Okay, so I’ve been at work on the prequel novel. I’ve managed to put something together that feels like it is going to be the Prologue, or perhaps, the opening chapter. Not sure yet.
It starts with a conversation between Raul Valdez (Hugo Valdez’ father) and Lewis Edwards (Laina’s grandfather and eventual founder of Omega Research Corporation).
So here it is for your reading enjoyment or disdain:
Age of Majesty – Prologue (Draft):
"Do you like my farm?" Raul Valdez asked him.
Lewis Edwards looked back at him, unable to elicit an immediate response as he attempted to visualize from memory the beauty of a farm. He looked around them— wet, brown mud, military wreckages, a perpetual haze hugging the ground, which personified the fog of war. He then caught the scent of burning human flesh in the air— a grim reminder of what was feeding the random fires around them. And then there was the sky.
What sky? he thought.
It was now a curtain of death covering them, a shadow forever severing them all from a distant past in which man remembered what it was to be human.
"So, you don’t like my farm?" Valdez said, gesturing toward the wasteland around them.
The ‘farm’ Valdez joked about was a series of rows that he made in the mud, comprised of helmets and rifles from the fallen— some were Valdez’ men, some were Lewis’. The Cuban colonel had a somewhat twisted and sadistic sense of humor— but despite this, and at the cost of what remnants of humanity he had left in him, Lewis laughed.
And for that brief moment he forgot about the war, the fatigue, the lacerations on his body, even about the radiation sickness that devoured him and his weary army. Even as he laughed, Lewis knew that he should not have laughed. What he should have done was pull out his pistol and shoot the colonel in the fucking head.
Yet, he did not even try to reach for his sidearm. The truth was that he did not have the true desire anymore to back up that act of patriotism. After everything they had endured, neither Lewis nor his enemy, who stood a mere two meters away from him, had any humanity left to fuel their past convictions.
"That doesn’t look like a farm to me," Lewis said.
Valdez stared on silently, not directly at him, but seemingly past him. As they stood alone in the field surrounded by the ghosts of the fallen, Lewis took note of the condition of the enemy commander. He did not have his protective helmet on, his gloves were off, and his shirt was unzipped and open— as if daring to invite the radiation to attack him.
It was this exposed skin that showed the true damage to the colonel– thermal radiation burns ran across his chest like tracks left by a mech, piercing the forest of body hair and leaving crusts of skin that hung in scaly clumps. Valdez should have limited his exposure, or at least kept his protective garments on.
Lewis looked down at himself and realized, somewhat ironically, that his own attire nearly mirrored the colonel’s. Tears in his suit’s fabric parted open, inviting in a chill wind that blew through the barren valley. His gloves were also gone, not purposely… at least he did not think it was purposely. They were the highest-ranking commanders left in the two opposing armies, yet they both looked like conscripts.
"Capitán," Valdez began, his voice almost a whisper. "Do you even remember what a farm looks like?"
Despite trying to force the colonel into explaining the reasoning behind this summons, he instead found himself trying to piece together remnants of memory that would draw in his mind’s eye what a farm looked like.
In that moment of recollection, their eyes met and Valdez cracked a thin smile. They both nodded silently. They both knew what brought them to this meeting.
"What are you proposing, Colonel?" Lewis asked.
"We are not here as military men," Valdez said. "We are here as what is left of humanity. Call me Raul."
Lewis nodded. "Lewis."
Valdez extended his hand, Lewis took it and they shook.
"Mucho gusto," Valdez said, then gestured to a pair of helmets on the ground that would function as seats. Valdez sat first and Lewis took one of the helmets, deliberately choosing one he recognized as belonging to one of the colonel’s men, and then moved it opposite him to sit.
As he let the weight of his body fall onto the helmet, he felt the scream of aching muscles overpower him. Despite his attempts to keep a strong presence in front of his adversary, he let out a grunt. As if feeling his embarrassment, Valdez grunted in return and grabbed his own side. A noble gesture.
"This has stripped us of humanity," Valdez said. "But you see, here we are as humans again, feeling the pain of la Vida… life."
Valdez suddenly grabbed Lewis by the arm, too quickly for Lewis to even react.
"Lewis, don’t you see," he said. "Even the pain is refreshing. It reminds us… reminds us of what human even is!"
Lewis pulled his arm free and reached into his pocket for a bottle. He dropped two pills from it onto his palm, popping one into his mouth and offering the other to Valdez.
"Remind me of that after you take this pain reliever," he said.
"No!" Valdez held his hand out. "My memory must not be as good as you— I need the pain to remember."
Lewis put the meds away and took in a deep breath.
"Let’s get to it then," Lewis said. "The supply lines are cut on both sides, and we both know that our respective leaders want concessions we can’t…"
"Leaders!" Valdez interrupted. "Lewis, there are no leaders— have you heard nothing I said hombre?"
Lewis leaned back, shaking his head.
"I don’t understand what you’re trying to say…"
"Yes you do!" Valdez waved his fist in the air. "Lewis, you know what we must do… we must break the news to the men."
Abruptly, Valdez rummaged through his shirt pockets and produced two sticks, one he offered to Lewis.
"Cigars," he explained. "Cuban of course. Created from tobacco farms on my homeland."
Lewis took it and slowly inspected it.
Valdez bit the end of his and spit it to the ground.
"Have you ever smoked one, compadre?" Valdez said.
Lewis smirked and then bit the end of his off, spitting it onto the ground.
"Do you have a light for this Churchill?" Lewis said.
Valdez grinned as he rummaged through his pockets, coming up empty-handed. He then gestured toward a small pocket of flames nearby. It was a crater with what looked like the remains of a few soldiers in it.
"Do you think it is disrespectful to take the light from our fallen?" Valdez mused.
Lewis looked over, not really having the energy to debate the morality of it, he shrugged.
Valdez stood and walked over to it, he hung the cigar over the flame as he spoke.
"Last night, I had a dream," he began, "in that dream you and I were here, in this meeting. Talking like we are now."
Lewis silently watched the colonel twist the cigar over the fire until it caught the flame.
"In the dream, we told the men that the war was over. And then it became over."
The colonel put the cigar in his mouth and drew it in, igniting it fully. Valdez then walked back, hovering over him with cigar in hand.
"After this a beautiful thing happened, " he continued. "La Tierra... Earth—was reborn!"
Valdez drew the cigar to his lips, but hesitated before smoking it.
"Lewis, we must tell the men the war is over," he said. "You and I must end this war so that the world can be reborn. It is the only way."
Rather than cast away the notion of going with this idea, he found himself considering it.
"It would be short-lived," Lewis said. "The lie would only last until word got back to command…"
Valdez looked down, pursing his lips.
"Lewis, it is only a lie," Valdez began, "until we make it real."
Valdez reached out with his lit cigar.
"Let us make this pact," Valdez said. "As men. Not as instruments of government. I will return to my camp and tell my men the war is over… and you will do the same."
It hurt to smile, yet Lewis could not help but smile at this unusual meeting. He put his cigar out and touched the lit end to Valdez’.
"Even if we do this, Raul," he said. "How will we keep this lie going back home?"
Valdez shook his head and smiled. "It does not matter. These things create a life of their own… like a flame…"
At that moment, Lewis’ cigar lit up and began to smoke.
Lewis put the cigar to his mouth and took in the aroma. He had forgotten what a good cigar tasted like… and this moldy replica only gave a mild reminder of it.
"This cigar tastes like shit," Lewis said, not caring if it insulted the colonel.
Valdez did not appear insulted as he chuckled.
"Then let’s fix this world up, " he said. "So that we can plant a real farm and make some real cigars again."
The two stood up, but they did not shake hands this time, they saluted. They were no longer two equals in a friendly chat, they were now military men on a mission. They both about-faced and marched away from each other to their respective camps.
For the history books, the meeting never happened. Instead, historians would write that the war ended when the leadership of the respective nations came to a peaceful accord. An agreement that even though they lost their cities, their crops, their soldiers and their families— they still had some humanity left worth saving.
At least, Lewis thought as he marched back to his men. I hope that’s how it turns out…