8. The First Of Us

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 Eight: The First Of Us

They’d been walking for what felt like hours. Katie’s attempts to restart the conversation had been met with a few words in response at best. More often, a grunt or simple silence. It was hard to tell how long it had truly been, as she couldn’t even see the sun’s trail through the sky. It must have been a while, though. Katie’s feet almost stung with the pain of it, and her legs had wanted to give out long ago.

All this, to crawl along the surface of a single rock. How far had they really gone? Would it even have taken the Indomitable a whole second to travel what was taking them a day?

Katie tripped over something hiding beneath the undergrowth and stumbled to her knees. She reached out to catch herself with a hand but the stabbing pain that shot through it reminded her why she was supposed to be keeping that hand safe.

Thatch was on her in a moment, the long silence between them finally broken by an exclamation of concern.

“Oh! I’m sorry, Katie, I was lost in thought. Let’s get you back on your feet,” Thatch said, carefully wrapping a pair of vines around Katie’s body so she could be lifted and held upright. With one vine still curled tightly around her pained foot and two more holding her up, Katie felt like she was being puppeted… but that was a price worth paying for getting her conversational partner talking again.

“It’s okay, Thatch. You’re not responsible for every bad thing that happens to me,” Katie insisted, gently poking the leaves wrapping her injured hand and wincing. Two more, smaller, vines wrapped around her wrists to hold them apart, and though Katie’s struggles couldn’t get her free of them, a pointed glare could.

The affini replied to that with a wry smile and something broadly approximating a shrug. It was more like a rippling motion through her upper body, but it got the point across. “Perhaps not, but I am responsible for missing the debris that tripped you,” she admitted, gesturing to the forest around them as a dozen minor vines poked up from beneath the undergrowth, before returning to the shadows beneath.

Katie followed one of them, intentionally going down to one knee, so she could lift the leaves of one of the plants keeping the ground beneath out of view. From this angle it was easier to spot what was going on. Hidden beneath Thatch’s thick cape of foliage were many vines, ranging from a centimeter in thickness to perhaps an inch and a half, spiking down against the ground, where they scattered in every direction. Thatch continued walking for another few steps, so Katie could see the way the vines trailed behind her, not even disturbing the plants around them, before eventually getting pulled back in and replaced when they were too far behind.

“Is this what you’ve been focussed on?” Katie asked, glancing up at the center of all this hidden activity. Katie had thought the affini was moping, though in all honesty she lacked the knowledge to assume that they were even capable of such a thing. Their bodies weren’t truly comparable to anything even remotely human, why would their minds be?

In a second of rapid motion every vine retracted. Maybe two seconds. It was fast. Several held small clumps of what looked like flowers or leaves, others were empty. The plantlife was delivered to one of Thatch’s hands, and after that the long, powerful vines seemed to just join with the rest of her body, somehow finding room.

“Are you hollow in there, Thatch?” Katie asked. “Where do those go?”

Thatch had seemed to like explaining things, at least so long as Katie stayed away from sensitive subjects. Despite everything, Katie found herself sympathising. She apparently wasn’t the only one on this planet with baggage.

Why wasn’t Thatch answering her questions? She was busying herself with something. Pressing flowers into her arm? She was stood at her full height, easily twice Katie’s size, and whatever she was paying attention to was out of Katie’s line of sight.

Katie set her jaw. “Thatch!” she snapped. “Will you pay attention to me?”

Nothing. After a moment, the creature began walking onwards. The vines around Katie began to grow taut, and she was forced to follow or be pulled along besides. Was this the same creature as had come from beyond the stars to so effortlessly destroy her ship, and then save their lives from certain death? Katie needed that helping her if she was going to survive here, not the aloof thing currently walking away from her.

Thatch was acting exactly like the propaganda said they acted. Uncaring, other than appropriating the aesthetic of loving support in order to trick people into willing surrender. Katie had believed in that propaganda a night ago, but that was before Thatch had at least convinced her that it was a real, sapient, individual. If Thatch had been human, Katie would have thought she’d seen this before. What struggling person on the outskirts of humanity wasn’t familiar with getting stuck inside of their own head?

Katie grumbled as she hurried to catch up. If she pushed herself, her foot still hurt, and her hand was still pained from the fall. All in all, not a terrible set of injuries given their situation, but certainly not convenient. She caught up with Thatch in just a few moments, and then reached out to grab onto the curtain of leaves at her back.

At closer inspection, it was a mix of several things. It wasn’t actually wholly undergrowth, though the hexagonal leaves of the plants around them did feature heavily. There was also a tight latticework of smaller vines, some of which bore sharp thorns facing in towards Thatch’s main body, binding the whole thing into a single cohesive sheet. There quite a few leaves with jagged edges, like the ones closer in to Thatch’s center, mixed in with the straighter blades of this planet’s flora. Most of them were stained with the same small set of colours, matching the plantlife around them, but it was easy to tell where natural Thatch ended and harvested material began. She seemed to have an awful lot of harvested material.

The criss-cross of vines made it easy for Katie to work her fingers in and pull. Getting a foothold was a bit harder, as the vines were too close and tight to pull that far apart, but if she tried a few times she could find a place where leaves gave her some purchase. The next handhold was harder, given that she needed to use her injured hand to get it, but so long as she didn’t hold on too tight with that it worked.

Over several moments, she alternated between hand and foot, climbing steadily until she could get a hand onto Thatch’s shoulder and haul herself up. Her footing faltered and she almost fell, but a vine shot out from beneath the curtain to give her the purchase she needed to finish her climb.

Thatch’s arm was half open. It was hollow inside right now, but mostly because the vines that looked like they would usually be nestled within were instead poking out, arrayed before them. These weren’t the thick, powerful kind of Thatch’s outer shell, but instead dozens, maybe even hundreds of fine strands of green and greenish-yellow, each tipped with something. A flower only just starting to bloom, with what looked like a sharp needle spiking up from the middle of the rounded leaves. Buds in reds and purples. A few that switched abruptly from green along the vine to the darker shade of the hexagonal flower attached. As Katie watched, another bud was twisted off and discarded, replaced by one of the flowers harvested.

Huh. That was kinda cool, and utterly irrelevant. Katie reached around to grab Thatch’s face and forcibly twist her head around, so she could be looked in the eyes. Katie didn’t imagine she could have done it if Thatch had been willing to resist, but she was hardly responsive, never mind resisting.

“Do you know what a trigger is, Thatch?” Katie asked, looking Thatch straight in the eye and refusing to let her glance away.

“Yes,” the affini eventually, begrudgingly, responded. “A trigger is something several of our companion species sometimes experience. Some event, word, or stimulus that causes intense recall of trauma. If you have any, I assure you that any caretaker you choose or are assigned would become intimately aware of them and help you avoid experiencing that.”

Katie rolled her eyes. She was fine. “Your companion species, huh?” she asked, struggling to climb a little further upwards. “Put a vine here, would you?” she asked, reaching out to a space that would be a very helpful handhold if it was anything other than empty air. By the time her hand was there, so was a vine. They repeated that dance a couple times, until Katie managed to get herself settled, sitting around Thatch’s neck, supported by a handful of vines to the back and resting her crossed arms atop the creature’s head.

She pointed forward. “C’mon, we have a long way to go today. Mush.”

Katie took a deep breath, then continued. “Thatch, you basically shut down when we started talking abou— Before. You’ve been ignoring me for hours and the only times you’ve paid me any attention were if I was getting hurt. Does that sound like you’re behaving normally?”

“I… have had a lot on my mind,” the creature admitted. From her position up here, Katie could feel the rumbling voice through her whole body. It was a loud, low drawl that was almost, but not entirely unlike any accent she’d heard a human speak. Perfectly intelligible, even musical, but clearly not from around here.

“Tell me about it,” Katie insisted. “What have you been thinking about for the last however long it’s been?”

“I… I’ve been collecting a lot of these plants,” Thatch explained, still busying herself with their installation. “I think I have about enough that I can probably start to synthesise something useful for you. I’ll need a few attempts, I expect, and it won’t be as good as what I’m used to, though I suspect still better than whatever primitive medications you have subsisted on so far.”

“Okay, and? It’s been a while and you’re very clever, right? I’ve seen you moving around, I know that walking this slowly must be agonising for you. You orchestrate all these vines like it’s nothing, it obviously doesn’t take your full concentration. What else have you been thinking about?”

“I— I’ve been watching for things you might trip on?”


From her position perched atop, Katie could quite easily feel the ripple running through Thatch’s body in response. She dropped an inch or two in height, vine lattice pulling together more tightly. Katie almost felt bad for her.

“I don’t know what I’ve been thinking about,” Thatch finally admitted. “I don’t want to talk about—”

Katie cut her off, hands moving to cover Thatch’s mouth. “Hey, shush. We don’t have to talk about anything you’re not ready to. What was it you said, any potential caretaker would get to know your triggers intimately? Let me take care of you here too. Equals, remember?”

They were moving forward through the forest at a much faster pace this way than they had before. Even distracted, Thatch’s legs were simply twice the size of Katie’s, her stride was naturally longer. If Katie risked twisting around to look behind, she could see the vines below still spiking down into the undergrowth, presumably still sweeping the surface for raw materials, though likely no longer looking for things that would trip Katie. That job had switched, she noted, as a vine snapped out to break off a twig that would otherwise have scratched Katie’s face as they walked.

“That is not usually how that works, Katie. Affini do not have caretakers,” Thatch replied, voice a little closer to her prior effortless arrogance. That was probably a good sign in some ways, though not very useful right now.

“Oh, well I’m glad to hear that the human race was conquered by another species that refuses to admit that they need therapy. That’ll really help.”

Thatch’s greenery squirmed uncomfortably. It felt like all of her vines were pulling in different directions at once, and Katie felt momentarily nauseous, sitting meters above the ground atop something that squirmed. Thankfully, it wasn’t something she had to experience for long.

“Please do not judge my entire people based upon my sole example,” Thatch said, voice once more quiet, almost strained.

“Then don’t judge me based on my people, Thatch. Think we can both treat each other like individuals, here? I’ll admit that your problems don’t reflect on the Affini if you admit that humanity’s needs don’t reflect on me.”

The predatory plant from beyond the stars let out a long, slow sigh, shoulders slipping. “I— Okay. You’re probably right, I don’t like talking about—”

Katie cut her off again. “We’re not talking about it. It’s okay. You’re going to tell me about things you are comfortable with. Try to sell me on your deal. Don’t say the decision’s already made, don’t say that I signed a treaty. Tell me what I get out of this; tell me what you get out of this. Ideally. Ignore the hard parts.”

Thatch’s vines suddenly curled around Katie’s torso, then pulled her around up front, so Thatch could look at her with a bemused expression. Katie shrugged back. “I doubt I’m gonna take you up on it, yeah? But… I’ve had some friends who were struggling and getting them to talk about things they’re enthusiastic about helps, sometimes. Put me back on your shoulders and look where you’re going, though, if you trip I have a long fall down.”

Katie was settling back in to her prior position when Thatch began to speak again. “Our ‘deal’, as you put it, is extremely straightforward, but I suspect that you’ll need a longer retelling if you’re to believe me. We are a very old species. We were exploring hypermetric theory while humanity, adorable menace that they were, were figuring out how to bang rocks together to make a spark. We figured out how to make ourselves nearly immortal long, long before there was meaningful human civilisation.”

Thatch threw her hands forward, twin vines sent hurtling into the distance to spike into two distant trees. The pair was pulled forward at twice the speed they’d been going before, more vines sent searching for more handholds to maintain their new pace.

"And at that point, Katie, a spacefaring civilisation must stop and ask why they are still doing this. We were siphoning power from our galaxy’s central black hole, skimming matter from a thousand stars. Our society had already moved beyond the kind of barbarism yours portrays in ages past, but with near unlimited resources and power we were forced to answer the question of what it was that we actually wanted to do, with all our limits removed.

“At the same time, those around us were not so fortunate. They suffered and hurt, while lacking the wisdom to use any gifts of technology we could have granted them. Think what would have happened had we granted the Terran Accord even a single warship? You would have had tyranny.”

Katie could feel the wind in her hair. She clung tight to the two vines Thatch had set at her sides, holding on. If she pushed the left vine left, Thatch didn’t seem to mind shifting her path, and so while her steed talked, Katie tried to keep them moving in the right direction.

“Katie, we are a precursor race that is far older than yours, and you cannot take care of yourselves. We have literally nothing better to do than to bring happiness to the universe.”

Katie pulled back on the vines, slowing their travel. It was still fast. “Happiness at your heel?”

Thatch slipped, and they veered dangerously off to one side, almost crashing into one of the gigantic trunks they were travelling past so quickly. It didn’t take long for her to recover, but Katie could hardly fail to miss that her own suggestions were utterly ignored when they were actually in any danger.

“Not at my heel, but in principle, yes. We have more experience at making you happy than you do. We have more resources to make you happy than you do. We will do a better job, and this is the best way. If maintaining independence actually made any of our companion species happier, then they would be independent. Of the quadrillions of life forms we take care of, the number who resisted at any point is a rounding error, mostly focused around the new species that don’t understand what we are offering.”

They were speeding back up now, and Thatch let Katie guide. She tried to steer them straight into the biggest tree she could spot, and, of course, was not allowed.

“Now, see, Katie, this is what I mean. Independence is a self-destructive, futile urge that you will be happier without. If you can manage those urges yourself then you will not be forcibly domesticated. Please behave, I don’t want to have to do that any more than you want it done.”

Katie recoiled, as if stung, feeling her heart start to beat faster and louder until it threatened to drown out the wind. Her grip on Thatch’s vines grew tighter and tighter until her knuckles were stained white. The sensation of rapid deceleration had her crying out in alarm, suddenly back aboard the Indomitable, hearing the crack of a dying engine and the roar of fire burning up all the oxygen onboard. She felt the heat of combustion against her skin and chill metal against her back. She was going to die. Nobody survived a situation like that.

In a moment, she realised all that she had thought had happened had been nothing more than broken fragments of dreams, caught in the instant the collision had knocked her unconscious. She was going to die. She was—

She felt a pinprick on the side of her neck. A rushing warmth spread out from the point, leaving her skin tingling. Her panic didn’t vanish, not really, but like the escape pod had burst free of its dying mothership, Katie burst free of the visions she’d been trapped within. She gulped down a desperate breath, feeling the now-familiar hot and wet air that, at least in that moment, was like a salve. She felt Thatch’s arms around her chest, squeezing just a little tighter than was comfortable. She smelled Thatch’s gentle aroma, something sweet and tangy, but too subtle to detect outside of the shortest of ranges.

“Did you… drug me again?” Katie asked, feeling a spike of fear that faded away in an instant. She should be more afraid of that. This was literally how she was going to end up down their mines, and she couldn’t be afraid of it? Katie focused, stoking her fears, and her breathing sped back up, heartrate rising, eyes going wider.

Thatch raised one of those flowers she’d seen earlier. The ones with the thin and sharp needle nestled between the petals. Threatening, if that was the word for somebody poised to calm you down whether you wanted it or not. Katie shook her head. “Just— Just making sure I can still be scared,” she admitted, letting her efforts lapse. The fear slipped away. “We said no messing with my head, Thatch, what the hell.”

Man, she should have been angrier. She couldn’t get mad. That was inconvenient. Thatch kept saying that she didn’t want to domesticate Katie, but wasn’t this the first step? Katie grabbed at the threatening flower and turned it away. Whatever this was, it wasn’t the concoction she’d been under the first time, that was for sure. She could still think.

Thatch nodded. “Yes, we did. I apologise unreservedly. Firstly, for a mistimed… let’s call it a joke, on my part, and secondly for dosing you without your permission. I’d like to promise to do better on the first, and I hope you agree that the second was necessary. You were having a panic attack, Katie. I don’t think that anything I can synthesise here will be nearly as effective or as targeted as what we have available on the Elettarium, but I’m hoping you’ll tell me that this is as effective as I had hoped, and that you agree that it was necessary.”

Katie considered that. Her thinking was remarkably clear. Her mind was quiet in a way that made her realise how unquiet it usually was, filled with anxieties and doubts. She could still fear or panic if she tried, but… why would she try? This was technically a violation of the promise she’d had Thatch make, but something like this was hardly what Katie’d been thinking of when they’d made it. On the other hand, she could feel the terror bubbling underneath that thought, that she was okay with this having been done to her because this had been done to her.

“I… don’t know that I can make that decision like this, Thatch, I’m… altered. I’m not me. That’s terrifying, or it should be terrifying. I can’t tell you this was okay.”

One of Thatch’s needles came back up to rest against Katie’s neck. She stiffened, face twisting in concern.

Thatch’s hand stroked through her hair, with a few moments of soothing noises, before continuing in soft tones. “I have a counteragent right here. I’ll apply it now, if that’s okay, and then you can decide whether I have violated your trust.”

“No!” Katie exclaimed, hand moving to pull the vine away before it could penetrate her. “N—No, I— Can I keep this a little longer?”

Thatch’s face wasn’t visible, as Katie was being held too close to the being’s chest, but she could feel Thatch’s body freezing up for a moment, vines going stiff. What had been a comforting hug felt, for a brief instant, like a prison. Katie couldn’t manage to be afraid of that either. After a moment, Thatch spoke. “You can,” she replied, taking a moment longer to run her faux fingers through Katie’s hair. “Only for a little while, though. It’s a little toxic. Not in a bad way, but I’ll want it out of your system within a few hours and then you’ll need plenty of rest.”

Thatch paused, warm hand resting atop Katie’s warm head. “I… don’t think it would be fair of me to continue our talk about domestication while you’re like this.”

Katie shook her head as best she could, between the hand in one direction and the chest in another. “I’m not scared of you. You’re just like me; broken and… people. Or… I don’t like that word. ‘People’. You’re whatever I am.”

Thatch’s vines wriggled, a brief callback to the uncomfortable moment before. She pulled back, lifting Katie’s chin with a vine to make sure she was paying attention. “Katie, you are in an altered state of consciousness and I’m already worried you’re going to be mad at me when you stop. Please don’t say anything that you’ll reg—”

Katie cut her off again. “Shuuuuuuuuuuuut it, plant,” she droned back, reaching out to try to cover Thatch’s mouth. “Get me back on your shoulders and keep going. Can I drive?”

“Absolutely not. Your self-preservation instinct is likely somewhat impaired right now, and—”

“I said shut it, plant!” Katie replied, glaring up. She didn’t feel aggressive, but she wasn’t scared, either. She couldn’t really think of any negative consequences of being forceful here.

Thatch groaned, muttering something under her breath before uncurling from around Katie so she could stand, and then lifting the girl to her back. “Didn’t we agree no pet names?”

You agreed no pet names; I made no such promise.” Katie insisted, grabbing two vines and pushing them both as far forward as she could reach. “Be more careful what you agree to next time.”

Thatch sighed, and began to move, picking up speed fairly rapidly, though not quite to the degree that Katie was demanding. “I shall bear this in mind next time I attempt to compromise with you, human,” she replied. Her natural drawl was already quite dry, but Katie thought she was starting to understand her mannerisms enough to read the sarcasm.

Katie fell silent. She could feel the fear and loathing bubbling underneath her mind, but it felt distant. It let her know how she should feel about things without forcing her to actually experience it. It was… convenient. She could get more introspection done in five seconds like this than she could in months without. Katie slowly pulled back on the control vines. She wasn’t really sure why, Thatch seemed perfectly capable of conversing at high speeds, but the trees rushing past were distracting and her focus did seem easier to lose track of like this.

“I don’t think I like that word very much,” Katie pondered. “It’s weird, that idea is scary, but I don’t really get why? I don’t want to be human. I know I have to be, but I never asked to be, and it hasn’t really brought me anything good. Are humans… good, Thatch? You’ve met other species. What are we like, relative to them?”

The creature that she was riding wasn’t just a non-human life form, the way it spoke suggested that it knew many. Surely humanity was uniquely fucked?

“You are unique in a lot of interesting ways. You are pack animals, and so I suspect that as time goes by, humanity will spread throughout the Compact less than some other species, preferring to stick near other humans. You make some very cute noises when you’re confused,—”

“No, no,” Katie interrupted. “The— The politics, the societal problems! The fascism! The way we, we, we just find things and strip-mine them, or how our best minds waste their time finding new ways to lock citizens into traps of debt or circumstance! How we— We destroy everything, in an ever-increasing sphere of exploitation until something breaks! Like it did when we ran into you!” Katie half-shouted, feeling her heart beat harder. Her emotions were harder to make stick, but apparently she was still capable of it if she tried.

“Oh, that’s distressingly normal,” Thatch replied, without breaking stride. “I’d say… sixty percent? Some are better, some are worse. Humanity is pretty average.”

Katie pulled a face, pouting into the wind. That didn’t make the subtle sensation of fear unfelt any calmer. She’d spent her life resenting humanity for what it had done to her, and then to hear that most of the universe was like that? It was… heartbreaking on a scale she’d never before imagined. With the fear not distracting her, it was so sad she could have cried… except that that was a strong emotion too, and she seemed incapable of it without great effort.

“Are there any that were good?” she asked, voice quiet. Was the universe really as cruel as she feared?

“Oh, yes, many. The species before yours, for example. They were wonderful negotiators who seemed to truly believe they could find common ground with any sapient life,” Thatch explained, while letting Katie steer her around a tangled group of fallen trunks.

Katie noted the past tense. Did they make good miners?

“What happened to them?” she asked.

Thatch emitted a questioning “hm?”, before realising what Katie was really asking. “Oh, we negotiated. Once we figured out their language, which was a bit of a tricky one, we met up, came to an agreement, and offered them a place with us. They accepted. Many of them came with us, some stayed behind with our unconditional support and access to our resources. One of the clerks aboard the Elettarium is one.”

“What are they called?” Katie asked, gently pushing the vines forward again. She couldn’t see the sun, but it did feel like it was getting darker, and a little colder. Maybe evening was coming for them faster than they’d hoped.

Thatch let out a short laugh. “Oh, I couldn’t even begin to pronounce it. I have never been close with the one aboard, but if you wish, I’m certain you could organise a conversation with her once we get back.”

Thatch’s vines were a blur at this point, launching out four or five at a time to find strong places to anchor against. It was difficult to tell whether they were always suspended by enough vines to be stable, or whether they were being flung through the thick woods one tree at a time. Strangely, Katie didn’t feel the fear beneath her waking mind that she might expect, even if she went looking, despite the inherent danger to her situation. They were moving so fast that she certainly wouldn’t survive a crash, shouldn’t she be afraid under her comforting chemical blanket? Why wouldn’t she be?

“Okay,” Katie replied. The idea of getting back to the Affini ship was still terrifying, as it should be, but a distant fear. It could be dealt with later. “Hey, Thatch, I don’t want the last things I got to choose on my own to be something that was forced on me because I’m human. I know that your treaty probably uses human as… biological, or a political construct, or something, but… does it have to apply to me?”

Thatch was silent for long moments, or as silent as she could be while moving at speeds that should have felt reckless. The bright red streaks that blurred around her cut through the air with an audible crack, and even the ones coming back landed with a thump. Eventually, though, she did find an answer.

“If it were up to me, I would suggest that it does not, but I think that is a matter that would need to be decided by a larger group. It could have… consequences. I would be willing to advocate on your behalf to the Elettarium board of domestication, however. I would reiterate, though, that that would be primarily an academic distinction, the Human Domestication Treaty primarily exists to define the rights and protections humanity receives. No sapient creature would be turned away simply because its government had not yet signed a document.”

Thatch gently slowed to a stop over the course of several seconds, before lifting Katie from her back and placing her on the ground to one side. Katie frowned, looking up at the face high above.

Thatch continued regardless. “However, the local governmental board for this system is, I suspect, me and me alone, and so I’ll grant you a reprieve in this space. If you would like, I can also organise your official retreat from the human race, politically speaking, at least for the meantime.”

Katie looked away, focusing on anything else. She could feel her fear broiling, and though it was a distant emotion, it threatened to break through if it got any worse. “Why… did we stop? Is something wrong?”

“Oh, no, we’ve arrived,” Thatch announced, brushing a leaf against Katie’s hand as she set into motion. Katie stood, confused, until the cast around her leg threatened to pull her along, and she was forced to follow. In moments, they came to exactly what they’d been looking for. A river, what must have been ten meters wide of fast flowing water.

Katie gasped, pointing as what looked much like a school of fish leaped from the surface. Bright blue, with an angular shape and no clear fins, they spiked out of the glimmering water to hang in the air for a long second, before crashing down.

The water sparkled with the dying embers of the day. The canopy high above broke when it reached the water, with no trees to sustain it, letting the system’s star shine down upon them. Evening was here. That said, Katie had no idea how long the days on this planet were. For all she knew, they had hours yet before the dark took them. Alternatively, they could have minutes.

Katie turned to Thatch, nodding mostly to herself. She took a moment to try to remember their plan. She needed to be confident and caring, if she was to have anybody believe that she’d contributed to their rescue. “Okay, looks like we’re here. We need food and shelter. How about I go gather some firewood and see if there’s anything we can build with, and you see if you can find any food, and then we regroup?” Katie suggested, taking a moment to experimentally wiggle her foot, finding it usable enough on her own.

Thatch seemed to struggle for a moment. Every time it happened, Katie got a better understanding of her mannerisms. Where a human might have looked conflicted, here Thatch simply froze in place, if you were looking at anything a human might express themselves through. What Katie should be looking at, however, was the way that the floral latticework of Thatch’s body softly quivered, or the way that the dense mass of plantlife at her center seemed to gently buzz. A moment of indecision, internal conflict that stole enough attention away that she stopped consciously reflecting her emotions onto her body, and fell back to the expressions she wasn’t putting on for Katie’s benefit.

The affini nodded, retrieving the vine that had formed Katie’s cast, smiling down. “Be good, Katie. If you meet anything, call for me. I don’t care if it looks harmless, you aren’t a good judge of that right now. Don’t go far, either. Stay where I can hear you if you call and I’ll be there in a moment if you do.”

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