Effuslucia Second Bloom sat in a rather large room. In it with her there were several other affini, all older than her and only one of which was actually from the Crest. There was Mort, in the form of some kind of great many-winged bird, his face resembling a strange skull, two military affini she'd never met, an agricultural specialist she vaguely recognized as being friends with Cordelia, one engineer affini with pale white foliage and bumps atop her head, and one affini who sat in a formless mass of vines snuggling two boy florets who both seemed delighted to be there. The pressure exerted by the others not to coo over those adorable little things was getting under her cell walls a bit. In fact, that one aside, the air felt almost hostile. It wasn't a feeling she liked.
"Psst, Mort," Effus awkwardly whispered to the monochrome being immediately to her left, "why is everyone so tense?"
"Because she's here," Mort whispered back. He sounded more bemused and excited than bothered, and the sound sucked the bloom out of Effus' flowers. Mort's excitement, much like the visage of the corpse eaters he loved to imitate, was rarely a portent of good things. The military affini swapped notes and whispers in a hushed tone unbecoming of them. Effus felt something cold stinging at her roots. Oh space, she hoped Mane would behave. The last thing anyone needed right now-
"THE WORLD IS YOUR EGG!" Every eye in the room- except maybe the two florets, it was hard to tell what with all the vines- immediately locked onto the chamber's door, which had been kicked ajar. The voice continued, "SMASH IT, OR DIE UNBORN!" Then its owner stomped merrily into the room. They were a…
A human had kicked the door open and strode in on impudently confident steps. She grinned ear to ear, as if unaware that her height of seven foot six, while monstrously tall by human standards, was positively petite by those of this room. She practically sauntered up to the seat, ignoring the glares of the two military affini as she just about exploded into one of their seats of discussion. She slouched into it, her legs crossed and her head at rest on a fist supported by an elbow braced against the armrest. Her smile grew ever wider.
"Greetings, affini." She lazily swung her other arm, which held a briefcase, into the air and brought the case down onto the table with a thud. Wait a minute, this Terran was-
It was Daisy. Effus suddenly understood. Allowing a Terran- an undomesticated Terran, at that- to take a seat in this room was absolutely baffling. To take the farce one step further, this was DAISY! She had killed an affini! Sure, she was in affini custody, and without that brutish Terran monstrosity she couldn't hurt them anymore, but her attitude…
The table rattled. On. Off. It took a moment to figure out what was happening. Something was trying to communicate in a code used by Terrans, mostly but not exclusively in military contexts. It was called Morse code, Effus believed. She was left lost as every other affini in the room nodded and said "yes."
"....no?" Effus said shakily. "What was the question?"
"If we can all understand this method of communication," Mort answered her. "I can translate, if you wish?" She answered yes. Mort nodded, and then said, "Then from here on I'll stick out a few vines-" and, as he said, a couple vines poked out of the mass of his wings and lifted themselves like poised cobras into the air between the two- "and have them repeat everything in AVSL. Does that work, I hope?" Effus answered that yes, yes it did. She was almost as fluent in the signing of her own species- that's what AVSL was, Affini Vine Sign Language- as she was in the sign language employed by Terran space. "Very good. That means we are able to communicate. I assume, anyway- can you hear us, Thunder?" The suitcase made the table rattle once more. Effus watched the black vines for their input. Sure enough they signed at her, "Yes, I can hear you perfectly well. I have made a temporary miniature core and stored it inside this briefcase for ease of travel. Many of you likely know this already, but I am Thunder. My actual body is prohibitively, or at least inconveniently, large even in the context of affini ships. I am perfectly capable of shedding most of it in my own ship and reassimilating it later, but this method is quicker, more novel, and quite frankly it's more fun."
Effus nodded to herself. So this was Thunder. Well, sort of she supposed, his legal name was likely something else. This affini was ancient, having hundreds of blooms (or at least, a triple digit number of blooms at minimum) in his expansive pool of experience. He was likely the oldest affini that lived, and if he wasn't then there were extremely low odds that those older than him numbered higher than a dozen or so. She knew about him by reputation, but other than his age all she knew was that he apparently enjoyed the actual war phase differently from most affini and that he greatly enjoyed the fearful titles "enemy" sophonts often gave him. It was likely, then, that Thunder was one such title. Him becoming the owner of the only human to engage an affini and actually properly kill it without using some kind of gun, bomb, or quirk of physics made sense. No matter how strong she was, killing even a permanently immobilized Thunder with her weapon of choice would be impossible unless the sword somehow toiled for months on end without the blade ever going dull or breaking on his bark.
"Understood," said Effus. "Question: why is Daisy here?" The table answered the inquiry but she had to let Mort be the one to give it to her.
His vines signed out: "What, did you think this suitcase could WALK here?" Well yes, Effus thought to herself, there was zero reason he couldn't have put himself in a suitcase with ambulatory capabilities. Besides, even if that WAS unavoidable, Erias would absolutely have done the job if asked.
"You could easily have gotten an affini to do it. Or you could have attended remotely," One of the military affini growled in affini, shooting up from their feet to stand tall and pounding two great thorny flowers on the table. He looked Daisy dead in the eyes, his thorns all doubling angrily in length. Was...was Daisy safe there? No, no, Effus reassured herself, the affini wouldn't hurt her. "And why the suitcase anyway-"
"There there Arliss," Purred a soothing voice which came from the mass of vines. "Thunder's too big to come on this ship so the suitcase is an...intermediary measure. He can hear and communicate through it. Here, you can borrow Hat. It's a good boy, squeezing it makes me feel better."
"Unless your floret-" Started Arliss, but the mass of vines pushed one of their florets against him. He had no choice but to take a seat, hug the tender creature, and reassure it that it was safe and everyone in the room loved it and the big scary not-yet-floret would be pacified and just as weak and cuddly as it was soon. Which was a strange choice, because both of the florets seemed to regard Daisy with a kind of nervous apprehensive awe rather than fear.
Daisy snickered and mumbled something under her breath, then flinched and pouted.
"Fuck OFF, Thunder, I just said they were cute!" It perhaps shouldn't have surprised anyone that Daisy spoke to her owner differently than other affini. It was hard to describe, but she...disrespected him differently. It was more playful and less actually demeaning. The table rattled violently. Effus looked to Mort for guidance.
"That wasn't Morse for anything. I think he just laughed."
"ANYWAY!" Shouted the other military affini, also in the floral language of their kind. "She specifically would not be here without a reason. Can you please explain?" The table rattled again. In turn, Mort's vines did their work.
"We, that means myself and Daisy here, have negotiated a final agreement at last. The only additions to her terms that matter here, honestly her ONLY terms that matter here, are that any affini council made regarding the Greshuls, if she is in such proximity as to make it reasonable, she gets a seat there if not a voice." Effus felt a shock snake through her roots and xylem. That was...an outrageous thing for a human to ask, and even more of a wild request for an affini to grant! She turned her attention to Daisy's smug grin of audacious confidence.
Before she could say something, the rattling resumed and forced her to watch as Mort signed with his vines, "Speaking of, let's get to the subject of today's meeting. Effuslucia, Second Bloom." Effus suppressed the giggle that came when Mort pointed at her with one vine and signed out "this one" with another, an old slang way of referring to someone in their presence without having to make extra vines for the wild custom signages affini often gave themselves. It could also, as it was here, be a way to dodge them not having given you theirs. She'd have to teach him hers later. "The one who killed Cain Greshul is both his offspring and your ward, correct?" Effus nervously nodded her head and contemplated how to respond.
"Yes, that is correct. I, Effuslucia Second Bloom, am Mane's caretaker. Cain Greshul, who Mane killed, was Mane's father. This information is all correct, yes."
"You should have brought them," Daisy almost growled, "I love watching those vampires squirm." Daisy flinched again. Was Thunder...hurting her? It didn't seem to be that effective a punishment, but Effus wasn't in the business of correcting another owner, especially-
"Is that it?" She could almost hear Mane accusing her. "Or is it a convenient excuse to overlook it when you see a human you don't like being hurt?" Space. Dirt. MOLD. The little one's irrational fears and venom were starting to get to her.
"Please don't hurt Daisy!" Effus blurted out. Why...had she said that?
Arliss stared at her in shock, until Hat almost fell off the chair and he had to divert his attention to saving it. The engineer affini spoke up.
"Many Terrans like to be hurt!" They chided. "Please do not criticise your elders like that. I am sure if Thunder is willing to make such generous accommodations he would not then also punish her too severely." Effus frowned. Sure, that was true, but-
"Hey, you, Cauliflower."
"My name is Aulflower-" said Aulflower.
"Cauliflower." Daisy said again with a powerful smirk. Cauliflower went quiet, a green blush slightly coloring her pale white face. "Anyway, I couldn't help but notice the only times you guys speak English are Mane's owner, who as a second bloom is probably a baby compared to you crusty old people, her friend, and you...which you only did to correct her when she stood up for me." She twirled some of her pixie cut black hair between two fingers and rolled her eyes. "Anyway, you-" Daisy pointed her eyes for a moment lazily at Effus, "I'm sure you have good reason to feel protective of your little Mane. Tell me, would she object to calling her family vampires and their fortunes blood money?"
Effus hesitated and sighed. She answered, her voice heavy, "....no. I don't think she would."
"Then I will refrain from insulting her, for your sake-" another flinch. "Damnit Thunder did you just. Are you letting me get away with stuff based on whether you find it funny!?" No answer. Mort giggled. So did Cauliflower, a little bit. Even Daisy seemed to calm down. "Okay, sorry. I'll stop interrupting." The table started to rattle again and as usual, that meant Effus watched Mort.
"Please tell us about Mane's mental state, Mort and Effus, if you please." It was weird, then, to watch Mort start answering the question before his vines had properly finished their task of signing it out. He stood and his bird mask of a face opened along a vertical "beak."
"Mane's father was cruel and abusive," Mort stated with a powerful confidence. His form, all bark and tar and black vines, squirmed with intent. "She was press ganged into assisting him with work. Her father had done so by using her mother's finances, which in large part depended on him to provide food and keep up with house payments, as collateral. This had happened before we were available and escalated into rebel collaboration from there. In this way, I believe that aide she gave to the rebels was extracted under duress, and as such she cannot reasonably be-"
"She had opportunities to surrender and hand him in," Growled the other military affini. "But I'll overlook that. We can't go punishing every instance of rebel behavior too harshly, can we? They are only human, after all. But THAT'S not the subject that brings us here."
"No," said Mort without missing a beat, "it is not. As we all know, Cain Greshul was the first Terran to be killed by another Terran in affini space. This is a large precedent. Should the council to decide what to do not be far larger?"
"It should," Effus answered without hesitation. "This is just a review, isn't it?"
"Correct," said the vine bundle obsessing over a single floret having lent Arliss the other, "What is Mane like? What caused that episode in the hangar? My newest floret STILL won't leave the hab because she has nightmares about your ward hurting her."
That was...absurd! Mane would never hurt a floret! Effus wanted to shower this affini in reassurance but it would have to wait.
"Episode?" Mort asked. His voice was grim and worried. "Explain." Effus made to elaborate on the situation but she wasn't given the chance. The second military affini spoke first, their voice shaking with irritation.
"An affini- Cordelia, was it? You three are friends, no? Yes? Yes. Cordelia merely grabbed her floret, who she had ALLOWED TO GO TO THE ARGOS WITHOUT HER, SPECIFICALLY TO KEEP MANE COMPANY, eagerly grabbed her floret on their arrival- as any affini would, with enough life in them to put a rhythm in their core!- and that Terran lashed out and screamed and attacked her in public! With intent to kill, no less! It calls your friend's competence into question!" They glared at Effus as though their eyes were charged with outrage. "Why have you allowed such suffering to exist in that poor soul!? Clearly if she can't-"
"LET. ME. SPEAK!" Effus smashed two fists on the table and imitated...what was that human gesture again? Ah, yes. It was called "seething." "Mane was abused by her father all her life! She's scared and confused! She lashed out because Melody was important to her, and Mane thought they'd never see each other again, and some vast creature snapped them up and yanked her out of sight after they were finally reunited! Mane is a GOOD GIRL, she's just hurting and-"
"And YOU willfully perpetuate it!" The enraged affini snarled. "Just DRUG her! Do you have any idea how hard it is for a Terran to willingly kill another, under decent circumstances!? The-"
The table rattled. Mort froze. "Uh, Thunder, I can't translate that." More rattling. "No, I mean- I literally can't, AVSL doesn't have-" more rattling. LOTS of rattling. Daisy's eyes widened.
"Wait, can't you just-" flinch- "you're seriously-" flinch- "Thunder you fucking-" flinch- "You absolute fucking dweeb you're seriously-" flinch- more laughter- "giving a SIGN LANGUAGE TUTORIAL IN MORSE CODE-" More flinching. More laughter. Mort sighed and started signing with...at least nineteen vines.
"No fighting in the war room! All of you calm down before I come, see, and kick your ass." Effus marveled in the fact that she somehow understood the message despite roughly a third of it being words and phrases whose AVSL she was one hundred percent sure she didn't know and also fairly certain Thunder had made them up without telling anyone.
"I recommend class-" Cauliflower started to say.
"Stay in your lane Cauliflower," Daisy interrupted with a confident grin. "The owners are talking." Cauliflower blushed again and looked down.
"Yes Mistress," the affini sputtered. Daisy giggled.
"Mane is dangerous in her current state," the military affini who wasn't Arliss growled, evidently not amused, "If I don't see rapid signs of improvement, I want her transferred or BROKEN. I do not care what objections you have to coercive tactics, sometimes they're necessary. Morlon?"
The mass of vines, Morlon apparently, signalled a "yes" and then began to speak. "I am in agreement, Fadron. I know it can feel bad at first, but you have to understand that she WILL forgive you and she WILL understand, okay?"
"No," Effus growled under her breath. "That poor thing- in her mind, being broken like that is no different from being killed! I will NOT kill a Terran, do you understand!"
"But she would," Arliss hissed. "In fact, she HAS. If you refuse to do what is needed, you endanger her and you endanger others. I understand that her killing was an act of desperation from a traumatized sophont pushed beyond the point where any reasonable expectations of nonviolence can be held, but that's exactly why allowing her to fester like this is wrong. You're young and confident, I know. But sometimes, a sophont simply CAN'T be-"
"CAN'T?" Bellowed a voice so powerful that actual gusts of wind exploded out from it. The suitcase shuddered and split open at the seams, revealing an almost golden shard of an affini core. It was small for a core, somewhat resembling a misshapen tip taken from a large Terran pike, but it was undeniable what the object was.
"Thunder, there are factors-" started Fadron and Arliss together. He cut them both off by bellowing even louder.
"AN AFFINI WHO SUBMITS TO THE IMPOSSIBLE HAS FORGOTTEN THEIR PLACE!" The elder affini's roar was less like a voice and more like thunder or an earthquake. Every other creature in the room, even Daisy and Morlon and the florets, froze as an emotion that Terrans once called "the fear of god" seized hold of them. Then the shard fell over and started rattling impotently, undercutting the tension. The human was the first to recover.
"Damnit," Daisy groaned. "The suitcase won't work anymore. I guess, uh, pass him around like a conch shell? He could just talk, but the poor florets might actually pass out if we do that."