Chapter Thirty Four: I also learned how to spell bureaucracy for kink reasons
The Affini were clearly unfamiliar with the idea that the pen could be mightier than the sword, for Katie was better armed than she thought should be allowed. To her left lay an array of implements in a dozen colours; to her right the tower of paperwork the plants expected her to sign.
Across the desk were the clerks. Wing and Montsechia Vidalii.
The pen-pusher and her pet.
“So,” Montsechia began. “We can take this slow. There’s a few decisions to make and barring unforeseen disaster you have our close attention. To make sure we are all on the same page, as it were, my beautiful assistant has prepared a few questions.”
She slid Wing’s writing pad over the desk, showing off the jellyfish’s precise scrawl. She also held out a potato slice an inch away from Katie’s mouth, making her lean forward to eat it out of her fingers. The slices were delicious and Katie was pretty sure she was being shamelessly manipulated, but in all honesty she found it a comfort. These weren’t emotionless bureaucrats like Terra had preferred, but instead clever ones who knew they knew best and simply needed to lead Katie into giving them those few missing puzzle pieces.
Katie ate the potato slice and received a quick chin scratch in exchange. She felt a moment of comfortable quiet overtake her as she chewed down a treat while receiving doting attentions and letting her mind sink just a little into her comfortable petspace. She kind of wanted to double-check to make sure the gem on her collar was inactive, but it wouldn’t have done anything for the clerk anyway.
This was just training taking hold, with Thatch’s influence making it stick.
“Thank you, Miss Vidalii.” Katie beamed up at the clerk for a moment, then glanced down at the questions. She wasn’t sure if the pens she’d been given were smart enough to tell whether they were writing on paper or technology or if it was simply that the difference between paper and plant-tech was thin enough to disappear, but her pens worked just as well on either surface.
Katie quickly skimmed through the questions with a growing sense of concern. Her spare hand squeezed Thatch’s. Some of them looked hard. Katie’s plant was being quiet, mostly here for support and security, as otherwise this was Katie’s time. The girl looked up and backward, stretching her neck to glance towards Thatch’s face.
“Do not worry, little one.” A vine stroked its way down Katie’s arm. “They are not trying to catch you out. There are no wrong answers here, it is merely that the solutions may be different depending on your needs.”
Katie nodded, a little distant, and returned her focus to the pad. It was hard to believe that such complex bureaucracy could really be so benign, but it was easy to believe as she was told to. Funny how that worked.
I, Katie [Aquae, Second Floret], hereby confirm that I am very cute and deserve all the good things which are coming to me.
To the left of each line was a checkbox, and at the bottom of the pad was a place for her signature. This seemed like an unusual place to start. Every word could be vitally important. Katie knew nobody was really trying to trick her here, but getting her to sign away more than she expected seemed like something the paperwork predators before her would treat as sport.
“So, okay. Firstly, the name is styled differently, what does that mean?” Katie asked.
Wing flashed a rapid sequence of colours at a speed Katie couldn’t hope to follow. The lights jumped around her body faster than Katie could even keep up with, never mind have any way of understanding. Montsechia seemed to have little trouble translating. “Wing says that she thought you would prefer to use your name-to-be here, and that it doesn’t really matter because we’re about to strip your legal authority anyway and all of this will really be enforced by your owner.”
A gentle tug on Katie’s emotions from above, flaring up a sense of amused confusion, had her trying to stifle a laugh and subtly kicking her plant’s leg under the desk. How had she found the one affini on board who didn’t have a massive thing for paperwork?
Katie considered the question fresh, shrugged, and slapped down a tick. She was very cute, at least according to Thatch, and if karma existed then she sure did deserve a break.
I, Katie (henceforth known as pet, floret, or Katieflower), confirm that I wish to revoke my citizenship with the prior Terran Accord and do not wish to use it as a basis for citizenship under the authority of the Human branch of the Terran Transitory Territory Administration.
Well, that one was easy. Katie checked the box.
Thatch raised the hand which wasn’t entwined with Katie’s own and gave her head a quick scratch. “Good pet. You didn’t need that old name anyway.”
Oh. Katie(flower) flushed. It hadn’t taken her long to get tripped up after all, even watching out for it. She’d spent a long time trying to pick herself out a name that felt right and signing it away hit hard, even if ‘Katie’ was still a valid shortening of one of the names she was now permitted. It was still exactly what she’d been afraid of back on the Indomitable, that her identity would be forfeit, wasn’t it?
“Worry not, Katie,” Thatch rumbled from above. “I was very involved in the construction of this. There are no answers here that are wrong.”
Her prior identity hadn’t been stolen away, it was just being used as a trellis. Support on which to grow someone new. Katie could feel a nervous excitement bubbling up within her, and it was hard to tell whether it was her own or a reflection of her owner. Maybe it didn’t matter.
Okay. Next question.
I, pet, confirm that I am not attempting to escape loan, let, or lien, nor am I attempting to circumvent the requirements placed upon me as outlined by the Treaty on the Methods, Limitations, and Procedures for Human Domestication, section 158.
Hmn. Katie glanced up. “I don’t know about this one, I kind of am? I don’t think I’m trying to avoid it in, like, a bad way, but it’d feel pretty bad to be told that I still counted as human.” She laughed, then used the blunt end of her pen to jingle her own nametag. “It’s not like I’m trying to get out of domestication here, right?”
Montsechia emitted a thoughtful hum, then spent a moment dancing coloured leaves at her assistant. The conversation seemed rapid and though Katie at first thought it impassionate due to the lack of clear body language she soon decided that the growing want in the pair’s eyes suggested this was anything but cool and calm.
“We were going to suggest we create a new human-derived subspecies for you, but that would require you abide by the terms of the existing treaty. However, we have some experience with treaty negotiations now and we would be delighted to hash out the Katie Domestication Treaty with you at a later date. Be warned, however, my darling Wing has a taste for it now and you are unlikely to have many rights left over by the end of the negotiation. You hardly have much leverage here, little one.”
Katie had grown a reasonable appreciation for paperwork since stepping aboard this ridiculous civilisation’s starship. She understood why much of it was important. Even given that, the hunger in Montsechia’s eyes as she proposed a firm and combative stripping of Katie’s legal rights, despite that she was trying very hard to give them away, was difficult to understand. The enthusiasm was catching all the same. “Do I get a lawyer?” Katie asked, feeling a grin tugging at the corners of her mouth that she only just managed to suppress.
Montsechia grinned back openly, with eager cruelty. “No.” She placed a single finger just in front of Katie’s chin and pinned the girl under the weight of her expectation until she gave in and placed her head atop it. “You get one hour to negotiate and we reserve the right to dock time for bad behaviour, or grant it for good. We’re two points into this and you’ve already given us your name. How long do you think you’ll last if we stop trying to be nice? So, be good while we go through the rest of this and maybe we’ll let you have a say in what you’ll end up signing.”
Stars, Katie should really check up on how Cici handled this. The poor thing seemed mechanically hardwired for fluster, and it had the further disadvantage of actually having been doing this for real. Katie just laughed and glanced away, biting the end of her pen with a growing blush. When they put it like that, Katie could start to understand how they could get so worked up over paperwork.
“Yes, Ma’am,” Katie laughed. “Shall I just skip this point for now?”
“Hmn, put a cross through the last part, I think you can still agree with the first clause.”
Katie did as she was told, then slapped a check next to it. If the pressure on Katie’s mind was any indication, and it invariably was, Thatch wasn’t quite sure how to feel about this either. Maybe Katie could convince her that filling out forms could be fun.
I, Thatch Aquae, so swear that my floret-to-be is extremely cute and adorable and I love her very much and will take wonderful care of her and she deserves all the nice things I can give her.
The pen was unceremoniously stolen from Katie’s fingers, and then returned once Thatch had placed her own elaborate checkmark in the box just to the side of her oath and surrounded it with half a dozen little hearts. Katie glanced up and raised an eyebrow. “Are they making you do this?”
“We made her tone it down, actually, the pad has limited storage capacity,” Montsechia interjected. “After the preludes we get into the most important pieces.”
Ah, this next one just referenced one of the sheets to her right. Katie spent a moment thumbing through the pile looking for the right one, and then eventually gave up and looked over at the clerks for help. How was she possibly meant to find one sheet in such a tangled web?
“It’s the one on the top, pet. We put them in order for you.”
Ah. Katie flushed, grabbed the first form, and started reading it. It used much more standardised language than the previous points, but with some parts crossed out and replaced with more appropriate versions.
Elettarium Office of Records and Rituals
Regarding acquiescence and submission to the dissolution of the prior Terran Accord ‘government’, intended for feralist and prior feralist ideologues1.1 I confirm my understanding that the political structure previously known as the ‘Terran Accord’ has been found in violation of the laws of the Affini Compact and therefore was not a valid structure.1.2 I confirm my understanding that due to this, the structure once known as the ‘Terran Accord’ has been permanently dissolved.1.3 I confirm my understanding that this was deserved and just.2.1 I confirm my understanding that, as a prior citizen of the former ‘Terran Accord’, I can no longer receive political representation via prior ‘Terran Accord’ structures and my prior citizenship is no longer valid.3.1 I confirm that I would pretty please like to ask nicely for citizenship in the
HumanKatie branch of the Terran Transitory Territory Administration.3.2 I confirm my understanding that while the above is not predicated on good behaviour, I will be a very good girl and do as I am told anyway because I am a very good girl.4.1 I confirm that I am exceptionally cute and very grateful to the Affini Compact for rescuing me from the prior ‘Terran Accord’.
Katie glanced over at the the stack of things they expected her to sign. Were they all going to be this saccharine? There was almost a cruelty to it if she tried to imagine what these forms would have been like to sign back when Terra had first fallen. This wasn’t just signing away her rights, it was signing away her dignity, too.
Katie dropped her signature at the bottom. A practiced, flowing Katie led into a much rougher, printed Aquae. At least she’d spelled it correctly. Katie figured she would get plenty of practice before the end of the day.
After that she returned to the pad for the next overall point in this obtuse and inexplicably exciting process. Every tick and signature left her feeling smaller than the last, and there was something intensely comforting about burying herself in the bureaucratic embrace of a species so comfortable with its own superiority as to demand this of her.
I, flower, confirm I would like to withdraw from the Human race, politically, biologically, and legally speaking, and am doing so with a full understanding of what this means to me and for me.
Katie carefully placed the pen down on the table and opened her mouth. Montsechia took the opportunity to deliver a potato slice into it, and Thatch ruffled her hair while Katie chewed. This was bullying. How was Katie meant to do philosophy like this? She whimpered and thanked both of them, then took a breath and tried to collect her scattered thoughts. This was the big question, and something that had been a quiet recurring struggle for her for many years even before Thatch had ensured it would dominate her idle thoughts.
Katie didn’t know if she could check that box. How did she know if she was legitimate, here? She needed a second opinion. “I don’t really know what it means to count as human,” Katie admitted. “If it’s the society, then all my life I’ve been told I don’t fit, that I’m not a real girl, that I don’t deserve to be comfortable or to be happy because I studied the wrong thing, was too lazy, or wasn’t born rich. I never got anything out of trying to be included but more people pushing me away. The only reason why I had to play along was because if I didn’t, I would have been left to asphyxiate in deep space, die of thirst on some forgotten rock with a bare atmosphere, or left to starve even in Terra’s grandest cities. I don’t agree with the prevailing values of humanity, and while I could probably find people there who I do agree with, they too were on the edges of society and they too were made to suffer to earn a place they were forced to strive for.”
Katie believed it, but it fell flat. Her problem had never really been the bigots or the assholes. She had never felt welcomed, no, but she’d gotten used to that. There were other things she’d never gotten used to.
“If it’s the biology, then I really don’t care for that either. Miss Aquae told me that species divisions are kind of arbitrary, and I haven’t really been able to stop thinking about that since. I do have a human body, I guess, but I don’t really want it? It was born wrong and I’ve already had to pull it apart to replace bits of it just so I can be comfortable and I’m so tired of it.”
Katie looked down at the pad. It was such a big question. How could she be sure that she had a full understanding? Who could possibly tell her that?
Another easy one. Thatch could, obviously. That was why they were here, so Katie could present herself in totality and let herself be judged by somebody that had earned that right.
“There was a human philosopher, like, a long, long time ago, called Regge Despartes or something and he was full of shit. He said, um, that humans were better than animals because animals were just little biological robots going about their programming without real minds, and that’s what I feel like. One of his ‘beast machines’. I can’t think like I need to be able to without medication. I can’t look like I need to without drugs. My emotions swing wildly without giving me any clue as to what’s wrong and I so obviously react in preprogrammed ways. I think things not because they’re right, but because people back under capitalism could make higher profits if we’d all been programmed to want things we didn’t need. I act in ways not because they’re useful or smart or beneficial, but because a hundred thousand years ago my biological ancestors needed to be able to run away from predators and so now any time I see something moving in the distance there’s this part of my brain that demands all my attention so I can check it isn’t dangerous, even though it can’t possibly be dangerous because I’m here.”
Thatch’s spare arm came up to gently squeeze Katie’s chest. She took a moment to close her eyes and lean into the embrace, letting herself be calmed by the gentle rise and fall of Thatch’s heat. She’d been getting a little worked up. This helped.
“So, um. I don’t want that either. I want a body that works and a mind that was at least programmed by somebody who cares about me and I guess calling myself not human isn’t really true there, but maybe it can be an aspiration. I feel like I could be so much more than I am if I wasn’t being held back. I don’t know if I’m just a biological automaton, but if I am I still want Thatch to be the one oiling the gears.”
Katie looked up at the plant who owned her in all ways but legally. “I don’t know if I get to check the box, Miss. Am I… do I count as understanding? I can’t say I’m certain about any of this.”
Thatch smiled down at her. “We’ll figure out just how you work together. Check the box, my little beast machine.”
Katie checked the box. There it was. Down in black and white before the only species in the galaxy with the bureaucratic might to actually strip her of her species and grant her the freedom to find out what she really was. Regardless of what that little voice in the back of Katie’s head that doubted everything she said might think, there was a higher power involved now. Katie was not human.
How many more of these points were there left to go?
I, the undersigned, promise I am a very very good girl and will sign this document with my very prettiest signature!!
Okay, that was an easy one. Katie checked it.
The next referenced the next sheet in the stack, taking her from the
HumanKatie branch of the Terran Transitory Territory Administration into the TerranKatie Protectorate.
“How much work did you need to do to make this all add up?” Katie asked, looking up at the clerks. They’d gotten distracted by each other and both looked up with vaguely guilty expressions on their faces.
“Honestly most of it just copied from elsewhere with some wording changes, but admittedly neither of us slept last night. That’s okay, though, I don’t need to sleep anywhere near as often as I like to, and my darling jelly here is on a very high dosage of class-Z0 xenodrugs.” After realising Katie was unfamiliar, she added “They inhibit tiredness and sleep responses. Not a good idea to use indefinitely, but she is so very cute when she’s loopy.”
Katie looked over at the pair with unsubtle concern. “You stayed up all night for this? I… really didn’t want to be this much of a bother.”
“Oh, no, floret, please. The kerfuffle down in the stasis bays was what kept us up. Your project was so we could blow off some steam after.” She gave Katie another potato slice, and followed it up with a piece of one of the burgers. Katie gave an appreciative moan to the latter. It was very good, and—they were assured—not poisonous in the slightest.
Katie wasn’t sure how to feel about the rest of the crew of the Indomitable being here, apparently now awake. If they’d been in stasis since the ship had been taken, then for them Katie’s whole journey had passed in the blink of an eye. What would they think of her now? She shook her head. That kind of thinking was a relic of the old Katie, who had to worry about things beyond the cute but damaged plant currently cuddling her. The fates of her old crew were out of her hands and ultimately didn’t matter. They’d find good homes and have happy lives and Katie didn’t need to worry herself any more than that.
She signed the document. The work was already done, it’d be rude not to use it.
“Hey, if I’m the only citizen of the Katie Protectorate, does that mean I’m technically in charge?”
Both present affini laughed. Thatch’s grip grew a little tighter, pinning Katie in place. “If you’re good, we’ll let you make suggestions for the flag. If you’re very good, we’ll let you recite the founding documents for us.”
Oh no. Thatch was getting into it too, now. Katie abandoned her fledgling lust for power, nodded rapidly, and moved down to the next line.
I, Katieflower, agree that I am no longer permitted to practice trading with the intent to amass capital and will never again be allowed near double-entry bookkeeping without supervision. I understand I will no longer be permitted private property.
Well, that just seemed obvious, didn’t it? Katie paused with her pen just above the checkbox. “What does private mean there? I still get… public property?” Katie glanced up at Thatch, who shrugged and gestured over to Montsechia, who shrugged and gestured over to Wing. The jellyfish spent a few moments narrating, and then her owner began to translate.
“As a member of the Katie Protectorate, you are still permitted to own anything that you would actually use or care for. Your hab unit, your toothbrush, your fish, your clothes, and so on. You are not permitted to—” Montsechia frowned. “Are you sure you have this right, Wing? That doesn’t seem— They did what? Frozen roots, those poor things.” She looked back towards Katie with a helpless shrug. “You are not permitted to own things for the purpose of denying them to those who need them so you can extort things out of them. I swear, that this even needs to be said…”
“Oh.” Katie checked the box. “Does everyone have to sign that one?”
Wing flashed a bright green, followed by a few mitigating shades. “Only the ex-Terran Accord citizens,” Montsechia provided. “Don’t worry, though, we’ll take private property away from you too now, let’s move on.”
Ah. This was the one, then. Katie’s breath caught in her throat as she pulled the next piece of paper from the pile. The important one. The one she wanted. The one she needed.
With a shaking hand, Katie began to check the boxes one by one.
Above all else, you, Katie Sahas, must obey your guardian, Thatch Aquae, Second Bloom, in all things. This is for your safety, wellbeing, and care.
Your guardian, Thatch Aquae, owns you. A pet is property. You do not have political rights in the Affini Compact. All existing rights and privileges are invalid and inapplicable.
Agreed. Shivering fingers smudged the checkmark. Why? All of this was already true, but a small line of ink made it seem real and inescapable. This was Katie making a statement, declaring these universal truths. Ensuring they would be true no matter what happened.
You do have a guarantee of your wellbeing as defined in Section TBC of the Katie Domestication Treaty. This does not preclude corrective measures being imposed where discipline is required.
She hadn’t even signed that treaty yet. She didn’t know what she was agreeing to. Ink-stained fingers hung above a firm checkbox, clutching her pen hard enough that her hand shivered with the strain. She was declaring these things true and she didn’t even know what it truly meant. She couldn’t. There was too much. She looked at the pile to her right. She couldn’t possibly understand all this. She looked up at her legal owner and silently begged for help.
“You agree, pet.”
“Yes, Miss Aquae!” Katie’s checkmark came down hard and surprisingly steady. Her breathing started to stablise. She didn’t need to understand what she was agreeing to. She just had to trust that she was signing herself over to somebody who wanted the best for her, and she knew that was true.
From this moment forth, your full legal name is Katie Aquae, Second Floret. You will answer to, and refer to yourself by, any name your guardian chooses to permit you.
The lines got easier after that. Katie read something she couldn’t possibly understand the implications of, asked for help, and was told that she agreed. She signed her prettiest signature on the dotted line and very carefully placed the pen against the table with a trembling hand.
“And there we are,” Montsechia declared. “It’s always so lovely to watch a new pet sign themselves over to our care. You have a delightful floret, Thatch.”
“I do,” she growled, vines coming in from both sides to bind Katie’s limbs and hold her close. “And I think that’s quite enough self-determination out of it for today.” A finger scratched under Katie’s chin and then tapped the gem on her collar. The girl froze up for a moment, body desperate to twitch but held too tightly to manage it. Katie tried to hold on to the scraps of her consciousness but they just slipped through her fingers like finely ground sand.
“Yes, there’s a good girl. Eyes on me,” Thatch whispered, squeezing tightly enough with every vine that it hurt. The pain was enough to give Katie something to hold on to, something to focus her mind. Katie looked up, or was made to look up, and stared up with rapidly dwindling willpower. She spluttered out a word, though she wasn’t sure which word she’d managed.
Thatch laughed quietly, holding the girl close. “Do not worry yourself, pet. There no longer exists a force in this universe that could free you from me. Fight, surrender, beg, or sink. It matters not. You need no longer suffer the burden of choice.”
A hand came out of nowhere to rest around Katie’s neck. “But I’ll have you sink for the moment. Let go, Katie. Let me take care of the rest.”