Chapter 5 and 6 of Arlo

Aloha – A reminder that the first four chapters are also available and that this is a first draft of Arlo. Tonight you’re starting to catch up.  Yes, I did finish another chapter, but in this case chapter 5 is short so I’ve tossed in the draft for chapter 6 as well.  Enjoy, Doc

Chapter 5  The Red Iguana

The Red Iguana was on the west side of Salt Lake City on north Temple on the way to the Salt Lake International Airport.  It was in a part of the city that most people avoided, and few of the middle class would consider stopping.  The exterior of the building was uninviting with signage that seemed more fitting for a pawn shop than a restaurant.  Yet people lined up wrapping around the exterior of the building during lunch and dinner hours.

Aware of the popularity of the best Mexican restaurant in city, Marshall had arranged to meet with Blake and Justin at 11:00 a.m. shortly after his flight arrived in Utah.  The interior was as uninviting as the exterior, with small, square metal tables crowded together, with the wait staff weaving between the patrons taking and serving orders.  Marshall arrived early, and was sitting at a corner table with his back to the wall so he could see Blake and Justin arrive.  He was nibbling on a second bowl of chips and salsa when they came through the front door at 11:17.  Earlier than usual, he thought, as he motioned them back.

“Well?”  Blake’s eyes gleamed with anticipation.

“I recommend any of the enchiladas.  Their mole’s are excellent.  I’m not a fan of the carne adobada,” Marshall leaned back on his chair.  “I miss this place.  I wish we could do more of our work here.”

Justin pulled out a chair scrapping the floor.  “I think he,” nodding toward Blake, was wondering how things went with your dad.”

“Oh that?” Marshall leaned forward, “About as I expected.  He’s trying to play me, but he countered my sixty percent offer with a ninety percent counter offer before I left.  He never does that unless he’s already made up his mind.”

“Does what?” Blake queried.

“Makes a counter offer.  Oh he’ll try to string us along and improve his position, but he already smells the money rolling into his account.”

“Well, it is a lot of money,” Justin observed.  The added, “Is ten percent enough?”

“For what we want?” Marshall leaned in, “Depends on how the old fox does the math… yes, anything over five percent will be enough.  If we get ten percent of the profits without too many fees for this or that overhead and we’ll have plenty.  So far I don’t think he has any idea of what this is all about and we have to keep it that way.”

Marshall looked around.  He had to be careful not to bump into the person sitting behind him, or bumping the elbow of the young oriental woman sitting on his right side.  Leaning even closer he added, “In fact, I think we better change subjects.”  Leaning back he asked in a normal voice, “So how are you doing in Assassin’s Creed?

“Sequence eleven,” Justin responded immediately.

By the time they left the restaurant the lines had formed past the edge of the building.  “So why are we in Utah?” Justin queried.

“Thriving economy, technology hub, strong work ethic …,” Blake began counting off with his fingers.

“We can talk about that as we drive.  Did you two bring a car?” Marshall asked.

“Five national parks, beautiful mountains, great skiing…. Belay that, too late in the year for skiing,” Blake continued.

“No, you said you’d rent a car at the airport.  So we grabbed the Trax line from downtown,” Justin answered.

“Temple Square, BYU, beautiful girls,” Blake was starting to wind down.

“We’re going to Brigham City,” Marshall confided.  “I understand they have some great raspberry milkshakes up there.”

“Milkshakes?  You flew us all the way out to Utah for milkshakes?” Blake interrupted.

“No,” Marshall smirked, “But if we hurry we may make it in time for some shakes.”  He pulled keys from his pocket and they heard the distinct beep of car doors being unlocked.  Twenty feet away they saw the headlights of a gray Jeep Cherokee.  “Get in,” Marshall snapped.  “We spent too much time eating lunch.”

They drove north on I-15 that was cluttered with new homes and commercial properties lining both sides of the freeway for over an hour.  Passing through Ogden, traffic began thinning out, and they caught occasional glimpses of water to their left, and fruit trees on the hills to the right.

Neither Blake nor Justin could get anything out of Marshall as to their reasons for traveling out into the wilderness of Utah.

“This is not the wilderness of Utah,” Marshall responded.  The wilderness areas are north and east and south of Salt Lake City.  When they finally approached Brigham City, Marshall turned away from the city, rather than toward the eastern mountain.  Continuing down a two lane highway, the ground became rocky, brown and desolate.  “Okay, maybe there is some wilderness up this way,” Marshall laughed.

Eventually the rock and dirt was interrupted by a tall chain linked fence topped with concertina wire.   Eventually they reached the gate for ATK-Thiokol.  Blake immediately perked up, “Is this their test range?”

“Not only their test range, but if we can get through security in less than twenty minutes, we can watch a test firing of their fusion engine.  I got a pass for three scientists.  Are either of you qualified to be called scientists?”

“So we’re here,” Justin complained, “to see the test firing of an engine system, that Blake already discards as inferior to his own design?”

“I’m interested,” Marshall smiled.  “You never know, these sorts of things often give people better ideas just for seeing them.”  Then he scowled, “But actually this is more a distraction.  We have other reasons for being here.”

They made it through security and to the test firing with two minutes to spare.  But technical glitches delayed the test by over two hours.  It was late afternoon before they drove into Brigham City for the promised black raspberry milk shakes.

Sitting outside an ice cream parlor Marshall turned to Blake, “Well?”

“The test was certainly impressive.  Better than most fireworks displays I’ve seen.  But, it is way to energy hungry.  How do they expect that to efficiently deliver the first permanent base to Mars?” Blake started.  “But, it did give me a few ideas relative to my design.  The propulsion system has to help generate speed, but also be much more cost effective.  I believe the solar sails will help give us that added boost.  But I don’t want to use them in the Belt.  Getting from here past Mars, I think we can save dollars and time.”

“You said this was more of a side trip than our actual purpose,” Justin interrupted.  “Why did you bring us all the way out here?”

“Patience,” Marshall paused and bent over in pain.

“Are you okay?” Justin reached over in concern.

“Ice headache,” was all that Marshall got out.

Chapter 6 – Follow the Leader

“Mr. Smith, this isn’t working,” Naomi complained on her check-in call.  “I think Marshall spotted me.  I told you I failed the surveillance course twice.”

Naomi Katsuki had been back in the States less than two weeks when she was reassigned to conduct surveillance on Dr. Marshall Salt.  Reading his profile had been an emotional roller coaster, “PhD in Astrophysics,” Great, I get to follow around some ancient university professor.  “28 years old,” Well, he looks pretty good for a scientist; those intense brown eyes are mesmerizing.  I wonder if he is wearing contacts or just has 20-20 vision.  Then she read the three line title of his dissertation, and the list of publications on spectrographic analysis of asteroids, Oh my god, I can’t understand a word he’s writing.   Then after reading an op-ed piece he had written for Time magazine about next generation space travel, Okay, a really smart nut case.   As she read his family profile, A very rich and very smart nut case.  Probably a spoiled brat.  No wonder he’s so far off the reservation.  She paused, Sister died when she was sixteen of unknown causes.  Mother committed suicide eight months later.  Well certainly not a bed of roses.  In eight years, Marshall had traveled extensively with his longest stint for two and half years at the Dyer Observatory at Vanderbilt University while earning his baccalaureate degree.   After that, he had spent a year at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, a year at the US Naval Academy Observatory on a civilian internship, another internship in the Canary Islands, then back to Arizona, the a short stint in Chili, and now New Mexico.  Well, it least I shouldn’t get bored in one spot too long, she sighed.

“This isn’t rocket science, Naomi,” Mr. Smith chided.

Naomi paused, “Was that supposed to be a joke?  Never mind.  I think he caught me today.”

“How so?”

“He was talking openly with his buddies…” Naomi started.

“Buddies?” John Smith queried sarcastically.  “If you’re reporting, report.”

“The target went to Salt Industries headquarters in Chicago.  He was inside the corporate offices for a little over an hour.  I assume, but do not know, that he met with his father as there is no evidence that he has any other connection with the corporation.  He took the L train to O’Hare Airport.  I did not see him talk to anyone on the train.  He was absorbed into something he was reading.”

“What was he reading,” Mr. Smith perked up.

“I don’t know.  It wasn’t a newspaper or magazine.  Some sort of report I assume,” Naomi responded.

“You need to get closer,” Smith admonished.

“I tried that, and I think I got caught.  Anyway, he boarded a flight for Salt Lake City.  The flight was full, and I had to use my credentials to bump someone from the flight.”

“Hmmmm….” Was all that Mr. Smith said.

“He did not speak to anyone on the flight after I boarded.  There is a five minute lapse between his boarding and my boarding.  In Salt Lake he rented a car at the airport and drove straight to a dump called the Red Iguana.  I was able to follow him there… she paused.  I had to use credentials again, to get to a car in time to follow him out of the airport.  I was able to tag his car before entering the restaurant.  The only seat in that section of the restaurant was right next to him.  So as you would recommend I got a lot closer to him.  And that is when things fell apart.”

“Continue,” Smith advised guardedly.

“Doctors Justin Nelson and Blake Hilst, previously identified entered the restaurant.  They were talking quite openly about the target’s visit to Chicago, and something about distribution of profits when the target leaned up, looked around, then leaned in closer and began whispering.  They changed the topic to video games or something.”

“What makes you think he identified you?” Smith queried.

“Well he brushed against my arm immediately prior to changing the topic,” she admitted.

After a short pause Mr. Smith commented, “It is good to be a bit skittish in your assignment.  Did he see your face?”

“No…. certainly not then.  I had my back to him.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it then.  More likely he was discussing confidential information and realized that he was in a public place,” Mr. Smith concluded.  “Where is he now?”

“The target and two companions went north.  I hung back, but they were easy to track.  They traveled to the ATK-Thiokol engine testing facilities.  They were on premises for three hours, and then went to Brigham City, where they checked into a local hotel.  And, no I have not placed a bug in their room.  Once they entered, they have not exited.”

“Probably won’t get a chance tonight,” Smith agreed.  “Get some sleep, and pick up in the morning.”

“One other thing.  I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one following them,” Naomi added.

There was a long pause on the other end of the line, enough so that Naomi Katsuki wondered if Mr. Smith had disconnected.  Finally, she heard him slowly exhaling, “What makes you think that someone else is following them?”

“Well, it could be a coincidence, but a car that was parked at the Red Iguana is in the parking lot at the same hotel.”

“Are you sure?” John Smith demanded.

“Absolutely.  It is a gray late model Impala, but the license plate caught my eye at the restaurant; obviously a rental with Oregon plates.  The reason it caught my eye is that the numbers are the same as by birthday.”

“Shit,” Mr. Smith invoked, “Not likely a coincidence in a small Utah town.  This was supposed to be a casual surveillance….. I’ll have a team fly in tomorrow.  They should be at the airport by… she could hear rapid typing in the background, then more cursing, then more typing.  Finally, Mr. Smith reported, I will have a team arriving from Mexico City via Los Angeles on Delta.  They’ll be in at two o’clock.  Meet them at the airport.  Meanwhile, keep your distance, but try to ascertain what who else is involved in this.”

“That doesn’t make sense.  How can I do both?”

“Just make it work,” Mr. Smith abruptly ended the call.

Naomi didn’t fall asleep until after three o’clock in the morning.  Every noise in the hallway made her jump.  Twice she left her room, four doors down from Marshalls, checking the stairways and the parking lot for activity.  There was none.

At six o’clock in the morning she jumped out of bed.  The alarm had sounded on her tracker, that the Marshall Salt’s car was moving and had passed out of the two mile range of the local radio signal, and was shifting to satellite tracking.

At first she panicked and raced to the door of her hotel room.  Then she stopped.  Close but not too close, she reminded herself.  And decided to take a quick shower, and get into some fresh clothes.  I stink, she realized as she pulled of her soiled blouse.

Under the Sea (the rest of the story)

Part 3  Dinner

It was the red flashing lights that finally roused Ryder at 4:47 in the morning.  The birthday bash had gone on until the proprietor, Etore Luigi, who went by ET, informed them that the celebration was over.  He wanted to go home and get some sleep.

The party had been a success from Ryder’s perspective.  Athena had been laughing and giggling all evening.  He hadn’t seen her crack a smile prior to that for at least two cycles.

“I just hope it will stick,” Cynthia confided as they rode of the elevator.  “I think she’s terribly homesick.”

Ryder thought about that for quite a while.  He got homesick now and then, but he was so busy that he would forget home for days.  Of course Debbie was here, so he had a piece of home with him.  He also had the SPC and Cynthia.  What did Athena have?  What was she missing?  It troubled him for a long time after he should have been asleep.

4:48.  He still had twelve minutes to get ready.  Ryder washed his face, sprayed some on some deodorant, and brushed his hair quickly.  Putting on a pair of dark jeans and a long-sleeved black t-shirt, he was out the door.  “Darn, I could have slept two more minutes,” he complained to himself.

Cynthia, Debbie, nor Becky were in the hallway, which surprised him.  At 5:02 he started wondering about knocking on their doors.  At 5:05 he finally called Debbie, “Where are you?” he growled.

“We’ll be there in a few minutes.  We overslept.  Meet us downstairs in the cafeteria,” she sounded groggy, but Ryder knew she wouldn’t be that alert if he had awakened her from her coma like sleep.  “Oh, and could you order us some bagels to go?” she paused as if speaking to someone off line, “Oh yeah, and some juice; two apple and one orange.”

“Would you like me serve you in bed?” Ryder snapped.

“Thanks, but no thanks.  We’ll be down in five minutes.”  Debbie out.  She disconnected the line.

Ryder got on the elevator, commanded the main floor, and bent his head forward, resting it on the cool metallic surface of the elevator.  “Women,” he muttered.

Fifteen minutes later, Cynthia, Debbie and Becky emerged from the elevator chattering.  Ryder knew this because he was standing next to the elevator with the requested breakfast.  He started to complain, but stopped as Cynthia smiled, “Good morning Ryder.  Are you really going to wear that?”

“What?” Ryder looked questioningly at his apparel.

“We’re going to the sea?  And boating?  Don’t you think jeans and boots are a bit heavy for that?” she teased.

“I’m fine,” he grumbled.

Looking at the girls, Debbie and Becky were wearing light khaki slacks and shirts.  Debbie was wearing a black beret, and Becky had a scarf around her hair that matched her outfit.  Cynthia was wearing white capris, and a turquoise and white stripped top.  She was wearing white canvas shoes, and most importantly was carrying a brown wicker basket, that Ryder assumed contained their lunch.  Her hair looked great with a turquoise headband pulling her dark black hair back showing her face.

“Your loss?” Cynthia teased and took his hand.  “I see you brought us some breakfast.”

They were still early enough to catch the rising.  Ryder never tired of watching a rising, although he rarely got up early enough to see it.  The sky transformed from a misty darkness to a bursting prism  of light building reflection upon reflection as it climbed the inner walls of Demeter.  The sudden brightness created a glow around the rapidly receding clouds.  Then it was over, as the sky took on a silky texture.

Ten minutes later they were at the station, where Debbie and Becky led them off the train to the platform.  The walk to the beach was rocky, and for the moment, Ryder was glad he was wearing his boots.  He was also glad that Cynthia was wearing the light deck shoes she had chosen, as she grabbed his arm for balance on more than one occasion.

Ryder had never seen anything like the Sting Ray before.  It looked more like a space ship than a boat.  It’s sleek design exuded speed, so he knew why Debbie loved it.  His one surprise was that Debbie actually let Becky take the helm.

“We promised Captain White we would follow the harbor posted speeds,” Debbie confessed.  “And the only way I can do that is by letting Becky drive first.  She has the patience for this, I don’t.”

Once out of the harbor, Becky continued to pilot as she accelerated the craft smoothly, cutting a wake directly away from the harbor.  “There are some really cool things we want you to see,” she smiled broadly.

Becky activated the sub-marine control panel and angled the craft in and took the craft into a shallow dive.  Halogen lights automatically came on, illuminating the path in front of them. “I really didn’t think anything could survive in the Sea of Demeter because of the abundance of minerals in the water,” she exclaimed, but watch.

The Sea of Demeter was alive with fish, of a sort.  Schools of neon blue and red fined creatures rose from beneath the Sting Ray as she continued her dive.  They were only three to five inches in length, but there were thousands of them.  “We don’t eat these”, Becky continued in lecture mode, “but where the Neos gather the viperfish aren’t far behind.”

Both Cynthia and Ryder jumped back in their seats as dozens of three to six foot long predators sped by the windows of the Sting Ray.  It wasn’t so much the size, but the grotesque features of the fish, that made them jerk.  Their needle like teeth were clearly visible outside the frame of their mouths that were already gaping.  They had distinct scales that in the lights appeared to be turquoise and gold armor.

“Remind me never to go swimming in the sea again?  I can’t believe I actually went to the beach with those things nearby,” Ryder sat staring.

“They never come near the shore,” Becky clarified.  Although we’ve seen them jump ten to fifteen feet out of the water when chasing the neos, they really prefer the depths below 500 feet.”

Ryder caught a glint of mischief in Debbie’s eyes as she added, “You know we eat the viper fish all the time.”

Cynthia turned to Debbie in disgust.  “I would never eat anything like that!”

Becky and Debbie both laughed, “Of course you do.  You’re the one who is always dragging us off for sushi.  Where do you think sushi comes from?”

Cynthia looked like she was going to be sick.

“Enough!” Ryder warned.

“Sorry,” Becky and Debbie chimed in together.

Ryder guessed that at least Becky meant it.

A small blue light began turning, and beeping lowly.  “We’re approaching the bottom,” Becky reported.  “This is really what I wanted you to see.”  She slowed the Sting Ray, and began to level the descent.

Ahead of them, rising from the surface were numerous finger like protrusions.  Debbie interjected, “This is one of the tufa fields we found.  There are dozens of them if you look for them,” she added.

“Those are really cool.  What is a tufa?” Cynthia queried as she leaned forward.

Becky answered without turning her head, “There are underground rivers beneath the sea in many places.  Where the tufas form, springs from the rivers bubble upward.  The difference in the minerals of the rivers and the Sea of Demeter cause a form of calcification to occur,”

“Look at that one,” Debbie interrupted.  “It looks like a pearl drinking fountain.”

The tufa rose forty feet from the surface.  Looking closely they could see a mixture of air and water bubbling from the center top of the small tower.  The structure itself was off-white, but the reflection of the light from the Sting Ray hit the tufa in such a way that  it was emitting multi-colored lights in all directions.

Becky began lecturing again, “Watch the surface now,” she slowed the craft to a near stop, with the nose pointing at the sea bottom.

“What are those?” Ryder caught some movement from the corner of his eye.

“Dinner,” Becky smiled.

“Am I going to be sick?” Cynthia cautioned.

“No look closely,” Debbie took a more serious tone.

“Crab?” Ryder guessed.

“Up, and big ones,” Becky volunteered.

Debbie added, “They grow to nearly three feet here.  Of course, we get the regular sized ones from the commercial fisheries.”

“Okay, I’m good with crab.  You guys can keep the sushi though.  I never could figure out why you liked it.”

Cynthia didn’t say anything.

Part IV  Crash

They continued through the tufa fields as Becky referred to them for nearly an hour.  Becky then leveled the Sting Ray and turned to Debbie.  “You ready to take over?”

“You bet,” Debbie grew excited.  Turning to Ryder and Cynthia she added, “You really haven’t seen what this baby can do.”

Without thinking Ryder pushed himself back further in his chair, and checked his restraints.  He saw through the corner of his eye that Cynthia did likewise.

“We’re 43 miles from Arion,” Becky reported to Debbie as she turned over the controls.

Debbie grinned, “Arion Trench?”

“I suppose so,” Becky sighed and adjusted her own restraints.

Ryder noticed that Becky’s knuckles were turning white as she tightly gripped the arm rests of her chair.

“What is Arion Trench?” Cynthia leaned forward almost whispering.

Becky turned her head slightly, “The deepest water in the Sea of Orion.  We can go down to 200 fathoms, I mean 1200 feet in that region.  It works well for some of the workouts that Debbie likes.”

Debbie took a deep breath, stretched her fingers, and shook her shoulders, then leaned forward and pushed the Sting Ray into a sharp incline.  The craft seemed to vibrate as it accelerated swiftly.

“120 fathoms,” Becky reported, as Debbie seemed totally focused on steering.

The Sting Ray began to spin slowly.

“110 fathoms,” Becky called out.

The spin of the craft increases as the boat continued accelerating.

“90 fathoms,” Becky kept a level voice.

“I feel like I’m in a blender,” Cynthia’s voice rattled.

“60 fathoms,” Becky announced.  “Speed is at 110.  I think she’s topping out unless you want to overheat the engines again.”

“They’ll want to see this,” Debbie spoke through gritted teeth, as she shifted the angle of the craft almost vertical.

“20 fathoms…. 30 feet,” Becky was leaning back pressed against her seat.

“Debbie!” Ryder growled.

Abruptly the Sting Ray shot out of the water.  “Hang on,” Debbie called out.

The Sting Ray leveled, then at its apex angled down, much like a dolphin that has exploded out of the ocean.  The craft nosed forward and smoothly dove back into the sea.

“New record?” Debbie inquired.

“Just a minute,” Becky protested.  “Yes, 122 feet,” she declared.  “That’s three and a half feet higher than your old mark.”

Debbie’s arm went out, extending a fist, “Yes,” she exclaimed.

“Don’t… do… that… again,” Ryder’s voice rose on each word.

In a much fainter voice, Cynthia chimed in, “I second that, I think I’m going to throw up.”

Cynthia didn’t throw up, but she put her chair in a horizontal position for several minutes.  “I think you’ve done something to my inner ear,” she complained.

Debbie slowed the craft to a crawl, by her standards, “I’m sorry.  Thought you’d like the thrill.  It reminds me of the Boomerang Coaster.”

“I think I’d refer to it as the Hammer,” Ryder complained.  “I’m surprised this boat didn’t fall apart.”

It was an hour past the time they had planned to eat lunch before Cynthia showed any interest in food at all.  Debbie brought the Sting Ray to the surface, and they climbed up onto the top of the cabin to eat outside.  The Sea of Demeter was calm, as it always was during the daylight hours inside the asteroid.

Cynthia nibbled a few crackers she’d brought along for the soup, and actually asked for one of Ryder’s colas, but declined any of the sandwiches, soup, or pie they had brought along.  She did seem to relax as they were floating about ten miles off the far side of Arion and could see the seven green peaks of the island.

“Maybe we should float out here until it’s time to go home,” Cynthia mused, as she relaxed.

“But we still haven’t shown you the trench,” Debbie whined.

Cynthia relented, “Okay, but no more egg beaters with the boat unless you want to clean up the mess.”

“Promise,” Debbie put up her hand with two fingers pointing upward.

“That’s the cub scouts,” Ryder warned.

“Okay,” Debbie kept her fingers together, “Scout’s honor.”

Cynthia smiled weakly, “Okay, deal.”

Debbie spread her two fingers to the victory sign, “Great!  Let’s get going.”

Most of the sea floor they had seen to this point was relatively flat, but the Arion Trench fell sharply from the coast of the island.  With the continuation of rocky configurations descending from the peaks of Arion, Ryder could picture himself rock climbing through some of the valleys and outcroppings they encountered.  “You know it wouldn’t be so bad falling of one of those,” Ryder exclaimed, pointing at an overhang with a narrow ledge.  “Hey, hold on.”

Debbie paused the craft in its descent, “What?”

“Go back up about sixty feet and to your left,” Ryder ordered.

“That’s ten fathoms to lee?” Debbie snipped.

“What’s your problem?” Ryder drew back, surprised at the retort.

Debbie turned, “I’m captain of the vessel, if you want me to do something, ask politely.”

Ryder started to reply, when Cynthia caught his eye, and he sat back, folding his arms, “Okay, could you please bring the ship back up a few…. Fathoms and to the lee.”  He couldn’t bring himself to an apologetic tone, but it seemed to placate Debbie, as she brought the boat back up slowly.

“See, right there.  To the right a little,” Ryder pointed excitedly.

“What is that?” Becky exclaimed.

“It’s a trail,” Cynthia would have stood up if she hadn’t been restrained.

“What’s a trail doing under the sea?” Debbie drew in closer.

There was no question, it was clearly a path, zig sagging up the side of the underwater mountain.  It was partially masked by residue, and in some areas totally disappeared, but could be picked up later descending out of sight.

“Mermaids,” Debbie stated firmly.  “It has to be mermaids.  I always knew they existed.”

“Just like you found a saber tooth tiger at Mesa Verde,” Ryder laughed.

“Okay smarty pants, who made the trail then?” Debbie challenged.

Ryder sat back thinking.

Cynthia was the next to speak, “It looks old, really old.  Look where the trail disappears.  It seems to be covered in sediment of some sort.”

“Can you take us closer to one of those blocked trail areas?” Ryder asked Debbie.

Debbie drew within a few feet of a section of missing trail, and kept the Sting Ray almost stationary in that position.

Ryder looked at the area for several minutes then asked Debbie to work the boat up toward to portion of the trail that could still be made out clearly.  “Slowly,” he cautioned.

Finally, Ryder folded his arms smugly, “I have it.”  Turning to Cynthia he added, “Actually you figured it out.”

“What?” Cynthia looked at the trail, then back at Ryder, then back at the trail again.

“This is a real trail, but it was created thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of years ago; sometime after the terraforming project started, but before they began a controlled melting of the snow cap above.  Arion was more than an island, perhaps even a small continent back then,” Ryder grew more animated.

Becky joined in, “Yes, before they found the balance that would work best for them.”

“I’ll bet we could find an ancient city or cities somewhere along the bottom of the trail.” Ryder continued.

Debbie pointed the nose of the craft downward and they continued trying to follow the trail, but the further they descended the more broken and covered with debris it became, until so much sediment had built that they couldn’t tell where the trail had turned.

They searched back and forth, and then moved outward and downward.  The blue light began spinning again.  “Looks like we’re nearly to the bottom,” Becky advised.

“Let’s try concentric circles outward,” Ryder suggested.

They continued their search for a lost city for two hours, “Nothing,” Ryder muttered.

Debbie who had traded the captain’s chair for navigation over an hour earlier complained, “I’m tired, let’s go home.”

“Not yet,” Ryder kept scanning the horizon frantically.

Another hour passed, with no results.  Cynthia squeezed Ryder’s arm, “Maybe we should pick this up another day.”

Ryder’s face fell, “Well, okay.  It would have been cool to find a lost city.  We could have named it Atlantis,” he laughed.  The others joined in half heartedly.

Suddenly Becky screamed, “I think I found it!”

Life returned to fading hopes, as she maneuvered toward the spot she was pointing to.

“That’s not a city,” Debbie observed as they drew in.

“But what is it?” Cynthia exclaimed.

They began circling the sandy knoll at the bottom of the sea.  “Something metallic,” Ryder pronounced.

“Sunken ship?” Debbie posited.

Once more around the 200 square yard area, and Ryder declared, “No not a ship.  It’s a fighter.  I don’t think its Slick, so it has to be a Perv ship.  I’d like to get a closer look.  I wish we had some diving equipment.  Too bad, we’ll probably have to let the DDF Security team take over.”

“But we do!” Debbie announced.


Part V – Look what I found

“What are these?” Ryder asked in disgust.

“They’re STU’s,” Debbie boasted.

Becky added, “Surface Terrain Units.  For some reason Randy and Joel refer to them as STUs.  Anyway we have two of them.”

After landing the Sting Ray on a shelf about twice the length of the craft, that overlooked the wreckage of some sort of vessel, Debbie led the group through the locked doorway behind the cabin.  It was a storage area, with a variety of tools and a work bench.  Attached to the side wall were four sets of very uncomfortable looking bunk beds.  As tidy as Captain White was about his cabin, this compartment looked more like an unkempt shed.

“Bachelor pad,” Cynthia laughed.  “Reminds me of my brothers’ rooms at home, except a bit more greasy here.”

“I was wondering what that rattling noise was,” Ryder chuckled, as he opened some latched tool drawers..  “I thought you’d damaged the engine.”

“Anyway,” Becky interrupted, “We can use the S.T.U.s to go outside.  Even with the lighter gravity, I know that the pressure at this depth could crush us without protective gear.  These units were designed for working on the surface of Demeter, but they should easily keep us from being crushed.”

“Does anyone know how these things work?” Ryder asked apprehensively.

Cynthia, who had been crouching, examining the contents of the tool drawers announced, “We have an operating manual for the Surface Terrain Units.  It doesn’t look too complicated.”

Not too complicated turned into an hour of reading, and trying to interpret technical language.  They then spent another hour trying to figure out how to put the S.T.U. on.  Becky managed to get a unit on backward, but that created enough humor and experience to decipher the front from the back.

Ryder tried to use his computer to pull up some additional information, but apparently they had traveled beyond the capabilities of the communications links.  As he started to complain, Debbie cut him off.

“We figured out the first day that the standard communications bugs have some problems when in the open sea, and especially under water.  That’s why we haven’t bother bringing them with us,” she mocked.

“I’m not so sure this is a good idea,” Ryder cautioned.  “None of us have ever used one of these suits.  What if something goes wrong?”

“It’s okay Ryder.  I feel pretty confident about this, I’ll do it,” Cynthia volunteered.

“And I’m going for sure!” Debbie demanded, blocking access to the suit she intended to wear.

Ryder began pacing, which was a challenge with four people in the confined space.  He walked back into the cabin and stared at the ruined craft lying before them.  He turned and walked back to the STU.

“Too dangerous,” he said with a clear tone of disappointment.  Turning to Debbie, “Even for you.”

“What about using the harpoons?” Becky suggested.

Ryder snorted, “What?  Shoot an already shot down craft?”

Becky blushed, “No.  I was thinking, once outside, you could attach the harpoon cable to the STU, and if something went wrong we could reel you back in.  Even if we had to tow you to the surface before we could get you out, it should work.”

“Cable?” Ryder walked back out to the cabin windows and stood thinking.  He turned and walked back to the STU, staring.

A long minute passed when Cynthia asked, “Ryder?  Are you all right?”

“I think it’s worth a gambit,” he spoke slowly.  Then with determination, “Okay!  Debbie, suit up.  You and I will go out.”  Cutting off Cynthia before she could protest, “I need you here to figure out what’s wrong if we screw up the suits.”

“You’re not just trying to protect me are you?” Cynthia accused.

It was Ryder’s turn to blush.  “No.  You’re the closest thing to an expert that we have.  I need you where you can advise.  Will the helmet radios work with the Sting Ray’s radio system.  We better make sure that works before we do something else crazy.”

Getting into the STU was a challenge.  It was another half hour before they were convinced that they had all the seals in the green.  When they did the radio check, Ryder was afraid he was going to be deaf in his left ear as the noise erupted inside his head.  Finally, as prepared as they could be, Ryder stood at the airlock, insisting that he go out first.

As the lock opened, Ryder took the three foot drop to the top of the small rock formation the Sting Ray sat on.  He pondered the fact that this was the first time, since his body had grown accustomed to the lower gravity that he felt like he was on another world.  Demeter was starting to feel like home.  But this undersea sanctuary was strange.

“One giant step for womankind,” Debbie emerged hopping from the Sting Ray, and nearly toppled over.  Ryder managed to catch an arm as she lost her balance.

“Well, if you had fallen I guess we could have just attached a cable to you and hauled you to the surface,” Ryder taunted.  He then called Becky on the radio channel, “Becky how do we get to those cables?”

“Coming right up,” Becky was still coming in too loud, even though she was barely whispering.

“Cynthia is there any way to turn down the volume on these radio suits?” Ryder queried.

After a short hesitation Becky responded, “Cynthia’s looking, but can’t find anything to help on that one.  The harpoon shield is opening, let me know when you’ve got it and I’ll hit the release.”

Ryder slowly moved to the front of the craft, where he saw the panel opening.  “Got it,” he exclaimed.  “You can hit the release, but don’t fire the darn thing.”

Turning, Ryder blinked, “Debbie!  Where are you?”

“Down here,” he heard her voice calling.

“I thought we agreed…” Ryder began.

I’m right over here.  Nothing to worry about,” she interrupted.

Walking to the edge of the ridge, he saw that she had made it down the six foot rock face in a single jump, and was walking toward the wreckage.  “Debbie!  Stop right there, and wait.”

Debbie kept moving forward.

“Deborah,” Becky called.  “You agreed.  Stop and wait for your brother.”

Debbie did pause, while Ryder looked for a way off the ridge. He was looking for a safer way down when he felt a hard bump against the back of his unit.  Before he could see what it was he felt another, stronger thump.  Turning around he saw three, “no four” large Viperfish lurching at him.  The largest had to be eight feet long.


“What the…” Ryder bit his tongue rather than finish his statement.  He stepped back, and suddenly he was hanging in mid-air.  With the pressure of the water, his suit slowly descended the six feet to the sea floor below.

“Looks like they won’t be eating Ryder sushi tonight,” Debbie laughed.

“You may think it’s funny, but see how you like it when one of those ugly things tries to eat you,” Ryder groused.

As if on cue, the eight foot Viperfish crashed into Debbie.  It was an eerie sight to watch, as the monstrous sea creature opened its mouth wide as it smacked against the suit.  It had caught Debbie perfectly, and she started to topple.  Facing down in the sediment she couldn’t see the creature try and try again to take a bite out of the metallic suit to no avail.

Ryder started laughing.

“What’s going on out there?” Cynthia had taken over the radio controls.

“Our friendly sea monster forgot his can opener,” Ryder snorted.

“Not funny,” Debbie complained.  “Get me up.”

“I’m working on it,” Ryder leaned against the rock wall he had just descended.  He still had the harpoon chain in his right hand.

“Probably best just to wait it out,” Cynthia advised from the Sting Ray.  ”              Eventually your new pet will get tired and go away.”

“Yeah, in a day or two,” Ryder crowed.

Debbie’s feet were kicking in slow motion to no avail.

“Debbie, stop struggling.  I think that’s keeping Jaws interested,” Ryder observed casually.

“I wish I could see this,” Becky complained from the Sting Ray.

“You can’t see it?” Ryder asked.

“Nope.  We can see the tail of the viperfish, but Debbie’s out of sight.”

“I can fix that,” Ryder called.

“Don’t you dare!” Debbie threatened.

“Or what?” her brother scoffed.  “Transmitting now.  Be sure to record this Cynthia.”

“I’m going to kill you when I get up,” Debbie snarled.

“Then I won’t help you up,” Ryder laughed.

The viperfish was persistent.  The other three companions were out of sight in less than three minutes, but “Jaws” as Ryder dubbed the fish kept biting at Debbie for ten minutes before it finally got bored or sensed easier pickings, and wandered away and up.

“Okay, if you want me to help you up, we have a triple truce,” Ryder negotiated.  “No revenge for three months.”

“No deal,” Debbie responded.

“Have it your way,” Ryder replied casually, as he moved toward the wreckage, towing his chain behind him.

“Okay, double truce,” Debbie offered.  “Two months, no revenge.”

“Deal,” Ryder turned, and attached the chain to one of the rings on the shoulder of the STU.  With some assistance from the Sting Ray, and balancing efforts on Ryder’s part, Debbie was back on her feet shortly thereafter.

“Now let’s go see what we found,” Ryder challenged.

Lumbering forward, leaving oversized footprints in their wake, Ryder and Debbie moved around the perimeter of the wreckage.  Ryder insisted they work inward slowly, and for once Debbie seemed to agree.

“That could be a wing,” Ryder observed, as they finished their first round.  “But if it is a wing, I wonder where the other wing or wings are.”

“The parts that are sticking out are black,” Debbie commented.  “Your favorite color,” she added for Ryder’s benefit.

“I’m curious, if the craft were made of chameleon fabric, how it would have broken apart like this,” Ryder started moving gingerly toward more of the wreckage.  “Cynthia, anyway to enhance the analytics on this unit?”

“Pretty rudimentary I’m afraid,” Cynthia echoed in his head.

Debbie had moved in toward another piece of the debris.  “I think this is probably part of the fuselage.  It has some peculiar lettering on the side, but I can’t read it.”

“Take a picture,” Ryder advised.

“I’m filming the entire approach,” Debbie responded, then challenged, “Aren’t you?”

Ryder hesitated, “Yup.  I am now.”

Near the center of the debris, the remains of the bridge were clear.  The back of the cabin was wide open, as if it had been sheared in half.  Debbie started climbing in.

“Debbie wait!” Ryder yelled.

Debbie screamed.

Ryder tried to run, but STUs don’t run.  No matter how much adrenaline and energy were expended, the STU continued its predetermined speed and course.

Debbie was standing still when he caught up with her in the cabin.  The disturbed skeletons of three human-like creatures were scattered around the chaos.  Examining the site more carefully, Ryder determined that they were indeed the skeletal remains of people.  From what he could make of the bones scattered about the former cabin, the people had been of slender build, perhaps women, but very tall.

“Are you all right?” Ryder tried to put his arm around Debbie, but it wasn’t working.

“I’m okay,” Debbie whispered.  “I just wasn’t thinking we’d find bodies.”

“I suspect the viperfish had a tasty lunch here,” Ryder spoke in clinical tones, “Although I suppose lobsters could have been involved in the final clean up.”  He continued to scan the room.  “The flight control section of the bridge seems intact.”

Debbie seemed to revive, “I’ll bet we could take this whole section of the cabin back with us.”

“I don’t think this will fit in my pocket,” Ryder laughed.  “At least if I had a pocket.”

“We could tow it,” Debbie speculated.

Ryder tried to shake his head, which was now covered in beads of sweat.  “I feel like I’m in a sauna,” he complained.  “Becky.  What do you think?  Can we tow this section?  It appears to have all the control systems.  We may be able to get something out of the data files if they’re not too corrupted.”

“We can try,” Becky sounded pessimistic.

It took nearly an hour, for Debbie and Ryder to wrap and secure what appeared to be the strongest points of the wrecked cabin.  They stood outside the Sting Ray as it attempted to move the compartment.

“It’s not budging,” Cynthia reported.

Ryder was getting tired, and his oxygen mix was moving into the orange.  “Debbie this isn’t going to work.”

“Let me try.  I’ll bet I can get it to move,” she complained.

“This isn’t about will, its about torque and power.  We don’t have enough,” Ryder consoled.  “Hey wait a minute.  We don’t have to move the whole cabin.  Maybe we can pull out the control panel itself.”

His oxygen mix was in the red when they finally had the section they could dislodge wrapped in chain.  They didn’t wait to see if it would work, Ryder pushed Debbie back to the air lock.  The stale air of the cabin smelled great after spending nearly four hours in an STU.

“You stink,” Cynthia comforted, as Ryder and Debbie struggled to get out of the suits.

“You try it sometime.  I feel like a chicken being turned into a broth in a stew pot,” Ryder complained, then he paused and started laughing, “That’s why they call these things STUs”.

Debbie was at the controls before Ryder finished getting out of the suit, with Cynthia’s help.  It took three tries, but the unit finally clunked out of the broken cabin onto the sea bed.  From there it was a slow ride to the surface.

They opened the cabin portals for some fresh air as they tried to idle.  It was dark and rains was falling. The cool breeze and moisture felt refreshing for a few minutes, but first Becky, then Debbie had to fight to keep the craft on the surface as their treasure kept trying to pull the Sting Ray back under the water.  Finally, they buttoned the craft back up, submerged, and began towing their prize back to port.

When Ryder finally was able to get a connection with his bug, it still took several minutes to contact Mr. Small, who finally answered groggily, “Major Small here, what have you got?”

“Interesting you should ask that question Mr. Small,” Ryder began.

“William!  Is that you?” Mr. Small sounded like he had jerked to attention.  “Where are you?  Are you safe?”

“Huh?” Ryder paused, caught off guard.  “Yeah we’re fine.  We’ve just been out fishing.”

“Fishing?” Major Small spit out.  “We’ve been looking for you for the past several hours.  Why didn’t you respond to our call?”

“We were in Arion’s Trench,” Ryder answered plaintively, “And we found something I think you’ll be interested in.”

“Arion’s Trench?!?”

“Yes, we found the wreckage of a fighter.  I think it might be a Per-Sian craft.  We salvaged the control unit and are bringing it in.”

“What were you doing in the Arion Trench?  Death wish?  I thought you were smarter than that!” his former teacher snarled.

Ryder paused, “Are you interested in the control unit or not?”

“Hold on,” Mr. Small went off line.  “You’re on an open line.  Can you switch to a secure one?” he asked when he rejoined the call.

“Secure line?” Ryder hesitated.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t you have a security bug?” Mr. Small sounded exasperated.

“Sorry.  I really don’t know what you’re talking about,” Ryder reiterated.

Mr. Small wavered, “Okay, but this isn’t going to end well.  I sure would like to get my hands on a Per-Sian control unit.  Where are you landing?”

It was a long day.  The Sting Ray struggled to maintain any kind of speed while towing the control panel.  Ryder dozed off and on throughout the day.

When Cynthia realized she had nothing more she could do, she crashed on one of the bunk beds in what was now affectionately referred to as Jonas’ Hole.

Debbie and Becky took turns at the wheel.  But Debbie refused to wake up after her second round at the helm, and Becky was slapping her own face to stay awake the last hour.  As they entered the port things livened up.  First, they had to take the harbor on the surface at twice the authorized speed to keep their acquisition from dragging on the bottom.  Second, they had a large welcoming committee awaiting them.

Major Small had a guard of twenty DDF security officers at the wharf.  Several hoppers were in the air as Becky docked on the pier.  But their numbers were dwarfed by a full company of the  black suited Slick command.  A squadron of five Slick fighters passed over head every two minutes.

Major Small looked like he had just swallowed a lemon, as he introduced Ryder, “William Joshua Ryder, I’d like to introduce you to Commander Reisman of Fleet 1 of the Sagittarius League.  Commander, this is William Ryder,” Major Small spoke stiffly.

“Ryder isn’t it,” the Commander stepped forward to shake Ryder’s hand.  “I understand you have brought in a relic of the Per-Sian League.  We’re very interested to receive your report.”

Two Slick boats took position on either side of the cable that had brought in the control panel, and divers had jumped in the water where the it had settled.

“Hey!  What are they doing?” Ryder turned.  “That’s our find.”

“And the Sagittarius command offers you congratulations on your discovery.  Of course, by treaty, we will take control of the artifact for further study in our labs.”

Ryder felt an urge to take a swing at the commander, but Major Small held him by one shoulder, and whispered, “Another day.”

“So reports?” Commander Reisman asked in a patronizing tone.

Ryder relaxed, “Nothing to report commander.  We found this lying on the bottom of the Sea and you know how kids are, we just tried to figure out how to grab it.”

Commander Reisman seemed unsurprised.  “Of course.  Where exactly did you find it?”

“I really don’t know,” Ryder shrugged.  It was just under the water when we were looking around.  I think there were some tufa fields in the area if that helps.”

“You mentioned the Arion Trench,” the commander responded as if he had sprung a trap.

Ryder smiled maliciously at the commander, “Really, I don’t recall saying that.  When did we talk?”

The commander fell silent giving Ryder an appraising look.  His left eyebrow rose slightly.  “I see.  It seems there may be more to you than I thought.”

“And I of you,” Ryder responded ambiguously.

A junior officer approached the commander at a quick step, “Commander, we have retrieved the package.”

“Thank you, Ensign.”  The commander turned back to Major Small, “Well, I see our business here is done for now.  Until we meet again Major.”

“Commander,” Major Small stood rigidly.

Commander Reisman turned and led his retinue off the pier.

Major Small’s shoulders slumped.  “C’est la vie,” he muttered.  Turning back to Ryder, “We’re going to have to talk about security bugs here on Demeter.  All open lines are monitored.”

“I didn’t know that,” Ryder responded turning back toward the Sting Ray.

In a more didactic voice, Major Small added, “We’re also going to have to provide you with some training on navigation apparently.”

Ryder laughed, “Oh, we’re fine on navigation.  We have a full video log of the entire recovery, the site, and the location if you’re interested.”  He added, “Debbie or Becky can give you the exact coordinates if you’d like to investigate the rest of the wreckage.”

Major Small smiled broadly, “That’s more like it.  I suppose it could have been worse.”

“Yes it could have been,” Cynthia interjected.  “Debbie could have been awake when they stole her prize.”

“I was thinking,” Ryder turned to Becky.  “Do you think you could let her know when she wakes up?  Cynthia and I have to get back to Europe right away.”

“Ryder, I’ll do a lot for you, but telling your sister that the Slicks slipped away with the control panel?  Not on your life.  Don’t even think of leaving until she’s awake.”

It was a rough ride home that night.

Under the Sea (part 2)

On January 24th I posted part 1 of this story (still more to come)

Part  2  A Birthday Party

Over the next ten days, Debbie and Becky were nowhere to be seen in Europe.  They left early and were at the Sting Ray before the nightly rains cleared and the clouds rose, and often returned home after dark.  On the tenth day they forgot to bring lunch, and even Debbie agreed to depart for Europe before dark so they could get something to eat.  They ran into Cynthia Flores in the promenade near the elevators.

“Where have you two been all week.  Even Ryder is starting to worry?”

“Been fishing,” Debbie laughed.

In response to Cynthia’s confused look, Becky clarified, “Debbie got us grounded, but Captain White lent us his boat.  We’ve been practicing navigation, and maneuvering.  It’s been fun, except when Debbie decides to do those corkscrews.”

Debbie stiffened, “You told me you thought it was cool!”

“Once or twice yes,” Becky responded, “But when you do them non-stop for an hour?  Every muscle in my back hurts.”

Cynthia interrupted, “Anyway, we’re having a pizza party for Athena.  It’s her birthday, so you better show up.  She needs some cheering up.”

“Why?” Becky turned immediately to Cynthia.  “Is she okay?  Is she sick?”

“I think she may just be homesick, or lonely.  Other than Randy and Joel, who are never around, she really doesn’t seem to have made many friends here.”

“You can count on us,” Debbie stated firmly.  “Besides I’m starved.  When does the party start?”

Cynthia laughed, “It’s already started.  If you had your bugs on you’d know that.”

The party was at one of two pizzerias in the promenade.  The main pizza parlor was at the food court, but this one was a small shop with a single large window display and an orange neon light advertising Luigi’s Pizza.  Unusual for Demeter, access was through a heavy wooden door rather than a sensored entry. The main room had a dozen tables with checkered table clothes.  The centerpiece for the room was an operating gas fireplace.

Cynthia led Debbie and Becky past the counter on the left and toward the back of the restaurant where she turned into Luigi’s party room.  Randy and Joel were thumping each other and laughing as the girls entered.  Athena was laughing at them, and looked anything but depressed with a toy tiara atop her short dark hair.  Ryder was sitting next to Joel looking bored; but jumped to his feet as the girls entered.

“Where have you been?” he commanded, glaring at Debbie.

“Busy,” she turned toward the table.  “Happy birthday Athena!” she announced.  Are we doing birthday spankings?  She reached across the table for a bread stick.

“No way,” Athena looked back and forth apprehensively, fearing that she would be grabbed and humiliated.

Cynthia sidled up next to Ryder, “She’s fine.  Been boating for the last several days instead of flying.”

“Good,” he groused.  “Probably why we’re not at war with the Slicks.”

“Where’s the pizza?” Becky queried.  “I’m starved.”

On queue, a waiter, a real live person rather than an autotron, arrived carrying two large pizzas.  “Pepperoni and Chicken Artichoke,” he announced.  “I’ll bring in the meatlovers and Corn and Squid pizzas in a couple of minutes.”

Randy caught the waiter, “Better order us a couple of more.  We weren’t expecting the runts,” he pointed in the direction of Debbie and Becky.

Debbie grabbed another breadstick and threw it, grazing Randy’s ear.

“Oh the pain,” he laughed.  “Better call an ambulance.  Probably got a concussion from that one,” he toppled in dramatic fashion.

“I’ll show you…” Debbie started around the table.

Ryder grabbed her arm.  “Come on, sit down.  If you two want a show down do it outside… after we eat.”

Everyone grabbed a slice of pizza, and silence reigned, other than the sounds of chewing for the next several minutes.

After downing two slices of pepperoni pizza, Ryder turned to Debbie, “So what have you been doing the last three days Dweeb?  I was about to have security start looking for you.”

Cynthia laughed, “She’s been out of touch for ten days Ryder.”

“Oh?” Ryder deflated a bit.  “Mom and Dad would kill me if they thought I wasn’t taking care of you.”

“I can take care of myself,” Debbie sprayed bits of pizza as she spoke.

Ryder ignored her comment, “So.  What have you been doing though?”

Becky interjected as she slid back from the table, after finishing a single slice of the squid and corn pizza.  “Captain White let us take his boat.”


“It is a cool boat.  I’ve gotten it up to 110 miles per hour on the surface, and you should see what I can do with it when I take it down below.  It’s amazing.  I think it might even be better than hoppers, not fighters of course, but I think I could win a race from Europe to Kuu’Aali Falls in the boat against a hopper,” she paused for breath.  “Did I mention it can go over a hundred miles per hour?”

“Well,” Ryder chuckled, that means it can go almost as fast as you can talk.”

Cynthia glared.

Debbie didn’t catch the comment, but continued, “We’re going out again tomorrow.  Why don’t you come.  We’ll show you some things you haven’t seen on Demeter yet.  Bet you’ve never seen a tufa tower before.  Those are cool.  And some of the fish.  Why don’t you all come?” she paused to inhale.

“Not for us,” Randy declined.

“Nope, not for us,” Joel agreed.  “We’re going jumping tomorrow.”

Athena deferred as well, “I have to go back up to the ice fields tomorrow.”

Debbie sagged, a tired frown forming.

Cynthia nodded affirmatively, putting her arm around Debbie.  “We’d love to come.  Wouldn’t we?” she gesture at Ryder.

Ryder paused, as he noticed Cynthia’s dark black hair, it was almost hypnotic when she was shaking it like that.  “Ah sure.  What are we doing again?”

“Great!” Debbie almost jumped out of her chair.  “We leave at 500 hours so we can stay all day.  Cynthia, can you bring a picnic lunch?”

“Five am?  Are you crazy?  It’s still raining at that time of day,” Ryder complained.

“We can see the rising,” Cynthia suggested.  “At least I assume we can?”  Turning to Becky she asked, “Where are we going anyway?”

Pellucidar meets Ceres meets Demeter

Aloha – More news from Ceres brings back a flood of memories.  I’ve mentioned At the Earth’s Core by Edgar Rice Burroughs before.  It came back to mind yet again with theories popping up about ice volcanoes and sub-surface water on the asteroid, Ceres.  Burroughs pulp fiction novel (originally a magazine serial) was published in 1914.  As was the case with all of Burroughs many novels, it is a slick adventure story told in episodes (fit for magazine segments).  I was fascinated by the concept of a juggernaut type vehicle that drilled into the Earth.  In fact, I used the concept to entertain another high school student through a very boring class for weeks on end.

Burroughs’ iron mole goes out of control and takes the crew 500 miles below the surface of the planet to a world within a world, Pellucidar.  Much like the John Carter of Mars series, this one is all action and honor.  I would hardly categorize it as great literature, more of a fun ride especially for a young teenager.

Now the worlds of Ceres, Demeter, and Pellucidar can almost be merged into the latest exploration and upcoming arrival of Dawn near Ceres in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, do I recommend the Pellucidar series to you for reading.  If you want a politically incorrect, sexist, adventure story, it’s okay.  I have first editions at home.  I actually think you’ll enjoy the Demeter series better, but then again I wrote that one.  I don’t recommend the Doug McClure movie rendition.

Best wishes,


What tailgating in an asteroid belt might look like

Aloha – Still proofreading Haumeah.  I thought it would be a good time to bring up more of Debbie’s antics.  So for your entertainment, the following is an excerpt from Haumeah.  (Boy it’s hard to find a good picture of a space ship tailgating another ship.)

All was quiet for half an hour.  Somewhere in the back of Ryder’s mind an alarm went off as he continued to focus on options under the current situation.  His sub-conscious was warning him of something.  What was it?  Then he heard it again, laughter.  Not just laughter, but laughter coming from both Debbie and Becky.  Suddenly he realized the laughing had been going on sporadically for several minutes.  He rose quickly and took the steps two at a time to the cockpit.  “What are you two up to?”

“Nothing,” Becky turned bright red.

“Told you we should have shut the door,” Debbie complained.

Ryder looked out the cockpit window, “Are you crazy?”

“Don’t bother me, I have to concentrate to do this,” Debbie complained.

“Tailgating a Haumeahan fighter?  I’m surprised the escort hasn’t shot you down.” Ryder’s voice rose.

“Yeah, they’ve threatened to do that three times now, but they can’t.” Debbie laughed a little too loud.

“Why not?” Ryder asked.

“We’re so close that we’d probably blow up the ship in front of us,” Becky responded.

“How close are you?” Ryder asked.  “200 yards?”

“Two hundred feet,” Becky responded, “Oops 190, 170, 150.”

Debbie eased off and Becky continued “180, 200, 210.”

“You know, you’re really distracting us,” Debbie snapped.  It takes a lot of work to stay this close at this speed without ramming them.”

Ryder silently counted to ten.  “Back off!”  Turning to Becky he added, “I can’t believe she drew you into this.”  He exited and returned to the overstuffed chair, and tried to concentrate on scenarios, but couldn’t calm his mind down enough to work.  He returned to the cockpit.

Becky reported as soon as he entered, “Per your order, we’ve backed off to two hundred yards.”

“You still look awfully close,” Ryder complained.  “What is the normal appropriate distance?”

Becky looked at her computer screen, “At this speed, close order formation is two miles.”

“Hey look,” Debbie interjected.

Manned mission to Venus?

Aloha – Consider Venus as a vacation spot.  You feel pressure at work?  A week on Venus can make everything seem better with air pressure 92 times greater than Earth.  Feeling chilly in January?  Temperatures on the surface of Venus are a balmy 863 degrees Fahrenheit.

NASA apparently believes they can create a Cloud City (think Empire Strikes Back) 30 miles above the surface of Venus and astronauts could spend a month there studying the planet and going for joy rides in their Zeppelins.  Wow, if I didn’t have two other books in development I’d have to consider this one for a great Science Fiction novel.  The question is whether it would be a soap opera type romance, perhaps even a hundred episode tv series, or a tragedy… imagine the scene where one of the zeppelins with the love interest of one of the central characters falls to certain doom.  Hmmmm…. last minute rescue?  Sacrifice of a character that was the third member of the love triangle?  Stay tuned…

If you’d like to read the full news story go to