Aiden’s feet clanked along the deck, walking back and forth in front of the men that were down on their knees in front of him. He awkwardly avoided tripping on the sword that hung at his hip. He still wasn’t as accustomed to it as he would have liked. Still, he was able to approximate a level of grace that impressed and terrified the men in front of them, and that was enough for the situation.
The group on their knees before him was not all Lancers. The group also included traitors and escaped convicts as well. They had been trying to escape when his personal had boarded their ship, the Trident, and shut it down just in the nick of time. It had been close, far closer than he would have liked.
Someone must have tipped them, they must have been told Aiden was coming, that was the only explanation for their readiness. This plan he had developed had been in the works for almost a year. It had taken cunning, time and preparation like no other. Soon, it would come to fruition. He will have finally crushed the Lancers and proved to his father and the other nobles that he has what it will take to become the next Lord Regent.
“What is the status, Sergeant?” Aiden asked the man standing nearby.
The Sergeant, Aiden didn’t remember his name, was glancing through a roster list of names and reports. He glanced up at Aiden and after a brief salute of recognition; he nodded down at the screen in front of him.
“It would appear that most of the remainder of escaped prisoners have been found located near the escape pods. They apparently were waiting for them to open up.”
Aiden chuckled to himself. It was an old trick, one the Lancers had used before. Why couldn’t they come up with something new or challenging? He had made sure that their bomb would never go off, that the alerts that unlocked the escape pods were blocked. Still, to try to break out the entire prison? He knew Marideen was ambitious, he never expected that she was just plain stupid. The trap had snapped closed as planned and with luck….
“The Butcher of Braun?” Aiden asked in anticipation.
“Captured, Deiron Cleefe sent a soldier a few minutes to let us know. She had managed to damage communications somehow; we are still working out how they managed that one. They seemed to have acquired the prison codes and sent a spike signal through a radio transceiver. It wouldn’t have worked on newer stations, but this one was working off of old unsecured technology. It was an exploit, although how she knew this station had it is beyond me.”
Aiden nodded. Finally, he had captured Marideen Cleefe. This would surely award him some concessions with his father. He had never wanted to be the next Lord Regent, but with his plans finally bearing fruit, it almost made him want to do more. He wanted to be at his father’s right side for once. It was a shame his plan didn’t go perfectly. A station-wide outbreak would not look particularly good in the report. The communication problems were also unfortunate.
He couldn’t really blame Deiron for the mishaps with the communication through. This station was old. He had been in numerous other stations, all in better conditions than Basalt, which was the last space fairing prison in the Taerran territory. The guards were rougher here, unused to visits from high ranking officials let alone nobility. The entire place had a feeling of unwashed dirt that put Aiden on edge.
It used to be something other than a prison, but near the end of its lifecycle Basalt was renovated and recommissioned during a time when space faring prisons were popular. Later, it was discovered these kinds of prisons were just too expensive. While the escape rate was practically none, they realized that building hospitable stations on inhospitable worlds were just as successful and half as costly. It was rapidly becoming the norm, and this station most likely did not have another five years before its orbit destabilized and it was decommissioned for good.
“You said that most of the prisoners have been found, that would suggest some have not been?” Aiden asked, trying to refocus his mind.
“Only one, prisoner A79. A bit of a legend in this prison. They call him Darian, he shouldn’t be able to keep out of our reach for long, and he will be found shortly,” The Sergeant explained as he brought up the convict profile.
Aiden glossed over the record. It was not something he cared to do, but it was sometimes considered noble to show interest in work you assigned your subordinates. It made them feel justified in doing the work. He could honestly care less about a single escaped prisoner, not with the notorious Lancer leader in his clutches. His eyes went past the photo of the prisoner… and froze.
For a moment he felt like he was falling. His throat was now in his stomach, his eyes flashed with red. Calm, control yourself. He looked up at the Sergeant. The man was cowering in fear, his head touching the floor as he bowed. Aiden glanced up in surprise. He had had his sword out and rose as if to swing it. The pad with the prisoner record was smashed to pieces at his feet.
He glared down at the Sergeant’s head, “Prisoner A79. Find him. Find him and bring him to me immediately. Take every available guard, take the crimson squad. Find him!”
He realized he had been shouting by the last word. The man nodded his head, stood up, and began running. The rest of the crimson guard snapped to attention, their officer quickly giving several signs with his fingers causing them to instantly break into two groups. One group was set to remain with Aiden as was there job, the rest immediately left into the hallway beyond to begin a sweep.
Aiden put away his sword. That temper of his would need to be better controlled. Now was not the time for that. Now was not the time for tact either. He knew that man. It was the convict who had killed his brother. He would give every ounce of dignity and respect, every right, position, and status, for that man’s head.
“We will be leaving to search for the man too,” Aiden said, his face twisted with frustration.
The Crimson officer hesitated for a second. He obviously didn’t like leaving their prisoners in the hands of the incompetent guards of Basalt, but also was obligated to keep Aiden safe and was unwilling to further divide his unit. After a moment of thought, he nodded. He was a good man, Aiden would have to learn his name one of these days.
Aiden turned from the Crimson squad as they formed up around him. He began to walk out of the hanger.
“Bring the prisoners and their Lancer companions to their cells, they will be making an extended stay,” He ordered back to the Basalt guards before turning a corner.
They would follow his orders and besides, he had more important things to do. Finally, he would have the man. How had he ended up on Basalt of all places? He had thought the man had somehow managed to escape, perhaps to another colony outside of Taerran control. Now he was here. He had simply been transferred from the surface of the planet up to the prison. It was absolutely fabulous.
He would have his revenge. The trap was already sprung and there was nowhere this man could go, nothing this Darian could do. It was just a matter of time. He would…
The sudden explosion rocked the station with incredible force. He tried to maintain his balance as General Mahr had taught him. He tried to straighten his feet, to keep them light and absorb the shock. However, he realized after a brief moment that his feet weren’t touching the ground. He was falling down the hallway. He was so close, he almost had… his head collided with a bulkhead and darkness covered him.
He had trusted the man, and the man had failed him. That was all there was to it. Roan was a fool. A fool for trusting a man simply because he seemed to know what he was doing. Darian was clearly a madman. Why had Roan listened to him? It had just seemed so right at the time.
He almost wanted to laugh at himself. He wanted to berate himself. He wanted to scream. Instead, he kept his head lowered as the guard passed by him one more time, his gun passing eye level with Roan. Roan and the majority of the other prisoners he had worked so painfully to help escaped were now on their knees, waited to be bound, strapped, and returned to their cells. They would most likely be punished severely for this. Perhaps they would cut their rations. Perhaps they would be publically flogged. Roan did not know.
The worst part of all of this was that Roan had just been in a position recently to do something. He had had the warden in his grasp and inexplicably gave it up for a bottle of booze and a promise from a stranger. What had he been thinking?
He had followed Darian’s orders to a tee. When the cell doors opened, collect all of the men from each of the blocs except Darian’s, and head to the escape pods. Do not kill any guards, just incapacitate them. Wait for the sign, then escape.
He had done exactly that. He made sure his men killed no guards, simply knocking them unconscious instead. He didn’t see much reason in that. Still, he followed the man’s rules. He made it, with all three of the blocs to the escape pods, without alerting any guards.
He admitted he had been surprised that there were so few guards. On one of the blocs, there had been no guards at all watching them. There were absolutely none. Why would there be no guards? He wasn’t sure how that had been worked out, but he assumed Darian had some investment in that.
Then they sat at the escape pods. He waited and then waited some more. Nothing happened. It was only time before a patrol stumbled across them. They had taken down two patrol squads while waiting until a large enough one came and they were quickly overwhelmed.
He had considered a fight to the death, but Darian had told him not to kill anyone. Why had he listened? He still wanted to listen to the man, but clearly, the man had tricked him. What was Darian playing at? He must know that after this no prisoner would ever trust him again. He would be on everyone’s traitor list.
Perhaps Darian had worked something out with the guards. Perhaps they wanted to see who the major players were in the prison. That didn’t seem to fit through. The cells, all of them, had just suddenly opened. Of course, the prisoners would all walk out of their cells and try to leave. Who exactly would this trick catch other than the man who had opened the cells in the first place?
Roan watched out of the corner of his eye as another group of guards had joined the growing enforcement. They all seemed agitated. They had already knocked a prisoner unconscious for stepping out of line a single step. Whatever was happening, the guards weren’t happy about it either.
The guards weren’t the only men there. They were also supported by crimson soldiers. Weren’t the crimson guard assigned as imperial protection? Why would they be in a space prison? Roan didn’t like it. He felt like the situation was falling out of his control. He had seen Bieromon, Darian’s roommate, captured too. Darian had sent him with several other strangers as well. He had expected that man to be furious at the betrayal, but Beiromon simply sat straight-backed with a look of resolution on his face.
As each moment passed, Roan fought with his conscious. The more men that joined the guard, the harder time he would have possibly rising up and stopping them. Why did he listen to that stranger? Why did he care? What did it matter if he killed one or two guards? They were the enemy.
It took him a moment to register as he heard a clanking sound as something was thrown down the hallway towards the soldiers. They all jerked with readiness, looking for the object. Roan was shocked as the object landed near his feet. It was a cylinder object with a release capsule on top.
The capsule snapped open and Roan could hear a loud tss sound as smoke began to shoot out of its top. A smoke bomb? The trained crimson guard pulled out an item from his pouch which quickly unfolded into a compressed emergency blanket. He moved towards the bomb ready to stifle the smoke coming out of the device, severally limiting its ability to block their views. Was that Darian’s big plan of escape? A little smoke bomb against thirty trained soldiers and prison guards?
Suddenly, an explosion rocked the station. Roan began to fly away. For a moment, Roan thought that the smoke bomb had gone off and that he was now in the midst of an explosion that was clearly killing him. Then his body hit the ceiling and stayed there. He moved his head in shock, trying to gain perspective. The station still shook violently, whatever was happening, it was still happening.
However, everyone, himself included, were now on the ceiling. He scrambled to his feet. The smoke bomb, which had not been stifled as it was supposed to, was starting to fill the corridor with smoke. He was able to see Darian come out from around a corner, completely recovered from the sudden shock better than most of the people around Roan. He immediately went to work attacking downed soldiers and guards.
Roan decided to assist in this, knocking out one guard at a time, who had been no lucky enough to recover their senses as quickly as he had. He kept an eye on Darian’s movements as well. He seemed to be followed by another person, although Roan could not make out whether it was a man or woman in the growing fog. Whomever it was, they moved with extremely deadly grace.
Like lightning, the shape slithered from guard to solider and back, knocking them back and down with quick, smooth well-formed strikes. He had once seen Beiromon fight during a prison brawl. The man was skilled and deadly to be sure. This form, however, seemed to surpass that in every way. It lacked nobility. It lacked finesse. It almost seemed to be like death itself within the fog.
Darian was nothing the sigh at himself. His work was equally deadly but in completely different ways. His movements were jerky and unrefined, working in an erratic rhythm. He passed by two men as they struggled to get it, descending on a third man just before he had could raise his gun. Darian then backed up to the first man, knocking him down just as he regained his balance only a moment behind the third man. Finally, he finished off the second man, who seemed to be the slowest to recover.
Darian had once told Roan he was a psychic. Roan had assumed it was either the talk of insanity or a ruse to get his way. Seeing how Darian fought, he seemed to know when and where to be, made Roan rethink the man for a moment.
It was very short work bringing down the soldiers and guards. When all of the soldiers around had either fled or been knocked unconscious, Roan took time to look back at the other prisoners.
Some of them had recovered as quickly as him and had even helped him. Others worked to help the remaining prisoners gain their footing. It had only been a minute since the bomb had erupted, and while smoke still fogged the hallway severely, automatic environmental systems had already kicked on and were starting to suck up the smoke. As the smoke cleared the thing he noticed most was that the escape pods were now open.
“Men!” Roan shouted, turning to the prisoners he had led here, ”Get to the escape pods!”
The prisoners began to run towards the pods with a renewed vigor. A few of the men, the ones Roan had considered his most loyal, moved up to him, waiting to see which pod he would enter so that they could join him. He saw Darian arguing with the other person he had seen earlier. It appeared to be a woman. He wasn’t sure if that should surprise him. After everything he had seen today, he didn’t think there was much that could surprise him.
His eyes looked over his surroundings. It was a little unnerving being on the ceiling, and the station was still shuttering and cracking. It was getting worse. Then he noticed all of the unconscious men before him. One of the prisoners had made sure that the unconscious man had been taken to one of the escape pods, but all of the guards and soldiers had been left.
The station was destabilizing and falling out of orbit. Roan had enough experience with spaceships to know what that felt like. The space station only had a half-hour or so before it hit the atmosphere. At that point, it would break up and every man on it would die. He looked up at Darian, who still wasn’t paying attention. Don’t kill any guards. He sighed.
“Men, get all of these unconscious on the escape pods, and be quick about it,” he ordered.
His men didn’t ask questions, they did what they were asked quickly and efficiently. If he had still been an officer as he once had been, Roan would have wished to have men like these under his command. Darian finally noticed what Roan was doing and walked his way. He nodded at Roan.
“Good work,” He said, clearly ignoring the woman behind him, who huffed angrily.
“So what happens now?” Roan asked.
“They shouldn’t be able to track where the escape pods land. Go into hiding, do what you can to get off the planet and out of Taerran territory. I suspect the Taerrans will be too busy chasing her to spend too much effort capturing any other prisoners.” Darian responded.
“And who is she?” Roan replied, looking over at the strange deadly woman beside Darian.
“The head of the Lancers, Marideen,” Darian stated as a matter of fact.
Roan chocked for a second. That was the Butcher of Braun? The terrorist monster who murdered and plotted and tried to bring down the Taerran government? She was actually kind of pretty. Admittedly, she wasn’t Roan’s type, but he certainly didn’t expect her to be pretty.
Marideen seemed to bristle at his scrutiny and he quickly turned his eyes back to Darian, who kept his back to her.
“We’ll be going now, we have to start the chase,” Darian nodded, turning to move into one of the escape pods.
“Wait,” Roan moved towards Darian, “I’m going with you.”
Darian stood still, staring off into the escape pod for a second before nodding to himself and turning back to Roan.
“I am sorry, friend,” he said, truly looking regretful, “We have to part ways at this point and time, but I promise you, we will meet again, and I will make sure your wish is fulfilled.”
Roan found himself surprised to find himself believing the man in entirety. After today, he thought he would follow the man anywhere. Darian moved into the escape pod before turning back to Roan.
“Help any of the prisoners you can escape, I think you have it in you to do much good. I am sorry I can’t be of more help. Do everything you can. I believe in you.” Darian nodded to Roan.
Roan nodded back. Why did those words strike him with such pride? This was just a man. He was just another prisoner. Yet those words held a weight. This wasn’t just a favor. This wasn’t even a promise. This was an oath, blood, and bone-deep. Roan would do as Darian asked, on his life.
Roan stood there as the notorious Marideen reluctantly joined Darian on the escape pod. He watched as the door closed and the escape pod ejected.
“On my oath, I will serve and obey. As a man, as a soldier, I will fight, I will protect, I will be the knife and the shield. I will serve until the day my death breaks my bond,” Roan recited to the closed door.
The men around Roan gave a start. Most of them would not know what he said or what it meant. It still had a weight and heaviness to it of something important that even they could feel. He bowed deeply towards the empty door where Darian had been as the space station shuttered and fell apart around him. Roan then straightened himself, turned, and looked for an escape pod, his group of followers close in tow.