An affini, black as pitch and with tarlike sap, was formed into the shape of a large humanlike automaton. He sat with his legs crossed and his head leaning on a single massive hand. His other stocky arm split open halfway down into a wriggling, tentacle-y mass of vines that each tapped at a different tablet-he had about twelve at the ready. The juxtaposition of his tired expression, disinterested body language (assuming, perhaps foolishly, that he was accurately mimicking the human posing for how he felt) with the constant erratic movements of his dozen or so right hands left Mane puzzling over this affini with rapt attention. The two sat on opposite sides of a big table, one so large Mane had needed to use a full size human chair as a foot stool just to clamber onto the seat she had actually been assigned to use.
"You understand the severity of this situation, do you not?" Implored the affini in a voice that was deceptively neutral in pitch given his size. It was still distinctly male, though, as far as the human could tell. She'd never met an affini with that quality before and it made things...much tenser for her. She tried not to visibly flinch.
"I killed someone. I'm well aware." Mane replied. She was sitting awkwardly, spine straight, arms crossed. The chair was so oversized that her back didn't actually reach its own-which made sitting there extremely uncomfortable. Still, it wasn't difficult to tell this wasn't how she normally sat either. "Next question."
"You are an *arrogant* little shit," the affini remarked in a noise one might best describe as a snort. "I kind of like that. It's refreshing."
"And the rebels who dare bite your hand aren't?" Mane snarked at the mass of plants. He seemed to regard her for a few seconds, deep in thought, before giving any kind of answer. When he did speak, he almost sounded amused.
"That's different. They have...their bravado comes from a different place than yours, I suppose. You're intriguing, honestly, it's a shame you might have to be class-O'd." The affini shifted about. His legs melted together into a more conventional swarm of writhing leaves and thorns. Mane noticed that this affini didn't have any-or at least, didn't visibly have any-flowers on his body. She fought the faint urge to ask about it, reasoning that she really wasn't in a place to be pushing potentially culturally loaded buttons without knowing what they might do.
Besides, her brain had just now caught up and processed something he'd said. "Cl-class O'd?" Asked a frightened Mane. Her heart hammered wildly at her ribs. She sweated from her palms and forehead. Class O? That was on the table? What even-what?? What?? "What does that mean?" Fear. Fear fear fear fear. What were they going to do to her? Was her father right? Was it something even worse? "What do you mean, I'll probably be Class-O'd?"
"Relax, human. I said you might." The affini's body undulated. Was it annoyance? Was it anger? Oh god oh god how was she supposed to tell when she could barely read HUMANS?
"I can't relax! What does that MEAN?" Panic was overtaking her. Her cuffs were beeping. "What do you MEAN???" She could hear her father in her head. "Stop it." "STOP IT." "STOP HYPERVENTILATING!" "CALM DOWN!" God god god god-
A prick. Warmth crawled through her veins.
She'd been drugged.
Mane felt anger trying to well up inside of her. The drugs wouldn't allow it, and yet it continued to cluster and grow and take up more of her brain and even as every single thought was smothered more and more rose to the surface like the heads of a hydra. It was like her brain was converting itself into weapons, and the drugs were dampening all of its gunpowder, but instead of accepting defeat Mane's mind simply rolled out more and more guns and canons and revolvers and started converting everything available into more and more firearms that were all equally useless. It was, she could rationally deduce despite her inability to feel it, infuriating.
"How….darrrrre you," she muttered in an attempt to do an impression of herself when angered. She tried to dig her nails into the table but it had no effect. The affini's copious extra hands all froze for a second and he regarded her with wonder. "How...daaaaaaare you," repeated Mane. She was still sitting all polite, that couldn't be right could it? She leaned forward and curled her back until she was hunched over the table, staring up at the affini like a wild boar on some very interesting intoxicants.
"Are you...still angry?" Asked the affini. They weren't impressed or afraid or anything of the sort. They sounded fascinated, like if some chemical reaction had just gone completely differently than every way it had ever gone before and they wanted only to understand what was happening. "Are you...are you, ACTIVELY, pretending to be angry?"
"I haaaate you," Mane snarled. She was baring her teeth, but in a robotic sort of way. "I didn't give you permission to do that."
"Oh, oh!" The affini seemed to laugh. He leaned his gargantuan weight closer to Mane. His other arm now split into its own cavalcade of vines, each of which grabbed yet another tablet. Each vine set to work and was immediately logging information. Mane neither knew nor cared information of what sorts. "You were having a panic attack! I simply-"
"Let. Me." Mane growled. She was losing steam. The pillowy haze of the injection was setting in now, forcing her brain to start disassembling its neutralized array of arms like a child forced to clean their room. It was getting harder to remember that she was supposed to be angry. "If I'm...having...panic...leeeet me."
"No." Said the affini bluntly. "I cannot do that. It would be cruel and unethical." Mane hated that the drug-induced fog in her mind made this seem agreeable. He was right, it was whispering into her brain, he was taking care of her when she needed it most. She was safer now, from herself and from the affini. "Outbursts like that are bad for your health."
"Bastard," murmured Mane with no emotion in it. The drugs told her she was overreacting. The drugs told her everything was fine. The tools to disagree with them were far out of grasp, locked away where her brain couldn't access them. She knew, though, that her feelings-the drug's feelings-were wrong. Just because she was willing to forgive him didn't make it okay not to be angry. She'd just have to fake it. "That was a violation of trust." That was much better, said the drugs. Fuck. She turned to her self destructive defiance impulses for what to say. Right, those were locked in a cell. Naughty Thoughts Go To Neuron Jail To Atone For Their Crimes. "Fucker." Nailed it.
"Alright, I'm sorry! Geez. If I flush this out of you, do you promise to try and stay chill?" Mane reluctantly nodded. The affini sighed and retrieved a syringe from their desk. Mane watched as it was plunged into her and then imported its payload into her body. A wave of heat surfed across her circulatory system and cleared away the fog which had been restraining her. Mane flopped down on the desk and groaned for a few minutes as this second dosage took effect. She tried to stay afloat by looking at her hands but that made her woozy for some reason.
Instead she looked up at his...area where a face ought to be. His wooden plank had zero features even evocative of a face. Mane must have physically reacted, because he seemed to notice.
"Oh! Where are my manners?" His body absorbed the simulated "face" into itself, then slid it back into position a few seconds later with actual facial features on it. They were crude and didn't articulate well, but he no longer looked like some kind of demon that would eat your face if you said the wrong thing. "Apologies. For that and...you know, the other thing." The two waited for a while until Mane shakily managed to stand back up. "I promise not to drug you without your consent again."
"Some fucking promise," Mane muttered.
"But didn't that feel good?" The affini asked. Mane squinted angrily at him.
"I don't fucking CARE." She hissed.
"Al...alright then. I'm...I'm Mort," he started. "I don't...interact with humans much. Sophonts other than affini in general, really. I think the whole 'domesticate all other life' thing-which, reductive description but whatever-is a bit Much. I wanted to help prepare you for the security affini. And...sate my own curiosity, as it were. About the killing."
"We can't just put that down and-" Mane rolled her eyes and gave up. This wasn't going to get her anywhere. "The crime?" She asked, slouching in her oversized chair now with her arms crossed. Mort seemed to contemplate her for a second before responding. He spoke carefully and deliberately.
"Yes, that. Can you tell me about the incident? The events leading up to it, how it played out, all that jazz. If the affini feel you were under extraordinary circumstances, they won't feel unsafe trusting you around their florets-"
"Hmph." Mane snorted and rolled her eyes. She considered looping the conversation back around-there were two points she wanted to address-but ultimately chose not to risk coming across as evasive. "My father was abusive."
"Okay, writing that down-"
"Wait." Mane frowned. "You're just...gonna believe me?"
"Yes." Mort "squinted" down at Mane and seemed confused. "Why...would I not? You clearly killed him for a reason, little lady-you mauled him like an animal?"
"Yeah, fair, I guess…" Mane sighed. "I'm not...used to people believing me. He...kidnapped me once, when I was in elementary school. When I was growing up my mom couldn't afford therapy and-well-since he had the money, they were all on HIS payroll and...by freshman year of high school he took me to be tested for ADHD and stuff, like, to see how much accomodation I might need? The guy insisted my dad be in the room, for some reason." Every single one of Mort's vines was going absolutely wild recording information into their respective tablets. "So...all HIS guys would ask me, a child, who told me I was kidnapped. By the time I saw that last guy, I was at a point where I heard the question and my mom could tell I switched to reading from a script. Imagine that, being trained in the human mind and a CHILD reads off a script dealing with YOU!" Mane cackled. It was a dark, angry laugh devoid of humor. There was hatred in it.
Mort was INTRIGUED.
"Do go on…" he encouraged in a low, soft voice. Mane needed little of it to continue.
"And this one time he assumed I had already picked what college I was going to, and bragged to his mates about it, and then I corrected him so he took me home and shoved his hand in my mom's face and screamed her down for raising me wrong, and THEN when he was done with that he said if I lived with him my mental health stuff would've been solved a decade ago, and said he'd get me a therapist, which he then didn't even DO for a year-" Mane continued rambling. The room was fading away. There was only her, and an authority figure who wasn't going to shut her down. She trusted him as much as she trusted her ability to kill him-that is, zero-but her rambling mind had taken over. "And it's funny he said that cause when he found out I was dating a trans girl-which was that year-he said that, if I'd done it HOW many years ago he'd have beaten me? Oh, you guessed it! TEN!" Yet another laugh. It was full of bitter, petulant rage.
"And...this is off the record," Mort put down all the tablets and raised his vines as a show of good faith, "But did killing him...make you feel any better?"
"YES," Mane almost screamed with a toothy grin, "one of my happiest childhood memories was this time I punched him for no reason. It left a bruise! Frankly if he'd beaten me then I almost wouldn't be mad, but. I could hurt him! The towering, abusive tyrant that I lived in fear of had flesh just like me!" Mane cackled. Then something caught up to her and the twisted, manic joy seeped out of her. She slumped onto the table. "I didn't regret killing him." She sniffled. "I don't regret killing him. If my options are to castigate myself for what I did, or have my head twisted off like a soda cap, I choose death."
Mort resisted the urge to inform Mane that these were not her choices. It seemed...callous, and wrong. Instead he patiently waited. Mane spoke back up before long.
"I regret...this. I don't want to...be like this…!" She pounded the table, buried her face in her other hand, and cringed as tears oozed from her eyes. "I'm not a monster…! I'm not, I'm not, I promise!"
"Mhm," hummed Mort at a soothing frequency. He raised some vines to brush gently against Mane's face. She pulled away, so he respected her wishes and retracted them. "Anger is a perfectly valid response to trauma, okay Mane? It doesn't mean you're broken, or a monster, or...anything of the sort. I understand all I need to now, okay? I could even get you out of talking to security if you don't want to do it."
Of course, Mort was no longer in his element. One of his vines, cleverly hidden under the desk, was hammering the message "SOS NEED BACKUP COME GET YOUR HUMAN" into a tablet over and over and sending it to Effus.