Book 2 of The Nemo Paradox, The Mysterious Planet of Captain Moreau, is almost out of beta. There’s still some work to do! But in the meantime, here is a sample of the first chapter to keep you going until it’s ready!!
SAMPLE CHAPTER ONE
“This shouldn’t be here.”
Gemma’s tinny voice sounded much farther away than the two feet between them. He could barely make out her features through her helmet’s visor as she turned about to view the mysterious land in which they had just emerged. Just outside the wreckage of the Iron Wind, the pair stared into the sky of Mars. After searching for endless hours in deep rocky canyons barren of any sign of habitation, they had bungled their way into this hidden pocket of life. They had crashed into the very boundary of it in their sole means of escape from this alien world. Their gazes tracked across the wide expanse, searching for any sign of the Thunder Child’s Fury as she sailed over them. There was no trace of their ship, none at all, in that impossibly blue sky, the first blue sky they had seen since they had left Earth.
“Pugh and the rest of the Cohort believed that the air would be cold and thin here,” she continued. “I feel rather warm, to be honest. And the gravity! Even with the weighted boots, I feel heavier than I expected to be. I feel as if I’m wading through mud.”
They had sailed for millions of leagues from Earth in search of revenge against the aliens that had Invaded more than two decades earlier. At first the crew had found themselves in orbit around a Mars devoid of even the faint memory of life. No cities, no ruins, no oceans, and no resistance to their unannounced presence. Christophe grimaced as he recalled his decision to explore the nooks and crannies of this silent world in the ship’s lone shuttle, with his mother, Maggie, and Gemma Llewellyn in tow. He wasn’t sure whether he was happy they were there with him or if he was in despair at putting them in such jeopardy. He pushed the warring emotions aside and studied the landscape into which they had crashed instead to search for some way to escape said jeopardy.
The rolling valley floor of rock, a sea of stone frozen in time, that they had seen around the portal had disappeared, to be replaced by a softly undulating wave of grassland that drew upward into a metropolis built by as-yet unseen hands.
Or unseen tentacles, he reminded himself.
“How do we know that?” Christophe replied. The excitement coursing through him bubbled up through his voice, and he did not fight it. He wished Miguel were there with him. Christophe had whiled away many hours with his late friend and first mate imagining what they would find at the end of the journey they had prepared for their entire lives. “Perhaps this is the way it should be. This is how we imagined the planet looked, not that empty wasteland out there.”
Gemma pointed to the massive metal arch that grew from the canyon wall and pushed into its rocky floor, only a hundred yards from the remains of their ruined dropship. The odd gateway had been the only indicator of intelligent life on the Red Planet, at least until they had emerged from the Iron Wind to see this secret garden. It was the only feature that was the same on both sides of the brilliant membrane that they had crashed through. The blue sky hovered over them almost too closely, growing nearly solid in appearance as it touched the ground in a slow curve starting at the glowing arch. The horizon was too near, almost as if they were surrounded by an impenetrable fog of empty sky or an opaque dome of azure. The distant walls of the Rift they had been exploring were nowhere to be seen.
“We were on this side of that old relic before we flew through it,” she explained. “But there was nothing there when we flew over it. Nothing but rusted rock. The sky, the ground, the very air and shadows. They are all different here, as different as Frau Knopf’s parlour from the bridge!”
“Perhaps it is some sort of bubble that conceals what lies within?” Christophe wondered.
“You mean, makes it invisible?” He could hear her smacking her lips in thought. “My friend at Brightman’s once told me a wild tale of a scientist that had once tried that sort of thing, but it was a drinkable formula, for a single person. Not something like this.”
If there was an edge of pain as she mentioned her lost friend, Christophe’s mysterious sister, or of terror at their precarious situation, the radio transmission stripped it away before he could hear it.
“Did he succeed?” Christophe asked.
“I would hardly call what she described a success. Becoming visible again, he found, was much more difficult. He caused sheer bedlam wherever he went. Didn’t become visible again until he died. No one knows where the formula is now, or if the story is even true. The scientific world is rife with such fables, like the ones about your namesake. But even if the Martians have technology that would make an entire city invisible, surely we would have crashed into one of those spires as we approached? Did we not fly low enough for that?”
Christophe squinted up at the shining spires. Their outlines rose and fell against the sky. Thick grey rectangles squatted between lean cylindrical giants. One lone building thrust high above the rest, its upper levels tapering off into a thin sharp rod, like a hypodermic needle piercing the skin of the heavens. They were too far away to see any detail, so he examined the area closer to them, a stretch of gently rolling hills.
“We did fly below some of the taller ones. Perhaps we’re just really damned lucky.” He gestured at the wreck. “In a manner of speaking. Perhaps a closer look will yield some answers. Wish I could take off the helmet and look through the spyglass before we get any closer.”
“You brought your spyglass?”
He wished he could see her face, but still he could hear a chuckle of incredulity lurking behind her lips.
“If I didn’t carry it with me at all times, I would lose my captain’s license,” he replied with mock seriousness.
He gazed down at the brass instrument box in his hand, which he had all but forgotten when he had first seen the unexpected sky. He turned it on, praying that the Leyden batteries inside still worked. The needles sprang to life over the dials and rested comfortably over their own fields of green.
“Interesting,” he said. “According to this, the temperature and pressure are fairly tolerable, more so than I would have expected, given the landscape on the other side of the portal. We’ll be a bit cool, but we are prepared for that. Oxygen level is acceptable, about what you’d see at altitude back home. I’ll wager we can take off the helmets, and even the suits, as long as we keep our exertions low. At least until our bodies adjust to the lower levels. ‘Twill be like training for mountain climbing.”
Gemma nodded without looking up from the blades of grass she was examining. “The ambient air in the shuttle will only last so long, anyway.”
Maggie waited for them on the other side of the now-useless airlock. She nibbled the tips of two tentacles until they smiled at her.
“You could have said something while you were out there,” she fussed telepathically as she released the locks on their helmets. He could tell by Gemma’s half-grin that Maggie was broadcasting to her too. “Well?”
“Oh, mum!” Christophe replied once he was free of the copper bowl on his head. “It’s fantastic! Not like the rest of the planet. Nice and green. We think it’s safe enough to wander around without suits. I think it’s safe for you, too.”
“And quiet,” added Gemma. “At least so far.”
“Is anyone approaching?” Maggie asked. “If anyone is still here, surely our crash will get their attention. We should be cautious until we know who is here. Someone has gone to a lot of trouble to create this little pocket. They’ll want to protect it.”
“And who knows if the crash didn’t destabilise the cliff?” Gemma asked. Christophe noted how comfortable she seemed with Maggie’s tentacles as they aided her egress from the heavy pressure suit. “We could find ourselves buried in a rock slide. I suggest we take a few necessaries and scout out some possible shelter. Come back for the rest when we know where we’re going, if it’s not too far.”
“Roughing it on Mars. Mr. Twain would be so proud,” Christophe replied as he shouldered his way out of his own pressure suit.
He pulled the fully packed ditty bag — Hansard had warned him to keep it close at hand — out of the storage closet. Turning his back to the ladies to shield its tightly packed contents from view, he retrieved the spyglass and extended it. Like most of the rear of the ship, it had survived intact and unbroken. He breathed a quiet sigh of relief as he poked at some of the other oddments in the bag. He yanked out a folder length of cloth and tossed it back into the closet.
“A flag,” he muttered, “for claiming Mars in the name of the TIA. Seems a bit silly now, since they didn’t really mean for me to get here.”
Gemma finished emerging from her protective garb, and then she retrieved her journal from the ruined bridge of the Iron Wind. They opened both sides of the airlocks at once. The air within did not figure to last, at any rate, he told them, so it would be useless to lock through and put Maggie through that discomfort. With her knitting re-secured on the needles tight within her grasp, she emerged into the Martian air. She dropped down onto the ground and turned this way and that, studying their surroundings without comment with her wide blue eyes. She nibbled the edge of a tentacle in silence.
Through the magnifying lens, Christophe brought the tiny details that he had missed earlier into focus. Wide cracks shot through many of the windows in the upper levels of the taller buildings. Some windows were missing entirely. Sun-faded drapery fluttered through the shattered openings. On the few patches of ground he could see past the rolling hills, there were trees, scraggly and twisted and heavy with spherical fruit the colour of the sun. One of the citrus-like fruits resigned and plopped to the ground.
“It will be sunset soon,” Maggie said. “We should find shelter before we explore too much.”
He handed the spyglass over to Gemma and showed her how to focus it. As she gazed into the distance, he took one of Maggie’s tentacles in hand and stroked it gently, urging her softly to stop gnawing on her limbs. He sniffed the air. It was fresher and cleaner than the air on the Fury, except perhaps for the Gardens. There was a background hum that was not unlike that of the Oberths (when they were working), and he found it comforting.
“How the devil did they build it?” he mused, continuing to pat the shivering tentacle. “And conceal it? You were right, Gemma. It’s more than just invisible. It’s as if it only exists within the bubble itself.”
“Is it possible there are other such bubble cities around the planet?” Gemma said. “Surely their entire population does not fit in here. And if it did, would it not be more crowded?”
“I wouldn’t rule out anything at this rate,” Maggie interjected. “Every time we think we know something for certain, it changes. This place feels cultivated, if a bit neglected.”
“And in human proportions, as well,” Gemma added. “If our theory that Martians are analytical engines — present company excepted, of course — then perhaps this is all for their creators.”
“And they are more like us than we suspected. I wish we could report our observations. Maggie, any luck contacting Elias?”
“I have tried everyone. Even Mr. Wallace,” she said with a shudder. “I have heard nothing in reply. Nothing at all. I worry that something has happened to them as well.”
“Well, keep trying. Everything was in order when we left, and we’ve seen no evidence of an attack. I am concerned for Pugh’s health, though. Dad’s had more than his fair share of knocks lately, and I can only imagine how he’s reacting right now. One thing’s for certain. No matter where the Fury is, we’re on our own,” Christophe said.
“I am not so sure, my bud.”
A tentacle tapped him on the shoulder and called his attention to the edge of the city where the hard grey gave way to soft green. A small cluster of shadows crossed that boundary in their direction. Shadows were moving towards them. Bulbous waving shadows slipped between much taller ones, ones that walked on two legs.
DUN DUN DUN!!
Thanks for reading my sample chapter!! I hope you enjoyed it! Full text coming to Amazon, Smashwords, and other retailers soon!