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Alis In Darkness
by Michael Hahn

The smallest things can change the fate of planets

and turn a chosen heroine into a soldier of evil.

In the endless possible futures of Algol, the most terrifying one of all...

Is the one where nothing happens...

The little girl's name was Alis, and she lived in a big city, and had a brother named Nero whom she loved very much. He would tell her stories of other worlds, one of fire and one of ice, and she listened and wished with all her heart to travel to distant places. She looked at the sword her brother wore and asked him to teach her to fight. He laughed and told her she'd never need to know.

He told her stories of the great king who lived in another city far away. His name was Lassic, and when Nero spoke of him he spoke nicely, but always sounded a little worried. The little girl asked her brother if something was wrong, and he told her not yet.

The girl's name was Alis and she missed her brother when he went off to be a soldier. He came back as often as he could, but things weren't the same as she remembered. Her brother had a haunted look on his face sometimes. Once he suddenly asked the girl if she remembered wanting to learn to fight. Nero taught his sister how to use a sword. She thought back to her childhood and remembered that her brother had said she'd never need to fight. She never said a word. Things were changing.

The strange men showed up in town now. Robotcops, Nero called them, and said they were Lassic's men, watching the town. The girl didn't think he liked them much, so she decided she didn't like them much either. When Nero talked about Lassic now he didn't speak nicely at all.

The young woman's name was Alis, and she was shocked to see that her brother was dying in the middle of a crowd of frightened people, dumped there by the robotcops who were now just a part of life. They told him not to meddle in Lassic's affairs. The young woman didn't know what her brother had been doing. He had never spoken kindly of Lassic, but he had worked for him as soldier. Why had her brother been interfering with the king's business?

The young woman tried to get through the crowd. It looked like her brother wanted to speak to her. By the time she pushed her way through to his side, however, he was dead. A strange feeling passed over her. It wasn't grief, although she was crying as she had never cried before. She couldn't explain this other feeling, this sudden chill and the feeling of rushing winds blowing past her. She would feel this again.

Did you kill him? she asked the robots around her.  Did Lassic kill him?  Who killed my brother?  He was a traitor, they told the woman.  He betrayed Lassic and his people, plotted to kill our king, and for that crime he must die.  Are you a traitor?  No, she said sadly.  I am not a traitor.  But she knew her brother was.  She had felt the change in his attitude for a long time.  Yet she could never bring herself to believe that he would try to kill his king.  He had tried to speak to her before he died.  What was it he had tried to say?  An apology?  A wish to atone?  She felt a pang of shame for her brother's treachery, and wondered what had gone wrong.

The woman's name was Alis and she became a soldier, too, in spite of her mother's wishes. She felt that rushing sensation the day she signed up in Lassic's service. For a moment she wondered if what she was doing was right, but she remembered how much she loved her brother and how much she wanted to makeup for the mistakes he had made.

Life as a soldier was hard but not difficult.  The woman trained in the wilds of Palma.  She saw a statue of a tall man in a cave and learned the story of the deadly Medusa.  She fought against the Medusa and took its head for a prize, though it turned all around her to stone.  Her friends praised her but there was no word from the palace, only orders that she would be leaving.  The woman got to fulfill her dreams of travel when she was sent to Motavia to defend settlers from the attacks of the Motavian creatures. She was pleased to be on the front lines of Palman expansion. She had heard that those who had distinguished themselves on Motavia might be sent on to Dezolis. She hoped Lassic would notice her.

Only one thing in her years on Motavia sparked that strange feeling in her. On leave once she had wandered into a shop on Paseo and saw a most unusual animal for sale. She was hardly the type to keep pets, but there was something about this cat-like animal with its almost Palman eyes.  She felt the wind blow through her hair and thought again to the day her brother died.  She must work harder.

Motavia was brought to heel finally, and the woman realized she was still not satisfied.  There must be more to do.  She looked into the weary eyes of her friends and saw that they were tired of fighting, worried that their king demanded too much.  They were fools to oppose their king.  She wondered if she should report them.  The woman looked into the sad eyes of a blue-haired traitor, who had tried to defend the Motavian creatures with his power.  She listened to him plead for their lives, but Lassic had no mercy for traitors and she could do no less.  She executed him herself.  But there had been no word from her superiors, no thanks, no congratulations, no words that all was forgiven.  She would go on.

The woman's name was Alis and she went to Dezolis when Motavia was pacified. There were people on Dezolis! Not people like Palmans, but people! Still, they refused to accept Lassic's rule and they were slaughtered. It just didn't seem right to the woman, who remembered the man of Motavia whose words sometimes echoed in her head when she led another charge, but if there was one thing she had learned in her years of service it was to never question orders. People who objected to orders from the king had a tendency to die unexpectedly. She fought on the infinite plains of ice, and she fought underground in the Laconia mines.  She was there to stop a gas leak that could have killed hundreds of families.  She was well known on Dezolis, a brave woman who never turned from battle, no matter what the odds. New towns requested the woman's unit to defend them.

She expected she might receive a governorship on Dezolis for her outstanding service, but the office was granted to another, a friend of hers who served in the same unit. She never saw her friend again. The woman was mystified that she had never in all her years seen the face of the king of Algol. The man she served had never invited her into his presence, despite the fact that she was the hero of two worlds.

The old woman's name was Alis, and she looked back on her life with nothing but bitterness and regret. She had lived long enough to see the three worlds of Algol united under the rule of the one called Lassic, and she had lived long enough to see his face at last, when his new dark rule of terror began. She had been called to his throne room, where he had laughed at her, his most faithful servant, and told her that she had been the only possible thorn in his side.

Then the old man shape seated on the throne had been cast aside like one of the woman's old uniforms, and before her was a beast straight out of her deepest nightmares, so deep purple it was almost black, with blazing red eyes and a mouth full of fangs. This was the dark being she had served all her life, without ever realizing she had been destined to kill it.

Lassic laughed and laughed, in a terrible voice that seemed to resonate inside the woman's head.  When he spoke she heard the laughter still, like a terrifying chorus of evil.  Sometimes it sounded like a twisted mockery of her own clear laughter.  She realized she could not remember the last time she had laughed, or even smiled.   Only two things this king of darkness feared; the woman, and Laconia. And yet the woman served him, and had brought all of the Laconia in the system straight to him. He was truly immortal now, with no power under the sun called Algol that could harm him, and his reward to his lieutenant was to let her live, when all around her her friends would be dying.

The old woman wondered where things had gone wrong in her life. Why had she not realized that the king of Algol was a tyrant and a monster beyond imagination? But she had fought and killed in his service, and she had spread his rule across the system. There was nothing she could do now. It was far too late for everything. She missed her brother.

The dead woman's name was Alis, and as they laid her in the ground they envied her. She was the lucky one, who had gone on to a place where Lassic didn't rule, a place that was almost impossible to imagine. On three worlds, people lived or died at his whim, and the most terrible whim was life, because in Algol, life was unending pain and terror.

They were worlds of darkness, now, the planets of Algol, and when a new planet suddenly appeared in the sky, hordes of mindless slaves threw themselves against its crystalline defenses until it was broken, smashed to pieces for the glory of Lassic, and the last light of hope was quenched forever by darkness from the beyond the Edge.

The dead woman's name was Alis, and till the very day she died she cried out against fate and wondered where it had all gone wrong. Where had she sidestepped her destiny and condemned the people of Algol? The last thing in her ears was the same sound every Palman heard all their lives, the wild, shrieking laughter of their evil master, who laughed all the harder knowing the answer; that a brother's last words could have changed everything.

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