My name is Sven. My time is limited. I don't know who will be with me when I arrive, or when I'll get there. I just know that, when I arrive, I may not have another chance to tell my story to you. So… please… listen closely...
… Here we go…
The second fleet of ships landed on the desert wastelands, kicking up combinations of dirt and dust into the dry air. Soldiers roared as they raced out to join the battlefield. Universal War had begun on this day. Behind them was the start of the war. Behind them was the Black Tower. Behind them was Sin Sharonimous; Sharunga's first lord.
Ozma hadn't listened to their orders. Now Ozma had nothing left to say.
Universal Allies (UA) Headquarters on Tawaya.
"Absolutely not!" Senator Daniel Hawke cried from the floating podium during their debate not two days before the first battle of Universal War. "I refuse to allow the Ozma Corporation to be granted entry to Sharunga's main-lands."
"Why not?" Colonel Lucas Kerschov argued from the floating podium beside the senator. "We are the most elite force this entire military service has to offer; it's been proven!"
"Because I won't allow myself to take responsibility for the deaths of thousands of my best men!" Hawke roared in rage. "I order that you leave with the rest of the UA's military, as instructed to you originally."
"I say we let Diablo decide." Kerschov turned his podium to face Roy Diablo, the twenty-two year old president of the Mada Corporation.
Diablo smirked and brushed his long brown hair out of his eyes and stood up. "It's a wonder you two are having a debate with only three people in your audience. It's another wonder why you two would want my decision on the matters." He put his left hand in the pocket of his jacket and with the other hand he scratched the back of his neck. "But if you're honest about my opinion, well, I think you should let Mr. Kerschov go. One of the major goals of Mada is to ensure that everyone gets what they want, so, naturally, I say you should give him what he wants."
Kerschov turned and looked back at Hawke with a mischievous grin plastered to his face. "See? Even Mr. Diablo agrees with my terms. I'll send notice to my men now, thank you, senator, thank you, Diablo. Good day, gentlemen."
Karumuchi, Sharunga: Present.
The battlefield was in ruins. The land the shadow-demons once called their home was gone now. The Black Tower stood the tallest, though even it was a couple yards shorter and many yards thinner. Blotches of its thick granite exterior were missing and the Tower that once stood gallantly now stood pitifully.
But Sin was still alive, this everyone knew, regardless of the victory in the very short war. The city of Karumuchi was also in ruins, though there weren't any actual combats in that quadrant of Sharunga's continent. Bombings had etched out pieces of the grand buildings, this is true, but it wasn't the bombings that put it in its current state.
It was Kareebo; Sin's back-up plan. Kareebo was an eighty-ton shadow-demon in the form of a massive sion. The beast was modified with new-age technology to make it virtually indestructible through its new armors and its new artillery.
Sven Yrugeai was the only soldier, the only living thing in Karumuchi that had survived the creature's rampage. He flopped to his rear against the low remnants of what once was a skyscraper and he uncapped his canteen. His clothes were now in rags; his tanned leather boots were now flops of scrap; his straw hat was now a straw woven to a string; his leather duster and his chaps were now rings of brown leather; his trademark rodeo belt-buckle was now a useless coin lying somewhere in the dusty wasteland that was once a city.
He smiled as he set his canteen aside, sparing as much water as he could, knowing that Sharunga's reputation as 'the desert planet' would hold to its word, and he would see that soon enough. He looked around at the environment around him, comparing its present look to its past look. To his left there was once a great Spaceport, where shuttles would fly passengers to another planet on vacation or return. It was now a few scraps of flattened metal and glass shards.
To his right there had once been a busy market, where people were scattering from cart to cart buying various fruits or trinkets. It was now a few splinters of wood driven into the dusty streets.
And just ahead of him there had once been a casino, a grand casino where only days ago he had wasted every coin in his banking account to a man named Andrew Jackson, though everyone who knew him addressed him as 'Jax'.
He could just make out the dull blue and white stripes rimmed around more blue. It was a chip that only two days ago he would've found very valuable to his gambling craze. He could still smell the strong scent of exotic alcoholic beverages. He could still see the haze of tobacco smoke from cigars or, for the lesser rich, cigarettes, all lingering above the poker tables or dart boards.
He could still see the two Aces he'd been given during Texas Hold'em.
He leaned his head back against the dusty stone wall behind him, feeling a rush of cold shivers crawling up his back, raising the hairs on the back of his neck. In a flash, he was on his feet with his sword drawn, at the ready. His right hand was over the sandalwood grip of his revolver.
Nothing. As usual.
He hated Kerschov for making such a decision as sending Sven and his partners into the battlefield first. Yeah, they were the best of the best of military forces, but only when they had back-up. Mada's specialties were with those of the sword, not the gun (though basically all weapons were their specialties).
He should've seen something like this coming when Kerschov had first spoken of their new mission and the objectives that followed. Mada was to enter the enemy base and then wait for commission from Diablo. After Diablo called in, they were to completely destroy the city and then wait for shuttles to come in and get them out of there.
But Diablo never called in.
It was when Sven not only saw his own partners dying - and some of Diablo's Ozma Corporation employees dying - that he knew that Diablo wouldn't be calling in.
It was all a trap. It was a way for Diablo's men to be the best.
But now Sven wondered how Diablo expected to be at the top when all of his own men were also killed by the beast.
Sven sheathed his sword in the sheath on his right hip and he released the grip of his revolver. He bent over to lift his canteen and he attached it to his belt and then he stood up straight. He sighed, turned, and left the ruined city behind him. He could hear the thrumming of a shuttle's propellers that he was familiar with.
It was Kerschov.
It had all began three years ago…in the year 2011...
The metal screeched as the door slid open and Katherine Parker walked down the cold, dark corridors of an insane asylum located just outside Salina, Kansas. Her red high-heels clicked lightly, each step echoing through the hollow halls as she walked past the silent, eerily dim-lit cells, adjusting the glasses on her eyes and humming quietly.
She stopped at cell thirty-two.
"Sven Yrugeai?" She called without much question to her tone. She knew it was the right cell. She was always right. She flashed her credentials, "I'm Special Agent Parker of the FBI. I came here to ask you a couple questions, if that's ok with you?"
There was silence. Parker nodded to the security camera behind her and immediately the cell lit up in a bright light that caused commotion amongst some of the nearby inmates that still slept.
A man in very baggy, very dark clothing was sitting up on his cot, leaned up against the cold cobblestone wall behind him. In his hand there was a thin roll of paper; one end was lifting tiny wisps of smoke. The man lifted his cigarette up to his lips and dragged in a long, seemingly painful breath, and then slowly exhaled a thin gray cloud to the air. He took one last drag and then rubbed out the tip of the cigarette and cast it into his sink (which had a growing mountain of paper rolls).
"Are you here to ask me why I'm here? Or are you here to offer my freedom? I'd prefer freedom." The man asked in a hoarse, monotonous voice.
"Let's start with the 'why you're here', and then we'll see where we get from there, ok?" She asked, listening to the sigh of disappointment from the inmate.
"Does Mendriff know you're here?" The inmate asked, his eyes never veering from the window lingering twenty feet above his head. The light from the moon had shone in before she had rudely turned on the lights.
"I don't know who Mendriff is and I don't care. Why are you here?" Parker asked; her voice seemed almost rushing, as if there were an itch on her back that she couldn't reach.
Sven Yrugeai sighed and looked to the agent, and then he looked to his mound of cigs in the sink. "A friend and I… we were thieves. Last year he and I boarded the Hawker shuttle, high-jacked it, and were planning on crashing it, too. Some stupid kid from hell – the non-literal kind, babe; these worlds aren't that messed up yet – comes in, kills my friend in front of me, and then tells me to get out of there or I'd be next. The kid came with a punk, about the age of sixteen or so, I'd guess. Punk calls the authorities from their escape pod, and my pod was taken over and steered back to Earth. I'm not crazy, Special Agent, but I am a killer; I'm pretty comfortable admitting that, at least."
"If you're not crazy," Parker asked, knowing the answers that lie ahead, "Then why are you here?"
"My lawyer, Kurt Newberry, suggested to me that I try my hardest to fail that test." Sven smiled and looked back to Parker. "What can I say? I'm a natural."
"I see," she said with a sigh.
She wasn't nervous, Sven noted. Not like Mendriff, anyway. He knew at that moment that something wasn't right. "You're not an agent, are you?"
Katherine Parker looked up quickly, and then a smile slid across her lips. "How'd you guess that one?"
"You don't know Mendriff. Everybody in the FBI knows Mendriff."
"How do you know that?"
"I didn't make the cut into the FBI."
"So you decide to become a thief? A murderer?"
"If they won't let me in the force, I'll be of the opposite side."
"Interesting." Parker stood up and removed her badge from her wallet and cast it into an open inmate's drop-box. She turned back to Sven and smiled.
"Parker! Move it, we've got company!" They heard a man call from down the corridors, where Parker had come in from. Parker watched Lucas Kerschov race down the corridor toward them. His appearance was very diverse from the beautiful Katherine Parker that stood outside Sven's cell; he was very dirty and his hair went in several directions that didn't work for his build. But behind the man, they could hear the sounds of shouting men and rapid gunfire. "We've got to get out of here now. Get the kid and let's go."
Katherine turned her attention back to Sven, who looked startled now, but not frightened. "Are you coming with us or not, kid?"
"Who are you people?" Sven asked, getting to his feet to walk across his cell to the glass divider. "Go where?"
She explained calmly. "We are an elite undercover military organization…"
"We have no time, kid; we'll explain later." Kerschov shouted before lifting his rifle and backing up a few steps. "Get down!" Before Sven could react, he pulled the trigger and held it back, watching a rapid line of bullets blast from the barrel of his rifle.
Sven dived to the floor and covered his head as billions of shards of glass erupted into the air all around him. Then, the gunfire stopped… all of it. He got up and saw Parker's hand reach out to him.
"You coming or what, kid? It's your call." Parker said in a strong voice.
Sven had only been in this cell for three months, and he knew that fifty more years would bore him to tears. He didn't hesitate to take the beautiful woman's hand and jump from his cell.