-------------------Centhia, North New Bergen, Near Domestication center 4C, 24.04.2555, 11:48----------------
After collecting the rest of Rosa’s documents at the domestication center, Echina made her way to the grafting station. She had intended to go there first but it was essential to make sure that the Class-G matched with Rosa’s prescription. It was not that she did not trust the Human to not take her medicine but having some directly on vine would not hurt either.
It was a beautiful day, the sun shining brightly in a cloudless sky. Echina took a moment to absorb the sunshine, her form reinvigorated by its warmth. Like usual her thoughts did not wander far from the human in her care, maybe eating out would be a nice distraction from this morning’s peculiar nature. Rosa’s self-esteem was worse than she had thought, and the girl’s pride did not make correcting that much easier.
Echina had no wish to trample over Rosa’s freedom without cause, as so many others of her kind would have done. At the same time, it was a practice or culture even, that had emerged not without reason…a reason Rosa regrettably was a part of. It would have to be a careful balance between allowing Rosa the dignity she wanted and teaching her the lessons she needed.
The biorhythm problem was another cause for concern. It displayed how tragically emotionally neglected the human had been. The strength of the synchronization was greater than what she had expected. Echina had seen sophonts react to her biorhythm before but not to this extent, it had only taken a few seconds for Rosa to space out and let her barriers fall. Not that letting those barriers fall had been negative, Rosa allowing herself to receive some emotional attention was as important as it had been adorable. There was a real temptation to use the biorhythm to help the human accept her worth.
But if she did use her biorhythm, it would likely be seen as a betrayal or effort at manipulation…the latter not being half-wrong. Rosa’s trust was tenuous at best, any risk to it would just cause further complications…maybe she was thinking too much about this.
It was only the first day of Rosa being her ward, it was expected to take some time for the human to acclimate. A calm discussion around these issues would sort it out for sure. Rosa might be stubborn, but not unreasonable…most of the time. Why the girl could not accept that she was adorable and incredible beyond belief was a staggering testament to how poorly the humans’ previous society had been constructed.
Echina began to move again, taking a look at her datapad to make sure that Rosa was doing well. The monitoring armbands displayed a calm mental state, steady heartbeat, and no chemical imbalance from adrenaline or other unneeded chemicals. The automatic hypnotherapy was in its fourth loop after its relaxation module had finished. It was hard to tell if Rosa was asleep or still deep into trance, letting the audio run a while longer wouldn’t be a problem.
She had not left the hab on the best of terms with the human…and that stung. There was certainly another appeal to the old fashion way of handling xenos. Forcing them to understand their best interest instead of nudging them gently towards it was far more trying. In the end thought it was Rosa’s best interest, not her own that mattered. Even if the human was angry with the more forceful nudges, Echina could weather it.
Finally, there it was. The appearance of the grafting station was a welcome distraction from the current rail of thought. Most grafting stations were quite clinical in nature, this one looked more like a…saloon? The outside was flushed with flowers painted on the old concrete walls. Real plants were clustered in front of the building in a configuration Echina could only describe as artistic, forming a curved pathway to the door. Was this the right place? A quick check of the data pad proved it to be true…strange.
Echina entered, there was a small *pling* from a bell as the door opened. The inside was filled with yet more flowers in all colors and descriptions, harvested from countless worlds or engineered into existence. An affini perked up from the sea of color <welcome!> It was difficult to tell what was the most striking about the cheerful voice’s source. The 11..no 12 different water cans each controlled by a separate vine? The large straw hat with a red bow and white flower on the affini’s head? Or maybe the expression beneath said hat that was fighting hard to imprint itself as the most cheerful and optimistic one Echina had ever seen?
Either way, the force of pure uncorrupted happiness was making its way towards her <So nice of you to come, take a seat and I will be right with you.> Seat? The paper detailing the grafting request Echina had stretched out was obliviously ignored. Her gaze was guided by a helpful vine filled with yellow flowers towards a set of chairs on the other side of the room…why did she have to sit down?
This indicated that it would take longer than expected <I don’t need something….whatever you are offering…I need these two grafts and that is it. I can do it myself if you have something else to do.> She had done grafting on herself before, it was not that complicated a process.
The cheerful affini turned around <if you are not pressed for time I would much advise some more specialized service. It is very relaxing, and you look like you could use it…> The hopeful and earnest tone of the voice was hard to turn down…but what was ‘you look like you could use it’ supposed to mean? Unable to stare into the concerned eyes of the other affini any longer Echina relented and took a seat. The chair was rather large and comfortable, a good place to relax one’s vines.
The explanation of the grafting operator’s words was revealed by the mirror in front of the chair. She did not look that good…Her form was far from tidy, vines not meshing correctly all over, it gave her a rather rugged look. Several of her flowers were hanging or wilted altogether…How long had she looked like this? It was the obvious signs of stress, emotional or physical exhaustion, and concern. That was at least what she would have thought had she seen the same symptoms on a stranger.
A ball of black and yellow fluff was moved up to her chair <~hello! My name is kuzie! Do you want zome mineralized water?~> The beeple floret spoke with great speed and enthusiasm. Some of the concern in her core melted upon the sight, how cute!
Echina stretched down a hand and the beeple began to nuzzle into it <that…actually sound very nice, could you get me something with extra potassium?> There was presumably a nod added along with the nuzzles as they soon managed to tear themselves away, and after buzzing and vibrating in the most adorable show of gratitude walked away.
The operator returned from behind <aren’t they just the cutest?> Echina muttered a reply, suddenly very conscious of her beleaguered form. The affini began to detangle her grafted vines out and rested them over the top of the chair <these don’t seem to be much used…and it is a very sparse collection. Have you been stuck on a scouting mission or something equally isolated?> There was no judgment in their voice, but Echina could not help but feel some shame.
It had been three years since she transferred to Terran space and during that time she had spent time on both populated ships and planets. Her xenodrug repertoire was bare branch: some class-Z and E, in addition to healing sap for both humans and rinans. It was not that she was not social, she just spent more time with her books than with other sophonts. She had planned on getting a floret and the grafts needed for them…but somewhere along the way that project had sidetracked and halted…after meeting Rosa….best not to think about that. Her reply was awkwardly late <no, I…um simply have not had the need for anything else.> The grafter nodded and continued to work.
Once all of the relevant vines were detangled, they beamed at her <So what do you want? We have a very wide collection of grafts here.> Echina could finally hand over the document <hmmm…Some class-S to prevent sensory overload…and some very generic feminizing class-G.> A grin spread on the affini’s face <Oh! Have you gotten yourself a floret?>
What? Her vines stiffened in surprise <no, she is just my ward…nothing more.> Before the other affini could pry anymore, the beeple floret returned a small but delectable-looking bowl of water in their hands. Their mixtress placed the bowl next to the chair and Echina slipped a vine in <ahhh, this was just what I needed. Thanks, little one~> There was something delightfully refreshing about high potassium water, and this beeple had gotten the mix just right.
The beeple buzzed excitedly <could I plz nuzzle on your lap?> How was one to say no to such a cute request? Using her available vines, the floret was placed in her lap where they lay down and vibrated gently in satisfaction. A few gentle strokes over its body, and some scratches between their antenna and it buzzed happily….what a treasure.
The grafter had returned with a few dozen plants in her vines <I know you said you only wanted two, but might I tempt you with some more? even if she is simply your ward at the moment that could change…and you don’t want to disappoint if she wants to try something, now do you?> Echina raised an eyebrow, the likelihood of Rosa asking for xenodrugs was astronomically low.
The affini was not discouraged <at least get some class-A. You can’t cuddle your floret properly without some class-A, don’t you agree kuzie?> The floret in her lap buzzed in agreement, nuzzling into her hand for more pets.
Echina sighed <she is not that type of ward. By the end of this she will be independent, and she has no interest in those types of activities.> as long as her biorhythm did not influence the human that was.
They looked slightly more thoughtful as they began to graft some class-G onto one of her vines <you are concerned for her, aren’t you?> ……of course she was….but it was going to be fine.
There was a minute sting as one of her vines was cut off to be replaced by another <She has been through a difficult time, that is all. Soon things will be better.> It had to be, Echina would not accept failure in this.
The grafter began applying the new vine <and what about yourself? How are you doing? Worrying for a xeno one cares for can be very draining.> it wasn’t that bad, she was fine….
Echina focused on petting the beeple for a while, letting her mind drift while adoring the floret. Her mind could not help but circle back to Rosa…was she really this obsessed? Obsession was not the right word, protectiveness might be more accurate. Rosa had suffered too much already, suffering that she should have been there to prevent. The memory of Rosa collapsed on the stairs, blood drenching her clothes, confusion and fear in her eyes….<I can’t graft properly if your flowers are wilting on top of my work.> Another, perhaps more forceful sting ripped Echina out of the memory.
She forced her mind onto something else, the new curriculum for the university was coming along well. And there was a cute floret in her lap…<the last couple of weeks have been difficult…I want her to bloom into the happiness she deserves, but it seems that both she and the universe is stubbornly resisting that outcome.> The beeple crawled a bit further into her arms, blinking with large sympathetic eyes.
The grafter sighed in agreement < sometimes it does seem that way. You and she will find your way through this. But ignoring your own well-being and wants will not help her, remember that. Could I at the very least offer you this delightful class-J? it is a rather light variant, with not that long ramp-up and a very short come-down period. Perfect for someone who needs to relax.> Was that last part for herself or Rosa?...Class-J was the fallback method….was accepting such a source of temptation a good idea?
Echina shuddered <fine, add it on. But that is it…I need to return home before she gets hungry.> The affini grinned and began her work once more while humming a tune, the beeple floret soon joined in the melody with a low buzz.
Allowing herself to relax and listening to the cheerful melody was surprisingly reliving, there had been far more tension in her form than she had realized. The feeling of her form connecting with the new grafts was also nice, something fresh and unexplored. And while she had no illusions that the class-J graft would be used, the pink white flower it came with was beautiful in its own right. Part of her was even a bit sad when the grafter told her they were done and showed her the result. The slight temptation to ask for class-A as well was ignored, she needed to get back to Rosa.
Echina gave the floret some last scritches before saying goodbye to the pair. When she came out of the establishment, her form felt much more ready to take on the rest of the day. There was still some lingering anxiety about Rosa’s awakening, that anger would be potent to be sure. The graft station was not far away from her hab, the walk back was maybe shorter than she would have liked.
A last check of Rosa’s state proved it had not changed, though it was clear she was asleep at this point. It was beginning to be time for lunch, she could make some food and let the human sleep until it was done, after making sure she was fine first of course.
The door to the hab opened…strange, Rosa was not on the couch….Maybe she had gone to bed. Echina cautiously entered the human’s room….not there either. Where could she be? There were no obvious hiding places in either the main room, or Rosa’s bedroom. That only left her own….but why would Rosa be there?
With the certainty that Rosa had not left the hab, Echina entered her slumber chamber. Again there were no obvious signs of the human in her care…so unless she had somehow gained access to the platform 2,5 meters up….that only left….
Echina found the human sleeping softly in the ped bed next to her desk. The relaxed expression, the subtle smile, the hands clutching gently at the fluff around her, the almost inaudible muttering, the messy hair…..Echina stood there and observed in silence for a good 10 minutes, frozen solid by the sight.
She had seen supernovas blast into glorious light before they collapse into black holes. Inspected the greatest of affini megastructures harnessing the energy of stars. Traveled core worlds where peace had reigned for a hundred thousand years. Stood in fear and awe of affini ships built for war with potential yet unmet threat. Walked in gardens comprised of every flower and fauna their civilization had found, composed like the most magnificent work of art.
Nothing could compare with the beauty of what lay before her. Her core thrummed with such unprecedented joy at the sight, that for a moment Echina was afraid Rosa might wake from the vibrations alone. This had to be maintained, of that there was no question. No sacrifice, burden, or hardship could be bad enough to even spark an evaluation if a future where this sight was present was worth their necessity.
The back of her mind told her how to secure that future. How to ensure that Rosa would always sleep in such a manner, without worry…..No. That was not what she had promised and not what Rosa needed. The fact that Rosa was like this without a collar around her neck was proof enough. So…how to proceed?
The affini was becoming ever more aware of her own immobility, her form craved some kind of action. The instinct was to dote on the human for several hours, treasure her like she was the most beautiful and adorable thing to grace the galaxy…as was the truth. But no, Rosa would not appreciate that…so maybe she should leave her alone…..no that was not right either.
Rosa probably ended up in the floret bed because of the relaxation module of the hypnotherapy. When the human awoke she would certainly be very embarrassed, that would be cute to witness but not nice to let happen, as Rosa would know she had spotted her sleeping there. Disturbing Rosa was also not an option…it simply was not. In the end, Echina decided to move the human very carefully over to her own bed.
With the most tender vines possible she lifted Rosa out of the bed and into her arms…how could she be this lucky? The human almost did not react beyond a few more audible muttering about ‘good gi…’ the rest was inaudible. The walk over to Rosa’s room was careful and far too short, Echina positively entranced by the beauty in her arms. It took great self-discipline to put her down on the bed and let her vines…oh. Somehow the girl had managed to grab hold of a vine, clutching, and pressing her face close to it.
There was a brief moment of panic before she extended two of her vines out to the living room. The compiler was given a remote command for ‘default 100cm plushie’ and her vines brought it back. Ah, a beeple, it looked quite similar to kuzie at the graft station. Tiny delicate vines swapped the large vine Rosa had clamored to with the large plushie. Finally, Echina tucked the sheets over the peaceful human and in a moment of weakness, gave her a kiss on the forehead. Rosa smiled gently in response, so cute!
No, she was getting too close. Echina pulled back rapidly, resisting the black hole power of Rosa’s cuteness. Only when the door was closed behind her could the affini let her form relax…that had been close. Now, what would Rosa like to eat? A search of the human’s records found a very sordid selection, with the expectations of what had to be the different comfort meals she made for her friends. The latter were good-looking meals, but not the right ones at this time…luckily the overnet had thousands of friendly suggestions. One affini chef recommended something called pasta alfredo, it did not look very healthy…the perfect comfort meal for her little human.
------------------------Centhia, North New Bergen, Hab complex Ceria, 24.04.2555, 14:15--------------------------
Rosa woke feeling more relaxed than she had in ages. Every limb, joint, and muscle was free of aches and tension. She was safely under the wonderfully soft covers, snuggling close to something soft and….snuggling? The urge to open her eyes clashed with the temptation of letting it be. It was nice, could that not be all that mattered? For once, temptation won out and Rosa allowed herself to snuggle whatever was in her grip a bit longer.
A small part of her mind reminded her of how she had fallen asleep, by listening to insidious affini propaganda about…what had it been? Something about clouds, and good girls? “I’m a good girl”……What the fuck had she just said? The blanket of drowsiness and calm over her mind was ripped of in an instant. Wait, was she still in the…
Her eyes sprang open, and Rosa raised herself in the bed….a completely normal bed…why had she thought that she had fallen asleep in a pet bed? Was it even real? Rosa looked down, there was a plushie in the shape of those cute affini-related aliens….a blush began to spread on her face, fluster growing second by second. Had Echina given her a plushie? That she had just accepted in her sleep? And then snuggled with for stars know how long?!
Thankfully the plushie absorbed her scream of embarrassment just as well as any pillow. Or maybe that was just the headphones…nope, Echina had not come running through the door, so it had remained a silent scream. Her first instinct was to get up and chew Echina out for treating her like this, she was not a floret…and also did want the affini to burden herself with such silly considerations.
But if Echina had done all of this of her own free will…maybe it was okay? It still felt wrong to allow the affini to worry about her but resisting it had not deterred her. The plushie was perhaps slightly condescending, or was it? Rosa could not deny that it was nice to hold, and she had displayed how embarrassingly touch-starved she was. Echina could no doubt have had her asleep in her massive vine-made arms instead….
Rosa pressed that thought out of her mind and got to her feet, yawning while still holding the plushie in her arms. She rubbed her eye with one hand just as the door to the bedroomed opened and Echina entered….they stared at each other for a moment. The affini’s eyes filled with adoring delight as Rosa remembered that she was still holding the beeple plushie. She gently put it down on the bed before clearing her throat “ummmm, what time is it?”
Echina smiled and spoke, “it is 14:23, I have made you some food, are you feeling hungry?” The robotic voice from the headphones was not what she was expecting, there was a tinge of disappointment in the back of her mind. A smell came from the living room…oh stars. If she was not hungry before, she sure as hell was now.
She followed the affini out of the room and towards the dining table. Each step up the staircase to the chair brought her closer and closer to the sweet, salty, and buttery smell. The plate was filled with pasta, coated in a thick white sauce. Cheese was not really something she liked, it was too fatty and had a very unpleasant consistency. There was one major exception to this rule, parmesan. The cheese was a rare luxury good, imported from the farm world Cebrex were a single corporation had limited the supply to keep the price up. The dish in front of her smelled so strongly of the cheese that it probably would have cost a month’s rent to make before the invasion.
She gave Echina a quick glance “can I?....” The meal almost felt bourgeoise in nature to eat for lunch.
The affini’s eyes twinkled “of course, I did not make it to be decompiled. Eat as much as you want…I can make more..” That was too much, Rosa held up a hand and nodded before digging into the meal. Oh….it was so goooood! The texture, the taste, the consistency; it was perfect! Rosa devoured the meal, closing her eyes to fully relish each forkful.
When she finally took a pause, she noticed that Echina was doing something on her data pad while at the same time stealing glances at her regularly. Rosa slowed down her eating considerably “what are you doing on the data pad?”
The data pad was put into a compartment in Echina’s body “research on similar foods. You seem to enjoy this meal a lot, I plan to enjoy making more that you will enjoy with as much gusto.” Again, rose felt her face heat up in a blush, maybe she had eaten too recklessly.
Also, did Echina expect to make all the food? “You know I can feed myself right? We can split who makes dinner and lunch.” Being a ward did not mean she was helpless and having someone else make food for her would probably not help her in adjusting to living on her own later.
The affini raised an eyebrow “if you allow it I would very much like to make your food, seeing you enjoy it is a delight. But I see no reason why you can’t help.” ….That was surprisingly reasonable.
The memories of how she had acted during the morning hours pressed themselves to the forefront of her mind “this was very delicious…by the way, sorry about how I acted earlier today. I don’t appreciate the weird audio file you made me listen to, but I know I was being stubborn and difficult…..sorry.” The last mouthful of food still on the plate had suddenly become very interesting to inspect.
A vine moved onto her shoulder “it is fine, you are in a new situation after a difficult time. Some negative reaction is bound to happen.” That wasn’t fair, Echina was not supposed to forgive her and then be considerate again.
Rosa forced herself to look up into the beautiful affini eyes “an explanation is not the same as an excuse, I am already causing you problems. I don’t want to burden you any more than I do currently.“ A vine moved in front of her lips and for a moment Echina’s eyes flashed green.
The affini shook her head “you are not causing me problems or being a burden. It is a privilege to take care of you and give you the affection you need. I accepted your apology, that is the end of it. Now, how do you feel?” The vine was removed but the eyes continued to glow.
It took a few seconds before Rosa managed to tear her eyes away from the glowing orbs and stammer “b-..better….I guess…” Why was Echina looking at her in that way making her behave like this?
A few of Echina’s vines wiggled as she spoke “That is very good to hear. There is still a lot of the day left, is there something you want to do?”
Echina was giving her options? “What can I do? I thought I was your ward and all that.” From how it was described there was almost no freedom given to the wards, maybe she would be allowed to read a book?
There was a humorous giggle from Echina “you are not my prisoner, you can go for a walk if you want. But if you are to go outside without me I need you to stay within the Melius district.” So, she could just walk outside the hab without supervision?
Rosa halted slightly “that is nice…but why do I have to stay in the district? Why can’t I visit the university if I want?” Apparently, there was freedom…but a tightly controlled freedom.
Echina’s eyes took on a deep blue color “it is not that I don’t trust you…but you have already been attacked twice. I can not allow that to happen again, this district is safe. The rest of the city will be safe too soon, but at the moment I can’t put you in potential harm's way.” Even with the mechanical voice, there was clearly some guilt in her expression “we can go to the university or any other place you want to go, but then I need to accompany you.” it was hard to argue against the plant’s logic, meeting more rebels that no doubt wanted her dead was not tempting.
Even with Echina’s reassuring words, the feeling would not go away “could I do something for you? some way to reciprocate what you are doing for me….” Avoiding the affini’s gaze she ate the last fork of pasta, the cheese had almost solidified.
When she looked up, Echina had gotten a hungry look in her now shining amber eyes, some of her flowers blooming and revealing the needles within. The next second it was gone, replaced by a considering frown “as long as you understand you don’t need to do anything to earn my affection and care I have nothing against it. Actually, there has been something I have wished to ask you to help with. I am working on the curriculum for the university reopening, it would be great if you could go over it with me and….help remove any unintended condescending language.” The alien hunger was gone, but desire, if more domestic, still resided in those beautiful eyes.
Ignoring the strange feelings in her stomach, Rosa considered the proposal. Not only had Echina accepted her request, but it was not a demeaning task either “insulted students can be hard to teach, I think that is a very good idea…as long as the rest of your kind is okay with a political dissident having a hand in the curriculum.” Education was an important tool for propaganda, even at the highest of levels….and with her conduct, some affini might have second thoughts.
Echina smiled warmly “The responsibility still falls to me, just speak your mind freely. I would also like to say that I am very happy you are here.” The smile and words trumped the mechanical voice and Rosa’s mind decided to fluster itself into knots. The affini was clearly amused at her blushing silence, at least she could not see her feet shuffling over each other franticly beneath the table.
Several deep breaths later Rosa calmed down, washing down the embarrassment with a glass of water “we can work on the curriculum now and then later I think I want to go for a walk alone, clear my head a bit.” Echina responded with an affirming hum that translated into a single flat buzz.
The mechanical-sounding voice was beginning to grate on her nerves, it matched so poorly with how beautiful it had been before….Rosa forced down another blush created by her own thoughts “ahm…before we start, could you do something about the headphones? It is very strange to listen to you when you sound like that.” Echina fished up the data pad once more and began typing away, Rosa could feel the input from the headphones change as she did so.
After a few far too long moments Echina spoke “is this better?” There was more emotion and timbre to the voice, but still…not as melodic as before…..That was good, it would hasten the desynchronization process and she wanted that…she wanted that. Rosa gave a nod, putting any of those thoughts into words would be unendingly embarrassing.
With the problem solved, Echina decompiled the plate and moved over to one of the several reading chairs in the room. Next to the large one was an exact replica but human-sized, Rosa had to admit it was sort of cute to see them side by side. She looked up at her warden, there was a gentle smile on her face that had previously been occupied by a constantly worried frown. The fear and discomfort from the thought that Echina’s view of her had been greatly diminished by her actions were starting to lessen. Maybe making the best of this wardship affair as Echina had suggested before was not such a bad idea. Perhaps it was more like having a roommate than being a prisoner, even if her roommate was a 3.5-meter tall plant lady with far too pretty eyes.