Kallie awoke with an idea in her head, a plan in her mind. And as luck would have it, Syringa was already there, peering down at them with her chromatic gaze.
“Hey, uh, Serena!”
The plant wore an amused expression, a twinkle in her eyes. “It’s Syringa, dear. There is something you’d like to tell me?”
Kallie looked up at the plant with a triumphal look on her face. Trissa, meanwhile, curled happily and absently reached a hand across Kallie’s lap.
“I know you said you’d help us keep our secret, but I don’t quite trust you yet.”
“Ah. That does make me a little sad,” Syringa said, a wounded expression on her wooden visage. Kallie couldn’t help but wince.
She shook her head, brushing regret aside. “Just know this, Syringe!”
“Um. Sorry. Syringa. Just know this, Syringa! The moment you try to sell us out, I will tell all of your fellow plants that your home…computer…thing is set to floret mode!” Kallie basked in her own brilliance.
Trissa blinked awake at that moment. “Wa’s goin’ on?” she murmured. Her gaze turned to the affini. “Mons…te…no, wait, I know you.” Trissa nestled back into her pile of blankets.
“That is your plan?” Syringa questioned, tilting her head slightly. “I can’t even imagine what my peers would think of me if they learned that.”
“Heh. Exactly,” Kallie said.
“You’ve truly gotten me cornered, little one.” Syringa was smiling, despite Kallie’s obvious victory. “Now, would you like to hear the plan for today?”
“Forget it. We’re busting out today! We’ll get those papers filled out and be free once more!”
“That is all well and good,” Syringa said, “but would you be willing to accept my counsel? There may be ways I can help you. And, of course, this leads back to my plans.”
“Le’s hear ‘em,” Trissa said, awakening for real, this time.
“With pleasure!” Their roommate clasped her vines together. “First off, I recommend that you allow me to give you two a bath.”
“What?” Kallie replied. “Why?”
“It’s simple, really. You could be the cleanest humans around, but I fear you still have a somewhat…foreign scent to you. Namely, you smell like a terran warship, still, and wouldn’t that come across as suspicious, to some?”
Trissa gave her partner a wide-eyed stare. “Think she’s right, Kall, that makes sense.”
“Alright, fine…but why do we need your help to bathe?”
“I know what smells stick out to an affini,” Syringa said, matter-of-factly. “And how to obscure them.” Those eyes were boring into Kallie’s soul, once again.
“I…guess. We’ll do that then. But…”
“Is something wrong, petal?”
Kallie squeezed her legs together. “Just…don’t look at it, okay? Or mention it.”
“She, um, means,” Trissa started, but Kallie held up a hand.
“I don’t usually get naked in front of others, okay? I just…don’t like it.”
“Is there a flaw in your biology you’d like corrected, you mean to say?” Syringa mused.
Kallie’s eyes widened. “Well, yes…but I can’t afford it…”
Syringa’s face fell upon hearing that. “You very well can, petal. These procedures can and will be performed for free. Would you like to accompany the process with a regimen of Class Gs?”
“The AI mentioned something about those,” Trissa recalled.
“Xenodrugs are so called due to being designed with our client species in mind,” Syringa explained. Class Gs are specific to the portion of humans such as yourself who encounter a disconnect with their wrongly assigned sex. You may have undergone terran procedures of hormone replacement, but these will certainly prove to be far more effective.”
“These…Class Gs, you say?” They certainly sounded too good to be true.
“Yes. I’d be happy to get you a steady supply. Either through my direct administration, or in a form you can take orally.”
“Hold up,” Kallie said, expression turning flinty. “The second I trust you to drug me is the second we’ve lost. I can’t possibly know you plants will give me drugs that do what you say they will.”
“You don’t need to start them immediately,” Syringa conceded. “But please keep it in mind. Our experience has shown that gender dysphoria going untreated in you humans is alarmingly detrimental to your health.”
“Let’s just get this bath over with,” Kallie sighed.
“I’m down for that,” Trissa agreed.
“Very well, petals.”
The plant had a fucking swimming pool in her house.
At a short command in her native tongue, a lengthy section of wall in the bathroom pulled back to reveal it, already filling with steaming water. Various products with labels the humans couldn’t read lined the rim, and once the two girls self-consciously removed their jumpsuits, Syringa gently picked them up and plopped them in.
“It’s the perfect temperature,” Trissa observed, taken aback as usual. Kallie was just happy to have the least favorite parts of her submerged.
“Just take it nice and easy and I’ll get you cuties clean,” Syringa cooed. “Do you trust me?”
It was kind of late to back out now.
“Just remember what I said,” Kallie warned, the tension rolling off her shoulders despite herself. The water really was very nice. And it smelled of lilac, which kind of made sense.
“We gotta get something like this when we escape, huh Kall?” Trissa said, leaning back with a pleased look on her face.
“Now, I have some things that could make this bath a bit more fun, if you cuties like,” Syringa said with a grin, holding up several bottles.
“Nah,” Trissa said. “We’re on a mission!” She absently splashed some water about.
“Perhaps some other time, then,” Syringa said, exchanging the bottles for a different pair. She went to work scrubbing the terrans down, without much regard of which parts her vines passed over.
“Um…” Kallie said, face reddening.
“Are you uneasy, petal? Perhaps I should’ve used the special soaps.”
“What do they even do?” Trissa asked.
“They have a small amount of Class As. Those heighten sensation and pleasure! Adorable little sophonts always enjoy them~”
Kallie just looked down and shook her head, blush growing even hotter.
Why was she like this? Were they all like this?
“I think after I make you breakfast, I want to take you on a tour of the ship. You should wear your disguise, of course~”
“We’ve gotta finish those papers, though!” Trissa protested.
“I’ll help you with them tonight,” Syringa said. “Besides, wouldn’t knowing they layout of the ship help with your plans?”
“I think we’ll follow you around to make sure you don’t blow our cover,” Kallie said coolly.
“A fine idea,” Syringa said, chuckling. “You know what’s good for you, of course.”
“Yeah! You’re not gonna fool us!” Trissa said.
“Now let me get your hair nice and clean.”
Syringa hummed as she prepared breakfast. Meanwhile, Kallie and Trissa held a secret counsel on the couch.
“I don’t like this,” Kallie whispered. “She doesn’t seem worried or put off by anything. I feel like she’s toying with us.”
“Nah, Kallie, you’ve gotta consider. If she really held the upper hand, she would’ve already had us thrown in the mines!” Trissa shot back, in hushed tones. “We definitely have something on her if she’s spent this much time on us.”
“She might also be hiding something, then…” Kallie mused.
“Oooooh, what if?”
“It’s not like we could tell anyone…”
“Still, could be juicy!”
“I have breakfast ready for you, cuties!”
“There better not be drugs in it,” Kallie muttered, but she hopped down from the couch, helping Trissa as well. She was hungry.
Almost there…Kallie let out a breath of relief once she made it aboard the tram. Soon, the gravity would lessen…that would be nice.
Either way, Operation Follow/Investigate Syringa was a-go. Trissa had had another mask made, this one with a voice modulator installed. Between that and the suit’s other upgrades, Kallie carried them with relative confidence.
“Now, our hab unit is located within Habitation Ring Four. There are seven other rings, so keep that in mind!” Syringa said cheerily. “An interesting thing about our hab rings is that they can unspool from the ship and be transferred to other ships, or even stations. I just find that quite interesting.”
“Ah…yeah,” ‘Dandelion’ said, trying not to sound too awestruck. “Our tech sure is the best!”
They were still receiving some odd looks. One terran ‘floret’ was giving them suspicious side-eye, before some mysterious force tore their attention away and sent them collapsing contentedly into their owner’s arms.
She was wearing a dress similar to what Syringa had put them in, when she forbade them from putting their beaten up jumpsuits back on. The floret’s had considerably brighter colors.
There had been some consternation at correctly seating Trissa’s skirt, which Syringa had, of course, found incredibly endearing for some reason. Even now, Trissa’s bare legs on either side of Kallie’s head was distracting at best.
“You’ll have an easier time coordinating!” Syringa had said. Affini were weird…
Eventually, the tram reached its destination. Stepping out of it and onto a covered platform, the girls gasped.
“Welcome to the Foliage District!” Syringa declared proudly. It was an arboretum as massive as anything else, with forested paths stretching every which way and throngs of owners and pets alike enjoying the atmosphere.
Which meant being surrounded by more dopey humans with all the difficult parts shaved off. It was irritating. Why did they all look so happy?
“Come, Dandelion. Walk with me!” Syringa beckoned. The afauxni shuffled along, the two of them staring at the dappled light on the path. Did the Compact’s worlds all look like this? The terran ones sure didn’t. What would happen when the plants terraformed their worlds so that more of them could settle? Would Kallie or Trissa ever make it home and find it unrecognizable?
“Hey. Triss,” Kallie said in a hush voice. “Keep an eye out for more planty stuff we should put on, okay?” Trissa reached an arm down and gave a thumbs up. Or maybe more of a thumbs sideways. It got the point across.
Continuing to look around, lower-than-terrestrial gravity made for some strange looking trees. It also resulted in a cascade of slowly falling leaves and petals, in all sorts of colors.
“It’s…really beautiful,” Trissa-through-Dandelion said.
“Isn’t it, though?” Syringa agreed. “There are so many health benefits to having nature easily accessible, and I fear that the old Terran Accord forgot that fact.”
“What is the Accord now, anyway?” Trissa certainly hadn’t had the time to sit down and read any treaties, ones her commanding officers would call illegitimate anyway.
“The Compact has set up a rather transitory Terran Protectorate,” Syringa explained, “while we figure out the best way to organize you cuties for the best level of care.”
“Uh-huh,” Kallie muttered. She could’ve at least tried to make it sound less like the terrans were just objects to them…
“We have taken to reorganizing the Rinan Community as well. Those poor sophonts were treated terribly by the Accord,” the affini sighed sadly.
“I guess they were, huh,” Trissa/Dandelion mused. An affini covered in broad palm leaves passed by with one of his own of the fluffy sapients.
“They have a charming little board game we should play, sometime,” Syringa said.
“Rocket to Nyrina?” Trissa asked. Kallie had never heard of it.
“Rocket to Nyrina!,” Syringa corrected. “You mustn’t forget that adorable exclamation point that terran script versions of the game have.
Trissa looked around, but found that they were alone on this particular forest path. “A few of my roommates would play when they found the time,” she said.
“Uh, since I remember what you said,” Kallie cut in, “does this place have any exits besides the train stop?”
“Ah, so focused on the mission, oh mysterious voice coming from within Dandelion,” Syringa laughed. “There is a connection between here and the Central District. Would you like to make that our next destination?”
Kallie nodded, signalling the voice of Dandelion to speak. “Sounds good to me! Er…Kall, warn me the next time you do that…”
“Pay attention, Dandelion. The Central District is this way~” She led them down labyrinthine passages, Kallie trying to take note of every turn. But since she hadn’t really kept track of which way Syringa led them from the station platform, it was pretty futile.
Eventually, a large tunnel with more tram rails running along a recessed center greeted them. More travelers going back and forth above the tracks revealed there to be a glass floor separating the rails from the pedestrians. The main thing this was revealing to Kallie was that an urgent escape was to be extremely difficult at best, if things went sideways.
Maybe the place would seem less massive if she actually was a giant plant being who could evidently travel very quickly; that was demonstrated by an affini who’d gone bounding past, their human hollering with joy and arms spread while being held aloft. Syringa, meanwhile, was forced to progress at a snail’s pace so ‘Dandelion’ could keep up.
This whole venture was getting to be quite demoralizing…
“You seem to have missed the escape pods we just passed,” Syringa said with undisguised amusement. Kallie whirled about face while Trissa yelped and clung to her. The whole display caught some passing glances from plant and pet alike.
But sure enough, there they were. A row of large, round divots in the wall with panels beside.
“Ah! Good morning, Syringa. And hello to you, Dandelion.” Muscari had shown up at some point. Kelly was deposited in a pouch against her chest like a kangaroo.
“Hello, Miss Syringa. Same to you, Miss…Dandelion.”
“How wonderful to run into you today, Muscari. And little Kelly, too. I was showing Dandelion around the ship. Helping her get settled.” There was a quick exchange in affini, and Muscari laughed. Trissa/Dandelion forced a laugh as well.
“So, uh, Kelly,” Trissa started. “How long have you been a…floret?”
Muscari patted her pet’s head. “Miss Dandelion asked you a question, sweetie.”
“Do you remember when the Calliope’s Call was captured, Miss Dandelion?” the floret asked.
Oh stars, did they ever. The flagship their fleet was going to organize around was just suddenly, abruptly, out of play, before its mass drivers could even warm up. “Um…no,” Trissa said.
“Mistress rescued me when they finally caught us. And I’m extremely grateful for that.” She was smiling at them, but there was a hint of challenge in her eyes.
“How very…wonderful for you!” Trissa replied.
“I notice that you’ve rebloomed, Dandelion,” Muscari said. “You must’ve been wasting away while you were interned, I’m happy to see you looking much healthier.”
“Once those terrans locked me up, they steered clear of me,” Trissa said, chuckling nervously. “Because of my…er…biorhythms.”
“It’s quite precious how certain sophonts think they can overcome an affini’s natural rhythm, is it not?”
Simply standing there, Kallie was starting to get worried about the two separate rhythms that were bearing down on her. With their mention she had taken notice, and they were…powerful.
Oh! She should be trying to fabricate her own, shouldn’t she? “Nnce nnce nnce nnce,” she murmured quietly. Rocking her head to her own beat, maybe Trissa would pick up on it.
“Precious indeed!” Trissa said. “We could see those cuties slowly…starting…to succumb. Um.”
“Nnce nnce nnce nnce…”
“Since we’ve caught you here,” Syringa said. “Would you care to grab lunch with Dandelion and I?”
Trissa was lucky that they couldn’t see the expressions she was making under the mask.
“That would be lovely,” Muscari said. “Don’t you agree, flower?” She patted Kelly’s head, rousing the girl.
“That sounds great, Mistress.”
“Wonderful!” Syringa said. “I’ll show you one of my favorite places, Dandelion. Come along!”