The human asked for water. For the flower. If she wasn’t worried that it might scare the poor little thing, she’d have wrapped them up in her vines and given them a well-earned dose of Class-As and petting. Instead, she’ll just have to watch them get embarrassed and look at the flower she gave them. Everything Delphinium had seen demonstrated that “Jez” was completely harmless, and since she hadn’t seen any evidence of behaviour that risked self-harm (other than having been on some Free Terranist ship), she was inclined to recommend that they be allowed to remain independent. Even if they would make an adorable floret.
The waiter, one of Apiana’s florets, walked over to the table, and put a large glass of water in front of Delphinium, who quickly sank a vine into it, and a smaller glass in front of the human, who carefully put the flower in. Finally, the floret put down the human’s food, and Delphinium stroked his cheek for a job well done before he blushingly thanked her, and left.
The human quickly ate their bowl of ice cream, Delphinium considered warning them to slow down, but it did seem to be bringing them joy, and they seemed rather hungry.
Once their bowl was finished, the human looked up at Delphinium, seeming ready to make conversation. “So, uh…” Ready to make the attempt, at least.
“So?” If they were in a mental position to guide the conversation, Delphinium was prepared to let them try.
“So, uh… what happens next?”
“Well, that somewhat depends on you, dear. But unless you give us reason to believe that you’re likely to cause harm, to others, or to yourself, you’ll most likely be welcome to become a citizen of the Terran Protectorate, and live out the rest of your life as a more or less independent terran.”
“Does being a rebel count as being ‘likely to cause harm’?”
“Are you still a rebel~?”
“... Does having been a rebel count?”
“That depends. You were a peaceful surrender, so that’s definitely in your favour. Although you did still threaten somebody with a gun~.”
“I- I just- I didn’t want him to hurt anyone. The gun wasn’t even loaded! I couldn’t even have hurt him if I wanted to!” The cuff beeped. Dirt, she was trying to flirt with them, not give them a panic attack.
“Shh, shh, it’s okay, petal. I didn’t mean to distress you. I doubt you could even hurt a horse.”
“I- uh- Horse? Don’t you mean… fly?”
“Well, I’m sure you couldn’t even fly a horse, then.”
“I… what?” The human seemed very confused, but discussing horses did seem to have calmed them down. Delphinium would have to remember to send a thank you to that overnet advice column that suggested that humans could be distracted by any mention of horses. Whatever those horses were supposed to be.
“Regardless, if that encounter were enough for you to have been involuntarily domesticated, we’d be having this conversation in a somewhat different context.”
“Um… right.” They were blushing. Cute
“Although, either way, I’d still let you have ice cream, assuming you behaved yourself~. So, how did a nice little human like you end up on a ship of Free Terranists?”
“Well, I…” They were hesitating, maybe it was something she did need to worry about. “I kinda, maybe… joined the Navy to follow my girlfriend. Ex-girlfriend” Or maybe it was absolutely adorable. “She was pretty… against the Affini, and when the Navy started recruiting heavily, she… kinda convinced me to sign up with her.”
“Was she on the Endless Horizons?” Terran ship names really were just adorable. “If she was, and she didn’t surrender peacefully, she’s quite possibly already been processed for domestication.”
Their expression turned sour. “No, no, we, uh… we broke up, during training. I’d have left, but… by that point the Navy wasn’t really interested in letting anyone quit. We ended up on different ships. I think hers actually followed the armistice.” This line of questioning was clearly distressing them. Even if the cuff wasn’t concerned, Delphinium was.
“If this topic is distressing to you, I could provide you with some xenodrugs to help you return to a more pleasant emotional state.”
“I, uh…” They seemed uncertain. She probably shouldn’t push the issue. Encouraging independent sophonts to take xenodrugs was sometimes necessary, but could have negative outcomes for their long-term mental health, even for those that would later become pets.
“It’s just an offer, I wouldn’t want to pressure you into anything.” Of course, reassuring sophonts that you weren’t going to pressure or force them into taking xenodrugs could also help engender their trust. Far better to wait for the sophont to ask, if possible.
“... Right. Anyway, when Terra surrendered, and the captain announced to the crew that we’d lost… I was just glad it was over, you know?” Delphinium nods. “But then he makes some big speech about how a ‘true Terran’ never surrenders, and we joined up with some other ships to keep fighting a war we’d already lost. We lost contact with most of the other ships pretty quickly. A few jumps back we were supposed to meet up with another ship, when one of your ships showed up. We barely made it out.”
“That would have been the Astral Phoenix?”
“I guess? Nobody ever told me the name. I didn’t even know we were supposed to meet anyone until after we jumped away. I guess the captain was afraid of spies letting the Affini know where two ships would be at once. Like the two that jumped ship just before we got away?” They were giving her a look, like they were trying to catch her out on a lie.
“We did try to tell them that it was unnecessary for them to risk themselves for our benefit. Well, their... “handler” did. But they were insistent on providing us with a prize, as if the two of them were not prize enough. They’re happily adjusting to their new lives, if you were wondering. But if you’d like to meet them, you’ll have to be quick. They actually have their surgeries scheduled for tomorrow.”
“Surgeries?” The human sounded apprehensive.
“For their haustoric implants,” Delphinium explained, “When an Affini takes a floret, we give them a biotechnological implant that helps us to manage their emotional, mental and physical needs. It allows an Affini to monitor their floret’s health, and it can produce a number of useful and fun xenodrugs, along with a few other benefits. Ideally, the implant is grown from a cutting from the floret’s owner. There’s a short recovery time, during which most Affini keep their adorable florets in a state of insensate bliss, as they and the implant adjust to each other.”
“Um.” The poor little Terran looked adorably overwhelmed. Which certainly wasn’t the worst response she’d seen to a sophont finding out about the implant for the first time.
“I can assure you, both of them requested to have the procedure done.”
The human nodded. “I- I believe you.”
“Good. Now, before that brief aside, I believe you were saying something about escaping from us~?”
“I, uh… kinda? After the captain saw… whatever happened to the… Astral Phoenix, you said it was?” Delphinium nodded, and they continued, “well, after that, the captain finally realised that fighting wasn’t going to get us anywhere. So he decided that we were going to try to escape Affini space.” They looked away from Delphinium. “When he realised that that wasn’t going to work, he was probably-”
“Going to find, or have found for him, some way to exist without putting adorable little sophonts like you at risk.” That definitely sounded like a thought that needed to be interrupted.
The human looked back at the flower in the glass. “Yeah, I guess so.”
“You’re safe now, petal. We won’t let anybody hurt you, ever again. We just want to help you be the best version of yourself that you can.” The human still looked overwhelmed, maybe she should let them get some more rest. “Would you like me to show you to where you’ll be staying until we’re in orbit?”
“Um… yeah. That sounds good.”
Delphinum raised her body up, but left her lower body in a vaguely conical shape that suggested a floor length skirt. It was easier than legs, and it was still rather aesthetically pleasing. She offered the human a vine to help them get down from their stool.
“I can get myself down, Delphinium.” They looked across the table, and then, as if seeing it for the first time, picked up the flower from its glass. Adorable. They slid from off the stool, and managed to stay upright, although Delphinium was definitely ready to help if she needed to.
“Come along then, precious.” Delphinium offered them a hand, which they seemed to consider for a moment, before silently rejecting with a turned head. They seemed to be actually trying to assert some independence now, which was probably a good sign for them, even if Delphinium might miss how adorable they were when they were overwhelmed by xenodrugs.
Delphinium glides along the floor, and the human follows behind.
Petal lets out a sigh of relief as the door to their new hab slides shut behind them.
Well. That didn’t go completely awfully. And they actually seem to be regaining some control over their reactions. Which probably means that the ice cream wasn’t drugged. Which they can’t help but find disappointing.
Well, there’s got to still be some drugs in them. Maybe the cuff is just giving them a constant dose, just like an implant would, but just keeping it low enough that they don’t notice. Maybe it’ll slowly ramp up, until they look just as blissed out as the florets from the propaganda.
Which would probably be fun, at first, but… for the rest of their life? Better to stay as a ‘more or less’ independent human. Besides, they’ve got the rest of their life to figure things out.
Honestly, they’re probably still shaken from almost getting shot. Not to mention the rest of what happened on the Horizons, and just about everything else in their life. They’ll get some rest, and then they can figure out what to do when they reach orbit.
Wait, reach orbit? Are they supposed to be in a spaceship?
After dropping the human off at their temporary hab, Delphinium had some paperwork to do.
Some of the forms that the Affini used to express a potential claim on an undomesticated sophont were subtle. Some of them were even subtle enough that the Affini in question could deny to themselves what they were doing. This form was not.
When this sophont applies for voluntary domestication, or at such a time that they are found to require involuntary domestication, I, Delphinium Vinia, Third Bloom, formally request to take this sophont as my floret.
Unless her human wanted to be specifically taken by another Affini, their domestication would lead them right back to Delphinium. There was technically the possibility that they might never choose to be taken, but Delphinium wasn't too worried about that.
She also submitted all of the other forms that her human might require, of course. It just wouldn't do to be negligent around any aspect of taking her new floret.