Kazia has come up with absolutely nothing in the past two and half hours. She could barely stand with the xenodrugs coursing through her body, and with only one hand, searching the unit for anything that might be helpful had taken even longer. Stars, there wasn’t even any foil in the cabinets, let alone knives.
With a dissatisfied grunt, she collapses back onto the couch, staring upward at nothing in particular. Elvira was still laying on the other end, having been using her tablet this whole time.
“How can you do it,” asks Kazia.
Elvira takes a moment to respond, gently shaking her head as if clearing fog. “…Do what?”
Kazia tsks. “Give in of course!” Elvira shirks a bit from the noise. Kazia can’t help but feel a bit bad as she sees that. Quieter, she continues. “How could you have let Akash do this to you?? What they’re doing to all of us???”
Elvira calmly flips her tablet over onto her lap, and smiles softly at Kazia. “I resisted a lot at first. But Mistress showed me how wrong I was for doing so, and that by surrendering to her, I could feel so much better~”.
The human girl’s eyes fluttered pleasantly as if the whole thing was little more than a silly memory while she recounted her entire journey, from the Terran Accord Cosmic Navy gunship Spirit of Jupiter, to her capture, her reunion with Mara, and her eventual surrender & implantation.
“Terran independence was a figment of our collective imagination, we’ll all be treated so much better under the vines of the Affini Compact!” With a softer voice, she continues, “You’ll be treated so much better than you were on a feralist ship.”
Kazia grips the side of the couch so hard her knuckles go white. “…That’s pathetic. You’re pathetic! No wonder we lost the war with failures like you in the Cosmic Navy. Terrans need to be strong! I need to be strong! How could you just let the weeds change who you are??”
Elvira gasps, her face immediately taking on an expression of genuine hurt. She looks away from Kazia. “That’s cruel. I’m everything that I’m supposed to be. The only time I wasn’t miserable during the whole war was when I was with Mara!”
“But you were free! If the price of freedom is a little misery, so be it, I can be as miserable as I need to if I keep my independence!” Kazia diverts her gaze, too. She doesn’t want Elvira to see how her eyes betray her. Being free has to mean the misery is worth it. If it doesn’t, then the past three and a half years would’ve been for nothing.
Elvira shakes her head. “You don’t want that, though. None of us did. Free terranism is the ideology of fools in denial. We — you fought so hard against something that, deep inside yourselves, you’ve always craved. Stability, comfort, belonging, accepta —.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about, plantfu —” Kazia stops herself, seeing the upset welling in Elvira’s eyes, “…treehugger. Your thoughts can’t be trusted; your will has been subverted by your mistress.” She practically spits out the final word.
Elvira looks pityingly towards Kazia. “You’re not wrong that I’ve been changed. But I’ve been changed into the best version of myself! Before I… broke, for Mistress I was aimless and self destructive. If it wasn’t for the affini, I would’ve died in space! I’m so glad to belong instead.”
Glaring over at the other girl, fist clenched, Kazia scoffs, “Can’t you see that’s just what she wants you to think! That weed Akash is —”
“Of course she wants me to believe that, it’s true! And she’s your Mistress too.” Elvira corrects.
“What?” Kazia glares, surprised at how suddenly the drugged girl was able to interrupt her like that.
“You need to call her Mistress, Kazia Nele.” Elvira has a determination in her eyes, Not fire like Kazia saw in her crewmates aboard the Cyllenean Dream, but something proud and certain and yet still soft. She tells herself it’s pathetic too, that the feeble flame left in her own eyes is surely more pure, if nothing else.
Kazia shouts. “That isn’t my name! I am Kazia Stafford! And none of you can take that away from me! Akash is a monster and I — Nevermind!” She throws her hand up in frustration.
The human girl looks like she’s about to respond, but instead scoffs and pulls her knees up in front of her. She leans her tablet on them, and frowns. The sounds of some floret-ified application emanate from her tablet.
Kazia groans exasperatedly, leaning backwards dramatically into the couch, her one hand sliding down her face in exhaustion. She can’t believe she even tried to get through to this stars damned floret. What a contemptible existence.
She peaks over at Elvira, the girl’s dejected expression clearly evident. Even as she swipes aimlessly through the overnet on her tablet, it’s clear that she’s upset. Kazia can see the beginnings of tears still remnant in her eyes. She’s so vulnerable. So weak. So similar to how she had been…
She supposes it’s not precisely Elvira’s fault. She didn’t ask to be… Domesticated. Let alone by this plant in particular. From what she’d said, it sounded like Elvira had tried as hard as she could to resist. Harder than Kazia remembered trying herself, for that matter.
And she does feel bad for upsetting Elvira. She’s a fellow terran, after all, even in this… corrupted… state. They’ve got to look out for each other! And besides, if anyone could help her, it’d have to be Elvira. With a sigh, she looks over towards her fellow captive, and extends her arm slowly. “Elvira, I —”
The hab door slides open. “Hello again, my darling Elvy”, Akash says with gentle passion, “And hello, Kazia.” she continues, with a harsh concentration that practically makes Kazia’s heart skip a beat.
“Mistress!!!” Elvira hops up off the couch, suddenly unbothered by the argument. She scampers up to her owner’s side, clutching excitedly at her vines. “I missed you, Mistress!” Kazia can clearly see how adoringly Elvira is gazing up into Akash’s eyes, and with what soft attention and love the affini stared back down.
Kazia tells herself the beating of her heart is just fear. That the flush she’s feeling on her face is just frustration and anger. That she most definitely does not want to be in Elvira’s place. An adoring, beloved pet. She shakes her head, and tears her vision away from the duo, staring off towards the void of space beyond the window.
That’s where she belongs. Deep in the void. Alone and free. Her time with Akash had shown her that she had been weak, and her time on the ship had shown she must be stronger.
“Now, dear. Were you and your lovely connivent talking about something, hm? Your implant reported rather elevated stress, much more than such an adorable floret should have to worry about~.” Akash brushes some errant hair out of Elvira’s face, and the girl shivers briefly before responding. Oh stars, Kazia can’t imagine Akash would be happy with her refusal to use her title.
“Kazia and I were talking about what it’s like for me to be a pet, Miss.” Another vine curls around Elvira, pulling her up into the affini’s arms. Oh stars. Kazia cannot imagine Akash will be happy either with her having called such a clearly cared for possession pathetic.
“Was that all, dearest? Remember, telling me the entire truth is for your own good~” Kazia stares desperately at Elvira, willing silently for her to not reveal she’d refused Akash’s name. She can’t imagine Akash being happy about that, either.
Elvira glances at Kazia only briefly, then back up towards her Mistress. She sniffles. Fuck. Kazia clambers off the couch automatically, away from the affini, trying to seek safety where there is only Akash’s will.
“Kazia called me pathetic, Miss, for having broken for you.” She looked about to cry. Kazia couldn’t help but feel at least a little bad at having harmed something so soft.
Akash’s piercing glare drifts lazily over to the other human, practically pinning her already hyperventilating body to the wall.
Elvira continues. “She… She kept calling you by your name,,, and called you a monster.”
A thin, dark grin starts to appear on Akash’s face. Kazia stumbles to the ground, unable to push herself through the wall, as much as she may wish she could.
She sneaks a glance at Elvira, still cradled in Akash’s arms. She looks so peaceful. So content. Certainly not huddled against a wall in terror.
“And,” Elvira nearly whispers, “she said her name was ‘Stafford’, not Nele.”
Akash’s eyes flash red for the briefest moment. She places Elvira gently back onto the couch, leaving a vine for her to toy with. “Is that so, Kazia?”
Kazia gasps for air, cowering against the wall.
“It’s a yes or no question, dear. Do you say those things to my lovely floret, or not?” Akash’s tone leaves no room for negotiation.
“Y-yes.” wimpers Kazia.
“‘Yes what, Kazia.” Vines are snaking towards the girl. Not quickly, but steadily. She has nowhere to run.
“Yes, Mistress!” Kazia gasps in a moment of frantic panic, teary eyes clenched shut. “I’m sorry!” She felt far more sorry for herself than for her words, but hopefully they’d satisfy Akash in any case.
Near instantly, Akash’s expression softens, eyes flecked with gold. She scoops up the shaking girl into her arms, holding her perfectly still with numerous minuscule roots. “See, that wasn’t so hard, was it dear?” It takes Kazia several frozen seconds before she realizes the affini wants her to respond.
“N-no, Miss…” she squeaks, barely able to form words between her delirious gasps.
A massive, leafy hand pushes the hair out of Kazia’s face. “Well, I suppose we’d better be going dear.” Going? Going where? Wait… no no no nonono she can’t —
Seeing the realization flash into Kazia’s eyes, Akash smirks. “That’s right darling, I was able to get your implantation surgery moved up. Your appointment is in 20 minutes.”
Kazia feels her consciousness spiral up and out. Her vision quickly turns monochrome, then static, as one inescapable fact resonates in her mind as she faints. There’s no way out.
“There we go, that’s the measurements for — ah! You’re awake!” An unfamiliar affini stares down at Kazia, vines attaching various leads across her now naked body. She tries to squirm, but is met with implacable vines.
“Now now sweetie, there’s no need to struggle! We’re almost done setting you up for your surgery!” the affini announces with a synthetic smile. “I’m Jilae Hean, they/them, and I’ll be taking care of you today,” The colossal plant reaches out a hand, and to Kazia’s horror, so does she, the vines around her arm simply posing her as if she were a doll. Her puppetted hand grabs hold of one of Jilae’s fingers, making a mockery of a handshake.
Jilae giggles to themself, as if this were just the cutest thing they’ve ever seen. Kazia grits her teeth, eyes darting around the room. It’s certainly medical, though far less bright and sterile than any terran operating room she’s ever been in. Instead, it’s almost homey, with comfortably dim lights and gentle patterning on the walls.
The patterns do little to hide the recessed robotic surgical tools lying in wait, however.
The human herself seems to be strapped into a bed, tilted several degrees down to allow her to at least feel as though she’s sitting up. It’s not uncomfortable.
As her eyes trace the boundaries of the room, one thing is clearly missing — Akash. Sensing her discomfort, Jilae strokes a hand down the side of Kazia’s face and softly says “Don’t worry, your owner will be back soon! We won’t start the procedure till she’s here.”
Kazia has to choke back tears at the mention of ‘the procedure’. Instead, she channels that energy into anger. “It doesn’t matter”, she sputters, “Akash means nothing to me!”. She wants desperately for that to be true.
Jilae just looks softly down at her, pityingly. She can’t stand it. “I suppose you are a feralist, for now. The Haustoric Implant will certainly help you overcome such primitive urges; I promise!”
Hyperventilating, Kazia screams incoherently, thrashing in the vines. She feels a pinprick on her arm, and a wave of calming coolness rapidly spreads out from it. “Relax for me, terran. There’s no need for you to suffer the throes of panic.” Seemingly satisfied as the human’s movements slow into impotent squirms, Jilae continues attaching sensors to her body.
Akash enters with Elvira in tow, the plant’s eyebrow lifting as she sees Kazia awake, if not particularly capable of motion, now. The plant speaks a greeting towards Jilae, and then leans against one of the walls.
Seemingly taken aback by the dispassionate display from Akash, Jilae’s leaves imperceptibly ruffle. Turning to the other affini, they gesture almost-exasperatedly towards the bound human.
“Akash. I think that your floret could use some comforting, she’s been quite frightened since waking.” The tension in their voice is evident even to Kazia. Akash seems almost frazzled. Her leaves flatter than normal, she approaches Kazia, and lays a gentle hand on the human’s forehead.
“It will be ok, Kazia. The haustoric implant will help you… Acclimate to your rightful position.”
Through half lidded eyes, Kazia tries to glare down her new-again owner. “Help me be what you want,,,” she whimpers. At that, Akash does grin. Darkly, with a hint of gloating.
“That’s right. You belong to me and my will is paramount. Your little ‘adventure’ outside of my care is over.” Akash’s hand tightens its grip on her forehead slightly. She says something in an affini language to Jilae, and they make an affirmative motion.
“Dear, while you’re unconscious for your implantation surgery, we’re going to fit you with a replacement arm.” Kazia gasps and squirms in fright, the idea of planttech being so visibly a part of her is horrifying. Stars know how much control she’ll even have over it! Jilae winds a vine into Kazia’s clenched fist calmingly. “It won’t hurt, sweetie. It’ll function just like your prior arm, but in peak condition”. They smile down comfortingly.
Shakily nodding, Kazia cannot escape how both Akash’s and Jilae’s touch feels reassuring, despite herself.
“Well, that’s everything set up, so we’re going to put you under now, ok?” Kazia knew her ‘ok’ didn’t really matter here. Not anymore. She remains silent. Jilae looks down on her with pitying eyes, sparkling a pale mauve.
Unexpectedly, Kazia feels someone grab her hand. Elvira. She squeezes it tight, grateful for human contact, even that of a pet. “It won’t be that bad, Kazia!” Elvira reassures. Kazia finds it hard to believe, strapped down as she is. “I was really scared before my surgery too, but I’m so much happier now!!”
Kazia whimpers, and Elvira squeezes tighter. “I know you probably don’t believe me right now, but I promise everything will be alright! I’ll keep you company when you’re recovering!” At this, Kazia can’t help but make a small, relieved exhalation. Shivering, she turns her head as much as she can, and out of the corner of her eyes can see Elvira’s smiling face. She forces a sad smile back.
Akash again says something to Jilae in affini, and Jilae smiles down softly at the bound human once more before pressing an injector to her neck. Kazia closes her eyes, but knows in her heart that as soon as she’s under, Akash will leave.. She knew she shouldn’t care. She knew she should hate the plant. But in that moment, all she could long for was the same gentle touch Akash had shown her three and half years ago.
It never arrives, and she falls into chemically enforced sleep, thoughts of what might have been fluttering down into the void.