Waking up was usually abrupt and accompanied by feelings of dread. Not this time. The boundary between sleep and wakefulness was indistinct, like a shallow tidal flat stretching into the distance. All that mattered was that Harry was so fuzzy and comfortable. He couldn’t summon a single complex thought. A wave of drowsiness rolled over him, gently dissolving his limited awareness.
When Harry next woke, he first noticed the comfort of the mattress beneath him and the silkiness of the sheets. He shimmied his body to luxuriate in the sensation. This also revealed that he couldn’t really move his arms or legs much. That should have scared him, but he couldn’t be bothered at the moment. There was a soft rustling, as from a summer breeze through leaves.
Harry was confused. He opened his eyes to see a small room. The walls were obscured by greenery gently lit by the ceiling’s moonlight glow. In the corner was an ornate iron lamp with a warm yellow bulb next to a pile of translucent plant matter. Harry thought the setup odd, but the surrounding vegetation made the room feel cozy and safe.
Harry noticed a transparent tube leading from a port on his bicep to a fluid filled bag on a stand above him. Cold panic lanced through his chemical ambivalence. His heart stuttered and began to beat with vigor. His mind filled with an accusatory cacophony, and his vision swam with images of gruesome injuries.
No, not again. Anything but that.
He thrashed around in his bonds in blind terror. Moments later, massive leafy hands grasped the sides of his head.
"Little one, look at me! Everything is okay, you are safe"
He felt a prick on his neck. Almost immediately, Harry's heart quieted and his thrashing became slow and subdued. He stared up at the Affini as commanded. Zeyva's swirling pink eyes dominated his vision.
"Oh deary deary. What was that all about? You seem to have picked up a touch of trauma somewhere."
Harry wasn't processing Zeyva's words, but her voice was so nice, and her eyes were so pretty.
Pretty plamt lady.
Damn. The lil guy barely woke up before getting triggered. She'd need to call the pet behavioral specialist onboard. Her precious snowflake had some serious trauma that needed processing. Thank the fertile soil, he had calmed down, and was now staring up at her wide-eyed. Absolutely adorable. Perhaps it was something in the Affini psyche, but she loved imposing calm on the helpless sophonts, whether by her drugs, hypnotic abilities, or other means. Using her considerable power to soothe and comfort was addictive, and practically a compulsion when it came to cuties like this. Her flower injectors were twitching with excitement, potent nectar gathering on their tips.
She rhythmically pet Harry's temples with her softest vines. Given the Class A and Class E she'd given him, this was guaranteed to calm his emotions and bring him into a light hypnotic state.
"That's it Harry. You're safe. You don't need to worry. I'm going to ask you to focus on my words, okay?"
Harry languorously nodded, still staring up at her.
"Can you tell me what happened just now?"
Harry whimpered, but managed to reply, "it's, it's the IV, the drugs, so scared."
For a split second, it looked like he might cry, but soon his expression returned to neutrality. Zeyva found this very strange – it was as if he was involuntarily pushing down his emotions.
She continued to pet his head, "Okay, thank you Harry, that's enough for now. You feel so tired, don't you?"
Harry paused for a second as the suggestion sunk in before nodding.
"That's okay, why don't you close your eyes and rest for a bit," said with a big smile.
His eyes slowly shut as Zeyva pet him to sleep.
When Harry next woke, he was much more alert. Almost the moment he stirred, he felt a hand on his forehead.
"Look at me little one"
He looked up and was immediately captured by those unearthly eyes.
"You had a little panic attack there! Before anything else, know that you are totally safe. I will personally ensure that you do not come to any harm. These are just fluids to help you heal. You were in a sorry state when we reached you. We have you restrained for now until we know you won't try to move too much."
Harry's voice caught, but he managed to croak out, "Yes, I understand. I'm sorry for freaking out. I don't know what came over me."
Zeyva rumbled in internal turmoil, “Don’t apologize, petal, whatever trauma you’ve suffered is certainly not your fault. But it is crucially important that we get to the bottom of this before it does you further damage.”
“Well, we are going to put you into a hypnotic state. That way I can learn what has happened to you without causing you undue pain.”
This wasn’t what Harry expected to hear. While Zeyva seemed genuine, he didn’t know what the hypnosis would entail, and didn’t want his head being fucked with. He felt his panic rising again as the world began to spin.
“Uh, is that necessary? Could I just tell you?”
“Absolutely not, little one! There is nothing to be nervous about. You are just going to keep looking in my eyes, and I’ll talk to you in a certain way, and you’ll begin to feel so calm and comfortable.”
When she put it that way it didn’t seem so scary; he decided to hear her out. Anyways, her eyes were so nice to look at, and her voice was smooth and lilting. His breathing slowed, and his fearful thoughts came to a trickle.
“That’s right, you’re safe with me. I’m just going to talk to you and hold you and protect you.”
Her large, leafy hands held his head, and her vines stroked along his body in beat with a song he couldn’t hear but deeply felt. The scent of lush tropical vegetation invaded his nostrils. His senses of sight, smell, touch, and hearing were pleasantly occupied by Zeyva’s attentions.
“And to help you into hypnosis, I’ll just count from five until zero. For every number I count, I’ll ask you to imagine yourself floating closer and closer to my eyes. Do you understand?”
Harry responded with a nod. It felt so natural as to be almost involuntary.
“Good,” she said with a warm smile, “when I say ‘five,’ you’ll feel yourself begin to drift. Four, you’ll relax more and more. Three, the closer you’ll drift the deeper you’ll feel. Two, my eyes will take up your entire field of vision. One, so close to my eyes now, you feel an irresistible attraction. ZERO! You break the barrier of my eyes, causing ripples to spread infinitely outwards. You are sinking now, deeper and deeper into my eyes and my will. So incredibly deep now. Your body feels pleasantly heavy and warm. You are blanketed in velvety darkness. Only my scent and my voice now, overwhelming you. My words are sap, dribbling into your cute little ears, filling you up with my warmth. So happy and safe and trusting. How are you feeling, darling?
“Mmm, nnice,” he mumbled.
“Oh, that’s wonderful. You’re so cute when you’re this deep. Now, I need you to tell me what happened in between our last message and when I found you. I know this is hard, so don’t think about what you’re saying just let it come out, and I’ll take care of the rest.”
“Okaay… just after my last message Colonel Jaqueoff had me arrested. The guards brought me to a cell and beat me up. Then they brought me to a bright room and strapped me to a chair. They put an IV in my arm and … and left me alone. I began to see and hear things – my friend, he - he was mutilated, she told me she didn’t love me …”
Even through the hypnosis, Harry’s expression was wretched. It took everything she had not to inject him with a class Z right there and send him to sleep.
“I don’t know how long I was there, but eventually they got me and brought me to that room. Jaqueoff beat me more, and - and”
Zeyva jumped in, “That’s enough little one, you’ve done so, so well. You’ve been through something terrible, and it will take time to heal, but in the meantime, it is better that you are not haunted by it. When I wake you up, you’ll only remember those events in the fuzziest detail. It will feel as though they happened in a dream. The memories aren’t gone, but we’ll only bring them forward when you’re feeling safe and ready. Now, I’ll count from one to five, and on the count of five you’ll wake up, still feeling warm and relaxed and comfortable.”
“Five … Four … Three … Two … One”
Harry opened his eyes to see Zeyva’s warm expression radiating down on him. Wow, she is incredibly gorgeous. He felt pretty nice, but he was a bit confused.
“Ummm, have you hypnotized me yet?”
She laughed musically, “Well, in my presence you’re always a little hypnotized, but we’re all done with your memories if that’s what you’re asking.”
He closed his eyes in thought for a long while before responding, “You know what … I want to digest what you’re talking about, but it’s going to have to wait. First of all, where are we, and how is Xavier?”
“You are aboard our ship and my home, the Sarracenia, I’ll show you around once you’ve recovered a little. Xavier is just a few rooms over. He sustained some more serious injuries, so we are still keeping him sedated.”
“Will he be okay?”
Zeyva smiled reassuringly and replied, “Yes of course! Our medical technology is quite advanced. While humanity has learned a great deal about medicine in the last several hundred years, we Affini have the advantage.”
Harry felt both relieved and ashamed. Xavier was alive, but Harry had put him in this position, hadn’t he?
“Little one, your expression is indecipherable, what’s on your mind?”
“I’m happy he’s safe … but I can’t help but feel responsible. I should’ve never involved him.”
“Listen little one, Memphis leadership was completely unaware of your sabotage. What happened to Xavier is entirely on those horrible ferals. Plus, I’m sure he was honored that you asked for his help. That’s an incredible declaration of trust.”
Harry nodded in grudging acceptance, “Maybeeee.”
"And what about Hannah … have you found her?"
Zeyva took a second to respond, her vines writhing with anxiety, "well, not yet, but we’re getting closer ..."
Harry raised his voice in agitation, "Zeyva, you promised! I want to know what's going on!"
Zeyva deflated a little in shame, “I didn't want to stress you with the details given your condition, but I can't keep you in the horse's shadow any longer. We’ve identified their call sign, so we can transmit and intercept messages, but unfortunately, they have not broadcast their location, not even to their allies. They’ll have to resupply, which is our best chance to catch them as it requires some coordination."
"But ... is she okay?"
"We haven't heard anything, so she’s likely fine."
"That's a strange way to put it.”
Zeyva paused, her vines vibrating angrily, "Well, we've received some disturbing reports since the signing of the treaty. Some rebel captains have been ... executing suspected Affini sympathizers. It seems that the holdouts have become increasingly radicalized."
Harry's heartbeat accelerated, "We - we can't wait, Zeyva! I can't lose her!"
Zeyva's vines stroked his hair and face. He couldn't tell whether it was supposed to soothe him or her.
"This is a stressful time for all of us little one, but capturing Seaborg's Fury is my division’s top priority"
"I just, I just feel so helpless. There's nothing I can do while Hannah could be vented any minute."
Zeyva paused in thought before speaking hesitantly, "Well, there is one thing you could do. I hate to even bring it up though. You deserve to rest, none of this is your responsibility anymore."
"Please, Zeyva! I'll do anything. Anything to keep her safe."
"Okay my little hero! But you have to do exactly as I say. Now that the Terran Cosmic Navy has disbanded, the ferals have lost access to civilian engineering experts like yourself. They are in desperate need. We can pretend that you escaped Memphis in a shuttle, and are requesting rendezvous with the Fury. Your authentic communications with your wife may play a role, and this is something you will have to be prepared for."
Harry was quiet for a while in thought before speaking slowly, "I'm afraid ... I'm afraid Hannah won't understand. What if she sees this as a betrayal? What if she doesn't forgive me?"
"I can't say, little one. You know her best, how do you think she would react?"
"I do know her best, and that's why I'm afraid. She's passionate, loyal, and principled. She's not squeamish around making sacrifices. What if she hates me for helping you? Am I a traitor, helping aliens subjugate humanity? I'm not even sure I can forgive myself, why should I expect her to?"
"Sweet pea, if you truly love someone you have to be very good at forgiving them. I think Hannah will try to understand, but you should forgive yourself as well. You’re doing what you must to protect yourself and the people you love." Zeyva paused for a moment, her leaves quivering with barely contained anxiety, before slowly speaking, "But Harry, are we that terrible? Do you hate us? Do you hate me?"
Harry smiled sadly and replied, "I don't think I could hate you if I tried, Zeyva. The thing is, you’re inarguably invaders, and you’re subjugating us. You tell us that you’ll make our lives better, but we have to trust that you have our best interests at heart. This is all the more difficult to accept when you come and infantilize us and our entire society."
“Hmm, not hating me is a good start. Now let’s work on moving towards love and adoration,” she said with a smirk. “I can understand why you view our methods as oppressive. Human society is culturally rich, but structurally horrifying. Economic inequality, human-supremacism, environmental disregard, prejudice, and more are baked into its fabric. Humanity has failed to address these issues, so we must provide a kinder system. The Affini have been around for some time and have served as caretakers for innumerable xeno-species. We live longer and are more capable, but we are not objectively better than individual Terrans.”
“Then how can you explain turning some into pets; taking away their agency?”
“Well, we are totally capable of making each and every sophont happy. If we find that an individual is at risk of causing harm to themselves or others, then we take them and guarantee their happiness. In most cases, this process is completely voluntary. That said, we’re fulfilled by nurturing, and many of us will take any opportunity to do so.”
Harry chuckled, “Zeyva, you keep on saying concerning things that aren’t even related to the current discussion.”
His expression became serious, “I’ve decided to help with your little operation. Even if she never wants to see me again, I need to know she’s safe.”