Prologue

On the planet Mith Sul-Anroth

(Five Months Earlier)

          Mid of night. That single point in time signaling the death of the old day and the birth of the new. On earth a bell would toll or clock chime. On Sul-Anroth it was marked by the shadows of a moon, or the turn of stars in the northern sky. That is if it was marked at all. Most of this world rarely witnessed the mid of night. Fast asleep after the cook fires had died away. Slumber the reward for the days toil, each new dawn a gift from the gods.

            One of those gods watched over them as they slept. The Great Moon. The living moon. Deminal or SA-cee he was named, or a hundred others depending on the race of the believer or the sect he belonged to. That the moon held a living god none disputed, for only the Great Moon pulsed with life. The two other moons with which he shared the sky, wandered far and never changed. Grey and desolate. Dead things chasing each other on never ending paths. Not so with the Great Moon. He was constant. Always above them, no matter day or night. It was said by the elders that there was a time, far in the past, when the Great Moon had been truly dead. Had not pulsed with the inner fire. None truly believed this to be true because god was constant and never changing. They would simply believe the god had rested during those times, as he rested now. It had been half a season since the blue fire last covered his face. Then, in recent days the Great Moon had been very active, flickering in the sky, his face covered in bale-fire. The blue lightening making the shadows dance. Silent but comforting to those below. Now he rested again, whatever great task a god could be about was done.

            Mano’luk was one of the few wisdom seekers of the race known to the clans and the People as Aranu. A being that rarely slept. One who could foretell great things by the wiggle of a hoary-moth as it flew about the fire before plunging to its death. How many circles did it make, how many false passes before the heat finally consumed it. Almost any item, be it animated as a migrating bird or still as an ancient moss bearded tree. Whether it lived with a heart which pumped the heated blood of life, or lay long dead and desiccated in the grave. Whether the stone of the earth or the clouds in the sky, they each told him things that were unknowable to other mortals.

            Thus it was Mano’luk who stared at the sky as midnight approached. He sat cross-legged on a terrace of stone, chiseled into a high cliff before the small cave like entrance of the warren. The wide world lay before him and the vault of heaven above. Huge eyes, seemingly lit by an inner light of their own, looked out from underneath the partially cured furs of some hapless beast. Mano’luk was encased in the smelly covering, not bothered by the reek at all. As a statue he sat, watching the heavens for an event foretold, a change of worlds. He had no idea in what form that change would manifest, only knew that the earth had spoken and it would come to pass. His mind had wandered as it chased the possibilities. Earthquake or storm, enemies like a flood. Little did he know that it would be all those and more.   

            A flickering light caught his eye as the Great Moon suddenly sprang to life. Unconcerned he watched, thinking the god awaited the change as well. Then, just as suddenly, the blue light intensified, covering the moon entire in a display far more vibrant than ever before. The moon seemed to writhe in pain and the glow became unbearable to his night adjusted eye, the brightness penetrating the cave entrance and bringing forth two guards in curiosity. The flickering became a pulse of neon blue that seemed to rotate in great waves from pole to pole. Faster and faster came each beat until they matched the hammering heart in the Aranu seeker’s chest. He stood, his hide coverings falling forgotten about his feet, his thin shriveled body bathed in the glow beating down from heaven as if their god had become a new and alien sun.  Then the beating stopped and the moon became an intense blue wonder that flashed even brighter before being snuffed out.

            His guards gasped as the world went completely black. Mano’luk blinked away his tears, eyes squinted until once again he could see. Then the gasp he heard was his own. Where once a god had stood, now only empty space remained. The night was much dimmer with the loss of such a major source of light, and perhaps that doomed Mano’luk. He stepped forward, arms reaching for something that was no longer there. Maybe the world spoke to him, maybe the winds carried a message. If such could be so, the  words were lost forever. Mano’luk took one step too many. Without a cry he was gone, plunging from the precipice to the jagged rocks below. Gone was the Great Moon, gone was Deminal or SA-cee, and gone was Mano’luk, wisdom seeker of warren Kilkeep of the once great nation known as Aranu.

                

Dawn three days later.

            A seeker of wisdom from a far different race watched the coming dawn, drawn there by a need far more base than searching for a god. His need was due to an overfull bladder that screamed its displeasure. Still, as relief flooded his body, Niloc-al-teal pondered once more the loss of the moon. What it meant for the world and what it meant for the clans. As Mano’luk had waited for great change, so did Niloc. He had the first budding awareness that events long awaited were now unfolding. A legend or a prophesy or simply a false hope. Which it would be would not be revealed until much later, and as he stood there, his feet firmly planted on the ground, above him the herald of a new age streaked across the heavens.   

            The twentieth and twenty-first centuries had witnessed many shuttle reentries, all but one under control and all beautiful to behold. But this was not earth and this reentry was far more spectacular. Atlantis had been thrown from orbit by forces even twenty-first century man could not understand. Out of control and plunging through the green atmosphere far swifter than her designers meant, she streaked across the sky, brighter than any shooting star those on the planet below had ever seen. It was a near thing for the astronauts and the scientists they’d rescued off the ill-fated Unity, and an omen of portent for Niloc. The Atlantis burned bright and very nearly suffered the fate of Columbia as heat tiles failed and super-heated vapor burned holes through her wings. She bucked and screamed as she fell, but she was resilient and after a few moments the bright shooting star was gone. An afterimage in Niloc’s eye that would not be forgotten.

                   Though the Atlantis had ceased to glow in the early morning sky, her ordeal was not over. Her pilot fought to save her as she skipped along the upper reaches of the green tinged atmosphere, each bounce or twist a threat to roll the shuttle over and doom her to a headlong plunge to the ground. Fortunately, as they sank lower and the air thickened, the pilot’s control increased and Atlantis was  saved for the moment. But this was a planet two millennia beyond any semblance of civilization. This world had sunk from intergalactic travel to the depths of an old bronze age. There were no spaceports or airports on which Atlantis could land. There were no real roads. The best they the astronauts could hope for was a flat spot and great deal of luck.

            No one was there to witness when the Atlantis at last landed on this alien world. None saw as she skipped along the ground, making the earth quake with each strike. Each touch of the shuttles skin leaving behind a scar in the earth and scorched brush and trees, many of them burning brightly as if lightening struck. Had a clansman or Aranu warrior been near they would have been struck dumb as the shuttle took flight one last time. Leaping across a dry wash, she pan-caked with an incredible din. Atlantis abruptly stopped, her spine cracked open and smoke and dust obscuring her final resting place.

            To the alien warrior it may well have been a dragon come to claim him, breathing fire and destruction as it fell to earth. And had they overcome their terror long enough to bare witness, they would have changed the description from dragon to chariot of the gods.

            Soon after the shuttle stopped, a hatch opened and the ship disgorged its occupants. The first humans to visit an alien world. Dazed and unknowing of their fate. Not knowing if the air would kill them. Unsure what dangers inhabited the empty plains around them. Wondering that they were still alive, uncertain of their future. Stranded with no technology and no way home. Theirs would be an odyssey that would catch the clans up in a whirlwind, and bring one lonely man who’d lost his entire family, to prominence in service to something called a human. Niloc and Lt. Colonel James Macintosh “Mac” Crowe would discover each other. The lone survivor of Clan Sar-too and the Drakil-at’sakal who was destined to save them all.

           

            Several thousand light-years away, the destiny of another world was about to be shaken and redefined. The very force that put the Atlantis on the planet called Sul-Anroth, had blossomed suddenly and shockingly over a place called Earth. An event that sent shock waves through individuals, organizations, and governments alike. The very fabric of society torn asunder. Whether your home was called Earth or whether it was known as Sul-Anroth it mattered little. The world had changed, irrevocably and forever, and the cause and catalyst was a damaged and barely functional alien spaceship called Vi-t-ry.