Prologue and Chapter 1
Location: Mountains in Nazca, Peru
“We were unprepared.” Athena sighed as she inspected the cool dirt of the landing site. Her hand fell unconsciously to the golden, meter-long cylindrical weapon at her side, a reaction when she didn’t feel in control.
“Unprepared or not, who the hell would even attempt this? There are what—two civilizations left in the galaxy that would dare challenge us?” Atlas’ voice rang rough and uncompromising as he shifted his massive weight from one leg to the other. Extremely muscular and standing at two and a quarter meters tall, he towered above Athena. “And the last I remember, we beat them back to their own territories,” he said, scratching his thick, curly beard.
“A lot has changed since you went into hibernation. The entire galaxy is preparing for war, but no conflict has arisen yet. This might be the start of it.” War is likely the only reason the Council will let you live…of all the Olympians I could be stranded with, it had to be you.
“I didn’t ‘go’ into hibernation—I was forced,” Atlas corrected, his voice rising. Tension built in his body, causing veins to bulge on his neck and bald head. “It wasn’t my idea to ship my ass out to the end of the galaxy as the last line of defense for these ‘essential’ experiments.”
Athena ignored him. Atlas would have been dropped into a black hole for what he had done during the Fracturing had he not been such a great warrior. The Olympus Council still may choose to terminate him even if he does successfully protect the research done here on Earth, but that just might be wishful thinking.
“What makes these experiments so important to the Council anyway?” Atlas asked.
“I don’t know.” I’m not even clear on what the Council is researching out here.
Turning her attention back to more pressing matters, Athena felt a kneading of her skin as long gravitational waves jostled over what had to be the landing site. She noticed a subtle pixilation of a column of air that stretched vertically from her position, a clear distortion in the Higgs field. The comingling of these specific tactile and optical inputs provided strong evidence that an Olympian vessel, a Hades vessel to be exact, had been used by the intruders. They stole one of our ships? To her dismay, Athena wasn’t finding any evidence that Primordials were in the area. The Primordial civilizations are the only ones that would possibly risk war with us. Athena could feel the edges of her confusion melt into something she hadn’t felt since the Fracturing: fear. “I think I’ve learned all I can from this spot. Let’s keep moving. There’s a good chance we’re being hunted, and I don’t plan on being easy prey.”
“And go where? Why run if we’re being hunted? Let’s stay here until they show up, and kill ‘em. I’m here to defend Earth, not explore it.”
Athena didn’t respond. Her back was already turned as she started across the mountain top toward their ship, and she could feel Atlas’ eyes on her. She didn’t need to see his face to know he wore a boorish, baleful leer. He had already been using his enormous stature to intimidate, subconsciously telegraphing the idea he’d devour her much slighter frame. She wasn’t interested in legitimatizing his megalomania by contending with it. This problem won’t be solved by bashing someone over the head with a large stick; therefore, it’s outside Atlas’ area of expertise…but I can’t say it’s within mine until I actually know the answer to his question.
“How much time do we have?”
Again, she wasn’t sure.
Act I, Chapter 1: The Primordials
Location: Near the Oort Cloud outside Earth’s Solar System
Year: 2031, One Year in the Future
Sigyn had a growing feeling of unrest as she huddled with two other Aesir in their hollow, spherical ship. Their mission to attack the Olympian research facility monitoring Earth—and leverage the humans as allies against their Olympian rulers—had started as sterile theory. Sigyn possessed the depth of self-knowledge to see how her initial involvement, decades prior, produced predictable feelings in a budding, people-pleasing scientist: a deep pride for being offered to join the team, and fascination over the scientific hurdles that needed to be cleared. Those euphoric feelings that once fed Sigyn’s confidence had slowly collapsed under the gravity of reality, becoming a dense whirlwind of anxiety that concealed a kernel of doubt.
The knot forming in her stomach only tightened as she ruminated on her commanding officer’s speech prior to departure. Vili’s statements to the team, and the high-ranking officials bidding the group farewell, crystallized the latent certainty that they would either die on this journey or make lifelong enemies of the Olympians.
“After nearly 1,000 years of Olympia’s hegemonic rule, we will finally have Asgard and Valhalla, among other planets, back under our control. We will have our governance. We will have our nation…Today, we stop building their ships. We stop being pawns in their endless expansion. We stop participating in their venerated markets. We stop financing the subversion of our own people! The Aesir will no longer stand idly by while the same individuals that once used our race as lab rats push to castrate our children of their elders’ ‘irrational superstitions’ and snip them of their roots! It could be no clearer at this point: the Olympians will never accept us for who we are. They may never even accept our indoctrinated children as equals! We must fight back.”
If she was being honest with herself, she didn’t agree with much of what he said, but she didn’t disagree either. She was young by Aesirian standards and couldn’t comprehend what her elders experienced long ago. On some unconscious level she trusted them, but her core mind was too inherently technical. Sigyn struggled to empathize with the idea that the Aesir’s life was—or could be—noticeably better with what essentially amounted to a different governing body. Focus on something else.
She stole a quick glance at Vili, who was fitted with an armored-fabric forest-green jacket. Neither Sigyn nor her companions were clad in Aesirian armor, as blending in with Earth’s general populace was a necessity. Instead, they wore inconspicuous human-inspired clothing, but with fabric reinforced with small strands of steel, carbon, and various compounds.
Vili’s torso was covered in a diamond-quilted pattern, designed to retain a bit more padding. The jacket sacrificed extra protection on the arms in exchange for maximum range of motion. He wore grey pants constructed from animal hide found on the Aesirian ‘controlled’ planet of Valhalla, twice as durable and strong as any leather found on Earth. Carbon plates were woven into specific sections to protect his most vulnerable arteries.
Sigyn had donned similar armor, with the exception that Sigyn’s jacket was black and had additional protection, albeit restricting, over her arms. Unlike Vili, she didn’t plan on engaging in any close combat. Innocuous-looking clothes meant for combat, combat with Olympians…
Sigyn sincerely hoped that avoidance, not open battle, would be the order of the day; she was terrified over the prospect of open conflict with even a single Olympic warrior. The Olympians were one of the oldest races in the galaxy and among the most extraordinary. They were one of five superior civilizations, colloquially known as “Primordials” across the galaxy.
Each Primordial race viewed themselves as the pinnacle of their bloodline. Not only could each of their societies trace their origins back to a unique single-celled organism, but their bodies had evolved a bond with space-time itself. This primeval binding—allowing their bodies to feed off the energy of the expanding universe—gave these lifeforms advantages in health, longevity, intelligence, rationality, and physical access to the fabric of space.
Primordial cells and organs soaked up the ubiquitous energy, bolstering their strength and reducing the natural decay of their living tissue. Their minds and reflexes benefitted from denser webbing in their neural networks and enhanced synaptic firing. They found ways to physically manipulate the fabric of space that would normally require arcane machines consuming immense amounts of energy. All of these bodily improvements gave Primordials a unique form of value to the universe—at least according to them. They viewed beings that hadn’t yet reached that state of evolution as a lesser form of sentience.
Sigyn, her comrades, and the rest of the Aesir were part of the less evolved group, which the ever-haughty Olympians pejoratively referred to as “Lessers.” Both humans and Aesir, although part of the same core genetic line as Olympians, were looked upon with scorn or indifference by the more advanced civilization. Both races shared genetic code with the Olympians, but had evolved from primitive animals and bacteria that the Olympians themselves (perhaps intentionally) spread across space. Regardless, the view of “moral superiority” held by the Olympians and all other Primordial races didn’t stop them from killing one another.
The war between Primordials, now referred to as the “Fracturing” by Olympians and Aesir alike, provided a stark example of how technologically outmatched the Aesir were in comparison to these godlike beings; had they joined the fight over 1,000 years ago their entire species would have gone extinct. In order to attempt to put their species on equal footing with their more evolved counterparts, the Aesir engaged in everything from genetic modifications to a race-wide eschewing of arts and entertainment in favor of pursuits to advance their military prowess. Sigyn, like her three companions and most of their peers, had elected to go through with genetic modifications. In fact, their modifications were part of the reason she and the two men that sat nearby were selected for this mission. Our strategy—our chance at success—relies on me being able to use my biological augmentations…
Sigyn started to pace, muttering to herself—repeating the plan Vili drilled into her head—and flexing her hands to avoid actualizing their tremor. She kept her eyes cast downward, allowing her dirty blonde hair to envelope her periphery and establish a barrier between her and the two others on the mission. She wasn’t interested in being mocked by Loki or reminded of her own physical inadequacy by catching another glimpse of Vili.
Her breathing and pulse became increasingly rapid with every step. She feared her heart may beat out through her throat. The knot in her stomach was becoming a glowing hot ember of doubt and fear. How did I end up here? What was I thinking?
Seventy-five years earlier, Sigyn stood before Vili in his windowless office, tucked away deep in the dense forests of Valhalla. At just under 45 years old, she had experience that would impress both the military on Valhalla and the universities on Asgard. Beyond the basic martial training that was required of Aesirians, Sigyn had finished advanced training in the areas of naval strategy, ship design, and weapons development. Academically, she collected degrees in all of the major physical sciences.
She waited for the 1,025-year-old Vili to speak. Although the Aesirians were closer in biology to the short-lived humans than the nearly immortal Olympians, genetic tampering allowed them to live much longer lives than nature would allow. The technology had only been developed a little less than a millennium prior, and scientists weren’t exactly sure how long individuals would now live. At over 1,000 years old, Vili was among the first to undergo such genetic modification and was left physically suspended as a 38 year old. He retained his long blonde hair that fell beneath his broad shoulders; random locks were braided while the rest of it matched the free-flowing nature of his beard.
“I asked you to come here to discuss a mission. Please, sit.” Vili’s voice was deep and gravelly. He and his brothers—heroes to the Aesir—had grey-yellow eyes that gave them a primal, wolfish appearance, and his commanding voice added even more menace to his already intimidating visage.
Sigyn sat down and watched as Vili leaned back behind his organized and massive wooden desk: a rare break from strict posture.
“The Olympians never stopped experimenting on humans.”
The statement caught Sigyn off guard. “What? I thought humans reached the minimum level of sentience that precludes experimentation of any kind?”
“That’s correct, but that doesn’t seem to matter to the Olympus Council.”
“But they were the ones who made it illegal…” Sigyn slowed her voice and tilted her head in confusion.
“As I said, that doesn’t seem to matter to the Olympus Council. At least, not in this case: we believe these experiments are aiding them as they prepare for war.”
“War? Then the rumors are true—the Olympus Council thinks other Primordials are preparing to invade. Did they learn nothing from the Fracturing? It has been nearly a millennium since that brutal conflict came to an end and the galaxy is still mending wounds wrought by the devastation of that war.” Sigyn felt agitation rise in her voice as she moved forward in her chair and grasped the arm rests.
“They’ve crossed the line in more ways than one—that’s why I called you here. We’ve developed a plan to free ourselves from their rule.”
Sigyn opened her mouth, ready to interrupt with any one of the multitude of thoughts that immediately sprung up in her mind, but Vili held up his hand. Sigyn swallowed her concerns as he continued on.
“Spare me the propaganda that Olympians push. They don’t view us as their equals and never will. How could they when we were their original experiments?”
Sigyn noticed Vili’s voice rising, she knew how much he and his brothers detested the Olympians. “It’s true that the Aesir have seen very little advancement in the broader Olympian society; we hold few positions of economic, political, and intellectual power. The integration has been slow.”
Vili took a deep breath; his next words rode on calmer waters. “Slower than you realize. I’ve watched it unfold for nearly 1,000 years. For most of that time our people were demanding that Aesirian leadership regain our sovereignty, and we finally have a way to achieve independence.
“It involves using humans as allies though, which means we need to dislodge them from the Olympians’ grip, as well as impede any advantage the Olympians’ are gaining from their experiments. We don’t know exactly what the Olympians’ are researching on Earth, but it has to be something vital if they are risking the type of public backlash that comes from experimenting on sentient beings.”
Sigyn slowly shook her head, thinking of what the Olympians could be doing to the humans.
“War. Experiments on sentient life…that’s barbaric, but what can I do to help with any of it?”
“For starters, I’m aware that you’re a match to an augmentation that would give you the ability to track Olympians, or any other Primordial race. On top of that, we’d need a scientific mind, such as yours, that can help me build an army on Earth—including weapons and ships.”
Sigyn held her breath and physically recoiled into her seat as Vili spoke.
“I’m not asking you to fight—we need your intellect and abilities. I’m aware of your keen interest in all things theoretical. This mission will involve grappling with some of the most advanced technology of which we are aware.”
The weight in Sigyn’s stomach pinning her to the seat began to lighten. “Like what?”
“Well, the Olympians developed a sort of ‘failsafe’ for their experiment on Earth. They built a wormhole—a passageway that allows objects to move between two distant points in space instantaneously—” Vili paused. “I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, am I?”
Sigyn slid forward in her seat and smiled, mirroring her analytical mind which crept to the foreground, overtaking her innate distaste for physical conflict. “I’m aware of what wormholes are, sir, but they built one?”
Vili smiled back. “They not only built one, but they modified it. They accelerated one end to a much faster speed relative to the other and produced what they call a ‘Chronos Passage.’ The speed differential was held long enough for the wormhole’s ends to act as a sort of…time machine. Depending on the entry point, the Chronos Passage around Earth will send the user either approximately an entire orbit forward or backward in time.”
“Of course! They used the principal of time dilation to age the ends at different rates! How did they keep the worm—Chronos Passage—open? How did they create it in the first place? Has anyone traveled through it yet?” Sigyn breathlessly asked.
Vili put up both hands and let out a deep chuckle. “Slow down, Sigyn. Our reconnaissance missions have given us limited information and I don’t have all the details in front of me. What I can tell you is that we think their existence ensures a failsafe in case the experiments are contaminated or the public discovers what the Council is doing—either way, the researchers can go back in time and prevent any of it from happening.
“Additionally, we believe the entry point for backward travel is somewhere near the host star and the exit is somewhere in what the humans have dubbed the ‘Kuiper Belt.’ Are you familiar with Earth’s solar system?”
Sigyn waved her hands and ruminated on these new scientific revelations as she responded, “Yeah, the Kuiper Belt is an orbit extending outside the planets in that system and consists mainly of rock and ice…wait, do we plan on using the Chronos Passage?”
Sigyn paused. While pondering theory was exhilarating, she was less excited about experiencing science firsthand. “How would we get through it? All of the wormhole theories I’m familiar with would suggest physically traveling through one would be suicide.”
“As far as I’m aware, the Olympians have developed only a single ship that can make the journey. It’s basically a giant sphere that’s covered in a wispy, rubbery, evaporating, opaque…” Vili’s head slowly started to shake, while his right hand made small circles in the air, as he clearly struggled to find the right word. “…liquid-like substance. My knowledge—and that of our scientists working to replicate one—is limited, but I’ve been told it’s another phase of space itself. Somehow it insulates the pilot and crew from the dangers of entering the Chronos Passage.”
Sigyn shot out of her chair and started pacing, her body struggling to consume the sudden, warm energy her mind released as a by-product of its internal fusion. “That’s brilliant! The publicly available research has spoken very little about the properties of different phases of space-time, but if they are using another phase of space there should be something equivalent to the principal of temperature equilibrium…” She stopped and looked at Vili. “Then the wispy appearance outside the Hades ship would make sense!”
Vili’s brow furrowed, prompting Sigyn to attempt an analogy.
“Think of it this way: pretend our normal space is like water. Now, say you want to move something through the water—a specific bacterium, but the water is too hot for it. Maybe it needs freezing temperatures to thrive. You could encase the bacterium in ice and then that ice cube could move through the hot water. The ice would eventually melt and leave the bacterium exposed, but until then, the ice would insulate the creature against the water.
“From our point of view we would just see an ice cube slowly melting, but the bacterium would see a chaotic scene of individual molecules breaking away from the ice and joining the liquid water or gaseous vapor around the cube—similar to the wispy appearance you described.”
Vili nodded. “That…makes sense. So, in a very crude sense, they’re taking our natural ‘liquid’ space and ‘solidifying’ it, which insulates the crew against whatever happens when traveling through the Chronos Passage…” Vili snapped back to formal posture and lowered his already deep voice. “Sigyn, we need you on this mission. Not just to help our scientists recreate and understand this technology, but to help me in the field.”
Sigyn slowly sat back down. Her excitement started to drain at the mention of being in the ‘field.’ “I…don’t know.”
Vili’s eyes hardened with a nearly imperceptible squint. He paused before responding. “Sigyn, if you come with me you’ll be under my protection. I can swear by that.”
Sigyn nodded silently. There weren’t many, if any, Aesir that could best him in a fight. But can he protect me against Olympians? “I need to think about this. Thank you for the offer.”
Sigyn continued to pace within the Hades vessel; she ignored Loki’s eyes on her and reminded herself she was sitting in the same vessel Vili described to her 75 years prior. She tried to focus on the beauty of the physical manifestation of theoretical technology.
Nothing can harm us while we are in this ship—the Hades space is too violent. Any projectile would be eviscerated before it reached the hull. Completely dismantled, down to the atomic level.
Confronted with questions of science, her mind naturally followed the path to the next unsolved problem.
Nothing can penetrate this ship, but nothing can escape either. We’re completely trapped. We can’t even communicate with the outside universe until the Hades space finishes evaporating…
She continued to pace. Even thinking through all of the challenges and remarkable revelations Hades space had to offer only guided her down a deeper, darker trail into her forest of anxiety. Something else…Vili’s new hammer? That’s not something the Olympians can contend with.
Sigyn looked up to glimpse at Vili’s newly minted weapon, and perhaps distract herself by attempting a visual analysis of it, but was met with Loki’s gaze. She braced herself for his derision. “I don’t know about you, Sigyn, but I’m guessing Vili’s first swing with his hammer will be a miss.”
The comment caught her off guard and she chuckled. Vili followed with a strong, rough, and intimidating laugh—a voice that aligned with his physique. “I guarantee I’ll hit something on my first swing if you hold still.”
Loki smiled and moved behind Sigyn, his lanky body still very much visible from behind her. “I think I’d feel more comfortable here for the duration of the trip.”
Vili held his hammer out to mimic lining up his shot. “I still have a clean shot at your head—with a hefty margin for error.”
Sigyn chuckled again.