Kitten looked at the parcels, staring at them as she looked. She paced, looking at them, thinking, the packages sitting innocuously on the bed. The clothing, and what they represented was a change. Even if they werent a…a dress, or anything, wearing this was a change. And she'd had enough changes in the recent past. Was she up for more? But did she have a choice? She couldn't wear the same shorts and tank top until they fell off. Well, she could, but that would raise red flags somewhere, she knew that. But was it a declaration of anything, wearing these? She didn't know Affini culture, but she was fairly certain that all those drugged Terrans had been wearing something similar. Like a similar style, or something that signified something. "Gla…Gladialis?", she asked, cracking the door slightly. It took a few moments, but she saw Gladialis walk towards her from the living room, and realized she'd given her privacy. Like she said she would.
"Yes, Kitten?", she asked curiously. She'd not even had time to read more than a chapter before Kitten was calling for her.
"Ummm…those..those drugged Terrans, and Victor, they…ummm…this clothing doesnt…is there some sort of cultural significance? Like.. like wearing it means I want to be like them?", she asked, peering through the doorway, door partially open.
"Well, first off, they're called florets, little Kitten. And no, nothing that Leiara has made you should give that idea to anyone." 'Because Leiara would never make you a collar unless you were her floret, or a companion dress unless you asked for it', she thought, but didn't say. "Once you get dressed, come out to the living room and I'll explain it all, ok?"
Kitten nodded, and then closed the door again. Listening to footsteps walk away, she nodded. Well, that was one way to ask. Going back to the first parcel, she noted that there was some kind of script above the Terran word 'pants'. Tracing it with a finger, she opened it, and gasped. There were more clothes here than she had owned in the last year. Back home, she had six, maybe seven pairs of pants/shirt combos, and four days worth of scrubs. This was…at least fourteen pants. How.. how fast did Leiara work.. how…???
She stood there, staring, and then realized that she was idly stroking a pair. The fabric was soft and light, and she pulled it from the pile, and after a thought, took the shorts off. Grabbing the tin of salve that Sarthusea had given her, she put a tiny smear of the healing cuts and burns, and then pulled the pants on. They fit perfectly…except they came up to midcalf and then ended. 'Must be a style thing', she thought, and turned to the other package.
It was full of shirts. T-shirts, tank tops, even a few long ones that had this vine pattern on the collar (which itself was deeper and more v-shaped than anything she’d ever worn). She hesitated, then grabbed a sleeved t-shirt that ended at her forearms, soft fabric and swirling patterns making an interesting combo.
And everything fit perfectly.
Taking the hospital socks off, she ground her feet into the carpet, enjoying the feeling of it under her toes. She walked into the living room, finding Gladialis sitting on the couch and reading a book. She looked up at her and smiled widely, eyes twinkling an odd shade of purple.
"Kitten!! You look amazing!!", she said, carefully marking the page with a bookmark and putting it down.
"You…umm…really?", she said, blushing.
"Absolutely, little one. Have a seat up here, and we'll continue our talk from before. Do you want some…oh. Well, never mind", she said as Kitten took a running leap up, and after a moment of struggle, made it up onto the couch. "Impressive", she said, and then her tablet chimed. Looking at it, she smiled. "Oh, Kitten!! Before I forget, I made you an appointment at the vet. It's in two hours, so we have a little bit of time to continue our talk from before."
"A…a vet? You mean a veteran?", Kitten asked as she shoved a foot between the seat cushions, and Gladialis chuckled.
"No no, little one. A vet is a Affini doctor who specializes in treating sophonts of various other species. But we Affini call them vets because they are part of The Nyrinian Institute of Xenobiological Care and Veterinary Medicine, and because they take care of pets. So they technically practice veterinary medicine.”
“Ok…but if they’re vets, then why am I going to see them?”, Kitten asked. She was a bit confused, but had a bit of an idea, but wanted Gladialis to say it out loud.
'Oh dear.' "Well, Kitten, that's because the word 'sophont', which is used for sentient creatures, is also the word for 'pet'. As for your earlier question, those Terrans that you saw are florets, which is the word for 'small flower'. And they are sophonts that have been Domesticated. You saw them with their owners."
"So the Feralists were right…you ARE turning Terrans into mindless pets."
"Oh goodness, no. They are very wrong, Kitten. Here…lets go back to our discussion of the sophont jumping out a tall window. Now, we both agree that they shouldn't be allowed to, yes?", she asked, and nodded when Kitten agreed, her feet tapping. "Now…what do you think is the best way to rehabilitate someone who is violent or destructive? That sophont attempting to push someone else out a window. Locking…locking them away? Will that curb their tendencies?"
"Well…I mean, if the fear of prison didn't stop them, then…I mean, what are their reasons?", Kitten asked.
"Hmmm, does it matter?", Gladialis asked mildly. "Is there a reason that's valid for a sophont to try to harm or kill another? And we're not talking self-defense, but attempting to harm another."
Kitten shook her head. "I don't think so. I mean…humans have been hurting each other for centuries for stupidity. The miners used to talk about what happened the last time someone tried to make a union to negotiate fair wages and better conditions in very hushed tones, where the little kids couldn’t hear them." She shuddered, switching feet that were wedged into the space between cushions without thinking. "It wasn't pretty."
"That sounds terrible, Kitten. And I'm so glad those things can't happen anymore. So…we both agree that there's no call for a sophont to harm another, non-consensually. Ever. And we agree that putting them in prison will not rehabilitate them. That's a byproduct of a failed capitalistic institution. Locking someone away does nothing for anyone, save for whoever owns the prison complex. So what Domestication does is it bypasses that. Those sophonts became the pet and responsibility of an Affini who will work with that sophont, and help them become the best version of themselves they can be. They get showered with unconditional love and adoration. I'm not exaggerating when I say that an Affini's focus literally is on their florets happiness and their growth into their best selves. It's a cornerstone, practically a foundation piece, of Affini culture. In return, the floret gives up all political rights, and all abilities for self determination. But that doesn’t mean that they have no say in things. A person who chooses to be a floret can negotiate things with their Affini, help shape what the relationship looks like."
"I understand, but what do you mean, work with? And can they ever NOT be a pet? You know, learn from their mistakes and gain their independence? People are able to gain their freedom if they work hard enough and pay off their debt. Is this anything like that?”
"I mean that they work together with their Owner to learn better behaviors and become their best selves. And little one, you have the wrong idea again. Work off their debt?? That sounds horrible capitalistic. This is a very different issue. Once someone becomes a floret, they stay that way. I don't think I've ever heard of a floret who regretted it. No Afini would ever let their floret regret it."
"What?? You're seriously telling me that not a single person who's become a floret has regretted it?', Kitten asked, dubiousness in her tone and stance. She just couldn't believe that it had never happened.
"Not as far as I'm aware of. Of course, the feralists don't really have a choice. As per the Treaty on the Methods, Limitations, and Procedures for Human Domestication, section 71, anyone who was caught attacking or attempting to harm an Affini is subject to Domestication. But even then, we try our hardest to make them happy and the best version of themselves they can be. But they have no choice." Gladialis shifted, one "leg" crossing over the other. "The majority of our florets are volunteers, Kitten. Terrans who want to be Domesticated."
"What!?! You're kidding!!", she said. Who…what kind of Terran would want to become a pet, she wondered. Not realizing she said it out loud.
"No, little one. I'm not. As for what kind of Terran, well, anyone. Think about it, Kitten. Unconditional love and care, and someone who's only concern is your well-being and happiness. It's like…imagine this. You're, and I don't mean you specifically, an independent Terran. You can go where you want, do what you want. But your happiness is up to you. If you choose poorly, or something doesn't work out, then it's on you. You have to decide what to do with your days or nights, what to eat, what to wear, things like that. And even then , you have to do the arm-work to make it all happen. But if you're a floret, then that's no issue. Your Affini will look out for you, make sure you're healthy, plan your activities, and make sure you're happy. Plan your meals, all your favorite foods, cooked the way you like, and even some more exotic foods, helping you expand your taste. Activities to enrich your mind and keep you growing towards your best self. Xenodrugs are tailored to each individual sophont through an implant called the Haustoric Implant to bring them peace and happiness."
Kitten listened, not saying anything for a moment. It sounded too good to be true, which meant it usually was. "Wait…implant? So you admit you're drugging the florets??" Then she blinked, aware of how she sounded. "I…I don't mean to sound…oh shitballs." Lena chortled, the sound echoing through the hab as the AI laughed at Gladialis as she winced. "I sound like I'm accusing you, and I…I..umm..don't mean to be, Gladialis. I'm sorry."
"Oh no, Kitten. It's ok. I admit, if I was hearing about this for the first time after hearing nothing but feralist propaganda, I'd be concerned also. You've nothing to worry about." She smiled, and gently waved a hand in a calming motion. "Every relationship between Affini and floret is different and unique. There are florets who, as you can imagine, prefer to spend their days being adored in an endless xenodrug-induced bliss. Others are like Victor, doing what they love with minimal xenodrug involvment.. There's a lovely cafe called 'Finger-licking good' that was created entirely by a floret named Gitara. She created the concept, menu, and filled out all the paperwork. And it’s all entirely finger food, with an amazing line of infused water for us Affini. But xenodrugs are just one of the tools that are used to help a floret reach their full potential."
"I see", the Terran said, thinking. Drawing a leg underneath her, the other wedged into the space between couch and cushion, she gnawed at a finger. "And this implant? Some kind of alien technology?"
"Well of course. Comparatively, Kitten, everything here is alien technology", Gladialis joked, smiling as Kitten huffed and threw her hands up.
"You know what I mean", she whined, rolling her eyes.
Gladialis chuckled. "Well, the answer is yes. The implant is made of core cells taken from their affini, cultured and grown, and then implanted into the florets spine. It allows for greater variation and higher targeted specificity of xenodrugs, in addition to providing emotional support", Gladialis said. Kitten was an ICU nurse, she reasoned. She could understand some of the medical jargon. “It can also monitor various neurotransmitters and not only provide feedback but also help buffer and stimulate their production, like serotonin, or dopamine. And it provides a framework for some of the more invasive body modifications.”
“One little piece of biotech can do all that? That’s..Terra Medical had nothing at all like that. Neurotransmitters and stuff, well, you needed fairly invasive testing for that. Most docs would just prescribe whichever drug was being peddled that month, and then play with it. You know, start with one, add another, lower one, raise the other, add a third, whichever”, she said, waggling her hand. Finally understanding why Gladialis looked so horrified. If the Affini could target a specific neurotransmitter with pinpoint accuracy, then the Terran way of doing things must seen as barbaric torture. Like a…a priest in the cheesy old books that tore open some animal to read the future in its entrails. “And that was IF you had the credits to pay for it all.”
“That sounds terrible, Kitten. And so damaging to the sophont being treated like that”, Gladialis said, frowning again. “Every time you tell me more about this medical system of yours, I get more and more scared for everyone. I’m so glad that you’re no longer beholden to that.”
“Yea…it…I guess it does sound pretty bad. Now…next question”, she said, fidgeting slightly. “You said body modifications. What kind did you mean?”, she asked. “You’re not…you know…turning Terrans into some kind of…of horse, or something?”, she asked. She’d heard of a Terran movie, from way way back, that was so bad that centuries later, it was the benchmark of bad cinema. A story about some mad scientist who had surgically melded people together to form a horse, which of course got loose and began rampaging and eating people.
“A horse? Oh dear, no. Although I why you would…oh, I never got to show you that. Hmmm, I’ll show you something tonight that…no, I don’t want to ruin the surprise. No, I was meaning things such as sophonts who identify as a different gender, a different species, who want to change their eye color, hair, add extra limbs, or..well, the list is fairly long. The Implant helps with all those things.”
“You’re telling me that you can do all those things? So that's the price, then? Get these things, but you have to be a floret and get this implant?"
"No, Kitten, that's not what I'm saying at all", Gladialis said patiently. "While the Implant helps, it's not a requirement for anything that the Compact offers, nor is being a floret. Actually, there is one thing that a floret gets that independent sophonts don’t.."
"Oh? And what is that?", Kitten said, ready for the worst.
"Unconditional love and affection", Gladialis said with a smile. "If you'd like, there's several materials regarding the implant on the Intranet, which you can access from your tablet. We still have a little time before we have to leave. Or you can ask me more questions", she said with a smile.
"Ummmm, can I use the tablet now?", she asked. "I'd like to read this literature, and then discuss it with you. If…umm…it it's ok", she asked, and was relieved as Gladialis smiled widely.
"Of course!! You go do that, little one. I'll get you when its time to leave."
Kitten smiled and got up, making the little jump off the couch. She was happy to notice that even though Gladialis had started to reach for her, she didn’t finish the motion. Walking back to her room, she turned and grinned. “That couch IS comfy, by the way, Gladialis. Really really comfy.” She went back to her room, and grabbed the tablet. It was surprisingly easy to get on, her first major hurdle was deciding on what her screen name should be. Thinking, she made her decision.
Welcome to the Baeira’s Intratranet, LostKitten. What are you looking for?