Harry glanced out of the Sarracenia's kilometer-tall observation window. Tractor vines were wrapped around the angular hull of Seaborg's Fury and were slowly drawing it towards the Sarracenia's maw. Once a gem of the Terran Cosmic Navy's fleet, the empty vessel was barely a fleck of dust compared to the Affini ship.
He paced in circles around a Terran white oak, waiting for news. He knew through the coms that Hannah was safe, but nothing more.
Harry felt a tap on his shoulder. He swiveled around to look for its source.
"Up here little one!" trilled a familiar voice. Harry looked up to see a jubilant Zeyva peering down at him. She whipped her vines around his limbs and core, and bodily dragged him up into the foliage. He yelped as Zeyva pulled him into an embrace and squeezed him tight.
Harry laughed, "I assume from your mood that the mission was a success?"
Zeyva beamed a smile back at him, "By all critical metrics yes."
To Harry's nose, Zeyva had an unusually smokey odor. He leaned back in her grasp to give her a once over. Concern grew on his face as he surveyed sliced vines and singed foliage. "Zeyva, what happened to you?"
She rumbled with uncertainty before answering, "Nothing permanent. Hannah is safe … but she attacked me when I tried entering the medical bay. She thought I was after her patients, and put a few holes through me with her pistol. She was also a bit of a terror with that ancient knife."
Harry was still for a moment, processing this new information. "Can I see her? I want to talk to her."
"I'm afraid not yet, little one. She's still sleeping off the Class Zs. Also, I expect she'll need to come to terms with her new … situation."
"Wha- what do you mean?"
"Due to her rebel status and capacity for violence, she is on track for immediate domestication. As the one who subdued her I have 'dibs' and I've decided to take her as my floret."
Harry slumped in Zeyva's vines, ears ringing. "You can't take her … you just can't! She was doing what she thought was right!"
She held Harry's hands in hers in an attempt to soothe him. "Yes, she may have had good intentions, but this is for her own welfare. It's not safe for her to be alone and unsupervised."
Harry ineffectively tried to tug his hands away, "She wouldn't be alone, she has me!"
"I'm sorry darling but this is our way. If I didn't claim her somebody else would have. I thought you would rather her be with me than with a stranger," she calmly explained.
"I … I can't believe you would take her from me."
Zeyva looked at Harry. She tried to conjure a comforting rebuttal, but the words didn't come.
Harry looked back, his eyes filled with hurt. "Please put me down, Zeyva."
"Harry, let's talk, I'm sure that we can -"
"I said PUT ME DOWN," he forcefully interrupted.
Zeyva's vines writhed in anguish as she lowered Harry to the ground and watched him walk from the park.
LaserSavant: Are you free?
DethValois: Yeah, Cali just got back to the Hab and we're hanging in the outdoor garden. What's up?
LaserSavant: Okay, I'll be over in 15
DethValois: What's going on?
Harry walked onto a thankfully empty transport pod and sat in the only human-sized seat. Straps slithered out from the sides to wrap around his chest and waist. It was comfortable but embarrassing, just like most things in Affini society. He entered the address through his tablet, and the pod dinged in cheery affirmation. It rose up in the air to settle beneath a transparent tube suspended from the ring's distant ceiling. Other pods whizzed above him at absurd speeds.
A portal opened up in the tube to accept the pod. Harry heard the faint thrum of air being sucked from the chamber. Within seconds, a portal on the wall leading to the tube's cavernous interior opened, and the pod continued through. The pod began to move down the tube at first imperceptibly, but soon it was accelerating so quickly that his body was pushed deep into his seat. This lasted for about a minute, in which time the countless parks and structures below turned into a green blur, and the blurs within the tube resolved into other pods.
A pod carrying an Affini and their floret raced alongside him. Safely held in their owner's vines, the human had no need for the special seat and harness. They were smiling up at their Affini with an expression of enthralled adoration. It seemed that their owner was their entire world, a condition that affected most, if not all, florets. The Affini, sporting four eyes and a flamboyant frond sprouting from its forehead, noticed him staring and waved back with a smile. Harry didn't have the energy for the interaction so he just turned away.
Luckily, it wasn't long until the parallel pod changed course and decelerated away behind him. He sighed in relief, rid of the reminder of what would soon befall Hannah.
A notification popped up on his tablet.
VerdantVeranda: Hello little one –::} Is everything alright? I saw you alone in that transport and you looked so sad! I just had to pull-up the passenger manifest and check in with you!! –::}
Harry groaned, but he knew that they would probably not leave him alone until he responded. Why couldn't they mind their own business?
LaserSavant: I'm fine. I'm going to see a friend. Thanks for checking in.
VerdantVeranda: Okay cutie, that's good. Just reach out if you need someone and know that I'll be keeping an eye or two on you! –;;}
An introspective five minutes later, his seat swiveled in the opposite direction and he was again pushed back into the upholstery as the pod decelerated.
Finally the pod stopped, exited through an airlock, and flew a kilometer or so over the residential district. It made its way to Calostoma's hab and settled down over a sandy patch in the front.
The straps retracted and Harry exited. The building itself seemed to be carved from rock that was riddled with cavities. Around the left side was a narrow path between two tall rock faces. Harry steadied himself by placing his hands on opposing sides, black with lichen and slick from condensation. Gaps in the rock teemed with fungi and moss. He followed the winding path, eventually finding a cozy, open-ceiling grotto with a deep pool at its center. Calostoma was spread out along the water's edge with a few vines dangling in. Xavier laid against her, legs crossed.
Calostoma looked up first, having heard Harry the moment he started down the path.
"Oh hello Harry! Is everything alright?" came her cheery greeting.
Xavier turned their head towards him curiously. Harry recognized the effects of xenodrugs in Xavier's heavy-lidded eyes and sluggish movement.
"Hi Calie, hi Xavier. I'm alright … well, I don't know actually," he responded uncertainly.
Xavier stood up, a little unsteady, and wobbled over to give Harry a big hug. "I'm glad that you're back safe from that mission. I didn't like either of you being there," they stated, looking back towards Calostoma for emphasis.
Calostoma had already collected herself and was on her way to envelop both in her warm red arms. "Now, what's going on little one?"
"They got Hannah. They're going to domesticate her. Zeyva is going to take her," he said, his voice almost dispassionate.
Calostoma led him over to sit on a large toadstool by the water, but kept a soft vine around his shoulders. Xavier settled down, cross-legged in their minder's lap.
"Yes, I had heard as much," Calostoma tentatively replied. "What about that is bothering you?"
"It's just so wrong. Hannah is a good person, she won't be a danger to you or anyone else. I thought Zeyva was going to get her back. Now she's just a prisoner of somebody else."
"You know, Zeyva will do anything for Hannah. She'll be happy. More than she ever could be outside of Affini care."
"If you mean that Zeyva won't let her be sad by keeping her drugged then yes," Harry remarked sourly.
Xavier's eyes became downcast, something that Calostoma seemed to immediately pick up on. While feeding Xavier a vine to hold onto, she carefully responded, "It's true that mind-altering substances are widely used in domestication. In the majority of cases, drugs are employed only when medically or psychologically necessary. In others, it plays a recreational role in some previously decided upon relationship dynamic."
"What about the other cases then? What if someone has been tagged as violent?"
"Well, if a sophont is at risk to hurt themselves or others, they are often put on a xenodrug regime that keeps them calm and happy - along with therapy and lifestyle changes of course."
"What's to stop an Affini from deciding that their floret is easier to handle all doped-up?"
Calostoma's vines shifted jerkily in mild frustration. "Let's put it this way - do you trust that Zeyva will make the best choices for Hannah's care?"
Harry paused for a second before replying, "I would have before. I'm not sure now."
"Darling, did Zeyva do anything to betray your confidence? If so, I'm sure she would want to know."
Harry felt immediately indignant, but he struggled to come up with a reason to mistrust his new plant friend. "I don't know. I just didn't think things would turn out like this."
Xavier spoke up, "How do you feel about this business? What are you afraid of?"
"I … I'm not sure," Harry replied, frowning slightly.
Calostoma jumped in, "I'm proud of you for admitting that you don't know! Can I help you explore those emotions? I have a graft for a gentle class-D blend that would do quite nicely."
Harry tensed up at the offer. Noticing, Calostoma began to pet down his back with several vines. "Do I really need drugs for that?" Harry questioned.
"Well, probably - unless you want to spend several months in therapy first." Then, in a subtly resonant tone she suggested, "I really think this could help you, dear."
Harry's eyes unfocused briefly as Calostoma's hypnotic overtones pulsed through him. "O-okay."
"Very good darling - why don't you come over here and get comfortable," she said, gesturing to a depression in her vines next to Xavier. She guided Harry to the spot, and helped him down into a reclined position, rubbing his back all the while. She pulled out a magenta bloom and presented it to him, "All I need you to do is take a deep breath from this."
Still in the thrall of Calostoma's voice, Harry did as instructed, filling his lungs with the drugged vapor. He felt a warmth bloom in his chest, which quickly began to spread throughout his body and radiate waves of languid pleasure. He let his muscles go limp as he simply enjoyed the feeling for a moment.
"You're doing so well, Harry," Calostoma murmured, "I can see that you're nice and relaxed. Are you ready to chat?"
"Yes, I think so," he tentatively responded. He felt a bit odd. The love pouring off of Calostoma was palpable. It was as if whatever barriers he had erected between them no longer mattered. The lack of emotional constraints had him feeling almost giddy.
"How do you feel about Zeyva taking Hannah as her floret?" Calostoma asked.
"I'm … angry? It's almost like a pot of something noxious is bubbling inside me. I'm also sad, and scared."
"Poor thing," Calostoma murmured while running her vines through his hair. "What are you afraid of?"
"I'm not scared of Zeyva hurting Hannah, I trust her. Maybe I'm afraid of losing Hannah? Maybe I feel like I've already lost her."
"Hmmm, are you angry with Zeyva?"
"A little? She could have made sure I understood what might happen. I'm more angry that this happened at all."
"Are you angry with yourself?"
Harry paused to consider before answering, "... Yes. Maybe I could have done something to prevent this."
Calostoma looked down at Harry with understanding, "You can't control how Zeyva or Hannah behave. You did what you could. But why do you say that you've lost her?"
"I don't know. Maybe she won't be the same once she's domesticated. Maybe she won't love me anymore." Immense sadness bubbled up through him. His face scrunched up and his eyes stung with the beginning of tears.
"That's not what domestication entails - if she loved you before, she'll love you after as well," Calostoma said as she pet his hair in long, soothing strokes.
He grunted in assent, but internally he was unconvinced. The fear was too deep-seated to be allayed by any Affini argument.
"Why don't you stay here with me and Xavier tonight, little one? I'll cook something nice for us and I'll give you a class-Z to help you sleep. You've had a hard day and you've been very brave. Things might seem brighter tomorrow."
"Thanks, Cali. Maybe you're right," Harry mumbled nestling into her vines, seeking comfort.
Zeyva flowed along the back arc of the Sarracenia's helm towards Captain Orchis's ready room. Affini technicians chattered amongst themselves in the background, busy monitoring the ship's status and supervising efforts to care for the captured cuties. There was an energy in the room that tended to accompany the ingestion of a new batch of rebels. Zeyva, in contrast, was quivering with anxiety; had she made a mistake in taking Hannah? Had she pushed Harry away; lost her chance at capturing his little heart? These were thoughts for later, for now it was time to brief the Capitan.
She alerted the Captain to her presence via mental link, and seconds later, the door opened. Captain Orchis met Zeyva at the door with a warm hug, holding her subordinate's vines in her own. "Congratulations, Zeyva, on a flawless mission!" Her floret, Jabiru, was curled up in their fluffy nest below the captain's desk, beak whistling softly in their sleep.
"Thank you Captain," she responded modestly, "All 321 feralists are aboard the Sarracenia. Several self-inflicted injuries were sustained by the cuties but we expect them all to make full recoveries."
"The poor pooor things get so panicked don't they? In any case, the ship is absolutely buzzzing with excitement over our new guests - I hear it's already getting quite competitive between prospective owners."
Zeyva nodded in agreement, many Affini had traveled all the way from the core worlds to have a shot at making a floret out of an adorable, albeit feisty human.
"But you don't have that problem, do you Zeyva?" the Captain slyly continued, "I heard that you've laid claim to the ship's medical chief?"
Zeyva's core burbled discordantly, "Well, yes. She is quite a spicy one - she lopped off a couple vines before I could safely subdue her."
"They say that the most vicious florets end up being the most loyal," the Captain responded nostalgically. "Something is bothering you though."
Noticing Zeyva's hesitation, Captain Orchis leveraged her vines to push Zeyva towards taking a seat. "Well, out with it! I can't have my friend struggling alone," she said with an encouraging firmness.
"When I told Harry that I was taking Hannah, he was upset. I was so surprised! I thought he would be happy," Zeyva started, her biorhythms anxious.
The Captain thrummed in acknowledgement, prompting Zeyva to continue.
"I'll keep her safe with me. I'll make her so happy! But it's almost as if Harry thinks I'm trying to take her away from him."
"It's really the opposite though, isn't it?" the Captain interjected, "You want them together under your boughs. Once Hannah submits he won't be far behind."
"Do you think so?" Zeyva questioned hopefully, "The little Terrans can be so stubborn."
"Of couuurse daaarling," Orchis purred, "Bonded pairs won't stay separated for long. And if our little friend is being particularly stubborn, we have ways of nudging him onto a healthier path."
"Yes, you're right aren't you? I'll use all the tools at my disposal. It will be for the best." Her thoughts settled, Zeyva's rhythm dropped into harmony with her brethren. A song that exulted in the joining of Affini and their new florets.
Hannah began to stir, dropping out from her dream. She groaned. Back to the real word huh? It was a good one too, something involving parkour on giant toadstools. She was so damn sleepy - and comfortable too - she was in a nest of satiny pillows and blankets. Well, time to make sure nobody dies today.
In the middle of her pathetic attempt to climb out of the cozy pit, Hannah froze. This wasn't her bed on the Fury. Definitely not. Why couldn't she remember? Her mind was moving so slowly. Staring at the intricate leafy pattern on the pillow in front of her, it finally clicked. She'd dueled the giant plant monster. She forced her mind to clear with considerable effort. She was a prisoner, but it didn't seem like the plants were particularly worried about her escaping. That would be their first mistake.
As she restarted her climb, two issues became apparent. It was a bit nippy outside of the nest, and she was totally naked. So they wanted her humiliated too. As she pondered her next move, she heard slithering vines and rustling leaves from behind. She froze, unsure of what she'd be met with.
"Helllloooo, sweet pea! Did you have a pleasant rest?" came a cheerful, musical voice. It was the same damn plant.
Hannah turned around and momentarily stopped breathing. The Affini was massive, with a curvy figure and translucent pale green flesh. Her eyes seemed to hold incredible depths. She had so much presence that everything else in the room lost its importance.
"Darling, what's wrong? Let me help you out of bed," the four-eyes plant alien said, sending vines surging towards her.
"NO!" Hannah yelled, blanched white with eyes wide. She felt exposed and vulnerable. The vines paused, wiggling in mid-air all around her as she curled into a fetal position.
"Dirt, you don't remember much do you?" the Affini mumbled to herself. More confidently she said, "Little one, there's no need to be scared, I have absolutely no interest in doing you harm."
Hannah felt the voice in her body this time, rich overtones reverberating through her. Immediately, the fear drained from her, leaving her feeling simply confused. "Who are you, and what am I doing here?"
"Well, I'm Zeyva Yvrin, Seventh Bloom, I captured you on Seaborg's Fury after our delightful little fracas. What you are doing here is a touch more complicated."
"I'm … I'm listening," Hannah tentatively replied.
"You're aboard the Affini science vessel, Sarracenia. Specifically in my habitation unit. Even more specifically, you're in your cute little pet bed. Now, about what you're doing here - you're my floret."
Hannah frowned and shook her head, "What's a floret?"
"I'll explain, but first I'd like you to unravel yourself from that little knot, it looks quite uncomfortable." Zeyva suggested.
"I'ma need some clothing first, hun," Hannah quipped back.
Zeyva giggled. She responded, "Fair enough," as she swept out of the room. The plant monster flowed back a moment later with a fuzzy lilac gown.
Hannah reached out a hand to grab it, but the giant green woman took it as an opportunity to lift up her arms and slip the shapeless garment over her head. Hannah yelped at the unwanted contact, but quickly recovered after realizing how much warmer she felt.
"Now, you asked about florets. Simply put, florets are our pets. Our purpose in the universe is to make it the best place possible for all sentient life, and what better way than to adopt an adorable sophont and make their life wonderful? After all, you have such short lifespans and so few chances to make the right decisions for yourselves. We think of it as a way to make a difference on a personal level. VERY personal," she explained with a bit of a wink.
Hannah began to shake and replied venomously, "What. In the world. Gave you the idea. That I'd EVER be your PET?"
Zeyva gently but firmly lifted Hannah into the air with her vines, inexorably stretching apart her arms and legs despite the tiny human's struggling. "Well, dove, you don't have a choice. Section 57 of the Human Domestication Treaty clearly states that Terrans who participate in violent resistance are subject to involuntarily domestication."
Hannah, screamed in frustration, "I don't give a flying FUCK about your worthless treaty! Put me down!"
"Darling, you tried to slice me to bits! You clearly need someone to look after you."
"What!? I told you to not come closer! You were a threat to my patients!" she argued, struggling hopelessly.
"I think you know that I had no intention of harming anyone. You are a passionate one, aren't you? It's really quite delightful. But, look at your little hands squeezed so tight! We wouldn't want you harming yourself, let me help you with that," Zeyva said as she pried open Hannah's fingers with delicate vines. Before she had a chance to process, Zeyva slipped a pair of red mitts on her hands. They were soft inside, isolating each digit in a memory foam prison. Her hands were entirely useless.
"What THE FUCK do you think you're DOING? You're SICK! I'M AN ADULT! LET ME GO," Hannah yelled, still suspended in the air by vines.
"Look at you, going on like that! So unbecoming of a Terran of your stature. And you'll hurt your voice too!" Zeyva gently reprimanded, stroking her hair with a massive hand. Zeyva slipped a tablet into Hannah's mouth mid-shout. It expanded around her teeth into a gag made of a curiously strong gel, tendrils squirming out between her lips to form a snug harness around her jaw and over her head. She could breathe easily and her tongue was free, but she couldn't clench her jaw nor communicate in any way other than whimpers and grunts.
Hannah thrashed and growled impotently before letting herself go limp in Zeyva's vines, panting with exertion. Her eyes began to sting with tears from pure frustration, fear, and the stifling feeling of powerlessness. Her life was over. She was doomed to be a pet for the alien invader until she died, no longer able to pursue her life's work, which gave her the special privilege of saving lives, even in less than ideal circumstances. And she was no closer to being reunited with Harry. Before the Affini attacked, It had been so long that she'd moved past grief and longing into resignation. Then there was that spark of hope - Harry had contacted the Fury and was to be brought aboard. It seemed now that it had been a cruel joke. He was probably another Affini's slave, and had been coerced into betraying her. A searing wave of anguish rolled over her. Hot tears trickled down her face as she broke into sobs.
Zeyva cooed soothingly at Hannah and drew her against her chest, "I know this must be so scary for you petal, but everything will be alright. You're safe now, off that horrid metal can. You'll be happy as my floret, and soon our darling Harry will join us too."
Zeyva wiped the tears from Hannah's cheeks with a soft leaf and rubbed her back. She sympathized with Hannah's hurt, but her floret's adorable helplessness made her injectors drip and her flowers pulse open and close. Bonding would begin in earnest once Hannah attuned to Zeyva's evolutionarily-perfected charms. In the meantime, Zeyva comforted Hannah as she cried, the intoxicating scent of a thousand blooms swirling around her charge.
Eventually, Hannah succumbed to exhaustion, nudged along by Zeyva's narcotic vapors. A shuddering sigh followed the last of her sobs, coinciding with a wave of comfort that eased her pent-up frustration and terror. At least she might see Harry soon. Maybe they could even cuddle together. She was feeling so fuzzy and sleepy and comfortable now. She let Zeyva stroke her, surrounded by the texture of vines shifting against her skin and Zeyva's indescribable aroma. Hannah couldn't and didn't want to do anything more than rest, and Zeyva was delighted to accommodate.