Disclaimer: the following work was translated using the machine program Babel's Trunk.exe, which Terrans have described as "jank as fuck." Please keep in mind that not only words but entire concepts- such as gender- may have been mangled, introduced, or destroyed in the process. Those wishing for the authentic experience must unfortunately learn affini or have a friend translate it manually. For these purposes, please consult your local librarian.
The Florophon was the biggest ship any living being in the Anthylia cluster had ever witnessed. It was a positively gargantuan creation, miles and miles of metal forged by some elder civilization into the shape of a rose bud contracted. Within the inner bounds of its artificial petals there was a civilization of its own, composed of plantlike beings from countless thousands of miles- of lightyears- away. Brought here by an errant signal, they came seeking life. What was there for them to find? They had overtaken countless planets, solar systems, galaxies, before. This would not be the last of their efforts to make pets out of all that lived.
Ah, yes, thought one of the plants to herself.
Her name was Remina. A second bloom- a phrase which here means "in a range between three hundred and just under six hundred years old"- she was young by her kind's standards. She was here to see the sights, to finish up with the newest species to be discovered by the affini. She was of a particular interest in a field her fellows called xenopsychology- which is like regular psychology except with aliens. She sat on the bridge, where she had no role or authority but was permitted to exist. She was moral support in much the same way as the…cotyledons.
Several quadrupedal creatures lay about among the towering, eight foot tall plant beings. Spacy things, twitching, with bolts of bark protruding from some of their bodies in places. They were cute but there was a profound sense of tragedy about their current state. Remina had read reports about this. It was one of what her fellows called a "cotyledon" project. These were the earliest members of a given pet species, before the domestication of their kind was complete.
The Krez'agt were a strongly empathetic species, evolved from pack hunters. She kneeled next to one and stroked its face. The sophont neither visually nor audibly showed any signs of noticing her. Its face was happy, presumably, but it still twitched from time to time in ways that were…unpleasant to look at. She'd heard warnings about this- that the faintest of affini sometimes felt conflicting feelings at the sight of cotyledons. The severity varied from one species to another, she knew. She was under the impression that these creatures were on the rougher end of the spectrum. The question of why was what led her to choose this part of space specifically, after all.
They were pack hunters. They had families, social structures enforced by hormones, and answered to superiors. Yet paradoxically, they could only eat meat. Strange of her, a plant, to say such a thing, but obligate carnivores having such powerful empathy had struck her as odd. Perhaps it was usually reserved for their own. That could potentially explain their resistance to the affini's implants.
Well…their "resistance." No creature could stave them off forever. Domestication was as inevitable for the Krez'agt as it was for all life everywhere. It just took some experimenting to find out how to interface with their brains and bodies properly. Experimentation that, it seemed, grew closer to being finished with each passing cycle.
"Is everything alright, Second Bloom?" Asked Chronn, a Sixth Bloom and the leader of the crew on the bridge. Remina looked up at them. They were eight feet tall, their body a twisted trunk of interlocked vines half a foot thick each. Flowers ringed the outside edges of their body in spirals of bright colorful petals. A face vaguely resembling those of the red-furred canine cotyledons on the ground served for the moment as Chronn's own, a strangely predatory maw with twisted bark serving as mandibles much like the bonelike ones on the Krez'agt.
"Just having…" doubts? Were these feelings doubt? Remina couldn't quite tell. She stood straight, all too aware of how small and young and outranked she was here. Her own body was lanky and willowy, like the waving branches and vines of a tree in a marsh. She twisted and churned in a chaotic pattern that one might falsely observe as having no rhythm. In truth, her biorhythm- a feature of many living things, though that of the affini was noteworthy for its musical, literally hypnotic quality- was fast and seemingly uncontrolled but ultimately harmonious. It was a rare trait, but it made her unique and she liked that. She smiled with her body language, the way affini did- with dancing flowers and lilting twirls and flowers waving daintily in an impossible breeze. "I will be fine, Chronn. I do appreciate your show of concern, however, and promise that I will promptly voice to you any not-alrightness that I do come to feel later."
"Splendid to hear, young flower," Chronn said with a cute smile on their many-fanged visage. The "fangs" were thorns, naturally, as were the pointy bits on their makeshift mandibles. "You don't seem pleased with the cotyledon project, if I may say so?"
"Understandable, really," Chronn said warily, "I agree with you in this case, I really do." They turned their gaze briefly to their own cotyledon, which sat delirious by the controls. Her name was Vovvith, if Remina's memory was to be trusted. "I cannot express my gratitude that the soothing words I offered her when she was hurting didn't turn out to be lies." Vovvith was one of the Krez'agt cotyledons with the fewest side effects from their implants. She was spacy and prone to horrific night terrors but the implant had integrated into her nervous system with relatively minimal difficulty. No extraneous painful growths, no nervous tissue fraying or becoming improperly responsive. Vovvith's personality even survived…partially.
"I appreciate your words, Chronn," said Remina, her words slow and deliberate with pauses in places as she carefully chose the next few, "but I fear they aren't as soothing as you intend."
"I had to try," Chronn chuckled.
They returned to their seat and Remina leaned against a wall. They were outside the Anthylia cluster for the time being. Their ship had visited a station on the other side of a warp- in order to turn in paperwork, see visiting friends, present the cotyledons to inspectors whose job was largely to say "wow, cute pet!", and discuss scientific findings as desired. This was…unusual. Remina had suspicions that some of her fellow younger crewmates were simply homesick. That station had a small recreational deck that imitated the core worlds, after all.
Besides, the Krez'agt were unusual. Not many species gave the affini this much trouble. Crushing them in the war phase would be easy- they were barely spacefaring, only able to occupy two planets thanks to a frankly unbelievable miracle of happenstance that all culminated in an event some three hundred years ago. The affini could simply blanket each planet in a swarm of nanomachines, dissolving all of their weapons, then douse the atmosphere of each in a cloud of xenodrugs. Disabled by sleep-inducing gas, the entire governing body could then be scooped up and made into pets whether they wanted it or not.
That would be unsporting, though, and it would probably cause panic. Nothing that would actually inconvenience them in a way that mattered, mind, but the consideration was a moral necessity. What was the point of protecting and caretaking the universe through force?
Of course, even she wasn't green or ignorant enough to think that stance was mainstream affini belief. She decided not to dwell on such matters anymore for the time being and left the bridge. The Florophon was a fully functioning society and contained a small civilization's worth of dedicated structures and services, after all. She'd not been there for long and this was her first foray into the farther reaches of space. She had to get used to life as a member aboard affini craft, too, not just life on the outer front. Remina stood, bid adieu to each of the other affini in the bridge, and left to wander the ship.
Something about the bark-encrusted affini sitting next to an artificial lake caught Remina's attention. She couldn't identify at a glance what quality of his specifically set him apart. That intrigued her immediately. What was going through his mind as he drummed at the floor beside him with various appendages and stared out into the distance quietly? She approached slowly, haphazardly, almost as if caught in a trance, and only realized what was happening as she came to a stop some ten feet away.* The inexperienced affini shook herself free from her stupor and felt her body writhe involuntarily with interest. It was as if some hidden voice was calling out, inviting her to discover it.
"Hello?" She spoke up with her voice shaky and uncertain, but devoid of fear. Her interest shone through regardless of whatever other emotions it mingled with. "I believe we've never met? May I sit next to you here?" The affini turned to face her. His body was bulky, literally built like a tree. Where other affini looked like walking bushes or shrubbery, his frame was like a piece of a great oak had been knocked from its place by a bomb and subsequently grown into an ambulatory being. Where most of their kind had ever-shifting masses of vines and leaves, this one was a solid wall of bark. When he answered, his voice bellowed forwards with the terrible fury of a massive redwood crashing to the ground. The air itself shuddered in a pulse that struck Remina harder than any pet-species' final desperate onslaught.
"Greetings, young one. I believe we haven't." Remina's entire body shook from the impact and she actually stumbled backwards a few steps. There was no intention in his tone or body, of domination or the aim to assert it- this was simply how he spoke. Remina froze stiff as she struggled to recover. The other affini seemed to catch himself and correct something. Remina managed to break out of her stupor before he could say any more, and spoke back up herself.
"Oh my stars," she muttered, "your voice is…majestic! What's your name, Thick Lad?"
"Never call me that again, please," The armored affini said in a voice that was much more standard than the one he'd used initially. It lacked the awe-inspiring force that bowled Remina over last time. "My name is Sky."
"Sky? That's an odd name for you," said Remina as roots curled and reached in her mind. Her flowers danced in an invisible wind as the promise of verbal gychrc*2 enticed her. "You're so big and bulky, and Sky implies…freedom! Flight, small delicate things spreading their wings and defying the chains of gravity." She spoke not to chastise him or mock his name, but rather to verbalize out loud what had interested her. "And maybe tall things I suppose, but you're proportionately a lot boxier and less…lanky-enough-to-seize-heaven*3 than most affini." Sky laughed. It was a hearty bellowing laugh, like a planet was guffawing beneath one's roots. In fact, the floor did actually tremble. Remina wobbled violently, caught off guard, but ultimately kept herself upright.
"I like you, willowy one," Sky said when he finished voicing his amusement. "Your name?"
"My name is Remina, Second Bloom."
"I've yet to choose one."
"Intriguing. I thought you seemed young," the tanklike creature said to Remina under his photosynthesis.*4 "In any case, feel free to sit beside me." Remina did as she was invited to do. The grass was cool, dewy, and comfortable to mingle with. Both affini watched the little creek flow and listened to the wonderful, calming sounds that it made. Remina listened for the sound of her new aquaintance's biorhythm but found nothing. She knew that it was common for especially old affini to have theirs go haywire or fade, but…an affini specifically listening for one would still pick it up, she was pretty sure. In fact, it was almost aggressive how much she didn't hear one from him. It was almost like he did have a biorhythm, and the sound it made was silence. Even her own seemed as if it grew quieter in proximity to him. She felt something deep inside her recoil at the idea, but she reined it in without too much difficulty.
"You're uneasy," Sky said gently, without turning away from the beautiful flow of crystal clear water. "Would you care to talk about it? I find that for all our talk of being the universe's caretakers, affini- younger affini especially, first seven blooms or so- seem to be inept at hashing out their doubts and fears and insecurities, quite frankly." The thought of seventh blooms being "younger affini" struck Remina, caught her off guard and cut down into her core. She flashed an incredulous look at him, only to realize- or rather, to remember- that she was clearly speaking to an elder.
Had he noticed?
"What gave you that idea?" She asked, cautiously testing the waters. Not just with him, either: she was simultaneously extending roots into the mud by the river's edge, which she promptly drained nutrients from as a snack.
"No Second Bloom is this cautious or guarded unless something is wrong, in my experience." He made no movement that would indicate she had his attention, but somehow she knew that she had all of it. She wriggled internally. What was this old affini thinking to himself about her, what was it that caught his interest?
"What are you, a Venus fly trap?" Remina asked with a coy mirth in her voice. There was nothing of laughter in him afterwards. She felt annoyed by this lack of amusement. She thought she was funny. "Gotta grab everything that comes between your jaws and disassemble it into easily digested goo?"
"A strange choice of metaphor, but an amusing one," the elder affini replied. "I am simply an affini looking out for those less experienced than myself. Your questions are safe with me, Little Flower."*5
"I'll respectfully decline that offer, sir. But I greatly appreciate your concern and support." A while passed. "Do you have any florets, Sky?"
"Now? So you did once?" Remina knew no such silliness as a tragic loss in conflict could befall the pets of an affini this old and most likely wise, but the mortality of florets was a simple, unfortunate facet of reality. Either an affini of this age had never taken a floret for the vast majority of their lives, or the ticking clock of biology had taken at least one from them. "I'm sorry. I'm sure they were happy to be yours."
"Some of them," he said, "those who had a choice in the matter." His voice was somber and full of pain. It felt like a mountain's worth of moss, saturated with tears, had fallen upon Remina's core all at once.
"Oh stars…I'm so sorry, that was insensitive of me!"
"No worries, Little Flower." He leaned inwards towards the stream. Something about him radiated grief. Guilt plucked at the petals of Remina's flowers. "All of us make mistakes. It is a simple fact, as unavoidable as the Harvest or the passing of time. This was a comparatively small one. There is no shame in what you asked." More quiet, more flowing water. "I appreciate your question, even. Most question my worth as an owner. Say that if I would just drug them more they'd be happy no matter what. Those are the words worth apologizing for."
"I'm…sorry." Remina couldn't imagine showing such cruelty to any living thing, especially a grieving pet owner!
"Don't be. Like I just said, you've done no wrong. Have you left the core system before, Second Bloom?"
"No, this is my first time."
"Friends with any of the others out here for the first time?"
"You should try and make friends with them. I'm afraid this old tree won't be the best company for a while."
"All the more reason to KEEP you company!" Quipped Remina with an air of playful defiance. "Old affini need friends too!"
"Hmph. Admire me?" He regarded her. For the first time, something about his demeanor cracked. For just an instant, Remina saw beneath Sky's shell. Beneath it was something…
Ancient and terrible.
FOOT NOTE TRANSLATION HELP:
* Ten feet is a much more insignificant amount when every associated sophont is an affini.
*2 This word is an affini practice with no one for one translation but in this case "chess" is a more than suitable substitution.
*3 The word "heaven" is used here in an archaic Terran manner to mean "sky," i.e. heavens. The lack of pluralization implies a more directly divine connotation than would be accurate.
*4 Good Babelbot!
*5 This is about as perfect a translation as language barriers allow for, but it's worth noting the (correctly carried over) social context that "Little Flower" is typically used as a nickname for florets.