Kitten took a moment to browse the options. It seemed that the shipwide intranet was almost like what she’d seen so far. Cheery, helpful to the point of tripping over itself, and almost dizzying in the array of things that were offered. “I’m looking for information on the Haustoric Implant” was typed into the prompt and the tablet AI helper, a small pink flower, 'of course it was a flower, what else would it be' she thought, folded its petals one by one as a few dozen tabs opened up.
Here you go!! Anything else you need?
Clicking the first one, she opened up a document that was called Your Implant and You. It was certainly not what she had expected. Firstly, it seemed to be written for children. Illustrations included, and some seemed a bit…well, she didn’t want to use the word creepy, but they looked fairly detailed in an unsettling way. Secondly, the way it made it sound, this implant was able to fix thoughts, provide management of bodily functions, and a whole host of things that couldn’t be possible. Kitten wondered if it could pay her taxes and clear up her skin at the same time. Taking control of someone else's body, constant reassurance….Kitten wasn’t sure if this was real or just some propaganda. She decided that she was going to ask this doctor. And maybe a few Terrans. There was no way that this could be possible. Dealing with intrusive thoughts? How was an implant supposed to prune away a thought, or let an Affini know when someone was sad? Clearly propaganda. Or meant for some drugged up floret who didn’t know their ass from a hole in the ground. Or meant for one of those florets or floret-to-be who had questions, but were primed to simply accept what they heard. She needed to ask someone with some medical training.
Closing that tab, she began to do a bit more digging. She found a scholarly paper that was written for adults. It was short, but was able to explain some of the things she had read about. Like how the implant could take control of a person by delivering something called a “Class-M”. Or a “Class-P”. She assumed it was some sort of drug that caused disassociation, or some sort of paralytic. She could see how that could be useful, especially if someone was having a traumatic event, or needed to be paralyzed after surgery to prevent complications.
A little tab on the side caught her attention and she clicked on it. It was a chat option, and it opened up into an array of what looked like chat rooms, lounges, and meetings. Some were specifically titled, some were just broad, some were looking for meetups. One was hilariously entitled “I want snuggles and my Owner is busy. Help?”, and Kitten thought it was a joke until she saw that there were numerous responses. Apparently, people were hooking up under the guise of “snuggles.” Kitten chuckled, shaking her head. No matter what, people would be people.
Running through the options, she blinked and decided to click on “New to the Baiera?” popping into the chat, she saw people talking.
[Blossom124]: Oh, we have someone new!! Hello there!! I’m Blossom, it’s nice to meet you!!
[Shadowrabbit72] Welcome to the Baiera!! It’s lovely to meet you.
[WelcomeWagon] Hello there, fellow sophont!! It’s nice to meet you, welcome to the Baiera!! how’re you doing today?
[LostKitten] Hi. I’m a bit…umm…lost, to be honest. I….I have so many questions. Is this…Are they legit?
[Eattheberries] Are they legit? Wow, you are SO new. Just get here?
[WelcomeWagon] I have to say that they are legit. Affini back up their promises.
[LostKitten] I see. All the outlandish promises? And the pet names?
[Blossom124] It's a cultural thing, I think. Many Affini will simply settle for ‘cutie’ or ‘darling’, when talking to a Terran they don't know. They can’t seem to help it, they’re all like that. Not that it’s a bad thing, mind you. Some of us enjoy getting that kind of attention. But they keep those promises, no matter how outlandish they seem.
[LostKitten] Oh. And they’re all…umm…really touchy?
[WelcomeWagon] Oh yes. While terrans have the whole personal space thing, Affini really don’t. Some might, but as a generalization, they don't get it.
[Blossom124] And a floret has absolutely no concept of it either. But that’s cuz they’re florets and all.
[LostKitten] Ummm…yea, I kinda noticed.
[Eattheberries] You noticed? Oh Stars, you ARE new here. Are you one of the new florets from the ships?
[LostKitten] No. I’m….I was on Thor’s Hammer but I’m not a…a…floret. I…they said I was a…They were gonna watch and see if I could be Independent.
[WelcomeWagon] Oh wow. I'm glad that you’re ok, LostKitten, and that those Feralists didn’t hurt you. We’ve heard stories about what can happen on those things. You’re safe now.
[WhirlingDervish] Yea, what Welcome said. Glad that you’re safe now. I know that it seems kinda hard to imagine, but things WILL get better. Just in case you don’t know anyone, I'd love to meet you and say hi. A friendly face is always good, y’know? Especially when you’re new.
[LostKitten] I’d..umm..that sounds ok. But maybe not today, I have a doctors appointment. Why are they called a vet? i know the Affini i’m staying with tried to explain it, but it still just doesn’t feel right. Y’know?
[WelcomeWagon] Well, they treat florets, in addition to Independents of all species. And a doctor that treats pets is a vet, right? Idk, I’ve kinda gotten used to it already, to be honest. It’s all just a title, who cares what they’re called as long as they get me better, right? And it’s kind of a small price to pay for having free everything, and a better standard of living, y’know?
[LostKitten] I guess.
[Blossom124] Trust me. Once you’ve settled in, you’ll see just how much better things are. I used to service old water boilers in apartment buildings. Out on Sulirania IV, some little pissant city in the ass-end of nowhere, making sure that they didn’t break down and let Grammy freeze in winter. Crawling in pipes and shit, making repairs with chewing gum and pieces of newspaper covered in rubber cement. I haven’t had to do that since the Affini showed up at my planet. I simply said, “hey, I want to travel with you, and no, I’m not looking to be Domesticated”, filled out some forms, and here I am. My own apartment and everything. Seeing the sights, and learning how to help run the servos that modulate the bio-mechanical cargo chutes. If it takes some petting and whatever to get here, I’m down.
[LostKitten] They didn’t charge you anything? Not healthcare credits or..I mean…they just LET you hop on a ship and gave you an apartment?
[Blossom124] Yup. Honest word.
[WhirlingDervish] They fixed my bum leg and my back pain is gone. Not a single thing asked for in return. If they have an agenda, I think it’s them trying to be the nicest, most helpful things in Creation, and I'm ready for it. After nearly dying four times in the last year and being on the hook for my parents' healthcare, which I mean, it's Mom and Dad but still, it's nice to not have to worry about things like that.
[LostKitten] I guess. Idk, I'm still not…idk. Gtg. Thanx friends.
She logged off before anyone could say goodbye and sat there, tablet to her chest, thinking. Maybe everyone was lying, or they were all too scared to say something? No, that couldn't be. Maybe it could, but…no. There was no way that all this could be true, there HAD to be another angle that she just couldn't see. Some measure of repayment or something. There was no way it could be this easy. And who would waste these things on her, unless they wanted something? That's the only thing that made sense, since their med-tech, if it could be believed, was light years ahead of Terran stuff. And what else was she good for?
Thinking about it was silly until she knew more, she decided after what felt like hours of thinking it over. Worried that she'd be late for an appointment with a doctor she'd never met, in a location she'd never been to, and had no idea where it was. She didn't even know what part of this massive ship she was in. Putting the tablet back on the bed, she walked out of the room and into the living room.
Gladialis was reading a book, but some vines held another book, a tablet, and some kind of pointer thing. Every once in a while, she would turn a page, or she would look at the tablet, but other than that, she was like a statue. Kitten didn't even see her breathing. "Gladialis?", she asked quietly.
"Gladialis??", she asked again, a bit louder.
No answer, just another flip of a page.
"Gladialis!!", she yelled.
THAT got a response. Gladialis squealed in surprise, vines flying everywhere , losing cohesion for a moment as her book and tools went flying. "Kitten!!", she gasped, hands pressed to her chest. "What…ummm…", and she picked up the fallen items. "What's wrong? I'm sorry, I got a bit involved in my book. What's up?"
"You weren't answering, and I..umm..I can't be late to this appointment. Being late isn't allowed. It…", and the words of her father, drilled into her skull since she was a child, came back. 'Fifteen minutes is on time. On time is late. Late is not only disrespectful, it shows you're a piece of shit. No son of mine will ever be such a disgusting waste of space.' "I can't", she finished lamely.
“I see. Hold on one moment, Kitten, let me see…hmmm”, she said as she tapped on the tablet. “Thank you for getting me. I got lost in a book. but if we leave now, we can be a little early.” She stood up, and then remembered something. "Oh, Kitten, I made you something. Here", and a vine brought a small white thing over to her.
Socks. Gladialis made her socks. They fit perfectly, had little grippies on the bottom, and had soles that were a bit tougher. "Ummm…th..thank you. That's very thoughtful of you, Gladialis. Umm…thanks."
"Not a problem, Kitten, I'm glad you like it. I figured you needed something a bit sturdier, and I remembered that you don't like shoes. So…next best thing." Checking her tablet one more time, she nodded, and stuck it inside her chest. She got a squeak from Kitten, who hadn't been expecting it. "Better than a purse", she said with a laugh. "Do you have everything you want, Kitten? Water bottle, plushie, tablet?" When Kitten nodded and held up the small bag that held her stuff, Gladialis opened the door and led her out. But first she re-engaged the cuffs, and told Kitten that she was doing so. Kitten sighed, but nodded. As they reached the elevator, Gladialis turned to Kitten. “When it gets here, let me get on first and darken the windows so it doesn’t upset you, ok?”
“Ummm…thanks. but maybe…umm…you know, the more I deal with it, the less it impacts me and all?”, Kitten asked. Sometimes the best way was to deal with it head-on. Or that could be her father talking. She wasn’t sure.
“Well…you may be right, Kitten, but let’s maybe take it in small doses, ok? A quote I read from an old Chinese proverb seems appropriate: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.”
Kitten thought, and nodded. “Slow and steady, hmmm?” and Gladialis nodded. It seemed prudent. And what she’d noticed is that Gladialis was very invested in her being as comfortable and as ok with things as possible. NOT what she’d expected, given where she’d learned of the Affini. But there was still the whole “ prove you can be independent or get Domesticated” thing. And it would have been really easy for Gladialis to simply say, “Nope, can’t do it, now you’re my pet”, but she was almost trying her hardest to give Kitten a fair chance. Like not touching her or pushing her to do things she didn’t want to do. A lot of things to think and mull over as the elevator came in and Gladialis took a step in, said something in that trilling, flowing language and then a moment later stuck her head out.
“All good, little one. Come on in”, she said, smiling at the girl, and stepping inside, giving her lots of space. She watched as Kitten peeked in first, almost as if she was testing the waters, before she stepped fully inside and pressed herself against the darkened glass.
“Good morning, cuties!!! Where are you headed?”, the cheerful AI said.
“Lobby, please”, Gladialis said with a smile. The doors closed with the AI chirping a happy affirmative, Kitten giving a small shudder but other than a small spike in her heart rate, nothing else. Gladialis could feel the lift move, the infinitesimal shift in pressure noted by her vines, and after a few seconds more, Kitten opened her jaw, popping her ears to relieve the pressure.
“You know…I REALLY want to know the next time that we start moving”, she said, and then paused, a faraway look in her eyes. “Can you do that, Elie?”
“Elie? Who’s Elie?”, Gladialis asked, confused, and then closed her eyes for a second. “Oh. OH. Elie…the Elevator?”
“Yup!!!”, Kitten said with a smile.
‘There’s that packbonding again. Roots, is she going to name every single AI she meets?’, Gladialis wondered as Kitten politely informed Elie that it had a name now. ‘It’s kind of cute.’
“Well, aren’t you the cutest?”, Elie chirped and then the door opened into the lobby. “You have a nice day now!!”
Kitten nodded, saying “thank you”, to Elie, and walked off. She turned to Gladialis as she walked out, and looked up, frowning. “When I was younger, my fa..my..my father. He…ummm..he told me that one way to…to make something…I was scared of the monster that lived under…under my bed. And he told me to name it. That names made things…they made them less scary, took some of their power. Ever since then, I..I give things names. Not everything, but some things. Especially if they can think and talk back.”
Gladialis nodded. “It sounds like a good piece of advice. Sometimes that DOES make things a lot less scary, especially if at first it was the unknown.” She’d noted the way that Kitten had stammered when she spoke of her father, something that was clearly different from the way that she spoke before. When she’d been excited, animated, smiling. Something to explore, she decided, but not now. Or maybe with a therapist. THAT might be the better course of action. “Well, times does fly, so let’s get going.” They were greeted again by the Affini and the other sophonts in the lobby.
Greetings and waved hands, vines, even a few paws greeted Kitten and Gladialis as they walked. Gladialis kept her word and kept the others from touching her, even as a few Terrans waved. "Hi!!”, one said, smiling at her and waving. “I’m Harry Invuclata, Third Floret, and my pronouns are He/Him!! It’s nice to meet you!! What's your name?”
“Umm…It’s…they…umm..they call me Kitten”, she said softly, shrinking without making a single motion, Gladialis saw. “Umm…H…..She/her”, came the whisper and Gladialis felt like cheering and crying all at the same time.
“It’s really nice to meetcha!!! When did you get here, I don’t remember seeing you before”, he asked, and Gladialis broke in.
“i’m sorry, Harry, but Kitten and I must be going, we have an appointment that we need to be at soon. But she’ll be back later and you can talk to her then if she wants, ok?” She smiled at the floret, giving him some head ruffles and watched with delight as he purred, a grin blooming on his face.
“Ahhhh, Gladialis”, one of the other Affini said, “So good to see you. The votes all came in, what you asked for should be completed by no later than four in the afternoon.”
“Thank you, Agislas”, Gladialis replied in the same dialect. “But we sadly must be going. We’ll be back later. Come along, Kitten”, she said and led Kitten out of the building. The sun was shining, Gladialis smiling as she felt its rays on her leaves. Florets and other sophonts were relaxing, playing, their happy voices all around, and Affini, her kin, were walking around. She took up position in front of her ward, keeping other Affini from giving her pets or other florets just giving her random hugs. Making their way to the mag-rail, they quickly boarded and were off.
Kitten sat on the seat across from Gladialis, looking out the window as they sped off. Nose pressed to the window, like she did before. There was another Affini on the train with them, cuddling and cooing to a Terran who was making these gasps and moans that were…She blushed, and tried to focus. Trying, again, to perform a simple calculation. ‘If each building had 70 floors, and each floor housed ten affini and ten terrans, then that was fourteen hundred…what was….oh yeah!! Sophonts!! Fourteen hundred per building, and if there are….’ The simple math progressions and the calculations kept her occupied and her mind of this impending doctor's visit. Sure, she knew that Gladialis had said that there was no charge, but she still couldn’t shake the feeling that this wasn’t gonna go well. Tapping her fingers on the seat, they sat down, and started humming. Then tapping a foot.
Gladialis looked at the little Terran tapping and nodded. “You seem a bit anxious, little one. Can I help you relax in any way?”
“No, I don’t know, I don’t think so, thanks, but I’m just…”, and she let out a long breath. The other Affini didn’t seem to notice them, too busy playing with its floret. “I don’t like doctors, and…and I know that you told me that there’s nothing to pay, but still, there’s this…I get nervous. And yes, I know, I’m a nurse, but still, healthcare workers…I’m sorry, providers… make the worst patients.”
“I can understand why you’d feel like this”, Gladialis said, “And if you’ll permit me, let us take these thoughts to the obvious conclusions. Something that’s helped me deal with some anxiety inducing thoughts at times. So, first thought. You don’t like doctors. So…if you don’t like this one, then what do you think will happen?”
“Well, that…umm..is this doctor gonna be someone who has any say on this…you know, my independence?”
Gladialis shook her head. “That decision, unless you do something horribly egregious, or some new information comes to light which changes the nature of things, is solely in my hands. Well, technically the Board, but they'll abide by my decision since you told us your story and we have no evidence to say otherwise. And by new information, I mean that we suddenly find out that you have feralist views, or you do something that makes me think that you can’t take care of yourself safely. Like deciding that pineapple goes on pizza.” She smiled gently, and waved a hand. “I'm joking about that last bit. Pineapple on pizza is as valid as the sophonts who like it.”
“Ok. So if he has nothing to do with that…ummm”, and Kitten rapidly tapped her foot, and gnawed on a finger. “If I don’t like him, we can…we can just leave and find another doctor?”
“Exactly. There are alot of vets on the Baeira, and if you don’t like this one, then we can find you another. Simple as that.”
"Simple as….it's that easy to get a doctors appointment? Just like that?", the girl said and snapped her fingers loudly. Then blushed as the floret in the corner shouted, "I'm my Mistress's good girl and worthy of being loved." Kitten buried her face in her hands as Gladialis gave a little chuckle. "Do…do I even want to know?"
"There’s a chance that it’s some hypnotic trigger that their Affini put in, to help with low self esteem", she whispered back. “But it’s more likely that this particular floret is having issues with feeling loved or abandoned, and this is a mantra to help them.”
"And I….oh gods…can I just….is it our stop yet?", she asked, and then groaned when Gladialis shook her head.
"Two more stops, Kitten", Gladialis said, unsure why Kitten was embarrassed. Something she'd ask later. The other Affini got up at the next stop, floret cradled in their vines, and got off. Once the doors were closed and they were alone, Gladialis looked at Kitten, who was still blushing. "Can I ask you something, Kitten?"
"Lemme guess…why I got all weird about that?", she said, and sighed when Gladialis nodded.
"It's an Affini and their floret, little one, and that, as pet-care goes, was a bit mild." Gladialis was thinking that perhaps Kitten had never been exposed to that, but then remembered all the florets being fed and cuddled at the restaurant. Or….or maybe she was…No. Could it be Kitten was jealous?