The next morning, Lucia awoke to an empty bed. She sat up and stretched, her body aching from last night’s… activity. Her clothes were nowhere to be seen, so she decided to simply go out into the main room naked, it was only Niarith out there after all. She opened the door and casually strolled out into the main room.
Niarith was sitting at the kitchen counter, eating. “Hey Luci! I made some eggs! They’re vat-grown, unfortunately, but the real stuff is too expensive here. No room for farming in a planet-sized city.” Lucia heard another voice from behind her and turned in shock, only to see that two metal poles on the wall across from the couch now had a display between them, on which a man was speaking, seemingly about a ‘Stock market’. Lucia didn’t understand it, but she wrote it off as one of those ‘modern’ things and went to get some food. Niarith’s comment had made her wary, but it was the best she’d ever tasted.
She said as much to Niarith, who replied “You’re just saying that because I made them.”
Lucia laughed “Maybe, but that doesn’t change the facts.”
Niarith put a hand on Lucia’s “I was thinking after breakfast we could go buy you some clothes, I know you like your robes, but you can’t wear the same outfit forever, y’know?” Lucia gave Niarith a worried glance, but agreed.
An hour later they were once again back out on the streets of Xia IV. Lucia was prepared mentally for the assault on her senses, and managed to keep herself together without the numbing device. The world she saw with her own eyes was unlike anything she’d ever seen, the color, the vastness of it, the massive crowds, the sights, the smells, the tastes. It was all so much, it was hard to focus on any one thing for very long. She held Niarith’s hand as she was led through the narrow streets, giant buildings towering overhead, like looming mechanical mountains.
Eventually Niarith led her into one of the massive buildings. The interior was a large room, made of the same smooth stone material as Niarith’s apartment, though better lit. Stone pillars held up the ceiling, and somehow, presumably, the rest of the titanic structure above. The ceiling was high, with metal rafters further bracing the building above. Large square lights were placed at regular intervals, the frosted over glass mimicking the appearance of natural sunlight through a foggy skylight. The walls were painted an off white color, with red and blue stripes along the top edge of the walls. The floor was a strange material Lucia had never seen before, softer than stone, smoother, shinier. It was a light grey color, with many small speckles of darker grey throughout. The large room was full of shelves filled with various items. The shelves seemed to break up the large room, making it feel more like a variety of smaller spaces. There weren’t many people around.
“Not many people bother going out to actual stores these days, not when you can just buy a personal fabricator and have your orders instantly constructed for you. Me, I prefer the experience of actually going out and buying things.” Niarith said as they entered the store.
They walked among the shelves, past various items Lucia didn’t recognize, as well as some she did, though they were different in form and construction. They arrived at the clothing section as Niarith spread out her arms and said “Tada! All the clothing you could ever want! Well I mean… lots of it. Not exactly all of it.” she trailed off and laughed nervously.
Lucia just stared, frozen by the mass of options laid out before her. “How do i...?” she said, staring out at the racks and shelves full of various clothing.
“It’s easy, honey, you just take it one step at a time. Here, lets’ just take a look at the stuff on this closest rack.” She led her to the indicated rack and Lucia looked at it blankly.
“It isn’t fitted to me. How do you...?” Niarith sighed and put a hand on Lucia’s shoulder
“When you put it on, the nanites woven into the fabric automatically measure and edit the clothing the specific size required! It’s easy!”
Lucia picked up a pale green shirt and looked at it with a puzzled expression “It isn’t long enough.” Niarith suppressed a giggle “It’s not supposed to be, it’s called a crop top”
“I.. I think I like it.” Lucia said with a small smile. Lucia ended up wearing the pale green crop top, as well as dark grey, loose fitting track pants and black athletic shoes.
“Sorry we couldn’t buy more, but y’know, we’ve got no income.” Niarith said as they exited the store.
“Yeah, about that, Nia. What exactly do we uh… do about that?”
Niarith was silent for several seconds as they walked. “Well, I’ve had a couple ideas, one I really like… We can talk about it at home.”
Minutes later, they arrived at the apartment and sat on the couch to discuss their future. “So, what I was thinking was… We have a ship, we have a means of offworld travel. We’d need LightDrive fuel, which would limit us at first, but. What if we were to open a… sort of business? It would involve the tracking and recovery of items for clients. Sort of a delivery service, but for rare and dangerous to obtain items. It would pay well, not many people are doing that kind of thing.”
Lucia nodded, taking in Niarith’s proposal. “So we’d be flying around the galaxy, looking for valuable artifacts, and people who want them?”
“Essentially, yeah. So, Luci, what do you think?”
Lucia thought for another long moment. “So you… want to become a thief? And steal things from rich people… to give to other rich people? I don’t know, Nia. Didn’t we just avoid prison?”
Niarith’s eyes suddenly glowed with the teal light of Mirideth’s power “I say we should do it!” came Mirideth’s synthetic voice from within Niarith. She continued “Oh my, it would seem I can force speech through Niarith’s defenses! How exciting! Not to worry your pretty little heads, I can’t do anything else… yet-” she was cut off by Niarith violently shaking her head and coming back to her senses.
“Shut it, Asazlaiyn. We didn’t ask for your input. You’re a parasite, and with any luck we’ll find a way to remove you. Until then, shut your nonexistent mouth. Don’t worry, honey. She’s right, all she can do is speak, nothing more. She couldn’t even move my body.” Niarith reached over and hugged Lucia tightly.
“I’m alright, Nia. I’m a strong lady, I’m not going to fall to pieces every time she so much as says a word. Anyway, with that interruption done with, you never answered my question.”
Niarith smiled “I’m not… not saying that, but I’m not saying yes either. Listen, Luci. This planet is an awful place to live. The Federal Interstellar Commission is an awful place to live. And if we ever want to better our situation, we need money. Job opportunities are limited here. We have a chance to have some excitement in our lives, to see new places, new people, do things most people in this city have never dreamed of! You were an assassin, don’t tell me you want to do some menial grind until the day you die just to have an apartment marginally better than this one. I know that’s not true, Luci.”
Lucia sighed and said “You’re right, I don’t. I couldn’t imagine it, really. I’m certainly not staying here while you go get all the glory, so… I suppose I’m in.”
Niarith jumped up in excitement “I knew you’d be up for it!” she leaned down and kissed Lucia on the forehead. “I’ll start making arrangements, make sure the Epsilon VI is still spaceworthy, all that stuff. We have about a month till our money runs out. We’ll need to get things together by then. This is so exciting!” she let out a squeal of delight Lucia had never heard from her before. It made her unsure if she wanted to laugh, or jump up off the couch and drag Niarith to the floor and do last night all over again.
Lucia suddenly had a thought and quickly stood up, facing Niarith, her stance somewhat intimidating. “Wait a minute… You told me I couldn’t go home because it was illegal. You made me leave my home and everything I ever knew… because it was illegal. And now you’re stealing ships, you want to potentially steal other things… Why is that okay? Why did I have to leave everything because of the law if you’re just going to ignore it now?!” She hadn’t realized she’d raised her voice, she was nearly screaming at Niarith.
Niarith shrunk away from her “Luci… It's not the same thing. It’s a big galaxy, theft happens, it’s not something anyone wants to spend the investment of time and money tracking over multiple systems.” She walked over to the wall, further from Lucia. “C-cultural contamination is different. It’s much more serious. It can affect the course of a civilization. If a society gains the wrong knowledge before they’re ready for it, it can destroy them. It’s happened. It’s why the PTED exists in the first place. Lucia… the punishment for cultural contamination is death. Not just mine, yours, and anyone and everyone you had contact with after your return. They don’t fuck around with this. That’s why it’s different. That’s why you can never go back. I’m sorry.”
Lucia’s stance softened, her anger fading, being replaced by horror. But… we caused it. When Mirideth got on her ship, when she…”
Niarith cautiously stepped closer “Luci, honey, no. If you remember, I said we had to destroy her citadel? Her ship crashing, loaded with LightDrive fuel, absolutely accomplished that. It’s why we're still alive at all. Everything is going to be okay.” She confidently strode forward and pulled Lucia into another hug.
“I’m sorry, Nia. I didn’t know… I never would have gotten so angry if I’d known.” Niarith gave her a quick kiss “I know that, Lucia. I know. It’s not a big deal. We’ve got an exciting future to think about! We’ve got a galaxy full of treasures to uncover, and we have each other. I love you, Lucia.” Lucia hugged her love close “I love you too, Niarith.” They kissed again, and it turned out a repeat of last night was indeed in order.