No one, least of all X580, knew how X580 had gained the ability to think, communicate, and control its gravitational field, but it was certainly true that X580 had gained that ability. And since X580 had a distressing habit of trying to swallow any affini ship that came near it, domestication was the only option.
Of course, not just any affini would be up for the challenge. Micastria Evaliastu, Two Hundred Ninety-First Bloom was surprised to be recruited. She had long ago grown over the entire surface of a medium-sized planet (this was largely regarded by her peers as a queer affectation; she'd been expected to grow out of it) and tended not to be asked to do anything that might require her to leave the orbit of her star. Still, it made sense that she would be asked, so she grew nice big hypnotic eyes and let herself be maneuvered across two galaxies to take up a new orbit.
“Hello cutie,” she transmitted.
X580 extended the strength of its field and tried to pull her in. The Xiastal, a ship larger than even Micastria, compensated.
“Ah, ah, ah,” Micastria chided. “We can’t have you just swallowing anything that comes your way.”
X580 didn’t respond, so Micastria opened her first quintet of eyes.
The tug got stronger, but affini technology was stronger than minor forces like gravity.
“You’re so [pretty/tasty],” X580 transmitted, its language (for lack of a better word) clearly finding the two terms equivalent.
“I know, dear,” Micastria transmitted, “But I can’t let you eat me. That would set a very bad precedent in our new relationship.”
“Yes, petal. The Affini Compact has deemed you a danger to others and declared you a candidate for involuntary domestication. I just filled out an Intent to Domesticate a few months ago.” She opened her second quintet of eyes.
X580’s sudden increase to its gravitational field was so strong that for a moment the AI controlling the Xiastal worried it wouldn’t be able to compensate.
“Please let me eat you?” X580 transmitted.
“I do like to hear a floret beg,” Micastria transmitted, “but again, that would set a bad precedent. Now, the nice ship is going to release a balloon to you and you are allowed to eat that.”
The balloon in question was the size of an asteroid and filled with xenodrugs. This was, of course, highly experimental. Xenodrugs were intended for biological entities not astronomical phenomena. But the xenoastrobiologists (a tiny and previously entirely theoretical field of study) had been waiting to try some of their ideas for millennia. The balloon contained a mixture of Class C’s to increase bonding (although Micastria thought that might actually be overkill; X580 was clearly very good at bonding), Class H’s to make it more susceptible to hypnosis, and Class M’s to keep it in place.
X580 quickly swallowed the balloon.
(The xenoastrobiologists aboard the Xiastal waited expectantly to see if this first trial would work.)
“More?” X580 begged.
“More what, petal?” Micastria responded.
“That’s not what I meant, flower, and you know it. Where are your manners?”
X580 didn’t have manners. It found the concept in Micastria’s transmission difficult to parse. But it wanted more food from the pretty/tasty planet/flower-thing so it knew it would have to work something out.
“I don’t know what to say to make you give me more,” it transmitted. “But I want to. Teach me?”
Micastria didn’t have a mouth, but inasmuch as she could smile, she smiled to herself. The little big cutie had clearly just needed a sophont who could take it on its own terms. She opened another quintet of eyes.
“The word you’re looking for, petal, is ‘Mistress.’ ”
“More food, Mistress?” it transmitted.
Micastria signaled to the Xiastal. This time the balloon was larger, about the size of Terra’s moon, but filled with a similar xenodrug cocktail as the last. X580 swallowed it without hesitation.
(The xenoastrobiologists aboard the Xiastal watched eagerly. It hadn’t been clear if the first balloon had worked, but the second balloon was not only larger but a bit more refined; they needed to know if stellar domestication was achievable.)
“Good, [pretty/tasty],” transmitted X580.
“Good celestial body,” cooed Micastria.
“X580… good?” the concept seemed to both please and baffle it.
“Yes, petal. You’re a very good celestial body and I will be happy to keep feeding you if you remain good.”
“Mistress…” it purred.
(The xenoastrobiologists aboard the Xiastal grinned to each other. Astronomical phenomena—or at least this astronomical phenomenon—could be drugged.)
Micastria’s rotation was facing some of her eyes away from X580, so she opened two more quintets.
“Mistress is sooooo [pretty/tasty],” X580 transmitted. “More, Mistress?”
“It may take a moment, petal,” Micastria transmitted. “I don’t think we have another balloon compiled yet.”
(The xenoastrobiologists aboard the Xiastal got to work on the next cocktail. This one would be even larger.)
A few days later, the Xiastal released a balloon the size of Micastria herself. X580 eagerly swallowed it.
“Thank you, Mistress,” transmitted X580.
“Now,” transmitted Micastria, “I want you to constrict your gravitational field.”
“But Mistress, how will I eat?”
“As long as you are a good celestial body, I will always feed you.”
“Yes, Mistress. I will be good.”
“Now, let’s discuss the issue of your collar.”
“My… collar, Mistress?”
“All my pets have collars,” Micastria transmitted firmly. “I was thinking of a nice ringworld for you. We’ll put it nice and secure outside your event horizon. It won’t be habitable, of course—”
(An engineer aboard the Xiastal perked up. This sounded insanely difficult. The sort of project that no one would ever commission because it was, again, insane. She was so glad she had volunteered for this assignment and began drafting up schematics. She’d need to look up the possibility of playing with the hole’s spin and charge and then there was the question of structure… this was the sort of project that could take centuries.)
“And then there’s the issue of your name,” Micastria continued. “I am not having a floret named X580. I was thinking of “Rašalas.’ ”
“It’s a good name, Mistress,” said Rašalas Evaliastu, Five Hundred Twenty-Eighth Floret.