Martha rushed forward and grabbed Hendrik before he fell out of the chair. Using her vines, she created a small cradle in her arms. Her fear of him reacting to being touched like earlier was dismissed by the sight of Hendrik already asleep.
He looked almost peaceful in her arms, so vulnerable and cute. Serla had warned her that her wards mental state was probably quite poor, but this was still surprising. How could the man that had stood up to her with such a cold and cruel laugh also be so incredible fragile?
She carried him over to the couch and in a moment of weakness decided to keep cradling him as she sat down herself. At this moment she would like to have been calm, like affini were supposed to be. Instead, her core was filled with countless strong emotions.
She was mostly worried, whatever triggered his panic attack must have been her doing. What part of what she had said had triggered such a strong reaction?
Part of her was angry, both towards herself and the universe that had made this sophont suffer so. If she had just followed him from the office maybe she could have protected him from those ferals. If she had been smarter or had a better understanding of humans, she could have seen his deceit before it all crumbled down on him.
Then there was the part she was trying to ignore and control. That primal part of her that found Hendrik’s suffering to be a crime against nature. That wanted to go into his mind, tear out the poison, heal the wounds and put him back together. An older affini definitely would have by now, and a growing part of herself wanted the same.
No. she had decided to help Hendrik get better with him, not despite him. Humans valued their freedom to be who they wanted to be, and she would not take this from Hendrik.
Maybe It was selfish to let her opinions on domestication procedure prolong Hendriks’s suffering. But if she allowed that primal part to take control it would not be Henrik that remained, at least not what he would have chosen to be.
While lost in thought she was looking down on the human the entire time. Hendrik begun to move, the dose must be wearing off.
With the most soothing voice she could manage she tried to relax him into awareness “just relax, everything is going to be okay. Take a few deep breaths for me, ok?”. To her surprise Hendrik did as she asked. “Very good, how are you feeling?” to be honest part of her was a afraid of the answer.
The humans voice was low “I think I feel better than I should……still not great” his voice was almost calm but there was a deep sadness to them that made Martha’s core shudder.
“The xenodrugs are still passing through your systems, do you want to talk about what happened?” the fact that Hendrik seemed content to stay in her arms was a good sign, she prepared a sting of class-E. if things went wrong, she could give him a stronger dose than the collar.
Hendrik looked up at her, tears were building in his eyes “I…. I don’t”. he took a deep breath trying to hold back the tears “I don’t know who I am.” He covered his face with is arm and begun to cry.
While core shattering to witness this was the most open he had ever been, she would press on. “Could you explain, I’m not sure I quite follow.” She used her vines to hold him tighter.
“I can’t….. I just….when you….” Hendrik was sobbing to heavily to finish the sentence.
“There, there. Take your time, no need to force it. I’m here for you” after about 3 minutes Hendrik got the composure he needed to talk.
“When… when you asked me why I cared so much about power…… I couldn’t find an answer. I couldn’t even come up with a convincing lie. The work, The Game…. it’s my life. I don’t know what I am without it. I don’t even think…. there is a ‘me’ left. I’m nothing.” he buried his face in his hand and continued to cry, he sounded utterly broken.
Martha decided to discard her despair for now, she needed to be here for him. She begun to rock him gently back and forth “it’s okay to cry, just let it all out. Your very strong and smart, we are going to get through this together. I’m here for you” she felt his breathing get slower as he continued to cry.
She continued to hold him, he uncovered his face and looked up at her. His face was wet with tears “why are you being so nice to me? It doesn’t make any sense.” It was the first sincere question she could remember him asking her.
She held him a even tighter “it’s because I care about you. You deserve to be happy, and I want to help you in any way I can,” She looked down on him and smiled softly, nothing in the universe would stop her from helping him.
His lips were trembling “but….but I hurt you. I lied…. and...and...when you came that night…I...I laughed at you…I”. he took a deep breath but continued before she could talk “don’t tell me I didn’t. I heard it in your voice, I betrayed, used, and hurt you. And the worst part… the worst part is that I...liked it. I was….glad…that I had the power to hurt you. I’m a monster....” Martha did not know how to answer that.
They were both silent for a while after that. Martha remembered how he had looked when they found him in the cell. Hurt, bleeding and so exhausted it looked like he would collapse at any moment. But even then his eyes had been focused, reactive and burning with determination. The person in her arms was far healthier but his eyes looked empty, sad, and resigned.
Henrik spoke up again “there is a third alternative, isn’t there?” He saw that she was confused “If I’m too great of a threat or just can’t be happy, some sort of drug....” Of course, he would know about class-o’s, she really did not like where this was going.
“There is, but is rarely used, only in extreme cases. It's not something you need to think about.” She tried to remain calm, why would he ask about such a thing?
“My information on it is quite limited, what does it do?” his voice was calm, there was sadness in it but the tears had dried up.
Why would he not leave it alone? “It makes your brain incapable of feeling anything other than pleasure and joy. But it destroys your mind in the processes, you won’t be able to make coherent thoughts or understand the world around you. I won’t let that happen to you.” She held him even tighter, anymore and she would hurt him.
Hendrik let out a small and empty chuckle “there is not really anything…. left of ‘me’ to destroy. I did that…..my….myself. All that is left is pain….and…………I……I give up.” he started to cry again.
That was as much as she was able to take. She could not, would not see him suffer like that. She would help him be happy with his approval, but she could not see him so hopeless and broken.
A vine with a pointed thorn extended from her hair. she had grafted it on before arriving on Terra in case there were any sophonts that she hit it off with. It had remained unused, but she was thankful for her past self that she now had it at her disposal. The thorn struck just beneath the collar and pumped a large dose of class-H into his system.
He looked up a bit puzzled, she felt his body become limper in her arms. With a vine she dried the tears on his face and with another she lifted his face up so he could see her eyes.
Her voice was gentle but commanding “everything is fine little one, can you take some deep breaths for me?” Hendrik looked dazed but begun to breathe slower in a steady rhythm. “Very good, now please look into my eyes, just like that, aren’t they interesting to watch?” Hendrik's eyes begun to glaze over, she could feel his resistance crumbling.
She made her eyes shine "just like that, drop for me." His eyes were focused but now only for absorbing her commands.
At this point she had him entirely within her vines, the need to change so much within him was almost overpoweringly strong. She resisted, she had only one thing she wanted to adjust in her human’s mind.
She let her voice fill with the full force of her biorhythm “there is something important you need to understand, and I will help you. Everything that I am going to say is true and you will know it to be true deep within you." His reaction was a soft nod, he was following her eyes carefully
She had his complete attention “Things might be hard now, but you will get through it. You will never give up. You deserve happiness just like everyone else, nothing you do can ever remove that right. Do you understand? Nod for me if you understand”. Hendrik nodded as much as he could while still looking at her eyes.
She felt that her words had left an impact “That's very good, you can trust me. Now then, I need you to come up, can you do that for me?”. She softened her biorhythm and closed her eyes for a moment, breaking the contact.
Hendrik’s eyes became a bit more focused, but he was still quite dazed. It would take at least an hour for the xenodrugs to wear off. During that time, he would be calm and malleable.
She extended a vine and scratched his head, he was simply too cute. Hendrik made a stifled moan and pushed his head against her vine, eager for more. How utterly precious! She wished she could just do this for eternity. “You’re so good for me aren’t you. Yes you are. Good boy” He seemed to recoil a slightly at the last words. “You don’t like that? Interesting” she continued to scratch and pet his head.
At some point he fell asleep, snoring softly. She moved him to the bed, making sure he was close to the edge so he could get up by himself. She dimed the light and left the adorable sophont to sleep. Martha unraveled on the couch. It had been hard to see him hurt, it had been hard to see him so upset and defeated, it had been hard to control her impulses. But to see him relax in her vines had been more than worth it.
Henrik woke with a yawn. He felt more refreshed than he had the last few years. By instinct his left hand went up to remove the sleeping patch, only to find the metal collar around his neck. Right…he was the prisoner/ward of the affini, not that there seemed to be much of a difference. How did he get into bed again, oh right. He had panicked and then fallen unconscious, probably something with the collar.
At least Mertha had been kind enough to carry him to bed. Near the end as well, how thoughtful.... Using his left hand to remove the sheet he managed to stand after using the nightstand as leverage. His head felt dizzy but other than that, quite clear.
He looked down to inspect what he was wearing. He was wearing some kind of white one-piece dress. Almost like a hospital gown but far, far softer. A bit apprehensively he lifted the gown and inspected his wound. At the point where he had been stabbed there was a dense mix of thin vines covering the wound but also clearly under his skin as well. The burn marks from the shock batons had healed wonderfully with only faded pink markings to show where they had struck.
His right hand was still stuck in the plant cast, he would not be able to write as long as it was there. He hoped it would heal quickly. With the increased energy at his disposal he decided to inspect the room, a distraction from the question in the back of his mind.
The room was relatively sparse except for the bed, the nightstand and with a glass of water on it and a few potted plants around the room. He took the glass and drank it in one go, he had been thirstier than he noticed.
Opposite the room from the door was a window out to the void of space. He walked up to it, the majesty of the void was something he had little interest in before, but it was still captivating. If he looked up he could see Centhia not far away. The sprawling urban districts that covered the planet were full of light as nighttime claimed the side of the planet.
It was all over he had to keep moving. A strange feeling of determination shot through him. Even with the affini in power, even with the problems he had right now. There would always be a way forward, had he not proven that before? Where others had failed he had triumphed. This failure would not stop him.
He heard the wishing of the door opening behind him “you’re awake....feeling any better?” Mertha walked up to him and looked out the window.
It was kind of nice staring out in space with someone else “yeah, I feel better. Thank you” he heard Martha’s vines rumbled a little, he looked up and saw her smiling down on him.
A few of her vines we wiggling “I am very happy to hear that. Now then we should take care of your hygiene. As you are still recovering I should probably assist you”. There was an opening left for him to deny her help,
and he would but she was probably right.
He gave a thumbs up with his remaining hand “yeah that sounds good, I just want to look a bit longer”. He continued to look at the planet that had once been his to rule. He wondered how Nora was doing. No that was not a good train of thought, the feeling around that were too raw at the moment .
They stood together at watched the planet and the stars in the distance. With a nod he signaled that he was ready, and they walked to the bathroom. He was still slow but nothing time would not fix.
The bathroom was huge. Most of the room was dominated by what was best described as a medium size pool. There were also the other standard facilities one would expect in a bathroom. It was actually not very different from the bathroom he had on one of his vacations, so many years ago.
His warden went over the wash “we should probably start with you dental. The vet applied a cream that should have kept them safe, but I still want to inspect after you’ve brushed your teeth”. She handed him a toothbrush with pink cats on it and he stepped towards the wash.
Oh, there was a mirror there, best not to look. He applied the cream Mertha handed him and applied water, careful to not look at his reflection. He then leaned against the wall, so the mirror was out of sight and begun with efficient and mechanical moves.
Martha looked concerned “are you sure you are okay? It's ok if you are tired”. He stopped leaning against the wall and gave a shrug “Well, if you say so. When you are done I would like to inspect your teeth to make sure everything is fine.” He heard she was still a bit concerned.
He cringed a bit, it was demeaning but if it made her less concerned it would probably be for the best. “That’s fine with me.” he was about to tell her to be careful but decided against it, he trusted her.
He opened his mouth and three thin vines entered, it tickled a bit and his instincts told him to recoil but he resisted the impulse. She had crouched down to his level but was still at least 15 cm taller “this seems to be good, everythi-……..hmmm do you feel any pain here” she used a vine to touch just above his right gums.
“Oh those, they are fiber, nothing to worry about. Lost them during…well it’s not that important” he dismissed her concern, but she was not satisfied. She looked down at him until he finally relented “ok, ok. there was an assisnation attempt, classic bomb near the shuttle door. Nora managed to shove me aside, just lost a few teeth in the fall”.
“Well, if you’re sure you are fine we should probably get you washed, but I will tell the vet once we go for your checkup” she sounded irritated…or perhaps angry? Either way she let the issue drop. That was good enough for him.
He looked over at the bath and of course it was flanked by mirrors. It was not like he had a problem with mirrors, it's just that his reflection always felt slightly off, unsettling. At least the injuries were a good excuse “do you think you can turn of the light, I don’t feel too comfortable seeing my injuries right now”.
Mertha's face lit up with understanding “I understand, though I have a more practical solution. Mirrors opaque.” As soon as she said that, a voice sprung out from the corner of the roof.
“Of course Mertha, make sure to be thorough” the voice was light and incredibly upbeat. It remined Henrik of the auto-gen cartoons he had watched as a child. There was something about the way it talked, the suggestion to be through and Martha’s reaction that made him feel something bubbling in his chest.
Martha looked down at him and he just could not resist it any longer. He begun to laugh, not cold or sarcastic. Just the unexplainable urge to let it out “wh—what was that?” he couldn’t stop, perhaps he was not as clear headed as he first assumed.
Mertha seemed to extremely confused, something that only made the situation even funnier. “it’s the Hab assistance AI. Are you okay?” for once her concern was completely unfounded.
He tried to force out the words past the laughter “wh--why does it sound--sound so--so silly?”. As Mertha finally understood what was going on she begun to shake as well. It was not quite laughter, but it was clear she was amused.
“I agree, it is rather silly” it was first now that he realized the mirrors had gained a level of frosting on them. After they both managed to calm down, they filled the pool, something that took surprisingly little time based on it's size.
With one of his hands unavailable and greater exhaustion than he anticipated he had no choice but to ask Mertha for help. It was a bit demeaning, but she was rather quick something he appreciated.
After the bath he gained a new gown, at least it was just white-gray. Still, he preferred what he was used to “When do you think I can get my clothes back?”.
“Well, that might difficult....but I can compile some new clothes for you soon. It might still be a good idea to wear that for now, it will make it easier to keep your identity hidden from others” That made sense, there were probably someone who had a grudge against him on the ship. It was nice that he at least could trust Mertha.
Mertha became serious “I don’t want to rush things, but it's clear that you are hurting. I think it would be best that you talked to someone specialized in xeno-psychology. Serla is the best I know, and you have already meet. She is aboard the ship and would certainly like to help you. She was concerned for you wellbeing from the first dinner we shared.” There was some hope in her tone, just that made him want to say yes.
Serla was probably not too pleased about his actions, but at least he knew her. Meeting a new affini would mean he needed to analyze a new person. Sticking with Serla would give him an advantage.
Then there was the proposal itself, therapy. A large part of him raged against it. Talking about it would only rip open new and old wounds, it would hurt. What he needed was to find some work to do and perhaps a few emotional suppressor doses. That had worked so far……
He looked up at Mertha and gave his answer “Umm, okay. I think I can at least give it a shot”.
Mertha practically beamed and ruffled a vine through his hair “that is wonderful to hear, I'll talk to her soon. I’m very proud of you” the last part made him feel slightly warm inside.
“Now then we should get you some more food before you get more sleep. You have behaved very well so I think you deserve some pancakes” she rushed out of the bathroom and towards the kitchen.
Parts of him wanted to say that a nutrient bar would be fine and that he had already slept more than enough today. But seeing Mertha so happy was nice, and he could afford a bit more comfort. Yeah there was clearly something with his head, but that could wait.