The hardest part was knowing where to start.
When it came to Linden, she had plenty of foundational knowledge on corporate practices to draw upon. She knew the right language, both in terms of linguistic fluency and knowledge of jargon, and knew the right questions to ask. But as much as she had learned, of the Affini's language and their culture, she still didn't know enough to identify what she didn't know. Certainly not enough to explain the means by which they could reshape someone from a hardened, cynical rebel into a pliable and needy floret with such efficacy.
She knew some, of course. She knew of the existence of the haustoric implant, if not the finer details. She'd gotten an explanation back when Heather got implanted, and subsequently spent a few weeks in recovery. She knew that they were bespoke pieces of Affini biotech created for each floret, designed to deliver xenodrugs and interface with the floret's nervous system. But given the elevated cultural importance of the implant in Affini society, there was no way it was merely some combination of IV pump and EEG.
Gale had tried to learn more about the implant briefly during her morning tea break, and swiftly ran into the limitations of her domain knowledge. In addition to the technical jargon terms which had no direct translations in any Terran language, it was clear that the authors producing literature on the implant expected the average affini audience to have a much more thorough background in xenobiology, molecular biology and pharmacokinetics than she possessed. Even if it were fully translated, she knew she wouldn't grasp more than the surface level details. The diagrams alone made her head spin.
She had tried to find decent translations for academically minded Terrans. She had been, thus far, unsuccessful. There were, of course, interactive translation AIs which would be more than happy to parse out the meaning of Affini texts on her behalf, but of course, all technology is inherently shaped by the biases of the designer. Chances are, especially given the density of the material, it would almost certainly leave out details it considered extraneous or unnecessary for someone like her to know. Manual translations would surely come in time, but for the moment, Gale was out of luck.
What she had found, however, were plentiful resources for florets to be implanted. They were well below her technical level, and their language was mortifying in its childishness and simplicity. But she could understand it, and having failed to find any resources she could read within the sweet spot between incomprehensibly cryptic and painfully condescending, she had no choice but to choose the latter. By that point the challenge became finding anything of substance at all. In exasperation, she had sorted the results by number of pages and chosen one of the top results at random.
And that was how she wound up sitting in the break room reading Your Implant And You, a resource booklet for florets awaiting their implantation surgery.
Nobody else was there, thankfully. Her coworkers had been working through the night coordinating preparations for the Phrygians, the first of whom had landed on Xenia that morning, and were rather preoccupied as a result. Gale, conversely, had very little to do. While she had arrived to find a sizable stack of notices, pamphlets and infographics waiting for her on her desk for review, it hadn't taken much time to work her way through them. Most had been adapted from similar resources developed for the Xenian inhabitants, which she had already reviewed in the past, but with the addition of extra maps and clarifying details for those unfamiliar with the settlement. She was sure there would be more work in the coming days, once the newcomers had time to recover from the stress of relocation and began exploring the amenities Xenia had to offer. But in the meantime, it was just her, a mug of tea, and Your Implant And You.
It occurred to her, just from skimming the first few pages, that there was an unexpected benefit to reading material targeted specifically to already domesticated florets. It was quite unexpectedly candid about everything, albeit wrapped up in soft, reassuring language. She supposed there was no need to worry about alarming a floret with the kind of details which might intimidate or deter an independent sophont from treatment, as the floret wouldn't be in charge of medical decisions by the time they'd be reading something like this. If so, florets would at least enjoy the privilege of knowing the true minds of their affini, while those like Gale were left guessing. Though hopefully, she could appropriate a fraction of that insight.
Despite the cutesy simplistic style of the illustrations, which according to the foreword were contributions of the author's florets, the haustoric implant looked like something out of a xeno-horror director's nightmares. Gale was transfixed by a particularly evocative sequence of images in the chapter regarding the growth phases of the implant once placed inside its host. She was reminded of illustrations of the serpent Nidhogg in old books of mythology, a creature said to chew upon the roots of the world tree Yggdrasil and upon the corpses of the dead. On the datapad screen, the illustrations showed a sinuous mass of plant matter, bearing grasping tendrils outstretched to embrace the awaiting spine. Matching illustrations on subsequent pages showed the tendrils coiling around the spinal column, roots piercing and supplanting the nerves of the spinal cord, then...
Gale's eyes widened with a mix of awe and astonishment as she read the accompanying text for the final images in the sequence, which described the process by which the haustoric implant not only progressively replaced the body's peripheral nervous system, but went so far as to infiltrate the host's brain itself. Moreover, as if the text weren't enough, the florets' artistic rendition of the process made the brain look almost like a fruit growing upon the green spinal stem of the implant, rather than the other way around.
The first image in the next chapter on implant functionality, in which smiley faces appeared to flow up the stem and into the brain, bore a particularly audacious caption.
Once your implant has fully mapped out your brain, your mind will be comfy and safe in your owner's grasp, allowing them to gently nudge and adjust your thoughts for your own happiness and wellbeing.
No wonder the Affini could be so cavalier when it came to the risks of former feralist floret recidivism. What more secure leash to restrain a being than one anchored within its own mind?
And what did they mean by "nudge and adjust"? Xenodrug microdoses? Electrical stimulation? Some sort of protein or enzyme... something or other? She was quite sure that she couldn't dig much further in that direction before striking the wall where the trivial 'for florets' explanation ended, and the impenetrable affini medical science jargon began. But surely there would be something more concrete than an injection of smiles as per the image. She read on for the answer.
Not only will your new haustoric implant moderate your emotions even better than your prior xenodrug regimen, but it will prune away any unwanted thoughts that your owner doesn't want you thinking, replacing them with feelings of devotion and belonging!
Gale shivered, immediately regretting her curiosity. That was so, so much worse than the abstract pleasantry of a current of smiley faces. The anxiety suppression provided by the class-E xenodrugs Ms. Kistia had produced for her may have provided pleasant relief from her normally tumultuous mind, certainly. But the ramifications of being able to do so with degrees of precision and specificity orders of magnitude greater still? Control to a degree of which the Terran Accord could only have dreamed. And the Affini used it to make other sophonts docile and compliant and... well, happy. That was the difference. The Terran Accord would have killed billions for such capabilities, in order to make the population docile, compliant and profitable. Happiness would never have crossed their minds. Did that difference in ends excuse the means?
Gale flipped ahead, unable to look away.
Many Terrans have reported experiencing negative 'intrusive' thoughts that make them feel sad. Don't worry! Your implant will help make sure you experience positive intrusive thoughts instead!
The implant was so powerfully invasive, and yet they featured a trifling detail like this as one of the technology's key modes of operation. Gale was certain a Terran xenoscholar could build a thesis out of that little excerpt alone, but she was personally at a loss to grapple with the underlying reasoning behind that particular piece's inclusion. Admittedly, a great deal of that might come down to her inability to even imagine what a positive intrusive thought would entail. Given that negative thoughts about oneself are the default, one generally has to actively work to think positively instead.
Pets shouldn't have to be burdened with maintaining their own health. That's why your implant will spare your body of the responsibility by taking over coordination of your body's vital functions.Plus, if you have a history of naughty behaviour and need reassurance you won't cause any harm to anyone, your implant's enhanced executive oversight will provide enhanced discipline reinforcement. There's no fear of hurting anyone when every twitch, breath, or blink is transparently authorised by your owner's wishes!
She reached for her tea, and was surprised to find her hand trembling. Too much so to carry her cup to her lips. She'd make a mess.
If she had found anything like this in the hands of Linden, she would have assumed the absolute worst, and those assumptions would likely have been a gross underestimate of the true extent of the depravity. Those same instincts urged her to assume the worst of the Affini for creating such a horrifying thing.
But yet, her own firsthand evidence with the Affini flew in the face of that. And with their florets. She knew Heather before she became a floret. Sure, there may have been a cosmetic change from discarding the notion of "business-appropriate attire" but that was fully consistent with who Heather had been the whole time beneath the corporate-compliant façade. More consistent, in fact. And aside from the dynamic of her relationship with Alvya, Gale hadn't noticed any significant differences or deviations from who Heather had been before the Affini. Clearly they weren't engaging in any indiscriminate mind wiping in her case.
Flipping back and forth through the captions, she rationalized that perhaps it was a case of euphemism gone wrong. Perhaps by 'nasty' and 'intrusive' thoughts, the text was referring to violent or self-harming impulses, likewise with so-called 'naughty' behaviour. A typical floret in her experience would be rather alarmed and distressed by the notion of a floret being capable of harming anyone. If it were restricted to that.... Well, it would most certainly still be ethically complex, but perhaps less so than the alternative?
Moreover, if they could simply arbitrarily edit the thoughts of anyone whom they implanted and only cared about the most expedient solution, they would just implant everyone and be done with it. So either there was some limitation of which she was yet unaware - and clearly not a material one, as trying to slowly ease concerns and win over former feralists was clearly more resource intensive than a simple medical procedure - or the haustoric implant was simply not as insidious as these descriptions made it seem.
How was this text possibly intended for florets? The average floret she'd met had the emotional fortitude of a dehydrated algae brick when faced with anything more upsetting than a rock with a sad expression painted on. And texts like these were considered not only appropriate but actively beneficial for florets to read, even though they described planttech infiltrating one's brain and warping one's thoughts at an affini's whims? Surrounded by disturbing drawings clearly intended to be cute, no less. How did that work?
She'd had more than enough stylized brains and spines for now. Skipping past the end of the development and neurology chapters, she skimmed for any further details of interest.
Your new implant will help you to get in tune with your owner faster, and deeper than ever before! Like feeling them holding you on the end of a leash, you'll never have to wonder about whether your owner is thinking of you as much as you'll be thinking of them!
This caption accompanied an image that was... oddly abstract compared to the rest of the illustrations thus far. The affini and floret were obvious enough - a flower in a human's hair seemed to be their standard symbolism to indicate a floret, and the affini was self-evident - but Gale couldn't figure out what all the squiggly lines surrounding the pair were meant to be. The portion between the two almost seemed to resemble magnetic field lines flowing out and around from one pole to another, but the sine wave curves instead of straight orderly lines excluded that possibility. Similarly, it vaguely but inaccurately resembled a diagram of fluid dynamics, given the bubble of orderly lines surrounded by tangled whorls of turbulence, but the outer region also contained hatches and other scribbles which were totally inappropriate in such a context. And neither of those explained the brightly coloured symbols drawn onto the curves between the affini and floret: pink hearts and yellow stars arranged alongside other unfamiliar glyphs, ones which didn't match with any Terran or Affini script she had encountered before.
Gale felt a strange, distant kinship with those archeologists of old, deciphering cryptic artifacts of Egypt, Mesopotamia or Florida. She was half tempted to dismiss the symbols as random scribbling, but they were far too consistent for that. So clearly they, and the diagram, were intended to convey something. But what, and why was it so obscure? This was in a primer text meant for florets with no domain knowledge whatsoever. A floret, or florets, drew the illustration. All of the other diagrams were fairly self explanatory. Gale leaned in closer, squinting at the drawing. Was this simply a whimsical outlier? Or, as she was inclined to believe, was this meant to be something obvious and self-explanatory, had she the kind of background knowledge a floret was expected to know? Perhaps some standard notation or iconography within the Compact which would be instantly recognized by a Compact acclimatized individual, the way a credit symbol above an amenity would immediately and self-evidently indicate it was pay-per-use for a citizen of the Accord.
She saved a screenshot of the peculiar illustration with a gesture. It was entirely possible that the whole thing was simply something that looked pretty to a floret, with no deeper meaning. Not only possible but probable, even. But just in case it were relevant, she would need a reference to look up later and a locally saved copy would be far more convenient. She was sure the assistance software would be more than happy to perform the cross-references and lookups for her but, well, that wasn't an option for the same reason that simply asking it to give her information on if florets were treated correctly wasn't an option: Affini technology would inevitably be subject to the same biases and blind spots as the aliens themselves.
As she was about to flip the page, it occurred to her that there might perhaps be a clue to point her in the right direction in those symbols she could recognize. Assuming a certain degree of shared cultural background with the floret artist, the pink hearts presumably represented love and affection. Even without the context of the caption, it would stand to reason that whatever the illustration meant, there was some sort of emotional component or application of it. She continued with specific intent, looking for language relating to emotions, in case any of those symbols came up again.
Feeling overwhelmed by the world? Worry not! The implant can turn off your active thought processes for you while your owner takes appropriate care of your body.
Gale recoiled viscerally, swiftly flicking past that one and the whole section on implant care. Not pleasant, not relevant.
Feelings can be confusing to deal with at times. Don't worry, your owner will be able to tell if you're having any unhappy thoughts, even if you can't figure out what you're feeling.
That was closer to what she was looking for. In the illustration, a vine held up a datapad next to a floret. Theoretically, a medical monitoring application would have comprehensive details she might make inferences from, but such details did not make it into the floret's representation. The screen depicted only generic unlabelled bar and line graphs, nothing actually meaningful. Not unexpected but worth a try. She flicked ahead.
Many florets have unhappy feelings and thoughts stemming from their pasts, those uncertain times before the safe embrace of their owner's love. Some of these florets worry that their worries and aversions might make it more difficult to be the best pet they can be. If that's you, then you can ease your pretty little head. Your haustoric implant will provide your owner many tools to help you heal, grow, and be your very best self.
The illustration showed an affini holding their floret in their vines, comforting them and wiping their tears away. Despite the tears, the floret's face had a faint, tentative, hopeful, relatable smile.
Gale flicked ahead.
Like any pretty flower, past distress doesn't make a floret any less beautiful, but can leave lasting pain and hardship behind. Each floret is unique, and your owner will make sure that you receive the best possible care for your personal situation.
Gale flicked ahead.
For some florets, their unhappy feelings are isolated, tied to unwanted memories of unpleasant events the floret would rather not remember. For these florets, their haustoric implants can help your owner and vet map, identify and snip those pesky memories and associated feelings away.Your implant will hold on tight to those memories that matter, of course - like play time with your owner - while helping prune away the unimportant ones you needn't worry about in your new life.
An illustration of a potted flower, a few stray wilting or blackened leaves being carefully removed one at a time, leaving the surrounding foliage unscathed. Gale flicked ahead.
For others, adversity has changed the course of their growth. For these, removing all traces of any damage would also mean removing part of what makes them unique and beautiful. The haustoric implant provides versatile care options for owners to support, nurture, and accommodate their floret’s individual needs while still letting their unique beauty shine.
Another flower, this one with several twists and bends in its stem, discolorations showing signs of past damage, and its blooms stick out at eclectic angles. This flower has no leaves removed. Instead, there is a second plant growing around the pot, its branches outstretched to provide a scaffold for the flower to grow on. Gale flicked ahead.
It is common for these florets to have strongly held needs, desires, preferences and aversions. Some might instinctively shy away from strangers, or be startled by loud sounds. Some might need certain comfort items, or engage in particular behaviours and rituals to relieve stress. Some build strong cores of identity around activities, concepts or pursuits which resonate strongly with them.When preparing for implantation, it is natural for florets to worry about losing these deeply rooted aspects of themselves, particularly if there are unhealthy habits or behaviours wrapped around them. Fear not, little ones. You can rest easy knowing your owner loves you, and your implant is made with that same love. It wants nothing more than to help you express your true self in the healthiest and most fulfilling way, including all the delightful unique qualities that make you who you are.
Different florets, each unique, in the company of their owners. Rolling in the grass, solving a jigsaw puzzle, gardening, baking, and more, illustrations spilling over from one page onto the next. It wasn't just human florets either, but Rinans and beeple as well, collared and playing with one another in harmony. Gale swallowed with difficulty, realized her mouth was dry, then realized she was hyperventilating slightly. Carefully, leaning down to avoid spilling, she took her tea and drained the half mug which remained.
Pushing her chair back, she slowly stood up and carried her mug over to the sink. She rinsed it, briefly, before placing it within the dishwasher. Clicking the door shut with her knee, she turned, and nearly tripped over herself as she leapt back with sudden terror, having locked eyes with the girl sitting at the break room table immediately across from her seat.
Gale only barely heard the floret's soft, mischievous laughter over the sound of her heartbeat pounding in her ears. "Oh dear, did I startle you, Ms. Gale?" it asked with feigned innocence, barely even moving its lips from its coy smile as it spoke. The rest of it was completely and utterly still, far more still than any normal human could ever be, without even the rise and fall of its chest from breathing to set it apart from a remarkably realistic mannequin. Exactly the way its owner, Inaya, liked to keep it.
"Melia?!" Gale gasped, pressing her hand to her chest as though to prevent her racing heart from escaping. "What? How did you- Why are you here?"
Melia Teshir, Sixth Floret, Inaya's beloved doll and absolute menace, maintained that wickedly demure smile as it replied. "Why, lunch, of course."