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Barricade

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Karkat Vantas, enlistment number 6124601025, wasn’t particularly popular in his flaysquad. This didn’t surprise him. You couldn’t hide your blood colour once you’d begun basic training, so he’d been outed quickly, and ever since had had to learn to check his bed each night and sleep with one eye open. The sergeant, a blue-blood, had given him shit for it from day one. If no one else had done something to piss the guy off, Karkat was the one to do whatever stupid chore he thought up at that moment.
He could deal with that. He knew his blood would get him into trouble. He took solace in the fact that he knew, deep down, that he was destined to do something great. He just didn’t know what yet, that was all.

In their downtime, most of the low-bloods on Battleship 612 hung out at the tavern in the lower levels. Karkat took the opportunity to catch up with his old friends - Aradia, Tavros and Sollux, a gang that went way back. All twelve of them did, though with the complex system of relationships between any group of trolls it was rare to see everyone together. The bottom four, at least, got along well enough to hang out.
He had always been amazed that all twelve of them had survived to adulthood. Especially when the Imperial Drone came to them all before they left. Some emergency measures were taken - Eridan and Kanaya had suddenly decided they were completely sable until the moment the buckets got filled, and they weren’t the only ones. Tavros and Nepeta never seemed to be that into their matespritship. Eridan, again, had managed to rope some witless girl into his own red quadrant until he abandoned her to keep pursuing Feferi. Gamzee had somehow managed to present two filled buckets, the origins of which no one knew, including him. He put it down to “fucking miracles”.
Feferi had already been in hiding at that point. She was the only one who hadn’t managed or needed to make those sorts of connections.
Karkat himself had held together a good enough matespritship with Terezi, though they’d grown distant once she’d started her training to be a prosecutor. On the black side, his six-sweep-old self would have baulked at the thought of finding a kismesis in Nepeta. But a series of annoying and embarrassing shenanigans resulted in him being glad she spent most of her time in the blue bar by invitation of Equius, lest they both get in trouble for misdemeanour.

This is not, however, a story about romance.
So it behoves us to wonder why we now see Eridan eating an elegant dinner with a young lady on his own private ship. The ship was a relic of his ancestor Dualscar, modernised and fitted for space flight, and no one had yet been able to take it from him. It had the additional advantage that its blueprints existed nowhere in the Alternian archive. The girl was a blue-blood, he thought - he hadn’t been paying that much attention. She was one of many, a succession of affairs that had earned Eridan a reputation as something of a ladykiller, particularly when it came to long-haired, energetic women. It had taken him sweeps of blundering to finally manage to present himself as attractive, and he dreaded to think what would have happened if he’d tried spreading his seed earlier in life. Not that it mattered. He was eating dinner with a cute girl in his private abode, and it didn’t take a romantic progeny to figure out where this was heading. Or would have headed.
The ship’s bell sounded, indicating that someone was docking in the airlock. He was not formally expecting any visitors. But at the back of his mind he always expected the Inquisition. Quickly, quietly and efficiently, four of them entered the room and surrounded the table. Two of them, a man and a woman, had the gills of sea-dwellers; the other two men were land-dwellers of some sort. They took the girl by both arms and pinned her against a wall. She tried to struggle but couldn’t escape their grip.
“Do you mind?” Eridan asked, coolly. “You’ve rather ruined a private dinner.”
“You know what this is about,” the male sea-dweller growled at him, while the female stared down his date.
“Long hair, slim frame,” she described. “No gills, but she might have cut them off. Only one way to be sure.” She drew her sword and impaled the girl, twisting it in her gut. Blood splattered everywhere as the land-dwellers let her drop to the ground, writhing in agony.
“Blue,” the male sea-dweller said at Eridan’s ear. “You got lucky this time, Ampora. We will get you.”
The four of them left in silence. It would have been so easy to kill them while their backs were turned. Especially the land-dwellers. He would have gladly seen their disgusting blood smeared across his walls. But it would have only ended up in his own execution. He knew the only reason the empress let him live at all was in the hopes of drawing out Feferi. As long as he kept dating girls that vaguely fit her description, giving the inquisition the hope that this time they’d have the right one, then he’d stay alive, and they probably wouldn’t find her hiding in the bowels of his ship.
It did mean a lot of cleaning up, though. Food from the table had fallen to the floor, there was blue blood everywhere, and now he’d have to dispose of the body breathing its last at his feet, too.
He really should have learned her name.

Chapter Text

The Alternian fleet was largely undecorated, save for the insignias identifying each. There are, however, exceptions to every rule. This particular craft was richly, if bizarrely, painted in an uncoordinated cacophony of colour. Reds, yellows and purples were swirled and smeared over the hull, with the bulbous nose painted the brightest red of all.
The clownish craft flew, with purpose but not grace, toward a far larger ship, one of the crown jewels of the fleet. This was the Imperial Dungeon, home to anyone that got on the wrong side of the Empire but was just a little too powerful to kill. Guards on the ship were mostly short-lived, but the inmates tended to keep each other in check anyway. No one who entered could leave again.
Contact. The two ships met at the airlocks, and a small party boarded the gaol.
“I don’t want any motherfuckin’ mistakes, invertebrothers,” said their leader, the tall, stocky one wielding a scythe. “Ignore the other motherfuckers. If they attack us, kill ‘em.”
“You told us a hundred fuckin’ times,” said the one with bad teeth and an iron rebar.
“Like you were fuckin’ listening,” the leader retorted. “Let’s just fuckin’ find him and get out of here.”

The four of them stayed close, ready to fend off any attackers. Visitors to the Dungeon never lasted long, as most of the inmates saw killing them as a way out. And yet, as the trolls in clowns’ makeup made their way cautiously through the complex, they found it to be deserted.
“Where the fuck is everyone?” cried the short one with the hammer. “A motherfuckin’ joke is what it is!”
The complaint echoed through quietened halls. Laughter echoed back, deranged and maniacal. The intruders steeled themselves, but nothing came. Cautiously, they headed toward the source of the sound.
“It’s him,” the leader said. “Fuckin’ certain of it.”
Round the corner lay the body of some sea-dweller. He had been dead a long time, by the look of it. Whoever had killed him hadn’t cared enough to airlock the body as was usual in the fleet. Other than the eerie quiet, this was the first sign that something untoward had happened here. Corpses may not be uncommon, but by now someone should have objected enough to remove it.
A faded trail of purple blood could still be made out on the wall, leading along the corridor, painted by hand. It was soon joined by others, in a variety of colours, though mostly more blue and purple. The path lay ahead; a challenge to all that came to the ship.
The man they were searching for sat in a dimly-lit room, surrounded by corpses in varying states of decay. The walls were painted in their blood in intricate fractal patterns, which converged around him. He had thick, shaggy hair and long, twisted horns.
His face was unpainted. This would not do.
“You better be here to tell me a motherfuckin’ joke,” the man said.
“What do you call the head subjugglator?” the leader said.
“What?”
“I was hopin’ you could motherfuckin’ tell us.” he proffered a pot of white face paint.
The man took the pot, and put his face back on.
And he grinned.

 

Much as this is not a story about love, this is also not the tale of Gamzee Makara. The subjugglators would return to Alternian society in force and shake up the political system, depose the Grand Highblood to put Makara on his throne, and gradually take over the fleet. Thus was their plan. But since you are here, reader, and not reading their story, I invite you to draw your own conclusion of its fate.
In search of the story, we should perhaps draw our attention back to Battleship 612, to the upper decks that served as the home for those of rank and nobility.

The Blue Bar was a distinguished establishment, and a mark of pride for the battleship. The drinks were high quality, the waiting staff polite and well-behaved, and the clientele had class. Your blood must be at least this violaceous to enter. Equius, as a solid blue, was welcomed into the tavern, though he sat low on its stratum of the hemospectrum. This suited him perfectly.
Clients were allowed to bring a guest, though few did. Equius regularly invited Nepeta to drink with him - he had trouble making friends, even among his own kind. She had held fast as his moirail and closest friend since they were children.

Today Equius was joined by a man named Perseus, a few sweeps his elder, and a cerulean-blood - the lowest caste allowed into the bar unilaterally. Equius found his attitude grating, but they generally got along.
“You heard the news?” Perseus asked.
“What news?” Equius asked back.
“’bout the break-in on the Imperial Dungeon.”
“I haven’t, no. You will elucidate the matter.”
Nepeta interrupted. “Someone broke into the dungeon? Not out?”
Perseus gave her a condescending look and ignored her. “’pparently when they got there everyone was already dead. Most of ‘em for seasons, maybe even sweeps, last I hear. Must’ve been a right bastard to take out most of them guys.”
Equius gave a thoughtful hum. Nepeta turned to him. “Wasn’t Gamzee on the dungeon? Do you think he’s-“
Perseus butted in. “Shut up, green.”
Equius frowned at him. “She is here by my invitation. You will let her speak.”
“Control her, then. I don’t wanna have to hear from her sort.”
“You will not tell a superior what to do.”
Perseus snorted. “I’m older’n you and I’m higher rank. I’m your superior, Zahhak. Don’t you forget it.”
“I do not acknowledge your superiority.”
“Well that’s a fucking shame, isn’t it?” He turned to Nepeta. “You. Get out of here.”
“Don’t go anywhere, Nepeta.”
Torn between two orders, she stayed put.
Perseus spoke again. “I don’t like your attitude. You aren’t so high and mighty.”
“And I take exception to yours. Your bearing does not befit your status, and you do not acknowledge your true place.”
“Shut the fuck up, Equius! No wonder no one likes you! You hang around with filth and you put on airs. Don’t forget you’re a marked man, friend of Feferi.”
Equius got to his feet, knocking the table over by accident. Perseus took this as aggression and attacked.

In a hand-to-hand fight, Equius would be a challenge to the strongest of the imperial drones. Toned as he was, an archeradicator stood no chance without his bow. Equius tried to pull his punches, but the floor was soon coloured with azure blood. Perseus’ skull had caved in. He was dead.
Equius called over a waiterrorist and paid his tab, with a heavy tip. “I apologise for the mess,” he said. “Nepeta, we’re leaving.”

As he reached the door, a sea-dweller cleared her throat loudly. She approached the two.
“Be careful, Zahhak. He was right, you are a marked man. Further indiscretion may see you in front of his Noble Tyranny.”
Equius started sweating profusely. He bowed deeply. “I apologise, madam. I did not intend for our encounter to end that way. I accept any punishment you deem me worthy of.”
The purple-blood laughed, and smiled at him. “Stand up straight, you look ridiculous. For what it’s worth, the Inquisition sees you as very low-risk. But you understand we have to watch all of your circle.”
He straightened his back by her instruction, and immediately started to bow again, which made her laugh again. It was not entirely cruel, for a sea-dweller.
“My name is Charon Anubis. Pleased to meet you.” She held out her hand to shake. Equius instead took it in both hands and kneeled before her.
“The honour is mine.”

Charon laughed again.

 

-- caligulasAquarium [CA] began trolling carcinoGeneticist [CG] --
CA: hey kar
CG: HI ERIDAN.
CG: I HAVEN’T HEARD FROM YOU IN A WHILE.
CG: ARE YOU DOING OKAY?
CA: yeah im alright
CA: lost another girl yesterday though
CG: THAT SUCKS, MAN.
CG: WHAT DROVE HER OFF? I THOUGHT YOU WERE FUCKING GOOD AT THIS NOW.
CA: inquisition killed her
CA: thought she wwas fef
CG: FUCKING SWINEBEASTS.
CG: WE’RE PROBABLY PRETTY OVERDUE FOR A CHECK-UP HERE.
CG: IT MUST HAVE BEEN AT LEAST TWO PERIGEES.
CA: dont fuckin say that you knoww theyre listenin
CG: TRUE.
CG: HOW’S THE AQUARIUM?
CA: livvely as evver
CG: CAN I COME SEE?
CA: sure its safe
CG: ALRIGHT. I’LL BRING SOLLUX ALONG TOO.
CA: that fuckin nubsucker
CA: are you serious kar
CA: is that a thing youre seriously sayin
CG: HE’S MY FRIEND AND YOU KNOW THEY’RE BOTH GONNA BE PRETTY HAPPY ABOUT IT.
CG: SUCK IT UP.
CA: fine wwhatevver
CA: see you soon
CG: YEAH SEE YOU.
-- carcinoGeneticist [CG] ceased trolling caligulasAquarium [CA] --

Chapter Text

Approximately half of Eridan's ship was waterlogged. It was quite normal for a sea-dweller to have at least one room submerged in their private quarters, but his entire hold was an aquarium, most of it hidden away. It was as though Dualscar had foreseen the issue his descendent would face, and built the ship to accommodate.
Eridan was just about the only company Feferi had nowadays. Some of the other members of her social circle visited from time to time, but it was rare, and opportunities were very limited. Trapped underwater in a not-particularly-exciting cargo hold, the only life she really got to experience was second-hand from talking with her moirail.
She swam up to him when he descended into her hideaway, and greeted him with a hug.
“HI!” she glubbed excitedly. “What brings you down here now?”
“Karkat's coming to wisit you,” he replied. “he's bringin' Sollux with him too.”
“That's great!” she cheered, swimming in a circle. “I can't wait! But you don't look so happy?”
Eridan sighed, which made him gag on the water. Two sweeps of regularly ducking below the surface and he still hadn't managed to get used to it. He probably never would. “Inquisition killed another matesprit.”
“Oh no!” Feferi immediately looked shocked and concerned. Despite her situation, she was as emotive as she had been four sweeps ago. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I'm fine. But I just started to like this girl, and...” he nearly sighed again, but stopped himself in time. “I guess she wasn’t really special or anythin’.”
“Aww, that’s too bad. You’ll find the right flush some day!”
She nuzzled against his cheek affectionately. Among the few upsides to all that had happened since they’d turned eight, being Eridan’s moirail had become much easier. Training as an officer had given him a new perspective on land-dwellers and while, true, Cannon Fodder still wasn’t a particularly high opinion, it was better than just trying to wipe them all out. Or, at least, it was copacetic with Alternian military strategy. The considerable effort he once put into eradicating their kind was now put into trying to find that one true matesprit, something that required little intervention from her.
She had realised long ago that their relationship had become one-sided. He dutifully protected her, going to great lengths and sacrifice to ensure she remained alive and well. She could only wonder what he got out of it.
And so she asked.
“Why do you sacrifice so much for me?” trying to keep her tone as serious and sincere as possible. Sobriety had come easily these last few sweeps. “Are you just that pale for me?”
Eridan mumbled something, but it was lost in the water.
“What did you say?”
“I’m not pale.”
“Then why?”
“I feel... redder than that.”
Feferi gasped - without choking - when she realised what this meant. “I- I never realised! Though, thinking about it, it seems obvious now...”
“Yeah, I...” he trailed off. “What do you say?”
“Eridan, I don’t know... “
His face fell as quickly as the water would allow.
She continued. “I just don’t think I feel that way about you! You’re a good guy, and I think you can make someone really happy! But it just... won’t be me. I’m sorry.”
Silence reigned for a while. Both avoided eye contact.
“I guess that’s what I get for openin’ up to you like that.” Slowly, he began to swim away. Feferi called after him, but he didn’t listen and she didn’t follow him.
A few minutes later, she heard the hatch to the air-filled section of the ship slam shut. And then she heard the bolt slide across it.

Feferi wallowed in silence and solitude. Spending a lot of time by herself was nothing new to her, but she was wracked with worry. It would be so typical of him to flip out as soon as it became clear she wasn’t his moirail. What was he planning to do, having locked her here?
She feared the worst, with nothing to assuage her doubt until, hours later, she heard voices from above. Familiar voices.
“Karkat!” she yelled as loudly as she could and banged on the porthole by the barrier. “Help! I’m in here!”
Voices were raised. Loud footsteps rang through the ship until she could see them through the grimy porthole to the aerated half. Four familiar silhouettes. She hadn't seen them in months. Without hesitaing, Sollux and Karkat prised off the bar blocking the hatch and Feferi tumbled out.

There was a minute of gasping and choking as she started to breathe air again. “Th... thanks!” she gasped, pulling both into a tight hug. Once she'd caught her breath, she explained what had happened.
“Fuck,” Karkat says. “Knew this would happen.”
“Do you think he's going to do something stupid?” Aradia asked.
“Of course he's going to do something fucking stupid. We've got to get out of here. We don't have much time.”
“He might not!” Feferi insisted. “He's better than he used to be...”
“He just locked you down here!” Karkat yelled. “If we're lucky the Inquisition aren't here already. We have to get out of here!”
A loud crash shook the ship, accompanied by the sound of metal warping and buckling.
“RUN!” Karkat screamed.

Blast doors began to close across the ship as the hull tore. As the five trolls approached the airlock its outer door buckled and cracked, pulling them toward the vacuum. In a swift, practiced motion Tavros opened the door to his transport and pulled the others in. The doors sealed with a hiss.
“Have they stheen usth?” Sollux lisped.
“I dunno,” Tavros said, hurrying to turn on the transport's instruments. “The airlock's jammed.”
Sollux nodded and turned in the direction of the airlock's exit. His eyes glowed behind his coloured lenses. There was no sound, but the ship's scanner showed the gate tearing itself from its frame. Tavros launched the shuttle.

A frightening sight awaited them. Twelve ships – fighters, by the look of them – hung in a web around Eridan's corvette. In unison, missiles flared into the ship, destroying it utterly.
Tavros' shuttle shook violently.
“Go cold!” Aradia yelled. Obediently, Tavros hit every switch on the dashboard, shutting off the ship's systems. She put her hands to her temples. “Sorry about this...”
Feferi felt as though something tore behind her eyes. The next thing she knew, she was drifting, as were the others. She could also see her own body sitting on the bench beneath her. She knew she should have panicked, but she couldn't seem to summon the emotion.
She looked around. Karkat, Sollux and Tavros all had the same look of dull surprise she was probably displaying. Aradia was watching the fighters scanning the rubble. For a moment, light flooded the shuttle's cabin. It looked blue, but it was hard to tell. Her eyes weren't working quite the same. It was as though she wasn't seeing at all, just sensing the things around her.
The twelve fighters departed. Aradia raised her arms, and Feferi opened her eyes again. They were back in their bodies. Tavros starting turning on the ship's systems. Sollux nursed a headache and Karkat started fuming at Aradia.
“Never... ever... do that again.” he said through gritted teeth.
“It got us out of there alive,” she retorted. “They'd have spotted us otherwise.”
“Great, so now rather than being dead everyone just thinks we're dead. So now we have to explain that as well as why we're carrying a wanted fugitive.”
“They think she's dead too,” Aradia pointed out. “If we can disguise her as someone else, she can hide easily with us. And people are reported dead falsely all the time.”
“Fine! Fine. Let's come up with a plan.”