Negotiations on shaky vines

Chapter 33- The right to work

by Exhausted_ambition

Tags: #dom:female #f/f #hypnosis #petplay #pov:bottom #scifi #anxiety #CW:dubious_consent #cw:violence #dom:internalized_imperialism #dom:plant #drug_play #Human_Domestication_Guide #ownership_dynamics #sensation_play #sub:capitalism #sub:female #trans_egg #transgender_characters

This was originally going to be the first part of chapter 34, but it just got too long. hope you enjoy the chapter!

Cleo woke up in her bed and crawled a bit deeper under the covers. It was so comfortable and safe, perhaps not as good as Mertha’s vines, but it was still nice. She decided to stay in bed until Mertha came and woke her for real. She snuggled into the pillow and drifted calmly for some time. Strange…. By now she should have heard Mertha or at least smelt some food being prepared in the kitchen. Perhaps it was still a bit early, she waited a bit longer….until she became too curious. 
Cleo decided to open her eyes and look around the room, it was exactly as when she had left it to eat pizza. Memories of last evening came back to her and she blushed, it had been nice but also very embarrassing. Why was she acting like some floret? letting Mertha treat her like that. The answer was quite obvious, she had liked it and it was necessary. Those two did not often line up so that was at least something. 
For a moment she considered her own thoughts, she had liked it….For the first time in her life, Cleo considered domestication seriously. Not like a worst-case scenario or potential result of failure, but if it was something she wanted itself. To be Mertha’s floret, someone’s pet, with no responsibilities except being happy. After a bit of deliberation, she came to the conclusion that, no she didn't want that. While her time with Mertha had certainly been nice it did not mean that she wanted what domestication entailed. Being someone else’s responsibility, not needing any ambition or goals, not being equal, it all sat rather poorly with her. It was not like it was either being her pet or not seeing Mertha again. If she was independent she could still spend time and be close to Mertha, something she was glad to find that she wanted. 
It did also open the question of what she would do if she did manage to retain her independence. The instinct was to return to Centhia and rebuild her power, but by the time the wardship period was over the affini reinforcements must have arrived. If that happened then the likelihood of her managing to gain power was nil. If there was no power to be gained then she was a bit at a loss for what to do. Maybe she could write a book or something, she remembered Shivar and threw that idea away. Perhaps she would take a vacation, she had earned that at least. Though it was very likely she would find that very boring. She could stay on the Agraria and do something…maybe whatever bureaucracy the affini possessed took sophont applications.
Okay… this was getting weird, Mertha should have interrupted her thoughts by now. Cleo stood up and walked out of the bed, Mertha had placed her in the middle of the enormous thing. She went to the wardrobe, no companion dress for today but perhaps that nice soft hoodie and pants, that could work. After she made sure that the clothes looked acceptable for affini standards she looked in the mirror. Based on her analysis of vapid affini propaganda she did look cute and like a well-behaved sophont. She struck a few calm and restrained poses, it was important to sharpen one’s weapons before one used them. At this point, she noticed a paper note left on the nightstand: 
Hi Cleo, Hope you slept well (you looked very cute!)
I have suddenly gotten a lot of work and will probably have left before you wake up. don’t worry, Serla is coming by for a session and then to take care of you. Make sure you get something to eat and drink from the compiler, you need food and water. I Injected you with your class-G and class-C-t while you slept so that is taken care of. I might not return before it is late and time for you to sleep, something Serla will provide class-z for if I’m not home by then. Do tell me if there is anything and I will come home straight away, you are always the most important. love you very much, Mertha Verina, second bloom.
PS: do not try any of your tricks on Serla. If you do, you might not like the results and I am not here to stop her. 
That did explain some things, she was alone for the moment. Mertha’s waring was cute but not necessary, this was not her first time. Cleo had played a dangerous game of manipulation for years, she knew how to walk the line. The fact that Serla would be ‘taking care’ of her was slightly worrying, she remembered how it had ended last time.
Well, if she was alone then that meant she had the opportunity to do whatever she wished. For a moment she considered her options. The radio channel had outlived its usefulness unless there had been some significant development, something she doubted. Plus, her pen was locked, and the data pad was probably gone. This left her with few options unless….
A plot appeared in her mind, it had been unavailable before but now she had the means. She was strong enough now to walk a good distance and she knew the location of the rail station. From there, she could most likely find her way to the shuttle bay or ship docs. Then she could pose as a floret who missed her owner who was down on the surface. With a bit of manipulation, a guard could be convinced to give her a lift down to the surface or allow her access on a transport heading for Centhia. Once she was down there she would have to slip away, perhaps some more manipulation, and then find allies on the planet. Her new appearance might be a problem, but she had codes and information to prove who she was and the power she possessed. It was a good plan, and perhaps the only chance she had to get back her lost power and return to The Game. 
Upon further reconsideration, it was a terrible plan. For a start she still had the collar on that would doubtlessly track her and perhaps even dose her, it would also tip off the guard. There were several points of failure and all of them would lead to her immediate domestication. There was also the fact that Mertha would be devastated, something she could not allow to happen. Part of her mind wanted to do so, just for the chance to return to The Game, but that side was not strong enough and soon went silent. 
She made herself some waffles with ice cream in the compiler together with some lemonade. Perhaps a bit indulgent but she had eaten so much non-indulgent that she could afford it. While she sat and ate the hab ai called out “hi cutie, you got a visitor!” Oh, Serla was here already. 
She had yet to flex her affini in any real capacity, but this was at least something <come in.> The door opened and Serla strode in. The affini was looking mischievous and excited. Oh no, this could not end well. 
Serla saw her and walked over, her eyes glittering in anticipation “hello there, Cleo. A bit of a slow morning? looks like you made yourself a delicious breakfast.” Cleo ate another fork of waffles before she answered. 
The affini was clearly up to something “yes it is very tasty, but how would you know? I thought affini only ate mineralized water.” Serla chuckled at the comment and sat down on the other side of the table.
The glint in the affini’s eyes was obvious “so how was yesterday? I have heard a lot of rumors, but I want some confirmation.” Cleo sighed, Mertha really did speak too freely with Serla.
Her answer was tart “I don’t think you need to know that. You are my therapist, not here for gossip.”
Serla looked a bit disappointed, but I was clear she was not giving up “but it is part of my job, and gossip about you is always so fun. I heard that Mertha gave you some new hypnotic suggestions as punishment for behaving so poorly.” As long as she did not know the words, then the fact she knew of their existence was irrelevant 
Talking with Serla would not end well, she knew that by now “maybe, how is Nora? Our meeting was…a relief but I hope that we can meet again soon.” sidestepping Serla would be difficult, the affini was relentless. 
Serla smiled “she is doing very well, seeing you in such good health was something she needed. And if you wish to see her then I have a proposal. After our session, why don’t you come to my hab and have a playdate with my two lovely pinnates?” pinnates? Hold on
Cleo let out an involuntary chuckle “Nora and Darla are pinnates? That did not take a lot of time! But yeah, I can stay at your place until Mertha comes back. Do you have something in mind for today’s session?” less time spent alone with Serla alone would mean less time for the affini to pick her brain apart with questions, also seeing Nora again so soon was nice. 
Serla nodded “I do, but first…can I test one of the triggers?” Cleo frowned and glared and Serla, she knew the triggers? She had a bad feeling about which one Serla was referring to. 
She finished her food “no. They are meant to help improve my behavior, not for you to toy with as you please. If you find it necessary then I may, perhaps, accept it if you give warning and ask beforehand.” She looked up and saw Serla smiling mischievously, the plant was most definitely up to something. 
Serla stood up “that is fine, I understand. Though if you want me to use it then don’t hesitate to ask. Now then let’s sit down at a more comfortable location and help you be your best self.” They both found their familiar and respective places around the coffee table. 
Serla took out her data pad “how have you been feeling since last session’s suggestions were implanted?” Despite how little Cleo enjoyed the fact that they had to directly interfere in her thoughts the results were clear.
She was more relaxed than she had been since… either way “I think the suggestions have been very helpful and productive. I almost don’t notice them at this point, I am very happy with the results. Being able to eat and sleep without guilt or fear is quite the improvement.” Serla smiled and scribbled down on the pad. 
She looked up from the pad “That is good to hear, hope you will consider more such treatment in the future. Now, for today’s session, I thought we could talk about overwork and your coping mechanisms. What do you do to deal with negative emotions and events in your life?” This conversation would not shine a good light on her previous behavior. 
Answering honestly was still the best option “if it is an external situation, like a problem or a mistake I, then I work more until that problem is fixed. If it is internal, usually emotions, then suppression is the first measure followed by work as a distraction and finally emotional suppressants if all else fails.” It did not sound good, not at all. 
Serla tried to give a reassuring smile, but it was filled with concern “so, no talking about it to a person you trust, asking for help, self-care, relaxation, vacation, sleeping and eating better, doing something you like/enjoy or anything of that nature.” The answer to that should be pretty obvious.
Well, one part was right “for most of the cases I would avoid what you listed even more. But I do like to work so I guess that counts.” Serla’s smile was almost completely concerned at this point.
The affini sighed “Cleo, overworking yourself as a punishment is not a healthy coping mechanism for anything.” Well, it had worked….until I didn’t, perhaps best to let Serla do her work.
The affini looked at her pad “I think I need a more complete understanding of your time before you arrived here. I want you to answer my questions as honestly and precisely as you can.” She could do that, as long as the questions were not too intrusive. 
“When was the last time you were on a vacation?”
“A bit less than 6 years ago”
“How many days of did you take yearly?”
“An average of 5 days to recover from injuries…..if we don’t conder those then 0”
“We don’t, how much time did you work and sleep respectively?”
“It varied over time, but an average of 12-16 hours of work and 5,1 hours of sleep”
“How many people did you consider to be friends?”
“How many people did you have that you shared sensitive emotions with or confided in?”
“If you met a problem that you could not solve, what would you do?”
“I would work on it until I did solve it”
“When was the last time you treated yourself to something, and what was it?” 
“It's a bit embarrassing, when I became governor I bought a very good and expensive pen.” 
“When you felt tired, what was your natural reaction?”
“Use an energizer, it’s a drug with various chemicals that keeps one productive.”
“If you felt stressed, what did you do?”
“Work until the stress was gone, if the stress was making me unproductive then I would use an emotional suppressant.” 
Serla stopped, the affini looked more and more concerned with each answer “I think I get the picture.” The affini sighed “do I need to explain how utterly horrendous this is?” That was not entirely fair. Still, if the affini found someone living in these conditions then there would be immediate domestication.
Luckily she had a chance “I understand that it was suboptimal behavior from a mental health standpoint. But things have improved a lot since I came here. I have more friends, 3 people I can confide in, I sleep almost twice as much as before, I have no access to the arguably harmful drugs I used, I indulged myself with waffles this morning and have only been able to work an average of 2.34 hours per day. I think that is a substantial improvement.” Serla’s eyes narrowed, and the green orbs behind the vines shimmered slightly.
She had said something to tip Serla off again, fuck “Cleo, that was an awfully accurate measurement of how much you have worked. Could you explain?” Serla was far too perceptive.
Cleo played innocent “it is important statistical information, that is all.” Serla did not seem impressed at all.
Serla’s voice was tense “you are not a database or an archive, tell me what this is about.” For a second Cleo considered telling the truth, but if she did then her ability to work would likely be significantly reduced. 
It was always like this with Serla, but this point was too important to give up “it’s nothing, just some random information that I keep track of.” It was not very convincing, but she would not say any more. 
Serla frowned “you leave me no choice, if you cooperate this would not be necessary. Cleo, speak the truth. Let’s try again, why do you keep such an accurate recording of how much you work?” So, she knew at that trigger, that it made sense for her to have it available. This was easily solved, hardly a challenge.
Cleo leaned back into the sofa and began to twiddle her thumbs. Serla sighed “Cleo, it is best if you speak about this. I can’t help you if you don’t.” Cleo shrugged her shoulders. This was not something she wanted to be fixed or talked about. 
When Serla realized that she was not going to talk, the plant stood up. The affini sounded irritated “Cleo! You know I have several ways of making you talk, just cooperate.” Cleo glared back, try your worst weed.
Serla smiled menacingly “but I won’t do that. I understand if you feel like talking is difficult. Don’t worry, I can help.” The vine with the white flowers extended from Serla, the class-W! Serla pretended she did not see her shocked reaction “I can give you the counteragent with the class-Z.” A whole day without being able to speak or understand language?
Cleo considered for a brief moment to just take the class-W to avoid the question, but she was going to Serla’s hab after this. She could not be like this with Nora, it would be too embarrassing “fine, fine! I’ll talk about the things I don’t want to talk about, I hate how good you are at this.” Serla sat back down, and the vine retracted.
Serla smiled, “I do my best. Now then, why do you measure how much you work?” She would have to at least try to keep control. Perhaps if she was open from the start she could better control it. 
Cleo sighed, frustrated “I measure how much I work because it is important for me to make sure that I am productive.” That had not been too bad, Serla wrote something on her pad.
Serla looked interested “do you judge yourself if you have not worked enough?” Serla knew what questions to ask, even when she could lie about her emotions the damnable plant always found her answers. 
Cleo hesitated for a second “yes.” At this point, she was just delaying the inevitable. 
Serla's voice was dry  “very clever, could you elaborate on that?” I guess there was no choice at this point, just to do it and see where the chips fall. 
Cleo crossed her arms “ambition and work have been the founding drive for humanity since we took our first steps. It is how we survived, built technology, dominated the planet, and eventually reached for the stars. Without work and ambition, there is stagnation. Stagnation means death, whether it is avoiding ruin on Centhia or avoiding domestication here. Every minute I don’t work I am losing ground, that makes me anxious, afraid, and guilty.” There! was the dastardly plant finally content. 
Serla just looked concerned, like the affini always did “thank you for…reluctantly cooperating with me. This ambition that you speak so highly of is also what led you to hurt each other, almost destroy your home planet, and so much more suffering. For you, the ambition, and the work to achieve it almost killed you. In the compact you are safe and provided for, there is no need to work if you don’t want to.” Cleo knew this….
And despised it “I know that you look upon us ‘sophonts’ as helpless and weak. I strongly dislike that cultural attitude. There is nothing wrong with wanting to work!” Cleo tried to calm down, it worked a bit. 
Serla spoke calmly “There is indeed nothing wrong with wanting to work. Unless the sophont works too much, something you have outstripped by several magnitudes. Or the sophont develops harmful thoughts about needing to be productive, something you also have. You can work if you want but it needs to be in a healthy and sustainable way. Work with less responsibility and stress is the best for this.” But did they hold the same standard to themselves? Of course not!
Cleo felt her anger rise “so what do you want me to do? Run a café? a restaurant? be a waiter or a common clerk? Or even better yet just lounge around with no purpose or reason to exist?!” She spat the words out with venom. 
Serla did not understand “there is nothing wrong with such work, sophonts prefer work with less responsibility. It does not mean that I can’t be fulfilling.” A sophont with real responsibility, it must be beyond affini understanding. How dare they look down on her!
She was on her feet now “I built an empire for star’s sake! I ruled over a sector with 16 billion people! I will not be looked down upon just because I am a human!” Serla frowned, she almost looked angry.
The affini stood up “Cleo, you will calm down this instant, or I will use the trigger. Your choice, either way, this conversation will continue without such outbursts.” Cleo breathed in and breathed out. She climbed up and sat down on the sofa, still furious but controlled. 
Serla sat down as well “let’s continue, why do you want to return to such responsibility and hard work?”
Cleo had a question for this arrogant weed “because I am capable of it. Tell me Serla, how many sophonts fill the upper echelon of your administrations, governments, and the higher executive function of affini compact?” Serla looked surprised, she had not seen the question coming.
The affini was almost a bit befuddled “I can’t think of any that I have heard of…” Of course not.
Cleo smiled in knowing satisfaction “are you telling me that amongst the billion, trillion, stars I don’t even know how many sophonts within the compact there is not one example you can remember? Are you telling me that there is not one sophont who has the grit, ambition, and determination to make it to such a position?” it was an insane suggestion, on Centhia alone there were at least a million people that would want to do so.
Serla tried to regain composure “it is because none of them want to, we affini provide for them in every way they wish. There is no need for such pressure when we can provide a lifetime of happiness.” It was an answer born of propaganda, a self-fueled lie.
Cleo laughed “of course some of them, some of us, want to take on such positions. But you affini view that as problematic behavior and strip that part away, just like you want to do with me. You affini are just a bunch of hypocrites. You tell me I don’t need to do work or have responsibility and then do that work yourself. Just because you have a historical head start does not make you better than the rest of us.” The affini looked unprepared to have such a discussion.  
Serla tilted her head “we affini are not better than you. We do however have a duty to protect you from yourselves and provide you with happy lives.” More internalized affini propaganda.
Cleo smiled “and I am not allowed to share that duty? Why are you better equipped to handle that than me? Is it because I am human? ” her burning anger had settled into a smoldering resentment. 
Serla was calm again “you are allowed to have that duty but only if you can handle it responsibly. Your first responsibility as a sophont is to be happy and the best version of yourself that you can be. If you can not achieve that on your own or don’t want to do that alone, then we help you. We affini have the responsibility to take care of sophonts above all else. But we also need to take care of ourselves, there is a reason why no affini alone holds as much responsibility and power alone as you did on Centhia.”  It was true that affini society was far flatter and more decentralized…. 
Cleo was not convinced “I know you look down on me, stars! The word sophont itself means ‘pet’. I doubt heavily that you would ever allow me to share in this duty that you affini have convinced yourselves that you have. But perhaps I am wrong, if I ever stood for the position of elected admiral, would you even consider voting for me? Based on your endless belittlement and condescension, I strongly feel you would not.” They wanted her to speak her mind, well they would get it.
Serla looked thoughtful for a moment “it would be highly unusual, but I don’t see why not. I think you would do a great job. But for now, your relationship with work is so horrendous that you could be an affini and I would not vote for you. This relationship is what we need to talk about, enough politics for now.” Perhaps Serla was speaking the truth, she could not tell for certain. 
Cleo nodded, she was wasting her breath either way “fine, what’s your diagnosis? I don’t expect it to be pretty and I am slightly frightened.” Serla looked at her data pad for a brief second.
The affini seemed to have come to a conclusion “from what I can tell you have let work consume every waking moment of your life due to fear of what would happen if you didn’t. Your coping mechanisms all revolve around working more or removing obstacles to being productive. You have pushed away all other parts of your life that you think make you less productive. Your mind has adapted to this and now your thinking revolves almost entirely around work. At this point, you don’t even know what you would do if you did not have work. Does that sound accurate?” hearing it spelled out like that was gut-wrenching.
Cleo felt her emotions change rapidly “y…yes that sounds about right, though I am afraid it is even worse than that. My mind did not adapt to work, it was formed for it. I haven’t just pushed away other things, I exterminated them from consideration. I just don’t know what to do without work, I don’t know what I am without work. The only way I could even try to improve was to consider it work. I…I need to work…that’s just what I am…” she sniffed and looked up at the affini. Wait…was she crying?….fuck, she was not supposed to be crying. Not after trying to argue that she deserved to be viewed as an equal. 
Serla smiled reassuringly “it might seem like that now, but we won’t let it stay like that for long. I heard that you and Mertha had a nice evening yesterday, would you consider that better than work?” Cleo blushed a bit.
What a strange question “yes, I liked it, it was very nice, and I would like more of it…what does this have to do with anything?” Her blush deepened, this damn trigger.
Serla smiled with gusto “wonderful! Those are the things we need to reintroduce. All the things that you pushed away we will give you back, and more of it. When you let that happen then work will seem much less important.” Cleo felt a weight in her stomach.
Perhaps it was best to keep quiet but why even bother “but I don’t want it to be less important. Work is the…one thing I am truly good at…I don’t want to lose that.” Serla stood up and sat down next to her.
The affini used a vine to dry away some of the tears “we understand that it is important to you so you will be allowed to work, but only 2 hours per day. The rest will be spent having fun, relaxing, and enjoying life. You are much more than your work, that is a truth you will come to accept. You mean so much to me, Nora, and especially Mertha. None of us would care or even be surprised if you never worked a second more in your entire life. What we want for you is to be happy, nothing more.” an arm was placed around her, and she reluctantly leaned a bit into it. 
Work had been her entire life, there was no real distinction at this point. She wanted to dismiss all of it, there would be no benefit to doing things that were ‘fun, relaxing and enjoying life’. But that was just the same thinking that had kept her trapped. A trap that was so familiar that all else felt dangerous but also a trap that she was so very tired of. Serla was right, she had enjoyed her time with Mertha. Perhaps she could enjoy other things as well. 
Serla gave her a pat on the head “Next time you feel bad about something, instead of working, you should do something you like.” like what? Cleo honestly did not know where to start.
Cleo breathed slowly “I don’t know what that would be, also it feels wrong to reward myself for failure.” She was almost getting used to spilling her emotions out at this point
Serla was surprisingly reassuring “it is not a failure to feel bad, that thinking is what has led to your mental situation. What about eating something nice, talking with Mertha or even me if you feel comfortable with that. Perhaps you can listen to some music, take a bath, study something interesting, and take some time to rest. Whatever it is, make sure that it is something that lessens the pressure on your mind.” It was not a horrible idea, though the list of suggestions did not feel too tempting. Maybe the most productive choice was to test them out one by one and find an efficient contingency plan. 
Cleo allowed herself to lean a bit more into Serla’s arm “I’ll try to come up with something, I feel a bit spent and sad at the moment….could you turn off the trigger?” Serla ruffled her hair a bit.
The affini was clearly happy with the progress “Cleo, speak normally. Having a good coping mechanism is very important, so I would like to hear what you come up with next session. I think that you did very well today, despite some misbehavior. I think you deserve a reward, would you be fine if I used the happy trigger?” How was Serla this relentless? She wanted it but the idea of giving Serla the satisfaction irked her. 
At least she could be neutral. “it’s supposed to reinforce good behavior so if you think this is it then go ahead.” It was practically a yes, but it did not have to sound like one. 
Serla chuckled “how adorably principled of you, such a good girl.” The warm feeling embraced her mind without mercy. She loved being a good girl and making Serla happy, being cared for was the best. She smiled warmly up at the big plant and wiggled her hands a bit in joy. Far too soon, the feeling wore off. 
This trigger was by far the most dangerous, that was for certain “I make you happy? a ridiculous notion, based on how much pain I must be for you.” The trigger certainly had a few flaws in its design.
Serla looked absolutely ecstatic “oh but you make me so very happy my little schemer. Mertha was right, your hands! And that smile! How come such an adorable sophont as you can even consider independence? If you were mine I would never let that expression leave your adorable little face!” Serla was hugging her tightly and Cleo was far too embarrassed to do anything about the situation. 
Serla seemed to calm down a bit “also, you are a very interesting sophont to help. A wonderful little puzzle, a true delight to solve.” Nice, at least the train wreck that was her mind was an interesting problem to solve. 
Cleo pushed away from Serla and the affini gave her some space “good to know, good to know. Next time ask for permission before you hug me and also tone it down. I know you are joking but I am not going to be domesticated. On another note, are you sure there is not a danger for the trigger to be…addictive?” Serla stood up, still smiling with satisfaction.
The affini looked down at her amused “it is not a drug, it is being happy. if you start being addicted to being happy instead of working then I think we can say that we both have done good work. Also, it is not very strong, you just have a very low….tolerance might be the best word.” So, it was going to be addictive, and they did not care. At least through repeated exposure her ‘tolerance’ might increase. 
Serla walked towards the door “are you ready to leave? I think my two darlings have waited for enough.” 
Cleo got up from the sofa “I guess so, not like there is much for me here at the moment. I hope it is not too fa-…..what are you doing?” as soon as she had gotten to the door, Serla had extended one of her vines and attached it to her collar. 
Serla looked surprised “I attached your leash, it is to make sure you don’t wander off. Don’t worry, no one will judge you.” no one was going to judge her because they would probably not see anyone on the way there. It was still embarrassing, she was not a pet. 
Arguing would not work, and neither would showing indignation be beneficial. Luckily she had her new weapons, Cleo looked up at the affini with innocent eyes and moved close to hold Serla’s hand “I know, but I would still prefer to go without it. I’ll stay close, I promise” Cleo made sure to have her words drip with timidity and vulnerable adoration. 
The affini moved a bit back as her flowers shook, the vine receded from her collar “fine, okay! if you want to, just don’t do that again!” The flash of predatory nature that had appeared slowly faded away.
Cleo smirked with satisfaction as they walked out of the hab “do what? I just asked for my preference to be respected.” The affini was clearly embarrassed while collecting a few of the vines that had untangled from her form, one point to Cleo.  
As they took the elevator down, Cleo considered teasing Serla a bit more. probably not a good idea, the tactic should only be used for strategic advantage. Serla sounded more embarrassed than Cleo thought possible “you know what you did, you are playing with plasma here.” Cleo just laughed a bit.
The affini were just predators like all the rest, and every predator could be tricked, you just needed to have the right bait. Cleo felt far better “it is ‘playing with fire’ and don’t worry, or maybe do worry. I have been accustomed to playing with said metaphorical fire for a long time.” It had been far too long since she had been able to gloat. 
Serla frowned “what a horrible expression, also don’t blame me if you get affectionately subdued by the next affini you try that on. One more thing, I will not accept the outburst you had previously while in my hab.” The affini was trying to reaffirm her authority. 
Cleo smiled and spoke softly “I apologize for my previous outburst. I am trying to behave better in line with your social standards for sophonts. I am finding it…difficult but with practice comes improvement.” 
Serla looked at her with newfound surprise, before a smile spread across her face “oh I understand, you are being very efficient. Keep up the good work! Though you should know that being led on a leash is standard sophont behavior.” Cleo felt a slight tinge of irritation, this is why it was difficult. 
She could at least respond “no thanks, that is more like floret behavior.” They were out onto the empty streets and walked over the perfectly laid cobblestone. 
Serla walked only slightly too fast “oh I think all sophonts do it, but I understand if it is too ‘difficult’ as you say. Perhaps holding one of my vines will be a…productive alternative?” Cleo considered the offer, it was clear as day that Serla was playing with her but that did not diminish the point. The tightrope she walked was narrow and paved with compromises, she would just have to take one more step. She grabbed the offered vine without a word, its tip coiled around her hand.
Serla made no remarks but,  based on the smile, she was happy. Cleo sighed and followed the affini close, she would let go before they got into the hab. No way that Cleo would allow Nora that kind of ammunition, at least seeing her again so soon would be nice. 

Hope you enjoyed the political discussion on the affini compact and sophont responsibility. I find the subject very interesting, but I understand if it is not everybody’s cup of tea. Next chapter is almost finished so should come out tomorrow.

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