Gladialis led her out into the street, and watched with satisfaction as Kitten dimmed her glasses until they were far darker than they were before. Looking around, she smiled and breathed out a sigh of relief. “It’s working ok?”, Gladialis asked and smiled when Kitten nodded. “Perfect. Let’s get going, then.” She led her ward to the park, and after a moment of looking, Gladialis wended her way around a few Affini who were playing with their florets to a tree that cast quite a bit of shade. Kitten blushed as she hung back for a second and Gladialis assured her that it was just a tree. “But that bush, to the right…that’s one of my kin. Playing Seek and Hide, I’d imagine”, and then held a finger to her mouth.
Kitten watched as a Terran girl with a collar began sneaking around, clearly looking for something. After hiding behind a different bush, giggling, she looked around, and smiled as she saw Gladialis and Kitten watching her. She waved, and then shrieked as the flowering bush she was hiding next to suddenly sprouted vines and grabbed her. “Got you, little flower!!!!!”, the Affini said as the girl laughed loudly. Kitten swallowed hard as she watched, flinching slightly as the bush grabbed the girl, but then smiled as she watched the other girl clearly having a good time as the vines lifted her up and swung her around a bit, then put her down. She looked up as Gladialis called her name. She nodded as Gladialis asked her if she was ok. “I..umm…yea”, she said. She moved further into the shade, feeling heat on her skin.
“Hmmm, you’re a bit red, Kitten. I wonder if that’s normal for you, to be this sensitive?”, Gladialis asked, and then pulled out both tablets. She set Kittens down on a towel she laid out near the tree, and put some snacks, and their water bottles out.
“What do you mean? Like…I mean, my skin feels kinda hot?”, she asked. “I don't…it’s almost like a burn, but it’s not. I didn’t see any flames, and I certainly didn’t go near anything hot”
“Ahhhh. I think you got a sunburn, Kitten. But we weren’t out in the sun for too long, so….can I ask the vet about it?”, she asked. Kitten nodded, so she sent a quick message to Dr. Manku and got a reply a few moments later. “Ahhh. He said that your vitamin D was fine, and that it was a myth that vitamin D deficiency caused sun sensitivity. He thinks it’s more than likely the fact that you grew up underground, and even the sun lamp usage you had wasn’t enough. That left you with a bit of sun sensitivity, which we can treat with some sunscreen to prevent sunburns. Incidentally, Vitamin D is one of the treatments for sunburns. He said that the salve that you’ve been putting on your burns will help as well.”
“A sunburn….oh. I learned about those, but I’ve never actually had one before. Huh”, she said, as she settled into the shade and tapped her glasses so that they were a bit lighter. She smiled as Gladialis put her book down, and she took it and saw that the metal piece was still in there. Pulling it out, she settled down and started reading, getting lost again in the Terran London of 1897. Sometimes she needed to check on her tablet what some things were, like wolves. But eventually, the heat and the shade had her slipping into a light doze as she napped.
Gladialis smiled as Kitten took a quick nap. A cat-nap, such as it was. Soon two other Affini appeared in the distance, walking towards them. Watching Kitten to make sure she didn’t wake, Gladialis got up and met Hesperia and Ilex as they approached. “Hello you two”, she said as she greeted them both, vines extending to each and greeted in kind.
“It’s always good”
“To see you, Gladialis”, they said, finishing each other's sentences. Then they looked at her, and Ilex cocked their head. “What do you think you’re going to accomplish with that?”, they asked.
“I have no intention of derailing something that hasn’t quite begun. It’s something that has to happen”, Gladialis insisted. She knew that she would be getting many questions like this, but she also knew that she’d answer them the same each time. She was right, and she knew it.
“You don’t need to do that. Just be you, and the journey can be completed with you there.” Hesperia spoke, giving Ilex a look of exasperated fondness.
“Besides, it’s not like you won’t be thanked for it after. If anything, the journey would be easier”, Ilex said. “And you can always apologize later. If you feel like it”, she said with a grin.
“But it wouldn’t be the same. No…this is my decision, and I’m sticking with it”, Gladialis insisted, taking a deep breath and letting it out. “What will be will be, as they say. Now..if you’d like, I can wake Kitten up so you can talk to her.”
Hesperia and Ilex looked at each other, and then shrugged and nodded. “Yes, please”, Hesperia said with a smile as they walked with Gladialis towards the sleeping Terran.
“Kitten? Little Kitten, wake up”, Gladialis said, gently pulling the blanket that she was sitting on, making sure she was far enough away that Kitten wouldn’t be spooked. She smiled as Kitten yawned, and scratched her side, then opened her eyes and looked up. “You have some visitors”, she said with a smile.
“He…Hesperia? Ilex?”, Kitten asked, confused, rolling up to her feet and looking at them both. She stepped forward, wringing her hands nervously. “Ummm, why are you here? Did..did I do something wrong?” A sudden fear that they’d come to either tell her that she was being taken to another Affini, or worse, Domesticated because of something she did or said. Gladialis had so far been kind to her, and hadn’t pushed her to do anything she wasn’t ready for, which was a huge mark in her favor
“Oh goodness no, little kitten. No, you’re just fine. We just came because we wanted to say thank you for helping our cotyledon so fast and so well. She enjoyed the game, her and her girlfriend Autumn, and they wanted to say thank you.”
“Umm…ok”, Kitten said and then looked up and squeaked in surprise as Ilex and Hesperias chest opened up. Each had a Terran girl inside their chest cavities, which was NOT what she had been expecting. Vines lifted them each carefully out, the one from Hesperias chest smiling up at her and thanking her. The other was…well, not limp, but certainly in some sort of fugue state, as far as Kitten could tell. The girl who stepped from Hesperias chest stepped forward with a smile.
“Hey. I’m Autumn Vitis, Third Floret. Nice to meet you. This is my girlfriend, Dawn”, she said, waving at the other Terran.
Kitten just blinked for a moment, taking in her appearance. Autumn had this odd coloring to her lips, almost a reddish-purple. If it was lipstick, then it was the best lipstick she’d ever seen. But it couldn’t be, because her sclera were the same color, making it look like her eyeballs were a giant bruise. She was wearing a tanktop colored like her eyes and she had…Kitten at first thought that they were tattoos, but these weren’t. These were scars, in this intriguing fractal design that brought to mind flowers and vines, but also something else that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. But there was a definite flower on her forearm, another on her left bicep. The patterns went from the bottom of her jawline and down, under her clothing and covered her arms, even the tops of her hands.
The other Terran, who was currently staring into a spinning flower held by Ilex, looked even odder. Her dress was simple, colorful in the way of all florets, but what struck Kitten at first was that she didn’t have a left leg. Or she did, but it looked like…it looked like a plant. Like some…she had a prosthetic, Kitten realized. Affini were plants, so it made sense that their med-tech would revolve around plants. She had discolored skin on her neck surrounding what looked like surgical scars, and what looked like a flower coming from one side.
“Umm, Hi. I’m…umm…they call me Kitten”, she said softly, and then looked over at the other Terran. “Umm..is she ok?”
“Dawn? Yea, she’ll be…”, and right then Ilex snapped her fingers and Dawn gave a little jerk and woke up. She smiled at Ilex, spoke softly to her, while Kitten looked at Autumn. “See? She’s good. She does that a lot.”
“Do you usually travel like that? Is it safe?”, she asked, and then blinked as Autumn smiled and nodded.
“It’s safe, we asked them too because sometimes it’s just easier to get around. My Affini is busy with some work right now, but either way Hesplex doesn’t mind. Have you never traveled like that before?”
“Who…me?”, Kitten asked. “Oh no, I couldn’t, I’m..umm…I’ve been here only a few days, and it’s been…Umm…it’s been kind of a change from…you know. Everything before. But…ummm…inside a..oh Goddess no..”
Autumn nodded. “Yea, I remember what that was like. The Verdant Dawn wasn’t a picnic by any stretch of the imagination. And my first few days here were…problematic. But things get better”, she said with a smile. “Is Kitten the name you prefer? She/her pronouns ok?”
“Kitten, you’re starting to get red again”, Gladialis called over.
Kitten shrugged and moved out of the sunlight as she felt her skin getting unusually hot again. “Umm…thanks, Gladialis.” She turned back to Autumn. “It’s…it’s as good a name as any, I suppose. I…my old name”, and Autumn cut her off.
“Hey, it’s ok. I understand, you don’t have to say anymore. Autumn isn’t what my parents named me either. And that’s ok. If you can trans your gender, then your name is far simpler”, she said with a smile. “Although, the Class-G’s DO make it easier by far.”
Dawn walked over using a cane that was held in a shaking hand. Autumn reached out and tucked her into her own body in what seemed like the most common movement of all time. “Hi!! I’m Dawn. What’s your name?”
“Umm…they call me Kitten”, she said again. “We can sit if you’d like, it’s free, or so I’m told”, she said, giving a small smile.
Dawn smiled and slowly sat on the ground, Autumn holding her hand. “So..where are you from, Kitten? And how did you get your hands on that game so fast?”
“Oh. Umm…a little underground mining colony on a moon somewhere that way”, and she gestured vaguely behind her. “At least I think it’s that way. Umm…we were so remote that all we had were these REALLY old console games that had been ported over from previous ports of previous ports of really old..umm…I think the term was ‘Arcade’ games. Anyways, it wouldn’t let me make Doomslayer: The HellKnight Returns without my Owners permission and it wouldn’t listen when I said that I don’t have an Owner.” She shrugged, taking a sip from her water bottle. “We didn’t really have very many new games, so all we could do was play old games over and over. Like I told Hesperia, I pretty much remember them by heart at this point. I’ll have something new for you in a little while.”
Dawn nodded. “That would be great!! I actually made myself…a…reallllyyyyyy”, as her speech slurred. Her eyes looked of into the distance as she slumped over into Autumn.
Kitten looked in alarm at Autumn, who merely smiled. “Don’t worry. I got this.” She pulled out a brightly colored little wheel from her pocket and blew on it to set it spinning. “Right here, love. Look right here”, she crooned, bringing it closer. Kitten could see Dawns eyes slowly focus, and then come back as Autumn snapped in her ear.
“Oh, I'm sorry”, she whispered. “Did I drift?”
Kitten smiled and made a waving gesture. “Like a second or two. No worries. You were saying what you made?”
“Oh. I made an old Serenuth 8.3 work again, with a little help from Hesplex. I had to dig through three old trashheaps in this old palace that we found on…on….Hey, Ilex?”, she called out, and the other Affini fixed her little sparkling green tie and walked over.
“Yes, Dawn of my life?”, she said, dipping into a bow and kissing Dawn, and then Autumn, and then looking over at Kitten who paled and shook her head frantically. “Oh well, more for Dawn!!”, she said, giving her another kiss. Or three.
“Those three trash heaps that we had to sift through for parts. Do you remember where we were?”, she asked her.
The Affini’s brow furrowed for a moment and then she smiled. “I do!! That was when we rented the little puddle skipper and jaunted over to that colony on Enceladus!!! The one where the Governor or Majestic or whatever nonsense the little cutie called himself tried bartering with us, remember?”
Hesperia nodded as she looked over. “As if his money means anything. He just didn’t understand that. Anyways, you know what they say. ‘One mans trash is another's treasure.’ We spent a few hours and our little Dawn found enough parts for a new console.”
“Yea!! We had to mix and match the motherboards because one of them was a bit cracked, but we found one that I was able to jury rig a newer motherboard on from a Mersalino Turbo. Funny names. Anyways, once we had that done then it was just an issue of soldering the connections and making sure that we could find a casing or something that could hold it all, properly vent it, and when we couldn’t find one we went and made one.”
Kitten cocked her head. “You mean you had one compl…cumpu…you know, the thingy that makes thingies?”
“The compiler? Oh no, dear. That would be cheating. No, we found an old casing for a different model Serenuth that was bigger because it was older and then just cut out the pieces that we needed and made sure that we could install the heat sinks and then we were good. It sounds harder than it is, I just sometimes needed a bit of help because my hands get a bit shaky sometimes.”
Kitten nodded. “I mean, I don't know one end of the inside of a computer from the other, so I’ll take your word for it. Give me an ICU patient any day, and I'm your girl.” She saw Dawn and Autumn both perk up, and she smiled. “I’m an ICU nurse by…well, that’s what I wanted to do.”
Dawn smiled. “That’s amazing!! I..umm..I don’t really remember what I did before I was in the lab here. I pretty much build old consoles nowadays, spend time with Autumn, and keep Hesplex out of trouble. That’s a full time job on it’s own!!”, she said with a smile. “I always wondered if…ummm..iffffff” as her eyes lost focus.
“Hold on, Kitten. I got this”, Autumn said, and Kitten smiled gently and waved a hand.
“It’s nothing to worry about at all. Please, don’t even…This is..it’s part of life with Dawn. I get it, and there’s nothing to apologize for. Take care of your girl.” A few moments later there was a SNAP and Dawn blinked and looked around.
“Umm..Sorry about that”, and Kitten smiled, leaning forward and taking two shaking hands in hers.
“It’s all good. Nothing to apologize for, like I told your woman”, she said with a smile. “Now…how do you feel about scary stories about vampires?”
Dawn grinned widely as Autumn gave a kind of laughing snort. “Well, Autumn lives with one.”
“Sol is not a vampire!! She’s such a big softie!!”, Autumn protested, even though she laughed at the same time.
“You can be a vampire and be a softie”, Dawn countered, grinning. She held up a finger. “She drinks your blood when you let her.” She held up another finger. “She’s all into edgy black vines and stuff.” She held up a third finger. “She’s so broody that she can outbrood even that Corax idiot from that story you like.” She held up a fourth finger. “She’s basically immortal.”
Autumn held up her hand, conceding defeat, even as she gave a gentle kiss to Dawns that she’d somehow captured. “Ok…that’s a valid point. Ok. I live with a vampire.”
“Wait…like…ummm…”, and she lowered her voice, leaning in as she glanced over at the three Affini who had moved a bit away. “There are Affini who are vampires?”, she whispered, looking at them both. “Like real vampires?”
Autumn smiled and shook her head. “No. Well…some might be. It all depends on the plants that a specific Affini came from. But some do eat meat, or blood, or things of that nature. Solanum can drink the usual Affini fortified water, but she also requires some meat and blood since she’s from a carnivorous plant. She used to be all broody and tortured about it”, and then snorted and made a face as Dawn grinned and said “used to!?!!” “She’s gotten better”, she protested, smiling. “Mostly because I forced her to.”
Kitten nodded. “That makes…umm…that tracks. Gladialis told me she’s from…ummm…”, and she tried to remember. “Some night blooming plant, which is why her hab has this really cool moonlight thing going on. Wait…you forced…her???”
“Moonlight thing?”, Dawn asked, curious.
“Yea. All the lighting in her hab, except for her kitchen, is this really cool moonlight. It’s like this silver blue really soft lighting, which kinda works well since I was just told that I have a light sensitivity. Which is why the glasses. And she has these really cool old things from Terra”, Kitten said.
“From Terra? Like, Terra itself? That’s pretty neat”, Dawn said. The conversation continued for a while, the three finding that conversation flowed easily between the three. Kitten found the idea that anyone forced an Affini to do anything to be a marvelous concept. At some point, Gladialis looked at her tablet, and then at Hesplex and said something after taking a picture of the three of them together. The three Affini walked over and Ilex cooed at them, dawn laying lazily with her head in Autumns lap.
“Well, aren’t you three just the most adorable cuties in this whole ship?”, she said. “I could just eat you all up!! But I won't, because Solanum has dibs on the lovely Autumn. Autumn dear, why not just be ours already? We’d love to take care of you”, she said, grinning.
“You already have open access to our hab and to the little cutie who has our hearts”, Hesperia said.
“It just makes sense”, they finished off together.
Kitten watched, mystified as Autumn laughed. ‘Perhaps they've had this conversation…Is that a thing? Do florets just flit back and forth between Affini? Or maybe they can be taken from one and given to another, just…just traded, and they’re so high that they don’t notice?”
“You keep asking and I keep having to break your hearts when I decline”, Autumn said as she tenderly stoked Dawns hair, who at this point had zoned out again. Or was possibly just enjoying the touch and was just vibing. “But don’t stop sending those forms to Sol. I think she gets a kick out of knowing that I’m hers and you keep trying to steal me.”
Ilex gasped, vines going over Hesperias “heart” and her own. “Steal!! I have NEVER been so insulted ever”, she said, laughing as Autumn smirked and said that she had. “We would totally commit larceny of such a cutie!! I am shocked that you just figured this out!!”, she said and then began laughing.
Gladialis stepped in. “Not to interrupt, but it’s close to lunchtime. Would you all like to join Kitten and I for lunch? If that’s ok with her, of course. Well, Kitten?”, she asked, turning to the little Terran who had a confused look on her face and whose gaze was flitting between Autumn and Hesplex. “Well, Kitten? What do you say? It’s up to you, if you’d like your new friends to join us for lunch.”
Kitten smiled shyly and ducked her head, nodding. “Umm…if..if they want to”, she said softly.
Autumn blinked, and then nodded. “That sounds like fun. Umm…where are we going?”
Gladialis smiled. “There’s a place I was going to take Kitten to, right over there. It’s called ‘Meet-Ya Pizza’, one of my friends and his floret run it.”
Hesplex looked at each other, and then at the other Terrans. Autumn nodded, and then bent down, whispering to Dawn, who answered her back in a slow and lazy sounding voice. “That sounds good. Dawn said she’s a bit tired.”
“Say no more”, Ilex said, gentle vines sliding underneath Dawn to lift her up so Illex could cradle her. She noted that Kitten squeaked and backed away. Oh well. There was time to work on that, since it seemed like she and Gladialis had been bonding, as per Gladialis. They’d bond faster if Gladialis wasn’t being so…so…so very Gladialis.
Autumn got up and watched as Dawn was held, hammock style, by both her Affini, and she smiled at Kitten who was looking a bit pale. “It’s a bit of a stretch, sometimes. I remember trying to climb into the ceiling after I first got here, trying to find the evil Affini who wanted to drink my bone marrow”, she said conversationally. “That's how terrified I was.”
“What changed?”, Kitten asked, curious.
“Sol. My Affini. She’s such a softie, and she needed me. I guess you could say that we healed each other, as cliche`d as that sounds. This is all her work”, she said, pointing to the scars that lined her body. “Part of our joint healing.”
“I see”, she said, not understanding how scarring your body counted as healing. But, she reflected as they walked, it wasn’t her life. Live and let live as long as it harms none was always her belief. “Umm…can I ask you something?”
“Sure”, Autumn said, noting how the other girl's shoulders hunched up.
“Ummm…when…when you were..umm..when Hesplex was asking if you wanted to…umm..you know…live with them…does that happen often? That you just get passed around?”, she asked, nervously looking around.
Autumn looked at her for a second, and then smiled. “Shit, I forgot how new all this is to you. No, florets never get handed off to another Affini, unless something happens that makes them incompatible. Like if some freshly Domesticated sophont needs a different kind of touch than their current Affini can give them. It’s really not something that happens often.” she paused, then gave a chuckle and a smile. When Kitten looked at her, she smiled. “I heard a rumor that on another ship there’s some floret that refuses to have only one Affini. So she basically wanders around, doing what she wants, and when it’s time to sleep or she wants snuggles, she just goes up to the nearest Affini and asks them for it.”
“And..and she just gets it? Just like that?”, Kitten said after a moment of staring. “She’s not..you know..scared or anything? She just…”, and she shook her head, unable to comprehend the thought of someone just doing that.
“Oh of course. It’s turned into a shipwide game. Everyone and their floret tries to get her to stay with them, Affini take pictures of her sleeping in their vines, cuddling with her. No Affini in their right mind would ever harm a sophont, and certainly not a floret. It’s one of the very few constants of the universe, like tacos are tasty and water is wet.”
Kitten stared at her for a second, and then shrugged. “What are tacos?”