Marine didn’t know where to look. If she looked away she would seem guilty and flighty, if she looked directly at Vanweer it felt like putting your hand in a flame. Somewhere in the back of her mind she was dimly aware of some training she had had on how to lie convincingly. It was either look directly at the person to show you had nothing to hide, or to make brief eye contact but keep alert around you so you didn’t look like you were trying. In the milliseconds she had before it was obvious she was hesitating she had to make a decision. Marine swallowed hard and looked up to salute Vanweer.
Vanweer looked annoyed at the small Tingion being in the doorway and barely nodded in response as she swept past and into the corridor. Her heavy footsteps had a dead sound to them as she paced away - Vanweer’s boots were recognisable in amongst the lighter steps of her guards. Marine shivered with relief and took a step through the door past the remaining entourage of guards following Vanweer. She could see the stone in the lab at the far end of the room, she felt her skin prickle at the thought of the next part of the plan.
There weren’t many Tingions left in the room - a few were clustered around the Stone where the glow lamps were at their densest and then there were two pairs of others talking and looking at charts at different desks on the walls. Shouldn’t be too difficult to make herself look busy and get up close to the stone - it wasn’t roped off at all. Marine scanned the Tingions for Utra, still clutching the badge in her pocket in case she needed her alibi again.
She turned around to close the door gently behind her and saw that Vanweer was looking directly at her from half way down the corridor.
‘I know you don’t I?’ Vanweer said. She didn’t raise her voice but it rumbled confidently down the bare corridor and hit Marine like a freight train. Marine froze. The door stood half open, her tiny fingers gripping the edge. It would be so easy to close the door and run towards the stone and throw her hands against it but if she did that the game would be up permanently.
‘Yes,’ said Marine honestly, ‘You did my passing out ceremony and we have met a few times on official -‘
Vanweer cut her off, ‘You were part of Talaglashi the traitor’s company were you not?’ Marine saw the guards around Vanweer hold their batons a little tighter. She blanched, she was unarmed. They had decided to run the mission without weaponry - a calculated risk to give themselves the best chance of remaining undetected.
‘I was,’ she admitted, ‘I was stationed here after the disbandment of the company.’ She prayed that the lie would work, delivering it as casually as she could muster.
‘No you were not. Only Rishekke and Aysmar were here. What are you doing here?’
‘I was posted here, I…’ Marine tried to convince but Vanweer knew it for the lie that it was.
‘You do not have authorisation to be here. Arrest her.’ She signalled an arm forward and two of the guards around her stepped forward to seize Marine. Marine slammed the door as hard as she could and then turned and ran on bouncy feet towards the stone. It was maybe 30 paces across the room and her breath burned in and out of her as she leapt into a sprint and aimed her arms out in front of her, desperate to feel the smooth surface of the stone on her finger tips. She heard the door opening behind her and feet following her but she didn’t dare turn round, she had to touch the stone.
It was maybe five steps away now, four… three… she felt strong arms wrenching the back of her overalls and pulling her backwards. She crashed backwards and the full weight of two guards lay on top of her - completely immobilizing her. She panted heavily, not caring about anything other than getting air back in to her legs - which was no easy feat with two security guards sitting on her chest.
Vanweer stood over her, smirking. ‘Well, well, well… we will need to have an interesting chat, won’t we?’
Marine said nothing. She let the guards secure her arms in rootrope and bowed her head in shame as she was marched along the corridor with Vanweer.
‘You will need to tell me exactly what you were up to. There may be a way yet we can save you if you are willing to talk.’ Vanweer said coolly as they walked. Marine said nothing, her head was spinning. What would her parents think? Would she ever see her parents again?
She tried to look around as carefully as she could as they marched through the labyrinth of passages, she wanted to know that one of the others had seen what had happened so she knew she wasn’t being marched off to a cell with no one knowing. There was no sign of any of the others as they neared the exit. She realised that they would have scarpered as fast as possible upon knowing something was up: she hung her head in shame at thinking about her own safety before that of the safety of the mission. Could this night get any worse?
She was bundled into the back of Vanweer’s private cart, and Vanweer and a single guard climbed in beside her. Vanweer clicked to the driver and the cart pulled off back towards the main city.
‘I have to assume you didn’t know I was going to be there tonight?’ Vanweer said, conversationally, flicking through some pages that had been passed to her when she took her seat, ‘It was a pretty spur of the moment decision for me and look how well it’s worked out. I’ve really caught a live one. I will also have to assume you are working for Talaglashi? I knew she wouldn’t just let it lie. Stupidly dedicated.’
Marine sat dumbly in her seat, she barely felt real. She just wanted to go back to before any of this happened and do nearly everything differently. They pulled up outside Vanweer’s building and Marine was frogmarched up the slope and into Vanweer’s office.
‘I’ll be in in a moment, make yourself comfortable.’ Sneered Vanweer.
Marine sat on the clay stool looking with interest around the cluttered office. It was almost fascinating enough to distract her from the impending doom that lay heavily on her shoulders. It occurred to her that it was a surprise to find that Vanweer had clutter, she was so brisk and important that a completely tidy office would seem appropriate. But instead there were things scattered all across the desk and up the wall hollows. Even the floor had dropped items in the corners.
Books lay scattered across Vanweer’s desk and hundreds more lined the walls. Artefacts and skulls of various animals, interesting pebbles and shells. Even the ceiling was covered with dangling bits of root in intricate knots. Marine realised she felt very comfortable in here. Perhaps that was the point? Perhaps Vanweer went for the “Make yourself comfortable” approach in order to relax her ‘guests’. This all seemed very at odds with Vanweer’s demeanour which was hard and to the point. Marine realised, though, that she’d never been alone with Vanweer and therefore had no real idea what to expect when that came to pass.
Time ticked by, although Marine couldn’t feel the Beats to know how long it had been. She was fairly sure First Beats must have passed by now. Perhaps this office had some sort of clever structure that stopped the Beats disturbing whoever held it? Marine’s stomach was making Beats of it’s own - she was so hungry. The rations she had secreted in her pockets were long since gone.
Vanweer couldn’t be hiding anything in here, she deduced, or Marine would never have been left alone in the office for so long. Or perhaps, Vanweer was just so confident that Marine wouldn’t dare nose around that there was information hiding in plain sight? What would Ezria and the others say if they found out Marine had been left unattended in Vanweer’s office for all this time and had failed to do any investigating? But suppose Vanweer was spying somehow? There could be secret spyholes bored through the walls for checking up on prisoners.
Marine decided it was safest to just play along with Vanweer and her pretence of innocence. She sat in the seat and gazed about her - sparkling fragments of glass and other shiny things twinkled in the light from the glow lamp. Marine realised they were set up on slowly rotating bases so that they moved beautifully in the light. How clever.
The door opened carefully behind her and Marine turned to see Vanweer entering carrying a large pile of files.
‘Good morning,’ said Vanweer, ‘Thank you for behaving yourself in my office.’ She bustled past Marine and dropped the heavy load onto the desk with a bang. It made Marine jump even though she watched in happen. Marine felt a familiar tingle in her fingers start with the surprise. Not now. She groaned, and realised she pretty much always said that when she felt the magic starting. Perhaps Not ever would be a better wish. She said nothing back to Vanweer, it didn’t feel like she was supposed to.
‘What were you doing in the laboratory last night?’ Vanweer sat down in her chair and asked the question plain and straight, looking Marine directly in the eye. Marine blanched. She thought there would be more warm up questions than this.
‘I was working.’ She mumbled, ‘I needed to return Utra’s badge to him…’
Vanweer waved a hand, dismissing Marine’s feeble excuses, ‘But you shouldn’t have been in the laboratory at all - let alone in that room. The guard who let you through has been fired by the way.’
Marine felt awful. It was extremely difficult to be a Tingion guard as they were, by nature, very trusting people.
‘Are you working for Talaglashi?’ Vanweer asked. Marine shook her head, hating that she knew Vanweer didn’t believe her but couldn’t think of anything else to say. She felt completely trapped. Suddenly the decorations around the office weren’t beautiful, they were enclosing - not giving her space to breathe. She felt her fingers tingling and sweat beading down the back of her neck.
‘I know you are working for her,’ Vanweer continued, barely breaking eye contact to blink, ‘I just don’t know why. Why would you give up everything? Your safety, your parents’ safety…’ Vanweer paused and cocked her head slightly to one side to let this sink on. Suddenly she banged a hand on the desk and Marine nearly flew off the stool.
‘Mavis!’ Shouted Vanweer, and within milliseconds the head of a tiny Tingion appeared around the door. ‘Bring me some hot berry brew. And one for my guest.’
The tiny Tingion nodded and backed out of the door. Vanweer flicked her eyes back onto Marine.
‘Why would you be so trusting of Ezria? And why would she choose you, out of all of her squad?’ Marine felt a tiny glimmer of hope, so Vanweer didn’t know that the others were involved. That was good. It was the only good thing, but it gave Marine a focus suddenly: she could not give up the others.
‘Obviously you were not going to be able to remove the stone from the lab, so wha were you doing in there?’ Vanweer mused, Marine knew these were rhetorical questions and so sat still and quiet on the clay stool. ‘There must have been a reason for you to inspect the stone…? I know you didn’t study artefacts particularly in your training.’ Vanweer patted the pile of files on her desk. ‘In fact, you weren’t a particularly promising student at all, but Talaglashi seems to have seen something in you that no one else valued. What was that and what were you going to use it for on the stool?’
Marine felt like she was suffocating. Her lungs wouldn’t believe her that there was air in the room and no noose around her neck. It felt like Vanweer was circling closer and closer and to the truth: to her magic. What in earth would she do to her if she found out? Would Marine be killed, imprisoned? Would her family be tested on? Marine thought of her poor parents at home in their tiny living room having no idea of what awaited them. Or perhaps they had already been rounded up. There were so many disastrous outcomes, how had this happened to her? She had tried to be so good, so right, so…
‘Hey!’ Vanweer suddenly stood up at the desk, slamming both hands down. Marine looked up at her, wondering what the problem was. ‘What the…?’ Vanweer said, coming round the desk closer to Marine’s stool. Marine backed away instinctively from the approaching Tingion and slipped backwards off the stool to the rug beneath her. When she scrambled up she noticed that Vanweer’s eyes were not on her but still on the stool where she had been sat before. Marine looked down at her hands and saw they had vanished. She couldn’t see herself at all. Thinking quickly, she eased herself backwards as fast as she could, pressing herself up against the wall.
‘Mavis!’ Cried Vanweer, staring around the office unable to believe what she had seen.
‘Coming!’ Called Mavis, pushing her way back in holding two steaming cups of berry brew, ‘Sorry Ma’am, there was no…’
‘I’ve no time for that now. Call an alert. She’s disappeared!’ Vanweer was apoplectic.
Mavis stared around the office. ‘Disappeared?’ She questioned stupidly and Marine thought Vanweer might behead her there and then.
‘Yes! Are you an idiot? She has vanished before my eyes. Call. An. Alert.’
Marine was watching so intently she realised she was about to miss her chance and darted through the door Mavis had left open before either of the others could realised it was a possible chance of escape. She looked about her in the corridor trying to focus both on which way she had come and how to move without bumping into things when she couldn’t see any part of herself.
She headed back down the corridors, twisting and turning and flattening herself to avoid Tingions racing past her in the other direction to wards Vanweer’s office. She reached the main reception and lingered by the door, praying that someone would open it so that she didn’t have to move it and have someone see. Eventually her prayers were answered and she dashed through, finding herself on the streets.
Now what? She thought to herself.
Does Marine head for:
- Ezria to report in
- Her parents