A million miles per hour with solar sails

Artist's Illustration of Electric-Sail Spacecraft

Aloha – The practical applications of solar sails powered by the protons, electrons and other charged particles generated by solar flares and solar storms appears to be on the near horizon (thank goodness as I used similar future technology for Salt of the Earth).  It is a short article, but if interested you can find it at http://www.space.com/31063-electric-sail-solar-wind-space-exploration.html.

Accepting that this is an acceleration model, Earth to the Moon is problematic.  However, this could put travel to the Sun, if you know how to tack to the Solar Wind at a mere four day journey once full acceleration was achieved.  That’s two days to Mars.  Of course it would probably take weeks to build such momentum, so let’s put a trip to Mars at two weeks.  Of course one of the challenges we’d have to face for manned flights using this technology is that the very particles that would drive the ship would also sicken the crew.

Doc

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Suiting up for Mars

In most juvenile science fiction novels of the 50s and 60s the most advantageous way to get into space was to be the children of scientists.  Other good ways to become an astronaut included:  (1) being kidnapped by aliens, (2) find a space ship (not quite as hard as winning the lottery apparently), (3) being really good at video games.  Oh-oh, I could be in trouble, some of those factor into the Orions Spur series.  Shaking it off.  If we go back to the early 20th century it could be because you’re an amazing warrior (John Carter).  Now we’re into early recruitment for the Mars mission, set sometime in the next twenty years.  So what’s the right stuff?

  1. Not too tall, not too short – If you’re under 5’2″  you’re out of luck and if you’re over 6’2″ its a no go.  Now I understand the too tall piece.  Some of those seats make Jet Blue seats look comfortable, and for six months at a time.  I don’t want the person next to me being 6’6″ tall and 550 pounds, especially if I have a center seat.  On the other hand I can see some clear advantages to very short, or small people being able to get into tight spots for repairs.  I think they might have a case for discrimination on this one.
  2. People with bi-polar disorder, multiple personality, schizophrenia, tendency to go nuts in small spaces for extended periods of time, serial killers, and people with depression and suicidal thoughts need not apply.  This is an interesting, almost problematic condition.  After all, spending six months inside the equivalent of a tree house box will drive all participants to one or more of the above.  It might make sense to make these disorders a requirement in advance.
  3. Should have 20/20 vision.  This could also be problematic as prolonged space travel currently will result in deteriorating vision.
  4. Must be free of drug, alcohol, or tobacco dependency.  Really?  This could be the ultimate Betty Ford Clinic experience.
  5. Applicants can come from any country in the world as long as they speak English with an American, or in special cases an English or Australian accent.  No off-world, illegal aliens will be accepted.
  6. Must have a ‘can do’ attitude.  Imagine traveling 200 million miles with Eeyore, everyone would again fall victim to #2 above.
  7. Must be adaptable (no applicants from the KKK, ISIS, or the Nazi party allowed)
  8. Must be curious.  Really?  Someone who is not curious is applying for this?
  9. Ability to trust.  That takes out survivors of a bad relationship
  10. Creative and resourceful.  Finally something for left handed people.
  11. Must be 18 years or older to apply

There you have it.  I’m considering applying as I meet most of the requirements.  Of course I’ll be in my 80s by launch time.

Doc

Chapter 4 – Orion’s Spur: Volume 1 Demeter

Aloha – Sorry for the delay in posting Chapter 4.  I had the misfortune of having a heart attack Friday.  All is well, but it has slowed me down a bit.  Meanwhile, enjoy Chapter 4.

Chapter 4

Outta This World

Ryder was surprised how easily his parents had gone along with his going abroad for a year. They sounded almost as if they had been expecting the trip to Europe. Mom had gone so far as to say, “We knew it had to come up sooner or later.” They had been more hesitant about Debbie going along.

“She’s too young,” Mother had said.

“I’m not so much worried about her age as her sense of adventure,” Dad had stated. “She’s not afraid of anything, and I don’t think she has the judgment to avoid mischief. I just don’t think she’s ready for Europe and all that goes with it.” Ryder would never admit it to Debbie, but he had finally sold his parents on letting her come. She had been in tears when she ran to her bedroom. “I’ll take care of her,” Ryder volunteered. “I’ll make sure she stays out of trouble.”

Ryder tossed and turned as he tried to get to sleep that night. The excitement of visiting a far off land had him contemplating the things he might see, the places he might visit. He rose three different times to check out information about the Swiss Alps, the Prado, and finally the Black Forest. He could not seem to get his mind to shut down. Finally, he decided to get up and grab a snack from the refrigerator. As he reached the kitchen, he could overhear voices in the dining room.

“Elise, we knew this day would come. We’ve been planning on it for what, six years now?” he heard his father console.

“But it wasn’t for another year. William isn’t even sixteen yet.” His mother sounded on the edge of tears. “And Deborah? You know the troubles I had. She isn’t even close to old enough to go.”

“Yes, I was surprised that Debbie was invited too. But it makes some sense. She’ll have William to keep an eye on her. I’d rather she went the same time he goes,” his dad replied.

“It isn’t safe,” Mother stuttered.

Ryder felt embarrassed. He never liked to be around when she, or anyone else for that matter, was crying.

“Frankly,” Ryder’s dad interjected, “after what William experienced at that ridiculous excuse of a school, I think they will both be safer at Europe. Who knows, maybe they’ll bring us back some dewsnips?”

Ryder heard his mother laugh halfheartedly as he slipped back down the stairs. He decided he would definitely have to bring some dewsnips home. He spent the next hour trying to find the word online, but despite using every combination he could think of, he came up empty. The search did get his mind off the upcoming trip, and eventually he dozed off at his computer.

Over the next few weeks Ryder frequently regretted talking his parents into letting Debbie come along. She seemed twice as irritating as normal, and her confidence seemed to be expanding beyond reality.

“I’ll bet I can get the pilot to let me fly the plane,” she boasted. She would then go on to say she was going to be a pilot when she grew up. Later, she was going to join the Air Force. Then she was going to be the President of the United States.

“After that I assume you’ll be an astronaut and become a multi-millionaire selling energy drinks,” Ryder responded sarcastically.

The fire in Debbie’s eye warned him in time, and he ducked as the TV controller sailed past his head and broke against the far wall.

“Dad’s going to kill you.” Ryder laughed as he fled to his room, locking the door behind him as Debbie’s body slammed into it.

“I’ll get you sooner or later,” she screamed. “You have to come out some time.”

Ryder assumed that one of the reasons his parents had agreed to the trip was because the anonymous donors for the school program were funding everything. The biggest costs so far had been the exorbitant price of a rushed passport and their luggage.

The airport wasn’t crowded when his family arrived at the terminal at five in the morning as they had been instructed to do. They checked their luggage, and then found out that the security line didn’t open until six o’clock. “This doesn’t make sense,” Ryder complained. “Why do we need to be here an hour early if security doesn’t open until thirty minutes before our flight?” The whole family had come along. Debbie and her twin sisters had slept all the way to the airport. In fact, Ryder wondered if Mom had needed to dress Debbie while she slept. However, once they got to the airport, Debbie was fully alert, jumping up and down and chirping so loud that Ryder was embarrassed to be near her. Dawn and Marie could barely be rousted to get out of the car and dragged along behind with Mother.

The wait at security was the worst, though. The twins began crying. Something must have gotten into Mom’s eye as she kept blinking, then Dad gave Ryder one of his famous bear hugs, but wouldn’t let go. By the time the security line opened, the whole family was in some variation of tears, including Ryder. He wanted to say, “Hey, it’s no big deal; it’s like summer camp. You won’t even know we’ve been gone,” but the words just didn’t come out. He gave Mom a big hug, and then with Debbie’s help got the sisters to giggle by giving a pimple hug, where they would select one of the siblings to be stuck in the middle for a tight squeeze.

Ryder wondered where the other kids were. Miss Li was near the head of the line for security and told Ryder and Debbie that she would see them when they got through the queue. When they got through, he watched as other members of the class snaked their way through security. He noticed that Cynthia came with her extended family. She must have had fifteen to twenty people with her including siblings, aunts, and uncles. Rebecca had just her parents with her. Randy, Joel, and Athena all came together, and there was only one adult with them. The woman hugged Randy, Joel, and Athena in succession, so Ryder wasn’t sure whom she belonged to. Finally Mr. Small came running toward security as Miss Li was escorting the rest of the group up the escalator to the gates. The look Miss Li gave Mr. Small could have cut through sheet metal.

Mr. Small finally caught up with them at Gate A-17. The person at the desk had already announced that the plane was boarding families with small children, then first class, then “all tickets in group A.” Ryder looked at his ticket, “Group C,” and was wondering when they would get on the plane.

“Sorry I’m late,” an out-of-breath Mr. Small began.

Miss Li had her hands on her hips, with a cross look on her face.

“I forgot to bring this from my apartment and had to run back and get it,” he offered apologetically as he handed Miss Li a small box. “I know I could get you a bigger one where we’re going, but I like the Earth variety better.”

Miss Li opened the box and then opened the smaller box inside, which contained a ring with a small diamond. She smiled, then wiped away a tear. “Roger, you are way too nostalgic.” Then she turned toward the gate. “All right, ladies and gentlemen, they just called Group C, let’s line up and get going.”

Ryder noticed that she put the ring on her left ring finger but didn’t look down at it as she slipped the box into her coat pocket. As soon as Debbie saw Miss Li putting the ring on her finger, she started bouncing and laughing, and soon the other three girls were doing the same thing around Miss Li. “So when are you getting married, Miss Li? Can I come? Can I be a bridesmaid?” Debbie said enthusiastically.

Miss Li quickly shut down the excitement. “Everyone, we need to board now, or we will miss the flight.”

The rows of seats were small and cramped. Ryder kept bumping his knees into the seat in front of him, which was doubly troublesome as Cynthia was sitting there. Debbie, of course, had finagled the window seat next to Cynthia.

After the plane took flight, Ryder’s excitement quickly waned. There was not much to see. He read through the flight magazines in about thirty minutes, then sat wishing he had taken a book out of his backpack to read. As his mind began to wander, he reflected on how easily he had made friends with both Joel and Randy. Although their first love was sports—any sports—they were so enthusiastic about everything it was hard not to join in, one way or another. Randy and Joel had talked Ryder into a little hike two weeks earlier. The little hike turned into a fifteen-mile ATV ride (they supplied the ATV), then some rock climbing. Ryder had never been so scared or exhilarated in his life. They had successfully scaled the last one hundred feet to some peak, with the opportunity for instant death at every handhold. The view of the valley on the one side, and the rows of mountains going back behind them as far as he could see, had been fantastic. It was the first time he had gotten an understanding of what “purple mountains majesty” meant. The analytical side of his mind simply interpreted it as the way the sun refracted the light and shadowed it. Still it was really cool.

“Do you think we’ll have time to leave the airport in Chicago?” Joel asked simply as they were discussing the trip.

“I don’t think so. I believe the tickets say the layover will only be forty-five minutes.” Ryder responded.

“Too bad. I’d love to climb the Sears Tower,” Joel continued.

“Willis Tower,” Ryder corrected.

“Huh?” both Randy and Joel responded in unison.

“It’s not the Sears Tower anymore. It was renamed the Willis Tower a few years ago.” He added, “We couldn’t climb the Willis Tower anyway. We’d just take an elevator to the observation deck. I’ve actually been there once. It wasn’t that great, but it was an overcast day, so you really couldn’t see too far.”

Joel looked disappointed, so Ryder added, “Maybe we can take the elevator up the Eiffel Tower in France.”

“Are we actually going to France?” Becky looked up from the book she was reading.

Ryder thought for a moment. “I assume so. Hard to imagine going to Europe without visiting Paris. But I still haven’t seen our itinerary.”

Cynthia joined the conversation. “I’m not so sure that we will spend much time in major cities.”

“Why not?” Debbie straightened up in her seat.

“Well, for one thing, they told us not to buy calling cards because we wouldn’t be able to use them.”

“Yeah,” Randy interjected, “I think it sucks that we can’t bring video games or cell phones or any electronics.”

“Miss Li says that electronics would take away from the experience, and that they wouldn’t work in Europe anyway,” Cynthia responded.

“Actually, there are some differences in the electrical connections between here and Europe. I already checked on that,” Ryder said sheepishly. “You can purchase adapters here in the States. But Mr. Small assured me that we would have all the computer technology we would want or need where we’re going.”

“How is that possible if we don’t have cell phone connections?” Randy interrupted. “We should at least be able to use Skype or something,” he added.

“Well I don’t care what they say,” Athena whispered conspiratorially. “My parents bought me a dozen hundred-minute calling cards. They’re in the makeup compartment of my bag.”

“I used Skype last time I was in Madrid with my parents,” Becky acknowledged. “That’s probably the best way to go.”

Cynthia shook her head, “I really don’t think we should be violating the rules before we even get started. I’m sure it will all make sense when we get there. At least that’s what my great aunt said.” She paused. “Thank goodness for my great aunt. If it weren’t for her, I don’t think I would have been able to talk Papi into letting me come. Mother was okay, but Father was totally against it.”

“I think our aunt and uncle were glad to be rid of us,” Randy snickered.

Joel affirmed, “Yeah, happy to be rid of us for a while.”

Ryder fell silent. Something wasn’t right. The more he thought about the strange instructions, the more they didn’t make sense.

O’Hare International Airport was huge. Ryder noticed masses of people everywhere. It looked worse than the one time he’d talked his parents into getting up at five in the morning to go to Walmart the day after Thanksgiving. The next thing Ryder noticed was the Chicago Dog vendor. Ryder was a big fan of hotdogs, and he had heard that the Chicago Dog was the best. It became clear that his target was out of reach when Miss Li actually yelled out, “Concourse M-23! We’ll have to hurry to make the flight!”

Running down the concourse was challenging. Ryder had to keep an eye on Debbie, who was in wide-eyed wonder and wanting to stop along the way. He also had to avoid collisions with self-absorbed travelers going in a different direction while keeping an eye on Cynthia, who seemed to be running a little slower than the rest of the group, just so he didn’t lose them. After he and Debbie gang tackled a businessman in a suit with a rolling suitcase, Cynthia actually stopped and came back.

“Can I help?” she asked.

“Yes, take Debbie, and I’ll carry her bag,” Ryder got out in an exasperated voice.

Cynthia seemed to immediately get Debbie’s full attention, and they actually started to catch up with the back of the group.

According to the clock on the wall, they arrived at M-23 ten minutes after the flight was supposed to leave, but it was still there. They checked through the counter in a rush and ran down an empty jet bridge. Ryder caught glimpses of the plane through the porthole-type windows as they entered the plane’s threshold. It looks a little odd, he thought, then rushed in behind Debbie and bumped into Cynthia. “I’m sorry,” he said panicky.

“I’m not,” Cynthia quipped, breathing hard from the run.

The interior of the plane was really different. It was black with brown leather seats. The black reminded Ryder of a Japanese jewelry box his mother owned. What was that called? Lacquer, that’s it, he thought. The aisles were wider, with only two seats on each side. The seats were even larger than first class on the previous flight. He didn’t have to bend over to walk down the aisle or even when he slid into his chair. The overhead compartments were harder to reach, but deeper than the previous plane. Along with his backpack he could have easily placed his two suitcases in the space. Ryder also noticed that he did not have to stand in a line inside the plane to get to his seat. He figured that was just because they were late. “Wow, this is the way to fly. I wonder if all international flights are like this,” he mumbled.

Rebecca Creer was sitting next to him. Debbie and Cynthia were across the aisle. Ryder knew two things about Rebecca: she would read the entire way, and she wouldn’t say a word to him. Debbie once counted, and announced to Ryder, that Rebecca had only spoken seven words all day in class.

Rebecca turned to Ryder. “Something is not right with this. I’ve traveled to Europe twice before, and this just isn’t right,” she declared.

Ryder was in shock. “What did you say?” he asked stupidly. More surprised that she had spoken to him than by what she had said.

“The planes for international flights are more crowded and uncomfortable than domestic flights. When my family and I went to Spain last year, I could barely hold my book up without having my arms go into spasms. This is bizarre,” She declared.

There was a doorbell-like ping, and the pilot announced that they would be leaving shortly, and to fasten their seatbelts.

Ryder looked for the carlike seatbelt, and was immediately confused. “Miss Li, I don’t have a seatbelt,” he complained. It was at this point he noticed something else: there was no flight attendant to ask for help.

Miss Li walked to the front and immediately had everyone’s attention. “You will probably notice that this is a private plane, as opposed to a regular airliner. You’ll need to fasten your safety equipment. Sit back in your seat and press the blue button on the arm rest. But be sure you are sitting back as far as you can in your seat when you push the button.” She then sat down quietly, as if to demonstrate, and pushed the blue button on her console. There was a faint purr, and several restraining devices automatically deployed, firmly securing her to the chair. Ryder heard several other purrs and clicks. He looked at Rebecca, and then pushed the button. A moment later she did the same.

The plane moved out onto the runway and left shortly thereafter.

Rebecca had a concerned look on her face, but then opened her book and started to read. Ryder guessed that further discussion would be futile and pulled out a book of his own. The seat was very comfortable, although more restraining than he had experienced on the previous flight. He felt more secure somehow.

Two hours later, he put down his book and looked out the window. It was nice to be able to have the window seat for a change. They had passed over the last of the landmass. They were now crossing over the Atlantic. Off to the side, he saw another plane that looked a little more familiar in style than their own. He thought they were awfully close, as he could make out the plane ID, J-773. Wait a minute, he thought, the tail of our plane was J-773. That’s when things really started to get strange.

The ping of the announcement system went off, and the pilot’s voice came back over the intercom. “Please be sure that your restraining devices are firmly in place. We will be accelerating in one minute.”

Miss Li got out of her seat, as did Mr. Small, and checked everyone’s restraints. “Looks good up here,” called out Mr. Small.

“We are clear back here as well,” responded Miss Li.

After the teachers were reseated, Ryder could feel the pressure as they accelerated and angled sharply upward. The crushing sensation continued for several minutes, and Ryder’s ribs started to ache. The sky began to turn purple, then finally black, and for a moment, Ryder thought he was passing out. The stars, I’ve never seen them so bright, he thought. Wait a minute, what are we doing up here! He then panicked and tried to get out of his seat. The securing system was locked. They were trapped!

Want to read the entire novel now?  It is available on Amazon at the following link.  Or just stay tuned and I’ll continue posting subsequent chapters.  Earlier chapters are available in my blog.  Doc

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

Em-Drive works

NASA confirms that the ‘impossible’ EmDrive thruster really works, after new tests

Aloha – Happy news for my latest novel that I’m currently shopping to agents, “Salt of the Earth”.  They actually use an Em-Drive as the propulsion system for the Arlo.  Granted, I was already aware that theorists were working on this when I started the first draft of the book a year ago, it is still cool to see that it has passed the “could work” stage.  What is an EM drive?

“Flying in the face of traditional laws of physics, the EmDrive makes use of a magnetron and microwaves to create a propellant-less propulsion system. By pushing microwaves into a closed, truncated cone and back towards the small end of said cone, the drive creates the momentum and force necessary to propel a craft forward. Because the system is a reaction-less drive, it goes against humankind’s fundamental comprehension of physics, hence its controversial nature.” (Stella, 2015).

If you’d like to read the entire article it is available at:

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/nasa-latest-tests-show-physics-230112770.html

Enjoy,

Doc

Zoo – A surprising tv series

Aloha – I was looking for something to fill an hour of down time when I ran across the television series, Zoo.  After watching the first half of the first show my wife lost interest and it sat in the queue for another week.  With wife on the road for a few days I decided to at least finish the first show, then the second, third, and fourth episodes.  In a way it does fit into one of my favorite things:  goreification.  Is the world going to end this time because animals have had enough and they just aren’t going to take it any more?  I’ll have to finish the first 13 episodes before I know whether or not this is Planet of the Apes with cats and bats.  Meanwhile, the acting is pretty good, but not a lot of chemistry between the male and female characters.  That might wind up being its Achilles heel.  The story line is intriguing and holds my attention despite the lack of magic in the characters.  Turns out that a mother cell may be the reason for all our problems, and of course an evil corporation.  If you have some free time, give it a try.  Doc

Chapters 2 and 3 of Demeter

Chapter 2

Change of Habit

Okay, I’m in a bed. Why am I in bed? This isn’t my bed. The last thing I remember….Then he started to chuckle, but stopped quickly as the sharp pain reiterated its warning to his brain.

“Bill, good to see you’re alive.” Ryder shifted his gaze to the side of his bed and saw his dad sitting with his feet stretched out in front of him. From the stubble on his father’s face, he could see that Dad had been there a while.

“I’m okay,” Ryder croaked. “Where’s Debbie?”

“Debbie’s fine. She’s at home. Mom will be here in a few minutes. You had us worried.” Dad looked a little glassy eyed.

“Where am I?” Ryder struggled to get the frog out of his throat, but it wasn’t working.

“Diablo Medical Center. You’ve been her for two days. Glad to have you back”

Hospital? Two days? Ryder thought. Then everything flashed back. He could feel his blood pulse, and it hurt his head. He was getting angry. He was mad at Barry, he was mad at the school, he was mad at his father for making them move here, he was mad at himself. He started to shiver, and his dad stood to his feet. His father had a different look in his eye, one he hadn’t seen before. He looked furious.

“Dad, I’m sorry,” Ryder muttered.

“Sorry? Sorry for what?” The expression on his dad’s face disappeared. “You don’t have anything to be sorry about. You just need to rest and get better. Sorry is a word better used by someone else! That kid should be tossed off Phar Lap or points even higher.” The angry look started to grow on his dad’s face again.

By afternoon, Ryder was getting testy. The restraint to his right arm was tied to a needle in his hand, attached to a tube that went up to a bag, hanging from a metal rail. The problem was they kept pouring new bags of liquid into him, and it hurt. There was a burning sensation as the fluids poured way too fast into the vein in his hand. It felt like it bulged all the way through his arm. I’d rather go back and play with Barry’s boot again, Ryder thought.

The diagnosis was a concussion, multiple contusions, two cracked and one broken rib. He was going to hurt for quite a while apparently. But, he would “be released tomorrow, if you’re good.” They wanted another twenty-four hours of observation. Ryder wanted to curl up. No, forget curling, he wanted to lie flat on his own bed, in his own bedroom, and be left alone. Every time he dozed off, a nurse or doctor wanted to prod or poke or draw some more blood.

Ryder got home Monday. He threw up on the way home. Mom wanted to go back to the hospital. Dad said it was a side effect of the medication, and that he would be fine.

Debbie met them at the door sporting a black eye that seemed to go well with her long blond pony tail. “Look what the cat drug in.”

“Dragged,” Dad corrected.

“Drugged is more like it,” Ryder managed to get out with a faint smile. “It’s good to get out of that place. Medieval torture chambers could learn something from that hospital.”

Getting into the house wasn’t too bad, but he just stood at the top of the stairway leading down to his room. There was no way he could make it down those steps. Ultimately, Dad took his back and shoulders, and Mom and Debbie took his feet. By the time they got down the thirteen steps, he was pretty sure they were going to have to take him back to the hospital. But there was no way they were taking him back up those stairs. He collapsed into the bed and slept.

By Wednesday he could make it back up and down the stairs, slowly. He even thought he could make it back to school by Thursday.

“Afraid not,” Dad said tersely.

“Why not? You’ve made me go to school when I felt worse than this,” Ryder queried.

“You’re suspended.” Dad’s face was starting to turn red.

“Huh? What for?” Ryder asked

“I asked the same thing.” Dad’s eyes were starting to get that frosty look.

Mom interjected. “The principal said you were suspended because you were so banged up that he was afraid it would cause more fights at school if you came back right away.”

Mom was trying to calm down the situation, but Dad was in the mood to rage. “That idiot! The worst thing that ever happened to this school district was to put a noodle-spined fool in as the principal. He’s lucky I didn’t hit him.”

“Honey, he could have had you arrested for what you said to him.”

“He wouldn’t have dared. He knows darn well I didn’t say anything he didn’t deserve.”

“Well at least he came up with a reasonable solution. And he removed the suspensions on Deborah and that other girl.”

“And that homicidal maniac!”

“Wait, wait, I’m lost. What solution? What suspensions?” Ryder finally was able to interject.

Dad sat down, crossed his arms, and glared.

Mom at least was willing to talk. “Well, they suspended Deborah and that other girl for fighting.”

“Debbie was fighting with another girl? When did that happen?” Ryder asked sitting up, curious, with an unfortunate twang in his ribs as a reward, combined with a bit of spinning in his head.

Dad actually smiled. “No Debbie and…Cathy?

“Cynthia,” Debbie corrected.

“That’s right. Debbie and Cynthia apparently gang tackled that Hales sleazebag,” Dad spouted. “He looks like he’s got a bad case of ringworm in his head where Debbie tore the hair out.” Dad was actually grinning.

“Anyway,” Mom continued, “part of the deal was that they also lifted the suspension on the Hales boy. The principal said we could file a civil suit against the boy and his family if we wanted to.”

“Do you want to file a lawsuit?” Dad asked Ryder. Suddenly Dad’s face had turned bland.

Ryder couldn’t remember his dad shifting his demeanor so much in a week, let alone in less than five minutes. But Ryder could also read Dad’s bland composure easily enough. The message was, “Son, I’ll support you if you want to do it, but I hate lawyers and lawsuits.”

“Nah,” Ryder said, “but I would like to see a picture of Barry’s head. He was always pretty prissy about his looks.”

Everyone laughed.

“So if the suspensions are lifted from everyone else, when can I go back to school?” Ryder asked.

“Well, the term ends Friday, and the principal agreed to give you a P grade for all your classes. That means you passed without having to take the quarterly exams,” Dad volunteered. “You won’t be going back to Diablo Junior High at all. You start at Verdan Junior High Monday.”

“They’re expelling me and sending me to a special needs school?” Ryder asked incredulously.

“Verdan has numerous programs. You’re actually going to their gifted student program. Everyone, including you, knows that the courses at Diablo aren’t challenging you,” Mom said in a too cheerful voice.

“And, I told that idiot principal I wasn’t letting you back into his three-ring circus anyway. I’d sooner you go over Kuu’Aali Falls in a barrel,” Dad declared.

Mom gave Dad a stern and cryptic look.

His father’s face fell, and he added softly, “I hope that’s all right with you, son.”

Ryder didn’t know what he felt, but he could see Dad had done something he usually didn’t do, blasted an education leader. “It’s fine,” he decided was the best answer.

“And the really good news is that I’m coming too,” Debbie added.

“Wait a minute! I want a recount if she’s going to Verdan too. Oh, special needs. I guess it makes sense.” Ryder could feel Debbie running at him from the side. He braced for the pain, but she held up just before launching.

“You’re special needs,” Dweeb said. “They’re sending me along as your body guard.”

The deal was that both he and Debbie would leave the school, as Dad refused to let her stay. Fortunately, according to the school counselor, they both had test scores that merited their going to Verdan. Of course, Ryder couldn’t resist upon hearing this. “Yeah, mine’s too high and Dweeb’s is too low for regular school.” Debbie was a little too close that time, and he paid for it with shooting pain in his shoulder for the next ten minutes. It was worth it, he thought afterward. I’m glad she’s coming, but I’m not going to tell her that.


 

Chapter 3

Et Tu, Brute?

Monday morning started earlier than usual. For all Diablo’s warts, Ryder could walk out his front door as the first bell rang and still make it to class on time. Now, going to school was a project. Dad was leaving later for work and heading off in the opposite direction from his office for a twenty-minute drive to Verdan Junior High School. Being day one, Dad also had two packets of information from Diablo that had to be delivered to the principal of Verdan.

Verdan Junior High School was as old as Diablo was new. The grounds were covered with lush green lawns and mature, budding maple trees that cast giant shadows first thing in the morning. The undersized asphalt parking lot was so sun bleached that it was almost off-white except for the fresh tar that ran like black snakes plaguing the parking lot. Dad parked on the street in one of the few spots that did not have the curb painted red.

The building was two stories high with a flat roof. The brick was a sickly yellowish brown. Ryder wondered if the brick had always been so puckish or if the pollution over a century had just settled into the bricks. There was a wide sidewalk straddled with trees from the street to the front door. The cracks in the cement were filled with the stubble of dry grass or weeds. Three well-worn steps led to a large stone portico. The granite keystone in the middle of the arch was engraved with “Founded in 1892.” The school had been remodeled, but it still looked old. The front of the building was dressed with tall paneled windows. Ryder calculated that there were 576 window panes just on the front of the building. Glad I don’t have to wash those, he thought.

Dad, Debbie, and Ryder walked into an empty hallway extending in both directions. There was a scratched, but clearly legible brass sign pointing to the right for “Administration.” Their footsteps echoed as they walked down the hallway to the school office.

Debbie and Ryder sat on a deeply grooved, yellow varnished, wooden bench in front of the office door while Dad went in to chat with their new principal.

“It sure smells old,” Debbie quipped.

“It is old. The last time I smelled something this old was at the Pioneer Museum in Panguich.”

“It’s hot in here, and it’s only seven thirty in the morning,” Debbie complained.

“Actually it’s not that hot, but it is muggy in here, and it smells of mold or mildew,” Ryder replied.

“What’s the difference between mold and mildew anyway?” Debbie asked.

Ryder was happy to have something to talk about rather than just stare at ceiling fans. “Mildew is fungi.  Powdery mildew and downy mildews usually are parasites associated with plants, so you’ll probably find it in the school lunch salads.  Mold?  Well mildew is a form of mold, but in buildings like this it could grow in the walls and bathrooms.  Black molds can be toxic”

“I’m bringing my own lunch then. And I think I can hold it until I get home.” Debbie’s face contorted.

Ryder laughed.

Dad came out a few minutes later and introduced Ryder and Debbie to Mrs. Prescott, the principal. Mrs. Prescott was a lean  woman. There was just a touch of gray in her hair, and she was wearing some kind of business suit with a dark blue skirt that hinted at efficiency. Dad made a quick exit, as he was already late for what he considered a good start on a work day. Mrs. Prescott led Ryder and Debbie down the hall together.

In the distance, down an intersecting corridor, they heard a locker slam. As they passed open classrooms with windows facing the street, Ryder could see cars starting to pull into the parking lot, fighting to beat the school buses into the side driveway. “Your classroom is at the end of Hallway B on the second floor. We have restrooms on the first and second floor on Hallway A,” Mrs. Prescott directed. Then with a hesitant look on her face she added, “At the end of Hallway A, on the first floor of this building, is the cafeteria and vending machines. Your lunch schedule is from eleven thirty to elven fifty-nine, or first lunch. Miss Li and the new teacher will guide you to the gymnasium today and help you set up your lockers. Did you remember to bring your gym clothes?”

“Oh, I won’t be needing mine for the next couple of weeks. Doctor’s excuse.” Ryder tried to sound embarrassed, although he really was hoping he could stretch his exemption to the end of the school year, or forever if possible.

“I brought mine!” Debbie bubbled.

The principal continued down the hall without further comment about PE. “You won’t need to check out books from the library for your texts. Miss Li keeps all your books in her classroom. You can register with the library, which is to your right, during your study hall.” Even before Ryder glanced to the right he could tell he was going to like this school, as the musty smell of books caught his senses. Looking to the right, he saw a large room with two small tables, a front desk, and row upon row of books. So there, Diablo! he thought.

Ryder missed the rest of what Mrs. Prescott said as they finished the trip down the long hallway. He came back to himself when she asked, “Do you have any questions?”

“No, I’m—What is that?” Ryder was caught off guard as he looked into the classroom at which they had arrived. There was something odd about the shape of the room, and the light shifted from blue on the floor, to red on the walls, to a dark magenta reflecting off the ceiling.

“Good. Miss Li, you’re here. Is the new teacher in yet?” Mrs. Prescott inquired.

“He’s arrived and left,” Miss Li said with a smile.

“Left?” Mrs. Prescott asked.

“Yes, he brought in materials, but had to make another trip to get the rest of his boxes. I told him I could hold down the fort until he gets back.” Miss Li smiled again.

“Oh? Okay, I’ll be back in a few minutes. What are you doing today?” Mrs. Prescott asked.

“We’re going to look at the Milky Way today. I’m just setting up my planetarium.”

“I may stop in to see that. What time will the show start?” Mrs. Prescott looked curious.

“In about half an hour, I would say.”

Ryder peered around the room. Instead of traditional desks, the room contained six narrow tables set up in an odd array, with two chairs to each bench. The walls were different. They curved outward, like a castle tower or the inside of a silo. On one side of the room there was a full-sized mural of an ocean or lake dotted with small islands. Ryder was hypnotized briefly by the vividness of the mural; it looked like he could step right into it. The islands were mostly long and narrow. He expected he could walk around one of them in about five minutes. They were covered with lush green vegetation and white beaches in the spots where the vegetation didn’t extend to the water. It looked like no one had ever set foot on any of the islands. The water was turquoise, and the sky…that was odd, the sky looked almost metallic with multicolored shades of blue. Finally, he reluctantly looked away.

At the opposite side of the room were two wooden desks, like Ryder had seen in every classroom he’d ever been in. One of the desks was neat and clear of papers; a set of three office baskets, stacked and empty, adorned the right front corner. There was another wooden desk off to the side that was covered with boxes and papers. Ryder assumed that desk belonged to the new teacher.

“Deborah. William. I’m Miss Li. I hear that you’re transferring from Diablo Junior High, and that you’re both very bright.”

Ryder noticed that Miss Li had an almost singsong quality to her voice. She was taller than Ryder by an inch or more. She had long, striking black hair that was so shiny he wanted to reach out and touch it. Her complexion and bone structure looked Oriental? Japanese? Chinese? Maybe Eurasian? Ryder couldn’t make up his mind. She wore a shiny, perhaps satin or silk dress with a swirling pattern of blues and greens accented with gold embroidery.

Miss Li brought him back to reality. “We really don’t have rows in class,” she said with a smile, “but you can sit at any of these three tables.” She pointed at three tables on one side of the room.

“Where do the rest of the kids sit?” Ryder asked suddenly.

“Rest of the kids? At these other tables,” Miss Li mused.

“How many kids are in this class?” Debbie interjected.

“Well, we had seven. The Foyle cousins moved away this term. We’ll be back up to seven today.”

“I don’t understand. I thought all the classes in the district had forty students in them,” Ryder said.

“We have a special grant from a private donor for this class. The district only provides the room. All the other costs are paid for by the donor.”

“Who’s the donor?” Ryder queried.

“They prefer to remain anonymous.” Miss Li turned and walked toward her desk, ending the conversation.

“Hey, wait a minute. Where’s Debbie’s class? She’s in seventh grade,” Ryder asked concerned.

“We have seventh and eighth grade together here.” Miss Li smiled as she sat on the end of her desk.

Ryder caught the sound of the bell in the distance. It sounded almost muffled in the classroom. Three students walked into the class together, laughing about basketball and who was going to win March Madness. The two boys were as tall as Miss Li. The third member of the group was a girl, not as rangy, but looking just as athletic. A few moments later another girl walked in alone, carrying the largest stack of books Ryder could imagine being carried by a single person. In his mind he pictured a forklift being a more applicable tool for transporting the small library.

The two boys sat down at the far table, still laughing and arguing over who would win this game and that game in the series. It was hard to miss as they were using what mom would refer to as “your outside voice”. The athletic looking girl sat near the boys at the second table. She had dark hair that was clipped short in what almost looked like a bowl cut. The walking library sat down at the same table as the other girl. So far, Walking Library hadn’t said a word, as far as Ryder could tell. She was also tall and slender, wore round wire-rimmed glasses, and had strawberry blond hair tied back in a ponytail.

The second bell rang, and the room was suddenly silent. Miss Li stood up from her desk and glided toward the center of the classroom. “As you know, three of our class members moved over the weekend, and we will sorely miss them. However, we are fortunate to have some new class members join us. William and Deborah Ryder will be with us for the remainder of the school year, and may be joining us in Europe this summer for our year abroad.”

This was news to Ryder. Europe? Cool, he thought. Did Mom and Dad know anything about this? he wondered.

“When do we leave?” Debbie piped up.

“We have not yet worked out the schedule, but it will actually be before the end of the term,” Miss Li replied in a kindly voice.

“Will we travel much while we’re there?” Debbie continued in an excited voice.

“We’ll actually discuss that later. Wouldn’t you like to meet the other students in the class first?” Miss Li interjected.

“Oh, yes please.”

Ryder smiled at how easily Debbie could be distracted.

Miss Li introduced the boys with a twinkle in her eye. “Randall and Joel Porter are brothers. Randall prefers to be called Randy. They are particularly interested in sports, I’ve noticed. I wish I could get them as interested in writing.”

Ryder wasn’t sure which was Randy and which was Joel, but he was sure he would find out soon enough, although it seemed unlikely they would have much to talk about. Both were taller than Ryder and somewhat muscular. It was obvious they were brothers, and could be twins, but one looked distinctly older than the other, with a scruff of facial hair starting.

“Athena Swenson is our other sports enthusiast.” Ryder was sure he knew which of the two girls was Athena. “And Rebecca Creer is our avid reader.”

Randy, Joel, Athena, Rebecca, Ryder thought. I think I can remember that.

“Who’s the other new member of the class?” Athena asked.

Just at that moment the door swung open and Mrs. Prescott reappeared with a dark haired girl, whom Ryder immediately recognized. “Cynthia Flores,” he whispered just loud enough that everyone could hear. He wanted to crawl under the table as Cynthia turned in his direction and gave a knowing grin.

Miss Li eventually got everyone settled into their seats. Ryder sat at the far end of table five, with Debbie next to him. Next to Debbie at the adjoining table sat Cynthia. Debbie and Cynthia started chattering right away. Meanwhile he edged closer and closer to the end of the table, eventually bumping into the far wall.

Miss Li flashed the lights twice and everyone grew quiet. She asked Ryder to close the blinds, which wouldn’t have been so bad, but he had to reach behind Cynthia to pull them down. He inadvertently pulled them up instead. Cynthia and Debbie giggled, followed by a catcall from either Randy or Joel (Ryder wasn’t sure which). Ryder tried again to pull the blinds down and almost dislodged them. Finally, the taller of the other two guys, the one with facial hair, came over. “Don’t worry, they’re just finicky,” he told Ryder.

“Thank you, Randy,” Miss Li said.

“If you will look at the ceiling you will see a representation of the galaxies in our part of the universe,” Miss Li began.

Ryder looked at the ceiling and observed a number of spiraling groups of stars. He was surprised that the lights seemed suspended in the air rather than reflecting off the ceiling. The lights were turning slowly in a multi-spiral effect that seemed three-dimensional. He felt like he could reach out and touch the individual stars in the display. The several spiraling systems began to contract while one multi-arm system became the focus of the projection.

“The system you see now is our own Milky Way.” The spiraling Milky Way grew to encompass the entire viewing area. “You’ll notice several branches at the outer edge of the Milky Way that spin in a circular pattern.” A red laser pointer was indicating the appendages of the Milky Way. “These two arms are of particular note.” The pointer flashed back and forth between two of the hook-shaped divisions. “These are Sagittarius and Perseus,” Miss Li continued.

Cynthia raised her hand.

“Yes, Miss Flores?”

“How big is the galaxy?” Cynthia asked.

“Good question. The galaxy is approximately one hundred thousand light years from one end to the other. A light year is the distance that light can travel in a year. Light travels at a little over one hundred and eighty-six thousand miles per second. So, to put it in perspective, it takes light less than two seconds to travel from here to the moon. It takes just over eight minutes for light to reach us from Sol, your Earth’s sun.”

Ryder’s mind was racing. “So that means that light would travel nearly six trillion miles in a light year?”

“That’s correct, Ryder, and six trillion miles times one hundred thousand light years would be?”

“Six quintillion miles?” Ryder was trying to remember if quintillion was the right set of numbers.

“Very good, Ryder. Does anyone have an idea of how far that would be?”

Randy jumped in. “A really, really long way.”

Miss Li laughed. “That will be adequate for this discussion, Randy. Thank you. Let’s get back to the spiral arms. Can you see that spur that sits between the two arms?” She didn’t wait for a response because the pointer was clearly showing it. “That is the Orion Spur. The Earth sits in the Orion Spur between Sagittarius and Perseus.”

“How far from the center of the galaxy is the Earth then?” Cynthia asked without raising her hand.

“Sol is about twenty-seven thousand light years from the center of the galaxy.” Miss Li did something with the controls, and the spiral arm shifted to show the breadth of the galaxy. “You’ll also notice the galaxy is relatively flat, like a plate. Sol sits about eighteen light years above what could be deemed the center of the plane of that plate, if you consider that the plate is about one thousand light years thick. So it is pretty close to the center or equatorial line of the galaxy.”

“Cool,” said the boy who had to be, by default, Joel. “So how many stars are in the galaxy?”

“Our best estimate is three hundred and forty billion stars. Just in our region of the Milky Way there are over a billion planets. Of those, the habitable planets…” Miss Li hesitated. “Well, we assume that there are many planets that would be habitable.”

Cynthia interjected. “I thought they didn’t know if any of the planets were habitable.”

“Well, Earth scientists do not have any clear evidence of habitability, but statistically there is a strong likelihood that some of the planets could support life, especially for different life-forms.”

Randy replied defensively. “My uncle says that Earth is the only planet with life on it, and that all the stories we hear about UFOs and stuff are just somebody’s imagination running wild.”

“Yes, many people believe that, Randy,” Miss Li responded. “Can you explain how all one billion planets are devoid of life, while Earth has such an abundance and variety of life?”

Randy sat pondering, but his brother Joel jumped in. “Well, God created the universe, the galaxies, the solar systems, and the planets. He created it all for us.”

“Interesting idea,” said Miss Li. “Cynthia Flores, what do you think?”

Cynthia seemed to be caught off guard for a moment, but Ryder could tell she was thinking because she always furled her brow when she was considering something challenging. He’d first noticed that pattern on a science test just a couple of weeks earlier. Cynthia began hesitantly. “I believe in God, and my family goes to church every Sunday, but it seems to me that God would not create something so vast just for us. I think he created it for us, and probably other…” She seemed stuck for the word she was looking for. “People, creatures, whatever,” she stammered at the end.

“Ryder, what are your thoughts?” Miss Li inquired.

Ryder was ready for this one. “Miss Li, I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure out how you know there are a billion planets. Last I heard, we had only been able to verify a few hundred. But, if there are a billion planets, considering that there are various types of stars, various different rotations around respective stars, and various life forms, it seems to me that the odds of one supporting life would be roughly eight hundred and fifty to one, which would work out to….one million one hundred seventy-six thousand four hundred and seventy-one.”

Miss Li gave Ryder a pleased look. “Actually, Ryder, our best estimate is between one-point-four and one-point-five million planets in this galaxy that can support life.” She frowned and paused. “In any event, it seems likely that there are some habitable planets even in our galaxy. Now multiply that by thousands of galaxies.”

Ryder started thinking about that, and he suddenly felt very, very small. Then something clicked in the back of his mind. “Who are the “we” who estimate one-point-four to one-point-five million habitable planets? I haven’t seen anything online about that, and I do pay attention to astronomy articles.

“A very good question, Ryder.”

Just then the door opened and a short man started backing into the classroom with a dolly loaded with six boxes. “Sorry I’m late,” the man said.

Ryder didn’t have to wait for the man to turn around. He immediately recognized the voice, then the back, of Mr. Small.

“Mr. Small! What are you doing here?” Ryder couldn’t keep the enthusiasm out of his voice.

Mr. Small turned, with several beads of sweat covering his brow, and smiled broadly. “I heard this was the best class in the school district, so I begged for the opportunity to be part of it.”

Miss Li gave him an exasperated look. “Roger, I’ve told you not to lie to the students.” She then turned toward Cynthia, Debbie, and Ryder. “Mr. Small had a disagreement with the principal of Diablo Junior High School about some management issues. They came to a mutual agreement that it would be good for Mr. Small to join me here and let Mrs. Mallard come out of retirement to finish the year for him. Is that not closer to the truth, Mr. Small?”

“Yara, as always, you are perfectly correct,” Mr. Small replied, then winked at Ryder in a way that Miss Li could not see.

By the time Mr. Small had finished introducing himself to the class, it was time for break.

Ryder looked at his schedule. PE, yuck! He scowled, then smiled. Oh yeah, doctor’s excuse. I think I’ll get a start on that library.

If you’d like to borrow the book, it is available for free through the Kindle reader or you can buy the book at Amazon at

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Orion’s Spur: – Volume 1- Demeter Chapter 1

Aloha – Over the next few weeks I’m going to share the first volume in the Demeter or Orion’s Spur series in serial form.  Volume One is Demeter.  Enjoy, Doc

Prologue 

Ryder sat on the cold, rocky ground leaning against a boulder.  He was holding a single shot Tazer.  The bleeding in his right leg was staunched by the rock shard that had ricocheted off the wall in the last round of fire and embedded in his flesh.

“Who would have thought,” Ryder muttered to himself, then fell silent as he realized the noise might pinpoint him to the alien who wanted him dead.  Who would have thought eight months ago that I would be sitting in a cave a hundred light years from Earth waiting for an alien to kill me?  He almost laughed, but held it in.  If he wasn’t careful he might lose consciousness too soon.  If I can just hold on a few minutes longer.  UFOs, aliens, garden planets within rocky shells, galactic wars, all real and all of little consequence if he did not survive the next few minutes.

The clatter of loose rocks to his left drew his attention. It would be over soon.  The first thing Ryder noticed as his assailant turned the corner were the boots, and for an instant his mind flashed back to a dance that seemed a hundred years ago.

Chapter 1

A Fateful Decision

Ryder wouldn’t admit it, but he had been looking forward to the school dance since Monday. He was hoping that Cynthia Flores would ask him to dance. It wasn’t impossible. She’d actually talked with him briefly in the hall last Monday, much to the chagrin of the cowboy crowd. Cynthia was neutral territory. She made no claims to either the cowboys nor the skaters, so he wasn’t sure why the cowboys had been glaring so fiercely at him. It wasn’t as if Cynthia were cowboy property.

That was Monday, and Ryder had been battling with himself ever since. If he avoided the dance, he avoided confrontations with the many guys in the school that seemed to find him threatening. But if he went, he might get to dance with Cynthia. It wasn’t until Wednesday night that he’d finally talked himself into going.

Thursday seemed to drag on forever.  Even his favorite teacher, Mr. Small, failed to hold his attention.  At two o’clock the bell rang and Ryder sat frozen at his desk for a moment. Maybe this dance isn’t a good idea for me. Maybe Cynthia won’t ask me to dance. Maybe…

Ryder’s thoughts were interrupted by two of his casual friends, Blade and Stitch.  They were among a dozen or so kids  that had been classified as the skaters. The group members had a tendency to wear all black, or almost all black clothes all the time and carry skateboards, which always stuck out predominately from their backpacks. However, Ryder knew that three of the skaters didn’t even own a skateboard. “Well, are you coming?” Blade asked.

Ryder knew what the question meant. It meant, “Let’s get out of here, go the convenience store, hang out until the cowboys are all dispersed, maybe have a drink, and then go home.”

“Ah, not today. I think I’ll go to the dance.”

“Are you crazy? They’ll kill you if you go there alone!” Stitch responded with a look of sheer terror on his face.

Ryder realized Stitch was being overdramatic. No one had been killed, yet. But one of the comforts of being a skater was that if there were three or four of you together you usually didn’t get harassed or beat up.

“Why don’t we all go to the dance?”

“Uh-uh! Not me. I like my body parts just the way they are,” Blade said.

“We’ll see you tomorrow,” Blade and Stitch said almost in unison.

Then Blade added, “If you’re still alive.”

Ryder parted from his friends and walked down the hallway toward the gymnasium.  He detoured into the boys restroom.  He stared at himself in the mirror as he washed his face and ran his fingers through his unkempt brown hair.  Dark brown eyes stared back at his thin frame.  It bothered him that his sister in seventh grade was only two inches shorter than he was now.  He wore black jeans and a black t-shirt, covered by an olive green army jacket that was heavily frayed.  Well, it’s now or never.  Finally he decided he wasn’t going to let a bunch of cowboys scare him away from the dance.

The dance was pretty casual and very crowded. It was being held in the gymnasium. All of the basketball hoops had been cranked up. Even so, there were a few kids who’d found a basketball and were trying to shoot through the oddly angled hoops. There were some streamers running across the ceiling. Someone had found a disco balls that reflected colors across the room. Most of the lights were out, but as it was mid-afternoon, it wasn’t really dark. The room was humid, with too many bodies in too small a space. The music was piping through a sound system.

Ryder got his first real surprise in months. Mrs. Peterson, his gray haired math teacher was the DJ, and she was playing music he was familiar with. He didn’t really listen to mainstream stuff much, but he did recognize it. He stood in awe, staring across to the stage. Mrs. Peterson really seemed to be into it.

Looking around, Ryder saw a few people he knew by face, but not really by name. After his surprise with Mrs. Peterson, he drifted toward the north side of the gymnasium and found himself standing near, but not in, one of the groups of boys. There were a number of girls dancing together in groups. He noticed they were mostly jumping up and down to the music. There were a handful of couples dancing near the center of the floor. On the far side of the gymnasium he could see small cliques of girls standing, chatting, and giggling, occasionally looking toward the north side of the gymnasium and giggling even more.

Scanning the room, he eventually spotted Cynthia jumping up and down in one of the groups of about eight girls. Wait a minute! Is that Debbie jumping up and down with Cynthia? Apparently his sister Debbie had managed to smuggle herself into the dance. He continued to watch Cynthia, and occasionally Debbie, dancing. In the course of three successive numbers, Debbie waved at him twice, and he saw a smile once from Cynthia that he thought was aimed his way.

Finally, Mrs. Peterson put on a slow dance, and the girls dispersed to their respective side of the gymnasium. Ryder was debating with himself. Apparently, if they were going to dance, he was going to have to ask Cynthia. His other option was to leave. This really wasn’t an environment he was comfortable in. He made two steps toward Cynthia, then abruptly turned west toward the exit and made three more steps. He then just stopped, indecisive.

“Well, if it isn’t Spider Ryder,” Barry Hales sneered from somewhere behind him.

Ryder knew that responding was a waste of time, but he couldn’t help himself. He turned around. Barry wasn’t as tall as Ryder, but he had the build of a football player. Barry was a star player on the junior high team, and was already the talk of the high school coaches. Ryder wasn’t sure what position he played, but knew it had something to do with knocking people over and trying to hurt the quarterback in any way possible.

“Wow, Barry, did you stay up all night thinking that up?” Ryder knew he shouldn’t bait Barry.

“You’re gay!” Barry taunted, but started to turn away.

Ryder was ready for this one. “If you mean happy, carefree, merry, bright…not really.”

Barry turned back. Ryder knew he should have let Football Head move on to harass someone else.

“Come on, show me what you got.” Barry’s knuckles were folding, not a good sign.

“Let me see, you’re what, a blue belt in aikido?” Ryder asked.

“Aiki what?” Barry was starting to boil.

“You know, the Japanese self-defense art using principles of non-resistance to debilitate the strength of the opponent.”

“No! I’m a black belt in karate,” stormed Barry

“Ah, the art of the empty hand.”

“Empty hand!” Barry exploded. “I’ll show you empty hand.”

Ryder received a double jab from Mr. Karate. He fell back two steps, trying to get his breath back. “Impressive,” he said, choking.

“You’re going down, punk. I’ll turn you into a punching bag.” Barry sent another punch at Ryder’s solar plexus.

Ryder shifted enough to take the punch as a glancing blow, then dropped to the floor. “You win, I’m down. Congratulations.”

Ryder hadn’t counted on the mocking laughter from the growing audience. This unexpected turn was bad news.

Ryder noticed Barry’s pointed-toe cowboy boots as one came flying at his stomach. The connection knocked the wind out of him, and he could hear the laughter cut off. That was the last moment he was aware of the surroundings for the next several seconds. Repeated blows came to his face, back, and stomach, depending on how he turned to avoid further contact. He was starting to fade in and out when a chaperone (he thought) arrived and broke up the “fight.” The throbbing pain started to overcome him. “That didn’t turn out so well,” he mumbled as he threw up, then passed out.Ryder wasn’t sure how long he was out, but he was still on the floor in the same position, so it couldn’t have been more than a few seconds. As shapes started to come into focus, he was wishing he was still unconscious. The throbbing pain was starting in. He’d felt pain like this before. When was it? Oh yes, when he fell out of that tree and cracked a rib. But in this case, he couldn’t make up his mind which hurt worse, his face or his back or his ribcage. Yup, that same cracked rib. Ryder wondered whether the rib was cracked or broken this time. Meanwhile, it felt like someone had gone over his face with a hammer. No, that was cowboy boots, wasn’t it? he thought.

With his vision back into focus, he saw Mr. Small standing over him in an almost protective crouch and trying to check his pulse at the same time. There was some sort of altercation going on beyond his vision, and screaming, he thought.

“Mr. Small, I’m alive,” Ryder croaked. He realized he must have been kicked in the throat as well.

“We’re calling an ambulance. Lie still.” Mr. Small was using his reassuring voice.

“I’m fine.” Ryder tried to get up, but the throbbing made it easy to relent to Mr. Small’s severe look.

“Come on kids, the show’s over. Back away. We need some air here,” Mr. Small commanded.

The crowd seemed to disperse quickly as there was something else going on just out of Ryder’s vision. Finally, he was able to make out something that made him wonder if he was delirious. Debbie seemed to be flying in circles and he caught glimpses of Cynthia swinging just below her. Suddenly, Debbie seemed to disappear, and there was a great deal of laughter. Ryder thought, I must really be fading. Maybe I’m dying. Then he heard another sharp voice. Was that Mrs. Peterson?

“Get off him you two!”

There was an abrupt screech. Ryder had never heard anything quite so terrifying in his life. It sounded like…well nothing Ryder could imagine. Then his senses came to him quickly. Barry was obviously beating up Debbie. The adrenalin kicked in, and Ryder rose to his feet, holding his side. What he saw made him start to chuckle. His ribs just couldn’t take it. Barry Hales’ voice could now be heard distinctly yelling, “Get them off me! Get them off me!” Mrs. Peterson seemed to be taking her time removing Cynthia and Debbie from Barry, who was now collapsed on the floor. Debbie had two handfuls of hair that had apparently belonged to Barry in her clenched fists. Ryder saw a glaring bald spot on one side of Barry’s head. Cynthia’s foot was retracting from one of those spots guys just don’t like to think about getting kicked. Ryder started to laugh, then spluttered, “Oh no,” and fell unconscious to the floor.

I’ll continue to post chapters from the book.  You can also download the entire book from Amazon as a free rental in the KDP Select series.

Doc

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