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.
“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 toolbox. 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 checkpoints; 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.”