Burnouts In Paradise

Chapter 2: Poison, Doubts, & Easy Outs

by gaydarade

Tags: #cw:ageplay #cw:noncon #cw:sexual_assault #cw:abuse_mention #cw:suicide_mention #D/s #dom:female #f/f #pov:bottom #scifi #sub:female #bondage #brain_damage #dom:nb #drugs #emotional_manipulation #exhibitionism #f/m #f/nb #furry #gaslighting #humiliation #intoxication #mindbreak #NP_hard_mathematics #psychotactile_superposition #restraints #sadomasochism #schoolgirl #straitjacket #sub:male #sub:nb #urban_fantasy
See spoiler tags : #personality_change #personality_split #sub:AI

Hi there! It's me again with more of that good shit you crave: [alien bugs ruining people's lives]. If you are not here for [alien bugs ruining people's lives], then I can only assume it is because I have crafted an extremely compelling sci-fi world that you find deeply fascinating.

In this chapter {it somehow feels twice as long as the last one - in a good way, I promise!!}, there's a lot going on! We dig into Kinzie's background, we uncover much of what it means to be working class in the Den Colony on Kandar, and you even get a sneak peek into my deepest, darkest desires (well-maintained and accessible public spaces).

There's also some mind control.

I still haven't quite pinned down how exactly to get the formatting perfect so going forward I'm not going to be too picky with it. If I go back around and publish a chapbook, we can worry about the details then. If you notice any passages that are egregiously bad, please let me know and I'll spruce it up.

Okay! Go enjoy!

Kinzie woke up drowning.

It started with a gag, then a cough and a sputter, as thick ropes of drool and slime poured out of her mouth and pooled inside the mask that cupped her face. Barely conscious, she pressed herself back against the pod, through the pool of lukewarm sludge, and clawed at the mask. In one unlucky swipe she ripped away one of the ear straps

With her next breath, she sucked down a chestful of slime, and jerked awake to fire in her lungs. Gray and sludge surrounded her, soon joined by the sound of squealing sirens that burst alive from every direction. She barely had a second to panic before the murky-dark tipped over. With the shift in gravity, the pod split in half and spewed her out a three foot drop; Kinzie and a tubful of goo both splattered against a smooth stone plane.

— — {

| Good Morning! = > You have [NaN] new notifications.

assesSMent: {

| Physical Status = > eleVAted adreNAline: "Remember to breathe!"

| Vehicle Status = > connection error: GaeaNet Inaccessible

| Sleep Status = > you slept peacefully for [32 hours]: "Great Job!"

| Selfcare Status = > Reminder to eat and hydrate.


} — —

The girl gasped and flailed her limbs across the slick floor, like an awkward new goat, she staggered to her feet and stumbled forward onto a patch of grass and warm soil. In front of her was what appeared to be a large, indoor garden. A trio of dark shelled beetles skittered away from her, with startled hisses and the hum of their rapid wingbeats.

She glanced backward with her mouth agape in shock: the split-open pod was suspended from a hovercart that was buoyed halfway between the edge of the garden, and a large set of double doors, where outside the daytime sun glowed a warm yellow. The pod’s slow-blinking light began to fade and its alarms lowered from a dreadful clanging to an annoying chime: the emergency concluded.

— — {

assesSMent: {

| Health Status = > [uncertain]:

>> you have recently experienced a traumatic event 

>> psychological trauma can preindicate neurological degradation in patients with traumatic brain injuries.

>>>> report to an urgent care facility for immediate evaluation

>>>> "Health is wealth, baby!"


} — —

Kinzie turned back to the garden, and the three beetles watched her with an apprehension that shortly dissipated. They waddled away on their segmented limbs to nibble at flowers, and she watched the lights of the hub play across their glistening shells, the foxgirl shuddered. She whipped her head back and forth: droplets of gel leapt from her ears and chin and hair to splash across the mosaic tiles. Around her was an impressive transit hub, and a number of insectoid creatures. Kandarosians of shapes and varieties that she’d never seen before. Some ignored her, while others looked on with a vague concern - perhaps annoyed by the still-screeching alarm of the pod.

— — {

assesSMent: {

| Error Log = > Remote Access Services Unavailable:

>> ["the following addons are inaccessible:",

>> …,

>> "59. PlunderBus: Microstock Portfolio"]

| System Message = > GaeaNet Inaccessible:

>> ["Various core functions unavailable.",

>> "Please return to a Gaean Colony territory."]


} — —

She glanced across glass-monitored kiosks, where the Kandar runic script flickered occasionally with new information, but nothing stood out. Her neural assistant pinged her every so often with a new translation of a tram schedule, or an impossible pronunciation for some untranslatable town name. 

There was an info booth, which seemed odd since the bugs were a pseudo-hivemind, as well as a number of other amenities that Kinzie could not possibly have expected: restrooms, snackbars, water fountains, benches, and there was even a little row of beds cordoned off to one side of the hall. The place looked right at home alongside the pictures of Gaea’s old golden-age cities.

How the fuck had she gotten here?

— — {

reminder: {

| Memory Replay 

>> [~A small explosion.~]

>> [~Truck veering into a ditch.~]

>> [~Panic.~]

>> [~A hulking armored bug.~]

>> [~My name’s Pleo, I’m kind of a big deal around here.~]

>> [~Vivid sensations of sexual assault.~]

>> [~Encasement in a pod as it fills with green slime.~]


} — —

Kinzie’s entire body tensed. She doubled over and spewed. Watery bile smeared across colorful tiles that formed the shape of a butterfly. Kinzie wiped drool off her lip with a shaky wrist.

The other night, bugs attacked her convoy. They’d taken her. They’d put her on that military floater, and knocked her out to do who knows what, and now she was here. Somewhere, out in the middle of nowhere.

And Brekka. And Lemna. Locked up somewhere probably, by now. And all her fuckhead cousins back home: did they know? Did it matter? She guessed it did: she’d been covering a lot of the bills. And now what? She guessed they’d have to get jobs.

And besides, there was absolutely no way on Kandar or Gaea or wherever else it was in Kinzie’s power to go that she was gonna stop the Kandarosians from doing the same things they did everywhere which seemed to be, in Kinzie’s mind, whatever the fuck they wanted.

Well. Whatever. There’s eight years down the drain.

She grit her teeth, and trudged through the garden. Slime squelched in her socks and shoes - the only garments still attached to her body when they’d stuffed her in the pod. When Pleo stuffed her in the pod. Kinzie grit her teeth tighter and snarled the name. A draft from the doors blew over her body, and she shivered. And of course the few eyes that had glanced up at first had now refocused elsewhere. Well, fine. Kinzie stormed - naked and ashamed - to the other side of the garden, in a bee-line for the snackbar.

There was no front counter, or staff… or anyone. She took another glance over at all the public amenities. How did this whole place even work? Sure, she was just a truck driver, but the logistics here didn’t make any sense. She grabbed a paper-wrapped package from a refrigerated shelf and with two sideways glances to make sure she really wasn’t being watched, Kinzie finally ripped the wrapper open.

Inside was a crusty, seedy flatbread dusted with flour and curled around a generous bush of leafy greens. Grated over the top were sweet and spicy root vegetables (something like carrots and beets), and in between it all was a column of thick-sliced meat, almost certainly smoked pork. She stared down at it, in placid disbelief, not sure what she had expected out of the package, but somehow ‘sandwich’ seemed like an impossible answer. 

She pondered it as her body walked along on autopilot, taking big yet apprehensive bites and chewing thoughtfully as she went. The sandwich was good: it really was pretty fucking good actually. At least the bugs were good for something. She thumped down into one of the public use beds before she even knew she was there, licked her fingers free of seeds and wiped her hands off on the blankets.


With a few more sideways glances, she swiped the blanket off a nearby bed and wrapped it over her shoulders like a cloak. She hugged it tight to her chest, and allowed herself a low groan of relief. She squirmed underneath the blanket from her own bed, rubbed her head into the pillow, and flipped over on her side to watch her surroundings.

Around the hub, bugs slowly moved to and fro. Some liked to stop in the garden - others moved straight for their terminals and disappeared behind glass doors. Her Neural Assistant had little to say about any of them. Apparently there were hundreds of varieties of bugs that the Gaean Authority had never even encountered. Kinzie snickered. They were so fucked. She was so fucked. Everyone was so fucked.

An automated janitor rolled by and slurped up her footprints. Later on, a bug with the long-flat torso of a centipede, and little clawed graspers (like Pleo’s), approached the pod on the other side of the garden. It was still floating there, halfway between the garden and the front doors, still blinking lights, probably still beeping. And the centipede thing tip-tapped on the side of the pod.

The lights died out, then the hovercart sank to the ground and released its cargo. The centipede thing curled up beside the pod and waited, antennae trained toward the front doors.

"What the fuck is this place," Kinzie muttered under her breath.

— — {

assesSMent: {

| Error Log = > Location Services Unavailable:

>> ["the following addons are inaccessible:",

>> …,

>> "33. Flutr: LGBT Dating"]

| System Message = > GaeaNet Inaccessible:

>> ["Various core functions unavailable.",

>> "Please return to a Gaean Colony territory."]


} — —

From beneath her bundle of blankets, the fox girl watched the centipede, as it watched the doors, and sooner than she expected, Kinzie fell asleep.

"Hey there," a voice spoke from just above the bed, "hi, excuse me, I’m sorry to wake you."

Kinzie grimaced and rubbed the corner of her eye, "wha-what is it? Who-?"

— — { reminder: { Memory Replay = > [~Choking. Slime. Bugs. Hub.~] } } — —


Kinzie’s look soured, and she slowly heaved herself to sit up. In front of her was a young, male… rat-thing dressed in a plain red and white jumpsuit with a pink Rosian lily on the lapel - a symbol of the Kandarosian people. His round ears pointed bashfully toward the floor amid the thicket of his curly brown hair, and he rubbed his knuckles in an anxious fidget. 

"Uhm! Sorry to wake you!" The rodent stammered, "but do you, uhm, do you mind if I-"

"What do you want?" Kinzie snapped and flashed her fangs at him

He stiffened, and dropped his gaze to the floor, "y-your trash."

He pointed down at the sandwich wrapper by the bed. Kinzie rolled her eyes and leaned down to pick it up, but he crouched down and swiped it up before she could get to it, "no, no I’ve got it, you don’t need to-"

"Sorry, thanks, I mean, uhm," he mumbled as he stuffed the piece of paper in a trash bag, and cleared his throat. "Actually-"

Kinzie snorted, annoyed, and looked him up and down as he froze again. What a pussy. She licked one of her teeth thoughtfully, then tilted her head. "Yeah, actually, what the fuck. What the fuck’re you doing here? Where am I? You’re the first fuckin’ real person I’ve seen in this whole place, and you just say hi like it’s normal, so what’s the deal, are you gonna tell me what’s going on?"

The questions babbled on as the rodent sat down in the bed across from her, "Uhm, I don’t- Sorry, I’m supposed to. Well. I was from Den, and my name’s-"

Kinzie interrupted again, "listen, I don’t give a shit okay? Lotta people from the Den, but we’re not there, we’re here. So."

The rat-thing swallowed hard, "Kinzie Barro?"

"Who. The fuck! Is asking!?"

Kinzie’s shout lifted the guy out of the bed, and he fell on the floor scrambling to tug something out of his breast pocket, "ok, ok! Uhm! Well, you’re on my list. See? Right here before I get to the snackbar, but after I clean the sleeping nook."

He half-crawled over to her, and clambered to his feet to show her a piece of paper with neatly printed out responsibilities. And there she was, on a list. Just her name, all by itself between "Sleeping Nook" and "Snackbar".

She frowned at it, then looked up for him, but he’d already scurried a few steps away to rummage through a maintenance closet nearby, and when he had a jumpsuit, identical to his own under his arms. He proffered it, as if she might lunge out and bite him at any second.

"Here! Some clothes. I don’t have socks. Sorry. You can shower in the bathrooms if you want. It’s best if you do it sooner so I can restock the towels," the boy muttered, and Kinzie finally realized that he wasn’t afraid.

Her tits were out. He was shy. Or maybe he was afraid and shy, but the point was. Her tits.

She blushed and glared, and pulled the blankets up over her chest. She snatched the jumpsuit out of his hands, and he quickly turned his back to her. Kinzie cursed and kicked her slime-crusted socks and shoes off, pulling the jumpsuit up each leg with a kick.

"Uhm, I’m supposed to tell you. I mean, you should know what’s going on." He coughed and studied a bed nearby, wiping away a trail of dust from the frame. "There was a malfunction with your pod. You were supposed to be on a train to the capital. Normally, you’d wake up there, and they’d have someone who can make everything make sense, but. Well. Now they’re gonna come get you. And they’ll be here in a couple hours. So. You should stay here at that Waystation. I mean, you can go out and explore the town if you want, but-"

"So, you work for them. You have a job," she watched him a little closer, snapping buttons together up to her throat, then straightened out the neckline, "you know my cousin’s friends with a little rat-guy like you. Up and disappeared a while ago."

"I’m a gopher, actually," he gently corrected her, "my name’s Nick. Who’s your cousin? I might-"

"It doesn’t matter, Nick," she snarled while he muttered to himself. "My cousins are back home doing stingers, watching cartoons, and I'm-"

"Barro… Barro… Wait! Oh my god, Kinzie Barro. You’re Jen’s cousin. The one that got hit by the truck," Nick jolted. He seemed over the moon to make the connection.

Kinzie blinked and seemed to lose track of the conversation, "I did what?"

— — {

reminder: {

| Memory Replay 

>> [~Warehouse forklift accident.~]

>> [~Extensive hospitalization: neurological damage.~]

>> [~Memory loss. Mood swings. Personality changes.~]

>> [~Implant.~]

>> [~New beginnings.~]


} — —

"Oh, shit I mean," Nick’s eyes were brighter, sweeter, "I know your cousin Jen. We used to be friends. Before I came here she told me about you. You had an accident, and then-"

"I know, I know, shut up, I-" Kinzie inhaled sharply, and locked eyes with him, "it happened to me, Nick. I know."

"Fuck. Right," Nick said. "Sorry."

"And I don't wanna talk about it. I'm never gonna go back and see that place, or those people, right? So what does it matter?" Kinzie's voice shook a little.

The weight of it hung there for what felt like minutes as Nick mulled it over. Eventually he sighed.

"I mean, you're right. Probably not," Nick agreed. "But here I'm seeing you. So? Never say never, right?"

Kinzie glared at him.

"Alright, maybe a bit too soon for all that. If you want me to leave, I will," Nick said, but she didn’t say anything and he moved to sit beside her. "Do you need anything? Can I get you something from the commissary? Maybe scrounge up some socks or underwear if you give me like, I dunno, ten minutes."

"No, don't," Kinzie said and grabbed his wrist.

"Alright. I'm here," he murmured, and placed a reassuring hand on her's.

"Everything here smells all fucked up," Kinzie said. "Like, empty and dusty, or-"

"Sour," Nick said. "You get used to it, but yeah."

"How long have you been here? What are they gonna do to me?" Kinzie said. She leaned her head against his shoulder.

"Uhm. Well. I've been here in Hsshrik for like three years. And I was in the capital for a few more before that," Nick said and slowly stroked his fingers through her hair. "It goes a little different for everybody. They scooped me up and slimed me cuz I tried to shoot up a guardpost - the one on the south gate."

"Yeah, that one sucks," Kinzie said, and put more weight against him. The checkpoints were awful - the worst part of any colonist’s life. It seemed like their whole world was structured around making the checkpoints as inconvenient as possible, and now she didn’t know if that was the bugs’ fault or not. She asked her Neural Assistant for a map of the area, and it reminded her of the big stops. "Did you work in the packing plant or the bakery?"

Nick laughed.

"The packing plant, but I had a friend in the bakery, who kept telling me to switch sides before I got fired," Nick sighed, "just didn't see the point if the main reason I was getting write-ups was the guardpost."

"Yeah. Regal could never get their shit together either," Kinzie closed her eyes and listened to his heartbeat. Slow and steady.

"The shipping company right? That sounds pretty fuckin' awful to me. How's the pay?" He asked.

"Shit. But it's not so bad if you like being alone," she said.

"Mm. Cool. Well. Yeah, anyway. I showed up at the south gate waving a gun, and they put me down in a second-"


"-right. But I hit my limit, I guess, and all that was left was ‘stupid’. Anyway, they woke me up in the capitol, and…" he trailed off, "I dunno."

"Embarrassed?" Kinzie asked.

"Yeah," Nick said. His heart was beating a little faster - just a little - and he was so warm. He shifted, and so did his scent. There was something there. Something spicy and enticing.

"You don’t have to say," Kinzie murmured.

"No, you should know," Nick said, but his voice was low, almost a whisper. None of the bugs out there cared, but still: the whisper was for him, and it was for her. Nick wiped a hand across his face and shook his head, "I mean, it doesn’t bother me. Uhm. So I got dropped in the capitol, in this waiting room, and they had this… I don’t know how to describe her. This girl was there."

The office was cozy and perfect.

The whole place had this kind of… Nick struggled to describe it. It was like when the colorful and zany burger shops got all modern with fake fireplaces and artificial stone and the really nice wood veneer on plasterboard. It felt like that, but real. There was a fireplace, and it had a real fire in it, and it was warm against his calf.

"Nicholas, hello." Skrin greeted him, as warmly as the fire in the fireplace. "It’s a pleasure to meet you."

He stared glumly at her desk: heavy, dense wood with a gleaming varnish. As he stared, she gestured for him to touch it, and he couldn’t help but squeeze a corner between his thumb and forefinger. He didn’t know how, but somehow… It was better. Like. Better than real life. Better than Den.

"You can call me Skrin, if you like: I’m an Ambassador here at the Office of Requisitions in Kllthithik," the woman said, then tapped her cheek. "How do you feel?" 

Nick could still feel the warm indents that lined his swollen face/elbows/wrists from where they locked him up tight. Behind him, his restraints were hung on a metal hook on the door, apparently only necessary while they moved him around the building:

  • a red, padded muzzle
  • a heavy, red straightjacket
  • a pair of red arm & leg cinches

"Uh, freaked out, obviously. The fuck is this place?" 

The woman didn’t respond, which was fair enough. If he was at the Office of Requisitions, then that made it pretty clear what the deal was. Light streamed over her shoulders through the tall, crystal windows at her back. She tilted her head.

Nick cleared his throat, "Angry. Depressed. Groggy. My head hurts."

It was mostly true, with at least one major omission. We wanted his gun. The bugs’d never budged an inch for him until he showed up ready to kill; if only he’d known that years ago. But now they’d fuckin’ got him, so what’d it matter?

The woman made a note, and when she spoke it sounded like she was smiling. "Nothing too abnormal, so long as you can take it easy. Now, I just want to make sure. Do you know your name? Do you know where you are right now?"

Nick nodded in answer to her question, uncertain, and she smiled and scribbled another note, "good. I’m glad."

The last four or five hours of Nick’s memory were the only weird part. He’d kinda-sorta woken up strapped into a wheelchair gliding across pristine tile floors, thrashing at the restraints. Everywhere he went he was surrounded by gaean-shaped things that weren’t quite Gaean. Some of them were more buglike than others, but they were all so close to being… like him. People.

"And you know that you’ve been requisitioned by the Kandar to join the hive?"

Nick nodded again, the uncertainty giving way to hollow dread. It was obvious, but the words made him cringe.

He could smell something about their skin - her skin - that just wasn’t right. Before that, Nick had been dead-asleep, apparently for like 36 hours. And before that he’d held a shivering gun, pointed in the general direction of a Kandarosian Soldier. 

"Okay, great. Well, to start with, I’m here to administer a psychological evaluation. You can think of it like the first step of your journey to Kandarosian citizenship," the woman said. Skrin. Some kind of bug name. She laid out a tray in front of him with a small paper cup holding two identical blue tablets, and a plain, porcelain mug of tea. "I know this is a lot to take in, so I have some medication that’s going to make it a little easier for you to relax and understand."


That was a magical word if Nick had ever heard one. "Uh, what is it? What is it gonna do?"

Something about her made the impressively sized desk seem small - like she was close, right in front of him, right there and listening to his every word. Even though he could barely see her face, squinting against the light. He played his fingertips over the edge of the desk again.

"You can think of it like a mild psychedelic. Maybe similar to LSD, if you’ve tried that before. That’s a popular option in the Den, isn’t it?" the woman explained. "It’s going to disinhibit some of your emotions, and free you up to explore a few new ideas."

So, like, some MKUltra shit. Nick snorted. Easier. Whatever. He figured the hard way was just gonna end with him dead in a ditch somewhere. So what did the easy way mean? Drooling homunculus? One way or the other, he wasn’t walking out of this place: this one’s not a winner, sorry Nick, better luck next time.

At the very least, his family was better off. He’d been nothing but dead weight the last couple months. At least they could keep their jobs. So who was left to care? After everything, maybe a taste of easy was okay. He wiggled the paper cup between his fingers, watching the tablets slide around the paper bottom.

She had a slow and measured tone, with careful and practiced gestures of her hands. She was so on-script that Nick wondered if there was anything he could ask that would shake her. He wondered: if he still had his gun, if he threatened to blow her guts out, would she still look so composed? "We find that - if used appropriately - it’s an excellent substance for mammals navigating traumatic periods of their lives. I can pull the statistics for you if you like, but I don’t have them right in front of me."

He looked back up at her, she nodded toward him. Curious. Trying to figure out what he was thinking. Or maybe she already knew, and she wanted him to think that she didn’t know. It was impossible to tell, anyway: she was a bug. Probably. But if she was a bug, how many others had been hiding in plain sight? Were they already inside the colonies - tearing them apart from within? Were they at the highest levels of government on Gaea - plotting the downfall of mammalian civilization?

Fuck it.

He slugged back the pills and drank a few mouthfuls of tea. The earthy taste was familiar at first, but the longer it sat on his tongue the more Nick could feel. The nerves of his mouth became fuzzy, his teeth and gums and cheeks were all fuzzy, and he blinked. He slid down into his chair, he made himself relax.

"Weird," he said.

"Yes, it is a little odd, isn’t it?" Skrin agreed, "are you comfortable Nicholas? I’d like to administer the evaluation, if you consent."

Nick swallowed and nodded. He could feel the muscles wiggle in his throat. He nodded again, "sure. Yeah."

"Great. Everything that happens in this office is being recorded for your records. You’ll be able to review it at your leisure, and if anything seems untoward - in the moment or after the fact - you can just say the word," she said.

"Alright," Nick said.

She double-clicked her ballpoint pen and something in the world shifted.

Then came the questions:

  1. How old are you?: "Twenty-eight."
  2. And your gender?: "Male."
  3. History of drug use or mental illness in your family?: "Yes."
  4. Elaborate: "Dad: suicide. Mom: Schizo. Brother, sister, brother: drugs, drugs, drugs."
  5. Can you describe the events that brought you here today?: ""

"I tried to kill a bug," Nick finally said with a wiggle in his jaw. He shot her a bitter look out from under the shaggy mop of his hair, but she didn’t seem to mind. Instead, she watched him, motionless, her pen hovering over the paper, and with that patient hover… A pinch of guilt swayed behind his eyes, and he could feel it trail its way down the back of his throat and into his chest. The longer she stared, the worse it felt.

She was a bug, right? Even if she didn’t look like one. Did she care that he hated her guts? Could he just say that kinda stuff, now? They were evaluating him for his citizenship, and if he didn’t get it, then where was he gonna go? Was he talking out loud? Could she hear his thoughts?

She didn’t say anything, or write anything down, so he tried again. "Or… I dunno. It’s more than that. A bug got me fired, so…"

She stared.

That wasn’t enough?

Nick shrunk back and knit his brow, mumbling, "it was a shit job anyway though. I don’t know. I shouldn’t have even been working. Really, I guess it’s college’s fault? I couldn’t afford to go, so the loans…"

Nick slouched there in the chair, sinking, while the cushions soaked him in. His nose felt fuzzy, and he started looking back: he couldn’t, didn’t want to stop. How far did it go? When did everything go wrong?

"High school?" he asked Skrin, "Uhm, no, before that. My parents? Or maybe I was fucked up before I was born."

Skrin cut in and her voice was otherworldly. So stable, and so precise. "From what little I know of Gaean history, your species has been on an unstable path for a long, long time, Nicholas. Long before you were born."

Nick nodded. Gaean culture was pretty fucked up if you really sat there and thought about it.

Nick’s furry, round ears swiveled up to attend to her as she continued to talk. "But I think it will be more productive if we focus on the things that have been in your control. When did you first have to become an adult and make hard choices for yourself?"

Right. Of course. It couldn’t all be his fault. But some of it, just a small piece? That could be his fault, "I was uhm, about eleven when my parents started to leave me at home alone with the kids."

"Developmentally, that’s quite young for your species," she pointed out, "speaking physiologically, Gaeans don’t complete their transition to adulthood until their mid-to-late twenties. As an outsider, I can imagine it would be very hard to be in charge of childcare at that age."

"That doesn’t matter does it?" He tried to argue. "Everybody I know…"

But he knew he’d started down the wrong path when she prodded him, "you don’t think adults should be the ones to raise their young? Wouldn’t it be easier that way?"

"Well, uhm," Nick winced and sank deeper in his chair. The ceiling spun, and he couldn’t tell if the design was supposed to warp and stretch like that. "Maybe?"

"That could be why you struggle with emotional regulation. It would also make sense if that had an impact on your self-esteem and prosocial behaviors," Skrin wondered aloud.

Nick wanted to argue, but she rose from her desk and he couldn’t speak. She was a giant, and blotted out half the world with her mere presence when she rounded the corner to come near. So close. Too close. The gopher stared from where his limp body had stabilized in the pit of the chair.

"Would you like to come lay on the couch with me, Nicholas?"

She had to be six or seven feet tall, or maybe that was the drugs. She had a silhouette that was comically curved, or was that the drugs too…? Her skirtsuit was dark purple, her skin was near-gold, and her hair was cut in a long brown brown bob that stabbed past either side of her jaw in a way that reminded Nick of an ant. The even swoop of her straight-across bangs nearly obscured the only truly insectoid feature of her body; a pair of beady, perfectly black eyes.

"I-" Nick coughed and shook his head, "I don’t think… that’s not a good idea?"

"Is that a yes or a no, Nicholas?" Skrin asked.

"You wanna lie on the couch together?" Nick asked and she nodded her head. He looked around, wary. "Like cuddling. And you said it’s recording? Like video, audio, all that?"

"That’s right. For your peace of mind, we’re keeping a copy of your session here today. You can request to review it at any time you like," she patiently explained and reached out to him. He reached back and her grip was so soft. Her fingers were strong. "And intimacy is a critical component of safety, isn’t it?"

"Probably," Nick said as she tugged him up to his feet. She held him and he grasped her shoulders for stability. He was taller than her. He didn’t expect that. She was like five-something. How did she seem so big when they were sitting and so small on his feet?

"Intimacy is a critical component of safety," she insisted. She brushed her knuckles over his cheek, and he leaned into the touch. It felt so good. "Gaeans’ survival instincts evolved into fear over time as your species grew and gained more complex social structures. Now simple social acts like sex and other forms of intimacy signal intense safety."

Nick blinked. "Huh… Oh."

The woman smiled up at him. "So."

Nick blinked again. Her. The couch. "Okay."

"Alright. Get up," she said, "nice and easy."

Nick stood. His legs obeyed him more than expected they would. He wobbled toward the couch, crawled onto it, and the soft cushions were heaven. Skrin followed and when she eased back against him, he could feel the warmth of her flesh, the soft meat of her hips, as natural as anything in the world. She lay down and he spooned her

"Woah. You are so soft," he marveled.

He couldn’t remember the last time he held a girl like this, he didn’t know where to put his hands, but she reached back and threaded her fingers through his. Skrin brought his arm around her body in a firm embrace; she pressed his palm into the lap of her pencil skirt, right along the dip of her pelvis. 

"Yes," Skrin said and sighed in comfort. The base of her belly sank inward, and underneath his palm, down the line of her pelvis, he could feel a row of hard circles. They sucked at the fabric, and Nick realized that she was inhaling. Through… holes in her belly. Wild. Skrin cleared her throat. "Ah. You don’t have much sexual experience, do you?"

Nick blinked, then blushed, "no, I do."

He tried to pull away, but she clutched him tighter, cupped over two of the holes that strained like nipples against the hem of the pencil skirt whenever she exhaled.

"Is that so?" Skrin poised the question aloft like a clue to inspect, and Nick’s lips parted with a hot breath. "I suppose I was mistaken. It seemed as though you were uncomfortable."

"No, I’m easy," Nick murmured with a glassy look and rubbed her hip. The unspoken truth was right there: she was a bug. As close to a Gaean as a bug could get, but still a bug. How could she be so hot?

"Are you?" She asked with a grin. Skrin began to pull away, but his instincts kicked in and Nick squeezed her body tight against his, clucking his tongue with an annoyed chirp

"I fuck plenty, but I’m not like…" he said, then trailed off, watching geometric starbursts shatter across the surface of the crystal windows. The sun was sinking, low/warm/orange. There was a spicy yet familiar odor in the air. What was that? Sex? Was he making it up or did she…? What if he smelled like sex? Could she tell? Nick buried his nose in the crook of her neck, searching for the source of the scent, eyes fixed toward the bright lights of the window.

The scent was reverent. Like Izzy Cedarshaw at sunset, from that day years ago. All the neighborhood kids snuck under the fence and wandered two and a half miles into the badlands. He held her hand on a clifftop while they talked about life. They almost made out. That evening, playing on the silt drains as chills crept into the night air, Nick’s little brother Rodney broke his ankle and Nick had to help him get home. Everyone else stayed behind. Even Izzy.

His voice grew quieter. "I like being close. I just want… I just wanna…"

"You want to comfort me, and you want me to comfort you in return," she hummed with light and shallow breaths, almost like moans, "Nice and easy. Nice…"

"...and easy," Nick murmured.

Nick never really forgave Rodney for that night, or for the beating he got the next day when his parents found out about Rodney’s broken ankle. The memory was seared into him, and it was one of the last memories he had of his dad: the old man’s face with that vein in his cheek all popped out, thicker than spaghetti, and fists like cinder blocks. He and Izzy never talked again: after high school Izzy got into politics and moved to the good side of town, and there were no more chances. 

"It’s reflective of the ways you looked out for your younger siblings, and they no doubt helped to raise you too."

"Whuh?" Nick said. Visions of family and friends dispersed all at once.

"Easy now. Do you think the way you’re digging your fingers into my spiracles right now mirrors the same ownership and territoriality you felt towards your kin?"

"Uh! Oh, fuck!" His whiteknuckle grip plugged the holes in her hips and they squeezed him tight in return. "Did I hurt you? I’m- I’m so sorry!"

"Were you thinking of something?" Skrin asked, unbothered, and petted his arm.

"It was nothing," Nick said, obviously still shaken. The vision had seemed so real. His eyes were too wet and he rubbed his face with his sleeve.

"What happened?" she asked.

"I don't remember. It doesn't matter," he mumbled.

The woman in his arm twisted, gingerly, to face him. She grasped his wrist and pulled it down from his face, "I asked you a question, Nicholas. I'd like you to answer me."

"I don’t… I don’t-" Nick shuddered, and bit his lip, and out from under the shade of his hair the tears in his eyes glittered, "Just. My dad."

The emotionless pits of her eyes were fixed on him, but Skrin's touch, and her soft breathing made him feel like she almost cared. He swirled into her, spinning, spinning, spinning.

"Is that all?" she murmured and slung her arms over his shoulders. "Well, I suppose, it’s only natural. It's not fair. It's not right that they work themselves to death and leave you to pick up the pieces. But it wasn’t their fault either, you know? No one should be forced to choose: love your young or feed them? It’s a shame that your father had to make that hard choice."

"W-what?" he sniffed. And the words slithered up inside his gut. "Oh, no. No. What are you saying, that's not-"

"It's okay to be sad. It's alright," she purred, and caught his terrified little eyes in hers, beaming with love, "it’s easy to push it down, but it’s so much better to let it out. Just cry and let it out. Think. Quiet the beat, beat, beat of your racing heart and think. Whenever someone hit you or beat you; whenever someone stole from you or broke your heart or left you all alone… who was it? Think of every disappointment and betrayal that’s stacked up in your life. Are those Kandar faces that you see, Nicholas?"

He stared into the marble-black gaze, horrified, and all he saw inside were people he thought he loved. His dead dad, his psycho mom, his checked-out little brother, and Izzy fucking Cedarshaw. All these people in his life who’d done nothing but let him down. Made him do it all on his own. Everyone in the world was always taking the easy way out and leaving him to work his fucking ass off to pick up the pieces. He could practically see them, lined up shoulder to shoulder, with their backs all turned, marching away.

And where did that fucking leave him? What was he supposed to do?

He looked down, and in his hand, there was a gun.

Nick felt fingers scrape his collarbone and he jolted upon the cushions of the couch. He was on his back. Skrin straddled his lap. Her bob bounced around her face, and her palms pressed into his chest.

"What was that?" he gasped.

"Easy now," Skrin muttered.

Nick blinked and relaxed. "What are you doing to me?"

"This is a routine psychological evaluation, Nicholas. Did you forget? Moving on, I have another question for you. And this one’s not so easy."

His head swayed.

"Who did you really want to kill?"

"…And well, I'm not really proud of what happens next," Nick sighed. He lay there together with Kinzie, arms wrapped around each other in comfort and safety.

Kinzie scritched at his scraggly chin as she thought about what he said. "I wanna know."

He laughed, and his voice had this husky, choked quality to it. Kinzie's dad had a bandmate who laughed like that, "ah, fuck. I guess. Let's go sit outside, I wanna smoke."

"Smoke?" her ears perked up.

"Don't get too excited," he snickered and pushed himself up to his feet, "It's just herb. Around here they don't give you bugbites unless you're a really good boy."

Kinzie batted his hands away as he ruffled her ears, and she padded along after him. Bugs that looked like people, and drugs that change the way you think, and cuddling sexy therapists. She scrunched her eyes and thought about it and the warm whir of her Neural Assistant gave her that feeling that somehow this story was really important.

Around her the transit hub was dark, except for dim floor lamps, but it was busier than ever. The chatter and hiss of insects filled the air as they passed and moved outside, and the town at night time was… quaint. And kind of pretty.

The hub opened out onto a dense green lawn, with broad-leafed trees, loose-branched shrubs, stiff tallgrass, wildflowers, moss, and even a small pond: all of it parceled into manageable chunks by black and gray walkways. She could see the rise of buildings past the greenery, but no dense-packed wall of QuikBuilds and Container Dorms. No smog, and no clangor of construction. None of the glass-faced high rises from the Administrative district blotting out the sky.

They both sat down on the steps, and Nick pulled a joint and a lighter from his breast pocket.

"Alright, well. You've got, like, what? Half an hour left?" Nick asked.

— — { assessment: { Timer = > There are [30 minutes] remaining. } } — —

"Yeah,"  Kinzie said.

A second later Nick sucked down a long puff from his joint and exhaled musty streamers through his nose.

"Well, rest of the story goes… Uhm. The drugs hit, and then I got really fuzzy. Really good high. And Skrin spent a few hours just talking stuff over with me. Honestly, I had no idea therapy could be like that. I owe her my life," Nick said.

"Coming from a guy who showed up ready to blow all their brains out? Yeah, a life debt makes total sense," Kinzie scoffed.

"I was desperate, and you said yourself it was stupid! And it wasn't all hokey and magical like that, I think the drugs really did just… y'know, open me up to some stuff I was repressing. But. Yeah. Anyway, I dunno. The embarrassing part. While it was going on, I came onto her. I don't know why, I'd never thought about bugs like that before, but she was the sexiest thing in the world to me."

"Skrin? Don't tell me, I'm gonna be sick," Kinzie gagged. She watched a lot of monster romances, so really who was she to judge, but bringing that into the real world? On the best of days she would've been leery, but after what happened with Pleo, the idea was utterly nauseating.

"Hey, I dunno, it just happened. And she… didn't shoot me down. She, like, liked it. I dunno! And, well, me too I guess," Nick stammered, and Kinzie was surprised. He was halfway standing up for himself, and he had this starry look in his eye. It didn't seem like him. 

Not that she knew him very well, but it seemed weird to see this otherwise sweet guy gushing over a bug like that.

"Yeah, okay, sounds to me like you have the most brain damage out of the two of us," Kinzie said. She lay back on the steps and looked at the stars. "Are you happy?"

Nick offered her the last puff of the joint, and Kinzie waved him off.

"Yeah, can't complain," he dashed the roach against the stone.

"Are there any other Gaeans here? You're not lonely?" she asked.

"There are a few, but we don't hang out much," Nick said. "We'll do picnics in the park sometimes."

Kinzie stared at him. "You're too busy. What are you, a family man? You gotta stay home and nurse the babies?" 

"No. I’m not a breeder." Nick frowned. "Some of the others? Sure. But I'm learning machine maintenance, and my volunteer hours go to the hub. Everyone gives to the Kandar in their own ways, and that’s what works for me.."

Kinzie tried to imagine what kind of bug you’d squeeze into a pair of khakis and a polo, and plop down at the front of an electronics classroom. "Shame. They're probably dying to put eggs in a naturalborn bugfucker like you."

"Okay, you can quit now," he said.

He was agitated, Kinzie could tell, and she knew she was being mean but there was this cruel itch in the base of her skull that just hated everything about this whole situation. She shrugged and switched topics, "I wonder if they'd kill me if I asked politely. Between school or eggs, I'm not thrilled about either."

"They probably would. Maybe if you were really serious about it," Nick tentatively answered, "but I don't think it’s as bad as all that; way better than colony life, at least."

"Mm, yeah. Maybe if I hang in there long enough, I can get hit by another truck," she half laughed.

Nick scrunched up his nose, and tensed his jaw. "Listen, I get it, but please don’t joke about-" 

Kinzie’s jaw tightened.

— — { assessment: { Timer = > Your timer has concluded. } } — —

"They're here." The foxgirl squeezed her knees, stiffened her tail, then stood up and wiped the dust off the ass of her jumpsuit, "sorry about all that stuff. You don’t have to-"

"No. You’re having a hell of a day." Nick shook his head and blew a long and steady exhale. "Let me walk you in. It’s the least I can do."

The inside of the Hub was more active than ever. Clusters of creatures (now everywhere, both bipedal and not), stood around chittering as they awaited their trains.

The pair entered with Kinzie in Nick’s shadow, and they passed by the centipede-engineer-thing whose attention was now turned to a pair of Soldiers in light armor. The pod was gone, and the hovercart was folded neatly on the ground. Nick squeaked out a high-pitched chirp in their direction and waved. The centipede’s long, segmented antlers swiveled in his direction, and it chirped in response. The arms along its torso undulated.

As for the Soldiers, their heads turned and watched. Stock-still and focused as ever. Kinzie hunched lower and pressed into the gopher’s side, "you speak bug?"

"No. Fuck no," he chuckled, "that’s way over my paygrade. I’ve picked up a few things though. I can say ‘how ya doin’ to my coworkers."

"Huh," Kinzie hung onto his sleeve and watched the Soldiers until they turned their heads back to the Engineer. Nick closed in on the central Garden (though rather than plow straight through it, Nick took the long way around the side), and as they went the noise levels grew and grew. It didn’t become apparent why until they had made it past the garden. Near one of the far terminals, a dense ball of wriggling limbs and fluttering wings had formed.

"What's with the swarm?" Kinzie asked, and pulled the tips of her ears down to her forehead. She snuck yet another backward glance toward the Soldiers.

"Well, it's kind of rare for an Ambassador to pass through since they're all based out of the capitol," the gopher said. Nick stopped a polite distance from the periphery of the crowd. "So they get mobbed a bit. Lotta curious people in town, so when there's new smells and flavors… you can imagine that it’s kind of an event. You’re lucky they’re not allowed to talk to non-citizens or they woulda gotten you too."

Kinzie tried not to imagine that.

He bounced on his toes to try to see over the crowd, but he didn't approach any closer than was necessary. Kinzie didn’t know if he did that for her sake, but she was as grateful to the gopher as she could be: she already felt like a cornered animal in here. With the Soldiers behind and the crowd ahead, keeping some space from the insectoid Kandarosians for as long as she could was heavensent. Presumably the rest of her waking life would be spent in servitude to her many-legged overlords. Kinzie tried not to imagine that either.

And then the din went silent.

The crowd parted and went their separate ways, and in the hollow they left behind stood a tense, severe woman dressed as sharp as a razor. Gold skin, dark hair, a purple skirtsuit.


Kinzie could feel the intake of air that filled Nick's lungs and she could kind of see why. The woman was beautiful: TV screen perfect from every angle, and if she'd had some kind of life-changing revelation at Skrin's hands, Kinzie might be in love too. Nick grabbed Kinzie's hand and squeezed.

Skrin stepped forward, and as awed as Nick was, an equal sense of foreboding tickled at the base of Kinzie's skull. She wanted to run, but felt her ankles rooted to the floor.

— — { assessment: { Warning. Warning. Warning. } } — —

And then there she was: Ambassador Skrin, no taller than Kinzie herself, a little shorter than Nick, with dark, dark eyes and a warm smile.

"Nicholas, my dear," she said. Prim and proper as could be, "it's good to see you well."

"Ambassador! I-I didn't realize it would be you. We-we-we were just talking about you, and-," he mumbled and bowed his head.

Skrin reached a hand up to his chin and kissed his cheek.

"I'll make sure to say goodbye before we depart, Nicholas. Take a nap," Skrin said. Whatever strings held his body upright snipped clean through, and he dropped to the floor.

She turned, "and you, I'm told, are Kinzie Barro."

— — { assessment: { DANGER. DANGER. DANGER. } } — —

Kinzie took one look at Skrin. Then one at Nick. Then bolted.

Kinzie sped across the tile, a slip here, a lunge and slide there, and then she hit the garden. Toes dug soil, shredded grass, run, sprint, push, breathe!

She careened through a bush then burst out from under a tree-branch, only to slam face first into a Soldier within spitting distance from the doors. She screeched. Hands descended on her from everywhere, and she howled. Wrists? Caught. Shoulders? Caught. Ankles, knees, hips? Caught, all caught.

With a little wrestling on the part of three soldiers, the foxgirl was finally flattened to the floor, snapping and cursing, until the Ambassador arrived at her side.

Skrin smoothed out the front of her skirt, and knelt by Kinzie's slavering maw. "Hi Kinzie, I just want to confirm: can you understand me when I speak?"

Kinzie shut her eyes eyes and jerked away as much as she could, "Fuck you, bitch, don't you dare do your weird bug shit to me, you can't - you can't - you-"

"Gag her," Skrin said.

One of the soldier's squeezed her jaw, another slotted a small ball of cloth and sponge between her fangs, then worked on taping her mouth shut.

"Alright. Kinzie, I'm going to talk and you're going to listen," Skrin said, then curled her lip and glanced at the ceiling, seemingly annoyed with herself. "Obviously. What else would you do? Ugh. Forget it. So!"

"I need you to understand that I have a lot of sympathy for you and your situation. It has been a confusing and distressing few days for you, and I get that. But ahead of us we have four hours on a train together, and right now I am not looking forward to it."

Kinzie snuffled around the gag and hissed through her nose, shaking her head and shoulders under the pressure of the Soldiers, until one grabbed her by the hair and yanked her head up at a painful angle to look into the Ambassador’s eyes. 

"You can walk onto that train alongside me, conscious and sober, or I can have you sedated into oblivion and stuffed into a luggage compartment. I am leaning toward the latter based on your behavior thus far, but I'm going to give you one opportunity to show me that we can communicate as equals. Okay?" Skrin steepled her fingers and narrowed her gaze at Kinzie. "Blink once for awake, blink twice for asleep."

The bluster and bravado slowed as Skrin talked, and when the ultimatum finally came, there was a little anger, a little fear, and far more exhaustion than either. She met the Ambassador’s glassy eyes, her irises shivering to hold steady beneath the weight of the bug’s scrutiny, and she blinked once.

"Excellent! Now. Before I ungag you, we're going to go over just a few very simple ground rules." Skrin grinned. "Nothing difficult, I promise. In fact, I think you'll find them quite easy."

Thank you so much for reading through; I hope you had a really good time!

Things just keep getting worse for Kinzie don't they? I guess you'll have to wait until chapter 3 to see if she gets one single iota of good luck.

This project continues to be a ton of fun for me; I haven't sat down and hacked away at longer form fiction like this for about a year, and it feels nice to put something together (although historically I'm known for veering wildly off course and making my projects so big that you kind of forget where you started). We're going to try and really drill this story along one big focal point: powerful bug-girls drugging pretty, independent women into oblivion and rewriting their brains. That said, I have some wild ideas for the next couple chapters so stay tuned if all that sounds fun to you.

And as always: if you liked this, let me know! Drop a comment down below, because that's what makes me feel good in my heart.

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