-----------------------Centhian orbit, Affini command ship: Agraria, 05.07.2554, 10:43------------------------------
K3 woke up and felt fragile, like any even mildly upsetting thing could cause her to break down once more. She had, several times over the last few days, and each time Centaurea had been there for her. The comfort, affection, and companionship….it was frighteningly nice and addictive. Each day it became slightly more believable that they really cared for her, really wanted to help her.
The fact that Centaurea intended to hunt her again had revealed itself more than a few times. For some reason, it did sound like her captor thought she would enjoy it. Though only after she had recovered, or at least so they had said yesterday.
K3 got to her feet and put on the ‘companion dress’ that Centaurea had picked out for her [good girl!] The red overlay disappeared just so her cheeks could redden instead. For some reason, her captor had begun to use the augments to praise her for and in the most embarrassing ways possible.
The living room looked empty, just as it did every morning. K3 walked up to her chair and waited, trying to find Centaurea among the plants. Once again her efforts were proven futile as the affini somehow managed to sneak up behind her and place a hand on her shoulder “how are you feeling my little flower?” For a moment she was startled, her body instinctively wanting to run and hide, but her mind settled. Perhaps faster than it should have.
She looked up at the affini “…I’m fine.” Her answer provoked a slight frown of disappointment. As Centaurea took a seat on the other side of the table K3 felt something spread from her synthesizer. The device that Centaurea had placed on the port in her chest made one tiny *beep*. A warm gentle buzz began to grow in the back of her mind along with emerging guilt.
Seeing Centaurea disappointed felt wrong, they were so nice to her…The affini’s tone was stern but forgiving “would you like to answer the question again?” The urge to not disappoint again bubbled up and wouldn’t leave.
K3 looked apologetically up at her captor “I…I’m sorry…I feel…sad…lonely?...I don’t know….” The red overlay appeared over her vision for a moment [well done!] The guilt disappeared in an instant, her mouth twitched in a strange way.
The disappointment was gone from Centaurea’s face “I am glad you are honest with me, just like a floret should be. Would you like me to comfort you after breakfast?” Comfort? She wasn’t even crying yet…it still sounded nice…and Centaurea cared about her, right?…She suddenly felt a new type of guilt, wasn’t it mean of her to distrust Centaurea so much? They had already helped her a lot…a vine caressed against her cheek and guided her gaze upwards “A good girl answers their mistress. You’re a good girl, aren’t you?”
The buzz began to wear off, she had to answer now “yes…mistress.” [such a good girl!] The blush returned with a vengeance and left her a flustered, hand-flapping mess. What had the affini done to her to make her react this way? A few gentle and affectionate pats on her head made sure the fluster lasted until the buzz had fully disappeared.
The embarrassment grew into irritation “why do you continue to do that?” Her mind was slowly rebuilding its barriers and the emotions toward her captor became colder by the second.
Centaurea’s voice was calm with condescending affection “what do you mean? Training you to behave like a good pet? Giving you some class-C so you can showcase your adorable self? or making you a flustered little mess?” The embarrassment and irritation grew in tandem as Centaurea’s words somehow made all of the options sound just as bad and good at the same time.
K3 crossed her arms, trying to muster some genuine defiance “all of it! but the class-C is the worst, you can’t just trick me into liking you.” Even her, with her limited social experience, knew that….even if it was working.
The affini was as unconcerned with her protests as ever, talking like she had done this a thousand times before “it isn’t trickery little one, the class-C is simply allowing you to feel emotions that you have been forced to neglect.” For a moment Centaurea’s eyes began to shine, their draw irresistible “If I wanted to, I could mold your silly, confused little mind into exactly what I want. It wouldn’t be hard and best of all….you would enjoy it.” The words weighed heavy on her mind, forcing their way in “By the time I was done shaping you, there would be no part of you left not eternally grateful, eternally obedient…just like a floret should be.” K3 shivered, her mind had already begun to construct the fantasy the words described…she wanted it.
A vine snapped in front of her face and the world came into focus once more “There we go. Can’t have you all trance-like when you are to be fed like the good girl that you are.” Her mind was spinning, why had she wanted that? Was this more affini mind manipulation? Why did a part of her still want that?!
A question spilled out before she had truly processed it “then why don’t you?....Not that I want to!” The predatory light had entered Centaurea’s eyes and posture once more, like one wrong move would have the affini lunging for her in a second.
Their words dripped with amused pride “because this is more fun. The end result will be the same.” It was not a suggestion or even a promise; Centaurea stated it as the truth, K3 did not find it in herself to disagree. The tension slowly ebbed away until a plate of food was placed in front of her, a clear sign that she was not allowed to talk further.
K3 resigned herself to the fate of not having much agency for some time and focused on enjoying the food she was now being fed. Up till she was captured the synthesizer had made sure to keep her body sustained with nutrition for long periods of time. This did not mean she never ate, just that it was far from a regular occurrence. With her augments and general autonomy under Centaurea’s control, it had become the new norm. It was hard to complain, food tasted good, even if it was being fed to her.
When the food was gone Centaurea began to talk once more “I can sense that you should still get some comfort…but if you want to insist on your previous answer being the result of trickery, you can say no now.” That was unfair….it wasn’t like she wanted to cuddle with the massive plant lady….it just made her feel better, that was all. She had already been made to say yes, saying no now…it wasn’t worth the effort.
Centaurea lifted her up and into their vines “I will take that as a yes. Such a good pet!” This stupid affini, with her stupid fast movement, beautiful eyes, entrancing voice, affectionate words. All of this was just so stupid! And for some stupid reason, it was working on her. Hiding away her fluster, K3 leaned into the vines and allowed them to embrace her. The warmth from each stroke drove the cold away, and the gentle pats and squeezes made her feel safe in the vines of the creature that had ruthlessly hunted her down. It made no sense…but it was nice…and for now that had to be enough.
-------------------------Centhian orbit, The Agraria, Centaurea’s hab 07.07.2554, 12:21------------------------------
The person on the other side of the mirror moved their arm, showing the parts where augments had been grafted in. A long time ago it had been a disturbing sight, the mesh of metal and flesh was not pretty. Over time it had become mundane, and then normal…K3 sighed, what was she to do?
The choices were many; remain as she was, become whole again, get new augments, change her current ones…too many choices, too many alternatives. If she had some clear direction of what to change then maybe it would be easier, but her body had stopped feeling hers a long time ago. Parts of it was definitely the dysphoria, Centaurea had said that the class-G she was now taking should alleviate that.
K3 wanted to feel some strong emotions when it came to the augments, but just like her name, there was only indifference remaining. Disgust, pride, horror, happiness, anything would be better than the blank nothing. Was it just strong suppression, would the emotions lurch out in some not-too-distant future? Without anything to guide her, how was she to make the right choice?
With another session of self-reflection, heh, ending with nothing gained, K3 could at least spend some time admiring her hair. It was in some ways strange, she had not had hair in…well forever. Centaurea had provided her with some affini wonder medicine and her hair had grown out at record speed. Already it covered the worst of the scars on her head. She was not sure how long she wanted it, but at least that was not a very permanent decision…unlike the augments.
There was some rustling from the other room, Centaurea was coming and letting her know. K3 put on the companion dress and walked up to the door like she had been told to do. Obeying the plant came easier and easier. There was little chance of her being able to resist and doing as told was never more than slightly demeaning. Centaurea never asked her to hurt anyone or do something she objected to, the tasks were not even difficult. She had lived through worse and honestly could not imagine having lived through better.
The door opened and Centaurea walked in, K3 immediately felt a bit smaller. It was not that the affini tried to be intimidating, but something about their mere presence made her feel weak and powerless. A vine ruffled her hair “good girl! Have you come to a conclusion?” She hadn’t….the prospect of disappointing her was unpleasant. Centaurea did not miss a beat “it is perfectly fine if you did not, but I implore that we talk of it now.” There was no resistance as the vines picked her up and carried her over to the bed, the large one.
While still in her lap Centaurea petted her gently “what are you having difficulty with?” There was not a hint of impatience or irritation in the affini’s melodic voice. K3 squirmed, not from being petted and in the alien’s lap, but from the discomfort of not knowing what to say. How was she to explain that she did not have a preference for how her body was supposed to look? The vines continued their calming rhythm over her back, head, and legs, Centaurea seemed content to wait.
After what had to be far too long, K3 tried to organize her thoughts into something that resembled a coherent statement “I don’t know if I trust myself to make the right choice….” There was a long silence.
Centaurea's voice was merely a bit questioning “If you are not content with the choice then we can simply undo it or change your form into something else. There is little consequence if you are dissatisfied.” She squirmed in the lap once more.
Part of her was frustrated that Centaurea seemed so remarkably calm “but I don’t know what I want! I never asked for ‘this’,” she gestured towards her body “but I have lived with it for too long to know what a good body would look like and….” Her words faltered, admitting to that…
Centaurea scratched her scalp “and? I want you to answer, pet.” K3 squirmed once more…the affini had heard it and there was no chance of her ending the conversation without spilling her guts.
The confession was almost stuck in her throat until those big, wonderful eyes met hers “I…I don’t make good choices, ok? I know I ended up like this, at least partly because of my own mistakes, at least somewhere down the line. And I should have trusted Paeni, I shouldn’t have ran from you…it almost got me killed.” She looked up at her captor, a smile had formed on the affini’s face.
Centaurea words dripped with a domineering satisfaction “so you agree that it was good I hunted and caught you?” Had she agreed to that?!....oh…she did. After a flustered moment of averting Centaurea’s eyes, a gentle hand guided her back “there is a solution to your problem: I can choose for you.” ….oh.
That sounded….good. It really shouldn’t, but it did. Was she fine with this? “ca…can I trust you?” The hand that cupped her face was so easy to lean into.
A vine-made thumb caressed over her cheek “of course you can, always.” K3 shuddered under the gaze, the part that had strived to maintain control melted under the pressure from her owner.
Her voice was tender, almost a whisper “can…can you chose for me?” The smile on Centaurea’s face spread into a grin, like a hunter watching the trap finally snapping around their prey.
A vine handed Centaurea what looked to be a mass of vines and flowers, almost like a crown of tiara. Then the hands opened the back of the ring, it was a collar. It looked remarkably similar to the same mesh that Centaurea was made from, the fuzzy purple flowers dotted its outside circumference. The air had gotten difficult to breathe, or rather she was holding her breath, was she finally accepting this?
Centaurea lifted her up “From today of I will always choose for you. You will be safe, you will be loved, and you will be cared for. Understand?” There was only one answer, the overpowering words coaxed it out.
She wanted this, she accepted it “yes…mistress.” The collar was fastened around her neck with a satisfying *click*, it felt right.
Centaurea kissed her on the forehead and held her close “You are almost ready my wonderful prey. I am very proud of you.” K3 allowed the words to sink into her heart and mind, she embraced her mistress and cried her first tears of relief and happiness.
------------------------Centhian orbit, The Agraria, habitation ring C 09.07.2554, 15:21------------------------------
K3 woke up and felt something lightly tickling her face. When she opened her eyes the source became obvious…grass. She was lying in a clearing, large trees surrounding her on all sides. A gentle wind was blowing through the forest and the tall grass she was lying in bended softly.
How did she get here? Where was Centaurea? A deep uneasiness grew in her core, was she alone? The breeze made her aware of her neck’s naked nature, her fingers gasped for it, but the collar was gone. K3 looked around with growing desperation, then the overlay disrupted her vision [It is time to run my prey.] The words stayed for a few seconds and then vanished. Centaurea wanted her to run? No…they wanted her to be hunted.
She considered standing still, letting her owner come and catch her without any resistance. It would let her get back into those warm and loving vines much faster. But Centaurea wouldn’t like that, they wanted to hunt her for sport. To chase after while she ran, hid, and struggled until the last inevitable moment. A surge of excitement rushed through her. The idea of using her skills, allowing instinct to take over and lead her, it was exhilarating.
K3 noticed suddenly that the augments were back under her control, her hearing and sight were turned to max. On her left, something was crawling and slithering through the undergrowth, straight towards her location. Centaurea wanted a hunt? Then they would get a hunt! She was not some helpless lap-floret, she had a decade of experience and skill.
Slowly and carefully, she began to move backward, making sure to not alert the hunter. The trick would not last for long, K3 prepared herself and as soon as she got to the edge of the clearing…She ran. A split second later the sound of a massive creature thundering through the forest began behind her, the hunt had begun.
With her sight fully optimized every treacherous root was avoided and every helpful branch used. The world turned into a blur of green and brown, but she saw every detail. Centaurea was catching up to her, it was far too soon to be caught. K3 swerved to the side and beelined it towards the light on her right. A second later the forest dispersed behind her, replaced with a great grassy area filled with sloping hills.
She moved so fast that the depression between two hills appeared too fast for her to stop. Instead, her legs gave all that they could, pressed against the ground at the last moment, and launched her into the air. For one glorious moment, K3 flew through the air, and then she landed with a roll on the other hill.
With adrenaline pumping through her body, she looked backward. Centaurea appeared like a massive beast from out of the forest. Their eyes met and K3 could feel the pride of her owner pierce into her heart, for a second she entertained the idea of stopping now, letting herself be caught…no! If mistress wanted her, she would have to put in the work.
The two second break was over as Centaurea shifted form into a massive ball of vines and rushed forward. K3 Ran, dashing down the hills and clambering up them. The sound of her pursuer coming ever closer like rolling thunder. Even with the jump, going out into open ground had been a mistake. She needed to find somewhere to hide, quickly!
On the top of one of the hills, K3 looked around, there! On her left! There was a huge pond and surrounding it were plenty of tall reeds, a perfect place to lose the predator. Her moment of pause was punished as the thunder gained speed and appeared behind her, slamming into the ground.
A vine sprang forth like a viper and gripped around her ankle. K3 had already started to move and with a twist of her leg, wiggled free. The action made her lose balance and she tumbled down the hill, working with gravity to give her every spec of speed available.
The ground turned softer beneath her as the slope flattened out. Her heavy legs dug into the dirt with every step, throwing up grass and dirt behind her. Through a sheer miracle, she reached the reeds and dashed inside, slowing down, and hunkering low.
K3 began to move through the reeds, every step made with exquisite precision. The thunder stopped, everything was silent. While the lack of knowing the hunter’s location was unnerving, the reeds gave her an advantage. One wrong step and Centaurea would be upon her, even her breath had to be silent. While risky it would not be hard to avoid the affini in here….was what she thought.
A vine reached down from the sky and silently hit a spot only a single pace away. Its ends began to split, and a dozen small vines spread out across the ground like the feelers of a sea creature. Holding her breath, K3 moved slowly away, stepping over one of the vines and moving in the other direction. A careful dance started, the air tense with silence.
In front of her, another vine came down from above. Shifting direction again, it did not take long before another of her paths were blocked. Left. Right. Left again. Centaurea was slowly cutting off every path possible, tightening the net around her. There was only one choice left.
K3 gave up any semblance of stealth and dashed through the reeds, trying to escape before the net trapped her. Immediately the sound of reeds breaking surrounded her. The net had already been completed! vines moved towards her from every direction. In desperation she jumped over one of the vines trying to reach for her legs, only to be hit by one from behind.
Landing in the dirt, K3 scrambled forward, rolling around to avoid another vine from above. Somehow she got to her feet only to be met with the sight of vines forming around her like a cage. Only now did the sound of Centaurea herself appear, slowly walking towards her location. She was trapped, escape was impossible, but it had been that from the start.
Seeing a slightly too large gap K3 sprang and threw herself forward. The gap was too small. Like a trap had been sprung, the vine cage closed from every angle as vines coiled around her limbs. She tried to strain, wiggle, twist, turn, anything to get away. But it was hopeless, the vines were too strong and too many.
Then the reeds bent and She appeared. Centaurea moved with an immaterial grace, slowly and without hesitation. Their eyes were locked onto her, K3 stopped struggling. A deep sense of awe filled her, the realization of her station finally setting in.
There had never been any chance of escape, not on Centhia, not in the factory, not in the hab, not here, not ever. When Centaurea had first locked those magnificent eyes upon her, it had been over, the conclusion already certain. K3 felt grateful that this creature, who surpassed her in every way, beyond her understanding, had chosen her. She might be Their prey, but that was a prestigious position to hold.
Even now, covered in dirt and mud, Centaurea looked at her in a way that made her heart melt. No words were necessary. She was proud of her, loved her. Nothing else mattered. Her owner moved forward, with every second the tension in the air rose like a crescendo. It was almost time, only a few more seconds. A very tiny part of her wanted to make one last attempt, run back to the life she had once lived. K3 knew it was impossible and unnecessary, this was her place in the world.
Not a hunter, not a lonely ghost stalking a concrete jungle with the only promise perseverance could offer being another day of struggle. Her place was here, in the inescapable grip of her owner, her better. She was prey, running and hiding as her instinct dictated. And when she was inevitably captured by her hunter; she would be loved and cared for by the most magnificent creature in the galaxy.
Finally, Centaurea’s hands reached out and placed the collar back around her neck “~caught you~” Her body curled into the waiting vines and was lifted into an embrace, K3 looked up at her owner…and smiled. A vine cleaned some dirt from her face “you did well little one, had fun?” The praise warmed her heart.
She nodded “yes mistress.” The vines were so safe and warm, she nuzzled into them further. The exhilarating energy from the hunt slowly drained from her body, leaving behind a pleasant afterglow.
Centaurea began to carry her out of the reeds “I am very proud of you, your taming is almost completed. There are only two things left, the first happens now, and the other will take place tomorrow.” Her mistress had her full and undivided attention, sparks of excitement burst in her mind.
Her owner groomed through her hair “I have finally found you a new name.” The words hang in the air for a moment, Centaurea seeming to enjoy the tension “your name from today on is: Leía Zeluan, 9th floret. It is a word from an ancient Terran language, I think you can guess what it means.” Leía….it was a beautiful name, it fitted her well.
She nuzzled closer to Centaurea “thank you, mistress….but I am a bit confused…9th floret? Have you had nine florets before me?”
Centaurea shook her head gently, an amused glint in her eyes “not ‘had’ little petal, ‘have’. Do you think you are the only prey I have hunted down and tamed?” Leía only felt the confusion deepen, luckily she had her mistress to explain everything “each domestication program I venture out from my home and only return when I have found a wonderful prey to bring back. My partner, who will own you together with me, takes care of our florets while I am away.” She was going to have another owner?
Centaurea smiled “I can see you are excited, her name is Clematis and I just know she will adore you just as much as I. This brings us to what is going to happen tomorrow.” Tomorrow….Leía’s heart started to beat faster. A vine gently moved up her back before stopping at the bottom of her neck “tomorrow, you will get your implant, and your new augments. With the implant, you will be connected to both me and Clematis, while you recover we will make our way home.”
Home….She was finally going home. It did not matter that she had never been there, Centaurea had promised that she would like it and that was more than enough. Home…a place to belong, with the person she belonged to…Leía felt unreliably lucky as she looked up to her owner with undying adoration.