As the door closed with a friendly woosh that the two people leaving no doubt wished were a loud slam, it dawned on Elizabeth that she was now alone with the aliens. Luckily for her it seemed the affini had something they needed to discuss, their vines intertwined and talking in a language she had no idea where to start with deciphering it. That only left- “Hi!”
Elizabeth jumped as bumble landed on the edge of her chair, looking over at her with a mixture of interest, compassion and just a twinge of worry. “Are you OK? You seemed stressed.” Gosh Elizabeth couldn’t take how cute this creature was, how could something as pure and innocent seeming as a beeple even exist, and how did they become this tightly entwined with some self proclaimed progenitor species of plant caretakers? Come to think of it, she did see the presentation and it did make some amount of sense. Perhaps that explained- ohhhh bumble just booped her. His fuzzy little head gently pushed against her arm repeatedly to get her attention. “Hey, Eliz… Eliza…” bumble seemed to be struggling with her name, and it was utterly adorable.
“You can call me Elliz and yes, I was stressed. But Aleina made it better.” She couldn’t help herself, she tentatively reached out and rested her hand at the back of bumble's head, slowly starting to ruffle his fuzzy fur.
“I like you Elliz. You're nice. Just like Miss Nu and Master Fren.” Elizabeth's heart was a puddle to the point she didn’t even store a note in the back of her head about the whole Master Fren part. Her anxiety was suppressed as long as she could snuggle with bumble, who had just started rubbing himself against Elizabeth's tummy. “Humans are soft.” he buzzed lazily, and Elizabeth couldn’t help but giggle.
“Not as soft as beeples.” She closed her eyes and gave in to her unyielding wish to cuddle. The alien conversation of the two Affini soon faded into the background and while she wasn’t fully aware of it, adding to her comfort.
Unbeknownst to Elizabeth the conversation in question had quickly switched from strategy over how to explain things to Aleister, to how adorable Elizabeth and bumble were acting together. Aleina especially couldn’t believe how adorable Elizabeth was. She really had the makings of a great floret. Attentive, agreeable and most importantly adorable! “It seems at least one of them reacted positively to the presentation.” Tortolin rumbled, spoken in the local Affini dialect.
“bumble certainly seems to like her.” Aleina confirmed, looking over at where the human and the beeple were half asleep on the affini sized lounge chair.
“I don’t think he's the only one.” Tortolin teased, and Aleinas leaves shook with embarrassment. “I noticed how you handled her during the confrontation. Good work.” The embarrassment remained, but mixed with some pride at the praise of her mentor. “Do remember she’s important though, being Elizabeth's owner would be a big responsibility.” Alenia snapped out of her distraction almost instantly. Tortolin was right. Their intelligence pointed towards Elizabeth being a very well liked human. A friendly and familiar face that might help ease the transition from Terran Accord to Affini Compact for many a sophont. If Elizabeth wanted to, at least. Their research did point to a yes, provided they could convince her of their sincerity.
“I think I could handle it… and look how cute she is!” Aleina couldn’t help herself but gush over the girl, and Tortolin was clearly amused by the young and excitable affini. He was obviously no less adoring of the girl, but many years as an expert on xeno Domestication had made him just a little better at hiding his excitement over cute sophonts.
“Go talk to her, I will check in on the other two.” Tortolin untwined himself from Aleina with one more friendly squeeze. Aleina returned the gesture, and let Tortolin follow the two humans, but not before he gave a loving little squeeze to his beloved bumble.
Elizabeth was awoken from her cuddle trance by a gentle vine brushing against her cheek. As she opened her eyes she saw the swamp Affini staring down at her with a bright smile. “Please tell me if I should stop touching you, petal.” She said, her vine still resting against Elizabeth's cheek. Elizabeth couldn’t help but smile. She couldn’t remember the last time she had felt this relaxed.
“It’s a little unprofessional, isn’t it? We are here to discuss terms for surrender, after all.” The vine previously resting against her cheek proceeds to rub gently against Elizabeth’s smooth skin. The plant's eyes were hypnotic, and she felt incapable of pulling away. The only act outside of staring deeper into Aleinas eyes that didn’t feel unbearable was petting bumble.
“That’s not a no, is it? little flower.” Aleina teased, not letting up for a second, nor ever breaking eye contact as she took Elizabeth deeper and deeper under her spell.
“I suppose it’s not, but no further.” Compromises, compromises were good. That is what they were supposed to be here for after all.
“Fine. No engulfing you within my vines, draping my moss all over your body… yet.” Oh stars, Elizabeth was blushing again. She was a successful business woman, she held important political office. Yet around these creatures she felt like a teenager dealing with her first crush.
“uhm… yeah. Let’s wait on that.” What was Elizabeth even saying? She needed to snap out of this. She was representing Terra. The government, she was here to pretend to broker good terms for their surrender, and these creatures were treating her like…
Elizabeth noticed another one of Aleinas moss covered vines slid in between bumble and Elizabeth, allowing bumble to rub it up between them. Aleina was so fuzzy and comfortable to rub up against. “Anything you want to share with the class, flower?” Aleina said, with a distinct bit of teasing to her voice. Elizabeth had no idea what the affinis was even doing. Was this flirting? She had been flirted with before, she supposed. But it had usually taken the form of humble bragging about once status and accomplishments. Nothing like whatever this-
bumble booped her again. “Elliz, Miss Alenia asked you a question.” bumble reminded her and gosh that thing was cute, she would never want to disappoint bumble.
“I suppose… I don’t know, I feel like I don’t understand anything about this. How are you supposed to extract value out of Terran space if you’re going to provide for everyone living here?” Aleina seemed to look confused at Elizabeth's question, and her follow up only added to that. “And how would things even work without money? How do you decide who gets what? It doesn't make sense, why would anyone do anything without-” Elizabeth's rant was interrupted by Aleina, whos confusion had turned to worry, placing a vine against her lips. bumble meanwhile, tightened his hold on Aleina to try and make the distressed human feel better.
“Please don’t worry Elliz.” bumble pleaded. Aleinas eyes betraying the same emotion as him, but her features soon softened back to the in control, calming presence she had been earlier. “We are far beyond barbaric systems like capitalism.” Her face betrayed obvious, humanoid disgust as she spat ‘capitalism’, and that didn’t really help Elizabeth's mood. Elizabeth was born within the upper echelons of capitalism. She was a product of the rich. If capitalism was bad in the world the affin claimed they wanted, she must be bad too.
She had no idea why that idea made her want to cry. She was supposed to represent terra. Supposed to drag this out, to buy the rest of their government time, but instead something deep inside of her wanted nothing more than to believe everything the Affini told her. “It’s okay to cry.” bumble said, knowing the exact right words to make the tears flow.
Oh dirt, Aleina had messed up everything. Elizabeth had been so happy cuddling with bumble and now she was a mess, holding the beeple and crying into his fuzz. She should drug her, shouldn’t she? She could make all of this hurt go away in an instance. But Oxalis and the others had made it clear that she was not to use her xenodrugs on the terrans unless absolutely necessary. Until they asked for it, that was. But anything she said at that moment would surely only make things worse for the girl, so Aleina resigned herself to slowly stroking Elizabeth's back. She seemed tense at first, like she was about to tell her to stop, but instead she just sobbed into bumble, letting Aleinas vines and moss slowly calm her down from hysterical sobbing to complete exhaustion.
By the time Tortolin returned Elizabeth had luckily calmed down and was napping on the lounge chair together with bumble. At least the beeple seemed content again. Everybody knew the distress of others tended to cause distress in beeples, but at the moment he was more than happy to serve as a fuzzy plushie for Elizabeth. Tortolin rubbed his little beeple lovingly as he approached Aleina, who could sense his frustration bleeding off him as he started rubbing his pet. His leaves rustled as he started to relax. “‘Terry’ will be back soon for the next lesson, but Alisteir locked himself in their ship and is refusing to come out. Apparently ‘he’s not an idiot’ and ‘they are here to negotiate, not be propagandised to.’”
Aleina looked down, this had gone all kinds of wrong hadn’t it? One of the humans had gone crazy, and another had a panic attack. The last part was even her fault. “Things didn’t go so well with Elizabeth. It seems to be working well early on, but once I told her we were beyond the need for… capitalism.” The same venom was definitely there, even when speaking in affini. Though the word capitalism in their Affini dialect contained the word for toxic, so it might be hard for it to sound friendly. “And then she just broke down, started heaving and held back tears. If it wasn’t for your dear bumble I think she may have fainted.” Tortolin rewarded his dear bumble with a scratch behind the antenna, and the adorable beeple looked over at him adoringly.
“Good boy.” Tortolin praised his darling floret, and everyone in the room could feel bumble beaming. Elizabeth meanwhile was slowly stirring, waking back up from her little nap. “You should check on her, make sure she’s okay to continue.” Aleina did not feel ready for that. But Tortolin was trusting her to do it, and she wanted to fix her mess up, to prove herself a worthy owner and affini.
“Hello little one, are you feeling better.” Aleina retrieved a napkin before moving it over to clean Elizabeth's cheek of the dried up tears. The girl looked a bit better, slightly dazed, but that was supposedly normal for humans who had just woken up.
“Yes, I suppose I was just tired after the long flight.” Elizabeth was trying to look strong, seem professional but it was obvious to Aleina she wasn’t all good yet. But things were better than before, at the very least.
“Don’t worry about it dearie, you are allowed to show your emotions here. You don’t have to be scared.” The girl was trying to hide both her confusion and her confliction from Aleina, and it hurt the affini so much to see. “Professor Tortolin is about to start his lecture again, do you think you will be ready to continue?” Elizabeth nodded, before breaking eye contact to hide a blush.
“Can bumble stay with me a little longer?” Aleina wanted to scream yes, repeatedly, but instead looked over at the person who could actually make that decision. He quickly gave her a nod, and a very happy bumble added a buzz of agreement, Tortolins vine still resting against him, letting bumble feel his owner's presence.
“Of Course he can, thank you for asking.” Another berry slid up near Elizabeth's face, she thought for a second, before plucking it down and into her mouth, meanwhile Tortolin provided a tasty snack of pollen to bumble to enjoy while they waited for Yung to return.
“You did well.” Tortolin told Aleina as she pulled back from Elizabeth. The little human now calmly chewed on her treat and lightly petted bumble. Aleina still wasn’t sure she did, but it seemed things didn’t turn out too bad in the end. “I think we should move on to the medical information next, a little leaf told me the little one would be interested in that.” He said, tapping away on his tablet.
Elizabeth had no idea what she was doing anymore. The whole stay respectful and drag out negotiation plan felt like it had gone south the moment they landed and any plan B she could have imagined did not involve feeling like she was back in school getting a 101 course in an alien culture. She was seated up against bumble, together on the lounge chair, when Yung returned. He didn’t look at her, and she supposed that was for the best, she really didn’t want the judgement of someone who had likely spent his entire career suppressing Rinans for bonding with an alien. Luckily Tortolin started his lecture, and Elizabeth had something else to focus on.
“When we left off earlier we were talking about how the Affini Compact aims to care for all sophonts within the area soon to no longer be under control of the Terran Accord.” Tortolin once again effortlessly underlined how confident they were, all while turning on the screen once more. The pictures from earlier appeared as a reminder of the last lesson. “Next I want to go a bit into detail about one of the things we provide for everyone. Healthcare.” The next slide appeared. A similarly colorful font displaying the worlds ‘Affini medicine, Xenodrugs and you.’ proudly.
“I am aware that we have a former medical researcher with us, and know I am not trying to insult your work when I say that Terran medicine is entirely inadequate and quite honestly, straight up barbaric.” Should Elizabeth be insulted at that? Professor Tortolin was dismissing the field she had spent years trying to improve. But it wasn’t like she had really improved much. She had been successful, sure, from a corporate standpoint. But she hadn’t really pushed medecine forward. There had been too many roadblocks in her way.
“We already have a dedicated xeno medicine program modifying Affini medical tech for use on humanity that has seen great results on our limited patient base.” A picture of a very happy looking human girl was shown on the screen. She was wearing a bright colorful dress, but what quickly gained Elizabeth's attention was the plants. A bright red flower seemed to be bursting from the side of her neck, but even more obvious her left leg was replaced with plant matter. Somehow the last thing Elizabeth noticed was what caught her attention the most. A collar, kinda like the one around bumbles neck, almost like she’s…
“This is the lovely Dawn, she was in quite a bad state when we found her, but has improved so much and is happier than ever!” Luckily for Elizabeth, Tortolins voice was very good at grabbing her attention away from her spiraling mind. Tortolin was beaming with pride and Elziabeth had to admit, it was incredibly impressive if this actually worked.
“Dawn Cute!” bumble exclaimed and Elizabeth found herself agreeing, Dawn was in fact, incredibly cute and precious, she couldn’t believe she hadn’t noticed it earlier.
“Yes she is my dear bumble. But sadly we have to move on to the topic at hand. Our real progress has come with the use of xenodrugs. Healthcare will experience a revolution with our guidance, especially mental healthcare. We know you have been struggling with that one.” The picture quickly changed to show a very friendly looking cartoonish affini, from one of their hands came a mask of flower petals, from the other came a pink flower with a needle at the center. “Simply put, our bodies produce xenodrugs that we have manipulated for human medical and recreational use.” Recreational too? Elizabeth knew too well that recreational drug use was frowned upon within the Terran Accord, and felt like she had to speak up.
“uhm… professor, I’m not sure you are aware, but most recreational drug use is banned within the Terran Accord.” Elizabeth couldn’t help but shrink a bit as all the attention in the room was on here. Especially the way agent Yung observed her was chilling, and she rubbed her hand against bumbles back for comfort.
“Hmmm… Yes. We are aware of these outdated rules of yours. Luckily we are getting rid of them, and replacing the dangerous drugs with horrible side effects with more comfortable, effective and safe xenodrugs. Those who enjoy existing drugs are obviously allowed to keep taking those if they prefer, and they will obviously no longer be risking incarceration. But I will come back to that later.” Tortolin explained, clear pride in his voice as he talked about these xenodrugs. “Affini xenodrugs have no major unintended effects, though some of the stronger highs should only be experienced while in the care of an affini.” He finished. Elizabeth couldn’t seem to find a bad argument. She had obviously learned how dangerous drugs could be in school, but if they were not dangerous then there was no reason to keep them banned right? “Excellent question Elizabeth.” The praise from Tortolin sealed the deal for her, no further questions.
“Xenodrugs good!” bumble booped her once again and she couldn’t help but look down with a smile and a pet. When she looked back up another red berry was hanging right in front of her surrounded by the Spanish moss of Aleina. Once again Elizabeth plucked it down and popped it in her mouth. Entirely ignoring the scowl she received from Yung.
“Yes they are, my dear bumble. If anyone wants to try them out for yourself, speak to Aleina at any time outside of class.” Professor Fren said with a rumbling laugh. Meanwhile Elizabeth, the girl who usually kept even prescription drug usage to a minimum, was wondering why that sounded so appealing.