Gladialis felt her vines quiver, smiling as widely as Kitten was as everyone stared. Kitten at her plate, Gladialis stared at Kitten, Hesplex and their passengers stared at Gladialis. Everyone was staring at someone else and smiling. And Victor grinned as he stared at them all.
Kitten looked up at Gladialis. “You…you asked Victor? You remembered?”, she asked and blinked as Gladialis nodded.
“You loved it so much, how could I let us come here and NOT get you some Tiramisu?”, Gladialis asked. She heard Hesplex whisper “gay” to each other, but she didn’t care. “Eat it in happiness and good health, little one.”
Autumn looked over. “That looks good. Hey, umm…Victor? Can I get one of those as well? With two spoons?”
“Sure thing!!!”, he chirped, and then looked up as Gladialis raised a vine.
“Do you have any infused icies?”
“Umm…I think we do!! Let me go ask Master. Anything else for you wonderful folks?”, Victor asked and then began to giggle and moan as Vines from Ilex and Hesperia began to tickle and pet him.
“Hmm….if you have infused icies then we wouldn’t mind some ourselves”, Hesperia said.
“You..umm…ok!!”, Victor said as he wobbled a little and headed back to the kitchen. Gladialis laughed as the other two Affini looked at each other and nodded. “Cutie”, they both said at the same time.
“Hey!! What does that make me?”, Dawn asked in an affronted voice.
“Only the very center of our universe, the linchpin upon which I and Hesperia turn”, Ilex said as she caressed Dawn and kissed her.
“Mmmm…well…carry on then”, Dawn whispered, breathless.
Kitten blushed as she watched, and she turned her attention to her dessert. Choosing to wait until everyone else had food, she didn’t have to wait long as Victor came back with the cart again. Delivering bowls of infused slush for the Affini and another plate of Tiramisu with two spoons to Dawn and Autumn. Kitten dug in, eyes closing and moaning again as the flavors exploded on her tongue, and opened her eyes and blushed as she saw everyone else at the table watching her.
“That was cute as fuck–”
“DAMN, girl–”, Autumn said, looking impressed.
Gladialis didn’t say anything, just smiled at Kitten as her flowers closed and opened slightly, filling the air with a sweet scent. “I think that Tiramisu might be your favorite dessert ever, Kitten”, she said softly. “Enjoy it in good health.”
Kitten blushed, and nodded, and then Autumn got a spoonful and fed Dawn, and then Hesplex was feeding them both. Both of the other Terrans were moaning with delight after their first bite, and Kitten took a small bit of satisfaction that she wasn’t the only one. She focused on enjoying her dessert, and she soon was done, pushing the plate away with a smile and a small burp. Her stomach was pleasantly full, in the best of ways. Suddenly feeling very tired, she realized that at some point in the meal an umbrella had been put up that had cast them all in shade, which is why she wasn’t all red and burn-ey. Yawning, she blinked as the other two Terrans yawned at the same time.
“Damn, that’s infectious”, Autumn said with a smile. “What are your plans for the rest of the day, Kitten?”
Kitten shrugged and looked at Gladialis. “I have no idea, to be honest, other than sitting and doing some reading and research. Umm…Gladialis? did you…umm..have anything planned?”
Gladialis smiled and shrugged. “Well, there IS an interesting museum dedicated to some of Terras history that’s nearby. Cartoons, if I’m not mistaken. I was thinking that it would be a nice surprise for you”, she said with a smile.
Kitten considered. “Umm…would it…it’s not too much to..umm…can they come with?”, she asked, not knowing Gladialis’s plans or if she was ok with having company. Then she turned to everyone else. “Umm…if they want to, that…ummm…do you want to?”
Autumn looked at Dawn, who smiled and whispered something. She looked back, and said “We’re down. These two goofs are down also.”
“Hey!! She’s the goof!! i’m the…the…psst…hey Dawn…help me out here”, Ilex said with a smile.
“Goofy but loveable sidekick”, Dawn said with a grin.
“Yea!! What she said!!”, Ilex said, grinning and giving Dawn a raspberry on the non-flower laden side of her neck. Squeals and giggles filled the air as Dawn squirmed and laughed.
Gladialis smiled and after asking Victor to top off their water bottles, she got up and nodded. “Victor, tell your Master that everything was amazing, as always”, as she ruffled his hair.
“Yes, Miss Gladialis!!”, he said, enjoying the petting. “Miss Kitten? You didn't ask, but I figured you’d want it anyways” as he held out a small box.
“More??”, she asked, gasping with delight as she took it. “Thank you!!! That’s…thanks!!!”, she said, holding the box and doing a little happy dance, and then blushed and shrank down as everyone there cooed and aww’ed. Even Dawn and Victor.
“See? Adorable”, Ilex whispered to Gladialis.
“I’m well aware. But my answer is still the same.” Gladialis smiled, and gave a little bow to Kitten. “Shall we go?” Then led the way to the Museum, which was holding an exhibit on something called “Looney Tunes”, which she was sure had to be a typo of some kind. because how could a song be looney?
A few hours later, they all walked out of the Museum, Dawn being carried by Hesperia, still giggling. They all were. The “looney tunes” were funny, even if there WAS a warning that some scenes were not floret safe. So there were two rooms. One where they showed the floret-safe ones, what dawn called the “floret cut.” And then the one that they all sat in, where they showed the originals, from the 1940’s and on, having been saved by the Netflix and Chill Bill. The exhibit even had a picture of the Terran government sponsors of that bill, Juan Sanchez Vilalobos Ramirez, and his partner, Victor “Kurrgan” Krugar, standing in front of a podium bearing the symbol of the old USA and shaking hands.
The cartoons themselves were funny, a bit dated and there were quite a lot of things she didn’t understand, and some things just made Kitten feel a bit uncomfortable. But overall they were kind of funny. Especially the one of the bird that was being chased by the coyote…once someone explained to her what a coyote was. The bird running away from the cat was cute, and the rivalry between the duck and the bunny seemed funny. The best part was that the exhibit had explanations of the animals in question before, and the sophonts who voiced them. Kitten had been surprised to learn that one particular one, Mel Blanc, had voiced over one hundred different characters that all sounded different. Again, she was struck by a wave of feeling. That they were in space, learning about these people that lived so many centuries ago, hearing them, still laughing at them and enjoying their work.
“This has been really fun”, Hesplex said as they held a sleepy looking Dawn between them in a little hammock.
“But Dawn needs a nap.”
“And Solanum needs some cuddles of her own, so Autumn needs to get back”, they finished. “But we’d love to schedule some more times with you all, if that’s ok?”, they said.
Gladialis nodded, and looked at Kitten who was smiling and nodding. “That’s just fine with us both”, she said with a smile, and then nearly cooed as Kitten let out a big yawn. The others had no such compunctions and they all made so many sounds of appreciation of the cuteness that had been displayed that even a passing Affini stopped to coo. Their attempt to ruffle Kittens hair was stopped by Gladialis as she gently raised a vine and informed them that Kitten didn’t like to be touched. They nodded, wished everyone a good night, and kept on walking.
“Ummm…It was really nice meeting you both”, Kitten said to Autumn and Dawn. Dawn gave a tired wave to her, whereas Autumn came over and gave her a big hug. Kitten stiffened for a moment but then slightly relaxed, patting autumn on the back.
“It was really nice to meet you, I’ll message you on your tablet, ok? You can always message me and talk to me if you have questions, ok?”, Autumn said and Kitten nodded. “Just remember, you’re safe here. No Affini will force you to do anything you don't want to.” Kitten blushed and nodded, knowing that Gladialis and Hesplex could hear them.
“See you later”, she said, and waved goodbye as Autumn caught up to everyone else, Gladialis having said goodbye to everyone before. Autumn lifted her arms up and vines lifted her up into the hammock with Dawn. She sighed, feeling exhilarated, and yet a bit sad. She wondered if anyone would ever look at her like Autumn looked at Dawn, and wondered why anyone would. She looked up as Gladialis approached, and summoned up a smile. “Well…that was..ummm…quite the day”, she said.
“Agreed, Kitten. Want to go home and relax? Or stay out for a bit longer?”, Gladialis said, her vines twitching in sympathy for the way that Kitten looked. A little sad, and kind of…well, drained. She got the distinct feeling that this might have been more social interaction in the last two days than Kitten had in the last few months, possibly more.
“Umm…can we stay out a bit longer?”, she asked, and then smiled as Gladialis led her back to the tree that they had been sitting against. “i…umm…if we go in, then everyone is going to want to talk, and I just need…need some quiet.”
Gladialis nodded as she noticed that Kitten kept inching away from the encroaching sunlight as the “sun” krept lower and lower over the horizon. Then realized that it would shine on the Terrans face, so she moved over, blocking it with her own body and some tightly woven vines. “I understand, Kitten.” Eventually, the “sun” had set enough that Kitten was able to slip her shades off and they sat back down. Gladialis pulled her tablet out, and Kitten had pulled her book out, opening it up and reading, eyes wide as she got lost in the story. “This doesn’t hurt your eyes, reading in such low light?”, Gladialis asked.
Kitten shook her head. “It’s..umm…it’s ok. The shades were helping a lot, but this…this is kinda nice”, she said with a smile. “Thank you for them.”
“You're very welcome, Kitten”, Gladialis said and then they both settled, each reading their own material. After a while, she stood up and put her things away. “I think it’s time to get back, Kitten. Sounds good?”
Kitten blinked and nodded, then blushed. “Umm…can we wait just a few more minutes? I'm almost done with the book.”
Gladialis smiled and sat down. “Of course, little one. Let me know what you think of the ending.” Pulling out her tablet, she began to read again, and about a half hour later, Kitten closed the book with an exhale, and sat there for a moment.
“So Good Triumphed over Evil with the sacrifice of someone who then is remembered as they name a child after him. It seems so….so…It’s not like that in real life. This ending is…ummm…it’s kinda banal. There’s no nuance to it”, Kitten said. She grabbed her stuff and followed Gladialis. “Like, wheres the trauma? Where’s the…the proof that it happened, the scars and stuff? Mina just…she just moves on? Ummm…you know…there’s no continuation of the themes. Good wins, they all go home happy, except for Quincey, and then…ummm… they live happily ever after. That’s boring, and it…even fake life doesn’t work that way.”
Gladialis smiled at the little Terran who was speaking in an animated fashion, waving her hands around. “Well, you know that there are other books about vampires, right? This is hardly the only one, little one.”
“That’s good to know”, she said as they entered the building. The welcomes and smiles that she got as they walked in warmed her heart. The group was sitting around in the same place as yesterday, except Khaya was watching everything with a glazed look and a goofy smile on their face. “Ummm…Hi”, she said shyly and smiled. “Ummm…is…are they ok?”, she asked.
“Oh yeah. They just got some xenodruggies and they’re riding the high. But they still wanted to come down, so here they are”, Laria said as she fluttered her wings in greeting and patted a beanbag chair that was empty. “Probably some A’s and E’s, based on how they’re acting. Have you had any, Kitten?”, she asked.
“Who, me? Oh..umm..no…not on purpose, anyways”, she said, and held her cuffs up. “I…umm…if..”, and Laria nodded.
“I gotcha. I wore those myself for a bit after I was brought in”, Laria said. “I got them taken off as soon as I could. So…do anything fun today?”
“Umm…just…umm…just read”, she said. “and I got to hang out with this girl Autumn and her girlfriend Dawn.”
“Wait…you got to meet Dawn?? THE Dawn?? Ohmygosh!! what’s she like?”, Laria squealed, her wings fluttering. “Is she as cool as everyone says? Hey, Kitten got to meet Dawn!!!”, she squealed, and everyone looked up.
Blushing, Kitten hid for a second, not used to being in the spotlight. Wishing she had her beeple there with her. “Ummm…she’s….she’s really cool. Really sweet, and..umm..Hesplex dote on her.”
“Awwwwwww”, all the florets echoed as they sighed.
“Umm…she’s kind…i’ve noticed that she’s kind of a big deal. Ummm…what for?”, Kitten asked Laria as she smiled.
“She’s a cotyledon. One of the first florets ever on the Baiera, so she’s a minor celebrity amongst us florets here on the Baiera. She’s hella awesome, and super sweet, or so we all hear. Cotyledons are…are…well, when Affini meet a new species for the first time, they get some cotyledons. Basically, they’re how the Affini learn how to take care of us. Learning how our bodies work and how xenodruggies will affect us, and how to heal us when we get sick. How to make new and better xenodruggies to help us enrich our lives. But just imagine that instead of just Gladialis caring for you, you have EVERY single Affini offering to cuddle you and care about you and how you're feeling. I’d imagine that there’s all sorts of tests and stuff”, she said, blushing as her wings fluttered. “And so many cuddles and stuff.”
“I….see. Ok…well…umm…what else is going on?”, she asked, and then got dragged into a game of something called Hearts. It involved cards and quite a lot of giggling and then back rubs at the end. Kitten didn’t get as many back rubs since she was feeling a bit overwhelmed, but everyone assured that it was ok. “We’re all like that sometimes. Except Khaya. They were a cuddlebunny even before.” Kitten blushed again, since Khaya had been giggling randomly during the game, and each round was given a “consolation backrub” that ended with khaya moaning and practically falling off their beanbag chair. So they decided to just lay Khaya down on a mat, and they played the rest of the game that way. Every so often Khaya would stop to just tilt the cards back and forth, eyes wide as they cooed in delight, but a call would bring them back.
She played for a game or two, and then the game dissolved, everyone sitting and talking. Kitten found herself sitting and talking to Laria and Dugilit about her life in the colony. They all had similar stories, but Laria had joined the Navy as a way to escape from her homeworld, whereas Dugilit volunteered for Domestication because he had met his Affini and really liked her. They’d spent some time together, getting closer, and then he’d asked his Mistress to Domesticate him. He was currently just enjoying things, but eventually he wanted to learn a new skill, Maybe painting, or crocheting, he wasn’t sure. But he knew that he wanted to make his Affini something nice, like a scarf, or a blanket or something. “Sum’ting from a heart, ykna?”
Laria and Kitten both nodded. “How about you, Kitten?”, Laria asked as her wings fluttered. “When you get those off, what is it you want to do?”
“Ummm…well…I want to go back to work”, she said, and then watched as the other two Terrans looked at each other. “Oh…yea…ummm…not work work. But I want to go back to the ICU and get back to helping people. I’ve never been away from the ICU this long in…umm…well…ever.”
“That sounds pretty intense”, Laria said sympathetically. “I remember those days. I used to work in a factory, making fuel for vehicles. You know, tanks, aircraft, whatever. But I couldn’t ever NOT go to work, cuz..you know…credits needed to come from somewhere, and there was always something. If I missed a day, then it”, and she paused, taking a breath and shivered, thankful for her implant that gave her a gentle micro-dose of her favorite Class-E. “It was hard for me to understand that..that things were different now. But Master was patient and eventually I realized that I…I’d lived so long to work that I’d forgotten how to live.” She smiled sympathetically and patted Kittens knee. “I think that might have been one of the greatest crimes of the Accord, to be honest. Making us forget that, taking our lives away from us. We all lived to work, and forgot that we should be working to live. And now…well, now we don’t even need to do that. We can enjoy life, we can be or do whatever we want. Domesticated or not, we’re more free than we ever were.” She looked at Kitten with an odd look in her eyes. “We’re free to be who we are, Kitten.”