Sol System, 65,742,372 BC

In the vast void of space, a blue planet orbits serenely, an infinitesimal speck of life in a nearly infinite nothingness. As it has billions of times before, the planet orbits the lone star in the sky, a yellow fusion reactor, providing life to the planet. The planet hosts life so numerous, the very composition of the planet's atmosphere changes as a result. Visible from the surface is what appears to be a distant and faint star, not present three revolutions of the axis before. The creatures on the surface do not understand the new star, and do not care. Even when, as the days pass, the star gets larger, there is no mind on the surface that understands the significance of the growing light.

Decades before, a red, dwarf star had moved through the system's Oort cloud.

The resulting debris thrown toward the system happened to contain a few asteroids that were set to collide with the blue planet. Most of these rocks were small, merely unremarkable shooting stars. Two of these collisions, however, are much larger. The asteroid now visible in the night sky above the blue planet is merely a small taste of the future. In seven years, the main event will arrive on the surface. The first rock, currently visible in the night sky, is three fourths of a kilometer in diameter on average. The second rock is six and a half kilometers in diameter. It will affect weather and photosynthesis for many years, but this is not unusual in the geologic time scale., The second, however, is much larger, and far deadlier than the first. The red dwarf lingered within the oort cloud, moving slowly and causing not only a small burst of asteroids, but a sustained stream.

The smaller rock enters the atmosphere of the blue planet. Its course is direct, and burns white hot on entry. Most asteroids would burn up and fragment before colliding with the surface, but the rock is composed of mostly iron. Even before the asteroid hits the ground, shockwaves are traversing the globe. When the asteroid finally does collide, it is untouched by the friction of the atmosphere. The asteroid slams into the ground, pulverising rocks and destroying hundreds of miles of plantlife. The concussion of sound travels around the world nine times The debris from the impact is thrown up into the upper atmosphere, blocking sunlight around the planet.

The ecological effects of the first impact are catastrophic. The debris thrown up into the upper atmosphere by the collision blocked sunlight over the entire planet. Plants around the globe started to die over the next few weeks, causing a chain reaction of starvation among the tertiary consumers, and then the secondary consumers.

A vast volume of animals and plants died in this time frame. Many animals, in the desperation caused by the rampant starvation and drastic temperature decrease, migrated to warmer regions, islands of fertility. These areas are still ravaged by the climate change, but have endured the hit drastically better than places that were already this helped, but the warmer regions were quickly displaced with large numbers of non-native plants and animals. These large concentrations of herbivores attracted a larger than normal number of carnivores to very localized areas. One of the species relatively common in these locales is a small pack hunter.

This pack hunter is a bipedal species of carnivore, about seven feet tall at the head. They have an elongated body, following the basic plan of most theropods. This species, over uncounted years, gradually developed a basic form of nonverbal communication, transmitted from mind to mind. As pack hunters, these raptors only had access to a limited number of minds. As a result, they never gained sentience, never understanding more of the universe than what they needed to know to survive.

This ecological situation is not sustainable. Soon the plant life will be stripped from the fertile regions of the warmer areas. However, for a short time, and for the first time in millions of years, the small pack hunters are concentrated into small areas, with a large population density.

As more of these raptors, which would later call themselves the Vera, congregated in smaller areas, more of their minds became connected to each other.

Even as the ecosystem started to die from overpopulation, larger groups of Vera than naturally grouped together. In one of these groups, numbering more than a hundred, a spark of intelligence occurred in the minds of the first Vera.

Sentience was gained that day, and the pack hunters ceased to be animals and became sentient. With the ability to transmit data and thoughts instantaneously, and therefore being completely unified, the Vera began to progress faster than humanity ever has.

Within a year, the entire planet was a one hive mind, and every Vera worked to improve technology and their own understanding of the world they lived in. Without warfare, and with the ability to perfectly delegate thoughts and control their own minds, the Vera accomplished in seven years what would have taken another species thousands.

At two years, the basic fundamentals known to humans today were known to the Vera. The laws of gravity, electromagnetism, strong and weak nuclear force, and time were all understood to the level modern humans do. In three years, basic spaceflight had been achieved. By the fourth year, the moon and parts of space had several colonies, and communications between the planet and its colonies were firmly established. The planet was recovering from the rock, and The Vera had established laboratories where food was grown, rendering the Vera self reliant. It was during this year that the Vera noticed the second rock, dubbed "The Boulder," which was on a collision course.

In the fifth year, Fission reactors had been perfected and powered almost every Veran system. Due to the changes the Vera had made to their own minds, mistakes were almost unheard of, and fission reactors were considered completely safe. Several missions had been sent out to divert the rock from its course successfully until it's trajectory put it in a low earth orbit. The Vera wished to keep it in stable orbit for research, and as a symbol of the leaps they had made.

By the sixth year, hints of a method bending space offered the possibility of FTL travel. At this point, the idea was merely theoretical. Fusion reactors now powered most Veran systems. Not a single meltdown had occurred in a year and a half. Huge advancements in technology had occurred in biology, genetics, and nanotechnology. Seamless communication from the mind of a Vera and their computers was now possible. There was very little distinction between the two.

The seventh year saw many huge leaps in Veran technology and philosophy.

Nanotechnology now offered extended life, and good health in that time. The promise of eventual immortality beckoned on the corners of the Veran Imagination. The promise of eternal life spurred on the Vera, encouraging huge leaps in science. No longer did the Vera evolve in the old way exclusively, As The Vera Now designed their own cells intelligently. The Vera were growing stronger in both mind and body, as the last vestiges of weaknesses evolution had imbued them with were being erased by the changes they made. The limitations of Veran Minds were being overcome, but the singularity was not yet achieved, as Veran minds were extraordinarily intelligent, but The Vera could not artificially create new minds without resorting to raising a new, biological Vera.

The seventh year is drawing to a close in three dozen days. The Vera are advancing rapidly, and the future beckons with alluring promise of new horizons.

Chapter 1

The results were not promising. The "FTL drive" still stood, inert, on a raised pedestal in the middle of a white, clean vacuum chamber. Dozens of cameras mounted on every conceivable surface focused intently at the beam of light emanating from the large metallic device. Seeing through the camera, two Vera, and through them, many more, looked on, as the reading continued to stubbornly say that the beam was travelling exactly C, and not a bit more.

This is not working. Is there any sign that we are not achieving the optimal readings?

None at all. All readings are exactly where we want them

Except for the important one.

Yes.

Tharus did not understand it, and he felt a chorus of agreement, puzzled minds through his link. The math said that this should be working. Even as he knew that there was no error, the hive checked the math for the thousandth time. Not a single error. Reality seemed not to be complying.

Immediately, several ideas were suggested, but they all were simply small tweaks to minute parts of the experiment. All agreed that the likelihood of any of them working was infinitesimally small.

They were tried anyway.

No response.

I am out of ideas for the moment.

Understood. Shut the experiment down. We need to think about this differently; we are plainly missing something entirely.

With a click, the beam of light ceased, and the lights in the vacuum chamber dimmed. A small hissing sound indicated the return of air, and the two Vera disengaged from the link to the cameras.

I would have thought, had I seen the math before we started trying to work on this idea, that it would have been impossible for this experiment to not work. Tharus thought with frustration. The math suggests that the drive should function.

I am just as frustrated. I think we both need sleep.

They did not communicate consciously at all as they mentally briefed the replacements on the situation. Soon the two of them were exiting the complex.

Tharus looked over at the other Vera. Her scales had a faintly greenish tint to them, and her feathers were an unusual shade of metallic green-blue. She was much shorter than him. He could tell from faint body language that had survived the link that she was just as frustrated as he was. For some reason, the thought amused him.

Quara, do you want to hunt?

Hunt? why?

We are both extremely frustrated about the failure of this experiment. It is my experience that hunting is the best therapy in these situations.

Quara twitched her tail in thought. A hunt did sound enticing, and would certainly calm her restless mind. She would have, another time, loved to hunt, and would have said yes without hesitation. She was, unfortunately, very tired.

I am sorry, Tharus. I would love to, but I feel as though I am going to pass out if I have to stay awake a moment longer.

That is a shame. I love to hunt, It is a sport with infinite variations. It is impossible to not be engaged.

I know, but I need to sleep. I feel as though a hunt tomorrow would drastically help my state of mind, however. Perhaps we could hunt in the morning?

That sounds pleasant. I too need something to sooth my mind. We have both become unhealthily obsessed with this project.

Yes

Wordlessly, the two Vera parted ways as the pads came into site. Tharus walked over to his assigned craft, and halted, listening for a moment to the sounds of the night. He watched as Quara's craft, with only a whisper, flew off into the night. Thanks to enhancements to his night vision, he could see her craft for many miles before it disappeared behind a large, rocky craig.

Tharus took advantage of the relative quiet of the night simply to be, a quiet meditation to help him relax after a stressful day. After a small amount of time had passed, he got into his craft, turning it on. With the practiced skill of a pilot who had not just experience, but a natural inclination for, flying, he smoothly lifted off and, activating thrusters, silently glided into the heart of the small colony. The Veran race, Tharus reflected, had not existed for very long. While forces of nature had a huge impact on the topography of the environment, The Vera were not numerous, and thus relatively few buildings. Tharus had no doubt that, with time, The Vera would build much more than scattered infrastructure on the population did not demand much infrastructure, and the structures they built reflected that. Tharus knew that, in just a few years, This colony would be a bustling hub. As the population grew, This region would likely grow with it.

Tharus was going to miss the openness of the valley. There were still wild herds, and blooming pantlife. There was always the option to hunt freely, like the Vera had before the awakening. The lights of the colony already were starting to dim the watchful eyes of the stars. Perhaps, in a decade, they would not be visible at all.

The Vera were not so rash as to be planning on taking over the ecosystem totally. Already, there was a major project underway to collect tissue samples of every species on the planet, and to store them in case of a extinction level catastrophe, such as the rock that had sparked it all, or the expansion of the Vera themselves.

As Tharus briefly corrected for small air disturbances beneath the wings of his craft, he thought of how much change the Vera had already caused. In the geological time scale, The Vera has just come into existence a moment ago. In some ways the frantic pace of advancement was frightening, but the possibilities were even more enticing.

Tharus slowed the craft, and started to descend onto the pad on top of the sleeping complex. Even after the Awakening had taken full effect, It was hard to imagine what the future would bring. The concept of an FTL drive, for example, would have been inconceivable to the first Vera. Even predicting a year into the future was difficult, and rarely successful.

With the smallest of jolts, the craft landed. Powering down, the engines hissed slightly, releasing heat into the cool night air. Dismounting the wing, Tharus walked toward the building alone.

Not that he was ever truly alone.

Tharus listened in on the ongoing effort to discover the error within his mind. There was a multitude of voices, despite the late hour. He did not lend his own thoughts, as he was utterly spent.

While sleep was not as necessary as it was years ago, It was still a required part of life. Computers could, theoretically, accomplish the same job as the sleeping brain, without the requirement of hours of inactivity.

Surprisingly, when the first experiments were conducted into this idea, It was discovered that sleep has a huge physical and physiological effect. Theoretically, It was possible, with help from computers, to never sleep and survive. The chemical equilibrium of the body; however, was highly dependant on rest. Sleep, it turned out, was, additionally, hugely necessary physiologically. The mind functioned better when there was a definite boundary between days. Information was retained easier, and the mind was healthier.

For the time being, at least, Tharus still needed sleep.

Tharus walked into the building, the sudden burst of light from the complex had no effect on him.

Tharus walked to the lift, which opened automatically, soundlessly. He did not press any buttons, but the lift moved vertically five floors, then came to a gentle stop. The doors opened, and tharus continued down a wide hall, about one and a half times the height of Tharus. The walls were bare, made of a type of hard plastic, metallic in touch and appearance. Tharus slowed at a door, which opened without a word. He entered a small, functional room. To a male Vera, a nest was nothing more than a comfortable place to sleep, Tharus thought. Female Vera were much more fastidious about their nests, often preferring larger quarters, and more personalization. Even males often collected interesting or shiny objects to keep in their nests.

Tharus himself had a few such objects, but they were few and hidden.

Tharus layed down in his nest.

The FTL drive was unlike any project any Vera had attempted before. Every new jet, every new piece of technology had been completely possible. They might have been difficult, but always there had been a way. The FTL drive was different. He had been working on this project for a year, with hundreds of other Vera, and had received absolutely no positive results.

Never had the Vera been so stymied. A small amount of hope had arisen when a computer simulation had predicted success a hundred days ago, but as always, the results had been negative. The math checked out with the known laws of physics, but the fact remains that the light was still traveling at exactly C.

This was intensely frustrating. If the ftl drive did not work using a model of physics known, then there must be a component that the Vera simply do not understand. What this force was, was unknown. Until a major breakthrough in physics was understood, the ftl drive would likely be an insurmountable barrier.

But to imagine the benefits…

The ftl drive would open up the sky.

The Vera had already taken the first hatchling steps toward space, but traveling via newtonian propulsion was the equivalent of traveling around the world by continental drift. Agonizingly slow, difficult, and taxing The ftl drive would render the stars within reach, and the Vera would explore the universe, and the untold secrets within.

Tharus closed his eyes, and as the minutes passed, his breathing slowed and became regular. He slept deeply.

An unimaginable distance away, an explosion occurs

Seconds pass

Tharus wakes with a start.