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Plurapod Pathogen

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Blurb

A gripping adventure of new worlds and unknown alliances.

Hard work on an aqua-farm orbiting beyond Jupiter with her plurapod companion Les suits Seetha Deergathca just fine.

Calvin Seuma spends his days tending the fisher fleet on distant Ajar 12, working the seas with his plurapod friend Bel and aquatic Ajarans.

A strange harvest awaits. One with ancient and dangerous origins.

Can they survive a threat from light years beyond the range of humanity?

An excerpt from Plurapod Pathogen:

A Deadly Threat Out of Nowhere

“We need to figure out what happened,” Seetha said. “Did you get a chance to re-check the seaweed flats?”

“I did not. I will as soon as I can.”

“Not during rest days you won’t, Les. I’m sure you kept a sample of the spoiled seed. I’ll take it up to the main platform lab tomorrow.”

Cold, seaweed-scented water splashed along Seetha’s legs and back. Les held two of hir tentacle hands on the surface, ready to send more after it.

“Rest days apply to humans as well.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll rest. Besides, you’re impossible once you’re out of your routines. You fretting over empty growing space would drive me crazy.”

Les shifted from side to side in the tank, somehow managing not to slop water out. A plurapod version of pacing.

“Whatever this is may incubate and show up elsewhere later. As long as you do not spend all day working, I suppose that is acceptable.”

“Thank you for your approval, my dear Les. I’ll return as soon as possible, solution in hand.”

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Chapter 1
Chapter 1 If Seetha tilted her head just right and squinted, the light on the water looked almost natural. At an angle, and with a good bit less detail, rows of sunflower yellow lights overhead blended into one glittering reflection. She couldn’t see the edge of the aqua-farm on Porthiant Station this time of the day-cycle. The tide was even coming in, long and regular moss-green waves building up depth every minute. Seetha propped her hands on her hips, palms slipping on the stiff, water-resistant white fabric. Hardly fashionable, but standard issue for humans on this level. She leaned back as far as she could, sighing when her spine and breastbone crackled. She leaned forward to brush her pruney fingertips on the textured plas-wood pier, weary muscles stretching all along her back. She reached behind her head and squeezed the plastic clip loose, watching waves of chestnut brown hair slip free around her boots. Such an indulgence, her mother said, a mane on an aquaculture station orbiting between Jupiter and Saturn. Seetha straightened as slowly as she could. A week of shipping out the harvest and bringing in seed for the next was catching up with her. A cold, damp breeze, rich with brine and vegetal seaweed aromas, kicked up enough to push her hair behind her shoulders. Massive turbines at the distant rim of their tank helped the waves do their work. Technology convinced the creatures under the surface that night was different from day. Could still be an Earth ocean, though. Especially if she squinted. The water was barely two meters under her feet and rising fast. The circular dock stood at the center of a sprawling web of piers, intersecting paths like spokes of old Earth bicycle wheels across the water. The heavy salt content would never erode kilometers of tough plas-wood or even fade the bright yellow. But the tide would cover Seetha’s way back home if she didn’t head out soon. That or the gradually fading lights would dim enough to leave her wandering all night-cycle long. Machinery and engineering varied the tides on a natural Earth schedule, even without an orbiting satellite to pull the water. Seetha wished the designers had added waxing and waning moonlight anyway. She sank cross-legged to the chill surface, groaning when her thigh muscles stretched as thoroughly as her back. Her growling stomach wouldn’t be satisfied with anything less than the traditional harvest feast, but she plucked a meal kit from her gear pack. Not much left in the shiny silver packet but seaweed crisps. The flavor was pleasant enough, a perfect balance of salty and mineral earthiness, engineered with every nutrient a human needed. Seetha loved these as a girl, marveling at such a delicacy coming from space instead of the oceans of Earth. No matter where in the galaxy she’d roamed with her diplomat parents, these crisps were a reminder of home. Living where this seaweed was grown, harvested, and processed—and constantly available—turned a treat into tedium. Still, she crunched and chewed, watching the horizon. Her work partner Les got grumpy when Seetha took off early, though both were perfectly capable of getting home on their own. At nearly a billion kilometers beyond Earth orbit, friendship was everything. Even between species. Seetha glanced up at a low rumble, detected more in her bones than her ears. Even after more than ten years and five levels below the solid metal surface, the habit persisted. No one on the station could see a massive interstellar transport arriving or leaving. Each of the hundreds of growing stations orbiting between Jupiter and Saturn held a shipping, customs, and immigration platform close by. The vibration was probably the harvest pushing off, hitching a ride with some random diplomatic ship. She told herself glancing up at something she couldn’t possibly see was a silly remnant of her Earth origins. Same as glancing down at similar rumbles from within the station. Movements from the pure water core were rare compared to transports, but her body always knew the difference. Seetha wondered if human children born up here ever developed that location instinct. Not that she had plans or prospects in that department. She often thought Les, like all dual-gendered plurapods, had the better design for happiness. They didn’t even grow their sets of reproductive organs until they mated for life. Those bothersome organs caused humans no end of trouble no matter how much technology advanced. An odd pattern of ripples caught Seetha’s attention. They ran from behind and to her left, cutting across the slow, regular tidal waves now a meter beneath her. Only Les’s restless, anxious drumming on the surface created such an irregular result on the highly regulated aqua-farm. She stood, catching sight of her friend right away. Les had already surfaced three of hir limbs as ze approached the central dock. Two deep orange tentacles floated on the water, retracted to nearly as thick as Seetha’s thigh, leaving one to the back. Seven slender red appendages at the end of each twitched and vibrated nearly too fast for Seetha to follow. Les couldn’t give hir agitated mood away the way humans so often did. Plurapods, like most ConSpace species, imitated their companions as best they could. With humans, that meant standing upright whenever possible and presenting a “face” to the world. Even after over ten Earth-years working together, that face was as unreadable to Seetha as it was fascinating. The broad central mass connecting Les’s seven limbs held around a dozen pseudopods, changing number, size, and location depending on what senses ze needed. They didn’t resemble any sort of Earth creature eyes, but Seetha always focused on the ones with the largest black tips. In the center of the ever-changing sensory organs sat a shallow black pouch as long as Seetha’s two hands. Plurapods who routinely spoke to humans and other land species learned to cup water over their vocal organs. Seetha had long ago gotten a permanent sensory implant to translate the trilling, musical tones. She quite liked the gold disc, only a few millimeters across, in front of her left ear. Even her mother agreed the implant was as lovely as her own traditional nose stud, and far more practical than an uncomfortable chunk of plastic shoved into her ear canal. Seetha stepped to the edge of the dock, not sure if Les sensed her yet. When Les was distressed enough to drum the water like that, ze’d usually gotten hirself into quite a distracted state. Before Seetha could decide to wave or to stay still and wait, Les extended one limb. The tentacle slowly thinned, the pebbly, dull surface smoothing out to flat and shiny. Les was still more than two meters from the dock when hir hand touched Seetha’s. The central five fingers, tips crimson and loaded with more sensory cells than a human’s whole body, pressed against each of Seetha’s fingertips. The remaining two encircled her wrist, soft and cool. Seetha breathed in the rich cucumber and pepper scent of her closest companion for most of her adult life. “Well met, Les.” “Well met, Seetha. Thank you for waiting.” Seetha waited for Les to break contact before she grabbed her gear pack. Her long family history of ConSpace diplomacy taught her to be courteous, even if she had no desire to continue that exceedingly social line of work. Body-straining labor that helped feed billions of humans and plurapods, especially combined with isolation from nearly all of them, suited her just fine. Les submerged to dart under the dock, demonstrating the waterborne speed Seetha so envied, then waited for Seetha to circle around the vital heart of their tank. The central control pod provided storage, holding areas for shipments, and their portal to the station-wide mag-drop system. Gut-twisting velocity or not, it was the only way in or out for anything, or anyone. All transport inside the domed tank was either on foot or in the water. The remarkably old-fashioned routine of walking to work on a state-of-the-art artificial world pleased Seetha greatly. “The harvest has departed?” Les said. “Sounded like it. Reseeding going well?” Fourteen appendages vibrated again before sinking under the surface. For the first time, Seetha would have sworn her friend looked nervous—each soft, pliable facial pseudopod stiff and trembling. Even hir vocal pouch was rigid. “I fear it is not. We have much to talk about, Seetha.”

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