On the first day, they had brought him in bruised and battered and barely conscious, all tied up in every way imaginable. It had seemed like a ridiculous amount of precaution, considering that the prisoner in question was one of those pathetic human things from the latest planet that Her Imperial Condescension was attacking. In fact, Karkat didn’t know why they’d even bothered to bring a human back alive in the first place. The Condesce didn’t take prisoners of war; she simply culled them. He didn’t really care, though, because the important part was that the human’s sorry ass had been dumped on him, the lowest of the low when it came to the hemospectrum.
“Karkat Vantas, inglorious prison guard,” he muttered seethingly to himself. That had a sufficiently pathetic ring to it.
He refused to so much as glance at the human’s way while the two adult trolls, who had been sent back to Alternia temporarily for the sole purpose of transporting the human, unceremoniously dumped the unmoving body in the cell. With his back turned, his sharp ears picked up an impossibly quiet sound of pain, but that was it. No crying, no sobbing, no begging for mercy. Unable to resist, he finally turned around just as the cell door was slammed shut. Through the cold steel bars, suspicious ebony eyes met a pair of liquid blue ones, tired and afraid and almost… resigned? No, that wasn’t it, but Karkat didn’t have any time to dwell on it because the human had finally succumbed to its wounds and fatigue and had closed its eyes, its ragged breathing calming to a shallow but steady rhythm.
The two adult trolls that had brought the human tossed the keys to the cell to Karkat impassively, no doubt eager to get back to all the conquering and slaying and whatever the fuck it was they did on the planets they ravaged. The message was clear: they had no intention of helping with the prisoner, which meant that Karkat would have to deal with their bloody mess all by himself. Lucky him. He’d always wanted to play nursemaid to a pathetic pink blob. The thought had only barely settled in his mind, and the two trolls were already gone. Another moment and he could hear the engines of their starship whirring to life.
His gaze traveled back to the pink-and-blue blob in the cell, and with an irritated huff, he unlocked the door—what had even been the point of locking it in the first place? He thought, annoyed—and knelt down to inspect the human thing. There was no blood, oddly enough, just bruises of all different colors and raw trails of red where the rope had dug into the skin and bit at it. After a few moments of wrestling unsuccessfully with the knots, he made an irritated noise at the back of his throat and grabbed his sickle, slicing the rope away.
The directions had been very clear: the human thing was not supposed to die. He exhaled in frustration and went to grab some fresh towels and bandages. This was not going to be a fun afternoon.
On the second day, the human mostly just slept. Karkat had freaked out for a good five minutes, thinking it was dead, but then he had tiptoed into the cell and checked; it was still breathing, though by now the breathing was so shallow that even from less than five feet away, he still had to strain to hear it. This was probably not a good sign.
The bruises and rope burns showed no sign of healing, either. He didn’t know if this was a weak, pathetic human thing, or if it meant the pink blob was in critical condition. Honestly, he didn’t know the first thing about humans, and he was beginning to wonder how they survived at all when they were so weirdly soft and squishy without even any sharp teeth to protect themselves. He didn’t know if the human thing could speak, either, and he didn’t know if he wanted it to be able to. Speaking meant it would become less of a thing to him and more of a human, and that was dangerous. He wasn’t here to pity the fucking blob, after all.
Nonetheless, he changed its bandages one more time than was strictly necessary. It would be really pathetic if he let the human thing die and fucked up his first actual assignment, shitty as the assignment was.
On the third day, the human thing had woken up. Karkat had walked into the room without even glancing towards the cell, and he’d almost jumped out of his skin when he turned away from the computers for a second to see a pair of curious blue eyes watching him. Not afraid, not hateful, just curious. Weird fucking human.
“What are you staring at?” He’d snapped, and the human thing had given him the barest of smiles and the tiniest hint of a shrug.
“Your name is Karkat?” It asked softly, hoarsely, with a tinge of childish glee. The first thing Karkat registered was holy fuck this human thing speaks the same language as us. The second thing was its voice is fucking weird. Then he remembered with a wince that if the swollen rings on its neck were any indication, the human thing had almost been choked to death prior to its arrival, probably when it had been captured; that would explain the rasping voice. But neither of those thoughts passed his lips.
“Yes, good fucking job, you managed to put two and two together, you pathetic bulgelicker.” He said crossly, wondering how the human thing had figured his name out, anyways.
That only elicited another faint smile, and Karkat had the feeling that the human thing would be laughing if its throat would let it. “That’s a weird name,” it breathed raggedly. “Beep beep, meow.”
He had no idea what the alien thing was saying, but it sounded detrimental to his pride, so he simply shot it a nasty look and turned back to his computer. There was a new message from the higher-ups. He clicked on it impatiently, but as soon as a window with the text opened up, his face turned completely pale. He fled.
On the fourth day, a pair of Legislacerators came in without warning and abducted the human thing. No, that wasn’t right. First of all, the human was technically Alternian property to begin with, and the Legislacerators were only doing their job. It wasn’t like the human thing belonged to Karkat, and it wasn’t like the Legislacerators were stealing it when they took it away. Second of all, they weren’t even really taking him, they were just “interrogating” him in one of the other rooms in the weird, gloomy building. And third of all, it wasn’t like he hadn’t had any warning. The message had told him exactly when they were supposed to come, but he hadn’t read that part; the first paragraph of the message had already been enough to make him feel sick and hastily close the text.
He knew should have left the moment he saw those garish red-and-teal uniforms, but he didn’t. He couldn’t. So he sat there in front of his computer, typing away at his latest nonsensical code while screams filled the air—ragged, uneven, high-pitched screams of desperation and pain broken by sobs and gasps that he couldn’t block out even though he tried. He didn’t know what kind of interrogation methods the Legislacerators were using on the human thing, and he didn’t want to imagine. He closed his eyes.
Hours later, one of the neophytes—it was Terezi, he realized with a lump in his throat—slipped back into the room, a grin on her face and blood smeared across her skin and clothes. He took a step back involuntarily, utterly confused, because the blood was bright red. For a moment, he panicked and looked down, but he wasn’t wounded at all. He looked back up just in time for the other young Legislacerator to bring in the once-again half-dead body, and suddenly the only thing he could hear was blood pounding in his ears.
There was no doubt about it. Trails of fresh blood streaked across the pink of the human’s skin, fresh and bright and so utterly red. He swallowed, his world suddenly upside-down and Terezi was talking to him and he didn’t understand a word she was saying anymore, it was like she was speaking in an alien tongue—fuck, he swore mentally as she licked him again. It was something she did often, and as her matesprit, he’d gotten used to it, but for some reason he couldn’t explain, his stomach was doing queasy backflips at the gesture now, at her very presence, even. Whenever she touched him, the screaming from before would replay in his head, and all he could do was stammer something incoherent and pull away.
“Karkles, what’s gotten into you today?” She asked, grinning tauntingly because she knew, there was no way she didn’t know, no way she hadn’t made the connection between the human thing’s blood and his own. And she was utterly enjoying it.
“I need… some time…” He said, his voice cracking as he slumped heavily into a chair, for once too shocked to even bother to act irritated. She merely cackled and walked out, the other neophyte close on her heels.
A few moments, and the sound of the human’s breathing reminded him that time wasn’t going to stop to let him think. He dragged himself over and swallowed before inspecting the bleeding gashes all over the body. It was lucky, he supposed, that Terezi had been on the team; she preferred mind games to physical pain, although he wondered briefly if that was truly preferable. But at least he couldn’t see those kinds of wounds. He breathed in slowly, counted to ten, then exhaled again before collecting the bandages and a some water, trying very hard not to let his hands shake as he cleaned the blood away. It wasn’t his blood. It wasn’t.
It took two days for the human to regain consciousness after that.
By that time he’d already lost track of how many days he’d spent on this stupid job. No one was going to come rescue the human; Earth was about a million light-years away, and he had heard that they didn’t even have advanced enough starships to cross half that distance. None of the other trolls cared enough to try to break in, either, and the human itself was hardly in any shape to try to escape. So he just sat there in one of the massive, plush chairs, curled up with his head in his knees, consumed by a guilt that he didn’t understand. He hadn’t been the one to kidnap the stupid human, or the one to interrogate him. In fact he could pretty much say that he was probably the nicest troll the human had met so far, which was a weird enough thought in and of itself.
So why was he still bothered?
A shuffling noise interrupted his thoughts, and he looked up to see that the human’s eyes were half-open, even if they looked dull and glazed over, not even close to the vivid, liquid blue they had been before. With effort, it pushed itself upright into a sitting position but collapsed against the wall almost immediately.
“Fucktard, stop moving around when you’re in that state,” Karkat swore, almost knocking himself over as he hastily stood up, untangling his legs with limited success. As if to contradict his order, the human straightened up again, its blue eyes fixed on the troll’s every move. Cautious, but not hateful, not angry—not at all. Somehow, that just made Karkat feel like even more shit.
It tried to speak, but only a choked sound came out before it winced and swallowed. He guessed its throat was still raw from all the screaming; the thought only brought another lump to his throat, and he punched himself mentally. What kind of troll pitied a pathetic pink blob like that? What did it matter if one stupid human suffered a bit?
Nonetheless, he quietly slipped out of the room and walked to the nutritionblock, finding one of the stores of so-called “human food.” He found something liquid as usual and heated it up before carrying it back, hoping that he wouldn’t have to spoon-feed the stupid human as he’d done while it was unconscious. It was really annoying, and besides, he didn’t know if he could stand being in such close proximity to those inquiring eyes.
Sure enough, the human was still awake when he got back, and he quickly unlocked the door to the cell, his one free hand fumbling with the key. With some effort, the heavy door swung open and he walked in, setting the tray on the small table in the room, all while that pair of eyes watched him through the wide lenses of its glasses. He carefully placed the tray down with a soft clink, careful not to spill anything, his hands still just the slightest bit unsteady, before he couldn’t take it anymore and fled.
There was an empty room in the building that he’d stocked with all of his favorite movies and a small but convenient TV, and he knocked the door open blindly, grabbing the closest video disc and shoving it into the player. The television set flickered to life, and he sat down numbly, mouthing the words to the opening as if that could carry him out of this world and into the one on the screen. He watched, transfixed, as the lead began to stammer the worst possible words out of nervousness, his hands wringing and sweat collecting on his forehead. It would eventually cause the stupidest understanding possible, but Karkat already knew the ending to the whole damn thing. Happily ever after. He bit his lip hard enough to draw blood, and the pain brought him back to reality for a moment when he realized his deadly mistake.
He’d forgotten to lock the cell door.
He stood up abruptly, knocking over a pile of discs in his haste, and rushed back into the other room. When he flung the door open, he had to bite back a strangled noise of horror as his eyes fell on what looked like the human’s dead carcass, collapsed in a heap in the floor in front of his computer. Several of the gashes had reopened in the arduous journey, and when Karkat looked back towards the cell, he saw traces of blood all around that probably indicated that the human had fallen over a couple of times.
The human’s fingers were stained red, too; he’d probably tried to stop the bleeding with his hands.
He gulped as he noticed the bright red on the keys of his computer. He wiped them away with the sleeve of his jacket before he looking at the screen; sure enough, it had contacted its human acquaintances, though apparently it had only typed up a few lines of text before it had passed out.
EB: hey rose! i’m on this alien troll planet now.
EB: don’t worry, i’m fine. these trolls are just kind of funny, hehe.
EB: they really do speak the same language as us! it’s so weird.
EB: anyways i know you’re not online right now, but i fo
That must have been when he’d passed out. Karkat double-checked the three lines again to make sure there was nothing incriminating, but they were just ridiculous, empty-headed sentences. Didn’t the stupid human know its life was forfeit at any second, if the Condesce so demanded? Didn’t it have any sense of urgency? He swallowed and looked down, and he had the uncomfortable feeling that the human did know, knew it perfectly well. He was lucky that this was one of Sollux’s custom-made, untraceable computers; if any of the other trolls found out… he shuddered.
With a couple of quick swipes, he deleted the messages and cleared the history before shutting down the computer, hoping it was good enough. In his haste, he didn’t see the text that appeared just before he shut everything down. Only a few simple lines, written in bright red text.
EB: anyways i know you’re not online right now, but i fo
TG: hey bro you alright out there
TG: hang on just a bit longer weve rigged up something sweet
TG: youll be doing a fucking pirouette off the handle when you see this shit