Through a Dark Forest

Chapter 2

by commanderkaya

Tags: #cw:noncon #D/s #dom:female #dom:male #f/f #f/m #pov:bottom #cw:violence #dom:internalized_imperialism #drug_play #gender_dysphoria #Human_Domestication_Guide #hypnosis #multiple_partners #petplay #pov:top #scifi #trans_egg #transgender_characters

And now, the mystery of a ghost in the dark. 

No real content warnings for this chapter

2 Years Ago.

Tagetis was a strange Affini, she had undergone 9 blooms and helped domesticate 11 new species, she knew the histories of nearly half of the Compact and its species. Yet, she tended to only end up frustrated with her fellow Affini and constantly arguing with them. It was only worse that so many of her peers treated her as though she was still childish. It was true she has never taken a floret, but it was for a good reason!

She preferred to help others and study cultures, it simply wasn’t within her nature to want to protect a specific floret when she should help them all. Of course that wasn't entirely true, it was like she had some fundamental flaw, she just didn’t want to take a floret from the many she had encountered. Of course so many were cute and warmed her heart, but never had they truly wormed their way in there and never let go. Though, she also, perhaps, had some strong preferences on floret species. The Terrans had captured her more than anything in her many years.

Their bodies...faces...just....everything about them. She sometimes lost herself fantasizing about them. In turn she put ample effort into modeling her form for them. She wanted to play with them far more than anyone she’s ever seen! Unlike many of her few friends she perhaps took a little too much interest in the nude form of Terrans. She was as many might put it far more sexually inclined then she let on. Many Affini certainly got intimate with each other and their florets; yet, Tagetis had never had the pleasure of that. She also felt that her intimacy was perhaps more directly engaged than others. Nothing bad per say, just different, as such she’d never been with anyone much less a floret. She could say it was for good reason but it was far more that she was incredibly anxious. Her more similarly inclined friend had invited her a number of times but she had always said no. There was certainly an element of concern, but it was also that she felt afraid to actually express her passions. At least she had history.

In truth that was what really mattered most. It was her job after all. She compiled information reports and analysis of sophont species to recommend specific courses of action either in general or individualized cases. At first this was often more general and now after 4 years of working with Terrans, well, let's just say she was more like a personalized search engine. She helped other Affini with records about their new florets and made sure that they got as much information as possible to help them. It was rare she was truly even asked for her opinion at this point. She dutifully made notes and had so many thoughts on them but most Affini simply wanted help finding out more information they already knew how to guide their pets, they just needed the right piece of information about someone's past or help fill in context that the use of hypnosis or Class-Ds could not.

She did occasionally help track down missing persons, luckily many of them simply had been isolated on some far flung location or another, but there were also many who had died from some unfortunate circumstance. In addition, with the rebels being captured enmasse and with it being so well established how to domesticate and interact with them her job was more or less done. The Affini had learned from direct experience and they were finishing the job without need for new extensive analysis. Thus, she found herself quite bored and she took delight in reading old Accord records to piece together stories and solve mysteries that no one else was asking about. She solved a handful of old murders and missing ships, wrote extensive papers on old economic actions and political maneuvers. She liked to boast that she knew the most about capitalism of any Affini, this tended only to get her strange looks. She simply found the nature of sophont interactions fascinating! How did terrans evolve capitalism, what led their society to this point, what cultural shifts and historical actions colored the entire perspective of a terran?

All things she obsessed over much to the annoyance or boredom of her peers. Her apprentices took interest at least, usually until they acquired a floret of their own. Then they had less time for her lectures and her thoughts on the Accord’s disastrous economic actions as carried out through the degradation of economic independence and the consolidation of monopolies. Regardless, her passion for studying history seemed to wash over everyone she knew. Some florets she spoke with shared her interest but many of the academics were more focused on the new cultural renaissance taking place or the study of Affini culture and history. It was unsurprising that Terran Academic circles would be more interested in the study of Affini history and politics when the Compact was the dominant and new power in the region. It was of course colored by Terran historical interests in the other as well as their generalized fear of invasion from alien forms. It was no surprise to her why so many Terrans fought back and resisted, she had her own theories on how best to help dispel their fears but no one truly listened to her.

Regardless, she was back to idly thinking about the world and this small part of the galaxy when a random file caught her eye. She had been sifting through OCNI reports for her next case. They usually had plenty of strange mysteries to unravel due to their general incompetence and corrupt system. They always made for the most complex string of events and tales. The report she found was on a ship dating back two years prior to the Affini invasion. It was regarding a “lost” gunship. The odd part was that everything in here was redacted. This didn't make sense considering that she was looking through the complete database acquired from the OCNI and Affini recovered files. She knew some files were deleted but most investigation and recovery teams found all missing or redacted assets. This was a file of which only one existed. She double checked where it had been found, “found behind a trash can in Sublevel 24-SD”. The paper itself was also extremely degraded, it had been there for years before anyone found it. Even stranger it was missing large chunks of critical information, some of it had been blacked out in redaction ink but also significant chunks were missing entirely. The file had no timeline of events, no record of what happened. The file was quite peculiar as well in that it was signed off by the then highest ranking officials of the OCNI, they had seen this report in its redacted form all the way to the top. Clearly it was of high importance to someone that even the OCNI didn't want internal records to know what it was. What could be redacted to the then most corrupt and power hungry intelligence agency in Terran history?

15 Months Ago

Her little mystery seemed to only grow with every day. She found the naval base, had a small team investigate it and recover old datafiles found there, but almost everything was scrubbed. The one thing she got was a visual recording of the gunship burning hard away from the station. Her team also reported that the Terrans had only barely cleaned up the station. They even found old corpses that the Terrans had abandoned here. The station was a listening post out at the edge of Terran space. While it was near the Affini’s origin point, it had apparently been largely overlooked in previous sweeps.

Its few computers recorded nothing but a final purge order. The Mech Techs tried to recover more information but they only found 3 things. The computers had been purged by magnetics. The computers had been summarily shot, and finally the computers had explosive traps. Apparently the investigator lost a few vines to it and while they were able to disarm the rest of the computers the electronics were mostly missing, hard drives fully gone, even the RAM. Luckily the visual recording had been backed up in the camera itself. The camera had been smashed and shot but the hard drive managed to elude its would be captors. Through this miracle, she was able to cross examine old ship building manifests, and drive plume signatures. She was thusly able to identify the ship’s origins and name. At least at the time it was called Hannibal’s Pass.

The ship was a stealth gunship designed and built with the latest in Terran composites and silent running capabilities. It wasn't a first strike ship, it was an early warning and surveillance ship. At least here the OCNI had viewed it important enough to have a ship which could escape first contact with a foreign foe. Clever enough, she double checked some old records of Affini contact with listening posts. OCNI listening posts were largely scattered and irregular so in fact the ones pointed in the Accord’s direction were not even the first Terran ships to encounter the Affini. At that point most of them had been abandoned along with their gunships. Some further cross referencing at this point managed to turn up the drive signature of the Pass at a few points. The trail led to a number of other OCNI reports as well as some reports from the Cosmic Navy regarding a pirate raider with a matching drive signature. The ship seemed to be largely active at the outer rim of Terran space, though strangely enough it was relatively close to the Affini’s point of first contact. The reports continued from OCNI up until the sector was overrun.

She wasn't sure what about this ship enthralled her, but it had kept her quite busy and her mind engaged unlike most of her day to day work. She even set up her spare room to help keep track of reports and records of the ship. It wasn’t much at this point but at least she had somewhere to follow this. Her superiors also didn't mind the little side project as it stopped her from making a big fuss about anything else. She still thought that the Affini should conduct a galactic level anthropological study to record what it was like for the Terrans under pre Affini rule so that future terrans could understand what it was like. There were so many unique stories and they should all get to be written down!

14 Months Ago

“Tagetis, I will not be authorizing this request to interview the floret under Ghalias’s care”

“But sir, he could hold information crucial to this case!”

“Yes...your little investigation into a missing ship?”

“I’m sorry sir, I know there are more pressing matters”

“That isn't the issue Tagetis, the floret has trauma regarding the incident in question and Ghalias doesn't want to dredge that up for something seemingly....pointless”

Tagetis nodded, she understood fully, she hated the idea of making someone suffer just for her interests...

11 Months Ago

FINALLY, a major breakthrough, a chance discovery revealed that the ship in question was actually being called a different name by numerous different people. Reports kept referring to it by different things and that's why she couldn't find any more information on it. While there were numerous names most people in the know regarding the ship or who had encountered it especially following the outbreak of war with the Affini called it the Ghost, some had more creative names but Ghost and variations of it were most common. One now domesticated captain even sent her a record of his incident with the ship.

10 Months, 2 Weeks Ago

“We thought it was just some stupid ice hauler, its identification codes worked but it was far off course so we demanded to board it. The ship refused and said that our course information was wrong, so at the time I ordered they let us board them or we do it the hard way. All I got back was a response of “Try me”. So we did. Two flights of marines suited up and about to launch in drop ships and well I don't even know what really happened next. Two torpedoes hit the engine room and then PDC rounds ripped into us. The command deck was shredded. We hadn’t even vented the atmosphere, my second in command was killed instantly. The ship’s power fully failed as though they knew the layout of our ship exactly. I managed to survive as the bulkheads closed but I was trapped in the command deck. The officers were all killed and I was just left with two guards. After, I think it must have been a few hours, we heard shooting; the guards readying themselves and I hid behind a rack of computers. The doors were blasted open and I saw the two men be instantly killed. Five people entered the room and knocked me unconscious. When I woke up I was...well I was under the care of Mistress. I frankly have no idea what happened.”

She read the report eagerly and while it was by no means perfect or professional, it was exceptional for her needs. The Ghost was hiding itself in civilian ships. Now all she had to do was find which ships it was hiding in.

9 months ago

She sighed heavily as she sat back in her chair looking at the now cluttered and massive web of connections. The Ghost, well more accurately the Geist, was a gunship that over the past 8 years had cut its way across the galaxy in a spree of piracy and raids, the ship took on task forces well above its weight class and always came out on top. It had its height of operation during the Domestication War and the early aftermath of it. During the war the ship had lurked on the edges picking off numerous ships and seemingly stealing as much material and shipwrecks as it could. After the treaty, the ship solely began sacking “Free Terran” ships, it was eerie, it seemed to always be hunting just ahead of where Affini ships were. She even managed to identify 2 scenarios where the Geist was directly responsible for identifying terran ships for domestication.

The Geist had helped Affini patrols. Yet, at the same time the Geist didn’t just spot them, it had thoroughly destroyed a number of ships and seemingly stolen entire vessels while leaving their crews behind. Some Affini reports had identified wreckage of Terran ships when they found them but this had largely been chalked up to faulty ship design and infighting. The dead were blamed on feralist fanaticism. It didn’t help that most of the ship’s crews tended to agree saying they were attacked by “Plantfuckers” before the Affini showed up. Regardless, the ship’s most active days were behind it now, but most concerningly is that at this point the ship was still unaccounted for. In fact she just got a report saying their most recent hunt was only 3 months ago. The rebels at that point had just outright surrendered to them, and the Geist simply evacuated the crew leaving them in an old destroyer to get picked up by the Affini.

The Geist was still out there hunting. With this she could easily convince the ship’s captain and potentially other ships to help her find the ship! It wasn’t perfect as the ship did ride the line of Feralism but she was still able to convince plenty of people to help. She didn't even know what to call them at this point. They were like pirates, but she found nothing, absolutely nothing tying them down to profits considering most pirates following the treaty simply defected or were easily caught by our ships. Piracy was pointless in a post scarcity world.

The crew was just as much a mystery as when she began, but she had at least narrowed it down to two blurry faces. A woman of some kind, and someone who seemed intent on not showing their face or body. The woman was large and heavy set, the other person wore a cloak and a cap which concealed their upper face from cameras. She sighed, it would take months for the search AI to return some kind of facial match so this process could go more in depth. But this was major progress, the facial matching was exceptionally old, but even a hint from an old naval port camera of where their “civilian” cover ship was could help. In fact she was fully able to narrow them down as the only two unknowns thanks to cataloging of who had access to the port and which ships were docked and Accord ID’s. These were the only two unknowns.

4 Months Ago

[GildedCore]: Here you are Tagetis, we matched as many potential videos as we could along with terran IDs, many of them seem like easy dismissals but you said you wanted every potential.

[AncientScribe]: Thank you so much! I will report back as soon as I can. This should help immensely. I've been at somewhat of a bottleneck without them.

[GildedCore]: Of course Tagi, we want to bring in every little cutie we can, especially trouble makers like these two.

3 Months Ago

Tagetis didn’t necessarily need sleep, but at this point she definitely needed to rest, she had spent almost every waking moment looking over the hundreds of videos. What was perhaps most concerning was that even at the widest margin of leeway, the matches were so incredibly sparse. The only videos she had were from archaic sites, a few shipyards, old bars, even a small drone camera that was recording some kind of documentary. She had at least narrowed down the person in the cloak to be some kind of superior officer to the woman. They made a number of orders in some of the videos and seemed to be in control of the woman. She assumed it was likely military orders of some kind if anything. Regardless she dubbed them in her head Scarlet and Jade. This was due to the distinctive green color of the cloak and a distinctive red flair in the clothes of the woman. She supposed Olive might be a better word since the color was Olive Drape, but she liked Jade as a material and it came to her mind first.

She sighed, these video records didn't help much, but in the meantime she had at least made a minor breakthrough with the ship records, these videos allowed for a number of confirmations to be made which narrowed down the current potential possible locations of the ship. She just needed their most recent ship name and ID codes. They seemed to occasionally ping some stations or at least answer to Affini hails in a number of places. The Affini at the time ignored them, but there had been one extremely close call where the Geist managed to jump out of grasp of the Affini due to jump suppression not being active. They weren't even considered a threat at that point so no reason to have it active? The ship simply looked like an old ice hauler so the Affini ship in question had no concerns, they were merely checking up on the ship as it was nearby.

It was a unique situation as there were in fact a number of independent ship captains out there who liked to sail the void. She had read much on these so-called “free” captains, they tended to have a free spirit and wanted to live out in space. They had no issue with the compact so long as they didn’t interfere too much. The Affini had let them operate simply due to their harmlessness. Occasionally an Affini would join to keep tabs on them and everything was alright but they had been nothing concerning. They were even a disappearing breed and few Terrans wanted to get a hold of their own ship. She sighed heavily, she knew she could make a dire mistake if she identified the wrong ship, humans had a tendency to react harshly even violently if accused of something they didn't do. It wasn’t surprising but she didn't want to do that to anyone, she also had a fear that it might cause an overreaction on the Affini part. Regardless her work was narrowing, she had a limited zone the ship could be assuming its last two pings were accurate. Finding the ship however was a different matter entirely. There were two options, it could be simply drifting out there in full disguise, cargo vessel with fake or stolen credentials maybe a passenger ship if they thought they could get away with it, or the far harder option a stealth gunship in full silent running mode on the drift with fully killed thermals. She was no ship combat expert but she did know what her friends and colleagues told her about it, the ship could be nigh impossible to find without a feat of dumb luck. If the ship was running truly silent then the Affini didn’t have an easy way of finding it. Optics would be useless and radar could return a signature many of these stealth gunships were made to specifically blend in with background radiation.

She looked over her records again. There was something that fit, a strange cargo ship which had “avoided” Affini interactions. She wanted to double check her work but she was sure it was them. She delivered her initial findings to the Captain and he immediately dispatched a ship to the region. It was within less then a day that she heard back, they had found them! At least that's what the report said. She went to see them with the Captain, however it was just another gang of Free Terrans, no Geist, in sight. They were a small group of asteroid miners who thought the Affini were demons sent to kill them. They had jury rigged their ship and were trying to find a Free Terran fleet to join. Despite that, the Affini were still plenty pleased and her Captain commended her on the hard work, even if she didn't get the Geist, her work had captured a small group of now happy pets. But she knew Scarlet and Jade were still out there.

1 Month Ago.

After giving up most of her hope, a chance encounter happened, her tablet pinged with a notification. Her data AI returned a ship ID which just cleared an automated scan of the same local sector. An ice hauler, T.S.S. Helmador. This was it, this was their last known ID, she had found them. The scan reported the ship was in slow travel mode. The ID check initially cleared following a scan of the ship showing nothing suspicious, but Tagetis reported to the captain immediately.

“Sir, I found them”

“Tagetis, could I ask you a personal question?”
        “Uh yes sir?”
       “Are you overworking yourself?”
The answer was obviously yes but Tagetis could never admit that. “Uh…….no sir?”
       “I see, well Tagetis I hope you’re not lying to me, despite some of our teasing, I and the rest of the crew aboard Babylon’s Garden care about you. We don’t want a hobby causing you stress. I know Yesalga was interested in helping you.”

She didn’t want to ask for help, she wanted to prove herself. This was her investigation. She was supposed to be an elder for everbloom’s sake, not another fresh Affini! She was older the almost everyone aboard the ship and she felt like she’d really done nothing at all. Her records were her passion but she still never…never partook in the most basic element of Affini society.
        “No….I…….I am fine.”

“Tagetis, I say this for your sake, if we don’t find them on this next search, Yesalga will be helping you in future alright? We all want to help find these Terrans, but we don’t want to do it at the cost of someone.”

“Thank you sir……….Oh and sir? We should request aid from another ship for this….in case it is them….”
       “Hmmm, we’ve never had anyone successfully escape us before but I will put out a notice for help.”
       “Thank you…”

She had never gotten attached to a sophont before, why would she now. She had a strange attachment to these mystery sophonts, but she…she didn’t really know what she wanted to do after she found them. Domesticate them? Let them go to someone else? Maybe that was for the best…..She knew she’d never meet the right one for her. She just…she wasn’t responsible enough.

Today, 4 hours ago.

“Tagetis, you wanted to join the retrieval team?”
        “Yes sir, I know them best even if I’ve never met them, my information is better than anyones and I might be able to convince them to stand down.”

“Which information exactly?”
        “Well, sir I think you’re approaching this more like we’re hunting feralists…”

“Aren’t we? Your reports clearly indicate they’ve broken the treaty and are a danger to others. This is just another domestication mission. Besides, why should that matter for joining the retrieval team?”

“Well…I…I just don’t want to see them end up with the wrong care….”
The Affini captain had a sudden realization which changed his demeanor, but Tagetis didn’t recognize what it was.
        “Ah I see, well Tagetis I’ll make sure nothing happens to them that isn’t for their own good. But as to your request, I suppose I can allow it but I do want to know one thing. You may have been on the command deck plenty of times, but never in the thick of it. Do you think you can restrain a terran without hesitation?”

        “I..yes sir I can”

“Alright Tagetis, it's just a tiny thing anyways, there will be plenty of others with you.”

“Of course sir, remember what I told you though, they’ve escaped before, we have to do this right. They like to use civilian ships as distractions, they will likely shed it as armor, fool us into focusing on that instead as they get away.”

“ Yes Tagetis, but don’t forget I’ve done this plenty of times before, I doubt it will be much different.”

22 Minutes ago

“Captain! The..the Helmador has exploded!” “Get rescue crews out there immediately! Prioritize the largest groups of people first! Get med techs down there immediately!”

Things are starting to heat up! Hope you enjoyed!

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