Her Imperious Condescension gazed down at the blue planet below her. She sighed with happiness as she regarded its lovely, pearly glow, and leaned in toward the high-definition viewport holoscreen that was hovering in front of her over the ship's dashboard.
"Lovely," she grinned, magenta lips parting to reveal cold, white rows of serrated fangs, "Absolutely lovely."
She leaned back into the bright red Captain's chair and continued to survey the sphere of blue in front of her. It was species like these that made her laugh until she wanted to cry. Imagine! Her ship's delicate sensors had not picked up signs of primitive life, as they usually did, but actual frequencies and patterns that were being broadcasted from the surface of the planet. It was as though the morons that populated this pretty little water-blanketed rock were desperately rocketing messages into space, in the hopes that a predatory species would come find them. "Here! Please! Come here! Come eat us! Over here!" The Condese, of course, was perfectly happy to oblige.
Of course, she wasn't an idiot. One did not simply stride onto a foreign planet, plant a flag, and have a picnic slaughter party. That could very well be suicide. The native inhabitants could have extremely deadly defense mechanisms and psychic abilities, and besides, those patterns being broadcasted could not only be a sign of advanced technology, but confidence that they could take on whatever an alien species decided to throw their way. There could be all manner diseases and parasites on the surface of that planet deadly to trolls. Or the inhabitants could be utterly worthless and weak and not suited to being slaves of trollkind. Of course, if that were the case, she would just have them all killed and let a new colony of her race settle down, provided there weren't too many natural dangers of high magnitude.
But the point was, invasion was a delicate and many-tiered process.
This planet had already passed Examination A: It wasn't a piece of ugly shit. In fact, it was a very beautiful piece of shit, and the Condesce was already quite enamored with its wispy, jewel-like atmosphere.
This was why it was important to have a good Helmsman. So she could go planet-shopping to her hearts content before calling in her military to do all the dirty work. Ah, life is sweet.
But first things obviously came first: Check what you can from space.
The Imperious Battleship of Her Imperious Condescension was hovering a mere light-sweep away from the planet. It was actually quite possible that the species on the planet had picked her up; she was not emitting light, but with the right equipment she was at an easily observable distance. Of course, that meant she was also in an easily attackable distance, but in the rare event that any artillery or blasts came their way, the Condesce's crew was in high alert to whip their ship out of the way and into a much safer distance range. Such was the risk of being the first to the scene. However, no attacks came, and she did not expect any to. Perhaps they were not so smart after all. That was fine.
The Condesce leaned forward again and gently, almost lovingly started manipulating the control panel, her slender fingers flashing across the slimy computer coating like a professional musician, tiny sparks of energy lighting up the dashboard wherever she touched it.
-E: RUN-TECHNOLOGY-LIFE-SCAN: PLANET-)34R+H(-SURFACE
- scan complete: no physical sign of technology life on surface: alert: millions of unnatural pattern sources
The Condesce frowned. That was worrying. It was clear that if they were capable of broadcasting masses of patterns and messages into the wide empty around them, they had some form of technology. What they had must be completely different from all the bio-based computer systems that she'd thus far had experiences with. She tried again, typing in a new set of instructions. Such a lovely planet would not slip so easily from between her claws.
-E: RUN-TECHNOLOGY-LIFE-SCAN: PLANET-)34R+H(-SURROUNDING-SPHERE-LEVEL: ONE-HUNDRETH-LIGHT-SWEEP
- scan complete: no physical sign of technology life on atmosphere levels up to one hundreth of a light-sweep distance: alert: millions of unnatural pattern sources
She frowned more deeply, lips turning down heavily at the corners and teeth flashing in the darkness of the ship's hold. It seemed this would require some more specific instructions. Hm... She tapped her chin thoughtfully for a moment, and a grin flashed back across her face as she leaned back over the slime. This one command would most likely take the computer a while.
-E: RUN-SCAN: PLANET-)34R+H(: NON-NATURAL-FORMATIONS: PLANET-SURFACE & SURROUNDING-SPHERE-LEVEL: ONE-HUNDRETH-LIGHT-SWEEP
The Condesce leaned slowly back in her chair again, fingers drumming impatiently against the edge of the dashboard as she awaited the results.
- scan complete: map highlighted: unnatural formations: second map highlighted: unnatural satellites
"Y-ES, there we go," she murmured, as firey red pinpoints and outlines stood out on the close-up map of the planet in front of her. She set the holographic sphere into motion with a flick of her wrist and watched it turn slowly on its axis. She observed the patterns of interwoven, unnatural constructs on the surface of the planet. It looked relatively well-populated, and with city constructs almost reminiscent of her own home planet. The image of the planet continued to turn, bringing into full view a dark, unlit ocean. At this, her grin widened to sharklike proportions. There were nothing but a few minuscule points of unnatural constructions on the sea floors. No sign at all of particularly intelligent aquatic life. This was going to be another cakewalk victory, provided that the conditions on the surface were capable of supporting her troops.
After running and examining the results of an automatic list of scans for air pressure, atmosphere content, and temperature, the Condesce was all but gloating from the taste of imminent victory. After some standard procedure, this lovely little pearl would be hers. But there was one more thing to do before she sent down her troops.
Order up a team of disposable agents.
The deployment of Disposagents was a very important step in the invasion of a planet, and neglecting such protocol could have disastrous effects. The Condesce reminisced for a moment about one of her earlier crusades, when she'd sent down a full legion troops right after taking computer scans of the planet. All of her soldiers died within weeks from the native sentient microbes that were the inhabitants. She bared her teeth at the memory. Those sneaky little bastards. She blew up their planet with the might of her entire psionics team, of course, but losing any kind of battle was not something the Condesce did.
The function of this initial touch-down team of Disposagents was to send down a small but diverse group of trolls and see if they died within a sweep or two of landing. Hence the root word "disposable." Besides, a team of Disposagents were less expensive to deploy than fancy remote-operated computer probes. However, as long as they managed to survive, they would gather and send in useful information about the native flora, fauna, their weaknesses, and anything else of note. Hence the root word "agents." Besides, her armies were already in the process of conquering and inhabiting several new planets at the moment, and it was unwise to stretch her agents out too thin. You always needed soldiers at the ready for any rebellion or other silly little emergencies that may occur. Her Imperious Condescension preferred to have the upper hand, in all situations. Thus, giving the Disposagents an extended mission and allowing them to conduct a thorough investigation would be perfectly reasonable if the party survived. If not, well, the planet would be Red-Listed for supporting life, but it could still be tracked and exploited for raw materials whenever the need presented itself.
But anyway, back to those disposable spies. They were generally composed of newbies, about a sweep of their way into the Alternian military. The team must also be composed of a standard hemospectrum set (to make sure different blood types would not be affected badly by surface exposure), and preferably knew each other well enough to know whether or not they got along. The last one didn't matter so much, but it was nice to let them die alongside their friends, if nothing else.
Leaning forward again with a relaxed smile, the Condesce placed her hands on the dash.
-E: SHOW-LISTS: VIABLE-GROUPINGS-FOR-INVASION-STEP-ONE
- list shown: entry level 1 soldiers: hemospectrum sets: map: proximity to planet 34R+H shown
Lists popped up on a largely zoomed-out space map, centered around the planet 34R+H, currently hidden from view within the speck of its galaxy. The Condesce raised her eyebrows in disbelief when she noticed that one of the nearby sets of potential Disposagents was highlighted with a large, rotating magenta symbol.
She grinned. Perfect.
The Condesce clicked on the set bearing her own symbol, and examined one of her heirs, only a eight of a sweep off the Academy press and currently "Serving in battle" beside the rest of her set of peers on a planet in a backwater galaxy. Laughable, really; if she really were situated on the planet, she was most likely under heavy guard, nowhere near the main battlefronts. The set of close trolls that were marked below her could even be trusted childhood comrades, ordered to take care of the potential Empress. Just because serving time in the military was mandatory didn't mean that there were special hemocaste cases of loafing involved - upperbloods always got off easier the first time in the Fleet, and blood of such a royal hue was certain to get special treatment. Nobody would want to anger a woman who mightsomeday rise to the top in a quick, bloody ascent.
Feferi Peixes. The Condesce would give her something real to wrangle with. This dangerous mission would be a wonderful way to dispose of her, requiring little effort and even less paperwork. (Not that therewas any paperwork to begin with.) She scrolled over the rest of the candidates, examining their photographs, blood colors, qualifications, and random handicaps. She was impressed to see that this particular list was a near-complete set, all with at least average performance in their training, with only one extra maroon blood, and with only a limeblood missing... Hold on. The Condesce scrolled down to the Jadeblood. Unbelievable. She shared a sign with one of them. The ancient entourage of the Signless himself. What the hell, send her in. If she didn't die, then goodie for her, but the Condesce was certainly not going to go out of her way to give the woman a fair chance at life. Just because she was a rare jadeblood did not mean that the Condesce would cut her any slack.
She then proceeded to systematically go through each troll, transferring them onto a team list for the life-threatening mission after giving them due seconds of thought.
~Title: The Lifebite
~Blood Status: Tyrianblood
~Psychic/Special Abilities: Lifespan-shortening/lengthening Powers
~Weapon: 2x3 Culling Trident, Supreme-Issue Military Set
~Station: Likely will be removed from mainstream Military by end of mandatory sweep of front-line service: -Empress blood status
The Condesce snorted as she read the "Station," category. She would change that personally. The Military mostly ran under long-established protocols, but of course, Her Imperious Condescension could do whatever she pleased, and no one would argue for fear of immediate culling. If the Condesce wanted to put her heir on a 50/50 toss suicide mission, then that is what she would do.
~Title: The Hopeslay
~Blood Status: Violetblood
~Psychic/Special Abilities: None
~Weapon: Ahab's Crosshairs, Supreme-Issue Military Set
~Station: Possible career in Commandoppressor
The jagged purple symbol embroidered on his lapel seemed disturbingly familiar. She frowned at the symbol for a while, trying to place it. Then suddenly, she remembered, and laughed out loud. The press had made a great joke out of Dualscar in his time, for dying by the hands of Subjugglators in his attempt to get closer to the Condesce's red quadrant. She cheerily checked him off. No progeny of his was worth twopence, purpleblood or no.
~Title: The Paintear
~Blood Status: Indigoblood
~Psychic/Special Abilities: Subjugglator Rage
~Weapon: Zillyhoo, Special-Issue Military Set
~Station: Likely career as Laughassassin or Subjugglator
~Title: The Pa%droid
~Blood Status: Blueblood
~Psychic/Special Abilities: STRONG, mechanical skills
~Weapon: STRONGbow, STRONG-Issue Military Set
~Other: Likely career as Archeradicator or Mechanobliterator
~Title: The Silvers8
~Blood Status: Ceruleanblood
~Handicaps: Left arm amputated at shoulder, replaced with prosthetics.
~Psychic/Special Abilities: Vision Eightfold, Mind Control
~Weapon: Fluorite Octet, Special-Issue Military Set
~Other: Possible career in [CENSORED]
[CENSORED] Probably meant the highly selective and deadly Undercover Ninjairates. They were run by a group pompous fools and with mysterious, uppity secrecy regimes. Anyway, the Condesce was doing a favor to this Serket character by assigning her as a Disposagents for planet 34R+H; with a missing arm like that, the Ninjairates would probably give her ridiculously dangerous missions in the hopes of weeding her out, assuming they even accepted her. They were notoriously harsh on amputees, no matter how early they were slated for the top-secret squad. Miss Serket would probably feel extremely unlucky and discouraged by all the terrible missions. That is, if she survived past half a sweep among their forces.
~Title: The Mindsear
~Blood Status: Tealblood
~Handicaps: Blind, both eyes
~Psychic/Special Abilities: Fully developed scent/taste to color Synesthesia: compensates for vision
~Weapon: Flametorch Caneblade, Standard-Issue Military Set
~Station: Likely career in Legislaceration
~Title: The Mediator
~Blood Status: Jadeblood
~Psychic/Special Abilities: Fully immune to the effects of sunlight
~Weapon: Plasma Chainsaw, Standard-Issue Military Set
~Station: Likely will be returned to Alternia for care of Mother Grubs
~Title: The Huntress
~Blood Status: Greenblood
~Psychic/Special Abilities: None
~Weapon: Laser Claws, Standard-Issue Military Set
~Station: Likely career in Catastrophe Corps.
~Title: The Biispark
~Blood Status: Yellowblood
~Psychic/Special Abilities: Strong Psionic Abilities
~Weapon: Psionics, Sub-Standard-Issue Military Set
~Station: Likely career as Helmsman or Demoliminator
~Title: The Sentinel
~Blood Status: Brownblood
~Handicaps: Left leg amputated below the knee, replaced with prosthetic
~Psychic/Special Abilities: Communication with animals, animal mind control
~Weapon: Drill Lance, Sub-Standard-Issue Military Set
~Station: Likely career as Front-Line Cavalreaper or Beastroyer
~Title: The Gravetap
~Blood Status: Maroonblood
~Psychic/Special Abilities: Telekinesis, Communication with the dead
~Weapon: Razor Whip, Sub-Standard-Issue Military Set
~Station: Likely career as Front-Line Mindesecrator
~Title: The Scathing
~Blood Status: Maroonblood
~Psychic/Special Abilities: None
~Weapon: Laser Sickles, Sub-Standard-Issue Military Set
~Station: Likely career as Front-Line Threshecutioner or Canon Fodder
The Condesce always found it highly amusing how much hemocism there was. It was unfair that higher bloods were automatically given better weapons packages upon entry to the military, unfair that lower bloods were automatically slated for undesirable stations in the front lines, and unfair that rustbloods weren't even dignified with their own symbols on their uniforms (the rationale was that they were going to die soon anyway, why bother personalizing things?). The Condesce found it immeasurably hilarious. However, all blood colors were required to serve a minimum amount of time in the Military Academy and on a current Battleplanet. It was a tiny victory for equality among an overwhelming tide of hemocism. Of course, Military training was also used to weed out any embarrassingly pathetic royalbloods. Nobody needed any of that in the gene slurry.
The hemocaste system was wonderful for keeping her vast empire in line. The higher up you were, the more fortunate you would feel about your station in life, and the less likely you would desire revolution. Dumping the prejudice and negativity on the very basest of castes made it much simpler to keep control. Their lifespans were comparatively short to begin with, and the fact that they were often sent to the front lines of the most dangerous battles ensured that none of them would live long enough to rise very high through the ranks or assemble enough followers to even think of starting a revolution against her rule. It was a beautiful system, and it all bowed down to the Condescension, positioned at the very pinnacle of the bigotry hierarchy.
However, such a caste system did cause some challenges in choosing someone to lead this particular mission. Usually, the reins were quite simply handed over to a purpleblooded royal, but in this case the seadweller had another above him, a potential Empress with magenta flowing through her veins. However, giving her that kind of power over such a crucial mission and risking that she get any sort of experience in manipulating a team of underlings would be a bad idea. The purpleblood himself would be a complete romantic idiot, if his ancestor was anything to go off of, so he was out. She slowly read through the extended files of each troll. The indigoblood apparently was kept sopor-sedated most of the time, on account of an incident that occurred the first week he entered academy. The Condesce grinned knowingly. Subjuggulator Rage made for an excellent soldier, but not a leader. The blueblood had certain... issues with leadership, but the ceruleanblood seemed promising. Mind control would be an excellent asset for a leader. With self-satisfied nod, the Condesce assigned Serket as the leader in the mission. Definitely a finer fate than some ridiculously self-important [CENSORED] Nijairates group.
Now, there was only one more thing to wrap up before sending off the Mission Command to the list. Her Imperious Condescension was always precice when it came to the two important requirements of the chosen group Disposagents: that they were not made up of complete idiots, and that they represented a full hemospectrum set to test diverse exposure to the conditions down on the planet. She would have to find a limeblood.
-E: SHOW-INDIVIDUAL: VIABLE-LIMEBLOOD-FOR-INVASION-STEP-ONE
- list shown: entry level 1 soldiers: limeblood individuals: map: proximity to planet 34R+H shown
She clicked on a highlighted spacestation that was conveniently on the way between the first twelve and planet 34R+H, and then picked the first limeblood on the list. She opened its file. On the troll's uniform, a symbol glowed lime-green in the shape of a double X.
~Title: The Unsinger
~Blood Status: Limeblood
~Psychic/Special Abilities: Strong Sonic Abilities
~Weapon: Laser Axe, Standard-Issue Military Set
~Station: Possible caretaker on Planet 0F-5CR34M5
Deaf, with a special ability pertaining to sound? The Condesce raised one dark eyebrow skeptically. Well, she had seen stranger things that that. This one would do. All that needed to be done was to click a button and uproot this troll from her comfortable circle of acquaintances and ship her over to a group of complete strangers, to carry out a high-stakes, potentially deadly mission. There wasn't much of a problem with that.
And with that, a Squad of thirteen Disposagents were assembled, ready to become either the exulted harbingers of another planet's doom, or just another pile of fresh corpses. Only luck would tell which way their mission would turn.
Her Imperious Condescension gazed down again at the lovely blue planet, and sighed with contentedness.
Yeah, I know, OC, blah blah blah. Don't worry, I literally just threw that in there to make the "hemospectrum set" thing work out for the other trolls (And I started this before the LIMEBLOOD HEMOCIDE UPDATE so shh. I like the color lime and I like colors.) Characters are tools, OC's triply so when it comes to fanfiction. I'm seriously considering killing it for simplicity's sake, but who knows? Maybe I'll develop it into a legit character for once. :D I'm sure I'm capable of doing such a thing. That's another challenge altogether: a fantroll that doesn't suck!
Sidenote: Originally posted over at ffnet. And as of 7/16, I've got the chapters here updated to match. :D
Tell me what you think? ;3
Chapter 2: [T] Karkat: Be Dysphoric
A young troll by the name of KARKAT VANTAS stood in his respiteblock. It just so happens that this particular day, the 13th bilunar perigee of the 4th blooming season's equinox, was the day that he and the rest of his peers of the seven sweep age bracket would be collected from their childhood planet of Alternia and shipped to their first Military Training Academy.
Seven Alternian solar sweeps, for convenient reference, is equivalent to 15.1666666666666... (ect) Earth years.
Earth, also for convenient reference, was a planet that had not yet been examined for invasion by the full might of the Alternian Military Fleet. Cognitive readers may have already deduced this, using the full might of their own BRAINS. If not, it is still an immutable fact that has now been stated for the record.
Now, this young troll was fully ready to leave his hive and make his way to the nearest INTER-GALACTIC SHIPPING DOCK since midday. Three hours passed since then, and he filled those hours wandering restlessly around his hive, checking his husktop repeatedly, yelling at his custodian, and staring dismally into a reflection plate hanging in the ablution chamber. At the moment, in fact, he had left his respiteblock to make use of this reflective plate.
The face in the reflection was quite average for a troll of seven sweeps, with grey irises just beginning to fill in around the edges with a reddish tinge. It was these irises that caused him to spend unusual sums of time staring into the reflection plate and swearing at the top of his lungs. He had recently tried wearing darkly tinted glasses to hide the hue, but found them insufferably ugly, and as a result left them stashed in his sylladex for most of the time. Sighing, he turned away from the plate and wandered back to his respiteblook, staring impatiently out from the window of his hive and scanning the skies for a ride to the shipping dock that he know couldn't have arrived yet. The skies were dark and empty.
Huffing air out from between his teeth, he moved across his room and sat down in front of his husktop for the upteenth time, checking to see if anyone was online yet at this early hour in the night. To his surprise and... well, happiness wasn't the word for it, but it was something more pleasant than all-consuming rage, a friend was online. Brows furrowing, he opened a chat log and started to type quickly.
- carcinoGeneticst [CG] started trolling twinArmeggedons [TA] -
CG: ALRIGHT, SOLLUX, I KNOW I'M PROBABLY GOING TO SOUND LIKE A LOSER PIECE-OF-SHIT LARVAE FRESH OUT OF A BALL OF GRUB MUCUS BUT I'D REALLY APPRECIATE IF YOU COULD MAKE IT OVER EARLY.
CG: YOU THERE?
TA: wow calm your a22 down before you 2traiin 2omethiing iireplaceable, KK.
TA: weve been over thii2, iit2 all fiine, iill be at your hiive two piick you up, no problem2.
CG: AND ARADIA?
CG: DID YOU MANAGE TO CONVINCE HER?
TA: well obviiou2ly, what kiind of a wa2te of 2pace do you thiink ii am?
TA: yeah, 2he wa2 down for iit, ju2t like ii 2aiid.
TA: 2he and TV already made iit to the rendezvous poiint, we can ju2t 2oliiciit her today when everyone all meet2 up.
CG: I MEAN OH RIGHT, I KNEW YOU'D COME THROUGH AND EVERYTHING GOD I'M JUST BLABBERING ON I JUST
CG: GODDAMN I'M SUCH A NERVOUS FUCKASS WREAK RIGHT NOW AND KIND OF SLEEP DEPRIVED TOO I GUESS.
CG: DAMN I HOPE I DON'T SLIP UP OR SOMETHING.
TA: how many tiime2 am ii goiing two have two 2lap your 2hiit iinto fuckiing relaxatiion paradii2e today?
TA: 2eriiou2ly, iit2 getting old real fa2t.
TA: ju2t chiill out, you got your clothe2 from KN and everythiing, diidnt you?
CG: WELL YEAH, BUT
TA: and ii got AA to help out, diidn't ii?
CG: YES BUT THAT'S NOT THE POINT,
TA: do u2 all a favor and calm the fuck down already
TA: thii2 plan i2 all goiing two 2piill out a2 2mooth as a paiil of 2lurry, ii promii2e
CG: EW. THAT'S SO FUCKING NASTY, SOLLUX, WAY UNCALLED FOR.
TA: iim 2ure they wont do a te2t on you iif they can 2ee the color.
TA: even iif they do then ju2t get them to u2e the wrong blood.
TA: 2o 2uck it up you worthle22 a22crack and quiit fliipiing your 2hiit out for no rea2on.
CG: I HAVE VERY GOOD REASON ALRIGHT?
TA: no not really
TA: come on, man, why don't you tell u2 your blood color already?
TA: hone2tly, your paranoiia ii2 fucking iiritatiing.
TA: youre lucky you have friiend2 who're wiilliing to help you out liike thii2.
TA: you can't expect two keep iit a 2ecret forever.
CG: WELL OBVIOUSLY
CG: I'M NOT SOME KIND OF GRUBFUCKING IDIOT WITH UNREASONABLE EXPECTATIONS ABOUT MY LIFE, YOU NUMBSHIT
CG: I JUST HAVE TO HOLD OUT UNTIL I DIE
TA: watch iit, you nearly made me laugh there.
TA: but the joke 2ucked, 2o ii diidnt.
CG: FUCK OFF
TA: iill 2ee you iin about two hour2 then.
- carcinoGeneticist [CG] ceased trolling twinArmeggedons [TA] -
Karkat closed the husktop with a snap, his hand resting on the rough surface limply. Sighing heavily, he picked up the husktop and shoved it into his sylladex, and then leaned against the empty surface of the desk, letting his head rest on his folded arms. He let his eyes slide closed, and began to doze between wakefulness and nightmare visions, but he didn't want to use his recouperacoon and go through the trouble of cleaning up the sopor slime all over again. At one point, he was aware of Crabdad coming into his respiteblock and clicking at him softly in question, but he didn't respond, so the custodian soon left him at his desk.
Maybe Sollux was right. Maybe he was being unreasonably paranoid. After all, neither Terezi nor Vriska had been culled for their permanent injuries, and it had been a perfectly healthy Tavros who'd had a close call with an arbitrary culling drone about a half-sweep ago. But all that was most likely yet another sign of the blatant hemofavoritism in their society.
Just as Karkat was starting to sink into a full-blown cycle of terrifying sleep, someone started hammering on his window, jerking Karkat to wakefulness with surprise. Turning in his seat, he stared at the window in panic, nightmare drones and other such horrorterrors still lingering in his think-pan. But of course, it was merely Sollux, his eyes glowing eerily and infusing his entire hovering body with psionic light. Relieved, Karkat hurried over to the window and unlatched a large glass pane, letting his friend squeeze through and step onto the floor, the light fading quickly from his eyes. They stared at each other for a moment, before Karkat quickly averted his gaze.
"What's wrong with you, fuckwit? Could you not find the front door with your massive pulsing ocular globes, or is your think-pan selectively blind to anything but socially unacceptable portals of entry?"
Sollux smiled slightly, but Karkat did not see it, busy as he was with fumbling through his sylladex and retrieving the hated dark glasses.
"It's good to see you too, Numbnubs," he snorted, lisping slightly.
Karkat hastily pushed the glasses onto his face and glared at Sollux.
"Did Terezi put you up to the dumbfucking nicknames?"
"Nah, I've just been talking to her a bit over Trollian."
"About me?" Karkat demanded angrily.
Sollux shrugged noncommittally. "You going to say goodbye to your lusus then? We can leave whenever you're ready."
"Yeah, fine, I'll be a minute. Just wait here, I'll be right back up."
Karkat hesitated for a moment, and then left Sollux in his respiteblock to quickly search the house. On the bottom floor he found Crabdad clicking and hissing quietly to himself, scuttling back and forth across the hallway in a nervous pattern.
"Hey," Karkat called, and the lusus raised his head and SCREEEEEEEEE'D, clacking his claws together at a rapid-fire speed.
"Hey, it's alright," Karkat muttered, walking up to Crabdad and patting him on the head, "I'll be alright… Um. And I'm sorry. I'm sorry I yelled at you today and I'm sorry for being such a pain in the ass to raise all these sweeps. Fuck," he hissed, as Crabdad SCREEEEEEEE'D again and blinked, "I mean, just take care of yourself, alright? I'll be fine, don't worry."
The lusus leaned forward, resting its jaw on top Karkat's head right between his horns, churring all the while. The troll awkwardly patted one claw and then pushed away from his custodian, who screeched loudly and shrilly in protest. As Karkat turned away and climbed the stairs back up to his respiteblock, Crabdad followed, clacking and screeching as he went.
"FUCK OFF ALREADY," Karkat turned yelled down the stairs, "I'M GOING, ALRIGHT? I ALREADY TOLD YOU, YOU CAN'T COME WITH ME. IT'S GONNA BE FINE. JUST, GO OFF WHEREVER IT IS LUSII GO AND FORGET ABOUT ME, ALRIGHT? AND... take care of yourself," he muttered.
Crabdad blinked at him for several long seconds, and then SCREEEEEE'D one final time in response and clambered down the stairs. Karkat heard the front door open and slam closed. Karkat stood silently on the steps for a moment, before slowly letting out a huge breath that he hadn't realized he'd been holding. And then he slowly turned around and trudged back up the stairs and back to his respiteblock.
Sollux had been idly examining some of the movie posters that Karkat had left on his walls, and looked up quickly when his friend stomped in with his fangs digging into his lower lip. Dark glasses shadowed his eyes, but Sollux was willing to bet that he was staring glumly at the floor. Parting with one's caretaker of seven sweeps was naturally a painful experience, and having gone through it himself mere hours ago, Sollux could sympathize with the way his friend's posture was slumped and turned in, the way he seemed gloomier than when he'd left the room, and overall more subdued. If Sollux had not just left his own Biclops, he might have made a snide remark about Karkat's easily upset emotional psyche, but as the situation was, the stinging words didn't even surface in his mind.
"Ready, KK?" he asked briskly.
Karkat jerked his head in response, and Sollux powered up his psionics.
It was testament to just how unhappy Karkat was feeling that when his body started to glow and lift off from the floor of his hive, he didn't utter a single vulgar word of panic or surprise.
After the two of them flew through the early-night air for about half an hour of silence, Karkat finally found his voice again.
"So do you have any fucking iota of a clue on how Kanaya's been? I haven't from her since she set out for Gamzee's hive."
Sollux nodded and lifted his hands from his sides, feeling the wind through his fingers. "Yeah, she made it alright just last morning and crashed in his recouperacoon, I heard about her from GZ because he was complaining that he couldn't get to his slime because he 'dOn'T wAnT tO mOtHeRfuCkInG bOtHeR AnY sIsTeR iN hEr SlEeP,' to use his words."
"What about Nepeta?" Sollux asked, "Have you heard from her? I know she likes to keep in touch with you."
Karkat ignored the blatant fishing for gossip, and instead launched directly into the hard logistics. "From how she told it to me, she casually but thoroughly fucked up the shit of every massive beast that happened to cross her path on her way to Zahhak and Serket's neighborhood. She got there two days ago, so I assume that trio of upperbloods are at the seaside port by now."
"Yeah, Aradia started complaining about Vriska yesterday morning at a much higher frequency than normal, so I assume they all made it."
"I know, fuckass, I'm not a complete idiot."
Silence settled for a few moments, before Karkat piped up again. "I still think using Gamzee's hive as a rendezvous point wasn't the brightest idea. The guy is about as rationally aware as a drugged-up lump of turd."
Sollux rolled his eyes and turned over on his back to watch the stars as they zoomed over the landscape. "His was the closest to a major landing station, you know that. It was just the most convenient, geographically speaking. Besides, can you see Makara traveling anywhere successfully?"
"...Point taken," said Karkat grudgingly.
"It kind of takes you back, doesn't it?" Sollux grinned, putting his hands behind his head, "of that time a sweep ago when the twelve of us all met up to play that game."
Karkat growled and closed his eyes tightly, "I try not to think about that shit. It was the most pointless fucking waste of time I'd ever made the mistake of allowing myself to suffer through."
"Don't lie, I know you had as much fun as the rest of us."
"Say what you want, it's not going to change anything. You know that game was just one of those Empire's info-reaping, mindfucking, torture implements to evaluate whether or not we're worth the shitty air we suck down into our respiratory sacs."
"Still ignoring you."
They continued to banter back and forth for the next hour or so, until the seaside came into view before them, waves sparkling with light from the moons. But a good chunk of the ocean was blocked out by an enormous intergalactic ship, looking at least as tall as an inner city hivestem, and many times longer than it was tall. It was pitch black, with a glowing patterns of lines and dots lit up along its sides, breaking up some of its shape in a confusing optical illusion that, upon closer examination, made it appear considerably larger than it actually was. High the sky hung hundreds of shadows and thousands of glowing patterns, all ships waiting to take recruits up into space.
"Holy fuck," Karkat breathed.
After a few more minutes of awed staring, they continued onward through the breeze to their destination: Gamzee's humble seaside abode.
Chapter 3: [H] John: Be Excited
A young human named JOHN EGBERT stood in his bedroom. It just so happens that this particular day, the 12th day of the 6th month of the year, was the day that he and a few of his peers of the same sixteen year age bracket would depart from their childhood homes on Earth and shipped to their first official friendship gathering in years.
16 Earth years, for convenient reference, is equivalent to 7.3846153846... (ect) Alternian solar sweeps.
Alternia, also for convenient reference, was a planet whose native species had not yet begun planning the invasion of Earth. Cognitive readers may have already deduced this, using the full might of their own BRAINS. If not, it is still an immutable fact that has now been stated for the record.
Now, this young human was fully ready to depart his home and make his way to the nearest AIRPORT since daybreak. Three hours have passed since then, and he filled those hours wandering excitedly about his home, checking his laptop repeatedly, badgering his father, and staring impatiently out the window embedded in the wall of his bedroom. At the moment, in fact, he was standing by the window, his face all but pressed against the glass with longing as he waited for his parental unit to get ready to take him to the aforementioned AIRPORT.
The face peering out the window was quite average for a human of eighteen years, with blue eyes that were almost always crinkled in the corners from grinning mischievously. After giving the world outside his window a few more seconds of contemplation, John heaved a great, melodramatic sigh and turned away from the window, instead moving over to his desk and opening up his laptop. A friend immediately accosted him over Pesterchum.
- turntechGodhead [TG] started pestering ghostyTrickster [GT] -
TG: so how about it then
TG: have you and your fatherly figre of manliness hit the road with your magnificently motorized four wheel device
GT: no, not yet!
GT: but I really do wish my he'd get a move on.
GT: its like he thinks it's necessary to check on every single item that we own
GT: like they're all his precious firstborn children. i've nagged him so much today like a little old granny lady or something.
TG: yeah we all knew that about you already
GT: oh crap.
GT: here we go!
TG: about you bein a naggy old lady in case you didnt catch that
TG: i know sometimes you have difficulty catching onto my slick verbal acid burns so i thought this time i should communicate it as clearly as possible to that derping sexy mind of yours
TG: this is a total fuckin mancrush on your personality ive got going on right here
GT: i'm too excited to be flattered by your insincerity right now dave!
GT: you should know this.
GT: irony plus way more important shenanigans equals fail, fail, fail
TG: the irony deities never experience such petty episodes of this mortal concept of failure dude
TG: whoops i mean granny
GT: ugh! dave, you're so fucking infuriating sometimes.
TG: heh fine ill shut up now
TG: so you were saying
GT: well i was *going* to ask you about how things were going with convincing your bro to give you a ride,
GT: but since you're in the mood to be a total asswipe i think i'll just sit here and derp out in front of everybody like the cool guy i am.
GT: everybody being my sweet movie posters you're so totally jealous of!
TG: okay you were almost doing alright there on the coolness spotlight but then you went and ruined it by using an exclamation point
TG: tacky as fuck
TG: leave it to the pros like me john we get paid the big bucks for our icy otterpops of cool while you and your hapless dork movie kind stare up at us with starry eyed longing
TG: also despair dont forget despair
TG: anyway you dont have to worry your naggy little granny head about my ride situation ive got this shit under control
TG: well okay to be honeset there is one thing my bro is beyond immutably awesome at and that is being flippant and cagey in a completely meta sort of way and its fucking cool and all
TG: but he and i both know its just total bs and hes going to take me to the whirly happytime air fuckin planeport even if hes trying his best to make it look like hes not going to
TG: for ironic purposes
TG: dont you ... at me egbert you could hurt my poor fragile feelings
TG: you know what fuck you and your responsibleass parent
TG: heartfelt and everything look at me go
GT: aw thanks dave!
TG: well if worse comes to worst ill just have to fgiure out some way to nab the car keys and try my hand at mario kart version real fuckin life bitches
TG: gas break and steering wheel how hard can it be
GT: wait i thought you already had a license?
TG: john youre ruining my moment again
TG: way to derp the fuck out i mean obviously it would be more interesting if i would a vehicle opreater virgin
TG: maiden blushes and everything
TG: sorry officer i didnt mean to hit that flock of bicyclists they just came out of nowhere
TG: but really the bastards deserved it they were shoving their spandex asses all up in my winsheild i couldnt see where the fuck i was going
TG: consider it public service im clearing the roads for the good of all
GT: hahaha... but seriously good luck. i have to go, dad's finally ready to leave now and i have to say goodbye to nana.
GT: see you soon i hope.
- ghostyTrickster [GT] ceased pestering turntechGodhead [TG] -
John closed the laptop with a brisk snap and unplugged it from the wall. He quickly wrapped up the power cord around his laptop and packed them carefully into his backpack. He picked up that and a moderately-sized suitcase before hurrying from his bedroom and accidentally slamming the door loudly behind him. His father called his name loudly from the front door, and he responded with a shout before bounding down the stairwell at an incredibly risky speed, dragging the suitcase crashing down the stairs after him.
Nana was sitting quietly on the couch in the family room, and John walked up to her quickly, leaning over to give her the obligatory parting embrace. She smiled up at him as he pulled away, buck teeth peeking out over her lower lip and spindly oval glasses flashing over blue eyes that were several shades paler than his.
"I love you John. Have plenty of fun with your friends, and remember to be safe."
And then she threw a vanilla frosted cupcake at his face so quickly that he had no time to blink, let alone dodge. It was a lucky thing that John's poor eyesight and lack of tolerance for contacts meant that he wore glasses at all times. Otherwise he would have most definitely received an eyeful of sugary confections.
"Nana!" he cried out, affronted, and caught the baked good in one hand as it unstuck and fell from his face.
"Hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo," she laughed, "And remember to keep your prankster wits about you!"
John shook his head long-sufferingly and pulled his glasses off his face, popping the rest of the small cupcake in his mouth as he wiped the frosting off the lenses with his finger as best he could. His father called his name impatiently again, from the front driveway this time, and he shouted that he'd be out in a minute.
"I'll get you back when I come home, Nana," John vowed cheerfully, dashing away to the kitchen to make use of the tapwater.
The drive to the airport passed smoothly and speedily. Little traffic was experienced, good weather was had, and only a single flock of spandex-assed bicyclists were passed. The sight made John snort with amusement, but his dad had the good sense to avoid crashing into them.
At the dropoff zone, John exchanged parting words with his father, and this time when a vanilla cupcake was thrown ceremoniously at his face, John managed to dodge it and throw a retaliatory bag full of chocolate chip cookies at his father. This resulted in an embarrassing vocal shower of praise from his father ("I'M SO PROUD OF YOU SON"), which John weathered with a certain amount of dignity before gathering the cookies back up in his sylladex and absconding out of the car.
"Phew," he sighed, and made his way into the airport.
John then went through the routine airline actions of acquiring his ticket, having his suitcase checked in, and getting his carryon backpack scanned for any potentially dangerous items. It all involved a great deal of line-sitting and waiting and booooooooring.
"Remember back when we didn't have all these pointless security checks to go through? All this time wasted on sticking luggage through a scanner, costing the country millions! Like terrorists aren't going to find ways of getting around it," grumbled the man in front of John in the quickly-moving line.
John grinned. "Nope! I'm too young to remember that!"
The man gave him a dirty look and strode away.
As John strode up to his departure gate, he pulled a slightly dusty chocolate chip cookie from his backpack and contemplated the journey ahead of him. It would surely be exciting to meet up with everyone and see in person how they've changed since he last saw them. Poorly-concieved jokes would be had, indiscriminate irony would be sprayed, stingingly caustic sarcasm would be spoken, and random ruminations would evolve into full-blown adventures in the dead of night. Idly, he took a bite out of his cookie and wondered how Dave was faring with his unapologetic Great Electric Irony Fence of a brother. Knowing the Striders, ridiculously biznasty swordfighting was no doubt taking place at that very moment, miles away on the blistering summer rooftops of Huston, Texas.
And Rose? John unconsciously rolled his eyes. Rose had still not grown out of her passive-aggressive double Machiavellian reacharound antics with her mother, and he was starting to think that she never would. He pitied any future spouse of hers. Just listening to her describe her newest attempts to outdo Ms. Lalonde made his brain want to shut down out of simultaneous boredom and confusion. But Rose would most likely have little difficulty in her travels, as her mother's "ironic housewife routine" would probably extend to an "ironic chauffeuse routine."
John then suddenly had a shocking epiphany that his friends were pretty weird.
And then the even more shocking epiphany that they might think the same of him.
He brushed off the ridiculous notion and boarded the plane.
The plane ride went as uneventfully as the car ride, although John's window-seat allowed him to get plenty excited at the sight of the earth tilting away at takeoff. He also succeeded in duct-taping a note to the back of the man sitting in front of him (the very same man who'd had the audacity to give him a dirty look for being young, innocent, and ignorant of the blissful timefulness of past eras), reading, "I'm sexy and I know it." He had to forcibly stifle his giggles with the back of his hand.
Upon arrival in Los Angeles, California, John went through the routine shenanigans concerned with catching a connection. However, the plane was not due to depart for a number of hours, so John was left wandering around for about an hour inside the quasi-cleanly terminal, examining the overpriced goods for sale and... Whoa wait there he was!
"Dave!" John called excitedly, waving his arm in the air and jogging down the hallway, "Hey, Dave!"
Dave quickly turned away from the airport mailbox that he'd been examining, turning his gaze back and forth across the people walking briskly by. Seeing this, John stopped where he was and stuck a pose, sticking his tongue out and going cross-eyed. Within seconds, Dave's gaze locked onto him and John broke his position with a laugh, running forward again to greet his friend.
"So you made it!"
The corner of Dave's mouth quirked ever so slightly, "Yep."
"I guess you managed to convince your bro?"
Dave shook his head and pulled a set of car keys out of his pocket.
"No. You didn't!" exclaimed John.
"Yep. I only had to dig through our fridge fulla shitty swords to find them. It's like he wasn't even trying to hide them from me. Heart of gold, my bro. Or at least that's what I thought until I opened the door and found a shitton of plushrump packed into every square inch of the van. Took me ages to clear it out, and by then I nearly missed my flight."
John shook his head with disbelief. "But how'll he get his car back?"
Dave shrugged. "I was thinking about mailing these to him, but that would take too much time and cost him too much money for the van's parking. Don't wanna be a completely massive asshole to him, obviously. I'll just message him the location so he can take some public transportation over there and hotwire the thing. It's old as balls, he can break in and get it running no problem. I've seen him do it before."
"Doesn't he have a spare pair of keys?"
"Goddamn John can't you let me dream a little."
"Cut me some slack man, I'm jealous as hell! Your prankster's gambit's outdone mine today by far!"
Dave shrugged in a well-you-just-can't-handle-all-this-awesome sort of way. "I try."
Chapter 4: [T] Rendezvous
Sollux and Karkat floated over the beach, examining the hives that were sprinkled along the coast. There were not many trolls visible from their vast perspective, as it was still quite early in the night, and not everyone had yet awoken to begin their day. The ship itself, which dominated the landscape, was also silent and motionless, glowing softly where its black hull was decorated with disorienting strips of light.
Sollux had a husktop out in front of him, hovering on strips of translucent red and blue, and was quickly checking the map and coordinates of Gamzee's hive.
"Strange," he muttered, "it should be right around here, let me double-check the location signal..."
Karkat hissed with impatience as a strong gust tipped him upside-down. "Come on, you don't have to bust out every fancy-ass computer skill up your sweaty geek sleeve for this. What are you, some dumbfuck wriggler hatched two days ago? Can't you read a godfucking map? And put me right side up again, you nookpan!"
"Shut your flap and let me focus, damn," Sollux muttered crossly, hunching closer to the screen of his husktop and not bothering to fix Karkat's uncomfortable situation even when his friend began to flail his arms wildly as he tried to fix his position.
"SOLLUX!" Karkat screamed angrily, kicking his legs at the sky in a desperate (and ineffectual) attempt to right himself. "LISTEN TO ME!"
"Fuck! Pipe down! What did I just say?"
"SOLLUX, it's right fucking THERE! Now put me upright already!"
Sollux flattened his ears and bared his teeth, snapping, "Ugggggh! Be quiet!"
"HELL. NO. Gamzee's hive is right there! I can see it! Now let me up!"
"Huh?" Sollux glanced up from his husktop and turned his gaze on Karkat's flailing body, "Where?"
"DIRECTLY IN FUCKING FRONT OF YOUR BULGE, MORON!" Karkat yelled, pointing one arm at a hive right beside the beach. A small troll sporting rounded horns and a green jacket was hanging her torso from one of the hive's upper-story windows, waving both of her arms emphatically at the pair in the sky.
"Karkat! Sollux!" cried Nepeta faintly, her voice barely carrying through the costal wind, "Over here!"
Sollux very deliberately, very methodically put his husktop away, rotated Karkat back to an upright position ("FUCKING FINALLY!") and the two of them descended to the window of the hive.
Nepeta greeted them both enthusiastically, helping Sollux, then Karkat get through the window as she emitted ridiculously off-the-charts levels of joy. She was practically bouncing with excitement about their coming night, already jabbering the newcomers' auricular sponges off about the goings-on of Gamzee's crowded hive. Quite suddenly, though, when Karkat made it through the window and touched down to the floor with relief, her eyes dropped to the symbol emblazoned across his chest and her mouth ceased its flow of words, instead letting out a soft ohh, her eyes jumping back up to make contact with his, only to find them completely shielded by his glasses. By the way his jaw was set, it was clear that he was staring defiantly back to her.
"Oh, Karkat," she said sadly, "I'm sorry about your blood." And then she stopped, apparently mortified by her own words, and the slightest green tinge took over her cheekbones. "No! I don't mean that how you think! It's just, I know that you were furever so secretive, and I'm sorry that your color has to come out today, I always did think you were either on the high end or the low, so it isn't really a supurrise, sorry, sorry, that was really a pawful thing for me to say..."
Sollux stood behind her, smirking smugly over Nepeta at Karkat, who quickly cut her off before she could dig herself into a deeper pit of unnecessary apologies and embarrassment.
"Shut the hell up, Nepeta, it's not what you think. Don't worry, I swear on the life of every last fucking pitiful shitcreature that I'm not offended. Kanaya made this shirt for me."
Her eyes flicked back and forth between the semi-reflective planes of his glasses, and then down at his shirt again. She made another ohh sound, but this one heralded a more thoughtful realization.
"Yeah, KK's still the same old uptight tightass when it comes to his blood. Nothing new there. At least we can cross off one potential color. Who knows, maybe we'll figure it out someday by process of elimination!"
Karkat let out a very irritated growl and cast around the room for a more suitable topic of conversation. The room was mostly bare, with a pile of green blankets in one corner and a scattering of half-finished paintings that had been done directly on the walls. Some still appeared to be wet. Another corner was housing a large heap of metallic horns and a few empty pie-tins. A stray poster of a rather disturbing and brightly-colored clown was slapped precisely in the center of the ceiling.
As Sollux and Nepeta continued to exchange news and greetings, Karkat wandered over to a painted wall, trying to figure out what it was depicting. But someone had recently splashed it with a wave of red paint, the fresh color smearing the details beneath it and causing everything to run down the wall and collect on the floor. It was quite impossible to tell what had been the original painting.
"Hey, Nepeta," Karkat called, "Was it you who made this fantastic masterpiece representation of someone projectile-vomiting their breakfast juice against a wall?"
Nepeta whirled around with alarm, her cheeks taking on their green tinge again.
Sollux made a sound of vexation in the back of his throat. "If she was, I'm sure she's absolutely flattered by your beautiful and sensitive compliment."
"It's nothing!" Nepeta squeaked, waving her hands in the air as though unsure of what to do with them, "Just something I tried to make, but it didn't really... um... work out purrfectly, so I dumped paint over it, you know, furesh canvas?"
She was saved from further flustered explanations by a large CRASH and the sound of furious screaming from below their feet. The three trolls exchanged quick glances with each other, and then resignedly went to investigate the source of the sound.
After descending three flights of dizzying spiral stairs, the three of them arrived at the scene of pure chaos and mayhem. It seemed that most of the trolls in the house had awoken, and were all feeding themselves in the kitchen with varying degrees of success. From the looks of things, it seemed like Vriska and Aradia had ended up in a heated argument over a pile of shattered plates, which Tavros was attempting to clean up to the best of his ability as he dodged the telekinetically thrown eating utensils that were flying over his head, courtesy of Aradia. Terezi was laughing at the spectacle like some kind of desert jackal, both feet propped up on the kitchen table and her chair leaning dangerously far backwards on its legs. Equius, meanwhile, was sitting motionlessly beside her, grinding his teeth and cracking the mug in his hand as he watched the battle unfold between the two females. A fine bead of sweat had started up on his forehead.
Seeing this, Nepeta scampered across the room to her Moirail, purring his name and patting him comfortingly on the shoulder.
Sollux and Karkat remained in the doorway, their expressions registering matched feelings of consternation and lack of surprise.
"I'm only legitimately surprised about the fact that this hive is still standing," Sollux commented as a barrage of empty pie tins began their journey back and forth across the kitchen.
"I'll agree with you on that."
"Sollux!" cried out a happy voice from behind them.
The two of them turned to see Feferi striding their way from down the hallway, her face beaming wide.
"FF!" responded Sollux enthusiastically, greeting her with a hug, "I thought you were going to join us at the dock?"
She giggled a little and shook her head. "Well, I wouldn't want to miss out on all the glubbing fin going on, would I?"
"Fun is a pretty Grade-A bullshit way of putting that," Karkat said dryly, jerking his thumb over his shoulder at the chaos going on right behind him.
"Well, it's all about your outlook," she said cheerfully, brushing some hair behind her fins. Her eyes finally flicked away from Sollux, and settled on Karkat's bespectacled face, and then down to his shirt.
"Oh..." she said, her demeanor changing just slightly, "Yeah, I guess today is the day, huh? I never actually gave that much thought to your color, huh. You were always just the glub-glub-glubbing gray guy. This is kind of weird."
"Good to know," Karkat said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. Sollux shot him a sharp look. Karkat rolled his eyes.
"Alright fine, so it's not my actual blood color. I'm going to fake my way in," he said in a mock-enthusiastic tone, "Cheat the system. All that glorious fucking hoofbeast-crap."
Feferi tipped her head to the side and furrowed her eyebrows in confusion. "That... really doesn't make a bubble of sense. Are you sure you're not fishing with me?"
"He's not lying," Sollux said flatly, "Aradia's going to help him with it."
Feferi stared at them both with a disbelieving, squinty-eyed look on her face.
"If this is a joke, it's not glubbing finny atoll."
"Says the chick with the fucking stupid fish puns."
Sollux shook his head. "No, KK, she has a point. You know maroon is hierarchically the crappiest color on the spectrum, nobody's fool enough to believe otherwise. I'm actually amazed that Aradia was willing to help you with this. Why the hell would you choose the color that'll get you put on all the worst situations and battlefronts? It's practically an insult to those of us who were born into it."
Karkat bared his teeth defensively and snarled, "This has got the be the five hundred billionth time you've said this to me, but you're not convincing me to go aboard with my own color. It's a choice, alright? I don't see how it even matters to you. It's not your fucking business to poke your pointy-ass nose into all my decisions. I don't see why my blood color even has to be such a big fucking massive, wrigglershit-culling deal."
"You're our friend, Karkat," Sollux said quietly, "It is my business. It's even more my fucking business because you've pulled me, Aradia, and Kanaya into a grand master-plan to fool the authorities. And because millions of perfectly functional trolls like Aradia are directly or indirectly killed each sweep because of the color of their blood. I just can't wrap my think-pan around the idea that you want to take totally unnecessary shit just because you want to keep your real color a secret."
"Well maybe there's more to the fuckery that goes on in this world than your flimsy little think-pan is physically capable of wrapping itself around," Karkat yelled angrily, "You know what? I'M DONE. I'M FUCKING DONE WITH PUTTING UP WITH YOUR SHIT. JUST TELL EVERYONE THAT WE'RE LEAVING IN HALF AN HOUR TO GO BECOME THE COMPLETELY DISPOSABLE BULGEWIPES OF THE EMPIRE. I'M GOING TO GO FIND KANAYA AND GAMZEE ALREADY, GOD."
And with that he stormed off up the stairwell, muttering swear words as he went.
Sollux and Feferi silently watched him go. The kitchen had fallen quiet for a moment, and Terezi's voice could be heard inquiring about the presence of V4NT-4SS' melodious voice.
Sighing, Sollux's chin dropped as he stared at the floor.
"I just don't get it, FF. I can't fucking get him to explain himself to me. It's so frustrating, I can't for the life of me understand..."
"It's alright, Sollux, don't worry," Feferi murmured, patting him comfortingly on the back, "He is who he is, you know that. Vantas has always had that weird seacretive thing about his blood. It's nothing new."
Sollux lifted his gaze to her face. "Yeah, but lying about his color is bringing his obsession to an entirely new level. He could get culled for it." He paused for a moment. "Let's face it, he's going to get culled for it. We're embarking on a mandatory Military Training regime, how the fuck is going to keep his blood a secret? It just can't happen. He says he won't let anyone take the fall with him, but-"
Another loud CRASH sounded from the kitchen, followed by cackling and a fresh wave of angry screaming. The two of them instinctively turned to peer through the doorway, and then ducked when a kitchen chair came flying at their heads. Luckily, they'd moved quickly enough, and the chair smashed against the wall behind them, punching through the wallboard and getting embedded there, trembling slightly at eye-level. Sollux and Feferi stared at the chair for a moment, and then wordlessly moved out of the doorway so as to avoid any other misfired objects that may follow.
"Have you considered that he's only going through all these charades because he want's to fool us, his friends?"
"Whale, I know he's not reelly a liar at heart, but maybe he actually is a maroonblood, but he just doesn't want us to know about it," Fefeir suggested, "Maybe he's, you know, ashamed."
Sollux's tone of voice grew a few degrees chillier, "Why would he be ashamed?"
Feferi shook her head quickly, seeing what Sollux was assuming of her comment. "No, no, don't get me wrong. Sollux, you know I think the blood-caste system is horrible and that all trolls should be treated fairly! But Karkat's always been so sensitive about his color, he's always made a big deal about how it's his personal business and that none of us should know or care. Maybe it's all because he feels bad about being at the bottom and doesn't want us to think differently of him."
Sollux thought about it. It was a possibility, of course. Sollux had considered it at the beginning, when Karkat had come to him asking for information about the Empire's blood categorization policies. But the extremes that Karkat had subsequently taken to ensure the deception of the Empire had convinced Sollux that it could not be something as trivial as his worry of what his friends thought of him. Granted, the guy was surprisingly sensitive for someone who spent so much of his energy insulting everyone and everything that crossed his path, and his strange fixation with hiding his blood had always seemed excessively overblown.
But on the other hand, Karkat had a massive sense of pride and self-reliance. Could he really swallow all that to plead Kanaya for her skills as a seamstress, Sollux for his unmatched ability to hack undetected into all manner of classified documents, and Aradia for her blood, all for the simple fear of how his circle of friends might think marginally less of him?
"I guess... Maybe," Sollux said reluctantly. Feferi smiled at him.
"I know he's a close friend of yours and that you're glubbing worried about him, but it'll be okay, you'll see," she laughed a little, "Heck, if anything goes wrong, he's got me to vouch for him, and you know that'll have sway whether or not we think it's fair. Besides, maybe we can get him comfortable with his own blood color, and none of this will be an issue anymore."
Sollux nodded, feeling slightly better. Feferi tended to have that effect on him, and he was grateful for it. She flashed her fangs at him in a quick smile and brought her hand up, two fingers spread apart in a V-shape. He shook his head slightly at that but obliged her by spreading his two of his own fingers, touching them to hers to complete the diamond. Her smile widened.
"Whale then I'll let you go now," Feferi laughed, pulling her hand away and waving as she turned to head back down the hallway, "I just have a couple fins I have to get ready before we glub off."
He watched her go, feeling somehow calmed and prepared to face the world.
When he turned to return to the kitchen, however, something deep purple slipped out of sight behind the edges of the stairway, sleek cloth on sleek floors, and he was rendered thoroughly irritated once more.
Chapter 5: [H] Enter: Rose Lalonde
John and Dave proceeded to purchase an enormous bag of heavily processed sugar and settled down in on the floor just beside the departure gate, taking turns fishing out pieces of candy and eating them. As the hours ticked by and the volume of the bag decreased, the illness factor of the two friends grew at a comparable rate. And there was only so many times you could point out the obscene things that random strangers in the terminal were doing before it got completely boring. The hours of waiting steadily sapped all enthusiasm or excitement that had been in the air.
"I've deduced that a human's love for sweets over a given time period is inversely proportional to how much he eats," he said flatly, withdrawing another piece of artificially colored sugar from the plastic bag of diabetic nightmares.
"It's a cruel world," John said mournfully.
John scanned his gaze across the terminal, looking for something to break the monotony. There were plenty of people to choose from, but nearly all of them were doing perfectly normal, boring things like begging their children to shut up, or sharing crappy, expensive food from nearby stores, or staring into space with wires plugged into their ears and with slack-jawed expressions of utter boredom and lifelessness frozen upon their faces. But then he noticed something just on the other side of the hallway and did a double-take, then a spit-take, which caused a blue gummy to go flying from his mouth and into the lip of a passerby's expensive leather boots. Not noticing this, he nudged Dave hard in the ribs.
"Oh my god Dave!" he yelped, "Dave look at that lady across the hall?"
Dave quickly tried to follow John's pointing finger to its source. Any distraction was welcome at this point. "Where."
"The one with the purple hair dye!"
And then there was a lull in the number of persons passing by them, and the two of them had a perfectly clear view of said woman with vibrantly died strands of hair. Dave may have also spit-taken something sugary if he'd had candy in his mouth at the time.
"Oh my holy fuck. What the hell."
"I know! She's using her earring!" John's face scrunched up into an expression that was equal parts disturbed and disgusted.
The two of them stared at the woman, somehow unable to tear their gazes away. It was mesmerizing, like watching someone drop a truckload of fecal matter from the rooftop of a fifty-story building and seeing all the oblivious people below who were about to get shat on big time.
After a shocked moment of silence, Dave spoke up again. "If we were keeping a list for this shit you do agree that we'd put this at the top."
"List of nasty!" John exclaimed, pretending to puke invisible vomit into the deflated bag of candy sitting between them. But it was clear that he was holding back laughter.
"Shit! Shit, no, she's putting the earring back in her ear! Oh my God! I'm telling my future grandchildren about this. How does that not get infected?"
"No wait, she's taking it back out. Damn. Do you think she missed a spot on her fingernails or something. God what. No. No bitch you don't pick your teeth with your earring. What the fuck went wrong with your upbringing. Did someone purposefully drop you down three flights of stairs as a child in a desperate attempt to lose your ugly ass."
"Dave, you'd better not get your ears pierced. I'll never forgive you if you do."
Dave nodded slowly and seriously. "You got me. Same goes for you. This is a fucking legitass vow on your life."
"I think I'm gonna cry," moaned John, covering his face with his hands with mock trauma and curling his knees up to his chest.
"Shhh honey, there, there, there," Dave said stoically, patting his friend on the back with one hand and reaching into the half-empty bag of candy with the other.
Just then, a cool voice spoke out from above them, causing the guys to jerk their gazes upward with surprise. "If I had been aware that the grossly unsanitary floors of an airport were the quintessential environment for a budding romantic relationship, I might have brought along another faithful peer to keep me company so as to not intrude upon the two of you."
John bounced to his feet, grinning widely at the newcomer. Rose was not as tall as he remembered (which was likely more correctly attributed to his own growth-spurt than any shrinkage on her part), but her eyes were the same: a surprising shade of purple, glinting with sharp intelligence, and settled in a calm expression that was fixed by habit on vaguely amused condescension. Looking into those eyes, however, and the way her black-painted lips were pulled up into a reserved but genuine smile, John knew that she was as happy to see him as he was to see her.
Dave pulled himself upright more deliberately than John had, and held out his hand to Rose in something a gesture that might have been ironic, but was for all intents and purposes, perfectly sincere. After rolling her eyes in John's direction, Rose offered her hand to him and they shook.
Her eyes flicked down to the half-empty bag of candy on the floor, and she sighed heavily in consternation. A moment later, she deftly withdrew from a hand-knitted lavender messenger bag she was carrying, two neatly-folded paper sacks, which she handed to her two friends.
"My mother insisted that I be a properly-mannered friend and bring these pathetically handmade excuses of sustenance to you," she said, as John and Dave peered inside the bags and discovered sandwiches and fresh fruit, "Of course, now that I see what the two of you have been poisoning yourselves with I must admit there is scarcely anything I could have brought that would have outshone your own dietary choices in the Olympic Competitions of Unhealthiness."
John shook his head and let out a light laugh, "No, Rose, these are great! Thank you so much! Man, now I feel bad that I don't have anything ready for you..." He bit his lip thoughtfully for a moment, "I do have some chocolate chip cookies in my backpack, if you don't mind something that's been thrown at my dad and bounced around in our car..."
"Take no offense when I pass on that offer with the utmost reluctance," she said dryly. Her gaze flickered down to her wristwatch with the compulsive briskness of someone that has been watching every second pass with obsessive care.
"They should start boarding soon. Come on, the two of you, and let's get a head start on the line."
Five minutes later, the airlines called up the passengers of the flight for boarding.
Chapter 6: [T] Blood Test
Screaming everyone out of the hive had almost been enough to make Karkat go temporarily hoarse, but at least now there were twelve trolls walking steadily along the beach in the general direction of the loading dock. Terezi had kept trying to invade Karkat's personal space for the most annoying parts of the past ten minutes (like hell he'd let her get close enough to lick him or something, she'd probably go in for a dragonbite and then where would they be?), though eventually she finally gave up on him in favor of bantering with Vriska in the back of the group. Most everyone else was being a general nuisance and a pain in the ass, but overall it was not entirely intolerable.
Suddenly, Aradia jogged up beside him, a tentative smile on her face.
"Here you go," she said, holding up a small glass bottle filled with a color that matched both their shirts.
He took it and looked away.
A moment later, he remembered to thank her. Sollux would have his head if he didn't.
"Oh, it's no trouble," she said, watching him as they continued to walk along and he wrapped his hand in a white bandage. As he started to mess with the cap of the bottle, however, she spoke up again.
"Here, let me help." She took the vial from his hands and unscrewed it, and then grabbed his hand before he could protest, dabbing some of her blood onto the outside of the bandage, before lifting it from his skin and doing the other side. And then she calmly pitched both the vial and the cork into the ocean waves.
She was still holding onto his hand and looking at it, apparently mesmerized by the sight of her own blood. Weirdo chick.
Karkat finally pulled his hand away and hid it behind his back, staring straight ahead at the ship that was approaching much to fast for his liking. The eleven other trolls around him seemed to have no such qualms; their voices were happy, if occasionally a little nervous, as they jabbered excitedly at one another.
"You know," Aradia said, "I'm always going to think you're a limeblood, you know why?"
He glanced at her face, and saw that she was staring straight at him.
She started counting off on her fingers. "We have me, Tavros, Sollux, Nepeta, Terezi, Vriska, oh, and Kanaya too, her color's really rare, nearly forgot that one, and Equius, Gamzee, Eridan, and even Feferi. That's eleven, all different colors, and the only one missing is lime."
Karkat looked away again.
"You don't have to tell me if I'm right," she said, "But I am curious... Why are you doing this?"
He didn't respond, and to his relief, she didn't inquire further.
Minutes later, they arrived at the port, where an orderly line of trolls was already forming, most of them ranging between purple and cerulean in blood tone. The motley group of twelve got a couple second glances, and some outright stares if they noticed Feferi's shirt, but for the most part nobody paid them any mind. Feferi headed their group in the line, Karkat immediately following her and Sollux behind him, and the rest fell in how they wished. Karkat could see a troll sitting at a desk in front of the ship, speaking to each troll as they passed in line and sampling their blood with a needle. Inside his chest, his heart thudded against his ribcage as though in preparation of its imminent, bloody death. By the time the line moved up to Feferi, he could see that the desk troll was a male tealblood, with horns that sloped elegantly down over his forehead. His eyes widened behind his glasses when he saw the color of Feferi's symbol.
"I will have to take a blood sample, please," he said, somewhat shakily.
"Oh, no worries!" Feferi grinned, and held out one finger. The tealblood held up a fresh needle, with which he deftly broke Feferi's skin. A small attachment on the back of the needle lit up with a pure white light. He nodded vigorously at the hue on Feferi's finger and started typing at the computer beside him on the desk.
"Your name, please, your Majesty?"
Karkat rolled his eyes and let out a tired huff of breath.
"Feferi Peixes, thank you. F-E-F-E-R-I P-E-I-X-E-S. Acshelly, I was wondering if I could bring these eleven friends of mine along with me on this ship?" she gestured down the line, "They aren't all from the area, but we'd like to stay together if possible."
"That will be no trouble," the tealblood said quickly, as hehe typed into the computer, "You may board the ship now if you wish, your Majesty."
"Just one more thing," Feferi said.
The desk troll looked up apprehensively.
"My lusus, the Gl'bgolyb, needs to be fed lusi regularly or she will start krilling everybody with her whispers," Feferi said sadly, "Could you help me make sure that, oh, I don't know, ten seadwellers are assigned to that task?"
"Absolutely, your Majesty," said the tealblood, his eyes going wide again, "I'll contact the Alternian Drone sector."
"Thank you," Feferi smiled, and then turned, waved at her friends, then headed down the dock and up into the darkness of the ship.
Taking a deep breath, Karkat walked up to the desk and faced the tealblood.
"Just a moment please," he said, typing away on her computer. A minute later, he looked up and glanced at Karkat's shirt.
"She wasn't lying when she said you weren't all from this area," said the troll with a snort, and pulled out a fresh needle, "I'm sure you're not someone to be lying about their blood, but it's standard procedure..."
Karkat lifted his hand to show the troll the bandage, "I fucking punched one of my friends because he was being an asswhiff. He thought stabbing my hand was fair shit to do. Is this enough?"
"No, I'll still need a quick sample to test for any blood-driven diseases," the tealblood said calmly, "Your other hand, please?"
The air suddenly seemed to swim in front of him, sound muffling in his ears as his heartbeat started choking his throat. After all he'd done. This was it. This was where his shitty excuse of a life would come to an end. This tealblood's bored expression would be the last thing he'd ever see. So fucking pathetic.
He very slowly lifted his finger and held it up to the troll, ears pounding and ringing, and the needle touched and broke his skin. It was all he could do not to scream.
But the desk troll just glanced at the back of the needle, which had lit pure white, glowing steadily with the clean, heavenly not-color. Karkat stared down at the needle in disbelief as the desk troll tossed it aside into the garbage bin beside him without looking at the pointed end. Karkat's eyes followed it's smooth, graceful arc through the air as it fell, and he nearly blurted out gracious thanks to all the gods ever thought of by any living or unliving thing, hateful or benevolent, heretical or unholy, Gamzee's Merciful Messiahs or something even more obscene. He'd passed the blood test. HOLY EVER-LOVING FUCK HE'D PASSED THE BLOOD TEST.
"Are you deaf! I said, what is your name?"
"Oh, uh, Karkat Vantas, sorry," he responded, snapping out of his daze.
"And how would you spell that?" the tealblood asked impatiently.
"K-A-R-K-A-T V-A-N-T-A-S," said Karkat Vantas dazedly.
"You may board the ship now, get a move on," said the troll, waving him away and beckoning to Sollux.
He walked up to the gaping maw of the ship, his pricked finger stinging as he kept it curled in a tight fist, head spinning around his feet as he walked, and teeth grinning because he, Karkat fucking Vantas, was still alive and kicking.
Chapter 7: [H] The Harleymobile
None of the three friends had adjacent seats together, although Dave sat a row behind John and Rose was seated several rows ahead and across the aisle. All three received window seats. Once the plane took flight and gained altitude, Rose rose from her seat and politely asked the occupants of the seats beside John and Dave if they would be willing to trade with her. The older lady sitting next to Dave was reluctant to relinquish her position beside the aisle, but the one sitting next to John was perfectly happy to oblige.
John turned and peered back between the cracks of the seat at Dave and stuck his tongue out at his friend, pulling a hideously comical expression.
"Looks like I'm the one that gets to catch up with our lady friend first!" he crowed.
Dave very calmly, very boredly, flipped John off with one hand and then settled a set of noise-cancellation headphones over his ears. Whether it was to block the loud hissing of the wind around the plane, or to render his friends beautifully melodious voices silent... Well. It certainly couldn't be the latter.
"He's totally jealous," John assured Rose, turning back around in his seat, "Don't worry."
"I wasn't at all concerned. I'm sure he can handle the emotional trauma of listening to music and staring out the window for a few hours," Rose said dryly.
John widened his eyes. "Oh, I don't know! You know Dave, he can get his feelings hurt so easily. He might never recover from this terrible experience."
"Mm-hmm," she responded, placidly playing along, "In any case, we might as well start catching up without him, to fulfill his mental scarring. So how have your life circumstances been treating you? I trust nothing exorbitantly drastic has come up since our last written correspondence yesterday afternoon."
"Oh, you know," John said airily, "Watched a movie with my dad, ate some bubblegum ice cream, went on a high-stakes bank robbery in my brand-new bulletproof Mercedes. Same old shit, happens every day kind of thing."
"Ah, yes, of course. A young man such as yourself needs his daily dosage of danger and recklessness to grow up strong and healthy." To Rose's credit, there was not a drop of audible sarcasm in her response. She sounded genuinely and mildly interested, but there was a steady smirk written all over her face.
"Haha yeah, totally. What about you?"
"Sadly, I have experienced nothing nearly as dramatic in the past nineteen hours. I may have succeeded in summoning a troupe of deadly nightbeasts from beyond this planet to feed on the hearts of my enemies, but alas they may not arrive to do my bidding for a while yet."
"Aw, that's too bad. Oh hey, they're coming with drinks. Awesome, I'm dying for some soda."
Rose appraised his excited expression with subtly raised eyebrows. "Clearly you have not yet met your necessary daily sucrose intake."
"It's hard, keeping up with my sugar needs," he responded, shaking his head dejectedly. Rose snorted as daintily as it was humanely and physically possible.
The next five hours or so passed with supreme levels of mediocrity and uneventfulness that is common on airplane rides. Probably the most eventful thing that any of the trio experienced was a brief excursion to the restroom. Rose and John killed some time by flipping through a magazine found in the seat pocket in front of them, which the two appraised most studiously, discussing the potential merits of purchasing a ten-foot sculpture of the Egyptian god of Death (guaranteed look great in any front garden), or an LED lamp to clip onto the bridge your glasses (handy for reading in the dark or dissuading the opposite sex from making any conversation with you, in the event that you deem it necessary to wear it in broad daylight).
"Nah, Rose, the best BC item in here's got to be the Wine Glass Holder Necklace. It's like a chick magnet, except the end that repels chicks! Magnets, how do they even, amirite?"
"I assume by 'BC' you mean 'Birth Control.' "
John spared her an exasperated side-eye glance. "Duh. I thought you were supposed to be the smart one, Rose. Come on."
By the time they touched down on in Honolulu, Hawaii, night had fully fallen and the three of them were quite tired from a long day of travel.
After disembarking, collecting their luggage, and striding out the gate, John, Dave, and Rose stood about and glanced back and forth, searching the faces of the people waiting at the arrival gates for someone familiar.
"Come on, maybe she's farther down?" John hitched his backpack up on his shoulder and stepped forward, dragging his luggage behind him on its wheels, his eyes glancing from face to face as they walked down the line.
Rose glanced at Dave, who had a smartphone out and was tapping quickly into it with one thumb, his headphones hanging loosely around his neck and the red jacket he'd been wearing wrapped around the handle of his baggage.
"John, hold up," he said suddenly, looking up from the screen of his phone and picking up his pace to catch up to his friend. Rose grabbed her own bag from where it was lying at her feet and followed after him.
"Jade says she just got turned around, but she'll be at the exit right there in a second," he pointed in the direction of the door, and right on cue, Jade appeared on the other side of the glass door and pushed her way in hastily, a fat cellphone gripped tightly in her left hand and her hair slightly disheveled. But then again, this was Jade Harley; wild hair could very well the fashionable status quo.
"Jade!" Dave called, waving, and her face broke into a wide grin, eyes crinkling behind their glasses as she jogged up to them, loose blue skirts flapping around her ankles.
"Dave! Rose! John!" she exclaimed happily, trapping each of them in a quick chokehold, "It's so great to see you again!" She stepped back and beamed, stowing her phone in a skirt pocket.
"Come on, I'll help you with those bags," she said, grabbing Dave's duffel and slinging it over John's rolling bag, then snatching up Rose's luggage in her other hand before any of them had the time to protest, "You must be exhausted! Thousands of miles in just one day! Is this everything?"
"Uh, Jade, you really don't have to take those, we can carry-" John started, reaching for his bag, but Jade laughed and danced out of the way.
"No way! You three are my guests! Come on, we need to get back to the taxi, Bec and Granpa are waiting."
With that, she turned on one heel and dragged all their luggage up to the exit, nudging the door open with one foot and jerking her head for her friends to follow. After exchanging some bemused glances, the three of them trailed after her.
"Is it just because I've had a long hard day of sitting on my ass, or is Jade really energetic?" John asked tiredly.
"It's not just you, bro," said Dave, the corner of his mouth twitching just slightly.
"She is very outgoing to begin with," Rose agreed, "I'm sure that adding in the supplemental thrill of having friends visit her for nearly the entirety of the summer contributed to her spiritedness."
"Oh my god Rose you still sound like you ate a thesaurus for breakfast. Shouldn't that have worn off by now?"
Rose turned her head slightly to meet John's gaze.
"Never," she said flatly, and smiled in a way that was just unnerving enough to make him shut up.
The four friends shared a swift taxi ride to the nearby Pier off Highway 64, where Jade stopped the driver right on the edge of the road, thanking him profusely and carefully paying the fee with some cash she pulled from her pocket. The taxi dropped them off and then drove away down the road, leaving the four of them to stand by the side of the highway in the dark.
"Um, Jade?" John asked uncertainly, glancing around at their surroundings, "Where exactly are we?"
"Oh, don't worry John, we're exactly in the right place. Just wait one second." She brought two fingers up to her mouth and whistled, a high-pitched, shrill sound that left her friends' ears ringing unpleasantly.
Moments later, they heard a rustling behind them, and an enormous white dog appeared, clutching an unlit flashlight between its jaws.
"Becquerel!" Jade laughed, leaning down to take the flashlight from the dog's mouth and give him a friendly pat between the ears, "Missed me, boy?"
Bec simply panted at her in response. Straightening up, Jade punched a button on the side of the flashlight, lighting it and pointing it away from the road, where a rickety chain-link fence stood, guarding the pier and a stranger's property.
"Strictly speaking the pier's closed right now," Jade said in a hushed voice, her face shadowed by the night but her tone clearly conveying excitement, "So this spot's the best point of entry. We're going to go over this fence, and then Bec will lead us to our ship! Everybody ready?"
"Uh," John said, unsure of whether he should feel worried or excited.
Rose didn't offer any comment, but she adjusted her knitted lavender satchel into a more secure position and kneeled down to tighten her laces.
"This seems rather shady and decidedly illegal," Dave said in a monotone. A pause. "But it sounds like you know what you're doing. Lead on, Harley."
Chapter 8: [T] Sicklekind
The ship's hallways were darkened deeply, lit only by a single, thin, white strip of light on the wall, which was labeled in traditional Alternian lettering. He bent closer to take a look.
Wait, what the fuck? Oh, right, this Traditional Alternian shit read from right to left. Stupid, but of course schoolfeeding a common language was more practical than trying to deal with the thousands of regionally differing dialects that Alternia had to offer. Still, it had been a long time since he'd finished his literacy creds, and the game a sweep ago had been, well, an entire fucking sweep ago, so it wasn't like he could be expected to know the ins and outs of every little detail of his education right off the bat. Just as he straightened up to continue on his way, he heard quickly moving footsteps behind him, and he turned to see in the faint lighting, Sollux approaching quickly up the narrow hall.
He glanced at the lettering beside them and then caught Karkat by the shoulder, shoving him ahead none too gently. Karkat ground out a harsh snarl of annoyance in the back of his throat, but nonetheless took the lead onward.
"Saw you passed," Sollux said from behind him, his voice conveying amusement, "didn't I fucking tell you so?"
"You told me I wouldn't have to take the blood test," he snapped in response, and turned quickly around a sharp corner.
Sollux was silent for a moment, as the floor sloped upward again, but then found his voice a moment later, "So you were afraid you had a blood condition, on top of wanting to hide your color?"
Karkat hissed at him to shut his shitty face, but Sollux grabbed him by the shoulder again, nearly bringing the two of them tumbling down the slope.
"You can't keep this from us," he said angrily, colored glasses glinting white, "Especially me. You fuckin owe me."
Karkat shoved his pricked hand in his pocket, an action Sollux didn't miss.
"Tell me the truth, Vantas," Sollux hissed, "or I'll see it for myself."
"Holy shit in an almighty sack of soggy psychosis, you've got to be kidding me! Can't you respect a little privacy?" Karkat yelled, starting to feel the beginnings of fear pumping from his emotion lobes.
Sollux grabbed him roughly by the front of his shirt, and the two of them lost their balance, tipping back and tumbling down the dark ramp within the ship, smashing into the walls and floor and each other until they came to a stop at the bottom. Karkat coughed and rolled over, shoving away from Sollux's gangly limbs without regard to his pain, and saw that Kanaya was looming over the two of them, eyes glowing gold and green and confused.
He got to his feet and was about to run back up the ramp when his entire body suddenly started aglow with red and blue.
"FUCKING HELL SOLLUX!" he screamed, kicking his feet to no avail as he floated into the air.
The yellowblood stood and caught his hand, turning it over to expose his finger, and squeezed it.
The psionic sparks vanished and Karkat's feet thudded to the ground as the two others saw the tiny bead of red, brighter even in this dim light than any red had any right to be, and Karkat snatched his hand away, pulling his other hand back to sock Sollux under the chin with enough force to knock his head back and jostle his stupid dual-tinted glasses, before he turned and fled back up the slope, following the thin white trail of light into the darkness.
Kanaya watched him go, then turned her eyes to Sollux.
"You shouldn't have done that," she said softly.
"Fuck. I would've never..." he breathed, "High holy hell, no wonder he's been so tight-assed about it. A color mutation? Is that even a thing that can happen? The hemospectrum's too engrained for that to slide, he'd be culled on the spot..."
"They do let most trolls capable of the bare minimum of surviving an Alternian childhood to enter the Fleet."
"KN, there's a fucking chasm of death between my weird brain issues or TZ's vision handicap, and a blood mutation."
"I'm no imbecile," she snapped, "This is merely a shock to me."
Behind them, unnoticed in the darkness, another pair of eyes, glowed at the scene before them. The troll was silent, and ran a tongue thoughtfully along the sharp edges of her fangs.
Karkat sprinted to the top of the slope and bent double over his knees, panting from the exertion and the adrenaline. After a moment he straightened and made his way down the hall, ripping off the bandage on his hand and transferring some of it to his pricked finger. The cramped hallway soon opened up into a large, slightly better-lit room, filled with highbloods and royals milling about and stopping at various desk stations.
He turned, and saw Feferi waving from the other side of the room. He moved to meet her, hampered by the crowd of trolls, but she walked freely toward him as everyone stepped out of her way. When she stopped in front of him, it became clear why.
She was dressed already in a formfitting military uniform made of tough black material and trimmed with gold embellishments and glowing magenta strips. Her symbol was emblazoned in the same tyrian color in the space below her throat. Glancing at her made it impossible to miss her Imperial status.
"Just go around clockwise in this room," she said, waving her hand at the walls where the desks were set up, "and follow the white line out once you're done! Bye!" And with that, she waved cheerily at him and went on her way, apologizing and smiling bemusedly at the way other royals were diving out of her path.
He snorted and walked up to the first desk, which was manned by a limeblooded female with a rather ostentatious nose piercing (the thing had a red heart dangling from it, like, seriously) and oddly-shaped horns like tree stumps. He noticed that her gaze lingered for a moment on the red sign on his chest, and fought down a caustic insult. Yeah, yeah, I don't look like I'm from this fancy little seaside neighborhood.
"Strife deck, please," she said flatly.
He pulled it from over his head and handed it over wordlessly. She took the card, glanced at the back, glanced at his shirt again, and dug out a blinking chip from a cup sitting on her desk, which she clipped onto the card. Out fell three sets of sickles.
"Uh-huh, sicklekind," she said, in the same flat tone, "These are worthless crap. Nothing special from your ancestor, I take it?"
He shook his head, somehow failing to feel offended. They were, after all, pretty shitty.
She nodded and swiveled around in her seat, tapping in a code on a keypad behind her. Immediately, a large strife deck card appeared on the wall, and when she typed in a new code, a pair of sleek, silvery-black sickles appeared, which she caught and then put down in her lap, out of sight, pulling something from a jacket pocket and then fiddling with the handlegrips. Karkat craned his neck to see what she was doing, but to no avail. And then quite suddenly she straightened and turned back to face him, holding the sickles aloft.
"Tap the ends, like so," she smacked the butt of the handles against the table, and the blade edges lit up with red beams that crisscrossed within the curved shape of the blade, spinning a tight net of light, "Laser edges. Good enough for you?"
He nodded, rather surprised to receive such weapons.
"I'll dispose of these," she swept his old sickles off the table, "You take this pair, go to the next table for your weapons package." She broke the chip off the edge of the card and threw it away, and dropped the new sickles in, handing the Strife card back.
"Thanks." He turned to go.
He turned back slowly and raised an eyebrow.
"My name is Bendis Acolit," she said, flatly again, but voice lowered, "The Guardian. Trolltag: alarmingDetonator."
Karkat narrowed his eyes at her. What the hell was she playing at, introducing herself like this? It didn't strike him as very professional. Wasn't her job here just to check out his Strife Specibus and then keep him moving? There were trolls waiting in line behind him, impatient to get their own circuit over with. Sure, she was probably more of a soldier (if her title was anything to go by), at least when she wasn't on help-take-care-of-the-fresh-meat-duty. But she should still have a basic sense of etiquette. You didn't just hand out your contact information to complete strangers.
Her vivid-pond-scum-green eyes gazed steadily at him. "Send me a message one day when you're ready. No earlier." And she waved him away.
And on went Karkat to the next table, feeling rather disquieted. The fuck had just happened?
As he stood in line at the next table, he removed his new sickles from their deck and spun the handles in his hands out of boredom, getting used to their weight. But one of the handles was oddly bumpy, catching on his palm. Putting the other one away, he handled the bumpy one and found that indeed, Acolit had twisted a silver chain around the grip. Picking it carefully free of the sickle, he held the chain in his hand and realized with a jolt that it was a necklace, a necklace with a silver pendant in the shape of his sigil.
What in the grubpuking slurrypuddle of the universe was this all about?
- timespace: unite synchronization initiated -
- intermediary acquired: sector S private ghosthive processing -
- processing -
- timespace: unite synchronization complete -
- alarmingDetonator [AD] started trolling belligerentSpawn [BS] -
AD: And +he survey says...
AD: I fucking win.
AD: Seee, I always fucking win.
AD: He's onboard my ship, +he ISS Devas+a+or, se+ course for 4L13N.
AD: We should ge+ +here in abou+ +hreee +o four weeks.
AD: Probably four.
BS: holy sh^t
BS: l^ke actual, holy fuck^n sh^t
BS: by "he" do you mean "He" as ^n "HE"?
AD: Of course I mean "He"
BS: goddamn^ttohell ^t's actually happen^ng
BS: what ^f the world actually starts end^ng l^ke they say?
AD: Well he's beeen alive for a+ leas+ seven sweeeps and so far i+ seeems like +he world's hanging in +here
AD: Anyway make sure you're +he orien+a+or for +he Devas+a+or group
BS: done, obv^ously
BS: g^ve me more cred^t woman, please
BS: so d^d you meet h^m? what's he l^ke?
AD: Donning marroon, jus+ as expec+ed
AD: +he guy who +hough+ of pushing for marroons +o keeep sigils off +heir uniforms was a genius
AD: Anyway he looks like scrip+s say, really
AD: Really nubby horns, you almos+ can'+ +ake +hem seriously
AD: Wasn'+ much +talka+ive, seeems like...
AD: And he was wearing +in+ed glasses
BS: smart k^d
AD: I gave him my name and +roll+ag, and a pendan+ bu+ was a li++le wary of reaching ou+ +oo much
BS: you're a smart k^d yourself
AD: And you're a condescending oozewipe.
BS: don't be up and spread^n word of th^s too qu^ckly
AD: Yes, yes, I know
AD: Oh, one more +hing
AD: He came onboard wi+h wha+ looks like direc+ Decendan+s of +he infi...
AD: d e l s, wi+h a Jadeblood and every+hing. And the summ...
AD: o n e r
AD: And also a Condescending Heir
AD: I+ looks like +hey've formed a quadrants clade
BS: brb dy^ng of laughter
BS: god ^ love ^rony
BS: th^s ^s fantast^c
BS: ^f anyth^ng, be^ng her acqua^ntance w^ll g^ve h^m plenty of surface protect^on
BS: we pract^cally don't even need to look after h^m
BS: he's got h^s ass covered
AD: Yes +ha+'s wha+ I +hough+ +oo
BS: good go^n
- alarmingDetonator [AD] ceased trolling belligerentSpawn [BS] -
Chapter 9: [H] Hell-Bent Youth Scamper
Sorry about the fillerishness of this chapter. :( I promise there will be moar plot in the future.
Jade gestured at the fence with her flashlight. "So who wants to go first? Don't worry, there's no barbed wire or anything."
"I am ready," Rose said calmly, "I assume I may go ahead?"
"Sure thing! I'll go last and pass everyone's bags over the fence. Go on, Rose! Show us how it's done!"
"Please keep my way lighted," she said, and walked up to the chain link fence, twisting her fingers through the links and digging the toe of her sneaker through the holes. She climbed carefully, close to a pole that held up the links, and soon reached the top. She held onto the pole then, and daintily lifted one leg over the top, then the other, and then climbed down the other side. Once down on the ground again, she brushed off her hands and looked up at her friends, shielding her eyes from the glare of the flashlight.
"My turn," Dave said immediately, and strode up to the fence, scaling it in much the same way as Rose, but jumping down the the ground on the other side with a thump once he got to the top.
He nodded and followed suit, heart thudding in his chest as his fingers grabbed onto the cold metal links and he started to climb. Okay, so maybe this wasn't the most life-threatening or dangerous act of the century, but scaling questionable property lines in the dead of night wasn't exactly something he had a lot of experience with. Suppose someone saw them? Suppose they got in trouble with the police?
Haha who was he kidding.
This wouldn't even be the precursor to a typical Tier 2 pranking scheme. John Egbert ate this shit for breakfast.
Within moments, though, he made it to the top and swung his legs over, hair ruffling in the night air and fingers tingling sharply from hauling his weight up spindly metal wires. He took a deep breath, feeling oddly exhilarated, and climbed halfway back down the fence before jumping to the ground, crushing a few weeds under his shoes. He'd done it. Fuckinghell to the yes.
The flashlight bounced and then came sailing over the fence, the beam of light turing end over end before landing with a sharp thud at Dave's feet and rolling on the slightly sloped ground. Dave stooped over quickly and picked it up, training the light on their baggage. Jade grabbed John's bag, which was sitting patiently at her side, and carried it up to the fence.
"Ready to catch?" she asked, glasses glinting and teeth grinning in the light of the torch.
She was serious about throwing their stuff? It was pretty heavy, after all. Could she really do it? But John cleared his throat and nodded. "Yeah."
Jade adjusted her grip on the bag and leaned back, elbows and knees bending as she wound up for the launch. With a grunt, she sprung up, tossing the suitcase into the air. It just barely cleared the top of the fence, the wheels scraping against the links as it came down, and John somehow managed to grab it and soften its fall to the ground, but it still hit the dirt with a certain degree of force. He dragged it out of the way and got ready for the next bag. Jade shot him a thumbs-up and snatched up one of Rose's two black bags, throwing the smaller one over first at Rose, who caught it deftly, then pulling the larger one into her arms, steadying it on her knee as she got a better grip.
"HUP!" she yelled, heaving the bag over her head and sending it soaring over the fence. It almost didn't make it, the front end of it clearing but the back end getting caught on the links, but John jumped and caught it by the front handle, dragging it down into his arms before it could topple back over to the other side.
And then she had Dave's duffel, which she tucked under her arm as she started to climb, the fence jangling loudly. Halfway up, she pushed the duffel ahead of her, and John caught it as it fell. A second later, Jade came down after it, landing on the ground feet first.
"Phew!" she said, pushing a strand of hair out of her eyes and grinning, "That went well."
She took the flashlight from Dave and then whistled softly. "Come on, Bec!"
The dog had been sitting patiently on the other side of the fence, and now it stood and circled away, walking up almost to the edge of the highway before turning and running down the short slope, leaping and hooking his paws on the top of the fence in a single bound, making a terrific CLANG against the metal and threatening to collapse the fence with his weight. But a moment later Bec propelled himself over the fence with his hind legs and landed lightly on the dirt and grass beside Jade.
"Oh my God Jade your dog is a fucking ninja," John whispered.
She giggled. "Yep! That's Bec. Alright, now we should get going. I can't carry everything on this dirt, so you'll have to-"
At that moment, a light turned on in the house whose yard they were standing in, and the front door rattled, a bolt scraping as it turned. The continuous hubbub in their yard must have roused them, or maybe it was the racket Bec had made scaling the fence.
John felt himself freeze up, and heard Jade suck in a sharp intake of breath.
"Grab your things! Bec! Find Granpa! Go!" she yelled. Becquerel barked once and bolted into the night. Jade gestured to her friends to follow, her flashlight trained on Bec's shining white fur, and they quickly grabbed their items and absconded the hell after the dog. The owner of the home they'd just trespassed upon threw their door open and yelled something threatening, but by the time they shouted something about calling the authorities, the four teens had passed into the darkness and onto the wooden docks behind the house, their feet thumping and their bags clunking loudly into the night.
Jade turned her flashlight off as they ran down the docks after Bec, relying on the thin light from the moon and the reflections in the water to guide them. John felt as though his heart would burst out of his chest; not only was he fleeing from a rightfully furious property owner, but following Bec across the docks in this darkness, at this speed, was decidedly hazardous. Suppose that ninja dog took a huge leap over water and he ran headlong into the sea, failing to notice the shimmer of the moonlight on the waves until it was a second too late?
But Becquerel didn't lead the four of them into water. He simply loped ahead of them at an easy pace, visible even in this darkness thanks to his bright fur, and lead them along a clear path through the docks. At one point, John nearly stumbled on some old, rotting nets that had been left haphazardly strewn across the walkway, but he kicked it out of the way and kept going.
It seemed like they were going for a long time, running, then jogging, then walking after Bec's wagging tail, but finally the dog made one last turn and sat down in front of a huge ship, easily larger than any of the boats around it, and quite probably without any proper business parked at these docks. When Jade finally brought up the rear, checking behind them to ascertain that they hadn't been followed, Bec barked once and stood again, trotting up the gangway of the ship (which was surprisingly humble compared to the rest of the boat; little more than several reinforced boards, really) and out of sight.
"So you and your Grandfather own a private yacht," Rose said flatly, staring up at its bulk with eyebrows slightly raised.
"Hehe, yeah, go on up guys! We came in this afternoon, actually, and got it all nice and stocked up!"
"You get a fucking A+ on classiness, Jade," Dave commented, hoisting his duffel over his shoulder and taking the lead up the embarkment, "and points for the ride over too, that shit was seriously sketchy."
"Sketchy?" John muttered under his breath, and shook his head, following his friend up onto the ship, the gangplank creaking under his feet.
Chapter 10: [T] ISS Devastator
By the time he finished with the tables, he was fully registered and equipped with weapons, basic communications gear, new clothing, and an identification card that granted him premier security access to gaper rooms and not much else. He tugged at the neck of his own military uniform as he followed the white strip into a new hallway, and saw that the deep red strips on his clothing glowed visibly in the darkness. Unlike Feferi, his uniform didn't have his symbol on it, nor was it decorated with gold, but it was otherwise essentially similar to hers and to those of the other trolls around him.
He picked up on the white wall-strip again and followed it into another dark hallway. The hallway soon opened up into a large ampetheater-esque room with a roped-off, stagelike space to one side. Most of the room was still empty of trolls, but filled with thickset seats protruding from the floor. Several adults of different colors stood talking amongst themselves at the far edge of the room. Karkat swiveled his head back and forth to look for a place to sit, a little overwhelmed by the sheer size, when suddenly he heard his name being called from across the room.
"Karcrab! Over here!"
He screwed his eyes shut for a second and prayed that he would not die right then and there of pan leakage. Just how many different nicknames did one guy need? And then headed over to the source of the voice without another word. Feferi was sitting happily in the front row, directly in front of the roped-off section, and clapped her hands enthusiastically when he sat down beside her.
"So glubbing glad you're finally here!" she smiled.
Karkat gave her a quick nod and crossed his arms. His eyes were cracked opened to mere slits as he continued to wait for the rest of the jerkwads he'd boarded with to arrive. One by one, they finally did, and to his infinite irritation, it was Eridan who found them first and took the seat on his other side.
"Hello Fef, Kar," the seadweller said pompously, nodding his head like a dumpass as he spoke their names.
Karkat rolled his eyes heavily and deigned Eridan a grunt, while the royalty on either side of him struck up a conversation. Must've made a pretty odd picture to anyone around them, he thought; the Heiress, a royal, and a rustblood wedged between them.
The room continued to fill up its seats until it was a massive clusterfuck of jabbering idiots and uncomfortable proximity.
And then an adult seadweller strolled into the roped-zone at the front of the room and cleared her throat, her voice technologically amplified throughout the room. Immediately, the clamorous occupants were quieted.
"Now," started the purpleblood with a dainty sniff of the nostrils, "Welcome, all, to the Intergalactic Starfleet Ship: Devastator."
"What a shitty name for a ship," Karkat heard someone behind him whisper. He privately disagreed.
"Actually," the woman went on, "You're not welcome at all. Taking kiddie duty with my battleship is a terrible bore, you have abshellutely no idea. I was just called out from the Charybdis galaxy where we were shore having a lovely little bloodbath so I'm in an awful mood right now. But anywaves," the woman looked right at the first row where Feferi was sitting, "it seems we have some precious cargo with us tonight, so I can't very well dump the lot of you on Urea like I did with the last shoal, so we're stuck with each other until I get you to the actual training grounds. Thank your little Heiress for that. Now, I expect you to follow precisely to the second the timetables we downloaded onto your circuitry for food, sleep, and sparring sessions. Read the rules and don't break 'em, and I won't have to hook you out the nearest port-hole. Are we clear?"
There was a murmur of assent.
"I SAID, are we CLEAR!"
There was a somewhat broken chorus of yes's.
"Clear as a pit full of oozing, maggoty, hoofbeast crap," Karkat muttered under his breath. Eridan apparently heard him and failed to stifle a glubbing giggle.
"Good enough, now buckle yourselves in, we're taking off in three seconds." And then she backed into the wall, where a gap appeared and swallowed her whole.
There was a massive wave of scrambling and snarling as everyone rushed to strap themselves into their seats. Karkat had just barely managed to figure out the restraints when the ship gave a huge, sizzling jolt that snapped his teeth together. More than a few people vocalized (i.e. screamed) in surprise. The jolting sensation soon spazzed into a steady, crescendoing hum that permeated the very air. Firey yellow sparks danced on Karkat's fingertips and he jammed his eyes closed, his stomach fell out of his feet, his think-pan started to puke up great splatters of colors and dizziness within his cranium.
A nauseous moment of whirling color later, the psychedelic insanity in his think-pan ebbed enough for him to realize he'd frozen up like a antlerbeast caught in a laser beam. He unlocked his joints and cracked his eyes open.
Eridan was shivering like a grub fresh out of its slime pod beside him, and Feferi lay slack, her eyes open wide and unblinking as she stared at the ceiling above them. The other trolls seated around them were also caught in varying stages of dazed and spastic, either twitching or lying motionless as though dead.
"Feferi?" he asked uncertainly. To his relief, she blinked and shook her head slightly as though to clear it of stardust. Which was actually a possibility, wasn't it?
"Hey?" she murmured, eyes blinking and staring through him glassily.
"Spacetravel is a slurrygutter of pansucking schizophrenia, I guess," Karkat said, "You alright?"
She blinked once more, her eyes focusing on him this time. "That was fin." And then Feferi smiled at him and looked away, facing the front, where the seadweller captain had reappeared. Okay then. She was perfectly "fin." Probably.
"Snap out of it, you a pod of undercooked larvae," snapped the captain impatiently, "Pay attention, I won't be repeating myself. After my brief sbeach I'll have you read your rules and schedules, and then we'll partake in a nice little bonding activity. Our transit time together will total in four weeks, and I expect none of you to so much as stick a corner of a frond out of line, lest you want me to take you by the throat and give you a participatory lesson on vivisections. Now-"
Karkat's grubphone, stowed safely in his sylladex, suddenly vibrated sharply, the FUCKING TRAITOR.
"Oh my holy fucking gods of shitty glorypailing," he muttered under his breath.
"You there, in the first row! Stand up!" barked the adult, pointing an imperious finger unmistakably in his direction. Both Eridan and Feferi glanced at him. Eridan edged as far away from Karkat as his seat restraints would allow.
With great reluctance, Karkat unbuckled himself and got to his feet, feeling the nape of his neck prickle at the hundreds of gazes boring into his back.
"Give. Me. Your. Phone," ground out the seadweller, her eyes turned to slits and her dark lips pulled back over her fangs in a pure lividity.
He removed the phone from his sylladex, and she beckoned impatiently with her hand. Uncertainly, he tossed it across the empty space between them, and she snatched it out of the air, squeezing it in one fist until it threatened to asphyxiate and die under the pressure.
"I have not one iota of tolerance for this," she hissed, and glanced at the screen, "ArachnidsGrip." Internally, Karkat felt his blood-pusher face-palm itself into a pulp against the bottom of his think pan. Of course this had to happen. "Is this person here?"
His throat convulsed like a dying thing, and he cleared it before speaking, "Yes."
"Vriska Serket," he said. Lying did not cross his mind. What the hell would've been in it for him?
There was a sharp groan of irritation from somewhere behind him and he felt a quick rush of satisfaction. It was the Spider8itch's fault for landing him in this mess in the first place.
"Stand up, Serket. Now."
Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Vriska's distinctively mismatched horns rise from the crowd. Karkat proceeded to glare at her vehemently, packing in every bit of outrage he was capable of into that single look. She smirked in response and lightly shrugged her shoulders. Swallowing a snarl, he turned to face the front again.
"Come up here, the two of you. Get into the ring," said the captain softly, gesturing to the roped-off space in front of her.
And then she leered at them, showing double rows of shining, sharklike teeth. Her deep violet eyes seemed to light up against her orange sclera, and her severely pointed horns rose threateningly over her shortly chopped hair. All that and the dramatic backlighting the ship was putting on her made her look unnecessarily deadly, Karkat thought, unable to crush the uneasiness pumping through his gut like so much sewage. What could she be planning for the two of them? He wouldn't be surprised if the punishment for interrupting a royal's speech was an immediate culling. Get a grip on yourself, he thought, surely it wouldn't be that-
"Thank you both for volunteering yourselves to your first test of combat."
He glanced over at Vriska's face, which had turned from somewhat nervous to ecstatic. Eagerly she started barging down her row of seats, shoving trolls out of the way to make her way to the front. He turned forward again, and eyed the ring right in front of him.
He was fucked fresher than a insect ice slushie in a midsummer bonfire.
"Granpa's most likely asleep right now," Jade whispered as they descended into the dark bowels of the yacht, "He's a big believer in rising and falling with the sun. I'll just show you guys to your rooms, alright?"
An moment later, Becquerel barked loudly from somewhere ahead, and the hallway lights came on. On the other end of the hall stood an elderly man with a lined face, green eyes, and the most mangritty mustache John had ever had the fortune to lay eyes on. I mean, holy fuck just look at it.
"Jade!" he shouted, and she laughed, running up to him for a hug, "Did you have any difficulty locating your friends?"
"Oh, not really, although we did run into some trouble when we hopped the fence," she said sheepishly, "the homeowner heard it and came out to yell at us! Luckily we ran away in time."
"You see, I told you that you should've carried at least three firearms with you, like a sensible person," he said sternly, eyebrows furrowing, "I did say you could borrow the double pistols I cleaned up for you."
John, Dave, and Rade exchanged a not-too-discrete look of WTF.
Jade turned away from her grandfather and rolled her eyes at her friends. "Granpa, I told you they wouldn't be happy with me if I'd brought guns into an airport."
"Well at the very least it sounds like you've had yourself a right old ripsnorter of an adventure," he said, ruffling Jade's hair with one hand. She yelped and swatted at his arm indignantly, dodging out of the way and moving a few steps away. "Well, tell your little friends that we're setting sail at daybreak, and make sure to get some shuteye. You've all had a mighty horntootin day, I'm sure." And with that, he reached out and ruffled Jade's hair again, turned, and marched down the narrow hallway and out of sight.
Jade smiled sheepishly at her friends, her hair sticking up wildly on the top of her head. "Yeah, so, that's Granpa Jake for you." She sounded rather embarrassed.
"He's a fuckin boss," Dave stated flatly, as though it were the one and only obvious truth in the world, and Jade beamed.
After showing John and Dave to their sleeping quarters, Jade and Rose settled into a room just across the hallway. John's hand fumbled against the wall before it found a switch, which he flicked, lighting up the room he would be sharing with Dave for the duration of the boat trip. The beds placed at either side of the room were narrow, and overall there wasn't an enormous surplus of extra area, but there was plenty of space to not be constantly in the way of one another.
Dave immediately threw his duffel under a bed and dropped his backpack on the floor, flopping down onto the sheets and staring up at the richly-hued wood of the ceiling.
"Gogdamn, being horizontal never seemed like such a luxury," he sighed, and kicked his sneakers off.
John sat down on the other bed and bounced a bit, looking around at their new surroundings. "Oh hey, there's another door over there. Is it a bathroom, you think? Damn, this place is so fancy. Do you think there was space for separate rooms? I mean, rooming with you's probably more fun anyway but this ship seems pretty huge. Wait, how do you even think it was possible for Jade and her Granpa to operate it by themselves? You think we'll have to help? How long are we going to be on this boat anyway, do you remember if Jade said anything about that?"
Dave groaned, loudly. "I don't even fucking know, dude. Don't ask me. And John, I am now going to squash this pillow against my face now and pretend you're not here to ruin this beautiful moment of chill relaxation between man and plush." And then he pulled the pillow out from under his head and burrowed his face into it, true to his word.
"Ugh, see, you're turning into your bro now. Let's not go down that path man."
A muffled "fuck your incessant noise" sounded from under the pillow but John didn't notice.
Once the two of them had gone through their nightly slumber preparations and turned out the lights, John lay awake under his blankets, feeling out of place in this strange new setting, the bed feeling stiff and foreign, the fabric of the pillow and blankets too crisp and smelling faintly of an unfamiliar detergent. After turning over several times (taking painstaking care not to rustle too loudly lest he disturb Dave, who was already breathing slowly and heavily like a champion slumberer), he stealthily pulled his phone out from under his bed and turned it on under the blankets. This close to the screen, his nearsighted eyes had little difficulty reading the print. Huh, looked like Jade and Rose were both still up. Crazy girls were probably having super-amazing-secret conversations right across the hallway.
- ghostyTrickster [GT] started pestering gardenGnostic [GG] -
GT: hey jade.
GT: i can't sleep but dave's out like a light.
GT: say hi to rose for me?
GG: heehee hi there john.
GG: rose says hi. ;P
GG: also she says you should follow dave's example, we have a long day ahead of us tomorrow! ! !
GT: oh man i just had the craziest realization jade, messaging you like this.
GT: will we even be able to use our phones in the middle of the ocean?
GG: well, you probably won't, but my lunchtop can communicate through satellites, anywhere in the world!
GG: pretty cool huh?
GT: aw crap i guess that means i better get the most use i can out of my cell tonight.
GT: gonna play the hell out of this really crappy pixilated version of tetris i have
GG: yes, you should totally do that! :P
GT: what're you two even chatting about this late?
GG: oh, you know...
GG: girl stuff! top secret!
GG: we can't tell you anything because you're a stinky little boy.
GG: and also you have cooties! ! ! ! !
GT: oh come on jade, you know i have anti-cootie shampoo and everything.
GT: it kills the little buggers right where they stand.
GT: so i'm clean, you can tell me, right?
GG: This is now Rose speaking:
GG: Certainly John, if you so insist, I shall make sure that you are fully informed about all our private, feminine conversations.
GG: For instance, which brand of brassiere do you prefer to wear on a regular-day basis?
GG: oh, he totally wears lacy bras! ! ! with the sparkles! it's the only kind of bra worth mentioning!
GG: I rather agree with you there.
GG: Let's see, the next topic on our professional "girl chat" checklist seems to be menstruation.
GT: oh god oh god oh god no, STOP! Just STOP RIGHT NOW
GT: i was kind of fucking dazed all through most of that but you can stop now, please.
GT: i can take a hint okay god you could've just asked me to leave or something. shit! ew!
GT: i'll go now, okay, geez, sorry for bothering you two and your MENSTRUATIONS.
GG: hahahahaha john, we're just teasing!
GG: don't go! ! ! ! !
GG: Do you not think it strange that "menstruation" has the word "men" in it?
- ghostyTrickster [GT] ceased trolling gardenGnostic [GG] -
GG: pffhahaha! omg rose!
Jade shook her head, giggling uncontrollably, her arms wrapped tightly around a crisp, white pillow. Beside her, Rose sat primly, a smile nearly to breaking out on her lips. She daintily smoothed her hair behind her ears and straightened her sleeves, waiting for Jade to calm down enough to converse with. A few mirthful hiccups later, Jade lifted her face from her pillow and sighed.
"Rose, I think you scarred him for life," she whispered, grinning wide.
Rose nodded once, serenely, and brandished a hairbrush at her friend. "I shall find a way to make it up to him. In the meanwhile, I will follow through on your challenge."
Jade scoffed, "I'm so going to win those five bucks, Rose. You might as well give up on the brush right now. My hair cannot be tamed!"
Sorry, I don't know what's up with the colors and spacing in the pesterlog there. Can't seem to fix it.
*edit: forget that, it seems to have posted fine.
Anyway, here you go. I'll post the next chapter some hours later, since I'll be away from Internet for a while and won't be able to keep up regular updates.
Karkat stood in the ring and faced off against a joyful Vriska. At this point, his internal monologue was a steady stream of profanities increasing steadily in gruesomeness. He was fucked. He was fucked. He was fucked. He was so fucking fucked that when they were done scrubbing his unnaturally-fucking-tinted flecks of flesh out of the floor, all the fuckery that had fucked him over would be burping up his bloody eyeballs with a cheerful fucking smile on its gory little face.
"Draw your weapons," said the captain, crossing her arms and grinning down at the two of them in the ring.
Numbly, Karkat pulled one his new sickles from his Strife deck, and turned it thrice in his hand. Across from him, Vriska released into the air a shower of blue dice that glittered as she caught them between her fingers.
Everything around him suddenly felt muffled, nevermind that their surroundings were completely silent. The oppressive gazes of well over two hundred trolls were bearing down on the two of them, and the lighting on the ring had risen in intensity to borderline blinding. Karkat blinked his eyes a few times, hard, to try and clear his head.
Fuck it what was he going to do? Did he have a chance in any existing hell to knock Vriska out before she could draw blood on him? Yeah, right. She had an ancestral weapon and sweeps of FLARPing experience to boot. He recalled her ruthless fighting style from a sweep ago in the evaluation game and despaired. If he was lucky she wouldn't toy with him for too long. Goddamn he couldn't think of anything! She was leagues ahead of him in combat level; if he were to be brutally honest with himself, he knew he was objectively the shittiest among his circle of friends at actual fighting. Well okay, so maybe he could take Sollux hand-to-hand if psionics were disallowed, or beat at least a certain amount of shit out of Ampora without the Crosshairs in the picture, but seriously, who was he kidding? Spending your entire life afraid to spill a drop of blood was not exactly conductive to any sort of the usual playful battle-training that trolls traditionally subjected themselves to in their childhoods.
Alright, so maybe the rules of this match would be slightly favorable to him? It was his last hope. Possibly he could get himself knocked out before any blood was shed, and be good to go.
"You may use any and all of your abilities, physical, psychic or otherwise. Just show off what you can do. Killing is unneseasary and will therefore grant you gaper duty for two weeks. First to draw blood is the winner."
Oh, yeah, well obviously the combined forces of justice in the universe couldn't let it go any other way. Karkat seethed, glowering at his cheerful opponent, who was rolling her dice between her fingers contemplatively, her stance calm and relaxed as she cocked her head at him and grinned. Nope, he should've expected this to happen, everyone knew what a screwup he was from the start, the minor victory with the blood test earlier that night was simply to set him up for this epic downfall. Clearly.
Could he just forfeit? Declare that no thanks, he'd rather go clog his windchute with bulgemucus, disgracefully asphyxiate to death, and call it a night? Point out that she was likely to kill him with the first roll of her dice? Yeah, right. Wimping out of a Live-Action Combat Test was like trying to write virus code. It would never work, at least for him. Plus it was stupid to even bring it up. After interrupting high-ranking royalty with his phone message, getting forced into the ring for a few minutes was about the lightest sentence he could expect to face.
"Ready, set, go," snipped the seatroll, and snapped her fingers.
Vriska and Karkat stood motionless, eyeing each other as though caught in a silent argument.
Karkat stared into Vriska's eyes hopelessly. Miserable and pathetic last-ditch capitulation, coming right up, he thought grimly. He'd have to sell his soul to the devil herself to get out of this mess.
He squared his shoulders, and she made her move, sweeping her arm out in a graceful arc and letting the jewel-like dice scatter into the air. They tumbled prettily to the ground, numbers glowing white as they hit the floor and rolled to a stop. A moment later, a ghostly blue sword with a hooked point appeared and then condensed into solidity in Vriska's waiting hand, and she quickly swung it through the air in an audible swish, bringing it to a stop at her side. And then she smiled. The smile of a sweet young wriggler about to disembowel last night's half-digested dinner out of his torso. Cheerfully.
Here it comes, he thought, and they lunged.
She leaped forward and swung the sword down at him with a double-handed blow like a hammer, and he brought the sickle over his head (CLANG!), arms trembling at the effort of diverting the force behind the attack. Their weapons screamed as he dragged his sickle down the length of her sword, hooked it onto the nick on the end of her blade and tugged on it, hard, forcing her to follow his motions and step closer as she quickly adjusted her grip on the sword, about to twist his sickle from his hands.
In the instant before that happened, he let the sickle go and brushed passed her, upsetting her balance and whispering harshly into her ear as they passed, "How fucking massive of a favor do I owe you to let me win without my blood drawn?"
And then they were on opposite ends of the ring again, and he'd drawn his second sickle. She was holding her sword out in front of her and grinning widely at him.
"Pretty f888ing m8ssive loss of that weapon of yours, huh Vantas? I'd say you won't recover from that! I'll be w8lking aaaaaaaall over y8u for the r8st of your m8serable life!"
He grimaced. She got the message. Now it was negotiations, and he was at a gross disadvantage. Already she was going in for the kill.
Karkat spun his sickle from one hand to the other and glared at her, trying to look magnitudes more confident than he felt.
"Not fucking likely, you eons-wide cesspool of festering dumbshit purée. I'm not going to take UNREASONABLE CRAP from that bitchy little collection of deformities you call a face."
She smiled. "How about this? I'll mess this shit up like no tomorrow and see if you're worth my precious time! Don't disappoint me by being booooooooring now! I'm bringing eight peri8ees worth of mindnumbing torture down on your ungrateful ass, and that's final!"
Karkat thought quickly about it. His protection from public execution tonight for eight perigees worth of enslavement, on the condition that he put on a good show. This was it. It was better than he could've hoped for. He'd just ignore for the moment the rather disquieting fact that she'd so easily conceded to much lighter demands than she'd initiated. Going down that twisting mindfuck path with Serket was the last thing he wanted to do. It's not like he enjoyed cutting deals with the most demanding and egocentric of hypercompetitive lunatics, but you do what you gotta do to avoid Circumstance's regularly attempted bitchslaps to the face.
"BRING IT," he yelled, and smacked the butt of his sickle against the palm of his other hand, lighting up the laserblade and dashing at her. In response, she swished her own sword through the air and leaped forward.
Their weapons clashed again, and her sword squealed and smoked as it took the brunt of the cutting lasers. Of course, being a summoned ancestral weapon, it didn't melt away, and she managed to knock his blade aside and rebound with a backhanded swipe at his head. He dodged by a hair and grabbed her by the wrist with his free hand, twisting it hard but failing to loosen her grip on her weapon. She grinned widely, pointed fangs shining white as she hooked one foot behind his knees and jerked it sideways, upsetting his balance before shoving him to the floor with a blow from her prosthetic elbow, the air forcing out of his lungs from the solid impact. He gasped harshly from his position on the ground and twisted out of the way as she aimed to stomp down on his throat.
Desperately, he slashed his sickle out at her feet, which she hopped neatly and retaliated with a swing of her sword down at his gut. He rolled out of the way and kicked out with both feet at her knees, connecting this time and knocking her over into a forward roll that gracefully controlled her tumble, giving him the time to grab the sickle he'd dropped earlier and throw himself to his feet.
By then Vriska had rolled back to her knees, and had brought one hand up to her temple, fingers splayed and eyes wide to match her manic grin.
Oh my holy fuck, Karkat thought, as he lost control of his limbs and brought both his sickles up and crossed to hover on either side of his neck.
He grappled wordlessly with his own body, gritting his teeth and fighting unsuccessfully to bring his own sickles away, as Vriska leisurely got to her feet and glanced over at the seadweller with that sweet smile on her face.
And then she brought the edge of her own sword to her hand and slashed it, cutting her palm and holding it up in the air, turning in place to let everyone see the deep blue color dripping down her wrist.
"Looks like I'm first to draw blood," she sang, and glanced sidelong at Karkat, who felt his arms release and throw his own sickles down to the floor with a ringing clatter.
He didn't move to pick them back up, and instead glanced up at the captain, who had an approving grin on her face. The grin was matched in all of the onlooking recruits, a crowd of pointed teeth and glowing eyes flashing in the gloom, all staring openly at Vriska with respect and envy and challenge.
Well, she sure got what she wanted, Karkat thought bitterly, a massive showing in the fucking spotlight.
And with that, I'll be away for awhile. :B
I hope it was alright.
Chapter 13: [H] Kids: Embark
John awoke and reached for his glasses on his bedside table, only to swipe his hand through empty air. He opened his eyes, confusion shuffling his thoughts for a moment before remembering that no, he wasn't at home in his bedroom anymore, and no, his father wouldn't be around to shove cake in his face every second of the day, and hell fucking yes he was on Jade's yacht and they would be setting sail for a tropical island as soon as humanely possible! They were going to eat the hell out of marshmallows, swim the hell out of crystal-clear oceans, and enjoy the hell out of each other's company. If the three of them didn't know every last one of each other's disgusting habits by the end of the summer, John Egbert would consider it a mission failure. And John Egbert does not fail missions.
He rolled over and leaned over the edge of his bed, one hand digging around in his backpack for his eyeglass case. Fumbling with the spectacles, he sat up and wiped the lenses on the edge of his shirt before sliding them up his nose and glancing over at Dave's bed, only to find it empty and in complete disarray, the blankets bunched up in a kind of terrific Gordian knot, some clothing articles and a set of headphones strewn none-too-artistically about. John rolled his eyes, imagining that Dave's excuse for not making his bed would involve the words "ironic" and "cool" in equal parts, and quickly dressed before slipping out the door and into the hallway.
He knocked a few times on Jade and Rose's door, but neither of them responded. Glancing up the hallway, John started to feel uneasily suspicious. Where was everybody? Were they lying in wait just around the corner, paintball guns in hand, and evil smirks on their faces?
John shook his head. Nah, that was really only something he would do.
Retracing his steps from the night prior, John quickly made it to the door leading to the top deck of the yacht, and upon pushing it open, was blasted in the face with a strong gust of wind. He squinted into the light, raising a hand to shade his gaze as the chilling wind continued to buffet his face, his hair, his clothes, as the hard bands of blue sky and water came into focus. Shit, he'd really slept in. The sun was already well risen.
The boat was surging forward toward an ever-receding horizon, and only now did he notice the slight dipping and rocking under his feet. All thoughts of finding his friends was blown to the back of John's mind, and he rushed to the railing of the boat, looking down at the bleached-white spray of water pounding the sides of the yacht. Everything was brighter than life, the blues, the whites, all edged in stark lines. The wind continued to fly at him, around him, through him, lifting his hair and his spirits both, until he stretched his arms out and felt like at least half of his consciousness was up there in the empty sky, flying.
"Yo, John. So you're finally awake? Feelin like being a beautiful little bird now or someshit? It's cool, bro, I can support that."
John turned quickly, and there was Dave, his (usually) neat hair flapping in all directions from the wind, as though it were trying to tug free from its roots. John flinched at the blinding flash of sun reflecting from Dave's sunglasses, and shook his head.
"Birds are so last yesterday, Dave, come on! I was communing with my prankster spirit guide right there, you just ruined a very spiritual moment between us." He frowned as convincingly as he could, but ended up snorting with laughter after three seconds.
"Oh, cool. Sorry, I'll be sure to respect your arm-flappy religion times from now on."
John nodded seriously. "You'd better."
"Mm-hm. C'mon, I'll take you to breakfast. Or what's left of it, anyway. First come, first serve, you know. Try not to snore into next Tuesday if you want the good pickin's." He motioned with his hand for John to follow, and headed down the deck.
John jogged after him. "Some friend you are!"
"Only the best for you, my very sleepy love."
"Oh my God. Dave."
Dave's shoulders twitched slightly in a half-assed semblance of a shrug.
The girls were playing speed chess at the breakfast table, and by the time John had finished eating, Rose had won three games out of five and Jade was accusing her loudly of cheating.
"I've just had a great deal of practice," Rose said graciously (despite the small, smug smile on her face).
Jade shook her head resignedly.
"So," Dave cut in, "Now that Johnny-boy's had his num nums-" (John face-palmed. "Dave, no.") "-anything we should know about this cruisin bitchslapper of a boat? Is she haunted?"
Jade laughed and shook her head, "Naw, Dave, she's not haunted or anything! ...I think. Heehee. But yeah, don't go messing with the engine room or the arms locker, Granpa wouldn't like that!"
Dave's eyebrows became visible over his shades. "...Arms locker. Did you just say, 'arms locker,' or dost mine ear follicles deceive me?"
She waved one finger in the air and winked conspiringly, "Now ssssh! So yeah, we'll be on board for about a week? Weather permitting of course! Bec's really well trained; he and Granpa takes turns directing the boat, so we won't have to worry about helping with that unless we want to." ("Whoa what the hell? Your dog?") "Don't get in big fights before we get there. Don't waste the fresh water, and um..." she tapped her chin with the one finger, "Don't push anything or anybody overboard, or we'll dump you next. I can take you guys on a tour today so you know where everything's at, and then we can get down to the serious stuff! I've got some awesome preliminary photographs and maps of the target, so we can start planning our groundbreaking mission like its nobody's business! This is going to be so much fun!"
The GROUNDBREAKING MISSION. The MAPS of the TARGET. What was this? Oh right, John recalled dimly, there was an actual objective to this friendtastic get-together on Jade's remote tropical home. Not that hiking around some mysterious caves was really the main attraction for him, so long as his best buds were there to appreciate his hilarious antics along the way. In all truth, it sounded like a lot of work, what with the lack of public transportation on the island and such. But Jade was adventuresomely thrilled, Rose was intellectually aroused, and Dave was bothering to pretend like he didn't really give two fucks, so yeah, it was probably something really worthwhile, something completely out-of-this-world.
Haha he wished. John would be so pumped if aliens or someshit were involved. But that would be preposterous. It was just going to be some archaeology and blah blah science blah blah hieroglyphs blah blah OGM STRIDER YOU'LL NEVER GUESS WHAT I JUST SAW! Or something. He wasn't wholly sure. Jade's pesterlogs on the topic had been 90% exclamation marks and 10% capslock. And everyone knows that capslock is like, not at all readable bro. It's a pain on the eyes.
Not like all that sciency stuff was a bad thing! John could be totally respectful of his friends' interests. Plus, what kind of gentleman would he be if he turned down an invite to the most fucking amazing summer vacation ever?
The idiot kind of gentleman. That's what. And if there is one thing that John Egbert is not, it is not an idiot. Booyeah.
So yes, maps of groundbreaking mission target caves or not, he was going to have so much fun.
Chapter 14: [T] Gapers, Clades, and Conspiracy
The terminology and basic idea of a "quadrant's clade" is borrowed from Hemostuck. I have adjusted the original meaning slightly to suit my ridiculous purposes. Still, credit and headcanon sourcing where it's due. Along with the clade exposition comes very slight amounts of shipping, but yunno, it's mostly for the story's sake.
The rest of the night on board the ISS Devastator was grossly uneventful. Turns out everyone was expected to pair up and fight it out, with the added constraint of not drawing your own blood like a dirty little cheater, although Vriska was given a slide on that rule for being clever enough to be the first to think it up. Watching the rest of the recruits pair up and battle each other was intensely boring, although there had been several fatalities in total when some contests ended quickly and brutally between a vicious fighter and a timid troll who clearly had no business outside of an occupation caring for butterflies or something equally pathetic.
The twelve of them made it through without any serious damage: Sollux's opponent ended up on the unconscious end of a swift psionic blast, Feferi's opponent put up a valiant, if reluctant fight, but ended up with triple gouge wounds to the forearm, Kanaya took a scrape on the shoulder despite her impressive showing (her opponent, Tavros, had come dangerously close to getting a leg sawed off at one point, but he'd ended up victor), and even Gamzee kept enough wits about him to give his opponent a bloody nose within the first five seconds. Whether it had been a complete accident that he'd shot a Faygo bottle out of his sylladex directly into the face of his adversary is probably best left unsaid.
The losers were assigned to load gaper cleaning duty for the duration of their stay on the ship.
And there were a fuckton shipload of gapers.
"Holy-plugged-up-crapgasm this one is absolutely disgusting, I honest-to-shit think I might actually start crying. Kanaya, if I start sobbing bitterly like the protagonist in a shitty romantic soap opera who has just lost his one true hater to that bitch next door, you've got my full consent to shove my face down this FUCKING-PLUGGED-ASS gaper."
He heard something squelch from the stall next to him, and Kanaya's voice growl with disgust. A moment later the gaper flushed, and he heard her set a bottle down on the floor and sigh.
"Karkat. I am perfectly aware of the fact that you will not, under any horrific circumstances that may arise, much less this perfectly benign - albeit thoroughly disgusting - chore, be pressured into shedding tears that would risk showing the world your color."
Karkat held a plunger at the ready, staring down at the load gaper before him with a grim expression on his face.
"Well obviously that's why I'm asking you to choke my dumbsucking skull on gaper slime if I do start crying," he snapped, and brought the disclogging device down with a gut-turning squish.
The two of them were among the first batch with the cleaning duty that night; they and the other losers would cycle through task over the next couple of weeks.
When they were finished, Kanaya and Karkat left the load gapers and headed for the communal respite blocks, where some of the other recruits were turning in for the day. Alright, so technically it was not daytime when the ship was in transit through space, but it was still approaching the allotment hours for sleeping, and it was easier to stick to vernacular terms.
- grimAuxiliatrix [GA] started trolling twinArmageddons [TA] -
GA: Exactly Which Section Of The Respite Blocks Have You Settled Down In
GA: Karkat And I Have Completed Our Absolutely Titillating Load Gaper Duties And Are Currently Searching For A Suitable Location Of Rest
TA: room 1-a ju2t check your map2.
TA: iit2 2eriiou2ly hiilariiou2.
TA: all FF2 got two do ii2 2how up wiith her pretty liittle tyriian uniiform and "reque2t" 2omeplace 2he can be wiith her "acquaiintance2."
TA: of cour2e your maje2ty peiixe2!
TA: ab2olutely your maje2ty peiixe2!
TA: iits liike they thiink 2he2 goiing two lunge for theiir throat2 and make a bloody me22 all over the wall2 iif 2he doe2nt get what 2he want2.
GA: I See
TA: half of u2 nearly pii22ed our2elves laughiing at thii2 one guard2 face.
TA: ii think vrii2ka miightve for real.
TA: anyway yeah iill 2ee you two 2oon.
GA: Seeing As I Have Had More Than My Fair Share Of Excrement Cleaning This Night
GA: I Expect Any And All Hypothetical Urine To Be Cleaned Up When We Arrive
GA: Or I Might Be Forced To
GA: As They Say
GA: "Smakka Bitch"
- grimAuxiliatrix [GA] ceased trolling twinArmegeddons [TA] -
Karkat, who had been reading the message over her shoulder, snorted, glanced up at her, and voiced his opinion dryly, "Because the wreck we made of Gamzee's hive within two days means we can totally handle sharing close quarters for four weeks."
Kanaya sighed lightly, pulling up a map of the ship's interior on her grubphone and heading off determinedly.
"Perhaps it would do you good to be less negative for once, Karkat. We will not be spending the vast majority of our time in the respiteblocks. And it is certainly preferable to sleep among people you already know than to try your luck among a troupe of strangers of questionable soundness of mind."
"Yeah I'd much rather be vulnerable among a group of certified lunatics that I've known for sweeps than a bunch of strangers that could be sane or something," Karkat said earnestly.
Kanaya took a moment to give him a tired look before she continued walking. He let out a loud sigh and followed. Within five minutes they reached the rooms were the recouperacoons were held, behind numbered doors on either side of a long, straight hallway that was mostly empty of other trolls. A few were still passing down the hallway, checking rooms for open space or familiar faces.
Just as Karkat was about to turn the corner into the hallway and search for 1-A, Kanaya caught him by the elbow and pulled him back. He flashed his fangs at her and jerked his arm away.
"What the hell?"
"Karkat, I think it is best if we spoke here," she said calmly, "We've both been putting it off, but soon we'll be among the others again and I would sooner talk to you about this face-to-face. Will you take off those ridiculous shaded glasses of ours and speak to me openly?"
He looked away. "Alright, I know you saw. I'm an abomination, I'm a freakshow, et cetera and et fucking cetera. Are you happy now? Can we go?"
"Not quite," she said, voice low, jade-edged irises staring levelly at him as he fidgeted, "Karkat, look at me."
He growled slightly, and then pulled his glasses off and looked back at her. She stared wordlessly into his eyes, at that color that was creeping out around his pupil (instead of the rim, as was the norm) like impossibly spindly vines, a vivid, almost incandescent hue that should never exist inside a troll. The effect was disconcerting, like the black hole of his pupil was spitting fire.
"Karkat, how did this happen?" she said softly, uncertainly. Blood was one of those categories that you immediately registered when you started talking to someone, along with their horn shape and gender. It was just one of those things that helped you form a mental picture about a person, and for it to be practically absent or outside of the existing standard was jarring, to say the least.
"What do you mean, how did this happen?" he asked, livid, eyes sparking red, "I was born like this, that's how it happened!"
She grappled for the right questions, the right explanations. "But... I've never heard of... What about your lusus? How could one choose you in the brooding caverns if it couldn't recognize your color?"
"He had the same blood as me, numbshit," Karkat spat, "What did you think?"
"But that must mean your blood is on the spectrum," Kanaya said, her eyebrows furrowing, "Someone had to have bred a lusus species for your color."
"I don't know, alright? All I know is that I'm dead if anyone finds out."
She shook her head. "We don't know that, Karkat. If anything-"
"Well I'm not about to test whatever nookpanned theory you were about to spew forth from your gabgaper. I'm not a fucking panshattered imbecile a few killerbytes short on the conception of mortality," he snorted.
The two of them fell silent, and Kanaya was struck with a terrible thought. Mortality.
"Wait, so if your blood is this color," she struggled to think of a sensitive way to pose the question, "Do you have any idea how long...? Nevermind, I'm sorry. Forget I tried to ask."
"Yeah I'm a ticking time bomb," he said in a monotone, sounding almost bored now, "Maybe if I'm lucky it turns out I'll actually kick the bucket and drop stone dead in a few sweeps. Young, you know, before they notice I'm outliving a maroonblood's acceptable lifespan."
"Do not make vulgar jokes about this," she said shortly, but he just huffed in response.
"It's not like it really even matters," he rolled his eyes and put his glasses back on, "maroon has it painfully short but between brown and purple the difference in average lifespan's like fifty, maybe a hundred sweeps or so, and then the Empress is practically fucking immortal, isn't she? Everyone except red pretty much gets a decently shitty sweepcount when it comes down to it. And to be honest, we're all more likely to die of batshit unfair fuckery besides old age. Old age is a fucking illness you get if you've lived way too long. Look at those three earlier tonight in the ring who couldn't hold their own. One of them was a seadweller, remember? He might've lived centures upon fucking centuries on the Land of Peace and Sparkly-Ass Pansy Unicorns... Come on, let's just get going already."
With that he turned and strode back down the hall. After a moment of pause, Kanaya followed.
The black door printed with 1A slid open under a harsh barrage of Karkat's knuckles. Equius' scowling face came into view, his eyes focusing first on Karkat, then Kanaya through the cracked lenses of his shades. Wordlessly, he pushed the door open wider to allow them entrance, then promptly turned away, returning to where Nepeta was waiting for him, her back leaning against the scaly side of a recouperacoon and her stiff military uniform swapped out for a grossly overlarge cotton shirt of solid green (Kanaya swallowed some saliva and resisted the immediate urge to go over and at least hem the thing a little). Nepeta waved in welcome at the pair entering the room, and Kanaya waved in return, noticing for the first time a silver band strapped securely around Nepeta's left wrist, sporting a deep blue gem in the shape of a diamond. The craftsmanship looked precise and hard-wearing, if slightly mechanical. Immediately, Kanaya's eyes flicked over to Equius, and after a moment of searching, she spotted the ends of some kind of braided cord (leather, she guessed) hanging from the sleeve of his military uniform. Unless she was very much mistaken, there was a moon-green stone or glass shard woven in there somewhere. Kanaya felt the corners of her mouth lift up slightly. She glanced around to the others, eyes searching out any exchanges of jewelry. Now was a typical time for it; once the quadrantees made it on board with their significant others, it was an extra little gesture of support, of commitment, of coming-of-age. For circles of friends and especially quadrant-mates to arrange to go off-planetside together was quite common, because once you're shipped off, finding each other again could become impossible. Admittedly, roping in every last moirail's-matesprit's-kismesis'-palecrush's-auspitice in could get messy real fast, but luckily Kanaya's circle was rather closely knit.
Although, she thought, as Vriska grabbed Aradia by the horn, bound something silver-and-black around the base, and screamed bloody murder in her face, Sometimes that comes at the cost of peace and quiet.
Kanaya thought for a moment about the four green-gemmed pendants she'd stowed safely away in her sylladex, shining on their silver chains, and then put the thought aside until a later date.
Room 1A was not especially spacious, lined along the walls with perhaps two dozen recouperacoons in total, ten of which were already claimed (or eleven, now; Karkat was just now stomping over to an empty one on the edge, removed two spaces over from Terezi). There was what looked like a door to a decent-sized gaperoom on the far end, but precious little by way of privacy around the recouperacoons. They were just sitting out in plain sight. Kanaya sighed. Well, what was she expecting? This was a military Fleetship, not her home hive. Her hive was probably abandoned by now, if not demolished, and it would remain that way unless another jadeblood decided to move into her old property. Her isolated hive was far from ideal for anyone without sun resistance, what with being located much closer to Alternia's Solarsphere, where the days ran long and the nights ran short for most of the sweep, and most sane trolls never risked to tread.
She shook her head as tough to clear the homesick thoughts away (sunlight through patterned cloth, sand and marble and the dead rising from the dunes), and headed for a recouperacoon, choosing one adjacent to Karkat. Her thoughts touched briefly on the pendants again, but she shook it away.
"Fuck it, Kanaya, didn't you see me trying to get some distance from you nutters?"
She smiled gently at the snarly expression of his face, and examined the wall behind her recouperacoon. There was a small panel hidden almost out of view and covered with buttons, circular and all different colors, and she pressed a green one after a moment's hesitation.
An empty sylladex card embedded in the wall morphed into view. Kanaya smiled approvingly and unloaded some of her items into it, before pressing the button again to seal it. Next, she chose a blue one and touched it with one finger, bringing forth a new card that was stocked with basic cleaning items such as soap. Red was first aid, yellow contained a charging station for the Fleet-brand grubphone and husktop she'd received earlier that night, orange housed a set of knowlege grubs and schoolfeeds complete with cords and veins for easy download, and so on and so forth right up to purple, which instead of appearifying a new sylladex card on the wall, caused a pitch-black curtain of anti-light to rise up in a square around the recouperacoon from floor to low ceiling. Privacy, at least from any wandering eyes, but nothing solid. She hit the button again to turn off the curtain, and turned to see that some of her other friends were trying out the buttons as well.
Everyone was generally settling down for rest, finishing up conversations or raising the light barriers around their recouperacoons. It had been a long night of excitement. Kanaya hit the purple button again and undressed, then sank hesitantly into the unfamiliar recouperacoon. The welcoming slime closed up around her and she sighed, muscles beginning to relax, heart beginning to calm, and mind beginning to wander away into sleep.
- caligulasAquarium [CA] started trolling twinArmegeddons [TA] -
CA: before you block me or ignore me or wwhatevver let me just ask about howw that thing wwith fef turned out
TA: and before you commence 2hoviing your dii2gu2tiing, reekiing foot iinto your oral 2phiincter let me remiind you:
TA: be cautiiou2 of the 2hiit you 2pew on the iintergalactiic net2.
TA: were not planet2iide anymore.
TA: anythiing and everythiing that could be con2trued a2 trea2onou2 wiill get you liined up agaii2t wall and u2ed a2 target practiice.
CA: aww sol i didnt knoww you cared
TA: 2hut it a22hole, ii ju2t dont want two get kiiled by beiing 2omehow a22ociiated wiith your 2tupiidity.
CA: wwatch it you nearly sucseaded in offindin me there
CA: except i wwas too busy bein touched by your lookin out for me
TA: go down that road and iill per2onally 2aw your 2tupiid earfiins off.
CA: wwoww narcissist much? like i'd let you
CA: seariously sol stop tryin to construe my sarcasm as solicitation it gets old reel fast im not five fucken swweeps anymore
TA: couldve fooled me.
CA: anywwavves i didnt bother messagin you to entertain your dumb fintaseas
TA: oh god2 would you cut iit out with the pun2.
TA: ii promii2e, ii've been 2aviing a ma22iive piile of 2hiit iin my 2ylladex just waiitiing two fliip iit iin a conveniient diirectiion.
CA: yeah yeah wwhatevver so howw'd that fef thing go
TA: look iit2 not liike thii2 2hiit ii2 that ea2y. youd under2tand preciicely nothiing iif ii triied two explaiin it two you.
TA: iim doiing my be2t here, but the archiive2 are two well-guarded two be 2ure that iim contaiiniing all 2iignal2 about her blood2tatu2
CA: ya knoww wwhat wwould happen if
TA: alriight let2 2et 2ome thiing2 2traiight here.
TA: iid 2ay ii have approxiimately 200 percent more iintere2t than you do when iit come2 two protect the heiire222 liife, 2o ju2t 2hut up riight noww.
TA: 2hut up riight NOW goddamniit your fuckiing a2iinine quiirk ii2 rubbiing off on me.
CA: no wworries sol i don't care
CA: but seariously make sure fef's info doesn't leak evverywwhere and wwe're set
- caligulasAquarium [CA] ceased trolling twinArmegeddons [TA] -
TA: you fuckiing 2elf-ob22e22ed a222ucker 2top pretendiing to order me around.
TA: iif youre fliirtiing wiith me agaiin ii wiill 2eriou2ly p2ychapult your braiin2 out the next aiirlock ii 2ee.
- caligulasAquarium [CA] started trolling arachnidsGrip [AG] -
- caligulasAquarium [CA] sent arachnidsGrip [AG] the conversation file: IFUCKINPWWN. log -
- caligulasAquarium [CA] ceased trolling arachnidsGrip [AG] -
AG: I never thought I'd say this, 8ut Ampora, I am SO PR8UD OF YOU.
AG: We 8oth know 8eggers can't be w8nners!
Chapter 15: [H] Tightrope Mirrors
After spending the better part of the day scurrying about Jade's ship and getting into typical shenanigans that may or may hot have included copious amounts of water balloons, the four friends settled down in a spacious room near the prow, one that had glass windows from floor to ceiling and provided an excellent view of their watery surroundings. Jade brought out maps upon maps of her island: topographical ones with squiggly lines everywhere, colored ones that marked vegetation versus water versus volcanic rock, and closeups of everything. She even set down her computer and fired it up to give her friends a three-dimensional, green-tinted view of the island.
"Damn that's one nice lagoon," said Dave.
"Well good! Our boat's going to dock right here in this damn nice lagoon," she pointed to a flickery outline of a beach and then adjusted the view of the island by maneuvering the arrow keys, "And our adventure starts here, at my house!" She pointed to a tall, impossible-looking structure topped with a spherical ball.
"Holy fucktruck Jade, how'd your Granps manage to get that monster of architecture constructed?"
She winked at Dave as charismatically as she could and let out an enigmatic giggle. Jade Harley had a giggle for every occasion. She is simply that well prepared. No one can hope to outdo her in a giggle-off.
"Anyway, to get to our point of interest. We'll have to hike up through the forest around here to the backside of the volcano-" she adjusted the view again so that the island turned around, "-and then about a quarter of the way to the crater."
"This sounds like quite strenuous expedition," Rose commented.
"Thank you, Captain Obvious!" said John in a sing-song voice.
"You're most welcome, Sergeant Sarcasm," she replied drily.
Jade chewed her lip a little. "Yeah, well, I think we could camp out at the base of the volcano a night, and then do the more vertical hiking bit the next day? Trust me, guys, it'll be worth it!"
"You and your Grandpa went up there right?"
She nodded fervently enough to start feeling dizzy, "My camera had died by the time we got to the cave, but it was soooooooooooo cooooooooooool! We never expected something like that on our island! He totally understood when I said I wanted you guys to see it for yourselves, he knows how much better an adventure is when you've got buddies at your back!"
"You said there were heiroglyphs of some sort written on the walls?" Rose inquired.
"Yeah, nothing either of us recognized. But we didn't go all the way in so there's probably a whole lot more that even I haven't seen yet! Couldn't keep exploring with the minimal gear we brought. There was a chasm and stuff. Never expected we'd find something like writing or anything in there! It'll be up to us to make this groundbreaking discovery!"
John looked like he was trying very hard to work a math problem out in his head. "But... Your Grandpa was okay with letting us do it?"
Jade giggled again. This one meant, "well DUH, you assbrain!"
"Don't worry about him, he makes groundbreaking discoveries all the time. Literally all the time. Always. Constantly. He was way okay that I wanted to do this particular groundbreaking thing with you guys. So once we get to the island, I'll teach you all the ways of the great expediscoverers, passed down for generations in the Harley line! And then we'll totally go and break some serious ground!"
That night on the ship, John awoke suddenly in the middle of the night, acutely aware that he had to pee. Maybe all those root beer floats at dinner time had been a bad idea, but they'd just tasted so damn good, he couldn't really be blamed for drinking them all. After spending a great deal of time lying half awake, half-dreaming-of-going-to-the-goddamn-bathroom-already, he finally rolled out of bed with a groan and went to do his business. When he returned, he glanced over at Dave's bed, and with a start realized that his roommate was absent.
After turning on his phone to contact his friend, and then turning off his phone because there was no signal (durr whoops), John stepped out into the hallway to look for him. How dare his best pal get up to midnight shenanigans without him?
The top deck was lit with a little moonlight, and John wandered about aimlessly, rubbing his arms to fight off the chill and wondering if this was all worth the freezing wind. Maybe he should just go back to bed and bug the hell out of Dave in the morning? The longer he stayed out, the more tantalizing the memory of the soft, plush pillow strutted itself all around his mind. But then just as he was about to give up and turn around, John rounded a corner and reached the very front of the boat, (The prow, or something like that?), where he saw Dave and Jade standing next to each other.
He was just about to shout out to them and go see why the hell they were sneaking around in the middle of the night without him, when someone's hands reached out of the shadows and dragged him in, fingers pressing against his lips in warning.
Okay, wow. Was everybody out here partying without him? John scowled as Rose pulled her hand away. This better not keep happening or he'd have to give them all a serious palhoncho talking to. The four of them were Best Buds Forever, and if one of them was going to sneak out in the middle of the night to traipse around on the deck, then all of them were going to sneak out in the middle of the night to traipse around on the deck. Granted, all of them had done that, but, well. They hadn't really done it as a well-coordinated Prankflurry Special Forces unit, and that was seriously against the BBF code of conduct.
As his eyes adjusted to the deeper Darknesse Behind ye Barrels of Rope, he could just make out the shadow of Rose's profile, if not her actual face.
"What're all you guys doing out here?" he whispered uncertainly. Rose wanted him to keep quiet, but why? Clearly the best course of action here was to run charging at their other friends demanding explanation.
She rustled. "In truth, neither of us should be here." Another rustle, and he saw her peek over the barrels, and her hair shone briefly with moonlight before she ducked back down. "Shall we leave them to it?"
Another rustle, then a sigh. "John, there are times when your endearing thickheadedness takes a software upgrade into the abhorrently dense. Take a look, if you must."
A pause. Cautiously, John peered over the barrels, catching a glance of Dave and Jade talking together. He saw Dave smile, genuine and unironic for once, and Jade open her mouth wide, white buckteeth catching a little moonlight. A few bursts of whispy laughter carried into his ears on the unyielding rush of wind. He ducked back down.
"Uh, they're talking together, so?"
"John. You are hopeless. Anyone with a pair of eyes should be able to discern that Dave and Jade are having a private moment. We should really go." Rose gave him a push, and the two of them scurried away around the corner. John glanced over his shoulder once more and saw his two friends leaning against the rail of the ship, their hands and shoulders brushing.
Rose and John retreated into the halls of the ship again, but when they finally stopped in front of their bedroom doors, neither of them moved to go inside.
"Sooo are they together or something?" John asked.
Rose hummed consent. "It would seem so."
"But... I always kinda thought... that you and Dave?"
There was a long, awkward pause.
"I think," said Rose, "That Jade is better for him. She's open and enthusiastic and genuine, she helps him come out of his shell. For all my hours of psychoanalysis, I may have a good understanding of the enigma that is Dave Strider, but Harley can get to the heart of him within seconds."
"Uh, I guess so?" responded John, rather bewildered. He felt as though he were walking a tightrope over a pit of really pointy spikes and cranky poisonous snakes. In the dark. Just, there was a pit around here somewhere, and he really didn't know which way he was supposed to step.
"I think I do not appeal to him in that way. We are good friends, of course, but I'm more of an antagonist, someone to pit his unrelenting deluge of profane sarcasm against. There probably cannot be anything of the romantic sort between us. I'm too hard to reach, and so is he. We are constantly playing a game of masks. It is likely for the better, as I'm not sure I have the time nor the desire for romantic endeavors at this point in my life. Goodnight, John."
And with that avalanche of abrupt revelations, she opened her door with a click and was about to step away.
John was suddenly very aware of... things. The depth of the darkness around them, the narrowness of the hallway, the fact that he wasn't wearing shoes. Fucking tightrope.
"I just think, yeah. Well I think you're pretty great."
"Thank you. You are 'pretty great,' yourself."
"Ha, well, see you tomorrow."
Her door closed with a soft click.
How long he stood there in the dark before finally retiring to his own room, John had no idea.
Chapter 16: [T] Training Planet: 4L13N
- arachnidsGrip [AG] started trolling carcinoGeneticist [CG] -
AG: Well helloooooooo there, my newly in8ucted thrall. :::;o
CG: PUT THAT DISGUSTING EMOTE AWAY AND GRAB YOURSELF A PITY PAIL.
CG: I'LL DO YOU THE VERY GREAT HONORS OF VOMITING PROFUSELY INTO IT, AFTER WHICH YOU CAN GO FUCK YOURSELF IN ANY MYRIAD OF AWFUL WAYS YOU SO CHOOSE.
CG: MIGHT I SUGGEST SOMETHING INVOLVING A RUSTY MACE AND AN ABLUTION TRAP FULL OF FLESH-EATING PARASITES FROM THE PLANET OF 8ULGEFUCK.
AG: Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa whoaaaaaaa there Vantass, cool those p8ssionlobes for a second.
AG: All I was a8out to do was initi8 a calm and 8usinesslike discussion of our terms of agreement.
AG: No need to get all hot and 8othered a8out it 8efore we've even 8egun!
CG: THERE ARE PRECIOUS FEW MOMENTS IN MY LIFE WHERE I'VE PRAYED TO THE-POWERS-THAT-PROBABLY-DON'T-BE FOR A FILIAL PAIL TO COME RICOCHETING OUT OF NOWHERE AND STRIKE ME IN THE FACE WITH ENOUGH FORCE TO RENDER ME PERMANENTLY UNCONSCIOUS.
CG: IN CASE IT WASN'T BLATANTLY SELF-EVIDENT, THIS IS ONE OF THOSE TIMES.
AG: I really w8sh I had an emote that could show all 8 of my pupils rolling in various unimpressed directions, 8ecause I'd totally use it r8 now.
AG: Calm your 8ss down long enough for us to compl8 this conversation like adults!
AG: Oh and that's an order.
CG: I ALWAYS THOUGHT ADULTS WERE JUST OVERBLOWN VERSIONS OF THEIR WRIGGLER SELVES, BUT FINE.
AG: Hahahahahahaha oh man this is so gr8.
AG: I might have to change up the terms of your ensl8vement to me.
CG: WHAT? NO, FUCK THAT NOISE AND THE MAGICAL SHITPANTS FAIRYTAIL CARPET IT RODE IN ON, WE MADE A DEAL.
AG: We made a deal for 8 perigees.
AG: I didn't say when it would come into effect.
AG: Nor did I specify if we'd 8reak the time into segments, such as the time it t8kes you to follow each individual order.
AG: Which, according to the l8est issue of Crime Magazine, takes an a8erage of 0.778 seconds, if your sl8ves are well tr8ined and the outliers are ignored.
CG: OUTLIERS BEING THE REALLY EXHAUSTIVE, LIFE-THREATENING, TORTUROUS TASKS.
AG: So 8y my calculations I can give you either like 8ty 8azillion individual orders.
AG: Or you can 8e my official meatsheild for after our training is done and they send us out on the fe8ld, where your sole task is to cover me with your life as I go ch8rching valiantly into 8attle.
AG: That would allow me to 8e just that much more 8adass, and also it's a more traditional usage of a thrall.
AG: I can't decide which yet.
CG: "8TY 8AZILLION" IS NOT AN ACTUAL CALCULATION, YOU RANK EAU DE BITCH IN A FRILLY ARROGANCE BOTTLE.
AG: We could round up the estim8 make it 1 second.
AG: Then it would 8ecome the more manageable 8teen 8azillion.
CG: OR WE COULD GO BY HOW LONG IT ACTUALLY TAKES.
AG: 8ut then you'd take foreeeeeeeever to do everything! I'm not that stupid, give me some cre8it here.
CG: AM I SUPPOSED TO BE IMPRESSED THAT YOU CAME TO THE MOST OBVIOUS CONCLUSION POSSIBLE.
CG: BECAUSE I'M NOT.
AG: Let's do it this way.
AG: You can 8e my m8sheild.
AG: When we go out on the field you will do everything and anything to cover my 8ack and help me rise to my full 8adass potential.
AG: And we'll split the 8 perigees up into the amount of time you spend doing that!
CG: WHAT HAS MY LIFE COME TO FOR THIS TO SEEM LIKE A REASONABLE THING TO AGREE WITH?
CG: AND WHERE DO TRAINING EXCURSIONS COME IN?
AG: Yeah sure, so long as they're life-threatening. Those will 8e shorter too pro8a8ly!
AG: Awwwwwwww yeaaaaaaaah this is going to 8e the 8est!!!!!!!!
CG: I'D CASUALLY DISAGREE BUT THAT WOULD MEAN I'M NOT VEHEMENTLY AND BITTERLY DISAGREEING.
CG: WHICH IS WHAT I AM ACTUALLY DOING.
CG: BECAUSE APPARENTLY I'M AGREEING TO BE A FUCKING MEATSHIELD FOR VRISKA SERKET, THE ONE AND ONLY.
CG: HOW DO YOU KNOW I WON'T STAND BACK AND LET A TOOTHY ALIEN JUST RIP YOUR FACE OFF?
AG: Oh, I know you won't Karks.
CG: GODS FUCKING DAMNIT, WHY DOES EVERYONE INSIST ON GIVING ME A NICKNAME?
CG: IS "KARKAT" REALLY THAT EXCRUCIATINGLY DIFFICULT TO STUFF INTO YOUR VAPID SKULL?
AG: Now 8ack to the point:
AG: If you went 8ack on your very first promise upon entering the Fleet, your creds would 8e worthless.
AG: No8ody would ever cut a deal or do you a favor again.
AG: Honesty is money, my nu88y little friend.
CG: AU CONTRAIRE, LOOK AT YOU.
CG: GRAND HIGH LYING CHEATING BITCHESS, EVERYONE KNOWS IT, AND YOU STILL MANAGE TO CASH IN DEBT LIKE A FUCKING BLOODBANK.
AG: Hahahahahahahaha yessssssss, 8ut everyone needs me, so they can't help 8ut ask!!!!!!!!
CG: I COULD MAKE IT LOOK LIKE AN ACCIDENT. YOU'RE SERIOUSLY TEMPTING ME.
AG: Yes, you could. If you had the digestive acidsac for it.
AG: 8ut I know you, Karkat Vantas. And I know you won't go 8ack on your word. You're just that kind of losery troll. :::;)
AG: You think your self-preservational streak is a lot more than just a stre8k, 8ut really it's more like a turdpants smear.
AG: Your charmingly dated sense of honor is much stron8er!
AG: You couldn't 8e underhanded and manipul8ive and disreputa8le if you tried your very very hardest. But leave that to the pros. Like me!!!!!!!!
AG: 8ecause I really don't think you should try.
CG: WELL OBVIOUSLY.
CG: IF I PROVED YOU WRONG, YOU'D END UP DEAD.
AG: Oh Karks, that's so sweet.
AG: Why do you think messing with you losers is so much fun?
- arachnidsGrip [AG] ceased trolling carcinoGeneticist [CG] -
CG: YOU DON'T JUST END A CONVERSATION IN THE MIDDLE BECAUSE IT SUITS YOU, YOU CROSSPANNED MASSBITCH OF EGOTISTIC LIFESCREW.
CG: IT'S FUCKING DISCOURTEOUS.
- gallowsCalibrator [GC] started trolling carcinoGeneticist [CG] -
GC: HOW'S MY F4VOR1T3 NUBS1CL3 DO1NG?
CG: SO FIRST OF ALL, THAT IS CONDESCENDING AS FUCK AND ALSO DISGUSTING.
CG: CAN'T YOU CALL ME BY MY ACTUAL GIVEN NAME LIKE A SANE PERSON?
CG: THAT MUST BE THE PROBLEM. ALL OF YOU ARE INSANE.
GC: N3GAT1V3! US1NG YOUR G1V3N N4M3 WOULD B3 BL4SPH3MY! >:O
GC: BUT 4NYW4Y YOU N33D TO C4LM YOUR 4DOR4BL3 POST3R1OR DOWN 4LR34DY 4ND L1ST3N UP.
GC: 1'V3 B33N TALK1NG TO SOLLUX 4BOUT YOU
CG: WHY DOES EVERYONE START OFF A CONVERSATION WITH ME BY TELLING ME TO CALM MY ASS DOWN. STOP IT, ALREADY, ALL OF YOU. I'M CHILL AS A GODDAMNED SHARD OF FRIGID SALINE ICE PASSED BETWEEN THE GLUTEALS OF AN ARTIC FUCKING CHOLERBEAR.
CG: AND I FIGURED YOU TWO'VE BEEN TALKING.
CG: THE FIRST MASSIVE TIP-OFF WAS WHEN HE CALLED ME "NUMBNUBS" TO MY FACE
CG: WHAT THE ACTUAL MOUTHBREATHING FUCK, TEREZI. DON'T GO SLATHERING BULLSHIT NICKNAME SAUCE ALL OVER THE PERFECTLY STABLE FRIENDSHIPS I'VE BEEN NURTURING SINCE THE TENDER YOUNG AGE OF NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.
GC: STOP B31NG SUCH 4 SPO1LSPORT, KK.
GC: TH1S 1S 1MPORT4NT! 4ND P3RT41NS H34V1LY TO YOU!
GC: OK4Y W3LL M4YB3 1 DON'T 4CTU4LLY G1V3 MUCH OF A SH1T BUT 1 OW3 1T TO OUR MUTU4L FR13NDSH1P TO L3ND 4N 34R FROM T1M3 TO T1M3.
CG: I'M STILL WAITING FOR YOU TO GET TO THE FUCKING POINT.
CG: ANY PERIGEE NOW, PLEASE, DO TAKE YOUR TIME MISS RUMPUS RAZZMATEZZ, I WOULDN'T WANT YOUR STORYTELLING PALETTE IMPROPERLY WHETTED FOR INTELLIGENT CONVERSATION.
CG: BUT ALSO FEEL FREE TO SPIT IT OUT BEFORE I DIE OF THE OLD AGE ILLNESS.
GC: 4UGH F1NE!
GC: 1'M PR3TTY SUR3 OUR D34R FR13ND SOLLUX 1S R4TH3R SM1TT3N W1TH YOU.
GC: 4LTHOUGH 1 DON'T TH1NK H3 W4NTS TO 4DM1T 1T TO H1MS3LF.
CG: YOU'RE SHITTING ME.
CG: FOR ONCE I ACTUALLY WANT YOU TO BE SHITTING ME.
CG: BY ALL MEANS, GO AHEAD AND SQUAT YOUR WASTE CHUTE OVER MY PROSTRATE AND UNRESISTING BODY AND EXPEL EVERY LAST CUBIC MASS UNIT OF DIGESTED NUTRITION PASTE THAT IS SITTING IN YOUR BOWELS.
GC: 1'D W4G3R W1TH VR1SK4 TH4T H3'S H3AV1LY 4SH3N FOR YOUR CHO1C3 4SS.
CG: OKAY SO WHAT THE INEXPERIENCED FUCK.
CG: TEREZI YOU'RE TYPING WORDS AT ME BUT I FAIL TO SEE A SINGLE PIXEL OF COHERENCY.
CG: DO YOU EVEN HAVE A FUCKING CLUE ABOUT WHAT THE AUSPITICE QUADRANT EVEN MEANS?
GC: A SH1TLOAD OF 4 B3TT3R CLU3 TH4N YOU!
CG: YEAH, YOU AND SERKET, BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH.
CG: AN AUSPITICE RELATIONSHIP HAS TO DO WITH MEDIATING BETWEEN TWO OFF-BLACK TROLLS. EVERY UNHATCHED, PAN-DENTED GRUB KNOWS THAT.
GC: 4S MUCH 4S YOU LOV3 TH3M, ROMANT1C COM3D13S AR3 NOT 4N 4CCUR4T3 R3PR3S3NT4T1ON OF R3AL1TY, YOU S1LLY 1D1OT MORON DUMMY.
GC: TH3Y 4LW4YS DR4M4T1C1Z3 TH3 THR33W4Y B4L4NC1NG 4CT 4SP3CT, BUT 1N R34L L1F3 1T'S MOR3 4BOUT TH3 PR1MARY R3L4T1ONSH1P B3TW33N TWO TROLLS.
CG: HOW THE FUCK CAN YOU PRETEND YOU KNOW MORE ABOUT THIS THAN I DO?
GC: UGH YOU'R3 SO FRUSTR4T1NG!
GC: JUST L1ST3N FOR ONC3! 4SH3N 1S JUST TH3 FL1PSID3 OF P4L3. YOUR 4USP1T1C3 1S SOM3ON3 WHO P1SS3S YOU OFF FOR 4LL TH31R F4ULTS 4ND M1ST4K3S, BUT YOU PO1NT TH3M OUT RUTHL3SSLY 4ND H3LP TH3M NOT FUCK UP 4S MUCH. 4ND TH3Y DO TH3 S4M3 FOR YOU.
GC: 4ND Y3S, 1F TH3Y'R3 B31NG 4N 1D1OT BY P1N1NG 4FT3R SOM3ON3 WHO WON'T POS3 4 PROP3R K1SM3S1S, 1T'S YOUR H1L4R1OUS DUTY TO BULG3BLOCK TH3 FUCK 1NTO TH31R W4Y.
CG: I CAN'T BELIEVE I'M HEARING THIS.
CG: SINCE WHEN DID YOU BECOME THE EXPERT ON QUADRANTS?
GC: 1'M NOT. 4ND 1'M NOT PR3T3ND1NG TO B3.
GC: YOU'R3 JUST HOP3L3SSLY M1S1NFORM3D 4ND 1GNOR4NT IN COMP4R1SON TO MY GR34T UNSH4K4BLE KNOWL3DG3.
GC: 4ND 1'V3 F1N1SH3D W1TH WH4T 1 C4M3 TO T3LL YOU.
GC: SLOPPY PL4TON1C H4T3 M4K3OUTS.
CG: STOP FORCIBLY MOLESTING MY THINKPAN OH MY GOG.
GC: M4K3 SUR3 TO US3 TONGU3, H3 LOV3S TH4T. >;)
- carcinoGeneticist [CG] ceased trolling gallowsCallibrator [GC] -
GC: WOW RUD3!
GC: 1 W4S JUST PULL1NG YOUR FROND A L1TTL3. L34RN TO T4K3 4 JOK3 4LR34DY MR.C4NDY-C4N3-UP-MY-NOOK!
The four weeks on board the ISS Devastator turned out to last only three weeks, for a mysterious reason that no-one could cook up an answer to. These three weeks were filled with quasi-typical shenanigans, the summary of which would surely amount to a suitable title for a shitty comedy, like: In which twelve young trolls are forced to maintain polite friendships and quadrant romances in cramped quarters as they live in transit on their first Fleet ship. One case of black-red vacillations that tangle up the relationships of half the clade. One instance of a pulverized recouperacoon. Regular and comically disasterous gaper duties. Reluctant consumption of schoolfeed grubs and tasteless rations. No less than an average of twenty-two utterances of the word "FUCK" (all caps) per troll per night, as one mutant blooded troll is apparently somehow capable of getting violently starship-sick at odd intervals...
And so on and so forth.
Needless to say, when they all finally touched down on the training planet (titled 4L13N, chosen for its unique alien life and overall suitability to weeding out any worthless soldiers), just about everyone was relieved to leave their chaotic bunks behind. Of course, new challenges would face them planetside.
Aradia examined distastefully the very last schoolfeed grub of the Fleet packet she'd received. These things were always too bitter in her opinion, and invariably took their sweet time wriggling their way down your esophagus as you coughed and gagged with discomfort. And sometimes they got confused and went up her nasal passages. But they were also the fastest and most surefire way to download fresh trivia into a troll's think pan. They weren't allowed for private use outside the Fleet, and indeed, programming them to latch onto the brain, upload the necessary information, and then wither away into the immune system was a tricky business. Wouldn't want to make a mistake and tell it to eat its way methodically through the brain, starting at the stem and finishing at the thought lobes. And of course there was a limit to how much and what kind of information could be packed in. Data and knowledge on fighting maneuvers or starship piloting were all well and good, but they weren't much practical use until they'd been practiced physically. And the knowledge took a while to settle in and take root, depending on the troll. Hours or days or perhaps even weeks.
This last, very fat, very bulbous and greyish one was promised to give her a debrief on the atmospheric and geologic conditions she would face on planet 4L13N, as well as a basic overview on the native alien life. Although why the hell the Fleet specifically ordered them all to eat it just before landing was baffling in and of itself. By the time the data adhered itself to their brains, they'd already be sitting planetside. Seemed like a waste.
"Just 8 the damn thing already," snapped Vriska, who was waiting for her to finish, foot and fingers tapping impatiently, "We've gotta strap in for the ninja pirrouette landing jump. You miss that, you might leave bits of your pan behind in space."
Aradia snarled softly under her breath, closing her eyes tightly and popping the schoolfeed into his mouth. As expected, she gagged on its bitter aftertaste as it crawled dutifully down her nutrition chute.
"Alright, let's go."
One disorienting and psychedelic leap out of transitspace later, hundreds of young recruits found themselves being cheerfully ushered from the bowels of the Devastator, whose captain seemed only too happy to wave them goodbye and get her ship the hell off the training planet. The Captain hadn't been the most excellent host, reflected Aradia, but then again, she shouldn't be surprised.
The night sky of this planet was thick with stars; dense, unfamiliar bands of them lit the sky, and there were no moons to be seen. Aradia felt heavy as she walked across the landing strip. Stronger gravity, she thought. The heavy, humid air stung their eyes and respiratory sacs as they all hurried into the starport. Aradia saw many of the seadwellers clamp their hands over their fins and complain loudly amongst themselves. Feferi, however, seemed less affected overall than the rest of them, even the lowbloods. Aradia rolled her eyes. It was always the best of both worlds for that girl.
The airlock was supremely efficient. One moment there seemed to be nothing to breathe, and the next second the inner door slid aside heavily to let them through. Waiting for them was a large, empty room with glossy walls and floors, and one tall, adult ceruleanblooded male with a broken horn. A blotchy scar marred the skin on half his face, and one eye was blinded red.
"Gather up, little maggotlings," he said impatiently, gesturing to the empty floor directly in front of him, "I don't bite. As a matter a fact, I'm one of the few bitches on this rock that doesn't."
Scattered chuckles. Aradia felt the crowd move forward, and she shoved Vriska's back to get her moving, recieving a snappish cuss in return.
"My given name is Ninazu Cardea, but you can forget about calling me that," he said, digging a small remote from his pocket and hitting a button on it. The floor crackled slightly, the seams of the tiles glowing into light, and a myriad of holographic images hummed to life in the air around them, "You will call me by my title: Xcavator, and you better hope on your ass that you don't find out how I earned it." He winked.
Aradia believed him.
"I'm a trained field medic and your nanny lusus orientator while you're here. But you will not come to me for every little wrigglerass problem you have. Deal with it yourself. I only want to see you if you're drenched in blood. Now." He walked up to a hologram of a planet. "This here is sweet 'lil 4L13N." He patted the image lovingly, and it fizzrippled in retort. "About fifty percent more massive than Alternia, I'm sure you're all feeling that now. Seventy hour rotation and 1.5 sweep revolution time. Thinner atmosphere than you're used to, so if any of you get dizzy and whiny and sick, just chug some water and sleep it off, you pansy. I don't want to hear it. Enough acid mist in the air to cause soft tissue damage, so you are to wear a filter and mask outside at all times. And don't be out when it rains, obviously."
"As for the native life..." he walked over to an image of an ugly, bulbous-headed bipedal creature, "This baby girl here is the main attraction, although like I said, just about everything bites, so keep an eye out. These things live in communal hives, and have a pretty nifty little reproductive cycle. Don't worry about it for now. Your schoolfeeds will kick in soon enough with all the details. Tonight you'll all just settle in at Block 12C, and download your training schedules into your husktops. It'll be a while before we let you go face-to-face with one of these, but not too long, don't worry. Your landing group will follow the purple lights-" He pointed to a wall, where a purple line of light began and trailed off into a hallway. "-Simple as hell. So if you manage to get yourself lost it's your own damn fault. Breakfast tomorrow in the Nutrition Block at sunset, make sure your secondary clock is set to 4L13N-ST, it's gonna feel early with the shiplag. Now scram."
Aradia dug through the dispersing crowd to where Sollux was standing, examining the ten-foot hologram of the alien.
"Just look at this thing," he muttered, "Ugly, but dosn't look like anything 2peciial. Stupid-looking retractable inner jaws and a disconcertingly similar body structure to a troll, but... I wish my fucking schoolfeeder would start uploading already."
"The others are leaving," she said, "They'll take all the good spots if you don't hurry up."
"Fiine, I'm coming."
Choosing recouperacoons wasn't as much as an ordeal as it could've been, but after a few weeks spent onboard together, the other trolls on the ISS Devastator had grown used to the novelty of Feferi's presence and become bolder about worming into her good graces, and she wasn't one to be impolite. I.E. this time the twelve had ten more roommates in their communal respite area.
Eridan was particularly offended by the proceedings.
"Look at 'em all, tryin to get all frondly with her, fucking nooklicks," he muttered, baring his fangs and squinting at the greens through purples who were settling into the recouperacoons on the other side of the room.
Or maybe, thought Karkat, there just isn't any room left in the other respite blocks designated for our landing group, you wwad of wwiny wwiltwwanking.
And then Karkat slid his low-clearance ID card through the slot on the wall next to a servicable recouperacoon, and with an unceremonious beep, his sleeping location for the next sweep was recorded into some buzzing little silicomb facility somewhere on this dreary, acid-laden planet.
When his 4L13N-Standard-Time alarm went off the next evening, he twitched, sat up, and promptly bruised his cheekbone on the spine of a plastic-wrapped, honest-to-crap-ancient-style book suspended in sopor. He immediately flipped his shit, jarring everyone who wasn't already awake out of their blissful unconsciousness.
"FUCKING HELL, IF I FIND THE BULGEDIP WHO STUCK THIS IN MY SLIME I WILL FUCKING CASTRATE THEIR SEEDFLAP WITH A WRITHING SPARKWORM SO HELP ME!"
"Oh my GOD2 would you 2hut UP?"
"WH8888RE WHAH? HUH?"
"It's fine VVris, Kar's just being an assdump as usual."
But then Karkat opened the book.
Between the front cover and the first page was a crisp note handwritten in black ink.
keep this secure. you will be culled if it falls into the wrong hands. don't give it away. be extremely careful with whom you speak to about it, especially over the nets.
p.s. contact me when you're ready. no sooner.use an alias handle and any other precautions you deem necessary
p.p.s. and yes you better read the fucking thing and live up to some of my seriously badass expectations before you do. sorry.
Karkat stared at the note for a long time, long enough to hear most of his roomates finish getting ready in their communal respiteblock, before he finally captchalogued both it and the book.
- carcinoGeneticist [CG] started trolling gallowsCalibrator [GC] -
- carcinoGeneticist [CG] ceased trolling gallowsCalibrator [GC] -
Chapter 17: [H] Jade's Island
The one week on board the Boat of Sick Beats (as christened by Dave, to the futile protest of his friends) was filled with quasi-typical shenanigans, the summary of which would surely amount to a suitably shitty title for a shitty comedy, like: Sick Times on Sick Beats.
That would be pretty shitty indeed.
When they all finally anchored down on Jade's Island, everyone was pretty enthused to get the hell off the boat and start exploring already. Unfortunately for everyone, there were a few THINGS TO DO before any merry outings could be planned. Once the friends had disembarked the ship and settled themselves down one of Jade's home's empty floors, they proceeded to squander the rest of the day messing around in the greenhouse and then messing around on the crystal-clear private beach. Only later in the evening they would make PLANS of THINGS TO DO.
Rose stood lightly on the beach, staring contemplatively at the expansive blue ocean as her toes wriggled into the sand and her friends charged into the cold, salty water (screaming hysterically all the way) until they were waist-deep in brine. They then partook in the typical juvenile antics that involved a lot of splashing and shouting and laughing.
Rose, however, merely crept up to the edge of the waves, where the sand was darker from water, and where she had to keep dancing back and forth with the waves to keep her shins dry, light as a ghost on her feet. A balmy breeze blew her hair annoyingly into her face and she brushed it away with one hand and backed away from the water again, a smile on her face as she looked up at the cloudless sky, tinted a deeper blue from the shading of her sunglasses.
She may not make an immediate fool of herself when delighted, as her friends were prone to do, but she was delighted none the less.
"C'mon Rose!" John shouted, sweeping his hand across the blue water to send water skidding at her (it didn't reach).
At that moment Dave took the opportunity to blindside John with a full-scale sidetackle, knocking him bodily into the water with little more resistance than a shocked yell on John's part. Jade laughed, covering her grinning teeth with one hand, and Bec barked loudly from somewhere down the beach. Rose's smile widened, and she carefully slipped her sunglasses from her face and tucked them away in their case, leaving both behind on the towels they'd set up on the sand.
She splashed into the waves, water sharply cold on her legs as she joined her friends.
They stayed out all day on the beach, and when night began to fall, Jade had them all gather up some branches, and showed them how to make a fire from scratch. Rose watched intently as Jade rubbed a thin stick between her palms, the sound thrumming into a rhythm and when smoke began to rise, they all cupped their hands to protect the heat from the wind as Jade carefully, carefully, blew on smoking bits of moss and leaves until they could be built into a proper flame.
They could've gone back to the house to get a match, but really? Where's the fun in that?
Jade knew what she was doing, and though it took some time, they soon had a respectable fire crackling before them and warming their faces. The light flickered in the lenses of all her friends, and for some reason Rose found this quite enthralling; she found her gaze shifting between John's glasses, then Dave's, then Jade's, and back again. Dave proceeded told some ironically "scary" ghost stories that John seemed to enjoy and Jade seemed to tolerate.
"...And the girl thought it would be a good idea to keep the red ribbon and wear it, even though she'd been warned about the thing being haunted, but noooooooo. So sure enough, wherever she wore it on her skin, red welts and bruises rose up a day later, as though someone, or something were grabbing and twisting her skin, trying to hurt her. And it did hurt, but she kept wearing the ribbon, because it was fucking beautiful, apparently, the most beautiful red ribbon she'd ever owned, or ever seen."
Rose watched him tell the tale, vaguely intrigued by his expression as he stared into the flames, the light flickering red-orange in his shades. Jade was starting to look a little scared, despite herself.
"And then the day came that the bruises and welts started to spread even where she didn't touch it, until one morning her mother found her, lying dead on her bedroom floor, deep blue bruises left on her neck where she'd been strangled," Dave whispered, "she was still clutching that pretty red ribbon in her hand, and if you'd have examined it, you'd realize that it was another inch or so longer."
How ironic was this? Rose wondered. And where had he heard such a tale?
They kicked sand over their little fire until it fizzled to death, and Jade filled a bucket (one they'd used to make sandcastles earlier that day) with seawater and dumped it over the ashes with a hiss.
They hiked back up to Jade's house, quiet, but upon entering the well-lit entryway, it was easy to leave the ghost stories behind them. They ate a very late, very delicious dinner and then traipsed upstairs where they'd settled down their things. Jade pulled four mattresses out from somewhere, and they laid them on the ground in a four-point-star, spreading sheets and blankets over them and settling in for rest after a long day of fun.
But Jade wasn't quite ready to let them all drop off into dreamland. Instead, she pulled a pen and notebook out and propped both against her pillow, grinning at her tired friends conspiringly. Bec laid his head on her pillow, and she pushed him aside. He whined softly.
"Hush, Bec. Okay!" she said importantly, "We're going to make PLANS of THINGS TO DO, since you guys are going to need some proper adventuring training before we get started on the main event! I'll make sure you don't neglect any bare basics, like how to rappel and everything, but I wanna see what you guys can come up with! Even if it's just fun stuff, heehee."
"How about like, tomorrow or something," Dave mumbled and pulled his blankets up over his face, "I'm fucking pooped."
Jade looked put out.
"How about you give us some lessons on firearms?" Rose suggested, and her friend brightened immediately, scribbling something down in her notebook, "This establishment seems to be packed with them. And though they are not strictly speaking pertinent to our expedition, it cannot hurt to gain some proficiency in them if we plan to bushwhack through a jungle allegedly packed with dangerous beasts."
"Excellent request, Miss Lalonde! Anyone else?"
She glared expectantly at John.
"Uh, you could teach us how to build a fire? Like the way you did down at the beach. I always thought that'd be a pretty sweet thing to know."
Jade nodded approvingly at him and scribbled in her notebook again. Rose felt the corner of her mouth quirk up. Harley was an unstoppable force of enthusiasm. A force of enthusiasm who had no qualms about slavedriving her friends with brainstorms to make sure they all had a good time.
She looked up from her notebook. "Dave?"
Rose glanced over at him and realized that he'd already fallen asleep. She smacked him smartly and remorselessly across the cheek. He started and opened his eyes blearily.
"Oh my fucking... Fine. Backpacking. Exploring. Pitchin' a tent. Beach bumming like we did today, that was cool. This island's got it all," he grumbled, "Except apparently friends who understand the fucking meaning of beauty sleep."
"Of which you are in dire need," Rose remarked.
He flipped her off, eyes closed.
Jade grinned blindingly. She really was enjoying this. It was adorable. "Silly Dave, beach bumming isn't a conductive skill to spelunking! Rose, your turn again!"
"How about just survival skills in general? It would be unfortunate if one of us got lost on the backpacking trip and then died of dehydration. The basics of navigation, perhaps? Botany?"
"Yeah, so like, we'll know how to survive in a zombie apocalypse!" John looked ever so pleased at the thought. What a dork, Rose thought, watching him affectionately. They were all a bunch of dorks.
Dave let out a sudden, loud snore(t) that sounded awfully fake. John glared at his 'sleeping' face, and Jade giggled a little.
Rose could explode with how much she loved these people.
"Alright, well, I guess we can give it more thought in the morning," said Jade, and she closed the notebook, getting up to switch off the lights, "Goodnight, everybody. Sleep tight!"
And when everyone settled down into their blankets and quiet fell upon them:
"Fucking finally," Dave sighed, his voice loud in the darkness.
Rose rolled over to swat her fist at him but he yelped "Ouch! Dammit John!" before she even made contact. Smiling like an idiot, she retracted her hand.
Chapter 18: [T] Cahoooooooots
The line "POINTLESS MASTURBATORY BLUEBLOOD HORSESHIT" is courtesy of Karkat Vantas, from the AU/crossover Goblet of Sick Fires
- carcinoGeneticist [CG] started trolling arachnidsGrip [AG] -
CG: FUCK THIS
CG: FUCK THAT
CG: FUCK ME
AG: Well well well well well well well well if it isn't mister nu88y-8rains Vantas!
AG: I don't have any very important and deadly menial tasks for you to do for me tonight, so you don't strictly need to seren8de my amazing existence, although I know it can 8e difficult to cont8n yourself.
AG: 8ut don't you think you might 8e coming on a little strong? :::;)
CG: FUCK YOU
CG: I JUST NEVER THOUGHT I WOULD PHYSICALLY SINK SO FAR DOWN INTO THE MUCILAGINOUS CESSPOOL OF LIFE'S FORTUNES THAT I'D END UP WILLINGLY CHOOSING TO CONTACT YOU.
CG: OF ALL PEOPLE.
CG: IN THE ENTIRE REALMS OF REALITY.
CG: IF YOU THINK I'M COMING ON A ***LITTLE*** STRONG YOU'RE NOT MISREADING ME HARD ENOUGH.
CG: I'M FUCKING STAGGERING UNDER THE GOBSMACKED ENORMITY OF MY RELUCTANCE IN GETTING EVEN MORE CAUGHT UP IN YOUR LUNACY THAN I ALREADY AM.
AG: Ugh and there I was almost wondering for a little moment why I d8n't take more precious time out of my nights for the the simple pleasure of speaking to you.
AG: I'm soooooooo glad you reminded me.
AG: Hurry up 8efore my godly supplies of patience swallows herself whole.
AG: Tick tock.
CG: YOUR ANCESTOR.
CG: DIDN'T YOU SAY SHE SENT YOU SOME BULLSHIT JOURNAL OR WHATEVER FROM SPACE?
AG: And wh8 8usiness is that of yours?
AG: None! 8uzz off, 8ulgewad. Next.
CG: CUT THE CRAP.
CG: YOU'VE TAKEN SWEEPS OFF OUR LIVES BRAGGING ABOUT THAT JOURNAL.
CG: SO YOU CLAIMED SHE WAS AROUND DURING A REVOLUTION OR SOME SHIT?
AG: Come on, Karks! You're 8oring me here.
CG: SO IF YOU HAD THE HYPOTHETICAL CHANCE TO SWAP SOME ANCESTOR JUNK, WOULD YOU BE INTERESTED?
AG: Don't tell me you suddenly 8elieve in the, and I quote, "POINTLESS MASTUR8ATORY 8LUE8LOOD HORSESHIT" that is tracing your line8age?
AG: History isn't really your thing, if I recall correctly. And I 8lways recall correctly, 8ecause I'm just that fucking awesome.
AG: And what makes you think you have 8nything I'd be interested in????????
CG: I'LL TELL YOU IN PERSON. LUNCH.
- carcinoGeneticist [CG] ceased trolling arachnidsGrip [AG] -
- caligulasAquarium [CA] started trolling arachnidsGrip [AG] -
AG: Alr8 then wh8 do you want this time?
CA: holy carp vvris howw do you evven respond before ivve said anyfin?
CA: you livve in front of your husktop night and day just wwaitin for people to showwer you wwith messeages or wwhat
CA: its my duty to be tellin you that behavvior is fuckin pathetic
AG: I don't have to w8, idiot! Don't get my husktop ha8its confused with yours.
AG: You losers are constantly 8egging for my attention, I can hardly catch a 8reak 8etween chatlogs.
AG: So many fucking iiiiiiiirons in the f8re.
AG: I'm not made of time, Ampora! ::::/
CA: its fef
AG: Hold up r8 there.
AG: Don't you dare tell me you've 8lunderingly pulled terri8le moves on her ag8in or I will 8ludgeon you to death.
CA: cod vvris wwould you just clam dowwn for once i didnt do nothing alright
CA: im just wworried about her thats all
CA: her imperious conchdescension is gonna come for her evventually
CA: i thought that maybe
AG: Eridan Eridan Eridan Eridan Eridan Eridan Eridan Eridan we've 8eaten this hoof8east carcass around the 8lock at least a 8illion different ways.
AG: I taught you the fine art of pestering Thollukth into constant twitchiness, and I told you I've 8een pulling motiv8tional spadestrings through Aradia too. Wh8 more do you want from me????????
AG: You know 8etter than to st8ck up all these favors!
CA: vvris i
AG: No I'm done.
AG: She'll be fine, her tr8ining will be fine, her life will be f8ne!
AG: You hover too much and next th8ng you know she'll end up a useless little milkso8 and no8ody want's th8t! 8ack off and let her do her thing!
- arachnidsGrip [AG] ceased trolling caligulasAquarium [CA] -
Karkat ducked behind a crag of rock, narrowly missing an electroplasma shot to the face. Nonetheless, the air shook and hissed and crackled with enough charge to stand his hair on end and give him a nasty zapping feeling in his puny little horns. It made his teeth sing weirdly.
"Who's wise-guy idea was it to let a bunch of untrained imbeciles have a first crack at some fresh-baked laserguns by putting them all in a closed cave system and telling them to shoot at each other?" Karkat demanded.
Nepeta's eyes and fangs shone in the gloom, "It's lasertag, Karkitty! It's supposed to be fun!"
And then she decaptcha'd a big scum-green lasercanon and did a neat little roll out of their cover, came up on one knee, and let loose about twenty blinding basts into glow-peppered the darkness. There was more than one scream of surprise/pain, and a shower of beams in retaliation, but by then Nepeta had rolled back out of sight and the rounds burned harmlessly into the craggy rock formations around them. She blew a charismatic puff of air on the end of he canon and then winked at Karkat.
"Nice one, sis."
"Thank you, Gamzee," she said sweetly.
Karkat groaned with exhasperation and took another peek over the rock. Seriously, was he the only sane person in here who had an idea of what danger meant?
"Calm down, Karkit! Our guns are all set to singe."
"Yeah, sure, I'll belive that when lardbeasts start sprouting wings and shitting rainbows... Oh fucking sack of sopping hoofbeast-crap to the facegaper we're getting outflanked. Nepeta, cover fire, Gamzee, just stick close. This blockade is useless, they're creeping up the left side. Follow me on three, two, FUCK-IT-FUCK-IT-FUCK-IT-OPEN-FIRE."
About five trolls ranging between brown and teal leaped over the crag they'd been using for cover, rifles blazing and fangs bared in triumphant grins. Nepeta and Gamzee roared in synchronized excitement and threw themselves into the fray, while Karkat scrambled away faster than he knew scrambling could carry him, decaptchaloguing a pair of flashpistols that automatically sealed over his fists.
ZAP-ZAP-ZAP and the greenblood in front of him crumpled, howling and seizing, just as a burst of heat exploded across Karkat's chest, sending him skidding backward across the rough stone and gasping for air.
Somewhere to his left, Nepeta screamed, first in pain, then in malicious fury, and Karkat, still gasping, flipped out of the way of a yellow's stomping boots, and shot a flurry of charges up at the looming figure, who fell to her knees, then her face, twitching silently. Gamzee roared, lights flashed, the air stung with charge, and then, as suddenly as the chaos had roiled in, it became quiet again, and Karkat rolled over the prone, still-spazzing yellowblood and attempted to steady his breath.
"We're here. I think my cheekbone's scorched or something, but otherwise A-OK. It looks like Gamzee's recovering from a flashshock, he's spazzing a little but I think he's fine."
Karkat breathed out heavily through his snortbarrels. Goddamn he hoped he hadn't friendly-fried the guy. He sat up, then stood to a crouch, and prodded one of their felled opponents with the end of one pistol. The troll twitched and moaned.
"Let's get moving before these scumfucks wake up. Mother-grub-fucking-sons-of-demoness this place is so SANITY DEPRIVED."
This evening we played lasertag in a lightless system of caves as part of training. It was so fun. I must say, if military tr8ning is all like this, it's going to 8e an awesome sweep!!!!!!!! I shot a lot of idiots in the 8ack of the head and they got so pissed 8ecause now they are 8ald 8ecause their heads caught fire except for the 8oring ones who f8nted and had to go to the hospitroll.
And then Vriska set fire to yet another journal. Writing is stupid! And hard! Try as she might to live up to her ancestor, journal-writing was such an intensely 8oring pastime, and she had so many other important irons she could be firing in the time spent sitting down and painstakingly scrawling (by hand! So annoying. But journals must be done by hand, obviously) all of her day's activities. Like she had the time to fondly regard every little event of the night! Forg8t it!
Sweeping aside the smoldering wreckage of paper and binding, Vriska got back to her feet and strolled through her anti-light barrier and into the common floorspace shared by her eleven acquaintances and another ten or so nameless highbloods of little note. Most everyone at this point had their barriers turned on, but one of the random bluebloods had his switched off. She spared him a glance and stifled a loud snort when she noticed that half his hair was burnt away and one horn was charred with black soot. Sucker.
Without bothering to announce her arrival, Vriska stomped confidently into Eridan's block of anti-light. He clapped his husktop closed with a startled snap and looked up at her irritably. Like she even cared what he was browsing on the nets.
"What do you want noww?"
She slouched dramatically against his recouperacoon and sighed with all the weight of eight hundred individual irons.
"You have no i8ea how hard it is, being me."
Eridan did absolutely nothing to hide his eyeroll, and opened his husktop again, shifting so that she wouldn't be able to see the screen.
"What optionals you going to sign up for?"
He started typing something, and then stopped to spare her a glance. "After the horrific glubbin daymares I got from the last schoolfeed? Fivve blocks 'a target practice and another fivve on how to mess the hell out of alien physiologies."
"Easy. Universal Headshot Rule. UHR's like the grubsauce of combat. But what exactly did you see?" she asked, cross at how slowly her own grub was uploading into her pan. Half the new recruits were shaking in their glow-tipped boots and she wanted to know what the hell the pansies were so terrified of.
"Hell no, I ain't gonna describe it. Anywaves..." he closed his husktop again, resignedly, and turned his attention back to her (as he should), "What is it you're up about? You shore aren't talkin to me for no reason."
"You already know I got an oath out of Vantas worth eight perigees, yeah?"
He groaned, "VVris, I'd be honestly shocked if anyone missed your rubbing it in his face these past coupla wweeks."
She grinned. "Well I have enough dirt on him to get him to swear his l8fe over to me. Why do you think I stuck my neck out for him in the first place? Eight measly perigees, pshhhhhhhh! But I can't decide between that or getting him culled... Which do you think would be more fun?"
"Oh my cod VVris you've gotten yourself flushcrushed on him haven't you?"
The tips of her horns tingled indignantly. "No!" she snapped. With too much vigor, too quickly. Damn.
Eridan groaned. "I can't believve you. You've got to stop gettin all these dumb little red-bubble crushes evverywwhere. Stick with Eq, he keeps you stable. Anyone else and you'll end up killing them with the blunt force trauma of your pity."
"No I won't!"
He raised one eyebrow, slow and deliberate. The smug asslick. "So Tavv just wwalked offa that cliff of his own accord, now did he?"
She scoffed, "That was sweeps ago! Practically 8ncient history! And he's fine, anyway, Megido hauled his ass back before gravity 8arely had a chance to do it's job!"
"You don't know what to do with yourself when it comes to redrom," he said firmly, and damn him for being right, "Leavve Kar be."
A pause. Vriska squinted at Eridan contemplatively, and he shifted uncomfortably in his seat, purplish eyes flickering back and forth between her pupils. She could practically feel the viscous waves of defensiveness tingling on the tips of his earfins.
"You're flushcrushing on him aren't you?"
He sputtered like the dribbly end of a rusty water tube. VVictory. A moirail always knows.
"Give it up, Ampora. You flushcrush on just about everything that hobbles unattractively across your path. And I do mean evverything. Remember that one slimecreature...?" She winked.
He responded with a textbook glub-scoff straight from The Highblood's Guide to Interpreting Abnormal Seadweller Body Language - A Handy Manual On How Not To Offend The People In Charge Of Your Cull Status. Not that she ever read that shit or anything. Really.
"VVris, you remind me evvery night. But you mess up Kar, you mess up Sol, and that'll mess up Aradia."
He caught the pleased look on her face and backtracked. "You mess up Sol, and you mess up your relationship with me. And Tez will be chewing you out for sweeps if she doesn't just break off with you altogether. And then you'll mess up Fef through Sol too and she might get pissed enough to just boot you outta the clade. Not to mention Kan, you'll get her all mad too, you knoww that, and who knows what she'll do then?"
"Ugh, shut up!" It was then Vriska's turn to sputter and fume. She snarled under her breath and turned her gaze upwards, "Fucking quadrants clade, sucks the fun out of everything!"
Eridan reopened his husktop, "That's the point ain't it? Keeping trigger-happy glubskulls like you from shooting up mutual acquaintances. Do us all a favvor and keep the culling for the xenolife around this training outpost." He shivered. "Yeesh."
"The fuck is so scary about them?"
"WWhatevver. You'll know soon enough. I just hope they don't send us out before we're ready, we really can't afford to lose Fef-"
"Ugh, shut up!," she snapped, and stomped out of his block. It was almost midnight after all; they'd start serving grub in the Nutrition Block pretty soon. And she had some curious little irons to fire in there.
"Lovve ya too, VVris."
A moment later, she strutted back in.
"Feferi..." she said thoughtfully, lips pulling slowly into a full-fledged smirk.
She waved one finger in front of her mouth. "Shh-sh-sh-sh-sh-sh-sh-sh! I may have scouted us another valuable asset for Operation Regisurp."
Eyebrows up, fins fluttering, unimpressed facial expression. "We went over this. We don't reely need VVantas, VVris. Already checked Megido off for marroons, even though chances are she'll burn out by twenty. He doesn't even have a sliver of psych..."
She bared her fangs in a grin, "Oh Eridan, you really should stop being so close-minded."
She wouldn't tell him everything, not yet. But just think, she thought gleefully, just imagine the havoc we're going to wreak when we roll these dice.
Terezi stood tapping one finger against her chin, gazing at the grubhusk embedded in the wall of the Nutrition Block and deliberating on her final course choices. They'd been given information on the elective classes in the info download just after arrival, and the deadline for signups was at the end of lunch. Everyone was required to take all the boring stuff like Organization Tactics: Leadership (OTL-101), Reconaissance of Forgein Linguistics (ROFL-380), Wreking Terrestrial Formations (WTF-612), Starship Navigation and Flight Utilities (SNAFU-413), Foundational Metaphysics: Lifeslaughter (FML-420) and so on and so forth.
Psychics of all blood castes who scored 60% and higher on telekinetic or teletemporal charge aptitude were immediately required to take a course in Helming: Useful Applications (HUA-222). Even violetbloods, rare though those were. The cutoff for limebloods and down was at 45%, and for marroons it was 30%. Most battleships kept an extensive log of all trained Helmsmen, and kept them cycling through during transit to keep their batteries from burning out. Terezi had scored a hefty 4.13% for teletemporal in the evaluation game, which was quite impressive for a non-psychic. Vriska had been what, 8.88%, telekinetic? Anyway, the only ones in their circle who were mandated to take HUA were Aradia, at 68.6% in telekinetics, and Sollux, at 222.22% in both telekinetics and teletemporals.
Somehow, Terezi was both supremely unsurprised and completely disbelieving that this was even possible.
Karkat had scored 0.00%.
Everyone had laughed at him because only doornails score 0.00%. Like, seriously, there are worms that emit trace amounts of teletemporal charge. A lot of worms, in fact. Some vegetation, too, while we're at it. And slime. Actually, for him to register as utterly psychically inert was rather worrisome and mysterious. He could, after all use his sylladex and strife specibus without any undue trouble...
As a tealblood, Terezi could expect to be admitted to any two optionals directly related to her potential carreer (Legislaceration, which she'd tested outstandingly for in the evaluation game a sweep back), and maybe another that was tangentially related, if she was lucky. So far she'd chosen Legislacerative Operations Law (LOL-1025), of course, but she couldn't decide on the second. The Retroactivity of Lawful Litigation (TROLL-010) looked looked like a good choice, but this weird one called Stupidity: The Focused Utilization (STFU-609) also looked... interesting? But how would you even have a physical course for STFU-609?
The fun thing all these classes had in common was their hands-on attributes. Otherwise you could feasibly stuff a shit-ton of schoolfeeds into everyone's mouths and be done with it, although that would put a serious strain on the supply of the feeders. The point of these courses was to learn through doing, gain the muscle memory and instincts of a soldier, not just the rote "memorization" knowledge provided by a schoolfeed. Mock trials, lasertag, and excursions into the wild habitats of 4L13N was of course a standard supplement for many of the classes.
In the end she decided to try for both. Who knows, maybe she'd get lucky. She tapped TROLL-010 and STFU-69 into the huskpad and got into a food line.
Picking up her tray of miserably colorless and textureless food, she took a sniff-gander at the cafeteria. From waaaaaaaay across the room, someone waved a cherry-red flag at her, and Terezi made a beeline for it, grinning like a skull.
"Vriska! I never knew you cared!" she gushed, dropping her tray onto the table with enough gusto to spill gruel everywhere, and throwing herself into the seat next to her auspitice. "Hehehe, did you make that flag just for me, D4RL1NG?"
"Cut it out with the sappy romantic shit, Terezi, or I swear I'll start puking this grey nutrition purée right up into your face."
"No you won't Karkles," she said flippantly, giving Vriska's cheek a sharp pinch (getting a yelp and a hiss in response).
"So help me I will stick this nosh utensil down my throat and incite a gag reflex if my bodily nausea can't keep up with my threats," he warned.
She started slurping up her food with a nosh utensil of her own. "4NYW4Y what're you two conniving about today?"
"We don't conn8ve, Terezi," Vriska scoffed haughtily.
"What she said." Karkat glowered, equally haughty. But was this sour smell of defensiveness in the air?
"We're in cahoooooooots!" Vriska waggled her eyebrows and her fingers (the artificial ones whirred a little).
"Fuck it I'm going to shove this whole ceramic bowl down your big fat flapchute. SHUT UP, Serket."
Terezi laughed, loud and high and long enough for Vriska to lose patience and elbow her in the face. It's not like she could help it, though, her friends were just such a pleasure to spend time with. Clades are a beautiful thing. Interaction without as much threat in the way of thoughtless murder. This was the sweet life.
Although the thought of Karkat Vantas and Vriska Serket in cahoots was rather extremely worrisome. Sure, spider8itch had a life-pact on him or something, but.
Still. Cahoots. The hell was up with that?
The next morning, Jade led her friends down countless (three), flights of stairs, stopping on the ground floor in front of what looked like an enormous, buffed-steel door. The thing must have been made for a giant or some shit. She typed in a long code in the panel next to the door, and then removed a large key from her pocket, turning it three times in the keyhole, and the sound of a huge bolt being drawn grated in their ears.
With a final click at the end, Jade wrapped both hands around the handle and tugged, dragging the door open wide.
Dave, Rose, and John stared in, awed. It was Dave who first found his voice.
"Alright, so seriously, Jade. Seriously. Is this island your grandpa's own little nation in the middle of the sea, or what? Because for one guy to own that many guns just has to be illegal."
"Don't be silly, Dave!"
And with that, Jade strolled confidently into a well-lit corridor packed to the gums with all manner of shooty little instruments of death and pain.
"That... really doesn't answer my question," Dave muttered, following her in.
Sure, Dave had been in gun shops before. He'd been to the firing range with his bro and shot a paper target with the occasional rifle, or maybe a Glock pistol or something. He'd played a healthy amount of first-person shooter games on his computer at home, and he'd watched movies packed with all manner of semiautomatics and grenade launchers and bazookas.
But nothing was quite like this.
This was a military-grade weapons facility, he was sure of it. A whole floor of Jade's huge house dedicated to a donut-shaped room that wrapped around this basement, steel walls lined neatly with guns upon guns upon guns upon guns. It was a little nerve-wracking, actually, walking through a fucking corridor of handheld killing machines, some of them the size of his palm, others easily longer than he was tall.
Did the old man have a gun fetish or something? Was he preparing for the nuclear apocalypse by storing an army's worth of firearms? Was he running an black market for these things, selling them to mafias worldwide? Dave had no idea but he was prepared to believe any and all of it.
Jade stopped in front of a long gun with a slender barrel.
"Granps and I call this one the Big Bang," she said cheerily, and somehow Dave did not feel the urge to roll his eyes. "It can let one gunman shoot rounds made for vehicle turrets. Standard-issue in the U.S. military, I think." She winked at the lot of them. "It's got all kinds of recoil dampeners, but still packs quite a rebound, so you usually shoot it settled on the ground."
And she moved on, her friends trailing dazedly behind her. Well, except for Rose. But she was physically incapable of being fazed.
"Snipsey here has a really nice lasersight, we spent one afternoon on our porch shooting soda cans off the edge of the volcano."
Somehow the only question Dave had about that little anecdote was how long it took them to line up soda cans on the edge of the volcano.
"Oh, I love shotguns, just for the chu-chunk sound, hehe," Jade mimed loading a shotgun in the air, grinning widely, "But the buckshots spray, so it's not so much an accuracy weapon. Still does a lot of damage of course, you should see the tree out back."
"This one looks tiny, I know, but if you know how to handle it you can carry it around in your mouth, spit it out, and shoot up a joint like there's no tomorrow."
"See all these barrels? Crazy loading mechanism, I tell you, but you pull the trigger once and it shoots twenty bullets! Isn't that sooooo cooooooool?"
Alright, Jade, good to know. I'll take your word for it. That is one gun that looks totally functional, sure.
"This one can shoot pebbles and glass and any other crap you have on hand. So long as it fits down the barrel. Pretty handy if you start running out of actual ammo."
Okay, wow. How does that even work.
"Another one of Granp's designs, here. The bullets are what special, though, pretty huge, and can carry all kinds of surprises. We've got everything from good ol' explosive tips to neurotoxin gas. There's some tear gas and net-spitters and tasery-thingee bullets in the mix too, I think."
Fucking kidding me.
"This one just blasts that song, Turn Me On, at your enemy."
They all shuddered.
"And this..." Jade stopped in front of something that looked more like a cannon than a gun, "Granps' been developing a lasergun. Harder than you'd think! He's not the only one who's succeeded, we hear. But this one runs on solar. Although it takes like a bazillion hours of charging with these big old foldup panels between thirty-second beams, we're working on that."
Whatever you say sweet young lady.
She clapped her hands together. "So how about we pick up a couple pistols and go do some shooting?"
After all that, just a little pistol shooting. Dave wasn't sure if he felt disappointed or relieved. He was really starting to feel uneasy around all these things. Call him a wimp, but he had a realistic understanding of how much damage any one of these items could do.
"Awww, we're not shooting the one that does twenty a pop?" John pouted. Dave shook his head at the kid. Apparently once the novelty wore off it was just room full of toys for him. Go figure.
"Nah, not yet," Jade said absentmindedly. Not yet. "Help me get these boxes of rounds, will ya guys?" Not 'yet.'
Alright, okay, so sue Dave if the novelty was wearing off on him too, to make room for the excitement. They had the locker fulla guns, the cases fulla ammo, and the Jade Harley fulla fuckin awesome.
Dave grinned. If this wasn't the best summer ever, he'd eat a round of bullets.
Jade loaded them up with ammo and revolvers and pistols, and then she hauled a shotgun over her shoulder like it was nothing and lead the way out of the gun locker, up the stairs and through a back door. The four of them treaded through the somewhat humid summer air, their shoes crunching dirt and their foreheads beading sweat by the time they get to end of the forest path, where a well-worn clearing stood, ready and waiting to serve its purpose as a shooting range.
Dave set down his heavy box full of ammunition with a sigh and handled the six-chamber revolver Jade gave him back in her basement. It had a pearly grip, more for show than anything, and he figured that sure, he could ironically fill the bill of a western cowboy or some shit for the next few hours. Bitches, I'm such a Texan, two-thirds cowboy; it's in my blood, hee-yah. Pass me a horse and I'll round up them dogies.
He lifted the gun in one hand and peered down the sight at a pitted tree trunk on the other end of the clearing.
Rose was showing John how to hold his pistol, ("Both hands!" "But Dave isn't..." "I said both hands, John!") because apparently Rose already knew what she was doing, on account of her mother not only being a drunk and a wisecrack scientist, apparently a sharpshooter extraordinaire. An image of Rose's mother with a martini in one hand, a laptop in the other, and a semi-automatic assault rifle resting on her hip rose unbidden in Dave's imagination.
Dave lowered his gun for a second and took a moment to take his daily fifteen seconds of appreciation for his friends' weird backgrounds. He then moved over to Jade where she was hoarding the bullets.
"Can you spare six slugs for a poor old fart like me?"
Jade glanced up at him, hair falling into her face and lips quirked in a bright smile, and his cheekbones prickled warmly.
From the sun. Obviously.
"Sure thing!" She dropped six bullets in his outstretched hand and he loaded them carefully into their chambers. She got up suddenly, rolls of paper slung under her arm, and headed over to the other end of the clearing. "Guns down, everybody! But come a bit closer, you can't start practicing from waaay far away!"
One hour into shooting up blank pieces of paper, and Dave was just glad he'd gone to the shooting range before, because at least he wasn't doing as poorly as John, who was seriously having a hard time with the concept of "aiming." It'd be funnier if Dave weren't honestly concerned about getting accidentally shot in the face by his best friend.
"Fuck! Keep that thing pointed downrange you dumbass!"
"Oops. Right, haha." John pointed the barrel forward again. "I keep forgetting."
Dave shook his head in wonderment. This guy. Seriously. John always acted like an idiot, but he proved time and time again that he wasn't really. Pretending to be a fool let him get away with so much more than Dave could ever hope to commit. Egbert could walk into a bank, rob 'em blind, strut out the front door with sacks of cash over his shoulders and a fireball at his back, and the police would make suspect of the banker for orchestrating the whole thing.
It was almost a shame how idealistic and moral he was. In another life, John Egbert could run the underworld with nothing but a goofy smile and a bag of cheap-ass plastic magic tricks.
Meanwhile, Rose had taken control of Jade's shotgun, firing off shot after shot with cool concentration, peppering the target with increasingly dire-looking buckshot wounds.
Lalonde was the flip side to the Egbert phenomenon. She just extruded too much intelligence and moral ambiguity for anyone not to suspect her. But try as you might to convict her of anything, she'd never let you get away with more than a really, really vague feeling that something isn't going quite right because she's pulling the strings.
Unless she were letting you, that is.
But going any amount of distance down that road with Rose Lalonde would be like swimming blindly into a lair full of particularly stealthy (and venomous) sea serpents.
That is to say: downright fucking unintelligent.
Another hour in and Dave's trigger finger was starting to get seriously tired. How the hell Jade was dual-weilding all this time, shooting bullets through her bullet-holes, was utterly beyond him. She was hardly breaking a sweat, and it was plenty hot out in the firing range.
Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Perfect circle. Bang! Bullseye.
Just... That girl. Add Jade Harley to any situation on the planet, and you've instantly updated the adorabadassery score by 416%. She is sincerity, generosity, and enthusiasm incarnate. If anyone were stupid enough to get themselves murdered on the business end of Jade's shooting machines, they would die with the full consolation that she was absolutely, purposefully, and fullheartedly meaning to put a bullet through their skull. No accident, no error, no hesitation.
Anyone who manages to piss off Harley enough to get themselves shot in the face definitely deserves it.
She's also the sweetest and most upbeat, kind-hearted person Dave ever met. You'd be stupid to fuck with Harley, but why would you? The girl would pour her friends rainbow sunshine sparkle tea every single day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if she could.
Dave lowered his gun and plucked six more rounds out of the ammo bin, the bullets smooth and warm in his palm.
And where did he fit in this knot of individuals? Dave Strider, man of irony, mixer of sick beats, wielder of shitty swords, kid who's hidden his eyes behind his shades for so long his friends don't even think to ask what's behind him. Also he probably had a terrible tan.
He seriously had no clue what he'd done to deserve these guys.
please excuse the terrible montage of kids with guns I just.
yeah it just happened.
I have no excuse.
edit: the next update may be delayed until Hussie unveils Meenahquest pt3.
If Meenahquest pt3 takes way too long to update and/or it does not unveil Damora Megido, I will update the next chapter anyway.
You can probably guess my reasons for this. ;o
Chapter 20: [T] Irradiation
- arachnidsGrip [AG] started trolling caligulasAquarium [CA] -
AG: Meet me at the sparring 8lock, we've got m8tters to discuss!
AG: Can't tell you much 8ut I'll weave as much truth as I can r8 now.
AG: I just had some verita8ly mind8oggling revelations l8 last day. Remem8er when I told you I had something 8ig hanging over Vantas' head?
CA: i remember tellin you to quit crushin on him
AG: Would you pull your soggy 8rain out of the quadrants for once. This has nothing to do with that!
CA: uh huh
AG: Sh8t up!!!!!!!!
AG: This conversation falls under the S8RIO8S 8US8NESS and ANC8STRAL C8LLING categories, Ampora, so pay 8ttention.
AG: I've got us some serious new ammo for )(-ER, if you c8tch my drift.
CA: wwas that a pun?
CA: sea you soon
CA: but only 'cause you asked nicely
AG: Don't pretend like you're not WWetting your loserpanties at my news.
CA: vvris wwould you quit bein so fulla shit for once itd be reely nice
AG: 8ye, chum8ucket.
- arachnidsGrip [AG] ceased trolling caligulasAquarium [CA] -
CA: okay wwhat havve i told you about using those slurs like that if you aren't a seadwweller
CA: coddamnit vvris
His name is Karkat Vantas, and he has selected Vriska Serket over literally everyone trustworthy to bring into cahoots.
Well, if they find my lifeless body stuck halfway through the main air filtration pump, at least I won't have to worry about my blood or what the fuck kind of other shit has started happening to my life anymore.
He was sitting through an exercise in Organization Tactics: Leadership, and like most of the lowerbloods and all of the maroonbloods involved, he watched despairingly as his higherblooded classmates blundered through motivational (read: supposedly terrorizing) speeches and ordered each other around and generally accomplished fuckall whilst the adult in charge sat leaning against a crag of rock with her ankles crossed and a grubphone in her hand, probably playing Angry Bombs or surfing porn with 100% more dedication than she was paying her job.
Sollux sat next to Karkat, covertly typing code and shit with one hand into a grubphone of his own as he stared blankly ahead at their "platoon leader" Equius Zahhak, who hadn't done much more than stand there and excrete copious amounts of perspiration. The creepy useless fuck.
"Sollux," whispered Karkat.
"This is going on our official imaginary speechrecord: if I die under suspicious circumstance you are to put Vriska in suspicion of high treason via netsrumor."
"Great, yeah, I'll just do that. Are you saying Terezi wasn't bullshitting me when she told me you were dumb enough to go into cahoots with her? 2eriiou2ly, KK? I thought you of all people would try to keep the inevitable casualties to a minimum. Apparently I was wrong to assume you had such plenteous amounts of intelligence."
Karkat made an angry gurgling sound in the back of his throat and turned his full attention back on the uselessly sweating Equius, who was now wordlessly experiencing a bombastic overthrow by one Vriska Serket.
Vantas and Serket had compared historic notes the day prior, and Karkat couldn't help but feel he'd been given the short end of the nookprod. He'd had to read through pages upon pages of bullshit Adult-grade romantic drama/porn (romantic drama that the TOTALLY DIDN'T THING WAS INTERESTING OR ANYTHING, HE WAS JUST BEING THOROUGH ABOUT READING EVERYTHING, OKAY) to even get to the point of it all, whereas she just had to open to a chapter index and absorb highly treasonous ideas to her heart's content.
When the dots had connected for her in the middle of the day, she'd rushed over to his sleeping block and intruded every micro-corpselength of his private space.
Vriska (harsh whisper), "H8ly fuck! Vantas! You're! F8ck! Shiiiiiiiit! Your 8ncestor! Why didn't I? You're the Desc8ndant of...!"
And then she'd gotten a grip on herself. She slapped down a godawful hand-drawn picture of the Marquise, right next to a rough sketch of the Sufferer in his book.
Vriska (scathing glee), "...A laaaaaaaameo looooooooser! Look at your Ancestor, and now back at mine. Now back at your 8ncestor, and back at mine! S8dly, your Ancestor is not mine. Your Ancestor could've been as kickass awesome as mine if he were a magnificent ruthless Pir8 Queen, but there's nothing he could've bought to artificially make him that am8zing."
Karkat (rightfully angry and with a rant at the ready but that would be hypocritical), "Keep your damn voice down before you wake someone up!"
Karkat (panicked), "Wait wait how did you know about...?"
Vriska (examine nails and grin like an evil 8itch), "I saw your blood, moron. In the ship's boarding tunnel, duh. Why did you th8nk I didn't cut you that first night?"
Karkat (facedesk and hold position)
Vriska (pick up items and gracefully abscond)
Present Karkat picked at his pants and continued to grumble under his breath as present Vriska actually started organizing everyone to move against an enemy faction of their class. Sollux soon put his gruphone away and the group got to their feet, ready to move out, but just then Karkat felt a stabbing pain alight all throughout his think pan.
"AUGH FUCKING SQUELCH-TUNNELING GRUBMAULERS!" he screamed, and punched himself in the forehead. Everyone in their class team turned and stared, eyebrows up in orbit.
"Ignore him, it's just his schoolfeed fiinally succeeding at getting through his thiick 2kull," Sollux said boredly, waving his hand, "For some reason he reacts to it like a little wriggler wuss grenade on the front-end of a combustion helm. Don't worry about it."
And then Karkat's screams of pain transitioned into screams of horror as every last revolting detail about 4L13N's native inhabitants began rapidly downloading into his neural passageways. By that point most of their team was ignoring him and just following Serket's orders.
"NO-NO-NO-NO-NO-NO-NO-NO-NO I DON'T NEED ACADEMIC IMAGERYYY-OH-MY-HOLY BUCKETSUCKING FUCK THEY LAY THEIR YOUNG IN YOUR DIGESTIVE TRACT? I DO NOT IN ANY WAY WANT TO LIVE ACTION ROLEPLAY A FUCKING FIDUSPAWN PLUSH! THE HELL ARE WE DOING ON THIS ABSOLUTELY STELLAR EXAMPLE OF HELL-BEFORE-DEATH? I WANT OFF THIS ROCK, SEND ME ANYWHERE, SEND ME DIRECTLY INTO A CONVENIENTLY-TIMED SUPERNOVA, I'LL BE FUCKING SCREAMING MY SHOUT-SPHINCTERS OUT WITH BOUNTIFUL GRATITUDE-"
Sollux interrupted him with a sharp slap to the face. "Shut up KK you're ruining the surprise for everyone whose feeders haven't uploaded yet. Rude."
Her name is Vriska Serket, and she has selected Karkat Vantas over literally everyone more suitably deceitful to bring into cahoots.
Well, if they find his lifeless body stuck halfway through the main air filtration pump, at least I have eight plausible excuses ready to pin the blame on his own stupid idiot moron dumbass self.
Then again, it could be worse. It could've been Nitram. That would be less of a clusterfuckingfacepalm and more of a clusterfuckingvomit-your-exhasperated-innards-out.
Vantas though, at least he was cautious. About certain things. Cautious to the point of fucking irritating, but one didn't survive with a blood color mutation for seven solar sweeps by being a total loser stupid idiot moron dumbass. And that was something Vriska could respect. Surviving is a pretty admirable trait in anyone. Sure, he pussyfooted out of all kinds of perfectly healthy, reckless, potentially-fatal pasttimes, but then again he still had all his limbs. Not even the great Vriska Serket could say as much, although she would go swearing to her grave that a ro8ot arm is fucking 8wesome for8ver, thank you and go die.
He made her swear on her Ancestor and all of her greatness not to tell a single soul about his blood. Like that would be any deterrent. She told him so.
Vriska (kindly and patiently), "Karks, you can't make me swear on anything and expect actual results unless you've got proper 8lackmail to hold over my head."
Karkat (gratefully), "Good point. I'll come up with something. Until then. ZIP. YOUR. VILE. BLUE. LIPS."
Vriska (amusedly), "Yeah yeah, sure sure."
Karkat (idiotically), "I mean it."
Vriska (distractedly), "Yeah-huh."
Karkat (finally), "Or I'll publish all this fanfiction you've written about your Ancestor. Sloppily written, by the way, I've seen better out of a five-sweep-old."
Vriska (whiplash), "Wh8! 8ut! I didn't give you...? Shitshitshitshitshitshitshit shit!"
Karkat (bared fangs), "And after any suspicious death on my part I'll have Sollux spread a cyber-rumor that you've voiced your intent to assassinate Her Imperious Condescension. And that only death will stop you."
...Okay. Maybe she didn't give that scrawny little mutant quite enough credit. Not too shabby of an ass-pull threat, that was. Kudos, Vantas. And points for the stab at high stakes. But Vriska fucking Serket isn't so easily outmatched. She could easily spread news of his blood if she wanted. Take one Terezi Pyrope and her big salivating mouth, add one Karkat Vantas and his candy-red blood, and 8AM! Just add audience.
Present Vriska led her legion of untrained classmates into battle, guns and egos blazing. Nah. She'd keep Karkat's secret for now, so long as he could keep up with her demands. As she smashed the butt of her rifle against the side of an opponent's head, images began to flicker in her mind of tall, dark beings with double rows of fangs and serrated edges everywhere. Gruesome, powerful creatures with no heart, no mercy, no conscience.
Vriska grinned. Life is sweet.
Tavros held a forcepulser at the ready, standing among twenty or so other lowerblooded classmates as they all tolerantly regarded two royals and an indigo having a very childish power spat. One of them was Eridan Ampora. After another two minutes of patient loitering, Tavros glanced around for an adult, but the only one in sight was twenty corpselengths away and appeared to be casually buffing her dueling blades.
He turned back to scuffle and saw that Eridan had used Ahab's Crosshairs as an impromptu bludgeon, effectively taking one of his opponents out for the count. And then a tealblood jumped into the fray, apparently deciding it was the opportune moment for an usurpation. Stuff like this was the whole point of OTL anyway, so calling an adult over wouldn't do much. Tavros sighed impatiently.
"Fuckin highbloods, don't know shit," he heard Aradia's voice mutter softly from behind him. He snorted, and looked over his shoulder (nearly braining the trolls on either side of him) and wHOA,,,,,,, SHIT,,,, IT WASN'T ARADIA.
"Probably think their horns are holy shitfuck tools," she added, eyeing the spatfest somewhat disdainfully, " stick it anywhere, anytime, anyhow. Works for me."
Definitely not Aradia.
She had the horns, though, the exact same curly shape. But this girl was shorter than Aradia, and more slender, and her eyes had the same apparently pupiless quality as Sollux's, albeit lime green. But she looked so much like Aradia. She caught him staring, and raised one thick eyebrow at him.
"The fuck're you oglin' at?" She demanded bluntly. Her Traditional Alternian pronunciation was heavily Eastern Province; heavy stretches on some consonants and overemphasized tonals (how did that not strain her voiceplate?). And she was clearly doing very little to cover it. He was pretty sure she hadn't ridden in on the Devastator... Probably this training base accepted shipments from different parts of Alternia, so he really shouldn't be so surprised.
"uHHH, , ,, Just. Um. Are you an Aries?"
"Ooooh yeah, what, we all look the same, that what you're gonna tell me?" Her eyes flashed. Literally. There were a couple sparks.
He shook his head (the trolls around him ducked, hissing indignantly). "No, just, I mean, yes. You do look, somewhat like, or rather, quite a lot like one of my friends..."
From up front came a high-pitched screech as Eridan smashed in the teal's nose. He was doing well. Astonishingly.
The maroon girl raised both eyebrows. "Yeah? What's're name?"
"Uh, Aradia, Megido."
"Hm. 'Kay. Well I'm Damara." Her eyes sparked again and she gave him a weird little salute, "Introduce me sometime, Hammerhead. Not every day you run into sigil-kin. I'll give you my trollhandle, here," she tugged a slip of paper from her sylladex and handed it to him. Uh, okay.
Hammerhead? "Sure, I guess. Yeah. She'd probably be, , very interested, to meet you, that is."
She grinned. Or bared her fangs, more like. It was slightly (a lot) creepy. "You can also go ahead and troll me something nasty sometime."
He was saved from sinking too far into Awkwardness-Red-Alert when his grubphone buzzed and he pulled it out. When he saw the handle, Tavros' bloodphusher froze up. Oh no. Maybe it hadn't been a good idea to leave him behind in his coup, he said he wasn't feeling well, stupid stupid sTUPID of course Tavros should've stayed with him oh man oh god.
"Hmmm? Booty call at this hour? Guess I shouldn't've been so surprised. Stud like you must be on a busy pailing schedule." A pause. Tavros gave her an odd look. She bared her fangs again and added, "Time management is a special skill of mine, if you need the help. I'm flexible as fuck."
Okay, wow, what? His horns were tingling weirdly. Was she... coming on to him? Oh gods she probably was, wasn't she. Crap. It sure felt vaguely unsettling, like that one time Vriska got all dressed up as a fairy and... Okay, this was going to get really freakin uncomfortable in the near future, but at least right now he had something legitimately more important to shift his attention to.
"Um. Sorry, uh, Damara, my moirail, he... Could you hold on for a sec?"
A sharp nod. "'Kay."
- terminallyCapricious [TC] started trolling adiosToreador [AT]-
TC: hEy TAVBRO
TC: YoU tHeRe?
AT: oH,, nO, gAMZEE
AT: wE TALKED ABOUT THIS, ,,
AT: jUST, UH, HANG IN THERE FOR A SEC, i'M IN CLASS RIGHT NOW
AT: tELL ME WHERE YOU ARE AND i'LL COME FIND YOU, aLRIGHT?
TC: wHaT tHe MoThErFUCK aRe YoU eVeN gOiNg On AbOuT,
TC: ,, , , ,, ,,, , ,, ,,, , ,, ,,
TC: I FEEL MOTHERFUCKING FANTASTIC
TC: I fEeL mOtHeRfUcKiNg dizzyfits
AT: tELL ME WHERE YOU ARE, RIGHT NOW, qUICKLY
TC: i just can't find any motherfucking ovens up in this barren motherfucking WaStElAnNd
TC: HoW tHe FuCk Is A bRoThEr SuPpOsEd TO GET HIS MOTHERFUCKING BITCHTITS BAKE ON?
AT: hOLD ON,
AT: jUST HOLD ON,, THEY'RE LETTING ME GO FIND YOU
AT: sOON AS I SAID ,,iNDIGO,, BUT UH
TC: cAn YoU bElIeVe ThIs ShIt, TAVBRO
TC: this SwEeT little girl right round here talking MOTHERFUCKIN BlAsPhEmY iN her sleep
TC: heh hehe
AT: gAMZEE YOU HAVE TO TELL ME, WHERE YOU ARE,
TC: motherfucking HONK motherfucker
AT: gAMZEE,, ,!
- terminallyCapricious [TC] ceased trolling adiosToreador [AT] -
AT: ,, ,, ,,,,fUCK
His name is Tavros Nitram, and he has seriously fucked up.
Tavros raced through the curving hallways, feet carrying him in flight around corners, barely dodging trolls here and there that swore at him as he sprinted pass in a rush of air, light footsteps resonating to the panicked beat in his mind:
Please be there please be there.
Please be okay please be okay.
pLEASE DON'T LET ME BE TOO LATE.
He skidded to a stop in front of the door to their respite block, and sliced his ID through the lock. The door glided open and Tavros immediately stepped through.
He was brought up short by what he saw.
There was Gamzee, standing and waiting, facepaint spattered with blood and fangs set in an easy grin. His eyes glowed in the shadows of his catastrophic mop of hair, and in one hand he was holding a silently weeping tealblood by the horn, his jaw trembling open. Save me. In the other hand, Gamzee held the messily decapitated head of a blueblood. Tavros saw her motionless body lying a mere corpselength away.
Tavros Nitram squared his shoulders and took a step forward, then another, and another, horns tingling to the point of pain, every cell in his breakable body shivering with fear, and blood-pusher pounding with a strong, steady beat:
He needs you he needs you he needs you.
You fucking fuckup he needs you he needs you.
yOU NEED TO FUCKING CORRECT YOUR MISTAKE.
"Come to join me, Tavbro?" It's a whisper, but in Tavros' ears it may well be the sound of a starship crashing out of orbit. Gamzee's eyes are harshly torn slices of apocalyptic fire. His fangs are a storm of steel falling from the sky.
The tealblood lets out the tiniest of whimpers, and Gamzee carelessly snaps his arm, sending a whiplash down his captive's body.
"Gamzee," Tavros says, his voice miraculously gentle, "Gamzee. Shhhh, Gamzee..."
Gamzee stares at him wordlessly as he approaches, as he slowly raises his arms, but just as they are about to come into contact, Gamzee roars, and his eyes are supernova, his teeth the collision of galaxies. Tavros is hit point-blank with a physical wave of paralyzing terror.
"MOTHERFUCKING KNEEL, GUTTER-BLOODED MOTHERFUCKER!"
"Shhh, calm down." His voice doesn't shake. He stares death in the eyes and wraps it in an embrace. For a moment, Gamzee is frozen, and then he throws down the trophies in his hands and becomes a thrashing plume of rage.
"You will motherfucking KNEEL WHEN I TELL YOU!" Gamzee claws and kicks, snarling like thunder. If Tavros hadn't been wearing the armored parts of his uniform, he would have been disembowled then and there.
"Shut your mouth!" There's a steady, focused heat building up behind his eyes, and when Gamzee twitches his fingers for his strife deck, Tavros kicks Gamzee's legs out from under him and the two of them topple, the landing knocking the air out of both their lungs. Tavros gasps, swallows air.
"Gamzee. Gamzee shhhhhhhh shhhh calm down. Gamzee." Icy, panicked, terror permeates the air around them both, but Tavros is radiating laser-sharp heat, horns on fire with focused calm, pinning Gamzee to the floor, knee to the gut and wrists to the chest, as his eyes stay focused only on the raging indigo's howling face, his thrashing skull, his snarling teeth. There are two Gamzees here, he can see them both split down the core, one of laughter and stars, gagged by the other, the other who roars with a crescendo of rage and void. He sees them both on his face, at war in the dark stretches of his soul. He sees them, and he calls.
"lOOK AT ME, gAMZEE!"
He does. The other Gamzee breaks through and comes back.
"Shhhhh. Shhhhhhhhh. Gamzee. That's right. Calm down. I'm here. Shhhhh It's okay. It's okay."
They're lying in a puddle of blood, in a room painted with veins, and Gamzee Makara finally goes limp. Tavros butts their foreheads together, gently, presses his lips against Gamzee's nosebridge, horns tingling as Gamzee's discharged chucklevoodoo terror ebbs down on the calm.
It gets quiet enough to hear the soft sobbing of the tealblood in the background.
His name is Tavros Nitram, and he seriously fucked up.
He promises himself not to let this happen again.
Chapter 21: [H] Day and Night One
Planet Earth: 1.025 weeks of hardkore survival training after landing on Jade's Island:
Dave Strider has crammed many remarkable things into his relatively brief lifespan. He has mixed a shitton of sick beats. He has strifed the fuck out on 69% the skyscrapers of his hometown. He has dealt with many a crisis involving plushrump, microwaves, and takeout. The challenges posed by a simple trek through the untamed jungles of his friend's private, tropical island should pale in comparison.
Just as soon
Fucking turns off the humidity and mosquitoes I mean what the legitimate fuck is wrong with this place.
"Yo, John," he said calmly, blinking sweat out of his eyes and tugging on the straps of his backpack, "Got any bug spray?"
From about five paces ahead the snappish voice of what appears to be a big green backpack responded, "No! Stop asking already!"
"Kay man keep your thong on I was just checking. Again. To make sure. Being eaten alive back here I'm not shitting you."
"Dave! I know!"
Dave slapped his neck and then gazed upon the black smear on his palm with satisfaction. Now if only he could destroy the x-million fuckers of this bloodsucking species that were still busily honing in on him.
The forests here were like nothing he'd ever encountered. Sure, there were parks, with the occasional, like, tree or something back home. Sure, he'd driven up north with Bro some summers to catch a reprieve from the stifling heat of the city, where such tree-beings were more numerous. Speaking of which, the heat. Jegus, Manny, and Jehosephat the heat. Dave could handle a hundred degrees, a hundred-ten, hell, one summer shit brushed a hundred-twenty and he was chill as a fucking iceberg. But this hellhole of an island was a whole 'nother story. The heat clung, like so many sweaty bitches just stifling your every movement. Jade claimed it was eighty-five Fahrenheit but this hellacious humidity made it feel like he was dying in the very pits of hell itself.
And then there was the foliage, trees tall and dark and shady, but when the heat is in the air instead of the sun like it should be, the shade made hardly any difference. The undergrowth was a tangle of barbs and roots and poisonous things that Jade cheerily pointed out as they went along. The trail was windy and barely a proper trail at all, rocky and uneven and narrow, leaves-of-three foliage edging in on the sides.
Maybe Dave was being a little harsh. The green canopy was beautiful, and the dappled light on brightly colored flowers could, objectively speaking, be considered striking. But being streaked with sweat and assaulted by what felt like the entire population of this island's gnats wasn't much conductive to optimistic thought.
Jade stopped. "Water break! But keep your packs on, guys."
"Thank that one holy baby what's-his-name."
"Yeah that guy. Jaade. You got any bug spray or what."
"Rose has it!" She poured some water into a plastic bowl for Bec, who lapped at it heartily.
Rose delicately patted sweat from her brow and took a sip of water. "It's in the pocket of my bag, help yourself." She gestured to the bulky mess strapped to her back. Tied to the main backpack via rope and stretchy cords was a bedroll, a tarp, a water pump, some cooking pots and utensils, a pistol, a hatchet, and a whole host of other awful survival shit. It was almost like she hadn't bothered to pack anything into her actual bag, opting instead to tie everything onto the frame.
Dave stared at her.
"The thing attached to your spine is a fucking eldritch abomination, you can't tell me to stick my hand in there and expect it to come back out alive, what's wrong with you."
"You will find the bug spray nestled safely under the climbing gear," she said, smiling lightly at him. Bequerel barked twice and appeared to grin, tongue lolling from his mouth as he panted heavily.
Well played, Lalonde.
But Dave fucking Strider wasn't about to go along with her shit. Oohhh no. He saw where this was going, and if Rose Lalonde thought she could take advantage of his itchy plight then she had something else coming-
Something bit him right between the eyebrows. He slapped it. The smear on his palm was easily as big as an engorged housefly.
When they set off again, the bugs wouldn't touch him, but he had about ten pounds of extra weight strapped to his back.
Fuck you, Lalonde.
They set up camp at the bottom of the volcano, as planned, laying out their bedrolls under a tarp on the smooth, volcanic stone. Dave went off into the trees to pump water from a nearby source, leaving the rest to deal with the rain tarp. Rain was a thing that happened here. In the summer. What.
"Let's use the outcropping here, and then attach the other corners to some rocks, that'll work. John, could you-? Yeah, there we go."
As the sun set they settled down around a fire, chowing down on trail spaghetti, which was about the same as regular spaghetti, except the sauce was cold because everyone was too impatient to heat it up.
"We made okay progress today, guys!" Jade said happily, "Tomorrow will be much harder, but-"
John made a weird sound in the back of his throat, which an objective bystander would've likened to the sound of a rat that had just been stepped on.
"You okay John?"
"Oh, uh, yeah just choked on this bit of, uh, carbohydrate. Noodles, you know how they are."
Jade nodded, as though this were a perfectly reasonable explanation. Rose and Dave had eye contact, which they quickly broke off before either one of them could break down in undignified snickers.
"So anyway I thought we could take our gear up there, maybe send someone down for water in the evening, that way we can camp out in a cave! Sooo cool. And that'll make an extra day or two of exploration easier to carry out."
Dave looked at John. "You want to carry the climbing gear tomorrow?"
John split his face into the most terrifying grin ever beheld by humankind. It is testament to Dave Strider's iron nerve that he didn't immediately recoil and scream for mercy.
Jade sighed. "Oh my gosh you guys! If you're all going to keep fighting about the climbing gear then I'll just carry it, you bunch of wussies!"
"Oh no, Harley. You know a gentleman like me couldn't let you do that. My chivalry would never recover from the shame."
She raised her eyebrow and pointed to her own pack, where a large shotgun and a rappelling harness were still tied securely to the frame.
He amended, "It can still recover from letting you carry that. I'm being all respectful and acknowledgin' of your badass stamina here. That shit weighs as much as John and Bec's fat asses combined, I swear."
John kicked a rock in Dave's direction and slurped up some more lukewarm spaghetti.
It was approximately eleven-thirty-five-and-fifteen-seconds-point-two-five when Dave Strider awoke with a start and rolled over on his sleeping pad. So okay, not that late, but bedtimes are early when you're camping and the convenient nuclear lamp in the sky goes out by eight, no ifs, ands, or butts.
He rolled over again, and again, and wondered just why the fuck he couldn't get comfortable when he'd been dead to the world mere moments ago. He sat up, thinking to maybe move the bedroll over a few feet, when he noticed Jade's empty bedroll. He swiveled his head around, searching and saw the silhouette of someone and her dog down by the ocean, staring out at the waves. A mere twenty-two-point-oh-three-seconds of climbing down the rocky slope later, and that someone and her dog were at a much closer spacial coordinates.
Jade turned and looked over at him, half her face pitch-dark, the other half lit with minimal moonlight. She was standing in the water, loose pants hiked up her thighs like the dorkiest fucking balloon diapers ever conceived of, and he saw half her face grin a bucktoothed greeting. Jade, why are you so fucking perf.
"Hi Dave. Join me?" She gestured to the the water around her. Bec sauntered off down the beach.
He kicked off his shoes and cuffed his pants smartly a few times over, then waded in a little ways. The water wasn't as freezing cold as it looked. She slogged a little closer to shore to stand next to him, water dripping down her knees, and then turned and continued staring out to sea.
It was silent for a while, until she said, "You know, we're a thousand miles from any other people out there. We could be standing on the edge of the universe, look!" She kicks one foot, nearly splashes his immaculate pants with bright droplets, "Moonlight, right there. We're wading in the stars. The world's so big. So BIG! We're nothing! And also we're wading in the stars."
"Hello there CJ," he says, facing the ocean but watching her from the side of his eye as she stares down at her star-dipped toes, "You come here often miss Space Witch?"
The shadows on her face curve up at that, and she turns her gaze to the sky. He wants to touch her hair. But he can't. Contemplative Jade has her mind out to sea, has her soul out to sky. Also it would be so awkward. Wouldn't it? Is hair-touching like a taboo in this scenario, because it feels like it could be sacrilegious.
His hand touches her hair anyway, finger pushing a wild snarl behind her ear. Well shit, so much for that.
She turns her gaze on him, thick eyebrows and shining eyes and a quirky little smile.
"You're so small," she tells him, "And I'm so small. But we're gods, Dave! Look at this!" She kicks one foot again and this time the cuffs of his pants do get wet, "Tiny tiny ginormous gods!"
And then Becquerel chooses that moment to come charging back down the beach, splashing water and wet-dog-smell all over them as he passes. Dave stops touching Jade's hair and Jade just laughs and kicks water after that fucking devilbeast.
"Aww, Bec! Who's a good boy? Who's a good boy?"
Jade, no. No.
She hums and wades back out of the water, "I think I'll go to bed now. You coming?"
He watches her kick droplets of moonlight off her feet and roll down her pant legs. "Yeah. I'm coming."
Evening, right after nutrition consumption, an emptyish timezone between classes. The upcoming FML class was tagged with "excursion" on their calendars, so everyone who wasn't terrified was pretty excited.
Sollux sat on the floor the floorspace allocated to him and his recouperacoon, Karkat slouched against his back in a way that made Sollux want to snap at the guy for having such godawful posture, but he was too busy with work to point out every little thing KK did wrong with his life (just thinking about all those things made both halves of his pan ache). And so he sat, gaze trained on screen, eyes scanning the assigned text on ancient-style starship drives and mass field cancellators, before switching back to the code he was working on in Larvascript. Basic stuff for him, but in more detail then they gave out in the knowledge modules made available planetside. Sollux supposed they didn't want any grublings building their own ships and trying to hop starside of Alternia or something stupid like that. Not like it would stop anybody intelligent enough to figure it out for themselves, but whatever.
Speed-of-light travel was of course instantly outdated about one thousand years ago when they figured out you could just hook up a psionic to power the (once-unachievable) hyperwarp. The speed of the warp was dependent on the toughness of the psionic(s), the timespace being crushed, and the mass of the ship. It was a pretty tedious clusterfuck of an equation. But the ancient light speed drives were still standard issue, for more leisurely travel within, say, a single solar system. Also if your stash of psychics got burnt out mid-warp, the old-fashioned way could be your only hope. Unless of course you're twenty million light years from the nearest station. Then you're just screwed. Unless the nearest station is bored enough to answer a distress signal. Which they probably aren't.
Ehehe he nearly cracked himself up there.
If your psychics burnt out mid-warp you'd be dead as a million drifting atomic particles. The worst of it would be your higher-ups' irritating paperwork for logging a timeshattered ship. Most starships simply weren't built to handle the lifeware necessary to safely de-warp without a functioning Helmstroll.
Suddenly he felt Karkat tense up behind him and lean forward, back-to-back contact breaking off and making Sollux lose his balance and smash out a crash command.
"Oh shut up! If you can't keep your balance sitting on a solid floor then you're roasted grubloaf when the first excursion comes around."
"You fucking a22hole, did your lusus never teach you anything about con2iideratiion?"
"Did your lusus never teach YOU anything about NOT BEING A CONSTANT NOOKSEAL?"
"How about you do yourself a favor and go choke to death on your own bulge, it's not like anyone else will ever want to touch you at this rate!"
Never let it be said that Sollux Captor was not an ashen romantic. They hadn't exchanged quadrant tokens yet, but it was only a matter of how long it would take Sollux to beat the idea into Karkat's pan that quadrant celibacy was merely a synonym for a fast, sure death. It was like they said: Behind every great troll is a great moirail. Behind every dead troll is a godfucking shamefulass excuse of an auspitice. And/or an empty pail.
After all, there's only two things that are sure in life. Death and drones. (a.k.a. Same diff.)
They settled back down into a companionable silence.
The companionable silence was broken about twenty seconds later by KK's big fat voicegate, as per usual.
"What do you think about the hemospectrum?"
It was such a bizzare and unexpected question that Sollux looked up from his screen and craned his neck around in an attempt to display to Karkat the utterly flabbergasted expression on his face.
"Oh come on, don't give me that."
"You're not even looking at me."
"I know you're making the dripshit dumbfuck face."
Sollux grunted grudgingly and faced forward again, continuing to tap a Larvascript code into his husktop which upon completion would do all his tedious timespace equation problemsets for him. HUA-222 assigned such asinine busywork, it made him want to shove his cranium up his waste chute sometimes.
"What do you- Okay fiine, it exists, I guess? You're not in it and that sucks? Speaking of which, we need a backup plan for the inevitable night you fuck up and blow your cover..."
He twisted around and moved away from Sollux' back completely, causing the later to stagger and tip over again.
"Goddamnit KK 2top doing that! You screwed up my debug!"
Karkat had moved in front of Sollux, and was staring at him as though contemplating the exact wording of an imminent monologue. Sollux sighed and rolled his eyes.
But all he said was, "Remember that book that showed up in my recouperacoon?"
"No, you'll have to enlighten me, it's completely slipped my mind, I must've missed the memo. And by memo I mean the massive shitflipping hullabaloo you tossed like two weeks ago when you rolled over in your sleep and nearly poked your eye out with the thing. You even woke up VK which is a notable feat worthy of a sung saga in and of itself."
Instead of telling him to SHUT YOUR STUPIDASS PUKEFLAP, as would be expected, Karkat just kept staring at him. Wordlessly. It was really fucking unnerving. He wasn't wearing the shades now, and the furnace red of the blood seeping out around his pupil... It was molten fucking lava glowing through cracks of quicksilver stone. The very sight made his horntips sting uneasily.
Of all the colors, of course it had to be the death-hue, didn't it? Lusus-white might possibly have been even more shocking, but crimson, for crying out loud, it's one long scream of CULL.
God2 he needed to stop staring it was giving him legitimate fear pulses.
"Okay seriously just spit it out KK."
He opened his mouth, all distorted razor teeth, and hesitated a moment, before finally speaking. "Well, I started reading some of it..."
"You can read? Code me positively shocked."
"... And there's diarrhetic shittons of information, seriously insane stuff I'd never," He let out a loud huff of breath, "Look, I can't really explain it all that well. And I just got to this one part in particular..."
"You are a phenomenally atrocious storyteller, KK."
An offhanded vulger hand gesture, and he kept going, as though he'd never been interrupted. The ass. "... about Gl'bgolyb, and psychic feedback, just." He stopped suddenly, started again. "So basically this tome is stuffed with all manner of illicit mindfuck, take so much as a passive fucking gander at it and you're cullmeat as far as the Fleet's concerned..."
"Whoa WHOA what? Where'd you even-"
"... If I'm going to show you this thing you've got to promise on the life of your moirail not to tell anyone."
"KK slow down what the actual fuck."
"Promise, Sollux." Karkat stared again, gaze like lasers, melting straight through the back of Sollux's skull and charring everything along the way.
"Alriight, fiine, not like I have a choiice now that you-"
He decaptchalogued a huge book and it landed between them with a heavy whumpf. Karakat had it opened to a page about halfway through, and he pointed out a paragraph next to a faded illustration of a standard hemoscale. Sollux started to skim over it with trepidation, but the more words he picked up, the more he slowed down and actually payed attention.
"Fuck," he said finally, tearing his eyes from the book and staring up at Karkat in horror, "Dimensional horrorterror? An actual, physical, psychic construction of Rimtheory? That means..." He looked back at the text, "2hiit, it does. If it's the real deal, it has to. They always make out G'lbgolyb to be a goddess of lusi, but this makes so much more sense..."
"It also explains why the Empress won't fucking die already," Karkat said tightly, "the higher you go, the more immune you are to psychic feedback. And when you hit Tyrian you practically feed off it."
Sollux adjusted his glasses, not that they needed it.
Karkat opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again, hesitated, and said, "Why do you think the Empire doesn't want us to know this?"
The yellowblood choked on some air. "What? Why'd you even show me this? Why'd you even take so long to show me this?"
"I was trying to decide if it was worth the trouble of dealing with your flipouts."
"What even is this?"
"Everything... fuck. Everything treasonous that was ever written, if you want to get right down to it, but that's not the point. You know more about psy-"
Sollux snapped his gaze up at Karkat. Voice lowered, he hissed, "Where did you even get this? Two mighty whoops in a nookfuck, this is something that can get you culled just for looking at it, you said so yourself! Goddamnit KK how do you keep managing to run into the absolute worst case scenarios when it comes to, oh, I don't know, EVERYTHIING?"
Karkat waved his hand, "Relax, just don't go mouthing off about-"
"You mean like you're doing to me now? FUCK, this is what you and Serket have been doing, isn't it? II2n't iit? I told you not to associate with her KK, goddamn-"
"Stop being such a tightass, this is really important!"
"Important enough to be banned info by the fucking Fleet, apparently, when did you take the fragile fragments of good 2en2e you had in your pan and toss them carelessly into the slash compacter? KK, I'm serious, if they so much as-"
Their grubphones simultaneously buzzed with a Fleet notification.
"Fuck! Great, we're about to be culled. Thank2 a bunch."
Karkat slipped the book away into his sylladex and pulled out his grubphone, glancing at the notification. "Chill your sparkglobes and quit overreacting, you miserable bulgelick, it's just a call to a training excursion. Not everything in this reality plane revolves around your massive skull."
Circa two weeks after the Gamzee Makara Incident, early evening. Gamzee had been subscribed sopor tablets by the Fleet. The remaining roommates in the communal block petitioned to get relocated as far away from the Heiress' inclade as possible. Unfortunately for their fragile sensibilities, their recouperacoon locations were permanently set, and they would simply have to settle for sharing airspace with one highly unstable Gamzee Makara. If they could not find it in themselves to appreciate the beautiful, swirling bloodworks on the walls, they would simply have to keep their uncultured opinions to themselves. Truly, the paintings really brightened up the block.
"Nepeta, why do you not appreciate this masterful, significant work of art? Surely as a fellow painter you-"
She let out a long, aggravated churr that was borderline growl. "Really, Equius? That blood came from trolls, you know. They were our roommates!"
Bright colors, simple patterns, intricate whorls and lines and dots. A cross of something you'd see in a wriggler's coloring book and the outer exoskeletal structure of a meticulously designed megahive. All of it done in blood spilt in screams of pain, of a highblood's murderous, cutting smile, of a quavering victim's pleas for mercy.
"Yes, and that is what makes it so-"
Nepeta doesn't really understand the concept of fine art. It's alright; Equius has been resigned to that fact for quite some time.
That was when their grubphones beeped with a Fleet message. Nepeta decaptchalogued hers and scanned the note, her eyes growing wider with each word. At the end, she let out a thrilled whoop and punched her fist into the air, eyes and fangs shining.
"Yes! Hell to the purr! We're going out to slashpurrder some aliens! I can't wait! Been waiting for this for furever!"
Equius frowned. "Nepeta, it is unbecoming for you to be so enthusiastic about thoughtless slaughter."
She stopped dancing around for long enough to send a eyebrow-cocked stare his way. "Weren't you just in the middle of apurreciating Gamzee's bloodpaintings?"
"That is different."
She tossed her head. "Pshhhh!"
Abruptly but unsurprisingly, the air was rent with forceful shouting.
"ALRIGHT YOU ASSHOLES. GET THE HELL OUT BEFORE WE'RE CULLED FOR LOLLYGAGGING. EVERYONE MOVE IT, WE'RE GOING TO THE BRIEFING BLOCK FOR THIS INSANE KAMIKAZE MURDERSPREE. SHUT YOUR HORRIFICALLY FLATULATING WINDGAPE SOLLUX, I'M SAYING THIS TO YOU TOO."
"More like 2creamiing your nubs off."
"SHUT THE HELL UP AND GET THE HELL OUT."
How was it possible that a troll so lowly in status could extrude such a commanding presence? Equius' very skin prickled.
"I am not about to take 100dly phrased orders from a rustblood," Equius sneered, crossing his arms.
"Zahhak, you can go ahead fondle a communal pail and cry tears of woeful, bigoted repentance, because frankly I DON'T GIVE A SHIT WHAT YOU THINK YOU'RE ABOUT TO DO. I SAID GET OUT."
Equius began to break a sweat. Fiddlesticks. He'd been doing so well. Nepeta hooked her small hand around his elbow and tugged him firmly to the exit. He let her.
The Xcavator was waiting for them in the briefing block, his hands clasped behind his back and a grin like scorched sunlight beaming down from his fire-eye and across his face. And then he opened his slashgape and started spouting words, musical fucking voice all echoing around them, sucked down their hearing channels and all the way to their minds. Gamzee listened with half an ear, his head lolling off to the side, black-bone vertebrae popping down his neck and spine.
Awful motherfucking deal they were making out of this, everyone, staring with their eyes and their ears and their mouths all open and wide like the holes of the universes, listening so hard to the pointless word of that waterblooded fucker like it would save their poor shitsucking souls. But Gamzee knew better. When it came down to it it would be the same old story, same old song, same old killing and maiming and laughter of the messiahs running through their veins, in the darkest corners of their bloodpushers where the darkness sleeps until it wakes.
Tavros prodded him with an elbow. "Listen," he said, "Gamzee, pay attention," he said, and so Gamzee did, with half an ear and half his pan, the other half swirled with green and indigo stardust. He listened.
The objective of today's little field trip is to clear out an extra-alternian 4L13N-class-A hivecluster. The location's on your grubphones.
Gamzee thought back to the schoolfeed, rolled his tongue along his fangs at the too-bright foreign memories of souless alien beasts whose kiss is life and death.
So when you see pods on the ground, blast 'em. Assigned teams of six. Under no circumstances are you to split up. Unless you've got a death wish. Then by all means, help yourselves.
Crawling and skittering like shelled creatures, wingless creatures, acid blood and armored skin, no eyes to see and no hearts to feel, no minds to be. Killing them won't mean anything, and Gamzee rolled his eyes at the words trailing on and on forever. Words. Would the motherfucker ever shut up?
When you see a motherbeast twenty corpselengths long with an eggsac attached to her belly, snap a photograph for brags and blast the fuck outta her, simple.
Wouldn't want to get impregnated by one of those fuckers, though, Gamzee thought absently, glancing sidelong at where Tavbro stands, listening politely and enraptured like the rest of them, bless his innocent bloodpusher, Gamzee would speak the truth to him someday, show him the corners of this wakeland and how they're crafted out of light and miracles, of darkness and dreams.
There's always one or two who don't come back from the first trip. In the event that one of your teammates does get their face stuck to an egg-layer, grab them and abscond like hell. Bring them back to base as fast as you can, and I'll see if I can get it removed before it lays. If you're too late, well. They might survive giving birth, if they're lucky.
Or I can give a shot at extrication if I'm not too busy cauterizing the wounds of a more promising survivor. Anyone want to guess how I got my title?
Gamzee felt the slight impulse to raise his arm and honk something rude, but Tavros twitched next to him so he didn't. Living's a motherfucking mess and it's best to keep your facetrap silent of words mostaways.
Watch each other's backs, don't take stupid risks, and don't get dragged off. If one of your teammates gets dragged off, carefully reflect on how much they don't really mean all that much to you, and then don't rush off after them. Play it safe. True fact: most recruits get their asses killed when they overestimate their rookie skills.
Gamzee spared his brother a glance. Now weren't those words motherfucking blasphemy? He bent his head close to Tavros' head.
"My palest soul," he whispered, "there ain't no way in MOTHERFUCK I'd ever leave you behind."
"I wouldn't leave you either, Gamzee. Don't worry."
He wasn't worried. Why would he be?
When the words were over the group scurried as one down the hallchannels, a twittering flock of half-clawed woolbeasts, horns with points and eyes afire with the quaint sort of killing in mind. Gamzee sneered privately and let out a slow breath, gaze seeing all the sharp glassy tension shivering through the air around him, excitement and idiocy and ephemeral pointless ambitions. They'd all be cullmeat, one way or another, worms through eyesockets and intimate devourment all the way through until there was nothing left but smooths of bone. He watched them all move, haphazard flesh on those skeleton stilts, watched through half-lidded eyes and shimmery air, when Tavros nudged him again in the ribs and pointed at the shining screen of his grubphone. Brother already had his helmet on, and wasn't that just so precious?
The screen, in dark little jewels of light, worded the following:
"They never word us ToGeThEr, do they, my best vertebrother?" He said, and wanted to feel angry, should have been in towering moon-crescent cuts of rage, but wasn't. That'd be the sopor, all green and cooling up the burning in his pan, warming the frigid, filling the void-places. Just enough. Just barely enough.
Tavros put the phone away and tapped the visor of his helmet, and Gamzee smiled, amiably pulling his own helm from his deck, latching the lower bit around his jaw and around up over the back of his skull. The rest filled in to encase his head, spidery threads and glassy ice and steely hard stuff that was harder than bone. So they said. He inhaled the tasteless air coming through the spark filtration and waited for the last of the helm to seal tight.
And then the helmet started to hum with the voices of his sisters and brothers. He blinked slowly, waited as they all gathered together, waited for the door to open wide like jaws and swallow them all into the outside.
"Oh my cod Ter, don't scream in these, you're gonna make my fins bleed."
"Oh great, you're on my team. Uuugh."
Brothers and sisters, they all were, a spun-out web of lies and loves and bites of crazy, teeth and hands and horns bared and lined up in a circular whirl of miracle paint, thinking in their pans that they're fast and strong and ready to face the things of light, the things that burn and grin and laugh in return. And who's to say?
"Fef thank cod."
"uHHH,, , hey guys."
Tavbro's voice, the only voice. He spoke, and Gamzee followed.
"Mister M4K4R4! If you would please stay together for this excursion it would be much appreciated."
Gamzee glanced over to her, swiveling his helmeted head lazily, a planet spinning and tumbling on an easy path through the lit space in the dark. She's all grins, that one: grins like victory, grins like deceit, grins like bone. He pulled his lips back in a grin of his own, winked.
"Motherfuckin' straight up noise, my very worst burn-hearted sis."
Her grin didn't falter by a hair.
"Forget this, Makara's either going to murder us all or murder all the aliens. He's a fucking emptypanned murder hogging moron, is what."
"Eridan don't be rud-E!"
"I'm still gonna wwrite a will to my Descendant on the way over."
"L13S, Ampora! We all know you've never pailed a thing in your life."
"Shore I have!"
"Cod, Megido, not you too!"
"oH, hi there, aRADIA."
"Even if you D1D there's no way you took it to the drones, you dirty little BR4GG4RD."
"EV-ERYON-E be QUI-ET already! We're heading out!"
And the wordtumblin stopped right there. The air gleamed, and the doors swallowed them whole.
They scrambled into the carriers waiting meekly like a flock of bleatbeasts, an eager flow of insects all pointy little limbs and pointy little horns and pointy little grins, six to each one until their very own tomb-colored sister Aradia closed the hatch and plugged one hand into the wall, her whole body glowing with slender snakelike whips of red shadow, and that sharp little Terezi with the dead eyes started typing the coordinates into the screen.
Tavos, bless his clear gaze, put his quick fingers over the controls and their pod rose all silentlike into the air, all up and ready to go deliver its deathspawn. They took off across the landscape, bland rocks and things whizzing below them. Looking back at the base, and there they were, the other little silvery scaly pods like water-beads taking off after them, all strung along in a pretty line of jewelry.
The whole way there, Gamzee looked up and watched how the dark clouds distorted through the sweeping roof of the pod.
The others chatted loud pointless things and mimed their upcoming acts of pointless destruction, and Gamzee watched the clouds.
The clouds hadn't changed a lick when they crested one last upsliding slope that dropped abruptly down into a cliff and suddenly Tavros' quick fingers stopped, and his clear gaze stared, and the whole pod lurched like something that had dropped dead halfway through a graceful dance of murder, and the voices echoing through his helmet complained loudly, but Gamzee took his eyes away from the clouds and turned to see what it was that had brought up his best brother short.
The alien hivecluster had come into sudden and stark view on the horizon, all craggy spires like bones and veins, jutting stone like horns and fangs, a hulking spindly spidery thing that rose up from the marshy landscape far below the cliff and sat there, waiting, coiled like a poisonsnake and sprawled like a pincreature with a thousand toxic spines.
Gamzee smiled, felt his face muscles soften, felt the paint around his lips stretch.
Tavros dropped them down the cliff and the voices in his helm became angry shrieks and elated whoops, and Gamzee smiled, eyes fixed on the hivecluster before him.
They landed softly, and Aradia unplugged and opened the pod back up for them, and Terezi jumped into the lead and started snapping and chittering orders like a little wriggler rattle. Gamzee glanced back up the cliff and saw the pods back at the top hovering, reluctant, until one glowing a firey red-and-blue broke away and plummeted to the ground, falling into the cliff's shadow, and the rest followed like a stream of of dry sand.
Terezi's sharp voice whipcracked his name, Tavros' hand nudged his ribs, and he turned to follow.
The alien lair was dark but not pitch void, the air was thick and heavy as they skittered along the tunnels, the walls slick and glittery with saliva slime. Gamzee wanted to take off his helmet, breathe the stagnant air into his lungs, taste the rot, smell the gross festering, but he didn't. The alien killings were impersonal, brutally indifferent things. Poor murderous hellfiends didn't stand a chance against the cackling, apathetic swarm of children rushing into their home, by the time they caught understanding on the attack it was too late, they were fed to the blaze-ends of the guns.
Gamzee did as he was told, helped his friends conduct execution, watched them with a placid sort of fascination, and everyone made smooth progress through the comfortable darkness. Tavbro scrabbled with their minds, but these things didn't really have minds, did they? No desires but to kill, no feelings but to live, and he could only do so much to slow them down, but it doesn't matter. Those aliens got charred to numbsmoke all the same.
When they turned unexpectedly into a lair of fully-grown aliens, he raised his gun, calm as could be. When his deep-ocean fish sister's voice sang screeches into his ears, he turned to come to her aid, darkness a whirl around his eyes, focused on her prone body pinned beneath the scaled body of one mindless alien creature, he turned and put tension in his legs and would have come to her aid, but
Oh, you slip-broken brother, he thought dispassionately when he heard Eridan scream and saw him raise his gun, that is not how panic should be wielded.
It happened in a matter of seconds, Her moving with all the swiftness of a cobracat, shoving the alien right off her body with enormous strength of her legs, claiming upperground, about to blast the monster into the other side of wakefulness, the prince pulling the trigger like a lifeline and bathing the whole tunnel in deadly whiteness, her scream as she's hit across the belly and thighs.
Her body does a funny crumply thing, spine shuddering, eyes wide, glubs like drowning on air, knees falling as she slumps down slow from pain she's never before felt.
Gamzee takes calm aim at the twitching alien beneath her and shoots its head off. He turns away to the main fray, away from this oversparked sideshow as Ampora drops his gun in shock and staggers forward, crying out in a prayer of
"oh god fef please fef oh my god oh my god are you are you fef fef fef fuck no fuck no-"
"S)(ut UP I'M GOING TO BE FIN- - - -E gluugb..."
But then, they lose his attention in it's star-dusted entirety, because Tavros' sweet voice cracks open wide, voiceplate broken straight through in one long scream of pain.
Next update might take some extra time, sorry people. :B
Chapter 23: [H] Sepulcher of the Scorpio
The four humans set off up the mountain just before daybreak, when the air was cool and the sunlight indirect. Rose shouldered her monstrosity of a backpack and followed Jade up the steep, rocky side of the volcano. Her breath came in heavy, steady exhalations as they hiked and climbed the increasingly slanted incline, the weight of her pack taking her slightly off-balance and making her legs strain to keep moving.
The ocean at this time of day was lovely, dark and deep with the barest flickers of light on the waves. The coastal wind blew her hair in every inconvenient direction, but she knew to appreciate it before the landscape transformed into a boiling-hot nightmare.
Becquerel would come circling back around the group from time to time, his fluffy tail wagging and large paws skidding on the rock. But for the most part he stayed in front of Jade, leading on as though he knew exactly where they were going. And perhaps he did; Rose wasn't one to judge. She was just thankful that he was carrying two gallons of deadweight water for them.
As the sun crept up, the rocks under their feet started to warm, followed by the air around them. It wasn't quite as humid on the volcano as it was down on the island proper, but the direct sunlight was much hotter. She hoped that her friends had the the same foresight that she did where it came to sunblock. Skin cancer was not a desirable trophy, nor was a sunburn.
The hike to the cave, though steep, was thankfully not exceedingly long, and by the time John started vocally fantasizing about all the heinous acts he would commit on his lunch, they had arrived, and it was an early but not unreasonable hour of the day to pull out the PB&J (PB stands for PrettyBerryJelly, clearly. A Peanut allergy is a terrible thing to deal with). The four of them eagerly receded into the shade of the cave and set down their packs, rolling their shoulders and swigging water.
"I am going to eat the hell out of a lunch and then I am going to sleep the hell out of a nap," John said decisively, "Jade you seriously woke us up at a unholy hour."
She scoffed, digging through her backpack and withdrawing a large tub of PrettyBerryJelly. "Well maybe you would've preferred to do all of the hike in the peak heat of the day?"
"Fuck nope Harley I 100% support your planning. Ignore Egderp, you know how he is with sleep. He'd snooze 'till evening if you let him."
"Dave, you're way exaggerating!"
"Not by very much," Rose disagreed, removing some of the gear strapped to her backpack so as to reach the bread.
"Geez you guys gimme a break! I just appreciate my mangrit beauty sleep okay, come on. You lot are the weird ones. What's wrong with you? Call yourselves teens?"
Jade stuck her tongue out at him. "Pass the spoon, John, would you? Thanks. Anyway, we can get away with a little rest after lunch, and a quickie quickie nap if you reaaaally want to. But now that we're here, we should start exploring! I can show you guys the hieroglyphs right after we eat, really, they're just a short walk down that way. We can leave our stuff here, Bec can handle any little critters that might want to nab our food."
One plain lunch and a brief period of relaxation later, the four fearless explorers set out on the main attraction of their journey. Rose was particularly excited, although she didn't portray it as effusively as Jade. Even if she had once again been laden with the climbing rope, ascender and descender, they were finally fast approaching the most fascinating aspect of their trip.
They suddenly stopped in their leisurely walk down the wide lava-tube, and Jade turned abruptly into a wide crack in the wall. Rose followed cautiously, and behind her John and Dave followed suit. They walked and walked down the crack for what must have been eons. The rocky walls on either side, though technically spacious, almost began to feel claustrophobic. The deep darkness, dispelled only where their headlamps shone, seemed to whisper not-silence into their ears.
And then abruptly, the crack opened up onto a stone ledge to the side of a chasm. The light of their lamps did not quite reach the far side of the darkness, and far below, they could see intricately spiderwebbing cracks of searing red glowing out of the blackness, casting a faint, reddish glow wherever the light reached.
"Fuck." She heard Dave breathe behind her.
Jade turned and walked well within the ledge, sweeping the light of her headlamp along the wall.
"Look," She said, voice hushed. Rose quickly caught up to her and turned her own lamp to the stone wall.
eripme naipotsyd ruo fo seixalag dna srats eht dellevart evohw esoht roF
ssyba taerg eht fo serusaert gnirettilg eht donyeb dehcraes evah ohw esoht roF
denmad eht dna souirotciv eht dehcterw eht fo ecalp gnitser lanif eht ot emocleW
gnafdniM terennipS esiuqraM
The hieroglyphs looked as though they were done in deep blue ink, and gleamed in the light as if they has only just started to dry. The lettering was all spiked barbs, sweeping curves, the occasional staccato dots, and the overall effect was at once elegant and chaotic. The letters spanned over the craggy stone in precise strokes, frozen on the wall like a hoard of barbed insects struck dead mid-crawl. At the bottom was a swooping symbol painted in the same blue, its shape almost reminiscent of a cursive M with a devil's tail.
"The camera please, John."
He passed it to her and Rose wordlessly took photograph after photograph of the wall, clicks and flashes recording the writing. Satisfied, she lowered the camera.
She said quietly, "I am far from what you could call an expert in ancient or foreign linguistics, but I am certain I have not seen glyphs such as these before."
"Right?" Jade said, "Granpa and I looked through all kinds of written languages and none of them match up!"
They continued to stare for a while, transfixed, eyes never wavering, as though the moment they looked away it would all disappear.
"Call me crazy," Dave spoke up with a calm sort of voice, "But this kinda looks like something from the Elder Scrolls games. Not the same, you know, but there's definitely a resemblance."
"You're crazy," said John dutifully.
Dave shook his head. "But look at this, does this stuff actually look ancient to you? There's no way that ink is more than a couple years old. What if some asslick crept in here and scribbled garble on the walls?"
"If we were to entertain this absurd prospect for a moment, could you please provide us with a reason as to why someone would go though all the trouble to vandalize the volcano of a privately owned island?"
Dave just shrugged. "Shits and giggles?"
"Waaaaaaaait, wait, wait, noo, Jade you didn't put this here, did you?" John asked, "Because I'd have to hand it to you, this is a seriously dedicated prank-"
He broke off at her absolutely withering stare. If there had been any vegetation in proximity, it would have shriveled up and died on the spot. And then burst into flame, done a backflip, and dug itself a grave. And then swantailed into said grave. Both Dave and John shifted away a little.
"There's more down this way," Jade said icily, "See if you think this is all a joke then."
And she promptly turned and headed off down the rocky ledge, boots scraping the stone.
Rose spared the other two an amused smirk and followed.
About fifty or so paces down the ledge was another wall of writing, this one far denser and messier, cramped blue letters stretching from twenty feet above the ledge all the way to the floor.
After thirty seconds of gobsmacked staring, Rose lifted the camera and let it rip.
"You haven't even seen the best of it yet," Jade said, and the grin on her face was almost palpable in the air, "Everyone turn your lamps off."
They did, and the letters disappeared into the darkness. A new painting, however, glowed into sight.
On one side was a human figure painted in luminescent blue, larger than life, one hand in a fist, the other open wide, scattering eight red jewels to the air. On the other side was another figure, this one done in deep ocher and sporting massive butterfly wings, grasping a blood-red lance. Both their faces were frozen in a furious scream, a curly, blood-red symbol drawn between both of their their snarling jaws, and above them floated another spiked shape like fire, gleaming in the same crimson red, another symbol glowing white-hot upon it, shaped like a triple-pronged spear. Both figures appeared to have horns.
"Damn Jade if you painted that I want your autograph for when you get famous," John finally managed. Rose felt Jade aim a punch at him, but she didn't follow through on her playful act of violence, simply lowering her hand again.
"Incredible," Rose said, "The detail on this, the state of the color, the fact that it glows... I quite agree with Dave in that it seems impossible for it to be very old, but..." She trailed off. There was something at once primal and futuristic about this, something structurally off about the way the figures' bodies were painted, and ancient or no, there was certainly a fascinating story behind its origins. She desperately wanted to know how to decipher all the writing on the walls.
All this was drastically different from what Rose had been expecting. When Jade had talked about heiroglyphs and cave paintings, Rose had immediately assumed carvings and ruins and the eroded traces of a lost civilization. This... She didn't know what to think about this. She didn't know if she should feel disappointed or even more intrigued than she'd been before. Surely it would be absurd for someone to sneak onto Jade's island, hike up the volcano dragging ladders and paints and other supplies, only to leave behind evidence of something that nobody would likely ever lay eyes on before it faded away?
"Well, I think that's quite enough of that," Jade said cheerily, clicking her headlamp back on, "Let's start setting up the rappel; there's a cave down this cliff right below this painting, and I want to see what's inside!"
Chapter 24: [T] Murder Mode
He was standing side-by-side with Terezi and Aradia, covering them as they covered him as they dodged, backpedaled, front-pedaled, sidestepped, dancing around the pocket-lair of acidblood aliens, guns steady and everything fine. He had no spare attention to give to the situation with Gamzee and Feferi and Eridan back down the hallway, no spare attention to give to mind-controling these aliens, which was only partially effective part of the time, anyway.
They were almost done, just one alien left, coiled up in the the blood of its brethren, small teeth bared and tail arched like a saber.
"You do the honors, sir chocolate!" sang Terezi's voice into his ear, and he raised his gun, took aim, and-
-a long serrated tail shot down from above and wrapped him around the torso and leg, hauling him off his feet and into a shaft in the ceiling. He twisted and kicked and thrashed, shouting incoherently, attempting to take aim and he almost did, almost got free, but the alien's black face shined in the gloom, smooth skull, bumpy face, tiny needle teeth, and he felt something catch hold of his leg somewhere in the darkness and YANK-
He screamed as hard as his shout sphincter could accomplish, voice ricocheting around in his helm, horns alight with terror and rage so intense that it must have been palpable to every troll in the alien hivecluster. The gun on his hand flashed and hissed in every direction until it was ripped painfully away, but that pain felt like nothing, was like nothing compared to his leg, his leg was pain and pain and pain, a gut-wrenching hurt that hurt so bad it'd broken all the hurt scales, that was more disorientingly nauseating than he could deal with, and he was being dragged so fast, body bruising against every jutting edge, the things must be sprinting through the tunnels with his body dragging carelessly behind them.
fUCK fUCK fUCK fUCK fUCK, he thought, mind whirling and eyes clouding and resonant voices hissing in his ear, fUCK fUCK fUCK fUCK fUCK fUCK fUCK
It can be peaceful, you know?
Hoooly pailkickers my tongue feels furry. Is that a bad thing?
This is probably a bad thing.
Hemoequality isn't feasible, you idiot. Just look at me bleed. Now that's truly messed up. The fuck kind of color is that?
H3h3 I'm bleeding! I'd say that if I were Terezi. Probably. And then I'd make out with herself. Make out with myself.
Wait what no what.
Because candy red or something. She's so unbelievably morbid.
But seriously hemoequality isn't feasible. Eons of culture. And shit. Stupid book.
But what if we could, you know? Get some blasts together and fuck shit up until we take her down.
No that's stupid.
I'm barely succeeding at life, how can I succeed at revolution shit?
Hehe3 who am I kidding you're failing at life. Terezi would say that.
Hi Nepeta look. Look I can't talk. Looook- ow fuck this.
Also I think I'm gonna puke a rainbow projectile fountain at you so get out of the way.
Wait am I high right now because that would explain a lot.
That's a lot of blood.
Is peace an absence of blood?
No seriously, it's not something that can happen.
Loss of blood loss. Fucking hate this red blood shit it's unnatural as fuck and I'm going to die probably.
Nepeta stop crying put that shit away I'm going to die.
I can't feel anything.
Except my tongue. It's sprouted a million cubic lightsweeps of hair, we're talking scientific shittons of disgusting, bristly protrusions.
...I've got to be high. Or dying. Same thing. It's all the same thing.
"Equius help me! Don't just stand there!" she yelled, kneeling over Karkat's bloodied body and pulling bandages from her sparse medkit. Her eyes stung, her throat gasped like a drowning fish, but she blinked it away and tipped antiseptic onto the white cloth.
Equius stood behind her, rooted to the spot, staring glassily at the bright red pooling on the damp floor. From down the hall came flashes of light, and heated shouts pounded against her eardrums. She desperately pressed the bandages against the bleeding gouges running from collarbone to hip, tried to ignore the deadly amounts of impossibly colored blood pooling behind his head where it had been bashed against the rock. But he kept bleeding. More and more bright, fiery blood, that color of burned flesh, of death, of disaster, of terrible calamity soaked right through the white cloth and all over her hands.
Bright red. The color of the sun and the angels, terrifying monsters of Time with awful feathery wings. Harbingers of the end. Bright red. The color assigned to those slated for culling, the color assigned to Starships of Astronomical Kamikaze Destruction, and the color flaunted by Her Imperious Condescension's private battlehelm. Karkat Vantas lived with it running through his veins. And now it was soaking across the floor.
"Equius give me your medkit right now!" she screamed, horns burning, voice breaking through the clog in her throat, and she sounded absolutely, perfectly, and whole-heartedly livid, "Hand it over right now and help me save him!"
"This..." he wheezed, squeezed his hands into fists, "For Vantas to be off-hemoscale... It is cause for immediate culling..."
She whipped around and leaped to her feet, pounding him hard as she could in the chest with both fists. It wouldn't hurt him. "LIKE I GIVE A FUCK, EQUIUS ZAHHAK! GIVE ME YOUR MEDKIT!"
"If you're associated with him... Anyone associated with him when the authorities find out... We'll all be culled," he hissed, shaking now, and there's waves of cold terror and hot turmoil coming off him, as much as his face is set determinedly flat, "I can't... I can't let you..."
"Don't you DARE!" she shouted, grabbing his hands in a vicegrip, "Don't you dare go off like that! He's your friend, he's inclade, and you sure as hell can't let him DIE! Would you let me bleed out on the ground if I didn't fit your precious hemospectrum? Would you turn me in to your precious authorities?"
"I... That's not... Nepeta-"
"Would you throw me aside, maybe? Take matters into your own hands? Crush me before I can endanger you and our friends?" She's shooting blast after merciless blast into his feelsglobe, torturing him and all those unfortunate worldviews she's been trying to depolarize for sweeps. She's bashing those worldviews now with every forceful word she can muster, with no regard to the emotional pain its causing him, because Karkat Vantas is dying. So help her, Karkat Vantas, the troll who's never looked twice her way, is more important to her now than Equius Zahhak's soundness of mind.
She's a terrible moirail.
"You'd cull me yourself if they ordered it, wouldn't you?" she screamed, face, eyes, and horns burning with red-hot fury, "Shoot me with a ceremonial arrow and clean up the mess in whatever way they asked for!"
His face was stricken. Sweat dripped down his cheekbones. "Nepeta! Don't say such things!"
"HE'S DYING! HE'S DYING AND YOU'RE NOT LETTING ME SAVE HIM! GIVE ME YOUR FUCKING MEDKIT!"
He let out a long, shaky breath, and reached out with one hand, where a bright red box appeared on his palm. Nepeta snatched it from him and knelt back down next to Karkat, popping the lid and digging through the Level Royalty medical supplies. She peeled back his uniform and pressed strips of fleshgauze into his wounds, wrapped up his torso clumsily with infection-repelling bandages, and then pressed her bloodied palms against where her helmet arced over her throbbing forehead, stinging eyes wrenched shut and fangs digging into her lower lip, bloodpulse throbbing in her skull. She sits there as her friends battle with a small cluster of aliens down the hallway, barely cognizant of her surroundings.
Equius Zahhak stood motionless at her back, locked in place with internally waging wars.
And then a wave of solid terror stabbed down her spine with the fully physical force of a bludgeon, with the deadly, throttling pressure of a thousand leagues of icy overhead water, with the crushing intensity of of a black hole imploding into an ever-sucking void, and it was all she could do to just gasp for a little air and turn around to the battle her friends were battling, where
Gamzee motherfucking Makara
flashes through the hallway, an unstoppable, brutally efficient shadow of destruction, a towering, unceasingly erupting volcano of searing lava and deathsmoke, twin clubs dripping green acid as he beats down everything in his path until its nothing more than a crumpled puddle of blood, trampling and flattening and skirting and smashing, and within seconds he's danced through the clearing smoke of the team's shooting, kicking the limp body of an alien through a thin wall of crunchy rock and slime, and gone from sight.
Three minutes later, Nepeta takes another gasping breath, and she forces her muscles to move again, her heart beating itself half to death as it comes down from the terror high.
"Everyone get up!" Vriska shouts through their helms, barking orders with a shivering voice, "Sollux, pick up anyone who's injured. We're going after Kanaya!"
"Get the fuck after him!" Terezi shouts when she finds her voice and limbs, "Get the fuck after the both of them!"
She takes off running, about to rip off her helmet for better scenting, but
"Ter, no! Fef, she's down, Fef's down, we can't just leavve her!"
She skids to a stop, whips around, heart hammering. The damage stares at her like bloodied teeth, a sharp stab of color up her nose.
"Aradia. Pick up Feferi with your mind and follow! Everyone, stick close!"
She turns again, removes the helmet, inhales the acid-laced air and almost takes off running, but she's lifted straight off the ground, glowing softly with raspberry wisps.
"Terezi, we can't. We've lost them." Her voice is thinner, almost imperceptible in the speakers of the helmet, now that it's off her head. "Terezi, I promise, it's going to be okay."
"Tell me how it can be OK4Y." Terezi hisses, voice dropped from hysterical down to deadly quiet, staring with blind eyes into the face of Aradia's sleek helmet, "Tavros is taken and Gamzee's taken off after him! HOW TH3 FUCK C4N TH1S B3 0K4Y?" And then she puts on her helmet again, because her lungs are really starting to burn with all the air she's forcing through them.
"Calm down, Terezi," Aradia says soothingly, and god dammit she does have a soothing voice, "We can-"
"We are all going to check into the group com, and I am pinging everyone on this assignment," Terezi says, "and instructing them to notify us if they see either Makara or Nitram. We're going to find them."
Kanaya strains against the sticky material binding her to the wall, grunting with the exertion, and then giving up, panting. She tried decaptchaloging something from Strife, but all that did was dump her weapon on the floor below her.
Her helmet suddenly hissed with sound.
"Kanaya? You still there? We're still coming after you! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! Just hang in there!"
"Yes. I am still alive," she assured them, although she was no more consoled, "How are you all doing?"
"Got held up, lousy goddamn fucking stupid aliens. Nepeta and I've sustained some irrit8ing damage, Karkat's down for the count, but he's alive, Sollux is bringing him along." A pause. "Gamzee came tearing through, leveled everything down this tunnel looks like, whatever the fuck that's about."
"Ah," Kanaya said, because she didn't know what else to say.
And then a pair of aliens crawled into view, dragging another troll behind them. It was a brownblood male, with massive horns like a-
"They've got Tavros too, he's bleeding heavily. Oh. His leg has been ripped off."
"Holy hell that worthless little AUGHh! ! ! ! ! ! ! !"
Kanaya watched helplessly as the aliens bound Tavros to the wall next to her. His head sagged. Most likely unconscious from all the blood loss.
One of the aliens left Tavros and approached her, prodding the pod by her feet with its nose. The pod twitched.
"I Calmly Request That You Make Fucking Haste," Kanaya said, as the pod began to peel open, "There is a face-sucker almost ready to hatch at my feet."
"Fuuuuuuuuck I get it! We're coming!"
The alien suddenly twitched and glanced over its shoulder to the tunnel leading into the room, as the pod at her feet burst open and a slimy, skittery thing crawled out and began to make its way up her legs.
"Vriska. I am no longer Camly Requesting."
The alien turned fully around and bared its teeth. The face-sucker crawled up her hips.
And then she was hit with a black tidal wave of terror that perhaps should have, but did not have anything to do with the creature about to latch itself to her face. Her whole body locked itself stiff with fear, eyes wide, fangs bared, as the panic drove painfully through her body, a never-ceasing canon blast, an unending plummet and impact into bottomless canyon, a blow to the skull that at once loomed and pounded without break between hits, continuously, continuously, continuously,
and Gamzee Makara flew into the room, sprinting headlong at the aliens, an incoming guided missile, his eyes wide and lit with inner combustion, a furnace with a gem of indigo-black void, every fang bared in a snarling grin, his hands grasping a pair of dripping clubs.
She lay there against the wall, frozen, because what else could she do?
The alien crawled onto the face of her helmet, and bit at the casing. It began to crack.
They descend upon me, motherfucking empty-souled beasts, more and more crawling from their shells and their crevices and their voids, but I HAVE THE LAUGHTER of the Messiahs in my veins, and they burn.
I AM GOING TO MAKE THEM BURN.
I am going to motherfucking make them die.
Make them CRUSHED LITTLE BITS OF OOZE, GRODY LITTLE NUGGETS OF HURT, and then I am going to MAKE THEM BURN and burn and burn.
Tavros is here, my soul, my motherfucking keeper, my brother who holds my heart with both hands all night and day, through the blizzards and the sunlight and the hurtings of life, holds it all carefullike and gentle and protects it from the sharp sharp sharp claws of reality.
AND HOW DO THEY MOTHERFUCKING DARE PUT THEIR TOUCH ON HIM? How do they motherfucking dare take an effort to TAKE HIM FROM ME? I will rip them claw by claw, gland by gland, seam from seam, blood from motherfucking BLOOD for EVEN DARE THINKING TO STEAL AWAY my dearest brother, my sweetest shadow, my everso closest MOTHERFUCKING CALAMITY, I am going to make them motherfucking pay for the single most unrighteous TRANSGRESSION of their dumbstruck EXISTENCE.
I am a daymare and I am a nightdream, a burnglare and a truthseam,
FIRESTORM AND HURRICANE, MIRACULOUS MOTHERFUCKING NATURAL DISASTER,
Explosions and collisions and the swallowing of galaxies,
A RAZOR GRIN SHIVERING THE STARS OF INSANITY,
These hapless mindless heartless BEASTS stand no MOTHERFUCKING chance against ME.
I scream like destruction, and they scream like brokenness, and we clash.
At the end of it I'm barely awake, sleeping CHAOS WALKING, and I stand in a haze of blood and dismembered bodies. My helmet comes off, and I breathe the dead air that BURNS LIFE in my lungs, and I stoop down, rip away one bloodied clawlike thing, shriveled and dead, and in a daze, I slowly drag the tips down my face in thin little lines of fire, numb like cloudy ice. I close my eyes, and breathe.
"Gamzee?" The sweet voice is quiet through the helmspeaker in my fist.
I drop the hand and go to him, my brother, rip away his bindings, drag him down from the wall, his battered body limp in my hands. I kill the deathpods around our feet.
The air burns my lungs and I kiss the base of one horn, then the other, then the spot on his helmet where his forehead would be, then the spot above his lips.
He stares into me with candlelight eyes, puts color back in the stark black in my soul, reaches up with with one hand and traces away the slick-thick indigo smears dripping down my face.
"Brother mine," I breathe, and the air burns my lungs, the acid stings my face, the indigo blood sweet on my tongue, the soft pale color of Tavros' touch seeping into my mind.
Jade and John securely affixed the rope to a suspiciously convenient jut of stone, one that curved out of the flat ledge in a rough sweep toward the painted wall, and then down again in a bluntish hook. After double-checking the knot and nodding with satisfaction, Jade glanced up at her friends, a wide grin on her face.
"So who wants to go first?"
"You do it, Harley. It's your volcano I mean, come on."
John waggled his eyebrows. "Sounds like someone's a little scaaared, eh?" He was casually flipped him off in response.
"I think we should all go one at a time, but anyone has the rights to go down first! We're all a team here." Jade insisted.
"I do think you should go, Jade," Rose smiled, "We appreciate your hospitality and recognize your boundless enthusiasm for the project. Trust us, we won't let you tumble into the molten depths of this Earth."
"Well duh, you'd be pretty awful friends if you did!" she laughed, "But if you insist."
Dave handed her the harness, and she slipped her legs through and tightened the straps, threading the long rope through the descender with practiced ease and checking that the ascender was clipped to a spare loop on her harness. Tightening the rope, she pulled on a pair of gloves and then slowly eased the rope out again as she approached the ledge.
Don't look down, she told herself, and giggled, Haha who doesn't?
So she looked down, at the plummeting cliff and faint reddish glow far below, felt the warm air rise up and breathe into her hair. Jade let out long, steadying breath of her own and leaned against the rope, feet on the edge of the cliff and center of gravity hanging over thin air. She glanced down again and saw the target ledge of the next cave.
"Here I go!"
And she pushed off, letting the rope slide.
"That girl," Dave said, shaking his head, "She is a fucking badass."
"More like a good-ass, aaaayyy- OUCH Rose, god! I was just joking!"
Jade rappelled lightly down the dark cliff, keeping her headlamp trained on the rock and her feet bouncing against the wall, rope easing steadily through the descender. Her heart pounded with excitement. Finally, she would see what was hidden inside this cave, all the mysteries it held. When she came to the top of the cave, she slowed her descent, making sure to stay braced against the wall, and let the rope slide more slowly through the descender. Slowly, she lost her footing on the wall, and started to make a controlled fall down the mouth of the cave. Halfway to the lower ledge, she stopped, hanging in the air, and shone her headlamp into the cave.
At first she was very much disappointed.
The first sweep of the walls revealed them to be bare, with no inscriptions or artwork on them at all. Another sweep, though, and she realized that there were mystery items leaned against the walls, and other shadows tucked into cracks and hidden behind crags of rock. The ceiling of the small, quasi-spherical cave bore evidence of fire, stained as it was with soot.
Cautiously, she lowered herself down all the way and loosened the rope a little so that she could walk into the cave.
A voice echoed down from above. Dave. "Anything down there Harley or is it just a bunch of empty paint buckets?"
"Nope, no buckets! Gosh let me have a look around."
She approached the large misshapen parcels leaned against the wall. They appeared to be wrapped in some kind of blackish covering. The texture looked like... Sharkskin? Something like that? Very carefully, she prodded it with one toe. When nothing happened, she peeled the covering back on one of the items, and...
"Harley? You okay down there?"
"Yeah I'm fine!"
"What is it?"
"Hold on a sec!"
Jade peeled the rest of the covering away, tugging it free from where it seemed intent on sticking to the rock, and dropped it to the floor, sweeping her torch up and down the thing. It was sleek and black, with beads of glinting blue and red and white lining the contours. There were what appeared to be curved claws and teeth and the occasional antenna protruding from the sides. Could be a gun or something, in a different universe.
She picked up a stone from the ground and threw it at the thing. It bounced off harmlessly. She gave it due three seconds of contemplation.
And because she was Jade fucking Harley, she proceeded to heft it up in her arms and point what appeared to be the barrel out at the mouth of the cave, careful to steer clear of the rope. She wrapped her hand around a clawlike handle and pressed the butt of it against her shoulder, staring down the barrel. Yup. Definitely a gun. She jostled the claw, and webby fibers and thin antennae blossomed out from around the claw-grip and wrapped around her wrist, her arm, her shoulder, her neck, barbed tips digging gently into her skin.
"I'm fine!" Her heart was pounding with adrenaline, her teeth were bared in a grin, and her whole body was all but trembling with excitement. The mystery gun in her arms seemed to hum and sing.
Try me. Just try me, it's been ever so long.
HELL FUCKING YES.
She twisted her fist, and a burst of white light flashed her vision. There was a deep BOOM from the far side of the chasm, light illuminating the wall in a sharp burst.
"Holy fuck Jade what was that!"
"It's all fine!" She called back, euphoric and staring at the gun in wonderment. Someone had made a lasergun? Or something? Just left it here? How old was this? Who had abandoned it? What did it all mean?
WhatEVER who even CARED this was so FUCKING SWEET.
Another twist of the wrist, then another, and another, a flurry of lights and BOOMS in the dark.
"Harley goddamnit I will come down there so help me!"
"Jade are you alright?"
"I'm fine! I am sooooo fine! You wouldn't... believe!"
Loosening her grip on the claw made the webs and feelers retract, and Jade put the gun down, suddenly feeling rather drained and dizzy. She sank to her knees, and then just sat down altogether, the cave whirling around her. Oooh geez what was this, maybe that had been a really bad idea. Haha who was she kidding? That had been the best idea. The best of all ideas.
"Fuck this I'm going down there."
"Dave, that would be supremely stu-"
"He is such an idiot."
The rope whirred and a mere ten seconds later, Dave was running up to her, his headlamp bouncing. Kneeled before her, grabbed her shoulder.
"Jade? Jade! Jade you alright? Hey girl, what happened, the fuck-" His headlamp caught sight of the gun. "The fuck Jade what is that?"
She shivered and laughed a little, still giddy. "It's a gun, Dave! Shoots white light or something, I don't know how it's possible! Oh my gosh... Oh I'm going to puke hahaha this is the best day of my life!"
Dave Strider reserves facepalms for only the most stupendously unbelievable moments of his life, because facepalms tend to smudge his awesome shades. For this, however, he facepalmed. Facepalmed so hard he might've broken those precious glasses of his.
"The first thing you do when you find a weirdass fucking dangerous-looking weapon inside your trippy volcano is pick it up and shoot it, are you serious Harley."
She grinned at him. "How could I not?" He made a sound like he was being choked to death and muttered something like, "whatamaigonnadowithyoureinsane" and shook his head.
"There's more." She crawled over to the others, and ignoring Dave's yelp of protest, pulled away the skins. There were four more strange-looking things-that-could-be-guns. One more slender and narrow, two about the size of a fist, and one that was absolutely huge, with a tail or something protruding from the end.
They stared for a while. Dave slapped her hands away when she reached for the massive one with the tail. "NO! Bad Jade."
"I'm not a dog you ass!"
"You guys alright down there?"
"Yeah, we're fine," Dave responded.
"Oh fuck, it sounds bad, Rose."
"Should we go get help?"
Dave facepalmed again. Twice in one day. Jade reminded herself to mark this day down in her calendar so everyone could celebrate it each year to commemorate the amazing phenomenon of the Strider 2x Facepalm Combo.
Oh and also the discovery of supernaturally advanced weapons in her active volcano. That too. That was pretty awesome.
"How long do the two of you plan to remain in that cave?"
"Yeah like should we be busy writing wedding cards or what?"
"Egbert I will murder you."
"That's a yes, Rose, get your pen ready!"
"Already far ahead of you."
Jade crawled deeper into the cave, as the world hadn't quite finished whirling yet. Dave followed her, sweeping his headlamp curiously along the walls. A moment later her hand bumped into something behind a boulder, and it clattered. She trained her headlamp on it and-
"Whoa what even- Jade fuckin' Harley you gotta check out this shit over here-"
STRIDER GET OVER HERE YOU'LL NEVER BELIEVE-
-this is seriously weird it's like a little hole in the wall and some kind of-"
"Strider! Look at this! Wow wow wow wow wow!"
"Okay, fine you first."
Jade reached forward and picked up the skull, holding it up and training her torchlight on it.
(A voice from above. "Come on, guys, when do we get a turn?")
Dave and Jade did not hear it focused as they were at the thing in Jade's hands. She pushed herself to her feet, dizziness forgotten, and stared, open-mouthed.
It had the shape of a skull, to be sure. A cranium, eyesockets, cheekbones. But the teeth were fangs of razor-sharp whiteness, and a pair of equally white horns rose up from either side of the temple, one ending in a crescent, the other in a sharp hook, just like the blue-painted figure on the wall. Within the bright outer whiteness of the horns was a black spiderwebbing underlayer, only slightly visible. Around the base of the crescent horn hung an amber gem on a thin chain. The other horn sported another chain, and Jade recognized the silver pendant on the end to have the same curly shape that had been painted in red on the wall above this cave.
The skull itself was an dense, ashy black with a thin film of translucent white.
"Holy shit," Dave breathed, "Holy shit. There's no way this is real. This can't be real, are you fucking kidding me?"
"What does this mean? How could this? What does it mean if it's really, what..."
"Are there any other bones here?" He turned and swept his headlamp methodically over every surface of the cave, but there was nothing.
"We're taking this up with us," Jade said firmly, handing the skull to Dave and tightening the rope as she walked over to the mouth of the cave, "John? Rose? Can you send down the backpack?"
A few seconds later, an empty backpack whizzed down the line on a carabiner, and Jade caught it easily. They wrapped up the gun and blades with the sharkskin-stuff and packed what they could into the backpack (the sword they strapped to the side), carefully packing the skull in at the top. Jade then switched out the descender for the ascender and tied a loop into the rope for her foot, tightening everything and strapping on the heavy backpack.
"Got this?" Dave asked, as she wound her foot into the loop and got a firm grip on the rope.
He nodded, "Go for it."
She stepped into the loop and dragged down on the rope, hiking steadily back up to the ledge. When she finally made it to the top, John and Rose helped heave her over, spilling questions as she unstrapped the backpack and stepped out of the harness, her leg and arms jittering from the exertion.
"There really wasn't so much to see down there," she explained, kneeling and opening up the backpack, "But there was this stuff..." She pulled out the skull, then sword, then the dagger, then the gun, and laid them out carefully on the ground.
Her two friends stared.
"Don't try firing anything, it does something weird to your system," Jade said. She left John and Rose oggling the loot and started loosening the rope in the ascender so that she could lower it all down to Dave.
That night, they sat around a small fire just within the outer cave, staring out at the depthless sky, chowing down on carbs and salt. Suddenly, John snapped his fingers.
"I got it!" He grinned, spread his hands theatrically, and then lowered his voice, "Aliens!"
"Kid, I think you're overtired. Early bedtime for you."
John glowered at Dave.
"Yeah? Well, we all know how much you like bedtimes!" He said this very suggestively.
"John, no. Don't go there. Remember what happened last time."
Rose suddenly looked very interested. John winked the most melodramatic/suggestive wink he could muster.
"Think of the children, John. The children."
"Conceding defeat so quickly?" John grinned, "Ohh, Mister Strider, ohhh."
Jade started laughing. "We all know how submissive you are, Dave, just admit it!"
"Jade, no, stop. I'm trying to preserve your innocence here. I'm being an uprighteous fucking picture of gentlemanliness, balls of gay chicken steel on the side."
She batted her eyelashes. "Innocence? Surely you jest! !"
"Bawwwk bawk bawk bawk."
"Babies, John," Dave said, stony face, "Remember the goddamn babies."
Rose longed for her psychoanalyst's notebook.
"John, gay chicken only works if at least one member of the party is at all concerned about looking like an idiot."
John did his best 'gangsta pose.' It was objectively horrendous. Dave somehow succeeded in holding back a facepalm. Barely.
"Well that's good, isn't it? Because you're teeerified! And I am gonna own you. So. Fucking. Hard."
Dave shook his head slightly in defeat, and then smirked. Jade cheered and clapped her hands.
"Oh, honey-boo-boo," Dave said sweetly, cocking is head, "Say that again, John-kun, I think I'm gonna blush. In my pants."
"Shit, Dave plays hardball!" Jade wheezed between chocking clods of laughter, "Five bucks on him!"
"Five on John," Rose countered, and discreetly popped the lens cover off her camera.
I imagine this is what true friendship looks like.
Not that I'd know.
When Karkat opened his eyes he was back at the training base, and there was a weird, tingly, cold sensation running down parts of his torso. The slightest movement sent spikes of pain through his nerves. He also had a splitting headache.
"Auuughghhnn." As far as post-traumatic monosyllables go, that one was pretty textbook.
"Karkat?" A hushed voice.
He peeled back his eyelids and turned his irises to the source. It was Nepeta, her eyes round as the moons. A moment later, he turned his gaze to the ceiling. As far as he could tell, they were back at base and she'd laid him down in the space between her recouperacoon and the wall. Asking if they'd gotten back through the airlock and the base's hallways without compromising his secret would be inevitable, but he didn't really want to at that point. Maybe he'd grit through a few more minutes of shitty existence, make a little smalltalk before getting around to it.
"Fuck." Fuck, he was hurting. "So does everyone know?"
Or maybe he could come right out and ask.
A long pause, as she gazed down at him, her arms crossed on the edge of her recouperacoon. "I think purrhaps Sollux does," she said finally, "The way he acted. He kept Vriska away. We wrapped you in a heatcloth and told Xclawvator that you'd just been knocked out. He was too purreocuppied to do more than send us back to our block..."
"Vriska knows," he said, "she knew from night one on the ISS Devastator."
It took a long time for him to tally his teammates in his mind. Sollux, Kanaya, and Vriska knew, Nepeta had obviously found out, so that left...
She winced. He closed his eyes.
"His medkit's what saved you. Royal blue, you know. Getting it from him wasn't easy. I tailed him not to say anything about your blood, but he's really conflickted with himself right now."
Great. His life now hung on the line that was the probably most hemophobic, authority-possessed creep this side of their generation. In all likelyhood Zahhak was sitting on the side of the other room sweating profusely whilst getting off on this whole scenario.
He dozed off.
They'd rushed through the caves, following Vriska's lead, chasing after the thing, falling behind, killing things left and right with minimal difficulty. And then she'd turned a corner he saw as Sollux ahead of him visibly jolted with a secondhand buzz of fear, and Vriska screamed, caught by the leg and dragged into a side-tunnel, and he'd leaped forward because he had a fucking deal to uphold, didn't he?
He just managed to grab her by one arm before she slipped entirely away, brace himself on an oozing rocky outcropping, and almost take aim at the thing when it let her go and jumped him instead. Teeth, so many, and so much fucking saliva, ropes of it flying as its fangs went straight for his face, he just barely had the time to shove the barrel of his forcepulser between its middle jaws as he was thrown against the ground and got his torso torn open by six sharp claws.
Twisted the pulser into a better firing position, and he shot, the alien thrown back, the recoil smashing his own head against the rock and then everything swirled and his ears rang and nothing made sense, lights flashing and voices echoing through his helm, and Kanaya's snarling and screeching loud in his ears-
He must've dozed off completely, because he was suddenly brought sharply to awareness by that memory of Kanaya. Oh gods what a self-centered, decency-shitting, bulge-biting asshole he was. How could he forget about Kanaya?
"Kanaya!" He yelped, eyes snapping open and focusing on Nepeta, who jumped, "Did we, is she...?"
"A face-sucker..." she trailed off.
Her pained expression was answer enough. He dragged himself to a sitting position with a loud, tortured hiss, and ignoring Nepeta's profuse demands that he lay back down, he got to his feet, leaning heavily on the recouperacoon.
"Karkat stop that right now!" she yelled, grabbing his arm as he attempted to stagger away, "You can't walk yet, are you compurrletely insane?"
"Well then help me, for fuck's sake!"
"No! Lie back down!"
He snarled, "She could be dying! Goddamn it Nepeta, let me go!"
"You thoughtless ASS!"
"YOU SELFISH 'RAILSTABBER!" he screamed, and he didn't know who he was yelling at anymore.
That silenced her, and her grip on his forearm loosened. He ripped it away and limped out of her anti-light shield, heading for the block exit.
Halfway down the hallway, he heard her light footsteps patter down the hall after him. A moment later, she grabbed his arm and steadied him enough that that he could take his hand away from the wall.
They limped awkwardly to the medical center.
The medical center was moderately crowded, with trolls that had returned early with injuries ranging from cuts to fractures to severed limbs. Those that were well enough to stand were leaning against the walls with impatience and boredom etched into their faces, while others lay motionless on examination tables. Quite a few sat on these tables, waiting patiently for a medic's attention. The only adult and medic in the room seemed to be the Xcavator, whom Karkat and Nepeta found sliding a dripneedle into Feferi's forearm and snapping at Eridan to:
"Shut the hell up, she's going to be fine... How can you expect me to give her a transfusion? We don't fucking have tyrian blood stockpiled, you moron... No, I'm not going to OD her with this, gods, this is just to boost her blood production a little... Alright that's it, get the fuck out. You're banned from the medical center until you've put in twenty gaper cleaning creds... Yes I do in fact have the authority to do that. Now get out!"
Karkat inhaled slowly, stocking up his lungs. "ERIDAN YOU PANCRUSHED ASSWIT. FUCK OFF ALREADY I NEED TO TALK TO THIS GUY!"
Ouch. That particular diaphragm exertion left his airsacs breathless and his whole torso singing with pain, but at least it shut Ampora up. He didn't leave, however, instead choosing to loiter at Feferi's side, a lost juvinile barkbeast helpless without the shining object of his attentions. The Xcavator nodded gratefully in Karkat's direction and then moved onto to the next table, to stitch up a truly spectacularly whiny limeblood. Feferi's eyes blinked open blearily and she wiggled her fingers at her friends in greeting, and Nepeta waved back with a smile.
")(-ELLO Leijon! And Vantas! Fancy seeing your grouchy buttface here! I was worried you might not make it intact through this ordeal." She grinned blindingly, and it was the most gruesomely disgusting expression he'd ever seen.
"Shut the fuck up and go back to lying there like an paralyzed slab of decomposing flesh. Oh wait! SO SORRY. I didn't mean to make that particular observation out loud."
Nepeta hastily started pushing Karkat away from the table before a pointless fight could break out. No one was in shape for it, being injured and all.
Leaving Eridan to hover anxiously over Feferi, Nepeta and Karkat shuffled over to the Xcavator, ignoring the limeblood's vociferous complaints ("Holy crap is that a needle? What is this, the stone age? Give me fleshglue, come oooooooon it huuuuuuurts...") and Xcavator's impatient retort ("I'd be done already if you'd just shut your fatass mouth-").
"Where is Kanaya Maryam?" Karkat interrupted with all the impunity of crowned royalty, "She had an egg-layer stuck to her face when we came back."
It took a moment for the medic to respond, preoccupied as he was with his howling patient. Karkat was just about to reword his demand at a more earsplitting volume when the Xcavator finally answered.
"The jadeblood? Locked down in quarantine, no worries," he said absently, finishing off the stitches and moving onto the next table where a marroonblood sat with a fractured horn and acid burns all over her arms.
"What the fuck kind of answer is that?" Karkat shouted hotly, limping after him, "Did you get it off her face or not?"
Xcavator started quickly wrapping an elastic casing around the maroonblood's horn. Her eyes watered but she made no sound.
"Have you seen this place? Fucking nightmare. You'd think they'd staff us more but nooooo, nobody wants ta work in medicine when they can be blowing shit up in Galaxy FR33-4-4LL. And especially not for you fresh fries... Holy crap, woman, did you dunk both hands into alien blood or what?"
(The marroonblood stammered, "I-I um-")
Karkat interrupted with a loud hiss. This conversation wasn't going anywhere, and if he had to steer brutally it by the horns in the direction he wanted, then so help him he was going to get a steering wheel. "Come on, you have like twenty trolls here with little grubcakes wriggler owies and only three with actual... Holy shit Tavros where the fuck did your leg go?" Or maybe he could try going completely off track. That would work.
"uHH, ,, Well, you see-"
"Nevermind don't say anything I'll just use my imagination. Xcavator, do you not have a concept of the word 'priorities?' Nepeta, please put enclosure talons in the air for me."
She did, bemusedly.
"Thank you. Now tell me WHY IN THE HIGH FUCKING SEPTIC HELL OF ALL THAT IS PURE AND BEAUTIFUL you aren't dealing with the egg-layer sucking face with one of my best friends?"
Xcavator's eyeroll moved his entire skull, chin tipping up, throat bared in a condescending display of come gore me in the neck, I'd be amazed if you even managed to aim with the help, you fucking idiot. The insult was compounded by the fact that Karkats horns were about as useless for aggression as horns could get. What the fuck, were all adults this juvenile?
"Look, it's not exactly a simple operation, right? Besides, at this point the thing has probably already laid its spawn in her gut, and trying to deal with that is a whole 'nother clusterpail of intestinal worms. It might be more trouble than it's worth. She might just survive the experience on her own. If I try to extricate it, the fetus can lash out and rip her apart inside in response to the trauma. It would be safest to use some 4L13N-712 neutralizer but that drug can have some nasty side effects and it's not even cleared for anyone under cerulean on account of it being difficult to manufacture-"
It would be safe to say at that point that Karkat Vantas was royally pissed.
"I GIVE INFINITELY NEGATIVE FUCKS ABOUT HOW DIFFICULT IT IS, JUST FUCKING GET THAT MONSTER OUT OF HER ALREADY, DIG IT OUT OF HER DIGESTIVE TRACT, PUMP HER FULL OF ILLICIT NARCOTICS, I DON'T EVEN CARE, JUST DO SOMETHING BEFORE SHE DIES A GRUESOME, OPPOSITE-OF-HOLY DEATH GIVING UNNATURAL BIRTH TO AN ALIEN FETUS!"
He clutched at his chest and gasped for breath. Fuck, was he hurting.
The Xcavator gave him a level stare. "...You sure you don't need any medical attention yourself?"
Nepeta squeezed Karkat's elbow. His bloodpusher dropped to his toes. If the guy insisted on seeing his wounds...
"I'm... a fucking OUTSTANDING... picture of health..."
After a long, searching stare, the Xcavator finished wrapping the marroonblood's arms and responded, "I'll give a shot at helping your friend. But don't get your hopes up."
glub glub glub glub glub glub glub
there there, mother
whisssper glub glub GLUB Whissssssper glub glub glub glub glub
glub glub it's alright, mother, i'm fine glub glub don't worry so glub
how are you?
hisssssssssper glub gluB GLUB GLUB WHISSSSPER GLUB glub glub glub
glub shhhhhhsper glub glub mother shhhhhhhhhhs glub glub glub sh sh shhh it's okay
glub glub GLUB GLUB WHISSS GLUB glub whisssssper glub
hush now shhhhhhhhhhsh glub glub hushh don't you raise your voice now shh glub
glub glub glub glub glub glub whisssper glub
(wake now, little feferi)
(i love you)
It's hard, being Heiress to the Alternian Empire, an entity equal parts cruel and massive. It's hard, having trolls salute and bow to her in the hallways because of the very minute possibility that she might rise to the throne, and then hear their bitter mutters as they pass by. It's hard, knowing that she'll probably never have the chance to bring her dreams of unity and compassion to fruition, because of the millennia of bigotry and brutality. It's hard, knowing that every meager perk she receives thanks to her bloodstatus is a precautionary formality for the off chance that she survives through puperty.
It's hard, being envied and catered to for the blood that runs through her veins, the blood that holds so much meaningless sway, the blood that hangs over her with all the deadly surety of a guillotine.
It's hard, and nobody understands.
Feferi lay in the medical center, the skin of her belly and legs prickled with cool healing salve, and her mind buzzed fuzzily with painslaughter drugs. Her cursed blood slowly replenishing.
What was it like, not facing the very real probability that Her Imperious Condescension could check her Descendant file one evening and schedule a convenient moment to come take her life? What was it like, she wondered, not having to fret that any night now she could casually be submitted to a ritual cull?
"Eridan?" she whispered, and didn't hear a response. So he'd left. Thank goodness. She sat up, feeling pain ooze across her abdomen and dizziness whirl in her skull. Other trolls in the block lay on separate tables, silent.
What was it like, she wondered, not to have the weight of reformation and hope rest upon her shoulders? What was it like, she wondered, not to have an Ancestor whose shortcomings and failures must be corrected by her hands, in the very special case that she rose to the throne?
She tried a smile on. It didn't hurt. She leaned forward and steadied her hands on her knees, gripping them tightly.
"Pull yourshellf together, Feferi," she muttered, "You know brooding won't help. You'll get through this. She's far, far awash in the stars. It would take her ages to get here and betides, the whole deal would probubbley have boatloads of publicity." But maybe not. Maybe it would happen in secret, maybe Her Imperious Condescension would appear one day and then the cameras would start rolling. Ugh, the fishpuns weren't working. "Stop it. Stop thinking. Focus on getting better, focus on getting stronger now."
Only one hundred and eleven Heiresses had fallen to the Condesce. Surely those weren't unbeatable odds?
"What's up with all your negativity?" she snapped to herself, "Cut it out!"
Feferi Peixes wasn't going to be dead Heiress number 112. Oh S)(-ELL no. She had BIG PLANS for the throne. She had ALL OF THE PLANS, in fact, daunting though they seemed at times. Figuring out how to kill her Ancestor was just the beginning of it. She'd raise a fucking revolution, if that's what it took. She'd overturn the ridiculous failures of her society, take care of the weak, provide guidance to the lost.
Feferi slowly slid off to table and wobbled on her feet, pulling the needle from her arm. Sometimes she didn't really feel at home in her body, tall for her age and gender demographic, all deadly royal elegance and swimmer's muscle. Like she was only so much person rattling around in this glamorous frame, like she could break the fragile creatures around her with nothing more than a careless touch. She missed the deep, endless press of water around her, the swirl of heavy currents against her skin, the sense of the enormity of the world and her own comparative insignificance. It made her feel free, somehow, powerful in a way that she wasn't here, where the hallways were scientifically calibrated to accommodate small young bodies, where effervescent chitters of sound and brief brushes of air reminded her constantly of the hundreds of lives all around her, small lives, brief lives, so breakable, all relying on her to make things right. If she could just survive and take the throne.
Sollux was doing everything he could to keep news of her existence from untowardly spreading through the Empire's Nets like so much deadly gossip. Aradia had a small army of ghosts trailing those adults that had seen Feferi, making sure they felt haunted terror if they so much as mentioned her name. Eridan and Vriska had sworn fealty to her, for all their double-crossling deadliness was worth. (It was worth a fortune.) Eridan was in it for her, she knew, and this knowledge gave her guilt and discomfort. Vriska was in it for the thrill. How would she get the others? Equius was tricky. He'd follow her word without question, but his fixation on the hemospectrum would be a problem... Maybe she could get his skills on her side through his moirail first. They all came in pairs, pale quadrant by pale, and would spread through the others in due time, friends and quadrants and enemies. From Sollux to Aradia to Vriska to Terezi. From Eridan to Kanaya to Tavros to Gamzee. She could see it all unfolding in her mind. One by two by two they'd fall and follow, commit their lives to the future, all in their own way to pave her dreams. It was important to have all of them, a full spectrum united, their range of skills varied and indispensable. If she could find a limeblood with their own set of legendary psychic powers... If she could find someone with medical ability- they'd have to be purple; Biomedissectimists are selective by blood and intelligence, their knowledge guarded jealously. Feferi, she would just have to be ready. Fight or flight if she had to! She was strong, and she would become stronger! One day, she'd show them all how just how much she herself was worth. Right now, though, there was no sense in running mental circles. She slowly started to shuffle across the room, heading for the communal blocks and the welcoming sopor slime of her recouperacoon.
And then on the very upper echelons of her hearing, a piercing scream resonated through her earfins, and she froze. Four seconds later, it happened again, and that time she turned and limped quickly across the room in the other direction, where on one wall a thick black door stood imposingly between her and the screaming. She scrambled up to it and slashed her ID furiously through the slider, which blinked purple, and the door slid aside to reveal a very dim hallway. The scream came again as Feferi made her way tentatively down the hallway. More black doors lined the walls, and she curiously peered into the viewing glass of one nearby. Inside the dimly-lit room lay on a table, an indigoblood with huge branching horns, an egg-laying alien plastered to his face. She quickly backed away and continued on her way down the hall.
She stopped beside a door with bright red lights lit up on its front, just under a plasmaglass window that offered a view of the room within. In front of this door, of all people, stood Karkat Vantas.
He was slumped heavily against the door, one arm twisting around his torso and eyes never wavering from the viewing glass.
"...Karkat?" she asked cautiously.
He didn't respond, and a fourth muffled scream hit Feferi's auricular channels, but this scream was inexplicably cut off a moment later. Karkat's eyes went wide with what he saw through the door. He slumped suddenly, acute tension leaving his shoulders, and then just as suddenly crumpled entirely to the floor, a fragile hive of cards brushed with too much force.
Feferi shuffled around him and peered through the viewer.
Her first impression was that there was a lot of jade, sprayed across the white floor. The ceruleanblood medic that had tended to her earlier in the night was firing steady blasts from a flashpistol at something small and wrinkly on the floor. He then cautiously approached the unmoving thing, picked it up with a pair of decaptchalogued tongs, and dropped it into an open slot in the wall of the room, which he immediately sealed shut. Feferi then turned her gaze on the source of the jade blood, and stifled a scream.
But it couldn't be Kanaya. There was no dignified poise, no elegant drape to the limbs of that body, so diminished and lifeless and inanimate. Jade seeped freely from a jagged hole in her torso ripped just below the ribcage. The medic proceeded to check her wrist, her throat, put an ear to her chest. He sighed visibly. He began to clean up the blood from the floor.
Feferi turned from the viewer, damned tyrian blood pounding through her head and constricting her throat, and looked down at Karkat. His head was bowed to the floor, and she couldn't see any of his face. Slowly, ignoring the pain simmering on her legs and belly, she crouched down to his level. His eyes gazed downward, wide and unseeing.
He gave no indication that he heard her. Slowly, she reached out her hand to touch his shoulder. The very instant her fingertips brushed the material of his uniform, he detonated outward with all the destructive force of a thousand barrels of combustible blast-grenades.
"GET THE HELL OUT, YOU IGNORANT LIFE-SUCKING EXCUSE OF AN INTELLIGENT LIFEFORM, DO I FUCKING LOOK LIKE I WANT YOUR PITY?" He struck her arm away hard enough to bruise and accelerated explosively to his feet. Her arm stung painfully where he hit, a strange burning pain that jolted through her whole body and left a stinging, prickling sensation on her injuries. When she looked up at his face she realized with a jolt that his shades were off. In this light, the creeping blood of his eyes looked unnaturally bright; a murderous, flaming glare of a star burning itself into so much radioactive dust. And then without warning, her heart seized, gripped with a scalding amalgamation of intense terror and other emotions she could not name.
Somehow she found her feet and had started fleeing down the hall before she could remember how dizzy or pained she was feeling, blood pounding relentlessly through her pusher. She slid her ID to open the exit with all the frantic fear she felt when she thought of the Condesce herself. Just as Feferi stepped through the threshold, she glanced over her shoulder, and saw that Karkat still stood there, staring after her, terrifying eyes in shadow, and then the door hissed shut and he was gone.
It took her until she got back to their sleeping block to realize that the wounds on her legs and belly were completely healed.
So, sorry this is a little late this week, real life got in the way. I'll also be unable to update for a couple weeks after next week, so I'll see if I can squeeze out an extra update before then, but no promises.