The plants were looking for him. That was… good? At least it meant he was unlikely to die out here. That was definitely good. But on the other hand he was soon going to be captured by the enemy. Not good. His dad, the captain, had told him since his teenage years: better to put a bullet in his head than surrender to the enemy. looking down at his belt he still saw the standard issue low gravity pistol at his hip. A weapon he has only ever had to pull on the gun range. He tapped it lightly, making sure the holster was securely closed and the safety was as on as it could be, wouldn’t want to add accidental gunshot wound to his problem list after all. Back to the issue at hand. He felt like he should respond to Eden's message, but didn’t really know what to tell them. He could give them the name of one of the star systems surrounding Terra Glory’s last position, maybe slow them down a bit. But that seemed so unnecessary, especially when the truth wouldn’t really help them at all.
‘I have no idea where I am, my sightline is blocked by an orange gas giant. a local emergency signal is on. I have no long range transmitter.’
He had already input the name and was hovering over the submit button when on a whim he returned to the message, and remembering the faces of the florets, he typed.
‘Please hurry, I feel like I’m going insane out here.
The moment after he clicked send he wondered why he did that. He didn’t actually feel like he was going insane did he? Sure he was stuck out here on his own, but the humming had been gone for… he honestly didn’t know for how long.
“Remember all you free Terrans, the Affini Compact provides for all your needs, under our rule you will never need to go hungry, thirsty or cold again.” Once again it was the voice of an affini that broke Bruce out of his trance. This one was more on the male side of androgunous, but that didn’t mean it lacked the blooming, musical features of the others. Regardless, the man made a good point, food sounded good right about now. Bruce floated his way over to the food dispenser to fetch a water bag and grab a tube of nutripaste.
“We were shocked to learn about the horrid conditions most of you lived under, but things will get better my lovelies, we promise.” Bruce took a long chug from the bag of stale water as he turned to watch the screen. The affini talking to him was standing in front of a cornucopia overflowing with all kinds of fresh food. Everything from corn, to meat, to bottles of wine and juices. There were even some sweets in there. The look of the man sort of perplexed Bruce. Part of him would have expected the male Affini to be all kinds of macho, covered in spikes, dark woods and biologically integrated weapons. But instead he was just as friendly and flowery looking as his femenine counterparts. A mixture of leaves and flowers in all kinds of atum like colors flowed gorgeously around his green and lively vines. Bruce had to admit, these aliens were really well studied on classic Terran iconography.
He kept half interest on the screen as he took care of the whole staying alive thing. After the man finished his speech a short break followed, before clips of happy humans interacting with Affini filled the small communicators screen. The Terrans were running around colorful gardens, snuggling themselves into tangles of vines to watch the stars as they shivered in extacy. There were clips of humans reading, watching TV, drawing, writing, gardening, all while surrounded by the caressing forms of proud Affini. There were humans being spoon fed foods that Bruce hadn’t tasted since childhood, giggling and gasping with glee. Towards the end there was even a human looking lovingly up to the camera as she guided one of those needled flowers to her side and pushed it against her flesh, before sinking into submissive bliss. Even if all of that wasn't enough to affect Bruce, all of them had a collar of some sort wrapped around their neck.
Yep, those feelings from earlier were definitely returning, but this time he didn’t rebel against them, at least not right away. The clip ended on a lineup of the humans and Affini that had been filmed for the program and all together the florets yelled. “Thank you, Affini Compact!” Waving at the camera while their owners rewarded them with lots of pets and cuddles. “Happy ever after is never far away, contact your local Compact office for more info or to join the Human Domestication Program.” A calm voiced Affiini delivered the final line before the feed faded out. There’s that term again, filling his head with complicated and often contrary thoughts. Everyone in the video looked so happy along with their Affini. Did he want that? He tried to imagine himself like that, deeply entwined in the caring roots of an Alien, with a content smile on his face and a collar wrapped around his neck. He wasn’t sure he liked the image, but the idea persisted. Would that be his fate once they found him? Bruce buried his face in his arms, struggling and failing to cry. He had no idea how to feel.
The next thing Bruce could remember was checking the forums. Seems most people had lost interest in his post, but there was another message from Eden.
‘Poor sapling. I promise we won’t leave you alone out there to die. Focus on keeping yourself as healthy as you can. We will find you, Bruce.
Bruce twitched. His name, they knew his name. Well, obviously they would. They had Terra Glory. They must have the internal data and would know who left just before they struck. But he still hated it. He always had, and he hadn’t really realized until now because he hadn’t heard it for years, not since joining the army. On board Terra Glory he had been Engineer MacStruggle, a name he also disliked but mostly because it reminded him of his father, but unlike his first name he could tolerate it. While his mind continued to spiral his fingers typed on their own.
‘Please don’t call me Bruce.
A little while later he looked down on what he had posted, and something inside him broke
”Please don’t call me Bruce Pa. I don’t like it.” The 10 year old girl was following right behind her father, staying just out of reach and staring down at the floor as the two of them made their way through the halls of the martian mansion. She was dressed in a cute little sundress and her shoulder length hair was decorated with matching flowers from the garden. Her father looked back at her with a scowl of disgust. “Shut up Bruce. I will call you your name, and you will call me Captain MacStruggle, is that understood?”
The little girl was tearing up. Her father had changed so much since the last time she saw him. There was nothing left of the loving dad who had left for space 3 years ago. “But Pa!” She couldn’t finish her sentence before his hand struck her across her cheek, sending her tumbling to the floor. “Stop crying, son. You’re going to be a man. A warrior just like your father. This little phase of yours ends now.” Captain MacStruggle pulled the dagger from his belt and grabbed his daughter's hair, cutting it off while she sobbed, begging him to stop, trashing helplessly against his tight grip. “You’re a man Bruce, no some ugly tranny, I will not tolerate any more of this crap.” He threw the severed hair away and turned around to walk away. “And stop crying, or nobody will ever respect you.” He didn’t even look back at his sobbing daughter, hair and flowers scattered across the carpet.
She returned to the present day with a loud, ear piercing scream. She had done her best to forget all of it, the happiest days of her life living back on Mars with her mother. She forgot it because it hurt too much. Instead she did what her father wanted her to do. She became Bruce. Her father, who didn’t care if she was depressed and alone as long as she became what he wanted her to be, and she gave in, because she feared his wrath. All she wanted to do was cry, to wallow in the sorrow of her lost childhood. But she couldn't, she wasn’t allowed to.
The memories kept flowing back. Her father burned all her clothes. She wasn’t allowed to cry, nor look away. All she could do was tremble as her favorite outfits and toys were thrown onto the flames. Then he sent her away. Away from her mother, from Mars, from her friends. She couldn’t even remember what her mother would call her for those wonderful years she got to be herself. She couldn’t even remember her mothers face. Yet still, her eyes remained dry. There was no outlet for the pain, no tears to be found. All she could do was let it consume her further, until nothing else was left.
“Deep breaths, little petals, deep breaths. I’m Edantira Tyr, fifth bloom. We know things are scary right now, especially for some of you. Maybe you’re feeling lost in this new world, staring out into space, fearing what is to come. If you need us we will find you. But until we do, take another deep breath for me, and focus on my voice. Let yourself sink into the embrace of my vines, down, down, down, and know you are safe. I’m here my saplings, my voice is your lifevine back to reality, grasp it tightly.” The poor, broken human didn’t move. She didn’t open her eyes. She just listened. From somewhere within her it felt like the words were meant for her specifically. It was as if someone was reaching out from across the galaxy looking for her, her hand twitched ever so tightly, as if tightening around the metaphorical vine just like this most wonderous voice told her to.
“You are floating, surrounded by nothing but my voice and everything is fine. Nothing can hurt you anymore, you are safe among the vines and flowers.” She could see them, the vines, crawling protectively around her and sending shivers along her body, she could hear her horrors just beyond the affinis embrace, the yells of her father, the stern voices of her teachers, the judgement of her colleagues, the internal scream of her broken mind. But it was all so far away. Muffled and unimportant, at least for the moment. “Take another deep breath, smell the flowers, take in their pollen, my xenodrugs, and let them calm you down, keep those worries away, let me bring you to your happy place.” She was sitting in her mothers garden, back at Mars, surrounded by the grass and flowers, she could smell them like it was just yesterday, and just like Edantria had promised she felt her worries fade away, trapped outside the dome surrounding her garden, as she felt the safety of the affinis voice. “Reach out my lovelies. Reach out and accept this gift, a rose to represent our love for you, and our promise to keep humanity safe and happy. Grasp it tight. Hold hold… good petals.” She could see it, the most vibrant red rose she had ever seen in her life, like a beacon among the flowers surrounding it. she reached out and gently grasped it, holding it close to her chest. For the first time since her childhood she felt tears start welling up in her eyes. “Plant this rose inside yourself, let it grow. A reminder of our love, our promise. Is it there? Can you feel it?” She let out a groan that was supposed to be a yes. She could feel the rose, deep inside her heart, and in that moment all doubt of the affinis intentions were gone. They weren’t monsters, they were saviors. They had saved her from herself multiple times, and they were here to save humanity from themselves. “Good, good little saplings, it’s time to come back. Return to me little petals, hold on tight to my vines and let me pull you back. Up. Up… and open your eyes.”
The Terran had no idea how long she had been under when her running eyes finally opened, she let the tears run slowly, yet freely down her cheeks as she watched the small screen with a forever grateful look on her face. Edantira was sitting in a large chair, with a caring look on her face. Unlike the earlier femme affini she had seen who formed a skirt out of their vines, her lap was covered in a blanket of red roses almost as vibrant as the one the human had placed in her mind, that seemed to cover her entire chair and spread out into the room she was seated in. From the affinis shoulder down her arms green leaves covered the upper side and her hair was formed by leaves and vines to create a long, bushy look. “Good little sapling, I know this might have been a bit intense for some. Take some time to recover, take care of your needs, then maybe message a friend.” That last part felt like the affini was talking to someone in specific, at least it did to the nameless girl stuck in space.