Amida pressed her face against the glass window of the Affini starship and stared out into the black void. She could feel the vibrations of the ship through the glass against her forehead. Perhaps it was caused by the rumbling of the engines? The air conditioner? Nevertheless, Amida couldn’t actually hear much in the room itself. Affini construction was amazing at sound-isolation. At times it was so good the effect it created was a bit eerie. The room itself was simple. A bed, a seat, a table. Sophonts were not expected to reside in this ship for long. It was liminal, and as such, bland. Maybe it wouldn’t have been bland if this was new to Amida, but she had seen this type of architecture numerous times.
Amida played with her communicator in her hand, stroking the wooden side-panels. She looked down at the screen and unlocked it.
klamath: I hope you are having a nice time on the Cladophor, Amida. Please tell me and Celta how your day went when you get the chance.
Gentoogrl: havent arrived yet… trip is going slower than expected
Amida realized that her message would probably take some time to send considering she was now a long way from earth.
Gentoogrl: by the time that reaches you ill probably be aboard, lol.
Satisfied with her appendment, Amida put her communicator down and continued her blank stare out the window.
Amida was surprised to see a huge Affini starship filling her view.
The ship was enormous. It looked like a traditional affini vessel, enormous petals, a mix of artificial and natural elements, and hab rings intact. But this one was huge. It had a stunning amount of hab rings which were thick on their vertical axis as well as their horizontal, allowing them to be filled to the brim with water. It was hard to tell exactly how large this vessel was until the ship got closer, consuming the entire view through Amida’s porthole. Amida stepped back, in awe of the ship’s size. Was this starship sized? Station sized? Planet sized? She didn’t count the number of hab rings, it was at least more than 10. Even if she did, she had never seen an aquatic hab ring. How big were they compared to terrestrial rings? The docking bay of the vessel provided a ruler in her brain to compare her size with, and remind her she hadn’t shrunken to the height of a raisin.
Amida took a deep breath. Obsessing over the ship’s dimensions was making her dizzy. The butterflies in her stomach wouldn’t stop unless she took the initiative to make them stop. The terran’s lungs inflated to a degree that startled her at first, then she remembered her surgery. The surgery which allowed her lungs to act as a swim bladder when she was underwater had also increased their capacity and changed the way the oxygen in her blood interacted with the tissue. Amida wasn’t sure of the specifics, she just knew that being able to control her position with precision underwater had a few important applications, especially for a lean woman who sank like a rock if she wasn’t paddling.
The ship had docked in the bay before Amida knew it, a knock on her door signaled it was time to exit. The door to her chamber slid open, and the affini behind it gave Amida a smile. She was a large being made of green foliage and little else. Even her wooden visage had a mossy layer covering it. The affini looked more like a giant bush than an alien.
“Hey cutie! I am Gortha Alanpri, third bloom, she/her! Are you ready to head out?” They asked.
Amida nodded and smiled. “Amida Lother, she/her.”
“There are two exits, one is for terrestrial cuties like you, and the other is for aquatic sophonts. We signed you up for intake in the terrestrial office, so if you’ll follow me I’ll take you right there!”
Amida blushed. Damned affini were always so sweet. She trailed behind the affini as she weaved through the corridors of the ship, before exiting into the docking bay. A typical bay, were it not for the bottom of the ship having a clear water-filled tube so that aquatic sophonts could exit into the marine part of the hybrid station. It reminded Amida of the bridge between two tanks at an aquarium. After taking a moment to ogle the construction, Amida continued following Gortha.
“So! All your files are in order, you have all your surgeries and everything already done, how easy for us!” Gortha beamed. “Though there are some places you still shouldn’t go without precaution.”
“Why? Sharks?” Amida said. Gortha giggled.
“No, silly! While you are no longer susceptible to high pressure nervous syndrome, you still need to be careful when descending! Every half kilometer you dive, you need to rest to give your body time to acclimate to the pressure. Same with going back up!” Gortha’s spry attitude was infectious, Amida couldn’t help but smile at the affini.
“Is that to avoid the bends?”
“The what?” Gortha paused. “Decompression sickness, oh! No, don’t worry about that, cutie. You don’t breathe air underwater! This has more to do with pressure than oxygen. And for similar reasons, you shouldn’t linger too long below 4 kilometers depth unless you get deep diving surgeries.”
Amida bit the inside of her mouth. There was no way she would remember all this.
“Your communicator will tell you if you need to take a rest or if you’ve been under 4 kilometers for too long!” Gortha said. She patted Amida on the head with a vine, which shifted the human’s expression back to a smile. “I don’t think a human has ever gone that deep on the Cladophor though, even recreationally diving. I’m sure the Affini down there would be all over a cutie like you!”
Amida’s face turned beet red. Gortha pretended not to notice, but was taking great pleasure in Amida’s flustered state. Gortha said something that sounded like gibberish.
“Uhh… What?” Amida asked. Oh! She was speaking Xa’acan. It sounded so strange when it wasn’t spoken underwater. “Oh! Apologies. Can you repeat that for me?” Amida said in Xa’acan.
“That answered my question, cutie! I was wondering if you could speak Xa’acan, it is the most common language on this station.” Gortha responded in Xa’acan, then patted Amida on the shoulder with a vine, “All your paperwork will be in Putonghua, though.”
Amida nodded. Thank god, she didn’t want to accidently sign away something important due to a gap in her Xa’acan knowledge. Not that the Affini Compact would trick her like that anyway.
Amida was led into a bland room and sat down with some bland paperwork that would be her life for the next few bland minutes. Typical immigration stuff. Utterly useless, but the affini loved it for some reason. When she was done, Amida returned the paperwork to Gortha, who hugged the bundle of papers to her chest and gave another one of her trademark smiles. Amida smiled in return. How could she not?
“Excellent! Thank you so much, cutie!” Gortha said before turning around to lead Amida down yet another set of winding hallways. “The water temperature we use should be suitable for your human body. If it is not suitable please be sure to let us know! Your hab has its own built-in temperature regulator, as well!”
Amida nodded along. She was having trouble paying attention. Her mind was racing. Part of it was excitement, but the other part was anxiety. So far this ship had been more mundane than Amida was hoping for. She wanted something brand new, an experience unlike any other. So far this experience was just paperwork and being talked at. Her anxiety was two pronged. For one, what if she didn’t actually enjoy life underwater? What if it was uncomfortable, or unpleasant? What if the pressure Gortha was talking about turned out to be more than she could deal with? Would Klamath and Celta be mad? On the other hand, what if it was everything she had ever hoped for, then became mundane? Would she just move on again, always chasing the next high?
“Are you okay, Amida?” Gortha asked, bringing Amida back with a gentle tug on her shoulder. Amida looked up at the plant and nodded, expression as blank as a sheet of paper.
“It’s okay to be anxious when you’re in a new place.” Gortha said, running her vines through Amida's hair. “Even affini feel that way sometimes!”
Sometimes. Amida exhaled from her new-and-improved lungs. Gortha was kind, and Amida appreciated her, but the plant didn’t understand. Amida could explain, fall into her arms and let this new affini know exactly what was going on in her head. Gortha would probably hold her and tell her it was okay and kiss her and then offer to domesticate her. Then Amida would say no and move on.
“I know, I know.” Amida said.
“Now Amida, don’t be dismissive! We have plenty of drugs to help if your anxiety doesn’t subside, you just need to ask.”
“Yes ma’am.” Amida said, this time feigning focus and silently wishing Gortha would move on.
Gortha did, and led Amida to a capsule waiting at a small station. It had a glass panel that slid to the side so that the pair could enter. This seemed like a subway train, but Amida was pretty sure they weren’t called that on a spaceship. The pair stepped in and the glass panel slid closed behind them. The bottom of the tram was also glass, but there were no angrav rails below. Instead they were placed on the side opposite the door and the top of the unit. Amida spent a moment pondering this, until Gortha took notice.
“Oh! You’re probably wondering how this thing works, cutie!” Gortha said before the shuttle departed the station, flying through a metal tube towards whatever destination Gortha wanted to drag the terran next. “The angrav rails are actually on the top of the vehicle, because you can also exit from the bottom! These shuttles can fill with water if need be, and evacuate themselves of liquids just as fast!”
“Amphibious shuttles for an amphibious station.” Amida said.
“How do you know all of this?”
“It’s not too complicated! Though I am a ship maintenance engineer!” Gortha responded. She smiled wide this time. She was very proud of this fact.
“Wait, I thought you were an immigration administrator!” Amida furrowed her brow.
“No-no, I just volunteered to be your guide today! I love showing cuties like you around. Always so many questions, and I have so many answers!” Gortha responded. “Though it is about time I leave you on your own, you’re probably sick of me!”
“Not at all!” Amida interrupted out of habit.
“Well, if you ever want to chat, look me up in the registry and shoot me a message!” Gortha beamed.
Amida nodded. She opened her communicator and took a note. “Gortha Alanpri… Third bloom.” She whispered to herself. When Amida looked back up from her communicator, the shuttle had left the metal tube, revealing that the pair were now underwater. Before them opened a huge clearing not too dissimilar from an Affini city, but now submerged in water. Lining the white metallic walls were rows of buildings crafted from a mix of biotic and abiotic materials. Every inch of the landscape was colorful. What would have been wood and grass was instead coral and sea brush. The vertical space afforded by being underwater was made careful use of. Spires of buildings constructed of coral rose to the ceiling, dotted with miniature gardens of undersea plants, signs, and art. The lighting was gloomy, like evening in a city dotted with patches of activity.
Amida took a step back. There were the tummy butterflies again. The sheer size of the chamber was daunting, not to mention the depth. There were large platforms supporting what she assumed were the underwater equivalent of parks and recreational areas, but there were breaks in the “ground” that led even deeper into the hab ring. Some spires had bridges between them or were connected by huge patches of coral and sea-grass.
Affini in various aquatic shapes swam between the coral spires and through the forests of seaweed like they were born and raised underwater. At their sides were florets as diverse as their owners. Xa'a-ackétøth, spectrum jellies, Lamia, and loads of beings Amida didn’t recognize. Most of them were wrapped in their owners' vines and blissed out beyond belief.
“Oh!” Gortha broke Amida out of her trance, “You have swimming clothes on under your current clothing, right?” She asked.
“Here-” Gortha paused to remove a container from her chest. It looked like a wooden suitcase with a few metallic components added around the edges. She clicked a button on the side of the container. It hissed, then opened vertically to reveal a pair of swimming flippers. Gortha grabbed the flippers so fast she almost dropped them, shoving them inside her chest-vines. “Oops! Sorry, this was pre-prepared and they did not tell me you had-” Gortha gestured towards Amida’s talons, which were webbed.
“All good.” Amida responded. Gortha handed the open container to Amida.
“You can store things you want to keep dry in here, though!” Gortha said, regaining her smile. “When you have your cute little outfit stowed away, just press that button and it’ll seal right up!”
Amida inspected the device, then placed it on the ground and removed her clothing. Amida placed her jeans and t-shirt into the case and sealed it. All that remained was a tight top that hid her flat chest, and some compression shorts covering her lower body. Her waterfowl feather grafts were now in full view, as were her abs, Gortha could not help but admire both.
“May I?” She asked, reaching a vine towards Amida’s arm.
“S-sure.” Amida stuttered and blushed.
Gortha ran a vine across Amida’s shiny feathers, exposing the fluffier secondary feathers hidden underneath. With another vine she stroked the feathers closer to the human’s hands. Gortha was entranced by the soft textures of this curious chimera.
Amida shivered. Being rubbed felt nice, like having an itch scratched that she didn’t even know existed. The warmth of the affini’s vines flowed from her arms into the rest of her body. Amida hummed.
“Wow! These are really cute grafts.” Gortha cooed, “You’ll be dry in no-time when you step out of the water!” She nodded her head from side to side, “Well, we have blast-dryers at most exits, so you don’t really need to do anything to get dry- but still, lovely feathers!”
“Ohg thatsh cool.” Amida tried to keep her focus on the conversation, but the rubs were too good.
“Very!” Gortha relinquished her hand and allowed Amida to regain her focus. “We’re about 500 meters down now, so your hab shouldn’t be too much of a swim. I will leave you for the moment, but I am always just a message away, cutie!”
The shuttle came to a stop above a small platform suspended on a coral spire. The glass pane below Gortha and Amida gave a high-pitched warning beep before sliding open to reveal the water below. The pressure regulation within the cabin stopped the water from pushing itself inside and soaking Gortha while also allowing an accessible exit for Amida.
“Thank you, Gortha, I’ll be sure to keep you on my radar.” Amida said, waving to the affini. Gortha offered a smile and waved back at the human.
Amida took a deep breath, then let it out. She grabbed the case containing her clothing and jumped into the water below. Amida felt the cool liquid rush over her body, coating every inch of her frame in a chilly hug that washed away the oils and sweat clinging to her body. Amida let herself free-float for a moment, not bound by floors or walls or any sense of direction but the force of gravity tugging her downwards at an unnoticeable rate. The terran watched as the shuttle that was carrying her shot away on its angrav rail, carrying Gortha with it.
Amida kicked her legs until they found the metal platform serving as a tram stop. She looked around at the landscape. The coral spires’ size seemed impossible now that she was actually on one. A violet bulb growing from the spire served as a “station” for the shuttle. Orange light streamed out of it, scattered by refractions of the water. Amida emptied her lungs, or in this case her “swim bladder”. (They now served both functions, depending on whether she was underwater or on land.) Amida’s knees buckled before she adjusted for the new weight her body— unsupported by a gas-inflated bladder— exerted on her legs.
Amida’s eardrums throbbed and her head spun, but her ailment cleared as fast as it came. Some kind of magic affini technology that Gortha would have been able to explain kept the pressure in her body regulated so she wouldn’t implode or explode but stay comfortably between the two. Once Amida was nestled in her atmospheric pressure limbo, she looked over the edge of the shuttle platform. Hopefully she was nestled deep enough to handle some vertigo.
The drop wasn’t as bad as Amida had expected. Clear water allowed her to see the ground at the base of the spire, which had a garden of well-maintained sea brush surrounding it. Amida knew she could just jump and be fine, but there was an innate human instinct telling her it was a bad idea that she could not shake. She was underwater, she would float down. Hell she could even swim up if she wanted to, 3 full axes of movement at her fingertips. All Amida had to do was-
“Oh my goodness! Are you a terran?” A voice cried in Xa’acan
“Wha-?” Amida spun around on her heel and took a step back, missing the lip of the platform and floating downwards. She kicked her legs and crawled upwards, now free floating over the chasm.
“Oh, I’m so sorry!” A Xa'a-ackétøth floated behind her. No wait- it was an affini in the shape of a Xa'a-ackétøth. Their body was a helix of vines sprouting with sea-whip and scroll algae, a red and egg white coloration that made the plant look like an oil painting. The affini’s six-eyed visage gazed at Amida with an expression which could only be that of surprise.
“Y-you’re fine, I’m just a bit out-of-it today.” Amida said.
The affini circled around Amida at an astounding rate, making bubbles in the water that obscured Amida’s vision. When they finished their circumambulation of the chimera-terran, the affini spoke:
“I am Halophele Marit, fourth bloom, she/her.” Halophele’s voice was gentle, she spoke slow.
“Amida Lother, she/her.” Amida said.
Halophele smelled like a rambutan, a fresh fruity scent mixed with the fatty odors of lye. The affini smelled like a bar of soap, one that would be labeled “Spring Water” at a Terran supermarket. Amida realized she hadn’t been using her new olfactory receptors much until now.
“Aah, not a floret? What brings you to the Cladophor?” Halophele said.
Amida shrugged. “Needed a change of pace, life was getting a sorta’ routine.”
“I find life on Cladophor routine, but I have lived here most of this bloom.” Halophele inspected Amida’s body, craning her face close to the terran, eliciting a blush from Amida. “You, however, are not routine.”
Halophele’s face was beautiful. Everything about it was alien. It was oversized and dotted with eyes and an enormous maw, but every part of it felt so deliberate. The lines in the wood that made up Halophele’s visage all stood straight like soldiers, only breaking to make way for her eyes and mouth. Behind it was a tangle of red sea-grass that flowed in the water like a well-maintained mane of hair. Halophele’s lips parted in a smirk as she inspected the terran. She was double the size of Amida, her body thick enough to consume the smaller woman with little effort.
“Is everything alright, cutie?” Halophele broke Amida’s trance with a few words. The terran flailed her arms and kicked her legs to push herself upright.
“Sorry, I haven’t seen an affini like you before.” Amida cocked her head to the side. “In-in person, I mean.”
“Well I haven’t seen a terran on-station before, so that makes two of us.”
“Wait, none at all?”
“None. Would you like to swim-and-talk? I can show you a delicious Artem place if you would like.” Halophele interjected.
“Well I have to be-” Amida clenched her jaw. New experiences were why she moved here. She may as well take this one. “Actually, sure. My hab can wait.”
Halophele circled Amida one last time, then took the girl’s hand in a vine and dived straight down into the water, tugging her along. She seemed to be aware of how slow terrans swam, but didn’t account for Amida’s webbed feet. The terran was able to keep up, though Halophele was still going considerably slower than her top speed. The pair swam straight down, allowing Amida to admire the signage and gardens on the sides of the spire. Various signs calling attention to services offered by affini and vertical gardens of sea-brush created a colorful, eclectic image. The light shimmering across the waterlogged spire only added to the beauty. Everything seemed to meld into one coherent whole in spite of the apparent chaos of natural coral growth.
“Is that spire catching your interest? It is mostly habs, but there are some administration buildings at the top.” Halophele said.
“It’s beautiful.” Amida said.
“Really? They are chaotic compared to terran buildings.”
“It’s like they’re out of a movie.” Amida was enraptured by the coral towers. She hoped her hab was built into one as well. Halophele chuckled.
“I suppose I am used to them.”
“I got really used to the buildings on earth.” Amida chuckled.
“I feel I would get used to earth buildings fast, too. So bland, most of them. I was under the impression that terrans enjoyed that style of utilitarianism.”
“Some of us do. I think, at least. I never knew anyone who did. There’s some pretty cool terran architecture, too.” Amida giggled.
The pair swam between two towers of coral and under a lip of metal into a small area that almost looked like a mall food court. Creatures swam between small units labeled with things like “FOOD” and “CLOTHING DESIGNER”, where affini and floret hobbyists worked to please the residents of the Cladophor. The interior was as colorful as the exterior, but lit better due to its more manageable size. An affini swam up to the pair with a spectrum jelly in tow.
“Oh my gosh, your floret is adorable! May I pet them?” A rather large tangle of vines in the shape of a serpent asked. “I’ve never seen a Terran down here!”
“She is not my floret, she is an independent who relocated here.” Halophele responded.
“But you may.” Amida said with a smile.
The affini descended on the terran extending a trio of vines that they rubbed across Amida’s hair, arm feathers, and exposed tummy. Amida whimpered at the sensations. Her body shivered as she leaned forward into the affini’s embrace. The water around the being was warm, like they were a heating jet in a chilly pool.
“Wow, independent too. An affini would be oh-so lucky to take you home!”
Would they, though? Would any affini be willing to deal with Amida’s fickle whims? She didn’t think so. Temporary affection was nice, at least. Amida cherished it wherever it came from. No strings attached, no obligations, just gentle caresses from soft vines and warm squeezes. The affini didn’t have to care how long Amida would stick around or where she would be in an hour or a year, just that the terran was here right now.
The spectrum jelly at the affini’s side tugged a vine and flashed a pastel array of colors. “Oh yes, my dear is reminding me we must be going. Have a nice day, you two!” The affini cooed before swimming off, leaving Amida free floating and blushing.
“You will be getting that a lot.” Halophele said.
“I can live with that.” Amida whimpered.
Not much discussion was had over lunch. Amida was still figuring out the most efficient way to eat underwater, and Halophele was not much help due to her unfamiliarity with terran anatomy. It didn’t help that Amida was also unfamiliar with cuisine in this part of the universe. Halophele had recommended a restaurant that served food she thought would be suitable for Amida to consume. Artem food turned out to have a lot of dishes utilizing creatures that terrans would call “crustaceans”. Of course, all of the food was synthesized and vegan, but the taste was preserved. The flavor was not like anything Amida had tasted, the closest comparison was lobster, but instead of a briney taste it was starchy. The terran enjoyed it.
A few more affini stopped by to ask about “Halophele’s floret”, and to offer head pets to Amida. Amida accepted them all. Halophele was willing to inform them that Amida was not, in fact, a floret.
“I guess I’ll have to get used to the cuisine in this part of space. I was kinda hoping there would be like, a burger place?” Amida said as the pair exited the chamber and swam back into open water. She realized Halophele probably did not know what a cheeseburger was and continued, “Terran food, or land-food, Iunno.”
“Did you not just say you moved here for new experiences?” Halophele responded.
“Mmm- maybe not new culinary experiences.” Amida stuttered.
“Well you can always compile a ‘cheese-burger’ in your hab, if you desire one so much.” Halophele suggested.
“I don’t think a cheeseburger would really work underwater.”
Halophele laughed. “I assume a lot of terran food would not.”
“Maybe I’m just not as adventurous as I thought.” Amida bit her lip and exhaled, which didn’t actually do anything considering her lungs were empty.
“Are you second-guessing your trip here?” Halophele asked.
“No, I think I’m enjoying myself, and I’m not going to give up so soon.” Amida shook her head and closed her eyes tight, “I mean, stars, I got surgery for this.”
“What is the matter, then?”
“I’m worried all of this will get old, I’ll get bored and want to move on again.” Amida responded, “I’ll fly to another station and forget about this place and then get bored with that station too.” Amida could barely whimper out the last few words. Crying underwater was strange. Amida wasn’t talking via expelling air nor could she breathe air in, so her sinuses just felt as though they were loose and runny and the woman had little recourse for the discomfort.
“Let us find out for ourselves.” Halophele said. Amida looked at her with a puzzled expression. The affini continued, “You do not yet know if this routine will be like your last one- the one you left. If you do not try you will never know. Perhaps it will be boring, but finding that out is a leap you must take.” Halophele wrapped a vine around Amida and halted the pair. She brought the terran close to her serpentine body and hummed, causing Amida’s body to vibrate in tandem. The terran leaned her head against the affini’s body. The pair floated in empty space, hugged by the water. “Perhaps instead of focusing on the maybe, we should find out for ourselves. Is that not what adventure is about?”
Amida could feel the affini’s every word penetrate her heart. She clutched one of Halophele’s vines as two more locked her arms and head into the embrace. The terran whimpered. Tears left her eyes but were dispersed in the water to later be absorbed and filtered by the Cladophor.