Maria felt herself being dragged and pulled along. She struggled to get free, but found that the vines wrapping around her were too tightly packed to move. She flexed her hands, and slowly began slicing into the vines around her claws. The plant seemed to realize this, and coiled tighter. It had unintentionally helped dig Maria’s claws deeper into the stems. Finally, one snapped, then another, and a chain reaction occurred, causing Maria to slice through the entire bundle of plant life that held her.
Her heavy metal frame slammed down onto a hard surface, and as she pulled the withering vines from her eyes she saw a rough, dirty metal floor. It was almost entirely buried, the metal was only exposed by Maria having been dragged into the structure. She was inside a metallic room, open to the environment on one side, the other leading further inside through several dark, empty doorways.
She at first thought it was another part of the Epsilon VI, it looked nearly identical. Until she realized the Epsilon VI had never had a room this large, nor would a freshly crashed ship be full of topsoil and overgrown with plants. This ship had been here longer. Much longer. She stood and turned around, and found a massive, ragged hole where a wall should have been. Outside was the long, beautiful path she’d found. She could only assume this was the end of it. There was no sign of the motile plants that had attacked her, just inert, non-sentient plants.
Rustling came from behind her, and she turned quickly, slashing her tail through the space in an attempt to get a pre-emptive strike on whatever plant monstrosity was there. It hit only air. And as she turned she saw that the rustling had come from further inside the ship. Figures moved in the darkness. Feminine, humanoid figures. The nudes forms of Niarith and Lolanene stepped out from the pair of doorways. They were somehow entirely uninjured. They both had several scars that they hadn’t before, but they looked as if they’d been healed for years. Their eyes seemed unfocused, but they looked otherwise normal. Aside from the vine-like plants that extended from the backs of their necks into the darkness inside the ship. They simply stood, staring at her, a small smile on both of their faces.
The vine connected to Lolanene twitched, and she spoke. “This one fought…”
Niarith then said “This one gave in…”
Then they spoke in unison “Both belong to us now. Leave, creature of metal and wire. Your beings are no longer yours. We will feed for decades, centuries… This bounty is ours. Ours. Ours.”
Maria would have been scowling, had she the ability to do so. “They aren’t mine. And they aren’t yours. They’re theirs. Get out.”
“Empty words, from an empty creature. Metal and wire, empty of true life. Unable to feed, or be fed upon. Empty. Worthless. You are not worthy of the bounty we hold. You will not have it. They. Are. Ours.” They continued to speak in perfect unison.
Maria laughed, noting how odd it sounded coming from the modulated voice she now had. “You’re not gonna tell me a Void taken thing I haven’t already told myself about this shit,” she gestured to her body “So cut the insults, and Let. Them. Go. If you don’t, I’m sure you noticed what I did with your little bondage act. I can and will do it again.”
The girls spoke again, their smiles widening. “You can try, metal thing. You can try, and you will kill the bounty. You want that less than we do. You are unable to take them back. You are helpless. Leave and rust away like your vessel.”
Maria stomped a foot forward as hard as she was able. It dented the degraded metal, before tearing through it entirely. “I’m not going anywhere. Not without my family.”
“We can feed effectively with only one. We would be willing to give half the bounty to the metal thing. No more. The metal thing need only choose.” The girls gestured to each other, in perfect unison.
Maria hated herself for what happened next. She froze. She considered it. She could take Niarith, get her out, and find another way to free Lolanene. It was a plan that might work. A plan that added another variable to her side. ...A plan that required her to leave Lolanene in the grasp of this… thing. Lolanene had been left to her fate once before, relegated to ‘we’ll save her later.’ It had almost resulted in her death. Maria couldn’t do that to her again. Nor could she leave Niarith to that fate. No. This deal was no deal at all. It was a sacrifice. One Maria was not willing to make.
She lowered her stance, clawed hands at the ready, tail swishing dangerously behind her.
The girl’s smiles faded. “You overestimate your power, metal thing. We are larger than you could ever imagine. Remember as you are torn to shredded metal shavings that you chose this path. We told you to leave.”
The girls backed out of the room, back into the darkness. As they did, a massive vibration rumbled through the entire area, as Mara’s exit was cut off by gigantic roots as big around as whole trees. They twisted around, ripping into and through the walls of the ancient starship, encircling Maria entirely. They circled again and again, closer and closer. Maria realized this thing intended to simply crush her. As they rushed inward, Maria leaped up onto the closest one, and was flung off by the sheer momentum of the thing. She felt herself fly through the air for about a second, before slamming into the other end of the slowly closing circle, flinging her back forward.
Maria used her tail to flatten out the uncontrolled twirl she’d entered, and dug her claws into the floor to allow her to land on her feet. She quickly stood, finding that there was little room left for her, and even less time. As the roots squeezed inward, they’d lost most of their speed, allowing Maria to stab her claws into them. She climbed as quickly as she could, even as she felt the other side of the quickly closing circle press against her back. Just before she reached the top, the circle closed, and began to squeeze her body. Metal groaned and wood splintered as she forced her way upward, claw by claw. She felt panels buckley, heard rivets pop, but she made it to the top of the circle of massive roots. She managed to pull herself out with a small clatter of broken and loose bits of her body.
What she saw when she reached the top, was a different environment entirely. The well tended path was gone, replaced by uprooted trees, snaking vines, and roots slithering up from and into the ground like snakes. Several trees seemed to be standing up on their large, aged roots. Branches moved, not in the wind, but with purpose. Trees pulled each other over, broke others apart. Maria realized with mounting horror, that the plant creature was not just the vines with the mouth-like structures. The plant creature was this entire forest.*
“Maria… I think we need to leave.” Mirideth said.
“And go where exactly? This thing is literally everywhere.” Maria turned and saw the rest of the ancient ship. It was massive. Larger than any Maria had ever seen aside from FIC warships. Importantly, it was mostly plant free. Atop the ship was a structure that seemed to have more interior.
“That would be the ship’s bridge.” Mirideth said, as if talking to a child. “Nowhere else to go, get us up there, Maria!”
Maria sprang up off the root she had been standing on, she surprised herself with the height she obtained. She ended up above the treeline for a brief moment. The entire forest was alive with movement. There was something in the sky. A sort of pulsing light green light, along massive structures that stretched impossibly from horizon to horizon. Except for one specific point, where the structure had been broken apart. The pulses of light were odd there, red in color, distorted, and in places missing entirely.
As quickly as she’d reached that height, she began to fall back down. She looked in the direction she was headed and saw she was nearly, but not quite, aligned with the ship’s bridge. She reached out a clawed hand as she passed it, the claw tearing into the metal, and not catching. Her hand simply sheared through the metal wall of the bridge, and she continued to fall. Screeching metal and buckling bulkheads screamed in Maria’s auditory sensors as she slammed into and through the top of the ancient ship.
Maria felt her body smash a massive dent in the dirt covered floor of the ship, creating a loud, dull thump, muffled by the soil.
“Excellent job, darling. You got us right up to that bridge.” Mirideth’s mechanical voice was ringing with mirth, the sarcastic smile was audible in it, even though Mirideth had long since lost the ability to do so.
Maria simply groaned in exasperation and slapped a hand on the side of her head. The impact created a loud, high pitched ringing noise that caused Maria’s auditory sensors to briefly shut down to protect themselves.
“I’m not in your head, Maria. I’m distributed throughout your body.” Mirideth’s tone had not changed.
“Yeah well, shut the fuck up anyway.” Maria said, as she picked herself up off the floor.
The room she’d landed in was completely dark, save for the small circle of light created by Maria’s entrance. Maria powered off her vision briefly, and thought about being able to see in the dark. When her vision powered back on, she was greeted by the familiar white lines and black background of a Sensory Nullification Device. Her inner self smiled slightly, this was something familiar, something that she could make sense of. It was a comfort to her in the mess of unfamiliarity and terror her life had become.
The room was a large rectangular structure with massive airlock doors on one wall, and many human sized doorways throughout the rest of the walls. The large space in the center of the room was full of boxy structures that Maria’s HUD told her were shipping crates in a state of extreme disrepair and decay. In fact, according to her HUD everything was in a state of extreme disrepair and decay. She could see various root-like structures that had grown through and into everything in sight. None of them moved like the ones outside. She could only assume the creature didn’t know where she was.
She began trekking over the tangled growth and broken metal toward a doorway she chose essentially at random. Her HUD lit up with text as her gaze passed over a battered shipping crate.
Maria’s only thought upon seeing the text on the side of the crate was You have got to be fucking kidding me…
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