Chapter 1: Insidious Doubt

by DoctorNoah

Tags: #cw:noncon #dom:female #hurt/comfort #hypnosis #scifi #sub:female #sub:male #anxiety #dom:internalized_imperialism #drugs #f/f #f/m #f/nb #Human_Domestication_Guide #nonbinary_character #other_stuff_i_dont_even_know_yet #panic_attacks #slow_burn #sub:nb #toxic_masculinity

Hi all, thank you for reading my story! This work is set in the Human Domestication Guide universe alongside some other works inspired by @GlitchyRobo's original work

Harry slouched in a battered folding chair and nursed his thankfully cold synth-starch brew. He let his eyes wander around the space – he was in a claustrophobic room with aero-cement walls and small, street-level windows that diffused a shifting fuchsia light. It was a modest establishment, serving a meagre selection of chemical distractions, all of which led to some form of hangover. A handful of grisly patrons sat with their libations at a card table nearby, grousing about quotas, rations, and other mundanities. AI-gen country ballads droned in the background, complemented by the clinks of glasses and the muffled roar of heavy machinery from the street above. His eyes were drawn to the holo-display above the bar. Whatever channel had been playing was now co-opted by an Affini propaganda broadcast. A young woman with flushed cheeks and glassy eyes was speaking rapturously to the camera, looking every so often up and behind her for reassurance. She reclined against a mass of girthy vines, two massive green hands clasped around her knees. The Affini’s head was not even in-frame.

“What are the Affini even thinking?”

A querulous voice interrupted his reverie.

“They get these poor slaves wacked out of their gourds and have them parrot the most cultish shit I’ve ever heard.”

“Yeaaah, they couldn’t be more sinister if they tried,” Harry responded. “Our guys are clearly deplorable bellends but at least they aren’t pretending.”

Harry dragged his attention away from the screen and looked at his friend, Xavier Valois. Their brows were knit into a concerned tangle, and a smirk barely concealed behind their tattooed lips. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say that those infomercials are getting to you. I saw you staring at her. Are you sure you don’t want to be a doped-up little pet for a big strong alien?”

Harry playfully punched Xavier in the shoulder, but he felt his ears burning all the same.

Harry swiped his key card, pushed into his unit, and ripped off his oxygen mask in a practiced ritual. Oxygen levels were slowly rising on Memphis, but it would be another six months before he could walk home from the shuttle stop without collapsing. He grabbed a nutrient bar from the refridgerator, and ripped open the packaging over the sink. He scarfed it down, raining crumbs into the metal basin – this wasn’t the kind of food you savored. The next stage of his ritual was to down on the floor and do calisthenics. He didn’t have much to feel good about – at least he could hold his body together. Thirty minutes later he was laying on his back gasping, and he began to look aimlessly around his dark apartment. It was all there: kitchenette, toilet, cot, chair, infosplainment center. Fuck.Fuck.FUCK! It must be pulling screensaver images from his archives.

A smiling couple looked back at him. On the left was man with chestnut brown hair, wise eyes, and a cheeky expression. The woman had dark curly hair, intense brown eyes, and a gentle smile.

Don’t think about her, don’t think about her, don’t think about her, don’t think about her

He dragged himself to the cot and slapped a SomnoDerm patch on his neck.

Don’t think about her, don’t think about her, don’t think about her, don’t think about her

He mercifully plummeted into nothingness.

Early the next morning he deboarded the shuttle and took his place in the security checkpoint queue. The guards were hassling a woman about her dress code, something about her hair not matching the “coloration criteria.” He was pretty sure they were just enjoying making her panic. Everyone knew that a handful of demerits could earn you a month of extra shifts. Oh, and now one of them was making a pass at her. Wow. Coooool.

He used the time to space out and observe the sky. Wispy cirrus clouds high in the meager atmosphere played against the magnificent backdrop of the Osiris nebula. Columns and arches of gas and dust dominated the sky, glowing in different shades of purple. The billowing structures were punctuated by newborn stars in shades ranging from icy blue to a radiant vermillion. With no single star to call home, Memphis was perpetually illuminated by that diffuse fuchsia glow. The dense field of gas and dust surrounding Memphis supposedly obscured it from Affini scouts, making it an ideal hideout for the Terran Accord government and associated military organizations.

Harry finally made it to the front of the queue and displayed his badge. The larger, more harry guard scanned the badge and used a tablet to check a report that aggregated all of his movements and traceable electronic communications.

He put a hand on Harry’s shoulder, and with a shit-eating grin said, “you’ve been hanging around with Mr. Valois again I see. You should be careful. You wouldn’t want someone to think you’re a social deviant too.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Harry replied, his voice muffled by the transparent oxygen mask, and walked towards the entrance of the Memphis Terraforming Operational Headquarters.

In fear of running late, Harry rushed to board the transelevator. As he squeezed on, the doors automatically closed, and the metal box sickeningly lurched east towards the Orbital Technologies wing, and then seemed to double his weight as it accelerated towards the 15th floor.

He stumbled out the door and towards his desk in Satellite Operations. When he rounded the corner of his cubicle, Harry’s stomach turned and his forehead developed an impressive misting of flop sweat. Colonel Jaqueoff was there, jauntily leaning on the desk in his starched Terran Navy uniform, his goatee-rimmed mouth in a characteristic scowl.

“Mr. Pananski, you are expected to be in your office at least thirty minutes in advance of your shift. See to it that you don't waste my time in the future.”

I’M A FUCKING PHD, SHIT FOR WITS, he howled internally. “Yes Sir,” he externally replied.

“We have new requirements for the Orbital Fusion Laser Network. Beam intensity must exceed 200% of current yield.”

“What for? Current intensity levels are more than sufficient to vaporize CO2-containing mineral deposits.” This was a crucial component of terraforming any anoxic planetoid. Atmospheric CO2 would be required by the cyanobacteria, genetically engineered to spew oxygen at absurd rates.

“MISTER Pananski, you are not paid to ask questions. We expect a yield demonstration within two weeks”

“I’m not paid at all,” Harry muttered under his breath. He’d been drafted by the Terran Navy to lead satellite operation in support of the terraforming of Memphis three months after the start of the Affini conflict. Memphis was to be a secondary seat of operations for the Terran Accord and Navy in the event of the fall of Earth. His residential unit and nutrient requirements were his only “benefits,” everything else was for the glory of The Accord.

“Chin up, Pananski. You and your wife are doing crucial work for the war effort. Hannah’s leadership on Seborg’s Fury has saved many a crewman’s lives,” the Colonel remarked as he left the office.

“T-thank you Sir” Harry stuttered in reply, his eyes stinging at the mention of his wife. He felt like he was strapped into the ball-kicking machine again. Hannah was pulled from her civilian role as head of a trauma wing in New New York to be the chief medical officer for the Terran Navy heavy cruiser. He was off-planet on an assignment at the time, and hadn’t been able to say goodbye. All trans-planetary, non-essential communication had been prohibited. Harry hadn’t talked to Hannah in over two years.

Don’t think about her, don’t think about her, don’t think about her, don’t think about her

The ansible Harry used to chat with colleagues vibrated.

DethValois: drinks after work?

LaserSavant: I have to stay late. Jaqueoff ordered me to figure out how to double the orbital laser yield.

DethValois: WHAT?? why the fuck …

LaserSavant: I know, what could possibly be the point?

DethValois:  Maybe feelings of inadequacy? Does he think Daddy will finally be proud of him?

LaserSavant: Lol yes

LaserSavant: Wait …

DethValois: what?

LaserSavant: That’s enough juice to vaporize the uranic mineral deposits littering this shart-crack of a planet.

DethValois: no

DethValois: no way no

LaserSavant: Yes. It’d flatten this putrid grapefruit of a planetoid, not to mention deliver a fatal dose of radiation to anything within an AU. Remember what happened at Chernobyl IV?

DethValois: ugh, don’t remind me. what the fuck are they doing

LaserSavant: I don’t know, maybe we should just assume the Terran Navy is too dumb to have realized that.

DethValois: fingas crossed

Harry woke up the next morning to his alarm, tangled in his damp, clammy sheets. He ripped off the SomnoDerm patch, and laid there with fists clenched, letting his consciousness boot-up followed by a splitting headache.  He hadn’t returned home until 1:30 the previous night, so he didn’t expect to be feeling swell today. He climbed out of bed and shambled to the fridge to retrieve a nutrient bar. The infosplainment display flicked on to the morning news as programmed. Harry barely paid attention as he moved towards his traditional spot at the sink.

“BREAKING NEWS ALERT!” a male pundit announced excitedly.

“President Alvarez has officially signed terms of surrender on behalf of the Terran Accord. The Affini spokes-plant has said that all government functions are now managed by the Terran Protectorate under Affini control.”

The screen showed a recap of the President somberly walking to an easel, being handed a pen, and signing a rather ostentatious document the size of one of those novelty checks that GigaLottery gave to old married couples when they won. It read in bold text, “Human Domestication Treaty” and assumedly the same in Affini below. The camera cut to a live feed of the former President, standing with a dazed expression, dwarfed by a half dozen beaming Affini. He began to speak slowly and shakily from a teleprompter, in significant contrast to the last several years’ strident oratory.

“Hello fellow Terrans. Today marks the most significant transformation of humanity in recorded history. We must accept that we can no longer be in control of our own destinies, having squandered our potential, poisoned countless worlds, and abused ourselves and our neighbors. The Affini have released us from the responsibility of caring for ourselves, and we are better for it. The Affini guarantee that the physical and emotional needs of each and every one of us will not only be met, but exceeded. Those who desire it and those who cannot thrive without it will be domesticated and treated by the Affini as their beloved p-pets. I hereby resign my tenure as …”

Harry stood motionless over the sink. Humanity lost. Who knew what the Affini were really after, but the war was over. What was going to happen to him? Could he go home?

Can he see Hannah again? No. He couldn’t let himself think that. He couldn’t give in to hope. For her to be taken away again would destroy him.

The infosplainment feed cut to black, and was quickly replaced by a scene from a corporate conference room. General Mayota was seated in full parade dress, flanked by Colonel Jaqueoff and other military personnel.

“As you are all surely aware, the Terran Accord and Terran Navy have been decapitated by the Affini fleet. Our home world is choked by vines, our friends and family marked for slavery and death. But we cannot give up! We must fight until we Roundup every last one of these weeds! Mark my words - they will wither and burn. Henceforth, Memphis will serve as a critical center of operations for humanity’s resistance against ultimate evil. Each and every one of you must fight for our survival - and if necessary, die for it.”

The color drained from Harry’s face, and his vision began to tunnel. Static threatened to invade his consciousness as he braced himself against the cabinet. He slumped against the floor and struggled to keep his breathing even. After five minutes, he managed to mostly regain his numb composure, but internally he was in disarray. Why couldn’t he be stronger? Why didn’t he want to fight the Affini – sacrifice for his fellow humans? What good was working out even doing for him? He wasn’t even enough of a man to stay conscious through a fucking speech.

Harry left the half-eaten nutrient bar sitting on the counter, grabbed his oxygen mask, and headed for the shuttle.

Harry returned 14 hours later. His colleagues had run the gamut from imagining comically horrible torture techniques for hypothetical Affini prisoners, to wide eyed panic. He was too busy with the orbital array to think much about it. His deadline approached and the satellites’ micro-fusion reactors were not designed for the energy levels required by the new laser specs.

Harry finished the stale remainder of that morning’s nutrient bar, and lowered himself to the floor for his calisthenics routine. He couldn’t do it. Misery slipped through his palisade of numbness. He didn’t know what he was feeling, but it wasn’t good. He would have cried or screamed, but nothing came out. He was practically vibrating with nervous energy and had no outlet to safely disperse it.

Still laying on the floor, Harry activated the infosplainment display. Another channel had been hijacked by the Affini. The weeds apparently weren’t aware of Memphis, but they sure could bombard it with saccharine content. He was too lazy to change the channel, so he let a program called, “Sophonts’ Balm” play on. It featured a beatific Affini speaking directly to the camera. The facsimile of a human face had lavender skin the texture of rose petals, dew-speckled lips, and amber eyes that seemed to lazily shift and whorl in their depths. “Hello again my lovelies,” they spoke in a melodious feminine voice, “this show is for the lonely Terrans out there that we haven’t helped yet. I’m Miss Valeria. You can find me here every Terran day at this time to keep you company. To soothe any anxiety you may be feeling, let’s do a simple breathing exercise – just follow along with me – I’ll show you what to do. Sit up straight and breathe in slowly from your tummy, letting yourself fill up with air until you’re all full. Now hold it for a few seconds … and let it out very slowly. Breathe in again …”

Harry scoffed out loud to no one in particular, but a few cycles later acquiesced to her gentle instruction. To her credit, the beating of his heart began to slow, and his jangling nerves settled.

“Why don’t we take a little vacation in our minds?” Miss Valeria gently suggested. “Imagine that we are in a grove deep in the forest. You are lying down on a cushion of wild grass, and a warm wind caresses your skin. The air is spiced with the scents of wildflowers and fresh foliage. It’s late in the afternoon, and the local star’s golden rays chase away the chill. You hear the susurrus of leaves shifting in the breeze and the background hum of unseen insects. Your body begins to relax; any tension you hold is lovingly siphoned away. From the tips of your toes, up your calves, and into your knees; from your thighs to your waist, core, chest and shoulders; down your arms and into your fingers; up your spine and filling your head, your entire body is washed through with warm, fluid relaxation. You can let go of any thoughts and worries, because you know that you are safe in my grove. When these thoughts surface just observe them, and let the wind loft them away like so many dandelion seeds.”

Harry let this reality surround him and comfort him. For the first time in years, something was taking care of him. In that space, his skepticism of the Affini dissolved and he felt love embrace him from all sides.

But this moment of calm revealed a deep ache that had been smothered by the numbness of fear and routine. He could no longer ignore his crushing loneliness and his fear for His Wife. He had almost lost hope that they’d ever be re-united. He would do anything to just hold her and hear her voice, but he was stuck, and she was so far away.

His attention was brought back to the broadcast as Miss Valeria’s hour neared its conclusion. “Okay little ones, I dearly hope that I’ve helped you in some small way through this difficult time. It’s so important that you take care of yourselves as best you can until we reach you. Remember to get enough sleep, eat well, and drink plenty of water! And know that you can always contact us via encrypted ansible at spectral frequency code 12 35 98 74 96 33. Stay safe my beautiful saplings, I love each and every one of you.”

Feeling empty with Miss Valeria’s absence, Harry began his routine of preparing for sleep. He tried to rebuild his numbness, but the ache remained. And inside that ache was the tiniest splinter of an idea. Perhaps it was a seed, because try as he might, the idea grew, and blossomed, and became impossible to dismiss.

He was going to contact the Affini; he would make them find Hannah, and fuck anyone who tried to stop him.

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