Time and Place – Chapter 10

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Marideen was tossed around like a doll. Her face continued to smack into the ground over and over again as she desperately tried to hold onto anything. There was nothing available. What was happening? The noise was so sudden and loud that her ears were once again deafened. The world around her seemed hollow. Her head throbbed.

She felt consciousness starting to slip from her, only to find the sudden onslaught end as suddenly as it started. A pair of hands grabbed her, lifting her off the ground pulling her away. She started to slap the hands away to keep them off. More hands grabbed onto her. She was caught. The guards had done something to her, and now they were all around her, dragging her into a cell to be tortured.

She struggled to fight back, but the encounter with whatever happened made her feel so weak. Her head throbbed, she could barely hear anything, the world was blurry, and her muscles were like jelly.

“It’s okay sis, we got you,” A voice blazed through, sounding watery and distant.

She couldn’t tell whose it was, or what they were trying to tell her, but she calmed down a bit, letting the hands pull her. Then the trembling started happening again. The ground around her started rumbling, slowly at first, then increasing in severity. She feared being tossed about again, but the hands around her kept her stable and on her feet. Maybe the tremors were not as bad as they seemed.

Something about the shaking and the deep rumble tickled at the back of her memory. Rumbling… Rumble…Rumbler! With a flash of clarity her mind began to understand again. A bomb. Kate’s bomb. She must have been able to set it off so they could escape. Escape!

She glanced around her. Danelle and Berret were holding her. There were several other people around her as well. Markus was there, but she didn’t really recognize anyone else. Her eyes had been open the whole time, but she only just started to see the environment around her and what was going on. The ability to hear seemed to slam back into her at roughly the same time.

“…to get moving as quickly as possible. I don’t think Kate hit the right target. Had she, the whole station would have lost gravity. Either way, escape pods must be activated and I think we can get out of here in the confusion. They should be evacuating all nonessential personnel. Let’s get out the back door and on an escape pod as quickly as possible. I’m afraid we won’t be meeting up with Kate or Beiromon, they are on their own for the moment.” Marideen heard Markus saying.

“I’m not going anywhere until I know if Marideen is alright,” Danelle replied stubbornly.

“I’m okay,” Marideen whispered hoarsely.

Berret, Danelle, and Markus all glanced at her.

“Are you sure? We can stall the guards. Most of them are about as shaken up as you. Most of us were near enough to something to grab, but I saw you get smacked around like a Tarvan housewife.”  Berret asked.

She attempted to use her feet, using Berret as balance a bit more than she would have liked. The world around her still seemed to spin, but not as badly as before. She slowly let go of Berret’s arm, although he had his hands out as if to catch her at a moment’s notice. After a second, she nodded to all of them. Markus audibly sighed in relief. Danelle threw him a scowl over Marideen’s shoulder. Berret grabbed Marideen’s arm again and began tugging her towards the exit at the back of the prison.

“What is this about Tarvan housewives?” Danelle broke in.

“Not the time, Danelle,” Markus let out a growl.

Marideen could now make out they were still in the prison. There were six other people they had released from their cells with the key Marideen had thrown to Markus. They went through the doorway in single file, back into the dark hallway beyond. Markus pulled out a small grenade. Pulling the trigger, he tossed it down the hallway hitting the corner as it landed. Smoke began pouring out of it, quickly filling their view of the corner of the hallway with dark grey smoke.

Markus closed the door, sealing them off from the smoke and putting them back into the almost darkness of the back alley between the holding cells and the storage area.

“I am not sure how long before the smoke wears off before they become bold enough for an attack, but I will try to buy a little time,” Markus mumbled as he quickly worked.

Within seconds, he had a flame torch ignited and was welding the locks shut. The whole process took about a minute. The darkness seemed to help Marideen’s head. She must have been steadier, as Berret removed his hands from her after a bit. When Markus finished his welding, he glanced up with a look of surprise on his face.

“Well don’t just stand there, get going,” He said in a rushed tone, kneeling to put his tools back into the tool case.

His words seemed to have an effect on the whole party, who up until that point still seemed afraid to move.  Marideen, to prove to herself as much as Berret and Danelle, took the lead. The first few steps seemed the most difficult. Once she got her momentum going she felt stronger and more capable.

Berret and Danelle quickly followed her down the dark hallway, staying close in case she fell. Their concern irked her a little bit, yet at the same time comforted her. Each stride grew more confident until she reached the door leading into the artifact holding. Without missing a stride, she opened the door and took a step into the light.

A short woman stood in the middle of the room. She had auburn hair set up in a frizzy mess. She had a small petite face, although her eyes could only be described as hawk-like. She also had a gun trained directly at Marideen. Marideen stifled a gasp at the unexpected sight.

“It would seem that even a group of renegades have interest in my work,” she spoke in a deep Hucton accent that Marideen had some trouble understanding at first. “I assure you, I will die to protect my findings from scum like you.”

Her hands stroked something on the table. Marideen glanced at the table suprised to see the thing the woman was touching affectionately was a man. He laid across the table in a supine position, various tubes and syringes stuck into his arms and legs. A breathing apparatus seemed to be over his face as well.

Noticing Marideen’s appraisal of the man, the strange woman smiled, “Oh, yes… you like my child of time?”

Her fingers stroked down his chest again, as if to claim ownership over him through her immediate contact.

“What is this?” Marideen choked out, unable to come up with any other response.

“A relic, one that will change everything. And one you should have never laid eyes on. I typically prefer to leave the killing to boys with guns, but I seem to be short on them and you seem to be an immediate threat. Bad business, this, I do apologize.”

The intent in the woman’s eyes became clear as she steadied her gun with both hands. Marideen let out a strangled chocking sound as she lifted her arms, almost frozen by the moment. The woman’s eyes narrowed, her finger tightening on the trigger, followed by a sudden loud thunk.

The woman with the gun collapsed to the floor in a heap. Out from behind a container stepped Maximil.

“You sure took your time,” Markus growled pushing through Marideen and Berret from behind, “Why’d you let her through in the first place?”

“I didn’t want to raise an alarm, and I thought she might just leave before you guys got out of here. Then the shooting started and the bomb went off. She started getting agitated and I just couldn’t find a good time to get up behind her without her getting off an alarm. I figured a good distraction was in order… and then you came,” Maximil stated.

Markus grunted and Danelle barked a laugh, slapping Marideen on the shoulder. Marideen, still a little unbalanced, took a step forward before catching herself. Berret went to offer her another hand, but she shook her head quickly.

“Berret!” Maximil exclaimed, a wide smile growing on his face.

Before Berret could say anything, Maximil embraced him in a hug, attempted unsuccessfully to pull him off his feet. Berret wheezed a laugh as Maximil released him.

“Well, it seems like they were feeding you okay in prison, how was the vacation for you?” Maximil chided him.

“Oh, fine, fine. The room service was a bit awful though,” Berret retorted.

“And what of this?” Markus interrupted, having walked over to the man in the middle of the room attached to all the cables and machines.

“Him? She pulled him out of that weird coffin that we saw when we got here,” Maximil nodded to the body of the man while patting Berret on the back.

Marideen walked over to the body in the center of the room while Markus turned to the remaining prisoners.

“Alright, ladies, gentleman, let it be known that you were rescued by the Lancers. You were taken as prisoners unjustly by a corrupt government that must be stopped. They domineer and demand, while we, the people, suffer and have no voice. You are in a position to really make a difference. Some of you have money, others, power. Use your influence and help work to bring about a new regime!” Markus began speaking.

“To your left through this hole, you will find weapons. We will not all stay together; you need not align yourself with a Lancer today. Get out of here, make it to an escape pod, and leave. If you so choose to join our cause, you will be contacted. If you want to live the rest of your life on the run and in fear that your new colony will be the next one taken by the wrongful persecutions of the Taerrans, so be it. I leave the choice of the future up to you, but remember it was the Lancers who gave you that future.”

Two of the freed prisoners grumbled at the end of the speech, but after Markus turned and walked back to the rest of the group, now assembled around the body of the man, they began reluctantly leaving through the hole Markus had indicated. Not a single one decided to stay behind. It looked like none of them would join the Lancers today. Marideen didn’t blame them. To live a life as a renegade and rebel appealed to few who had other choices. Most of them likely would have been out of captivity anyway by the end of the week by some backroom deal. The Lancers had done them no favors.

Marideen turned away as the last man left through the exit she had carved with explosive gel and glanced at the body Markus was examining. She had seen the dead before, and he had too much color to be dead. The color seemed to be steadily returning as whatever machine the woman had him hooked up to worked. Child of time, she had called the young man. Practically a boy really, although in reality he was probably a few years older than she. She might have considered him handsome, had he not seem to have been resurrected from the dead.

He had features that tickled the back of her memory. He had short light brown hair. It was very messy and disorderly. His face was well set with a strong jaw line. His nose fit well on his face, although she always liked a stronger nose. She pulled the air mask off his face. Danelle grunted and Marideen looked up, her examination quickly stopped. A blush overcame her cheeks as she glanced away from Danelle’s mischievous grin.

“I think she wants to keep him,” Berret muttered over to Maximil with a half-smile on his face.

Marideen responded with an elbow to Maximil’s ribs, which quickly turned his laugh into a grunt. He looked at her, a feigned look of hurt on his face as she raised an eyebrow at him. Despite her worst glare, a smile started to grow at the edge of his mouth too.  Marideen fought the urge to shout in frustration.

“As a matter of fact, I think we should take him,” she finally responded nonchalantly.

The smile on Berret’s face was wiped off in a look of surprise. She found it quite satisfactory, actually.

“Well, think about it! She said it was some kind of relic that will change everything. We don’t know what it, or he is…”Marideen began

“Exactly, so we should just leave it as it is,” Markus finished.

Marideen gave him a dirty look before she continued, “As I was saying, we don’t know if this is some kind of genetic engineering marvel, some bioweapon, or something else. So why do we want to let this stay in the hands of Taerrens?”

“So we destroy it. Just light some fuel, start a fire, and burn the thing,” Danelle responded, but Marideen was already shaking her head.

“Setting a sustained fire on a space station is near impossible. And even if we could get one started and going long enough to destroy the body, and even if we could manage to avoid notifying every guard about the fact that we are still here, we would still be destroying someone that we could use to our advantage.”

“Bioweapons aren’t exactly the Lancer’s style,” Maximil spoke up.

“No… but what if this he holds a cure to some disease? What if he is a clone as part of some cloning technology?”

“That’s all just conjecture, we don’t know what it is!” Markus growled.

“Exactly, so we take him now to see if we can get someone to figure it out later.” Marideen explained.

Her four companions continued to look suspiciously at her. Eventually she sighed and began removing needle after needle from the body.

“I’m taking this relic one way or another, so you can either help or you can go,” Marideen grumbled at last.

“Well I am sticking with you,” Danelle said, beginning to help.

Markus shook his head with irritation. “This is the stupidest thing we could be doing right now. Every guard in the station is likely looking for us and you want to waste time dealing with some… some… thing!”

Markus gave Maximil and Berret a look. The glanced at each other before shrugging and joining in. Markus said nothing more but continued to scowl at them as they finished pulling the body away from the rest of the machine. Eventually, they finished separating him and began wrapping the body in sheets.

“Think we can get this gurney through that hole?” Marideen asked Maximil.

After a second, he shook his head. Then, as if an idea popped in his head, he  gave Markus a look. Berret, Marideen, and Danelle turned to him as well, with a hopeful expression on their faces. His scowl deepened. After a few more moments of staring at each of the four of them, he finally threw his hands up, opening up his kit and moved to try to open the hole larger.

Marideen could hear Markus mumble under his breath. Most of his words were inaudible but she distinctly heard “don’t have time for this,” mentioned repeatedly as he worked. He relit the torch and began cutting the edges, a little bit at a time. Each pass seemed to make the hole a centimeter or two wider.

As Markus worked, Maximil and Berret ripped the legs off of the gurney and carried it over. Markus finished and moved aside, putting his tools away as he still grumbled to himself. The hole was wide enough for them to put the gurney through now. Maximil stepped through, pushing the containers covering the hole out of his way.

After picking up the gurney with his arms shoved uncomfortably through the hole, they lined up the gurney. It seemed to slide right through with ease after being properly aligned in the hole. Berret helped Maximil place the gurney on the floor before working his way through the hole as well. Markus came through next, followed by Danelle.

Marideen went through last, trying to replicate what Markus had originally done by pulling a nearby container to cover up the hole. When the job was done to her satisfaction she looked up to see the two men balancing the gurney on the small cart they had initially used for fake dinner transport.

Berret shrugged as she raised an eyebrow at the tipping gurney that only remained upright by the two men’s balancing. Markus took a look at the sight, muttered under his breath, and eventually sighed, walking over and helping the two men balance the unstable gurney.

“This is going to be a hell of a sight,” Berret sighed as overlooked the situation. “I think our one chance of getting out of the place alive is that we look too ridiculous for the guards to believe we are escaping revolutionaries.”

Maximil grunted in an agreement while Markus glowered. Marideen made her way to the door, glancing out into the hallway. The coast seemed clear, so she ushered the men to start pushing. At first the gurney tilted off balance as the men began pushing, but after a few seconds of rebalancing between the three of them they finally got it to stay horizontal on the cart.

“I hope Kate and Beiromon will be alright,” Danelle whispered to herself.

“They will be,” Maximil reassured her, “I trust no one more than Beiromon to get her out of any tight situation.”

“And who says Beiromon won’t be the one who needs saving?” Danelle retorted.

Maximil blinked and glanced over at Danelle, “Well, I…”

“I’m betting,” Marideen piped in, “that Beiromon breaks an ankle or twists a nail and Kate has to carry his sorry butt to an escape pod.”

Maximil chuckled with the girls a bit, “You know, I wouldn’t be too surprised; Beiromon told me he has a bit of a crush on our little pyromaniac. I could see him arranging a whole nurse-patient scenario for his benefit.”

“Really?” Danelle asked, “I didn’t think she was his type.”

The gurney suddenly twisted. Markus lunged to grab the side before it tilted over but missed. The gurney spilled to its side and the body rolled stopping against the side of the wall. Then the unthinkable happened, the body moved. His hand came up and grabbed to the side of the wall he was pressed against. His head looked up as he stared at the five of them. His eyes were wide with fright.

Maximal and Berret already had their weapons trained directly at his midsection.

“Easy now,” Markus said, putting his hands out in both directions, one towards the two Lancers with guns, one towards the recently awakened boy. “Look, we are here to save you.”

The boy stared at him blankly. He then opened his mouth and spoke a few words. Marideen didn’t have a clue what he had just said, but he sounded angry. The five of them stared right back at him. He repeated the words again, his voice taking on an edge of panic. After a second, the strange boy looked to his side, and paused for a second. With a thought, he straightened his back and pointed to himself.

“Darian,” he pronounced slowly and clearly.

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Time and Place – Chapter 9

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Aiden shuffled his feet uncomfortably, trying to stretch them as much as possible without standing up. They had been on this flight for twelve hours now, and he had already slept as long as he could suffer in this depressing environment.

He glanced out through the window. All he could see were the stars of endless space. He stopped himself from letting out a yawn. His father had told him that boredom was the sign of a weak mind. Nevertheless, he felt bored. His brother sat next to him, reading a report his father had given him before the flight. He had not seen Demetry sleep for a moment during the flight, yet his brother still seemed rested as he flipped to the next page of his thick report.

“Don’t act so bored, Brother; Father is already angry with you after the Pharon dinner incident. There is no reason you need to antagonize him further,” Demetry spoke, his eyes still on his papers.

Aiden chuckled, “The prig was asking for it. He insulted us one too many times and he was a fool. I don’t suffer fools.”

Demetry put on an exasperated look. “It was a sensitive situation. You’re lucky Father was able to smooth things out. Your actions could have lead to a war, a war that would have cost lives.”

“Why should we make peace with people who obviously show us no respect?” Aiden snapped, his voice becoming heated.

Demetry sighed. “It’s diplomacy brother. The Pharon family is powerful, and keeping peace with them has kept our family rule over the Taerren Empire for well over a hundred years.”

“We should have just seized their estates. Then we would have their resources and would not have to deal with their insubordination.”

“They would have seen it coming. They would have fled, taking their resources with them. They would have made peace with one of our enemies, and use their new found loyalty combined with their intricate knowledge of our forces to strike a blow.” Demetry explained, running his hand over his black hair that was intricately woven in an elaborate braid.

“Not if we shut down the jump gates until we had them under control,” Aiden retorted.

Demetry let out a laugh before responding. “And shut down intersolar commerce for days? The costs alone would have been astronomical. In the end, not only would the common businessmen be angry at us for usurping trade and costing them money, but all of the other families would be weary and distrustful, more likely to stab us in the back at the first chance they got.”

“I don’t know about you, Brother,” Demetry continued, “but personally I like being able to sleep without the fear of an assassin’s knife. I do say, however, I enjoy your… simplicity in dealing with matters. It certainly is a refreshing reprieve from all the undermining and political squabble Father has spent the last few years educating me in.”

Aiden’s cheeks blushed as he lowered his head a bit. Demetry looked away from his paper to glance at Aiden, and then sighed again.

“You need not worry yourself. Should Father pass, may he live forever; I am more than capable of continuing the empire’s goals and values. The Boramont family has made us strong for a hundred years and when I am Lord Regent, you will always be a welcomed and honored member of my family. I think you would make a good captain of security to the Lord Regent.”

“Demetry, I would protect you with my life even without a position name.” Aiden protested.

Demetry let out a slight smile at the side of his mouth, “Nevertheless, you deserve a position of notoriety and power. You have already saved my life on two separate occasions. You are skilled and intelligent. Father may not say so, but he does respect you and your abilities. Do not forget that we are family, and that family sticks together. Hmm… now captain of security just doesn’t have that great of a ring to it. How about master of security? Perhaps I could make that your title.”

Aiden blushed once again, this time from embarrassment as opposed to shame. When he didn’t respond with anything else, Demetry gave himself one decisive nod before returning to his paperwork.

Aiden glanced back out the window again into the empty space beyond the first class transport ship. This journey seemed foolish to Aiden. Their father, Lord Regent Sinswa Boramont, had decided that they needed to head to this outpost in the outer colonies immediately without warning.

They had set out for the jump gate from Taerra to the Kru System post haste. There, they had been traveling to Vanderra, the second planet from the Kru Sun, and the Vanderra station orbiting it. The station itself was a rather large station that acted as a relay and supply point for people traveling across the Taerren Empire. The planet below was uninhabitable, but was starting to reach the final stages of terraforming, and there was noticeable green from vegetation showing up in splotches across the surface.

One of the other functions of the Vanderra station was to hold political prisoners. Unlike normal prisoners, these were often people who offered some kind of advantage to the empire. Whether it be the hopes of trade, underhanded deals, or information, these people were kept in relatively accommodating circumstances until releases could be negotiated.

Some of the prisoners were eventually relayed to surface prisons, should no party show interest in acquiring them. However, a surprisingly large amount were eventually released under the right conditions.

The holding cells aside, Vanderra was a place of commerce and trade. It was Taerra’s largest and most open trading post, often earning visitors not only from the Taerren empire, but visitors from other colonies as well. This made Vanderra essential to maintaining commerce, acquiring imported goods, and providing a means of communicating with non-Taerren colonies.

Despite this fact, Aiden saw the place as a trash heap. Stations of any kind never held appeal to Aiden. Compared to the majestic architecture of the palaces and capital city back home, the functionality of a station seemed painfully inadequate. Aiden finally could see the station through his window.

To him, the outside of the station was as ugly as the inside. Corridors ran many different ways in seemingly random patterns, giving Aiden the impression of a 3D puzzle. The engineers behind this station clearly built it to be functional, to utilize space to its fullest, but Aiden had none of the expertise to understand how this hodgepodge mess of corridors and chamber modules equaled the station inside.

At the very least, the station had artificial gravity. It was about the same as the artificial gravity abroad the craft they were on. With the exception for centrifugal gravity, which was achieved by a spinning chamber built within a craft, artificial gravity was a relatively new invention. Besides being fairly large, it also was incredibly expensive and impractical for most ships.

The first class transport they were on had to be gutted and refitted to accommodate the artificial gravity. The gravity engine was about equal to the size of the entire combustion engine that navigated the ship.

Aiden watched as the ship approached a larger module that he reasoned was some kind of hanger. The doors of the hanger opened, creating a hole large enough for their ship to enter. Aiden’s father would never have it another way. He would never dock with a station through a transfer terminal like a lowly civilian would.

Aiden could hear a grinding sound and a slight rumbling at his feet as the landing gears opened. The ship steadily moved towards the opened hanger door. Supporting thrusters stabilized the craft as it steadily landed. The pilot on this ship was particularly skilled at this job. Aiden’s father would not have accepted anyone of any less than exemplary piloting skills.

Aiden wasn’t much of a pilot. He had taken some of the basic flight courses, but had no knack for it. Being able to move a body of mass much larger than himself in a virtually gravity free environment seemed foreign and abnormal to him. Although, he knew his brother enjoyed mock dog fighting with rig fighters, which was the only kind of space fighting that occurred after the Treaty of Nacel.

There was a slight bump, indicating that they had finally landed safely. A shadow casted over the window as the hanger doors closed, silent in the vacuum of space. When the doors finally closed, the shadow was replaced by ceiling lighting. The hanger itself was nothing to look at, mostly a whole lot of grey. The walls consisted of sealed lockers made safe from the vacuumed environment. Aiden yawned intentionally to overcome his ears desire to pop. Boredom be damned. Air was steadily filling up the chamber and pressure was equalizing, creating a light hiss noise.

The air returned and pressurization took about five minutes. During that time, Aiden merely put his head down and listened to the noises and periodical pops as the medals adjusted to external changes. The pilot turned on the intercom and began announcing their arrival. Aiden mostly ignored the announcement.

Upon the announcement’s completion, people across the cabin began standing up, collecting their belongings. There were about twenty to thirty people with Aiden and Demetry in the main cabin. Many of them were families of the traveling dignitaries, ambassadors, and the Lord Regent’s council.

Most government officials traveled with their families regularly. Some of the dignitaries followed the Lord Regent wherever he traveled in case their services were needed at his disposal. Others traveled at the behest of the Lord Regent’s most recent orders.  Many of the men and their families would not be returning with the Lord Regent, assigned to travel to decent systems as a representative of peace.

The Lord Regent himself did not sit in the cabin with them; instead, he had his own cabin which he shared with his most trusted advisors. The Lord Regent often had his two sons sit with the rest of the main cabin to present a familiarity with the common man. On rare occasions, Demetry was allowed to sit in the Lord Regent’s cabin when important business was being discussed that the Lord Regent thought might help his son’s development. However, the Lord Regent had not offered an invite on this trip. As a matter of fact, he had not offered Demetry an invite in many months.

The primary door opened and the families and dignitaries began leaving down the ramp. It was customary for the highest ranking officials to be the last to leave any given vehicle. After the last person was moving down the aisle, Aiden’s brother stood.

“Well, it seems it is our turn to leave,” Demetry gave his brother a nod before turning.

Demetry had already put his report away, stood, and started moving down the slim hallway. Aiden considered waiting a bit, but impatience won out and he finally stood and followed his brother.

The hallway between the aisles of chairs was fairly comfortable in width. Aiden had heard that other ships existed that often had little space between the aisles, made even more difficult to navigate with the lack of gravity. These ships were often reserved for commercial flights for commoners.

Of course, this was a ship that spared no expense. The floors were carpeted red leading down the entire length of the hall. At the end of the hall was a ramp two people wide leading to the ground of the hanger. The red carpet followed down the entire length of the ramp as well.

Aiden continue to follow his brother down the ramp. At the bottom, Demetry went to the right side of the ramp and stood at attention. Aiden followed, taking the left side. In the time since the pressure had equalized in the hanger, it had become full with soldiers and guards. Full was a understatement.

As far as Aiden could see, soldiers stood at attention. The soldiers left a pathway large enough for three people abreast to stride; leading straight out of the hanger through what was most likely an adjacent corridor, the path the Lord Regent would most likely take leaving the hanger. A few of the higher ranking officers stood at attention a few meters from the edge of the ramp, waiting to greet the Lord Regent.

The family members and lower level bureaucrats were rushed out of the room to make accommodations for the Lord Reagent. The last of them disappeared around the corner by the time Aiden had settled in his place. Upon noticing Demetry with an eyebrow raised in agitation, Aiden schooled his face and looked up expectantly for the exit for the Lord Regent, as the rest of the honor guard was currently doing.

A grizzled old man strolled from the entrance of the ship, a slight limp to his left foot that might have gone unnoticed to anyone who wasn’t looking for it. He had short, neatly trimmed white hair and a small white scar on his lower right cheek. The best way to describe his face was sharp, consisting of mostly angles. He was heavy footed, and each step made a prominent clank as he walked down the ramp. When he reached the bottom, he stopped, looking left and right at both Aiden and his brother.

After giving them each a curt, silent nod of respect, he continued walking. Upon approaching the three ranking officers he glanced around the hanger, taking in the environment before placing his eyes on the three men. It was said that General Mahr had piercing eyes that could strip a man of everything but the truth. Aiden could attest to this fact, having had those eyes on him many times during his lessons.

The two Lieutenants to either side of the Station Commander shrunk back slightly at the intense glaze. The Commander stood his ground, showing that he had a bit more backbone than his underlings. This didn’t necessarily mean the Commander was a smart man. Aiden had met many soldiers who made it to where they were based purely on bravery. Eventually, one day, they would need to display intelligence too, and would find themselves ground to dust. It was perhaps one of the first lessons Mahr ever taught Aiden. “Bravery wins battles, intelligence wins wars”.

The Station Commander wore a one-piece blue uniform adorned with gold. He wore a red line with three stars over it to signify his rank as Commander on his shoulder. The lieutenants to either side had only one star. The one-piece uniform was a standard uniform for those assigned to duty in space. Colors were often used to quickly identify personnel aboard ships. Blues for officers, dark blue for soldiers, light blues for kitchen staff, browns for maintenance, and so on.

It made sense given the environment they lived in, but it was just one more thing Aiden disliked about space. On planets, the working staff often wore ornate embroidery. Servants of the empire were allowed to wear similar, albeit less decorated versions of these robes as well. Other imperial families wore robes much like these, but could not use the combination of gold and red, the emporal colors of Boramont. As a result, each family typically picked two colors of its own, and followed in their families traditions.

During a normal celebration on Taerra Prime, each house brought several hundred honor guards swathed in their family colors, creating a beautiful kaleidoscope of celebration. The dances were also an incredible sight to see, particularly during the dances that required a swapping of partners. The cacophony of blues, reds, greens, yellows, and browns often reminded Aiden of dancing flowers. The line after line of dark blue one suited soldiers in front of him was drab by comparison.

Here, Aiden and Demetry wore the traditional royal robes of the imperial family. Decorated in reds and gold, the ornate robes they wore were only matched by the Lord Regent himself. General Mahr wore simple clothing; he always said that if you needed a sash with medals to gain respect from your fellows that you didn’t deserve that respect. It was for that reason that most new recruits memorized General Mahr’s face. The few recruits who didn’t know who he was on sight or didn’t grasp his authority quickly enough often paid for it harshly.

“The Lord Regent’s honor requires this kind of…” the Station Commander was saying.

Aiden realized he had been dazing and tried to catch up on the conversation.

“The Lord Regent’s honor?” General Mahr responded with noticeable anger in his voice, “It is not your job to guard the Lord Regent, it is your job to keep the station secure, your desire to…. honor the Lord Regent has put this station at risk.”

“But the Ops guards you sent here yesterday provide more than adequate-”

“They were here for a given purpose, one you may have just compromised, you fool. You may have just stepped on plans the Lord Regent has had laid out for years. You honor the Lord Regent? You may have well just spit on him.”

The Station Commander winced at that comment, going white in the face. It was clear he was losing ground. His two lieutenants were shrunk down, their shoulders hunched at the debasement of their commanding officer. As Aiden looked around, he began to realize what General Mahr had noticed immediately upon entering. There were far too many honor guards present. It would seem that the Commander decided to dissemble the station down to a skeleton crew in the name of honoring the Lord Regent. It turned out he was a fool.

“Sir, we only heard of the Lord Regent coming just an hour ago. We had no proper time to prepare. Had I been informed of any of these plans I could have been more accommodating…”

“Enough!” General Mahr barked, “If you find yourself incapable of meeting the needs of the empire a replacement can easily be found for you.”

“That won’t be necessary sir,” the Commander responded bowing, his right hand jerking out slapping the lieutenant next to him on the arm.

The lieutenant immediately turned around and ran back down the aisle, making silent orders with his hand. Without a word, about half of the contingent turned and moved out the hallway. For the amount of people present, the movement was surprisingly quiet as the soldiers turned and exited swiftly. It took about two minutes. The remaining troops reorganized themselves to create a new thinner line down the entire length of the hanger. In the Commander’s defense, the new precession seemed a lot less grand than its predecessor.

The General glowered at the Commander for another minute before turning to his side. He glanced up into the ramp, nodding at someone up in the ship. A man came out in a quick walk down to the edge of the bottom ramp.

“I present to the honored Vanderra station, the master of Taerra, Lord Regent Swasa Boramont,” the man announced in a full voice that carried remarkably well in the hanger.

The announcer moved to the side and a large man behind him began walking down, followed closely by several advisors. To call the Lord Regent an imposing man was an intense understatement. He wore red and gold robes much like Aiden and Demetry, but they were much longer. They trailed behind him several feet, forcing the advisors to his sides for fear they may step on them. He had incredibly dark, almost black eyes, and jet black hair. The hair was grown long, tied into a ceremonial braid. All of the imperial family grew out their hair and tied it into an ornate braid. Aiden himself only had the pleasure of braiding his hair two years prior.

His brother’s hair was much like his father’s. His braid was only about half the length, reaching down to his shoulder blades, but it possessed the same jet black slickness of the Lord Reagent. Aiden’s hair was not black. Instead, it was brown like his mother’s. The same could be said for his eyes as well. Just as the Lord Regent reached the bottom of the ramp, a slight beeping sound started.

The Commander, red with embarrassment, looked down at a communicator he had attached to his wrist. As he looked, his eyes began to widen in alarm. The General glared at him. The Commander glanced up, just about to say something.

Suddenly, Aiden found himself on the ground. A loud roar assaulted his ears as the ground shook. Aiden quickly assumed a relaxed position, allowing his body to move with the tremors, absorbing himself into their movements. Then he began to get to his feet, slowly at first as he adjusted to the movements. By the time he was back his feet, the majority of the tremor had passed. Aiden surveyed the room as a low moaning rumble gave out like a dying aftershock.

The General was already on his feet and next to the Lord Regent. He had one hand held out to help pick the Lord Regent up and balance him, the other on a weapon aimed down the hallway at any potential threat. With the General’s help, the Lord Regent stood glancing around in irritation. Most of the soldiers were still scrambling to their feet, disorder and discord threading through the hanger.

“What happened?” the Lord Regent asked calmly once it seemed the tremors had subsided enough.

“It would seem that a terrorist cell released a bomb aboard the station. By the feel of it, they missed anything vital,” Mahr promptly responded.

“The terrorists that we knew of ahead of time?”  The Lord Reagent responded, his black eyes sharp on the General.

Mahr glanced down at the Commander, now completely red with anger and embarrassment, “It would seem.”

“You will handle it?”

“Personally, my lord,” Mahr bowed deep.

Aiden’s father nodded once before turning and moving back up the ramp into the relative safety of the ship. General Mahr walked over to Aiden swiftly, his limp almost nonexistent.

“Where is Demetry?” Aiden’s mentor asked, looking around briefly.

This was the first point and time Aiden realized that Demetry was completely gone. After a quick look around the room he met the General’s eyes.

“Find him,” Mahr commanded, then turned and began walking towards the now cringing Station Commander who was desperately trying to pull his soldiers together.

The General stopped and looked back as if an idea suddenly came to him, “Oh, and if you see any insurgents, kill them.”

Aiden nodded and started moving out. He had a job to do.

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Time and Place – Chapter 8

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“They got him three days ago while we were still in transit here,” Danelle explained, her breath having long recovered.

They were now in another storage room they had found nearby. This one was about twice the size of the previous, but was full of various unmarked containers, making it feel more cramped than the previous one.

“H-how do you know this?” Marideen asked.

The two men gave her the room to ask the questions. She was Danelle’s sister, after all.

“After we got passed the checkpoints, Kate and Beiromon told me to stay put while they set the bomb. I spotted a security terminal, so I decided to check the news and kill some time.”

Marideen gave her a frown but said nothing in response.

“I couldn’t really get much information as just about everything was locked out, but I found I was able to access a news feed. I just glanced at a few articles, but then one caught my eye. ‘Terrorists’ cell exposed on the moon Terres.’”

Marideen’s mouth went dry, but she forced herself to nod.

Tears ran down Danelle’s cheeks as she spoke, “They knew. They knew where the Lancers were. Someone told them. They sent in soldiers. The article said they killed or captured at least hundred people. “

Danelle’s voice broke on the last line, her head landing on Marideen’s shoulder as she let out a sob.

“Di-did they mention father?” Marideen forced herself to ask.

She could feel Danelle’s head shake a no against her chest. Marideen sighed. He could be alive. He could be, but that meant he was now a political prisoner, just like Berret.

“What do we do now?” Danelle mumbled. “All of our friends, almost every Lancer, are captured or dead.”

“We just continue on with our mission as planned,” Marideen began until she saw Markus shaking his head.

“It’s more complicated than that,” Markus interjected. “Danelle said it best: someone told them. Someone betrayed the Lancers.”

“Marcell, that bastard, I’ll kill him,” Marideen growled, but Markus was already shaking his head again.

“I know Marcell, he may be a lot of things, but a traitor is not one of them. He was loyal. I’d find it very hard to believe it was him.” Markus responded, “But either way if someone knew where the base was, it is very possible that they knew about our mission here too.”

Danelle gasped, removing her head from Marideen’s shoulder. “You mean…?”

“I mean, we could be walking right into an ambush. Do Kate and Beiromon know about this?” Markus asked.

Danelle shook her head, “I didn’t know when they’d be back. I ran straight to you guys.”

Markus sighed, “It is very possible that they have already been captured. I don’t think there is anything we can do for them right now. Had you not stopped us, I can’t imagine what we would have found if we tried to wander right into the cell block guard post.”

“So what do we do then?” Danelle asked, a little bit of her vigor returning.

“We abandon the mission. We need to think of a way to get out of here. If we can get to a ship, we might be able to bluff our way out of here as farmers with ship troubles looking for some passage home. I think we might be able to bribe…”

“No.” Markus blinked as Marideen interrupted him.

“Mari, I know you’re upset, but I think-”

“No,” Marideen said firmer while giving Markus a glare. “We came here to rescue Berret, and we are not leaving without him.”

“I hardly think we are in a position to resc-”

“I disagree,” Markus flashed an annoyed look as she continued to interrupt him. “You see, they think they know exactly what our plan is. So they are looking for just that. A couple of strangers dressed like kitchen staff trying to deliver food. As long as we don’t do what they expect, they will be too busy looking for what they expect that we can sneak up and steal our friend right out from under them.”

“It’s possible that Berret isn’t even here, and they made that up to draw us out,” Maximil mentioned cautiously.

“You don’t believe that and neither do I. He’s bait, and they knew real bait works much better than fake,” Marideen said.

Maximil considered it a few moments before nodding reluctantly.

“So what’s your ingenious plan now?” Markus asked.

Danelle had finally unwrapped her arms from her big sister and was now listening intently.

Marideen thought for a few seconds before responding. “Did you remember what those guards said about the archeological things?”

“They said that the stuff was dragged in unexpectedly and was valuable?” Markus replied.

“They said that stuff was locked securely next to the cell block,” Marideen explained. “Now if my memory of the schematics precedes me, the section they most likely used is directly connected to the cell block, and would effectively be a back way.”

“They also said that area was tightly secured with top security clearance,” Markus replied.

“Top security clearance sure, but with a few or no guards. They said that doctor didn’t want people around her artifacts. If we could get past the security, we could get into the prison and back out without a single person seeing us.”

“That is a pretty big if,” Markus responded.

“Not so much,” Marideen replied, ignoring Markus’s glower. “All we have to do is go in a way that they wouldn’t expect and thus, would have no security. Do you still have a blueprint of the station with you?”

Markus frowned at her for a moment before sighing and pulling out a tightly folded piece of paper. As he unfolded the map, it spread out to roughly the size of the food cart. Marideen quickly emptied the cart then laid the map on top of it.

She swiftly scanned the map around the area she expected them to put the architect’s supplies. The area was a connected part of the cellblock and without too much work could be converted, doubling the size of the cell block. However, at this point in time, it was wasted space. Space currently being used to secure those artifacts, Marideen guessed.

“See, right here. The artifact storage has a back door that leads directly into the back of the cellblock, and there is only one entrance into the artifact storage that is bound to be lightly guarded,” Marideen said, pointing at the map.

“But it will be guarded,” Markus responded.

“Which is exactly why we aren’t going in that way.”

“But you just said that was the only way in,” Markus replied with a confused look on his face.

“Berret always said if you find both your exits blocked, you better make the third exit,” She pointed at the map, her finger touching a closeted storage space bordering the artifact storage.

“And how exactly are we going to make an exit?” Markus asked, starting to lose his exasperated look.

Marideen pulled a small tube out of her pocket, “Before we left, Kate had given me a tube of some kind of explosive. I had caught her testing it once and expressed some interest. She said it was for getting out of a jam. You light it and it gets hot, very hot, like melt-through-metal hot, like a hole-to-an-adjacent-wall hot.”

“And what if someone is in there while we do this?” Markus inquired, some of the exasperation returning again.

“There shouldn’t be if the guards are to be believed. No one but this archeologist person. As far as she is concerned, we’ll just have to take it when it comes. I never said it wasn’t a gamble.”

“A gamble? This is suicide,” Markus protested. “We should abandon the mission while we have the chance rather than throw ourselves against the threat on pure chance, right? “He glanced up at Maximil, who had yet to say anything.

Maximil shrugged, “What other plan do we have? You said we needed to escape, but without Kate’s explosives as a distraction, the plan is near impossible. It’s safe to say that if we’re assuming they know our plan then we have to assume they know how we’re planning to escape too. If we free the prisoner like we planned, and sneak them all out the back, we can get a much wider spread and more confusing riot with the prisoners out among the public. That could be our chance…”

“We can get out. All we need to do is secure an escape!” Markus glanced at Marideen’s resolute eyes, then Maximal’s resigned eyes, before turning to Danelle, “And I suppose you’re up for this insane plan as well?”

Danelle stood up, the tears on her cheeks had dried, her eyes fierce, “I go with my sister.”

Markus sighed, his eyes staring blankly into space for a moment. After a short while, he raised his head, nodding. A smile broke out on Marideen’s face.

“Can we at least add a little security to the blind hope that this archeologist won’t be there?” He asked in a resigned voice.

“What do you have in mind? Marideen inquired.

“The simplest tricks in the book are often the most effective. I suggest that we simply give her a page. Can you manage that with one of these security terminals?”

“I think we can manage that,” Danelle piped in, her voice starting to sound optimistic again.

It turned out they had been incredibly close to the prison entrance. After walking down two hallways they already were near the storage room Marideen selected as their point of entry. Maximil brought the food cart with the extra weapons on it as they entered the storage room.

Danelle walked over to a nearby security terminal. Marideen waited in the entrance of the storage room for her. After a few minutes of typing, she walked back to the entrance and the two of them entered the room.

Maximil suggested they wait a few minutes, to give the doctor time to answer her page.

“Where did you send her?” Marideen asked her little sister.

“To the docks, said I was a dock tech who still had a container with one of her artifacts in it that someone forgot to deliver. Figure that will keep her busy, especially since I didn’t say what dock. She will probably freak when the dock personnel can’t find her container. “

After that, they waited in silence. This room was much like the second storage room they had been in. It was full of various unlabeled containers, stacked on three racks of storage shelving placed parallel to each other, complete with rows to walk between each one.

The back wall, the one against the artifact storage area, also had several boxes piled up against it. Marideen and Maximil began moving the boxes out of the way. After exposing a clear clean patch of wall, Marideen pulled out the tube of explosive Kate had given her. The solution squeezed out of the tube like toothpaste.  She tried to spread it as evenly as possible, creating a small hole that she hoped was big enough for everyone to crawl through.

Maybe she should have drawn it closer to the floor. It was too late now; the explosive compound was already on the wall. Trying to move it might just create more problems. After taking a deep breath, Marideen pulled out her light. Danelle and the two men took a couple steps back.

Marideen flicked the lighter, producing a small flame. She held the flame up against the toothpaste like compound. At first, nothing happened.It took about a minute before the toothpaste began to glow a reflective orange color. In a quick spark, a flame sprung and wicked across the circle, covering all of the paste. The rest of the paste began to turn a luminescent orange as well.

Marideen could hear the sizzle as the heat caused the metal to crack and expand. Fumes began to rise from it in noticeable smoke clouds. Marideen covered her face and took several steps back.

The sizzle was accompanied by an occasional popping sound as the metal melted and reformed. After about a minute the sizzling stopped. Nothing. A circular crevice and been carved into the wall. Small amounts of fume and heat still seeped out of the trenched cracks where the applied paste had done its work. Marideen’s hope slipped as she realized that it wasn’t going to burn through. She was out of the paste and had nothing else at her disposal that could finish cutting this hole.

Maximil glanced at Markus, shrugged, and reeled back before kicking directly in the center of the circular trench as hard as he could. The impact made a horribly loud bang, followed by an even louder rip. Marideen winced, but as she looked she could see the bottom of the trench was ripped over and indented by about 6 inches.

“In for a credit…” Maximil muttered, kicking once more.

This time the metal pulled away completely, falling down on the other side. Marideen couldn’t help but wince once more time as the falling metal hit the floor with a loud crash.

“I think we need to hurry before someone checks to see what that was,” Markus responded.

Marideen motioned for Danelle to go through first, as she would have the easiest time doing it, being the smallest. Marideen herself followed. Maximil grunted and cursed as he tried to shove himself through. He was a tight fit, made more awkward by the hole being 2 feet off the ground. After a few more moments of grunting and cursing, he flopped onto the floor, breathing hard for a few seconds before sighing and returning to his feet.

Markus didn’t come through immediately. She could hear rustling on the other side. She then saw Markus’s foot cautiously move its way into the hole. Once he had his knee all the way through, his other foot pushed its way in. His feet steadily worked their way out until he was about up to his hip and his knees managed to brush the ground. He began pushing back. Marideen could hear boxes dragging as he moved,

Markus’s body finally was out of the hole and he let go of whatever box he was dragging with him. In his other hand, he had managed to pull through the small toolkit that she had seen on the cart.

“Hopefully that will hide the hole on that side for any curious guard,” Markus muttered to himself.

Once they were all through, Marideen finally allowed herself to take a look around the room. It mostly just looked like a regular room for storage, just larger than the other three she had just been in. There were no storage racks. Instead, the containers were just placed everywhere it seemed convenient. In the middle of the room on a long sturdy gurney sat a rectangular, coffin-like metal box.

Danelle was already looking around the room, running her hands over several containers, clearly fighting the urge to open one of them.

Marideen walked up to the box on the gurney. It was completely sealed, and Marideen could see no way of seeing it. On the bottom of the box, there was a sticker with some writing on it. Sol Man, Buried Date Unknown, Recovery Date 10234.15. Marideen jerked her hand back upon reading it. A dead body, or some kind of mummy.

“According to the schematics, the door will be in the back this way,” Markus said, pointing.

“I think one of us should stay behind, just in case,” Markus gave Maximil a nod.

Maximil let out a grunt. “Oh alright, I suppose I can watch your backs. Don’t take too long, that archeologist could be back any moment.”

Markus nodded as the three of them headed in the direction he had indicated earlier. The room was simply container after container. There were a lot of them. Marideen was not surprised that the docking teams had gotten behind in transport.

They approached the back door, which opened into a small corridor. The corridor seemed like a small afterthought built to link the cell block with this optional extension. There was no lighting other than from the door behind them. As the door clicked shut, the three of them stood there for a minute as their eyes adjusted to the darkness, only lit by the apparent cracks in the door and a nearby vent. Marideen approached the next door slowly, walking as lightly as she knew how, afraid to make a noise that might alert any nearby guard.

As they approached the door, Markus whispered, “This one should lead to the cellblock. If we don’t want to get caught, we need to be subtle. Ideally, we want to get all of the prisoners free and out through the back door without the guards seeing.”

“What about video cameras? Or guard patrols?” Marideen responded.

“We’re hoping for neither. You yourself said this was a gamble. I said suicide. We’ll find out in a minute which of us was right.”

Marideen started to worry. Maybe this wasn’t as intelligent of a plan as it seemed to her back in the storage room. Danelle seemed most excited simply to be involved. Markus opened the tool kit he had brought along and begun working on the lock on the door to the cell block. It may have been a back way, but they weren’t stupid. The lock was a complex one, but Markus had a certain skill with picking locks.

After a few minutes of tinkering with the lock using the box of tools, the door unlocked with a light click. Markus braced his hand and foot against the door slowly opening it a crack. He took a look through the crack he had just made. After a brief look, he moved aside, allowing Marideen to take a look as well. She pressed her cheek up against the door and peeked into the space beyond.

The corridor in front of her was well lit. Unlike the previous hallways she had been in, the floor was not carpeted here. The walls were completely plain and free of adornments. The hallways were lined with tightly fit doors. Each door had a rectangular glass window from which to peek into the room. A small arm sized door also sat in about the middle of the room from which to pass food without opening the door. Marideen could see no one in the corridor.

She took a quick glance at Markus, who shrugged uncomfortably, before pushing the door open enough to slip herself through. Markus followed behind her, and then Danelle. They sneaked slowly down the hallway to the first available door.

“Markus, start opening doors. Danelle and I will try to locate Berret and keep a watch,” Marideen whispered.

Markus shook his head in resignation and began pulling at tools to work on the lock before him. Marideen and Danelle moved down the hall. They each took a side of the hallway, checking each door through the glass slit. The first door she looked through was completely empty. The second door seemed to have three men, each wore a yellow jumpsuit. She recognized none of the men, although they all seemed to sit with a dignified grace that was untarnished by their cells. Most likely nobles.

The next door consisted of a single woman wearing the same kind of jumpsuit. She had her head in her hands, although Marideen couldn’t tell if she was crying or not.

“Found him!” Danelle exclaimed, causing Marideen to cringe.

Danelle was not yelling, but at this particular time, even normal volume pierced Marideen’s ears. Realizing what she had done, Danelle blushed and lowered her eyes. Marideen joined her in front of Berret’s cell, giving Danelle a brief scowl before looking through the slit.

Berret was indeed there. He was not looking at the slit and had not incidentally acknowledged Danelle’s previous exclamation. He was a broad, muscular dark-skinned man. He wasn’t as large or as imposing as Maximil or Beiroden, but he had a presence. His hair was black and cut very short. He sat down, his back straight and strong. His head was pressed up against the wall, and his eyes were closed.

“Markus, Berret is in this room, start with this one,” Marideen whispered with her eyes still on Berret. She looked back at Markus when he didn’t respond.

He was kneeling in front of the door with the three men in it, his tools spread around him as he worked on the lock. He glanced at her with a look of exasperation on his face. Marideen blushed slightly as he sighed and stood up, picking his tools up before moving towards the front of Berret’s cell.

Marideen moved down the hall a bit, Danelle trailing behind her. They came to the end of the hallway where a turn right would continue on straight into the guard’s room. If the schematics she had read were accurate, the room was closed off by a door. However, she didn’t want to risk peeking around the corner in the fear that a guard would happen to be looking her way.

She fumbled in her pocket for a small mirror that Markus had given her for looking around corners. Just as she started to take a glance around the corner she heard a metallic click behind her. She glanced back to see Markus having finally opened the door with Berret in it. A small smile crawled across her face as Markus began ushering Berret from the room. She could not see him yet, but it was clear he was conscious and Markus was engaged in conversation with him.

Marideen glanced over at her sister. Danelle was looking in the opposite direction, her eyes open in shock. Marideen spun around just in time for a fist to strike her in the face. The world went white in a sudden burst of pain.

Marideen could feel herself hit the floor. She felt dizzy and confused. She could hear Danelle’s cry and the sound of a gunshot. She struggled to make sense of what was happening. Her ears rang and her vision seemed wobbly, making her eyes close to keep her from being sick. She forced her eyes open again. The side of her face was on fire, but a subtle feeling of numbness came over a second later.

“Are you alright?” Danelle asked anxiously, crouched at her side.

The voice seemed oddly hollow coming through the ringing in her ears. She concentrated on ignoring the ringing to hear Danelle better. Her hands were holding Marideen’s head. Marideen could hear footsteps followed by a shout.

“Prisoners escaping!” yelled the guard who must have struck her.

She had to stop him before he alerted the other guards. Her head slid to the side and her eyes locked on to Danelle’s gun lying on the floor where she had left it to help her. Without thought, she lurched to her feet, grabbing the gun as she attempted to stand. She stumbled several steps out into the turn, her shoulder bumping into the wall at the end of the hallway. Danelle let out a wordless protest.

Using the wall to steady herself, she looked up with the gun clutched in her hand. The man who had struck her was about one fourth of the way down the hallway towards the guards’ room. Had so short of a time truly past? Using the marksman training she had received most of her life, she took aim. The world still seemed to wobble around her, but she ignored it and pressed the trigger.

Her bullet pierced the guard in the back of the neck. He took two strides before falling over, landing face down. She knew he was dead before he had hit the ground. There was a hushed silence as she looked down at the body. Then the realization struck home. Marideen had never killed someone before.

She had trained for most of her life in fighting and marksmanship. She had seen her own friends die in her hands.  She had even seen people tortured and killed in front of her. But this was the first time she had been responsible for someone’s death directly. It wasn’t even a fair fight. The man had his back turned and was running from her. The reason for doing it seemed so important five seconds prior, but now it seemed pointless.

She leaned on the wall in shock, the wall supporting most of her body. Her arm went limp and the gun dropped to the floor. Down the hallway, the door opened and several guards poured into the hallways. Upon seeing the sight, the one in front lifted his gun, pointing it straight at her. Marideen could see the intent to kill in his eyes. The same look that must have been in her eyes moments before. She was frozen, unable to move. Killing him hadn’t even prevented the guards from being notified.

A large hand grabbed her arm, pulling her back behind the cover of the turn in the hallway. A bullet struck the wall where she was just standing. She couldn’t be certain, but the bullet indent on the wall looked as if it would have been where her heart was.

“Is good to see your beautiful face, but don’t get so swoony on my account,” Berret chuckled awkwardly, worry in his eyes.

A tear ran down Marideen’s face and she glanced at the corner where she had just come from. She could clearly hear guards shouting orders as they spread out into the hallway.

Berret grabbed her face and focused her eyes back on him. “I saw what you did, now don’t regret it a minute. You did what you believed you had to, and that is as much as any can hope for.”

Marideen nodded, quickly wiping a tear and glancing over. Danelle was standing behind Berret, a look of concern on her face masked only by her apparent excitement. Markus had a considerably more worried expression on his face.

“We can make it out the back way, but there is no time to free anyone else, and there goes our distraction,” Markus growled, his face scrunching up in agitation.

“No time?” Marideen asked as she worked on compiling her thoughts.

Then it hit her. “Cover me!” She yelled, immediately darting from Berret’s grasp into the hallway with the guards.

Cover you?” Berret cried in disbelief.

He lifted an automatic rifle Markus must have handed him as quickly as possible while hitting the edge of the corner, firing over Marideen’s shoulder as she hit the ground on all fours. The loud thudding from the clip cut out anything else he said. She believed she could hear him shouting “crazy lady”, but she ignored him as she scrambled down the hallway.

The sudden onslaught of both Berret’s wild blind firing and Marideen’s crawling surprised the guards. They had already made about a third of the way down the hallway, the nearest man about ten meters from their fallen comrade. He took the first bullet from Berret’s gun. The other guards began looking for cover quickly, but the hallway seemed to offer none. A few shot back, aiming at the source of the attack, rather than Marideen as she crawled closer while the others began to retreat.

She came up to the body of the man on the floor and immediately began feeling his pockets. She grimaced at touching a man she had just killed but tried to keep herself detached from the environment around her. She had to be focused. He was an enemy like any other. The adrenaline pumping from the bullets flying over her head helped immensely with that.

Finally, she found what she was looking for. She pulled out the keys that the man had been carrying in his pocket, tossing them back the way she had just come. The keys landed in the middle of the turn in the hallway. As she began lunging forward to get back behind the cover, she could see Markus’s hand reaching from behind the corner and snatching the keys, obviously having figured out her intent.

She moved as quickly as she could back, feeling panic as Berret ceased his fire to reload a clip, having run out of loaded guns. Danelle jumped into view, pulling her pistol with the obvious intent of providing cover fire in Berret’s absence. Marideen’s panic increased. Danelle was too much in the open, she was going to get shot.

Marideen was almost there, she could almost reach… Her face smacked the ground and her hands fell out from under her. The loudest boom Marideen had ever heard rang through her ears, and the world began to fall apart.

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Time and Place – Chapter 7

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After walking down the cargo ramp, Marideen could not help but gasp at the sheer size of the station. The room they were in was immense, consisting of enough space to fit a small ship. She could see several of the farmhands loading up a cart full of vegetable containers before pushing them down the hallway.

The hallways were very wide, at least fifty meters across, for unloading large quantities of supplies quickly. Marideen stretched her legs as she looked around. She hoped she didn’t have as silly a look on her face as Danelle.  She could see now that the cargo room could easily have accommodated a ramp three times the size of their ships.

The cargo room had a gritty appearance, without all the decoration and comforts of a public area. The ground was made from a hard solid metal that clicked as she walked. The walls were made of a similar metal. The feeling that Marideen was residing in a metal box was only offset by the large hallways and the various assortments of vents, hubs, and gear hanging on the walls ready for use at a moment’s notice. It looked as if someone else had recently unloaded a lot of containers and had yet to move them out of the room, filling up about two-thirds of the space.

The containers were rectangular and gray, with ingrained circular screw tops as large as the rectangular shape would allow. Each container was about half the height of Marideen, much like the containers currently being unloaded from Marcell’s ship. They must be a very common design for transport. They sat in rows about four high, offering room between every other column for a single person to walk down.

As she continued to gawk at the scene, Marcell emerged from the ship. One of his subordinates approached him.

“It seems that this docking bay is full. Some unexpected merchandise came in last night and they have been behind schedule ever since,” The farmhand growled, scuffing his foot on the floor, his arms crossed anxiously, “They apparently want us to move all of our merchandise three hallways over to dock L.”

Marcell’s face gained an even more soured expression, “Just great, we’ll never be able to get out of here before…”

The farmer glanced at Marideen but she feigned disinterest, glancing at a container to avoid his look.

Marcell moved closer to the farmhand to speak, his voice barely within Marideen’s earshot, “Just move quickly, I don’t want to be here when things go down.”

He took one more look at Marideen before heading back into the ship. A hand fell of Marideen’s should, causing her to look up.

“Don’t worry,” Kate whispered, “I will take care of Danelle.”

A smile came to Marideen’s lips, “Well I certainly wasn’t going to trust Beiromon to do it.”

Kate returned the smile, a slight blush showing in her cheeks, “I… should get going, I need to find my special container before they confuse it for food and try to serve it to some dignitaries.”

“Have fun,” Marideen responded.

Kate’s eyes lit up, “Oh, I will. I hope you like the finale, I call it The Rumbler.”

Marideen didn’t know what she meant, but she nodded anyway. She watched as Kate walked over to Beiromon, who began to ask her something Marideen couldn’t hear. Marideen could see her face start to blush as she made one-word responses to whatever Beiromon was saying.

“I suppose it is time to get going,” Danelle sighed with a resigned look, “Good luck, sis.”

Danelle nodded once at Marideen before bounding towards Kate and Beiromon, quickly breaking up their awkward conversation with her presence.

Maximil moved up beside her. “She has her job to do, just like you. Don’t worry, we’ll make it.”

Markus came up on her other side, “She’s a smart girl, so I wouldn’t worry about her. You, on the other hand, you’re bound to get me killed.”

Marideen smiled as Maximil threw a glare at Markus.

“Let’s get going,” Marideen started walking down the wide hallways, marching as if on a mission.

Maximil and Markus looked at each other before they went over to a nearby container already loaded on a lift and began pushing it along. The container itself was identical to all the other vegetable containers, save for a small marking on it that signified it contained weapons and body armor. Danelle and her group pushed a similar container with slightly different markings, which also held Kate’s explosives.

The groups walked side by side, not daring to glance or look at each other for fear of drawing unwanted attention. Danelle’s group abruptly slowed before turning right down a smaller hallway that intersected the larger one. Marideen forced herself to not take one more look as her sister turned out of sight.

After walking through a very wide open blast door they entered a much smaller, more furnished hallway. The walls were white and clean, with handrails about waist-high on each side of the hallway. The floor was carpeted with a blue mosaic. Marideen was relieved to enter the carpeted hallway, which muffled the particularly noisy sound of the cart’s wheels.

“We’re coming up to a checkpoint,” Markus whispered over to Marideen.

She didn’t respond but nodded. This was the point they had to perform so much work towards. They had to get proper paperwork and permits. Danelle and Marideen had no record and were thus the only faces that could get the paperwork properly approved. With the help of some properly placed bribes, they had managed to get work permits to allow them to pass the checkpoints.

The checkpoint guards couldn’t care less about a handful of farmhands lugging around containers, but they would be interested in seeing the person whose name and face was all over the permits. Farmer’s often utilized family to help deal with matters of business, so it wouldn’t be abnormal to see a 16 or 19-year-old passing to deliver goods.

They slowed as they approached the checkpoint. There were two guards sitting next to a desk near a security terminal. A large sliding door made out of glass sat behind them. A lit red light sat above the door. As Marideen was told, the glass was unbreakable, and the door would only open if the right code was entered into the computer terminal. The codes themselves were specific to whoever was on duty. Only one of the guards had the capacity to open the door with his personal code. When the shift ended, the code changed to the next guard’s personal code.

Marideen quickly took a couple of steps forward before brandishing the paperwork. The guard raised an eyebrow but grabbed the paperwork before walking around to a terminal.

“Is this your first time at Vanderra?” The other guard asked, sitting casually in his chair.

He was a handsome man and had he not been the equivalent of the enemy at that particular time, with blond hair and nice blue eyes, she might have taken another look at him. The one behind the console with her paperwork was a much older man with white well-combed hair. Most likely, he was the experienced officer with the younger officer as his trainee.

“Daddy thought I ought to have more responsibility,” she responded.

All true, she had been told guards had been taught to catch liars. She always found the most convincing lies to be the truth. Albeit, she added a bit of an accent that she felt was believable for a farmer’s daughter.

The guard raised an eyebrow when he looked at her. She gave him a reassuring smile and met his eyes while keeping her head down in what she hoped was a submissive posture.

“Have you heard about the newest shipment of artifacts that just came in?” The guard asked her, smirking back.

“Why no, not at all,” Marideen remarked. She hadn’t after all.

The guard stood up and took a few steps towards her.

“Well, it turns out some nearby planet was full of relics or artifacts or something. Last night, the shipments came in. It was a little odd. They paraded the artifacts in like, well, some kind of parade. But then they suddenly got real secure and locked everything up tight near the cellblock. They won’t let anyone in or out without top level clearance. I never liked that, they parade all these containers and crap around, say they contain some mysterious artifacts from a mysterious civilization, then don’t let us see a one of them. Ain’t that just rotten, right Tom?” He turned back to the other guard.

The other guard glanced up from the computer screen, “They say the head archeologist on the project is a real bi-eee, um witch.”

The handsome guard, now in front of her, blushed a bit at his friend’s impolite slip.

“Yes, well, they say they found something. Something big. Like changing the empire big. The wit…um… Head architect was all in frenzy over it.”

“They say that one of her team members dropped one of the containers when loading them and she fired half of the team,” the guard named Tom added.

“Really?” Maximil piped in, “I’d expect some guys like us would be loading the containers.”

“Hah, she wouldn’t let guys like you anywhere near her artifacts,” The guard barked a laugh. “Erm… no offense.”

The guard started blushing again, Marideen tried to give him an innocent smile, but he seemed to blush even more.

“Well, it seems all your paperwork is in order, so we will just need to check the goods in the container and you should be set to go,” Tom finally said.

Marideen stifled a quick surge of panic, “We are taking fresh vegetables directly to the kitchens and Daddy says that they are sealed tight. If we open them now, they will start to spoil and…”

“No worries,” The handsome guard responded, “Your paperwork says it’s for the prison kitchens, I don’t think we will have too many complaints about the freshness of the vegetables from there. Oh, it’s okay, you won’t have to go through the cell block hallways or anything. The kitchen is outside the cell block.”

The guard must have seen a worried look on her face and guessed incorrectly as to her worries. She attempted to school her face and flashed him another smile to reassure him.

“Brice!” Tom barked.

The handsome guard, Brice, shook his head as if coming out of a trance, reaching down for the container. Marideen tensed as he reached past her, ready to land a killing blow if she had to. She had never killed a man before, but she had it in her. Did she? At least, she thought she did. Markus made the slightest hint of a shake of his head, stilling her from the move. With a small grunt, the man turned the circular top, hearing a hissing sound as the pressure was released, allowing fresh air into the container.

“Oh no!” The guards face twisted as he looked down into the container.

“What?” The other guard asked, a concerned look on his face.

“Asparagus,” He chuckled, holding up a piece of green vegetable between his thumb and forefinger as if it was a rat’s tail.

“So?”

“I hate asparagus, Lord, and Lady, it even smells without being cooked,” Brice said, tossing the vegetable back into its container before putting the top back on and twisting it shut.

Marideen let out a long breath she didn’t know she had been holding. She stifled a flash of panic. Was this the wrong container? This far and they brought the wrong container! A quick look at Markus, who seemed to have the hint of a self-certified smirk on his face, told her otherwise. It must have been his doing.

Another pang of worry hit Marideen as she thought about her little sister. Had Markus thought to do the same to their box? Of course, he did. But would their guards fall for the ruse like hers did, or would they check thoroughly?

“Well, you’re good to go. Good luck. If you need directions, the second checkpoint should be able to give them.” Tom nodded to them, not bothering to stand back up.

“Yes, of course,” Brice responded, putting a sticker with the sign of the Taerren empire on their container. It was multi-shaded, with a blood red circle in the middle of a six sided star.

Tom typed something into the terminal. A small click sounded before the light turned green and the doors slid open. Marideen flashed Brice one last smile before continuing on.

“Wait one second,” Brice said, lightly grabbing Marideen’s arm, letting go once she turned to face him, “You…you will be coming back the same way right?”

“Yes, of course, when I go back to Daddy’s ship,” she lied. Well, sometimes lies were okay.

“We-well I’ll see you soon then,” Brice smiled at her, taking a step back and a quick nod of his head.

Tom let out a chuckle and shook his head, muttering something about young people.

Marideen went ahead with Maximil and Markus pushing the container behind.  After the door closed behind them she let out a breath of relief. Once they were out of earshot Markus and Maximil caught up to her.

“What was that all about?” Maximil growled.

Marideen gave Max a confused look, “What do you mean?”

“It seems like you wanted to get us arrested, staring him down in the eyes, giving him that glare. You had him nervous as all get out. I’m surprised he didn’t detain you for questioning.”

Markus barked a laugh, “I think you have the situation all wrong. With all that smiling and eyelash batting I think he was ready to propose to her. If he did decide to detain her, it wouldn’t be for questioning, or at least, not the kinds of questions you have in mind.”

Marideen looked on ahead as she fought to prevent crimson from growing in her cheeks, “I have no clue what you are talking about. I was a proper farmer’s daughter…”

“All I can say is there is no shortage of want from guards for farmers’ daughters,” Markus let out a chuckle, shaking his head in amusement in much the same way Tom had.

Maximil had grown silent, apparently reassessing the information and wondering whether he should do the fatherly thing and return to the first checkpoint to make sure the boy didn’t get any ideas in his head. He apparently had decided against it as he shook his head vigorously before grabbing and pushing the container a little faster for a few paces, forcing Markus to take a few quick steps to catch up.

As they approached the second checkpoint, they saw two more guards playing cards on the limited bench space that they had available. One of the guards looked up as they neared. Seeing the seal on the container, he punched in the codes, causing the second glass doors to slide open, waving a hand in the air to let them pass as he studied his cards. They continued onward without stopping.

Tom had mentioned that they should ask for directions, but they had already acquired schematics for the building and had memorized their way weeks in advance. One of the few things to do on the long space flight aboard the Nevercan was studying the schematics again and again. Although now that she was there, the schematics didn’t exactly do the winding hallways justice.

“We’re past the checkpoints so that half of it is done,” Markus whispered, keeping his voice low, despite no one but them within earshot.

“Markus?” Marideen glanced over at him, “You thought to do the vegetable trick with Danelle’s group too right?”

Markus nodded, “It was actually Beiromon who thought of it, only two days ago. Can you imagine? All of that planning and we didn’t even think that they would want to check the canisters. We were one last ditched thought away from almost certainly failing this mission… Anyway, your sister overheard us and wanted to help. Lord knows Marcell wouldn’t part with a handful of vegetables. I think he has his heart in the right place, but… Well, you saw the aftermath of getting the vegetables. In the commotion, I was able to snatch enough vegetables to cover both containers two feet deep.”

Marideen quickly re-evaluated her little sister. Sneaky little brat, she should have given Marideen at least a bit of warning. Marideen shook her head slightly. Close call was an understatement for what they were. Why had her father not thought of such an obvious hole in this plan?

After walking through corridor after corridor, Markus eventually motioned them into a small room. The room was fairly barren, being an unused storage room. Mostly empty storage racks sat up on either side of the wall.

Markus smoothly opened the container. This time, it made a considerably quieter ‘hiss as the pressure had already been released from before. He began pulling out handfuls of asparagus, dumping them on the floor. Eventually, he pulled out several weapons, ammo, and a tool box. He pulled out several bars and two grill-like rectangular pieces.

Without a beat lost, Markus began smoothly assembling something. Maximil checked each cartridge of ammo before loading and cocking each gun, leaving them on safety for the time being. Marideen waited anxiously with her arms crossed, fighting the urge to start pacing in the already fairly cramped room.

As Markus began to assemble each of the legs, Marideen could tell it was a cart. Maximil, done with checking each of the guns, grabbed some clothing out of the container and tossed it at Marideen.

“Put this on, it’s our cover now,” Maximil told her.

Marideen blushed before glaring at the two men.

Maximil rolled his eyes, “I have powdered your naked bottom as a kid. I’ve seen you in less than your underwear plenty of times.”

Despite this, he turned around. Marideen had to give Markus an extra glare before he looked up from his work and noticed her. Sighing, he stood up and turned around as well.

She quickly pulled off the brown jumpsuit before putting on her new clothing. This was a two piece, consisting of scratchy cotton material, but it fits surprisingly well. The color of both the pants and shirt were a solid light blue. The pants fit snuggly while the shirt was loose, with a high v neck.

When Marideen had finished, Maximil turned back around and immediately began changing into a twin of her outfit, although sized for him. She quickly turned her back in respect. He grunted when he saw her back turned to him.

Markus finally finished the cart and quickly changed his clothing too to the same outfit they wore. Marideen turned back around to see Markus laying a cloth over the cart. He had several plastic plates, a plastic pitcher, and a plastic glass. He opened a small container, scooping out mush onto the plates, and pouring some dark liquid that looked like tea into the pitcher. Under the cart, Markus placed several of the larger gear that they couldn’t hide on their person. Marideen herself did not want to hold a gun, let alone use one. She would leave those tasks to the two men.

“If our sources are right and we gathered the right resources, we should look just like any prison kitchen staff delivering a meal. We should be able to walk right past the guards into the prison.” Markus said, half to himself.

“It’s the getting out part where things get fishy,” Maximil replied.

The three of them opened the door and walked out, beginning to head for the kitchen.

“Mari, your father asked me to have you sit this one out,” Maximil whispered to her as they walked on.

What?” Marideen yelled.

Markus glanced at her with a dirty look, so she lowered her voice, “I have already gotten this far.”

“Dairen doesn’t want you in danger. You got us past the check points; you did your job. Your new job is simply to get to the escape pods and secure us an exit when the bomb goes off. The outfit should be enough for that. When we let the prisoners out, if something goes wrong and fighting begins, you don’t need to get caught in the crossfire. More than that, it will simply look weird having three people there to pass out a single meal.

Marideen sighed. She supposed she could understand the last reason at least. She was honestly a little surprised; she never thought her father would change plans to accommodate her safety. They turned one more corner and to Marideen’s shock, Danelle stood in the middle of the hallway, looking lost.

When Danelle saw Marideen, her eyes and cheeks glistened with wetness. She ran down the hall towards them at full speed, her pace only slowing a few steps before she reached Marideen.

“Danelle, what..?” Marideen began.

“It’s Dad,” Danelle announced, gasping for breath as the tears fell. “They’ve got him.”

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Time and Place – Chapter 6

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“Can you stay out of trouble for one minute?” Marideen growled, flicking something that resembled a carrot as it floated by her face.

“This trip is taking forever, and there is nothing to do!” Danelle snapped back, munching on another vegetable that she had snatched out of the air.

One of the farmhands floated nearby with an agitated look on his face, trying to grab pieces of flying vegetable and put them back into a container. Every once in a while he gave the two sisters a dirty look before continuing on. Every other vegetable he grabbed for floated just out of his reach. After grabbing three or four vegetables, he’d try to shove them back into the container.

As the container became close to full, it became more and more difficult for him to keep them all. Each time he opened it, all of the carrots started to rise out like a slow motion eruption. He attempted to push them all in while adding even more vegetation.

He had been working for the last thirty minutes since Danelle had decided to open the container in the first place. It had been stuffed full, and as she forced the airtight top open, the carrots had exploded into the cargo room like a volcano. Marideen had volunteered herself and Danelle to assist the farmhand in cleaning it, but he had quickly dismissed their help and began cleaning it up himself.

She had the nagging suspicion that the farmhand liked an excuse simply to be angry at someone. They had been crammed in a small ship with less than 400 cubic meters of “livable space” for almost a week now. They should be approaching Vanderra soon, but the closer they got, the more agitated the crew seemed to become.

This ship itself was closed off and uncomfortable. Having no form of artificial gravity or a centrifugal chamber meant that even lengthy bouts of exercise were not enough to stave off muscle atrophy. More than that, the only quarters on board were taken up by the farmer, Marcell. The Lancers and other farmhands mostly slept in chairs where they could strap themselves down properly.

There were two such chairs in the cargo bay that they were currently floating in, adjacent to the small mess hall and kitchen. Most of the cargo bay was filled with containers just like the one the farmhand was filling, but the remaining space open for moving down the aisles was still roomier than the rest of the ship. With a crew of fourteen, the cockpit, the farmer’s off-limits quarters and most of the rest of the ship filled with cargo, being cramped was an understatement.

The ship didn’t even consist of windows to look outside. Most of the farmhands had grown used to this environment, but Marideen and her sister were quickly getting cabin fever. It was for this reason, partially, that Danelle decided to open one the container. Marcell had to give up several of his prospective farmhands in order to fit more Lancers on board. This had the unexpected effect that all of the farmhands had more work, as few of the Lancers had significant experience working on a transport ship before.

Despite volunteering for the mission, the farmer and his farmhands seemed to become quickly agitated with the Lancers, unused to the disruptions and problems that arrived from inexperienced crewmembers joining them.

One of the Lancers, Markus, did the best he could to bridge the crew of the Nevercan with the Lancers. Before becoming a Lancer, he was a farmer himself for many years. Markus had lost everything he owned in what he would only describe as bad politics. As Markus himself described it, he had spent several years wallowing in self-pity, and then another dozen years wallowing in deception and manipulation, before finally finding his way to the Lancers.

Markus was very comfortable on a transport ship, and frequently patted farmhands on the back, giving them a hand with moving, tightening or readjusting loads, and freely assisted in maintenance tasks. He often joked with the crew, using crude remarks that he made sure never reached Danelle’s ears.

There were seven farmhands and six Lancers on board the ship; the farmer, Marcell, rounded off the total number. Every single one of them, including Marideen herself, brightened whenever he turned their way. He had a kind of infectious quality of sincerity that grew on people. The Lancers liked him, farmhands loved him, and it was his actions alone that kept the crew from strangling each other.

Every night, Markus would sit down and strap himself into a seat, made difficult by the lack of gravity. He would then proceed to tell an extravagant story of a place he had been to or a thing he had seen. Apparently, Markus had been very worldly during the years of self-pity. Danelle would always sit nearby with some kind of snack she had managed to sneak earlier from the mess hall, which also functioned as the dining area and at least partially for container storage.

The stories Markus told were elaborate, about strange beings that lived in space, alien species at the edge of the known universe, and the lost planet. Markus’s stories were for Danelle mostly, but Marideen would always sit nearby and listen with her sister. Many of the nearby farmhands would stop at their tasks to listen to the stories as well. Even Marcell came out of his quarters and listen to the stories.

Marideen was shocked the first night Markus had begun. At the end of it, he had received an ovation from almost half the crew. Markus enjoyed the attention, and Marideen often found herself wondering if he had been an entertainer during some of his life.  Whatever his history, Markus was essential to this mission; her father had made that clear.

It was Markus who had managed to get the Lancers in touch with Marcell  in the first place. Marcell had made his living as a farmer by having a little bit of foresight. When the political changes that ruined Markus came along, Marcell was lucky enough to have learned who the right people to bribe were. Marcell was never happy about the corruption Taerren’s took over his planet when they took control of the Vol system though. In his own words, he made ten times the amount farming under the Order of Vol than he did under the Taerrens selling the same goods to the same people.

Despite this, Marideen did not trust the farmer. He had a certain untrustworthy way about him. When agreeing to help them, he was originally only willing to allow three Lancers aboard, as if they could mount any kind of rescue that way. Despite helping the Lancers, Marcell still expected to make a profit, and wanted to earn as much money as he could. He loaded the ship with as much of his goods as possible, even at the expense of carrying more Lancers.

He had successfully argued with Marideen’s father that having a lighter than normal load would lead to suspicion, but Marideen had no doubt that Marcell intended to have his entire stock of food unloaded and the credits in his pocket before Marideen and her group made their move. Even now, his motivations for helping them were purely for profit. She simply could not trust a man who was motivated by monetary gain. Their loyalty was subjective.

The other three Lancers that were joining them were Kate, Maximil, and Beiromon. Kate was a quiet girl. She had a pretty face but was incredibly shy. She rarely spoke to those of the opposite sex without blushing. The few guys that did hit on Kate came into a big surprise when they found out about her hobby, explosives.

Kate loved to blow things up. It was often very unnerving to listen to her quite timid voice one minute, and see her laughing maniacally as she blew up a large quantity of landscape the next minute. She regularly blew things up, to the very point that whenever a loud bang was heard, nearby people would just nod and respond with, “That’s Kate for you.”

Marideen had managed to learn Kate’s history over a series of carefully placed questions. It seems that her family had been miners in the Kris System for their entire lives. The Taerren Empire had asked Kate’s father to sell their metals and ores to an alternate company, as the one they were selling it to was black listed. When Kate’s dad had refused, the government had retaliated. This is where her story got vague. Most of her family had died and she had been somehow trapped in a mine with her brother.

Kate never had explained how she made it out, but her brother did not survive with her. Years later, she began bombing unmanned drones, satellites, and ships. She became incredibly well known in the Kris system as the notorious Kris bomber. Her behavior had no goals and seemed self-destructive, which is when her father had tracked Kate down.

Eventually, a man was caught and accused of being the Kris bomber in her stead. Marideen was younger at the time, but she remembered Kate becoming very frantic to help the man. Her failure had taken her years to recover.  Marideen never knew what exactly had happened from that. She did know that the Lancers considered her one of them, but she secretly wondered if Kate every truly considered herself a Lancer.

The other two Lancers, Maximil and Beiromon, were as different as they were the same. Maximil was a large, broad, imposing man. He was foreign, having been born an Ertlander. She did not know much of his past, or of anything regarding Ertlanders for that matter. They had always been close mouthed about their culture to anyone who was not an Ertlander. However, he was always kind to her and was friends with Beiromon, which was enough.

Beiromon was her house’s sword master. He had long bushy sideburns that encompassed half of his face, curving down so they almost reached his chin. His hair was thinning and turning gray. He was a large man like Maximil, although it was difficult to tell if his size was caused more from fat or muscle. Both he had to excess. Despite his ridiculous appearance, he always held an air of nobility about him and had been a part of her family since before she was born. Every skill she knew, from how to survive in an inhospitable planet to how to fight hand-to-hand, was taught to her by that man.

Marideen trusted those two men with her life. They had, after all, saved Dairen, Danelle, and herself on more than one occasion. Maximil and Beiromon had been Lancers before the Lancers had had a name. When Marideen was eight, Beiromon and Maximil had found and rescued her and her sister. She had not yet begun training with Beiromon and Maximil was a complete stranger, but they treated her like family and kept her and her sister safe while Taerren soldiers raided the Cleefe estates.

The two then proceeded to amount a rescue to save Dairen. At the time, Dairen was a Taerren politician. By all accounts Maximil, already a revolutionary, had little reason to protect him. However, he had heard radio broadcasts where Dairen had fought vehemently for rights for the outer systems. He had known that change was needed, and decided to approach Beiromon with a plan to protect his friend and master.

Markus floated in as the farmhand grabbed the last of the vegetables from the air, deciding against reopening the container to try to put them in. He bowed to the farm hand, an act that by all accounts should look ridiculous floating in midair, yet somehow looked regal coming from Markus.

The farmhand smiled, “Well, you managed to come just late enough to miss all the work!”

“I excel at that, why look at these hands, do these look like the hands of manual labor?”

The farmhand snorted, “Those look the hands of man who hasn’t been with a good woman in a while, and I’d believe they’d seen quite a bit of manual labor.”

Danelle snorted a laugh as Markus and the farmhand chuckled together.

Markus nodded at Danelle, “I’d assume she is to blame for the work.”

Danelle painted a very convincing face of abject indignity. Marideen herself might have thought Danelle innocent had she not known the girl.

“Ai, she decided we didn’t have enough work to do, so she decided to give me a new duty,” the farmhand nodded to the girl, a dark look on his face in response to her innocent shrug.

“Well, the thing about finding a good woman is that they seem to come hand-to-hand with a sudden increase in manual labor,” Markus chuckled.

“I think I’d like a few years of peace yet before I have a woman on my side for more than an evening,” the farmhand mumbled, brightening up a little.

Marideen scowled at the farmhand’s back. He seemed to feel it as he shrugged, bided Markus goodbye, and left the room hurriedly.

Markus floated towards Marideen and Danelle.

“Oh lighten up, I think I remember you once said men are only good for three things, and weren’t capable of doing a single one of them without a woman.”

Marideen barked a laugh, “It was my mother who had said that. Smart woman, she was.”

“The smartest, so I’ve been told. As I understand it, she could tongue-tie your father like a hog for market,” Markus smiled comfortingly.

Danelle began tossing a carrot back and forth between her hands, feigning disinterest as she listened to them talk. She had been very young when her mother had died, and did not remember her at all.

“We are in radio range with the station. We are preparing dock procedures soon. You may want to find a seat and strap yourselves in. In about five minutes it is going to get kind of rocky,” Markus told them.

“Finally, it will be nice to feel gravity again,” Marideen responded.

“Well, make sure to take it slow. You will need an hour or two before we can get moving with the plan. You will feel pretty weak in the legs, even with the exercise, but it is the price we have to pay to travel,” Markus nodded at Danelle before leading himself back through the door.

Danelle and Marideen strapped themselves down in nearby chairs. It was still some time before they felt the rumbling of landing. Every couple of minutes Danelle sighed and threw back her head, before proceeding to wait again. Suddenly, Marideen could feel a weight pushing down on her. It was very unsettling to suddenly find herself heavy.

Marideen’s hair flopped down around her, suddenly lifeless. Her hair was most likely a tangled mess; a quick look at Danelle gave her a good idea of what it would look like. They had both been told to tie their hair up in braids, as was the custom, but it sometimes felt good to let your hair float loosely. The sudden increase in gravity suddenly made her feel very uncomfortable just staying in her seat. She put as much of her weight as possible on her seatbelt, still straining to keep herself upright.

Fortunately, she had good chest support, but it seemed painfully insufficient. Her back quickly began to ache and even her head felt heavy in relation to her neck. Danelle next to her grunted as well. With a little bit of effort, Marideen looked over at her. Danelle’s body was in the same hunched position as her own. The ship jerked as she could hear the docking clamp click into place. They had landed.

After a few minutes, Marideen could hear movement in the cabins around her. With a great deal of willpower, Marideen unbuckled her seatbelt, collapsing out of her chair. Danelle made an alarmed sound, but Marideen quickly assured her she was alright. Marideen grabbed the side of a container and slowly willed herself to stand. Feeling this heavy certainly wasn’t good for her self-esteem. Was she always this heavy?

She began pacing back and forth slowly, using the containers as a makeshift crutch. Danelle still remained in her seat, however; she seemed a little less hunched as time went by. She periodically stretched out her legs, and then brought them back, sighing a bit each time. It wasn’t that either of them were unaccustomed to space travel, however, they were not used to being weightless for such long periods of time. Most of the ships they had been on were larger ships, often with a centrifugal chamber for artificial gravity.

After a few more minutes of pacing back and forth Marideen was a little more used to the gravity. It was still exhausting, but tolerable. Several of the farmhands walked past her and began to unfasten several of the containers, ready to start work. Most of them were used to this kind of travel on a regular basis.

They had spent relentless hours working out with exercise tools and resistance straps when they weren’t performing the rest of their tasks. Marideen herself regretted not spending more time keeping her body tone. She felt particularly weak.

The three Lancer men walked up to them with relative ease. Maximil smiled at Danelle, who was still refusing to stand. He leaned over and unstrapped her belt as she let out a noise of protest. Grabbing one of her arms he lifted her into a standing position, forcing her to use her legs.

“Up you go,” Maximil smiled encouragingly, “It’s good for you, it gets the blood flowing.”

“Puts hair on your chest,” Beiromon grunted beside him, winking.

Danelle stifled a chuckle as she tried to give Maximil and Beiromon the dirtiest look at her disposal.

“Are you doing good, Birdy?” Maximil asked Marideen, continuing to hold Danelle erect as she started supporting herself.

“I feel about fifty pounds heavier than before I left,” Marideen grunted, finally letting go of the container she was using to stand upright on her own.

Maximil barked a laugh, “You’ll be fine, you really should have spend some time sparring with me, we aren’t often afforded the opportunity to practice weightless combat. I expect you to work harder on the return journey. I won’t have a pupil of mine out for weeks because she felt like being lazy.”

Marideen grunted and forced a smile. She suspected that Beiromon meant what he said. He was not the kind of man to say things without meaning them. She didn’t doubt that her return journey would be exhausting and instructive. She dwelled on the Landers a bit more as her legs steadily regained strength. The rest of the farm hands were waiting for the opening of the landing platform.

“Are you ready for this?” Maximil asked, a worried look appearing on his face, “I can’t say I approve of your father sending the two of you on this mission. You both could use more experience.”

Marideen took no offense. Maximil meant exactly what he said, and it was because he cared for the both of them like an uncle.

Markus growled, “I can’t say I approve of this mission at all…”

“What does that mean?” Danelle asked, finally standing without Maximil’s support.

Beiromon gave Markus a sharp look, but he continued on anyway, “This mission has holes in it. There is something wrong here, Deiron usually isn’t this sloppy. It’s just… that I wouldn’t have planned things this way.”

Maximil sighed before responding, “Deiron made this plan with the input of dozens of others. If this plan wasn’t sound, do you think he would send his own daughters on it?”

“I don’t know,” Markus looked down at his hands for a moment, “It just doesn’t feel right, his daughters included.”

“You know as much as I that Danelle and I are the only two people capable of making it through the checkpoints.” Marideen tried to interject, “Almost every other Lancer is wanted for crimes against the Taerren Empire. And we are also the only people present who know how to hack Taerren security terminals.”

“We could have found someone else who knew how to use Taerren computers. I wish Deiron had never had you trained in that particular skill. Danelle is just a little bit.” Beiromon responded, his eyes losing a little bit of steam as he saw Danelle glaring at him.

Markus shook his head. It was clear he wasn’t satisfied with that answer. At a glance from Beiromon, he decided to remain silent.

“You know Father. He will do whatever it takes. He prefers that things be done in pairs. ‘Every good plan has a contingency for failure’,” Marideen quoted.

Markus sighed in resignation, “We have trusted your father this far, so I suppose we will just have to continue to do so. Remember, we move out in one hour, so get your legs under you and get ready. This day has just begun. We will move in separately. Danelle, Beiromon, and Kate will trigger the explosion. You, Maximil, and I will recover Berret and any other sympathizers. This space station is an international hub, and the political prison is a small part of that. It is not exactly high security, but most of the people we would be freeing should be glad to see the Lancers.”

“Hmm, a bunch of pencil pushers, huh?” Maximil responded.

“They are a bunch of intelligent, influential men, Max. Gaining their influence would help our movement. It will be the difference between the systems seeing us as a Terrorist group or a Government Reform. The public being on our side is essential. Rescuing political prisoners is a great step in that direction.” Markus explained.

Maximal barked a laugh, slapping Markus on the back.

“You have a great deal of insight for a farmer Mark,” Maximal chuckled.

“I’ve been many things, farming is only one of the things I am good at,” Markus responded.

“I bet it is. Relax, we’ve been through this before, I know the reasons.” Maximal barked another laugh, then looked over at Marideen and her sister, his voice growing serious, “Be ready, find your legs quickly, you will be needing them soon enough.”

After Markus, Maximil, and Beiromon left Marideen began to pace back and forth again. Danelle performed odd little squats, stretching her legs the best she could. Periodically, a farmhand walked by, sometimes carrying a container.

Eventually, Marcell came out of his quarters. He looked at both Marideen and Danelle up and down with a sour expression on his face.

“Don’t you have a mission to be on?” he growled at them.

“We have a few minutes before we can get going,” Danelle piped in.

The old farmer grumbled under his breath before walking on. Marideen could hear him shouting at a farmhand moments after he was out of sight down the cargo hold paths.

“We probably should get moving, the sooner we get started, the sooner we are done. I-” Marideen lost her breath as Danelle rammed into her, embracing her tightly.

Marideen returned the embrace.

“I feel like something big is about to happen. Be safe, will you?” Danelle asked with worry in her voice.

“I should be saying that to you,” Marideen smirked.

“Just promise me you will be careful.”

“I will, but you need to promise me the same.”

“Please, I’m always careful.” Danelle scoffed.

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Time and Place – Chapter 5

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Marideen cracked her neck, her left hand pushing on the side of her head, steadily raising pressure until she felt that little snap. She sighed and then began to push her head the other way. She sighed one more time for good measure. Her father seemed to ignore her as he continued on with his speech.

The room was incredibly plain, consisting of four metallic white walls, a giant touch screen in the front, and a small grouping of chairs. The chairs stood in a semi arc towards the front of the room where her father stood. Most of the chairs were empty, and no one seemed to sit directly next to anyone else.

There were around a dozen other people in the room, of them, only two hadn’t heard the plan yet and most of them would not even be coming on the mission. The others looked almost as bored as she.  It wasn’t that is was not important to hear it again. It would seem that everything depended on the details being just right. Nevertheless, after the fifth time she had to hear the in depth report, it began to chafe at her resolve.

Her sister sat at her side, cuddled up in her chair quite comfortably with her head leaning against Marideen.  Danelle was younger than she, and Marideen had always made it her duty to carefully watch after her little sister. It irritated her that Danelle would be allowed on this mission. It was too dangerous; she was too young, only 16 years old.

It wasn’t just the need to protect Danelle that drove Marideen to want to exclude her. Danelle was a bit of a hot head. She could potentially cause problems on this mission. Regardless, Dairen, her father, insisted that every hand available be used. She knew she would never forgive him if Danelle was hurt.

She couldn’t blame Danelle for wanting to come along, she was young, and many of the people they would rescue were people she knew and cared about. However, Dairen could have put his foot down, could have ensured her safety. Of course, that was always how it had worked between them. Her mother, may she rest in peace, cared for the children and ensured their safety. To Dairen, the rebellion always took precedence over anything else.

Danelle murmured something and quickly turned her head away, taking pressure off of Marideen’s shoulder. Marideen quickly shifted herself. Staying in that position for so long so that she did not disturb Danelle’s sleep was starting to cause parts of her body to go numb.

“We will have to move quickly, we won’t have much time, failure is not an option,” Dairen concluded.

This was the end of the speech. Dairen ended it the same every time. It was a bit of a relief. Two of the men who had been sitting stood up and approached him, asking questions either to clarify parts one more time or display questions they hadn’t thought of the first few times he had gone over the plan.

Dairen was always the planner. He certainly did possess the presence necessary to command a group of men. He was a good speaker, and what he said, people listened to. Dairen had structured this plan with the advice of two of his Lieutenants, who now argued intently with him over perceived last minute changes to the plan. However, these were simply the details. The primary plan for the Lancers, the name of this revolutionary group, had already been set months ago.

Despite all the nuances and details, the plan was really quite simple. They would dock in a supply vessel on route to the Vanderra space station. Once boarding, they would have some of the men unload supplies; the rest will mount a rescue of several of the inmates. They will ignite an explosion to take out engine support grid that keeps the station in orbit. In the confusion, they will take escape pods and blend in with the thousands of other escaping people on board the station.

Their engineers insisted that the station would take approximately two hours to crash so they would have plenty of time to evacuate before the station hit the atmosphere and tore itself apart. If everything went perfectly, the Taerren government wouldn’t bother to rescue the inmates and would be blamed for the slaughter of hundreds of men, that is if they never realized that the inmates had already left. One couldn’t hope that a plan would go that smoothly, but Dairen was a man for plans, although in the back of her head Marideen feared that they would be in some deep trouble if the plans changed.

It didn’t particularly seem honest to Marideen. The Lancers ultimate goal was to work towards reforming the current Taerran government, which consisted of a great deal of favoritism and too much power in the noble class. However, defaming the government through lies seemed counterproductive to their goals in Marideen’s mind. However, she trusted her father’s judgment and the men he chose to listen to.

Of course, the cost would be completely worth the gain, If there was truly a Lord and Lady that watched over the Taerren people, Marideen hoped that they made sure that everything went to plan at least until they freed Berret. Berret was the man they had set up this plan to free. He was Dairen’s friend and practically family to Marideen and her sister. During a botched mission some months prior, Berret and a handful of other men had been captured. Those that were noble, like Berret, were imprisoned aboard the political prison on Vanderra. Those that were common were executed.

His capture was an unfortunate hit to the Lancers, and Marideen hoped that he was OK. She knew that once he was freed, no matter how things went, he would ensure that they got out of there.  She had always admired him, and his strength. He used to say that he wished that he had had a son so that his son could marry her. After that, he would always wink at her and tell her his son would hate him for the demands Berret would make on him so that he might be worthy of Marideen’s love. Whenever Berret said that it always made her blush.

She shook off the memory and stood up. Danelle’s eyes were open and she was starting to stretch, unfurling herself from the tight ball she had wound her body into. Marideen herself wobbled a bit, her legs still a bit sleepy from a long time sitting.

“Is…is he finished?” Danelle murmured, her eyes still a bit glazed over from sleep.

Marideen nodded, glancing over at her father as she spoke, “It seems that he wants us to be right on the front lines. He says that we are less likely to get hit than some of his more seasoned men.”

Danelle’s eyes rose slightly before Marideen continued, “According to him, armed men are less likely to gun down two young women, and thus we will cause them pause. Those few seconds of hesitation can make the difference between success and failure.” Marideen’s mimicked her father’s deep voice with that last statement, a momentary burst of anger quickly suppressed.

“I don’t mind, it would be nice to be the ones freeing Berret, where would you rather be, sitting behind with the ship unloading vegetables?” Danelle said.

“Yes, I would. It would be nice to be somewhere safe, where I can keep a watch over you; and I know that the next second we won’t walk into a trap we both won’t make it out of…” Danelle rolled her eyes as Marideen replied. “and don’t look at me that way, we both know that the people going on the rescue mission have the least probability of making it out again. I suppose that is why dad picked us, because we have a greater probability than most, but I would like him to just once see us as his daughters and not another statistic in this war.”

“But those people that are going with us will include Max and Beiromon, if there was anyone who could keep us safe, anyone you’d trusted more…” Danelle placed her hand on Marideen’s shoulder, a comforting look in her eyes, “I know you and dad don’t always see eye to eye. But what he says makes sense, and you and I both know that if he started giving you and me special treatment, you’d find yourself opposed to that too.”

A little bit of stress left Marideen as she took a deep breath. “I suppose we’ll just have to watch each other’s backs carefully.”

“Of course,” Danelle mused,” I have to keep you out of trouble after all.”

Marideen let out a wry chuckle that Danelle joined her in. It was forced, but in anticipation of this mission, any call for laughter was a much-welcomed one. As the laughter quickly died out, the two of them nodded to each other and walked up to the front of the room. Dairen turned to them, the lieutenants having left the room with the majority of the others.

“Are you ready for tomorrow?” Darien asked, his voice devoid of the affection it could have had. Marideen remembered a time when it had been softer, easier. She thought it was around the time her mother had died that his voice had taken an edge to it.

“As ready as we can be… do you know which ship we will be on?” Marideen responded, stifling the growing irritation that started every time she attempted to talk to her father.

“It would seem that the transport is named the “Nevercan”,” Dairen responded, checking the notepad in his hand first as if he didn’t already have every detail of the plan memorized.

“Oh, what an optimistically sounding ship,” Marideen quipped before grimacing at her father’s unamused look.

Danelle giggled slightly before jumping at Dairen, embracing him in a hug. After a brief flash of shock, his face seemed to morph a little softer. Marideen could never figure out exactly how she did that. How did she know exactly what to do to break that hard exterior, it seemed to be her specialty.

When Danelle’s embrace ended, Dairen looked around awkwardly, his features quickly returning to the mask of concentration and thought that he presented the rest of the world. Dairen was a hard man, and even Danelle’s charms only could break it for a second.  She beamed another smile at him, seeming to almost brighten the entire room, before turning and trotting away. A flicker of a smile touched the side of Dairen’s mouth until he glanced back at Marideen, her hands on her hips and a dark look on her face.

“She shouldn’t be on this mission…,” Marideen began before Dairen spoke up.

“Don’t start this again Mari, the both of you are perfectly skilled in combat and are more likely to get through this than anyone else. I know you don’t like your little sister in danger, neither do I, but we all have a part to play and this is your part.”

“The mission would be fine without her…”

“We all have a part to play, even her. If anyone of us don’t play our part there will be more lives lost than necessary,” Dairen slapped his hand down on the podium as Marideen attempted to speak again, “Do NOT be sulky with me, we will all play our part in the times to come, do your job right and you sister will make it out safely, understood?”

They had frequently repeated this conversation over the last couple of days since he had announced her sister would be coming along. Marideen didn’t doubt that her sister would be able to handle herself. She was very skilled in marksmanship and hand to hand combat. When Marideen and Danelle sparred, Danelle was able to hold her own and even win some of the matches.

At one point and time, Marideen might have considered holding back when sparring with her little sister, but Danelle enjoyed exploiting that weakness to her advantage and quickly taking control of the fight. Marideen had painfully learned not to underestimate her little sister. Although, Marideen’s little sister was miserable with a sword.  That skill seemed to have skipped her sister entirely.

“Mari, there is no reason for you to become pouty; this is the way it has to be. The Lord and Lady will watch over all of us. Between you, Maximil, Beiromon, and Markus; I am sure we can keep her safe.”

Pouty? She wasn’t being pouty. She quickly smoothed out her lips, hiding another slight grimace. “Yes, father”.  It was father, never dad or daddy.  It was a victory she kept in her head. Always using the formal title, she was able to separate that he was never a dad to her, merely a father.

Dairen nodded before turning to speak with one of the remaining few attendees who stayed behind to speak to him.  It wasn’t that he was a bad father. He always took care and watched out for his children, but Marion felt that he never loved them.  He always gave them exactly there due, never one ounce more. If one of them got left behind or injured; Dairen would treat them as any other soldier under his command who suffered the same fate.

It would be nice to see Berret again though. She hoped that he was OK. She hoped that having been imprisoned for the last few months didn’t take away a lot of the life and charm he possessed.  While father was a man of presence, Berret was a man of charm. Many of his friends and colleagues often said Berret could charm the skirt off of an Akari.

Berret never bragged about his sexual conquests, so it was never particularly known whether he had charmed many women to his bed. He kept any bedroom play to the bedroom and never kissed and told. Despite this, he was a flirt, but in a generous and good-natured way, never pressuring or making people uncomfortable.  The only thing he valued more than his charm was with his intense loyalty to Dairen and the cause.

Berret believed as Dairen did, the cause that all of the Lancer followed. The Taerren Colonies deserved a government that worked for them. The current government not only supplanted the rule of other planet’s internal governments but felt their dignitaries and bureaucrats were immune to the same laws they force others to follow.

Lost in thought, Marideen stopped just short of running into someone. She blinked when she looked up.

“Ma….ahem…Ma’am?” he spoke in a gruff voice awkwardly. She hadn’t met him before. It was a young Lancer with hazel eyes and brownish messy hair. Although he was actually a little bit older than her, she realized after quickly thinking about it. Even though she was quite young, she frequently saw others as her younger. Perhaps a consequence of the immaturity of most men, or a sign she should take better care of herself before she gets gray hairs by the age of 30. He looked rough as if he had seen a fair amount of action himself.  He was looking at her oddly, she must have been mumbling to herself.

“Excuse me, I wasn’t paying attention…” She gave him a quick nod before moving to his side. Before she had gone more than a step he put his hand on her arm, stopping her.

“I…I’m sorry,” He said, suddenly pulling his hand back as if shocked.  His face changed, looking more melancholy. “I really am sorry.”

Marideen blinked. Was he hitting on her? It had been a long time since she had been flirtatious with a boy, but she wasn’t sure if she knew how to read the signs right.

“It’s OK, you’re fine, I mean…It’s my fault.” The Lancer smiled slightly, but his eyes didn’t seem to change from their sad overcast.  He pulled his eyes away from hers and slowly walked passed. Her eyes followed after him.

She suddenly felt a tugging on her arm, she looked to her side to see Danelle there.

“Who’s that?” She asked.

“I’ve never met him before” Marideen responded.

“Oh, well he’s cute, you should ask him out.”

“Dani!”

“Maybe, Berret could give you some pointers once we break him out?”

Marideen rolled her eyes in an exaggerated fashion. Danelle broke into giggles…

“You do need a man. He seems like the brooding type, I know how you like the brooding type.”

“Oh and I suppose your type is better,” Marideen retorted,”a man who has lips…”

“And a butt, don’t forget a nice buttocks” Danelle retorted.

“Buttocks?” Marideen asked.

Danelle shrugged, “That’s what Max told me to call it.”

The two of them broke into giggles as they started walking down the hallway. After the giggling subsided their conversation halted into an awkward silence. They made a turn and began walking down the next hall, moving at a leisurely place towards their quarters.

The hallways were not as sterile and white as the room they had come from. The walls were done with a checkered mosaic of brown wallpaper while the ground consisted mostly of dark blue tiles.

They were in a small town located on a small moon named Terres. It revolved around an uninhabitable gas giant named Paris. It was the farthest colony still sitting in the Kru solar system. This was one of the smallest towns and was one of several towns built around a rich farming community that covered the habitable parts of the planet.

The moon’s revolution and orbit around the planet lead to roughly 40 days of darkness followed by 40 days of continuous light over most of the planet. Farming was often an odd process on planets such as these, which depended on specially modified vegetation to grow in the odd light schedules.

About 10-15 days before the end of the dark cycle, farmers would plant all of their vegetation, then harvest near the end of the light cycle. The farmers kept busy year round, never having a lull period. During the initial stages of the dark cycle, where the temperature could drop to below freezing, many farmers would transport their goods to the inner colonies themselves, looking to gain the best perspective deals on their goods.  They would then use whatever money they had made to purchase any rare or unavailable goods for the next 60 days before returning back to prepare for the next cycle.

It was on board one of these transports that the Lancers hoped to gain entry into the floating prison. One of the farmers who had managed to strike a deal selling food to the prison was a Lancer sympathizer and offered to help several of them gain entrance to the ship during his drop.

They continued to walk on in silence, nearing their quarters when Danelle said: “We’ll be alright, won’t we?” Marideen looked over at her.

“A lot of things could go wrong. We might not be able to find Berret. We might not be able to ignite the explosion. We might not be able to make it to the escape pods. We might not make it away in the chaos of landing escape pods. I’d have to say that our chances are acceptable,” Marideen explained.

Danelle glance back, “You know how to instill confidence, you know that?”

“Don’t start Dani, I make no allusions to a perfect plan. It’s dangerous, and I don’t want you to forget that for a second.”

Danelle assured her that she did not. A smile broke out on her face again before she grabbed Marideen in an embrace.

“What was that for?” Marideen cautiously asked.

“Just a thanks, I know you will be looking after me,” Danelle smiled.

Marideen sighed, put her arm around her little sister, and walked into the small room they shared.

“Someone has to; you’re all kinds of trouble…”

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Time and Place – Chapter 4

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A wave of heat blasted Penelope Tanris in the face. It was a particularly hot and uncomfortable day. She quickly dabbed her forehead with a handkerchief to prevent any sweat from running into her eyes.  The scripts of fragile paper that were laid out over her table were starting to cause her vision to blur.

She had since come to the conclusion that the text was not Iridian language, but a more basic form of the common tongue. It had several roots that seemed to derive from her own language, and she found translating it was becoming easier and easier.

It was an odd finding, to see several documents written in an ancient form of the common tongue on a planet that was most likely one of the Iridian homeworlds, but perhaps this was the Iridian language, since no written form of Iridian had ever been discovered before.

This could lead to some very interesting inquiries. Why would Iridians speak ancient common tongue? Did Iridian derive from common tongue? Or Vice Versa? Were they perhaps connected to humanity in some way in our recent past? Or was all language somehow interconnected, and it only seemed to Penelope as if they had some of the same roots?

Either way, the document seemed to offer nothing of use. It told a story, of sorts, but it used many words Dr. Tanris could not translate.  It seemed to involve fanciful creatures that Tanris had never heard of engaging in some kind of competition. It was folklore, most likely. She sighed, putting the document aside. It might be interesting, but ultimately pointless for her right now. Parables served as an interesting delve into a society’s ideals, but was not the kind of discovery she was being paid to make.

She wiped her forehead once again as new beads of sweat started to roll down her face. It was the lights, really. She had several bright halogen lights pointed straight down at the table, and they were producing much more heat than she would have liked. The breezes through her open tent flap were unfortunately just as hot and as uncomfortable, although even a hot breeze felt nice against her skin at this point.

Dr. Tanris could not wait until it was fall again. She knew the region tended to have four seasons, and two of them were bearable. In the winter months, she knew she would be able to accomplish nothing and the research would practically stop. It was for that reason that she was so adamant to get as many of the documents as she could translated.

She quickly made a note in her journal, labeled the document, and put it aside for some other person to make a more complete translation. She then set her pen down, leaning back into the cheap folding chair. It creaked and swayed slightly, but Penelope made no attempt to brace or adjust herself. The chair always swayed and always creaked. That chair had been to more excavation sites and archeological finds than most of the staff that worked under her, and she trusted it to carry her.

She pulled her arms out wide and then tossed them side to side, stretching them the best she could without knocking the table or anything that sat on it. The tent around her was of sufficient height for her to stand and move around. This was not because the tent was high, but because she was rather short. The tent was roughly ten feet by ten feet, providing sufficient space for the small desk, a mattress in the corner, and a dresser drawer that contained most of her stuff.

This had been her bedroom and home for about three years now, and she had only abandoned it once prior to restock supplies. Normally, she’d send others to perform the restocking, but in that particular case, there was no one that she felt she could trust to get the tools and supplies she had specifically needed. During the month trip, she had forced the excavation staff to stop working until her return. Fortunately, it was during a winter month, and little work could be performed anyway.

Dr. Tanris’s stomach grumbled and the noise reminded her that she had not eaten in some time. She glanced at the clock and clicked her tongue in annoyance. As a matter of fact, she had not eaten at all that day. She wasn’t hungry, of course. She never was. But she learned a long time ago to remember to eat at least once a day or she might just collapse without warning. It had only happened to her on rare occasions when a particularly astonishing find kept her busy for longer than she had planned. It was never something she wanted to happen though. There were a lot of lost opportunities to work during the two to three days it took for her to recover.

She stood up and walked out the tent. Once she ducked through the opening she realized that it was even hotter outside than she had originally thought. The sun blazed down from the sky above, and the heat didn’t provide as much comfort as one might have hoped.

The disarrayed camp around her encompassed various vehicles, tents, and equipment in no particular order. It wasn’t well maintained, but she didn’t really care enough to force her workers into a more organized system. She walked over to the canteen area, or at least the area the food was stored and often prepared.

She noticed the stock master sitting down, whittling away at a piece of wood. He was a broad-shouldered hulk of a man. His waist actually looked too small and petite to hold the body above it. He wore an apron, as always, and a white shirt, making him look more like a cafeteria cook than anything else.

It was his responsibility to make sure that there was a ready supply of everything the camp of roughly fifty people needed to survive. Sometime over the last three years that role grew into him becoming the camp cook. Every mealtime, he distributed the food to anyone who came by the canteen. He had started this habit ever since a few years ago when he had discovered one of the workers hoarding food.

When he saw her coming, he stood up. His knife slipped into his apron and the chunk of wood dropped to the floor.  He gave her a respectful bow before looking up inquisitively at her.

“I will be needing something to eat,” Penelope told him curtly.

He nodded and opened the crate he had been sitting on. There might have been a time where he would have asked her what she wanted, but after the hundredth time of her telling him she didn’t care, he had finally stopped asking and simply gave her whatever was available.

He pulled out a bag and handed it to her. She took it from him while he turned around to shut the chest closed. She went to another chest that sat across from him and sat down. When he turned back he gave a start, noticing that she was still there. Most of the time, she would immediately head back to the tent to have her meal in solitude. Penelope felt like she could use a little sun today, and besides, she had no room in the tent right now. The last thing she wanted was some food staining one of her documents.

The bag consisted of a beef stew, a canteen of water, and a spoon. She ripped it open, pulling out the bowl and removing the lid. She poured water in the bowl from the canteen and stirred it to suspend the dried kernels. The meal included a heating element, but she decided to simply eat it cold.  It was too hot to eat something equally hot. She ate her meal in silence, enjoying the periodic gusts of wind that seemed to carry the scent of summer. She had stopped sweating now, and the hot breeze seemed to be relaxing in a way. She realized her bowl of stew was almost empty, although she wasn’t aware that she had eaten that fast.

“Pardon me, ma’am,” A voice spoke from behind her.

Penelope cocked her head to the side, observing an unfamiliar man who now stood uncomfortably beside her. He was a short for a man, although still significantly taller than her. She never really trusted short men.  He had an oily mustache and with a devil’s peak beard. He had high cheek bones that made his face look both chubby and gaunt at the same time, although the contradiction was a bit unsettling. His hair was black, stringy, and as oily as his mustache. She cringed at the thought of anyone who would have to touch that hair.

“Yes?” She asked, turning her body towards him but remaining seated.

“You are Dr. Tanris, is this correct?” The man asked, his voice displaying a hint of a Sudmarin accent.

“That would be correct,” Penelope responded, attempting to hide her annoyance.

She didn’t fault his accent. She knew that she herself spoke with the chipped off Hucton accent, sometimes making it difficult to understand her. Instead, she was annoyed because of the type of man she suspected he was. This wasn’t the first visit Penelope Tanris had received. The stock master moved off, finding busy work a good distance away from the pair of them. He was a smart man.

“I am here on behalf of Anderus Satre,” the man said, a small smile on his face that he most likely intended to be disarming, “I am here to-”

“I know who you are,” Penelope interrupted,” I know why you’re here. I won’t hear of it. You aren’t the first of your kind to come crawling into my camp. And I will tell you what I told the rest of your bureaucratic hypocrisy. My funding is my own, and backed by the Lord Regent, so do not think you can brow-beat me into cutting my resources.”

She stood up, and with an abrupt turn, began walking to her tent.  The man took a few quick steps to get behind her. Despite her short legs, she was a fast walker, and the man had to step quickly to keep up. She was impressed he had reacted so quickly. She had left many a skip sitting slack-jawed in her wake.

“It’s simply that you haven’t found anything in the three years you have dug here. You have not shown any real proof that this was an Iridian homeworld. The amount of money that you have dumped into this archeological wasteland is not inductive of the results,” the man responded, jumping awkwardly over a cord strewn across the camp in a way that could have tripped him otherwise.

“And what research do you offer Skip?” Penelope answered, “I have had dozens of people come landing in my site, interrupting my work, to try to score some money for their own work. Charities, researchers, and Skips like yourself. The last one wanted the money to build an orphanage. At least, I think it was an orphanage; she used the words ‘homeless starving children’ a lot. But I refused her. You know why? Because the work I do here is important, so very important. So what makes you think your cause is so much greater?”

“I will have you know I am not a Sk- I mean doctor. I mean I am a doctor, but I am a doctor of law…” his voice started to sound exasperated.

“A lawyer? Really?” Penelope quirked her eyebrow, “So you only work for a Skip. Anderes Satre was it?”

“Anderus. Actually, I work for several professors at the United University, where there has been a discovery. It is a discovery of incredible proportions. All of the Universities are scrambling to find researchers, time, and money to-”

“And you thought you could just stop here and cut a large piece of my cake?” Penelope growled, stopping short in front of the entrance to her tent, “I apologize, Anderes, but you will need to go home without cake.”

As Penelope turned to enter her tent, Anderus opened his mouth to say something else before suddenly being interrupted by a shout. Penelope turned around to see a man running towards her. He was a grizzled man with thick arms and even thicker legs, but he maneuvered across the camp and its many crates, boxes, cords, and other tripping hazards with the comfort and ease of an experienced man.

“Ma’am,” Distro stated with a nod as he stopped in front of her.

He wasn’t out of breath. Penelope wasn’t sure the man could ever be out of breath. He was possibly one of the most resilient men she had ever known, and for that, she had kept him as part of her team for many years. More than once she had survived digs far more inhospitable than this one only because he held her up when she felt like falling. Despite that, he caught her at a particularly bad time.

“Well, get it out!” Penelope growled, unable to control her voice from the mood the leaching lawyer had put her in.

“There’s been a discovery. You need to come quickly and see for yourself,” Distro bowed, turning as he did.

Distro wasn’t one to call her unless it was needed. And he knew better than to waste her time explaining things. Penelope began following at his pace, which was brisk even by her standards. She was vaguely aware that the lawyer was following behind her, tripping and stumbling on his way to keep up.

Within a minute they had walked to the edge of camp, where Distro’s jeep was sitting. He leapt into the driver’s side and she followed into the passenger side. As the car started, a hand grabbed her arm. She looked at her right to see the lawyer looking at her with pleading eyes.

“I…” She began.

“We don’t want your money, we want you!” He said clearly louder and quicker than he had intended.

Penelope stared at him for a second before nodding. He jumped into the back seat as smoothly as a lawyer could before the car started forward. He wasn’t quite seated yet and stumbled a bit, falling back into the seat with a loud thump. This gave Penelope a bit more pleasure than she might have thought, and she ideally wondered if Distro had intentionally accelerated this hard for her benefit.

The jeep began to bounce and jeer as they quickly made their way to the dig site. Penelope could tell by the direction they were heading that it was Dig Site C.

“This discovery, it’s classified, but whatever it is they want you there. Every archeologist, scientist, and experienced individual is being called who has any loyalty to the Taerren Alliance. With commitment, you will be offered funding for ten years and tenor at the University.”

“Is that so, Anderes?” Penelope asked nonchalantly, trying to sound disinterested.

“That’s not my name, that’s who I work for, I mean Anderus-” the lawyer looked irritated.

In truth, she had been starting to worry whether this planet has been a waste of her time. But the energy signals? They had to be Iridian. Her financing did not end for another 3 years, and when she had come here, this was the big deal, the place where they wanted her to go. One by one, other archeologists gave up on the findings, until it was only her left. But if she abandoned the place, they would begin settling it with people, and any unfound ruins would be violated and destroyed.  This was the one shot they had to find any information about what happened to the Iridians.

Still, a fresh start would be nice. This new world, it has to have an Iridian signal to generate this kind of excitement. Maybe there was something there that wasn’t here. Maybe this was just starting all over again, and she’d be starting the goose chase again. She is so close this time.

She remained in silence, thinking about what the lawyer had said as he impatiently tried to keep his suit from falling apart in the wind. Dig Site C was not particularly far from camp, and before long they pulled into the unloading area.

“Will you do it?” the lawyer asked, still tidying his outfit.

Penelope glanced back at him before jumping out of the jeep, following Distro. She could hear the lawyer tumbling after her. They walked down a fairly steep crevice that went into the dig site. The lawyer struggled behind her as he attempted to make his way down the hill in shoes that were never fit for walking in anything unpaved.

At the bottom of the crevice was a partially dug up building. A few hints of rusted foundation still sat around it as several diggers attempted to uncover more of the building, but at the base of the dig was something that could only be described as a door. It was a closed door leading into a fully completed and undamaged room. The sides were concrete, and it looked like a solid concrete cube with 6 sides around that closed door.

“A time capsule?” Penelope breathed out.

“Possibly,” Distro answered, “The cube seems to be in some kind of time bubble. It’s emitting some kind of temporal energy similar to what the Iridians used.

“Temporal energy? This looks nothing like anything Iridian we have ever seen,” Penelope frowned as she stared at the odd building up and down.

“It is difficult to say. The bubble seems to have protected this building, and slowed down the effects of time. It is actually the source of the Iridian signals we have been tracing for years. Even now, most of our equipment is going haywire around it. But I would say whatever it is, it predates the Iridians.”

Penelope’s eyebrows rose as she looked around. Many of the workers had stopped working and were now all anxiously watching her.  The lawyer had stopped dead in his tracks, staring at the half buried room as if he had never seen one before.

“I want that door open!” She shouted.

The lawyer jumped, but everyone else sprang into action, just waiting for the order. Within a few seconds several people had forced crowbars into the edges and were forcing the door open. It cranked open with an incredibly loud whine. Air rushed in as the pressure rapidly altered between the two environments.

Perhaps she should have been more patient. Analyzed, checked, and ran results before opening the door, but she had already been patient for years. Now she had to know why that signal was here.

The door was finally wedged open enough for a person to fit through. Penelope pulled a protective breathing device over her face, grabbed a flashlight, and plunged into the darkness. Distro cursed before following while quickly covering his own face. The inside of the room was unremarkable. Her flashlight showed concrete walls and crates after crates of unidentified stuff. At a first glance, there was certainly no power source that could be creating the temporal energy.  Then, her flashlight beamed across the table in the center of the room.

On the table sat what could only be identified as a coffin made entirely of metal. She walked up to the table. Distro cautiously followed behind her. The metallic coffin possessed a glass window that allowed her to shine her light into the box. What she saw shocked her.

It was a person. He looked Taerren, with dirty blond hair, a moderately strong chin, and full cheeks. His skin looked clean and washed. He looked to be asleep, and he was in perfect physical condition. How is that possible? She glanced over to Distro, who glanced back at her and gave a shrug.  When she turned around to the entrance, the lawyer had his head peaked through the crack and was staring in shock and wonderment at the place her light had touched.

“The answer is no, Anderes. I think I have work to do here.”

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