Marine sat quaking outside the black door listening to the shouts and bangs coming from the other side of it. She had been sat there for almost an hour, worrying over every possible eventuality. Her comrades surrounded her, sitting equally tense and not making eye contact.
The day before they had woken from their brief rest in the flowerbed and set to work under Ezria and Aysmar’s supervision to remove the stone from it’s muddy bed. It had taken as much energy as each of them had to drag it under cover of darkness back to their hole and then manoeuvre it down into the caves below.
Marine had been astonished when they got below to see that the stone wasn’t at all what she had imagined. The top surface had been a shining metal, but when it had rolled and she had seen the underside she had seen an oily, shimmery blue erupting from within a metal casing. Now she understood why they were calling it The Lost Stone - it was a stone. It was glittery and had depth and movement to its colour: not a matte blue, or a single blue, or even all blue at all. It played about in the light and the shadow and seemed almost to produce its own little hum of light. Marine was transfixed.
It had been whisked away quickly by Ezria to the testing laboratory. Teams of Tingions in sturdy suits had put it on rollers and trundled it down the transport tunnels to the specially designed bed that would house it safely. Ezria had stood the team down then, thanking them for their service and telling them to get some rest. Marine had slowly, cautiously felt like she was defrosting as Ezria’s attention had not returned to her specifically.
‘Shall we grab a tank?’ Lork had called to the group, nodding her head in the direction of one of the root ale holes. A tired but enthusiastic cheer went up. Despite their fatigue, they all knew they wouldn’t be able to sleep straight away even if they went home and tried. There was something about the topside air that just woke your mind up more somehow. No one could explain what it was but every cell in your body felt more awake, fizzier - rejuvenated after an hour topside. When you lay down and tried to sleep your brain just turned over and over with ideas and thoughts and imaginings you had never conceived of before. A tank of root ale was a good way to dull the excesses of the topside giddiness.
The group had begun to move off when Marine felt a firm hand on her shoulder and turned to see Ezria eyeing her. Marine’s shoulders sunk, and not just from the weight of the hand.
‘You still have my gloves.’ Ezria said quietly. Marine looked down to see that she was indeed still wearing the thick gloves Ezria had given her to avoid her skin touching the Lost Stone. She pulled them off and packed them together, offering them over to Ezria silently. Ezria looked at them, ‘You can give them back to me tomorrow when you join me in my office at Second Beats.’ Marine felt her stomach vanish again. She had been summoned to the office of Ezria Talaglashi for the second time. The first time had been to be welcomed to the company, and the second, she felt sure, would be to be dismissed.
‘Second Beats.’ She confirmed, and then hurried after her company to drown her sorrows.
They had drunk for a few hours until even Lork’s hardy eyes began to droop. The root ale and the disspitating adrenaline had a soporific effect on all of them and they one by one made their ways to their homes to rest up. Marine felt like she weighed as much as the biggest earth clod. She was so tired and disappointed and angry with herself. It was bitterly unfair. She hadn’t asked for the rain to stay away from her. She stomped home and as she turned the corner onto her street her foot landed right in the midst of a pool of water that had gathered on the floor from one of the air holes to the surface. The water splashed up her leg, leaving muddy wet scarring all over her clothes.
‘Oh NOW I’m not waterproof?!’ She shouted, exasperatedly into the darkness and in the nearest house she heard a baby start crying immediately and a glow lamp come on. She scurried close in to the walls so that her neighbour would not see that it was she that had woken the baby. How had today gone from being all her dreams coming true to a total nightmare?
Marine had fallen into bed, ready to sleep. She didn’t even care if she slept straight through and missed Second Beats. What more did she have to lose?
As it had turned out, Marine would be woken well before Second Beats by a loud banging at the door. Her father had got to it first and by the time Marine made it to the bottom of the stairs both her mother and father were stood looking blearily at a smartly dressed corporal on the doorstep.
‘Marine Skylorn?’ Asked the corporal, looking over the shoulders of Marine’s parents.
‘Affirmed.’ Marine said automatically.
‘You are to report to the office of Vanweer immediately.’ With that, the corporal turned on his heel and marched away from her front door. Marine didn’t know where to look. Her parents looked desperately worried at her.
‘Marine, what’s happened? Was the mission not a success?’ Asked her father, worried.
‘It… it was fine. I’m not sure.’ Said Marine, unsure whether to lie or tell the truth or what might constitute either of those anyway. She had rapidly pulled on her uniform and boots and raced out the door to catch a pull raft to the office of Vanweer. She had arrived to find half her company already seated and looking uncomfortable. She’d joined them on the wooden benches and remained there all morning.
The rumble of Second Beats passed through the legs of the wooden bench she was sat on and she reflected on the fact that she was supposed to be in Ezria’s office right now, but instead here she was sat outside the office of Vanweer listening to Ezria receiving a blasting from the highest position in Tingion military. What on earth could have happened?
Eventually, long after the rumble of Third Beats had passed through the floor and benches, the door opened and Ezria Talaglashi stepped through. The company gasped as one. Ezria was stripped of her sash and hat. Ezria had been dismissed.
Vanweer stood behind her, smirking, a self-satisfied look on her face. ‘Breath Company, what you retrieved last night from the topside was not the Lost Stone. I would like to thank you for your dedication and apologise that you have been so poorly lead as to have wasted your energy and your time on retrieving what is nothing more than a trinket. Talaglashi has been stripped of her rank and dismissed from my service. You will be informed of how your Company will be continued when I have made further decisions. Dismissed.’
Vanweer looked Ezria up and down as though she were worthless, and then turned smartly and re-entered her office. Closing the door as she did so.
There was silence in the little waiting enclave. Marine thought she was a slight tremble in Ezria’s legs. Then, as one, the company removed their hats and lined up on either side of Ezria, bowing their heads and creating an avenue of honour for their beloved leader to walk down with Pride. Ezria smiled, a single tear forming in the corner of her eye. She nodded gratefully at the behaviour of her company and then made her way out.
Marine felt her legs twitching as she watched Ezria turn the corner away from the company. She glanced up at Lork, Kurann and the others and then dashed off down the path towards Ezria. She skidded around the corner and collided with Ezria immediately. Marin bounced off the sturdy Captain, ex-Captain, and landed with a bump on the floor. She looked up to see Ezria grinning down at her.
‘Amazing.’ Said Ezria smiling, ‘I hoped you would follow me but I didn’t dare hope you’d be that speedy.’ She offered Marine a hand to help her up.
‘What happened?’ Asked Marine, bewildered.
‘Vanweer is lying. I’m SURE that was the stone. They’ve dismissed me to cover it up. But with your help, I’m going to expose Vanweer’s entire regime.’
When does Ezria plan to use Marine to expose Vanweer?
- That night
- In a week
- Next month
- Right now