The interior of the ship was cold, sterile, and hauntingly similar in layout to the Epsilon VI. The doorways were hexagonal, rather than pentagonal, and the floors were a polished blue metal the same color as the outside of the ship. Photos and fabric wall hangings broke up the sterile monotony on the stark white walls, which bulged inward in the center, rather than outward as the Epsilon VI’s had.
Though the exterior was smaller, the interior had more rooms. Niarith and Maria were led to the second room on the right side of the ship’s only hallway. The room held a long metal table, with benches on either side. Seemingly some sort of dining or meeting area. The two girls were left there, with Psilackiani standing guard at the door. The others went to parts unknown within the ship.
Niarith sat down on the bench, wincing at the cold on her still nude body. Maria opted to simply lean against the wall next to her, rather than risk damaging their seating. It wasn’t as if she needed to rest her muscles anyway. Her tail swung idly from side to side, as she tried to get more used to operating it.
After a few minutes of silence, Psilackiani spoke up “So…” he said, mixed with a sigh “Pirates, huh?”
Niarith looked confused for a moment, then quickly grinned and said “Y-yep! Those… fucking pirates. Destroying our… ship.” Her grin faltered, replaced with a deep frown as Niarith realized the gravity of what had happened.
Psilackiani grimaced “Ah… y’all’re spacers, then? That ship yer home too?”
Niarith simply nodded, tears forming in her eyes. Maria reached out a hand and gently placed it on her shoulder. She hoped it was reassuring and not unsettling. Niarith reached up and placed her own hand over it, sniffling.
Psilackiani reached up and removed his helmet, holding it to his side. He was a light skinned man, with a bald head and a thick blonde mustache. His expression was one of genuine concern. “Damn… I’m sorry to hear that… uh… is it ladies?” He gestured to Maria.
Maria nodded “I’m still a woman, yes. I’m not a robot, I have a human brain.”
He nodded “Right, right, sorry. Just never really seen anything like ya before.” He smiled nervously.
“It’s gone… the Epsilon VI is gone… I...Mari.. what do we even do?” Tears were streaming down Niarith’s face as she spoke.
Maria gripped Niarith’s shoulder firmly “We’ll figure something out. We’ve done it before, we’ll do it again. Besides, we still need to get Lolanene back. Let’s worry about the present first.”
Text appeared in red in the top left of Maria’s vision.
<ALERT: STARSHIP ENGINE FIRING DETECTED. SHIP LIFTING OFF.>
Maria suddenly turned and stepped toward Psilackiani “Where the fuck do you think you’re taking us? Our friend is still in there!”
The man took a step back, closer to the door. “Now listen, we know there’s somebody else down there. But you don’t know what this thing is like. What it does ta people. I’m sorry ta say it, but yer friend is already gone.”
“That’s not true!” Niarith had stood up, and was now standing next to Maria “I got away from it, and I’m fine.”
Psilackiani put his helmet back on and said “Are ya? Tell me, when you think about that thing, how do ya feel?”
Niarith was silent for a moment, seemingly lost in thought. Her eyes seemed to glaze over, and she smiled. “Good… The best I’ve ever felt… Take me back down there, please. TIOWSS is all I need… It was so beautiful. You should have seen it, sir. You still can. Come back with me..”
Psilackiani sighed, crossing his arms “That’s what I thought.”
Niarith shook her head violently, then stood there, seeming unsteady.
“Nia? You okay?” Maria asked, Holding onto her so she wouldn’t fall.
“I.. I think so. Yeah. What the fuck was that?”
“That’s what that thing does to ya. Uses some kinda drug to give ya euphoria, then convinces ya it’s all you want in life. Its name ain’t TIOWSS. It’s The Intigrelt Organic Will Suppression System. Some kinda fucked up monster made by a corp called Intigrelt.”
Niarith interrupted “Intigrelt?! You’ve got to be fucking kidding me...”
“Saw the name in the shipping crates back in the ship myself, Nia. It’s them.” Maria replied.
Niarith sat on the edge of the table behind her, held her face in her hand, and muttered “Fuuuuck…”
“Well… guess y’all know ‘bout ‘em.
"We ran into them several months ago. Stumbled upon a blacksite. They were doing fucked up experiments with robotic exoskeletons. Woman in charge lost her mind, turned the entire staff into mindless drones." Maria stopped, miming taking a deep breath to calm her nerves. "She… a lot of people died there."
Psilackiani was leaning back against the wall next to the door, his arms still crossed.
"Sounds like their MO. Crazy bastards. Fuck shit up then leave it to someone else to clean up. Hate people like that."
Maria glanced back at Niarith, who smiled nervously back at her.
"Well then,darling, it's a good thing there's no one like that here, isn't it?" Mirideth's voice was in full seductress mode. "Listen, we simply wish to retrieve our friend, and leave. That's all we need, love. Surely a strong, powerful figure like yourself can help us with that, can't you?"
The man was blushing brightly "N-now I can't just authori-"
"Nonsense! You're a strong, capable, not to mention attractive, government operative. You're better than this posting. And what better way to move up in the world than by helping to rescue two poor helpless women and their robot?"
"Helpless?" Niarith whispered
"I- I mean I… this postin' is shit, but that don't mean I can just-"
Maria decided to bring her body into the mix, slowly starting to walk toward him, one foot directly in front of the other, causing her hips to sway dramatically.
"Come now, my sweet, sweet man," Maria reached Psilackiani as Mirideth spoke, placing a hand flat on the wall just over his shoulder. "Surely, we can come to an agreement? This body may not be human, but-"
"Okay! I've had enough!" Niarith had stood up again and was walking over to the other two in the room. "Mirideth, knock off the succubus act, and Maria, why the fuck are you helping her? You know better than that."
Psilackiani cleared his throat "I'm gonna have to agree with the lady here, uhm… ma'am? Personal space, please."
“R-right. Sorry I uh.. Got caught up in the moment there uhm..” Maria found herself unable to explain how she’d felt. How she’d suddenly found herself wanting what Mirideth wanted, how Mirideth’s voice had changed her thoughts, changed her actions, made her act in concert with her. She stepped back from Psilackiani; as she did, the door opened.
In stepped Pulastre, carrying a blue bodysuit similar to the tan ones Maria and Niarith had once worn. He eyed Maria suspiciously from within his helmet, then walked up to Niarith. “Here, ma’am. Can’t have you running around in the nude. Not any more than we already have, anyway.” He paused, awkwardly, then cleared his throat. “Anyway, get suited up, please. We’ll be arriving at the station shortly. Commander Meltrusia is going to want a full debriefing from both- all three?” Maria shrugged “Of you.” He handed Niarith the bodysuit and promptly left the room.
Niarith quickly donned the form fitting suit, Smiling slightly when she noticed Maria watching rather closely. “I see that body hasn’t changed some things, huh Mari?”
Maria giggled, an odd noise coming from her synthetic body. Psilackiani coughed. “Wait a minute, you two are… like… together? How does that work?”
“Frankly, sir, that’s none of your business.” Maria’s voice came out harsher than she’d intended, but it didn’t seem to bother the man much.
“Sure were keen to make some business of our own a minute ago. Now you’re all private-like?”
“That was… listen. You’re here to guard us, right? Why don’t you just do that?” Maria straightened her back and crossed her arms, attempting to look imposing. She hadn’t even realized she’d been crouching to fit inside the ship until she bumped into the ceiling.
Psilackiani blew out a breath of laughter he tried and failed to disguise as a sigh. Maria flexed her fists, attempting to prevent herself from punching the man, as that would probably kill him.
A pleasant ding noise sounded from the ship’s PA system, and Testrilnilak’s voice followed “Attention passengers, we’ve docked at Observation Alpha.”