Negotiations on shaky vines

Chapter 48 – Puppeteering the puppeteer

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

CW: Panic attack

Hope you enjoy and that it explains most of what has happened these last few chapters!
Mertha saw as Trexal’s flowers wilted over only a couple of seconds, while the affini looked at the screen in front of them “I am declaring this an emergency. Secure the building and await further orders.” 
 
The captain looked up at her, there was fear in their eyes “You wanted a reason for keeping her from domestication? Looks like one just arrived, follow me.” Trexal moved, stood up, and left the room in a rapid fashion.
 
Mertha felt disoriented but followed Trexal through the corridors of the bureaucracy. What had they meant by that?….no, they could not possibly….Just at the thought, Mertha could feel a protective rage build up in her core, they were not putting Cleo in that position!
 
Trexal entered an empty meeting room and Mertha stormed in after them “tell me you are not considering using Cleo. I won’t allow it!” Trexal spun around at her words, their core thrummed with desperation. 
 
For a moment their eyes locked and Mertha recognized the look in their eyes, she had seen it in Cleo’s many times before. The captain’s voice was filled with determination “Order in this sector is about to crumble completely, Cleo can help us restore that order. It is either that or domestication, it will be up to her to decide what she wants.” Mertha’s anger broke apart as she suddenly became conflicted.
 
On one side, forceful domestication, removing the choice Cleo had worked so hard to obtain, forcing her into a life she did not want to live. On the other was returning to responsibility and stress that Cleo was not equipped to handle, and that had hurt her so much before. It was an impossible choice for her, but she knew what Cleo would choose.  
 
Before she could respond, other affini began to enter the room, their movements frantic and their biorhythms in discord. They began to sit down and Trexal motioned for her to do the same, what was going on?
 
Trexal spoke and all attention fell on them “a few minutes ago one of the most important officials in the human government was killed, a message was left claiming it was ordered by the president. A picture of the scene was transmitted across the planet, already the human government has all but collapsed.” The affini in the room were silent, the implication was clear.
 
One of them spoke with concern “is it likely that this was done on the orders of the president?” a short round of murmurs passed around the table. 
 
Trexal sounded confident “that would be almost impossible, I am convinced that this was ordered by someone else. The president does bring us to the first subject I want this emergency council to determine: Whether or not we shall ask the sophont, Cleo, for help with containing this situation.” The room was silent for a moment until chaos broke out.
 
“Are you insane? based on what she has done there is no way we can do that.”
 
“The fear she has inflicted on the population is horrifying, we can’t allow that to happen again.”
 
“Based on her methods and previous choices I can only conclude that having her ‘help’ will make things worse.” 
 
Trexal stood up, their voice powerful “Quiet! I will listen to your concern, but the fact is that we do not have the luxury of choice here. That human has spent the last years concentrating all the power in the sector in her hands, the only way we have kept control was because they believed she was on our side. Now that faith has been shaken, if we can’t restore it we will have a disaster on our vines. Letina, how much of the sophont population can we secure without the help of the humans?” The room went quiet again as it waited for the answer.
 
The affini seemed a bit nervous as it answered, “perhaps 10%, maybe 15% if we put lower security parameters.” The silence in the room grew starker as the truth of the situation sank in. 
 
Mertha recognized the next affini who spoke, they were a xeno-historian she had cooperated with before “from what we read when we first came here there is a large chance that the garrison forces might…defect and fight against us. They did so only a couple of years ago…a terrible tragedy.”
 
Trexal sighed “I would not suggest this if it was not the best option. There is a massive power vacuum in the sector, one that only she can fill.” Mertha felt the protective rage build up again.
 
Cleo did not deserve that “She had been so emotionally scarred and traumatized by doing this before, asking her to do it again is wrong.” Mertha could not even begin to imagine how much it would hurt Cleo to do this once again. 
 
Another affini spoke up “there is that, but also, she can’t be trusted. She tried to trick us and hold onto her power before, what is to say she won’t do that again?” 
 
Centali, one of the few affini in the room she genuinely knew, spoke “I think I might have a solution, what we need is a controlled environment. We can use the Sophont Alternate Perception Simulator to make sure that both her mental health and strategic capabilities are under our control.” That sounded a bit too good to be true, far from a good case but better than the frost or fire situation Cleo was currently in. 
 
The blue and white leaved affini explained a bit further “with the SAPS we can monitor her brain activity and health while also, with a bit of class-S and -H, control her perception. That should make us capable of making sure she does not have any serious mental problems and does not manage to trick us.” Trexal looked pleased.
 
The captain’s eyes were not as desperate anymore “an excellent suggestion, are there any objections?” 
 
Several affini raised their vines “I do not see how wasting time on this will help us, it is a distraction. Her methods are unacceptable either way.” 
 
Trexal sighed “I doubt we will use any of her methods without doing some changes to them first, but she does have a detailed understanding and expertise in dealing with conflicts here. I think we should put it to a vote. Mertha, as her previous caretaker, I think it is only right if you get a vote, any objections to that?” There were not.
 
Mertha felt conflicted, a large part of her wanted to vote against it. putting Cleo anywhere near this situation was wrong in so many ways. But if she did this, how could she look at Cleo and tell her that she had removed the once chance she would have had at making the choice herself?
 
“All in favor.” Mertha looked down but raised a vine. “All opposed.” Mertha lowered the vine. 
 
Trexal’s voice was satisfied “6 in favor, 5 opposed, we will use the sophont. Mertha and Centali, come with me. The rest of you begin to mobilize all personnel, things are about to get hectic.” Both her and Centali left with Trexal. Centali gave her an encouraging smile, Mertha did not feel good enough about this to return one. 
 
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Mertha sighed and put down the data pad, everyone had agreed to come. When she had first messaged Vonzin that the surgery was to be delayed the vet had been relived. When Centali had explained what they were going to do Vonzin had been considerably less pleased. Serla had been furious, and it had taken a prolonged conversation and help from Nora to convince her to let Cleo do this. Nora herself had not sounded too happy but was mostly just relieved that Cleo could avoid domestication, though she was not stoked about the whole ‘alien brainwashing and manipulation thing’ as she had called it. 
 
At least they had all agreed to come and give Cleo support, Something Mertha suspected that Cleo would need. There was still a faint hope in her that Cleo would say no and stop this, she had seemed so close to it at the clinic….but as Serla had stated: Cleo would choose work over her mental health any day. Part of Mertha was mad at herself, if she had managed to make more progress with Cleo then maybe this would not have happened. At least Cleo had just had one minor outburst at the emergency council, direct cooperation between those two parties was not very likely. 
 
The door opened and Centali moved inside “hi Mertha, Cleo is on her way home now….but she seems a bit sad, perhaps you should go and help her?” Mertha stood up immediately and was about to leave the small room that they had been delegated, when she paused. 
 
She wanted nothing more than to help Cleo but “she thinks I went home after the event at the clinic…I think she might figure something is up if I show up out of the green.” Centali smiled in a mischievous way and headed over to the computer that had been set up. 
 
The screens detailed what Cleo was seeing, her heartbeat, what she was tricked by the helmet and class-S into seeing and hearing, and a whole slew of other data points that were a bit overwhelming in Mertha’s opinion. 
 
Centali sat down and began to type on the interface “I and my floret have used the SAPS quite a lot, she wants to see Terra again but obviously that is a bit hard at the moment. Sometimes I use it to have a few different appearances. Cleo might be suspicious if she saw you, but what about….let’s see here…Azalea Peruce, 3rd bloom?” Centali showed her a model of a quite striking affini with plenty of red leaves and a friendly look. 
 
Mertha looked at Centali with a bit of disbelief “you can make her believe that I look like that?” Mertha was not sure if it was okay for her to trick Cleo like that, but she needed some emotional comfort. 
 
Centali smiled confidently as she began typing again “not only look but sound and smell like that as well. With how well she is absorbing the class-S I would say it should be a perfect disguise. Now move, you don’t want to leave without you.” Mertha was still a bit confused about how it would work but left either way, If Cleo needed her that she would be there for her, always. 
 
She managed to reach the station and embark on the train before it left, it was not hard to spot Cleo. She was sitting in a far too large chair, the SAPS helmet on her head and a briefcase in her hand. Mertha braced herself and sat down next to her human “hi there cutie, is it okay if I sit here?” Cleo gave her a glance, colors spread across the glass visor like paint in water, it did not seem like she recognized her at all and just gave a simple nod. 
 
Mertha thought about it, Cleo would suspect a certain type of behavior from other affini. It would be best not to break from that expectation. Mertha shifted a bit in her seat as the train began to move. “I’m Azalea Peruce, 3rd bloom, she/her. What is your name cutie?” Cleo did not react much at first.
 
Eventually, she answered, “I’m Cleopatra Hansen, she/her.” It was clear from her biorhythm that Cleo was sad and guilty about something, guilty about something new. 
 
If she was going to sound like a bureaucrat she was going to have to play the role, at least this gave her an opportunity to give Cleo some compliments “what a beautiful name, I am curious what brought you to our paper-filled halls, we don’t see many sophonts there. A shame really, I think having a few cuties like you walking around could increase motivation.” Did that sound properly bureaucrat enough? 
 
Cleo still looked out the window “I was working.” Cleo was still not focusing on her, she needed to break through that shell.
 
And Mertha knew exactly how to do that “awww, were you carrying papers for your owner?” That certainly got her attention. As an instinct Mertha extended her hand towards Cleo, but she pulled away. 
 
Cleo looked at her with clear frustration “no collar, I’m independent. I was not carrying paper, I was helping you sort out the mess in this sector.” Ironically pointing to the small tube coming from the SAPS that was injecting her with xenodrugs. Cleo looked out of the window again, Mertha could feel the waves of sadness from her human’s biorhythm.
 
 She had to keep up the role, but she also needed to comfort her “are you happy with being independent? I ask because you look a bit sad.” More than anything, Mertha wanted to bring the poor sophont home and comfort her. Perhaps the meeting with the others could wait “it is probably lonely being independent on such a large and empty ship. If you want you can come home to me, I can make you some nice food, talk about your day. Would you want that?” She could feel that Cleo wanted to take her offer. 
 
Cleo’s face shifted a bit “I appreciate the offer, but I have an affini waiting for me at home.” Mertha felt a mix of relief and disappointment, perhaps this was for the best. Cleo needed to know that they supported her.
 
She so dearly wanted to tell her how much she loved her “oh they must be very lucky to have someone like you.” Mertha saw Cleo’s face break as sadness overtook it, oh dirt.
 
Cleo looked up at her, there were tears in her eyes “I….I….” Mertha could not stand seeing her like this, she gently moved her hands and Cleo allowed her to place her in her lap. Mertha hugged Cleo, making sure that she felt safe.
 
She needed to know “are you and your friend having problems?” She could feel Cleo tremble and Mertha hugged a bit tighter.
 
Cleo’s voice was trembling “yes….I’m the problem…I ruin everything.” Oh, Cleo…Mertha could feel the regret build up in her core. The display at the clinic had been to make it so that Cleo saw that there was a choice, but now she felt guilty for making that choice. 
 
She dried a few of Cleo’s tears “I’m sure they don’t see it like that, you seem like such a wonderful and compassionate person. I think you should talk to them about it, things will be easier then.” For a moment she allowed her biorhythm flow unfiltered, and Cleo seemed to relax. Mertha continued to hug Cleo and allow the human to recover. Mertha decided that as soon as Cleo was home, and they were alone she would dispel her human’s insecurity
 
The station close to their hab was coming up, Cleo stirred a bit, but their voice was calmer now “thanks for the hug and advice, I need to get off now.” Mertha lifted her gently down and handed her the briefcase.
 
She could no longer resist and gave Cleo a pat on the head “no problem cutie, hope to see you again.” Cleo leaned a bit into her hand and accepted a few more pats until she disembarked. 
 
Mertha quickly made her way to a door a bit away and sneaked out, hiding behind one of the abandoned stalls. As soon as she knew Cleo would not see her she made her way to a parallel street and moved as fast as she could. She would make it far earlier than Cleo and be ready with the others.  Whatever happened in the coming days, one thing was clear: she would not let her human out of sight or ever be too far away, never again. 
 
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Trexal looked at the monitor that showed Cleo preparing for the meeting with the other humans, they felt a bit anxious. They looked over at Centali. “Are the other humans ready?” It was the first day of this and already things had almost gone off the mag-rails. 
 
Centali looked over a few messages “yes, they are fully conditioned now. They won’t notice the SAPS and won’t remember what happened on the shuttle. I think the meeting is good to go.” To imagine that an armed sophont had managed to get onto a shuttle and hide for a protracted period of time, at least human technology was not yet advanced enough to hide from their sensors. That poor radio human had been scared half to death, at least she would not remember it anymore. 
 
The humans began to enter the room and almost immediately there was conflict. The other humans seemed at first to disbelieve that it was in fact Cleo, one of them openly mocked her, at least none of them reacted to the SAPS so the conditioning was working. Cleo did not seem to react or even filch at the comments, then she asked for the others to leave. 
 
Centali frowned “that could have gone better, was she not supposed to convince him to resign, I don’t think she will manage that now.” Trexal was not so sure, they watched the meeting with trepidation.
 
The human, called Durkow, continued with the taunting and Cleo sat there and took it. Then she….oh dirt…the girl's voice was cold as ice as she threatened to murder the man. At first, it did not seem like he believed her, but over just a couple of minutes, the man was on his knees and begging for his life. Watching Cleo break the man's will was as uncomfortable as it was horrifying, no wonder the sophonts on the planet lived in fear of her. 
 
Centali looked up from the monitor “should we stop her? I don’t think it is a good idea to let her do ‘that’ to the others.” As she spoke the man shambled out of the room and the rest of the humans were called it, it was too late now. 
 
Trexal shook their head “no, we see where this goes. For now, we just make sure that this does not get out of control.” They still needed Cleo’s plans, they could clean up the mess later. 
 
The door opened and an affini carrying a sedated Durkow walked in “this poor one came up to me in a panic and almost had a heart attack. I had to sedate him, what do I do now?” Trexal thought about it, Cleo was probably right that the man needed to be removed publicly for the humans on the planet to believe she was back in charge. 
 
Even if it was necessary it did not mean that it could not be done in a better way “remove the last hour from his memory. Then bring him down to the surface and condition him into resigning from his position.” The affini seemed a bit concerned but did as asked, Trexal looked back at the monitor. 
 
In only a few minutes Cleo had all of the humans in the room entwined in her words. Even Alexandra, the one Trexal suspected to be the most resistant, had been easily brought under Cleo’s control. The ex-dictator seemed to almost effortlessly use the different hopes, values, wishes, and weaknesses to manipulate them into loyalty and obedience.  
 
While the proposals were interesting and would certainly be useful, dread spread in their core. If this sophont got her hands on a communicative device for only a few minutes…Trexal did not doubt she would be able to rally the entire planet against them if she wished.
 
An hour later the door opened again, it was Serla and her floret. Trexal’s core thrummed with the expectation “how did your chat with our uninvited guest go?” 
 
Serla looked at them with distaste “I finally managed to get something out of the mind that the human we capture possesses. I swear I have never seen a sophont with such a complicated set of mental conditioning and repressions.” The sophont was certainly a strange specimen indeed. 
 
Trexal sighed “what did you find?” Even the encoded documents were extremely sparse on information ascertaining to this ‘shadow division’.
 
Serla sighed “it was sent here to find its handler as part of something called operation ‘Demorang’.”
 
 The red-haired floret spoke up “Cleo is the handler if you were wondering.” They had in truth been wondering.
 
Serla continued “it was also supposed to get new orders from Cleo, it has very sparse information on what the other units are doing.” 
 
Trexal felt a new sense of dread “are you saying that there is a possibility that these ‘units’ could start killing and spread terror at any moment?” There was a brief silence to confirm the dread.
 
Serla shook a bit at the suggestion “I guess, though I doubt so. Either way, I know how to give it orders, Nora would you explain.” The red-haired floret received a few pats as encouragement. 
 
Nora sounded surprisingly confident “it needs a recognition code, if we provide that then we can give it new orders.” That did not seem too hard.
 
Trexal looked at Serla who shook their head “I could not find such a code in its mind. Give me a month and perhaps I could, but I don’t think there is time for that. As far as I know, only Cleo has the codes.” There was a latent purpose in those last words. 
 
Trexal raised an ‘eyebrow’ “it seems you have a plan, care to share it?” To their surprise, it was actually the floret who answered. 
 
She seemed a bit hesitant “well, you can make it, so she sees things as different things right? Well, why don’t you make me look like a unit from the shadow division? I have seen them around a fair bit, probably more than anyone, except for Cleo. I pretend that I sneaked in, and Cleo gives me the code so she can give me orders. Then you would have the codes as well and give the actual unit new orders.” Trexal was a bit dumbfounded. 
 
Not only was the plan pretty solid for gaining the code but would also give them more of Cleo’s plans for restoring order. still, using another sophont in this situation….“are you sure you want to do that?” The floret looked a bit guilty.
 
But only for a moment “the faster you fix this, the faster Cleo can stop this and return to being happy.” Seeing the floret show such compassion for her friend was core warming.
 
Trexal smiled “Then go ahead, once the meeting with me is finished we will give her a reason to return to the office, pretend to wait, and then follow her. I will need to go and prepare for said meeting, talk with Centali and make sure the illusion is believable.” The floret gave a determined nod and walked up to Centali, Trexal headed for the door.
 
Serla stopped them just before they could leave “I want to say again, this is a terrible idea. That human is far too smart for her own good, this game will only last so long. what are you going to do when she figures out?” There was an almost menacing undertone to the xeno-psychologist’s words.
 
Trexal looked her in the eyes “this is the least terrible choice I was given. When, and if, she figures out….Then we will see where the pollen lands, for now, she will help us save lives.” Serla stood aside but her frustration was clearly not gone. Trexal made their way to their office and began to prepare for the meeting with Cleo.
 
Said meeting seemed to flash by in an instant when it first started, only pulled slightly by Mertha’s planned interruption. During the meeting, Trexal learned a few things. First of all, was the terrifying efficiency of the human. When they were done, stacks of plans and reforms were lined up on their desk and several more were in the works. The second thing was how quickly the human changed from a brutal machine of politics to a floret-like state when Mertha arrived, the transformation was incredible to watch. The third was the plans themselves, they betrayed such a complex and intricate understanding of so many parts that Trexal was impressed the human had managed to cram all of it into her cute little head. 
 
The plans also reminded them how dangerous the human was, if the human was underestimated as she had been before then it would lead to dire circumstances. Even allowing Cleo to talk to humans in their current controlled environment might have been a mistake. A mistake that they could fix, the humans needed just a slight alteration to their memory, and they would have control. 
 
Trexal sent a few messages to the affini taking care of the human visitors. Soon the presidents’ words would have far less power over them, each one would have an affini to watch over them, and if anyone asked what they had seen of the president they would reply that ‘he’ was normal and in good health. It was regrettable that something so trivial as a gender transition had to be hidden, but it was necessary. 
 
Cleo still posed a danger, they needed a tighter leash. They sent a few messages to Centali and soon had a detailed plan for what to do. And it was just in time as Serla walked into their office, had the plan worked?
 
Serla looked proud “we got the codes and a full recording of Cleo’s orders. We are already testing them on the sophont intruder now and so far it seems to be working….there are a few problems, however.” Serla handed them the written recording of Cleo and the disguised Nora’s conversation….interesting.
 
Trexal looked up “what is the problem?” for a moment the relief turned to dread.
 
Serla sighed, she was not enjoying this “apparently we are having difficulties giving it orders, it relies on a complicated word-code system and an operation can only be replaced by another. Having them inactive does not seem possible.” Trexal looked over the conversation again, maybe the orders could be to their benefit. 
 
They looked up “use the words that Cleo spoke and give roughly the same orders. Order them to collect intel….but also say that they should prioritize their own safety over all else. I doubt they will get harmed, if one almost snuck past us then I think they can manage other humans.”  
 
Serla nodded “I will see how well that works, also there are some others outside waiting….they do not seem to be happy, good luck.” The last two words were spoken a bit dryly. 
 
The xeno-psychologist left and a few new affini entered, all of them had voted against using Cleo. The leading one looked frustrated “so on her first day on the job she scares a fellow sophont into almost having a heart attack, tricks four others into following her blindly, and then shows that she is ready to betray us at a moment's notice and go behind your back. Are you satisfied?” Trexal thought about it.
 
They used a vine to pat the large stacks of paper on the desk “I am, she had already produced significant results. But I hear your concerns, I have already made arrangements and she will not be able to do any harm. From tomorrow on Cleo will be in a digital simulation of our design, she won’t be able to speak to anyone that is not affini, except for one floret. Heavy doses of class-H will be used so she will need a good deal of sleep, but we will also be able to steer her mind in the direction we need.” The other affini did seem a bit relieved. 
 
After a few more points of contention they left, now Trexal had all the time in the world to go over Cleo’s plans and find ways to properly apply them. The collaborator plan struck them as potentially potent. infiltrating the families would be too dangerous but having a few cooperative humans that attended the protests might be useful in avoiding harm. The outreach centers could probably find quite a few of such helpful sophonts. 
 
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Vonzin looked over the monitor and allowed herself to relax a bit. She looked over to where Cleo was sleeping, there was a gentle look on her face. It seemed like the panic attack that Mertha had interrupted was finally fully gone, the girl deserved her rest. Being on such high doses of class-H and under trance for an extended period of time had drained her substantially, though far from as much as Cleo would have done on her own. 
 
The SAPS was still on Cleo’s head but was turned off, Vonzin wondered what would happen when Cleo took it off for good. The sophont could have quite the temper and this was pure manipulation of her mind and senses. At least she was still healthy, it was hard to exhaust yourself when she did not have to leave the bed. 
 
The door to the room opened and Trexal together with at least 9 other affini entered, they looked frightened and worried. Trexal walked up “we need to put Cleo back into the simulation, the attack she warned about just began.” Oh, dirt…Vonzin had hoped that Cleo had indeed been wrong about that, but no such luck. 
 
She stood up “she had only slept for a few hours, are you sure it can’t wait.” Trexal’s body language proved otherwise.
 
The captain looked even more exhausted than ever before “one of their apartment structures was just annihilated. The situation is critical, if she can, we need to get her to help us.” Vonzin winced a bit at the news, she nodded. 
 
Centali looked up from the computer “I can make it so she believes it's tomorrow and that this is only for precaution, that should make sure she stays calm. Beginning the boot-up process.” The visor on the SAPS began to light up in colors and the tubes that administered the xenodrugs to Cleo were filled with a pink, blue liquid. 
 
Vonzin sat down and began to manage Cleo’s vitals and xenodrug levels. Soon the room was filled with sound as affini ran back and forth delivering orders or solutions. In all the noise, Cleo just was just lying and talking normally if perhaps with a bit of a slurred voice. It seemed the attack, while predicted had still done a lot of damage, Vonzin made sure to focus on Cleo’s health, the buzz of the war room in the background. 
 
It dragged on for hours, and Vonzin became more and more worried. Cleo’s heartbeat suddenly began to spike, she was about to have a panic attack “okay, that is enough! She needs to rest. Nora and Mertha, get her out. Centali, make sure Cleo listens. The rest of you, leave!” Trexal looked like they were about to protest but a single glance made them reconsider. The attack was probably still underway, at least they seemed a bit calmer so perhaps the worst was over. 
 
Nora and Mertha put on their respective visors and with their intervention and some helpful suggestions from Centali, Cleo calmed down and was put to sleep. The emergency council left the room and those that remained could collapse back into their respective chairs. 
 
Nora was the first one who spoke “how much longer are they going to keep this going? Cleo has done nothing but sleep and work for the last four days.” The last part was interrupted by a yawn, Serla’s floret had also become quite tired. Several times she had fallen asleep with the visor still on, creating some moments where Cleo needed heavy suggestions to not become suspicious. 
 
Centali tried to sound reassuring “this will probably soon be over, don’t worry. I’m just worried about us just creating an extra day in her memory, that will be confusing for her once she wakes up.” right….when she wakes up.
 
Vonzin looked at Mertha “what are we going to do once she wakes up? I fear this will be just like the class-J situation.”
 
Mertha smiled sadly “I don’t know…I think if she knew that this was the only way she could help that she would accept it. but that is still not good….to be honest, I want her to be angry.” The room was silent except for Cleo’s breathing. 
 
Vonzin turned the chair around to face the monitors again “she will be sleeping for at least the next 10 hours, all of you should do the same.” The three others left the room while she stayed for another hour just to make sure things were good. Cleo might be the most stubborn patient she had ever had, but she was still her patient, nothing bad would happen to her if she could help it.
 
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Mertha looked at the monitor that displayed Cleo’s sight and movement, something was wrong. Cleo had been acting strangely for large parts of the day. She had sent requests for files she already had, stopped randomly in hallways, and looked into random rooms that they had not had time to occupy with ai-driven affini. Cleo had even written the time down on a piece of paper, nothing Centali could not change but it had required heavy amounts of suggestion to keep Cleo calm. 
 
That was at least one upside, except for one time when she had to intervene, Cleo had remained calm. The same could not be said entirely for Serla who was still flustered after she had played the affini who Cleo for some reason had seduced a pen out of. Why had she done that? At least Serla had remembered not to use the good girl trigger, no reason for Cleo to get upset at its lack of effect once more. 
 
Mertha was still a bit guilty about having to deactivate the conditioning, at least it was only temporary. Reducing Cleo’s dose of class-C-t was also not an easy thing to accept but they had to maintain the illusion. Vonzin stirred “hear heart rate just increased, it might be guilt or stress or something else. Mertha, I think you should intervene before it gets worse.” Right, Mertha picked up the visor that allowed her to see and ‘move’ in the simulation. 
 
Mertha looked over at Centali “I think she will be suspicious if I show up as myself, she believes I just left for home.” Centali typed away and Mertha put on the visor. 
 
Her vision was filled with the slightly translucent world that Cleo had experienced the last few days. Mertha looked down and saw that her form was covered in the red leaves of Azalea. She heard Vonzin’s voice “okay, she just punched the wall, something is seriously wrong.” Mertha ‘moved’ forward in the simulation and rounded the corner, Cleo was still standing in the hallway. 
 
The eyes behind the visor that was sparkling with color were filled with suspicion, something was wrong “Cleo, are you fine? You look very distressed.” Cleo looked up at her and seemed to relax for a moment, the suggestions from the SPAS probably working overtime. 
 
Then her human took a step back and there was a glint of realization and horror in her eyes. Before Mertha could do anything Cleo opened the briefcase and the document spilled out onto the ground. Cleo fell to the ground and began to rummage around them, in no time at all she had picked up some documents. 
 
Mertha moved closer, maybe she should grab her, and….then she heard the warning signal from the monitor, Vonzin’s voice sounded again “she is having a panic attack!” Cleo was looking desperate, eyes filled with guilt and horror.
 
Mertha moved close “Cleo, it’s alright. Everything will be fine.” For a moment Cleo looked at her and….seemed to recognize her, then she stumbled backward. Then Cleo lifted her hands to her head.
 
Mertha heard a noise from the bed where Cleo was lying, the visor illusion only spread for a bit. Mertha saw clearly as Cleo spasmed and then moved her hands and grabbed onto the SAPS. Vonzin cursed “dirt, stop her!” Serla moved but was too late, Cleo ripped off the helmet. Almost immediately her body went limp, and the helmet crashed to the floor, the visor cracked in two. 
 
Cleo flickered and disappeared from the simulation, Mertha threw the visor off, what just happened?! Vonzin rushed to Cleo’s side as was already injecting her with something, as Mertha approached she saw Cleo’s body tremble and her eyes flickering underneath her eyelids. Her core was filled with terror “what just happened, why is she moving like that?” Mertha heard the intense worry in her own voice
 
Vonzin talked while she continued to work on Cleo “without the helmet the class-S has no direction, at this moment Cleo is probably living through a simulation created by her own mind.” The vet’s voice was almost as concerned as her.
 
Serla and Nora approached the bed, Nora tried to sound optimistic “that does not need to be a bad thing right?” Cleo’s expression suddenly turned painful and then she spasmed like she had been struck. 
Centali’s voice rang across the room from the monitors “she is getting worse!” 
 
Serla looked afraid. “What is happening to her?” Vonzin had moved and was grabbing several canisters.
 
The vet looked frantic “her mind is spiraling, we need heavy doses of counteragent for the class-H immediately!” Mertha felt like she was stuck, rooted to the ground, then Cleo began to speak.
 
Her voice was desperate “please, I can….I can still work…I’m fine…I’m fine.” Mertha rushed forward.
 
She coiled a vine around Cleo’s hand “Cleo, it is going to be fine. Everything is going to be fine.” Please let that be true…Cleo began to shake more intensely.
 
Centali shouted, “her heart is beating far too fast!” The warning noise from the monitor beeped at increased frequency. 
 
Serla was petting an increasingly anxious Nora “can’t you just give her class-Z?” Cleo’s eyes fluttered open, there was desperation and fear in her eyes…
 
Vonzin switched out the canisters of the counteragent “the counteragent will react with the class-Z, we have to wait for the counteragent to work.” Cleo was becoming more awake now.
 
Cleo looked up at her “Mertha?” The voice was so low and so desperate.
 
Mertha tried to make her voice as calming as possible “it’s going to be fine, just hold on.” Cleo’s eyes began to stare into the distance. Cleo’s body stopped shaking and for a moment things were calm, there was a brief silence except for the beeping from the monitor. 
 
Then Cleo began to cry “I’m sorry, I’m sorry….I'm so sorry…please…stop.” Vonzin moved in and injected Cleo with something. Cleo took a deep breath in, her eyes refocused, Mertha made sure to grab her into her vines.
 
Cleo clamored into her vines “I’m sorry….I couldn’t stop them….they are all…dead beca…because of me….I'm so sorry.” Mertha tightened the grip on her human, what had she seen? Mertha let her biorhythm wash over the panicked Cleo, and she began to relax.
 
Nora ran forward “Cleo? Are you okay…please…you have to…” Nora's breathing became rapid, Serla extended a vine and injected Nora with something and the human collapsed into her owner's waiting vines. 
 
Mertha used a vine to tilt Cleo’s face upwards, and their eyes met. Something had changed, the flame that had always burned in Cleo’s eyes, either cold or warm, was gone. Mertha felt a deep pain in her core, she let her eyes swirl and draw Cleo in “you are safe…breathe slowly… nothing of that was real…focus on my eyes…nothing can harm you here.” The beeping from the monitor slowed and then stopped.

Mertha silently injected Cleo with some class-Z and the human finally went limp. Mertha cradled Cleo deep into her vines, how could she have allowed this to happen?

I really enjoyed writing this plot twist, hope it was enjoyable to read as well. See you people next chapter.

And as always remember to drink water, eat, sleep and take your meds!

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