No Gods, No Masters

Chapter 2

by Kanagen

Tags: #cw:noncon #D/s #f/f #f/nb #Human_Domestication_Guide #hypnosis #scifi #dom:internalized_imperialism #dom:nb #drug_play #drugs #ownership_dynamics
See spoiler tags : #dom:female

In which three Affini are baffled by terrans, but it's okay: the terrans are still cute. 

The little terran had said the ceilings would be low, but Tsuga had not expected precisely just how low was meant by low. At first, they’d tried to hunch over; then, they’d squatted down, and even that hadn’t given them the clearance to squeeze into the concrete structure the terrans had made their nest in. Finally, they’d given up the pretense of maintaining a terranoid shape and broken themself down into a broader, less compacted form, their limbs sprawling out far enough to almost bridge the whole of the room. The terrans were already giving them so much space, and backed away even more as they gave up even trying to look like them.

Poor things, they thought. I wonder why that frightens them so? “Don’t worry, little terrans,” they said, shifting herself along the room’s perimeter bit by bit. “I’m just making it a bit easier for me to move around in here.” Not that it had helped much – uncompacted, they took up far more space than they did before, and terrans’ nest was as disordered as it was tiny. Things were strewn everywhere, and the room was filled with cots and bedding that the humans were shoving out of the way. In the corner, an electric coil was giving off an ozone scent as it heated a carafe of water, a scent that competed with the terran-smell that saturated the place.

It reminded Tsuga, painfully, of another place and time. This planet was getting worse by the minute.

<Ohhh dirt, it’s cold out there!> Pisca, ducking over to fit in the terrans’ nest, barely had time to clear the entryway before Polyphylla rushed inside, utterly shapeless, and set the space heater she was carrying down on the floor. “Oh, hello everyone!” she added cheerfully so the terrans scattering away could understand. “Excuse me for just a moment.” She slowly coiled herself back into a humanlike shape – one much more humanlike than Tsuga had yet managed, but then, Phylla was the specialist on this particular sophont species. “Mmmm, there we go,” she said, smiling with her immaculately detailed face. She shook her head gently, and a carpet of brilliant red flowers bloomed like a crimson waterfall, a stunning mimicry of the terrans’ head-fur. “Does that help you feel a little more at ease?”

None of the terrans answered her.

“Hello? Cuties?” Pisca waved a hand. <Did we learn the wrong language?>

<No,> Polyphylla said, looking back over her shoulder at Pisca and Tsuga, who was mostly sticking to the fringes of the room. <Tsuga was able to converse with the pack alpha. I think they’re just unsettled. They probably weren’t expecting us, and if the Office of Transitional Neoxenoveterinary Archeoburaucracy’s preliminary profile on this place is correct, there isn’t any record of a ship coming here for several years.>

<Weird. That’s about how old Tsuga said that crater is,> Pisca said. Her needles rippled as she mimed a terran gesture of thoughtfulness, tapping a few fingers against the wooden frame of her face. Even she was better at it than Tsuga was. <I wonder if–>

She was interrupted by a shrill noise from the doorway – the alpha, Cass, had raised thumb and forefinger to her lips and let out a loud whistling sound. Apparently the noise was some kind of terran signal, because all activity in the room ceased as the terrans collectively turned to look. “Strategic Caucus, five minutes!” she called, taking the fingers from her mouth. “Table, chairs, the works! Someone pipe the intercom upstairs so Walthers can listen in.” She made her way past one of Tsuga’s sprawling limbs and stopped in front of Polyphylla. “Is there anything the three of you need?”

“Oh, no, thank you,” Polyphylla said. “It’s still quite chilly in here, but the heater should make it nice and toasty in short order.” She tapped the heating globe with a single vine. “Of course, there’s quite a lot we intend to do for you. But, introductions first!” She smiled and lifted a hand. “Polyphylla Aptenia, Second Bloom, she/her.”

“Cass Hope, Captain, Bulwark Collective Militia,” the little terran said, taking Polyphylla’s hand with only a little hesitation. Afterwards, she stripped off the cap and shook out her long mane of head-fur, long and wavy, deep brown-black with white stripes down the sides.

<Is that striping a sign that she’s a the alpha?> Tsuga asked. They’d never seen a human with that kind of marking before – but then, they hadn’t spent a great deal of time around humans in general.

<No, it’s a sign of aging,> Polyphylla replied. <The hair follicles wilt over time. But terrans do tend to be fairly hierarchical, and age is one category they sort by.> “Forgive me, Tsuga just had a brief question about terrans. And this is Pisca Chlorsar, Third Bloom, she/her,” Polyphylla continued. “She and her mentor, Tsuga, whom you’ve met, are planetary ecological engineers. They’re here to assess the overall habitability of this planet, which, now that I’ve seen it up close, does not seem suited to either of our species’ needs.”

“I’ll save you time: it’s a frozen shithole,” Cass said in the brief moment before Pisca’s hands leapt forward and seized one of hers.

“Very nice to meet you! I said that right, didn’t I? Wow! I knew terrans pruned their hair, but didn’t know it would wilt if you didn’t. I didn’t know terrans nested communally in the wild, either!”

“I– what?” Cass jerked her hand away, working it into a fist and then releasing it a few times in succession. For a moment, Tsuga was sure the little sophont was about to engage in violence – she’d heard all manner of stories – but after a moment she let the hand drop. Her eyes remained locked on the floor. “We’ll start the Caucus in a moment. You can explain everything then, so everyone can hear it.”

“If that’s the way you’d prefer to do it,” Polyphylla said, “we’re more than happy to follow your lead.” Cass nodded and walked away, balling up her fist and flicking it out a few more times – curiously, not the hand that Pisca had seized. <Well, that’s unusual,> Polyphylla said. <Very unusual.>

<What do you mean?> Tsusa said, shifting their bulk slightly to lean closer to Polyphylla – their conversation was drawing stares from the terrans moving furniture around.

<Well, Terran hierarchs generally prefer to keep negotiations private so they can maintain a sense of control over others not party to them. I’d assumed this Caucus she referred to would be herself and a select few, but–> She gestured around the room, the beds stacked along the walls and a handful of terrans erecting a folding table in the center. <–no one’s leaving.>

<Maybe it’s a propaganda thing,> Pisca said. <Terrans love propaganda.>

<Showing off?> Polyphylla mused. <That might be the case, I suppose. Well, we’ll see soon enough, I think, look.> Cass was taking a seat at the head of the table, on a rickety-looking folding chair; a few of the other humans were doing likewise around the circumference of the table, leaving the end facing the three Affini empty. The rest of the terrans stood, squatted, or leaned against the wall at the fringes of the room, or piled into the hallways leading away from it.

Cass lifted and fist and knocked on the table three times, and the chatter among the terrans in the room slowly petered out. “This is a special meeting of the Bulwark Strategic Caucus,” she called out, “to discuss the arrival of our xeno visitors, their statement to the Caucus, and any relevant action the Caucus should then decide to take following that statement. At this time the Chair asks unanimous consent to hear the xeno statement.” After a brief pause, during which none of the terrans spoke, she continued. “Without objection, so ordered. Ms. Aptenia, you have the floor.”

<My, so uncharacteristically polite.> Polyphylla smiled and inclined her head to the alpha. “Thank you, Ms. Hope. Hello, everyone! My name is Polyphylla Aptenia, Second Bloom, my pronouns are she/her, and I represent the Affini Compact. First of all, I want to offer an apology for taking so long to find you out here, but we’ve been quite busy. Your government has not been particularly cooperative, and the pacification campaign took three years by your calendar. However, now that the Terran Accord has been dissolved–”

Tsuga gave a start as practically the entire room began cheering loudly, laughing, hugging one another, letting out loud whoops, and so on. A few began singing, and soon more and more joined in until the entire room seemed to vibrate with the chorus. Only a rare few didn’t join in.

<That…wasn’t what I expected to happen,> Polyphylla said, after a moment.

<What’s going on?> Pisca asked, looking around the room as she tried to decide between confusion and excitement. <How come they’re singing?>

<I have absolutely no idea,> Polyphylla replied.

<Comforting,> Tsuga said, shifting in place and trying to listen to the words – it wasn’t quite the same as the way the terrans talked normally, but it was close. <The international ideal… unites the human race? I don’t like the sound of that.>

<It does sound a bit feralist, doesn’t it?> Polyphylla said. <But if they’re feralists, why would they celebrate? I think it’s celebration, anyway. They certainly look happy.> Even the alpha, Cass, was on her feet, and though she was banging on the table trying to to restore some semblance of order, she had an enormous grin on her face, the same as so many of the others.

“Come to order, please!” she shouted, a laugh sneaking out as she did so. Absolutely no one listened, and the vast majority continued to sing as loudly as possible.

“I move the Caucus adopt the following resolution!” someone shouted from the crowd along the wall. “Resolved, that the Terran Accord can get fucked!” Cheers all around, as half a dozen voices shouted, “Second!”

“That motion is not in order at this time,” Cass replied, still laughing.

“Motion to suspend the rules to allow debate on the motion for the Accord to get fucked!” There was more laughter, from all around the room, but the song soon reached its finale, and slowly the gathered terrans began to calm down a little. The room was still filled with a vibrant energy, though, and a dozen chattering conversations carried on around the room.

<If they do that for every little thing we tell them, we’ll be here until tomorrow at least just explaining ourselves,> Tsuga said, shaking out their needles. All the laughter and celebration in the world, whatever the reason, would never make them feel comfortable in a squalid little hole in the ground like this.

<Aww, let ’em celebrate if they’re happy,> Pisca said. <I bet they throw great parties!>

<They’ll throw much better ones once we get them out of here,> Polyphylla said, before making a very terran-sounding throat-clearing noise. “Ahem! Might I continue?”

“Please do,” Cass said, taking her seat again. Even Tsuga could tell she was fighting to force the smile off her face. “Apologies for the interruption.”

“No, no, it’s alright,” Polyphylla said. “Though, I’m curious – most terrans, despite the Accord’s myriad failings, don’t have quite that reaction to being told their government no longer exists.”

“The Accord is not our government,” Cass said, her voice firm.

“It wasn’t anyone’s government,” a wiry, dark-haired woman seated at the table added. Tsuga remembered her; one of the ‘logistics crew’ from up top. “It was the enforcer of capital’s whims, a machine of pure bourgeois oppression set against the people, and nothing but!”

“Thanks, Nell, but not really the point, and you don’t have the floor.”

“You mean to say,” Polyphylla asked, “that you consider yourself an independent polity? Well, that adds some complications, but nothing too serious. We’ll need a separate domestication treaty, of course, but that can come later. What you need to know is that the Affini Compact is here for you, and from now on, you don’t have to worry about anything. Your needs will be met, you will be safe, and you will be free to become the best version of yourself that you can possibly be, whatever form that takes.”

Something had gone wrong somewhere. The mood in the room shifted, and the quiet conversation around the fringes of the room died out. “What do you mean by domestication?” one woman at the table asked.

“Trish,” Cass said, “I’m trying to maintain something approaching order here.”

Trish rolled her eyes. “Will the speaker yield for a question?” she said, the acid tone in her voice obvious even to Tsuga.

“Thank you.” Cass looked to Polyphylla.

“…oh! Well, yes, of course!”

“Thank you. My question is: what hell do you mean by domestication?

“… I’m sorry, have you not seen any of our broadcasts?” Polyphylla looked around the room, and was visibly fretting at a clear lack of recognition.

“O-M spiked our hypermetric relay when they left,” Cass explained. “Then the Cosmic Navy killed everything in orbit with an integrated circuit. We’ve been cut off for three years. All we know is that the Accord was at war.” She glanced to the side; Tsuga followed her line of sight to a burly terran with pronounced facial fur that made it difficult to read his expression, though his nod was clear enough. “A war they apparently lost, to you.”

“Well,” said Polyphylla, “that does explain rather a lot about your reactions. I apologize for the misunderstanding.” She bowed her head slightly. “To answer your question, domestication is, quite simply, our universal goal of ensuring that all sophonts are freed from privation and suffering, within a safe and secure environment that meets all needs – as I said above. We fix what’s broken, and we look after you to ensure it doesn’t break again.”

“That’s not what domestication is,” Trish said.

“It’s probably the best choice of words in your language, though of course it doesn’t correspond exactly with your conception of the practice. Actually, the word is pulling double-duty, since it refers not only to the species-level process of absorption into the Affini Compact under a Protectorate and the guarantee of well-being, but also to individual domestication – that’s when an Affini takes care of a cute little sophont personally in a legally binding and very loving relationship wherein political rights are surrendered and the sophont becomes the property of the Affini in question. We use xenodrugs to help control unwanted personality traits and correct anything holding them back from being their best selves, and we generally spoil them quite rotten, as the terran saying goes.”

“So it’s not some kind of weird translation issue,” Nell said. “You’re saying you basically keep humans as pets.”

“Only those who volunteer,” Polyphylla clarified, “or those who present a danger to themselves or others if left to their own devices. Don’t worry, little one, I’m not going to domesticate you,” she added with a quiet chuckle. “My vines are already quite full. No, for now, our priority is to gather whatever data is available about your population, the better to handle any emergency needs you might have while we evacuate you to our ship in orbit, where we can better provide for you while the local climate is ameliorated.”

There was immediately an outburst of grumbling and a few shouts from the perimeter of the room. “Fuck that!” was one Tsuga heard clearly. Another, barely audible: “I’d off myself before I let anyone put me on a ship again.”

<This is not going well,> Tsuga said, leaning forward once more – and, once again, inadvertently frightening a few of the terrans who hadn’t realized how close they were.

<I don’t understand it,> Polyphylla said. <If they haven’t been subjected to propaganda, you’d think they’d be much more amenable to this.>

<Maybe terrans just don’t like domestication,> Pisca said. <Feralists are always complaining about florets like there’s something wrong with them for wanting to be happy.>

<They like domestication just fine once they’ve had a taste of it,> Polyphylla said. <That, at least, I can assure you.> The conversation among the terrans, meanwhile, was dying down – Cass was, once again, knocking at the table.

“Your proposal is to evacuate the entire population of Solstice to a ship,” she said, her thick black eyebrows meeting above her nose. Tsuga was fairly certain that was a threat display, or a signal of distress perhaps. Either way, not a good sign. “One ship.”

“The Tillandsia is quite capable of accommodating you all, though depending on how many terrans are on the planet, it may temporarily lead to somewhat cramped quarters that we would normally never allow while we arrange for your final disposition to other ships or stations,” Polyphylla said. “We’d like to start with you here – our shuttle is large enough that I think we can take you all up today. How many are you, precisely?”

No one answered. Then, Nell stood, and Cass nodded to her.

“I move that the Strategic Caucus adopt the following: that the Affini Compact’s request to evacuate the Bulwark is rejected,” Nell said. A few, included the bearded terran, called out, “Second!”

<Dirt and roots,> Tsuga grumbled. <Never mind tomorrow, we’re going to be here all week.>

Meanwhile, Cass was speaking again: “The question is, shall the Affini Compact’s request to evacuate the Bulwalk be rejected? Do you have a statement?” When she nodded, Cass added, “Nell has the floor. Timekeeper, please start the clock.”

“First of all,” Nell said, “I’m against this for a lot of reasons, but the single most critical is that we can’t leave the Bulwark unstaffed! You know it, I know it – the whole system relies on there being a Bulwark!” Nods and sounds of assent from all round. “I don’t think I need to belabor this,” she went on. “We can argue about this domestication nonsense all we want, or anything else, but whatever anyone brings up, remember this: Bulwark cannot be abandoned. I yield the remainder of my time,” she said as she sat down again.

“Motion to amend,” Trish said, standing.

“Trish has the floor,” Cass said.

“I move that the resolution be amended, and that the words ‘but that needed medical supplies, food, and water be accepted as offered’ be inserted at the end of the sentence.”

“The question is on the amendment to the main motion, that being…”

Pisca was leaning in, rapt. <…Polyphylla, are they–?>

<They are,> Polyphylla said, every vine in her body shivering with excitement. <They’re governing! Oh, I feel so lucky to be here to see this!>

<Didn’t humans used to govern themselves all the time?> Tsuga said. It was, they had to admit, very cute watching the terrans work through a formalized structure entirely orally – or nearly entirely, they realized, as they noticed a terran with red head-fur rapidly writing on a tablet.

<Not out in the open like this!> Polyphylla said, interlacing her fingers and very nearly vibrating clean off the floor. <Apparently, they traditionally govern in rooms filled with smoke. There’s some debate as to whether this is some sort of guilt-assuaging practice, or whether it’s to disguise who is speaking. Either way, of course, it’s terribly unhealthy for the poor little terrans themselves. But look at these terrans! Right out in the open! And it’s not limited to the ones at the table, either! Look!> Indeed, the terran with the dark face fur from the logistics crew was speaking on the amendment even now, and they’d never been at the table. <This might actually be the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen.>

The terrans continued to debate back and forth, offering motion after motion. Polyphylla was entirely absorbed in the proceedings, and Pisca was her usual excitable self, but even Tsuga found themself being drawn in. It was clear that there were at least two camps, possibly more, fighting over the wording of the motion as it grew and grew, all the while taking potshots at one another about some kind of internal terran politics or perhaps religion – either way, Tsuga didn’t understand it. The word bourgeois came up frequently, especially from the terran called Nell, and all Tsuga could glean from context was that it was not a good thing to be considered bourgeois.

Finally, Cass spoke: “The question is on the following motion: that the Affini Compact’s request to evacuate the Bulwark is rejected pending investigation of the Affini ship and its amenities; that said investigation shall be carried out by a committee of three; that said committee shall consist of Captain Cassanda Hope and two volunteers; that during the course of the investigation, any aid offered by the Affini shall be delivered to Bulwalk for distribution to outlying communities and collectives; and that after the investigation, the Bulwark Strategic Caucus shall transmit the committee’s findings to other outlying communities and collectives with all haste. Is there any further debate?” When no one spoke, she added, “Those in favor of the motion, raise your hand.” A flurry of hands rose across the room. “Thank you. Those against, raise your hand.” Another flurry of hands, but notably smaller than the first. “Thank you. In the opinion of the chair, the ayes have it and the motion is carried. Do we have further business? There being no further business before the Strategic Caucus, the Chair asks unanimous consent for officers to move to closed session for discussion of sensitive information regarding the matter at hand.” The room was silent. “Without objection, so ordered. The Strategic Caucus stands recessed until called to order.”

<Ooooh, that was so exciting!> Polyphylla said as Cass and the others at the table stood and made their way to another room. <And it could have gone much worse, really.>

<I don’t see why we’re letting them just… stay here,> Tsuga said, coiling themself in just a little tighter as the humans started to get up and move around once again – they’d already had a vine or two trod upon. <These conditions are completely intolerable!>

<They absolutely are,> Polyphylla said, <but I’d like to see them come willingly – it helps so much with integration if we don’t have to give them all a dose of Class-Zs and have them wake up in a strange place.>

<It’s not a reasonable decision on their part,> Tsuga insisted. <They’re actively risking their well-being for no reason whatsoever, and we shouldn’t be enabling that.>

<They’re going to let us help them,> Polyphylla said, stroking Tsuga with a tangle of vines, <so a few days won’t make any difference. We’ll have Affini here to look after them, to get to know them, and to get them accustomed to us being around, helping them, and eventually to making the important decisions. Trust me, Tsuga. I know you’re new to terrans, but this is going so much better than it does with most of their governments – and the terrans there aren’t usually much better off than this, either.>

<I don’t like it,> Tsuga said. <This planet is going to need years of ecological engineering to get it anywhere close to acceptable climatic conditions, and this “bunker” of theirs…> A shudder ran through them, floor to ceiling. <I don’t like it.>

<I don’t think any of us do,> Pisca said, <but–> She paused as the little terran with the red head-fur walked hesitantly up to the three Affini, nervously worrying one hand with the other. “Oh, hello, cutie! Is there something we can do for you?”

The red-head took a moment to respond. “Uhm, n-no, I just– sorry, I’ll just go.”

“No, no, stay,” Polyphylla said. “If there’s anything we can help you with, we’d be more than happy to.”

“Yeah,” Pisca said enthusiastically, “spill the peanuts!”

The terran simply stared up at Pisca for a moment, an expression of confusion on their face – but it soon faded. “W-well, uhm, it’s just that, I know Trish will probably tell you when she gets out of the Officers’ meeting, but I just wanted to make sure it didn’t get lost in the shuffle, I mean, Captain Hope has so many things on her plate right now–” They took a deep breath and kept on worrying at their hand. “I just want to make sure she doesn’t get too focused on everyone else and forget to ask for the medication she needs, that’s all.”

“Awww, that’s so thoughtful of you!” Pisca said, smiling and cracking her chest cavity open to retrieve her tablet – which gave the little terran a start. “What’s the medication, sweetie? I’ll write it down so we don’t forget it.”

“Estradiol. Or the standard precursors, but, uhm, if you have it, just the estradiol is fine.”

“Es-tra-di-ol,” Pisca said, marking it down. “Hmm. What’s that for?”

“It’s a primitive terran Class-G,” Polyphylla said. She ruffled the terran’s hair with one hand, smiling warmly. “I assure you, dear, we can do much better than that. According to that incredibly adorable vote you all just took, she’ll be coming to visit us anyway, so we’ll take care of it up there, but I’ll make sure the other teams bring some Class-Gs down just in case. Thank you so much for coming to us with this – we know your culture often trains you to not want to ask for help, even for others. That’s a habit we’ll help you unlearn.”

“Uhm. Thank you?” they said, looking awkwardly at the ground. “I-I mean, yes, thank you, obviously…”

“Hey,” Pisca said, crouching down to put herself on the terran’s level and leaning in close. “What’s your name, sweetie?”

“Uhm, Blaine,” they said, glancing up – and almost immediately becoming entranced, Pisca’s eyes drawing them in effortlessly.

Everbloom, Tsuga thought, what a seed this one is.

“Well, Blaine, I hope we get to see you up on the Tillandsia soon!” Pisca said, absolutely heedless of how deep she’d already pushed the terran. “I’d love to show you around. Just ask for Pisca Chlorosar, Third Bloom! Once all this investigation silliness is over, you’ll all be joining us anyway. I mean, do you really want to keep living in an awful little hole in the ground like this?” The terran slowly shook their head, and only came back to themself after Pisca reached up, stroked their cheek, and straightened up, breaking eye contact.

“…sorry, what?”

“Oh, don’t worry about it, little one,” Polyphylla said, patting Blaine on the shoulder. “We’ll take care of it. Why don’t you go have some tea and take a break? You’ve been working so hard taking notes after all!”

“…yeah, tea sounds good,” they said, nodding and blinking slowly as if they’d just woken up before turning and walking away in a daze.

<Seed,> Polyphylla said, her vines slithering over one another in amusement.

<Such a seed,> Tsuga agreed. She didn’t need to know terrans to know obvious seed behavior when she saw it.

<Huh? What do you mean?> Pisca said, her confusion evident.

The wardroom was just a storeroom, really, and with all the officers of the Bulwark it was standing room only, cramped and not entirely pleasant – but the door was heavy and deterred eavesdropping, so it made a good meeting place for discussing operations.

“Standard plan for recontact,” Cass said. “Let’s move through it, step by step.”

“We have enough supplies in the Bulwark to operate for up to three months if cut off from other settlements,” Nell said. “Not in a pleasant capacity, but we can manage it. If whatever aid the xenos drop turns out to be safe, that extends the timeline.”

“Which is a big if, considering they’re throwing around words like domestication,” Trish said. Her arms were crossed and her sour mood was palpable. It reflected a common feeling that Cass had noticed spreading around the periphery of the bunker’s main hall during the meeting. “But if it is, we absolutely need it. We’re down to acetaminophen and wishes as far as medical is concerned.”

“If it is safe, we need to think about moving critical supplies outward as we can,” Cass said. “Quietly. We use the escape tunnels under cover of darkness, and only when their ship isn’t overhead. They’ll probably set up a satellite net soon, so first order of business is to get messages out through the contact chain. Pass on orders for radio silence and let the settlements know to hunker down. The less activity above ground, the better.”

“That’s is going to put a dent in the growing season,” Hutchins muttered, polishing his steamed-up glasses on his shirttail. “This year was looking like it might have a decent summer.”

“But it’ll make it easier to survive if we have to go to Case Dandelion,” Cass countered. “Benefits and drawbacks. Ultimately, what matters is keeping our people out of enemy hands long enough to shift their cost-benefit equation in favor of leaving us alone. Make it too expensive to waste time, effort, and money chasing us down. Just because the enemy is xenos instead of fascists doesn’t change that.”

“And here you were hoping they’d be friendly,” Nell said ruefully.

“I’m hoping they still can be,” Cass admitted. “I’m hoping that this is all just bad translation and cultural misunderstandings in action. I don’t like the idea of fighting them, not even asymmetrically. They beat the Accord in three years – we barely kicked a bunch of screws and suits off the planet.”

“Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t plan to just roll over and accept a different set of bourgeois masters,” Nell replied. “We’ll see what’s what when we get up there.”

“We?” Call said. “You plan on volunteering?”

“They’re all smiles and good cheer. Stinks of habitual propaganda. I wouldn’t be surprised to find some kind of a Potemkin village setup on their ship, the same way O-M did for investors and potential colony groups – ‘see, look how nice it is here,’ that sort of thing – and if they do, I’m the one best equipped to see through it. Logistics doesn’t lie.”

Cass thought for a moment, then nodded. “Fair enough. Good argument.”

“That, and we need someone up there with a real understanding of dialectics,” she added, smiling with as much patronizing smugness as she could without starting a fistfight. “Otherwise, who knows what you’ll miss.”

“I’m not ignorant of dialectics,” Cass said, taking the time to add a note of exasperation to her voice, “I just don’t think it’s a philosophical magic bullet. We don’t have time to debate theory, in any case. No other volunteers from among officers. We need the rest of you here.” There were no objections. Cass wasn’t surprised – why should her people be champing at the bit to throw themselves into the unknowable maw of the xenos? But then, that was why she’d put herself at the head of the committee.

She’d take the risk on their behalf.

I read Robert's Rules of Order for this. Like, the entire thing. 

Tune in next time for (I hope) a chapter that isn't purely setup. 


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