We ate silently. Sylvia sat across from me, a few of her vines dipped in a nutrient dense water mixture. The pink and black flowers that covered her form like an intricate ball grown moved slightly, as if blown by an invisible breeze. I ate my chicken salad and avoided her eyes. I knew by now that they were a trap.
Slyvia insisted they were a trap I would willingly fall into, just as I would eventually ask her to drug me. She didn’t have to force any of it on me. I would break all on my own. When I told her I had no plans on breaking, she laughed, as if I said horses had hooves.
It’d been two weeks since I had been captured and a week since I had been pumped full of drugs, then knocked out and implanted with a piece of Slyvia in my spine. Only after that whole affair had been finished, had Syliva promised to let me “break” on my own. I figured she had so she could pretend the week I had spent high out of my mind didn’t count as her drugging me, as it was all “necessary.”
Still, she kept to her word since then and treated me with more respect than I had seen given to any other floret. In return, I remained cordial to her. I was surprised by how easy it was. I expected to loathe her just as much as the Rinnian and rebels loathed me. Perhaps I had let the loudest among their populations affect my opinion too much. After all, most Terrans didn’t seem to loathe the Affini, even though what they’d done to the Protectorate wasn't all too different from what I had ordered be done to the Rinnian. The only true difference was the colonization of the Rinnian had involved much more blood.
I wondered which colonial projects the Compact had embarked on that ended up as bloody as mine had. I refused to believe that every other sentient species in the galaxy was as outclassed as the Protectorate had been. There must’ve been some creature out there who had put up a decent fight.
“Have you ever killed a sentient being?” I asked Sylvia.
“Yes,” Sylvia said, her voice was smoother than the finest silks. It was another aspect of her that was a trap. If you listened too closely, you could find yourself lost.
“In previous wars. The Compact has encountered sophonts who were far more capable of resistance than your Accord. One group drew the Compact into an extended war. Of course, they were defeated in the end, but there were moments where some had to die, so other Affini and sophonts could be saved. I gave those orders and sometimes carried them out myself. It was still a tragedy. I plan on never participating in a war like that again.”
It was interesting how the justifications for war and colonization were still the same across cultures, no matter how advanced the species was. Was anyone truly different in the end?
“So they stuck me with a killer,” I said.
“You have killed too.”
“Do you regret it?”
“You lack empathy.”
“I could fix that,” Sylvia said.
“Are you telling me you plan on ‘correcting’ it? Or are you giving me the option?” I asked, taking another bite of my food.
“I’m giving you the option. I don’t plan on altering the core of who you are beyond what is necessary. Even after you break for me, I think you’ll retain much of your current thinking and personality. You’re just that sort of floret.”
“You say you’re going to allow me to break for you myself, but you’re not really doing that. You’re waiting for your biorhythm and other tricks to draw me in.”
“I don’t need to wait for my rhythm to draw you in. It already has. As for the other ‘tricks,’ they are simply a part of my being. I can no more turn them off than you can turn off your need for hunger.” She cocked her head to the side. “You seemed rather insistent before that nothing could make you break. Are you changing your mind? It’s okay if you are.”
“I haven't. I’m not sure why you’re so confident this is going to go your way.”
“Then I haven’t explained it well enough. With every day that passes, our connection will grow stronger. You will begin to miss my presence when I’m not close. One day, you’ll make the mistake of catching my eyes and remember how good it feels to fall into a trance and you’ll never get it out of your mind. Little by little, you’ll give me ground until you break, and once you do, I’ll take over and reshape you.”
I finished the last bit of my salad and stood up. Hearing Sylvia’s plans laid out so plainly didn’t make me angry or scared. They, along with most other emotions, were things I only had the slightest taste of. I had left them behind as I grew up. There was no use for them, especially not in the face of a threat. They only clouded someone’s mind. The best thing to do was stick to a plan and push forward. My plan was to resist.
Despite what Sylvia claimed, I knew I’d be successful.
“Good evening, Adrienne.”
I looked up. Sylvia’s eyes caught mine. My pulse quickened. I tried to look away, but I was too fascinated by the specks of pinkish-black that swirled in them. It felt like if I stared long enough, I would be able to puzzle out the mystery of what made the Affini hypnotic. It was a farce. I knew that much even as my thoughts began to slow, but it hardly mattered.
Knowing you were caught in a trap didn’t mean you could escape it.
“An entire month without catching my eyes. You lasted much longer than I expected. I’m impressed,” Sylvia said. Her leaves rustled. “I will do nothing more than let you enjoy your trance. You’re already gravitating towards me so nicely, wouldn’t you agree? I’m sure you’ve noticed the way you seek me out more often now, how you listen attentively no matter what I say. You’re making such excellent progress.”
“I won’t make the same mistake twice,” I said. The specks began to swirl in large, lazy circles. As they did, I felt my mind being dragged down.
“Oh I think you will because this feels nice, doesn’t it? To fall into my sway. To relax into your trance.” Sylvia’s leaves rustled again. “You can allow yourself to sink. There is no harm in it. Let yourself feel good.”
I had no fight to give. Her eyes had stolen all of it. Carefully, I took a seat on the floor. Sylvia’s eyes stayed locked on mine. My muscles relaxed. My eyes slid half shut, staying open only enough to keep indulging in the beauty of Sylvia’s.
It did feel good. It was like I was laying in bed after a long day of work. Goosebumps rose on my skin. Tingles of something bright and warm went down the back of my neck. I shivered.
“There we are. Just sink,” Slyvia said.
There was nothing else to do.
Sylvia’s eyes haunted my thoughts and dreams. I kept thinking about how nice it had been to sink into trance and how good being blank and empty felt. It’d be easy for Sylvia to make it better. With barely any effort, she could’ve made the slow sink into trance the most pleasurable thing I ever experienced.
It was disturbing that I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about it. It had been a week since I had the mistake of meeting her eyes, and the intrusive thoughts about doing it again kept getting stronger. Just as Sylvia predicted, I was falling further under her sway.
I took a seat on one of the Terran sized benches in the park and looked at the sunset. The pinks of it reminded me of her eyes and thinking about her eyes made me think about sinking and thinking about sinking made me think of how badly I wanted it again.
Damned intrusive thoughts.
I forced my mind away from Sylvia’s eyes and shut my own. I needed to change tactics. Sylvia’s eyes had dealt me a decisive blow and if I didn’t recover soon, I would lose our war entirely and become another mindless pet.
I wished I could’ve stayed out in the park longer and minimized my contact with Sylvia so that the only times I saw her were when I went back to the hab to sleep. That wouldn’t work though. The ache that Sylvia had promised her absence would bring had arrived. Instinctively, I knew it would only grow worse with more time away, until it became painful. I had to accept that I was addicted to her presence.
Fortunately, that could be dealt with. Addiction didn’t mean a person couldn’t function. I had met my fair share of addicts in the Protectorate — some my direct underlings — who performed their duties perfectly well. There was no reason I couldn’t do the same. Through trial and error, I could discover how much time I needed to spend with Sylvia before I was sated.
Assuming of course, that the addiction didn’t grow worse.
I opened my eyes and stared back at the sky. There was no point in worrying about that. If it truly would only grow worse, then trying to cope with it would be like attempting to hold back the sea. Though I despised the saying and had any subordinate who said it in my presence executed, I could only try my best.
What a loathsome prospect.
“Have you ever experienced love, flower?”
I ignored Sylvia. Just because I had to be in the same room as her for at least an hour a day did not mean that I had to communicate with her. The first week of it had been fine, an hour in her presence was bearable, but now the time I needed to be near her was creeping up to two and she had begun to ask these ridiculous questions.
I cleared my throat, and began to speak the rudimentary Affini sentence that the guide I was reading from prescribed as practice. I disliked how condescending the book was, but the tricks it had for learning the Affini tongue were undeniably useful. By far, it was the most comprehensive, best written book I had read on any topic.
Sylvia stood, her towering from sliding off of the tall couch she sat on. She moved to exit the room. I checked the time on my tablet, then dropped it onto my lap.
“Wait,” I ordered.
Sylvia paused and looked at me. I kept my eyes fixed on her chest.
“What is it?”
“You have to remain in this room with me for the next 45 minutes, so I can satisfy my addiction to you,” I stated plainly. There was no reason to try and hide it. She could feel the connection just as well as I could, if not better.
“Ah, I see. Unfortunately, I have to go to the grocers to fetch food.”
“You can wait.”
“You’ve claimed you’d be fine without me in the past, is that changing?”
For the first time since I was a child, I felt a swell of very real, very bright anger flaring to life in my chest. This stars damned plant was toying with me as if I was a dog. I took a deep breath, then settled back into my chair and picked up my tablet. She was right. I could
“Go then,” I said.
“I will see you soon then. I look forward to making dinner for you as always,” Sylvia said. She glided out of the living room. My chest began to ache right away, growing worse with every inch she put between us. A primal, long dormant prey instinct in the back of my mind screamed that I was in danger, and that the only way to be safe was to follow Sylvia.
How had she done this to me in so short a time? It had only been 2 months since I had been forced to live with Sylvia, and already I felt like I was going to have a migraine if she didn’t come back right now.
I took a deep breath and steadied myself. Even if it hurt, I would endure. She would not get me to follow her like a dog.
I would best her yet.
By the time Sylvia reentered the hab, I was ready to spring out of my chair and rub myself against her. The relief of knowing she was close again, that if I called out she would hear me, was more intoxicating than any drug I’d ever had. I hated her for it. That hate gave me the strength of will to remain seated.
Sylvia walked past me and into the kitchen and started to cook. I managed to stay seated for another ten minutes, before I followed her in. Sylvia didn’t pay me any mind. She was too busy working away at whatever she was cooking. I climbed up onto one of our comically oversized chairs and took a seat. The ache inside of me subsided further.
Sylvia did not recognize my presence until our meal — a take on fish and chips — was finished. She set a plate in front of me and took a seat. The food smelled delicious. I reached for a fry.
“Adrienne,” Sylvia said.
My head lifted. Our eyes met. My whole body went taught. For a split second, I wanted to scream in frustration, to curse at Sylvia and show off my rediscovered rage, but the desire was quickly crushed by the beauty of her eyes. My muscles loosened. Every breath I took was deeper than the last. I felt like I was a rock dropped into the ocean, my consciousness settling in the deepest trench. The world beyond Sylvia ceased to matter. Her song, the song I was so addicted to, the song I craved, became a symphony.
“I think you missed me,” Sylvia said.
I remained silent. It was so easy to. Responding was hard and dangerous. Getting lost in her eyes felt good and was safe.
“I wonder how long you’re going to be able to keep resisting. Can’t you see it’s hurting you? Your rhythm was so discordant until I returned. You missed it so much that you’re falling into even easier than usual. Do you like it, petal? Do you like how my song feels?”
“Yes,” I replied. And then, “you can’t ask me questions.”
“Ah, yes, if I do that, you’ll twist it in that silly little head of yours to make it seem like I was using underhanded tricks against you. What does it say about you though, that I can’t even ask you a question? You’re already falling apart. I can’t wait to put you back together.”
I knew I should be angry at what she’d said, but there was no room for anger when I was so far down and felt this good. I didn’t want to do anything but enjoy it. I just wanted to be.
“I’m going to keep you like this for a while,” Sylvia declared. “Now, relax.”
My mind blanked.
“Up you go, now. Come on,” Sylvia urged.
I blinked. I could feel my consciousness rising out of the trench it had been resting in, but not fast enough. My body — desperate to fall back into the track it lost — forced my eyes to search for Sylvia’s. I couldn’t find them though, because they had been covered by a thin layer of dark leaves.
Something bitter and dark that I had no name for switched to life. I had only felt it once or twice and only for a few seconds. Often, it was a precursor to anger. I wasn’t angry now though. I was reeling too much from Sylvia’s trance for that.
My stomach growled. Vines reached out, took my dinner from the stasis chamber, and set it back in front of me. I grabbed a fry and bit. The salt and heat help my mind piece itself back together. I finished quickly, then drained the glass of water Sylvia set in front of me.
Only once I finished, did I realize how weak it had all made me look.
“How far gone am I?” I asked. I needed to know. I couldn’t slink away and let what had happened to fester in the back of my mind like it had before. I had to know how close I was to the edge.
“In terms of what? Under my sway?” Sylvia asked.
“It’s hard to answer something like that. It is much more a question of compatibility.”
“Compatibility has nothing to do with what you’ve done to me.”
“Oh, but it does Sylvia said. “Any floret can feel the rhythm of any Affini, but how much they feel it can vary wildly. As a comparison, I’m sure you were attracted to many women, but some you found much more attractive than others.”
“You’re mystifying the question on purpose. More compatible couples should have bio-rhythms that are more in sync. Show me ours.”
“I’ll get you what you ask for, but you should know that data won’t describe the full story. Close bio-rhythm read outs don’t necessarily entail high compatibility. They’re simply correlated.”
She set a tablet in front of me. There were a few different grasps, but the largest one was a simple one with two lines. At first, they were wildly divergent, but then the second line — labeled so I knew it was me — began to match up with the first until it followed it almost exactly. I checked the dates on the x-axis. It had been like that for more than a week. It couldn’t get much worse.
That was good then. I was already in perfect sync with her and I was still holding out for my independence. Life could continue.
“You can take that,” I said.
“Whatever conclusion you have drawn is incorrect, but far be it from me to convince you otherwise,” she said.
“Why do you like this?” I asked.
“What you’re doing to me.”
“Why do you think I like it?”
“You’re not human. I don’t know what your psychology is like.”
“Be a good girl and take a guess.”
Warmth flared in my stomach. It was almost impossible to keep my face straight. It was hardly the first time I heard the praise — Affini were very fond of that one especially — but it was the first time it hit me so viscerally.
“You’re going to tell me that you like to take care of ‘poor little sophonts.’ In my view, I think your entire species just has an obsession with power,” I said. I didn’t know why I gave in to her request.”
“Close enough, I suppose,” Sylvia said and nodded in satisfaction.
I narrowed my eyes. The dismissal brought a spark of irritation. She was more than under my skin now. I wished I could dig my nails into my skin and get her out.
“Is there something else that’s wrong?” Sylvia asked.
“No,” I said darkly. I climbed off the oversized chair. “I’m going to my room.”
“Of course. I will see you tomorrow.”
Her words repeated in my head as I walked away. Tomorrow. There would always be a tomorrow. There was no escape from this. The weight of it threatened to bring me to my knees. I refused to yield.
She would not break me.
I had never ached so badly. When I had woken up this morning, Sylvia had made me breakfast, then left, claiming she had a party to attend. I was invited, but it was a domestication anniversary party for one of her friend’s florets. Nothing seemed less appealing than wasting my time with a bunch of pathetic, drug addled people who somehow maintained their place at the bottom of the social hierarchy, despite the Affini giving them the ability to do anything they wanted.
My disdain — an emotion that I had been feeling more and more lately — kept me centered through the pain. I may have ached, but the ache would not kill me, just as a heroin addict would live through their withdrawals.
I wanted to leave the hab and find something to do to distract me from Sylvia’s absence, but every time I tried to leave, I hesitated. A part of me demanded that I stay put in case Sylvia came back. The desire was nothing but weakness, forced onto me by Sylvia. She had conditioned me like a dog. My body knew that the only way to stop the pain was to have her close. To catch her eyes. To let everything but her song fade away until I was blank and empty and —
I stopped myself short. I hated the intrusive thoughts.
Fighting past the protests of my weak, loathsome flesh, I exited the hab into the fresh air of the planet. The sky was bright blue and filled with puffy white clouds. The temperature was mild with a warm breeze.
To me, it all felt gray.
I marched forward all the same.
The park was filled with Affini and mostly Terran florets. I ignored them and sat on the same bench as last time. The ache in my chest had hollowed it out. The only thing that would fill it again was Sylvia’s song. I would teach my body that feeling didn’t mean death or harm though. It was simple discomfort, something I had worked through many times before.
Affini passed me by. A few tried to talk to me. I resolutely ignored them. Eventually, they moved on with a shake of their head. I was glad. The other reaction was to force the issue and I was not in a position to handle that.
Perhaps ignoring Slyvia like this would work though. She could push the issue, but she had sworn not to. If nothing else, that would get the message across that I really, truly, did not want to be under her ‘care.’
I shut my eyes. The wind blew through my hair. It was growing down to my ears now, after years of being shaved short. There was no point in cutting it. Unlike Terrans, Affini wouldn’t see my haircut as conveying power.
Slowly, the ache in my chest began to fade. It almost felt as if Sylvia was growing closer, but that was impossible. The location of the party was at was across the city, far from our hab. I didn’t know if my body was breaking the condition Sylvia had attempted to establish within me. I was too tired to consider it. For now, I’d let myself enjoy the temporary relief.
To my surprise, the feeling of comfort and fulfillment kept growing. I swore that I could hear Sylvia’s song somewhere close, but it was hard to pay attention to it when I felt so warm and that warmth seemed like it was pulling me down.
Something in the back of me howled danger, but was quickly silenced by how good being pulled down felt. The more I relaxed, the more comfortable the bench became. My skin buzzed with lazy contentment. I rubbed my hand over my arm and shivered with pleasure from the sensation that followed. It was getting harder to keep my breath steady.
My mind settled in the trench it only did when I looked into Sylvia’s eyes. I had no desire to pull it out. There was no danger of harm or crime on Affini held worlds. I was safe and comfortable. I could allow myself to think of nothing and know there was danger from doing that. I could let go.
“Open your eyes for me, flower,” Sylvia said.
I did. She stood before me, flanked me by two other Affini and their florets. My eyes were drawn to her. She smiled when we made eye contact. I felt my mind plunge deeper into its trench. The warmth burned brighter. I began to pant.
“You said she was resistant,” one of the Affini said. She was covered in a dress of multicolored flowers.
“She has spent the past few hours without me close. It’s only natural for her to feel docile now that I’ve returned. She knows she needs me, even if she won’t admit it.”
“And she really isn’t dosed with any xenodrugs?” the other Affini asked. He looked like a treant from old Terran fantasy, complete with arms and fingers like branches that were tipped with leaves.
“No,” Slyvia replied.
“She’s very pretty,” a floret with long blond hair and angel-like features said. She looked so delicate compared to me. Where I was all hard lines and sharp features, she was soft as if made from fine snow. “She’s realllly deep in trance though.”
“She is very susceptible to it,” Sylvia said.
Leaves moved in front of Sylvia’s eyes. I. “Come up for me, flower. My friends are very excited to meet you. I’ll let you fall apart for me later, if you still want to.”
As instructed, my mind rose from its trench. I began to flex my muscles. With each one I flexed, my awareness came back and more, until my mind — though still fuzzy — was active enough to process what was happening. I took a closer look at the Affini that flanked Sylvia, then shut my eyes again. There was no reason to engage with them
“Is she stilled hypnotized?” the other floret asked.
“No, she’s aware. She just doesn’t want to talk to us,” Sylvia said.
“It doesn’t seem like she noticed we were there,” the multicolored Affini said.
“She noticed. Trust me. This is what I was saying when I said she was resistant.”
I fantasized about killing one of the florets near me. Hurting Affini physically was impossible, but emotional damage was still possible. It would’ve been nice to make them feel as helpless as they made me.
The Affini and florets chattered away about me for a few minutes longer, before they bid their farewells and walked away. I kept my eyes shut. I would not risk looking at Sylvia’s eyes again.
“You should have come with me,” she said.
A torrent of profanity and curses danced on the tip of my tongue, but I swallowed them back. She shouldn’t make me this angry. The fact that she was proved she was continuing to erode the control I had over my emotions.
“Oh. I see. I have heard this referred to as ‘the silent treatment' in your culture. I have found that, no matter the culture or type of sophont that employs it, it has harmful to all parties involved.”
I met her with silence.
“Well, I suppose I shall see you back at the hab then.”
I felt her move away. I tried so hard to stay put, but my body was too afraid of the ache and my will was too weak from being previously obliterated. Before she was even five feet away, I was off the bench and following.
“You need me,” Sylvia said, without looking back. “You can’t keep pretending that you can avoid my presence. You’ve found out over and over again that it only hurts you and makes you weaker. Look at how easily you fell into trance today, just from my approach.”
I didn’t reply. Sylvia didn’t speak any further either. When we got back to the hab, I tried to go to my room, but I couldn’t stand not being in the same room as her at a minimum. Sylvia gave no indication she noticed and settled on one of our couches to begin to read. I set across from her and tried to do the same, but I couldn’t stay focused. My mind kept ruminating over how it felt to be entranced. I wasn’t sure if I was more scared or excited by the prospect.
Both were unfamiliar emotions.
I could only identify them because I had seen other people have them and heard them speak of them. Nothing they said came close to the experience. They were things I felt with my whole body. Things that made my thinking more difficult than Sylvia’s song.
It was contemptible. How could anyone want to live with a mess of these things, constantly running on a loop? No wonder I was so much better than my peers. And yet here was Sylvia, taking something that made me superior and destroying it. Making me weak. I wished I could kill her for it.
“You are a very interesting Terran. The amount of violent thoughts you have is high, yet I have never seen you begin to act on any of them.”
“I hate you,” I said plainly. I was surprised I had even said the words. I had never hated anything before, but I knew with complete certainty that I hated her.
Sylvia looked up from her tablet. Her eyes were still covered by leaves. “Really?”
“You’ve changed me. I didn’t want to be changed. I was happy before.”
“I wouldn’t describe your state before you arrived in my vines as happy.”
“Hmm, putting that aside, we are always changing, aren’t we? Is it really so bad?" Sylvia asked.
“You’re just trying to justify making people your pets.”
“And what was your justification for pushing for the Rinnian to be treated as second-class citizens?”
“I was never concerned with justifying anything. I don’t believe you should be either. What, are you going to tell me that the Affini have cracked the code of morality? Have you found that objective moral truth somewhere out in the world?” I scoffed. “You’re simply acting how you please and dressing it up as mercy.”
“I’m sure I don’t need to explain what a hollow justification that is, do I?” Her vines rustled. She stood up to her full height and looked down at me. “The Compact does what it does for the betterment of the entire universe. I will not lie and pretend our society is not set up for most sophonts to become florets, and you may call that oppression if you want, but the fact is that our ‘oppression’ leads to greater happiness, safety, and fulfillment for all involved.”
“You have such a pessimistic view on everything, don’t you? Not everyone cares so little for others. The entire reason the Compact does what it does is expressly for the betterment of the entire universe. I will not lie and pretend our society is not set up for most sophonts to become florets, and you may call that oppression if you want, but the fact is that our ‘oppression’ leads to greater happiness, safety, and fulfillment for all involved.”
“You don’t believe that, do you? You could just as easily not make people pets and make the universe better. I don’t buy any of this for a second. You’re repeating your own propaganda.”
“If a sophont does no harm and truly wants to be independent, they have no trouble with it. The truth is that independence is a burden to most. They don’t want it. They are happier without it.”
“Because you drug and hypnotize them.”
“That certainly doesn’t hurt,” Sylvia said cheerfully.
“And all of that is just more reasons to hate you,” I said.
“You’re allowed to hate me, little flower. I won’t take that from you.”
“I will always hate you,” I informed her.
“I think you’ll come to love me too.”
The ache had turned into a persistent, unceasing itch under my skin, that wouldn't go away no matter how much I scratched or how I tried to lay. I had spent hours with Sylvia, sharing the same spaces as her in silence. I had expected that to give me my fix for the day, but it felt like her absence earlier had made them come back twice as strong. I wanted to touch her almost as badly as I wanted to be free.
For the first time since I was a child, I weighed the merits of suicide. After less than a minute of thought, I concluded that it wasn’t worth it. Suicide would be the ultimate show of weakness. It would mean admitting that all the worthless gutter trash the Affini had enslaved were better than me, because they managed to get by under Compact rule just fine. I refused to stoop to their level, let alone below it.
I got out of bed, smoothed out my pajamas, then walked out of my room and to Sylvia’s. I could resist longer, sit in my room until the ache forced me out, but that would mean coming to her as a starving dog instead of a merely hungry won.
I opened the door to her room and stopped in the threshold. Sylvia had discarded her human form and was in a pile of vines wrapped loosely around her core. It was a pretty thing, the same pink and black as her eyes and flowers. It was smaller than I thought it would be.
I imagined running a blade through it and killing her.
I held out a hand. “Give me one of your vines,” I ordered.
She reformed into her humanoid shape and sat up on the bed. Her eyes glowed in the dark. I kept my eyes focused on where her core had disappeared behind a mass of vines, flowers, and leaves, hoping their dark brown made them invisible in the darkness of the room
“Why do you need one?” she asked.
“Because you have gotten me so addicted to you that I cannot sleep without touching you first.”
“Ah, I see. So to be clear, you are asking me for something, correct?” Sylvia asked.
“Then say please.”
I wanted so badly to refuse, but I had nothing to bargain with. Sylvia held all the power and she would withhold her touch until I prostrated myself before her. It made me feel small and angry. I decided the feeling had to be humiliation. I had never felt it before.
“You’re acting like a child,” I said.
“If I understand your culture correctly, going into your guardian's room and asking to be held is a much more childish action than asking someone to say please.
Something inside of me snapped. I had never been so angry. I couldn’t even consider my words before they came flying out, though I did make sure to keep my tone even. “You’re a fucking cunt and I hate you. I imagined stabbing your core through when I saw it. Now, please give me a vine to hold.
“Of course,” Sylvia said. She extended a vine and placed it in my palm. At once, the itching under the skin of my palm was soothed. The rest of me still craved
I had walked into a trap that I should’ve known was there. Of course, a single vine wouldn’t be enough. It was only ever going to make me want more.
“Is there something wrong, flower?” Sylvia asked her eyes narrowing. A predatory smile slipped onto the wooden mask of her face. “Do you need more?”
“I hate you.”
“But you need me, don’t you?” she asked.
“You’ve made me an addict and then you act as if there is anything true in my submission.”
“It is true enough for my tastes.”
The longer I held her vine, the more the rest of my body itched. I wanted to bring it to my cheek and rub against it like a cat. I could feel Sylvia’s song rising again, dragging me down just as surely as her eyes. It was so hard to resist.
“Petal, you are already implanted. I already own you in every way that matters, so what’s the point in continuing your resistance? You’ve already accepted that you’re addicted to me and that there is no escaping my vines. You ache for my touch. Why not surrender and allow yourself to feel the pleasure you crave?”
“I crave freedom,” I replied.
“Not as much as you crave my touch.”
I sank my nails into her vines. Sylvia didn’t react. I wished I could’ve really hurt her.
“Just give in,” Sylvia urged. “All you have to do is ask to be wrapped up in my vines. I won’t even make you say please.”
The song was reaching a crescendo. My thoughts were being pushed out. My head began to lift on its own accord, searching out Sylvia’s eyes. Her smile grew wider.
“Oh, have you fallen into trance already? I meant what I said earlier, you are quite susceptible to it.”
“I don’t want it,” I said.
“Then wake up,” Sylvia said and snapped her fingers.
I blinked. The weight of the song had been cut in half, even though it was still blanketing me in its embrace, threatening to drag me under again. I forced my eyes back down to Sylvia’s chest, furious that I had fallen into trance.
“The longer you’ve been my pet, the more emotions you’ve felt. Isn’t that interesting?”
“Because you—“ I stopped. Her song was rising again, much quicker than last time. “You’re trying to hypnotize me,” I accused.
“If I was truly trying, I wouldn’t have brought you out of your trance. I can’t help if just standing close to me is enough to take you down.”
Down. Every time she said that word I fell a little further. My eyes began to lift again. The rest of the room began to fade, along with the last thing that Slyiva had said. My only focus was on reaching her eyes. On seeing if this time, I could puzzle out their mystery.
Sylvia snapped. “Wake up.”
I jolted awake and shook my head hard. My thoughts weren’t running in their usual, neat patterns and I couldn’t force them back on track. My skin still itched.
“I want to go to sleep,” I said. I was still clear on that, if nothing else.
“I’m sure you do. I can help you with that, either by giving you a nice dose of Class-Zs or by holding you."
“I don’t want that,” I whispered. Her song was pulling me down again. My eyes were lifting.
I jolted back to awareness.
“You keep slipping off, dear. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to keep you with me. What a shame,” Sylvia said.
“If I could kill you, I would,” I informed her. My voice was so soft. I sounded like one of my underlings did after they learned one of their comrades died.
“It’s a good thing that you won’t be doing any killing then, isn’t it?”
Her song dragged me under again. Sylvia snapped, rousing me from the trance, but I only stayed that way for a few seconds before I came crashing back down. She kept snapping though. Dragging me out and plunging me back in over and over again, until I couldn’t tell which way was up or down. Everything was too hazy.
Everything except her eyes.
They were as brilliant as ever. The pink of them seemed ever brighter tonight. Instead of trying to puzzle out their mysteries, I simply stared, enjoying their color and the way they danced. I could always figure it out later. Sylvia wasn’t going anywhere.
I brought the vine I held in it to my face and rubbed it against my cheek. The itching that had plagued it stopped. I rubbed it in more places. I couldn’t remember why I hadn’t been doing it before.
“More,” I said.
“What do you say?” Sylvia asked.
A half-second later and I was encased in her vines and laying in her lap. Our eye contact hadn’t broken. The itch under my skin died all at once. For the first time since I had become Sylvia’s pet, I was wholly content. It was bliss. I’d never felt better. I never wanted it to end.
I was so happy she had me.
I drifted off to sleep.
“I would like to be put to sleep,” I said.
“Ah, I see,” Sylvia said. She smiled. “Finally ready to accept xenodrugs?”
“You’ve left me no choice,” I replied. I had tried sleeping earlier, but the itch was growing and I knew it was only getting worse. I could only accept reality.
“I’m sorry you feel that way.”
I tapped my bicep. “When you drug me, it is only to be sleeping drugs. If you give me anything else, I will know and I will never forget it or forgive you.”
“I won’t give you any more than Class-Zs then.”
“Then do it and let me go to sleep.”
“I'm afraid that the drugs you’re looking for will put you to sleep within seconds,” Sylvia replied.
“Give me something weaker then. You have drugs for everything, so I know you have drugs that won’t knock me out in a few seconds,” I said.
“I do have xenodrugs that can do what you’re asking, but if I give you them, you’ll feel, as you Terran’s put it, ‘high.’ It would be easier if you were to lay in bed and allow me to administer proper Class-Zs once you’re comfortable.”
The thought of Sylvia standing above me in the darkness of my room and drugging me to sleep was untenable. I never wanted her to see me that vulnerable. It would only encourage her to think I trusted her.
“I don’t care. Give me the weaker ones and then leave me alone,” I said.
“If you won’t have it any other way,” Sylvia replied. A needle slid out her index finger and glistened in the light. “This won’t hurt at all.”
Before I could ask to administer the drugs myself, her needle slid into my arm, lingered for a few seconds, then went out without the slightest pinch. I inspected my bicep. There was no blood. Without another word, turned on my heel and walked up the stairs to my bathroom. I could already feel the fatigue nipping at the edges of my mind, but I felt like I could get through my nightly rituals first.
I started to lazily brush my teeth, trying to ignore the euphoria the drugs gave me. I focused on the mirror instead. I did not like what I saw. My eyes weren’t nearly as cold and harsh as they should be. The cold blue of them was having to compensate far more than it should’ve. The typical lines of tension in my face that marked me as capable, dangerous, and active had faded away. My hair, always cut short, was messier than it used to be.
The image was proof that I was slipping. That my eyes were half-closing on their own could be blamed on the drugs, but the way my posture was relaxed, how my eyes lacked the hardness, and how my olived skin looked softer than ever, couldn’t. I was changing.
Fucking plants, I thought.
I began to sway on my feet, as if blown on the same invisible wind that moved Sylvia’s flowers. Trying to ignore the euphoria and looking into the mirror had distracted me from the progress of the drugs. The fatigue had spread through every part of me now. I glowed with warmth. My body felt so heavy. I needed to move or risk falling asleep in my bathroom and having Sylvia put me in bed.
My muscles were slow to obey as I dragged myself out of the bathroom. The edges of my vision were darkening, but there was no accompanying burst of adrenaline. The drugs made signs of danger feel safe.
I stumbled into my room. My bed beckoned, yet from where I stood across the room, it seemed a light-year away. I managed a few steps, before I stumbled and fell to my knees. I pressed my hands into the carpet to push myself back up, but the carpet felt so nice. It felt plusher and softer than any mattress I’d ever slept on.
It wouldn’t be so bad to fall asleep there.
No. Fuck, I couldn’t do that. I needed to get into bed. I couldn’t sleep on the floor like a stray dog. I couldn’t let Slyvia find me like that. I had to be better. Awash with humiliation, I began to crawl. I managed to reach the foot of my bed and get my chest on top of it, but I couldn’t get my feet up. My body was too heavy.
I was going to pass out.
“Ah, I suppose I didn’t account for your tolerance enough. My apologies. Would you like help getting into bed?” Sylvia asked.
“No,” I whispered.
“If you can’t get up yourself though, I’ll have to do it for you. I won’t let you hurt yourself by falling asleep like that.”
I shouldn’t have looked in the mirror. If I had just moved on, I would’ve had time to make it into my bed. The worst scenario was playing out before me and I was helpless to do anything but surrender to it. It was like the first time the Affini had boarded my ship all over again.
Vines coiled around me and lifted me up. My eyes slipped shut. The darkness had never been more comforting. I was placed on something soft and warm. A vine patted me on my head. After that, I was gone.
“I will no longer allow you to do this,” Sylvia said.
I blinked up at her. Her presence had alleviated the fever-like symptoms that had been ravaging me since she left an hour or so ago. They had been bad enough that they kept me from trying to track her down across the city, even though I very much wanted to.
“You said I’d get to choose,” I said, my voice rough.
“It was. I even allowed you to choose to harm yourself with it, but it has reached the point where I can no longer tolerate it. You will either come with me when I leave the hab or you will allow me to give you xenodrugs that will prevent you from hurting like this.”
“So all your talk about waiting for me to break on my own was a lie.”
Sylvia bent low, so her face hovered right in front of mine. I avoided her eyes. “Oh flower, just look at you. You’ve already broken for me. You can’t bear to be without me. You’ve accepted drugs and my touch. I can start to fix you now. I won’t allow you to suffer unnecessarily.”
It was all a lie. She had grown impatient and that’s why she was doing this. It had nothing to do with alleviating the suffering her absence caused. I didn’t need her. I didn’t.
“You’re shaking, Adrienne. Let me help you,” she said. Her vines draped over me and with a sinking feeling in my chest, I realized she was a right. I crossed my arms over my chest.
“I don’t need you,” I said.
“You do,” she insisted.
“If you don’t need me, then you won’t mind if I leave again, now would you? I returned early because I could feel your distress,” Sylvia said. She looked away and started to withdraw her vines. The terrible heat and cold of the fever rushed back in. I caught a retreating vine and held tight.
“No. You can’t. You — you can’t go.”
“You said you didn't need me. Was that a lie?” she asked. Her voice dripped with condescension. Her vines and leaves rustled with delight. She was a predator playing with her prey. Never had I felt so totally and hopelessly crushed.
“No,” I whispered, but even I knew it was a lie.
“Then why won’t you let go of my vine?”
“I hate you,” I spat, grabbing onto what few threads of anger I could. “I wish I could kill you. I wish I could kill every one of you fucking Affini.”
“And that’s why you’re domesticated, darling. Now, if you don’t release my vine, I’m going to take it as consent to give you a nice dose of Class-Es and As to relax you.”
I tried to let go, but my hand refused to obey. I was a prisoner in my own body.
“5 seconds,” Slyiva sing-songed. I watched a needle slide out of her vine. I made a final effort to release her vine.
“It won’t hurt at all,” Slyvia promised, as the needle quickly slid into my wrists. “There we go. All done. You’ll feel so much better now. I’m proud of you for finally admitting what you need.”
I didn’t dignify her with an answer.
“I’m going to build you into something so much better. You’ll be so much happier, petal. I’m so excited for you.”
I waited for the lick of anger that usually followed such declarations, but found none. The ache and hot-cold of the fever began to dissipate at the same time as a new, warmth rose in its place. It felt much lighter than the Class-Zs, but unlike Class-Zs, it made me hunger to be touched.
“There we are. Doesn’t that feel nice? Isn't holding my vine so much better?”
The drug made the stress of Sylvia’s absence melt away. I squeezed her vine and couldn’t help but marvel at its smooth texture. I have never touched anything that felt so good.
“Go away,” I ordered, but it was such a weak demand, like a private attempting to order the commander-in-chief.
“We’ve already gone through this. You don’t want me to go away,” Sylvia said. She slid next to me on the couch, her body pressing into mine. “Though if I’m wrong, you can prove it by getting up, can’t you?”
I bit the inside of my cheek. The contact was better than anything I had ever felt. Every point of contact between us sent a constant stream of pleasure rocketing through every nerve of my body. The pleasure bordered on too much, and yet I still wanted to press more of my skin against her. To see how far it could go. Even with as gone as I was, I could recognize that as a dangerous desire.
I stood up and stumbled away.
“I hate you,” I panted. I curled my toes into the carpet underfoot. Even feeling it made me feel euphoric.
“You can hate me and still need me,” Sylvia said.
“You broke your own rules. You drugged me. I didn’t ask for this.”
Sylvia smiled. “Then you should’ve released my vine,” Sylvia said.
Our eyes met. Everything went quiet. Even the heavy thrum of pleasure rising from my feet to the rest of me was subsumed by their mystery. I was being driven down, down, down, so much harder and faster than before, feeling so much better than before, and entirely helpless to stop it.
My knees buckled. Sylvia’s vines wrapped around me and lifted me up so I was laying on her chest. Her eyes still looked down at me. I stared back, enthralled. The bliss of my mind being blank fusing with the ecstasy of the drugs.
“This is your moment. You will remember it forever. The day you finally gave in to what you’ve been craving for so long. Relish it.”
Her vines squeezed. I gasped. I wanted to hold back, to keep silent, but the specks of pink were swirling round and round and I was split up and raw, my emotions spilling out in the world, squeezed out like toothpaste by Slyiva’s vines.
“Just sink,” Slyvia ordered. “Go as deep as you want.”
I didn’t think there was a deeper to go, but with every second that passed, I found out I was wrong. Smaller, vines climbed across my body until I was encased. They began to stroke and scratch. Some were needle-sharp, others were as soft as silk, but all of them teased and touch and forced an endless torrent of noise and sensation out of me. I was being played like an instrument. I was trapped. There was no escape.
There was only down.
The heat in me kept doubling until I could barely breathe. It felt like something I was being smashed into pieces, obliterated so not even the atoms of it could remain. Through it all, Sylvia sang to me. I didn’t know if it was her voice or her words or her song, but it didn’t matter. I understood what she wanted for me. She wanted me to be goodsubmit.
I had no reason not to.
Gradually, the feeling of the blistering heat searing me inside out faded away into a warm glow. The feeling of her torturous vines running across my skin became a background sensation. Even the specks of pink in her enthralling eyes became meaningless. My mind, my self, every bit about me, had floated off to somewhere else. Somewhere soft, warm, and safe. Every part of me was soothed.
Emotions I didn’t know were possible burst forth like newborn stars, covering me with their brightness before dying out and settling over me like a blanket. I didn’t know there were so many ways to feel. I didn’t believe there could be such depth to sensation. Even the worst of the feelings, the ones that made me want to truly die, quickly faded and knit themselves into the blanket. Every one of them had their place, no matter how small. Each of them mattered. Each was a part of me.
Something about it seemed different, but I couldn’t put my finger on what. I was sure that this warm place was somewhere I had never been, but it somehow seemed more familiar than anywhere else. Here, there was no desire. No needs. There was nothing but me and my body and the quilt of emotions that covered me and made me who I was. I existed and that was enough.
It should’ve been for anyone.
Sitting on Slyvia’s shoulders as she strolled through the forest, I experienced a world I didn’t know I could. The greens of the leaves, the blooms of the flowers, and the cries of the birds, were much more noticeable. They made dormant emotions blossom within me. They were small flowers, easily ignored, but they were making themselves known now, where they had always been dormant before.
She had broken something inside of me. The way I worked before had been altered and I could never get it back. My armor, once so impenetrable, had been torn away. I was left to piece back together what I could.
I hated Sylvia for what she had done, but there was no anger behind that hate. It had finally settled down into a smooth indifference, the way I was used to feeling about people. Her death now wouldn’t bring me anything. There would be no satisfaction in her suffering. All that would happen was I’d be passed to another Affini who did not have Sylvia’s enthusiasm for making me humiliate myself by asking for drugs or to be put into a trance.
Sometimes, I pondered whether or not she had implanted that thought into my mind. I’d seen what implants could do, and erasing and manipulating thought itself were well within their bounds. But what good would be worrying about that? If Sylvia didn’t want me to know, I wouldn’t. There was no way to get around her power over me.
There was only accepting it.
There was only submission.
Sylvia’s leaves rustled. They did every time I had that thought. She must’ve been able to feel a pang of my own emotion through our damned link. In turn, I could feel how pleased and satisfied it made her. Knowing that she had taken one of Terra’s greatest generals and turned into a creature that would ride around on her shoulders and asked to be drugged.
A shiver worked its way through me. I felt Syliva’s interest rise in response. Thinking too much about drugs was always like this. My body would never forget the way they made me feel. How a simple injection could cause me to experience greater ecstasy than any Terran drug ever could. Their absence may never cause me withdrawals the way Sylvia’s did, but that didn’t stop me from thinking about how nice they felt.
It had been hard to stop my thoughts from veering off in that direction lately. My distaste of xenodrugs had been worn away, until I thought about being dosed at least once a day. I thought most often, about being put into a trance, though I refused any Class-H. They didn’t feel as good as other xenodrugs did, and they didn’t make me sink the way Sylvia’s eyes could.
“Do you want something from me?” Sylvia asked.
“Why do you think I want anything from you?” I replied.
She laughed gently. “I could feel your interest, petal. You know that. I know everything about you.”
“I’m close enough, but you’re dodging the question, arent’ you? Would you like to be dosed? Would you like to look into my eyes?” she asked.
I remained silent.
A vine slid into my hand. I squeezed it.
“If you don’t release my vine, I’m going to choose for you,” Sylvia said.
I ran my thumb over her vine. She always did this when she asked me questions. I considered it a minor victory. It was better than saying yes to her questions. She allowed me to save face, at least a little.
Perhaps it was so the moments where she did force me to ask hit so much harder.
“And…3…2…1,” Slyvia said. A needle slid into my arm. “And…done.”
I didn’t ask what it was. It was another way to play pretend about what was happening. I would fall into her vines once the drug took effect, but not before then, never before then.
Sylvia began to hum. The sound of the music was entrancing. I closed my eyes and listened, letting the song work through me. A gentle breeze blew through the woods, rustling the tops of trees. Birds called. Their cries joined Slyiv’a sound.
It was beautiful, which was another new feeling I was learning to appreciate. It brought with it even more feelings, many too difficult in minuscule to identify, parts of the blanket that were far too small. It was still interesting to try and find them though. It was like looking into Sylvia’s eyes. It felt like if I searched far enough, I would find an answer.
“Open your eyes,” Sylvia ordered.
When I did, we were in another part of the forest. The colors were so much brighter. I could smell the sweetness of flowers on the breeze. I touched my skin, but it didn’t hum with any pleasure, like it did with Class-As. I had been drugged by something else.
“How do you feel?” Sylvia asked.
“Good,” I replied. I was far enough into my trance that any question she asked would be met with the truth.
“How do you like the forest?”
“Prettier than me?”
“No,” I replied.
“Good girl,” she said, patting my head.
I shivered with delight. Those words and that gesture were yet another thing she had conditioned me to crave and love. I hated her for it, and yet I needed it to never stop.
“Tell me something you’re thinking,” Sylvia said.
“I hate you,” I said lazily. I laid back. Her vines held me fast, forming a sort of hammock that allowed me to stare up at the sky. Puffy white clouds, the sort that I’d only seen in old paintings of earth, drifted through the sky.
“Do you love me too?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I sighed. Her vines began to rub and massage me. Despite my low stress life, I still carried tension with me. I rolled over to look at the trees, admiring the different shades of green as the vines massaged me deeper and deeper into trance. My head was pleasantly empty. It felt good.
She never had to condition me to feel that.
“Have you ever loved another sophont? Anyone at all?”
I thought for a moment, then shook my head. I had never known my parents. I had grown up in one of Terra’s many orphanages. My early had been filled with foster homes and shitty apartments once I was old enough. None of it bothered me. Letting it tear me up inside like it did so many others helped no one.
“You are a very interesting Terran. Most of the literature on you talks about how happy you are to pack bond.”
“You’re a strange Affini. Most of your kind would’ve pumped me full of drugs,” I said. A bright golden bird flew overhead, landing in a tree a bit ahead of us. With the drugs running through me, it felt like I could see every ridge of its feathers. I had the strangest desire to cup in my hands and simply hold it.
“That is why we were paired together,” Sylvia replied.
“I don’t believe you,” I said.
The question was complicated enough that it started to rouse me from my trance, but then I turned my head and found a new tree to look at and settled back into it. It was a good way to avoid conversations with Sylvia.
“I think you believe all Affini are cruel.”
“And yet you are happy in my vines,” she said. “And I can make you even happier.” Another vine wiggled into my hands. I held onto it tight. I always did.
It wasn't a question, so I didn’t respond. Affini were the worst beings in the universe to discuss concepts of happiness with. They were as hedonistic as a species could get, at least, in regards to their florets. To them, a floret was happy if they were incapable of feeling anything other than pleasure. I disagreed, but it was hard to argue when they could slip a drug that only caused intended effects into someone’s arms and launch them straight into bliss.
“3…2…1,” Slyvia said. I didn’t feel the needle slip in this time but I did feel the rush of heat that followed the administrations of Class-As. Her vines began to rub again. I shuddered. The world came into an even brighter and more profound focus, so much so, that it didn’t seem like it could be real at all.
“And one more,” Sylvia said.
Bliss followed her words. All my thoughts turned to pleasure. I turned and nuzzled into her neck. A torrent of reward chemicals followed, causing a vicious, ecstasy inducing feedback loop.
“You’re such a good girl. You’ve come so far. I’m proud of you,” Sylvia said. She plucked me off her shoulder and cradled me in her arms. One of her vines scratched under my chin. “You’re my beautiful, prickly floret. I love you so much.”
Every word forced more emotion into me, until there wasn’t enough room in my body. Something wet ran down my face. A vine snuck into my mouth and I bit down hard. It wasn’t grounding enough. I was still so, so lost, but I was lost in Sylvia’s arms.
If nothing else, she would keep her promise to keep me safe.
The world faded around me. I sunk back into the place where I was nothing more than a body, where I could feel the trillion blankets of my emotions swaddle me up. I relaxed into it.
It might not have been happy, but it was close enough.