XI. Y36.211D War operations involving explosion of aerial bomb, civilian, subsequent encounter

by Ezra Carmichael

Tags: #cw:genocide #D/s #dom:plant #Human_Domestication_Guide #hurt/comfort #m/m #scifi #CW:dubious_consent #dom:male #pov:bottom #pov:top #sub:male

All the standard CWs for this story apply here, plus suicidal ideation.

It had started with the bombs. They started falling without warning, hitting what they would later realize were seen as key strategic targets… and Aprevalii’s ship. She never found out if they’d somehow known about her—if there’d been a traitor hrevl or something like that—or if it had just been dumb blind luck. The source was unknown, Aprevalii had guessed that it was aliens, since no hrevl government had that kind of technology, but she hadn’t known which aliens beyond that it wasn’t the affini.
The bombs killed a lot of sophonts, but the targets of the attacks seemed to be largely infrastructure. More sophonts died of starvation or cold than the bombs themselves. And everyone was panicking, including Aprevalii. She had no way to communicate with the Compact, to tell them to get here now.
That was in the past, right now Aprevalii was in a small workshop, watching—terrified of what she would see, but even more terrified of remaining ignorant—as the first ships landed. Unnervingly, they were beautiful. From the central node at the top, they branched out into dozens of tubes, winding and intertwining around each other, glistening and iridescent in the sunlight. Simultaneously terrified and entranced, she watched the door open and the first xeno step out.
Years later, Simeon would say they were beautiful. At the time, Aprevalii would have agreed. The feathered sophonts called to mind legged vines, and the sounds they made as they stepped out were haunting. Unlike Simeon years later, Aprevalii did think they looked cute: adorable, even. The sophonts poured out in their hundreds and began to—not march, glide maybe?—into the city. Cute though they were, Aprevalii knew enough to be afraid. The workshop offered no places for the five of them to hide. “Come on!” she hissed. “Out the back door, let’s try to get to a cellar, somewhere we can defend!”
Aprevalii wished she were at the monastery. Sephal had invited her to visit part of their extended circle—what terrans might call family—and she had jumped at the chance to meet anyone connected to her wonderful floret-to-be. But at the monastery she would have known where to hide, where they might take up a defensive stance. They ran.
Aprevalii, listen to me!” The voice wasn’t Sephal’s, but the emotion she (he?) felt was the same. Was this a trick, some ploy to distract her from the one she loved? “Aprevalii Phores! Where are you?”
She was in the city of… no, he was in his hab on the Micras. Simeon was there. Simeon was safe, thank all the stars! He reached out a vine and grabbed Simeon, holding him tight, tight and safe where nothing would ever hurt him.
“Aprevalii, sir, focus on my body. Listen to my heart beat, my lungs breathe, my stomach as it digests its meal,” Simeon said, his voice muffled by the vines around his head. “Also, let me out, I can’t breathe!”
Slowly, Aprevalii lowered Simeon to the ground and released him. Simeon climbed out. He was as adorable as ever, still wearing the clothes Aprevalii had dressed him in for the party.
“Sir, what do you need right now?” Simeon asked.
What did he need? Other than for Simeon to be safe, his mind was a torrent of emotions and memories, tumbling through him too fast for any one to be observable.
Slow down, sir,” said Simeon. “Listen to my body, focus on it. I am a still, calm pool. You sit next to it, taking the calm into yourself.”
He couldn’t be calm, they had to get out of there, find cover. The ground invasion, if that’s what it had been, had left, and bombs were falling again. She had to keep Sephal and Simeon safe! Simeon, yes, Simeon was here, alive, gloriously real to Sephal’s ghost. He focused on Simeon. The man radiated peace and Aprevalii accepted it. “Thank you,” he said.
Sir, there will be time for us to deconstruct what just happened later, and we will deconstruct it,” Simeon said, “but right now I need to keep you stable. Do you remember origami?”
Aprevalii nodded.
“Let’s start with a crane.”

Aprevalii didn’t want to see Liliac, but she had arrived and Simeon had said socialization would be good for him. Aprevalii only wanted to socialize with Simeon, but Simeon could be surprisingly stubborn for someone who lived to serve, and had insisted.
“Aprevalii, I suppose asking how you are is closing the grain silo door, isn’t it?” said Liliac.
“Why are you here?” he asked, his voice flat.
“To see if you’re okay—”
“That’s easy. I’m not. Go away.”
“And to apologize. I had no idea Tarshish had a ketalec floret, if I had…”
There’d still be one of them on board, I just wouldn’t know about it. That’s not better, Liliac. Why is one of them here?
Liliac looked genuinely baffled. “Why wouldn’t there be? They’re part of the Compact now and can be domesticated just like any other sophont.”
Right,” he said bitterly. “They’re just cute little xenos we brought into the Compact. How much do you want to bet that one wasn’t on Astasheth?”
Simeon put a hand on him. “That was centuries ago, sir.”
“They live a long time,” Aprevalii growled. “Too long.”
Aprevalii Phores, what a horrible thing to say!” said Liliac. “I know you don’t like them, I don’t expect you to like them—”
But it’s over and done with. They’re domesticated now, they don’t go to war anymore. That’s in the past.”
“And so now we all just sit in a circle, hug, and sing cute songs?” asked Aprevalii. “They were poor benighted xenos who couldn’t help themselves from committing genocide, and now that we’ve taken over they’ll all be good boys and girls?”
He had paid attention to the ketalec domestication. Liliac told him he shouldn’t, but she couldn’t actually stop him. From the core systems he monitored the ongoing story. The ketalec had surrendered to the Compact quickly, with very little feralist activity afterwards. A large number had needed to be domesticated, especially those at the top of the government, but thankfully—thankfully!?—only a few had to go on Class O’s. Wasn’t it nice, they all said, how even a species like that can become cute with the magic touch of the Affini Compact?
There’s no justice in the Compact,” Aprevalii said, almost to himself rather than his floret or guest. “No justice, no mercy. If you can be domesticated, you don’t need justice. If you can’t, you don’t get mercy. But everyone can be domesticated. We don’t fail at domesticating. No one ever has to be punished because no one’s ever really responsible for anything they do. It’s our fault for not getting to them sooner, not teaching them our ways before they could ignorantly hurt someone.”
It was an old argument, and Liliac picked it up. “What should we have done? Executed the lot of them? Put everyone on Class O’s just because we were mad at them?”
Liliac wasn’t an ethnographer; there was no word for ‘justice’ in Affini. (He suspected Mats might debate that point, but that wasn’t the point either.) Liliac didn’t understand the need for restitution, for recompense, for paying a debt owed to society. These weren’t concepts the Compact needed. These were concepts only understood by those who learned about sophonts before the Compact found them.
Not ‘just because,’ Liliac! Some things require atonement! And they never atoned!”
How could they?” Liliac asked, her tone unreasonably reasonable. “What did you want us to do with them?”
Liliac, ma’am, I must ask you to stop. You’re distressing my patient,” Simeon’s voice was firm. “I let you in so you could see how Aprevalii is doing and apologize. Not to debate the finer points of affini criminal law!”
We don’t have criminal law!” Aprevalii snarled. “There are no criminals in the compact. Just cuties who need to be domesticated for their own good.”
Aprevalii, sir, I want you to focus on me again. Liliac, ma’am, I think you should leave. Now, sir, focus on me. Let your vine glide up my arm. What do you feel?”
“I feel your skin, the fabric of your shirt, that adorable vest, sorry! sorry! I can feel your shoulders rise and fall as you breathe.”
“Good, now go deeper, enfold me in your vines and let yourself sink into me.”
He sank into Sephal, holding them in her arms as they bled out. If they were still speaking, she couldn’t hear them.
“Return to me, sir,” said Simeon. “I’m here, me, right now.”
And he had duties. Simeon needed his ichor monitored, he couldn’t afford to live in the past. He focused on the man wrapped in his vines, feeling and hearing his unconscious bodily processes at work, the slight tenses and releases of muscles as he adjusted himself to be more comfortable, his breath fully under conscious control as he guided Aprevalii through meditation.
Good, sir, good. Now hold this, make it part of yourself. I’m safe, you’re safe. Let the past remain in the past.”

In the last days they hid in what amounted to a bunker. A sub-sub basement in the monastery where they wouldn’t be found. But there wasn’t any food. They’d eaten all the food and they couldn’t eat Aprevalii, she was as poisonous to them as they were to her. She held them as they died, felt their lives pass out of their bodies, and then she was alone in the dark; ghosts were her only company.
“Sir, wake up, sir!” Simeon was shaking him. “Another nightmare?”
“The same nightmare,” Aprevalii said. “Well, part of it.”
Simeon nodded. “Do you actually need to sleep, sir? It seems like it might be easier if you just stayed awake, but I know that varies.”
There were affini who didn’t need to sleep. Rest, maybe, but actual dormition wasn’t needed. Aprevalii wasn’t one of those. His body required the occasional cessation of consciousness. “I could probably sleep less,” he admitted. “But it’s not like being awake’s any better.”
A triggering event can be like this,” Simeon said.
“When something happens that throws you back into a worse mental state. Seeing a ketalec, in your case. I should have planned for this, I’m sorry, sir.”
What are you sorry for? You’ve been perfect,” Aprevalii said.
Simeon blushed. “But I knew that in affini spaces there are things that aren’t good for you, sir. Thank the stars, Liliac isn’t one of them, but there are certain subjects you avoid and the possibility of a ketalec floret should have occurred to me. I guess I kinda assumed they all got Class O’ed.”
Aprevalii shook his head. “A few dozen did, mostly cotyledons, but the Compact rarely uses Class O’s. They exist and get used when needed, but it isn’t common. The less severe xenodrugs usually do the job of making the xeno safe to themselves and others.”
“Oh, I mean, I guess that’s good, but… I see why it makes you angry in this case.”
“Liliac always asks me what I would have done. Well, thank the stars that wasn’t an option at the time because I wanted to kill them. I can’t tell her that, though, she wouldn’t understand.”
“And now?”
“I don’t want to commit a genocide to punish a genocide. But it would have been nice if there had been, I don’t know, trials? Punishments? Class O’s for at least the top-level officials, the ones who planned it all. Instead, they got treated just like any other newly contacted xenos. Which was probably the right thing to do from the Compact’s perspective…”
“But you don’t have that perspective. sir.”
No, I was there, Simeon. I saw it happened, I heard it happen, stars above I smelled it happen. And it’s probably still happening!”
“Wait, what?”
Oh, not the hrevl genocide, but genocides and wars in general. We’re so frosted slow to domesticate. And how many die because we were too busy cuddling our pets to save them?”
Sir, it isn’t your job to save the universe,” Simeon said. “But you probably think it is.”
Not mine personally,” said Aprevalii. “I’m too much of a wreck. But we could be doing so much more. We waste so much on the core systems, that’s time and energy that could be spent domesticating the universe more quickly, saving more sophonts.”
“The core systems,” Simeon prompted. “You don’t like them.”
No one there gets it! Oh, they think they understand what the domestication project is about, they think they’re contributing to it, but mostly they’re just taking their own pleasure, building dyson spheres for fun, and being useless! It isn’t just that they’ve never been afraid for their lives; they’re barely aware that being afraid for your life is a thing that can happen! And when you try to explain that sophonts are dying while they wile away the minutes, they look at you like you’re crazy!
Even out here it’s bad. Even out here everyone cares more about cuddling their favorite sophonts than they do about the trillions waiting to be saved. Even I care more about it. I would much rather cuddle you than go out and domesticate some new species. I’ve gone soft, I’ve gone…”
Limp. Motionless. She was barely even thinking anymore. Just waiting, but not waiting for anything other than death. And she wasn’t dying. She wished she were, but she didn’t have the strength of will to do anything about that. Eventually her body would fail, and here, in the dark, alone, she wouldn’t rebloom. That, at least, brought her some comfort.

Aprevalii really needs a hug, poor guy.


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