The ship rocketed forward, hundreds of smaller ships were in pursuit. The larger warships had barely moved. Maria watched through the rear camera as a bright light began to form on one of them. The Epsilon VI suddenly dove, twirling into the cloud of fighter craft chasing them. The warship fired, and the laser vaporised several of its own allied fighter craft, very little energy reached the Epsilon VI. All at once the fighter craft opened fire, lances of flame and light reaching out and flaring the Epsilon VI’s shields.
Maria felt oddly dizzy for a moment, her vision dimming and flickering as the ship once again fired its main rear thrusters. Superheated gases billowed out of the back of the aging ship, immolating several of the smaller craft behind it. They were now flying back toward the warships, at a speed that Maria knew to be incredibly unsafe close to any form of object. The ship smashed through several fighter craft, breaking them upon its shielding. Maria noted the shields were nearly overloaded.
The warships readied to fire again, and the Epsilon VI was nearly in the space between them. As it passed, they fired. Most of the energy missed the Epsilon VI, but what hit was devastating. Maria’s vision utterly filled with red warnings as a klaxon started and the entire ship shuddered and groaned. She was certain they were about to die. The rear cameras went dead. Atmosphere vented from both the airlock and the equipment room. The ship’s interior lights went dark, replaced by red emergency lighting.
After several tense seconds, the rear cameras returned, and Maria saw something she didn’t expect. The burning hulks of three FIC warships, drifting and spewing objects and bits of themselves into the void of space. The path Mirideth had taken them on had been deliberate. She had taken them, at speed, right through the center of the space the ships had been in. When they had fired, due to the Epsilon VI’s speed, most of their shots had missed. With nowhere to go but into the warships themselves. Mirideth had forced them to destroy each other.
The Epsilon VI abruptly turned around, and burned off the speed it had gained, preventing it from entering the gas giant. Lolanene stared at the flickering front display in awe. One of the warships drifted into the path of another, and they tore each other apart in a massive set of hundreds of explosions.
“Fuck me in the dark, robo-bitch! I didn’t… How did you...I..” Lolanene seemed to be at a loss for words.
“No offense darling, but you’re not my type-” Mirideth’s mirthful tone faded as she finished her joke, and she went quiet.
They were all silent for several minutes, watching the remains of the ships drifting and spinning away.
Finally, Maria said “We need to get out of here.”
“Only ‘Rith knows where to go. And she don’t seem to be doin’ too hot.” Lolanene had turned the pilot seat around to face Maria.
“Yeah… Mirideth, can I take my hand out of the ship now?”
Mirideth spoke, her voice sounding as if she’d been crying “Yes, you may. I’ve done all I can.”
Maria waited a moment, then roughly pulled her hand out of the socket. The red lights dimmed slightly as she did, then returned to their full, still fairly dim, brightness. “I’m going to talk to Niarith.” Maria said, turning to leave the room
“Y’sure that’s a good idea? She wasn’t exactly… okay, with seein’ ya.”
“She’ll have to get used to it. I am what I am.” She stalked over to the bedroom door, the trip taking less time than she’d expected. Legs must be longer I guess. She lifted a clawed hand, and attempted to form a fist to knock, but found that she was incapable of it. She instead chose to simply slap her palm against the door. It was much louder than she’d intended, given it was metal on metal. There was no response for a long moment. She knocked again. Still no response.
The ship’s PA system crackled to life. “‘Rith, I know it’s scary, I do. It’s fucked up and horrifyin’. But it’s still Maria. It’s still yer girl. Let her in. She’s upset enough about what was done to ‘er. Please, just let ‘er in.”
Another long, silent moment later, the locking mechanism clunked open, and the door slid down. Niarith was standing there, a hastily applied bandage made of random clothing on the arm Maria had slashed. Her eyes were red from crying, her face streaked with tears.
“Mari..?” She said, quietly. Her voice was hoarse, and sad.
“It’s me, Nia. It’s me.” Maria didn’t know what else to say
Niarith’s tears began to flow again, as she sort of smiled, but in a sad, confused sort of fashion. She suddenly leapt forward and hugged the cold metal mass that was now Maria’s body.
“I thought you were dead. I thought they’d killed you. That this was some trick of Mirideth’s… It’s really you, isn’t it?” She was shaking as she pulled out of the hug. Maria hadn’t returned it, out of fear of hurting her.
“It’s really me. I’m not handling it that well myself. Mirideth is in here with me. You’re free.”
Niarith nodded “I knew she was gone, I could feel it.” She added, smiling slightly “Along with the worst pain of my life.”
Maria wished she could smile back, and felt a sense of immense loss upon remembering she couldn’t. “I keep forgetting I can’t visibly emote anymore. Heaven and Void, how do I just go on like this?”
Niarith just stared for a moment, her smile dissipating. “I… it changes things… for sure. I’m not.. Sure how to feel. This doesn’t feel real to me.”
Maria made the sound of a sigh “I wish I could say the same, but it’s pretty obviously real from in here.” She shuddered “This modulated voice sounds so wrong. Every time I speak I’m reminded of this. That this is what I am.” Maria suddenly felt very weak, as if her muscles were tired, despite the fact that she no longer had any. She stumbled, and fell to the floor, making a loud thump as she hit the carpet.
“Maria!” Niarith scrambled to her knees, looking her over with a mix of fear and confusion.
“I’m okay, I think, Nia.” She spoke as she stared at the carpet and the bottom of the wall. She wished she could blink. Or close her eyes at all. Trying to do so resulted in nothing. “ I think it’s just… starting to really hit me that this is my new life. This is me. I don’t want this to be me.”
Lolanene spoke in a panicked tone over the ship’s PA “Uhh, I dunno what y’all are up to right now, but a lot more of them warships just entered the system. I’m talkin’ dozens. We need to go. Right the fuck now. Get your ass up here Niarith!”
“Go, I’ll get back up on my own. Probably too heavy for you to help anyway.” Mari’s synthetic voice sounded flat, emotionless. It did not reflect her mental state, but she felt it best to worry Niarith as little as possible in this situation.
Niarith stood up with a grunt of pain and effort, and made her way to the cockpit. Maria lay there for another moment, then stood up. She left large tears in the carpet as she did, as well as scratches in the metal beneath. Fucking claws, why do I even have these? She entered the cockpit. Niarith was directing Lolanene on how to input coordinates.
“This one here?” Lolanene was asking.
“No! That one.” Niarith sounded exasperated.
“Well excuse me fer bein’ a lil tense right now!”
“How’s it going up here?” Maria asked, though she felt she knew the answer.
“Just inputtin’ coordinates hopefully before them FIC ships find us and turn us into dust. No pressure or anythin’.” Lolanene was once again on the edge of panic.
“Hey, Lolanene, it’s okay. Just a few more. 8-1-5-9-0-0-0-7-7-8-8-9-9-9-6-5-3-8-1… you get those?” Niarith was trying her best to keep the tension out of her voice, but wasn’t doing the best job of it.
Lolanene hurriedly pressed buttons and turned dials. It seemed that inputting coordinates was not a matter of just typing numbers. It was entirely beyond Maria’s comprehension. “Got it!” Lolanene said.
“Good! Go!” Niarith was starting to panic as well. Lolanene pressed yet more buttons and turned yet more dials, and the ship turned to the right direction. After a few more seconds, the entire ship began to shake, more so than it usually did when the LightDrive was activated. The warning klaxon turned on again, and Niarith seemed to be finding it hard to stay standing. Maria carefully positioned her body behind Niarith, giving her something solid to lean back on. The shaking had no effect on her ability to balance.
The entire ship began to rumble ominously, and the air began to heat up uncomfortably. Maria’s olfactory receptors detected what her HUD said was burning wires and melting plastic. She suddenly realized she had a HUD. It displayed a lot of information she didn’t understand. She found she could open and close it at will. She left it open for the time being, figuring it may be useful.
The Epsilon VI thrust itself into the bubble of warped space projected by the LightDrive, and the now familiar impossible spray of colors filled the display. For a few seconds, anyway. Shortly after, the display flickered and died. As did all lights inside the ship.
“OH fuck… Alright, nobody panic, nobody panic! I can fly by instrument, Lolanene, out of the pilot seat please.” Niarith unceremoniously shoved Liolanene out of the chair, and began examining the many instrument panels around her. The room was lit only by indicator lights. “Okay… okay. We’re still travelling, we just don’t have visuals. We’re okay. We’re fine.” Niarith seemed to be trying to convince herself of that more than anyone. She was breathing heavily.
The klaxon continued as Lolanene stood up and checked the co-pilot readouts. “Uhh. this ain’t good, ‘Rith. We’re leakin’ atmosphere outta three different hull breaches. The atmo-generators ain’t gonna be able to handle that strain fer long.” Lolanene’s breathing was ragged, and she was shaking slightly.
“It’ll be fine, we’re not travelling that far, an-” Niarith was cut off by an incredibly loud POP from somewhere in the ship. After the pop came another, another, then a grinding noise, followed by a horrific roar of tearing metal, and finally, a massive explosive boom. The entire ship abruptly lost gravity and began to shake even more violently. Niarith had strapped herself into the pilot seat and was frantically pressing things. Lolanene had grabbed into a support nearby to the co-pilot seat and was hanging on in sheer panic. Maria meanwhile, felt oddly peaceful, floating in the air, she’d stabbed her claws into the wall to anchor herself.
That feeling of peace was short lived, as the walls themselves began to rattle ominously. The lights and display abruptly turned back on, only to reveal that the Epsilon VI was now tumbling violently through the warped space created by the LightDrive. The display was a dizzying mess of impossible colors as well as tumbling bits of the ship itself. It went on for minutes, the ship seemingly shaking itself apart whilst tumbling through space at FTL speeds. Until finally, the ship arrived at its destination.
Though arriving did not fix the issue, and the ship instead continued to tumble and shed pieces of itself, only now it was nearly entering the atmosphere of a planet. Niarith began firing the ship’s thrusters wildly in an attempt to counteract the spin. It helped to an extent, but not enough. The Epsilon VI entered the atmosphere, still tumbling, and Maria had brief glimpses of the forested area they were headed toward as the ship spun. At the last possible moment, Niarith finally got the spin under control.
“Yes! Got it… oh fuck. Main thruster is dead… Aux thrusters aren’t gonna slow us down enough… I… I love you Maria. You too Lolanene.” Tears filled Niarith’s eyes. “We’re going down. And at this speed…”
Lolanene was and had been screaming for quite a while. Maria doubted she was fully aware of her surroundings at this point.
“We’ll be fine. We’ll be fine.” Maria said with more confidence than she felt. “I love you too.”
The ship hit the forest canopy, and everything changed all at once.
The Epsilon VI flipped forward, and with a sound of screaming metal and roiling flame, tore itself apart. The cockpit stayed intact, mostly, the instrument panels threw sparks and several areas burst into flame. Maria ripped her claws out of the wall and roughly grabbed Lolanene, attempting to shield her with her body. The cockpit slammed about, rolling, and creaking, and sparking. Maria Held onto Lolanene and hoped. The roof of the cockpit suddenly split open, and the jagged metal debris came down and hit Maria directly in the head. Her vision went out, and she felt nothing.
Is that it? Did I die?
“Not so much, darling. You’re not dead. You weren’t alive. What you are right now is non-functional. Only your basic processes are running.” Mirideth sounded as if she were speaking from everywhere at once.
What do you mean?
“I mean you’re not dead. You’re in a low power state while your systems reconfigure and reboot. That was quite a crash. Amazing our body is still intact at all, I’d say.”
Yeah. Not so worried about my body. More so worried about Nia.. and Lolanene.
“Yes. I suppose what’s survivable for us is different to what’s survivable for them. All we can do now is hope.” Mirideth sounded genuine.
What do you care? You’re alive, why would you give a shit if they die?
“Because I’m not the heartless monster I made myself out to be! At least… not anymore. I meant what I said about you, Maria. I love you. You were the first person I grew to care about in 200 years. And as time went on… it wasn’t just you. Living within Niarith, I saw all that she saw. I was there for it all, even the parts you’d rather I hadn’t been. I didn’t have a choice. In that time I grew to care for her too. I didn’t save us back on Xia IV for entirely selfish reasons, Maria.”
How do you expect me to believe that? You oppressed my homeworld for over a century! You killed my friends. You’re a murderer, an evil witch. Nothing more.
“Look who’s talking, Miss Assassin! You’re just as much a murderer as I am. Does the reason you’re killing change the morality of the act?”
YES! YES IT DOES! The violence I committed was with the intent of preventing further violence perpetrated by you! Do I like that I did it? No. Do I regret it? Yes. Does it make me like you in any way? FUCK no. Love me all you want, witch. I will NEVER forgive you for what you’ve done. Never.
Mirideth’s voice sounded raw, like someone who had been crying “I understand, Maria. I hope someday you may feel differently. But I doubt that day will ever come. Until that day, I am happy to be near to you, being hated by you is better than not knowing you at all. I shall do what I can to restore your systems more quickly, to allow you to check on your loved ones. Until then, goodbye Maria, and I’m sorry.”
Mirideth’s voice echoed through the nonexistent space Maria’s consciousness inhabited, before fading entirely. Maria wasn’t sure how long she spent in that space, alone. Eventually, she began to feel something. Something foreign yet familiar, pain.