Kallie awoke in vines. That…wasn’t normal, was it? But the events of last night started to come back to her. But even then, they were fuzzy. And that—
“Good morning, petal.” Syringa all around her.
Well, if Kallie was in a cradle of plant flesh that would suggest that she hadn’t gone anywhere. “Morning, Syringa.” The other body beside her shifted somewhat, but Trissa wasn’t fully awake yet. Memories continued to filter through the haze of waking at a slow but steady pace. “Hey, uh…did I have a breakdown last night? I think…”
“I’m afraid you did, little one. Would you like to talk about it?” She looked down with worry in her brilliant gaze.
Kallie's cheeks burned. “Ugh, too early for that shit. But…I’m sorry. Won’t happen again.”
Vines and lilacs ruffled. “I can’t imagine what you would feel the need to apologize about.”
“I…don’t be dense, pl…Syringa. I made you and Triss uncomfortable.”
“Oh, Kallie,” the affini said, her body subtly shifting, “you should never feel shame over sharing your feelings. I’m glad you felt able to communicate them; I’d hate for you to continue bottling them up.”
“You’d be the…well, no, agh. Too early…gonna go back to sleep.”
“I’ll allow you a half hour, petal. Or until your pin…ah, until Trissa awakes, whichever happens first. Then the three of us should get ready for the day.”
“Unless Dandelion would rather entertain company at home? Everyone is so very concerned about her…your…rehabilitation from that dire period of imprisonment.”
“Stupid plant…fine.” Kallie blinked. “Uh. Sorry. You’re not stupid.”
She chuckled, vines caressing the human. “I forgive you, petal.”
Trissa woke up about five minutes later.
Syringa bathed them and made them breakfast, and while it was too soon to say it was becoming routine, Kallie did get a sense of deja vu.
Walking around town, it was apparent that Dandelion had become something of a celebrity onboard. Was it really necessary, Kallie thought? They certainly didn’t want the attention, but plants cooed at them…no, at Dandelion…relentlessly. All too interested in the former captive. How curious! Luckily, Syringa was providing some cover for them to maneuver in relative peace.
They were sitting at a table on the edge of a park within what the girls were coming to identify as the city center.
“So many florets,” Trissa murmured, through the voice modulator. There was an omnipresent festival-like atmosphere in this part of the ship.
“Aren’t they lovely?” Syringa cooed.
“Backup disguise…” Trissa wore a thoughtful expression under the mask. An absent hand passed over her collar.
“Indeed!” Syringa said, humming to herself all the while. “Observe in close detail, Dandelion.”
It was hard not to. Humans, but really anything that wasn’t an affini, were led or carried about with deliriously happy expressions. The aliens without faces presumably were expressing glee in their own ways, such as the jellyfish creature shining all sorts of different colors.
“So what do affini do for fun, anyway?” Trissa asked.
“Their florets,” Kallie muttered, and chuckled to herself.
“We take great pride and put so much time into our pets, primarily,” Syringa said.
“It is so wonderful to nurture and dote on a cute little sophont, and see them develop into their best selves.” Syringa beamed at them. “Doesn’t sound too bad, right?”
“Until you decide you want to actually do something with your life,” Kallie grumbled.
“Who’s to say a floret can’t?” Syringa replied. “There is so much wonderful floret-created media out there!” She leaned in conspiratorially. “Who do you think rendered the floret cuts of your favorite shows?”
“Sure, they water down anime and stuff,” Kallie grumbled, privately noting that the lack of ads kind of made it worth the trade off. “But nothing like…ah, help me out, Triss, name one of the great terran classics.”
“Umm…oh, I know this one! How To Get Rich Fast Without Trying, by William Sigh!”
Kallie nodded, rubbing up against her companion’s thighs. “Ah, yeah, that’s a good one. There was at least one quadrillionaire who said it worked, probably.”
“Unfortunately, the most successful people within your own society were its biggest detriment,” Syringa said. “The utter disregard for their fellow human was deplorable, and a trait they all shared.”
“Well yeeeaaah,” Trissa said. “Mr. Sigh points that out in the first chapter! ‘You don’t make it big by making nice’. Once I finally had some money, people were gonna feel my wrath!”
Syringa chuckled. “We’ll have plenty of time to correct those lines of thinking later. For now, isn’t it simply nice to enjoy the day?”
It was still pretty surreal, Kallie had to admit to herself. There were birds chirping. On a spaceship. And those sounds were coming from actual birds! Not like the loudspeaker noises in the park she’d often try to sleep at, which chittered loudly overhead of each bench at night, until she had a pounding headache and had to move on.
“It is pretty nice,” she finally said. But then she hushed just as quickly, as a group passed by.
Silence reigned for a few moments. “I got a class-G graft just yesterday,” Syringa eventually said, wiggling a red flower that stood out amongst the violet. That doesn’t mean much to you, Dandelion, since you are very much an affini.”
Kallie could’ve sworn she heard a planty chuckle from a passerby.
“Wouldn’t you believe it if I said I was interested in two humans?” Syringa said, breezily. “One of which I feel could very much benefit from class-Gs.”
“I’m s-sure they’re really cute!” Trissa said, in her Dandelion best.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cuter pair.”
Kallie sucked in a breath. The prevailing scent was…floral. “Nnce nnce nnce nnce…” she sounded. It was becoming something of a mantra at this point, something to keep out planty…sexy…mind control bullshit. Say, why were Syringa’s eyes pointing directly at her?
She found just a shred of resolve. She’d make it through. Even if Syringa was really nice. Kallie was gonna miss her once she and Trissa were underway. There was nothing wrong with admitting that, right? She’d done a number of nice things for them just in the short span of time they’d known each other, that couldn’t be denied. Feeding them, giving them nice dresses and cute collars.
All for free. Which was what really made her suck in a breath as her chest tightened. Behind every instance of something nice…
Every time she’d been trawling the back alleys, there were truths to be considered. Behind any wafting, intoxicating scent of baking bread, was someone waiting to clock her with an oven pan the moment she drew near. Why would aliens be any different, at the end of the day? Everyone on this ship must've been rich! S-stars…what a fool she’d been…
“Hey, uh, everything good?” Trissa had pulled away from the mask, and was peering down at her. “You’re…um. You’re awfully sweaty down there. Sorry.”
Kallie steeled herself and looked towards her. “Do you trust her, Triss?”
Trissa raised her head back up, swiveling around briefly to check for people in earshot. “Hey, uh, Syringa, we’re gonna have a group meeting real quick.”
The affini nodded. “I’ll be sure to remove an eye, petal.”
“Is that not how the saying goes? I mean to say that I will remain vigilant while you see to your affairs.”
“Ah, r-right. Thanks.” Triss peered down once more. Kallie was still looking up at her, awaiting an answer. “What’s up? Thought we went over this.”
“Yeah, I know…I just…” Kallie trailed off.
“Well, here’s how I see it. Syringa’s not like the rest of these plants, right? We definitely know that now.”
“I guess…she hasn’t sold us out yet…Sorry for wasting your time,” Kallie replied.
It was a human hand, this time, that patted her head. Trissa’s surprise attack had her open and close her mouth several times, cheeks burning all the while.
“You’ve done no such thing! We’re a team, right? So we’ve gotta communicate and stuff. Sure, the captain never told us anything, because he knew we were already so capable.”
“Ah, yeah, I remember.”
“Look, I just wanna say one more thing. All these affini have florets, right? But Syringa’s an ally to our cause. She’s got no pets, and she doesn’t wanna make us pets.”
Once they were back home and had lunch in their bellies, Syringa showed the two humans two matching sets of forms.
“Y-you…wanna m-make us pets?” Trissa stammered. The forms were…contracts for human domestication, or that was what they read at the top. Along with a seal, the name of the ship, and some other officialese.
Syringa was gazing down on them with a smile. Down. Always looking down…and that constant thrumming…
“F-fuck,” Kallie murmured. “I goddamn knew it.”
“Please refrain from the foul language, Kallie. Anyway, please hear me out, dears.”
Trissa opened her mouth first. “But!”
“I know these are forms for domestication. It looks suspect, I understand! But think about it, if you will,” Syringa said. And then she let out an exaggerated sigh, her purple cascade just barely rising and falling. “I’m afraid command is on to us. But don’t panic, petals. I have it under control.”
“You do?” Trissa asked nervously. A vine stroked her hair.
“Of course. Allow me to explain. The bridge possesses particular intel on that adorable little ship we found you on. Namely, all humans from it are accounted for, save two. And I’m afraid the captain is very curious as to where those cuties have gone.”
“Oh shi…um. This is bad, Triss,” Kallie gasped. “What if they find out it’s us?”
“Noooo, not after all this time! Syringa, what are we going to do?”
“It all comes down to these forms, which I will submit as soon as you fill them out.” She set down a packet for each of them. “Luckily, you cuties only have to worry about the top page. They are suspicious, yes. So what if we called their bluff, and provide them evidence to suggest that those humans are, in fact, accounted for?”
“Oh, I think I get it,” Trissa said. “That’s clever. They’ll think whichever names are at the bottom of these are the last two humans, and they’ll stop looking!”
“The last loose end keeping us from running off into the night,” Kallie added. It was clever, she had to admit. “But…what names will we be using to sign it? It wouldn’t make sense to use the ones we have now, right?”
“Ah, but I have planned for that as well. The names you two possess now are not exactly what we’ll be using,” Syringa explained, eyes gleaming like twin jewels. “First thing, though, check off these boxes.”
“It’s all written like the hab AI wrote it,” Trissa said, with a somewhat uncomfortable expression on her face. “This signifies that I am very cute and deserve all the good things coming to me…well, okay. I do deserve nice things. But…no political rights within the Affini Compact? Yeesh.” She continued to murmur to herself as she looked it over.
Kallie checked off the boxes, not truly brave enough to read all of what Trissa was. Who would end up being bound by this contract? Probably no one, right? It would distract them long enough for ‘Dandelion’ to slip away.
Kallie soon reached the bottom of the form. “So whose names do we put down here?”
“I guess I should ask before that,” Syringa said, “who would like to be the first floret, for this…crafty bit of subterfuge?”
Trissa and Kallie looked at each other.
“Ummmm…” Trissa looked to be deep in thought. “Y’know…I think…Kallie has done a super great job being Dandelion’s legs. So that’s gotta mean…Kallie’s number one!”
“But you’ve had to do all the interacting,” Kallie replied. “I couldn’t see myself doing that…” She looked at Trissa and back at the form.
“Nah, Kall. It’s yours. Putting up with me for the whole tour, and now this? Go ahead.”
“O-okay.” She looked at the line at the bottom of the page, the thing that would render someone a floret, according to plant bureaucracy. She chuckled, despite herself. That wasn’t a sentence she ever thought would have any meaning. But…she was stalling. Breathe in, out. She angled a shaky hand towards the line. “What am I putting here?”
“Quite simple. I’ve gone three whole blooms, not including my current one, without a floret, strange affini that I am. Therefore, the name you put will be Kallie Persica, First Floret.”
She wrote the “K” and the “a” before stopping. “Wait…why are we using our first names?”
Syringa gave them what may or may not have been a sad smile. “It just so happens that those are the names they have as the missing humans.”
Trissa’s eyes widened. “Oh craaaap. We were…really in trouble, weren’t we? They mighta almost found us.”
“Don’t worry about a thing, girls. I accounted for this, of course. This will keep you two…happy and safe.”
Happy and safe. She’d said something like that before, hadn’t she? But…it didn’t seem like a lie.
“I…okay. K-a-l-l-i-e…um…Per..si…um, Syringa?”
“Right. Thanks.” Kallie Persica, First Floret. She’d heard that last name from somewhere, before, as well…ehh, she was overthinking it.
“Wonderful, Kallie.” Syringa took away the stack before her. “And Trissa? You will write Trissa Persica, Second Floret. Oh, I’ve waited far too…ah, you’ve got it?”
“Yup!” Trissa looked at the name on the paper. “Don’t know who Persica is, but if this gets the plant police off our backs, too bad for them!”
“Excellent, Trissa. I will go and have these processed right away for you cuties.” She took the stacks in vine and practically glided to the door. Opening it, she added, “and girls? From now on, I’d like for you to address me as Mistress.” She had a wild grin on her face as she departed.
Kallie and Trissa hadn't even left the table yet. They looked at each other again, with dumbfounded expressions.