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Alien Devil’s Gamble: Chapter Three

Elara

The moment I returned from the Black Star Casino yesterday, I flipped the “Closed” sign in my shop window and dove into crafting the most spectacular floral arrangements of my career for Draven’s gala. I toiled deep into the night, fueled by prishem and determination, before collapsing into bed just long enough to rest my eyes.

My brief slumber was tortured by feverish dreams of Draven’s strong hands exploring my body, his hungry lips claiming mine. I jolted awake to my alarm, heart hammering, wondering just how big certain parts of the Vinduthi anatomy were compared to humans…

Shaking the scandalous visions from my head, I refocused on the monumental task at hand. This high-profile job had to be flawless to please both Draven and the elusive Alkard, who held my fate in his hands. I couldn’t afford to disappoint two powerful Vinduthi, especially my shadowy owner.

Yet despite the stakes, exhilaration flooded my veins. This was my chance to fully embody my family’s generations-old legacy as master florists, not just pretend to be one. I poured all my passion into crafting arrangements worthy of the Black Star’s grandeur, more alive in those feverish hours than I’d felt in years on Thodos III.

“The supply delivery should arrive any minute,” I murmured, checking my percomm messages again. By sheer luck, I scrambled to place a huge special order to stock up for Draven’s extravagant requests. My regular inventory could never handle an event this scale.

I kept the front door locked, only open for customers with prepaid orders to collect. The nonstop work would’ve exhausted anyone else, but I reveled in finally plying my trade after so long playing pretend. Every blossom was assembled swiftly yet meticulously, my standards refusing to slip under the deadline pressure.

As I worked, an idea popped into my head, eliciting a crafty smile. “Maybe I could make some complementary bouquets as an extra thank you for Draven’s business.”

I wondered suddenly if anyone had ever gifted Draven flowers before. What if I were the first? Heat crept up my neck at the thought…

Shaking off the foolish notion, I finished the arrangement in my hands and gently nestled it in a padded shipping crate with the others. I crossed another line off my preparation checklist, relishing the rare chance to put my rusty skills to use.

After a quick water break, I crafted an ornate ballroom centerpiece, painstakingly intertwining exotic alien blossoms. My percomm chimed with a new notification just as I secured the final knot.

“That must be the delivery now, right on schedule.” I scurried to the back entrance, sighing in relief at the stacks of crates awaiting me. I signed for the massive load and thanked the carrier before wheeling my precious cargo inside.

“Time to get all this unpacked,” I said under my breath, stealing a glance at the wall clock. Nearly the entire day gone already, though it felt like mere hours since I started. I set a soothing music playlist to keep me company while organizing the boxes.

I came across a smaller crate, promising rare botanicals within. Carefully releasing the airtight lid seals, I peered inside, then froze in utter bewilderment at the sole occupant nestled within.

“What in blazes is this?” I whispered aloud. Gingerly setting aside the lid, I knelt to examine the bizarre plant. No tag or invoice was included, yet clearly it had been packaged for shipping.

In all my years as an intergalactic florist, I never saw its equal. A slender violet stem spiraled upward, culminating in a fascinating bud cluster unlike any flower I knew. The swollen lavender ovary resembled a tiny bunch of grapes. Interspersed were vivid tangerine nodules, rhythmically undulating as if possessed.

Surrounding this colorful ovary, stark white petals shone with such brilliance, I had to avert my eyes. When I managed to look again, twin trails of delicate violet filaments tipped with minute anthers dangled below the petals.

“It’s… exquisite,” I breathed, leaning closer to inhale its perfume. The heavenly bouquet made my mouth water. Both the appearance and aroma were spellbinding in their allure. I stood mesmerized until my senses returned. This bizarre addition must have been a shipping mistake.

I snatched my invoice copy, certain I hadn’t ordered anything like this. But every item was already checked off as accounted for. Frowning, I studied the unknown plant again.

“Where did you come from?” I murmured. No answer was forthcoming. With a sigh, I moved the delicate specimen onto my work counter to call the supplier and sort out this confusion.

The line rang endlessly before someone answered. “How can I help you today, Elara?”

“Hey, Coreeshi. The delivery arrived fine but there’s an extra flower I didn’t order or pay for. It’s not even on the invoice.”

“Oh dear, my apologies for the mix up! What kind of blossom was it?”

I laughed softly. “Well, that’s the thing. I have no idea what this flower is. Never seen it before.”

“A mystery bloom? How intriguing,” Coreeshi mused. “Describe it and let me check through my catalogs.”

I recited every detail I could discern, even the sweet fragrance. Surely the abundance of information would let her identify it.

“Any ideas what it might be?” I asked hopefully. Silence greeted me. “Hello?”

“Sorry, Elara, I’m just… puzzled,” Coreeshi finally replied, confusion lacing her voice. “The flower you described shouldn’t be possible. It couldn’t have come from any of my greenhouses.”

My own confusion grew. “What do you mean ‘not possible’?”

I heard Coreeshi take a deep breath before answering gravely. “Let me explain. Last year, I acquired some rare seeds unlike anything in my current stock. I cultivated a small batch in the station’s greenbelt, intending to sell them as exclusive specimens.”

I leaned against the counter, a feeling of dread creeping up my spine. “What does this have to do with the mystery flower in my shop?”

“I’m getting to that. Before I could sell any, I received an anonymous threat warning me to cease all activity related to that particular flower immediately. I still don’t know how it ended up with you.”

A chill tingled across my skin at the mention of the ominous warning. Who would go to such lengths over a mere plant?

I licked my dry lips nervously. “Just tell me what I’m dealing with here. What is this flower?”

Coreeshi hesitated before answering grimly. “Most people dismiss the rumors as superstitious nonsense. But some believe the seeds are from an extinct alien civilization. That’s all I know about its origins. That bloom has always given me an unsettled feeling, to be honest.”

My knees nearly buckled in shock. This couldn’t be real. Surely a harmless flower couldn’t possibly have such a disturbing history behind it. And yet… the subtle aura of otherness it exuded left me deeply unnerved.

“I need to return this to you immediately,” I declared, steadying my shaking hands against the counter.

“All right, all right… I could organize something, but my inventory space is full right now. It’ll likely be two or three weeks until I can take it back.”

My wide eyes were irresistibly drawn back to the cryptic plant, its hypnotic colors and movements suddenly more ominous than alluring. As much as it unsettled me, destroying such a rare specimen felt wrong. But keeping it was clearly risky…

I forced a calm I didn’t feel into my voice. “On second thought, don’t trouble yourself. I’ll just keep the flower here for now. Sorry to bother you over nothing.”

Coreeshi didn’t sound convinced. “Are you certain? You seemed quite disturbed earlier.”

“Positive. I overreacted, my mistake,” I lied breezily. “No need to return what I didn’t pay for anyway. Let’s just move on.”

“Well, if you insist… Please accept 10% off your next order as my apology for this mix-up.”

“Sounds great. Thanks, Coreeshi. Talk again soon.”

I hung up, my eyes stuck on the plant like glue. I was clueless on what to do with it. Coreeshi’s words kept echoing in my head. Her story was frightening, but she said it herself, what she knew was just speculation.

It was a sight to behold and could sell for a high price. Any of the wealthier aliens on Thodos III would pay good money for a one-of-a-kind flower, and there were plenty of them around. Then again… maybe I wouldn’t be so lucky as to receive a warning.

I grabbed my digital encyclopedia. It contained just about every bit of information known on any flower to have ever existed, both extinct and living, dating back countless ages.

“There has to be something on this. There’s no way a seed still exists without the flower being recorded.”

I swiped through each page of the ‘extinct’ section, then the ‘living’ tab, all while comparing each picture to the beauty that sat on the counter before me. I checked twice for good measure but to no avail. I threw aside the encyclopedia, angered by the lack of answers.

Without thinking, I grabbed the flower and took it to a storage closet, making sure to take a lighter with me. Igniting the flame, I held the flower over a garbage can and brought the lighter close to within inches of the nearest petal, but something told me to stop.

What I had in my ownership could have potentially been the last of its kind. That in itself was enough for me to extinguish the flame. Frustrated, I cursed at my inability to decide what to do with the damned thing.

I carried it back into the shop floor and slumped onto a chair. It felt as if the efforts of my work for Draven were now hitting me all at once, for a wave of exhaustion came over me. It didn’t help that I still had a lot to do.

“Maybe I just need some time to think. I can’t make any rash decisions,” I whispered. “For now, I’ll just have to hide it away from prying eyes… but not before I get a closer look at it.” Yet I found myself unable to resist examining the cryptic plant again first. Each detail burned itself into my memory, from the hypnotic colors to its unearthly perfume. One thing was certain—I had to discover the truth about this impossible flower’s origins, no matter what darkness I uncovered.


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