corkscrew had disappeared into. The wheels still churned, gouging great holes in the ground and that in turn left more leeway for the corkscrew to go deeper. If Tractor hadn’t finally taken pity on me and killed its motor I would probably have buried myself without even a tombstone to mark the spot.
When I was certain everything was still I finally let go. The tractor seat was so close to the ground by that time that it didn’t even hurt to fall the couple of feet to the earth. I got to my feet, wobbled around and peered at the disaster. It looked like The Giant Iron Scorpion had stung the earth to death and died itself in the process.
The next day I came back sober to see if I could extricate Tractor and the corkscrew. I could. By digging. I went to get a shovel. And a bunch of beer. A week later I had excavated enough earth to replace Hoover Dam and finally got to the point of the corkscrew, then had to dig under it because it was hung up on a root. I had trouble identifying the root because I didn’t know trees sent them that deep. I got it loose and Tractor slowly, reluctantly, settled back to level.
Tractor never said a thing the whole time. I was wearing my shooting iron and I had warned it to keep its big mouth shut or I would kill it right on the spot. As a matter of fact, Tractor never talked again. And try as I might I was never able to get that auger on by myself again. To this day I still don’t know how I did it the first time.
And that, friends and neighbors, much as I hate to admit it, is a true story. As best I remember it anyway.