Aloha – A reminder that chapters 1-14 are available in the blog archives. Chapter 15 puts the rubber to the road so to speak. Ryder has been learning to use gamification to module solutions to problems. Now he has a big one, Cynthia, Becky and his sister Debbie have disappeared, and its up to him and his friends to find them. Has he learned enough to decipher the clues? And can you imagine his sister Debbie waiting around for him to rescue her? Hardly. Meanwhile here is chapter 15, Snatched.
“Who disappeared?” Ryder asked, knowing the answer before he even asked. He had a sudden flash of a promise to his parents. He knew he should have gone to Kuu’Aali falls with the little brat.
“They were supposed to be back two hours ago to join us for dinner. I thought Debbie was just taking them on some elaborate detour, but they’re not answering.” Athena’s voice quivered.
This was not like Athena. There has to be more to it than being two hours late, Ryder thought.
Randy jumped in next. “She’s right. Randy and I both tried calling all three of them. There is no place inside Demeter the bugs don’t work.”
“Maybe they left them behind,” Aster posited.
“I can imagine Debbie forgetting hers,” Ryder said, his hopes rising, but then immediately crashing. “But I’ve never known Cynthia or Becky to forget theirs.” Ryder tried contacting Cynthia though his bug, but to no avail. He began pacing.
“They should never have let that crazy girl fly.” Steerman had a strange look on his face.
Athena tore into Steerman, hitting and kicking him, and yelling incoherently. Steerman put up both arms, but did not hit back. Finally, Randy and Joel pulled her away. Aside from a few scrapes, Steerman looked unscathed, but his face looked haunted. “I didn’t mean…I didn’t think,” he muttered.
Joel put his arm around Athena. “Everything’s gonna be all right. We’ll find them,” he comforted.
“Let us caucus back in the scenario room,” Lieutenant Pinoke said, seemingly oblivious to Athena’s outburst.
“No, I have to find them,” Ryder argued.
“And what better way to find them?” Lieutenant Pinoke said, turning toward the entry.
Aster concurred. “She has a point.”
Ryder and Duncan both vouched for Athena, Randy, and Joel to get them through DDF security. Shortly thereafter, four Terrans, two Cryellians, and one Slick officer were conferring over various computer screens.
“Ryder, why don’t you lead this scenario?” Lieutenant Pinoke said.
“I think you’re better suited. I’m not sure I can think straight on this one,” Ryder replied.
“But you understand the assets better than I do,” Pinoke responded.
“They’re not assets! They’re my sister and my friends.” Ryder glared angrily.
“Step back,” Lieutenant Pinoke advised. “This is what you do well—better than any Terran I’ve met. Remove yourself from the emotions, and you will lead us to success if there is to be success.”
Ryder fumed, but followed Pinoke’s reasoning. If he could pull back from the emotions, if he could think logically, he could find them. “Okay. I’ll try, but you’ve got to help.”
“Of course,” Lieutenant Pinoke confirmed. “This is not a competition, but a search for resolution.”
“Let’s start with what we know then.” Ryder began pacing. “We know that Debbie had talked Captain White into letting her take a hopper. We know she knows how to fly it well, and had two sound minds with her to offset her reckless nature. We know that they were going to the Kuu’Aali Falls at the far end of Demeter.” As he turned to pace back toward the screens he had been using, he continued, “Athena states that they were due back here two and a half hours ago now. That in and of itself is not reason for panic. With Debbie, five hours wouldn’t be a surprise. But, we cannot reach any of them by bug, which makes no sense if they are still alive”—he swallowed—“or if they are still in Demeter. Do we know anything else?” Turning toward Athena, he asked sharply, “Do you know anything else?”
Athena jumped. “You know that they were meeting Miss Li there, didn’t you?”
“No, I didn’t.” Ryder wondered, Was there a reason he should have known that? Was it important? Could Miss Li be responsible for the disappearance? She had kidnapped us all once before. He tabled that thought and started pacing again. “Okay, what else? Have you checked to see if there were any reported crashes? I wouldn’t put it past Debbie to do something really stupid and crash a hopper, but those things are supposed to be safe enough for crash dummies to fly.”
Randy stepped forward. “First thing I checked. There are no reported crashes or accidents.”
“Okay, what about flight plans?” Ryder paused. “I’m not sure how much that will help. Debbie is notorious for not following them.”
No one responded. “Joel, do you have anything else you can think of?” Ryder asked.
Joel shook his head.
“Joel, keep thinking, but get on that computer”—Ryder pointed—“and check out her flight plan, and track the flight as best you can. Look for system camera scans along the flight plan, and try to verify the last confirmed sighting.”
“Got it.” Joel immediately moved to the computer console.
“So far I can see two possible scenarios. They crashed in a remote area, or they were taken. The easier to verify is if they crashed. We should be able to narrow that with sightings.” Turning to Aster, Ryder asked bluntly, “Do you know or does Steerman know any personnel that were in the Kuu’Aali Falls area today?”
Neither Aster nor Ensign Steerman knew of anyone at the falls.
“I actually have several friends who were going to be at the Kuu’Aali Falls today,” Lieutenant Pinoke volunteered. “I’ll contact them now.” She stepped out of the room. Ryder was a bit surprised that Lieutenant Pinoke even had friends, but he put that thought aside.
“Logic suggests the simplest answer is the most likely,” Ryder continued. “I cannot imagine why, but the most probable scenario is that they have been taken, kidnapped, or murdered. Assuming this scenario, who would have had reason to do this? Who would have had the opportunity?”
Aster responded. “Most likely either a random act of violence or a carefully planned event. If it was planned, then someone you know was likely involved in the event.”
“What would be their motive?” Ryder responded. “That one stymies me. We don’t have money. We don’t have political influence.”
“That’s not totally accurate,” Steerman said, stammering.
“What do you mean?” Randy asked.
“Have any of you done a search on your names here?” Aster asked.
There was a pause, then Ryder hesitantly responded. “I did. I ran into security blocks. I assumed it was because we were designated as outsiders to the system. I couldn’t find a way around it and couldn’t get Mr. Small or Lieutenant Pinoke to assist. I’m afraid my hacking skills aren’t that good yet.”
“It’s probably time you got some clarification on that.” Aster spread his portable computer to large screen mode. “You’re not blocked as outsiders, you’re blocked as individuals. I’m not blocked. Let’s look up your names. Why don’t we start with Athena’s family name.” Under the header “Swenson,” given names of Leonard, Jennifer, and Athena came up immediately.
“I had an uncle Len that died about sixteen years ago.” Athena perked up.
Aster took on a didactic voice. “Look at the top right corner on Leonard Swenson. The information identifies his immigration date. You’ll notice that he immigrated permanently to Demeter seventeen years ago. I suspect if you double check, you’ll find that your uncle died seventeen years ago. The information below that shows that he made biannual visits here during the previous ten years. You’ll also notice that Jennifer was his father’s sister.”
They next looked at the name Porter. They found Randy and Joel’s great uncle. The Flores name was associated with five generations of mid-level administrators at Demeter, and also the Director-General’s name from six generations before that. Creer only showed up with Rebecca’s name. However, when they pulled up Rebecca’s file, it showed a link to a Mr. Roundy, a pilot in the DDF from forty-five years earlier and former associate director in the DDF. He was apparently Becky’s grandmother’s brother.
Ryder showed sixteen hits. Ryder was only moderately surprised to see the names of both of his parents and his grandparents on his father’s side. Aster clicked on Ryder’s grandfather’s name, Stephen. The name registered as immigrating permanently to Demeter six years earlier, the same year that he died on Earth. He was also the current Director-General of Demeter.
“As you can see, there are political implications tied to the disappearance of the granddaughter of the Director-General and two other well-connected individuals tied to Demeter’s Directorate.”
Ryder froze as the grave realities of the situation settled over him, and silence ruled the room as his friends stared at him. Finally, he came to himself. “So the most likely reason for a kidnapping would be politically motivated. What groups or individuals would instigate such an action?”
Just then, Lieutenant Pinoke poked her head back into the room. “My associates remember seeing your friends arrive. Apparently, the hopper landed with great fanfare, scaring a number of locals. Your sister apparently buzzed the Kuu’Aali Falls before landing. They do not recall seeing any of them leave. Likewise, they did not notice anything peculiar in relation to other individuals around your party. However, they admit they were not paying close attention.”
“Joel, I should have thought of this sooner. You should be able to get a reading on the hopper. I’m guessing it’s still at Kuu’Aali Falls.”
It took Joel less than two minutes to confirm that the hopper was still at the falls, parked.
“Aster, can we use your craft to get there? I know it can travel faster than a hopper,” Ryder said.
“You got it.” Aster stood.
“Lieutenant Pinoke, will you join us?” Ryder turned to the Slick officer.
“No. I’ll patch our simulation information to your computer. The system here is more powerful and provides more variables. I believe you would be more useful here, working with me as the rest of your team feeds information to us,” Pinoke advised.
“That might be,” Ryder affirmed, “but I’m going.”
“Remember, keep emotion out of your analysis, and you will work better.” Heliotrope actually closed her palm on his shoulder. “I restate you would be more useful here.”
“Thank you, Heliotrope.” Ryder turned toward the exit. “I’ll do my best to keep my feelings in check, but I need to be there.” He walked out the door of the simulation room. The rest of the group followed.
Again, the first 14 chapters are available in the Blog archives. You can also borrow the book for free or buy it on Amazon kindle at