Nurture & Acquisitions

Chapter 13

by AsphodelVeil

Tags: #cw:noncon #f/f #Human_Domestication_Guide #petplay #pov:bottom #romantic #slow_burn #aftercare #bondage #consensual_non-consent #D/s #dom:female #dom:internalized_imperialism #dom:plant #drugs #humiliation #hurt/comfort #medical_play #multiple_partners #negotiation #scifi #sub:female #xenophobia
See spoiler tags : #hypnosis #memory_play

Happy Holidays to everyone! Sorry for the delay on this chapter, I've had a busy month and not much time to write, so I sincerely hope you all find it worth the wait!

Gale adjusted the hem of her shirt, standing just around the corner from the door. Enough time had passed that news of their interplay would surely have been disseminated amongst the Phrygian refugees. Carrying out the same sort of exchange with this new, particularly skeptical group would be doomed to failure. Instead, Ms. Kistia had arranged for another meeting room to be prepared with more Terran friendly proportions. Those who had heard about Gale's tactic might hopefully respect her influence. If they hadn't heard about their previous theatrics, well, at least they'd be comfortable.
 
Otherwise, their plan was the same as before. Gale would lead the conversation, with Ms. Kistia only interjecting when called upon to provide information. 
 
Kistia caught her eye and inclined slightly towards the door. Gale nodded in affirmation to her question and stepped forward, triggering the door to slide open. 
 
"Good afternoon, everyone," Gale greeted the room as she stepped inside. She immediately got their attention, but it became immediately clear that attention was far more hostile than anticipated.
 
"Yeah, good. Being kidnapped is just wonderful," sneered one of the men, sarcastically.
 
"Lucky us. We're getting one of the 'slavery is great' speeches in person."
 
"Hey, blink twice if you're being made to do this against your will."
 
Gale was taken aback, face blank with utter incomprehension. What were they talking about? Slavery? What?
 
"Poor girl, she's proper starry ain't she. Think she even knows where she is?"
 
"Least she gets to dress like a proper Terran."
 
Gale squinted, scrutinizing their expressions. "I think, perhaps, there's been some manner of misunderstanding." She couldn't tell if they were upset or worried. "I'm the Terran Accessibility Liaison for Xenia, here to assist with any questions or concerns you have about moving."
 
"Hah. Moving."
 
"Well, the circumstances aren't ideal, certainly," Gale acknowledged sympathetically. "Having to be evacuated so abruptly."
 
"Being forcefully taken from our homes, you mean? Worked engineering on that station for fifteen years, there wasn't a damn thing to be evacuated from."
 
Gale could hardly keep track of who was saying what, everyone speaking so quickly she had no chance to regain her metaphorical footing.  "The structural integrity of the system was fundamentally compromised due to-"
 
"You've got an aerospace engineering degree then? Been there to inspect the struts yourself?"
 
"No, but..."
 
"Then what makes you think you can just come in here and call me a liar?" The irate man had salt-and-pepper hair, and looked down on her with disdain. He reminded Gale of father.
 
"Take it easy, man. Not her fault what the plants have filled her head with."
 
"They haven't 'filled my head' with anything," Gale rebutted, standing her ground against the aggressive man, who had clearly established himself as a primary instigator. "I read the report myself."
 
"Their report," he scoffed. "It says whatever they want it to. Don't believe everything they tell you."
 
"Why even bother going through the trouble of faking a report, with densitometry scans and crystallographic cross-sections, specifically to convince me? If I were as gullible as you seem to think I am, there wouldn't be any need for a fake report." 
 
"Sorry to disappoint you, but that's not how it works. Don't care what they told you, you're not an engineer just because the weeds gave you a gold star on your book report."
 
Gale managed to keep her cool, which likely had little to do with her demeanor and everything to do with the class-E xenodrug keeping her adrenaline production down. Plenty of men had questioned her credentials and qualifications over the years, and she was so very, very sick of it. Somehow, even though men made up less than half of all engineers, they still perpetuated the tired 19th-century myth of engineering as a man's discipline. "No, it's because of the gold star I got from the Ny-Ålesund Institute of Colonial Engineering."
 
"So you're a snowflake and a treehugger then, good for you. Best degree daddy's money could buy you?"
 
Snowflake was a pejorative she'd heard plenty of times since leaving Terra, having been born above the Arctic Circle, but treehugger was a new one. That said, it was descriptive enough that she could pretty trivially infer what that one was supposed to mean. She could feel the barely audible rustling behind her as Ms. Kistia struggled to keep her ire and foliage in check. "I'm not here to compete in some professional phallological contest which only exists in your head. The fact of the matter is that Phrygia 3 Station has been officially condemned by the Affini Compact, and Ms. Kistia and I have come on behalf of the Xenian administration to assist with any accommodation needs."
 
"Accomodations, right. How do you live with yourself, selling out your fellow Terrans for a cushy government job."
 
Gale reflexively looked back at Ms. Kistia in utter bewilderment, before turning back to face him.
"Every word you just said is so wrong that I don't even know where to start. There's no labour economy anymore. Affini technology is so far beyond Terran technology that just... jobs don't exist. Not unless you want to. I'm here because I want to help, not because I have to work to live."
 
Another voice, a woman. "I'm sure you believe that, honey. Maybe you and your pet friends don't have to work, but-"
 
"I am not a pet," Gale interjected, frustrated.
 
"Sure aren't a Free Terran," another man. She can't figure out which.
 
"Free Terranism is a failed feralist ideology-"
 
"She even talks like one of the weeds, she's got it bad." The sympathetic sounding woman.
 
"Well, she's a sap sipper, so they can just pump her head full of whatever they want."
 
"Hold on, sap sipper?" Gale scans their faces, seeing if she can spot the man who said that.
 
The instigator, the engineer who challenged her credentials, laughed spitefully. "High as a satellite on alien drugs, and acting like you know better than anyone. You think we can't tell?"
 
"Maybe she doesn't even know. Her owner's got her thinking she has a real job after all."
 
"Guess it's 'Take your Slave to Work Day' today."
 
Gale raised her voice, which cracked shamefully with emotion. "I'm not a fucking pet, I'm trying to help you."
 
"Of course you aren't, little miss Terran Liaison," the engineer said, stretching each and every word out to fit as much condescension as he could. The sarcasm was palpable.
 
"You're such a fucking prick, Paul," said one of the men in the hazy blur of faces, making it sound like a compliment.
 
"Hey, I'm being as nice as I can be. She's either a xeno's delusional pet or, worse, a traitor snowflake sellout."
 
"Or both."
 
"I am neither of those things, how many times do I have to tell you to get it through your thick skull?"
 
"Whatever you say, pet." He was grinning wide, she could make out that much.
 
"Aww no, you made her cry, poor thing."
 
"Don't blame me. Isn't my fault she can't take a joke."
 
Gale reached up to touch her cheek, and her hand came away wet. 
 
Ms. Kistia's voice cut cleanly through the noise. "That's more than enough. We're done." She sounded so angry, worse than with the Linden execs. 
 
Gale wilted on the spot. She turned to Ms. Kistia and tried to find some basis to continue, but there was none. She had utterly lost the control and respect of the room, and everyone knew it.
 
"Sorry pet, guess your owner says playtime is over. I'm sure you tried your best."
 
Gale snapped.
 
"You know what, you fucking bastard? Fuck you. The affini saved your lives from that fucking deathtrap of a station and only an incompetent hack could have missed it. And now you've gone and alienated the only one on the whole fucking ship who cared about keeping you from being domesticated. I'm fucking done. Good luck with your new owner."
 
"Whatever you say, pet," he repeated.
 
Gale choked down a pathetic comeback and spun on her heels, marching out of the door. Kistia placed a comforting vine on her shoulder, but she forcefully shrugged it off. She refused to make any more of a fool of herself than she already had.
 
No, instead, she focused on the path in front of her, fists balled, one step at a time. One, two, one, two. Out the door, turn left. Around the corner. One, two. Don't make a sound. Don't let him know he hit home. Don't give him the satisfaction. One. Two. One. Damn it. Two, one. What the fuck was wrong with her. Two, one. She ruined everything. Two. As usual. One. Can't do anything right. One- no, two. Trip. Stumble. Fall.
 
Vines wrapped around her, pulled her close. "I'm so sorry, Gale. I should have intervened sooner, but... no, I won't try and make excuses. I am so sorry."
 
Gale struggled, burning with futile indignation for just a moment until, bereft of fuel, that angry flame snuffed out. Turning, sobbing, she clung tightly to Ms. Kistia's torso as the leaves wrapped around her. "No, no, no, you did nothing wrong, you did nothing wrong Ms. Kistia, it's all my fault, I ruined everything, I embarrassed you in front of everyone, I'm so sorry, nothing but a-" 
 
"Breathe, Ms. Gale," she instructed, and Gale did so, inhaling and exhaling in time with the gentle pulse of Kistia's leaves, holding back vitriol as shameful hot tears ran down her face.
 
"I'm sorry... I'm sorry... I'm sorry..." she whispered with every exhale. 
 
"You have nothing to apologize for, Ms. Gale. You did incredible. You've done so well today, and I'm so proud of you."
 
"I failed..."
 
"No you didn't, Ms. Gale."
 
"I'm a failure." Gale tried to dig her ragged, bitten-off fingernails into her palms. Wordlessly, Kistia's adhesive leaves gripped and unfolded her fists. A vine was slipped into each hand for her to take hold of, and she did, squeezing tight.
 
"You are not a failure. I won't let you punish yourself for having emotions, especially after such a tiring day. The responsibility to protect you was mine, and mine alone."
 
"I have to be able to take care of myself..."
 
"Not alone. Not anymore."
 
"You were counting on me..."
 
"And you didn't let me down, understand?" Ms. Kistia held her tightly, and she found herself paradoxically relaxing despite the confinement. "I worried this might happen, but I knew you would be so very disappointed with yourself if you didn't see it through to the end. And while I had and still have every faith in your persuasive skills, you have also taught me a great deal about Terran irrationality and stubbornness, and so I prepared for this contingency."
 
"What?" As Ms. Kistia had surely intended, Gale's self-loathing was abruptly derailed, snared by the curiosity trap the affini had laid for her mind. "How?"
 
"Free Terranism, like many feralist ideological ecosystems, has developed divergent competing narratives around the existence of our darling florets. The idea of sophonts genuinely enjoying and thriving in our care is inimical to feralism, and so feralist groups predictably develop certain rationalizations depending on their moral preconceptions. Free Terranism in particular has coalesced around two of the most common ones." 
 
Gale nodded to confirm she was following along, trying and failing to blink away tears. The stinging was distracting, and for some unfathomable reason Ms. Kistia was still willing to acknowledge her despite her uselessness, so the least she could do was try and pay attention.
 
"In one, florets are sympathetic victims of the insidious corruption of the Affini, poor sophonts who have had their free will subverted and warped by our insidious machinations, or have otherwise been imprisoned for nefarious purposes. These are generally predisposed to look upon florets with pity, and frequently believe in some duty to attempt to try and 'rescue' those we are supposedly holding captive."
 
"In the other, florets are themselves perfidious, guilty of some inherent moral failure due to their unwillingness or inability to resist us by any drastic means necessary. Those who subscribe to this narrative view florets with scorn and contempt, and are dramatically more likely to view harming sympathetic sophonts as acceptable collateral damage or, at worst, a worthy goal in and of itself."
 
This was clear enough, so she nodded again.
 
"As tensions were escalating, the assumptions they made about your being domesticated became a focus of contention. As a result, each Terran reacted towards you under the genuine belief that you were a floret. Though you may not have convinced them personally, Ms. Gale, you were most effective in exposing how they would treat a floret in your position. In the beat of the moment, you revealed whether each individual viewed florets and other cooperative sophonts with compassion or disdain. No one could ask for a more clear result, and I am very proud of you for drawing it out of them." 
 
Somehow, Ms. Kistia managed to twist the disaster around into sounding like a resounding success. And Gale wanted to believe her. She'd heard plenty of managers over the years try and weasel out of the consequences of mistakes and misfortune, and it was always so flimsy and hollow and self-serving. She could always see right through it. But this time was different. 
 
Maybe it was wishful thinking, a selfish desire to not be the absolute fuckup she knew deep down she had to be. That she could never escape being. It would be so nice and convenient to accept that Ms. Kistia had somehow snatched victory from the jaws of her defeat, and in so doing, rescued her from being a total failure.
 
At the very least, Ms. Kistia was putting a great deal of effort into trying to convince her, so it would be rude not to at least try to believe it. She nodded, slowly, deliberately.
 
Ms. Kistia seemed rather pleased by this, and started combing Gale's hair out of her face with the dextrous tips of her leaves. Each little brush of contact made her shiver, but Ms. Kistia gave no indication of noticing as she continued to speak. "It goes without saying that Xenia will not be able to accommodate those who revealed themselves to subscribe to the latter view - not until they have received assistance correcting those misconceptions - for the safety of our florets as well as individuals like yourself. The experts here will be more than happy to provide the needed guidance and correction to help with that adjustment." 
 
Gale smiled despite herself, treasured memory of the horrified faces of the Linden executives coming to mind. She had no doubt the crew would be glad to assist those assholes back there with guidance as well.
 
"On the other hand, we've found those who are skeptical of the Affini out of sympathy to florets in our care to be wonderfully receptive once they've had the chance to see life in the Compact first-hand and remedy those silly misconceptions."
 
"Domestication couldn't be further from slavery," Gale mumbled, sifting through her memories of the previous conversation. "Who's ever heard of a floret doing work?"
 
"It's rare, certainly, but absolutely not unheard of," Ms. Kistia swiftly interjected, correcting her offhand comment. "There are many florets who take great pride in taking an active part in their communities or helping their owners with their own work. These ones' owners are more than happy to provide appropriate opportunities to do so, if it would help them in being their best, most fulfilled selves."
 
Gale took a moment to digest the information before nodding. Although somewhat unexpected, the reasoning was sound, and integrated cleanly with how she had seen florets treated thus far. "Revise my previous statement down to forced labour then."
 
She felt Ms. Kistia laughing gently around her, and couldn't help but relax. "Yes, of course." Usually laughter made her even more nervous when already upset, as it tended to provoke feelings of irrational certainty that the laughter was mockingly directed at her in particular. But Ms. Kistia wouldn't be that cruel, so she didn't need to worry.
 
"Thank you for salvaging some utility from my mess, Ms. Kistia," she sighed, grateful that her superior wasn't upset with her but nevertheless deeply ashamed. 
 
"While I accept your gratitude, Ms. Gale, I cannot accept the self-deprecation you wrapped it in. You did not make a mess, or fail in any way. Whoever taught you that having and showing emotion was something for which you need to apologize was utterly mistaken."
 
"Mother and father," Gale replied, eagerness to provide information outstripping discretion. Ms. Kistia's vines stilled, and Gale blanched in horror at her mistake.
 
"What was that, Ms. Gale?"
 
"Nothing... nothing much, Ms. Kistia."
 
"Ms. Gale, I heard you perfectly the first time. My question was simply a non-invasive prompt for you to continue. To be explicit, I am requesting that you explain what role your parents had in your traumatic response to emotional vulnerability for me, if you are able."
 
"I..." Gale could feel her heart pounding in her ears, as she struggled for breath and words.
 
Ms. Kistia continued to hold her comfortably, though the tension in her vines lessened ever so slightly. "If it is too overwhelming, it isn't necessary that we talk about it at this exact moment. I understand if you do not feel up to that ordeal right now, and I will only think more of you if you tell me so. However, I do want to hear it sooner than later. Buried seeds only grow deeper roots."
 
Somehow, paradoxically, the reduction in pressure from Ms. Kistia sparked the opposite from within Gale, inverting her previous anxious resistance. "No, I... you're right. I should talk about it. Though I don't feel like it's fair for me to call my relationship with mother and father 'traumatic' per se..." 
 
"That's perfectly alright, Ms. Gale. You do not need to pass judgment on them. You only need to tell me the truth of what happened, and I am more than capable of coming to a verdict on my own."
 
"I..." She wasn't sure if that was freeing or worrying. "Understood, Ms. Kistia. Though, you have to understand, they aren't bad people. They're just... You see, Terran society, particularly in the upper echelons... It's cold. Very cold. There's no compassion, no care for anyone, except how they can be used. Mother and father, they just wanted to prepare me for how the world really is. Or... was. Before the Affini."
 
Her superior's vines squeezed her hand gently. "The fact that you feel the need to interject such a lengthy preamble defensively is telling on its own."
 
Gale sighed, grasping Ms. Kistia's vines in return. "I know that you'll hate them. They're... everything the Affini aren't. When people like that man back there call someone a snowflake, a derogatory term for people from the circumpolar regions of Terra, they're thinking of my parents. Cold. Isolated. They see themselves as refined, that they're above everyone else and deserve it due to some superior intrinsic qualities that those beneath them lack, but they're insecure and fragile because deep down, they know they just got lucky."
 
"And this is you being charitable. Oh dear... that certainly does not bode well. You poor dear... let me get you settled in for the trip home, and you can tell me all about it."
 
"The trip home?" Gale opened her eyes in gentle surprise, looking around through the blur of dried tears. Without her noticing, Ms. Kistia had managed to carry her all the way back to the transport shuttle. "But, don't you have debriefing meetings? Or paperwork to finish filling out?"
 
"None of that is important right now. The ship's crew is more than capable of finalizing the details, they will understand." Gale hadn't even finished preparing the objection forming in her mind before Kistia pre-empted her. "In fact, as you are quite familiar with affini by now, you know that they would most certainly be actively upset with me if I were to put administration above ensuring the wellbeing of my assistant, having seen her work herself to emotional exhaustion on my behalf."
 
Gale couldn't argue with that. The crews' messages had made their fondness for Gale abundantly clear, undeserving of it as she was. She therefore had no choice but to accept Kistia's assistance, or else cause her superior even further trouble. "Yes, Ms. Kistia."
 
"Thank you, Ms. Gale. I truly appreciate your openness with me."
 
Wiping her eyes to clear the last traces of her outburst away, she settled back in her pseudo-seat of woven leaves. She hadn't willingly thought about her parents in... well, years, at the least. But if she had to... no, it wasn't a matter of having to. She could say no. Ms. Kistia wasn't manipulative like them. If she was going to, for her own wellbeing, there was no one she trusted more to guide her through it.
 
She trusted Ms. Kistia.
 
She trusted Ms. Kistia. 
 
She would not let the poisoned words of that feralist get to her, blight him. She was not a pet. She was independent, and more than capable of performing her duties. Of course a rebel sympathizer wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a floret and a sophont with a decent professional rapport with the Affini, especially if his judgment in this area was as poor as his maintenance practices.
 
She was good at her job, and Ms. Kistia appreciated her assistance. She went out of her way to repeatedly affirm such, far more than was necessary to maintain professional morale. She wouldn't take her freedom and send her away, just because she had one rough day.
 
Of course, regardless of her logical reasoning, the anxious whispers at the back of her mind wouldn't let the idea go, even muffled as they were behind the class-Es. For whatever reason, despite the countless times affini had made the same mistake, having a Terran see her as a pet struck some deeper nerve.
 
Ultimately, it was of little importance. It wasn't the first anxious fixation she'd dealt with, and it wouldn't be the last. Her brain would find something else to latch onto in due time. She'd ride it out as usual and move on with her life, without letting it become a bother to anyone else.

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