“TBS Primori Bay this is ST5 Rhiannon on approach, requesting accommodation.”
“-~-Acknowledged ST5, this is Primori actual, running your transit code now.-~-”
Pleeease fucking work, I promise I’m harmless. The transit code she’d acquired was hardly clean but if she’d done everything correctly, and that was a truly monolithic if, it shouldn’t send up any red flags. Yellow ones maybe, but yellow flags she could feign ignorance to sweet talk her way out of. No one this far out would expect her to know what she was doing anyway.
“-~-ST5 can you please verify your intent aboard the station?-~-”
Dirt. Fuck. Come on.
“Sightseeing mostly, I have been traveling down the Orion spur. A… close friend told me there were some good leisure options here as well. Is there a problem?”
“-~-Your close friend was right! No problem Rhiannon, but I would get that transit code renewed soon if I were you. By the way, I can also speak terran english if you would like!-~-”
Damn. She sighed into her comms but couldn’t help but chuckle. She continued in english.
“Alright, what gave me away?”
“-~-Oh, nothing in particular sweetie! You might’ve fooled the other comm techs, it’s just…my precious bean came from the outer edge of the protectorate and he’s been learning affini for just over half a terran year. He’s become quite proficient but there are these adorable little quirks in how he speaks it and I noticed similar quirks in your own speech. He’s been using Aceri Palmora’s– -~-”
“–path of the budding tongue, yep yep! I’m waist deep in it now myself. Ya know, I don’t know why but I kinda expected to be the first terran out this way."
"-~-You might be surprised! A lot of you cuties were eager to get away from your home planets. My sweetie was from Bluecrown D and… well…-~-"
"Yeeeah I've heard things."
"-~-He is never allowed on the same planet as a lithium refinery ever again and he is– -~-"
"~=<Linnie, please, you simply MUST stop chatting up the florets, you're holding up the queue again.>=~"
"-~-But this one is a terran!-~-"
"-~-...Rhiannon you are cleared for docking, welcome to Trinity Bay Station!-~-"
"Open bay or assigned?"
"-~-Open buuut I would recommend Veridian Row. Quick access to the best ice cream on station! Have a lovely time cutie~.-~-"
Kira lapped lazily at a cone of the best enriched ice cream she'd ever tasted while scouring the endless stretches of invisible crystalline plane that served as the Station's windows. The three curling arms of the appropriately named station enclosed three starship bays each dozens of kilometers around and hundreds deep. They were self-sustaining cities in their own rights but together they formed the jewel of the Orsu system, a miniature spiral galaxy glittering in the light of binary stars. Well, that is if you ignore the toroid ring of titanic mirrors millions of kilometers in diameter orbiting the system's twin suns that the station was nestled in.
But neither was destined to be the star of Kira's latest self-appointed photography homework. That honor belonged to the Adansonia, the grandest affini ship she was yet to witness. The over a hundred kilometer mammoth of a command ship stretched the limits of what even trinity bay was capable of accommodating, but the station never, ever failed to accommodate. The affini staffing its services had made that excruciatingly clear with the excessive petting she’d been forced to politely evade at every turn. In her hunt for the perfect angle, Kira had spent the afternoon running face first into all manner of sophonts and their affini companions, the latter of whom were always delighted to “help” her out. Just when her side was beginning to actually cramp from the excessive amount of speed walking she’d been putting in she finally stumbled upon it, the perfect spot.
The elephantine corridor opened up into an even larger domed common area almost dead center of the Adansonia’s chosen bay and she was finally able to compose it all just right in the frame of her camera. The titanic petals and internal rings of the city ship reflected the glittering metropolis bending around it on either side and just beyond its hulk could be spotted the twin stars of the system locked in their long dance. The brilliant reflections of the dyson mirrors stood stark against the surrounding void and traced a twisting arc into the imaginary horizon before disappearing among the rest of the stars. She should’ve been used to this kind of thing by now, she’d seen artificial worlds healthier than any terran world. She should’ve been fine with it. So why, as she looked at the freshly taken photo, did that familiar dizzying sensation of being suddenly crushingly miniscule wash over her?
The affini really could do whatever the fuck they wanted couldn’t they?
She opened her messenger to the familiar address and typed it up.
The delay was shockingly small this time.
<(Startographer)> The Tal Bora Stelar Gardens are hosting some fascinating specimens right now, I think they will be right up your valley! You’re becoming quite the photographer, little love. Perhaps I will start framing these, I have a wall picked out already.<3<3<3
She thanked the dirt no one was around to see the blush creep into her cheeks, Why was she blushing ugh what’s wrong with me?
<temp.user_KI00899301L> It’s actually “up your alley”.<temp.user_KI00899301L> And um… thx.
<(Startographer)> I have missed having you here to catch my malapropisms.<(Startographer)> You need not run you know. No one is there waiting for you. We could continue talking if you wish.
I should drop the tablet now. I should just walk away, I don’t need to justify anything…
<temp.user_KI00899301L> I think you know i cant Cirs.
<(Startographer)> I think you know that you can, Kira. But I understand that–
A sharp *SNAP* filled the air accompanied by a very specific affini word.
Kira’s legs collapsed from beneath her, dropping into a precisely composed kneel without asking her brain first. Her mind blanked for an instant before lurching forward, summoning something buried within her, a demand, a need. Her head flushed every other thought to make room for it. Find her, find her, where is she? I’m supposed to look, I’m supposed to listen, find her. Her eyes flicked rapidly around her environment, not finding what she needed and glossing over all else. An ineffable absence thundered in her skull, draining the world of color and sound, stabbing ice into her heart, something…something was supposed to be here to fill it.
A surge of warmth from the nature of the words was cut short by the sound of them. The words were right but the voice was all wrong, it wasn’t–it wasn’t–
“Oh, little one, are you alright dear?” Her head whipped around, finding an unfamiliar affini leaning down to speak with her. Behind them a terran woman sat perfectly still and proper on her haunches in a similar manner to Kira, a leash dangling between her collar and the affini’s hand. The woman shot her a confused, doe eyed glance before looking eagerly back to her affini. They held their free hand out to Kira, “would you like some help standing?”
You’re not her you’re not her you’re not her this is wrong you’re not her you’re not her you’re not her-
“Y-you’re not h-her.” She barely whispered it but it was enough for the affini. Their face lit up with new understanding.
“Then allow me to help you find her, little flower~! After all, I should apologize for triggering your–”
“NO!” Kira scrambled to her feet, fighting her legs’ prior command with the same effort as walking into crashing waves. She picked a direction and made herself vanish. She couldn't even be sure why exactly she was running, but the compulsion warring for her brain had no other solution at the moment. She bobbed and weaved through another cavernous corridor of services filled with affini and their companions, chased by calls from concerned spectators. She couldn’t know how long she ran before the burning in her lungs caught up with her but it was long enough to find herself in a whole new domed common area, complete with a resplendent fountain featuring a statue of what was either an affini or the most terrifying tree she’d ever conceived of. She collapsed into the fountain's edge, heaving breaths as quietly as she could. The world felt colder than it had when she arrived, which could not have been thermodynamically true. Affini stations and ships were always conspicuously the exact temperature you’d like to be existing in at the time within a degree of variation. She'd checked. Even so, something about the interaction left her with an unexplainable chill and a stiffness in her bones. Stars, how did that happen? And in public?! Humiliating! The trigger shouldn’t have worked, it’d been so long…
A tap on Kira's shoulder sent her whirling around with the threat of adrenaline behind her eyes.
"It's alright! You're perfectly safe, no one is in trouble, no need to run again little flower. Please." The affini who'd made the snap stood a respectful distance in front of her with their bewildered terran curled up tightly in one arm and the tablet she'd sloppily forgotten in the other hand. "For future reference a simple 'no thank you' would have sufficed! You're quite the little sprinter~."
"Sorry" Kira spoke between heavy breaths. "Just…got spooked." She sat heavily on the fountain's lip.
The affini chuckled brightly "I noticed! Your mistress may want to tweak your class E, not that I would know any better of course! Speaking of whom, you may wish to take this. She's continued to message you. I promise I did not snoop~."
"She’s not my ffff– she's not my mistress. I'm– 'm not a pet." She grumbled, snatching the tablet from the affini.
The affini's chuckle was on the way to becoming a giggle this time. "Well then, I think you may want to clarify your hypnotherapist's intentions! They seem to have some…intimate ideas." The affini straightened to its full height but continued to monitor Kira while she read.
<(Startographer)> I think you know that you can, Kira. But I understand that it may seem…compromising to you. Can you honestly tell me you don’t wish to share even a brief moment?...
<(Startographer)> Ah, already gone then?<(Startographer)> well on the off chance you are not, Tetra and Bee say, and I quote, "HIIIII<3<3<3<3<3<3COME BACK<3<3<3<3KISSES"
<(Startographer)> I await your next message <3
Her gut twisted with an emotion she couldn't place, one that felt like regret but she wasn't accepting that reality. Why did Tetra and Bee care? Why would they want her back after…after how she'd been? She nearly forgot the affini was still looking expectantly down at her until they made a probing rumble. Right, manners. Always manners.
"Ah, em…thank you. All good here. Appreciate it."
"You're most welcome little flower! I do hope you find whatever you're looking for." With that the affini turned and made their way into the crowd. When they were finally far enough away not to see her anymore she slipped the tablet quickly and quietly into the water of the fountain. She continued her slump thoughtlessly, staring blankly at the Adansonia and waiting for the willpower to stand, to look around, to do anything really. But there didn't really seem to be much point anymore. That chill still hung inside her gut, weighing her down. The ghost of a need still prodded her brain, echoing with the snap, aching somewhere she couldn't place. She told herself she didn't want to listen to it. No peace as always. Perfect. Just lovely. Nothing to do but wait it out.
An unknown time later she stood shakily and searched for the nearest exit, finding a corridor with signs directing toward both the docking district she’d come from and something that read similarly to “spa”, if you ignored the particular affini glyph that roughly declared it “Very pet friendly”.
She needed to leave, she knew she did. That was the system, the moment you give them a scrap you ditch, that's the rule. And she did not want to be treated like a stray by some concerned masseuse, that was for starsfucking sure.
Then again…if the affini were the intergalactic champions of all things relaxation, what must their spas be like? Maybe…maybe a few minutes wouldn’t hurt. Maybe they’d bring back some of the color the world now lacked. Maybe…