I wasn’t even reading the news when I found out about aliens arriving. Honestly, I probably should have worked it out sooner, but alien threats on the outer edges of the Accord were the sort of thing that I could just tune out as hardly even relevant; sure, there were people online talking about it all the time, but always with enough brazen confidence in terran superiority that it just slipped from my mind, barely an issue.
When it became obvious that the threat in question was something much more dangerous than another quashed Rinan uprising, I was a lot more preoccupied trying to negotiate with the central government that yes, I was still going by [REDACTED], yes, I was still unable to seek employment, yes, my therapists were still helping me, yes, I definitely have been attending all of my sessions and not randomly missing some with no warning or apology, etc.… to pay much attention to the Internet. For a couple months, my entire online exposure was relegated to flipping from distraction to distraction and checking my bank balance—hoping, desperately, that it would update on time this week and I could manage to keep paying my landlord.
Really, I should have at least found out when one of them walked into my house, but Sara Joyce Morgan was entirely too oblivious even for that.
I was a little busy trying to take a nap when I heard the knocking, so I quickly shouted out a “Come in” to whoever was on the other end. Probably another grocery order; I’d have to double-check my balance to make sure I could afford to keep eating when all of that ran out. After a few seconds of hearing confused footsteps in my living room, I called out again: “Card’s on the kitchen counter, just leave ‘em there.” Unfortunately, that just served to send my mystery guest walking towards my bedroom door, which could only mean one thing: I’d slept through another appointment. Silently cursing to myself, I rolled over in my bed and tucked my face further into the light blue sheets, which accidentally served the dual purpose of both delaying actually seeing my “guest”, and also completely unmaking the bed.
“Excuse me, are you alright?” chimed a soft and high-pitched voice from the doorway. Not a voice I recognised, so probably someone new, and from the sounds of it someone who probably didn’t deserve to be dealing with this particular brand of mess today. …Or some rich moon-dweller who they’d had to ship in because the last psych on Evea had finally given up on me, in which case she deserved all of this and more.
“ID’s on my nightstand,” I replied curtly. “Jumping right into it, are we.”
A moment’s silence, and then: “Listen, little one, I don’t know quite what you’ve heard about us? But there’s really no need to be quite so standoffish.” So naïve, it was almost extraordinary; definitely a moon-dweller. I pulled the sheets a little further up over my face.
“Yeah, yeah, keep telling yourself that. And don’t call me little, I’m six foot one.” I was in no mood to be dealing with this sort of attitude, or quite frankly with any sort of attitude. “You’re not the first lady who’s waltzed in here trying to fix me, and you aren’t gonna be the last.”
“Petal, if there’s care you need, I can help you—”
“Yes. You can. By telling your boss that this went great! no problems! and leaving me alone until next week. Don’t bother trying to do anything more than that, it’s not going to help, just take your paycheck and go the fuck home.”
…Was that maybe too much?
Silence. …More silence. Yeah, that was definitely too much.
I sheepishly pulled my face out of the covers & turned back over to face my therapist, saying “Listen, I’m sorry, I know you just want to—” before realising quite what it was that I had actually been talking to this whole time, completely failing to process any of it, and collapsing off the side of the bed, limp and unconscious.
mi pini lape li lukin e tomo mi. ale li suli mute li nasa. tomo noka, en sinpin, en sewi, li suno lili pi walo laso. mi lukin e suno ni: oko mi li pilin ike.
mi lukin lape mute; taso, mi kute e jan nasa ni, ona li open e lupa mi. mi wawa e mi, li lukin e jan ni. ona li jan ala anu seme? ona li kasi, li suli, li tawa, li nasa mute; li jan ma ala. taso mi sona e ijo wan ni: kasi ni li jan, li jan pona.
ona li kalama: “Oh, hello there, petal! I’m very glad to see you awake; it seems like I was quite the big surprise for you, but lucky for you I caught you before you injured yourself and brought you over to this temporary hab!”
mi lukin e ona li sona lili, ona li awen: “You’ll find everything you need for a little while in here—plenty of pre-prepared nutrition, vibrant artificial sunlight, and a caretaker to visit every so often and make sure that you’re adjusting well to your new life here in the compact!”
mi awen sona lili e ona, taso toki ona li musi mute. mi awen lukin e ona.
“And on the subject: is there anything that I can do for you?”
mi sona e toki ni! mi toki e ona: ‘ona o, suno li ken suno lili anu seme?’
ona li lukin e mi li pilin nasa. ona li pilin e ilo kasi lili noka uta ona, li lukin e mi.
ona li toki: “I’m sorry, sweetheart, but it seems like my translator isn’t quite working. Would you mind repeating that for me?”
ona ken ala sona toki e toki mi anu seme? tenpo namako la mi lukin toki: ‘sinpin tomo mi li suno mute. mi wile insa e tomo suno lili.’
“Such a strange little petal; are you feeling alright? Could you do me a little favour, and nod your head if you can understand me?” toki ona li suwi mute… taso, mi ken sona e ona! mi lukin e ona, lawa mi li tawa e sewi e noka.
“Very good, little one!” toki ni li pona mute tawa mi. “And you do seem to be feeling very happy indeed; could you tell me your name?”
mi toki wawa: ‘mi jan Sala!’ nimi mi li pona; ona li pilin e kin tawa mi. ‘sina o, nimi sina li seme?’
“Oh, are you asking what my name is, petal?” mi tawa sewi e lawa mi. “Illaria Biflora, Second Bloom; it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance~”
mi lukin toki ni: ‘ona li jan Ilal… Ila…’ sinpin mi li toki e pilin ike; mi ken ala toki e toki ni.
ona li kalama e kalama suwi mute. “Just ‘Illa’ is lovely, if that’s the most you can make out. Is there anything you need for right now?”
mi sona ala e toki ona ni; taso, mi ken lukin toki. luka mi la mi len e oko mi.
“Oh! The room is configured to match the local time, but would you like it to be darker?” mi tawa e lawa mi, ona li toki: “Then let me take care of that for you right now! And in the meantime, get some rest, little flower, and I’ll talk to you more in a bit.” luka ona li pilin e ilo lili lon sinpin mi, tomo mi li kama pimeja.
jan Ila… mi la mi olin e jan nasa, suli, kasi, suwi, Ila.
…Where the fuck was I?
Okay. Stay calm. Analyse the situation. I was in a bed! It wasn’t my bed, but it was a bed. That meant wherever I was, that’s a place that people are meant to be. I didn’t see anyone else, which meant that whatever else happened, I’d be safe for right now.
I opened my notebook and flipped to the last page with writing on it, but it was dated from what I was pretty sure was months ago; of course, the one coping mechanism that was actually sometimes helpful, and I couldn’t even keep that up. What was the last day I remembered… June 7th? My cell was saying it was June 11th, a Friday, so I had definitely missed my Wednesday therapy appointment; thank god for that, though, because I had the very strong feeling that the last one was not worth remembering. Well, my rent for the week was due on Sunday, so I had plenty of time, assuming the Accord’s disability office actually sent in my check—big if, I know, but it was worth a shot. I unlocked my cell, opened up the connection to my bank server, and…
Nothing. Not even an error message. It was like the server was just completely gone. What the fuck happened?
No, okay, don’t panic. Don’t panic! Probably just a signal hiccup. Just hop out of bed—out of this weird, giant, way too tall off the ground bed—and onto the floor, head towards the door over there the one right by the glowing wall and why were the walls glowing and I didn’t know how to process this at all. I just collapsed against the bright blue wall, onto the floor that was shining an iridescent green, and burst into tears.
In that sudden burst of emotion, I barely noticed the speaker above the door sounding out something in a foreign language, nor the soft rush of air as the door itself slid open. But the moment I heard the footsteps on the hard ceramic floor, I recognised them instantly, and all of my panicked sadness turned into anger as I spun around and confronted the trespasser with a single, white-hot, “You.”
It was flowing back to me, suddenly, all at once. Last Monday, I was in my room, and then this… this weird giant plant, this mass of vines with a face, was there. It broke into my house, tried to talk to me, and then I went unconscious, and now I was here and it was here too and I wanted to just reach up and grab those obnoxious purple flowers and snap them right off its stems.
For its part, it heard that word and immediately slithered back a couple metres, its glowing purple eyes pointed right in my direction. So it was afraid, or maybe it just didn’t want to hurt me? That would explain why it was acting so weird, but it didn’t explain why it would bring me here.
“...Why did it bring me here?”
“Was that directed at me, petal?” chimed the plant. Right, fuck. It could actually hear me when I was talking to myself. I nodded, and it continued, in that same sugar-sweet voice, “That’s right, I never did give you a proper explanation earlier, did I? It’s been very sweet taking care of you, but now that my translator is working again, you deserve to be told what’s going on—and not propaganda.”
I didn’t have the chance to explain that I was unconscious earlier, but it didn’t seem like it would matter much. The alien seemed more than inclined to just keep talking at me no matter what I did.
“You did seem a bit startled when we first met,” it continued. “May I ask what you’ve been told about us?”
…Silence. I guess I was wrong.
“Uh, nothing?” I offered. “The first I heard of you was when you waltzed into my apartment.”
Apparently, that was enough to shut it up for more than a moment, so I decided to take the opportunity to look around the room, and very quickly regretted it. The glowing walls and ceiling, all coloured the same unnatural bright blue with patches of sky-grey, were even worse to look at directly, and beyond that the room was mostly empty; the bed that I just got out of and the plant in front of me were the only things my eyes would focus on, and I didn’t particularly want to look at either.
“Well, that is… very unusual, given the situation.” it eventually managed. “Alright. I presume, since you haven’t tried to leave, that you trust me at least a bit?”
I had fully given up on trying to understand ‘the situation’. As far as I was concerned, this was a nightmare, or a hallucination, or some kind of weird-as-hell afterlife. Weirder than hell, honestly.
But I knew there was a correct answer to that question. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Sure,” to which the plant clapped its weird flowery vine-hand-things together.
“Well,” it sang, “the Affini Compact—that’s us!—hold the belief that every living sophont in the universe deserves to live the best life they possibly can. But your species hasn’t done a particularly good job of looking after itself; plenty of the terrans we’ve met so far have been overworked, tired, starving. Unhappy. And this simply will not do.”
That sounded about right, I thought. I touched my hand to my stomach, expecting to trigger the usual hunger pangs, but instead nothing happened. I guess I’d eaten recently, then.
“So, we studied your species, and learned how to take care of you. How to synthesise your medicines, speak your languages, and provide for your well-being. And then we made contact with the Accord, and offered to be your caretakers—an offer your species refused.”
Wait, if I’d been unconscious, how had I eaten recently? I tapped my stomach a few more times, just to double-check, but didn’t feel anything. Then I kept tapping, my hands having accidentally discovered a rhythm that my brain thought it should continue.
“So we are taking matters into our own vines, so to speak. Your planet was on the edge of Terran space, so it didn’t take long at all for us to make our way here. And now it’s been fully absorbed into the Compact—you included, flower.”
The plant was still talking in the background, but her voice blended perfectly into my tapping. Gosh, it was wild how good this sounded.
“Which means that we’re looking after you now! And part of looking after petals like you is that when they’re all shut up indoors and passing out when you try to talk to them, you give the little cuties a cosy bed and plenty of time to rest and recuperate~”
“Don’t call me—” I suddenly stopped, having managed to process the words that I had just heard. “Th-the whole… what do you mean, absorbed?”
“Not literally, of course!” it said, the bemused smile so evident in its voice that I didn’t even need to look up. “By—”
“I know,” I interrupted, fists clenched, “that it was not literal. I do not care about your alien politics. What did you do with my friends.”
The plant monster stepped back at that, looking strangely terran for something that was very clearly not. “No one who lived on Evea was hurt, if that’s what you’re asking! It simpl—”
My anger now fully exhausted, there was nothing left that I could do but let my body go limp again, and as I did so it felt as though the blues and greens and purples of the room all blurred together into just one mess of colour, and as my consciousness faded all that I could think was that it seemed like some of the colour was moving towards me, and then I was out like a light.
“Now, are you feeling a bit less intense, cutie?”
I was… okay. Stay calm. I was… back in that… wait, what?
I looked up, through what felt like a thick haze of smoke, and saw those bright purple metallic eyes from earlier staring down at me. The room was no longer blue and green; instead, it was a deep black, dotted with tiny little points of white light, soft enough that the room still felt dark. It’d almost have been relaxing, if it weren’t for the mess of vines and flowers that still blocked out most of my immediate vision.
I groaned, “You again,” and reached down to grab my cell and check the time. I reached down… Why couldn’t I move my arms?
“Sorry, petal! Can’t have you doing too much moving about now,” the plant sang in that annoyingly cutesy voice. “You’re in a bit of an unstable mood, and while I for one am absolutely sure that you would never hurt another sophont on purpose, well, accidents do happen!” It punctuated that assertion by tapping my nose with one of its vines, in a gesture that I’m sure she thought was cuter than it actually was. N-not she. It. Whatever this thing was, it was definitely not terran.
“So when can I move my limbs again,” I muttered.
The shifting mass of stems under its eyes started to reshape, into a form almost approximating a smile. “Well, as I mentioned, you’ve got a doctor coming to take a look at you later today, and if they can fix the problem, then you’re free to move as much as you like after that. If the problem is in your brain, though, it’ll have to wait a little longer, okay, cutie? Just to make sure that you’re safe.”
I stared up at it, in disbelief. Aliens, coming from outer space, took over my planet. They kidnapped me, and probably hundreds of thousands of other people. And if they could be trusted, and this was seriously what they were concerned about… they just wanted some random girl to have a better therapist?
“Um… petal, what are you laughing about?”
I couldn’t help it; it was just all my body could do about this situation. I probably could have toned it down a little, made sure I still had room to breathe every now and then, but just giving up control of my body entirely and letting it do its thing sounded much better right about now.
When my laughs died down to the point that I could make words out again, I stammered, “Really? You just want to give me a better therapist? Is that it?”
Its eyes shone with flecks of deep blue for just a moment, before it replied, “I want so much more than that, little one! I want you to feel happy and healthy and cared for, for you to be your absolute best self! You, and every single member of your species.” It did that almost-smile again, and at that moment I was absolutely sure that it wouldn’t have said that if at least that much wasn’t true.
Which meant there was only one thing left to ask. “Okay. What’s the cost.”
The alien looked shocked at that assertion. Good. I pressed onwards, “I’m not an idiot. I know how this works. You wouldn’t be offering something like this if you didn’t want something from me. So what is it.”
“I already told you, little one! I want y—”
“I’m not. Little. What do you actually want me to be.”
The plant’s vines drooped suddenly, though I noticed that the ones around my wrists and ankles were still holding tight. “Petal, I genuinely don’t want to hurt you, or deprive you of anything. In fact, I think you’ll find that your new home here has just about anything you could want or need! The Affini Compact is more than happy to support all of the sophonts under its shade.”
…I tried to think about that for a moment. “What time is it?”
“Oh, right! You poor dear, it must be so confusing with the lights desynced; it’s about noon, five days after I first brought you in.”
Five days. I had never lived in one place for five days in my life without anyone yelling at me. There was a bed, and I had my phone, and once that doctor showed up the plant thing would let me go and I could just go back to my old life without being bothered ever again. And all I had to do was just…
“Obey. Yeah. Sure. Why not.”
Its emotionless eyes stared me down again, still flickering that deep blue. “...Alright then, petal!” it sang, after what felt like a lifetime. “Then I’ll make sure the forms get sent your way when your doctor arrives, cutie~”
I was clearly missing something, but was entirely too worn out and confused to care. I just closed my eyes and mimicked snoring, in the hopes that it at least knew enough about terrans to get the message.
It didn’t go away. But she didn’t say anything more, and that was enough for me.
jan Ila li insa e tomo mi. ona li jo e lipu mute e ilo kasi nanpa ni; mi sona ala e ona. mi toki: ‘ilo nanpa ni la, ona li seme?’
ona li toki: “I’m sorry, flower, but my translator is on the fritz again. Could you point?” mi tawa e luka mi tawa ilo ona, ona li toki: “Medical scanner! You remember I mentioned earlier that there would be a doctor coming to see you? Well, this is them~”
ilo kasi ni li ilo nanpa misikeke anu seme? ona li ilo pona mute tawa mi. sinpin suno, ilo misikeke… ilo pi jan Ila li nasa mute, taso ilo ilo li ilo pona. mi la jan Ila li pona kin.
“Could you just lie still for me, darling? It shouldn’t take very long at all.” mi tawa e lawa mi li toki: ‘lon!’, li tawa ala. ilo ona li kalama e kalama lili suwi, li suno e suno loje, li pini.
sinpin pi jan Ila li toki e pilin ike tawa mi. “There we go, jan Sala; such a good girl.” ona li sona e ni: mi olin e nimi suwi mi ona. “Would you like to hear the results?”
mi toki: ‘lon!’
“Well, dear, your nutrient profile is a little out of balance, but it looks like the food you’ve been eating since you got here has helped with that? So I wouldn’t worry too much about that; no recent internal or external trauma, though there is some external scar tissue that concerns me a little bit. We’d need a dedicated brain scan to have a better sense of the exact details, but I’m not seeing any irregularities in that department, so we might be better served with… Oh dear, am I losing you a bit?”
ona li lukin e mi, li sona e ni: mi sona ala e toki ona. ona li awen toki: “Well, here’s the basics, flower: most of your body is healthy, but it seems like you’re not feeling happy, and I would like you to feel happy! So I think we need another doctor to help; not a robot doctor, though, an affini doctor.”
mi lukin toki: ‘apini?’
ona li pilin pona. “Yes, petal, affini. That’s the name of my species!”
‘jan Ila li apini?’
“Exactly! Such a good girl.” toki ona li kalama suwi mute tawa mi. “And your species are called ‘terrans’.”
mi toki: ‘jan ma!’ ona li pilin pona, mi awen toki: ‘mi jan ma! jan Ila li apini.’
ona li toki: “Oh, you have just the prettiest little language; I’m almost glad I can hear your voice like this.” mi pilin pona mute mute. “I’ll make you some dinner, petal; would you like to rest more until then?”
‘lon!’ ona li tawa ton poka mi tawa ilo moku mi, mi pini e oko mi li lukin lape.
mi kute lili e jan Ila, ona li toki: “Such a cute little floret; I love you.”