Marine stood under the overhang and shivered. It was late, late into Beatless Time and she was chilled in the thin body suit she was wearing. The Tingion City was not so deep under the ground that they couldn’t feel the slight changes in temperature from the Topside. Sometimes you could barely tell the temperature change from Beats to Beatless but some days everything was much warmer during the Beats and then it cooled dramatically as time ploughed into the night.
Tonight was one of those where the mud had warmed during the day, and as the heat faded out as they moved further and further on from 8th Beats Marine started to feel the chill more and more into her bones.
She wished she could jig about to help herself keep warm but she new it was important to draw as little attention to herself as possible. She couldn’t see the others - they were all tucked nearby, hidden in little crevices near the laboratory waiting for Rishekke.
It was 6 days since they’d met at the Cavern and it was finally time to put their plan into action. Marine had been exercising, keeping a low profile and showing as much commitment as she could stomach giving to the new Team to which Vanweer had assigned her. It had been an exhausting week. Marine felt like she was running on nervous energy: surely she had worried away the entire ling of her stomach by now? Each question and worry and concern in her mind felt like it had its own set of bubbles to go with it and they were all churning and frolicking within her body, threatening to spill up her throat at any moment.
Finally though, she was here: crouched in the dark and waiting for Rishekke.
Rishekke and Aysmar had been assigned to security detail on the laboratory where the Lost Stone was held. As far as the rest of Tingion society knew, the laboratory was just for root adaptation: looking for new ways to strengthen roots for growth, improve their nutritional value and to make them grow in directions useful to Tingions rather than, say, straight through a building. Tingions knew the benefits of not messing too much with roots - you never knew when a careful movement of a root would cause the rest of the roots to wither and die. They tried not to let their structures depend too hard on roots (instability was not the Tingion way) but it was impossible to live underground without being symbiotic with the reaching fingers. Marine had never questioned that these laboratories did exactly as she had been told they did, but now that she knew this was where the Lost Stone had been taken she began to wonder how many other things had been a lie.
She shook the thoughts out of her head - she needed to remain focused. She heard footsteps around a corner and recognised Rishekke’s figure in the gloom - she was in a uniform and had a large bag slung over one shoulder. The laundry bag. As she passed the nook where Marine stood Marine just about saw Rishekke’s fingers twitch and the bottom of the bag loosened for just long enough for a small dark parcel to emerge. Rishekke didn’t drop her pace at all - she continued in the direction of the laundry. Marine waited, tasting her heart beat in her tongue as she counted steps making sure Rishekke was far enough away. Then, Marine shot out a hand and grabbed the parcel, hastening to unravel it and slip her legs into the laboratory uniform. It was slightly too big for her and she was glad she had wrapped a belt around her waist to tighten the overalls. It fit neatly over her thin suit and she was soon dressed, looking for all the world like she worked in the laboratory. There was no telltale pile of clothes left on the ground where she had been either. Ezria had thought of absolutely everything.
Marine counted to ten in her head and then made her way to the staff entrance of the laboratory. The laboratory worked all the way through Beatless Time so there was nothing suspicious about popping in and out of the doors at any time.
She pushed through the thick wooden door and blinked at the brightness of the lights inside - she’d never been anywhere with so many glow lamps in one place. It took her a while to let her eyes adjust and then she had to hurry to move herself down the corridor and into the staff room where she was meant to be. Aysmar and Rishekke had drilled them over and over again on the layout of the lab, Marine felt like she could have paced through it in her sleep.
She found the door to the staff room easily and opened it; inside there were various coats and civilian clothes hanging on the walls. Marine felt guilty about it, but she padded over to a deep green coat and slipped a hand into the pocket and pulled out a badge. She spirited it into her own pocket as quickly as she could.
Only a select few Tingions were allowed into the room with the Lost Stone, Rishekke had informed them at the beginning of the planning stage. Most of the Tingions at the lab didn’t even know it was there, so in order to get into the room, Marine was going to need a reason to be where she shouldn’t be.
She fingered the badge in her pocket as she headed purposefully down the corridor. With any luck the others would also be secreting themselves around the lab by now. Ezria was too recognisable and so was outside ready to be called on in an emergeny, but Kurann, Mortglade and Eleff were each also in uniforms and dotted about the lab to cause diversions, busy nosy members of staff and to clear the way for Marine to touch the stone.
Marine counted out the steps in her head that were taking her to the room with the stone, “I should be arriving in… 3, 2… 1.”
“May I help you?” Said the guard on the door.
Marine swallowed to keep calm, “Yes, I’m looking for Utra, I heard he was working in here today? I found something of his and I think he’ll feel a lot better once it’s returned to him.”
The guard eyed her suspiciously.
“Where have you been working today?” Marine let the wave of panic come and go - no point fighting it, but don’t let it overwhelm either, just let it happen and then answer on the other side.
“Distillation.” She said, adding a slight shrug and frown to make it look casual, “If he’s busy I can hang on to it until later?” She lifted her right foot slightly as if making to walk off - hoping this didn’t look like too much.
“He’s in there.” The Guard opened the door and Marine felt her heart soar.
“Thanks, back in a mo.” She said cheerily to the guard.
“No problem, he’s showing Vanweer around, should be easy to find.” Said the guard, and closed the door behind Marine.
Every alarm in Marine’s body went off at once. What was Vanweer doing here? She hadn’t been briefed for this. How was she going to touch the stone in front of Vanweer? Could she hide in here somewhere until Vanweer had gone and then touch it? But if she took too long it would trip the emergency protocols in place with the rest of the team. How had she got this far only to be stopped now? Would Vanweer recognise her?
Marine wished she had some way of disguising herself - she looked at the walls and briefly wondered if she could smear her face but then decided that would make her stand out even more. Who turns up filthy for their shift in a root factory? If only she had thought to bring her tiny make up kit and compact.
There was nothing for it, Marine would have to continue the plan as best she could. She headed down the little corridor that only had one door at the end of it. Her hand reached out to twist the handle but just as her skin touched it the door flew open and Vanweer stood in the opening.
Does Vanweer recognise Marine?