Walking into the shop, a small bell on the door chimed, and suddenly an Affini stepped out from behind an alcove as it balanced what looked like nine different rolls of cloth and began to shelve them without looking where they were going. “Hello!!! Hello Hello Hello!!!! Can I help you? I’m fairly certain I can, yes I can!!!! Leiara Sensila, Thirteenth Bloom, She/Her, at your service. What can I do for you and the adorable sophont here?” She spoke quickly, with an odd birdlike trill to her voice, and had flower bedecked vines that flailed all over as she spoke, as if she couldn’t keep her form together. She looked at the cuffs, collar, and nodded once. “And may I say, those are not a good look on you, cutie!! You should get those changed out as fast as you can, you know? Now…you need clothing, you do you do do you!! Or you wouldn’t be here!!! What kind of clothing do you need, silent little cutie?”
Kitten had, at this point, given a small sound, her cuffs giving off a tone and was hiding her face in the plushie, only her forehead visible and had taken a step behind Gladialis. Which is why she didn’t see Leiara step towards her, and bend down. Before she could do whatever it was that she was about to, Gladialis had moved, standing in front of the Terran.
"Ummm…I need some clothes?", she asked, looking up but trying to hide still behind Gladialis.
"Well, of course of course of course!! I wouldn't be here if you didn't, and neither would you. So….what style do you need?? Actually, hold that thought", and the Affini suddenly walked backwards and disappeared behind a hanging curtain. The sounds of rummaging could be heard, and she looked at Gladialis.
"Ummm…are…are you sure that this is a good idea? We can't just…you know..order clothing from–", and was then interrupted as Leiara exploded out from behind the curtain. Explode was a good term since she burst out waving scissors, a tape measure, a bolt of cloth, and a rustling glass bowl. Kitten yelped and jumped, blinking as Leiara moved in front of them.
"Now…first off. Are you a dress kind of girl, a sweats and tank top kind of girl, or a suit and bowtie kind of girl?", Leiara asked the little Terran who squeaked at being the center of attention. "Here, step on this box while we talk talk talk."
"Ummm…what…what box?", she asked, looking at Gladialis and then back. "There's nothing there."
"What what what?? What do you m ean, what box?? Sure there is!!! As plain as the ears on my head, it is!!! Just come over here, little Terran", she said, waving Kitten over. The little Terran slowly walked out, but looked confused as she stared at the spot that Leiara was indicating. "Sweeten the deal, yes yes yes!!! If there's nothing here, then you leave now, and thats the endey endey end. BUT if there's something here, then you let me make you some clothes, and you tell me what you like. Dealing deal? Hoops and scoops, yes yes yes!!! Swishes and dishes, I agree, do you you you?"
Kitten looked at the spot, the odd Affini, and then back. "Umm…you…you don’t HAVE ears”, she said, and then blinked as Leiara grabbed her head, and began muttering about “forgetting to put them on this morning.” She blinked again, perturbed. “Are..ummm…", she whispered, wondering if Affini went crazy. "Ok. Deal." Seemed like an easy win. A grand dunk, as they said.
"Great. Come come come…step forward..now up. Up up up!!!", Leiara said, grinning with some sort of mad energy.
Kitten put her foot up, stepped down…and stepped up onto something. "What the fucking fuck!?!?", she yelled, then blushed and cringed. Leiara merely laughed. She was standing on a box that had been so cunningly painted to look like the floor that she hadn't been able to tell the difference. There was…yep. There was even a shadow painted on the box to look like the one cast by the table. Someone put some thought into this. ALOT of thought.
"Well, little Terran, a deal is a deal. So…tell me. Are you a fun, flirty, dress kind of girl? Or something more relaxed and calm?" Leiara's eyes twinkled as her vines began to move towards the walls, hovering over different bolts of cloth. "How…how did you know?", the Terran asked her, Leiara smiling in response. "Dear little sophont, I'm a tailor, but first and foremost, I'm an artist. An artist sees to the heart of things, sees them as they truly are and then recreates that in the medium of their choice. Mine is clothing. I don't just make clothing, little Terran, anyone can sew a bodice onto arms. I shape the cloth to who you are, each piece specially made just for you. And I see YOU. And right now, it says, ' I'm a girl. Here, where it counts, I'm a girl, no matter what I look like.' That's the part I listen to." Leiara's voice had turned softer, calmer as she spoke. "Now…tell me what you like, little one."
"Ummm..pants, and..umm..maybe leggings? I like comfortable clothing. Stuff I can lounge around in. Something a bit flowy in the shirt, like a pirate shirt sort of. Ummm….some with…with laces and stuff."
"You like sweats as well?", Leiara asked, and smiled when the little Terran nodded. "Well….maybe I'll make you something along those lines as well. Perhaps. If your beeple asks me nicely. Now, hold your arms out so I can measure you." What followed was probably one of the quickest yet relatively vine-free measuring session ever that Leiara could remember. Every time she got close to the Terran, she flinched, and a few times her cuffs beeped. Heartbreaking, really. Finally they were done. "Little one, I'm going to make you a dress. I know that you'll like it, even if you choose not to wear it. But that’s your decision."
The measuring wasn't as invasive as Kitten had thought it would be. Leiara had come close to touching her, but each time she'd jumped or made a noise the Affini had backed off, just like she said she would. Finally it was done…but not done. "A…I…I can't. I can't..please don't waste your time. It's not worth it."
"But it's MY time, little one", she countered. "I can make make make what I wish."
Gladialis stepped up. "Kitten?", she asked gently, as her ward looked at her. "Why can't you? If it's not your style, that's one thing. But is it that? Or do you feel like you can’t for another reason?”
“i…I can’t. Just…ummm..not now, please?”, she whispered, hunching over on herself again.
“Has she started any class G’s yet?”, Leiara quickly asked Gladialis in the local Affini dialect. “Or class-A’s?”
“No, not yet. She just started her wardship today, she hasn’t had a chance to decide on any of those. Or for me to even bring it up in conversation. And she hasn’t been to the vet yet.”
“Well, make an appointment already and get it done. She’s screaming in pain on the inside, it’s so loud I’m not sure how none of you can hear it.” Leiaras vines wiggled, the Affini equivalent of a saddened hug given to herself. “It’s hurting my heart to hear it. Gladialis, you HAVE to do something about it. Don’t leave this little sophont in pain.”
Gladialis was once again impressed by the insight that the aged Affini had, as well as her compassion. “I’ll do the best that I can, Leiara. I promise.” Switching back to a language the little Terran would understand, Gladialis smiled and stooped so they were on eye level. Kitten had shrunk back on herself again, eyeing both Affini as they spoke in a quick trilling language that she didn’t understand.
“I won’t press, Kitten. I hope that sometime soon you’ll feel comfortable enough to talk about it with me. But let's go, our home isn’t far and I can tell that you’re tired. Do you want something to drink before we go?"
Kitten shook her head, sniffling again. "I'm…ok. Can we go? Ummm…thank you, Miss Leiara, but…ummm, you don't--" She stopped as a vine raised up and shot through the air, stopping in front of her.
"I choose to make it. Whether you wear it or not, darling, is up to you. Perhaps you'll let Gladialis wear it", she said, indicating the Affini who was at least three feet taller than the Terran. "Now…would you like a sugar pop?", she said, a vine holding out a little wrapped thing from the glass bowl.
"Ummm…sure", Kitten said, not wanting to upset the Affini. Taking it, she looked at it. It looked like those things that Hesperia and Ilex had left on her bed in the hospital. "Thanks. I'm gonna save it for later, because I'm full. Gladialis treated me to food, and I'm not used to eating so much anymore." Taking the sugar pop, she put it in the bag, next to her plushie.
Gladialis slowly nodded. She'd seen the ship, had walked the cramped, dingy corridors. She'd figured that they didn't feed anyone enough, especially when Sarthusea had told her that her ward, and many of the other sophonts from the ship, were malnourished. "Ok, Kitten. Leiara, thank you for everything. You can either have them delivered to my hab, or send me a message and we'll come pick them up." She began walking towards the exit, her little ward next to her when Leiara suddenly slid in front of them, and knelt.
"Little Terran", she sang, eyes glinting. "You didn't say good good good bye. Come see me again, when you're a bit more settled, hmm? I'd love to make more things for you. Promise me you will", she said, her eyes glinting.
"O..okay", the Terran said, blinking and shrinking back as Leiara leaned in, staring at her. "I will. Promise."
"Good!! Well, have fun fun fun!! Try not to get into trouble, but kittens DO tend to do that, and it's cute. And maybe drag Gladialis in with you, hmm? At the very least, away from her research.."
"Research??", she asked, looking back at Gladialis who nodded.
"Research. I'll show you when we get home, Kitten. You might enjoy it." Leiara was right, she needed to do something. There was something about the little sophont that was making her feel protective. Far more than she ever had, and she didn't understand why. She'd dealt with many a sophont before, and none had ever sparked this response. Even some of the other sophonts that she’d visited in the hospital hadn’t had this effect on her. She was just as Affini as the next, wanting to heal the broken and uplift all, to help them be the best them they could be. But this went beyond that. And she didn’t understand why.
"Research?!?", the little kitten said, wrinkling her nose with such an adorable pout on her face that Leiara cooed, and Gladialis smiled widely. "I…I don't think research is fun", she persisted, blushing.
"But you don't even know what I research", Gladialis said with a smile. "You might change your mind later. Maybe I research what’s the best tasting ice cream flavor? Or the best method of making coffee? Ooooh, or maybe which toasting roller is the most fun and has the most loops?"
“Toasting….toasting roller? Loops? Do you mean roller coasters?”, she asked, confused. “Wait…do Affini even GO on roller coasters? Wouldn’t it blow all your vines apart or something?”
Gladialis laughed, a sound that involved rustling vines and a sound like tinkling wind chimes. “No, my vines are nice and put together, thank you for asking. I actually went on a few before, and I greatly enjoyed them. The sudden drop, wind in your face….it was fun. I was thinking of actually mentioning it to one of the engineers here, see if we could put one in.”
“You did??? I always wanted to go on one, but it never happened. The closest we ever got was riding a mine cart with no brakes down Gulvers Gully back home. Which was all kinds of fun, but there weren’t no loops, or…or anything like that.”
“Wait wait…you rode a mine cart with no brakes!?!?!?!” Gladialis was wondering why she was shocked at anything that she was being told anymore. Of COURSE they’d ride some unsafe contraption with no safety brakes or seat belts or…”Please tell me you at least had helmets on”, and groaned when her ward grinned sheepishly. Her vines quivering just at the thought of a bunch of little sophonts doing that…..
“We had a few pillows piled inside just in case the cart flipped over again instead of stopping. But that kinda happened only a few times.”
“Wait…it FLIPPED!?!?!?!?” Gladialis moaned, and looked for something to sit down on. “This is…Kitten, do you have any idea of how badly it could have injured you?”
“Well…ummm…sure. It broke Susans arm the first time that it happened. That’s when we came up with the idea for the pillows. I mean, it only happened a few times. And nobody got really injured. Well, except for that one time with Susan.” She spoke a bit sheepishly. Looking back now, she probably should have insisted on the pillows before they tried it the first time. “But the pillows made it safe. Well, safer. And even Susan said that it was worth it, especially since she got out of doing chores for a month.”
Gladialis shuddered as she made an inarticulate moaning sound, her face covered by her hands. It sounded suspiciously like “and their answer was to do it AGAIN!!!!” Just the thought of this…this death contraption, with young sophonts inside it…it was enough to make her vines nearly lose all cohesion. “Kitten”, she said, taking a deep breath. “Do you…please tell me that the adults in your colony found out about this and stopped you.”
“Ummm…”, and the little Terran made a facial expression that was part sheepish look, part grin, and part giggle. “We..umm…wekindatoldthemthatitwasanaccidentinadifferentpartofthemineandtheyneverknew.”
“You…you…and they….”, she gasped, and then looked up in shock as Leiara began laughing loudly, her vines still grabbing bolts of cloth. “Leiara!!!”, she said, shocked. “That…that isn’t funny!!!”
“Are you kidding? Of course course course course it’s funny!!! That’s what kittens DO, Gladialis. They get into mischief, and this little sophont is VERY well well well named. Just for that, here, little one. Have another sugar pop”, and she slid the giant bowl full of the teeth-rotting treats out from behind her back. “Or four.”
Kitten hung back for a moment, then thought as Leiara pushed the bowl at her again, and stuck her hand in, taking a bunch. Even if they were brain melting, she could at least hold onto them. Or…well, who knew?
“Leiara Sensila, Thirteenth Bloom, surely you can’t be…be condoning this…this…it’s so unsafe”, Gladialis gasped as Leiara cackled. CACKLED. “LEI-ARA!!!!”
“What?? You’re getting your vines all bent into right angles over something that happened more than a decade ago!! And it sounds like the thing that little kittens get into. Have you forgotten the Rinans? That’s the sort of thing that they would have done as well.” She snickered, and then regarded the little Terran. “And not for nothing, they were far worse at it than this little Terran. Only one injury? Sounds good to me. She should find a way to do it again.”
The little Terran tried, but she couldn’t help the small snicker that burst from her lips as Leiara winked at her.
“Yes…I know. And I was horrified when I heard about it”, Gladialis retorted, and Leiara just laughed. “No..No. Kitten, do..do NOT do anything at all like that. PLEASE.”
“You need to calm down, Gladialis”, Leiara said, waving a handful of vines at Gladialis, one of which was holding a pair of scissors. “Get a hobby hobby or five. Kitten, drag her along for the ride. Get her involved in something fun. As long as it isn’t her research. Plop her in a mine cart with no brakes and forget the helmets.”
“Umm…re..research?”, Kitten asked Gladialis, who turned to her. She couldn’t be sure, but it seemed like Gladialis breathed out a sigh of relief, or something. Like she was happy to have something familiar to talk about, or Leiara wasn’t giving her ward ideas. “You still haven’t told me what it is that you research.” She furrowed her brow, wondering what it was, and WHY it was such a big secret. Maybe it was something bad? Like new ways to domesticate people, or drugs that could make them think they wanted to be turned into those slack-eyed stumbling people she saw. Or weapons? She didn’t know if the Affini used weapons, but they had gas, and that insinuated that they had some form of weapon OTHER than that, since just plain gas wouldn’t always work. But Gladialis had said that she’d enjoy it….
“Well, you won’t know until we get home. It’s…..it’s a surprise.”
“That’s true. I’ve known Gladialis for over three hundred of your Terran years, little Terran, and I think that there are very few outside of her field who know what she does. As secretive as the horses with the long noses and big ears.” Leiara smiled, and then shooed them out of the store. “Now gitty-gitty- up and go!! I have work work work to do”, and then she cocked a head, staring intently at the little Terran. Who of course backed up a step, her cuffs beeping gently. “You can be happy wherever you wish to drop your roots. If you let yourself, little one, for a closed seed can never grow. Remember that. Nobody can choose that for you but you.” Then smiled, and closed the door behind them.
Kitten took a few steps and suddenly heard the most horrific warbling screech from the store. She flinched, her cuffs beeping again and looked at Gladialis. “What…what is that?”, as she shrank back from it.
Gladialis chuckled, and nodded. “That’s Leiara trying to sing, but it’s not in any language that you’d understand. It’s…umm…it’s from a race of sophonts called the Ain Athar, and they’re from quite a distance from here. Funny thing is that Leiara sounded horrible in their language as well”, she said with a smile. “One of their florets enjoyed it, and…well…She enjoys singing; she really puts her heart into it, the dear, and we don’t have the heart to ruin it for her. It’s a small price to pay for her being happy. But come, little one. It’s just that building over there.”
They walked a bit further down to the next building, and Gladialis made a show of waving the door open. “This is us. If you ever get lost, we live in the Windsong building. Some people have a designation that’s all numbers and stuff, but I always liked Windsong. Hmmm, I should start a petition to change THAT to the official designation.” The lobby had a little fountain in it, plants and some sculptures, and Affini sized chairs. There were a few Affini sitting there with Terrans on their laps, just talking and casually petting them. The air was full of little squeals and moans from the Terrans getting petted. A few Terrans talked with each other, and as they saw Kitten they all smiled widely and waved at the pair. Blushing, Kitten shyly waved back, holding her plushie tightly as she followed Gladialis closely. “See? Lots of other Terrans to talk to and get to know.” She showed the little Terran where the lift was, and they got on.