“Do we go with her?” Kallie whispered.
Trissa slipped off her modulator, just long enough to whisper back, “we can’t not follow her!”
“Alright, alright…” The afauxni hobbled along, continuing to draw strange looks from all sorts of aliens, humans included. Syringa would say something to her planty counterparts, when they passed curious glances, and that seemed to satisfy their interest. What exactly was she saying?
Still, the girls were hopeful. Now that they knew what affini looked like, and had successfully gotten on the inside, they could sneak around the massive park this ship had for some reason and pilfer things to enhance their disguise with.
If they could do it behind their roommate’s back, of course. Or could she see behind her? So many terrifying possibilities.
“I don’t have a floret, currently,” Syringa said, making conversation as they entered another tram. “Though that might change, soon enough! There were so many adorable sophonts on that ship we found you on, I don’t know how you could stand it!”
“It was h-hard, for sure!” Trissa said. “So many adorable…” what the hell was that word she was using? Sofas? “So many adorable…humans on that vessel.” Neither of them had much love for their crew. Friendlier faces really began to disappear after the war was lost, until the zealots and hardliners were all that were still able to throw their weight around.
And did they ever.
But for better or for worse, that was in the past now. At least they were free of the captain’s goons who would call you a plantfucker if you spent too much time looking out of a viewport.
And, of course, "plantfucker" was the magic word that got you erased, if someone levelled it at you.
But now they were in the clutches of said plants they’d accuse you of fucking. Out of the frying pan...
Did those zealots really deserve to die in the mines?
Stepping off the tram, Kallie’s legs nearly buckled. There was gravity here — actual force pulling down on them comparative to something terrestrial. The rest of what they had seen so far had enough to keep them on the ground, but this was something else entirely.
“Oh dear, are you okay?” Syringa asked, offering a vine which Kallie braced herself on by throwing her fake appendages over.
Trissa quickly saw her life flash before her eyes before Kallie righted herself. “Um, yeah, I think!”
“Can you walk? I’ll be sure to help you reacclimate.”
“I can walk, yeah,” Trissa said, hoping it wasn’t a lie. Kallie did manage to brave further hallways and avenues past pleasant rows of living spaces, with fellow pedestrians coming and going at leisurely paces. They passed endless units of housing, interspersed with cute little shops, until their guide stopped.
“Welcome home, Dandelion!” Syringa waved at a door, which made it slide away and reveal the contents within. Said contents were something like a well-furnished apartment, if everything, literally everything, within was way too fucking big. The affini brought them into a living room with a couch that was itself large enough to house a person or two. A bar that was taller than either of the terrans separated the living room and the kitchen, which had, again, upscale implements designed for your average three to four meter tall person. Kallie wasn't getting any less winded as she took it all in.
Straddling the two areas as well was some device that resembled a 3D printer if 3D printers grew from seeds planted in the ground. Every bit of technology they’d seen so far seemed to have rather…organic properties. Which made sense, perhaps? Yet it was strange. Put an affini and a casually dressed terran right next to each other and then take a guess of which civilization was more advanced, just looking at the two of them. Many of the more humanoid affini had semblances of clothing, to be sure, but they were articles they'd grown themselves. Syringa's fluffy purple cape, for one. Was that a sign of moving past the need for traditional textiles? Perhaps. But what kind of human, outside of some noteworthy serial killers, would wear clothing made of flesh?
The couch faced a TV which was larger than any viewport on the ship that wasn’t on the bridge, and seemed to be growing out of the wall. Currently dormant, there seemed to be a very slight concavity to the screen.
“Is…it really okay for me to just move in?” Trissa asked, once she could once again manage words. She’d need a ventilator rather than a modulator, if things kept taking her breath away.
“Of course, of course!” Syringa reasserted. “It was getting much too quiet around here.”
“I…um…tend to keep to myself,” Trissa said. It needed to be said.
“If you prefer,” Syringa said, as jovial as ever. “I tend to go out and about for hours at a time, so you’ll have the place to yourself rather frequently!”
Oh thank the stars…
“Ah, but you must be starving. I know what Muscari said, but we don’t actually eat human flesh.”
How the hell were they supposed to eat in front of an actual affini? What did they actually eat?
“Uhh….” Trissa started. “Ahhaha…”
“Oh, no need to be shy! I have some delicious nutrient mix readily available, and as the terrans like to say, someone wrote your name on it.”
“Ah…yes, I’ve heard them…um…say exactly that!”
“Oh, but what’s this?” Syringa’s attention was abruptly pulled away by something. She pulled a tablet out of…somewhere…in her…chest? and tapped away at a vine. “Oh, now that is a shame. It seems I have to go and do something for, hmm, exactly six hours! Do give me a call if you need anything, dears….ear…” she said, tripping on the last word for some reason. She gave them a grin and a wave of a vine, and sidled out of the door, her pale violet adornments bobbing gaily.
And then she poked her head back in. “Oh, yes, if you need to contact me, just ask the hab AI! It takes voice commands. For a lot of things. Including food. Ta-ta!” She exited once again.
“No, not yet,” Trissa hissed. “She’s acting kinda weird…what if it’s a trick?”
Kallie nodded, eliciting a small grunt from Trissa that made her blush. “Or maybe it’s an affini culture thing where whenever people leave, they come back five minutes later before leaving for real?”
“That sounds crazy but they’re the unknowable other so that might be true!”
“Better stand still for ten minutes at least, just to be sure,” Kallie said, though she immediately regretted her words. Dissipating adrenaline was making the tiredness in her limbs really come forward.
About thirty seconds passed.
“Okay okay I can’t do this anymore,” Kallie said.
“Oooh, I’ve got an idea! Back up towards the couch and then lemme fall onto it!”
Uh-huh. “Ummm…okay…just hurry up, okay?”
“Weee!” Trissa tumbled backwards, taking the fabric cover with her. After scrambling madly out of the disguise, she slowly turned to look at Kallie. “S-soft…this is really really soft.”
“You better take your boots off,” Kallie ordered. A scuffed couch would arouse way too much suspicion for comfort. She sidestepped the things as Trissa tried to drop them on her with a smarmy grin.
“Forecast says rain!” Trissa said, practically singing.
“I guess it’s time to see if abbreviated marine training can get me up this thing,” Kallie said, pondering the mountain that was Syringa’s couch. She took her own general issue stompers off. Taking a jump, she got both elbows aboard, but Trissa’s attempts to help sent her falling back down.
A few further attempts, however, and Kallie made it up, free to heave breaths on the...oh wow.
“Holy hell, Triss, you weren’t kidding.” There was room enough for them to both lie on their backs, all splayed out…and they did exactly that.
“These plants have it gooood, Kall…”
Kallie let out a happy sigh. “It’s not faaaiiir!” She followed up with a drawn out yawn.
“Hey, before you pass out, we gotta be, like, scientific about this,” Trissa mused. “What have we learned about the affini thus far?”
“Uhhh…they call everyone ‘cutie’ for some reason.” It was true. Even Dandelion, one of their own. One pretending to be one of their own.
“I know, that’s so weird!”
“And a lot of them are…kinda hot.” Which, naturally, made the flirting worse.
“Nuh-uh…okay, maybe a little,” Trissa admitted.
“It’s…kinda lonely in here without the plant, I’ve gotta say,” Kallie said, after a few moments of silence. That was another thing, too — it was suddenly very quiet. Like something was missing…
“Uh, hey, I’m right here! We kept each other sane on the Thunder, we gotta do it here too, right?”
“Well, yeah,” Kallie said. “But…you can’t tell what I mean?”
“Agh…yeah, I can…” Trissa said. “It’s weird.”
“Maybe it’s just cuz we’re hungry. You’re hungry, right?”
“Oh stars, more than anything. But that means I’d have to get off the couch…” Trissa whined.
“There’s always a catch…”
“Well, we’re gonna have to eat eventually, and falling asleep is, like, a massive risk.”
With great reluctance, Kallie and Trissa dropped off the couch.
“Time to figure out food,” Kallie said.
“Voice commands are apparently the way. Hey, um, Syringa’s house? Could ya make us a pizza?”
“Sure thing, cutie!” a synthetic voice responded. Both girls screamed at the intrusion, grabbing hold of each other as the missing adrenaline returned. “What toppings would you like?” the hab continued. Only Trissa screamed, this time.
“Stars, the affini are weird,” Kallie muttered. “What do we want on our pizza, Triss?”
Trissa tentatively pulled away and cleared her throat. “Um…just p-pepperoni?”
“Coming right up!” the saccharine voice confirmed.
A whirring caught the girls’ attention as the matter compiler came to life. In a matter of moments, a hot pizza had just…come into existence, atop the flat surface of the device. It was about eye level with Trissa; the shorter girl was on the tips of her toes to get a proper look.
“That…smells…amazing,” she said, almost drooling.
“Um…do we have plates?” Kallie asked.
“Sure thing, cutie!” Both girls jumped. Two white plates joined the pizza on the compiler’s surface. Kallie got both of them a slice, and they headed to the table, before realizing that there was no easy way to actually eat at the table. So they remained standing.
“This is the best starsdamned thing I’ve ever eaten,” Kallie said.
“No joke…” Once they finished, they each fetched another slice. And then another. Soon there was no pizza left.
“This can’t be fucking real,” Kallie murmured, rubbing her belly. “I’m gonna wake up and be missing a kidney or something.”
“Without even getting paid for your donation? That’s rough.”
“Figure of speech, Triss. Unless you’re doing some…affini method acting, I guess. Since they seem to have some trouble with random terran phrases.”
“Hmmm, we probably should get into the habit of intentionally butchering figures of speech, if it helps us blend in,” Trissa mused.
Kallie smirked. “You should, you mean. You’re the voice of Dandelion.”
“Let’s see…’mmmm! That really hit my spot!’”
Kallie let out a belly laugh. “Gross!”
“Hold your hoses!”
“No, those are Dandelion’s vines, remember.”
“You’re located on top of the money!” Trissa giggled. “This is fun.”
“We better clean up,” Kallie said.
“Just put those plates back on the compiler, cutie!”
“Stars, I’m never gonna get used to that!” Trissa said, tensing up at the intrusive voice once again. Kallie did as their robot overlord instructed, and was startled to find them disintegrate as quickly as they’d appeared. There was no trace of grease, either.
“Fucking magic,” Kallie muttered. “The plants have fucking magic.” It gave her an idea. “Hey Syringa’s house, refill all my prescriptions!”
“You’ll need to ask your owner for some Class G xenodrugs, cutie!”
“That’s…weird,” Trissa said, shooting the matter compiler a suspicious look. “I guess it’s bugged?”
“Um. Yeah. Bugged. Stars, I hope so.”
“What the hell are xenodrugs, anyway?”
“Xenodrugs are a variety of medicines, recreational and prescription, that the affini have made specifically to help cuties like you, cutie!”
The girls tensed up. “Hey Kallie…”
“You don’t think the AI is gonna tell Syringa it knows we’re human, do you?”
The blood in Kallie’s veins turned to ice. “It’s…bugged, remember? It’s just a…computer, it doesn’t know what it’s saying. Right?”
“There’s…something…wrong…with all of this, Kall.”
“Okay, okay, let’s put this to rest,” Kallie said quickly. “Hey, uh, computer, you have different settings, right? What setting are you currently, uh, set to?”
“I am currently programmed to best help florets with their needs, cutie! You can consider this to be my firmware’s ‘floret mode’!”
“Ah. Y’see? It’s just on the wrong setting,” Kallie said, hoping she could make herself believe it.
“Why does Syringa have her house set to floret mode then?” Trissa whispered, hoping to go unheard by the AI.
“She probably secretly enjoys being talked down to.”
“Ah, okay,” Trissa said. “I, uh, guess I can understand that.” She scratched her head and laughed. “Stars, I thought we were sunk for a moment.”
“I mean, if you think about it, there’s no way Syringa would just let us have free reign of the place if she didn’t think we were one of her kind.”
“Oh shit, that’s a great point! I can’t believe we’re actually good at this.”
“Let’s reward ourselves…with a nap!” Kallie declared. “Like seriously. Food is taken care of, now I’m really just tired.” She shook her head. "Despite it being dangerous."
“I can get behind that. We better set an alarm, though. Um…AI, could you set an alarm for an hour from now?”
“Two hours!” Kallie cut in.
“An hour and a half.”
“Sure thing, cuties! I will wake you ninety minutes from now.”
“I thought we decided on an hour and a half, though.”
“Nnnno. It was a joke. Look, I’m tired too.”
“We can still do two hours…” Kallie clambered atop the cushy castle of comfort.
“Agh, just help me get on the couch, tall person!”
“No need to remind me that I’m tall,” Kallie said. “Maybe I’ll just make you sleep down there.”
“That better be a joke, you!”
Kallie giggled, before reaching down. “This time, it was.”
Trissa made it up as well, with the assistance of her partner in crime. “It’s like I’m on a cloud…”
“Stop talking, we’re on a timer,” Kallie grumbled, grabbing a loose cushion to use as a pillow.
“Ugh, get mad at me about it! You’ll be thanking me if we’ve got just enough time to change if Syringa comes back early.”
Kallie lightly kicked at her talkative neighbor. “Sleeeeeeeeep.”