tagora: Are you still awake?
tagora: Good, I need a favor.
tyzias: if you need the hivewwwwork pages youre fresh out of luck
tyzias: i just dropped mmmmy book in the recuperacoon
tagora: No, I finished the hivework hours ago because I’m not a complete disaster.
tyzias: wwwwell wwwwhat do you wwwwant its late
Instead of a text message, a blurry image popped up on the screen of her palmhusk. Tyzias put down the keratin dehydrator she was using to dry off her slime-soaked textbook and blinked a few times. She wiped her glasses off on her shirt just to make sure she was seeing the picture correctly.
The photo was taken with Tagora’s one free hand. The other, along with the rest of him, seemed to be stuck in one of those purrbeast crawl tunnels they sell at LusuSmart.
tyzias: tagora wwwwhat the fuck ammmm i looking at
tagora: I don’t know Tyzias, why don’t you tell me?
tyzias: wwwwell frommmm wwwwhat i can tell it looks like you got yourself stuck in a lusus crawl tube
tagora: Congratulations, you figured it out all by yourself. You get a gold star for being so damn clever.
tyzias: wwwwere you planning on telling mmmme howwww this scenario cammmme about or are wwwwe just going to pretend this is a regular occurrence in the life of the average troll
tagora: I can explain if you come over.
tyzias: wwwwhy cant you ask tegiri
tyzias: hes got swwwwords and a wwwweird hero commmmplex hed go shithive mmmmaggots for this kind of thing
tagora: I’d rather die in here than be the captive audience to an hour long rant about Sword Art Online or whatever it’s called.
tyzias: then perish
tagora: Okay no more memeing this is serious.
tyzias: wwwwhat about stelsa
tagora: She won’t answer my calls. She’s probably asleep like every semi functional troll in Outglut.
tagora: Never in a thousand sweeps would I even consider inviting that gremlin into my hive.
tyzias: howwww about our newwww alien pal, theyre usually dowwwwn for anything
tyzias: especially doing people randommmm favors
tagora: I tried but all I got was a few seconds of panicked screeching before getting sent to voicemail.
tyzias: that doesnt sound good
tagora: It’s probably fine, they’ve proven themselves absurdly competent at not dying.
tyzias: do you have literally any other friends
tyzias: or at least acquaintances wwwwho wwwwouldnt immmmmmmmeditely cull you if presented wwwwith the opportunity
tyzias: wwwwhy dont you call up one of your cool highblood friends
tagora: I’d prefer to keep my work life and personal life separate.
tyzias: your personal life being that you somehowwww wwwwedged yourself into a purrbeast tunnel
tagora: Eat my entire ass.
tyzias: mmmmkay bye then
tagora: Tyzias wait.
tagora: You said you dropped your textbook in your recuperacoon, right?
tagora: I’ll let you use mine.
tagora: Free of charge.
Tyzias stuffed her palmhusk into her pocket, slumped back in her desk chair with a groan and pushed herself across the floor towards the corner where she’d kicked off her sandals earlier that night. Normally she would just put the reading off for another day until she could borrow someone else’s book, but there was an in-class history paper the next night, and you couldn’t just avoid eye contact with an essay prompt to keep it from asking you questions like you could with an EduDrone.
The air was hot and humid as she trudged to Tagora’s hive. She tied her hoodie around her waist and rolled up the sleeves of her already short sleeved t-shirt. The sleeves didn’t really make a difference, but Tyzias tried to make herself think they did.
“open up, its hot as globes out here,” she called upon arriving at a tall teal door between two intricately decorated windows.
“Can you wait for one second? God.”
Tyzias heard the faint sound of scratching and clicking against the bottom of the door before it creaked open and a white ferret poked its head through the crack. Its beady eyes looked her up and down before it chirped and skittered back inside, leaving the door open for her to follow. She walked with caution. Everything in this hive seemed like it would shatter if she looked at it too hard.
Tagora lay on his back in the middle of the living room floor, hair splayed out on the carpet around his head with faint teal circles under his eyes. It was definitely less put-together than Tyzias was used to seeing him, but still neater than herself on a good day.
“Before you laugh, I’d like to remind you that I’ve witnessed quite a few of your less than stellar moments and I am not above digging up incidents from middle school.
“wwwwelp, lets just git ‘er done then,” Tyzias said as the handle of a heavy spiked gavel materialized in her hand.
Tagora’s eyes went wide. “What is that?”
Tyzias looked at him, then the gavel, then back to him. “mmmmy strife specibus”
“You’re not planning on using that thing, are you?”
“wwwwell i dont knowwww howwww you expected to go about this but unless youve got a shit ton of dish soap lying around this seemmmms to be our only option”
“Or you could grab my hand and pull, idiot.”
“just idiot? a little lazy wwwwith the zingers tonight, gor-gor”
“Oh, excuse me for not spending valuable time and energy to come up with sufficiently creative insults for the socks and sandals girl.”
“see? case in point, thats the mmmmost basic thing anyones ever mmmmade fun of mmmme for”
“Do you want to get this over with or not?
He had a point. Tyzias returned the gavel to her sylladex, took hold of Tagora’s perfectly manicured hand, planted a socked and sandaled foot against the rim of the tube, and pulled.
After what seemed like over an hour of pushing, yanking, shouting, and several complaints about how “this wwwwould have been easier if you didnt use so mmmmuch hand mmmmoisturizer,” Tagora was pulled free of the tunnel with an almost cartoonish pop that sent both trolls sprawling across the floor.
Tagora stood, dusted himself off, adjusted the knee-level hem of his oversized t-shirt and quickly tried to regain the composure of someone who had not just been yanked out of a ferret tunnel. Tyzias took a bit longer, hoisting herself off the floor with an exaggeratedly drawn out “ugh.”
“so” She raised an eyebrow.
“So my lusus is a ferret. Don’t tell me you’ve never picked up any weird habits from yours.”
Vivid memories of picking fish scales and river detritus from her teeth and frantically looking for shelter from furious bee colonies came rushing back to her.
“nope,” Tyzias responded. “never”
Tagora pushed a few stray strands of hair behind his ear. “Well you should probably get going, I’d rather not have you in my hive any longer than is absolutely necessary.”
“i still need the textbook”
“It’s on the table.”
“you have like six tables in here”
“The side table. No the side table.” His voice grew more exasperated as Tyzias fumbled around the heavily decorated living room. “That’s the coffee table. That’s the console table. That’s the end table.”
“wwwwhats the goddammmm difference betwwwween a side table and an end table”
“Goregle is free, Tizzy—Don’t touch that it’s worth more than your whole hive. The other side table. There you go.”
Tyzias tucked the book under her arm. “so wwwwhats mmmmy total?”
“arent you gonna give mmmme sommmme itemmmmized bill wwwwith howwww mmmmuch i owwwwe you for insulting your ridiculous nummmmber of tables or sommmmething?”
“I’ll figure that out later, goodbye, Tyzias.
*__________” He shooed her in the direction of the door before heading back to his respiteblock.
The second she cracked the door open, white hot light came bursting through. She felt her blood pusher stop in her chest. “shit”
Tagora huffed. “What is it now?”
“suns already out” Tyzias’ pumpbiscuitbeat returned, pounding against her chest with a vengeance. “can i borrow your scuttlebuggy? ill send it back as soon as i get home”
“Even if I trusted you with my scuttlebuggy, it won’t start up this late. Just,” he pressed his fingers against his temples for a minute. “You can crash on a couch until sunset.”
Tyzias paced back and forth by the door. “do you have a big umbrella, or like sommmme kind of sunscreen? you probably have sunscreen right? i mmmmean its not that bright yet, i can mmmmake it if i run-“
“I said it’s fine. Do you have any idea how bad going out at this hour would be for you skin? Not that that would matter if you fried to death, but still.
“no, i left mmmmy draft for the paper at hommmme,” she said through clenched teeth, dragging a hand down her face.
“The history one? You’re actually worried about that?”
“its wwwworth twwwwo test grades, so yeah you could say that”
“Hold on.” Tagora tilted his head to the side and squinted at her. “Do you try to write a full paper beforehand every time we have an assignment like this?
“Of course not, these things are easy.”
“theyre easy wwwwhen you can spit out pages of immmmperial propaganda like a predictive text generator”
His lips pursed slightly. He squinted harder. “Take a seat,” he said, turning to leave the room.
“I said take a seat, I don’t want you pacing a hole through my carpet.”
“wwwwhere are you going?”
“I’ll be back in a minute.”
The door swung closed behind him. Tyzias, without much else to do, sat down on a tall cushioned swivel chair by a long glass counter.
A little while later Tagora returned in a crisp gray button down with sleeves rolled to the elbows and black pants. His bangs were combed neatly over one eye and the rest of his hair was pulled back into a ponytail. The faint eye bags he had before were no longer visible. Under his arm was a sleek chrome husktop and in each hand he held a clear mug of coffee with a thick layer of froth at the top.
He slid into the seat next to Tyzias, set each mug down and opened up a blank word document on his husktop.
“wwwwhats all this for?”
“I can’t have you dying of a blood pusher attack in my hive so we’re making an outline for your paper.
“and howwww are you gonna do that in one day?”
“Anyone can write twelve paragraphs of fuchsia fantrolling, not everyone knows how to make it sound sincere. Pick two legislacerators.”
“When the paper is on a chapter where they introduce a bunch of new figures, the prompt is always to compare two of them.”
“Any from this unit.”
“limmmmerend and pendrake”
“wwwwhy not? ive actually got sommmme things to say about himmmm”
“Unless you’d like to write your paper on all the reasons why your history fave deserved his gruesome execution, I suggest you pick someone else.
“wwwwell i guess immmm wwwwriting a thinly veiled satire, then”
Tagora took a slow sip from his mug and rested his chin in his palm. “Why do you always do this?” His tone was more genuinely curious than accusatory.
“Why do you put so much effort into slipping subtly worded treason past the radar when you know nothing will come of it?”
It was Tyzias’ turn to take a long, silent drink.
“Here’s the most likely scenario. You spend days on an assignment that could have taken you twenty minutes. We send it up to whoever it is that grades these. Nobody picks up on your anti establishment subtext, nothing happens. Let’s say someone does notice what you’re really trying to say. They snitch, you get culled. In the slim chance that whoever reads this sympathizes with your message and decides not to rat you out anyway, then what? Either they do nothing about it or pull something reckless and get culled themselves.
Tyzias set the cup down, closed her eyes, and let out a long breath from her nose. “i have to do sommmmething” her voice was steady, but just barely above a whisper. “its probably pointless, nobody knowwwws that better than i do, but i cant just stand by and wwwwatch” She took off her glasses and pressed her palms against her eyelids for a moment. “mmmmaybe ill slip up and theyll put mmmme in one of these books and sommmmeone dowwwwn the line can get it right for once”
“yeah,” Tyzias gave a flat smile and a flatter chuckle. “like pendrake”
Tagora tapped pensively at the table. “Here’s my advice to you—”
Tyzias laughed, a bit louder this time. “advice? howwww mmmmuch is that gonna cost mmmme?”
“Consider it my thanks for keeping quiet about this little,” he tipped his head to the plastic tunnel on the floor. “...incident.
“wwwwell i never said id do that”
His voice slipped into a register with enough artificial sweetener to make the hair at the back of Tyzias’ neck stand on end. She could feel the ferret’s eyes boring holes into her head. “But you will, right?”
She lifted the mug to her lips and shrugged. “wwwwhatever, wwwwhat do you got for mmmme?”
“I say keep your head down as long as you’re on Alternia. Stay in the Empire’s good graces until you get to a planet where you’ll have some kind of status and maybe a little more slack from the Condesce if you’re lucky. And, I know you won’t listen to this, but try to make connections with anyone who has actual power. The kind of large scale change you’re shooting for really isn’t something you can do by yourself.”
“i get that, but its a just the tiniest bit difficult to think about netwwwworking over the sounds of drone raids on burgundy neighborhoods every other day” She paused for a moment to scan the room, checking for any prying eyes or ears, and leaned in close. “but also i think immmm onto sommmmething, a fewwww days ago i mmmmet sommmmeone, she-”
Tyzias was abruptly cut off by the first notes of Britni Spears’ “I Wanna Go”. The screen of Tagora’s palmhusk flashed the Sagicer symbol and the words “call from MLA Formatted Fuckface.”
Tagora’s eyes darted to the palmhusk. His jaw clenched. The claws on the hand he was propping his head up on dug into the side of his face, which, in spite of whatever foundation he was wearing, flushed teal.
“are... are you gonna get that?”
Tagora did not answer.
“should i just hang up?” She cautiously reached for the palmhusk.
“No!” Tagora shouted. “If It goes to voicemail too soon he’ll know that I got the call.” He switched to a whisper, as if whoever was on the other end could hear him whether or not he picked up. “We just have to wait until he hangs up.”
“He” was a very patient troll. Tyzias downed the rest of her coffee as the third refrain of Tagora’s ringtone played for the second time.
“not that i dislike the song but i really think you should-”
Tagora picked up the palmhusk and plopped it into his mug. The dulcet tones of Britni Spears fizzled out and died.
“howwww mmmmuch did that cost?”
“Less than what I’m willing to pay to avoid talking to Galekh fucking Xigisi.
“galekh? i knowwww himmmm”
Tagora coughed into his fist. “You do?”
“yeah, he used to be mmmmy mmmmoirail”
His eyebrows shot up for a second, before he cleared his throat and took a sip from his mug, which still held the no longer functioning palmhusk. “Makes sense. I bet a pair of unsociable nerds like you got along swell.”
“see, thats wwwwhat wwwwe thought too” She yawned and scratched behind her ear. “wwwwe really just ended up stressing each other out mmmmore than anything”
Tagora opened his mouth and closed it again. Apparently deciding not to continue the conversation of Galekh Xigisi any further, he turned back to the husktop screen. “Here’s what we’ll do, body paragraph one is about Limerend and Trisight’s contributions to the culling of the limebloods. Both wrote pretty influential works on the natural balance of power held in place by frequent violent highblood outbursts, with the conclusion that limebloods and their affinity for holding these highblood rages at bay were a threat to the natural order of the hemospectrum.”
He continued tapping away at the keyboard. “Second point is about Limerend versus Trisight’s thoughts on the hemospectrum as a literal spectrum with an infinite number of possible colors and levels of blood superiority within each individual caste, or as a set of distinct categories where every jade is identical to every other jade, every cerulean is identical to every other cerulean, etcetera, etcetera. Naturally Trisight’s views drew in large amounts of midbloods believing they might be able to claim cerulean or indigo status, until the concept of castes as a range was deemed heresy by the Church of the Mirthful Messiahs and Trisight and all their followers were put to death. Still with me?”
The light thud of Tyzias’ forehead against the glass countertop made it clear that no, she was not still with him.
“Hey.” Tagora snapped in her ear a few times until she picked her head up with a snort.
“If you’re going to pass out, do it on the couch. I don’t want drool and T-zone grease all over my countertop.
Tyzias rubbed her eyes and readjusted her glasses. It took a second for her to realize what he was saying.
Tagora kept typing, eyes not leaving the screen. “Take your shoes off first, I’ll leave the outline on the table when it’s done. The coffee table. Short oval one next to the couch.”
Tyzias shrugged. He didn’t have to tell her twice. She slid out of the swivel chair, stepped out of her shoes, placed her glasses on what she was pretty sure was the coffee table, and flopped onto the couch like a sack of rocks.
When Tyzias closed her eyes, the afterimage of three more stared back at her. The blue burned brighter against the backs of her eyelids as the sound of carefully filed and lacquered claws clacking against a keyboard grew fainter and fainter.
By the time Tagora woke up the next night both Tyzias and the paper were gone. On the coffee table sat a few crumpled bills and some pocket change that added up to a little over sixteen dollars. It was only a fraction of what she owed him, of course, but it was a cute gesture.
When he entered the classroom Tyzias was already in her seat, pencils sharpened and eyes turned forward. Something about her typical godawful posture seemed different, more of a determined hunch than her usual slouch. She didn’t say anything, so neither did he.
The essay prompt was exactly what Tagora had expected. He put down a few pages of pseudo-intellectual drivel supporting Retiarus Ragehand’s position on the issue of whether the populations of conquered planets should be put to work for the Empire or immediately slaughtered and turned it in before class was halfway over.
As he made his way down the hall to the common area, he heard the classroom door slam behind him followed by the sound of worn sandals hitting the linoleum.
Knowing he would probably regret it, he stopped, and so did the sandals.
“i wwwwant to mmmmake a deal”