Darian couldn’t remember if this was the most awkward situation he had ever been in, but it had to have been up there. Marideen continued to weep into his lap, and he cautiously stroked her hair, the dark brown strands falling between his fingers. Despite having been without a shower for at least a week, Marideen’s hair was surprisingly soft and smooth.
Darian closed his eyes, willing himself to think about something else. He wasn’t particularly good with women. He didn’t need his memories to tell him that fact. She shifted on his lap, turning herself so her body lying on its side.
Darian did not know how long she laid there with him, but the crying steadily tapered off as she regained her composure. She did not move her head though, which Darian found odd. After a while in silence, Darian became increasingly convinced that she was sleeping.
Due to the position his legs were in, they were starting to fall asleep. He was just about ready to move Marideen’s head off of him when she suddenly shifted again, turning her head to look up at him.
“You won’t tell anyone you saw that,” She demanded, her eyes rimmed in red.
“Not a soul,” Darian reassured her.
She turned her head back away from him, continuing to leave her head rested on his lap. His legs were now burning. He could almost think she was doing it on purpose.
“I don’t blame you, you know,” Marideen sighed.
Darian looked down at her. He did not have a good view of her face, and it was difficult to make out the features in the relative darkness of the room around them.
“You heard him, Demetry was coming for me,” Darian sighed.
“You shouldn’t have been there. We took you. Then we chose to stand in his way. Danelle made her choice.” Marideen’s voice broke for a second, “We all made our choices.”
Darian cringed, turning his head away from her.
“I mean it,” She continued, “Not that I believe the Immortal or anything he says, but I could see you are an important person. She died for you. Don’t waste it.
Marideen’s voice became passionate as she looked up at him, her face determined. He finally looked back down at her, meeting her eyes.
“The same could be said about you. There was nothing you could do.”
Marideen stiffened, “What do you mean?”
“Learning the sword, the anger, keeping everyone at a distance. I know the feeling. It’s guilt. However, you couldn’t have done anything either.”
Marideen lowered her eyes, “I tell myself that every day. It never seems to help.”
“I know the feeling.” Darian acknowledged.
“It’s not just that. It’s everything. My father, Braun, the stress of doing what I do…” Marideen trailed off.
“When was the last time you cried?” Darian asked.
Marideen turned her head away again, “A few weeks after Danelle died. I committed myself to reform the Lancers, to doing what was necessary.”
“Three years,” Darian finished.
Darian could feel her nodding on his lap.
“That kind of thing can break someone. It’s okay if you cry, it doesn’t make you weak.”
“It doesn’t make me stronger either.”
“But not doing it, it can break someone.”
Marideen lifted her head from Darian’s lap. She turned around on her knees, facing him. Darian took the opportunity to stretch out his legs finally, sighing as he did so. Marideen didn’t seem to notice as she stared at him intently.
“Is it true, about you seeing the future?” she asked.
Darian nodded, “After Vanderra, I got put into this experiment. They kept me in a cell. For years, I had nothing but my roommate. Twice a week they would put us in this painful experiment that felt like it was ripping apart my body. Afterward, I started seeing things. Sometimes it’s a vision, and I can see the future clearly; sometimes its intuition and I just wing it. Nothing I see is set in stone though.”
Marideen nodded, seeming to take it in stride, “I knew there was something wrong about you.”
That wasn’t exactly flattering.
Marideen lifted her hands in reassurance, “Not anything bad. It’s just your swordsmanship seemed so obscure. You keep seeming to make snap decisions with no rhyme or reason. Yet somehow we managed to escape the Basalt trap and make it here based purely on your random guesses.”
Darian shrugged, “I’ve just been winging it. I don’t know how far to trust my thoughts though. They can sometimes have unfortunate consequences. Beiromon’s been helping, with what he can. I really need to find the scientist who did this to me. He’s the one who got be out of the experiment and onto Basalt.”
“The charges?” Marideen asked.
“Well, you know who I murdered, that alone would have justified my time in Basalt in the Lord Regent’s eyes. The other charge was just added to get me out of the experiment.”
Marideen leaned forward, causing Darian to fall back again, “You should join us.”
“What?” Darian asked.
“Join the Lancers. You have reason to hate the Lord Regent just as much as I. Your abilities, I could certainly use them.”
Darian lowered his eyes. Her light blue eyes held an intensity to them that almost unnerved him. In the end of the day, she saw him as a tool she could use. He was starting to dislike nobles as a whole.
“I will if you answer one question for me.”
“What is it?”
“What happened in Braun?”
Marideen fell back as if being pushed, a subtle look of shock quickly masked on her face. Her intense gaze finally faltered, and Darian could swear he could see more guilt in her eyes. It was not the same as the guilt over Danelle, but it was still something tangible. After a few moments, she finally decided to respond.
“We had received reports of some kind of cover up in the Presidence System. There was a small colony called Braun. At least it was masquerading as a civilian colony. It was actually harboring an underground military base where they were doing illegal experimentation on in space weaponry.”
“If others colonies had found out about it, it would have been an international incident. The end result could easily have been Lord Regent Swansa being pulled from power and political reform. We tried to blow the lid off on it.”
“What happened?” Darian asked.
“If I had had Kate’s expertise, maybe things would have turned out differently. The plan was to create an explosion. It wouldn’t be enough to cause any real harm, but the work would be halted, and it would create enough of a stir that the experiments would have been unveiled to the public.”
“That didn’t happen. The explosion somehow reacted with something in the base. The subsequent explosion erupted from the base and scarred the surface of the planet. All evidence of the base was incinerated in the explosion. Braun was wiped out as well, along with two to three small farming communities.”
“The total death roll was somewhere in the league of twenty thousand soldiers, men, women, and children. Braun itself was populated with civilians, something we had not been aware of at the time. It had a school, a hospital, many people who were just trying to live out their lives until I came around.”
Marideen closed her eyes, a single tear falling down her cheek before she turned her head away from Darian. So that was the Butcher of Braun. It wasn’t an evil, selfish monster trying to terrorize the world. It was simply a person who had made a mistake and was now trying to live with it.
Darian moved over to her, putting his hand on her shoulder, “I will join the Lancers. Together, maybe we can make a difference.”
Marideen turned her head, looking up at him, her eyes stilled red-rimmed. For a second, Darian became painfully aware of how pretty she was, and how close their faces were to each others. The door opened suddenly opened, Maximil walking into the room.
He assessed the situation in the room, his eyebrows rising in surprise. The pair looked at each other, realizing at the same time how close they were while on their knees on the floor. Darian removed his hand from her shoulder as if he had been shocked. Marideen quickly brushed herself off, rising to her feet. The slightest redness in her cheeks, which Darian only saw because he was looking for it, was the only sign that suggested that she was perturbed by the situation at all.
“What is it? Report,” Marideen demanded, her voice solid and authoritarian again.
Maximil threw Darian a dark look as he scrambled to his feet before turning to Marideen, “Berret has managed to find food and water. It’s a wonder the food isn’t expired, we’ve found no evidence the Immortal has even been eating it.”
“And what of the Immortal?” Marideen asked, clearly trying to move on and ignore the awkwardness from before.
“He has been accommodating. He seems to have no interest in talking to the rest of us. The Immortal seemed quite annoyed when Darian left the room. He said he is waiting for you to return.”
“I probably should go finish our conversation,” Darian sighed, turning towards the door.
“I suppose that is for the best,” Marideen nodded to herself.
Darian turned back to Marideen, “I think there are things he is not saying, it might be better if I talked to him alone.”
Marideen put on a look of indignation until Maximil spoke up, “I think he is right. We have need of your help going through some plans anyway.”
Marideen looked at the pair of them for a moment before nodding grudgingly, “Fine, just remember Darian, we’re a group now, you work with us.”
“What this now?” Maximil asked confused.
“I’m now an inducted member of the Lancers,” Darian shrugged, smiling before turning to leave the room.
As he turned the corner, he heard Maximil speak behind him, “I was afraid of that.”
Darian didn’t actually remember the way back to the cargo area that the Immortal had initially taken them to. Instead, he let his instincts guide him in the way he was quickly becoming familiar with. His feet seemed to know the direction to go, and before long he was opening up a door that almost certainly contained the Immortal.
The man sat on the same cargo container as before. It looked as if he had not moved an inch since Darian had been gone. Darian apologized for leaving so abruptly. The Immortal looked up, seemingly surprised to see someone else in the room with him.
“It’s fine,” the man shrugged, “The first thing you have to learn when you live forever is patience.”
Darian suddenly felt particularly uncomfortable, “So what is it we need to do?”
“We have to go,” The man responded, intensity growing in his voice, “We have places we need to see, things we need to do.”
The old man stood, taking several steps towards Darian with his hands outstretched as if to grab him. He stopped, looked around for a second confused, then dropped his hands, wiping them on his strange brown tunic letting them fall to his sides.
“What about my friends?” Darian asked.
You’re friends?” The Immortal refocused his attention once more, “Yes, I suppose we will need to get rid of them.”
Darian frowned. What did that mean? The Immortal must have noticed an expression on his face, as he immediately jumped and started moving his arms in a reassuring gesture.
“Not like that. I’ll take them off this planet. We can drop them off some place safe before we go on.”
The Immortal hesitated, “I can’t tell you that just yet. There are still things you need to know.”
“What planet did I come from?” Darian abruptly asked.
The Immortal’s eyes widened slightly before he responded after another brief hesitation, “I… I don’t know.”
He was lying. Darian was certain of it. If this man lived forever, then he should have known things, especially if he had been waiting for Darian specifically as he claimed to.
“What do we need to do?” Darian continued to interrogate.
“Stop the darkness, of course, I thought I had made that obvious.” The Immortal replied, a look of confusion on his face, “Look, the whole universe is doomed if you do not act now. If the universe passes its zenith, the darkness could potentially stop time itself. Then nothingness. The end of everything.”
Darian shrugged, still uncomfortable under the man’s strangely alien eyes. The Immortal took to steps towards Darian, grabbing him on the arm.
“You will come with me,” the man demanded, “You have to.”
After a moment, Darian nodded and he loosened his grip, a look of relief on his eyes. He backed away again, his head turned away from Darian. Darian watched the man’s back. He had been locked in a cage for two years with a man who was traveling the wrong way in time. Between himself and Devin, he thought he had a decent handle on what crazy was.
However, he didn’t seem to be able to get a read on these guys. His movements seemed erratic. He wasn’t particularly menacing, but he caused Darian’s hackles to rise. Darian knew that this man was dangerous. He knew this man was a threat to him and all of his friends.
“My friends, can they get food and water, and be relocated to the planet of their choice?” Darian asked, and the Immortal waved his hand in acceptance as he turned around, “Could they come along?”
The Immortal had another flash of annoyance on his face, “No, no they would just get in the way.”
Darian has expected that answer, “What about the Taerrens? They are after myself and my friends. How do you expect to get passed them?”
The old man waved his hand as if brushing them aside, “Kids next to me. I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way. The Taerrans, the Wraiths, or anyone else that tries to get in our way will not be particular successful.”
Darian nodded again, “When?”
“Time is short. I would leave immediately if I felt I could. Alas I need some time, we will spend the night here resting, and tomorrow we will take off.” The Immortal settled back down on the crate, closing his eyes.
Darian waited for a few seconds longer, but when it was clear that the Immortal was done, he turned to go.
“Wait,” The Immortal exclaimed, his eyes snapping open, “I have something for you.”
The Immortal stood up and walked stiffly towards him, pulling an object from his tunic and placing it into Darian’s hand. It looked like a small rod piece, a smooth silver cylinder device. It felt surprisingly heavy in Darian’s hand.
“This device,” the Immortal began, “will bring me to you, in case something ever happens. Just take it and break it open and I should be called to you. This is the only one left in my possession, so only use it if you are in an emergency.”
Darian nodded, looking down at the device. He wondered where the old man had gotten it from. It had to be some kind of alien technology, if anything about what the old man said could be true. He turned, the door closing behind him. Darian would need to speak to the rest of the group and decide what to do next.
He slipped the strange device into his pocket and made his way down the halls looking for the room that contained the rest of the Lancers. Once again, he let his intuition guide him. However, this time he went down the wrong hallway twice, having to backtrack. He inadvertently entered the wrong room an additional three times before he finally opened into a room that resembled a mess hall.
Marideen, Berret, Maximillion, and Beiromon were all there. They seemed to have their backpacks opened and empty, the contents scattered across the long dining tables that filled the room. They also seemed to have packages of stuff they must have pulled from the kitchens in the back lined up.
Marideen and Maximil busily stuffed one back pack at a time full as they could. They opted to leave behind supplies that had not been using, taking special interest in putting things they had been using frequently in easily accessible locations on hand. Berret stood over the supplies, and looked be taking a mental inventory in his head.
When Beiromon noticed Darian enter the room, he handed him a canteen on water, “Did you find out anything?”
Darian drank thirstily from the canteen, realizing how little water he had had in the last few days, before responding “He says he is willing to take us off the planet. Says the Taerrens won’t be a problem.”
Berret rolled his eyes, but Maximil put on a worried look.
“In this ship?” Maximil asked.
“Yeah, I suppose, why?” Darian asked, wiping his mouth and regretfully putting the empty canteen down.
“It’s just that, he hasn’t exactly been keeping a close watch on us, so I took the opportunity to look around. This ship, it will fly alright. The problem is the life support is completely destroyed. Even if we could make it past the Taerran blockades, we’d be dead in minutes.”
Berret whistled, looking up from his inventory. Marideen frowned, stopping in her tracks.
“I don’t think he means us any harm,” Darian responded, “He seems to genuinely want to help, in his own way at least.”
Maximil nodded, “Yes, but if his own way is just as likely to kill us?”
“The man’s insane, that I’m sure about. However, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” Darian ignored Beiromon’s raised eyebrow.
“So what is it that you would have us do?” Marideen asked intently, watching him through her long dark eyelashes.
Now she wanted his opinion? Darian could just not get a read on her. She could very possibly be as mad as the Immortal. Still, Darian considered the question carefully, taking a seat at the table. He reached inside himself, feeling for the intuition that seemed to guide him more often than not these days. He had nothing.
It wasn’t that he didn’t have intuitions. He could still feel inclinations here and there. If he focused on one thing, he felt a tug to move in that direction. If he changed his focus, that could change the tugs. However, when he focused on the Immortal, he received no inclinations. It was almost as if the man did not exist. It unnerved Darian, but he tried to prevent it from showing on his face.
“I think we should leave tonight. I don’t know if I can trust the man or not, and right now I think I need to stick with the things we can trust.” Darian looked up at Marideen, whom seemed have a strange look on her face.
“Right,” Marideen stated, schooling her face, “I agree. Let’s get these supplies packaged and be out of her. He has more than enough to last years and as an Immortal, I suppose he doesn’t need them in the first place.”
Marideen nodded to herself and the group continued about their work in relative silence. They waited deep into the night. Rather than looking for quarter with actual beds, they chose to remain in the mess hall. Each person took turns sleeping for a few hours on the hard metal floor of the mess room while one of the others stayed up and watched.
Marideen had insisted on a watch. Even though they didn’t think the Immortal was any real danger, she didn’t want to be caught with any surprises. After everyone had acquired just a little bit of sleep, they packed up their stuff, quietly making their way out of the ship.
Darian held his breath for most of the trip down the relatively short corridor. It felt so much longer now that he was trying to move down it quietly. Each person left separately, as to limit the amount of noise they were making. He finally reached the elevator which brought them down to the landing pad.
As he glanced back, he could swear for a moment he saw the Immortal in the darkness of one the hallway, watching him out of the corner of one of the rooms. It had to be his imagination. The strange ship and the strange man just had his nerves on edge. The Immortal wouldn’t have just let them leave, would he have? No, not after making such a point that Darian had to come with him.
Before long, the group was moving out onto the desert again, filled with enough water and food to make the trip to Port Geneva. Darian afforded one more look back at the ship. It’s spikey exterior looked menacing in the darkness, only the silhouette of its’ harsh shapes visible in the weak lighting on the hall.
Darian felt as if he was leaving something important behind. He couldn’t seem to shake that feeling as he walked away. As he turned around, he noticed Marideen watching him. She gave him a nod before turning and running ahead. He watched her go. He wasn’t leaving something behind; he just had something more important to follow.