Blooming New World

As it Once Was, And Never Before

by hurglingscrungus

Tags: #cw:gore #cw:noncon #cw:blood #D/s #dom:female #f/f #multiple_partners #pov:bottom #sub:female #body_dysmorphia #cw:political_commentary #cw:suicide_attempt #dom:plant #drug_play #Human_Domestication_Guide #hurt/comfort #internalized_ableism #medical_play #pov:top #scifi #slow_burn #tw:suicide_attempt

Hello, readers! Did you miss me? What do you mean, 'Who are you, again?'

Also featuring in this chapter is a hundred speculative fiction ideas that I was sure would never see the light of day, but I already have half a dozen short story ideas set in the same universe in the works and I've barely gotten started on this one I CAN'T STOP HELP ME

September 25th 2564, Ottawa, Northeast American Bloc

Bernadette made it all of eight shivering and tired steps out of her hab-block before she decided that she should maybe head back up to bring some nutrition bars with her, just so that she wouldn't drop dead half-way through a conversation. They weren't enough to keep the shivers away, but they kept her awake and from being snappy or losing where she was going.

As she rode the bus to the coffee shop, she took in the city around her. Many of the roofs and canopies were lined with bio-photovoltaic panels. Microorganisms sustained in the panels produced electricity as waste products as they absorbed the light of the sun. The panels, in turn, absorbed the electricity.

They were an old technology, developed to replace the old silicon panels as the fine sand necessary to construct them was depleted during the end of the Modern Era. Crazy idea, she thought, running out of sand. Silicon panels made a comeback later, when companies started mining off-planet, but they never replaced the bio-photovoltaics.

When the bus stopped at an intersection, she stole a glance through the window of the nearby Calvinist church. She'd passed by the same place on her walks before. The pews seemed like they were getting emptier with every passing year. She remembered that there was an old adoption centre nearby, that had been 'closed for renovations' for about six months.

Reaching her destination and getting off the bus, Bernadette took a seat at one of the benches just outside of the shop and started fidgeting. Should she have asked for the Affini's phone number before making these arrangements, just so that they could text and confirm that they'd found the right place? Would that have been too forward?

The question was soon proven moot, as she caught the sight of Soma turning around the other end of the street, the few human pedestrians giving her as wide a berth as they could manage. Bernadette covered her mouth and stiffled a laugh when she saw one dog owner very suddenly and forcefully pulling her pet's leash, when she caught sight of the animal raising its back leg next to the Affini.

On top of her usual clothes, Soma had come wearing some additional extension of plant-matter that looked like a shawl, slung around the right side of her neck and shoulders. The shawl was dotted with small yellow flowers, and flowed down to where her upper thigh would be. It was, as everything about her, absolutely cute.

Bernadette noticed that Soma's gait was... awkward, in some way that she couldn't figure out. It was like the alien still wasn't quite accustomed to moving in her humanoid form, even after however many years. She watched as the Affini bumped hard against a tree along the sidewalk and muttered something that sounded like an apology, before she continued on her way.

Soma eventually caught sight of the human she was looking for, smiling and waving ahead to her as she reached her destination. "Hello!"

Bernadette stopped halfway through waving back and tried to smile. "Uh, hey." Shit. Conversation starters, Bernadette, where are the conversation starters? "Did you have a nice trip on your way here?"

"It was decent! Do you come around here very often?"

"Well... yeah, I guess." Bernadette gestured in the direction of the coffee shop, "You wanna order something?"

The two wasted no time ordering their drinks and their snacks, each of them buying a donut. Soma ordered a chai tea with a regular glazed donut, while Bernadette ordered a hot chocolate and a donut baked with pieces of apple and glazed with maple syrup.

As they walked to the museum, Bernadette took a bite from her apple-glaze donut. She passed a glance up towards Soma, then did a double-take as she saw her companion was halfway through stuffing the entire contents of her purchase right down her gullet, the donut stuck between her 'teeth'.

"Wuh?" Soma tried to ask.

Bernadette choked on the piece of donut as she tried to stifle her giggles. The two shared a good laugh, after they made sure that she was okay.

"By the way, I never asked: why did some people call you 'Soma'?"

"I got that name from a friend. He was such a kind soul. Very self-assured. We had many lengthly discussions about his faith..." Soma looked distantly out into the city for a second, "Wish I could remember what those discussions were, or what his faith was. Hope he is doing well. And he was from... hmm..."

One of her vines started looping and making little clicking sounds, not unlike the sound of snapping fingers, "The name of the region starts with an I in your language, I think, but I cannot seem to remember any name besides the native Bharat or Hindustan..."

Bernadette's face perked up, "India?"

"Yes, India! I had such a wonderful time there! My friend even tried to teach me Neo-Sanskrit, though that did not... take." Soma grimaced slightly.

"Neo-Sanskrit?"

"It is a modern adaptation of a language that was in use more than five thousand years ago! I- oh, this is going to sound offensive, but... before I came down to work on Earth, I would not have guessed that human cultures could hold any sort of continuity for that long."

"No offense taken. I wasn't expecting... well, I guess that makes sense. You probably interacted with a lot of Indian people who were educated in Oxford, right?"

"Yes, exactly! Many of the humans I interacted with in Bharat were educated at the Scottish capital."

Bernadette smiled uncertainly, "...Scottish?"

Soma mirrored the smile, "Oh, have I made a mistake?"

"Maybe?" Bernadette giggled, "What did you think was the capital of Scotland?"

Soma's eyes darted around, "...Not London?"

"No, it's not London!" Bernadette laughed, "Also, Oxford University isn't in London. Do you at least know where Hull is?"

Soma scoffed, "Well, of course I know where to find Hull. It is right across the river."

Bernadette snorted, "So, what made you decide to come all the way from India to do work here in Ottawa?"

"I think it had to do with some work I had with some individuals who had family between the two areas."

"Ah, that would make sense. What kind of work did you do in India?"

"Part of it was negotiating supply chains. There are sizeable populations of traditionalist groups who are very culturally resistant to intoxicants, as well as lab-grown meats which have not been prepared in accordance to their religion."

Bernadette grunted in assent, "Yeah, I've heard from a few folks around here complaining that they can't find much that's kosher or halal in the city."

Soma pointed, "What about you, might I ask? What is the grand story behind your name?"

"Uh... I can't tell you much, except I'm French-Canadian."

Soma looked distantly for a moment, as though she were trying to remember what a French or a Canadian was.

They reached and entered the museum, taking in the post-Accord architecture, with a turn away from the marble and concrete columns and blocky designs of Rationalist and Striped Classical styles, to the use of more eccentric angles and materials like recycled metal, brick of both old materials and plastic, and styles whose names that Bernadette wished she hadn't forgotten. Natural lighting was playing more of a part in the interior design, with the installation of skylights.

The first wing, which they entered, was dedicated namely to more 'Western' artwork, as well as some memorial pieces to victims of the Accord. Much of the artwork from the Accord years had been expropriated by collectors, hoping to cash them in after a quick end to the Affini occupation that never came. Some were replaced with other artwork, or had to be restored or discarded after they were vandalized during the years of the provisional government the Affini had set up, before the Protectorate administration was completed.

"What do you think of all this?"

"It is all very..." Soma smiled nervously as her eyes darted around, as though she would find the word she was looking for on the walls, "...charming!" The affini's face lit up -almost literally, with the sunlight glinting off of her eyes- as she caught sight of one of the early exhibitions.

Bernadette took a breath as she caught the painting in her vision. It depicted a shrouded figure, in a shawl and robe that covered their entire body, billowing out in the wind. Before them, stood a landscape mixed with dirt and sand, that was somehow at once scorched and frozen, with withered and abandoned crops, and fields broken up with rills. The clouds were streaked black with soot.

"Edwin Van Hoort's The Year Without a Harvest, 2077..." Soma read from the placard beneath, "'The end of the 21st century was marked by a massive demographic decline in the human population, from a height of 10 billion to a low of an estimated 1.5 billion..." The Affini's face soured for a second, "... radical shifts in the Earth's global temperatures, habitat destruction, extinctions, and deoxygenization of the planet's oceans." She turned around to look back at Bernadette and pointed a vine at the painting, "Have you seen this one?"

"Yeah, I referenced this work for a project in my Postieval History class, back in college."

"Oh, really? What was the subject matter of your project?"

"It was about comparing themes in artwork and literature from various climactic periods. Times like the end of the Roman Warm Period, the end of the Medieval Warm Period, the Little Ice Age, and the Anthropogenic Thermal Maximum."

"To which period does this painting belong?"

"The Anthropogenic Thermal Maximum, about five centuries ago."

"And what did you learn in that study?"

Bernadette looked away and sighed through her nose. Studying the Postieval was every bit as bitter as it was fascinating. Humankind had been brought to a brink that it had never seen before, and prayed they would never see again. Anyone would've hoped that kind of suffering and death would have made humanity any humbler, any kinder to their own.

It didn't.

Soma frowned. "You seem self-conscious about it. I will not pry."

"Yeah, I... appreciate that. Thank you." Bernadette breathed.

"Is... there anything else that you have been up to?"

Bernadette looked out into the museum and sucked loudly on her lip for a second, "Well, about a week ago, I was looking over some documentation for a friend who was handling some sort of client, and we got into this really niche discussion about etymology."

"Oh? What about them in particular?"

"Okay, so, in the 21st century, the standard gender-neutral honorific made to complement Mr. and Ms. was Mx."

"Right..."

"That worked just fine for everyone until some Neo-Classisist got a wild hare up their ass about it."

"How does a lagomorph inside of their- oh, oh, that is an idiom!" Soma hid a smile behind her hand.

Bernadette snickered, "Yeah. So, this Neo-Classisist complained 'Well, how the hell are you supposed to pronounce that? What does that even stand for?' Unfortunately, no one was around to explain 'It stands for Shut Up, You Huge Nerd, Oh My God', and so they decided that they'd comb through etymology to create an honourific that was..." She made the full scare-quotes with her fingers, "'Faithful' to the English language."

"How successful were they?"

"Well, okay, here's the thing: Mr. or Ms. derived from a Latin root, magister. That was a masculine word, and... Actually, do any of your languages have grammatical genders?"

"Perhaps? Certainly not mine. How would you gender words?"

"I'll be honest, I'm still not completely sure how gender even works in your species?"

Soma put her hands together in front of her mouth, "That is a lot to explain. I believe that were you to quantify Affini my Linnaean taxonomic standards, you would have..." Her eyes unfocused again, "Five? Three? Four? I will say it is five species."

"Right...?"

"Two of them are... I cannot quite recall the botanical terminology, but some species have individuals with only 'male' or 'female' parts, with a small number having both, while others are... hermaphroditic, I believe is the word?"

Bernadette couldn't help but notice and smile at how Soma was wildly gesticulating as she talked, as though she were giving a lesson in front of an invisible chalkboard. She passed a quick glance at the crowds around her, just in case she saw someone staring their way.

"In those species," Soma continued, "Many cultures assign individuals roles based on sex, analogous to human genders. Some cultures from other species adopted these norms through diffusion, and use them as a form of expressing our identities and culture. My species was one of the primarily hermaphroditic ones, but I personally identified with the feminine role in my culture, and I find the feminine form of humans to be the more aesthetically pleasing of the two."

Yeah, women's bodies are great. Bernadette sighed inwardly and passed a glance down at the pavement. Wish I could have one some day. "Okay, so, five species? That's incredible, actually! Mine only has the one."

"Just one? How many other species did you have before?"

"Well... there was one which lived in Eurasia, up until around 40,000 years ago, and another somewhere in East Asia."

"What became of them?"

Bernadette folded her hands in front of her mouth and thought for a moment, "I believe it was climate change." Yes, that was absolutely the explanation. It was a complete coincidence that the extinction of other species of humans coincided with H. sapiens sapiens entering their habitats, and she was definitely not just saying that so as not to give the -albeit, very friendly and pretty- alien imperalist more ammunition to prove her point that Bernadette's kind couldn't be trusted to handle things on their own. "So... what was the sort of distribution of your species', traditionally, on your home planet?"

"Well, there is one species that is primarily carnivorous, and frequented lower-nutrient environments, such as swamps. There is another which lived in a chain of mountains, one that used to frequent coasts and estuaries, another that was adapted to more continental climates, and one that was adapted to circumpolar climates, which includes..." Soma dramatically twirled a vine before pointing it at herself, "Yours truly. Now... What was it you were talking about?"

Bernadette stared out into the museum for a moment, not looking at anything in particular. "Uh... Okay, we were just talking about gender- Okay. So, like I was saying, Latin divided words into masculine, feminine, and neuter, and they had specific rules as to which words are conjugated as such. Magister had a feminine declension, magistra, but they didn't have a gender-neuter one, or, at least, I don't think they had one. But, not to be deterred, that Neo-Classisist decided to crowbar in a neuter declension anyway and created magistrum."

"After hastily applying sound-change laws from the languages it derived... well, I can't even remember how it turned out, I think it might have abbreviated to Mm., or Mu., but-" Bernadette self-conciously turned to look up at Soma, worrying that she was talking too much.

Soma, however, was far from being disengaged. She was practically beaming down at her, with the way the sunlight coming from the roof was framing her head and smile, bringing out the details in the alien's eyes, all of the creases in her face; the way the needles that were her hair gently rattled around when she spoke... It was amazing to her that she could find the Affini appealing to look at. Even after ten years, she would never have imagined that she would get used to the mask that the aliens wore to endear themselves to humans.

She knew the eyes were having an effect on her. She'd studied these things before, carefully, in some of her elective classes. It was difficult to study the Affini without seeming -or, more so, becoming- too involved with them, and an academic could easily run the risk of being accused of having lost their objectivity. It was just one of the reasons that she had kept a safe distance.

She should've been reproaching herself, then, for getting this close to one, but all she could focus on were how the light seemed to dance along the indigo and silver streaks in Soma's eyes, like light shining off of the ripples of a whirlpool, drawing the water slowly towards the center. It was all so disorienting...

Oh. No.

That wasn't just the Affini's face, Bernadette realized. She was dizzy from low blood sugar. The burst of energy she'd gotten from the donut and the hot chocolate had died down, and she was starting to crash again.

"Ms. Marc?"

"Huh?" Her voice sounded distant even to herself, "Uh, sorry, just... tired."

"Would you like to sit over there?" Soma gestured to a nearby bench against one of the walls.

"I-I mean, I...I don't wanna slow you down, I could keep going-"

Soma led Bernadette towards the bench, gently pushing her along with a hand on the human's shoulder, "I think that you should have a seat."

"O-okay..."

The both of them sat down, and Soma lifted her shawl up, over, and around Bernadette's body as she wrapped her arm around and pulled her closer. The texture of the alien's skin was gentle, something that was almost like birch bark, almost like human skin, but not quite either.

Bernadette had conflicted feelings about that. Human skin was nice. Wait. No, terrible phrasing: human skin contact was nice, but also, human skin contact with something that was very clearly not human nor had human skin was... strange.

There was also a very strong smell coming off of the alien, a predictably flowery one, though Bernadette hadn't smelled enough flowers in her life to know which flower to compare it to. She slowly sunk into the curve of the Soma's waist, breathing out slowly, trying to figure out what she was feeling. It was a feeling that she couldn't immediately place, as though it were something that she'd forgotten long ago. It came back to her slowly.

It was peace.

She inhaled and exhaled like she'd given herself permission to breathe for once in forever. How long had it been since the last time she could just sit down, without having to worry about anything? No checking the locks on the doors twice a night, no scanning the streets around her to see if anyone was looking her way, ready to say or do anything? No regretting every breath she took?

She felt something reverberating through the alien's body. It seemed erratic, at first, but as she sat, the rhythm gradually steadied, as though it were zeroing in on, or synchronizing with, something. As she shifted her neck, she realized what that thing was: her heartbeat.

Anxiety crept back in. This wasn't what she was supposed to want. She was an educated woman. She was gonna have a career. She was gonna be someone. Someone people needed. She needed to keep some distance. Just needed to keep this casual. But it was easy to think that. Her brain was doing that thing where the bits that wanted to do things, were having trouble sending signals to the bits that actually did the things.

Okay, she thought as she steadied her breath. She was gonna pull away now. She was gonna look Soma in the eye and- actually, that might make it more difficult. She was gonna look out into the museum, form the words in her head, say that it was time to get up, and pull away. Any time now.

"Feeling better?" Soma peered down at the human, smiling uncertainly and motioning to stand back up.

"Yeah..." Bernadette breathed, glad that she'd been snapped back out from her thoughts.

~

The two resumed their travel through the museum, each of them pointing out and talking over works that caught their interest. They spent some of the most time in the indigenous wings of the museum, which had recently put up some new Janvieresque paintings, as well as restorations of some of the forerunners of the style.

The exhibitions were wrapped up with the last wing: a smaller wing, still under construction, assigned for pieces made by various sophont artists across the galaxies, especially Rinan artwork. Some of the exhibitions required patrons to put on specific headgear to view them properly, as some of them made use of parts of the spectra of light and sound that were otherwise inaccessible to humans.

The two finally neared the end of the trip, coming to a stop at the gift shop and the snack bar just at the end. The two of them waved, Bernadette more tepidly, at the woman in front of the counter, before browsing along the aisles.

"What are you looking for?"

"Something for my hu-" Soma stopped as she turned her head and saw Bernadette. The Affini mimicked the sound of clearing her throat, "-for a very good friend!"

Bernadette side-eyed the alien, "I appreciate that, but I don't really need anything-"

"Oh, but you seemed so faint a few minutes ago, dear! I just think you could use something to keep your strength up on our way back home."

Bernadette took a few small steps back, hand on the shelves, and carefully darted her eyes around the shop, trying not to seem like she was about to do something drastic. "Our?"

Bernadette could see parts of the Affini's form, vines and leaves, curling into themselves, as though she were trying to make herself look smaller, less threatening. The mask that was Soma's face was impassive, like she'd forgotten that she was supposed to be smiling reassuringly. Her eyes unfocused, and her fingers were tapping together. Her words were slow and measured, "My way back to my home, and your way back to your home."

"Oh, okay..." Bernadette breathed, "Our way back to our homes."

"Homes! Yes! Plural. Separate." A grateful smile came to Soma's face. One of her vines curled around and snapped again. Her body unfurled, standing taller.

"I suppose I could pick up something for the road..." Bernadette reckoned that it would be better to seem accommodating enough in this situation. She grabbed one of the candy bars, looking aside towards her companion. She saw Soma pulling one of her vines across the aisles, something wrapped around it. It looked like a plush animal.

Soma pulled it close for Bernadette to see. She squinted at the plushy at first, reaching out with a hand and brushing it through its synthetic fur. It had a soft round body, a pair of black plastic beady eyes, a round black plastic nose, and two pairs of flipper-like feet.

It finally clicked where she'd seen this shape before. Just at the end of the indigenous exhibits, she'd pointed out a soapstone sculpture: Winston Eyetoaq's The Last Seal.

It seemed bit tasteless, having something like this outside of an exhibit like that.

Soma pulled the plushy towards her and turned it in her hands, cradling it in her arms and gently swaying it. Bernadette saw the smile slowly slide off of Soma's face as she stared into its plastic eyes. "Maybe another time." In the same vine, the alien reached out across the aisles and put the plush animal put where she had found it.

Bernadette hid a grimace behind her lips. Should she have asked Soma if she was okay?

"Do you have any stuffed animals, Ms. Marc?"

"Well, I had this one that was in the shape of this big fish called a shark. Think the company that used to make them originated in Sweden, or something." She shrugged, "Been forever since last I'd seen it, though. I think I gave it to one of my cousins."

Soma grunted in assent and slapped her hands together, "Well! I have had a delightful afternoon, here! Thank you so very much for inviting me!"

"Well, it's been a... a pleasure." Bernadette grit her teeth awkwardly again.

"I should be off from work early next week. There is this observatory that I like to visit every so often. I think it would be a good place for us to sit down and talk and get to know each other better."

"Uh... sure?" Oh, oh no. This was too accommodating, again. She was letting the Affini choose her own ground. Maybe some place private, at that. Bernadette's brain was spinning in its wheels: she couldn't think of a way to redirect this-

"Splendid! I was thinking that we could meet this Tuesday. You should be able to find the observatory at..." Bernadette watched as Soma rustled around in her... pockets?... in search of something. A rattling noise came out from the Affini's body, "Sorry, I forgot to... where I kept the address to the observatory."

"O-okay. Well, I'll get my phone and you can-" No sooner did Bernadette look back up from her pocket, did she see Soma already walking off, grinning and waving away.

"I will send you the address when I get back home! Farewell!"

Bernadette stared, hand awkwardly in her pocket and another awkwardly waving back, "...Okay? Uh, bye!"

~

Bernadette walked her way towards the stop to her bus, exhaled long and hard as she sat down on a bench in the bus-stop shelter. Well. That... wasn't a disaster, I think?

She pulled out the candy bar and took a bite, savouring the waffer texture and the mix of chocolate and hazelnut. Thinking back, it still surprised her that she;d managed to go about two to three years after the Accord was dismantled without having a bite of chocolate. It was a luxury she couldn't afford ten years ago, and those times she wanted some, she didn't want to be reminded of where they were coming from.

"Alright..." She mumbled to herself. It was about three days time from when Soma and her would meet again. She could come up with another place to suggest. She had plenty of time to look up what that observatory was like. Of course, she wasn't sure how Soma even meant to contact her to send the information-

More green entered her field of vision. Another Affini, standing noticeably taller than Soma, was walking their way to the bus stop on the other side of the road. Their 'clothes' resembled something like a police uniform, maybe a little dressier. From a distance, they seemed to have a maple-like colour and texture to their body and leaves, with flowers with spindly white petals.

Alongside the man-plant walked a masculine-looking human, with a slender frame, a head of short, wild dirty-blonde hair, and just the hint of facial hair on their chin. They were dressed in something like a mix of a dress and a suit that was at once peculiar and striking, coloured in soft pastel colours and similar patterns to the ones which adorned pretty much everything belonging to the Affini.

A floret.

She couldn't entirely make out the conversation they were having. The language they spoke mostly sounded Spanish, but she couldn't be sure. She got that the man was talking about a Class-J cafe, and was pretty sure that the Affini was saying something about a dosage.

Despite the pervasive presence of the Compact, it was getting less common to see florets out on the street. Once the occupation was satisfied that enough of the resistance on the planet had been pacified, the Affini had taken many of their administrators and enforcers to assignments elsewhere in the galaxy, and took their pets with them. Nonetheless, there were still some who stayed on Earth for oversight purposes.

Bernadette never got to see it for herself, but she'd seen recordings of the signing of the Protectorate Treaty. The Affini promised so many things; an end to poverty, famine, sickness, war. Humans were used to their leaders making empty promises, and when they revealed what Involuntary Domestication entailed, it was easy to assume the worst. It always was in the Accord. It was smart. Kept you alive.

Later, humankind found that the Affini kept all of their promises. Whichever parts of the Accord who refused to comply went underground, launching uprisings, each put down more easily than the last.

She'd been invited, once, to a conference where there was held a simulation of the process of conditioning a non-compliant military prisoner into a Floret. They even showed a demonstration of the worst-case scenario, the Class-O drug regimen, which flooded the subjects brain with so many endorphins that rendered them unable to articulate much -if any- memories or thoughts.

It was hard to watch. It was even harder to look away. No one at the demonstration ever asked if an Affini was ever subject to such a thing, and she got the feeling that no one wanted to be the person to provoke them by asking. It was easy enough to escape that fate, though. Just keep your head down, don't make too much of a fuss, be a good little human, and nothing would happen to you.

The floret on the other side of the street peered out into the city with a look that Bernadette couldn't quite read. Apprehension, maybe? She couldn't make out what he was saying, but the Affini pulled his attention away with a hand under his chin.

How many other people must have ended up just like them? Hundreds of thousands? Millions? Tens of millions? Bernadette tried to keep her eyes away. It was rude to stare, and there was nothing to assume about the two, right?

She kept her head down, putting her legs together, breathing steadily through her nose. The bus on the other side passed by, and the two stepped in for their departure. Bernadette's bus soon followed for her to enter and make her way back home.

On the bus, she caught bits of a conversation, from what sounded like an elderly couple. They were a few seats back, and she couldn't twist her neck enough to be able to see them from where she was sitting, but she could hear them.

"Did you see the way that kudzu was carrying that boy?" asked the woman.

"Mmhmm," the man next to her grunted in a non-committal tone.

"What do you think he was in for?"

"What makes you think he was in for anything? Some of them sign up for it."

The woman made a disgusted noise in the back of her throat. "Don't like it. Don't like it at all. Rather be dead."

Bernadette pulled herself inward, clearing her throat, and turned her head to look out the window behind her.

Rather be dead.

~

Soma had always been an awkward presence on buses on Earth. She'd been -gently- denied entry a few times, the drivers citing reasons of space. She did had some difficulty fitting into the buses, at first. Passengers tended to put as many seats between them and her as they could, and the ones who had to sit close by kept their silence.

She thought it was all rather a shame. She wanted to talk about their days. She wanted to talk to the woman with the stick and the shades: the one who had her dog tucked under her seat, who laughed nervously after Soma tittered when she called the dog a 'service animal'.

But she did not want to talk about how she had handled the day with Ms. Marc.

Foolish. She had been absolutely careless. She almost accidentally intimated that she was going to domesticate her, narrowly stopped her from running out from the museum. She could see it in the human's body language. No good. Running would have done no good. That would only have made the Affini want to chase her, hunt her relentlessly, wearing the little human down until she was exhausted, panting and completely defenseless to resist the Affini's thorns-

"No!" Soma said very loudly at first, and then turned to muttering when she noticed the other passengers startled, "No, nonononono. Bad thoughts..."

Soma tried to settle herself down. Think elsewhere. It had been a while since she had found an independent who actively sought a conversation with her. She could just barely stifle her enthusiasm as she rode her way back to her residence. She passed glances around her to make sure she wasn't getting any more strange looks from the passengers.

There was a library in that little sophont's head, and Soma wanted to read each and every single of of its books, cover to cover. She wanted to learn everything about her. She idly fiddled around with the tablet in her hand. Soma had numerous security clearings. Surely, the Compact would indulge her if she were to ask for a few records of the human's history? Just out of curiosity, of course.

"No, nonono..." She muttered to herself again. She must not be intrusive.

The human was so on edge throughout that entire date. Poor thing. Propriety was the only thing to keep Soma from wrapping herself around her, and telling her everything was going to be alright. It really tugged at Soma's... liver-strings? It was a string from one of those human organs.

Soma looked out the windows and hissed quietly, realizing she'd missed her stop by several blocks, again. She got off and started making her way along the sidewalk.

There was something amiss with the human. She seemed pale, languid, shivering... The poor thing looked like she would crumble into dust. Surely, Bernadette was not suffering some sort of malnutrition? Was she being neglected by some sort of caregiver? Was she neglecting herself?

No. No, she was probably just trying to think of reasons for take her home, again. Not that she was looking to take anyone home for more than a day, mind you. Maybe two days. Perhaps a week. Two weeks? She must be patient. She would attend their next 'date', and she would wait for the right opportunity to str- to ask the nice human to visit her hab, where they could...

"Roots..." Had she ever asked what Bernadette would have liked to do? She should be able to figure this out. She had worked alongside humans for... eight? Nine years? Surely, she should have some idea as to what they do in their past time. Perhaps Bernadette would be interested in a movie? A documentary? Board games? Cards?

None the sooner did Soma reach her street and her house, open the door, and gave a long sigh at what she saw. The first thing she saw as she entered the door was the stacks of dishes that she had meant to clean up weeks ago. She trudged across the floor, past the scattered leaves and needles she had meant to sweep up, into her living room, where she sat on her couch, surrounded by the stacks of papers she had been meaning to reorganize, and started browsing through her tablet.

Soma meant to do a lot of things around the house.

She knew that she really ought to clean up the house. And she did, when she expected company. Where did she find all of that energy to clean this up at the final minute of the final hour, and where did that energy go? It if had been a work day, at least she would have had the urgency to finish her work.

Surely, she would get right around to it. At any moment. And not just while her time away in front of her tablet, repeatedly admonishing herself for not doing the thing, while simultaneously not just doing the thing.

That would be ridiculous.

x28

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