Hunger, it had developed from a minor irritation to a gnawing pain. Not anything too bad, but the feeling stayed after breakfast, only ebbing slightly. The mess hall was unusually quiet, the rest of the crew was likely experiencing the same sinking feeling; this was going to be the norm from now on. Nothing was better in such a situation than a distraction, and there was no better distraction than the work she had to do either way.
According to the work order, she was supposed to meet in the storage room, or armory as some people called it. For her, the name did not quite make sense, mostly because she was pretty sure armories had weapons and theirs had almost none. They had started to work on the communication relay yesterday…to say that progress had been slow was an understatement. The thing had been jury-rigged at least five times since this ship was created, far before she was ever born. That meant that the manual was basically useless and just knowing where to begin was a challenge they had yet to fully accomplish. Add to that the critical lack of parts and Natalia had to admit she was uncertain if they were ever going to get it online.
it did not matter too much, it was not like they needed it for anything she could think of. With the generator operational and the thrusters running smoothly the main job was honestly just to wait. That would mean time to focus on the hunger…so work it was.
As she entered the storage room she found it more than a little cramped. Betula, Alyssum, Verek, and the captain were there already. Betula turned to her the moment she stepped through the threshold “good morning little flower, are you still hug over?” Don’t look into her eyes, don’t look into her eyes, not now.
Alyssum tapped a vine against his chin “I thought it was hung over? Was that not what you called it captain?” The captain raised an eyebrow while Verek looked subtly amused.
Betula on the other hand sounded profoundly befuddled “hung over what? And if it is not hug over then why would she need to be hu-“
Luis cleared his throat performatively and gave the affini an irritated gaze “could we get on to the matter at hand? You wanted a meeting, what is this about?” The rapid tapping of his left foot underlined the impatience already displayed.
There was a short awkward silence as Alyssum took up a terran datapad “yes, sorry. The problem we encountered yesterday was a decisive lack of parts to make sufficient repairs and enhancements to the relay. We can use parts from our depowered datapad to extend the range and replace the parts, but we still lack plenty. Luckily for us, the two communication drones might provide enough salvage to get the job done.”
Please, please don’t begin an engineering discussion. The last time Alyssum had started on one of those Natalia was pretty sure she had fallen asleep, awkwardly enough leaning against Betula’s arm. Luis’s impatience was good enough protection “that will mean sending someone outside the ship, and we only have one functioning space suit…also not in affini size I might add. I can’t in good conscience send someone out alone, the risk of an accident would be too high. Do you have any other solution to get the required parts?”
With an apologetic demeanor, Verek crossed his arms “with all due respect captain, I have faith our engineers can do this task without mishap. The communication relay is critical, a minuscule risk is a small price to pay.” The relay was critical? Unless they were going back to scouting duty first thing after docking, something that was very unlikely seeing as the jump drive was busted, it was basically pointless.
Before Luis could counter, Betula interjected “there is no need to worry little ones~, I can go outside without a space suit. I just need to do a minor adjustment first.” Before she was done speaking her form had begun to change. The white bark expanded and stretched, filling all the gaps where vines could be seen like some sort of glossy liquid. The dress shrank and formed tight around Betula’s legs, arms, waist and….chest. Oh, stars no….There was no mistaking what Betula was trying to imitate and with the smooth shiny bark, the resemblance became painfully familiar.
Before the transformation could be completed Natalia tore her eyes away and looked towards her two fellow humans who were both looking at the now ungodly sexy affini. For the first time in her life Natalia saw something on Verek’s face that might indicate surprise, he breathed through his nose “is this not a tad….inappropriate?” A TAD?!
Luis merely looked intrigued, though not in the way that would have made sense for the situation “as long as it is safe for out-ship travel I don’t see a problem.” He did not?! Had he lost the ability to see as well as an arm? “You and Natalia should get to work as soon as possible. I believe alyssum has the acquisition list, but I will need a full report…” Just to make sure that she was not the one that had gone insane Natalia peeked back at the affini.
Nope, nope, nope…bad idea, bad idea….and why did she have heels? And they were going to work together, for several hours? This was it, she was going to die. “….that should about cover it. Now I and Verek need to have a meeting so if will you excuse us.” Luis and Verek walked past her, the quartermaster giving one last confused look up at Betula before disappearing behind the corner.
Alyssum sighed “your captain is not afraid to come with demands, I’ll give him that. Seeing as my workload has exponentially increased I will get right to it, good luck you two.” The white-flowered affini gave her a smile and then walked out as well…leaving her alone with Betula.
“This is such an exciting opportunity, I never thought I would get to use the function of this graft. Where is your space suit, I would love to see you in it.” There was no avoiding it any longer, she looked up at Betula. While her form was more human than before, her face was still the same alien shape so to not die of embarrassment she focused on that…why was the alien so fucking pretty? “Is there something the matter? You look stressed, I assure you that I will keep you very safe when we go outside.”
Natalia muttered something incoherent and walked over to the space suit that in many ways looked like the engineering protection suit, just even more bulky if that was even possible. Betula tilted her head “that is your suit? The media files I have seen some florets enjoy depicted them more like my current appearance, how strange.” The exact type of media these florets were watching was all too obvious…should she explain the misunderstanding? Nope! Doing that might actually kill her from embarrassment. With any luck, no one would see them on the way to the airlock.
Once The suit was on and fastened it was actually rather snug “we…we can go now.” She needed to bury her head in some circuits to cool down…fuck this thing was warm. Natalia tried to take a step forward and found that the boots of the spacesuit were about five times as heavy as estimated. Her upper body had already made the forward motion to move but her legs were steadfastly still, leading to the floor rapidly making its way up towards her face.
A vine halted her fall and pushed her back upright “heavy huh,” Fuck she should have taken it on near the airlock, there was no way she was walking all- “not a problem. Here, let me carry you.” She did not even have time to blurt out a protest before two large wines swept her feet out from under her and another two caught back “There we go.”
Betula stared down at her with glimmering amber eyes, her lower face however was obscured by…by….DON’T LOOK! Had she noticed? Please stars…why was this plant alien so hot?!! “Sorry petal, I did not mean to startle you…I should have asked first.”
“It's fine…its fine, could we go to the airlock?” if anyone came inside while Betula was holding her….The affini began to move and by some divine miracle, no one was around to watch her get bridal carried by the affini who looked like she was clad in a skintight spacesuit from…certain media files that she herself had of course never watched…..
Natalia was placed down on the floor and during a few awkward silent minutes secured herself by a metal wire and attached the rest of the equipment to the suit. Lastly was the helmet, and wow was it much bulkier than expected? It almost looked similar to the super primitive ones before the stellar age…was everything on this ship outdated?...probably.
With the helmet on everything became incredibly muted, the usual hum of the ship disappearing completely except for the light rumbling beneath her feet. “Can you hear me?” Even with the discord from the radio Betula’s voice was more beautiful than any singer she had ever heard before, smooth luxurious silk upon her senses.
Fuck, she needed to answer and for her brain to stop being horny for long enough to get this job done “I can, are you ready? All is good to go on my end.” Betula moved to the control panel, the door behind them sealed shut and then a moment later a soft hissing from the other door as the room was slowly depressurized. While they waited Natalia could feel her suit inflating slightly before she could worry about how that made her look, the door opened.
She had never actually been in space, just seen it from behind screens and viewports. Now that she saw it with her own eyes it struck her as…darker than expected. The black void was truly just that…a black void, the primal instincts in her brain were terrified that if she was to step past the threshold she might simply cease to exist. There was no reason for waiting, and the longer she stood her the worse the fear would become.
Natalia took her first step and flew forward, the unexpected lack of microgravity making her weightless. For a brief second, her stomach lurched at the feeling of being in free fall, unchained by gravity and friction. Then a few vines coiled around her waist and slowed her down, Betula gliding elegantly through the room behind her “excited?” the question was followed up by a delightful giggle that would have made her weak in the knees if she was standing on solid ground.
Betula used the vines coming out of her back to hold on to the ship while her main form floated forward. Natalia grabbed hold of the roof and turned, first to make sure she did not get more flustered by looking at Betula’s body and secondly to make sure she did not hit her head on way out.
Betula used the vines sill curled around her waist to help her out the door and followed after. Once out the feeling of weightlessness became that much more pronounced. There was no reaction to her movements, no resistance to her presence. It was liberating and scary at the same time, it was similar to floating in water, but without buoyancy and control. Something told her that flapping her arms would make her go forward, but it wouldn’t. There was nothing to push behind her, nothing to hold her back, nothing in sight for a billion miles…nothing at all.
A huge hand settled on her shoulder “it’s beautiful…like someone splashed the most total of black all over the canvas of the universe…to think that this is most of what is, pure nothing…” Natalia looked up and found the most beautiful stars the galaxy had ever seen. The affini’s eyes sparkled in the darkness, two golden orbs filled with detail that her eyes desperately wanted to search for. The two other affinis’ eyes were similar but their…dents? Were larger, and more pronounced. Betula’s eyes held so many that they blended together when not focused on, each dent perfect and different from the other in small but significant ways…She could have stared into them for decades and still not come close to picturing them in her mind in a way that would be respectful to their beauty….so pretty….
“~Natalia?~....” mmmmmm “~Natalia?~” What…oh stars what was she doing? What had she been doing? Staring? For how long? The last moments could have lasted anything between an hour and a few seconds, there was no way for her mind to tell “you can look as much as you want later but I think Alyssum and your captain is going to be angry if we don’t get the parts needed.” Look as much as she wanted later? Was…was Betula flirting with her? No, there was no way…
Okay, there was definitely something wrong with her mind, some alien mind control shit had to be the explanation. Or maybe the affini was just very sexy…this was not the time. Betula was right, they needed the parts, she could be a useless lesbian plantfucker later. Using the wire Natalia turned around and got her first good look at the ship…oh shit.
She had not expected it to look great, but the dented ripped apart mess that was not floating in front of her was not what she had in mind. Remnants of the massive vine that had grappled them were still coiled around the ship, a green serpent warped around its prey. One of the stabilizing wings on the back had broken off and there was a large vertical scar along the bow where debris was slowly flaking off. The nose of the ship was coated in black ash forming a surprisingly even pattern….Were they living inside that thing?
Best not to think about it, she and Betula made their way back to the ship and this time Natalia remembered to turn on the magnets in her boots. There was a satisfying click in her earpiece as they made contact with the hull. Betula retrieved a map from inside her form “the droids are on the other side, ca there.” She pointed towards the front, aka the part not covered by the menacing affini restraint.
It was difficult to walk, having to deactivate the magnets and apply them again for each step…it was better than floating helplessly, but she looked hopelessly clumsy next to Betula who moved forward without any issue or awkward stops at all. They came to the top of the ship….
On the other side, sprawling across the black canvas Natalia saw the second most beautiful sight today and in her life. The nebula was flush with colors of pink, white, orange, and blue, intertwining and blending like a tapestry woven by the most patient of artists. The artist had inserted gems within the masterpiece, shining brightly, giving the nebula form and layers. The edges bled out in curly strange, shaped forms, thin fingers stretching out into the void as to grasp it.
Betula stood next to her, there was no need for communication to share the awe they both felt, the silence was enough. Standing here with someone, and especially Betula…it felt significant in a way that she could not grasp…but it was nice, that feeling would not leave her heart.
Eventually, a small bleep on her visor displaying how much oxygen she had left brought her back to reality “should we start looking at the droids?....” It felt cruel to not appreciate the view longer, to sully the moment with thoughts of work, but for now, that was her responsibility….also the suit was beginning to feel very clammy, she would need a long shower once this was done.
The two droids were nestled into the hull in each their compartment, the whole module was horribly out of place, it was obviously decades younger than the ship it had been placed in. The main orbs each twice her size, only the back half would be useful though, the minor jump dives both contained were worthless without the exotic matter to fuel them. Betula pulled out a large net and tied it between some of the hull plates that had begun to come apart. Natalia thanked herself for memorizing the schematics beforehand as she began opening the different panels.
It was slow and meticulous work, some components they needed were small and delicate, best to leave that to Betula’s tiny vines. The larger components were dismantled and placed in the net while the smaller ones were safely stored within the affini’s body. They didn’t talk much, both knowing what the other needed before speaking became required. A gentle domestic harmony…like some sort of rhythm began to develop in their movements. Natalia was not sure where it came from, but it felt natural like she and the affini had worked together for several years.
When they were finished with the first one they took a small break, Natalia stretching up from her hunched-down position. Her joints made some weak protests and yikes the bed was making her back stiff. Her idle gaze wandered back to the nebula and then over to Betula, the affini was sitting on the hull, her face in her hand as she looked right back. The shape of her smile, the glint in her eyes, the shape of her form…
Words she had pressed down from the bottom of her mind clawed their way up her throat. There was no way of stopping them, but she could delay “never mind if this sounds weird….but did you do something with my mind when you captured me?” She needed to know, if this…feeling, was coming from herself or was just some affini trick.
Betula’s beautiful face tilted while still resting in her hand, a puzzled bend to her lips “did something? No, I only made you tell me where the jump drive was…how so?” Oh, blast it…she had to say it now. Something about the silence, the lack of movement around them put her under a transcendent sort of calm
This was so stupid “…you’re beautiful…” it was not nearly enough, there had to be a better word to express the feeling that filled her…maybe the affini had one?
Betula froze, flickers of purple and gold dancing in her eyes “you think I am beautiful?” The affini sounded surprised. Oh no! what had she done?! Why had she said that?!! Stupid, stupid!! “I think you are beautiful as well…”………
Natalia felt her brain listen to the words and come to a complete halt, the whole operative system waiting for her mind to buffer. Had Betula said that she was…beautiful? Some deeply ingrained logic determined the statement to be impossible, that she had heard wrong, was misinterpreting. But…beautiful? A lump of emotion had traveled up her throat from some unknown source…Beautiful?
Her vision had gone blurry but the gleam of blue behind the foggy shroud brought attention back to Betula “I am so sorry, I…I didn’t mean to…please don’t cry.” She was crying?....
Out of instinct, she brought a hand up to dry the tears but found only the helmet “you mean that?” Why was she questioning her? Because it couldn’t be true…there was no way that she of all people-
Vines dragged her into Betula’s embrace “of course I mean it. Your smile, your focus, the way your hair is perfectly messy…you are more beautiful than anything else…adorable as well.” The unfamiliar emotions were unbearable, they were too much, and her body was not large enough to contain them.
Natalia pressed herself closer to Betula and began to weep, she had no idea why. Nothing made sense in this situation other than it felt right to be in Betula’s arms, protected by her size and warmth. If only she could stay like this forever, right at this moment until the last star in the nebula wasted away.
The hug got tighter as Betula held her even closer “are you okay?” There was a low ebb of desperation in the musical voice.
Again, Natalia found herself wishing for better words, she looked up and pressed her head against the affini’s chin “mhm….” A pleased sound, trembling with overflowing emotion…that was the best her mind could conjure, and from Betula’s relived and adoring expression it had been the right one. There was resistance here, pressed against and held close, it was comforting in a brand-new way. Before the war she had always had plenty of people around her, teeming streets or crowded workplaces…but this was the first time, in as long as she could remember, that she did not feel alone.
“Indeed, was that the last item?” Please say yes, this meeting had last over an hour longer than expected. Each time Luis thought they were finally done, Verek brought up another problem to be discussed. Showerheads that needed to be cleaned, weapons refitted, extra leather for protection equipment, on and on it went. At this point, there was little hope that the question would have a favorable reply.
Verek made some more adjustments to the information on his data pad “I believe so,” Oh thank the summer wind! Wait, why were his lips still moving “there is however one last thing I would like to discuss with you.” Okay…no reason to get upset, this was the last thing. A nod of permission was given “why are we spending so many of our limited resources on repairing the relay when it holds no strategic advantage?” The question had to come at some point, luckily he was prepared.
Luis straightened up in the chair “the station has no knowledge if we are friendly or not. Sending them a message will secure safe docking. Furthermore, it will be important to have later, this is a scouting ship, intel is our priority.” Verek nodded, seemingly content with the answer. Good, if this lie got exposed…he shuddered at the thought.
“A good explanation, utilizing both survival and purpose. There is however one problem, there are no maps that contain the base you speak of.” Luis held his breath as time crawled to a standstill, a freezing chill down his back like ice-cold water. How? Did he….no, hold on. There was no way that Verek knew, the secret was still safe.
Three days ago, he had ridiculed himself as paranoid for staying up and taking such a precaution. Call it what you want, it had been a good idea. Luis pulled up a star chart from the desk and rolled it out “I did mention that it was secret, did I not? Constructed to help track down pirates, it is not on any of our regular maps. I have never visited myself mind you, but it does exist, right here.” He tapped the map where the circle with an angled cross indicated the existence of a star base.
Verek leaned over the map and inspected it, a sly smile spreading across his face “this is impressive, to not only have the foresight but also skill to create a forgery of this quality, you are truly living up to your family name.” Silence, pure and utter silence. Only the ventilation system that had been filtered out before was audible for the longest seconds in many years. It had to be a bluff. There was no way that he had seen through it that easily. The air was getting heavy, the uniform tight around his chest.
Through pure instinct Luis held composure, or at least he hoped he did. Verek was leaning relaxed back into his chair, the man’s expression no different from when they had been talking about logistics, perhaps except for a subdued smile that Luis was not sure had been there from the start or not. Backing down was suicide “it is real, I can show you the chart codes myself.” He couldn’t, at least not yet…he needed time “now I want a very good explanation for such an accusation.” All the authority at his command was channeled into the threat, his hand curled into a fist on full display. Act insulted, ready to punish to the full extent of his superior rank, make the other flinch and grovel. It was not a display he used, but he had seen it often enough to know how to do it.
Verek heard what he said, understood it as well…and reacted with a polite chuckle “now, now. My dear captain, there is no need to continue to play this game. You have already proved that you can defend the lie more than competently. My worries were unfounded, you have my respect.” The words were slick as honey, genuine as well. Had the room always been so tilted? Or was it just the lack of blood to his head making him dizzy? The collar of the uniform was so tight it felt like being choked. Danger, every part of his mind screamed of danger.
“How?” it was more of a croak than a question. And why the fuck did it matter? Something terrible was going to happen in not too long. The secret could not get out…there was a gun in the second desk drawer, maybe he could claim Verek attacked him and…black venom choked his throat, his hand was trembling “what do you want?” He had to but his body refused to move, a stinging pain shot through his right arm.
The creature sitting in front of him was enjoying seeing him squirm, savoring the power. There was no way he was human, at least not like any other human Luis had met before. Too regulated, a puppet pulled by its own strings “the explanation is rather elementary I am sorry to say, unlike for you there is no display of skill on my part. Bases of this nature have an intel security level of six, you as a captain have a clearance level of four. The only relation you possess with an appropriate clearance level, your father, has not been in contact with you for the last eight years.” He spoke it like reading up a logistics report.
This man was dangerous, a danger to the crew. Luis’s hand began moving down towards the drawer “for your second question, that has already been answered. The fabrication of the station was a well-crafted one but will come into question, as will the focus on the communication relay. However, there is no danger, you have proven your capabilities in maintaining the deception to higher standards than necessary and expected. Your handling of the affini has also been exceptional, I dare say your skills are wasted on this command.” Part of the brass? Or a highly connected mercenary?
“Who are you?” Part of him truly wanted to know, but part of him also needed to buy a few more seconds. The drawer opened without a sound, the plasma pistol was there, loaded and ready.
Verek shifted in his seat, but in a way that betrayed complete confidence…had he noticed and knew he could fire first? or…was he so drunk on the moment that he didn’t? “Dear captain, I am nothing but your humble quartermaster. I am also a person whose goals align with yours, to prevent mutiny and the affini from turning problematic.” The hand stopped right over the gun, hovering in place…the affini. If he killed Verek, or whoever this was, then the affini would take over the ship in an instant.
A sudden hunger pang joined in with the rest of his trembling body, cold sweat running down his forehead “you didn’t answer, what do you want?” Blackmail was the most likely option, but if the quartermaster wanted more food he was already in a prime position to steal…it had to be something else.
Verek shook his head “merely to help, don’t you see? Even an excellent captain such as yourself needs assistance from time to time, that is all I offer.” The man was insane!
“Do you expect me to trust you?” The momentary anger allowed him to finally grip the pistol, and then he hesitantly let it go. Whatever Verek wanted was more long-term, creatures like this did not play all their cards at once.
A genuine smile formed on the quartermaster's thin lips “then there is hope for you yet my dear captain. Now if you will excuse me I have other matters to attend to. This talk has been most fruitful, but perhaps tiering, I did go on for longer than planned, my apologies.” Verek stood up and pulled his hand out of his pocket. It was not a gun, but he had gripped around something. Without another word or breath, he stood up and left the office. It was over, for now.
Luis collapsed back into the chair, breathing heavily. His mind was confused, scared, relieved, and for each moment that passed more and more tired. Tensed-up muscles relaxed, and sleep came within seconds.
*bump* *bump* *bump* “captain?” What?...Luis flinched in his chair, consciences hitting his mind like an avalanche. Had he fallen asleep? Right after a confrontation that might have jeopardized the entire crew?! “Captain? Are you in there?” The voice coming from behind the door was alien and harmonious, with a hint of domineering concern: Ageratu.
Not a single part of him wanted to talk to her at the moment, at least not any acceptable part. But turning her away could be disastrous “come in.” A dangerous idea entered his mind, maybe he should tell her about Verek, and get the affini to remove the problem. The tall and blue-colored affini entered the room, bending unnaturally well to fit through the door. It was a tempting idea, if he covered for them the xenos could no doubt do enough brainwashing to make the false quartermaster nice and compliant.
With a single slithering vine Ageratu placed a terran datapad on the desk “Alyssum told me to give this to you…you look troubled, is everything alright?” There it was again, that audible concern in her voice, the troubled and sympathetic gleam in those strange eyes. For a moment they drew him in, temping further inspection with their dazzling light and detail.
Luis adjusted the hat that had slid sideways during sleep. It didn’t make sense, why did she care? Were they not enemies on separate sides of a war? The talk with the affini two days ago had been strangely satisfying, even if she was a bit weird about what to call him from that point on. There was a tempting explanation, that she cared because in truth the compact was all it said itself to be and everything the accord was not. That they shared a common interest and that being true allies instead of mere convenience and circumstance was possible.
He needed more information, the fate of the crew could not be left to chance “I’m fine, do you have the time to talk?”
Ageratu smiled and moved the chair aside, sitting down in a chair made up of her own vines instead “of course, what’s on your mind little brood mother?” Sigh…why did she feel the need to call him that? At least she still used captain when in public.
Pushing down the strange emotions from the bizarre title Luis took a second to arrange his thoughts “I have a question. If your people find us first, what will happen to the crew?” It was rather straightforward, as most important questions were.
The affini leaned back into the chair of her own design “the first priority would be to ensure that everyone is in good health and help anyone that needs treatment.” For a generous fee, no doubt paid in equally generous provided jobs. Keeping people alive and healthy had two main strategic proposes, making long-term occupation easier and having more bodies for labor.
Ageratu continued after a slight pause “then we make an evaluation of each sophont so we can accommodate their needs.” Uncharacteristically careful words from the confident affini. There was no way she could believe he would be satisfied with that.
The accord also had fair proceedings in the courts, ‘fair’ being more a relative term “And how exactly is this evaluation conducted? Will I as their commanding officer be attending?” Some control would be enough, some way to ensure their safety and freedom.
Some of the vines shifted causing the chair to lose its composure “the evaluations will be done by committee, applying all relevant input. Your rank does not matter to us, but you know your brood well, that insight could be useful. Before any of that, we need to ensure that your needs are met.” No, she was saying no. A few days ago that answer would not have been obfuscated with all of this indirect language.
It was less intimidating for sure, but he had quite preferred the honesty “after we have been processed, what happens then? What does accommodating our needs mean in practice?” He could hear it in his own voice, a trickle of irritation, and it made her…uncomfortable.
She was looking to the side, her gaze no longer focused on him as usual “well…if it is determined that the sophont can live as their best self without assistance they become full citizens of the compact, on equal standing with any affini. Sometimes we need more time or information to do a proper evaluation and the sophont stays with an affini caretaker for a few weeks.” There was an ominous shadow lingering in the back of the conversation, and Ageratu was avoiding it for some reason.
There were no illusions that they were equal, from the very start he had been at her mercy. So why did she tip toping around the obvious issue? “And if not? What happens when they cannot live as their ‘best selves’ without assistance?” Did she think he didn’t know? His stomach made an irritably loud growling noise along with another painful reminder of sleeping through lunch.
The sound caught the affini’s attention, renewed concern filled her voice “maybe we should spare this conversation for later so you can eat.” Unacceptable!
“No, I need to know if you are going to domesticate my crew or not! Answer the question, now.” His left fist was pressed into a ball, fingernails digging into his palm. Silence, it looked like Ageratu tried to start speaking but cut herself off…she didn’t want to answer. “What is going on? The first time we met you forced me down on my knees within a second and now…” it all fell into place. The gentle tone, the careful words, the way she avoided the uncomfortable “you don’t want me to be upset, is that it?”
Her form deflated, vines curling back into place “of course not. I am not trying to deceive you, but you were already upset and-
“This is about my crew, my emotions are not relevant! Stop coddling my feelings and tell me the cold hard truth right now!” His fist slammed into the table as he stood up, the chair shoved behind him.
Ageratu reacted much the same, the chair disappeared back into her form in an instant as she stood up. Her massive form leaning over the table and pushing against the roof “very well. Wait one minute.” With legs that had dissolved into a mass of vines, the affini left, prying the door open without any effort at all.
Luis was left standing there dumbstruck. A horrible sense of dread began to grow, had he pushed it too far? Fuck…Fuck! What by Terra’s blue seas had made him think that talking with the affini while hungry was a good idea?! Maybe it was not too late, he had to apologize, even if there was nothing to apologize about. Humility was better than death.
He did not make it to the door before Ageratu returned again, a vicious red emitting from her eyes. With a single vine, she closed the massive iron door all the while keeping her focus on him. Luis took a few steps back, holding up his hands next to his chest “let’s talk about this.”
One of her flower-tipped vines was swaying back and forth behind her like a stinger. The flower was in bloom, a thin needle dripping with a pink liquid in its center. A chair was grabbed from somewhere in the room and placed behind him “sit.” The order was delivered in a low voice thrumming with power. His slight hesitancy was rewarded by two vines pressing him down into the chair. As two vines tied his legs to the chair another placed something in his lap “eat.”
Luis looked down, it was a synthcube, or at least half of one “wh-“ A single glare from the affini was more than enough to make his jaw lock and close in silence.
Another set of vines tied his waist to the back of the chair “you do not need to speak. You will eat while I talk or I will feed you, is that understood ‘captain’?” He had never heard a more credible threat, or his rank be referred to so condescendingly. Luis swallowed and took a single bite “good, continue to eat and listen. You wanted the truth, here it is. Mine, Betula’s, and Alyssum’s input to the committees will be central to their decisions. From what I have seen so far some, maybe even most of your crew need to be domesticated. They will get good owners and homes, that fit their needs and personality. This is for their benefit and will ensure that they can live happy fulfilled lives. I did not want to tell you this as I know you are highly protective over each and every one. Satisfied?” There was no regret or dishonesty, she believed it fully.
Luis savored the last bit of food before answering, the hunger receding to a comfortable distance “you’re right, I don’t like it. Some of my crew escaped indentured servitude, I can’t in good conscience allow that to happen to them again. Still, I appreciate your honesty.” A smile spread on her face, needle teeth bared.
Some of the vines tightened around him “I concur, being straightforward is much more to my liking. Instead of trying to coddle your emotions as you so aptly put it, I will continue to be straightforward and ensure your emotional well-being through other means. You are stressed and need to relax. There are two options, a small dose of xenodrugs or a long hug. You have 5 seconds to make your choice.” Xenodrugs? 5 seconds?! What should he…
There was no time to think “hug?” That wouldn’t fuck with his mind…right? Her smile grew wider as vines lifted him out of the chair and into her embrace. Unlike the smothering he had received last time this was more of a gentle hold. A soft bed of vines and flowers he could lean against. It reminded him of leaning against a snowy hill when resting after a long ski trip. The vine lattice gave in where needed to create the perfect support, staying firm enough in other places to hold him upright.
Again, there was this low hum in the air that is mind latched on to, the tension in his body ebbing away as it did. Ageratu sounded gentle now “I know there is nothing I can say or do to prove without a doubt that you can trust me. I hope that I can instead teach you to trust me, for I have nothing but good intentions for you and your brood…crew.” It was easier to breathe now, a struggle he had forgotten in all the rush.
“I would like to…to trust you that is. Would make everything a lot easier,” especially when it came to the problem of a certain quartermaster “but I can’t. There is too much at stake, far more than my own fate.” He would have to deal with Verek on his own. By involving the affini there was too much that could go wrong even if their xeno intentions were good. “You affini are very strange, you know that?” Only half of what they did ever made any sense, at least for now.
Ageratu chuckled, a wonderful sound “you terrans are also very strange, and adorable too if I might say so.” Some vines coiled around him, making the embrace more secure…did not look like he was getting out of this for some time...
“Could you send me the data pads on the desk? I have some work orders I need to finish.” If the affini insisted to coil around him like some massive constrictor snake then he might as well get some work done in the meanwhile.
To his welcome surprise she did, the data pads he had never gotten around to were fished up and delivered carefully into his hands “do not push them too hard little brood mother, they also need plenty of rest.” One day he would learn where this strange title originated from.
He opened the first data pad “don’t worry, except for the relay most critical work is finished. Now they are mostly doing routine work and maintenance to keep their minds active and distracted from the hunger.” Darn, this lap was a comfortable place to sit.. “I know this might sound strange…could you brew me a cup of tea? I would do it myself, but I can’t move very well at the moment.”
That certainly got the affini’s attention “you have tea?” Her gaze followed his to the small brew kit at the corner of the office and a different kind of hunger entered her posture.
Luis chuckled, slightly confused “left by the old owners, helps to get me awake somedays. You can make some for yourself as well, be my guest.” Vines shot out and in a flurry of motions, the tea was made. He could practically feel the impatience vibrating of the affini as they waited for the water to boil. There was something incredibly humorous about the absurdity of it all “…I take it you like tea?”
The moment it was done Ageratu made two cups and handed one to him “it does not provide nourishment but…” one of her vines was put into the hot water “ahhhh, tastes so much better than the rust solution we have to consume now.” Some of the affini’s flowers bloomed as she closed her eyes to savor the flavor.
He took a sip himself and returned focus to the data pad, lining up the solitaire of jobs that needed to be done. He would have to steer the ship into safe harbor alone, the conversation before had made one thing clear, the crew could not end up in the clutches of the affini unless absolutely necessary. This did not mean that the affini could not be more helpful than originally thought, even if indulging their strange behavior was a challenge. Speaking off “when will you let me down?”
Ageratu still had her eyes closed, a serene look on her face….she was certainly beautiful, no doubt about that. She answered without looking down “when I am done with my tea little brood mother.”