A short while later, Lucia felt the telltale shudder of the ship’s LightDrive powering down. She turned to Niarith, who was asleep next to her in the bed. “Hey, dear, wake up, we’ve arrived.”
Niarith didn’t stir. Lucia shook her slightly, and her eyes opened, glowing teal. “Hello, Plaything.” Mirideth smiled.
“Leave us alone, witch. I killed you once. I’ll find a way to do it again.” Lucia crossed her arms defiantly.
“Oh come now, darling Plaything. We have quite a lot in common, you and I.” Mirideth moved Niarith’s body slightly closer to Lucia.
Lucia moved slightly away from Mirideth. “No we don’t. I have nothing” She shoved Mirideth away “in common with you. Nothing.”
The glow in Mirideth’s eyes intensified slightly, small teal sparks beginning to leak from them at the outer corners. “No? Then why do we both enjoy killing, hm? Why do we both love the intoxicating feeling of power? Don’t think I haven’t seen it, Plaything. I know what you and your dearest Niarith get up to, Ma’am.”
Lucia reached over and pinned Niarith’s body to the bed. “That. Is. Fucking. Private. Stay the fuck out of that.”
“Oooh, Plaything, getting rough I see. I’ve seen that as well.” She giggled.
“Shut your fucking mouth, witch. Or-”
“Or what? You’ll injure Niarith? I don’t have access to her nervous system, darling. I can’t feel a thing.” Mirideth smiled, in smug satisfaction.
Lucia’s grip loosened as she became confused. “But.. you told me that.. You know what she thinks, what she feels.”
Niarith’s eyes began to burn with teal light, brighter than Lucia had ever seen, yet they were familiar at the same time. As she pondered that, Niarith’s body began to glow from within, and Lucia felt herself being lifted and thrown to the floor. Before she could react, Mirideth was on top of her, her hand on her throat. Mirideth’s grip was strong, stronger than Niarith should have been. The expression on her face was a smile, but one unlike any Lucia had ever seen on Niarith’s face, a smile that denoted not happiness, but bloodlust, a strong, excited desire to kill.
Mirideth spoke, and her voice was louder than Niarith’s. “Oh Plaything… You didn’t think I would tell you the truth did you? I told you what I needed you to hear at the time, and you believed it. Because you’re gullible, darling Plaything. Because you’re a big, stupid brute. You don’t have the mental capacity to understand the nuances of my plan. But that’s okay, you’ll play your part” Mirideth’s mad smile widened, wider than it should have been able to, and she clenched her hands even harder. Lucia could no longer breathe, her throat and lungs were on fire, and as her vision darkened, she heard, and felt, a wet, crunching pop, as Mirideth crushed her neck in her grasp.
Lucia awoke, screaming. Niarith woke next to her, screaming, because Lucia was screaming. Lolanene remained asleep. They were all on the couch. They’d apparently fallen asleep sometime after removing the table from the window display, cleaning all of it up, and deciding to watch movies to destress. Lucia stopped screaming when she ran out of breath to do so, and instead simply sat there on the couch, shaking.
“Luci? What’s wrong?” Niarith reached out to touch her. Lucia recoiled upon seeing her face. The same face that had just killed her. It had been a dream. Just a dream. But she couldn’t look at that face. Not yet.
She hesitated for a moment after recoiling, and simply said “Nightmare. I’ll get over it.”
Inside her head, Lucia heard Mirideth’s voice, the same as she had when Mirideth had her own body. I know what you dreamt, Plaything. I was there. That was me. It was really me. A small giggle, and it faded away. Lucia grabbed at her head, making unintelligible noises for a moment, then simply screaming “GET. OUT.”
Niarith was incredibly concerned at this point, and Lolanene was stirring. “Lucia, what’s going on?”
Lucia held her head in her hands, breathing heavily, she realized she’d been crying. “Mirideth.” was all she could get out.
Lolanene was fully awake now “Son of a bitch! Why won’t that fuckin’ thing just stop? The fuck does it think it’s gonna do? What point is there in tormentin’ people?!”
Niarith’s eyes glowed faintly “Fun, Stray. That’s why.”
“Stray? That the best you got, Miss Evil Empress? You ain’t ever even talked to me before, all this time, and all you’ve got is Stray? Try harder.”
Niarith’s eyes glowed brighter “I don’t need to try. I just need to wait until I die from my proximity to you. Everyone else you’ve ever been close to has.”
Lolanene chuckled “Yeah, it was Nether. People fuckin’ die there. It wasn’t my fault, and you are terrible at gettin’ under my skin, robo-bitch.”
Mirideth stood, her eyes glowing fiercely, yet not burning “Had I my own body you would be on your knees begging me to make you into whatever I desired. To serve me in any way you could. You wou-”
“Yeah well ya don’t, do ya? Ya got outplayed and lost yer body to a lady who had hardly ever used a gun before. A lady who is a thousand times better of a person than you’ll ever be. You think yer fuckin’ nanites and mind effectin’ shit makes you powerful? Real leaders inspire people to follow ‘em. They don’t gotta force it. That ain’t power. That’s weakness, robo-bitch.” Lolanene hadn’t even stood up. She simply sat there on the couch, in a relaxed position, staring up at Mirideth’s glowing teal eyes.
Mirideth stared down at Lolanene, a look of utter hatred on her face. Slowly, the teal faded, and Niarith returned. She put a hand on her head and groaned “I hate that feeling...”
Lolanene sat up “Never thought t’ ask. What does it feel like?”
Niarith took a deep breath and sat back down on the couch. “It feels like… static. Like my entire mind is filled with a droning buzz that makes it impossible to think. It’s awful.”
The conversation was interrupted by the entire ship shuddering. The LightDrive had shut down. They’d arrived. Lucia tried to make sense of what was left of the window display. Between bursts of grey static, it showed a large bright blue sphere, larger than anything Lucia had ever seen so close. It made her feel very small in a way that was incredibly unnerving. Nearer to the ship was a smaller sphere, it was lit by artificial lighting across its entire surface. It looked as if it had some sort of smoke or steam flowing off of it from all directions at once.
“What is that vapor?” She asked.
“That’s the atmosphere, I believe. It’d be artificially generated, probably by industrial Nanite fabricators deep underground. My guess is they have to work continuously, because even with grav generators, it just bleeds off on a world so small.” Niarith answered. She then stood up, making her way to the door. “I’m gonna go hit the VRnet, send out those postings. With any luck, we’ll get a hit quickly.”
Several hours passed. Lucia went about her daily routine, trying not to think about the nightmare, or Mirideth’s voice in her head. It was not easy. How had she spoken to her inside her head? Had her nanites somehow been reactivated? But Mirideth couldn’t act on them even if… but the ship… Was it possible her presence in the ship, her recent direct connection to it, had reactivated her? She hardly even wanted to consider it.
Lucia made her way into the equipment room, finding Lolanene taking inventory, and Niarith in a small alcove, wearing a sleek black helmet which concealed her entire head, connected by a wire to the ship’s inner wall. Lucia had never used the VRnet, she feared it. Amongst everything else she’d seen and experienced since leaving her homeworld, somehow the VRnet felt like one step too far. Niarith described it as an ever changing cluster of holographic connections and interfaces, overwhelming and almost impossible to navigate without experience.
As she walked into the room, she heard it. Kill them. You could do it so easily, do it. The voice in her head was not Mirideth’s… it was her own.