The alien spaceship had an Italian restaurant. Free Terra’s best minds couldn’t begin to wrap their heads around why that was the case, but it was there, and Syringa cheerily led them in.
“Yes, little Kelly?” Syringa replied, patting the floret’s head.
“I think you’ve made some kind of mistake. This is one of my favorite places.”
“I suppose we’ll just have to make due,” Muscari chuckled. Sliding into a u-shaped booth, she placed her pet on her lap.
“Nothing’s better than seeing a floret enjoy themselves,” Syringa regarded warmly, “don’t you agree, Dandelion?”
“Um…right!” The afauxni clambered in as well with…considerable difficulty. But they eventually managed it, only for Kallie to realize that the plush seating was substantial enough for the entire length of her legs to rest along it. Leaning forward as much as she could safely get away with, she grabbed a menu with one of her “vines”, and passed it up to Trissa.
The top half reached a hand down and splayed it in a “what am I supposed to do with this” kind of way.
“I dunno, just see what looks good?” Kallie whispered.
Trissa flipped the mask up to look down at her. “This isn’t affini food!” she hissed back. “Fuck you, it all looks delicious!”
“Think about how I feel after carrying you around all day!” Kallie quietly plotted the moment, the day that she’d make them swap places. And then she grunted as a menu unceremoniously fell into her lap.
The carbonara was looking quite fine…
“Thank you for joining us today,” a human voice said. Trissa turned to see a terran man playing the role of server, still as collared and colorfully dressed as any of them.
A servant here against his will, obviously.
“What would you like to start with?”
“Bruschetta for this little cutie here,” Muscari said, raising Kelly’s hand with a vine.
“Perhaps a nutrient mix for the rest of us as well?” Syringa added. She ruffled the boy’s hair. “And tell your owner that they have an adorable little pet.”
“Thank you, miss! I-I will, miss!” He sped away with orders in hand.
“Ah, some…nutrients…will really hit the spot!” Trissa offered, voice charged with fake enthusiasm.
The plants made small talk. “How are you doing at the office?” Syringa asked.
“We’re progressing right along with the captured vessel,” Muscari remarked jubilantly. “We’ve found homes for all but two of those lovely little terrans. Though some of them do insist on being difficult!”
“I’ve heard that some of the most challenging domestications result in the cuddliest pets,” Syringa mused. It was…all too hot within the Dandelion suit, all of a sudden. “There haven’t been any…dire cases, I take it?”
“Not at all,” Muscari replied. “Dandelion did a splendid job making them nice and receptive. I’d almost find it worthy for affini volunteers to be ‘captured’ by the feralists, if all their crews could be this straightforward!”
And what the hell was a ‘feralist’, Kallie wondered…
Syringa patted Trissa/Dandelion on the shoulder. “Once again, we owe you our thanks for your help!”
“No problem, heheh…” Trissa felt her hair stand on end as she detected a small gathering appear around their booth. A group of affini and the pets between them.
“Stars, you must be our very own Dandelion Fluff,” an affini, who’d discarded a humanoid appearance in favor of something more resembling an ambulant rosebush, said. “We’re so pleased to have you aboard this vessel!”
“H-hey, uh, watch the antennae!” Trissa protested as the rosebush patted what was supposed to be Dandelion’s head. Both girls quietly hoped that tugging hard on each other’s scalps was not among the traditions of the plants.
“She’s just a little shy,” Syringa told the newcomers, not too bothered by the fact herself.
“She’s just precious,” said an affini that looked a little like a hairy cactus.
“Do you offer all your new arrivals this much…ng…hospitality?” Trissa asked, wilting under the attention.
“Only ones that we’re so glad to see have made it home!” the first of the visitors said. The cactus nodded.
“I’d request you give our friend here some space as she continues to settle in,” Syringa said, her tone cordial but firm.
“Aww, well, okay! Thanks for tolerating our little intrusion.” The merry bunch departed, leaving only the bewildered looking server, who’d returned their initial orders.
“Here are your appetizers, and, um, let me know if you’d like anything else!“ the server squeaked.
“Thank you so much, petal,” Muscari offered. The boy blushed, nodded, and withdrew once more, into a nest of waiting vines behind a doorway…so that was his owner, then.
That left the combined might of Dandelion to witness the strange ritual surrounding Kelly and her appetizer. With her vines commanding the silverware, Muscari would cut off little pieces, always with a proper balance of bread and topping, and feed them to Kelly. A brush of a vine along the girl’s cheek would prompt her to open her mouth, and a brush in the opposite direction would prompt her to close it again.
“That’s…uh…okay, wow,” Kallie muttered under her breath. Muscari’s floret seemed to be enjoying the process a great deal, despite how demeaning it was.
Why? Why? Why did so much of this place, these plants, their pets…all make Kallie just think…why?
And why was she jealous?
Her tummy rumbled. Oh yeah, that was why. That and no other reason.
“Why’s that smug bitch get the VIP treatment,” Trissa hissed down to her partner in crime.
Kallie decided that it was time to close her eyes and start ‘biorhythming’ again. “Nnce nnce nnce nnce…”
All while Kelly chewed in time to Muscari’s own thrumming beat.
Eventually the hidden humans realized that Muscari and Syringa—or Muscari, anyway — were giving Dandelion a curious look. It was Kallie that first noticed the two of them each having the tip of a vine resting in the bowl of plant juice that occupied the center of the table, and that they were probably expecting a real affini, like she was definitely half of, to join in.
Kallie did her absolute best to angle one of the dummy vines forward so that it would land in the liquid, which only succeeded in splashing it on the table cloth while Trissa nervously chuckled. The second attempt worked, but only because Syringa offered a covert vine of her own to keep it on target.
“Oh, stars, dammit,” the lower half of Dandelion hissed as Kelly’s meal was brought over — the same pasta dish she’d been eyeing.
“Mmmph,” Trissa sounded quietly, as Muscari began to repeat the whole process of feeding Kelly once again.
“Nnce nnce nnce nnce nnce nnce nnce nnce!”
“If I ever get a floret or two of my own, I’ll take them here all the time,” Syringa said. “Would you do the same, Dandelion?”
“Definitely! All the…time.” Trissa lifted the mask up long enough to sigh. “They wouldn’t know what to do with themselves, if they were exposed to all this luxury…beyond…imagination. Haha!”
Kelly turned away from eating for just a moment. “Can I ask Miss Dandelion a question, Mistress?”
Muscari’s vines ruffled her hair. “Sure thing, flower.”
For a moment, Trissa could’ve sworn the floret was staring right through her mask. “How’s your lunch, Miss Dandelion?”
“A-a lot better than when I was starving on that human ship!” Trissa nearly barked in response.
“I noticed that Syringa picked up the paperwork for the requisition of a personal shuttle,” Muscari said. “Is there anywhere in particular you’re planning on going?”
Kallie quietly facepalmed. “C’mon Triss, say something!” she whispered.
“I’m just looking to, er, roam the stars, and see what I can see!”
“That sounds like a splendid little adventure,” Muscari purred. “I wish you happiness on all of your travels.”
Where would they go? Kallie realized she had no ideas.
Lunch went on. Kelly eventually let out a contented sigh after the last of her meal was fed to her, and the slave boy took away the plates and thanked them for coming in.
“We’re just gonna leave without paying?” Trissa asked, alarmed, as they walked out. Muscari and Syringa let out planty laughs.
“Your humor continues to impress, Dandelion!” Muscari said jovially. “I’m so glad I’ve had the chance to meet someone like you.”
Trissa lifted up her mask to address the girl under her. “What the hell are we gonna do?” she hissed. “A dine-and-dash is just gonna attract all the wrong attention!”
“Maybe they prepaid,” Kallie shot back. “Just lay off it, okay? We can’t make a big fuss.”
“Gaaah, this is sketchy as hell!”
Muscari and Kelly soon said their goodbyes — the former giving Dandelion a pat on the head — and split off.
“Let’s get you home, hmmm?” Syringa said. “I’m sorry about that. You must be famished.”
“…yes,” Trissa admitted.
“If only there was a way you could eat in public without arousing suspicion,” Syringa mused, letting out a grandiose sigh. “But alas. The work of an infiltrator is hard, is it not?”
“Shhhh!” Trissa sounded. No one seemed to be in earshot, but that could be deceiving.
When they got back to Syringa’s hab, Kallie was grateful to finally have the weight lifted from her shoulders.
“If you’d like me to take you two out while leaving the disguise home, do let me know!” Syringa said, as she took the costume and put it away somewhere.
“But if we do that, we’ll get, like, domesticated or something!” Trissa protested.
“Now whatever would make you think that?” the plant purred. “You’d be perfectly safe, in any event. I’d just tell anyone who got suspicious that you were my florets. The perfect cover, do you not agree?”
“That sounds…a bit…” Kallie struggled to think over the powerful thrumming vibrations surrounding them. “Would they not throw us in the mines if they thought that?”
Syringa chuckled as she nearly glided into the kitchen. “I will keep you two very far from the mines, worry not. Although!” She withdrew something from her chest cavity. Two somethings. “If anyone is to believe that you’re my florets, should your impeccable disguise falter, you should look the part, do you not agree?”
“You…just wanna put collars on us, for some reason,” Kallie deadpanned.
“But it does kinda make sense,” Trissa said. “What if we, like, tripped or something, and the whole thing came off?”
Syringa’s eyes were positively glimmering.
“If we looked like a bunch of dumb pets, I guess no one would think we’re a threat,” Kallie pondered. “We take advantage of the plants’ smug sense of natural superiority! Oh, they’ll never see it coming.” She felt something cool around her neck as soon as she stopped talking, followed by a soft click. Trissa was blushing fiercely as she tugged on her own collar.
“Stars, we are way t-too brilliant,” Trissa said, a little breathless at the thought of her new adornment.
“I wonder if this hides my Adam’s apple,” Kallie wondered aloud.
“Oooh, it definitely does!” Trissa chirped.
“That’s…good,” Kallie said, putting a curious hand on her collar. “I’m okay with this.”
Syringa patted them both. “I’m glad you like them, petals. There will be so much more where that came from. But for now, let’s get you two fed!” She led them to a human-sized table that they didn’t recall being there before, and then went back to the kitchen, humming to herself all the while. “Would you like me to put you on the couch while you wait?”
“Yeah!” Trissa replied, enthusiastic. “Love that thing.”
Vines carefully lifted the two of them up even as the majority of Syringa remained in the kitchen. “Of course.”
“The collar is nice,” Kallie decided, “but we don’t really need them right now, right?” She tried to pull the thing off, and then tried to find a latch of some kind. But the thing would not be moved. “Um…”
“Um…hey Syringa, these collars are stuck?” Trissa called.
“If they need to be removed for any reason, I’ll help you do so,” the affini replied. Kallie narrowed her eyes as she peered over the giant armrest. “But for the time being, it’d be a shame to take them off. You two look so charming in them!”
Kallie was desperately trying to tell herself that a non-removable collar was not making her horny. But there was empirical evidence that suggested otherwise.
“Y-you think we look charming?” Trissa said.
“Without a doubt, petal.”
“Take…take it off,” Kallie said, voice strained. “I changed my mind, I don’t want it…” She fell backwards on the couch as the plant practically appeared in front of her, beaming down.
“It’s simply an article of clothing, flower,” Syringa said. “A very cute and…feminine one, at that.” Her eyes seemed to be shining brighter and brighter, and Kallie couldn’t hope to keep the rhythm out of her head just by covering her ears.
“Nnce nnce nnce nnce!”
Syringa’s intense stare flickered immediately to a quizzical one. “Ah…what? I don’t know what that means, cutie.”
“You’re not gonna brainwash me!” Kallie practically growled. “This is…this is a bomb collar, isn’t it? You’ve been trying to take us to the mines the whole time!”
“Wait, Kallie, calm down, what?” Trissa said. “Wait…oh stars, is it true?” Her eyes widened.
“You misunderstand,” Syringa spoke. She didn’t say it, she Spoke it. Authoritatively, her voice echoing across her biorhythm, surrounding the humans on all sides. “I am keeping you safe from the mines, little terrans.”
“Uh…wha?” Trissa said. Kallie stared upwards, slack jawed, at the two kaleidoscopic orbs that caressed her soul.
“It’s true. Florets are not slaves, they are pets. That is why that would be so effective as a backup disguise; no self-respecting affini would ever put a weak and silly sophont in such a dangerous environment. I want to keep you girls safe. Safe and happy.”
“Safe and happy…” Kallie murmured.
Syringa clasped her vines together. “That’s right!” Her tone had returned to normal. “Now you’ll be happy to find that I have your meals ready.”
“Great, I’m starving!” Trissa said. Syringa picked up the two of them, and returned them to the table.
“And if you’d indulge me,” the affini continued, “I’d like to feed this to you two. I believe in Terra’s tradition of theater they referred to it as…method acting?”
“Ah…fine, okay,” Kallie said. “For the…disguise or whatever.”
Syringa had made them a pasta dish much like what had been on the menu at the restaurant they visited, and it looked much better than Kallie felt comfortable admitting. The first thing the plant did was take a vine and gently brush against Trissa’s cheek with it.
“Hey, what are—mmmf!”
Syringa brushed her ropey appendage in the opposite direction. “That means close your mouth, dear.” Trissa did so with a self conscious giggle rattling in her throat, while Kallie enjoyed a hearty laugh at her expense. Syringa turned her glance over. “You’re next, cutie.”
“I can eat on myyymmmmmfffohfuckthat’sgoood…” Kallie murmured, almost a moan. Syringa directed her to close her mouth and chew, while Trissa gave her a smirk and a side-eyed glance. “What’re you lookin’ at,” Kallie said when she was done.
Before Trissa could reply, the vine was prodding at her cheek again. “Oh, um…” she opened her mouth.
“Very good, petal. Isn’t this nice?”
Fucking evil plants…it was very nice. A fork was pulled through the pasta again, it twisted, lifted, and Syringa prompted Kallie to open her mouth. The affini was lucky that she was too hungry to have dignity.
And yet…the girl was feeling herself relax. She felt the pins and needles on her skin as the routine developed a rhythm, Syringa cooing as she delivered each bite. And, well, if they weren’t being dragged kicking and screaming into a life of servitude, that was a win, right? Hell, the plant was serving them. Kallie had no idea how it’d worked like that.
Ehh, whatever. She was being prodded to open her mouth again. Might as well not complain.
“We should probably be filling out those forms,” Kallie mumbled, as the two of them lounged on the couch and watched what appeared to be edited cuts of shows they’d grown up with.
“You wanna get off the couch and get ‘em now?” Trissa asked. They had the hab to themselves while Syringa attended to something or another.
“Yes….no….” Kallie said. “Feel sleepy after that meal, fuckin couch is too comfortable.”
“A-freakin-men,” Trissa agreed. “Times like these, and they were rare, a roomie would break out her special brownies ‘n we’d have a good time.”
They watched as the television show’s main character underwent an elaborate transformation sequence and delivered idealistic overtures to that particular episode’s villain.
“This show’s a lot more anti-capitalist then I remember it being,” Kallie observed.
“Eh, who cares? No more commercials!”
“Sheesh, the episodes are so short without them.”
“We’re gonna finish this season tonight,” Trissa replied enthusiastically. “Isn’t that wild?”
“Still like, forty more to go.”
“We’ve got plenty of time!”
Kallie raised an eyebrow. “Once we get our ship…right?”
“Well…uh…of course!” Trissa answered. More seriously, she added, “I know we’re in this together, Kall.”
The frilly-outfitted heroines on the screen made some mention of teamwork winning the day — Kallie couldn’t help but roll her eyes at the timing of it all. Even if they did mention that thing, like, what…once per episode?
“I sure can’t do it alone. Don’t think you can, either.”
“The Dandelion suit would be way too short,” Kallie replied. “Even if I am the tall one.”
Trissa absently put a hand on her collar. “At least we have these…um…backup disguises. I keep having these thoughts that Syringa just wants to make us pets, but she would’ve just done that immediately as soon as we revealed ourselves, right?”
“Right,” Kallie said. “What she’s doing right now is…I don’t know what she’s doing, actually. Helping us?” She scratched her head. It was kind of funny how close together the two of them were, considering how big the couch was. “Why is she helping us? I mean maybe the blackmail is actually working.”
"I'm starting to think..." Trissa said.
"Don't hurt yourself."
“Oh, go vent yourself! Anyway. She obviously wants to stay on our good side because she’s hiding something herself.” Trissa’s lip curled upwards as she made her deductions. “Think about it! She wants us to like her, because she knows that we are the ones who will find out HER secret! She could’ve DRAGGED us to the mines!”
“But she didn’t. Oh stars…Trissa, I think I know what you’re trying to say!” It was all so obvious, now!
“Exactly, Kallie! We’re something she never expected, something much closer to what she is than she ever planned to find! Underneath the bark….Syringa is ALSO just a bunch of humans disguised as an affini!”
“How deep does it go?” Kallie said, matching Trissa’s wide-eyed look. “Is Muscari in on it? Stars, does she know about us?”
“Nnnno…no, I don’t think so. She’s just an affini we’ve got completely fooled.”
“Ah, she could’ve been a valuable ally. But…no, we can’t get complacent,” Kallie mused, scratching her chin. Curse her infernal stubble. “We can’t assume anything about the other plants. That’s just begging for us to be caught!”
“Ooh, I’ve got so many questions though! Syringa’s gonna have to spill all of her…their?…secrets. Like the vines, she controls them like a pro! Is it some affini tech she appropriated? How many humans are piloting her?”
“Piloting…oh stars, Trissa, Syringa is a mech suit! Dandelion’s final form! But if not, she’s way too tall for just two humans. Gotta be three. One if she’s a mech, three otherwise.”
“I’m just…so glad to finally figure this out,” Trissa said. “She looked so happy when we came out, because she must’ve thought, ‘these people get it! I/we am/are no longer alone in this blasted ship!’”
“The Compact doesn’t know what’s coming,” Kallie said with a grin.