He wants to cry or scream into a pillow until sleep takes him, but he’s never been good at doing any of those just because he feels like he should. Staying active at least feels like progress. So he finally gets to work on the backlog of daily chores he’s left piling up.
It is not that he actually believes managing to clean his habitat unit will measurably decrease his odds of being domesticated. He cannot imagine that the Affini would decide the seditious pacifist angle is just the cutest most adorable little eccentricity, but falling a bit behind on self-care, well that’s grounds for lifelong enslavement. He just needs some outlet for the nervous tension that refuses to leave him alone, even if that involves devoting more thought than he’d like to the conditions of his own embodiment.
Even if pretending to be capable of the bare minimum of self-care isn’t actually going to make his end less likely, it feels helpfulish and that’s better than nothing. He manages to finally figure out how to make the compiler remove all the dishes, wipe down the counters and is halfway through sweeping before he feels settled enough to stop.
Of course, it’s not like he has much else to do with the time, so he actually manages to finish cleaning up for once in his life. And then, nothing. He curls up on the new couch (courtesy of the Affini) and spends a few moments flipping through an almost Alexandrian library media programming (courtesy of the Affini) but he can’t focus on anything. He would, normally, reach out at a time like this, but plants have eaten most of the people in his support network. He won’t talk to the last few that they spared lest they get caught up in his latest method of self-harm. So that isn’t really an option at the moment. Besides, mentioning Sela, and the complex swell of emotions she brings up would not go over well with that crowd.
For a moment he almost misses capitalism. At least, the constant threat of homelessness and starvation provided him that rush of anxiety he’s dependent on to really get anything done. The impulse is quickly gone, and he’s pretty sure that craving structure enough to miss the far worse authoritarian regime than the one he spends most of his time agitating against is probably not the kind of thought conducive to remaining a free Terran, especially not while he remains a self-described Free Terranist.
Eventually his thoughts turn to Sela. There’s nowhere else left for them to go really when the Affini have bulldozed the entire social structure of his life. He’s read enough of what the Affini have made available on the overnet to realize the plants would insist this is bonding or dependency or some kind of quintessentially Terran emotional response that proves to Affini pop-psych that he ‘needs’ domestication, but it strikes him as more of a funnel. Once they’ve cut away all distractions, all sociality that does not conform to the structures they provide, where can one fill the need for relatedness besides with the Affini and their pets? He won’t fall for it, so long as they let him choose.
Still, she mentioned she follows his blog. Worse, she mentioned she left comments. Thoughts of shimmering blue dancing in his head, and nothing else to drive them away, he breaks the one rule Max insisted everyone who publishes anything online should follow. He reads the comments.
The worst are, of course, comments from before the war, back when an endless array of self-important chuds jumped out of the woodwork to offer the dumbest, most pedantic responses to anything even vaguely anti-capitalist; back before many of those chuds were briefly uncomfortable allies and the movement seemed like it might actually matter for once.
Even these aren’t anywhere near as bad as he anticipated they might be and a part of him wonders if the Affini seamlessly edited away the worst of it when they mirrored the planetary intranet onto their systems. He wouldn’t put it past them to edit history like that, preserving the substance while silently filing off the edge from, at least, Terran consumption.
There are fewer comments from the odd posts he made in the months between when the war became public knowledge and when the Affini actually arrived. Those are panicked semi-incoherent ramblings, torn between hope that the conquerors might actually dismantle capitalist institutions in a way no one had really believed would ever happen, and horror that “new” might mean incomprehensibly worse. Both hope and horror were too extreme; neither was remotely imaginative enough to envision that life under the Affini might actually be exactly what their propaganda promised.
Eventually he finds what has to be Sela’s username. He can’t imagine a Terran would choose to go by Girlmoss in the new system—for all he’s a bit surprised that she even gets that cultural reference, or that an Affini would voluntarily apply it to herself. Regardless, Girlmoss’ comments are all post-conquest.
Yes, she agrees, many of the rebel remnants are little more than captives who only continue to actively rebel out of threats of death, torture, or misperceptions about the costs of surrender. She acknowledges that this does ethically complicate forcible domestication, but insists that, while this perhaps renders arguments premised on rebels being a danger of violence more dubious, it also fundamentally misconstrues domestication, both as a political philosophy and as a cultural practice. Naturally, being an Affini, she devotes significantly more space to praising his argument than agreeing, which irks him no matter how much the praise is tempered with reflexive condescension that help assuage the hurt of insincere praise.
‘Girlmoss,’ of course spends a thousand words arguing that forced domestication of rebels, in particular, is not actually a punishment, but a necessary tool to help the often extremely traumatized captives accommodate to life in the Terran Protectorate, and that, likewise, even rebels are generally accorded far more choice than he suggests in all cases where significant hope of rehabilitation remains.
She references a number of statistics that don’t seem to be publicly available, at least to Terrans. He’s not sure if that’s a taunt or just the way that hierarchy can be invisible to those on top. Either way, it makes it frustratingly difficult to respond. Which, well, he obviously shouldn’t respond, so that isn’t actually bad, even if he finds himself craving access to the data.
Of course the argument is, even if all of Sela’s numbers are entirely accurate, ridiculous. If the Affini claim to be unto gods, they can’t then turn around and say they have no alternative to treat deep-seated trauma besides invasive surgeries and deprivation of all free-will, save that they have specifically avoided creating those alternatives. Systemic biases in medicine cannot justify the imperial policy that created those systemic biases in the first place.
He deletes his half typed reply, reminding himself that Max would never forgive him for responding ‘below the line.’ Besides, this may work better in person when next she starts to go all empire apologist…. Not that he plans to ever talk to Sela again. Even if she didn’t stop him from leaving, and is cute, and seems to actually listen and engage seriously instead of just telling him how things are now. No, no matter what else she may be, Sela is firmly a member of the new oppressing class.
He keeps looking for her posts anyway. They’re much the same, supportive, encouraging, tepidly defending the authoritarian status quo. He wants that to be enough to put Selaginella out of his mind. But she’s no less a product of toxic structures than he is; and the chance to actually talk, to argue and maybe even win—not that that would actually achieve anything—fills some primal need writing into the void hasn’t since the protests went wrong and the incipient movement collapsed.
Of course she has also commented on the post he made immediately after the protest. This he saves for last as he works up the fortitude to look. He does not like thinking about this one. It’s less an essay, than his confused apology for being let go, for being insufficiently dangerous to be worth mandatory dehumanization, and a woefully incomplete list of names that weren’t. For all he barely has anything else to think about, he does not like thinking of the protests, much less to see what he imagines will be Sela’s painfully earnest efforts at convincing him it was, indeed, a riot and that the Affini did only what was necessary to insure the peace.
But, if there’s one thing that will cure him of his bizarre fixation on the weed, it’s going to be seeing her talking about how the deaths of his best friends were not so bad and how they’re all in better places now.
The thought leaves him trembling with rage and fear. He doesn’t like these memories; but he can’t keep going forward without facing them, without reminding himself what the Affini are, no matter how cute or interesting they might appear.
He hovers over her comment, delaying a few more seconds, then clicks. This will make it a clean break.
Except it isn’t. She doesn’t say it was for their own good. She doesn’t say they deserve it; or that they needed it. Sela simply offers words of comfort and support, offering to meet up, promising to check on him if he feels like he might need it. It’s comforting in a way he’s been missing since the Affini stole his family, in a way that makes him cry. He’s not entirely sure if it’s sweet or weirdly parasocial that she actually came for him based on a bunch of comments on his blog he didn’t even see; but he finds himself too desperate for human warmth to care much.
Of course, he realizes after taking a few minutes to find his equilibrium, she doesn’t say the Affini were wrong either. That’s the problem at the end. Is it worth anything, he wonders, if Sela is genuinely empathetic without admitting fault? Domestication is hardly less bad because the class doing the domestication occasionally feels sorry, not for those enslaved, but because letting others go may have let them stay a little sad. Probably at least half of that is just her thinking he should have been happily domesticated.
Righteous indignation, however short-lived, proves just the spark he needs to write. Or, at least, he thinks it will, but he soon finds himself retreading old ground. Sure, the argument that permanent consequences for what are often manageable mental health issues, or ones which have been exacerbated by the very circumstances of the takeover, is an important one. But, at the end of the day, he doesn’t actually have access to the data he needs to really make that point effectively. At least, he doesn’t think he’d be able to persuade Sela. No, she would obviously have, or immediately find the numbers, and he wouldn’t be able to respond, not really, to whatever story she wanted them to tell.
He deletes the draft in a fit of pique. Really, if he’s that hung up on the first actual excuse he’s had to leave the house in weeks he should probably just message her or something. It’s not like he even thinks isolating from Affini is possible, and he did leave abruptly earlier. It’s just. He quickly searches how to spell the obscure plant word she’s chosen for a name to make sure he gets it right.
Disciplined and Punishing: Hi, is this Selaginella? I wanted to apologize for running out earlier.
He checks it over a few times and plays with the wording to minimize his odds of looking irreparably damaged before sending the message, confident he’s sent nothing that sounds remotely likely he’s barely coping with stress in a way that should legitimate the Affini medical system, in all its perverse incentives, consigning him to a life as a cute little mindlessly devoted slave girl.
She does not respond immediately, and he takes full advantage of the asynchronous conversation to turn off his tablet and alternate prepping mentally to deal with the the consequences of this new stupidity with figuring out dinner at an actual sane hour, while pretending he did not just message a fucking Affini. (Un)fortunately, his respite doesn’t last as long as he’d like.
Girlmoss: Yes!! This is Sela! I’m happy to hear from you flower! I was a bit worried I may have scared you off how are you? <3Disciplined and Punishing: I’m fine.
Of course he can’t leave it at that. That sounds extremely like what someone who is actually secretly not fine would say.
Disciplined and Punishing: I haven’t really gotten out much since the protests, and haven’t talked with any Affini. It was just a bit overstimulating. I’m fine.
Yes overstimulating suggests vulnerability, and vulnerability is dangerous around the Affini, but he has enough experience dealing with others’ concern to know that if he gives a little vulnerability others will latch onto that instead of pushing deeper; and this seems much safer than admitting how everything happening in the world has left him terrified and angry and alone.
Her response does not come for several moments.
Girlmoss: That is good to hear! I am very sorry for how our conversation went.Disciplined and Punishing: There’s nothing to be sorry for. Well, besides all the colonialism.
He winces. Yes, he didn’t hate the meeting for all his anxiety. But that is objectively, just a bad message to send to an Affini, meant as a reassuring joke or otherwise.
Girlmoss: Oh poppy we'd never apologize for coming to help such adorable little sophonts! <3
Well, at least she brushes it off, even if she does so in a way that is a perfect reminder of exactly why she should not be a friend. He takes a moment to calm his trembling hands.
Disciplined and Punishing: Anyway, I read through your comments and wanted to thank you for the feedback.Girlmoss: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
He’s not sure if Sela’s messaging style is her demonstrating some profound mastery of 7th dimensional condescension, or if Selaginella is just revealing shocking new facets of her personality. Regardless, it’s oddly endearing. Well, he muses, she’s been too universally endearing at this point for it to be odd.
Disciplined and Punishing: And I saw you mentioned a number of statistics about Terran captures in one post. I don’t know if those are available to Terrans, but I was wondering if I could ask you where to find that kind of data? Only if it would not get anyone in trouble of course!
Her next response takes a few minutes. Was she not supposed to say those after all? Panicked waiting has him half convinced she’s about to send him to domestication for asking.
Girlmoss: I am looking, and I do not think anything I mentioned is unavailable to the general public do you have any idea what the difficulty is?Disciplined and Punishing: I just can’t find any of it.Girlmoss: Perhaps, if it would not be overstimulating, we could arrange to meet again and try to figure this out?
He has to think about that. She is offering, hopefully genuinely, to help him find the kind of data he’ll need to make the argument sing. And, if anything helps him keep working and not get domesticated for the whole quasi-seditious vanity blog thing it would obviously be getting help from an actual Affini in researching. The fact that meeting Sela in person seems to bring out all sorts of contradictory, predominantly unpleasant, feelings can be ignored for the cause.
Disciplined and Punishing: Would you be willing to meet at the cafe again? And to agree on a few rules first?Girlmoss: Rules?Disciplined and Punishing: To keep things from getting overstimulating again.Girlmoss: Of course petal! What rules would you like?
He hates playing up his limits like this. Sure he’s worked on things, but, a part feels like being a failure. He still hates admitting that he can’t always just function through whatever because weakness is a privilege he can’t afford. Part feels like betraying the hard earned honest vulnerability he worked so hard with Sarah and Max and all the others to actually admit. Still, maybe falling back into bad habits is the right choice here; it’s time to see whether he can extract enough concessions to actually make this workable.
Disciplined and Punishing: No touching or threatening gestures, no offering or trying to drug me, don’t call me cute or adorable and no pet names?Girlmoss: That seems difficult! But I’m sure I can do it to help such an adorable little sophont like you!Girlmoss: Oh dirt this is hard! I will do better!Girlmoss: what should I call you if I cannot use pet names?Disciplined and Punishing: My actual name?Girlmoss: Dear you began visibly dissociating as soon as I mentioned your current name before! Using that is not on the table =(
He finds this entirely unfair. No matter what literally everyone says, he’s not that obvious. Affini just have xeno super senses or something like that.
Disciplined and Punishing: Dear is fine? “You” is better. Can we just avoid names?Girlmoss: Until we find one you like that will have to suffice you will not be allowed to delay forever! =DDisciplined and Punishing: Also can we not do this?Girlmoss: What?Disciplined and Punishing: Gendery stuff? Names, gently pointing out my dysphoria, hinting I should be on HRT or Gs or whatever you call them? I get that you want to help, but it’s kind of…Disciplined and Punishing: I was making progress on this stuff on my own terms before everything got interrupted and I just cannot deal with this and manage everything else until things settle a bit more.Girlmoss: Interrupted? What happened?Disciplined and Punishing: The Affini.
She doesn’t respond for a long while.