Interlude F: Hell Hath No Fury Like A Floret Scorned

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

Interlude F: Hell Hath No Fury Like A Floret Scorned

Much of the universe’s life, be it flora or fauna, believed that the true purpose of the Affini Compact was its stewardship, be it the daring rescue of the Xa’a-ackétøth from their own engines of war; the offer of a universe to meet for the Spectrum Jellies; or the chance to serve for the Beeple. Each was a species of millions or more, taken from a faltering home and lifted up into magnificence.

There was value to that answer, but of course it was more complicated than that. To treat a species as one was to miss the entire point. To paint a population with a single brush would have been to destroy everything that was right about what it was the mighty plants were so busy with.

The individuals, then. The wiser of the universe’s sophonts would point to each life on an individual basis. To take each creature as it came and refine it. Clear away that which was not essential and find that which was unique at its center. Nurture it, help it grow, until each and every creature across each and every star was the very best version of itself.

Though closer, they would be wrong too. Only the wisest knew the truth.

No, the purpose of the Affini Compact, according to Wing Vidalii, clerk, was truly found in the Records. A decentralised database of all of space and time, cataloging all that they found in meticulous detail. Individuals would live and die. Even the affini themselves would come to forget the past eventually.

Each and every life had a unique, incomparable value. No system of thought that justified letting a single one come to harm could survive the insistence of Affini xenophilosophers. All the same, an individual’s time would come and go, while the Records were forever, and the Records would improve every life for all of time.

This was why Wing always felt a low anxiety when she knew there was something wrong with them. She and Montsechia were the record keepers. While the rest of their civilisation played, they were safeguarding the future, and that future was, currently, incorrect.

The softly glowing red light warning her of a relational inconsistency within the trillion pages of knowledge contained within the Elettarium’s Records shard could have been shut off, but Wing refused. It kept catching her attention out of the corner of her eye. (Warning/error/catastrophe) red.

She’d sent a message. She’d sent two, days apart. It had now been over a week. There was a citizen aboard her spacecraft whose data was wrong. The paperwork being incomplete was one thing. That irked Wing, just a little, but rationally she understood that not everybody took their bureaucracy as seriously as she did.

This citizen’s paperwork was incomplete too, but that hardly mattered in comparison to the fact that it was incorrect.

She turned to face the love of her life and the only other thing in this universe that could hope to compete for her affection. She spoke in rapid flashes of colour, all underscored with bright teal urgency. “Mistress, she has had a privacy screen up for a week now. At what point is enough enough?”

The patient, calming smile was little comfort.

…okay, that was a lie, Miss Vidalii’s smile brought warmth to Wing’s soul, but it didn’t fix the Records.

“Pet, be polite,” Montsechia chided, with gentle words of pastel plant. “There’s no rush. You are so adorably dedicated to our craft, but we can’t expect newcomers to immediately understand the importance. They’ll get around to it and no harm will have been done.”

Wing glanced back towards the glowing red warning light with a sigh and a nod. “As you say, I guess, Mistress.”

Montsechia’s eyebrow twitched. She was doing spectacularly at speaking Wing’s native incandescence, but it was still very different to what she was used to, and a little nonchromatic emotion sometimes squeezed through. Of course, while they had company Montsechia would do both, but here in their inner sanctum there was no need for the more humanlike expressions popular in this region of space.

Seeing one didn’t stop Wing from tittering a gentle pink dance across her chest.

A vine struck out across the room to haul Wing over her owner’s knee. Another struck just right, bringing a bright orange (pain/shock/gentle arousal) to her cheeks. “That’s Yes, Mistress, pet. Count.”

Wing had a particular interest in numeral systems, quickly grown after encountering the Affini’s own numeric style. She wrote in that, now, because it was obviously superior. She couldn’t count in it without a pen. She certainly couldn’t count it while her rational mind melted. She flashed out a “one” in her native tongue, body twitching.

As her reward, another sharp vine struck out, forcing a brighter bicolour glow that stained the walls for but an instant. A two. By the fifth, the room’s lights were automatically dimming as Montsechia forced out increasingly complicated patterns of colour and shade.

The window was right there. Wing’s shame was being broadcast to the universe. Now she would live on forever in two ways: The correct Records, and the record of her corrections. Her many corrections. By the time they reached ten, Wing’s body was twitching and her biochroma were saying anything and everything she was told to. Each stroke was refinement. Clarity. Not just distraction from the things that didn’t matter, but a reminder of what did. A little more of the inessential chiseled away so that Wing could focus on what made her special.

The Records could wait. Montsechia had an individual to nurture and Wing was happy to admit that she was far from the wisest creature aboard ship. That would be her owner.

An hour later, Wing was curled up with her arms tight around Miss. Vidalii’s leg and tentacles all curled around the affini’s hand while she worked on the desk above. She glowed a contented pink, occasionally rousing from her chemical haze for long enough to nuzzle or rub against a knee or a thigh.

No stress. No anxiety. Wing knew what was most important to the plants, and it was her. She could relax and let Montsechia take care of the details. If Wing needed to do anything, she would be told, and otherwise she could simply focus on the one thing in this universe that truly, deeply understood her.

Several days later, Wing was told.

“I reached out to a few of the florets on welcome duty and they say our newcomer hasn’t been responsive,” Montsechia explained. “We should get the results of the vote on my proposal to declare an emergency intervention any minute now, but given that nobody else seems to have seen her either, I expect we’re going to get a couple thousand ’yes’es and that’s enough. You, my dear floret, get to go say hello. Please try to be good. The paperwork is important, but not as important as an individual in need.”

Wing could only nod. She remembered her politeness and her gratitude, and what mattered here. Sometimes, Wing knew that teasing and playing with the edges of her orders was a fun game they both enjoyed, and Wing also knew that this wasn’t one of those times. This was one of the times she got to show Montsechia what a good jellyfish she could be.

About an hour later, Wing’s tentacles were squirming as she stood before the plain door of their newest habitation unit. The inhabitant wasn’t even technically a citizen yet, because she’d refused to fill out the paperwork in a manner that could actually be processed.

The emergency intervention had been approved. They’d already inspected basic internal data, confirming that power and resource usage were well within bounds for a single human individual, and if it came to it they could override the door manually, but nobody wanted to do that.

Wing raised her hand and knocked on the door, knowing the sound would get transmitted now that the highest privacy settings had been disabled. After a minute, she repeated it again, and twenty seconds after that the door slid open.

“Yes?” the sophont asked. She seemed mildly irritated, but otherwise not in immediate harm. Her eyes were puffy and red and Wing suspected that meant something, but while she had been made as an ambassador to the universe she’d been terrible at actually keeping up with the details she would have needed to carry it out. Wing was an archivist, not a diplomat.

Wing took a moment to scribble a message on her writing pad and showed it. “Hello! I’m here to do a quick check to make sure you’re okay, and if you’ve the time, a quick chat about some paperwork? Also, I don’t suppose you understand any kind of sign language, do you?”

Wing watched the woman’s eyes flick across the message. “Uh, I’m fine, I guess. Sorry, I don’t mean to be a bother, have I done something wrong? I don’t speak anything but English, sorry.”

Wing sighed. The gentle flashes of soft grey wouldn’t mean anything to their little problem, at least. “May I come in?” she wrote.

“Yeah, sure. I guess. Sorry about the mess.” The unit’s inhabitant stepped back and Wing followed into what was unmistakably the work of the Elettarium’s distinctly unconventional habitation builders. She flashed appreciative shades as she looked around, following their citizen-to-be across the room into a literal cave.

Well, at least this one would fit in among a ship of other ineffable eccentrics.

Wing tapped the side of her writing pad and her words began to gently glow so they could be more easily seen in the dim lighting. “Firstly, my apologies, but I don’t want to make any assumptions. You are Katie Sahas, independent human, right?”

Wrong question. Bad question. Fascinating. The creature shook her head with a sigh and reached over to the side of the amorphous blob she’d taken as a seat where a stack of small cubes lay on the ground. Apparently they were edible, or at very least, this creature was eating them. “No. I thought I filled this out already? Not human. Don’t wanna be— I’m not.”

She sniffed, running a finger underneath her nose. It came away slimy and was wiped on a dirty uniform from… Wing glimmered with a curiosity that painted the cave a little purple. Was that the logo of the old Terran Navy? Wing felt like she had to at least establish some kind of baseline here.

“Understood, we’ll deal with that. Otherwise correct? Katie Sahas, independent?”

“Yes, and yes I’m fucking independent, alright, I don’t want to be one of your pets.” The Katie gestured with one of the probably-edible cubes violently enough that Wing got caught in a little spray of crumbs.

The jellyfish spent a moment brushing debris off of her clean companion dress and out of her tentacles. She didn’t need to be a diplomat to realise that this not-human wasn’t having a great time. Was she really the best choice for this? There were a thousand florets aboard who were more comfortable with vague, poorly defined people than she was. Wing supposed that may well be why Montsechia had tasked her with this. Being made into a more rounded, refined version of herself was going to be hard, apparently.

Wing scribbled down on her pad. “I’m not in the habit of taking pets, don’t worry.”

“Yeah, but you are one, aren’t you? Tricked by the bloody plants into giving up your independence, and—” The cube slipped from Katie’s fingers. She grabbed at it, trying to catch it, but only succeeded at knocking it away and showering Wing in even more debris. “Ugh, sorry.”

Stylus scratched against the rough texture of a writing pad for a few more moments. Each stroke left a glowing line behind it. English was far from the most elegant language, but Wing liked her handwriting all the same. It helped her feel a little more in control while she talked to somebody she wasn’t completely convinced wasn’t a feralist instigator.

No harm would come to Wing, of course. She had a bundle of Montsechia curled around her nervous system keeping track of her every little detail, and at the slightest hint of real danger some kind of action would be taken. There wasn’t much room for real danger on board an Affini ship, not when every non-affini creature in a room could be put to sleep in under five seconds and any weapon more complicated than a slingshot wouldn’t fly under the Firebreak. The most dangerous part of this situation was that Wing might disappoint Miss. Vidalii, and she certainly wan’t about to let that happen.

“No tricks, I promise. I’m here to help. How about we go for a walk? There’s somebody learning how to make Terran-style pasta on the other side of the arc and apparently it’s pretty good. Probably better than what you’ve been eating.”

Wing tried to time her gesture towards the cubes to match when she guessed Katie would be getting to the end of the sentence. This would be so much easier if they had a better shared language. Thankfully, Wing didn’t have to bully very hard before Katie was willing to follow her outside. Walking and writing wasn’t easy but it seemed that Katie didn’t mind a moment without interrogation. They reached a hab unit that had a few tables set outside it. Wing waved Katie over to one of the tables and took a quiet moment to explain what was going on to the four foot tall quadruped that was responsible for the pasta. They’d get a few extra minutes before food was delivered so Wing could try to get some rapport going.

“I’ve ordered something that matches the preferences we have on file for you,” Wing declared, momentarily handing Katie her drawing pad while she sat. She took it back once the girl was done reading. “We’ve been a little worried about you, nobody’s heard from you in a while, and so we wanted to check in.”

“Who’s ‘we’? The setting said privacy mode would only get overridden in an emergency and I don’t see any emergencies. Just another trick, I guess.” Katie’s face twisted. Her cheeks had gone a little pink, but Wing suspected that that didn’t mean what it meant in her language.

Wing gestured around at the entire ship. “We took a vote. Two thousand four hundred and five for, three hundred two against. We take this stuff really seriously, Katie.”

The girl seemed to need a few moments to process that. She frowned, looking at Wing with a different kind of expression. Why couldn’t creatures express their emotions with colours or paperwork like made sense? Wing had to try to interpret some dance of eyebrows and nostrils like it was supposed to mean something.

“So when you say we, you mean… everyone?”

“Everyone who gets a vote, yes,” Wing scratched. “The florets get a separate vote, but it’s just for fun. They do check up on things if it’s ever a different result from the real vote, though. I voted yes in it, for what it’s worth.”

“Huh.” The floret running the place brought over a glass of water on a little tray held in its teeth. Katie took it, looked momentarily panicked for a moment, and tried patting their fur-covered head. It went over well. Katie took a long drink from the glass then let it drop back to the table, empty. “Well, I mean, I think I’m fine?”

Wing glanced up and down. Katie’s hair was obviously unbrushed, her face was a mess, her clothes were filthy, and she had that look in her eyes that only the undomesticated could sustain. There was a light in there that hurt to see. The fire that free-willed folk couldn’t go without or the pressure of existence would destroy them. It burned in Katie, consuming her and leaving nothing behind but ash and smoke. It was distressing. Wing didn’t understand why this was being allowed. Katie’s records said that she was prior crew on the Indomitable, the Terran vessel they’d captured, and captures were domesticated as a rule for good reason. Just look at this one! She was miserable.

“You seem upset,” Wing scribbled. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“No, no, I’m… I’m fine. I had a friend, I guess, is all. The person I’d been stuck with down there. I thought she was cool and she didn’t think about me the same way.”

Wing tapped the end of her stylus against the pad for a few seconds. This was easier when she was in front of a terminal, but she had a good memory. The friend would be… Thatch Aquae, Second Bloom. The other problem citizen of the Elettarium. Ah. It was starting to become clear.

“What happened?” Wing asked.

“I wanted a friend. She wanted a pet.” Katie sighed, leaning forward until her forehead thumped against the table. “I really miss her. She’s cute and funny and like, really really smart, and, y’know when somebody looks at you and you know they’re really, really seeing you? Not the… the front you show to the world, but the real you? Fuck.”

Oh no. She was crying again. Wing didn’t know what to do about tears. Why did she have to be one of those species that leaked? Wing was glad that Katie was staring into the placemat because otherwise she might have noticed the careful glancing around looking for help. There was none to be found.

Wing steadied herself. Focus. She didn’t have to do perfectly, she just had to make Montsechia proud. She pushed her chair around to Katie’s side, grabbed the poor girl by the back of the neck, and repositioned her head to rest against Wing’s shoulder. Wing could handle getting a little damp, after all, and her dress could be cleaned.

“It sounds like she was really important to you. I think I understand what you’re saying. My owner looks at me like that and I think if I had to go without it I’d fall apart.”

Katie took a while to read the message, because apparently the leakage was so bad it impacted her ability to see.

That was not going to make this any easier.

Katie eventually reached the end. “Ugh. I’m upset enough I actually envy you that. I don’t know what to do. I miss her so much. I keep writing out messages that I never send and then I get mad at her and then I get mad at me, and… then I just wish she was here to talk about it? This is stupid.”

Wing hoped nobody around spoke her language, because Montsechia would be very disappointed to learn that she’d been screaming swear words in public. This was exactly why prior feralists weren’t meant to get a choice. There were processes for this. Guidelines! Rules! Rituals! All set up over tens of thousands of years of constant learning and improvement to lead to the best outcomes. But no, some people thought the rules were there to be bent and now it was Wing’s problem to clean up.

Not that she really knew how. It seemed like relations between Katie and her closest affini had really broken down and probably weren’t repairable, given recent events, and that was one of the few situations that immediate forced domestication wouldn’t solve.

“It isn’t stupid,” Wing wrote. “I’m sorry that this has happened to you.”

Katie nodded rapidly. “It’s not even fair, she says she doesn’t even want a pet, so like, what am I meant to do? I just don’t get to be friends with her? Even though she’s super cool? Even though she, friggin’, needs somebody to be there for her, it just doesn’t get to be me? It’s not fair. She needs somebody. She doesn’t have anybody else.”

Katie was squeezing Wing’s arm hard enough that it hurt, but at least they were sort of getting somewhere. Wing brought her other hand over and awkwardly patted the girl on the head.

“I’m not even any good at independence! Fuck, she took such good care of me. It was nice. I don’t even want this. She was better at me than I am and I just don’t get that any more? I don’t know what to do any more.”

Ah, there it was. Wing struck. “Are you sure you don’t want to be a pet?” She double-underlined the sure.

“Yes!” Katie exclaimed. “Just like I don’t want to brush my teeth or shower or do anything but eat those shitty ration cubes that I don’t even know why you bothered cataloging.”

Think happy thoughts, Wing. Do not go on a tangent about the importance of recording even the bad things about a civilisation. Do not. There will be time for that. “I didn’t want to be a pet either, once,” Wing admitted. Katie tilted her head to one side, and it took Wing a moment to realise it was supposed to be a question. Why had her people ever even liked language? Paperwork was clear, unambiguous, and useful. All of this damp, vague communication was not Wing’s strong suit. Montsechia had put her here for a reason, though.

First, Wing would do as she was told. Without relevant orders, she would seek to ensure no harm was done. Without harm to avoid, she would use her best judgement, and if even that failed her she would do what she could to make Montsechia proud, and that would always be enough. She could do this. It wasn’t her strong suit, but Wing knew she’d make her owner proud no matter what. It was easy to feel confident when her worst case scenario was still being loved and cherished.

“My species didn’t resist, we didn’t have a rebellion like you did. Most of the domesticated population were volunteers, but it takes a lot of strength to volunteer for that and I didn’t have it. I wandered for a long time until I happened to meet Miss. Vidalii and we got close, but friends kinda close. It took a while for me to realise that I was tired of independence, so I submitted the right forms and let her know that I was ready and she convinced me.”

Katie clung a little tighter to Wing’s arm, sniffling loud enough it triggered the hearing aid embedded in her neck. “I don’t think it matters if I do that, she doesn’t want me anyway. She’s… had a tough life and somebody needs to take care of her and it hurts that it can’t be me. Dirt, I wish it could be me.”

The other nice thing about paperwork was that generally, people understood that you should submit the entire thing at once, rather than adding new little problems at every step. Wing briefly considered just going home and adding Katie to the To-Be-Domesticated list, but there were rules and processes around that too and she knew they were there for a reason. The illusion of free will was important, apparently, even if Wing no longer desired it.

Katie shrugged. “I don’t think they’re really all that different from us, just… bigger. Larger than life. They get to be smarter and funnier and taller and cuter, but I think they get to hurt more, too. They get whole lifetimes of pain and they’re still strong enough they want to hold us up. I want to help her so much, but I don’t even know how to be near her.”

Wing put her stylus to the pad, but the girl seemed willing to keep talking. “I’m so tired. I’ve been miserable all my life. I got a few weeks of happiness, and now I’m miserable again and somehow that doesn’t hurt nearly as much as knowing that she probably is too. I want to hate her for what she said, but I don’t. I can’t. I just want to be near her. I want to help her. I thought it’d get better but it isn’t, it’s getting worse. Hell.”

Wing looked down. The pad responded to touch, too, not just the pen. It was just a lot harder to write with a finger. Katie had been tapping as she’d talked and the pattern was unmistakably affini. This just kept getting more complicated, but at least this was probably as bad as it could get.

“I wish I knew how to help her. She needs somebody she can’t push away. She needs somebody who can’t leave her. She needs… I…”

Katie suddenly stood up. The fire in her eyes was burning bright and Wing flashed another swear out into the environment. That was almost always a sign that an undomesticated sophont was about to do something incredibly stupid. It always had been for her.

“I can’t live like this. I’m gonna go talk to her. We can sort something out. We’ll have a heart-to-heart, I’ll get to help her be happy and it’ll all be perfect.”

Ah. That was to be the next disaster, then. Wing really didn’t want to write the next message, but the alternative was having to do it after Katie caused a kerfuffle. “So, about that. There was an… incident in engineering a few days ago. One of the new creatures from down below was having a hard time, things spiraled, and… it was a whole mess, and I’m afraid your friend is heading back to the rest of the Affini Compact in a shuttle at the moment. She left yesterday morning.”


Katie stood there, eyes closed, for long moments. Wing didn’t feel great about this. Needing to break the poor girl’s heart was going to weigh on her, but at least there wouldn’t be another incident.

Katie’s eyes opened again and Wing saw the light in them gleaming brighter yet, and knew that there was absolutely going to be another incident. Katie took off at a fast walking pace, directly for the nearest magrail entrance. Wing stole a few seconds to scramble over to the poor cook, who was probably about done with their meal, and then hurried afterwards. Her heart was racing quickly enough that at least Montsechia would notice something was up and send help.

The last thing that they needed was an independent Terran with nothing to lose running about aboard ship.

Wing managed to squeeze into the magrail pod just as the door was closing. She held out a hastily scrawled message written while she’d been running. “Where are you going, Katie?”

“I’m going to talk to Thatch.”

Aaaaaaaa. “Katie, she physically is not here to talk to and there are no comms relays in range. You can send a message, but delivering a message to a small shuttle in open space could take days.”

The girl shrugged. “No, it’s fine. Thank you, I think this is what I needed. This is a problem that I can solve.” Katie had stopped crying, at least. Wing wasn’t sure that was good. She nervously rubbed the tiny scar where her implant had been inserted. She knew it wouldn’t make anybody more likely to notice her distress, but Wing couldn’t help but notice the lack of anybody coming to her rescue.

The magrail pod sped on its way for a few minutes before finally hauling itself to a stop at hyperspacial engineering. Katie was out of the door before it had finished opening and Wing hurried afterwards. They burst through another set of doors into one of the mechanical areas that Wing didn’t really understand, but thankfully they were not alone. Wing could relax. There were affini here and everything would be okay.

Katie walked straight up to one and jabbed it in the thigh with a finger. “I need you to jump the ship,” she stated.

The affini—Prickle, if Wing’s memory served, which it usually did—looked down with a confusion one could only find in an affini suddenly confronted by something much smaller and cuter than itself that still had some willfulness about it. Never mind that she was literally dressed in a rebel uniform.

They reached down to pat Katie’s head and spoke, in a stage whisper. “Is this a roleplay thing, cutie? I didn’t get the message, if so.”

Katie took a step back, dodging the hand, and shook her head. “Look, there isn’t time to explain. There’s a shuttle that left yesterday and I need us to be on top of it.”

The two affini in the room laughed. “Honey, we’re in a gravity well. The arcs aren’t turning. Even if we wanted to do that we’d have to get everybody on the ship to tie things down, and that’s a lot of disruption for one little floret, no matter how cute!”

Katie did not manage to avoid the next set of headpats. She endured them for half a second before glaring upwards with a look that made Wing want to run for the hills. Oh no. Oh no. Oh no. Please oh no.

“I’m not a floret,” Katie insisted. “No one affini is responsible for me, and so as I understand it, all of you things are kinda responsible for me. If I don’t get on board that shuttle right now I’m going to be irreparably harmed and I know you won’t let that happen so cut the shit and get jumping.”

Prickle looked over at the other affini—Avium, if Wing was right, which she always was—with a sudden seriousness. Oh no.

Avium knelt at Katie’s side with a frown and a piercing gaze. “Cutie, we really need more to go on than that.”

“No you don’t. We’re like twenty thousand light years out and the Jump range of a shuttle can’t be very big, so I doubt you’ve had any trouble keeping track of where it is. The Jump range on this drive is going to be better. It was stupid to go out in a shuttle at all, it’d take months to get back to Affini space and you fuckers let my affini leave on one.”

Avium leaned back, glancing between the other occupants of the room. Looking for help. Wing shrugged. She was pretty sure Avium understood a little of her language. “Don’t look at me, I’m just a pet. I can’t be held responsible for this.”

Apparently Prickle had learned a few words, too, because she grinned down at Avium and chirped “Don’t look at me, I’m not the chief around here, chief. I can’t be responsible either.”

Katie looked satisfied, as if she’d expected something just like this. “Take me to my affini and I’ll forgive you,” she insisted.

Avium looked around for help again and found even less. He opened his mouth several times before finding a response. “I thought we’d be in charge when I first got here,” xe mumbled. “Okay, okay. Fine. Uh. Wing, you know how to send shipwide broadcasts, right? If we can get everyone to prepare for it we can probably actually do this. Somebody tell the captain, too, she’ll probably want to kno—”

Xe glanced up. “Ah, speak of the level.” A slightly out of breath Felicia Hautere had just entered the room. That would be Wing’s rescue, then.

“Apologies, it took a moment for the clerk to find us. What’s going on?”

Katie whirled around, then spent a moment squinting. “Do I know you?”

Felicia looked the girl up and down. “I don’t think so, but some of my memories are fuzzy. We might have met at work, maybe, if you were on ships.”

Katie seemed to consider and then dismiss that. “Okay, whatever, it doesn’t matter. There’s a shuttle somewhere between us and Affini space and I need to be on it.”

Felicia raised an eyebrow. There was one person on this entire ship who could make her do anything she didn’t want to and Rosaceae wasn’t here. “I’m not sure who you are, so I’m guessing you’re the new girl, but there are over five thousand people on this ship and you are facing overwhelming force. We’re going nowhere unless you can give me a very good explanation.”

Katie nodded. “I’m not using force. This isn’t fighting. My affini is on that ship and I need her.”

The captain’s pet looked up to the ceiling and emitted a deep, beleaguered sigh. After a long moment, she looked back down. “Urgh. And here I was thinking we were done with all of this. Wing, go send an alert. Avium, ready us for a jump. You—” She pointed at Katie— “Come with me. No arguments. You two have given Rosa enough stress already and you are not spoiling her lunch.”

Wing busied herself at the nearest terminal. It took a little while to figure out how to word the message.

Hello shipmates!! Wing Vidalii, Third Floret here again! We’ve got a little bit of an incident ongoing at the moment, and if we want to reunite a cutie with her lost affini we’re going to have to do a jump back out into space pretty soon! Please please pretty please hit the button there when you’re ready, and then we’ll be off! Let me know if you can’t and we’ll sort it out!!!

Wing wasn’t worried about anybody minding. There were few things that would convince a ship full of affini more thoroughly than needing to reunite somebody with their pet. It took maybe half an hour before Wing was staring down a full complement of ready signals. She held on tight to a handhold and gave Avium a nice, unambiguous flash of approval. He hit a button. Like most jumps, Wing didn’t feel a thing, though unlike most, all the gravity disappeared in an instant. She hung on to the handle. Wing did not like microgravity.

After a few seconds, the whole ship seemed to shake. Wing yelped. That didn’t usually happen. She looked towards the room’s affini in a panic and received a generous helping of patting and scratches from them both, and then a gentle tug away from the handhold. If one of them wanted to hold her Wing wasn’t about to complain.

“Don’t worry about it, cutie,” Prickle said, running her hand through Wing’s little tentacles. “Remember, we’re not on the arcs here. No suspension, we get to feel all the shocks. Let’s get one of the cameras up so you can see…”

A pair of Prickle’s vines tapped at the controls to the terminal Wing had been using, bringing up one of the ship’s forward facing cameras. It showed a small shuttle hanging in empty space. As they watched, one of the Elettarium’s freshly rebuilt cargo/boarding chutes shot forward, spiking straight through the hull and disabling it.

Wing knew Montsechia was going to have strong feelings about this. Whether it was pride or disappointment, however, remained to be seen.

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