This is how it happens: Feferi is not stupid; she is not confined by class expectations or rules. How this came about is largely a mystery, even to her Companions. (They rate the capital letter in every way. Even if sometimes, very occasionally, she wants to hang them by their ankles from a jut and flog them.) Knowing she'd have to challenge the Condesce someday, and knowing that all of her predecessors failed gives her the perspective to cast her net a little wider in terms of allies.
She finds her Companions one by one, winning them over and letting them form relationships and alliances around her. (It is easier for her to recruit the blue bloods but harder to trust them, in turn, it's harder to recruit the rust bloods because they find it almost impossible to trust her. Learning to trust is nearly as hard as learning whom to trust. What It is even more hard is learning to be worthy of trust.) She learns from them, learns much more than she would have ever learned from the carefully screened information she has received her entire life.
She starts slowly and carefully. It helps that the Condesce has mostly abandoned her responsibilities, her great flagship acting more as a glorified tour boat than a battle ship. With her so far away, it's a little easier for Feferi to extend her own influence, to put her Companions into places where they will do the most good. It takes sweeps of careful work and infiltration, but eventually she and her Companions begin the revolution. Begin the revolution, continue the revolution, and finally win it.
What it comes down to is this: Feferi feeling wobbly with elation, standing over the corpse of the former Empress. They are on the bridge, she and Karkat. He's bleeding, but then, so is she. Most of the crewmen are either kneeling or holding back screaming, struggling trolls (who are either suffering from grief or the after effects of mind control suddenly snapped; probably both). She can hear Karkat issuing orders in her name and the surviving crew is so dazed they don't notice or care that he's a mutant; they just obey, clearing the area except for a few technicians and the captain of the vessel.
The captain is a blue blood, and one of the ones who had immediately knelt as the Condesce bled out. "Your Imperial Condescension," he says with a salute.
"Empress, not 'your imperial whatever,'" Karkat snaps. The captain looks horribly affronted.
Feferi giggles, a sound that entirely lacks dignity and makes the captain look even more offended than before. She's tired and giddy and Karkat is being himself. This is never not adorasilly. "Just 'Empress,'" she confirms.
"Empress, I must inform you that our Helmsman is unstable and will need to be put down immediately." He glances toward the pilot, buried in a column of bioware.
"Fuck that noise you bulgesucking--" Karkat snarls, his sickles coming up.
"Karkat--" Feferi says, drawing out his name. He growls, but his mouth snaps shut, and glares at a spot over the captain's shoulder. "What do you mean by unstable?" She asks, looking curiously at the pilot, who is beginning to struggle against the bioware. There is something very strange, something familiar about the pilot, but she was too fuzzy headed to focus on him. Sometime during the battle, one of her horns and been hit, and she was still a little dizzy. She could hear the captain say something about extended lifespan and mental instability causing an undue strain on something technical, and something else about system overrides and depravity and how it would be a mercy to finally put it down.
Meanwhile, the pilot was keening and writhing, babbling incoherently in an older dialect of Alternian. The captain gave the pilot a look of distaste and fell silent.
"Sedate him," Feferi says, her voice only a little unsteady. "Call up his records immediately."
[carcinoGeneticist is trolling caligulasAquarium]
CG: HEY FUCKASS
CA: What is it Kar? I'm a little busy here. The ship's not completely cleared yet--
CG: RIGHT NOW I NEED YOU TO SORT OUT FEFERI BEFORE SHE FLAYS THE FUCKING CAPTAIN.
CA: I think you mean "fillet"
CG: NO, I MEAN "FLAY" AS IN "SKIN" ERIDAN. SHE IS A TERRIBLE AND WRATHFUL DIETY RIGHT NOW, AND I NEED YOU TO THROW YOURSELF UNDER HER FEET SO I CAN GET THE CODDAMNED OVERRIDE CODES FROM THE FUCKING CAPTAIN SO I CAN KEEP THIS POOR BASTARD PILOT FROM FRYING IN HIS OWN FAT.
CA: Shouldn't TA be doing that?
CG: NO, NO he fucking SHOULDN'T.
CA: He's worked with pilots before, Kar--
CG: FUCK YOU. NO. JUST GET YOUR ASS TO THE BRIDGE, YOU'LL SEE WHY.
[carcinoGeneticist is no longer trolling caligulasAquarium]
Eridan growls, glaring at his headset screen. If he were still six sweeps old he probably would have ranted about it. At thirteen sweeps he isn't going embarrass the fuck out of himself in front of his soldiers. He flips the screen out of the way and turns to his second in command. "Continue the search for any survivors and secure the area for TA's people. I've been summoned to the bridge."
"Yessir," the green blood says, and moves out with the rest of the squad.
Eridan hurries to the bridge, which looks to be in complete chaos. Feferi is attacking the captain, who isn't trying to fight back. Karkat is trying to keep the violence away from the consoles. Eridan glances toward the pilot and freezes. The pilot hung limply from the bioware column encasing him. Blood is trailing down his face from his mouth and eye sockets. Violet lightning occasionally arcs through the pilot's body, causing the poor bastard to twitch violently. "Oh fuck." He understood immediately why Karkat didn't want Sollux coming in here. The pilot looked like Sollux. Same build, the same doubled horns, the same face. "Fuck."
Eridan is redirected to Feferi by an exasperated shout from Karkat. Feferi is beating on the captain--with her bare fists, thank cod, not her claws or her trident--and screaming. Eridan wonders exactly what the captain might have said to make her this angry, takes a breath and steps over to Feferi. "Looks like fun, Fef, can I play too?" Feferi hisses at him and drops the hapless captain. "Not that it looks like fun--it isn’t even fighting back!" He continued in his most snotty tone of voice.
There was a brief moment where he was afraid he'd gone too far, but some sanity entered her expression. Eridan is not stupid enough to relax. Feferi is breathing hard and her face is streaked with angry tears. She steps away from the cowering captain and punches Eridan in the chest. He barely feels it, since he is wearing body armor, but he rocks back anyway. She hits him again, and then collapses against him. Not weeping anymore, just exhausted and miserable. He holds Feferi, listening to Karkat bully the captain into handing over the override codes.
After some more swearing and snarling, Karkat gets the auxiliary power up, then carefully begins to disconnect the pilot. The captain tries to protest, but Karkat ignores him. "Who is he?" Eridan asks as the tentacles retract and the (dead? unconscious?) pilot slides down to lie on a platform in the middle of the now coiled mass of bioware.
"The Sufferer's last Companion," Feferi says her voice sounding a little shaky. "The one whose fate we were never able to determine." She takes a deep breath, and pushes away from Eridan. She straightens her her shoulders and her expression suddenly becomes fiercely regal. "Move the prisoners and survivors to the Eternal Vigilance," she said in her command voice. "Download all the files then blow this ship to pieces."
Eridan stands at attention, and even Karkat takes a break from his habitual slouch. "Yes, Empress," they say in unison.
[carcinoGeneticist 4:13 hours ago opened a memo on private bulletin board Shut Up and Listen]
CG: GOOD NEWS: THE EMPRESS IS DEAD LONG LIVE THE EMPRESS. BAD NEWS: THE BODY OF EMPIRE IS A LOT LIKE A SNAKE WITH A THOUSAND HEADS THAT IF YOU CHOP OFF EACH ONE, TWO MORE WILL GROW IN ITS PLACE. WE STILL HAVE A LOT OF WORK AHEAD SO DON’T BE STUPID AND COMPLACENT. WE NEED TO PARE DOWN THE HEADS TO MORE MANAGABLE NUMBERS. ON TOP OF THAT CHEERFUL AND OPTIMISITIC WARNING, I BRING YOU EVEN WORSE NEWS. THOUGH IN A WAY IT MIGHT ALSO BE GOOD NEWS FOR ARADIA BECAUSE WE POSSIBLY HAVE A NEW LINE OF INFORMATION ABOUT THE PAST AND PREVIOUS REBELLIONS AND KNOWING WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST IS A GOOD THING.
AA: A new line of information?
CG: POSSIBLY. WE’RE NOT SURE HOW FUNCTIONAL HE’LL BE.
CG: ARADIA, WE’VE FOUND THE PSIIONIICIST.
AA: The Condesce kept him as a prisoner all this time?
CG: I WISH IT WAS JUST THAT.
CG: SHE INSTALLED HIM INTO HER SHIP AS A HELMSMAN. WASTE NOT WANT NOT I GUESS.
AA: That explains why I was never able to make contact. Never able to reach him. What’s his current condition?
CG: PRETTY BAD. HE’S IN A MEDICAL COMA UNTIL WE CAN TRANSFER HIM TO THE HIVE OF GLASS’ INFIRMARY.
AA: A medical team will be waiting.
[carcinoGeneticist closed memo.]
Their fleet speeds back to Alternia, which is currently held by Aradia, Terezi and Kanaya and their forces. (Equius and Nepeta have control of the insystem space stations.) Somewhere out there, Vriska, Gamzee and Tavros are attacking some military installations, persuading knuckleheaded generals and viceroys to obey the new Empress. The body of the Empire is huge, it’s going to take a while before all of its limbs and organs realize that there has been a brain transplant. It will take even longer to enact all the changes Feferi has wanted to make, and frankly, she's terrified now.
Not of the burden of Imperium or anything like that, she knows it will be hard and her life will always been in danger. For Feferi, those were the waters she had swum in since she was hatched. What’s terrifying her is the Condesce and the contents of her ancestor's private journals, particularly the entries about the Helmsman. Her ancestor had become obsessed with the Psiioniic, writing about him in tones that were at first black, but which eventually turned red.
Judging by the maintenance logs there wasn’t much difference between the Condesce’s black and red quadrants. She has a much greater understanding of the captain's comments about “depravity," now. (It was definitely a mistake to read them, after reading the maintenance logs.) Feeling numb and sick after reading, she sends a copy of the journal to Karkat, and tries to take her mind off the journal's contents by reading reports and making tentative stabs at controlling Kanaya's extravagant coronation plans.
Karkat comes by her quarters a few hours later, armed with snacks, drinks and movies. She lets him in and takes the snacks off of his hands, carrying them over to the couch. Karkat follows her and the door whooshes shut behind him. He hovers a little bit before finally sitting down beside her. "Okay, we don't have to talk about Her Imperial Condescension being crazy, and we've already had the talk about self-determination, so we don't need to talk about that either, right? Right. And if you do go crazy, it will probably be in some completely different way from her anyway."
Feferi shudders. "That doesn't actually help Carp-cat."
"Yeah, I know, that's why it's movie night. How does 'A Comedy in Which a Member of a Maligned Religious Minority Seeks Revenge Only to Discover and so on,' and 'Two Adolescents Surrounded by Fools Form a Matespritship Despite an Ongoing Feud and so forth,' followed by 'An Extremely Large and Angry Lusus From a Distant and Exotic Island Where Experimental Atomic Devices Have Been Detonated Attempts to Retrieve Its Tiny Winged Charges,' sound?"
"Perfect." Feferi curls up next to Karkat and they watch movies, carefully not talking about what they've both learned.
Later, when the last credits roll Feferi says, "the worst part is that I think she honestly thought they were matesprits."
"No, the worst part was that she wrote horrible fiction about being a low blood's matesprit."
Feferi laughed unhappily. "Horrible FLARPing, you mean." She shuddered.
"Yeah," Karkat says. "I'm not going to have to have the talk where I explain your relationships are actually in no way parallel to whatever the Condesce was doing right? You two do not actually have some weird psychic connection."
"She's my ancestor and she did horrible things to Sollux's anscestor. And your ancestor and--"
"Everyone's ancestor," Karkat said. "And all of her descendants and everyone else's descendants, and now she's finally dead."
[cuttlefishCuller is trolling caligulasAquarium]
CC: How is he doing?
CA: I can’t really tell. From the jetsam thrown my way by the medical team working on him, I think he’s doing better than the doctor had expected after having been a pilot for so long.
CA: It’s fuckin creepy, seeing a pilot with Sol’s face, Fef. I don’t know how Sol can take it. He just works and works on the symbiotic networks and the failsafes like it’s nothing.
CC: I’d be there myself, but there’s a lot to do on my end...
CC: I wanted you to keep an eye on Sollux as much as I wanted you to supervise the Psiioniic’s care.
CA: That’s understood Fef.
CC: Just don’t flip on him. I don’t feel comfortable with my kismesis pity-flirting with my matesprit.
CA: Sollux would kill me first, Fef. I haven’t been that stupid for sweeps.
CC: Well, we already know you find it “creepy” which implies, for you anyway, that you are having flushed feelings.
CA: Dammit Fef, it’s fucking platonic sympathy for a twitchy lowblood shithead, not quadrant flipping! I’m not a stupid fry who can’t tell red from black feelings!
CA: I really and truly hate you Fef. I should accuse you of quadrant flipping. It seems like a pretty pale thing, to try to distract me from this.
CC: But it’s definitely black to do it by making you angry with me. 3:D
[cuttlefishCuller is no longer trolling caligulasAquarium.]
The Helmsman drifts in hazy confusion. He is oddly confined to his own body, something he hasn't felt for a long time. Not being able to connect to the ship sensors or the computers is mildly distressing, but the feeling is very distant. The greater distress is that he knows the Condesce is dead, (some other part of him is rejoicing) but the feeling of emptiness and loss is also distant and indistinct. He knows that he has been heavily sedated, and can feel that he is lying on a padded medical bench covered in sopor gel packs. His body is periodically adjusted, his limbs manipulated. The touch is impersonal and feels wrong (because it isn't her) but not unpleasant; only subtly wrong.
He comes to recognize three people, three voices, and two pairs of hands. There are other voices as well, but he doesn't hear them as often. One of the voices is a doctor--those were the first pair of hands. The doctor is quiet and gentle, his voice occasionally stern when the Helmsman forgets that he is now expected to verbally respond to questions. The doctor occasionally activates his optic nerves, insisting that he identify objects, images.
The second voice is Lord Ampora. He asks questions, but most of them are addressed to the doctor. The Helmsman at first thought that Lord Ampora was his new owner, but tentative questioning revealed that this was not the case; Lord Ampora served the new Empress and was merely overseeing the Helmsman's maintenance and repair. The third voice and second pair of hands is some variety of technician, an unusually high ranking one (or perhaps only a favorite) because he argues almost constantly with Lord Ampora. "Just shut up Eridan," the technician is saying now, his speech distorted by a lisp. He is doing something with the Helmsman's interface, removing restrictions and controls. The Helmsman is a little (relieved) alarmed by this, but doesn't protest.
The Helmsman had not been tracking the conversation because he has not been told to, and the nature of this conversation is just completely bewildering. "You're being recursively horrified because I'm too fucking busy to be horrified and its pissing me off." The technician laughed. "And you're the stupid fuckass who told me this was what was probably going to happen to me when I got old enough to be conscripted."
Instead of punishing the technician for his insolence Lord Ampora makes an annoyed sound. "I was fuckin' six sweeps old, Sollux, and it might have been the wrong fucking way around, but I was honestly trying to reassure you because I knew you weren't going to get culled or something."
"Yeah, I figured that, it's why I didn't shove you head first into the load gaper and flush back then."
"Why aren't you?" The noble asks. "Horrified I mean, he's--"
"The Helmsman. Her Imperial Condescension's Helmsman. For hundreds of sweeps. Whoever else he is doesn't matter until we can find out if there's anything left, now let me finish this." The noble makes a disgruntled noise and moves away. The technician continued to work in silence for quite some time. "Okay, that was the worst of the failsafes. I've also eased up or removed a lot of the restrictions."
"I'll have someone assigned to keep an eye on him," the doctor says. "We'll need to keep the optic nerves turned on at this point. Should I begin his physical therapy or should we wait until we reach Alternia?"
"Begin therapy immediately," Lord Ampora says.
The next few nights become even more disorienting. He is made to lift things with his hands, to open and close his fists, to try to lift each leg, wiggle his toes. He is made to speak out loud, to read words on the computer screen instead of directly interfacing with it. It's painful and hard and he doesn't understand why they are doing this to him, but he obeys as best he is able. (He is used to occasionally receiving strange commands, but this is the longest period of strangeness yet, and he senses that it will only become stranger.) He's a little disturbed to discover that the technician is a sweeps younger version of himself.
The amount of sedatives he is receiving is adjusted and as he came up out of the fog, he begins to dream again. He dreamed of familiar faces, of an exasperated voice and a pair of brilliant red eyes. (No matter how exasperated his voice, the eyes always gave his true emotions away, the Helmsman thinks, and then wonders why he thought it.) He dreams of a humming sewing machine and a singing woman, of a fierce and sweet girl with shining eyes. He dreams of the red eyed man being tortured, burning in irons and bleeding. He dreams of being the fastest ship in the fleet. He awakens feeling deepest regret on some occasions, and deepest terror on others. There is always a doctor, technician or handler nearby, and they speak softly, trying to reassure him.
The Helmsman listens to the conversations around him (he is awake enough now to not need or want permission, aware enough to be curious, even worried), hoping to find out what's going to become of him. He doesn't understand a lot of the words being used, or the way that they are being used. (The dialect and the jargon has shifted slightly, and he doesn't have access to a glossary.) He has a general sense that he is some kind of trophy (again) and that the new Empress is returning to Alternia for a coronation. He doesn't hear anything about what his new designation will be, which makes him very uneasy.
He wakes up one evening, and thinks he might be hallucinating, because Lord Ampora is speaking to Her Imperial Condescension. As they speak, the illusion is shattered. She is too young, her horns suddenly too short. She wears her face differently; this is his new owner. "We'll be transferring him to the Hive of Glass tonight," Lord Ampora is saying. "The doctor says that he's responding well to treatment."
"Good," she says, her voice like and not like the Condesce's. She looks in his direction and her eyes widen a little. "Oh, you're awake." She approaches him, sitting down in the chair near the medical bench. "My name is Feferi Peixes," she says. "What designation should I use for you?"
It's a bizarre introduction and an even more bizarre question. It takes several seconds before he's able to form a response. "I am the Helmsman," he says. "That has been my designation for five hundred sweeps."
His new owner gives him an oddly sad look. "Do you remember your previous designation?" He has to think about that, think about what he's supposed to say. She doesn't give him any clues, either. "I don't know," he says finally.
[carcinoGeneticist is trolling adiosToreador]
CG: ARE YOU GOING TO BE ABLE TO MAKE IT TO THE CORONATION?
AT: Um. We still have a lot of...
CG: FUCKING DO NOT SAY IRONS. AND THEY HAD BETTER NOT BE IN THE DAMN FIRE.
AT: I am sorry to report there are irons. And fire. Sick, sick fire that is definitely raising the temperature of those irons. Which are like white-hot needles stabbing out the eyes of wrathful dieties. I should also probably say something about miracles.
AT: Or the dark carnival that is knocking over food carts.
CG: NO YOU SHOULDN'T. HOW SERIOUS IS THE SITUATION? DO WE NEED TO SEND REINFORCEMENTS?
AT: Gamzee says not but I think Gestalt Daymare is wearing him and Vriska out.
CG: Tavros, this is Feferi, I was reading over Carp-cat's shoal-der. If the Daymare is wearing them out, it is also wearing you out! You three are the best at gestalts and I don't want you to burn out. Tell them it is an Imperial Request: Hold position, fortify and return to hive.
AT: Okay Feferi (Karkat, if you're impersonating Feferi, I think that is um, illegal.) Up the Revolution.
CG: Up the R----------------Evolution!
[carcinoGeneticist is no longer trolling adiosToreador]
The Hive of Glass is a space station that orbits the fifth planet out from Alternia's sun, a massive gas giant. The space station is the new Imperial Palace and the nerve center of the revolution. The Hive gets its name not from the construction materials (which are actually quite conventional ceramics and metals) but from the immense ongoing art project taking place inside. Stained glass panels set into the bulkheads, depicting scenes from Alternia's long history with special attention paid to its many bloody uprisings and religious movements. It's a deeply ambitious project, but one its patroness felt was worth doing.
Feferi is heading (in a spiraling fashion) toward her quarters. She's taking the long way around instead of transporting directly to her suite because there are people she needs to talk to. (Or in some cases, shout at.) She heads down the Gallery of the Signless. Images depicting his life, his followers and his death are interspersed with bronze plaques etched with excerpts from the Cave of the Disciple. One excerpt in particular catches her eye, and she pauses to read it.
Listen, this is not hard, it's so damn simple you probably never thought of it: you aren't angry, you're afraid. Afraid of being alone, afraid of your enemies, afraid of your rivals and the people you associate with. This is the secret: Everyone else is afraid too. Everyone else is worthy of pity, all you have to do is stop being afraid and find out what that thing is, that makes them worthy.
She finds Sollux staring at a not yet complete panel depicting the Psiioniic sitting to the right of the Signless. To the left is the Disciple, her book in her lap and an anachronistic quill pen in her hand. The Sufferer is speaking (or arguing) with a group of trolls, some of whom have disbelieving or skeptical expressions. The Disciple is looking at the Sufferer, the Sufferer is glaring a little at his audience, but the Psiioniic is studying the viewer, a slight, abstracted smile on his face.
"I would have liked to have met him. I've seen his work Fef, he was a goddamn genius. Better than me, maybe," Sollux says, his voice barely a whisper. "Now he's just a brain in a bonebox."
"I don't think that's true," Feferi says. "Most of the pilots we've rescued were able to recover."
"Most of them hadn't been pilots long. None of them had the amount of programming and mindcontrol he was inflicted with, for five hundred sweeps," Sollux says, his voice low and intense.
"He fought for a very long time. Most of his lifespan," Feferi says.
"Didn't do him much good," Sollux muttered.
"He's alive. He...he might not be the person he was, but he's alive," Feferi says. "I'm not saying it will be easy, I know it will probably be horrible and hard, but I believe we can help him."
She reaches out to Sollux, feeling shy and maybe a little insecure, and gives him a tentative hug. Feferi has been avoiding Sollux for the past few days. He's busy, and even after her conversation with Karkat, the parallel of herself and Sollux, the Condesce and the Helmsman is still disturbing to her. She had sort of imagined that Sollux must be feeling the same way, especially given his obsession with duality so she's a little surprised when he sort of leans into her embrace, his forehead dropping to her shoulder. They hang onto each other like that for a while, then wordlessly separate, holding hands, then letting go "I hope you're right, FF," he says quietly. He smiled a little. "They're working on the blocking for the coronation. I think you're going to need to yell at Karkat. He doesn't like his part."
Feferi sighs and rolls her eyes. "He is so stubborn sometimes!" Sollux snorts in amused agreement, and they walk to the Imperial Residence.
The blue print of The Hive of Glass refers to the complex at the center of the station as the Imperial Residence. It was divided into a twelve section hivestem centered on a central recreation area and surrounded by meeting rooms, an administration office block and reception areas. The twelve of them referred to it as the Fruity Rumpus Asshole Factory. Feferi and Sollux walk past the public area and private area check points and enter the foyer. From the foyer, they head down the corridor to the recreation area. They could hear Karkat ranting as they walked up to the door.
The recreation room was big, with a small food preparation area, entertainment systems, randomly scattered pieces of furniture, and a long table. The table was filled with food, drinks, guest lists, seating arrangements, musical scores and the dreaded coronation script, including speeches. Karkat was standing a little away from the table, pointing an accusing finger at Kanaya. "My reasoning is perfectly valid, well thought out and based in reality," Karkat was saying. "Your reasoning is illogical, brain damaged and based in weird symbolic metaphysics based on cave scribbles and weird clown rap."
"It is only fair, Karkat. We could not have done this without you," Kanaya says in the tone of someone who has repeated something similar several times already. "It's only fitting that--"
"That we're going to ignore everything else? No. If you want to have a rust blood crown Feferi as part of a morality play in which the lower classes declare their worth because it was mostly us who put her on the throne in the first place, then have Aradia do it! She's done just as much as me, and she isn't a mutant so low she isn't on the spectrum!" Karkat shouts. "I'll stay in the background like I always do, and keep an eye out for any problems, just like I always do."
Aradia laughs at Karkat then, and point blank refuses. Karkat flushes and looks like he's about to launch into a full tirade. Feferi sighs again and enters the recreation room, which draws everyone's attention. Karkat cuts himself off immediately.
Equius, about to administer a lecture that would undoubtedly be full of backhanded compliments and horribly colorist assertions that would annoy Aradia and make Eridan smirk, immediately shuts his mouth and rises. "You grace us with your presence, Empress." He makes furtive, utterly futile "rise, rise," motions. As is traditional on these occasions, everyone ignores him and continues sitting.
She gives Equius a little smile and mouths "sit down, Equius," at him. She steps around the tables and moves to stand in front of Karkat. He turns away from her a little bit, giving her a sullen look out of the corner of his eye. "Feferi, it's just a bad idea," he says in a low voice. "There's still a lot to be done, and I don't want to give your enemies an excuse to rebel in disgust or whatever."
"Let them," Fef says. "Let's get the obvious idiots out of the way now, so we don't have to do it later." She smiles. "I want you in the front. I want them to see you and know that your mutation in no way hampers your ability. I want the highblood traditionalists to know that they were defeated by rust bloods and blue bloods working together because a candy-red mutant made it work." Karkat is staring at her with the widest eyes. It makes him look ridiculously surprised and pitiful. Adorabloodthirsty. Feferi's smile turns into a challenging smirk. "Are you telling me you can't handle being a target?"
"Fuck no," Karkat says, and offers her a tiny smile. "I just--you know--" The smile disappears at a squeal of "oh wow, OH WOW!" from Nepeta who hops up from the table. "Gogdammit Nepeta, you better not be heading for your stupid shipping wall!" Nepeta squeals again and runs off with Karkat in hot pursuit.
[carcinoGeneticist 6:00 hours ago opened a memo on private board Shut Up and Listen]
CG: I AM SENDING EVERYONE THE FINAL DRAFT OF THE CORONATION SCRIPT AND RITUAL CHOREOGRAPHY. I DO NOT THINK I SHOULD HAVE TO TELL EVERYONE THEIR JOBS AS FAR AS SECURITY, GUEST LIST AND SEATING ARRANGEMENTS ARE CONCERNED. TOO MAKE SURE NONE OF YOU FUCK THIS UP, WE ARE HAVING THREE REHEARSALS. TO ENSURE YOU ALL ACTUALLY SHOW THE FUCK UP THERE WILL ALSO BE FOOD AND DRINKS AT THE REHEARSALS. MESSAGE KANAYA IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS OR IF YOU COMPLETELY FUCK UP AND SPILL WINE ON YOUR COSTUME OR SOMETHING.
TC: My BrOtHeR YoU WoRrY ToO mUcH.
CG: I AM PRETTY SURE THAT WORRYING IS IN MY JOB DESCRIPTION SOMEWHERE.
[carcinoGeneticist closed memo]
The Helmsman continues to have strange, disturbing dreams. He is haunted by almost familiar faces, names he almost remembers. Sometimes he dreams that he is back on the ship and this strange hiatus was a dream. Sometimes he awakens angry and frightened despite the effects of sopor, struggling and screaming.
He is moved, not to another infirmary but to a private suite within the Imperial Residence. He is periodically visited by a new doctor or one of his new owner’s retainers or slaves. There is almost always someone present nearby, which is one of the only familiar things about his new environment. In the early evening, someone comes in to wake him up and take him out of the recuperacoon. After he’s dressed he endures having to perform “physical therapy” and given something to eat. After eating, there are dozens of strange tasks and exercises he must perform. It’s frustrating, and occasionally annoying and baffling, especially when the retainer seems pleased by reactions that would normally have gotten him punished. When the evening tasks have been performed, he is given books to read or television shows and movies to watch. Then he is helped to bed. The routine, as strange as it is becomes something familiar, and he begins to take a more active interest in his surroundings. (Which seems to please the retainers who “visit” him, and the new doctor as well.)
The Helmsman becomes accustomed to the presence of new people, people who seem vaguely familiar to him to a greater or lesser degree. (The doctor explains to him that this is because they are the direct descendants of people he had known when he had been the Psiioniic.) The ones who look like the people from his dreams don’t visit him very often. (It’s strangely painful that they don’t visit him, but at the same time, he’s relieved. He doesn’t know what to say to them, doesn’t know what to do about the strange memories their faces evoke.)
One of the retainers who visit him the most frequently is a young neophyte legislacerator. She hums in a threefold voice, reciting cases and court decisions to herself as she does the work of a menial, cleaning the blocks of the hive and replacing the sopor slime in his recuperacoon. She is blind, but she is the one who helps him into the wheel chair and shows him around the Imperial Residence. (She promises to show him around the entire station after the coronation. He has no idea of what to say to this.)
Another is a young blue blood who had built his wheel chair. He does not speak very often and seems strangely nervous. He is usually in the company of a young rust blood. She asks him questions about the past, about what he remembered about the way people lived. (She also carefully, gently, asks him questions about what he remembers about Her Imperial Condescension.)
They look at him with a pity that makes him feel more than a little uncomfortable. And sometimes angry, though he desperately tries not to show it. Sometimes it slips through and the reaction again, makes no sense to him. They smile, or look relieved. They apologize for upsetting him, even the one blueblood who wears cracked eyeshades.
It occurs to him, slowly that he is not understanding something, something that is integral to these young adults. Something that reminds him of what he had, the life he had lived before he had become the Helmsman. Something that reminds him of the way he felt when he had first heard the Signless speak.
A week before the coronation, Lord Ampora visits briefly to tell him that everyone was going to be too busy to come see him for the next few days. (“I bet you’re glad Aradia isn’t going to be talking your ears off.”) It’s surprisingly lonely with the presence of only the doctor and two handlers.
[cuttlefishCuller is trolling carcinoGeneticist]
CC: Sea? it wasn’t so bad!
CG: FEFERI WHAT THE HELL WE’RE IN THE SAME ROOM.
CC: You answered! And everyone’s asleep, winding down or throwing grubcorn at the news analysis of the event.
CG: I CAN SEE HOW THOSE ARE ALL VITALLY IMPORTANT THINGS THAT SHOULDN’T BE INTERUPTED. WELL, THE SLEEPING AND WINDING DOWN PARTS.
CC: So, admit it wasn’t that bad!
CG: YES IT WAS. DID ARADIA DO THE GHOST THING? BECAUSE I SWEAR I COULD FEEL SOMEONE STANDING JUST BEHIND ME, AND IT WASN’T SECURITY.
CC: I don’t think so. I didn’t feel anything. I could maybe ask her!
CG: NO, DON’T, IT WAS PROBABLY JUST NERVES.
CC: You did a really great job, Karkat. Everyone did a great job!
CG: THANKS (:B
CC: You’re whale-come!
[cuttlefishCuller is no longer trolling carcinoGeneticist]
A day after the coronation the technician who looks like him arrives with a recording of the coronation. “Feferi wanted to show you this,” he says. Like the others, he tends to speak of her by name instead of title. “We all had to make a speech about our ancestors,” he explains. The lisp is more pronounced, and there’s a strange, vulnerable look on the young man’s face. “The doctor wasn’t sure if you were ready yet, FF said to leave it up to you.”
“If she wishes it, then I must,” the Helmsman says, and tastes something sour at the back of his throat.
An unreadable look flickers across the technician’s face. “I spoke about you, Helmsman,” he says after a few moments of silence. “I spoke about the Psiioniic, who you won’t even admit to remembering having been half the time.”
“She said to leave it to me,” the Helmsman replies.
Without taking his eyes off him, the technician telekinetically turns on the television and transfers the movie chip to the player. The Helmsman finds that the technician’s description of the coronation is not entirely accurate. The young Empress is one of two who does not speak of her ancestor. Instead, she speaks of the Empire, and the rebellion, which she explains, is not a rebellion but a legal transfer of power between herself the Heir and the previous Empress. She declares that anyone standing against her are now in a state of rebellion against the Empire and reminded her enemies that she controlled the home world. She spoke of her Companions, the leaders of her new government, introducing them each in turn in a scrambled pattern.
It was the rust blood, Aradia Megido who spoke of the Empress’ ancestor. Spoke of a time before space flight, before technology when the barbarian sea queen of a distant tribe first conquered the sea, and then the land. (“Her life is too long for any one person to speak, for any twelve people. She was the Star of the Sea and for most of her life, worshipped as a goddess.”)
Each of the other young trolls spoke of their ancestor in turn. Kanaya Maryam spoke of her ancestor first, followed by Karkat Vantas. They spoke of compassion and mercy, and the failed efforts of the Sufferer. Their words left him breathless, felt like endless, pounding blows to his chest. Interwoven with their accounts were the words of the technician, and a girl named Nepeta Leijon, who spoke of the Disciple and the Psiioniic. The Helmsman felt overwhelmed by emotion, by memories. It hurt to remember so much, to be lost in the flood.
He realizes that the technician has paused the recording, is asking him if he’s alright. “Just play it,” the Helmsman says.
The next to speak are Equius Zahhak, Lord Ampora and Vriska Serket. Equius speaks of a moment of mercy and a lifetime of exile and contemplation. Lord Ampora speaks of a life of frustrated ambitions and failed political intrigue. Vriska Serket speaks of a life of serendipity and enlightened self-interest, and Terezi Pyrope speaks of justice and a life cut short by naivety. Tavros Nitram speaks of his ancestor’s attempt at rebellion, which exiled all adults off world, and Gamzee speaks of his ancestor’s part in defeating all rebellion.
The next part of the coronation was a call and response ritual where each of the eleven trolls asked the Empress a question, which she answered. In turn, they each gave an oath to serve the Empire. Last was Karkat Vantas, who came forward with a crown that he set on the new Empress’ head. “This we all swear, so long as we are your people and you see us with sympathy, you will be our Empress.”
“I swear that I will always have sympathy for my people,” the new Empress said.
There were more speeches afterward, and then the recording ended. The Helmsman found that he was trembling, his eyes burning with tears. He remembers the Sufferer speaking about forgiveness, about trying to have sympathy for everyone. They were acting in the spirit of everything the Signless had stood for, had wanted.
It hurt in a way that burned right through the psychic dampers and medication.
[caligulasAquarium is trolling cuttlefishCuller]
CA: I just got done talking to the doctor. They’re both going to be okay.
CC: I shouldn’t have let him see the coronation. It was too early.
CA: I don’t think it was. I think it was something he needed to see, even if it set him off. I think
CA: Sollux is waking up. I’ll troll you later.
[caligulasAquarium is “Too damn busy to talk to you.”]
Sollux wakes up in one of the private rooms in the station infirmary. His head hurts and he really doesn’t feel like doing something stupid like trying to sit up. Eridan is sitting nearby with a computer in his lap, busily typing away. “Eridan--? What happened?” He remembered showing the coronation to the Helmsman, but after that, everything was a blur.
“Your ancestor lost it,” Eridan says bluntly. “You were able to contain him and knock him out before anything could happen.”
“That would explain why it feels like my thinkpan feels like it’s boiled over. Is he alright?”
“He’s still asleep, last I checked,” Eridan said. “He’s across the hall.”
Sollux groaned and turned onto his side. “Shit. I should have stopped when I could see he was getting upset.”
“He’s been getting upset, Sol,” Eridan says. ” He’s just damn good at hiding it. This was just the pebble that tilts the scale.” He closes his computer and stand up. “Think you can get up?”
“The question here is ‘do I want to?’” Sollux wants to growl, “Who made you the expert on my ancestor,” but doesn’t. Instead, he just gives the other troll an irritated look.
Eridan snorts. “We’re going to go have a feelings jam with your ancestor.”
Sollux groaned again, but levered himself into an upright position. “I don’t think he’s going to understand if we drag a pile of junk into his room, ED.”
“We’ll start slow, come on,” Eridan heads for the door. After a moment, Sollux heads after him.
The Helmsman is awake by the time they get to his room. He’s sitting on the bench with his hands clenched on the on the edge. There’s tension in his shoulders, but his face is completely blank, his gaze directed to the floor. He doesn’t look up when they enter. Eridan shuts the door and takes off his cloak, dropping it on a chair. The Helmsman twitches slightly at the noise, but doesn’t otherwise react. Eridan sits down on the floor, near the bench, and slightly to the right of the Helmsman.
This does get a reaction, a brief, surprised look in Eridan’s direction. “Don’t just sand there, Sol,” Eridan says, “Fin a perch.” He points to the other chair.
Instead of taking the chair, he sat next to Eridan on the floor instead, sitting so that he was directly in front of the Helmsman. His ancestor was looking at him with a now bemused expression on his face. “How’s your head?” Sollux asks when it becomes clear that Eridan isn’t going to say anything.
“It hurts,” the Helmsman say after a moment.
“Mine too,” Sollux says. He feels incredibly awkward. “I’m sorry--“
“Don’t. Don’t apologize,” the Helmsman says in a forceful tone that surprises Sollux. “The fault is mine, technician.”
“Sollux Captor,” Eridan says firmly. The Helmsman twitches, as if he’d forgotten about Eridan. “That’s his name. The Empress is also sorry and would tell you herself, but she’s been rushing around all evening.”
“There’s no reason to be, Lord Ampora,” the Helmsman says, his voice very quiet and composed.
“It must be really nice having someone who looks like me calling you ‘Lord Ampora’ all the time,” Sollux says absently. That directs his ancestor’s attention back to him. He feels a little uncomfortable, but he continues. “He had a caliginous crush on me when we were six and a half sweeps.” He doesn’t try to hide the slight smirk that’s forming. “Well, he had them on everyone really, but me especially.”
“You hacked my computer and changed all of my security passwords to ‘fuck the hemospectrum,’ Sol.”
“You only had one password and it was stupidly easy to guess,” Sollux replies. “And I mean, anyone could have guessed it who talked to you for five minutes.” He glances up at the Helmsman who is watching the conversation with an expression that’s almost amused. “It was the name of his ancestor with a few numbers.”
Sollux and Eridan snark back and forth, drawing the Helmsman into the conversation. It’s a very slow process but eventually, the Helmsman is joining the conversation. At the end of the conversation, it almost feels as if progress has been made.
[carcinoGeneticist is trolling caligulasAquarium ]
CG: THE FUCK. A FEELINGS JAM? SERIOUSLY?
CA: A doctor approved feelings jam. There needed to be some kind of follow up beyond “it’s alright, you’re not going to be punished for flipping out,” and no one was really seeing what actually set him off.
CG: ARE YOU A FUCKING MENTAL HEALTH SPECIALIST NOW? I THOUGHT THAT KIND OF TRAINING TOOK YEARS, NOT A FEW WEEKS OF SUPERVISING AN ACTUAL SPECIALIST’S WORK.
CG: FUCK YOU ERIDAN.
CG: WHAT DO YOU THINK SET HIM OFF?
CA: It wasn’t just the memories evoked by the coronation. It was the coronation itself. We took a club and smashed him in the face with, since he’s Sollux’s ancestor and probably has the same depression episodes, his “failure.”
CG: WHICH MEANS WHAT?
CA: Carp, he wasn’t just one of the leaders of a rebellion, he was the follower of a religious movement. A movement that promoted sympathy, even toward your enemies. Do you really think the Psiioniic wouldn’t have tried to reach out to the Condesce?
CG: THERE IS NOTHING IN HER DIARY ABOUT IT.
CA: Doesn’t mean he didn’t try. And we know that the Dolorosa tried it, from Mindfang’s journal. So, say he tried to convert the Condesce. But it doesn’t work very well because they were too far apart in age and literally from different eras and cultures. Maybe she doesn’t even understand what he’s trying to do.
CG: OH FUCK. THAT ACTUALLY MAKES SENSE I AM EXTREMELY SHOCKED.
CA: Shut up Kar. So, he seas us. He seas all twelve of us working together, and then he seas Feferi who is basically exactly the same as the Condesce except she is not an insane, millennia old bitch and she is only homicidal on special occasions and from what he can see, stands by everything he believes in. So for him, someone else succeeded where he and the rebellion he was part of failed.
CA: Even if we say that our ancestors laid the foundation, it probably fuckin sucks to be the cornerstone Kar. Or more accurately, one of the fuckin sacrifices smashed under the cornerstone.
CG: SHIT. OKAY. I CAN SEE THAT YOU DO HAVE A POINT AND IT MAKES SENSE.
CA: I know what it’s like having that kind of failure thrown in your face.
CA: What it feels like to have what you think of as failure thrown in your face.
CA: I mean, nothing at all on the same scale. What the Helmsman went through was fuckin’ insane, but I can get a general sense of it.
CG: ARE YOU GOING TO NEED A FEELINGS JAM?
CA: That depends on if that was a serious offer, or you being a shit.
CG: JUST MEET ME IN THE REC ROOM, FUCK ASS, ABOUT AN HOUR FROM NOW.
[carcinoGeneticist is no longer trolling caligulasAquarium]
This is how it goes: The Helmsman has good days, and days when he locks himself in his respite block and won’t come out. There are days when he is breathlessly, horribly enraged and days when he’s at peace (those times never seemed to last long enough). There are times when he is happy, and there are times when he is too busy pursuing some project or another to care whether he is happy or unhappy.
He reads everything the Disciple wrote when she created her Hermitage. Without being prompted or having it suggested to him, he begins to work on a commentary of her writings. Very occasionally, he has conversations with members of the scattered splintered cults of the Signless. Some of them have very strange ideas of what the Signless actually stood for and believed, but like the Signless, he doesn’t push his own definitions on people who aren’t receptive to the message.
What it comes down to is this: He is sometimes the Magus, and sometimes the Teacher. (These are not official designations. The Empress refused to give him one, so he kept “Helmsman” because there was no designation he cared to give himself.) Even high bloods treat him with a deference that is occasionally extremely annoying. He has students who want to argue with him all the time and students who hang on his every word. He is frequently visited by the Empress and her Companions, and he visits them. He has mostly gotten used to being treated as an ancestor by all twelve of them, though he finds it very strange.