They brought me before a panel of plants. I was sat in the center of the room, on a couch that I sunk into, too drugged up to move more than an inch a second. My thoughts were like molasses, but if the attempt was to obliterate my mind, they had failed. I was lucid enough to understand what was happening. I was before a tribunal.
I wondered what my sentence would be. It would be something gentle, I was sure. Propaganda suggested I'd become a pet, but if that were the case, I didn't see the need for a tribunal. I was certain they were debating some third, unknown option.
One of the plants, a massive thing, built like an ancient redwood, turned its eight eyes upon me. I met its eyes, gazed into the fractals and patterns there, and let it try to see my soul. Its leaves and vines twitched. A smile slowly crept across my face.
It looked and saw nothing.
Its eyes drew me deeper. I was the hummingbird to its nectar, driven on by an impulse I couldn't have resisted sober. I did not care. This thing was not getting what it wanted from me.
I blinked. The drugs made it slow. The darkness cut me off from the infinity of the plant's eyes. I kept my eyes closed and let the feeling fade into the warmth of the drugs. Better to not get baited into another trap.
"Peace Flores, we have some questions for you," the redwood said. Its voice had a similar quality to its eyes. Grand and towering. I allowed my head to roll back. I imagined myself back on my ship, drunk off victory and wine.
"Then ask," I said, enunciating each word.
"Records and testimony from many sophonts suggest you were responsible for the genocide of all Terrans from Igneous-234 is this true?"
"Yes," I said.
"Records and testimony from many sophonts suggest you were responsible for the genocide of all political dissidents on Demeter-8135 — is this true?"
"Records and testimony…"
And so it went. The tree read to me my sins and I admitted to them one after the other, as if the plants were Saint Peter and I was standing at the gates of heaven. The mood in the room grew hot with anger. I basked in it. I always had. The judgments of humans and these plants alike did not matter. On Terra, no human could touch me and these plants had no fate worse than death awaiting me. They didn't have the mettle. There was nothing to fear.
"You don't care," a new voice said. It was bright and warm like spring rain was said to be on old earth. I rolled my head towards its source.
"About?" I asked.
"What you have done to your fellow sophonts. You are the reason — "
Another plant — this one's voice like a roll of thunder, said something in their musical tongue. The spring rain went quiet, its attempt to castigate me failed. It should've known it was impossible to draw shame from a person who had none.
"Peace, what do you think your fate should be?" the redwood asked.
"Wine and chess," I said.
"And what would your victims think!" the spring rain snapped.
"What does it matter?" I said. A pulse of bright, warm pleasure moved through me. I felt like I was sitting on the peak of a young mountain as it grew to scrape the sky. "You will not punish me in any way they would have liked."
The room filled with the music of discord. I laughed. They had tried to take my power and failed, as everyone else had before. As they always would.
"Peace, what would you do if you encountered a sophont who you believed had betrayed you?"
"Destroy them," I said. One of the drugs they had given me had annihilated the filter between my thoughts and my words. It was unnecessary. I would have told them the truth sober as well.
"Elaborate," the thunder said.
"Oh, killing them, psychological devastation, whatever cuts the deepest." I sighed. The wave I had been riding was settling down. I felt like I had been deposited into the best hot spring in the universe. "I was never that picky."
"For what?" the spring rain asked.
"You already provided the reason."
"Why?" the plant amended.
Why was such an interesting question. I have often wondered why myself. I never found a satisfying answer. It wasn't instinct, I wasn't that base, nor was it hedonism. I had once toyed with the idea that the destruction of others was my version of self-actualization. I liked it as a formulation, but it was still not quite right.
"Because," I said.
"Because…?" the spring rained said.
"Because," I confirmed. The short nod I gave after was a herculean effort.
The room went quiet. There wasn't the hum of machinery or the sounds of nature. It was pure silence. I had never felt it before. I decided I liked it.
The spring rain sang a note. The thunder sang the same. Finally, after what could've been an hour, the redwood echoed it.
My fate has been decided.
I stretched out on the couch, feeling my muscles flex, basking in the simply glory of it, before relaxing again. The silence was broken by the shuffle of vines across the floor. I felt the spring rain approach. I smelled something delicious. I opened my mouth. A vine touched my lips. I tasted golden honey. I stretched out my tongue and touched it. My mind went blank. For long seconds, there was only pleasure and bliss. My consciousness was being erased. I didn't mind. This was a reward for all my victories. I couldn't have been more pleased. So many told me I'd end up in hell, but Saint Peter had opened the gates for me instead.
I opened my eyes, spinning together the last threads of my consciousness to do so. The plant of spring rain was before me. It was a mass of writhing vines and beautiful flowers, a veritable rain forest come to life. I could taste its fury even better than I could taste the honey. It was twice as delicious. I gave my final smile. There was only room to speak a final few words. I tried to be clever. I failed.
"I win," I said.
And then everything was bliss.