Which Star Wars is Best?

Aloha – In May of 1977 I took my two month old, eldest son to see Star Wars.  I wasn’t yet aware of the hype or cultural phenomenon that it would become.  I waited until my, now 38 year old son, came home for Christmas before going to see the new Star Wars movie.  I was not disappointed, nor was he or his mother.  Was it the best Star Wars ever?

In my opinion it is impossible for it to be the best Star Wars ever.  The first film was as dramatic a shift, in fact more so, than Avatar.  I have no qualms with the story writing, nor the pacing of the new film.  In many ways it is equal to Episode IV and thankfully without as nasty a cliff hanger as Lucas left us with after Episode V; it just isn’t as fresh.  Solo is tired and plays Harrison Ford plays that tired at a level beyond acting.  Leia…. well better than expected.  Turning Mark Hamill into Obi-Wan-Kanobi was not a surprise.  At least Chewbacca seemed as alive as ever :o).  The new actors do a commendable job of pulling me into rooting for them.  With all that said, I clearly believe Episode IV or perhaps V is the best episode of the series still.  Even so, I look forward with delight to the next episode… glad its only two years rather than three.  Doc

Demeter – Chapter 11

Aloha – A reminder that the earlier chapters of Demeter are all available in the blog, and that if you want to catch any or all of the books in the Orion’s Spur series (beginning with Demeter) they are available on Amazon.  I’ll share a link at the end of this posting.  Meanwhile, Ryder is introduced to what many on Earth would consider to be Gamer’s paradise in this chapter as he gets his first assignment after being shanghaied to Demeter a hundred light years from Earth.  Doc


Chapter 11


Ryder awoke to the pestering sound of his sister’s voice in his ear. “Ryder, wake up. You’re late.” Then a little louder. “Ryder!” He jumped.

“Dweeb, leave me alone.”

“Oh good, you’re up. Hey, we’re having breakfast. You are supposed to be to your assignment in about thirty minutes. I’m off. I’ll see you this evening.”

“Huh? What do you mean ‘assignment’? And where do you think you’re going?”

“Becky and I are apprenticed to Joshua for the next few weeks. We need to be down to the terminal in a few minutes, and I’m on my way now. Didn’t you read your assignment last night?”

Ryder realized as his head was starting to clear that he had not finished going through the contents of his package. He started rifling through more papers and materials, and finally found one entitled “Service assignment.” Scanning through the one page, official-looking document, he read that he was to report to the SPC on the 442nd floor. The paper gave a map of how to get there, going to the observation deck, then back into the mountain through the door that read “Authorized Personnel Only,” then to an elevator that would take him down to the 442nd floor. He was to report to Perthola Steerman, Director of SPC, at 0800 sharp. “That’s in twenty-five minutes,” he said, inhaling sharply.

Ryder was still in his clothes from the previous day. He grabbed a clean shirt, raced into the bathroom, splashed water on his face, and ran his fingers through his now wet hair. Guess that will do it, he thought. He grabbed two energy bars from the kitchenette, realizing this was starting to become a bad habit, especially as they didn’t taste that great, and raced out the door. He actually reached the entryway to the 442nd floor with one minute to spare. “Made it.” He sighed.

The plaque next to the front door read “Strategic Planning Center.” He took a deep breath and walked in. Inside was a reception area with a young man no older than himself sitting at the desk.

“May I help you?” The young man was tall, even sitting behind the desk. He had flaming red hair, and his face was covered in freckles.

“I’m here to meet with…” Ryder paused, realizing that he had forgotten the name on the paper. He heard a voice from the side.

“I suspect he is here to meet with Perthola Steerman.” Ryder turned and noticed Mr. Small and Cynthia sitting next to each other in a small waiting area.

“I believe that’s correct,” Ryder responded sheepishly.

“And you are?” The young man’s sharp blue eyes reflected impatience.

“I’m Ryder.”

“Ryder what?” the receptionist challenged.

“Oh, sorry, William Ryder.”

“Yes, you do have an appointment. Director Steerman will be with you shortly.” The young man gave a single nod of the head, and Ryder fully understood he was to join the others in the waiting area.

A few minutes later they were all advised that Director Steerman would meet with them in conference room C. Again, with a nod of his head, the receptionist gave them enough information to know exactly where to go. They turned down the hallway and proceeded past two doorways to a third with a large C on it. “I guess this is the place,” Cynthia nervously whispered.

The door was ajar, so they walked into a vacant room that had a round table and several chairs. The wall was polished black stone. The table was shaped out of a speckled granite. The chairs were not made out of stone, but rather a light colored, but solid, wood. Ryder walked over to the window that overlooked the sea and watched the barge-type vessels that were moving up the coast on the still waters. Cynthia joined him and smiled. “I think I will never grow weary of this view.”

“Me either. What’s that over there?” He could see one of the hoppers fluttering from side to side, like it was trying to be a butterfly. He suddenly laughed. “I think they’ve put Dweeb behind the steering wheel again.”

Cynthia rose to Debbie’s defense. “You know, it could be Becky. I suspect that flying the hopper will come naturally to Debbie. I’m not so sure about Becky. I watched her play softball once, and she couldn’t seem to bend her elbows or knees. I don’t think she’s that coordinated.”

“Ahem,” came a throat-clearing cough as a short, heavyset woman entered the room. Her demeanor showed she was clearly in charge. She was wearing a grey jacket and gray slacks with a darker grey strip down the outer side of her pant leg. She had several hash marks up one side of the right sleeve of her jacket, and an insignia of some sort on her collar that Ryder could not decipher. Even Mr. Small stood up straighter as she entered. The woman had that greenish-brown hue that identified her as a Cryellian. Ryder realized that he had not seen that many Cryellians in Europe, perhaps a few dozen. He still found the orange-speckled eyes distracting.

“Everyone, be seated,” the Director said in a clipped voice. “Roger, I see from the reports that you and Miss Li have returned with seven candidates. I thought you were recruiting nine.”

Mr. Small shrugged. “Three of the candidates moved before we were able to recruit them for the trip to Europe. We inadvertently picked up one additional candidate, but she is already doing well. Hence, seven,” Mr. Small stated in a matter-of-fact tone. He did not seem intimidated.

“Ms. Flores, Mr. Ryder, are you aware of why you are here?”

“Something about being drafted for a year,” Ryder responded.

“It’s much more complicated than that. You also have rights to be here. Mr. Small, have you explained that as well?”

“Not yet.” Mr. Small seemed troubled. “The Director-General prefers that conscripts discover Demeter on its own merits.”

“Hmmm…well, his judgment on these Earth matters is something I rely on. If I try to start second-guessing the foolish tactics of Terrans and lieutenants, I’d be in a perpetual state of apprehension and dismay.” She paused. “It is what it is,” she said, and returned to her papers.

“You’re a lieutenant?” Ryder whispered in Mr. Small’s direction.

“Mr. Small is not a lieutenant in the sense of rank. From a Rank perspective, Mr. Small is a major in the DDF, excuse me, Demeter Defense Force,” Director Steerman explained. “He also holds a captaincy in the Sagittarian League, which is extremely rare for people from your planet.”

Apparently, Mr. Small decided to return the favor. “Director Steerman is a colonel in the DDF, and the Cryellian ambassador to Demeter. She is actually the second in command of the joint Demeter Defense Force.”

Ryder decided to take the plunge. “That brings up an interesting question. I have seen plenty of people from Earth here and at Arion, but I haven’t seen a lot of Cryellians in either place. Yet it seems there should be…”

“More of us?” Director Steerman interjected. “Actually, you will periodically see Europe and Arion flooded with Cryellians; however, the Cryellians handle most of the exterior work, space defense, while personnel from Earth handle most of the land-based maintenance and defensive structure. It seems to work better than trying to integrate forces.” She smiled sardonically at Mr. Small.

An awkward silence followed until Cynthia asked, “So what are Ryder and I supposed to do?”

Director Steerman immediately drew back from her thoughts. “You and Mr. Ryder have been selected as trainees in the SPC. Ryder has the heritage and demeanor for strategic planning. In your case, Ms. Flores, you have expressed a special interest in the medical field, which is actually housed with SPC because of the complex nature of medicine both on and off world. Is that satisfactory?”

Cynthia beamed. “Yes, ma’am. Thank you.”

“And you, Ryder?”

“I guess that’s all right. I’ve always enjoyed strategy games.”

“So let the games begin,” Mr. Small said.

Director Steerman made a whispered call on her bug,. Shortly, two escorts were at the door. “Ms. Flores and Mr. Ryder, I believe you’ve met Lieutenant Aster Freeport—and in this case, lieutenant is the right word—and Ensign Duncan Steerman, my son.” The director scowled, and Ensign Steerman turned a bright shade of green. “They will escort you to your new assignments and help with your orientation.

Ryder got paired with Lieutenant Freeport and followed him down a series of hallways that led to a large room, but no other people. “Okay, grub, looks like I’m your nursemaid this week. This is the simulated control center. I’ll be introducing you to systems, then take you through some elementary scenarios.”

“Look, if we’re going to work together, can we knock off the insults. You can call me Ryder? What do you want me to call you?”

“How about Lieutenant Freeport?” came a snarky reply.

“How about Aster?” Ryder responded neutrally, holding out his hand.

Aster stared at Ryder for several seconds and finally released a long breath, “Okay, Aster will be fine, but don’t try it with Duncan. I’d stick with Ensign Steerman with him for a while.”

“Why? What did I do to him?”

“You got us both grounded for a week,” Aster responded dolefully as he started working the controls of the computer.

“Grounded? You seem a bit old to be grounded. And how did I manage to do that anyway?” Ryder snapped back.

“Well, it was a stretch that we were able to get to Arion to see you grubs—sorry, I mean Terrans—arrive.” Aster’s voice softened a bit. “We wanted to see what you looked like. So we took the last couple of days of our leave to see you. That was supposed to be it, but we wound up creating a bit of an incident. Once we were found out, Duncan’s mother had a fit. She grounded our entire squadron, so you can imagine how popular we are in the squadron right now. By the way, that unpopularity extends to you as well.”

Ryder stood in awe. “To see us? There are thousands of us all over Demeter. What’s to see?”

“You don’t know?” Aster seemed genuinely surprised.

“No, I don’t.”

“Well, it’s not my place to say then.” Aster leered. “You’ll have to get Major Small to brief you.”

Ryder tried much of the rest of the day to get more out of Aster about but to no avail. On the other hand, Aster was very informative on the setup of the Simulated Control Center. It was a gamer’s dream world. Holistic, three-dimensional shapes came across the walls and center of the room. Ryder tried to count how many different computers were operating at a given time, but he couldn’t figure it out as the systems interfaced seamlessly.

Ryder and Aster started with simple two-dimensional graphics, and then moved to two-dimensional pictures of the inner views of the interior of Demeter. Ryder then learned how to manipulate the views into three-dimensional settings. After that, Aster showed him the exterior views, including visualizations up to a light year in all directions. They went back to sightseeing the interior of the waters and islands of Demeter. Aster finally said, definitively, “Enough. I’ve had enough for one day. Tomorrow we can get into the simulations.”

“But we’ve hardly started,” Ryder complained.

“I agree, but we worked right through lunch, and the facilities lock up in another thirty minutes. Steerman is probably ready to do a dead drop from the observation deck by now, with or without a chute.”

Ryder suddenly realized the grumbling sound he was hearing had been his stomach rebelling against his lack of lunch. He looked at the wall clock and realized it was after 1800. “Okay, what time do we start tomorrow?”

“How about eight hundred?”

“How about six hundred?”

“Let’s settle for seven hundred, then. But I’m having lunch tomorrow.” Aster smiled sincerely for the first time all day.

Cynthia was waiting for Ryder as he came out the “Authorized Personnel Only” door. “Well, how was your first day? I didn’t see you at lunch. I ate with Duncan.”

“Duncan. He lets you call him Duncan?” Ryder queried suspiciously as he pushed the button to the elevator to take them up to the observation deck level.

“I didn’t give him any choice.” She laughed. “He seems to be carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.”

“Yes, I can imagine. I suspect everyone on his team would like to strangle him right now.” Ryder added in an off-handed manner as they entered the elevator.

“What do you mean?” Cynthia looked truly curious.

“Well, he and Aster led a spy mission to Arion, just to see us arrive. They weren’t supposed to make contact, so they wound up getting their whole wing, or team, or squad, or something grounded,” Ryder said as they arrived at the 445th floor.

“That’s not the only thing I learned,” Cynthia whispered conspiratorially. “He’s the son of the Director.”

“Yeah, we both heard that.” Ryder automatically blocked the elevator door open for Cynthia as they emerged from the elevator.

“Well, as the Director’s only child, he is likely to inherit her seat eventually. It’s kind of like some nobility class thing up here,” Cynthia said as she walked the view area of the observation deck. “This is so beautiful.” She exhaled slowly, taking in the vista. Turning back toward Ryder, she said, “He was already unpopular with a lot of his peers. It showed, even when eating lunch. He would have been eating alone if I hadn’t insisted that we eat together. No one else wanted to be around him.”

“So how was playing doctor with Duncan anyway?” Ryder said to tease her.

Cynthia actually blushed. “I did not ‘play doctor’ with Duncan. He wasn’t even around most of the day. I think he was running errands for Mommy. He’s not even in the medical field. The doctors, meanwhile, are astounding. They have equipment I have never even heard of. They showed me a bath of some mixture where they were actually regrowing a young man’s leg. They said he’d be in the bath most of the next three months, then rehab for another year, but he’ll have his own leg back again. I wish we could do that on Earth.”

“So you can do that now?” Ryder asked as his stomach grumbled.

“Not me. I’m doing observation all this week. If I’m still interested, and they think I’m suited to the work, then I’ll spend most of this year learning how to do things they do. They referred to it as an apprenticeship. Then if I stay, or come back, I can move on to the internship.” Cynthia seemed intent.

“Stay?” The rumblings of Ryder’s stomach grew louder.

“I’m just saying if…” but her eyes had a dreamy look that suggested she had already made up her mind. “But for now, we better go get you something to eat.”

Back with the group, Ryder found out that eveyone enjoyed their first day of service. Athena was working on internal meteorology. She seemed excited, and was talking about going to the ice fields. Randy and Joel had both gotten involved in training in some robotic suits and were discussing taking them out for a flight. Becky was talkative. She and Debbie had been flying hoppers all day. They hadn’t crashed once. “Although,” Becky said, “Debbie came awful close to that rock formation. She actually caused a landslide with the tip of the hopper.”

“It wasn’t that big a landslide,” Debbie said defensively. “And Joshua said that he had never seen anyone take to flying better than me.”

Becky nodded. “Yes, Debbie is amazing. I think I’m getting the hang of it, and Joshua says I’m doing great, but Debbie sometimes scares me. She knows no fear. I’m not so sure that that landslide wasn’t a bit of a problem. The farmer said it would take months to clean up the mess, and that us flyboys needed to be more careful.” Both Becky and Debbie giggled as they could apparently still vividly recall the look on the farmer’s face.

“It’s not that funny,” Athena responded to their giggles. “You may not realize this, but every crag and crevice is mapped and influences the weather and ecosystem of Demeter. I know that the report of the landslide did not bode well with the Director of Meteorology. He called an emergency meeting to do something they called remapping the system.”

“I’ll be more careful tomorrow.” Debbie gave her insincere apology look that Ryder could clearly identify, but wasn’t sure if Athena caught it. Athena quickly turned back to her conversation with Randy and Joel.

The next four days flew by for Ryder. He found ways to zoom in on individual areas both inside and outside of Demeter. Aster coached him on the different types of craft, ranging from hoppers to small interstellar craft, such as Pegasus, to the large Sagittarius League vessels, referred to as SL class naval vessels, or Slicks. On the third day, he and Aster started gaming. The simulations were tied into everything from self-inflicted disasters to full-scale invasions with various forces. Aster “kicked Ryder’s butt.” On day three, Ryder got his first victory, finding a faster solution than Aster did to a mock distress call inside the Demeter shell. On day four, Ryder battled Aster to a draw in a simulated external invasion. Granted, Aster had invaded with an inferior force, but it was as close as Ryder had come to winning such a simulation. It reminded him of when his grandfather had let him win a game of chess. Ryder knew his grandpa had let him win, but it still tasted sweet the first time.

“Well, hope you have a great week off,” Aster commented at lunch. “I’ll be back on duty when you get back.”

Ryder hadn’t thought about the fact that he was going to be on a five-day weekend. He was feeling torn. He was looking forward to the time he could spend with Cynthia and his friends from Earth, but he really wanted to get the hang of these games. “Why don’t you join us this weekend?” he finally inquired.

“I don’t think that will work. We’re still in a blackhole with Director Steerman. I think she’s got us hand washing pots and pans or something like that.”

Ryder paused. “I might have an idea. Let me talk with Cynthia.” He immediately called her on his bug

After talking with her, Ryder was busy on the computer for several minutes.

“Hey, Ryder, we still have three simulations to complete,” Aster chided.

“Give me a minute,” Ryder responded, meaning he needed five.

When Ryder finished, the two completed their three simulations. On the first one, Aster came up with a solution to a rescue scenario that would have taken two fewer hours and cost ten percent less than Ryder’s solution. On the next scenario, examining cost of production of three new Pegasus class spaceships, Ryder was ten percent over Aster’s costs. “You’ve got to combine facts with hunches,” Aster advised. On the final scenario, a collapsed mine rescue, Ryder created a solution that beat Aster’s solution by thirty percent on time and cost. “You just got lucky,” Aster challenged.

Ryder smiled. “Well, I think if we had another week, it wouldn’t be luck.” Just then his attention was drawn to a popup notice of incoming mail. It was a carbon copy of a message addressed to Lieutenant Aster Freeport. “Please be advised that per apprentice Ryder’s request, you and Ensign Steerman are assigned to lead a two-day tour of the canyons tomorrow. Colonel Steerman.”

By the time he finished reading the message, Aster had obviously received and read the terse message. He stated in awe, “Okay, maybe it’s not all luck.”

“So what time are we leaving tomorrow?” Ryder smiled as he looked over his computer control panel.

“Eight hundred sharp. Don’t be late.” Aster tried to hold a straight face, but the right corner of his mouth slid up into a lopsided grin.

Get the entire series starting with Demeter on Amazon


Is Professor X of X-men actually a Jedi Warrior

Aloha – It seems quite likely with the Jedi Temples mapped and being explored that eventually the new heroes of Star Wars will have to come to Earth where there is strong evidence that Jedi Warriors may in fact be hiding out here.  Case in point, Professor X from the X-men.  Professor X has the telepathic skills of Obi-Wan Kanobi.  He is able to utilize mind control on weaker minds.  And something that could really help out the Star Wars saga is his ability to use the force to find and identify other mutants, or perhaps in the Star Wars Universe to be able to find others that are strong with the Force.

Sleepy Hollow did a crossover episode with Bones, so X-men crossing over to the world of Star Wars is not without precedent.  I’ll have to admit that I generally like both the heroes and villains of Star Wars more than those of X-men, so the crossover isn’t really necessary :o)  Doc


Get your free copy of Demeter Sunday and Monday


Aloha – Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, and many Kwanzaa returns.  Orion’s Spur:  End Game was released on Amazon yesterday.  Combined with holiday cheer Orion’s Spur Volume 1:  Demeter is available today and tomorrow for free on Amazon.  If you’re tired of shopping and just want to sit back and enjoy a good science fiction novel this is your chance.  Best wishes, Doc


Final book in Orion’s Spur series


Aloha – Just in time for Christmas, the final chapter in the Orion’s Spur series:  End Game, is up and available.  It has been a great ride for Ryder and his friends.  The book is now available on Amazon.  Merry Christmas, Doc

Barry Hales, who had been a shadow to Ryder and Cynthia over two long days stepped forward and whispered to Ryder, “Well Spider, looks like you have her in your web; just two more hours to go.”  Barry stepped back quietly into his invisible space, when he suddenly yelled, “Down!  Gun!” he screamed.

Ryder looked around curiously as the full force of Barry’s body hit his own.  Ryder heard something crash.  Barry rolled off of him into a sudden crouch, and in one motion had his needle gun in hand.  Ryder heard more crashes, and caught the echoing sound of a power rifle.  He heard a scream then yelled, “Cynthia!”

The plaza erupted into chaos.  Ryder searched the stage for family and friends.  He could not see Cynthia, where was she?  He glanced in the direction Barry Hales was staring then watched as Barry rose quickly and fired off several short bursts of his weapon.  Return fire, blasted slivers of wood in all directions running in a line toward Ryder.

Ryder was mesmerized by the approaching blasts of wood and debris, but then caught a glimpse of Cynthia from the corner of his eye — she was huddled on the floor with a small pool of blood staining her dark blue dress.  Ryder leapt toward her.  With the lighter gravitational pull of Demeter, he covered the twelve foot span in a single short jump then covered her with his own body.



Life supporting planets getting closer

The planets have orbits of 4.9 days, 17.9 days and 67.2 days.

Aloha – While I’m still confident that we’ll find some form of life in one of the existing exo-oceans we have discovered within our own Solar System, news that we have a planet in the goldilocks zone (not too hot or too cold) that is a mere 14 light years from Earth is pretty cool news.  When those planets are discovered 300 light years from Earth the issue of contact (at least for now) is problematic.  But Wolf 1061C is only a hop, skip and a jump across this section of the galaxy.  Several sci-stories over the decades have focused on ophans in the sky, or Ark’s of humanity sent to find a new home.  The most recent of these tales was Interstellar.  Heck we could get an Ark of humanity there in 50 or 60 years with near future technology.  Of course, I’m not sure that I want to bet the farm that Wolf 1062C will actually support life, it is just in the right band of space around it’s star.  Doc




Chapter 9 and 10 of Demeter

Aloha – Two more chapters of Demeter for your entertainment.  In Chapter 9 we get a chance to get a perspective on the wonder of Demeter in general, while Chapter 10 introduces us to the hub of activity where three races collide.  Enjoy, Doc

Chapter 9


Waking up at 0500 was way too early. Feeling numb, Ryder got dressed and reached the common room in time to catch Mr. Small before his teacher walked out the door. “I suggest you grab some snack bars,” was all that Mr. Small said as he walked out looking like he was ready for a safari, dressed all in khaki.

Still munching one of three snack bars, Ryder joined the other early risers in Suite 319. Miss Li was ready to go. Debbie was asleep on a sofa, but dressed. Cynthia and Becky had both decided to join them. Cynthia was dressed in a riding skirt and an off-white blouse. Becky was dressed in clean jeans and a checkered shirt. Miss Li was dressed in one of those two-piece silk suits she wore, this time in orange with gold embroidery. The top looked like a mid-calf dress. She wore a black pair of slacks underneath. Ryder felt underdressed in cutoffs and a T-shirt.

“Ah, maybe I better go change,” he said.

“Ryder, you are dressed fine,” Miss Li said. “Titheday is not about who dresses the best. You should always dress how you feel.”

“All the same, I’d feel better about myself if you’d give me five minutes to change.”

“We can wait five minutes,” Miss Li replied softly.

Back in his room, Ryder started tossing through the small pile of clothing he had brought. Everything was wrinkled. The best he could come up with was a pair of jeans (even he knew the slacks were too wrinkled to wear) and a striped polo shirt. He was muttering to himself that he could easily have put his clothes through the auto-laundry service last night, but he hadn’t bothered. Well, it will have to do, he thought.

By the time he got back the troop was in the hallway. Debbie looked like she was half-dead, but at least she was moving, even if it was in zombie steps. They proceeded to the top floor using the escalator system. Ryder was surprised to see the level of activity. Dozens of people were on the escalators, and more were soon following behind.

“Why are so many people up at this hour?” Cynthia queried.

“Many people prefer solitude and reflection to actual services,” Miss Li responded.

Ryder started counting, but with moving targets he had to start over twice. “How many people are staying here right now?” he inquired.

“The manager said it was busy with the fleet in port,” Mr. Small responded. “Around six hundred staying here this weekend.”

“I’ve counted over two hundred people on the escalators, if I got it right,” Ryder said as they turned and stepped onto the moving staircase climbing to the next floor. “Are they all going to reflection and solitude? Seems like there won’t be very much solitude with everyone on the mountain.”

“About half of the people prefer reflection,” Miss Li said. “As I mentioned, the combination of a beautiful morning and a chance to be at peace is really quite a draw. And, with five mountains to choose from, I doubt it will be crowded.”

Ryder considered her comment as they continued through the main entry and back out to the tarmac. It was still dark outside. Considering that they were in a giant cave, it continued to surprise Ryder that it was not pitch black. It felt more like late twilight. The various groups quickly diverted along numerous paths. He could see only one group headed in the same general direction that Miss Li and Mr. Small were going. They soon left the smooth landing fields behind and started a moderate ascent along a graveled path about five feet wide.

Within a few hundred yards, the path started diverting into many smaller trails that continued to climb. The undergrowth fought to intrude on the narrowing lanes, causing the group to travel single file. The trees were uniformly tall. In the shadowy light Ryder could discern that they looked like a mix of pine or fir trees and some sort of tall deciduous trees with lots of small leaves that rustled in the breeze.

Everyone followed the lead of Miss Li and Mr. Small and remained quiet. Even Debbie seemed to understand that this was not a time for talking. All that Ryder could hear was the whisper of a light wind, the sound of footfalls, and an occasional stumble, although no one actually fell.

After ninety minutes of climbing, they reached a protruding shoulder of the mountain. There was a small grassy meadow that was totally unoccupied overlooking the dark water far below. Ryder’s pants were damp up to his calves from moisture that kept flicking off from the bushes they disturbed. He reflected on the moisture from the obvious rainfall and once again wondered how it could rain inside a cave.

Mr. Small pulled a large blanket out of his knapsack and tried to spread it out on the meadow, but a breeze caught the blanket every time he tried to shake it out. “Ryder, could you help me please?” he asked.

Those were the first words Ryder had heard since they had started on the trail, and he wasn’t sure how to respond verbally. He simply walked over, grabbed the other side of the blanket, and helped Mr. Small stretch it out. Miss Li quickly sat down, crossed her legs, and pointed invitingly to the others. They sat quietly for a few minutes, but Ryder’s mind was racing. How was there a wind? How was there rain? This isn’t making sense.

Suddenly dawn burst forth, reflecting off the cloud formations at the edge of sight. An explosion of light set the sky ablaze. Every shade of the spectrum rose into a great prismatic wall. It was breathtaking. Time seemed to pause, but Ryder realized it couldn’t have been more than five minutes later that the colors had settled into the greenish-blue hued “sky,” and that the clouds were rising vertically out of sight.

“That was fabulous,” Becky whispered.

“That is a rising,” Mr. Small replied quietly.

“How does it work?” Debbie asked.

Miss Li sat almost trancelike and did not respond, but Mr. Small volunteered. “The easiest comparison is that Demeter is an ancient geode. The interior is loaded with quartz, as well as an abundance of precious metals, gems, and ores. However, the critical resource that made all this possible was ice. The top of Demeter is a giant ice field. I’m not sure if we will get a chance to visit the glacial mass, but there are numerous stations in the ice fields. Over the course of several millennia scientists used a combination of heat and natural reflection to melt portions of the ice cap to create the fresh water seas, although there are plenty of minerals in the water. The development also boosted internal temperatures to support plant life. The balancing process allows for condensation and some melting and refreezing that results in the formation of clouds and winds.

The system works so well now that we have rains every night and clear days shortly after the rising. Clouds that remain actually ascend back toward the ice fields, leaving us a sometimes hazy, but always beautiful, day. The external lighting requires very little of our hydroelectric power to generate. The plants are at the far walls hundreds of miles beyond the horizon. As they begin generating light in the morning, it is reflection upon reflection, creating these incredible risings. Really much better than any sunrise or sunset I’ve seen on Earth. At the end of each cycle, the power plants reduce their power output, and darkness creeps upon us in the evenings, so we only get to celebrate the change once each cycle, while on Earth we can enjoy the drama of the light and dark cycle twice a day.”

Miss Li, coming out of her reflection, simply stated, “It’s a dual miracle of nature and technology, perhaps the ultimate combination of God.”

They sat quietly for quite some time. Ryder pondered the technology that made Demeter work. Was there a greater hand involved? Was there a God? Why were they here anyway? Not just in Demeter, but here in existence. How did they get here? What was the purpose? Ryder’s legs were numb. He realized that he had been sitting and thinking for well over an hour. He did not have answers, but he did feel a sense of awe, and suddenly he felt a tremendous surge of warmth enter into his being, a warmth that lingered for a short time then gradually was wisped away as he tried to grasp its exact meaning. Maybe there is a God, he thought. Regardless, Demeter is a miracle, and I’m glad I’m here. He looked down upon dozens of lush green islands and a turquoise sea. Its small waves had settled to a near stillness in the short time they had been on the shoulder of Mount Sunday Silence.



Chapter 10


Ryder could not help thinking of the following day as Monday. They were leaving that afternoon, and Miss Li had insisted that everyone have all their clothes laundered. Ryder was again dressed in his best jeans, now washed. He was also wearing the same polo shirt he had worn the previous day, but it had also been laundered and pressed. It looked like new.

Jonas White was again their pilot, but they were not boarding Pegasus. Captain White informed them that the much smaller craft was a DS-52, better known as a hopper. Seeing the concerned looks, he quickly noted, “We don’t bounce. The hopper is used only for short flights inside the atmosphere of Demeter.” This gained a collective sigh from Ryder and his peers.

The flight to Europe was short and boring. The ship configuration did not provide windows that would allow Ryder and his peers to see more of their new home. At one point, the hopper did start bouncing up and down, like a plane caught in a thunderstorm. Ryder almost fell out of his seat, but Cynthia grabbed his arm before he fell. The familiar doorbell sound chimed, and Captain White’s voice came over the intercom, “Nothing to worry about folks. Debbie and Becky have the controls, but I’m watching them. If things get out of hand I’ll….” His voice cut off as the hopper suddenly seemed to be making a nosedive. Apparently Debbie and Becky must have gotten things back under control, because the hopper continued to bounce back and forth, up and down. Ryder started thinking about the last rodeo he had attended, and found himself envisioning riding a Brahma bull.

When Ryder could focus enough to look around, he saw a variety of reactions. Cynthia seemed to be enjoying the flight. She turned to Ryder and said, “Just think. We’d pay fifty dollars for access to an amusement park where we could go on rides like this.” She then squeezed his arm and pulled in tighter. Ryder decided the ride wasn’t so bad after all. Mr. Small and Miss Li didn’t seem concerned or even interested. Miss Li periodically laughed. Ryder wasn’t sure if she was laughing about the ride, the reaction of Ryder’s peers, or something Mr. Small was saying to her. Athena looked miserable. Randy and Joel seemed to be having a great time.

The bucking ended about ten minutes before landing, and it became obvious that Captain White had regained control of the craft. The landing was smooth and without incident.

Emerging from the hopper, Ryder again saw the now familiar sea stretching out to the horizon. He did not see any islands. The water was calm as glass. There was a long, wide beach that went off in either direction for miles with hundreds of people enjoying it. There were also dozens of cabanas where people could get refreshments. In addition there were restrooms and outside showers. He also saw a long wooden pier with what looked like several small shops along one side.

Cynthia gasped, and Ryder turned in the direction she was facing. A huge, dark glassed tower built right into a sheer rock face rose before him. The building extended in both directions for several hundred yards and rose as far as Ryder could see. The sheer rock face emerged at both ends into what was obviously a mountain. But this mountain rose at a sharp angle upward, with numerous crags and crevices. It had a translucent glow, with a combination of sediment, ores, quartz, and gems. Even at a distance, it looked like you could cut your hand just by getting too close to any part of it. There were trees in clumps at various outcroppings. But unlike Arion, Europe was not covered in forests. Between the hopper port of entry and the massive building were acres of fields fronting the mountain. There were no foothills. Ryder estimated that the distance from the beach to the single large building might have been a mile.

The port itself was much like the one in Arion, but significantly larger. He saw numerous hoppers coming and leaving on what appeared to be dozens of concrete pads about one hundred feet square. It looked so confusing that he wasn’t sure how the crafts avoided crashing into each other.

Paralleling the beach and proceeding to the rock face and beyond were fields as far as the eye could see. They were cultivated growing a single crop, although in several patches or plots. It looked like some sort of grain, perhaps wheat or a near cousin. The contrast of the blue water, golden fields, translucent mountains, and massive wall of dark glass made Ryder wish he had a camera with him for a second time in two days.

Miss Li led the group, carrying and pulling their luggage to the far side of the terminal area. They passed four landing pads before they got to a station platform. They got there just as a monorail train departed toward the beach. Mr. Small looked up at a panel at the open air station and announced, “We’ve got about five minutes.”

Ryder took the time to look at some of the other signs on the station platform. The one that attracted his attention was a multi-colored map. Centered at the top was a blue dot, identified as Europe. Going straight out from there was a dot signifying the station that showed “Here” with an arrow. There was only one more station to the beach, but then the map of the line split and ran in both directions along the beach with several stations identified in both directions. He recognized some of the names: Riviera, Miami Beach, Waikiki. But other names seemed totally foreign: Cry-jin, Amora-jin, and Onoterasu-jin. He quickly saw the pattern, with half of the names sounding very familiar and half sounding very foreign, but always ending in “jin.”

“Mr. Small, what does jin mean?”

“Oh, that’s Cryellian for beach,” Mr. Small responded as their train pulled slowly into the station.

Ryder observed a large archway and a central avenue with busy people going in all directions. Miss Li led their group down a quartz colonnade toward another counter area. Running along the back wall were dozens of glass-fronted doorways that looked to be some sort of professional offices mixed with a few shops. At the front desk as they checked in, each member of the group except for Mr. Small and Miss Li was handed a packet. The package wasn’t particularly large, but was awkward to carry when combined with their other luggage.

“We’re all on the 214th floor. I tried to get us higher, but with the fleet in port things are a bit crowded.” Miss Li seemed a bit disappointed. “The views from the floors above three hundred are wonderful. Let’s go unload the luggage, and then we’ll go up to the observation deck.”

Ryder’s ears popped as they rose in a high speed elevator. A lengthy hallway that connected the long row or doors was on the inner face of the cliff. The entrance to the rooms was from the back of the building. He was not disappointed with his room. It was actually a suite. The suite included a sitting room with cushioned seating for six to ten people. The washroom was off the sitting room. It had the basic amenities plus a whirlpool. Further into the apartment was a narrow kitchenette, then the bedroom. The front of the suite was all darkened glass or quartz, from which he could see for miles.

He still hadn’t started to unpack when he heard a buzzing noise. He searched the walls, dressers, and bed, but could not seem to locate the source of the sound. Finally, he realized the buzzing was coming from the packet he had received at the front desk. Opening the thick envelope and dumping the contents on the bed, he saw a small device about the size of a pebble. He picked it up and cautiously said, “Hello?”

A tinny voice said, “Stick it in your rear.”

“What!” he yelled back at the bug.

“Stick it in your ear.” It sounded like Cynthia, so he complied. The earpiece had six tiny legs, reminding him of a small beetle. Putting the device in his ear made him jump. The six legs extended and attached themselves to the inner lining of his concha. Although it wasn’t painful, it certainly wasn’t what he had expected. Once the device was in his ear, the resonance stabilized and he could hear Cynthia clearly. “Are you coming?”

“Oh, yeah! I’ll be right there.” He had forgotten they were going to meet in the foyer right after dumping their luggage. Joining the rest of the group in the hallway, they walked down the corridor about fifty yards, and then took the elevator to the observation deck.

“Once we get to the top, we can go to any of the five floors immediately below the deck via escalators,” Mr. Small stated. “The best restaurant on Demeter is on the 445th floor.”

Miss Li squeezed his arm hard. “Okay, the best restaurant is on the beach at Pearl Cove, but the best restaurant in Europe is on the 445th floor.” Turning to Miss Li, he added, “Happy?”

Ryder had been to the observation deck of the Willis Tower in Chicago, and had been to the top of the Arch in St Louis. He had been disappointed on both visits as the haze of industry or clouds or both had made the actual view much less dramatic than he had anticipated. Not so for the 448th floor of Europe. There was no haze today. Although the vista was still purplish to the view, he could see in the far distance pinpricks that he took to be islands. The still water was like a giant turquoise mirror. Looking to the left and right, he could see the farmlands that extended to the edge of his vision, ever bordered by the interior wall of huge mountains that went as high as his eye could see, curving off in the distance.

“Up about another mile are the forests and orchards,” Mr. Small said, “and beyond that the rivers and some of the spectacular falls. Although even Yara,” he winked at Miss Li, “will agree that the best falls are at the other end of Demeter.”

Ryder and his friends had arrived near the end of the day, and within half an hour the twilight changed to darkness. Artificial lights now peppered the beaches and, to a lesser extent, came from some structure or other in the farmlands. The more interesting lights to Ryder were beacons on the water itself. He envisioned sailing vessels taking him to distant ports of call. Then he realized that sailing would be problematic most of the time on the waters and wondered how the ships got around without wind.

After dinner Ryder decided to see what else was in the packet he had received at the front desk and began sorting through the papers and smaller packages that were now spread over the top of his bed. He glanced at the instructions that showed how the beetle/phone worked. It picked up the vibrations from speaking and transmitted through the sending device, so a headset was not necessary. The instructions further explained how to contact others in the system by speaking their names. It gave him a speech routine to follow that could be completed in two or three minutes so that the beetle would understand the names of those he was trying to contact. In addition, the instructions boasted the ability to translate the known languages in the Orion Spur, the Sagittarian, and the Per-Sian arms of the galaxy. “Boy, if I’d had this on Earth, I wouldn’t have needed to learn Spanish.” He became excited as he considered the possibilities when he returned to Earth. That is, if they let me keep it, he thought.

Ryder tried to call Debbie to make sure she was all right, but the connection didn’t seem to work. He then tried Cynthia, and she answered almost immediately.

“So, you finally figured out how to use the bug?” she inquired. Ryder could feel her smiling. “And I’m the first person you tried to reach?”

“Well, not exactly. I tried to reach Debbie, and this thing wouldn’t work. Do you know where she is?”

“She’s right here. She was telling me about how you got yourself hung upside down in a tree last summer.” Cynthia laughed. “What name did you try when you called her?”

“Debbie Ryder”

“There’s your problem. It starts with formal names, so you should have said, ‘Deborah Ryder.’ You can program it for nicknames. The instructions are on page thirteen.”

“Thanks. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Ryder paused, giving the bug a chance to disconnect, then said, “Deborah Ryder.” Almost immediately Debbie responded. “Hey, knock off with telling stories about me and the tree!” he fumed.

“How about the story of me teaching you how to ride a skateboard?” Debbie laughed.

“No! Not that either. If you’re going to tell stories about me, tell her about some of the good things, not the stupid things.”

“Like what?”

“How about the time I carried you home piggyback when you were too tired to finish the hike?”

“Did you really do that?” he heard another voice chime in.

“Who’s that?” Ryder asked, sinking as he already knew.

“Oh, that’s Cynthia. You never really hung up on her. You just added me to the call.” Debbie giggled.

“I think I’m done for one evening. Good-bye.” He heard the system disconnect.

Reviewing the instructions more carefully, he noted that he could say, “Good-bye, bye, over and out,” or anything else he wanted to program into the system to end a conversation. He could have as many as ten people on the line at a time, and that was only because this was the civilian, personal model. The business model was capable of carrying fifty people at one time, while the military model could carry over two hundred. However, the instructions warned, “It is strongly recommended that if you intend to conduct a large conference call, have people mute their lines when not speaking. Static and feedback can become a problem with more than three or four people on the call.”

Ryder discovered a sealed cube with another set of instructions. The object was about the size of a small die from a board game. Ryder read that it could be held under one’s tongue while it dissolved. A small computer chip would latch on under the tongue and could be used to electronically transfer funds. The instructions suggested this as “the wallet of choice.” The sensors identified the person’s saliva, and the device could not be transferred or stolen once implanted. It could be dissolved with a simple seltzer rinse without any serious side effects. If he preferred, he could get a skin implant in any of several parts of his body. He decided to put the cube under his tongue. It dissolved in less than a minute. He could feel something under his tongue, and he had an urge to pick at it, but the sensation soon passed. Looking at the instructions again, he said, “Balance please.”

“Savings or debit?”


“There is a balance of one hundred credits. This will be increased by one hundred credits every ten days.” A somewhat tinny voice responded.


“You have an opening balance of one thousand credits, which will be increased by one thousand credits every ten days.”

“What can one thousand credits buy?” Ryder asked.

“I’m sorry. I cannot answer that question. You may want to review the catalog and menu of your computer.”

After several tries he was able to get a menu to activate. At the cafeteria, he could buy a meal for three or four credits. At the restaurant with the linen table cloths, prices were ten times that amount. “No wonder Miss Li didn’t want to take us there,” he said with a laugh.

Ryder started rummaging through more materials on his bed. The tinny voice returned, making him jump. “Is there anything else we can do to serve you?”

“No, I’m fine,” Ryder replied in an irritated voice.

Among the papers and items that he perused on the bed, he came across a flat card about the size of his student ID card at home. The instructions that came with the card identified it as his new computer. “Boy, that’s smaller than a smart phone,” he said. But he soon discovered that he could expand or contract the screen to any size he wanted by sweeping or brushing his fingers across the surface. According to the instructions, the system could stretch to a wall-sized unit, although the pixilation would become somewhat distorted once the screen size exceeded fifty-six inches. He decided to see just how wide he could stretch the unit, and soon had it covering all of the open space on his floor. The instructions were right. The picture really began to distort after fifty-six inches. He was just looking over more of the instructions when the tinny voice from his bank chip returned.

“Is there anything else we can do to serve you?”

This was getting irritating. “No, I’m fine.” He thought a moment and then tentatively asked, “Good-bye?”

“Good-bye, William Ryder. Feel free to call anytime.”

Returning to the technical guide for his new computer, Ryder was surprised at how easy it was to follow the instructions. He learned that he also had a compact unit that operated remotely off the operating system. It could be inserted into his eye like a contact lens. He had no interest in sticking something in his eye, so he set the compact aside. Finally, about two hours before rising, he dozed off on the bed amongst his newfound treasures.

Feel free to catch up on the earlier chapters on the blog, or get a copy of the entire book on Amazon.  Doc




What might we find in the oceans of the Moons of Saturn?

Aloha – We now know that there are ice covered oceans beneath the surface of both Ganymede (a personal favorite from the novel Farmer in the Sky by Robert Heinlein) and Enceladus.  Theories are abuzz that we might find microscopic or shrimp sized life forms in those seas.  But who knows, maybe there is more?  This photo is an actual photo, but here on Earth, of 5,000 year old ruins in the sea off the coast of Japan.  Maybe we’ll find similar ruins in those oceans.  Sounds like the makings of a good sequel of Salt of the Earth :o)  Doc


Antartica or Pluto?

Aloha – It is possible that this photo could be a summer (southern hemisphere winter) of Antarctica, but in reality it is a demonstration of what NASA can do when it has enough time to sharpen and consolidate pictures taken pictures taken nearly three billion miles from New Zealand.  This and a number of other photos have been enhanced over the past several weeks from the recent mission to Pluto.  Yup, that’s Pluto you’re looking at.  Several other pictures are available for your review at






Chapter 8 of Demeter – The Challenge

Aloha – So how to you acclimatize to a new off-world culture.  That is what Ryder and his friends have to deal with in Chapter 8.  We get a glimpse of Ryder’s talents in this chapter and more insights into his crazy sister Debbie.  (Again, earlier chapters are posted in the blog, future chapters will come out every week.)

Chapter 8


Around the building there was a lot of activity. Dozens of people moving back and forth, and small groups of others clustered in circles talking. There was one group of five young men playing a game similar to hacky sack. They looked like normal teenagers wasting some time, but they had a greenish-brown skin color that Ryder had never seen before. He tried not to stare. As Ryder, Cynthia, Debbie, and Becky were passing, one of the group half looked at them and sneered. “Earthling grubs.” It was obviously intended as an insult. Ryder wasn’t sure why it irritated him so much. He replied, “Well, Earth grubs eat green grass,” and regretted it as soon as he said it.

It was clearly the wrong thing to say. All five of the young men turned and stared with malice in their eyes. As the young men glared, Ryder noticed their irises were mostly orange with yellow speckles that created a disconcerting combination. Trying to look away, he looked down, and noticed they were wearing boots with pointed toes. He started sweating as he suddenly flashed back to Barry Hales.

“Ryder, hurry up. We need you inside,” he heard Miss Li call. Mr. Small walked toward them, intercepted the five young men, and had a whispered conference. The group turned as one and walked off in the opposite direction. But Ryder saw the leader of the group turn his head with a look of clear contempt on his face. He figured this wouldn’t be the last he’d see of the hacky sack players. Great, he thought, a hundred light years from Earth, and I still can’t get away from bullies.

As Mr. Small rejoined them Ryder asked, “Are those the Sagittarians?”

Mr. Small grinned. “No, those are just some hotshot Cryellians up to mischief. The Sagittarians are much more intimidating.” He hesitated, then continued. “They really aren’t that different than we are. Six thousand years of evolution isn’t much. Our DNA still matches up tightly with the Sagittarians, and the Per-Sian’s for that matter. It’s more their manner. Their posture is ramrod straight. They emit a sense of command by their very presence.”

“So they’re giants?” Debbie suggested.

“Not really. Let’s see, the most pronounced feature is a hawklike nose. Their hair is uniformly dark. Most have high pronounced cheekbones. I’d say that is the most common look of the officer corps, but they are really as varied as people on Earth. But their demeanor sets them apart. Not always to the better.”

Inside the facility, Ryder was in awe at the size of the complex that was built right into a bluff, with an atrium that showed eight floors of glass, angling out, revealing a panoramic view of the water and islands below. Apparently the back of the top floor was all that showed from the tarmac. This was the reception area, with a number of small lounges. Miss Li was talking to someone at a desk. The desk looked like it was made out of a huge luminous diamond, but Ryder guessed it was some sort of solid quartz stone.

As Ryder and his friends loitered around the common area, he could see from various angles that six of the floors were lined with long corridors framing rows of doors, all facing toward the water. The hallways looked to be about twelve feet wide, giving the appearance of very long decks that ran a hundred yards in either direction. The walls were of a black onyx stone, while the floors were made of the same self-illuminating rock they had seen in the tunnels entering Demeter. Apparently polishing the rock increased the intensity of the luminosity. Staring at the floor was like staring at a flashlight.

The bottom two floors were public areas. The second floor went about halfway toward the front of the atrium, which at that level was almost fifty yards deep. It was some sort of food court. Just seeing the tables, even at that distance, made Ryder hungry. The bottom floor was crisscrossed with walkways. On both ends it looked like tennis courts, although the far ends in either direction were hard to make out. The rest of the area was divided into eight pools with cabanas scattered throughout. He could hear the echoing laughter of people below, which was reflective of indoor pools. Outside, on the bottom level, Ryder could see a huge meadow and rows of well-tended hedges.

Miss Li gathered everyone. “Okay, we have two suites. Mr. Small will take Randy, Joel, and Ryder to room 317. I will take the girls to room 319.”

“Is this where we’re going to live?” Athena asked. Clearly Athena was feeling less hostile after viewing the accommodations.

“Heaven’s no,” Miss Li responded. “We’ll be here a couple of days before we move on to Europe. This is Arion, the port of entry. We’ll do some testing, work out schedules and assignments for your stay here, and give you a chance to get familiar with some of the culture, geography, and most importantly, help your bodies get used to the lower gravity. You’ve all taken a few tumbles. It helped to carry your luggage, but you’ll find that it takes a couple of days just to understand the way your bodies will respond to the environment. We also run a few medical tests, and no, we are not going to dissect you, but some people simply can’t adjust to the physical differences. We’d rather figure that out here than when you’re halfway up a mountain on a field trip and suddenly pass out or something.”

“Does that really happen? Do people die? How did they get them down? Are we going to be all right? I know I’ll be all right,” stumbled out of Debbie’s mouth as fast as she could talk. She almost sounded like a chipmunk to Ryder, but a glance from Cynthia stopped him from saying so.

“It’s actually very rare,” Miss Li said. “In the last twenty years, we’ve only had four people actually have to be medically treated and returned to Earth. There was a death from a fall when a friend of mine first got here, but that was over thirty years ago.” She quickly changed the subject. “Let’s have lunch. Then we’ll get ready for the first test.”

“A test? Already? We just got here!” Joel complained.

“The test is in two hours, nonetheless,” Miss Li interjected. “The test will be in pool seven.” She pointed below to the swimming pools.

Several people grinned delightedly, but Ryder commented, “I didn’t bring swimming trunks.”

Mr. Small had returned to the group and stated, “We have new swimwear for everyone. It’s in your suite.”

Ryder frowned. “Sounds like PE,” he muttered under his breath.

Room 317 had a narrow but large common room. A step up led to a kitchen/bar area. Off the kitchen was a hallway leading straight back into the bluff. It was cut right into the stone, as the finish was polished rock, which seemed to have some sort of gemstone or other about every twenty square feet.

Mr. Small had claimed the first room to the left down the hallway, and now Randy and Joel were wrestling over who got the first room on the right. Ryder stepped around them and took the second private quarters to the left. He figured it would be quieter in there anyway. The chamber was large, but not palatial. It had a king-sized bed butted against the back wall and centered. In addition, the accommodations included a closet, dresser, and mirror on the far side near the door. In front of the bed was a desk of that same quartz material that was present at the front counter in the lobby. A private bath was off the near side of the apartment. He observed that the bathroom facilities worked on sensors, anticipating his needs. Rather than towels, there was a hand dryer with enough pressure that his hands were actually pushed away when he first went to use it. Once he got over the surprise, he loved it. In less than five seconds his hands were totally dry. He looked at the body-sized unit next to the shower and was tempted to try it out, but then heard his name being called and realized he was supposed to be on his way to lunch.

Three eating facilities graced the second floor. At the far end was a private restaurant with linen tablecloths. Ryder could see wait staff serving a few patrons. The center section reminded him of a mall food court, but the area was totally self-serve. He spotted someone with what looked like a burger and fries, and a table of people sharing a pizza.

Miss Li organized the group at the third eating facility opposite the private restaurant. This area reminded Ryder of a school cafeteria. He wasn’t very excited. He remembered the time he had tried the canned spinach at school lunch; his stomach spasmed remembering the embarrassing experience. He hadn’t eaten school lunch since. He relaxed a little when he saw a menu screen come up that looked very much like the screen on the Pegasus. He was a bit disappointed that the options excluded some of his favorite foods, such as pizza, burgers, and fries. He ordered the fettuccini, hard roll, and salad, which he was certain would please Miss Li.

“Why can’t we eat in the food court?” Joel complained behind him.

Mr. Small responded quietly at the back of the line, but loud enough that Ryder could hear him. “Miss Li wants to make sure you get two nutritional meals each day. Don’t worry, the food court is open twenty-six hours a day. You can have lunch there in the future, and we’ll be sure to make a midnight raid after Yara retires for the evening.”

“Mr. Small!”

Mr. Small looked innocently at Miss Li and shrugged a nonverbal “What?” Ryder didn’t think Mr. Small looked very innocent at all.

“I may not have heard you, but I’ve worked with you long enough to know exactly what you told Joel. No midnight runs this year.” Then Miss Li smiled. “Just make sure you and your wards are back in their room by 2330. I expect to see you no later than 2335.” She wiggled her ring finger at Mr. Small and finished, “Roger.”

All four of the girls with Miss Li giggled.

The table was quiet for several minutes as everyone focused on eating. Halfway through his salad that looked like an odd assembly of weeds, Ryder turned to Mr. Small. “I’m a bit confused.”

“Why is that?” Mr. Small turned his head, as he had been staring toward the food court longingly.

“We’re halfway across the galaxy…”

“Actually we’re only a little over a hundred light years from Earth, hardly halfway across the galaxy,” Mr. Small interrupted.

“Okay, we’re a long way from Earth. Why is it that the food looks so familiar? I would think it would be a lot more,” Ryder paused, “exotic.”

Mr. Small laughed. “If you want exotic I’ll take you to a Cryellian café in Europe. We would consider them vegetarians. They think our food is barbaric. They eat this stuff that reminds me of tofu, but it has no flavor. They would argue about that, but I’ve never been able to distinguish much flavor in any foods they eat. It certainly does have color though…purple, blue-gray, and a very bright pink. Anyway, remember that Demeter has no natural habitat. There are no native plants or animals. Every living organism from microbes to bovine, grass to dewsnips, is imported from somewhere. So we have imported a lot of things from Earth.” He leaned in and whispered, “We could have left these wild lettuces back on Earth as far as I’m concerned.” Then returning to a normal voice, he said, “Let’s see, there are cattle, sheep, and chickens here. No turkeys. They couldn’t seem to adapt to the lower gravity for some reason. There were challenges importing fish.”

“What fish don’t handle the lower gravity?” Ryder drew in closer.

“It’s the minerals. The Sea of Demeter is not a saltwater ocean, but it has a lot of minerals in it. It took a long time to develop species that could live in this sea. We do have a freshwater crab that can certainly compete with any burger.” He looked at his salad with a hint of disgust, then refocused. “There are a few fish varieties we’ve been able to adapt to the sea. Some are pretty ugly. We have orchards in the highlands with apples, peaches, nashis, plums, and more. Along the coastlines we have all sorts of citrus fruits. Some of the dwarf Cryellian varieties are better than oranges or mikans. The only thing I know of that is imported from the Sagittarius Arm is dewsnips. I’m surprised we don’t have any here today. Now that, as my older sister would say, is to die for. Great stuff.” He picked up his fork with resolve and poked at his salad again.

“Dewsnips?” Ryder perked up.

“What is it?” Cynthia leaned into him and asked.

“Something odd.  I’ve heard of dewsnips before,” Ryder whispered back.

“It is interesting that whenever mankind has moved out to new territories the first thing they want to do is bring their own food with them. There is a certain comfort to familiar flavors and textures in eating. So, if you want a hamburger, or a taco, or great French fries, we have them here.” Then in a lower voice, Mr. Small finished. “And of course we have this stuff too.”

Although Ryder was not a great swimmer, he did enjoy the afternoon they spent in the pool. Miss Li had everyone swim laps. Ryder was surprised to discover that he could swim three times as many laps as he could at school back on Earth, and he still didn’t feel tired, although his arms and legs did start to ache.

After working everyone out for almost an hour, Miss Li informed them that they would stay poolside until evening. “It’s time to unwind and enjoy not being cooped up in the Pegasus for a while.” She and Mr. Small wandered off to a cabana at the far side of pool seven. Randy, Joel, and Athena soon got into a water fight. Ryder considered joining them, but instead offered to get a drink for Cynthia.

“I’ll have a Cherry 7UP.” Cynthia smiled. She looked great in a white, one-piece swimsuit that set off her dark hair and complexion.

“I’ll have one too,” Debbie volunteered, then added, “Becky will have a juice.”

Ryder enjoyed the afternoon as much as any he could remember. He found out that Cynthia and her family had immigrated to the U.S. when she was a baby. Her father had earned his citizenship just two years earlier. Her father was a trained engineer, but had received a teaching certificate and taught mathematics at Burnham High School. Her mother didn’t work. “If you can call staying at home and raising six children not working,” Cynthia said with a laugh.

Rebecca had an older brother and a younger sister. Her brother had left home at sixteen, and Ryder noticed pain in her eyes when she said it. She stayed in contact with her brother but hadn’t seen him in over a year. Her family had moved twice in the last five years. She loved Jane Austin, and was a big fan of Anne of Green Gables. Ryder recognized the title although he had not read the books..

Randy, Joel, and Athena joined the group about half an hour later, and they chatted and played foosball at the nearby table. They all wandered outside barefoot and looked at the islands and the gardens. The meadows were extensive, and they included a number of hedgerows formed into mazes. The students wandered into one. Once inside, it took a while to find their way out. As Debbie and Rebecca raced ahead, Ryder and Cynthia meandered along slowly, and Ryder realized that he didn’t care if they ever found their way out. At one point Cynthia stopped and looked up into Ryder’s eyes for several seconds, then she laughed and said, “You’re almost too nice, Ryder.” The moment passed. Ryder was confused by her comment, and they eventually started talking about Debbie and some of her more legendary antics.

Looking at the sky, Ryder noticed there were no clouds. He could not get a fix on the sky, or ceiling, or whatever it was that was the top of Demeter. He made a note to check on that next time they had class. He wondered if there were clouds, if it rained, if it snowed. How could there be this much water if there was no rain? he puzzled.

Back in the pool area, the water fights had started again. Athena was in the pool. Becky and Debbie had caught Randy, and with a helping hand from Athena, they threw him in, jumping in after him. Ryder and Cynthia both started to laugh. Then Ryder said, “Too nice, eh?” He grabbed Cynthia and dragged her toward the water. As Ryder pushed her into the pool, she snagged his arm, and they toppled in together.

The next morning things started a little slow. Ryder was surprised how well he slept. Demeter was on a twenty-six hour clock, so sleeping ten hours was actually part of the schedule. The group met as a class in suite 319. The common room looked like its counterpart in suite 317, but was large enough to accommodate everyone. Multiple lounge chairs were formed into a semicircle, with Mr. Small and Miss Li trading off the lead of the discussion. The main topic for the day was some of the differences between Demeter and Earth. Mr. Small opened by discussing the ten-day week. “It’s actually a pretty cool system. Like on Earth, most people work a five-day week, but then they have a four-day weekend, then Titheday. Titheday varies by which schedule you’re on. It’s a spiritual day that you dedicate to your respective religious views. There are numerous churches and denominations. Some elect to spend a good part of the day in formal services, some select the day as a day to ponder. We’ll actually use tomorrow as our Titheday. We can help you find a service that relates to your beliefs once we get to Europe. Here on Arion, there is a nondenominational service at ten hundred hours in the morning. Yara and I prefer reflection, and so we will be leaving earlier to spend some time in the mountains.”

“That sounds cool. Do you have ATVs?” Joel inquired.

“No. Boating, fishing, and recreational vehicles are around, but those are for our four-day weekend. We use Titheday as a time of reflection. We’ll be climbing Sunday Silence tomorrow,” Mr. Small paused, “by walking.”

“Oh, in that case, we’re Methodists. What time did you say the service begins?” Randy asked.

“The nondenominational service begins at ten hundred tomorrow morning. Once we get to Europe, there are meeting rooms for Methodists, Catholics, Mormons, Buddhists, and most other faiths,” Miss Li responded. “If you’d like to join Roger and me, we will be leaving earlier, at five hundred hours. We like to watch the rising.”

“Rising?” Ryder perked up. “What’s that?”

“It’s when the clouds begin to clear and the lights of daytime appear. It’s spectacular!” Miss Li looked very enthusiastic. “It’s one of the things I miss most when we return to Earth, but then on Earth we have spectacular sunrises and sunsets.”

“I want to see that!” Debbie jumped in.

Ryder debated. Five hundred hours was like five o’clock in the morning. Even on the Demeter time system that was awfully early. But he’d promised to keep an eye on Dweeb. He exhaled slowly and added, “I think I’ll join you as well.”

After a geography lesson on Arion, where Ryder learned that the island was named after a horse god or something like that because the silhouette of the island looked like the shape of a horse’s head. The island had had various names depending on who occupied Demeter. As the interior was manned and governed by Terrans, Earth vernacular was the current naming protocol, although Miss Li indicated that some place names were of Cryellian origin. The Sagittarians had no interest in naming protocols.

The island was the largest in this particular archipelago at twenty-four miles long at the extremes, and about eighteen miles wide. It was the primary landing area for civilian interstellar craft, and fairly popular as a kickoff point for long weekends by the locals. At any given time there were between three and four thousand visitors, although most stayed at the resorts on the far side of the island, where there were numerous recreational boats and a three-mile-long strand of beach. There were only about a thousand permanent residents on Arion.

On break, Ryder and his peers wandered down past the pool and out into the meadows. They were immediately greeted with, “Hey, it’s the grubs!”

Minding his manners, Ryder called back, “And I see the hacky sack players are still here.”

“We’ve been waiting for you,” the leader of the group leered, pulling a gun on them.

Becky and Cynthia gasped in unision.

Ryder stepped forward in front of Cynthia and Debbie. “Hey, come on guys, it was a joke.” He noticed that Randy, Joel, and Athena stepped forward as well.

“We like jokes too!” another member standing behind the leader said as he pulled the trigger of another pistol. Ryder felt something whiz past his ear and heard a splat. He turned to see a green blister of paint on the wall behind him.

“Paint guns,” the leader stated. “My name is Aster Freeport from Cryella.” We’re the guys that keep you guys safe,” he added derisively. “We’re here for a weekend before we go back on duty, but we thought it would be a good time to help you understand that we’re here to serve and protect. Ensign Steerman suggested we provide you our own orientation.” He nodded toward the one who shot the gun.

“What do you have in mind?” Ryder was trying to think quickly.

“Have your teachers introduced you to Defense of the Realm?” Ensign Steerman inquired with a sneer.

“Never heard of it,” Randy piped up.

“It involves two teams. The idea is to see who can get the most players through the maze with the fewest hits,” Aster announced. “You start on one side, the other side defends with, in this case, paint guns. They sting and bruise, but no permanent damage. You guys want to play?”

Ryder was all for leaving. “We have class again in thirty minutes.”

“That’s what we expected,” Steerman oozed with sarcasm.

“We’re in!” Debbie volunteered. “We’ll kick your butts.”

Ryder turned. “Debbie, this is not a good idea.”

Cynthia chimed in at this point. “I’m not going to let somebody from—what was it? Crybaby? Cinderella?—make fun of Earth, and that’s final.”

Randy and Joel were actually holding Athena back physically.

Resigned, Ryder turned back to Aster. “How long does it take to play a game?”

“We can get through an offensive and defensive round in half an hour, easy. We’ll use ten minute timers. Will that do?”

“Okay, we’re in. What do we do?” Ryder asked.

Steerman came forward and offered them each a paint ball gun. “You each have fifty rounds in the magazine.” He demonstrated how the pistols worked. You can pick defensive positions anywhere in the maze. We’ll do offense first, so you can get off the first shots. Your guns use red balls; ours use green. If you’re clearly hit five times, you’re disqualified. Four or fewer hits, and you count toward the score. That’s all there is to it.”

Ryder took five minutes to discuss strategy with his team. They decided to pair up, covering the middle three corners, with Ryder taking the fourth corner backing into the hedge to get anyone who cleared as they passed by. They seemed to have pretty good odds with seven players to the other teams five, but the Cryellians had obviously played this several times before.

The round lasted less than ten minutes. Team Cryella used a wedge formation to drive through. They finished with two members of their team getting through unscathed. “Not bad, grub,” Aster said with a half-smile. We really expected to get three through, but your ambush paid off.” Ryder smiled, as he had actually drilled Aster in the back as his team had passed by. “Your turn,” Aster grinned malevolently.

Looking at how the Cryellians positioned themselves in the maze, Ryder could see the problem they were going to run into almost immediately. Team Cryella had virtually bunkered the second turn. Having played the other direction, it didn’t look like anyone could get through.

Randy, Joel, and Athena were for a full frontal attack. “That might work, but wouldn’t they just drill you with five rounds each then wait for the rest of us? Wait, I think I’ve got it,” Ryder said.

Two minutes later Randy, Joel, and Ryder made a full frontal assault. They were peppered with the five disqualifying hits, plus at least ten more. “Where’s the rest of your team?” Aster inquired.

From the opposite end of the maze they heard laughter. “Oh,” Ryder said offhandedly, “while we were attacking, they jumped over two rows of hedges. We have four out free. Guess we win four to two.” Ryder had remembered Debbie’s twelve-foot jump the first day on Demeter. Realizing the potential, he had convinced the girls to take a lateral leap over the second row hedge while Randy, Joel, and he distracted the bunkered Cryella team.

Steerman looked like he was going to deck Ryder, but Aster pulled him back with a sharp glance. He stepped forward and held out a hand to Ryder. “Nice play, grub. Hadn’t thought of that. Guess we’ve been stationed here a little too long.”

The two teams turned their separate ways. The girls were on time for class, but everyone had to wait for the guys to change their clothes and limp in. Those bruises were going to hurt for a week.

“Who or what are Crysmellians?” Randy complained, as he sat down gingerly.

Mr. Small smiled broadly. “Today it sounds like they’re losers.”

Ryder thought he could see daggers coming straight out of Miss Li’s eyes. “Don’t encourage this, Roger.” Turning to the class, she shifted to lecture mode. “Cryella is our ally, and partner in defending Demeter.”

Mr. Small interjected. “Under the direction of the Sagittarian navy.”

MIss Li continued. “The world of Cryella was discovered by the Sagittarians nearly four hundred years after they began conscripting Terrans. It had been missed in early searches for possible allies because it was a planet with an unlikely star. The planet itself is very young. As a result, it does not have a very vibrant eco-system.”

“It’s basically a cold, unpleasant rock,” Mr. Small added.

“Roger!” Miss Li snapped.

“Okay, okay.” He put his arms up defensively.

“The Cryellians are not native to Cryella, much as Terrans are not native to Earth. The population was part of a task force lost in action more than three thousand years ago. One battleship made a successful crash landing on Cryella, and the people survived through a regimen of harsh discipline and shear stubbornness some say. Just as in the case of Earth, the crew of the battleship endured but went backward in technology for hundreds of years, but did not lose all of their knowledge base.

“Along with eeking out an existence on a nearly barren world, they began redeveloping technology, but they had such limited supplies and equipment to start with that they stumbled backward for several generations. Cryella may be inhospitable, but it did have an abundance of ores that helped as the people tried to regain their science.

“When the Sagittarian navy found the planet, the Cryellians were already exploring their solar system, as devoid of life as it was. Their scientists were trying to recreate drives that would power the people back to the stars. The Sagittarians were delighted.”

Mr. Small, leaning back on his chair, added, “If you can figure out what delighted is for a Slick, you’ll have to explain that to me.”

Everyone in the class laughed, except for Miss Li. “Cryella became an ally to the Sagittarius League. The Cryellians were trained, and their equipment upgraded over the course of the next fifty years. Their new navy served in the vanguard of the task force to retake Demeter. Their losses were heavy in the first assault. This was devastating to Cryella. The world only has a population of two million. Nearly one hundred thousand Cryellians died in retaking the surface of Demeter.”

Randy raised his arm.

“Yes, Randall?” Miss Li gestured.

“What about us? You know, Terrans. If I follow you right, we were allies for three or four hundred years before that. Where did we fit in?”

“We really did not understand technology, and were treated as such. Where we fit in was in the long war to recover the interior of Demeter. We were the peons. It hasn’t been until the last hundred years or so that any Terrans have even been trained as pilots.” Miss Li seemed to be losing her composure.

Mr. Small stood up. “If you think back to feudal times on Earth, you could compare us to serfs. In fact, that is how we were treated. We were grunts in a high-tech war. We did not gain any respect until the battles for the caverns. We were especially good at running down tunnels and hand-to-hand combat against the Per-Sian guerilla forces.”

“And now?” Ryder asked the question that was clearly on all of his friends’ minds.

“Demeter is a protectorate of the Sagittarius League. The home guard of the asteroid is composed of Terran and Cryellian forces. Over the decades, Terrans were particularly good at routing out the Per-Sian defenders in the final bastion of the caverns, and gravitated to a primary mission of defense of the interior. Meanwhile, the Cryellians took the main responsibility for defense of the exterior of the planetoid. Although, piloting fighters is not exclusive to the Cryellians anymore, they dominate in this area. Terrans only got into flying fighters over the last hundred years, but have had several notable pilots, with a handful receiving reserve commissions in the regular Sagittarian Navy. Mr. Small is a good example,” Miss Li explained

“You’re a pilot?” Debbie almost jumped out of her seat.

“Reserve pilot,” Mr. Small corrected.

“Roger is being too humble.” Miss Li smiled broadly. “He has not only served in the defense forces, but has served two tours with the Sagittarian navy.”

“Wow!” Debbie exclaimed. “That’s for me.”

Cynthia squeezed Ryder’s hand, and he did not respond, although a retort was on the tip of his tongue.

Miss Li’s voice rose to get everyone’s attention again. “This evolution from mere grunts for the Sagittarians to a quasi-independent status came about as much by need as by intent. Serving as governor of Demeter was not a sought-after position in the military-focused Sagittarian navy, and it was too remote to appeal to any type of rising politician in the Sagittarian hegemony.

Mr. Small snorted. “As if any of those bureaucrats would spend any time away from their precious capital.”

Miss Li stared at Mr. Small, who immediately fell silent. “In the late eighteenth century, mid-level government officials began to be drawn from both the Cryellian and Terran forces. In the nineteenth century, the Directorate became a reality, with a Chief Officer, referred to as the Director-General, usually from Terra, and a Director from Cryella when Terrans held the Director-Generalship. You could think of the Director-General with responsibilities similar to a president or prime minister. The Director is actually comparable to the Secretary of Defense with more military responsibilities. In addition, three Associate Directors and four Assistant Directors eventually made a quorum of nine, with three Sagittarian members rotated based on fleet command.”

Joel smiled. “So we’re in charge.” He leaned back smugly.

Mr. Small corrected Joel. “We share control with the Cryellians, but that almost fell apart.”

“How?” Randy joined in.

Miss Li stood silent until everyone quieted down. “An effort to shift the government back to Sagittarian control was attempted in the twentieth century, by the late Director-General Algernon Pisces, and in fact the governing Council was reinstated, with nine members from the Sagittarian League and four from the Directorate, the DDF. However, after the death of Director-General Pisces, the new Director-General found a loophole in the Articles of Confederation stating that the Council had to be called into session by the Directorate. Despite several calls for a vote by the minority Sagittarian members of the Directorate, the DDF has avoided calling the Council into session, thereby blocking the Sagittarian League from retaking control through political channels.

“That’ll show them!” Joel exclaimed.

Miss Li frowned. “Keep in mind that they are our allies and our sponsors,” then almost under her breath she added, “but it was a nasty bit of work.” She looked embarrassed that the words had actually crossed her lips and hesitated before she continued.

“Directorate members look at the act by Director-General Pisces as a betrayal and a dark moment in the modern history of Demeter. They also perceive the Sagittarian role as that of an attempted coup. The Sagittarian’s meanwhile consider the block by the current Director-General as tantamount to rebellion, and the Director-General himself as a rogue charlatan.”

At that point Miss Li looked around the room. “A lot to think about. Let’s just say that our relationship with the Sagittarian League is somewhat strained at the moment. But things seem to have settled down. I believe that is enough to think about for one day. I think it would be a good time to return to the pool and unwind, don’t you?”

And with that, she dismissed the class.

I intend to continue releasing additional chapters of the book until we’ve made it through the whole book.  You can also get a copy of Orions’s Spur: Volume 1 on Amazon as an e-book now if you wish at: