beep beep beep beep
Lena laid there with her eyes closed. This was the hangover from hell. Where was she? This wasn't her apartment, the sheets were far too nice. Smooth and silky yet warm and cozy at the same time, she'd never be able to afford these. Everything was so quiet, in a way that she could never quite remember things being. There always was some noise, the distant roar of air filters keeping buildings free of the choking smog, the rumble of ships taking off, faint sirens as police harassed people in the undercity, but now there was nothing. Or almost nothing. There was a soft rhythmic rustling, like leaves moving in a breeze. And that damn beeping.
Suddenly she recognized the faint antiseptic smell that permeated the air. Oh no. She was in a hospital. She couldn't afford a real hospital! Let alone someplace as fancy as this one had to be!
Lena's eyes shot open in panic as the beeping increased in its pace before a warm, calming feeling spread up through her arm and through her body from the I.V. she had somehow failed to notice.
Still trying to panic, but unable to really feel it over the chemically induced calm, she looked around. A fairly standard white hospital room greeted her, with a window through which she could see blue sky. Wow I'm high up! You don't get clear of the smog layer for quite a ways she mused. Next to her was a stand with what she had to assume were very fancy machines and very fancy IV bags; after all, only very fancy equipment would be themed like plants and vines. It was bizarre. And...a bush? Why was there a large bush in her room? Oh god it was a single she was so screwed she'd have to find a way to have kids because her grandkids would still be paying off the medical debt from this.
Lena was still freaking out when the bush started quivering and then shot up into a tall humanoid shape. Vines twisted together to form pseudo-muscles, peppered with small multicoloured flowers. Pieces of wood clicked together to form a worried looking face, with eyes that glowed a brilliant emerald. Long, golden, grass-like hair swept down from the creatures head, flowing freely down her back. Finally, moss appeared and wrapped around the plant alien, forming a long, soft, flowing dress.
Lena reacted to this in the most intelligent and well spoken manner she could. "Buh."
"Oh little one, you're awake! I was so worried for you! Well we all were worried for you. I shouldn't say it was just me. OH! Let me go get the vet". And with that the affini hurried out.
The xeno clearly was an affini, but what was it doing in her hospital room? And what did she mean by vet? None of this made any sense at all.
Lena made another articulate remark. "Huuuh?"
Suddenly, two plant people hurried back into the room, one the cute grass and moss lady who was there before, the other a more ferny creature who was beaming in a slightly disconcerting way.
Wait, did she just think that one of them was cute?
The ferny one held out a viney hand which Lena took in bafflement. "Teridopsi Allumnia, Fourth Bloom, xenoveterinary specialist, they/them. You gave us quite a scare there young lady."
The grassy one ruffled her head, causing Lena to blink owlishly. "Ana Poaceanum, Third Bloom, radio communications specialist, she/her. I'm so glad you're safe! When I realized you were a sophont and not an AI, I took a drop shuttle directly down to your location. I'm so sorry we didn't realize sooner."
Finally getting her brain into some semblance of order, which was not being helped by Ana continuing to pet her, Lena responded. "Errr, thank you? I guess? But...what happened? It's all a bit blurry."
Ana grinned down at her, a slightly unsettling sight with all those thorny teeth. "We've taken over, cutie. They're still nailing out the official details of the treaty, but you don't have to worry or stress yourself out anymore. You're under the protection of the Affini Compact now."
Lena blinked at the exuberant affini in confusion. "Ok yah I figured that much, but what happened to me? Why am I in a hospital? Why do I feel so weak and have such a massive headache."
Teridopsi knelt down next to her, so they weren't looming over her quite so much, and gave out a sigh, leaves fluttering out around them as they did so.
"Well Lena, when we got here, you were in a pretty bad state. We managed to get you fixed up, but it took some rather drastic measures, and you're still quite weak. It's going to take you a while to recover properly. Now, if you like, I can tell you exactly what was wrong, what we did to fix you, and what we suspect happened. Or if you'd prefer, you can just trust that we have your best interests at root and just take your time recovering without worrying about it."
Lena chewed on her lip deep in thought. Did she really want to know just what happened? She kind of felt like she had an obligation to herself, but did she really need to know all the sordid details? Yes. Yes she did.
"Sorry doc, it's not that I don't trust you," and the odd thing was, she did. They may be invading plant aliens from beyond the stars, but they already had a better bedside manner than any human doctor she'd ever dealt with. "But I feel I oughta know what happened. And I do have some other questions as well."
Ana and Teridopsi shared a look for a moment, a mixture of amusement and concern.
The large ferny affini gave her a gentle pat on the head, making her blink as her vision went blurry for a moment. "I am not a duck little one, I am an affini. But you can call me Teri. As for what happened to you..."
Teri sat back with a sigh and pulled out a tablet from inside themselves. "When we got you into this hospital, you were in pretty bad shape. Almost no body fat, your muscles had atrophied, you had abnormally high levels of adrenaline and noradrenaline and abnormally low levels of other neurotransmitters in your blood, and your kidneys and liver were both severely damaged."
Lena lay there in shock. "How did I...what... the drug was supposed to be safe though? Why else would they have made sure all the centers were stocked with it?"
Teri rustled their leaves disapprovingly. "That nasty little piece of work in the pill bottle we had near you? Certainly one of the more...impressive bits of terran pharmacology that I have come across, but I would hardly call it safe. Even one dose of it would have done naughty things to your system, and you had taken nearly the entire bottle. By our calculations, you had been taking it for around two weeks before we finally got to you."
Lena started to tear up. God she hated crying. Everyone would look at her and see how weak she was and judge her for it. Oh god what would the affini think she didn't even know what they wanted or what they did and what was going to happen to-. Her spiraling train of thought was cut short as she felt two thin vines carefully wiping the tears off of her, and saw Ana giving her a look so compassionate that she somehow instantly felt a little bit more at peace.
"So uhhh, Dr. Allumnia, what happens to me now? I ummm. I have some money saved up, its probably not enough to pay off what I owe but I guess if I owe you my life I can give you a controlling share in my career or something if I have to. I mean, the academy and university already control 45% between them but I still have some I can sell."
Teri and Ana's faces had grown increasingly alarmed as she continued to talk, leaves quivering on both of them until they looked completely appalled.
Ana leaned over until her face completely filled Lena's vision, her green eyes now so dark that they looked almost like black pits in her face. "This is very important for you to understand Ms. O'Neill. Your money is worthless now. It doesn't matter how much you have saved up." The heart rate monitor's beeping started to speed up as Lena listened in fear. "Your silly human concept of capitalism has been abolished. You needed care, and so you were given it. If you need anything going forward, you need only ask, and it will be given to you. There will be not talk of payment, of debt, of slavery, or of owing us anything." Ana smiled, a thorny yet comforting expression. "You're safe and free now."
Lena's heart slowly returned to normal as she took in Ana's words. "It's...it's all gone? It's all over?" A disbelieving half smile appeared on Lena's face. "Well take that Mrs. Jefferds! Shows what you know! Ms. Poaceanum, Dr. Allumnia, thank you so much for saving me. So uhhh, when can I leave?"
Ana's face withdrew from in front of her and carefully propped her up so she could see both of the affini, before glancing over at her ferny companion.
Teripodsi sighed. "Well, your neurochemical levels we've already fixed; they have been replenished and should now be at optimal levels for you, although I will want to check to ensure that they remain optimal and perhaps give you some medication to help with that. Your kidneys and liver, well..." They carefully lifted up the sheet covering Lena's body so she could see down. "We had to completely replace your kidneys, the implants for those have already integrated quite well and are working great. Your liver we're giving some help as it regrows, hence the implant, which I estimate we should be able to remove in a few weeks."
Lena stared down in shock. There were small traceries of green on her skin near where her kidneys should have been, along with a pair of small incisions, but they were almost forgotten in staring at the purple flower growing out of her midsection, just sticking out of her skin like she was some kind of human garden.
"That is the interface port for the liver implant, it allows us to check up on it and make sure everything is working as it should. Unfortunately, for your muscle implants, while we can offer some xenodrugs to help speed up the process, the best way for you to regain your strength is going to be physical therapy. You will need someone to check on the implant regularly, and to help you with your PT until you're able to move around on your own. Ana has volunteered for you to be her ward until you're all fixed up, and once you're ready, you two can take a shuttle up to her hab unit aboard the Sequoioidium."
With a final tousle of her hair, Teri loomed back up and ambled out, leaving just Ana and Lena, looking at each other.
"Hiya roomie." grinned Ana.