Katie heard a bang, from beyond the blast doors, and screamed.
“You’ll never take me alive, you fucking weeds!” she screamed, and dived back for the console. No, she wasn’t going out like this. She was going to make an impact. People were going to know her name. She’d practiced this a dozen times. She’d practiced this in her sleep, or at least her nightmares, knowing that she’d fought too hard to be who she really was, and to figure out what she wanted out of life, to spend the rest of it as an identical drone in an Affini water mine.
Her hands were a blur, snapping out to grab levers and twist dials, turning everything she could directly into the red zones on all the little readouts. On her first day, back at university, learning about the most advanced spatial science humankind thought to exist, they had opened the lecture with a long list of things that they should never, under any circumstances, do.
Well, she was doing them.
The mix of exotic matter they used as fuel was usually carefully balanced to avoid runaway effects. Water was a temperature moderator, and she didn’t want that just now, so coolant flow was all the way down. She knocked everything out of balance and dialed in a destination at random. It wouldn’t matter, the drive would tear space apart long before it actually tried to go anywhere. Nobody would be making it to the destination. In a handful of moments, she turned the Jump Drive at the heart of what had once been a symbol of hope into the biggest bomb she’d ever dared imagine.
Katie had all of one second to appreciate it before the drive hiccuped, and suddenly she vanished. Like a badly edited piece of filmography, Katie was standing there, and then in the next frame a particularly useless stoner was in her position instead.
Bryn was very confused, to say the least.
Suddenly surrounded by blaring lights, loud noises, and screaming metal in a scary leap of cosmic uncertainty that also had happened to sound like a saccharine pop to them, they defaulted to the only known panic reaction they knew. Bryn fished a blunt out of their pocket and lit it.
The alarm problem seemed to solve itself as a moment later they all shut down, bit metal bulkheads all slid up on their own accord, and a moment later a mess of vines and other greenery shot into the room in what Bryn vaguely assumed was one of those affini things they kept being told about. All five stages of grief played themselves out in Bryn’s head in rapid order, all punctuated by various forms of rebel propaganda they’d been fed over the years, and then afterwards they crashed into numb acceptance via taking another long drag off their line and doing basically nothing as the plant crashed into them.
What followed was just pure overstimulation to an already overwhelmed and kind of intoxicated terran like Bryn, so they defaulted to just letting whatever happens happen, and as such experienced a brief blur of color and noise and constricting sensations across their body before they realized that some of the noise was a rather musical voice and that rather musical voice seemed to be talking to them specifically. “Little one, do you know what you have done? Can you shut that machine down?”
“Ma’am, I don’t even know where I am.” Bryn responded automatically. The big plant seemed to pause at that, then looked over her now captive terran. Lazy day sweater, loose pajamas, cat-themed slippers, and still taking a drag of some space weed even in the middle of a life threatening situation.
The plant furrowed herself into a knot. “What… are you doing here?”
“Fine, fine, I’ll take care of this.” The affini gave the terran a comforting pat on the head and turned to fiddle with all the knobs and dials and whatever else those things on the panel were called. Honestly Bryn appreciated her willingness to actually do something here, she seemed competent enough to know how to handle uh… teleportation?
Bryn hummed in thought. Maybe they time traveled? That’d be cool. If they lived. They tried not to think about whether or not all those flashy lights were like, dangerous or not.
Wait, weren’t the affini dangerous? Bryn was probably too stoned to figure that one out at the moment. Something about destroying human dignity or whatever. Uhg. They’d figure that out in a minute, she was clearly busy- oh nevermind she just said some COLORFUL curse words and scooped Bryn up into her arms. Vines? Arm equivalents. This was nice too. They were kinda baked so taking a nap felt like a good idea. “Take a deep breath, dear, I’ll get you out of this safely.”
Oh fuck yes the situation was working itself out. Bryn did as they were told and took a big whiff of… well apparently it was some pretty flowers next to their face, and promptly slipped into a comfy little nap cradled safe inside an affini’s vines.
Katie heard a saccharine pop and then was plunged into darkness on all sides.
Yeah no fuck that. She immediately kicked and shoved through the mass of unaffiliated matter until she scrambled out, hit a far wall, and then blindly paced around to find a light switch. What greeted her was a discomforting sight. She was only a moment ago buried underneath an apparently dead affini.
Oh also she was in a completely different room.
This room wasn’t about to explode or, to her knowledge, be overrun by affini, so technically that was an upgrade? Things could be worse.
Exactly three and a half hours later Katie reconsidered that thought. The wreckage she was upon had clearly suffered some kind of catastrophic drive failure that not only rocketed it through space but sheared the entire back half of the ship off entirely along the way. It almost felt like some kind of cosmic comeuppance for twisting a jump drive like she had. How rude.
Katie sighed and ran her hands through her hair. Okay. This was still an improvement, technically. She could get out of this and avoid being sent to The Mines if she just… made a communication ansible and contacted the rebels? That shouldn’t be hard. She was one of the best damn drive engineers out there, she should be able to put together a little hunk of long wave comms.
Thatch looked down at the nervous wreck apparently called Bryn still clinging to her vine. Since returning to the Elettarium with the human in tow they had not once allowed her a moment to actually release them into the care of another far more competent and qualified individual to handle their needs. Probably even a nice affini who would domesticate them as soon as possible, as this terran seemed ontologically doomed to be a danger to themselves.
Thatch didn’t know how they managed to be so cosmically incapable of normal function. She made them a sandwich, and in between looking away and looking back it became a burnt mess with three bites taken out of it in that order. Bryn touched a computer and it cried, then later a book fell apart in their hands. It was absurd. She quickly ended up stuck doing basically everything for them as leaving Bryn to their own devices was clearly dangerous and, again, they refused to be surrendered to another affini.
That was another problem. While the short experience of, according to Bryn, ‘being teleported to a bright scary room’, had worked wonderfully to break past their initial fear of the ‘big scary plant people’ it did nothing to break past their erroneous preconceptions such as ‘the drugs melt brain matter’, or ‘the plants want to eat terrans’, or any number of other absurd images that painted the plants in a nefarious light. At least they didn’t seem to actually internalize any of those beliefs, they just… weren’t too bright and didn’t question them beyond a surface level until presented with countering evidence. But still, when another affini was near, Bryn went right back to clinging tightly to the known safety value in a wildly strange and new environment and positively refused to be parted with her.
Thatch sighed. This was going to send the wrong kind of message, she knew it.
Katie sat in a growing pool of partially disassembled electronics. The parts she needed existed, she was sure of it, but finding them was proving to be a more difficult task than she liked. At the very least she had quickly found an array of vending machines carrying long-term viable food sources that she could crack them open and get at, and in her explorations later located an AutoDoc that seemed to have a robust enough pharmacological array to be able to manage her hrt through this crisis. All in all, that was absurd luck.
So why couldn’t she find a working carrier? Every machine she had found that was supposed to be capable of communicating longer than a 4 meter brinetooth range she had torn apart, and in place of the delicate blue spindle she was supposed to find inside there was only dust. Often a bright green dust as the entire board inside had been reduced to a fine powder. On a frustrated whim she even took to ripping open panels and boards and found them in a similar condition, green sand glittering in the dim lights like a fucking taunt to her whims to get out alive and not as some kind of slave workforce in The Mines.
Katie slammed the panel shut and kicked it in frustration. Fuck! At this rate she would have to try tearing apart the AutoDoc. She had a vague hope that it was the kind of horrific machine designed to always communicate to its corporate overlords for “security purposes”, and thus would have the carrier she needed still glistening inside of its shell.
Or maybe it wouldn’t, and she was contemplating junking a life-saving piece of tech for literally no gain.
Think, Katie, think. There had to be an answer here.
Her contemplations were cut short by the tiny sound of tiny feet tapping against plastic. Katie whipped her head around to see through the dim light in the distance, something that looked rather like a hedgehog perched atop the empty shell of a discarded radio box.
Made of plants.
She bolted for the firearms.
“They are not my pet,” Thatch whined. She had had this conversation for what felt like a hundred times now. She just wanted to get back to work, make something productive of herself, feel less like a failure, and not just… just… she glanced over her shoulder to ensure nothing was on fire. Good.
Zona was no less willing to take a stab at Thatch’s cost despite the protest. “You could really use a pet.”
“It might help with that depressive funk you’ve been in.” Xylem was quick to capitalize on the opening.
“They’re not even my ward,” Thatch protested. “They’re free to leave anytime they want, they just…”
“Enjoy the comfort and safety you bring?” Xylem asked.
Thatch deflated. Every affini she had discussed the matter had had the same tack for it. Bryn was, only technically by virtue of being a ‘chronospatially displaced individual’, an independent sophont and thus was free to make any choices they wished within a safe reason. They chose to remain within Thatch’s reach at all times, always tugging on her vine and looking up at her with those big eyes and asking for another dose of ‘space weed’ so they could relax on her couch with an oversized stuffed beeple model and play videogames all day. They chose it. That was reason enough for the affini to say that they were clearly floret material, clearly infatuated with her, and simply too out of touch with affini social standards to quite grasp what it all meant beyond the immediate experience.
Worse still, she had lately caught herself thinking about enlightening the poor thing about what beats of the song they were still missing. That would simply not do. She didn’t want to risk another, well, that was an absurd worry anyway they would never come to that point to begin with.
“Miss Aquae?” Bryn’s voice pulled Thatch out of her idle thoughts. She turned to face the smaller terran, immediately thought not fully aware that in the process she switched to a lighter more jovial tone of voice and animated body language in reaction to the adorable if useless thing.
Bryn nervously played with their hands held together before them. “The, uh, oven? I think something is broken with it?” On cue, a loud BOOM! emanated from her hab. Ah, the martian model then. A myth somehow not false enough to resist being conjured by her terran’s farcical clumsiness.
Thatch gave her little terran a series of pats on the head that thoroughly dispelled their anxieties, dosed them with some more of the ‘space weed’ they seemed so fond of, and left to go solve one more of the strange new problems Bryn was so capable of conjuring. Never a dull moment.
She also pointedly did NOT look back at Xylem and Zona’s grinning faces as she left.
Katie felt thick beads of sweat rolling down the back of her neck. Slung over one shoulder was the cobbled-together flamethrower of her own making, paired with a repeating rifle she had pried out of a safety locker with the help of the crowbar held in her hand. She was prepared. She was safe. She also was inspired. In all of her fiddling the carrier problem remained the most troubling, and it was only in the middle of one of her many eat-and-walk sessions around the ship that she realized something rather important. The vending machine that made burgers put them together… well, not fresh, but hot. Ergo it had a means to bring them to an edible state built in. Ergo it was not just magically full of warm burgers, but also that it’s innards were more complex than the other simpler machines that accompanied it.
She had immediately run over and tore it open, ripped it apart, and found that it had no carrier built into it to regularly send maintenance updates to corporate overlords. Just a small digital log to keep track of orders. Okay so that bit of inspiration wasn’t the helpful but she DID know how burger vending machines worked on the inside now, and that was neat. And in the process of shaking her head at how ridiculously desperate she was becoming she had then had an actual helpful bit of inspiration.
Tapping her head against the wall she had been standing underneath one of the many air vents in the ship. Fresh, cold air flowed out of the metal grate and spilled over her head in a wave of chilling comfort that reminded her that, for now, life support still worked. That was when she recalled that life support was composed nearly as much of redundancies as it was of functional parts. That meant life support not only relied on copper wire communication, but wireless communication that was meant to be accessible anywhere within the ship and also outside the ship by one who would have the proper access codes. And THAT meant it had long distance communication arrays that would have a carrier in them.
She had then stuffed the rest of the burger into her mouth hole and blitzed towards the life support levels, stopping only once a stomach cramp hit her for daring to act so fast after eating and making her sit down and sip her water at a leisurely pace for a bit instead until she calmed down. Then back to sprinting.
Katie had to break a few doors to gain access to the inner layers of life support systems, but if a remaining military body wanted to come down and court martial her about it well they’d have to rescue her in the process anyway. Within was a sprawling mess of barely habitable metal wire paths sandwiched between thick painted metal pipes and wires strewn about the walls and ceilings. Box vent tubes snaked through the ceiling above her, splitting and branching like capillaries off the vein to feed the ship with tasty, breathable air. Perfect.
Katie Sahas followed the air vent deeper into the web, noting with satisfaction that the mess of metal surrounding her on all sides only grew denser with each step. Before long she was at her destination, a massive machine of churning metal and screaming noise. Excitement caught her step first as she leapt astride its walkways and ran towards the top, hoping to find the array above.
Instead, she found the plant. Perched atop the remains of the array that it had already torn apart and gutted, then warped into something akin to a metal throne that it now reclined upon while twiddling a glittering blue spingle between its false fingers. “I was wondering how long it would take you to get here,” its voice, no, her voice, was a simmering heat of warm water boiling above a volcano’s caldera.
She knew that the plant had been growing over time. It raided the food storage, bathed itself in nutritional slurry, and drained water from storage in great volume. She had seen it, in the corner of her vision and ever just out of reach, grow from a simple hedgehog to a looming hound, then a bear, then vanish entirely from her sight. Now it was back, leaves green and wood glowing in the low lights, its face a mask of beastial design with skeletal threat carved into it, a mouth hidden beneath bone jaws baring razor fangs under leafen lips. Through the gaps of the skull she saw its eyes staring at her, three in each socket and wide open to focus solely on her.
Katie gulped, but nonetheless unholstered the rifle on her shoulder and squared it at the plant’s center of mass. “Give me the carrier.” She tried to force some authority into her voice. She didn’t have a choice.
“Going to bullets so soon?” she teased. “Aren’t you afraid you might hit this and damn yourself too?”
Katie didn’t answer, but the shake in her body was enough of one already.
The affini’s grin widened unnaturally. “I’d like to offer you a deal. You need this carrier to finish your array, I need your array to make use of this carrier. Surrender it to me and…” Her voice trailed off, but her smile did not. All six eyes squinted in barely hidden excitement.
Katie flicked the safety on her rifle. “And what? You’ll call down more of your plants on me and drag me off in chains?”
“I wouldn’t dream of denying myself the pleasure of dragging you down myself, little kitten. No, surrender peacefully to me now and I’ll promise the pain I’ll soon make you feel will only be the most blissfully sublime as I tear your will apart.”
The weight of her words were followed by an aura of supreme confidence on the plants part, then wicked excitement brimming beneath the surface. She wanted her to say no, Katie realized. She *wanted* Katie to fight back.
Fear moved Katie’s hand faster than her mind, and she fired. She wasn’t a true soldier, not even a well trained riflewoman. She fired blind and wide and missed every bullet, sending them in a ricocheting spread that danced around the plant now charging directly at her with claws out. All too soon the gun clicked empty, and all memory of the magazines on her hip were lost in favor of throwing it at the monster and diving to the side.
The beast collapsed around where she was just standing, vines whipping out blindly to grasp her ankle. Katie retaliated with a knife at her side, stabbing into it to get a satisfying yelp from the monster before pulling it out and swinging wildly at its mass. That gave her enough time to grab for the flamethrower on her back, but once more her hope was squelched as the plant surged forward into her.
“I’m so glad you’re actually a fighter, little kitten.” The affini purred as her vines spilled over Katie’s upper torso. Tight knots wrapped around her neck, bound her arms to her side, forced her head into a locked neutral position. She felt thorns squirming against her skin. Katie kicked desperately at the mass of weeds on top of her, but all she got from that was to have her ankles wrapped up once more. “I much prefer when my pet tries ever so desperately to resist me, fighting tooth and claw every step of the way until finally the unbending tree doesn’t just break,” The noose of vines around Katie’s neck tightened into a restrictive mass that threatened to cursh the very air from her body. “They *shatter*.”
The affini’s voice broke into a laugh, low and slow momentarily then rising with rhythm into a roaring cackle above her. Katie struggled against the dimming sensation of her brain out of sheer spite. Her neck hurt, thorns digging in. Something in particular was dragging across the back of her neck that shuddered with a vicious, but focusing fire. Her hands, free despite her arm’s restriction, grasped blindly at her side. She needed something. Anything.
The something she found was the butt of her homemade flamethrower laying at her side. With the last of her dimming strength Katie brought it against her, twisted it over her hip, and blindly fired above. She was rewarded with the cackling laugh turned into a blind howl and all the vines upon her body whipping away from her. The affini, now inflamed, launched herself away from the terran with great speed before darting off into the tunnels, leaving only her howl slowly twisting into another laugh as it echoed through the paths.
Katie collapsed onto the floor.
This… was bad.
Thatch Aquae was fucking tired of it all. She felt like a failure, and she similarly felt that it was entirely justified. She shouldn’t be out here, she shouldn’t be a danger to any of the other sophonts, and she most certainly shouldn’t be around that horrifically clumsy terran since she would no doubt break them too. The exact circumstances of her departure were nondescript. A failure when handling the new machine species they had tripped over on some remote planet. A mild mistake, really. But one that echoed within the confines of her mind nonstop until it collided with all of her other traumas and shattered her confidence in short order.
So she was on her personal ship, leaving the Elattarium as far behind her as possible. She’d head towards the core worlds. That’d be safest, she was sure.
Unfortunately fate didn’t seem to agree with her plan to mope across the galaxy as only halfway there did she hear a sleepy groan come out of her luggage bag. The zipper moved by the hand of her uninvited passenger, and lo and behold there was Bryn poking their head out.
“Bryn what in all stardust are you doing here?” Thatch gasped. She didn’t even have the energy to be sad anymore, just confused.
Bryn blinked slowly, looking left to right as they took in the sights. “Um.. I was tired, and wanted to sleep somewhere quiet and comfy, so I crawled into this spot and took a nap?” Oh, wonderful, the terran just somehow tagged along for a ride. This was ridiculous but also unfortunately entirely on brand for them. Thatch was glad they never seemed to be in a position to wield a firearm as they would most definitely shoot themselves with it before even managing to aim it at its intended target. That was just the ‘vibe’, as Byrn put it, that they put out.
Thatch groaned. Very well. She turned her ship around and headed straight back to the Elattarium. At least Bryn was willing to listen to her idly talk about bioengineering the entire trip back, even if they didn’t understand. Enthusiastic listening counted well enough.
Katie was running at full speed. Ever since their previous encounter she and the plant had entered a state of open warfare with each other. Every moment the air filled with their sharp words snapping back and forth, every footstep was one chasing the other through the dark halls. The little box strapped to Katie’s hip ensured that she had the plant’s sole attention, while the blue spindle hidden within the plant’s body similarly guaranteed Katie’s.
“If you’re feeling tired already you can simply lay down and I’ll come retrieve you.” The plant’s voice taunted her from afar. “It’d be quite easy for me to let you rest all the way to your new home.”
Katie didn’t want to admit that the plant’s constant taunting had started to gnaw under her skin. She wasn’t a pet, and she refused to let herself just become a victim to this terror, but the longer this fight drew on the harder it was getting for her to ignore that the ache in her body was only growing. “What’s wrong? Not able to handle one ‘little kitten’ by yourself?” She spat back with forced bravado. Deeper ahead she heard the telltale audio shimmer of vines to mark her prey’s distance, and charged on.
“I only worry that you might hurt yourself with that toy should you actually fire it again, dear pet to be.” Her voice just twisted with cruel delight at Katie’s cost. “Wouldn’t you rather rest comfortably by my side? I can have one of those doggy beds your kind have made scaled up, just so you can curl up and dream beautiful little dreams of me.”
“I’ll pass,” Katie grits out the words between clenched teeth. There was an itch in the back of her skull at those words. Half a thought, barely an idea, but still an almost tangible sensation of simulated fur stretched over cushions that she could drift off upon. She shook her head. The plant was getting to her.
“I can hear the uncertainty blooming within you.” The affini’s voice still echoed, growing distant once more. Katie rushed down the hall and skidded on her heels to turn after it. “In the little gaps between your words, in the breath you draw when you bite your lip, in the dreams you have at night. You’re already preparing yourself to call me Mistress, it’s only a matter of time.” More of that itch blooming up her neck. Katie gripped at the bandages she had haphazardly strung up over the wounds her thorns had left upon her.
Katie spoke up again, but even she felt the hollowness beginning to win out in them. “I’ll never surrender to you.” She saw the silhouette of the plant ahead, placed just through the dark doorway. She was smiling again, jaws wide and teeth dripping with venom. She mouthed the word ‘good’, and stepped back into the shadows.
Katie screamed as she charged in, leveled her flamethrower, and fired blindly into the room beyond. Her vision erupted into a sea of fire on all sides, consuming the random detritus before her into a wall of suffocating smoke, and only after the heat of her weapon burned her palms did she release the trigger to scream in pain. She fell back on her ass, flamethrower clattering to her side, wincing as she pressed her palm against her body and stared into the fire before her.
There was no affini in the room she just torched.
Thatch felt a touch embarrassed to be back on the Elattarium so soon. Everyone was happy to see her, obviously. But when Bryn followed her out of the ship all of the welcome home smiles immediately turned into shocked gasps, then confounding cheers. “You couldn’t resist taking them as your floret after all, huh?” Ined teased.
Thatch just groaned. Already a misunderstanding. “They’re not-”
“Congratulations!” one Prickle Sparot cut her off enthusiastically and took to showering headpats upon her flo- ahem, her war- no, not that either, uh, her hanger-on currently gripping her vine tightly and still standing at her side. Even one of the new robots they found, cece, drifted over to wave its little grippers around and shout good words with its synthetic voice and- oh no someone put googly eyes on its shell.
Bryn gasped in delight and practically tackled the ‘adorable beeperooni’ in excitement, which elicited an ear-rending whir of delight from the machine in the process. She wasn’t about to get cece out of Bryn’s attention range now, she just knew it. “So, I’m a floret now?” That useless terran was looking up at her with that nervous tilt and hopeful look in their eyes again. How did everything spiral out of control so fast?
“Well-” Thatch got exactly one word in before Prickle’s floret ran over and gave Bryn a congratulatory hug, which her stoned pet- no, terran, no not even hers stars damn it all. “I didn’t-”
“So uh… what exactly does that mean?” Bryn’s voice was quiet amidst the growing din of attention the whole lot was gathering, but unlike for Thatch all of the affini stopped to listen.
Prickle answered before Thatch could, “Well, it means you belong to Thatch now and she’ll take care of all of your needs and love you a whole lot but also in like a queer kinky kind of way.”
Bryn blinked. “So… wasn’t I basically already her floret?”
Thatch’s ‘no’ was overwhelmed by everyone else’s “Yeah, basically.” Damnit, damnit damnit damnit this was just too awkward for Thatch to handle. Now Bryn was giving her a big smiling look again and oh stars damn it all this was going to be SUCH a pain to explain later.
Thick fog rolled through the halls of the abandoned ship, surrounding Katie on all sides. Earlier the damned weed had attempted to flood the halls with a cloying pink mist, and in an attempt to purge it out Katie stuffed a wet rag over her mouth, ran into the underbelly of the ship, and rerouted a spray of water into the atomizing air stream of the ventilation system. A terrible idea for long term good inside the wreck, but it was either that or suffer the more immediate death of being rendered down into a nameless drone working in The Mines, and Katie wasn’t willing to lose all the progress she had taken to make herself so far.
In terms of good fortune though it did finally allow her to figure out a means to corner the plant that was perpetually just out of arm’s reach for her. The touch of sabotage seemed to have been sufficient to lock Veratrix into the same walkways that Katie was bound to, and then some fiddling with the doors allowed her to lay a dead end for the plant to land in. One of the storage rooms, way off to the side, where the wide open space would offer her no room to hide and nowhere but the door Katie and her flamethrower would stand within.
“Feeling brave at last, little kitten?” That damn voice still echoed through the halls, always just around the bend Katie gripped her weapon tighter and chased her around the bend. As expected, all she saw was the retreating shadow of vines in the distance. “You and I both know that you have no idea how to undo the damage you’ve just done to the ventilation system. You’ve purged my poison and doomed yourself. Surrender, and I can still save you from choking on your own foolishness.”
Katie grimaced. “Always ‘surrender’ with you plants. Too afraid to admit you can’t take me in a fight?”
A low chuckle was her answer. “Do not be mistaken, I offer so you can deny me, so I can remind myself of your fighting spirit as I prepare to extinguish it for good. Every rebuttal only sweetens your fate further, *kitten*, and I must admit my hunger is finally outgrowing my patience.”
She shivered, but pressed on anyway. Always the shadow just out of reach. She knew this path though, knew only a few more steps would lock the affini in her trap. Further rebuttals struggled to fall off her tongue, turning only into further tension along her jaw and neck. Instead she shouted once more, choosing foolhardy courage as she kicked down the door, saw the silhouette of the plant perched right before her, and pulled the trigger screaming insensate into the horror.
Katie looked down at her flamethrower. The pilot light had flicked out in the fog. She scrambled to grab the lighter in her pocket to restart it, but the affini uttered the single word, “Stop.” At once the itch that had been growing along the back of her neck bloomed into a friction burn that ignited into a fresh wave of heat rolling across the inside of her body.
All of her muscles locked up in response. Only her jaw and her eyes still listened to her, and even then it was just to twitch futilely in response to her brain’s screams to keep moving. Breath stuttered into a strained gasp, but as the heat in her chest intensified it evened out into a calm, even pull of air in what felt like active defiance to her blooming panic.
“Put down that toy.” The affini commanded in a cold tone, and Katie’s body obeyed. Her hand limply dropped to the side and let the flamethrower fall down between her numbing fingers. “Stand up straight.” Her back straightened out, legs rising to a neutral pose. “Arms out.” Her arms rose to her side, leaving her fully exposed to the plant’s whims.
Katie wanted to scream. She wanted to flail and run. She wanted anything but this nightmarish moment of being stuck within her own body.
Veratrix chuckled once more as she closed in around the paralyzed terran. “Oh dear, oh dear, all that struggle and no body to express it with. How *dreadful*,” The last word rolled off her many leafy tongues with a shivering sense of satisfaction. “As fun as our game has been, your time is up. The little gift I implanted into the back of your neck in our first little fight has finally grown large enough to control you, as such you’ve crossed the line from ‘doomed’ to ‘actively defeated’. Your body is mine, and your mind shall soon follow.”
Katie tried to scream but only managed a small twitch on the lips.
“Now, speak your mind before I shatter you.”
The lock on her muscles finally released, and the words were thrust out of Katie’s chest. “I don’t want this.” The words rose unbidden.
“And I don’t care. Now, kitten, do you know how cats talk?” All six eyes were focused on hers, wide open with gleeful delight.
Katie’s mind tried to spit, her body however just mewled pathetically in response.
“Good kitten,” Veratrix gave her a little scritch on the top of her head. “If you want to talk, it will be like that and that only until I say otherwise. Meow if you understand.”
Katie’s body mewled a second time. Fuck. She wasn’t even allowed to succumb to blind panic to escape this, the heat was too busy broiling through the back of her skull and spilling into her brain- her brain! She’d been infected this whole damn time and now this plant was hollowing her out from within and she couldn’t DO anything about- another ruffle of vines through her hair scattered that thought with a wave of intense magma roiling across her skin.
With only a small shift in pressure Veratrix pushed the pliant-to-her body down to her knees, then bent Katie’s flesh forward until she rested upon her elbows. From her position Katie could see another vine slither down and loop around the near-finished communicator on her hip, unclip it, and pointedly drag it across her vision and into Veratrix’s hands. With just a little ‘click’ Veratrix slotted the spindle into place, flicked a switch, and nary a moment Katie felt the all too familiar sensation of a hypermetric kick in her lungs as an affini vessel dropped in on their location.
At that point Katie didn’t even have the will to try to scream against her prison of flesh.
The vines continued working at her body, binding her wrists up near her shoulders and her ankles to her hips, locking her to crawl on elbows and knees. Merciful vines wrapped around her joints to pad them out, at least. Though the mercy was short lived as another one then curled around her neck and tightened into a near-choking collar to leash her to Veratrix’s side. “Come along, little kitten.”
She couldn’t be serious. Katie couldn’t-
“And I do mean to have you crawl. I know you’ll fail to do so, and you will fall, and I am going to relish watching you squirm every time, knowing each step along the way that your failure only serves to grant you a short moment of reprieve before I bring you to your inevitable fate as a pet under my heel.”
She was serious. Katie mewled weakly as her body obeyed despite her thrashing mind’s attempt to escape.
Thatch didn’t have the anatomy to acquire what humans termed a ‘headache’, but she was feeling something similar enough that she nearly wanted to reconsider it. “I’m serious,” She said for what felt like the twentieth time. “Bryn, dear, I really can’t take you as my pet. I’m sorry, but…”
Bryn was seated upon a recently-compiled and wonderfully comfortable chair, and in Bryn’s lap was perched the darling cece that they refused to be parted with. cece didn’t seem to mind, and in fact was rather enjoying discussing matters of its spaceship scale girlfriend up until Thatch asked to discuss an ‘important matter’. Which was to say, the fact that she absolutely positively could not possibly take this adorable mess as her floret.
“I’m really not the right affini for this.”
“Because of your kinks?”
Thatch sighed. It was a succinct enough recitation, she supposed. “But also the matters with my previous floret.”
“So, kinks and trauma?” Bryn asked innocently.
Again, succinct enough she guessed. It was either that or spend about five chapters going over the problems in fine detail, and frankly if someone wanted to do that they should go reread Divaricated instead it’s very good.
“Bryn, I’ve been trying to explain. So far I have been caring for you but our relationship has not been one of a floret and owner. If you were my floret I would pick you apart to the smallest pieces to study you and put you back together to fit my whims.”
“I think I’ve read a kink fic like that.” Bryn answered completely unperturbed. “Other florets linked me to this fic site-”
“Bryn, I could break you! I might even want to! You could end up another mindless nothing and it would all be my fault!”
Bryn gave another languid blink as they mulled that over, then shrugged. “Okay.”
“Well I mean like I would have been scared of that kind of talk but like I used to have a lot of erroneous preconceptions that you helped with me and you’re like, super smart and pretty, so…? Yeah.” Bryn shrugged.
Thatch facepalmed. “And what of your body!? I could tear it apart if I wanted! Replace all of your flesh with machinery of my design!”
“I’ll enjoy doing so in a highly erotic and emotionally cathartic and queer fashion????”
Thatch huffed and rose to her full height. “Gah!” She shouted. “You dim-witted fool, I’m trying to warn you that if you stay with me I’ll turn you into a hot robot cat girl drone as an expression of both me and the author confronting matters of trauma, identity, sexuality, gender, and kink through the medium of extremely well written erotica!”
Bryn just shot her a lazy thumbs up in response.
“FINE!” Thatch shouted. “Fine! I’ll go file the paperwork and once I’m back you!” She pointed to Bryn, “*Are mine.*”
She turned and left as Bryn cheered and cece made little clapping noises.
Only once Katie had crawled humiliating across the length of a spaceship and clambered atop an absurdly elaborate supervillain torture chair did Veratrix allow her the ability to move her own body again. Of course it didn’t matter at that point as the affini had strapped her into restraints tight enough to ensure she wasn’t actually capable of meaningful movement, just entertaining struggles. Even her voice still failed to obey her, locked into whimpering meows as the order had yet to be lifted.
Not that either of those facts stopped Katie from attempting to flail and scream until exhaustion beat her to the chase. Veratrix meanwhile was positively ecstatic, practically twirling like a ballerina around the lab and brimming with her horrid song as she prepared for… whatever was about to happen. Finally she was satisfied, and practically leapt to land before Katie with that fucking menacing grin of hers.
“Dear, sweet, precious little kitten, it’s time that I vivisect your cute little mind and get to piecing you back together without all that…” She made a circulature gesture towards Katie’s head. “Detritus clogging up your skull. All that space would be put to so much better use with unmitigated devotion to me, wouldn’t it? Oh, you can talk like people now, by the way. I know it may be hard since you’re not one, but, you can pretend for a few last minutes, can’t you?”
Thus released Katie finally was able to turn her into action and shout, “HELP!” Veratrix’s cruel smile didn’t falter. If anything, it broadened. Katie shouted again and again but nobody came to help her, and in only moments her voice was hoarse with effort.
“Aww, dear, sweet kitten,” Veratrix lowered herself to Katie’s height. “Nobody is going to help you now. Why would they? What I’m doing to you not only has the full support of my peers but their eager attention. Every life that brims aboard this vessel is anticipating your final defeat, positively wet at the lips for the moment I drag you out beaten, broken, and an utter failure of an independent soul. If anyone were to come here, they would not save you...” She leaned into Katie’s ear sharply, voice twisting into a wretched whisper, “They would cheer me on.”
Katie’s voice broke apart into a pained wail, then shameful sobbing. Her body couldn’t escape, her mind was compromised, her hopes shattered. What else was there to call this but the fullest defeat one terran could possibly suffer at the hand of these FUCKING weeds?
Veratrix’s laugh filled the air once more as she kicked a dramatic leg out to her side, swept into a twirling curve that landed her next to a large heavy switch and rested her hand atop it- wait hold on. Katie shook the tears out of her eyes. That switch was literally the emblematic type of big heavy metal switch she’d see on cartoons. She looked around the room again. This whole place had supervillain energy yes but it was cartoon supervillain energy. The kind of absurd scientific nonsense that had knobs and dials and those pointy metal bits that had electricity arcing between them that couldn’t possibly be doing anything useful.
Veratrix mock cleared her throat, whipped back her head into a victorious and dramatic pose that Katie now realizes was literally the kind of thing she saw on tv, and said “Goodbye, dear sweet Katie Sahas, I do look forward to crafting you into my perfect-”
“Is this a kink thing?” Katie interrupted.
Veratrix blinked, her posture immediately flattening out into something more neutral. She glanced awkwardly to the side, then back to the lever, then down to Katie. “Uh… yes?” Her voice sounded different without the haughty air Vera had been layering over it before. “Obviously? I think the whole supervillain angle is like, super hot.”
Katie stared at her blankly.
Veratrix stared back at her blankly.
“Have you been getting off *this whole time*!?”
“Yeap!” Veratrix beamed. “This has been the most exciting week or so of my life, sweet kitten! I really must thank you, and I will be sure to do so after this as I’ve already penned in a good few days of nothing but aftercare, cuddling, and snacks for both of us. It’ll be quite sweet.”
Katie awkwardly shifted in place within her bonds. “So… you’re just playing at brainwashing me and not *actually* going to do it, right?”
“No ♥.” Veratrix pulled the lever, and Katie’s mind was swiftly overwhelmed with brilliant light.
In hindsight Thatch was rather loathe to admit that all of her peers who kept pressuring her to get a floret might have had a point. There really wasn’t anything that cleared her head quite like having a good project to focus on, and her specialities were *very* well fit for her latest work. The process of designing a remote control medium that she could operate purely off of integrated systems into her vineworks was a challenge she overcame with simple ease and only some mild distractions for giving Bryn tummy rubs. The challenge of how to make a haustoric implant not only integrate into the spine but extend from it, joining with a tail augment also of her design to become a seamless extremity was just as difficult, and therefore easy. The pride she felt for both of them? Wonderful.
That same pride continued to resonate within her as she operated the needle through the delicate folds of Bryn’s muscles and pierce into her spine. A process horrifically dangerous for an unprepared terran, now rendered something as simple as a mild checkup for her dear pet. The synaptic feedback between the control node, the metal mask covering Bryn’s face and mediating their every sensation through her whims, was just a touch too slow for her standards and had to be fixed.
That said process of fixing the error meant her pet was twitching and squirming in her lap, mewling every so sweetly in pathetic overwhelming want, was a nice bonus.
She twisted a coil, pulled it taut, and smoothed it back into the delicate weave of her pet’s spine. The error in synaptic timing vanished. Perfect. Next was a matter of aesthetics. She’d already primed dear Bryn’s skull for the augments she prepared, so she could avoid any nasty cutting in this moment in favor of untwining the nets of flowers that wrapped around the sides of Bryn’s head, and slotting the twin pieces that gave them the appearance of twin mechanical cat ears instead. They even flashed pink lights whenever Bryn was happy!
Thatch brimmed with another wave of pride as she flipped on the additions to Bryn’s head, and was rewarded with pink lights signifying the overwhelming joy her pet was currently wrapped up in as they squirmed in the palm of her hand. Simply wonderful.
katie fiddled with the hem of her skirt. She was in something that looked like it was, at one point, a french maid uniform turned supervillain themed hench outfit turned kinkwear with D-rings hanging off her waist, thighs, and arms. She knew in objective terms that if she was wearing this thing before having been helped by her loving Mistress she would have been embarrassed or possibly even angry about it, but that fact felt as hollow and meaningless in her mind as any of her previous beliefs in the terran accord did.
Though the outfit still did feel a bit extra when taken with the fact that she had similarly been adjusted, augmented, cut apart, and remade into a robot cat girl drone. Apparently that specific aesthetic was in vogue after the publication of a story called Divaricated written by a particularly wonderful and cute and lovely cat. Veratrix however insisted it was important for villainous lackeys to have some kind of aesthetic resonance with their owner, and what better symbol of servitude than a kink maid uniform?
Veratrix smashed through the front door, twirled around to perch atop a table, and flourished into an overly dramatic pose that she was so fond of. “kitten!” She shouted imperiously. “I have concocted another nefarious plot!”
“Is it to cuddle on the couch, order pizza, and watch some low quality romcoms together again, Mistress?”
“It is to cuddle on the couch, order pizza, and watch some low quality romcoms together again!” She shouted triumphantly before breaking into another of her wicked villainous laughs that echoed across the many winding paths of their home. Once she calmed down she leaned over and added in a quieter tone as she got to petting katie between her cute cat ears and scratching under her chin, and act that katie naturally mewled and leaned into the touch of as her brain was doused in a fresh wave of tasty neurochemicals from nice touch. “By the way dear, I looked into that whole, teleporting thing you claimed was the reason you were on the wreckage because of in the first place.”
katie’s response was less words and more sweet nyaas and meoowwwsss from all the cuddling attention she was getting.
“Apparently there was a noted chronospatial error caused by your nasty little tampering, causing you to swap places with another particularly useless little individual. Fortunately they were rescued by their now owner and are also very very beloved as a wonderful pet. I’ve seen the pictures, they’re adorable, I’m thinking of scheduling a playdate for you and them by the way.” Satisfaction brimmed over Veratrix’s voice as she spoke, but it trailed off into uncertainty as her thought trailed off into silence, then after a beat she added, “I do hope nobody else got caught in that disruption, though.”
Far across the gap of space Solanum was sitting in her own home, head in hand, utterly baffled about what to do in this situation. “So you said your name is…?”
“Snuggly, yes, and… dear, where did Autumn go?”
The chimera perched upon Solanum’s bed just shrugged in response, then proceeded to scamper over and knock a glass of water off of her nightstand.
This was going to be a hassle to sort out.