Everything hurts, not necessarily physically, but the raw act of existing hurts. Pearl Mason’s eyes crack open, as she looks out into the bunks surrounding her, men and women alike slowly rousing to the sound of the morning alarms. Just another miserable day in the boot camps for the cosmic navy.
Peeling herself off of the bed, she quickly fixes up her living area. Unwilling to let even the smallest missed detail be possible to find around her bunk, after all, the extra annoyance while waking up is easily compensated by the fact she doesn’t get the daily beatings some of her more lazy comrades are struck with.
Just as Pearl is brushing her bedding to an exact fold, she feels a few light taps on her shoulder. “Hey, you seem pretty in your head, but we should get going or we’re gonna be late.” Turning around to face the voice, she’s met with an only barely familiar face. A boy nearly as gaunt as her with dark black hair that spikes in every direction despite his attempts to keep it under control, being hidden under a black hat.
Pearl’s eyes flick up and down him a few times, catching his name Isaac sewn onto his uniform, before sighing as she starts to follow him out of the barics and into the gray concrete hellscape that comprises their training grounds. “Yeah, well in your head is the only safe place to be around here.”
Isaac shrugs slightly, not giving much of a response, as they arrive at the lineup for the morning. About fifty others in their unit, as Isaac splits off from Pearl. Going over to his place in the line.
The day passes by in a flash, being mostly consumed by gurling exercises, and no end of propaganda being spouted by everyone present. Whether it be due to a genuine malevolent passion for the navy like Jason Linza, a begrudging acceptance of the way things are like Pearl Mason, or swallowing their pride to survive like Isaac.
By the end of the day, Pearl is dragging her limbs over to the meal hall. Expecting another pleasant day of silently observing everyone around her, only to hear a thud right where she’d normally sit. Isaac is sitting there with his meal, as he looks up at her, giving her a little nod to come and sit next to him.
Taking a deep breath, Pearl forces on the fakest smile she can manage. Grabbing her rations of nutracubes, before sitting down next to Isaac in order to scarf down this barely edible food. “Hello again.”
Isaac nods slightly, throwing a full cube in his mouth before quickly swallowing it. Clearly doing his best to minimize time eating the chalky brick of ‘food’. “Hey, I kinda noticed no one hangs out around ya, figured I’d give it a shot.”
Pearl rolls her eyes, leaning on her hand and looking away from Isac. “No one hangs out with me, because I ratted on the last person I was bunked with, and got them kicked out.” She shoves the cube in her mouth with little fanfare, far too used to the bland tortuous taste of the cubes to do any of the tricks to get them down quickly.
“Well then I guess it’s a good thing that I don’t share a bunk with ya isn’t it?” Isaac continues to munch on his meal, before pulling his canteen out and sipping from it.
“Yeah… guess it is.” Pearl groans, flopping her head back over to look at Isaac. “So is there anything you want, or is this just to annoy me, so you can get in better with one of the more popular clicks around these parts.”
“Well there’s one thing.” Isaac flashes a tiny smile towards Pearl, pushing his meal away. The texture of the meal had proved itself too harsh for his texture issues. “Do you wanna be friends?”
“I’m… not a great person, I got someone courtmarshaled, and it’s barely been a year now. I don’t really deserve friends, it’d probably be better if you just tried to bully me, to get others to like you.” Pearl lets out a cold bitter laugh, shoveling the rest of the meal into her mouth.
“Well I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t ask if you deserve it did I?” Isaac nods to himself, pushing the extra cubes he couldn’t eat over to the Pearl. “Here, they’re horrible, but you seem to like them.”
“Guess ya didn’t.” Pearl continues shoveling her meal down, openly taking Isaac’s leftovers for herself. “So sure, whatever, it’s your funeral.”
Pearl jerks awake, her legs and arms slamming against tight restraints as her eyes shoot open. “Wha…” She flicks her head from side to side, eyes darting around the room as she tries to figure out what happened, and where she’d ended up.
The room is nearly pitch black, without enough lighting to see much more than the outlines of the shelves. The only thing of note, being Twig who’s still firmly planted up on top of Resin’s dresser. Collapsing back down onto the bed, she wiggles each of her limbs, finding that each is attached to a different corner of Resin’s bed.
Just for the barest moment, she considers screaming for help, calling Resin in here to get an explanation of what had happened after she bit Jason. But the moment she tries, she finds the words caught in her throat, unable to voice a cry for help not due to any preventative measures, but instead out of raw guilt.
She’d attacked an innocent person, she’d thrown whatever small chance at escape she had away. All because she was stupid enough to belive that the affini would risk letting her near her captain again, even just to taunt her.
And even then, he’d forgiven her, he asked for her to be his friend and to come back again, which is just… unfair. Unfair to her, unfair to Isaac, unfair in every meaning of the word.
Why do people, genuinely kind people keep running into her, seeing her and reaching out a hand. Only for her to bite them, leaving scars in the best case, and bodies in the worst.
Yet again, she finds herself stewing in her thoughts, considering the options. Surrender to Resin, attempt to suck up long enough to get forgiveness? No, she’d just attacked a floret they’re going to put her down one way or another. Surrender to that fate, allow them to rip out who she is and leave the husk behind to atone for her sins…
No, she can’t do that either, if she did there won’t be anyone to remember Isaac. There has to be a way, a path forward that can save who she is now, not even to return to the fight against the affini, but just to run away. Steal a ship and get as far away from Compact space as possible, that is the only option left.
The only thing that breaks her out of yet another planning spiral is the door to the room sliding open. Pouring in a frankly obnoxious amount of light, alongside the silhouette of yet another affini that Pearl had never seen before. The only real detail she’s able to get about them due to the contrast of lighting, being the fact that it seems like they are wearing a massive companions dress, alongside a collar made out of ruby red flowers. “Uh… hello?”
“Pearl Wil’s First floret is it?” The voice that comes out of this affini flows seamlessly, each of their words coming out to the beat of an unseen unheard song. “I am Celosia Farin, fourth bloom, she/her. And I am now your case worker.” With that the affini flicks the lights to the room on, revealing her gloriously fashioned red dress. Alongside hair made out of red spiky petals with two massive flowers, on either side to appear similarly to hair clips.
“Well that sounds… bad.” Pearl winces at the sudden burst of light, her eyes struggling for a moment to adjust. As she’s forced to blink several times strictly to stop tears from coming out. “Especially given the whole arm and legs being pinned to the bed thing.”
“Indeed it is!” Celosia flows around the bed, gently undoing each of the vines that are keeping Pearl in place. “But it has been decided that since you have attacked a floret during your interim period before implantation, you must be restrained at all times when an affini isn’t there to watch over you.”
“But what would that even accomplish? Didn’t the accident happen when I was being watched by two affini.” Pearl rubs her midriff, as she slowly sits up in the center of the bed. Doing her best to avoid looking at the affini now that she’s been allowed any options in the matter.
“Resin was right, you are quite observant, but that is not why you must be restrained whenever you’re alone, little one.” Celosia gently pats Pearl on the head. “That is because we know you would try to hurt yourself if you weren’t, and while we can prevent anything while we are present, the risk of your actions ending your life is simply unacceptable!”
“Ah, so I’m on suiside watch, good to know… probably smart.” Pearl laughs weakly to herself, allowing the affini to pat her if only to get more information about her situation out of them. “So where is my warden? It never leaves me alone, and that’s saying something.”
Celosia nods slightly, imitating a sigh as she looks over at the beeple plushy. “Well… your owner is out apologizing to Anthurium, and filling several sheets of paperwork regarding your outburst, its reasons, and fighting to insure you’re not put on significantly harsher doses of xenodrugs until implantation day.”
“And let me guess, you’re the second opinion, coming in to see me in an isolated appointment, to see how I respond to you without any oversight.” Pearl groans, flopping onto her side, trying to play the threat of being drugged permanently off as if it didn’t faze her. Rather than the spine chilling blow it is.
“Good job!” Celosia claps a few times, standing up off of the bed and grabbing Twig. “You see I want to show you something, and how you respond to that, will inform whether I have you placed on class J’s for the foreseeable future, or if I allow your owner to continue with its course of action.” She then slowly leans in, placing Twig down in front of Pearl. “But first someone needs her best friend back.”
As Twig is placed down in front of her, the passive normally easily ignored, ache in her chest turns into a pull, a craving desire to grab Twig and hug him as long and hard as possible. Her arm rocketing out, and pulling the plushy against her chest without a moment of hesitation.
The sweet scent of Resin, alongside the gentle hum from within nearly immediately trumphing the fear from Celosia’s threats. Pearl of course is far too busy enjoying the small wave of relief, to notice Celosia putting this down in her notes.
“Well that’s step one out of the way… now Pearl, I’m going to show you something that you may find… upsetting.” Celosia starts to hold her datapad out, flicking away from her notes and over to a live feed. “But I need you to look, and I need you to listen.”
After one last refreshing inhale, Pearl’s eyes slide open, and she spots Jason Linza. Curled up on a massive pet bed, fast asleep, a very obvious scar on the back of his neck being prominently displayed. “This is Jason Limna second floret, he is a class O floret. He had attacked everyone he had come in contact with since rescue, including his covenant. We were forced to once he showed no signs of decreasing in violence. We went though each and every possibility we could think of to try and correct this behavior ourselves, but it... did not work.”
Pearl blinks a few times, looking at what was once the man who ruined her life. Her arm wrapping harder and harder around Twig, pushing him into her chest. “I… why… Why are you showing me this?”
Celosia cocks her head to the side, pulling the tablet away. “Why? Isn’t this what you would have wanted? Does this not make you happy?” She slowly slides the pad into her chest, watching Pearl’s shaking form. “Does it make you scared?” She slides one hand under Pearl’s chin, forcing Pearl to at the very least look in her direction. “Does it make you jealous?”
As each question beats down on Pearl, almost too quick to process before moving onto the next. She can’t help but answer internally. Did she want this? ‘Absolutely’ Is she scared? ‘Maybe’ Does it make you Jealous? “Yes.”
With that one barely muttered out answer, Pearl is pulled with alarming force, and speed, into Celosia’s arms. The affini making sure to have her as securely bundled as possible, vines running up and down the girls back. An obvious, immediate, concern overtaking the affini’s behavior. “Resin was right… we can’t handle you like this.” She mutters to herself, rocking Pearl from side to side. “Listen to me petal, what you saw, will never ever happen to you. Your owner will not allow it, I will not allow it.”
Pearl on the other hand is simply frozen, her head being pushed down to rest on top of Twig. As Celosia starts to walk with her out of Resin’s hab, and down the halls of the Equabloom. Obviously in a rush to get wherever they are going, vines pressing down on all sides as if even the smallest twitch that she could make was being surveyed to make sure she doesn’t attempt to do so much as blink without Celosia’s awareness. “Why?”
“Because Petal, I know you don’t understand, but everything you’re going through isn’t a punishment, you’re scared, and acting out of a desire to hurt yourself, not to hurt others.” Celosia shakes her head. “If we did that to you, it would…” She sighs struggling to find the words to get through to Pearl. “It just wouldn’t be the proper choice for your case, you have someone to remember.”
Pearl simply nods her head, her leg bouncing up and down a few times, before vines press down on them to keep her from moving. Trying to process the fact that she won't be allowed to simply stop.
Rushing into the xenoburicratic wing of the ship, Celosia finally slows down in her mad dash. Taking a look around the halls, to see who’s office Resin is doing all of the paperwork in. Her vines twitching and shuddering anxiously, as she peeks her head into her office. Being met with nothing more than an empty room, and incomplete documents. “Alistor…”
Passing through her office, she taps a few times on the door to the left side of the office. Waiting for a response for a few seconds, before getting frustrated with the lack of response and opening the door herself.
Inside the secondary office, Resin, and Anthurium are sitting across from Alistor. The third affini has a masculen form, with red vines, and black interiors. Black petaled hair imitating a short perfectly combed terran haircut. All three are seated around his dark red desk. Hunched over and working on piles of paperwork, recording every detail that they could access regarding Pearl’s life to discern if this was an attack brought on by fear. Or a genuine desire to simply do harm.
As Celosia passes into the room, still rocking Pearl. Resin is the first to break away from the group huddle, immediately noticing the cocoon of vines that Pearl is being held in, and rushing up to take her out of Celosia’s vines. A clear tension in every one of its movements. “Celosia, what did you do to her?” It barely hisses out, making a hammock out of vines and watching as Pearl simply flops over in its vines.
“I simply did what was necessary, to prove your views on Pearl are correct.” Celosia sighs, walking over to Alistor and sitting down. “Alistor, we can not put that girl on O’s or J’s. She is viewing us using that as an attempt at suiside.”
Alistor, who up until now, hadn’t even paused to respond to Celosia. Puts his pin down, looking up at Celosia with no end of annoyance in his expression. “You didn’t.”
Celosia forces a small polite smile. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, I simply showed her an appropriate example of the possibilities to insure her understanding of the situation. Just like you asked.” She pulls out her datapad, showing off the recording of Pearl’s ex captain. “I simply picked the example that would get me the most honest response.”
“I hate how you handle things sometimes, Celosia.” Alistor starts to grumble slightly, picking up his pin and starting to strike out several options from the list. “So now that you’ve arrived with your revelations, what would you recommend we do for her?”
“Oh that’s simple, we don’t let her out of the hab until implantation day, and we allow Resin to continue its course towards her proper domestication.” Celosia taps on the desk casually, looking over at Anthurium. “After all, if the records are to be believed, little Jason will not be too pleased if his new friend is kept on too many xenodrugs to hang out with him again.”
Anthurium simply sits there staring at the pair as they restart the bickering that this morning had begun with. “I absolutely loathe that Celosia is correct.” She looks down slightly, her vines tapping impatiently along one another.
Resin as they continue their conversation simply sits down with Pearl in its vines. Looking down at the girl, and shaking its head. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you this morning Petal, the protocol around everything right now, required that your little talk with Celosia took place privately.”
As Resin finally starts talking to her again, Pearl starts to uncurl herself. Rubbing her head against the back of Twig’s head in order to dry her tears away. “What does it even matter, I fucked everything up, I bit someone inocent, and now it’s pretty obvious one way or another you’re all going to put me down like a rabid animal.”
“No, no we are not.” Resin squeezes Pearl as tight as it can manage. “I am not going to let anything happen to you, while yes we were talking about maybe putting you on class J’s until your implantation to decrease your levels of distress. At the end of the day you are my floret, and I will make sure you become the best you can be.”
“But what is that even?” Pearl thumps her head back. “Ever since you kidnapped me, you’ve been promising that everything you’re doing is for the best, but what is the best for me? I’ve been little more than a feral cat for my entire life, biting and scratching, and doing whatever it takes to survive. I don’t know who a ‘good’ version of me would even be.”
“Pearl, this is what I’ve been trying to get you to understand since I got you. You don’t need to know what the best version of you is, I will find it for you.” Resin gently runs a hand across Pearl’s cheek, watching as she closes her eyes and shudders, but doesn’t pull away this time. “That’s all I’ve wanted, just to help you.”
Pearl holds back a hiss as Resin’s hand continues to pet her. “Fine, FINE, but if you want me to go along with this, I need you to tell me the truth, you need to tell me why I’m starting to trust you…” She bawls her hand into a fist, if they hadn’t been clipped she would have been digging her nails into her hands.
“Because I tricked you, it’s as simple as that.” Resin gently grabs Twig, picking him up and putting him out of Pearl’s reach. “I know you’ve been through a lot this morning, but I want you to think about why you would on any level be willing to trust me?”
Pearl weakly reaches out toward Twig, before catching herself, her arm shooting back to her side. Pausing, to process the implications of what Resin had laid out for her. “Twig… what did you do to Twig…”
“Oh simple, I had my friend Sola fill him up with my scent, as well as installing a tiny device that links up to me, and imitates my biorythm.” Resin sneaks its vine down, using one to have the plushy wave at Pearl. “While you were always guarded around me, you were so adorably vulnerable to Twig. You’ve even started personifying him in your cute little mind. I’m assuming this is because you had a plushy when you were little that you had gotten deeply attached to, so I was filling a hole in your subconscious cravings.”
Pearl blinks, then blinks again, over and over all she can think of doing at this point is blinking, as she tries to wrap her mind around something as innocuous as a stuffed bee being enough to break years worth of building up emotional armor. “That’s… heh.” She starts dryly chuckling to herself, astounded by the simple revelation that the only kind of manipulation she wasn’t guarded towards was a weakness she’d begrudgingly admitted to Resin.
Resin flashes Pearl a small smile, wrapping a vine around Twig and pulling him a few inches closer to its floret. “I thought you’d find it interesting, especially given your history with learning how to manipulate others.”
“Yeah… interesting is a way to put it.” Pearl looks down at the ever encroaching plush. Taking note that Resin is leaving her plenty of space to get up, and walk away if she doesn’t want him back.
Of course she knows that it’s an illusion of a choice, sure she could get up and walk away from Twig physically, but emotionally that toy is the only thing that has held her together these past few days. She’d definitely fall to pieces if she attempts to reject the one source of comfort she has left.
As Pearl is caught up in her head, Resin finishes inching the plush back into her embrace. Watching as she wraps her arm around it, curling back down as small as she gets as she flops down onto her side. Allowing Resin to stand up with her laying there, and walk back over to the group.
Resin, of course, is holding Pearl in a way to make sure everyone in the room can see that Pearl is restrained in no way, not on any xenodrugs, and still allowing it to handle her freely. “So… are there any issues the two of you take with Celosia’s suggestion?”
“I have no issue… but I do have an addition.” Alistor sits up, pushing a document across the table towards Resin. “You’ve noted your tendency and enjoyment of using M’s to calm her down, given your staunch refusal which we will allow you to maintain for now to not use any mentality affecting xenodrugs. We are going to require you to put her on them, any time that she is-” He taps on the document point 1. “Out of the hab.” 2. “Not under direct supervision.” 3. “Within the same room as a Floret.” 4. “Attempting any kind of self harm.”
“This is more than acceptable. That was my intention anyway.” Resin nods, using its free arm to start filling out all of the documents that Alistor had prepared.
“Good, because if there is one more incident this is going to get a lot worse for her Resin. This is the extent of the mercy that Celosia has been able to claw out for her, be grateful that my partner is not me.” Alistor picks up the documentation, shuffling everything into the proper order faster than Pearl can even process. “Have a nice day.” And with that, he marches out of the office.
As soon as he’s gone, Celosia’s vines all start to detangle. “Rot, he always stresses me out when things go wrong.” She leans against the desk, looking between the trio. “Sooooo, you all wanna get out of here, before he realizes that he just abandoned his own office. Maybe head on over to a cafe, get some food in Pearl, and have a more… civil conversation.”
Resin nods slightly, patting Pearl on the head a few times. “We did skip breakfast after all.” It quietly prepares a doce of class M’s, getting ready to inject Pearl. “Now Petal, you’re going to be on M’s until we get home… take a deep breath for me.”
Pearl reluctantly inhales as Resin injects her, the stinging only lasting for a second as the cool quiet of an empty mind returns to her. As Resin’s vines wrap around each of her limbs, and press Twig as deep against her chest as possible.
“Good girl.” Resin gives Pearl a small squeeze, looking over at Anthurium. “How about you? I know you’ll wanna get back to your floret before too long, but I would like to have a more private discussion about everything.
“I’ll come, Jason is over at Sola’s hab right now anyway.” Anthurium nods, getting up and starting to follow behind Resin. “It’ll at the very least be a good chance to get more information about the Cafe’s we have on board. Jason has been talking my ear off about wanting to make more meals for others, for the last few months.”