Azolla turned on the sink and gently began washing Dorothy’s arm with soap and warm water. She tensed up, expecting it to sting as it often had when she would clean the cuts herself, but Azolla had managed to make it a fairly painless ordeal. Her mind began to wander as Azolla started treating her arm, having been relatively quiet to give Dorothy time to process things. Her mind went back to when they arrived at the apartment, there was another affini at the front desk, organizing and gathering papers as they went by. It felt unusual, but perhaps not entirely unexpected, how mundane some aspects of planetary invasion could be.
Bringing her mind back back to the present, Azolla tapped a vine underneath Dorothy’s arm, and she lifted it in response. “Good girl!” they patted her on the head as they began wrapping a cloth bandage around her arm.
Why were they doing all of this? It hardly mattered that the wound was bandaged up properly, it would heal fine as it was, and its not like it hurt much. If she was just going to be enslaved, why go through all this effort to treat some cuts? Moreover, why dote on her so much? Ever since Azolla scooped her up into their arms, she’s been receiving almost constant affection. Was it all just to convince her to go willingly? At a certain point it seems unnecessary, it would make more sense if they were here for the reasons they’ve said before, but that still feels entirely unrealistic. The universe is a cold, uncaring place. Anyone who manages to become a space-faring civilization has to have gotten there from war, bloodshed, and conquest, right?
“Something’s troubling you, Dorothy?” Her face really was an open book to these affini, wasn’t it? “Obviously. Many things. I still don’t understand why you’re going through all of this effort, its just a few cuts. They’ll heal either way.”
“Something tells me that isn’t what is really bothering you, but of course I’m going to treat this, you’re hurt, and I want to make sure it heals properly and quickly. I care, and I want to see you blossom and be happy.” A vine moves to pet Dorothy on the back of the head, but she moves out of the way from it “You keep saying that, and you keep doting on me and giving me affection, but how can I believe that? What reason is there for me to truly believe that I’m not going to be enslaved or ‘domesticated’ if I go with you?”
Azolla sat upright, straightening her back, as much as she really could with the low ceiling in the bathroom. “Dorothy… I don’t imagine you had friends living on planets no longer under control of the Accord. Have you heard anything of our broadcasts? Our relays to Terran society, about our intentions, and broadcasts from other terrans now living their best lives with the Affini Compact?”
“I, uh- Well, I haven’t. I really don’t keep up that well with the news and stuff, and uh, after hearing what I had about you all, I mostly just tried to ignore hearing anything else from you all.” She looked away from Azolla, not fully willing to accept that she may be at fault for not being well informed. Azolla pets Dorothy’s head, reassuring her that things are okay. “Here, how about after we get on the ship, and get you settled in, we go talk with some terrans that have been domesticated, and you can see how much they enjoy it. I think a firsthand account will go a long way for you.”
“You’ve mentioned that before, domestication. I still don’t fully understand what you mean by that. It makes me think like dogs and cats, or animals bred for food, and labor animals. What exactly does that mean?” The concept still confused her, labor animals don’t make sense, with how powerful the Affini Compact is, the extra labor provided by the whole of the Terran Accord would be a drop in the bucket compared to their power. Food didn’t exactly make much sense, there was a lot of life that would be far more viable as a food source than humans and would require far less effort to domesticate. Terrans being kept as pets also seemed nonsensical to her, so she hadn’t considered it a possibility, but there wasn’t much else it could be.
Azolla paused for a moment, thinking of the best way to word her response. “Well, what we want is safety and prosperity for all life in the universe. The Affini Compact seeks to care for all sophonts, intelligent life, allowing them to flourish and live their best lives. For many, this simply means letting them live independently under our care, giving them to means to pursue what they really want in life, free of the limitations they were kept under, such as capitalism. For others, they may need more specialized care, the personal care and love of an affini so that they may live well. An affini would own them, care for them, make decisions for them, all the things they may not be able to handle on their own so that cuties like you can live a truly happy and fulfilling life.”
That… was a lot to take in for Dorothy. They were going to dismantle capitalism? All of it? Do they not have any form of money? They really were going to keep humans as pets? But, not all of them? So some people would just get to live and be free and stuff? For the people who are kept as pets, they’d be forfeiting all of their rights and agency, that sounds terrible! And people are forced into that? Does anyone get domesticated willingly? What abou-
“Dorothy?” Azolla waves a vine in her face to get her attention. “H-huh?” Dorothy looks up to them, looking into their glistening golden eyes, her shoulders start to loosen, after having been so tensed from worry for so long. “S-sorry, it’s just there’s so much on my mind and-” a vine gently touches Dorothy’s lip. “There is no need to apologize, you haven’t done anything wrong. I understand that you’re worried about a lot that is going on.”
“T-thanks” She lifted her arm up, fully bandaged and taken care of. “Anytime, Dorothy. Now then, have you otherwise taken care of yourself today? Eaten recently, drank enough water, taken your meds?” Thinking about it, she realizes she had actually forgotten to have lunch, she was too busy trying to distract herself earlier that she ended up completely forgetting. “I did take my meds, as for food, uh. I uh, just had coffee today.”
Azolla pets her on the head. “Coffee isn’t food, I think we both know that. You haven’t had anything else yet today? It’s perfectly okay, I’ll see if I can make you something quick, then we can get you prepared to board the ship.” Dorothy blushes with embarrassment, are they really going to do this, like she can’t take care of herself? “H-hey, I can make myself food, I’ve done it for years.” Azolla had already left the bathroom before she could finish her statement, and was looking through her fridge to make something for her.
Azolla let out a dismayed sigh as she closed the fridge. “Most of the food you have here are flavorless rations and prepackaged meals. I guess capitalism took real food from you all too?” Their voice trails off, left to wonder about all of the other terrans who’ve struggled to get by. “I’ve managed. Well, do you have something else in mind?” They turn around, their voice lifting up again. “Well, I think I can go pick up something nice for you, is there anything that you would like?”
“Wh-huh? You don’t have to get me anything, it’s fine, really. I can just get one of the rations here and-” Azolla placed a vine on Dorothy’s head, and responded firmly. “I insist on getting you real food. You are worth more than this, and I will not let you say otherwise.”
Dorothy found herself blushing, Azolla hadn’t been stern with her about anything up to this point, it felt… unusual? Not bad, not at all, but strange. “U-um y-yea, okay, uh. You can pick, anything is fine.” Azolla smiled at her. “Good girl. Now then while I go get you something to eat, how about you start gathering up the things you want to take with you, I’m certain you have some personal belongings you want to keep, yes?”
“Y-yeah, I will. Okay.” With that, Azolla let the apartment, leaving Dorothy on her own. Taking a deep breath, she cleared her head, or, at least, tried to, and began deciding on what belongings she wanted to take with her. Her apartment was fairly light on nonessential items, mostly practical things, basic furniture, a bed to sleep on, things that would be present on the ship and so can be easily left behind. Of course, she still had a few personal items, a stuffed teddy bear, her medication, her favorite coffee mug, she gathered them up and threw them in a backpack.
While gathering her stuff, her mind went back to when Azolla had been strict with her. Why did she feel that way? Barely a couple hours ago she had been running away from this affini, thoroughly terrified that if she was caught, she would be enslaved or eaten, and now mind was getting all foggy from this very same affini being stern with her. Everything she thought she knew about the affini had seemed to be completely and totally wrong. In fairness, she hadn’t known that much prior to today, but it still seemed rational that they were evil. It was kind of funny, even the Dorothy circa an hour ago may have considered trying to run away while Azolla was out, trying once more at an escape, but now she was going to wait patiently for them to return. She still didn’t trust them, stars no, there was still some possibility of them and all the other affini being evil, maybe, but she wasn’t going to run.
She came over to her desk, seeing if there was anything else she wanted to bring with her, while wondering about what her accommodations aboard the ship would be like, she idly opened the container where she kept her box cutter, bringing herself back to reality, she pulled the blade out from the container, flicking it open and shut, contemplating on bringing it with her. Given how the affini were, she didn’t imagine she would be allowed, but… would she just have to give up on it entirely? Perhaps if the stresses of her life are lifted then maybe she wouldn’t need it to calm herself down anymore. At the same time, there was no denying it was an addiction like any other, there were times where even when she was feeling fine, the desire crept in just as strong as ever.
While absentmindedly twirling the blade in her hand, Azolla returned to the apartment, food in hand. “Dorothy, I have returned, and I think you’ll like what I got for you!” Her voice was sweet, ringing out like a warm melody. “A-Azolla, this, I wasn’t planning on doing.. that… I-” Her holding the extended blade was fairly incriminating, all things considered, but Azolla responded with the same compassion they had given before. “It’s perfectly okay, Dorothy. I imagine you were considering bringing that with you? While I would rather you not do anything to hurt yourself, I know that was a coping mechanism you relied on, and I don’t want to force you to get rid of that especially when you aren’t in the right headspace to do that. You can bring it with, but please be safe about it. My goal is to get you to the point that you don’t feel the need to keep that around anymore.”
Getting clean from self harm was… honestly not even something she was considering up to this point. It just seemed like a necessity for getting through the day, but she can’t deny she would be overjoyed if she just woke up one day and never felt that desire ever again. “T-thanks, I hope I won’t need it either…” She retracted the blade and threw it in her bag along with the rest of her important belongings.
“Now then, I can image you’re hungry, and I picked up something I think you might like. I can also answer any other questions you may have before we leave.” The two of them go to the dining table, Azolla placing the food she picked up for Dorothy on the table, a plate of pasta and meatballs. “Where did you get this from? Most restaurants nearby just have quick rations or burgers and stuff, did you have to go far for this?” She took a close look at the food, as if that would somehow reveal where the pasta came from.
“I got it from my hab unit on the ship. Every one includes an atomic compiler, so I simply compiled a fairly popular terran dish. Truth be told, I would’ve much preferred to make something personally, rather than assembling it, but I didn’t want to keep you waiting.” An atomic compiler? Do they really mean to say that the affini have a device that can assemble nearly any conceivable object imaginable, and they just used this to… make dinner? Taking a bite of the food, it was good. It was really, really good. Perhaps that is partially because most of her diet consisted of food designed to be as cheap and devoid of flavor as physically possible, with the occasional pot of coffee, no cream, no sugar.
“Dorothy? Dorothy, is everything okay? Oh, dirt… You’re crying... If you don’t like it you don’t have to eat it, you know.” Wait, was she? She wiped her tears away, almost in shock that she had cried over something so mundane. “No, no, it’s good, I like it a lot. U-um. Thank you, Azolla. I really appreciate this.” Azolla pulls her into a viney embrace, they felt surprisingly warm and comfortable. “Ah, I’m glad to hear that. When you get your own hab unit, it will also have a compiler so you’ll be able to get nice food anytime. Or, if you decide to stay with me I can make homecooked meals for you anytime you’d like” The affini gave a not-so-subtle wink to Dorothy, prompting more blushing and stammering from her.
“T-that’s- what- are you wanting me to, uh?” Why was this plant being so… forward with her? Is this what all affini are like? Are they all hopelessly flirty to everyone or did this one just really like her for some reason? There’s plenty of time for her to figure that out, at least, so no need to dwell on it too terribly long, she figured. She wasn’t exactly objecting to the flirting, it felt kind of nice, even. “Only if you want, once the wardship is over you’ll be free to decide from there. If you do decide to remain independent, I hope we keep in touch all the same.” Keeping in touch, yeah, that sounds nice to her. Finishing the rest of her food, she was left with a lot to mull over, though the biggest thing on her mind was what was she going to have for dinner. After having lived for years off of rations manufactured by the lowest bidder, she was excited to see what all else the atomic compiler could make for her.
“Well then, now that you’ve finished eating, is there anything else you need to gather up before we leave?” They cleared the table and cleaned the used dishes. “I think I’ve got everything I need, what will happen to this place anyway?” Looking out to the rest of her small studio apartment, it had never felt like much of a home to her. Now clear of any of her personal belongings, it felt even more alien to her. “Well, this place, and the other apartments in this building, will be filled in by anyone who may be currently homeless. We’ll also be upgrading the facilities as we are able to, installation of atomic compilers, replacing older computers and networks with modern affini tech, and eventually replacing these buildings altogether with much nicer accommodations.”
There’s so much that the affini were planning on doing just on this planet alone it seems, and they’re doing this with every terran planet? With that, it seemed pretty clear how this war between the Affini Compact and the Terran Accord was going to end, and hopefully that would be a good thing. “Well, Dorothy, shall we leave for the ship?” A few vines gently brushed through her hair. “Yeah, I think so, lets g- whoa-” Azolla picked her up and carried her out.