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In His Eyes Were Stars

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            As he tilted his head up the brightness of the GREEN SUN would sting and strain at his eyes, but it was the only way he could find that would break through the black. Whichever way his head turned left him in a dark pit without walls. Beforehand he imagined the SUN as a bright lime gumball, but the mass of it now before him completely encompassed his vision. At times it was made up of waves of fire, but the longer he stared the formation darted frenetically the way lightning does, something he is more accustomed to. He could already feel it trying to burn a hole in him, as though it knew he’s escaped death more than once.

            He expected vast silence in space. Instead there was an amplified buzz and hum of a constant current and it reminds him of the organized beat of husktops and hives. And after all this time, out of all he’s seen and heard, the last thing he expected to do was reminisce of that tiny respiteblock.

            “Sollux!” A familiar voice called to him, seemingly distant but growing clearer as it neared, “You shouldn’t keep wandering out of your bubble like that! I’m telling you it’s a bad idea. Is it too much to listen to me?” He senses her presence when she nears him, when she flutters her wings. She has what he can only describe as an aura. A hand touches his face and guides his view away from the lime light. “It would be best if you stopped doing that, too.”

            Even when Aradia’s voice was stern with him a fluttery cheerfulness sang behind it.

            “AA, I’m already blind. It’s not like it’s going to make my eyesight any worse.”

            His lisp has been gone for a while, and in spite of that it catches him a bit off guard in some way every time he speaks.

            When Aradia’s hand pulls away Sollux can briefly feel the velvet softness of her sleeve on his skin. A hint to his mind’s allusion of this new appearance. Before he could dwell on that both her hands are on his back and pushing him. He’s light and easy to nudge when there’s no gravity present. The heels of his feet instinctively attempt to brake on a surface that isn’t there. The GREEN blur slowly fades from his sight.

            “Hey what are you doing?!” asks Sollux.

            “I don’t have time to debate with you.” says Aradia, “Well, in a way I kind of do, but I can’t just misuse my time powers all willy-nilly. I have responsibilities now to uphold. Point is, I’m busy. Busy busy busy! You’re not the only one I know around here and you don’t get special treatment because you happened to back to life. I’m taking you back to your bubble.”

            On one hand, he’s glad to hear her voice again. And it’s Aradia’s real voice, alive with emotion and without a robotic filter. Still, many aspects about her had been different lately. She was unusually upbeat even when the situation didn’t call for it. But what does he know. Maybe that’s what attaining immortality does to you.

            “I don’t want to go back.” says Sollux, “There’s nothing there for me to do besides watching reruns of my pathetic, uneventful life unravel.”

            “Well, even if any of that were true, which it definitely isn’t, I don’t know what you think is so thrilling out here. Even I don’t feel comfortable looking at the Green Su- oh sorry, THE GREEN SUN!!!”Aradia shouted this enthusiastically for emphasis. Strangely her voice doesn’t echo in the space around them. Only booming in Sollux's ears. He was through working out the logistics of this realm.

            By now the only image Sollux was able to see was gone completely. The pain in his eyes was still there and beginning to work its way into the tissue behind his skull.

            “I know! How about you socialize a little? Get your mind off of things.” Aradia continued, “There aren’t many strangers here, and the ones that are I assure you are very friendly. Feferi has been asking about you.”

            His teeth clamp together at her name. She’s here too. More than half of his friends are. Encapsulated within their own bubbles and lives, never able to move forward or break away from the pull. She was one of the first victims. Sollux’s own demise is a concept he accepted long before this game began. But the rest were different. They had no warning in advanced.

            “Not now.” He says. “Maybe later, but right not now.”

            “Oh, alright. Well, let me know whenever you feel like it. I understand that this is a lot to take in.”

He’d like to just get a hint of what she looked like now. It’s a formation in his mind he can’t quite make adequately clear. Whenever he asks about it she only gives vague hints like she “wears lots of red” and “has wings now”. How the heck is that supposed to help? What does she need wings for anyway? She can already fly!

            Great, now his migraine is back.

            Sollux turned himself around and flew back away from her arms. “AA, STOP! Just let go okay?! I can get back myself!”

            Regret immediately strikes him. He wants to take those words back, scroll and hold down the backspace until they are gone. This isn’t like him, at least not without the Voices in his head so he can hear himself breathe and think for once. It’s been like this since he got the other half of his soul back. Even when he’s in a different environment he manages to rattle off the handle.

            Usually when he’s upset his psionics would flare up from his eyes and there would be a buzzing from the energy building up, red and blue currents conducting around him, but he’s tapped out now. The frustration only rises and bounces in him without an outlet.

            “Sollux, okay, it’s alright,” said Aradia tentatively, but he hears her tone as his belittling tour guide.

            He tore off into the atmosphere, so fast and swift Aradia’s voice calling out to him is almost instantly a distance. There was no determination, no way of knowing where he’s headed to but he keeps moving himself forward, not even withstanding enough caution to avoid running into anything or anyone else’s bubble.

            The fury is what fuels him. The one time him hearing those literally goddamned voices could help out and instead he’s just a useless sack of meat in the way, just like he always has been. If he could at least attempt to predict whoever was next to come. If it was one of their friends. But the tables of the cursed double-reacharounds have turned. Now he’s mostly dead and she’s practically immortal. He’s down low and she’s up high. But at least he gives a damn about it. At least he comprehends that death is a bad thing, unlike Aradia who sees it as a phase.  

            In a moment Sollux lost his balance and flipped over, still speeding. All that’s out here is expanding space with no solid object to latch onto. His body a tumbling object keeping balance through eternity. Sollux realizes how temporary the energy is once he begins to slow down. By the time he manages to get right-side up (as far as he can tell) and come to a stop he’s lost track of the way back. So he floats along like he’s on water until the anger runs out and his senses return. It leads him to conclude he can’t believe he did something so stupid.  

            Sollux turned around. Shocking twist, he couldn’t see anything. Did he lose her? He can’t tell. No, he couldn’t have if she runs the place. The only other sense that has sharpened is his hearing. He’s unable to taste the air like his other blind companion. Nothing. No flutters. No sparkles in the atmosphere. He knows he’s alone.

            He’s in the dark and very, very lost. His hands grip onto his pained head and allows an anguished groan to be his apology.

            There’s no remaining option but to wait.

            Oh why didn’t he ask Terezi about blind lessons? Well, the Terezi he knew wasn’t here on account of still being alive, which was terrific, but some tips really would have been appreciated. Even still he was at a complete loss. Smell the colors? Taste the air? Was she as high as Gamzee when she found all this out?!

            At times when he loses hope contemplates his last living moment. Not to experience, but to witness. To re-live how he felt in the spur of the moment decision. His heart has stopped a number of times but the most recent one, as depressing as it is, makes him feel like it was worth it. That if he’s going to be stuck here for an eternity at least it was for a decent reason. Everyone got what they wanted.

            The night he came completely back to life Sollux was wandering about in the dream bubbles. The Afterlife tended to become a bore after after a prolonged time. It wasn't long until he ran out of things to do. Then a shutter fell over his eye and his sight was gone again.

            Becoming blind was a small part of the issue. Something had been pulled from him, while something else was flowing into him. Sollux felt he was bleeding out, but of his soul? He couldn’t comprehend what what was going on. This familiar distress returned in his veins. This feeling he was given more room to breathe. His being was whole again. His head felt empty. It was bad enough he was blind again but all of these replaced and missing pieces of himself were disorienting.

            “Sollux what’s wrong?!”  Aradia said at the time, the urgency in her voice almost causing him to lose his grip. She could no longer hear him as a ghost.“What’s the matter?” Her voice was now directly in front of his face.

           “ I- uh- I’m blind.” Sollux’s hand rubbed along his face, his nerves as well as humiliation sinking in.

            Aradia did not immediately respond. “Okay?”

           “No, AA, listen. I’m blind again.

            Presently he feels that sense of her again. He can’t even be sure if he’s facing her at the moment. With the loss of his sight at least he was not burdened with averting her gaze. Even still, he was capable of imagining it, feeling it, because Aradia is the type to be concerned, especially for his sake.

            “Sollux,” she’s being cautious, something she seldom did with him before, “Let’s just go back. I understand why you’re upset, I know. You’re not the only one.”

Sollux struggled to find the words. “Look I didn’t mean it-”

            “It’s alright. I know.”

            “No! But, I mean - I don’t know. I’m not in the mood to see any of them. But it’s more than that. Now it’s different. Everything changed. I'm at a loss. I don’t know where I fit in anymore.”

            It’s quiet. She’s being patient not to interrupt him again. “I remember you saying to everyone that you wanted to be here. That you belong here.”

            “Yeah, well, I was kind of part-dead then. Dead people generally belong in the afterlife. What did you expect me to do? Haunt our living friends? Wait around a ship where my previous body is rotting somewhere? No thank you.” He sighed, folding his arms and floating down, below him being a bottomless sea of terrors and stars, “Everything about it felt so prepared, y’know? All of us had their own fates staring right at them the whole time. I expected to get killed, and to go blind. I was shocked it didn’t happen sooner. So why, once the universe gets exactly what it’s been asking of me, does it suddenly decide to undo all that?” He waited for Aradia to respond with a positive remark like usual, but this time there was no answer. “Look. I’ll suck it up and go back.”

            “You don’t have to.” Aradia said, “Nobody’s forcing you.”

            “What else am I supposed to do?”

            The space between them thinned until she’s touching his skin again. She takes him by the arm, and it is the final gesture which makes him feel utterly helpless and hopeless.

            It was a silent travel back. Being pulled through the vastness of the Outer Ring, touching absolutely nothing besides her guiding pull. His anger had long subsided and nothing, not even regret replaces it. It’s only an at ease place.

            She stops moving, so he assumed they were back at what used to be his bubble.

            “Is there any particular point you’d like me to bring you back to?” Aradia asked.

            “No, not really, AA.”

            “You sure? How about some happy memory. Or perhaps just a pleasant one. I don’t intend to sound too round-about but maybe it will help you feel better?”

            “I can’t think of anything resembling that. Not off the top of my head, anyway.”

            She’s still grasping onto his arm, not letting go. “Listen,” like he has a choice, “I might be more used to this than you are, but it was your choice to stay here. It can be nice for you if you allow it to be." she held his other hand. Her palms were warm, "Sollux, I assure you there must be some point in your life where you were happy. There must have be-”

            She halts midsentence with a short intake of breath. “What’s wrong?” Sollux asked.

            “Nothing. Something just came up.” She lets go of his hand but nudges away him reassuringly. “I need to take care of something. Let’s hope for the best!”

            Before he could utter a goodbye he could feel the motion of falling back and the air of the new environment overtaking him. As he’s floating through the void of an atmosphere his sight returns again. Muted colors stretching into infinity.

            Once Sollux’s life was laid out in front of him, a measly six sweeps and thirteen perigees, there’s very little to look back on. And that’s being generous, since that span of time only includes how long he’s lived for and not the part of his life he remembers. His molding from a grub to troll was before his brain fully developed into the pulsing mess it ended up as. There’s no way he’s reliving fighting tooth and nail in his early life before he had full control over his abilities. The rest mostly consists of him in one room staring at a bright screen improving his prowess as a hacker. Goddamn, when you combine all those hours together how many days did he spend sitting there? It depresses him to even attempt to add it all up. It shouldn’t but, wow, yeah, that was his life.

            He never chooses where he ends up in here. It’s similar to the dreams, where his mind becomes in sync with his surroundings and forgets what came before. Sometimes he thinks of a certain memory and suddenly the bubble takes hold and sticks him right in the middle of it. But most of the time he allows his afterlife-space-module-thingy to do whatever the heck it wants with him. As of now he is standing in the remains of the room in his old hive, having just tossed his first body off the building.

            Sollux had to lunge it over the wall where his ceiling used to be. It blurred past his window and disappeared into the railing coils of the inferno outside before he could witness it fall and burn. The blood that was once his had smeared onto his palms. He looked down on it for a moment before wiping it off on his outfit. It’s not like he’s planning on wearing this ridiculous thing from Derse ever again.

            Most of the room was still there, consisting of the green walls, a closed door, the closet, a window, some posters, and his desk which had, most importantly, his husktop on top of it. With the ensuing chaos he neglected to fix the sliced Beehouse Mainframe. There was still mind honey slathering half the floor, but Sollux refused to touch the stuff and it would be rude to ask his guest to clean it. The rest of the room is the brains floating around in the air and dead bees dropped on the floor. The bees aren’t any use anymore with the loss of his lusus, hence the hole in the ceiling. Just another demise of a loved one by his own hand he can add to the steadily increasing list. No big deal. The ambient buzz still permeates in the back of his mind but in reality it’s eerily, unusually silent up here. Drafty, too. Quiet to him included the cars and usual hustle out his window. All else was ashes now, he assumed.

            He glanced over at the cracked mirror on his closet door. It looked like he was dipped in a vat of that rich violet-blooded dork’s closet. At least it’s not the bright garish yellow getup from the other dream planet, even if that is closest to the color he’s most associated with. What was it called again? Shit. All these specific names of planets and lands and people are getting too jumbled to keep track of. He’s alive again, that’s all he needs to know now.

            Sollux walked to the more stable portion of his floor to sift inside his closet. Luckily none of his clothes were singed from the fire. Too bad most of it was more or less the same thing. He sorted through them and picked out what made him most comfortable, the black Gemini t-shirt and black jeans.

            Pulling his shirt off exposed more marks the body left on his arms. The blood won’t come off all the way. He’ll have to wash it off right in front of her. Not that it’s something she would mind. She’s no stranger to blood. Or corpses. Speaking of which, there are no more whispers from the upcoming dead. None anywhere.

            “Oh, what the glub?!” he heard from the other side of the door, the cheerful voice of the empress-to-be unreflective of such derogatory language.

            “Whath the matter?” Sollux called. The awareness of his lisp returning cracked in before he’s pulled back into the reenactment of the moment. He quickly pulled on his t-shirt and jeans and rushed to open the door.

            The first thing he saw was his new partner standing there on the platform of the alchemizer, one end of her golden double-forked trident jabbed into a floating brain. There was what looked like water leaking out of the holes rather than blood.

            Feferi spun around to look at him, her tangled hair flipping onto her back. “I’m alright! One of the brains just got stuck on my arm and I panicked, that’s all!” Her voice had less of an accent than he expected.

            This girl who was supposedly the heir to the throne and hope for the hinging life of their race seemed to be rather silly. Her gold tiara indicated her royal blood but the neon colors of her outfit and tangled hair hinted at a quirkier side. Her horns were longer than the ones he had but rounder where they should have been sharp, meaning they’d be blunt in battle. And now he had the task ensure her safety. In the state of things there isn’t much of an empire left to govern.

            Feferi hopped gracefully off the alchemizer right up to him. The way she walked was watching a wave traipse up and down, filling in all the open gaps of air. 

            “You don’t have a hairbrush stashed around here, do you?” she asked.

            “What? No. Why would I?” said Sollux.

            “Why would you? You don’t have one?”

            “Well, maybe I do around here. But I don’t remember. Or think it’th important.”

            “Whale, you try have this hair when coming up out of the water. It turns into an anemone's nightmare!” She  moved around him slid into his room, seemingly blissfully complacent with the hole above and surrounding fire outside. From the frame of the door he watched as her feet nudged aside game grubs and treaded around the wires, magazines, and shurikens left all over the floor. She began to browse through his desk drawers and other belongings. It pained him to swallow his irritated remarks. His nails scratched at his temple, feeling his blood pulsing in it.

            “FF, I’ve been meaning to athk you thomthing thpethific.”

            She turned around. “What?”

            Sollux sighed, unsure of what she was referring to. “Look, I get the way I talk can be confuthing but you’re juth gonna have to get uthed to it-”

            “No, no! I understood you just fin. I was asking what you meant by ‘specific’.”

            “Oh.” He had naturally assumed his speech impediment would create an obstacle with his online friends once they had met in real life. “Well, I meant about how you revived me. I can’t pinpoint how you did it. And that could be incredibly utheful ability. And knowing our team it’th downright inevitable. Ith this a Witch of Life thing or a fith thing or what?”

            Feferi giggled, causing her gills to open partway. “No, pretty much anybody is capable of what I did.”

            Sollux raised an eyebrow, knowing there was something he wasn’t comprehending. “Uh, okay.”

            “Oh, you don’t remember, do you?”

            “Look, all I know ith I died and now I’m right here here talking to you.”

            “Yeah, that was just Gl’bgolyb.” He could never pronounce any of those names. Feferi opened his desk drawer, taking out Sollux’s pen and eraser. “Okay, so imagine this is you,” her hand waved the pen, “and this is me,” she waved the eraser, “and, oh no! I fly up to your world only to find you caught in Gl’bgolyb’s cry! What ever shall I do?” she tossed the pen on the desk. “I know! I’ll just follow the advice from ones outside the ring informed me. Mwa mua mwa!” Feferi clapped the two implements together. “And you survived out of everyone else on the planet! Isn’t that great? How lucky are you!”

            “Wait, you and I-”

            “Yep!” Sollux touched his lips vaguely, even if those weren’t the ones hers touched. “Your body was warm at the time, so it wasn’t so bad.”

            “Um, thank you?”

            “Sorry about your dying, by the way.”

            “What do you have to be thorry for?”

            “I didn’t stop my custodian from crying. Being selfish, I guess.” And with a shrug and a smile she moved right out again and into the narrow halls.

            Sollux’s husktop began pinging from Pesterchum. It was miraculous most of his equipment still functioned after this whole ordeal. Through not only the Vast Glub but earthquakes and meteor showers.

            “Don’t answer that.” Feferi called from the another room.

            “Why not?” asked Sollux. He expected to get a few messages after being, y’know, returning from the dead.

            “It’s Eridan.” The name immediately sprang to mind purple text and misspelled rants over pollution and world domination.

            “You thure?”

            “Yeah. He and I had a, uh, mishap when the game started. I put an end to our morailship and now he’s a bit under the water. Just ignore it and I’m shore he’ll focus on something else.”

            Sollux glanced at his husktop once again.

  caligulasAquarium [CA] began trolling twinArmageddons [TA]

CA: sol

CA: sol wwhy dont you answwer you peasantry pissblood

CA: damn that usually gets you he must be dead

CA: …

CA: fef you there

CA: ivve been wwantin to reach you since you hopped outta LoHaG

CA: I think you mighta forgot your husktop

CA: you told me you wwas hitten up there so i tried this handle

CA: you gotta be readin this somewwhere

CA: just got wword from gam and kar

CA: sorry bout your mustardblood mishap

CA: you gotta be upset cause he savved you an all an ill admit thats impressivve for someone a his stature

CA: but then again wwhat do ya expect from a homicidal shut in

CA: got no choice but to develop hackin skills just to convvince people hes not dangerous and has some use

CA: then again blastin awway rust aint that bad a prospect wwoulda been great as a charger for ships if they was still around

CA: noww im just ramblin on

CA: wwanted to make sure you wwere safe noww that you left your husktop behind

 

            Usually the antics of the spoiled seadweller of the group could go on ignored, back when there was nothing at stake. He must be enjoying this unexpected armageddon. It completed most of the dirty work for his goals. Sollux had seen this before let it be. In the midst of a game where teamwork was key, someone had to deal with him.

 

TA: hate two bur2t your bubble but iim 2tiill around.

TA: and wow, way two 2how concern, a22hat.

CA:…

CA: im havvin trouble discernin wwho im talkin to

CA: id say fef wwas borrowwin the handle but shes much too regal to make use of the wword asshat

TA: nah thii2 ii2 exactly what iit look2 liike. Ju2t 2ome dork makiing an attempt two keep 2hiit together and for once managiing not two faiil 2pectacularly.

TA: whiile ii know for a fact ii'm 2peakiing two a pompou2 2eadouche who contriibute2 nothiing overall.

CA: excuse me but with all this blatant disrespect maybe next time ill second guess participatin in your made-up game and bailin out your little cavve girl

TA: the world ii2 comiing two an end there ii2 no next tiime.

CA: wwait no wwhat am i sayin this aint possible

CA: youre suppose to be dead evveryone saww you

CA: though reely thats what i deservve wwhen my info comes from a faygo chuggin sopor snortin clowwn

TA: you don't 2nort 2opor, 2cum2ucker.

CA: then wwhat do you do wwit it

TA: ii don't know iit'2 2oporiifiic you don't a2k what you do wiith iit, iit ju2t ii2.

TA: you eat iit ii gue22?

TA: that doe2't even matter the2e are the DUMB tangents you make me go on.

TA: look ii diid diie, but then ii got better.

CA: for a guy rantin all about about death on a regular basis you sure knoww jack about howw it wworks

TA: biig talk from 2omeone who cant 2pell

CA: it was a FISH PUN get wit the PROGRAM you UNDILIGENT CUR

TA: well what do you expect two happen when the wiitch of liife vii2iit2 you.

CA: put her on noww

TA: no. we have no tiime for thii2.

CA: sol this is a privvate matter you dont havve any part of

TA: ii don't thiink you have the 2liighte2t modiicum of under2tandiing iinvolviing the 2iituatiion at hand.

TA: and don’t reefer two me by one of your coy niickname2.

TA: am ii gettiin wwiith the program noww?

CA: forget it ill just grab ahold of her myself

TA: 2he won't an2wer you.

 

caligulasAquarium [CA] ceased trolling twinArmageddons [TA]

TA: 2iigh.

TA: you JU2T 2aiid 2he wa2n't at her handle.

caligulasAquarium [CA] began trolling twinArmageddons [TA]

CA: convvince her to talk to me

TA: how about you take your ii2hmael2 no2ehaiir2 or whatever and try not two 2crew thiing2 up royally?

CA: i aint evven dignifyin that insult ya just want to rile me up

CA: this is friggin ludicrous not only is a wwoman thievvin criminal givvin me orders but ivve got to go around puttin up with angels and imps all the damn time

CA: has alternia and evverythin invvolvved wwit it been literally and figurativvely FLIPPED?!

CA: up is dowwn high is loww an dead is alivve it aint fair

TA: ju2t get out of there whiile you can.

TA: iif iit'2 any con2olatiion, FF told me 2he2 not the only one who can briing u2 back two liife, 2o you better get over your2elf and get out of there 2o nobody ha2 two touch your cold fii2hliips.

TA: look2 liike iit take2 more than an amphiibiiou2 priince and an empre22 two make 2ome magiic happen.

TA: B)

twinArmageddons [TA] ceased trolling caligulasAquarium [CA]

CA: peh

CA: showws wwhat you knoww

CA: here i am destin to savve all yall and there youre ruinin evverythin as the doom player

CA: i didnt come up wwit the titles

CA: sol wwhats that supposed to mean

CA: OH COD

CA: I JUS ACTUALLY READ YOUR PATHETIC COMEBACK

CA: DID SHE

CA: AND YOU

CA: I CANT EVVEN

CA: YOU GET BACK HERE NOWW

CA: SOL

 

            Sollux clicked the window closed and shut down his husktop, preventing the impending pings.

            “Alright, FF, we’re getting out of here.” said Sollux. He got out of the room to see Feferi in the bathroom, untangling her hair with the brush she found.. “It’ll be better to go out to another land rather than fighting our own here. Although we need to make our thupplies mobile. Waterproof, preferably.”    

            Feferi raised a free hand to salute. “Ai ai!”

 

            Without focusing much thought on what he was going to say next, time launched forward. Now Sollux found himself in the Land of Pulse and Haze some time after he left his respite block with Feferi. The imps were fodder by this point. All that was required was to toss them out the window. Feferi had resolved to sticking them with her trident and dangling her feet over the ledge while chi cabobing them over the fire. Sometime’s he’d join her and they’d whistle tunes from she learned from her homeland as they watched the world burn. This trip was meant to stray away from his own land and explore the others, namely in avoidance of the heat.

            Well that notion was a bust, seeing that Sollux should have suspected that the living bomb himself would have a land even hotter than the one literally made of fire. He now wished they made their first detour into LoTaF or LoRaF or even LOLCAT.

            The area was made up of jagged rock islands surrounded by red rivers. At first he assumed the liquid was some sort of lava but it did not glow or harden into molten rock like that substance would. There were also fumes from the ground that had a pungent scent to it like rusted metal. It might have something to do with the castles he was told about. Whatever the liquid turned out to be the heat made it boil and a pain to cross without burning the skin. Heavy fog and no sunlight in sight brought even more frustration to the navigation. They resorted to using the portal in the sky to know where they were heading, but that led to them travelling in circles.

            Sollux wandered off to the side of their tiny spire island and activated his computer-fused glasses to contact the nearest teammate in range.

 

twinArmageddons [TA] began trolling carcinoGeneticist [CG]

 

TA: okay KK, FF and ii made iit to your hot a2 hell land 2o feel free to meet up wiith u2 whenever you get around to iit.

TA: iin the meantiime we’re 2iizzliing over here but hey no pre22ure.

CG: SO, YOU’RE A PROSPIT DWELLER NOW, HUH?

TA: how do you even know that? ii thought you hadn't woken up yet.

CG: I DON’T NEED TO PRANCE AROUND IN FANCY FRAU-FRAU RENASCENCE OUTFITS IN THE GODDAMN SKY TO KNOW WHEN THERE’S A RANCOROUS RENDEZVOUS IS GOING UNDER MY NOSE ON MY OWN TEAM.

CG: TRAITOR! DO I NEED TO START MONITORING INTERACTIONS BETWEEN TEAM MEMBERS NOW? AND NOW YOU AND YOUR PARTNER ARE MOSEYING ABOUT ON MY TERF?!

TA: ugh iit doe2n't even matter KK, we're all on the 2ame team anyway.

CG: WHAT ARE YOU ON ABOUT?

TA: jeez of cour2e you mii22 the memo2 when you’re not the one 2pewiing non2en2iical ma22e2 amount2 of text.

TA: 2orry iif ii 2poiiled your enjoyment of antagoniiziing others for no dii2cerniible rea2on early.

TA: but maybe you could 2eiize thii2 opportuniity two fiix the 2iituatiion ahead of tiime iin2tead of me22iing around.

CG: I THINK WHEN YOU DIED SOME OF THE OXEGEN GOT CUT FROM THE PART OF THAT BIFURICATED MESH YOU REFER TO AS YOUR BRAIN MATTER THAT YOU USE TO FORM THOUGHT.

TA: iit actually diid but that wa2 another body and be2iide the poiint.

TA: and the body iim in now iis functioniing ju2t fiine, thank2 for a2kiing.

CG: WAY TO JUMP DOWN MY THROAT BEFORE I EVEN GOT TO THAT, GOG.

TA: gog?

CG: IT’S TEREZI’S THING DON’T ASK.

CG: SPEAKING OF WHICH HOLD ON A SEC, I’M DEALING WITH MY OWN NONSENSE MANAGING MY TEAM.

CG: WHEN ONE MEMBER ISN’T LICKING OR STABBING ME ANOTHER ONE IS SPILLING HIS STICKY BEVERAGE ALL OVER THE ALL OVER THE PLACE.

CG: I THOUGHT WITH MY LUSUS GONE I’D WAS DONE BEING COVERED IN SLOBBER!

CG: MY KEYS ARE STICKY, PROLONGING ME FROM EXPRESSING MY CONTEMPT WHEN DEEMED APPROPRIATE.

CG: AND SCRAPE OFF THAT AMUSED SMIRK I KNOW YOU MUST HAVE BY NOW!

TA: ii made no comment about your 2tiicky keys.

TA: but 2tabbiing a2iide at lea2t you 2eem two be iin contact wiith your team.

TA: all my team member2 ever 2eem two do ii2 wander off two benefiit theiir own 2helfiish endeavor2.

TA: the blueblood2 out two control u2 all one way or another.

TA: hurry up iim 2weatiing here.

CG: I’M NOT SEEING ANYTHING IN THE FRUITY RUMPUS PARTY.

TA: that2 cau2e the blue team put iit in an actual reliiable 2ource.

TA: iit2 called the pranciing hoofbea2st jubiilee

TA: ii wa2 not iin favor of the tiitle

CG: OH WOW, YEAH, UTTER PINNACLE OF RELIABLE SOURCES RIGHT THERE.

CG: FACT CHECKING BE DAMNED IN THE TRACKS LEFT BY THE HOOFBEAST JUBILEE.

TA: here ii'll ju2t briief you by 2endiing the liink two the thiing.

 

            When he waited for a response Feferi had resolved to inspecting the red rivers. Her goggles were hanging around her neck, constantly clouding from the heat.

            “FF, what in cod’th name are you trying to accomplith by doing that?” Oh great, now she’s hooked him onto the fish puns. God damnit! “You’re going to get burned.”

            Her arm fished her trident from her syladeck. Feferi sunk the gold rod into the river. It came up and she touched the red residue.

            “Take a look at this.” Feferi said, waving the trident his way. Sollux touched it. It was burning, but the red stayed on his hand.

            Upon placing his hand into the substance he knew. Blood. Red blood, in a shade he had yet to see upfront. Another unbearable wasteland, a common occurrence in this game.

            His shades pinged from the stream of messages before his eyes .

 

CG: WHO THE FUCK WROTE THIS?

TA: equiiu2, ii thiink.

CG: WELL THAT EXPLAINS HOW MUCH IT’S STOOPED IN GROSS UNINTENTIONAL INNUENDOS INVOLVING HOOFBEASTS.

TA: 2hockiing revelatiion, ii2n’t iit?

CG: IT HOLDS AS MUCH SHOCK AS RUBBING YOUR SOCKS ON A SHIT SANDWHICH

TA : look iif you ever deciide to get here we’ll cobble together a plan that won’t get u2 kriilled.

TA: dammiit, typo.

CG: YEAH RIGHT DON’T LIE SHE’S SCRUBBING OFF ON YOU.

TA: that was terriible and ii don’t even thiink iit techniically qualiifie2 a2 a fiish pun.

CG: I’M NOT EVEN SURE IF I WAS MAKING ONE?

CG: SWEET WRITHING GURGLING FUCK THEY REALLY ARE CONTAGIOUS.

TA: ju2t get over here before one of u2 collap2e2 from heat exhau2tion.

CG: WAIT WHILE I GOT YOU ON THE LINE

CG: SORRY FOR NOT GETTING YOU OUT OF YOUR COMMUNAL STEM IN TIME.

CG: I’M SURE I CAN MAKE UP SOME EXCUSE BUT I WON’T.

CG: AND ON THAT NOTE THANKS FOR DOING ME A SOLID AND NOT STAYING A DECOMPOSING CORPSE FOR LONG.

TA: wow KK.

TA: don’t lay the romance drama 2ap on two thiick.

CG: SCREW YOU THAT IS THE LAST TIME I TRY TO SQUEEZE OUT AN APOLOGY LIKE THE LAST DROP OF FANGPASTE.

CG: I WAS ONLY TRYING TO MAKE UP FOR WHAT I DID.

TA: yeah ii know.

CG: CAUSE AT THE VERY LEAST OUT OF THE VAST VARIETIES OF UTTER BULLSHIT I AM CURRENTLY AND NO DOUBT WILL IN THE FUTURE BE WADING THROUGH, TEENAGE DRAMA IS THE UTMOST MINIMAL OF THAT TYPE I WANT TO BE DEALING WITH.

TA: you and me both.

 

 

            Behind him came a noise of shoes scraping the ground and a hard thump indicating a misstep. Feferi cried out loud, something she seemed prone to do.  “Ow!” Feferi’s cry dwindled into a whimper. “Ahhhh…”

            “What’re you doing over there?” Sollux turned his attention back to her. She was crouching down on the rocky ground beside an elevated rock and rubbing her feet.

            “Did you jump off that thing?” Sollux asked.

            “I’ve never noticed how fast it pulls you down like that!”

             “You mean gravity, FF?”

            She was massaging her heels. “It hurt the arches of my feet this time!”

            “If you didn’t want that then maybe it’th a bad idea to be jumping off of a cliff. That’th generally how gravity workth, FF.” he shook his head as he offered a hand to help her up. “Juth walk it off, okay?”

            She nodded, departing to attempted up the cliff yet again. He watches as she descended, her hair sprawling in waves behind her without entangling.

            His vision of her morphs and transforms.  Her horns elongate and curl. The outfit she’s wearing becomes more plain. Her feet land, pounding on the dirt that kicks up the ash into a cloud. Even the scent carried over. 

            “C’mon, Sollux!” This voice was Aradia’s, tossing the end of whip tied to a stalactite she used to swing into the crater his way. “Now it’s your turn!” Sollux peered down the crater Aradia was standing at the bottom of. He could feel the gravity pulling at him in by the scorched edge. The crater enough to hold a temple so the drop would kill him without a doubt. Deep green grass beneath his feet. He let go of the handle of the whip, letting it swing back. He sat on the scorched dirt edge of the hole and pushed himself over, using his psionics to levitate down.

            “I don’t do life-threatening, AA.” 

            Aradia only frowned disapprovingly at him underneath her white adventure fedora before retracting her whip to explore the ruins again. It did not stop her from being giddy. She’s darting faster around the face of the ruins than Sollux can keep up with. Since the crater in the ground they were standing in was crafted by a crashing meteor rather than any exhibition this was unlike any other find she had under her belt. An entire intact building. She’s usually lucky if the lusus teeth she digs up are salvageable.

            Judging by the dirt spots on Aradia’s clothes she must have been going at this since she found it. She’s equipped with her whip, archeology tools, and new adventurer hat. Her hat is pristine and white, not matching the rest of her. “Hurry up slowpoke, don’t make me wait up on you!”

            Sollux landed at the pit of the cave he inspected the Frog Temple. Aged rock stacked in six stone spires. The Frog was seated at the top of a pedestal where it would draw the most attention. Thinking he’s so special, like a houndbeast with a pedigree. 

            It was the first instance of not feigning interest in her find. It’s not the first expedition he’s been to. Kanaya had one similar temple beneath the ground, only it was under sand that they dug up. Boy, if that wasn’t an awful trip. The fluctuating temperatures, sand getting in everything, never knowing when you’d fall in a sinkhole or attacked by roaming creatures, timing it before the blinding sun came up, only to dig up less than half of it. If his gracious host didn’t brew the best tea in all Alternia he would have just requested pictures.

            He placed a hand on the stone. It was so familiar, as if he were looking at the exact building in the desert, only blue instead of this red. Even the writing from where he left off was identical. The crumbled bricks determined the age but the fact he could even read the inscriptions meant it was holding together well. He could not read much off the last one. He floated up to the area they had spent hours reading the last time.

            “Make sure you be careful with that.” said Aradia.

            Sollux let out a sigh. “AA, it’th compact rock. I’m only touching it.”

            “You can’t be too careful when it comes to the irreplaceable, Sollux. This is a delicate procedure. Touching it could crumble some of the writings and there goes our archaeological find of the sweep.”

            “Okay okay fine. Look? Not dethecrating any ruins in the thlightest.” He took his hand away, leaving blue dust on his fingers.

            While he took out his small notebook from his pocket, she climbed all the way down from the fat frog’s head.

            “What does it say?” Aradia asked while climbing.

            “I haven’t looked it up yet, AA.”

            He looked at the notes he brought. Part of the inscriptions from the previous temple he had translated already. It has been residing in his desk drawer right next to flash-drives and candy wrappers. There is even a grease stain in the corner from potato chips. He compared his scrawls with the inscriptions. “Yeah, it’th pretty much the thame. Not very intriguing. Talking about frogth and planetth and blah blah blah.”

            The voices returned again, as usual tuning them out and pushing them back to keep from distracting him.

            Floating down to the ground to read more, there was so much more information. He might have to stay over, if Aradia and her RamMom didn’t mind.

            “What elsth did you find in here, AA?” he asked.

            Aradia was dusting off green bones sticking out of the ground. “You mean aside from my stunning hat?”

            “Yeah, other than that.”

            She ran to where Sollux stood. “Well, for one thing I found this new sylladeck,” she removed a leather wallet from her pocket, “and I put everything else I found in here. It has so much more space in it!”  Fishing through her new modus, the first thing she pulled out what appeared to be a torn stuffed animal. Or… some unidentifiable creature. On top of the stuffed body was a wooden head with an unhinging jaw. Even with its lower half torn off it was somewhat anthropomorphic. Its appendages arms were a bright orange color with mittens for hands. White cotton fell out of its insides.

            Sollux backed away. “What in the name of all deities is that abomination?”

            Aradia turned it over the torso in her hands to inspect, undeterred, “It feels like one of Tavros’s toys.”

            “It lookth like an abandoned hellthpawn.”

            “The shirt says ‘Cal’. Do you think that is his name?”

            “I don’t ever want to know. Keep it away. Got any more in there?”

            Aradia searched further. “Well, this next item is pretty strange.”

            “It can get weirder than the puppet from the thpace asteroid?”

            In her hands was a metallic shape. It was intact enough to make out what it may have once been, big enough to fit in both of her hands. It was shaped a bit like a spiral and broken at the end, as though it were a piece of something.

            “Okay?” Sollux asked, wondering if this was another archeological find with value he could not comprehend.

            “Okay?! So look.” Aradia held the metal piece up to her hair, and the meaning became clear to him now. He wondered how he didn’t catch it immediately. It was identical to Aradia’s own left horn. “They’re almost exactly alike! They’re even the same size!”

            She outstretched her arm and handed Sollux the horn for him to inspect. His attention switched from the ruins to the metal in his hands. Sollux’s fingers traced over the details of it. Grafted into it were lines and indents, curled inward just like hers. Judging from the size and shape of the horn, especially considering the identical appearance to Aradia’s, it was small and had not developed into adulthood. At the very least he’d want to assume her ancestor would have survived that long. Despite being in a low caste in a time and place where culling was prominent. It’s still an issue now, albeit a more institutional one, and he still doesn’t know how Aradia copes with it. Even with his low status he could be considered more fortunate.

            “It makes me wonder where it came from.” said Aradia

            “A robot troll? That’d be creepy.”

            “Well we know it’s possible.” She shivered at the thought of their friend.

            “The meteor is likely from another planet. Maybe one a Condesce’s fleet exterminated. Not to bring you down, AA, but this lookth like it couldn’t have been manufactured more than recently.”

            “Yeah, those were slim chances, weren’t they? My mistake.” Aradia gathered some of the items back into her sylladeck. “I’m keeping most of this.”

            “Go right ahead.” said Sollux.

            “And you can keep this!” Aradia tossed the puppet torso to him. He picked it up from the ground, spreading red dust on its shirt since the red dust would not come off his fingertips.

            “No freaking way.”

            “As far as I can tell it has no significance to the exhibition at hand.”

            “Well, I don’t know what you want me to do with it.”

            “Then hand it over to Kanaya. Let her fix it up or something. It’ll give her something to do.” 

            When she notices his stare he glances the other way. Somehow, Aradia always has a pleasant smile.

            The voices were calling again. They were louder than ever before.

            “Do you hear that? Are they calling you too?”

            The closer he is to this temple, the louder the voices are in his head. The writing was a warning. What it had always been foreshadowing to the both of them. He knew the end of the world was approaching. There just was no notice as to when until now.

 

            And then in the next moment his feet are off the ground by the force of an explosion from another memory. It snaps his entire body back in the air until he slams so far into the closest metal wall there leaves a crack bigger than him. He must have left an indent. All he sees are a mix of colors. Before he can be concerned if he cracked his spine his or his burning eyes or the blood he’s coughing up or how drained he feels the last thing he sees is Eridan across the room. The weapon he’s holding his small and simple but smoking with white fire from the sheer power it holds.

            The memory is brief. It’s not long before he passes out and he’s onto the next one.

            Now he’s on the rooftop of the complex and surrounded by the lights of the city. He’s so much younger here, only recently released from The Trials. It never feels comfortable keeping his back unchecked, even if he knows there’s nothing physical threatening him. It’s habit by now. There’s a feeling someone will pound or stab or laser him in the back the same way he did others.

            He chained his doofus of a new lusus to the roof so the idiot won’t fly away. Sollux is convinced he can take care of himself but it’s Alternian law that if he has no custodian to watch over him he’ll get culled. That’s how it works around here. Sollux’s new life has so far been revolving around taking care of the two-headed creature’s specific diet of the one substance which scrambles all the atoms of his brain by coming near it.

            Sollux became aware of the dangerous affect mind honey held over him during The Trials. All he remembers is when it started, when he had yet to hone in on his abilities and too physically weak to fight back. The sticky goo was dripping from the ceiling. He consumed it for nourishment, so famished he had no need to question what it was. By that point poison would be a lucky break. Better than being ripped apart by stronger high-class brutes. All he recalls afterwards is his body shaking, echoing screams, the ashy shadows of his victims remains on the wall, and the throbbing headache he received once it wore off. There was little trouble with attacks after that.

            The air is starting to chill, which is never good for bees. He’s been forced to keep them and what they make in his room, where he will always see and smell it. At first he resented that the buzzing would keep him up at night, but it had worked its way into background noise fitting right in. Besides, with all this internet wasting and paranoia it’s not like he ever got any sleep anyhow. The building’s owner downstairs agreed to keep him up there. He was half prepared for him to shove him out of the way and go about his business. Maybe it was because he was the youngest tenant in the building. His neighbors are never bothered by it, since they are never here. Adult trolls have always been a temporary presence.

            Already the higher ups were dishing out meticulous ways to make him their toy. That’s what he gets for surviving to this point. Biding time for now until he has a misstep leading to his downfall. With any smidgen of luck left in his system he’ll manage to nail a spot on a space voyage to be used a generator like the rest of his class. Joy.

            Right here all he wants to do is stand here. The quite breeze gives him solace to think.

            Now, for once, everything is okay.

            When the jump happens again both he and Aradia are in her sitting by recouprecoon. On her television Troll Indiana Jones was playing. When he offhandedly mentioned to her he had never seen any of the trilogy her response was an overdramatic gasp, her hands on her cheeks for emphasis.

            “How do you even know what joy is?!” she said to him. In a way he didn’t, but that was beside the point.

            By now they had reached the sequel film. Sollux had lost interest once Indiana and his companions leaped from a helicopter with only a rubber raft. It didn’t get better from there. “Are you kidding me? Oh yeah, get killed while you’re hopping out of your job to travel to another country. Doing that will pay for all those travel expentheth..”

            Aradia rolled her eyes. She was looking over bones she found, since she has the entire movie memorized by now. “Oh Sollux, don’t insult him. He is made of perfection.” She brushed a hand over the poster on her wall of Harrison Ford’s likeness, eyelids flittering as fingers touched the visage of rugged stubble.

            “Oh pleath. Thith douche ditcheth his real job to go on a round-the world trip to ‘protect’ ancient artifactth only for them to be obliterated while killing people along the way. He thould be fired or arrested.”

            Aradia sat beside Sollux. The skin on her arm nearly touched his. She did not seem to notice. “But those were the risks he took to get the artifacts safe in a museum. The Subjugulators did the same thing to steal it but only for the purposes of evil. Admittedly this isn’t my favorite one.” She shrugged. “It’s still really great though. Oh! This is one of my favorite parts!”

            “Yeah, but-”

            “Wait-wait-wait sh-sh-sh!” Aradia waved a hand in front of Sollux’s mouth, her attention drawn to the screen, “Nothing shocks me. I’m a scientist.

            “If he wath going to do thomething like melt their fathes off anyway why didn’t he let it take it to their leader in the to begin with?”

            “Because, Sollux,” Aradia primed for a lecture, “that isn’t what adventurers do.”

            Sollux returned to the screen, knowing he could not win. “You would know. You’d make a way more daring archeologist than thith douche.”

            Aradia gasped. At first Sollux assumed he had once again tarnished the sacred name of the Jones, but she continued to beam. “Do you really mean that Sollux?”

            Sollux shrugged nonchalantly. “Yeah, without quethion.”

            She eagerly jumped to her feet, exposing the scrapes on her legs by her knee-high socks. “If I decide to go on an adventure, would you go with me?”

            “If I’m not doing thomthing.”

            “Then it’s settled! We’re going to be the greatest troll adventurers who ever graced the face of Alternia!

            As Aradia gave her enthusiastic speech the door creaked open a crack. Aradia’s ram lusus nudged the door open with her long nose, holding a plate of cheese squares near her pouch.

            “Oh, thanks for the snack, RamMom. That was nice of you!” Aradia crossed the room to help set them up on her desk. The movie went on.

            “Hey Aradia?” said Sollux. 

            “Mm hm?” asked Aradia while taking a bit.

            “Your lusus isn’t in the bubbles, is she?” Aradia turned to him with a quizzical look. “She wasn’t in the game when she got killed. So her ghost didn’t get sent to the bubbles like the rest of ours. You haven’t seen her since then, have you?”

            Sollux was rigid. He hadn’t looked up at her. When he did Aradia continued to stare blankly in his direction. She froze, but not with an intent. The memory was over.

            He sat back. A loud HONK subsequently broke his fall. (under his weight) He jolted back up, startled by the noise. He was now lying on the piled up clown horns in the center of the lab on the meteor. The room reeked of burnt metal and rubber from the two explosions which had occurred earlier. To his right was from when Eridan’s computer sciencespolded, no doubt his own fault by taunting an outsider. Heh, maybe these humans weren’t so insufferable after all. At least they had good judgment. The other sharp scent from the opposite end was the more than broken glass but also charred electronics and burnt hair.

            The clown had gone off from his gathered belongings. The only others in the room he saw were Karkat and Kanaya, chatting with each other by other lined up computers that hadn’t blown up. He knows this moment. Rather, the one that immediately follows the present one, where Eridan transports in. The last of these visual reenactments. All after this is painted in darkness followed by utter hoofbeast dookie.

            A burst of frustration boiled and coursed in his veins. There was no one specific reason for this. Just fed up with one memory after the next. Even the few ones with pleasant moments had morbid undertones.

            “AUGH!” He yelled as he lobbed the horn across the room. It bopped on top of one of the computer before twirling in the air and hitting the wall. HONK. Sollux flopped back onto the pile, officially resigning from caring. HONK HONK.

            Sollux has heard, been, and known death, but this is the few he’s felt it on the inside. It rolled over him. A wonder it took this long. He dug into the pile, taking out one horn at a time. When he pulled one out the rest o them toppled over. This mass was of cheep rubber and plastic was a satire unto itself. There was a difficulty navigating through it with its form. After much frustration he found himself uncomfortably wedged underneath it. This was so stupid.

            This situation was ridiculous. His hands slid into his pocket. He had a metal scrap of an indeterminable body part and a charred lock of hair in his pocket. Because that’s not creepy as hell or messed up in the slightest. At least not any more so than what’s already been displayed with these certifiable nutjobs referred to as his teammates. Something that mouth-breathing blue-blood creep would do. But he doesn’t care. Sollux just no longer possesses the energy. Any more and he’ll crack in two.

            All it took was one removal to bring in the light. He felt her weight on the pile. A face stared down at him behind goggles.

            “Hello there Mister Grump-Bee!”

            Sollux cringed. “That. Pun. Wath horrid.” Sollux settled further into the pile. Feferi removed more horns and scooted her face closer. The ratio of the pile was relatively small. Only puffed up round rubber in-between them. “Go away.” He whispered, losing the energy to yell. The sternness of it was forceful.

            Her weight flopped onto the pile again. “Is this about Aradiabot?” she asked.

            He swallowed. Her cold iron could still be felt around him.

            “Leave me alone.”

            She persisted. “Aw, it’s not as bad as you make it out to be. You’ll still remember her. She’s in your heart. And you’ll see her again.”

            Sollux said nothing. Only kept his head buried in his knees.

            “If it’s any consolation, I don’t think she felt any pain when she botsploded. And it was something she wanted. So why take that away from her?”

            “You don’t get it.” He said finally. “It’th more than that.”  

            When Aradia left, she smiled. He can’t remember the last time she did that. He doesn’t comprehend why she chose to say her final farewell so someone as worthless as him and not anyone else. Especially given the way Equius programmed her.

            “Dying is easy.” Feferi went on. “It’s just everyone around them that feels the pain.”

            “Bullthit.” He said, “Dying ith painful ath fug. I had blood coming out everywhere. I’d take waiting around here than go through that again.”

            “Yeah, you’ve got a point.”

            “How would you know?”

            “My dream self got axed.”

            Slight pause. He had known that happened with Derse’s destruction but forgotten she was awake for it. “Oh.”

            “Jack’s sword sliced through my tummy before I could see him.”

            “Okay thankth FF. Could’ve done without that imagery.”

            “What I meant to say is she’ll be fine.”

            In many ways Feferi was familiar with death as well. She was after all was the one responsible for all her people, and she chose to play the game instead.

            “I’m thorry.”

            “Hm?”

            Sollux stuck his head out of the pile to face her. “You thaved my life. I thould have returned the favor.”

            From the corner of his eye he saw the familiar bright red skirt appear next to the pile.

            “Relaxing in the horn pile I see.”

            “Yes! Why don’t you hop in too, Kanaya?”

            Sollux tightly shut his eyes before he could hear any more. Just darkness again. Darkness to drift through. Darkness to drown in. When his eyes open on their own, a bright glow is shining in them and the room is much smaller. The light is from his husktop. He is sitting at his desk. His hand was becoming numb from his chin blocking the circulation on his palm. He must have nodded off again.

            It was now evening in his hivestem. What began as a conversation with Kanaya on the identical ruins led him to a message board revolving around the doomed nature of Alternia. He thought visiting this site would scrounge up at least a tiny bit of info, as he pretty much expected, just about everyone on this site is a rambling conspiracy theorists. By now they’ve long forgotten his presence since he became unresponsive. This didn’t make any difference. The best and most useful pieces he gathered together were from actual sources. He moved the grub and clicked closed the window he was in.

            Granted it was a challenge to piece together a catastrophe that has yet to happen caused via console that does not exist. The subject has steadily taken over his room. The walls had boards of code and theories he’d been coming up with. The rest of the place more of a trash heap, as usual. He’s been leaving his laundry as a pile in the corner and hasn’t taken the trash out. But the voices in his head are chatty about it. He hasn’t heard so many yelling at one time. A chorus of agony.

            His eyes checked the time in the corner of the screen. The sun would no doubt be rising soon. This would be an opportunity to take a break and stop for some proper rest but he would not allow it. The universe would not pause its actions so a miniscule creature within it could catch some shuteye. Sollux pushed his rolling chair from the desk and propelled to the window, intending to pull the blinds over the windows to block out the sun’s rays, but he hesitated when he glanced at what was outside. There was a different sky up there tonight.

            Usually the lights in the city would rub out most of the stars from above. Sometimes he would see specks but they were never as detailed or visible as the moons. Looking up there tonight, there were whole clusters of constellations made up of stars each individual. He could make out all of them, if he wanted. Peering in further would see the universes. But one speck, one tiny crack in the sky beside all of the universes, was flickering all kinds of colors. Too many for his eyes to catch one at a time. It looked like a broken spark.

            Sollux inched closer to the window to peer deeper into it. Just then he heard a noise from outside his door. Wait, goddamn it that’s right. Aradia was here for a visit to bring more artifacts from the crater site and look over his research. Oh isn’t that stupendous. This girl goes to the trouble making the trip all the way to his hivestem and he abandoned her to the other room by herself. It’s a wonder she hadn’t left by now. He rose from his chair, mentally kicking himself over this, and pulled the blinds all the way closed. The bees in the mainframe hovered over him. He had already dealt with them today, so he lightly swatted them away. What more could they want?

            “AA?”

            The lights were off, blackening the hallway. Aside from his room the rest of the place was a charitable size at best. Even in darkness the glow from his eyes was too dim to see much. It won’t be a concern when the sun rises. The noise came again. A wet sniffling sound. Sollux strayed away from the doorframe into the hall. As he walked further, it occurred to him that now Aradia will have to stay for the day if she didn’t want to get burned up.

            In the other room he saw her standing up straight in the corner, facing the wall.

            “AA?” he asked again. No answer. “Hey, I managed to pick up more about the ruins. They’re definitely more than a legit problem now. More dire than we realized initially. I figure we’ve got time but I’m not thure how much.”

            She still did not respond. The quiet heightened the silence in the small apartment. It was late in the evening – morning by this point – and yet there were no tires outside or another  indication of civilization. It caused the abnormality of Aradia’s silence all the more eerie than usual. “Aradia, are you okay?”

            Sollux honed in closer to her. As he considered touching her shoulder, she sniffled. Her hand brushed across her cheek. Drawing it back down left a slick red residue on her palm.

            “It just gets to me sometimes.” said Aradia, and the mild sadness teetering on the edge of her voice revealed she had been crying. “It’s not the voices. I don’t mind when they speak to me. It’s never a burden. I like their company. It’s when they ask me for things.”

            He assumed she meant the voices of the already deceased.

            “Yeah, I get where you’re coming from.” said Sollux. He had never seen this side of her. Sure she had other emotions other than complacency, everyone does, but that would never be accepted in public. In this society.

            “They ask me directly. Some of them know I’m Vriska’s friend and they beg me to help the after they are already dead.”

            “Geez, Vriska,” Sollux groaned, rubbing exhaustion out of his eyes, “don’t even get me tharted. I advithe you to thop hanging out with that huge bitch.”

            “That’s not the point!” Aradia screamed. Sollux backed away a step from her. “I know that but they don’t and tonight they refuse to listen to anything I tell them! They won’t stop shouting. I can’t even hear my own voice! Stop it stop it stop it!”

            She held onto her head, holding together all that would collapse in on itself. Her shoulders quivered. He heard sniffles again. She had not been this upset before he checked on her now. They had discussed notes and Aradia had her usual enthusiasm about the subject.

            The doomed in his own head never shut up either, but none of his had ever spoken to him directly. Talking to her he knew this weakness very well, but never expressed it. It was a trait he was familiar with.

            Stepping only a few paces from her he grabbed a box of tissues off of the nearby counter. He cautiously held it up close to her face. Even in front of her he was unable to see her face behind her hair. For a moment she only stared straight ahead at the wall. Then she brushed most of the hair out of her face and rubbed a hand beneath her nose. From this angle he now had a full frontal view of the red stains on her cheeks. Her eyes had become glassy. She extended an arm to pull out a tissue and blew her nose. His fingers sunk into her hair along with her horns.

            “AA, thit, look, just…try to lie down for a sec.”

            He walked off to give her space. Pulled together the red-and-blue blinds. From the hall closed he picked up an extra blanket and pillow he kept of the top shelf. It was always there when someone he knew dropped by. He stopped by the mirror cabinet in the bathroom.

            Aradia was sitting on his futon when he returned with a blanket, pillow, and small bottle in his hands. She had taken two more tissues in his absence and they were now crumbled and red in her hands. Her hair was still mostly in her face but he could see it was dry and grey. He set the blankets on the futon and gestured the bottle to her.

            “If you have a headache these usually help me.” He said tentatively. She slowly shook her head no. “Well it might be best if you stayed over for the day. The sun’s gonna be coming up soon. I hope you don’t mind.”

            “Now I just feel embarrassed.” Aradia’s voice now resembled a broken instrument.

“Don’t be.”

“I can’t help it. You invited me as a guest and here I am causing trouble.”

            “How about we look at it ath a return of a favor. Since you put up with my emotional roller coaster all the time.”

            “How about we just never tell anybody this happened?”

            “That workth too.”

            “Do you mind sitting with me for a while? You should get some rest too.”

            He sat with her. She draped the blanket over his shoulders. With the lack of room and terrible cushion their arms pressed together. “Are they shouting at you thtill?” Sollux asked.

            “Why don’t you just tell me more about your research. It sounds like both of us have a lot of work to do.”

            He settled in next to her. He went on and she listened, occasionally nodding in agreement. “I’m uthing the codes I got to program another game. It needs a number of players. Maybe we could convince our friendth to join too.”

            As time moved forward she leaned her head on his shoulder, adjusting it right so her horn would not get in the way and his would not poke her. When he realized her eyes were closed and she wasn’t listening anymore he stopped himself from talking.

            It’s just when his own eyes were closed that his phone in his pocket started to vibrate. Sollux ignored it at first, assuming it was his idiot friends on Trollian again wanting computer advice. No KK you cannot hack into the government and exact revenge. Nepeta if the file you’re closing asks if you want to save your fanfiction you click YES. For the love of god Equius don’t send me any links to those creepy unprotected websites you go on but please do me a favor and get it through your skull that Trojans are a bad thing. Dammit Gamzee if you’re gonna forget your password every five minutes don’t even bother contacting me about it.

            And yet it kept on buzzing. So much for the prospect of getting any rest. It was no use. Sollux clicked his phone on, the brightness of it making his eyes squint. The room is still dark. He’s a bit surprised no light has come through the blinds by now. Maybe he’s sat there for too long. He adjusted the phone to keep the glow away from Aradia’s face. The first message read:

 

            AA: I’m c0ming 0ver

 

            She must have sent that before arriving at his place. It went on:

 

            AA: I wanted to talk t0 y0u ab0ut s0mething

      AA: Hey

AA: Let’s g0 0n a v0yage

      AA: D0es that s0und c00l?

 

            His eyes narrowed. He scrolled to the top to check the date the messages were sent. These were sent closest to the date he could remember. He turned over to her at his shoulder. She was asleep by now, her eyes closed and resting quietly. The voices only bothering her in her dreams. Is this something she just forgot to bring up? Sollux doubted it. She would have told him before this fiasco, still ecstatic over their tremendous find.

A light from the doorway to his room turned on. His phone buzzed again from a new message. He glanced down.

 

            AA: I’m here.

 

            Here? How could she have sent this? He’s looking at her right now-

            Another Aradia stepped into the hallway. There were multiple Aradia’s from timelines, but Sollux had never seen this one before. But he knew her. It was recognition from descriptions he had been given.

            Soft red outfit. Hood. Butterfly wings. Alive again.

            She had neglected to mention the dynamic apparel. The wraps around her legs. Her hood was draped under her horns and over her face, most of her long hair tucked away into it. A few locks of hair fell out to shape her cheeks. Only her smile showed itself. One newest feature he could not ignore was her wings. Large butterfly ones spread open on her back.

            She ensured a radiance that felt unfit in his dim hivestem hall. Aradia had without a doubt returned to life.

            “That was a very generous thing you did for me, Sollux.” said God Tier Aradia, “I don’t think you know how much you helped me then.”

            Sollux unraveled himself from the blankets, taking caution not to disturb dream-Aradia. She did not even fall over when he removed his shoulder from her cheek. He rubbed the back of his neck. Maybe it was coming off the heels of dealing with her distraught past self but her voice, while still cheerful, seemed duller than usual to his ears.

            “It wath no big deal, really.” He said, “What did you expect me to do, juth leave you high and dry?”

            Standing there he noticed a blinking light from the curtains. They reminded him of sirens, lighting up in those same colors at the star from before. Pulling back the blinds. The sky was broken. A portion of it looked like frozen lightning. The rest was a spiderweb’s crack in space’s window. No constellations could be made up from the shards.

            “It looks like I’m not doing too good at my job.” Aradia said, still grinning.

            “What’th going on?” Sollux asked.

            “Lord English paid a visit to the afterlife.” She continued. The hood left a shadow over her face.

            “English?” Sollux moved away from the window, “You mean the head big bad we were supposed to defeat in The Game? Jolly green skull giant in a coat?”

            Aradia nodded. “He’s looking for one of the ghosts hidden here. You wouldn’t know who she is. She had almost nothing to do with our session. But he’s not sparing any of us. Just one attack wiped out a significant portion of those residing here.”

            “Wait a moment, aren’t we all ghosts?” He looked between them “Well, most of us anyway?”

            “That’s right.”

            A pause. “So you can’t kill a ghost!”

            “No, you can’t. But it is possible for them to be obliterated.”

            “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.” Sollux isn’t even entirely sure what that entails but already he doesn’t like the implications.

            “Yep. He fires laser breath that breaks the soul down. Right down to their core. That’s all there is to it.”

            Aradia shrugged. Sollux’s experiences with death have mostly been secondhand. He’s been there in the final moments of many, including himself a number of times. He imagined it may be different for him once he passed to the other side himself. There is no contradiction here. Staying behind and have no fear or next step. But the squeamishness still occasionally creeps into him. Now the implication of nonexistence unnerves him. Aradia sees it as a vaccination, painful but necessary.

            Sollux expected to have a more powerful reaction, but it was yet one more sign of their downfall.

            “So that’s it.” He said. “It was all pointless anyway. We’re all done for. Who’s gone so far? Just lay it on me.”

            “It just happened so I haven’t pinned down concrete numbers yet but thankfully he’s relatively slow, so he hasn’t blown away anyone from our timeline yet. I’d consider that a statistically lucky break!”

            “Everyone we know is okay?”

            “Well, Feferi and Nepeta recently had their corpses tossed in a kernel like yours and Eridan’s was. Equius seems to be reeling from the loss. But don’t ask me to be the one to go after him.” She shivered.

            He became somber in concern, annoyed with Eridan’s, of all people, guarantee for survival. His soul anyway. He returned, trying not to show it. “At least they’re safer that way.”

            “So what happens now?”

            “We’re going to stay alive.”

            Sollux rubbed his arm. He sighed. “I don’t mean to be the downer again. But-”

            “Sollux-”

            “But there’s no reason for me to be here anymore! If my ghost disappears, so what?! It’s all pointless!”

            Aradia rose up, her wings actually moving, and fluttered over to his side. Being this close gave him a realization of the time that has passed since was sent to the afterlife. Aradia had grown taller than him. Not by much, a few inches maybe, but he noticed it and it was significant to him. Her life had gotten back to a running start while his came to a halt.

            “Sollux you’re not staying here. I won’t allow it.”

            “What would be so bad about it? You’ve got tens upon thousands of other me’s running all over this place.”

            “Don’t think like that. I used to think like that and it never helped anything. I want you to be safe, Sollux. I came here to pick you up.”

            “That all sounds pretty miserable, honestly, which is what every event involving our group sounds like.”

            “C’mon, Sollux. Where’s your sense of excitement? Come on an adventure with me.” She held her hand out.

            He pondered on this. She stood before him It gave him a chance to admire her wings. They were bigger than he imagined, taller than Aradia herself. The color was a deep red, matching her blood color more than her outfit.

            “Is it alright if I touch those?” He asked.

            Aradia, at first taken aback by the question, nodded. Sollux’s hand reached out, stepping behind her to the thin bodypart he imagined kept her afloat. When the tips of his fingers brushed against them, they flinched. They were smooth. Scaly, even.

            His hand moved past the wings and to the hood covering her head. Stepping in front of her he only saw her red lips on her face. He flung the hood up over her horns. Aradia’s long dark ebony hair fell over back and shoulders. Tousled the way it used to be. Her eyes stood out. He did not remember the last he had seen them this way in person, right in front of him, filled with color. 

            Before dwelling on the thought for long his arms were around her shoulders.

            No idiot she has wings now don’t crush them!

            He felt she was taken aback by this sudden jump in her movements.

            “I’m so sorry.” He whispered.

            “It’s alright.” Aradia said, her arms hesitantly coiled around to his back.

            “I’m sorry for everything and anything I did to you.”

            “You don’t need to be. None of that was your fault-”

            “No! Don’t go there! Don’t try to convince me it’s alright that I blasted you to dust!"

            “Sollux, look at me.”

            “I know it wasn’t really me but I still let it happen. And then even after that happened that sweaty prick got his hands on you-“

            “Sollux!” Aradia pushed his shoulders from her at arms length. Just when he assumes she’s going to shove him away, she holds him still. Her lips were downturned, not in a frown but with concern. “Sollux, right now, as of this moment in time, I’m okay. I’m really, actually, okay.” The corners of her lips gradually rose again.

            Sollux sighed. “Alright then. Can’t argue with that.”

            Aradia took his hand, leading him into his old room. The Aradia sleeping on the futon will always be there safe, because the memory has ended. She pulled back the red and blue curtains and opened the window to the flashing destruction over the still city horizon.

            “All that we’ll get out of it is that my eyes will black out again.”

            “We’ll find some way around that. We usually do.” Said Aradia, “It is a big universe. There are lots of people in it.”

            I just want y0u t0 be happy, Sollux

            There was another problem nagging him. Does this make him happy? Does it really? He isn’t sure. But hey, both of them have come back from the dead at least once. She’s here with him now, alive and intact. He won’t ask for anything more.