Mertha felt dazed, what had just happened? Her core was filled with conflicting emotions as it tried to process what had happened only 10 minutes ago. Part of her almost believed that it hadn’t happened, that it was some strange illusion. Another part was still concerned that something had gone wrong with the triggers and conditioning. None of them were very convincing, Cleo had done that on purpose.
As Mertha was slowly getting her composure back together, she also tried to get her form back together. What had inspired Cleo to act in such a fashion? It was almost unthinkable. In many ways, it was like when her ward had been on class-J but there was a significant difference. Whereas Cleo on class-J wanted to be cute because that was her ‘job’, Cleo 10 minutes ago had used cuteness with intent and frightening efficiency.
It was like Cleo knew exactly what to say and how to act to knock her completely off balance. Mertha remembered for a moment what Cleo had whispered to her and shivered again. That primal part of her wanted to take that as a request, that Cleo wanted to be domesticated, to be hers. It was not an unreasonable interpretation, Mertha doubted that Cleo would lie about something like that.
As she tried to get her emotions under some sort of control it dawned on her that Cleo had in fact gotten the data pad. How embarrassing! Here she was, trying to be stricter and more assertive, and then Cleo had….seduced the punishment from right underneath her vines.
A pling from her own data pad broke her out of the embarrassment for a second
[ComfortVoice]: hi, how is Cleo doing? Hope you didn’t go too hard on her ;)
[RestlessAnnoyance]: Right now, she is working in her room. I think the meeting with Nora went as well as we could have hoped. How is Nora?
[ComfortVoice]: Working? I did not think you would be so lenient after your display at the café. Nora is doing fine, she was a bit guilty about telling on Cleo. Darla and I managed to convince her it was a good decision, right now she is just the happiest little puddle in my vines.
A picture was attached to the message, it displayed Nora smiling softly while Serla petted her.
[RestlessAnnoyance]: Aww so cute. I was not lenient on Cleo, I implemented some of the triggers we talked about and gave her a stern talking to. You should have seen her when I used the GG trigger, her hands were happy stimming! I don’t think I have ever seen her do that before, it was beyond adorable.
[ComfortVoice]: That is so cute, maybe I can see it myself next time I come over. But you are avoiding the question, I thought we agreed that confiscation of work tools was a good idea for punishment.
[RestlessAnnoyance]: I did confiscate them.
[ComfortVoice]: So how is she working?
[RestlessAnnoyance]: she might have managed to take the data pad back from me.
[ComfortVoice]: I’m confused, how did she manage to do that?
Mertha felt the embarrassment well up in her again, Serla would tease her with this for a century to come
[RestlessAnnoyance]: After I demonstrated the triggers that I had implanted she became surprisingly obedient. She did not even try to ask for the data pad after I told her it was confiscated. She went to her room to check the new furniture as I instructed.
[RestlessAnnoyance]: 15 minutes later she came out wearing one of the companion dresses that she had used while on class-J. She then proceeded to act cute and soft and she said all these things. I don’t know how to describe it.
[ComfortVoice]: oh? Was a bit of force all that was required to housebreak her? should I bring over a contract for you two to sign?
[RestlessAnnoyance]: No, I don’t think that is it at all. She just used it to make me give her the data pad. I think she is more defiant than ever.
[ComfortVoice]: She got the data pad from you? Just wait until I tell Nora about this, that is hilarious. Also, I do have an idea of what she might be ‘working’ on.
[RestlessAnnoyance]: what? Don’t hold out on me Serla,
[ComfortVoice]: Nora told me that Cleo apparently knows very little about what domestication is, I think she might be researching it right this second. If you are so sure that she does not want domestication then tell me what she told you to get the data pad.
[RestlessAnnoyance]: I don’t think that is appropriate to tell you.
[ComfortVoice]: I’m her psychologist, it's important for my work. just spill it Mertha
[RestlessAnnoyance]: she may have said that I would ‘be a wonderful owner’. But that was only to make me give her the data pad, I’m sure of it.
[ComfortVoice]: oh, dear Everbloom. How are you both this oblivious? At least you two deserve each other.
[ComfortVoice]: Might be a good idea to warn her. If she tries that trick with another affini she might discover that very few of us have your incredible levels of self-restraint. If she does that act towards me I will have her be a moaning, squirming mess in my vines asking for more.
[RestlessAnnoyance]: You wouldn’t. or at least you shouldn’t, not without her consent.
[ComfortVoice]: I think all affini except for you would read that as plenty of consent. At least I would not have her domesticated by the end, try to keep her safe.
[RestlessAnnoyance]: thanks for the moral support. Now I need to make this little human some food, I was thinking of pizza.
[ComfortVoice]: Cleo would probably like that, I will return to enjoying my two darling pinnates. I hope you manage to keep that schemer in line, don’t fall for her charms.
Mertha put away the data pad and stood up, making sure to collect her vines into a proper form. Serla was not the most helpful at the moment, but she was right about one thing. Even if Cleo tried to do her little act again she would have to maintain discipline. Now she would make Cleo the best pizza she had ever tasted. Mertha was already looking forward to watching her ward's expression as she ate.
Cleo put the data pad down on the desk, reading the affini version of the files had been fruitful. The knowledge was far more extensive and detailed than the obnoxious floret version of the files that she had also read. The files revealed that her avoiding domestication for this long was a miracle, or rather it was because of Mertha. If one looked beyond the fact that Mertha hid the event in the cell and the truth of encoded documents, there were still more than enough justifications to have her collared.
The affini files made it pretty clear that the affini were under the impression that almost all sophonts would benefit from domestication. The affini seemed almost to have a fanatical cultural imperative towards domestication. She had underestimated how important it was to them, domestication seemed to underpin the whole of affini society and culture.
Her theory on forced brainwashing and conditioning was not found to be true. While an owner might do these things, there were even whole files dedicated to when and how, the general attitude was to always make it benefit the floret in question. Removing some traumatic memories, harmful thought patterns, or making sure the floret did not swear could hardly be called a murder of the self.
The problem was that while this might apply to most if not all other humans, she was an exception. If the affini removed all the things that they would conclude that they should remove, then there would be little left. In the end, her opinion had not changed, it was not an acceptable fate.
Her wardship would end in about three weeks, that was not a lot of time. If she was to make it, she would have to work hard and push herself past the borders she might want to set for herself. Even the triggers that Mertha had implanted might come in handy. They still disturbed her a bit, The truth-telling was irritating but could be worked around, and the calm command was fine. The happiness trigger was more insidious, it was potent, irresistible, and could be used in a wide array of cases. If she was not careful it might come to change her thinking dramatically. If she stayed focused and mindful she could make it change her in the ways that were planned, the last thing she needed was to become addicted to Mertha’s words of approval.
That brought her to Mertha, the affini had obviously taken her words about being stricter to heart. That was good because it was necessary but it still posed some problems. Mertha had already displayed that work privileges would be a common punishment for ‘misbehavior’, it was an effective bargaining chip on her end. The triggers would surely be used as a method of control, same with xenodrugs in special cases. The most logical way of avoiding these disciplining tools would be to confirm what was expected of her. No doubt an unpleasant and humiliating affair, but one that was necessary if she was to gain her independence when this was over.
It was quite obvious from some of the files that her behavior was only tolerated in the slightest because she was a ward. It was expected that she would be defiant and ‘feral’ in comparison to what a normal sophont should. This cover was however not long-lasting, Mertha had given her a lot of breathing room that other wardens did not. The fact that she was still this defiant so long into her wardship would doubtlessly create some concern about if she was fit for independence. Up until now, the internal problems had received all the attention. If she was to make it here, external behavior also needed to change. They were heavily interlinked, but both required a separate plan.
Cleo decided she needed to build a new set of rules to follow in this social arena, the old ones were out. She could divide the rules into two categories, what she was expected to do and more importantly what she should not do. Starting with the latter first she began the list in her mind: general defiance, constant arguing, shouting, too brazen critique of the compact, all of that needed to be reduced as much as possible. The list of things she should do was no less humiliating: be compliant, open, honest, cooperative, and accepting of affini cultural norms. If she was to boil it down to the essentials it was that she needed to give up control, and worst of all seem to be fine with that.
The perfect behavior for a sophont was a well-behaved floret. Cleo would never sink so low into powerlessness, but she would have to sink deeper than she would like to not be dragged down by force. Amusingly enough this did not conflict with her new strategy on how to manipulate the affini, in fact, it would help amplify it. She would have to be careful, but it could be used to great effect. Cleo wondered for a moment how Mertha was doing, hopefully, she was fine after that little episode earlier.
Her concentration was broken by the smell of a finished pizza rolling into the room, was it not a bit early for dinner? When she thought about it, she had not eaten lunch and was quite hungry. She had to eat plenty or Vonzin would have her head on a pike, or rather a collar around her neck. Cleo did not want to go out, her likelihood of being able to work more later would be substantially reduced. At the same time if she came before Mertha called for her that would be following the social rules of the compact. Prioritizing work over well-being was also one of the things that would be looked poorly upon.
Cleo stood up and decided to take the data pad with her. If Mertha asked for it she would have to give it up, it is what a ‘good’ sophont would do. She was still wearing the companion dress, it was not too impractical but was still rather humiliating. She would have to wear more floret-like clothing In the future but wearing a companion dress every day might send the wrong signals.
Cleo walked out of her room and almost hit Mertha who was about to enter her room with a plate of pizza slices. Mertha looked surprised “I thought you said you would stay and work until dinner?”
It was an opening to work more, but being compliant was a better course of action “I think I have worked enough for today, could we eat together here?” it was not true, she had not worked enough. But working on her social assimilation was still work.
Mertha looked warry “alright….I mean, of course! Let me just get myself something to drink.” There was tension between them, her warden was probably suspicious of her behavior. Mertha was her closest ally here so an explanation would not hurt.
Once Mertha had retrieved a bowl of the water she drank/ate they both sat down on each side of the table. Cleo took a slice of pizza and ate it, it was wonderful, and she deserved it. Mertha was still observing her with a mix of concern and adoration.
Cleo smiled and put the slice down on her plate “the food is amazing as always, thank you.” Being grateful was also important, and she was honestly grateful for the food now that it no longer felt like a mental challenge to eat it.
Mertha was still suspicious, but the compliment brought a smile to her face “that is so nice to hear, it looks like you are enjoying it a lot. I’ll make sure to make more of it in the future. Good girl.” The happiness shot through her before she could even react, it was wonderful to be a good girl, to be loved, she made Mertha happy!
Fuck, she had not been ready for that “why?” it was all she could muster to say as she got her face, body, and emotions under control.
Mertha smiled in delight “because you telling me what you like and enjoying your food makes me happy and I need you to know that.” Right, so she would do it more and fall into a pattern to gain more happiness.
Cleo breathed in, this was fine, onto what she needed to do “I understand. I would like to apologize for my behavior earlier today. You were right, it was unacceptable, and I will make an effort not to misbehave in the future.” The apology took Mertha aback; she looked even more suspicious now.
Mertha looked at her, almost worried “Cleo, what is going on?” Mertha could do better.
Cleo waited before she took another bite “please be more specific.” She savored the food, fuck it was good.
Mertha straightened up a bit “your clothing, your behavior, the ‘things’ you said earlier, what is this about?” she would try to avoid the third specification if she could.
Cleo took another piece of pizza “I have come to the conclusion that I need to fit better the social expectation placed upon me due to my position. I am simply doing what is required of me as a ward. I hope you can help me achieve better social assimilation and avoid any future misbehaviors that I will doubtless commit.” Mertha looked less suspicious but still frowned
Mertha's voice was concerned “Cleo, speak the truth. You are hiding behind your words, tell me what is happening.” Cleo did not feel any different but knew that the trigger had been activated, next time she spoke she would be revealing her emotions. The obvious workaround would be to not speak at all until it was gone.
But that would not be cooperating “I read up on domestication and I am still very afraid of it. I also discovered that the behavior you have allowed me previously is not looked kindly upon. I must therefore change my behavior, even if it is embarrassing, to avoid domestication. I find it embarrassing to tell you this, but I feel like I should.” Mertha stopped frowning.
She smiled, still with a bit of concern “it is very good for you to share your emotions, even when it is difficult. good girl.” Cleo saw it coming this time but had no way to resist it. The overwhelming joy burst through her brain, it felt so good to make Mertha happy and to be a good girl! She smiled like an idiot and flapped her hands for a few seconds before the feeling faded.
This was less fine, how often was Mertha going to use that trigger? Mertha spoke as she recovered “while I don’t like that you are motivated by fear again, you are right that you need to improve your behavior. I want to help you and I think in time that you will find that good behavior can be very nice for you.” Of course, Mertha would see it that way.
Cleo prepared to counter “I don’t think I want to find good behavior to be nice, it feels far too different and vulnerable to what I am used to. Also, I would like your help, I don’t think I can do it without you disciplining me at certain points.” ….fuck, she was still under the truth trigger. She needed to be more careful with it in the future.
Mertha smiled “I think that with time you will find it very nice to be vulnerable. Also, I will be glad to ‘discipline’ you so you can improve your behavior. Though you will find that affini discipline mostly revolves around making you see how nice it is to behave. Good girl.” She was a good girl! She just needed to prove it, that would make Mertha even happier! The joy almost felt intoxicating as it spread through her body.
She was free of the trigger once more “..fuck…you can’t use it so often.” The afterglow of the emotion was still lingering, she was going to be left a happy mess if this continued. It was not only embarrassing but almost frightening how good it felt.
Mertha smiled widely “I will say it every time you act like one, but you look so happy when I call you a good girl that I just can’t help it.” It surged through her once more, of course, she was happy when she was called a good girl! And if that made Mertha happy then that was great! She looked up at her affini and smiled, she loved Mertha so much.
Just because she made Mertha happy did not mean that she would not be happier with- Cleo sneezed.
Mertha frowned “and I will say it every time you need to be reminded of how happy you make me, good girl.” She made Mertha happy, and she was a good god girl! It was wonderful to be cared for. Her hands wiggled a bit more.
If Mertha was putting this much effort into making her understand, perhaps she was right…the happiness was still tingling through her body and mind “please, no…no more. it's too much.” It was overwhelming and even worse it was beginning to stick around, accumulating with the next
The affini looked at her curiously “do you not like it when I call you a good…that?” Cleo thanked the stars that Mertha showed some restraint.
Her body was still slightly vibrating. “I’m…just not used to being that happy…it feels very alien and overwhelming…almost a bit scary.” Her mind felt dazed, her emotions were in full chaos.
Mertha sighed “it seems I have been doing a poor job then, if I have not made you happy then I need to do more.” That was not fair!
Cleo protested “you have made me much happier! I’m just not accustomed to such intense…positive feelings. Before I hardly felt any positive emotions, now I am far less miserable, it’s my fault-“ she was interrupted by her own sneeze.
Mertha stood up “ ’far less miserable’ is a far too low bar for such a good girl. The fact that this level of happiness is unfamiliar is just more proof that I need to do more, especially for such a good girl. Don’t worry Cleo, I will make sure you can feel this happy all the time, good girl.” It was far, far, far too much. Each new wave hit before the last one had settled down, accumulating into a massive tsunami over her already fragile mind. it felt like her mind was overloaded, it was so wonderful, and she did not know what to do or think.
Cleo felt dizzy, her body was shaking, and her hands were almost out of her control. She tried to regain focus but failed. How could she be this happy?! it defied any logic, it was just simply amazing for no good reason. For a second she wondered if Mertha had injected her with xenodrugs, but she knew that was not the case.
Cleo realized to her glee and horror that she was not coming down from the high, at least not enough. Her usually still ocean of a mind was filled with waves that crashed into her thoughts and pulled them under. It felt so good but how was she to be productive like this? Mertha was standing next to her, and she had not even noticed the affini move.
Mertha picked her up into her vines, the sensation of touch was incredible, and she leaned into the embrace “oh is it a bit much for my little kitten?” Mertha carried her over to the sofa and sat down “is there something you would like to do?” The words were deliberately slow so her overstimulated mind could follow.
Cleo wanted it to stop and for it to continue “I would like to cuddle and watch some of that cartoon and perhaps if you wanted to, you could call me a good girl some more.” Noooo, what was she doing? she was still under the truth trigger. She blushed and hid her face in her hands “could you please turn off the truth thing? it is making me say things that I want but find embarrassing.” That she wanted it was even more embarrassing to admit.
Mertha smiled “Cleo, speak normally. Now then I think we can do all the things that you wanted, do you want a dose of class-A before we cuddle?” She did, she very much did. She remembered how good it had felt. It was embarrassing, she could lie and say no…
But if she wanted to ‘behave’ better then using more xenodrugs would probably help, it was all for the plan and her work “yes, please.” Mertha smiled with such warmth and happiness.
A vine stung her in the arm “admitting to what you want, even when you don’t need to? You’re being such a good girl for me.” Just as her skin began to tingle from the air itself, she felt her mind get another dose of happiness. She leaned into Mertha’s vines and was overwhelmed by the bliss of the sensation. She was such a good girl, she loved it!
Mertha began to use her vines to caress, pet, and scratch her in all the best spots. It was so wonderful, and she moved to press against every vine, savoring the feeling of each touch as long as she could. She just focused on how good it felt to be close and loved and touched, all other considerations were worthless.
Cleo tried to speak, she wanted to thank Mertha “thaaaa---” but was interrupted as Mertha began to scratch her on that spot on the back of her neck.
Mertha chuckled “no need to talk now, my good girl.” Another rush of joy stacked on top of the others, she never wanted this to stop. She just wanted to be happy, no reason needed. A small voice told her that this would not last forever, but she didn’t care, right now the moment was all that mattered. Not the future and its consequences that she always considered and judged. Just Her and Mertha being happy together.
At some point, the sensations became so intense and her mind so overwhelmed that she decided to let it drift away. Feeling this sublime and comfortable did not require much, if any, thinking and she deserved it. Time began to matter less and less as her senses became fully focused on the sensation and pleasure from the vines. In the end, she was just a soft and blissful puddle that Mertha could play with, it was the best. At regular intervals, Mertha would lean down and whisper those two wonderful words to her and she would be brought to a new high she never knew existed.
It lasted for what felt like an eternity, but eventually, her body became overstimulated and Mertha lessened the intensity of the cuddles. Slowly but surely as the xenodrugs wore off she felt her mind return, bit by bit. She was still breathing quite heavily and making cute noises, but Mertha’s pets were calming her down. The afterglow of both the trigger and the cuddles were making her wiggle a bit in Mertha’s vines.
In the end, Cleo was finally back to some state of what one might call consciousness. Mertha turned on the TV and they began to watch that ancient cartoon. She was still lying comfortably and safe in Mertha’s vines. She was still not very lucid but at least she could follow what was happening in the show to a reasonable extent. Feeling this close to Mertha was very nice, she could feel the rhythm from Mertha most clearly when she leaned her head on the affini’s chest. It was a wonderful, calming, and wonderful noise.
Cleo realized that she was probably quite awake when she wondered why a flimsy portal to bring in spaceships was a better plan than assassinating the lesser magical monarchs. Watching her favorite character, the cat person turn things around was fun, even if she failed in the end, again. It was quite clear that the non-binary shapeshifter was going to betray the cat person soon, and said cat person really needed to get some therapy.
When the credits rolled to the final episode of the season Cleo searched her mind. This had been a very turbulent and event-filled day. In total, however, it was on the positive end by quite a large degree. She was still a bit hesitant about the GG trigger, the fact that she wanted more of it made it a bit more frightening. Despite the reason, feeling genuinely happy while also being mostly sober was wonderful. The fact that her mind could feel that way even when not on class-J was a relief.
She made herself a bit more comfortable in Mertha’s vines and yawned, she was tired. Mertha patted her on the head and held her a bit tighter “how are you feeling? Had a good time?'' It was so nice to just be held close.
She yawned again “I feel great, and I had a very good time. I know this might sound weird, but can I sleep here?” Mertha held her a bit tighter.
The affini’s eyes were filled with love “so you are under the misconception that I would let you leave? You’re far too cute for me to let you sleep anywhere else, just relax little kitten.” That was not the answer she had expected but it suited her needs well.
Cleo yawned again “okay, I’ll sleep here, but don’t call me your ‘little kitten’. I’m going to be independent by the end of this….though I hope we can still do this sometimes when I am.” She was rewarded for her defiance with a few more head pats.
Mertha’s voice was a bit further away now “if you want to, then of course you will remain independent. And of course, I would love to do this with you as much as you want, whether you are independent or….” She drifted off to sleep before she heard that last part.