Now the boiling, toxic, lightning-wreathed Atomic Sea has encompassed every ocean on the planet, and the creatures that live in it have become mutated and unnatural. The sea's taint can infect any human who comes in contact with it or with unprocessed seafood, killing them . . . or altering them. No one knows why the sea has become this way or what it portends, only that it's irrevocably changed the world.
Meanwhile, world war has erupted, and the small country of Ghenisa, like many others, is tottering on the brink of collapse under the onslaught of the Empire of Octung. Middle-aged widower Dr. Francis Avery is aboard a military whaling ship far out on the Atomic Sea when a series of murders onboard propels him down a rabbit-hole of danger and terror unlike any other.
Soon he becomes aware of a spy on the ship, but that's just the beginning. With the help of the grizzled whaler Janx and a mysterious woman named Layanna, he will embark on an epic quest to save Ghenisa from Octung and unravel the secrets of the Atomic Sea.
Whale songs groaned through the hull of the ship as Dr. Avery and the sailors played cards. The cabin reverberated to the sounds—long, tapering peals that stood hairs on end—and alchemical lanterns threw drunken green shadows against the walls. Sailors glanced around uneasily.
Avery tossed his cards face-down and said, “Well, then, lads, if no one will match me, I believe that pot is mine.”
The seamen muttered as he raked in his winnings. Some were big men, whalers, hairy and covered in tattoos. The Navy men and women tended to be slimmer, neater. The room smelled of oil, leather and cigar smoke, some of which curled up from Avery’s own cigar clamped between his teeth. He was not a large man, but somehow that made him stand out all the more. His smoke drifted around his balding head with its black comb-over and joined the cloud that stirred against the ceiling.
“That’s your fourth haul tonight,” said Janx, one of the whalers, tall and rawboned. His nose had been torn off in a whaling catastrophe years ago, and a piece of leather covered the hole where it had been, held in place by straps that went round his head. “And three without showin’ your cards.”
“Feel free to match my bet next time,” Avery said. “It has been an unusually good night, I must admit.”
It was Janx’s turn to deal, and the cards fluttered with surprising grace through his rough, scarred hands. Scars and tattoos seemed to mark every inch of his body. His shaven head gleamed in the light.
“Your luck’ll turn, Doc,” he said. “See if it don’t.”
Avery raised his eyebrows. After a look at his cards, he said, “I think not.”
The door burst open. Lt. Hinis stormed in, dressed in her environment suit, huge and bulky with its bronze helmet and grilled visor. “Doctor, come quick, we need your help. There’s been a killing.”
“Another one?” Janx said. “Damn.”
“Has the killer been caught?” Avery asked.
“No,” Hinis said. “But the patrols are out. The murder happened outside.”
Avery crossed to the wall, where with Hinis’s assistance he donned an environment suit of his own. Like hers, it resembled a diving suit of antiquity, all treated canvas, brass joinings and big brass helm. There were no true diving suits anymore, of course; no one was insane enough to use one, not for a thousand years. In the background, the whale songs bellowed louder—closer—and whalers glanced at each other soberly.
As Avery reached the door, Janx grunted, and the doctor looked back to see that Janx had flipped over Avery’s cards. A two of jades nestled against a three of fates.
Janx shook his head. “Never saw a worse hand.” He hesitated, then said, “Y’know, Doc, the killer could still be out there. Might be I should come with you.”
Avery waited while Janx shrugged on an environment suit, and they followed Hinis out into the night.