Negotiations on shaky vines

Chapter 38- Guilt-free existence

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

Hope you have a good day and hope you enjoy this chapter!

Warning: lots of fluff!
Cleo woke and cuddled further into Mertha’s vines, they were so soft and comfortable. She hugged the plushie and yawned, it was good to be sleepy. There was simply something divine about resting in this position, with safe and soft vines around her and soft fluff in her arms. A few vines stirred, Mertha must be waking or already awake. 
A vine detangled from the cocoon she slept in and ruffled her hair “do you want to come out now, or do you want to wait until breakfast is ready?” Mertha’s voice was so warm and happy, and so was Cleo. 
She did not want to wake yet, at least not fully. Her only response was by wiggling herself a bit further into the vines. The vine patted her on the head “okay little kitten, get all the sleep you need.” Cleo decided to let the pet name go for this time. Arguing with the affini on that was a hopeless cause, she could live with it.
As she rested she made sure to listen to the biorhythm of her affini. It was a happy, calm, and wonderful melody. The office had always been so quiet, she much preferred this vibrant rhythm. 
There was a scent in the air from Mertha’s food-making. Cleo began the game and tried to guess what Mertha was making based on the smell alone. It was something from the oven, furthermore, it smelt like some type of baked good. There was no sweet smell, nor was there any hint of fruit or spices that she could place. Cleo came to her decision “are you making bread?” 
A few vines began to pet her “that is correct my smart little flower. I will have to make it more difficult for tomorrow.” Cleo smiled, that was 2 for her and 1 for Mertha, she was winning so far. Eventually, she could no longer slumber and woke up fully. After a soft knock on the vines, and they began to unfurl. 
She was held in Mertha’s arms, they looked at each other for a wonderful moment. Mertha’s eyes were so full of care, happiness, and fulfillment, Cleo hoped her eyes showed the same. After that tender moment, she was placed in her chair. There was a large piece of bread on the table with several jams, cheeses, and hams. Mertha cut off a few slices of bread, it looked incredibly soft. 
Cleo took a slice and decided on a combination of scrambled egg and some salted ham. Her assessment of the bread had been correct, it was perfect. The egg and ham worked wonderfully together, each bit was fluffy, salty goodness. She was almost happy she had restricted her eating to those disgusting bars, her low standards made all food taste good and Mertha’s food tasted beyond her description. 
it was important to make sure she was showing her full enjoyment of the food. If Mertha wanted pictures then she would make sure they were the best pictures possible. After the first slice, she took another and decided on some jam. It tasted sweet and the bread was so wonderfully soft. At some point, her amazement at all the different tastes and consistencies might wear off, but she would enjoy every mouthful until it did.
After her 5th slice of delicious, delicious bread she was full. Mertha stored the rest with her vines while still sitting down “good meal?” There was a playful tone to Mertha’s voice. Like she needed to ask that, but Cleo would indulge her.
Cleo came up with a plan “it was wonderful as always, perhaps we could take it with us if we go to the park.” She knew that it would be a very productive plan for making Mertha happy.  
A few of the affini’s vines wiggled “that sounds delightful, such a wonderful idea. What do you want to do now?” What did she want to do now? The answer was rather simple. 
She brushed a few crumbs off her clothes “cuddle and watch TV? We still don’t know what is going to happen to that superweapon and the sparkly one’s plan.” She did have some idea, but it was best to see it unfold. 
Mertha looked suspicious “the guests will be arriving in not too long and will stay here until after dinner. If the last few days are anything to go by, then after dinner you will want to cuddle, perhaps even with some class-A, before you fall asleep in my vines.” That was an accurate description of the last three days free of guilt. 
Cleo frowned in thought “I still don’t see your point…oh right, work. I think it is 84 or 85 months since my last day off and Serla has said days off are good. Might as well break the streak now, work can wait until tomorrow.” Mertha’s face broke into a wide smile and the affini stood up. 
Cleo knew what was about to happen and let Mertha pick her up from the chair and into her arms. Mertha's voice was stern, but she was only pretending “A Day off? I will keep you to that. let’s watch some TV before the others come.” Right, the others…it would be nice, though she was a bit nervous. 
A few moments later she was snuggled deep in Mertha’s vines with a perfect view of the screen. This part of the show was a bit uncomfortable to watch. The cat person was overworking herself and in the process pushing all her friends away. The sparkly monarch was also pushing all her friends away, becoming far colder and more manipulating. And then when the two characters had fought and almost destroyed each other they were abducted to a huge alien spaceship from a super-advanced civilization. This was hitting a bit too close to home.
Cleo got a bit suspicious “did you choose this show on purpose?” Mertha was a bit confused before she got the insinuation. 
Her affini looked thoughtful “no I have not seen it before. Serla recommended it to me so maybe she had a vine in this.” 
Cleo hugged a few of the vines draped around her “and she calls me a schemer? Still a good show despite you affini removing most of the fight scenes.” It was quite obvious where they had been cut. 
Mertha smiled and squeezed her gently with several vines “I think that humanity has had enough violence for a few generations. But now we should get ready to receive our guests.” Cleo did not need to do anything. Still, she helped Mertha fill some bowls of cookies that the affini had made the day before. 
Cleo remembered something “could I have a dose of class-C, perhaps a bit larger than last time.” Mertha put down the teapot and readied a dose.
The affini injected her just above the collar “you know, if you had an implant I could do this way easier.” A warm buzz started where her worry about the gathering had been. 
Cleo chuckled “you know, I have grown quite attached to this metal collar. I don’t think I want to take it off. Sadly, that means you won’t have good enough access, darn shame.” Cleo had spent years being teased by Nora, Mertha was nothing next to the red-haired menace. 
Just as everything was ready the hab-AI chimed “hi cutie, you got visitors!” 
Cleo walked over to the door and <come in.> Still the best use of affini she had so far.
Serla, Nora, and Darla were revealed as the door opened, Darla was precariously balancing a huge board game box. Cleo noticed that she was actually more excited about this evening than nervous, the realization made her smile. 
Nora came in first and hugged her “You look wonderful Cleo! Your hair has gotten so long, just as beautiful as I remember.” Cleo returned the hug, she had to admit that hugs were growing on her as a type of interaction.
Darla was next, there was no way a hug was possible “I think you can set the board game on the coffee table.” Darla nodded determined, both Nora and Serla had probably offered to carry it for her.
Serla was last “so how is my little schemer doing, got any work done today?” Cleo knew that question was a trap.
Luckily Mertha answered for her “she has taken a day off, so no work today.” Serla and Nora looked at her in surprise.
They were overreacting “it’s not a big deal, we are havi-“ Her explanation was cut short as Nora hugged her ruthlessly while Serla gave her a furious head pat. She would have told them to stop, had it not been so nice. 
Finally, the two relented, Serla’s voice was full of pride “You are showing some amazing progress.” 
Cleo huffed “You can gush during tomorrow’s session, I am here to prove the supremacy of the undomesticated at board games.” The merciless affection was leaving her flustered. 
Darla who was setting up the game on the coffee table replied “you have won once. You will not win today.” The girl at least had a very competitive spirit, the floret was not so docile after all. 
The hab-AI chimed again “hi cutie, you got visitors!” That had to be Vonzin and Ida. True to her assumption, the giant barked affini and the short-haired receptionist stood outside. 
She and Ida shared a hug “I’m glad that you and Vonzin found the time!” She really was, having all of her friends in one place would be nice. 
Ida eventually released the hug “yeah, it took a bit convincing. But the method you showed me really did the trick.” They shared a chuckle, Vonzin looked far more embarrassed than a 3.5-meter-tall alien had any right to. 
Vonzin tried to put her intimidating façade on “maybe I should have kept you under class-J? I can still rectify that mistake.” Cleo laughed, and Ida soon joined in.
Cleo managed to stifle the laugh “you affini only have one threat, don’t you? So uncreative, so boring, so worn out. I have come up with thousands of threats during my life, so if you need some advice I am always willing to share.” The affini grumbled something in affini. 
Cleo gestured towards where Nora and Darla were preparing the game “I don’t know if you three have met before.” 
Ida walked up to Nora and introduced herself. Cleo noticed a slight blush on Nora’s face as she introduced herself to Ida, she was hopeless.
Ida turned to Darla and suddenly looked surprised “Clara? Is that you?” Darla immediately looked up from the board game rules.
She looked surprised back at Ida. “Ida?....umm…I'm going by Darla now.” The girl looked happy but embarrassed.
Cleo had a good idea of what was going on, Nora however was surprised “you two know each other?” 
Ida nodded “we served together on the dragon’s breath, I was a nurse and cla- I mean Darla was the captain.”
Now it was time for Cleo to be surprised “the captain? I must say you did not strike me as the type, Darla.” 
Ida suddenly smiled viciously “Cleo….if it is fine of course. Perhaps you can tell Darla what you told me about your involvement with the 31st fleet?” Cleo smiled, Nora seemed to halfway remember and tried to piece it together.
She might as well brag a bit “you mean the part where I bribed you commanding admiral and tricked the fleet into the vines of the affini? That was a fun time.” Nora snapped her finger as she remembered.
Darla pouted “so you are the reason that old fool never listened to any of my advice. I should be irritated, but I’m here now so I guess I can’t complain. Let’s play so I can at least get some revenge.”
Nora chuckled “It worked out in the end did it not? Also, you should have heard Cleo brag about it.”
Cleo sat down on one of the chairs “what do you mean? it was a piece of Machiavellian art, I had to do a lot of string pulling to even talk to the admiral. I have every right to feel proud.” 
Darla had prepared the game and started to explain the rules “so each one of us controls a human on a Terran ship. The main part of the game revolves around doing several tasks, you will draw cards for what to do, while trying to avoid affini pieces, these ones.” Darla pointed towards some multicolored and highly detailed figurines that resembled different affini. Of course, the game had something to do with the aliens. 
Darla continued “Being caught does not mean you are out but instead, it increases your domestication score. You also have to roll on a table for what your owner gets to do to you, Cleo in your case that would be Mertha.” Cleo frowned, that was not going to happen.
Darla did not seem to notice her expression “if your domestication score gets to 4 you become domesticated and switch to the Affini side. Then your goal is to make sure all the humans get domesticated before the ship arrives at the orbital station. For humans, the goal is to reach the station without getting domesticated, at that point you can choose to be domesticated and get to roll on a cooler table.” The fact that domestication was the goal, either way, was no surprise, but Darla’s choice of words intrigued her. 
She read through the manual and yes, if a player reached the station they could also choose to remain independent. Though the rules stated this was the most boring option and you did not get to roll on any of the ‘cool reward’ tables, this would be her goal. 
There were some more rules about skills, items, and tools that one could acquire as the game progressed. It might not be a purely competitive game at the beginning, but it would turn into one at some point, best to secure as many advantages as she could. 
Darla shuffled a small deck of cards “one more thing, each player will have a role. One of them is secretly on the affini’s side from the beginning of the game.” That made things far more interesting. Darla gave them a role each, Cleo was an engineer. Cleo scanned the faces of the others….Nora was the affini spy, the slight twitch in her mouth and eye movements were clear signs.  
As they began to play, the affini were chatting and drinking tea. They were talking in affini, that she could understand, so she decided to listen only if something interesting was said. At the moment…Mertha was sharing pictures of her eating this morning, best to focus on the game. 
Cleo had gotten a good start, as an engineer she could move using the maintenance vents on the ships. This was usually quite risky as the affini could hide there as well, but she had obtained an ‘affini tracker’ so she now had a great deal of mobility. 
Ida moved straight into an affini that was hidden in the shadows “fu-I mean, that was unfortunate.  guess I gotta roll on one of those tables, right?” Ida got a 14, she looked down at the sheet “Mistress, I love you!” 
Vonzin turned around “aww, such a good girl.” Cleo suddenly felt a spike of happiness, she was such a good girl! She made Vonzin happy…..that was not directed at her, at least the others were too focused on the game to have noticed. She would have to talk to Mertha about that later. 
It was Cleo’s turn and she managed to do another task, something that gave her another reward. Darla pouted “Cleo, I was supposed to do that. We are supposed to be cooperating.” Not really, co-operation was not too beneficial long term. 
Nora smiled “Cleo if you want more items then I know that there is a rare tool over there.” Right, and there was also an affini waiting in the vents. 
Still best to pretend like she didn’t know “that is so nice of you, but I need to fix the engines, that will give me a better repair skill. Something that really benefits my build. Ida, maybe you should get it? it’s quite close.” 
Ida smiled “thanks, I’ll go get that during my turn. Thanks, you two!” oh what a sweet naïve girl, she was being played by both of them. 
Cleo noticed that Nora tried to hide a frown, she was probably targeting her first. In the next turn, Nora got herself captured by an affini on purpose so she could draw it closer to her position. Nora did not need to care about being captured but still had to roll. She got a 12 “Mistress, could you feed me a cookie?”

Serla came over and gently began to feed Nora a cookie….Cleo focused on the board, refining her strategy. Serla chuckled “trying hard not to get captured, Cleo? It is only a matter of time, you know.” Cleo did not honor the plant with a response. 
Soon the game continued, Darla got captured once for being too greedy trying to reach an item. Her ‘reward’ was to have Serla pet her for a few minutes. Ida got captured two more times, once from Nora’s trap and once from not noticing an affini behind her. Her ‘rewards’ were giving Vonzin a compliment and a tiny dose of class-A. 
Cleo did not get captured a single time, the affini tracker reduced risk to the minimum and she made sure to keep track of where each affini was at all times. Her inventory was full of useful items, and her skills were high level. This was going well, something that she noticed irritated Nora more and more.
the next card provided another task from the coms; refueling the hyperdrive, and the reward was a clocking device. It would be invaluable later in the game as more and more affini appeared. But there was an affini right behind the door to the room and getting to the vent that led into the room would take too long. 
A sacrifice had to be made “Ida, I need another person to fix the hyperdrive, I don’t need the reward so you can have it.” Ida smiled and moved her piece up to the door of the room, she did not suspect a thing. During the affini phase, the affini opened the door and immediately captured Ida. 
Ida hung her head “I’m sorry Cleo, I’m going to be domesticated in the next phase. So unlucky… and now you can’t repair the hyperdrive!” Cleo gave a wide smirk, this was almost too easy. 
She patted Ida on the back “you did all you had to do.” On Cleo’s turn, as the affini was occupied with domesticating Ida, she moved past, fixed the hyperdrive, and escaped into the vent with the cloaking device. Ida looked at her in shock, Nora frowned,….Darla was also frowning, that was suspicious. 
Ida regained her composure “you planned that? How could you?” Cleo simply shook her head.
She could not keep her amusement fully concealed “you had already been captured too many times, it was only a matter of time before you switched sides. Also, I needed that clocking device, it is nothing personal.” Ida scowled at her, no doubt she would try to capture her as soon as she switched to the affini side. 
After Darla, it was the affini’s turn again, which meant that Ida was domesticated. She rolled on the domestication table and got a 3, lap floret. Darla explained, “that means that your owner has to play for you, but you give them advice and they get some cool buffs.” Interesting game mechanic, bringing in more players as the game progressed.
Ida turned to the affini “Vonzin, I got domesticated. I need you to play for me.” The affini stood up and smiled.
Vonzin came over and took Ida in her lap “so lucky you are! I guess you will have to guide me then.” 
Serla and Mertha also came over, Serla seemed excited “this is my favorite part of the game…Cleo? Have you not been captured a single time?” The affini looked almost a bit shocked. 
Nora pouted “no she has not, that won't last for long though. Mistress, can you domesticate me?” So the affini spy could surrender at any time…Nora rolled the dice and got a 5
Serla smiled mischievously “oh a helper floret, let’s see if we can capture Cleo together.” According to the card that meant Nora still kept her old piece and could now use it to help capture humans. The board was getting dangerously filled with enemies
The game continued with Cleo making a lot of daring escapes as both Vonzin, Serla, Nora and the standard affini pieces tried to capture her. Her combination of stealth, speed and technical skill meant that she was very slippery. Exactly what she had built her character around. Only 7 more turns until victory.
It was Darla’s turn, she had been captured only once since Nora surrendered as most were focused on her. Nora looked at her pinnate “she is too fast, if we are going to capture her we need your help. This was the plan from the beginning.” 
Darla and Cleo locked eyes “after last time, it is more important that you lose than that I win….also technically being domesticated is winning if you are on the affini team soooooo. Mistress, please domesticate me!” Hold on, what?
Cleo held her palms up “so anyone can surrender to domestication mid-game?” It felt like it would go against the balance of the game….but this was in the end a large propaganda piece so perhaps that was not so important. Darla smirked and nodded, she rolled the dice and got a 3, she was also a lap floret. 
Cleo was now the only independent human left, Mertha sat down next to her “you know if you ask I can also domesticate you.” a ridiculous solution, she might not technically lose but it would still be a defeat. 
Cleo made every calculation she could before responding “not a chance. I will remain independent no matter what they try.” Mertha chuckled and gave her a pat on the shoulder.  
The florets looked determined to take her down, supported by Serla and Vonzin. Cleo smiled defiantly “so another coalition rises against me, let's see how this turns out.” In truth I looked very grim, she was surrounded on almost all sides.
The next few turns confirmed her suspicions, the player-controlled affini were far too overpowered. Despite all the odds she evaded and outmaneuvered the others, but she had to use her items and at every turn, the net tightened around her. The affini tracker showed that at least she was safe for now.
Then it was Nora’s turn “got you! let's see how you play without that.“ The affini tracker did, of course, not track humans, and Nora stole it as her action. Cleo was blind and in the dark, without it, there was no hope of escape.
Nora cackled “come on Cleo, game over!” There had to be a solution…..she would have to take a chance.
On her turn she moved into another room, she knew it had a lot of exits….and there were 2 affini there already. Fuck. On the next turn, the inevitable happened as she was surrounded and captured once. She took up the dice hesitantly and rolled the dice, a 12….
Oh, the humiliation “Mertha-“ 
Darla interjected, “no you have to call her mistress or owner! it is stated in the rules, so you have to.” Was she serious?
Cleo looked around, they were serious…Nora used the moment to tease “you called her Owner for a week I don’t see how this is a challenge.” Make it stop….
There was only one way to continue “mi….mistress, could you please feed me a cookie.” Saying that felt….strange in many different ways. 
Mertha grabbed a cookie from the bowl “of course I can, such a good girl.” She loved being a good girl! Feeding her made Mertha happy, she loved this. A vine tapped on her cheek, and she instinctively opened her mouth. Part of the cookie was inserted, and another vine told her to chew, it tasted amazing. Finally, another vine massaged her throat and she swallowed. 
What was she doing? Oh no…..Nora and Ida began laughing, Serla nodded with performative satisfaction “so well trained…what a good ward you have, Mertha.” Cleo blushed with more intensity than she had ever done before. Please let this end…
Darla was however not satisfied “it’s your turn, Cleo, what do you do?” Cleo looked down at the board, she was surrounded, with nowhere to move, no way to escape, in other words, trapped. There were still 4 turns left, the only thing she could do was get captured over and over again until she was domesticated. There was only one rational choice, she would have to surrender. It was a defeat but at least it was not prolonged, it was the path of least suffering.
She looked up at an expectant Mertha, her warden seemed to be enjoying this far too much. The affini were far too unfair “I guess I have no choice…mistress, please domesticate me.” She said it without any satisfaction, but Mertha’s smile widened even further.
A few vines began to ruthlessly pet her head “nothing would make me happier, pet.” The last words sent shivers down her spine. 
Darla looked disappointed “that is a bit less fun, but sure. You still have to roll for what kind of floret you are though.” That made no sense, the game was over. Darla smiled as she noticed her confusion “oh, you keep the role after the game. Usually until bedtime, did I not explain that?” oh dear sweet founders of Centhia.
All of the florets and affini looked expectantly at her as she picked up the six-sided dice. She rolled it across the board, please let it be something halfway tolerable, the dice landed on a 6. The silence that had formed was broken as Nora and Serla began to laugh hysterically. That was not a good sign, not at all. 
Darla smiled viciously “a 6? that is pet floret. Serla prepare the class-W, according to the rules the pet floret is not allowed to speak.” You gotta be kidding!
Vonzin smiled “I recently got sent the files for class-J-t, it is a bit lighter in effect and rather temporary. It usually takes a few hours to take effect but with Cleo’s advanced absorption of xenodrugs, it might only take half an hour. I think this would be an excellent trial run.” how could they all delight so much in her humiliation? 
Ida nodded, her revenge not yet over “I think that it would help Cleo really get into the role.” Her face suddenly lit up with an idea “and the paws, she has to wear the outfit and the paws!” 
Darla tilted her head “the paws?” 
Nora smiled with far too much joy “oh my stars, you have yet to see her with the outfit and the paws. She is simply too cute, it has to happen.” 
Serla concurred “I think Darla is the only one that has yet to see it, I agree. Cleo, you can take the xenodrugs after you put on the outfit and the paws.” This was going way too far.
Cleo jumped down from the couch “no, none of that is happening. No class-J, no class-W, no outfit, no paws, no nothing. The rules only state I am not allowed to talk. Is it not bad enough that I have to act like a floret for the rest of the day?” She would not let them drag her all the way down like this.
Mertha grabbed her and lifted her up back into the couch “If you are my floret for the day, as the rules state. Then why don’t I command you to do all those things? A floret does not get to decide.” This was evil, pure torture. 
Darla of all people interjected “why don’t we play for it? a single match of chess to decide if you are just going to act like a pet, or really embrace it.” Chess….her first instinct was to deny but why not? 
It was her only chance after all. “Sure, I have not played in several years and I will be playing against all of you…but sure.” She tried to make it sound fairer than it actually was.  
Mertha stood up “I think that sounds like a lovely idea, I’ll go get the board.” The affini went into Cleo’s room. 
Nora did not look as sure “I don’t think this is a good idea, she might not have played in a long time, but she is very good. Also, you are not allowed to talk, Cleo, stick to the rules.” Cleo smiled and went silent. 
Mertha came out with the chessboard and the pieces held in numerous vines, the board was placed on the table and the coalition formed on one side. Mertha picked her up and placed her in her lap, at least it was only 5 opponents now.
The game began, and it was clear that Darla had practiced and read up on the standard openings. Cleo was not too overly concerned, openings were just memorization. As long as she did not make any huge mistakes she would soon be at the stage where the game was pure strategy and manipulation.  
Cleo lost a few pieces, two laborers and a bureaucrat, but took a liquidator in return. The central 4 squares were the key to controlling the game, commonly referred to as the central bureaucracy. She mobilized her pieces and kept the governor safe. Her admiral, the most important piece, would guard as many pieces as she could. Her main force was the laborers, they were the core of any solid strategy. 
Playing against 5 opponents meant they could spot mistakes far easier. Slipups would be few, she could not base her victory on that. Nora of course had a good bit of knowledge and even the affini held a good grasp of strategy. Cleo moved her horse across the entire board and took an undefended laborer, a small victory, now it also threatened other pieces. 
The coalition returned fire by using their admiral to take one of her laborers, it also threatened a lot of the board without her being able to touch it. Using her liquidator, she passed through the enemy laborers and took a horse. They used their liquidator to put her in check, and her governor was threatened. 
The only answer was to move it forward. While it might have been counterintuitive, moving back or to the side would be a fatal mistake as the liquidator could move next turn and put her in checkmate.
Cleo was on the back foot, but this was her game, she knew how to play it. When the opposition took one of her horses she made the gamble. The Admiral moved across the board, this left her only 2 moves away from checkmate. 
The silence that had developed became more intense, the others looked at her with surprise. It was such a bold move that it required some convincing. Cleo looked at the board again and made sure her face was completely unreadable, she then made her breathing a bit more rapid something that made her heartbeat just a slight bit faster. She could not talk, but if just a few signs betrayed that she was nervous then Nora would take the bait.
Nora smiled and whispered something into Darla’s ear, the floret smiled and moved the admiral to set her in checkmate next turn. Cleo grinned, she had them now. She moved her horse and took a laborer while also setting them in check. They had no choice but to move it, and that is when she moved the admiral back and took their admiral while simultaneously setting them in check one more. 
Ida looked at the board “that is not good, is it?”
Nora frowned “no….” 
They had no choice but to move and that was when Cleo ended the game, her liquidator moved and set the enemy governor in checkmate. 
Before the coalition had fully realized it the game was over. Cleo smiled, satisfied. She might not win within affini rules, but it was a mistake to think that they or anyone could beat her at this. 
Darla pouted and crossed her arms “I wanted to see that outfit, everyone else has...this is so unfair.”
Cleo decided to taunt them a bit “oh I’m sorry, next time do not thin-meaaa?” something had stung her in the back of the neck mid-sentence. 
Mertha folded a few vines around her “pets don’t talk, kitten.” When had Mertha gotten class-W? Her affini lifted her up “I’m sure you will see her with it someday. For now, we should eat dinner.” At least she could still understand language, even if her own speech was just a bunch of mewls and bleats. 
The dining table was actually for once used to its capacity. There were several different pizzas for her and the other humans, while the affini had their mineralized water. Cleo stretched out a hand to grab a slice, a vine coiled around it, and pulled it back. Mertha shook her head “pets don’t eat, they are fed. If you don’t behave properly I will have to ask Vonzin for that class-J variant.” Perhaps the affini only had one threat, but it was still potent. 
Cleo retracted her hand and tried to not blush. Nora was already being fed by Serla but blinked teasingly at her. Mertha took up a slice and brought it to her, then a vine tapped her cheek. Cleo opened her mouth and was rewarded with some delicious pizza. The rest of the process followed and then started again. Open, chew, swallow, repeat. After the entire slice was eaten Mertha gave her a pat on the head “good girl!”   
Cleo smiled as a new slice was readied, being fed made her a good girl! She loved being a good girl! Cleo looked at the florets, they were just like her being lovingly fed by their respective owners. It was a bizarre sight but held a happy tenderness. 
None of them had lived easy lives, but now that was all over. She herself still had work to do, problems with herself to fix. Without all the guilt and fear and stress, it finally felt not only possible but doable. The struggle was not over yet, but now it could almost be described as easy.  
Being fed and unable to speak had one major benefit that she had not thought about before. She did not need to do anything and had all the time in the world to just think. These last 4 days had been so wonderful, each one driving the memory of all the guilt a bit further away. 
She wondered what she would do if or rather when she was finished with her wardship and became independent. For so long all the guilt and fear had pushed her in one direction: The Game. It had been so omnipresent that she had seen no alternative for a future. Now, however, it felt less and less like that. 
When she was independent,  perhaps she could build and oversee that resort world she had imagined. She could help rebuild Centhia into something far less depressing, that was also a nice idea. Or maybe write a book, but about what? Cleo got a wonderful idea: she could cooperate with Mertha and write a book analyzing certain parts of Centhian culture. The guilt had told her all these ideas for a future were impossible but now she wondered in what order she would do them. It was a wonderful and fresh perspective on life, just as wonderful and fresh as the pizza she was currently savoring. 
One thing was for certain, she wanted to make people's lives better. That had meant survival for the largest amount before, now it could be creating legitimate happiness. She looked around at the table, these people had helped her so much. If she could, she would start with making them happier. 
How would she do that?…, that would be humiliating….was that not one of the things she had to work on though?… was not like anyone was going to judge her….was she really talking herself into this?…. Darla had looked so disappointed and this would doubtless make her happy…..Was this the result of the class-C?..... If so, was that not why she used it in the first place?..... Mertha had been very smitten with it….okay, no more stalling. 
Cleo finished the last slice of pizza and tapped Mertha on the arm before pointing to her room. Mertha looked confused, she tried to roll her eyes towards the room. Mertha still did not understand, Cleo sighed and covertly did the pose she had done while on class-J. Mertha’s eyes lit up with a surprise that then turned to joy. A few vines helped her down from the chair and she walked to her room. 
Once she was inside and the door closed she moved to the closet. She had to reach to get the cat-patterned pastel dress. The paws were almost in the back, so she had to climb a bit on one of the shelves to get to them. She discarded the casual but boring clothes and put on what had been selected by popular demand. The first paw was easy to attach but the other one was quite difficult, using her teeth did the trick. She took a quick spin in front of the mirror, she felt a wave of euphoria. After admiring how far she had come Cleo decided that she was ready. 
She walked out of her room and was helped back onto the chair, pretending as if nothing had changed. Mertha played along, Nora was the first one that noticed and almost choked as she was about to swallow a mouthful of pizza. Nora and Serla were distracted by Nora’s coughing to notice for a bit. Ida on the other hand followed Nora’s sight and as soon as she saw began to smile like she had anticipated this. Ida mouthed the word ‘seed’ and Vonzin bristled slightly. Finally, Nora managed to speak “Cleo, you look adorable..” Serla and Darla looked toward her, slightly confused at Nora’s comment. 
Darla looked starstruck “stars, that is so adorable. How even….Cleo, teach me your secrets.” Cleo chuckled a bit as Serla recoiled in horror at her florets comment. 
The affini put two vines over Darla’s ears “you will do no such thing, Cleo. Keep your manipulative ways to yourself.” Serla switched to affini <Mertha keep your ward in check! you might be lost, but the behavior cannot be allowed to spread.>
Vonzin nodded with concern <I wholeheartedly agree, as the humans say. Ida was given just one piece of advice and has already used the tactic four times. It is a dangerous set of tricks that she has in that head of hers.> The tree florets looked very confused, but Cleo could not keep it together. she began to laugh, the affini were concerned! The laugh was mixed with mewls and bleats that she could honestly not care less about. 
Mertha began to pet her, and she soon calmed down, their reaction had been priceless. Nora pieced it together “you know affini? That is not fair. I want to know what they are saying as well.” Cleo made some clicking sounds with her teeth that only Nora could hear.
The fact that the code still worked on class-W was a blessing {learn it yourself, though it is mostly just them hiding swears.} Nora chuckled in response. Serla understood what was going on and gave them both a warning stare. 
Mertha picked her up from the chair and entangled her in vines “Now that we have 4 well-fed florets I think they need a lot of affection to go with it.” 
Vonzin picked up Ida in much the same way “a good medical evaluation. A lot of cuddles and a few treats are exactly what these cuties need.” Ida giggled a bit as the affini began petting her. 
Soon they were all in their respective affini’s laps or vines being cuddled and petted. Mertha was feeding her some of those berries that she still had around, they tasted beyond what normal food should taste. Mertha was also constantly using the GG trigger whenever she made a sound or movement her affini considered cute. At some point, the counteragent to the class-W was injected but Cleo found she still could do without speech for a bit. The supreme bliss allowed her to just focus on existing and being happy with Mertha, for now, the rest of the world mattered little. 
An hour or two later it was time for the others to leave. Ida gave her a hug that she returned and then she and Vonzin left the hab. She allowed Darla to inspect her paws for a few moments before they hugged as well.
Nora gave her a strong, tight hug “I’m so happy to see you living like this….it means a lot to know that you are finally safe.” Cleo hugged the far stronger and far taller girl as well as she could. Cleo did not want to speak yet so instead leaned up and gave Nora a kiss on the cheeks to say, ‘I’m happy too’. The hug lasted for a few minutes until eventually, Nora had to let go.
Serla spoke to Mertha <it makes my core sing to see you two so happy together, Cleo has come such a long way. I am certain that she can be independent one day…if she wants to. But no matter what happens, don’t let her slip out of your vines. Keep on to her.> Before Mertha could answer Cleo decided to speak.
She looked up at the two affini <I managed to hold the power of a sector, you think I would let this wonderful plant out of my grasp?> She made sure to look as cute as possible “it’s not like you would leave me, right?” The last words had some tender doubt.
Mertha’s flowers bristled and Serla had a brief laugh “I think you are dangerously close to the edge now, Cleo.” Mertha looked like she was concentrating to restrain herself. 
Cleo smiled mischievously “I don’t think so, we both know Mertha is far too gentle.” She was poking the proverbial bear now. 
Mertha turned to Serla “it has been a wonderful time, we must do this again soon. Now I need to give my pet a bit of discipline.” 
Serla chuckled again “I warned you Cleo. Make sure that she is not too worn out for the session tomorrow. Goodbye!” with that the door closed and it was only her and Mertha. 
She looked up at the affini “so cuddling until I fall asleep in you vines?” Mertha’s brief façade of sternness was broken by a warm smile.
Her affini lifted her up and held her close. “That sounds like a good idea, pet.” Mertha made sure to emphasize the last word. Cleo did not mind, for today. 
Mertha lay down on the couch and Cleo found a very comfortable position in the vines. They looked at each other lovingly for a few moments. Who needed control of a sector when she could have the love of such a wonderful person? 
Mertha broke the silence by poking at the paws she still wore “I am surprised, what made you do it?” 
Cleo thought for a moment “to be honest I’m a bit surprised myself. I wanted to make you and the others happy, that’s about it” Mertha gave her a few more gentle pats and began scratching that one spot on her neck.
Mertha’s voice was so proud “such a good girl you are.” The high of the trigger was no longer as intense as before and Cleo had almost grown accustomed to it. 
A smile had formed on her face “indeed I am.” Mertha gave her a kiss on the forehead, then they relaxed longer in loving silence. 
Mertha broke it “remember your last day on class-J? you asked me if we could start the day over. I think I would like the same for today.” Cleo’s heart fluttered a bit.
She hugged a vine “has it been that nice for you? one of the best days in your life?” That felt almost impossible to imagine for a person that had lived for so long. 
Mertha smiled “oh yes, we affini do not count the days as you do but the last 16 hours have been some of the happiest, most fulfilling hours I have had the privilege of experiencing.” Cleo felt a few tears begin to well up.
She hugged the vine tightly. “I hope that even when I am independent that we can have many more hours like this.” Mertha soothed her flowing emotions with some gentle pats.
Mertha was so good to her “of course we shall, little kitten.” 
Trexal Terinax, 6th bloom looked over their desk, the data pads and papers scattered over it were a good image of the chaos inside themselves. The compact had control over the planet and the sector, but it felt like it was hanging on a thin vine. They were just so few, and there were so many humans. There was a reason why the admiral council had not planned to take the planet, not even mind the sector, before reinforcements came. 
The only thing that made things tenable was the cooperation the humans had surprisingly shown. Most humans either fled, fought, or tried to hide from the compact. These humans had welcomed them and worked to integrate their command structure with theirs. The humans were also quite efficient bureaucrats and held far more extensive records than they had met on other worlds. The cooperation most likely came from one source:
The President that was in their care. The same one the humans still believed ruled the sector together with the compact. If the humans knew that the president had been wounded, unconscious for several days, transitioned, and held no real control over anything going on. Well, then the situation would change drastically. Still, there was no way for the humans to gain that knowledge, and reinforcements were on their way….just 21 days to go. 
The captain of the Agraria looked over the reports again, they were not pretty. The number of weapons that were assumed to be on the planet was simply enormous, large enough to arm the population 2 times over. And they had managed to secure just 23% of them, most from the garrison forces that they still had to deploy. It spread discord in their core to know that they had to make sophonts do work while at the same time there were so many ways for them to hurt each other and themselves. 
They looked over the long reports of labor shortages. The rest of the sector had also required assistance as the other planets were dependent on Chentian for many vital resources. They were luckily far from as populous as Centhia, but it stretched their already thin numbers even thinner. 3 days ago, they had even needed to institute a floret moratorium until the reinforcements came. They also had to request all affini that were not currently working, with helping the domestication efforts. This was not what they had expected when standing for captain. 
Their main concern was the fact that they had little information on so many of the organized groups that resided on the planet below. Most of that information was on those stubborn encoded documents, if they had that information then they would at least feel a bit more in control. They decided to give it one more shot. 
They called up the technical expert that still remained on the ship, it was a risk that they were not awake at this moment.
Luckily he answered <Elrax here, is there something you want captain?> The affini looked tired, just like they all did. 
They made sure to look confident <I was wondering if we could give those documents one more shot.>
Elrax sighed <we have tried to decode those at least 14 times, still no word from Mertha? If she could give me even just a fraction of a decoded document then this would be easy. If not, then….I don’t see how doing it again will work.>
Trexal had an idea <what if we use the computing power of all the private computers aboard the ship? Very few are in use, and I doubt anyone left would notice.> It was at least something 
Elrax did not look too convinced <that will increase the computing power of about…3%. Not much of a difference.> Trexal did not need more pessimism than they already carried.
3% was at least something…right <perhaps that 3% is what we have been missing. Try it.>
Elrax grumbled but began typing on the interface out of Trexal’s view. There was a brief silence <there, now the main frame is drawing upon the data and processing power of all the computers on the ship.  It could take hours before we get any……by the Everbloom! It is working!>
Trexal thought for a moment that the gray affini was joking before the files began to stream in on their computer as well. Elrax sounded ecstatic <amazing, such a complicated code. I have no idea what made the computer crack them. so many files, let's take a look here.> 
The affini on the other end went quiet, their face frozen <Elrax? Is something wrong with the files.> The relief they had just experienced felt threatened. 
Elrax began speaking after a bit of time <the files are okay, it’s the contents that are….not. Political purges, fear campaigns, and massive surveillance networks. It also does not seem that the president had any intention of cooperating in the first place. There are even plans here for capturing an affini ship….poor Mertha.> Perhaps not good news but it did not change the situation on the ground for now.
The gray affini seemed to shake himself out of a state of shock <I will inform Serrulata Kanzan, she is the head of the committee pertaining to Cleo’s domestication. I think they might want to reconsider their decision. The files are being decoded, but there are a lot of them….and they seem to be slightly differently encoded, so it might take some.>
Trexal was still very happy with the outcome <that is okay, I’ll focus on keeping the planet from catching on fire. Good work Elrax, this will help tremendously.> The call ended. 
They leaned back into the chair, the president might not be a ward for much longer. But that was of no real concern. With these files, they had some more control. They just had to keep the peace for a few more weeks and then this struggle would be over. 
Did you think the universe would allow Cleo to be happy for long? Also, sorry (not sorry) about the amount of fictional board game descriptions.
See you all next chapter: “Justice by committee”
But first I have an exam to do tomorrow so hope that goes well, at least it’s the last one this semester.

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