Engineer Bruce MacStruggle was looking in the mirror and hated everything. At least the mandated shave made him look a bit less rough, but everything else just didn’t work for him. Constant reminders of who he was, and how he ended up here.
Bruce did not sign up for this war. He didn’t even want to sign up for the navy to begin with. His dad, the ‘grand’ captain MacStruggle was the one who made him sign up. After enough pushing and a promise he could get his degree in mechanical engineering Bruce finally relented to his fathers wishes. A few years in space overlooking engines and jumpdrives, then he could get a research job somewhere near or on Earth. Get away from his dad and finally get his life together. His plans went to shit when the Affini arrived.
Giant plant monsters from another galaxy still sounded like something out of an ancient, pre-algorithmic movie to Bruce. But according to their propaganda broadcasts that is what they were. Though according to those same broadcasts they weren't going to hurt them, brought a better world and found them incredibly cute. Since all of that was obviously bullshit they might as well be hyper intelligent brain eating amoebas for all he knew. The enemy lies: that is what he was taught. Drilled into him by his father from birth and then again during basic training. Don’t believe xeno propaganda, out in space it’s kill or be killed. Conquer or be conquered.
“Be careful little petals. Make sure you don’t hurt yourself out there for a little while longer and everything will be OK. We will ta…” Bruce cut off the ship's internal communication channel as soon as it became clear the weeds had taken over another frequency. They had been regularly hijacking Terra Glory’s internal communication channels and replacing them with their usual propaganda broadcasts. He quickly muted it before that voice could get its metaphorical vines around him. As was procedure the new frequency would soon be spread around the ship. Maybe it would last a couple of days this time.
Returning his attention back to the mirror he sighed. He was supposed to be in a good mood. First shore leave since the beginning of the conflict. He supposed that cheered him up a bit, but looking at himself in the mirror everything from the stuffy, itchy standard issue leave uniform, to the mandated buzzcut just felt off. Looking in the mirror he didn’t see himself, whoever that was. He saw a younger version of his father.
Bruce was serving as a military mechanical Engineer aboard Terra Glory. A Terran Battlecruiser fresh off the factory floor only a year before the start of the war, now closing in on her fourth year of service. Bruce had been assigned as part of the original crew of 900 after graduating from a pioneer world military academy. All part of the ‘grand plan’ that was his life.
Despite the grim reports coming from the frontlines and the constant bombardments of propaganda, morale aboard Terra Glory was high. Most of the marines were already acting like they had defeated the weeds. Usually Bruce was not among them, but despite his episode in front of the mirror he found himself in an uncharacteristically good mood. While they were waiting for the last preparations to launch their assault on the invaders Bruce had been granted shore leave for the first time since the war broke out nearly 3 years ago. He was loaned a small transport ship and would be heading to Turing 5, an agricultural system just inside the range of the jumpdrive. Already salivating at the thought of real food and grass between his toes, Bruce threw his satchel over his shoulder and made his way into a transport pod heading to the hangar.
Getting his promised ship and clearance for takeoff had only been a minor hit to Bruce's mood and medium hit to his credits. It helped that he had expected it. Nobody makes it through the boys working hangar without a few bribes to look the other way. They would always find a fault of some kind to hold you back with if you didn’t. But after lightening his budget for this trip by 500 credits he was able to proceed to takeoff and engage the autopilot that would take him out to safe distance for the jump drive.
planting his feet onto the dashboard and properly strapped into his seat Bruce flipped on the communication system and started flicking through channels. Everything was the same. The affini. Humanoid looking plant aliens covered in flowers, preaching to humanity with ever so enticing melodic voices. “Hey my little saplings, I’m Caladia Sinith, third bloom. This is just a reminder to take your meds, eat properly and drink lots of water. If you are hurting, remember you can always come to us. The Affini Compact wants to help you. We are here to take care of you. I know those drugs of yours aren’t the best, but it’s important that you keep it up, and soon you can have something much better. Cute little things like you deserve to be safe and comfortable, just like my lovely floret.” Bruce stayed on the same broadcasts for longer than he first intended. Captivated by the melodic voice and alien, yet oddly familiar sight.
The affini on the screen was a sight to behold. A humanoid figure, but formed by vines, bark and flowers. The alien was standing in a lush, colorful garden. She herself almost seemed like an extension of it, or perhaps it was the other way around? Pink flowers in full bloom lined across her chest from shoulder to hip. Hair made from lush green leaves ran down over her shoulders, dotted with white flowers and her eyes, a strong, shining blue softly staring out from the expertly formed face. From her hips her vines flowed, creating the illusion of a long dress disappearing into the grass and flowers beneath her feet. Next to her stood a woman. A human woman. She was about half the height of the alien and dressed up in a dress almost as colorful as the affini and with her hair lightly braided and decorated with flowers matching those in the garden surrounding them. The girl stared lovingly up at and held tightly onto the speaker. It took Bruce a few seconds to notice it on the small screen, but once he did he couldn’t pull his eyes away. A bright pink collar wrapped around her neck, matching the color of the flowers on the alien's chest. But what truly struck him was how happy she looked, especially when the affini, still focused on the camera, brought a vine up to play with her hair. He thought he could hear her purring, but that might have just been his imagination. Feelings were boiling up inside of Bruce, feelings he had no plans of confronting. He turned off the broadcast and sank into the chair. Usually the allure of the Affini stopped affecting him not long after he turned off their propaganda, but this time it lingered. He had to snap out of it. They were evil. They were the enemy. Here to conquer humanity. They were the aggressors, not him. But the look on that girl's face. He couldn’t get it out of his mind, that look of pure, uncomplicated bliss…
Bruce needed a distraction and luckily he had just the thing. Hidden at the bottom of his satchel was a gray wave text communicator. Illegal? Well yes. But also impossible to trace. With it he could access forums, stories, news and chat rooms from all around the Terran Accord. Sadly it only did text and data transfer was slow, but a bit of reading was just what he needed while waiting for his ship to reach safe warp distance. Settling in with a romantic short story he had already read ten times he soon found himself engrossed in the text on the small screen in front of him.
There was no warning over Terra Glory’s internal communication, because he never got the new frequency. There was no warning over the transport ship's comms, because he turned them off. That is why it took him until the autopilot announced the engagement of the jumpdrive to notice the giant mass of color, metal and plant life that had suddenly appeared in the system. It dwarfed Terra Glory multiple times over, having to be at least 30 kilometers long. He did, however, see the giant blinding blue blasts of the EMP that knocked out every electrical system in Terra Glory and, from being too close to the blast, his own transport ship. The last thing he saw as the jump drive took him out of there was giant vines he could swear weren't made out of metal wrapping around the now useless husk that used to be Terra Glory, and along with it any hope Bruce had of humanity winning the war. A futile hope that had always been dwarfed by the size and might of the Affini Compact. They never stood a chance to begin with.
Bruce wasn’t sure if he wanted to laugh or cry once he reappeared, nowhere near Turing 5.