In the Beginning
The planet known as Earth provides a rich history, dissimilar from the billions upon billions of inhabited worlds in the visible universe. While most cultures were quickly discovered and nurtured throughout their difficult beginnings by their older intergalactic brothers, Earth stood alone, on the edge of Orion, a minor spiral arm of the Milky Way Galaxy, watched by those of immense power who nearly always chose a path of non-interference. These beings, the Prīmulī, would analyze all from their timeless dimension, known as The Hub, from which all time/space emanated. They were patient, as they held the secrets of the universe in their hands and had all eternity in which to wait.
Man's beginnings were precarious, to say the least, and with great anticipation his supervisors analyzed his initial struggle for survival against extinction. From his first steps of self-awareness, to kingdoms that spanned entire continents, he constantly fought and battled to advance his own cause. He was truly a marvelous creation and had pleased his invisible mentors immensely. And although they chose to stay out of sight and mind, leaving man to his own devices, they did tinker a bit, providing some bloodlines with enhanced genetics to see how he would fare.
Certain few men of character learned to harness the energies that flowed within every living thing on their world—energies that allowed them to care, heal and build. These men stood above and apart, and although small in numbers, they spread out over the planet to become consultants to leaders great and strong, offering advice, and sometimes even prodding their lieges in the proper direction when darkness showed its evil countenance.
There were also others who had superior abilities, thanks to the watchers' thoughtful manipulations—the noble lycans, created to be the soldiers of merit and honor, faithfully defended Man's free spirit and his ability to mold the world into one of greatness—so he might one day take his rightful place among the myriad of ascended species in the universe.
However, for every yin there is a yang, and there were also those who craved the darkness, only kept in check by the lycans, who contrasted them in nearly every manner. Through natural selection, these lovers of death evolved to subsist on the life waters of the innocent and to prey on the weak. Such had become their way.
Over time these malcontents grew in strength and numbers, and they disrupted the delicate balance of light and dark on a world so young. So, the observers decided to end their test, and determined that Man should not be able to touch nature in such an intimate manner. They stripped Man of all of his abilities—which faded into rumor, then legend, and then were almost completely forgotten.
Man then did something that surprised his watchers—he improvised. With his own mind and hands he started to grasp upon the powers of the universe through the use of technology. Iron turned to steel. Vacuum tubes turned to printed circuit boards. As each discovery led to the next he continued learning until he found quadrinium, buried deep in the planet, waiting to be forged into usefulness.
Building strong, spacefaring ships of quadrinium and peering through lenses that enabled him to see distant parts of the galaxy, he set off for the stars, traveling across the spiral arm to build a new world, and seeking to correct the errors he had made during his short time on Earth.
But nature is as nature does, and he soon found himself facing evil of another form—and of another part of the Milky Way. His minders, who had sat for so many centuries watching in silence, again found it necessary to re-enable the gifts so quickly taken from him in the past.
So they decided: this time they would do so in small steps, starting with a young man who just happened to have a very special lineage.
Echoing throughout a cavernous warehouse in a nondescript industrial area of Eastern Córdoba, music blared at unimaginable levels, to the point of causing the walls to reverberate.
However, this had absolutely no effect on the building's sole occupant who was seated at a workbench along the southern wall of the building. The young man with messy, brown hair worked frantically while looking through a microscope-like attachment to the eyepiece of a carbon-nanotube welding mask.
Nearly delirious from lack of sleep, Max Gunnarsson had been working throughout the night, trying to put the final touches on his project.
His very illegal project.
Upon completing the connection between two crystals on a component via a precise micro-weld, he had finished the last electronic piece required for his navigational computer. But time was a cruel master. Max's mother had provided a distraction for his superiors, saying he was ill and in bed. He had even cut his hair and sprinkled it over a mannequin he left in his room, just in case a long-range DNA scan was shot from outside his house. But he knew that wouldn't hold out for very long.
The problem was that he didn't know whether he had hours or minutes left.
In the middle of his warehouse, surrounded by various tools and electronic devices, was his project; a medium-sized shuttlecraft. Rather, what was on top of the craft was the illegal part. Despite an advanced-looking mechanism perched at its top, the ship was old and beat-up, barely space-worthy.
It was, in a manner of speaking, a hunk of garbage.
Still, he maintained a good deal of affection for it, especially as it could communicate with him.
"A.I., ship status, please," said Max.
"Commander, all systems are functioning normally," came back the sultry female voice that had been programmed into the system.
"Run an airlock test."
Thirty seconds later the A.I. confirmed the ship was airtight. Adequately.
Purchased three days earlier from a shifty and rather disreputable merchant named Ali, who had a pawnshop on Sienna, the more lush of Azul's two moons, the ship was a piece of crap, but was all he could afford on his military salary. Still, all tracking had been removed, as the ship used to be a smuggling shuttle, running contraband between various locations, so it would fulfill its required function.
Max wished he could have built a decent ship without breaking the law, but the Federal Security Council had recently passed legislation called the SSCC Non-Proliferation Act. This prevented not only Max, but also the entire military from implementing the latest in space travel technology; technology he had had developed.
Gunnarsson was also the individual responsible for discovering Side Space: the extra-dimensional realm where faster-than-light travel was possible.
And then there was another problem, further down the line.
Humanity's first contact with an extraterrestrial species was to happen within five years, when the slow-moving Artusians reached his world. The government said the aliens would help to usher in a new age for mankind.
But Max didn't believe the Artusians were friendly. He was a scientist, and as such, had a healthy level of skepticism, especially for anything that drained out of the mouth-holes of politicians.
So, he decided to commit treason, steal government property and throw together his own ship. His logic was that if he could prove Side Space travel wasn't threatening, then the entire naval fleet would be refitted and his people could meet the Artusians before they reached Azul. If they were indeed friendly, they would be escorted back to great fanfare. If not, they would be atomized where they floated in deep space.
The alternative, to Max, was much too risky. Something was wrong, and he was one who always righted wrongs, protected the weak and sought justice.
Max shut down various computers on his workbench, and grabbed a duty bag from the floor next to his stool. He walked over to his shuttlecraft, which he had named the Machu Picchu, after the historical ruins in Peru. Walking to the rear entrance of the Machu Picchu, he pulled a small jewelry box out of the bag and looked at it with a sullen expression. His mind traveled back to just one week prior, when he last saw his mother:
"Here, sweetie. Take this with you."
"Mom, I can't. It's your wedding ring, for crying out loud."
"Max, your father died five years ago. I have no use for it. Wherever you go, whatever you do, I'm sure you'll meet a beautiful girl. This is to be hers."
"Just do me one favor, sweetie."
"Bring her home. I want to meet her."
"Just… just come back home, Max. I'll be praying for you."
Max's mom knew what he was doing—to a certain extent. He left out various details for her personal safety, such as the fact that he was going far, far away: further (and faster) than anyone ever had before.
He stuffed the jewelry box in his pocket and, taking one last look around, walked up the loading ramp to his ship, the door sealing behind him.
The Machu Picchu's engines roared to life. Concussion waves from the atmospheric drive caused items on local workbenches to fly off. Tools and pipe wrenches impaled walls, the massive metal benches themselves vibrating on their legs, rattling away from the craft. Two benches flipped over end on end, making loud, clanging noises. Then, the shuttle started to lift off. The warehouse roof parted down the middle, slowly opening up and exposing clear blue sky and puffy, pink-colored clouds.
And that was when things went wrong.
Before Max could lift his shuttle out of the warehouse, dozens of armed, military-looking individuals dressed in black, full-faced helmets and articulated body armor burst inside, firing projectile and charge weapons at the Machu Picchu while it still floated upwards.
A blaring loudspeaker, projecting enough volume to be heard within at least a five-kilometer radius, announced the true intent of the invasion.
"Attention Commander Gunnarsson. You are in violation of the Federal SSCC Non- Proliferation Act and are to be taken in for questioning. Land immediately or we will be forced to destroy your craft."
The Machu Picchu kept rising into the sky, shrugging off the small arms fire being laid upon its hull.
"Commander, if we do not leave this vicinity immediately I fear we will suffer a hull breach," the A.I. cooed.
"Crap. I didn't want to hurt anyone," said Max. He really didn't, but also knew he had to get out or he was done for.
"Okay, A.I., hit it!"
The Machu Picchu shot up and out of the warehouse into the upper atmosphere at Mach 7, violently blowing a good percentage of the invading army back into crumpled piles of unconsciousness. Pieces of the roof, dislodged from the concussive blast, fell back to the ground and took out five more soldiers.
If it weren't for gravity dampeners he had installed as an upgrade, Max would be been crushed like a tomato beneath a commercial air truck, but he wasn't out of the danger yet, so to speak. Bursting up toward the blackness of space, five Draeder class exo-atmospheric attack fighters pursued in tight formation, and quickly caught up with the dilapidated craft. Weapons fire erupted from the Draeders, rocking and buffeting the small transport during its desperate exit from the atmosphere.
Surprised and alarmed by the violent attack, Max pulled a lever back on his dashboard. Glowing machinery pushed out through the top of the ship, causing a rippling disruption in space that somehow followed his flight pattern. The machinery of his ship reached up and into the newly created rift. He increased his velocity, perhaps to buy himself time and avoid certain death.
Then, as he raced out of orbit, six individuals—Max, along with the five Draeder pilots—simultaneously pressed buttons on their control panels. Fortunately, for Max, his touch was a fraction of a second faster than the pursuing pilots. The Machu Picchu disappeared from sight and the local solar system.
Charge weapons flashed into the space with silent, concussive force where the escaping ship was located only a moment prior, all failing to meet their target.
Seated in the captain's chair on the Machu Picchu, Max gripped the yolk as if it were his only link to existence—trying to calm down by taking deep, slow breaths. His forward view screen displayed wild, shifting colors and energy currents going in all directions, and it didn't help that his vision sharpened immensely when he was in stressful situations. He looked upon pure and utter chaos—a definite sign that he was not in normal space. But he was on course. At least his computers told him so. And his ship was intact.
It was taking him to the home of his ancestors.