Chapter Forty One: Putting Down Roots
Through an endless expanse of dense forestry, Katie stalked her prey. Dirt crunched beneath curled fingers as she ventured forward, quiet as night. Dying sun glinted across distant horizon, an ochre orb that cast long shadows though the undergrowth. Deep twilight, when all the predators of the universe came out to hunt.
Some deep instinct passed down through generations of predators before her hissed in the back of Katie’s mind, teaching her how to stay quiet and low. Some subconscious part of her knew to stay in the shadows where she wouldn’t be seen. If she moved slowly enough she barely made a sound beyond the barely audible jingle of metal on metal as her nametag rattled against its loop.
Voices whispered in Katie’s mind like echoes in wind. Following them was easy: they reminded her of things she must already have known; things she must have learned so long ago she could no longer remember when or where. Katie stayed small and low, body pressed against the soft dirt while her eyes tracked her target. A small, fuzzy creature barely meters away bouncing up and down as it moved in clear ignorance of the danger it faced.
Katie sank down to the ground. The undergrowth surrounding her tickled her chin, but if it meant she was harder to spot then that was a compromise well worth making. The rumble of a hungry stomach threatened to bring the game to an abrupt close, but thankfully the prey remained blissfully unaware of Katie’s presence. Her lips curled back, baring teeth that longed to rip and tear and feast.
Her prey began to move. Katie slowly rose just enough to give herself space to follow. Slowly, carefully, she followed instructions whispered into her mind one step at a time. One hand forward; then the opposite knee. The other hand; then finally, the other knee. Head level, eyes tracking. Torso twisting in just the right way to provide a counterbalance. Katie dragged herself along the ground with subtle stealth, moving so slowly she knew she wouldn’t be seen. Her target was sauntering around at a casual pace and Katie matched it with a predator’s precision, maintaining distance between them while she waited for the moment to strike.
Hunting was a compromise. Katie would rather not be seen by the thing she was trailing, but she could not be seen by the forest’s greater threats. She moved silently beneath the canopy, beneath the attention of those things that would hunt her, following her instincts and doing what had to be done to soothe a demanding stomach.
As the fluffier animal moved behind a tree Katie risked a burst of motion, hurrying to use a broken sightline to close the distance. She heard the soft scraping of something moving through dirt and undergrowth as her meal-to-be wandered. She froze. Eventually, the scraping fell silent: perhaps a moment of weakness, Katie wondered? She dared to peek around the tree, to—
Dirt! Her prey had been looking right at her!
It ran, cutting a hard line directly away from her. The voices in Katie’s head rose to meet the moment, hissing the right moves exactly when they were needed. She tore after her meal, whole body moving in a choreographed action that felt more like muscle memory than thought. Her prey was fast. Faster than she was. She couldn’t beat it in a straight line.
Katie hadn’t gotten here by being dumb or boring. She’d gotten here by being smart.
The huntress glanced to the right as she ran, then diverted. Up the set of wooden stairs leading to the cavetop platform where she could have the advantage of higher ground. It meant losing track of her prey for a moment, but it was a dumb animal running scared and it wouldn’t be able to capitalise on that. Katie moved fast when she was letting her instincts guide her motions and it took only moments to reach the top. She dropped down low and stalked to the edge of the platform, staying quiet and out of sight.
Her meal glanced around in a panic. Left, right, ahead, behind. Katie grinned. Nobody ever looked up.
She leaped, sailing through the air with claws outstretched and mouth open, ready to land a killing blow. The wind caught her hair. The frantic jingling of her collar tried to warn her next hot meal of its fate, but it wouldn’t have time to react. It was done.
Katie was still falling. The ground certainly was further away than she’d expected. There was something she had to do to land safely from this kind of height, wasn’t there? Instincts told her she could handle this, but when she reached for the knowledge of how Katie found nothing. She flailed, suddenly extremely aware of how hard she was about to hit the ground.
Katie’s eyes went wide as the dirt rushed up to meet her, and—
“Gotcha!” Thatch laughed, wrapping a pair of vines around Katie’s torso to bring her to a safe stop in mid air. She held Katie in a gentle harness, vines wrapped such that they distributed all the pressure across her whole body so well she almost felt as if she were flying.
The greater threat had arrived, drawn close by weight of hubris. One could not hunt in its forest without consequence.
Katie flailed and fought but the vines stayed beyond her reach and she could do nothing to disentangle herself. The affini herself walked up, keeping Katie helplessly hanging still while she circled, appraising her catch. Katie could feel the pressure of attention pressing down against her mind, as if the mere presence of her predator was enough to start grinding away her strength.
Katie hissed, hoping to scare the creature off, but she achieved little. Her own prey had made itself scarce and now it was she who was at risk of becoming a meal. Thatch’s circle ended as she came to kneel right before Katie’s face, lifting her so their eyes fell level. Katie snapped and hissed, but she didn’t earn even a flinch.
“Did I not require you stay clear of my sight, kitten?” The predator’s tongue quested out past razor teeth to dampen hungry lips.
Wiggled fingers caught Katie’s gaze and drew out a quick snap of teeth. The hand pulled back, but not so quickly that Katie didn’t win the tip of a leaf. Nothing substantial, but proof enough that Thatch wasn’t invulnerable. Perhaps enough to convince the affini she was more trouble than she was worth? Katie could only hope.
It was not to be. While one hand had distracted the other had snuck up on her. Katie froze as a firm finger pressed against her scalp, coming from an angle she could not shake. For just an instant she looked across at her captor with the horror that came from understanding her own defeat, and then it was over. The finger began to scritch and Katie’s hostility shattered in a storm of bliss.
Rough motion resonated through bone, hammering Katie’s mind and shaking thoughts away. Every touch felt like the joy of warm flesh squirming beneath her pointed teeth. Katie’s bites gashed at empty air, body curling as biochemical satisfaction spiked. She was barely even aware as she was lowered into her predator’s lap, but a berry-encrusted vine left a little too close quickly grabbed her attention. Thatch’s finger fell still as Katie’s teeth tore into gentle plantlife, chewing on tough flesh that tasted divine.
Those vines that still held Katie down pulled back, taking places hanging in the air near her without quite making contact. A clear statement. Mistake not comfort for the lack of a cage. Katie was too busy with her feast, gnawing on her brightly coloured meal. With each berry yanked from its fragile home bursts of flavour sprang forth, demanding every scrap of Katie’s fragile self. She was only too happy to provide.
Over long minutes the girl chewed, bit, rent, and tore. She stripped the vine of its few meagre leaves and its various delicious fruits, but the main body was too tough for her to do any real harm. Still, it felt good to bite down and better still to yank and pull and every time she did she managed to squeeze a little more of some wonderous flavour free and satisfy some deep-seated urge within.
Yet with every touch, every berry, every bite, Katie felt some facet of her strength falter. At first she had torn angrily, pinning the vine beneath her claws and biting hard, but by the end she had slipped onto her side so she could quietly suckle the last of the flavour free. She felt so weak. She raised a hand, to claw, to scratch, but all she could manage was to gently paw at Thatch’s stomach and all she earned for it was a soft chuckle.
“I think we will call this experiment a success, despite needing to halt it early.” The beast rumbled as it spoke and though Katie recognised the sounds she found herself unable to resolve them into words. Vibrations buzzed through her tiny form; noises formed through rapid twitches of flora translated through vine and leaf into flesh and bone. Some deep part of the girl recognised the way they felt.
Katie forced her eyes open, looking up with a curious, nervous glare. There was no escaping this by force, but perhaps she could still find a way out. Katie was a clever girl. Small and weak, perhaps, but smart. She knew that much.
“I must admit, I had not expected you to throw yourself from such a height. Clearly some of your—” The plant waved a hand in the air. Katie’s eyes locked on and followed it— “subconscious assumptions are bleeding over in ways I had not anticipated. This is fine. Fascinating, actually.”
The hand snapped down and though Katie had been watching it she still wasn’t fast enough to avoid it. It took her by the chin, and even a gentle touch was enough to freeze her in place. A soft, quiet warmth struck with all the force of a sledgehammer and Katie couldn’t help but moan in unrestrained delight. All her remaining strength was knocked free.
Just from a touch.
How was this happening? How had she gone from predator to prey so quickly? Why did this creature feel so good? Katie whimpered, eyes falling half closed as the deep heat of contact throbbed into her bones. She could barely comprehend what was happening around her. Everything mixed into a heady soup of endless bliss. Her predator raised a tool held in her other hand and did something with it that Katie could not hope to follow. Her world was an ocean of desperation and desire and she lacked even a raft.
“You are the most interesting machine I have had occasion to maintain, kitty. Now let’s try that again: run.” The grip shifted and fell away. No longer was Katie held in place. She quickly glanced around to find the two vines that had been guarding her had vanished. Instincts screamed at Katie to flee. Take her chances escaping from a dangerous being she had no hope of being able to handle on her own. Perhaps in a pack she could have had a chance, but alone? No. Her only hope was escape.
Katie ran. Dirt scattered as hands and knees dug in and kicked off. If she could make it into the depths of the cave she could hide and wait this creature out. Even she was only barely small enough to fit into its depths. The larger creature would have no chance.
Katie’s skin burned with the fading heat of gentle touch. As it left her she chilled, returning to her natural form. That was good. That was how things were meant to be. She’d always been okay with it. Her bones seemed almost to freeze.
Katie was returning to a prior state. The lonely existence of an ambush predator. She’d been okay with it before. She could be okay with it again. Every step she took away was a victory. Every inch was resistance. Every millimetre worth celebrating. She was free. She was free! She was…
She couldn’t. She wouldn’t. Every step further away stole away the joy from her soul. Every inch was failure. Every millimeter unwanted. Katie didn’t even make it to the mouth of the cave before she slowed to a stop and turned. She looked back to see if she was being followed.
She wasn’t. The greater threat sat against a tree, watching with clear interest. Thatch raised an eyebrow as Katie padded back over and pressed her cheek into the plant’s waiting hand. She let out a happy little sigh and began to lick it clean with long slow licks.
“Tame already? Hmn. Disappointing. I suspect this is more bleedover. You really do struggle to fear me, don’t you, kitty? Worry you not, I shall teach you how.”
Katie still couldn’t understand a word. She smiled upwards and rubbed herself against her person’s hand, happily defeated. The briefest touch just felt so right that she couldn’t tear herself away. Wouldn’t. If this thing was predator, then let her be prey. Katie let her eyes slide shut and yawned, deliberately lowering her defences. She was safe here.
“Well, quite.” The words were meaningless, but the tone brought a smile to Katie’s lips. “I am happy to know that you are feline good, kitty.”
The girl pushed her forehead against soft floral fingers and pawed at Thatch’s other hand until she relented and began to stroke.
“No, nothing? Not even a pity laugh? Goodness, sometimes you make me feel like I am speaking with a—” Thatch casually reached around to the back of Katie’s head and grasped her hair, then forced the girl to kneel and gaze up into her eyes— “thoughtless, uncomprehending animal.”
The predator grinned, baring a thousand sharpened teeth. “But I think that is quite enough for this iteration.”
Thatch snapped her fingers. Katie may not have understood speech, but some sounds went deeper than mere speech. She jumped to attention, blurting out a garbled sequence of syllables and blinking rapidly. Why had she done that? That didn’t—
Katie let out a little gasp as a needle slipped into her neck and squirted hot liquid fire into her veins. She wasn’t sure if there were really nerves in there to feel pain but she felt it regardless, spreading through her body with every rapid pump of her racing heart. It burned away the need, the lust, the heat. It burned away her thoughts and her feelings and everything besides. For a moment, Katie was nothing, blankness hung within a schism of one. Past, future, potential, lost to oblivion. Conjecture broke upon absence of reason and for an eternity there was no Katie. Her mind had ground to a halt and she had nothing with which to restart it.
“Stay with me, katie.”
A lifeline cast into the void. The frozen mechanisms of Katie’s mind groaned, as if they had not turned for long enough they had begun to seize. She grasped for Thatch’s words and found herself hooked, drawn in and up. Half-conscious metaphor melded back into reality as Katie’s chin was lifted to meet Thatch’s gaze, and her thoughts spluttered back into life.
Katie took a long, sharp breath, refilling lungs that had fallen idle, blinking dry eyes until her vision cleared. She looked up to find Thatch’s smiling face. The affini was sitting on the ground with her legs partially crossed and partially simply dissolved. Katie knelt at her side but was quickly ushered up into her lap.
“He- Ughhh,” Katie groaned and coughed. “Do you have a glass of— Mmph!” Katie spluttered as Thatch slowly poured liquid into her mouth. She gulped it down, grateful, as the water washed away the dry from her mouth and her throat. Vines came in from the sides to catch anything Katie spilled, keeping her surprisingly clean despite her sloppiness.
When the glass was done Thatch tapped beneath Katie’s chin and she closed her mouth. A pair of vines wiped across her lips and chin, cleaning up the last of the spillage, and then slipped between Katie’s lips to deliver the last few drops to her waiting tongue. “So, tell me how you feel.”
“Of course, Miss Aquae!” Katie chirped, sitting up. She cast her mind back to what seemed like it could have been two minutes prior or a whole lifetime ago. Judging by the lighting level in the room it was closer to the former, but the hab unit’s lighting was almost as deeply under Thatch’s control as she herself was. Her memories were sharp, but familiar. A little incongruence around the edges, but even knowing she had supposedly been changed Katie didn’t think she could enumerate the difference between her now and her then.
“I feel… hungry?” Katie licked her lips. Memories of sweet fruits flashed before her eyes, unbidden yet appreciated. “That was meant to be dinner, not just dessert.”
The affini shrugged. “Perhaps hunger will keep you sharp for next time. Did you know that in the old Terran wilds some animals ate only once for every several days?”
Katie tried to reach forward to chew on a vine, but a finger against her forehead kept her back. She grumped. “Did you know that you signed a legally binding document promising to feed me?”
“Only insofar as it is necessary for your continued well-being, care, and quality of life, silly thing. If I believe that you have not earned your meal it would be a dereliction of duty for me to provide it.” Thatch smiled, softly drumming fingers down Katie’s arm. Her other hand stroked down Katie’s hair, and innumerable vines set about the task of brushing dirt and debris from her body. “Do not forget which of us has actually read all the way through your little treaty.”
Katie’s stomach rumbled. The stakes were real. “Okay, but! Half of it is written in Affini, I have no idea what it says! I’m, um. I only signed it, I didn’t read it! You said it was a fair compromise!”
Thatch’s smile twisted into a grin, and she spoke for long seconds in the Affini tongue. Katie couldn’t even tell where one word ended and the next began but it was beautiful. Soothing. Musical in all the right ways. Katie flopped forward, curling against Thatch’s chest while she spoke, feeling Thatch’s hand rise to stroke through her hair.
Animal, Thatch had called her. It was true, wasn’t it? Katie had been told all her life that humans and animals were different groups. There was some essential difference that elevated humanity above the other creatures of the universe, though of course nobody could ever quite tell her what it was. Now she was freed from that and Katie found to her surprise that it had been no lie. There was a difference. Humans pretended to be driven by more than instinct and incentive, while animals had no such restriction.
Katie curled up against her plant, seeking comfort and warmth and safety. A human would have lied. Called it companionship or love or written a poem to justify why it was deeper than it seemed. Pretention. Katie could accept the simple animal delights instead. She curled up atop a living being, hearing the way her voice resonated, feeling the heat rise and fall with each word and with the endless biological patterns of Thatch’s organic body. She savoured the wooden, earthy scent of her guardian, not as a shaky metaphor for the human condition, but because it was warm and safe and kind and Katie’s brain had a pack bonding instinct that told her she would be happiest under a firm hand.
Katie did love Thatch, of course, but not like a human. Hers was the uncritical, unconditional love of a pet who knew she would love her owner no matter what, and so had no room left over for insecurity, doubt, or concern. That love was simply axiomatic, and perhaps the most central part of her left. The one thing that Thatch would never change.
Finally the affini came to the end of her recital. She glanced down at Katie and chuckled, taking a moment to draw her attention back out and up with a few swift taps and swipes, abusing Katie’s training to puppet her. As if she couldn’t have done that directly, had she chosen to.
“We enjoyed that, did we, katie? I shall read the rest of it to you later then. For now, a larger meal is necessary for your continued wellbeing. You have a big day tomorrow.” Thatch spoke another word in Affini, but Katie did know this one. Some instinct took over as she leaped down to the ground so that Thatch could stand and walk over to the kitchen with her pet at her heel.
Katie’s head tilted, curious. “Do I? I’d kind of just assumed we’d stay in, maybe watch another episode of By the Stars in their Eyes? I have no idea how the floret cut is gonna handle that cliffhanger; surely they can’t just let Ezzy get shot?”
Thatch took her over to the hab’s kitchen area, then pointed at a position a few feet away from the fireplace. Katie hurried over, trotted in a quick circle around it, and then sat facing the affini.
Their stasis unit was getting packed. Thatch had seemingly acquired a taste for cooking during their stay on Dirt, and was now constantly tweaking and improving her recipes. Every meal got a proper portion size given to Katie and the leftovers put on pause. The next day Thatch would invariably decide she could do better and so while they had weeks of leftovers held still, it was rare for Katie to actually eat any of it.
Today was one of those rare days. Katie felt secretly thankful that she didn’t have to wait. Thatch plucked a bowl from the unit and it immediately began to steam. The affini always made sure to pause the leftovers promptly so it was effectively a freshly cooked meal. Nothing but the best for Katie. Thatch set the bowl down on the floor in one corner of the room and motioned for Katie to move on over to it.
Katie did, but kept her attention on her person. Katie was curious; it wasn’t like Thatch to do things by surprise. She was hungry, yes, but more hungry still for knowledge.
Thatch gestured towards the bowl. “Eat.”
The order reframed things. Katie had her mouth in the bowl a second later, snapping up a little ball of some nebulous vegetable from another galaxy. It was delicious. Intellectually, Katie recognised that having an entire universe of ingredients to pull from gave Thatch an unfair edge over anybody else that’d ever cooked her a meal, but rationality didn’t really enter into the feelings she had for her beloved blossom. “Ohmystars,” Katie breathed, “you are the best cook.”
Firm fingers danced across Katie’s scalp while she ate, sampling the delights of the universe as filtered down to one small set of ingredients, spices, and homebrew xenodrugs by a cook who treated Katie’s tastes like a problem to be solved. After a few more bites Thatch emitted a quiet hum and sent a vine away to grab one of the many tools she kept in the project room. This particular tool was a hairbrush, one custom built by their own hands from Dirtwood, with bristles sampled from the firm hairs of their prior home’s hog-beasts.
A set of vines carefully drew Katie’s hair into partitions and held all but one aside. With one hand, Thatch took hold of a thin strip of hair, and with the other she began to brush, starting near the bottom and rising only when the hair beneath was perfect. “I have organised a xenoveterinary appointment for tomorrow,” she admitted. “It is beyond time to get you implanted, floret.”
Katie’s chewing slowed to a stop. She swallowed, then sat up. Thatch’s hands and vines followed smoothly and continued brushing. Implanted. A shiver danced across her spine. Thatch had described the process to her once before, back on Dirt, but back then she had listened with the detached composition of somebody seeking to understand how the affini’s wards were treated.
Things were a little different now.
Katie bit her lip. “What does… that mean, Miss Aquae?”
Without pausing her brushstrokes, Thatch stroked a single vine down Katie’s back, starting at her neck and moving down to about the tailbone. It left a tingle in its wake and Katie squirmed beneath it. Thatch tutted and held her head in place with another vine so she could brush uninterrupted. “I have given your vet a sample from my core and they have merged it with a biotechnological template to create a seedling. Tomorrow afternoon, I shall take you to his office and he shall make a small incision right here—” Thatch tapped another vine against the back of Katie’s neck. As she continued to speak, she lay down vines to demonstrate the growth. Katie couldn’t help but shiver yet again— “to insert the seed. Over the next several days it will grow, extending a haustorium—a kind of root structure—through your body. Primarily it will track your central nervous system, but ultimately it will grow through most of your body. The bulk of the fully grown implant will rest entangled with your spine, while smaller roots will extend throughout your torso, your limbs, and up into your brain.” Thatch’s instructive vines had formed a complicated pattern across Katie’s body, slowly ‘growing’ out to cover her in a complicated weave.
Thatch paused, ran the brush through the section of hair she’d been working on one last time to check it was all smooth, and moved on to the next.
“When I told you back on Lily’s little rocket that I would need more complicated equipment to read your thoughts, this is of what I spoke. The Haustoric Implant is our crowning achievement as a species. With it, I shall be able to precisely calibrate your body and influence your mind. Roots will curl around your organs and guarantee they are given the support they need. Should any fail, the implant will attempt to compensate as much as is possible. Your mental and biochemical states will be maintained as I see fit, and it will monitor and adjust everything from your nutritional needs to your hormone balance to your neurochemistry. You will become, in effect, programmable.”
“And if I don’t want one?” Katie asked, looking up at her owner with uncertainty in her eyes.
A pair of vines tapped the base of her skull. “You will after it has been done. Of all the tricks we Affini use to subjugate the universe, the Haustoric Implant is the most blatant and the most capable. Standard programming renders it nearly impossible for a sophont to desire their implant’s removal, which is convenient as they are equally impossible to remove once the root system is sufficiently embedded.” Thatch finished another section of hair and moved on. “Besides, you want this. It will place you even more deeply under my control and ensure you are safe, healthy, and happy no matter what.”
You want this. ‘Yes, Miss Aquae,’ bubbled up through Katie’s throat and threatened to spill out into the world as an irrevocable promise. Katie forced it back down. “No thank you,” she replied, shaking her head. “I’m good.”
Katie winced as the brush met a knot that Thatch failed to notice. The quiet snap of broken hairs bifurcated the moment’s silence. “That is a surprising response. If you are acting out because you wish me to be more forceful, then I would have to ask that you give me some warning beforehand. Glochi is expecting a well behaved floret and while I am comfortable playing with such matters, you know I ultimately require your enthusiastic consent while I permit you to think clearly.”
“No!” Katie shook her head. “Um, no, Miss. I just don’t think you want this, do you?”
Katie could feel a subtle uncertainty playing across the edges of her mind. Her sixth sense was growing more precise as she educated herself on the many nuances of Thatch Aquae, though weaker emotions blended into a barely conscious background noise if Katie wasn’t specifically focussing on them.
Thatch rustled. She shrugged, mouth pulling into an uncertain smile. “I would, I admit, like to be more hands on, but the Haustoric Implant is the peak of affini bioengineering, katie. I cannot reproduce it.” She tickled beneath Katie’s chin with a finger. “I know, I know, pet, you imagine me capable of anything, but even I have limits. I have inspected the Records, additionally, and I would be working alone here. There are none aboard with a shared speciality. We have mechanical engineers, xenobotanists, bioarchitects, and a very good veterinarian, but no bioengineers specialising in this kind of detailed integration work. The last time I attempted such a development I was part of a full cotyledon program with all the support and expertise that could be provided. To attempt to do so now with no support at all would be hubris of the highest order. You cannot ask me to take that risk.”
Katie softly bashed her forehead into Thatch’s knee. “All I said was that you didn’t want to do it the normal way. The rest of that came from you, yeah? I’m not asking you, I’m telling you that I’m not going to be happy unless we’re doing what you want.”
“I lack the expertise,” Thatch claimed. The affini never lied to Katie, but Katie knew she could lie to herself. She was even starting to recognise how that felt in her sixth sense. Metallic, kinda tangy.
“I believe in you. Besides, don’t tell me you can’t look up notes from the human cotyledon program, you lot are hoarders when it comes to that kind of thing.”
The leaves on Thatch’s arms were all starting to stand on end. “Even with notes, I could not produce something as perfect as they. The Terran invocation of the Implant is an unparalleled work of art. The expected failure rate is under fifty. Not fifty per-million or even per-billion, but under fifty total. Across all of time. Katie, I cannot compete with those who have been working on these technologies for tens of thousands of years and refined the implants of ten thousand species. If one such as they had been within a year’s travel of Caeca’s home she would still be here with us today.”
Katie shook her head. “I don’t think you’re being fair to yourself. I think you’re idolising people who can’t possibly be as good as you think because you’re the best Affini. Failure is how we learn, Thatch. We figure out why it went wrong and do better.”
Thatch glanced away, letting the tension drain from her constructed self. “You are being very wilful right now, pet,” she grumbled.
“Thank you, Miss Aquae. Proof that your work is good, and proof that you should be the head researcher on the katielydon project.”
Thatch sighed. “I am not going to win this argument, am I? Fine. I suppose I shall tell Glochi to dispose of the seed, then. This will take time, understand, katie? It will not be fast and it will require much experimentation. Your implant will lack the safety features of a standard model. It could stop your heart or freeze your thoughts. You could find yourself waking in the middle of the night with no knowledge of who you are and fear deep in your soul. I will have to alter you so deeply that you may be more technological than biological by the time we are done. You will be a prototype, a flawed machine that could not possibly exist without its mechanic.”
Katie grinned. “Don’t threaten me with a good time, Miss.”
Thatch grinned back. All the vines that were spread across Katie’s body, demonstrating the way the root system would entangle her, pulled tight to lock her in place. “They weren’t threats, pet.”