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Friends in Low Places

Posted on Wed Oct 21st, 2015 @ 3:45pm by Lieutenant Commander Vanora Stele

Mission: Heart of Stele
Location: Beta Base, Moon of Troyius
Timeline: After "Cloak and Shield"

As expected, there was a guard stationed at the entrance to the cell block. Fortunately for Vanora, her new realization about the true nature of Timariot knights extended beyond Sir Ammon; the guard, another slovenly Elasian male, was sitting on the floor slouched against the wall and snoring heavily as Vanora approached his station. It was an unsurprising result of being a guard in a secret, cloaked prison that the staff would become complacent. Vanora just hadn't expected them to be this complacent. She picked up the PADD next to him and unlocked the main door, slipped the device into her own bag, and removed a hypospray loaded with a long-lasting sleeping agent. "You obviously need your beauty rest," Vanora whispered sarcastically as she administered the shot, before quickly entering the cell block and closing the heavy metal door behind her.

The main door opened onto an elevated platform, and then down one flight of stairs to the cells. The cell block was two levels, each level lined with a single row of ten cells on each side, forty total cells. A grated metal walkway lined the upper level and opened up in the middle to the lower level, and stairs directly in front of the main door led down to an unpaved but graded floor of the moon's rock. There were no guards patrolling the cell block, and most of the cells were empty. All said, there were only five occupied cells, all of which Vanora could see from her current vantage point. Which meant that they could also all see Vanora.

None of them were Tang. Or at least, from this distance, none of them looked like the Tang she remembered. All five stared at her, with expressions ranging from confusion to hope. She made her way to the closest cell, to her right and on the upper level. The occupant was Tzenkethi, with glowing phosphorescent yellow skin.

"Do you know Tang?" Vanora asked directly as she stepped in front of the prisoner.

The Tzenkethi turned its head askew, clearly not understanding what Vanora had asked before replying, "tzkeaai!seas! shheitiztzteis'*^nshe@@!ddmik!"

"Baktag," Vanora cursed. The cell block must have been equipped with some dampening field that disabled universal translators. A clever mechanism for preventing collaboration by the prisoners; as Vanora turned and looked at the other cells again, she noted that there were no more than one of any species.

She walked calmly but swiftly around the catwalk to the other occupied cell on the upper level. The occupant had the look of a Human, so Vanora hoped for better luck. "Do you know Tang?" Vanora asked again.

The Human woman was pretty, with blonde hair and blue eyes, and shorter than Vanora. She reminded Vanora of her sister, Peri. But unlike her sister, this woman clearly didn't speak Elasian; like the Tzenkethi, she also looked confused, for a moment, and then sighed and looked around, shaking her head to signal that she didn't understand. Clearly she already knew that the universal translator didn't work in here. "Es-tu humain? Vous regardez Elasian, mais vous n'ĂȘtes pas un garde. Parlez-vous français? Je ne parle pas Elasian, ou tout ce que vous parlez."

Vanora was certain that the woman was speaking French, which was unfortunate because she had ignored her father whenever he had tried to convince her and her siblings to learn other Earth languages besides his native Norwegian, which he spoke to them during their childhood. Unlike her more studious siblings Neil and Peridot, however, Vanora had had little interest in sitting in front of a screen and practicing dead languages that she would never use when she could be outside dueling the neighborhood kids with practice swords. Vanora was left shaking her head back. "Tang," she repeated. She pulled out her PADD and a picture of Tang from the old SS Lady of the Lake manifest. "Do you know him?" she asked slowly, miming by pointing at the woman, her head, and the picture.

"I know Tang. Down here." The male Elasian voice called out from below her, further down the wall.

"Sorry," Vanora apologized to the Human, before running down the stairs and locating the Elasian prisoner. She heard the Human yelling after her, in rapid French, but she was already solely focused on the Elasian. He was several inches taller than her, with broad, slumped shoulders, dark skin and dark hair. There was a spark in his eyes. Vanora had no idea how long the man had been in here, but his spirit had yet to be broken.

"Well?" Vanora said as she stood in front of him. "Start talking."

"Nice to meet you too," he smiled. "My name is Aleixo. Get me out of here first and I'll take you to Tang," he replied.

"If I were you, Aleixo, I would say anything I had to to get out of here." Whatever this place is, she thought to herself.

"Of course. You're suspicious, but you need to find him before the Timariot and their Troyian lackeys know you're here. And I need to get out. Here," he held up a hand signaling for Vanora to wait. The cells were tiny, barely large enough for a grown humanoid to lie down, so it was easy for Aleixo to reach his hiding place, underneath and inside his thin mattress. "Proof," he said, pushing a stack of thin slips of paper into Vanora's hands.

Vanora flipped through the papers. Half of them looked hurriedly scribbled; the others were in neat, delicate script. Both were in characters that seemed familiar, but without her universal translator, it was alien to her. What was clear, however, was who the author was of the handwriting of the more orderly script. "This is Tang's handwriting," she said, mostly to herself. She looked back up at Aleixo. "What does it say?"

The man shrugged. "To be honest, I have no idea. I don't read whatever language it's written in, and Tang has never seen fit to tell me. I'm the conduit between Cassandra," Aleixo pointed upward at the Frenchwoman's cell, "and Tang. We each get recreational time, if you can call it that," he explained. "They run us through a 'dog run,' a fenced-in maze. I really don't know why, since they have no intention of letting any of us go. Maybe it's just something to keep the guards entertained."

"So you pass messages between Cassandra and Tang?" Vanora asked, steering the conversation back on point. "Why? Why not do it themselves?" She realized the answer before Aleixo responded. "They keep prisoners who can communicate separated from each other."

Aleixo nodded in confirmation. "Except, they somehow missed the memo that Tang speaks Elasian. I always wondered where he picked it up. Guess I know now," the man smiled again, more to himself than at Vanora. "The guards let us all babble at each other as much as we want in the dog run; they know we don't understand a word of the others. It was easy enough to cover our conversations; Tang would just yell out in whatever Earth language he speaks once in a while."

"Mandarin."

"Sure. Whatever." Aleixo shrugged. "So, this has been one of the most pleasant dialogues that I've had in the last three years, but I'd prefer to skip the next fifty, so if you don't mind," he pointed at the door.

Vanora nodded. She'd been ready for some lockpicking and explosions, but with the sleeping guard's PADD, her job became even easier. She hacked the access codes and isolated the cell block, and then Aleixo's cell door shimmered, the force field keeping it locked vanishing in a flicker. His door opened loudly, the creaking of unoiled hinges echoing through the room. "Now, let's go find your man..." he started to say before being interrupted by the sound of more creaking doors. "What the hell did you do?" he looked at Vanora, mouth agape.

"The right thing." Vanora looked around the room as the other four prisoners exited their cells and stood staring at her. "None of you understand me, but you're free to go," she said in a normal voice. "It's your choice: go and find your own way out, or come with me. Except you," she pointed at Cassandra and waived her down to join them.

Of the other prisoners, a Klingon woman seemed to understand the gist of what Vanora was saying and joined her and Aleixo. The Tzenkethi, however, as well as the Nausicaan, made a beeline for the main door, both roaring with anger.

"This is going to make it much harder for us," Aleixo said as the main door shut behind them.

Vanora grimaced. "Then you'd better move fast."

 

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