Zeyva Yvryn stood at the helm of the dropship as it descended through Memphis’s thin atmosphere. Now it was time to visit the Terran headquarters and ensure that all of those silly feralists were wrapped-up safely in Affini vines. She didn’t know Harry and Xavier’s exact whereabouts, but their last recorded locations were in the military facility. Normally, Zeyva would have relished the opportunity to lead this sort of operation. She loved finding creative ways to confuse, drug, hypnotize, and comfort the adorable rebels. This time, however, she couldn’t stop thinking about Harry. Was he scared? Hurt? She struggled not to assume the worst. But she was a professional, and her little one needed her.
The dropship hovered over the installation. It was an enormous triangular building constructed entirely from blast-resistant hydrocrete. The slanted walls were marred only by tiny slit-like windows. It seemed like the militant Terrans had rediscovered an ancient architectural style called Brutalism. One of her favorite facts was that Brutalism was named after the French brut, meaning “raw!” Fascinating.
The cabin tinkled with sound of projectiles bouncing harmlessly off the hull. In a matter of milliseconds, the Terrans’ Typho-Zalex autoturrets were permanently silenced by a barrage of invisible EM bursts. The rear hatch of the dropship lowered, and squad after domestication squad jumped into open air.
Zeyva moved towards the hatch and turned to address her squadron. The four Affini had diverse forms, but were all trained in tactical domestication. She trusted them as much as anyone.
“We exit the dropship and enter the complex through the skylight in the central atrium. Then, our squad will infiltrate the bunker facility and apprehend the Terran leadership. This will also most likely be the location of any hostages.”
The Affini commandos signaled their understanding, and streamed after Zeyva off the ramp and into freefall. They fell in line, one after another, their bodies taking on teardrop shapes with their vines trailing behind. Zeyva hurtled towards the skylight and lanced through, massively deforming the shatterproof polymer. Her trailing vines latched onto the edge of the opening and slowed her descent, until she landed, cat-like, in a crouched stance. Less than a second later she was joined by the rest of her squadron, each Affini arrayed outwards in a circular formation.
After a moment of shocked stillness, the half-dozen Terrans in the room began to shout and wildly unload their laser cartridges. Zeyva launched herself in the direction of two terrified Terrans and vine whipped the weapons from their hands. While most of her colleagues did the same, Calostoma, a cuddly looking Affini with red velvet vines, squished the bulbous protuberances lining her chest, releasing billowing clouds of spores. Unsurprisingly, the former soldiers were not equipped with respirators, so it was a simple matter of petting them and murmuring to them as they were inexorably drawn into a pleasant stupor.
They collected the limp ferals and arranged them into a spooning chain. Then, Drosera liberally drizzled them with thick ropes of translucent goo, carefully avoiding their airways. Beyond being satisfying to play with, the goo’s purpose was two-fold. First, it was incredibly viscous and would make escape impossible, even for a fully conscious human. Second, the goo was laced with a transdermal class E xenodrug, ensuring that the little ones stayed nice and docile until the subdueance teams arrived.
As the squad advanced towards the central transelevator hub, an Affini voice began to pipe out of the speakers, backed by a complex, subtly-shifting beat.
“Hello sweet Terrans. Don’t be afraid. We are the Affini and we’ll help each and every one of you. Wouldn’t it be so much easier not to fight us? You can just lay down your weapons. We won’t let anyone hurt you ever again. Just relax and think about how nice it will be to let go of the stress and the fear. I’m going to count, and with every number I say …”
Roots, Comm Squad was doing good work, Zevya thought. They had quickly infiltrated the Terran communications center, and the backing quartet was putting down some choice fractaline subliminals. She’d have to remember to compliment them when Operation Naptime concluded successfully. The poor quality of Terran loudspeakers stunted the power of the hypnotic announcements, but in previous engagements had fully subdued a quarter of hostile combatants, and reduced friendly-fire incidents by a factor of ten. Everything was going swimmingly according to the digital updates from the other squads.
The central hub was a large hexagonal room with six transelevator columns sprouting from floor to ceiling. In front of each was an enclosed guard booth, but all appeared empty except for two. The room was swarmed by a dozen or more feralist combatants. When the Affini entered, most of the Terrans raised their rifles and began to fire. Two had their weapons in hand, but were obviously struggling to pull the trigger. The cute little seeds. The interaction went largely as the first did, with exciting vine action, plentiful xenodrugs, and a group gooping. A racket was coming from one of the guard booths. It looked like a male-presenting Terran was angrily smashing at the booth door with the butt of his rifle. A second Terran was crying, huddled in the corner. Zeyva’s heart ached; this was the tough part about Affini lockdown procedures – some Terrans responded poorly to confinement.
Drosera sprang into action, using a caustic sap to burn a small hole through the plastic. Calostoma came in behind, and released a single puff of spores into the booth. In a matter of seconds, the angry Terran dropped his weapon and leaned his head on the door, and the other slipped off of their chair and out of view.
While Drosera entered the booth to soothe and goo the drooping Terrans, Zeyva moved to the door of the other occupied booth, and waved at the embracing inhabitants. They stood in the middle of the space. The male was tall for a Terran, well over two meters. His eyes were closed and he was shaking. The female was much shorter, and was hugging him around his arms and chest. Getting no obvious response, Zeyva gingerly opened the door and peeked her head in. The hypnotic broadcast was playing softly in the background.
“Hello little ones, I’m going to squeeze in here. Don’t worry, I’m here to help you.”
The tall one continued to shake, but the short one lifted her head and looked at Zeyva with sad, tired eyes.
Zeyva spoke to her as she slowly moved towards the pair.
“Will you tell me what’s upsetting you, crocus?”
She looked away and winced.
“It’s okay, you can tell me what you feel”
“T-the weed lady says that you’re gonna save us and take care of us, but the officers say that you’ll kill us or turn us into slaves.”
“Aww, you’re so scared and confused, aren’t you?”
The short one nodded hesitantly.
“Thankfully, everything the nice plant lady said is true. Now I’m going to come closer, and give you something to help you relax, okay?”
She nodded again. Zeyva fully entered the room and gathered the two humans in her vines. She retrieved a tendril from her interior loaded with pink berries and plucked one for each terran. They hesitantly popped them into their mouths. The shorter one shivered with pleasure at the taste. Zeyva was fairly certain that fresh fruit hadn’t been part of their diets for a while, and she had worked hard on the flavor of those berries. A flavor that was designed to bind to human taste receptors and directly trigger a relaxation response.
“That’s it, let the warmth chase away your fear. My perfect darlings.”
She stroked their heads with her vines as they both melted into her grasp. The tall one’s shivers quieted and he let out a sigh. She then placed them on the ground and arranged them back in their original embrace.
“I’m going to have to leave now sproutlings. I’m going to lock the door again, and someone will be here to pick you up in just a few minutes. Okay?”
Zeyva took their satisfied expressions as an affirmative and retreated from the booth.
With the chamber cleared, each Affini boarded a separate transelevator capsule. Even so, the tiny capsule was a little small for her comfort. She sent a digital message to the tech team, and the transelevator accelerated over a kilometer into the rock.
Zeyva and the rest of the squad exited the transelevators and assembled in the small foyer. The immediate area was strangely deserted. The tech team had sent a map of the bunker level with the location of the military personnel, and it was time to initiate the final stage of Operation Naptime.
For the third time in twenty-four hours, Harry was lying with his face pressed against the cold floor. Just minutes ago, they had yanked out the IV, dragged him down the hall and thrown him in this room. It was a rather large space with bunks along one wall and doors leading to washrooms and food storage. The overhead lights were bright and flickering, but Harry wasn’t thinking about that, or anything else really. His mind made no distinction between his current predicament and the unending stream of horrible visions that preceded it.
The guards dragged in a figure wearing a tattered navy overcoat, and dumped them on the floor near Harry. They appeared to wink at him through a swollen eye, but Harry didn’t process it.
Someone was yelling, and the guards moved to shut the massive door that dominated one wall of the room. It was metal and several feet thick. The door smoothly slid into its frame, and a dozen hydraulic actuators inserted themselves into the surrounding wall.
A man with a goatee grabbed Harry by the shirt and shook him. He was screaming into his face, covering it with spittle. It was something about being “a disgrace to humanity,” and “the first to die.” Harry didn’t respond as that would have required thinking or caring. The man hit Harry across his face with the back of his hand, and allowed him to slump back to the floor.
Harry blacked out for a bit.
He was ruthlessly dragged from the void by the squeal of every electronic device in the room. An alien voice echoed.
"Greetings, little ones! This is Zeyva Yvryn, Seventh Bloom. We have control of the entire facility. You have no hope of escape. Lay down your weapons and I can guarantee that this will be a … pleasant experience for each of you."
The general screamed his response, sounding small and weak in comparison.
“Hah, you must think us so naïve! We would rather DIE than give in. We are human! You cannot break our spirit! You will never brainwash us! You will never turn us into your pathetic slaves!”
Zeyva replied in a tone usually reserved for toddlers, “Oooh, you must be the General, huh? What a feisty one you are! Say what you will, the outcome will be the same.”
“You underestimate us! Do you want to be responsible for the deaths of innocents? If not, I suggest that you do as I say. Clear the facility, leave the planet, and our poor hostages will keep their lives.”
“Naughty naughty! You are going to be a delight to break. Some lucky Affini is going to take such pleasure in watching you beg to be theirs! And you seem so very repressed. I bet you have all sorts of hidden desires that your loving owner will pull out of you.”
"ENOUGH YOU GAY VEGETAL FUCK! LET’S SEE WHAT YOU SAY WHEN I KILL THE FIRST HOssu"
The general's tirade was interrupted by a gasp as a line of vicious thorns appeared to sprout from his neck and torso, dumping purple venom into his veins. Harry's mind caught up to a room filled with the cacophony of rending metal and the ffwip-ffwip of projectiles. All around the room the hostage takers collapsed. Vines sporting clusters of empty seed pods retracted back into ceiling vents. The same vents began to spew a sparkling lilac mist.
The room fell silent for a moment, and then erupted into screams from the terrified hostages. As the mist pooled in the room, the chaos ebbed, and the cries turned to quiet sobbing and whimpers.
Harry laid on the ground, his heart thundering in his chest. The smell of petrichor and lavender filled his nose. As soon as it entered his lungs, Harry's thoughts began to slow, and a wave of comfort fizzed over him. His muscles involuntarily relaxed, leaving him to puddle on the ground. His fears were deadened by the overwhelming sense of calm imposed by the drugs.
The pistons in the huge door retracted with a hiss. The door slowly swung open, and the Affini streamed in. They were enormous, and exhibited a startling array of botanically constructed bodies. On the left was a hulking male form rippling with viny sinew, shaggy with moss. The face was crudely hewn from hardwood, but it delivered an expression of steady kindness. On the right was a tall, slim female form sheathed in velvety birch bark. Their face was elegant and formed from subtly ridged leaves, highlighting eyes that emitted a warm glow. In the center was a shapely figure formed from tightly packed and tortuous vines. They had an unusual knobby texture and the slight translucence of a desert succulent, hinting at a cushiony give. The face exhibited the same succulent characteristics. Pink pastel blooms exuberantly shot up around the figure's shoulders and hips. Their four eyes had the same pastel shade, and glinted in the glare of the artificial overhead lighting with a focused intensity.
Satisfied with the incapacitation of the hostage takers, the lead Affini's eyes softened and they began to speak.
"Hello little ones, I am Zeyva Xyvrn, 7th Bloom. Please don't be afraid, you are all safe now. We have released a medicated vapor to soothe you. I am so sorry darlings; we typically release sedatives in advance of a tactical operation, but that was impossible in the present circumstances. Please let yourself relax. Breathe in as slowly as you can ... hold your breath ... and now breathe out slowly. Again, breathe in ... hold ... and breathe out. Continue just like that. Each breath you take and each word I say makes you more relaxed, safe, and deeply comfortable."
Harry felt himself dropping into a familiar sleepy place, almost as if he'd been conditioned to do so. He didn't mind being unable to move. He was safe and nobody was going to hurt him.
"Now my lovelies. My friends and I are going to bring you to our ship. We are giving each of you special collars and bracelets. They'll keep track of your location and will intervene if you experience elevated stress, or are likely to hurt yourself or others. If you can't stay awake that's alright, we'll take care of everything. The muscle relaxants in the vapor will make it difficult for you to walk, so don't be embarrassed about being carried! Also, tell us if you are experiencing pain or anxiety. You don't need to suffer anymore."
The Affini slowly flowed through the crowd, lifting and comforting the Terrans. They spoke in soft, resonant tones seemingly designed to pacify, and used their vines to gently stroke their bodies.
It was in that comfortable stupor that he noticed the large Affini kneeling down in front of him.
Zeyva was shocked by Harry's condition. On top of the expected signs of inadequate nutrition, his normally gorgeous eyes were bloodshot and his pupils were unusually small, his jaw was swollen, his stubbly chin was matted with dried blood, and his breath was labored, every exhale accompanied by a pitiful wheeze.
Oh my precious Harry, what have they done to you? If only we could have arrived just a day earlier. This is all my fault.
She forced her face to display confidence and compassion, but her vines were writhing in turmoil. She wasted no time and signaled an Affini medic.
She didn't move Harry in his current state, but she cradled his face and gently burrowed her most delicate vines through his wavy hair. She looked into his eyes filled with confusion and exhaustion.
"I'm here Harry, it's me, Zeyva. You've been so brave, and smart, and kind. I'm proud of you, petal. I promise that you'll never come to such harm again."
This was apparently the large, green plant-woman with whom he'd been chatting via orbital death array. She was impressive, moving with a speed and grace that belied her huge mass. He had no doubt that a lazy swing of one of her larger vines, each the diameter of his thigh, would crush any bone in his body. But she was also magnetic in a way people rarely were. Her words resonated in him and her presence was somehow perceptibly warm.
She tenderly grasped his head with her vines and he was immediately overwhelmed. The feeling was instantly addictive. The vines had a satiny smoothness and soft give. A single stroke was enough to burn the sensation into his memory, never to be forgotten.
As he laid, he stared directly up into Zeyva's four misty eyes. For essentially being oversized dew-drops, they conveyed incredible emotion. It was as if they were beaming pride, concern, adoration, and care directly into his brain.
He didn't really hear what she was saying, but he was totally surrounded and consumed by her kind intentions.
The vines running though his hair gave him an initial electrifying jolt, but quickly aligned with the orchestra of her eyes, her words, and his slowing breathing.
A medic arrived and quickly triaged him, and then gingerly lifted his body, depositing him into some kind of bag. The fabric was cool and soft. He barely noticed as his legs and arms were strapped in, and the bag was zipped closed. It seemed to inflate, pressing all around him and comfortably keeping his limbs and head in place.
Zeyva stopped petting him and it looked like she needed his attention.
"Little one, we like to keep rescues awake during transport to reduce their confusion, but that's not appropriate for you in your condition. I'm going to give you something to make you sleep. Do you understand?"
Harry nodded, but it seemed that Zeyva sensed his trepidation.
"Don't fret, my darling, I'll be with you the whole time. See you when you wake up," she said, and winked with the eyes on the left side of her face.
As he was distracted pondering the meaning of that particular gesture, Zeyva produced a large lilac flower. She gently pressed it to his face, triggering the petals to wrap snugly around his head, and bury his nose in its fuzzy core. He was overwhelmed by the irresistible perfume. His body felt like it was being submerged in warm honey.
"That's right, cutie. Let the drowsiness take you." she murmured in a voice that reverberated around him and transmitted adoration, calm, and a suppressed hunger.
He looked up at her as if from the bottom of a well. His eyes drifted closed, deep comfort drowning his dwindling consciousness.