Lolanene was leaning against the window display screen in the Epsilon VI’s living area, a brightly lit expanse of grassland was displayed, the view from that area of the ship. “So what you’re sayin’ is, if ya wanted to, you could get all the way across this room, despite the furniture, and slit my throat, in less than three seconds?” Her eyes narrowed. “I. Fuckin’. Doubt it.”
Maria felt her body tense, readying itself to spring into action. Lolanene smirked and blew her hair out of her face. “You only doubt it because you’ve never seen me in action, kid.” She gained a smirk of her own “I can change that.”
The door opened and Niarith sighed. Maria turned to see Niarith standing there, a hand over her face. “No assassin tricks on the furniture. I’ve told you already.”
Lolanene pushed off the window “Aw c’mon, mom, it’s our furniture too, we don’t get a say in how we use it?”
Niarith entered the room, gently pushing Maria slightly to the side. “Not if ‘using it’ means diving onto and over it to play out slashing each other’s throats!” She sighed “I swear you two are like rowdy children sometimes.”
Lolanene laughed, and then threw herself onto the couch, sprawling in the false sunlight filtering in from the display screen window. “Maria maybe, I’m all maturity and class, ‘Rith.”
Maria simply smiled. It had been a while since things were so calm. The Intigrelt Facility had been… an ordeal. It had taken a while for everyone to calm down and decompress from the experience. But that had been nearly a month ago. Now they were on an agri-world called Jirilosliv, to stock up on food. No mind control, no insane scientists, crime lords, or rich assholes.
“Anyway, I figured we’d land a ways out from town, just so nobody picks up on our unregistered ship and thinks we’re pirates.” Niarith held a tablet in her hand, and brought up a red-hued hologram of the settlement. “This is Jiato. It’s what passes for a city on a planet like this. Just a loose collection of buildings, really.”
“Just like home.” Maria muttered.
“Just like it, if your village had advanced farming equipment and robotics that could tend to half a continent autonomously.” Niarith smiled at Maria, and leaned over to kiss her cheek.
Maria blushed, and gave Niarith one of her own. Lolanene cleared her throat “Anyway, ya think we should get goin’? I’m not likin’ the look of those dark clouds.” She pointed to the display, tall dark grey clouds were gathering on the horizon. “I may not know too much about weather, but I know that ain’t a good sign.”
Maria looked up at the display, lightning flashed. “Yeah let’s go.”
The trio made their way out of the ship. The air felt clear and cool. It was a nice change from the admittedly stale air of the Epsilon VI, recycled as it was. It had been quite some time since Maria had breathed clean, atmospheric air. It smelled of grass and trees and some kind of smeet smell Maria couldn’t place. It felt wonderful. The temperature was warm, but not unpleasant. The bright sunlight contrasted with the approaching storm. They had landed in the middle of an unused field, no civilization was in sight. Not much of anything was in sight. Just more and more fields, off into the horizon. There were scattered groves of trees, but nothing aside from that.
Niarith pointed in the direction the back of the ship was facing and said “Okay, Jiato is about 15 kilometers that way! I’m sorry we had to land so far away, but there wasn't a lot of choice in the matter. We need this resupply, and we couldn’t risk them thinking we were a pirate raid. They’re not exactly uncommon out here.”
“How’re we supposed ta walk 15 kilometers b’fore that storm gets to us?”
“By moving and not standing here talking about it.” Maria replied, as she started to walk. The others followed.
As Maria made her way through the tall grass around her, she began to feel at peace. It was almost like being home. Only the skies were brighter, the grass greener, and there wasn’t the ever present electrical twinge to the air. Which, she realized now, had probably been nanites. Her grandmother had always claimed it was Mirideth’s magic. Heaven and Void, how proud her grandmother would be that she’d freed their world from Mirideth’s grasp. Even if it had cost Maria her ability to return there, it had been worth it. For everyone else. She wondered if anyone there even remembered her. If anyone missed her. She was likely presumed dead. That hit in a way she hadn’t anticipated. Her friends, her colleagues, her trainers, everyone she’d ever known… she was dead to them. She stumbled for a moment at that realization.
“You okay, Mari?” Niarith placed a hand on her shoulder. Maria didn’t look up. She just stared at the ground as it passed beneath her.
“I’m dead.” She said simply. Perhaps too simply.
Niarith simply stared for a moment, thunder rumbled in the distance as a gust of wind picked up. “Mari?”
Maria shook her head, clearing the fog her mind had settled into. “S-sorry. I mean… I just realized… everyone I knew back home… I’m dead to them. They’re not waiting for me. They’re not hoping I’m okay. Mirideth’s citadel exploded. I’m presumed dead. I’m dead, Niarith.”
Lolanene turned and began walking backwards, facing Maria. “Maria, everybody I’ve ever known but y’all is dead. Don’t mean I don’t remember ‘em. I think about my parents, ‘bout ol’ Nolar every day. I guarantee, whoever you got back on your homeworld, they still think about ya. Often.” She then promptly tripped and fell backward, disappearing into the tall grass.
After a moment, her head and shoulders popped up. She blew her hair out of her face, a blade of grass was stuck in it. Niarith simply stared for a moment at the diminutive girl sitting in the grass, her facial expression one of blank annoyance. Niarith began to laugh, slowly at first, and building to an uncontrolled crescendo of laughter. Maria found herself unable to stop herself from joining in. Lolanene simply sat there, staring at them both with unabated hatred. After a moment, thunder was once again carried on the wind, and Maria helped Lolanene up, so they could continue their journey.
“Hey Nia?” Maria asked, and the still giggling love of her life turned to look at her. “How are we gonna carry several months worth of food all the way back to the ship?”
Niarith pondered the question for a long moment, as they walked through a small grove of trees. “I-... I’m sure they’ll lend us an Auto-Maton cart. We certainly won’t be carrying it.” The trees once again gave way to open fields of tall grass. Maria could now see a collection of rounded shapes in the distance, Jiato, she presumed. They walked in silence for a time, the thunder becoming more frequent, and the wind now ever-present.
As the finally approached the outer limits of the small village, the rain began to fall. The wind picked up fiercely, as the water falling from the sky picked up in intensity. A figure in the nearest building was waving them forward. The trio ran over, through the rapidly worsening weather. They entered the small building, and Maria heard the door close, then lock. She turned and saw a large burly man slide a large sheet of cream painted metal, larger than the door itself, over the door. He pressed a button and several latches came out of small holes in the wall, holding the shield over the door. Smaller versions were in place over various parts of the walls, Maria assumed they were windows. The building itself was a small, one room house not too dissimilar from Maria and Niarith’s old apartment, though it was above ground, had a domed ceiling, and only one room.
The room was nicely decorated, and the floor was real wood. A soft looking dark grey couch sat perpendicular to the door, facing a currently unlit fireplace, with the telltale poles of a holo-tv above it. Behind the couch was a small kitchen, with an island and several stools facing it on the couch side. In one corner there was a messy, unmade bed with what looked like real fur blankets on it. There was a door across from the bed, the only other room in the building, Maria assumed it to be the bathroom.
She turned to the large man. He was tall and broad, extremely muscular. He had sun-tanned skin, short dark hair, a dark bushy mustache and beard, a large nose, and deep blue eyes. He began to walk toward them but stopped when no one moved. He spoke in a loud, bassy voice “Ne stoyte tak prosto! Spuskaytes' po lestnitse!” The three girls just stared at him, the wind began to howl outside, as the sound of rain became almost deafening. At the lack of response to what he’d said, the man sighed and pointed behind them. “Tam! Za toboy! Opuskat'sya!”