29. Welcome Home

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 Nine: Welcome Home

The hug could never have lasted for long enough. Stars could have lived and died and still Katie would have felt regret when the time came for it to end. There was so much to make up for. So much need filling her diminutive form.

Katie didn’t feel like she was any different, or at least she didn’t think that she did. She still felt like herself as much as she ever had. More than, maybe. Even so, it was hard not to recognise that her priorities had changed. Thinking back even just a day was heartbreaking. Imagining herself back in a position where she thought she’d be without Thatch forever was like imagining death. It had the same desperate existential dread attached. Katie’s brain wanted to shy away in self-defense.

She let it. That seemed like something to tackle later, if at all. Today was a happy day.

If Katie started thinking back over longer periods it was difficult to avoid noticing that her actions were less and less relatable the further back she went. She knew she’d recognised a kind of futility in the rebellion during her last days involved, but how had she been so blind as to not see the truth? Resistance didn’t make any sense. It was the panic of a cornered animal. There was no justification for it. It was biting the hand that fed her because she was too hungry to accept the gift politely.

Katie wanted to shift her head so she could look up at her plant—her plant—but she needed the hug to be so tight that she couldn’t move, and so she didn’t get to. That was okay. She wasn’t a cornered animal any more. There was a kind of serenity in this. Those deep parts of Katie’s mind that would never fall quiet—demanding she obey all her base instincts—weren’t silent, but they were easier to ignore. The instincts were still there, but there was a hierarchy now.

Katie had seen the diagrams, though like many things humanity had created they’d stopped just before the end. She had needs: Biological necessities, sustenance, and a brain that worked; safety and security; love, care, and intimacy. She needed a feeling of confidence and achievement, and she needed avenues for self-actualisation. Humanity had figured all that out, though it had not then gone so far as to actually provide it.

Katie mentally appended another need. It broke the diagrams, which usually arranged things in a particular order, but this one was both a deeper need than physical necessity and a higher need than self-actualisation. Purpose. Belonging. To know that she existed for a reason, and to have a warm, soft certainty in the back of her mind that because she did everything would be okay whether she wanted it to be or not. Without that all the rest seemed pointless. With it, Katie’s other needs were relevant only so she could strive to fulfill that purpose.

Why was she okay with what was clearly a fundamental shift in her priorities? The Katie of a year prior would look upon the Katie of the now with horror and hate. At the same time Katie looked back at that past self through a soft veil of distant confusion and abject pity. Why had she done the things she had done? Katie knew she’d had reasons at the time. She even remembered what they were, they just didn’t connect.

Even the Katie of yesterday would look at her with dread. Katie understood that, though. Thatch’s teaching and Affini literature—or at least, the pieces they’d seen fit to translate into English/Floret—had given her the framework to understand what had been happening to her even if she hadn’t been willing to accept it.

Still. Something deep had changed within Katie and while she didn’t mind, she knew that she would have minded before it had been done. That’s why she been able to fight it for so long. Thinking about this gave Katie a headache.

She let out a little whimper. No, not fair. The stars hadn’t collapsed into nothing yet, she didn’t want to move. Thatch’s… everything surrounded her, where better could she possibly be?

Fortunately for Katie the answer to that question was now out of her hands. The whimper had already caught Thatch’s attention, and Katie felt herself released, albeit begrudgingly. She clung to what she could but all she got was vines squirming out of her grip and a chuckle that warmed the soul.

“Come now, Katie. We can’t stay here forever.” They couldn’t stay here forever. “You must be exhausted.” She must be exhausted. “Tell me how you’re feeling.”

Goddess above, it was like having her heart tugged on by a little set of strings. Was this how all of them felt? Katie hadn’t been giddy since she’d been a child, but she felt every word that came out of Thatch’s mouth shooting through her mind like an RKV, shattering her thoughts and leaving her as a wasteland of soft, warm happiness.

She was melting. Staring up at a beautiful, half-formed monster while filled with so much desire to answer a simple question she had no room left over to actually do it. She should open her mouth. She really should. By the stars, though, the amused twitch in the corner of Thatch’s mouth meshed with a gentle swelling in Katie’s sixth sense—the way she’d grown to interpret the endlessly complicated influence Thatch now had over her—to melt her all over again. She could feel the plant’s love. Her amusement almost had a texture to it, or a taste, or… she wasn’t sure how to visualise it, exactly. Something wry?

Katie could also hear Thatch’s fingers snapping right next to her ear. She jumped, suddenly torn back to reality. “Katie, my darling, you are adorable, but have you been forgetting to take your medication?” Thatch’s fingers brushed across her cheek and, oh wow was that distracting.

Okay, focus. Focus! Katie blinked a few times, then processed the question. “Uhh… maybe, I can’t remember. I think I’ve taken them at least once?”

Thatch nodded, carefully pulling the rest of her body back together as she returned to her usual form. Her voice was dry, but Katie could feel a richness in it she had only glimpsed before. “To think that I had imagined I could leave you by yourself and have you cope.” Humour, but serious, too. Mild self-deprecation? Katie would have to do something about that. “I am sorry, flower. I should have been honest with you from the start.”

“You never lied to me.”

“No, but I did give you half-truths and omissions. You will forgive me, of course, but I will do better. No more secrets, save for those I truly know you would not wish revealed before the time is right.”

Katie would forgive her. Of course.

Katie winced, and spent a moment rubbing her temple. She really should have kept up with her medication. There was an urge in the back of her mind to simply do as she was told, go along with it. Submerge herself in the music and play, without needing to consider whether what she was doing was right. To obey, if she was honest about it and stripped away all the poetry and metaphor.

“I think I could not forgive you,” Katie realised. “There’s a… I want to, right? I think I’d need you to tell me to do something I actually didn’t want to before I could gauge how much influence that really has, but it doesn’t feel like it would overpower anything I really needed. If I couldn’t forgive you yet, I don’t think that would make me.”

Katie shrugged. It was a weird motion when hanging in microgravity. “Wow, sorry, this is meant to be romantic and I’m here trying to figure out the details an hour after it happened.” She laughed, mostly at herself. “It doesn’t matter whether I wouldn’t have before; I forgive you now, hon. Don’t forget, it was me who came out here to get you, it’s not like you could have done this on your own. You can’t take too much blame here.”

Katie grinned. Just because she was an instrument in Thatch’s orchestra now didn’t mean she couldn’t play the plant herself like she was one too. Thatch’s eyebrow raised, and a single vine gently pushed Katie into the bulkhead wall, where she could be held effortlessly. “Yes, you did very well, Katie. You should be proud of your achievement.” Despite the lack of gravity, Thatch still chose to mime walking as she approached Katie, putting one hand against the wall beside her head and using the other to roughly ruffle her hair.

“We really should be getting back to the ship, not least so that I can give you your medication and we can get some actual privacy, but…” Thatch glanced over at the boarding tube for a moment. Her vine stiffened, and three more came to pin Katie against the wall entirely. Her hand shifted down to cup the girl’s cheek and her head moved alongside her ear, so she could whisper. “You are mine. Your every achievement is mine. You are a tool in my hand and all that beautiful potential is no longer your own. Fight, Katie, and struggle, and play. Argue your case, make jokes at my expense, do whatever it is that you wish. I promise you will never be anything more—or less—than mine, and I need you so desperately to be you, without mitigation. Please, test your binds. I will not allow them to break.”

Katie let out a soft whimper.

She had made a mistake, clearly. Thatch’s flirting had driven away her ability to think and left her barely able to do more than gasp before, but now? Katie nodded rapidly. It was savage, sweet comfort. A surgical strike to something deep inside that left her longing. Oh, sweet cosmos, Thatch no longer had reasons to hold herself back and Katie was going to have to get so much better at flirting if she wanted to have a hope of keeping up.


“Good girl,” Thatch cooed, letting the vines go slack. “I am going to have so much fun taking you apart.”

This wasn’t fair. This was actively unfair. How was Katie meant to deal with this? She didn’t stand a chance. She hadn’t stood a chance when Thatch had been trying to give her one. There was a power imbalance here and it was deeply unfair and deeply comfortable. For all that, though, Thatch was still absolutely fallible, and Katie hardly felt like she was only here to follow her partner’s lead. She gestured her head towards the boarding tube.

“Yes, okay, fine, you are not wrong,” Thatch grumbled. “Though I suppose our first problem is that I seem to have gotten rather carried away and shredded your clothing.” She held up the tattered remains of a Terran Cosmic Navy uniform, the symbol of the resistance. There was a metaphor in there somewhere, though Katie was too distracted to spot it. “Your sizes are on file, I shall go and ask for something that should fit. Be a good pet and stay put.”

Katie had grabbed ahold of Thatch’s departing hand before she even realised what she was doing. “Please no?” she asked, voice suddenly serious. “Don’t leave me.”

“Katie, I will be gone for under five minutes. It will not take long to have clothing synthesised.”

Katie shook her head and shifted her grip to make herself feel more secure. She ended up with both arms wrapped around one of Thatch’s, crossed over to make herself harder to dislodge. “No.”

She wanted to say yes, of course. The urge in the back of her head was there. A low giddiness spawned by the opportunity to obey mixed with a desire to do just that. The idea terrified her all the same. Spending even a second trapped in a silent, lonely shuttle without feeling Thatch’s soothing rhythm pressing comfortably against her thoughts was… no. No, no no. She might think something wrong or feel something bad or— Katie clutched onto Thatch’s arm with all her strength. “I… I really don’t want to be without you? Apparently at all? I dunno. The last week really sucked and feeling like I’d lost you was awful and I can’t go back to that I won’t, and I guess all my problems aren’t magically solved?”

Thatch’s face softened. She carefully pried Katie’s arms off of hers, but only so the girl could be placed into a hug that was by any measure endlessly more secure than anything Katie could have done on her own. “No,” she agreed. “Solving all our problems will take more than this. Perhaps it is selfish of me to not take away every thought in your head right now, only to give them back one by one as they are fixed, but I would rather we do that together.”

Katie smiled, nodding rapidly. That idea didn’t scare her. They’d fix her. She wouldn’t be like she was again. “You too, remember? I don’t imagine this fixes all of your problems either.”

Their smiles turned bittersweet for a moment. A lull in their shared music. Like any good accompaniment, Katie didn’t simply follow. Though hers was the simpler, smaller piece, that didn’t mean she couldn’t lead at times. Her hand brushed across Thatch’s chest as she struggled to find a position from which she could hug back more tightly. “We’ll get there. I don’t know if you get to feel the same certainty I do that everything’ll be okay if we face it together, but…”

A laugh. “That one is coming from me, yes. Come, then, let us face the others as one.” Thatch spent a moment adjusting herself so that she had the slack to wrap Katie in a dress of warm leaves and gentle touch. She emitted a thoughtful hum as she knelt, inspecting it for fit and comfort. Katie couldn’t help but blush, feeling Thatch wrapping her in an intimate embrace that she was apparently supposed to be less embarrassing than being naked. It certainly did feel smooth, though. Katie couldn’t help but rub her hands along it, at least until she noticed Thatch’s smirk and realised who she was stroking.

Katie took an offered hand and Thatch guided them down the zero-gravity tube. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there were a few people on the other side by this point. The woman who’d brought Katie here in the first place was still waiting, hanging in the air a couple inches off of the floor like she was as comfortable in microgravity as any affini. The semi-transparent, tentacled creature who’d come to talk to Katie about her paperwork was there too, though she seemed to only be comfortable because she was clutched in the arms of some new affini Katie had never seen before. They were certainly striking, though, all whites and greys and not a splash of colour to be seen.

The ones who had been responsible for actually guiding the boarding tube were still hanging around, too, though Katie hadn’t caught their names the first time around and she was admittedly still distracted.

“Permission to come aboard?” Thatch asked, directing her gaze towards the human Katie hadn’t yet caught the name of. She seemed familiar, though Katie couldn’t pin down exactly where, and her mannerisms didn’t seem like the sort of thing that would fade into the background.

“Granted,” replied the floret. Katie could tell she was a floret. She had that look in her eyes. Katie guessed that she probably did too, now. “You really didn’t have to go, you know. I know you fuckers have a god complex, but none of us expect you to be perfect. You’re always welcome here.”

Thatch muttered something unintelligible. Katie still needed to figure out what had happened while she hadn’t been paying attention, but it was more important to be supportive than curious and Thatch needed the support. Katie pinched a vine and shoved her onwards, forcing her to take a simulated step over the threshold and to nod more clearly. “You are not wrong, Felicia. I am grateful that you came to get me.”

‘Felicia’ laughed. “Thank that one,” she said, gesturing over at Katie. “She terrified our poor clerk here, and I think the hyperspacial engineers are so smitten they would have taken her if you hadn’t.” She paused. Her eyes narrowed, focusing in on Thatch with the kind of intensity that had Katie ready to jump in to defend her. “You are taking her.”

“I am,” Thatch agreed. She knelt down—still miming the action, as there still wasn’t gravity—and cupped Katie’s cheek. “Thank you for coming to get me, little one. It seems you have made quite an impression here already. Unsurprising, as you are a wonder.”

She stood as if she hadn’t just washed Katie’s thoughts away again. When had Thatch gotten so smooth? It was like Thatch had changed in an instant, and now every word of praise and every flirt hit like a hypermetric kick.

Or maybe it was Katie who was different. How would she even tell?

“We really must be going, however. Could we have my hab unit reattached at the same address?” Thatch asked, directing her attention to one of the other affini that Katie didn’t know.

“Ah, well, about that. I haven’t done this on a ship we weren’t trying to disable before, so… no. No, we can’t. The pieces haven’t scattered very far, so it shouldn’t be too hard to put back together, but…”

Katie shook her head. “No, that’s okay,” she insisted. “Just melt it down or whatever. Thatch, come live with me. Your old place was depressing, mine is cool.”

Katie felt a brief buzz of excitement and pride pressing into her from above and smiled. The hand that landed on her head a moment later was a nice feeling too. This was going to take some getting used to. Katie supposed that in a sense, she’d been getting used to it for some time, but everything hit different now that she knew what was going on. Now she knew she had the comfort of knowing for certain what was happening in her partner’s head. Now that Thatch’s opinion of her carried all the weight in the universe.

Katie let her eyes fall closed as she leaned into the hand. It was starting to make sense why all the florets were just like this. She managed to look up again and her smile only grew wider. This plant was hers. The others could be nice, they could be interesting, they could be cool, but not one of them could hope to compare to her affini. She got to watch Thatch nodding and having a brief conversation about getting her stuff delivered and she didn’t have to pay any attention to anybody else at all. It was nice.

While questions of legal property were soon to become a concern of Katie’s past, they were technically talking about Katie’s home, not Thatch’s. It could have felt bad that nobody asked her questions about it, but Katie soon realised that she was looking at things through a very Terran lens after one of the cargo affini asked Thatch a question she couldn’t possibly answer herself.

Thatch reached down, scratched Katie under the chin, told her to answer the nice affini, and Katie understood. If somebody carrying a screwdriver was asked to undo a screw, nobody would expect them to do it by hand. If somebody with a floret was asked a question only the floret could answer, then the same thing happened. Thatch spoke the answer using her. The rest of the time, Katie could drift in and out of the conversation as she needed or wanted to.

Or maybe Katie was getting overly romantic about it. She hadn’t expected to suddenly become a hopeless romantic, but she also hadn’t expected to ever be giving herself to a space alien. Life threw surprises at you.

As they turned to leave, Katie squeaked. “Wait!” she called, suddenly struck by a need to hurry across the room. Moving around in microgravity was usually a chore, but Katie was technically being carried right now even if her feet were on the floor. She came to a stop a couple feet away from the clerk and, Katie assumed, her owner.

Gosh, these plants sure were big. Katie looked up with a gentle blush and a surprising bout of nervousness. Was she meant to direct the question at the floret or the bloom? Maybe it was polite to ask the affini? June had nudged her down that path, and the others seemed to do so when speaking to her through Thatch. A day before, Katie wouldn’t have considered it at all. Speaking around somebody would have seemed simply rude, but…

Well, it had been nice when it had been done to her. She’d been able to check out of the conversation and focus on Thatch up until the point she was actually needed, and knowing she could drift out of a conversation without it seeming rude or causing problems was a kind of comfort Katie hadn’t known she’d been craving.

The affini, then. “Hey, uh, I hope I didn’t upset your floret too much, Miss…?”

“Montsechia Vidalii, Eighth Bloom, floret,” the affini replied, extending a vine to ruffle Katie’s hair. Old instincts had her moving to dodge it, but she realised a moment later she didn’t want to and simply smiled as she was petted. “I’m sure we’ll all get to be fine friends, Katie, and I’m very glad to see you looking so well. You gave my delicate jelly a bit of a scare, but she’s very happy for you.” Wing herself nodded, opening one eye to glance over to Katie. She wasn’t carrying her drawing pad, but she was glowing a surprising array of soft pastel colours, if generally warmer ones than she had been earlier.

Apparently it was a kind of language, and one Montsechia could translate. “She says that she’s very glad to see you reunited with your Thatch, and is glad you seem to be doing better for it.” Another set of flashes, brighter and more pointed. “She also says that if I don’t remind you you have problems with your paperwork, she’ll make me come round to your apartment with a stack of forms and a pen.”

“I wouldn’t worry about that, though, I can keep her under control.” Katie didn’t return Montsechia’s smile because of a deep emotional attunement, she returned it because the joke was funny. Montsechia continued. “Thatch should bring you by, though, we’d love to get to meet you two under more casual circumstances.”

Katie nodded. Updating her paperwork seemed less terrifying than it had before. “I can do that… Uh, I expect. Huh, it’ll take some getting used to to not be able to make that kind of promise.” The leaves and vines making up Katie’s clothing gave her a reassuring squeeze. “Would it be okay if I gave Wing a hug?”

There was a brief negotiation. Wing rapidly flashed bursts of light while her caretaker emulated much the same with coloured leaves quickly flashed through otherwise monochrome foliage . It was probably rude to stare, but Katie couldn’t not. The dexterity required to reach those kinds of speed with vines and leaves seemed unbelievable, even by the standards she was used to.

Wing was lowered down to the ground. Katie smiled and got a soft glow in return. “Hey, um, I’m sorry about all that, but thank you for talking to me? I don’t know if I would have gotten here quickly enough without your help, and I don’t know what I’d have done if I’d been too late here, so…”

Katie pushed forwards and wrapped her arms around Wing for a tight hug. After a moment of surprise, it was returned. Katie didn’t expect Wing would be able to perceive speech right now, so she stayed quiet. After a few moments, she felt a gentle tugging and knew it was time to stop. Apparently she was feeling touchy-feely. It was unclear whether she was just like that now or whether it would pass, but that hardly seemed to matter.

“Thank you,” Katie said, once she was back in Wing’s field of view. She glanced upwards. “And thank you, too, Miss Vidalii.” She drifted back towards Thatch, though darted to the side to deliver a second, shorter hug to Felicia. Katie deeply suspected that despite the woman’s stern demenour she was as soft as any of them. She was still a floret. “Thank you, too. I really appreciate the help. Thank you for stopping by to rescue my fish, too. I’m gonna go try to convince Thatch to stay inside with me for a week straight now, but I promise I’ll be more… communicative, I guess?”

The second hug was the last and Katie was quickly reeled back in. Thatch lay a hand on the back of her neck and Katie felt her nervous energy draining away. She wrapped her arms around a leg and sighed. This could have been embarrassing. There was a part of her that demanded that it should be embarrassing. Such public displays of happiness were rude to the miserable people around her, or at least they had been before. If everyone on this ship felt like this then there didn’t seem like there was much room for misery left.

…Katie wasn’t sure if she was feeling an afterglow, or if she’d just been turned into a more positive person. A large part of her hoped for the latter, though she had to admit that it would make a lot of her old life experiences a lot less useful. That seemed like a worthwhile trade. She didn’t want to go back to being like she was. She— Katie took a deep breath and buried her face against Thatch. She didn’t need to worry about that.

Thatch handled the practical matters at the end of the conversation with a little encouragement from Katie when she started to slow down, and then they headed home. The cargo chutes were managed from the front of the ship, so there was no way back that didn’t involve the efficient magrail system, but neither of them seemed to be in the mood for a long walk anyway. As they were heading back, some kind of intercom chimed and spoke a few unhurried words in what Katie was coming to recognise as Affini. Thatch tapped a button on the wall.

“Apparently the relevant parties are preparing to get the arcs spinning again. Everybody else is ready, but we will need to stay in the pod for a few minutes before it will be safe to exit. You do not mind, hmn?” Katie didn’t mind.


Katie relaxed into a gentle hug as they sat in a pod suspended at the edge of the Elettarium’s nose cone, looking inwards at the twin arcs of the ship as they slowly began to turn. One went left, the other went right, and the great petals at the far side turned a little slower to balance the slight difference in inertia. It was breathtaking. Katie put her nose against the glass. She’d watched this ship fall from orbit, but it had mostly been static then. It could hang in the air on impossible engines and look magnificent doing it, but it hadn’t truly fit. Dirt had not been its home. This was its home.

This was her home.

Thatch brushed her fingers down Katie’s back while they watched the two curves cross far above. Each was picking up speed, though given the scale of things Katie expected that even at full tilt a whole rotation would be slow. The hull still seemed to glow like it was in daylight despite their position somewhere in the void of space far from the nearest star. Katie hadn’t really been able to see the patterns in any detail from ground level, but she was much closer here.

The whole shell of the ship was covered with an infinity of fractal form, each line crossing the others in something that appeared endlessly complicated and drew in the eye. Katie could have sworn that there was a common shape to it all. Something so deceptively simple that it would explain everything yet just complicated enough that she wasn’t seeing it straight away. The spinning didn’t help, either. The hull seemed to be designed such that her eye would skip across it as it turned, and each time it did she found a new area with a new pattern that felt as if she could understand it with just a moment’s more attention, at least until the turning had her eye shifting again.

Each location went on a stack. Katie wanted to get back to each, figure out the pattern, and continue. She didn’t notice the way that each area promised an answer so satisfying she couldn’t stop thinking about it even as her mind filled up with more of the same. She rubbed circles on the glass with her nose as she followed the turning of the arcs.

“Feeling good?” Thatch asked. Katie nodded, hardly paying attention. “Enjoying the view?” Katie nodded again. Once she figured out the pattern, she could tell Thatch all about it, and that would be nice. All she had to do was figure it out, and it was right there on the tip of her mind.

“I expect that now you know one of our tricks, you can probably figure this one out too. Or perhaps do you need a little help thinking?” Katie wasn’t sure she understood the question. She’d get back to it in a moment, she almost had the answer here. She could turn her attention elsewhere soon. Just not quite yet.

Thatch chuckled. She spent a moment gently scratching Katie’s scalp, drawing all manner of coos and gasps from the girl. She’d usually hold it in, but she was a little distracted. The secret to the patterns was right there in front of her, and all she had to do was take it. “The latter, then. I have left you scrambled, haven’t I?”

A finger underneath her chin carefully moved Katie’s gaze away from the hull. Katie’s eyes tried to stay focused on where she’d been looking, but it was soon taken out of her line of sight. She looked up at Thatch, blinking rapidly as she stack of mostly-complete answers to puzzles she didn’t understand rapidly unraveled. “Uhm… Uh…” Katie breathed, biting one lip. “I… don’t know what happened there,” she admitted.

“Patterns,” Thatch replied, eyes twinkling. “When I told you that this ship had no weapons, that was only true from a certain perspective. In another sense, everything here is carefully designed to draw sweet little things like you in like a goth to a flame.”

Katie squinted. “I’m not sure that’s how that saying goes.”

“Yet here you are all the same, a pretty little goth reaching for my heat and light.”

“Yeah, okay then.” Katie laughed. “I’m pretty sure it’s ‘moth’, but…” She leaned into Thatch’s side. “You’re not wrong. It gets inside our heads, then?”

“Yours more easily than most, it seems, at least at the moment. I may have rather exhausted your mental capacity. It is a curious quirk of my people that we tend to find natural harmony together, both metaphorically and, as I suspect you have noticed, literally. That harmony changes over time, but only slowly. There are many individuals aboard a ship and many ships across the galaxy and many galaxies in the Compact and we cannot all interact with one another. Even the fastest transmission takes years to reach the other side, and this is natural and slow.” Thatch brushed a series of vines over Katie’s body as their pod started to move again, finally on the way home. “We take our harmony and work it into the art we make, the things we build, and all the various signals our ships emit.”

“It turns out to be useful. Simply due to the scale of the universe and the speed at which our changes propagate, we give existence a texture. Part us, part you, part diffusion of all who have come before. We carry with us the song of the universe. You will leave your mark on me and that mark will spread outwards to others of my kind. An imperceptible change on its own, but in aggregate it matters. We elevate the creatures of reality and have them echo through the stars.” Thatch smiled, glancing up towards the arcs, and shrugged. “But perhaps I am simply feeling romantic today. I would be remiss to not mention the adorable effect it has on the minds of those creatures. You recognise it; you are drawn to it desperate to understand and explore; yet you can never understand it without our help, which you are often only too eager to receive.”

The pod slid to a stop and the door opened. Thatch patted Katie’s butt and the two of them figured out how to disentangle before walking out onto the arc. They were far from the only ones poking their heads out but they were moving with the most purpose, towards Katie’s hab. The girl had her focus pointed upwards, trusting she would be led in the right direction. “And once we do have your help?”

Thatch didn’t provide an answer, but Katie did feel gentle encouragement brush across her mind. “Something like this?” Katie asked, waving a hand airily between them. “I feel you like it’s an instinct?”

“Perhaps. You are my first, but you do seem rather more cognizant of it than most, for whom I suspect it is either more subconscious or at least not something regularly spoken of publicly. I expect most florets are not trained so far away from Affini space, nor in such isolation, and you are, I think, very special in very many ways. Perhaps something to discuss with the friends you are making here.”

Katie had only been experiencing true synchronisation with her new owner for a little while, but she didn’t feel brave enough to imagine being without it. She hoped that this was something everybody got to experience. Life felt empty without it.

They arrived. Thatch reached out to grasp the handle on the hab door, but of course it did not open for her. This was Katie’s home and she was inviting Thatch inside just as she was inviting Thatch into her life.

It wasn’t an independent streak, not really. Katie knew that desire had been burned out of her skull. Maybe there were some affini who were old, wise, and stable enough that they needed nothing from their pets but companionship and warmth. Having met a few of the plants now, Katie doubted it. They seemed as in need of love, support, and security as anybody else, and if they were so generous as to offer theirs to the universe then Katie figured it was only right to return the favour.

She reached out and pulled open the door, then stepped across the threshold and waved her affini inside.

“Welcome home, Thatch.”

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