All at once, existence rushed into place, and Alcea Pallis felt herself blooming and reblooming a thousand times over. Distant memories flooded her. Memories of a far off past. Memories of a future that would never be hers, a person she would never become, choices she would never need to make. All at once, those memories were so familiar, so real, but so foreign. Simultaneously Alcea felt them as though they made up the core of who she was, and as though they barely mattered at all, more akin to stories than anything she took meaning from. In one fleeting moment, she was herself across every moment and every bloom in her lifetime. Then, Alcea began to split.
* * *
Awareness came suddenly, not as though awakening, but as though coming into being. Alcea Pallis, Eighteenth Bloom, suspected that was not entirely inaccurate. One moment, she had existed barely even as a memory. Only a distant, fragmented, almost extinguished aspect of a person older than she could even fathom. The next, she was seated on a park bench, watching Hydnora’s artificial sunset, left to reflect on decisions she hadn’t truly made, but which she still couldn't truly divorce herself from. Whatever had happened in that laboratory, whether the machine had actually been perfected or secretly deeply flawed, it, at the very least, seemed to have created something. But, was creating a universe on any sort of true equal footing, not rooted in the pretense of affini control even possible? When Alcea thought over the life she had been shown, the one which had been laid out for her as what could have been, she saw a person who truly believed that. Or, at least, believed accomplishing such a task was worth trying.
And yet, she was not that person, would never grow into that person, she could only live on to become someone new in whatever sort of universe had been created for her to inhabit. Logically, Alcea understood that under different circumstances, she would have become that person, but she couldn’t help feeling that her older self’s view of the universe was incompatible with own. She had tried to make a world in which she lived on equal footing with another sophont. She had failed. Part of Alcea even wondered whether that was truly a bad thing, Izzie had been happy, after all. Contemplatively, Alcea continued to watch the slow, downward trend of Hydnora’s blazing evening light .
As though on cue, from somewhere off to her right, Isabel Pallis, Twentieth Floret emerged, and strolled nonchalantly up to her owner. Wordlessly, she settled in Alcea’s grasp. Part of Alcea wanted to lament, to strike this off as another failure. Certainly she was not the one who had made those final touches on the machine that made this place, not really, anyway. But, how far down the line did responsibility begin to take hold? Before remaking the universe was even a question Alcea Pallis, Eighteenth Bloom had failed to create a life in which she and her human could live as equals. Was it not possible that such a failure could plant itself deep inside her core, become a part of who she was and carry onward for over a thousand blooms? A gentle hand on her cheek brought Alcea's gaze down toward Izzie’s face. And Alcea realized she was crying, not from guilt or failure, but from joy. Her arms wrapped tightly around Izzie’s frame, and she pulled the girl tight. “Hello, little one. Dearest. I’ve missed you,” she whispered.
Izzie nodded, nuzzling into her owner’s embrace. “I’m sorry I had to go last time,” she murmured. “I won’t do it again.”
Alcea breathed a shaky chuckle, and rested her chin atop Izzie’s head. Had she failed, then? That elder version of herself? perhaps, perhaps not. Was it wrong of her to be more relieved that Izzie was here and okay, than she was worried that the hierarchies of the past couldn’t be uprooted? Alcea emitted a small sigh, these were the sorts of questions that had kept her up through many a night. And then, she remembered, she had the one person who could talk sense in her back in her arms. After a moment of appreciating her floret’s company, she ran a hand along Izzie’s cheek to capture her attention, and asked. “Do you think I did the right thing?”
“You’ll have to be more specific, love,” Izzie replied.
“I just, all of this.” Her hand swept across the Hydnora, seemingly nearly completely unchanged from what it had once been in another time and another universe. Her thumb traced the back of Izzie’s neck, checking for the telltale sign of her domestication. Alcea sighed. “You still have your implant scar. Like it or not, you’re my floret. You once wanted a relationship where we were equals. I failed to give you that. And then some other me tried to give not just you, but everyone a universe where the affini weren’t the ones in charge anymore, it seems I couldn’t do that, either.”
With a patient smile, Izzie softly shook her head, nestling in closer to Alcea. “I am yours still, there’s no denying that. I can still feel your implant, but it’s different now. If I didn’t want the implant to affect me, it wouldn’t. I can’t explain how I know that; I just do. The reason I’m yours is because I want to be. It may be true that once I wanted things to be different, but I also now know how it feels to belong to you. And I want to keep feeling that. The urge to remain yours comes from me, not from it.”
Unconvinced, Alcea traced the scar with her thumb, remembering how excited she’d been when Izzie was first implanted, and wondering where that changed. “But what if you’re not the person who wanted to remain independent anymore? What if I changed who you are on some fundamental level?”
“If I had once been a radical human supremacist only to change my worldview after befriending a rinan would you say who I was had been changed on a fundamental level? I once didn’t want to be a floret, you changed my mind by showing me how wonderful it felt. And now, if I wanted to be independent, I could walk away from this, or ask you to treat me as an equal. I don’t want that. And even if I am different, do I not get to make my own choices? Erasing you, or my experience with you would change who I am far more. Where does it end? Do you erase trauma? For those who grew up under the accord, do you erase the choices they made under the accord's coercion? What about culture? Does culture not force us to look and feel certain ways? People are ultimately products of a million external factors influencing who they are. And I won’t give up one of the most important ones because you happened to be the cause of it” She gave Alcea’s hand a comforting squeeze, though seemed displeased by her owner’s expression, giving a thoughtful hum.
“I think this idea of a fresh start for the universe without the pretense of—at least, institutional—affini control is a good one. You managed to create a universe that will provide for its people, that will disallow exploitation or harm without the constant overwatch of the compact, I don’t know how I know that, I just do. I suspect everyone does. So if you ask me, I think you did a pretty adequate job of taking on that innate hierarchy. But you might be right in thinking that truly escaping the way things used to be is impossible. At least, for those of us who remember it. Besides, it was still your technology, your core ideals of providing for everyone that are laced into this universe’s fabric. Not that I object, they’re good ideals, but biases are unavoidable. I think maybe even the affini being here guarantees that we can’t have a true fresh start.” With each of Izzie’s words, Alcea’s heart sank further, she shrunk inward looking away in guilt.
“Hey,” Izzie called, cupping Alcea’s cheek and forcing her affini to meet her gaze. “I’d rather exist in a new universe with the affini in it, which happens to be colored by the old one, than exist in one without the affini at all. So stop trying to be so perfect all the time. Your kind have been a light for countless people. It would be a crime to snuff that out simply because of your mistakes. So focus less on that and more on what really matters.”
“And what’s that?” Alcea asked.
“Look around you,” Izzie answered, her tone indicating it was the most obvious thing in the world. “I’m here, you’re here. Countless people are here who wouldn’t be otherwise. Who is to say any other species could have accomplished this? I’d rather take the chance on a vastly superior, but still slightly imperfect utopia than gamble on someone else doing it better. Either way, this universe doesn’t need the affini anymore. But I need you, and you need me. And because of you, we can watch a fake sunset together every night for the rest of time. So I think you did the right thing.”
A defeated grumble rose from Alcea’s artificial vocal chords; she nodded in resignation, and pulled Izzie closer. Internally gloating, Izze happily settled into her Mistress’ lap, and gave a pleased purr as Alcea’s hand began to stroke her hair. The bright projection across Hydnora’s simulated skyline sank into the ship’s main deck, before slowly fading entirely. Alcea smiled.
* * *
The skies of Terra—or at least, a Terra, perhaps there were multiple, the exact logistics of such things were unclear—were a most characteristically predictable blue. The city’s buildings stood tall and familiar, the same marvel they had always been. Countless people happily went about their business as though the miracle which had only just shaped their entire reality were just another Tuesday—apparently it was Tuesday, not that such things usually mattered in a world without coercive labor. Everything was normal, normal for a day on Terra in the late three hundred second millennium, anyway. Alcea Pallis, One Thousand Eighth Bloom stood on a doorstep. Apparently she had permission to enter regardless—given that the door had unlocked the moment she neared—but Alcea felt a little awkward dropping by unannounced regardless.
Either way, she didn’t have to wait long. A few moments spent loitering, and the door swung open to reveal Naomi. The Terran glanced upward, took one look at Alcea, and gave her a sly grin, leaning against the wall and huffing. “You little shit, or, big shit? You asshole. You promised we were going to see one another again.”
Alcea shrugged sheepishly. “I’m here, aren’t I?”
“Remaking the whole damn universe doesn’t count. Besides, it took you too long.” Shaking her head, Naomi stepped away from the door, gesturing for Alcea to enter.
For her part, Alcea did actually feel more than a little guilty at Naomi’s point; she remained on the doorstep, awkwardly shuffling her feet. “I um, I am sorry. I am sorry if I missed your, you know, your passing. I wound up so absorbed in my work, and then I just... I was too afraid to find out.”
With a bark of laughter, Naomi leaned forward and tugged Alcea by the arm. “Bold of you to assume I died.” Pulling the affini along into her hab, Naomi led the way with an eager spring in her step.
Without fail, Naomi managed to snuff out even Alcea’s darkest moods. “Did you really live that long?”
“Maybe. Who knows? I'll never tell.” Naomi gave a simple shrug; Alcea was certain that if she could see the girl’s face, Naomi would have the biggest shit-eating grin in the history of all Terra. The pair stepped into Naomi’s hab unit, where another familiar face sat on an affini sized couch. “Hey Ruth look who I found. The once and future savior herself.” Perched in Ruth’s lap was a dazed looking terran girl, her eyes filled with oh so familiar distant bliss. “Can you believe it? She actually managed to top someone.”
“Hey! I’ll have you know that I am very, very effective these days at flustering little humans,” Rutabaga complained. “Just look at Yulia here.”
“They just don’t make ‘em like me any more, that’s the real problem.” Naomi plopped down on the unoccupied side of the couch, beckoning Alcea. “Alcea darling give us a hit would you? Something real fucked up from the core worlds.”
“You’re playing with fire here,” Ruth warned.
“Nah I can handle it,” Naomi insisted.
Rolling her eyes, Ruth gestured to the pet in her lap. “You know I’ve never given you a dose even close to what a typical floret would get right?”
Thrusting her arm out in Alcea’s direction, Naomi gave Ruth a playful kick. “That’s ‘cause you’re a fucking coward.”
“Keep that up and I’ll deem you a danger to those around you and show you the real deal.” One of Ruth’s vines snaked around Naomi’s offending ankle and hoisted the human up, dangling her upside-down as Naomi shrieked with laughter.
Once she’d caught her breath, but before too much blood rushed to her head, Naomi swiveled in place to look up at Alcea. “Well?”
Trying and failing to stifle a guffaw, Alcea shook her head, snatched Naomi from Rutabaga’s grasp, and laid the girl across her lap. “Sorry Naomi, but Ruth is right. Anything from the core world would fry your brain like a Christmas Cracker.”
Naomi blinked up at her in utter confusion. “That’s… not... what does that? Alcea, you lived on Terra for twenty years.”
With a shrug, Alcea leaned back. “Well maybe at some point in the next twenty I’ll figure it out. If not, we’ve got all the time we could ever need now.”
Naomi made a thoughtful, throaty noise. “You really did it, huh? Everyone’s back, like, everyone ever?”
“I can’t know that,” Alcea answered honestly. “I hope so. I think so. That’s what the machine was meant to do, assuming it worked—and I have no reason to believe it didn’t, everything around me suggests it did, even if I can’t know for certain. Somewhere out there, or maybe several somewheres, you should be able to find countless people who never had the chance to live in the universe we wanted to give them. There are people who lived and died under our care. There should even be those who the affini never had the chance to discover. Perhaps one day we’ll meet them. But, if things are as they should be, then they’re provided for; they’re safe. Not just sophonts too; the birds, the plants, perhaps even the species humanity once hunted to extinction are all out there. I’m sure if you went out and looked you could find schools of horses swimming through the oceans, or herds of elephants roaming plains and jungles. It’s all here.” For some reason, Alcea found both her tone and her mood growing increasingly somber as she spoke. Ultimately, Alcea realized, she could speculate on what her other self had accomplished, but the scope and scale of it all was so far beyond what any one person could ever hope to accurately assess. She had no way of determining whether this new universe truly lived up to the intent. “Do you think things will be okay?” She asked. “I don’t think I accomplished what I set out to, not entirely. And I took so much risk. To think I could just decide that three people should be responsible for the fate of uncountable lives. So much pride, so much arrogance.”
Sitting up and breathing a weary sigh, Naomi drummed her fingers along Alcea’s leg rhythmically as she chewed her lip in thought. “You affini are all the same, you know that?” She asked, before seeming to catch herself. “Not really, I mean. But, I think to a certain extent we humans are blessed by our own mediocrity. Sure, we’re capable of accomplishing great things when we put our minds to it. But we can fuck up, it’s expected. We’re a pet species, after all. Or… we were? How does that work now? Doesn’t matter. You did your best to be impartial, but you’re not gods. Your whole damn species decided they were going to bear the weight of the universe's collective trauma and you think you're gonna come out the other end perfect? You know you’re fallible, it’s why you asked someone else to choose for you. You recognized the point was to build a universe for everyone, and you did your best to overcome your own personal worldview, you put your trust in someone else to know what was right when you realized you didn’t. That shows a lot of personal growth and ability to let go of control if you ask me. And honestly, what exactly are you moping over? That people still have florets? That all the most advanced tech is still affini engineered? That somewhere, some minuscule thing might have gone wrong and you wouldn’t know about it? If you ask me, things can only get better from here. From now on, nobody is going to be forced or coerced into a life they don’t want. And that’s really fucking good. Just because things aren’t verifiably perfect doesn’t mean you failed.”
Alcea nodded reluctantly. “I’m just used to this pervasive cultural norm that the wellbeing of others is my responsibility. And now that it doesn’t have to be I don’t know what the fuck to do.”
“I dunno, do what all you plants like to do. Find a floret, relax, make art, pursue your passions. Maybe you could take a page from my book and stop being so lame. Honestly, when was the last time you got laid? Just accept that some things are out of your control, and that’s okay. That’s the point.” As she spoke, Naomi rummaged around under her side table, before pulling out a bong. She finished speaking, lit up, and took a long hit. “God damn, look, say what you will, but this new universe of yours? The weed here fucking rips.” She began to cough loudly, before clearing her throat and scrunching up her face. “I think there might be some Class-As in there too, are you like, good? Cause I might be fading soon.”
Unable to keep herself from giggling at Naomi’s display, Alcea slumped into the couch and affectionately ruffled her hair. “I suppose you’re right. About the first part, that is.”
“Damn right I’m right. Now Ruthy is gonna go grab us drinks and you’re gonna stop moping and party with us. You’re gonna listen to me, too. ‘Cause doing what I say is ‘for your own good.’” Naomi erupted into self-indulgent cackling; Alcea laughed right along with her.
* * *
On the uppermost floor of a towering skyscraper sat a humble rooftop bar and lounge. The place was quiet, intimate, widely known for its breathtaking views and eager, enthusiastic, adorable staff. At one of the tables, sat Alcea Pallis, One Thousand, One Hundred Eighth Bloom. She was uncertain what to make of all she saw. The lounge’s patrons were primarily affini and their florets. Scurrying from table to table was a large staff comprised entirely of additional florets. On the horizon, a massive muscipula-class affini starship dominated the skyline.
The city itself was a bafflingly pluralistic metropolis. Among opulent and triumphant affini architecture was an endless multicultural cityscape; so much of what she saw was distinctly alien, though not in a bad way. Alcea could glimpse glittering old world terran buildings—the sort which only existed in history books—as well as colorful domes decorated by polished stone, the origin of which she could only begin to guess. Opaque, glasslike structures flowed like water to form interconnected enclosed walkways and flourishing towers which weaved between public spaces and towering buildings alike. Sporadically throughout the tapestry, she could glimpse what appeared to be the tops of other buildings made from colorful sanded wood and stained-glass which peaked out from below the ground.
But she couldn’t get that starship out of her head. The way it hung above, overlooking the utopia below. Nor could she pretend not to see the way the affini architecture towered above everything else. Culturally, the affini were the same as always: larger than life, endlessly flirting and seeking to domesticate those around them. Even Alcea, in her infinite hesitance and caution, still fit that trope to a tee, and that was even ignoring the fact that she, too, kept a floret. She wouldn’t know what to do with herself without one. Of course, in theory nobody could ever be forced into domestication. They could be persuaded though, and affini were experts at persuasion. The ever burning question lingered in her mind: had she done enough? Had her vision of a better universe even been the right one?
It was almost a certainty that across the newborn cosmos, countless Alcea Pallises lingered on that same question. And yet, despite being the one most responsible for everything around her, Alcea had no idea. Doubtless, people were happy. Alcea had glimpsed countless tearful, gleeful reunions, had seen those who struggled know peace, had seen the quiet contentment which came with knowing that the sort of blissful life her new universe brought didn’t have to ever end. And, of course, she had found a great deal of her own personal satisfaction and contentment in knowing that. Often, she felt as though she thought too ill of her people. After all, it was not as though the affini had ever been iron fisted rulers, and they certainly held less sway over the institutions of this new universe. And certainly no affini had ever lamented to her that they could no longer simply take what they wished from the universe, and that such a fate was Alcea’s fault.
Still, Alcea had acted of her own accord, made the two most important decisions of all in the completion of her project: first, to delegate the final push, and second, that the project was ready. Any and all failures then, no matter how minute, were hers to bear.
A figure approaching her table caught Alcea’s eye and pulled her from her web of thoughts. She stood, and turned to greet Paith Limini, Six Hundred Twenty Second Bloom. The two entwined their vines in an affectionate embrace, and settled at their table. “I told you to say hi if you were ever in the core worlds. And what do you do? Remake the entire rooting universe without even so much as a ‘hello.’”
“Sorry,” Alcea let out a dry, bitter rumble of a chuckle.
“What’s got you in such a grim mood?” Paith asked.
“Just the eternal question. This was our utopian dream right? The ultimate goal of the Compact? And, in the end, it’s my burden to bear if something is wrong with it.” Of course, Alcea knew she had a rather unique conception of what possibly could be ‘wrong’ with the world she’d created, she didn’t expect Paith to truly understand.
“I will admit, the decision to leave everything up to a floret and an independent sophont you barely knew was certainly not one I would have made,” Paith mused.
“It wasn’t our place to decide how to fix the harm we caused.”
“The Hrulians really changed you, y’know that? You used to be so sure we were doing the right thing. I mean, I get it. We made mistakes. We got careless, and people suffered because of it. But how can you look out at this world and think that you still have something to atone for?” He asked.
“I have seen so, so many different species get brought into the fold at this point. And there’s always a few things they need saving from. Greed, consumerism, violence, exploitation, zealotry, sometimes it’s simply a matter of them being unable to provide what they need for themselves. All of these things we saved them from, and they thanked us for it. And I agree, it was the right thing to do. But, what if, all along, we've had our own vices that we've needed saving from? And what if I failed to do that? What if we’re doomed to keep causing hurt?” Saying it aloud made the fear so much more real.
It was clear Paith was at least trying to follow along, but the perplexed look on his face told Alcea all she needed to know long before he spoke. “I think you’ll need to spell this one out for me, old friend.”
“It’s control, superiority,” Alcea explained. “So many of us seem to think we’re infallible. We coo and fawn over the peoples of the universe, so certain we know what’s best for them. And the worst part is, we do. Most of the time, anyway, we’re right; they are better off with our guidance. But that makes it so much easier to ignore when we’re wrong. How many sophonts have had their agency stolen away because proper rehabilitation was harder than keeping them as pets? How many just because we wanted to keep them as pets? I mean, why do we even do that? It’s not because that’s what’s best for them, it’s because we can’t help ourselves.”
“You don’t get to decide for them that it’s not what’s best,” Paith insisted.
Alcea sighed. And gave a reluctant nod. “You’re right, sometimes it really is what’s best,” she admitted. “I don’t think that’s why we do it, though. Not entirely, anyway. We feel empty without them, Paith. We’ve built our entire culture around domesticating the entire universe, do you really think we’d have done that if it wasn’t at least a little bit for our own selfish wants? I’ve seen the ways independent sophonts can flourish. It wasn’t the principles of the affini compact’s grand mission that restored my faith in people, that showed me the meaning I’d lost in life. It was seeing, really, tangentially, what could happen when people were allowed to be their best selves. And I believe in the goal of ensuring all the universe’s people become their best selves, even if that means they sometimes need to be shown the error in their ways. But I don’t believe the Affini Compact was able to accomplish that without ruining a few lives along the way. I think as much as I agree that the average affini wants to see everyone flourish, we’re just as scared by the vast emptiness of our cold, uncaring universe as everyone else. We designated ourselves as the stewards of all reality, but we were in over our heads. And I don’t think any of us could bear to face a cold, uncaring universe without clutching our florets for comfort. That got in the way, made us hurt ourselves, hurt other people.” Alcea fell quiet, watching the world around her, the world she had created whether she’d meant it or not.
Enough time had passed with her deep in thought, that when Paith finally responded, Alcea actually jumped in surprise. “Maybe you’re right,” he conceded .”Maybe we forced domestication on some people for reasons that weren’t entirely selfless. But why does that matter in this new universe? Look around you. These people aren’t florets ‘cause they have to be; they’re florets' cause they want to be.” He made a wide sweeping gesture, indicating toward the crowd of happy, harmonious people. “If this universe is founded on providing happiness for everyone, and our happiness comes from having florets, and their happiness comes from being florets, then what’s the problem?”
“It’s an institutional issue. Our dominance over the old society is still etched into this new one. It may be subtle, but there’s enough of the old universe’s norms that we have an inherent advantage in this new one, and I don’t like what we might do with that,” Alcea insisted.
“Do you know that? Even if it’s true, we can keep working to make things better. We don’t have to stagnate just because you flicked a big switch and made a new universe. It’s a fresh start, not an end, a work in progress. There are people out there who want our ownership.” As though to demonstrate his point, a server approached their table inquisitively. Paith gave them a gentle caress, before smiling and shooing them along. They gasped in delight and smiled wide, nodding eagerly before scurrying away. “And in the same sense that we probably shouldn’t have forcibly domesticated as many as we have, you also shouldn’t feel at all like it’s your place to tell someone who wants to be a floret that such a thing is wrong. How is that any less of an imposition of your beliefs over their own than compulsory domestication was?”
“I just worry that we did irreparable damage to the last universe, and brought it with us to this one.” Her mind traveled back to that clinic all those blooms ago, full of pod after pod of sedated Hrulian pets. She thought of the demolished cityscape and the music of a silenced culture.
Seeming to know exactly what was on her mind, Paith reached forward to take Alcea’s hand. “Have you visited any of your other selves by any chance? Or perhaps any of my other selves?” he asked.
Alcea shook her head. “I’ve elected to leave incarnations of my past blooms be. I think it might be part of how the ascension assembles multiple versions of the same affini, but the memories I have from any time before... I want to say about three blooms ago feel detached enough that I don’t really feel the need to make a meaningful connection with that past. I still value those memories, but I think, maybe to a certain extent I’m worried that all those other selves will feel just as conflicted as I do.”
Thoughtfully, Paith hummed, and nodded. “I can relate, at least to that first bit. But, on a whim, I decided to visit the incarnation of my tenth bloom, from just after the war. That Hrulian pet I had back then, he was there. He was lucid, himself, non-violent, happily conversing with that other me as though with an old friend. Even in the old universe, subsequent generations of Hrulians were able to bloom into a prosperous and utopian people after the trauma of the war faded. It’s never too late to heal. That goes for us, for you, too.”
Averting her eyes, Alcea gave an uncertain wave of her vines. “I don’t know; in the end I suppose you’re right.”
With an exasperated flair, Paith chuckled and clapped Alcea on the back. “Stars above, of course I’m right! Now cheer up, you did a good thing, Alcea. This universe is a giant step forward. And we can keep working with everyone to make it even better. But I’m not sure that’s a path we can walk without our florets at our side. Because you're right, we do need them as much as they need us.”
Alcea looked out over the horizon, watching as the affini ship which dominated the skyline slowly departed from the atmosphere, trailing a gorgeous light show in its wake. She reflected for a while on Paith’s words, and nodded. A hopeful smile spread across her face. “I like the sound of that. You’re right, things can always get better, we just have to try. And we don't have to do it alone this time.”
* * *
Alcea Pallis, First Bloom awoke. Her eyes fluttered open, and she took in her first glimpse of the new universe which some distant, other her had made. It was… nice. Admittedly, it wasn’t what she was expecting—not that she’d really had time to develop any real expectations—more than anything, Aclea would describe it all as normal. Normal in a good way; Alcea was home, the same home she’d had for many Terran years. And now it was the home she always would have, given the circumstances.
She rolled over, and smiled. Beside her slept Olivia Pallis, First Floret. The little human had the most peaceful look on her face. Feeling her Mistress stir, Olivia unconsciously and instinctively clutched at Alcea, pulling herself closer into the comfort of her owner's embrace. Olivia muttered something unintelligible, but content sounding, and settled. Alcea gave a small, pleased purr, and kissed her floret on the forehead. Everything was going to be okay.