“They got him three days ago while we were still in transit here,” Danelle explained, her breath having long recovered.
They were now in another storage room they had found nearby. This one was about twice the size of the previous, but was full of various unmarked containers, making it feel more cramped than the previous one.
“H-how do you know this?” Marideen asked.
The two men gave her the room to ask the questions. She was Danelle’s sister, after all.
“After we got passed the checkpoints, Kate and Beiromon told me to stay put while they set the bomb. I spotted a security terminal, so I decided to check the news and kill some time.”
Marideen gave her a frown but said nothing in response.
“I couldn’t really get much information as just about everything was locked out, but I found I was able to access a news feed. I just glanced at a few articles, but then one caught my eye. ‘Terrorists’ cell exposed on the moon Terres.’”
Marideen’s mouth went dry, but she forced herself to nod.
Tears ran down Danelle’s cheeks as she spoke, “They knew. They knew where the Lancers were. Someone told them. They sent in soldiers. The article said they killed or captured at least hundred people. “
Danelle’s voice broke on the last line, her head landing on Marideen’s shoulder as she let out a sob.
“Di-did they mention father?” Marideen forced herself to ask.
She could feel Danelle’s head shake a no against her chest. Marideen sighed. He could be alive. He could be, but that meant he was now a political prisoner, just like Berret.
“What do we do now?” Danelle mumbled. “All of our friends, almost every Lancer, are captured or dead.”
“We just continue on with our mission as planned,” Marideen began until she saw Markus shaking his head.
“It’s more complicated than that,” Markus interjected. “Danelle said it best: someone told them. Someone betrayed the Lancers.”
“Marcell, that bastard, I’ll kill him,” Marideen growled, but Markus was already shaking his head again.
“I know Marcell, he may be a lot of things, but a traitor is not one of them. He was loyal. I’d find it very hard to believe it was him.” Markus responded, “But either way if someone knew where the base was, it is very possible that they knew about our mission here too.”
Danelle gasped, removing her head from Marideen’s shoulder. “You mean…?”
“I mean, we could be walking right into an ambush. Do Kate and Beiromon know about this?” Markus asked.
Danelle shook her head, “I didn’t know when they’d be back. I ran straight to you guys.”
Markus sighed, “It is very possible that they have already been captured. I don’t think there is anything we can do for them right now. Had you not stopped us, I can’t imagine what we would have found if we tried to wander right into the cell block guard post.”
“So what do we do then?” Danelle asked, a little bit of her vigor returning.
“We abandon the mission. We need to think of a way to get out of here. If we can get to a ship, we might be able to bluff our way out of here as farmers with ship troubles looking for some passage home. I think we might be able to bribe…”
“No.” Markus blinked as Marideen interrupted him.
“Mari, I know you’re upset, but I think-”
“No,” Marideen said firmer while giving Markus a glare. “We came here to rescue Berret, and we are not leaving without him.”
“I hardly think we are in a position to resc-”
“I disagree,” Markus flashed an annoyed look as she continued to interrupt him. “You see, they think they know exactly what our plan is. So they are looking for just that. A couple of strangers dressed like kitchen staff trying to deliver food. As long as we don’t do what they expect, they will be too busy looking for what they expect that we can sneak up and steal our friend right out from under them.”
“It’s possible that Berret isn’t even here, and they made that up to draw us out,” Maximil mentioned cautiously.
“You don’t believe that and neither do I. He’s bait, and they knew real bait works much better than fake,” Marideen said.
Maximil considered it a few moments before nodding reluctantly.
“So what’s your ingenious plan now?” Markus asked.
Danelle had finally unwrapped her arms from her big sister and was now listening intently.
Marideen thought for a few seconds before responding. “Did you remember what those guards said about the archeological things?”
“They said that the stuff was dragged in unexpectedly and was valuable?” Markus replied.
“They said that stuff was locked securely next to the cell block,” Marideen explained. “Now if my memory of the schematics precedes me, the section they most likely used is directly connected to the cell block, and would effectively be a back way.”
“They also said that area was tightly secured with top security clearance,” Markus replied.
“Top security clearance sure, but with a few or no guards. They said that doctor didn’t want people around her artifacts. If we could get past the security, we could get into the prison and back out without a single person seeing us.”
“That is a pretty big if,” Markus responded.
“Not so much,” Marideen replied, ignoring Markus’s glower. “All we have to do is go in a way that they wouldn’t expect and thus, would have no security. Do you still have a blueprint of the station with you?”
Markus frowned at her for a moment before sighing and pulling out a tightly folded piece of paper. As he unfolded the map, it spread out to roughly the size of the food cart. Marideen quickly emptied the cart then laid the map on top of it.
She swiftly scanned the map around the area she expected them to put the architect’s supplies. The area was a connected part of the cellblock and without too much work could be converted, doubling the size of the cell block. However, at this point in time, it was wasted space. Space currently being used to secure those artifacts, Marideen guessed.
“See, right here. The artifact storage has a back door that leads directly into the back of the cellblock, and there is only one entrance into the artifact storage that is bound to be lightly guarded,” Marideen said, pointing at the map.
“But it will be guarded,” Markus responded.
“Which is exactly why we aren’t going in that way.”
“But you just said that was the only way in,” Markus replied with a confused look on his face.
“Berret always said if you find both your exits blocked, you better make the third exit,” She pointed at the map, her finger touching a closeted storage space bordering the artifact storage.
“And how exactly are we going to make an exit?” Markus asked, starting to lose his exasperated look.
Marideen pulled a small tube out of her pocket, “Before we left, Kate had given me a tube of some kind of explosive. I had caught her testing it once and expressed some interest. She said it was for getting out of a jam. You light it and it gets hot, very hot, like melt-through-metal hot, like a hole-to-an-adjacent-wall hot.”
“And what if someone is in there while we do this?” Markus inquired, some of the exasperation returning again.
“There shouldn’t be if the guards are to be believed. No one but this archeologist person. As far as she is concerned, we’ll just have to take it when it comes. I never said it wasn’t a gamble.”
“A gamble? This is suicide,” Markus protested. “We should abandon the mission while we have the chance rather than throw ourselves against the threat on pure chance, right? “He glanced up at Maximil, who had yet to say anything.
Maximil shrugged, “What other plan do we have? You said we needed to escape, but without Kate’s explosives as a distraction, the plan is near impossible. It’s safe to say that if we’re assuming they know our plan then we have to assume they know how we’re planning to escape too. If we free the prisoner like we planned, and sneak them all out the back, we can get a much wider spread and more confusing riot with the prisoners out among the public. That could be our chance…”
“We can get out. All we need to do is secure an escape!” Markus glanced at Marideen’s resolute eyes, then Maximal’s resigned eyes, before turning to Danelle, “And I suppose you’re up for this insane plan as well?”
Danelle stood up, the tears on her cheeks had dried, her eyes fierce, “I go with my sister.”
Markus sighed, his eyes staring blankly into space for a moment. After a short while, he raised his head, nodding. A smile broke out on Marideen’s face.
“Can we at least add a little security to the blind hope that this archeologist won’t be there?” He asked in a resigned voice.
“What do you have in mind? Marideen inquired.
“The simplest tricks in the book are often the most effective. I suggest that we simply give her a page. Can you manage that with one of these security terminals?”
“I think we can manage that,” Danelle piped in, her voice starting to sound optimistic again.
It turned out they had been incredibly close to the prison entrance. After walking down two hallways they already were near the storage room Marideen selected as their point of entry. Maximil brought the food cart with the extra weapons on it as they entered the storage room.
Danelle walked over to a nearby security terminal. Marideen waited in the entrance of the storage room for her. After a few minutes of typing, she walked back to the entrance and the two of them entered the room.
Maximil suggested they wait a few minutes, to give the doctor time to answer her page.
“Where did you send her?” Marideen asked her little sister.
“To the docks, said I was a dock tech who still had a container with one of her artifacts in it that someone forgot to deliver. Figure that will keep her busy, especially since I didn’t say what dock. She will probably freak when the dock personnel can’t find her container. “
After that, they waited in silence. This room was much like the second storage room they had been in. It was full of various unlabeled containers, stacked on three racks of storage shelving placed parallel to each other, complete with rows to walk between each one.
The back wall, the one against the artifact storage area, also had several boxes piled up against it. Marideen and Maximil began moving the boxes out of the way. After exposing a clear clean patch of wall, Marideen pulled out the tube of explosive Kate had given her. The solution squeezed out of the tube like toothpaste. She tried to spread it as evenly as possible, creating a small hole that she hoped was big enough for everyone to crawl through.
Maybe she should have drawn it closer to the floor. It was too late now; the explosive compound was already on the wall. Trying to move it might just create more problems. After taking a deep breath, Marideen pulled out her light. Danelle and the two men took a couple steps back.
Marideen flicked the lighter, producing a small flame. She held the flame up against the toothpaste like compound. At first, nothing happened.It took about a minute before the toothpaste began to glow a reflective orange color. In a quick spark, a flame sprung and wicked across the circle, covering all of the paste. The rest of the paste began to turn a luminescent orange as well.
Marideen could hear the sizzle as the heat caused the metal to crack and expand. Fumes began to rise from it in noticeable smoke clouds. Marideen covered her face and took several steps back.
The sizzle was accompanied by an occasional popping sound as the metal melted and reformed. After about a minute the sizzling stopped. Nothing. A circular crevice and been carved into the wall. Small amounts of fume and heat still seeped out of the trenched cracks where the applied paste had done its work. Marideen’s hope slipped as she realized that it wasn’t going to burn through. She was out of the paste and had nothing else at her disposal that could finish cutting this hole.
Maximil glanced at Markus, shrugged, and reeled back before kicking directly in the center of the circular trench as hard as he could. The impact made a horribly loud bang, followed by an even louder rip. Marideen winced, but as she looked she could see the bottom of the trench was ripped over and indented by about 6 inches.
“In for a credit…” Maximil muttered, kicking once more.
This time the metal pulled away completely, falling down on the other side. Marideen couldn’t help but wince once more time as the falling metal hit the floor with a loud crash.
“I think we need to hurry before someone checks to see what that was,” Markus responded.
Marideen motioned for Danelle to go through first, as she would have the easiest time doing it, being the smallest. Marideen herself followed. Maximil grunted and cursed as he tried to shove himself through. He was a tight fit, made more awkward by the hole being 2 feet off the ground. After a few more moments of grunting and cursing, he flopped onto the floor, breathing hard for a few seconds before sighing and returning to his feet.
Markus didn’t come through immediately. She could hear rustling on the other side. She then saw Markus’s foot cautiously move its way into the hole. Once he had his knee all the way through, his other foot pushed its way in. His feet steadily worked their way out until he was about up to his hip and his knees managed to brush the ground. He began pushing back. Marideen could hear boxes dragging as he moved,
Markus’s body finally was out of the hole and he let go of whatever box he was dragging with him. In his other hand, he had managed to pull through the small toolkit that she had seen on the cart.
“Hopefully that will hide the hole on that side for any curious guard,” Markus muttered to himself.
Once they were all through, Marideen finally allowed herself to take a look around the room. It mostly just looked like a regular room for storage, just larger than the other three she had just been in. There were no storage racks. Instead, the containers were just placed everywhere it seemed convenient. In the middle of the room on a long sturdy gurney sat a rectangular, coffin-like metal box.
Danelle was already looking around the room, running her hands over several containers, clearly fighting the urge to open one of them.
Marideen walked up to the box on the gurney. It was completely sealed, and Marideen could see no way of seeing it. On the bottom of the box, there was a sticker with some writing on it. Sol Man, Buried Date Unknown, Recovery Date 10234.15. Marideen jerked her hand back upon reading it. A dead body, or some kind of mummy.
“According to the schematics, the door will be in the back this way,” Markus said, pointing.
“I think one of us should stay behind, just in case,” Markus gave Maximil a nod.
Maximil let out a grunt. “Oh alright, I suppose I can watch your backs. Don’t take too long, that archeologist could be back any moment.”
Markus nodded as the three of them headed in the direction he had indicated earlier. The room was simply container after container. There were a lot of them. Marideen was not surprised that the docking teams had gotten behind in transport.
They approached the back door, which opened into a small corridor. The corridor seemed like a small afterthought built to link the cell block with this optional extension. There was no lighting other than from the door behind them. As the door clicked shut, the three of them stood there for a minute as their eyes adjusted to the darkness, only lit by the apparent cracks in the door and a nearby vent. Marideen approached the next door slowly, walking as lightly as she knew how, afraid to make a noise that might alert any nearby guard.
As they approached the door, Markus whispered, “This one should lead to the cellblock. If we don’t want to get caught, we need to be subtle. Ideally, we want to get all of the prisoners free and out through the back door without the guards seeing.”
“What about video cameras? Or guard patrols?” Marideen responded.
“We’re hoping for neither. You yourself said this was a gamble. I said suicide. We’ll find out in a minute which of us was right.”
Marideen started to worry. Maybe this wasn’t as intelligent of a plan as it seemed to her back in the storage room. Danelle seemed most excited simply to be involved. Markus opened the tool kit he had brought along and begun working on the lock on the door to the cell block. It may have been a back way, but they weren’t stupid. The lock was a complex one, but Markus had a certain skill with picking locks.
After a few minutes of tinkering with the lock using the box of tools, the door unlocked with a light click. Markus braced his hand and foot against the door slowly opening it a crack. He took a look through the crack he had just made. After a brief look, he moved aside, allowing Marideen to take a look as well. She pressed her cheek up against the door and peeked into the space beyond.
The corridor in front of her was well lit. Unlike the previous hallways she had been in, the floor was not carpeted here. The walls were completely plain and free of adornments. The hallways were lined with tightly fit doors. Each door had a rectangular glass window from which to peek into the room. A small arm sized door also sat in about the middle of the room from which to pass food without opening the door. Marideen could see no one in the corridor.
She took a quick glance at Markus, who shrugged uncomfortably, before pushing the door open enough to slip herself through. Markus followed behind her, and then Danelle. They sneaked slowly down the hallway to the first available door.
“Markus, start opening doors. Danelle and I will try to locate Berret and keep a watch,” Marideen whispered.
Markus shook his head in resignation and began pulling at tools to work on the lock before him. Marideen and Danelle moved down the hall. They each took a side of the hallway, checking each door through the glass slit. The first door she looked through was completely empty. The second door seemed to have three men, each wore a yellow jumpsuit. She recognized none of the men, although they all seemed to sit with a dignified grace that was untarnished by their cells. Most likely nobles.
The next door consisted of a single woman wearing the same kind of jumpsuit. She had her head in her hands, although Marideen couldn’t tell if she was crying or not.
“Found him!” Danelle exclaimed, causing Marideen to cringe.
Danelle was not yelling, but at this particular time, even normal volume pierced Marideen’s ears. Realizing what she had done, Danelle blushed and lowered her eyes. Marideen joined her in front of Berret’s cell, giving Danelle a brief scowl before looking through the slit.
Berret was indeed there. He was not looking at the slit and had not incidentally acknowledged Danelle’s previous exclamation. He was a broad, muscular dark-skinned man. He wasn’t as large or as imposing as Maximil or Beiroden, but he had a presence. His hair was black and cut very short. He sat down, his back straight and strong. His head was pressed up against the wall, and his eyes were closed.
“Markus, Berret is in this room, start with this one,” Marideen whispered with her eyes still on Berret. She looked back at Markus when he didn’t respond.
He was kneeling in front of the door with the three men in it, his tools spread around him as he worked on the lock. He glanced at her with a look of exasperation on his face. Marideen blushed slightly as he sighed and stood up, picking his tools up before moving towards the front of Berret’s cell.
Marideen moved down the hall a bit, Danelle trailing behind her. They came to the end of the hallway where a turn right would continue on straight into the guard’s room. If the schematics she had read were accurate, the room was closed off by a door. However, she didn’t want to risk peeking around the corner in the fear that a guard would happen to be looking her way.
She fumbled in her pocket for a small mirror that Markus had given her for looking around corners. Just as she started to take a glance around the corner she heard a metallic click behind her. She glanced back to see Markus having finally opened the door with Berret in it. A small smile crawled across her face as Markus began ushering Berret from the room. She could not see him yet, but it was clear he was conscious and Markus was engaged in conversation with him.
Marideen glanced over at her sister. Danelle was looking in the opposite direction, her eyes open in shock. Marideen spun around just in time for a fist to strike her in the face. The world went white in a sudden burst of pain.
Marideen could feel herself hit the floor. She felt dizzy and confused. She could hear Danelle’s cry and the sound of a gunshot. She struggled to make sense of what was happening. Her ears rang and her vision seemed wobbly, making her eyes close to keep her from being sick. She forced her eyes open again. The side of her face was on fire, but a subtle feeling of numbness came over a second later.
“Are you alright?” Danelle asked anxiously, crouched at her side.
The voice seemed oddly hollow coming through the ringing in her ears. She concentrated on ignoring the ringing to hear Danelle better. Her hands were holding Marideen’s head. Marideen could hear footsteps followed by a shout.
“Prisoners escaping!” yelled the guard who must have struck her.
She had to stop him before he alerted the other guards. Her head slid to the side and her eyes locked on to Danelle’s gun lying on the floor where she had left it to help her. Without thought, she lurched to her feet, grabbing the gun as she attempted to stand. She stumbled several steps out into the turn, her shoulder bumping into the wall at the end of the hallway. Danelle let out a wordless protest.
Using the wall to steady herself, she looked up with the gun clutched in her hand. The man who had struck her was about one fourth of the way down the hallway towards the guards’ room. Had so short of a time truly past? Using the marksman training she had received most of her life, she took aim. The world still seemed to wobble around her, but she ignored it and pressed the trigger.
Her bullet pierced the guard in the back of the neck. He took two strides before falling over, landing face down. She knew he was dead before he had hit the ground. There was a hushed silence as she looked down at the body. Then the realization struck home. Marideen had never killed someone before.
She had trained for most of her life in fighting and marksmanship. She had seen her own friends die in her hands. She had even seen people tortured and killed in front of her. But this was the first time she had been responsible for someone’s death directly. It wasn’t even a fair fight. The man had his back turned and was running from her. The reason for doing it seemed so important five seconds prior, but now it seemed pointless.
She leaned on the wall in shock, the wall supporting most of her body. Her arm went limp and the gun dropped to the floor. Down the hallway, the door opened and several guards poured into the hallways. Upon seeing the sight, the one in front lifted his gun, pointing it straight at her. Marideen could see the intent to kill in his eyes. The same look that must have been in her eyes moments before. She was frozen, unable to move. Killing him hadn’t even prevented the guards from being notified.
A large hand grabbed her arm, pulling her back behind the cover of the turn in the hallway. A bullet struck the wall where she was just standing. She couldn’t be certain, but the bullet indent on the wall looked as if it would have been where her heart was.
“Is good to see your beautiful face, but don’t get so swoony on my account,” Berret chuckled awkwardly, worry in his eyes.
A tear ran down Marideen’s face and she glanced at the corner where she had just come from. She could clearly hear guards shouting orders as they spread out into the hallway.
Berret grabbed her face and focused her eyes back on him. “I saw what you did, now don’t regret it a minute. You did what you believed you had to, and that is as much as any can hope for.”
Marideen nodded, quickly wiping a tear and glancing over. Danelle was standing behind Berret, a look of concern on her face masked only by her apparent excitement. Markus had a considerably more worried expression on his face.
“We can make it out the back way, but there is no time to free anyone else, and there goes our distraction,” Markus growled, his face scrunching up in agitation.
“No time?” Marideen asked as she worked on compiling her thoughts.
Then it hit her. “Cover me!” She yelled, immediately darting from Berret’s grasp into the hallway with the guards.
“Cover you?” Berret cried in disbelief.
He lifted an automatic rifle Markus must have handed him as quickly as possible while hitting the edge of the corner, firing over Marideen’s shoulder as she hit the ground on all fours. The loud thudding from the clip cut out anything else he said. She believed she could hear him shouting “crazy lady”, but she ignored him as she scrambled down the hallway.
The sudden onslaught of both Berret’s wild blind firing and Marideen’s crawling surprised the guards. They had already made about a third of the way down the hallway, the nearest man about ten meters from their fallen comrade. He took the first bullet from Berret’s gun. The other guards began looking for cover quickly, but the hallway seemed to offer none. A few shot back, aiming at the source of the attack, rather than Marideen as she crawled closer while the others began to retreat.
She came up to the body of the man on the floor and immediately began feeling his pockets. She grimaced at touching a man she had just killed but tried to keep herself detached from the environment around her. She had to be focused. He was an enemy like any other. The adrenaline pumping from the bullets flying over her head helped immensely with that.
Finally, she found what she was looking for. She pulled out the keys that the man had been carrying in his pocket, tossing them back the way she had just come. The keys landed in the middle of the turn in the hallway. As she began lunging forward to get back behind the cover, she could see Markus’s hand reaching from behind the corner and snatching the keys, obviously having figured out her intent.
She moved as quickly as she could back, feeling panic as Berret ceased his fire to reload a clip, having run out of loaded guns. Danelle jumped into view, pulling her pistol with the obvious intent of providing cover fire in Berret’s absence. Marideen’s panic increased. Danelle was too much in the open, she was going to get shot.
Marideen was almost there, she could almost reach… Her face smacked the ground and her hands fell out from under her. The loudest boom Marideen had ever heard rang through her ears, and the world began to fall apart.