Time and Place – Chapter 13

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“Danelle!” Marideen shouted, “Be careful!”

Danelle giggled as she looked out over the edge going down into the small stream. The stream wasn’t deep enough for Danelle to be at any risk of drowning, but the edge she glanced over led to a steep, thorny three-foot drop. Marideen would rather not have to explain to her father why her little sister was all cut up and crying.

She ran quickly over to her sister, trying to pull her back. Danelle, deciding it was a game, danced to the side, giggling as she went. Her feet skirted along the edge of the steep decline, a foot slipping. She managed to catch herself before she went rolling down into the thorny bushes below, bouncing more enthusiastically as if to overshadow her near fall.

Marideen quickly decided to change up her tactics.

“Do you want to get closer to the stream?” Marideen shouted to Danelle, who had already run a fair distance away.

Danelle stopped and turned back.

“Mmmhm!” She made the noise loudly/Danelle made a loud noise of agreement as she nodded enthusiastically, a silly grin on her face.

Marideen knew a spot where there were no thorny bushes and the decline wasn’t quite so steep. She ran up to Danelle, offering a hand. Danelle looked at it for a moment before grabbing on. Marideen knew not to grab Danelle’s hand by force, or Danelle would resist. Danelle was always stubborn like that. Things needed to be her choice or she would fight you the whole way.

She began leading her little sister to the spot she knew was safe. Her father was at work and most of the staff that worked at her manor was inside, cleaning, cooking, and performing other duties for their father. Their nanny had given her permission to come outside with her little sister. She could barely see the nanny, sitting on the porch reading a book as they played. Her father’s estate was very large. The manor itself had about twenty rooms, and they had many acres of grass and forest to play in. This stream was one of many on his property but was often the smallest and closest to the house.

Marideen remembered once two summers before when a particularly strong rainfall left the stream as deep as the ridge Danelle and she was on. Her father had forbidden her from playing near it until the stream had settled down.  Afterwards, she had asked him where all the water had gone, but he was not able to get her a satisfactory answer. She tried to walk the distance of the stream to see where it ended up. After about a half mile, the stream became indistinguishable from the rest of the forested terrain around it, which boggled Marideen. The water had to have gone somewhere.

They finally reach the cleared area. It was still a steep drop to the trickling stream below but was more manageable than anywhere else. Marideen took a few steps down, her feet slipping. She ended at the bottom with a half run which she stopped abruptly, having to step over the steam before she could stem her momentum. She turned back to the decline, reaching up to help her little sister down. Danelle gleefully jumped out, fully expecting Marideen to catch her. Marideen made sure that she did.

Once she put Danelle down, she ran up and down the stream splashing and giggling as she ran. She briefly searched for fish, before Marideen told her the water was too shallow for fish. Marideen watched as Danelle threw rocks in the water, danced in the water, ran in the water, and even tried to splash Marideen with water, which Marideen did not find nearly as amusing as her sister did.

After playing for an hour or two in the stream, Marideen finally convinced her little sister it was time to head back up to the house for something to eat. As she finally got Danelle up over the incline, she glanced back at the house. There were two grisly looking men walking towards her. She put her body in front of her sister, shielding her from the two men. The men were large, perhaps the largest men Marideen had ever seen. She felt afraid but squashed down the fear the best she could.

Danelle pointed at the men, “Who are they?”

Marideen shook her head, not being able to answer. However, as the men drew closer, she began to recognize one of them. He was a retainer of her fathers, a sword master named Beiromon. She vaguely recalled that he would start training her sword mastery in a year or two.

“Are these the Cleefe children?” the other man asked Beiromon.

“Yes, they are. Are you sure about this?”

“We have to. We don’t have time,” the first man said, and then pointed two fingers out, one at each of them. “You two. You’re coming with us!”

The other man slapped him on the shoulder with the back of his hand, “You’re scaring them half to death, you idiot.”

“I…I’m not scared!” Marideen spouted out.

“Is that so?” Beiromon asked, one of his eyebrows rising.

Marideen straightened her back, puffed out her chest and attempted to look menacing. The two men exchange a brief look before turning back to the girls. They had a look of sadness in their eyes that put Marideen on her guard. The other man took a step forward, dropping down to one knee. He looked Marideen in the eyes with a straight face, an honest face.

“My name is Maximil,” the man said, waving a hand to the other man, “and this is my good friend Bieromon, whom I believe you know… We’re here about your father, he’s in trouble…”

Before long, Marideen and her sister found themselves in the back of a truck, hidden by piles and piles of blankets, clothing, and other junk that Maximil had piled in there. They had been lucky. As the truck pulled down the street, she could see several armored vehicles driving by. She could almost hear the sound of the doors being kicked into her manor. She hoped her nanny was alright. She hoped everyone who lived there was alright.

As the truck drove noisily down the road, she realized she could hear sniffling, barely audible over the loud engine of the truck. She looked behind her to see Danelle. She was visibly shaking and tears were streaking down her face as she let out another sob. Marideen pushed herself back to Danelle, embracing her.

“It’s okay,” Marideen attempted to reassure her, “I’ll always watch after you, and I’ll always keep you safe.”

 

*****

 

Marideen’s eyes snapped open as the escape pod shuttered. They were now approaching the atmosphere of the planet. She made a quick check of her harness. She knew her eyes were rimmed red, although she had not cried yet. It was the exhaustion, physically and emotionally, at least she tried to tell herself that.

She glanced over at the corner where Berret sat. He was unconscious at the moment. Markus has found a med kit on the escape pod and had performed his best to stem the flow of blood and keep Berret alive. But as he had told them at the time, he was not a doctor and could only do so much.

Markus and Maximil sat across from her. Markus’s eyes were closed as if he might be sleeping, but that was never an assumption anyone should make. Before he had closed his eyes, Markus had told them he had activated the homing beacon for their ship on a hidden frequency. He personally has selected and hired this ship, so it was unlikely the Taerrens would be able to find them first. At least, that was what Markus had assured them. After that, no one spoke, and they all sat in silence. The men avoided looking at her as if they saw something in her eyes that troubled them.

The involuntary nap had done little to help Marideen feel rested. If anything, she felt more exhausted than she had ever before. The pod shuddered again as they hit the atmosphere. Marideen could feel the pressure against her body as the g-force within the pod increased.

Could she have done something different? She kept running the scenario through her mind again and again, but she didn’t seem to be able to separate her thoughts properly. The boy, the one she had left behind, kept flashing into her thoughts. This, in turn, made her feel guilty. Not guilty that she had left him there, but guilty that she was thinking of him instead of her sister.

Her sister was dead. There was no denying that. More, her father was also most likely dead. If he wasn’t dead, he would be a captive somewhere. However, she couldn’t think of that right now. They were not out of danger yet. The lot of them could still end up in a cell easy enough.

Everything from this mission had gone wrong. Her father, how could he have blundered so completely? Someone had betrayed them, it was the only answer. Marcell, the farmer, had the capacity and the motivation, but Markus rejected the possibility outright. It still seemed like he had done it. Maybe Markus was in on it as well. That was a ridiculous notion. The light left Danelle’s eyes.

She began to mentally prepare for the steps ahead. First, they would need to get free and lay low. They would need to find Berret a doctor and get him patched up. Then, she would have Max get a hold of all his contacts to find out exactly how bad the damage was and how much information has now been leaked to the Taerrens. The Lancers would never be the same again, this she knew. Danelle collapsed to the floor.

She would find out if her father was alive, find out where they put him, and plan a rescue just like they had done for Berret. However, she wouldn’t make the same mistakes of the past.  She would find proof that Marcell had betrayed them, and she would get her vengeance on him. Her mind worked busily, but she was unaware of the tears dripping down her cheeks, making no attempt to wipe them away.

The parachute eventually was released, causing a sudden jerk in the pod. After that, the pod dropped slowly down to the planet. It took several more minutes before striking with a sudden unexpected thud. Markus checked the radio transmissions and after a little bit, he nodded to himself. They would be picked up soon. Danelle was dead. Marideen ignored the voice nagging at the back of her mind.

“They will be coming soon, so it looks like my device worked. The native homing beacon is jammed and our beacon is transmitting. We should be back in orbit and heading to the nearest jump gate before the Taerrens even find this pod.” Markus said reluctantly, still avoiding her eyes.

“Good,” She responded, feeling like something needed to be said in response.

This didn’t have the desired effect, as her words seemed to echo in an awkward silence.

“Birdy… we….we’ll get your father back. He escaped, he had to of. Then he will get everything straight, and things will be like they were…” Max’s voice trailed off as he realized what he was saying.

“Like they were before,” Marideen completed his sentence, her voice steady. “Good, we have much planning to do.”

“Are… Are you alright, birdy?” Maximillion asked hesitantly.

“I’m fine,” Marideen replied, standing up and looking over Markus’s shoulder.

She really was perfectly fine. Her sister died, but she couldn’t undo that. There were things that needed doing now. She had to get to work, to keep things going. The Lancers would need her strong and whole and capable. The escape pod jerked as an attachment clamp clicked into place in the above hatch. Funny, Marideen hadn’t heard the ship get close. On most planets, you could hear a ship from miles away, although the tone was always different depending on the composition of the atmosphere.

The hatch above them clicked and clanged as the arm attached to place on the outside of their hall. Marideen could hear a loud rush of air as the arm pressurized between the two ships. A few more moments later, Markus declared that they were ready to board the ship, and began opening the hatch. Danelle, lying there in a pool of her own blood. That was also strange; it usually took about ten minutes for the arm to normalize in pressure. This seemed so much faster.

She tried to go towards the ladder to enter the hatch, which Markus had opened after turning the adjacent wheel a dozen times. However, she realized she was sitting. She certainly didn’t remember sitting down. Danelle, dead. She shook the thought from her mind. Standing up she began walking towards the ladder to find that her legs didn’t seem to be working properly.

She collapsed to one knee, and before she realized it, a large sob escaped her throat. Maximillion was there, but she was scarcely aware of him. She had trouble breathing, why couldn’t she breathe? She couldn’t remember to breathe. Danelle. Dead. She collapsed the rest of the way. She didn’t know if she hit the ground or if Max caught her. She couldn’t feel anything anymore, anything but the pain bursting through her body. Danelle was dead, because of a boy with hazel eyes. Those were the last thoughts that haunted her into unconsciousness.

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Time and Place – Chapter 12

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Anger tore through Marideen as she stared down at her sister’s limp body. Demetry casually tossed her to the side as if she was a simple obstruction in his way. He began advancing on Darian, who had not moved a muscle from where he laid, seemingly frozen in terror as he stared at Danelle’s lifeless form.

Rage continued to flow into Marideen. For a second, she felt something deep within her separate. She didn’t know what the feeling was, but it felt like a painful tearing that pierced her chest. Her screaming stopped as a strange kind of numbness washed over her. She knew that her head still throbbed, but she could barely feel it. The throbbing of her head seemed to dim in comparison to the steady beating of her heart. She embraced the beat. It was calming. It was life.

She rose to her feet, her eyes never leaving her sister’s body. Her fist tightened on the pair of knives she had recovered. Her sister was no longer breathing, and she knew Danelle was dead. Marideen had seen the life fade from her eyes. Now, all that was left was a liquid-hot rage. The man before her had turned his back on her. He had killed her sister, and thought her to be nothing. She didn’t care whether he suffered. She did not crave vengeance. She merely wanted him dead. She wanted a life for a life.

“Hey!” she cried out to the man in front of her.

He would acknowledge her before he died. Her voice was calm. She thought her voice should crack. She certainly felt the tears burning her eyes. Instead, her voice was fluid, controlled, and calm. That was how she needed to be. That was the only way her justice could be served.

Demetry stopped his advance on Darian, glancing back at Marideen. After meeting her eyes, he smirked with another insolent smile. Then he turned away from her. The man dismissing Marideen so casually caused burning hot rage to spike through her.

“I will kill you!” Marideen heard her cold controlled voice shout out at the man.

She knew it sounded strange to her ears, but her tongue seemed to be moving of its’ own accord. She moved into a crouch, and began advancing on the man. If he didn’t turn to acknowledge her, then she would simply stab him in the back, either would leave him dead.

With an annoyed sigh, he turned to face her again, ignoring Darian behind him. He opened his mouth as if to say something, then glanced down at the body on the floor at his feet. His eyes flashed in recognition and a smile broke on his face.

“Oh, so she was your sister then?” he asked mockingly, “I suppose I can see the resemblance after all. If you must avenge her death or the like, let us get this out of the way quickly. I bore of this nonsense and I have other more important things to be about.”

He freed his sword arm, letting the sword point out and to his side, her sister’s blood still dripping from the blade. He took a few steps forward, his deadly grace returning. Marideen’s mind worked furiously trying to come up with the best way to take him out swiftly. He was fast, but she could be just as fast. With the rage fueling her, she could be faster. It didn’t matter if he killed her, as long as he joined her.

“I suppose it is suiting that you and your sister die at the same blade. A kind of poetry, perhaps? I am assuming you’re Dairen Cleefe’s kid?” he paused for a second, but must have seen something on her face that encouraged him to continue, “Well, it is a shame, we were not supposed to kill you, but casualties happen in war. I regret things did not turn out better.”

Demetry shrugged flippantly, continuing to step forward smoothly. Marideen repositioned her knives. She planned to go for the middle, feigning an attempt to take out his arms. Then, when he tries to protect them, she will close the distance to prevent him from using the sword.

A quick strike at the neck would be too obvious, but she could aim a bit higher for the nose, attempt to break it. Then she would rapidly switch to the knees, trying to take out his legs, and as he went down, an elbow to the chest. After that, she should have no trouble with cutting his throat.

The thoughts moving through her head felt so casual, so easy. It felt wrong. However, she couldn’t stop herself. She had to continue forward. She had to kill this man. She had to.

Demetry put that vicious, hateful smile back on his face again. He had closed the distance between the two of them with a few rapid steps, bringing up his sword for a downward strike.  As she prepared to dodge and attack, Demetry suddenly jerked. A look of surprise appeared in his eyes.

Marideen stared at the man in confusion. He opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out. Then he fell to his knees, his sword clattering down to his side. As Demetry’s head came forward, Marideen had to take a step back to avoid him as he fell the rest of the way to the ground with a smack.

At first, Marideen could not understand what she had just witnessed. It took her a few moments before she recognized the knife jutting out of his back. The knife was placed perfectly right through his heart. She glanced up to the source, seeing Darian on the ground near Danelle’s body. He had grabbed one of her knives and flung it at Demetry while he was distracted. Darian was still in the position that he threw the knife in, seemingly frozen in the moment of releasing the knife. A look of surprise encompassed his face much like the look Demetry had had.

It was done. Demetry was dead, but she wasn’t the one to do it. Her anger, rage, and pain were still boiling on the surface. The shock of his sudden demise seemed to do nothing to help her cope. She glared at Darian. She didn’t mean too, but she was so angry, and she couldn’t seem to control how she looked.

Then a thought popped into her head. Demetry was after Darian, whoever he was. Had he not been there, her sister would still be alive. Her sister died because of him. It was his fault. Darian dropped his arm, shrinking back a bit without moving, seemingly being able to read her thoughts.

A sudden touch on her shoulder brought her glaze away from Darian. She spun rapidly, her knives still in hand. Markus raised his hands defensively. She realized that everyone else was conscious and moving.

“We need to get going.” Markus said, an uncomfortably apologetic look on his face.

Behind him, Maximillion was helping Berret to his feet. Berret looked barely conscious or able to stand by himself. A great deal of blood was all over the floor around him. Maximillion seemed to have done what he could to stem the flow of blood and cover the stump where Berret’s arm used to be. Max’s face seemed oddly wooden.

“No!”

The scream caused every head to turn down the hall past Darian. The scream was followed by the sound of a gunshot. Darian collapsed into a heap next to Danelle’s body. Marideen glanced up at the source of the gunshot. A man stood down the hallway, breathing heavily. He wore a braid similar to Demetry’s, but shorter in length, only coming down about a head’s length past his shoulders. It was clear to Marideen that this man was Demetry’s brother, Aiden.

Without thought, she crouched down over Demetry’s body. In a swift, single motion, she pulled the knife from his back and threw it straight at his brother’s heart. Aiden ducked to his right, hiding behind the wall of the intersection he stood in. The knife flew where Aiden had been, harmlessly flying down the empty hallway. Had Aiden not moved, it would have struck true to its target. Marideen was certain of that. She quickly checked Demetry’s belt, finding a gun he had at the holster.

She pulled it out, firing a warning shot at the corner that Aiden had ducked behind, glad that his gun had not been rendered inert like the rest. Down the hall where her knife had landed, she saw guards running down towards her. She looked back at Markus to see that he was helping Maximil support Berret.

“Let’s go!” she said, beginning to back up.

“What about him?” Markus asked, nodding down the hall at Darian.

Marideen looked out at Darian. He was still alive. The bullet seemed to have struck him in the back, yet he was still conscious. He had started crawling towards them, a streak of blood appearing under him from where he had dragged himself. Their eyes met. If he hadn’t of been there, her sister would be alive.

“Leave him, we don’t have time,” Marideen said, breaking her eyes away from him.

She looked down at her sister’s body. The numbness inside her started to tremble on the edge of pain. Her mind shielded away from it. She turned away and began moving down the hall with the others following. Deep inside, she had the inexplicable feeling as if she was turning away from her sister. Not just her sister’s body. She knew Danelle was dead, and she accepted she could not recover the body. However, it felt like she was betraying her by leaving the hazel-eyed boy.

That was ridiculous. Why would she feel that way? She quickened her pace, moving around the corner towards the waiting escape pod. She told herself it was because the guards were coming and she was out of time, but she could not shake the feeling as if she was leaving something behind.

 

*****

 

Aiden carefully adjusted his grip on both guns.  There were three of them and they were injured. Those monsters would pay for what they had done to his brother. He quickly suppressed a pang of fear and anxiety. He took a deep breath as he tried to bring his heartbeat back under control. When he was younger, he had always suffered from panic attacks; it was his brother who had always coached him to overcome his limitations. That was all life is, after all, a series of limitations set to be overcome.

One more breath and he turned, his guns pointed in front of him as rounded the corner. He had already crossed the hall and bent to one knee before he realized the hall was empty. He cursed himself for being so foolish.

He ran up to his brother. He knew he was dead. He hadn’t seen the knife plunge into his brother’s back, but he had seen that woman standing over his body. Still, it hadn’t been her that had killed his brother; there was only one person who could have.

The pain was sharp and deep in his chest. However, he let none of these feelings effect his face. His brother had always taught him to keep a level head, regardless of the situation. He would weep his brother’s death when he had time alone. For now, for the sake of the Taerren Empire, he needed to display strength and discipline. He glanced over at his brother’s sword, which was lying next to his body.

The sword had been in their family for ages. It was always the next in line who held the sword. It was symbolic of the tasks that were set before them. It was made and gifted to their family hundreds of years before, passing from oldest son to oldest son. As part of the discipline, the first son learned to use it. Aiden knew nothing of the sword. He was a good shot with a gun, but no skill with a blade.

He glanced up, looking at the man who had killed his brother. The Lancer’s had left him behind. Uncivilized pests. He was crawling down the hallway, seemingly moving in no particular direction whatsoever, like a cockroach who had lost its leg. A trail of blood stretched under Aiden’s feet all the way to the body he had stepped over on the way to his brother.

From the look of it, he was losing a great deal of blood. His movements seemed to be turning jerky as he began to lose consciousness. Aiden pulled out a large knife he had at his belt. His brother had given it to him. It seemed to be a suiting end for the man who had killed him.

He could hear the guards coming down the hall, they were right behind him. He made an annoyed gesture with his fingers, motioning for several of them to continue on and find the intruders who had left this mess.

Several guards passed by while a few guards stayed behind to protect Aiden himself. Aiden walked over to the man, whose crawling had seemingly stopped now. He kept his patience. The man would die, that was what was important. Kneeling down, he stuck his knee into the man’s back. The man jerked, but was mostly unconscious at this point.

He regretted that the man would not be conscious when he killed him, but he knew to be swift and sure about it. Hesitation was never an option for a ruler. Decisions had to be swift and sure, consequences could be dealt with later.

Grabbing the back of his hair, Aiden lifted the man’s head. He reached around with the knife, ready to slice the murderer’s neck, serving justice.

“NOOOOO!/No! You cannot!” A scream shouted from behind him.

He looked up to see a short panicked woman racing towards him. He released the grip on the man’s hair letting his head slap back on the surface of the floor.

The woman raced between the guards, who let her pass without question. She wore a crumpled lab coat which matched her frizzy auburn hair. Her hawk-like eyes starred down at the body Aiden was crouched over.

“He woke?” She asked, a look of surprise on her face before it started to darken, “and you shot him.”

She turned to glare at Aiden, “Release him to me, he needs medical treatment immediately.”

Aiden matched her glare, “and you are?”

“You know very well who I am, Aiden, I am Dr. Penelope Tanris, and you are about to cut the throat of a multibillion dollar research funded by your father.”

Aiden looked down at the man under him. Not one of those terrorists, it seems. Still…

“He murdered my brother, the prince. I care little of the value of a criminal and murderer,” Aiden responded calmly.

Dr. Tanris’s eyes opened wide as she looked back at the body of Aiden’s brother. Her mouth dropped open. She spoke a quick prayer before turning back to him.

“It…. it must have been a mistake, he was confused, h-how could he… No, he must be preserved, the knowledge is too valuable,” Dr. Tanris’s voice became resolved as she turned back to Aiden. “Turn him back to me, we have already lost your brother, we can’t lose this chance…”

“That isn’t your decision, but your objection has been noted,” Aiden replied, he pulled his hand back, ready to slam the knife into the back of the man’s head.

“Perhaps you should leave the decision making to me?” a voice in front of them said.

Aiden leaped from the man’s back, dropping himself to one knee, his head bowed. Dr. Tanris was down just as quickly, her head bowed much lower, her forehead inches from the ground.

“F-father, I failed you, it-it’s Demetry, he’s…” Aiden looked back at Demetry’s body, uncertain that he could say the words and maintain his outward demeanor.

The Lord Regent said nothing. Instead he walked by them, his flowing robes brushing against the side of Aiden’s face as he walked by. Aiden now noticed a large entourage of advisors and followers behind him. The general was not one of them. He walked up to the body of his son, lightly kicking the body over so that he flopped face-up. Demetry’s eyes were closed, but his skin was already displaying a glossy plastic look.

The Lord Regent looked back at Aiden. Aiden lowered his head and stared at the ground. The Lord Regent leaned down, picking up the sword on the ground. He wiped the blood still staining the sword off on Demetry’s clothing.

He walked up to Aiden, placing the sword over his shoulder. This was the cost of failure. Aiden waited for the final blow from his brother’s sword. It never came. The Lord Regent picked up the sword, turned it around and brandished the hilt towards Aiden. Aiden looked at it hesitantly.

“Your brother’s life was his own responsibility, not yours. He made the decisions that lead him to this fate. That your decisions could not prevent it does not lay fault at your feet. By your choices, whether directly or indirectly, you are now the heir to the throne. Now, you must live with the consequences.”

“Father, I…” Aiden broke off, extending his hand and grabbing the sword, “Thank you father.”

Aiden knew not to argue with his father. His father made decisions, and lived with those decisions, but he would not have them questioned. The Lord Regent walked to Aiden’s side, now looking at the unconscious man next to him.

“This is the man who killed my son?” The Lord Regent asked, his voice cold and collected.

It was not a question. He already knew the answer. He displayed no emotion as he looked down at the man before him. His eyes gave nothing away, no anger, or hate, or any other discernible emotion.

“Your sire, if I may, this is the man found at the excavation site. We still don’t know what he knows, or what he can bring to the Taerren people. This is what we have been waiting for. If you give him to me, all of your funding will come to fruition. We will finally have the answers you have sought for five years…” Dr. Tanris stopped as the Lord Regent raised his hand.

“Father, he is a murderer, he must face punishm-” The Lord Regent raised his other hand towards Aiden.

Like he did with his son, he kicked the body over. The man sprawled out on his back. Aiden had not had a chance to look at the man before. The man had long since stopped moving and his breathing was becoming ragged and shallow. He would be dead within the hour if they did not provide any help anyway.

The man had a strong jaw line and light brown hair that was cropped short. There was nothing remarkable about his appearance. He could have been just like any other Taerren. Had Tanris not insisted he was the one she found, he would have had no way to know that this man had sat in some kind of suspended animation for an untold period of time.

Tanris herself was a Hucton: short gangly people from the Hucton System, a relativity new system to join the Taerren Empire. They spoke with short vowels and chipped off sentences, a manner of speech that often seemed rude to Taerrens. However, this man more closely resembled his people than hers.

After a few moments examining the man, the Lord Regent looked up, “Heal him.”

Dr. Tanris’s face broke into a smile. Aiden fought the urge to say anything, but despite his better interest, a noise of protest escaped his lips.

The Lord Regent glanced over to an advisor who had been trailing behind his entourage.

“We will put him in the Chronos experiment.”

Dr. Tanris blinked. The Lord Regent’s advisor nodded to him in confirmation, making a noise of agreement. Several guards walked in, moving the man to a stretcher before carrying him off. Another group of guards came to take the Lord Regent’s son away, and a third came for the nameless body behind them.

“Sire, this man is needed for our research…” Dr. Tanris began.

“Your research will continue without him. Now, I expect that you’ll want to return to your excavation site at the Iridian planet, so I will send guards to recover your things. I have a ship available to take you there straight away.” The Lord Reagent said, his dark eyes looking down at the short woman.

“Go back?” Dr. Tanris exclaimed, her voice an octave higher than normal and her face red with anger, “I have thousands of documents to analyze here…”

“And I am sure you don’t want your time being wasted analyzing documents when you could be overseeing your research team on site. Of course, if you are no longer interested in leading the team, a replacement can be found.”

Dr. Tanris’s almost seemed to physically shake with anger, but after a second, her face appeared cool and collected.

“Yes, sire.”

She turned and walked away, her back stiff.

The Lord Regent nodded to a nearby guard, “Make sure she finds her way to her ship. Have all her things brought there.”

His eyes glanced back at Aiden. Aiden lowered his glance and bowed to his father. He knew better than to argue with him. He would find out what this Chronos Experiment was. If it didn’t kill the murderer, he could have an accident arranged without his father’s knowledge.

The Lord Regent turned his back on his son, passing between a set of standing guards towards the rest of his entourage. As he moved down the hall, his advisors moved around him to follow.

“Send a regiment out for these terrorists that seem to have escaped. Send the Cyan and the Crimson units. Tell them to capture them, not kill them. And will someone turn off these damned alarms!”

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Time and Place – Chapter 11

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How unbelievable! He had not expected to run into the Champion here on a space station of all places. He had felt the pull from the Champion the moment his ship had docked. The pull at his soul, or whatever was left of it, was almost palpable. However, he could not allow anyone to suspect anything. He had stood in agonizing pain, waiting for a moment to find his prey.

The bomb, or whatever it was, that erupted somewhere on the station was just the distraction he needed. As soon as he could get his feet back under him he had fled the ceremony. At first, his target had remained stationary, but as he transversed the halls he found that the Champion began moving.

The loud alarm was now blazing overhead, providing people with a warning to evacuate the station. Periodically, he would pass a strobe light flickering on and off to help indicate the need to evacuate. He worried that the Champion might be heading for one of the escape pods. No matter, he had already fixed his route to intercept him before he reached the escape.

He could not conceive how the darkness would reward him for this, but the rewards would be great. He had not slept in some time. He had not contacted the darkness. Nevertheless, he knew its commands, knew the end that it craved.

He marched through the hallways with a long stride. Soldiers who saw his face immediately knew who he was, and snapped quickly to attention. A few offered encouraging remarks as well. He would occasionally hear a “Glory to the Empire” or an “Honor for the Lord Reagent”.  Most of the soldiers were busy helping evacuate the station though. It didn’t matter, he ignored them all.

On another day, he might have executed more tact, but the compelling nature of this Champion was great. He had never expected it to be this strong. He did not know what his reward would be, but the pleasure of killing the Champion of Fate would be a reward in and of itself.

****

“Darian, my name is Darian,” Darian repeated, trying to get a grasp on his new situation.

They looked at each other before one of the girls stepped forward and spoke. Pointing to herself, she said the word Marideen. She then pointed to each of the other people, stating what Darian presumed were their names.

Perhaps names weren’t the most important thing for Darian to start with. He was miserable with names and was likely to forget them all anyway, but these names sounded unusually strange. The language the man had spoken was completely indecipherable. Darian couldn’t even guess at what they were speaking. It certainly wasn’t English.

“Well that’s a start, how about you put the guns down?” Darian asked.

The two men stared at him with blank faces. He pointed at the guns and the made a down gesture with his palm. The two men glanced at each other. The dark skinned man chuckled before adjusting his grip on the gun and then aiming it more threateningly. Darian backed up a step, his back pressing against the wall. He made a pacifying gesture and hoped the man understood.

The man who had first spoken, Markus he thought the name was, said something to the other man in a scolding tone. He then turned to Darian and spoke several more incomprehensible words. Markus’s tone made Darian’s skin crawl. It was a little too smooth. Almost like he was talking to a frightened animal rather than another person. Darian supposed the feeling was not far off. He might as well be a frightened animal with how well their ability to communicate was going.

Darian was frightened. He had no clue what was going on. Had the doctor sold him? Was it all some trick to sell him into slavery? He had expected to wake up in the familiar surroundings, but this was too much. The event itself had been unpleasant. He had expected to go to sleep, and wake up a week later without a second thought. That was not how it felt at all.

The sleep he had was not deep; it was quite the opposite. He had felt like he had just experienced a lifetime of restless sleep. Always on the edge of awareness, of consciousness, he had waited for what felt like an eternity. Wherever he was, time seemed to have no meaning. It simply kept ticking away. He had itches and cramps, but could not move to scratch them. It was absolute torture. He knew it had only been a week, but it could have been a year or a thousand years, and it would have felt the same. The doctor would certainly have some explaining to do.

When Darian began waking, the first thing that began to return to him was sight. He didn’t know how he knew this since he had lacked the ability to open his eyelids, but whatever light seemed to pierce through them gave him awareness that he was conscious. Then his hearing returned. It was garbled at first. As it returned, he realized he wasn’t hearing English.

He then began to feel the rush of air as he was being pushed somewhere. After a few minutes, he attempted to move. The shock of his body suddenly contacting the ground jolted him to wakefulness. He was surprisingly energetic. He would have expected to be weak and sore after, but that didn’t seem to be the case.

His eyes shot open and his mind began to work furiously to comprehend the situation. Now that he realized he was in some kind of carpeted hallway surrounded by people dressed in strange jumpsuits, his mind seemed to strike a wall where he couldn’t quite figure out what to do next.

The lights flashing overhead and the sound of an alarm was very disorientating. However, his mind was having no luck growing clearer as he listened to them talk.

“Do any of you speak English?” He asked hopefully.

He hadn’t expected an answer. They glanced at him blankly, clearly as confused by what he said as he was by what they had said. He took a few steps back, angling away from them while keeping his back to the wall. It looked like he was in some kind of corridor and they stood immediately at a three-way intersection in the shape of a T. At least that was a reassurance. If he needed to, he could either run left or right. It was always nice to have a choice, even if neither choice seemed any better than the other.

He took a better look at the people in front of him. Their uniforms told him nothing. There were two men with guns, the third man who spoke too smoothly, and two young girls. The girls appeared to be sisters, with numerous similar characteristics. They both looked younger than he, but the older one had a very serious quality about her that was only more apparent when compared to her sister.

The sister, Danelle, he at least remembered that name, had a very lively innocence to her, but even she seemed to have a set of maturity in her eyes that were seemingly unexpected. They had both been through something, although Darian was good at reading people, not like his father had been.  Unlike Danelle’s sister, her hair was black and cropped short. Both sisters held themselves with a great deal of confidence and assuredness that made them seem beyond the age he would have placed them at.

One of the men took a step forward, and Darian quickly took a step away from them towards the side, scraping along the wall at an angle. He glanced in both directions, the temptation to run hitting him. But where would he run? He had no idea where he was in the first place.

****

“Well this is going nowhere,” Markus growled, watching the man who had called himself Darian.

Marideen had to agree with him, they needed to get moving and this person was content with just standing there. She quickly considered her possibilities. They could always just knock him unconscious and carry him the rest of the way. However, if the information he possessed turned out to be useful, getting it out of him would be a lot more difficult if they had to attack him.

She suspected that the man had no correlation with the Taerren government. His strange gown, his lack of knowing the language, his odd appearance; all lead her to believe that whatever he was, he wasn’t part of the government. This didn’t mean, however, that he didn’t possess something that could benefit the empire, and thus be something they needed to keep out of their hands.

His face did have many distinctive traits that looked very Taerren. He had very bright hazel eyes and now that they were open, she could see he was quite handsome. She hammered down that last part. She was acting like Danelle now.

Before she could take another action, Danelle took the initiative, taking a step forward. Marideen reached out a hand to stop Danelle, but Danelle made a reassuring gesture to Marideen with a quick smirk. Marideen dropped her hand, allowing Danelle to continue.

She took several steps slowly towards the man who called himself Darian. His body tensed. As he did, Berret and Maximil tightened their grip on their guns, ready to fire at a moment’s notice. When Danelle noticed this, she gave them a quick glare. The two men glanced over to Marideen, whom after a moment reluctantly gave them a nod. When did they start differing to her? This was new.

They lowered their weapons grudgingly as Danelle took a few more steps forward, her hands raised in a pacifying gesture. Darian lowered his hands, his eyes glaring at her with mistrust.

“It’s okay,” Danelle said in a soothing gesture, taking the last step forward, her hands out in front of her now inches from his chest.

She lifted her hand, brushing his hair back behind his ears. A blush suddenly appeared on his cheeks. Marideen didn’t blame him, that was a far more personal touch then any respectable girl should give any guy, let alone a guy she barely knew.

Danelle didn’t show any shame or modesty though, instead of beaming up at him. She gave him the same smile that she always seemed to give father. Just like that, relief flooded into him. All the tension that had been building seemed to flood out of him like a balloon.

“See, we’re not so bad,” Danelle said, running a hand over his head with a pat.

“He’s not a cat,” Markus remarked, rolling his eyes.

“You shut up!” Danelle quickly retorted, turning to give her a dirty look before turning back to Darian, once again with a smile on her face.

Darian chuckled at that. Although Marideen imagined he had no clue what they said, he seemed to be able to immediately tell the nature of what they said. Marideen joined in with a laugh and after a second Berret and Maximil joined in. Danelle glared back at them, before smiling and chuckling herself.

“Are we all just going to sit around laughing while guards come and gun us down?” Markus growled.

Danelle turned, grabbing Darian’s hand as she did, “Come with us.”

Darian glanced into her eyes and seemed to understand. After a brief moment, he nodded and she pulled him with her, keeping very close to him. As she dragged his arms forward, Darian took a few wooden steps until he began to move forward willingly. When Darian finally caught up to Danelle, now in front of her sister, Danelle grabbed his entire arm in a kind of loose hug. She smirked at Marideen.

“So where do we get going?” Marideen asked, choosing to ignore her sister’s antics as well as her own small spike of odd annoyance.

Was she jealous?  That was just ridiculous. She always felt a desire to compete with her little sister, but this was neither the time nor the place and for a boy no less.

Markus sighed. “Well. Since he is coming with us, we need to get to the escape pods, same as before. This way.”

Markus pointed to the right of the T junction they had come upon, beginning to walk in that direction.  The rest followed, Danelle pulling Darian with her in an almost comical fashion.

“Come on, Darian,” She whispered to him, giving him a playful push before dragging him along.

However strange her flamboyant nature, Marideen decided not to intercede with what Danelle was doing. It had worked splendidly with her father dozens of times in the past and seemed to be doing just as well pacifying this man. One of these days, she would need to ask Danelle how she did that with men. She shook her head before dropping the notion.

As the alarms blared, they slowly made their way through the station. Markus stayed in front, numerous times motioning them to stay back as a group of guards came storming by. At one point, they needed to duck into a room. They managed to get in just in time before the guards came storming past, looking like they were searching for something. For once, they ended up in a room that wasn’t a closet.

This room seemed to be some kind of maintenance room. It consisted of large, noisy machinery. Darian had quickly grasped that they were not in a safe place, and worked to keep quiet, keep low, and keep out of sight just as well as the rest of them. Danelle did not shift her position, constantly stroking his arm and saying reassuring comments that he did not understand. He seemed to respond to them well, occasionally talking back in strange words Marideen did not know. What was this stranger?

At some point, Darian seemed to grow more defensive of Danelle as well, even going so far as to put himself in front of her during one of the points in which the guards passed by. She blushed furiously when he had held her back behind him, protecting her with his body. The other men present merely rolled their eyes, occasionally chuckling as they saw the pair acting like enamored school kids during the Festival of Love. On Darian’s end, he stared warily at the other men and kept his distance when possible.

It felt as if they were running through the corridors for close to an hour when Markus finally spoke up.

“We’re almost there,” Markus spoke up, “We have one more hallway and then we should be able to blend in with the crowds heading for the escape pods.”

What Markus said did make sense. They had been crossing more and more groups of citizens heading down to the escape pods. A few of them seemed panicked, but most of them were already aware that the threats to the station were over, but also knew that it was protocol they had to follow. All non-station staff would be required to leave, and then a deck-by-deck inspection would occur. The escape pods would be picked up from wherever they dropped on the surface below and the people returned once their safety could be assured on the station.

The planet below was uninhabitable, but they had already made plans to be recovered before the Taerren ships could. Hopefully, this part of the plan would go smoother than everything else so far.

As their group turned the next corner, Markus stopped cold. A man stood at the end of the hallway. He wasn’t blocking their way, but it was clear that he had been looking for them. His black hair was made up in a long elaborate braid that went all the way down to the base of his back. As soon as he saw them, a cruel smirk appeared on his pale face.

He wasn’t ugly. In fact, he might even be considered an attractive man. But something about his eyes, his paleness, and his demeanor reminded Marideen of death and made him seem ugly in her eyes. He was dressed in an unflattering black cloak which spread out as he walked, making himself seem bigger than he was. He looked down his nose at them, his head raised and prideful. He began taking a few steps towards them.

Without a second thought, Berret raised a gun and pulled the trigger. The gun clicked, with no sound. The man laughed as he continued walking towards them in a relaxed confident state.

“Oh my, I think that you will find that none of your weapons will work aboard the Valterra station. What? Nobody told you?” the man’s cruel smirk grew, “an ingenious little invention, I must say I have no clue how it works, but the end result is that any guns that pass a checkpoint are rendered inert. Guards have to leave guns at the checkpoints, and then pick up a new gun once they pass it. A great way to keep things secure, I think. You certainly didn’t do your homework, did you?”

“And who are you?” Marideen growled.

She already knew the answer to that. The braid was an imperial marker. A braid that long and ornate meant one thing, one of the sons of the Lord Regent. His age signaled him as the older one, Demetry.  Everyone around her began to tense as Demetry continued to walk towards them. He was tall, easily as tall as Markus, and despite clearly being an enemy, he seemed to possess no fear or concern of them.

Marideen hoped to use this to her advantage. He was absolutely alone. If they could capture him, capture one of the sons of the Lord Regent, for the first time they would be in a position to bargain. Perhaps they could even rescue her father and whoever else was captured.  Now that he was closer, she could see that his hand rested on the hilt of a sword. Marideen pulled out a pair of knives she kept on her, brandishing them to the enemy in front of her. She cursed that she had not brought the sword Beiromon had taught her with, but the knives would have to do.

As he looked at her knives, he chuckled but made no attempt to draw his sword or answer her question. The whole situation was starting to make her worry. Berret had dropped his gun, also pulling out a knife, and Maximil clung to his gun desperately, looking as if he planned to bash the chuckling prince’s head in with it if he couldn’t do anything else.

“So, you are the notorious Lancers?” He asked, his smile never leaving his face, “You need not worry, I have no interest in you. You are but a passing interest. I am sure my father will be pleased by your capture, but that is a simple boon. You are welcome to a head start if you’d like, but I do ask you if you’d leave him.”

Demetry’s finger came out from his dark robes and pointed directly at Darian. The others glanced at him. Danelle took a step half in front of him defensively. Darian only seemed confused, not quite understanding the growing tension around him, but preparing himself nonetheless.

“You see, “Berret responded, “I don’t believe we agree with your terms.”

Demetry shrugged, “Suit yourself, but I care little one way or the other, Cret Noft Dan Fi.”

With that, Berret lunged at the man. Demetry took one step back. His arms moved faster than Marideen could have ever thought possible. In a single swift motion, Demetry sword was out. It had the slightest curve on the shining blade, now marred with blood. Berrets arm fell to the ground, his knife still in its grip. He screamed as Demetry performed a sweep with his leg, kicking Berret to the side as if he was an empty cardboard box in Demetry’s way.

Berret collided with the wall, his scream cut short when his head slammed into the wall. He collapsed into a heap, unconscious. Marideen was absolutely stunned. She had not seen the sword cut through Berret’s flesh. She had watched the whole thing unfold, but it had been so fast she had not seen it happen. Fear began to course through her body as she glanced back at her sister.

Danelle had a worried look on her face, but she stood her ground protectively in front of Darian, grasping both of his hand in hers from behind.

Maximil raced forward, trying to use the gun to protect himself from the blade. As Demetry pulled the blade around, Maximil managed to get it caught in the gun strap.  Demetry twisted the blade and pulled, the gun coming loose and flying to the side. He backhanded Maximil across the face with the second motion, causing him to fly to the side, landing hard on the ground. Blood struck the wall from where he had hit it.

It was at this point that Marideen noticed he had strange rings all over his hands, which most likely acted much like brass knuckles if anyone ever was struck by one. Before Demetry had time to straighten himself from the last attack, Markus had launched two knives straight at Demetry. Demetry’s blade twisted again in a single arc movement, knocking both daggers to the side. He took two rapid steps forward in the same movement, grabbing Markus by the throat.

His smile was gone. A look of malevolence was now on his face as he began to strangle the life out of Markus. Marideen knew she had to act quickly. She was more than a little good with knives, but she had never seen anything like this man before. Still, she had to try, he was killing Markus.

She went forward with a knife in each hand, beginning to perform offensive routines she had been taught and repeated a hundred times. Demetry threw Markus to the side and began using the sword to defend himself. Quick hands were all that saved Marideen as she began slicing attack after attack at Demetry. Demetry was incredibly fast, but Marideen kept her knives out of his reach, avoiding any direct cuts that he wanted to connect. She knew the second the sword struck either of her knives, she would lose them.

Marideen couldn’t get close; the sword gave Demetry too much advantage. She attempted to close the gap, to prevent him from using the sword, but he seemed to know what she was trying to do and took several steps back. He was smiling once again, the whole process seems a game for him.

“Well aren’t you a spark plug,” Demetry laughed, his nose still up in the air in an obnoxiously arrogant way. “However, you are very much out of your league, and I am in a hurry.”

He spun with a quick motion, his robe swirling. The blade swished by, both knives being struck, flying from her hands. She went to retreat back, but he had anticipated and in the same movement he used to disarm her he had closed the distance. A sweeping kick of his leg and she too flew to the side. Her head banged the wall, causing her entire vision to go white before she crumpled to the floor.

She needed to stop getting hit in the head. She vaguely recalled saying that before. The pain was excruciating. She held her head but tried to regain focus once again. She couldn’t let him defeat her. She started to stand, looking down the hallway.

Danelle stood between Demetry and Darian. Darian, backing up without looking behind him slipped and fell on his butt. He began crawling back away, a look of terror on his face.

“Let Demetry have him!” Marideen shouted to Danelle.

Danelle looked back at her sister. Their eyes met for the briefest moment. A look of resolve came over her face. She leaped at Demetry with a knife in her hands.

In the same quick, deadly precision that Demetry had used on the rest of them, he slid the sword deep in her gut. Twisting the blade, he pulled it out and then rammed it in a second time. Blood began to form around Danelle’s lips as she stared over Demetry’s shoulder at her sister on the floor, her eyes glazing over. Her knife hit the floor, and she didn’t make a noise as she dropped to the ground.

Marideen began to scream.

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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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