When the young commander first meets former fleet admiral Jade English, one of the greatest minds in the decade and the mastermind behind a great deal of the technology that allows for space-colonization as well as the English Warp technology he expects a sagely old lady with military patience and a solid, clean-cut fighter’s mentality.
Instead he finds himself sitting opposite an ancient looking woman who grins like all of the dangerous things that hide in the dark, all teeth and an increase of wrinkles around her piercing electric green eyes that hardly seemed watered down with age at all. Even below her worn, aged skin her muscles are impressively toned and the way she carries herself is that of a predator, and suddenly he begins seeing reason in why this woman was forced into an early retirement.
But humanity is in danger, just like she’d told them they would be, and there is no-one but Jade English to crawl to in the face of humanity’s first attempt at intergalactic warfare. So he straightens his back and braces himself before saluting her. “Greetings ma’am. My name is Commander Van Voort and-“
“Yeah yeah squirt, I hear ya. Wally’s yer name, right? Well kid, you and me have a lot of work to do. My dear old Johnny boy tells me you’re pretty damn qualified, so I’ll be counting on you to deal with the bureaucratic BS for me. We’ve got pretty much no red tape because I’m the only genius in the world who was smart enough to prepare for this scenario. No reason to believe in the existence of intelligent alien lifeform my ass. With that said, welcome to the English Initiative. Just follow my lead and I’m sure we’ll kick plenty of extraterrestrial butt.”
For a moment Wally is stunned into silence. Then a small boy appears in the doorway, looking up at Admiral English with sparkling eyes and without any of the fear a woman like her would command in most. “G’andma, I found something cool, come see!” he chirps, not quite pronouncing his r’s right.
Jade English softens, and for a moment he can almost imagine her as a normal old lady knitting on her porch, but then she decaptchalogues a rifle that is about half her size and carries it with the same ease anyone else would a cup of water and he suddenly remembers that a wild boar is at its most dangerous when it has cubs.
“In a minute dear,” she croons at the boy, mussing his hair with what looks like almost punishing force. The boy just beams, shouting a ‘you p’omised, g’andma’ over his shoulder as he darts out of the room again.
“That was…?” Wally asks carefully, not sure if his nosiness would be considered rude or not.
“Don’t be daft boy,” Jade scolds him, once again all old fighting instinct and feral grace with the child gone. “That was my grandson. Isn’t he the cutest lil’ fuckass you’ve ever seen? Yeah? Well, you didn’t have to change his diapers. Ha!”
Then she gives him a serious look, and unclouded by that haughty attitude of hers her eyes seem to contain all the wisdom in the galaxy itself. “Children,” she says in the sagely tone he’d been expecting from the beginning, “are the future. We forget that this isn’t an adult world alone and we’ll miss out on the greatest minds of all. And that one, he’ll be the greatest mind yet. And when he comes out the greatest soldier on the English Initiative I’ll be right here, old bones and old minds be damned.”
And Wally, despite knowing her age, found himself completely convinced she’d outlive them all.
“Do you ewen fuckin’ know-w, Kar? Do you know-w w-why all a’ us are here?” Eridan’s facial fins are flared, and for once he looks everything the terrifying, enraged noble he would have been if he hadn’t followed astronomical failure Karkat Vantas to the old, abandoned space colony in buttfuck nowhere that should have become their utopia, their glorious beacon of hope and peace to all of trollkind but was instead shaping up to become the tombstone to all of the hopes and dreams people had put on Karkat’s shoulder.
Eridan, either oblivious to their leader’s morose mood or just not caring anymore, rages on. “W-we came here because you fuckin’ conwinced us. All a’ us, from the low-west maroon to the fuckin’ heiress herself, w-we’we all giwen up w-whatewer future the Empire might a’ giwen us to follow-w your ideals, because your w-words touched on somethin’ real an’ it mowed mountains!”
Karkat had half a mind to tell the violet princeling without a throne that a mountain moved into the sea would still sink, no matter how pretty the words guiding it there might have been. But Eridan, while not inherently violent on the whole could and would lash out if anyone poked him while he was riled up like now and ultimately he decided that a highblood on a murder spree was the last thing they needed right now. Besides, poetical dramatics were Eridan’s thing. He’d probably just respond with some seadweller logic like ‘a sunken mountain is still a mountain’ or something equally useless.
“Are you listenin’ to me?” Eridan demanded, scowling at him. When they’d first met he’d been a gangly kid, all long limbs, sharp angles and superior attitude, but he’d grown into his height and if Karkat ignored the dramatically swooping cape and the occasional fit of dramatics he’d need to get rid of before stepping back up to do his duty he could almost see how someone could call Eridan some variation of regal.
“I’m listening, Eridan,” Karkat responded, lifting a hand to cut the seadweller off before he could reassume his furious rant. “But this isn’t a game you nookblundering shitmonger. I convinced this entire population to throw away everything they could have had for some delusion of peace and now there is an entire fleet of battleships headed our way to shoot us up and you think I’m so arrogant to ask these poor fuckers who came here to escape from the Empress’ grasp to fight?”
“Damn straight that’s w-what I think! All a’ us knew the risks w-when w-we came here Kar. Ewery single one a’ us must a’ realized at some point that w-we’d be kickin’ the hornet’s nest by betrayin’ the empire like this, by actually actin’ like fuckin’ independent indiwiduals instead a’ mindless hiwew-workers. An’ if w-we’we got to die fightin’ for those ideals you’we giwen us Kar, then I’ll hawe you know-w I’d take a grawe on the battlefield before bendin’ ower an’ barin’ my ass to the Empire an’ take w-whatewer punishment they’re goin’ to be dealin’ me any day!”
Karkat rose from his seat, the red adorned captain’s chair and opened his mouth to shout out everything that was wrong and stupid about Eridan’s logic when a large, cold hand closed over his shoulders and gently forced him back down. “A brother all up and agrees with his fishy bro, motherfucker,” came the gravelly voice of his moirail from behind him.
He’d been so busy beating himself up over their upcoming inevitable doom and Ampora’s shitty excuse for an argument why he should tell the entire colony to take up arms that he hadn’t even noticed the customary silence that had fallen over the control room the moment Gamzee walked in. While he was one of them, it was hard for people to look past the white painted figure that towered over every single one of them even at his young age, whose hands had over adolescence developed from long, bony but ultimately brittle looking fingers to large, powerful hands that could and would crush an assailant’s thinkpan.
“Let the heretics come, MOTHERFUCKER.” The last word isn’t so much screamed as it is said very loudly and very calmly at the same time in the way only Gamzee ever manages. “Aint nothing the blasphemers can do to take our motherfucking miracles away from us palebro.”
Leaning back into his moirail’s touch, Karkat closes his eyes and contemplates if the world will ever be alright again.
“What?” he asks, wide eyed and stunned to the core, feeling more like a little child left alone in the dark than the leader of a rebellion larger than any in Alternian history since the adults had been banished from the home planet centuries ago.
The door connecting the Control room to the core block, where all of the major functions of the colony came together was blocked by a thin film of red and blue energy. Behind the barrier stood Sollux, Aradia and a few younger trolls whose faces he recognized but whose names he didn’t know and the only thought running through his head was ‘how did I not know they were planning this?’
“I’m sorry KK,” Sollux tells him, reverting back to old nicknames once used in what felt like a different, much easier lifetime long passed. His left hand is twined together with Aradia’s, and the way the skin tightens around his knuckles betrays the anxtiety he seemed to be trying to keep out of his voice. “We can’t let you go out there.”
“Like hell you can’t! Sollux, there’s people dying out there!” Karkat feels like crying, confused and hurt and not understanding what’s going on, but he is supposed to be the leader. And if the leader turns into a blubbering mess just because his supposed friends decide to lock him in the living quarters then what the hell is the entire mission based on?
“That’s exactly why we can’t let you go out there!” Sollux yells and to Karkat’s surprise the younger trolls next to him nod empathically. “People are dying out there. We’re on an old space colony, there is nowhere to go and the Queen Fishbitch’s personal armada is currently floating right outside.”
Aradia takes over, looking older and more tired than Karkat remembers ever seeing her before. Her body has begun the decay, begun losing the eternal battle against old-age the lowest-blooded of their race find themselves fighting while the people they grew up with move on and leave them behind. “We’re all going to die, Karkat. We don’t have a fighting chance anymore, so we’re going down with as much fuss as possible. Making history is all we can do now.”
Feeling fury and despair coil together in his gut Karkat smashed his fist into the psionic barrier, crying out when his hand was repelled with a violent outburst of static that scorched the skin off of his knuckles. “So you lock me in here? What the fuck are you crazy assholes thinking?”
“We’re replaceable,” one of the girls with them says, face stuck in bitter determination. “You can find guys like us, dreamers with nowhere else to go almost everywhere. But there is only one person like you, who can help their dreams come true. You made our lives mean something Commander.”
“The universe wasn’t ready for you yet KK. But it’s not ready to lose you either. So please, just, you need to survive.” Then Sollux turns away, with a simple ‘farewell’ Aradia follows after him. The psionic barrier thrums with quiet energy while the reinforced metal doors slide shut and seal with a hiss. Then the electric film vanishes, and with a series of electrical beeps the lockdown passwords override and the doors lock.
On the monitor feed in the control room monitoring the colony’s crew status the green lights of their vitals switch to red one by one.
It’s the last time Karkat sees any of his friends.
The smoke of the funeral pyre curls up into the nighttime sky, and Wally Van Voort feels more than a little lost as he watches the flames lick around the dark wooden casket of his mentor. For years Jade English, in all her enigmatic eccentricity, had been the center his universe orbited around with the way she naturally attracted people to her cause and with how her sometimes seemingly infinite wisdom got put to use making soldiers out of the women and men qualifying for the English Initiative and then making ENIO out of those soldiers.
On the left of him stood a tall, gangly figure whose shoulders were hunched under whatever burdens puberty left him to carry. Wally had seen significantly less of Jake English than he’d been expecting to since that first meeting with Jade and the boy had always remained somewhat of a mystery to him. Jade called him the face of the future of the English Incentive, but rather than push him forward and train him with the rest of the promising candidates his age she kept him isolated on her island.
Jake’s parentage had never been addressed, and beyond John Crocker, who had passed on short after the English Initiative’s launch Wally had never heard of any relatives she might or might not have. The boy was friends with the heiress to the baking empire and international underground information broking company Betty Crocker as well as a pair of very promising ENIO-trainees, but beyond that there was no real cause to assume he had anyone left now.
Swallowing his own grief, Wally remembered his mentor telling him that sometimes for the sake of allowing the children to grow up properly the adults had to cut back on the things they wanted to do because if all the world got centered around adult wants and desires the magic of living got lost. To date he still didn’t know what exactly she meant, but as he placed a hand on the teenager’s shoulder he told himself that it was about time he’d try and find out.
“Jake, have you ever considering entering the ENIO training program?”
Little lights flickered on and off, diagnostics running over the monitors behind Karkat much the same as they did when the colony had been filled with people, dreamers that considered themselves replaceable and fighters that considered a failed dream something worth dying for. Now they were a joke, numbers and symbols calculating the artificial environmental statistics needed to keep people alive and keep the automated agriculture, water-purifying cycles and energy generator going as if there was anything they needed to be kept going for.
Sollux’s lock override had taken upwards to three perigees to crack, but sometimes he wished he’d never managed, that the genius programmer’s last overwrite would have been something that lasted so he’d never have to have found himself standing there in the doorway between the abandoned core-block and the colony’s hallways, littered with corpses in various states of decay but on the whole already too far in the past for the scent of death to linger.
Now, sweeps later all that remained of his falled comrades and the poor, mindless slaves to the empress’ whims that had fallen while trying to weed out the rebellion were bones and fabric where Karkat had placed them, tidy rows upon rows of old friends and foes in the long, winding hallways of the colony, their sign carved in the wall beside them, the only memorial Karkat could give.
The core block and its surrounding chambers itself he kept free of death and decay only as long as he managed to keep himself from believing all of this was his fault. Now eleven skulls with painfully familiar horns curling out of them stood in the center of the core block as a testament to failure. Around each of them he’d scribbled the words he’d never gotten the chance to say, written them up using the mutant candy red rushing through his veins that should have condemned him to death as a wiggler to prevent the disaster that he’d wrought before it had the chance to grow and infect.
Seated in the red adorned captain’s chair, his sign emblazoned on the back, Karkat reaches out for the holo-monitor in front of him. Instead of pointless diagnostics and diagrams it’s showing old, old personnel files.
Looking at pictures of the deceased and knowing that they were never coming back is a special kind of torture, drenched in bittersweet memories of good and bad times that he desperately tries to keep close and regrets that he wants to forget but refuses to let go of. It isn’t the time for forgiveness yet.
Behind him the radar beeps an alert, as it does several times a day. Karkat hardly pays it any attention. The radar is ancient, and even Sollux and Equius together hadn’t managed to recalibrate it so it wouldn’t go off at every asteroid passing by.
If he’d look, he’d see another monitor blinking on, running diagnostics on the strange readings it is picking up from the small, steel object the radars detected.
GT: Well i dont know about you mister strider but that definitely looks like an abandoned piece of alien technology weve chanced upon!
TT: Congratulations Jake, you have just managed to state the most obvious fact you could have thought up even if you tried. Gold star for you.
TT: But seriously, I know it looks abandoned, but considering the sheer size of that thing just for the love of fuck don’t assume there won’t be anything dangerous in there.
GT: Your faith in me certainly is flattering good old friend!
TT: It seems you are being sarcastic.
GT: It seems you’re trying to pretend you care little enough about me that you’d activate that stupid auto responder of yours during my first big enio mission.
TT: Touché. That was tactless of me.
TT: Don’t do something stupid, Jake.
GT: Ill be sure not to push any buttons without reading the manual first. Now if youll excuse me ive got an alien vessel to explore.
TT: A manual in an alien language.
GT: For fucks sake can you please stop trying to stall me? Youre a fine friend dirk but i know what im doing.
GT: Now then if this poppycock is over and done with im going dark now.
TT: Reconnect to the server in twenty minutes.
GT: Dirk my good man IVE READ THE BLOODY BASIC PROTOCOL MANUALS.
GT: Bollocks this is a waste of my time.
GT: Im going in.