Dorothy’s worst fears had been realized, not only had the affini come to her home world, but she was exposed, alone, and one of them was staring her down. She knew that the affini were far larger than humans, but being face to face with one was far more intimidating than she could have ever imagined. Wishing that she had watched that news piece from earlier, she had to think fast about what to do. Behind the overgrown weed was an entrance to a parking garage. It seemed far from perfect, but there wasn’t much time to see if she passed any better places to make an escape, and most other buildings were likely locked up tight.
Noticing her panic, the affini speaks up again, “Little flower, there is no need to worry, everything is going to be okay. Oh, your arm is hurt, are-”, Not wasting any more time, Dorothy pushes past the affini and makes haste for the parking garage, feeling a few viney tendrils reach out for her, barely grazing her back before she enters a stairwell. Slamming the door behind her, she hurried up the stairs, hoping the more confined space of the stairwell would deter the affini from giving chase. She had nearly made it to the third floor when she heard the door open, the affini called out to her again. “Please don’t run, I promise you, we are here to help. I just wanted to make sure you’re okay.” Looking down momentarily, the affini had managed to enter, but instead of the humanoid form she saw previously, the affini was now a sprawling mass of vines, filling up the base of the stairs, and quickly beginning to ascend. Realizing her time was running short, she bolted through the door to the third floor of the garage.
After closing the door behind her, she noticed something out in the horizon, obscured by other buildings previously. In the distance, she saw a massive plantech ship, an affini craft. Though still mostly obscured by other buildings, it was clear to see that it eclipsed any other Terran ship in size. The affini really were here in full force, weren’t they? Not having any more time to think on that subject, she ran ahead, and found a suitable vehicle to hide under. It wouldn’t buy much time, but maybe there was some slight chance she could still make an escape. She dived underneath the car, groaning in pain as her arms scraped against the pavement. Hearing the door open once more, she bit her tongue to stifle any further noise.
“Is this where you’ve gone, little one? Are you hiding here? Oh, please do come out, you’re hurt badly enough as it is, you don’t want to get an infection too.” The worry in their voice sounded ever so fabricated to Dorothy. If she gets caught, the affini are just going to enslave her for the rest of her life if they don’t just eat her instead! Looking ahead, she saw the affini’s legs, walking ahead, looking for her. Small vines started to feel underneath the nearby vehicles, efficiently seeking her out. She pushed herself further back beneath the car, dragging her arms back, a bandage on her left arm catches against the rough asphalt, pulling it off.
“Ahn!” She bites down on her tongue once again, but it was too late. She sees the affini’s feet turn to face the car she was hiding under. “There you are!” the affini spoke with such a cheerful tone, it only further fueled her fear of what was to come. The affini slowly walked towards to car she was hiding under, her heart feeling as if it had stopped entirely. The affini bent down to peer underneath the car, their golden eyes pierced through Dorothy’s soul.
“N-no…” She could no longer choke back her tears, her entire world had fallen apart in just a few short minutes. “P-please, just go away…” Burying her face into the ground, the fears and worries she had pushed to the back of her mind for so long consumed her. The affini spoke up again, “Little one, I promise you, I won’t let anything bad happen to you. Could you please come out from under there for me?” The affini extended an arm underneath the vehicle, giving Dorothy the opportunity to come out on her terms.
Calming herself enough to process what the affini said, she cautiously grabbed onto their hand, resigned to her fate. “I-it’s not like I have any choice, really.” The affini carefully pulled her out from underneath the car, and scooped her into their arms. “There we go, I’m proud of you, and I’m sorry for having caused you this grief.” Their voice was calm and soothing, Dorothy looked up to the affini that had been pursing her. They had a wooden face, gently smiling at her, vines composing their whole body, with moss and clovers growing everywhere on them. Their eyes were what stuck out to her the most, though. Looking more closely, they were unlike anything she had seen before, golden and bright, with flashing of silvers intermittently rippling across. It was… surprisingly relaxing, in a way.
Shaking her head, she realized the gravity of the situation she was in, she was now being carried by the affini, about to be taken away to stars only know where. Before her mind could start on another anxious spiral, the affini spoke again. “Hey there, there’s nothing to be afraid of. We’re only here to help.” Petting her hair, they continued. “Here, lets start with introductions, I am Azolla Prisca, Fifth Bloom, she/they. May I ask what your name is?”
Dorothy hesitated, wondering if this was some trick or if they may use that information against her somehow. Ultimately deciding that she may fare better if she doesn’t try to be deceptive, she replies. “I-its Dorothy… Miller. Uh, she/her.” They gave her a warm smile. “Dorothy, it’s a beautiful name. Now then, I’m certain you must have a lot of questions and concerns, and I do hope that I can answer all of them for you, for now though, let get you cleaned up, and tend to these wounds properly. Do you happen to have a place to stay? We can get things taken care of there.”
Her mind began to race once more. They wanted her address? There’s a lot more harm that could be done with something like that, but she can’t just lie and them take her somewhere else, and she can’t just say she doesn’t have a home, what if they just take her with them? Clearly noticing the fear and anxiety building in her mind once more, Azolla ran a few comforting vines through Dorothy’s hair. “If there’s something in particular troubling you, we could talk about it first to set your mind at ease, or, if you would prefer, I could give you something to help you calm down a bit, and we can go from there”
“W-wait no, or, well, yes. To- uh, to the first thing, but, also I’ll just- take you to where I live, its pretty close by…” She stammered out a response. Give her something for the anxiety? Did they mean drug her? Realizing that focusing on that wasn’t going to get here anywhere, she decided to start with the most pressing question on her mind. “What’s going to happen to me? A-also you can put me down now...”
“In response to your second question, its quicker and safer this way, also you look so adorable being held like this!” Her reaction was like watching the five stages of grief occur all at once. “As for your first question, we will be going to your home to get you cleaned up and treating your injuries, as mentioned before. After that, we will be bringing you aboard one of our ships to place you on a temporary wardship to determine your personal safety.”
Wait what? A wardship? Being taken on one of their ships? She had many, many questions about what that would entail, and everything was happening so fast she didn’t have time to process let alone respond to what she was hearing. Before she could find the profanities necessary to convey how badly she did not want any of that to happen, Azolla continued. “I know this is a lot to take in all at once, but we only want to see you and every other Terran flourish and be their best selves they can be. As those wounds on your arm look to be self inflicted, we just want to determine if you are able to flourish on your own, or if you need some extra care in your life to make that happen. We understand that life for many terrans has not been easy, and that many need those harmful vices to help them get through the day.”
This was far from what Dorothy was expecting, she assumed the affini wouldn’t even both with the facade of benevolence and simply just take whatever they pleased with no regards to any suffering caused. It was all a sham, of that she was certain, but this seemed like an unnecessary amount of effort to put forth. Needing to process everything that was going on was well beyond what she was capable of, and she was left blankly staring off at the sunset while Azolla continued to carry her to her home. “We’ll just give you a bit of time to recover, we can come back to this when you’re ready.” That sounded good to her, anything to just get away from all of this for a bit.
As they walked, the two of them soon came by another affini, this one appeared more traditionally masculine looking, rather than the fairly androgynous one that had found Dorothy. He beckoned Azolla over, and they began to chat with each other. “Azolla!” He spoke with a friendly, almost jovial deep tone. “I leave you alone for a moment and you go and find yourself a Terran already? I can’t say I’m surprised, you’ve been talking about getting yourself your first floret for a while now, and an absolute cutie she is!” He begins to pet Dorothy, she snaps back from her spaced out state, now incredibly confused and concerned.
“She found me, more like. The poor girl nearly hurt herself when she ran into me.” They look down at Dorothy and smiles at her. “Oh, has that situation with the Terran police been dealt with?” That must’ve been what that shooting was from, she assumed “It’s all been taken care of, the combatants have been disarmed and taken aboard for domestication, it should be perfectly safe now.”
Domestication? Wait, like dogs and cows and stuff? So this was about enslaving humanity for their own purposes? It was nice knowing what all of this was in service of, but less nice was the fact that she was in an affini’s arms and going to be taken about for a “wardship” whatever that really meant and then she’ll be enslaved for the rest of her life and-
Seeing the panic growing on her face once again, with her struggling to escape from their arms, Azolla reassured her. “Everything is okay, little one, once we get you home, we can answer more of those questions you have, and I can alleviate your concerns about everything going on.” That seemed to calm her down at least a little, but she still wasn’t buying it. “Easy for you to say, d-do you really think I’m going to believe you when you’re all the warmongers that have been capturing planet after planet?” Her voiced wavered, trying to stand up against the affini that had invaded her home.
The masculine affini responded first. “My, the Terran Accord really has spread so many lies about the Compact, haven’t they?”
“They really have, I hope to show Dorothy here how wrong the Accord was. Hopefully she’ll soon see that we’re here to help.” Azolla gently rubbed one of their vines across Dorothy’s cheek. “Well, best of luck with that, Azolla, I’ll be seeing you. I’m sure you have plenty of important matters to attend to.”
“You as well, Hesthra, be sure to stop by sometime!” The two of them continued on to Dorothy’s apartment. While they walked, a thought flickered in Dorothy’s mind, just for a moment, before burying it. What if, maybe she was wrong, and the affini really are here for the good of humanity?