“Can you stay out of trouble for one minute?” Marideen growled, flicking something that resembled a carrot as it floated by her face.
“This trip is taking forever, and there is nothing to do!” Danelle snapped back, munching on another vegetable that she had snatched out of the air.
One of the farmhands floated nearby with an agitated look on his face, trying to grab pieces of flying vegetable and put them back into a container. Every once in a while, he gave the two sisters a dirty look before continuing on. Every other vegetable he made a grab for ended up floating just out of his reach. After grabbing three or four vegetables, he’d try to shove them back into the container.
As the container became close to full, it became more and more difficult for him to keep them all. Each time he opened it, all of the carrots started to rise out like a slow-motion eruption. He attempted to push them all in while adding even more vegetation.
He had been working for the last thirty minutes since Danelle had decided to open the container in the first place. It had been stuffed full, and as she forced the airtight top open, the carrots had exploded into the cargo room like a volcano. Marideen had volunteered herself and Danelle to assist the farmhand in cleaning it, but he had quickly dismissed their help and began cleaning it up himself.
She had the nagging suspicion that the farmhand liked an excuse simply to be angry at someone. They had been crammed in a small ship with less than 400 cubic meters of “livable space” for almost a week now. They should be approaching Vanderra soon, but the closer they got, the more agitated the crew seemed to become.
This ship itself was closed off and uncomfortable. Having no form of artificial gravity or a centrifugal chamber meant that even lengthy bouts of exercise were not enough to stave off muscle atrophy. More than that, the only quarters on board were taken up by the farmer, Marcell. The Lancers and other farmhands mostly slept in chairs where they could strap themselves down properly.
There were two such chairs in the cargo bay that they were currently floating in, adjacent to the small mess hall and kitchen. Most of the cargo bay was filled with containers just like the one the farmhand was filling, but the remaining space open for moving down the aisles was still roomier than the rest of the ship. With a crew of fourteen, the cockpit, the farmer’s off-limits quarters and most of the rest of the ship filled with cargo, being cramped was an understatement.
The ship didn’t even consist of windows to look outside. Most of the farmhands had grown used to this environment, but Marideen and her sister were quickly getting cabin fever. It was for this reason, partially, that Danelle decided to open one the container. Marcell had to give up several of his prospective farmhands in order to fit more Lancers on board. This had the unexpected effect that all of the farmhands had more work, a few of the Lancers had significant experience working on a transport ship before.
Despite volunteering for the mission, the farmer and his farmhands seemed to become quickly agitated with the Lancers, unused to the disruptions and problems that arrived from inexperienced crewmembers joining them.
One of the Lancers, Markus, did the best he could to bridge the crew of the Nevercan with the Lancers. Before becoming a Lancer, he was a farmer himself for many years. Markus had lost everything he owned in what he would only describe as bad politics. As Markus himself described it, he had spent several years wallowing in self-pity, and then another dozen years wallowing in deception and manipulation, before finally finding his way to the Lancers.
Markus was very comfortable on a transport ship, and frequently patted farmhands on the back, giving them a hand with moving, tightening or readjusting loads, and freely assisted in maintenance tasks. He often joked with the crew, using crude remarks that he made sure never reached Danelle’s ears.
There were seven farmhands and six Lancers on board the ship; the farmer, Marcell, rounded off the total number. Every single one of them, including Marideen herself, brightened whenever he turned their way. He had a kind of infectious quality of sincerity that grew on people. The Lancers liked him, farmhands loved him, and it was his actions alone that kept the crew from strangling each other.
Every night, Markus would sit down and strap himself into a seat, made difficult by the lack of gravity. He would then proceed to tell an extravagant story of a place he had been to or a thing he had seen. Apparently, Markus had been very worldly during the years of self-pity. Danelle would always sit nearby with some kind of snack she had managed to sneak earlier from the mess hall, which also functioned as the dining area and at least partially for container storage.
The stories Markus told were elaborate, about strange beings that lived in space, alien species at the edge of the known universe, and the lost planet. Markus’s stories were for Danelle mostly, but Marideen would always sit nearby and listen with her sister. Many of the nearby farmhands would stop at their tasks to listen to the stories as well. Even Marcell came out of his quarters and listen to the stories.
Marideen was shocked the first night Markus had begun. At the end of it, he had received an ovation from almost half the crew. Markus enjoyed the attention, and Marideen often found herself wondering if he had been an entertainer during some of his life. Whatever his history, Markus was essential to this mission; her father had made that clear.
It was Markus who had managed to get the Lancers in touch with Marcell in the first place. Marcell had made his living as a farmer by having a little bit of foresight. When the political changes that ruined Markus came along, Marcell was lucky enough to have learned who the right people to bribe were. Marcell was never happy about the corruption Taerren’s took over his planet when they took control of the Vol system though. In his own words, he made ten times the amount of farming under the Order of Vol than he did under the Taerrens selling the same goods to the same people.
Despite this, Marideen did not trust the farmer. He had a certain untrustworthy way about him. When agreeing to help them, he was originally only willing to allow three Lancers aboard, as if they could mount any kind of rescue that way. Despite helping the Lancers, Marcell still expected to make a profit and wanted to earn as much money as he could. He loaded the ship with as much of his goods as possible, even at the expense of carrying more Lancers.
He had successfully argued with Marideen’s father that having a lighter than normal load would lead to suspicion, but Marideen had no doubt that Marcell intended to have his entire stock of food unloaded and the credits in his pocket before Marideen and her group made their move. Even now, his motivations for helping them were purely for profit. She simply could not trust a man who was motivated by monetary gain. Their loyalty was subjective.
The other three Lancers that were joining them were Kate, Maximil, and Beiromon. Kate was a quiet girl. She had a pretty face but was incredibly shy. She rarely spoke to those of the opposite sex without blushing. The few guys that did hit on Kate came into a big surprise when they found out about her hobby, explosives.
Kate loved to blow things up. It was often very unnerving to listen to her quite timid voice one minute and see her laughing maniacally as she blew up a large quantity of landscape the next minute. She regularly blew things up, to the very point that whenever a loud bang was heard, nearby people would just nod and respond with, “That’s Kate for you.”
Marideen had managed to learn Kate’s history over a series of carefully placed questions. It seems that her family had been miners in the Kris System for their entire lives. The Taerren Empire had asked Kate’s father to sell their metals and ores to an alternate company, as the one they were selling it to was blacklisted. When Kate’s dad had refused, the government had retaliated. This is where her story got vague. Most of her family had died and she had been somehow trapped in a mine with her brother.
Kate never had explained how she made it out, but her brother did not survive with her. Years later, she began bombing unmanned drones, satellites, and ships. She became incredibly well known in the Kris system as the notorious Kris bomber. Her behavior had no goals and seemed self-destructive, which is when her father had tracked Kate down.
Eventually, a man was caught and accused of being the Kris bomber in her stead. Marideen was younger at the time, but she remembered Kate becoming very frantic to help the man. Her failure had taken her years to recover. Marideen never knew what exactly had happened from that. She did know that the Lancers considered her one of them, but she secretly wondered if Kate every truly considered herself a Lancer.
The other two Lancers, Maximil and Beiromon, were as different as they were the same. Maximil was a large, broad, imposing man. He was foreign, having been born an Ertlander. She did not know much of his past, or of anything regarding Ertlanders for that matter. They had always been close-mouthed about their culture to anyone who was not an Ertlander. However, he was always kind to her and was friends with Beiromon, which was enough.
Beiromon was her house’s sword master. He had long bushy sideburns that encompassed half of his face, curving down so they almost reached his chin. His hair was thinning and turning gray. He was a large man like Maximil, although it was difficult to tell if his size was caused more from fat or muscle. Both he had to excess. Despite his ridiculous appearance, he always held an air of nobility about him and had been a part of her family since before she was born. Every skill she knew, from how to survive in an inhospitable planet to how to fight hand-to-hand, was taught to her by that man.
Marideen trusted those two men with her life. They had, after all, saved Dairen, Danelle, and herself on more than one occasion. Maximil and Beiromon had been Lancers before the Lancers had had a name. When Marideen was eight, Beiromon and Maximil had found and rescued her and her sister. She had not yet begun training with Beiromon and Maximil was a complete stranger, but they treated her like family and kept her and her sister safe while Taerren soldiers raided the Cleefe estates.
The two then proceeded to mount a rescue to save Dairen. At the time, Dairen was a Taerren politician. By all accounts, Maximil, already a revolutionary, had little reason to protect him. However, he had heard radio broadcasts where Dairen had fought vehemently for rights for the outer systems. He had known that change was needed, and decided to approach Beiromon with a plan to protect his friend and master.
Markus floated in as the farmhand grabbed the last of the vegetables from the air, deciding against reopening the container to try to put them in. He bowed to the farm hand, an act that by all accounts should look ridiculous floating in midair, yet somehow looked regal coming from Markus.
The farmhand smiled, “Well, you managed to come just late enough to miss all the work!”
“I excel at that, why look at these hands, do these look like the hands of manual labor?”
The farmhand snorted, “Those look like the hands of a man who hasn’t been with a good woman in a while, and I’d believe they’d seen quite a bit of manual labor.”
Danelle snorted a laugh as Markus and the farmhand chuckled together.
Markus nodded at Danelle, “I’d assume she is to blame for the work.”
Danelle painted a very convincing face of abject indignity. Marideen herself might have thought Danelle innocent had she not known the girl.
“Ai, she decided we didn’t have enough work to do, so she decided to give me a new duty,” the farmhand nodded to the girl, a dark look on his face in response to her innocent shrug.
“Well, the thing about finding a good woman is that they seem to come hand-to-hand with a sudden increase in manual labor,” Markus chuckled.
“I think I’d like a few years of peace yet before I have a woman on my side for more than an evening,” the farmhand mumbled, brightening up a little.
Marideen scowled at the farmhand’s back. He seemed to feel it as he shrugged, bided Markus goodbye, and left the room hurriedly.
Markus floated towards Marideen and Danelle.
“Oh, lighten up, I think I remember you once said men are only good for three things, and weren’t capable of doing a single one of them without a woman.”
Marideen barked a laugh, “It was my mother who had said that. Smart woman, she was.”
“The smartest, so I’ve been told. As I understand it, she could tongue-tie your father like a hog for market,” Markus smiled comfortingly.
Danelle began tossing a carrot back and forth between her hands, feigning disinterest as she listened to them talk. She had been very young when her mother had died and did not remember her at all.
“We are in radio range with the station. We are preparing dock procedures soon. You may want to find a seat and strap yourselves in. In about five minutes it is going to get kind of rocky,” Markus told them.
“Finally, it will be nice to feel gravity again,” Marideen responded.
“Well, make sure to take it slow. You will need an hour or two before we can get moving with the plan. You will feel pretty weak in the legs, even with the exercise, but it is the price we have to pay to travel,” Markus nodded at Danelle before leading himself back through the door.
Danelle and Marideen strapped themselves down in nearby chairs. It was still some time before they felt the rumbling of landing. Every couple of minutes Danelle sighed and threw back her head, before proceeding to wait again. Suddenly, Marideen could feel a weight pushing down on her. It was very unsettling to suddenly find herself heavy.
Marideen’s hair flopped down around her, suddenly lifeless. Her hair was most likely a tangled mess; a quick look at Danelle gave her a good idea of what it would look like. They had both been told to tie their hair up in braids, as was the custom, but it sometimes felt good to let your hair float loosely. The sudden increase in gravity suddenly made her feel very uncomfortable just staying in her seat. She put as much of her weight as possible on her seatbelt, still straining to keep herself upright.
Fortunately, she had good chest support, but it seemed painfully insufficient. Her back quickly began to ache and even her head felt heavy in relation to her neck. Danelle next to her grunted as well. With a little bit of effort, Marideen looked over at her. Danelle’s body was in the same hunched position as her own. The ship jerked as she could hear the docking clamp click into place. They had landed.
After a few minutes, Marideen could hear movement in the cabins around her. With a great deal of willpower, Marideen unbuckled her seatbelt, collapsing out of her chair. Danelle made an alarmed sound, but Marideen quickly assured her she was alright. Marideen grabbed the side of a container and slowly willed herself to stand. Feeling this heavy certainly wasn’t good for her self-esteem. Was she always this heavy?
She began pacing back and forth slowly, using the containers as a makeshift crutch. Danelle still remained in her seat, however; she seemed a little less hunched as time went by. She periodically stretched out her legs, and then brought them back, sighing a bit each time. It wasn’t that either of them was unaccustomed to space travel, however, they were not used to being weightless for such long periods of time. Most of the ships they had been on were larger ships, often with a centrifugal chamber for artificial gravity.
After a few more minutes of pacing back and forth, Marideen was a little more used to the gravity. It was still exhausting, but tolerable. Several of the farmhands walked past her and began to unfasten several of the containers, ready to start work. Most of them were used to this kind of travel on a regular basis.
They had spent relentless hours working out with exercise tools and resistance straps when they weren’t performing the rest of their tasks. Marideen herself regretted not spending more time keeping her body tone. She felt particularly weak.
The three Lancer men walked up to them with relative ease. Maximil smiled at Danelle, who was still refusing to stand. He leaned over and unstrapped her belt as she let out a noise of protest. Grabbing one of her arms he lifted her into a standing position, forcing her to use her legs.
“Up you go,” Maximil smiled encouragingly, “It’s good for you, it gets the blood flowing.”
“Puts hair on your chest,” Beiromon grunted beside him, winking.
Danelle stifled a chuckle as she tried to give Maximil and Beiromon the dirtiest look at her disposal.
“Are you doing good, Birdy?” Maximil asked Marideen, continuing to hold Danelle erect as she started supporting herself.
“I feel about fifty pounds heavier than before I left,” Marideen grunted, finally letting go of the container she was using to stand upright on her own.
Maximil barked a laugh, “You’ll be fine, you really should have spent some time sparring with me, we aren’t often afforded the opportunity to practice weightless combat. I expect you to work harder on the return journey. I won’t have a pupil of mine out for weeks because she felt like being lazy.”
Marideen grunted and forced a smile. She suspected that Beiromon meant what he said. He was not the kind of man to say things without meaning them. She didn’t doubt that her return journey would be exhausting and instructive. She dwelled on the Landers a bit more as her legs steadily regained strength. The rest of the farm hands were waiting for the opening of the landing platform.
“Are you ready for this?” Maximil asked, a worried look appearing on his face, “I can’t say I approve of your father sending the two of you on this mission. You both could use more experience.”
Marideen took no offense. Maximil meant exactly what he said, and it was because he cared for the both of them like an uncle.
Markus growled, “I can’t say I approve of this mission at all…”
“What does that mean?” Danelle asked, finally standing without Maximil’s support.
Beiromon gave Markus a sharp look, but he continued on anyway, “This mission has holes in it. There is something wrong here, Leon usually isn’t this sloppy. It’s just… that I wouldn’t have planned things this way.”
Maximil sighed before responding, “Leon made this plan with the input of dozens of others. If this plan wasn’t sound, do you think he would send his own daughters on it?”
“I don’t know,” Markus looked down at his hands for a moment, “It just doesn’t feel right, his daughters included.”
“You know as much as I that Danelle and I are the only two people capable of making it through the checkpoints.” Marideen tried to interject, “Almost every other Lancer is wanted for crimes against the Taerren Empire. And we are also the only people present who know how to hack Taerren security terminals.”
“We could have found someone else who knew how to use Taerren computers. I wish Leon had never had you trained in that particular skill. Danelle is just a little bit.” Beiromon responded, his eyes losing a little bit of steam as he saw Danelle glaring at him.
Markus shook his head. It was clear he wasn’t satisfied with that answer. At a glance from Beiromon, he decided to remain silent.
“You know Father. He will do whatever it takes. He prefers that things be done in pairs. ‘Every good plan has a contingency for failure’,” Marideen quoted.
Markus sighed in resignation, “We have trusted your father this far, so I suppose we will just have to continue to do so. Remember, we move out in one hour, so get your legs under you and get ready. This day has just begun. We will move in separately. Danelle, Beiromon, and Kate will trigger the explosion. You, Maximil, and I will recover Berret and any other sympathizers. This space station is an international hub, and the political prison is a small part of that. It is not exactly high security, but most of the people we would be freeing should be glad to see the Lancers.”
“Hmm, a bunch of pencil pushers, huh?” Maximil responded.
“They are a bunch of intelligent, influential men, Max. Gaining their influence would help our movement. It will be the difference between the systems seeing us as a Terrorist group or a Government Reform. The public being on our side is essential. Rescuing political prisoners is a great step in that direction.” Markus explained.
Maximal barked a laugh, slapping Markus on the back.
“You have a great deal of insight for a farmer Mark,” Maximal chuckled.
“I’ve been many things, farming is only one of the things I am good at,” Markus responded.
“I bet it is. Relax, we’ve been through this before, I know the reasons.” Maximal barked another laugh, then looked over at Marideen and her sister, his voice growing serious, “Be ready, find your legs quickly, you will be needing them soon enough.”
After Markus, Maximil, and Beiromon left Marideen began to pace back and forth again. Danelle performed odd little squats, stretching her legs the best she could. Periodically, a farmhand walked by, sometimes carrying a container.
Eventually, Marcell came out of his quarters. He looked at both Marideen and Danelle up and down with a sour expression on his face.
“Don’t you have a mission to be on?” he growled at them.
“We have a few minutes before we can get going,” Danelle piped in.
The old farmer grumbled under his breath before walking on. Marideen could hear him shouting at a farmhand moments after he was out of sight down the cargo hold paths.
“We probably should get moving, the sooner we get started, the sooner we are done. I-” Marideen lost her breath as Danelle rammed into her, embracing her tightly.
Marideen returned the embrace.
“I feel like something big is about to happen. Be safe, will you?” Danelle asked with worry in her voice.
“I should be saying that to you,” Marideen smirked.
“Just promise me you will be careful.”
“I will, but you need to promise me the same.”
“Please, I’m always careful.” Danelle scoffed.