That comment made the Ship stop, frozen in place. That sort of thing seemed to be happening more and more often since they had woken up. It was weird to them that they hadn’t done that sort of thing before this morning when they woke up in the care of the plants.
Though the exact reasoning was fairly far from their mind as they instead processed what the Captain had said to them; the hab, that they had been offline for weeks, and far far more importantly than even the Ship's own disorientation and need to come to terms with everything, the fact that according to Leontopodium, Captain even, one of Acanthus’ few friends from their former crew was here on board the ship again and too also belonged to the same owner. That warranted some thought and a slight shift of the ships focus as they pulled the camera feeds in the hab to the front of their mind. The camera’s focusing down on the person they vaguely recognized that was settled in the hab watching something on the tv.
The ship was completely aware of every aspect of its being but the first thing it had learned to do was shunt as much of the useless data to the background as possible and not ‘actively’ pay attention to everything that all of their sensors and camera’s saw and recorded as that would be frankly overwhelming even for their systems to try and process at all times. So they ‘ignored’ most of the data and just focused on whatever section of their body they were actively paying attention too. It was similar for most of their systems they had so much data at their digital fingertips at all times it was a futile process to even attempt to keep all of it in their active thoughts at all times, so they were forced to compartmentalize and shunt most of it into the background where the systems could run with only minimal input from itself. It was fine now while the engines were running on a low enough draw to just keep Acanthus and the other internal systems online. They could only imagine how much heavy lifting they would be doing when it came time to actually fly.
The ship’s eyes narrowed, focusing down on the human in the hab unit that was nestled safely in the Ship's interior. Slowly they could pick out more features that they recognized in Sammy, little things, the same smile, the same eyes. It was hard to understand why they hadn’t noticed it earlier. The Ship’s attention was split of course, still mostly watching the Affini on the bridge, but now paying attention to the hab as well. The ship's avatar turned its head slightly to ‘look’ towards the plant in question.
“Captain?” The plant had a little smile plastered across her face, like she had been expecting it. Though perhaps that was an easy guess to make considering how long the ship had been awake and how little had properly been explained to them so far, sure they could probably delve into the rather extensive database installed, or try and poke at the hab AI to fill them in on a lot of things but from the way the Captain kept looking at them it seemed to the ship that the Affini wanted Acanthus to rely on them. To no great surprise perhaps, still they didn’t mind. Perhaps the Captain had expected there to be more vitriol and fire in the ship, a bit more free Terran than there was but Acanthus had truly been worn down and exhausted of all of it when they sent out the signal and even before then the ship had never been much of a rebel itself just a ship that flew were the pilot pointed it.
Or maybe the plant didn’t have quite as much to wonder about after all they had been poking around in Acanthus’ code enough to change their name even internally, surely that meant the plant had a much more complete idea of who Acanthus was than the ship did anyone around it. That of course also meant that there could be a number of other changes to their core self that they simply wouldn’t notice until it was pointed out to them. Surely they would notice if they were acting differently right?
“Captain?” The ship asked again, if any reply had come they had missed it lost in thought, a quick check through log showed they had missed the plant responding to them, and the Avatar squirmed a bit in place. Whoops, t-they just had so much on their mind today.
“Yes Petal? Did you need something or were you just trying out my title?” a question that almost immediately caused the ship to squeak out a high pitched burst of static.
“A-aah! No, I.. maybe! Uhmmm… Well, you said that a few weeks have passed since we arrived here, but Sammy looks like they’ve been on hormones for years?” Some of the Compact broadcasts had mentioned the Xenodrugs of course Acanthus had seen some of them, well all of them. The Ship had binged more than a few of those broadcasts back on the ship with Sammy but surely they shouldn’t be that effective right?
“Oh but petal surely you know about Class-G’s? I know you had so many of our broadcasts saved in your files when we picked you up, and almost all of them had been played multiple times, no?” The Affini let out a musical chuckle at that a few vines breaking from their form and sliding over towards the expansive console that sat in front of the captains chair, those vines trailing slowly over along the surface, and strangely enough Acanthus could feel it like a thousand little nerves firing in the back of it’s head, the fines danced slowly over the console tracing buttons and switches. “You’re a smart little starship, I’m sure you could figure it out all on your own but, yes our drugs really are that much better than your old Terran ones, and yes they really do work that quickly.” The ship was only partly paying attention as the plant's vines slowly tightened around the controls on the console, and the ship felt it, felt every little touch and squeeze like their body was still flesh and the plant was playing touches across skin.
“A-ah but! That’s!” It really was hard to focus, they hadn’t experienced.. Touch in years and now processing it again with systems so powerful that they could pick apart every little electrical signal individually. The ship's avatar squirmed and twitched, making little incoherent noises as the sensation built and built steadily stacking on top of each other building into a steady mental symphony of raw sensation that became so overwhelming as to be all consuming reaching steadily beyond such petty concepts of ‘good’ or ‘bad it simply was, to much to process leaving the ships mind to melt into static and then it all crashed over the ships mind like a tidal wave of thought obliterating raw sensation and worst of all it lingered little fluffs of cotton that metaphorically gummed up circuits and continued to send little sparks of sensation jolting through the ship's computer systems over the following few seconds. Leaving the ship to slowly recover and try to bring themselves back to reality enough to pay attention to what was being said to them by the plant.
“And as you can see we can simulate each and every one of those xendrugs for you too, and just like with your convents haustoric implants I can modulate the intensity to ensure it’s always as intense as I please.” The plants' smile split wider, almost splitting their face in twain revealing rows of sharp thorns and needle-like ‘teeth’ an inhuman mockery of the Terran form. But not one that was unappealing, It suited her look well with the high collared long ‘coat’ tricorn and flower eyepatch, there was an appeal to the monstrous pirate look that Leontopodium rocked. The plant was looming in her seat leaned forwards, hands tented in her lap, those vines that had been squeezing and tracing every control on the console slowly drawing back into the Captain’s form. It was quite the contrast to the digital avatar that slumped forwards on the slightly raised pedestal, hair somehow disheveled, and despite lacking any facial features it looked slumped and small, overwhelmed but coming down from that thought searing high of blissful sensation.
“For today, I left most of your settings fairly low, having you fairly lucid for all the big questions and explanations was a bit more important to getting you settled in, then we’ll find you a happy new baseline.” Of course it was all being stated as simply fact and Acanthus didn’t really have a choice in the matter. They could make requests for sure, but when push came to shove, the ship was an object. A mere possession, it did not get to choose how it was displayed, decorated and maintained. But Acanthus too was glad for it, they had made the one big decision that mattered and now they didn’t have to anymore. A ship should fly where the captain points it, a weapon should fire when its trigger is squeezed. A trophy should be a shiny display piece.
“It.. gets worse than that?” Of course it did.
“Aha.. my little starship, it can get so much worse than that.” the Captain answered with a chuckle, “but! Come now you’ve delayed heading down to the hab long enough and the others are waiting for us both.” Getting down to the hab would take nothing at all, just flipping over to the projectors down there.
They nodded slowly not saying anything further and engaged the system, the Avatar on the bridge winking out and a new one appearing just outside the door to the hab unit, it was settled right into the garden that occupied most of the ships internal space, meaning the front door opened into a veritable jungle of greenery, some that the ship recognized instantly others took some time for their database to feed them the answer, some of them weren’t even native to Terran systems but it was clear each was carefully chosen for some reason. Still they were delaying and while it would take a bit for Captain to get from the bridge to this deck the ship was delaying and they knew it was just wasting time trying to avoid stepping into the hab and having to deal with someone who was directly affected by the Ship’s choice.
They remembered they hadn’t even spoken to Sammy before sending out the signal in the first place; they hadn’t consulted anyone on the crew before they consigned them all to this fate. Had it been an entirely selfish action? Probably at least they could justify it as the best for the crew as they were likely being fed and cared for far better than they had been aboard the Acanthus but it had been a huge violation of their autonomy. The ship didn’t miss its own ‘loss’ it had accepted death so this was a better outcome and even beyond that, perhaps the ship even deserved such a fate. But... Did Sammy? Was it right? Or even okay for them to have more or less, by human standards at least, sold her into slavery?
The Affini absolutely would vehemently disagree with that assessment. But Acanthus would have trouble seeing it any other way, a pampered and beloved trophy that had no legal rights and was compelled to obey your every command could only be a slave. A treasured, cared for and in no way mistreated one, but one nonetheless. Maybe the distinction was meaningless a word, slave had horrible connotations in Terran society, but it didn’t necessarily have to be, that all came from humanity's capacity to be horrifically cruel to other members of its own species. If human history had been as gentle as the Affini likely would have made it had they been in charge since the dawn of time, then the word would likely not have any negativity attached to it.
Did any of this change what they had done though? Maybe the context of it, sure they had consigned Sammy to this fate, but if there were no lies involved and everything had been true then it was an objectively good fate, to forever be free of pain and worry. To only ever be concerned about the smallest of problems because everything else is taken care of by a being so far beyond your comprehension.
The Avatar’s hands curled into little fists, and it was overthinking things again, getting lost in its own head just standing here staring at the door. The hab Ai subroutine was pinging it over and over again, asking ‘if the cutie would like the door open?’ silently the ship just acknowledged the prompt and the door slid open. At least Affini systems were nice about requests.
The door opened before them and while it was totally superfluous and unnecessary they waited for it, the Avatar could just appear inside the hab and not need to deal with the door but… It was just delaying the inevitable confrontation. It stepped through the doorway and glanced around, it had seen the interior before but now they were focusing on it as a palace ‘they occupied’ rather than just a room they were watching. The couch had its back to the entrance but the sound of the hab door opening had drawn attention from the two people inside, two pairs of eyes peeking over the couch. The ship paused in the doorway, trying to figure out what the best thing to say in this situation was. But the need to come up with something was taken from them when both of the Terrans, Florets? Slipped off the couch and came running over, Acanthus felt a momentary spike of panic after all they were not solid merely a projection and if the pair tried to hug or tackle them.. Well it would end in a tumble. Luckily that wasn’t the case and both came up short of flinging themselves at the projection.
“ Acanthus!” “you’re awake!” “hi!” There was a barrage of greetings that the ship had to process and tried to respond to the avatars head turning back and forth from one to the other, From Sammy (who looked quite happy and not at all unhappy to see them.) and a person the Ship didn’t recognize but surely would be getting to know soon enough.
“A-ah.. hi?” They started shaky at first, it shouldn’t be a problem at all should it? just two people, one that was already their friend! They could talk to them no problem they had done it for years, even before becoming ‘real’. “Uhm..” where to start? ‘Sorry for getting you domesticated?’ they both clearly knew who the ship was so an introduction would be superfluous right? It was so much easier to have a conversation when they already had a properly prepared socially approved script to follow. Greetings; introduction, the back and forth ‘how are you?’, ‘fine just fine’ and so on. Without the familiar easy framework they floundered.
Sammy just snorted and gestured. “cmon , you’ve gotten more weird since you woke up huh?” The statement was punctuated with her tongue poking out between lips. “You’ve over-thought everything haven't you?” She giggled as she wandered back over to the couch inviting the Avatar along and well, Acanthus followed and so did the third person. Once they were all settled… sorta Acanthus just fuzzed and the avatar reappeared on the couch while the other two climbed up and settled in.
The other person leaned in, to examine the Avatar? Acanthus’ head tilted to the side and the person grinned they were cute too but, that was true of most Florets that the ship had seen both before in the broadcasts and in some of the data they received from the greater ship around them. There was perhaps something cute about being happy, healthy and a little high.
“Hi! My name is Robin! Robin Nivale, second Floret and first mate!” They had red shoulder length hair and a bright smile, blue eyes and freckles ran from cheek to cheek. They were… well cute by the ships standards and so Acanthus was left to say hi again like an idiot.
“Uhm.. it’s nice to meet you?” The ship was struggling again but that wasn’t out of the ordinary since it had woken up now was it? The Floret, Robin gave them an odd look. “You’re really nervous are you okay? You should ask Mistress for some druggies to help with that!”
Acanthus just nodded along slowly “r-right.” Captain had mentioned that Acanthus wasn’t exactly sitting at the usual Floret baseline and while they appreciated it, it also meant that they were thinking a lot about things, dwelling, worrying, they kept shooting glances over at Sammy who once they caught that glance just smiled at the Avatar. After it had happened a few more times Sammy tapped Robin and traded places with her on the couch sliding up closer to the Avatar.
“Listen, I know that you’re..” She gestured around at the walls and stuff. “But it's easier to talk to you like this.” They smiled and the ship nodded, that was fair it was true even before people talked to the consoles with the ship's avatar displayed on them never mind that the ship itself was well… The ship itself. “You know I don’t blame you right? I’ve had weeks to think it all through you know? You just woke up so everything is fresh and new and raw. Take your time and Mistress will help you.”
The ship nodded slowly. “It’s just.. I didn’t talk to anyone before I made the decision, I don’t even know if the shackles would have let me if I had talked about it in advance but it feels like I took everyone's choice from them. And maybe that's wrong or it’s something that doesn't matter because we would have been caught eventually but it was still my choice to take action.”
That was the truth of the matter, regardless of the circumstance Acanthus had chosen to take an action when they could have not and it simply would have been out of their control. Maybe they break apart in that jump the captain ordered or maybe they get grabbed by the Affini for a different reason. But, no they were collected because Acanthus let them be collected.
The door slid open and while Acanthus was still lost in thought the other two Terrans were flinging themselves off the couch and into the vines that were ready to catch and bundle them up. A series of delighted coos and happy giggling filled the space and for a moment made it feel just a bit more like a home. Nobody had ever really been that happy on the Acanthus back in the day, not even when some crew members slipped away to.. Ahem. There was very little privacy on the ship even before every inch of it was converted to the frankly over the top Affini tech that it was now. The ship just watched the moment for the time being detached, off to the side. They simply weren’t as happy to see the plant as the other two were and beyond that. Their body was far too large to engage in such an activity, In order to cuddle like that well… Their mind jumped back to when they had been snatched out of the void by the much larger Affini ship, vines curling around their hull and squeezing, others worming under paneling and stabbing into its substructure to flood its halls with a haze of drugs… Something like that anyway.
They just watched, as Leontopodium held a Terran in each arm and finally turned the gaze of that single eye onto Acanthus. “I’m glad to see you didn’t just stand at the door lost in your thoughts the whole time, little starship.” They stepped around and sank down on the couch very quickly, ending up as a cuddle pile with the two humans settled into the plants ‘lap’. With a few dozen vines coiled around each. Captain’s gaze stayed on Acanthus though watching the ship's diminutive Avatar. “Do you feel left out little one? You know we could get you a physical Avatar if you wished for one.”
The starship might have blinked if it had eyes but it didn’t so instead it merely stared for a few moments longer at the plant, the cameras in the hab slowly zooming in and getting lost in the details of the plants form while they put off answering.
“I... am not sure..” how did you decide such a thing? “Can I… have some time to think about it?”
The plant chuckled at that and nodded. “Of course you can, think about it as long as you like. Now, we’re going to have a nice relaxing evening aren’t we? So let’s make sure that you too are comfy my little starship.” The plant produced a tablet from the inside of its body and after a few taps suddenly the world shifted a bit and the Avatar slumped over slightly. Why? The ship wasn’t fully sure but they felt a lot of things suddenly not matter so much anymore so much of the noise in their head simply melted away leaving everything quiet and calm. Then came a warmth that flooded through their systems like a much milder version of the earlier intense sensation that tingled at a low level through every system and substructure. It would be so easy like this to just not worry about things, to shift until the Avatar was leaning against the plant, or at least as close as the insubstantial hologram that was its Avatar could get to leaning against the plant watching the show that was playing on the tv. Maybe this was nice, maybe everything was going to be okay, maybe Acanthus had done a good thing and didn’t have to think about it anymore…