Marideen Treena Cleefe, head of the Cleefe household, leader of the Lancers, and the Butcher of Braun was anxious. She, of course, would never tell a living soul how scared she was, but she was frightened nonetheless. Doubts fled through her mind. Would she succeed? Would she finally free her father? Would she get captured right alongside him? Executed perhaps? No, she had to be harder than that.
Many of her advisors thought she was crazy. She was a noble and the leader. Why would she risk her life by partaking in the very missions she planned? It threatened the entire organization. Of course, her father always stayed behind. He always put other people into risky situations yet stayed in safety himself. That didn’t spare him from capture. No, this was something she would never follow her advisor’s advice on.
She, of course, had checked on Charles Fine’s information. She had checked and rechecked. Every spy, bribe, and intel she could muster had confirmed the information he had provided her. She had meticulously planned this break for six months. No hastily put together operation like that which had led to the inevitable downfall of her father. Her careful planning was about to come to fruition.
A loose piece of Marideen’s hair floated near her eye. She swatted it away. It was very irritating. When she had tied her hair back, she had missed a strand. Undoing it would cause her hair to fly in every direction. It would take time to put her hair back into place, and she’d likely miss a different lock of hair. Having long hair and space travel were two things that did not go together well.
She went through the plan in her head again. Did she miss something? Probably. You always missed something. It should work though. It felt vaguely familiar to the trip long ago, the Vanderra mission. The one that started it all. The plan was certainly similar. Although, the similarities only served to highlight the differences. Max and Berret were with her. That was something similar. She had also brought along E. It had cost her a pretty penny to enlist his services. He considered mission work to be a separate charge on top of the salary she already paid him to train her.
Kate was not there. She had been missing for years. She presumed Kate was either killed or imprisoned like Beiromon. This may not have been true. She had heard rumors of a mad bomber who targeted military targets. The bombings were often blamed on the Lancers, who made no effort to deny the claims, but she suspected the attacks were not domestic. It was possibly the Ertlanders. They were displaying open unrest against the Taerrans of recent.
The crew of this particular ship the Trident had also been completely replaced with Lancers. No slack-jawed farmers to make her life more difficult or to betray her with an idle tongue. These men were trained, integrated into the system months ago, and prepared for this mission. Getting back her father was worth every resource the Lancers could deploy.
“Hello Birdy,” Maximil said, floating into the room and bringing her from her thoughts.
“Max, I haven’t been your little birdy in a long time,” She responded.
“I never said you were little, but if you’re not a birdy, tell me, why are you flying around the ship flapping your little wings?” Maximil asked.
Marideen looked at herself. Her hands were outstretched as she hovered a few feet above the ground, she supposed it did look a bit like she was flying. She stifled a chuckle, trying not to give him the satisfaction.
“Oh, there’s the girl I remember.” Maximil grinned.
She smiled back at him. It disputed her desire to be a harder person, but this was Maximil. He and Berret were practically family. No matter how hard she got, she always knew the pair of them would continue to see her as the little girl who they used to sneak cookies to after dinner. This was both a blessing and a chore. Although both men were professional and never demeaned her in front of her men, they also argued with her relentlessly in private.
Neither man liked the things she was trying to do. They were conflicted about her current discussions with the Atari and Ertlanders. They both despised E and his training methods. However, they listened to her and remarkably, followed her as loyally as they had followed her father.
“It’s time to get ready; we’ll be docking soon. “ Maximil stated once the humor died.
Marideen nodded. It was time to work. She followed after Maximil using hand holes that were regularly placed along the walls to guide herself along the rather short hallway. She knew that there were no real directions in space, but she still saw the hallways as having floors, ceilings, and walls based on the direction the ship sat when landed and tried to keep herself orientated to that effect.
She went to the staging area. It was a small supply-filled hanger in that the Lancers could gather and strap themselves in for the landing. When they landed and gravity was established, they could immediately start unloading the supplies. This wasn’t a food supply run as with Vanderra. The Basalt prison received one dock a month. All of the supplies they would need were collected on a single large ship on the surface of the planet, including prisoners, food, medical supplies, and daily cares for both the guards and the prisoners.
This way, they don’t constantly have random ships docking and can control the supply intake into the ship. It was not easy getting the entire crew replaced with Lancers, but the time it took had been worth it. This particular shipment had no prisoners, which Marideen counted as a blessing. She didn’t want to have to deal with others who might be potential murders and rapists on her escape ship.
E was already there, strapped into his seat looking bored. Berret was there as well. Neither man looked at the other. There were ten other Lancers aboard the ship, although the ship could fit a crew of two dozen, she decided to keep it light. She did not know if she’d have the opportunity to free other Lancers, but if it arose, she would take it.
The clicking and clanking noises the ship made as it docked gave her knowledge of the progress. She prepared herself before the gravity of the station began to affect their ship. It wasn’t a gradual increase in weight; it was sudden. It felt like a second of free fall until your weight-adjusted. Several of the men grunted when their backsides, just a few inches off the seat collided down suddenly. After a moment, a light sprang into the ship. The lighting on space stations was always significantly brighter than that of space ships. She suspected that was due to the access to energy. Ships depended on fuel and could not afford bright lighting throughout long durations. The ramp was lowered and she unbuckled herself. It had begun.
Her men went to work unloading a few loads at a time. When she made it out of the ship, she gawked in surprise. There were only two guards, both men she had paid off. She had been informed that there was to be an escort of eight guards. Her men were planning on overtaking them, while the two that had been paid off were to sabotage communications so they could not warn anyone.
“Where are the other men?” Marideen asked cautiously.
The two men looked at each other uncomfortably before one of them responded, “We’re not sure. Come the new shift, two-thirds of the men didn’t show up. Some rumors going around about striking rich. We didn’t want to inquire too much and look suspicious. The lottery drawing is in about an hour, but there is a lottery every week, no one ever gets that excited about it. Certainly not worth skipping work duty.”
Marideen noticed there was something else the guards weren’t saying, “And?”
The guards looked at each other one more time before the same one responded again, “We got a message, about ten minutes ago. It said to go on high alert. Take pairs of two and scrounge the hallways looking for anyone and everyone. Immediately, hit the alarms if any suspicious activity is found. Then the coms went dead.”
“Dead?” Marideen asked.
“Completely dead, not a single signal in or out. We’ve tried. Not caused by our sabotage either. We didn’t even have to. We would have assumed it was your doing, but you didn’t tell us anything about that. I don’t know what’s going on, but I imagine every guard is as confused as us right now. “
Marideen nodded, thinking intently, “I refuse to change the plan now. Nothing changes, in the meantime.”
She glanced at E, “E, do as you promised, hack the sensors. This confusion may make it easier on us.”
E nodded, and without saying anything, walked out to do his job.
Marideen pointed at Maximil and Berret, “Come on, we have a job to do.”
Maximil and Berret nodded in unison, following her out the other door. They had memorized the blueprints to this station, each and every one of them. The movement through the blocks went smoothly. As the guards had informed her, a few groups of men traveled in pairs down the hallways in a scanning pattern. Twice they had to duck them, and in one case, take them out before they could shout. With three on two, it was quite easy to quickly incapacitate a group quietly.
Still, the whole thing felt easier than it should. Regrettably, they did not know which cell block Marideen’s father was in. As a result, they had to just move down the list. Before they knew it, they approached Block A. There were no guards. Marideen had been prepared for guards. She had had darts and knockout gas. They had practiced hundreds of times and could bring down a team of six guards in less than ten seconds between the three of them. What she was not prepared for was no one.
It didn’t matter, she told herself. She cautiously walked up to the guard station, opening the door into the block, walking in slowly while looking around. What she saw this time completely floored her. Noone. Every cell was completely empty and open. How could that be? Was this an abandoned block? It had to be.
She walked out of the block. When her cohorts glanced up at her she shook her head. Berret finished installing the hack into the intercom. She supposed it was a waste of time, but their original plan involved hacking the intercom signal and sending it out to a nearby ship, which would answer any calls the guard station received, covering up their suspicion and giving the Lancers time to escape.
They began walking to the next block. The blocks were not particularly far away from each other. They made it to block B in short order. When Berret used the mirror to glance around the corner with his one good arm, he audibly gasped.
“What is it?” Marideen whispered.
Berret shook his head in confusion before handing her the mirror and shifting out of her way so she could see. She repeated the act of peaking around the corner. Unlike the previous block, this one had four guards at it. They would need to… wait, what was that? The guards were slouched awkwardly, leaning on things or tilting at strange angles. Marideen looked closer. They were unconscious. Every single one of them was unconscious.
Marideen had to recheck herself three more times before she could believe what she saw. She waved the other two men on, they went around the corner and walked down, their guns pulled, their movements mimicking an assault formation. As they got closer they could see some blood one of the men’s head. Each man was propped up with whatever was around at the time. One was propped awkwardly on a coat rack.
“Check each of the men,” Marideen commanded.
“Alive,” Maximil said after checking each man, “Just unconscious, the lot of them.”
“Who…” Marideen started, as she pushed her way into the next block.
Empty, just like the other one.
“Birdy,” Maximil said with a strange voice causing Marideen to look back, “You may want to look at this.”
Marideen exited the hall block, moving to the desk in the guard station where Maximil pointed. On the desk was a letter. It was clear white envelop, and on the front was a name, written in a clean tight script. Marideen Cleefe.
“So what do we do?” Beiromon asked, looking at Darian.
Darian had just suddenly waked out of the stupor he had been in for the last few hours. Beiromon was starting to become concerned that the young man would sleep right through his own escape plan. However, Darian seemed calm and collected. Beiromon straightened himself up. He had been a prisoner for long enough, but he still wasn’t sure how much faith he could put in this man. He felt inclined to give it all, but he tried to keep himself reserved.
Darian was rummaging in a pack under the bed. They both had one, stuff they had managed to smuggle, buy, or bribe. Some things were pointless trinkets, other things genuinely important to their sanity. After a moment, Darian pulled out a radio. He stood and smiled, laughing as he held it high as if he had discovered a great treasure. It was one of the things he admired about the man. He had been tortured, beaten, attacked, threatened, and hated, yet he always kept his spirits high. He wasn’t sure the man knew when to quit though.
“So?” Beiromon asked again.
He didn’t want to press Darian, but he didn’t want to let the man go off on a tangent either. He wasn’t sure the man was entirely sane. However, Beiromon had followed insane men before, and he didn’t find it a problem now. Not after the years, he had spent in prison. He wasn’t sure he believed in Darian, but he did know there was something special about the man.
“So,” Darian responded, holding the radio up and flipping the switch on.
A high pitch whine shot out of the radio, and then it sparked twice before going dead. Darian, clearly having been shocked, dropped the radio. Shaking and sucking on his finger.
“Ok, it’s broken,” Beiromon responded.
Darian frowned down at the radio. Click. Darian looked up. The cell opened. Beiromon turned around to see what guard had come to get them. He was probably there to criticize them for having the radio. It wasn’t exactly something prisoners should have. Darian had apparently gained several special exceptions thanks to his gifts, but even they had their limits. There was no one there.
Beiromon frowned, looking out into the hall. His frown deepened. It wasn’t just their cell that had opened, it was every cell. Every cell on the block. Darian’s old roommate, Devin, was peeking out of his cell as well, clearly as confused as Beiromon. Everyone was cautiously peaking out of their cells, confused.
Darian walked right out of his cell then moved down the hall as if it was the most natural thing. His feet started moving slightly faster. The door to the guard station opened and a head peeked through just as Darian reach the door. He grabbed the man pulling him in the room. In a single swift motion, he spun around and sent the man’s head colliding into the wall. The man was instantly and savagely rendered unconscious.
Beiromon recognized the forms as something akin to what Beiromon had taught him. It was more ruthless, less civil, less noble, but he forgave that. If he had learned anything as a prisoner for the last three years, it was that nobility had a place and time, both of which went out the door when you were a prisoner.
Darian swung open the door to the guard station and walked out. A second man was trying to call for backup. It seemed like he was having trouble contacting anyone. Darian went at him from behind. He was fast, and the man didn’t have time to reach for his weapon as he put him into a chokehold. Within a minute, the man was unconscious.
Becoming increasingly curious, the men began to file out into the hallway, moving out into the guard station area, a mixture of confusion, curiosity, and hopefulness.
“Alright, guys, if you haven’t figured it out yet, we are escaping Basalt station. If you’re with me, we’ll be heading down to the dock. I can get us there without running into any guards, but I seem to be having trouble getting going. My abilities don’t seem to want to work right now,” Darian growled in frustration, “What direction are the docks?”
“Left.” A voice came out from behind, it was his old roommate. Devin walked up to the front of the group, “You’ll want to go left.”
Darian looked like he had been doused with ice. He did not move. He remained frozen for several seconds staring down at the unconscious guard, “Oh… is that so?”
“Exactly, I have some knowledge of this station, and I can most assuredly tell you need to head left if you want to reach the docks.”
Darian nodded, but his face contained the strangest expression Beiromon had ever seen. It seemed like a mixture of frustration, anger, hate, and depression. Were his eyes wet with tears? Beiromon peered around the room, a few of the other prisoners had looks of confusion or were shaking their heads, trying to get Darian’s attention. Was left not the right way?
After a moment, Darian spoke, “Alright, we go left…”
He reached down, pulling something loose from the guard’s uniform, following the eager Devin a few steps down the hall before stopping. When Devin realized no one was following he turned back around in confusion. Then he saw what was in Darian’s hand and froze in terror. Beiromon could finally make it out now as well. It was a gun that he had pulled off the guard.
“What are you doing,” Devin screeched in fear.
“I had hoped… prayed things would fall a different way, “Darian chocked out, his voice breaking a moment,” but I can’t run from it. I love you old friend, remember that, and in the end, I kept your dying wish.”
As he spoke, Devin became increasingly panicked. Then Darian pulled the trigger. It hit dead center of Devin’s heart. Devin stared down at his chest. His face first showed complete shock, then anger, then his eyes filled with hate as he glanced up at Darian. It was the same hate he had shown the man in the last few months. Then they went slack, and he collapsed. Darian dropped the gun, letting out a sudden heart-wrenching sob. He scrambled down the hallway on all fours, snatching the man in the arms and holding him.
Most of the men were utterly confused. He had killed a man, then cried over his corpse; it made no sense. Beiromon had clues above most of the men here. Devin was going backward in time. This meant that Devin must have always been aware the Darian was going to kill him. Meanwhile, Darian must have known the same. Two close friends, knowing that in the end one of them would kill the other, must kill the other. It almost caused Beiromon to tear up just thinking about it.
Suddenly, two guards burst into the guard station, apparently drawn by the gunshot noise. Due to the angle of the hallway, neither group saw the other until they rounded the corner. They had had their guns drawn, but were clearly not prepared to see every prisoner in the entire block standing right in front of them. This caused them to hesitate. The pair of the soldiers and the twenty-some prisoners eyed each other for a brief moment. Then the prisoners surged forward, knocking the weapons from the guard’s hands and dropping them down in a flood of kicks and bruises.
Darian shouted. He was now standing, and although his eyes were wet it looked like he had recovered himself. He fired the gun again, this time at a nearby wall. It bounced off, causing the prisoners to scatter as the bullet ricocheted. Fortunately, it didn’t hit anyone. Darian aimed the gun at the rest of the prisoners.
“Don’t kill them, we are not here to kill, just to leave.”
This made several of the prisoners even more confused. First, he kills a man apparently on a whim, and then demands that they don’t kill guards. Even Beiromon, knowing what he knew, had trouble not seeing these actions as insane.
“Prop up the men so they look like they are still on duty, we have a few things to do here, then we go right. Someone get Devin, we are taking him with us.”
“He’s dead.” One of the prisoners pointed out.
“He comes with us.” Darian scowled, his face darkened with anger for a second.
Beiromon supposed it was his responsibility. He was the only one even close to understanding what was going on in Darian’s head. He quickly recruited two other men, and hastily wrapped Devin up in bedsheets and a makeshift litter using some rope and a bed mattress. They would have to drag it on one end, but it would be within reason now.
Beiromon noticed Darian placing a letter he had written just so before turning and nodding.
“It’s time for us to get going, I think we have all overstayed our welcomes at Basalt.”
Several of the men went to cheer before quickly realizing they were still in Basalt and that making a lot of noise right now might not be the brightest thing they could do.
The journey was actually surprisingly easy. Everyone seemed to be listening to Darian now. He might be crazy, but so far his actions had been surprisingly successful. He told them to stop, to turn, to backtrack. A few times they could hear guards moving in the direction they had just turned away from and within short order, most of them were convinced in the rumors regarding his psychic abilities. Those that weren’t were scared if they stepped out of line he would suddenly kill them as well. If they were not convinced of his psychic tendencies, they at least believed in his psychotic ones. He was one of the four lucky people to have a gun in the group of 20. Beiromon had managed to get one from the guard that Darian had dragged into the block hall before anyone else had thought to.
Within short order, his entire company burst into the docks. Two shocked guard’s mouths dropped as they saw the odd band of men. A few prisoners went to incapacitate the guards, but Darian called them off, telling them it was not necessary. Not necessary? He appeared to be right, as neither guard made a move to call for help or impede them. However, an angry man stormed off of the docking platform at the sight of them.
“What are with all these people? Where is Marideen? What have you done with her?” The man began to tirade Darian with questions, accurately picking him as the leader.
“Steer? Is that you?” Beiromon asked, recognizing the man.
Steer turned about to glare at the man who addressed him. When his eyes focused on Beiromon, they sprang open in shock, “Beiromon? It can’t be, but it is, we thought you were dead!”
“Not yet, I’m not,” Beiromon laughed as the man excitedly shook his hand, “I didn’t know the Lancers were here.”
Steer had a brief look of confusion. They were here to break someone out. That person was not him. He could forgive that. As Steer just mentioned, Beiromon was supposed to be dead. Marideen was here? Darian knew? Of course, Darian knew. How could Darian not know? The man was sly, slyer than Beiromon had given him credit for. Suddenly, months of awkwardly placed questions Darian had been asking him made sense.
“Well, you see, “Steer started, “But wait a moment, where is Marideen?”
“We haven’t seen them yet, we were escaping on our own,” Beiromon replied sheepishly.
Steer glanced back at the rest of the prisoners, “I suppose if we make considerations, we can fit the lot of you on our ship, but only just. There is not that much space but with the containers, unloaded room can be made.
“Where is Marideen?” Beiromon asked.
“I left her a note,” Darian said at the same point Steer said, “Looking for…”
Steer glanced at Darian, “A note?”
“Well, I didn’t want her to waste her time…” He replied.
Steer looked in confusion for a moment until it sunk in, “All of the blocks? They said the communication was down, that was you?”
“We can’t fit every block on this ship lad, I’m sorry, it’s just not possible.”
Darian nodded again, “You won’t have to, be easy. I have other plans with them. Roan should be taking care of it as we speak.”
Steer nodded slowly, not quite sure what to make of Darian. Beiromon had lived with, talked to, and trained Darian and even he wasn’t quite sure what to make of him yet.
The hanger door burst open and a woman came storming in. Beiromon’s breath caught. It was Marideen. It had been three years, and those three years had changed her incredibly. Her hair was a lot longer now, it was tied up in simple braids as was the custom for people with long hair that traveled in weightless space. Her body had matured substantially. The baby fat, smoothness, and soft curves of youth seemed to have been burned away. Her bosom was more robust, her hips more shapely.
He could tell that she had kept up with her sword training, as her body moved with a deadly grace that most nobles only hoped to achieve with the aid of their swordmasters. Her arms were well-toned and formed from multiple styles of combat. However, the part of her that seemed to have changed the most was her eyes. They used to be bright and hopeful, full of a kind of lightness to them. It seemed like the light was gone. In their place were darkness, exhaustion, concentration, and coldness. Beiromon could almost see the Butcher of Braun in those eyes, almost.
She stormed towards Steer with anger in her eyes. Her eyes did a once over of the room, her body always vigilant to the environment around her. Then they locked with Beiromon’s and she froze in her step, quickly masking the shock touching her face.
“Bear!” A shout came from behind her.
It was Maximil. Beiromon could instantly see that Maximil hadn’t changed a single bit. He ran passed Marideen before she could react, clamping Beiromon in a full-bodied hug.
“I still hate that name,” Beiromon said.
Maximil laughed a hearty deep laugh, “Look at you, your skin and bones. You wouldn’t survive a single winter on that!”
Beiromon couldn’t help but join him in laughter, feeling just a hint of relief he hadn’t felt in years. Maximil had been a good friend. Beiromon looked up and saw Berret trailing behind him. He had only one arm. It was the first thing Beiromon noticed. He didn’t have the stump donned up in any particularly special way, the sleeve simply hung loose where the arm was supposed to be.
Other than that, Berret was also the same. Calm and collected as he always was. He was grinning too, he put his hand out and shook Beiromon’s wholeheartedly, patting him on the shoulder with his stump.
“Sorry about that, “Berret grimaced, “Never got used to that thing.”
Beiromon smiled politely without saying more. He turned to look at Marideen and the others followed suit. She looked around the room one more time carefully.
“Where is my father?” she asked, calm and collected.
“Is that who?” He looked back and forth at the hopeful expressions of Berret and Max, “I’m so sorry, I’ve been here for quite some time and I have never seen your father.”
“Oh, he’s here,” Darian piped in from behind the group.
Marideen’s piercing gaze shifted to Darian, whom casually leaned against a container seemingly completely unaffected by her look. Beiromon grimaced and almost groaned. What was Darian playing at? They shared dinner with every other prisoner during mess times and they never saw Marideen’s father. How would he even know what Darian’s father looks like? Then he answered his own question. The guy saw it in the future. Still, Darian was playing a dangerous game and playing all his cards at once. When had the man grown so confident in his abilities?
“This man says all of the blocs have escaped, that the other prisoners are escaping through an alternative route,” Steer said, trying to help.
Marideen didn’t take her eyes off of Darian’s for a single moment, “This ship doesn’t leave unless my father is on it.”
Darian nodded, “Alright, I’ll take you to him.”
He walked over to Beiromon, handing him a note, “That’s for you, read it when we’re gone, follow it to the tee. I am counting on you.”
He turned back towards Marideen, holding his hand out like accepting a woman for a dance at the ball, “Shall we go?”
Marideen looked incredulously at him, “And why would I trust you?”
Beiromon spoke up, “He has been my roommate for the last few months. He may be a little strange, but he is honest and reliable.”
Marideen turned her gaze at Beiromon, “And why would I trust you?”
Her eyes were filled with mistrust, and the look stung as much as the words. The words seemed to enrage Maximil who went to say something while Berret tried to keep him from doing so.
“Fine, but you keep no weapons, you walk in front, and if you look suspicious for one second, I shoot,” She said after a moment, quieting everyone else down.
Darian swallowed nervously, but otherwise showed no signs of discomfort. He handed his gun to her, turned, and began walking out the hanger doors. Marideen cautiously followed without another word said.
Once they were gone, Beiromon opened the note.
Take you and your two friends to escape pod 37. You’ll be needed. Tell the ship captain to leave as soon as things get dangerous. He won’t be needed. Thanks, counting on you!
Beiromon grimaced. Darian was most definitely insane. The worst part was that Beiromon had no doubt in his own mind that he was going to do exactly what Darian asked. He must be insane as well.