Misguided Rebellion

Chapter 13: Reunion [Day 1]

by Rogue Kitsune

Tags: #cw:gore #cw:noncon #body_modification #conditioning #f/f #Human_Domestication_Guide #robots #scifi #accidental_conditioning #dom:female #drug_play #drugs #humiliation #multiple_partners #ownership_dynamics #petplay #pov:bottom #sub:female #sub:nb #transgender_characters
See spoiler tags : #hypnosis #mind_control

CW:  Forced time-out/corner time (Added upon request)

“Sis,” Ratio whispered. “Sis, wake up.”
I groaned at the finger poking against my cheek and lazily swatted at it with one hand. I might have muttered something but I was far too busy giving the bed the attention it deserved.
“Zeitha! Wake. Up,” Ratio insisted, now shaking my shoulders.
“I’m awake! I’m awa…”
“She’s asleep again! Miss!”
I could vaguely make out the sound of something being whispered before Ratio started giggling.
“Zeitha. Last chance, wake up sleepy fox,” Ratio teased.
“Mhm, I agree,” I said absentmindedly.
The sheets shuffled before a finger pressed against my nose and pushed delicately. In mere seconds my body snapped to attention, my arms raised and drooping slightly as I gave a single excited yip. Ratio shot back slightly surprised before rolling over onto her back kicking her legs wide as she giggled uncontrollably. She nearly fell off the bed, but Sya’s vines caught her and gently placed her sitting upright in front of me. She looked at me, a mischievous glint in her eyes.
“Don’t. You. Dare.” She pressed my nose again yielding another excited yip. “RATIO!” I yelled. I darted forward grabbing Ratio’s arms and pinning her against the bed as I growled. Her eyes went wide, a mixture of fear and surprise before they softened and she entered another giggling fit.
“Oh no! Please don’t hurt me miss fox!”
I laughed lightly, and then had a sudden realization as to what I had just done. I released my grip, cast my head aside and moved toward the end of the bed, my mood considerably sourer.
“Sis?” Ratio asked with clear concern.
“Don’t… don’t do that again.”
“I’m sorry.”
“So you should be,” I snarled, hopping down and refusing to look at her.
“Little one, that’s no way to treat your connivent,” Sya said.
“And that’s no way to treat me! Where do you get off installing something like that in this hardware?!”
Sya started to amass back into her humanoid form as she towered over me. “Little one, your attitude is problematic. I understand your frustrations and I will keep them in mind going forward, but you will not talk that way to others.”
“Why? What are you going to do about it?” I snapped. I realize in hindsight this wasn’t very smart, but I was angry and as is common when I’m angry, my mouth moves faster than my mind; which is saying something, because you know… digital mind. I’m getting distracted again.
“Very well,” Sya said. “Speaking privileges revoked. Corner time.” Vines shot forward, grabbing my arms and legs as they pulled me off the ground. I knew it was coming but I also knew resisting would be pointless. I surrendered myself instantly, hoping to reclaim some goodwill until my next outburst.
Sya brought me to a corner and sat me down kneeling. The corner itself was barren except for a single screen, some 16 inches wide and 9 high, inbuilt into the wall; displaying subtle pink text that phased in and out of focus while bouncing around. The text read; ‘I’m a good pet’; ‘I am loved’; ‘I’ll apologize for my behaviour.’
“You will stay like this for ten minutes,” Sya commanded. “If you close or avert your eyes, I will add two minutes. Standing up or turning your head is an extra five. Nod your head if you understand.” I nodded; like I had a choice. “Good pet. I will inform you when your punishment is over.” With that, the vines holding me in place removed themselves, leaving me to stare at the monitor of my own free will.
I lasted two minutes before committing my first offence as I took note that neither Sya nor Ratio was in the room with me. When I turned to reface the monitor, a notification appeared informing me two minutes had been added to my time. I sighed and refocused on the text.
The second offence came a minute later when I decided enough was enough. I stood up, turned my back to the screen, took a step, blinked, and found myself kneeling again in front of the monitor. Another announcement informed me seven minutes had been added. I swore loudly, which when vocalized was translated into yipping.
Would you believe me if I said there was a third offence? I stood up, being careful to keep my eyes locked on the screen. I moved backwards and from my peripheral vision noted I had made it halfway across the room. I took another step, followed by another, and reached the end of the bed. I cast my hand behind me and searched for my plushie; the idea being that I wanted to see if the screen could discern between the object in front of it. I couldn’t find it and grew frustrated, breaking my gaze and blinking in the process. I was kneeling in front of the monitor again, hands on my lap. I cast my head up and screamed and then watched as the new announcement changed from seven to nine minutes.
Finally, after 30 or 35 minutes after starting, a vine tapped me on the shoulder causing me to yelp in surprise. Sya looked down at me, her face serious. “Have you learned your lesson pet?” I kept my eyes cast downwards and nodded. “Good. Would you like to apologise to Ratio for your attitude earlier?” I nodded again. “Excellent. Come along then.” Sya extended a vine out which I held onto as I was guided into the next room.
“I’m sorry for my earlier behaviour,” I said, bowing to show my sincerity.
Ratio took both of my hands in her own. “It’s okay, I forgive you.” She said with a smile. “Come. I’ve made you some breakfast.”
“Eh, thanks? What is it?” I said as I was being pulled closer to the dining table.
“Pudding!” she chirped.
“Pudding? But it’s the morning. Don’t we need something healthy…” I stopped. “Stars!” I yelled.
“What?!” Ratio asked worriedly.
“I forgot to ask Cereus why I feel the need to eat.”
“You can ask Cereus tomorrow when they visit,” Sya said from behind me before I was picked up and placed in my chair. “But for now, I’d like you to eat; Ratio is quite eager to hear your thoughts on her newest dish.”
As instructed, I ate a spoonful of the gelatinous teddy bear before me. I was expecting cold, slimy textures but this was nothing like that. It was warm, melted in the mouth and soft. There was an aftertaste like honey and I quickly found myself finishing off the dish. I placed the spoon down satisfied and then turned to face Ratio. “That was honestly the best meal I have ever had!”
“Really? I’m so glad!” Ratio said as she swayed from side to side giddy. “Mistress says I can start making more dishes. Will you help me next time?”
“Provided you don’t mind being poisoned. Sure! Why not.”
“You can’t be that bad!” Ratio teased.
“Oh, I’m sure I’d find a way,” I laughed with Ratio quickly joining me. It wasn’t particularly funny, but I think we were both glad to have an excuse for breaking the earlier tension. Sya for her part seemed to be happy that we were both getting along again as she waited for our exchange to die down before she spoke.
“I have some important news darling.”
“Are you talking to me, or are you talking to her?” I asked, turning my head.
“You, but you raise a good point. I’ll think about which pet names I want to give you both so as not to cause any future confusion.”
“Amazing,” I added sarcastically. “What’s the news?” Sya gave me a stern disapproving look. “Please can you tell me the news?” I asked a second time, trying to keep my voice more docile.
Sya nodded to herself pleased. “How would you like to see Lucia?”
I froze. “You mean it?”
“I do. I’ve arranged a little reunion to celebrate your recovery. I think it’ll be good for you; of course, there will be rules.”
“Sure! Anything!” I yelled.
“Anything?” Sya taunted.
I realised that was a very poor choice of words. “Anything I’d agree to!” I added hastily.
“That’s a shame. I was ever so looking forward too. No... I’ll save that for later.” The smile Sya gave went far past predatory and landed firmly in the domain of sadism. I was not looking forward to discovering what that meant.
An hour passed; rules were given, memorised and repeated and then a further two hours passed as we got ready to leave. Finally, we made our way out of the hab and towards our destination.

We reached our destination; signalled by the park boundaries. Inside were several florets and their owners all supposedly eager to congratulate me on my recovery. Lucia made this trip worth it, but I was not looking forward to meeting the others. Still, I was proud and not one to back down from a challenge. Until of course I did, but shush, we won’t think about that.
“Zeitha, remember our agreement?” Sya asked.
“Mhm. Would you like me to list all one hundred articles, or will the main three suffice?”
“The main three will do.”
“Understood. Be polite and kind; talk to you if my anxiety or stress gets too high; don’t leave Ratio’s side.”
Sya nodded approvingly and gave a single gentle pat. “I’ll be adding one more condition.” She handed me four pieces of paper. The first paper read;
Test 1 – Envy
Zeitha Everfell, Second Floret (floret); will be tested under the following conditions;
  • The floret will be exposed to an environment in which unequal treatment may ensue; and
  • The floret will not be given special attention outside of mandated requirements (a list of such requirements can be seen below).
If the floret requests specialised treatment during this time, this test will be considered failed henceforth.
I finished reading the four pages, the last three covering the most mundane things. There were over two hundred articles on those three pages and I will not be repeating them.
“Just checking to make sure I’ve got this right?” I asked. “Special treatment here seems to refer to acting on emotional wants, derived from seeing something others have that I don’t. If I don’t act on those wants, I’ll never fail this test?”
“That’s correct Zeitha.”
“Great! Do you want to sign my independence paperwork now or?”
“Your confidence will be your undoing little one,” Sya taunted.
“Very well. I doubt it, but I guess we’ll see. May the best woman win.” I held my hand out for Sya to shake, but instead, she looked at me perplexed. Seeing her confusion, I decided to help her out. “You’re supposed to take it.”
“Oh!” she cupped my hand with her vines and squeezed gently. Now it was my turn to be perplexed and I found my mouth curling up into a smile before it gave way to a laugh. Sya tilted her head in confusion, which for some reason caused me to laugh harder. “That wasn’t the correct response, was it?”
“Not at all!” I chuckled. “Stars, I didn’t realise I needed that. Thanks,” I said with genuine sincerity.
“You’re welcome, little one.” She moved down to pet me, but I bounced backwards waving my papers.
“Ah ah a. We have an agreement in place. No more special treatment.” She huffed but retracted her vine and motioned for the three of us to continue. We moved inside and met the larger group and all I could think of during that short travel was how proud I was to have finally outsmarted the Affini. It was a small victory, but a victory nonetheless.
At the meet-up were 12 Affini and 15 florets, some of whom you’ve already met and will be revealed shortly. The Affini sat off to one side some 50 or 60 feet away from the larger group. The florets were arranged in a circle and were full flow in a conversation that seemed to orientate around the most optimised way a person can sleep.
“You’re both wrong, it’s obviously on your stomach cuddling… Zeitha? Zeitha!” Lucia yelled as she waved at me a huge grin on her face. The conversation halted and all eyes turned to look at me. Now the centre of attention panic started to creep in as I took a reflective step backwards; Sya’s vine was on my shoulder instantly.
“You’re safe,” she whispered. “Ratio will be with you and I’ll be over there.” She pointed towards the other Affini. “If I feel this is too much we can leave and try again another day.”
I hated the way she was talking down to me. She was making it out like I was somehow socially incompetent! I just… didn’t like people, especially in large groups. I sighed and nodded. As if on cue, Ratio moved to my side and took one of my hands in her own. I glanced at her.
“Don’t leave my side?” I asked.
“Never,” she said cheerfully, before pulling me gently towards the group.
On our approach a young man, no older than his mid-20s, stood, leaving room for Ratio and me to sit next to Lucia. Before he left, he whispered something in her ear causing her to giggle. As he passed, he gave me a beaming smile and then took a seat on the opposite end of the circle.
I sat down, Lucia to my left and Ratio to my right. Everyone in the circle was still looking at me; most were smiling, one was glaring and all were making me feel uncomfortable.
“What did I miss?” I asked awkwardly.
“We’re trying to deduce the best way to sleep. So far on your left side and cuddling is winning,” a separate young man informed me. I felt I recognised him, but I was failing to put a name to his face.
“Why does the position matter? Why can’t it be in the arms of those you love?” Ratio asked.
There were a few agreements before another person interjected their opinion leading to the conversation kindling back up as I moved into the background of nearly everyone’s focus.
“Hi,” Lucia said.
“Hi,” I replied. I looked at her and couldn’t think of what to say. I honed in on her new ears and my mouth took over. “I like your ears, what animal is it?”
“Snow leopard. Not that I’ve ever seen a snow leopard, but that’s what the brochure said.”
“They look soft.”
“They’re super soft. Want to touch them?” Lucia asked.
“No, I’m okay thank you.” I paused. “Have they been treating you well?”
“Absolutely! Mistress is super kind and sweet and just… gosh, she’s so amazing. Words just can’t.”
“That’s good,” I said while fidgeting with my tails. “I’m glad you’re doing well.”
“Zei, you don’t need to be on edge around me. Would you like to go somewhere quieter so we can talk in private?” Lucia asked.
“I… Yeah. I’d like that. Can Ratio come?”
“Of course! It’ll be the three of us.” The two girls exchanged a knowing smile and I was getting the impression that this wasn’t the first time they had met.
We moved off toward a large alien tree. It was similar to an oak tree back on Terra, only the leaves were white crystals that looked like frozen teardrops. I sat down at the base of the trunk and the two girls joined me.
“Feeling better?” Lucia asked.
“Mhm. I don’t know what’s up with me today.”
“You’ve never liked big crowds.”
“No, I suppose you’re right. Still, I’m usually a little more put together than this.” I sighed again and looked at the teardrops above me, watching how the light refracted through them and the tiny rainbows they made as a result. I held my hand out and watched the colours dance across its surface before I scrunched it up and turned to face Lucia.
“Lucia. I’m…” I gulped. “I’m really sorry for what I… no. She.” I shook my head. “We did back on that ship.”
Lucia looked at me with soft eyes. “You don’t need to apologise and I don’t want you to. I’ve been told what happened back then and I know you didn’t mean it. I also know you’ll have beaten yourself up mentally over it.” She reached over and pulled me into a hug, it was strained as I wasn’t quite close enough and ended up burying my face into her breasts, but this didn’t seem to bother her. “I was really worried about you. When they told me what you had done; what had happened to you, I was in disbelief. I knew you had a fierce streak, but I would have never believed it extended that far.” I could feel the beginning of tears tapping against my hair. “I’m glad you’re safe.”
“I error up,” I exclaimed.
“You were angry, but it’s over now. You’ll never have to go through that again.”
“I suppose.” I attempted to break free from Lucia’s grasp but in doing so was pulled further into her bosom as she tightened her hold on me. “Lucia!? Why is everyone so touchy!?”
“I haven’t spoken to you in 8 weeks!” she yelled. “Let me have this one?” she continued; her voice now considerably softer. “We’ll say it’s your atonement.”
“Fine… If it makes you happy.”
“It does,” she insisted.
Silence spanned; 5 seconds, then 10 and then 20. Just as I thought Lucia would let me go, I heard the snap of a twig behind me before a second body sandwiched me as the two girls started laughing mischievously.
“gou m,” I groaned.
“What did she say?” Ratio asked.
“I think she said she wants more,” Lucia teased.
“That sounds like more to me!” Lucia laughed.
I struggled as much as I could, but between the two of them, I wasn’t strong enough to break free. I rationalised that if I was going to be stuck in a hug sandwich I might as well enjoy it. I relaxed and this continued for a further minute before the two let go. I growled as Ratio hopped backwards to her feet out of lunging distance. Lucia on the other hand had no room to manoeuvre and thus made a perfect target.
“You’ll regret that!” I lunged forward, arms extended and had just enough time to catch a smirk on Lucia’s face before the world span and I crashed to the floor, Lucia on top. “How the- Eek!”
Lucia had licked me! She had pinned me down and licked me! On the face! With her tongue! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
“I thought you were told to behave little one?” She asked menacingly.
“I’m older than you!” I cried out.
“And yet, I’m the one on top.” I struggled, trying to get out from under her grip and failed. You know, for a robotic body I was suspiciously weak. “Struggling, are we?” Lucia poked her tongue out and moved slowly towards my face.
“Wait! No. Don’t…”
“No? I may let you go if you stop struggling and ask nicely.”
Error! Lucia, I’ll behave. Please let me go,” I pleaded.
“Awww, of course! Wouldn’t want you hurting yourself after all.”
Lucia removed herself giving me room to sit up. I looked away and found Ratio blushing intensely, her hands covering her face. A great amount of help she turned out to be.
Lucia broke the silence. “I’m sorry Zei, I got a little carried away.”
“You’re telling me! Stars you’ve changed. Where did you learn to do that anyway?”
“I have an amazing boyfriend who I’ve been experimenting with.”
“I see. Lucia, that… You…”
“Did it feel nice?” She asked.
“Yes. No! Error! I don’t know.”
“I’m thinking someone just underwent her awakening,” Lucia teased.
“Absolutely not!”
“Of course not. That’s why your hair has gone pastel pink and is full of love hearts?”
“It what?” I pulled my hair forward and inspected it; sure enough little white hearts were dancing against a pink background. I looked at Lucia and unintelligibly stammered a series of protests, realised I was making a fool of myself and went mute.
“Are you okay?” Lucia asked worriedly.
“I’m okay.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. I wasn’t expecting that,” I said.
“In fairness, you attacked me.”
“I didn’t think you would lick me!”
“And now you know. Feel free to challenge me any time, I really like the way your face scrunches up when you’re flustered,” Lucia teased.
I let out a small whimper then caught myself, and tried to put on my most serious voice instead. “Lucia, we can’t do this. I’ve known you far too long. You’re basically family to me.”
“I know, and I promise I’ll respect your boundaries. You surprised me and I got a bit ahead of myself, but I also understand how you feel about the two of us. I won’t put that in jeopardy.”
“You won’t do that again?”
“Not unless you pounce me again,” she said, flashing a smug smile. “Even if things weren’t what they were, I wouldn’t go past teasing. I love my boyfriend and we’ve given ourselves to each other in our entirety. If I started seeing anyone else, I’d feel really bad.”
I sat in silence playing with my tails. They were a bother that made walking and sitting down difficult, but in times like these, they were a great source of comfort. I couldn’t tell you why but I always felt better when my hands were occupied.
“You used to be so timid and now you’re assertive and full of confidence. Honestly, it’s frustrating knowing things have changed so much while I slept, but that’s life I guess,” I mused.
Lucia sat silently considering what to say. “I know it’s strange…” she started. “but you can trust the compact. Everything they do is for our own welfare. Your Mistress, I don’t know her very well, but she stayed with you every day while you were recovering. She cares for you Zei.”
“That’s irrelevant. She wants to make me a pet C. How can I trust her?”
“Being a pet is a gift. I know you don’t see it that way now, but you will.”
“Alright, enough.” I retorted. “If we keep this train of thought I’ll end up getting angry and doing something I regret. Let’s change the subject.”
“Sounds good! What would you like to talk about?” She asked.
By this point, Ratio had recovered and came back to join us. She sat close by my side. If she thought it strange that I was resting my head on her shoulder, she didn’t indicate it.
I decided to play my next question safe. “What’s it like having a partner?”
Lucia was the first to speak. “It’s hard to put into words. I feel I’ve found another half of myself. I want to grow old with him, learn all his secrets and tell him all of mine. He makes each day brighter and time with him flows more slowly. Is that the same with you IO?”
“My relationship is different as my partner already knows everything about me.” Ratio said. “I’m not sure how I’d describe it as I feel tying down a partnership with words is missing the point. I guess they’re similar to a promise? They’re unique, messy, beautiful and spontaneous.”
“Neither of you is making much sense,” I said.
“That’s because you see everything in black and white. If you’re curious, the easiest way to understand it would be to find yourself a partner and experience it.” Lucia said.
“Sure! I’ll go pick one up, shall I?” I joked.
“You joke, but you might find that easier than you think,” Ratio said.
“Yes!” Lucia said, clapping her hands together. “I happen to know Ben is quite fond of you.”
“Ironhound is? I thought he hated me?” I asked.
“You argued, but I don’t think he ever hated you. If he did it wouldn’t make sense. He came to visit you almost as much as I did.” Lucia said.
“Did he?” I asked, to which Lucia nodded. I gave a glance in his direction and by coincidence ended up meeting his eyes. He smiled before turning back to face his group. I returned my attention to the girls, my cheeks now a little warmer.
The two girls flashed a grin at each other before Lucia turned to me. “You should know he doesn’t go by Ironhound anymore.”
“No?” I asked.
“No. All florets take their owner’s surname. Were you not aware of that?”
“Honestly, I thought Sya had done it to humiliate me. I didn’t realise it was a thing.” I spoke.
“It’s a thing. My surname is Airyhv; making me Lucia Airyhv, Third Floret. I’m already aware of your surname and you don’t need to tell me if you don’t want to.”
“It’s fine, it would be rude of me not to introduce myself and I’d no doubt get an earful later if I didn’t.” Lucia gave me an inquisitive look. “Ratio?” I asked.
The two of us stood, joined hands and performed a curtsy in the manner Sya had shown us earlier in the day. We announced in unison;
“We are called Ratio and Zeitha Everfell, First and Second Florets Pinnate. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“That was beautiful!” Lucia gushed, causing both Ratio and I to blush. “You were completely in sync! How did you get your voices to harmonize like that? Is it because you’re both robots?” Lucia’s hand flew to her mouth, her face snapping to one of remorse. “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to say that!”
“You’re fine,” I said trying to console her. “It’s not that big of a deal.”
“Are you sure?” Lucia asked.
“I wouldn’t lie to you. It’s fine; look, I’m fine. Ratio are you ok?”
“She’s not worried about me sis.”
“Worried? What have you got to be worried about?” I asked.
“Before you joined us, we were made aware of your circumstances and that your appearance would be different. They also told us that talking about it could cause you distress and that they were keen to set a good impression.”
“Who’s they?” I asked.
“Our owners. Your mistress.” She replied.
“All of them?”
“Yeah! Everyone is worried about you Zei.”
“I’m going to confess something here. I don’t know who half the Terrans back there are. Maybe more than half now that I think about it.” I said.
“But they know you,” Lucia added. “They’re all here because you’ve either helped them in passing or treated them with basic human kindness. You’d be surprised how much of an impression that leaves on someone when they were living under the compact.”
“Let me get this right. They…” I cast a thumb backwards at the floret group. “are worried about me because I treated them with a baseline of human decency?”
“That’s ridiculous,” I chortled.
“Zei, please. This is a chance for you to meet new people and make some friends.”
“You sound like my mother!”
“Fine! Fine. But if I’m going to talk to them, I’ll need to know their names. Can you help me with that?”
“Of course!”
Learning names was hard. Learning 9 names in the space of 15 minutes was stars near impossible! I’d rather reinvent the wheel. Still, I managed it and the three of us returned to the others where Ratio and I introduced ourselves. Yes, we did the greeting again, Sya had made it very apparent that formality was not optional. The meet-up in its entirety spanned just under 2 hours. In the interest of not wanting to repeat all of that I’ll summarise what took place;
I spoke to Williams first and was caught up with his activities. Turns out he was an independent sophont but enjoyed the company of the Affini and his old crew mates. He had a small house on Mars and would often spend his time developing his artistic side, which he promised he would show me after we arranged our next meet-up. I thanked him for being patient with me, now and back when we were working together, to which he laughed; telling me in terms of project leads, I was definitely the best he had the pleasure of working under.
Next, I spoke to Andy, who you may remember as Annabelle. It turns out Andy wasn’t trans as I had initially thought, instead receiving his name due to his mother desperately wanting a girl. I apologised profusely for my presumption which caused him to panic as the two of us ended up building on each other’s embarrassment. After that hurdle the conversation changed to make-up would you believe? Turns out he was really good at it and offered to show me how to do my own at some point. I questioned if a robotic face would ever need make-up, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t something I had wanted to learn for the longest time. I made a mental note to schedule another meet-up.
I moved around the circle, one person at a time. I got extremely nervous around the people I didn’t recognise, but their calm demeanour rubbed off on me and I found myself quite enjoying their company. Most of it was small talk on account of not knowing each other, but I made a few new acquaintances and, in the end, had a full metaphorical diary of future meet-ups to schedule. I also met Lucia’s boyfriend and after he introduced himself, I felt really silly for not making the earlier connection. He let it slide that he had seen what had happened between the two of us back at the tree and reassured me that it was okay and that he was glad the two of us were getting along. I found myself liking him and we arranged a special meet-up for the 4 of us; Lucia, Sebastian, Ratio and I. Of course, I’d probably have to get this all agreed with Sya knowing her, but failing that in 9 days I’d be free and could plan my own schedules. It would be a win-win.
That left the last two individuals; Ben and Stuart. Stuart had been glaring at me since my arrival and for some reason didn’t take kindly to my presence. I questioned why he was here numerous times in my head but didn’t want to spoil the mood and thus kept those thoughts to myself. When I didn’t move to speak to him, he made no comment and busied himself with the rest of the group. Which just left Ben.
My time with Ben was really nice, which surprised me quite a bit. Our relationship had always been one of grudging respect, with both of us being thrust into each other’s worlds by outside forces. He talked easily, laughed often and was always gentle. Not once did he make fun of me as I stumbled over my words or threw my hands around in frustrated motions; both of which I did often. Despite forgetting how to socialise, our time together never felt strained. The conversation, from start to finish, flowed naturally and… I confess… I had a really good time. It was almost perfect. Almost.
Ben was hallway through recounting the story of how he and his master had met before Stuart chimed in.
“Have you told her about what happened to your brother?” he asked seemingly innocently.
“No, and I won’t be doing so anytime soon Stuart,” Benjamin said in an icy tone.
“You have a brother?” I asked, ignorant of Bens’ change in tone. “What happened to him? Is he okay?”
“He’s… I’d rather not talk about it.” He gave me an apologetic look before continuing with his story. “As I was saying, so we’re there-“
“If you won’t tell her, I will,” Stuart said, interrupting for a second time.
“Stuart! I swear by the seven hells if you tell her,” Benjamin warned.
“Tell me what?!”
“Didn’t you know? Ben’s brother was a big fan of yours-”
“STUART!” Benjamin yelled.
I flinched. Everyone went quiet and I could see the Affini in the distance were watching us all a little more keenly.
“Ben! She should know she’s the reason your brother is dead!” Stuart snapped back.
My metaphorical heart dropped.
“Is that true?” I asked, my voice a whisper, my hands trembling.
“No. It’s not,” Benjamin said, trying to sound calmer than he looked.
“Of course, it’s!” Stuart protested. “It was your machine that killed him, and therefore it’s your fault.”
“Stuart, enough!” Benjamin yelled.
“You think you’re so smart. But you’re not! Your walkers malfunctioned and people died because of it!”
People?! As in, more than one? No, he was wrong. That couldn’t have happened. I had designed the suits from scratch; I had agonised over them for months! There were safety measures in place. My work was perfect. Wasn’t it? Error! Error! Error! Error! Error! Error!
At this point Lucia and Ratio, having heard the conversation were both by my side, Lucia blocking Stuart from my sight while Ratio took my hand causing me to instinctively grip hers back.
Arguments ensued and I heard someone shout “He was my friend too!” I didn’t catch who it was, I didn’t care. My vision blurred, my breath quickened and I could feel myself about to blow up into a full episode. I stepped back, knocked my legs together clumsily and fell. Vines were around me instantly. I opened my eyes and saw Sya looking down on me, a mixture of anger and worry.
“Shhhh. You’re safe, I’ve got you.”
“He said I killed people!” I bawled, my emotions finally getting the better of me. Sya’s eyes went furious, and any demeanour of calmness evaporated as her vines went rigid. Only the vines surrounding me were soft as they pulled me further into her in a protective hold. Everything past that point was a blur as I was quickly put into a drug-induced sleep.

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