Sci-fy Orion’s Spur – Demeter

Chapter 16 puts Ryder in the precarious position of not knowing who to trust.  Can he trust anyone as he speeds to find out what happened to Cynthia, his sister, and Becky?  The first 15 chapters are now available in the Blog archives :o) Doc

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00MZFH8R6?*Version*=1&*entries*=0Chapter 16

Puzzles

Rather than tracking down a hopper to use, Ryder and his companions converged on the craft that Aster and Steerman were flying. This had been the topic of a short debate. Steerman had argued that they did not have permission to travel the breadth of Demeter in a vehicle classified as a Cryellian fighter, even though it was unarmed. Aster had countered that they could get to the Kuu’Aali Falls in two hours in V mode, versus four hours in a hopper, and that was if they could find one. Finally, Steerman relented, but he finished with, “I hope you know you’re putting both of our careers on the line on this one.”

As they departed, Ryder wondered if they should contact the authorities over the disappearance, but was hesitant as everything so far was conjecture. They had located the craft undamaged. It would be embarrassing to discover that the girls had just gone shopping then decided to spend the night at the falls. Further, he wasn’t even sure who the authorities would be for something like this.

“Aster, who oversees criminal investigations on Demeter?” Ryder asked.

“What do you mean?” Aster responded inquisitively as they walked across the tarmac to the flyer.

“You know. If it turns out the girls were kidnapped, who investigates? Is it the DDF? Slicks? Do we have a police force?”

“There really isn’t a lot of crime on Demeter,” Steerman offered. “I know there is an investigation unit that works through the Director-General’s office. They would probably investigate a crime, unless it was instigated by the Pervs. Now, if that were the case, the Slicks could demand jurisdiction. Likewise, the Slicks take charge of investigations if Slicks are involved.”

“In other words, by the time they got it all sorted out, you could die of old age,” Aster said, then added, “Demeter old age, not Earth old age.” He snickered.

No one else laughed.

Ryder continued to communicate back and forth with Lieutenant Pinoke, who was running scenarios based on the assumption that the girls had been snatched, trying to narrow possible points of exit or locations near the Falls where they may have been taken. As information came in, Ryder had Randy and Joel searching for surveillance archives that might give them visual insights into what had happened. He knew that he was taking chances with his clearance, using SPC authorization to access databases and archives that were supposed to be limited to the simulation room. He wondered about the impact on his counterpart at SPC. When he received some obviously classified archive footage, it bothered him to the point where he asked, “Lieutenant Pinoke, isn’t this outside the simulation rules of engagement? Aren’t you going to get in trouble for sending this?”

“Trouble? Oh, perhaps with the DDF, but I report to the fleet. This is well within normal investigation procedures when cooperating with authorities. In this case, my position is that you are the authority and should receive the data to further the investigation.”

Ryder realized that he couldn’t push Athena too far. She had been reclusive for weeks. Yet she wanted something to do, so he asked her to contact Mr. Small, and if possible, Miss Li. He hadn’t tried to reach Mr. Small yet, but he had already tried, several times, to reach Miss Li through his bug with no success. His calls had all gone straight to a recording. He continued to worry about Yara Li’s role. Unlike the girls, her bug was still functioning, even if she wasn’t answering. The girls’ bugs seemed to be in a totally disabled state.

Ryder had to think. He had to be prepared. He went into the washroom and did something he swore he wouldn’t do. He didn’t throw up but returned teary eyed a few minutes later. As he stepped from the washroom, he began pacing. Okay, if it were a kidnapper, then someone had to know. Who do we know who could be involved? Miss Li was obviously his chief suspect. Why would Athena know about the intended meet up with the girls if Miss Li were planning a kidnapping? If she had killed the girls, what was the motive? Perhaps she was an agent of the Per-Sian League, in which case she would obviously be off Demeter by now and on her way to Perv space.

Activating his link to the SPC, he called out, “Lieutenant Pinoke, could you check to see if there are any authorized or unauthorized flights that have left Demeter’s interior?”

Pinoke responded at once. “I’ve already been looking into that. There are over forty craft that have left Demeter interior space since late afternoon. All craft were either DDF or Slick vehicles. Only three from the proximity of Kuu’Aali Falls. All three of those craft were bound for Slick fleet vessels, and all arrived without incident. I’m still awaiting archival footage from the vessels. I’m having to battle with the ship’s captain for that footage, so I’ve gone to fleet command.”

Ryder continued to ponder. Who else was there? Was Mr. Small involved? He seemed as likely a candidate as Miss Li. If Mr. Small were involved, was he working with Miss Li? He’d have to keep that line of thinking open as an option. Captain White? He had known where the girls were going. He had arranged the hopper. Captain White had to be considered a strong possibility. Captain White’s co-pilot on the Pegasus? She would not necessarily know any details, since we landed months ago. Her opportunities would have declined with the passage of time and knowledge. What about Director Steerman? Possible, but what motive? Did she know about the trip to the falls? What about Athena? Athena’s emotional roller coaster could be tied to knowledge in a plot. Maybe she’d gotten drawn in through outside contacts. Maybe the Meteorology group was a hotbed of anarchists. Ryder chuckled and said, “And maybe I’m getting slaphappy.”

Steerman was flying, and Aster was taking a break in the lounge area. “You look hashed,” Aster observed. “Your eyes are red and puffy. You look exhausted. Maybe you should catch a nap. We still have more than an hour before we’ll get to the falls.”

Just then, Athena spoke up. “I have Mr. Small. Do you want me to patch him in?”

“Yes!” Ryder’s head cleared immediately, and he took the connection. “This is Ryder.”

Mr. Small hesitated. “Ryder, what’s going on? Why are you guys calling me in the middle of the night? I just got back from a meeting on SL277 with fleet command. Can this wait until morning?”

“The girls have disappeared!” Ryder said.

“Girls? Which girls?” Mr. Small grew serious.

“It appears that someone has taken Cynthia, Debbie, and Becky,” Ryder clarified.

The connection was silent so long that Ryder thought he’d lost it. Then he heard a deep sigh. “Hang on a moment,” Mr. Small finally responded.

A moment turned into the longest minute Ryder could remember. He thought perhaps Mr. Small had some useful insights that he was not getting, or perhaps some connections his former teacher was drawing on. When Mr. Small returned to the line, he sounded totally different. “Where are you?” he spoke in his military command voice.

“We’re on a Cryellian fighter about an hour away from the Kuu’Aali Falls. That’s where the girls disappeared.”

“By any chance, is Yara with you?” Mr. Small sounded anxious.

“No, and we can’t reach her. She was supposed to meet the girls at the falls earlier today,” Ryder explained.

There was a long pause, then Mr. Small spoke. “Ryder, I’d like you all to return to Europe right now. This could be serious. I’ll have a team at the falls first thing in the morning, but I need you back now.”

It was Ryder’s turn to pause. “Mr. Small, I don’t think that makes sense to me. We’re almost there. You say you can have a team there in the morning. What team? What’s going on?”

“We should have told you earlier, but you and Debbie are the grandchildren of the Director-General,” Mr. Small admitted. “Your grandparents wanted you to have a chance to experience Demeter on your own before they started influencing your decisions. I told them they were wrong, but they don’t always listen to me. Now we have the devil to pay. If Debbie has been kidnapped, you’re a hot target. We need you out of harm’s way. Miss Li and I are part of the Directorate Security Team. We’ll take over immediately.”

“Mr. Small, if it’s not a big deal, then no harm done,” Ryder argued. “If it is a big deal, I don’t want to wait until morning. Where is Miss Li anyway?”

“That’s a problem,” Mr. Small confessed. “I don’t know. I can’t get through on her public or her security line.”

“Then I guess we’ll see you at the falls in the morning,” Ryder snapped.

“Ryder!” Mr. Small shouted.

“Good-bye.” Ryder cut the line and blocked all calls to require manual receipt.

“Ryder, we might have something,” Randy called from the computer he was working on.

They had found surveillance archives that showed Miss Li meeting up with the girls at one of the lookouts to the falls. The footage lasted over three minutes. The girls were animated, but Miss Li was reserved, which wasn’t unusual. However, Ryder did notice that Miss Li never smiled during the entire exchange. That was not like her.

“Nice work, Randy.” Turning to Athena, Ryder continued. “Can you take stills of the areas from this footage and start ID’ing people in the pictures? It looks like there’s about forty of them.”

Athena nodded.

Ryder patched back into Lieutenant Pinoke and brought her up to speed. “Can you scan Slick records to check for any matches on the pictures we’ll forward to you?” He sat down heavily. Forty more suspects. That wasn’t going to speed things up, he thought.

Thirty minutes later, as Steerman and Aster were bringing the craft in to the main terminal for Kuu’Aali Falls, Randy announced, “I’ve got another one.”

Ryder watched the surveillance video around the hopper. Less than thirty minutes from the moment Miss Li connected with the girls, they were back at the hopper. The drama wasn’t much to look at if you didn’t know what you were looking for. The girls were walking with Miss Li. Debbie was obviously arguing with her about something. Walking near them was a person with a broad brimmed hat that reminded Ryder of the cowboy hat that Hondo had been wearing before the river trip. Another person wearing similar headgear merged with the group. Their body language changed suddenly. The two hats backed off two steps and held everyone’s attention. Miss Li spoke with the hats, then led the girls inside the hopper single file. Before entering, he saw Debbie sneeze and bend over halfway up the steps, then go inside. The two hats followed. Five minutes later, Miss Li exited, followed by the girls. Debbie was being carried cradlelike by the latter of the two hats, as if she were a small child asleep. They walked toward the main building, where a third hat joined the group, then turned off to the left of the building on a path that ran down to the bottom of the falls.

Ryder was able to watch the sequence one more time in fast forward before they landed. He could see no angle where the cameras picked up the faces of either of the hats. He only paused where Debbie had sneezed, rubbed her eyes, then bent over to the third step. He wanted to watch the archive again in slow motion, but he also wanted to get to the hopper, and to the path that descended to the base of the falls. He finally elected to forward the archives back to Lieutenant Pinoke. He paused, and then asked her to send it to Mr. Small as well.

 

Chapter 16

Puzzles

Rather than tracking down a hopper to use, Ryder and his companions converged on the craft that Aster and Steerman were flying. This had been the topic of a short debate. Steerman had argued that they did not have permission to travel the breadth of Demeter in a vehicle classified as a Cryellian fighter, even though it was unarmed. Aster had countered that they could get to the Kuu’Aali Falls in two hours in V mode, versus four hours in a hopper, and that was if they could find one. Finally, Steerman relented, but he finished with, “I hope you know you’re putting both of our careers on the line on this one.”

As they departed, Ryder wondered if they should contact the authorities over the disappearance, but was hesitant as everything so far was conjecture. They had located the craft undamaged. It would be embarrassing to discover that the girls had just gone shopping then decided to spend the night at the falls. Further, he wasn’t even sure who the authorities would be for something like this.

“Aster, who oversees criminal investigations on Demeter?” Ryder asked.

“What do you mean?” Aster responded inquisitively as they walked across the tarmac to the flyer.

“You know. If it turns out the girls were kidnapped, who investigates? Is it the DDF? Slicks? Do we have a police force?”

“There really isn’t a lot of crime on Demeter,” Steerman offered. “I know there is an investigation unit that works through the Director-General’s office. They would probably investigate a crime, unless it was instigated by the Pervs. Now, if that were the case, the Slicks could demand jurisdiction. Likewise, the Slicks take charge of investigations if Slicks are involved.”

“In other words, by the time they got it all sorted out, you could die of old age,” Aster said, then added, “Demeter old age, not Earth old age.” He snickered.

No one else laughed.

Ryder continued to communicate back and forth with Lieutenant Pinoke, who was running scenarios based on the assumption that the girls had been snatched, trying to narrow possible points of exit or locations near the Falls where they may have been taken. As information came in, Ryder had Randy and Joel searching for surveillance archives that might give them visual insights into what had happened. He knew that he was taking chances with his clearance, using SPC authorization to access databases and archives that were supposed to be limited to the simulation room. He wondered about the impact on his counterpart at SPC. When he received some obviously classified archive footage, it bothered him to the point where he asked, “Lieutenant Pinoke, isn’t this outside the simulation rules of engagement? Aren’t you going to get in trouble for sending this?”

“Trouble? Oh, perhaps with the DDF, but I report to the fleet. This is well within normal investigation procedures when cooperating with authorities. In this case, my position is that you are the authority and should receive the data to further the investigation.”

Ryder realized that he couldn’t push Athena too far. She had been reclusive for weeks. Yet she wanted something to do, so he asked her to contact Mr. Small, and if possible, Miss Li. He hadn’t tried to reach Mr. Small yet, but he had already tried, several times, to reach Miss Li through his bug with no success. His calls had all gone straight to a recording. He continued to worry about Yara Li’s role. Unlike the girls, her bug was still functioning, even if she wasn’t answering. The girls’ bugs seemed to be in a totally disabled state.

Ryder had to think. He had to be prepared. He went into the washroom and did something he swore he wouldn’t do. He didn’t throw up but returned teary eyed a few minutes later. As he stepped from the washroom, he began pacing. Okay, if it were a kidnapper, then someone had to know. Who do we know who could be involved? Miss Li was obviously his chief suspect. Why would Athena know about the intended meet up with the girls if Miss Li were planning a kidnapping? If she had killed the girls, what was the motive? Perhaps she was an agent of the Per-Sian League, in which case she would obviously be off Demeter by now and on her way to Perv space.

Activating his link to the SPC, he called out, “Lieutenant Pinoke, could you check to see if there are any authorized or unauthorized flights that have left Demeter’s interior?”

Pinoke responded at once. “I’ve already been looking into that. There are over forty craft that have left Demeter interior space since late afternoon. All craft were either DDF or Slick vehicles. Only three from the proximity of Kuu’Aali Falls. All three of those craft were bound for Slick fleet vessels, and all arrived without incident. I’m still awaiting archival footage from the vessels. I’m having to battle with the ship’s captain for that footage, so I’ve gone to fleet command.”

Ryder continued to ponder. Who else was there? Was Mr. Small involved? He seemed as likely a candidate as Miss Li. If Mr. Small were involved, was he working with Miss Li? He’d have to keep that line of thinking open as an option. Captain White? He had known where the girls were going. He had arranged the hopper. Captain White had to be considered a strong possibility. Captain White’s co-pilot on the Pegasus? She would not necessarily know any details, since we landed months ago. Her opportunities would have declined with the passage of time and knowledge. What about Director Steerman? Possible, but what motive? Did she know about the trip to the falls? What about Athena? Athena’s emotional roller coaster could be tied to knowledge in a plot. Maybe she’d gotten drawn in through outside contacts. Maybe the Meteorology group was a hotbed of anarchists. Ryder chuckled and said, “And maybe I’m getting slaphappy.”

Steerman was flying, and Aster was taking a break in the lounge area. “You look hashed,” Aster observed. “Your eyes are red and puffy. You look exhausted. Maybe you should catch a nap. We still have more than an hour before we’ll get to the falls.”

Just then, Athena spoke up. “I have Mr. Small. Do you want me to patch him in?”

“Yes!” Ryder’s head cleared immediately, and he took the connection. “This is Ryder.”

Mr. Small hesitated. “Ryder, what’s going on? Why are you guys calling me in the middle of the night? I just got back from a meeting on SL277 with fleet command. Can this wait until morning?”

“The girls have disappeared!” Ryder said.

“Girls? Which girls?” Mr. Small grew serious.

“It appears that someone has taken Cynthia, Debbie, and Becky,” Ryder clarified.

The connection was silent so long that Ryder thought he’d lost it. Then he heard a deep sigh. “Hang on a moment,” Mr. Small finally responded.

A moment turned into the longest minute Ryder could remember. He thought perhaps Mr. Small had some useful insights that he was not getting, or perhaps some connections his former teacher was drawing on. When Mr. Small returned to the line, he sounded totally different. “Where are you?” he spoke in his military command voice.

“We’re on a Cryellian fighter about an hour away from the Kuu’Aali Falls. That’s where the girls disappeared.”

“By any chance, is Yara with you?” Mr. Small sounded anxious.

“No, and we can’t reach her. She was supposed to meet the girls at the falls earlier today,” Ryder explained.

There was a long pause, then Mr. Small spoke. “Ryder, I’d like you all to return to Europe right now. This could be serious. I’ll have a team at the falls first thing in the morning, but I need you back now.”

It was Ryder’s turn to pause. “Mr. Small, I don’t think that makes sense to me. We’re almost there. You say you can have a team there in the morning. What team? What’s going on?”

“We should have told you earlier, but you and Debbie are the grandchildren of the Director-General,” Mr. Small admitted. “Your grandparents wanted you to have a chance to experience Demeter on your own before they started influencing your decisions. I told them they were wrong, but they don’t always listen to me. Now we have the devil to pay. If Debbie has been kidnapped, you’re a hot target. We need you out of harm’s way. Miss Li and I are part of the Directorate Security Team. We’ll take over immediately.”

“Mr. Small, if it’s not a big deal, then no harm done,” Ryder argued. “If it is a big deal, I don’t want to wait until morning. Where is Miss Li anyway?”

“That’s a problem,” Mr. Small confessed. “I don’t know. I can’t get through on her public or her security line.”

“Then I guess we’ll see you at the falls in the morning,” Ryder snapped.

“Ryder!” Mr. Small shouted.

“Good-bye.” Ryder cut the line and blocked all calls to require manual receipt.

“Ryder, we might have something,” Randy called from the computer he was working on.

They had found surveillance archives that showed Miss Li meeting up with the girls at one of the lookouts to the falls. The footage lasted over three minutes. The girls were animated, but Miss Li was reserved, which wasn’t unusual. However, Ryder did notice that Miss Li never smiled during the entire exchange. That was not like her.

“Nice work, Randy.” Turning to Athena, Ryder continued. “Can you take stills of the areas from this footage and start ID’ing people in the pictures? It looks like there’s about forty of them.”

Athena nodded.

Ryder patched back into Lieutenant Pinoke and brought her up to speed. “Can you scan Slick records to check for any matches on the pictures we’ll forward to you?” He sat down heavily. Forty more suspects. That wasn’t going to speed things up, he thought.

Thirty minutes later, as Steerman and Aster were bringing the craft in to the main terminal for Kuu’Aali Falls, Randy announced, “I’ve got another one.”

Ryder watched the surveillance video around the hopper. Less than thirty minutes from the moment Miss Li connected with the girls, they were back at the hopper. The drama wasn’t much to look at if you didn’t know what you were looking for. The girls were walking with Miss Li. Debbie was obviously arguing with her about something. Walking near them was a person with a broad brimmed hat that reminded Ryder of the cowboy hat that Hondo had been wearing before the river trip. Another person wearing similar headgear merged with the group. Their body language changed suddenly. The two hats backed off two steps and held everyone’s attention. Miss Li spoke with the hats, then led the girls inside the hopper single file. Before entering, he saw Debbie sneeze and bend over halfway up the steps, then go inside. The two hats followed. Five minutes later, Miss Li exited, followed by the girls. Debbie was being carried cradlelike by the latter of the two hats, as if she were a small child asleep. They walked toward the main building, where a third hat joined the group, then turned off to the left of the building on a path that ran down to the bottom of the falls.

Ryder was able to watch the sequence one more time in fast forward before they landed. He could see no angle where the cameras picked up the faces of either of the hats. He only paused where Debbie had sneezed, rubbed her eyes, then bent over to the third step. He wanted to watch the archive again in slow motion, but he also wanted to get to the hopper, and to the path that descended to the base of the falls. He finally elected to forward the archives back to Lieutenant Pinoke. He paused, and then asked her to send it to Mr. Small as well.

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