This story is set long before any of the Ratchet & Clank games take place, but since it details a history that is supposed to be revealed over the course of the Future saga, it still constitutes spoilers for those games. Maybe I'm not the first person to attempt telling this story, but I decided to do it anyway because I felt such a strong call to it... We never got to meet Kaden in the actual games, but everything we were told about him made me think that he must've been a really cool guy, and I wanted to explore his character. So, here it is— everything Ratchet ever wanted to know about his people, his family, and what happened to them. I don't know how often I'll be able to update, but I promise my sincerest efforts to see this project through to completion.

"However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all. But let them remember the days of darkness, for there will be many..."

Ecclesiastes 11:8

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"Hold it, Kaden!" Alister Azimuth called to his friend, a Lombax about a year younger than him. "You're going too fast! What if the Vullards see us?"

"Oh, come on, Al, you know they're all gone for the day," Kaden replied over his shoulder. "Besides, you're going way too slow!"

The gutsy teenager jetted ahead in his hoverboots— laughing at him, the little showoff— just before turning a wide bend and gliding into the mouth of a huge cave.

Alister muttered an insult under his breath, then smiled fondly and gave his own hoverboots a kick of extra juice to catch up. He followed Kaden eagerly, their footwear sputtering blue flames from the soles to propel them forward. The two friends laughed with exhilaration as they raced about the winding caverns, whooping and hollering through wide passages and narrow tunnels like they were running on air.

They stopped before a huge chasm. Kaden looked across, then smiled and jabbed Alister in the side with his elbow, saying, "I bet I can clear that shaft and land in the mining cart on the other side."

"Yeah, that's what you said last time," Alister reminded, "and you almost broke your arm."

"Emphasis on 'almost'."

"Sure, whatever," Alister muttered with a roll of his eyes. "Look, just wait here while I go down and raise the mining platform."

"Heck, no!" Kaden argued. "I'm not just gonna sit here and let you have all the fun."

"Okay, I'll wait then. Just don't do anything stupid down there."

Kaden nodded and glided down to the ground below, and Alister watched him pull out his wrench and set to work on the winch crank. Minutes later the bridge was up, and the two of them were racing through the mine once again.

At long last Kaden landed in front of a gaping black crevice in one of the cave walls, and he stared into its impenetrable darkness with a daring smile as Alister alighted beside him.

"Hey, Al..." he addressed his friend suggestively, turning to face him with a bold glint in his eye. "Feel like taking a leap of faith today?"

"Oh, no..."

Alister instinctively took a step back from his gutsy friend.

"Aw, come on!" the young daredevil prodded. "It's good to give the ol' nerves a scare once in a while, ya know? Keeps you on your toes."

"But don't you think that's too risky?"

Kaden just laughed as though Alister's were the face of Death and said, "Alister, we're Lombaxes. Risk is what makes us who we are."

"But, Kaden—"

"What's the matter? You chicken?"

"I'm not chicken, it's just—"

"You're planning to be a soldier, right? You can't get shown up by someone like me who's planning to be an engineer."

And with that, Kaden ignited his hoverboots and shot forward into the emptiness beyond the mouth of the crevice, disappearing completely in a matter of seconds. Alister gritted his teeth, his ears receding behind his head as he stared down into the gaping maw of his friend's foolhardy dare. At last he took in a deep breath, and activated his boots to launch himself into the abyss before him.

He closed his eyes, just to offer himself a less unsettling reason for the pitch black all around him. For a long, torturous moment, the only sound he could hear was his boots burning steadily as they suspended him in the air, carrying him slowly toward who-knew-where. Just when he thought he might have a panic attack, he felt the sudden jolt of solid ground beneath his feet.

"What did I tell you?" Kaden said (though it was still too dark to see his face). "Was that a rush or what?"

"Yeah, exhilarating," Alister muttered sarcastically. "Now light a flare, would you? I can't even see my hand in front of my face."

"All right, all right, hang on..."

A few seconds later a greenish flame sparked to life in Kaden's hand, illuminating the two Lombaxes' faces... as well as something else nearby. Kaden and Alister both froze as they heard a familiar skittering sound, and they slowly turned their heads in unison to look behind them. Looming not twenty feet away from where they were standing was a gigantic tetramite nest, it's vicious inhabitants already swarming toward the source of the disturbance.

"Oh, snap," Alister muttered under his breath, and instantly he and Kaden jetted off as fast as they could while a wave of angry flesh-eating insects teemed after them.

This was bad. Alister knew that if the tetramites caught up with them they'd be mincemeat in no time flat, but it was dangerous to be going so fast when they couldn't see. He had to think of something now if they were going to survive.

"This way!" he shouted, turning sharply to the left in hopes that they could throw off the swarm if they took advantage of their maneuvering ability.

"No, wait!" Kaden screamed. He threw his torch ahead as hard as he could, and as the small stick spun wildly off into the distance, its soft green light momentarily lit up the area dead ahead. There Alister saw yet another horror too late to be avoided: to their immediate left, as far as they could see, there was a steep, rocky incline laden with boulders and loose gravel— all of which were beginning to tumble down. The friction of their hoverboots had triggered a rock slide.

"Come on!" Kaden yelled as he jetted past his dumbfounded friend, straight into the danger zone, and for once, in spite of his terror, Alister agreed with his bold decision. There was no point going back and getting devoured by tetramites, and if they had to jet through a cave in the dark, they were safer heading into a rock slide where they knew there was solid ground ahead than they would be flying off an invisible cliff and getting impaled on a stalagmite. Still, he somewhat doubted their chances.

Sound was the only sense that Alister could rely on in his desperate position, so he strained his ears to hear the crashing and crumbling that the approaching rocks issued in warning. He also struggled to tune out the threatening cry of the insects swarming close behind him. His heart raced as he banked and dodged repeatedly every second, praying his luck would hold out until...

Light! Just ahead, he saw a beam of light, streaming into the cave from a source beyond his field of vision. And another answer to prayer: Kaden swooped into sight from the left, matching his companion's course and pace. Smiling with rekindled hope, Alister blasted forward at top speed.

But it wasn't too late for something else to go wrong. Just as the source of the light was about to come into view, his left hoverboot sputtered balefully. Mortal fear paralyzed him as he looked down and saw that the boot was failing. The stream of flames that was normally steady now coughed forth in uneven spurts, and seconds later stopped altogether.

He screamed, expecting to spin out of control and meet with a grisly end, but just then he felt a hand clasp hard around his left arm.

"Hang on!" Kaden exclaimed, and he banked to the right, swinging Alister around on his outside curve. They found themselves in a huge room, and immediately saw the opening in the cave where sunlight was streaming in... Unfortunately it was some distance away, and the ground at their feet abruptly ended in a steep drop. The two Lombaxes shrieked as they tumbled through the air, plummeting into darkness once more.

Alister's body was suddenly enveloped in icy cold, and when he couldn't draw breath to gasp he realized he was underwater. He flailed his arms and legs to propel himself upward, and inhaled with deep relief as he broke the water's surface. Kaden popped up beside him a split second later, and the two of them coughed for a few seconds as the pounding of their hearts settled down. They were safe. Wet and cold and thoroughly rattled, but safe. The dangers of falling rocks were behind them, and they both knew that tetramites would never follow them into the water.

Alister looked up and saw the opening in the cave wall, spilling delicious sunlight onto the surface of the large pool that had saved his life. He sighed in relief, then turned to Kaden and condescendingly muttered, "Well, that was fast, dangerous and fairly pointless."

"It's called an adrenaline rush," Kaden said, smiling with excitement.

Alister turned fiercely on his companion and asked in disbelief, "Are you serious? You thought that was fun?!"

"Didn't you?"

"Okay, you know what, Kaden? I think I've finally figured you out. You're crazy. That's all there is to it. You're stinking insane!"

"Oh, calm down. We're still alive, aren't we?"

Just then a bubble of air broke the surface of the water right between them, commanding their attention. Worriedly the twosome peered down into the murky water below... and noticed that it was darkening. They looked up at each other wearing the same knowing, terrified expression.

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"That thing almost ate us!" Alister huffed as he and his friend hiked away from the cave. They went barefoot down the rocky slope, carrying their soaked, dysfunctional hoverboots.

"Emphasis on 'almost'," Kaden pointed out.

"No, emphasis on 'ate us'!" Alister heaved a moan-like sigh and held up one boot to examine it, ruefully adding, "Not to mention we totaled our hoverboots."

"Don't be such a whiner; you know I can fix 'em."

"You'd better!" Alister grumbled, managing a brief frown that quickly transformed into a smile. He gave his friend a hard time— a practice that was by now both mutual and virtually obligatory— but he couldn't deny how much he respected Kaden's brilliance. Lombaxes as a race were famous for being good with technology, but Kaden was exceptionally gifted. The phrase 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' didn't apply to Kaden. When he set out to 'fix' something, whether it was broken or not, it would be better than new by the time he got through with it.

Alister sighed and stared up at the darkening evening sky. Already the first few stars were sparkling in the rose canopy overhead, even though the sun had only just begun to set. It was a lovely sight, but Alister regarded it with a passive glare.

"If only dark caves full of flesh-eating bugs were the most dangerous things out there."

"Yeah..." Kaden said, matching his friend's distant, somber tone. "It's hard to believe that while we were in diapers the generation before us was overthrowing an evil empire."

"Well, we didn't exactly get off scott-free, you know," Alister reminded. He didn't need to hide from his best friend the way he felt about the Great War— how its end was, in his mind, something of a Pyrrhic victory. The Cragmites might be gone, but the galaxy's troubles were far from over. With the 'evil empire' no longer in power, the Polaris galaxy had slipped swiftly and surely into anarchy. And that was only half the damage.

"I know," Kaden muttered understandingly. "We lost a lot... You lost a lot."

Alister dipped his head sadly, loath to be reminded of his grief.

"Your father was a great soldier, Alister," Kaden said comfortingly. "He lived well, and he died well. He left a legacy to be proud of."

"Yes, he did," Alister heartily agreed. "And I will follow in his footsteps... Mark my words, someday I'm going to make a difference in this galaxy. Right, Kaden?"

No answer.

"Kaden?" Alister glanced over his shoulder and noticed that Kaden wasn't walking alongside him anymore. When he turned around he saw him standing a few paces back, facing to the left and staring intently, captivated by whatever it was he'd seen.

Alister rolled his eyes and walked over to him, then followed his line of sight to find out what had him so dumbstruck. Nearby, a young girl Lombax was harvesting nectar from a Breegus Wormroot. She had her back turned to them, but Alister knew who she was. All he needed to recognize her was to see her sleek, cream-colored fur with highlights of a lovely hazel.

"Nayeli," he muttered. "Why am I not surprised?" He turned to look at his entranced friend and blandly suggested, "Why don't you just go talk to her?"

"What would I say?" Kaden wondered aloud in a defeated tone. "'I think you're the most beautiful girl on this entire planet. Some weather we're having, huh?'"

"Remind me again which one of us is chicken."

Kaden gave his friend an annoyed look.

Alister laughed and went on, "Seriously, Kaden, what is it about you and that girl? You get around her and all that daredevil instinct and adventurous spirit just sort of goes: poof! You go from savage jungle tiger to purring little house kitten in all of two seconds and she doesn't even have to look at you." He glanced over Kaden's shoulder behind him and raised an interested eyebrow as he continued, "I'm curious what you would do if she came up and started talking to you."

"Well, if that ever happens, believe me, there's no way you'll ever find out about it."

"Hello there," a soft, friendly voice greeted out of the blue, and Kaden spun around to see Nayeli standing right there. Her warm smile instantly changed into a worried look, and she softly exclaimed, "Oh my, what happened? You're both soaking wet!"

Alister hastened to explain, "Well, this genius thought it would be a good idea to hoverboot off a rock ledge into the middle of— Ow!"

Kaden frowned sharply as he whacked his friend on the back of the head with one of his hoverboots.

"Oh, don't worry, we're fine," he babbled, waving his hand to dismiss her concern. "We just ran into a little trouble while hoverbooting and—ended up going swimming."

"Don't you mean 'fishing'?" Alister interjected, then got it in the stomach with Kaden's other hoverboot.

"Are you sure you're all right?" Nayeli asked. "Is there anything I can do?"

Alister stroked his chin and suggestively said, "Well..." and then dodged another of Kaden's hateful swings, leaving his friend to spin around from the weight of his weapon and fall over with a loud thump. "Ha! I win," he stated triumphantly, shooting a vengeful smile down at his vanquished foe.

Nayeli held a loose fist to her lips, suppressing a giggle. "Here, let me help you," she said, offering Kaden her hand.

Kaden sat up with his eyes closed, cradling the back of his head, and froze when he saw the arm extended toward him.

"Th-Thanks..." he stuttered, gingerly taking her hand.

Nayeli helped him to his feet, then averted her eyes and implored worriedly, "Please be careful out there, you two."

"Okay..." Kaden replied automatically.

"So what are you doing out here by yourself, Nayeli?" Alister asked. "It's getting late, you know."

Nayeli smiled and answered, "My mother needs nectar for some tea she wants to make. I was actually just about to head home."

"Well, since we're going to the same place, would you like us to walk you home?" Alister enjoyed the mortified look that Kaden shot his way.

"Are you sure?" Nayeli asked.

Alister turned to his companion and said, "I don't know, Kaden, are we sure?"

Kaden met Alister's sarcasm with an icy glare, then turned to Nayeli and tried to keep a straight face as he told her, "Yeah... we'll walk you home."

"Thank you," Nayeli said with a smile.

"No problem," Alister replied, donning a smile of his own while he gave his friend a teasing pat on the shoulder.

The time passed quietly for a while as the threesome walked the long, deserted path toward town. The sun had just set, bathing the stony landscape in a soft twilight glow. It was the one time when the boring, desert-like environment of Lumos looked truly beautiful.

Alister looked to his right and saw Nayeli, who seemed content to look up at the sky where the first stars of the night were just beginning to twinkle. He looked to his left and saw Kaden, who kept decidedly silent with his head low, as though he were ashamed. Then he looked straight ahead with a roll of his eyes, suddenly sure that it was no accident he'd ended up in the middle. He knew Kaden was shy around Nayeli, but this was ridiculous. It seemed to him that any effort to play matchmaker between these two would be a lost cause— not that he was trying to do any such silly thing. Still, it was pretty pathetic to see his best friend, who was normally a picture of boldness and unwarranted confidence, reduced to such a sorry state at the hands of a mere female. Maybe he shouldn't have offered to let her walk home with them, after all.

He nudged Kaden with his elbow and quietly grumbled in his ear, "Say something, stupid!"

Kaden swallowed and hesitated for a second before nervously muttering, "So... S-Some weather we're having, huh?"

Alister smacked his own forehead, biting his tongue to keep himself from blurting out, 'Oh, for Heaven's sake!'

Nayeli didn't seem to think his idiotic comment was strange at all, though. She just casually replied, "Oh, I know! This is my favorite time of year because it's a good temperature at night, and I love being out at night! I love to look at the stars and the moon—kind of makes me want to go out there someday and visit some of those other worlds."

"I've been wanting to do that for a long time," Alister replied, latching onto the topic in spite of his earlier misgivings. "I can't wait to get off this dull little planet. Once I'm in the military, I'll get to see all kinds of different worlds and species, and maybe then I can actually do some good for the galaxy."

"So you want to be a soldier?" Nayeli commented, "That's wonderful!"

"Yeah, but it's not that simple," Alister said, "Lumos isn't a Lombax planet; we just have a settlement here. The formal military doesn't have any real presence on this planet."

"You could join the local militia," Nayeli suggested.

"I intend to. As soon as I come of age."

"Well, you're sixteen now, right? So that's only a year away."

"A year is a year," he argued. "I'm ready now. I don't want to waste my life sitting around waiting to be old enough to do what I know I should be doing."

Nayeli smiled and softly pointed out, "It won't be a waste if you use the time to prepare."

"Well said," Alister complimented, raising an impressed eyebrow. "Which is why I'm friends with Kaden. I doubt even the formal military has survival training half as good as hanging out with this clown."

Kaden shot him another cold frown while Nayeli giggled with amusement. Polar opposites, those two.

"So, how about you, Kaden?" Nayeli asked, purposely falling behind a step or two so she could see him. "Do you want to join the military too?"

Alister jumped in, saying, "Kaden would be wasted on any field that doesn't involve complex technology and some form of pyrotechnics. Right, buddy?"

"Well, that pretty much describes the military, doesn't it?" Kaden retorted.

Nayeli laughed again and said, "He got you there, Alister!"

Before Alister could respond, Kaden ventured to ask, "What about you, Nayeli? Any dreams for the future?"

Alister decided not to cut in this time. He was surprised his friend had worked up the guts to ask her a direct question, and he figured he should let him be for the moment.

"Hmm..." Nayeli murmured, staring thoughtfully into space. "Dreams, yes. Goals—not really. I mean, it's good to think ahead, but I have a feeling that any plans I came up with probably wouldn't work out, and then I'd have to accept a future I didn't plan on, anyway. I think, for someone like me, it's better to just wait and see what happens. Right now I'm just learning, growing, being the best I can be. If I can help others to achieve success in their own lives, that would make me just as happy as achieving my own success."

Kaden stared at her in amazement as he listened to her answer, dumbstruck even when she was finished talking. She turned to look at him and asked with mild concern, "Kaden, is something wrong?"

"N-No, nothing's wrong," Kaden replied, shaking his head as though trying to snap himself out of a daze. He let his eyes drift once more to his feet and added in a low voice, "I'm fine..."

Before long they reached Nayeli's house in the suburbs at the edge of the city. It was large and spacious, with a beautifully decorated exterior and a huge, well-kept yard. Alister had never seen where she lived before, and considered for the first time that her family must be fairly wealthy.

"Thank you for walking me home," she said with a smile and a slight bow. "Good night."

She waved and headed inside while Kaden stared longingly after her. When she was inside the house and safely out of earshot, he turned sharply on Alister and said, "That was not cool!"

Alister laughed as he turned and walked away. "That's payback for almost getting me killed."

Kaden frowned and dashed after his friend, and the two continued playfully arguing as they headed further into town toward their own homes.

Author's Notes:

Well, there you have it— the first chapter of what I hope will be a good story. I put a ton of thought into this, and tried my best to make sure I understood everything there was to know about the history and geography presented in the canon (I must've watched the key cutscenes a hundred times each *-*). But naturally, there were a couple of places where a detail I needed wasn't explicitly stated anywhere in the games, and when I encountered such areas, I took it upon myself to dream up something that I thought would make sense in the universe of Ratchet & Clank. After each chapter, I'll include a notes section like this one, explaining my reasoning on a few important plot points. This is just so that you can understand what was going through my head and why I chose to do things the way I did, so please don't feel obligated to read these notes.

- The Timeline of the Great War— This was the biggest problem I encountered when I set out to write The General and Kaden. In Tools of Destruction, the IRIS Supercomputer states that the Lombaxes banished the Cragmites 'eons' ago, but in A Crack In Time, Alister Azimuth talks about 'after the war' like it happened not too long ago. Maybe I'm just missing something, but this seems like a plot hole to me. Since I couldn't use both of these interpretations, I chose to go with the ACIT one, because it made more sense to me and served my purposes better.

- The Lombaxes' "Legal Age"— For the purpose of this story, I had to decide when Lombaxes come of age... that is, when they are considered legal adults. Since Lombaxes are pretty independent by nature (that's how they seem to me, at least), I thought 17 was a reasonable age to stick the label on. In this chapter, Alister is 16, and Kaden is 15 (hey, that's the same age as Ratchet in the first game, isn't it? ^-^).

- The Lumos Settlement— In ACIT, during the Raritanium mine level, Alister talks about how he and Kaden used to sneak into that mine after the Vullards left and hoverboot around. This left me with the vexing question: Where do Kaden and Alister live? It doesn't make sense for a couple of teenagers to randomly be on a strange planet playing around in mines, but Lumos is definitely a Vullard planet. My solution was for Kaden and Alister to live in a Lombax settlement on Lumos. I doubt I'll have the time/capacity to explore the history of this settlement, but I figured it was a reasonably believable way to have Lombaxes living on Lumos.

- Opening Verse— Ecclesiastes 11:8 actually goes on for one more line, but I decided to cut it off where I did because, well... it's just not smart to begin a story with the statement, "Everything to come is meaningless." ^-^

Thanks to everyone who takes the time to read this! I realize it's far from perfect, and I'm certainly open to constructive criticism, but I don't know how much time I can devote to improving it. I have big plans for this story, so if you like my beginning, please keep reading!