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
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?”
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.”
“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?