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Message in a Klein Bottle

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==>

It's almost done. You're almost finished. There are universes in the making here; more than that, the very mold for the construction of universes is right here at your fingertips, and with just a few more days to stabilize the central game mechanics, you will soon be the sole author of the greatest piece of software ever written in this universe, in any universe. You want to feel excited, but after a week (or more - you've lost track) of no sleep and not much in the way of food, you struggle to feel anything other than simply driven. There's a certain inevitability to it - for the last few days, you've become certain that this game will be (was? has been? would be?) the instrument used to create this very universe, and the simple fact that you exist at all is a kind of cosmic guarantee that you will finish it.

You would say that the Gods have blessed you with this vision, but you're actually not sure about that. You've certainly been helpless in the throes of some supernatural intervention, but not quite the way you'd have expected; given the nature of the project, you expected a yellow presence, with the twin searing beams of red and blue. You wondered if He'd be pleased by your industry and efficiency, or enraged that you're fucking around with what must certainly be His cosmic codebase, infuriated by all the silly references to pool, chess, and card games you've been throwing into it with impunity. But all you've felt for the past however-long-it's-been-now is a painful, burning whiteness. White's not even one of the Arc Colors - in fact, isn't it sort of like the Anti-Color, the absence of color? Maybe your inspiration is the absence of Gods, or you're being directed by something outside of the system entirely? Are theories of subtractive color pigments even relevant when you can hardly remember your life outside of computers and SBURB code?

But suddenly there is a burst of color, real color, a deep rusty maroon, and it takes you a minute to realize that there is actually a God in the room with you, and not just in the twisted, tormented mess you used to call your brain. And you guess it answers the question of whether They approve or not, if They sent Her to take care of things. A small part of you that can remember further than a week into the past reflects that it's funny how Gods just waltzing into your life and taking control of your business is now such an uneventful occurrence.

You turn in your chair to face her. You suppose you should be frightened, terrified even, but that white fire has apparently purged your psyche of everything that isn't a desperate need to write the Game To End All Games. In any case, your butt has probably entered into a symbiotic relationship with your chair by this point, so it's not like you could do anything about it even if you were. For some reason, she's here in the form of a robot. You reflect briefly that this might mean that some of the weirder splinter sects of the Red Church aren't quite so heretical as everyone thought they were.

"I'm sorry," she begins, which is almost uncharacteristic enough to be funny, even given the sorry state you're in. "I suppose you must consider me some kind of deity, which makes this especially awkward. Although technically, I won't have been your deity until after you will have died, which makes this meeting almost paradoxical." She appears to consider that for a minute. "Perhaps I miscalculated after all. But I've obviously already done this, so it's not like I can take it back now. For what it's worth, neither of us really has a choice about this - in the end it will turn out to have had to have happened this way all along." Another pause, of a slightly more whimsical bent. "You know, your language has a truly impressive system of modal verbs. That would have been, or I suppose, will have been quite useful during the game, except that I really doubt Karkat has the command of the syntax necessary to actually parse a sentence like that." She sighs, and it sounds frustrated, faintly tinged with disgust. "I am rambling. And stalling. Let's get to the point; paradox space doesn't prune itself."

When she moves, she doesn't make any of the creaky screeching noises that you'd expect from a robot, even a well-maintained one, but the hand she wraps around your wrist is definitely heavy and cold and made of metal, and even if you still had the ability to move under your own will, you never could have shaken it. There's a sudden sensation of hair on the nape of your neck, and then down your shoulders, and your nails are growing out of control. Your body feels like it's working overtime, like you've been running a marathon for the past week instead of furiously attacking your keyboard, and the sensations only increase as time goes on. There's a crippling pain in your joints, and you can feel things inside you wearing out and breaking, pushed beyond capacity and out the other side. As your vision swims red, you still manage to catch her last words to you.

"Yes," says the Maid of Time, Lady Entropy, The Red Angel of Death. "This is how it has to happen."

Chapter Text

> Karkat: Behold ultimate reward.

You're not really sure what you were expecting, but you're pretty sure it wasn't this. The new universe, the glorious paradise you were promised, is spread out before you like an issue of Game Grub, flat and unreal, definitely not something you can experience or live in in any meaningful way. You tried asking Kanaya about it, since she's apparently supposed to know how this shit works, but she just keeps saying incomprehensible bullshit about fourth-dimensional space and how it's apparently necessary for timestream management, or something. Wherever you actually are, you seem to have some kind of mental control over your surroundings, but when half of you are sopor junkies and bugfuck insane FLARPers that's not necessarily a good thing. So far, no one's decided that your new home is in dire need of His Honorable Tyranny, giant spider-lusi, or tentacled sea monsters, but it's probably only a matter of time.

You'd attempted to direct the collective consciousness for a while, and amazingly enough everyone now has actual respiteblocks and the other basic necessities of life. Then Sollux went off by himself and designed a whole fucking computer lab, since apparently he just can't live with himself if he doesn't have something to system-administrate, and then Kanaya started talking to him and now you can apparently use the computer terminals to browse your very own personal Troll Flatland. So as a result, instead of doing something halfway productive, like maybe thinking about your future, or imagining up a place for the matriorb, all of you have been sitting around in here glued to computer screens like wigglers discovering the internet for the first time, surfing the new universe and searching futily for intelligent life. God, you never realized how much fucking empty space there is in universes, even in apparently two-dimensional ones. Three-dimensional ones. What the fuck ever.

Your first thought had been to look for suns that were milder than the old Alternian one you all loved to hate, but you'd quickly discovered that the big red ones are actually already about as mild as they get. Maybe it's a good thing you don't actually live in the new universe, since there's apparently nowhere trolls can actually survive worth a damn. It fucking figures. Eventually you just started picking systems at random, and in spite of all the laws of probability and sanity, you actually stumbled across a sentient race in a system with a blistering yellow sun that hurts your eyes to even think about. Maybe they're farther away from it or something? They're some kind of disturbingly troll-shaped mammals with hair all over their bodies, and the females do horrifying things with their grubs, but you guess this is a necessary part of the nurturing process? You seem to know all kinds of things about them without actually having to think about it or investigate very hard; maybe this is part of what being a god means. They seem to have pigments in their skin that protect them from their terrifying sun somewhat, and they mostly function diurnally. Must be nice.

But probably the weirdest thing is the way they apparently think of all of you as literal gods, and have apparantly been making up bizarre stories about you and your friends for thousands and thousands of their solar sweeps, at least. No, fuck probably, that shit is the most disturbing thing you've ever seen, and that includes some of Equius's musclebeast porn, due to an unfortunate captcha code mixup. Speaking of whom, navigating the history of this world has quickly become a nightmare of attempting to flashstep around the parts of it where everything was apparently being conquered by legions of Equius-fetishizers. Tavros seems to have inspired a bizarre religion based on non-violence, however the hell that's supposed to work, and there's a small but highly visible population who have gotten completely the wrong idea about Vriska, and apparently everyone else on the planet finds this just as offensive and enraging as you do. That's not even to mention the entire fucking continent full of people who have devoted their pathetic existences to finding new and inventive ways of sticking their heads up Sollux's nook. And no matter what part of history you stop on, you can't seem to find a time when someone isn't worshipping you in some capacity, apparently as some sort of paragon of calmness and mental stability, and as utterly hilarious as that is... wherever you are, Gamzee is there with you, leaning up against you, or with your arm circling his chest, or your hand in his hair. They obviously don't realize just how much taller he is than you, because some of this imagery would be downright silly-looking otherwise, but it's still more than a little creepy, and more than a lot obviously, blatently pale. They stories they tell about you all seem to be the worst kind of messed-up pale romance plotline; a highblood gives into his natural bloodlust and culls a friend, and then a level-headed lowblood comes along to soothe his guilt and shooshpap him down from his excesses, which are of course 100% not his fault and all because it's so fucking hard being a highblood and no one fucking understands. It's unappologetically hemocastist to the point where it's not even intriguing sociological commentary anymore, not to mention disgustingly one-sided, and it's been redone again and again and again ever since the first pathetic lonely bulgelicker crawled out of a cave and thought up the idea of romance. And come on, even in the blackest depths of kismessitude, actually culling people isn't romantic. You don't even know how you wound up owning so many movies with that plot.

Okay, okay, you kind of do. Oh god, what if this was somehow your contribution to the universe frog, all of your terrible guilty pleasures crystalized and carefully preserved in the mythological traditions of a ridiculous species of soft brown monkeys? You're pretty sure that the only thing preventing you from actually, literally dying of mortification right now is the sheer improbability that anyone other than you has discovered this planet yet.

You glance sidelong at Gamzee, where he's playing some kind of Troll tetris on one of the other computers. He's probably not even really playing, he's probably just listening to the stupid music and watching the colored blocks fall down the screen until he gets a Game Over and restarts it again. He might be the worst best friend ever, but you always have found him to be a bit of a pitiful moron. Sometimes you want to go over to him, maybe touch him and talk to him in a way you've never been able to before, maybe ask him what's really going on in his sopor-addled think pan and tell him what's going on in yours - all the things you've fucked up that you'll never be able to fix, all the things that have yet to go wrong that you won't be able to stop. And maybe he'll smile at you with that expression that tells you he's never doubted anything in his life, and say "it's okay, motherfucking best friend," and maybe if you're curled up with him in a pile of something that's maybe not a bunch of fucking horns, just maybe you could actually believe that for a whole five minutes. You might even be able to put up with his miracles bullshit for a bit, as long as he didn't say anything too pan-breakingly stupid.

This is serendipity, right? You know how this ends in every romcom you've ever seen, but somehow you could never follow through. Now a whole planet full of aliens is telling you exactly what you already fucking knew: Karkat, get your stupid spineless ass in gear, you insufferable pan-dead moron.

You were going to say something to him, you really were, you can't count the number of times you almost asked him in the past few perigees, but you just couldn't do it in person, and you could never be entirely sure that he was really paying attention to you over Trollian - it would just about figure, you'd make some kind of terribly-worded proposition to him in a chat, and he'd ignore you for fifteen minutes because he'd gotten distracted by the waves, or the shapes in the clouds, or the fascinating way his faygo had exploded when he broke the seal. And then, suddenly, there was SGRUB, and the meteors, and the Vast Glub, and Sollux fucking died on you, the inconsiderate bastard, and then there was Jack, and Operation Regisurp, and the still ridiculously overpowered black king to deal with. There were always more things to kill, and memos to write, and morons to yell at, and Aradia kept popping into existence randomly to tell you how you'd managed to fuck everything up yet again, and one time she'd even tried to talk to you in some fucking stupid alien language that you hadn't studied in at least a sweep, because of some nonsense about modal verbs, what the hell was that even about, and well. Well, the point is, there was never a good time.

And now, and now - you glance back at the blue and green globe that you've already started thinking of as the Pale Porn Planet - now there will never be a good time, ever again. Even if it does work out, sooner or later he'll find out about all this, and then all your chances with him will be gone like a sopor-and-faygo snowball in the hell that is Gamzee Makara's hatred of that old tired bloodthirsty-indigo trope. It's the one and only thing you've ever seen him actually give some sort of a shit about, and the fuck kind of a friend, much less a pity-mate, would you be if you went and specifically pushed his buttons? Better to move on and forget it - you've missed that ship, it obviously wasn't meant to be. It's not like the pitiful dumbfuck even really needs you anyway - look at him, he can grubsit himself all day with his fucking tetris game. And that's precisely the point; what kind of relationship would you even have when you can't even see why he'd want to reciprocate?

"Hey, KK," Sollux says from behind your right shoulder, "whenever you're finished moping about the breakdown in the chain of command, AA wants to talk to you."

You jump a bit, and minimize the window with the universe in it as fast as you can. The last thing you need is for him to find out just how popular he is with hundreds of millions of weirdo aliens; his ego would never come planetside again. "I'm not fucking moping," you say reflexively, mentally kicking yourself out of your thoughts. "Wait, did you say Aradia? She's actually having conversations again, like a real flesh-and-blood person instead of a soulless dead robot?"

You see his expression change in a way that means his mood's about to go in the I-hate-my-life-and-it's-all-my-fault direction. You suppose he could have done without that reminder. How could you possibly have justified burying yourself in regrets about what never could have happened with Gamzee when some of your friends had to deal with actual fallout from the land of Culling People Isn't Romantic? Past-you, as always, has such a brilliant sense of prioritization that he deserves a fucking medal, preferably one pinned to his defective think pan with one of his own sickles. "Sort of?" Sollux shrugs tiredly. "She just wanted to ask me why all of my predictions about dying and going blind and shit never came true, like I have any fucking clue about that, and now she wants to talk to you about some weird timeline crap or something."

"Why the hell does she think I'd know anything about that?" Between past-you and that absolute clusterfuck of a transtimeline memo system, you've already had way more than enough of this bullshit.

"I don't know, KK, maybe because being the leader actually involves something more than just being a useless blustering tool?"

"At least my 'useless blustering' actually won us the fucking game, shitstain, in case you somehow managed to miss that. What have you ever done except be a goddamn dead weight of a wannabe doomprophet? Apparently you can't even predict things that actually happen." Dammit, why do your conversations always have to go this way?

"You are so full of shit," says Sollux. "I didn't even need any psychic abilities to predict that."

You take a deep breath, and will yourself away from the spiralling whirlpool of communication failure that seems to follow Sollux around like a lost barkbeast. "Look, just forget I said anything, okay? We're still good, right?"

He nods wearily, but at least he seems to have been distracted from his looming angst for the moment. You close the universe - if only life could always be so simple! - and attempt to locate Aradia in the lab. She's over in the opposite corner, staring at one of the terminals with her freaky dead robot eyes with an intensity that should be melting it down into slag.

As soon as you're close enough to hear, she starts, predictably, with a complete non-sequitur. "Have you talked to Vriska lately?"

"No," you say, somewhat bemused. You actually don't think you've even talked to her over Trollian at all during the latter half of the game, and ever since you finished setting up here, she's been holed up in her respiteblock and staying out of the common areas. Apart from being a huge bitch that everyone hates, you gather from Terezi that she's been avoiding Tavros because of some heavy drama that went down on LOMAT while everyone else was off doing things other than playing pirate. You knew they wouldn't work out. You called that one ages ago.

"Good. Don't." Aradia looks back at the computer screen. That blue-green planet looks uncomfortably familiar. "I need you to find out as much as you can about this world's mythology, without letting either Vriska or Terezi get a look at it."

"Hey, hey, wait a minute," you say. "Who died here and put you in charge of this operation? I'm pretty certain it wasn't me. Look at me. Do I look fucking dead to you? No, definitely not, I am definitely not the dead person here. You do not getto order me around like a deranged schoolfeeder with a lusus-complex. What the fuck is going on here, Aradia?"

"Timeline bleed. Or, more specifically, since we've ascended to a higher dimension in order to cross into this universe, I think the term is now 'causal trajectory confluence', but the principle is the same. There seems to be a link here from a different trajectory where... bad things happened, and those events seem to be showing up in the natives' stories about us, and may be interfereing in other, less benign parts of the universe. I think it's even possible that it's interefered with us, although my guess is that we're immune." She narrows her non-eyes at you, which doesn't have quite the same effect with those clunky metal eyelids of hers. "What do you remember about what happened after we won the game, Karkat?"

"We beat the king, there was a universe frog and a Vast Croak, I stuck my hand in some kind of weird universe portal, and then we were here," you say. "I have no idea what anything else you just said even means, and I'd ask you to translate into language that makes sense, but I've suddenly decided I don't actually want to know. I am officially delegating all of the weird time shit to you now, okay? Just tell me: are we in some kind of doomed timeline right now?"

"No," she says. "In fact, I'm beginning to think that 'doomed timeline' never even really meant what we thought it did. I think someone with higher-dimensional powers has been playing with us this whole time and manipulating our initial timestream in order to bring about someone else's self-fulfilling existence. I thought I prevented that, but I have a much broader perspective now, and I think I only pushed it into a different causal trajectory, and I can't locate the critical moment directly anymore. The intervention that allowed us to enter this universe happened on this planet, and this also seems to be where the confluence is the most pronounced." She indicates the screen. "If you don't want to understand, will you at least help me fix this?"

"Why don't you just do it, since you seem to know so goddamn much about this shit?" You remember something else she said before she started spewing incomprehensible bullshit. "And what is your problem with Terezi?"

"Terezi and Vriska were responsible for everything going wrong in the alternate universe," Aradia tells you coolly, "or rather, in another reward-universe along the same trajectory but not directly accessible from here, which then either reached around into our incipisphere universe or just came back down the causal trajectory to get us all into the situation in the first place. Fifth-dimensional paradox space is far more disorganized than I anticipated. And the reason I can't gather any actual information from these people is that they all think of me as some kind of vengeful and terrifying death god, whereas you are a popular and universally-beloved cultural hero. Besides, I am really tired of hearing about you and Gamzee." And, before you can make good on your previous threat of death-by-mortification, she's disappeared off into the lab somewhere. Maybe you'll save that for tomorrow.

Dammit, things made more sense when all you had to do was figure out how to kill an almost-unbeatable superboss with a band of uncooperative assholes.

Chapter Text

> Karkat: Investigate.

You guess you might as well; it was more or less what you were doing already, and who knows, talking to aliens might actually be less weird than talking to Aradia.

Although, maybe you won't have to, if that weird sort-of-omniscience can pull you through this. Well, probably not - if it were really that simple, Aradia probably would have just done it - but you can give it a shot, anyway. You sit down at the terminal she just abandoned, and pick a landmass at random.

This is one of those places where they really love you and Gamzee, but you suppose you'll have to get used to that idea eventually, so you grit your teeth and make yourself think about it. Underneath the terrible romance plot, there's actually a surprisingly deep layer of philosophy. They seem to think you represent all of their leaders, politicians, managers, organizers - people who are goal-driven, ambitious, externally directed and impulsive - whereas Gamzee is for all the artists, musicians, poets, dreamers, crazy people and drug addicts, the people who tend to get stuck inside their own heads and have to be rescued by reality. Opposites and complements, two unstable halves of a healthy whole - there's even some kind of ancient psuedoscience about bodily humors involving medical procedures designed to balance Blood against Rage. You have to admit, at this level where it doesn't really feel like it's specifically about you anymore, much less about killing anyone, that is actually pretty fucking romantic. They don't even see it as romance, though - it's just spirituality, which is a little weird. There wasn't really religion like this in your old culture that you all destroyed by playing SGRUB. There were just the Ancestors - everyone had their own, and you were supposed to grow up to be like them, or maybe like them but better. There weren't these far-reaching narratives that were supposed to show how the world fit together, how society as a whole was supposed to work. This was exactly the kind of bullshit that made Gamzee such a pariah - instead of looking up to whoever his Ancestor was and thinking directly about his own life, he'd zone out and talk about how he could see the shape of the universe in the disgusting piles of seaweed that washed up on his beach.

This isn't it for their religious appropriations of Team Adorabloodthirsty, though, not by a long shot. Kanaya is hanging around as a representation of females and the unique role they have in these aliens' bizarre mammalian reproductive processes, and oh god you wish you could take back that train of thought because now you know way more than you ever wanted to on that subject. Now that you know how their kinship system is put together, though, you can kind of see why their definition of romance is so vague and limited. Everyone is descended not from a single Ancestor, but from a single romantic pairing, with each member of the pairing being descended from a different pairing and so on, and after even just a few iterations of this the whole system explodes into an exponentially expanding clusterfuck of a tree structure consisting mostly of people who aren't even important except for keeping track of where you are on the tree relative to everyone else. You can't even imagine how much worse it would get if there were even as many two coexisting quadrants, and to your immense relief the source of your conditional omnipotence apparently can't either. It's not precisely that they lack particular concepts of romance, though - a lot of their romantic ideals do seem pretty similar to matespritship, but some of them are a lot more like kismesissitude, and most of them have properties of both. Some of them even seem more pale than anything, and you get the feeling that some relationships are, in practice, not even really concupicent. You wonder how on earth they decide which quadrant they want to fill and how they work out if the other person is even interested in it without having the vocabulary to talk about it in a sensible way.

The infamous Vriska-religion is here too, and they also seem to be fans of Terezi and their ridiculous feud. They're painted as being perpetual antagonists in a way that's just a little too playful, and at the same time too homocidal to be properly caliginous, with Terezi as the Maker of Laws versus Vriska as the Breaker of Laws. Sometimes one wins, sometimes the other does; sometimes the winner kills the loser, sometimes there's just punishment, or a cunning diversion while Vriska escapes. They've even encorporated Terezi's being blinded by Vriska, although you think they've also got Vriska being blinded by Terezi at least once, too. It's not really clear whether they think one of them is definitely the good half of the pair or not, and the followers of this particular tradition are spread out in a disconnected diaspora of threads and pockets that have mostly been subsumed by the overwhelming popularity of you, Gamzee, and Kanaya, so it's hard to distinguish the impressions of the group itself from the impressions that everyone else has about them. If Vriska and Terezi were somehow responsible for the Bad Things Aradia hinted at, you figure you should probably try to find out how, but right now it's just giving you an extra-dimensional headache.

While this is definitely a part of history where no one worships Equius anymore, the dominant culture here is still saturated with old stories and tropes and artifacts from the time when this part of the planet apparently belonged to his followers (and those of Nepeta and Eridan) by right of conquest. The specifics are vague and muddled, though - you get the feeling that now that they're no longer considered relevant to daily life in any meaningful way, all the taboos against retelling and modifying and bastardizing the stories no longer apply, and there's really no consensus on their significance except as quaint adventures from a bygone age. Something that does escape from the muddle, though, sharp and still relevant, is that Gamzee and Kanaya killing the old gods was symbolic of the rejection of the religious practices of the ancient conquerers.

Wait, what?

But you didn't get any specifics about the Gamzee Culling People plot earlier, and you don't seem to be having any more success sifting through the individual stories now. And Kanaya was involved too? Dammit, you are going to have to find an alien to talk to. Not in this part of their world if you can help it, though - there's too much layered history and ideological conflict here, entirely too much moirallegiance fetishization, and a faint but unpleasantly omnipresent patina of musclebeast. You scout around for another likely place.

Across an ocean, you re-encounter the Sollux continent, and with it the kind of laser-guided ideological simplicity you'd been hoping for. On the other hand - oh god. To these people, Sollux represents competence and individualism, an almost rabid kind of self-determination and meritocratic self-rule, in addition to inspiring idiotic dualism trends throughout popular culture. Apparently, they picked him out from the bottom of the God Heap back in the "old world", which you gather is where you just were, and erected him like a standard to catalyze the ideological beef they had with the old-world governmental systems. They don't need to take any of this hereditary monarchy shit anymore! No one's in any position to question their competence! No more taxation without representation, they totally stuck it to the man by sinking an entire shipment of overtaxed honey just to prove their point!

Wait. Honey? Seriously?

Yes, and they really showed those assholes, and now this great country is home to the best, most competent, most obnoxiously self-determined apiculture industry in the goddamn world.

Of course it is. Why would you even expect anything less from a country full of Sollux-worshippers? Here they are, taking pride in their silly symbolic honey-based rebellion and daring anyone to challenge them, while simultaneously experiencing crippling insecurities about their self-worth, intelligence, physical attractiveness, and the possibility that they might accidentally offend someone in a way that isn't justified by ideology. If one of Alternia's colonies had dared to try some stupid stunt like that, they wouldn't even have had time to reflect on all the environmental damage they had probably caused before Her Imperious Condescension showed up to nuke the whole place into non-existence.

On the other hand, these people are so single-minded that you actually got detailed exposition of historical events out of them without any serious prodding. You're not sure you're willing to trust their opinions about Sollux, since they seem to have systematically removed mentions of his psychological issues from their canon, but they came from the "old world", so they probably have at least academic knowledge of the religious tropes from there. They still have a not-insignificant tradition of you and Gamzee that they seem to have inadvertently brought with them, at any rate, and there's another Kanaya-based religion off to the southern parts of the continent, as well as the tattered remains of something primarily involving Tavros that used to be here before the Solluxes came. Besides, dealing with Sollux's bullshit is really nothing new for you.

You try to think about how to go about picking the minds of individual aliens in the hopes that something will magically occur to you as things have been wont to do lately, but instead you just go a little nuts when all of the things you know suddenly split off into millions of slightly different individual interpretations. You grab onto one of them randomly and do your best to forget all about the others.

This one is just a kid, probably no older than you. He's enjoying the spring, thinking vaguely about his friends and classes and his plans for the day, his birthday that happened last week, and some game that he'd really wanted to play, but which had for some reason never made it into the beta stage. Wow, he's really upset about that game. Does he actually know anything about gods?

Yeah, he likes religion! Or at least, he likes Gamzee. His lusus brings him to the Mirthful Service every week, because he's apparently related in a confusing alien way to a kind of master prankster Ancestor, and pranking is definitely the kind of creative art that falls under the Rage sphere, and you gotta thank the source of your inspiration. It's a lot of fun, they have music and it's basically just a big awesome party, with drugs! He's still considered too young for the weed, even though it's totally legal for religious purposes, but it's still a blast. He doesn't know why some of his friends hate religion so much - it must be because they're just sick of hearing everyone talk about Sollux all the time, or maybe their lusi like boring gods like Karkat. Not that he has anything against Karkat, you gotta be cool with Karkat if you're cool with Gamzee, or else you go crazy. Or something. But the Gray Faith never does anything interesting, they just pray silently that nothing goes wrong for the next week, it's so stupid.

He thinks you are boring? Who does he even think is in his head leading his thoughts around like trained barkbeasts, huh? Yeah, that's right, it's that boring god. What does this douchebag think about that?

Oh, this is neat! He's heard about this sort of thing before but never really believed in it. He wouldn't believe in it now, either, except that somehow he's completely sure that this is really Karkat in his head now, which means it's either true, or he's just gone crazy, right? Hmmm.

It doesn't matter if he's crazy. Does he know anything about stories where Gamzee kills people? Other gods? Older gods?

Yeah, he remembers something like that. Not very well, though, it was kind of a weird story. He guesses he could always brush up on that if mysterious maybe-divine presences in his head want him too, though? Yeah, sure, why not. It's probably more fun that complaining to his friends about the game they never got to beta-test, anyway. Hey, wait, if this is really Karkat, shouldn't Karkat already know all of this stuff? Why does it even matter so

OH. He had no idea gods could even feel that way about each other. Wow, this is awkward!

ABORT ABORT ABORT

That was not supposed to be a two-way connection, holy shit. There's got to be a more civilized way of contacting this idiot, right? Some kind of internet-based chat system? Oh yes, there is, and you now know exactly how to connect to it and even what his handle is. This conditional omniscience stuff can actually be kind of useful. Trollian should be able to handle this, right? Sollux was always talking about how it had awesome transuniversal features he'd never gotten a chance to mess around with. Are you even in a different universe than the aliens? Who the hell knows.

You carefully extricate all of your thought processes from the alien planet and bring up a chat window.

Chapter Text

> Karkat: Troll this worthless human.

carcinoGeneticist [CG] began trolling ghostyTrickster [GT]

CG: ATTENTION WORTHLESS HUMAN.
CG: THIS IS YOUR GOD SPEAKING.
CG: AND EVEN THOUGH YOU ARE CONVINCED I AM A BORING GOD ONLY TAKEN SERIOUSLY BY DOUCHETASTIC MIDDLE MANAGERS AND MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS
CG: I AM STILL YOUR FUCKING GOD AND YOU WILL LISTEN TO ME SO HELP ME MOTHER GRUB.
CG: WE CREATED YOUR UNIVERSE AND ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR VERY EXISTENCE.
CG: I HAVE WATCHED THE WHOLE HISTORY OF YOUR SORRY CULTURE EVOLVING FROM THE SEEDS OF SELF INDULGENT THEATRICS INTO A MIASMA OF SMUG SELF IMPORTANCE.
CG: I HAVE SEEN YOUR RIDICULOUS CLOWN RELIGION THAT ULTIMATELY HAS ITS ROOTS IN THE BELIEFS OF A PRIMITIVE "PARADISE" PLANET.
CG: BUT NOW I AM HERE TO TELL YOU THAT THIS UNIVERSE IS BIGGER THAN YOU CAN POSSIBLY IMAGINE AND FAR MORE IS AT STAKE HERE THAN YOUR FRAGILE EGO.
CG: IT IS MY GIFT TO YOU.
CG: YOU'RE WELCOME FOR THAT.
CG: YOU UNGRATEFUL PIECE OF SHIT.

GT: haha, hey man!
GT: this is it, isn't it?
GT: this is the first time i get bothered by a real-life obnoxious troll with delusions of grandeur!
GT: that was really quality material there, dude, i am going to have to save a log to memorialize this amazing feat of internet antagonism!

CG: STOP BEING A SACK OF ASSHOLES FOR TWO SECONDS AND PAY ATTENTION, MORON.
CG: ALL OF THOSE THINGS I SAID WERE FACTS THAT I WAS STATING FOR THE RECORD.
CG: THAT DOES NOT MEAN THAT ANTAGONISM IS WHAT IS TAKING PLACE HERE.

GT: oh come on man, you are obviously a troll.
GT: i mean look, it even says you're "trolling" me!
GT: who even sets that option when they're not trying to be an obvious troll?
GT: plausible deniability is not on your side here, dude.

CG: OH FUCK
CG: WE ARE SPEAKING ENGLISH, AREN'T WE.

GT: nah, dude, we're totally speaking japanese!
CG: DAMN, YOU HAVE THAT LANGUAGE TOO?
CG: FUCK ARADIA AND FUCK HER XENOLINGUISTICS SCHOOLFEEDS.

GT: oh man, i knew that language had to be from outer space!
CG: DON'T YOU EVEN GET IT?
CG: ALL OF YOUR LANGUAGES COME FROM "OUTER SPACE".
CG: WE CREATED YOUR FUCKING UNIVERSE, SO ALL OF YOUR LANGUAGES
CG: AND RELIGIONS
CG: AND CULTURES
CG: AND EVERY LAST LITTLE PISSLICKING SHRED OF A SOCIAL IDENTITY YOU THINK OF AS "YOURS" CAME FROM OUR ORIGINAL UNIVERSE SOMEWHERE.
CG: YOUR ENTIRE PLANET IS A FUCKED UP COLLAGE OF MISMATCHED AND BADLY APPROPRIATED CULTURAL TROPES.
CG: IT'S LIKE A CRAZY PERSON GOT DRESSED IN A DARK ROOM FULL OF OTHER PEOPLE'S CLOTHES AND CAME OUT WEARING HATS ON THEIR FEET AND UNDERWEAR IN THEIR HAIR AND BUTTONS TIED TO SHOELACES WRAPPED AROUND THEIR HORNS AS ACCESSORIES.
CG: BUT TO GET BACK TO THE POINT
CG: UH
CG: THE LANGUAGE THAT WE'RE SPEAKING HAPPENS TO HAVE SOME FUNNY FALSE COGNATES WITH THE ONE MY CHAT CLIENT IS USING
CG: SO IF YOU SEE SOME WEIRD WORDS WITH PERHAPS UNFORTUNATE CONNOTATIONS, THAT IS WHAT IS HAPPENING.
CG: LIKE "TROLL".
CG: WHICH IS REALLY JUST A NEUTRAL TERM FOR OUR SPECIES, LIKE "HUMAN" IS FOR YOURS.

In your old universe, English had been a language native to one of the many planets where the empire had invaded and brutally enslaved the entire sentient population in order to provide manual labor for its local mining operations. Due to the way it survived as a lingua franca among the alien slaves and its large preexisting corpus of literature and other cultural artifacts, someone in charge of selecting core schoolfeeds had decided that it was a useful skill for young trolls to acquire before being drafted into the Alternian military. However, in addition to having ridiculously complicated syntax at times and being painfully useless for talking about daily life and discussing basic concepts of social interaction, centuries of oppression and enslavement had resulted in almost all of the borrowed terms referring to aspects of Alternian culture and military ranks acquiring connotations of unwarranted cruelty and senseless violence. Which, fair enough, you suppose, but just saying that legislacerators are unnecessarily cruel or that threshecutioners are only around for killing people is slightly different than turning those terms into actual synonyms for slicing people up and murdering them.

GT: so is this the part where you say "SUCK MY DICK MOTHERFUCKER" and then claim it actually meant "hey man, let's be best hatefriends!" in your stupid spacegod animetroll language??
CG: UGH, YOUR IGNORANCE IS ASTOUNDING.
CG: DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHAT A FALSE COGNATE IS.

GT: you seriously want me to believe that you are a magic invisible sky fairy from another universe?
GT: trolling people over the internet?

CG: A WHAT?
GT: a god, numbnuts.
GT: it's kind of flattering that you're going to all this trouble to look legit, but you're going to have to provide some kind of outside evidence if you want me to believe that you really are the knight!

CG: HOW SHORT IS YOUR FUCKING ATTENTION SPAN?
CG: I WAS JUST IN YOUR HEAD, DUMBASS.
CG: YOU ACKNOWLEDGED THAT I WAS IN YOUR HEAD.
CG: I KN0W BECAUSE I WAS *THERE*.

GT: i don't know what you're talking about, dude.
CG: YOU WERE UPSET ABOUT SOME STUPID GAME THAT YOU DIDN'T GET TO PLAY, AND THEN I MADE YOU THINK ABOUT GODS INSTEAD.
CG: YOU EVEN WONDERED WHY I WANTED TO KNOW THINGS ABOUT GODS SINCE I WAS A GOD.
CG: YOU KNEW WHO THE FUCK I WAS, DON'T TRY TO PRETEND OTHERWISE.

GT: oh, that!
GT: that was like two weeks ago!

CG: ARRRGH GODDAMN THIS TIMELINE NAVEGATION PROGRAM AND ITS IMPRECISE MOUSE INTERFACE.
GT: and then there were, umm...
GT: all of these weird feelings!

CG: WHAT FEELINGS, THERE WERE NO FEELINGS, END OF DISCUSSION.
GT: hey, i don't have a problem with your weird sort of alien-god pity-love thing!
GT: i'll never look at those religious woodcuts the same way again, though.

CG: SHUT THE FUCK UP, WE AREN'T TALKING ABOUT THAT ANYMORE.
GT: sure thing, bro!
GT: but, uh...
GT: maybe this is a dumb question, but if you are really the knight, why are you talking to me on pesterchum?
GT: shouldn't you be, i dunno.
GT: coming to me in visions or dreams or something?
GT: i guess dreams are really more for the bard though.
GT: i'm just saying that this doesn't feel like a particularly religious experience here!

CG: RIGHT, BECAUSE PROPERLY FUCKING RELIGIOUS TELEPATHIC VISION EXPERIENCES WORKED SO WELL LAST TIME.
CG: YOU PANDAMAGED IDIOT.

GT: well, i guess this is probably more useful when you put it that way!
GT: actually...
GT: i should introduce myself properly.
GT: hi knight, i am john!
GT: do gods have real names, or are you just the knight?

CG: YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW OUR NAMES??
GT: well we usually just say knight of blood, bard of rage, mage of doom, and so forth. i guess maybe priests know other names?
GT: although, i think saying doom there is not really politically correct anymore.
GT: man, people get so upset over what you say about him!
GT: er, sorry, if that actually is offensive for some reason!

CG: GOD NO. HE IS AN OVERSENSITIVE MENTALLY UNSTABLE DOUCHEBAG AND SAYING SO IS NOT FUCKING "POLITICALLY INCORRECT".
CG: OR ANY OTHER KIND OF INCORRECT.

GT: i guess that's... good to know?
CG: BUT YEAH, WE HAVE ACTUAL HONEST TO GOD NAMES.
CG: YOU CAN CALL ME KARKAT.

GT: like car, cat?
GT: beep beep, meow!

CG: SHUT THE FUCK UP, YOUR NAME PROBABLY SOUNDS LIKE SOME HILARIOUS SEQUENCE OF COMMON NOUNS IN OUR LANGUAGE, TOO.
CG: LIKE FUCKWEASEL OR SOMETHING.

GT: but it's only one syllable, how do you fit fuckweasel into that??
CG: NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE NUMBER OF WAYS WE HAVE TO SAY FUCKWEASEL.
CG: FUCKWEASEL.

GT: hehehe
GT: wait, i just remembered something.
GT: we do kind of call some gods by names, like people are always calling the maid of time lady entropy for some reason.
GT: is that what her name is?

CG: ENTROPY ISN'T A NAME SHITSPONGE.
CG: IT'S LIKE
CG: FUCK
CG: LOOK
CG: I SEEM TO BE ABSORBING VOCABULARY FROM YOUR LANGUAGE
CG: AND INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR CULTURE IN GENERAL
CG: FROM YOUR BRAINS VIA SOME KIND OF FUCKED UP MENTAL OSMOSIS
CG: LIKE THAT, JUST LIKE FUCKING THAT, WHERE THE HELL DID THAT WORD JUST COME FROM, WHY DO YOU EVEN NEED A WORD FOR THAT KIND OF
CG: OH, FUCK YOU VERY MUCH, I DID NOT ACTUALLY NEED A SCHOOLFEED ON CELL BIOLOGY. HOW DO YOU EVEN KNOW SO MUCH ABOUT THAT.

GT: sorry. it was on a test we took last week.
CG: ANYWAY, THE POINT I WAS TRYING TO MAKE BEFORE WE GOT DISTRACTED
CG: THERE ARE APPARENTLY SOME PEOPLE NEARBY WHO SUCK SLIGHTLY LESS THAN YOU AND WHO SEEM TO THINK THAT ENTROPY IS AN ACTUAL WORD IN AN ACTUAL DICTIONARY SOMEWHERE
CG: BUT INFURIATINGLY THEY DON'T ACTUALLY KNOW WHAT IT MEANS, EITHER.

GT: ok, calm down, dude, i have a dictionary on my phone.
GT: hold on.

 

GT: yeah, you're right.
GT: or i guess everyone else is right, anyway. it means like decay, or gradual deterioration over time, or something like that.
GT: i guess that sort of makes sense, since the maid is technically dead herself?

CG: IT DOESN'T BOTHER YOU AT ALL THAT ONE OF YOUR GODS IS DEAD AND APPARENTLY GRADUALLY DECAYING OVER TIME.
GT: uh...
GT: well, she is kind of in charge of death!
GT: and death doesn't have to be horrible, i think that's kind of the point, isn't it?
GT: and anyway, i think technically all of you are dead.
GT: i mean, if you take all of the stories into account, there are lots of stories about you guys dying.

CG: WHAT.
GT: but maybe they were just written for political reasons?
GT: i think this is just how religious people wage passive-aggressive warfare, they write stories about their favorite gods killing their less favorite gods.
GT: i mean, there are so many stories about the mage dying, it is kind of ridiculous! and then all of the old gods got killed by the new gods.
GT: oh right! you wanted to know about that before.
GT: when you possessed me or whatever a few weeks ago. i looked it up for you!

CG: WAIT HOLD ON. WE ALL DIED?
CG: HOW DID I DIE? DID GAMZEE KILL ME TOO?
CG: I MEAN THE BARD.
CG: DID HE KILL ME.

GT: no, no, you got killed by someone disguised as your friend. or your blood brother, i think.
CG: "BLOOD BROTHER"
CG: WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN? YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS.
CG: WAS IT ANOTHER GOD?

GT: no, it was...
GT: i don't remember exactly.
GT: i guess i can look that one up for you next time? but i mean, that whole story was probably just made up by someone who hated you and wanted to see you stabbed in the back anyway.

CG: STABBED IN THE BACK.
GT: not literally! but it was like, you thought he was your friend, so you didn't try to defend yourself.
GT: i think the point was supposed to be something about universal brotherhood and trust and so forth, but it mostly just got lost in the sad. i'm probably forgetting the really important parts.

CG: OK. OK.
CG: WE'LL WORRY ABOUT THAT LATER.
CG: WHAT WERE YOUR GOING TO TELL ME ABOUT GAMZEE.
CG: THE BARD.

GT: yeah, that story was actually kind of neat! but it wasn't really about the bard after all, or at least, not our bard. it's an old classical story, so i guess it's more about the old classical version of the bard that people used to worship or something? he seems pretty different in those stories, anyway.
GT: but yeah, so you know how the heir of void isn't actually a real god, or i guess he's more of an ascended mortal or something, because before he actually got to that level, he had to go through all of these labors to get really strong, and then at the end he finally found the milk of the gods and got the tiger and was actually able to contend with the rogue, and then they spend all this time keeping each other from messing with humanity too much?
GT: er, the rogue of heart, i think that's her full name. although i guess she probably has a real name too?

CG: NEPETA.
GT: right, but anyway, he was just an ordinary guy, but then their old version of the seer predicted he'd get the tiger some day, so when he was a baby they dipped him in a magical river that made him impossible to kill. only, he was a pretty big baby, and i guess the river wasn't very deep, so they had to do it in two parts - his body up to his neck, and then his head separately. and there was this little ring around his neck that never got dipped! so he could still be killed, but only through that little part of his neck, and no one really knew about that anyway.
GT: but the bard knew about it! because he goes into people's dreams, and normally he just inspires people to become awesome musicians and artists and things, but sometimes he finds out their secrets from their dreams, too.
GT: so when he went to go kill the heir, he just snapped his bow in half and strangled him around exactly that part of his neck with the really thin bowstring! kind of clever. and then the rogue tried to avenge him, but she had tied her immortality to his as part of their partnership, and so the bard just wound up killing her, too.

CG: OK BUT *WHY*?
CG: WHY WOULD HE DO THAT?

GT: i don't know! it just said that he was "mad". so maybe he was angry that the heir wasn't a real god?
GT: or just insane, i guess. like i said, dude, the old bard stories are kind of weird.

CG: "MAD".
CG: THAT'S
CG: YOU ACTUALLY USE THE SAME WORD FOR
CG: YOU HAVE *ONE WORD* TO DESCRIBE TWO COMPLETELY DIFFERENT AND NON OVERLAPPING CONCEPTS.
CG: FUCK YOUR LANGUAGE WITH A DOUBLE SIDED CULLING FORK.
CG: WHY WOULD YOU EVEN DO THAT, HOW IS YOUR COMPLETE AND FUCKING TOTAL COMMITMENT TO BEING AS SEMANTICALLY INEFFECTIVE AS POSSIBLE NOT STUNTING THE GROWTH OF YOUR SPECIES AND PREVENTING IT FROM EVER MOVING PAST THE STAGE OF BANGING ROCKS TOGETHER TO MAKE DELIGHTFULLY LOUD NOISES AND DRAWING SCENES ON CAVE WALLS COMEMORATING THE DISCOVERY OF HOW TO PLEASURE YOURSELF WITH A BLUNT OBJECT?

GT: er...
CG: I MEAN SERIOUSLY, WHAT THE FUCK?
GT: it's just a story, karkat.
CG: YES, AND I AM JUST A MAGICAL SKY FAIRY WITH AN INTERNET CONNECTION.
CG: HAS IT NEVER OCCURRED TO YOU THAT STORIES MIGHT NOT JUST BE STORIES FOR ACTUAL GODS?
CG: THAT THEY MIGHT IN FACT BE INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT, AND THAT SAYING WHAT YOU GODDAMN MEAN IS REALLY FUCKING IMPORTANT TOO?

GT: i'm sorry, karkat, i didn't write the story!
GT: if i were going to rewrite it, i'd definitely use a more precise word, but i don't know which they meant!
GT: is it really going to be a problem for you guys? i mean, you seem to all be still alive in spite of the stories, right?

CG: I DON'T KNOW.
CG: MAYBE NOT.
CG: WAS THAT THE WHOLE STORY?

GT: about the bard, yeah. there's a story about the sylph killing the prince, too, if you wanted to hear that one, but it's really confusing!
GT: like, some of the stories say she killed him, but then others say that he killed her! and they can't all be true, right? and once you get into it, there are also stories about the prince killing the witch of life, and the mage too. see what i mean about stories about gods dying that don't actually mean anything?

CG: HE WHAT.
GT: oh man, if you're going to ask me for a reason for that too i can't even give you a badly-worded one! sometimes it's because a mortal tried to steal the witch away from him, or they both fell in love with the same mortal and had a fight. and sometimes the mortal is actually an aspect of the mage? sometimes they say the prince broke an agreement with the witch, like they were supposed to work together and share the sea equally, but he wanted more than his share.
CG: SO HE KILLED HER.
GT: i don't know!
GT: none of it makes sense. especially since the sylph is kind of like the god of life, and the witch is literally the "witch of life". even though she's really sort of associated with the sea? actually, i guess religion doesn't make much sense most of the time anyway.
GT: i guess i could try to look up more things for you, but it seems like the more you get into it, the more ridiculous it gets.

CG: THE REALLY TERRIBLE THING IS THAT I THINK IT'S ACTUALLY POSSIBLE THAT ALL OF THESE IDIOTICALLY CONTRADICTORY STORIES MIGHT BE TRUE SIMULTANEOUSLY.
CG: I FUCKING HATE UNIVERSE HEMORRHAGES OR WHATEVER THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE.

GT: uh...
CG: WHATEVER, YOU TRIED. GOOD JOB I GUESS.
CG: IMAGINE I'VE BLESSED YOU WITH INVISIBLE SKY FAIRY GRUBLOAF OR WHATEVER IT IS YOU GET FOR BEING A GOOD BOY.
CG: I GUESS I'LL COME BOTHER YOU LATER IF I EVER NEED TO LOSE MORE FAITH IN INTELLIGENT LIFE IN THIS UNIVERSE.

GT: well for what it's worth, it was kind of neat talking to you!
CG: YEAH SURE, WHATEVER.

carcinoGeneticist [CG] ceased trolling ghostyTrickster [GT]

Chapter Text

> Karkat: Mental breakdown.

No, fuck that, you are perfectly calm. You are going to go talk to Aradia about this in a perfectly calm and reasonable manner, this is a perfectly reasonable reaction to finding out that all of your friends murdered each other in an alternate universe, and anyone who says differently can just go fuck themselves turnways. You are a fucking zen master right now.

Oh god. Oh god oh god oh god oh god.

Every time you turn your back on your surroundings for a bit so that you can do vitally important things like have terrible conversations with overly optimistic aliens, you discover that the layout of the indoor area has changed subtly (or not so subtly) while you weren't paying attention. Every one of these assholes thinks they have the authority to cordon off increasingly obnoxiously placed semi-private rooms for Fiduspawn tournaments or robot battle arenas or Rainbow Rumpus Victory Dance Parties or some other such nonsense. After running a horrifying gauntlet through empty rooms that you keep half-expecting to find full of dead bodies, you finally encounter Aradia in a small room near the back, gazing out a window at the reasonable facsimiles of the old Alternian moons moving around in decidedly unreasonable ways. Dammit, you told Kanaya to stop messing with those.

"Were you actually going to tell me about any of this?" you demand. "Like, in person? Or was this just your first great foray into the uncharted territories of Playing Practical Jokes On Karkat filtered through the social sensibilities of the world's most obtuse tin can? What was your thought process? Did you say, I know - today I will make coy little references to 'bad things'" (you employ enclosure talons for great justice) "and then turn Karkat loose on a planet full of happy-go-lucky douchefucks who will happily tell him about unbelievably terrible things in revoltingly cheerful blue text! Do you have any actual idea how much more terrible my life has just become?"

"Well, it was complicated to explain, and you haven't exactly been very receptive lately." She turns calmly from the window to look down at you, which never stops being unnerving. Yeah, you get that there was basically no way Equius wasn't going to make her taller than him because of his stupid fetish, but you kind of wish that every single interaction with her wasn't full of little reminders like this of just how much she isn't the Aradia you used to know. "You delegated all of the 'weird shit' to me, isn't that right?"

"What is so fucking weird and complicated about 'by the way, all of our friends died'?"

"Oh, that." She actually manages to look genuinely surprised. "No, that wasn't the bad thing."

"How is that not a bad thing? I know you are a soulless hunk of metal now and everything, but I didn't realize you didn't even have enough of a scrap of actual personhood left to be able to appreciate that when people you like die, it's a bad thing? Would it kill you to at least pretend to be a troll some of the time? Even if it would, I guess you've already died once, no biggie, so it couldn't possibly be that bad the second time, right? After all, dying isn't even a 'bad thing'!"

You barely register movement out of the corner of your eye before there's a cold metal hand wrapped tightly around your throat and you're being pinned to the wall by Aradia's super strong robot arm. Your feet dangle several inches above the floor, and you can barely breathe, let alone continue your rant. She's one of Equius's creations - of course she is incredibly strong and fast and unbeatable. Why does past-you never think of these things? The worst thing is that you can't actually tell how mad she is from those blank red eyes of hers - with the real, alive Aradia, you could always tell when she was starting to get pissed and clear the blast radius before anyone got shoved through a wall. Also, she probably couldn't actually shove people through walls.

Breathing is getting harder, and you start to panic. Fuck, you are actually going to die here, aren't you? You wonder if you could get Kanaya's attention if you banged on the window, but that's out of reach from where you're dangling. You do your best thrash your way over there anyway though, just in case you've misjudged, because what else can you do?

Just when you're sure you're about to pass out, her fingers release you and she steps back. You slide down the wall until you're sitting with your back against it and your legs out in front of you, just slightly more concerned about maintaining airflow than about your inability to look Aradia directly in the synthetic vision panels. She politely waits until you're mostly done gasping and choking before she speaks.

"I know I'm not quite the same person I was," she begins. "I just don't have the... energy to be her anymore. And I'm not sure if it was something Equius did to this body, or just a natural part of moving on since I died - if there is anything natural about that - but I promise you, I am a person. I do care, Karkat. I do care, I did care, and I spent the whole game travelling up and down timelines and watching every single one of us die in horrific ways, and going back and trying again. And in that alternate incipisphere that was at least half responsible for creating this universe, we never even won. Everyone died, again and again and again in millions of different timelines, and there wasn't a single one where we succeeded. So yes, I suppose hearing about our deaths in one out of countless timelines does not really bother me as much as it bothers you. But there was something even worse about that universe, something that trancends all of those individual timelines, because somehow a demon got into it, destroyed most of it, cut us off from our reward, hunted us and killed us. In every single timeline. That is the bad thing."

"Oh." Fuck, talking hurts now. "Oh. Yeah. I guess that is pretty bad." You flail around mentally for something less lame to say, but your pan comes up empty. "How did the demon get in?"

"I don't know." Abruptly she begins pacing, burning holes in the walls with her glare and balling her hands into fists that could probably crack your head open. It's the most frustrated you've actually seen her since the game began, but she doesn't look at you or attack anything. Maybe she's not mad at you anymore, or maybe all that superfluous blue blood that Equius pumped into to her vascular system is balancing out her Rage humor, and she's all raged out for now. "It's fourth-dimensional, I think probably originally a third-dimensional being who ascended by travelling along a causal trajectory the same way we did--"

"Aradia," you croak. "You're doing that thing again. That thing where you say things that make no fucking sense to me and aren't useful. I want to understand what you're saying, I really do, but you have to say things in a way I can understand, or it doesn't fucking work. Can you try that?" After a moment of consideration, you add, "Please."

"Right." She sighs. "Here's a metaphor you might be more familiar with. The demon exists independently from all of those millions of timelines in that universe, the way we exist independently from the entire history and all possible histories of that planet you've been looking at. So there is only one instance of the demon across all of those timelines. Do you understand that? If it was created in that universe, it only had to be created in a single timeline for it to be present in all of them. Finding the exact timeline, or cluster of timelines, is like looking for a needle in a haystack."

"Then that means we only have to kill it in one timeline, too, and it would cease to exist everywhere else, right?" you ask.

"See? I knew you could be made to understand. But for some reason, that never happened." She stops pacing and looks down at you. "Do you understand how the timelines work? They branch every time something different could have happened, every time things could have gone a different way, however inconsequential. I say that there are millions, but really they are infinite - every single moment is a branch, in inifinte directions to infinite possibilities, but for convenience we tend to look at them in terms of clusters based on certain critical moments - whether or not we defeated the king, for example. There is a cluster of timelines where you were killed early on in LOPAH, which lead to us failing spectacularly in completely different ways than we failed in other clusters. But the point is that in most universes - in this one, and in the incipisphere that we left - everything that could possibly have happened did happen somewhere - in some timeline. But it didn't work like that in the other incipisphere. I believe it was possible for us to have killed the demon, in spite of everything, but for some reason it didn't happen."

"How was it possible? If it's some kind of extra-dimensional creature--"

"Extra dimensions aren't always a benefit." Aradia says. "We're actually not making much use of our fourth dimension here, because we're too used to working with only three. The demon is the same way - it lives in four dimensions, but it mostly behaves like a three-dimensional entity. And Vriska was god-tier in many timelines, and after the demon destroyed Derse, so was I. She had god-tier levels of luck, and I was almost fourth-dimensional myself, and more comfortable working with those powers than the demon was. We definitely could have defeated him. There is actually a whole cluster of timelines where Vriska battled him and lost, but in every single one of them she got bad rolls with her dice or made critical mistakes. Most of the rest of us had to die in order for that battle to happen, but if she had won in even a single timeline, she would have saved us all in every other one."

"So much for having 'all the luck'." Somehow it's deeply satisfying to learn that Vriska isn't quite as badass as she always thought she was.

"Luck is meaningless here. It doesn't change the content of the timeline tree, it just makes some branches more likely than others. Anything that can happen, will, even if it's extremely lucky or unlucky, and she definitely could have been luckier. It looks like all of the timelines in which the demon was actually killed were artificially pruned out of that universe."

"By the demon?"

"That's the obvious guess, but I don't think it's right." Aradia goes back to pacing. "Like I said, the demon didn't seem properly aware of its fourth-dimensional nature, and I'm not sure it even has that kind of power over timelines that bring it into and remove it from existence." For a moment, she looks thoughtful. "Kind of like how I'm not sure I was actually responsible for splitting us off from that universe in the first place."

"Wait," you say, putting a hand on the wall and climbing awkwardly back to your feet. "You were in the universe with the demon at some point, and then you split us off somehow?"

"No, and this is the strange thing. There were always two separate incipispheres, and I was always in the demon-free one, so I never experienced any of this directly. After the first couple iterations of preventative time-travel, after I realized that there were going to be hundreds of versions of me floating around at any given time, I set up a memo board specifically for me to communicate with past and future versions of myself, record guesses about critical moments, coordinate the attack on the black king, etcetera. At some point, I noticed a memo from a different me talking about how something Vriska and Terezi had done after defeating the king had created a demon that would enter our incipisphere and destroy everything, and that in order to prevent that I had to enter the reward universe and kill a particular alien on a particular planet at a particular point in history. So I found a future where the portal to the reward universe was open, and I did it, because at some point you just have to take the things that alternate versions of yourself tell you for granted and not think about them too hard. But I never became that particular version of me. That loop never closed. I don't know where she came from. In retrospect, I think she may have posted that memo from the doomed incipisphere, and it somehow crossed universes and wound up on my memo board in our universe."

You blink. "Oh great, this must be that transuniversal feature that Sollux is always talking about. I thought he hadn't actually enabled that function yet!"

"Don't you remember how this works?" Aradia asks. "If Trollian is some kind of fifth- or sixth-dimensional software, it means there's only a single instance of it across multiple universes--"

"--and only one version of Sollux in one universe somewhere has to enable transuniverse communications for them to be available and happily screwing with our minds everywhere else. Right, right, I get it." You wonder if it would be fair to yell at Sollux for something he did in a different universe. Probably not, but if you can actually use Trollian to berate Solluxes in alternate universes now...

"You look like you're considering a useless and reactionary course of action," Aradia says, "so let's just skip to the part of the conversation where you tell me what you found out from the aliens that made you so upset in the first place."

"What makes you think that's even relevant?" you ask, annoyed. "From what you've been saying, it sounds like these myths could be from any of basically infinite timelines in one of two different incipisphere universes. Maybe it has nothing to do with the demon at all."

"I admit it is mostly a hunch," Aradia allows, "but this is the planet where the fifth-dimensional critical moment that split the incipispheres happened, and the timeline where the demon was created was also critical on a fifth-dimensional level, so they are likely to be linked in subtle ways. Paradox space likes to echo itself and reiterate patterns. Identifying critical moments is more of Terezi's power, and the reiterations and echoes are, I believe, associated with the Void aspect. But according to the transuniversal memo I received, Terezi is at least partially responsible for this mess, and I don't believe any conversation I had with Equius could be anywhere near as civilized as this one I'm having with you has been. So, as I said, we're working with hunches here, but it's probably the best we can do. The echoes are also why we can't tell Vriska and Terezi about this. If they get involved, I think there's a good chance that events from the doomed universe will repeat themselves and we'll just wind up creating the same problem here."

After spending a minute processing this, you relent, and tell her about all the conflicting stories you got from the alien who called himself John. You guess you feel a little bit better knowing that this was apparently just one of an infinite number of possible sequences of events, and that the odds had actually been stacked against you by extra-dimensional forces, but it still bothers you that you can't really conceive of what bizarre set of circumstances could possibly have lead to Gamzee killing anyone. Or to Eridan killing Feferi, for that matter. Were two of your best friends really secret psychopaths all along, just waiting for the right pressures to kick them into full-out murder mode, and you never even knew? Ok, Eridan always talked shit about killing all the land-dwellers, but everyone who actually knew him knew that it was just meaningless bravado, some stupid extension of his fucking role-playing character. Or was it? How well do you actually know anyone here? What if mysterious echoes in paradox space conspire to create the same situation here that you had in the doomed incipisphere? Even if no one ever kills anyone in this timeline, will you spend the rest of your life on tenterhooks waiting for it to happen, unable to trust anyone or even tell them what is bothering you? You know some of your friends can be hard to deal with, but how could the spineless moron who spent his weekends watching romcoms with you, or the guy who, for fuck's sake, you have this terrible pale crush on, actually do that to anyone? You don't even care if it really happened anymore - you just wish you could somehow turn time back to when you didn't know, but you don't think Aradia is likely to indulge you, even if it's technically still possible.

Aradia considers your contribution for a moment. "That is different," she acknowledges. "I always assumed that we were all killed by the demon in the timelines where we managed to get past the king; I never considered that we might just snap under the pressure somehow and wind up killing each other. That probably narrows it down a bit." She turns away from you and fixes her gaze on a far corner. "I can't say I'm entirely distressed at the idea of Gamzee strangling Equius with the string of his own broken bow, though."

This is just about the last thing you need to hear right now. "Aradia, if you decide to go on your own killing spree, on top of all the potential ones that might be building up around us as we speak, I swear to all that is holy that I will order Equius to build you two an auspistice-bot out of titanium, and I will not even fucking care how much he gets off on that."

"No worries, fearless leader," she says drily. "I'm sure that if you just yell loud enough at enough of the right people, all of our problems will fix themselves." Then she absconds like the unbeatable time-travelling ninja-robot she is.

Dammit, this is all going to go down in flames, isn't it? What kind of idiot were you to think you could actually keep everything from going wrong now that you don't have a common enemy anymore? You have to talk to Gamzee. And Eridan. And, heck, probably Equius. Gamzee knew him, didn't he? You remember he told you that they used to talk every night - about what you never wanted to know, but what if Equius has been feeding Gamzee terrible highblood propaganda all this time and it's about to get to be too much, and he'll just snap? And probably there's no way - there's no way Gamzee could have gotten that close to Equius with murderous intent if Equius hadn't actually let him... oh god, what else haven't you been paying attention to, what else can possibly go wrong now, because fuck you, it's probably all about to happen.

"Karkat!" says Terezi from behind you, making you jump out of your skin. "I can't help but notice that you're not at my victory party!" You'd been rushing heedlessly through empty rooms again, hoping to bump into someone you needed to talk to, so this was probably bound to happen eventually, but fuck that, you can't deal with this right now.

"I'm sorry, but I can't go to your stupid party," you say, turning to face her. "I have actual leader shit to do here, if everyone just spends all their time having parties, there are no victories to celebrate, don't you get it? And probably no victories anyway, everything is about to go to hell here."

"Karkat," says Terezi tiredly, "there was a victory! We won the game, even in spite of your silly predictions of doom. And it was hard, and you were extremely pissy, but now it's over and we won! You can stop being the leader for five minutes and let your delicious candy-red soul out to party like I know he wants to deep inside, and then you can put your angry gray outer shell back on afterwards and go back to being Mr. Grumpypants if that's really what you want."

"I know you think it's over!" you exclaim. "But it's not over, there is still weird shit going on, and someone has to deal with it, and all of you idiots are busy having a party!"

"You really just can't stop finding more things to worry about, can you?" Her expression softens, and for a moment she actually looks kind of sad. "You know, sometimes you make it really hard to pity you."

Oh fuck. You deflate a bit, and forget what else you were going to say. Is it really going to upset her if you don't go to her party? Are you seriously considering trying to salvage whatever is left of the flaming wreck of your flushed quandrant when people could start dying here? Is it even that wrecked yet? Fuck, that's the whole problem - you don't even know. Maybe you have no chance with Gamzee, but at least you kind of know where you stand with him. This thing with Terezi has just been full of ups and downs and steep inclines and sudden stops, and it's like you've been, listen to this utterly hilarious joke you're about to make here, wandering blind. And there aren't any romcoms titled "In Which A Guy With Intimacy Issues Stemming From Hemocaste Insecurities And A Blind Girl Have Embarrassingly Abortive But Not Entirely Unanticipated Sloppy Makeouts In A Cave While Beseiged By A Small Army Of Ogres And Arguing About Who To Troll For Backup, Or Whether They Should Just Abandon This Silly Trolling For Backup Idea And Attempt A Clever Ruse, Probably Involving Flipping Some Kind Of Coin, As If Ogres Even Know Anything About Coins And The Way Amateur Douchebags Like To Use Them To Manipulate People Who Definitely Aren't Game Constructs", and now that Alternia is gone there never will be. You don't know what to do.

"I said you make it hard, not impossible, you dummy," she says, as if reading your mind. Shit, maybe she can read your mind now. God, you hope that's not really how it works.

"Look, I'm really sorry," you say, trying to make her see that you do mean it. "I would come, but I actually am in the middle of something really important here."

"In the middle of what, Karkat? We're not racing against the Reckoning anymore. What is it that is so important that it can't wait just a little bit longer? Can you just tell me that?"

"I can't," you say, and you grit your teeth in frustration. "It's more weird time shit from alternate dimensions or universes or something, and Aradia thinks that if I tell you what's going on, not that I could even explain this bullshit, you might go mess things up because of weird predestined timespace echoes. And I swear to you, pull my bloodpusher out through my windhole and smash it into a fine mutant-red paste, that is the fucking truth."

For a few tense minutes, she just looks at you with a weird kind of intensity, like she's carefully considering every single branching possible timeline beginning from this point in the conversation. "You are so impossible," she concludes at last, and then heads off, possibly in search of more enthusiastic party-goers. You stifle your urge to call after her and ask if that means impossible to pity - if you ask, you have a feeling the answer will almost certainly turn out to be yes.

But then she pauses at the doorway and turns back to you, and she's got a look on her face that you think could be pity, or at least it definitely isn't either frustration or gleeful sadism, which is always a good bet with Terezi. Your bloodpusher makes an honest attempt to exit through your windhole all by itself, and you try desperately to think of the right thing to say to just make her understand. Maybe you can not fuck this up after all.

She says: "By the way, you have a very strange bruise on your neck, Karkat!" Then, before you can say anything in return, she leaves.

Fuck.

You can't deal with this right now, you really cannot fucking handle Terezi right now, so you move off in the opposite direction. And luck is finally with you, or something is, at any rate, because Gamzee is sitting there cross-legged on the floor and rifling through what might be Tavros's Fiduspawn deck. He picks up each card in turn, examining it closely and turning it this way and that, and then carefully sorting it into one of a number of uneven piles to his left according to some arcane clown-logic. He looks up when he notices you, and one of his giant, unguarded smiles spreads across his face. It's not one of those smiles that says I'm really fucked up today and everything is rainbows, though - it's one of the ones that looks a lot more like where have you been, Karkat, I am so motherfucking happy to see you that you'd seen from him a couple times after you'd gotten separated on LOTAM, when the imps were coming in thick and Jack was never quite as stabby with them as you'd hoped he'd be.

You open your mouth to ask him - what, exactly? You've got so many questions for him now, ranging from do you ever have secret desires to murder people to what did you use to talk to Equius about to can I sit here with you and hide from Terezi for a little while, but you can't voice any of them. You're too agitated, and you want what he can't possibly be offering with that smile too, too badly right now, and he sets down the card he's holding and reaches out to you, and your bloodpusher melts into a little puddle of pale goo, and this just isn't fair.

His hand on your hand draws you down to kneel next to him, and your knee knocks over one of his piles but he doesn't say anything. "What's all up and happened to you, best friend?" he asks, and his other hand goes to the place on your neck where Aradia strangled you earlier, and then it travels upwards, and now he is touching your face. You take a breath, and you feel your body start to unwind from being a pent up ball of anxiety, and you feel so... so tired. And so calm all of a sudden, and this is that thing, isn't it, when your pale partner touches you just the right way, because of vibrations or hormones or something, but you can't quite remember because you're so tired, like you'll never be anything else again, kind of like... you haven't properly slept... in three... and a half... weeks...

Chapter Text

> Karkat: Wake up.

It's been so long since you actually slept in sopor that for a few minutes you think you're back in your hive on Alternia, wondering how long you can sleep in for before your lusus starts making an ungodly fuss about breakfast. The events of the past few weeks all come flooding back to you, though, when you poke your head above the lip of the 'coon and see the straight, square walls of the room you'd designed for yourself and its near-complete lack of anything else.

Well, anything else except Gamzee, who's standing with his hand on the doorframe and looking at you with a disconcertingly lucid expression that looks a lot like concern. You try to ask him what that's about, but you're still half-submerged in sopor and your think pan is full of soft green fuzz, and you can't quite make words yet. For all the good things you can say about proper sleeping arrangements, there are definitely aspects to it that you hadn't missed at all.

His face relaxes into something a bit more typical, and he smiles at you. It's an unanticipated moment of calm and beauty, like the clear night sky that sometimes appears in that short period of time between the rage of the late light-season evening monsoon and the much-too-early dawn. It's a moment tinged heavily with chemically-induced fantasy and sopor dreams. Wow, you are actually pretty fucked up right now.

"You alright, best friend?" he asks. "That chucklevoodoo might have got a little away from me, there."

Your pan is at least alert enough to trip over that word. "What--" you manage to stammer. "You-- That was-- How--"

Even though your mouth apparently still can't keep up with your thoughts yet, he seems to get it anyway. "It's not all fear and pain, you know, bro," he says, mostly to his feet, and there's suddenly a giant elephant in the room made of all your down-caste pale romances and certain kinds of terrible slasher movies. "I only wanted to calm you down a bit so you could be all explaining shit to me. Forgot you hadn't been getting your sleep on all this time."

Legitimately flipping your shit in this state of mind would take way more energy than it could possibly be worth, but you do seem to have partially regained the ability to form complete sentences. "Gamzee-- do you ever-- have you ever-- done this to-- to people before?"

He blinks at you in surprise. "No, man, not on the sopor. It dulls the feels, bro, it'd be like painting a wall what you can't really see."

You take a minute to look at him more carefully. In your long experience of him in his varied emotional and chemical states, he can regularly present as anywhere from no idea what's even going on to actually might be making sense most of the time, but you don't think he's ever actually been 100% sober. Is this lucidity really that much outside the normal range? What else might he do now that he wouldn't do while high? You try to remember whether sopor is actually addictive enough to cause withdrawal symptoms. Eating the stuff is really considered more of a causal vice than a dangerous excess - supposedly everyone's got at least trace amounts of it running around in their systems anyway, because of recuperacoons. Hell, you might actually be more fucked up than he is right now.

"Are you out of pies?" you ask anyway. That had been one of the things you'd worried about in the early parts of the game, before having to personally kick almost everyone's ass in gear for Regisurp wound up monopolizing most of your give-a-fucks. Alchemizing sopor had turned out to be much more of a pain in the ass than anyone had anticipated; you had captcha codes for Gamzee's pies and even some people's full recuperacoons, but everything was prohibitively expensive to make. Terezi had theorized that it might be less expensive to just make sopor directly, but sylladexes turned out not to be equipped to deal with disembodied slime for long enough to actually get a usable code for it. You'd actually set up a memo board specifically for collaborative efforts to extract the sopor code out of the codes for pies and recuperacoons, but then Equius had accidentally posted the wrong code to it and you'd wound up alchemizing an explict musclebeast poster instead. At that point, you'd just gotten Aradia to permanently expunge that board from the entire space-time continuum and decided that getting a good day's sleep and indulging Gamzee's habits were ultimately not worth the cost of your sanity.

"Don't get your worry on, bro," Gamzee says, pulling your attention back to the present moment. "How could I possibly be out?" He holds up a loose fist, and opens it up finger by finger, like this is a stupid fucking magic trick and he's showing you how the troll caegar you gave him has mysteriously disappeared into thin air. Then a pie pops into existence on his outstretched hand, and disappears again just as quickly. Oh right, you can conjure shit up out of the tenth dimensional aether or whatever now. You don't think you're ever really going to get used to that.

"It wasn't all being much fun without them before," he admits, "but shit's different now." He leans in, like he's got something really important to tell you. "The miracles were always there, bro, they never go away, but they were so motherfucking hard to see sometimes. Always covered in layers and layers of the motherfucking grit. Got to know what to up and look for, got to have your mind open and closed at the same motherfuckin time, all the time, got to see, but if you up and get your understand on it ain't a miracle no more." His grin is all greasepaint and razors. "I knew it was coming, bro," he says. "I knew there were going to be miracles coming, real miracles what you don't need to understand so hard at, that don't go hiding themselves away. It ain't so hard to see these miracles, best friend, and the slime only washes them out now."

"What the fuck are you talking about?" You are not yet awake enough to try and work out whether this is some kind of extended metaphor for something you should know about, or just his bizarre religious flimflam. You never expected he'd get harder to understand when he sobored up.

"We won that bitchtits game, brother," he tells you. "We won, and we got our very own world full of miracles. The Paradise Planet was real, man, it was real and it was already here. It's always up and been here, just motherfuckin waiting for us." He grabs your hand and tugs slightly, like he's planning on pulling you out by the arm. "Come on, bro, I've got something motherfucking awesome to show you."

Sounds pretty much like flimflam to you, but Gamzee's flimflam never hurt anyone. "All right," you concede, reclaiming your arm. "Just give me a minute to getout of here and wake up properly."

You wait. He doesn't go anywhere.

"Oh fuck no," you say. You are not getting up and getting dressed in front of him - not today and not ever; not if you were actually in some kind of touchy-feely pale quadrant and slept in the same 'coon; not if you were physically attached at the fucking hip. "You really have no fucking sense of personal space, do you?"

He looks a little miffed, but he leaves. It occurs to you that someone undressed you to put you here in the first place (and you hope to god it was Gamzee, because none of the other options even bear thinking about), but that doesn't mean you're about to let anyone ogle you if you're in any position to do something about it. You make a note not to fall asleep unexpectedly in the future.

Fifteen minutes later, you're properly awake and dressed, as well as a good deal more coherent. You head outside to see what's got Gamzee in such a weird mood lately.

The last time you were outside the compound hive you all call your communal home now, the surroundings consisted entirely of a black slate surface queezily indistinguishable from the surrounding blackness, empty in a way that made you weirdly aware of how reality was sloping off in other directions that you couldn't properly comprehend and didn't have the words to describe. Kanaya had assumed responsibility for putting appropriate celestial objects in the "sky", but beyond that you hadn't really cared. Frankly, the idea of trying to put together a functional natural environment that wasn't inherently flawed in some terrible way only reminded you uncomfortably of all the frog breeding you'd done in the game, and, in turn, the gut-wrenching panicked worry you'd experienced after discovering just how fundamental that frog-breeding was to your ultimate reward. In retrospect, it was a silly thing to worry about; Terezi and Gamzee must have been right after all, because it worked out. If you'd really fucked up the frog breeding, you'd probably all be dead and the new universe would be dying of some kind of weird self-fulfilling cosmic cancer, or something.

Now, however, you find yourself on a flat green plain that ends abruptly at the edge of a cliff. It looks just like... no, it is the place near Tavros's hive where you had to organize a rescue mission after Vriska jumped him off that cliff. Of course; without any sensible directions to go by, people are just dreaming up the real places they've been on Alternia. When all the plants die and the fauna start infecting each other with terrifying diseases it is not going to be your fault.

"Over here, bro!" You turn, and Gamzee's waving to you from a place where the landscape shifts in an unnaturally abrupt way into what looks like Terezi's forest. You shake off thoughts of frog frustration and memories of Tavros lying at the base of the cliff, and follow him into the trees.

On the other side of the forest is Gamzee's beach. It's exactly the same as you remember it, down to the sand and the seaweed and the tide-marks, even though you doubt the tide ever even changes here. There's only one thing that's blatently, glaringly missing, and Gamzee is not slow to draw your attention to it. He points up into the sky. "Look at that, best friend."

There are no stars. You didn't notice until you were in a place you knew well, but now that you are it's incredibly striking. Aside from the two moons, the curve of the sky is flat and empty and black, like you are all bugs and someone's put a bowl down over your heads. It's fucking disturbing, both the idea that you might all be trapped under a giant bowl and the idea that there really is nothing else out there, that it's just the twelve of you and your fun-sized universe, forever.

Back on Alternia, stargazing was a history review. Intense schoolfeeding meant that you could identify every star in every constellation, the conquered worlds that orbited each one, and their native populations if applicable. You kind of envied Gamzee, who threw his schoolfeed receiver into the sea at a very young age and has always seen the stars as just so many pretty colored lights. You never thought you'd miss the constant reminder that there was nowhere in the universe the Empire hadn't razed and ruined, nowhere they wouldn't cull you in an instant, but actually seeing it all gone for good is unexpectedly unnerving.

You jump a bit when he puts his arm around your shoulders, and your dismay must have been showing in your expression, because he says, "You've got the wrong motherfuckin idea here, bro. It's our blank slate, our empty canvas for us to paint on in our own motherfuckin image. You don't got to hate the stars no more, best friend, because now they can be whatever the fuck you want them to be. We won, bro, we won this whole bitchtits universe."

You... guess you did. Somehow it hasn't really sunk in for you yet. You've spent your whole life reacting, running and hiding, looking for a mythical safe place you always knew didn't exist anywhere. There was always something more that had to be done, some new threat or obstacle, more things on the To Do list than you could possibly have the time or space to accomplish, but at least it gave you a direction. And now, somehow, you've won, but you didn't get anything that seems worth all hardship it took to get here; you're just left with an empty list and a blank slate.

What the hell are you supposed to do with yourself now?

"Get your look on at this, brother." Gamzee points at that terrifying blank sky, and a star appears; he moves his finger and draws a short line of them. "How's that for a motherfucking miracle?"

Being able to create shit just by dreaming it up isn't a miracle, you want to say, it's a fucking catastrophe waiting to happen. But you don't want to give him ideas, and you do have to admit that you don't have one single pan-blasted clue how it works, which seems to be Gamzee's primary qualification for miracle status anyway, so you say, "Not bad, I guess."

He adds a few more stars here and there, and an image starts to form.

"Oh no," you say. "Gamzee, no."

His grin looks like it's trying to eat his face. "I don't know what you're all up and seeing there, best friend, but I don't see how you can be all objecting to my innocent picture of a motherfucking hat.

"That is not a hat. What the fuck kind of hat is that supposed to be? Terezi could draw hats on her own ass that look more like hats than that."

He is still grinning, goddamn him. "Ain't you ever seen the hat what Tav put on his jousting dummy? Only it always up and fell off when he hit it, on account of it didn't have this bitchtits handy chin strap on it." He traces the shape with his outstretched hand. His explanation doesn't make it look any more like a hat or any less like a pail.

"If that's what you really meant to draw, then why is it fucking upside down?" There's basically no way he was trying to draw a hat. He might be able to get away with this shit with anyone else, but no one else here has endured sweeps' worth of chats with him about squeezing his horns. (Of cOuRsE I WaS AlL JuSt mEaNiNg mY HoNk hOrNs bRo, WhErE Is yOuR MiNd eVeN AlL Up aT NoW? ;o))

"It's not upside down, bro. Maybe you're just up and looking at it from the wrong motherfucking direction. The stars don't got no right orientation - come the next dark season they'll all have up and danced themselves upside down and backwards to the other side of the sky. In another perigee that motherfucker'll look right side up to you, just wait."

You bury your face in your hands and pull away from him. "We don't even have dark seasons anymore. Or perigees. We only even have day and night because otherwise everyone's schedules would be fucked. The stars aren't going to move, dance, recite slam poetry, or whatever other stupid fucking thing you think they do, because they're not real and this isn't Alternia. That's not even a sky, it's just a giant fucking concave wall for you to cover with your dumbass graffiti, and everything that was ever real is gone, and the only thing left is your bullshit miracles."

There's a lull, and you can feel him looking at you, even though you're not looking at him. There aren't even any of the usual ambient sounds there were on Alternia; like the stars, you never really noticed them until they weren't there anymore.

This isn't how it used to go with him. You used to commit schoolfeeds to memory just so that when he started in on how miraculous it was that no one had to tell the tide when to come in, you could call him a moron and explain moons and gravtitational forces and the four-body problem to him at length and try to de-miracle his world for him, bit by bit. And he'd just look at the water and say, "I know, man, motherfucking miracles, right?" Eventually you'd run out of things to say that weren't embarrassingly gross descriptions of what he could do with his miracles, and you'd realize that you'd used up all of your give-a-fucks getting mad at Gamzee and no longer had the energy to worry about all the very real problems in your life. It was a nice feeling.

But now... everything he shows you just reminds you that you have no idea how anything works anymore.

"Yeah, you're right, brother. Real stars don't up and work like that, there ain't no motherfucker drawing pictures up there all on purpose. They come in big random messes what all just happen to have a method and a meaning, too." You look up to see him waving an arm crazily, and the lone constellation is buried in a random scattering of other stars. "That's the real miracle, you get me bro? No matter how motherfucking random it all seems, there's always a message or a picture up there somewhere. People see shit with their miracle pans the universe didn't even know it put there. What do you see, best friend?"

"Looks like more radioactive miracle vomit to me."

"No, man, it's..." he chews his lip for a moment, and then smiles. "It's a motherfucking ship, bro, look at it."

There are maybe ten different models of ship that you could identify on sight; this random collection of fakey fake bullshit stars doesn't look like it could possibly resemble any of them, and you really doubt that Gamzee's knowledge of spacecraft is any more extensive than yours. "Give me a fucking break. That is not even remotely the right shape to be a ship."

He gives you a weird look, and then seems to come to a realization. "Not a ship ship, man, a sea ship. With masts and sails and pirates and all that noise. Like that one what your romcom bro used to call his hive, but less broken and shit." He starts pointing out bits of sea-ship anatomy in the stars, and ok, you can kind of see it now. "See, look at that," he concludes. "All those little star bros just get in it, and the wind all pushes them off somewhere better."

"I'm pretty sure it's a lot more fucking complicated than that." It's a pretty ludicrous idea anyway - it's not like there was anywhere on Alternia itself that wasn't full of people who'd have been just as ready to see you culled as they would where you already were. Even with a proper ship, there was nowhere in the universe that the Empire wouldn't have conquered eventually. The only people who paid any attention to sea-ships were people like Eridan who had stupid FLARP-based delusions about growing up to be historically inaccurate douchebag pirates, and you're actually kind of surprised that Gamzee even knows what they are.

"Not anymore, bro!" He gives you another big grin, but softer this time. "The Paradise Planet exists now, like I told you. I've seen those motherfuckers, they make their own salvation out of wood and cloth, and it all up and takes them to a bitchtits Promised Land. Or some shit made out of honeycomb and milk. Or gold? They're not all being decided just what kind of miracleland they're going to, but they're definitely going there in their motherfucking miracleboat!"

You groan. "How many times have we been over this now? There is no Paradise Planet. I don't know what the hell kind of weird alien planet you've found, but it's not Paradise. Nothing is Paradise."

"It didn't exist in our universe," he agrees. "But it was prophesied! And now the prophesy has come true. Or always was true. They know what they are, bro - they are all down with the Messiahs, they know who to thank for their motherfucking Mirthful Paradise." He pauses, and seems to think about that for a minute. "Except apparently the Messiahs are all up and being me." Then he grins. "They were always both me," he pitches his voice to make it noticeably deeper and different, before concluding with "AND ALSO MOTHERFUCKING ME!"

It's just a joke; you know it's a joke, about how Gamzee found some alien planet where everyone worships him as a part of a transplanted version of his own shitty clown religion, and it's just a joke about how there were two Messiahs and only one Gamzee. But somehow it sends a shiver down your spine and makes your gut clench, like it's dredged up a half-remembered day terror, or an echo of a memory you can't quite bring to mind. For a moment you are honestly terrified of him - and for him.



This is all your fault. You could have prevented this.


Then the feeling passes. You're on the beach under the half-empty sky instead of trapped in the daymare you can't remember anymore, and suddenly everything is miracles.

"You ok, bro?" says Gamzee. He looks shaken and scared, too, and kind of like he wants to reach out to you but doesn't quite dare.

"Yeah." You mentally reel a bit, trying to come back to a reasonable middle ground and find something to banish the memory of whatever terrible thing just happened. "Look, Gamzee," you say, scrabbling blindly back to your previous train of thought, "Whatever nooksuckingly retarded alien religion you found, it probably only exists because of the cosmic accident that made you one of the creators of this universe. There are probably aliens out there that love Vriska and think it's awesome to go around shoving people off cliffs, and probably entire planets of deformed mutants, too. It's not fate or prophesy, it's just the plain bad luck that the worst collection of dumbfucks in existence were the ones to actually win that godforsaken game."

He seems calmer for your rant, at least, even a little thoughtful. "Why can't it be both, best friend? Maybe I made the Paradise, but it was only being because the Paradise all went back and showed itself to my thinkpan, like those grubs you made all went back to be us without no Mother Grub involved nowhere." He's turned to face a blank part of the sky and started drawing another constellation; it looks like a circle. "Paradise needed me, and I needed it, and together we didn't need nothing the motherfuck else. If that's not miracles, I don't know what is." He adds details to his constellation. It's some kind of dragon, or maybe just a snake, eating its own tail. Ugh, what terrible symbolism; you can't help wondering where he picked that up. Accurate, though: paradox space makes you eat yourself for breakfast.

Thinking about Gamzee somehow needing his stupid Paradise Planet religion puts a different kind of knot in your gut, and makes you want to say something that's probably inappropriately pale to him. It'd be too little too fucking late, though, now that he's apparently got his actual Paradise and not just a sopor-dream, and it's not like he didn't manage just fine with only his dreams in the first place. That isn't even how pale romance is supposed to work anyway - no one likes the loser who goes around trying shove his nose where he isn't wanted like a self-important lusus. That shit's barely acceptable with auspisticism; even Kanaya knows to wait for someone to approach her, even with how much she idolizes the heroes of those terrible trashy ashen romances. Sometimes you think you must be a terrible person for wishing Gamzee would do something genuinely dangerous just so that you'd have some kind of legitimate excuse.

Instead, you deface Gamzee's self-devouring snake with some more stars. You were trying to make it look like Troll Will Smith showing everyone exactly what he thought about this self-fulfilling miracles hoofbeastshit, but fuck if drawing things isn't stupid difficult, especially when you don't actually get to make lines.

"Aw, bro," says Gamzee, "if you want to play you got to find your own motherfuckin place to get your draw on. Here, let me all up and show you." He starts another constellation further up. You don't even wait to see what terrible idea he's got in mind this time before you start drawing over it.

You end up getting caught up in a brutal game of Who Can Fuck Up The Other Guy's Constellations The Worst. Gamzee is surprisingly good at it, but you're sure you scored some points by turning what was supposedly a picture of one of the Messiahs into a hoofbeast strangling itself with its own gross mammal bulge. When you finally run out of space, you're sitting back to back on the sand, looking up at the sky. It's not creepy blank anymore, at least. The stars that cover the bowl from horizon to horizon are utterly alien, and there are parts of it you'll never be able to look at again without cringing in embarrassment, but the dissonance you felt earlier is gone.

Gamzee is pretty happy with it, anyway. "Shit, bro, I've got to go show my buddy Tavros this miracle we all up and did." He jumps to his feet, and brings you with him.

"You do that," you say. You're pretty sure that if you actually have to witness Gamzee's incompetent idea of flushed flirting in person, you're going to die of second-hand embarrassment.

You spend some time dusting the sand out of your clothes, and then start off in the other direction along the shoreline until the scenery changes abruptly once again to become a valley dotted with occasional trees. Everything is so green it hurts, except - no, the light is actually brighter here than it was on the beach, in a way that's completely consistent with this place's total lack of sensible laws of physics. You imagine it darker until it's bearable again, and someone sitting under a tree looks up in irritation.

It's Kanaya. You guess this must be a facsimile of where she lived on Alternia; it explains the unnatural brightness, anyway. She re-brightens a smaller area around herself and goes back to what she was doing, which was apparently staring up at the moons. The green one is low on the horizon, partially hidden behind the distant line of Terezi's forest, while the purple one has moved into the newly created ragesnake-faygo constellation. They are both shifting uncertainly, like two awkward people trying to figure out a line dance.

"Are you still fucking with those?" you ask.

She gives you a cool look. "It's not as simple as just sticking circles in the sky and making them move, Karkat. This place is now an Alternia-sized sphere being orbited by two moon-sized spheres. Gravitational forces are now in effect. I decided not to fully simulate the actual sun, as it would be far more comfortable as well as less dangerous to simply have alternating periods of brightness and darkness, but unfortunately its absence makes everything we knew about the moons' orbits irrelevant to our current situation. It is a complicated and delicate problem. Incidentally," (she looks sidelong at one of the more unfortunate constellations) "your new sky will cycle as well, though I don't doubt that someone will fill in the other half of it as it comes around."

"Why go to all this effort?" you ask. "It's not as though anyone here really cares about whether the moons are real things or just flat images. You don't need to make this so hard for yourself."

"It's an interesting physics problem and a not unenjoyable way to exercise the powers I was granted by the game," she says, raising her eyes to the sky again. "Besides, don't you feel better knowing that something about all of this is real, and not just a comforting simulation?"

You really do, even if watching the moons right now is kind of unnerving. What does it say about the twelve of you that after winning the game and escaping a world that you can pretty much all admit was terrible, the first course of action you can honestly agree upon is apparently to recreate Alternia as accurately as possible?

But even if being the Space player has given her some practice messing around with this stuff, this isn't really Kanaya's bag. "Admit it," you say, leaning up against her tree just outside of her bubble of brightness, "you're just out here hiding from Terezi's victory party."

"That was yesterday, Karkat. Apparently you were asleep for a while."

You valiently resist the urge to ask her just how long you slept for and how many things have gone wrong the meantime. You're sure you'll find out about all of them sooner or later, and you've got too much else on your mind right now. "So what are you avoiding?"

"No one," she says, which gives you part of the answer, anyway.

"Eridan?" you guess. Outside of your own few conversations with her, before the game you mostly knew Kanaya from Eridan's constant whining about how he could totally salvage his thing with Vriska if Kanaya would only agree to be their auspistice. You can't say you blame her for turning him down; that sounds like the auspisticism from hell.

"I would have thought you'd at least have been able to make a more intelligent guess by now," she says. "Don't tell me you've forgotten our conversation entirely."

You think back to your conversations with Kanaya during the game, and come up with only frog breeding, game mechanics, vitriolic screeds about the unacceptable light levels on her planet, and one or two discussions about quality romantic literature. "I guess I must have."

"It was a memo," she says distractedly. "I think we talked about Twelfth Perigee's Eve, for some reason. Although, I guess you might not have responded to it yet, if I understand correctly how the memo system works. In fact, I believe I was talking to a version of you from weeks in the future at that point." She seems to remember something, suddenly. "You did fall asleep and wake up again, though, so that must have happened just now. What was the terrible thing that I did, anyway? I can't think of anything off the top of my head."

You blink at her. "I have no idea what you're talking about." You are absolutely certain that Kanaya is the one and only person who never butted into one of your memos uninvited, and as far as you're concerned she deserves a fucking medal.

She shrugs. "Oh well, I guess it hasn't happened yet. I suppose I can go look at it and check exactly how many hours I must wait until we are all on the same page again. I must not have told you, anyway, because you didn't know."

If you've learned anything from the game, it's that when you wind up in a coversation about the mechanics of transtimeline memos, it's time to change the subject. "Are you avoiding Vriska?" you ask. You can't think of any particular reason why, but no one really needs a reason to avoid Vriska.

She looks up at you sharply, which you guess answers the question. "You are sure you don't remember this memo?"

"The amount of time during the game that I spent not discussing Vriska with anyone was downright miraculous," you say. "The only times when she marred my otherwise perfect record were when she interrupted my memos and when Terezi felt the need to fill me in on some bullshit that happened on LOMAT. The game may have been an absolute pile of shitsticks sometimes, but at least it was mostly sociopath-free."

"I had some trouble getting ahold of her myself. I suppose she was too busy having fun with Tavros to be bothered with her moirail."

"You're her moirail?" That's not a quadrant you'd ever have expected Vriska to fill, and you are forced to do a lot of split-second reevaluation to make room for this new information. It's still a pretty bad fit. If Vriska can do moirallegiance...

"Probably not," Kanaya says. "In retrospect, I never really wanted to hold her back."

Fuck, no one could possibly deserve that responsibility. "None of her bullshit was really you fault," you tell her. "Just because you were her moirail--"

"Don't worry Karkat, I know exactly who is to blame for Vriska's poor life choices." You can't quite read the look she's giving you. "What's been on your mind lately?"

"No one," you say vaguely. "Nothing. Whatever." You shift your gaze to the distant trees and dancing moon. Your pan is full of jumbled thoughts that don't quite line up - Vriska, and moirallegiance, and Gamzee (why does she make you think of Gamzee, who would never hurt a fly, who has rescued flies from certain death), the earlier terror you can't quite remember and can't make yourself forget, memos that never happened and never will, parallel universes, void echoes, alien religions, time paradoxes and extra-dimensional internet chat programs. You spend a few minutes sifting through it all and arranging it into an order that makes sense, while the night's unnatural silence fills your ears.

"You knew Vriska pretty well," you say eventually, and she nods and rolls her eyes a little bit. "There's a planet in the new universe where they worship her. I've got to believe that any species with a religion focused on permanently maiming people and feeding them to bloodthirsty monsters wouldn't survive to see basic toolmaking, so that means she must have done something decent in some alternate timeline or universe, right? Somewhere there's a possible sequence of events where she wasn't such a huge bitch."

Kanaya sighs heavily. "You don't have to make her a good person for me, Karkat. I already know exactly who she is; she is Vriska. Or are you trying to suggest that I am partially responsible for who she turned out to be in this universe?"

"Neither," you say quickly. "Just - would it make a difference? Does it change your opinion of her if she has it in her to live a completely different life?"

"Why would it? We are all together in the same timeline. It seems perfectly reasonable to appreciate her based only on the decisions she made here. Potential is largely meaningless if it is never actually realized."

"Yeah. That makes sense." You shake your head to clear any remaining doubts and turn to face her again. "We should go back to the lab."

"We?"

"Yeah," you say. "I need you to show me this conversation that we didn't have."