Chapter 1. Wake Up, Sleepy Head.
“Charli, I have to tell you something. This is the creepiest ruin you have ever found,” one Terran said to the other. A tall, palm-like Affini walked slowly behind them, grinning as his florets began to bicker.
“That's the point Jen; like, this place is so cool and creepy! I mean look at this stuff, it's ancient! This has to be a major find!”
“I agree with Charli on this one, my little Jenice. This is certainly the oldest Terran ruin I’ve had the pleasure of exploring with you two. I think Charli deserves some credit for spotting it on the scan.” The Affini grinned, running a vine over Charli’s cheek. Charli beamed with pride at his accomplishments, shivering from the touch, then stuck his tongue out at his Connivent.
The Terran woman blew a raspberry back and stepped ahead, looking around into one of the dust-and-dirt covered rooms before them. “Really? Because it seems like a bunch of dirty old ruins to me.” Jen rolled her eyes and grinned back at the Affini following them, eyes flashing with teasing malice. “Master Erinacia, I could have stayed home for this, right? Or gone over to a friend's house? Why make me come, too?”
The Affini laughed, wrapped a vine around her waist and pulled her to him, then scooped her off her feet and held her as he walked. “Oh, yes, I suppose you could have. But this is an adventure, little one, and one that my little Charli has been so excited for. Let's both share in it, shall we?” He tickled her lightly with his vines, wrapping her up tight as she wiggled and laughed. She gave a small gasp for air as one slid up her back and gave her neck a quick squeeze. He so loved teasing and cuddling his pets; it was a shame Charli was in a far too excitable mood for affection.
Erinacia rumbled happily as he pet and ruffled Jen’s hair all about. He spent an enjoyable few moments with her before noticing the sudden quiet, gazing back up to see where his other floret had gone and…. “Charli? Dear, are you okay?”
The Terran was about ten meters away, flashlight pointed through an open doorway into the next room, shaking. His eyes had gone wide and dark, his face filled with fear. “M-Master. There are bodies.”
The Affini rushed forward, wrapping the young man up in his vines and tucking him next to his Connivent. The two Terrans huddled together in the mass of plant matter, light still shining down into the room as the Affini edged closer.
There were indeed bodies; ancient, mummified corpses held in containment tubes. A row of bodies, in cylinders of glass and metal, lined one entire wall of the long, narrow room. Obviously once human, now bones and skin, desiccated away by the elements. Many were crumpled, fallen to the bottom of their tubes.
Erinacia pulled out his tablet, recording what he found and sent a message out.
“Alright, I’ve sent word to one of the surveying teams. They’ll be here in a while to explore this place more, now let's get you two home,” he said, urgency and concern filling his voice.
Charli nodded, shivering as he glanced around, but Jenice squinted, looking down the room. Her voice slurred, xenodrugs coursing through her veins due to the stress, as she pointed, “Mmm-Mashter? Theresh a girl?”
The Affini followed her hand, his eyes settling on a woman floating in a containment tube meters away. He drew closer, shielding his florets view with his fronds.
She was young, he thought, about his Charli and Jenice’s age. He put his hand up to the glass, wiping away a heavy, dewy layer of condensation. It was cold; much colder than anything should have been in this ancient lab. She was nude, eyes closed, long auburn hair floating around her, but strangely frozen in place in the suspension gel, like the flowers in resin his floret sometimes collected. His eyes traveled down, and he gasped. Whatever she was floating in had started to fail, eating away at her flesh and bone. The poor thing had neither legs nor a left hand, and the raw places where the limbs had been had tainted the gel a gruesome pink as it consumed her.
With urgency, he drew his tablet back out, vine tips flying over the screen until it lit up with a red glow.
“Nara’chalue Hospital Ship comms, whoever is tapping into our feed is a naughty little sophont~” the Affini that appeared on the screen announced in a singsong voice, then jumped in surprise at the sight before her. “Ah! Captain, for what do I owe the pleasure during your vacation?”
Erinacia was calm as he forwarded the recordings. “Medical Emergency. Ship wide broadcast,” he announced as the Affini on screen tapped a button. “This is Captain Erinacia Aceae, 3rd Bloom. I need emergency medical assistance at these coordinates immediately. We have found a Terran cryogenics facility, with one victim already showing signs of bio-degradation. All medical personnel will immediately report. We do not know how many survivors there are, but we will save as many as we can find,” he commanded. “And somebody get me an archeo-historian, I want to know who is responsible for this. You have your orders. Erinacia, out.” His voice was sharp and confident. Knowing his ship, his crew, they would be in the atmosphere in minutes.
Looking down to the two florets tucked into his side, wrapped tightly in his vines and now fast asleep, he stroked their heads. “It will be okay, just a bad dream my pets,” he whispered, knowing they would have some work to do once they woke up, the poor dears. Then he looked back up at the frozen girl. He reached out to touch the glass once more, the chill biting the bark of his fingers, but stroking against it as he would have her hair, “Stars, I hope that's all it will be for you, too, little one.”
-Six Months Later-
She was cold. Bone-deep, achingly cold. Her hands were numb; she couldn’t feel her feet. It was so hard to breathe. She floated in silent nothingness while the icy chill ate away at her nerves. Then she heard the pounding. It grew and grew until she opened her eyes.
She was back in the courtroom, her arms and legs chained and manacled. She pled guilty. The judge looked down at her from the bench, his gavel pounding against the wood, drowning out the sentence he delivered. Two of the four armed officers around her heaved her up by the arms, dragging her out of her chair and out of the courtroom.
She was being herded down a hallway, into the waiting arms of a team of scientists. Color, sound, motion, a room of sterile white cold and chirping medical equipment. They told her this was a better choice. She would serve her sentence, humanely. Needles plunged into her skin, a wave of cold numbing her body, freezing her skin from the inside out. She lay on a bed as clear glass was moved over her, liquid rushed in, her skin burning as it rose around her. She felt so cold. It hurt.
She woke up. The world was still dark. She was warm, and something soft surrounded her. She was… alive.
She was alive.
She shouldn’t have been. Something must have gone wrong. The scientists must have fucked up with her and failed. All she got out of her punishment was bad dreams.
She sighed, moving her fingers, then her wrists. No more chill in them, at least. She rolled her neck, noticing the soreness in it, the way the stretch stressed, felt strange. It was still dark, was she blind? It figures they couldn’t freeze her, but robbing her of her sight was a bit much.
Oh, she was wearing a blindfold. Weird. She lifted her hands, scooting the satiny fabric up onto her forehead and squinting in the bright light around her.
As her eyes adjusted, she saw just where she was. She lay an acre of comfortable bed, covered in what was quite possibly the softest blanket she had ever felt. She was pretty sure her last request had been a cheeseburger, not this. Granted, they didn’t even give her that. Her eyes traveled over her body, wincing as she saw the shackles around her wrists, long teathers connecting her to the bed rails. Bed rails? Moving her feet, she could tell they were shackled, too. She turned her head, looking around the sparse room. Some kind of high-tech looking monitors were set up on the far wall, and an IV stand stood nearby. A normal hospital room. She rolled her neck again, feeling it crack, but feeling, again, that odd sense of something else.
She reached up, feeling a soft band of fabric around her neck. Her fingers searched over it, unable to find a clasp or catch an edge to pull it off. Some kind of collar?
She laughed at the absurdity of it. Her executioners had her collared. “Hey,” she called out. “Real cute! Pretty nice of you guys to give me a collar, but we missed some serious conversations about Consent, and I only do the kinky stuff with people who aren’t going to execute me.”
“I’ll keep that in mind, my dear. But I don’t see any reason to end your life after all the hard work we put in bringing you back.”
She snapped still, the voice startling her. It was strange, dual toned, feminine, and almost human, like a recording from a video game. She tried to look around the bed, but it was huge, and her tethers held her too snugly to get a good view of the room.. Her eyes narrowed as she huffed out a tired breath.
“Sorry to surprise you, cutie, but worry not. You are in safe hands. No harm can come to you under our care, and every need you have is dealt with for the moment.”
She rolled her eyes. “Uh huh, mysterious voice… lady? I can’t even see who’s taking care of me, and if I’m not a prisoner, why am I shackled like one?”
The voice gave a soft sigh. “That would be to ensure your safety, little one. Unfortunately, we couldn’t know how you would react upon waking. If you can promise to be good, I will undo the tethers and allow you up.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Little one? Lady, I'm almost 30, I vote and pay… most of my taxes. Now, where are you? Why am I speaking to an empty room?”
She heard a soft giggle. “Alright, alright. Hold your salmon.”
Hold your salmon? Where was this lady from? This whole thing was too strange. She heard the rustling of leaves, then footsteps. She settled back into the bed, arms crossed, mouth set, and gave her best impression of being fed up. She was going to give this doctor, or jailer, or whatever, a piece of her mind.
Then a 11 foot tall plant… thing… crossed over from behind her bed. A giant tree, covered in light brown bark and vines with broad leaves that criss-crossed over her chest and down her legs like clothes. Long, smooth, blushing pink flower petals flowed down from her head like hair, and her face seemed carved of wood, smooth and soft, with lips curved into a smile.
“Hello there, little one. I am Camellia Aranoctrius, 6th Bloom, she/her, Affini Doctor of Xenobiology and Surgery. It's a pleasure to finally meet you,”she said, bowing low to the human before her.
She stared up at the plant creature, eyes wide, and for the first time in,
however-long-she-had-been-asleep, the human screamed.
The plant jumped, her bright purple eyes flashing tones of red around the edges. She edged closer. “N-now, now, little one. Shhhhh, shhhh. It's… it's okay?”, she tried to say in her most comforting voice.
“NONONONOAAAAAH NO STAYAWAY!” The human screamed out, scrambling up further across the bed until her tethers were taut enough to dig painfully into her skin. She reached behind her and threw her pillow, flailing and screaming until her throat was sore.
“Hey, hey now, it’s okay. I’m stepping away, see? See, this is good. Just… Just stop screaming. Please, or else your collar will…”
That’s when she felt the click on the side of her neck. The collar tightened and a feeling of pins and needles bloomed over her skin as her scream softened and shrank away. She felt warm, almost hot. Her eyes rolled back as she collapsed onto the bed, her breathing suddenly calm and slow.
The Affini sighed, her hands dropping to her sides, then one came up to brush the petals of her hair back. “Well… that was not a good first impression, now was it, little one?” She drew out a number of vines, winding one around each of the Terran’s arms and legs and one around her body, and pulled her back into a lying position. As one of her vines slid around the exposed skin of the Terran’s arms, she heard her let out a moan. Camellia giggled to herself as she tucked the blankets back up over her.
“Oh, stop being so cute,” she huffed, finding a rolling chair one of her last patients had gifted her, and sat down in it, watching the little Terran squirm around in her blankets for a moment before sleep finally took her again.
Her eyes fluttered open, head pounding lightly. The lights, obviously meant to be soft and soothing, stabbed painfully into her eyes. She was pretty sure she had NOT signed up for this hangover. She heard the sound of something sliding across the floor. Then her eyes jerked open wide, and she jerked back up, head whipping toward the source of the sound.
When she spotted it again, it was sitting across the room from her, backwards in a rolling chair. It was staring down at some sort of tablet, but as it noticed her stirring, it must have slid away.
A soft smile curved up on it’s… her face, and her hand lifted slightly in a wave, “Hello again, little one. I will stay over here for now. Please, don’t become agitated, your body is still healing and we aren’t sure if it can handle so many doses of a Class A and Z in such rapid succession.”
She crouched in her bed, eyeing the plant… woman, over the bed rails. She didn’t understand a word it had said.
“What… What are you? What happened to, like, human doctors? Are you Human? Did… did we become plants?” Her throat ached, her voice a hoarse whisper as she struggled with the drug-induced confusion as best she could.
The plant woman laughed, a sound as delicate and powerful as glass bells pealing in spring air, bending over her seat and shaking until a flower petal fell onto the floor. The Terran blushed, staring unabashedly as the plant woman sat back and took a deep breath.
“Stars, no, you Terrans come up with the wildest little fantasies. No, my dear, I am an Affini. I am what you would call an alien. My race came from across the galaxy to help yours. We’ve helped countless races. Though, you little Terrans sure do like to fuss about it.”
She breathed a sigh of relief. Not that being part plant wouldn’t be cool, she thought, but maybe she could recover from being a failed popsicle before she gave it a try.
“You keep calling me a Terran? Why? I’m human.”
“Oh, certainly, that is your species’ name. But you are from Terra, are you not?”
She looked at the Affini with confusion. “N-no? I’m from Earth. Planet Earth. You know, blue seas, green land. Buncha trees, two ice caps?”
Camellia sat up slowly, staring wide at her, worry crossing her face. “Little one, what exactly happened to you? Why did we find you in that tank?”
The Human frowned, looking down at the bed in shame.
“I’m a, uhh… I’m a terrorist. Well, I wasn’t at first. I just wanted to prove to the government that they couldn’t just control people. They were passing new laws every year, and people were suffering. The economy was in shambles, people were homeless, people were sick and starving. So, I joined with some friends. We did protests, called officials, all that stuff you're supposed to. But no one listened.” She took a deep breath, blew it out hard.
“So, we started doing other things. We started small; petty vandalism, fire bombing the police station. But they just kept on tightening the rope around us all. Soon we were dealing with actual soldiers. Most people just rolled over for them. How does an average citizen stand against military power? But we couldn’t stop. I couldn’t. So we started getting more daring. Established our own little cell of freedom fighters. We started ambushing patrols, bombing corp buildings; only at night, of course. We… we didn’t want to hurt innocent people,” she felt her voice break, a sob escaping her throat.
“We got information from someone we all trusted. They had a supply depot in an abandoned building. We rigged it to come down, so they couldn’t use that against people. It went so well. Too well.” She curled up, hugging her legs to herself. The collar gave a quiet warning beep as it sensed her distress.
“We saw on the news later that they had gathered people there. Homeless people, families that had been displaced because of the military, children that had been orphaned, waiting on someplace safe to go. They had them all in there, then fed our informant the information.” The Human looked up, eyes hot with pain and brimming with tears.
“He knew, of course. He even testified against me in court. I killed them all–every single man, woman and child in that building. I told my friends, my family, that I’d give myself up. I know I should’ve been angry, furious at what they made me do. But I couldn’t. It hurt so much. So, I turned myself in. They gave me a sham trial, had my face plastered on every newspaper and tv in the country. My sentence was death, but the government decided that they wanted to look good, so my punishment was supposed to be “humane.”
“I was going to be cryogenically frozen, experimented on for the greater good. I couldn’t even fight it. Last thing I remember is them poking holes in me, hoping I would die as they filled the tank with this freezing cold liquid.” She barked out a hollow, dead laugh. “And then I woke up here, with an alien. I really must be dead.” She shook her head weakly, tried for a wry smile, and looked back up to the Affini.
The look she expected to see on the plant woman’s face was judgment, or horror, or sickened shame. What she saw there was much closer to… was that pity?
“If only we had gotten here sooner. I’m so sorry, my dear. I’m so, so sorry.”
She smiled. “It doesn’t matter. You’re here now, right? That means you took those bastards down, I hope so at least. Did you, like, blast them with space lasers or something?”
The Affini looked shocked, then sobered. “No. No, little one, that is not how we Affini work. But… my dear, what year was it when you did those things?”
She sat up straighter, staring at the Affini. “Well, it was 2072. I can’t have been down for that long right? I’d have died… Right?”
The Affini gasped and drew her hand up to her mouth. She drew closer, sliding the chair across the floor slowly. The Human shifted nervously as the alien reached out, the vine-crafted hand reaching out to grasp hold of hers. Camellia’s hand was surprisingly warm, soft instead of rough as she thought.
“My dear, the current Terran year is 2,556. You… you were in cryogenic sleep for four hundred and eighty four years. I’m sorry to say, but any government or nation that had put you in that position is long gone by now. I’m sorry, my dear. I’m so sorry we couldn’t have been here sooner.”
She stared up at the Affini, then down to her hands. Teardrops fell, fat and heavy, down her face and into her hands as she realized everything and everyone she had ever known was gone. The shock had her so strongly in its hold that he didn’t even notice the alien take off her shackles, picking her up over the bed rails and holding her. She wept, for all those she lost, all that time she lost, sobbing and screaming into an alien chest until finally, darkness and sleep took her once again.