Blue Stripe

Day 3 - Jo's a Her

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 mutilation and blood at the beginning and another for a panic attack later on. Another long one today folks, I was too stubborn to split it up.


Bring me a piece of him. A finger will do nicely.

“What? I…I didn’t sign up for that, I'm just the runner! I-I can’t–”

You signed up for whatever it took, whatever fixed your situation and kept your head down. There are no clean hands here. You wouldn’t want to go back, would you now? Rats don’t last three days, you know how it is!

Her dizzy synapses told her the thing speaking from across the desk was a person, told her that its voice was familiar. But her eyes saw only tar and static wearing a man's shape and her ears heard only grinding rust wearing his words. 

“But…but cutting him up won’t make him have the money! He doesn’t have it, w-we checked everywhere he could–”

I think you know it’s not about that, K.



She stood before a figure bound to an ancient barber's chair, stripped to its metal skeleton. She didn't remember walking there. She held a positively medieval pair of shears in one hand. She didn't remember picking them up. Who the fuck would even have these?

It only takes a second, K.

It speaks and a gallery of figures her seizing mind can't decide whether to see or not chuckles metallic chuckles along with it. The figure below writhes with sobs but no sound comes out. She wants to hear them. No, she doesn't want to hear them, she wants someone to hear them, to help. She couldn't after all, she had the shears. She couldn't help anyone.

Wait, the shears were around a finger, she didn't...she wasn't ready to–


There's an obscure old terran saying about fingers being like baby carrots. Clearly whoever began that horseshit hadn't tested it. She'd had baby carrots and the…texture was certainly not the same. Bile rose in her throat and she choked it back down. The figure bucked and wailed without a sound while the gallery just continued their awful chuckling and talking amongst themselves about nothing to do with mutilation at all. As though what she's doing was no more important than the weather that day.

Another, if you'd be so kind.

"Y-you know he w-won't have it, he's not going to-"



It spattered red across her shirt this time. She wasn't ready, she never would be. Hot tears rolled down her cheeks and she tried desperately to hide them from the gallery, from anyone.

Alright, enough pinkies, give me somethin good. We'll see how beautifully he plays then!


The writhing grew more intense, the poor wretch was shaking the whole chair now.


Hyperventilating, vomiting, curling up on the floor, every impulse that she should've broken to was choked down by the weight of the shears and the voice from behind the desk.

One more, then you can stop.


The shears clattered heavily to the floor but she couldn't see them through the tears anyway. She blinked them away only to find the chair now empty. The invisible walls of the surrounding abyss groaned under an unspoken weight and everything grew cold except…except for her hand. The one that hadn't held the shears. It burned. Searing, pulsing, wet burning ran through it and she…she raised it to see.

There, that wasn't so bad now was it?

With the force of every breath she'd ever taken she screamed. But nothing came out.


Kira bolted upright in her bed, gasping desperately for air and clawing at the blankets. Cold sweat gripped her body and her heart ached from rabid pounding. Her good hand groped wildly at her other, double and triple checking the number of digits on it before deciding there were enough. 

A shadow of an instinct pressed against the edge of her perception, something gentle and insistent, pulling her focus toward the door to her room. Aquamarine eyes traced over her from the opening, landing on her own. The nuances of affini expression were still foggy to Kira but if she had to guess the particular pattern of twitching vines indicated concern.

"Are you alright, flower? I heard you crying out in your sleep." The smooth timbre of her voice was sweeter on the ears than Kira would ever admit.

A vine deposited a glass of water on her nightstand without ever asking if she was thirsty, which of course she was. How does she do that? Her breathing calmed enough to let out staggered words, "I'm…'m fine, just…I uh…had a nightmare. Happens sometimes."

Cirsi pried the door open and stepped fully into the room, lowering herself to bring their faces closer. "Oh sweet thing…I have a number of Class Z xenodrugs available that would make the rest of your night's rest perfectly pleasant. I can encourage or dissuade dreams, whatever you wish for. I…I'm happy to stay here with you as well."

"I'm fine Cirsi! Everyone has shitty dreams sometimes alright, it's not special. You don't need to fucking drug me."

Cirsi's eyes remained fixed on her and she fought to keep her gaze from lingering on the towering plant woman as well. After a moment Cirsi sighed heavily and a fleeting warmth wafted over Kira. "Very well, little one. But I will be listening. Should you continue to struggle I have an airborne remedy that I'm sure you will find non-invasive enough for your tastes. Sleep tight." The words themselves were so awkwardly formal but the tone…why did the affini have to be so gentle, so warm even after she was such a bitch? She turned and moved slowly toward the door.

"Wait!" Shit what am I doing? "I…sorry, that was bitchy. But you have to understand that I can't just trust someone who's holding me against my will to drug me. You get that, right?"

The tension in Cirsi's vines relaxed somewhat. "I understand perfectly, Kira. I have kept unwanted touch and drug ministration to a minimum, I hope it has not gone unnoticed. But my ward must be able to rest properly, no matter the means."

It hadn't gone unnoticed, with a few notable exceptions. As loath as she was to be cooperating with her jailor, it was clear to her after the last few days that Cirsi could be far more…judicious in her guardianship if she so wished and no one aboard the ship would bat a solitary eye. And yet she hadn't. "That's…yeah, fair. And appreciated. Point is I can sleep fine without help, alright?"

"Your prior pharmacy receipts would disagree. But I hope for tonight you are correct." A vine slid the glass of water closer to the woman and she begrudgingly reached out to sooth her cracked lips and throat. Cirsi's dark "lips'' turned up slightly at the accepted gesture and a few bulbs briefly flashed pink petals and sweet smelling motes. "Now, sleep tight dear. I'll be listening~." And she was gone again.

Kira pleaded with sleep to return and smother her but the silence of the room thundered in her skull from the moment the affini left. She did not in fact sleep tight.


"Breakfast is ready!" Cirsi deposited a plate on the table and watched the stairway expectantly. She'd offered multiple times to introduce the little terran to the wonders of proper affini grooming upstairs but the skittish little thing had insisted on a solitary shower after a protracted fight against bathing altogether. After a tragically short shower and the frustrated grunting of Kira dressing herself with only one working arm, she stepped downstairs dressed in the least colorful ensemble she could've found, a flowing black blouse and pants that'd been placed in the very back of the closet as a last resort. "Wow, you really must've dug for those! No taste for color?"

The terran shuffled over to the table and began her morning scramble into her chair. "It's not about color, I'm not wearing one of those fucking pet dresses." 

Someone woke up on the sullen side of the bed this morning. Let's see if my cooking can't fix that~.

"You know, Bee always says they're the most comfortable thing outside of an affini's vines. Maybe you could be the second judge?~" 

"That would require me to know what either of those feel like, so fuck no. Although…shit, I guess it's only a matter of time huh?" The terran's shoulders slumped and her expression dropped to the same cold despair as the previous day. Right, someone will come for her. Only a matter of time… "What's this?" She gestured to the plate of custard fried bread in front of her.

"Ah, French toast! You've never had it?" The terran picked up her fork and poked experimentally at it, smearing the dollop of butter on top across it.

"Aren't you supposed to know everything about me or something? I'm usually more of a trashy street food girl. Well, when there's a street to be on anyway."

"Try it."

Kira cut away an especially buttery piece and began to melt the moment it touched her tongue. The involuntary moan and the little wriggle that followed immediately after went directly into Cirsi's list of favorite things. "Mmmm fuck…y'know–" She scooped another bite of eggy bread into her mouth. "–for a prison, the food here is pretty fuckin good!"

A bright trill danced through Cirsi's vines. She could get used to watching this woman eat her food. And maybe even playing a more…intimate role in the eating? "Hmm, Is that a genuine positive statement about affini I hear?"

Kira was stopped mid-bite by a fleeting blush and attempted to recover with an eye roll, "Yeah yeah, whatever. Don't get used to it. I'm not suddenly thrilled about my fucking situation just cause you can cook." She dove back into her food.

"Well then, I suppose we shall see what else I can do to make you thrilled about your stay here.~" She couldn't help but meet the girl's grumbling with a grin, even at her grumpiest she was just too darling.

A few quiet minutes later Kira finished her meal and looked curiously back up to Cirsi, avoiding direct eye contact. She'd been doing so since yesterday and it hadn't gone unnoticed. "So like, what uh…you got work or something? What're you up to today? Am I gonna have the jail to myself?"

Cirsi chuckled dryly "My hab is not a jail, Kira, that will be clear soon enough. No need for the dramatics. As for today, I have the day off. Considering how enamored you were with the view from the mag rail windows yesterday, I thought maybe a tour of the ship would make you feel more at ease. Maybe we could even stop to see the state of your little fighter? You seemed terribly concerned about–"

"WHAT?! Jolene's here?" Kira utterly failed to hold back her excitement. She attempted to rein it in and restore her practiced disinterest but the damage was done. "I-I mean, em…I had some of my meds stashed on Jo for long recon stints. Maybe…maybe I could grab them?"

Cirsi had seen terrans' legendary pack bonding tendencies plenty of times but it made Kira's attachment to the vessel no less precious. "Of course! Although I'm sure you'll find superior replacements now that you're here. A number of our engineers were very excited about your little vessel and decided to bring it aboard to study."

An unexpectedly playful smirk stretched across Kira's face. "Aaaah ok, I see! More 'Blue Stripe' superfans on this ship than just you then?"

Cirsi could feel the variegations in the leaves of her mask flushing with traitorous color. "I-no, it isn't like that! It's purely scientific...well…maybe a few of them did seem uncharacteristically enthused to get their vines on it."

Ba-dwing! She looked down at her tablet to find a message from Mangle. An anticipatory shiver ran through the vines that took the place of a spine. 

<(Mangle~Tangle)> Hey so I was able to dig up quite a lot on your little lady, the full file set is already in your inbox. I even found some new information post-8-year-mark that you hadn't yet. I don't think anyone else will find another stone to overturn.

<(Startographer)> You are speaking far too normally. I don't like it. What is wrong?

<(Mangle~Tangle)> Oh so now I'm not allowed to talk the boring way either?? You gotta make up your mind girl

<(Startographer)> Mangle, please

<(Mangle~Tangle)> I uh…

<(Mangle~Tangle)> I'll level with you Cirs, it's not a pretty picture. Why don't you take a look?

She swapped to her inbox to find an impressive package of reports, files, and receipts bundled up chronologically with excessive notations and a digital bow on top. He really was quite good at this. She started picking through it.

Oh. Oh roots.

It was all under a different identity, one that was clearly the same sophont but legally ended where Kira began. CPS calls, drug complications, emancipation, an assault charge, implications in criminal groups, a year in a– oh, the poor thing. A year in a notoriously remote penitentiary, part of a sentence that was cut peculiarly and blessedly short. The notations weren't nearly as excessive as expected, there was plenty she didn't understand at first and it only grew worse once she did.

<(Mangle~Tangle)> Cirs, you there?

<(Startographer)> Yes, sorry. This is…a lot.

<(Mangle~Tangle)> Yea.

<(Mangle~Tangle)> I know we all understand how rough existing under the accord was for the little things, same as every other people we help. It's hardly news. But dirt and roots, it's still so core twisting to dig through it like this.

<(Startographer)> She is here now. That is what matters.

<(Startographer)> Stars, this all explains so much.

<(Mangle~Tangle)> Youre gonna do great Cirs, little miss crash-a-lot is in good vines ;;)

<(Startographer)> Thank you Mangle, for everything. You know, you should really consider the archeobureaucracy for your next occupational change, you are really quite skilled at this!

<(Mangle~Tangle)> DON'T

<(Mangle~Tangle)> They've been callin me again lately, it's so annoying. The local recruiter has the hots for me i swear

<(Startographer)> In that case, best of luck fending them off! And thank you again, sincerely.

<(Mangle~Tangle)> Don't mention it! Now go hug your floret.

<(Startographer)> Ward.

<(Mangle~Tangle)> Oh shut up with that.

"What's up?"

Cirsi nearly jumped at Kira's voice pulling her back to the dining table. The terran stared expectantly from the other side with a fork tine grinding between her teeth and her feet now kicked up onto the table's edge. When had she done that? Ugh, she really needed to work on the girl's manners, the poor dear was–

"Cirsi? You're givin me a look. Like a…like a sad look? What's wrong?"

Roots, what kind of look? "Ah! Sorry, news from my work, nothing to concern yourself with, little one."

"...Mhmm. Sure." Kira did nothing to hide her disbelief. "Sooo. Ship tour?"

"Ship tour! You will need to wear either a cuff or collar to monitor you, your pick."

Kira scoffed, "Seriously? The fuck am I gonna do, make a run for it in broad daylight in a giant ship full of affini that apparently know who I am?"

The authoritative edge slipped into Cirsi's voice, "Cuff or collar?"

"That's a stupid question."

"And that is a rude answer." The pink ring rippled to life in her eyes and the terran visibly shivered and shrunk in her chair. "Would you like to answer properly?"

Kira stuck out an arm and spoke barely above a whisper, "Cuff me. Please."



Jolene was there.

Her fighter. Jo. On the SHIP.

Whatever force of cosmic luck had deigned to spare Kira from the hyperspatial spaghettification she so readily deserved for years of tampered jumps had now seen fit to drop the finest escape vector ever devised by mankind into her lap. Well, almost. It obviously wouldn't be that easy, affini security couldn't possibly be anything less than adamantine. The plants weren't known for taking half measures. But at the very least  it was a seed of hope, the smallest fighting chance. She didn't need all the steps right away, when it came to escaping tight spots her brain ran in its highest gear. She'd learn what she needed, provided Cirsi was good to her word about the whole "wardship" situation and no other affini came along to scramble her brain too soon. All she had to do to keep them off her trail was…ugh. Be good.

I can be good. Yeah! I can play the nice little cooperative terran while they're actually paying attention. How hard can it be? 

Stars, don't let me fuck this up.

Kira tried her hardest to pay dutiful attention to the tour, she truly did. She nodded along, smiled when she could remember, even asked questions where it seemed appropriate. But not a second passed when half of her mind wasn't running through variables, mapping the ship's layout, scanning for security measures, and devising worst case scenarios.

The clothier Cirsi took her to was stocked with clothing in 1357 fabrics from three different galaxies. If they've disabled her already will I even be able to get her through startup? The little faux rustic patisserie sure was convincingly authentic, apparently one of Bee's favorites. Shit, I'm probably gonna have to hack something at some point, which means learning affini code without raising suspicion. Fuck. The lakeside park in particular was breathtaking, nearly enough to make one forget they were in a floating city careening through the void. I'm gonna have to reinforce that weak spot, she should still have a flashpatch kit in the back somewhere. Right? The sprawling arcade and karaoke bar was– ok this one actually fucking rules, maybeee…I can plan more in fifteen minutes, I gotta sample this.

Nearly an hour later she was in the final stretch of a song in a dance rhythm game called "Dance Party Remix Infinite Bloom" or some similarly long and ridiculous name when a tap on the shoulder interrupted her. She turned without stopping her feet to find Cirsi’s amused face looming over her.

“As much as I have relished watching you have fun little one, would you perhaps like to go retrieve your things from that ship?” The final beats of the song rang in time with Kira’s feet and the machine chimed something with the word “cutie” at her.

Shit, right. Jo.

At some point she’d started panting, “Ah—yeah, that’s—let’s do that—rail station nearby?”

“Just around the corner as a matter of fact.”

The two were in one of the now familiar personnel pods within minutes on their way down a strut to the ship's axis. Kira’d had her eyes plastered to the window as usual for a few quiet minutes when Cirsi cut her train of thought short, “Something occupies your thoughts, little one. It has been all day, pulling you away whenever I was not addressing you directly. Or allowing you to win at some game.” She padded the playful remark with a smile but it didn’t reach her eyes. “Would you tell me what troubles you?”

Shit shit shit. She wants an answer, she always wants an answer. Lie, you bitch. Make it convincing…THE TREATY.

“Em, I…” Kira swallowed hard, pulling her eyes away from the affini’s with concerning effort, “I was just thinking about something I read in the treaty. There was this clause about, like, some kind of implant and valid authorizations for use on humans. It was um…like hastoric, has-something, I dunno. Sounded really spooky at the time.”

A ripple ran through Cirsi’s torso and her leaves stood up in what Kira was starting to recognize as surprise or concern, or perhaps some mix of the two. The affini glanced out the window at the progress of their trip. “What you read about is called a haustoric implant. I suspect you will be…displeased to learn more about it, but…you will have to learn at some point or another. I see no harm in me telling you now.” She turned back to Kira with spots of molten silver in her eyes and a serene but impassive expression. Kira got the sense it was supposed to keep her calm but her hackles were thoroughly up. The affini’s voice came impossibly steady, “The haustoric implant is the crowning achievement of affini bioengineering. All affini florets receive one if they are able to and have for many millennia. It is grown from a modified piece of their owner’s genetic material before being implanted, in the case of humans, in the neck at the base of their skull. Here.” Kira felt a gentle tap against the back of her neck and spun her head to glare at the covert vine. “From there it grows up into the brain stem, down across the spinal cord, and eventually into the limbs with connections in various organs. It allows us to monitor a floret’s mental state, general health, and location, as well as allowing for direct internal ministration of xenodrugs, alteration of hormones and mood and…” For an instant the placid facade broke and worry shone through. She corrected it in another instant but Kira hadn’t missed it. “...and alteration of thought patterns and even memories.”

The silence that grew between them wasn’t their usual amenable quiet. It ached. An anxious fire raced through Kira’s brain while a matching chill gripped her heart. Her mind couldn't choose between fury and terror so it resigned to let the two fight it out inside. Finally she hissed through clenched teeth, “Altering. Thoughts. And memories. Don’t you mean fucking brainwashing?!”

The prior worry peaked through Cirsi’s mask. “Kira, you have to understand, the implant is a tool for maintaining a floret’s health and wellbeing, the best possible-”

“NO. You need to understand that you’ve just told me some fucked up shit that is apparently going to HAPPEN TO ME!” Her breathing was growing erratic but she couldn't possibly focus it down.

"Kira, I-"

"And you wonder why the hell I didn't trust you fucks enough to surrender and stop running?! Newsflash, it's THIS kind of shit that-"


The tempest returned. She thrust her head down and closed her eyes, bracing for that subconscious pull, for the vine on her chin, but nothing came. The silence was louder than before, that elusive song was almost audible, but there was no force this time. She was left to pant uninterrupted, only just then becoming aware of the rapid beeping from the cuff. Fuck. Breath…in…out…she could feel the tip of a vine gently trace along her spine in time with the breathing but was petrified of objecting…in…outin…out…the beeping stopped. She cracked an eye open and peered cautiously up at the affini to find only the usual aquamarine waiting patiently for her attention.

Cirsi sighed heavily. "Kira, of course I understand. I knew this wouldn't be easy for you to hear. You did not choose any of this and I know that must be distressing. I would gladly offer you something to dull the stress but I suspect you would simply refuse and launch some curse at me."

Kira scoffed "Like it fucking matters, you could just do it. No one on this fucking ship would stop you from drugging some dirty rebel." There was no part of Kira's body that did not say 'sullen'.

"It matters to me. Trust is…complicated, often painfully won. Yes, you will be domesticated when a match is found and yes an implant will be a part of that. But for the time being you have some autonomy within my care. You trust no one on this ship and that leaves you terribly alone, a state I cannot abide for you. I want you to have at least one person you can trust. I…I hope that can be me." The affini's accursed voice was nearly enough to soothe the burning and chill within her. It wasn't fair. Why did the plant get to sound like silk and red wine and twilight while she was just…just her usual ragged self.

The terran remained grim even with the edges sanded down. "Mhmm, lovely platitudes you got there but trust is a sham, always has been. And it takes a lot more than french fuckin toast."

Their pod decelerated and stopped so gradually she could barely feel any change. She became suddenly aware that they were in micro gravity, no longer on any of the rings at all. Cirsi was still watching over her with that infuriating pity. "Well. Perhaps a visit to an old friend will help you feel better. Shall we?" She motioned to the corridor outside and the terran silently bounded out of the pod.

A few minutes of winding corridors later they approached what seemed like a long docking bay housing many ships from personal shuttles up to a terran frigate in size. It couldn't have been where the Final Measure wound up, this had to be a secondary bay of some kind. So where was…ah. As they rounded a bend two critically important things came into view. A set of several different sized airlocks on the bay's far wall leading to a truly cavernous but very much enclosed space on the other side and Jolene connected to a dock a few hundred meters away from them. Kira's eyes widened and she bounded off a handhold toward her one true companion, 35 meters of aluminum-titanium alloy, radiation shielding, and silicon insulation stocked with every murderous implement that could be crammed onto it. The cherry on top was an experimental jump drive a fraction the size of any other in terran history with an onboard AI assistant to help run it. Or at least that’s what the OCNI techs had told her, so who really knew. 

From a distance she could see the damage to the right flank and wing that she’d have to fight against if she got the old girl started. Engine 2 was a blasted ruin but that she could compensate for. The torn struts on the wing would make flying in atmosphere a nightmare but at the very least the affini seemed to have hastily welded the gash in the largest strut to make it easier to dock. A mistake on their part. It wasn't until she'd nearly arrived that she noticed the tangled mass of several affini investigating the ship's flank, one running a vine along the dark blue band running along its full length. Anyone close enough to the ship and Kira simultaneously would see that up close the eponymous blue stripe was composed of the same kinds of banded, twisting geometric patterns that decorated Kira’s arms.

One affini noticed her approach and prodded the other to grab their attention. They rapidly reformed something approximating terran forms, though nowhere nearly as elegantly articulated as Cirsi or Tetra. Kira stopped herself just short of the ship and allowed Cirsi to address the others. She spoke a rapid string of affini to the two, who gave an excited glance down at Kira and responded in kind. One of them tapped a pad on the rig that held the ship in place and the ship's lower hatch descended noisily, reaching the apex of its screech halfway. Not every part of the old girl was elegant. The affini nodded to Kira and Cirsi and departed to a nearby corridor. As one passed close to Kira they ran a vine down her arm in much the same way she’d watch them do with the ship’s stripe. She recoiled with a scowl and did her best to ignore the ensuing chuckle from Cirsi. "You have as long as you need, little one. They are done with it for the day."

"Her. Jo's a her."

Kira could hear the affini's pleased wriggling behind her. "Adorable~."

The planning center of Kira’s brain roared to life again, pushing the dread aside for the time being. Her eyes scanned every bit of affini infrastructure attached to Jo, committing every detail to memory no matter how minor. Just before her scanning would dip into suspiciously lengthy territory she pushed off the floor and into the ship. The muck from the beach was entirely gone along with the shattered pieces from the front of the horrifically outdated interface tank. The entire thing was still loose from its poorly installed base and made the entire cockpit an awkward mess to navigate. Aside from that the fore interior seemed in remarkably serviceable shape, even cleaner than it had been the morning before her crash. The fore hatch hinge had been damaged in the crash but the affini seemed to have sealed it up. She prayed to whatever would listen that it would hold in a vacuum.

She made her way to the hard case mounted next to the secondary pilot chair, the closest thing Jo had to a glove compartment. She popped it open and sifted through the irrelevant bits to find her two prizes, a mostly empty bottle of estrogen capsules and a barely touched bottle of benzos, the only two meds she’d deemed worthy of her emergency stash. The benzos had barely made the cut. Before closing the case she caught a glimpse among the junk of an injector of something riddled with warnings that naval workers had affectionately nicknamed "the go fast juice", something she'd gratefully never settled for. She’d heard myths of the low that followed that particular high drifting over many a mess table. She wrinkled her nose at it and closed the case. Peering back to check that Cirsi hadn’t followed, she made her way to the ship’s aft at a leisurely pace, noting the state of every inch along the way. A few busted panels and loose wires and bits of detritus here and there, but nothing that looked like it would prevent only a brief flight or a jump. Then she reached the compromised stretch of hull. 


The capture vine that’d grazed Jolene did so with enough force to warp the inner layer, which meant the outer shielding layer was unquestionably gone. And from a brief look the graze was nearly two meters long and stretched across an overhead panel nearly out of her working reach. That section would never survive what she needed to do.

FUCK. Flash patch, where’s that fucking flash patch?

She scrambled to the onboard maintenance hub in the far aft next to the jump drive and frantically scanned the remaining equipment until–THERE. Secured to the floor was a Greshul Corp Flash Patch™, a package containing a set of configurable insulated titanium alloy plates, a diamond tipped rivet gun, and an applicator for an industrial adhesive called QuickStone that was legendarily carcinogenic and also exactly what she needed. She sighed a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. Her odds were still shit but they were significantly less shit than when she’d woken up that day. She satisfied her final concern with a quick look over the jump drive itself. It’d mercifully been spared any new damage from the impact and had two remaining exotic matter cells on standby. She was growing more and more confident that she could make this work if she could access and start the ship without affini present, if she could get her through the airlock and if no one noticed her efforts and stopped her in time. A truly monolithic set of ifs. No, not ifs. Objectives. Challenges. 

With meds in pocket she turned to leave when something tickled at the edge of her vision. A very specific wall panel in the middle corridor she’d nearly forgotten that was now knocked ever so slightly loose by the crash. An impish smile bloomed across her face as she pried the panel away and grasped inside among the wiring, fingers landing on a tiny vacuum bag. She pulled it into view to find the pair of joints and battered matchbox within. She contemplated removing them, stashing them somewhere in Cirsi’s hab to save them in the very likely case her plan fell apart. But no. No, it wasn’t the time to clutch mementos. That came later. Maybe. She lowered the bag back–

“Find everything you need, little one?”

“–FUCK!” She jumped, slamming the panel closed in the process. She hadn’t noticed Cirsi’s hunched form slip into ship. “Stars you’re quiet when you wanna be, shit…my heart…”

“What is in there?” Cirsi’s expression was stone. A vine slowly made its way toward the panel.

“Ah, em, nothing important!” Good deflection, IDIOT.

The hand she placed over the panel did less than nothing to stop the vine prying it open and pulling the bag out into Cirsi’s waiting hand. In a moment the contents were emptied for inspection, a tiny vine pulling open the matchbox to reveal only 3 matches remaining. The affini passed the objects in front of her twinkling eyes and rumbled thoughtfully for a moment. “Hmmm, I wonder what purpose these items could possibly have had on a craft in which you spent most of your time presumably wearing a helmet and submerged in fluid. Would you enlighten me?” The eyes turned to her with sparks of pink. This was not the sort of question she’d be allowed to shirk easily.

Kira swallowed hard and began, “They were…it was just safer for them here, ok? I mean, not physically, Jo was always a deathtrap compared to my host ships. But when it came to hiding contraband she was unmatched. Many a fun night of shore leave was made possible thanks to that loose panel.” She couldn’t help the hint of a smile that tugged at her lips thinking of the few pleasant memories from her service.

The affini rumbled thoughtfully again, “Well, I assume you know we have far superior substitutes for these-” A vine held the joints aloft before pulling them away to somewhere hidden. “-available to you whenever you wish. You need only ask~.” The playful lilt in Cirsi’s voice was more flustering than it had any right to be. 

“Yeah well, don’t hold your breath on that.”

“As for this-” Cirsi raised the matchbox. “Incendiary elements are not generally allowed on affini vessels without explicit approval. I’ll take care of this.” The vine holding it began to retract. 

“WAIT.” The word came out far more desperate than Kira meant it to. The vine paused and Cirsi gave her a quizzical look. “Please don’t, that’s–it’s kind of an…antique.” This was far too much sharing of information for her taste, why did she have to get distracted by the stupid stash? She needed to stay on task, she should’ve–

“This item is important to you, isn’t it?” She locked eyes with Cirsi. The flecks of molten silver and pink danced within them. The sensation of being placed under a microscope prodded at her mind.

This wasn’t the time to get sentimental. “It’s…it’s whatever, it’s old junk. Do whatever you want.” She swallowed her disappointment and turned to leave when a vine caught her by the chin and turned her head to look up at Cirsi again.

Why is it important?” The microscope focused. 

Shit. “It um…it was my uncle’s. Had to hide it because of the design.” Cirsi looked at the front of it again. A faded caricature of a muscle bound woman in coveralls carrying some oversized power tool and giving a thumbs up adorned the cover. “It’s this old thing from the Black Thumbs, one of the last Sol system industrial labor unions to be put down in 2498. I've heard their riots were legendary. He said they gave a bunch of em out to members way back when as little gifts and after the union was over on an official basis a bunch of em kept carrying the matchboxes around and passed them down to kids and stuff. Little bit of silent rebellion I guess. My uncle used to say he was ‘a union man in a scab’s world’." The ghost of a chuckle came and went. "Never around his bosses though…” She drifted off, cursing herself internally for spilling so much.

Cirsi slid the box open and looked at the few remaining matches with a thoughtful trill, “Hmm, well…there aren’t many left. I suppose you could keep it for now, provided I do not see you using any of the matches, understood?” She gave a quick nod and reached for the box but the affini held it away, pulling a match from within and looking closely at it. “Are these…teeth marks?”



The insidious blush returned to her face. “I…Iusedtochewonthem. Let's go.” She reached for the matches again and again they were held just out of reach.

"I'm not quite sure I heard that, you spoke oh so quickly, little one. Would you like to try that again at a more reasonable pace?" Cirsi's eyes rippled with silver amusement that bled into the vines and petals of her chest.

Kira hissed a stifled "Fuck you" under her breath and diverted her eyes. She spoke through gritted teeth, "I...I used to, on rare occasion, chew on the ends of them when I was bored or stressed. Now let's NEVER speak of this again, please." She swiped at the matchbox and this time the affini relented and allowed her to take and pocket it.

Cirsi stared for a moment longer before a bright giggle danced from her vines. “Ah, that would explain the nails!” Kira glanced down at her ragged stumps of fingernails and continued looking down to hide the hot crimson of her cheeks. A vine slipped into her pocket before she could object and pulled the meds into view. “As for these two, we have vastly superior counterparts available. I’ll let Calluna know so she can have something ready for your vet appointment in a few days.

Excuse me?

The vitriol found its way back to her and she glared at Cirsi. “Did you just say…vet appointment?”

Cirsi returned the glare with caution, “Yes, you will need your arm reviewed as well as a more comprehensive physical and personalized prescriptions.” She rattled the bottles. “These simply cannot remain your regimen, you deserve quality care and I will ensure you get it.”

Kira swiped the matchbox and fumed as she moved for the door, “Just when I thought this shit couldn’t be more insulting, I have a fucking VET now. Not even allowed a doctor. Let’s just go.”

Cirsi’s leaves twitched with worry as she followed the girl. The trip back to the mag rail was deafeningly quiet. Once aboard the new pod Kira resumed her usual position grimly staring out the window. The affini had insisted on playing at compassion at every turn, only to elucidate more fresh miseries awaiting her on the floating paradise that did not and could not ever truly belong to her. At least not in any acceptable capacity. The portion of her brain dedicated to hope and problem solving had been given a glorious afternoon in the sun only for the wretched remainder to silently wish they’d just end the fucking waiting game already. It couldn’t be that hard could it? Find an affini who gave enough of a shit, stick the roots in, and let her become a drooling idiot so she could rid herself of the delusion that she could pull this off. 

Oh hello dread, I didn’t see you there. Aren’t the rings lovely this evening? Shame about the impending ego death. I’d say I’ll miss you but hey, I probably won’t miss shit. They’ll be sure of that.


No I can’t, I can’t let that be it. This will work. It has to, it’s all I fucking have.

Something pressed on the mental periphery again, it had been for some time but she’d done her best to ignore it. She turned to look at Cirsi and found her giving that same concerned melancholy stare from that morning. It prickled her skin. She was searching for something, something that she pitied. Kira prodded, “What’s the issue?” 

Cirsi seemed to snap out of whatever searching she’d been up to, straightening up and dialing through a few expressions until she became impassive. “What do you mean, little one?”

Kira’s brow furrowed. Her voice was low, laced with suspicion, “You’re giving me that look again, the one from earlier. What the fuck’s wrong?”

Cirsi turned to the window and spoke with unnatural evenness, “Nothing at all, just lost in thought concerning some of my work.”


Her eyes whipped back to the terran in surprise, “What do you mean? I–”

“Ya know, you said some pretty words earlier about how important trust is. But the annoying thing about trust is that it goes both ways. So.” She leaned into the affini’s space and locked eyes. “If you wanna be my one true plant friend or whatever, this can’t be a one way street can it? So why’re you looking at me like that?”

Complicated emotions passed through Cirsi’s form in quick succession, twitching vines and petals belying uncharacteristic nervousness. Finally she spoke, “You are right. In the interest of full transparency I should tell you that I had a friend do some digging into your past. You are aware of the peculiar gap in your information. Well…he filled the gap. I read it all, all twenty missing, painful years. As well as some new information concerning what came after.”

Oh no. 

"I understand it must have been a traumatic period, flower. I would be happy to speak with you about it, should you let me. Terran bureaucracy does not always capture the nuance–"

Oh no, no no no no she knows it all. They’re gonna fucking wipe me. No no no


Her voice came out hoarse and shaking, “Are they going to…to w-wipe my brain?” Her breathing was quickening again with her pulse.

The concern in Cirsi’s features redoubled, “What do you mean little one? Are you alright?

“I read the f-fucking class O clause, I–I know what happens to the bad ones! The b-broken ones…I-I can’t–” Her cuff was beeping rapidly at her, yellow light flashing quickly enough to begin turning orange. 

Shock rippled through Cirsi. “What–Kira, no that’s…Oh. Oh dear.”

She knew. They knew. They knew how fucked up she was, how…they wouldn’t bother. It’d be the same as always, only this time with mind obliterating consequences. She couldn’t…she couldn’t let them. Her heartbeat hammered in her ears and the static crept into her vision. No no no no no no no no–

A mild pinch in her good arm sent a wave of cool chemical calm coursing through her, banishing the static and the noise. Her eyes followed the retracting needle and locked onto Cirsi. The word “breath” passed over the affini’s lips, her synthetic torso exaggerating the slow heaving motion as a visual guide. She followed dutifully, dragging as much air in as she could and pushing it slowly out again. Breath. Repeat. Focus. Every exhale brought cradling, earthy warmth, padding her world in a comfortable fog. How was her body doing that? Oh. Not her. Cirsi. Cirsi’s breaths were sooo warmmm. No. It’s the drugs, she…what did she–

“Feeling better?” The rain song of the affini’s voice cut through the fog.

The beeping of the cuff slowed to a stop and her heart rested easy again. Suddenly the very idea of being stressed or worried seemed patently ridiculous, even with the memory of Cirsi’s revelation and the class O clause of the treaty still fresh in her mind. She understood consciously that she’d been drugged and reached reflexively for the fury she’d attached to the concept but found she couldn’t. Mild annoyance was the most she could muster and even then it drained from her eagerly in favor of the soft fog of complacent calm.

“I…yes, I do actually. You…what did you just give me?”

“A low dose of a fast acting class E xenodrug, something to stop that panic attack before your cuff did it for you. Do not worry, it should be nearly through your system by dinner.”

Kira glared with what she hoped was suspicion at her warden but summoning any ill will for her just seemed like so much effort. She sat back in her chair and huffed, “Well, let’s not make it a habit. No unwanted drugging, remember? Stars, I’m really trying to be upset at you for this…” She found her eyelids threatening to droop. She hadn’t realized how long the day had felt until she sat down and received the universe's most finely tuned chill pill.

"There is a difference between unwanted and unnecessary, Kira. As I said, your cuff would have done the same as I did, we do not sit idly while sophonts experience that sort of distress. And I figured you would prefer my dosing over whatever calluna prepared for you. Was I wrong?"

That was…actually fair. Ugh, stupid nice plant being fair and thoughtful and…ugh. "No…you're right. 'M jus' not thrilled in general. Y’know, the whole prisoner thing an’ all." Her tongue wasn't obeying her quite the way it was supposed to. It felt as though a fraction of a second delay existed between her thoughts and her mouth expressing them, slowing and slurring her whole speech ever so slightly. She lifted her good hand and clenched and released her fingers several times, noticing an analogous delay in her movements. Was this why Bee felt the way she did? Was this where that honeyed air came from?

"Slight impairment of motor coordination is a common side effect of class Es, nothing to worry about dear." She'd almost forgotten Cirsi watching her every move from across the pod. Nothing to worry about, right…why would I worry? The concern worked its way back into Cirsi's features. "I have to ask, Kira, is this how you always respond to discussion of your past?"

She'd been desperately hoping the affini would drop this particular subject but by now it was clear she wasn't in the habit of dropping things. "There isn't discussion of my past. People don't find out 'bout it. So…I dunno really. Not my favorite topic as you can pro'lly guess. The threat of um…mind melting or whadever certainly doesn't help."

"Mmm, about that-" one of cirsi's vines brushed against her cheek, pulling her vision from the window it had wandered back to her twinkling eyes. "You mentioned you'd read about class Os in the associated treaty clause. I need you to understand, Kira. Those drugs are a last resort for sophonts who cannot exist comfortably or safely within the compact otherwise, even with all of our other efforts exhausted first. They are an exceedingly rare measure, one we do not relish taking. And even when we must, those who are given them are rendered in perpetual sensate bliss and joy for the remainder of their lives. It is not a perfect solution, but a kinder one than you may think." 

Cirsi leaned in until their faces were less than a foot apart, giant fingertips gently holding one of the girl's cheeks to impress the importance of what followed. The molten silver and motes of pink danced in her eyes, consuming Kira's focus. "Kira, you will never be placed on class Os. Ever. Understood?" She nodded slowly, her thoughts swam the way they did when daydreaming but Cirsi was crystal clear among them. "I do not want to hear you speaking of yourself as broken. A painful life does not make you broken, it merely means you are tragically overdue the kindness and comfort you deserve. Kindness and comfort you will be provided. Understood?" Another slow, dreamy nod. Cirsi smiled broadly, soothing warmth oozing from her. "Good girl~."

Kira fought down a shiver at the words. She really needed these drugs to wear off and stop fucking with her feelings. And making her sooo drowsy…she could feel her eyelids drooping again and fought with everything she had to keep them open, but she had admittedly little at the moment. And the dappled light of the park they were moving through was so nice viewed through the membrane of her eyelids, so warm…

"If you are too tired I'm happy to carry you the rest of the way, little one."

Kira's eyes snapped open again to an open pod door and a smiling Cirsi. She'd failed to notice the pod stopping again, had she fully passed out or…shit. "N-no I'm…'m good. Jus' didn't sleep great las' night. I'll walk." Standing and exiting the pod was a clumsier process than it should've been.

A gentle chuckle from Cirsi followed her out. "I was afraid of that, flower. My class Z offer stands as long as you may need. As does my offer to carry you~."

The warm shiver ran through her again and she was suddenly glad Cirsi couldn't see her face. She reeeaally needed these drugs to wear off. "I'm good, really Cirs. Les' go."

The evening light of the ring cast Cirsi’s neighborhood in an astonishingly believable sleepy golden glow. Believable wasn’t even the right word, it was just as genuine as starlight from what she could tell. They were a minute into walking in one of their comfortable silences when a thought struck Cirsi. “Might I ask one question indirectly concerning your history, Kira?”

Kira grumbled, “Mmm. Maybe. Ask and we’ll see how I’m feeling.”

“Why, given what I now know of your history, do you use language to describe your current situation as being a prisoner living in a jail and the like? I cannot believe that my care is so terrible as to compare to your past experiences, would it not be more comforting to avoid the comparison entirely? To keep it out of your mind?”

There was a moment of silence loud with thought before she mumbled her reply, “I dunno, I guess it’s just how I’m accustomed to seeing things. ‘M used to being in bad situations, doesn’ help to pretend I’m not. Can we um…can we be done with that now?”

Cirsi moved to pet her companion but stopped herself just shy of contact. She wanted desperately to comfort the girl but every touch and word was a delicate balance if she was to gain the trust she needed. The girl was drooping and slowing. If they were to make it home in a timely manner without any carrying she would need to keep Kira's mind running. Perhaps a change of topics would help, one of her ward’s favorites. "I have a wonder, Kira. Where did the name come from? Jolene?"

Kira found herself smiling before she could stop herself, "It's from an old terran song that I like, from the 20th century. It's about a woman who wants to fuck another woman but hasn' quite figured it out yet."

Cirsi rumbled thoughtfully alongside her. How had she never noticed how nice that sounded? If thinking had a sound, she felt that should be it. "Fascinating! Shall we listen to it when we get home?"

"...yes. I'd like that."

"I can't wait~."

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