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They of the Desert

Author: AerynQ, with I lot of help from Erin Cale

Thanks: To Megan, and Rebecca for being the first people to read this, and for their ego boosting comments. Danny, for patiently allowing me to rattle on about this thing. Will and Katy for forcing me to explain the Sci-fi aspect of the story even if they were constantly urging me to give up on this story and stick to fantasy. Most of all a great big huge gigantic thank you to Erin Cale, my Beta reader, who came up with the original premise for the fic (which I completely ignored).

Feedback: Please, oh please, oh please! This is the longest story I've ever written and one of my few pieces of truly originally fiction. I... NEED... feedback... please! Any comment, constructive criticism (especially constructive criticism) , tiny little piece of praise, opinion of a character or a scene... even flames are better then nothing. I am begging you, even if you couldn't get all the way through the fic, give me some kind of comment on what you did read!

Prologue:
Sasha Thelien opened the tent flap carefully and ducked her head so she could step in. Inside, she found approximately thirty people of all ages, races and battle experience. Silence descended as many of them looked up and realized that a war hero had just entered the room. Several of the soldiers in the tent gave her half-hearted salutes. The civilians smiled at her awkwardly. From the sense of expectancy in the room, she was supposed to say something, probably the one thing that nobody wanted to hear, but somebody had to confirm.

"We're immune, but what of the next generation? What if they aren't? We must find an isolated area, so that they needn't suffer for our foolishness." Sasha's words stunned her companions into contemplative silence.

Well, most of them, anyway. "But where will we go?" The man who spoke was a veteran soldier, whom Sasha knew well.

"The only place we can go: Mars."

The old man scoffed. "Everybody knows that the Mars Terraforming Project failed. The entire planet is one big desert."

"But habitable," Sasha said, sighing slightly at having to explain what she had been thinking over for a while. Ever since a horde of genetic warheads had destroyed 78% of the world, leaving the survivors coming down with what had come to be called "Death Syndrome". "We can bring supplies for a few domes-"

"A few domes won't support us for long."

Sasha took a few seconds to control her exasperation before she spoke. "After that, we can go underground. In the meantime, we'll continue trying to terraform the planet."

"Do you know how long that'll take?"

"Do you realize that we have no choice?" Sasha retorted, getting up in the man's face. "I realize it's a long shot, but it's the only shot we have. I promise you we will find a way to survive even if it kills us." She addressed the group with grim humor. "Are you with me?" Slowly her companions rose one by one. They would follow her.

Chapter 1

Arianna's feet moved swiftly over the Martian soil, propelled by desperation. She heard the soldiers behind her, but their footsteps were becoming more and more distant. Her bright red hair flew out behind her, and her pale sweat slicked skin and sea green eyes glistened in the setting sun. Her mind was racing even faster then her body, filling with ideas of new identities she could assume. A mysterious artist, a gruff female soldier, perhaps a cripple living off of the planets meager disability pension, as long as she kept the tattoo on her left arm identifying her as a member of the royal family well hidden.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a bullet flying through the air next to her. "Damn" she murmured. She hadn't expected them to have long range weapons.

Frantically, she quickened her pace. Another bullet came at her, grazing her upper thigh. That slowed things considerably, but she continued hoping she would find some suitable hiding spot before the caught up with her. She was surprised by a sudden darkening of her vision and fuzziness of her mind. Her lithe legs became clumsy and ceased to support her. Then she gave into the blackness.

**********

Arianna slowly opened her eyes. She was lying in a bed, but she knew immediately that it was not her own. There was a man peering down with her, his soft brown eyes filled with both worry and curiosity. He looked to be in his early twenties, close to her own age, and he had brown hair and a handsome face.

"Who are you." She asked with a voice that was hoarse with disuse. The man smiled down at her.

"Welcome to the land of the living. My name is Ri." Suddenly something snapped inside Arianna as her most recent memories started to come flooding back to her.

"No don't make me go back!" Arianna shouted suddenly, sitting bolt upright in bed. Big mistake, she thought as she was immediately assaulted by a sharp burst of pain in her temple.

"No, don't do that! You're not strong enough yet." She felt a pair of muscular arms pushing her gently back down into the bed. When she looked up at the man whose hands were still resting firmly on her shoulders he simply shook his head. "You have to lie still, I'm not taking you back anywhere."

"Why are you keeping me here?" She asked, with as much spite as she could muster in her weakened state. Ri laughed lightly.

"I'm not keeping you here. You're free to go at any time... but something tells me you won't be doing that at any time soon. Now, I've told you who I am, I expect you to extend to me to the same courtesy." When Arianna did not reply Ri sighed loudly. "I would have thought you'd show a little more gratitude toward your savior..."

"My savior!" Arianna exclaimed indignantly, "You are NOT..." Ri laughed, "What's so funny?"

"There, I knew I could get you to talk. Now what's your name?"

"Arianna," she replied reluctantly.

"There now, we're getting somewhere. Where are you from Arianna?"

"That is no concern of yours," she replied impatiently. "Besides, I don't plan on going back."

"Uh huh. And you can't even give me a little hint?" When Arianna shook her head he continued, "Okay, who were the people chasing after you? Why were they chasing you, anyway?"

"What the hell is this, an interrogation?"

"I was simply trying to..."

"I don't care. I won't answer any more of your questions." Ri raised an eyebrow but didn't press the issue. Alright then, I'll leave you alone for now. But I'll be back later." He flashed her an enigmatic grin before leaving. Before she could so much as protest he was gone.

Chapter 2

"No sir... we were not able to capture her." Darin bowed his head, his long honey colored hair brushing gently against his cheek.

"Stupid boy!" His superior bellowed, her voice taking on the high-pitched shriek it always did when she was furious. "She was an easy target, alone, unarmed. How did you ever manage not to catch her?"

"We... we chased her for over a day sir, I was able to graze her with my weapon... but she kept going."

"What?! That's not possible. Didn't you put the ISCN on the bullets?"

"Yes, but as I..." The high-ranking woman stomped her foot.

"She should have lost consciousness within five minutes. Don't tell me you were unable to outrun a sleeping woman!"

"Obviously, sir I was." Darin barely blinked as he received a stinging slap for his insubordination. He ignored the pain. He wasn't about to give in to his superior when somebody's life was at stake... "I have told you all I know. Perhaps it is time you ask some of the other men in our party. Perhaps they can provide you with the information you are looking for." She glared at him menacingly but nodded for him to leave. Hastily he left the interrogation room, not giving her a chance to change her mind. On his way out he brushed against the man who was next in line for questioning.

"How was it?" he muttered nervously.

"Not good... she's pissed off." The other man groaned, but went reluctantly into the interrogation room. Darin idly wondered how long the other man would be in there, but his mind was on other things. He moved quickly down the lavishly decorated hallway leading toward the princess Rose's bedchamber.

When he reached the room he knocked quietly and the princess came to the door, and pulled him in, with a flurry of giggles and kisses. He did not resist as she pushed him onto her baby blue silk adorned bed and crouched over him, her kisses continuing to cover his face. Suddenly her beautiful features became very serious.

"We have to be quiet... we don't want anyone to discover you here with me."
"And who is the one making all the noise?" He asked mischievously.
"Well, now we have to be quiet."

"Of course." He muttered, absently fondling a lock of her soft dark hair. She pulled away from him with a final kiss, opting to sit on her velvet loveseat.

"Did you find my sister?" She asked, her voice trembling slightly.

"No."

"Thank god. W-what do they have planned for her?"

"Nothing good I'm afraid. But she's with a friend of mine, with any luck he'll keep her safe."

"Good. Does he know who she is?"

"No, I told him she was a merely a peasant girl who had fallen upon hard times, and was forced to steal from the palace."

"And he'll... he can hide her?"

"I'd imagine so."

"Thank god." Everything in the room was ornate, Darin noticed, not for the first time. The entire room was decorated lavishly beautifully colored in silk, velvet, and cashmere, fabrics very hard to come by on Mars. What made the room truly lovely however was Rose herself who, with her long black hair and dark luminous eyes, was as regal and angelically beautiful as any princess in the fairy tales Darin's mother had told him as a child.

"Have you heard any news about the underground colonies?" Rose nodded her head yes, her prior air of joy completely leaving her features.

"Father's ordering... well he's going to send some soldiers down to kill them... then he's going to kill the soldiers." She shook her head sadly, "I hope you will not be among the soldiers."

"Wait... why?" Darin asked perplexed.

"Well, I don't know what I'd do if you died and..." Darin couldn't help but smile.

"No Rose, I mean why does he want to kill the colonists, and the soldiers?"

"Oh," Rose blushed prettily, "something about them carrying a plague."

"Yes I know about that, but I thought that these people were immune to the plague."

"Oh, well from what I heard they are carrying it in its dormant state... that's why they stay so far away from every one else. They don't want us to all catch it."

"But if they take such precautions..." Rose cut him off with a despairing shrug.

"Don't ask me to explain anything my father does to you. Sometimes I think he kills just... I mean sometimes I think he really enjoys hurting people. That he actually likes to watch others suffer." Darin was silent willing her to continue. She was more than obliging, "Like yesterday, that little serving boy... what's his name?"

"Markus?" Rose nodded.

"Yes well, I suppose he did something to upset father and... well by the time he was done, the boy had a bloody nose and bruises all over his body... at least that's what I heard." Darin nodded, taking in her every word.

"Rose," he said after a moment, "If he is so horrible then why don't you join the rest of the people in there resistance of him? As his daughter you could..."

"No" Rose said without pause. They had had this argument many times before, and by now she knew exactly what was coming next. She completely tuned out her lover's speech about freedom, and the need to destroy corrupt rulers. "What would you have me do?" she said after Darin had finished, "Give up my life here for a bunch of peasants who hate me almost as much as they hate him? You forget that I am not exactly known for my compassion. What is that they call me? 'Rose the Ruthless'?"

"They don't know you." Darin said. Rose sighed in exasperation.

"And exactly how eager do you think they are to get to know me? I am already helping your resistance just by keeping it secret... I don't have to do that you know. And providing you with the information you need."

"In return for my helping Arianna." Darin said bitterly.

"No, not just that... for you." She kissed him quickly, "Now go, and don't let anybody see you."

***
Blanche nodded her head, accepting the piece of paper that Darin gave her. She was a cute freckled child of thirteen years with close cropped curly blond hair, and pale blue eyes At first glance she was unremarkable, but under her deceptively normal looks, she was a biological miracle. She had been one of six children who had been born as part of a failed genetic experiment. She and her siblings had been created to be able to withstand Mar's inhospitable temperatures, and more importantly to be immune to the plague. Not partially immune like the underground colonists, who suffered none of the disease's effects but could still pass it on to others through a secretion of the pours, completely immune. Unfortunately she had been the only child to survive this feat of genetic engineering.

"I want you to deliver this message to the colonists, to warn them of King Joseph's plans... then, go check on Princess Arianna. She's staying with a friend of mine, Ri. There are directions to his home on the back of the envelope." Blanche glanced at the envelope, and then back at Darin, alarmed.

"But it says here that he lives underground... doesn't that make him a plague victim? If Arianna's with him... then won't she catch it?"

"No, he lives far enough from the other colonists that she should be in very little danger." Blanche nodded, accepting his explanation. She turned to leave but Darin stopped her.

"Wait, you have to be very careful. It's unlikely that anybody will be outside during this part of the day, but if by chance you are caught, it's very likely that you will be executed. Do you understand?"

"Yes I know the risks," Blanche replied, self assuredly. "I won't get caught."

"Well, just in case," Darin handed the girl a long range weapon, "Do you know how to use this?" Blanche nodded. "Good, if anyone tries to keep you from reaching your destination shoot them... aim for the legs if you can, I don't want you giving anybody lethal wounds... understood?"

"Yes, no lethal wounds."

"Alright then, go. Just be careful, I'm sure your parents would prefer to have you back in one piece." Darin of course was referring to the scientists who had created. She had no true parents, but she had lived with the scientists until she had moved to the palace, and for what it was worth they considered her their token daughter.

Chapter 3

Blanche moved stealthily across the barren red wasteland of Mars. She did not need to check the map that Darin had given her. She knew the way. For the last six years of her life, ever since her immunity had been confirmed, her life had basically been made up of trips to and from the underground colonies. At eight years old she had served as mail woman, tax collector, and barer of news from the outside world for the secluded plague victims.

This trip was different however from any she had ever taken before. This was the first time she had ever needed to carry a firearm. Yes, she knew the basic schematics of using the weapon; one of the palace guards had taught her when she ten years old, but she had a gnawing suspicion that if the time came she would not be able to shoot another human being, even if the wound was non-lethal.

Still, she could see the necessity of keeping the weapon with her. In all her past trips, she had been working for the kingdom. Now she was working against it, and even with nearly half of the soldiers in the resistance, the kingdom was powerful force. Somewhere in the back of her mind she believed that the resistance was fighting a losing battle, but their cause seemed so much nobler then the crown's, and theirs was the cause she would side with.

***
"Beautiful," Ri muttered absently looking down at the sleeping form of the young woman who called herself Arianna. She was also the most arrogant peasant he had met in his entire life. True, he was hardly a prince, but he did not think that he was a dirty low life, undeserving of her company. Lovely as she was, she was no princess either, simply a peasant like himself that he had agreed to help.

She had said those things shortly before regressing back into the delirium that she had been in almost since he had found her. That was the problem with ISCN the poison didn't do any permanent damage to its victims, as long as they were well cared for, but its effects were lingering. It was obvious that whoever was after her had wanted to keep her out of it, at least for a while, went to quite a bit of trouble simply to apprehend a thief. Add to that that Darin had gone through quite a bit of trouble to get her here with him, and he had concrete proof that she was something more than a peasant.

But what? She could be a member of the resistance; that would explain Darin's protectiveness towards her. Even in the mist of what Ri was certain was going to escalate into a full blown civil war any day, Darin still seemed to hold the naïve notion that nobody was going to be hurt fighting for the resistance. He was wrong of course, Ri could name dozens of people who had already been killed for the cause, and even more were sure to follow. Even if Arianna was part of the resistance, the use of ISCN hardly made sense. Traitors to the crown were killed, not temporarily debilitated.

With a long sigh he left the room, and his sleeping charge, and walked into his small, under-equipped kitchen. He quickly turned on a small gas stove that looked like something from 18th century Earth, and wasn't much good for anything more complicated than boiling water. Whatever Arianna was, she would probably be hungry when she woke up. She had been with him for nearly four days now... the first two were spent in a state of complete delirium brought on by the ISCN but now seemed to be recovering with only occasional periods of delusion. Since her partial return to lucidity however, she had been too weak to feed herself, and too prideful to let him help. Hopefully she would be hungry enough to except the food this time. He didn't like the idea of starving her into compliancy, but in this case he didn't see another way. The smell of smoke broke him from his reverie.

"Damn," he muttered, quickly turning off the burner on the stove. Too late, a miniature fire had already started. He quickly grabbed for the bucket of drinking water he kept stowed in the corner of the kitchen, and dumped more than a little too much of it's contents over the tiny blaze. The fire sizzled out, and for the first time in his life he was thankful that the stove was not electric. So much for making a hot meal, he thought. In a last ditch attempt he got out some bread... a little stale but still edible and... meat. He wasn't quite sure what kind, but it was already cooked and when he tasted it, it seemed fresh enough. He searched his cooler for some vegetables or condiments to add to the sandwich, but all he was able to turn up was a spoiled potato. He placed the mystery meat between the stale bread... so much for enticing Arianna to eat!

By the time Blanche reached the entrance pod to the plague colony, the sun was high and hot in the sky and her pale skin already badly burned despite her increased resistance to the searing heat. Martian noon was the hottest part of the day and she loathed having to travel during it, but she realized the necessity to do so. That and the cold night were the safest times for her to travel. The planet had been barely terraformed, and was impossible to grow anything or survive with out the aid of temperature controlled domes except in a few oases, which were used mostly for farming. Normal people could only survive travel on the planet during dusk and dawn, when the temperature was neither freezing nor scorching. Blanche of course was not a normal human.

Her breathing came in loud wheezing breaths as she entered the pod and walked past the electronic sterilizer that the plague victims had set up so she could go to and from their encampment without the possibility of spreading their sickness on to others. The scientist that created her had inadvertently allowed her to be born with a single physical liability. She had been afflicted since birth with a disease called asthma. Usually it lay dormant, but occasionally, especially after strenuous physical activity or contact with certain allergens, it flared up making it extremely difficult to draw air into her lungs. Under normal circumstances she carried a small inhaler with her, in order to keep her lungs clear, but she had recently used up its contents and considering the planet's current lack of medical recourses it was unlikely to be replaced any time soon.

"It's me," she called breathlessly, standing over the trap door that led to the tunnels leading to the underground city.

"Blanche?" A familiar voice called from below her.

"Yeah." The door opened and Blanche hopped down into the tunnel connecting to the to the colony. The colonists had created vast tunnels through the entire underground, stretching all throughout the planet. Despite her repeated visits to the plague settlements, Blanche had yet to memorize her way through all of them.

"What brings you here?" Blanche turned to face Jay, a brown skinned, broad shouldered middle-aged man who was in charge of guarding the entrance to the underground colony. His orders were strict, with the exception of herself, nobody was to come in and nobody was to leave under any circumstances. "Does the king want us to pay some more taxes?" He asked vexingly.

"No... worse..." She gasped, ardently wishing her lungs would clear. "He's... planning..."

"Blanche are you alright?"

"Fine... just let me... catch my breath." Jay nodded, and Blanche thankfully sat down on the cool floor of the tunnel. She rested her head on her knees and waited for a few moments until her breathing returned to normal.

"It's all falling apart," she said finally. "The government, I mean. The king is completely insane, and about half the population has joined this 'resistance' thing and is revolting against him. I suppose that I've joined the resistance now too... the message I'm carrying is from them, so I guess that means I'm on their side."

"What is the message about?"

"The king is planning on sending some soldiers down to kill you and the other plague victims... then I think he's going to have me close them in here until the plague kills them."

"But why?" Jay asked, appalled, "we've been living here for centuries now, and we've never caused any trouble! There's no reason! And besides, he'd be losing some of his soldiers..." Blanche shrugged.

"I guess he's planning on sending some of those who support the resistance. Somebody they still have yet to find left a message for the king, listing about 20, maybe 30 soldiers who are on their- our- side."

"Ahh." Jay looked around the small area. "Come, we must tell the rest. Then we shall have a lot of work to do." Jay's dark eyes pierced her own, seeming to ask if she truly was trustworthy. "Will you help?"

Without a second thought, Blanche replied, "Sure. I consider you to be my friend, even if you still don't trust me completely. I don't want to see you or your family get hurt."

Jay nodded and led the way deeper into the dimly-lit tunnels that spiraled away from the sterilizer room. He picked up one of the torches that were the only source of light here and gestured for her to follow. As she walked behind him, she couldn't help the shiver that traveled up her spine.

Chapter 4

Ri handed Arianna the plate of food. She raised her eyebrow in disgust and looked back up at him. "This? You want me to eat this?"

"Well, I'm sorry, your Highness," he muttered sarcastically. "I tried to make some soup, but I-"

"But what?" Arianna asked when he didn't continue.

"Well, I sort of, um, started a fire."

"You what?! Did you put it out?"

Ri looked at her in amazed wonder. "Do you honestly think I'd be here, practically forcing this food down your throat, if there was a fire raging in my kitchen?"

He knew he had said the wrong thing when her face became angry. "You shouldn't talk to me like that."
"Oh, really? Why not?" Ri asked suddenly annoyed by her haughty attitude "Just because one of my friends dropped you off at my door saying, 'Please take care of this girl.'"

She lifted her chin and looked at him defiantly. "What would you say if I told you I was a princess?"

"I'd say that you're still delusional. There's only one princess and that's Princess Rose."

"She's my younger sister. I was never the political type so my father pretended I was never born. Then Rose came along and she was his little girl, his favorite." Realizing what she had just said, she rambled on, hoping to support his belief that she truly was delirious, "So you see, I am a princess. And you're going to be my Prince Charming." She reached up to brush a hair back off his forehead. Inwardly she cringed because she had always been taught that people who weren't of noble blood were as low as those who secreted the dreaded Disease from their pores. She noticed that Ri was wearing a look of surprise that rivaled that of her father's mimes. Feigning fatigue, she yawned, lay back on her cot and pretended to go to sleep, so as she wouldn't have to deal with the lowlife anymore.

After a couple minutes, the light sound of his footsteps indicated that he had gone back into the kitchen. "Damn," she heard him murmur. "I'll have to get a new pot and some more food. Darin better be able to pay for the expenses I have to pay to keep her safe." There was a pause, then he continued, "Then again, I wouldn't need a new pot if I hadn't been thinking about her." She heard a low chuckle that almost seemed like a moan. "Oh, what am I going to do?" He opened the door, locked it from the outside and finally closed it behind him, probably headed to the closest market he could find.

Pondering what he had just said, she turned over and faced the wall. There she stayed until two hours later when Ri returned with groceries. "Hey, Airy!" he yelled.

"My name isn't Airy," she murmured, her mind concentrating on the smell of food that wafted in with his entrance.
"Well, do you want to eat some actual food or not? I know you're well enough to walk over to this table and sit down while I fix a real meal." He caught her eye and smiled. "Don't worry, I won't poison you or burn the house down."

"Somehow, I doubt that." She took a deep breath and slowly heaved herself off the bed. With each step, a lance of pain shot up from where the bullet had grazed her thigh. Ri watched her carefully, ready to help her if need be. She stopped just in front of the chair. Ri shot her a curious glance, then one of annoyed surprise when he realized why she was still standing. He stood up and pulled her chair out for her. She gently lowered herself down and he nudged the chair in for her. Ri gave her an unreadable glance, then set about fixing the food. Every once in a while as he threw in vegetables, he looked over his shoulder, making sure that she wasn't doing anything that he wouldn't do. Surprisingly, she wasn't. A few minutes later, he placed a steaming hot bowl of soup in front of her, complete with two slices of bread and a baked potato. He made another bowl for himself and sat down across from her.

"You haven't started eating yet. Is there a problem?"

"Isn't it proper etiquette to wait for everybody to get their food before starting to eat?" Arianna looked back at him in apparent sincerity, but even so, Ri couldn't help but laugh. "What?" Arianna asked, looking as if she didn't have the faintest idea what he could be laughing about.

After he had calmed down enough to start talking again, he answered her. "It's you. You're not exactly the type that I'd expect to be worried about etiquette."

"What exactly is that supposed to mean?" Ri looked up from his meal to see an angry look on his companion's face. Realizing the hole that he had just dug himself into, he attempted to dig himself out of it.

"Um, just that the, uh, words that you called me in your delirium didn't exactly make the right first impression." He figured that he had just signed his death warrant when she didn't lose the angry look. He looked back down at his food, waiting for the verbal blow.

"Then let's start over, shall we?" Arianna extended her hand across the table in an old-fashioned greeting. "I'm Arianna Thelien.

"Isn't that name reserved for royalty?"

"No!" Arianna replied quickly knowing it was best to preserve her anonymity. After all, for all she knew he could be a resistance officer, and they hated royalty.

Ri reached across and shook her hand firmly. "Ryolite Hilson ," he said.

"Ryolite?" Arianna repeated doubtfully. Ri blushed slightly.

"My mother named me after a rock from earth," he explained. "Ryolite is this dull red stone, really pretty boring, nothing like me. He smiled slightly. I guess my mother had a passion for rocks. My brother's name is pumice."

Arianna smiled and he smiled back before returning his attention to his food. Good, she thought, I'm finally starting to make a good impression with him. Her smile faltered slightly when her next thought crossed her mind. Why do I care what kind of impression I make to him? Almost frantically, she searched her mind for a logical explanation other than the one that immediately sprang to her mind. She sighed inwardly when she found another reason. He's the one taking care of me, I don't want to alienate him when I'm not even strong enough to walk out his front door, let alone make an escape.

She picked up her spoon and started to stir her soup with it. Without looking up she spoke, "Are you sure that this, uh, concoction of yours isn't poisoned?"

Seeing the tiny smile on Arianna's face, Ri chuckled lightly before replying, "Yes, I'm sure."

They ate the rest of the meal in companionable silence, not realizing the trouble that was going on elsewhere on Mars.

Chapter 5

A six year old child came running up to his mother, frantically waving his arms for attention. The woman sighed in irritation. Since her son always did such things, she took the time to finish the conversation she was having with her neighbor, said goodbye, and then turned to her son as the neighbor started walking toward the city center.

"Yes, what is it this time Jake, sweetheart?"

"Mommy, come see! Come see!" Sighing again, she took his outstretched hand and let herself be dragged to the telescope. A few houses in this area had the money to pay for the earth to be drilled through just enough to have a lengthy telescope installed so that they could watch the stars. This was something rare for humans in this century, something that the woman had often bragged about to her friends. This time, however, she was starting to reconsider the decision she and her husband had made in buying it for their son.

Jake looked up into the telescope before gesturing for his mother to come over. "It's still there," he whispered, seeming to be in awe of whatever it was that he had seen.

She took a step forward and looked into the telescope, expecting to see another constellation that Jake had just discovered. At first, she didn't see it. "Jake, honey, tell Mommy what-" She wasn't able to finish before she saw what he had been looking at. A bright light twinkled in the sky. She would have assumed that it was a star except that it was larger and... moving. As she watched, she saw it move sharply to the right and grow larger. Turning quickly, she scooped Jake up into her arms and ran towards the town center. "Emergency!" she cried. "Emergency!"

***

Darin cleared his throat silencing the numerous conversations that were taking place between the numerous conversations that were taking place between the soldiers, slaves, merchants, and palace servants that made up the resistance.

"I'm afraid we may have an emergency on our hands," He said somewhat nervously. Despite having made speeches such as this to these people thousands of times before he had yet to overcome his aversion to public speaking. "As some of you must already know the king is planning the slaughter of the underground colonists. I have been selected to participate in this brutal expedition. Who else has been singled out?" There was a flurry of raised hands among Darin's audience. All the soldiers, he noticed grimly. "That's what I was afraid of. If we all come down with plague the resistance won't stand a chance. There's only one way King Joseph could have found out about all of us. Somebody among has to be feeding him or his minions information."

"The palace slut?" A soldier suggested helpfully.

"Yes, it must be Rose," echoed a woman in the crowd.

"Rose the ruthless," muttered another woman.

"No!" Darin said angrily. "She wouldn't do that she's..."

"Darin she's not on our side!" The soldier who had spoken before interrupted anticipating Darin's next words.
"Well she's not against us either... besides she's as upset about the king's behavior as the rest of us." He glared hostilely out at the audience daring them to argue with him. To his surprise the room was silent. "Blanche!" The girl came shyly up beside him. When she glanced nervously out at the audience a few of the soldiers smiled warmly at her, immediately assuaging her fears. "Have you told the colonists of the kings plans?"

"Yeah" She replied with evident excitement. "They're making there escape tonight! By the time you and the soldiers get there they'll be gone!" She smiled, "The king can't hurt 'em if he can't find 'em."

"That's good Blanche... but will the soldiers still be at risk?" At this thought she sobered.

"Yes." Suddenly another horrible thought crossed Darin's mind.

"What about Ri and Arianna? If the plague victims move any closer to them than they already are they'll be at risk of catching the disease... did you warn them?" Blanche looked down at the ground as if willing it to swallow her up whole.
"I forgot to visit them." She said in a barely audible whisper.

"You what!" He bellowed. "Do you realize that Arianna might die because of your forgetfulness?!"

"I'm sorry." Blanche whimpered hating the tears that fell from her eyes. Darin glanced quickly around him, as if just realizing that the audience was still present.

"The meetings over for tonight... you can all go." He took a deep breath controlling his temper as best he could. "Maybe it's not to late. Just go to them now. You're the only one that can. The colonists can't leave before dusk, the temperature is to high."

"Dusk is in two hours... I don't know if I can make it on time."

"You have to. Run there at your top speed. Arianna has been to helpful to the resistance for me to let her die."
"I don't h-have my inhaler... I can't run."

"Why didn't you have your parents get you a new one before this?!" Darin asked in exasperation.

"I tried, but they couldn't... there aren't any more. King Josephs outlawed all drugs..." Darin shook his head.

"Never mind, just go." He said making a tremendous effort to keep his voice even. He felt bad for having yelled at her. For all her amazing capabilities Blanche was still a child, a fact that was all too easy to forget. It was not right to treat her harshly, and he knew it. "If your breathing gets to hard you can stop, but you have to at least make an attempt." Blanche nodded, not wanting to argue with Darin any further.

Chapter 6

Ri jumped at the sound of somebody knocking on his door. Who could that be? he wondered, it won't be dusk for almost an hour and a half... it's still too hot to travel.

"Please let me in," came the breathless voice of a young girl from behind the door. "It's very important." Suddenly a horrible thought crossed Ri's mind. What if it was one of the plague victims? They lived close enough, and they could travel to his home without having to go aboveground. Just having one of the plague victims this close was putting her in danger...

"Who are you?" He asked nervously.

"Blanche... can you please let me in? I've got an important message for you."

"Give me the message." He said suspiciously. He could hear the girl sigh from behind the door.

"The plague victims are on the move. You have to get out of here as fast as you can..."

"Are you one of them... the plague victims?"

"No! I work for..." Blanche's voice trailed off as she tried to decide whether to say she worked for the palace or for the resistance. As she pondered her loyalties the door came open in front of her.

"You can come in," he said. Blanche nodded gratefully and went in to house. "How were you able to get here? It's still too hot to travel."

"Do you remember the genetic experiment that took place a few years back?" "Yes, all the children died, except for one..." Blanche smiled slightly "You." She nodded.

"You and Arianna need to get out of here..." Ri nodded.

"I know, the plague victims. How long until dusk?"

"Almost an hour."

"Would you be able to contact some friends of mine before then? Have them come over here and bring their wheelbarrows..." Ri trailed off, thinking of how much he'd have to have prepared before dawn... his books, some clothing, and most importantly Arianna.

"How far away do they live?" Blanche asked, hoping she wouldn't have to make another long journey.

"Pretty close... maybe a quarter of a mile away." Blanche sighed, relieved.

"Yeah... I'll need directions."

Arianna woke to Ri redressing her wound. "What are you doing?"

"I would have woken you up but we're going to need to leave soon and you'll need your rest."

"Why do we have to leave?" Why am I asking that? At least I'm getting out of here. This is my chance to go... where, though? She thought about it for a moment. Oh well, as long as it's anywhere but here!

"We're near the isolated colonists and they're moving past here to another location. Once that happens, this place will be contaminated. We're going to move elsewhere so that there's no chance of us catching the Disease." By now, he had finished dressing her wound and turned to packing his things. She watched for a moment as he started packing his books in a small crate. Groaning, she lifted herself off the bed and joined him. She dragged a chair over so that she could sit down while putting his books away. Picking up a bunch of them, she read off their titles. "Moby Dick, Oliver Twist, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Phantom Of The Opera." She looked at him with a questioning look.

"Okay, so I own a couple literary classics." She grinned and picked up the last few books that remained on that shelf. She looked at the titles. "Are all of your books 'literary classics?'"

"No," he answered, not even bothering to look down from his precarious perch on a stool a few feet away. He grabbed some more from the top shelf before answering fully. "They're sorted by style. Classics in one section, history in another..."

Arianna picked up two books from the next shelf. "Startide Rising by David Brin?"

"One of my favorites. I guess you stumbled into my science-fiction section."

"I guess I did." Arianna looked down at the book in her hands for a moment, then looked back up at Ri. He had turned back to his books and she found herself appreciating her view. Damn, he's cute! She surprised herself with the thought, then quickly turned her mind to other, safer, subjects. "As it happens," she began, "Startide Rising is also my favorite."

"Really? I wouldn't've thought of you as the type... then again, you do seem to love surprising me with these different sides of your personality, don't you?" She smiled mischievously at him.

"You haven't seen anything yet." She batted her eyes at him, then blushed and turned away. What the hell am I doing?! I'm flirting with a lowlife! She blushed an even deeper shade of red and quickly put the books in the crate. She cleaned out the next shelf and nearly threw the books in.

Ri looked at her back, confused by her almost violent reaction. Have I done something to offend her? Instead, he said to her, "Okay, I'm done here. I'm going to get my stuff from my bedroom, then we'll go, all right?"

She replied, "How are we going to get all these crates out of here?"

"I have some friends coming to help."

"Ahh. How do you know that the isolated colonists are on the way?" She asked, changing the subject.

"This girl Blanche..."

"Blanche!" Arianna exclaimed.

"You know her?" Ri asked somewhat surprised.

"Of course I know her. We both live in the palace."

"What? The palace?" Ri's face was confused. Arianna sighed, realizing the mistake she had made once again. She waited, hoping he would once again assume she was delirious. When he didn't say anything for almost a minute she decided it was time to explain her situation to him.

"I'm a princess... I tried to tell you before, but you thought I was delirious and I realized it was probably better not to tell you... there are those who aren't very found of royalty."

"I don't believe you," Ri replied flatly

"It's true." Arianna pulled up the sleeve of her blouse reviling a small crown tattooed on to her arm. "See, only the royal family has this." She glanced up at Ri shyly and was horrified by the look of cold disapproval she saw in his eyes. He didn't say anything, he just walked into his room. Not knowing what else to do she simply finished putting his books away. Why should I care what he thinks, she thought, he's a commoner, a stupid good-for-nothing I certainly don't need his affection. But she knew that she did care what he thought, silly as it was, she was starting to like him, and she wanted him to feel the same way. she finished putting the books away. As she started to put the last one in the box, it slipped from her grasp and fell onto the floor.

Ri came running into the room. "Are you all right?" he asked breathlessly. She was so relieved by his concern that she almost laughed. Maybe he doesn't hate me.

"I'm fine, I just dropped a book, that's all." She bent over slightly to retrieve the book, which lay open on the floor. As she did, she noticed a camouflage armband that must have fallen out of the book. She picked it up as if it were a piece of trash. "What's this?" she asked accusingly.

He saw what she was holding and paled considerably. Reaching out, he tried to grab it, but Arianna was too quick and pulled it away from him. "It's nothing," he pleaded, seeing the angry look in her cold green eyes.
"Really? I could've sworn that it was the symbol of the Resistance."

"Yes, I'm sure you know all the secrets of the resistance," he sneered.

"What exactly is that supposed to mean?

"Well, always good business to know your enemy." Their argument was interrupted by a loud knock on the door. "That would be my friends. Ri announced with a certain finality. He picked up two crates of books and went to answer the door.

"Hey there, Ri." Millie Joe said as she opened the door. "I reckon we'll have to hurry, huh?" Millie smiled winningly. She was a short woman, almost a year older than Ri, with muddy brown eyes, freckles, and brown hair tied in two messy braids. She wore a once white tee-shirt that was now mostly red from Martian dirt, and a pair of grungy overalls that hugged her plump figure more than a little too tightly.

"Hey Millie. Did you bring the wheelbarrows?"

"Yup. Bob and Clarence got 'em. C'mon lets get outa her 'fore them plague victims get here." Ri nodded and then suddenly noticed that Arianna wasn't behind him.

"Arianna are you coming?" He called.

"No!" He sighed angrily.

"Oh yes you are." He turned quickly to Millie. "I'll just be a minute." The women nodded and Ri walked back in to his study, where Arianna's voice had come from. He found her sitting on the cot, her eyes downcast. "I'm not leaving without you, you know," he said quietly.

"And why not? Wouldn't that help you in accomplishing you're goal, to destroy the royal family? Let me catch the plague; one down, two to go. Or maybe if you're lucky I'll go back home and give it to my father and sister while I'm at it..."
"Hmm... not a bad idea." He replied sarcastically. "I'm sure that's what Darin had in mind when he asked me to take care of you until you recovered from the ISCN.

"Darin? You know Darin?" Arianna's expression showed both hope and horror. "What did he tell you..."

"Listen, we can't stay here. My friends are outside waiting for me. Are you coming, or do I have to carry you out?"

"I'll go with you... but you'd better not poison me..." She smiled slightly. He returned her grin.

"Or burn the house down."

Chapter 7

Rose's laugh vibrated through the throne room, sounding for all the world like a witch's cackle. "Yes, of course father, he tells me everything. I think I know more about the resistance than he does."

"Did he tell you where your sister is?" King Joseph asked. He was a kindly looking old man, with gray hair and big brown eyes. The kind of man that would seem in place flipping through tattered photo albums and baking oatmeal cookies with his grandchildren. Certainly he did not look like the bloodthirsty tyrant he had come to be known as...

"Oh daddy, what do you care about that? She betrayed you, don't you remember? She found out about our plan and then she went and told the resistance. She turned many against you. I promise you she is nowhere where she can deceive us again." Roses voice was soft and wheedling, her smile saccharin sweet.

"But is she safe?" Rose let out an angry breath.

"If you must know she's staying with a peasant boy that Darin knows."

"A peasant boy!" The king exclaimed. He tried to force the image of her daughters lips entwined with those of some filthy beggar out of his mind. Rose's grin broadened when she noticed her fathers evident disgust.

"Yes... I'm afraid you wouldn't want to know all the details of what the two have been doing. I didn't to want know either, but of course Darin told me anyway." She looked at him with superficial sincerity. "Like I said, he tells me everything." She paused a moment letting the importance of what she was saying sink in. "Oh no!" She gasped after a minute.

"What?" King Joseph asked alarmed, "Rose what is it?"

"I just realize that Arianna's activities with this boy... well wouldn't they disqualify her to inherit the kingdom after you die? Oh it's so sad, my own sister throwing away her inheritance for some peasant." Rose frowned cutely. "Then again she never showed much interest in politics."

"No I suppose she didn't," the King agreed doubtfully.

"Now about the plan... Is it true that you gave Blanche's parents an inhaler for the girl?"
"It seemed only right after all..."

"No, Daddy it's not right. Do you have any idea how powerful Blanche is with out the asthma..."
"Blanche is only a child."

"A child who is immune to the plague and the temperature. Besides, she's working for the resistance."
"It seems everybody is."

"We can't let the people get hold on any technology. Nothing, no stoves, vacuum cleaners, nothing. We need to make them dependant upon you for everything, otherwise you'll never regain full power and the resistance will have us killed." King Joseph nodded, taking in everything his daughter said. "You will have to send the soldiers after the plague victims tonight, Darin had Blanche warn them, and now they're moving to escape."

"I really don't know about your plan for the plague victims dear, we have no quarrel with them and..."

"They could come out from under the ground Daddy," Rose wined, doing her best to look frightened. "You know I used to have nightmares about them coming and giving me the dread disease. Of course I'm to old for such silly dreams now but..." She let her voice trail off and stared at her father with her big dark eyes. "As I said it's silly, especially since even if the did come out from underground they'd never make into the castle, our defenses are to good." She made sure to keep a certain edge of doubt in her voice, as if to suggest that the castle defenses really weren't that good. "But what about Arianna and her peasant? I doubt their defenses can match the castles. Also the plague victims have more technology than any one else on the planet. They're just not safe to have around." The king nodded. "I'm supposed to be meeting Darin in a few minutes Daddy. I'll see you later." She kissed his cheek and walked out of the room. Once outside she leaned on the door, letting her tensed muscles relax and closed her eyes, for only a few moments. She knew in there she had to have every movement, word, and facial expression carefully choreographed in order to get her point across to her father. Soon she would have to go through an identical song and dance with Darin... be elegant, be regal, be loving, be innocent... all for the sake of the power that would soon come to her if she played her cards right. Only when that power was gained could she afford to be simply herself.

***

Arianna kept her eyes tightly closed as she tried to keep her body relaxed and breathing even. The attempt at looking relaxed however was futile. Night had almost fallen and the already dropping temperature was causing her to shiver violently. She hoped they got wherever they were going soon, within half an hour the temperature would be low enough to freeze human blood.

The wheelbarrow Arianna was lying in lurched uncomfortably as it passed over a rock, although she was sure Ri was trying to be careful. She had walked for nearly ten minutes before the wound on her leg had reopened and she had been forced to lie in the dirty wheelbarrow. Rather than have to talk to Ri's friends she had feigned sleep.

"Hey Ri, I think she's sleeping," whispered Bob Joe. He and his twin brother Clarence both had greasy brown hair, hazel eyes, muscular builds, and mouths filled with large brownish teeth.

"Y'know she sure is cute," added Clarence.

"I'll bet she's better than any one else we've ever had," Bob agreed.

"Had?" Ri's voice was apprehensive.

"Yeah," Bob and Clarence replied in unison. "You tried her out yet?" Clarence asked keeping close to Ri so that their conversation wouldn't wake up Arianna or be overheard by Millie.

"What do you mean 'tried her out'?" Arianna would have laughed if she had been a little less annoyed by the direction that the conversion was taking.

"Oh you know..." Clarence started to explain, but Ri cut him off, his voice filled with annoyed wonder that his companion would suggest such a thing.

"No!"

"Your loss," Bob muttered, giving Arianna an intense urge to slap him. "When she wakes up I'm gonna..."

"Stay away from her," Ri said forcefully. Good boy, thought Arianna, hoping that would shut up the Joe twins.

"Oh, once she gets a good look at my body you'll have to keep her away from me." Somehow I doubt that, Arianna thought wryly.

"Somehow I doubt that," Ri echoed.

"I agree," added Clarence, "It's me she'll be after."

"I seriously doubt that she'll be after either of you," Millie sneered.

"I suppose you think she'll be after you." Ri joked.

"No, but a woman would have to be either blind, stupid, or both to go any where near my brothers." She laughed cheerfully. "I can see our dome now, finally."

"Finally," Ri echoed through chattering teeth.

Millie looked up at the sky for a moment. "I don't think we're gonna have but more 'an a few minutes 'fore it gets mighty cold out here." Ri nodded and the Joe twins sped up, racing their own wheelbarrows to the dome that was getting ever larger in the distance. Not wanting to be left behind, Ri started jogging, pushing his wheelbarrow, and Arianna, before him. Millie jogged next to him, surprisingly fit compared to what he expected.

"Hey, Ri?" she asked in a small huff.

"Hmm?"

"Why do ya like her?"

"Like who?"

"You know..." Millie's voice trailed off and Arianna had the sinking suspicion that Millie was pointing at her.

"No! Whatever made you think that?"

"Uh, well, nothing."

"Nothing, huh?"

"Yeah, just a hunch." Arianna stiffened slightly. A hunch? What if everybody notices this imaginary thing that she sees between Ri and I. She forced her body to become relaxed again, even though the dropping temperature made it ever harder to do. After a minute, she heard a door creak open, and a flood of warm air gush past her. It feels so good and yet... Arianna was unable to finish the thought as Millie announced, "Well, we're here."

She felt Ri scoop her up gently and set her on something soft. Noticing the chill of her skin, Ri pulled a blanket over her and stood up again. The next thing she felt was something not quite soft brushing up against her face. For a moment, she thought that it might have been another blanket that Ri was putting over her. She opened one eye just a bit, then opened it more as the thing that she was looking at was to big to focus on without opening her eyes the entire way. Immediately, she screamed. A big eye stared straight into hers, and it most definitely was not human.

"Arianna! Arianna!" She vaguely registered that Ri was calling her name, but she kept screaming nonetheless. "ARIANNA! IT'S JUST A CHICKEN!"

She stopped screaming long enough to focus on the thing in front of her. The chicken, surprisingly, had not budged from where she had first seen it, except to follow her movements with one eye.

"Don't worry," Millie said, scooping up the chicken and depositing him in another room. "That there's little Ri. Ah, now there's the kindest chicken I ever had. He wouldn't hurt a thing. He's just curious 'bout ya." Arianna noticed that Ri blushed deeply, apparently finding out for the first time that Millie had a chicken named after him. Nobody however seemed to mind that she had screamed so loudly that she had frightened away the family's dogs and all the chickens except "little Ri."

Millie fluttered her eyelashes at Ri coyly. Ri's eyes widened and he turned back to Arianna, his eyes pleading for her help. "So, Ri," Arianna said, moving closer. "Where are you going to sleep?"

"With me!" Millie shouted excitedly.

"Over here! I can't leave Arianna alone around the chickens!" Ri replied in alarm. He pulled a couple of blankets over to the corner beside Arianna. He quickly laid down and pretended to go to sleep. Arianna laughed, but Millie stepped over and yanked his sleeve.

"Come on, Ri!" Millie looked down at him imploringly. Ri sat up and backed against the wall.

"Um, Millie, I..."

Arianna glanced between the two of them and though she felt bad for Millie, she felt worse for Ri. "No. I'm sorry, Millie, but Ri is sleeping here." Seeing Millie's look, she added, "Well, you have heating in your room, all I have is Ri... besides I need somebody to protect me from his nosy little namesake." Ri gratefully put an arm around her shoulder. Faintly, she heard a whispered "Thank you" in her ear. Millie frowned and went to her room. Clarence and Bob looked at her longingly.

"Hey, Millie," one of the twins called. "You can have Ri. We'll keep Arianna warm and save her from the chickens."

"Um, no. I'm sorry, boys, but I'm afraid that whenever you two get near me, I sneeze." For effect, she sneezed heavily. "I think I'm allergic to you."

"In other words, you two make her sick." Millie laughed and shot Arianna a grateful look. Arianna's joke had saved her from the embarrassment of rejection. Arianna, more than a little relieved that she would be able to sleep without Clarence or Bob in the immediate vicinity, pulled her blankets tightly around her and lay back down. Ri laid down next to her after Millie and the twins had left. Quickly, Arianna elbowed him in the ribs.

"OW! What was that for?" he whispered fiercely.

"I still haven't forgiven you." Arianna didn't look around at him, but Ri could sense the haughty look on her face.

"Why should I care whether or not you've forgiven me? You've hated me ever since I first met you and I still can't figure out why. Is it because your father taught you that people like me are too stupid, too... underneath you?"

"That's part of it. And now that I've met you, I understand why he taught me that. I shouldn't have trusted you at all. You're a member of the Resistance. You're a part of the very organization that is trying to undermine my father, probably even kill him." Ri felt her back convulse, as if she were trying hard to hold back a sob. "Don't you realize all your resistance is, is a plan to murder a helpless old man."

"A brutal tyrant." Ri corrected, dismayed by the harshness of his own voice.

"No!" Arianna tried to yell, but it came out more like a whimper. No, stop it, she ordered internally, oh god, I'm making a fool of myself. She could feel warm tears running down her face despite her best efforts to control them.

"Arianna..." Ri whispered, unsure of what else to say. He tried to put his hand on her shoulder but she pulled back violently. Ri almost wanted to tell her that he didn't want to kill the king, that he would renounce his loyalties to the resistance and stand by her, that he would go against freedom, and fairness, and everything else he believed in, but the words stuck in his throat like globs of tar refusing to leave his mouth.

"It wasn't always like this you know." She whispered, surprising herself. Why am I telling him this? she thought somewhat frantically. The only answer that she could come up with was that she did trust him. "He used to be... different..." She trailed off wishing that he would interrupt her. To his dismay he was silent, forcing her to continue. "When I was little... I don't remember how old, but it was before Rose was even born. He used to be... I don't know! I haven't... we haven't even talked in a long time. He talks to Rose but... she's different I guess..." Arianna went silent, the words catching in her throat. She hoped that Ri couldn't see the tears that she couldn't seem to stop. He was silent for so long that she actually began to hope that he might have fallen asleep. Than she hard him moving over so he could face her. She quickly closed her eyes in reflexive shame, hoping he would believe she was sleeping.

"You can open your eyes now, I know you're awake." Despite the command in his voice there was know mistaking its gentle tone. She could feel the pad of thumb moving across her cheek, tracing the moist lines made by her tears. When after a moment she opened her eyes he was sitting next to her, looking down at her with his large brown eyes filled with nothing but compassion. As she blinked back her tears she felt a strange, utterly unfamiliar stirring in the pit of her stomach, but chose to ignore it. She quickly got up, sitting so that her face was about level with his. After a few minutes of silence she rested her chin on her knees with a slight sigh. "Are you going to be alright?" Ri asked cautiously.

"Yeah." She replied, lost in her own thoughts.

"Is that why you left the palace... you're relationship with your father?" To his dismay, his question brought on another wave of fresh tears.

"I had to leave. I... I did something terrible." She started to explain, making a visible effort to keep her voice even. "He has this plan, you're in the resistance you should know about it."

Ri winced at the lingering spite in her voice when she mentioned his affiliation with the resistance but simply replied "Of course. He wants to, among other things, take away our technology." Arianna nodded.

"I was one of the first people to find out about it and I...I," a sob shook her body, making it difficult for Ri to understand her as she continued. "I told Darin... the resistance had already formed of course, but that information is what supported their cause. I don't know why I did it... at the time I told myself it was because what he was doing was wrong... that he needed to be stopped... but now I just don't know. He found out... and I had to leave. I can't go home now, ever. And, my father and sister might be murdered because of me." Ri thought he heard her say something else but she was now crying to hard for him to tell. Not knowing what else to do he wrapped his arms around her.

"It's going to be alright Arianna." He promised wincing at how stupid, and shallow his words sounded. Despite the situation he couldn't help but think how pleasant it felt to have Arianna, the princess, a member of the royal family, the women who was technically his enemy, in his arms.

*******

Blanche stood among the crowd in the town hall, trying to blend in as well as she could. The town was in a frenzy and she wanted to know why. She strained her hearing so that she could make out what the royal official was saying.
"...There is no cause for alarm. What you all saw was just a reflection off a small meteorite as it entered Mars's atmosphere. It was not a space vehicle!"

"I know what I saw!" A woman in the front row stood up and was yelling at the man when his guards forced her to sit back in her seat. She glared at him with poorly concealed hatred. When the official was satisfied that she wouldn't cause any more disruptions, he repeated himself, "There is nothing to be afraid of!"

The crowd yelled its angry reply and food started to be thrown at him. Blanche watched in awe as people wasted the food that was so expensive these days on a man they didn't like. The woman in the front row got up again, this time to leave. As she walked out the door, Blanche stopped her. "Excuse me, Miss, but what exactly did you see?"

The woman gave her a look filled with mistrust. She must think that I'm one of the palace's spies, Blanche thought. After a moment, the woman replied, "My son Jake was looking through our backyard telescope and he saw something. When he got me to look at it, I saw a space shuttle. I don't care what they say, I saw one."

Blanche was too stunned to speak and the woman took her chance to leave. Darin has to know about this.

Chapter 8

Arianna screamed as she woke up to Clarence's face just inches from her. Ri, whose body was still entangled with her own, awoke with a start. He gave Clarence an annoyed glance before saying, "Is this going to become a ritual with you?" Arianna blushed and smiled a bit sheepishly. When he looked her in the eye she quickly turned away, not wanting to further discuss the events of the night before. "Millie's cooking breakfast." He said getting up off the floor where he and Arianna had slept the night before. Arianna also scrambled to her feet making a visible effort to ovoid any physical contact with Clarence who was still standing over her.

"Um... a good morning... Clarence." She said politely as she backed away from him. He moved closer backing her into the corner. As he gave her what he hoped was a winning smile a gust of sour breath wafted over her face.

"Hi!" He said eagerly. "I jus' thought I'd go an' introduce myself. I'm mighty pleased to meet 'ya Miss Arianna." He proffered a large, dirty hand. Arianna glanced nervously at Ri and than back at Clarence who was waiting patiently for his handshake. After a moment she took his hand, ignoring the irrational fear that contact with his flesh would cause her own to turn black and fall off. "You... you... you're real pretty." Clarence muttered shyly.

"Um..." She looked at Ri, her eyes pleading.

"Hey Clarence, Arianna's wound needs to be redressed, otherwise it could get infected. Millie should be finished with breakfast by now, why don't you leave and I'll attend to Arianna."

"That's alright. I can help you fix her up..."

"Thanks, but it's really a one person job. I'm sure I can handle it." Clarence sighed in defeat and left the room, heading toward what Arianna assumed was the kitchen. "Okay, sit down." Ri ordered once Clarence had left.

"What? Why?" Arianna asked perplexed.

"I wasn't lying about the wound. Remember, it reopened last night while we were walking? Well now I'll have to redress it again." To his surprise she actually listened to him, sitting down on the floor, since there was no furniture in the room. He lifted up her skirt and took a moment to examine the wound. "It looks like it's getting better." He said as he taped some clean white gauze from one of the boxes he had brought over it.

"How do you know?" Arianna asked doubtfully. Ri laughed lightly.

"There was actually a time when I thought I wanted to be a doctor... read a few books on it and got bored of the subject, but the information I learned stuck with me I guess. Anyway, this is just basic first aid, nothing too difficult.
"What did you end up being?" Arianna was surprised to find that she had no idea of Ri's occupation even after spending almost two weeks with him.

"You know, I still haven't decided... I just do whatever work is available. I make enough money though."
"Enough money for what?" Arianna asked pointedly.

"Oh you know... I usually have enough food for myself, basic supplies... that's all I need. I don't often have guests. Well sometimes Millie and her brothers come by... or Darin on occasion but that's about it." He placed the last piece of surgical type on over the bandage and allowed her skirt to fall back down, not with out a certain amount of regret.

*****
Over a thousand men, women, and children traveled swiftly through the faint shadows cast by the just rising sun. Many of the people were shivering violently as they moved through the frigid red wasteland, knowing within an hour the temperature would reach the other extreme. There was an air of barely suppressed trepidation about these people, because though in most was these people were completely dissimilar they all shared the same malady. They were the plague victims, forced away from normal society, and for good reason. All they had to do was touch a person, or even just come close enough to transmit the disease through their breath, and that person would be doomed to death. Nobody would risk catching the sickness, and so once the sun came up there would be know way for the colonists to escape the scorching heat, and it so it would kill them.

Sadie Nohol knew this, as did her companions, David Terrene, and Randal Rundle, but unlike the rest of the colonists they had absolutely no plans of accepting that fate. Already they were miles away from the rest of the colonists, plotting their revenge.

"Maybe we could you know, just knock on the door and have them let us in." Suggested Randal. He was about nineteen years old, Jay's oldest son, and he shared his fathers dark skin and hair. The others laughed ruefully at his suggestion.

"Yeah, sounds perfect," Sadie started sarcastically, "I can just see it," She made a face of mock innocence "Knock, knock, 'Hi we're with the colonists, and we're here to storm the palace, could you please let us in mister nice guard sir? Oh, don't worry about the disease I'm sure your life isn't worth saving anyway. Idiot."

"Well we wouldn't tell 'em who we are!" Randal argued, "Just tell them that our parents sent us to the market to get some food our something and we got lost or something, I don't know! All we have to do is get the guard to open the door, we can find away in from there."

"I suppose it could work, I mean it's not like we have any better plan... Okay how 'bout this, we say something so the guard will open the door and then you can knock him out David."

"Me? Why don't you knock him out." David asked defensively. Randal glanced meaningfully at Sadie. She was sixteen years old, and relatively short, with a slim figure, perfectly straight black hair, almond shaped black eyes, and skin that was so pale it seemed almost translucent. All in all a very pretty creature, but not the type that could knock out a little child, certainly not a brawny palace guard.

"Point taken." David said sullenly, "but I'm still not going to knock anybody out."

"Why the hell not?" Sadie's voice was verging on angry.

"He'd catch the plague..."

"Yep, you're point." Sadie asked in annoyance.

"It would kill him... a terrible death. I'm not sure I could live knowing that I had killed somebody."

"In self defense!" Sadie exclaimed. "The guards work for the king, the king's trying to kill us. It's fair turnabout."

"Not necessarily." Randal said thoughtfully, "It could be a resistance officer guarding the door... they do work for the king too, otherwise he'd discover them all right away. They are the ones who sent Blanche to warn us about King Josephs attack."

"A lot of good that did us. Now instead of getting shot we get to be baked instead. Face it, if the resistance, or Blanche for that matter, cared anything about us they would of arranged some kind of shelter for us. Listen, if it bothers you, after we get in we'll try and avoid the resistance officers, but first we have to get in." Randal nodded, but David still seemed reluctant.

"Hey Sade, why don't you kiss the guard?" Randal suggested mischievously. Sadie laughed.

"The kiss of death!" She announced dramatically, "Wouldn't knock him out though."

"But it might stun him." Randal smiled at his own joke. Before he could react Sadie planted a passionate kiss on his lips.

"I've been stunned!" he moaned. Nobody noticed David sneaking away from the party. He knew he wouldn't be able to stop them from going to the palace and getting their revenge, but he would have nothing to do with it.

Chapter Nine

Blanche knew that she should have been moving quickly, Darin would be expecting her back soon, but she found herself distracted by the small silvery dot that she saw in the sky. Could it really be a spaceship? She wondered half frantically. She found the fact that whenever she looked up the silver dot seemed to be growing was more than a little disturbing. Her mind filled with stories from the sci-fi books that Princess Arianna had sometimes given her. The stories were all outdated, set in what Arianna jokingly referred to as the "old future", but the stories were vivid and exciting, many of them vaguely disquieting. A few of the books were about relatively benign alien species he wanted nothing more than to help the human race, but the majority of them included sadistic extraterrestrial villains bent on destruction. If the silver spot really was a ship from outer space, what was left of the human species could be doomed. The thought sent a shiver down her spine, and she broke into a run, keeping a tentative eye on the ever-growing silver spot.

Suddenly she halted her sprint, surprised to see a large, suspiciously human looking lump. She took in a shuttering gasp, caused not by her asthma, but the horrible realization that the lump was human. She quickly dropped to her knees beside the body, afraid of what she might find. She moved the person's hand away from his face-he must have been trying to shield himself from the scorching sun-and fought back a wave of nausea as she recognized the fallen persons bushy tan hair and awkward features. It was David, one of the younger plague victims, whom she had spoken with many times. She quickly placed to fingers behind David's, searching for a pulse as Darin had once taught her to do. I must be doing it wrong, she thought frantically changing the position of her hands. After a few try's she finally found what she was looking for, a heartbeat, weak and erratic but undeniably there. She let out a breath she hadn't even realized she was holding and lifted David up over one shoulder, and almost collapsed under his weight.

"Now what am I going to do?" She muttered pessimistically to herself. Almost as soon as the words escaped her mouth the ground under her suddenly shuddered under her, knocking her off balance and causing her to drop David. As she tried to heft David's heavy form up off the red soil she looked up at the sky and realized with horror that the silver spot was no longer there.

*****
"Who's there?" the guard called, hearing something moving in the dark corridors behind the palace.
He heard a young girl giggle, giving him the eerie impression of an elf coming to drag him off into the darkness.
"I repeat: WHO'S THERE?"

This time, only silence answered his question, then the guard jumped as he heard the answer come from behind him, "The angel of death." He caught the brief flash of something in the light of his torch. He saw it come toward him, then... nothing.

Arianna jumped as she heard a loud rumbling sound in the distance, vaguely reminiscing of a phenomena known as thunder that she had read about in some of her books. It couldn't be thunder though, Mar's atmosphere was too thin to support most weather conditions. She looked quickly at Ri and then Millie wondering if they to had heard. Judging from Ri's confused expression and Millie's pale face they had.

"What was that?" Millie whispered.

Chapter 10

Blanche took a few steps back looking at the scene in front of her in horrified aw. Only a few yards away from her stood a large silver spaceship, shining dangerously in the hot Martian sun. Suddenly a large hunched over figure emerged from the space craft, a single black spot blocking out the glaring light that the vessel reflected. She fought the nearly overwhelming urge to scream and run from the presumed alien. Instead she stood defiantly over David's unconscious form and reached tentatively for the weapon Darin had given her. Her hands shook as she remembered his cautions never to use the weapon unless absolutely necessary.

The creature moved out of the blinding light giving Blanche her first clear view of it. Its relatively small body was twisted hideously, and it's skin alternated between a sickly yellow color in most places, and a moist blood red in others where the skin was torn. It had one bloodshot green eye placed far to low on repulsive face, and a large lump of flesh where the other eye should have been. Blanche could identify no nose on the being, but she did see an opening on its face that she could only assume was its mouth.

Blanche shot her gun straight at the creature with hands that had suddenly become unsteady. The bullet came with in a few centimeters of it before falling to the ground harmlessly, and the creature turned to face her.
"D-don't come n-near us" Blanche called, hating how terrified she sounded. "He's got the p-plague. If y-you catch it, you'll die." She raised her weapon again, despite the knowledge that it had no effect on the life form. She did not try to run from it, knowing that she could not hope to escape it while carrying David.

"I won't hurt you... or the boy. Don't move." The creature called. Her voice was feminine, and surprisingly normal considering her twisted form. "I won't hurt you." She repeated moving closer to the frightened girl and her unconscious companion. She noted that the girl was sweating, and momentarily willed her shield to turn off, so she could feel the planets scorching heat. After a few seconds she reached the other party. "Come with me." She whispered. When Blanche didn't move she added, "Please... I think that I can save your friend." That did it. She followed timidly, doing her best to carry the boy's solid form.

****

Darin burst in to Rose's quarters, catching her momentarily of guard. She quickly brushed her dark hair back behind her ears, and moved seductively toward Darin, before noticing his serious expression.

"What? What is it?" Her voice was apprehensive.

"The palace is under attack." He reported grimly, "I want you to stay in here, and keep your door locked." Rose nodded mutely but Darin had already left. She quickly locked her door behind him, and then began to frantically search her drawers for something she could use as a weapon if the need arose.

Darin moved stealthily down the hallways of the castle, joined by four other palace guards-all of them members of the resistance. However with the invasion their goal had changed slightly. No longer were they working to destroy the king, they were working to protect him from an unknown threat. Part of Darin was screaming for him to stop this charade, let they who would destroy the king do it and congratulate them on a job well done. Still he knew he could not do that, an unknown threat was far more dangerous than a known one, and besides what was dangerous for the king would be dangerous for the kings children-be dangerous for Rose. He would not allow anyone to harm her.

The sound of laughter forced Darin and the other three officers to stop their patrol. Out of the shadows scrambled to teenagers, a girl and a boy, who they had never met before.

"Hey." The girl smiled and kissed one of the soldiers ardently while her companion watched, a look of envy briefly passing his features. "I'm Sadie, and this is Randal. I think you've been looking for us." Her smile turned mischievous, "Just met your king... he's getting on in years isn't he?"

"Did you knock him unconscious as well as our palace guard?" Darin asked wryly.

"No, just stopped bye to say hello." She gave him a look of false innocence.

"You're going to have to come with me." Darin grabbed on to her arm, and she did not resist. One of Darin's soldiers followed the suet and took Randal by the arm. They weren't even half way to the cell where criminals were kept when another guard intercepted them. He was trembling, and evidently very worried. Darin and his companions soon found out why.

"Smithy-the guard the invaders knocked out-he's sick... very sick. It looks like" he paused, as if he was frightened even to say the next word out loud "the plague," he finished ominously. Sadie laughed merrily at this.

"Hmmm" she mused, "I wasn't aware that it took effect so quickly." Darin stared at the girl, realizing for the first time just how dangerous she is. Suddenly he rounded on her furiously.

"You brought this hear didn't you?!" Sadie nodded and Darin slapped her. Randal broke free of the guard that was still clutching onto him, stepping protectively between Sadie and the soldier. Darin ignored him, and continued questioning Sadie. "How many people have you come into contact with? Why did you come here?" Sadie simply shrugged, cowed by his anger. Darin turned to his companions, his voice carefully controlled. "We've been exposed to the plague," he started, his voice registering a clam he was not feeling, "We need to get these to into confinement, and then we need to secure a section of the palace for those of us who might now carry the disease." He turned to the guard who had brought the bad news, "I want you to warn the rest of the castle about the disease... with out coming into contact with anybody, you're carrying it now too. This half of the building will be closed off for those who have been exposed. I want you to watch for Blanche... we'll need her services more than ever now." When the guard hesitated he turned to him fiercely "Just do it! We can't let this spread."

Chapter 11

"You like him a heck of a lot don't ya?" Millie turned to Arianna sincerely. When Ri, Clarence and Bob had started arm wrestling, the two girls had congregated in Millie's room to escape what Millie jokingly referred to as the "testosterone overload".

"Who?" Arianna asked innocently. Millie couldn't help but laugh.

"Ri!"

"What? No, not really" Arianna replied, ignoring her sinking suspicion that her words were anything but true. "He's been very helpful but..." Arianna trailed off but what? Besides his affiliation with the resistance, and his low social status she could find very little not to like about him. Instead she changed the subject so it focused on Millie rather than herself.

"I think you are the one who likes him a lot." Millie giggled slightly.

"Well, I reckon you're right." She replied, "But he don't feel the same 'bout me." She added sadly, "He does consider me to be a friend though... more so than my brothers."

"I'm not surprised. Your brothers aren't anything like him." Arianna said dreamily.

"Course their not! My chickens are smarter than my brothers! Ri ain't nothing like them two rats. Ri is nice, and smart, and handsome... in short he's pretty darn close to perfect."

"Well, then you can have him." Arianna offered wryly.

"Already told ya it wouldn't work. He jus' don't like me like that. Arianna, the boy is in love with you."

*******

The creature who Blanche had come to know as Pearl watched as Blanche lay David down on a small cot inside the ship. Several other creatures of similar degree's of ugliness crowded around them. Blanche backed away from the hideous group, and watched numbly as they began to treat David. One of them moved the boys hair back, and injected a needle filled with a thick purple syrup into his neck.

"There." There was a murmur of approval throughout the mass of creatures as Pearl announced, "He will recover." With that the large group dispersed and Blanche was left alone with her original companion.

"What are you?" She asked when she had gotten up the nerve to speak.

"Human." Blanche could not hide her surprise.

"No... you can't be I'm human!" Blanche exclaimed in complete disbelieve "I'm human..." Pearl's lips spread in a hideous replication of a smile. Blanche cringed as her misshaped hand patted her shoulder lightly.

"Yes you are, and you are beautiful, but you have not suffered from the Death Syndrome. The dread disease is what makes my people look like this." She glanced down at her own body in distaste. "Most people die quickly, and that is a blessing. They never come to this wretched state."

"If you are human, then where do you come from?" Blanche asked.

"Earth."

"Earth!" Blanche repeated in aw, "I've read about earth... and seen pictures. It's a breathtaking planet. It must be wonderful to live there."

"Wonderful?" Pearl's laugh sounded almost like a moan, "Maybe once, but the Death syndrome has destroyed it as it has it's people. This world is much better." She paused for a moment before speaking again. "We left, hoping we'd find something more here. Our ancestors... fellow humans ready to help us with our plight. Your reaction when you saw me was not what we desired. Our the others of this world likely to react the same way?"

"Yes." Blanche admitted, ashamed, "Most people will."

"Then, I don't want you to tell them about us. We'll make ourselves known when we're sure it's safe. Now go back where you came from." Blanche's glance lingered for a moment on David. "Don't worry, you're friend is safe with us, until he recovers. Just leave."

Blanche obeyed the deformed woman's orders only because she knew that she was supposed to have reported back to Darin hours ago. She moved as quickly as she could toward the castle dome without risking an asthma attack. When she got there she was surprised that the normal palace guard was absent, replaced instead by a female soldier who she barely knew.

"Blanche?" The soldiers voice was uncertain. Blanche nodded and was admitted into the building. "Good. I'm glad you're here. The plague has spread throughout the building and we'll be needing your services."

"The plague?" Blanche gasped.

"Yes... You have to go to Darin. He has some instructions for you."

******

Darin had to make an effort to sit up when he heard Blanches footsteps. All around him others were sick... dieing of a malady that had effected no one aboveground for nearly two centuries. It seemed strange to Darin that he was likely to die in the same room as the king he despised so ardently. He saw Blanche survey the room, a look of horror on her face, before she ran to his side.

"They said you wanted to see me." She whispered, barely looking at him. She couldn't bare to see pain in the eyes of the man she had admired almost all of her life. "I'm so sorry I wasn't here sooner, if I had known what was going on here..." Blanches words came out frantically, as though she were afraid the plague would kill him before she even had a chance to finish her apology.

"It's alright." He said quickly, cutting her off. "I need you to get a message to Ri-when you have the chance of course, you'll probably be busy here for quite some time-he's my second in command. When I'm gone he'll be in charge of the resistance. You'll need to get a message to Arianna as well... let her know her father is dieing. She's the next to assume the thrown." Darin laughed, "Oh, but we don't want that do we? That's just what the Resistance has been fighting against, the royal family... she's not as bad as the king, but... probably have to kill her... Ri I think..." Suddenly Blanche interrupted his disjointed speech.

"Darin, you're not making any sense." She murmured. He lay back further on his cot before replying sleepily.
"Probably not. Just get them their messages, let them work it out... I think you'll be playing nurse here for a little while-many sick-none of the others ever taught you any medical skills did they?"

"No... but I'll manage."

"Doesn't matter, we're not going to make it any way."

"I'll make sure that Ri and Arianna get your messages." Blanche promised, squeezing his hand in what she hoped was a reassuring manner.

"One more thing... tell Rose that I love her."

"I will. I promise." Blanche hastily wiped a few stray tears from her eyes.

"That's good," Darin murmured before drifting of into a restless sleep. Blanche got up from the place on the floor were she had been crouching, and did her best to ignore the whirlwind of powerful emotions that was wreaking havoc on her mind. She moved throughout the room doing exactly as Darin had told her, playing nurse. She did what little she could for each of the rooms inhabitants, cleaning the sweat and vomit of their face with a damp rag, saying things she hoped would comfort them. Many had messages they wanted Blanche to give loved ones who could not be with them for fear of catching the dread malady, and Blanche committed each of them to memory. She checked on Darin regularly, and although he did not awaken and talk to her, she could see the plague's steady progression. Early on he started to develop a rash all over his body, which had now worsened to the point where his skin looked almost reminiscent of Pearl's. It was as if the horrible illness was a starving animal, feasting on his once handsome flesh.

Blanche was surprised to see King Joseph beckoning her to the side of his bed. Despite her dislike of the man that Darin's resistance opposed, she complied, knowing that the corrupt monarch may not have much longer to live.

"I-wanted to apologize for not getting you the medicine-asthma." He gasped, looking more old and frail than he ever had before. Blanche nodded, his request for forgiveness catching her off guard.

"Your Majesty, that is..." Blanche started, but The King cut her off.

"I knew you needed it but I couldn't-Rose's plan... you could've caused Rose's plan to fail. Sometime-don't know about that girl. But her sister... Arianna, Blanche where is Arianna? With her peasant?"

"Arianna is safe," Blanche quickly reassured him, "what was Rose's plan Your Majesty?" She asked urgently.

"Technology... she didn't want that. And she wanted destroyed... plague victims... was afraid of them." The king chuckled, "Smart girl... but always so nervous and forceful... not like her sister. Arianna has always been so calm, and sweet... very sweet, wouldn't hurt a fly. Where is she? Why isn't Arianna here."

"She can't be here, Your Majesty, she'd contract the plague and die."

"Yes... of course she would... Blanche, please go to her and to Rose... tell them how much I love them... and not to fight, Arianna is the oldest and she will inherit the crown if she wants it. Please go now, let them know before I die... I can't die them not knowing."

"Yes Your Majesty." Blanche whispered moving away quickly before she could begin to feel any more sympathy for the man Darin had taught her to hate. She had promised him to speak to his daughters before he died and she would... she was guessing she would have quite a bit to say to The Princess Rose. She crouched by Darin's bed one more time, checking on him quickly before she left the room. He wasn't breathing and his heart did not beat. For him at least it was finished.

Chapter 11

"Leave me alone Sadie... I can't even look at you right now." Randal kept his head in his hands ignoring his companions advances.

"What's wrong with you?" She finally asked in frustration. Randal growled in response. I loud agonized moan floated through the walls from the room adjacent to their cell.

"That's what's wrong." Randal muttered angrily, "I have to sit in here and listen to all those people dieing and know that it's my fault. Maybe it was fair to give the Dread Disease to The King, but the rest of those people in there... I think I know why they put us in a cell so close to infirmary. I'll never be able to sleep with out remembering those moans."

"Randal?" Randal jumped at the soft sound of a voice other than Sadie's calling him. He looked up to see Blanche standing outside of his cell, her once childish blue eyes replaced by deep pools of infinite sadness. She stared at him for a moment her expression unreadable before speaking, "I can't believe it was you who did this... I never thought..." She broke off shaking her head in pained disgust.

"I'm sorry." He answered lamely. She continued as if she had never heard him.

"My best friend just died," the girl whispered, seeming almost to be in a daze. "I checked his vital signs four times... he's not coming back." Sadie seemed about to make some kind of retort, but Randal silenced her. That action seemed to break Blanche from her reverie. "I was listening to what you were saying to Sadie," when she glanced at Randal's companion her eye's held nothing but malice, "I'll never be able to forget the moans either. Can I trust you Randal?" Randal nodded, still caught off guard by the sudden change in the girl who just days earlier had been happily helping his family prepare to leave their underground sanctuary. "I mean it, can I really trust you? I don't want to make a mistake that will cost more lives... I don't think you want to either."

"Yes." Randal's voice was a barely audible whisper. Blanche nodded, and opened the door to his cell. She watched him carefully, but not distrustfully, as he ventured out of his own private vision of hell.

"I need to deliver some messages," She explained. "Somebody's going to have to watch over the people who got the plague. You are the only person I trust to do it, who could do the job safely." Without another word she took his hands, leading him down the short expanse toward his cell and the room that housed those who's death warrant he had signed.

******

"Ri?" Ri glanced up from his book at Arianna as she entered the dimly lit room. The Joe twins lay nearby sleeping soundly. Since there first night there sleeping arrangements had been set so that Arianna could stay with Millie, and him with the twins, something the princess herself had suggested. To Ri it seemed like she had been avoiding him, for reasons he could only begin to understand. That first night, she had shown him so much of herself, her emotions that existed beyond her programmed role of the arrogant princess, and he somehow instinctually knew that she was not used that those feelings and did not care to revisit them. She had also shown him a vulnerability that he had never expected to see from her. True, he had cared for her after her exposure to I.S.C.N., but despite her fevered delirium, she had remained steadfast and even strong, nothing like that one nights heightened emotions. There was something else as well, a hesitant desire that he was beginning to feel for her. If her occasional sidelong glances in his direction were any indication then the desire was mutual.

Arianna sat down on the floor next to him, her eye's seemed far away, as if she had just recently awakened from a dream. She was dressed only in a long shirt much to loose for her small frame, evidently borrowed from Millie. Ri felt both overjoyed and threatened by the two females developing friendship. He had always found the way that girls could bond, strange and almost disconcerting. It was almost as if the gender was a complete species in itself. It was a few moments before Arianna spoke again.

"Ri," she repeated cautiously, "I think, that something's wrong." Ri dropped his book, his gaze projecting nothing but concern. He moved off the bed where he had been reading, and sat down on the floor next to Arianna.

"What is it?" He asked softly. Arianna flashed him a bitter smile as she shrugged.

"I don't know." She admitted, "But something..." Her voice trailed off as she stared uncertainly at her companion.

"A dream?" Ri suggested helpfully. She shook her head. "No. It's just a feeling... or even a premonition. That something horrible is happening and everything is going to change soon..." Arianna was unable to finish her sentence as Ri took her head in his hands. Tilting his head slightly his mouth brushed against hers for one sweet, brief instant. As he pulled away he glanced at her beautiful face, that almost seemed to glow with a radiant energy he had never seen in her before. For several minutes there was a delicate silence between them, neither of them quite ready to let the wonder of the moment dissipate, before Ri spoke.

"Is that what's wrong?" He asked quietly. Arianna smiled somewhat shyly.

"No." She admitted, "That... that was absolutely right." She replied breathlessly, her heart beat quickening. She almost ran from the room, feeling threatened by the sudden surge of emotion that threatened to completely overwhelm her, but instead she indulged in it, putting her arms around her and returning his kiss passionately. In that kiss all restraints of social status were suddenly abolished. They were no longer a princess and a member of enemy military group; he was a man, and she was a woman, and they were in love.

*******

"Princess, this is Blanche. I need you to let me in." Blanche kept her voice carefully composed. If she started screaming at Rose before the door was even opened the door she was unlikely to get anywhere. When Rose cautiously slid open the door, Blanche strode in. "Almost half of the palace has been contaminated with the plague, but the threat has been contained. As long as you stay on this side of the castle you will be safe." The girl announced mildly, ignoring her impulse to lead the woman who had deceived Darin so cruelly strait in the area where the disease was strongest, and watch her die. Rose nodded and made a gesture that meant for Blanche to get out, but she paid it no heed. "Your father is dieing... he asked me to give you a message."

"Oh no!" Rose wailed piteously. Blanche was disgusted by the blatant self interest that she saw hidden under the Princess's facade of grief.

"He said he didn't want you and your sister to fight over the crown... it will go to Arianna."

"What?!" Rose spat, her prior distraught veneer completely absolved by her sudden anger. She seemed so furious, that Blanche found herself slowly inching towards the door, so she could make a quick escape if need be.

"Oh, and I have a message from Darin." She sneered, no longer trying to reign in her anger. "He loves you. Those were his last word Princess. He was in love with you, silly as it seems... I hope you catch the plague and die." With those word Blanche left Rose's quarters, afraid she would start to cry again.

The heat assaulted her harmlessly as she left the palace. Forcing back her emotions she broke into a run towards where she knew Ri and Arianna were staying.

*******

Pearl checked her medical instruments as they monitored the boy whom Blanche had delivered to them. She was deeply troubled by the girls immediate reaction to her. She had shot at her, as though she were a monster, a thing to be destroyed and then disposed of in some remote corner where she could not frighten anyone. Yes, they were of the same species, but that was where the similarities ended. She also remembered Blanche's opinion of earth. She had spoken of it as if it were a utopia rather than a man made hell.

She had expected Mars to be a utopia, but she saw she was as wrong in her perception of the red planet as Blanche had been about earth. The whole world was barely habitable, and technologically not advanced. She also saw that it still contained the disease her people had so recently cured: the death syndrome. The boy had been carrying it in a dormant state. She had immediately administered an antidote, but she couldn't help but wonder how many others shared his malady. Surely the Blanche must have contracted it the dread disease. She had to find her, before Death syndrome spread throughout another planet!

*********

Chapter 12

Millie was roused by her preparation of dinner by a forceful knock on the door. That was odd for two reasons. One, it would still be two warm to travel for at least an hour and a half, two, usually nobody ever visited except for Ri, and he was already there. She cautiously opened the door. Standing in front of her was a freckled child, whom she had met only once before. Memory gave her the name, Blanche, a product of genetic engineering and messenger of the resistance.

"Ri and Arianna are here?" The girl inquired, her voice strained with sorrow. Millie couldn't help but wonder what could have happened to her, but she merely nodded and went to fetch her companions. She found them sitting together in Bob and Clarence's room. Neither of the twins were present, they seemed to have noticed the slight change in attitude towards each other the couple seemed to have taken on the night before, and were now opting to leave them alone.

"Blanche is here to speak to you." Millie said quietly, not really wanting to interrupt them. The look that Arianna gave Ri as they got up was apprehensive. The first thing that Ri noticed about Blanche as he entered the room where she was standing was the newly acquired somberness of her countenance. For a long moment the girl didn't say a word, then she began to speak, her voice dripping with sadness under its mask of false composure.

"Two plague victims got into the palace." Blanche said, the next words seemed to catch in her throat, "Darin died," she whispered, turning her attention to Ri, "He said you were his next in command, you're in charge of the resistance now." Ri, nodded solemnly. Before he could so much as speak, Blanche had turned to Arianna, ready to give the princess her message. "Your Highness" she started with all the subservient respect she had refused to Rose, "Your father has also come down with the plague..." Suddenly Arianna interrupted the girl.

"He's not dead." She said quickly. It was a statement, not a question, spoken with grave need and tremulous uncertainty. She could not bring herself to believe that her father could have died, her betrayal still not absolved.

"He wasn't last time a saw him" Blanche replied carefully, "but don't think he'll make it through the night."

Blanche's words shocked Arianna into stunned silence. She felt Ri's hand brush against her arm, but she didn't even turn to look at him. Instead, she obeyed her first instinct and bolted out the dome door. Outside she was immediately assaulted with the scorching heat, as the small fiery particles of red sand tried to find their way into her eyes, her lungs. She painfully gasped at the thin, searing air as she ran as best se could in the general direction of the castle, her home. Then Ri's arms were around her, trying to force her back toward the dome. She resisted, but he didn't let go even when she planted a firm kick in his lower region.

Ri was relieved by the rush of cool air as he forced Arianna inside the dome. To his relief, she ceased struggling once they were both safely indoors, but he loosened his grip on her only marginally. Looking into her eyes, he was surprised to see they were devoid of the tears her had expected to see glistening there, but he could feel her body trembling in his embrace. He noticed the questioning glances that Millie and Blanche were sending him, and nodded reassuringly before turning his attention back to the Princess.

"Don't do that." He whispered, at a loss for words, "you'll die before you ever get to him."

"You'll catch the plague if you go to him." Blanche piped in shyly, "You can't do that, you have to be queen." Arianna reluctantly disengaged herself from Ri's embrace.

"I don't want to be queen." Arianna intoned despondently.

"I don't want you to get the plague." Ri argued desperately. Arianna turned around to face him, her eyes shinning with hopeless fury.

"It doesn't matter Ri." She whispered with deceptive mildness, "We can't go on like this any more, with me as queen, and you as the leader of the resistance. You wont be losing anything if I die."

"Princess Arianna, you have to take the position." Blanche implored. The princess raised one incredulous eyebrow in response. "Your father's plan... it really wasn't your father's plan. It was Rose. She was using him."

"I don't believe you." She replied, but her voice was uncertain.

"I swear it's true, your highness. You absolutely have to take the position."

"Your telling me that my father is dieing and my sister is evil! I can't believe you." For a moment Blanche was silent, unsure of what to say. Finally she spoke.

"Your father wanted me to say he loved you. He said that you got first shot at the throne too. I think he wants you to be queen." Arianna just shook her head and sat down at the kitchen table. Ri gave Millie and Blanche an almost imperceptible gesture that they both understood immediately. Blanche left the room, and Millie did the same, after turning off her stove so the food she was cooking wouldn't burn in her absence. Wordlessly Ri began to rummage through one of the boxes he had brought with him from his home. Finally he found what he was looking for, an almost completely used pad of paper and a stubby pencil.

"Write him a letter." Ri suggested, handing her the utensils, "you can have Blanche deliver it." For a long time Arianna merely stared at the blank paper. Finally she wrote two word on it: I'm sorry. She looked up at Ri.

"I don't know what else to write. I... haven't known him since Rose came along. I love him..." she paused a moment, "No, I love the memory of him, like he was before. What else can I do but apologize for betraying him... and for not being what I should have."

"You are what you should be." Ri's voice was soft and sincere.

"What am I then? A spoiled traitorous Princess."

"No. You are young and beautiful, but that doesn't really matter. You are also intelligent, brave and spirited. You were willing to try to do what was right for the planet, at a great personal loss." Arianna shook her head.

"Somehow my description seems more accurate." She smiled bitterly. She looked again at the nearly empty letter. "He's my father! Why can't even write him a decent farewell?"

"How about you write about something you did with him before Rose was born, something that made you happy."
"When I was very little he used to read with me most nights. Even when I got older, after Rose was born, I didn't see him much, but he made sure I always had books."

"Then tell him about that." Ri whispered. Once again she picked up the pencil and began to write almost frantically. Barely over fifteen minutes later she returned her attention to Ri.

"If I assume the position of queen will you support me, or will I have to fight you." She asked, unsure she really wanted to hear his answer. "I don't want to fight you." She added under her breath.

"I can't promise to support you. That depends on how you rule, and whether or not the people are willing to except you."

"What if you were to help me rule? Ri, would you like to be king of Mars?" Ri stared at her in pure surprise, as she continued to speak. "I love you." She admitted adamantly, "The time I've spent here with you has been so... wonderful. I want you by my side." Ri seemed to consider for a moment, and the nodded.

"I love you too." He said. He saw her break into a tearful smile, as she turned to embrace him. He kissed her, the sweetness of the moment mingling with the saltiness of her tears. In the horizon the sun began to set, telling them it was time to begin their journey back to the palace.

Chapter 13

It had taken a long time for Rose to get up the courage to leave her room, and move through out the disinfected sections of the castle. She had found out where Blanche had gone when she had left the palace earlier. To Arianna. That was not a god thing. There was no way she was going to allow her sister to take the power she had been working so hard to gain.

As soon as it was safe to do so, she stood waiting right outside the castle. It was near the end of the dusk period when she finally caught her first glimpse of Arianna. Traveling near her she saw Blanche, an overweight common women, and a young common man. Rose smiled grimly, and gesture for the three soldiers who were standing in the shadows to come up next to her. A fair battle, four against four, but Rose wasn't interested in fairness, she was interested in victory. Arianna ducked avoiding Rose's first gun shot narrowly.

***

Arianna barely managed to dodge the bullet that came whizzing past her. Glancing up at the attacker she recognized her immediately. It was Rose, her sister! Blanche gave Arianna the children's patented 'I told you so' look, but she chose to ignore it. Ri was already getting out his own weapon. Arianna shook her head quickly.

"Rose. It's me!" She called out half desperately. Another bullet flew by, just missing her shoulder. When Ri attempted to draw his weapon again she didn't stop him. She saw Blanche do the same. Ri's first bullet nearly hit her sister, but Blanche's aim was horrible. Those shot's heralded anarchy. There were bullets flying everywhere, but somehow, none of them seemed to reach their targets. Rose made a halting gesture, and suddenly the fire on both sides stopped.

"I can't do it." Rose announced, there were tears running down her cheeks. "Not to my sister." The small party moved the rest of the way towards the younger princess unharmed. Arianna was about to embrace her sister, who's weapon suddenly seemed to appear in her hand out of nowhere. Two shots were fired simultaneously, but only the dark haired princess fell. Arianna kneeled down next to Rose, whose lovely face was a mask of pained agony. She sat down, cradling her sisters head in her lap.

"Ri." Her voice was angry. He kneeled down next to her, quickly surveying her sisters wound. Even with his limited medical knowledge he knew it was lethal.

"She would have shot you." He said simply, as Arianna gently moved her hand threw Rose's hair. Her eye's drifted slowly shut, and then Princess Rose knew no more.

****

"I am happy to be assuming the thrown, as is Ri, but our happiness is not unmarred by grief." Arianna stood, addressing Mar's sparse population for the first time. "Many people have died fighting for the resistance, and their ideals were good ones. We shall never dishonor their death by forgetting those ideals. Many people died supporting the crown as well, and although they fought to defend an office that had gone corrupt, they were only doing what they believed was right. Do not spurn them, or me for our affiliation. I work to serve you as I always have. My father was not evil, but he was easily misled. I promise you that I am neither." Arianna's speech was interrupted as a grossly deformed creature began to make her way up to the podium. Two palace guards moved to intercept her, but then Blanche stepped up beside her.

"She's alright!" The girl cried out. Arianna, although somewhat frightened by this strange creature nodded. Blanche took the creatures hand, and the guards allowed the two to walk up to the podium besides Arianna.

"My name is Pearl. I have come here from Earth... we suffered from a great plague there, the very one your ancestors fled." Looked at the women stunned for a moment before replying.

"It followed us here, in a dormant state." Arianna explained quickly.

"You knew?" Pearl's misshapen feature registered surprise. Arianna nodded.

"And you never developed an antidote?" Arianna shook her head no. Pearl's face broke into a distorted smile.

"I may have a place on this world yet. My people have developed an antidote."

"We have an antidote for the plague!" Ri announced triumphantly. The crowd broke into heartfelt applause, but Arianna's smile was bitter sweet. The plague had already claimed so many, her father, Darin, most of the underground colonists. People that would missed. Ri squeezed her hand gently, he too understood the planet's loss. Arianna took a deep breath and continued with her planned speech.

"I ask you to trust me, even though you may not be inclined to, and I already know that you will trust Ri. As anarchic as this planets past as been, it's future is certainly bright." She looked out into the audience, that was applauding her speech. She saw adoration in the faces of many, and mild distrust in the faces of some, but nowhere did she see any hatred towards her. From the audience Millie, Clarence and Bob moved up onto the podium besides them. Arianna exchanged quick hugs with her friends to the evident pleasure of her audience. Then she turned to look at Ri, her love. In that instant she knew that her future was surely bright as well.

-The End