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Tenth Life

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The brain was the hardest part. The rest of the body was nothing but pumps, pneumatics, and joints, but a troll brain was more complex than any computer, and much more chaotic. Computers had to follow neat little maps and equations to work, but the brain was complex enough to create, lie, make mistakes, and be irrational. Complex enough to be a person with all it's faults.
Aradia's was close, but she had still changed. Maybe it was just the shock of dieing that did it, or maybe it was the side effect of a troll mind trying to fill a container that it wasn't used to. She came back, but she came back surrounded by an angry echo. It didn't work.

Equius thought that he could perfect the process this time. He hoped he could. He didn't have all the tools or materials he did back home, but guilt and desperation pushed him forward regardless.

He was almost done, just a few finishing touches. He reached into a dusty box and pulled out a familiar blue hat. He always thought it was childish, but even annoying things eventually became a comfortable familiarity with time.

They all tried to talk him out of it. Karkat was, unsurprisingly, especially against the idea.

“You saw what that did to Aradia! You're just going to repeat your mistakes!”
“She wasn't a mistake!” Equius yelled back. “I brought her back, and I can do it again.”
“You just can't let anything go can you? You already dug her fucking grave. Let the dead rest. Gog knows she earned it.”
Equius snorted and stomped back to his lab. No one saw him much after that.

That was a while ago. Now he was done. He screwed a panel back on her forehead and slipped the hat down on her head. Equius pulled up a chair in front of it and sat down, leaning forward.

“Nepeta? Are you there?”

She opened her eyes.

To Nepeta it was like looking out a window. She could see everything, but it felt slightly separated from her. She lifted up her hand and turned it forward and backwards, staring at it intently. She looked at her other hand, and finally looked in front of her.

“Equius?”

Equius lunged forward and embraced her.
“You're back! I'm so sorry. So sorry.”
It was a few seconds before she returned the hug.
“It wasn't anyone's fault.”

*

Some trolls were uneasy from experience. Others were just happy to have her back. Feferi came running up to the newly resurrected troll.
“Glub! Glub!”
“Hi Fef!” Nepeta smiled. Equius did a good job on her face. There were many, many points of motion in the metal.
“You're back!” Feferi swung her arms around her, and then stepped back and grabbed Nepeta's hands. “You look good! How do you feel?”
“I...don't know. It take s a little getting used to, but I'm remembering things again.”
“That's good! I knew Equius could do it. He's got a good brain under occasionally fat head.”
Equius blushed blue.
“Terezi is going to want to see you! Everyone will. Glub! Glub! Let's go!” Feferi tugged at the robot, and soon they were off re-introducing everyone to the new Nepita. It went about as well as expected. Those who were happy to see her back said so, and those who were uncomfortable at least kept a straight face. Sollux was at least civil enough to welcome her back, even if he did give Equius a venomous look. The rest gave her hugs and asked her how she was.
The one that threw Nepeta off was Karkat. He was as angry as usual, but it seemed dampened by something. He was also asking a lot of questions.
“I thought you would be happy.” Nepeta frowned.
Karkat seemed to fire up again. “To have to deal with the autistic cat-girl again? Yeah, I'm fucking ecstatic over here. Flying higher than Gamzee at an all you can eat sopor slime buffet.
“Hrmp!” But Nepeta was smiling. She was familiar enough with Karkat to know how to translate this.
Terezi was last. By this time Equius was satisfied enough to get back to his lab to clean up, and Feferi was being her usual bubbly self to everyone, talking about how great it is to have Nepeta back.
“Her great tyranny welcomes the esteemed pounceler back to the court after her long hiatus.” Terezi said with her piranha smile.
Nepeta looked slightly confused for a second.
“Terezi!” She said, as if she just recognized her. She gave her usually goofy cat grin and ran up to Terezi, who was already rummaging through a box under the table. She pulled out Nepeta's green a white tablet computer.
“Here. I saved it for you. I charged up the battery too.”
“Awww...thank you Terezi. You don't need to use it anymore?”
“I think I can pull myself away for a little while.”
Nepeta dropped the stylus. She felt clumsy, like she was trying to work with a thick glove.
“Sorry” She said. “This body takes a little getting used to.”
Terezi nodded and handed her the stylus again. This time Nepeta managed to grip it gently between her thumb and forefinger. She began to draw on the screen. Jerky at first, but after a few seconds it smoothed out as Nepeta got used to how her new limbs worked.
“This is fun!” Nepeta said.
Terezi smiled wider. She was worried that Nepeta's personality would have taken a turn for the worse, but she seemed to be her old, saccharine self. After about another two minutes of drawing, Nepeta tapped the screen a few times, and sent Terezi a picture through Trollian.
“Tell me how I did!”
Terezi licked her screen to get a better look. She looked uneasy. She licked again to be sure.

“The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Was written over and over in green. Nepeta's handwriting was absolutely perfect.

“What does it mean?”
“What? Um...it's for practice. It uses every letter. It makes sense right?”
“Yeah, I guess. Why don't you draw something though?”
Nepeta nodded and drew on the screen for about half a minute. She tapped the screen again.
There was a ding from Terezi's computer. She gave the screen another lick.
Sixteen, perfect, red circles. Terezi didn't think it was possible to draw a circle that round.
“One second, someone is trolling me.” Terezi said. She turned her chair so Nepeta couldn't see the screen and quickly typed.

GC began trolling CT
GC. 3QU1US, G3T B4CK H3R3. NOW.

Terezi brought the circles back up on the screen.
“These are really...good.” She said.
Nepeta looked dismayed. “I didn't do anything wrong did I? I thought you liked red.”
“No. No. They're...perfect. Why don't you draw a picture of a cat? Like you used to. Look.” Terezi brought up one of Nepeta's old pictures on the screen. It was a scribbly doodle of Nepeta with her arms wrapped around Pounce.
Nepeta looked at the screen. She nodded nervously.
“I can draw that! I can...I can draw that. I remember drawing that picture!” The stylus flew across the screen in jerky motions. This one only took a couple seconds. She tapped the screen.
It was an exact copy of the picture Terezi showed her. Right down to every little squiggle.
“Did I do it right?”
“...Nepeta. It's exactly the same.”
“No it's not. I just...I remembered...” Nepeta looked desperately at the screen.
Something clicked in Terezi's head. She took back the tablet from Nepeta's unresisting hands.
“Nepeta. Let's roleplay like we used to. Remember?”
“I remember! I really do!”
“Her Tyranny points a big red claw at the pounceler and demands regally why the pounceler was gone for so long.”
“I was dead!”
“Roleplay!”
“Oh, uh. The esteemed pounceler objects to...to the prosecutions accusations.”
“That's dosn't make sense. And you've used that line before Nepeta. Word for word.”
“The pounceler...the...uh...” Nepeta looked like she was about to cry.

She lunged and ripped the tablet out of Terezi's hands and started drawing on the screen in a frenzy. Her hands were almost a blur as she scribbled for a few seconds and tapped the delete button.
Scribble again.
Delete.
Scribble.
Delete.
She was drawing the same picture again over and over, and each time she tried to will it to be different.
She gave a low growl.
Scribble.
Delete.
Scribble.
Delete.
“Why can't I...” She held her head. It felt like having a name on the tip of your tongue but not being able to say it. She scribbled faster. The computer's processor was having a hard time keeping up.
“Easy there.” Terezi said quietly. “You don't want to...”
“No! I can do it! Just! Just give me a min-NO! LET ME GO! PUT ME DOWN!” She yelled as Equius pinned her arms to her sides from behind. He wrapped his arms around her and picked her up.
“Calm down Nepeta!” He grunted. She was strong, and she was thrashing around.
“No! No! No! I can do it! Give me the tablet! Give it to me!”
And everyone stared at them as Equius carried her out of the room.

*
Nepeta sat on a bench in Equius' lab. She could hear him talking even down the hall.
“What did you do to her!” He growled.
“What did YOU do to her?” Terezi shot back.
“I checked her new brain a hundered times. It's perfect!”
“That's the problem you IDIOT!”

*

The next day Nepeta was gone. So was all of Terezi's chalk.

*

Vriska never realized how big the lab was until something got lost. In this case she was leading Feferi and Sollux through one of the long abandoned halls. What they lost was Nepeta. Sollux waved a flashlight in front of them, but more for the sake of Feferi and himself. Vriska stalked ahead, letting her vision eightfold guide her.
Vriska was staring to get annoyed.
“Why are we doing this again?”
“Because Nepeta is probably lost.” Sollux grumped.
“Who cares! What's going to happen to her? She can't suffocate. She can't starve. Who knows how many miles of tunnels are in this stupid rock! She always bugged me anyway.”
“Humor us, alright?”
Vriska grumbled, but kept walking. After a couple more turns she stopped.
“Hey, look at this.” She pointed to the wall. Sollux turned the flashlight on it.
It was a scribbly picture of Nepeta hugging pounce. He moved the beam of light slowly down the wall. It was drawn over, and over, and over. Exactly the same every time. They silently followed the drawings.

Even Vriska didn't say anything.

The color changed, probably because she wore down the chalk she was using.
“I wonder what's going on in her head...” Feferi whispered.
“I think she does too.” Sollux said. He held up a communication device he had put together as a side project. “We found something. Everyone to my location.”

They kept walking. The pictures slowly went through the spectrum of colors, until the chalk drawings stopped. The next drawing was scratched right into the metal wall. Except for the thinner lines, it was also the same as the ones previous.
Vriska ran her hands over the drawing. The lines were carved deep into solid steel. She absentmindedly touched her left arm. Equius sure built things to last.

The followed the trail farther down the hall. After a few more minutes of walking they found Nepeta slumped against an unfinished drawing. Her fingertips were gone.

She looked up at the three. They could all hear the rest of the trolls converging on their position.

“I can't change it...I can't think right.”
“I know Nepeta. It's okay. We can fix it.” Feferi said soothingly
“Tell Terezi that I'm sorry I used all her chalk.”
“She's on her way. You can tell her when she gets here. You had us worried.”
“I'm sorry.”
Equius, Terezi, and Tavros were the first to get there.
“Terezi, I'm sorry about your chalk.”
“It's fine Nepeta. It's just chalk. I can get more.”
Equius got on his knees down and eased Nepeta's face closer to his.
“I'm sorry Nepeta.” He said as he pulled off her hat. He gently started unscrewing the panel on her forehead. “I...did something wrong. I can fix it.”
“Okay...”
Equius couldn't believe that he had to look her in the face to do this. He gently eased the panel open.
“You're going to shut down for a bit. When I'm done, everything will be back to how it was.”
“Okay...” Nepeta's eyes looked like they weren’t focusing. The rest of the trolls were silently gathered around.
Equius, quickly reached in and took a chip out. It was like tearing off a bandage, making it hurt less for how fast it was over. Nepeta's eyes dimmed and she was still.
Equius stood up and dropped the chip on the floor. There was a crack as his boot came down on it.
“There...I fixed it.” He said to the world. Everyone stepped aside as he stomped back down the hall.
The hallway felt bitter cold for a minute, and then it was gone.