Is Obama swinging a red or blue light saber?

Leader and Chancellor Obama is in Paris determined what he wants to do about climate change.  Being omniscient is a curse, but he has accepted the mantle of omniscience, as he really doesn’t care what the people or Congress think about the whole thing, he’s going to do what he wants to do, because after all he is the President-Emperor of the United States of America.

The doomsday sayers are gathered to pronounce our extinction in Paris and have determined that there are only a few viable solutions:

  1. The final solution – Eliminate humans from the planet
  2. The Martian – Move all Earthlings to Mars
  3. Death Star – Blow up Earth (oops, they decided this didn’t solve the problem
  4. Turn the planet over to Hogwarts and support he who shall not be named in eradicating Muggles (some argue this is just a variation on option 1.
  5. Amber resurrection – Bring back Raptors and Tyrannasaurus dinosaurs, and release them enmass across the globe.  To avoid military reaction detonate e-bombs across the planet so we have no way to defend against the invasion.
These are just some of the better solutions offered at the conference.



Sci Fi – Chapter 7 Arion

Aloha – Just back from the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  Time to add chapter 7 from Demeter.  Enjoy, Doc

Chapter 7

Arion (Hold Your Horses)

Demeter looked like a small planet, although Ryder knew that it had a diameter of only about half the size of the Earth’s moon. For him, it would be better to think of it as a large asteroid. It was basically round, although elliptical like an egg might be more accurate. The surface was heavily pockmarked. In fact, there seemed to be craters inside craters and then more craters. It was very uninviting, increasing Ryder’s sense of foreboding and concerns.

“Is that metal?” Cynthia asked as she looked out the portal from which Ryder was observing the surface.


Cynthia put her arm on Ryder’s shoulder for support then pointed to a spot slightly off to the left.

Ryder got goose bumps at her touch, but then followed her pointing finger. “Yes, I think so, but I’m not sure,” he added cautiously.

“Hey!” Joel called from the other side of the ship, which had reconfigured to a comfortable, nearly round, two-level shape. “Come and see this.”

Cynthia released Ryder’s arm as they hurried over to join Joel. “What are we looking for?” Ryder asked.

“Fried eggs.” Joel laughed.

Ryder had to look down at an acute angle. Joel was correct, it looked like a fried egg, a giant fried egg.

“What is it?” Cynthia asked, turning to Ryder.

“Well I can see what looks like three toy ships on the white part. But the yellow dome? Look closely. Can you see the antennae? It has to be a base of some sort. Assuming those ships are fighters, that has to be a pretty small base.”

“Look, there’s another one!” Joel called out, pointing toward the horizon.

Mr. Small joined them at that moment. “Yes, we have eighty monitoring centers around the exterior of Demeter. When I was on fighter training, I spent a lot of time out here. Not much room inside those domes though. I thought I’d go crazy when I was posted at old number fifty-nine for two Demeter weeks” he paused, then added “twenty days.”

“Will we get a chance to visit the domes?” Cynthia inquired.

“Not much to see,” Mr. Small reiterated. “Unless you’re in fighter training or the K-Corps, I wouldn’t think you’d make it out here. So take it in while you can. Two minutes would be enough for me.” He snickered and then left for the pilot’s cabin.

A few minutes later, he returned. “I thought you might like to catch a glimpse of something a little more impressive, so Captain White is taking the long way to the locks.”

Ryder and his friends assembled at what was currently the front of the ship, staring out the four portals at the bow of the Pegasus. They rapidly approached a massive structure. Much like the asteroid itself, the complex was oval and extended for several miles. At first it seemed a chaotic maze, but as they drew closer they were able to differentiate structures. There were eight huge starships docked or secured to eight of the dozen different berthing facilities. Cranes expanding hundreds of feet from the airless surface surrounded each vessel in dry dock like vultures.

“Is that a battleship?” Joel asked in awe.

Mr. Small laughed. “So you have been studying the materials we gave you,” he said, then shook his head. “No, that’s actually a light cruiser. That dock is about six city blocks in size. Look forward and to the right. See that huge empty series of cradles? It would take that entire gallery to bring in a full-sized battleship. This,” he waved his arm expansively toward the facilities, “is the reason that Demeter is considered a prize. You would think that the Pervs or the Slicks would just blast it to oblivion and be done with it, but if they did, crossing the gulf between the galactic arms in this region would be impossible. So no matter how many times this planetoid has changed hands, this facility has never been damaged or attacked. It’s neutral territory. In reading the histories, it’s very ritualistic. Once one side or the other has control of the surface, the other side relinquishes control of the facility. The workers are either exported or take up defense in the interior. It’s a massive time-out when that happens. Last time it occurred was over two hundred years ago.

Ryder was reflective as he considered the thousands of Sagittarians, Per-Sians, and Terrans that had died to control Demeter, and more specifically the repair facilities. He couldn’t help but think everyone would be better off if they didn’t exist at all.

“We’re going to have to alter course,” the captain said over the intercom.

Mr. Small looked off to the right. “Oh, we’ve stirred up the guardians.” He laughed. “Look over there.” He pointed.

“Looks like some dots of light,” Joel commented.

“They’ll get bigger. I suspect it’s a squadron of fighters from the Sagittarian fleet. We’re not supposed to be here.”

Two pairs of fighters caught up with the Pegasus as it approached the surface of the asteroid. The fighters veered off as their ship slowed to a crawl in its approach to a cavern three times the size of the Pegasus itself. Ryder began to wonder where the ship would land when he felt a vibration. The wall in front of them was groaning as a crack appeared in the center. The first gate to the interior of the asteroid was opening like a curtain on a stage.

Randy, Joel, and Athena all stood together barely breathing. In an excited whisper Joel asked, “What do you think it will look like?”

Ryder broke out laughing as the gates separated and tracking lights guided the ship into the channel. “I figure it will look like a tunnel,” he said.

Cynthia glared at him then added, “We have to go through several locks to actually reach the interior. That’s how they maintain the atmosphere inside. So there won’t be a lot to see.”

“How do you know that?” Joel asked, nearly losing his balance as he turned toward Cynthia just as the Pegasus began to move forward.

“It was in the readings. Two chapters after the section about the various classifications of warships.”

“Oh?” Joel responded, then lightened. “Actually, the section after the ships was the one I found fascinating. You know, the one on the K-Force? Those suits are awesome.”

The Pegasus slowly moved through the tunnel for nearly a mile when the ship stopped again. The cavern looked like some sort of roughhewn mining chamber. They waited, hanging for perhaps two minutes before the doors began to open in front of them again, leading to another chamber of similar dimensions. The process began again.

One by one, Ryder’s friends began to lose interest. Cynthia and Ryder remained, watching the process. “How many locks did you say?” Ryder queried.

“It varies. There were eight different lock systems built, but one of the systems collapsed,” Cynthia stated.

Ryder, hearing the groaning sounds, looked toward the roof of the tunnel. “Collapsed?”

Cynthia smiled. “On purpose,” she clarified.

“Oh my gosh,” came from somewhere behind them.

“What now?” Ryder asked, and he and Cynthia moved back to see what was going on.

Athena was staring out the port side of the Pegasus. “Look at that!” she exclaimed.

As they had watched the progress of the ship from the bow, the tunnel had been lit up with the tracks and the external lights of the Pegasus. Outside the side portals toward the rear of the craft, the rock formations came alive with a dim radiance that came from the rocks themselves. It further reflected and refracted light off the embedded stones in the cavern.

“Are those diamonds?” Ryder mused, almost to himself.

“Among others,” Cynthia added. “If you had read chapter thirty-two, you would have known the rock formations include all sorts of gems and crystals.” She paused, inhaling. “But I didn’t realize the self-illuminating crystal forms would provide such a haunting and beautiful aura.”

“Huh?” Joel turned.

“I think she means they’re pretty,” Ryder said and smiled. It was mesmerizing as the lights jumped and reflected off various gemstones. He and the others remained entranced until another type of light started to dim the illumination of the rock formations.

“We’re here,” Captain White announced from the pilot’s cabin.

From the side portals, they could see the sheer face of a mountain wall rising on either side of the lock. As Ryder followed the line of the jagged obsidian cliffs that rose out of sight, he saw patches of chartreuse vegetation struggling to survive on the glassy surface. The sky was difficult to read. They could not see any clouds, but it felt hazy as if twilight were approaching. It was obviously daytime for this world, but Ryder could not locate a central source of the light. As the Pegasus continued to move forward and exit the final lock, a pale aqua surface mirrored below. It wasn’t until a large creature of some sort broke the surface that they realized it was water.

“The Sea of Demeter,” Cynthia said. “Chapter thirty-three, by the way.”

“I’ve never seen water so still,” Athena said. “Look, there’s a whole school of fish jumping!”

“No waves. Guess surfing is out.” Randy leaned closer to the portal to look straight down.

Miss Li had quietly joined the group. “Actually, there are waves during the nightly rains, but not during the day”

Everyone jumped and turned.

“We are inside a giant geode. It has been terra formed for millennia. The whole eco-system is carefully monitored with an extensive climate control system tied to the ice fields. The ice fields are at the top of the interior, and the oceans and islands are at the bottom, at least from our perspective. It can be very confusing. When you’re in the ice fields, you think it is the other way around.”

A short hour passed as Ryder and his friends took in the water and the occasional lush green islands that they flew over. The Pegasus once again began to slow down as they approached a much larger landmass. Debbie’s voice came over the intercom and announced, “Everyone take your seat and secure your valuables. We’re reconfiguring the ship.”

Ryder barely made it back to his seat when the Pegasus began shifting and shrinking with all the compartments folding, or disappearing completely. The windows also began to disappear. He heard Joel bark, and turned in time to see him fighting to loosen his foot from a shrinking locker. Moments later they were on the ground.

“Let’s get our luggage together and get ready to get off this tub,” Mr. Small announced.

Mr. Small was dressed in fresh cargo shorts with numerous pockets and a forest green T-shirt. Miss Li was again dressed in a baju kurung that seemed very formal as it was a black, silk dress with gold embroidery. They made an extraordinarily odd couple.

As they approached what was now the exit for the Pegasus, Ryder wasn’t sure what to expect. The light coming in from the doorway was much brighter than he had anticipated. Cynthia turned to him and sighed heavily. “Here goes nothing.” Ryder followed a little too closely and stumbled over the back of her suitcase, taking them both down in the aisle. Everyone laughed, including Ryder.

The group exited the ship via a roll up staircase to the tarmac. Ryder had expected something a little more dramatic. Even O’Hare International Airport had caterpillar-like tunnels right into the terminal, along with multiple moving walkways. Instead, here they were just stepping down to the ground. But once he stepped out of the Pegasus, he gasped. They were on a rise, perhaps five hundred feet above the Sea of Demeter. The water dotted with islands stretched as far as he could see. He identified seven small isles a short distance from where they were standing. They were lush with some sort of tropical vegetation. He thought he spotted palm trees with coconuts on the nearest island. The largest island was no more than a mile long, and he guessed, perhaps half a mile wide. He could not discern any people or housing on any of the islands. It looked very much like the mural on Miss Li’s wall at school.

“Hey, move it up there,” he could hear Randy complaining.

Ryder came to himself and moved on down the stairway. At the bottom, he turned and looked at the Pegasus and realized why they had lost their windows. The ship had reformed to a circular shape. “A flying saucer?” Ryder commented.

Cynthia came up and stood next to him. “It sure looks like a flying saucer, like they show on those UFO movies. Maybe this is where they got the idea from.”

“I wonder how big it is now?” Ryder asked.

About this time, Debbie came bouncing down the staircase. “It’s three stories high, and in saucer mode it can be as small as sixty feet wide. However, at the moment it is ninety-four feet in diameter to meet the minimum needs of its passengers, luggage, and cargo.”

“Great, now I have a walking encyclopedia for a sister. We’ll start calling you Debbipedia.”

“You can’t bother me today. I got to fly the Pegasus,” Debbie gushed. “In fact, Captain White has agreed to give me and Becky flying lessons as soon as we settle in.”

“Great! There goes our ride home. I hope they have a good body shop here,” Ryder responded.

As the lights began to flare in Debbie’s eyes, Cynthia interjected, “That’s wonderful news Debbie. I’m sure you’ll make a great pilot.”

This seemed to defuse the battle before it even began. Cynthia whispered to Ryder, “You could lighten up on her once in a while.”

“Sure,” Ryder replied. “Debbie, I’m sure you’ll be the best pilot in the class.”

Just then Rebecca joined them. “Oh, so you think I’ll stink as a pilot?”

Ryder just turned red and realized he was in a no-win situation. “Look at that,” he exclaimed, pointing beyond the Pegasus. Apparently they were on a much larger landmass than the ones that Ryder had spotted in front of him. The verdant mountain range climbing behind them rose several hundred feet.

“Any idea how tall those peaks are?” Cynthia asked, bumping into Ryder and knocking them both over. They both stood up turning bright red. She started to apologize, but Debbie interrupted.

“Those are the Five Sisters.”

“How do you know that, Dweeb?” Ryder asked, getting irritated.

“Jonas told me.”

“Jonas?” Cynthia and Ryder asked simultaneously.

“You know, Captain White. He was telling me about Arion. This is the main port of entry for civilian ships. It looked cool as we were landing. It’s shaped sort of like the silhouette of a horse. It has five mountains, the tallest was called…Phar Lap. Let’s see….” Debbie pointed to the mountain far to the right. “That’s Northern Dancer, and then Citation. Phar lap is the one in the middle, then Secretariat, and finally Sunday Silence. Jonas says we may get a chance to climb Sunday Silence.”

“Sunday Silence? That sounds like a great place for you,” Ryder chided, immediately trying to cut himself off as Cynthia scowled at him.

Debbie ignored him. “That’s not all,” she said. “Watch this.” She concentrated for a moment, then folded into a jumping position and launched. She jumped about twelve feet. “We’re only at forty percent of Earth’s normal gravity. Jonas says we’ll be a little clumsy getting used to this.” She landed smoothly.

Ryder realized that he had felt a little lighter on his feet, but just assumed that was from getting back on solid ground after being aboard the Pegasus for five days.

“That was cool.” Cynthia winked at Ryder. “Let me try it.” She jumped and landed awkwardly about eight feet away. “Your turn, Ryder.”

That was the first time Cynthia had called him by his preferred name, and he started to turn red again. He decided to cover it with some acrobatics. “Watch this.” He jumped high and did a somersault. As he was landing, he realized that he was overcorrecting by about twenty degrees. This isn’t going to be pretty, he had time to think as he landed on one foot, then spun toward the ground in an ugly fall. Cynthia and Debbie were close enough to each catch an arm as he was going down, preventing a more serious end. Debbie burst out laughing.

“I think you dislocated my shoulder,” Ryder complained toward his sister.

“You’re welcome,” Cynthia said back at him, smiling.

In the distance they saw Randy, Joel, and Athena playing a game of leapfrog, headed toward a low building about sixty yards from the Pegasus. Miss Li was smiling at them, and then turned back toward Ryder. “I think it’s time we gather up our bags and walk,” she said, emphasizing the word walk, “into the port of entry.” She motioned toward the building.

Cynthia quickly grabbed her bags and said, “Let’s go.”

Ryder picked up his own bags, now realizing how much lighter they felt in the lower gravity, and joined Cynthia. “Come on, Dweeb,” he called to Debbie.

Debbie grabbed her bags and started to catch up, then paused. “Becky, come on.”

Ryder caught a glimpse of Rebecca out of the corner of his eye and saw the girl smile for the first time since he’d known her. She grabbed her bag and quickly joined the small entourage.

Want more before next week?  It is available on Amazon at*Version*=1&*entries*=0


Mars Moon – Going, going…

'Stretch Marks' on Phobos Show Martian Moon Is Falling Apart

Aloha – Phobos isn’t a planet, it isn’t even that big as moons go, but it appears that Phobos’ days are numbered and that Mars by be down to one moon in the future.

The gravitational pull between the two bodies of Mars and Phobos is the source of the problem.  The stress is causing fractures on the surface of Phobos, and the Moon creeps very slowly… closer to Mars.

The good news is that the disintegration of the moon is still measured in millions of years, but as the Solar System goes its not that far away… perhaps thirty million years from now.

Phobos is actually larger than its partner moon, Deimos at about 22 km in diameter.  It’s orbit is a mere 3,700 miles from the surface as compared to our Moon that is a quarter million miles away.



Chapters 5 and 6 of Demeter

Aloha – So what is happening in the world of Orion’s Spur?  Tonight I’m sharing chapters 5 & 6.  What happens when you don’t read the fine print?  You wind up 100 million light years from Earth.  Ryder and his friends are now coming to grips with the fact that they have been misled if not lied to.  Enjoy the next two chapters of Demeter.  As always the earlier chapters are available in the Blog archives, and if you want to read the whole book, or series it is available on Amazon.  Doc


Chapter 5


Ryder’s stomach was doing flip-flops trying to escape through his throat. He was having trouble with his orientation. His eyes knew which way was up because he was braced into his seat, but the rest of his sensory system was struggling. About the time he figured out that this was what being weightless felt like, he heard the hum of what sounded like the air filter his mother used in her bedroom. His system did another lurch. He closed his eyes, trying to hold the contents of his stomach in place. He hated throwing up. The burning sensation and acrid taste of half-digested meals returning through his throat was something he had religiously avoided, even when he was sick. He willed his system to deny the volcanic eruption, and little by little his stomach settled back down. When he opened his eyes again, up was up and down was down. He didn’t think it was possible, but somehow they had weight again. Perhaps they were speeding back toward the earth.

Miss Li unbuckled her restraining harness and slid toward the front of the “vehicle.” Ryder wasn’t sure that “plane” was an appropriate term anymore. Can I call it a plane if it is outside the gravitational pull of the earth? he wondered.

“We will be taking a detour from our originally scheduled flight,” Miss Li announced. “I’m sure you are all wondering what is going on. I would like to assure you that there is nothing to worry about. We will be aboard the Pegasus for the equivalent of five Earth days, and then we will arrive at our destination. As promised, you will have a year of extraordinary educational and service opportunities.”

“You’re kidnapping us,” Athena snapped.

Athena tried to get out of her restraints, but the release button had sunk into the arm panel and was inaccessible. Ryder could hear two or three others struggling with their restraints.

“That won’t be necessary,” Mr. Small said. “The restraints will be released in a few minutes. But we want to explain what is happening first.”

“You lied to us,” Randy barked. “Why should we listen to anything you have to say?”

“When did we lie to you?” Miss Li inquired.

“You said we were going to Europe to study for a year abroad. This ain’t the way to Europe.” Randy sounded like he was ready to explode.

“Isn’t,” Miss Li corrected. “And we did not lie to you.”

“What do you mean you didn’t lie to us?” Ryder challenged. “It doesn’t sound to me like we are headed to Europe.”

“We are going to Europe,” Mr. Small interjected. “Europe is the name of the complex you’ll be staying in.”

“What?” Randy yelled. “You tricked us! We thought we were going to Europe—you know, France, Spain, Italy.”

“Did we ever say that we were going to France, Spain, or Italy?” Miss Li asked.

Ryder pondered her words. Every time the question of itinerary had been brought up, Miss Li or Mr. Small would divert the discussion to the exciting things the children would be doing. They had been so excited to be going, and without any real costs, they hadn’t thought to go back to the question about their itinerary. “Wait a minute. You said that we’d have a chance to go mountain climbing, boating, and,” he paused, “sightseeing.”

“Well,” Mr. Small said smiling, “look out the window. Now there is a sight many travelers would spend millions to see. Also, where we are going you can do all of those things, even more so than on the continent of Europe on Earth.”

Ryder and his companions were distracted for a moment as they looked out their windows. The earth was beautiful. Ryder wasn’t sure how far up they were, but the earth looked about the size of a basketball. He started to get a little woozy. The vessel was rotating in such a manner that both sides of the aisle could get a fifteen to twenty second view of the earth. Somewhere on the other side of the aisle, Debbie sighed at the splendor of the blue and green illuminated ball. He felt like doing the same thing.

Ryder turned back to Miss Li. “Okay, what’s the deal? Are you aliens? Are going to dissect us? Run all sorts of tests to see how our nervous systems work?”

Mr. Small snorted, and Miss Li actually laughed. “No, William, we are not aliens. I’m actually from Los Angeles, and my parents are from Malaysia. Roger is from Havana, Illinois. No, we are not going to dissect you. You may have some assessments, or ‘tests’ as you call them, but not to see how your nervous system works.”

Debbie piped up. “Can I fly the plane?”

Debbie’s enthusiasm was mitigated by Athena who had fallen into silence with her arms tightly folded.

Miss Li smiled again. “We’ll see. But first I must tell you a story. That, however, will be after dinner.” She pressed a button, and the chairs started to shift to the interior perimeter of the ship. A panel in the floor opened and a round table emerged. On the table were several plates of hamburgers, and French fries, and milk shakes. Ryder decided to start with the milkshake, which turned out to be his favorite flavor: caramel marshmallow. It was very creamy, as opposed to those frosty ones that the fast food restaurants sold. Tastes like they went for the high fat ice cream, he thought, feeling better about the trip already.

When they finished eating, the scraps and dirty dishes vanished when the table disappeared. Great! I won’t be doing dishes, he thought.

The chairs shifted again into a semicircle, and Miss Li started to talk. “Our story begins six thousand years ago.”

“Oh, Miss Li, could we have a bathroom break?” Debbie asked.

“Of course. I wasn’t thinking.” Miss Li pushed another button, and all the restraints released. Ryder was curious to see if anyone would try to jump Miss Li and Mr. Small, but the only jumping he saw was several people racing to get to the facilities first. He realized he was going to have a bit of a wait.

“What do you think about this?” Joel asked Ryder when he returned from the restroom.

“I really don’t know. I like Mr. Small and Miss Li, and for some reason I trust them. But before I know what I think about all this, I want to hear their story. Then maybe I’ll have an opinion,” Ryder said as he got up to take his turn.

“Makes sense, I guess. But kidnapping is still kidnapping,” Joel said.

Five minutes later, as Ryder returned to his seat, he had a chance to look at everyone’s countenance. The faces ranged from curious to strained. Debbie was staring out the window, jumping on and off her seat as Cynthia pointed to areas of interest on the moon, which they were now closer to than the Earth.  A variety of drinks and snacks had appeared in the center of the table, but no one was eating now.

Miss Li called everyone to attention and started once again, “Sol, our sun, is in the Orion Spur of the Milky Way galaxy. We talked about this a few weeks ago in class. The Orion Spur, sometimes referred to as the Orion-Cygnus Arm, is a smaller spiraling group of stars bordered by two larger and better known arms of the galaxy, Sagittarius and Perseus. Although the Orion Spur is much smaller than those two larger arms, it still contains billions of stars.” In effect, the Orion Spur is the bridge between Sagittarius and Perseus, and therein lies the problem.”

Ryder sat back listening to information he was well familiar with. Debates raged over how many arms were parts of the Milky Way, although he tended to agree with those who counted eight. Orion was much more compact than what he thought of as a real arm of the galaxy. He sat up suddenly after thinking about Miss Li’s last comment. “Problem?”

Mr. Small leaned forward, “A little more than ten thousand years ago, a mere moment in the life of the galaxy, two superpowers collided in the Orion Spur. The Sagittarius League and forces for the Perseus Arm began a war over who should control the billions of stars in the Orion Spur. The war has continued, and continues, with no end in sight. Both sides claim the territory. Both sides argue that their honor demands that the war continue.”

“So this is a fight over territory?” Ryder stared incredulously. “There are billions and billions of stars in Sagittarius and Perseus. Surely they haven’t expanded to all of those stars, have they?”

Miss Li sighed. “It is strange. We don’t know a lot about Per-Sian exploration and colonization, but we know that the Sagittarians occupy a relatively small area within their arm. I’ve often asked, why this war over Orion? As far as I can tell, it is more a matter of pride than colonization or expansionism. Both sides seem to harbor a sense of manifest destiny. They feel it is their right to occupy all they survey.”

“So what has this got to do with us?” Athena challenged. “We’re not part of either side.”

Miss Li looked closely at Athena, and her lips started to curve upward into an ironic smile. “Well, that’s not totally true, Athena. Six thousand years ago, a group of people fled from the wars. They traveled through one of the way stations in the Orion Spur and escaped to what we now refer to as Earth.

“We know from the histories that they intended to build a cooperative, neutral planet, demonstrating that all the various groups involved in the war could live and work together. We will never know if their plan would have worked, as three of the ships, including the command vessel, were destroyed in their attempted flight. The remaining three ships did make it to Earth, but rather than working together, they parsed the continents and mingled with the indigenous people. Sadly, they failed to retain their civilization. Over the next thousand years, it appears that the cultures all but disappeared.”

Ryder interrupted,  “Well that makes some sense. I remember reading about the ancient Harrapan civilization in India, and the Mayans in Central America. That explains a lot.”

Miss Li nodded. “Those certainly are two relevant civilizations, and their technological achievements certainly fit. I was actually on a dig in India related to the Harrapans. Most people have never heard of them.” She then turned back to the others. “We are not sure if the problem was too small a population pool, the decision to break into three groups, or disease. Most likely it was a combination of all three. Their technology also deteriorated. It is obvious that things began to re-evolve after about a thousand years, but by that time most of the knowledge had been lost. In some cases, bits and pieces of enlightenment came back as dogma, visions, or even in some brilliant ancient scholars deciphering the earlier script of records long forgotten.” Miss Li frowned. “So much was lost with the destruction of the library at Alexandria.”

Alexandria caught Cynthia’s attention. “I heard that they had medical treatments that were even better than our own today, and it was all lost.”

Miss Li took a moment to nibble on a cracker then wash it down with a drink of water before she continued. “In any event, eventually there was a renaissance of ideas and thoughts. Terran capacity never dimmed, only our memory. Our warlike disposition also remained, and as our mission of peace was lost to antiquity, we returned to something we knew well: war. The better part of our nature, and our belief in God, was mixed with pieces of the truth, but never all. It was, and remains, a turbulent planet, with the fundamental ideas that brought us to Earth lost.”

Rebecca raised her hand and asked, “So you’re taking us to teach us the truth so we can restore the original vision to Earth?”

“Sadly, no,” Miss Li replied. “Earth was lost for millennia. The war between the galactic arms has continued all this time. The focus within the Orion Spur is on the three systems containing the way stations, rather than developing planets. Even self-sustaining ships need refueling and repair, so control of the way stations has always been critical to the battle between the arms. In this sector of the Spur, Demeter is the way station that was controlled by the Per-Sian League for several centuries. About eight hundred years ago, the Sagittarius League began the process of retaking Demeter, which has changed hands several times over the millennia. As you can imagine, the logistics of a military campaign covering thousands of light years is difficult to maintain.”

Mr. Small interrupted. “The shift in power in the region has always been more of a battle of logistics than a battle of ships. The last actual battle I was involved in was about sixteen years ago, and that was more a skirmish than a real battle. I remember I thought I was a goner when Shadrack and his brother swooped in and—”

“Roger! No war stories!” Miss Li interrupted, staring sharply at Mr. Small. She turned to Ryder and his friends. “Once he starts telling war stories, he doesn’t stop.”

Joel looked at Miss Li, “What is logistics?”

“It’s the process of moving personnel and materials from the staging area, in this case the Sagittarian worlds, to Demeter. Not only do they have to move ships, but they also have to have all the supplies needed to support those ships. Of course the navy itself is fairly easy, they had control of the second station, Haumeah and could build forces there. But typically for every thousand fighting men or women, you have another thousand support personnel. The Sagittarians began exploring a less expensive means of supporting the invasion of Demeter.”

Mr. Small took over, with millions of stars and tens of millions of planets in the proximity of Demeter, the Sagittarians began looking for potential developing world’s where they could recruit their support staff. Having studied the archives I know that they spent over a hundred years looking for viable candidate worlds and in all that time they found a total of two: Earth and Cryella.”

“Cryella?” Cynthia queried.

“We’ll talk about Cryella and the Cryellians another day,” Miss Li continued. The Sagittarians rediscovered Earth as it searched for potential colleagues. We were not advanced enough to approach as partners, so they began conscripting people from Earth, or Terrans, to help retake Demeter nearly eight hundred years ago.”

“Wait a minute. You mean we’re draftees?” asked Randy, with ire again sounding in his voice.

“Well, in a manner of speaking, yes,” Mr. Small responded. “However, if you read your agreement for the “year abroad” program, you will notice that it clearly states that you ‘will have a culturally enriching educational experience, and be provided the opportunity to offer service in your host community. Your host community is Demeter, and I guarantee it will be culturally enriching. You also signed a confidentiality agreement, that prohibits you from discussing details of your experience with outsiders. We’re very serious about that.”

“You mean you would kill us?” Joel asked defensively.

“You’ve been watching too many science fiction movies,” Miss Li said. “No, we wouldn’t kill you. But it is relatively easy to discredit anything you say and make you look like one of those UFO nuts. Of course, not all of them are UFO nuts. Several of the most vocal ones actually served a year on Demeter.”

“On the bright side, you will learn a lot,” Mr. Small added. “Twenty-five of the richest people in the world are our former students. Many technological breakthroughs going all the way back to Leonardo da Vinci can be attributed to experiences on Demeter. Our foundation has also helped over a hundred of our alumni become heads of state. The experiences you have on Demeter are better than any college degree you might earn.”

Miss Li then gave a whimsical look at Mr. Small and added, “We actually don’t recruit nearly as many students as we used to. Demeter maintains an Earth support unit of about twenty thousand people. The majority of those who come to Demeter want to stay, or return regularly. When Roger and I were recruited, we would bring in about two hundred students a year. Now we only bring in about fifty. I’m afraid in the next fifty years, we will become a totally self-sustaining population on Demeter.”

Ryder was confused. “Why will that be a problem? Then you won’t have to kid…I mean conscript people anymore.”

“Think about it, William. From what we have already told you, why wouldn’t it be a good idea not to conscript young people anymore?” Mr. Small asked.

It was actually Rebecca who gasped, then responded. “Our technological development for the last several hundred years.”

“Exactly. A lot of the technological development slips back to Earth from our year abroad program. But the majority of participants want to stay. After a year, you’ll make your own decision. Thirty-five years ago, Yara and I decided to stay ourselves.”

“Thirty-five years ago?” Ryder asked incredulously. “I know you’re old, but I thought you were about thirty.”

“Oh, I forgot to mention that,” Mr. Small said with a broad smile. “The average life span on Demeter is two hundred to three hundred years. Ryder noticed that Athena and Randy still had their arms tightly folded. He looked over at Debbie. She had a dreamy expression on her face, the same look she got whenever she was envisioning herself as the airplane pilot, astronaut, president. No one else was talking now, so Ryder asked, “What’s next?”



Chapter 6

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet

Ryder argued with Mr. Small about their speed of travel when he informed them that Demeter was over one hundred light years from Earth.

“That’s impossible!” Ryder began. “We cannot travel faster than the speed of light, or we would be instantly converted to energy.”

“That is one theory,” Mr. Small responded.

“Wait, I know. We’re going to dive through a wormhole,” Joel interjected.

“That’s going to be cool,” added his brother Randy.

“That’s another theory. I’d rather not try,” Mr. Small said and then smiled.

“So we’re going to pass through a gate built by an ancient, unidentified starfaring culture?” Cynthia asked.

Ryder smiled. He’d seen that movie too.

“Afraid not,” Mr. Small said with a sigh, “but it would be interesting to find one of those.”

“So how are we going to do it?” Ryder asked.

“We’re just going to keep accelerating,” Mr. Small replied.

“Then we can’t go faster than the speed of light.”

Mr. Small pulled out a toy car. It appeared that he was just waiting to put it on the table. “How many of you have ever ridden in a car like this?” he asked.

Debbie quickly responded, “Not me. I’m way too big to get inside that.”

Everyone laughed.

“I’m using the model as a visual aid,” Mr. Small began. “I will presume that you all have ridden in automobiles. When the car is driving at a regular speed, do you feel like you’re moving?”

Ryder remembered driving in the family van and playing card games with Debbie. “No, I don’t feel any motion except when Dad brakes or swerves.”

“Mom’s usually the one swerving,” Debbie laughed.

“If you can, imagine traveling in a car as being inside a bubble. The vehicle can accelerate, and you feel the pressure of the acceleration. If the car swerves, you feel the pressure from side to side. But in reality you’re in a sort of bubble that protects you. The inside remains constant. We can accelerate beyond the speed of light because of the nature of the exterior of our ship. That is our magic, if you will. There is nothing mysterious about the fact that we are not suddenly turned to energy, as we reside inside the protective bubble of the ship. On the other hand, I would prefer that the ship not make a sudden left turn. Imagine our cells smashed against the far wall if we were to turn at our current speed, which is?” He turned to Miss Li.

“We just passed three hundred thousand miles per second,” she responded. “We will continue to accelerate for the next thirty-six hours.”

Ryder looked out the window expecting to see long flashes of light or total darkness. The stars were still there, and still seemed motionless, except for one reddish colored splash of light to the left. “Is that a comet?” Ryder asked.

Mr. Small walked around the table and looked out Ryder’s window. “That,” exclaimed Mr. Small, “is Mars. It is close enough that the distortion of light is clear. It does sort of look like a comet, doesn’t it?”

Mr. Small and Miss Li continued leading discussions with the group. They covered mathematics, science, reading, and writing. It felt like regular school days. But they also discussed Demeter and the lifestyles, conditions, and cultures they would be facing.

“Demeter is one of three way stations between the Saggitarius and Perseus arms of the Milky Way. Control of the way stations has shifted back and forth over the past ten thousand years. Demeter is relatively small, approximately one thousand miles in diameter. One of its best defensive features is that it is located between three star systems, but nearly a light year away from each of them.”

“It sounds cold,” Cynthia suggested.

“The surface is cold; too cold for human life-forms to exist. In fact, I am unaware of any life-forms that can exist at that temperature. But that is part of the benefit of Demeter. Energy weapons have to recharge to be effective. Those weapons recharge through proximity to stars. So the best weapons in the galaxy are limited to a single charge. Of course starships have other weapons, but the effectiveness of the energy bursts are diffused by the strategic location of Demeter. In reality, if you could get eight Per-Sian Juggernauts in the right positions, and if they fired simultaneously, they could crack the shell of Demeter. At least current theory suggests that it is possible.”

“So what’s to stop them from doing that?” Becky asked worriedly.

“Well for starters, logistics. Getting halfway across a galactic arm, say Sagittarius, to the next galactic arm, in this case Perseus, is challenging. Second, I’m unaware of more than three Juggernauts ever being in a single battle. They are expensive to construct. For either the Slicks or the Pervs, excuse me, Sagittarius League and Per-Sian forces, to concentrate that much force would deplete defenses in several sectors. Third, we have a fleet stationed at Demeter. The Slick fleet would only have to take out one Per-Sian juggernaut and the plan would be doomed. Not a very good strategy.”

“So we’re going to be stuck in dome cities, like they talk about putting on the moon?” Cynthia asked.

“Not exactly. Demeter does have eighty dome stations scattered around the surface. They are more like observatories and military watch stations. We actually live inside Demeter.”

“You mean we’re going to spend a year living in a cave?” Athena sounded disgusted.

“It’s hard to describe, although you have seen pictures of the interior of Demeter before. I had a mural of the islands off Arion in your classroom. But I think the best way to understand what Demeter is like is to see it for yourself. We’ll be doing that soon enough.” Miss Li smiled cryptically.

For dinner that evening they had a salad and pizza. Instead of a milkshake, Ryder had his standby beverage, Diet Coke. He went straight for the pizza, but Miss Li interrupted, sounding a lot like his mother “Salad first, then you can have all the pizza you want.”

Ryder didn’t mind salad, but the pizza sounded better. Once he got to the pizza, he found the cheese both flavorful and the way he liked it with every bite dangling long strands of mozzarella. The pizza sauce had a sweet tang to it that he wasn’t used to. He also tried a slice of the chicken and artichoke pizza with the white sauce. “I could get used to this,” he thought. But after five slices he started to have second thoughts, realizing he’d gone one too far.

As he started getting drowsy he realized that as comfortable as his seat was, it was not going to be that comfortable for five days. But he got another surprise when he went back to the bathroom. The entire room had expanded. Along with several stalls, there were also two shower stations. The room seemed to have stretched to nearly twenty feet.

Stepping back out of the bathroom, he noticed the interior starting to expand. His seat was shifting into a box. He was a bit disappointed that he hadn’t been sitting in his seat to watch this occur. Each chair had transformed into a small stateroom. His seat could be either a very comfortable lounge chair, or with the press of a button, it could fold down into a full-sized bed. The overhead bins, had shifted into compact closets inside the small, private room.

Mr. Small and Miss Li, took the next hour, explaining how the rooms worked. The main point that Ryder got out of the explanation was that the materials the ship was built out of were multi-layered, and could shift in size. If needed the captain could turn the Pegasus into a full-sized football field. The chameleon fabric panels were constantly moving, although the movement was invisible to the naked eye. Apparently when stretched, each stratum of the material was not much thicker than aluminum foil.

Joel pushed against the wall, but it seemed firm. Miss Li smiled, “It’s very thin, but it is not aluminum foil. It’s stronger than titanium,” then she snorted and laughed as Joel gave the wall a firmer shove.

To get the basics of converting the room back to a seat, was pretty simple. It was really, just the press of a button. But it was also important to understand the compression elements. If you left a shoe in the wrong spot, it might be a crushed bit of leather when you switched back to a room, and obviously you wouldn’t be able to find it if you left it in the wrong place. “Good way to get kids to pick up their room” Cynthia volunteered.

“Yeah, my mom would love this,” Ryder admitted.

There were numerous other features, but Ryder really wasn’t interested in reading a manual. Besides, he had little miss know-it-all around to eliminate hours of tedious reading.

“Ryder did you see how this works?” It’s like a computer screen without a keyboard. Push the screen here and a virtual keyboard appears. See the menu button? That’s a real menu. You can get snacks and anything on it that you want.” Debbie went on and on.

“What about a cheese enchilada?” Ryder asked.

Debbie typed and searched, but couldn’t locate a cheese enchilada. She seemed to get more and more frustrated, pushing keys and conducting searches so fast that Ryder started to get dizzy. Finally, Ryder admitted, “I already asked Mr. Small. We’re limited to the menu items programmed in. The system doesn’t know how to make a cheese enchilada.”

Debbie glared at Ryder, then grabbed the nearest throwable object, which fortunately turned out to be Ryder’s pillow.

Five days passed quickly. On day three the Pegasus started slowing, rather than accelerating. Unfortunately for Randy and Athena, they were not in their chairs at the time, and wound up entangled on the floor, with Athena on top, as they shifted from the momentum. “This stupid plane,” Athena grumbled.

Randy said, “yah, stupid plane,” but he was smiling as he stood up.

“We need to get home!” Athena groused for the thirty or fortieth time.

Getting home had been a common conspiratorial topic when Mr. Small and Miss Li were not present. Randy had suggested commandeering the ship. Athena had suggested simply refusing to do or eat anything until Mr. Small and Miss Li agreed to take them home. Ryder had listened but countered, their arguments by simply asking, “And then what?” For himself, he wasn’t really sure what to do yet.

Debbie had wangled her way onto the bridge with the flight crew, who had remained noticeably absent throughout the flight. She and, surprisingly, Rebecca had shown a keen interest in the flight crew, and had both spent hour after hour with them. Ryder now heard Debbie’s voice over the intercom. “Everybody, it’s time to buckle up. We’re going to change speeds several times over the next few minutes as we prepare to land.”

The good news was that with Debbie gone, Ryder had a chance to talk with Cynthia more and more. He pondered Cynthia’s response, when he had asked her about their adventure. “So, what do you think?”

“I’m excited. I think this is going to be even more interesting than a year in Europe. I want to investigate their medical advances. I’ve always planned to go to medical school. Imagine what this could mean if they’re as advanced as Miss Li says they are.”

Ryder had thought about that several times since. Cynthia’s excitement about going to Demeter reduced his own anxiety. A year with Cynthia anywhere sounded appealing wherever they were. But Cynthia knew exactly what she wanted, and what she hoped to get out of the experience. Even Debbie seemed to know what she wanted, even if it did change every ten minutes. But what did he want to get out of it?*Version*=1&*entries*=0


A million miles per hour with solar sails

Artist's Illustration of Electric-Sail Spacecraft

Aloha – The practical applications of solar sails powered by the protons, electrons and other charged particles generated by solar flares and solar storms appears to be on the near horizon (thank goodness as I used similar future technology for Salt of the Earth).  It is a short article, but if interested you can find it at

Accepting that this is an acceleration model, Earth to the Moon is problematic.  However, this could put travel to the Sun, if you know how to tack to the Solar Wind at a mere four day journey once full acceleration was achieved.  That’s two days to Mars.  Of course it would probably take weeks to build such momentum, so let’s put a trip to Mars at two weeks.  Of course one of the challenges we’d have to face for manned flights using this technology is that the very particles that would drive the ship would also sicken the crew.


Suiting up for Mars

In most juvenile science fiction novels of the 50s and 60s the most advantageous way to get into space was to be the children of scientists.  Other good ways to become an astronaut included:  (1) being kidnapped by aliens, (2) find a space ship (not quite as hard as winning the lottery apparently), (3) being really good at video games.  Oh-oh, I could be in trouble, some of those factor into the Orions Spur series.  Shaking it off.  If we go back to the early 20th century it could be because you’re an amazing warrior (John Carter).  Now we’re into early recruitment for the Mars mission, set sometime in the next twenty years.  So what’s the right stuff?

  1. Not too tall, not too short – If you’re under 5’2″  you’re out of luck and if you’re over 6’2″ its a no go.  Now I understand the too tall piece.  Some of those seats make Jet Blue seats look comfortable, and for six months at a time.  I don’t want the person next to me being 6’6″ tall and 550 pounds, especially if I have a center seat.  On the other hand I can see some clear advantages to very short, or small people being able to get into tight spots for repairs.  I think they might have a case for discrimination on this one.
  2. People with bi-polar disorder, multiple personality, schizophrenia, tendency to go nuts in small spaces for extended periods of time, serial killers, and people with depression and suicidal thoughts need not apply.  This is an interesting, almost problematic condition.  After all, spending six months inside the equivalent of a tree house box will drive all participants to one or more of the above.  It might make sense to make these disorders a requirement in advance.
  3. Should have 20/20 vision.  This could also be problematic as prolonged space travel currently will result in deteriorating vision.
  4. Must be free of drug, alcohol, or tobacco dependency.  Really?  This could be the ultimate Betty Ford Clinic experience.
  5. Applicants can come from any country in the world as long as they speak English with an American, or in special cases an English or Australian accent.  No off-world, illegal aliens will be accepted.
  6. Must have a ‘can do’ attitude.  Imagine traveling 200 million miles with Eeyore, everyone would again fall victim to #2 above.
  7. Must be adaptable (no applicants from the KKK, ISIS, or the Nazi party allowed)
  8. Must be curious.  Really?  Someone who is not curious is applying for this?
  9. Ability to trust.  That takes out survivors of a bad relationship
  10. Creative and resourceful.  Finally something for left handed people.
  11. Must be 18 years or older to apply

There you have it.  I’m considering applying as I meet most of the requirements.  Of course I’ll be in my 80s by launch time.


Chapter 4 – Orion’s Spur: Volume 1 Demeter

Aloha – Sorry for the delay in posting Chapter 4.  I had the misfortune of having a heart attack Friday.  All is well, but it has slowed me down a bit.  Meanwhile, enjoy Chapter 4.

Chapter 4

Outta This World

Ryder was surprised how easily his parents had gone along with his going abroad for a year. They sounded almost as if they had been expecting the trip to Europe. Mom had gone so far as to say, “We knew it had to come up sooner or later.” They had been more hesitant about Debbie going along.

“She’s too young,” Mother had said.

“I’m not so much worried about her age as her sense of adventure,” Dad had stated. “She’s not afraid of anything, and I don’t think she has the judgment to avoid mischief. I just don’t think she’s ready for Europe and all that goes with it.” Ryder would never admit it to Debbie, but he had finally sold his parents on letting her come. She had been in tears when she ran to her bedroom. “I’ll take care of her,” Ryder volunteered. “I’ll make sure she stays out of trouble.”

Ryder tossed and turned as he tried to get to sleep that night. The excitement of visiting a far off land had him contemplating the things he might see, the places he might visit. He rose three different times to check out information about the Swiss Alps, the Prado, and finally the Black Forest. He could not seem to get his mind to shut down. Finally, he decided to get up and grab a snack from the refrigerator. As he reached the kitchen, he could overhear voices in the dining room.

“Elise, we knew this day would come. We’ve been planning on it for what, six years now?” he heard his father console.

“But it wasn’t for another year. William isn’t even sixteen yet.” His mother sounded on the edge of tears. “And Deborah? You know the troubles I had. She isn’t even close to old enough to go.”

“Yes, I was surprised that Debbie was invited too. But it makes some sense. She’ll have William to keep an eye on her. I’d rather she went the same time he goes,” his dad replied.

“It isn’t safe,” Mother stuttered.

Ryder felt embarrassed. He never liked to be around when she, or anyone else for that matter, was crying.

“Frankly,” Ryder’s dad interjected, “after what William experienced at that ridiculous excuse of a school, I think they will both be safer at Europe. Who knows, maybe they’ll bring us back some dewsnips?”

Ryder heard his mother laugh halfheartedly as he slipped back down the stairs. He decided he would definitely have to bring some dewsnips home. He spent the next hour trying to find the word online, but despite using every combination he could think of, he came up empty. The search did get his mind off the upcoming trip, and eventually he dozed off at his computer.

Over the next few weeks Ryder frequently regretted talking his parents into letting Debbie come along. She seemed twice as irritating as normal, and her confidence seemed to be expanding beyond reality.

“I’ll bet I can get the pilot to let me fly the plane,” she boasted. She would then go on to say she was going to be a pilot when she grew up. Later, she was going to join the Air Force. Then she was going to be the President of the United States.

“After that I assume you’ll be an astronaut and become a multi-millionaire selling energy drinks,” Ryder responded sarcastically.

The fire in Debbie’s eye warned him in time, and he ducked as the TV controller sailed past his head and broke against the far wall.

“Dad’s going to kill you.” Ryder laughed as he fled to his room, locking the door behind him as Debbie’s body slammed into it.

“I’ll get you sooner or later,” she screamed. “You have to come out some time.”

Ryder assumed that one of the reasons his parents had agreed to the trip was because the anonymous donors for the school program were funding everything. The biggest costs so far had been the exorbitant price of a rushed passport and their luggage.

The airport wasn’t crowded when his family arrived at the terminal at five in the morning as they had been instructed to do. They checked their luggage, and then found out that the security line didn’t open until six o’clock. “This doesn’t make sense,” Ryder complained. “Why do we need to be here an hour early if security doesn’t open until thirty minutes before our flight?” The whole family had come along. Debbie and her twin sisters had slept all the way to the airport. In fact, Ryder wondered if Mom had needed to dress Debbie while she slept. However, once they got to the airport, Debbie was fully alert, jumping up and down and chirping so loud that Ryder was embarrassed to be near her. Dawn and Marie could barely be rousted to get out of the car and dragged along behind with Mother.

The wait at security was the worst, though. The twins began crying. Something must have gotten into Mom’s eye as she kept blinking, then Dad gave Ryder one of his famous bear hugs, but wouldn’t let go. By the time the security line opened, the whole family was in some variation of tears, including Ryder. He wanted to say, “Hey, it’s no big deal; it’s like summer camp. You won’t even know we’ve been gone,” but the words just didn’t come out. He gave Mom a big hug, and then with Debbie’s help got the sisters to giggle by giving a pimple hug, where they would select one of the siblings to be stuck in the middle for a tight squeeze.

Ryder wondered where the other kids were. Miss Li was near the head of the line for security and told Ryder and Debbie that she would see them when they got through the queue. When they got through, he watched as other members of the class snaked their way through security. He noticed that Cynthia came with her extended family. She must have had fifteen to twenty people with her including siblings, aunts, and uncles. Rebecca had just her parents with her. Randy, Joel, and Athena all came together, and there was only one adult with them. The woman hugged Randy, Joel, and Athena in succession, so Ryder wasn’t sure whom she belonged to. Finally Mr. Small came running toward security as Miss Li was escorting the rest of the group up the escalator to the gates. The look Miss Li gave Mr. Small could have cut through sheet metal.

Mr. Small finally caught up with them at Gate A-17. The person at the desk had already announced that the plane was boarding families with small children, then first class, then “all tickets in group A.” Ryder looked at his ticket, “Group C,” and was wondering when they would get on the plane.

“Sorry I’m late,” an out-of-breath Mr. Small began.

Miss Li had her hands on her hips, with a cross look on her face.

“I forgot to bring this from my apartment and had to run back and get it,” he offered apologetically as he handed Miss Li a small box. “I know I could get you a bigger one where we’re going, but I like the Earth variety better.”

Miss Li opened the box and then opened the smaller box inside, which contained a ring with a small diamond. She smiled, then wiped away a tear. “Roger, you are way too nostalgic.” Then she turned toward the gate. “All right, ladies and gentlemen, they just called Group C, let’s line up and get going.”

Ryder noticed that she put the ring on her left ring finger but didn’t look down at it as she slipped the box into her coat pocket. As soon as Debbie saw Miss Li putting the ring on her finger, she started bouncing and laughing, and soon the other three girls were doing the same thing around Miss Li. “So when are you getting married, Miss Li? Can I come? Can I be a bridesmaid?” Debbie said enthusiastically.

Miss Li quickly shut down the excitement. “Everyone, we need to board now, or we will miss the flight.”

The rows of seats were small and cramped. Ryder kept bumping his knees into the seat in front of him, which was doubly troublesome as Cynthia was sitting there. Debbie, of course, had finagled the window seat next to Cynthia.

After the plane took flight, Ryder’s excitement quickly waned. There was not much to see. He read through the flight magazines in about thirty minutes, then sat wishing he had taken a book out of his backpack to read. As his mind began to wander, he reflected on how easily he had made friends with both Joel and Randy. Although their first love was sports—any sports—they were so enthusiastic about everything it was hard not to join in, one way or another. Randy and Joel had talked Ryder into a little hike two weeks earlier. The little hike turned into a fifteen-mile ATV ride (they supplied the ATV), then some rock climbing. Ryder had never been so scared or exhilarated in his life. They had successfully scaled the last one hundred feet to some peak, with the opportunity for instant death at every handhold. The view of the valley on the one side, and the rows of mountains going back behind them as far as he could see, had been fantastic. It was the first time he had gotten an understanding of what “purple mountains majesty” meant. The analytical side of his mind simply interpreted it as the way the sun refracted the light and shadowed it. Still it was really cool.

“Do you think we’ll have time to leave the airport in Chicago?” Joel asked simply as they were discussing the trip.

“I don’t think so. I believe the tickets say the layover will only be forty-five minutes.” Ryder responded.

“Too bad. I’d love to climb the Sears Tower,” Joel continued.

“Willis Tower,” Ryder corrected.

“Huh?” both Randy and Joel responded in unison.

“It’s not the Sears Tower anymore. It was renamed the Willis Tower a few years ago.” He added, “We couldn’t climb the Willis Tower anyway. We’d just take an elevator to the observation deck. I’ve actually been there once. It wasn’t that great, but it was an overcast day, so you really couldn’t see too far.”

Joel looked disappointed, so Ryder added, “Maybe we can take the elevator up the Eiffel Tower in France.”

“Are we actually going to France?” Becky looked up from the book she was reading.

Ryder thought for a moment. “I assume so. Hard to imagine going to Europe without visiting Paris. But I still haven’t seen our itinerary.”

Cynthia joined the conversation. “I’m not so sure that we will spend much time in major cities.”

“Why not?” Debbie straightened up in her seat.

“Well, for one thing, they told us not to buy calling cards because we wouldn’t be able to use them.”

“Yeah,” Randy interjected, “I think it sucks that we can’t bring video games or cell phones or any electronics.”

“Miss Li says that electronics would take away from the experience, and that they wouldn’t work in Europe anyway,” Cynthia responded.

“Actually, there are some differences in the electrical connections between here and Europe. I already checked on that,” Ryder said sheepishly. “You can purchase adapters here in the States. But Mr. Small assured me that we would have all the computer technology we would want or need where we’re going.”

“How is that possible if we don’t have cell phone connections?” Randy interrupted. “We should at least be able to use Skype or something,” he added.

“Well I don’t care what they say,” Athena whispered conspiratorially. “My parents bought me a dozen hundred-minute calling cards. They’re in the makeup compartment of my bag.”

“I used Skype last time I was in Madrid with my parents,” Becky acknowledged. “That’s probably the best way to go.”

Cynthia shook her head, “I really don’t think we should be violating the rules before we even get started. I’m sure it will all make sense when we get there. At least that’s what my great aunt said.” She paused. “Thank goodness for my great aunt. If it weren’t for her, I don’t think I would have been able to talk Papi into letting me come. Mother was okay, but Father was totally against it.”

“I think our aunt and uncle were glad to be rid of us,” Randy snickered.

Joel affirmed, “Yeah, happy to be rid of us for a while.”

Ryder fell silent. Something wasn’t right. The more he thought about the strange instructions, the more they didn’t make sense.

O’Hare International Airport was huge. Ryder noticed masses of people everywhere. It looked worse than the one time he’d talked his parents into getting up at five in the morning to go to Walmart the day after Thanksgiving. The next thing Ryder noticed was the Chicago Dog vendor. Ryder was a big fan of hotdogs, and he had heard that the Chicago Dog was the best. It became clear that his target was out of reach when Miss Li actually yelled out, “Concourse M-23! We’ll have to hurry to make the flight!”

Running down the concourse was challenging. Ryder had to keep an eye on Debbie, who was in wide-eyed wonder and wanting to stop along the way. He also had to avoid collisions with self-absorbed travelers going in a different direction while keeping an eye on Cynthia, who seemed to be running a little slower than the rest of the group, just so he didn’t lose them. After he and Debbie gang tackled a businessman in a suit with a rolling suitcase, Cynthia actually stopped and came back.

“Can I help?” she asked.

“Yes, take Debbie, and I’ll carry her bag,” Ryder got out in an exasperated voice.

Cynthia seemed to immediately get Debbie’s full attention, and they actually started to catch up with the back of the group.

According to the clock on the wall, they arrived at M-23 ten minutes after the flight was supposed to leave, but it was still there. They checked through the counter in a rush and ran down an empty jet bridge. Ryder caught glimpses of the plane through the porthole-type windows as they entered the plane’s threshold. It looks a little odd, he thought, then rushed in behind Debbie and bumped into Cynthia. “I’m sorry,” he said panicky.

“I’m not,” Cynthia quipped, breathing hard from the run.

The interior of the plane was really different. It was black with brown leather seats. The black reminded Ryder of a Japanese jewelry box his mother owned. What was that called? Lacquer, that’s it, he thought. The aisles were wider, with only two seats on each side. The seats were even larger than first class on the previous flight. He didn’t have to bend over to walk down the aisle or even when he slid into his chair. The overhead compartments were harder to reach, but deeper than the previous plane. Along with his backpack he could have easily placed his two suitcases in the space. Ryder also noticed that he did not have to stand in a line inside the plane to get to his seat. He figured that was just because they were late. “Wow, this is the way to fly. I wonder if all international flights are like this,” he mumbled.

Rebecca Creer was sitting next to him. Debbie and Cynthia were across the aisle. Ryder knew two things about Rebecca: she would read the entire way, and she wouldn’t say a word to him. Debbie once counted, and announced to Ryder, that Rebecca had only spoken seven words all day in class.

Rebecca turned to Ryder. “Something is not right with this. I’ve traveled to Europe twice before, and this just isn’t right,” she declared.

Ryder was in shock. “What did you say?” he asked stupidly. More surprised that she had spoken to him than by what she had said.

“The planes for international flights are more crowded and uncomfortable than domestic flights. When my family and I went to Spain last year, I could barely hold my book up without having my arms go into spasms. This is bizarre,” She declared.

There was a doorbell-like ping, and the pilot announced that they would be leaving shortly, and to fasten their seatbelts.

Ryder looked for the carlike seatbelt, and was immediately confused. “Miss Li, I don’t have a seatbelt,” he complained. It was at this point he noticed something else: there was no flight attendant to ask for help.

Miss Li walked to the front and immediately had everyone’s attention. “You will probably notice that this is a private plane, as opposed to a regular airliner. You’ll need to fasten your safety equipment. Sit back in your seat and press the blue button on the arm rest. But be sure you are sitting back as far as you can in your seat when you push the button.” She then sat down quietly, as if to demonstrate, and pushed the blue button on her console. There was a faint purr, and several restraining devices automatically deployed, firmly securing her to the chair. Ryder heard several other purrs and clicks. He looked at Rebecca, and then pushed the button. A moment later she did the same.

The plane moved out onto the runway and left shortly thereafter.

Rebecca had a concerned look on her face, but then opened her book and started to read. Ryder guessed that further discussion would be futile and pulled out a book of his own. The seat was very comfortable, although more restraining than he had experienced on the previous flight. He felt more secure somehow.

Two hours later, he put down his book and looked out the window. It was nice to be able to have the window seat for a change. They had passed over the last of the landmass. They were now crossing over the Atlantic. Off to the side, he saw another plane that looked a little more familiar in style than their own. He thought they were awfully close, as he could make out the plane ID, J-773. Wait a minute, he thought, the tail of our plane was J-773. That’s when things really started to get strange.

The ping of the announcement system went off, and the pilot’s voice came back over the intercom. “Please be sure that your restraining devices are firmly in place. We will be accelerating in one minute.”

Miss Li got out of her seat, as did Mr. Small, and checked everyone’s restraints. “Looks good up here,” called out Mr. Small.

“We are clear back here as well,” responded Miss Li.

After the teachers were reseated, Ryder could feel the pressure as they accelerated and angled sharply upward. The crushing sensation continued for several minutes, and Ryder’s ribs started to ache. The sky began to turn purple, then finally black, and for a moment, Ryder thought he was passing out. The stars, I’ve never seen them so bright, he thought. Wait a minute, what are we doing up here! He then panicked and tried to get out of his seat. The securing system was locked. They were trapped!

Want to read the entire novel now?  It is available on Amazon at the following link.  Or just stay tuned and I’ll continue posting subsequent chapters.  Earlier chapters are available in my blog.  Doc*Version*=1&*entries*=0