Nurture & Acquisitions

Chapter 15

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

Sincerely sorry for the delay! I never intended there to be such a gap between chapters, but I ran out of ADHD meds and I've been struggling to effectively brain ever since as a result. But I'm doing my best to get back on track now. Thank you very much to all of the amazing HDG authors who have inspired and supported me during the writing process of this story.
Enjoy the end of Part 2 of Nurture & Acquisitions!
As difficult as it had been, sharing the less enviable chapters of her life had been surprisingly effective at dislodging some of the burden. Gale attributed the success predominantly to how receptive Ms. Kistia had been, not just listening but affirming her feelings as being legitimate. Those few times she had come close to mentioning her feelings towards her mother and father in her youth, the prevailing stance of her peers and teachers was that she should be more respectful and grateful given all that her mother and father had done, or bought, for her. 
Her superior's response was nothing of the sort - which was entirely in keeping with her reaction to the capitalist misanthropy her mother and father had built their lives around. Ms. Kistia seemed even angrier on her behalf than Gale herself was, particularly given how difficult it was to even admit her anger to herself. But as Ms. Kistia had pointed out, laughing in celebration of someone's downfall was rather telling regarding her true underlying feelings.
And, as usual, Ms. Kistia was right. She was angry at her parents. As hard as she had tried to cope by convincing herself that she was content with her lot, she wasn't. They could have done better. She deserved better. She had been an innocent child, who had deserved emotional support and to be told she was good enough. And she hadn't been told that. And, though it had taken several minutes of Ms. Kistia's prodding, she finally acquiesced that it was both legitimate and healthy to be angry about being deprived of the care she deserved.
That of course, dredged up another deep well of complex feelings for Gale to sort through as Ms. Kistia, who had finished trimming her hair, had whimsically decided to practice her styling as well.
"I just... I don't get it, Ms. Kistia. I was brought up in the same environment as them, being taught the same things as they were, with access to the same information they did. Why am I nothing like them?"
"I wish I could answer that with any certainty. I must confess that I am not an expert in xenoveterinary psychology. There are myriad factors which can affect a sophont's mental and emotional development, particularly in such a hostile feralist ideological space." The affini seemed to pause for a moment to think. "If I were to make an informed guess, however, I would likely identify your curiosity and open-mindedness to be critical factors in your divergent path. You are eager to learn for the simple enjoyment of greater understanding, not simply as a means to achieve some other objective. From what I've learned of Terran psychology, having predetermined conclusions in mind seems to impede processing and integration of new, contradictory information."
Gale groaned, revisiting glimpses of the day's events behind her closed eyelids. "That's an understatement." She then cocked her head slightly - or at the very least, attempted to do so, only for Ms. Kistia's vines to adjust it back into place. "And 'from what you learned', hm? I thought you just said that you weren't an expert."
"I did indeed, Ms. Gale. I have only pursued xenoveterinary psychology as a personal interest, rather than a vocation, so I have only completed a few Terran years of cumulative study. It takes decades of directed study and experience in the area to be considered an expert."
Gale rolled her eyes without opening them and gave her superior a gentle, playful slap on a vine. 
"Oh my, Ms. Gale. Lashing out at an affini like that. Quite a bold decision for a Terran to make. Some might suggest it could imply latent feralist tendencies."
"I'll have you know, Ms. Kistia, that I am an officially certified treehugger. It even states it on my file, courtesy of the Chief Planetary Administration Engineer for Xenia." She paused. "You did, ah, put that on my file, right?"
"Of course, just as you asked."
"Well then, there you go. Bonafide traitor to humanity, at least by feralist standards."
"Though we both know how high those standards are."
"Right?" Gale bristled with indignant fury. "What in the world was that feralist engineer thinking? I'm far from any sort of aerospace or structural expert, but even I could tell at a glance that Phrygia 3 Station was an absolute deathtrap! How could he be so... so cavalier with the lives of all those people?" Gale punctuated her statement with an emphatic groan of frustration.
"Hubris, I imagine, as a contributor to my previous point. Failure would contradict his own internal image of self, and so he reflexively rejects any information to that effect. He would, by my estimation, rather be in the wrong and believe himself to be right, given that accepting the truth would mean acknowledging his prior errors."
"Well, doesn't that sound familiar."
"You'll have to be more specific, dear Ms. Gale. Do you mean your mother and father? Your peers in tertiary education? The Linden company executives?"
"Yes, I do." Gale confirmed. An overly literal interpretation of the question and verbal quirk of Gale's, but one she knew Ms. Kistia had no difficulty decoding. It was refreshing to no longer have to conceal those little idiosyncrasies of her personality. In the past, each slip would be accompanied by a pang of dread, fearing that she would be seen as impolite or unprofessional if she answered questions candidly or with a whimsical but apropos joke. She had found that people tended to become confused or frustrated if she didn't keep her responses as bland and scripted as possible. Yet once again, the Affini pleasantly surprised her, seeming to have no difficulty understanding her peculiarities. Perhaps it wasn't actually her who was the problem the whole time.
Ms. Kistia rustled amusedly. "Just so. Though quite unlike yourself, I must note. You are certainly very responsive to correction."
"Of course, Ms. Kistia. Failure is... difficult, emotionally speaking, but how else can I know and do better next time if I don't learn?"
"Well said, as always. Though to dispel the concerns I know well are likely germinating in your mind even now, I will once again reaffirm that your efforts yield success far more abundantly than failure, and I am more than satisfied with what you have accomplished. I am so very fortunate to have such a diligent and eager assistant by my side."
"Thank you," Gale flushed with mixed appreciation and embarrassment. Not even so much at the praise as how trivially Ms. Kistia had pre-empted her internal self-deprecation. Stars-blighted fae. "On that note, what's our priority for when we land?"
"Our priority, first and foremost, is to get you home to rest, Ms. Gale."
"But-" A leaf, its adhesive droplets gently pressing against her skin, stilled her lips.
"You have had an extremely taxing experience, and it is well past the end of your work day. That the cerynisil covers up the feeling of exhaustion does not mean your body and mind do not need their rest. I will need my liaison well-rested and in peak condition to assist me with our new residents' needs tomorrow, not miserable and falling asleep on her feet. Naturally, your own wellbeing is far more important and more than enough reason on its own, but you do respond so much more readily to exogenous motivation, Ms. Gale. Thus, as soon as we touch down, I will be taking you to your residence." 
The leaf pulled away, freeing her to respond. "Yes, Ms. Kistia," she acknowledged. Ms. Kistia's reasoning was sound, even if she were being given a choice in the matter. Her colleagues and the people of Xenia deserved her at her best, and she would oblige them.
"Excellent. Tomorrow should be far less taxing than today, mostly advising on information resources to help the new residents become acquainted with the amenities at their disposal. Thankfully, despite the short notice, Sesat has confirmed that retrofitted accommodations have been procured to accommodate all approved arrivals, and Marta is coordinating with Alvya and the clerks' office to ensure their new homes are furnished with nutritious food that will meet each individual's dietary requirements and preferences."
"Oh, they should set some aside in a little gift basket, if there's time. It's... admittedly, I don't know if it's a custom outside of more traditional communities like Svalbard, but at least there it's a customary tradition for welcoming someone to a new home. Of course the food is freely available in whatever quantities they need, but the familiar sentiment should count for something. Just... spare them any of the passive aggressive needling mother would always include."
"Naturally. We want to be welcoming, after all, and as you tell it your mother is anything but."
Gale can't help but snicker at her matter of fact delivery. "Oh, and perhaps include contact details for a helpful affini? Accepting help is less daunting from a friendly individual than an entire bureaucracy. Especially after having to deal with..." Gale gestures vaguely spacewards, towards where she infers the military city-ship and its personnel may be.
"Point taken. Circumstances being far less than ideal, I imagine most of them are not yet feeling particularly welcomed by the Compact, either. I'm sending your recommendation along now. Anxious as they may be, a friendly greeting, gift, and invitation to pursue at their convenience and comfort is a wonderful idea to help them feel at home."
Gale couldn't help but shiver, unintended parallels between her recommendations and her myths and stories drawn to the forefront by Ms. Kistia's phrasing. It had been an obvious and practical suggestion on her part, of course, but that hardly precluded her brain from being unconsciously influenced by the archetypal narratives. Honeyed words and a feast to greet the newcomers to the realm of the affini, nothing could be more appropriate, could it?
Stars, she'd managed to get lost daydreaming yet again. Maybe she really was more exhausted than she thought. She had to stay focused, she didn't want to blurt out any more compromising information than she already had.
"I'm glad you agree, Ms. Kistia."
"Rather difficult not to, when you're quite so agreeable."
"I do my best."
"You do wonderfully," the affini insisted. "Never forget that. Now, let's get you home."
Gale started, eyes snapping open. "We've landed?"
Ms. Kistia rippled with amusement all around her. It seemed she had thoroughly uncoiled her lattice during the trip, leaves and vines outstretched across every available surface, and was in the process of knitting herself back together around Gale. "Only moments ago, while you were explaining your welcome gift idea."
Gale stretched out with a yawn as the few remaining vines running through her hair gently pulled away. "Wow, I really couldn't feel a thing."
"Of course not. Why would we allow you or any other sophont in our care to experience the slightest discomfort if it can be avoided?"
"From what I know of Affini? If momentary discomfort would provide an opportunity for showing off your technological superiority or indulge your cultural propensity for flirtation." Gale raised a single finger into the air. "And this is the part where you come back with some complimentary retort about me, or adding something else to my list to solicit some sort of reaction. I know your games, Ms. Kistia."
"My my, Ms. Gale, how could you possibly have guessed?"
"Maybe I'm not the only one who's a bit predictable."
"Of course I am. And you enjoy that. You enjoy the novelty of a new challenge, certainly, but otherwise you find comfort in regular, familiar rhythms and patterns, and I am more than happy to provide."
Gale sighed, only a little exasperated. Worth a shot, even if she had walked right into that one. There was the obvious follow-up Ms. Kistia was dangling in front of her, to point out that the affini had still acknowledged her predictability, but she let it go for now. Maybe next time, if she remembered.
Ms. Kistia rustled gently with amusement as she knitted together a transport lattice around Gale, who yawned and settled back for the ride. 
"It's alright to be tired, Ms. Gale. You have done so well today. Just relax, and I'll have you home shortly."
"Thank you Ms. Kistia," she mumbled. Gale heard the faint hiss of air as the shuttle door began to open, indicating the equalization of the atmospheric pressure, and she shut her eyes once more to guard against the light. "Would you turn off the star for me?"
The affini pulled her leaves tighter, sealing the gaps in the lattice and plunging Gale into comfortable darkness.  "Does this suffice? Or should I send a message to the ship to look into more drastic measures?"
"That's good... thank you..." She could feel the gentle acceleration as Ms. Kistia left the shuttle, but couldn't hear a thing. Not that Xenia was particularly noisy, but the soft rustling of foliage obscured what there was. Maybe there should be some gentle music in public areas, just enough to provide a touch of privacy to those conversing outside. She should ask Alvya about it. Drawing out her datapad, which automatically adjusted its brightness and contrast to minimize her pain, she sent off a quick memo to Alvya. The Syrinxes would know what to do.
It was so nice to have people she could rely on. She didn't have to bear everything alone. She didn't have to guard herself against backstabbing and sabotage. She didn't have to pretend to be something she wasn't. 
A leaf pressed against her forehead drew her attention. "Here you are, Ms. Gale, safe and sound. Mind your eyes."
She nodded, preemptively squinting. With mesmerizing synchronicity, Ms. Kistia unfurled from around her and guided her down to the ground, setting her down right onto her feet. Gale's apartment was at the very edge of what had become the Green Belt, though the Affini influence could clearly be felt across the arbitrary boundary line. Pleasant but unobtrusive floral fragrances wafted on the gentle breeze, accompanied by the aromas of freshly cooked food. And even though the vegetation was more carefully pruned than in the Affini districts, the canopy of the Green Belt still reached out to caress the Terran-built skyscrapers. That was certainly some sort of metaphor.
"Well, I... I suppose I'll see you tomorrow?"
Ms. Kistia looked down on her and smiled. A tangle of her leaves shaped into a loosely-woven limb stretched out to take her hand. Gale accepted, of course. Ms. Kistia's smile widened further still as one of the leaves coiled itself in a spiral up her arm.
"I cannot overstate how grateful I am to have you by my side, Ms. Gale. I couldn't have done it without you." The affini's eyes visibly sparkled with enthusiasm. "Now rest well, and remember to take your medication. Tomorrow, we will show both our new residents and their Affini escorts what a proper welcome looks like."
Ms. Kistia's passion was infectious. Gale grinned, mind already racing with exciting possibilities. If setting an example was the plan, she was beyond thrilled to oblige. Together, the two of them would shatter their short-sighted preconceptions, recovering feralists and Affini traditionalists alike. Squeezing the vines in her hand, she gave a determined nod. "It's about time Xenia finally lived up to its promise. Let's make it happen."
"Exactly the reaction I hoped for. Until tomorrow, Ms. Gale." The affini gave her a final, radiant smile before twirling about with a flourish. The warm light of the setting star seemed to shimmer in a haze off of her leaves like a mirage as she all but glided away. It wasn't until she finally vanished out of sight around a corner that Gale abruptly snapped out of her absentminded reverie. Right. She was going inside.
The building was still mostly Terran-built, though with Affini-tech improvements where it counted. The water, electrical and environmental control systems had been totally overhauled, though the changes were sufficiently unobtrusive that the average resident would have no idea. She particularly appreciated the purification and filtration systems, which somehow managed to make the building's water taste pleasant.
Inaya had wanted to install Affini standard hab interface systems, but she had put her foot down. There was no way Terrans coming out of working for a malevolent media conglomerate would trust a proactive monitoring system which tried to cater to their preferences and needs to have their best interests at heart. Tracking food preferences at the grocer's or the like was one thing, taking place in a public venue and triggered in response to deliberately taken actions, but they deserved some privacy after everything. They had eventually agreed on passive health and welfare monitoring to alert affini responders in case of emergencies. Smoke, depressurization and radiation alarms were a normal fixture of Terran infrastructure, fulfilling the same fundamental purpose.
She was quite satisfied with their compromise, particularly after Inaya informed her that the hotels were found to be riddled with covert Linden surveillance systems the affini had needed to remove. She wished she could have been surprised, but it was just another perfect example of the kind of oppressive atmosphere Terrans had constantly been subjected to. Regardless of the Affini's benevolent intentions, ones which had nothing to do with targeted advertising or additional revenue streams, a cheerful voice interjecting itself into private conversations and offering advice would not help wary Terrans feel safe in the slightest.
That was not to say the building was free of Affini influences and interfaces. Case in point, as she stepped inside, the elevator helpfully asked if she was going home and, upon confirmation, began the ascent to the penultimate floor. The voice control system was Affini-made, part of a standard retrofit for visually impaired sophonts, and barely managed to contain its pre-recorded delight at Gale's ability to answer a yes or no question. Heights weren't a problem for her - not once Sesat had verified the building satisfied his structural safety standards, at any rate - so she had gladly taken one of the upper suites. 
She had adamantly refused to have anything to do with the penthouse suite, and would have insisted on moving a few floors down to one of the economy suites had Ms. Kistia not noted that she was far more likely to need extra room for affini guests. Thus far she hadn't actually made use of it for that purpose, or for any other guests for that matter, leaving her with more room to herself than she had since childhood, on those occasions when mother and father were off on simultaneous business trips.
She honestly didn't know what to do with it all. She didn't have enough possessions to fill the space. It was nice to have her kettle and bed in separate rooms, of course. But she didn't collect status symbols or uncomfortable furniture. What else was she supposed to fill all of the empty space with? Other than laundry, of course. Laundry was inevitable. 
"Here's your floor, dear," the elevator helpfully announced as the doors slid open. Resisting the urge to pointlessly thank the inanimate object, she stepped out and made her way to her apartment. As she turned the corner, she heard the soft click of the door recognizing and unlocking for her. A simple touch was all it took for the door to slide itself open, granting her entry. Gale took off her shoes, left them on the mat, rounded the corner... and proceeded to burst into laughter.
A heaping basket of fries was sitting in the middle of her dining table, next to an oversized homemade card reading "Welcome Home Ms. Gale!" Penny and Kasey Suiren had clearly been the ones to decorate it, judging by the liberal use of pink glitter (fully biodegradable, of course) and stickers.
Ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous. She couldn't stop smiling as she picked up the card. Marta had clearly penned the majority of the card's message, based on the meticulous and florid handwriting, though others had interjected in the form of marginalia after the fact.
Dear Ms. Gale,
I hope this letter, and the dinner, find you well. I wasn't sure what you would want to eat, but Heather assured me that you would not mind the repetition if I ordered you the same meal you enjoyed at lunch, so that's what I have done. I hope you enjoy the first of our gift baskets.
[Here in the margin, an addition from Heather:] I mean, you'd probably eat the same thing every day if nobody stopped you.
We're so very grateful for your advice once again. Hearing about the difficulties the poor darlings have gone through, and the discomfort during their journey, we were so very excited to be able to treat them to a positive and familiar welcome gift.
Please let us - in this case, meaning Alvya and I - know if there are any details which we have misrepresented by mistake. We want to make sure all of our newcomers feel as comfortable as possible in their new home.
[Another interjection, this one in Alvya's writing:] Do not misinterpret this as a request to stay up all night compiling a history of Terran hospitality traditions or anything of the sort. You need your sleep, dear.
Thank you for all your efforts today and always. We all want you to know that you're a valued and irreplaceable member of our little team. 
Fondest regards,
Marta Suiren, Second Bloom
         ⬑ & Penny & Kasey! Hi Gale!
Alvya & Heather Syrinx
Sesat Kethel
Inaya Teshir, Fifth Bloom
P.S. See, I told you so! - Sesat
P.P.S. Tam would sign it too, but he's all tuckered out and fell asleep already. I sent a picture to the group chat, isn't he just adorable? - Sesat
P.P.P.S. I fixed the sign! - Sesat
Gale sunk into her chair, hands trembling slightly as she started in on her fries. Even though it was from the fae, it was not a gift per se but compensation for her efforts. Supposedly. She couldn't stop smiling, but that didn't entirely stifle the doubts roiling at the back of her mind. 
Why were they all so good to her? It didn't feel fair. For all Ms. Kistia and the others insisted that everyone deserved to be treated as well as this, for all she herself insisted on compassionate and caring treatment for everyone, it still felt different when it came to herself. She was just... Gale. And that they had not only managed to put together both food and a card together for her on such short notice, but also that the idea of doing so had even occurred to them in the first place was hard to accept.
She still kept eating, of course. The fries were delicious and were soothing the aching abdominal pain she only now realized she was experiencing. Why did she have to read so much into things? Her coworkers were incredible and thoughtful and she should just enjoy not having to put any thought into dinner. Doing her best to set her anxieties aside, she focused instead on the simple joy of having tasty food, passing the time one fry after another.
By the time her basket was empty, her stomach was full and most of her momentary unease had been quelled. Yawning, she placed the card aside, consigned the empty fry basket to the decompiler and made her way to the bathroom to ready herself for bed. She'd promised to take her drugs properly that night and intended to follow through with it. Just before the end of the dimly lit hallway, she pushed open the door and flicked on the light.
And there she froze.
Her eyes... The ring of her iris could barely be seen in the mirror's reflection, all but swallowed by the voids of her dilated pupils. Even as she stared intently, her eyes scarcely showed any outward signs of the focus lurking behind them. The xenodrugs had seemingly even smoothed over the erratic, involuntary saccadic twitches, leaving her looking like nothing more than an insensate sleepwalker. She knew the intensity of the thoughts whirling behind those eyes. She was those thoughts. But the placid calm of her gaze remained, unperturbed by the turmoil beneath. 
It didn't stop at her eyes though. Her hair, normally unruly for want of dedicated time spent doting upon it, was drawn back into complex, coiling braids that cascaded over her shoulders. Ms. Kistia's work on the shuttle. It was beautiful, reminiscent of vines climbing up a trellis. Not so complex as to be outside a human's capabilities, of course, but clearly impossible to do to oneself. 
And most obvious of all... the red mottling across her skin. The side of her face, where she had been leaning during the shuttle ride. Down her neck, across her forearms and hands... Everywhere Ms. Kistia's foliage had touched, the marks persisted, barely faded over the time spent eating. She raised her hand up to touch the mirror, and watched her body belatedly obey her command. She had adjusted to the slight delay, and her motion looked almost normal. Almost. It was as though she were watching someone moving with exaggerated slowness, with utmost care and deliberation put into the fluidity of the movements, on a recording sped up to normal speed. Or as one moving through water. Though neither of those were quite right.
This was what the feralists had seen. Not exactly. Her hair was still down then, of course. The marks on her skin would not have been so fresh. For what little it mattered. It wouldn't have. It wouldn't have mattered to her, in their position. And she had tried to approach them as though she could plausibly be one of them. No wonder they had laughed. The touch of the Affini upon her was clearer than starlight. And for someone who saw the world in terms of Free Terrans and florets, how could they fail to group her with the latter?
Numbly, she completed her nightly routine on autopilot. She brushed her teeth, portioned out and swallowed her night-time medicine and made her way back to her room. Her clothes ended up in a haphazard pile on the ground as she fell into her waiting bed. 
This was not going to be a good night for sleep, she could tell that already. The class-Es mercifully kept the worst of it down, but her mind was still racing, driven by uncertain feelings she couldn't pin down. In her mind's eye, the hazy indistinct images of the refugees' faces blurred one into another: caution, into derision, into excitement, into fear, into revulsion, into pity. Having now seen what they had, Gale couldn't help but wonder; when she looked at one of the Affini's treasured florets, which of those expressions was it that she wore?
Earlier that morning she would have likely cobbled together some evasive non-answer, something about trying to look at everyone as they were or some other similarly florid nonsense. But that wouldn't be honest. Not entirely. She tried to look at them as people but, to varying extents, they weren't anymore. And that deeply unnerved her. Moreover, given that there were some florets that emphatically didn't want to be seen as people anymore, like Melia Teshir... well, that just complicated things further. 
If she treated florets like she would treat any other sophont, was she being as judgmental as the sneering engineer in her own way? If she treated them differently, the way the florets might want to be treated, was she compromising some deeper ethical responsibility owed by all individuals to one another?
And that dichotomy didn't even capture the full nuance of the situation, did it? Not entirely. She could imagine asking Heather about how florets should be treated, and had no trouble predicting what her obvious answer would be. She wouldn't want to be treated as an independent sophont, nor would she ask to be treated in accordance with her own desires, per se. No. Heather would want to be treated the way Alvya would want her to be treated. That would be the Affini answer as well, wouldn't it? Treat florets not according to their own desires, but those of their owners.
That had the potential of being the worst approach of all, didn't it? In the best case, of course, it was a distinction without a difference. The floret's desires and those of their affini would ideally be identical. Then everyone would be optimally happy. But... what if they weren't? What if those desires were fundamentally opposed? The Affini obviously accounted for the possibility somehow, it was unfathomable that the thousand-year galaxy-spanning civilisation weren't well familiar with the possibility. They used domestication for extreme cases in place of incarceration, after all, and violent feralist rebels clearly wouldn't want the same things as their owners. And yet... she'd seen the docile florets on the military ship, former rebels, yet happy and adoring as any volunteer she'd seen. And she was happy for them. 
Clearly they could deal with overcoming feralist propaganda and other misunderstandings. But what happened when the differences were irreconcilable? What if a floret couldn't possibly be happy with the life their affini had in mind for them? Ms. Kistia had reassured her that the Affini made the happiness and fulfillment of all sophonts in their care their utmost priority, especially their florets. It was the raison d'ȇtre of their entire society after all. She trusted Ms. Kistia, and she had never personally read nor witnessed anything to the contrary. And yet...
For all his insufferable smugness and professional incompetence, that stars-blighted engineer had unintentionally managed to make at least one point of merit in their conversation. Despite her trust in the Affini thus far, the nature of domestication remained unsettling and opaque to her. Even if it wasn't malicious as the feralists claimed, even though they weren't eating florets or sending them to the mines, that didn't by any means preclude the possibility that the truth of domestication could be just as bad or worse.
Ms. Kistia clearly didn't think that was the case, but despite having centuries of additional life experience, Gale apparently had just as much first hand experience with domestication as her superior. Could she truly guarantee the process was truly as benevolent as the Affini wanted to believe, possessing only second-hand information herself? Unlikely. Not without additional research.
And that wouldn't be fair to ask of her. She was busy enough already. She had the whole planet's problems to deal with, and now nearly an entire space station of newcomers to resettle. She didn't have time to put up with Gale's neuroses and anxious fixations, especially for something that almost certainly would end up being a complete waste of time. The Affini Compact had proven their benevolent intentions to Gale many times over already.
Yet, even so, benevolent wasn't a synonym for infallible. And even if they had somehow maintained a perfect record with all other species until they encountered humanity, that still didn't exclude the possibility of unexpected and catastrophic failure. After all, even though it was swiftly corrected, she still remembered the crushing sorrow and dread she had felt when first exposed to xenodrugs, fearing in her irrational state that the cognitive impairments would be permanent. If even Ms. Kistia could make such a mistake, how could she be certain there wasn't some other human out there exactly like her, in the clutches of some less conscientious affini erroneously convinced a life of confused delirium would make their floret happy?
She turned over uneasily in her bed, pulling the blankets tight around her. She had to know. She had to find out the truth for herself. And she was uniquely positioned to do it. She held a position of trust within the Xenian administration. She knew a working amount of the local Affini dialect, and could access resources intended for Affini eyes. And Linden had given her more experience uncovering inconvenient secrets than she had ever wanted. If anyone could get to the truth of the matter, to find out if there truly was anything sinister lurking behind the smiling facade of domestication, it might well be her. Honestly, if anything, it was her duty and mandate as Terran Accessibility Liaison to ensure that the Affini were caring for her fellow Terrans the way they deserved. No one, Terran or Affini, could fault her for that.
There. She had a plan, or at least a goal. A goal was at least the start of a plan. She could work out the details of her investigation later. If there was anything to be found, she would find the evidence and bring it to Ms. Kistia, and together they would figure out some way to make it right. The details were a problem for future Gale. For now, she had to get to sleep. Her team was counting on her in the morning.

Sorry again! Please feel free to share any thoughts you have about this chapter, or the rest of Part 2! Comments help a lot with making my brain do the good chemicals, in the absence of an affini to provide them for me.

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