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Runaway Justice

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An electrical discharge in the atmosphere of the planet Alternia jolted one of its denizens from a fitful sleep. Normally such a storm in the middle of the day would have been soothing, but this one was too loud and too close for his already frayed nerves.

He pulled himself up out of his recuperacoon and reached for a sopor-stained towel hanging nearby. Slime dripped off of him and pooled on the floor, but he didn’t care. As soon as he’d dried off, he dropped the towel onto the floor so it could soak up the puddle.

He grabbed his coat off a hook on the wall and frowned slightly when he caught sight of one of his faded movie posters. He found his pants on the floor and pulled them on, then put on the coat, leaving the belts undone. A stylized, angular version of his symbol in the same anonymous gray he’d always used was the only identifying insignia he allowed himself. Anyone else who looked at it would think it was just a decoration.

This was Karkat Vantas, and his insomnia had been getting worse recently. Well, maybe the sleeplessness itself hadn’t changed, but the day terrors that caused it certainly had. When he was younger, he used to dream of a beautiful golden planet inhabited by strange, peaceful white creatures, but that had been short-lived. Still, it stuck in his memory, and he often wished he could go back there instead of…well.

Karkat padded down the hall, leaving his respiteblock behind. His still-damp feet slapped against the floor, probably leaving behind puddles. But, again, he didn’t care. He didn’t see this hive as his home anyway, and why would a squatter care about sopor stains on the linoleum?

The thunder grew louder and the lightening brighter as Karkat stepped into the sparsely furnished livingblock. The noise was deafening and the light cut viciously through the curtains. He stepped cautiously around any illuminated patches on the floor, even though the sunlight itself was negligible. It was a species-wide habit, reinforced with a considerable amount of superstition.

If sleep was going to continue to evade him, Karkat figured he might as well watch a movie. He dug one of his favorite romcoms out of a sack in the corner, slid the disk into a movie player he’d picked up on the side of a road, turned on the television he’d picked up on the side of a road, and sat down on the couch he’d also picked up on the side of a road. They were complete pieces of shit, but it wasn’t exactly like he could afford to shop at furniture stores. Even if Karkat had the money, they randomly checked for identity on even the most trivial purchases, and it wasn’t a risk he was willing to take.

But before the title of the movie had even been fully scrolled through at the end of the opening credits, Karkat felt himself begin to drift off.

The next thing he knew, the time on the clock had changed by a considerable amount, the light outside had faded, the storm was over, and the words “The End” were hard at work burning themselves into the screen of his shitty TV. And someone was knocking on the door.

Oh, shit.

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On his way to the door, Karkat tugged the red-gold hood of his coat as far over his eyes as he could without obstructing his vision. If anyone saw his bright-red irises, he’d be as good as dead. His thoughts were racing furiously as he’d wondered what could have happened. He’d been so careful…

“I swear, you’ve got the wrong troll!” he shouted as he swung the door open to reveal an angular legislacerator in a slightly nonstandard uniform. “I haven’t fucking killed anyone, let alone someone higher on the hemospectrum--”

But when the legislacerator’s expression began to form into a grin even sharper than her elbows, Karkat realized he’d guessed wrong. “’I’m willing to bet you don’t have to proper paperwork for an adult living on Alternia?” she cackled.

So that was it. Karkat should have known he couldn’t get away with living on-planet forever. But there was no way he could possibly have left -- there would have been forms to fill out for the transport ships, they would have checked his blood…

He was almost too lost in thought, busy staring at the solid red veil sewn into her hood (could she see through it?, he wondered briefly) to notice the first flicker of movement as the legislacerator whipped out a cane and brandished it at him, the point to his neck. Karkat swallowed nervously and took a step back, but she closed the gap without hesitation. The door slammed shut behind her as she closed it with her free hand.

Karkat took another step back, and the legislacerator advanced again. He tried to dash backwards but didn’t get every far before he slipped in a shallow puddle of sopor slime. He went down screaming and flailing. The legislacerator started laughing at him. ”Look, nooksniffer, I didn’t fucking do anything!” Karkat growled, trying to get to his feet as fast as he could with the pain in his back.

There was a momentary slip in her almost predatory confidence. He almost thought he heard her mumble something, maybe ”no, you didn’t…”

Then her previous demeanor was back, and as soon as Karkat stood up she grabbed the turtleneck collar of his coat and pulled him towards her. They stood at roughly the same height, both relatively quite small. The legislacerator was…sniffing his face? He wondered why the fuck she was doing that. Was she trying to intimidate him or something? The strange behavior struck Karkat as unsettlingly and indescribably familiar.

”Sir, what is your name and blood color?” she asked, as calm and cool as a fresh batch of sopor. Judging from the trim on her uniform, she was a tealblood, which made that ”sir” highly unusual -- no one above jade would address an inferior so politely.

”Karkat Vantas, m-maroon, ma’am.” That color was a practiced lie for him, but he stuttered it out nonetheless. He could only hope the legislacerator would assume his nervousness was something anyone in this situation would experience, whether they were lying or not. She’d have no reason to suspect him just because he was becoming anxious, right? Right…?

She sniffed again, more tentatively this time. ”That’s hoofbeast shit and you know it. Remove your hood.”

Karkat raised his hands slowly. His life, short and mostly miserable, was flashing before his eyes, making it difficult to concentrate. He stalled. ”I said, remove your hood.” The legislacerator moved her cane away from his throat to tap it on the green-splotched floor impatiently. Karkat saw an opening and sprang into action. His hands flew to the specially reinforced pockets in his coat to draw his trusty sickles. But they were immediately knocked from his grip with a deft swipe of the legislacerator’s cane. The sickles spiraled away and clattered on the floor, and Karkat felt a sharp pain in his left hand.

A drop of mutant blood dripped down from his palm and landed in one of the sopor puddles, bright red seeping into lime.

Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.

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Her hand darted forward to grasp his bleeding wrist. Karkat squirmed as she drew his hand to her mouth and licked the cut, her tongue scraping the softer skin of his palm.
“Guh!” he grunted, trying to remove her hand from her grip. “What the fuck was that for?! You’re lucky my lusus isn’t home right now!“

Without a word, the legislacerator reached up with her free hand to remove her hood. Karkat gasped when he saw her eyes, the same bright, alien red as his own mutant blood.

She opened her mouth as if to start explaining, but Karkat cut her off. Memories were flooding into his thinkpan at an incredible rate. “So,“ he said, his voice filling with a calmness he certainly didn’t feel, “did your lusus ever end up hatching…Terezi?“

She gasped, and her grin dissolved into a frown. She, too, was remembering. “I thought your name sounded familiar…“ she said.

Terezi let go of Karkat’s hand but kept a wary eye on him.

When they were six sweeps old, they had been good friends, talking to each other on Trollian frequently. Karkat knew about Terezi’s blindness and how it had been inflicted by a former FLARP teammate as part of an extensive and elaborate cycle of revenge. He had even been considering telling her about his true blood color, but never ended up going through with it. When they came of age, they lost track of each other, mostly because Karkat had to go into hiding on Alternia to avoid being culled for his mutation.

“When I got this assignment to detain an adult of unknown caste living on-planet without a permit, I never in a million sweeps would have guessed it was you,“ Terezi mused, leaning on her cane.

Tentatively, Karkat began to reach towards his fallen sickles, as slowly and surreptitiously as he could.

“Uh-uh-uh.“ Terezi chuckled slightly and had her cane pointing straight at his neck again before he could even blink. “Oh, Karkles, what makes you think I would ever let you do that…?“

Karkat bristled at the nickname but smiled in spite of himself, not something he did often. He’d always hated it when she called him that, but hearing it now brought back memories of better nights. A time in his life when he hadn’t had to live in constant fear. A time when he’d had…

Friends. Enemies. Reasons to be happy.

His train of thought was halted by a not unpleasant cackling laugh. So that was what that “H3H3H3“ she’d so often typed actually sounded like…

Karkat realized this was starting to look like an as-yet-undeclared stalemate, but he knew Terezi would have the upper hand if it came to blows again.

He masked his fear with frustration and snapped, “Terezi, how about you stop stalling like some demented wriggler who doesn’t want to go to sleep yet and just fucking tell me what’s going to happen to me?“

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He could see the wheels turning, gears spinning in her mind. The clock ticked a few times in the silence before she spoke, pensive. "In theory, I take you into custody. You'll almost certainly be culled the instant the relevant paperwork has been filed in triplicate, submitted, and approved." She drew one gloved finger across her neck with a click and a frown. "But I don't know, Karkles. Lately I've started to wonder..."

He was almost too busy marvelling at how easily Terezi went back to calling him that, as if all those sweeps apart had never happened, as if she wasn't about to send him to his death. She was still talking, unheard over the sound of his thoughts.

"…and so I don't think I will," Terezi finished. She gave Karkat a conspiratorial wink and laughed again. It was the mischievous, half-frightened laugh of a naughty wiggler.

He stared at her, half-dazed and uncertain. There was another pause. "...but how do I know you're not just fucking with me?" he asked, probing, apprehensive. "For all I know, this is some kind of secret interrogation technique." Karkat wanted to be wrong, wanted it with his whole heart, but this was Alternia. Taking trust for granted could get you killed.

This time, Terezi's chuckle was almost more of a sigh than a laugh. She rolled her eyes, not that Karkat could tell. "Were you even listening?" she huffed. "I pretty much did everything short of proposing a matespritship! You really weren't listening, were you, when I detailed my reasons for deciding to spare, no, save your life?"

Karkat blinked. Matespritship...? Holy shit, he was lucky as hell he'd somehow managed to fall ass-backwards into going completely undetected by the imperial drones. And come to think of it...if he was being completely (or even remotely) honest with himself, Terezi was... really, really, pretty. And she'd always been one of the very few people he'd ever even considered being flushed for...

"And not even a 'hello' for your wigglerhood friend? Oh, Karkat, just as rude as ever." She smiled pleasantly. It was kind of unsettling. "But anyway, in the end it really all comes down to whether or not you believe you can trust me... and whether you're truly innocent, as you claim to be."

Karkat really didn't like the look on her face when she said that. But what choice did he have? And if he had to take this chance, he was frankly kind of glad Terezi was the one offering it.

"So...what do you say, Karkles?" Terezi leaned casually on her cane, but she gnawed anxiously on her lower lip. "Are you in? Do you think you can trust me? Do you want to live?"

"Of fucking course I want to live. Now, you'd better have a goddamned plan."

She smiled, visibly relieved. There was a drop of blood on her lip.