Title: The Gaia Protocol
Author: Alec Nortan
Publisher: NineStar Press - SunFire Imprint
Release Date: February 6th
Heat Level: 1 - No Sex
Genre: Romance, Young Adult, Dystopian future; enemies to lovers; gods; mythical creatures
Long ago, the Gods came back to earth and banished all science from Earth. When Prome finds an amulet in the ruins of an ancient city, he doesn’t expect it to take him and his friend Malia on a quest to discover the long forgotten secret of the Technologists, to meet someone who awakens feelings of love in him, nor to defy the Gods themselves.
The Gaia Protocol
Alec Nortan © 2017
All Rights Reserved
I’m crouching behind the wall of a half-collapsed building. I usually don’t taunt the Fates like this, but my hiding place seems safer than the arrows of my pursuers.
I hear footsteps outside. I take a peek, just long enough to see a dozen hoplites marching down the street, their bows at the ready. They’re scanning, surrounding, searching. As they come nearer, my heart beats faster. I flatten myself on the ground. If I could sink into it, I would, but the only thing sinking is a painfully sharp stone into my ribs.
The Goddess Tyche has blessed me with her luck: I hear them move away at a brisk pace.
When I’m sure they’re far enough away, I sit, propping myself against the wall in a more comfortable position. I massage my ribs to ease the pain. Only then do I muster the courage to look at my leg. It’s still shuddering from the electric arrow, but luckily, the arrow missed, only grazing the flesh. Had the arrow really hit me, I would already be dead. I know how it works. I’ve seen it before.
A few years ago, during a search, a Technologist hiding in our village tried to run away. The hoplite shot him in the arm. The man jerked but kept running. He snatched the arrow out of his limp arm. The hoplite then shot several arrows as fast as he could without even aiming. The arrows flew, veering toward the Technologist midflight. None missed.
Though the arrow missed me, it still hurts like hell, from both the wound and the aftereffects of the jolt. I take off my neckerchief and improvise a bandage to stop the bleeding.
Why did the legion attack me? Scavenging in the old city isn’t forbidden.
I used to come here as a child and climb inside the deserted skyscrapers, looking for objects to trade on the market. Today, I’ve found some kind of amulet. It’s a small, flat, metallic rectangle with geometric signs on it. It’s probably not worth a bowl of soup, but it looks nice. I’ve put a leather string through a small hole and kept it around my neck to offer to Malia. She’ll like it.
I look at the sky. The sun is already halfway down the horizon. I have to move if I want to make it home before nightfall. My leg doesn’t feel much better. I take a tentative step and wince at the pain. I won’t be able to run, but I can walk.
Walking back should usually take me a couple of hours, but not today. I have to move carefully between the buildings, hiding at suspect sounds, checking for movement in every direction before crossing a road. Two hours walking only brings me to the outskirts of what used to be a great city. Here, the last remnants of houses are swallowed by the first trees of the forest.
“Fuck!” My outburst sends a few scared birds flying away. It has taken me far too long. The sun is already sinking behind the highest ruins. Now I really have to hurry, despite my leg.
I scrutinize the nearby trees. I don’t see anything moving. I walk to them and find a broken bough to use as a crutch. I come back swiftly to the safety of the road.
During the day, traveling on the road is usually safe enough. But the forest… Only parties of adults enter it. Sometimes, one goes in alone. And sometimes, they don’t come back.
During the night, forest or road, no one goes out. Too many things lurk in the dark.
Another two days have passed, just as fruitless. We’ve searched all the places in the city where we think a Technologist can hide, to no avail. I’m running out of ideas and Malia’s getting nervous. We’re no closer to finding her mother than when we arrived.
Sitting on a bench, facing the cliff and its unreachable stairs, we eat a piece of bread sullenly.
I look up at the cliff and the most desperate plan comes to my mind.
“You’ll never be able to climb that cliff, Prome.”
“And you’ll never be able to walk past the guards unnoticed,” I retort.
We both laugh humorlessly. We know each other too well. Under other circumstances, this would have triggered a friendly fight to try to immobilize one another.
Not today. Not in this God-damned city.
I shift my gaze from the fateful stairs, and look at the crowded street. Not far from us, someone is moving away, slipping clumsily through the crowd. All I can see is a shock of black, curly hair. It looks familiar, and even though I don’t recognize it, for the first time today, I feel happy.
I stand and follow him. “Malia, come.”
“Where are you going?”
“Look, over there.”
She doesn’t recognize the guy either—I think it’s a guy, but I can’t really be sure without seeing his face. He’s carrying a bulging satchel at his side.
As he turns around to look at something, the face I see makes my heart skip a beat. He’s unmistakably the nameless boy who couldn’t dress properly for the ceremony in Kurea. I feel a smile spread on my lips, until Malia walks in front of me to get to him.
Reality kicks me back to Earth mercilessly. I vowed to help Malia. I can’t let him distract me. I’ve already failed Malia’s friendship, although she doesn’t know it yet. I’ll stay at her side. I’ll be the perfect, lying, betraying, stabbing-in-the-heart friend. I’ll hide the beast in me and keep smiling.
A sudden thought occurs to me. If I’m a monster, I’m just a pawn in the Gods’ game; a pawn they can manipulate at their whims and fancies. What if they sent him for me to fall in love with? Meeting him once might be possible. But meeting him twice, in two places so far away from each other, cannot be a coincidence. Could he be here because of us? He was in Kurea before the guards barged in, and now he’s here. If he was spying on Veron and us, he wouldn’t have done otherwise.
I don’t share my doubts with Malia. Not yet. I just grab her hand to stop her and tell her we should be careful. For now, we’re content to follow him through several streets. I remember the streets from our earlier stroll, and my doubts about the boy strengthen.
“Malia, I think I know where he’s heading.”
And, sure enough, after a few turns, we arrive at the square in front of Poseidon’s temple. The boy enters it.
“Come on, Prome, we have to follow him inside.”
We climb a few stairs, then walk between the gigantic columns and through the equally impressive wooden door.
Inside, a resplendent statue of Poseidon riding a chariot pulled by four horses with fish tails instead of legs looks down at us. The skin of the horses is made of green marble, their scales of electrum. Poseidon himself is made of ivory covered with gold and precious gems.
Some priests are presenting offerings to the God, while a crowd of believers pray.
I can’t see the valedictorian anywhere.
Meet the Author
Alec Nortan is a French social services worker. Though he learned English at school, he chooses this language to write in. His works are gay-related fictions, varying from young adult, science fiction or fantasy adventure, to romance.
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