Next order of business. Shit. This when they start liquefying her brains? Or brainwashing her? No…they wouldn’t, since they’d just asked for her help. Right? Maybe they meant to make her into some husk, or a drone of some kind, with her memories but not her personality? “Ummm…which is?”, she asked nervously. Beep.
“Shhh, little flower. Nothing to worry about. As we were saying before you got so anxious that you had a nice nap, nasty little fishies normally get Domesticated. No buts, ands, or iffies. But you’re a special case.”
“See…you had no paperwork, and you told us that you were effectively forced to work for those nasty Terran Feralists. So normally we’d just let you become an Independent Terran living wherever you wanted. But there’s also the fact that you used a weapon on an Affini, with intent to harm. Twice. So we spoke to the Board, as did Gladialis Dulcisa, Fourth Bloom, who spoke in your defense, we might add. And they’re recommending that we keep you under observation for a bit. Just to make sure that you’re not one of those nasty feralists. You know, a salmon in lions clothing.”
“A what!? Don’t you mean a wolf in sheeps clothing?”
“Oh dear, another one. They just seem to be multiplying, Illex.”
“Wait…what…another one what?”, she asked. Completely confused at this point.
“Never you mind that, darling. But that’s the plan. You’re going to live with one of us Affini as a ward until we can determine that you’re not a danger to yourself or anyone else. That you have the necessary skills to manage on your own. OR you get put into the Domestication Program, get matched with an Affini and become their floret, and then the problem is solved. OR you decide that you enjoy being amongst us so much that you choose to be a floret on your own.”
“Which would be nice”, Ilex said, “since you’re pretty adorable and we’re fairly certain that any Affini worth their vines would be delighted to take care of a sophont like you and give you all their love, but that’s neither there nor there.”
“Ummm…I…can I choose not to? I mean…nothing against you all, but I REALLY don’t want to…I just want to leave. Domesticated…that’s what Terrans did with animals and stuff. I’m not an animal. I’m a human being, with…with a will and dreams. I…What if I say no?”
“Well, darling, you don’t really have a choice. If you say no to being a ward, then you go straight into the Domestication Program. But there’s the other side, which is if you stay as a ward for as long as needed and everything is fine, then after you’re done you’ll be let out onto any Affini Compact world to live your life as an independent sophont.” Hesperia had sat down on the bed as she spoke, and looked at her, her face now slightly serious. Ilex, on the other hand, looked just as jovial as before.
“If that’s what you want”, Illex said with a twinkle in her eye.
“But…but…”, and she started to cry softly. “I don’t want to be a ward or pet or floret or anything. I just…I..”, and she looked up, eyes full of misery. “I just want to be me. Why keep me here? I promise, I don’t…I didn’t even know you existed before they took me. Please…I just...please let me go”, she whispered, tears falling onto the blanket that she was holding as the soft beep sounded.
A vine holding a tissue suddenly appeared and weaved around her hands, blotting her face for her. Somehow managing to restrain her hands for the moment so she couldn’t push it away, she looked up and saw Hesperia attached to those vines, winking at her. She whined as she struggled, trying to free her hands as her wristband beeped again, and almost instantly the vines were gone. The tissue was somehow left in her hand, and as she looked up, she saw both Affini looking at her with looks of sympathy.
“We’re sorry, little Terran.”
“But until we know that you’re safe, not just in terms of others.”
“But yourself as well, then we can’t do that.” They finished speaking, and looked at her. The door opened, and Sarthusea came in holding a small tray on it. The sniffling girl looked up as a delightful smell wafted over to her, and the nurse smiled as the little kitten looked up with poorly concealed interest.
“My floret, Susan, told me that back before she came to be mine, she’d have times when she was sad. Sad with the way things went, or anxious about how things would go. And this was what she called comfort food, and she loves it when I make her some. So I thought I’d make you some as well, little kitten. I just can’t stand to see you sad.” A tray with a small plate and a small reddish-orange soup in a mug was placed on the bed. “Tomato soup and grilled cheese. I hope you like it, little one.”
The girl blushed. “You…ummm…you didn’t need to..that’s…umm…”, and she sniffled again, using the tissue to blot her eyes.
“Nonsense, dear. You look like you could use a little pick-you-up. Now eat up before it gets cold.” Then she left.
The girl looked at it, and both Affini made shooing motions. “Go on, eat”, Hesperia said. When she hesitated and looked at them again, trying to understand their motives, Ilex smiled.
“Why bother putting anything in it when you’re here already? That would serve no purpose, wouldn’t you say?”, she said.
She looked at it again, and then at the two Affini. Hesperia smiled even as she huffed, some kind of rustling sound that involved her leaves as much as it did air, and pushed a few buttons on her tablet. A moment later the door opened, and a human entered the room. The girl could recognize another nurse when she saw one. Same stance, same way of looking at her, eyes flicking up and down, measuring respiration, activity, color, where the most prominent veins were, and a myriad number of other things all at a glance to build an initial picture of health and severity of illness. She did the same thing even when she wasn’t at work, it was such a deeply ingrained habit.
“You rang, Hesperia?”, she said with a smile.
“Yes. Sarthusea made this cute little sophont some food, but she doesn’t trust that we didn’t drug it or…or otherwise make it dangerous. Can you help allay her fears, please?”
“Oh….THAT was what I was smelling. Now you’ve gone and made me hungry”, the nurse said with a smile. “I hope she made enough for me or I’m going to make her stop whatever she’s doing to make me some.” Stepping up, she tore a piece of the sandwich and dunked it into the soup. Popping it into her mouth, she chewed and swallowed, and then nodded. “Yup. She’s GOING to make me some more of that. Tasty.” She looked at the Terran sitting in the bed, and smiled. “You should listen to these two. They may be slightly silly”, as she failed at fending off vines from both as they patted her head, “VERY silly at times, but they really have your best interests at heart. I’m Joyce, one of the nurses. You can call for me if you need anything, dear.” Then she left, clearly looking for Sarthusea, muttering about getting her own and not sharing it with anyone else.
The girl looked at the soup, then at the two Affini, and they both chuckled as she began to eat the food. More like inhaled it, barely stopping to breathe as she chewed and swallowed. What were they feeding her?, Illex asked Hesperia in Affini, the little Terran looking up and narrowing her eyes as she heard them talking. Crumbs covered her face, and there was a small smear of soup on her nose. Oddly enough, it just made her cuter.
Not enough, clearly, Hesperia answered. All the little sophonts that we pulled from that vessel are showing varied signs of malnourishment. But isn’t she adorable?.
The girl looked up and back and forth, and Hesperia shrugged. “Just saying how adorable you look, little one.” The vines came out again with another tissue and after a short squeal and some batting of the hands, Illex grinned as the soup was cleaned from the adorable Terrans nose.
“There we go. All clean again.”
“But still adorable.”
“Oh yes. Now…what do you think? Willing to give it a try?”
The girl looked down at her hands, fidgeting. “You’re…you’re not giving me a choice”, she said, close to tears again.
“Oh, little flower, yes we are. You might not LIKE your options, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. Try to bloom on your own after you can prove that you’re not a danger to yourself or others, or become a floret and thrive right away under our care. OR try option one, realize that it’s not for you, and simply skip to option two. The choice is yours.”
She sighed, sniffling again. Frustrated beyond words to describe how she was feeling. First society had stolen who she was supposed to be under the guise of ‘community’, made her afraid to hint that she was who she was. Then the ‘Free’ Terrans had stolen her from her home, taken her choices, and nearly taken her life. Now these Affini took her, and took her choices away under the guise of choices. Either house arrest, or this…this domestication, which didn’t sound like anything she wanted to do. She shook her head, and sighed again. “Fine. I’ll be a ward”, she muttered.
Ilex and Hesperia both looked at each other and smiled, and then multiple sets of vines reached out, evading the Terran hands that tried to stop them from their mission to pet and ruffle her hair. “Perfect!!”
“Isn’t she adorable?”
“I thought we had already agreed that she was.”
“We did. And dear….you are”, they both said, confiding it to the Terran who was looking a bit overwhelmed at what was going on. She shook her head, unsure how to say what she was feeling, so many thoughts racing through her mind that she was practically paralyzed.
“But darling”, Illex sang out. “We still don’t even know your name.”
“I…I don’t….can I not?”, she said, starting to cry again. “It’s…It’s not who I am. It…it hurts” as she looked down and fussed again with the blanket.
“Oh, little one, you don’t have to at all”, Hesperia and Illex both said, sounding…sad? Sad, and walked over. “Can we hug you? Just a hug, little one.” She shrank back, giving a shrug-shake and they both paused, sighing. “That’s all we want for you, little one”, she heard from somewhere. “To help you blossom and be the best you that you can be, whoever that is.”