From the outset, it was clear that great efforts had been taken toward my welfare and comfort. For starters, the room was only housing myself, a welcome change from the overcrowded wards back on Terra. To follow this up, the room was immaculate. Seriously, there wasn’t a single speck of dust in sight. Had you told me the room had been recently built and deep cleaned, I’d have believed you.
I attempted to shift my body weight into a sitting motion and failed. Light straps, entwined in plant-like matter and vines, pressed against my body; not uncomfortably, but certainly with enough force to keep me pressed against my bed.
If moving wasn’t afforded to me, I supposed I could keep myself occupied by examining my surroundings. It says a great deal that I hadn’t noticed my surroundings earlier; sure, I had looked at them as I searched for dust, but I hadn’t looked at them. Something I was starting to regret.
There were the usual things; medical apparatus buzzing almost inaudibly, a monitor that bounced up and down in sync with my heartbeat and a table ordained with get-well-soon cards and a cute fox plushie. Actually, on second thought, those last two items were pretty unusual. I’m getting distracted. These things were nice, but they paled in comparison to the artwork on the surrounding walls. Suffice it to say, it was a masterpiece.
The artwork had been hand-painted. At the lowest point on the wall, a meadow could be seen with all sorts of creatures I hadn’t encountered before. Each had a small script next to it indicating the species, however, most were in a foreign language. I did see a cow though, with the caption “horse” next to it. I audibly laughed. It felt good. Right, the wall! As I was saying the wall was beautiful. The meadow slowly rose and about halfway up the sky transitioned into a deep ocean with underwater caverns filled with more species of unknown origins. The ceiling retained the underwater aesthetic, but instead of species, little constellations glowed and sparkled randomly.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not good at describing beauty, so allow me to put this in a way that might help you see what I saw. Prior to the war, I truly believed that had this artwork been sold, it would have fetched more than a freshly manufactured corvette. Now, while the war was in full force? Maybe 3 corvettes? I never did understand the upper echelon and their ridiculous use of resources.
My thoughts were refocused on the sound of a door opening from behind me.
“Good morning little one, I trust you slept well?” I couldn’t see my interrogator, but they were undoubtedly alien. It was in the vowels you see, strained and abruptly halted as they moved to the appropriate consonant. This particular alien’s accent sounded remarkably similar to some of the old cowboys you would see on corporate TV growing up. It certainly wasn’t the most intimidating voice, but hey. You do you, mysterious alien sir.
I got so lost in my internal comparison that by the time I refocused the alien was standing beside me examining a nearby machine. My heart rate spiked and I took a series of quick breaths before it started to return to normal. I was actually glad I had been strapped down for that scare.
My interrogator examined the machine monitoring my heart rate and looked at me inquisitively, one vinebrow raised? “How are you feeling?”
I attempted to vocalise a response, but the sound that came out was worse than a hoarse whisper. I rolled my eyes.
At that, my interrogator laughed. It boomed across the room and his body shook with small shockwaves. By the time he finished he was wearing the stupidest grin I’ve ever seen. I was starting to get the impression this one probably wasn’t an interrogator.
Well, that complicated things. I was so sure they’d send an interrogator in. I guess if they were being cordial enough to be nice, I could play my part until I got my bearings.
“That will fix itself in time. Make sure to practice using your voice in short bursts and you shouldn’t have any lasting problems,” the Affini said cheerfully. I mumbled affirmatively in response. “Little one, I’m going to undo your restraints. It goes without saying that any action taken to endanger yourself will be dealt with harshly, do I make myself clear?” Another affirmative mumble later and my restraints were released.
With my restraints released I slowly positioned myself into a sitting position. Every muscle in my body agonised and felt stiff, groaning at me in protest. Despite this, that first stretch made it all worth it. I have never, nor will I ever, have a stretch like that again.
As I looked around, I was taken aback by how big the room truly was. The room was divided into three areas, a communal area that housed 3 sofas, two Affini-sized and one Terran, along with a kitchen unit. The living area where I currently resided, was packed with wardrobes, drawers, medical equipment and the bed I resided on, all of this connected via an open floor plan. A mirror in the communal area reflected through an open door a hidden bathroom, containing everything one would imagine and a bath that was far too big for my needs. It was homely. I liked it.
“Admiring the view?” came the warm voice from behind me. I nodded gently. I turned to meet his gaze. He wore a soft smile on his face and his body was relaxed and confident. His vines were a snow-white entwined with small flowers, lapis in colour. It dawned on me that I had yet to meet an ugly-looking Affini.
His vines moved below the surface to reveal a tablet that he proceeded to hold out within arm’s reach. I moved to take it with my left hand, only to realise that was still missing. In a way, it was humbling to see the technologically superior Affini had limits. I took it with my right hand.
“Why don’t you and I have a talk. You can write down your responses and questions on that for now.”
I was escorted to the nearby communal area and sat down as the gentle giant moved to the kitchen. A minute later he was back with fresh water and sugary biscuits which he laid on the table before taking a seat opposite me.
“First, introductions. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I am called Farkalyn Lyreli, Ninth Bloom. And you are?”
With some difficulty, I wrote my name, Zeitha Rebulie, on the tablet. I made a motion to hold it up but was stopped halfway.
“That won’t be necessary. All of your responses are fed directly into my device here.” He revealed a much larger tablet otherwise identical to my own. I re-examined my device and realised there was a button to send responses, I pressed it and looked up waiting for the next question.
Another warm laugh. “It’s very nice to meet you Zeitha Everfell.”
My ears perked at that. I checked and then checked again. The error wasn’t on my side. Were the Affini incapable of saying my surname? But then why Everfell? It didn’t sound even remotely similar.
I started to write down my surname again to correct him but was interrupted by the sound of my name. “Zeitha. Focus.” My arm went limp and my eyes darted in his direction. I’m sure I was in the middle of something?
“Do you know how it’s you came into my temporary care?”
I shook my head.
“After your act of resistance, it was discovered you were gravely wounded. You were transferred here so that I could repair your body.” He paused to check I was still listening and then continued. “It took some time, but nothing outside of estimations. The main problem was your mind, try as we might we couldn’t rouse you from your sleep. Not wanting to cause more mental damage we placed you here and allowed you to wake up in your own time.”
The implication that this room was purely designed to hold me while I slept was a little daunting, but also exciting. If this was a temporary residence, that meant they had resources far surpassing the Terran Accord. If they had resources, I could further my studies. Of course, I would have to convince them to allow me to do so. At that thought my mood soured a little; if the roles were reversed, I certainly wouldn’t want a prisoner studying my technology.
I looked up to find Lyreli waiting patiently. I could ask later, but for now, best behaviour. I still didn’t know what they wanted from me.
“That concludes my questions. I’m sure you have plenty to ask of me but take your time, I won’t be leaving until you’re satisfied.”
Lyreli proceeded to take the nearby glass of water and hold it out. I murmured thanks, drank half of it and placed it back on the table.
I had to play this smart. The Affini had been very accommodating, far more than I deserved, but that only made my suspicions worse. I began writing.
As a member of the Terran Accord and a prisoner of war, what rights are bestowed upon me?
“As a prisoner of the Terran Accord? None,” he said matter of factly.
I don’t understand.
“The Terran Accord no longer exists, and you’re not a prisoner.”
Can you elaborate?
“I could.” He said with a playful smile on his face.
Please may you elaborate?
“Certainly!” Lyreli moved to a nearby shelf, picked up a book and placed it on the table before retaking his seat. “This book contains everything you need to know regarding the collapse of the Terran Accord, formation of the Terran Protectorate and the establishment of the Human Domestication Treaty.”
The book was lengthy, a glance identified there were just under 300 pages within. I could probably cover all the content within a day; half a day if left undisturbed.
“Allow me to give the crucial details for now.” I put the book down and sat comfy against the sofa. “Our fleet arrived in your star system in mid-April, 2554CE, as you’re probably aware?” I nodded. “Good. After we removed your blockade at Saturn we proceeded inwards, taking Terrans under our wardship as we went. It took us short of 2 weeks to reach Terra and in the early month of May, the human domestication treaty was signed. We had considered moving through your system faster, but some of us were worried this may startle your race. For reference, it’s now the 15th May, one week after the domestication treaty was signed.”
I did the mental math in a minute. Wait. That didn’t sound right. I became distinctly aware that something was wrong. I attempted to do the math again and struggled. I actually struggled. Anyone with half a brain could have told you the difference in that timeline was 4 weeks. I should have been able to tell you in half a second. I started to panic and Lyreli took notice.
I realised I had been staring at Lyreli. My heart was beating fast, but I couldn’t piece together why. Something was off. I didn’t know why, but I’d figure it out.
I shuffled nervously, irritated and uncomfortable. Lyreli sat there patiently, watching me with gentle eyes. If he thought my behaviour strange, he made no comment or motion to show it.
Somethings wrong. I feel. I’m not entirely sure how I feel. Agitated? Restless? I keep blanking out. What did you do to me?
Lyreli’s smile dropped. His face and body went stiff as he pulled up his tablet and reviewed it for a long moment.
“Zeitha, I promise I’ll answer your question later, but for now I need to ask a few of my own. Is that, ok?” It was phrased like a question but his tone was serious. I got the feeling pushing my luck would be ill-advised. I nodded in agreement.
“Good. I’d ask that you humour me for a moment. Can you tell me what 2 + 2 equals?”
I squinted at Lyreli, unsure if he was telling a poor joke. His expression remained serious so I decided to, as he put it, humour him.
“Correct. And the square root of 100?”
This one was a little trickier. I did the mental math and gave myself a headache.
“Correct again. Last question. What’s your favourite colour?”
Obviously, it’s. It’s…
I sat there dumbfounded. I couldn’t remember. I rolled the question over in my head a hundred times, a thousand times, and I couldn’t come to a conclusion.
I… I don’t know.
Tears were starting to well up in my eyes, my breathing was shallow and I could feel myself starting to panic again. Lyreli was over before I could blink. His vines wrapped around me gently as he began rocking me up and down in a cradle motion. Something soft pressed against my arm and I could feel myself getting drowsy. Lyreli continued to comfort me as I drifted off.
I awoke in a strange room.
From the outset, it was clear that great efforts had been taken toward my welfare and comfort. For starters, the room was only housing myself, a welcome change from the overcrowded wards back on Terra. To follow this up, the room was immaculate. Seriously, there wasn’t a single speck of dust in sight. Had you told me the room had been recently built and deep cleaned, I’d have believed you…
“For reference, it’s now the 16th May, one week after the domestication treaty was signed. That means you’ve been asleep for nearly 4 weeks little one.”
I was long past being surprised by the superiority of the Affini. Still, I was disappointed that it had taken two weeks to reach the core of our system. We truly were children masquerading as adults.
What position does that leave me in?
“Due to your tendencies to hurt yourself and those around you, you have been logged for forced domestication. Your guardian, Sya Everfell will arrive in a few days to collect you, I believe you’re already acquainted with one another?”
It made sense they would assign someone to watch over me. Still, a guardian didn’t sound too bad. It would be annoying having someone check in on me regularly but I doubt it would be that different to the escorts I had in the past.
What is forced domestication?
“Manners little one.”
I looked to my side and rolled my eyes hoping I wasn’t caught. Can you please explain to me what forced domestication is?
“It’s a process where florets such as yourself are assigned guardians who help you become the best person you can be. They’re responsible for managing your welfare, mental health, growth and anything else you can imagine.”
They’re caretakers then?
“Of a sort.”
I sat there in silence for a while. Putting aside the ridiculous situation I had found myself in, I considered myself quite lucky. I had gravely injured myself, several Affini, Lucia… Lucia!
There was a young lady, 21 years old, who goes by the name Lucia Sharpe, is she ok?
“She goes by the name Lucia Airyhv now, but yes, she is ok. She visited you quite often while you were asleep.”
I thought it strange that Lucia changed her surname, though it wasn’t my place to judge. In contrast, I was happy to hear she was still visiting me. A small part of me thought she may have abandoned me after I jetted her into space, and an even smaller part of me thought maybe she still would.
Please may I see her?
“It would require express sign-off from your Guardian.”
I don’t need someone else to sign off. I would like to speak to her, please. I’m more than capable of making my own decisions.
“You seem to be under the illusion that you are afforded those types of decisions. Let me be clear. Miss Sya manages your well-being, which includes when you sleep, who you talk to, what you eat and anything else she deems necessary. Independent decisions are not yours to make anymore.”
Ok, this was so much worse than I had initially thought. The familiar feeling of anger knitted within my stomach, quickly rising to the surface; threatening an explosive fury. I jumped up from the sofa and as I went to yell it dissipated as quickly as it had come. I stood there dumbfounded. Lyreli stood close by, looking down on me with keen eyes, his vines positioned in a way to grab me at a moment’s notice. He searched my eyes and must have deduced I posed no risk because he lowered his vines, retrieved a nearby biscuit and handed it to me. Not knowing what else to do I took the biscuit, gave a small bow in thanks and sat back down.
I retrieved the tablet.
What’s wrong with my emotions. Why is nothing phasing me, why did my anger disappear?
“There’s nothing wrong with you. You have been given some drugs to temper that aggressive nature of yours. We can’t have you hurting yourself again.”
Another pause. Another biscuit.
“Do you have any more questions?”
I do; however, I am rather taken aback by all of this information.
Can you please leave May I please be left alone to process this information?
“I’m afraid not little one. Fortunately, a friend of yours has been waiting to see you. I will leave you alone together.” Lyreli stood up and faced the door. “You may enter.” He boomed.
The doors opened up to reveal a young lady no older than myself, which is to say around 23. Her hair was a deep purple and she wore a black maid outfit with a long skirt that frilled out at the ends. She bounced, more than walked, inside and stood at the end of my sofa. Up close I realised that her skin was made out of an olive-coloured bark and the joints in her fingers held little ball bearings where there should have been bone. She looked like a doll, a fully functional and moving doll. The doll was smiling and shifted her gaze from me to the Affini between us. “May I?” The doll could talk… Lyreli nodded and left without another word, but not before sneaking in a head pat, which I failed to avoid.
As soon as he was out of the room the doll adopted a formal pose, one leg forward and crossed, her hands coming down to meet the hem of her skirt, gently pulled to the side. She proceeded to bow.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mistress. My name is Ratio Everfell, but you may call me sis.”
She then proceeded to snort between her fits of giggling.