Stranded in the void

Chapter 4: Calm, frozen breaths

by Exhausted_ambition

Tags: #cw:noncon #D/s #dom:female #dom:internalized_imperialism #f/f #Human_Domestication_Guide #hypnosis #sub:female #transgender_characters #cw:violence #drug_play #gender_dysphoria #gender_euphoria #hunger #paranoia #petplay #pov:bottom #psychological #scifi #trans_egg

CW: descriptions of violence, panic attack

This one got a bit longer than I anticipated, hope you enjoy!
Alyssum woke and looked down at the treasure that was lightly snoring in his vines. Their hands grasped adorably around a vine while the florets face was nuzzled into a cluster of his white flowers. The sight filled him with both relief and immense adoration, the adorable little trickster was back in his embrace….Back? That didn’t follow…
A cold and distant voice rang out through the hab, the words blending together….a sad but inevitable conclusion spread through Alyssum’s core and vines: he was still on the Terran vessel, thousands of lightyears away from the floret his dream had conjured. He wanted to stay, to lounge in this blissful domestic moment for as long as reality would allow. It would not allow it for long, the details of the dream already beginning to fade as the voice continued to call out. 
He gently petted the florets head but felt no sensation of touch “I will be home soon little one. I promise.” The wide eyes of his floret fluttered open, and they held eye contact for a single treasured moment before the dream dissipated as consciousness took hold. 
“-is an emergency, not a drill. I repeat, everyone must gather in the mess hall immediately.” The crackling voice of the terran pack leader forced Alyssum awake. On instinct, he stretches his vines, and they met the metal wall of the room. A shiver went through him as the vine connected to the ice-cold wall. The shock broke any post-sleep grogginess in an instant. 
Several things became apparent at once. First, the lights were off, Secondly, the room was far colder than when he had fallen asleep, Third, the ‘captain’ had just informed everyone on the ship of an emergency. Dirt and frost! 
He got out of the ‘bed’ and made sure his form looked moderately tidy before moving to the already open door. Getting out to the corridor and its vastly larger space was a relief, the cabin these terrans redecided in were far too small. Down the corridor a few terrans came out of their cabins as well, their flashlights lighting up the pitch-dark corridor. They were talking amongst themselves nervously until they spotted him and went silent…it pained Alyssum to see them so afraid, he had to make sure this situation did not last long. 
Alyssum ignored the xenos and moved to the ‘mess hall’ as the terrans called it. The ship was like most terran things very small, so it took less than two minutes. The room was lit up with several flashlights, a good deal of the terran crew was already there huddled in nervous groups. Betula, Ageratu, and the terran pack leader were talking in one corner. Ignoring the slight embarrassment of being late Alyssum interjected into the conversation “What has happened?” 
The pack leader's shoulders were tense, his right hand once again spinning slowly at the wrist “Backup generator malfunctioned, some of the fuel we got was mislabeled. That means that the heating and life support is also offline.” Frost…
Betula remained remarkably cheerful “I and Natalia, the terran I told you about yesterday,” It was hard to not notice the barely subtle excitement in the young blooms voice “will go and fix it as soon as she wakes up….but the soon-to-be lack of oxygen is still a problem.” If they put the terrans asleep with class-Z then they would use less…but that would use up much of the precious supply and likely anger the xenos greatly. They could possibly connect one of their two data pads to the grid, but it would not last too long with the heavy power consumption, and they needed them to get the real generator online using that power.
The ‘captain’ tilted the brim of his hat slightly upwards, inspecting them carefully while not making eye contact “…can you three do photosynthesis?”….. What a clever little xeno! 
After using no small amount of self-restraint to stop himself from giving the terran a well-deserved head pat he answered with glee “Indeed we can lit-…captain. All we need is some water and strong enough lighting. Our data pads have a function for the last, but I do not believe we three can produce enough to fill the entire ship.” The pack leader’s quick thinking reminded him adorably of his floret back home…soon, he would be back. 
“Then we will fit everyone in the same place. The thruster room should have enough natural warmth to stop us from freezing to death. I’ll begin to get things in order.” The pack leader gave him a courteous nod before walking over to the huddled group of terrans. 
Ageratu shook her vines, a few of the blue flowers un-wilting “this cold is completely unacceptable, I hope none of the xeno’s get sick. Betula, maybe you should go and wake Natalia?” Betula curved her vines in agreement, she had probably been anxious to do exactly that for several minutes. 
After the young bloom left he and Ageratu filled around 10 buckets and moved them to the Thruster room. It was warmer, that was for sure…almost a bit too warm for his liking, but the terrans would fare much better. Not long after they had secured the data pad to the roof and turned on its lighting, the first group of terrans arrived. They were shivering, suspicious, and afraid, it took a lot of concentration just to hold back his vines from giving them all warm, comforting hugs. More and more of the little xenos trickled into the room, often in groups of four to six. 
Alyssum focused inwards and close his eyes, letting the warmth of the light fill his form with energy. He could feel his flowers bloom and consume the breath of the terrans, before exhaling the oxygen they so dearly needed. Focusing on the process was pleasant, warm energy settling in his core. When Alyssum opened his eyes he caught one of the terrans gazing up with her mouth slightly agape in awe. Not only was she adorable, but it pleased his ego to watch her reaction. The moment did not last long, as soon as she noticed that he had noticed she looked away bashfully. 
Ageratu gave a wide, welcoming smile to the terrans “Why don’t we all sit down in a circle so we can get to know each other better?” She indicated the size of the circle with her vines. 
To say that the reaction was muted would be an understatement, none of the 25 or so terrans were enthusiastic in the slightest. One of them, was downright hostile “don’t try to give us orders. I for one have no intention to know you enslaving, human-eating xeno bastards.” Ageratu’s smile faltered, her irritation showcased as the vines around her arms contorted. 
She stood just where she was, layering on a new tone “that was rather rude, it was only a proposal. While you are correct on the latter descriptions as we affini do not practice marriage, the rest of what you ascribed us has no rooting in reality.” It was not a surprising set of accusations, but still a horrifying concept to think about. 
Another terran from the same grouping stood forward “Don’t lie to us, we know all about the mines and the fertilization processing plants. You come here and invade our homes, and then expect us to act like friends? Fuck off.” The clueless little terrans being rude was one thing but asserting something so far away from the truth was a whole other matter. 
Alyssum took up position next to Ageratu “we would never send you to any mines, fertilize you, or do anything else that could bring you harm. The reason the compact is here is that your society is harmful and destructive, you need to be saved. Once we get you to safety you will see that we only wish the best for you.” 
A third terran, a rugged looking one, came out from the largest group “was that a threat?” His voice was a low snarl “you are still planning to have us captured, aren’t you?” Even the calmer terrans were getting agitated now, the room forming two separate groups. The anger and fear in their biorhythms were palpable “Here the captain gives you his trust, and you spit it back in his face? You miserable sack of –“  Three loud clangs rang out and silenced the room. 
The pack leader was standing in the doorway, another terran with a confident smile by his side. The frustration in the ‘captain’s’ voice was harsh “I leave you lot alone for what? 10 minutes? And already you are ready to tear each other apart.” He walked into the room with loud even steps, in between the battle lines that had formed “we all need each other to survive, and I promised to get everyone out of this situation, did I not?” There was a low murmur of agreement “I did. So, unless any of you have an extra supply of oxygen you did not tell me about, you will stop wasting your breaths. Am I understood?” 
The rugged terran who seemed to command to most respect when excluding the pack leader from consideration nodded shamefully “yes captain! sorry captain.” There were similar expressions from the others. It was truly fascinating to see the social dynamic at play, a wonderful opportunity for research if it was not for the dire circumstances. 
Seemingly satisfied the pack leader pointed to the floor “good, we need to spread out so everyone gets their share of air, form a circle. Verek, begin handing out the rations.” The many downcast set of yes picked right back up as the terran who had arrived with the ‘captain’ began distributing the small grey cubes that supposedly passed as nourishment. 
The circle formed reluctantly with him and Ageratu on each side. The pack leader sat down next to Ageratu, but the other humans were far more hesitant to get close. To his surprise, the terran that had handed out the food sat down right next to him after finishing his task “Verek Ignot, the ship's quartermaster at your service. A pleasure to make you acquaintance.” A hand was stretched out in greeting. 
What a peculiar little sophont “Alyssum Percu, He/him, 4th bloom. Happy to meet you, but I would have preferred different circumstances.” He shook the Verek’s hand, the terran maintaining relentless eye contact through the exchange.  
“You are not alone in that sentiment, but no circumstances last for long. Though if you will find our future circumstances more to your liking is something I cannot determine.” There was something slightly off about the xeno, their biorhythm was so subdued it was difficult to tell anything from it. It was not too uncommon for terrans to suppress their emotions when feeling pressured, maybe this was a rather extreme example. 
Not that Verek showed any discomfort or fear. In fact, he almost looked relaxed as he nibbled on the grey cube. A tiny seed of curiosity began to take hold in his core “so where are you from little one?” 
Verek shot him a sly smile “oh, several places. I have never felt particular needs to put down roots….” he chuckled “apologies. I like my freedom and I like diversity in its equal diverse forms, so the milky way will have to suffice as the place of origin.” The curiosity grew, truly peculiar. 
Still, there was something that did not quite fit “hmmm, you terrans are very social creatures and form strong attachments quickly. It was my understanding that this is why terrans tend to identify with their homes or communities. Are you not attached to such a pack or location?” 
Verek maintained his expression “the matter of identity is something I left behind long ago, simply not practical for my wants. I am connected to ‘packs’ as you call them, but I hold myself above attachments. Now, could I perhaps ask you some questions?” Alyssum’s curiosity had not died down in the slightest, but fair was fair. “Thank you for indulging my curiosity. What is your occupation or practice? I assume you are not a soldier full-time.” 
An interesting question to ask, maybe he was curious about compact life? “I am a surveyor. There are many systems within the compact and they need through exploration. The geological, biological, and aesthetic makeup has to be recorded and documented. That way we know how to use it in the future, whether that be for mining, terraforming, or other uses.”
Verek looked quite intrigued “did you choose your occupation or was it designated to you?” Alyssum chuckled a bit, what a ridiculous concept….and likely the depressing norm in their society. 
This was a good chance to get at least one of them to see that they were not enemies “I chose it myself, and I could choose to be anything else if I wanted. The compact cares greatly for the happiness of our people, we would never make someone do work they do not want.” 
Another terran, the one that had started the argument before, interjected into the delightful conversation at that point “suuuure, you just brainwash people to want to work in the mines. Fucking weed….”  
The rude xeno was interrupted by the second in command “sub-Lieutenant Park, control yourself.” He turned his gaze towards Alyssum “and you. Stop spreading your propaganda among my men, understood?” Why did they have to be so hostile and suspicious? 
Surprisingly Verek answered first “I apologize, Commander Lieutenant Duran, it is my fault. Alyssum was merely answering some of my inquiries. I do not believe he had any intention of convincing me to defect or anything so nefarious.” Making the terrans understand how much better the compact was compared to their old society was not nefarious and defection indicated that he wanted them to do anything except not be so hostile….but Verek’s assumption of his motives was not entirely correct. 
On the other side of the circle, the conversation had turned rather intense. One of the terrans held the others, including Ageratu but not the pack leader, captive as she gesticulated wildly while speaking with a strange flow and tone.
“So, there he was. Alone against the pirate queen Felicity and her guard. All he had was a plasma pistol and an overturned table. He knew he had to hold here, or the battle would be lost, and hold he did! The pirates fired but they were too slow! Two of them hit the deck before their volley was finished. Blue light blinded him, and the table began to sizzle and melt, but it bought enough time. Each time the pirates gave him the opening, two more hit the deck….until only their queen remained. She swore and spat at him, her quest to loot yet another planet dashed. Seeing his moment, Luis leaped forward, ready to fire the last blast from his pistol. But in that single moment, he felt pity for the pirate, and she shot first. The blast tore through his right arm!... but he did not falter…biting through the pain he fired and hit the pillager in her shoulder. Had he had one more shot, the menace would have ended that day, but instead, she fled back to her ship and escaped. He might have lost an arm, but he saved a planet from destruction and destitution.” 
The crowd, now including the whole room let out a round of applause. Duran smiled excitedly “that was great, I told you had the skill for this. Make sure to get that written down with Silvia later, it needs to be archived.” Alyssum was not quite sure what to take from the display except for the fact that the blushing girl who had told the story was very cute at the moment. 
Ageratu looked downright horrified, her flowers wilted “that is terrible, is that how you lost your arm?” The room went silent as all eyes turned to the ‘captain’. 
He was still looking down at the ground, the silence intensifying with every moment. He looked up “no.” The silence lasted for another second before one of the terrans began to chuckle. The chuckle spread and turned into a laugh, soon the whole room was filled with the terrans’ sounds of amusement.
It was likely only strengthened by Agertu’s shocked expression “I do not find that particularly funny. Why would you tell such a horrid story?” Even the pack leader was smiling, an expression that Alyssum could only imagine was far too infrequent. 
Duran managed to stifle his laughter for long enough to explain “there is not a lot to do on a ship like this and our voyages are long, stories make for great time killers. Also, the cryptic bastard won't tell us the real story, so our own will have to make due.” That made some amount of sense, but Alyssum had to agree with Ageratu that softer and fluffier stories were far more pleasant. 
The pack leader sighed “I have told you, it was muscle decay and an infection, nothing more dramatic than that. The fact that you won't accept the truth because it is too boring does not change that fact.” Despite it being more…mundane felt like the wrong word, it was no less horrifying. Was Terran medicine this poor? One thing was for certain, the ‘captain’ needed a vet more than any other terran Alyssum had seen so far.
At least the mood in the room had gotten better, all of the terrans looked to have forgotten about the current situation. They were quite the adorable group, close-knit as well. That would have to be taken into account once they got back to civilization. While 28 terrans would be far too many for a single or even a poly of affini to handle, a few groups could be created. Alyssum began to inspect the terrans, trying to ascertain which one held the strongest attachment to any of the others. If they were stuck here then they might as well make sure that all the xeno’s would be taken care of immediately upon return.
Many stories later Verek stirred next to him “maybe I can come with a contribution to our collection of sagas? I have perhaps not been the most enthusiastic participant in previous events, but I have had an idea for some time.” 
The second in command looked surprised, but in a pleasant manner “then go right ahead, but if it's half as boring as your inventory reports I am interrupting with one of the classics.” The attention of the room fell on Verek. 
Compared to the last storyteller Verek was far more subdued though his voice and subtle hand movements were excellent “8 years ago before he became the captain of this ship, Barcelon was the garrison commander on the frozen planet of Gelida. It is a harsh world, even the habitable section where the garrison is located is nothing more than snow-whipped tundra and mountains. On one auspicious day, the captain was out with a search party, looking for any signs of pirates that reports had indicated may have landed. A terrible snowstorm had been raging for weeks, but this did not deter him or his men. During the 6th day of searching, there were still no signs of any pirates, and the party decided to head home for warmth, food, and safety.” The empirics of the tale did not indicate any danger yet, but something about the way Verek told it made it painfully obvious something was about to happen.
“Luis decided to go over one last hill, thinking that he would catch up with his beleaguered men soon enough. The hill provided no greater knowledge and just as he was heading down, there was a sound, snow being crushed gently beneath something heavy…..He spun around just in time as a huge horse, its fangs and claws bared, pounced at him. The beast's mistake had given him time to doge, but the snow loosened beneath both claw and feet, and both tumbled down the hillside. A second later they were up beast against man. A quick examination of its hollowed-in stomach revealed why the best had been so careless, it was starving. There was no time to draw either rifle or pistol, a knife was all Luis had to defend against the desperate predator. It charged once more, and this time stuck true, knocking him down to the ground, its massive fangs ripping into his arm, blood spilling on the white snow. It began to tear, hungry for flesh, and in that moment revealed its weakness. With a single powerful thrust, Luis shoved the knife between the beast’s ribs and into its heart. The horse screamed and fell over dead. The commotion had caught the attention of the party who found Luis lying next to the slain beast. They brought him back to the garrison, through the cold and pain. Sadly, not even the best of doctors could save his arms, but the head of the beast still decorates the entrance to Gelida Keep to this day.” A round of acclamation and affirmation began, even with how gruesome these tales were the terrans really did seem to enjoy them a lot. 
The applause and discussions were broken as the ‘captain’ stood up “I am going to check up on the repair crew’s progress. Wait here until I give the order to leave, even when the power is back online it will take time for the oxygen levels to get back to safe levels.” From the wall, he retrieved a translucent mask before heading out, a gust of cold air surging in as the door opened. 
Alyssum shared a concerned glance with Ageratu, they had both noticed that something had been off in the pack leader’s voice and biorhythm.
Luis made sure to hold a steady breath as he walked towards the backup generator, trying to stay calm. It made no sense, there was no way Verek knew anything, it had to be a coincidence, it had to be. He just needed to push the thoughts down and do his job. Turning on his flashlight Luis began making his way through the pitch-black corridor. 
The ship had become unbearably cold, small strains of frost forming on the mask from his breath. He should have kept his old jacket, with its four-layered isolation and internal heating it could stand far colder temperatures than this. The thin captain uniform in contrast allowed the cold to creep straight into his bones, movement would be critical to keeping warm. 
He spared a curse for the imbecilic logistician that had given them the wrong fuel, there might be a war ongoing but that was no excuse for such sloppiness. The only comfort was that it could still be used for the thrusters, but the fuel left for the backup generator was dwindling…According to Ageratu and Natalia progress had been solid. Everything would work out, it had to. 
With a push of a button the door to the room where the backup generator was located opened. The room was cold but bright, one of the xeno’s data pads lighting up the room from a corner. Luis closed the door behind him and took off the mask, fresh unfiltered oxygen was far preferred. Betula was standing in front of the generator, her back turned. Natalia however was nowhere in sight. 
Luis cleared his throat to gain the affini’s attention. Betula froze and the few flowers along her form and on the end of her vines bloomed, needles revealed within them. Not quite the reaction he had anticipated “just here to check on the progress…where is Natalia?” The alien’s moment of hesitation was all his mind needed to come up with some terrible propositions. 
Betula turned around and a second later Natalia stepped out from behind her. A nervous smile on both their faces “so-sorry captain, we didn’t hear you come in…..” Natalia was stuttering over her words “we…we cleaned out the generator and it should be good to go soon.” That was good news, but why were the two acting so strange?…..unless. 
A horrifying thought raced through his mind, had the affini? He took a few steps forward, inspecting the ensign carefully. Her pupils were normal, she showed no sign of poor motor control, and lucid speech…only thing unusual was slightly flushed cheeks, but that could probably be explained by the work. “Captain…is there something wrong?” The briefings he had received were probably not even close to accurate but there was no evidence that Betula had done something to Natalia. 
He took a step back “No, it is nothing. You must be very cold, someone will come to replace you soon. I can take care of the stuff that needs to be done on the bridge.” How Natalia could stand there without shivering was truly impressive. 
Natalia actually did not look cold in the slightest “I’m fine, honestly. This suit is surprisingly good at keeping me warm. I and Betula can finish here and send you a message when you can start the generator.” That would spare time…and lessen the risk of the thruster room breaking into a brawl…
Betula seemed to have collected herself after being startled “I agree with Natalia…you on the other vine look rather cold, maybe Ageratu or Alyssum can go with you?” how would that keep him warm?
And he did not need it either “I am fine, there is no need for anyone else to get involved. Good work both of you, and thanks for being less of a headache than everybody else on this ship.” After a curt nod, he put on the mask and headed out. 
Somehow the dark made the air feel even colder, or maybe the light from the data pad generated warmth…that might explain how Natalia wasn’t cold despite having worked in the temperature for hours. Well, there were no such affini comforts here…not that he needed it. 
Luis began walking rapidly, rubbing his hands together to keep the left one from going numb…hopefully, the cold would not cause any frost damage where the prosthesis was connected, it had not been the most expensive replacement of a limb. 
“Little one.” Fucking hell! Ageratu appeared out from the darkness of the intersection he had just come upon. The huge form and glow from the eyes made her look like something out of a horror movie. It would be a lie to say he wasn’t startled but at least he managed a response. 
The implication of her being here instead of the thruster room was not a pleasant one “please tell me there wasn’t a fight.” The last thing he needed now was increased tensions. 
Ageratu came into the light of his flashlight “no, your crew has been very well-behaved after you talked them down earlier. I came out here looking for you.” There was a certain air of concern about her “you seemed upset when you left, are you alright?” They had noticed?! How?... Could affini read minds? Did they know?! No, that…that couldn’t be true. 
The affini had already shown their overactive caring, this was just more of that “I was only concerned about the speed at which the backup generator was being repaired. It is soon done, so my worries are relieved. You can g-g-go back.” Despite Luis’s effort, a surge of shivering crept into his voice.
The concern in Ageratu’s voice grew “you are freezing, let’s get you back into the warmth.” 
Luis shook his head “not yet, I need to get to the bridge. You head back, I’ll be fine.” Arguing with the affini would be not only a waste of time but make him colder as well. Therefore, he began walking towards the bridge and away from Ageratu. 
With tha- Something touched his right shoulder from behind. On instinct he spun around and knocked the thing away with his right arm, using every ounce of strength available “GET AWAY FROM ME!” The metallic arm struck the vine with far more force than any organic limb, a wave of pain spiked through his shoulder, it was like hitting a wall. 
Even so the vine recoiled, Ageratu looked horrified “I am so sorry little one, are you okay?” A deep terror had infected his body, blending with the cold. He was shivering and rapid breath fogged the mask. What had he just done? The world didn’t feel fully real anymore, the sound of a heartbeat ringing in his ears. 
Something tried to reach out for him, but he stumbled backward “don’t…don’t…” What was happening? Each breath felt like it was shallower, more desperate than the last. He couldn’t breathe…He couldn’t breathe! 
Finally, something broke through the haze “you are safe, be calm, no one is going to hurt you.” Like forced by invisible forces his body obeyed without question. His breathing and heartbeat slowed, the world became clear, and his mind calmed. 
Luis looked around, he was prone on the floor, the cold feeding up from the metal through his clothes. Ageratu was standing in front of him, her eyes a deep blue…her eyes. Fuck! The hat had fallen off when he fell. After a few desperate seconds of scrabbling around in the dark and his hands found the hat, he put it on while adverting from the affini gaze. 
“Oh, you poor little flower….can I help you up?” Luis wanted to think that the affini was only showing pity, but there was far too much genuine emotion in her voice for that to be true. From a purely practical standpoint, something must have dislodged on his right arm, it was not working properly, and straining it would only worsen the situation. A second after he reached out with his left hand a set of vines coiled around it and dragged him up, the appendages were warm even through the glove and uniform. 
He dusted off his clothes, the beginning embers of shame starting to flare in his mind “sorry…I don’t know what came over me…just please never touch me like that again.” She was judging him…he was sure of it. And she had every reason to do so as well, who reacts like that to a gentle tap on the shoulder?
There was a low hum in the air, Luis was confident he had heard it before but then it had not sounded so…sad. Ageratu crouched down, she was still a head taller than him “there is nothing to apologize for, I should have asked and been more cautious…we should get you back to your quarters so you can rest.” Rest?...No, he couldn’t.
He had work to do “no, I need to go to the bridge to get the backup generator online…I can rest later.” Luis straightened his back and ignored the cold to the best of his abilities. A quick glance was enough to determine that Ageratu was not in the mood to let him go “you can come along if you want. As long as you promise to not do any mind control shenanigans.” Talking with her here was already a risk he should not be taking. 
The affini looked conflicted for a few moments before relenting “fine, I promise….Could I give you a hug first?” It was a surprisingly tempting offer, it would doubtlessly be very warm…
And a huge mistake “No.” He began walking, and the muffled sound of the affini’s footsteps followed behind a few seconds later. In an effort to calm his still hectic mind, Luis began to organize it. Important and immediate issues to the front, long-term considerations in the back, interrupting elements pressed down and out of sight. It was a familiar and somewhat comforting exercise, practical in these times. 
They reached the bridge and Luis began working in the dark, Ageratu standing a few paces away and watching. There was a tension, he could feel it radiate off her. Was she mad he had hit her? or rejected the hug? Or was there another reason entirely? The silence and uncertainty grated, chiseling away at the last reservoirs of energy left. He turned around “what is it?...” A few uncomfortable lessons in the past bubbled up “I am not mad at you, despite how I might act and look.” He was not certain what made people think that, but in this case, such emotion from his end was unjustifiable. 
Ageratu hesitated, she sounded exceedingly uncomfortable “I am not happy with this arrangement,” Was she about to call off the ceasefire? “You should not be having this form of responsibility.” She said it like the mere thought was regrettable. 
It was not the direction Luis had expected “is there a decision you disagree with? I do-“
“This is not about your judgment or capabilities, you have proven able in that regard. My problem is with the fact that you should not be the one to bear it, it is hurting you.” She almost sounded accusatory, but it did not feel like she was accusing him in particular. 
Either way, it was a moot point “someone has to bear it, and at the moment I am the only one who can. Sim-m-m-ple as that.” The cold feeling in his bones had grown numb, kind of nostalgic in a way. 
Ageratu took a step forward, and some of her vines moved strangely “I could take it from you. You can continue to be the ‘captain’ or whatever title is needed to placate the pack, but I will be the one making the decisions and doing the work. All you would need to do is to let me into your mind and take care of you.” The freezing cold grew deeper, and Luis felt himself shrink beneath the affini. 
It was as much a threat as it was an offer, no doubt the affini could break open his mind and rearrange it to her liking if she wished. There was no one here, the rest of the crew on the other side of the ship, if Ageratu decided to break her promise he was screwed….
A repulsive cowardly part of him wanted to accept, to surrender, and let the xeno whisk away both agency and pain. Beyond the uncertainty, there was a promise of relief…treasonous thoughts. “I have two conditions to be met before I can accept your proposal. Firstly, you must promise to safeguard the crew’s lives, health, and freedom. Sec-c-condly, you must provide me with proof that this promise can be trusted. Do that and I can be whatever form of puppet you like.” His future was already forfeit, not that it had ever held great promise. The crew was what mattered…
Several long seconds of silence followed, Ageratu sighed “I can’t fulfill your first requirement and I am not sure if there is any proof I can provide that you will believe.” A good point, there likely was nothing the affini could do to prove their benevolence with absolute certainty, and he needed that certainty. 
A shameful sting of disappointment was quickly crushed “I may lie when necessary, but I intend to keep my promises. When I promised to make sure everyone in the got out of this mess safely I meant it, you and your compatriots included.” Invaders or not, they still deserved to live like everyone else. A sentiment that he had wisely kept to himself during staff meetings with the central command. 
He might not be able to see her eyes, but her scrutinizing gaze could be felt just as well as the cold “and are you included?” …..the silence was all she needed to draw the correct conclusion “self-destructive sentiments of self-sacrifice is neither noble nor impressive. You should leave this matter to me instead of clinging to harmful notions of control.” There was something to be said for being lenient when talking to a four-meter-tall plant creature that could tear either his body or mind apart. 
But for a moment that was forgotten “the fact that you are on this ship proves your hypocrisy, there is no reason why you should bear this instead of me. I have no illusions that I got this rank and position out of merit, that is simply not how the world works. But this crew deserves better than the selfish bastards like the one who landed us in this position and fills every position of power within the accord. You can either accept that the world is not as you like it and let me continue to do my duty, or you can make the first move that will likely see us all starve to death.” The bluster lasted for exactly three more seconds until the pit in his stomach informed him he might have made a mistake. 
Ageratu’s eyes shone red so bright he could see it from beneath the cap of his hat “little one…once you have been brought to safety I will ensure that you become happy beyond your current comprehension.” It sounded far more like a threat than anything else “your resistance here, no matter how understandable, will be remembered. Frustratingly, you are correct that I cannot help you without putting other sophonts in danger.” Luis released a short wheeze of relief. 
*ping* his data pad rattled with a message. 
[Bjorke, Natalia, Ensign, #23]: Everything is ready, you can boot up the backup generator now. 
[Bjorke, Natalia, Ensign, #23]: You have spent far too long waiting, you must be freezing. Do you want me to come over and give you a hug?
[Bjorke, Natalia, Ensign, #23]: sorry about that captain….please ignore that last message. 
He let out a soft sigh. When humanity had imagined encountering aliens, only the most desperate to escape the crushing weight of society could have suspected something like this. Luis sent an affirmative message in response and moved to the lever. He had forgotten to put the panel back on, laziness saving him some effort. From the first effort of trying to move the lever, it was clear he would need to use his right arm….probably not a good idea until he could get a look at it. 
“Ager-r-ratu, could you help me turn-” A single thick vine forced the lever into the correct position without any effort. The lights blinked, went dark again, and then turned on, hopefully without the intention of turning off any time soon. “Finally….crisis averted, I’ll go and-“ In two long strides Ageratu moved and blocked the way to the exit. 
She moved towards him “no, you will stay here.” Oh fuck… “you are freezing, emotionally distraught, and in desperate need of affection.” What was she- “I will hug you now.” He tried to protest but the affini ignored it as she moved closer still  “shhhhh little petal, there is no room for comprise on this matter, your suffering will not be tolerated any further.”  
Four vines shot out from her form and coiled around his waist, legs, and neck. Luis was not certain he would have moved even without the restrictions, his legs felt rooted to the ground. Ageratu closed the distance. two massive arms and several supporting vines she picked him up like he weighed nothing and pulled him into a deep embrace. 
Nothing could have prepared him for the pure comfort of the warmth the hug provided. The soft blue flowers that pushed into his face and vines that began to encircle his limbs were the perfect temperature. His body continued to shiver slightly as the cold was driven away from every spot. Even the cold that was situated deep within began to thaw far faster than he had ever experienced before. 
It was just not the warmth, the vines and flowers were remarkably comfortable and soft. Like the fine processed wool from the sheep back at home, it tickled slightly but never to the point of discomfort…had he mentioned the affini was soft yet? Stars above she was soft! There was a sweet smell coming from the flowers, inviting and relaxing, like freshly baked goods…
That soft humming noise had grown louder…so easy to focus on and embrace…where was it coming from? The Viator never sounded like that….the ship’s sound was a calming reassurance but nowhere near this harmonic resonance. He could practically feel every drop of worry drain out of his body, his muscles relaxing into the….hold on, what was he doing? 
The spell was broken in a slow instant and old stiffness of form returned “put me down. Now.” It was as controlled as he could make his voice. Luckily, Ageratu did put him down, if somewhat reluctantly. The room had gotten significantly warmer….how long had it lasted? The last vine around his neck slinked off and disappeared into Ageratu’s form. 
There were far too many conflicting emotions to be expressed properly. He needed time to think about it, or rather time to not think about it. For now, Ageratu was placated, and the ceasefire was still in effect, that was what mattered “I’ll go to the thruster room and send people to lunch…see you for tomorrow's briefing.” The affini made no measure to stop him from leaving, but he could feel her gaze against his back as he left. 
What the hell did that plant think she was doing? Forcing him into that hug, no matter how comfortable…best to stop those treasonous thoughts right there. Worse than the hug was the proposal she had given. Why had she even bothered to ask? And why had she accepted his decision? He needed to get to work and give his thoughts time to settle. Luis rubbed the side of his neck, even if the vine was gone it still felt like something had begun to fasten around it. 

Nothing like an alien enforced hug to keep you warm on cold starvoyaging nights. 

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