Read AKLESH (Under Strange Skies) Online

Authors: Samuel Jarius Pettit

AKLESH (Under Strange Skies)

Aklesh

Published at Amazon

By Samuel Jarius Pettit copyright 2011

Chapter 1

There is no freedom in the universe as great as flying.

Prince Gareth Orestes came again to this familiar realization as his shuttle burned a red streak through the sky of the foreign planet.

He wasn’t supposed to be taking joy rides through the atmosphere of an unknown and distant galactic protectorate. Parliamentary law forbade such frivolously reckless behavior. Still, if a crown prince couldn’t take such an entitlement, what worth was there in even having the title?

Besides, in populated systems one always had to bother with air and space traffic regulations. Even on aerotracks Gar still felt confined, like an animal pacing in its cage.

Open skies were the only places where he could stretch his wings, so to speak. He rationalized that any galactic protectorate already knew of the Galactic Congress, they just chose not to take part in it and continue as planet-bound savages. If those people weren’t using their beautiful skies like every other civilized culture, why let all that glorious space go to waste?

Gar tried to close his mind to everything, with the exception of the view through his screen and the vibrations from his shuttle as it cut through the air. Although the hum from the thrusters helped him to let go of most things he’d left behind, it couldn’t shut out the nagging voices that tugged in his recent memory. The anger and indignation he’d been trying to escape began to swell up again like water rising to a boil under constant heat.

This just wasn’t working for him.

The young prince gripped the controls of his shuttle tightly and took the ship into a spin.

Accelerating, he gave the thrusters a boost and shot across the white, sunlit plain like a comet.

There were only a few things that made dealing with his life easier, and the speed of flying a shuttle – really flying it – ranked close to number one. His family and advisors would call his other recreations more along the lines of vice, but he saw them as essential therapies for a royal condition.

The landscape beneath him changed and erupted into a forest of gorgeous purples and lush violets. Gar had never been to this protectorate before. In fact, he had barely looked at its interstellar assignment when he punched the code into the planetary access portal. But he liked the way it looked. All inhabited planets were different in some way, like variations on a theme.

Teraforming had a fairly universal effect on an environment in order to make it livable for humanoids, but each individual world always had its own distinct interpretation of the process. The resulting effects were, most times, spectacular.

Gar made a mental note to remember this place for future excursions.

After cruising for a few minutes, Gar loosened his grip and his breathing began to relax.

He even realized he was clenching his teeth and allowed his jaw muscles to release. In the atmosphere of an unknown planet, he could find some much-needed peace. He allowed the shuttle to slow down and started to fly casually. This planet gave off a sweet serenity.

There was no such thing as serenity on his home world of Orestus, at least, not for him.

Sure, he would be admonished later for not letting anyone know where he was going, but it was worth it for the precious distraction. Recently, all he could think to pursue was distraction.

Anything to keep himself off of the palace’s royal radar.

Anger began to creep upon him again.

Instinctually, he put on speed, accelerating towards a large water mass in the distance. The hope was to somehow out-race his feelings.

Just then a small, blue warning signal showed up on the lower part of his screen.

***

It was an hour earlier and Princess Gwendolyn Coradae Orestes stood in the doorway of Gar’s private chambers watching him prepare to run off again.

She was dressed in a sleek gown of ornate and rich fabrics that were of the current fashion.

Her rich ebony hair was pulled back and accented by green jewels that matched her eyes. Dark hair and emerald eyes were traits shared by her slightly older brother and were defining features of the Orestes line for many generations. Gareth’s only sister was a striking figure of poise and beauty, qualities she had in abundance. In the whole mess of family, government and the complex machine work that entwined the two, she was the single pearl of serenity, love and reason for the troubled prince.

He sighed as he pulled on his burgundy piloting jacket with the royal family crest emblazoned on the upper left breast -- an elegant black design of delicate swirls and gold leafing.

Everyone on the thousands of planets in the Orestian Dynasty knew that emblem. Some saw it as a symbol of unity in a cold universe; others saw it as a representation of something much darker.

But either way, it was instantly recognizable and inescapable, especially for Gar.

“Gweni, don’t even start,” he said as he began to fasten his right boot. “I just had to go through this with mother, and I hear this from the parliament every other minute. Please, not from you. Not today,”

Gwendolyn folded her arms across her chest and raised an eyebrow. Gar turned his back in order to avoid the wordless expression that said volumes. For many years they had been able to speak to each other as only close siblings can, with the nuanced looks and subtle gestures of two people whose lives are so intimately intertwined.

It hurt him deeply to have been keeping so much from her.

“I just need to get away for a while,” he continued defensively.

“You’ve said that before, more recently than I think you realize,” she replied, a coolness to her voice.

He stomped his foot down to secure it in the boot and started on the other boot, still avoiding her glare.

“You just wouldn’t understand,” he said, a little louder that he intended. He hoped she would stop pursuing the issue while still knowing she wouldn’t.

“You’ve said that before, too.”

Her reminder made Gar angry. He found himself getting angry more often in recent months and usually with little provocation. It was a spark that got ignited too easily and a fire that he couldn’t control. And issues or perceived slights would gnaw at him long after they had passed for everyone else.

“Well, its true, Gweni!” he said, irritated and dressing with more determination, still not looking at her. “You are not inheriting this massively horrible responsibility. I am. How could you possibly have any idea of what I’m going through? You live in a bubble filled with little ceremonies and ribbon cuttings and stupid social circles. I have crap!”

“I wouldn’t say that,” she replied in her cool, unaffected voice. “You have your gambling, your partying, your whoring.”

When the young prince would go into a blaze, his sister always kept an even keel. Her sudden, rather accurate attack caught him by surprise and he stopped momentarily, creating an awkward silence.

“You don’t know what you are talking about,” he mumbled.

Lacing his other boot and standing up, he finally looked her in the face. What Gar had expected to see was an expression of anger or sympathy, but this time what met him was an expression entirely different and unexpected. It was a look of sadness. But somewhere, just below the surface of those emerald pools, there was another emotion.

It almost seemed to be fear. Gar was sure he was mistaken.

“Stay,” she said, simply. “It’s not too late.” It was odd for her to be so vulnerable. To most people, including her brother, she tried to shield her emotions. Yet in that moment, she was his little sister looking at her big brother, needing reassurance. He swallowed his anger and kissed her forehead.

“You’re worrying over nothing.” He forced a smile and walked past her. “Don’t be such a silly little girl.” As he passed she took his hand and squeezed it.

“Please,” she said. “Be safe.”

***

In no time, the little blue warning signal had erupted into a whole screen full of multi-colored caution lights demanding immediate attention to all the failing systems.

Several different diagrams of the shuttle were popping up and indicating problems while warning alerts sounded in a cacophony of chaotic beeping. Something had gone terribly wrong incredibly fast. The severe shaking of the capsule wasn’t helping much either.

“What the hell?!” Gar swore aloud.

His fingers flew as he worked through the warnings as quickly as possible to get to the bottom of the problem. It took only seconds for him to isolate it, knowing this shuttle inside and out as he did. After all, the ship was his baby.

What was becoming clear was that there had been a malfunction in the right booster. It was the part that controlled the plasma output for the right thruster. This had set off a chain reaction that had disabled the entire thruster, making it almost completely useless. There really weren’t any better ways to screw up the whole shuttle that fast.

With a massive “Crack!” the thruster blew entirely and the ship was thrown into an uncontrolled spin. Gar could only partially correct it by firing his stabilizers. He put them at full thrust on the right side while compensating for the massive amount of power he now had to deal with coming from the left. This stopped the shuttle from careening out of control, but even with that small success, there was no stopping the shuttle from crashing into the planet surface.

Meanwhile, more warning diagrams popped onto the screen concerning other malfunctions that were taking place throughout the craft. Beyond the tech haze he could see the purplish trees of the landscape in front of him becoming clearer as he lost altitude. The massive alien lake loomed dangerously ahead.

Gar knew there were a few deck technicians back on Orestus that were going to lose their jobs, at the very least.

That is, if he survived.

***

Janphor scurried down an immense hallway of the palace.

The servant had been running around for the past half hour in an attempt to intercept the prince before he took off on some foolish escapade. This errand had been on the princess’s bidding.

The entire royal palace was furnished and decorated with rich fabrics and precious metals, draped lavishly over the towering walls and high ceilings while the marble floors stretched around him. Indeed, the huge scale of each room and passage made him feel a bit like a long distance runner in trying to traverse them.

The creature hurrying along so urgently had been Gwendolyn and Gareth’s tutor when the children were young and their attendant as they got older. Being from a planet on the outer rim known as Knall, his species, the Knalites, were one of the few of the known galaxy that had not descended from the origin race. He was small, standing at barely five feet, and rather lizard-like in his appearance. His eyes were large and oval like smooth black stones and his scaly skin olive in color. He wore the standard garb of his people consisting of flowing pants with a long ornate jacket and hood in the colors of the royal family.

When the prince and princess were younger, Janphor used his shape changing abilities to educate and entertain them. He would adopt the appearance of different human hybrids throughout the galaxy and instruct his pupils about their cultures and customs.

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