--------------------------Centhia, North New Bergen, 31st Solum Street, 23.04.2555, 16:05--------------------------
Echina carried to sleeping human out of the small and lonely hab, her core still thrumming with pain. Even with Myrtaca’s warning she had hoped Rosa would come willingly, it seemed naïve in retrospect. Seeing Rosa this way was painful, something should have been done way before, they should have intervened before it got to this point. At the same time, it had not gotten bad enough to warrant this sort of action before now. And with the human’s fierce denial of help, there had been little they could do….
Even if it was correct, it felt like empty excuses. Part of her never wanted to let Rosa out of her sigh ever again. Each time she did, something bad seemed to befall the poor girl, something she should have prevented. They were supposed to be the caretakers of the galaxy, and still, she had allowed Rosa to be attacked not once, but twice…and then let her suffer afterward. Having her vines tightly secured around the sleeping human soothed that part of her, it would be unpleasant to let go.
Echina tried to remove the discord in her core. That part of her, the possessive part of her, who wanted to never let go….it was not right to keep on to, to allow to flourish. Denying that she wanted to own Rosa was impossible at this point, even the human could see it…and it would be so very easy. A few right words in her report and Rosa would be all hers, and within a few weeks, the girl would thank her for it.
But that would not be right, it was still uncertain if Rosa needed to be domesticated and she would err on the side of freedom. Not only to make sure that the freedom Rosa valued so much would be preserved, as long as she could handle that responsibility. But also, to prove a point as much to herself as to anyone else. The human was wrong, the affini were not here for selfish reasons…at least not completely.
The domestication center finally came into view, soon she could let someone with less emotional attachment make the right choice. Walking through the park and seeing the happy affini and their equally happy florets brought some envy to her melody, if only Rosa…Echina quickly weeded out the envy and the thought before entering the building.
The affini at the reception reacted with a worried but not surprised expression <I had a feeling it was going to end this way, poor girl. Myrtaca is on her way now, Rosa’s xeno-psychologist is in a session at the moment, but should be free soon.> Good, Myrtaca would be the best sophont to handle the situation and therapy would do the human plenty of good.
Before she could even thank the receptionist and sit down a waving hand in the periphery grabbed her attention, Myrtaca looked remarkably elegant for how quickly she moved. The welfare officer took a long sorrowful look at Rosa before raising her gaze <I was afraid it would come to this…let’s go up to my office and start sorting it out.> Yeah….sort it out.
Echina started to follow as they moved towards the elevators <to be honest I don’t know if it was a good idea to send me after all, her reaction was not very…positive.> A bad idea was putting it nicely, she should never have accepted, letting her worry and possessivnes misguide her judgment once again.
They entered and Myrtaca pressed the button to the 46th floor <Rosa has not exactly been accommodating to me or the others, anyone else would probably have had to break down the door.> So instead, Rosa had trusted her only to be taken from her home against her will….great.
The elevator door opened with a soft *pling* and after a few moments, they arrived at Myrtaca’s office. While it was quite orderly, the amount of paperwork stacked around almost made it seem messy. After finding the correct stack of paper Myrtaca sat down behind her desk, Echina sat down in one of the affini-sized chairs on the other side.
After rummaging through the documents Myrtaca finally found what she was looking for <I think we can both agree that domestication would be premature at the moment. At the same time, leaving on her own is clearly not acceptable.> With one vine the welfare officer began to write on one document, with another, she handed her a separate form <a wardship would be the best solution unless her psychological evaluation comes up with something unexpected.>
Echina quickly scanned the document in front of her, it become quickly obvious what it was for <I do not think it would be the correct choice to have me as her caretaker. Someone else should do it.> The human shifted slightly in the bed of vines, a few adjustments later and the human could sleep comfortably once more…..so cute…no, focus!
Her gaze drifted up and met a confused Myrtaca, observing her with puzzling eyes <why do you say that? You know her well and you two have a good relationship. Rosa does not take kindly to most affini, setting her up with a stranger would not be optimal.>
Only the latter half of that was true <you overestimate how well she likes me….and today will not have improved our relationship. I am certain you can find someone that is more compatible with her than I am.> For some reason her explanation seemed to cause amusement rather than understanding.
Myrtaca leaned forward and looked at Rosa <Echina…> her voice slow and confident <her breath is currently matching your biorhythm.> That could not be true….focusing on Rosa’s breath for only a moment proved it to be unsettlingly arcuate <if you think I can find someone more compatible, then your confidence in me is far too high.>
The tinge of embarrassment grew <That is hardly relevant. She would think I want to domesticate her, I can’t be her caretaker.> Her vines around the human tightened instinctively, the offer was far too tempting.
The only response was a short sigh, followed by a smile <It seems to me that you value your friendship with Rosa and wellbeing a lot…out of pure curiosity, do you want her to be your floret?>
This was highly unprofessional <what I want does not matter, only her happiness does.> Once again, her rebuke did not leave much impact.
In fact, Myrtaca only smiled wider, she looked downright self-satisfied <and that is why you would be the perfect caretaker for her.> Why would this sophont not listen?
Before a retort could be made there was a knock on the door, and it was opened slightly ajar. A bark-covered affini with a gentle smile peeked through <I hope I am not interrupting, is Rosa here?>
Myrtaca gestured for them to come inside <yes, thank you for making time on such short notice, have you read through the files?> It did not seem like the newcomer had noticed the tension in the room.
The affini nodded, the leaves that covered its head rustling <Indeed I have. If it were not too much trouble I would like to start her session as soon as possible. The girl should have visited me months ago, I am rather anxious to start her recovery.> Their concern was palpable, he turned to her and extended a vine <you must be her caretaker, I am Rosa’s xeno-psychologist….not that she has visited after her mandatory psychological evaluation seven months ago.> Not even once?….
She entwined a vine around his <I am not her caretaker, just a concerned friend.> No need to let Myrtaca’s suggestions be stated as fact first.
<I understand…> good, he extended a few more vines…..The xeno-psychologist looked at her for an awkward moment <could I take her?> oh right. After hesitating for several seconds, she eventually managed to hand the human over into his vines…it was unpleasant to no longer be holding her.
Myrtaca shot her a knowing look <tell us once you are done and we can meet outside your office. I don’t think Rosa wants to spend more time here than necessary. Her last experience of the place was….not the best.> Echina had only heard later what had happened, no wonder Rosa had reacted so strongly.
The bark on the affini moved elegantly as he talked <indeed, good luck with the rest of your meeting.> while her core still itched to hold Rosa once again, it was reassuring to know it would soon be better. After a smiling wave he left, as the door closed her core itched a bit more.
-------------------Centhia, North New Bergen, Domestication center 4C, 23.04.2555, 17:44-----------------------
Rosa awakened slowly, her head was slower than usual awakenings, there was a soft and friendly voice behind the darkness “…looks like you need a bit more.” The darkness dissipated, and awareness flooded her mind with force. Her eyes opened and took in what looked to be a cutesy decorated room, the sun shone through a window, bathing the entire room in a warm and yellow light. An affini was sitting in a large chair, their non-threatening eyes focused on her while a vine slowly retracted back into its form.
They were tall and slender, with a brown bark formed over green vines almost like a vest. Their face was perhaps more remarkable as the wood moved like shifting water as its expressions changed. It also wore a vine-made pair of glasses, though they did not have any glass, it also looked precariously placed on the affini’s thin nose.
A quick examination showed that she was sitting in a similar chair, but much smaller. The affini extended a hand in greeting “hello Rosa, do you remember me?” ……..oh right, it was the psychologist…but why was she here? Wait…..Echina had drugged and brought her HERE?! A wave of terror spread throughout her body, her eyes snapped to the door. Would she make it if she tried to run?
“Are you scared of something dear?” The affini sounded concerned. Rosa slowly turned to look at him…There was no way she would make it out the door before he stopped her…
There was only one real question, her voice was low and afraid “are you going to domesticate me?....” it couldn’t be happening.
The affini tilted their head and smiled reassuringly “no, we are not at that stage, but we had to bring you here so we can help you.” That was a relief but still, at least the accord let one suffer in peace “From what I understand you will be placed in a wardship.” That was not a relief at all….wardships usually ended in domestication, but there was a chance.
Rosa slinked back in the chair, crossing her arms, staring the affini down “what do you want?” In response, the affini took up a data pad and a pen.
After performatively pushing the fake glasses up his nose, he looked at her “I need to do an evaluation of your mental state so we can understand how best to help you. I promise that there is nothing to be afraid of.” There was plenty to be afraid of, she would have to be careful to not give them more ammunition to justify domestication.
But the affini had shown that noncooperation was not tolerated “fine, though I don’t know what you expect me to say. Also, I don’t appreciate being abducted from my home, file that in your report as well.” It has not even taken her 3 seconds before her words were retributive and sharp.
The psychologist nodded “I will be sure to do so. Now, I am not going to ask you any questions just yet. First I would like for you to look at this.” One of his vines extended, on its tip grew a large petaled flower in full bloom. It was slightly bioluminescent and shone in a plethora of colors, it began to spin slowly “All I want you to do is to focus on the flower while I count down from 10, can you do that?”
Her eyes were already glued to the flower, not to please the affini mind you, but it was oddly captivating. “10.” There was something moving on the edge of her vision, part of her wanted to check what it was, but the flower had started to move slightly faster, and looking away felt wrong.
“9.” The affini voice was so oddly soothing, like a gentle melody that she could not help but listen to.
“8.” had something stung her arm? It was so hard to tell with all her focus on the flower, the light cascading of it in beautiful rays.
“7.” A cool but pleasant feeling spread from her arm, all across her body, and into her mind where it settled comfortably.
“6.” Her thoughts seemed to become slightly less dangerous and difficult, like the barriers around them had weakened.
“5.” The flower slowly stopped spinning and retraced, for a moment her mind struggled to focus.
And then suddenly, it was back “2.” The next number came way later…had she spaced out or something?
“1” the cool feeling had ebbed off without her even noticing, her thoughts felt far more normal now, if a bit distant.
“And 0. There we go, all done.” hold on, it was done already? That made no sense, how could they have learned anything from her just looking at a flower? Her mind still felt quite dizzy. Rosa rubbed her eyes and realized they were wet from tears….had she been crying?
The gentle voice of the therapist slowed “just relax, it will take some time for your mind to readjust.” That sounded like a remarkably good idea. Slowly but surely, the dizziness wore off and her mind sped up.
Once her mind was clear again a nod signaled that they could continue, he smiled “do you think you can answer just a few questions?” Questions….sure, she could do that. He tapped his pen on the data pad “could you tell me how you feel?”
How did she feel? “Confused…and irritated from being forced here.” She was about to say lonely, it had been on the tip of her tongue….Though it did not make sense, she wasn’t lonely….and even if she was, the affini did not need to know that.
The psychologist wrote more on their data pad before standing up “one last question before we end for today. Is there any specific affini you would want as your caretaker?” Echina came to mind, and again she had to stop herself from blurting something out without consideration.
Rosa looked out the window, the sun was setting “no, but no one at all would be best. I’m fine, I don’t need your help.” Becoming the ward of some stranger affini was not tempting in the slightest but bothering Echina anymore was unacceptable. The affini nodded but did not respond any further, after hesitating for a moment she got to her feet and followed him out of the room.
Outside the office both Myrtaca and Echina were sitting in affini-sized chairs and talking, they both quickly stopped and stood up. Myrtaca looked down at her and smiled “good to see you again Rosa, we need to talk with your xeno-psychologist for a moment. Could you wait while we do so? It won’t take long, I promise.” A large part of her wanted to tell the affini off, but what good would that do?
Instead, she glared up at the two affini before silently walking over to one of the chairs and climbing up. For once the large size was an actual benefit, the chair could easily function as a strangely shaped bed. The affini began to talk, in affini of course, no need for her to know what they thought about her….. bastards.
The psychologist was the first to speak, it was difficult to not listen even if she couldn’t understand <I decided to use some class-D and light hypnosis, therefore she will not remember much of our session. Usually, I prefer less intrusive methods, but her lack of cooperation made it necessary.> The affini voices were even more melodic when not constrained by speaking English.
A few of Echina’s vines curled and uncurled <what did you find out?> even with the language barrier the concern in her voice was still obvious, something proven as the affini shot her a worried glance. Rosa looked away, pretending that she had not been paying attention by staring at the ceiling.
The psychologist’s voice was more harmonic than Echina’s but still had some discord <She is suffering from a severe lack of perceived self-worth, long-term loneliness, depression, and some minor burnout. The root of the problem seems to be that she evaluates her self-worth on how well she can help others and takes a great deal of responsibility for both her friends and the local community as a consequence. Now that Rosa believes she has failed these groups, her perception of self-worth is tragically skewed. This is also why Rosa is so reluctant to get help, she believes that she does not deserve it and that receiving help would prove her current negative perception of self-worth.> whatever he had said was clearly not good, both Myrtaca and Echina looked at her worriedly….had they found something that would sanction domestication? No….that was impossible, wasn’t it?
Myrtaca turned to the psychologist once more <I have always interpreted her reluctance as coming from an ideological source, is that incorrect?> Honestly, if they were not secretly discussing her fate it would be rather nice to listen to them talk.
<while there is certainly some ideological influence, she does not hold the same standards to others. Her reluctance derives from the brave front she usually displays. It is not an uncommon tactic for hiding insecurities from oneself and others.> Her mind sure was interesting, or maybe they had moved on and were discussing how to best ‘help’, aka domesticate, her.
Maybe it would be worth it to at least try to escape. <I understand, do you have any suggestions for how to move ahead?> Nah it would probably not work, and then her chances of not being domesticated would be zero.
At the same time, a wardship did not give hopeful prospects <honestly a few weeks on class-J might really do the trick. Nothing else helps loneliness and self-esteem like being lovingly doted on over an extended period of time….but a lot indicates that might not be the best approach.> If a wardship did not end in forceful domestication it almost always ended in a ‘voluntary’ one.
If those plants thought she would willingly be turned into some helpless pet they were dead wrong <I agree, but it might be a suitable plan B if it comes to that. For now, Echina has agreed to be Rosa’s caretaker.> But a lot of other people had probably thought the same thing before being smothered by affini affection and xenodrugs….did she even stand a chance?
Whatever affini ended up with her would probably try to make her accept domestication <how wonderful. While she would not admit it when not on class-D, Rosa did name you when I asked her when the xenodrugs were in effect.> The roof was seriously beginning to lose her interest and thinking more about her future was not very uplifting.
<I still think someone else would be bett-> oh for star's sake, Rosa glared at the three affini.
“Are you soon done?! I am tired of hearing you three talk, are you going to domesticate me or not?” The general anxiety of the situation was too much. If they wanted to do it, then why not now?
The affini went silent, Myrtaca sighed “no you are not being domesticated, you will be Echina’s ward for a few weeks and then a committee will evaluate what is the best for you.” An affini committee….the result was predictable. Myrtaca must have read her expression because she moved forward, her face sterner than usual “There is plenty of chance that this ends with your independence, but that chance is null if you don’t cooperate. Understand?”
Rosa looked away from the affini “if you say so…” the affini were not known liars so her situation might be a bit less grim than assumed.
The friendly smile returned to Myrtaca’s face “good, here you will need to put these on so we can monitor your anxiety and health.” The lattice of vines on her form moved and revealed a small compartment, a separate vine pulled out two grey armbands of affini design from within.
Shackles, or at least the affini kind “and so you can stop me from escaping.” Each armband was certainly outfitted with class-E to dose her down and a tracking device.
Myrtaca leaned down, looking slightly puzzled “are you going to try escaping?” The words were far too genuine and concerned.
Rosa looked away from the affini once more and huffed “I’m not stupid…” Trying to escape would indeed be stupid, playing by the affini’s rules was the only path that had a slim chance of retaining freedom.
Echina stepped forward, the scholar looked uncomfortable “We should head home to my hab, it is late, and you must be hungry.” Rosa didn’t respond at first, instead clasping the shackles on herself, first the left, then the right. They did not feel too tight or uncomfortable, in fact, they were very smooth…almost pleasant. Something told her they would be on for quite some time, her stomach sunk and grew hollow.
She got down from the chair and looked up at Echina “okay, I would prefer to go home. But if this is what the planet lords demand, then how can I say no?” If the sarcasm was any more potent it would likely be toxic.
Without giving any signal of goodbye to the other affini, Rosa began walking away from the affini and towards where she hoped the elevators were. Echina said a few brief words in affini before following, quickly catching up. There was a long tense silence between them as they walked “I doubt you want to turn around, but the closest elevators are the other way.” Of course, they fucking were, sometimes it felt like the universe itself was taunting her.
Rosa quickened her pace “you are damn right I won’t turn around, and perhaps I would have chosen the right direction if I was not DRUGGED and brought her in my sleep.” It was frustrating that the affini had no trouble keeping up with her speed.
Echina sighed, a few vines moving restlessly “I take it you are angry.” What an incredible deduction, affini empathy really was something special. The silence continued until they reached the elevators, as they waited Echina looked down at her “Even if you are dissatisfied with the situation, can we try to make the best of it?” and what would ‘the best of it’ be? They entered the elevator, and it began to move.
The anger grew “You love this don’t you, got the perfect excuse to domesticate me just like you wanted.” The venom in her voice was painful, even to herself. Rosa expected the affini to stay silent for a while like usual after such a hurtful remark, but not this time.
Echina pressed a button and the elevator stopped. As the affini looked down at her Rosa suddenly felt very, very small. Echina’s sounded calm but there was hurt in the melodic voice “do you really think that I am that self-interested?” The fire of anger was gutted in an instant, only the bitter ashes of guilt remained.
Why was she like this? “no...I…I’m sorry.” Echina was her friend, even if that was a poor decision on the affini’s part. Treating her like this just revealed how truly pathetic she was “I…you are just trying to help…but you shouldn’t, you don’t need to.” The polished floor of the elevator reflected back at her, all she could see was a miserable and meanspirited person, why did -
“Rosa.” The words held a powerful force, one that dragged her vision upwards, but not enough to meet the affini’s eyes. A vine guided her face further upwards until she reluctantly made eye contact with Echina “that is wrong.” The words were spoken slowly. The eyes glowed blue and Rosa's attention latched onto them “I want to help you, and there is nothing wrong with that. Understand?”
It felt wrong to argue “but I don’t deserve-“ Echina did not even give her the chance to finish the sentence.
The eyes gleamed now “Wrong. You deserve to get help, understand?” The remaining resistance to the powerful words faded away, and Rosa nodded weakly. The vine that had guided her gaze moved and patted her on the head “good, I will not accept that kind of sentiment. You are a wonderful person, and I will teach you to accept that.” That did not seem right, but Rosa had no means to argue against it.
Echina pressed a button, and the elevator began to move again. After a moment of silence, the affini spoke “I promise to not domesticate you, not under any circumstances. I shall help you become happy and then you can go back home, does that sound fair?” It did not need to be said that the threat of domestication was still there, but the promise did prove how horribly she had misread the situation…like always.
Why had she been so quick to pass judgment? What wrong had Echina actually done? Nothing at all was the obvious answer. As she was about to apologize a large hand was put on her shoulder “it's okay, you have been through a lot. The only thing I want is to help you be the best version of yourself that is possible…can you give me that?” A subtle and hopeful smile crossed Echina’s face.
Rosa wanted to say no, or at least a large part of her wanted to…but it was the least she could do “okay…if you want to.” Echina’s smile widened with relief, the hand on her shoulder lifted and seemed to move in the direction of her head before it snapped behind the affini’s back.
There was a genuine and beautiful sounding joy in Echina’s voice “thank you, it means a lot. Now let's get home and make you some food.” Rosa’s stomach rumbled in response to the suggestion, some food would be good….maybe the warship would be tolerable.
As they excited the domestication center the sun had almost fully set, and dark shadows were creeping up the buildings, sometimes repelled by the gentle light from windows and streetlights. Echina moved towards a set of staircases that lead down into the ground “My hab is some distance away, it will be faster if we take the mag-rail.”
Rosa followed the affini down the stairs and into the complex underground, hopefully, there would not be too many people….They rounded a corner and came into the main path to the trail. Her hopes were dashed, there were so many people and so much noise. Instinctively she reached for her pockets and the headphones that were usually there….her pockets were empty, it was not like she had intended to go outside today.
Without any other choice, she began to follow Echina, following in the path of the affini made traversing the stream of people somewhat easier. The noise began to press upon her. A shout from somewhere, the sound of trampling in all directions, someone accidentally bumped into her and was gone the next second. Breathing become more and more difficult as the masses seemed to close in around her. Rosa focused on just following behind Echina, losing the affini was a horrifying prospect.
With the flower-covered affini as her lighthouse, they arrived at the platform as one of the trains left. The platform filled up with new people rapidly and a new train arrived a moment later. Peering through the windows she could see that it was full, far too full. Rosa tried to breathe slowly, everything was beginning to feel far away. She just had to press on, this would be okay. When the doors opened, she stayed close to Echina, in only a few seconds they were both squeezed between several other people, the masses pressing from all sides.
Echina did not sound very comfortable “I can’t wait until we get the secondary rail system online….Rosa, are you okay?” Rosa looked up, had she noticed….oh, she was biting her nails….
Focus on breathing, it would all be over soon “I..I’m fine, don’t worry.” Why did people have to be so loud? Her breathing became shallower, she shrunk her posture, wrapping her arms around each other. Part of her wanted to sink down onto the floor…but she could make it, it was not that bad….
A vine pressed her closer to Echina “I can help…please tell me what the problem is.” Fuck….how was she so pathetic that she could not even take the rail? Why was she so fragile? No one else seemed to struggle with it….could they not just be a bit quieter?
Focus, she needed to answer…..lying was tempting but a promise was a promise “there…are too many people and too much noise…sorry I…” her breathing became labored, was there a lack of oxygen?
Echina’s voice sounded far away “oh dear….I should have brought some class-S, hold on.” Rosa looked up as the center of the affini unfurled and for a moment it looked like the gaping maw of some horrifying eldritch creature. Vines curled underneath her arms and waist before lifting her up and into the maw. She was placed inside the affini and the vines that had unfurled rearranged themselves back into proper form.
Silence….sweet and utter silence. Somehow the vine mesh that made up Echina’s form blocked out all the noises from the outside world. Rosa breathed out in relief, her muscles began to lose some of their tension. It was so nice….and the vines were surprisingly soft. A voice spoke from up above “Rosa, are you okay?” Echina sounded very concerned, and maybe even guilty…it was difficult to tell.
Rosa leaned back into the vines “yes…thank you, much better.” She looked around, it was surprising but also made sense that the affini were hollow, the inside of the form was lit up by a gentle green light. Hold on, light? Rosa looked up and found its source.
Hanging above her was a large, slightly oval-shaped sphere. Out from each of its ends, a multitude of vines grew, spreading out and flowing into the form that surrounded her. It shone a beautiful green, but the shade of the light changed slightly over time…it was beautiful. And it moved, pulsing slightly to a familiar rhythm…
Only now did she notice that it was not in fact quiet, the calm rhythm and soothing melody emitted from the sphere. It reverberated through her body….it sounded so very nice. She wanted to be closer to it, hear the music better. Rosa noticed yet another thing, it looked fuzzy, soft even….the longer she stared at the sphere the more she noticed about its every magnificent detail.
Out of both curiosity and instinct, she reached out with a hand…and touched it. The form around her shuddered “Rosa?!?” but Echina’s surprise was completely lost on her. It was so….soft. No, soft did not even come close to describing how it felt, there was likely no work in any human langue that could describe the comfort of touching the sphere. The music and rhythm thrummed directly into her hand and then into her body…she needed to be closer.
With a great deal of effort, Rosa stretched up as far as possible and managed to wrap her arms around parts of it, the form shuddered again…but who cared? It was so wonderfully soft. The sphere had originally been too high up, but it soon moved downwards making it easy to hug. Rosa leaned into it, pressing her face into its fuzz…The entire world melted away.
There was no reason to keep her eyes open, the music was here, right next to her. No more reprehensible air particles to dilute its melody, just her and the sphere and its music. Her entire body leaned against the sphere and Rosa gently rubbed her cheek against it, how could anything be this nice?
It did not matter, there was no need for an explanation…or any thoughts at all. The melody was so omnipresent, it was better to just listen to it. One small easily ignored part of her mind was concerned but its worry could not compare with how wonderful this was. There was some other noise from up above, but Rosa ignored it. The music told her to be happy and that was what she was, the iron from several years of loneliness melted away into a soft happy puddle.
Then her mind began to slow down as sleep began to creep in. That was okay, as long as the sphere was here with her everything would be fine. Rosa nuzzled the sphere one more time before she fell asleep, her head resting against it, a warm smile on her face.