Written by: David Rex Bonnewell

Through the abyss of a netherworld it rode, onto a fertile plane of existence ripe for destruction. It sat high upon a living, breathing metal monstrosity of a vehicle. A roaring machine of death somehow forever bathed in the blood of countless victims of war like a brutal battleground. The driver was a towering, hulking abomination born of despair, driven by strife and fated to an insatiable hunger for war. It feeds on war, is The Instigator of war. It is war, and it will not stop until all are at war, for it understands nothing more.

It was summoned by the epic crescendo of an innocent-sounding melody emanating from a seemingly delicate glass globe, its base handcrafted from precious metals, an artifact no larger than the palm of one's hand. Ancient white ash – the remains of four accomplished horseman soldiers – floated freely amid translucent crimson liquid within the globe. There was an inescapable beauty to the simple device, despite it being sorely tarnished by the ravages of time...and, of course, of war.

Despite War's bloodthirsty demeanor, it often chose not to bring about destruction by its own hands, preferring instead to whisper in the ear of powerful world leaders with a suggestion of mass conflict so subtle and willful it could not be denied. But in the rare instances when such trickery proved ineffective, War would find another path. One that never failed it. One that shattered worlds.

Chapter 1

Daverex Newell stood poised and ready for action, legs spread apart, one foot a bit ahead of the other, knees bent slightly. Gifted with exceptional perception and agility, the tall, slender Lever 1 Tech'er always expected the unexpected and reacted with uncanny aplomb. Something had been gnawing at him for a very long time. It was a yearning for adventure, a desire that someday everything inherent in him, everything instilled into him, would be put to the test. That day was fast approaching.

Daverex closed his hazel eyes and took a deep breath in a dark, quiet room, aiding in the release of anticipatory tension. He then took a second deep breath, his every well-developed muscle twitching, his every sensitive nerve tingling. Then from somewhere in the distance a loud buzzer sounded. Daverex squinted slightly and darted his wary eyes from side to side, scanning his surroundings just as he was trained to do, when suddenly a beam of light from above and just behind him shone down upon a pedestal approximately four feet to his left. He did not recoil from the light's blinding brightness. Nor did he hesitate to lock eyes on the pistol which lay atop the lone pedestal. To do so would cost precious fractions of a second and, thus, his hard earned standing among his peers.

An instant before a hologram of a Hunter armed with a gamma canon appeared off in the distance, Daverex sprinted towards the pedestal and grabbed the pistol, its precise grip fitting into his palm like a handshake from an old friend. He knelt behind the pedestal, using it as cover from the artificial Hunter threat as he took swift aim with the pistol. He squeezed the trigger twice in rapid succession and two narrow red beams of light shot forth silently from the barrel. The first beam struck the hologram precisely at its temple. The second struck to the left of its chest. One in the head, one in the heart. Death assured, noise minimized, ammunition saved. Just as Daverex was taught from day one of field combat training.

Several racing heartbeats later, two more Hunter holograms flickered into existence. They appeared on either side of Daverex and were also armed with holographic gamma cannons. Daverex could sense a third assailant as well however, some distance behind him. He spun around and quickly recognized his long time friend and colleague Gaston Melchor who was holding a letter opener and wore a distinctive red patch over his left eye. Daverex raised an eyebrow as he called out, "Gassy, what the hell are you doing?" Gaston immediately began rushing towards him, awkwardly wielding the letter opener in a menacing way. Daverex was used to the randomness of this combat simulation though. Hell, he thrived on it. Nothing made him feel more alive than the chaos of the unexpected and nothing made the 26 year old level 1 Tech'er feel more vital than the seamless mastery with which he always handled it.

Daverex rushed forward to face his friend and the letter opener as he pictured in his practiced mind precisely where the red beam of light streaming from the pistol he just fired again should (and did) strike on the target to his right. Daverex then side-stepped to the right, avoiding the oncoming letter opener aimed at his midsection. Gaston's arm now fully extended, Daverex grabbed his friend's wrist at its sensitive pressure point with his right hand while firmly grasping the hilt of the letter opener with his left. Gaston winced and howled, "Mercy! I give up!" before quickly letting go of the letter opener. Daverex then twisted around to his left to face his third and final assailant, flinging the letter opener at its ugly head. The letter opener whipped through the air at blinding speed before plunging into its temple and then completely through its hologram skull.

"I said I give up, Daverex. That means you have to let me go. It really hurts, you know", Gaston pleaded.

Daverex turned back to look his friend in the eyes, "Huh?"

"My wrist...The thing you're still grasping tighter than your hopes of a Tech'er promotion."

"Oh, right. Sorry about that.", he said as he let go of Gaston's wrist, "But you still haven't answered my question. What are you doing here?"

Gaston rubbed his aching wrist, "You thrive on the art of surprise and I, good sir, am a humble artiste, at your service." He bowed low with a flourish and the roll of his uninjured hand before standing upright again. "Buy me a drink in the mess hall and we'll call it even."

"Why did you come at me with a letter opener of all things?", Daverex asked.

Gaston shrugged his shoulders and said, "Hey, it's not like I carry around a combat knife in my lab coat, buddy. Now, I'm going to assume you're not trying to change the subject regarding my modest fee for services rendered."

Daverex blinked for the first time since this training exercise began, as the holograms flickered out of existence and several bright lights connected to the rafters above completely lit up the room.

"I'm cutting your unauthorized extraneous activities short, Newell." The shrill, disembodied voice of Daverex's immediate supervisor, Ms. Talma Greene, echoed across the large room and pierced into his brain like an ice pick.

"The warden sounds truly pissed this time, my friend.", Gaston whispered as he clapped Daverex reassuringly on the shoulder.

"I wish to have a word with you in my office at once, Newell", Ms. Greene said as the clipped sound of her high heels on a metal grate gradually disappeared. Daverex felt scalded as though he were a child, and it took all the willpower he had not to lash out like one in front of his valued friend and colleague. Instead, he took a deep breath and let it out slowly before finally saying to Gaston, "It looks like I'll have to owe you that drink."

"I'm holding you to it!", Gaston called out as Daverex walked out of the room to face his pending retribution.

The interior of Ms. Talma Greene's office was an all too familiar sight to Daverex. He imagined it suited her quite well. The walls were as drab as her appearance and the sparse furnishings were as sterile as her personality. Her thick black glasses perched at the very end of her thin nose, Ms. Greene looked up from her computer screen long enough to notice Daverex begin to sit in one of the two plush grey chairs situated at opposite angles towards her desk. "Don't bother making yourself comfortable, Newell.", she said. "This won't take long."

The office was spacious, but narrow, with one long polycarbonate window encompassing the full length of one side. Daverex busied himself by looking out that window now as Ms. Greene continued to tap away at her keyboard. He knew better than to interrupt her. He had paid a heavy price for that little indiscretion on more than one occasion. The window overlooked the sprawling Tech'er inventor's laboratories, testing facilities and assembly floors below. Daverex looked at the same huge signs scattered about that he saw everyday of his life since coming to this complex. They all read in big, bold white letters, TECH'ERS MAKE A BETTER TOMORROW, TODAY! The propaganda was not lost on Daverex or his conscience. He watched with little real interest as a sea of inventors worked feverishly to accomplish just that goal. They looked like busy bees swarming about, he thought, and Ms. Greene was like their queen. Oh, yes. She was their queen bee alright, with a capital B! Queen Bitch of the Corporate Hive Circus.

Daverex was shaken from his thoughts by Ms. Greene's raised tone, "Newell! Are you listening to me?!"

"Sorry Ms. Greene. You were saying?"

"I asked you how you would rate your W.I.Q. this quarter."

"You mean my Weapons Invention Quota?", Daverex asked.

"Well, I certainly don't mean your Wondrous Intelligence Quotient, Newell.", she replied.

A sense of humor, he thought. How...odd. "Fair?", he answered.

"Try abysmal. Just like the two prior quarters. You have been warned about this before, Newell. So then, what do you have to say for yourself?", she said.

Daverex thought of a quick, if questionable, reply, "I think it's the quality that counts, not the quota."

"Thinking is for the production of results.", Ms. Greene said, and Daverex could have sworn he read that in the company manual somewhere. "Look, I like you, Newell.", she went on as she ogled him and licked her lips in a way that made him more than a little uncomfortable, "I really do like you a lot. That is why I have allowed your blatant ineffectiveness to go unpunished for the past two fiscal quarters. However, I am afraid that if I don't see tenfold better results on your next quarterly report, I am going to have to recommend your formal termination. At this point, I frankly do not care what you have to do to improve your current standing within this organization, nor do I care to know how you do it. Just get it done. It is after work hours now, so you may take some personal time to reflect on all that I have said. Be sharp when you come to work tomorrow, Newell." Daverex stared wide-eyed in stunned silence. For the first time in his life, he decided that surprises were not always gratifying, for he knew that "formal termination" was clean corporate speak for execution! Daverex decided now was probably a good time to have that drink - make that several very strong drinks - with his old pal Gassy.

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