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Chapter One

The very earliest days after Alis Landale and her companions had heroically freed Palma from Lassic's grip were filled with immense celebration and rejoicing through the Palman worlds. Towns and cities that had been nearly crushed to death by Lassic's regime now saw the bright light of hope, a chance at salvation. Alis herself, the very center of the people's gratitude, had taken the title of Ruler of Algo, a title her long absent father had once held... though in truth the phrase "Ruler of Algo" meant far less than it implied.

After being introduced to the public by Sirus, Governor of Paseo, and having her and her companions' achievements explained, her very first act as ruler was to declare that the planet Motavia, long a subsidiary of Palma's dominion, would now be completely free and independent. Going even further, she offered her own people, the Palmans, the opportunity to elect representitives to serve themselves in a governing council. She was imitating the successful system that Paseo had instituted, taking guidance from Sirus, who had once worked alongside her father. The people took to the idea quickly, but they also wanted her to remain in command, so endeared had they been to her in so short a time. She represented everything that was good under her father's short rule, and her courage and strength stood as a beacon to the weary people. And so she, the Queen of Algo, sat at the head of the Palman Governing Council. It would be their duty to guide the planet along its future course.

But the excitement and elation of those early days soon gave way to the crushing reality of Palma's dire situation. Lassic had bled the planet dry, and it would be years, generations even, before it would approach its former glory. The economy was in total collapse; crime and poverty were rampant throughout the larger cities. Although the threat of monsters had been reduced to its low levels prior to the corruption of Lassic, what few businesses that were left had no incentive to begin inter-community tradings again; there was simply no money to be made, by anyone. It was no surprise, then, that nearly every element of action the Council discussed in its first few weeks of inception in some way involved restoring the economy.

Buried within the settlements were pockets of disease and malnutrition caused by the lack of food and proper medical supplies during the final years of Lassic's reign. The hospitals could not keep up with the demand now as thousands of would-be patients clamored for help. 'Mobile Clinics', as they came to be called, brought emergency assistance to desperate areas, but the lack of supplies limited their effectiveness.

No single town on Palma embodied the condition of the planet more than the man-made floating island of Drasgow. Having long since been cut off from the mainlands, the residents of the town had been dying a slow, painful death. Although Dr. Luveno had, under direction of Alis, managed to smuggle a small amount of foodstuffs and medicines to the town weeks ago, by the time the first official relief troops arrived, more than two thirds of the population had been wiped out. In a somewhat gruesome, yet wholly necessary turn, the survivors had taken to throwing the bodies of those who had passed away into the surrounding ocean, both to prevent even more disease from spreading, and because it temporarily increased the amount of fish and other creatures that could be plucked out of the water and eaten.

This was the climate of the world that Alis now presided over. Its calls would weigh heavily upon her in the years to come, one so young as she.

- - - - - - - - - -

The architects of Palma's plague were in no fine state themselves. The Earthmen, who had labored for years to take Palma for their own, now found all their intricate plans laid to waste under Alis' heel. Lassic, the man they had relied upon to wipe out the people of Palma, had failed, killed by the results of his own machinations. The Dark Force, their token god, had been defeated; before he could attempt the Great Merge that would link his own dwindling power to that of another of his 'brothers', Alis and the others had destroyed the new demon shortly after it entered Algo. Experiencing some sort of empathic shock from its brother's death had weakened the Dark Force even more, and he now lay dormant once again inside the spaceship Noah, content to wait another millenium for another of his brothers to make it through the weakened seal of Algo.

Noah now was in orbit around Motavia, the harsh desert world where they had recently taken the ship so that the Merge could take place. Among the upper echelons of the Earthmen's caste system, the demon's absolute failure did not sit well with some. There had long been an anti-Dark Force sentiment among a few of the self-sentient humans, and these recent events had given them fuel to light the flames of rebellion. The ruling board of the Earthmen was made up of only twenty-five men (the only non-brainwashed members of the entire Earth contingent) and therefore each and every representative was key in deciding who held the power. Gerod, the once and only leader who zealously worshipped Dark Force, had held the position ever since the demon had first approached them centuries ago; but an opposing faction, led by Marlowe, was ever keen to use the defeat to their group's advantage.

Dark Force had instructed them, before he returned to hibernation, that they were to go back into the suspended animation modules for an entire millenium. At that time, after the Merge, the new super-demon would easily crush any and all Algolian resistance, and the Earthmen would have free reign. Such was the original plan, now reformulated to take place in another thousand years.

Marlowe and his followers had other ideas. The indignation of having to serve under anyone, demonic god or otherwise, was affront enough. But then to be told, by a creature that had just been defeated (indirectly) by four measely alien creatures, to wait a thousand years was unbearable. There would have to be another choice for them, and they would have to take control of the ruling board in order to make that choice.

- - - - - - - - - -

Through all this, the unseen planet of Rykros began its long journey away from the Algo sun, its destiny unfulfilled. For the first time in over one hundred thousand years, no one from any of the other three planets would travel to its crystalline grounds. No one would even know what its singular purpose was, or that it even existed outright. The planet of the Protectors was leaving Algo-space as silently as it entered, not to return for a thousand years. Whatever consciousness inhabited the orb would sense that the Dark Force had been defeated... but how and by whom was unknown. Rykros had not performed its duty, yet somehow, a Protector had arisen. Even more, the Protector fought the demon without the benefit of Rykros' power... it was an impossible notion. But it was true.

And the planet was gone.

- - - - - - - - - -

Alis, in her new role, was not alone. After accepting governing training from Sirus on Palma, she had been joined by her comrade in the triumph over Lassic, Odin, the great warrior. He was granted regional control over the main Palman army, at the request of the Queen. Though lacking true military leadership experience, he was looked upon favorably by both the public and the army for his role in Lassic's defeat. Reluctantly he accepted the position, unsure that he wanted such responsibility. Truly, though, the army was utilized almost exclusively to mobilize aid to the various ailing communities spread around the planet, and Odin's military judgement was not yet to be tested.

Of course, the Palman army itself was in shambles. Formerly composed of both robotic and Palman robotcops, huge numbers had been taken into custody by those serving the new regime. Many had given up outright, renouncing their allegiance to the dead tyrant, pledging instead to serve the new government. Of those robotic servers, all had been destroyed; it was more of a symbolic gesture of self-reliance, rather than a threat-response, as any of the 'bots could easily have been reprogrammed. As it was, Palman forces stood at a mere fraction of their previous strength, and more soldiers filled the jails than filled the ranks. Large numbers of transports, ships, and weapons had been recovered from Lassic's scattered military bases, but there were too few personnel to operate them all, and so many of them sat derelict, unused. This was the legacy that Odin was to inherit.

Myau, the courageous Musk Cat and companion of Odin, had returned to his native society in the wilds of Palma, at last resuming his role as his people's protector. Myau had perhaps lost the most of any of the heroes during the dark time, as scores of his species had been killed under direction of Lassic's scientists. It had long haunted him, his decision to leave and fight the king. Although Alis had asked him to remain as an advisor in her court, she fully understood his need to rejoin those he had left behind. She had seen firsthand how the deaths had affected him, and wished him the best. He moved his clan farther out into the thick forested regions, and as it stood only Alis and Odin knew his exact whereabouts, as per his wishes.

The fourth and final member of the heroes, the young Esper named Noah, had changed the least throughout their adventures. He returned to Motavia, once again training under his Master Esper, Tajim, in the desert caverns. He believed that he had fulfilled his destiny, that being to guide and protect Alis in her quest, and so saw no reason not to rejoin his former life. As far as he was concerned, his brief intersection with the life of Alis Landale had come to a close.

But there were other Espers more affected by the fall of the king. Those few Espers on Palma who had gone into hiding when they were officially banished by Lassic re-emerged. These magicians, no longer having a community of their own, all moved to the town of Eppi, where they hoped to live in unison with the normal Palmans. The residents of Eppi accepted them with open arms in an effort of peace and kinship that was recognized throughout the world.

- - - - - - - - - -

In the dramatic, tumultuous events that had unfolded in the final days of Lassic's rule, one key player had escaped unnoticed. One man had slipped throught the fingers of Alis' new command, taking refuge in a top-secret robotcop maufacturing base. Five of these installations were spread out over the Palma ocean; no one but the highest advisors to Lassic even knew of their existence. They were near-completely automated, able to function at a moment's notice, producing mass numbers of 'cops in minimal time. Lassic had had them built as the ultimate fail-safe against full-scale rebellion... which is why they had been completely useless in stopping the small raiding party that had destroyed him.

And the escapee was there, at the northernmost site, some fifty miles off the coast of Scion. Lusar, Lassic's second-in-command, now sat alone in the darkened heart of the base, staring blankly into space, while a static filled comm screen flickered silently behind him. Having fled here in a small shuttle transport when news of the king's death began to spread, he had been living off the meager stores of food peppered throughout the base. He was alone, powerless, dejected. The world outside held only certain death for him.

And then the screen began to flash. Static began to give way to a slightly ovoid form. The speakers crackled, the computer desperately trying to refine the incoming transmission. The shape took clear form as the static cleared.

"Lusar... do you read?" came the voice.

Lusar's eyes widened, "Roger," he responded. "Loud and clear."

"You know who this is... things are about to change. Are you willing to cooperate with us?" the voice asked.

Lusar eyed the image closely. "How did you find me? How did you know I was here?"

"We learned of the king's fail-safe plans some time ago. If any of his court had escaped, it would only be logical that you would have gone to one of the five sites. I ask you one more time. Will you cooperate with us?"

Lusar's brow furrowed as he narrowed his gaze. "...That depends... what are you planning to do?"

"We're going to take over Palma." The flatness of the statement revealed the supreme confidence of the speaker.

"Just like that? Forgive me if I'm not as much of a believer as Lassic." The irony did not escape notice. "What would you have me do?"

"The shuttle we are broadcasting from is en route to rendevous with you as we speak... we will arrive to pick you up in half an hour. All will be explained." The transmission went dead immediately, and static refilled the screen.

Things are beginning to look up... Lusar thought to himself, chuckling ever so slightly. Soon, his maniacal laughter filled the room, echoing off the metallic walls.

- - - - - - - - - -

Aboard Noah, the council of Earthmen convened. Gerod waited quietly as the rumblings of the attendants died down. At the far end of the table, Marlowe sat with Terrick, barely hiding a devilishly smug smile.

Gerod stood and cleared his throat. The once-explosive speaker was now subdued and distant. "Our final preparations to return to hibernation," he began, "are complete. Control systems and life-support have been reprogrammed. As per our agreement, Noah will shortly be moved out of the local planetary paths, reaching a disjunct orbit farther out from the sun of this system..." Looking around, he seemed almost saddened by his announcements. "If there is no further business, we will all proceed to our stasis chambers."

A few grumblings escaped those gathered, but they quickly ceased. "Very well then. I wish you..."

"Hold," Marlowe said calmly, holding up his hand in defiance. "There is one more matter to discuss."

Steeling himself against his own dislike of the man, Gerod said curtly, "What is it, Marlowe?"

"Do I have the floor?" Marlowe asked coyly.

A labored nod from Gerod was the response. Rising, Marlowe began to walk around the table, speaking slowly and deliberately. "As a member of the Council, I feel that I, along with each of you, have the utmost responsibility to look out for the best interests of both the Council and the scores of proles that we control. We are, after all, people of Earth, all of us, free-thinking or otherwise. It is for that reason, then, that I propose that the authority of our fair leader be stripped immediately, and a new leader be recognized."

"What?!? You're insane, Marlowe!" Gerod shouted, jumping up from his seat. "I won't turn this board over to you and your delusions of grandeur!"

Marlowe continue to traverse the room, ignoring the irate Gerod and speaking only to the rest of the gathered. "My fellows, listen to these rants... he speaks of delusions, yet all the while he has had us follow a creature who promised ultimate power, yet delivered nothing but embarassing defeat!" Gerod began to yell again, but Marlowe cut him off. "How long have we been here, my friends? How many years have we lost following this man and his inept 'demon'? At what point do we take control of our own destiny? I say that time is now! Now!" Marlowe stood silent and observed the intrigued faces of the other Earthmen.

Dell, one of the oldest council members, spoke for the first time. "Gerod, how do you respond to this?"

Still fuming, Gerod regained only a small part of his composure. "This is blasphemy! We were undone by the fool Lassic, not the failure of our god! If we simply wait he will re-emerge and we will rule this system!"

"You see, you see?!?" rebutted Marlowe. "Still he clings to his faith that the beast will fulfill its empty promises! Still his faith clouds his vision! I say we take control of ourselves, here and now! We have the means to take Palma, not a thousand bloody years from now, but today! We can rule this system under our own devices, under our own power! By the time his beast reawakens, we will have been masters of this area for centuries! It is our destiny as human beings, as people of Earth, to rule! But Gerod would have it otherwise! Gerod would have us be servants, underlings! He has proven himself unfit to head this board, and I demand that he be removed!"

"And you would aim to replace him, Marlowe?" Dell asked.

A smile was the response. "I would be honored to fill his position, but only if the board willed it to be so, Dell..."

"What do you mean that we can take control of Palma now, Marlowe?" asked an inquisitive and unnamed council member.

"I have established contact with one of Lassic's agents... in fact, he waits in my quarters right now..."

"This is lunacy!" Gerod shouted.

"With his knowledge of Lassic's still undiscovered weapons facilities, we will easily be able to uproot the rebel government, without even risking personal harm to ourselves. We will have access to a virtually limitless supply of offensive power!"

"And you believe," Dell interrupted, "that this agent can be trusted?"

"Of course," he continued. "An alliance with us is his only escape from the new government... one man cannot take over a planet, no matter how many weapons he has at his disposal. He has no choice but to cooperate with us. And once he helps us to wipe away the scum from the planet, we may do with him what we wish. He poses no threat to us."

"I will not listen to these lies any longer! Don't you see that this is just a facade to wrest power from me?"

"Sit down, Gerod!" Dell replied. "You will be silent while the matter is on the table!" Gerod, clenching his aging fists, forcefully returned to his chair. Dell swiveled and addressed the entire table. "What say you?"

Another Earthman spoke. "There'd be no reason for Marlowe to fabricate all of this just to take Gerod's position. Even if that were the aim, there's nothing to rule over if we're all going back into suspended animation anyway. I believe he knows what he is speaking of." Several other Earthmen nodded silently in agreement as Marlowe smiled. No one else volunteered an opinion.

"Very well," Dell resumed, "Gerod, Marlowe has brought legitimate challenge to your office, and the board will settle this matter right now. All those in favor of Gerod's retention of position?" Ten men raised their hands. "And against?" Twelve men responded, some immediately, most slowly. Dell eyed each and every man carefully. He took a deep breath. "...Very well. As Marlowe, Gerod and I are excused from the vote, it is done. Effective immediately, Gerod is stripped of the rank of First Consul, and Marlowe shall succeed him."

Marlowe's smiled broadened even more. "I am honored, fellow councilmen, that you hold me in such high esteem. And to show that I am forgiving, I will allow Gerod to maintain all priviliges and duties he held, except for those of leadership, of course."

Blistering with indignation, Gerod stormed out of the conference room as Marlowe's faction of supporters rose to congratulate him.

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