When interstellar war threatens, three strangers must band together to save their world…
Police agent Stefan Lattanzis never expected his planet to become a battlefield, nor Earth for that matter. But when scientists from Paludis share a technological breakthrough with Earth authorities, peace escalates to the brink of war in a hurry. It doesn’t help that the local aliens have a dangerous and mystifying agenda of their own. Meanwhile, a desperate human cult has its own plans to exploit the powerful new technology…
To keep his home world alive, Stefan must team with two strangers, a botanist and a mysterious seer. As embattled factions vie for control of the universe, the trio must trust in each other to keep the new technology from ripping time and space apart.
Saving Paludis is an electrifying sci-fi thrill-ride. If you like futuristic technology, alien political intrigue, and high-octane, paranormal action, then you’ll love Clayton Graham’s interstellar adventure!
Buy Saving Paludis to protect the universe today!
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PALUDIS, PISCES CONSTELLATION, 144 LY FROM EARTH
Tak-Elno sat on his haunches watching the Paludis sun descend gently over the horizon. He was on the edge of the vast marshes that surrounded the western continent, the greenish hue of his tall body blending perfectly with the immense expanse of the surrounding emerald seas. At intervals along the shore, tall, hollow stems of cane-grass rose to the sky, three times his height, upright like Muskans on guard duty. As the wind rose and fell, the cane-grass heads, consisting of thousands of slender fibres, swayed in the breeze, creating an uncanny rattle in the still of the evening.
Rising to his two-metre height Tak-Elno looked across the bay towards West Paludis, shading his eyes against the purple sunset. He carried a carved and coloured length of cane-grass stem, which he had proudly made two Musk years ago. It was his staff and his symbol, representing the lineage of his family over the last four hundred years – since the coming of the human invaders.
Ancestral thoughts clouded his mind as he gazed morosely at the staff. He saw the faces of twelve generations in the pattern of his workmanship: a loving pattern copied down through the years. He saw the coming of the fiery monsters from the sky, the bloody battles, the inevitable defeat of his people, the herding of the surviving Muskans into the North-Eastern Peninsula of West Paludis. He saw the renaming of the planet. Of the ten million souls of four hundred years past, a mere two hundred thousand descendants were now crammed onto the peninsula, which had become a living monument to the defeated.
A cold wind drifted in from the Northern Ice Fields and Tak-Elno automatically closed his back-tube to breathe only through his small facial nostrils. More thoughts of those ancient times passed through his mind: the peace, the war, the herding. Even now, his people were not allowed beyond the peninsular barrier, a guarded stone barricade spanning the full two kilometres across the neck of their natural open prison.
He started the walk home, loin cloth flapping in the breeze, sleeveless jacket showing the strength of his arms, staff held braced across his shoulders. His high, sloping brow was furrowed slightly above expressive reptilian eyes, and his mouth was tightly closed. The sun was half-gone now, and as the air temperature fell, he could feel the blood rush to his skin. It was invigorating and he walked faster to increase his heart rate.
In the sky, the hated star-thing the humans called 'the Bridge' was growing brighter as daylight receded. The erbza-nich was always visible, but at night it seemed to shine as bright as the Muskan sun in daytime. Yet it did not illuminate his world. Far from it. It shone without giving light; it darkened every Muskan soul. It was the way the humans had come, the way their armada had filled the Muskan sky hundreds of years ago. It was a symbol of their dominance.
Tak-Elno started to run. He loved to walk and he loved to run. His only regret was that his territory was so limited. How must it have been in ancient times with all the planet to explore, all the continents to feel, beneath tired yet willing feet?
The Muskan dwellings were in sharp contrast to the human plastic and aluminium buildings that dominated the Paludis cities; in fact their design had changed little since the arrival of the invaders. Mature cane-grass stems were bound together to form the walls, and the roofs were constructed from woven cloth, painstakingly waterproofed and then stitched in place. Glass windows, donated by the humans, were reserved for the elderly Muskans who needed protection from the winter squalls. As Tak-Elno weaved his way through the narrow lanes towards his home, he acknowledged his neighbours with a raising of his staff.
He found his mate and children at prayer. They lay on their backs with arms lifted to the ceiling and their eyes closed. A high-pitched humming echoed around the room. They had not yet switched on the lights and Tak-Elno did so angrily. The noise stopped.
His wife glared. "You offend us," she said quietly.
"Sezza! You and your god of the marshes," snapped Tak-Elno. "He will not make my meal or carve my staff."
Brel-Elno ushered the children to their room, and returned to her partner. She was tall, almost his height, and wore the traditional knee-length dress of her race tied by an orange sash around her slim waist. Like all Muskan females, her eyes were smaller and rounder than the male's and her lips were fuller. She wore a plaintive smile upon her pale-green face as she put both hands around his neck and gently tickled his back-tube.
Tak-Elno pushed her away. "Now you offend me," he said gruffly.
"Tak, you have been thinking of the ancestors again," Brel-Elno said, addressing him by the short name reserved for close friends and family. "It always makes you so angry, so indignant. You do not share our god, our worship, but you do share our lives. All this you knew before our betrothal. Lately it appears to anger you. Why, Tak? Do you prefer the god of the humans?"
Tak-Elno bit the instant retort from his lips. He did not agree with his wife's beliefs, but found those of the humans even stranger. A universal god was beyond his understanding, for surely a god of worth would live among his creations. The ancestral creator of his people was Garn, the marsh and ocean dweller, and for thousands of years it had been so, but Tak-Elno could not believe such a thing. The humans had come from the sky, and the sky was not part of Musk or the marshes! Garn could not have created the humans. They even scoffed at Garn without retribution! So Garn was not a god. Garn did not exist.
Tak put his lips to Brel's. "I am hungry," he said. "Let us eat."
* * *
NEXT DAY, TAK-ELNO made his way to the barrier and looked up at its moss-covered wall. Concave to prevent scaling, it was six metres high and ran the full length of the isthmus, encroaching some two hundred metres into the sea at each end, to allow for the small tidal changes. Of course, it could be swum around or even passed by what humans called 'boats', but that would be to flout the Muskan religion which decreed that the ocean was Garn's abode. No Muskan was allowed to enter or even float upon the waters. And so it had been for hundreds of years – maybe thousands.
Tak-Elno's smooth, green brow suddenly furrowed. Nevertheless, on a clear day, it was possible to see the human boats taking life from the water. Garn did not seem to mind that! He walked along the wall until his bare feet just entered the murmuring ocean waters. It was a winter noon, and the sea felt cold upon his toes. Even now he was breaking the laws of his people, but there was a stirring in his breast. Was he the first among his race to do such a thing? Perhaps not.
He entered the water further until it lapped his knees. There was no fear, at least not of Garn. The grand elders of Musk were another matter. Still, mused Tak-Elno , here at the northern end of the barrier, there is nobody to see. How clever the humans were to use the Muskan religion to imprison its own people.
He stood still in the sea, tribal memories rising within him, fighting against his selfimposed logic. A low hum abruptly invaded his thoughts.
A patrol car had stopped on the wall, its suspicions aroused by his presence.
The manned hovering vehicle dropped, and Tak-Elno saw the camera's eye veer towards him. The cars patrolled the top of the wall at regular intervals, day and night, ever alert for Muskan transgressions. He stared back at the camera, old fears rising to gnaw at his psyche and threaten his bravado. He slowly moved from the water. Then he turned east and loped away along the shingle beach, mouth and back tube open wide to feed his pumping lungs. The camera watched his retreat for a while until the patrol car rose to continue its surveillance.
* * *
SHEAN JAMES, CHIEF executive of Western Mines, hated spaceports, and West Paludis's was no exception. Even the bar, where he now sat, radiated an air of uncaring indifference. He was dressed in a light grey suit, a broad man with a head of brown hair that belied his middle age. Through the window, he could see the tall spires of the city, silhouetted against the large gold-red moon they called Muskluna – named as a gesture of appeasement to the indigenous natives. He smiled inwardly as he shifted his considerable weight on the support stool, covertly eyeing the ample bust of the bar attendant as he did so. The old native Musk was now Paludis, and as human as any of the other populated planets in the universe.
He had just returned from Muskluna, in transit from a business meeting at Centauri One. It had not gone well. The representatives from Earth were becoming hard-headed, or Earth was sinking into poverty, or maybe they'd just been hoarding bauxite. The mineral - the lifeblood of Paludis - was at its lowest level in decades.
The smile continued on his lips as he thought of George Andrews, the general manager of rival mining company, Saltzburg Bauxite. George had been caught with his hand in the till – a good many tills actually – to the tune of over three hundred million dollars. This on a day when many of SB's employees had been made redundant. Maybe the scrawny rat had seen the writing on the wall.
A dull-throated roar interrupted his meandering thoughts. Through the window, he glimpsed the tail aurora of a mineral ship rise into the growing darkness. There were usually three flights a day but soon it would be two, then maybe only one. Already two of his smaller competitors had retrenched a fifth of their workforce, and tomorrow he had the arduous task of doing the same. Tonight the bars of Spaceport, Kentucky and Lakeside would be rife with rumour – recession, depression, even revolution. Not this bar though; the prices were too high. He downed his fine Paludis whisky and left for home, wondering whether the East Paludis syndicate knew of the latest market price.
* * *
GEORGE ANDREWS FUMED in his prison cubicle. His vulpine face was tortured in anguish, and his thin neck seemed bowed under the weight of his head. How could he have been so unlucky? An audit because of the market conditions, an overzealous company clerk, and a freak shot from a guard's stun gun. A pain in the butt, all of it, especially the guard's contribution.
His small frame was clad in standard prison garb: grey sweatshirt and grey shorts, no shoes or socks. The cubicle was about the size of a toilet and no more comfortable. A sudden tremor shook the ship, and his eyes momentarily blurred as the vessel emerged from the Bridge. He imagined Earth's moon growing larger as the huge freighter sank to the well-trodden surface, dust rising and settling continuously under the barrage of tracks, feet and landing legs. Shit! Was he really destined to spend years of his life on this long-forgotten slum of human exploration? Mined out hundreds of years ago, Earth's moon was an empty shell, a mausoleum to human greed, now used as a dumping ground for renegade individuals and waste materials.
Moments later, George stood with scores of other prisoners in a high-roofed reception area, next to the main arrival hall. There was no decor of any kind, not even any direction signs. George looked around furtively and felt a strange sort of superiority as he studied his fellow captives, a particularly unsavoury bunch – and he knew unsavoury when he saw it. One by one they were identified and led away. His name was called, and he stepped forward to face the tallest human he had ever seen. The man must have been over two and a half metres – taller than a Muskan – and George's air of superiority immediately vanished.
"Andrews G," the man said. "Follow me."
Was there an amused smile on his lips? George, biting back a retort, reluctantly shadowed the official down a poorly lit corridor. They entered a small office, and George was bade to sit. There was a screen on the desk with George's name glaring from it.
"George Andrews. Thirty-two years. One point five metres. Embezzlement. Sentenced to confinement of ten Earth years. Correct?" The official peered hard at George and frowned.
George nodded. The man was even more threatening behind a desk, maroon uniform lending an aura of menace, white collar and flamboyant tie an affront to George's grey simplicity.
"A long time, ten years," the man continued, casting a casual glance at his watch. George jerked. He was quite aware how long ten years was.
"You'll be forty-two," the official continued. "Middle-aged and marked for life."
George began to feel like a miscreant schoolboy.
"Why did you do it, George?"
There was silence as George, who hadn't spoken for light years, gathered his wits. He looked beyond his interrogator at the wall behind. "I don't-"
The official shouted him down. "Damned stupid! Damned stupid!" He got up and walked behind George's chair.
A shadow fell across the room, and for a brief moment George thought he was going to die.
The voice came again, quieter.
"You're a lucky man, George. We're going to give you a choice that is offered to only a handful of felons." The shadow moved as the officer returned to his chair and stared into George's eyes. "You can do your ten years, or you can volunteer for PMC Personality Malfunction Correction." The stare lingered on.
George blinked, totally intimidated. "What's PMC?"
The man smiled banefully. "I just told you."
"If I'm to make a choice, I need more detail." George felt his hopes rising. He had managed to speak with some of his usual authority.
"Of course. It's a program of drugs, subliminal lectures and other painless treatments. It lasts for days."
"You're a free man. To go wherever."
George frowned. "I didn't mean that. What does the treatment do? How will I feel? Are there any side effects?"
The broad jaw of the official expanded into a wolfish grin.
"It turns you into a good boy. It turns ten years into four days." The eyes suddenly glinted, full of urgency. "It releases an intelligent man back into the workforce."
"Side effects?" George chewed his lips and frowned.
The man shrugged. "Depends. Some people suffer memory loss. Not total, quite small in fact. A small price to pay for freedom."
George breathed deeply. "Will I remember my, uh, crime?"
"It's the most likely thing you'll forget. But it doesn't really matter. Even if you remember, you won't be tempted again."
Perhaps, mused George, and perhaps not. After all, he'd spent the last five months planning his criminal escapade. There were an awful lot of memories.
"And I'm a totally free man?"
"Could I go back to Paludis?"
"George," the official said, "this treatment is so good you could even have your old job back."
George stared in total disbelief. They must be mad. It was crazy. Like a dream.
"Many PMC patients return to their old job and perform better than ever. It's as if the treatment erases all their old hang-ups and inhibitions." The official certainly made it sound true.
"How long do I have to decide?" George asked.
"About two minutes. Surely there's no choice? Ten long years in questionable company, against four days, then back earning your favourite dollars again."
George sighed. "Okay. I'll do it. I'll take PMC."
The official nodded. "Pleased for you."
"Two more things," George added. "What if I forget all my training? What use will I be to anybody then?"
The tall purple figure rose from behind the desk. "PMC will contain a re-training component, so don't concern yourself about that aspect. Your superiors are most anxious for you to undertake PMC. You're a valuable man, George, a valuable man."
The official swiftly pressed the door-release panel and disappeared from the room. The door slid shut, leaving George alone with his thoughts.
Five seconds later, George was unconscious as a powerful, odourless gas filled the office.
* * *
THE GROUNDS OF TANBERG University were peaceful at dusk, full of sweet bouquets and lilting birdsong. The verdant lawns were carefully manicured, the flower beds a riot of colour, the paths well swept. The southern hemisphere summer was at its height. Everything was cloaked in peace. Yet the heart of Simon Sangster could not be stilled.
He lay in a hammock slung between two mature cane-grass plants, eyes closed to the world, thoughts concentrated on one single topic - the kelp forests of Paludis. They swayed before him like a group of Martian beauties, tantalising and full of promise. His research meant a great deal to him; it was his life and his blood, and after five long years, success had come unforeseen and instantly raised his spirits to the stars.
The university was the only one on Paludis. The first three hundred years of human settlement were not ones of education; they were dark, ruthless years of savage wars and frantic mining. People died to make Paludis prosper. And then, a hundred years ago, wealth had blossomed as if deistically ordained, and with it came the proud construction of the Tanberg University campus, serving both west and east continents in their academic pursuits. It was part of the growing, part of the feeding off the dreadful past. The campus had spawned many achievements - new, efficient methods of bauxite mining, the hovercar, the land-growing cane-grass genus. And now, the crowning glory - the magic of the kelp.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Saving Paludis"
Copyright © 2018 Clayton Graham.
Excerpted by permission of Clayton Graham.
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