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Stress Relief

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Your name is Karkat Vantas, and you're one lucky piece of shit just for being alive. After all, you spent most of your wigglerhood convinced that you were going to be culled on conscription, and you would have been right if not for a string of unlikely and quite frankly unearned friend-of-friend-in-high-places cards that you somehow managed to play to fudge a few of the standard procedures when the drones arrived, making your mutant hemochrome go undetected. You've been torturing your eyes with stinging chemicals to darken them ever since your irises started to come in, and these days you also wear your cast sign in a deep rusty brown to match. As long as you keep your head down and don't draw any undue attention, all anyone can see is another lowblood recruit. That means you can keep being a lucky, living, piece of shit.

It hasn't been more than a couple of perigrees since you were taken to serve aboard the Imperial Freighter Excess, but that's two perigrees more than you ever expected to live, and despite some past mistakes that would indicate otherwise, you do like being alive and intend to stay that way as long as is trollishly possible. You know very well that your wiggler dreams of entering the threshcution force can't be realized unless you want the first scratch on your body to mean dishonorable discharge by culling fork, but the office position you managed to score has been cushy so far. You're finally a cog in the machinery of the glorious Alternian Empire, and that's fucking amazing.

So what if you're looking over your shoulder for every step you take. You're living in close physical proximity to several scores of lowblood trolls who didn't grow up with you and would probably love to find out that your blood marks you as approximately ten million times as worthless as any of them. Watching out for yourself is a survival skill.

Yeah, maybe you're tense.

"No, I'm not a fucking ballerincinerator twitching on a gutstring over putrid shit valley, why the hell do you ask?" You're yelling, as if there exists any other ways to get a point across. "Let me tell you what I am – I'm sick and tired of my old wiggler friends trying to cajole me into socializing with their new circles of asshole acquaintances and prospective quadrants and shitstain bulgelicking frienemies. I'm not fucking interested!"

Aradia, Tavros and Sollux all stare at you from around the small canteen table. They're about the extent of your social life these days, since they're the only ones of your childhood friends low enough to be assigned to the same vessel as yourself. You all went through the wringer at conscription – Sollux in particular only escaped life as a glorified battery by being quadranted not just to one, but two seadwellers, one of which being the current Heiress herself. And Tavros might easily have been culled for disability if he hadn't had a blueblood vouching for the efficiency of his robotic leg prosthetics. You never spelled out to them exactly what your problem was, but they knew you back when you were honestly hemonymous rather than faking a shade of low brown, so you suspect they suspect, and if they haven't told on you yet, they probably won't. You didn't think they'd blame you for trying to stay alive by the skin of your teeth either, but you guess you were wrong about that.

"Wow, KK," Sollux says, "Way to convince us you're not going shithive maggots here."

"Yes," Tavros adds, "That is exactly, what you're not doing. It's not so bad, because conscription, being over, is not a thing to worry about any longer, and now is the time to get to know people, and enjoy yourself, and maybe fill some quadrants, because that is an important thing, to do."

"I know it's hard, Karkat," Aradia says, smiling cheerfully. "But you've got to relax and live a little. Trust me, I know from qualified sources that it's hard to enjoy life once you're dead!"

"I know," you growl. "Aradia is joined to the hip with the speaking dead and poor Karkat is going to join them if he's not landing some concupiscent quadrants before the first imperial drones come for a visit in half a sweep. Well, maybe you're in luck! You'll have your own private dead Karkat voice swearing in your ear for the rest of fucking eternity. Or maybe I know what I'm doing and am just waiting for the right serendipitous moment to present itself. Better yet, maybe this subject is none of your bulgesquelching business, any of you!"

Filling quadrants would be suicide by mutant disclosure. Not filling quadrants is suicide by imperial drone in half a sweep, but maybe you'll be able to fudge that too, somehow. In any case, for the moment you're mostly concerned with surviving today.

"We're actually, worried about you," Tavros says earnestly. You glare at him, then at the others. Part of you feels something close to gratitude, but there's nothing they can do, and you wish they'd just leave you alone.

"What are you, my tag-teaming moirails?" The thought makes your chest ache, because maybe you would feel better if you had a palemate, but you don't dare go there either. Too much intimacy and you'd spill your secrets like a leaking bowl. "I'm as relaxed as I can be," you tell them. "Look at me, I'm the very epitome of loose muscles dangling gleefully around a living, slowly beating blood-pusher. In other words: I'm fine."

"Look, KK," Sollux says, pointing a bony finger at you. "I bet you don't even know this because of your newfound adult life as a social recluse and all, but the Excess got a new relievator a while ago, and you really ought to use it before you turn into a hyper-tensivity field and go into an eternal feedback loop of grumpiness. Stuff like that gets you culled too, you know."

"Do you think I'm planning to—" You stop. "Wait, we have a relievator?" You're vaguely acquainted with the concept – relievators are used as a mechanism for stress relief and physical and psychological wellbeing on many ships in the Alternian fleet. It's also one of the least romantic concepts in the history of the universe, but you have absolutely no right to speak about romance these days. You just didn't know there was a relievator aboard the Excess.

"Yeah." Sollux nods. "And if anyone ever needed to use one, that'd be you. If I were a shitty highblood cultist who I could name but won't, I'd say it works miracles, but since I'm a reasonable person I'll just say it's very effective. I used it first time some nights ago, and it pulled me right out of a flunk and I've got it booked again today, too. Seriously, I didn't think it would be as good as it is, but I guess all of those studies about trolls and instinctual needs and stuff have a point."

"I wondered that, if you didn't know about it," Tavros says. "But the relievator was delivered last week, apparently it's very fresh and recently captured, and using it really does help, when you're in a bad mood, or in a bout of low self-confidence, or some other problem."

"Huh." You frown, wondering if it would help you. It certainly wouldn't solve any of your one-wrong-step-away-from-being-culled-at-any-given-moment problems, but from what you've read about the experience it's supposed to do wonders for peace of mind, and it is supposed to be safe from a hemochromatic point of view. You can't dismiss it out of hand. "And you've all tried it already?"

"Yes!" Aradia says with a grin. "It put me in a wonderful mood, so I can really recommend it!"

"You're the second most grossly chipper troll in existence, so forgive me for not being impressed. You get in a good mood by the shape of a grubleg on your goddamn dinner plate."

"Yes, but using a relievator is different from that! Living trolls have all these needs swirling around in our think pans, and a lot of the time we just ignore them, but then the tension builds up and causes over-aggression and revenge cycles and all sorts of problems. A relievator is like a safety vent for both physical pleasure and that urge to dominate that everyone has." There's a fierce tint to her smile.

"And since aliens can't make trolls produce quadrant-related hormones you can't even call it sex," Sollux notes. "It's just one hundred percent pleasant, with no messy emotional theatrics and no messy genetic materials spilling anywhere. Even a no-quadrant loser like you would enjoy it." You growl at the barb, but you're still listening.

"Yes," Tavros agrees, looking excited, "it's not sex, it's like, being in charge of your own body, and being self-confident, in the most powerful way. The relievator, it actually squealed, not just once, but several times, when I put my mighty bulge in it."

"Ehehehe." Sollux giggles in that dry way of his. "Come on, KK, you have literally nothing to lose."

Frankly, he's right. If you don't dare to pursue quadrants or get to know new trolls, the least you can do is allow yourself some pleasure. "Fine. I can see no reason not to. Where do I sign up?"

"I think it's booked up for a while right now, but like I said I already got a second time-slot coming up tonight. This is me officially inviting you to two-team the alien with me. What do you say?"