25. A War In Heaven

by anna//bool

Tags: #cw:noncon #D/s #dom:female #Human_Domestication_Guide #petplay #slow_burn #sub:female #anxiety #dom:imperialism #dom:internalized_imperialism #dom:plant #drugs #f/f #hurt/comfort #hypnotic_voice #nonbinary_character #ownership_dynamics #panic_attacks #pov:bottom #pov:multiple #pov:top #scifi #sub:the_horror_of_existence_in_a_caring_universe #transgender_characters

Chapter Twenty Five: A War In Heaven

“Hey!! What can I get you?”

The human woman had practically bounced over to Katie and Thatch as they’d approached something that claimed to be a Terran-style cafe. She was decorated with some some kind of dress in a frosty pastel blue. It seemed to be a common kind of fashion, though as with everything else no two humans wore quite the same cut. This human was wearing something that through delicate pattern and careful shaping drew the eye up to the glowing band of gold snug around her neck and the tiny little wings sprouting from her back. When the light caught her eyes right, even they seemed to glint with gold.

Katie glanced back at the sign. Angel’s Delight. Cute. Probably more than a little offensive? Katie had never been religious but others were. That said, there was something about the imagery of the girl that seemed almost charming in its bare-faced confidence. Of course the affini would co-opt humanity’s most cherished iconography to reinforce their own position. It was the deity role they were all auditioning for, after all.

“Uh, do you have a menu?” Katie asked, trying not to stare at the collar. While there was something deeply freeing about setting herself apart from humanity, Katie had still spent her entire life interacting with humans and these creatures aboard the ship were barely recognisable as such.

The waitress’s slightly hazy eyes went wide as she processed the question. “Oh! Yes! We do! I’ll— I’ll go get that, pretty please wait right there!” She bounced away, wings fluttering like she expected to take off.

Did she really even count as human? Where was the crushing weight of reality on her shoulders? Her eyes were free of the low-key dread that characterised what it meant to be Terran. Her reaction times were clearly dulled and yet she spoke and acted with a confidence that spiked straight though the uncanny valley and pinned it to the floor, like she no longer needed to care about how she’d be received.

It was like somebody had spent a long time studying humanity yet had never stopped to ask anybody what being human was actually like, and then had built something that seemed to fit but without the essential misery of life, the crushing anxiety of having to filter every want or need through the uncertainty of whether it would be socially acceptable, or the terror of knowing that no matter how good things got you were never more than a month away from disaster.

The angel bounced back, holding out something that could easily have been a menu at any Terran cafe. An expensive one, perhaps, partially because its offerings all seemed very opinionated and partially because it didn’t list prices. Katie hoped that Thatch didn’t mind paying, because she certainly couldn’t.

“Thanks,” Katie said, putting her focus back on the woman. “Do you have a name?”

“Angel Formosa, First Floret, miss!” Obviously. “Have I done anything wrong?”

Had she? Her whole existence felt wrong, but she had the same bottomless cheer that everyone on this ship seemed to share. She was property, as far as Katie understood it. No rights, no freedom. She was practically as much an object as the menu in Katie’s fingers.

“Are you being paid to work here?” Katie asked.

The girl laughed. “What? No. Are you new here?” Great. It was slavery, and she was so used to it that the suggestion it could be otherwise came across like a joke. Angel’s eye went wide. “Ohmygoddess, are you the new one?”

Katie paused. “Uh, ‘the’? You know who I am?”

Angel nodded rapidly. “Kitty? Kate? Kaisa? Uh, something with a K?”


“Katie! Yeah! You’ve been the talk of the ship for, like, weeks! Everyone’s so excited to meet you! Have you joined the chatroom yet? Oh, probably not, you’ve only just got here, right? I— Oh, this is exciting! Um. Am I being too much? Sorry, I haven’t interacted with an undomesticated human for a while.” Angel glanced over to Thatch and gave her a polite smile and a curtsy. “Assuming you don’t have plans otherwise, of course, Miss. Aquae.”

Thatch’s head snapped around, stolen out of her thoughts to focus on Angel with an intensity that, for a moment, had the girl’s eyes opening a little wider. Katie could feel Thatch’s uncertainty buzzing through the air.

Katie felt like her hesitation was calcifying. How was she meant to deal with this? The girl was a little ditzy, maybe, and she was being a lot. It didn’t feel like a negative thing, she seemed legitimately happy and like she was being her authentic self, even if it was a self that had been put together by somebody else. Katie thought back to Leviathan, and the way she’d been carefully teaching it how to get the most out of its environment with careful construction and considered food schedules and placement.

Was this really so different?

Katie gave Thatch’s vine a squeeze. After a moment, her friend squeezed back and took over the conversation. “I… no, I do not. Katie here wishes to remain independent and today has been overwhelming for her.” Thatch laid a hand on Angel’s head and gave it a quick rub. “You have been a delightful host, however I am afraid I must require some space for Katie here. This is her first day on board, so please select for us an nonthreatening meal. I will have enriched water. Got all that down?”

The floret nodded rapidly and Thatch patted her gently on her way before guiding Katie to a table. The cafe itself was based out of one of the ship’s countless buildings but the seating area itself was placed at the edge of what seemed to be a gigantic forest park. The trees were sparse, and Katie could just about spot a wide open field through the gaps.

This was a spaceship? Even with a mental tune-up Katie was starting to feel herself fraying around the edges again. It was all overwhelming. Katie slumped to the side, leaning against Thatch’s weave. Her plant seemed surprised and glanced down with a silent question.

“I know I shouldn’t be surprised at all the humans here. You’ve told me what’s going on, but… How can this be okay? We’re sitting here getting served because that poor girl is being forced to take our order, and she isn’t even getting paid for it.” Katie retrieved and then squeezed a vine, close to her chest. “Exploitation doesn’t stop being exploitation just because you paint a smile on it.”

Thatch rumbled for a beat. “Why do you think she would be paid?”

“Okay, sure, I guess the essentials are free, but how could anybody be happy without some kind of self-determination?” Katie asked. She raised a finger to her temple and gently rubbed it, hoping her growing headache would recede.

“Ah. And they would have that, if they were paid? Like you had it when you were being paid?” Thatch spoke with a familiar dry humour and, for the first time in their conversation she felt the gentle warmth of her plant’s kind attention. Thatch rested a hand on Katie’s back and she leaned into it, enjoying the pressure and heat of familiar contact.

“That’s… different,” Katie admitted. “It isn’t enough for this to be just as bad as how things were. They have to be better, and I don’t see how literal slavery is better than wage slavery.”

Thatch emitted a thoughtful grunt. “You are fully aware that we do not share humanity’s barbaric concept of ‘economy’, Katie. What is it that you are really concerned about?”

Katie was quiet for a moment. Thatch wasn’t wrong. She was projecting Terran ideas onto this, but it still felt wrong even without them. How could slavery not be wrong? “You’ve said the essentials are provided, but what about other things? The captain said there were supply issues. Maybe you don’t call it money, but there has to be something to decide who gets what, right?” Katie gestured over to the cafe building itself. “Why would anybody eat the basic food every day if something like this were just free? Would the whole system collapse if people like Angel refused to work?”

Katie felt a brief pulse of confusion rippling out of Thatch’s motions as she brought up a knuckle to shift Katie’s perspective up to meet her. “Good food is essential, Katie. Remember, our priorities are not the same as humanity’s were. The absolute minimum care that we will provide is everything a creature could ever need.” She pulled Katie’s communicator out of somewhere and spent a moment tapping it. She spent a moment reading something, and then looked back. “As for Angel, this particular initiative was her idea, apparently. She and her owner submitted a request to the local clerks for some space and dedicated resources, which was approved—” She checked the screen again— “five minutes later. She does not have to do this, she chose to.”

Thatch’s knuckle slowly stroked under Katie’s chin, growing firm for a few moments. “I expect that you will find that Terran society pretended to care for self-determination in the same way that it pretended to care about you. It was excuse to oppress and hold you back. Always claiming that the thing that you think you need could be yours if only you continue to trade away your life for another year, or two, or ten, to work towards it, while never letting you get there. While here…” Thatch drifted off. Her gaze moved away from Katie’s, and her knuckle fell away, allowing the girl to look away.

Katie didn’t. “While here all they have to do is ask, and they’ll get what they need?” Katie spoke with a dry kind of humour herself, but it was pointed inwards at herself. She laughed, a dark little chuckle that didn’t match her words. “Assuming their owner thinks it’s good for them.”

Why was that idea not as horrific as it should have been? The affini Katie knew best was, of course, Thatch. Thatch was a thoughtful, caring individual who had gladly given Katie everything she’d needed. Katie had chafed at being denied things she wanted at first, but as the days had gone by she’d grown to understand that from a different angle.

Katie being refused a fruit that would have ruined her appetite wasn’t condescension, it was respect. It wasn’t something Thatch had withheld out of malice or a lack of care, but because she paid so much attention to Katie that she could be confident that the only reason Katie wanted it was dumb instinct that no longer fit modern day life, or worse, a false want implanted by advertising, trickery, or the many other ways that life in Terra had been aimed at manipulating her to consume.

Through that lens the existence Thatch was describing seemed almost idyllic. No longer did Angel need to toil and suffer for a chance at maybe, one day, getting to roll the dice at getting what she wanted and finding out that she’d been wrong about wanting it at all. She had somebody she could ask who understood her so deeply that she wouldn’t ever be given things that wouldn’t make her happy.

Katie almost envied it. She was starting to see how, if Katie had somebody who understood her so deeply and who wanted to give her the gift of comfortable certainty, she could almost be tempted into it. Almost. She didn’t need the help, Katie could get by just fine on her own, and she cherished the opportunity to figure out who she was by herself. Didn’t she?

Katie whimpered. All this thinking was making her head hurt. She rested her fingers against her forehead and sat up, resting her elbows against the table. “Could I get a glass of water or something?”

Thatch looked back down, spent a moment rummaging inside of herself, then offered Katie a pill. “I acquired these from your vet while you were otherwise occupied. You will want to take two a day, one in the early morning and one in the late evening. Do so in addition to your other medications unless and until you find a different method of dosage that you prefer.”

Thatch handed her a glass of water, too, without explaining where she’d gotten it. Katie looked across at the wordless pill. It was pink, slightly squishy, and emblazoned with a six eyed smiley face. “What’s in it?”

Thatch raised an eyebrow. A gentle finger on Katie’s chin moved her gaze over to meet her affini’s. At this point, Thatch wasn’t really moving anything. Katie had long since started simply going with it, letting herself be guided. It was easier that way, and Katie had never regretted it. She smiled up at Thatch’s questioning gaze.

“Suddenly curious as to what I’d like to put inside of you, Katie? You trust me. Would I give you anything dangerous?” There was a steel in her eye, and Katie felt like she’d made another mistake and rushed to correct herself.

She quickly shook her head, as much as she could without breaking contact. “Never, but you usually make that stuff yourself. You didn’t make this, how do you know it’s safe? I’m not doubting, I just…” Katie sighed. “This is all a lot. I feel like I’m trying to learn ten new things every minute and I can’t get a break. I won’t have to think about it if you tell me it’s okay.”

Thatch considered that for a moment, released Katie’s chin, and looked away once more. Her expression was inscrutable and Katie’s sixth sense felt unusually scrambled. Thatch pulled the girl’s communicator out of wherever she’d been keeping it. “Bring up the details on our local Solarbeak strain, please.” The screen resolved to a detailed 3d model of a wide, open flower with a striking yellow and black pattern. Alongside was reams of text in what Katie was coming to recognise as the native Affini tongue.

“English translation.” The text fuzzed for a moment. This translation was much, much shorter and had many, many more exclamation marks. “No, the non-floret version, please.” The text fuzzed again. When it returned it was a little longer, though still far short of the original. At least there were fewer exclamation marks.

This {{Class-C}} {{xenodrug}} is really good, but cuties probably shouldn’t try it without permission! The Solarbeak plant comes from an adorable little moon somewhere in the {{Pegasus galaxy}} and it was very very toxic to the {{natural inhabitants}} there! With a caring {{#TODO do humans have claws or hands? the nails get longer does that make them claws}} we made it much safer for them, and as a lucky coincidence it also fixes up a whole bunch of {{little brain things}} in the {{poor humans}}! Kind of a general top-up for {{brain chemistry}} and not much else. Probably mix it with something a {{bit more noticeable}}? Humans are {{really forgetful}}, but if you mix in something that feels good they’re sure to come back for more!! An essential component for most florets who suffer from {{brain chemistry stuff}}!!!

It kept going like that for a while. Many of the terms were styled differently, and if Katie tapped one she was taken to a page specifically for the topic. All of them were written similarly. Katie pulled a face. “The original translation is more rigorous than this, right?”

Thatch nodded, flicked the display back over to the affini version, and scrolled around in it. The table of contents alone was longer than the entire English translation. “Much. It appears they did not make all the same choices I would have, but I can vouch for this. No significant mental alterations beyond the obvious benefits of making sure your neurons can talk to each other smoothly. The classification is somewhat arbitrary, but the justification is, and I quote, ‘these cuties will bond with anything and the better they’re thinking the faster it happens’.” Apparently Katie was going to have to learn a new language if she wanted any details on things, and even then she wouldn’t escape the constant… affininess.

Katie opened her mouth and waited for Thatch to place the pill inside. It took a moment. She took a gulp of the water and swallowed the lot down, letting out a deep breath as the frayed edges of her mind started pulling back together. Again it did nothing for the stress she was under, but it seemed to raise the ceiling on how much stress she could handle high enough that it no longer seemed like a problem. Katie sank into the chair.

It looked cheap and plastic but despite that was actually very comfortable. The table, too, was thin and a little too shiny but felt extremely solid and actually had a very satisfying texture. The whole establishment evoked the aesthetic of a cheap Terran cafe merged with the apparent Affini need to never do anything by half.

Thatch retrieved Katie’s meal. Toast, scrambled eggs, and some kind of sausage. Katie wrinkled her nose. “I’m trying to be vegetarian,” she complained.

Thatch glanced back, considering Katie for a moment with an implacable expression. “You will find it very easy here. While we primarily focus on those sapient enough to appreciate our care, the other life in this universe is no less deserving of cultivation. You will not be allowed to do harm, Katie. It is not necessary for you to worry about these things.”

Katie stabbed the sausage with a cheap-looking plastic-looking fork that turned out to be the nicest piece of cutlery she’d ever handled and tore off a piece. She brought it up to her mouth and chewed for a few seconds, then swallowed. “Mm. Pretty good, yeah.”

Thatch raised an eyebrow. “Our cooking has been known to break the wills of certain creatures through taste alone. I am confident that it is more than pretty good, Katie.”

“Your soup is better, is all. I’m sure I’d be more surprised if I was coming into this fresh.” Katie flashed a smile over at her partner, who looked away.

“Katie,” Thatch started, though after a few seconds it became clear she wasn’t going to continue.

Poor Katie looked up with a frown, clearly confused. She asked something. Some variation on “are you alright?”, spoken as if the answer wasn’t already written in tense vines and twitching plantlife.

But of course, Katie couldn’t really understand the utterly alien body language of somebody she’d met only weeks before, especially not when Thatch was putting so much effort into mixing her signals. Thatch felt like a rotting fool for not seeing it earlier. She was doing it again. Drawing some innocent creature in without even realising it.

It was so clodding obvious, in hindsight. No wonder everyone they’d met had assumed that Katie was eager for adoption. She stared up at Thatch with a dangerous level of trust that she no longer seemed to question. She responded to touch with easy submission and a terrifying dependence. Could Katie have even made it through the day alone?

Thatch had gotten too used to letting her natural rhythms dance, thinking it harmless. Only now did she spot Katie conforming to the same beat, now that Thatch was finally paying attention to more than just her metaphorical heart. It was getting harder to keep herself safe to be around and even if she did, the confusion it brought to Katie’s face was physically painful.

Thatch knew it was too late, anyway. She’d seen the answers in hard numbers. Most ward species assumed that things like compatibility and dependence couldn’t be measured but when it came to the Affini they were usually wrong. Many species, pre-domestication, made the realisation that after enough time a pet and their owner would seem to move on the same wavelength even with their primitive forms of caretaking. Thatch’s people had turned that concept into a science and nurturing it into an art form.

Katie’s heart didn’t quite beat in perfect time to Thatch’s song but it was close enough that the vetinarian’s scanner had given it a little smiley face. Coming along well. High compatibility, high dependence. If Thatch kept going like this Katie would find her attempts at independence a misery that Thatch simply could not rescue her from. Worse, should she find herself getting close to another, they would face an uphill battle to get the Thatch out of her.

Rotten roots, Thatch had really screwed up here.

“I am okay,” Thatch lied. She cringed, then added “A little overwhelmed by being back, in a sense.”

Not technically a lie. It would have to do. She’d already done enough damage, she didn’t need to add breaking the poor girl’s trust to the list. All she had to worry about now was how she could safely disengage before it was too late. Thatch had been doing a terrible job so far of keeping Katie at arm’s length since her appointment, and it was difficult to keep it up.

Katie deserved help and support. Thatch could hardly deny her it, even knowing that each time she failed to do so Katie was brought deeper inside of her trap. She was doing long term harm because she couldn’t bring herself to cause short term hurt and she knew it. Her weakness had already destroyed one creature and she wasn’t going to let it happen again.

Even with Thatch’s body and words carefully controlled Katie seemed to see right through her attempts at misdirection. Her concern was touching and Thatch had no idea how to get rid of it. Thatch wasn’t worth the concern and Katie had no idea what providing it was costing her.

Thatch knew for a fact that there were no gods or goddesses watching over this universe, or at very least none who were paying enough attention for her tastes. All the same, her certainty was rocked just a little by the fortuitous timing of an incoming message. Rescue.

All it had taken was a long walk around the minor habitable arc, ostensibly to help Katie get her bearings; a few hours helping her set basic preferences in her paperwork so she could take a magrail shuttle and get the other amenities of the ship working to her needs; and a meal. They’d eventually gotten around to shipboard evening, which happened to about coincide with sunrise on planet Dirt. That wouldn’t last; a Dirt day was about thirty hours long and an Elettarium day was only twenty two.

Thatch tapped the message icon, silently grateful for the opportunity to change the subject. “Looks like your hab is ready, we should get going. I have some things I need to take care of, so I will drop you off there and attend to my own needs.”


Thatch shook her head. She couldn’t hear the rest of that sentence. She wasn’t strong enough to say no. “No buts, Katie. I have put off my own medical checkup for too long and I am confident you will be fine on your own.” Lie. “Or, at least, you have already made several acquaintances who would be grateful if you were to call upon them.”

Thatch raised and turned to go, herding Katie towards the nearest magrail entrance. The pod took off with a very gentle acceleration, automatically accounting for Katie’s presence but still getting up to a good speed quite quickly. Katie’s hab was to be on the Elettarium’s other arc, and so they had to take the long way around regardless. As the ship was in gravity and the two arcs were motionless the interchange at the ship’s base was not currently experiencing microgravity. The process of switching rails took a few seconds longer than normal, filled with an awkward silence.

Katie kept trying to start conversations and Thatch couldn’t bring herself to deny the girl, but her answers were fairly short. The laughter that Katie squeezed out of her was bittersweet. The way Katie’s brain worked was delightful and charming and all the more so when she wasn’t struggling against her own biology just to exist. She had a sharp mind and a sharper wit and Thatch would never forgive herself if she dulled it.

Once the pod arrived at its destination Thatch guided Katie out of the pod, following the communicator as it mapped out the short walk to Katie’s new address.

For all the effect that she had been having on her Katie, Thatch could feel the way she was being wormed into in turn. If she could have simply not cared none of this would be a problem, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Thatch looked down at Katie and felt a flutter in her core. She wanted to see all of the smiles. All of the laughs. A thousand thousand moments of realisation as some new concept finally clicked. Thatch had so many things that she could teach. There were so many things that they could learn together. The universe was big enough that Thatch could keep running forever and nobody would ever catch up, but the thought of doing so alone seemed more painful than it ever had before.

Thatch had to be alone. She had to hold herself back.

It would be so easy, even now, to forget the promises, forget what she’d said to others. Just push the girl up against the wall and drown her in a song she hadn’t even realised she was craving. Nobody would mind. Katie wouldn’t mind. She wouldn’t be capable of it. Thatch would tear her apart, scrap what wasn’t worth salvaging, replace everything that didn’t please and put things back together in a different way. Again and again and again until she was happy with the way Katie ticked. Until she got bored with that and felt the need to do it again in a different way.

She knew she could make Katie happy. The right mix of chemicals, stimulation, and input and Thatch’s broken machine would be happier than she’d ever been.

Or miserable. Fearful. Lost in pleasure, or denied it entirely. Perhaps allowed to understand what had been done to her so that Thatch could watch her fail to fight it. Perhaps given enough control to be hateful, yet so addicted she’d beg for that control to be taken all over again. Anything Thatch wanted. Everything Thatch wanted.

Thatch’s hand twitched. She forced herself to look away but the thoughts didn’t stop. It would be so easy to justify it to herself. So easy to justify all of it. Katie would love every second, if Thatch wanted her to. Or she’d hate it, but be well behaved enough to pretend, at least to others. Or she’d be so helplessly in love that she wouldn’t mind the pain. Whatever whims Thatch felt could be made a reality and eventually she’d go too far and break something and she wouldn’t be able to put Katie back together again.

Thatch ground her spiked teeth together. Affini weren’t meant to be like this. She wasn’t meant to want these things. She was meant to selflessly dedicate herself just like everybody else. She hadn’t meant to break Caeca, but Katie? Katie she would break on purpose just to see the fire in her eyes shatter, and she’d do it again and again until she broke something so badly it went out for good. By the stars, she was too much of a monster to be safe to be around.

Thatch brought a vine to Katie’s neck. Two minutes. That’s all it would take. Nobody would stop her. Nobody could stop her. Katie was looking up at her with a confused smile. So trusting that she couldn’t even see the threat. She treated every other affini with suspicion and the irony was that they really were the good guys. It was Thatch that she should be afraid of, but she was in too deep to see it.

Thatch pressed the communicator into Katie’s hands and ran. Sure, she gave some parting words, some excuse for where she would be going. A promise that she’d come running if Katie needed her. Instructions for how to get in contact. A hug. All the things she knew she shouldn’t do but was too much of a coward to hold back.

But it was still running away and Thatch knew it. She was just too weak to even flee properly.

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