Mel watched the bright streaks arcing across the night sky. Dozens of them filled the air, like a sparkling meteor shower. “But they aren't meteors,” Mel reminded herself, “they're spacecraft.” A multitude of ships entered Thypso's orbit, carrying conquerors from another world. And yet, Mel felt oddly calm about the whole situation. She breathed deeply, feeling the soft grass beneath her skin. A cool spring breeze carried the familiar scents of pollen and fertilizer to her nostrils as she sighed deeply. “It doesn't matter,” she murmured to nobody in particular, “It's not like things will ever really change around here.”
Mel couldn't have been more wrong. The next month brought more changes than she ever could have imagined! First was the new rules of the Affini Compact. Changes in government authority hardly affected her personal life and restrictions on weapons and contraband didn't bother Mel either – she hadn’t used her old ranch rifle in years. Second was... her medications became free? Mel stared at the pharmacist, slack-jawed. “But- But aren't these supposed to be 300 credits for the month?” she stammered.
The pharmacist shrugged and replied, “New policies of the Compact. Apparently they're phasing out currency altogether now. You just need to fill out the right forms to get your supplies on time.” Mel thanked the pharmacist profusely before darting out of the store.
Two months after the Affini's arrival, Mel had a conversation with her longtime friend, Abigail. “It literally makes me sick, these fucking Plants!” Abigail spat under her breath. “I can't do anything without stumbling over some rule or form I’ve failed to memorize. You can't decide anything for yourself anymore, there's no freedom under the Compact!”
Mel looked at her with surprise and asked “What exactly did we have before that's missing now? The Compact has done nothing but help me! I finally moved out of that leaky old attic I used to rent and got into my own private hab unit. My meds are fully covered and I haven't gone to bed hungry in weeks! I never could have afforded this before!”
Abigail glared at her. “They're bribing you with scraps and you're just okay with that?” She snarled. “Where's your sense of independence? Your Terran fucking spirit? You're just gonna roll over and be a slave to the Compact?”
“We were already slaves!” Mel shouted back. “I barely scraped a living with agricultural work! Now we're being taken care of better than we ever were under the Corpos, and suddenly you're upset?” Abigail hissed in frustration and stalked out of the room. Mel didn't see her much after that. The next day, every news outlet carried the same headline: the Terran government had officially surrendered to the Affini Compact.
Three months after the Affini's arrival, Mel's new supervisor requested to speak with her. Brushing the dust from her overalls, she removed her work gloves and cautiously entered the office. “You uhh, wanted to see me, Ma'am?” Mel squeaked nervously. The Affini woman turned to face her, a towering humanoid figure nearly 3 meters tall. Her skin was like a supple plant stem, her form covered in leaves and flowering buds. Numerous prehensile vines extended from her body, acting in concert with her larger arms and legs.
The alien sat down and gestured Mel closer with a wave of her hand. “Please Melrose, I've told you before to call me Sylnathi. And yes, I wanted to speak with you. Have a seat!” Mel cautiously nestled herself into one of the Terran-sized chairs as her supervisor continued, “It appears our automation program is complete!”
Mel sat very still, staring up into the Affini's large glinting eyes. “Complete? What does that mean?” She asked nervously.
“It means you are free to go!” Sylnathi said with a smile. “But I wanted to thank you personally for your assistance. Your knowledge of indigenous botany helped me quite a bit.”
“But- No!” Mel cried, jumping up from her chair. “I mean, you can't! Please don't fire me, I can't lose this!”
The Affini woman cocked her head in confusion, seeing the Terran girl before her on the verge of tears. “Melrose, what do you mean by 'lose'?” Sylnathi asked.
“Everything!” Mel sobbed. “My job, my home, my medicine, please don't send me away!”
After a moment Sylnathi shook her head and laughed “Oh, Melrose! No dear, you aren't losing anything. Your home, your life, they're yours to keep! What I'm telling you is that I no longer require your services. These crops are now nearly self-sustaining, so I don't need you to come in to work anymore.”
Mel sniffed back a sob as tears clouded her vision. “Wait, you mean I don't need to work at all?” She asked cautiously.
“Not exactly,” Sylnathi continued, “I've requested an extended stay for you here on Thypso in case I need any more help with the agricultural systems, so you are technically ‘on call’ if I ever need you. But the time you aren't spending here is yours! For whatever you wish to do with it.”
Mel was stunned. Never in her wildest imagination was 'not working' a thing you could do. You either worked or you starved, those were your options. And yet here Sylnathi was telling her she could keep living her comfortable new life? Without hours to clock or quotas to fill? “I- I don't know what to do.” Mel said meekly, turning her gaze to the floor. She felt a leafy vine curl around her shoulder and shuddered at the unnatural stimulation where it brushed her bare skin; some contact chemical the Affini produced, she'd heard.
“Melrose,” Sylnathi began softly, “If you want my advice, find something you're really passionate about and pursue that. Take the opportunities the Compact offers and use it to make yourself happy! I don't think I've seen you smile more than twice since I've met you.” Mel nodded as the Affini continued, “What sort of hobbies do you have? You must have a life outside of agro work!”
“Uhh, my tea!” Mel said suddenly. “I have my tea pants, the different strains I've been breeding. Maybe I could work more with those?”
“Not a bad thought at all!” Sylnathi said sweetly. Mel felt the alien tendril grip her shoulder a bit tighter. The sensation was distracting, to say the least. “I must say,” Sylnathi mused, “many of us Affini are fascinated by Xenos. Terrans are a special curiosity to us at the moment, adorable little creatures you are! But the primary reason I'm out on the frontier is the Flora! There's something so unique about meeting alien ancestors from other worlds. How different would we have become with a different seedling I wonder...”
Sylnathi’s voice trailed off wistfully. Mel stood awkwardly in front of her before giving a mild cough to grab the Affini’s attention. “Ohh, I'm terribly sorry dear! I was lost in thought for a moment.” Straightening up, the plant woman retracted her vine and smiled down at Mel once more. “Run along and enjoy some relaxation for a while.” Sylnathi said cheerfully, “And I'm always just a call away if you ever need me!” Mel thanked her and left the office, gathering her belongings before heading home. At first she walked, then skipped, then ran full-tilt, laughing and crying.
A slave? No, the Compact was a freedom she had never felt before!