BY: KEN NEWMAN
The Great War with the Erest won, Commander Jabal Shann of the Azurean Sky Navy is ready to test a revolutionary new technology that would make it possible for a spacecraft to leap thousands of lightyears instantaneously. Unbeknownst to Jabal, he is dying of cancer and only has a few months to live. SD—an ancient, mythic being of immense power, called a Deverow—declares Jabal a “Dead End,” or a being without a future and, therefore, free to be used by the capricious Deverow for their own convoluted purposes. Although no one on his home planet believes his radical idea is possible, Jabal is given a decommissioned ship, The Blossoming Flower, and told to test his theory far out in space, safely away from the Azurean planet. But as Jabel works to build his new drive, he uncovers deep, dark secrets, regarding not only The Flower, herself, but her mysterious cargo. Before Jabal can confront the leaders on his home world, Azurea is destroyed by an enemy with advanced technology. Jabal, along with several other Dead Ends, is tasked by the Deverow to use his new drive to annihilate the alien civilization before they can do more damage to the universe. But how can handful of misfits take on an entire armada and even survive, let along defeat them?
With no other choice, Jabal turns to the one ace he has up his sleeve, The Flower and her unnatural cargo, risking everything to save the remnant of his people, but at what cost?
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Dead Ends by Ken Newman, Jabal Shaun is dying, making him a perfect pawn for a race of super beings called the Deverow. Since Jabal would die without intervention, the Deverow classify him as a Dead End, someone who can be used by the Deverow for the “greater good,” at least as the Deverow define it. Jabal has invented a new technology that the Deverow want to use to defeat a race of beings who will do great damage to the universe. What Jabal and the other Dead Ends the Deverow have recruited want makes no difference to the Deverow. But they are in for a surprise as the group of misfit Dead Ends recruited have a few demands of their own.
The story is intriguing and complex, told from several points of view, but I found it easy to follow and hard to put down—a thoroughly entertaining read.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Dead Ends by Ken Newman is the story of a group of young people with no future. All of them are going to die young, thus ending their influence on their home world. So the Deverow, a race of people with technology so advanced they seem almost like gods, arrange for the Dead Ends to continue living—at a price, the price being that the Dead Ends do the Deverows’ bidding, whether they want to or not. But even the Deverow make mistakes, and some Dead Ends don’t cooperate the way they should, so things don’t go exactly as planned.
I really enjoyed Dead Ends. While it reminded me at times of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it’s a lot more logical, easy to follow, and suspenseful, the characters more rational and realistic. If you are a science fiction fan at all, this one is a must read.
“I am cold, wet, and feel like an utter fool,” Jabal Shann mumbled to himself as he sloshed with single-minded purpose down the sidewalk. The wide street, normally bustling with activity, was empty, save for the miserable Jabal. It would be hours before the first shop owner opened their doors for business.
“How could I have let Darris talk me into betting on the Thunder? I would love to wipe that perpetual, cocky smirk off his face once and for all. To make matters worse, the virus I snagged seems to be getting worse. I feel so incredibly tired and the rattle in my chest is getting painful. The meds I got from the base pharmacy were a waste of pay credits.”
He let out a ragged breath.
“As much as it pains me, after my meeting this morning, I will make a point to swing by the medic center and get a proper medi-spray from the base doc.”
For two weeks, Jabal had endured a hacking cough and a nasty rattle in his chest that had grown steadily worse. Even though his wife was a topflight surgeon, he did not mention his ailment, just playing it off as an allergic flare up from the latest rounds of mandatory vaccinations.
One, he did not want her to worry, as she already had a full plate with her duties, and, second, Jabal had things to do, historic things. He knew his wife would force him to undergo a bevy of tests, and he did not have time or patience to be poked, prodded, and scanned.
Jabal, however, was wrong about the virus being a minor inconvenience. Deep inside the young officer’s lungs, a rare, aggressive cancer grew at an alarming rate. The malignant tumor had made its way into the blood stream and his lymphatic system.
Jabal did not know it, but he was already beyond hope. The young Sky Naval Commander had exactly four months, twenty-two days, seventeen hours, five minutes, and sixteen seconds of life left to him.
All of which made him the perfect candidate.
Jabal erupted into another hacking, coughing fit.
“This foking cough is driving me insane.”
He took a few shallow breaths, as the persistent cough seemed to subside. “On the bright side, things could not possibly get any worse.”
At that precise moment, a law enforcer’s sleek, yellow-and-black trike pulled to a silent stop a few meters ahead of him. As if on cue, the icy rain he had been sloshing through suddenly turned into a torrential downpour.
“I just had to open my big mouth.”
At the approach of the faceless law enforcer, Jabal stopped dead, removed his hands from his pockets, took a wide stance, and made no sudden movements while she scanned him for contraband and/or weapons. Sudden, suspicious movements could result in an unwanted interrogation by several very unfriendly officers, a week in a six-by-six-by-six foot, ice-cold steel can to teach proper respect for the law, or instant death. With zero witnesses, death was the most likely scenario.
While he silently swore he would never make another sport bet, Jabal noticed the enforcer’s biomechanical armor was a vastly toned down version of the military’s current M-390 Battleskin with which he was very familiar. His own was like a second skin in which he had spent weeks and even months at a time encased. God, I hope those days are behind me for good.
Although a mere shade of the military version, the physically enhancing suit made the enforcer more than a match for a dozen armed thugs. With the built in Artificial Intelligent Companion, heightened senses, and a ten-fold increase in strength, the officer had little need for the fearsome S-3 mag-pistol strapped low on her right thigh.
Jabal’s main goal in life, at the moment, was to keep the pistol resting comfortably in its holster.
“Good morning, Citizen. May I please see your vitals?” the law enforcer asked, as her armored hand came to rest lightly on her grim sidearm.
The well-modulated, artificial baritone postulated a polite, almost friendly request. It was, in reality, a demand.
“Why, of course, Officer,” Jabal said. “It is my pleasure to comply.”
While he didn’t feel it, he tried his best to add a friendly tinge to his words. Managing a weak smile as he squinted against the stinging rain, Jabal pulled off his right glove and extended his hand, palm-up, toward the enforcer, exposing his thumb chip and his entire legal history.
He stood impassive as his exposed hand burned in the numbing cold rain, which flowed wickedly down his arm and into his uniform.
“Wonderful day for a stroll,” law enforcer, Sakuna Izusa said, as her Artificial Intelligence Unit, scanned Jabal for any hidden weapons as well as the surrounding three blocks for company. Ambushes were rare, but not unheard of, and Sakuna was anything if not prudent.
To find a lone kenan, trudging along in the pouring rain when he should be sleeping, raised a few warning bells.
Jabal Shann was obviously not drunk or physically impaired, but since the war had ended, she had seen more than her fair share of mentally damaged veterans who had somehow slipped through the military’s psych screens. All the returning soldiers were highly skilled at killing. Throw in a few mental quirks and a harmless encounter could explode out of control, and you were suddenly knee deep in trouble, fighting for your life.
Sakuna was newly assigned to Cobol City, having been here less than six months, yet her chest plate still bore the scar where a month ago a routine traffic stop ended in a wild shoot out.
It never got dull enforcing the law near a military base.
“Yes…wonderful morning,” Jabal said as he wiped a sheet of water from his face. “It’s definitely a twofor.”
“Two for one. Taking care of my exercise and getting a shower all at the same time.”
While Sakuna kept a wary eye on Jabal, her AIU accessed the biochip embedded beneath the skin of his right thumb. Not only did the chip provide personal identification and legal records, but also gave the enforcer a complete toxicology of Jabal’s blood.
“He’s clean,” the AIU whispered into the enforcer’s ear. “Zero legal criminal record. I am picking up trace amounts of over the counter Antynol and Zetom…the commander must have a slight virus. However, not a hint of stems, numbs, or even herbs. As hard as it is to believe, the commander here is without flaw.”
You can say that again, the enforcer mused as she observed the handsome, albeit waterlogged, military officer.
“Commander Jabal Shann of the Sky Navy, Fifth Fleet,” the enforcer said. “No legal record and not even a trace of illegal, let alone legal, recreation drugs. You are too good to be true.”
“I don’t know about the too good to be true part,” he said with an easy smile. “However, legal or not, a drug is a drug. Not my thing.”
As he pulled on the glove, Jabal wondered what the enforcer looked like under her helmet. He knew she was a fenan, or female.
For the last two hundred years, the Azurean people had fought a war of survival with a savage race called the Erest. The Erest had cut a path of destruction across the quadrant, as world after world had fallen to their insatiable appetite for conquest. Billions of slaves toiled endlessly, supplying the Erest war machine as they carved out a bloody empire.
Finding that war was inevitable, the Azurean nation had only two choices: death or total victory. Fortunately, for the Azureans, they had an aptitude for the art of killing that the Erest could scarcely imagine.
While every able body kenan, or male, was enlisted in some part of the war effort, the day-to-day running of society on the Home World fell on the shoulders of the fenans. All patrolling law enforcers were fenans, as were doctors, lawyers, firestormers, mech workers, and so on. Even pro sport teams were exclusively fenan.
An unsettling image came to his mind of a thick-necked combat foot soldier in lipstick and eye color. Jabal shuddered at the nauseous thought.
From the serial number printed on her chest plate, this particular officer was 785600.
“As I am cruising by,” the enforcer said, “I ask myself. Myself, I ask, what possible legal activity could bring a high and mighty Sky Navy Commander out on such a miserable day, well before sunup? We aren’t up to anything naughty, now are we, Commander?”
Her tone was as icy and cold as the rain dripping off her distinctive black and yellow armor.
“Okay, you caught me,” he said, throwing his hands up in the air. “I was trying to drown myself.”
“Oh, do you think that was funny?” she said, cocking her head to the side. “I got news for you, Commander, that wasn’t a bit funny. It sure won’t be any funnier when we interrogate you down at the enforcer lockup after a night or two in the can.”
“I see your point, Officer,” Jabal said with a sheepish grin. “As ridiculous as this sounds, I lost a bet and am paying dearly for it.”
“You do know that gambling is illegal, Commander?”
“It wasn’t a monetary bet, Officer…785600…but one of humiliation. We call it the walk of shame.”
“Who is we?”
“My former friend, Lieutenant Darris Oso.”
“From the officer’s compound to the Citadel, is a good ten kilometers,” she said.
“That’s what makes it so shameful. The rain was an unexpected bonus–”
Jabal turned away as he was racked hard with a ragged, painful cough.
“You obviously aren’t physically well, Commander,” Sakuna said as her hand finally left the butt of her automatic pistol. “You should not be exposed to this terrible weather.”
“I’ll be all right. Just a little tickle in my throat.”
“It is against regulations, but…let me give you a ride to the base, Commander. That little tickle in your throat sounds bad enough to kill you.”
“Thank you, Officer, but no, thank you.”
“You are ill and in no condition to continue any farther. I insist. Don’t make me put you in binders and arrest you for your own good.”
Jabal laughed. “As tempting as that ride sounds, a bet is a bet. My word is my word. I have to do this.”
“But no one would know I gave you a ride. It would be our little secret.”
“I would know.”
Sakuna looked long at Jabal. “Is there a Mrs. Commander?” she asked as her deep voice softened ever so slightly.
“Yeah,” Jabal said. “At home, in a warm, dry bed, thinking I am a complete idiot.”
“If–she is stupid and doesn’t appreciate what she has–look me up. Have a good day, Commander.”
Jabal smiled. “I’ll do that, Officer. You be careful.”
“By the way, Commander, if I run into this Darris Oso, I’ll ruin his day.”
“I would very much appreciate that, Officer.”
Sakuna mounted her three-wheeled bike and, with a small, parting salute, roared off down the empty street.
Jabal pulled himself deeper into his thick, gray and blue greatcoat as the icy downpour turned to sleet.
“Barea is right,” he said as he once again took up his march. “I am an idiot, but at least the enforcers like me.”
Jabal could not help but laugh at his self-inflicted humiliating situation. However, his guffaw turned into another chest crushing, coughing jag. Leaning against the base of a lamppost, Jabal took a moment to recover his breath and gasped. His wet glove was covered with bright flecks of blood.
© 2016 by Ken Newman