[ chapter one: shrinking walls ]
Valentine found herself reluctant to leave her apartment, let alone her bedroom. Affini groceries, a new addition since the invasion, had effective delivery services and pretty decent food, always fresh and waiting on her doorstep without any social interaction necessary. Not that the person delivering them shared her opinion. Every week, when she put in her regular order of easy-prep food and drinks, the delivery person - delivery-Affini? - would also deliver a bag of fresh fruits and vegetables, and, horrifyingly, knock on her door and ask her to answer, if she was sure she was all right. They would always eventually leave, and while Valentine usually appreciated the fruit (it never went bad anymore!) and would try to at least choke down some of the salad greens, she would never answer the door. She just couldn’t trust this Affini to not sweep her away in their vines to become a drugged-up slave.
Valentine had just put in her weekly order on her datapad, which had been delivered by the Affini when their planetary connections system went down to connect everyone to the “overnet” or whatever they were calling it. Suddenly, there was a loud knock on the main door to the apartment. "Oh no, what now?" Valentine moaned to herself, shifting closer to the corner her mattress was shoved into. It couldn’t be the grocer, she was fast, but not that fast. Though loud, it was a gentler knock than the rebels would use to smash the door in. That left only one possibility … not one Valentine liked at all.
<are we sure there is anyone in here?>
<Our records state that this is a three-person residence, surely it's not empty?> A strange alien sound drifted through the room.
Rats, it must be the Affini. What now? They're just invading people's homes for their 'pets?' Valentine looked once again at the chair she kept in front of her bedroom door, hoping it would remain firmly under the doorknob, her only line of defense against the vine creatures that seemed to have no sense of personal space.
"Hello? We’ve been told there’s a Terran living in this building. The reconstruction front has reached your residence and we need to remove you for your safety. We would prefer it if you opened the door of your own free will but if no one does we will be forced to enter, well, by force.” It had a strangely masculine voice. Valentine would've sworn that most of the Affini she'd heard around the city had been female, but she supposed some must present differently.
<Dirt, no one seems to be answering,> the alien voice floated through the room again, and though she didn't understand a word it said, she didn't feel good about it. Once again, her eyes darted to the door, latched and barricaded by the chair. Would it be worth it to allow them in? Surely if she didn't it would just be a case for forced domestication, a fate worse than death to Valentine. But she couldn’t allow them to remove her from her home, the only place left safe from the advances of rebels and Affini alike.
A soft thud echoed through the apartment. Shit, that must have been the main door. She probably only had minutes before her door would be opened the same. There was still a chance to open the door to the Affini on her own, would it be worth the risk?
She scrambled to move the chair, unlatch and turn the knob, but hesitated. It was eerily quiet, neither the masculine voice speaking in Terran, nor the strange melodic voice speaking what must have been an Affini dialect. What if they were gone? She opened the door a crack, just enough to peek through, and prayed it wouldn't squeak and draw attention to herself.
Through the crack in the door, she saw two Affini. One tall, with delicate leaves and roses on every inch of their branch-like vines. Four eyes peered from the, was it a face? The other was covered in soft, almost delicate flowers and leaves, moss covering the woody vines that made up the vaguely bipedal shape they held. Right as she spotted them, one of them turned and stared directly into her eyes, and she froze.
"I see you little one, why don't you just open that door the rest of the way?" He purred, clearly the one that had been speaking earlier. Shit. Why were the Affini so perceptive, and why were their eyes so ... she opened the door, slowly walked out of her room, eyes locked on his, all she could think about was the shifting green and brown colors filling her vision until *crash*
"FUCK!" she shouted as she tripped over the table in the middle of the living room. Both Affini rushed to catch her before her head crashed into the simulated wood of the metal table covered in old dishes and crumbs leftover from old meals half-eaten and never cleaned up. The mossy Affini reached her first, wrapping her in vines before she even knew what was happening. Valentine blinked up at him, dazed and holding her foot. She slowly stiffened, crawling back and trying to peel off the vines now wrapping around her chest, holding her in place.
"L-let me go! Don’t take me, don’t make me leave!!" she shouted, now nearly pinned down by both Affini as she struggled to free herself, panic making everything in her mind louder, the vines too tight, the lights too bright, until a stinging sensation in her arm made everything very suddenly go black.
When Valentine was once again sure she was conscious, she was in a soft, warm, and somewhat unfamiliar place. She felt a strange weight on her arms and legs, pulling her down into a fog that blurred out her surroundings and vision. When she tried to move, she found that while she could wiggle fingers and toes, she was firmly kept in place by … what was that? Something strangely rough, like a tree? What happened? The Affini visited, she panicked, and then … blank, a fog across her memory that felt like a comfortable, dreamless sleep but her arm still stung from the thorn that had delivered what must have been a sedative of some kind.
Before she even had time to shout, the weight holding her in place shifted and she felt herself settling onto what seemed to be her living room couch. She stretched and blinked, trying to clear the fog from her brain as the drugs continued wearing off.
“Petal, can you hear me?” The rumbling voice of the Affini holding her didn’t strike her as a threat in any way, but she couldn’t find the voice to respond beyond a nod, simply curling into the surprisingly soft fabric of the couch to hide from the suddenly much brighter light in the room.
“We’re going to have to take you from your apartment. It’s not up to the Compact’s standards and quite frankly, we didn’t even know anyone was still living in this building until your grocer friend called us to check on you.”
Take her from the apartment? That was too great of a risk. Stars only knew what could happen to her outside, where the rebels dragged able-bodied workers off the streets to fill their ranks, and where apparently Affini were adopting “pets” at every turn and filling their minds with drugs. No, this wasn’t good.
“Petal? Are you alright?” The voice of the Affini briefly cut through her thoughts but she couldn’t formulate a response. She wasn’t alright, she was being drugged and kidnapped and gods-know-what and she would never see her home again and never be safe again.
As the worry swirled around in her mind she began breathing heavily, the space between her and the Affini pair feeling smaller and smaller and black filling the corners of her vision until her thought train was interrupted by beeping. What was that coming from? The weight on her wrists registered again in her brain and as she looked down her vision cleared finally to see metallic cuffs around her wrists, with lights flashing between yellow and red.
The last thing she heard as the world faded to black was the voice of the other Affini, murmuring something in Affini as she felt another sting on her wrists and the beeping finally stopped.