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Chapter Twenty-Six

Once you are free from planetary perspectives, flying through space at untold speeds, it is a known paradox that your senses will lie to you. Stars move agonizingly slow, take minutes, hours to pass your view, as if your world has turned into a slow-motion trek through an invisible yet overpowering medium. Imagine walking through water while dragging a five hundred pound ball behind you... then change your walk to a crawl and the ball to a mountain and that's what it feels like.

Of course your robotic guidance systems know the difference, and that knowledge keeps you from going insane.

Hapsby continued to announce the closing distance to Dezoris to the four passengers (for that's all they really were aboard the completely robot-controlled ship) in monotonic bursts. Five million kilometers. Four point nine. Four point eight. Four point seven. Myau had been listening to the count since the beginning, at kilometer one hundred twelve point eight five million.

Odin had shut it out long ago, instead concentrating on practicing with his mystic Laconian axe, swinging deftly through the air. He had spent most of his life being intimately familiar with any particular weapon that he carried for a stretch, and having so little time to get used to this new axe before having to engage in inevitable battle had worried him. But with each passing minute, it became clearer and clearer to him that practice was unnecessary. The axe was an extension of himself. The axe was becoming accustomed to him, adapting to fit his own style. It was inexplicable, and yet he knew it was true.

Alis and Noah resumed their pseudo-Esperic training. She continued to explore the world known to the elite few, glimpsing views of reality that had previously only existed in fantasy. With some concentration, Alis had enabled herself to increase the potency of the sole spell she could perform, that of the Desan-inspired healing. Noah had shown her how related that spell and the ancient Esperic method actually were, which had surprised them both. Despite her desire to learn more offensive skills, Noah was adamant in taking her through each basic step as if it were of paramount importance.

Point three. Point two. Point one. Point zero five. Secure all passengers.

Odin returned to his seat, and each hero strapped on the large seat harness. The craft began to vibrate, soon shaking disturbingly. Hapsby's voice was unchanged.

Enter Dezorian upper atmosphere. Shields nominal. Through the viewport, the blue-ice world that had loomed before them in the distance now filled the screen, colored a deep reddish-orange as its light passed through the wall of flame the covered the small ship.

Braking. Touchdown in two minutes.

"This is the part of the ride I like the best..." said Odin with a grin. "We should do this more often!"

"Why... so rough...?" questioned Myau amidst the increasingly violent vibrations. "It wasn't his bad on the other planets..."

"Dezorian climate," said Alis, who was holding tightly to her harness, her eyes squeezed shut. "Luveno mentioned that the strong storms here will make things difficult."

Soon after, when it appeared the craft would fall apart from the stress, the effect began to subside. A minute later, there was nothing more than a slight hum. "I guess we've..." Alis was cut off as a hard jerk rocked the ship. And then everything was still.

Touchdown.

- - - - - - - - - -

Generations ago, Skure was nothing more than a point on a map. The Palmans had discovered space travel only a few years before, and had begun (in amazingly short time) to send manned missions to the distant ice planet. At first, the missions were simple scouting efforts; nothing was accomplished that couldn't have been done better or faster with a robotic drone. But the Palmans needed, as humans, to experience the new world for themselves. They could not have forseen what happened.

It was on the fourth manned mission to Dezoris that the crew of the SunSparc first encountered native Dezorians. The crew was killed on the spot.

The next mission launched a scant six months later. This time the crew had been prepared with the best weapons Palma had to offer. They still sought peaceful interaction with the Dezorians, but now knew of the danger posed by the aliens, for the external cameras aboard the ship had transmitted the entire occurrence back to Palma.

Landing nearby where the SunSparc had settled, they immediately saw that the ship had been thoroughly scavenged, presumably by the Dezorians. The ship's hull and interior were covered with moderate to thick layers of ice and snow, but the crew could still manage to look inside. Circuit boards had been ripped out, computer panels had been removed, leaving only dangling masses of frozen wire behind... the reinforced omni-glass viewport had even been taken.

After reporting these findings to the Palman launch base, the crew was ordered to proceed in the hopes of again meeting the Dezorians.

The next encounter did not fare much better than the first. Upon being attacked by the tall, lanky green aliens, the crew fought back. Both sides of the small parties suffered great losses. In the end, two surviving (but wounded) Dezorians escaped, leaving their dead comrades behind in the snow. Of the twelve man crew of the SunSparc II, only three made it back to Palma alive.

- - - - - - - - - -

Over the next tens of years, subsequent missions to Dezoris had yielded remarkable gains, considering the results of the first contacts. It was discovered that the Palmans and Dezorians shared some common language elements, and high-level communication came after a while. Although both cultures were intrigued by the potential gain of interaction, mutual animosity and xenophobia managed to limit cross-cultural environments. Less than a quarter century ago, the Dezorians allowed the Palmans to found their own town on the planet, in exchange for knowledge of Palman technology. The transplanted Palmans were allowed to govern themselves, but outside of town, they were subject to the harsh rule of the Dezorian dictatorship.

And Skure was born. Amidst the desolation and repression of both the environment and the native government, a thriving mini-community existed. Since trade with the Dezorians was frequently too one-sided, they eaked out a living mining ore and rare gems to ship back to Palma. The average family in the town led a modest life; they found elevation in psychological, rather than physical terms.

And then the king came. The King of Algo (though, more precisely, the Palma and Motavian ruler) left his position to join the fledgling community named Skure. Having been dissatisfied with the structure and obligations of being a king, he went on a sabbatical to the ice world, where his natural leadership and engineering prowess could be more concretely utilized.

Although the people on Palma and Motavia were saddened to see their beloved king go, he left the kingdom in the able hands of his two most trusted advisors and best friends, Sirus and Lassic. Sirus had assumed the role of governor on Motavia, while Lassic was granted the title of "Acting King" to rule over Palma. Though not as popular as the true king, they both proved to be effective in managing the two worlds.

After taking a few weeks to transplant himself to Dezoris, the king finally brought his wife, the queen, and his infant son to the Skure colony. Initially, the plan was to leave the boy in the care of someone back home to spare him the harshness of the climate, but the king changed his mind when he discovered how friendly and family-like the small community was. Although he was still the de facto ruler of the town, he and his wife fully merged themselves into the society, downplaying any feelings of royalty/servitude that might develop. At every occasion he deferred authority to the town council, offering only his advice and experience.

In somewhat of a surprise, the queen gave birth to a second child only a few months after arriving at Skure. The entire community celebrated the new addition to their growing family, throwing a town-wide party. The royal couple named her Alis, princess of Algo. Though the king still held no desire to reassume his official rule, the people of Algo were happy to believe that someday either of his heirs would emerge to guide them towards a new, even brighter future.

The horrors that were to befall the royal family in subsequent months could never have been forseen in a climate of such hope and optimism. A series of events that began when the king first set foot on Dezoris were about to explode into a frenzy of activity, eventually bringing all of Algo to its knees under the tyranny of King Lassic.

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