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The Amortals (Gathering Storm Arc 1)

by TS Hottle

Douglas Best investigates the mysterious Juno, a bizarre biotech startup that once burrowed its way into the Compact's biggest corporation and was present on three colonies that fell to a previously unknown enemy. Together with his wife, Carolyn, and an unexpected ally in a high cleric of the Marilynist Temple, they follow a thread that leads from Antarctica to the Neanderthal homeworld of Gohem to the industrial hellscape of Bromdar. As people die around them, they learn Juno is not a company at all. It's a conspiracy to hijack the future of human evolution itself.

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Douglas Best felt groggy as the shuttle banked on its final deceleration turn over Africa. He never came directly to Earth from Jefivah, not when he had himself sedated during wormhole transit. He would instead come through the hypergate network over Mars then take an EM shuttle to Earth to sleep it off. By the time he arrived, the sedative would have worn off, and he would be ready to face his job.

Beneath him, the Indian Ocean grew closer, clear water reflecting blue skies and not a hint of the toxic sludge every extra-Solar child was taught clogged Earth’s seas. Around him, the sky shifted from misty white to deep blue as the shuttle descended toward distant Hong Kong. No smog or yellowish gas marred the air. Best had to face it. Every school child in the Compact had been lied to about the cradle of humanity. The place was clean.


Relatively speaking. Even with obvious damage done by humans and nature over the millennia, Earth looked pristine compared to his native Jefivah with its abandoned farms, rural metal shacks and derelict farm equipment, its colorless cities, and the unremitting gray skies of a years-long winter now just ending. Here winter held sway only in the northern hemisphere, summer just to the south of where he was. Around the equator, however, it was always warm, if not necessarily dry. In a few weeks, the seasons would begin to shift in each hemisphere, a pattern altered somewhat on occasion but never interrupted since the early Stone Age.

The shuttle circled an island near Hong Kong proper called Chek Lap Kok, a name that sounded almost Tianese to Best’s ear. Hong Kong’s spaceport occupied the island and parts of the nearby mainland. Best marveled at it. The spaceport had started as an airfield in the World War Era and remained Earth’s oldest major spaceport. Jefivah’s own primary spaceport looked like it was still waiting for supply ships from Earth and Mars to bring food.

The shuttle changed direction, and Chek Lap Kok disappeared from view. Best rang the pilot. “Lieutenant, why are we not landing?”

“Orders from the Navy,” said the pilot. “Sorry, Delegate Best, but apparently someone needs to see you urgently.”

“Is this person aware that I am a delegate to the Compact Assembly, and that our session begins tomorrow morning?”

“It’s not that far, sir,” said the pilot. “We’re going to Macau.”

Macau. Where was that? Since his appointment to the Assembly, Best had made it a point to memorize the major cities near Quantonesia, which sat in Hong Kong Harbor. He did not remember Macau.

But he soon saw it. Even by day, the city glowed with thousands of wall-sized video displays. It did not so much resemble a city as it did an overcrowded hologame. The city itself looked as crowded as Quantonesia, all giant towers looming over plascrete canyons. And not a single airfield visible. Did aircraft and space vehicles land outside the city?

The shuttle approached an extremely tall, flat-roofed building adorned with the video ads and the logo of Caesar’s, an Etruscan chain of hotels. Elsewhere, Caesar’s was a stuffy tribute to the culture that inspired Etrusca’s founding. The chain prided itself on its conservative, low-key atmosphere. Here, it looked like a ninety-story billboard for Macau’s gambling and vice industries. The shuttle hovered over the roof of the building.

“Can’t land,” said the pilot. “The shuttle would collapse the roof. But I’m only half a meter up, so just watch your step as you get off.”

“What about my luggage?”

“Taken care of. I’m to send it on ahead to your apartment in Quantonesia.” He triggered the hatch. “Good luck, Delegate Best.”

With that, Best realized he had been dismissed.

And summoned. By whom, he could not say.


About the Author

TS Hottle is the creator of the Compact Universe, a series of loosely connected novels and novellas set in a confederation of human worlds as they deal with a disastrous first contact with a similar species known as the Gelt. By day, he is a software developer. He lives in suburban Cincinnati with his wife Candy.