June 5, 2555
"Fuck, shit, fuck!!! Shit shit shit–"
[Engines 2,3 significant damage, primary thrust capacity 72% and falling][Starboard rear hull integrity at risk, immediate disembark advised]
[Electrical fire detected in–][Heatsinks–]
"SHUT THE FUCK UP!"
Kira’d had some impressively bad days in her time, true champions of the misery olympics. This particular day wasn’t on the podium but it was a fierce top five contender for certain. Jolene’s right flank had been grazed by an affini capture vine, carving something important out with it. It was only by some miracle that she’d held together and that miracle had a time limit. A rear starboard hull breach for Jolene meant explosive decompression in space, which meant lights out for kira. The kinetic backfire that Jo’s FTL drive generated was always just a hair too much for its meager shielding to fully absorb so it also meant no hypermetric jump until it was patched, lest she create said hull breach within the grip of hyperspace and experience infinity in a fantastically fatal new light. So she had three options at the moment: dock properly, crash, or explode..
[2 vessels in pursuit, intercept 31 seconds]
“Are you FUCKING KIDDING?!”
Her comms crackled to life and the voice of her skirmish partner Barracuda's pilot, Abe shrieked out, “Kira you seeing this?! What's the move here?!”
Kira winced, “I– fuck, I’ll figure it out. Keep close but not too close, checking six now!”
She pulled up aft radar and infra and was met with two problems, her most recent home ship, the carrier CNS Final Measure hopelessly entangled in the vast biomechanical tendrils of the affini leviathan consuming it, and a pair of small affini interceptors rapidly growing as they approached. She briefly caught sight of the cruiser CNS Culling Star, their closest ally for the last few months, still free of the affini ship's tendrils and a glimmer of hope filled her heart. Then a familiar crackling shiver ran down her spine and that hope drained out with it. The space around the cruiser bent in a familiar nauseating way. Stars refracted in a halo surrounding the ship and the geometry of the void fractured and pulled it into a space that shouldn’t have been as the reverberations of a telltale kick tickled Kira’s bones. The Culling Star was gone.
She frantically searched for the familiar form of the Barracuda in her periferie and watched one of their pursuers peel off toward it. Shit that’s too close. She hailed its pilot, “Pick up the pace Abe, you’re about to be in range–” She didn’t even have a chance to finish before a pulse of blue light flashed from the nose of one of the interceptors and Barracuda’s comms went dead. It was only moments before the affini ship was upon it.
No retreating to the carrier. No fighting. No backup.
Kira turned her optics to the storm riddled planet “below”. Baal C was a cold, wet backwater at the edge of terran space, but still warm and dry enough that the rebellion had set up a fire base almost directly “beneath” her just ten clicks out from a ragged coastline. She was already practically in-atmosphere and had been fighting Baal's gravity for half the skirmish. It was the only direction she had left to run.
[1 vessel in pursuit, intercept 19 seconds]
"Crash it is then.”
Jolene's nose dipped ninety degrees and Kira squeezed her engines for everything they had left. The renewed shaking was… tolerable. The gel of her interface tank writhed against her and she forced her breaths to slow. Just keep her stable, we’ll be fine. As long as you keep your fucking head on everything will be– CHRRNK– A sickening crunch and accompanying shudder ripped through the ship from somewhere behind her.
[engine 2 inoperable, primary thrust capacity 54% and falling][Starboard rear hull integrity compromised, immediate disembark advised]
[1 vessel in pursuit, intercept indeterminate][Multiple electrical fires detected in–]
“I GET IT JO, SHUT THE FUCK UP!”
Well, the controlled breathing was nice while it lasted.
[I have run 287 rapid simulations of your projected escape vector given current parameters. 0 of them indicated satisfactory outcomes. Should I run alternative solutions?]
“Alternative solutions sounds like surrender talk Jo, you know my feelings on that point.”
[I have found several alternatives that should ensure your survival within acceptable parameters.][Would you like to see the projected–
“Not unless one of them involves a successful jump! Now, I’m a LITTLE BUSY!”
The atmosphere was getting thicker, she felt it whipping against the hull through the bubbling gel surrounding her and the roaring in her ears. Just a little farther to the storm cover and–
Her comms lit up without warning or permission, emitting a warbling mess of tones before clearing enough to project an inuman voice, “Little terran, are you conscious? You must change course immediately, your current trajectory is deadly and we cannot safely stop you at your current velocity!” It occurred to her that to her pursuers she seemed to be on a direct path to establishing a new crater on Baal’s surface. In truth, she would be if anything else went wrong, but better to be crater lining than a slave.
“That’s the idea, FUCK OFF plant!” She silenced her comms.
She plunged into the upper layer of a titanic storm cell and was met with an abominable shudder along with interference in her radar and infra. Her optics were barely functioning from just about every angle. A klaxon heralded a fresh warning on her display, her altimeter flashed angrily that she had 60 seconds to surface impact and dropping. It was time. She killed her thrust and pulled up into the storm as hard as she could allow.
Kira had experienced heavy Gs far more times than was healthy for her age. Shit, she prided herself on how well she could handle them. She’d often told her fellow fighter pilots, the ones who gave enough of a shit to talk to her anyway, that there was no maneuver in the proverbial books she couldn’t handle.
Jolene raged against the tempest around her and the force of her thrashing washed over Kira in waves, flooding the edges of her vision with eigengrau. The furious bubbling of her tank was drowned out by the rabid pulsing of her blood and her beleaguered breaths. Iron and bile stained the back of her tongue. Her reality was fury and her brain was desperately trying to retreat into the abyss, to be released from it all. The world was crushing her, collapsing her senses upon one another. She was so tired.
Lightning arced through the clouds beside her, injecting light back into her retinas, and accompanying thunder chased the rush of blood from her ears. The familiar cool of adrenaline cut through the fog and sharpened her senses. She was awake, she was present, she was– she was below the clouds and–
She was over a choppy sea. She should’ve been over land by now, shit. Fuck, FUCK. But the grey coast was rushing toward her on the horizon, there was still a chance that– CRRRNNGK– another gut twisting crunch from behind her–
[Heat sinks 100% saturation][Engine 1,3,4,5 shutdown imminent]
[Immediate disembark advised][Kira]
[Kira][Kira Immediate disembark advised]
Most of the lights in the cabin blinked out. Her engines quieted to near silence. One side of her tank pulsed and bubbled with unfamiliar heat. No more time. She killed thrust entirely and put all of her focus into keeping Jolene level. The Grey coast ahead rushed toward her as quickly as the water below.
10 seconds to impact… 5 seconds… 3… 2… 1
“There! On the beach! Set us down, she must still be trapped inside and it’s already halfway sunk into that mud, we need to get–”
“Uuh Cirsi? Take another look…”
“I think that may be the fastest I’ve ever seen a terran run, I'm actually impressed! Poor thing is going to be so tired…”
“She’s heading for that cave in the cliffside, we’ll have to land and finish this in person.”
“You got it champ!”
“...Tam is rubbing off on you terribly.”
“Hey, don’t harsh my chill!”
“I am almost certain that is not correct.”
Cirsium and her copilot Mangle stepped out of their light interceptor and toward the cave to flush out their quarry. She could hear faint ragged breathing from within well before they arrived at the cave's entrance, it could not have been very deep and the terran inside could not have been in good shape.
Cirsi announced herself in the most soothing tone she could muster, "Can you hear me, little terran? It is ok, we are here to help! No harm will come to you, will you come with us willingly?" No answer came from inside. The heavy breathing quieted, accompanied by a few almost inaudible strangled groans.
Cirsi looked to mangle, who just gestured vaguely toward the cave, "After you."
A breeze slipped through Cirsi's makeshift torso in the closest approximation of an affini sigh and she moved into the entrance, "we are coming in little one, do not be a–" CRACK CRACK. The moment she passed the threshold two small smoldering holes appeared in her, one in her torso and a second temporarily erasing her right eye. She winced and pulled back to the opening’s edge. The injuries were miniscule but she prefered not to frighten the poor thing any more than necessary. “That is enough little one, your weapon will do you little good! I can hear that you are unwell, I promise we are only trying to help.” As she spoke, she tried to covertly send a vine along the floor of the cave armed with a primed class Z needle. It barely made it inside before another shot tore it apart.
A fast runner and a good shot as well, just as feisty as expected. She’s going to make some lucky affini exceedingly happy.
“Says the slaver, FUCK OFF!” Venom seeped from the terran’s voice.
Mangle sighed heavily behind her, she could almost feel the eye roll affectation he’d picked up from one of his florets, “It’s always the slave thing with these ones, did none of them watch the broadcasts? They’re very clear in my opinion.”
“Not the time, Mangle” Cirsi continued, “The affini do not take slaves little one, you will see! But right now we must get you to safety. I know the suits you terran pilots wear do not carry enough oxygen for long excursions or have enough insulation for an extended stay on this planet. Even if we were not to take you, you would eventually be taken by hypothermia or hypoxia and we simply cannot allow something so awful, please see reason and come out dear!”
“Those both sound like perfectly good ways to die right about now– nggh fuck–” She was definitely hurt, “So kindly FUCK OFF.”
Cirsi was patient enough to wait the terran out indefinitely were their circumstances less dire. But they weren’t, and it was time for the terran to understand. Her soothing tone was supplanted by insistent authority, “Little terran, understand that there is no one else coming for you. All of your comrades have been subdued, including those from the small settlement nearby. Only you remain. I will enter that cave and subdue you and your firearm will do nothing to stop me, or you may choose to exit of your own accord. I will grant you this one choice. Make it wisely.”
There was a long moment of silence followed by a pained grunt– or was that a whimper?– then Cirsi heard slow, squelching footsteps and backed away slightly to give her quarry space. This one seemed to have a hair trigger, it wouldn’t do to crowd her and there was no more risk of her escaping. The barrel of a sidearm appeared first and from behind it stepped a terran woman almost too covered in grey mud and some kind of gel to recognize anything beneath aside from her display helmet. Her weapon arm remained surprisingly steady but Cirsi could see the persistent shaking in her legs and her other arm– oh, oh roots– the poor dear’s other arm was tucked against her body, the forearm twisted unnaturally and oozing red through the sleeve. She locked eyes with the terran and noted the large dent and heavily cracked visor of her helmet, neither of those boded well. Her stare was as withering as it was exhausted, burning eyes ringed with sullen red.
Cirsi’s demeanor softened slightly at the sight of her poor state, “Oh, oh dear… If the pain becomes too great I can apply a sedative–"
"I'm fine." the woman spat the words. Her staggering sway immediately afterward suggested otherwise. Her gaze passed to the ship embedded farther down the beach and the righteous fury drained from her stare. Her shoulders slumped and her aim faltered as she spoke, “What’ll happen to her?”
“To who? The ship?” Cirsi turned to look. It was still relatively intact but embedded far enough in the mud to almost completely cover the deep blue band running along its length and acrid smoke trickled from multiple parts of it. “I cannot say. We try to leave planets free of the detritus of war, it may be taken. But it is not a certainty.” She motioned to their own ship and put on the most reassuring smile she could, “Now, as your people say, our chariot awaits!”
If the terran noticed her attempt at cheerfulness she didn’t show it. She gave her ship a final sorrowful look before lowering her weapon arm and making a shaky, sullen walk toward the affini ship. Mangle and Cirsi exchanged a sympathetic glance before following. Even at their most volatile and scornful, seeing little terrans in such distress gnawed at her core. She should have sedated the poor thing by now, it was cruel to make her deal with such an injury without help. But she told herself that perhaps granting a few more moments of agency would seed the necessary trust for her to be prepared for a life free of any agency at all.
As the interceptor lifted off with a gentle hum, Cirsi watched the exhausted terran fight to keep her eyes open and trained on her captors. That fight ended before they left the atmosphere. The poor thing never saw the class Z coming.
The beds on terran navy ships were not often described as comfortable. More commonly they were described as 'I guess it's better than the floor' and 'it's fine, everyone has back problems right?'. Whatever kira was laying in when her consciousness began stirring was decidedly better than a ship bed, as well as every other surface she'd ever laid on. She was dimly aware of an ache above her left temple but a mellow fog cut it off there and blanketed the rest of her body. An exploratory shift of her arms found that something weighty and unbearably soft also blanketed her body in a more corporeal sense. Something about her left arm felt heavier than it should've, heavier than the rest of her already felt. She reached over with her right to– something stopped her. She was restrained, shit she was restrained.
Shit, SHIT FUCK. FUCK.
She'd been captured by those fucking weeds and now they were– they were– why were her fucking eyelids so heavy?! With concerning effort she opened her eyes and was briefly blinded by the bright room she found herself in. Tall ceilings, off-white walls, various machines that looked suspiciously like medical equipment–some recessed into alcoves in the walls–bright lights with an oddly warm quality where she expected them to feel steril. This was a med bay room, it had to be. If it were, it was larger and seemingly better equipped than any med bay she’d ever been in, not to mention the absurd notion of having a private room. She looked down at the unreasonably large and plush bed she was in and clumsily thrashed the heavy blanket down far enough to see her torso. Her interface suit and most of the mud were gone, replaced by some kind of conspicuously silky lilac gown-like garment. Both arms were restrained by black cuffs attached to the sides of the bed and the left– there was a plant in her. There was a fucking plant embedded in her arm. A winding cage of stiff roots bound her whole forearm in place of a splint and the gash formed by its break was knitted together with a lattice of smaller green roots that she could see fanning out underneath her skin and connecting to a large pink flower at their center. The fucking weeds had bound her arm with plant tech that was now inside. Her. body.
Fuck fuck fuck fuck FUCK.Ok, think Kira. If they were going to just kill you they would’ve by now unless… unless they’re harvesting something else from me, I’ve heard the blood drinking rumors, who fucking knows about those.
Fuck, shit, fuck.Slavery makes the most sense, has to be the mines. Can’t build giant spaceships without some mines. Slaves need working arms, that’s why they did it.
Oh stars, oh fuck.Maybe they want to interrogate me. That HAS to be it, I was in those broadcasts, they must think I’m more important than I am, that I have information.
Fuuuuuck.It can’t be the… pet one, that’s propaganda bullshit I would know oh FUCK why did I have to get HIT THIS TIME?!
Shrill rhythmic beeping from her wrist cuff interrupted her spiral. A small flashing yellow light accompanied it, some sort of heart rate monitor? Oh. She was hyperventilating. When did that start? She heard muffled movement and speech from beyond the door growing louder.
THE ENEMY. Shit, compose yourself Kira. You’re past this shit. Breath in… and out… in… out… don’t let them see you like this. Stars I’m tired…
The beeping slowed and silenced just as the door across from her bed slid open. Through it came an affini shorter than the others she’d seen, a barely nine foot tall amalgam of bright green vines and fine leaves spotted all across its form with bold pink and yellow flowers. It was exactly what the affini propaganda had prepared her to expect, a mobile garden composed into a humanoid facsimile, this one molded with notably feminine curves by terran standards. The affini looked expectantly at the machines surrounding Kira and, seeming not to find what it was looking for, chirped a greeting, “Good afternoon little cutie! My name is Calluna Varis, third bloom, and I am serving as your healthcare provider for the time being!” Kira poured every ounce of venom she could muster into her glare, although considering the fog still gently smothering every part of her it couldn’t have been much. “I came to check on your elevated vitals but you seem to be doing ok, is there anything else you may need? I imagine by now you may be–”
“Wha’ss 'n my fuckin arm?” The response was gravelly and slurred and brought to her attention the desert that now constituted her throat and mouth.
“Ah yes! Your poor little arm was broken rather terribly when you were brought in, so we applied a standard medical implant! It will keep your bones in the proper position while they set and supply you with nutrients to speed the healing process as well as administering small doses of a helpful xenodrug to deal with–”
Kira raised a hand, “Stop. Water.”
A tall glass of water with a long straw appeared on a small table next to her before she even finished pronouncing the word, as if by magic.
"I will excuse the lack of a 'please’ this time, perhaps we'll work on our manners going forward?"
Kira’s right arm smeared over the bed and grabbed the glass with clumsy fingers, bringing the straw to her lips. This was wrong, she was so… slow. A warm, not unpleasant tingling saturated her extremities and bled into the corners of her thoughts, numbing everything it touched. And yet without her initial panic she knew she should feel a lot more worried than she did. Why didn't she? As the affini continued she drank as deeply and loudly as she could, no longer looking at it at all.
“As I was saying before, the implant can administer small doses of a helpful xenodrug to help you deal with any pain until your arm is well enough to remove it! If all goes well, we should be able to remove it in–”
“Yerr drugginng me.”
“Well of course little flower, you were in poor shape when you arrived and–”
“M’kay. Fug you.”
The irritatingly chipper expression on the nurse’s face sagged almost imperceptibly, which Kira would’ve taken as a personal victory if she weren’t now purposefully ignoring the affini as hard as she could. Kira had heard the horror stories of xenodrugs, profane chemicals that dug one's personality from their skull and made pliable shells or livestock of them. Of course, that was according to rebel propaganda which meant next to nothing for anyone who paid a modicum of attention. Even so, the proposition of having her carefully guarded consciousness tampered with was more than enough to freak her the fuck out. Or at it least would've been if the "xenodrugs" weren't already making a babbling fucking idiot of her, which she should definitely be more anxious about. Why wasn’t she more anxious? The affini continued talking but between her belligerent disregard for the plant and whatever haze still permeated her body, she was barely registering any of it. Something about procedures for terran rebels… something about a treaty… fuck she was tired.
The nurse took the hint from her rapidly drooping eyelids. She cooed at the helpless thing below, “Alright sweetie, the sedatives seem to be catching back up with you so I’ll leave you to your beauty rest! We can resume this conversation later when you are more lucid.” Kira barely heard the words under the growing weight of the chemical blanket pressing her down into her bed. Whatever panic she'd mustered upon first waking had fought it off for barely three minutes and had quickly run out in favor of a lurking dread. She figured lurking dread was better. Panic could get you killed, but dread could be tolerated, worked around. Dread was familiar. At least one part of this mess would be familiar.
Maybe next time she woke up they’d drop the fucking act and bring on the torture or labor or whatever they preferred, spice things up a bit. Maybe they’d just stop her from waking up again, spare her the mines and themselves the time. That would be fine, everyone wanted to go in their sleep right?
Yeah, that would be fine. There you are, dread. Good to see you. Let’s get some shuteye.
“You are far too excited for this, Tetra.”
"I am exactly the right amount of excited for this!”
Cirsium and Tetra stalked down the winding corridor to the med bay, the latter setting a brisk pace even by Cirsi’s standards.
“I am just saying, it seems unnecessary for you to waste time visiting a single rebel out of over a thousand new captures, she isn’t even–”
“And would it have been a waste of time for you to visit this single rebel alone? I know you were going to anyway, it’s perfectly natural to check up on your captures, especially one so intriguing~~.” Tetra had a tone she used that said 'I know more than you and you will be delighted about it', a tone that was mirrored in rippling vines and skipping steps absolutely unbecoming of her station. She was using it right now.
"Well no… but I am not… you are–"
"No longer needed for the day and happy to meet one of the rebels' little celebrities with my close friend! Besides, my darling is at a sleepover tonight so I won't be missed.”
A disbelieving huff rattled Cirsi’s boughs, “You absolutely will be missed.”
A knowing grin nearly split Tetra’s mask apart, “Well… no more than normal!”
Kira was roused for the second time in a day by something gently shaking her foot. Her eyes opened more easily this time to find the same affini nurse from before at the foot of her bed beaming down at her with that impossibly sunny expression. No one was that cheerful, who the fuck was she trying to kid? She spoke, “Welcome back to the world of the waking little flower! There are two things on the agenda for this fine evening. The first is that I will have dinner ready soon, you must be famished after the day you've had!" Kira fumed at the correctness of her assumption and failed to suppress a growl from her gut. "The second is that you have a few visitors! You must be a popular little cutie! I'll fetch them now unless you'd prefer to wait."
Kira just grunted in response. The nurse flowed to the door and opened it, disappearing for a moment. Some excited words were exchanged in a language she didn't recognize before the nurse returned with two more affini in tow.
The first was a giant even among the affini she'd seen so far, standing nearly thirteen feet tall and compressing itself slightly to pass through the already affini-sized doorway. Its red and orange flora contrasted with dark vines and bark that comprised its simulated musculature and bones and brilliant cyan and purple flowers adorned its body. All of it was composed in an ecstatically amazonian physique that Kira pretended not to feel anything about, draped on one side with a half cloak of dark woven vines lined at the collar and edges with fine red leaves reminiscent of fur or feathers.
The other affini wasn’t quite so grandiose; shorter than the other, but still tall, lithe, powerful. Kira recognized this one, the one who’d taken her at the beach. It–she? Her voice struck Kira as feminine before, but then again this was a fucking plant, not a person–she was… she felt… like what exactly? The green of her body was brightest at her center and face and rapidly bled into a duller teal color moving outward that only grew darker and greyer toward her extremities, as though a thunderstorm were invading her body from the outside in. The strands of dark flora that comprised her "hair" hung long and billowing, obscuring parts of her face. Tucked into her hair and running across her shoulders and chest were innumerable delicate white petals, some ringing small bulbs that had not yet opened. From within the cover of her hair, as though a huntress watching through underbrush, peered piercing aquamarine eyes. She was all at once ethereal and arresting, a plausible candidate for fae deity status, she was…she was something…
The larger one spoke with a warm, husky rumble that rattled Kira's spine with the inhuman resonance of a grand piano, “So the great and elusive ‘Blue Stripe’ finally graces the halls of our humble ship! It is lovely to meet in person, little Kira~~” They already know my name? “You have given our armada quite the little chase for some time! I am Tetranosa Rosale, ninth bloom, captain of the Mandragora. But please, call me Tetra~.” The affini punctuated the introduction with a wink. “And this is my head navigation officer, among her other pursuits~.” The big plant called Tetra gestured dramatically toward the other.
The other affini’s eyes were firmly set on Kira but her mind seemed to be elsewhere, it took her just a moment too long to realize she’d been called on, “...Oh! Ah, hello, I am Cirsium Asteri, fourth bloom. I was the one who brought you here, hopefully you remember. Your head was–”
“I’ll make this brief” Kira pointed to each of the affini in turn, “Fuck you, fuck you, and double fuck you for rudely interrupting my daring escape. I don’t know what the fuck you want from me that’s kept me alive and in this little sham here, but I've got nothing for you so you might as well be done with me.”
The captain’s already wide grin stretched impishly, “All the fire I expected from you after those broadcasts!” Kira’s purposefully disinterested expression faltered and Tetra’s grin fully evolved to a smirk, “Oh yes, Cirsi and I have watched them from the beginning of this pacification campaign, even before the accord surrendered! They were rather sad at first, onslaughts of misguided, misinformed fear and hypernationalism that we could only bear to watch for the purposes of research. But the determined spirit you little rebels mustered was occasionally endearing, if only for renewing our anticipation at the prospect of snuffing it out~~. And you Kira, you were always the most fun to watch for!”
Kira’s molars ached beneath the force with which she clenched her jaw. If they’d seen the propaganda they must think she was actually important, which meant interrogation, which meant either torture or brainwashing. She could take a little torture, no sweat. But the thought of direct fuckery with her brain was enough to awaken dormant panic. Her eyes bored into Tetra’s artificial face and she felt the distinct sensation of being watched by a cat who knew the mouse wouldn’t be getting up again and was in no rush. She hissed a reply, “Oh really? Why’s that?”
Tetra's leaves rattled with what she guessed was excitement, "you did a fine job of acting by your comrades' standards I'm sure, but we could always tell your–which organ is it, the one associated with strong emotion? Stomach? Liver?"
Cirsium interjected, "you are thinking of the heart."
"Yes, That's it! We could always tell your heart wasn't in those words the same as your compatriots. Your eyes always filled with fire when they asked about your own little escapades, but when it came to the ideological ranting… well, whenever you were in one of those interviews we would watch for the precise moment your mind began to wander and try to guess what other place you'd prefer to be. It was really quite fun!" A dark vine appeared holding some sort of large tablet which displayed… oh stars…
The video on the screen was of an interview that had been televised just months before the accord’s surrender, one which featured Kira and Abe as “featured star pilots'' being fed lines about the tenacity and might of the cosmic navy and their fabricated successes against the affini. Kira had avoided watching it like a plague. Seeing it now it struck her what an odd pair they made for a propaganda video. Abe was the picture of an all-terran hotshot fighter pilot; sandy blonde hair, striking blue eyes, sharp features carefully composed to express confidence and strength that only Kira knew had been lies. There was only one true hotshot fighter pilot in that video and it was the young woman with all the enthusiasm and charm of a cartoon bulldog and a graphic reading "Blue Stripe" beneath her where it should have said her name. They had to keep her nice and brandable after all, perfect for a recruitment tool. Cirsium pointed suddenly at the screen while Tetra spoke for her, “Aaaaand there!” to Kira’s chagrin she watched her old reflection’s eyes drift slightly at that very moment, letting Abe take the reins for the parts she never cared for. She could’ve sworn she maintained the illusion of interest perfectly at the time and yet here these fucking plants were, picking her apart for fun. “Just adorable! I can hardly blame you though darling, most of those transmissions were so terribly dull for such a sharp little thing as you!”
Cirsium chimed in quietly, “I believe my guess for this one was an arcade.”
They were fans.
What the fuck.
Kira had never experienced someone being an unabashed fan of hers while simultaneously patronizing her, the line between condescension and playful swooning was being blurred into nonexistence. The effect was… flustering. She despised being flustered. At this point she was praying to whatever powers would listen for them to just skip to the actual torture. And the worst part of all, the deepest cut so far, was that Cirsium was kind of right. She loved arcades.
Kira's silent fuming intensified until all three affini were once again looking at her rather than the screen. The nurse attempted to speak, “Is something the matter little flow–”
“JUST DROP THE FUCKING ACT! I’m sure this little routine of yours works perfectly well on the other stupid humans you scoop up but I’m not fuckin having it! I’m tired of the benevolent conqueror schtick, I would MUCH prefer you just start pulling my fucking fingernails off or waterboarding me than this shit, be fucking realistic! I’m not a starsdamned idiot, I know how this goes, so just HURRY UP AND OFF ME and quit playing with your food!” All three affini’s expressions dropped, but not in the way she’d hoped. Instead of shock there was only dreadful, sickening pity, the tacit admission that these three talking plants found her most sincere fury… sad. Maybe this was the torture.
Cirsium was the first to react this time. She stepped lightly in front of the other two affini and spoke, “Kira, no one is going to hurt you, not now or ever again if we have our way. The affini compact exists to care for every sophont in our reach and we never provide anything less than absolute safety, happiness, and fulfillment. We have no reason to interrogate or… stars forbid harm you in any way. I know it may be difficult for one who has spent so long under the weight of so much deception and hardship to believe but I give you my word that this is the truth. Whoever you end up with is going to take exquisite care of you little one, there is not a doubt in my mind.”
Kira had meant to interrupt her at some point, she was sure of it, but… this affini, Cirsi… her inhuman voice split into subtle layers as she listened, dancing and weaving around words spoken in a peculiar cadence, as if to an intangible rhythm. She couldn’t even be sure she was perceiving it correctly, perhaps her shaken subconscious was simply trying to digest the low melodic tone at the same time as the constant, elusive shifts in the vines and flora of the fae’s body and failing to separate the two. Every affini she’d encountered thus far was rife with these small mesmerisms, each of them was a challenge to comprehend in their own right, but this one, her voice… it felt like rain… shit, what was she thinking, fucking drugs. Stop thinking of this thing like a person, they're not people. She was pausing for too long, she needed to retort.
"So I have the word of a purportedly nigh-omnipotent conqueror that I will be perfectly fine despite my welfare being functionally worthless to you. Lovely, very comforting…wait."
"What do you mean by whoever I end up with?"
The visitors shared a confused glance before looking to Calluna. Tetra and the nurse exchanged rapid words in a complex, flowing tongue before the captain turned to address Kira again, “Well now, Calluna has informed me that you were not lucid for this particular part of the process earlier so I am happy to do the honors! Kira Koiarera, pursuant to the Treaty on the methods, limitations, and procedures for human domestication, section 43 and considering your status as a well documented member of a terran rebel faction, you have been submitted to our local domestication program!” The captain's demeanor oozed indulgent satisfaction. The fresh golden glimmer in her eyes was deafening. “ Now this particular capture raid was larger than expected and finding well matched owners for so many new florets is taking time, many of your comrades have already been placed in stasis to continue their domestication with affini outside of this ship. But you will be notified as soon as someone claims you! Until such time you will be placed under the wardship of an available affini, and if you so happen to bond with them before another is found, well…everything will work itself out~~.”
Kira did her best to keep the hot cocktail of bewilderment, fury, and exhaustion rattling around her skull from expressing itself on her face but the heat radiating from her cheeks made it clear she was failing.
“That is correct!”
Kira pressed her palms into her face and spoke through a series of exasperated groans, “So. Out of all of the bullshit in your propaganda and all of the bullshit in our propaganda, all of the possible answers to whatever the fuck your collective deal is… the PET ONE is TRUE?”
Calluna spoke up, “Little terran, I think once you leave this room you will find that we were very forthcoming in our broadcasts! In fact most of terran space is already enjoying–”
Kira hissed, “I would like to read it.”
“What?” The captain and nurse responded simultaneously.
“The treaty. I. Would. Like. To. Read. It. In terran english with my own fucking eyes!”
Tetra looked at her quizzically and a warm breeze passed through the vines of her torso. The effect struck Kira as a long sigh. Her mask was painted with both pity and amusement. “I suppose there is no harm in it. Calluna, would you be so kind as to procure a terran english copy for our little rebel here? I have a feeling she would prefer the classic independent translation to the floret one, although I will leave that to your discretion.” The nurse gave a rapid nod before flowing out of the room. Tetra continued “Now then, it has been lovely meeting you little ‘Blue Stripe’ but I have business to attend to, I cannot wait to see how you take to life here with us~~!”
Kira summoned her most vitriolic glare, not that it was a drastic difference from how her face had been composed of late, “Been a real pleasure cap’n, fuck off.”
The captain turned with a dramatic flourish and headed toward the door. On the very edge of Kira’s hearing the captain’s voice murmured, “Can’t wait to see how she handles that tongue of yours~.” before she disappeared into the hall. She was alone with the quietest of the three affini, the one with the voice like rain. There were several long moments of silence punctuated by quick glances at the affini and back to the nearest wall. Kira expected it to be uncomfortable but found it wasn’t. Why wasn't it?
Cirsium finally broke the silence, “...those are lovely tattoos! Do they have any particular significance?” Kira looked down at the winding bands of geometric patterns traced in dark lines along the tan skin of both of her arms. She had gotten used to barely seeing them in the navy fatigues and interface suits she’d almost exclusively inhabited for years now, a dress code kept unnecessarily strict by a series of captains who didn’t find her sleeves appropriate for a lieutenant. She fought the urge to thank the affini for the compliment or answer her.
“Why did you come here? Why haven’t you left? You already caught the mouse, just felt like toying with me a while longer?” Kira loaded the words with derision.
Cirsium’s response was soft and low, “It is not abnormal for affini capture teams to check on sophonts who pique their interest or their concern during capture. I was worried about the state of your arm and I wanted to see that you were doing alright. When Tetra found out just who I had captured, well, she could barely contain herself!” The affini chuckled, a sweet melodic rumble that danced around Kira’s head. Why did the stupid plant have to sound like that? She continued, “You know, for a freshly captured rebel fighter pilot, I expected more free terranist rhetoric in your outbursts, they have been pleasantly neutral in that regard so far.”
Kira scoffed, “Yeah well, I figured droning on about 'terran freedom' would get me on the fast track to brainwashing, but if I'm enough of a rancid bitch maybe there's a ten percent chance you'll just get sick of me and drop me off on some station.”
“I am afraid you’ll find that percentage much lower than you’d like, general rudeness is relatively simple to train out of florets.” Cirsium’s face was painted with a sympathetic smile, which only kindled Kira’s ire further. “And I think you will find it quite a challenge to make the affini sick of you, petal. Even beneath the constant strings of curses I can see your charms plain as day.” Is this plant…flirting? “To be honest Kira, I do not sense the same ideological wrath in you that most of the more entrenched rebels share. Yet on the surface you appear loyal to them. It is… puzzling."
Well. She wasn’t entirely wrong. And fuck her for being perceptive. If they were banking on her laying bare the complete abject truth of her motivations they would have to get used to disappointment. “They pay me to do something I’m exceptionally good at. And I don't like the idea of serving some alien overlord. It's not fucking complicated."
“As I understand, there were a number of… industries within the accord that would have paid a skilled pilot rather well. And a civilian life would have given you the chance to evade domestication. I am simply curious why you settled for the military? Or for a feralist rebellion for that matter.”
Too many questions. Kira wasn’t here to answer fucking questions, she was here to be a prisoner of war and optimallly to be the left alone. “None of your business, plant.” The affini did not respond this time, allowing the prior calm quiet to reign again. Kira sank back into the dangerously plush bed and sighed a long, tired breath into the ceiling. She needed to stop looking at the stupid plant. When her words came they were sluggish and quiet, “So, floret. That’s the word you use for your pets right? My new little destiny courtesy of the fucking compact?”
“I promise it is a good life Kira, whoever takes you will make you endlessly happy, it’s what we do best.” Kira could tell from voice alone that the affini’s insipid sympathy had crept back into her face. They couldn’t even treat her as an enemy combatant, a proper prisoner of war. To this ship full of towering alien plant-forms she was an objective inferior, a feral dog, utterly harmless and unworthy of any great concern. That would be a mistake.
“So… no way out huh? No appeals process, no recourse, no nothing?”
“There are rare circumstances by which new captures are found fit for independent citizenship but… little one, you discharged a weapon at an affini with intent to harm in willful rebellion against the compact’s rule. Even if you could prove that you do not personally subscribe to feralist ideologies, I cannot see those circumstances applying to you.”
Then I’ll have to find my own way out, Kira didn’t say.
The med bay door opened and Calluna bounced back in, as chipper as she’d ever been, with a substantial stack of papers in one simulated hand and a tray of food in the other. She set both gingerly on Kira’s lap and addressed her, “Here you are little flower! One copy of the terran domestication treaty in terran english.” she patted the top of the hefty stack and leaned in much closer than Kira was happy with, “Let me know if it gets a little too dense sweetie, I can always bring a more pleasant translation!” Kira nearly growled as she craned her neck away from the nurse. “And for your dinner I have a little terran comfort food, one of my floret’s favorites!”
Kira glanced at the tray in front of her bearing some gourmet take on grilled cheese and tomato soup and was betrayed by an audible rumble from her stomach. She growled, "I'm not hungry." They had heard her body, they weren't stupid. She didn't say it so they'd believe her words, just to make it clear that she wasn't interested in their insidious help, their fucking performance of good will.
The affini shared a glance that purposefully lacked human affectation and a few quick affini words. The nurse gave Kira one of her cavity-inducing smiles and a farewell she didn't listen to before departing.
It was just the two of them again. Kira and the affini with storm clouds at her edges.
The silence lasted longer this time. Cirsi had apparently abandoned small talk in favor of silent appraisal. The glint of predatory fixation had dropped away and there was no longer any pity either, she was… searching. She was stricken with the odd mental impression of fingers gently prying something open, picking apart bitter rind while cradling the fruit beneath. Kira fought the urge to squirm beneath it.
Cirsi broke the silence quietly, “You should eat, Kira. Your weight has fallen visibly since your last broadcast. And I know what those sounds from your abdomen mean.”
Kira scoffed in disbelief, “Wow, what a remarkably stalker-ish thing to say to someone! Quite the silver tongue on you, huh.” Once again Cirsi wasn’t wrong and once again it was infuriating.
“I fear I lack the cultural context to fully parce that, but I recognize terran sarcasm when I hear it. Might I ask what a silver tongue means to you?” the affini was leaning into her words, leaning into Kira’s space.
Kira narrowed her eyes at Cirsi. This was not the customary response to her jabs, people weren’t supposed to pay more attention afterward. Suspicion tinged her response, “Having a silver tongue means you have a way with words. Twisting them, persuading people with them, whatever it means for you.”
The affini hummed for a long moment, scattered leaves twitching in thought, “So persuasion and deception are tied together in this concept, how very terran! Your sarcasm was apt then little one, I cannot say that concept fits me very well at all, I find persuasion in the service of truth a much more sensible… what is the term again? Emo?"
Kira stared at her in confusion for a moment before it dawned on her, "Do…do you mean MO? Like as in modus operandi?"
"So that is what that stands for? That makes so much more sense…well anyway, I wonder, is there room for truth or sincerity in a silver tongue?” What sort of question was that? What was the point of any of this conversation? Had she come just to take cheap shots at terran social norms, to express some new infuriating facet of affini superiority?
Another thoughtful hum. “You should eat.”
“Oh would you fuck off, what I should do is read.” Kira shuffled the tray of food off of her and began thumbing through the frankly absurd tome that comprised the treaty. “Why the hell is this on paper, it seems oddly wasteful. You people are aware that we have tablets and shit like that right? I mean of course you are, your captain pulled one out of herself.”
Cirsi’s searching stare relaxed slightly at the question, “You will find that the compact is rather fond of bureaucracy in its more traditional forms. When one has all of the time in the world it makes sense to allow some things to happen slowly. For the affini, cataloging the state of the universe and its lovely inhabitants, establishing in explicit terms the nature of the world under our care and our ownership of it, well… that is something we allow to happen at a luxurious pace~.” Her smooth voice was tinged with a sultry edge. Why did this somehow feel like an attempt at flirting? “Although I do not share quite the same taste for particularly lengthy paperwork as some of my kin. As for wastefulness, worry not little one! Scarcity is a casualty of the compact, you will find resources are next to endless within our reach.”
Cirsi’s words gloated openly but her tone did not, these were casual realities to her. Even without the affable smugness of her gregarious captain she could not help but speak as a superior. Kira rolled her eyes as loudly as possible at the affini and shifted all focus to the small mountain of paper, “Yeah yeah, utopia for the slaves, real lovely.”
More dubiously comfortable silence. Kira could feel cirsi's searching stare prickling her skin, pulling her attention from her reading. This was never going to work with her here. She spoke without looking up, "Would you mind not creeping on me the entire evening?"
Another of Cirsi's sweet chuckles bounced around her, "My apologies, I'd lost track of time, I do need to be heading home." Kira just grumbled in response. She ignored the sounds of rustling plant matter and the door sliding open and finally she would left alo–
"Oh, and Kira. You should really eat something~."
The door slid closed. And she started reading.
“You have to take her.”
“I–no, I can’t.”
“You know you want her!”
Tetra had of course lied about having business and waited for Cirsi outside of Kira’s room. There were zero realities where she allowed her to walk home alone without discussing the events of their evening, she was too good a friend for that.
“Cirsi, she is perfect for you! I know you saw the way she looked at you while you were speaking.”
“Ok yes, she is certainly enticing but… Tetra, I am not in the place for this!”
“You’re certainly in the place to linger after my departure for a chance to pry the little thing open, you cannot fool me!”
“I was simply distracted, just a moment’s foolish indulgence. As I said, I am not in the place for it. And even if I were, I am far too bus–”
"Say 'too busy' and I will personally see your duties reduced. You know that you keep yourself too busy on purpose and I know that you are still not too busy for a ward despite your efforts. Nothing permanent unless you wish to make it so~~." Tetra's I know something tone oozed from her voice into her entire corpus. Cirsi knew she was incapable of saying no to Tetra for much longer. Loath as she was to admit it, her captain was right more often than she wasn't.
Cirsi sighed the way only an affini could, "You know, if you're so excited about her you could just take her yourself."
"Oh, I absolutely could and it would be a delight! But I have spent too many evenings watching you play with and fuss over my little darling only to pry yourself away with no one to fill your bed." Her playful smugness fell away and was replaced by an earnest warmth, "You have held yourself back for too long Cirsi. It weighs on you, I can see it. I know your reservations and I would never ask you to take another until you were ready. But please, at least take the girl as a ward, even if it is truly temporary. Save her the trip in a stasis pod. For me?" Tetra leaned dramatically over her and slowly, affectionately intertwined a number of their vines, a gesture Cirsi was utterly unequipped to reject.
Cirsi was on the short list of beings privy to Tetra's earnest side, and as far as she was concerned the rest of the universe was truly missing out. Of course she wanted the best for Cirsi, and she couldn’t deny being intrigued by the feisty little terran. She was a tough little puzzle, the sort she had a particular weakness for. The sort she could so easily imagine picking apart, rearranging, extracting the perfect solution, making her exactly what she– no. No, surely someone else would solve Kira properly, she would only lose pieces in the process and neglect the rest of her duties. But… Tetra believed she could do it. And she was so often right was she not? Maybe… maybe a ward would be ok, she would care for the girl as best she could and likely learn that she was the wrong affini for this puzzle and Kira would be given to someone better. No harm would be done. She sighed again, "...Ok. As a ward."
Another sigh, "...I'll fetch her in the morning."