Allison swore under her breath as she walked, practically stomping, through the dimly lit and nearly empty streets, her headphones drowning out the silence. The dry, frigid night air nipped at the few parts of her exposed skin. It had been 2 weeks since the news had reached Eris-Minor, Terra had fallen and the entire Accord dissolved in the face of some mysterious alien conquerors. Eris-Minor was in their direct path. It was only a matter of time.
She picked up the pace a little at the thought, it was only fair, she figured, after what happened with Rinians. It was almost Karmic. One second the boot, then catching the boot from someone bigger and badder the next.
Allison gritted her teeth before she caught herself, all this tension was going to do for her was knot her muscles worse than they already were.
Stopping to lean against a flickering lamp post she sighed and stared star-wards. "Maybe I should have left with the rebels..." She muttered, eyes fixed on the few stars visible through the light pollution of the largely empty city.
Leaving with the rebels meant fighting though, and Allison had her fill of that ages ago. She considered herself lucky to have been able to leave the Cosmic Navy when her contract ended 5 years ago, and she felt a pang of pity for those unfortunate enough to have been caught up in the fighting. All the reports said there weren't any casualties but she knew better. As far as propaganda goes it was a pretty poor attempt. Did these 'Affini' really expect anyone to believe Terra was conquered without a single drop of blood spilt?
It's not like she was able to afford passage on the 'refugee' ships either. The pricing for a seat on any transport heading to a world from the Affini's path made it clear who that safety was for. Allison was stuck here, in the husk of a dying empire with all the other rats waiting to drown. Maybe it would be fast at least.
Allison checked the time, 0237. If she headed back to her apartment, which was more of a hovel really, she could arrive just before 3. The walk had hardly helped and the thought of going back to that cramped, lonely space made a light wave of disgust wash over her. Being out in the streets though wasn't helping either though, before they would still be busy at this hour but now it just served as a contrast highlighting the missing life. She let out another sigh. Maybe she should just get home and try to sleep it off, that usually helped her out of a low mood. She turned to head back to the place she begrudgingly called 'home'.
She had hardly made it three blocks when she felt the sky crack. Whipping around she turned her attention to the source, removing an earbud. There, hanging in the sky, was a ship as big as the city itself. She saw dozens of streaking lights reminiscent of shooting stars- the planetary defense system burning as the satellites fell through the atmosphere she realized. The Affini were finally here.
Allison ran, thoughts of the city getting glassed of the people who were unwilling to fight and too poor to book passage on a flight to a refugee haven being rounded up and enslaved and a dozen other scenarios conjured themselves into her mind.
A short crackling was heard before a voice that sounded too melodic to be natural was heard over a speaker. "Hello Citizens of Eris-Minor, We are the Affini Compact and we are here to help! Everything is going to be okay!" Allison ran faster and did not stop until she got home.
It had been three days since the Affini arrived. It had been three days since Allison had left her cramped room. She paced, or attempted to, in the small amount of walking room she had available, only able to go two or three steps before she had to turn around. The situation was bad, but now it was dire. She was down to her last packet of nutripaste and being trapped indoors like this was starting to get her feeling like a caged animal.
The last few days had been unexpectedly uneventful. The Affini had neither glassed the planet nor had they burst into her domicile to drag her to the slave market or the mines. They had, several times a day, broadcast their intention to "give every sophont the love and attention they deserve" which just made Allison roll her eyes. They couldn't be worse at propaganda if they tried.
Her mind turned to food, if the shops were all gone where would she find something to eat? How much longer could she stay indoors anyways? Another day at most? If she didn't start eating the paint off the walls sooner. She stomped to work out some of the frustration building up at her predicament. Allison checked the time, it was 2208. She wondered if the Affini would be asleep by now, or if they slept at all. Fidgeting a little she decided at least the cover of night would be the best time to gather information at least. At the very least, slaves usually got fed.
Allison gave herself a once over in the mirror. A beanie and neck gaiter left only a sliver of her face around the eyes visible, a rubbing of some eye shadow helping conceal then further. A black non-descript zip-up hoodie over a band shirt- Cyberdeath Cannibal, paired with dark jeans. Two large black boots, properly laced and double knotted with the right amount of tightness on her feet. Knife, keys to her place and her currently deactivated phone in her pocket.
She looked like a perfect vision of the void itself. Like a wraith or shade from the old stories, why she could probably pass her shadow off as her twin she mused, smiling slightly under her mask. Satisfied, she opened the door and stepped out into the night.
She had only peered through a crack in the blinds the last few days, only catching a glimpse of the outside but now seeing the way the city had transformed was a shock. Almost half the buildings had been torn down and be replaced by large almost hive like structures or had vines growing over almost every inch. It felt was like looking at infection as it took over.
Allison shakily put her headphones in, seeking solace in some metal, hoping to calm her nerves and bolster get confidence. That's right, she swallowed as she reminded herself, in the long run none of this will matter. From stardust she came, to stardust she will return. She let out a sigh, her mood mostly level for now. The bulk of the Affini buildings were towards the core of the city but the outskirts had already begun to show sign of the intruders. Quickly weighing her options she decided heading to where to grocer near the outer limits used to be was her best bet for looting some food.
Allison weaved through the backallies, keeping as low a profile as she could manage and stepping lightly. Hopefully there was at least something edible to loot but if she got caught that was it for her. Alleyway by alleyway she cut through the city, sticking to the shadows, her dark garb helping to conceal her. She peered out of an alley to make sure the street between her and the next one was clear before bolting across the asphalt and turning into it- bumping into something firm yet soft in the process.
"Oh my! Are you okay little one?" An all too melodic voice asked. "I didn't expect there to be any sophonts out at this hour, are you lost? Do you need me to get your owner?"
Allison stumbled backwards a little before two vines steadied her. She had caught a glimpse or two of the aliens from her window, but only for a moment and at a distance. Standing before her was a tangle of vines approximating a human, bark, moss and leaves in the semblance of a long flowing dress. more flowers in more colors than she knew there to be adorned it's shoulders and the 'trim' of it's cloak. Two lavender lights with specks of gold and red danced where the eyes would be. It looked like some fae witch of legend. Wait, what was that about an owner?
"Dearest?" A Vine brushed her cheek breaking the captivating effect of the Affini's eyes and causing her to duck away. Allison tried to collect herself, she was in danger!
"I, uh, sorry!" She blurted out while removing an earbud, "I wasn't really looking where I was going, please don't eat me or whatever!"
The creature laughed, or at least, it rumbled in a way that Allison could somehow just feel was laughter. "Little one, we do not 'eat' Terrans, or any other of the adorable little sophonts in our care." Allison could feel the alien's intense gaze as it gave her a proper look over, "Are you sure you are doing okay? What are you doing out at this hour?"
Huh? "Huh?" Why was this plant asking about her wellbeing? They were here as conquerors, weren't they? To kill or enslave her or any of the other things her mind had conjured in the last few days.
The creature gave her a light smile, or rather, manipulated the wooden mask she wore as a false face into one Allison noted, "I just want to make sure you are alright, you did run into me quite fast."
Her nerves building, Allison's hand instinctively went to rest on her knife in her pocket. "I-im fine. I'm just trying to find food." Why did she feel so nervous?
A worried look was now painted on her face, "Oh Dear, you didn't hear any of the announcements? They were put out over the local net and broadcast."
Allison shook her head, "I sleep in the day and I haven't connected to the net in a while, I haven't been able pay the bill for three months." A lie, she had seen them, but they were clearly traps to round up the less discerning right?
This seemed to greatly displease the Affini as it muttered something in a language she couldn't understand, "Well you don't need to pay for anything anymore, if you want I can provide you a pad with the relevant information. The Affini Compact is post-scarcity after all."
Allison saw the chest of the Affini split open a crack, before a vine withdrew a device it held before her. Cautiously, she took hold of it and stared to flip through the information on screen before a vine rested itself on her hands, causing her to look back to the Affini. When did it get so close?
"You can read up on all the details later, why don't let me assist you for now? You said you wished to get food?" The Affini cocked it's head slightly in expectation, and Allison nodded in response, too afraid to deny the alien "Fantastic, let us go at once!" It beamed.
"H-hey wait a minute," Allison stammered, snapping out of the near trance she had been in, "What do you mean 'Us'?" She tried to move away from the Affini and realized her legs were stuck. Looking down she saw several vines holding her in place. Wait, what? When did she become entangled?
The plant tsk-tsk'd, "Well I would be a rather poor Affini if I didn't help such an adorable little sophont."
Allison felt her face flush a bit and was thankful she had a mask covering most of it, was this alien flirting with her? "I-it's fine, you don't need to do that." A confused look from the Affini as if to question why 'needing to' would factor in prompted her to quickly add, "I mean, we don't even know each other's names?"
The Affini recoiled, gasping and covering her mouth with a dramatic flair, "Oh dirt! Where are my manners? I'm Dahlia Tagetes, Fourth bloom she/her, what's your name cutie?" She accentuated by poking Allison's nose through her mask.
Goddammit, Allison wanted little more than to be alone again and was hoping that would get the job done. "It's, uh, Allison. She/They I guess." Wait why did she offer her real name, she almost never gave that out in real life.
"An adorable name for an adorable little sophont." Dahlia teased. Allison had never before been so thankful for her mask. She could feel her face flush red hard enough to signal a landing zone underneath.
"C-can you stop with all the touching and the teasing?" Allison asked as she adjusted her mask before nervously adding, "Please?"
"Aww, I'm sorry," Dahlia seemed disappointed, but the vines holding her in place withdrew. "I should have picked up that you had an aversion to touch, would you like me to give you something for that?"
The plant mons- Dahlia wanted to give her something? "What kinda 'something'?" She asked, not sure if she was ready for the answer.
Dahlia lit up, "Why Xenodrugs of course! Specifically a mixture of Class A and Class E to that's designed to help cute sophonts Like you get over their touch aversion."
Allison's mind spun, not only was she finally in front of one of the Aliens who had easily conquered her home but she was offering her drugs? Was that how they got you? She had seen pimps and other unsavory types use addictive substances to control those under them, maybe the Affini had a similar racket. "No thank you, I just want to get some food." She looked around nervously, she could run now that she wasn't entangled but with how fast and strong Dahlia had proven herself to be Allison couldn't imagine getting very far. She was at her mercy, and the best way out Allison could figure was to play along for now.
Dahlia frowned slightly, but only for a second before returning to her cheery smile, "Another time perhaps? Let's get you some groceries then."
Allison yelped as she suddenly felt herself get scooped up by large plant lady, "wh-huh? P-put me down!"
She was quickly shushed by a vine resting itself against her lips, "Now, now, I know you dislike it but we can move much quicker this way. If you really wish though we could walk but the grocer is still quite far."
Allison could feel herself rapidly losing control of the situation, "It's not two more blocks down?"
"Hardly," answered Dahlia, "That one was no where near up to code for the compact, the new one is about twenty blocks away and far more suitable."
Ah, that did make quite the difference. "Fine," Allison sighed, resigning herself, "Let's go I guess." A sudden burst of speed took her by surprise but she managed to stifle her voice this time. Moments later they stopped, had they really travelled that much distance so quickly? Allison thanked her past self for not trying to run, she wouldn't have made it two steps.
Dahlia carefully set her down and Allison let out a sigh of relief as her boots made contact with solid ground. Collecting herself she noticed the gargantuan building in front of her, it had been an old super mall back in Eris-Minor's boom days before becoming just another spaceport. But now it was full of every kind of produce, food product, spice and more. Dozens upon dozens of rows stretched endlessly before her, she had never seen so much food. Not even the one time she managed to get invited to a general's award ceremony. "What is this?"
Dahlia giggled, "Why it's a grocer silly."
Allison's mind struggled to grasp the situation, "A-and it's free? You said there's no money?"
Dahlia sighed, "Poor girl, I'm sorry you had to live with capitalism," she practically spat the word, "for so long. No one is denied anything within reason in the compact and least of all food."
Allison could feel her neurons firing blanks, "th-this is too much, I-i don't even know where to start or where anything is or-" her breathing was becoming stilted, her heart rapidly fluttering as she struggled to grapple with everything. This isn't right, she's supposed the embodiment of darkness, she can't be overwhelmed by something silly like choice paralysis.
"Oh dirt, I'm so sorry dear," A voice from above came, and then a slight prick in the side of her neck. Suddenly her breathing started to level out, and the thoughts that were buzzing in her head like angry hornets slipped away into nothingness one by one. A warm tingling sensation took hold and spread quickly throughout her body. Dahlia was saying something but the words didn't process. She felt herself get picked up again but this time all she felt was the pleasure of soft, warm vines dancing across her as she was carried.
Allison couldn't tell how much time had passed, seconds? Hours? With every moment being pure bliss it could have been years for all she cared. Eventually she felt a prick and her senses returning to her. "-at better kitten?"
Allison shook her head a little to try to clear it with only partial success, they were outside again? Where were they? "What happened?"
"I'm sorry but you were having a panic attack so I gave you something to calm down." Dahlia paused, "do you want me to put you down?" Allison nodded.
Boots on the ground again, right where they belonged, she thought to herself and sighed. Suddenly Allison noticed the large amount of food next to Dahlia, "Wait did you do the shopping already?'
Dahlia looked amused, "Of course kitten, I wasn't going to let you go to your new hab without food."
"Huh? New Hab?" Allison noticed they were no longer front of the grocer but a building about half the size and much more Affini in appearance.
"Yes, I just couldn't let you return to that hole in the wall you called an apartment. It's not even large enough for a sophont a fifth the size of a Terran, it would be cruel!" Dahlia pressed a few keys next to the door, causing it to open and reveal a room cavernous by Allison's standard's. "Welcome to your new home little one! You can have it redecorated later but for now we will be living here until we can get you processed."
Allison balked, "I-i can't just leave my apartment, what about my stuff?"
Dahlia waved towards a set of three boxes in a corner near the entrance, "I had it packed and brought here while you were so cutely mewling in my vines." A pleased look drew across her face as she remembered the scene.
Mewling? She had been mewling? "How long was I even out for you to manage all this?"
Dahlia seemed to think for a short moment, "Just over two of your Terran hours I believe? I've even put in for your class Gs and several necessary appointments."
Just two hours and this woman had researched her food tastes, packed her belongings and moved her? What was her angle? "Class G? Appointments?" This wasn't good, her head starting to spin again. She needed to keep it under control or else she'd get drugged again and be at Dahlia's mercy. Clearly the plant woman took her inebriated state as a blank check to do whatever she pleased, and any distress as an excuse to drug her. Deep breath in. Hold. And out. She could do this.
Dahlia thankfully didn't seem to notice Allison bringing herself back down as she answered, "Class G's are for cuties like you whose body doesn't quite match up to the adorable sophont they are, you can think of them kind of like Terran HRT but much more effective. As for appointments I have you scheduled to see a vet tomorrow, normally it would be a few days before you had that appointment to let you get up to speed on some generalities of life in the compact but you" a vine drew close to get face, though not touching, "haven't had a medical examination in over 5 years!" Allison didn't know Aliens could pout, she would have laughed at the fact if she wasn't so caught off guard by what she was saying.
Allison could hold it in no longer, "You've offered me drugs, food, medical attention- What's your angle? Why are you doing this?"
Dahlia's wooden mask pantomimed a new expression, satisfaction- simple and pure. "The compact helps sophont species live happy and fulfilling lives simply because it is the right thing to do, although the florets are an adorably wonderful bonus."
"I see..." Allison added "florets" to the ever growing list of topics she needed to research. A growl from her stomach reminded her that she still had yet to eat. "Um, I suppose I should put that food away and make something." Her vision wandering to the large bags of food by the Affini.
"Nonsense!" Dahlia declared, "You have had a long day and tomorrow is gonna be busy, let me take care of the food and make you something." Before Allison could even answer Dahlia had swept up the bags in several vines and disappeared into the kitchen, leaving her alone.
Allison looked around taking in her surroundings. The living room alone was huge, hell everything in the apartment was huge. She was a tall woman, standing around 6'3" before she even put on her boots but even so it would seem getting into the couch would be an ordeal. Dahlia had mentioned she could replace the furniture later, so maybe she could get a Terran sized one later but this one seemed to be better suited for the plant invading her privacy and life.
Poking around she managed to find the bathroom and two other rooms. One seemed to be a Terran bedroom, although the bed, much like the couch, seemed to be sized for use by someone much larger than her. The other was more of a green room than anything, even larger than the bedroom, and directly across from it. The bathroom's handles for hot and cold water similarly seemed to be just out of reach for her. How was she supposed to live here? Did Dahlia need something up? She hoped she could get a more properly sized apartment.
Her mind jumped to her cheery captor, Dahlia Tagetes, Fourth bloom. Something about her stuck to the forefront of Allison's mind, like bad earworm you couldn't stop humming. If Dahlia wanted to bring her harm she had a hundred opportunities by now if not more. There was definitely something she wasn't telling her. What could she want with her though? She even mentioned she had seen her online fingerprint so she probably had an idea what a mess Allison was, although she hoped she didn't.
"Allison-kitten, dinner is ready!" A melodic voice rang from the kitchen.
Her captor was a mystery, wrapped in an enigma and probably several other forms of schadenfreude. Well if Dahlia wanted to catch Allison unaware she'd have to try a lot harder, she was ready for the other shoe to drop any second. And when it did? Then they could both stop playing pretend at being nice. For now though, there was dinner. And dinner was part of the game.