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PostPosted: Tue Dec 28, '10, 12:49 am
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Chapter One

The unrelenting snow and freezing temperatures on Dezoris were difficult for the Palman settlers to endure. They had built their first town, Skure, underground to escape the harsh weather and most traveled the tunnel to the surface as little as possible. Insulated by many layers of heavy earth, they could almost convince themselves that out on the streets, it was as warm as the towns they had left on their home planet.

As Dezoris moved closer to the sun in its orbit, though, there were some warmer days. Despite their dislike for the cold, the Palmans could appreciate the serene beauty of the icy planet and some would venture up to take a quick look at the snowy landscape. During the planet's “summer”, the sun would sometimes shine through the ice-encrusted trees and cast a pleasant glow across the frozen plains.

On one of these warmer days, a father led his young daughter through the spiraling tunnel, away from the warmth of Skure. Mila held on tightly to her father's gloved hand as they went around another corner, gradually heading uphill. The six-year-old had not seen the surface since the first day they had arrived on Dezoris and she had only caught a glimpse of the outside world before her father had taken her underground.

Jonathan Chase had opted to leave his home planet after the sudden death of his wife. An employee of the Palman government, he volunteered to go to Dezoris and join a team of explorers searching for a suitable place to start building a second settlement. Naturally, he had to bring his little girl along, and he was lucky enough to find a kindly neighbor to watch his daughter on the days he was gone from Skure.

Mila was thrilled whenever her father was home and an outing to the surface with him was almost more excitement than she could handle. He had bundled her up in a heavy jacket, woolen mittens, and a matching hat that could barely contain her thick, dark curls. Mila almost complained about the restrictive outer gear, but she decided against it, as she didn't want anything to ruin the day.

The pair exited the tunnel out onto the white snow. Mila immediately dropped to her knees to pick up a handful of the fluffy substance that was foreign to her. Jonathan laughed and pointed to the sky. “Look, Mila! You can catch the snow as it falls!”

Mila stuck out her hands and watched as the flakes landed on her mittens. They only lasted a brief moment before melting and she ran around, trying to catch the biggest ones. Jonathan let her play for a bit before calling her back over to him. “I want to show you something,” he said to her. “It's a bit of a long walk, but I think you can handle it. What do you say?”

“Okay, Daddy!” Mila beamed up at her father. He led her to an inlet in the mountains south of Skure and she soon saw the small opening in the icy rocks. She looked up at her father apprehensively.

“It's dark inside, a lot darker than the Skure tunnel, so be sure to stay close to me.” Jonathan pulled a small disk out of his pocket. Once inside the cave, the disk lit up and allowed them to see in front of them. Mila held on to her father's free hand as he easily navigated the short passage. It wasn't long before they were outside, on the other side of the mountains. Mila looked around the small clearing, but her father hurried her across to another cave.

After they exited a third cave, Jonathan turned to his daughter. “It's just a little further, we have to go through those trees.” Still holding Mila's hand, he led her through a small forest, trying to avoid the dripping branches. “Here we are,” he said as they passed through the last group of trees. “Take a look.”

Mila gasped as she saw the giant, snow-covered plain in front of her. There was nothing but pure whiteness as far as the eye could see. Nothing on Palma compared to this – there were always trees, or water, or rocks, or buildings breaking up the land, but this part of Dezoris appeared to go on forever. “It's like we're at the end of the world,” she whispered to her father.

She ran out until she couldn't see the forest they had just left, her father following behind her. She spun around, feeling the soft snow falling on her face, laughing the whole time. Jonathan danced with her, glad he was able to share his favorite place with his daughter. He taught her to make snowmen and snow angels and the pair even engaged in a gentle snowball fight.

After several hours, Jonathan looked up at the sun. He wanted to be back at Skure before dark, so he led Mila back across the vast plain to the forest from which they had emerged. As they wandered through the trees, he heard a noise that made him stop in his tracks. He put a hand on Mila's shoulder and motioned for her to be quiet.

He heard the noise again, this time much closer. He slowly turned his head to the left and pulled a small laser gun from under his jacket. Mila followed her father's gaze and saw what had startled him.

The creature vaguely resembled a lion, though its face almost looked eerily human. Large, yellow wings sprouted from its back, making its presence seem even more imposing. Jonathan and his team had encountered these animals before and he knew they could be aggressive and attack without warning. It was the first time he had encountered one without backup.

Jonathan took a step backwards and nudged Mila so she was behind him. The creature growled and the two Palmans stood perfectly still, not wanting to provoke it. The creature growled again and this time, Jonathan saw it raise its tail, the indication that it was about to strike. Without moving, he whispered one brief instruction to his daughter. “Run.”

The urgency in his voice sent Mila running through the woods as fast as her little legs could carry her. She heard muffled screams behind her and she, in turn, screamed back. She had no idea where in the forest she was, as all the trees looked the same, and she had no idea what to do. Should she stay in one place and wait for her father? Should she try to find her way back to Skure and bring help?

The sound of a gunshot interrupted her thoughts. She fell to the ground and curled into a little ball. With her face buried against her knees, she hoped her father would find her soon.

A few moments passed and Mila heard something moving towards her through the trees. Please let it be Daddy and not that horrible monster, she thought to herself. She finally willed herself to look up and screamed again.

The figure that stood before her resembled a Palman in size and shape, but his skin was green and scaly, almost like that of a reptile. He cocked his head to one side, almost as if he recognized her, but it was little comfort to Mila, as she tried to scoot backwards away from him.

The tall green man noticed that he still had his gun drawn and hurriedly put it away. He put his hands up in the universal “I intend no harm” gesture and took a step closer to her. Saying something in a language she did not understand, he offered his hand to her.

Mila shook her head. “I have to stay with my father.” The man did not understand her. She pointed vigorously in the direction from which she had come. “I need my father! We have to go home to Skure.”

The man looked in the direction she was pointing and seemed to understand a little. A look of sadness came over his strange face and he shook his head. Despite her young age, Mila could sense what had happened and she began to cry.

The man offered his hand to her again and, fresh out of options, Mila grabbed it and stood up. He removed his tall, brown hat from his head, revealing a perfectly smooth, hairless pate, and offered it to Mila. She reached up to her own head and realized that her own hat must have come off as she was racing through the forest. She accepted the offering and put it on. It was a bit too big for her head, but she was grateful for the added warmth as the sun was fading in the distance.

She followed the green man through the woods and out into a clearing. At the opposite side, there was yet another cave. Though they all looked similar, Mila was fairly sure she and her father had not been inside this one. After a short walk, they were through the mountains, and to Mila's surprise, there was a small fence surrounding a tunnel that reminded her of the one in Skure.

The inside of the tunnel was very similar to the one she had left early that morning. It was longer, though, and she felt as if they were traveling deeper into the earth. They exited the passage and Mila looked around. The roads were simply dirt paths, as opposed to the paved streets of Skure, and the buildings were made of a different material. Strangely, the large village was split into two sections.

The man led her to the eastern side of town, to a building in the far corner of the hollowed-out space. From the outside, it looked a little like the church in Skure; inside, however, it was quite different. Once they passed the front room and entered the main chamber, it was nearly completely dark inside. The man led Mila down an aisle that separated two groups of benches and indicated that she should sit on one in the front row. Mila obeyed and continued to study her surroundings.

The only light in the large room came from a flickering torch that sat up high on the front wall. In front of it was a simple rectangular altar, made of dark wood and free from any adornments. Mila was mesmerized by the dancing flame and didn't notice the man had disappeared into a room off to the side until he came back with another person.

The new stranger appeared to be very old, as his hairless green skin was covered with deep wrinkles. His clothes were more elaborate than those of the man that had brought her here, and Mila could sense that he was very important. The two men whispered in that strange language she could not understand and the older man turned to her and studied her intently. He seemed to have that same look of recognition on his elderly face, though Mila knew she had never met anyone like him before.

Suddenly, Mila felt frightened. Her six-year-old mind raced with all sorts of horrible thoughts. What are they going to do to me? Are they going to hurt me? Are they going to eat me? Should I run? Could they catch me? She remained frozen in place as the men continued discussing her.

Finally, the two men parted and the older one went back into the side room. The first man beckoned Mila to follow him once more and he led her outside the dark room, outside the building, and across to the other side of the village. He turned onto a narrow side path and walked to a house that sat at the end. Opening the door, he ushered her inside.

Two more of the strange green people sat at a table, eating dinner. The older one somehow seemed to have delicate, feminine features, despite her lack of hair. The younger one was much smaller and seemed to be around Mila's age; she couldn't tell if this one was male or female. Both of them stopped eating and wordlessly stared at the young Palman.

The man was the first to break the silence. He spoke to the woman, presumably his wife, and as he spoke, the woman's expression changed to one of sympathy and pity. She rose from the table and retrieved an extra set of dishes from the cabinet behind her. Placing them down on the table next to those of her child, she motioned for Mila to sit down.

They ate without speaking. The food was different from what Mila was used to, but she didn't mind, as it had been many hours since she had last eaten. The small green child had abandoned his meal in favor of gaping openly at Mila; at one point, he reached out to touch her thick hair, but his mother angrily swatted his hand away.

After the family had finished eating, the woman left the room and returned with a clean set of clothes that had belonged to her child. She showed Mila into a small bedroom and shut the door. Even with the door closed, Mila could hear the child complaining to his mother; not only was she taking his clothes, but it seemed that she would be taking over his bed for the night.

Once she had changed into the fresh clothes, Mila opened the door and peeked out. The woman said several words to her husband, who took the child and disappeared into another room. She produced a clean blanket from a closet and brought it into the bedroom. Straightening the covers as quickly as she could, she motioned towards the bed.

Mila climbed under the blankets and pulled them up to her chin. She turned towards the wall and waited to be left alone. The woman stroked her hair in a maternal gesture before turning out the lights and shutting the door.

Finally alone in the darkness, Mila began to cry again. She didn't want to be here in this strange place, with these strange-looking people who spoke a strange language. She wished for her father to suddenly appear before her and take her back home, but, of course, it never happened. While fervently wishing to go home, Mila eventually cried herself to sleep.
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