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
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.
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?”
“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.”
“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