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

The SPC

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

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00MZFH8R6?*Version*=1&*entries*=0

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

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00MZFH8R6?*Version*=1&*entries*=0

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

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B019JP9HYQ?*Version*=1&*entries*=0

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

Titheday

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

Europe

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?”

“Savings?”

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

“Debit?”

“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

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