She looked up and over the table. “Thanks. Now…umm….”, and she looked over as their server came over. A Terran boy in shorts and a shirt who had a collar on, menus in his hands and his eyes were sharper than what she’d seen up until now but still, he radiated some kind of emotion. This sense of soft calm, smiling at them. Like he somehow had all the answers, even to things that hadn’t been asked yet. “Hi!! Welcome to Meet-ya Pizza!! Hi, Miss Dulcisa!!”, he said, smiling at them both. He put the menus down as Gladialis smiled, a vine reaching out to pet him and ruffle his hair. He gasped and wiggled, his eyes slightly unfocusing as Kitten blushed and stared. “So adorable”, Gladialis cooed taking the menus from him, and then looked over at the little Terran who was watching, dumbfounded.
“Well? Take a look at the menu and order whatever you want, little one”, Gladialis said, smiling at her ward and sliding one over. She was truly enjoying teasing Victor, she and his Master were good friends and she’d been by their hab many times. She heard the menu rustle as she turned her attention back to Victor, another set of vines coming to tickle his sides, something she knew that he enjoyed. She kept doing that for a few moments, and then turned to the little Terran. Who, she saw, was looking at the menu with a mixture of confusion and panic. “Little kitten?”, she asked, her voice gentle and soft. “Having a bit of trouble figuring out what you want?”
Kitten stared at the menu. There were ingredients listed that she’d never seen or heard of before. Sure, she knew what basil and cheese was. But semolina? Or Arrabiata sauce? She looked up, confusion on her face, and Gladialis stepped in. “Would you like me to help?”, she was asked, and she swallowed, nodding. “It’s…umm…I don’t know what some of this stuff is.”
“Oh, that’s not a problem. Tell me what it is, and I can explain. Or Victor can”, and she ruffled his hair, making him grin goofily again. “He enjoys being helpful and explaining things. Don’t you?”, she asked, and he nodded enthusiastically.
What followed next was a question and answer session, with the Affini and the server explaining terms and tastes to the Terran girl, who had never heard or known of many of these things. She finally settled on something called “linguini alfredo”, while Gladialis got a glass of some fortified water, and “A treat for later”, as she whispered to Victor, smiling at Kitten. The linguine turned out to be noodles in this creamy white sauce that was amazing, and the Terran girl devoured it, barely able to stop chewing long enough to ask questions.
“Well, little one, some of the ingredients are simply compiled using Affini technology to recreate them. But Victors Master is a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to his cooking, so he grows quite a bit of them himself.” Victor nodded, smiling.
“Master lets me join him while we harvest the tomatoes. And the basil smells so good in between my fingers”, he said. “Next time, you should try the pizza marg’hita. It’s really good”, he said, and then turned, seeing some new customers. “Excuse me for a moment”, he said as he moved over to the other people, two Affini and the Terrans who got lifted onto their laps.
“Umm…is that normal? Just…just touching people?”, she asked Gladialis who thought about it and shrugged.
“There are certainly Affini who don’t. But for the most part, my people are a very affectionate group, especially to sophonts and pets that we think are cute. Are you telling me that humans don’t enjoy it?”
“Well, there are certainly some that do”, she said, blushing. “But…umm...humans have a thing called personal boundaries, personal space. Many don’t like it when that boundary is breached by any but family. And there are some who even can’t do that. Some people don’t like to be touched. At all.”
“How interesting. I was under the impression that humans did poorly without being able to touch others. But look, here’s Victor with dessert. I hope you don’t mind, kitten, but I took the liberty of ordering you something. It’s called ‘Tiramisu’, a dessert delicacy. I hope you like it.”
The Terran girl looked as a plate with a square of something was placed in front of her with a spoon. “Enjoy!! I made this myself, it’s my specialty”, Victor told her, and then stood, watching her with a smile. Picking up the spoon, she dipped it into the dessert. It was covered in chocolate, and there was something soft but firm underneath. Lifting it to her mouth, she smelled it, eyes closing as different scents filled her mind. Chocolate, coffee, and something else. She put it into her mouth, and then moaned out loud, swaying slightly in her seat. It was…this was heaven. There was chocolate and some kind of cream that was sweet. Cookies of some kind were mixed in, and she chewed slowly, trying to absorb all the flavors. The cookies had this texture that was soft yet firm, they…”Mmmmmmm”, she moaned audibly, chewing slowly. This was one of the sweetest things she’d eaten in months, and most certainly the best tasting desert ever. This was heaven in a spoon, and she now needed to live, knowing that this existed and she could have more. She opened her eyes and blushed as she saw Gladialis and Victor watching her intently, both smiling widely.
“So…you like it?”, Victor asked her, his eyes sparkling as his smile touched both ears. He clapped and gave a little hop as she enthusiastically nodded, licking the spoon clean before she took another bite.
“Thish ishamashin!!!”, she enthused, eyes fluttering again as she took the second bite. Gladialis smiled, watching this. This was quite possibly the most adorable thing ever, even more because she had a tiny bit of chocolate powder on her nose. She finished her own glass, and smiled, waiting for the human girl to finish. She was taking her time, enjoying every single mouthful with moaning and wiggles. Gladialis caught Victors eye, and whispered something in his ear. He smiled and rushed off while the kittens eyes were closed. Eventually she finished, and put the spoon down, looking a bit saddened that her plate was empty. Just then Victor walked up with a box that he handed to Kitten.
“Is this more?”, she asked, eyes sparkling as she looked at Gladialis and then Victor with a wide smile.
Gladialis smiled as she squealed, Victor nodding. “So you can have more when we get home”, she said. “Victor, please give my regards to your Master. I need to take Kitten for some clothes shopping and then home.” She stood, and waited for kitten to get up and follow, and frowned when Kitten just sat there. “Umm…is everything ok, little kitten?”
“You…you have to pay!!”, the Terran looked up, confused. “You can’t just leave without paying for the food!”
Gladialis looked confused for a second, and Victor jumped in. “Kitten, that’s a really cute name by the way, there’s no such things as money here. You don’t have to pay for anything. The Affini are a…oh..umm…what’s it called…you know, where there’s enough for everyone and we all share?”
“Post scarcity, little ones”, Gladialis said with a smile. “The Affini Compact is a post-scarcity society. We have enough to take care of everyone, we have enough FOR everyone, and our only goal is to make the lives of every sophont better.” She smiled, and waved a hand. “I can explain everything as we go, little one.” The Terran girl nodded and followed, but not without shyly thanking Victor for the dessert.
“So..umm…there’s no money? At all? Then how does your society function? Why would anyone have any job or do anything without needing money to live, or to pay for things? Like…if Victor doesn’t get paid, then how does he have the money to afford the mortgage and supplies?” she asked as they walked towards a large building. The ground they were walking on wasn’t paved, but was covered with that green grass. “Umm..can I take my socks off”, she asked, blushing. “It’s not gonna, y’know, poison me or anything?”
“Well, there ARE some Terrans who are allergic to cut grass, but we fix that pretty quickly once they get here. So no, kitten. It’s completely safe, as healthy for you as a horse is. Which makes no sense, since why would a horse have anything to do with your health? Regardless, why take your socks off?”, Gladialis asked, sounding curious.
“Oh. Ummm…well, in…in some of the older books I read, it talked about someone running barefoot through the grass. I grew up in an underground mining colony, so there was no grass. No atmosphere to speak of, other than an oxygen tent sort of thing on the surface. And…ummm…I…y’know…”
“Wanted to try it”, Gladialis finished, and then nodded. “Well, you certainly don’t need permission, you’re not a floret, so there’s not a single reason why you can’t. Go for it. Put your stuff here, I’ll hold it for you.”
Kitten nodded, and stripped her socks off as she walked, then gasped. The grass was cool, but warm, with this sort of soft/prickly feeling that she quickly found that she liked. The fact that everyone could see the cuffs on her ankles wasn’t something that she cared about right now, so focused she was on this new experience. She just kept walking, pausing a moment to dig her toes in, marveling at the feeling with a soft gasp. She squatted, and began to run her hands over the grass, giggling at the feeling and the green stain that it left on her hands. Lifting them up, she smelled them, her face breaking out in a look of wonder and enjoyment. If a smell had a color, this would be green. Not noticing that Gladialis was fiddling with her tablet, surreptitiously taking a picture.
Gladialis let her stand there for as long as she wanted, just enjoying the look on her face. It may have been one of the most beautiful things she’d ever seen in more than three blooms. Especially when she began to stomp and dig her toes into the grass, little laughs and giggles flying from her. Which sadly ended the moment that a passing Affini saw her and started clapping and smiling. The little Terran squeaked, blushed, and tried to hide in plain sight, all at once. Beeeep. Gladialis sighed softly, and wished that one day she’d not be so scared. “Little one, come. There’s going to be time for that later. I promise, there’s grass everywhere, and “, she continued as Kitten came back. “I’ll try to find you someplace that’s a bit quieter so you can enjoy in privacy, ok?”
Heart racing as she tried to calm down, Kitten blushed and nodded. “Ummm..that’s…thank you.” Slipping the socks back on, she quietly wished that she didn’t have to, but who knew where they were going, and she didn’t want to stain her feet and then get it on something. What if the Affinis hab (prison, her mind whispered) had carpeting and she stained it? “Where…ummm…where are we going?”, she asked, taking a better grip on the plushie.
“It’s right over there, little one. I…WE live one building over, right there.” Gladialis led her towards a shop that was entitled "Leiara's", talking. "We need to get you some clothing, little one, and Leiara is really good at fitting sophonts. But...ummm...she's a bit...eccentric. So please be aware, little one, that she's going to need to measure you. So she might end up touching you briefly."
Kitten swallowed hard, nodded, but asked, "Ummm...that seems like...it's just a lot of work. Can't I just get...y'know...like sweats and stuff? Something plain?"
"Sweats? You mean clothing made out of the stuff you Terrans leak when you're overheating??", Gladialis asked, fascinated and disgusted all at the same time. She was pretty sure that it wasn’t the case, but she’d been wrong before.
"What? No...ewwwww. Sweats refer to clothing made out a specific type of material, usually soft, but…umm…it’s usually used as lounge wear, or what you put on when you don’t feel like getting dressed. So if someone said “i’m wearing sweats”, then it would mean that they’re wearing basic clothing that they don’t care about and that they have no interest in getting dressed at the moment.”
"Well, I see. But I was thinking that you'd have some different styles. Even some of these sweats. Assuming Leiara is willing to make some.” Gladialis thought for a moment. “I’ve known her for two blooms, and she’s…she has interesting ideas. For an Affini.” Gladialis snorted and shook her head. “Very interesting ideas.”
Kitten looked at her, about to ask a question. But by the time she opened her mouth, the door was right in front of her and Gladialis was ushering her inside.