Clara slept. She slept through days, and nights. Though, this was not some deep, impenetrable sleep. She had little to mark the passing of time, the cycling of days and nights between stints of hazy, blurred consciousness; this was not to say she felt any need to. Mistress had been true to her word; Clara existed in a cozy blur of delight, her drug haze refusing to allow Clara any reprieve from the cozy grip it held her in. She dreamt, pleasant dreams, again, Mistress had promised Clara that she would only dream sweet, lovely dreams, and she did. But truthfully, if Clara were to be asked to differentiate between her dreams, and the foggy, half-asleep bliss that passed for wakefully, she would be unable. In both, she was comfortable, she was safe. In both, she was inescapably tangled in Her vines. In both, her mind was so clouded by pleasure, sedatives, and the heavy blanket of raw submission, that she could scarcely even remember her own name.
Any attempt to tell the difference between the two states would be as futile as it was pointless, as they were ostensibly the same. Regardless, such an exercise would first require Clara to be lucid enough to even consider the question, and she very much was not. Instead, she was passed gently from one fleeting glimpse of awareness to the next, capable of neither caring, nor considering the state she was in, or why she was in it. The only real anchor was the constant, immutable presence of Mistress, who remained by her side no matter what. In sleep, in wakefulness, in dream, She was always there, an ever present reminder of who and what Clara was meant to be, soon would be once again.
Though Clara herself was hardly consciously aware of such matters, truthfully, were Citrodora so inclined, she likely could have kept the girl in that state indefinitely; Clara certainly wouldn’t have objected. Of course, Citrodora would never do such a thing. It wasn’t what Clara would have wanted for herself. Even if it were, as much as Citrodora adored endlessly doting on what was effectively a sentient—and debatably sapient—blissed out plush doll, she valued Clara as far more than a simple living, breathing toy. As such, toward the end of her trip, the tight hold on Clara’s mind began to slip, just enough to give her an impression she was offramping toward a stint of proper lucidity. Really, the fact that Clara could come to such a conclusion at all should have been an indication to her that something was different. Of course, she was not quite at that level of self-awareness. Regardless, slowly, over a matter of days, or perhaps only hours, Clara was eased upward. Her head remained held firmly under—just enough to stifle any negativity—but close enough to the surface of proper awareness to be ready for when she was lifted out of the depths.
And suddenly, with little in the way of pomp or circumstance, Clara found herself lucid. It wasn’t the slow drift of awakening from deep slumber. Instead, it felt as though a switch had been flicked. Just like that, Clara was lying on her back, alone in a comfortable bed. The room was dim, but well enough lit for Clara to tell she wasn’t at home. Clara was, unfortunately, no stranger to waking up in unfamiliar places as of late. But, she was okay, right? She had to be. Before she could wonder where exactly she was, Hygieia’s smiling face bobbed into view. So this was the hospital then? Had her surgery already taken place? That couldn't be right, Citrodora had promised her that she would have the chance to discuss things with Hygieia beforehand. And where was Citrodora. A vine gently stroked Clara’s cheek, guiding her to look toward the left side of her bed. Clara did as she was directed and—”Mistress.” She hadn’t realized just how anxious she’d felt until she caught sight of her owner, and it was subsequently banished.
Citrodora knelt beside the bed, draping her vines over Clara’s form and capturing her pet’s undivided attention. For time uncounted, Clara simply looked upon her owner with a floret’s quiet, slow-simmering awe. A soft smile spread over Clara’s face as she let the feeling of being in Her presence take firm, but gentle hold of everything she was. Perhaps she was not as lucid as she’d thought. That hardly mattered when her whole body sang with submission and joy at the simple act of taking in every facet of Citrodora’s smiling face. Citrodora leaned in closer, and as she did, Clara felt everything that she was get drawn toward Her, spiraling further and further ¹into Her as She made ready to speak. Somehow, before sounds were even formed, Clara could feel them. The entirety of her focus had been captured by Her. There was nothing else for Clara to focus on. The universe shrank down to the two of them, then expanded outward forever into the infinite depth of Mistress’ control, leaving Clara hyper-aware of even the subtlest disturbance in the surrounding air as the vibrations from Mistress’ leaves started to form sound in earnest.
“Can you hear me, sweet flower?” The words meant little to Clara, but the meaning came to her nonetheless. And what silly question, of course she could hear Mistress. What else even was there to hear? Clara tried to respond, but she didn’t know how, that knowledge had been left behind. “Oh dear, I think we may have overdone the dose.” From somewhere unseen, somewhere that didn’t exist, Clara felt a pinch, and she felt reality begin to settle back into place. Her focus remained sharp, but began to pair back to something far more reasonable. A frustrated whine rose from Clara’s throat. She didn’t want to come back down. She wanted to exist in that bespoke univer where she was but an insignificant, but treasured speck in the vast infinity of Her. A sympathetic coo rumbled outward from Mistress’ core, and she stroked Clara’s cheek with an unseen vine. Clara nuzzled into it needily, and, finding that extra bit of comfort she craved, began to calm.
Again, Mistress began to speak. This time, though Clara felt herself latch on to the sound, she could at least keep her grip on reality. “I’m sorry, my love. I need you to focus on other things for now. I know you just want to sink into me, but the most reliable way to pull you out of that stupor without off ramping—which would postpone the surgery—was to give you a strong dose of Class-C’s to kick your bonding response into gear and provoke some focus on the world around you again. Now I need you to focus, okay? You have questions for Hygieia, right?”
Clara gave a confused blink as she struggled to piece together some semblance of executive function. Anything beyond sweet words was difficult to wrap her mind around when it was so much easier to devote all of her attention toward sinking into Her. Still, Mistress had asked her a question, and Clara would be loath to ever disappoint her perfect, wonderful owner. With great effort she managed to ground herself, and consider the meaning behind Citrodora’s words. Did she have questions for Hygieia? That was the doctor wasn’t it? The doctor who was going to—oh the surgery. Clara was going to be cut open and they were going to take part of her implant out and replace it, but it was for her own good, right? What if something went wrong, though? And what if—right, she was supposed to be asking these questions, not just silently fretting over them.
She felt a hand nudging her, pushing her to look in Hygieia’s direction. It was gazing down on her with an expectant, but patient curiosity. Clara felt uncertainty grip her as she gazed up at her vet, but then the sound of Her clear warm voice grounded Clara. “Go ahead dear, ask it whatever you need.” Clara could hardly defy such a direct order from her owner—at least, not without trying very hard, and why would she?
Clara took a moment to gather her confidence, then spoke in a halting, uncertain tone. “I just—I don’t understand what’s happening to me. All of this is moving so fast and I don’t even know what’s really going on with my implant and I’m scared. What if after you take my implant there isn’t anything left? What if I lose myself? What if I lose Mistress? I can’t—”
At some point, her tone had gone from nervous, to fearful, to near panic, but before she could truly lose herself to it, she felt Citrodora’s vines tighten around her, and gently rock her in place as a vine softly pressed against her lips. Hygieia gave Clara a sad, sympathetic smile, and took one of her hands in its vines. “You poor thing. It’s going to be alright,” it assured. “I promise everything will work out. We wouldn’t do this to you if we didn’t know it was safe.” Apparently it was expecting that to be enough, as when Clara didn’t immediately nod her head and silently accept that everything was going to be okay, it made a perplexed, throaty sound and rustled its leaves.
Clara didn’t know how it could expect otherwise, though. If her Mistress hadn’t even been able to assuage her worries by telling her not to worry about it, how could anyone expect her vet to? Then again, she couldn’t imagine there were many affini who were used to florets openly doubting their credentials. After a few moments of quiet contemplation, Hygieia relented, and continued. “It is hardly unheard of for an implant to develop its own consciousness. Typically this occurs in sophonts who are already prone to having more than one consciousness in the same body. Other times if a sophont develops a certain sentimental attachment or personifies their implant, a new consciousness might be born out of that attachment.”
It trailed off for a moment, growing quiet and contemplative, before continuing. “You, however, are a rather unique case, dear Clara.” Again, it tensed, struggling for words, before slumping and hanging its head in defeat. “Florets are not meant to go through what you went through.” There was shame, defeat, and deep-seated discomfort in that admission. “The Haustoric Implant is not designed to be pushed to such limits. And, as you asked more and more of it, it evolved, becoming increasingly entwined with your consciousness as it did. I need you to understand, though, Clara, this new consciousness used your mind, your thoughts, your memories, your needs as a template to build itself, but it is not you. Right now it is mixed in with your mind, as it has nothing else. But when we take it out, a new fully developed person will emerge. They will share some of your memories, but not your personality or sense of self. They were made from a need to provide care and protection. They will be an affini, through and through. And you, the happy floret, will be left in your body, as yourself, with your owner. All this conflict within you will disappear, and everything will be okay.” It stroked Clara’s forehead dotingly, and produced a brightly colored candy, showing it to Clara before placing it in Citrodora’s outstretched palm. “Does that answer all your questions, little one?”
Realistically it did, but for some stupid reason, Clara still felt anxious. And she knew what that stupid reason was, she knew that she was literally in the medical ward to have that stupid reason excised from her body, but that didn’t make the feelings go away. “I—well, it did. I’m still scared though.” There was no hiding the misery in her tone.
A pair of familiar hands took hers, and Mistress’ smiling face appeared, hovering over Clara. “It’s alright, dearest,” she crooned. “It’s natural to feel nervous before something like this. And your current state certainly doesn’t help with that. This is, though, ultimately, one of the great gifts of being a pet. When things get difficult, or scary, Mistress is here to make the hard choices for you.” She briefly glanced up at Hygieia, and nodded, before returning to Clara. “It’s alright, dear. You’re safe. I’ll be here the whole way, holding your hand. I’ll make sure the last thing you see before going under, and the first thing you see when you wake up, is me.”
Clara was about to reply, when she felt a slight pinch in her arm, and the world began to fade out. Her vision blurred, her senses dulled, she could feel sleep creeping around the edges of her consciousness. She let out a slow breath, all her fear and anxiety left her with it. The choice had been made for her, and it was the right one. She didn’t need to understand more than that. Mistress had decided it, so it was right. Citrodora stayed true to her word; the last thing Clara saw before the warm blanket of xenodrugs pulled her under, was Mistress’ face, smiling down at her as they held hands.