Light, blindingly bright, overwhelming Maria’s visual sensors, and thunderous sound, deactivating her auditory sensors. She knew immediately what it was. As the ship shook with the force of it, she knew she’d been correct, an explosion.
As her vision cleared, she saw there was now sunlight pouring into the room from above. Human figures stood at the edge of the hole, several of them, most of them were firing flamethrowers in all directions. One of them, a female, had a sort of cape draped over one shoulder. She stood, seemingly staring down into the room, her hands on her hips.
"Oh holy shit! Pulastre! Get the fuck down there, that woman is still alive!" The woman shouted in a clear, high pitched voice, pointing to Niarith, who was still feebly struggling.
One of the men who had been firing abruptly dropped his weapon and leapt into the room. He sprinted over to Niarith, unsheathing a blade as he went. All in one motion, the man sliced through the vines wrapped around Niarith’s neck, eliciting a loud, almost inhuman gasping cough as she took air into her lungs.
Over the next minute or so, the rest of the new arrivals made their way inside. The woman reached into a pocket and took out two pale white orbs, she transferred one to her other hand, and with a flick of her wrists, thrust them into the air. They began to float on their own, and then began emitting a bright white light, illuminating the entire room.
The others had gathered around Niarith, helping her recover. They all wore FIC armor, similar to the people who had arrested them on Jorilosliv. Theirs seemed older, more battered. The caped woman turned to look at Maria, her face invisible behind the black visor. As she stared at her, Maria realized the root was no longer crushing her. It was simply atop her. She could easily get herself out, but should she? These people were FIC, if they knew she was capable of moving they might just shoot first and ask questions never.
The woman stepped over to her, kneeling down on one knee, inspecting Maria. Maria stayed silent and still, hoping she’d come across as some kind of broken robot. She noticed her nameplate read ‘Meltrusia’ The woman continued to stare, reaching out a hand and poking Maria’s visor. She tapped on it several times, making loud tinking noises and blurring Maria’s vision.
‘Hey, Testrilnilak, get over here.” she called out, without moving from her position.
A man in identical armor knelt down next to her. “Ma’am?”
She gestured to Maria “The fuck is this thing?”
Testrilnilak examined her closely, then took out a device of some kind. He pulled out a thin rod from inside it, pointed it at Maria, and pressed some buttons. Immediately both Maria and Mirideth began screaming. The pain was unbearable, it felt as if her entire body was on fire, despite the fact that she normally couldn’t feel pain in it.
As quickly as it began, it stopped. A few seconds later Maria regained her senses, and realized everyone in the room was staring at her. The two who had been kneeling next to her were now standing, a good distance away. The other three had formed a defensive barrier around Niarith, who was still laying on the floor, and was looking at her with an intensely worried expression.
As the silence stretched on for a few more seconds, the FIC operatives began reaching for their weapons. Maria decided it was time to introduce herself. “Hey. My name is Maria. I’m not a robot, not entirely, but I’m not human either. I’m gonna get myself out from under this thing, please don’t shoot me.”
The caped woman, Meltrusia, spoke up, her gun fully unholstered and aimed at Maria “Hold the fuck up. I don’t know what the fuck you people are doing here, but nobody’s moving till I get some answers.”
“To what questions, darling?” Mirideth replied, nearly causing the Operative to fire in surprise.
“Well, for starters, why do you have two voices?”
Maria sighed, and said “We’re two people. She lives in this body with me, but I’m the one in control of it.”
The man named Testrinilak stepped forward and asked “What exactly… are you?”
“We are a fully autonomous cybernetic platform, Connected to and powered by an organic human brain, supplemented by a partial synthetic nervous system(Myself), with a suite of advanced software for any and all eventualities.” Mirideth said, with a hint of what sounded like pride in her voice.
“Okay…” Meltrusia lowered her weapon, and leaned against the railing behind her “Why exactly did your ship crash through the quarantine shielding on this world?”
“The what?” Maria had never been happier to hear the voice of her love. She was propped up on her elbows, laying on her stomach on a blue tarp that had been laid out by the operatives.
Meltrusia sighed “This planet, IG-Z7-Q, is under quarantine, has been for the past 50 years. Until about 12 hours ago, no one had ever breached that quarantine.” She crossed her arms “Until you and your ship smashed through the shield. Now why...” She stood straight again, her hand resting pointedly on her pistol in its holster. “did you do that?
“We didn’t exactly intend to, ma’am. Our ship had suffered a severe LightDrive failure, and was in the process of coming apart when we left LightSpace. We didn’t see the planet for more than a few seconds before we hit the ground.” Niarith was now sitting up, one leg curled beneath the other.
Meltrusia seemed to consider that for a few moments, before speaking again “I see. And what exactly caused your ship to have a LightDrive failure of that magnitude? As far as I know, that kind of thing is so rare it essentially never happens.”
“Oh yeah uh… Yeah we’d been attacked… by pirates. They heavily damaged our ship, and we tried to jump away at the last second. It didn’t work out.” Niarith’s hesitation was not convincing.
“Okay… and where exactly were you when you were attacked? What system?”
“Zoridian.” Mirideth supplied, quite unexpectedly. Both Niarith and Maria flinched at the correct answer being used.
To their surprise, Meltrusia simply sighed, and said “Yeah, that place is a mess. ‘Least it was last I heard anything about it. Doubt it’s gotten much better since.”
“And how long has it been since you received news from outside this system?” Mirideth asked, her voice full of confidence. Maria began to see where she was going with this.
“Fuck, man,” one of the others said in a deep, gruff voice “Probably ‘bout 5 or six years. We do decade long tours out here, just watchin’ this fuckin’ planet. Boring ass job, y’all spiced it up.”
“Yeah, guess that’s true.” the woman added “So uh, I assume you got this… platform… from Zoridian VIc then? Y’know that’s illegal, right?”
“It wasn’t exactly my choice. The other asshole in this body forced me into it in some kind of fucked up act of love, as well as attempting to regain a body of her own. Unfortunately for her, she was too broken to use the body. So now it’s mine. Not by choice, but I can’t exactly go back at this point.” Maria sighed, then asked “Can I please get myself out from under this thing now?”
After a silent few moments, the gruff man spoke “Damn… that sucks.” He walked up and offered Maria a hand.
“Oh, no need.” she said, and she pressed down on the floor as hard as she could, causing it to groan as it dented slightly. She easily lifted the weight of the massive root on top of her, and slid out from underneath it. Everyone simply stared for a long moment, as Maria brushed the soil off her body.
The gruff man, who’s nameplate read ‘Psilackiani’, Stepped back and simply said “...Damn.”
Minutes later, the group was preparing to move. The operatives were checking their equipment, and Maria and Niarith huddled together a short distance away.
“I knew you didn’t mean what you said, Nia. And I know… what I am now… is a lot. But I’m still Maria, in here” she pointed to her head “Where it matters.”
“Mari, you know me,” Niarith smiled. “I like machines. Getting… inside them, seeing what makes them tick.” She gave a flirty wink that did little to mask the underlying pain. “But seriously, it’ll take some getting used to, but… I still believe in us. Always have.” She smiled again, genuinely, this time, and placed a hand on Maria’s chest. Maria placed her own hand over Niarith’s.
Her hand began to shake. “Niarith I… I didn’t… I didn’t think you’d still…”
“Of course I do, Mari. Did you think I'd abandon you after everything we’ve been through? I love you, you know that, Maria. I always will. I will never give up on us, not for anything.” She looked down at the floor “I’m sorry for my initial reaction.”
Maria didn’t say anything, she simply reached out and hugged Niarith close to her, carefully. Niarith briefly winced at the cold of Maria’s body, but hugged back regardless.
Meltrusia’s voice rang out through the room “Okay lady and… other… let’s get moving!”
As the two rejoined the group, Niarith asked “So why is it this plant thing, TIOWSS, hasn’t been attacking us this whole time?”
Pulastre began laughing, the first noise he’d made since he arrived. “That’s what it’s callin’ itself?!” He paused for more laughter “It’s named itself a fuckin’ acronym, that’s fuckin’ hilarious.”
Meltrusia stepped up and swiftly elbowed Pulastre in the stomach, stifling his laughter and morphing it into a coughing fit.
“It hasn’t been attacking us…” She began, speaking over Pulastre’s struggle to regain control of his breathing “Is because it knows what our flamethrowers are. And what they can do. It rightly fears them.”
“So let’s get out of here before it decides it’s worth the pain.” Psilackiani said, heading for the hole blown in the ceiling. Meltrusia nodded and followed, the rest of the group close behind. Two of the men went up first, then Niarith and Maria, then Meltrusia and Pulastre.
On the roof of the ancient cargo ship was another ship. It was not dissimilar from a slightly smaller, less angular Epsilon VI. Though it was a dark blue color, freshly painted, and not nearly as weathered as Maria’s former home had been. The area around the landing site and hole in the roof was covered in scorch marks and burned plant debris. The forest still boiled with motion, but none of it approached the ship.
The group silently approached the boarding ramp, and as they did, Maria noticed smoke in the sky, as well as sporadic flickers of flame from the direction of the crash. It seemed the Epsilon VI had started a fire. Serves this fucking forest right. I’ll be back for Lolanene.