-----------------------Centhian orbit, Affini command ship: Agraria, 01.07.2554, 16:42-----------------------------
K3 woke….naturally, the usual mix of chemicals from her synthesizer was not the cause this time. She was in a bed for the first time in as long as she could remember. It felt too soft, like it was trying to drag her down. A diagnostic should be the first priority, but her mind was too fuzzy for that, still clambering out of the groggy valley of sleep. Instead, she looked around, it was a large room filled with plants that bloomed in the most peculiar colors.
One of the plants began to move….it had to be an illusion, was there something wrong with her head? Then the plant spoke, “hello little petal, I am glad you are finally awake.” The affini! Fear kicked her mind into gear and K3 immediately tried to rise to her feet and run. Her arms and legs strained against some type of restraints, it was hopeless…
The affini came closer “don’t strain yourself, you are still recovering from your surgery. I know you might be afraid, that is natural. But there is nothing you can do now, so let us talk instead.” Surgery?! What had they done to her? K3 booted up her diagnostics.
[sorry petal, you don’t need to know that.] A chill went down her spine. She tried to regulate her hearing, her sight, and make the synthesizer produce some adrenaline…all of the augments were unresponsive. Right as panic threatened to envelop her mind a needle-like vine moved forward and pierced her arm, something was injected into her, and the fear melted away. K3 felt her breath become regular…panicking now would not help.
Perhaps talking was the best course of action “you have yet to kill me….What do you want from me?” It was the most rational explanation, they wanted to control and exploit her somehow.
The affini raised sat down in a chair made up of its own vines “what do you think I want from you?” It acted confidently, it knew she was in no state to resist.
Speech was the only way to display her vitriol “make me work? make me hurt or kill people? I don’t know….just get it over with.” At least the corps had the decency of getting to the point.
The affini raised an eyebrow, its purple flowers bristled “no, no, no. Not anything of that kind, what I want from you is rather simple. I want you to be happy.”…………
K3 did something she very seldom did, she began to laugh. The brazen delivery of the lie was actually impressive. Want her to be happy? By the stars, that was a good one. What was next, ‘satisfaction guaranteed’? The affini did not seem to share the humor “from your amused reaction, I take it you don’t believe me. Do you want me to explain the nature of your situation?” The laughter died in her throat…it really didn’t matter.
If she was disconnected from the system, then the neural termination would start within the next 12 hours “I am going to die soon, that is the nature of my situation.” The chip, filled with neurotoxin would at least make her death a quick one.
The affini tilted its head “if you are referring to that nasty piece of poison that was placed near your brainstem, it has been removed. you are safe.” They had removed it?….The chip was made to be impossible to remove without killing her in the process. But still, the alien seemed confident enough.
She stared at the affini, making sure to not make eye contact “Alright….so what do you want with me?”K3 steeled herself, no matter what her fate was to be, she would survive.
Her captor still talked with an unnerving sense of pride “because of your previous behavior it was mandated that you be domesticated. You are a spirited prey, so I have decided to take you as my floret.” Domesticated? Floret? What the fuck was the weed talking about?
The affini noticed her confusion “right, your pack-mate told me you had not stayed informed of current affairs. No worry, I will explain. You have proven to be a danger to both yourself and others, for that reason, you must be taken care of. Being my floret will say that I own you, in some ways like property, but more appropriately like a pet. As your owner, I will make sure you are the best version of yourself that you can possibly be.” Best version? This was all alien Corp nonsense. At least they were honest about owning her like some sort of property, the pet part had to be the language or culture barrier.
Floret was likely also some euphemism. Rehabilitative laborer, mandatory independent contractor, floret, what’s the difference? “What do you want me to do?” Likely something to do with infiltration, the affini would have the same need for assassins and spies as every other government in existence.
The affini stood up and smiled “firstly allow me to introduce myself. I am Centaurea Zeluan, 8th bloom, she/they. The first thing I want you to do is to tell me your name.” At least the alien overlords were better at using pronouns.
It was a moderately mundane question “K3, she/her.” Her reply was as short as it was tart.
Her supposed owner took up some sort of data pad “that is a rather unusual name…and not one we have on record. Do you have another name?” Names were a luxury that had been stolen from her long ago.
K3 sat up as far as the restraints would allow “no, and I have not been considered a person for the last 11 years. Not that it sounds like that is about to change.” From one overlord to the next….hadn’t she suffered enough?
The affini shook their head “while you are my floret, you are still a person. Unless of course, you don’t want to be considered one. Now, the second thing I want from you is to tell me what you think you need to be happy.” This was getting tiring, K3 finally felt her emotions return with some force.
Why was the affini trying to uphold this charade? “I want my freedom, I don’t want to be your property, pet, floret or whatever you want to call it!” Her show of defiance was not met with anger or punishment.
Centaurea seemed only slightly intrigued “interesting, and what would you gain from this freedom that would make you happy?” K3 paused, what an absurd question. Before she could answer the affini continued “I understand that the lack of freedom has impacted you negatively as horrendous things were forced upon you. But I promise that I will only force upon you the things you need to be the best version of yourself. What would you do if you were free right this moment?” Where they being genuine? At least they sounded genuine…
There was a long period of silence, what would she do if she was free? K3 doubted heavily that the affini would allow her to be free, but she should still have an answer….“I…I would….I don’t really know…”…get a job?……like anyone would hire something like her.
Centaurea moved forward and with the unified movement of several vines lifted her up from the bed, the restraints were undone in an instant “you don’t need to know, you will agree with this arrangement as you come to understand it and your own nature. Now, the third thing I want from you is to make sure you are healthy and fed, we will start with the latter.” Without any more explanation, she was carried out of the room and into another.
This new room shared the previous in decorum, large plants grew almost everywhere. The only thing that seemed somewhat civilized was a kitchen area that looked remarkably out of place, and the huge table that accompanied it. She was placed in one of the far too tall chairs and the affini walked up to what K3 assumed to be a fridge. A plate of grilled meat was taken out and placed in front of her, still warm.
There was no cutlery, would the affini ask for something before she was able to eat? A vine came down and cut a piece of the meat and lifted it up “open up….your mouth, open it.” They wanted to feed her….a rumble from her stomach made the choice slightly easier. K3 opened her mouth and a second later the food filled her mouth, a vine pressed against her chin, and closed her mouth “chew.” She glared up at the affini.
They looked moderately amused and cut another piece of food with the vines, waiting for her to swallow. Seeing the ease with which the blade sharp edges of these vines cleaved through the meat, K3 suddenly felt very lucky that she had not been on the wrong end of them. Before the affini could feed her again she tried to push the vine away “I can do this myself, you don’t ne-” Her protests were cut short as the affini fed her once more, another vine making sure she closed her mouth.
Centaurea hardly seemed to care “what you can or not is irrelevant, what I want you to do is to be your sole concern. At the moment you are not allowed to feed yourself, so I will do it for you. Understood?” There was an overwhelming force in the affini’s voice, K3 suddenly felt very small. When the next portion of food came she opened her mouth hesitantly, a vine pat her on the head “good girl.” Her face felt warm and strange, what had it just called her? While her mind tried to process this new situation and feelings, something it failed spectacularly at doing, the affini continued to feed her until the plate was empty.
She was lifted up once more “I hope you enjoyed your food. Now you need to be cleaned, you are dirty.” Without another word, she was brought to yet another room. It looked like some sort of grove, with a waterfall and large pond. The only thing that broke the disguise was the walls she could spot behind the plant growth. While very strange, there was a certain alien beauty to the place…Was this how nature looked?
Centaurea moved into the pond and gently lowered her into it as well. Before K3 could begin to clean herself several vines began to roughly scrub and douse her in water. What did the affini think it was doing? “he-sto-I ca-STOP!” Her outburst was ignored, and a vine began to scrub her with soap. This was beyond humiliating, K3 tried to squirm out of the affini’s grasp.
This finally solicited a response as the vines coiled around her and kept her tightly bound “Behave.” Centaurea spoke in the same stern and powerful tone as before and K3 relaxed against her better judgment. There was something about the timbre and tone of the words that made them seem important somehow.
The affini continued to scrub and wash her, the water that poured down from her was filled with dirt, grime, and muck “that is much better, is it not so much easier when you behave? You do not need to answer that, the answer is yes….good girl.” Why did it keep calling her that? And why was she reacting like this? None of this made sense.
After she had been thoroughly washed Centaurea brought her up from the water and began to dry her with a towel. Again, the movements were far from gentle, but not painful either. Once the affini seemed satisfied it took up something that looked like a large, strange, shaped pistol and pointed it at her. K3 did not even have time to be afraid as hot air came out of the ‘gun’. Her ‘owner’ went over her with the ‘gun’ until she was completely dry.
K3 was wrapped up in the huge towel and brought out to the living room. Centaurea looked down at her “while you have misbehaved I still think that you deserve some comfort. We can cuddle before you need to go to bed again, only if you want to of course.” Okay, that was it!
K3 scrambled and this time managed to get free of the alien’s grip, she landed on her feet “I don’t want to cuddle with you! I want you to let me go! Or at least stop whatever game you are playing!” Centaurea didn’t flinch but a threatening glare had entered their eyes. What was she going to do? Kill her? “Do you think that treating me like this is going to make me like you?!” This was insane.
Centaurea moved forward, looming over her, the affini’s presence felt like it covered the entire room. For a split second K3’s eyes scanned the room, looking for an escape route. There was a single large door that she had not gone through yet, it had to lead outside. If she could only- “If you are thinking of escaping, then go ahead.” The door opened, there was a corridor outside, could she… “I would like for nothing more than hunt you down once again. Though this time it will not last as long, you are mine now, and I do not let my prey escape.” A chill went down her spine, there was no way she could escape this monster.
K3 took a step back, Centaurea moved forward in response, the glare still in her eyes “good, at least you have understood that much. I was told that humans responded best to positive stimulus, but perhaps you require a different incentive.” A few vines parted in the lattice that formed Centaurea’s chest and the affini took out a collar and remote “this will give you a little shock each time you misbehave, I have used it to great effect before.” As to demonstrate a short *bzzz* of electric static leaped across the collar.
Sudden and inescapable fear lurched forth and enveloped her mind. K3 recoiled and fell backward, scrambling to gain as much distance between her and the collar as possible. Her defiance was gone “ple…please don’t…I…I’ll do as you say…just don’t.” Something about the sound made her mind tremble. When she looked pleadingly up at the affini the collar was gone, concern was present in Centaurea’s eyes.
Her captor moved forward carefully “I am sorry, we will not be using that method. If you behave for today, I will find a new way of taming you tomorrow.” Centaurea leaned down and moved a hand towards her, K3 recoiled, and the vine-made hand pulled back. But only for a moment, the hand extended again, she recoiled, and the hand moved back. On the third time, she allowed it to come closer, and finally, it reached her face and touch her cheek gently “I know you are scared….you are safe now, I promise. You should get some more sleep, come here.” The hand gently caressed her cheek and a few vines helped her back to her feet.
Centaurea guided her back to the bedroom, the bed looked very tempting. To her surprise a vine pointed to the floor, there was a large, human size pet-bed there “this is where you will be sleeping unless I allow otherwise.” K3 wanted to get enraged again, she was being treated like an animal. But she was too tired, after some prodding, she lied down and curled up. It was remarkably soft and warm, and the fact that she was clean for the first time in months gave the situation a degree of comfort she had not felt in ages.
A vine gently petted her head “good girl, sweet dreams.” K3 had already closed her eyes, thinking about what was going on was too straining on her mind, it was too absurd. Finally, her mind let go and sleep embraced her.
Centaurea looked down at her prey, now sleeping ever so peacefully. They took some time to reflect on their new floret’s behavior. Like she had suspected, fear and pain had been far too present in the girl’s life. Making her let go of that would be a challenge, but far from impossible. In total her prey had behaved moderately well for her first time, at least there had not been any violence or biting. She was slightly disappointed that she had not tried to run, it usually tamed them quicker to fully understand that there was no alternative.
The clicker had seemed like a good idea, but the response from her prey was obviously a product of trauma. If they had to guess, the clicker was similar to methods used on her floret previously. The thought disturbed her, and that was reinforced by what the vet had said. A quick brain scan confirmed what her floret’s friend had said: a great deal of the neurons in her prey’s brain had been severed through the use of barbaric and crude methods. This was also the likely cause of her human not having another name or remembering much about her past.
Centaurea determined that she would have to find a new name for her pet, ‘K3’ was not satisfactory. There was also the issue of the augments, so far all of the functions were set to normal, and weapons removed. She would have to find out how many of these augments her prey wanted to retain, and how they were to be retained if she wished to keep any at all.
Finally, they needed to find a method of taming their new conquest. Centaurea was wary of using any negative stimulus, the likelihood of triggering more trauma was too great. Positive stimulus would not be sufficient in its own right. While it would help with the fear, her prey had many negative habits that needed to be removed or curbed. Xenodrugs was the obvious solution…but that was too easy, there was no fun in breaking in a sophont using only chemicals. They had not known her prey for long, some more observation would likely give her the clues she needed.
For now, Centaurea indulged by looking at her sleeping pet and thinking of home…it would be nice to get back.
-----------------------Centhian orbit, Affini command ship: Agraria, 02.07.2554, 9:50-------------------------------
K3 felt a slight tingle [it is time to wake up petal, your breakfast is ready.] The display turned off right after she had read the message. She stretched in the pet bed, it was still demeaning but damn if it wasn’t comfortable. After accepting the disturbing fact that her captor had somehow gained access to her ocular implant, K3 considered her situation.
Leaving would mean that she had to talk to Centaurea, and worse, be treated like some helpless animal. She considered her options; trying to escape would not work at the moment, resisting had gone poorly, and fighting was off the table. That only left cooperation….a distasteful choice, but it was not like she had not chosen it before.
K3 got out of the bed and headed for the door, only then did she notice the flowing dress on the ground. Presumably, it was for her, and it made sense…she was almost naked. After putting it on she felt slightly more dignified. It was an unusual feeling, soft fabric on her skin, it was far better than the plating she usually wore.
With some hesitation she exited the room, the affini was nowhere to be seen. K3 scanned the room, without her sensory augments she did not feel confident. For a brief moment she looked towards the door, maybe this was the only chance she would get….no, this was a trap. She had laid too many of them herself to know when things looked too easy, when escape was too obvious. If she cooperated there might maybe show itself an opportunity where that was possible, but it was not now.
Instead, she walked up to the table and climbed up the chair, waiting for her was a plate of…pancakes? That seemed awfully benign. Again, there was no cutlery, so supposedly she was going to be fed again…Suddenly one of the many large plant growths in the room began to move and faintly take the shape of her captor, it was an impressive display of camouflage.
Centaurea moved up to the table with a smile that revealed several sharp needles that K3 assumed were supposed to imitate teeth “I am very happy with your behavior. Good girl.” This time the words failed to take hold in her mind, the display and trap itself were too unsettling.
K3 glared once more up at the affini “why? Why are you testing me?” They simply stared down at her with the same amused smile, then cut up part of the pancakes and presented it in front of her face. After a moment of hesitation, she opened her mouth and allowed the affini to feed her.
Centaurea pat her on the head “you are learning fast, that is very good. As to why I tested you…I need to make sure that you are both alert and clever, I don’t want easy prey.” They wanted to hunt her more?! K3 had heard of rich CEO’s that owned their own hunting reserves….was this what the affini wanted from her?
Her mouth was far too occupied with the food to ask any questions, and her captor's voice turned more serious “If I have understood your vet correctly then around 40% of your body's original mass has been replaced by crude human augments. This also includes augments in your eyes, ears, and near your heart. I know that this was forced upon you without consent, but that you have also lived with them for a long time. We affini have far more advanced augments, and we can even give you biological replacements for what you have lost. How would you like for us to handle this?” K3 had been so focused on what the affini was saying she didn’t notice that the portions of food had stopped.
After quickly closing her mouth she thought about it, there was a lot to take in at once….and what did the affini get out of this? Centaurea was looking at her, expecting an answer “I…I don’t know…can I think about it?” The affini nodded and began feeding her once more, it was an effective method for telling her when to speak and not.
Apparently, it was not the only thing on the affini’s mind “as I said yesterday, we need to find a new method to tame you. We will not use the clicker and I want you to tell me if there are any other methods that might trigger trauma on your part. If you have any preferences for how to be trained then I would love to hear it.” K3 tried hard to not choke on the food, the affini was being serious! She was grateful for them not using the shock collar, but if they thought she would help them in ‘taming’ her, then they were even more insane than what she had assumed.
Cooperation was one thing, but willful subjugation? Never! The plate was empty and once again Centaurea looked at her expecting her to answer…..for a moment K3 considered lying, but having on average one social interaction per month, usually while injured, did not really make her skills in that field match the typical Centhian stereotype. In place of helping her own demise and of lies, there could only be silence, a good friend.
Centaurea noticed she was not going to talk and frowned “petal, this is going to be much easier if you talk to me.” Easier for them maybe, the affini sighed “I understand that it is natural for you to act this way. I suppose there is no reason to put this off.” One of the vines moved upwards to strike, on its tip was a yellow flower that opened to reveal a needle-like object protruding from its middle.
Vines had already moved to constrict her so the attempt to evade was futile, K3 looked away and felt a slight sting in her arm. Something pressed into her veins….for a little while nothing happened. With the vines already constricted around her, Centaurea put her down on the floor. A sudden chill had entered the room.
What had Centaurea injected her with? The affini sat down and unfurled the lower part of their humanoid form “While you evolve in very different ways for very different environments, prey tend to act the same. Your instincts tell you to avoid the pain, to run from hurt and danger. Always moving, always focusing on something else, any distractions that you can find to ignore it.” there was a deep empathy in her voice, bordering on pity.
K3 felt strange, weak, and cold. Parts of her mind that had remained there for so long that they seemed normal, fine….suddenly hurt. Centaurea looked at her with compassionate eyes “Pain, hurt...loneliness, they are the most dangerous hunters. You cannot outrun them, and if you try….it will only hurt you more when they finally catch up. You are excellent prey, very good at running, surviving, and ignoring the pain. But I will not allow you to run any further.” Her throat began to feel tight, and it wouldn’t stop. Those parts of her mind that kept her alive, on the move, and focused on the objective…didn’t work. The pain spilled forth without any obstacle or hindrance, why had it gotten so cold?
Instincts and thoughts of survival buckled under the cold wave that worked to drown her mind. K3 wanted something…..she wasn’t even sure what it was. A desperate need…for something…what was it? She looked over at the affini and a question emerged in her mind, an unthinkable question, a question that didn’t even make any sense. The cold felt more intense like it had been there her entire life and only now did she notice it.
Centaurea looked at her with those big blue alien eyes “you don’t need to ask, I am here for you. I will always be here for you.” Would it be so bad to trust her? if only for a moment….K3 took a tentative step forward, her legs felt unsteady, something wet was trailing down her cheeks and dripping onto the floor. A part of her mind still screamed that it was dangerous, to keep closed and safe…but the want was too strong, she took another step.
A vine reached out and she collapsed into the waiting embrace “come here….let it all out…you are going to be fine, but for now cry for as long as you need.” The words released a floodgate that had been closed for far too long. K3 cried and sobbed while the wines held her in a tender and warm embrace. The cold receded, not a lot, but even the slightest relief was more than she had ever felt. Feeling the pain, how lonely she was…it hurt more than she could handle and part of her wanted to press it down once again. To try to escape only so the feelings would be pushed aside…but no matter how much it hurt, it felt better. For the first time in the life she could remember, she wanted more than to just survive.