Under the Sea
This is one of a number of short stories I wrote (part 1) that chronologically would belong early in Demeter after they reach the planetoid, but after they started to learn to fly. I will bring in the other parts of the story over the next couple of days. I looked for some artwork that reflect the look and feel I envisioned for the Stringray (above). It has been a good weekend for the Demeter series. All three books, Demeter, Return to Demeter, and Defending Demeter have been in the top 100 books in their category at Amazon this weekend so I felt like celebrating :o). Enjoy
After two separate incidents with Slick security, and starting a bureaucratic battle with the meteorology division when Debbie grazed an outcropping causing a landslide, which in turn caused the pencil necks to have to recalculate an entire quadrant of the weather patterns, Captain Jonas White was facing a dilemma. When it came to flying Debbie was a natural, but when it came to judgment, he paused, well she was only fourteen.
Two girls were approaching from the monorail station that bordered the tarmac at Europe. Both girls sported pony tails, one blond, and one light brown. Becky, the girl with the brown hair was sensible and methodical. “She’ll be a good quality pilot, and she’ll probably outlive Debbie by a hundred years,” Captain White reflected.
“So, can we try out the flyers today?” the blond girl began. “I studied the manual last night; they don’t look much harder to fly than the hoppers; maybe even easier. I bet I could fly one without even getting any more instructions.” She paused, as she took in the sober expression on the flight instructor’s face.
“Debbie, you aren’t even cleared for hoppers yet. And after that incident yesterday,” Jonas began.
“It was their fault,” Debbie erupted. Turning to Becky, “Wasn’t it?” Turning back to Captain White, “We were just minding our own business, and bang, out of nowhere they were shooting at us.”
Becky stood straight with her arms behind her back, and said nothing.
“The flight recorder indicates that you had violated Sagittarius League space on three separate occasions, before they fired warning shots,” Captain White responded flatly. Then looking skyward, he continued, “What am I going to do with you?”
The sky of Demeter was, as it always was during the day, an opaque shade of blue that shifted into a haze the more one looked at it. If the sky were clear, and a person could look straight above their heads roughly 847 miles from Europe, they would see the ice fields that were the counter balance to what most people thought of as the surface of Demeter.
Demeter was an asteroid/planetoid hundreds of light years from Earth. The surface was barren, with no atmosphere. But the interior, which could be accessed through one of seven active lock systems, was very much alive. The Sea of Demeter stretched from the capital city of Europe at one end, to Kuu’Aali Falls at the opposite end of the interior. One side of the interior, and the ice fields were governed by Terrans and Cryellians, but they were still under the protectorate of the Sagittarius League, privately referred to as the Slicks. The Slicks maintained roughly half the habitable surface perimeter with four active military bases, protecting three of the lock systems providing ingress to Demeter.
“I think we need to let things settle down from a boil to a simmer before I put you back up in the air,” Captain White continued.
“You can’t do that to me,” Debbie’s voice rose as she tried to get in Captain White’s face, which was comical as she was a foot shorter than the Captain. “I won’t let you!”
“You … won’t …. let… me?” Captain White stiffened.
Becky interceded, “I think what Debbie means is that we’re just starting to get the hang of this, and it would be a pity for us to slide backward in our training.”
Captain White grinned with a lopsided smile, “Miss Creer, I know exactly what Miss Ryder meant.” He paused for effect, “but your training isn’t ending, we’re just going to take a different approach for a week or two.”
“What? What are we going to do? Are we going to fly on the exterior? Train in the fighters? Are we going to be gone long?” Debbie showered a series of questions.
Jonas White had the little devil now. “Just follow me and I’ll show you.”
The trio returned to the station, and took the next train out that turned right at the beach, and continued through several stations. They had traveled for half an hour, when without another word, Captain White, who had remained totally silent through a non-stop torrent of questions and speculative statements from Debbie, exited the car, and started walking toward the beach.
An outcropping of rock, a quarter of a mile wide, and a narrow sandbar created a natural harbor. Three long wooden piers running parallel to each other supported a number of water craft. Captain White walked toward the last pier, then walked down the pier to the last moored vessel. “This is your new trainer,” he smiled sardonically.
“What is it?” Becky looked down.
“This isn’t a flyer? I’m not going to fly a boat? This doesn’t even float.” Debbie exploded.
Captain White ignored Debbie and looked Becky in the eye, “This is the Stingray. Notice the resemblance?”
Becky nodded looking down at the long, almost flat design of the vessel whose top barely cut the surface.
“The Stingray,” Jonas White spoke loud enough to cut Debbie off, “Is my personal vessel, and one of the best trainers in Demeter for young pilots.”
Having Debbie’s attention he continued, “The Stingray was built for speed and maneuverability,” he paused, “under the sea. However, its functionality is very much in line with learning to fly. Let’s take her for a spin.” As if by magic the craft began to rise level with the pier, and a gangplank emerged from an opening in the vessel.
“Cool,” Becky quickly followed Captain White aboard.
Debbie hesitated but a moment, and then rushed aboard, “Can I drive it?”
“Let’s test the system first,” Captain White pulled out an old clipboard with several sheets of paper beneath the large clip. “Read these off to me,” he handed the checklist to Becky.
“Check,” the Captain responded.
“Fault detection unit green?”
“Check,” Jonas replied.
“Stabilizer Trim green?”
“Check,” Captain White continued. Jonas White had done this checklist hundreds of times. He not only had it memorized but could also see it on his microcomputer lens in his eye, but he wanted to make his point.
Debbie started to twitch, but remained silent.
After all 67 items had been confirmed to be on, and or in the green, Captain White ordered, “Take your seats, put on your restraints and let’s see what this old tub can do!”
Rather than screens, the protective shields cranked down, and a broad series of apertures or windows provided an actual view of the exterior that gave them a 180 degree view. As always, during the daylight period, the sky was clear and the water was a milky turquoise on a calm sea. The Stingray’s magnetic attachment to the moorings released and the craft eased out into the bay.
The cabin of the Stingray was roomy for four, but had seating for eight. A small head occupied a corner less than four steps behind the captain’s chair. A door was centered on the back wall. Debbie assumed it was for storage, as the cabin occupied the front third of the craft. The seats were comfortable, and oversized, but she detected that the front seats were beginning to show some wear. The low purr of the engine was beginning to make her sleepy.
“I’m not sure how this is going to help train me to be a better pilot,” Debbie complained. “Unless I’m piloting slow freighters across the universe.
“We’re still in the harbor”, Captain White stated flatly. “It is important to pay attention to landings and takeoffs in all environments. In a harbor you must use extreme caution.”
“Why?” Debbie moaned.
Captain White swiveled around, keeping one eye ahead, while managing to stare at Debbie with the other, “You tell me.”
“I suppose you could run into another craft entering or leaving,” Debbie replied, trying to escape the staring eye of Captain White.
“Yes, much like you have to beware of other craft entering and leaving the tarmac at Europe or any other landing pad. That’s why we make flight plans, and follow them.”
Debbie blushed sheepishly.
“What else?” he turned to Becky.
Becky jumped at her name. “Something about waves? My uncle took us on his boat once and I remember him talking about that as we passed the buoys to the entrance of the harbor.”
“Exactly,” Captain White nodded. “When we are in a confined space, such as a harbor, the wake we create causes waves that continue on to the shore and back again. I once tried to watch the waves on a pond when I threw in a rock. The waves don’t stop. Once they hit the shore or another object they continue back out, back and forth. Your wake might tip over a row boat you don’t even see.”
Debbie was sitting back in her chair with her arms folded, but Becky noticed that she was listening.
“Demeter itself is a sort of harbor. Your actions are like waves. The bigger the action, the bigger the wave. And, you never know what that wave might topple. In Demeter, creating a landslide creates a shift, ever so small to the ecosystem. That means individuals and teams have to work to resolve the problem it has created. Who knows what ripples that causes to their lives beyond work. When you bait the Slick admiralty, the ripples may affect negotiations on something totally unrelated.”
“Then what you’re saying is we shouldn’t do anything, or have any fun,” Debbie snapped.
Captain White turned to her fully, as they had exited the harbor. “No, but little waves in a harbor are better than big ones. Meanwhile, once you get into open waters, the rules can change,” he pushed a lever forward slowly, and the pitch of the engine rose to a roar. The craft jerked forward pushing everyone back in their seats.
The Sting Ray flew through the water like a jet ski, but faster. It plowed a giant furrow across the mirror calm Sea of Demeter. The white foam spraying on either side of the boat brought laughs and giggles from Captain White’s two passengers. For the next hour he demonstrated the controls and computer screens, and how they worked.
“They’re almost like the one’s on the Pegasus,” Debbie beamed.
Captain White pulled up the charts on the two main screens on the far wall. “And if you can read these, learning to read star charts will become second nature.”
Becky was scratching her head as she looked at the charts, “There’s something odd about these charts, they seem to project three dimensions rather than two.”
“Oh did I forget to mention,” Captain White smirked, as the front panel opened, and a wheel emerged. “This is not just a surface craft,” and as he pushed forward on the control wheel, the Sting Ray dove into the Sea of Demeter.
It was late in the afternoon when the trio returned to the harbor. Both Becky and Debbie and captained the craft both on the surface and in the depths of the Sea of Demeter. Captain White indicated that at its greatest depth the Sea of Demeter bottomed out at 1200 fathoms. The he had to explain what a fathom was. Even Becky got confused.
“So it might be five feet, or five and a half feet or six feet, but its really 6.08 feet? But that sort of depends on whether you’re a fisherman, or a freighter, or in the British navy? Where in the world did you come up with 6.08 feet?” Becky looked puzzled. “This is screwy.”
Captain White looked apologetic. “I probably shouldn’t have gotten into the history of the term. If the depth is under 30 feet, we still say feet. But on Demeter a fathom is exactly six feet. Simple as that.”
Debbie laughed, “Yeah sure, how many hand lengths, how many arm lengths from the elbow to the tip of the fingers. It’s a weird concept, and you’ve convinced me it’s a kooky way to measure things after you explained it. Why don’t we just use metrics?”
Captain White laughed, “I asked the same thing of the Director-General a few years ago. Remember the waves?”
“What has waves got to do with it?” Debbie looked like she was about to lose interest.
“The ripples of everything we do,” Jonas smiled darkly. “We were first invited to come to Demeter over 600 years ago. Units of measure were derived from that period. The Cryellians have their own units of measure. The Slicks have their own units of measure, much like metrics I might add. So if we change from feet to meters, it will mess up all the translation of the relationship to their measures that has evolved over centuries. So it’s not even just what we want to do.” He then laughed, “Besides, I don’t want to learn a new way to calculate things after this many decades.”
Debbie captained the Sting Ray into the harbor, at harbor speed.
As Captain White, Debbie and Becky hiked back up to the train station Jonas asked, “So can you see how piloting the Sting Ray can help you become better pilots for hoppers, flyers, and yes,” he paused, “even fighters?”
“Yes,” the girls chimed in unison.
While waiting for the next train he turned to Debbie, “I’m going to do something I pray I will never regret,” he looked like he was about to shoot his own dog. “I’m giving you and Becky full access to the Sting Ray. You can pilot and study the charts for the next two cycles, which is twenty days on Demeter. Can you take care of my baby without wrecking her?”
“You bet I can!” Debbie responded enthusiastically.
Turning to Becky, “Can you promise me that you’ll keep her under control?” Jonas added.
“I’ll try,” Becky replied hesitantly, then more forcefully, “I will do my best.”
“Open your channels and I’ll pass you the codes. Twenty days should be enough time to get the powers that be to settle down, and we’ll get you back in the air. Meanwhile, good sailing.”
“Sailing?” Becky queried.
“Figure of speech,” the old man smiled.