Illaria was ecstatic.
As soon as Alophosia had suggested the possibility, all of the pieces fell into place. She had been noticing that her ward was very keen on either avoiding questions or asking her own, and if she had been having these sorts of memory issues her whole life, it makes sense that she’d have become pretty adept at not drawing too much attention to them. Especially given how hard the poor petal’s life seemed to have been; it was almost enough to drive an affini to anger. Illaria swore that she’d make sure nothing like that ever happened to her little flower ever again.
And this, hearing the buzz of the translator as it fed her jan Sala’s words in English for the first time, was a wonderful first step to that end.
“Shall we head home, little one?” she sang. “There’s something I’d like to talk to you about.”
“Yes, please!” came the gentle voice from down in her vines, and it was all she could do to not just excitedly squeeze her. Finally, Illaria had a way to actually make real progress, and she was closer than ever to helping her little petal get back on her own two feet… ignoring the domestication forms still waiting back at home, that is. But jan Sala didn’t know what she was asking for, surely, and since it never got brought up again, it clearly wasn’t something she had to worry about! No matter what Alophosia said.
“Alright, petal,” Illaria whispered, gently brushing the little terran’s hair as she walked through the streets, making sure to give her ward a good view. “The thing that I want to talk to you about is a little bit complicated, and while I can understand you better now, I know that it’s still hard for you to understand me sometimes. So, I’m going to do my best to explain, and if there’s anything at all that you don’t understand completely, could you let me know?”
The young woman nodded her head, adding a chipper little “Of course, Ila!”
Okay. Where to now?
Illaria steadied her rhythm as best she could. “Do you remember the other day, when I had the doctor look at you?” She was trembling, it was obvious, but she hoped that the swing of her steps was enough to disguise it at least a little bit. “I told you that your body was healthy, but that you might need another doctor to help you feel happier?”
“I do!” jan Sala responded. “An affini doctor! Will I get to see another affini?”
“Well…” Illaria measured her words carefully. “I did just see another affini, yes! He’s a good friend of mine, and he gave me some advice on how I could help you feel better.” She wasn’t a fan of lying, even by omission, but she knew that being reassuring was what was most important; trying to explain everything right now would definitely just make her feel worse, and no matter what, Illaria had to avoid inducing another breakdown. “Can I give you some medicine, to make you feel better?”
She had prepared for two possible answers to that question. The first was that jan Sala would say yes, unconditionally, and she could just skip past this messy and complicated dance altogether. The second - and far more likely, she’d thought - was that she’d say no, and Illaria would have to rely on that technically-consent from this morning, and from there it was almost a given that she’d break her ward’s trust and her mind. Illaria kept walking, waiting and dreading the answer.
What actually happened, though, was that the woman responded with a question. “Why do you say that I’m not happy?”
“Petal, I don’t think that you’re not happy,” she faltered. “But there are parts of you that are feeling less happy, and I would like them to feel better too.”
“I don’t understand. I’m not allowed to be all the way happy.”
If there was any justice in the universe, Illaria was going to make sure this girl never had to see the people who had hurt her ever again. “Well, why not?” she asked, trying her best not to show any anger.
“Because… I don’t know. Sometimes things exist for no reason. But I am happy! Even if my thoughts are sad and mean sometimes.”
“B-but…” C’mon, please, work with me here, she couldn’t help but think. “I could give you permission?” The affini figured that that wouldn’t work, but was still a little bit crushed when she felt the woman in her vines forcefully shake her head.
“Then I won’t push you,” Illaria said, silently mouthing a ‘too much’ to herself. “But I want to take care of you, petal, and medicine will help me do that! Could you give it a try?”
There was a pause, slightly too long for comfort, in which the only motion was Illaria’s last few footsteps back towards their temporary home—and then Sara nodded her head. Illaria smiled, and immediately took the opportunity to explain as best she could.
“Well, I think that at the very least, a class-F and a dietary augmentation supplement should be good to have on hand,” she said, brightly coloured flowers popping out from inside of her body. “Perhaps a class-G as well, but let’s not fret too much about that, shall we? We can sprout those leaves when the sun rises. For now, those two should be more than adequate for your physical and mental health, and hopefully you’ll be in more of a stable mood as time goes on! Which means”—she opened the door into the hab unit—“we’ll be able to safely bring you onto the ship and into more permanent accommodations~”
She hadn’t even noticed her little burst of eloquence, being entirely too caught up in the feeling of relief. Thankfully, though, it seemed like her ward was more than able to follow it, given that the only question she ended up asking was a gentle “and what do the classes do?”
“It would be very complicated to go over them all, dear,” was her reply. “But F is for feelings, and thoughts; it makes it harder for your thoughts to interrupt you, and makes it easier for you to talk to and listen to them. The supplement is for your nutrition; it’ll help your body make the nutrients it needs, so you can eat the foods you like and still feel healthy. Does that sound alright to you, little one?”
“Alright,” Sara said. “Sounds good. And G?”
Illaria paused. “Let’s not worry about that one for right now, dear; it’s one that changes your body a lot, and that sounds like a thing to think about later.” She felt a little twitch through her vines, and then another nod, and then she laid her ward down on the bed.
“So when do I get my pills,” Sara asked, before being more than a bit taken aback by a gentle little chuckle from Illaria. The affini simply stretched out the flowers she had revealed earlier—one pale yellow, one deep purple—and held them out at a distance.
“No need for that, darling,” was her answer. “These are inhalant medications; if you wouldn’t mind breathing in for me?”
Sara stared at the flowers, obviously more than a little confused, before shrugging, pulling them to her face, and taking a deep breath.
“Thank you very much, petal~” Illaria silently sighed in relief, with that silence only partly because she didn’t actually need to breathe. “Now, you just relax right there for a bit, and I’ll check in around lunchtime!”
With gentle, careful footsteps, she turned back towards the door, saw herself out, and immediately connected her tablet to the outside wall and tapped at it until video footage from inside the room filled the screen. Sure, there were probably more plants to catalogue out there, and the rest of the team would definitely notice her absence, but this was clearly more important; Illaria just needed to do her best to ensure the safety and comfort of her…
Her ward. Clearly. What else would she be?
I listened out for the alien’s footsteps, but it sounded like she was already out of earshot. I took a deep breath and, after scanning the surroundings a couple times to make sure she wasn’t still in the room somehow, lifted myself out of bed—only a little guilty about leaving the covers slightly unmade. Maybe I should… nah, it’d be fine. Heck, knowing all the weird alien technology I’d already seen, it’d probably make itself any second now.
I went back and folded the sheets over again anyway. It was annoyingly hard work, given that the bed was nearly as high off the ground as I was, but I had this weird feeling that if I didn’t it’d be a problem. For some reason. But I knew better than to question those sorts of things.
Pulling my notebook and pen out of my back pocket, I scribbled down today’s date—thirteenth of June, 2551, apparently—along with a little note that just said ‘buy smaller bed’. Then I thought about it a little longer, and wrote another note that said ‘see if bank still exists’ next to it. At the very least, I was pretty sure that a bed like my old one couldn’t cost more than a week’s rent, and if I missed a payment last week then I probably had just enough money left over for that kind of purchase. It didn’t sound like the alien was in the business of charging rent, given her general demeanour.
Well, I had a plan in place, at the very least! And that was more than I could say for a lot of points in my life. In the meantime, I suppose I should just wait; the stores wouldn’t be open on Sunday anyway, and it didn’t look like there were that many other people around the last time I was outside.
…Wait, I’d been outside? When? New plan, try to go outside again.
The door was my first thought, of course, but that turned out to be a lot more easily said than done. I distinctly remember where the door had opened, or at least I thought I did, but the wall just closed shut without even a seam to speak of and neither knocking nor asking politely did much, so I was out of options. It didn’t look like there were any windows, either; there were a few little patches of wall that were strangely sky-coloured, but they were all shaped way too weirdly to be windows, and even if they weren’t, they were way too high off the ground anyway.
So, what to do now? There wasn’t exactly much else in the room, anyway… except the cabinets! Right, I had forgotten all about those, but maybe there was something in there that’d help me get outside. I didn’t really pay attention to what exactly got put in there, but it was worth a shot, I hoped.
I walked a couple steps over to the right, where the cabinets were yesterday, and discovered that they were similarly sealed shut to the wall. Dang.
“Excuse me, could you please open?” I wasn’t exactly hopeful, but I was still a little disappointed to discover that the cabinets were ignoring me. “Please? I’d appreciate it quite a bit.” Still nothing. I suppose it was a little too much to ask that the furniture had sentience, but it was at least worth a shot… I told myself, after thanking the stars that no one was around to see me talking to the walls. Maybe I should still try knocking?
To my audible surprise, knocking on the wall was immediately rewarded by a soft ‘click!’, followed by one of the cabinets sliding open. This one was empty, aside from what looked like a stack of legal forms; I was more than a little surprised that aliens even had a legal system, but immediately put that aside in favour of looking through all the rest of the cabinets. A lot of them were empty, but a lot more were filled with random household supplies—pink plastic cutlery in one drawer, spatulas and unnervingly sharp kitchen knives in another, a blue telescopic umbrella right next to where I knew the door ought to have been, and what looked like a keyboard?
I pulled this drawer out further and took a closer look. It was a keyboard, attached to a little screen and a flat black platform, with a mess of tangling vines connecting that to some other system further back that I couldn’t quite get a look at. Just on a whim, I typed the word ‘help’ into the keyboard and pressed the enter key, at which point the screen lit up with the words ‘please close drawer’. I did, and after a short hum, the machine let out a ‘beep!’. Not a synthesised noise, though; it just literally said the word ‘beep’. This alien sure was odd.
Tapping the front of the drawer again, it slid open with a little blue pamphlet that I picked up and read. Then I read through the whole thing again, because I couldn’t quite believe it.
Apparently, this little machine was an ‘atomic compiler’, which was capable of generating arbitrary objects through… some technical process which was explained in words, but which I certainly didn’t recognise or understand. It had to be small enough to fit in the drawer, and it was very insistent that it couldn’t make anything living, but… my eyes lingered on the word ‘post-scarcity’, which whoever had made the pamphlet helpfully emphasised by making it bold, underlined, and surrounded by a little ring of stars. Surely not.
I typed in ‘ten credits’ and pushed the drawer back in. When it came back out again, on the platform were exactly ten carbon-steel Evean credit coins, each looking to be newly minted and identical to all the rest. Without even thinking, I grabbed them and slid them into my front pants pocket, and then thought about it for a moment. If I could just make coins whenever I wanted, it’s not like I’d need to carry around money; I could just come home and grab some if I needed to buy something. My finger hovered over the ‘delete’ button, but instead I tapped open another drawer and dropped the coins into it. Just in case.
Alright, what else can I make? I wasn’t at all sure what to do with all this freedom, but it felt as though I ought to do something. I typed in ‘twin-sized bed’ into the keyboard, but was met with a flashing error message. There was no way that wasn’t too big, I knew, but it was the only idea I had for something that I actually wanted.
…And then I remembered the alien mentioning class-G medicine, the way she said that it would change your body. Maybe…
I typed in ‘information about class-g medicine’ and, after a somewhat longer hum, it returned a couple sheets of paper that I slowly read through. This pamphlet was even more full of technical jargon than the last one, but I very clearly saw the words ‘transgender’ and ‘dysphoria’, and knew that this was exactly what I was looking for. And under the ‘effects’ section… it looked like however these worked, they were a lot more powerful and versatile than what oestrogen could do, from what I remembered of some late-night Internet searches. And I was standing right in front of a machine that would give me almost anything I asked for.
I reached down to the keyboard, and then my hands froze in place as a voice in my mind very clearly rang out, “Don’t you fucking dare.”
I was furious.
Those therapists had been telling me about intrusive thoughts for a while, saying I needed to be vigilant, shut them down before I felt tempted to act on any. And I was finally glad for once that I’d actually listened to them, because now I could actually stop those thoughts before they made me fuck up my body.
“Wh-why?” I heard a stuttering, high-pitched voice in my head. That’d be it.
“Why what?” I said out loud. Asserting dominance. “Why am I not letting myself be injected with alien drugs from a mystery machine in my prison cell? Big mystery, that. Who could possibly guess.”
My hand was still twitching in the direction of the keyboard; I clenched my fist and pulled it in towards my torso.
The voice apparently had more to say than that, though. “It’s not a prison cell? I’ve been outside.”
“Have you now,” I responded, malice dripping from every word. “And what was life like out there under xeno control.”
“I… don’t exactly remember,” it murmured. “I was being carried. But still—”
“You ‘but still’ nothing. If my jailer deigns to show me the outside before shoving me back into my cell, that doesn’t make it any less of a prison, and it doesn’t mean I should suddenly start trusting the alien who locked me in here.”
“I didn’t say that I trusted her, exactly, but…” I felt a flash of emotion that I couldn’t help but recoil from. “This might be the first actual chance I’ve had to live the life I want to.”
My brain was spinning, and it was hard to focus on any particular thought, but goddammit if I wasn’t gonna try my best. “And what the fuck do you mean by that,” I all but yelled. “I don’t know about you, but I was living a pretty great life for a while, back when I was still on my parents’ good side. So your grand plan is to just make sure they doubly disown me? Not a chance in hell.”
“I-I…” it stammered back. “My parents hurt me, a lot. I don’t want to go back to them.”
“You’re right! They did. Good fucking job. And it looks like it never taught you that you were supposed to be better.”
“I want to be better. I really do. And that’s not going to happen if I’m not happy. I think…” It paused for long enough that I managed to hope it had gone away for good, just before crashing back into my brain. “No, I know that this is going to make me happy.”
“Sure. Of course. Mutilating your body is gonna be just such a mental health boost! It’ll definitely get me friends again. Such a smart idea, no wonder I graduated with flying colors.”
It tried to muster up a response to that, but I knew better than to let it get another word in edgewise. “No, really, let me help you, if you want it that bad,” I said with my best fake sincerity, and then paced over to the drawers on the other side of the room. I tapped one open, and it slid out to reveal a set of kitchen knives, one of which I picked up and held gingerly above one of the scars on my right forearm.
I didn’t listen. “I don’t know how much of my life you know about. But remember when Tabby freaked out and dumped me when she saw this scar? Wonder how your pretty little alien friend is gonna treat you when it sees this next one.”
Just then, the door slid back open, and the alien ran back inside towards me; speak of the fucking devil. I backed off a step and held the knife right up to my arm, then yelled, “Don’t you fucking try to stop me.”
It stepped closer. I pointed the knife towards it. Its vines shifted, but it didn’t approach any further.
Then a sudden prick hit my leg, and before I knew what had happened, I had fallen to the ground, the knife already snatched up and being put away. I tried to yell out any kind of resistance at all, but the words refused to form in my brain, and then I lost control of my voice entirely.
I heard the alien say something that sounded like “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” and then everything was black.
ValleyFlower: They’re fine, physically, at least ValleyFlower: I can’t help but feel like this is my fault RoseCompass: i mean, sure, kinda RoseCompass: but i think you did the best you could do for them given them being kept in secret and on their own RoseCompass: or, y'know, as alone as a pluribus can be ValleyFlower: Would you have preferred that I brought them onto the ship in a vulnerable state? RoseCompass: in the abstract, no, or else i’d’ve reported you already RoseCompass: but you’ve pretty clearly hit your limit here, and this is obviously more important to you than your job right now ValleyFlower: …So, what are you going to do? RoseCompass: don’t sweat it, babe, already got it covered RoseCompass: got in touch with the telluria, told them the xenobotanist on staff here needs a personal leave break RoseCompass: they’re sending out a pod with your replacement in the next day or two ValleyFlower: Thank the stars; you’re a lifesaver, Alophosia ValleyFlower: And you didn’t tell them about…? RoseCompass: your new little pets? fear not, darling, your secret is safe with me ValleyFlower: They’re not - never mind ValleyFlower: I hope that this helps them. I really hope that I haven’t broken anything permanently RoseCompass: people don’t break, babe RoseCompass: and if they got hurt, then you can help them feel better RoseCompass: but you should probably grab a pod and head up to orbit before that class-z wears off ValleyFlower: You’re right. I suppose I’ll be off, then RoseCompass: as usual RoseCompass: safe flight, try not to get stabbed with a kitchen knife ValleyFlower: Oh, don’t you worry; it’ll take a lot more than that to hurt me