WARNINGS, ENGINES: 2, 3, 5 APPROACHING REDLINE. ENGINES: 1, 4 INOPERATIVE. HEATSINKS: 94% SATURATION. WEAPONS: INOPERATIVE. JUMP DRIVE: SPOOLING 76%.
With a twitch of her finger, Elvira dismisses the blinking notifications from her vision. She couldn’t spare the cognitive load right now, not when she was guiding what remains of her strike group away from an ambush. The engineer will give her an earful later, but at least they’ll be around to do so!
Pulling her arms back, she throttles up, angling the nose of the gunship skyward, towards the faint glint of the sun beyond the gas giant’s clouds. She hopes that the remaining terran ships can still read her transponder, or they’d be completely lost. Only her Spirit of Jupiter had managed to evade the latest affini EMP, and even then, only just.
For a moment she clicks on her radar display, sighing with relief as she sees that both the Kuiper Hammer and Luna’s Memories are following her closely. Her relief is quickly soured when she notices the other contacts on her board. At least 5 affini vessels, unknown configuration, hot on their tail.
The computer beeps angrily at Elvira, the fluid in her interface tank starting to bubble.
WARNING, HEATSINKS: 98% SATURATION, REDUCING ENGINE OUTPUT 15%.
She dismisses the warning, cursing into her air mask. The ship shudders, lights flickering. More warnings, low yield nuclear flashes within a few klicks of her position. Running calculations through in her head, she figures they’ll have a good few seconds of safety once they breach into the gas giant’s upper atmosphere. Enough to engage their jump drives before the affini catch up.
JUMP DRIVE: SPOOLING 92%, ENGINE 2: OFFLINED.
More curses. The ship had been barely holding itself together these past few days. After the shock of a jump they might even have to evacuate into one of the other ships. She refuses to give up, to just let the damn weeds have their way. 2 klicks till she breaches the cloud layer.
She starts the computer’s jump guidance system. It won’t have much time to calculate a jump, but nearly any location would be better than this. She thinks of the people they’ve most recently lost to the plants. Steff, Kira, Rachael. Mara. She feels tears begin to form in her eyes, but she squints through them. She has to get the strike group out of this! For Terra! The interface tank’s edges are burning, exposed fluid boiling into swarms of bubbles. 1 klick till breach.
ENGINE 5: DESTROYED, HEATSINKS: 100% SATURATION.
She feels the ship writhe as doubly redundant failsafes reach their absolute material limits. Just a bit longer!
They breach into the upper atmosphere, streaking up above the cloud cover, wisps of gas flowing off the mangled forms of their ships. Elation. Elvira activates the jumpdrive, breathing deeply.
ERROR, JUMP DRIVE: OFFLINED
No! She queries the computer repeatedly, to no avail.
ERROR, JUMP DRIVE: INOPERATIVE
Through the ship’s eyes she can see Kuiper Hammer make a jump, but Luna’s Memories falters, their engines burnt out, falling back towards the clouds. Smoke and vapor trailing behind them as entire assemblages tear themselves off, charred armor crumbling to ash.
The Spirit of Jupiter shakes as the final engine sputters out, the interface tank shutting off shortly after, Elvira’s additional senses vanishing. Desperately, she tries to pull herself to the emergency tank exit. She can’t see through the thick gel to the exit lights, but she knows where it is.
Another lurch of the ship disorients her as she hears the crunching of a hull grabbed by grappling vines. She can’t figure out where the exit is. Her air mask’s supply starts to falter, her limbs thrashing against the still-warming gel.
At least she’ll die like a terran, she thinks. Bravely standing tall against impossible odds. Free from any starsdamned xeno. As she feels herself start to pass out from hypoxia, the sound of a plasknife cutting through hull echoes through her ears.
Elvira sits bolt upright in bed, vines lazily sliding off of her shoulders. She gasps, hyperventilating, shaking. Moments later, Akash is awake too, holding Elvira’s hands securely.
“Is something wrong, Elvy?” The softly bioluminescent plant looks tired, and not just from having been woken.
“I. You. I. Can’t. What have I? Done…” The human continues to panic, spinning her head around wildly, as if looking for something to anchor herself to. She can feel some distant, once strong, part of her thrashing.
It tells her that she’s a monster who betrayed her own people. She willingly participated in an affini propaganda video. She loves to sleep soundly every night, surrounded by disgusting xeno vines. She signed away her free will just to be called a good girl. Even now, she has countless different xenodrugs running through her veins, filling her with Akash’s will.
Akash strokes a hand softly down the back of Elvira’s neck, coming to rest on the surgical scar from her implant, supporting her as she begins to crumple. The affini kindly shushes her pet, pulling her close while offhandedly tapping her tablet, instructing the implant inside Elvira to dose her with a xenodrug.
“It’s ok dear, you’re safe. I’m here.” Akash’s vines wearily twist around the shivering human, eliciting a small gasp of pleasure.
“I can’t… I c-can’t let… Oh… M-My head feels…” She trails off, mumbling.
“That’s right, your head feels good, doesn’t it? All floaty and full of clouds?”
Elvira slowly nods, like her head is full of some sloshing fluid. “Y-yes, Mistress.” Her drug-addled brain feels relieved as the anxiety around her decision to surrender fades. Of course she wanted to do that video! If even one terran who sees it realizes how foolish they’ve been, and finds a new home with an affini, it will have been worth it. Even if no terrans were inspired by it, it shows her devotion to Akash, how well she’s been domesticated.
Akash smiles softly. “That’s a good girl, a good, obedient terran. So eager to succumb~” She places a leafy hand on Elvira’s left shoulder, petting gently. “Now, what is it that’s got you so frightened, hm? Were you having confusing thoughts again?”
Elvira moans quietly, clearly trying to think. The affini giggles softly at the sight of how subdued her pet has become. With some difficulty, she speaks, groggily. “I… was having a nightmare…”
Akash gives Elvira’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze, urging her to continue. “Oh?”
“I was in my ship, again. In the interface tank. We were trying to get away, but the jump drive burnt out right as it finished spooling…” Elvira’s head starts to sleepily loll to one side, her eyes fluttering slightly out of sync with themselves.
Elvira squints, thinking as hard as she can with a mind full of xenodrugs & a body full of bliss. She tries her best to compensate for her head’s tilt, but ends up overcorrecting and leaning to the opposite side.
The affini caretaker cups a hand around the side of her pet’s face, stabilizing her movements. She leans into the touch needily.
“Remember darling, it’s very important for you to be entirely truthful at all times with me. I can’t help you keep confusing thoughts away if you don’t tell me when you have them~”
That does make sense, Elvira thinks. She had been feeling confused. “I…”, she hesitates. It felt shameful, admitting that she was still having these thoughts, months after surrendering to Akash.
But ultimately, she does know that Akash has her best interests in mind, that really, she’d only be doing herself a disservice by not being completely and totally honest with her Mistress.
Elvira clears her throat, and nuzzles into the vines’ embrace. “…I was feeling bad about how much I’ve,” she glances nervously up at her Mistress, only to find her smiling gently down. She feels her heart flutter contently. “I was worrying about having ‘betrayed’ Terra again — I know it’s silly…”
Akash kisses her pet on the top of the head, and the human girl nearly faints. “It’s very good of you to be so honest, pet~”
“T-thank you Mi-Mistress!!” Elvira gasps, elated at having been praised. She furrows her brow in contemplation “I…”
“Yes, Elvy?” Vines loosen around the human, relieving her of the mind overflowing pleasure long enough to let her think.
“…Why am I still having these thoughts? I’ve b-been yours for 2 and a h-half months, now…” She pulls herself away from Akash, sitting cross legged on the bed, looking down dejectedly.
“Hmm. It’s not unusual for our wards, especially those who were so…” Akash pauses a moment, trying to find a polite way to phrase it, “zealous, about their rejection of our care to hold onto portions of those feelings for some time.”
“But I’ve accepted it! I love being here, with Mara, with you, Mistress! Free Terranism is a foolish and destructive ideology and I want it out of head!” That part of her stirs angrily, reminding her of the oaths she swore to Terra all those years ago.
“I… So what if I broke my oaths to Terra! They don’t matter anymore! I cannot be a traitor to a state that no longer exists! I —” She gasps as Akash’s vines pull her back against the affini again, dampening her thoughts.
“You’re safe here, dear. In the morning, I’ll message the xenoclinic about this, ok? We can get you some more Class-F xenodrugs. They’ll help you with these thoughts.”
Elvira nods groggily. “Thanks, Mistress” She stares up at Akash with concern visible below her glazed eyes. “A-are you alright? You’ve seemed really distracted the past few days…”
Akash snorts amusedly. “So you can be observant sometimes, good to know~”
“I am observant!” Elvira insists, mildly offended.
“Mhmm, occasionally.” Akash ruffles her pet’s hair as she tries unsuccessfully to look upset. Hard to frown when you’re filled with xenodrugs and coiled in your owner’s vines, after all.
Placing a hand softly on Elvira’s thigh, Akash stares into the distance. “I’ve been thinking about someone I lost. Had I known the Helianthus would pass through this sector I would’ve booked us more direct transport.”
Timidly, Elvira asks “Who d-did you lose? Was it your first —”.
Akash tightens her vines’ grip on the human, interrupting her thoughts again, pulling her close. “No one that you need to worry about, my dear Elvira. Space is vast, and the chances of ever seeing her again are very literally astronomical. All that matters is that you’re safely mine, and I promise to take care of you no matter what, ok, Elvira?”
The human smiles and moans “U-understood…” Her Mistress’ affirmations mean the universe to her, but all the same, she can’t help but wonder…