Blue Stripe

Day 5 - Killers

by Meanderling

Tags: #cw:gore #cw:noncon #D/s #dom:female #f/f #pov:bottom #sub:female #anxiety #dom:plant #drugs #graphic_violence #Human_Domestication_Guide #hurt/comfort #medical_play #multiple_partners #nonbinary_character #ownership_dynamics #petplay #pov:top #romantic #scifi #self_harm_is_over_were_still_doing_drugs #slow_burn #transgender_characters #whoops_i_did_worldbuilding_a_little

CW for mention of roofies/rohypnol and discussion of killing and death in the context of war. This chapter will get kinda heavy for a bit

"...A fucking clerical error? Are you shitting me?"


"Oh dear, language!" If there was a pearl anywhere within the floral cacophony of Calluna's body, she would've been clutching it. Hard.


The vet hissed a string of affini at an unbothered Cirsi, who replied in defiant english, "Ward. And she has reason to be upset. Since when does the mandragora’s veterinary staff make such grievous errors?” 


Calluna shrank inward, more literally than a human could’ve, and succumbed to english again, “Ah, well…we’ve had something of an adventure tailoring regimens to the small troup of…enhanced terrans we acquired during the last capture. Their needs are rather more extreme than their kin. As best I’ve ascertained, a cuff bound for one of them with a fitting dosage was misplaced and affixed to little Kira here.”


“Bullshit!” 


Cirsi chided firmly, “Kira. Please at least try to rein it in.”


“I thought you plants were supposed to be infallible, that right? So what, you made a fuckin whoopsie and got me super roofied?” Kira was not in fact planning to rein anything in.


Calluna loosened her pearl, “Kira, from the little I have heard of rohypnol’s effects, any overlap is miniscule and coincidental.” Kira's fury singed her own throat too severely to do anything but growl in response. The vet turned to address Cirsi, “Did she not respond as expected given what we now know?”


Cirsi’s weight shifted awkwardly and her gaze wandered, “Well no, I suppose she reacted as expected…but that does not mean it bears repeating.”


“And it won’t be, I assure you. Whichever form of monitor you leave with will be properly calibrated. Hopefully you are able to refrain from any more fist fights, that would certainly help.” The vet's condescension was loud today.


Kira spat venom, "Hey Calluna, how bout you make like a plant and eat shit." The tip of a vine traced faintly down Kira's back and she could feel a familiar rumble through the touch. Something was different this time, it was…halting.


Calluna's usual cheer drained somewhat, “Hm, right. I see that tongue of yours remains." The vet gave Cirsi a pointed look with a stuttering hum, an affect Kira knew was unnecessary beyond being seen. "Now, might we continue? We have xenodrug regimens to discuss, as well as your arm.” a green vine holding a small wand shaped device was held in front of her and a gray vine gently coaxed her casted arm out enough to investigate. The wand passed over her arm and began emitting occasional chirps while Calluna monitored it.


"Woah, hold up, I don't remember agreeing to any drugs. Nope! Last I checked I still have enough rights to say no.” Calluna mouthlessly muttered something in affini and cast a pleading glance at her warden.


A thoughtful pause later Cirsi brandished that serene lower register Kira couldn’t help but find calming, “Kira, you have been taking hormones for some years, as well as a terran antianxiety medication, yes?”


“Mm. The hormones mostly.”


"Right. And you are aware now of the compact's considerable pharmacological superiority, yes?"


"Quit beating around the damn bush, you bush." The gray vine that had been barely holding her casted arm tightened and pulsed covertly with one of the plant’s thrums, then released just as quickly. Not enough pressure to be painful, but still striking. No words were uttered but the message was clear as starlight: behave.


Cirsi continued, “...Anyway. Making blissful, clumsy messes of our darlings is the barest fraction of our capabilities, and I think you will find our solutions to your more mundane daily needs revolutionary. I have asked Calluna to prepare a weekly Class G and E regimen tailored to your needs.”


Kira shot her most withering glare, “To quote you not two days ago, ‘slight impairment of motor coordination is a common side effect of Class Es.’ Yeah no, no stumbling for me. I’ll stick with the anxiety, I’ve dealt with it til now just fine. 'Sides, who doesn't have anxiety?” Another more audibly distressed murmur slipped out of Calluna.


Cirsi balked, “She says after having several panic episodes of varying severity within three days."


“Hey, I had that shit under control just fine til I was fucking abducted! Remember that part? I’d hope so, you were there.” Another pulse of pressure and vibration coiled around her arm, sending pins and needles through her flesh. Her words scattered in the hot indignity clouding her skull. She wasn’t sure what was more vexing, the treatment itself, or the fact that it was working.


There was cold steel beneath Cirsi’s serenity, “Kira. Know that yesterday cannot be repeated, no matter how miniscule the odds. By now you must understand I want what is best for you, yes?”


“...So you say.”


“And I have been lenient and respectful of your agency, have I not?”


“...By some metrics maybe.”


The warm velvet of a vine brushed against Kira’s check, eliciting a shiver and pulling her attention from the wall she’d chosen up to Cirsi’s eyes. The steel departed, “Then can you at least attempt to trust me when I say that this regimen will improve your quality of life?” could she? The caged animal in her lashed violently at the mere thought of trusting her captors and the animal got her out of shitty spots reliably, consequences be damned. But Cirsi had been good to her word on every front, right? Perhaps a trial day would help her understand what she was up against, maybe…maybe it would make playing the good terran a little easier for now. Shit, why did she have to make Kira look at the fucking eyes? The plant fought dirty.


Kira’s volume was halved, “I just…I don’t like having my faculties compromised, alright? I don’t wanna be some clumsy little airhead who needs help to get on the fucking couch.” 


Calluna interjected, “Ah, about that! As adorable as it would be to see you in such a state, I have prepared a daily dose with limited impairment. A fully non-inhibitive Class E is still in progress for you cuties but this should be the best option in the meantime. I think you will be pleasantly surprised!” The wand in her hand made a final triumphant trill and she moved to type in a nearby display. "Besides, once an owner is chosen for you, I doubt they would exclude an E from your regimen. No harm in acclimating now, is there? Ah, speaking of which, has any lucky affini come forward yet?" 


Cirsi froze. Something deep in her corpus tremored, something nearly imperceptible in the vine coiling around Kira’s arm that she still couldn’t help but notice. Discord. The serenity felt fake this time, manufactured, “None that I know of. I am…unsure why. Plenty of the crew had their own interests in her, but…well, our last capture was large, perhaps they’ve already taken florets. Someone will come. Soon.”


Discussion of her promised fate usually returned Kira to the grasp of dread, she was prepared for that. But this felt different. Something gnawed at her nerves this time, a fresh variety of emotional turmoil that she couldn't place. Whatever it was, she couldn't shake the impression that her warden was reflecting it.


Kira dragged her vision away from Cirsi and collected her words, “And what about the Gs? What's the deal there?"


The chance to do some medicating reignited Calluna's cheer, "Class Gs are gender transition and other body modification agents not unlike terran HRT, although you'll find them a rather appreciable upgrade! I have a standard selection prepared unless you'd prefer something more–"


Kira groaned through Calluna's self satisfaction, "What, can't get your hands on a little estrogen? Mine’s done me fine for years, just leave it."


The vet paused in contemplation before speaking with exaggerated mock disappointment, "hmm, a shame! Class Gs could induce changes well beyond your old treatments in a fraction of the time. Buuut I suppose if you'd like your bones left as they are then you know best, independent."


What?


"...my bones?" 


Smug gold erupted in the vet's eyes, "Oh, of course! You'll have a hard time finding any part of you we can't fix~!"


Shit. Why is that so enticing? Is a xenodrug actually enticing? Fuck. The scales tipped erratically in her head. If they were being truthful it sounded like a potentially tolerable regimen, a net neutral at worst. Of course that was assuming she could trust the plants in general, which was a hard no. Except…they hadn't technically done much lying to her so far, had they? And she did still need to play the good little terran if she was to keep them off her case for the requisite time. Still, the deal needed sweetening, it was too much ground to give, she needed…ah.


"...Fine. I'll try your little drug selection. But, I have a condition. I want to know everything you're putting in me. None of that floret translation bullshit either, I want clinical names, no frills, no 'cuties', just a list I can look up later to know what I'm dealing with. On that note…" She turned to face Cirsi again and made her shot, "I want access to one of those tablets. Not yours, one I can use if you're away. Let me do my research and I'll let you take care of my meds. Deal?"


Cirsi's eyes swam with technicolor refractions, that familiar searching, skin prickling look Kira was becoming worryingly used to. The affini spoke cautiously, "Hmm. Rather demanding for one whose permission is technically a formality." Kira swallowed hard and waded through the tidal hum that was Cirsi's thinking. She'd nearly convinced herself that she'd overreached and tipped her hand when the technicolor shimmer resolved to warm, still silver. "But trust begets trust. You have a deal, Kira. I promise you will not regret accepting my–our care." The affini's smile radiated warmth from above but that  internal discord still lingered, quieter now but persistent. 


Trust. So she had the trust of her warden, the one affini making an effort to affirm her personhood on a daily basis. The words caught up to her scheming psyche well after they should've, reigniting her emotional turmoil. Cirsi trusted her, that was good, right? It was useful at the very least. Of course she'd learn what a colossal mistake it was if everything panned out but what did that matter? Her people owned the stars, she spent her endless days in a floating paradise of hedonist delights sculpted from the bounties of distant worlds, one little human slipping through the cracks would be barely a footnote on her memory soon enough. It's not like she'd ever seemed intent on keeping Kira anyway. Really it was Cirsi's own fault for trusting someone like her.


Calluna's best attempt at a clearing throat pulled the pair's eyes apart. Cirsi seemed nearly as startled by the separation as Kira. The vet continued, “If I may interrupt this little moment here, I have wonderful news concerning your arm! It seems someone’s a quick little healer and the implant has performed expediently! Three more days and your arm should be set enough to remove and replace it with a far less cumbersome binding until it is fully healed, should you so wish. Of course, should any pain persist, you will no longer have the xenodrug drip to counter it. Perhaps…someone else could take care of that?” She aimed another pointed look at Cirsi, who failed to hide the nervous energy in her bristling leaves.


“Ah, I…yes, I suppose–”


“Sounds good.” Kira came to her warden’s rescue, “Honestly it’s fucking unbelievable that my arm could be that much better in three days but whatever. You’ve exhausted my suspicion tank for the day, congrats.”


Calluna’s sunny disposition fully returned, “Wonderful! In that case we’ve addressed your most urgent needs, little flower! I will send Cirsi with a few daily doses of your E and some grafts to streamline the process. Your G will be administered weekly, would you prefer the first dose now or would you like your mi-warden to administer it~?”


Kira hadn’t missed that little stumble and glared just enough to make it known. In truth she’d prefer Cirsi’s ministration but they didn’t need truth and she wasn’t feeling particularly patient. She rolled up her sleeve. “Just stick me.”


The delicate prick in her arm would’ve passed unnoticed if not for the dull tingling cool that bled outward from the injection site. She could almost feel the edges of it as they crawled through her, saturating her cells in a xenochemical gamble with her vet.


The vet handed a few parcels of smooth black material to Cirsi’s waiting vines and continued, “I will allow your affini to administer everything from here. And of course, your list as requested!” a vine extended the most superfluously extravagant piece of stationary Kira had ever seen, adorned with a chromatic foil filigree and a list of xenodrug names printed in flowing English script. 


Pleasantly surprised that the vet had kept her word, she reached for the paper only for the green lightning of a vine to slip something neatly between the sheet and her thumb; a lollipop, glistening in the warm light of the vet's office. The cheer was noxious, "A little treat for being such a cooperative girl today!"


Kira met the sunny plant with smoldering eyes and a snarl, "you knew by now that this'd piss me the fuck off."


“Hm, perhaps I did. Perhaps I am simply being hopeful.” There was genuine disappointment in the tone and the sagging pink petals. “If you’d prefer to leave it for another cutie, you need only say no thank you.”


She brandished the candy’s stick viciously, “Or, you could shove this up your fu–” The firm velvet of the storm coiled around her wrist and pulsed again, stunning her with hot static. She growled under her breath, “...No thanks.”


The vet chirped in delight, “Good girl~!” Her attention pivoted the Kira’s warden, “I knew you still had it in you, Cirs. About time~.” A low guttural tremolo ripped out of Cirsi and through every atom in the room, a primal dissatisfaction that needed no words. Cirsi felt momentarily larger in a way not grounded in physical reality, the same as she did when she called upon her storm. Only this time it wasn't aimed at Kira. Calluna almost seemed to collapse in response and spent the stunned quiet that followed recomposing herself. The affini spoke no more of it.


What the fuck does all that mean?


A vine whisked the treat away and she made her way off the exam table and out of the office, ignoring the incessant helping vines with all her waning strength. Goodbyes were said and hands were waved but she took no part.


The pair was on the ring’s boulevard walking toward their next errand for several silent minutes before a light thrum from Cirsi pulled Kira from her brooding. The affini initiated, “Ah, Kira. I know Calluna may not have left you in the best spirits, but–”


“Why the fuck is she like that? She clearly knows it pisses me off, all the pet shit! Fucking infantilising, condescending, fucking…uurggh!


Cirsi chuckled dryly, “Perhaps the teasing is excessive on occasion, but Calluna is a skilled vet, Kira, and endlessly caring. Yes she can be rather saccharine, perhaps a tad overbearing. But her patients all lead long, happy, healthy lives with her aid, floret or otherwise. I'd not leave your medical care in the vines of one I did not know and trust. She spent hours reviewing what medical records we have of yours to tailor your care to your particular body.”


“Some friend she is, she was clearly pissing you off at the end there too. What was that ‘knew you still had it’ shit about?”


The specter of a melody she could usually hear around the plant grew deathly still and her voice matched, “Nothing you need worry about.”


That’s where you’re wrong, I’m a professional at worrying about shit.


Kira grumbled petulantly next to her, “Hm, whatever. She better have done a good job, made it worth the aggravation.”


“Ah, speaking of that…” In Kira’s periphery the affini produced one of the parcels and pulled a few items from it. “I know you are hesitant to try your class E, but perhaps some walking and errands will prove a good opportunity for you to test it, see if the impairment is mild enough to be worth the benefit?” The affini drifted purposefully toward an alcove along the boulevard, one of the private seating nooks she’d witnessed affini using to nurse overwhelmed florets or…entertain those who couldn’t wait for their destination. Reluctant as she was to occupy such space, the relative privacy did soften the prospect of receiving medication at the moment. Which Cirsi probably knew, obsessively observant as her jailor was.


“Fine. Let’s just make it quick.”


Once in the alcove Cirsi produced an injector and what looked like some kind of inhalant mask with a smooth round canister, almost like the bulb of a plant. “Calluna provided injectable and aerosolized options, the choice is yours. Although the aerosol is less precise, I have a hunch you may prefer it.” 


Why did the affini always have to be right? Kira huffed, “I dunno how you could’ve possibly formed such a hunch…but yeah. That one.”


She reached for the inhaler but was intercepted by a vine curling around her palm and gently pulling it back to her side. She aimed a confused look at her warden but was interrupted by the affini’s massive hand placing the mask over her mouth and nose, silky fingers overhanging to grip her cheek while an unseen vine fit the contours of the back of her skull. Before she even registered what was happening her head was cradled on either side, ensnared in planttech and vines. 


Cirsi’s dulcet melody cut through the surprise, “Stubbornly self sufficient as you may be, this part is my responsibility, no need to handle any of it yourself, yes? Nod if you understand.”


Kira had nearly forgotten what Cirsi’s voice felt like. Not the sound of it, she was constantly reminded of that, but the feeling bleeding through the endless membranes of her lush being. She could imagine the sensation of the words reaching her mind before the sound, an impression etched into skin in the lightspeed median between intent and alien utterance. She felt warm. Or…the vines were warm? Something was definitely warm about this whole situation and she–


“Kira?” Her eyes were locked on Cirsi's before the second syllable began. They crackled with that chromatic uncertainty but laced with something…anxious. Anticipation.


Shit, nodding. Right. She gave a curt nod and pleaded with the fuzz encroaching on her mind to vanish. It did not.


“Hm, good~.” The mechanism of the mask hissed and something billowed and tingled over her waiting lips. This was it, she was going to surrender the neurochemical security of her brain to some chemical from the void on the extremely off chance that compliance granted the time she needed to slip away and left her sharp enough to actually accomplish the impossible. Was she really fucking doing this? The melody came again, “Now, breath in, nice and deep for me~.” She breathed in. Niiiice and deep. For Her.


The tingle raced from her lips down into her heaving chest and bled into her limbs, carrying something fragrant she could swear she tasted with her lungs, something that began like the sharp, cool zest of mint and slowly warmed into a mellow fog that she could feel soaking all the way down to her squirming toes. Pleasant as it was, she couldn't help but crave something else's presence in it, some elusive aroma she couldn't put a finger on just then but must've been important. The tangle of intersecting thought trains and coexisting anxieties that comprised her mind’s background radiation stilled, shocked by the initial cool rush before untangling and falling away into the warm afterglow. Her exhale crawled for what felt like a placid eternity, pulling with it tension from a thousand strands of muscle she hadn’t realized were even tense.


"Good girl~."


She sluggishly reopened her eyes to find her vision dominated by Cirsi’s own. A halo of magenta glimmered in the facets around their shining centers, the pink rings' commanding will blunted by herculean restraint but still present. Even in their liminal states they were enthralling. Kira had almost convinced herself that some semblance of fairness existed between them, but those cosmic gems would never, ever play fair.


The mask pulled away suddenly, along with the other vine, and Kira found herself swaying momentarily in their absence. Had she been leaning into them? The affini pulled away, showing the twitches and contractions Kira had come to recognize as discomfort, or perhaps bashfulness? 


“So. How are you feeling?” It was in the voice too, clear as day. Hesitance. Concern.


With fresh air flowing through her now, the mellow fog receded fractionally. She looked down at herself and surveyed briefly, shifting limbs and flexing extremities. That little delay she remembered from last time was there but not so severe. It was like watching someone move through fluid but approximated in atmosphere, slowed not by resistance but by a preternatural smoothness. Every bone and muscle got precisely where they were going but none of them seemed to be in any rush. She continued the check with her mind in the only way she could think to, by turning on her planning center. Mentally flipping through objectives and variables, she was briefly distressed by the pace at which she recalled information, only to be pleasantly surprised to realize everything remained shockingly orderly. For every worrying hitch in cognition there was a reassuring absence of interruptions or intrusive thoughts. An absence of dread. It was…quiet.


She collected herself and spoke with a slow tongue, "Hmm. Could be worse I guess. I sure don't feel anxious!" She looked up to her worrying warden and flashed a quick reassuring smile. She wasn't sure where it came from but saw no reason to question it. "But I better not start trippin on my own feet, alright? I'll be peeved an’ then I’ll find a way to make you peeved. Should we skedaddle?"


One of Cirsi's usual bright chuckles danced out of her and the tension in her vines began to melt. Just how it was supposed to be. The affini continued, "I’m unfamiliar with that last one, is that an adorable new term for 'continue walking'?"


"Pretty much!"


"Then yes, let us skedaddle~."


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


In truth Kira needn't have been present for most of Cirsi's errands but she wasn't going to raise a fuss. Beyond testing her capabilities on the E it proved an excellent chance to continue mentally mapping the ship and extracting what little linguistic basics she could from the signs they passed. Stopping by the secondary bridge and breaking for lunch were primarily opportunities to sightsee, while the brief stop at one of the nearby clothiers proved an exercise in frustration on Cirsi’s part to get Kira into anything within a lightyear of a 'cute outfit', which most affini seemed unable to distinguish from ostentatious pet-wear. After settling on a few mildly reserved outfits, their last stop was a towering omnidisciplinary xenocultural archive hewn from dark polished stone carved with murals of tales from a thousand worlds and carpeted with greenery on all bare sections. Kira was halfway through scanning shelves and wondering what Cirsi could possibly need on physical parchment when she looked toward the obligatory floret rest corner and found a familiar face.


"Abe?" The terran's head whipped around to face her with wide eyes."


"K-kira?" He uttered the name as though it belonged to a ghost.


They stood motionless for a moment, silently begging for reality to resolve. Kira broke their stalemate by pulling the other ex-pilot into a hug before she knew she was doing it. They'd never been–well, they'd mostly never been so close before, but neither of their bodies questioned the embrace. She wasn't sure which of them the slight trembling came from.


A resonant voice from behind Abe pulled her eyes open, "Ah, an old friend of my little darling's? Delightfulll~." Most affini she'd encountered made some effort to match their form to either their floret's or the sophonts they most frequently interacted with. Judging by the extra set of spindly arms, ever-writhing mane of pearlescent plant matter, and trio of serpentine appendages splaying over the floor in place of legs, this one clearly hadn't felt such a need.


Kira pulled out of the embrace and glanced awkwardly between the terran and the affini. Abe seemed even more unsure than her if that was even possible and the plant seemed content to watch the two flounder so she took the plunge, "Sooo. You got a uh…" She gestured to the visibly amused affini.


"...An owner, yeah. It's uh… it's kinda the thing around here ya know?" He laughed the weakest laugh Kira'd ever heard and began fidgeting with his fingers. Something was…off about him, more than the usual amount of off. She was accustomed to the two states of Abe that no one else ever seemed to be able to parse quite as well as her. There was the Abe that stood at crisp attention for officers, executed orders with aplomb, and sat for propaganda videos, the most calculated and refined mask of a dutiful soldier she'd had the misfortune of witnessing. Then there was the Abe whose empty eyes always found the middle distance when no one was looking, the one whose startled voice barely escaped his lips, who felt so perplexingly lesser than his towering stature.


This Abe wasn’t either of them. The soldier was absent but the lucidity wasn’t, there was actually something behind the eyes now, a nervous little spark of being. She’d prided herself on coaxing something approaching this out of him at the mess table once or twice but it always receded as quickly as it came. This was different. After another protracted silence a vine nudged the ex-pilot gently from behind and he shook his nerves enough to respond, “Soo, you um…w-where’s your owner? I don’t see a collar…”


On uncanny cue her warden appeared from behind a shelf carrying a small selection of texts and spoke, “Kira, I’ll have to look–Oh. Making friends? Or…reacquainting?” She shot Kira a look that screamed ‘Please don’t attempt to punch anyone today’.


Kira shook her own nerves free, "Cirsi, this is Abe, another pilot from my carrier. He was my skirmish partner on and off for a while. Abe, this is my warden, Cirsi."


The other affini’s sonorous voice interjected, “Warden? The elusive blue stripe yet evades a collar, most curious… Perhaps you’re as slippery as your friend claims.”


Cirsi beat Kira to it, “My ward is awaiting a matching owner, I myself am not in the place to take a floret but have the time to care for her temporarily. Ah, apologies, I did not finish our introductions.”


The other affini moved next to Abe, curling a vine around his shoulder. “No apologies warranted. Mox Varona 32nd bloom, she/they/it. Charmed.”


Cirsi perked up at the name, “Ah, I believe I’ve seen some of your work on a few of my colleagues’ florets! It is good to put a face to the name. Cirsium Asteri, 4th bloom she/her.” She cast a sympathetic glance at the two awkward terrans between them before turning back to Mox. "There is another document I still need to find, perhaps we might walk and allow these two to catch up?"


Mox appraised their floret for a moment, "Hmm, I suppose my flower could be left alone for a spell, why not? You will be good, right darling?" The vine curled possessively around Abe's arm and his cheeks flashed a brief pink.


"Y-yes Mistress. I will." Kira scanned every inch of her old comrade for the telltale signs of drugged up bliss but he seemed oddly sober to be blushing and squirming under the vine the way he was.


The affini departed with vines intertwined. Abe motioned toward the emptiest and least humiliating section of the floret corner and the pair soon sat across one another on an absurdly plush semicircular sofa. 


Her eyes wandered over his form, landing on one of the circular steel ports embedded in his flesh at the major joints of his body. It’d been some time since she’d seen them empty. She pryed, “So. No exos anymore, huh?”


“Nope. Not exactly a necessity for a pet, ya know?” he shrugged and tried to give her a smile but it barely qualified.


“They weren’t really necessary for a pilot either.”


“You know it wasn’t my choice. N-none of it…” He looked at his feet and wrung his hands aggressively. “None of it was.”


Great, brilliant start Kira. Just get to the bad shit right away.


“Right, yeah. Sorry…”


“...‘sokay…so uh, how’ve you been? You know, since the whole…thing.”


She sighed heavily, “Oooh, y’know. Getting called an affini spy, laying a guy out, getting drugged against my will with a dose apparently meant for one of your lot til I drooled all over the one non-pet shirt Cirs had for me. Just your usual shit.”


“Oh. Yikes.”


“The food’s also pretty good so there’s that.”


His second laugh was even weaker than the first if that was possibly, “Yeah, it really is. Been a bit since I saw you lay someone out, what’d the guy do?”


Even through the E fog she could feel the bile rising. “He uh…he said some shit he shouldn’t have. Probably didn’t deserve the hit but whatever.”


“Hm. Right.” Something in Abe’s voice said he knew more than she’d said. It wasn’t the first time she’d heard it from him.


She collected herself and started again, “You uh…you look good all things considered. How bout you, how’ve you been?” It wasn’t a lie, he genuinely did look good considering the past week’s events. Sure, the anxiety shone from every orifice like a dying star, but he looked healthy at least, well kept. In the right light he looked almost…softer? Probably just the light. 


He answered listlessly, "Fine, I guess. I mean, as fine as I can be." Bullshit, not with that tone.


“No you’re not.”


Abe’s eyes whipped back up, “What? I-How would you know?”


“Because you say ‘fine’ the same way I do.”


“Are you fine?”


“Course I’m fine.”


“Kira!”


“Abe.”


The comforting rhythm of their usual snippy banter eased the tension and she found herself cracking a sly grin. Abe’s mouth started to follow suit but was still struggling. Progress at the very least. Time to get in the mud again.


She began, “So, you gonna tell me what’s not fine for once? Can’t fake any duties to squeeze out of it now, it’s couch time big guy.” 


Abe winced at her words and spoke barely above a whisper, “It’s just…I’ve had a lot of stuff to think about the last few days. Not great stuff.”


Kira scoffed bitterly, “Hm, yeah. Being relegated to xeno property does tend to weigh on one.”


“Yeah. Well, that and…I dunno, it’s–nevermind.”


Kira wasn’t having that shit anymore, four years was enough. “Nuh-uh, no neverminds. Is–” She cut herself short, scanning for their floral companions and, despite not finding them, leaned in to speak more covertly, “Is your affini fucking with you? You get a mean one? They gotta be keeping em around here somewhere, I swear–”


“Wh-no, no it’s nothing like that!” Abe seemingly couldn’t get the words out fast enough. “She’s actually been good to me, like, waaay better than I expected. I mean I was pretty sure they weren’t gonna eat me but still. It’s been…ugh, you’re gonna hate me. It’s been…weirdly nice sometimes? W-whatever, I’m probably just some weak idiot who's falling for the brainwashing…” His eyes were on his feet again. This was definitely neither of the two Abes she’d known.


Five days ago Kira might’ve agreed, called him weak, a coward, any number of shitty callous responses. She wasn’t sure if it was the E and the comfy couch talking or if she’d let Bee rub off on her too much, but she found herself empathizing. She reached a cautious hand to his shoulder, taking care to avoid an exo port. “Hey. You’re not weak or an idiot, alright? You think I’d ever fly with someone who was either of those?”


His head raised again and the faint twinkle of a restrained tear marked one eye. Definitely not the same Abe, but she found she didn’t care. He sniffed and choked the words out, “N-no. I guess you wouldn’t.”


“That’s right, I’ve got better taste than that! Now, enough dodging. What else’s got you not fine?”


He exhaled a long, shaky breath and wrung his hands hard enough to make the knuckles white. When he finally spoke, the words fell like ash, “Kira…we killed people.”


Oh.


There it was. The conversation she’d avoided like death for years, dropped in her lap like so much rad-slag. Her drug-soothed psyche still howled at her to run, but she couldn’t exactly take the out she’d denied her partner now could she?


“I…I know, Abe. Kinda always have, it’s not called ‘war’ as a fucking joke. But you knew too, we both got the ord–”


Don’t. D-don’t do the ‘following orders’ thing Kira, I-I can’t just let that be it anymore.” The wet twinkle in his eyes was multiplying, along with the anxious fidgeting.


Familiar fire fought against the calming haze within and was making ground. “I know that ‘following orders’ doesn’t fucking cut it Abe, I’m not a starsdamned psycho alright? I just…we did what we had to didn’t we? It’s not like we were gunning down civilians and shit–”


“Glarus C.”


Don't–.”


“You were there too! Least you got to watch from Jo’s tank, I had to be on the ground with the ones that fucking liked it!” 


"STOP."


She was standing. And shaking. They were both shaking. When had that happened?


"Kira…" He motioned with his head to a few concerned affini faces poking from around the archive's isles. Shit. She sat quickly and focused on her breathing. So she could still get a tad heated on this E but it seemed her pulse was less liable to get her in trouble. Good to know.


She sighed heavily and began again, "I know, Abe. I think…I think I just resigned to being a murderous piece of shit a while back. Kinda figured anyone in our position would have to. I um…I'm sorry that's been weighing on you lately. You don't deserve that."


"Don't I?" They were cold husks of words, the sort he used to speak when the soldier's mask fell away. "I think I used to buy that whole thing too. 'Doing what we had to.' But we were wrong, Kira. About everything, all of us were. Every step we took was another willingly deeper into the abyss, another red stain on our clothes that we pretended could wash out. And when someone finally showed up ready and able to pull us out, to clean us off, bandage our wounds, and hear our confessions, what did we do? We called them man-eating xeno fucks and spit in their faces, then ran when they had the gaul to smile back at us and forgive." 


He slumped back into the couch, eyes nearly as empty as they used to be. Looking at them stung the way drops of drive coolant on her skin always did. He rasped, "I can't do it anymore Kira. I can't pretend any of it was ok, that I was ever ok, I…I'm so tired." One of the twinkles ran down his face and was caught by a shaking finger.


Her voice was raw, "Well…some of us had our reasons for spitting and running."


"I know, Kira. I know." Cold husks.


The pair was quiet for some time. Not the anxious sort from before, the sort meant to clear the stench of memory from the air. Kira had almost considered telling him everything, letting him be her flight partner one last time. That was looking increasingly unlikely, but the thought did raise a curiosity, "So. Let's say, as a hypothetical, that you did get out. You get off this ship, no owner, no navy, nothing. Where would you go?"


Abe's eyes drifted back to hers with a miserable fraction of that spark remaining. He opened his mouth and fumbled over some letters, closed it without finding any words, and returned to silence. A few moments later he just shrugged stiffly. A fair response after their exchange.


The truth was she didn't know any better than him where she’d go. She liked to pretend that she did, that her master plan extended even a meter beyond a successful jump, but she knew better. Although that answer would do nothing to lift Abe’s mood. Luckily she had something.


“Wanna know where I’d go first?”


He only grunted in response.


“I’d go to Han’s little red shack.”


His eyes met hers, the spark showing again. He mumbled, “Y’think it’s even still open?”


“Oh for sure! Han never hurt anybody ‘cept my stomach lining, the plants have no reason to put him out of business. Well, besides the whole death of capitalism deal.” It didn’t matter if it was almost definitely not true. It was better than talking about the soul rending reality of their collective state sanctioned violence. “I think I’d get me some of his bastard fry, figure the rest out from there. Next steps would be easier with a little fried egg in me. How bout you?”


The corner of Abe’s lip turned up for a moment as he thought, a miniscule triumph but it counted. He answered, “Probably the green noodle and some of those little ponic shrimp rolls he always had.”


“Predictable.”


“Plus a stolen bite of yours.”


“Predictable and rude!


A few recalled memories of shore leaves past and she was able to have a genuine smile on his face the moment their affini rounded the corner, both of their vines stuffed with more than one new article. 


Mox inspected their floret and turned to Kira with a pleased tremolo, "Well done little one, it's a challenge to produce that expression on him."


"Eh, don't congratulate me too hard, I fucked it up real hard for a bit there. But I know damage control."


Abe smiled reassuringly. "It's fine Kira, really. It's bean a long few days on top of a long four years. It was good to check in with you, even by accident."


Whatever new version of Abe this was, Kira was happy to meet him. She returned the smile, "Same here. I'm glad you're doing alright, Abe." His smile still didn't reach his eyes but it was better than nothing. She hoped that she’d get a chance to check in again before…well, best not to jinx it.


Her warden's voice graced her ears, "I have everything I need, shall we skedaddle?"


Kira couldn't catch the giggle in time, "Heh, yeah probably.'


The terrans embraced once more and their affini traded farewells before parting.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


As good to her word as always, Cirsi produced a tablet for Kira as soon as they were home and through dinner. While Cirsi perused her finds in her study, Kira retired to her inordinately extravagant guest bed and made short work of her medication research. Everything Calluna had given her seemed to be safe, standardized care from what she could find, even restrained by affini veterinary standards. She was loath to say she’d overreacted to the vet’s recommendations, but knowing what was in her subdued her concern handily. The nagging corner of her mind screaming that it was the Class E talking was too quiet now to matter.


Once Cirsi was firmly engrossed in her work, Kira began her true homework. Her jailbreaking task list floated through her mind as a mantra: Identify the relevant barriers, find out what opens them, learn to speak their language, cover her tracks, find the window, execute. Simple, now that she had the tech to work with. Covering her tracks would be a ground up necessity, so step one was a quick look at the tablet’s permissions and data tracking relays. Nothing too fishy until she got to a certain point, she’d know where the line was when she saw it. Luckily Cirsi trusted her enough to leave the relevant systems relatively open for her investigation. Cirsi trusted her. She trusted her.


I’m a killer.


Nope. No. We’re not doing that. Cirsi was marked as the primary administrator with her as a secondary, already too much permission to give her but she’d need more without raising flags. Something needed to be bypassed, analytics shut off. But she barely remembered enough code to pull that off on a middling terran naval system, this was affini security. Foreign language and foreign code. Even just parsing the system’s surface level guts without being too suspicious was a challenge for her weary mind. And she couldn’t exactly search “How to hack affini airlocks” on the overnet unless she wanted to have the pipe bomb conversation again, only with far friendlier cops and steeper consequences. Consequences she’d probably deserve.


Because I’m a killer.


NO, enough. Ok, permissions and functionality surveyed. They must have a ship directory, that seemed innocuous enough that they’d hand it to anyone. A quick search with a help function found that she was correct, a mostly full blueprint of the Mandragora’s daunting breadth was accessible. She groaned at finding it to be a floretified edition, but a manic search through some settings proved that she had just enough permission to access a more official copy. 


Killer.


One of the blue-d out masses at the ship’s fore labeled ~{Ask your owner if you really need to know more about this, sweetie!!}~ phased away to render the bay she’d found Jolene in, complete with a sprawling registry of minor systems includiiing…bingo! Every door she’d have to pass through as well as the airlocks, identified but inaccessible. 


How many bodies is it now?


Investigating any further without proper cover would raise flags enough for Cirsi to know, she’d have to wait until she could speak the thing’s language. Cirsi didn’t need to know. She’d be out of the plant’s hair soon enough.


The stupid, compassionate, attentive, patient starsdamned plant. Her jailor.


Appropriate, considering I’m a fucking KILLER.


This isn’t fair. The E is supposed to shut you up, that was the deal. You’re supposed to be fucking QUIET and let me WORK! Why’d I have to pull it out of him? Why couldn’t he just let me keep it buried, why’d I have to PUSH? Why am I so–


Ba-DWING! Her tablet chimed at her and she found a notification in the corner, attached to a messenger app she’d yet to open. She flipped to it to find a few contacts pre-loaded, the notification attached to a <(*Sundrop*)>. She felt the corners of her mouth tug up at the name alone.


<(*Sundrop*)> 

[Image]
Hey Kiki!! Miss C told me u had a tablet now, that’s so exciting!! I thought u might wanna see our handiwork from yesterday all finished

The attached image showed the familiar forms of the mug and bowl the two had sculpted, now glistening with mottled glaze in carefully chosen color profiles to fit her home’s whimsical aesthetic. Kira’s mug was perched in Bee’s free hand while the bowl rested in one of Tetra’s vines with several more following the curving channels down into the bowl’s center where their spiral was just barely visible among the dark, steaming liquid within. 


She felt the corner of an eye grow damp and reflexively scanned for anyone who might see before dabbing it away. Bee’s talent for making her smile when she needed it was becoming dangerous. She moved to respond and was met with a prompt to give herself a chat name. Best not to think too hard and keep her waiting.


<(Blue~Stripe)> They look so gooood! I was wondering what the little curves in the bowl were for


<(*Sundrop*)> Thank yoou!<3 Yeah they don’t technically change anything but Tetra likes em and i like making em

<(*Sundrop*)> Give urself a pat on the back too, u made a pretty lil mug!

<(Blue~Stripe)> Only because i had such a skilled teacher ;)


<(*Sundrop*)> ur too SWEEET <3<3


Kira thanked the stars she was alone, one look at her dopey smile and her brooding reputation would be in tatters.


<(Blue~Stripe)> Thank u for showing me, i kinda needed a pick me up. Its been a day


<(*Sundrop*)> Weeeell if thats the case why not keep it rolling?

<(*Sundrop*)> I was actually wondering if maaybeee u wanna go on a date sometime soon?? Like a just us one, no misses. I could show u some of my fav spots!!

<(*Sundrop*)> Maybe catch u up on all the baked baking u been missing? ;3


Kira began the reflexive mental math of determining the appropriate excitement to aloofness ratio when she remembered she was talking to perhaps the most laid back and enthusiastic person she'd ever met.


<(Blue~Stripe)> I’d love to!!! When would you have time?


<(*Sundrop*)> How boooout 2 days from now?


<(Blue~Stripe)> Should be fine, what time?


<(*Sundrop*)> ummmm all of it???


<(Blue~Stripe)> like the whole day? 


<(*Sundrop*)> Duuuh girl when’s the last time u had a date with a queer woman?? U never get a day off?


<(Blue~Stripe)> Not many. Free time is kinda new to me

<(Blue~Stripe)> Maybe its been a while…

<(*Sundrop*)> well dinner and a movie is for hets and chumps. Im keepin u from morning coffee to midnight snack! And ur the snack <3<3<3


“That’s a lovely shade of pink~.”

“F-fuck! I–stop being so sneaky!”

Her warden beamed down from the doorway and chuckled sweetly, “So, what has you smiling so broadly?”


Kira hid as much of her face behind the tablet as possible and blurted, “Nothing! Just…Bee and I may be uhhh planning a date in two days? I mean, assuming you don’t need me for something…”


Molten silver ignited Cirsi’s smiling eyes. Kira could see a few vines straining to snake toward her but the affini's restraint held. She purred, "Nothing terribly important! The same is not true for tomorrow but that is tomorrow. Is there anything else you need before I retire for the evening?"


Was there? No, right? Something that felt like need itched at her but had nowhere to go, no solution. Best to ignore it.


"Nah, I should be good. Thanks though." The affini turned and had just passed the threshold of the door when she realized how dry her throat was. "Actually, Cirs, can I–"


The glass of water was on her bedside table before she could finish.


"...thanks."


"Goodnight, Kira~. Try not to stay up too late."


“Yeah yeah, I won’t.”


She fully intended to make a liar of herself by sifting through affini language guides for the least floret-y versions and studying until the artificial sun rose. She’d barely picked one out when the stress of the day and her new chemical helper fulfilled Cirsi’s wishes.

The most important takeaway from this one is that class Gs can give you CONTROL OVER YOUR BONES, yes please!

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