The door closed, and the lock clicked. Kitten took a few steps backwards, watching the door but nothing happened. No testing the lock, no vines coming underneath. Taking a deep breath, she explored the room a bit more. The closet was empty except for the extra bedding, like Gladialis had said. But one thing she saw was that the hanging rod was at her height, unlike most other things that were sized for Affini. A simple gesture, but one that made Kitten smile. She looked around, yawning, and climbed onto the bed, which was slightly higher than what she would consider easy to get onto.
The bed was comfortable, far more than anything she'd ever slept on. The mattress, somehow, was able to tell how firm she liked it, and adjusted. Which was pretty impressive, since her bunk on Thors Hammer was pretty much a metal slab covered with a mattress thin enough to read through. This was far more delightful, with pillows of varying thickness, and warm, fluffy blankets. At first she was distrustful of them, wondering if there was some sort of techno-biological thing in them, like a disease or contact poison or something. But she shook her head, because that just didn't make sense. Why do all that, feed her, take her for clothes unless…unless Gladialis wanted something? Maybe to turn her into one of those stumbling, glassy eyed 'pets' she saw before.
But that didn't make sense either, since Gladialis could have simply drugged her, or used the damn cuffs to do it. And the door had a lock on it, which was the first thing she checked. Then locked it. She was sure Gladialis could open it if she wanted. But hadn't she said that she would only act if she was in distress? And she DID make it so that she wouldn't just be randomly drugged. She got off the bed, needing a moment to think.
Pacing the room, she looked up and around, not seeing any cameras, not that it mattered. Huffing, she paced and thought, her worries spiraling, until the bracelets beeped, a yellow light flashing. Ok…ok. A clear sign to stop, or Gladialis would come checking on her. Giving the bed a distrustful look, she sat down again gingerly, wondering if it would slam shut on her, like some Venusian Flyswatter. Which was weird, because Venus didn't HAVE an atmosphere capable of supporting plant life, let alone flies. Taking a chance, she moved back further, a lower tone sounding, but that soon faded. Finally she found herself in the middle of the bed, with room to spare. A LOT of room to spare. Tucked under a blanket bigger than she was, holding the plushie, she took a moment to just breathe in a square. And again.
She thought about it, and decided that perhaps this bed was just a bed. That there had been ample opportunity for something bad to happen, if Gladialis had wanted it to. She'd kept that Affini from touching her, hadn't she? Helped her in the elevator. Kitten blinked, the day having tired her out, but her whirling thoughts having tired her even more. Taking another deep breath, she yawned, and blinked, a bit slower.
She opened her eyes and found herself standing on the observation deck of the Hammer. Surrounded by people, all staring up at the Terran ships that hung in space. "Yup!! Gonna change the name from Thors Hammer to Weed Whacker", a Marine said, jostling her. "Right, dude?"
"Umm…yea", she said, trying to move away, when she was shoved. HARD.
"Crewman…I mean, Nurse…what kind of…never mind. What the fuck are you doing here? This is for soldiers and useful members of Humanity. Get the fuck out of here before I shoot you for dereliction of duty. Fuck that, I won't waste a bullet, I'll just vent you", the Captain snarled, and then pushed her into the wall again. Suddenly red lights began to flash, and the Captain looked up. "Code Blue!! Code Blue!! You!!!", and the Captain grabbed her by the throat and lifted her. "If you're here, then who's in the ward? You just ignore your patients to come here with the real soldiers?"
Shoved backwards, she collided with another Marine, who pushed her towards the door. The door opened into the ICU, which was odd but she didn't think to question it. The alarms on bed Two and Three were going off, and the Doctor was yelling orders into the air, but there was nobody to carry them out. She had been the duty nurse and she had failed. Each one suddenly flat-lined, the tone only slightly lower than her howl of grief as she fell to her knees. She screamed, a wordless denial of what she was seeing, even as the doctor hit her. The pain exploded in her jaw as she fell to the ground, as the corpses turned to look at her.
"Failed us…let us die", they whispered as arms picked her shrieking body up. She tried to escape, but their grip was too strong. "Failure…waste of time…useless…not a real girl", the Marines holding her yelled as they dragged her onto a stretcher, and tied her down.
"Stop!! Stop it!! Lemme go, please, it's not my fault!! I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, it's not my fault!!", she screamed as the stretcher moved down the hallway, lights flashing overhead. It stopped at a familiar sight: the airlock. "Nooooooo!! No!! Stop, please don't, please!! I'll be good, I swear, please!!!", she shrieked as the 'lock slowly cycled open. Agonizingly slow, the mechanism shrieked like the souls of the damned, the stretcher wheeled in before the sound stopped.
"I knew we should have vented you the minute we hit space. Worthless waste of oxygen, I regret every single synthcube you ate. Well, now we won't have to deal with you." The Captain left, and as the 'lock began to cycle and she screamed, another voice was heard. Melodic, where the Captain was yelling and angry.
"Be mine, give up who you are and your mind, and be mine. I can save you from this", it whispered, and a large bark-like face appeared in a porthole. "All you need to do is say yes."
"No. Please…don't do this…", she sobbed, and then screamed as the outer 'locks began to slowly open, the chill of space assaulting her as the air rushed from the room, pulling the stretcher towards the yawning black chasm. "NOOOOOO!!! PLLLLLEEEAAASSSEEE!!!!", she screamed.
Gladialis had been relaxing on the couch with a bit of light reading when the cuffs began to alarm. She'd turned off their ability to sedate the Terran, as she'd asked, but not their monitoring function. Concerned, cursing her decision, she made her way to the door, truly panicking as she heard the little Terran scream. Such terror like she'd never heard before. Of course the door was locked. Her vines made short work of that particular impediment, and she stepped into the room, looking around.
The little terran was in bed, the blanket having been kicked off. Kitten was thrashing, tears rolling down a face that looked terrified. Nightmare. She's having a nightmare, Gladialis thought to herself. The Terran had asked not to be dosed, but this was an extenuating circumstance, wasn't it? As she stood there, her ward screamed again, a wordless howl of fear that devolved into begging. Gladialis didn't know what the Terran was dreaming, and didn't care right now. There'd be time to find out later.
Standing next to the bed, Gladialis reached a hand out and gently tapped the shrieking Terran. “Kitten”, she said, trying to wake her up. No response other than more screaming. Oh dear. Perhaps a class A wouldn’t be a bad idea. But at least let me try this once more. “Kitten!!”, she said more sharply, giving the Terran a careful, and VERY watered down, shake. THe results were near-instantaneous…and completely what she had hoped wouldn’t happen.
Kittens' eyes shot open and saw the Affini standing over her, a hand outstretched to grab her. This wasn’t her bunk, she’d been captured and she was going to be eaten!! “NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”, she shrieked, and tried rolling over to get off whatever surface she was on. Some sort of restrictive fabric caught her legs and she tumbled, rolling to try to get away as the Affini huffed and tried to move. “STAY AWAY FROM ME!!!!”, she yelled and then the surface abruptly ended and she fell, with another scream of terror.
And landed on the ground with a thump. Scrambling her way out of the thing, she backed up until she hit the wall with her back, the Affini coming around the bend in the furniture. “Oh…oh dear. Kitten, are you ok?”, it asked, sounding almost…concerned as a soft blue light began to grow stronger, illuminating the room. “Did you hurt yourself, little one?” She squealed and pushed back into the wall, remembering the stretcher she was on hurtling towards doom. This Affini must have saved her, but she didn’t know why. Probably to eat her, or make her a drone or something.
Gladialis looked at Kitten as the Terran panted, crying, trying to climb the wall with her bare hands, it looked like. “Little Terran”, she said softly, kneeling down and folding her hands in her lap. “It’s me, little one. Gladialis. There’s nothing to fear, you had a nightmare. You’re safe now, do you remember?” The little Terran kept crying and staring at her, panting. Her table buzzed silently, alerting her that Kittens heart rate was spiking. She needed to end this now, or she’d have to dose the Terran and pay the deli its price. “Kitten…I need you to remember. Do you remember Victor? Eating Tiramisu? And meeting Leiara, who gave you some very bad advice, I should mention. Do you remember that? Or playing on the grass for the first time? You’re safe, I promise. No harm will come to you here.”, she said, trying to keep her voice low and soothing.
Pressed against the wall, The little Terran gasped, looking at the Affini. Something about the way it looked, and what it was talking about sparked a memory and helped cut through the panic. Lifting her hands, she sniffed them, seeing the healing burns, smelling something fresh, and green. "I… where…?"
"You're safe, Kitten. You're on the Baiera, do you remember? You're in my hab, and you had a nightmare. Can you do something for me, little one? Can you describe what you're standing on? And not your legs, little one", she said with a chuckle.
"What…what I'm…what?", she asked, panting and confused. Why was this xenos not charging her?
"You're safe, little one", Gladialis repeated, her voice a low purr. "You are safe. The thing you're standing on. Can you describe it to me?", trying to help Kitten ground herself.
"Umm…it's..its soft. And its tickly", she said as she rubbed her bare foot into the carpet. "It…it feels…I can feel..umm…like lots of little threads that are really soft."
"Good, good girl", Gladialis said, and she reached over, plucking the plushie from inside the blanket and putting it on the ground between them. "Can you name five things for me that you can see?"
"Umm. The…the bee plushie. The b..b..bed, the carpet, an Affini, and…umm…the burns on my hands." Already her voice was a bit steadier, the tears gone except for the occasional sniffle.
"Good job, Kitten!! And it's called a Beeple. Like a Bee People. I’ll tell you about them later, and you can meet more than a few if you’d like. They’re really that adorable in real life.” Gladialis smiled, and gestured. "Can you name two things that you can hear?"
"Ummm…I can hear you", she said, "and…and..umm..my heartbeat. I can hear it in my ears."
“Can you tell me one thing that you can smell?”
“I…I..i can smell flowers”, Kitten whispered, her heart slowing.
"Wonderful job, Kitten. Now, I want you to breathe in time with me. Can you do that?", she said, and took a very obvious and loud breath, and held it for three seconds. She was careful to make sure it wasn't more than the average Terran lung could take. Kitten, however, didnt breathe along with her..at first. But by the fourth breath, the little Terran was breathing with her. Noticeably calming as Gladialis kept up the slow pace, after a few minutes the Terran had calmed. "There, little one. How are you feeling?"
Kitten swallowed hard, looking at Gladialis. "Better", she croaked. "What happened?"
"I was reading when your cuffs alerted me that your heartbeat was too fast. I got in here as fast as I could, since the auto-injection function of your cuffs had been deactivated. You were having a nightmare, little one. Screaming and crying, begging someone not to do something. I was debating giving you a small bit of a Class-A if you didn't wake up, since your heart was racing. But you did, and you're calming down. Come, little one. Let's get you some water, ok?" Gladialis stood and stepped back, giving Kitten plenty of room. Smiling when she stood up, and followed her, even though she looked quite shaky. She led her to the kitchen and poured her a mug of water, handing it to her.
The shaken Terran took the mug with murmured thanks and sipped as she tried to calm down. Brushing her tears away, she took a sip, a shuddering breath making its way from her lungs.
"If you want to talk, Kitten, I'm here", Gladialis offered, sympathetic as she took a seat at the table. Leaving not only space, but the choice in the hands of her ward. While some Affini might not agree, Gladialis felt this was the best way. Giving Kitten more autonomy would only help her regain her sense of control and help her. "Or if you need a hug."
"Ummm…not….not right now", she said, finishing the water, taking her time and enjoying the silence. She thought it through. "Thank you for the water, Gladialis."
"You're very welcome, Kitten. I'm here if you need to talk, ok? Would you like Lena to put on some soothing music? I'm told that it can help you have some restful sleep." Right then and there Gladialis decided that she was going to research the ways to help Terrans sleep without drugs.
"That...ummm…sure. Thank you, Gladialis. Thank you, Lena." She sniffled once, and put the mug down on the chair, having to stand on her tiptoes to do so. She didn’t feel up to climbing it, and didn’t want to be…she didn’t want anything to touch her right now. She looked up at the mug, intrigued. It was pottery, but oddly shaped, almost as if whoever made it had hands that were twice as wide as hers. It was glazed black, but with these dots that resembled stars and a whorl that…Kitten realized that it was a stunningly painted night sky. And what was more, it was not a view that she recognized.
"I see you like my mug. That, and it's siblings, were a gift from a sophont who was a master at making pottery. From a sect of sophonts called the isuthe'kal'ira", and Gladialis made an odd clicking-thump noise. "Which in their language meant ‘The peaceful ones.’ They live on a high-methane world, with a very high gravity, so you will rarely see one out of a specialized environment, if ever off their home planet. They had the most wonderful legends, Kitten", Gladialis said, sounding wistful. "They revered artists and makers of things, seeing art as the distillation of the artist, rather than their subject." She smiled and took a breath to keep talking, and then saw that the little Terran was getting tired. "Well….more time for that tomorrow. Let's get you to bed."
Kitten nodded, rubbing an eye. She followed Gladialis as the Affini led her back to the bedroom. "Ummm…thanks again, Gladialis. I'm…I'm sorry."
"Sorry for what, Kitten?", Gladialis said, getting down on one knee, her voice soft, her expression caring.
"For…for bothering you and making you…umm..you know, deal with my nonsense", Kitten said, embarrassment and shame coloring her cheeks. "It's…I know you didn't sign up for–"
"Oh Kitten, you couldn't be farther from the truth than if you told me that horses lived in a…a pineapple in the sea. You aren't a bother at all. You're worth all the care in the world, Kitten. Not for anything you did or will do, but because you are. You are valid, little one. I see it, even if you don't."
Kitten blushed, foot scuffing on the carpet. "I…ummm…thanks", she whispered, blushing. She slipped into the room after whispering goodnight, and closed the door behind her. Deciding not to lock the door this time, she looked at the bed as soft music began to play. Some kind of old time music, with the kind of instruments that only fancy people learned to play. "Thanks, Lena", she said, and the lights flickered in response. Looking at the bed, she shuddered. Taking her plushie, she looked around, sniffling, and decided.
Going to the closet, she opened the door, and rearranged the extra blankets and pillows into a little nest. Closing the door on herself, she burrowed into her nest, still able to hear the music. Clad in darkness, she closed her eyes, and was soon asleep.
Gladialis stood outside the door for a moment after it closed, and then smiled. "Beethoven. Good choice. Play it through the hab, Lena. Please?" Back on the couch, she picked up her book again, after making sure her tablet was there, Kittens vitals on full display. And she read.