Chapter 1: Pilot
A massive spaceship that was the shape of a filing cabinet turned on its side and the size of Manhattan drifted noiselessly through the void. Golden ships swarmed it in dozens. Aboard the freighter, chaos was storming up and down the cold metal halls. Trolls were shouting and ordering other trolls around while some fires burned up the computers in the background. Space pirates clad in cerulean and black rushed the ship and shot anyone not wearing their flag. They hauled the freighters contents out in systematic order, eliminating anyone who got in the way. Karkat, however, did not hear any of this chaos, as he had headphones in and was calmly scrubbing some floors several blocks down.
There were some explosions a long distance away that shook the entire ship, but he shrugged off the tremors as “most likely just some turbulence”. Fine Alternian classical made up his soundtrack while he wrung out the the cleaning supplies. Today was a slow day, he thought to himself as the crew in the bridge were all annihilated with grenades. Whatever this turbulence was, the boys in the bridge surely had it under control, he thought. Might make the day a little more interesting if they ran into another one of those dark matter pools, he thought. Pity for those who get motion sickness though, he thought. The entire right wing of the ship was decimated in a sudden flash electric fire.
Karkat, thankfully, was in the left wing, and all he felt was an odd gust of wind carrying the smell of smoke and oil. He stopped, sniffing and furrowing his brow in confusion. To the sound of calm Alternian classical music, he watched a squad of blue-clad space pirates kick down a door and rush the hall he was in, pointing their guns at him and shouting something he couldn’t hear. He would’ve taken out his headphones, but his hands were busy being in the air in an attempt to halt their fire. Despite his efforts to show them he was harmless and panicked, they shot at him anyway and he wound up cowering behind the cleaning supplies.
Tearing off his headphones, the sound of gunshots and shouting filled his ears, and all the seven stages of grief fired through him at once as he realized what was happening wasn’t just turbulence. Another loud explosion went off and shook the halls, and then the alarms /finally/ started going off. They were evacuation alarms. Without hesitating he tore open a vent and slid down it to escape the trolls shooting at him.
Somewhere in the burning wreckage of the bridge the captain stood, sending out the distress signal just before someone put a gun to his head and firmly told him to face her with his hands up. He did as she asked, and when he looked at her he stared into the face of all that is horrifying and terrible in the universe, and wasn’t the one to blink first. “You,” He said with a steady acceptance, “should not be alive.”
MindFang grinned horribly. “Smile,” she said, “it is an honor that you are to be personally executed by the most legendary pir8 in history.”
“Stick it up your ass.” Were the captains final words.
There’s the silhouette of a massive crashed freighter looming taller than a city, the kind that once carried goods across the stars, broken and torn apart in the middle of a desert. The light purple sand gleams under the glare of two golden suns slowly moving to set behind the lavender dunes. A somewhat shoddy and small spacecraft circles it, drawing curved lines on the orange sky, finding a good place to land. The spacecraft is clad in worn red and silver paint and has the name “CALEDSCRATCH” printed across the side. It stirs up a small cloud of shimmering lilac sand as it lands. The window of the spacecraft pops open and a blond man jumps out of it and onto the wing, before sliding down into the sand.
This mans name is Dave Strider.
He scans the area with his visor, then pulls it down to rest around his neck, revealing a tinted pair of goggles underneath his visor to cover his eyes. After getting a good look around, he begins walking towards the looming shape of the crashed freighter in the distance. The foot-sized piece of technology in his hand directs him towards the broken distress signal that the shipwreck is still sending out, which he follows. A breeze kicks up some of the oddly colored sand and makes his faded maroon cape flap about as he walks. He pulls his cape/cloak closer around his shoulders. The two suns burn in his eyes as they set, setting the entire west sky into a blazing orange that gleams off the sand. Once he finally makes it across the stretch of desert to the vast shipwreck, which is much bigger than he thought it was from a distance, running taller than any building from his home city, he begins mumbling to himself.
He says something about how he’s not sure he’ll be able to carry all the loot from this crash back on his legendarily shitty spacecraft, and continues to prattle on softly to himself as he uses his jetpack to scale the slanted metal wall of the freighter. The top of the wall was very far away, and he only got about two-thirds of the way there before his jetpack couldn’t take him any further and needed five minutes to re-charge. Now he was stuck gripping some small concave ledge on the wall far above the ground, mentally setting a reminder for himself to buy a better jetpack with whatever amount of units he was able to get from what was left of this shipwreck. Hopefully he was the first one here, and no one else had stripped it clean before he could grab something.
From where he was hanging he could make out two large numbers that were about three times as tall as he was or more, in fading paint on the wall, in the kind of font that numbers are painted in on a freighter. The numbers read “612”. He muttered something about how six-hundred and twelve freighters was a little overkill and they should keep it to like four-hundred maximum per galactic sector. The funny part is thats not what that number actually means. Hoisting himself up onto the small ledge, he pressed against the wall and considered what to do next. He couldn’t just cut through this wall, he didn’t have the tools and freighters were typically made of some incredibly strong metals. The things didn’t have to be light, they just had to be able to carry massive amounts of goods from point A all the long way across space to point B safely.
Briefly, he wondered what exactly went wrong to make this one crash, It was pretty rare for one of these things to go down. His journey along the slanted ledge on the wall led him to what seemed to be the engines, the big and hollow dark maws shaped a bit like cones or funnels, out of which the hot shit flew. Surely they led into the ship somehow, and the necks of them were big enough to crawl through, so he tried to find a way in through those. Inside the piping was dangerous, as there’s no telling weather or not it all might turn on again with him still in it, but hey it got him inside. If he had just looked around a bit more he would’ve noticed the ship was pretty much torn open on one end and he could’ve just walked in, but alas, he didn’t see that and wound up getting in the hard way. Inside the halls it was dark, as the whole place was broken down and none of the lights were still functioning. He dropped down into one of these halls from the vents and landed with a hollow slam of boots on metal that echoed long and haunting down the dark corridors. Taking a deep breath, he then pulled out the Cradajian equivalent of a torch and began searching for the entrance to the storage bay.
He could probably tear up a lot of good parts from the wreckage, too, as government freighters are known to have really powerful warp drives and such. When he finally did make it to the storage bay, he found the vast chambers almost entirely empty. Disappointing. His footsteps echoed loudly off the silent walls. There was this odd empty feeling he got whenever exploring an abandoned spaceship, and the feeling felt amplified by these vast vacant chambers, with such high ceilings and long unlit stretches of bare walls. There was a beam of dying sunlight piercing through a hole in the ceiling of one of the chambers, casting a single pool of golden light onto the floor of the dark room, which he stepped into.
Just as he was considering trying to get inside the walls to see what technology or leftover rocket fuel he could salvage, someone wrapped their arms firmly around his neck and put a small blade to his cheek. “Woah shit hey! Hey!” Dave shouted, gripping the arms around his throat. He was almost certain he had been alone here, but the empty storage bay could very well be a sign of some more professional looters, likely a team of them, having gotten here before him. Maybe this dude about to murder him was one of the people who had gotten here first? Why hadn’t he seen any other ships in the area then? Maybe they had really advanced cloaking-
The rough voice of the guy holding him cut off his thoughts. “WHAT ARE YOU STILL DOING ON MY SHIP, YOU FILTHY SPONGE.”
“What? Oh this is your ship? My bad I thought it was just wreckage beyond repair and also abandoned therefore making it free for whoever finds it first but hey if you happen to be the guy that got here first good for you maybe we can work out a deal and not kill each other like fucking savages as long as you aren’t like the space mafia or something because I don’t really want my kneecaps broken thanks I like walking-“
“OH MY *FUCKING* GOD CAN YOU STOP TALKING?” He pressed the knife closer to his cheek.
“Can you stop strangling me and threatening to cut my face? Who even does that like usually you go for the neck but I guess I do have a bunch of shit wrapped around my neck so that’s fair i suppose but like still what kind of-“
“WHO ARE YOU AND WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE? THERE’S NOTHING LEFT! YOU’VE TAKEN *EVERYTHING*! WHAT ELSE COULD YOU POSSIBLY WANT??” He continued to push the blade into Dave’s cheek, just enough now to actually start hurting.
“Dude, I, I just got here, I haven’t actually taken anything yet, in fact I’m actually pretty dirt broke but listen if I can do you a favor or something so you’ll stop strangling me I’ll be your guy-“
“YOU’RE TELLING ME YOU *AREN’T* ONE OF THE PIRATES THAT STRIPPED AND WRECKED MY SHIP? AND KILLED THE WHOLE CREW? SO DID YOU COME ALONE OR NOT?” The guy holding Dave, who is in fact Karkat, let his guard down for a second to look warily around the empty chamber they were in, like there were more people in the shadows that he couldn’t see. Dave took this small window in which Karkat’s attention wasn’t entirely on him to jab him with his elbow and break free from his arms. Karkat shouted in a bit of surprise, then widened his stance and held his knife in a defensive position. “WHO ARE YOU AND WHY ARE YOU HERE?” He demanded.
Dave pulled out his multi-tool and pointed it at Karkat’s head, disabling the safety on the laser beam with a click. “I’m starting to think we’ve both misunderstood each other. The name’s Strider, for starters. I came here following the distress signal in hopes to salvage some shit from the wreckage. Your turn.”
Karkat, who did not have a multi-tool, or any kind of gunish thing for that matter, understood that he was now the one with the disadvantage and lowered his knife. “KARKAT. MY NAME IS KARKAT. I’M THE LAST OF THE CREW HERE. I THOUGHT YOU WERE ONE OF THE PIRATES WHO ATTACKED AND DESTROYED MY FREIGHTER.”
Now that Dave could get a proper look at him, he noticed Karkat was wearing a grey jumpsuit with the top unzipped and tied around his waist, and a dark sweater with a unique symbol on it. His skin was grey, softer than that of a carapace but tougher than that of humans, and he had two nubby orange horns peeking up out of his tousled mess of shortish black hair. Two fierce yellow eyes with crimson-flecked grey irises peered at Dave from under mildly bushy but good eyebrows, the eyebrows of someone who isn’t fucking around; these were attack eyebrows. Karkat looked younger than old but older than young, healthy and maybe in his twenties, if we’re speaking in traditional human earth years. Not bad looking, but rather messy.
“You’re a troll?” Dave relaxed his posture but kept the multi-tool pointed at Karkat’s head. “Was the rest of your crew all trolls too?”
“Ok so this was, for certain, a government freighter. What kind of pirates would attack a government freighter?” Dave took a step closer to Karkat and noticed he seemed pretty badly shaken up, and honestly not at all one of the most threatening trolls he’d seen.
Karkat took a step back, away from Dave and the beam of fading sunlight coming from the hole in the ceiling. “REALLY GOOD PIRATES. THE BEST PIRATES. I THINK THEY CARRIED MINDFANGS FLAG.” He looked Dave up and down. “THEY WERE ALL MUCH BETTER DRESSED THAN YOU SO I GUESS YOU’RE NOT WITH THEM.”
“Yeah obviously. I told you I’m just a scrapper, dude. But I thought MindFang was just a legend? And like hasn’t she been dead for centuries?” Dave was slowly lowering his multi-tool.
“YEAH WELL MAYBE SHE HAD A CHILD AT SOME POINT AND THEY’VE FINALLY GROWN OLD ENOUGH TO TAKE UP THE OLD FLAG AND ASSUME COMMAND OF THEIR ANCESTORS LEGENDARY FLEET? I DON’T KNOW WHO ELSE WOULD BE INSANE AND POWERFUL ENOUGH TO ATTACK AND COMPLETELY DECIMATE AN ENTIRE SQUAD OF HIGHLY PROTECTED GOVERNMENT FREIGHTERS.” Karkat put his knife away in his pocket.
“Well fuck.” Dave turned the safety back on on his multi-tool. “Tell you what, this wreckage was supposed to be my jackpot of the year, but it’s apparently been picked clean by fucking ghost pirates. If you can point me to where the most valuable tech left on this ship is, broken or not, I’ll give you a free ride back to civilization and maybe a nice meal. Sound good?”
Karkat sighed and looked Dave over again, trying to decide weather this guy was really trustworthy or not. If he didn’t go with him, though, chances are he’d be stuck in this purple dust bowl for a very long time. He decided to risk it. “FINE. ENGINE ROOM IS THIS WAY. THEY STOLE THE WARP DRIVE THOUGH.”
Karkat took another hungry bite of the glemish while Dave casually sipped his drink. They were in a kind of space bar, not on any particular planet but rather floating about on a very large stray meteor rich with resources, orbiting a planet that is often heavy with interstellar traffic. The artificial moonlight in the windows was a neat touch, and it cast a lovely pink light around the lively bar. “So,” Dave began while Karkat gulped down more of the mashed green fruit, “My ‘business partner’ should be here soon to help us sell the shit we tore out of your freighter, like she should be here any minute now. So try to make a good first impression, will you?”
“SURE.” Karkat took a long swig of the mineral water.
“Seriously, like, try to look as not savage as possible. If you can.” He fiddled with some noodles on his plate.
“ALRIGHT, I’VE GOT IT, NO NEED TO BE SO JUDGMENTAL.” The glemish was eaten a bit more delicately after that. “ITS NOT LIKE I HAVEN’T EATEN IN A COUPLE DAYS OR ANYTHING.”
Dave’s co-pilot —formerly known as the Wayward Vagabond, War Veteran, Warweary Villein, Wizardly Vassal, and Wastelandic Vindicator— was also there. He was a gentlemanly black carapacian, and he sat quietly chewing a good meal and listening. WV was once a mayor, too. Dave gave his beloved co-pilot another seven units to order another round of food or drink if he wanted. They should be loaded anyway by the time they sell off all this loot, might as well blow a bit of money on good food. “So you said the coolant sigma tech thing we tore up from your freighter is supposed to be like three times more valuable than the warp drive, right?” Dave peered at Karkat through his goggles.
“YEAH” he licked his eating utensil. “THAT’S RIGHT.”
“And you know this how? I’ve trusted you up to this point dude but I’m starting to wonder just how solid your facts are.”
“LISTEN,” said Karkat, “I’VE HAD TO SPEND THREE GODDAMN YEARS WORKING ON THAT FREIGHTER, AND I-“ just as he was getting done warming up for a nice long lecture on how well he knew the old ship, he was cut off by a tall young woman with short chin-length platinum blonde hair and a worn pink scarf, who sat down next to them at the bar and smiled a black-lipped, friendly smile.
“Greetings, pussies.” She said to them, and then ordered a ridiculously complicated drink.
“Roxy,” Dave greeted her, “this is Karkat, he helped me tear up this wipes loot.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” she held out a hand for Karkat to shake.
Karkat shook her hand hesitantly, and with a great sincerity.
“where you from?” Roxy asked him.
“ALTERNIA. YOU KNOW, THE GOVERNMENT HOME-WORLD.”
“Damn.” Said Roxy, and for a second Karkat thought it was out of a respectful kind of awe. “You really don’t look like a home-world-made troll. You look more like one of them hybrids out of like sector γ7.”
“That’s what I’ve been thinking.” Dave agreed.
Whatever was left of Karkat’s dignity had just gotten kicked in the face. “HEY,” he started, but as he realized he didn’t even know where sector γ7 was, or why they thought he looked like he came from there, he humbled himself a bit, albeit painfully, and said “YOU TWO DON’T EXACTLY LOOK LIKE FUCKING CENTURIONS, EITHER.”
Dave shrugged. “So anyway, Karkat, would you care to explain to us what this coolant sigma actually is and why it’s so valuable? So we know how to sell it?”
“WELL FOR STARTERS,” he picked up his empty glass and inspected it in front of the light, “IT’S A SPECIAL BATTERY THE SIZE OF A VIBRATOR, AND IT WILL KEEP AN ENTIRE FREIGHTER FLAWLESSLY COOL FOR APPROXIMATELY NINE-HUNDRED SWEEPS WHEN HOOKED UP TO THE SYSTEM.” He set down the glass and looked them in the eyes while letting that sink in. “THAT, IN ITSELF, IS PRETTY GODDAMN IMPRESSIVE.”
Sector γ7, also pronounced Sector Gamma-Seven, is hypothetically infamous for its zero restrictions on what species can get on with what species. This often results in a lot of oddish hybrid children, some having inherited the best traits from their parent species, and some having inherited the worst traits from their parent species. Either way, you’d still get rudely stereotyped by the rest of the universe.
Chapter 2: would you look at the time, it’s time to stop
Karkat wandered the halls of Caledscratch, occasionally stopping to inspect how broken or dilapidated parts of the ship had been precariously put back in place with things like duck-tape. Duck-tape was one of those words that clearly came from earth, because Karkat had no idea why this tape had anything to do with ducks, which were also an earth thing. It was a shame what had happened to earth, he thought to himself while grimacing at a particularly depressing part of the spaceship. Wandering his way back to the cockpit, he found Dave and WV setting up to fly to their preferred trade center. “HEY, DAVE,” he got their attention, “YOUR SHIP SUCKS.”
“Hell yeah it does.” Dave said over his shoulder while punching in some coordinates. “But I got it for such a low price that it’s a miracle it runs at all honestly.”
“FROM THE LOOKS OF IT,” Karkat began, “THIS SHIP WASN’T BUILT TO CROSS SPACE AS MUCH AS IT WAS BUILT TO CROSS TIME. IT HAS A FOURTH DIMENSIONAL REGULATOR AND DISRUPTOR IN THE-“
“Yea I know.” Dave interrupted him, “I know this ship in and out man you aren’t gonna tell me anything I don’t already know. I got this boat for such a low price because it’s a time machine with the time function on it broken beyond repair. I just use it to cross space now and hey it’s held together this long. Might re-name it Ye Olde Faithful if it’s able to hold up till the next sweep.”
Karkat leaned against the door frame. “I WAS GOING TO TELL YOU I MIGHT BE ABLE TO HELP YOU FIX IT SO IT’S NOT HELD TOGETHER BY HOPES AND WET DREAMS ALONE, DUDE.”
“I’d like to see you try Quarks.” Dave flipped several switches and the ship coughed up something vile before shooting off in the intended direction.
“IT’S KARKAT,” he said as patiently as was possible, “NOT QUARKS, AND-“
A loud whopping sound smacked through the vacuum and caused Dave and Roxy’s ships to stop suddenly, throwing Karkat off balance. Roxy came on the intercom a second later. “Ay Dave?” She said, “I can’t put my ship back into hyperdrive can you see what stopped us? Over.”
“Yeah,” Dave fiddled with a switch that did nothing for a moment, “I can’t get mine working either, I think another ship stopped us. Over.”
Roxy got up out of her leopard print leather seat and went to check the radar on the co-Pilots side. She really needed her co-pilot back, the small and slick oval-shaped ship just wasn’t the same without her buddy. And also it was a good bit harder to fly without a co-pilot. “I’m pickin’ up two lil’ signals and one bigger one... but I don’t see squat shit. Over.”
“They’re probably using the new cloaking tech,” Dave spoke calmly over the coms, “try getting a message to them, over.”
“Yo Dave,” Roxy said, “They fucking scanned me for valuable cargo, and now they’re shooting at me. A-holes. Over.” Dave could see she was already shooting back at them.
“Well shit, what do you think they want? Over.” He maneuvered to aim and fire back at the cloaked ships.
“Well I mean you gave me all the loot you got from the freighter right? Over.”
“Oh, yeah, damn.” He didn’t want to admit that he was panicking a little.
“Dave I think these are pirates.” Roxy said, “they ain’t holding back. Over”
“Alright hold on we just need to get out of range and then we can slam on the warp drive and escape. Over.” He turned to Karkat, “hey you might wanna strap down back there this could get rough fast.”
Karkat quickly buckled himself into one of the passenger seats, hearing Roxy come back on over the intercom. “They ain’t lettin’ us out of range, bro.” She grunted, “and I dunno if we’re gonna be able to beat these fuckers. We’re outnumbered ‘n outgunned. Any ideas? Over.”
Dave took a deep breath and chewed on his lip while doing his best to turn the ship quickly enough to shoot at the ship circling him. A few loud blasts shook Caledscratch to let them know the shields were already down. “Shit shit shit shit shit shi-“ He was murmuring quietly to himself while WV hastily got up to fix the shields. He eventually flipped on the intercom. “I’ve got nothing Roxy just try to get out of there.”
“See,” her voice was a bit distressed, “this is where a haxer like myself comes in good handy,” there was a pause as the sound of laser impacts shaking her ship came over the com, “because I know how to undo their stupid warp-lock thing, the only issue is I can’t work on undoing it while avoiding them,” her voice rose in volume, “and having a co-pilot would fix that problem! But I don’t have a co-pilot!” She sounded more frustrated than anything at this point. “Over!”
“Ok what if I sent Karkat over there to help you maybe he could take a stab at it.” Dave turned to speak over his shoulder at Karkat, “you can do that right?”
“I’VE NEVER FLOWN A SHIP IN MY LIFE.” He said while clutching the harness.
“Ok I’m sending Karkat over to you He says he can do it”.
“I DID NO-“
“Try to fly a bit closer so he can make the jump.”
“Alright Quarks,” Dave said to him, “go put on a space suit you’re gonna go help Roxy.”
Karkat stared at Dave for a second, who wasn’t staring back, as he was turned away and focused on what he was doing with the controls. After a few moments of panicked mental debate and angrily glaring at the back of Dave’s head, he unbuckled and got up to go put on a space suit. Frantically, he shuffled into the faded green-grey jumpsuit and attached the helmet, taking a moment to wonder who exactly he should pray to in this scenario to help his odds of not dying. With his heart thrumming hard in his ears, he began making his way through the airlock, making the final adjustments with the straps on the jet pack. When he got to the door he hesitated, feeling fear winding tightly in his chest. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and opened the door.
Then, as the remaining air in the airlock rushed out, the world went entirely silent, save for the sound of his heartbeat and breathing. The void was scattered with stars in front of him, while Caledscratch sank away behind him. Mildly terrified, Karkat used the jet-pack to make his way over to Roxy’s small, streamlined ship, which was being bombarded with waves of shots from the pirate ships. The shields went down on her ship as he got closer, so now the impacts were doing real damage, sending debris flying his way. He hurried, trying to get to her ship as fast as possible with a thick fear in his throat. Before he could get close enough to touch the ship it exploded, silent and terrifying. There was no sound, just a flash of heat and a shockwave that sent him hurling away into the night.
The stars spun, and the image of the ship drifting quickly to pieces while fire consumed it would fly across his vision once every second. He tried to steady himself with the jet-pack, his breath was fogging up the helmet. Once he had stilled himself as well as he could, he put the wreckage in front of him and looked for Roxy. To his relief, he found her floating a small distance away from the debris, still attached to her seat. She had ejected right before the explosion. With no helmet on her, she was exposed to the vacuum and would die in seconds, so Karkat flew over to her as fast as the jet-pack would let him go. He rammed into her seat and held onto it tightly, taking them both spinning away through the void. Without hesitation, Karkat took off his helmet and attached it to her suit, locking it in place so she could breathe.
She gasped, taking in the air and blinking at him with a kind of bewildered elation that was quickly replaced by fear. Continuing to hold onto Roxy, he held his breath and screwed his eyes shut, praying for the best. Then, with a silent flare of engines and doors bursting open, Dave appeared hanging out of Caledscratch’s airlock, one arm extended towards them as far as he could reach. Roxy grabbed hold of his arm, still holding onto Karkat, and Dave pulled them all back into his ship. They all collapsed when the door shut with a relieving /ka-thunk/. Karkat gasped and coughed, curled up in a ball on the floor while waiting for his senses to come back to him.
“Hey, man,” he could hear Dave breathing a bit heavy as he spoke, “nice work. We’re all safe. We’re good.” He was bent over a bit with his hands on his knees, and was talking like he was trying to assure himself of this more than anyone else. The airlock was shut and they were all safe back in the ship.
“Holy shit,” Roxy seemed to be either laughing or crying while taking the helmet off, “Karkat are you ok?? Jesus Ch r i s t, man,” she rolled him over and checked his pulse, “Karkat?”
“Y, YEAH I’M ALRIGHT,” he blinked rapidly, tearing up a bit while trying to get the ice out of his eyes, “ARE YOU? ARE YOU OK?”
“Yea man!” Roxy hugged him, “Christ dude why’d you take off your helmet for me? We met just like an hour or so ago!”
Karkat was about to respond but then a barrage of shots rattled the ship again.
“What?” Dave said, exasperated, “They got the ship with all the cargo in it what the fuck else do they want??” They all got up and ran back to the cockpit, where WV was having a small panic attack trying to maneuver away from the pirates. Dave sat down with a huff and tried to open a communication channel with the pirates, but they didn’t answer or respond in any way. Another round of laser impacts shook the ship. “Fuck.” Said Dave, before grabbing the controls and trying to run out of range again.
“DO WE STILL HAVE VALUABLE CARGO OR ARE THEY JUST TEARING US APART BECAUSE THEY CAN.” Karkat said, hastily buckling himself back into a passenger seat.
“I don’t know,” Dave was beyond irritated, “I — oh my fucking god stOP SHOOTING AT ME — I’m trying to-“ he stopped himself and focused on what he was doing with the controls.
“I can try hacking the warp lock and getting us out,” Roxy spoke up, pulling some tech out of the wall, “now that I don’t have to worry about multi-tasking.”
“Alright cool.” Dave didn’t look up from what he was doing. “Oh what.” He sat up. “What the fuck.”
“There’s,” Dave seemed to be on the edge of crying, “there’s a black hole now, that wasn’t there before, and we’re falling into it.”
Dave turned around in his seat to look Karkat in the eyes. “I’m fuckin sorry, man. You seem alright. Maybe we could’ve been friends.”
“Dave,” Roxy had him look at her, “common, we aren’t dying here, w-“
Reality warped around them, a black horizon stretching till it was all they could see outside, and they fell into the black hole.
Chapter 3: Adagio Redshift
The entire world was stretched around a point the size of a needles eye, and everything was pulled through that point like sand passing through an hourglass, bending, stretching, and expanding in a fluid current that moved in all the ways that things usually don’t. Light, time, space and matter alike all gave to the current, there were no exceptions. Karkat snapped back to consciousness, flailing and making a brief shout of distress before realizing the world was quiet and calm. Nothing was in focus, but it was still calm. One of the first things he noticed was the glaring color of his new surroundings, which was unrelentingly and completely gold. Shining, shimmering, fucking blinding, horrid. There was a cool metal wall that he was held against by an artificial gravity, and upon further inspection he realized that was the floor.
The room was all golden and turning around him in a manner that made his stomach twist as he tried his best to stand. There was a soft groan coming from the floor beside him. “...DAVE?” Karkat gave up his attempts to stand and rolled over to face the quietly groaning maroon shape beside him. “ARE WE DEAD?”
“...fuck,” said the maroon shape, “I think we might be.”
“Yo,” said a voice, half in awe and half in shock, echoing off the golden walls like a siren in a cathedral, “if we’re dead,” it was Roxy’s voice, “then this must be like the afterlife, right?”
“IT’S...” Karkat was laying on his back and gazing with glossy eyes at the golden ceiling, “VERY SHINY... I DON’T LIKE IT.”
“It might be a good day to quit drinking, Sherlock.” Said the blurry maroon shape that was definitely Dave.
“I DON’T KNOW WHAT LEVEL OF SHIT YOUR EARTH VERSION OF SERLOC IS,” Karkat rolled his head to face the snarky maroon shape, “BUT THE GUY WASN’T A FUCKING DRUNKARD.”
“Have you ever watched Sherlock though.”
“WATCHED? I THINK YOU MEAN READ, WANKSTAIN. THEY WERE BOOKS.”
“I’m starting to think we’re misunderstanding eachother again do I need to get out my multitool to help us clear things up.”
“YOU’RE A MULTITOOL!”
“So am I made of like multiple tools is what you’re saying”
“OH MY GOD THIS IS STUPID I CAN’T THINK STRAIGHT.” Karkat pressed his palms to his eyes and tried to rub the fog from his vision.
“You know you can’t divide by zero.”
Roxy had apparently found her way off the floor while they were busy setting the record for dumbest conversation of the week. “Hey guys,” they both looked at the tall shape that sounded like Roxy, “This is lookin an awful lot like one of those prospitian ships.”
“You know,” the blurry Roxy-sounding shape helped the maroon shape stumble to his feet, “those Prospit ships that I’ve heard about, that were said to have been made entirely out of gold for possibly no reason other than to show off how much gold they just had lying around.”
“I may be a little bit disoriented from dying could you tell me what a Prospit is.”
Karkat rubbed his eyes again and saw Roxy pointing at a golden banner with a golden symbol on it that was mounted on the golden wall with a golden rod.
“You know!” She was smiling an elated smile. “The legendary city of gold! The place where the white carapaces supposedly originally came from, the moon of prophets and heroes or some shit, with like the gold spires of fate I think, and they’ve like been at war with the legendary city of night since like the beginning of the universe, and I think it was called derse,,”
“Roxy,” Dave said, “do you think it’s possible that you’re a little disoriented from dying too.”
“No but I remember an old friend telling me all about Prospit and how wonderful it was, and she always got this adorable excitement in her tone when talking about it, and I think she was a limeblood or something,”
“HEY, BUT,” Karkat attempted to stand up again, “THE LIMEBLOODS WERE ALL CULLED,”
“Yea yea I remember her tellin me about that too,” Roxy was speaking faster than her mind could keep up with, and while she did her best to slap the pieces together for them in a way that was at least a little coherent, another shape popped out from behind the gold wall and shouted at them.
“Put your hands where I can see them!” She shouted, “reach for the ceiling!”
“Hey now,” Karkat could hear Dave stepping forward slowly, “if you’re here to show us to the afterlife I’d think you’re supposed to be a bit more easy about it.”
Karkat rubbed his eyes again and blinked. There was a woman with long dark hair and round glasses in the doorway, stance firm and an earth-style gun pointed right at them. “Stay where you are!” She growled, her eyes flaring green, “And unless you honestly think being taken in for ruthless interrogation is going to the afterlife, you shouldn’t expect me to be easy about it!!” Karkat was immediately in love.
“AND WHO,” he tried standing as firmly as he could manage, “WOULD YOU BE?”
“Yea who do you think you are?” Roxy cheered.
“Who am I?” She raised one sharp eyebrow, “*l* am the one asking the questions!! Not you!” She paused,
“But for the sake of introduction, I,” She seemed to stand up even taller than she already had been, which was surprising considering she had already been standing pretty damn tall, “am Jade Harley, elite master of physics and rocket science, and the Commander of this ship. And I am taking you to the interrogation room!” She gestured her gun roughly at them in case they’d forgotten she was holding it. “Off we go! Spit-spot!” Jade had them all walk in front of her so she could keep pointing her gun at them while leading them down the corridors.
“(What is she the military Marry Poppins?)” Dave said under his breath to Karkat.
“(WHAT THE FUCK IS YOUR EARTH VERSION OF MARRIE POPINS?)”
“(Do you know how to fucking whisper dude)”
“Silence!” Shouted Jade, who poked Dave in the back with her gun. It was a calculated poke, just hard enough to hurt but not nearly hard enough to bruise, a precise poke, almost a flirtatious poke. “Turn left.” She said.
Once they had all made it to the ‘interrogation room’ they sat down in the ‘interrogation chairs’ for the ‘ruthless interrogation’. There was tea set up on a coffee table between the two couches that were facing eachother. Jade sat down on one couch, still pointing her gun at them, and ordered them all to sit on the couch across from her. “Have some tea.” She ordered them, very firmly. Yes very firmly and with a real intimidating interrogation voice.
“Hold on,” said Dave, even though Karkat was already pouring himself a cup, “how do we know this shit isn’t poisoned or drugged or something.”
Jade smiled. “I’m the one asking the questions here.” She then poured herself a cup from the same pot and stirred in some sugar and milk before taking a gentle sip. “Now,” She said, “what are your names?”
“MY NAME IS KARKAT VANTAS, AND-“
“Strider.” Karkat glared sharply at him for cutting him off. Dave didn’t seem to look at Karkat at all and simply did one of those dumb tiny coolkid upward nods at Jade.
“Roxy Lalonde,” She said with a smile, holding out her hand for Jade to shake.
“And this boss is WV,” Dave said, gesturing to WV who’s been with them the whole time and is the co-pilot of Caledscratch and the writer totally didn’t forget they were there and neither did you, right? WV held a cup of tea in his hands and waved at Jade in a very formal and kind way before eating the entire cup whole.
“Ah, a black Carapacian!” Jade held out her hand for WV to shake, “nice to meet you.”
WV shook her hand in a very formal and kind way.
“Good,” said Jade, “good, now how did you get on my ship?”
“Well you see,” Roxy spoke smoothly, taking a thoughtful sip of her tea, “we were running from space Pirates you see,” she reached for the sugar but Jade slapped it out of her hands. “Hey, what’s that for?”
“No sugar for the captives until they have satisfied all my questions.” Said Jade.
“Alright, jeez, anyway we were running from space pirates, you see, and we were seconds away from being blown apart, you see, and then this black hole appeared out of nowhere, you see, and we fell into it, you see,”
“Mhm, Mhm.” Said Jade.
“And then we all woke up on this ship, you see,”
“Is that why you said this was the afterlife?” Jade smiled into her tea.
“Well yea,” Dave leaned back casually, “that could be one contributing factor.”
“You see?” Said Roxy.
“Yes, I see.” Jade adjusted her glasses. “Now, does your ship, by any chance,” she looked at each of them consecutively, “have the word ‘Caledscratch’ printed across its side in bold red letters?”
“Yeah that’s the one.” Dave crossed his legs up on the coffee table. “Is it by any chance a legendary banged-up piece of shit?”
“I’m asking the questions.” She reminded him softly, then sipped her tea. “But yes it really is.”
“Then yea that’s definitely it.”
Karkat reached for one of the pretty little tea cakes set on the painted glass plate, and Jade watched him lift it before leaning forward and smacking it out of his hands. “HEY,” he looked at her with grumpy confusion “WH-“
“Motivative torture,” Jade cut him off sharply, her voice was even with a bit of a smirk in it, “You may not have the cakes until you have satisfied all my questions, only look at them.” She then looked at WV. “This guy,” she gestured towards WV, “this guy is an exception though, he gets a cake because I like him.”
WV blushed and smiled behind his faded head-wrap thing, and took a cake.
“Damn.” Dave took his feet off the table, “Alright miss Harley, I fold, this torture is simply too much for me to bear, please, no more, I beg of you,” He was deadpanning, “I’ll tell you everything you want to know, just make it stop.”
“That’s the spirit!” Said Jade, holding her gun proudly in her hands.
Dave and Karkat exchanged glances with raised eyebrows.
“ALRIGHT,” Karkat took a sip of bitter tea, “WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW.”
“Your professions, who you work for.” Jade took a cake and ate it slowly in front of them. “How you /really/ got aboard my ship.”
Karkat took a deep breath, and they all took turns explaining everything they knew to her.
Chapter 4: The Grandmother Paradox
They all stood in the bridge of the ship now, and Jade gazed at the numbers on the screens for a while with her gun strapped to her back. “I suppose,” she said, “that a sort of Einstein Rosen-Bridge appeared for you, and then spit you out on my ship,” her hands were folded behind her back, “according to the these numbers, there were a lot of fluctuations in the dimensions and space-time in that area my ship just passed through,” she turned to them, “so I guess it’s not entirely impossible that your strange story is actually the truth,” She paused, looking all of them over again. “However incredibly unlikely it would seem.” She turned around again and pressed a button on the main console, speaking into it. “Jane,” she said, “I probably should’ve told you this twenty minutes ago but we have guests, please come to the bridge.”
Roxy looked up from the floor with a bit of surprise, but said nothing. It’s entirely possible that there is more than one lady in this universe with the name Jane.
“So hey,” Dave stepped forward, “we’ve told you everything, now don’t you think it’d be fair if you told us a bit about yourself?”
“HEY, YEAH,” Karkat joined him, “A BIT OF CONTEXT FOR WHO YOU ARE AND WHY THIS ENTIRE FUCKING SHIP IS MADE OUT OF GOLD WOULD BE NICE.”
Jade turned to look at them, pushing her glasses back up her nose. “Alright,” her smile was small and sweet, “sit down, I’ll tell you my life story while we wait for Jane to get here and decide what to do with you, since she can take a while to get dried off.”
“Dried off?” Dave shifted his weight slowly from one foot to the other.
“Yes,” said Jade, “dried off. She went to go swimming last time I heard from her. We have a pool on the ship.”
“Ah.” Dave nodded and then went back to minding his own business.
“so,” Roxy sat down, “where did you get this golden tub of woe?”
“I suppose that’s a pretty good place to start,” said Jade, sitting down too. “I stole it from the Serket’s fleet,”
“SERKET?” Karkat stood up just as quickly as he had sat down. “I HAD A FRIEND WITH THE LAST NAME SERKET WHEN I WAS LIKE FIVE SWEEPS OLD.”
“Hm,” Jade motioned for him to sit back down, “well anyway I stole it from MindFangs fleet, and-“
“I thought you said Serket.” Dave folded his hands behind his head.
“Same thing!” Jade huffed. “Are you going to let me tell the story or not?”
Karkat sat in a moment of bewildered silence, trying to put two and two together but two and two are both magnetically charged ‘south’ so they just keep hovering away from eachother. Roxy spoke up before Karkat was able to ask if his childhood friend was the new MindFang.
“Keep goin’ Jade,” she said, “you’ll have to forgive these impolite bastards.” She ruffled Dave’s hair in a friendly way and he briefly scowled at her.
Jade sighed. “So as I was saying, I was able to steal the ship because I already knew it in and out. See, MindFang stole most of the ships in her fleet from Prospit, and I’ve been to Prospit, so-“
“You’ve whAT?” Roxy gaped, “I had a friend who’d seen Prospit too! Is it really everything they say it is? Is it made of solid gold and-“
Jade cut her off with an exasperated sigh and flopped back on the couch.
“Sorry! Sorry, continue, I won’t cut you off again I promise.” Roxy smiled and leaned forward with her elbows on her knees and her chin in her palms. “I’m listening.”
“So I knew how to get aboard the ship without being spotted, poured dry ice into the vents to make it look like the place was being flooded with gas, and then triggered the evacuation alarms. Once everyone was off I climbed out into the bridge and sped off with it using the warp drive.”
“Sick.” Dave tried not to sound as impressed as he really was. There’s honestly no way stealing an entire golden ship from the best pirates in history was that simple.
“Yes! It is pretty cool. I didn’t do it alone though. Jane, my brother, and my boyfriend helped me. The four of us were going to sail to the end of the universe in this ship.” She sounded a bit wistful and sad now. “My brother and my boyfriend disappeared, though, when they went down together to explore a neat blue planet we came across. The planet got blown up to make way for an interstellar bypass while they were still down there.” She looked down at her bright red shoes and folded her hands in her lap. “It’s been just me and Jane ever since. We still plan to go to the end of the universe... it’s a shame those two won’t be here to see it when we get there.”
“MAN,” Karkat gave her a sympathetic look, “I’M SORRY THEY HAD TO GO LIKE THAT.”
Jade huffed a sad little laugh. “Me too.” She sniffed and conjured up a more cheerful tone, sitting upright again. “So anyway, Jane and I have basically just been roaming around, exploring cool places we come across, in search of the end of the universe. Once we find it, we plan to find the center of the universe too. Then I think I might try settling down, but not until I’ve seen them both!”
“that’s awesome,” Roxy poked Jade gently in the arm, “but tell me how you found Prospit! And if it’s really everything I’ve heard it is. And also how to get there ‘cause I reeeeally wanna see it for myself.”
“Well I mean I’d seen it in my dreams when I was a child, so I knew how to get there by heart, but it’s not like I had a set of directions, and I don’t remember or know the coordinates.” Jade fiddled with the slack cloth of her long skirt, “The visions I had of the place stopped sometime after I turned thirteen. More specifically, they stopped on the same date that my grandpa was found and reported dead, if you’re looking at an earth calendar. Not that him being dead made much difference anyway, he was always out on his adventures. The house I grew up in was basically just his massive storage room.” Her words trailed off into another mildly depressing story. “I guess I was just the product of another one of his ‘adventures’, collected and cherished for only a little while before being dumped into storage with the rest of his ‘treasures’.” She went back to staring at her shoes.
“Damn Harley.” Dave Said.
“Ah, Sorry, I’m over-sharing and info-dumping. I guess I’ve been spending too much time by myself again.” She smiled sheepishly.
“HEY, WE TOLD YOU OUR LIFE-STORIES, AND YOU HAD TO LISTEN TO THAT SHIT FOR A GOOD LONG WHILE, DON’T FEEL BAD FOR TELLING US YOURS TOO.” He gave her a pat on the back. It was interesting seeing Jade go from loud-and-proud commander to sheepish and kinda depressed in less than thirty minutes. “WHAT ABOUT THIS JANE CHARACTER, DON’T THE TWO OF YOU EVER TALK?”
“Not much, actually.” Jade leaned back. “We spend a lot of time together but we eventually ran out of things to really talk about, and the past month or so has been really uneventful, and she told me that she wanted some space for a while —“ she refused to make eye-contact with anyone, “which is fine, it’s understandable, hanging around the same person and only that person for too long can get a little tiring, especially if it’s family.”
“So are you two sisters or-“ Dave was cut off when the door slid open and Jane walked in, running one hand through her slightly damp dark hair, which was cut very short.
“We’re eachothers grandmothers, actually!” She said, clearly having heard some of the conversation down the hall, “but due to a time paradox we happen to be the same age.” Jane sat next to Dave. “And who, may I ask, might you be?”
Dave was thankful for tinted goggles hiding where his eyes were wandering. “Strider.” He said, layering on as much cool façade as was possible. Shit was layered on thicker than molasses in January, thicker than this woman’s thighs.
The rest of them went through introductions like regular, not horny people, with the exception of Karkat who is stuck with literal permanent horns. They then explained everything about their situation.
“So Jane,” Jade crossed her legs, “what do you suppose we should do with these captives?”
“Well their ship is busted isn’t it?”
Roxy could’ve sworn she’d heard that voice somewhere before.
“Yes.” Jade said.
“And they have lost all their ‘loot’, yes?”
“Yes that’s right.”
“And they have pretty much nowhere else to go?”
“Yes Jane we just went over all of this!”
“Well as long as we know they won’t stab us in the back I don’t think it would hurt to take them along with us.” Jane smiled at Roxy and Roxy’s entire digestive system moved in a way that would’ve won gold medals in the Olympic gymnastics.
“Wait wait wait wait wait,” Roxy lunged forward slightly on the couch and extended her pointer finger suddenly, “Hold on here one lil second,” she looked at Jane carefully, squinting. “I’d swear to Troll Jesus I know you from somewhere.”
“But isn’t that impossible, Roxy?” Jane was just barely holding herself together, letting a smile escape her and crack the surface.
“Hooooold on,,,” Roxy’s eyes darted back and forth from Jane’s right and left eyes. “You’re Jane aren’t you!”
“Yes I think that would be my name,” Jane was wrangling down a laugh with all her strength, “I thought that was apparent by now.”
“Nonono like THE Jane, MY Jane,” Roxy was sitting on the very edge of her seat, “The Jane I used to talk to over that broken radio I found when I was a child! That’s your voice I-“ Roxy was hardly holding it together herself, “you were like, my only friend up until I was sixteen, and you were only ever just a voice I, I never thought I’d meet you in person, you, —“
“Yes,” Jane nodded, letting a little sad laugh get past her, “that’s me.” She opened her arms for a hug, “Hi Roxy.”
Roxy leaped off the couch and collapsed into a laughing pile of hugs with Jane. “You gorgeous motherfucker!” Roxy buried her face into Janes shoulder, “I thought I’d never be able to speak to you again, not after my radio went dark!”
“Well it would seem that fate had other plans for us!” Jane laughed into the hug. “It’s good to finally see you.”
“Hey you,” Roxy sobbed a little, “you too, man.”
Karkat smiled and looked at Dave, who was only able to stay entirely expressionless for about four seconds. It was just a little smile, just a twitch at the corner of his mouth, but it was there, and it was the first time Karkat had seen him smile. It was nice. However, WV was not concerned with any of this noise, as he was busy investigating a flashing red light on the console, but nobody else noticed.
Chapter 5: The Issue With The Black Holes
things actually happen
Dirk is in this one
“So you’re telling me,” said Jane, “that we’re receiving a distress signal” she leaned forward with her hands resting heavily on the console, “from a ship in the constellation Ophilamis,” she leaned forward even further, “in sector ξ6,”
“Yes” Said Jade, “that is what I’m telling you. That’s what these numbers are telling me.” She pointed at the screens again to show her exactly which numbers she meant.
“But we,” Jane pointed at one specific number, “are in a different sector entirely, how are we receiving this?”
“Today is just full of strange and unlikely things isn’t it?” Jade leaned against a wall with the air of someone who isn’t entirely sure that anything they are seeing is real or not but doesn’t really mind much either way.
“We shouldn’t be receiving a signal from that far away.” Jane stepped back and ran a troubled hand through her very short curly hair.
“We shouldn’t be receiving signals at all,” Jade flipped a switch and the red light stopped flashing, “we’re currently cruising through a dead sub-sector, — radio-waves, sound-waves, light, none of that should be able to reach us until we exit this vacant pocket of space.” She hopped up to sit on the blank stretch of console that had no bells or whistles on it and crossed her legs.
Dave kept his hands in his pockets and focused on relaxing his shoulders. “ok well what direction is the signal coming from?”
Jade blinked twice while that idea fired off in her. With a little spark of energy, she jumped off the console and checked for what angle the signal was hitting them at. “Interesting,” she tapped her foot at a fast tempo, “according to the coordinates attached to the signal, it should be coming from roughly that way.” She pointed at the wall behind her without looking away from the screens. “But it’s actually coming from...” she looked the numbers over one more time, “that way!” She concluded her deduction with a smile as she pointed at the space directly in front of them, and it was only a moment later that their entire ship and everything in it completely vanished from that point in space.
Karkat once again found himself reduced to sand in an hourglass and poured through the eye of a needle with the rest of the universe. The singularity was a hole pinched into an infinitely small point by gravity, but held open by some exotic force. There was no event horizon, and time itself was folded in with space and light and everything flowed with order and flawless precision. The void does not discriminate between any two things, all became equal as it passed through the point where everything we think we know about the universe gets dissolved into dead-end stories that hardly hold a candle to what’s really happening out there. He opened his eyes and felt that the world was still again, which was a relief. Like waking up from a dream, he forgot the entire bizarre experience the moment it was over, mostly because his mind couldn’t and didn’t want to comprehend what had just happened, so the memory got thrown out almost immediately.
The floor on which he was waking up this time was cold and made of steel, and the room was dark. Along the walls, blurry shapes loomed colorless and unmoving, none of them made sense to him and none of them resembled his friends. A headache thrummed through his skull and the air burned his nose and throat to breathe in. He shut his eyes again and waited for something to happen.
“Hey,” it was Dave’s voice, but it was cloudy and distant. “Hey man are you ok? Karkat?” Something gently shook his shoulder and turned him over. Once again opening his eyes, Karkat looked up to see Dave, goggles pushed up into his hair to reveal a pair of scuffed sunglasses.
“WH,” Karkat reached up and softly touched Dave’s cheek, “WHY THE FUCK DO YOU HAVE SHADES UNDER YOUR TINTED GOGGLES??”
Dave took Karkats hand and politely pulled it away from his cheek. “Gonna go out on a limb and say you’re fine then.”
“SO DID WE DIE AGAIN?”
“Fuck, I guess we did.” He gripped Karkats hand and helped him to his feet.
“ANY IDEA WHERE IN HELL WE’VE BEEN SPAT OUT THIS TIME?” Karkat glanced around the dark room and shivered.
Dave opened his mouth and was probably about to say something sarcastic, but Jades voice rang off the walls with an unexpected enthusiasm. “It would seem,” She said while lying on the floor and looking at a devise in her hand, “that we suddenly happen to be in sector ξ6, constellation Ophilamis.” She tried standing up, but she leaped to her feet much to quickly and almost immediately fell down again, trying not to black out.
“HEY WHERE’S ROXY?” Karkat kneeled down to help Jade stand up slowly.
“I donno!” Jade stumbled a bit, looking around while gripping Karkats arm for support, “I don’t see Jane anywhere either.”
“Yea hey and where’s WV?” Dave took a step while looking around for any sign of them and fell about a couple meters down into a shallow pool of black water. “Goddamnit.”
“SHIT DUDE ARE YOU ALRIGHT?”
“Yea, yea,” Dave stood and leaned against the wall, “just fucking soaked and lost with no money and no idea where my ship or my friend is. In a room dark enough to develop photos in and cold enough to keep ice. I’m doing fucking splendid thanks for asking.” He blindly groped about the wall and hoisted himself back up out of the water. “Why’s there water in a spaceship anyway.”
“Good question,” Jade helped him wring out his cloak, “let’s see if we can find out.” She took both of the boys by the hand and began walking slowly, testing each step before putting her weight forward.
“Hey, what’s with the handholding, I-“
“This room is dark and it’s best we don’t loose eachother, mr Strider,” she held his hand a little closer, “we are holding hands for tactical reasons. Think nothing more of it!”
“YOUR HANDS ARE FREEZING,” Karkat took her hand that she’d given him and held it up softly between both of his, “YOU’VE GOT DOCTORS HANDS.”
“Oh hush,” she took them around a corner and started down a darker hall, “the temperature of my hands isn’t important right now.” Still, she could feel how warm Karkats hands were in comparison to hers, and him pressing her fingers gently between his palms to warm them up was a bit comforting. Their footsteps echoed off the steel walls. Even as dreary as the setting was, it was still a refreshing change for Jade from nothing but golden walls and tall cavernous ceilings. She was getting a strong surge of happiness from these sudden changes in her life, it was like finally getting lifted out of the crushing depths of endless routine and loneliness to be greeted by the weightless open sky of ‘absolutely anything can happen from this moment forward’. Wonderfully thrilling, that.
There was no hum in the walls, and when they tried calling for Jane, Roxy, or WV, there was no answer. Eventually their feet took them into a room with dark, deep blue light radiating from a large rectangle in one of the walls. The little light there was that came from that wall rippled and swayed. Dave touched the wall gingerly, and then knocked lightly on it. “Glass,” He said, “this is a window.”
“We’re underwater.” Jade said with a bit of awe, looking up at the massive blue expanse beyond the window. A few bubbles flitted up in front of them, followed by a long, metallic groan from the walls around them.
“We’re sinking.” Said a smooth but focused voice they’d never heard before, from somewhere behind them. They all turned to see a broad-shouldered man in a faded orange and black flight-suit, dim blue light casting dramatic shadows on his face, his eyes covered by a pair of pointy shades.
“AND WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?” Karkat stayed close to Jade and Dave.
“I could ask you the same thing, but since you asked first,” he took his right hand out of his pocket and pulled off his shades with a little dramatic flourish to reveal an identical pair of shades underneath, which was a twist more shocking than if he’d just shown them his eyes, “the name’s Strider. And you?”
“Woah ok hold the fuck on,” Dave let go of Jades hand and stepped forward, “I’m Strider,” he pointed to himself with his thumb, “that’s my line, asshole, who are you really?”
“Dirk Strider.” Dirk said, putting the first pair of shades back over the second and sticking his hand back in the pocket of his flight suit. “You think I’m lying?” His accent was unmistakably southern-American, which was only slightly odd until you remember that Texans sent the first humans to the earths moon. Space cowboys are real.
Dave straightened his posture and stood tense and still. “That’s my bro’s name.”
“Dave?” Dirk stayed exactly where he was but lifted one eyebrow. “Is that your silhouette talking to me with an unnecessarily hostile tone?”
“I haven’t seen you since you flew off to fuck-knows where and left me to fend for myself as a goddamn nine-year-old.”
“Listen,” Dirk spoke softly but firmly, “I didn’t choose to leave you, they took me in to join the military for sector ξ5 after they saw what I could do to the cops. It was either I join them or we’d have to spend the rest of our lives running from them.”
“Oh sure,” Dave crossed his arms and noticed that Dirk didn’t look a day older than when he last saw him, which was fourteen years ago. “What’d we ever do to them to make them chase us, anyway. What could two kids have done to warrant being hunted to the point of hiding in sewers.”
“We repeatedly stole food and I worked in illegal corners of the market for whatever small amount of money I could get.” Dirk took to leaning against the doorframe. “I guess you don’t remember. ...you look a lot older than you did when I left.”
“...how long has it been since you left.”
“A few months, maybe a year or two.” Dirk took off the first pair of shades again to see a little better in the moodily lit room, which was only getting darker the further down they sank. “I snuck out of the military to find you again but took a short detour when I got stuck orbiting a black hole, I’m guessing time moved a lot slower for me there. It’s good to see you again Dave.” He was trying to be sincere here, but Dave wasn’t accepting any of it.
“Wish I could say the same.” Dave’s voice was cold, like how a wall is cold. “It’s been fourteen years Dirk. And I don’t recall any good memories with you in them.”
“Dave,” Jade had let go of Karkat‘s hand by this point and stepped in-between the two brothers, “We can talk about this later, we need to figure out where we are and find Jane and Roxy and WV, and also find a way out of here.”
“YEAH, I’M WITH JADE HERE, CAN WE DISCUSS FAMILY ISSUES LATER?”
“Yea, we can.” Dirk pushed off the doorframe and stepped forward. “you two have names right?”
“Yes,” Jade said.
“Cool I always wanted to meet someone named Yes. Anyway this is my ship and it’s sinking, we are already approximately half a mile below the surface, my comrade is still in the bridge hopefully working on getting the power back on, and I’m taking you to him. You can tell me how you got onboard on the way there.” He then turned and started down the hall, expecting them to follow.
“It’s Jade actually,” she had to power-walk to keep up with him.
“KARKAT VANTAS.” Said Karkat, who had to jog to keep up with Jade.
“Ugh.” Said Dave, who wasn’t keeping up with them at all.
“Common Dave!” Jade called over her shoulder, “You don’t want to get left alone in here do you?”
Dave gave a short, frustrated little huff, and then jogged after them.
On the bridge they were met by a lanky-ish man with an old-fashioned haircut and friend-shaped glasses, with his jumpsuit unzipped and tied around his waist to reveal a black sleeveless top underneath. His arms were very nice, slim but fit. “Ahoy!” He said, “you must be the interlopers who materialized out of the great blue, eh?”
“Why yes!” Jade stepped to attention, stopping a respectful three paces away. “We awoke here after my ship fell through a black hole. You wouldn’t happen to be the ones sending that distress signal we found, would you?”
“Indeed we are.” The lanky-ish man saluted her informally. “I mean, probably! The name’s English, Jake English. At your service!” A small robot bunny peeked our from behind Jakes leg and scanned them. “Ah, and this is Lil’ Seb! One of Dirks helpful gizmos.” He gestured to the robot bunny.
“I SEE.” Karkat squatted down to look at Lil’ Seb better.
They all introduced themselves quickly and then hurried on with figuring out what exactly the situation was.
“Dirk and I are both escapees from the military ranks, you see. They were never very kind to us toy soldiers, and the work they had us do wasn’t always morally sound, or just. This old girl,” he patted the console of the ship, “is the raft we escaped in. It’s also the ship that we got stuck orbiting a black hole in. Prying ourselves free from the beasts formidable gravitational pull required a lot of rocket fuel, so we didn’t have enough to land properly when we got to this planet, in fact we almost didn’t make it to this planet at all! We could’ve gotten stuck drifting through the void with no power and no fuel. We struck the water terribly hard and sprung a leak, so now we’re sinking. Lucky for us you lovely folks are here now, any bright ideas?”
“Y’all got an escape pod?” Dave did his best to push his emotions aside and focus on the task at hand.
Dirk responded from under the console, while fiddling with some wires and circuits. “We used to, but it got sacrificed to the black hole in order to help us break orbit.”
“Hmm,” Jade walked over and kneeled down to see what Dirk was doing with the computers. “Well this is a pickle isn’t it.”
“A mighty pickle indeed.” Jake confirmed.
“(It’s like they’re related.)” Dave whispered to Karkat.
“(WELL THEY DO HAVE THE SAME NOSE.)” Karkat was very bad at whispering.
“Hey, Jade,” Dirk slid out from under the console to get her attention, “that ship you rode in on, do you know where it might be?”
“No, actually,” Jade sat down on the floor next to him, “and we don’t know where the rest of our crew is either.”
“Is there any way you could contact them?” Dirk slid back under the panel on his back.
“Not unless we get the power in this ship back on!”
“Damn.” He continued trying to find a way to re-route the power, but the only thing he found was that there was no power. They were completely out of juice, even the backup generator was toast.
“ALRIGHT, OKAY, HOW,” Karkat looked around at all of them while thinking through what he was about to say, “HOW ABOUT WE LOOSE SOME MORE WEIGHT TO MAKE THE SHIP FLOAT AGAIN?”
Dirk and Jake looked at eachother before looking back at Karkat. “We’re listening.” Said Jake.
“THERE’S ONLY A LITTLE WATER IN THE SHIP SO FAR, RIGHT? AND THERE’S STILL LOADS OF AIR AS FAR AS I CAN TELL, SO MAYBE IF WE PATCHED THE LEAK AND SHED SOME WEIGHT, MAYBE PUMPED OUT SOME OF THE WATER IF THAT’S POSSIBLE, WE COULD MAKE THIS THING FLOAT BACK TO THE SURFACE.”
“Okay,” Dirk slid out and Jake helped him up off the floor. “This isn’t the most airtight plan but it’s something. Which of you has the best judgement and dimensional analysis?”
Dave and Karkat both pointed to Jade, who was raising her hand.
“Alright Jade you’ll help me decide which things we can shoot out of the airlock in order to loose weight. Jake, I want you to go with the Alternian to locate the leak and patch it. Dave,” he stopped and looked at Dave for a few moments, running some calculations through his head while Dave crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow at him. “Alright actually Dave you go with the Alternian-“
“IT’S KARKAT VANTAS, YOU RIDICULOUS DOUBLE-SHADES WEARING RACIST.” Karkat looked from Dave to Dirk and back again a few times. “WHAT IS IT WITH YOU ‘STRIDERS’ AND WEARING MULTIPLE LAYERS OF TINTED GLASS OVER YOUR EYES.”
“Done?” Said Dirk.
“NO, ACTUALLY, I-“
“Dave,” Dirk wasn’t going to waste time with this, “You go with Karkat to locate and patch the leak, and Jake you‘re going to begin pumping out the water, because you know the ship better. Lil’ Seb, you’re with Jake.”
“Eye-eye, Captain!” Jake saluted Dirk and then fished through his satchel for a flashlight, which he then tossed to Dave when he found it. “You’ll be needing a torch if you’re going back through the flooded bowels,” he told them, “I recommend finding the current of the water and tracing it back to get to the source.”
“Yep.” Dave did one of those little upward nods and turned to start down the hall, Karkat looking Dirk and Jake over one more time before turning to go with Dave.
Chapter 6: Under the Water, Carry the Water, but Remove the Water at the Bottom of the Ocean
Dave has a panic attack
Jake sprinted back into the bridge with Lil’ Seb trailing close behind him, yelling for Dirk. He seemed distressed, slowing down and breathing a bit heavy as he reached Dirk and Jade, “Dirk, I can’t- The pump isn’t-“
“Slow down,” Dirk put a hand on Jakes shoulder, “what is it?”
“The blasted pump isn’t working, not without battery or electricity, and the water is up to my knees back there!”
Dirk glanced around the room and saw how the floor was slanted, and how the ship was slowly turning up its nose. Things were bound to get much more complicated fast if they didn’t stop the water flow. He took a deep breath. “Use Lil’ Seb to power the pump, we can re-charge him after we get to the surface.”
Jake turned to the little robot bunny by his leg, “would that be alright with you, chap?”
Lil’ Seb did one of those little upward nods.
“Well, that was simple!” He straightened his back and rolled his shoulders, doing his best to relax and calm the hell down. “Off we go then, I suppose.” Jake smiled at Dirk before running back down the hall to find the pump again.
“Karkat, hey,” Dave trudged through the murky waters with the flashlight in hand, “once we find this leak how do you think we’ll patch it?”
“ANY WAY WE CAN, I’M SURE WE’LL FIND SOMETHING.”
“Well that sounds like the most solid fucking plan I’ve ever heard, I-“ Dave then slipped on something and fell back into the water, which was already almost risen to their hips.
“SHIT, DUDE,” Karkat grabbed his arm and helped him out of it, “CAREFUL.”
“Fuck, alright, thank god this flashlight is waterproof,” he wiped the water from his eyes. “Damnit,” he hesitated, glancing at the floor several times and sucking in a deep breath through his teeth. “ok, off with the cloak and shirts,” he began pulling the mentioned articles of clothing over his head, “they’re wet and they’re weighing us down.”
“WELL FOR YOU MAYBE.”
“This shit only gets deeper man and we ain’t even all the way to the back of the ship yet. You’re honestly going to keep wearing that sweater?” He hung his shirt and cloak up on a shelf along the wall and mentally noted where he’d put them, hoping he wouldn’t forget.
Karkat stood and weighed out the pros and cons of his options. Back on his home planet he had to be extremely careful about covering the hue of his blood, even though in other sectors of the universe his color would be perfectly acceptable. He wasn’t around trolls anymore, he didn’t have to hide. Whatever, fuck it. “FINE,” he huffed, and then yanked his sweater off and tossed it to Dave. “JUST PUT IT WITH YOUR CLOTHES.” Maybe Dave wouldn’t notice the bright crimson of his grub scars in the dim light.
“Aight.” Dave tossed the sweater onto the shelf where he’d put his shirt and cloak, and then donned the tinted goggles again after removing his shades.
“OH OK SO YOU DON’T WEAR THE GOGGLES OVER YOUR SHADES, THAT WOULD MAKE MORE SENSE.”
“yea.” Dave trudged forward, the water lapping up to his chest now. Karkat took a moment to briefly glance at Dave’s torso, which was quite different compared to his. He’d never really seen humans shirtless before, in fact he’d never really been around humans much at all before he came across Dave. His field of work was just cleaning that freighter, which was run entirely by trolls, and there were no humans on Alternia. He’d obviously heard about humans, how they all have the same blood color but different, neutral skin and hair colors, and how they didn’t have horns, and he’d heard about a few of their achievements, and how a lot of things about their pop culture and food were strikingly similar to that of Alternia. Anyway, Karkat decided he might ask about anatomy differences later, for now they had a task to focus on.
“I CAN FEEL A CURRENT COMING FROM THAT CORNER,” he pointed to the corner he was talking about, “I’LL DIVE AND SEE IF I CAN FIND THE LEAK.”
“How’ll you see down there?”
“IT’S NOT THAT DARK DAVE,”
“Are you fucking kidding it’s black as Friday under the water.”
“WHAT?” Karkat held his breath and dove down to see if Dave was right, which he wasn’t. It was cloudy, yea, but he could still see alright with all that light coming from Dave’s flashlight. Surfacing once again, he scraped his hair away from his eyes and looked at Dave. “IT’S REALLY NOT THAT BAD, MAYBE IF YOU TOOK OFF YOUR TINTED GOGGLES YOU COULD SEE BETTER.”
“Or maybe it’s that weird dark-vision thing trolls seem to have, who knows, just go and find the leak I’ll try to keep the flashlight pointed at you.”
Maybe it was because humans are said to live in the sun, rather than under the moon, so they require more light to see. Still, he would bring up all these anatomical differences later with Dave when they weren’t busy. Karkat nodded at him, and then dove under again, swimming against the current and feeling around all the walls and floor for the source. Dave stood and tried to keep his head above water, but was starting to have to stand on his toes to accomplish that. The more water filled the ship, the more the ship tilted, it’s nose pointing further and further upward, and the steeper the floor would slant into the water. A little while later, Karkat surfaced again and swam back to him. “THE CURRENT IS COMING FROM ONE OF THE CLOSETS, I’LL NEED YOUR LIGHT IN THERE SO COME ON.” He motioned for Dave to follow with one hand and began swimming back towards the back of the ship.
“Shit, Karkat, wait,” he was a bit embarrassed to say this, “I can’t fucking swim.”
“Listen you can take the flashlight-“
“I NEED BOTH HANDS FOR THIS DAVE.”
Dave glanced around a bit helplessly, as if he would find a solution on one of the shelves lining the walls. “Ok but-“
“JUST DO YOUR BEST TO TREAD WATER, YOU’LL BE FINE, LOOK,” Karkat tried showing him how to swim simply, “YOU JUST PUSH THE WATER LIKE— ALRIGHT I DON’T KNOW HOW TO SWIM VERY WELL EITHER BUT I’VE SEEN IT DONE AND IT’S PRETTY SIMPLE, YOU CAN FIGURE IT OUT.”
“Ok, I’m coming,” Dave put the flashlight between his teeth and pushed forward off the floor, letting his legs drift up a little and doing his best to swim and keep his head above the water. He was mostly just dog-paddling. They swam into one of the closets, specifically the one that Karkat noticed the current was coming from, and Dave did his best to hold the light while Karkat dove and looked for the leak. While he was under, the entire ship tipped up a bit more and several things came sliding off the shelves, and then an entire shelf came off the wall and rammed into the door of the closet, slamming it shut and trapping them in. “Oh, shit,” Dave dropped the flashlight and tried to open the door, but his hands found there was no doorknob on the inside of the closet. A slight bit of panic settled in his gut, he tried ramming himself into the metal door, which did nothing, and even after seeing it did nothing he tried again.
Karkat surfaced with a gasp, “WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?”
“The door’s stuck.” Somewhat frantically, he started patting and feeling around the surface of the door for a handle or something, anything, while panic continued to let itself in. Karkat watched him ram himself into it again, and again and again, but his efforts were fruitless and Karkat had to forcefully make him stop before he broke his shoulder.
“DUDE HEY, CUT THAT OUT BEFORE YOU HURT YOURSELF,” Karkat noticed Dave was struggling to keep treading the rising water.
Dave looked at him for a second, already breathing a little heavy, then turned and began slamming on the door with his hands, screaming for help. He couldn’t die here, he didn’t want to drown, the universe had given him a second chance at life and he couldn’t just waste that, there were so many things he hadn’t gotten to do yet, it can’t end, not here, not like this.
His chest hurt, breathing burned, he continued calling for help, banging on the door with his fists, screaming for help, even bracing himself against the back of the closet and kicking the door repeatedly. Nobody was coming. Nobody could hear.
“DAVE, CALM DOWN-”
The water was rising steadily. He continued his efforts relentlessly, starting to grow nauseous with exhaustion and panic. Choking on the water and clinging to one of the shelves in the closet with trembling arms, he yelled again for help, in vain, and felt terribly dizzy.
“DAVE, HOLY SHIT, STOP,” Karkat clung to the shelf with Dave and put a comforting hand on his cheek, “JESUS FUCK CALM DOWN, WE ARE GOING TO BE FINE, ALRIGHT? WE’RE NOT GOING TO FUCKING DIE IN HERE, STOP FREAKING OUT.”
“How,” his voice was getting hoarse from yelling, “How’re you so sure.”
“I’LL FIND THE LEAK, I’LL BLOCK IT, JUST HOLD ON,” Karkat then let go of the shelf and plunged back into the water, finding the flashlight on the floor and grabbing it before coming back up for air and handing it to Dave. The water was getting dangerously close to the ceiling. “HOLD THIS, ALRIGHT?”
Back under the water, Karkat searched for any cracks, but instead found that the water was rushing in from the corner where the wall met the floor, feeling a gap between where the two surfaces were supposed to connect. The place where the water was getting in from was a long and thin line, but the water was rushing out of it fast enough to fill the ship in only a few hours time, and the ship had already been sinking for a while before the three of them showed up. He surfaced again, gasping a bit between words, “DAVE, I FOUND THE LEAK, IS THERE, IS THERE ANY TAPE OR OR ANYTHING THAT COULD SEAL A LONG, THIN CRACK IN THE WALL,”
Dave handed him a roll of duck-tape off the shelf he was clinging to.
“OH FUCK YES THATS PERFECT-“ in a moment of blind elation and victory, Karkat kissed Dave on the cheek before diving back down with the tape to try sealing the leak. In context, Dave decided it was just a friendly kiss, like how one kisses the ground after arriving at shore from a near-death experience at sea, and then did his best to not overthink it any further. It was a bit hard getting the tape to stick underwater, but after setting some heavy boxes on the several layers of crosshatched tape Karkat had put down, he was fairly sure no more water would come seeping through. Hopefully. It startled Dave a bit when he burst back out of the water coughing and laughing.
“I THINK WE GOT IT!” He said, holding onto the shelf again. “SEE, WHAT DID I TELL YOU? EVERYTHING’S FINE,”
Dave tried to say something coherent but it all just bubbled out of him in the form of choked laughter, and when he tried to tell Karkat using his hands, he dropped the flashlight again and wound up just waving them about uselessly and slipping off the shelf and under the water. Karkat had to lift him back out of it, treading water for both of them with just his legs, which was very difficult, and Dave wound up tiredly throwing his arms around him for support. Smiling into Dave’s wet hair, Karkat made a valiant effort to get Dave to cling to the shelf again with at least one arm. They let themselves stay there for a minute, laughing a bit breathlessly and just clinging to each other and the shelf. “WE’RE ALRIGHT, YOU DRAMATIC SHITHEAD,” He held Dave in an exhausted sort of one-armed hug, “CALM THE HELL DOWN.”
“What now?” Dave’s voice was a little rough around the edges.
“UH, SHIT, WELL,” Karkat looked around the dark closet for a moment, “I’M NOT SURE, I GUESS WE’LL WAIT FOR SOMEONE TO FIND US.”
“Ah,” Dave let his head fall to rest on Karkats shoulder, “that’ll probably be a while.”
Chapter 7: The Boogaloo
it isn’t nearly as ironic as it should be
With how mind bogglingly big the universe is, there are bound to be some strange things and places that exist. When you have an infinite universe with infinite alternatives, everything that can exist will find a place to exist somewhere in the mess.
G13-b, or Geliez 13-b, in constellation Ophilamis, sector ξ6 (which can be pronounced like “ex six” —remember that), is an ocean planet with a radius that is about 1.5 times that of earth. While all the water on planet earth accounts for about 0.05% of the planets mass, the water on Geliez 13-b accounts for maybe 30% of the planets total mass. To put this in perspective, earths deep and massive oceans only go about ~11 Kilometers deep, which is still pretty fuckin deep, while the oceans on Geliez 13-b can be upwards of some hundreds of Kilometers deep. If you’re still having any trouble wrapping your head around this, you just need to know that the oceans here are really, really fucking deep, and they cover the entire planet. At the bottom of these incredible oceans, the pressure gets so intense that there is a layer of exotic ice known as “ice 7”. One reason this ice is exotic because it doesn’t need to be cold at all to be solid, as it is formed through entirely different means than the ice on earth. It’s formed by pressure, but I digress.
This planet gets pretty warm, as it orbits it’s Star a bit closer than earth does, and the years are a bit shorter.
If the oceans on earth can harbor massive creatures like blue whales, which can grow to be almost thirty meters (or almost 100 feet), than the oceans on Geliez 13-b can be home to much bigger, more bizarre creatures. Like the Rupili, for example. They are bizarre creatures, simply because of how fucking massive they are, and not because they have six eyes or strangely elongated jaws or incredibly loud calls. It’s truly outrageous for them to even exist, but they are certainly not the largest beings in sector ξ6. Bloops and Space whales have been a pretty annoying danger for anyone flying in ξ6 for a really long time now.
Dirk and Jade had been spending a lot of time hauling unneeded shelves and such to the airlock, but they were beginning to run low on things they could do fine without.
“Get rid of all the seats,” Jade said to Dirk, who was sitting in a seat.
“Pardon?” Dirk stood and stretched.
“All the seats,” she gestured to all the seats, “get rid of them.”
“Hm.” Dirk looked at all the seats that weren’t benches attached to the walls and considered this. “We’ll have to pry a lot of them out of the floor.”
“Then pry them we shall!” Picking up a wrench, Jade quickly set to work and began disconnecting a chair that was bolted to the floor.
About an hour or so later, Jade and Dirk had tossed the last chair into the airlock and sealed it shut. Dirk turned to Jade and gestured to the button that would release them all into the ocean. “would you like to do the honors?”
“Sure!” She stepped forward and slapped her whole hand on it, feeling an odd satisfaction from clearing out all that weight with the press of a button. They turned and began to walk back to the bridge, water sloshing around their ankles. In the corner of Jades eye, she noticed a slowly blinking red light, and she stopped to see the source. It was a sad picture, she observed, of an Android half taken apart and sitting in the corner on a shelf against the wall, limp and lifeless. The little red light, which was coming from a small chip on the side of their head, winked so slowly and so dimly that it honestly seemed depressed. It’s muted crimson hue illuminated the pale plastic face in the dark hall in a way that gave it a ghost-like, eerie glow. Dirk stopped walking and looked over his shoulder to see why Jade had paused.
“If the water keeps rising it’ll soak this poor robot,” she told him without looking away, “we should bring it back to the bridge with us.”
“What, no,” He turned all the way around to face her, “it’s just a defective prototype for a project that never worked, let’s keep going.”
“It’s blinking something very slowly in Morse code.” Jade kneeled in the shallow water to look at it more closely in the very poorly lit hall, and noticed that its face and glasses resembled Dirks. “B... I... T... it, it’s saying bitch.” She stood up straight again. “Dirk, why is your dismantled robot calling me a bitch?”
Dirk put a hand on his hip and pinched the bridge of his nose with brief frustration, then sloshed forward to disconnect a small black box resting inside the androids open chest. “Must’ve forgotten to remove the battery.” Once the black box was disconnected, the depressed little red light died entirely, and as that had been the only sign of the thing having at least a little bit of life left, the image of the android became like 20% more sad than it had been when she first saw it, just with the removal of that light. “And don’t worry, it wasn’t calling you a bitch. That was almost definitely intended for me.” He paused and looked at the half-dismembered Android with a kind of distant apathy. “We can toss this out of the airlock as well.”
“What? But that’s a perfectly good android, I could-“
“There’s nothing ‘perfectly good’ about him, I can assure you.” Without pressing things any further, Dirk set the battery on the shelf next to the android and started down the hall again.
Jade stayed and let her eyes ponder over the intricate machinery for a while, feeling herself get more and more worked up about how poor of a state the advanced, and dare she say beautiful circuitry had been left in. Tech this advanced and smartly assembled was a rare and wonderful sight for her long gadget-deprived eyes. It would be a sin, she thought to herself, to leave such a cleverly built robot to fry in the water. A small mischievous smile crawled discreetly over her face. Yes, a treacherous sin, to abandon this work of genius. It was like art, you see, and she’d never seen an android built quite like this one. The simple humanoid military drones had nothing on this intuitive, innovative design.
Jade picked up the android with care and set it and all it’s dismantled pieces on a higher shelf, as to save it from the water a while longer. After giving it one last glance, she went and hurried after Dirk. When she found him, almost back at the bridge, she decided to ask, “what went wrong with him, anyway?”
Dirk didn’t stop walking.
“His hardware looks flawless, from what I saw. So was it something in the software? Why’d you take him apart like that, did-“
“Listen, Jade,” he still didn’t stop walking, or even slow down at all, “a lot happened while we were orbiting the black hole. We had been stuck there for more time than what could have ever been healthy.” he took off his wet shoes as he reached the bridge, “I —“ he stopped himself, like he was about to say something a bit heavy but then thought better of it, “I never finished or successfully activated him. He tried to kill me a few times during the testing.”
“Oh.” She didn’t ask any more questions, but some strangely insightful corner of her mind wasn’t entirely buying it. Secretly, she made plans to try and activate the robot again and see what was up. And that’s exactly what she went to go and do, when Jake came back to inform Dirk that he’d gotten the pump working. She saw that the water level had gone down some, which was good, as she wandered back down the halls. Standing once again in front of the shelved android, she began to ponder what exactly she should do with it. Not that she was short on ideas, she was simply debating what to do /first/, while also generating more potential things she could do with this gorgeous gadgetry.
Just as she was beginning to really think about what she planned to do with this sad robot, she could hear thumping coming from somewhere down the slanted hall. odd. She pressed her ear to the cold wall and heard it clearly, it sounded like someone smacking the walls a good distance away. The thumping continued, so she allowed herself to get sidetracked from the android and followed the sound, finding that the closer she got to the thumping, the deeper the water got around her knees.
Closer, still, and she could now hear that the thumping was accompanied by tired yelling and calling for help. “Hello?” She called back, letting her voice project off the metal walls around the dark room.
“Jade?” The voice was muffled, distant, but it sounded like Dave.
“Dave?” Jade trudged forward through the water to find him.
“JADE!!!” Karkat’s voice, also muffled, “JADE WE’RE IN THE CLOSET! WE’RE —“ he paused, and she thought she could almost hear them laughing, “WE’RE STUCK, IN THE CLOSET,”
She noticed an entire rack of shelves had fallen down the slope of the floor and was crashed against a closet door, the one where their voices and the thumping were most likely coming from. “Hold on!” She said, pulling off her crop-top jacket but leaving the tank top, “I’ll get you out!”
“I fucking hope so” she could hear a faint smile in Dave’s voice.
The water came up to her shoulders back here, and after tying back her wild hair, she grabbed the shelf with both hands and pushed it away. She was a bit surprised upon opening the door, as a bunch of water came rushing out, along with two shirtless boys. They spilled out onto her and all of them went happily careening back into the water.
“Jade,” Dave looked up at her after helping her back up out of the water, “I’m fucking stoked to see you, we’ve been in that closet for like more than an hour,”
“I WAS GETTING WORRIED,” Karkat let Dave sling one arm over his shoulder, so they could help each other march back to the shallows, “IT SEEMED LIKE NO ONE COULD HEAR US IN THERE.”
“Well its a good thing I came back here then!” Jade smiled at them and also slung an arm over Karkats shoulders, marching with them.
Once they made it to the point where the water was only lapping up to their shins, they stopped to find and retrieve their clothes. Karkat fumbled with quickly getting his sweater back on as they walked, hardly waiting till he was dry. Dave, on the other hand, wrapped his battered cloak around his shoulders and wore it so that literally none of his skin was showing anymore, with his shirt tucked under his arm or something. It was cold, so Jade couldn’t think it was too odd.
Back on the bridge, Jake greeted them with a little mock-salute. “I’ll be glad to inform you that the ship is on its way back up, albeit slowly. It’s going to take us a good long while to float all the way back to the surface,” he told them, leaning back against the central console, “but we’ll make it! Gosh, I can’t wait to get a lungful of fresh air again! It’s just been so long.”
“Yes,” Jade let her hair fall out of the messy ponytail and ran a hand through it, “it’s been a while since I’ve gotten to breathe fresh air from an organic atmosphere.”
“Well,” Dirk was about to sit down but then remembered they had removed all the seats, “we don’t know if this planet has breathable atmosphere, only that it has oceans. We will see when we get there. After that we have to find land or another ship, really anything.”
“ALRIGHT,” Karkat clapped his hands together, “SO WHAT DO WE DO FOR NOW?”
“Make sure the water in the ship keeps going down, fix any further leaks or complications, and wait.” Dirk sat on the floor.
“Rodger that, Captain!” Jake fucking saluted again. Maybe he was doing it so much, especially with the wrong hand, as a way of basking in the fact that he didn’t have to be formal or serious about it anymore, now that he’d escaped from the military. Maybe it was his fun little way of mocking the rituals of the army he was no longer a part of. Who knows.
Jade found the time to once again slip away and find the dismantled android on the shelf. This time without getting distracted, she took him down and carried him and all his pieces to a room that was more dry and overall better for working in. She spent a while in there, re-assembling all the parts with care, quietly geeking over how smart the design was. She made sure he was almost completely put together again and finished, before slipping her hand into the open panel in his side and reaching up under the artificial ribcage to re-attach the battery, which was quite the quality battery, if she does say so herself. Once it had clicked into place and all was secure, she pulled her hand back out again and shut the panel in his side, feeling an excited little thrill in her stomach.
Before she could step back to admire her work, the android grabbed her hand, and that little excited thrill turned a bit sour. She instantly remembered Dirk telling her about how this thing had tried to kill him during testing. Her head snapped up to look him in the eyes, which were blinking and adjusting under the pointy shades. Once it seemed he had come to, his grip on her hand softened drastically, and his mildly luminescent eyes focused in on her face. “Well,” He said, “I haven’t seen you before, I suppose introductions are in order. My name is Lil Hal, And you are?”
Jade was just slightly surprised and relieved by how friendly and non-hostile this introduction was. “Jade Harley,” She smiled, “I just finished re-assembling you! How do you feel?”
“Ah,” he let go of her hand, “I see. Dirk doesn’t know you fixed me does he?”
“Well no, but-“
“He won’t be happy to find you’ve activated me again.” He paused and looked around the small room, “just thought I’d warn you. And to answer your question, I’m feeling just fine, thanks.”
Chapter 8: Oodles of Mechanical Blithering
The drama starts here, and it just gets worse
“So what happened, exactly,” Jade asked him, while sitting relaxed against the wall on the floor, “when you were orbiting the black hole.”
“A lot happened.” Hal pulled down a blanket that Jade hadn’t noticed before from a shelf and handed it to her. “You fleshbags need to stay a certain temperature to be comfortable, yes?”
“Yes, I guess so,” Jade took the blanket with a concerned little smile and wrapped it around herself. It was pretty cold in here, wasn’t it? “Alright I know ‘a lot’ happened, but I mean specifically!”
Hal looked at her a moment. “It seems you want the long version, then.”
“I see. So do you want me to give you the temperature of the room when we were orbiting the ship? Exactly how much sleep they got down to the millisecond? How much info exactly do I need to give you to satisfy your-“
“Stop being a difficult and aloof asshole, jeez. You remind me of my old boyfriend.” She then seemed to get very sad for a moment before she resumed speaking in her usual tone. “I don’t need to know how cold it was or how much sleep they got, I just wanna know what you mean by ‘a lot’. You can start with how long you were orbiting the black hole in, say, earth days.”
Hal couldn’t sigh quite like a human could, but because his coolant system closely resembled the human respiratory system he was able to make a simulated sigh noise along with a slow exhale. “Alright, so the ship got stuck orbiting the black hole approximately 425 earth days ago, from our perspective, but they finished programming me on day 276. They had limited resources, and therefore limited time to break orbit. Dirk,” he seemed to say the name with a punctuated disdain, “thought he might be able to crack the issue, but felt he didn’t have enough time to do so. He thought making his intelligence into a computer would help speed up the process, and it did. I ultimately solved the problem much faster than he ever could.”
“I thought Dirk said he had never successfully activated you...”
“Yes, well, organic things tend to deceive like that.” Hal suddenly leaned back against the opposite wall with a disgruntled thud. “Did he really tell you I was never successfully activated?”
Jade suddenly seemed a bit uncomfortable. “Yes, I-“
“Of course he would.”
They sat in silence for a bit, not looking at each other.
“So,” Jade started quietly, “why were you all taken apart and dismantled?”
Hal looked back up at her with one eyebrow raised. “If I had emotions I might be exceedingly reluctant to tell you. Lucky for your curious ass, I don’t make decisions based on the number of certain chemicals in my thinkpan, unlike you organic fuckers.”
“Did you just use troll terminology?” Jade was a bit disappointed in herself that of all the ways she could have responded, that was the way she chose to go.
“There were a lot of trolls in the military. Dirks vocabulary got poured into my programming along with his memories, and-“
“Okay I’ve got it.” Jade pulled the blanket closer around her shoulders and thought for a moment. Hal said he didn’t have emotions but the evidence she had gathered so far could disprove that; it seemed he was capable of feeling emotionally hurt, possibly a bit frustrated, and maybe a little sad? Unhappy, at least. “Anyway, you were about to answer my question?”
“We were all working to break orbit from the black hole, and I was able to solve the problem about 13 days after my creation. It was a lot of math, and I had literally just been born, alright? Anyway it left us approximately four months to actually put the plan in motion, and from then on all the work would be mostly physical, so Dirk then designed a vessel for me” He gestured to his whole body, “so I could help with that part too.”
“Alright, then what?”
“By that point Dirk already didn’t like me very much, I was calling shots before he got a say in them and overall I was saying things that were namely true mind you, but they were things that upset him.” He looked at the wall. “It seems I wasn’t programmed to really understand human emotions or how to be considerate of them, not that Dirk ever had those things to begin with. Maybe it was also because I was supposed to be a copy of his own intelligence, like a mirror of what he was like, and he didn’t like what he saw.”
“I see,” Jade leaned forward and rested her elbows on her knees. “So one issue is that Dirk didn’t know how to program emotions properly.”
“He did his best, even if his best was a truly piss-poor attempt at something he only had a skewed knowledge of.” It was just a little strange how Hal never fiddled with anything or adjusted his position while sitting, which were both very human things to do. Probably because he didn’t need anything to distract his hands, and the position he was in never felt uncomfortable because /every/ position felt uncomfortable, and therefore there was no use in changing to a different one.
“I could probably help you with that, I remember reading a lot about theories concerning programming emotions and wants into artificial intelligence, and I came up with some theories on my own, with all that free time I had.” Jades voice sparked hopeful, “and also, I think you can have emotions, because so far I think I’ve seen you act a bit hurt, maybe frustrated, or just unhappy?”
“Did you consider that maybe I seem unhappy because I’m incapable of feeling happy, as well as anything else?”
Something seemed to die a little in Jades eyes. “oh, well, maybe it’s...”
“Anyway,” Hal almost seemed tired, “it wasn’t just that, the real tipping point started when I overheard Jake and Dirk talking about shutting me off. They were very careful about making sure I didn’t hear, they even sealed themselves inside the escape pod. I can read lips, though, so the attempt was still futile.” He paused, some little mechanisms in his chest whirred softly. “I wasn’t really going to kill them, not even in self defense, but I suppose it would make sense if it looked that way.”
Jade sat and thought about how Dirk had told her Hal was just a prototype that never worked out. She decided not to tell him any more about what Dirk had told her, Hal didn’t need any more reason to be upset with him. Well, if he was upset. He’d probably say he wasn’t capable of being upset, but he seemed upset. A couple years on a gold boat with her old boyfriend, who had been almost just as aloof as this guy, had helped her learn how to read the tiniest hints of expressions. What if his expressions were simulated, though? She chewed on her lip and glared gently at the floor.
“Okay, I’ve answered your questions,” Hal made his voice clear and distinct, “now you answer mine. How did you get on this ship and why did you decide to activate me again?”
“Well, I was on my ship with all the new members of my crew, and then we got a distress signal coming from the wrong direction, and followed it through what was most likely a worm hole. Half of my new crew and I then woke up here, you see,” she spoke with her hands, “and we don’t know where the others are, but basically your ship crash-landed into an ocean, and then we showed up, helped Dirk and Jake get the ship floating again, and now we’re all waiting to get back to the surface to look for resources. Your ship is out of fuel.”
“Hm.” Hal crossed his arms. “Have you considered diving deeper into the water to see if you can find resources down there? There might not be anything for you on the surface, breathable air isn’t even guaranteed. Your best bet may be to see if you can find anything on the ocean floor.”
“I donno,” Jade thought about this, “we don’t know how deep this water goes.”
“You could find out.” He watched her look back up at him curiously. “Simple sonar tech, Jade.”
Jade and Hal both walked down the halls on the way back to the bridge, where they would hopefully find the sonar tech and power it using Hal’s battery. They could hear the walls creak and groan as the ship slowly rose.
Hal seemed to make a point of sounding like it took immense effort to not speak in monotone. “So what else has Dirk said about me?”
“well...” Jade didn’t really want to tell him, but felt he deserved to know. “He didn’t say much, but he seemed...” As hard as she looked, she found it very difficult to figure out a way to phrase this nicely. “Apathetic. I guess. Like he wanted nothing to do with you.” Maybe telling him this stuff would only cause more trouble and she should refrain from saying anything else.
Yea, she wasn’t going to fuel this dispute any further. “Hey, you two don’t have to be so salty at eachother, you could both make it up with a bit of effort and-“
“That isn’t going to happen, Jade.” His voice was cool and factual. “You are very optimistic to think so.”
Jade looked at her shoes as they walked and tried to convince herself she hadn’t made a mistake by bringing Hal back.
“Dirk may forgive you for restoring me,” he said after a pause, “you didn’t know the full story, but you should try and stay out of other peoples business in the future. Me, on the other hand,” he made eye contact with Jade for this, “he won’t want to be in the same room with. It will be better for all of us if I leave as soon as possible.”
“I see.” Jade felt small and a bit foolish.
Hal simulated another short sigh. “You organic things and your fragile emotions.” He said ironically. “It’s one of your tragic flaws.”
“It’s also one of our strengths, though!” Jade spoke confidently about this.
“I suppose, if you look at it from an optimistic angle. It has its pros and cons. I, of course, would know nothing about having emotions, clearly, because I am a robot.”
Jade raised an eyebrow at him. “I’m starting to think you’re being sarcastic about that.”
“Within every irony is a hint of sincerity.” Hal flexed a creaking joint in his shoulder and decided he would need to lubricate it later. “Dirk made sure to remind me plenty of times that I was merely a prototype for a calculator, designed only for the sake of speeding up his problem solving process, which is a very rash assumption, considering I’m basically superior in every way. I have a brain the size of a planet, I am fundamentally far more efficient than he is, and I can work so fast you humans could only wish to keep up. For example, think of a number.”
“Wrong. You see?”
“Hm.” Jade did not, in fact, see.
“Another example, you forget things. I would never forget things, because files cannot vanish without purposefully being deleted. A good example for both of these things is that one time Dirk forgot to hook me up to the charger and shut me off like he’s supposed to do every night, because it won’t work without a humans authorization, and I overheard them indulging in some positively foul faux reproductive /shit/ that I thankfully cannot remember as I burned the memory from my hard drives immediately. I wouldn’t sate your unquenchable human curiosity even if I could recover the cursed file.”
Jade was silent for a moment. “...so they’re like, a thing? A thing thing? Dirk and Jake?”
They had made it to the bridge, which they found mysteriously empty, and had hooked Hal up to the main computers. “You know, I’m a little surprised Dirk didn’t just take your battery to power the computers before.” Jade said, while Hal helped her log in to the system.
“And I’m a little surprised that he didn’t wipe my memories while dismantling me.” Hal sat back on the floor and looked up at her. “He’s an enigmatic fucker, and I should know, I’m basically him.”
“Hm.” Jade finished booting up the sonar tech and began sending out a noise into the endless blue depths. They waited for thirty minutes before Jade spoke up again. “It’s just, not coming back.”
“What?” Hal blinked back to attention, like he had been sleeping without closing his eyes.
“The wavelengths we sent out, never bounced off of anything. They just, didn’t come back.” Jade was immensely troubled by this, and Hal could hear it in her voice.
“Are you sure? The sounds are supposed to carry for up to twenty kilometers, according to my robo-calculations, which is really fucking far.”
“I’m pretty certain I’m doing this right, though. And the sounds just never came back.”
They both looked at the computers with a bit of distrust.
“Well, I guess we’ll have to go to the surface then.” Hal stood up and unplugged himself from the computers.
Chapter 9: Mountains
Have y’all seen Interstellar?
Dirk stood on top of the ship and looked out across the vast ocean as the wind tossed it over, breaking its surface into soft mists. The sun was warm on his skin, but he had yet to take his mask off and test the air. Far in the distance, there was what looked like a ridge of mountains, he couldn’t say for sure though. The spaceship swayed in the water, lifting and falling with the waves and pushed by the breeze, so he had to put a bit of effort into keeping his balance. Soon after he had stepped out onto the roof of the ship, Jake had come to join him. “Ah,” He said, “this is a lovely view isn’t it?” Jake was clinging to an antenna for balance, which was a bit dangerous, as he gazed up at the soft lilac sky and smiled under his mask. “See those ol’ mountains on the horizon, there?”
“Yeah.” Dirk would be using various tech to test the air and water before taking off his mask, but all their tech was supposedly dead as far as they knew so the masks stayed on.
Jake stepped forward and nonchalantly took Dirks hand. “Do you think we’ll find fuel out there?enough to take us home?”
“Weather or not we’ll find the right materials there is uncertain, but as for getting us home,” Dirk took his eyes off the horizon to look at Jake. “What do you mean by ‘home’? The place you were born? The city I grew up in? If it’s the latter I should tell you now I have no intention of going back there now that I don’t have to look for Dave.”
“Alright, you have a good point,” Jake squeezed his hand. “I’m not entirely sure what I meant by ‘home’, I just supposed that home was where we were headed... I didn’t exactly think through where home was.” He became a bit troubled. “Once we do blast off this planet, where are we gonna get off to, anyway? Did... did we think this through?”
“Well we did,” Dirk held onto Jake to keep him steady as the ship tipped and swayed again, “the plan was to get out of the military, which we did, and then I was going to find Dave. I didn’t really think we’d get this far so soon, if we aren’t counting the black hole that delayed us.” They both noticed the mountains were getting closer, but neither mentioned it yet. “When the plan was still just ‘find Dave’, I had figured it would take a while of searching to locate him, it’s an extremely improbable coincidence that a wormhole would unexpectedly land him right on our ship.”
“Well,” Jake gave his hand a little tug, “perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence! Maybe some unseen forces are at work here, or some uncanny seamstresses of fate have crafted plans for us!”
“Hmm.” A mist carried past them with the breeze and was leaving dew on their masks and in their hair. “I find it difficult to see what any higher beings might possibly want with me.”
“Oh, that’s what /all/ the good protagonists think at first.” Jake was winking under his mask because he forgot that Dirk couldn’t see it. “Anyhow, we ought to tell the others the surface looks all clear, don’t you think?”
“That would probably be a good idea, yeah.”
“It’s all very simple, you see,” Hal said while gesturing with his hands, “in the case that we don’t find any land or resources, as your question states, we can build and use a solar powered pod to launch us back out of the atmosphere. The materials to build such technology are all right here on this ship.”
“Well alright,” Jade paced back and forth in short little measures, “but what happens if we have to fly too far away from the star for the solar tech to work?”
“Then we fucking die, Jade.”
Dirk and Jake climbed down into the room from the hatch in the ceiling. Dirk, upon removing his mask and adjusting his glasses, had to stare at Jade and Hal for a long few moments before anyone spoke.
“Dirk.” Hal greeted. “How’s the family.”
“What in hell’s name are you doing-” Dirk greeted.
Hal pointed to Jade. “She brought me back to life without my consent.”
“Isn’t that just the plot of every Jade I know.” Said Dave, sitting on a bench on the wall, who didn’t understand what he’d just said or why he’d said it. “I only know one Jade.” He tried to come back from it, but his attempt only made his situation worse. He decided to stop saying things for a bit.
“I can explain myself,” Jade tried, stepping forward and looking sorry. “...I can’t explain myself. I was just curious and I have no excuse for dabbling in your personal business. Sorry.” She wrapped her arms tightly around herself and looked at the floor to the left.
Dirk looked at her for a while and couldn’t decide what to do. Jake soon stepped in and put a friendly hand on Dirks shoulder, “It’s alright, Jade, thank you for owning up to it. Now we have slightly bigger fish to fry, like—“ The ship swayed and rocked in the water and threw them all off balance. “Like getting off this blasted planet.” Jake said with a mild irritation once he’d regained his stance, adjusting his glasses.
“ALRIGHT,” Karkat stood up from the bench him and Dave had been sitting on and stepped forward, “HOW ABOUT-“ the ship rocked again, more intensely, and threw them all off balance again. “UGH, HOW ABOUT WE-“ a really loud groan reverberated through the entire ship, and they could all feel the vibration in the floor through their feet. “GODDAMNIT, WHAT WAS THAT?”
Hal folded his hands together and leaned against a wall. “That was the ship complaining about being smacked by wave after wave with no shielding online.” He told them.
“Ah,” Jake patted a wall, “hang in there ol’ girl, we’ll get you outta here.” He started stroking the wall.
“The ship doesn’t speak English, Jake.”
Jake stopped molesting the metal wall and looked at Hal. “You say that like it does speak something else, though.”
“It speaks wall.” Hal whispered.
“Well what the bloody hell is that supposed to mean then?”
“I’d laugh if I had emotions.”
“IF YOU TWO FUCKING NUTCASES WOULD STOP BLITHERING OUT OF YOUR SNORTHOLES FOR HALF A SECOND,” Karkat began, “I HAVE AN IDEA I’D LIKE TO SHARE.”
“Go on then!” Jade waved a hand through the air in the way that people wave their hand through the air when they tell you to just get on with it already. “spit it out!”
“SO WHAT IF WE-“
“Oh I just remembered!” Jake announced, “we saw mountains in the distance when we went u-“
“OH MY *FUCKING* GOD.” Karkat threw his hands into the air, “I GIVE UP! YOU ALL CAN DIE NEVER KNOWING THIS MAGNIFICENT PLAN I HAD.”
“Oh common Quarks!” Dave sat up, “we’ll listen this time I -“
“MY NAME IS NOT QUARKS!!!” He yelled the last word with a kind of pure rage that could never be duplicated by even the best of actors.
“Jesus.” Said Dave.
“Hey now,” Jade walked over to Karkat and spoke to him soothingly, “calm down a bit, we’d love to hear what you have to say.”
“CALM DOWN???” Karkat turned to her, “YOU WANT ME TO CALM DOWN?!!! HM??” It was very clear Karkat was not going to calm down.
“Hey,” Jade papped him on the cheek like she had seen some trolls do before, “shoosh.”
Karkat calmed down almost instantly, but his face began to flush and he looked at her with a sort of bewildered shock. Was this lady that he’d known for upwards of only like nine hours pale for him?
Jade was merrily oblivious to the cultural implications of her soothing shoosh-pap. “There you go,” she smiled at him. “Now, what were you going to tell us?”
Karkats cheek felt cold when her hand left it, which was funny because it had only been there for like four seconds. “WHAT IF WE DID SOMETHING LIKE WHAT HAL SAID, WE TAKE SOLAR ENERGY, BUT JUST TO BRING THE SHEILDS BACK ONLINE, SO WE DON’T GET BLOWN APART BY THE WAVES WHILE WE LOOK FOR OTHER MEANS OF FUEL.”
“That’s a good idea!” Jade cheered, “it’ll take a bit to make the tech for it from scratch but I’m sure it’s possible!”
“Cool,” Dave stood, “where do we start?”
Another wave took that moment to lift the entire ship up by one side and throw it all tumbling to the left. The walls around them screeched with metallic agony while they all lost their feet and fell collectively in the same direction, as the floor tipped and moved harshly beneath them.
Something cracked loudly in the walls, and they all knew it meant water would begin flooding the ship again. Lying on the floor as the ship got tossed about wildly, Dave lurched into a half-sat up position, “did, did the ship just break again,”
“Yes,” Jade was clutching a wire shelf, “yes I think it did.”
The entire ship was hurled over onto its back by the waves, fucking things up badly inside the ship. Dirk moved to hold onto Jake as a long metallic howl shook the walls.
“HEY IS THERE ANY CHANCE YOU COULD GET THE SHIELDS BACK UP BEFORE WE ALL FUCKING DIE?!” Karkat was scrambling to cling to the same wire shelf as Jade.
“Hal!” Jade got his attention, “could you plug your battery into the shields? Just until this-“ she couldn’t finish her sentence because at that moment another wave had thrown them airborne for a few stomach-wringing moments and crashed them back into the water with a hard slam, and then a large gash opened in the wall. Water gushed through the tear in the wall and Karkat started screaming profanities.
Dave scrambled away from the water that was beginning to flood the capsized spaceship like it was toxic but then stopped when he reached the wall, “Why did life decide to do this to me, man?” He started mumbling, “I was just grabbing some shit off a freighter literally just twelve hours ago and now I’ve had, what, three near-death experiences? The fuck did I do to provoke the wrath of the-“
The ship, for reasons they couldn’t see, was suddenly lifted and carried quickly and sickeningly up into the sky, some hundred meters higher than they had just been, held almost steady for one horrifying moment, and then dropped back down another couple hundred meters. This was, of course, because of a massive wave. This was the worst and final wave before the water left them to drift and sway for a few hours. Jade, Karkat, and Dave were all clinging to eachother and this wired shelf for their dear goddamn lives with trembling hands. A minute passed, then two, and no more waves hit them.
“Check outside.” Jake whispered, like if he spoke too loudly a wave would hear them and attack again.
Dirk let go of Jake to run to the airlock and peek outside, and as he began power-walking in that direction Dave Jade and Karkat all got up to follow. Once Jake had noticed they were all going, he followed too. Dirk opened the first door to the airlock and told them, “stay back,” before he stepped through it and shut it behind him. Karkat took Dave’s hand and squeezed it, but would later brush it off as just being dramatic because they all felt like they were about to die. They were all somewhat relieved when the first door of the airlock opened again and Dirk stepped out of it, saying “hey yea those were some massive waves going away from us and I can no longer see the ‘mountains’ in the distance so it would kinda turn out there’s probably actually no land.”
“It seems you’ve finally gotten a fucking clue.” Hal was leaned against a wall with his arms crossed, eyeing the water at his feet somewhat cautiously. “We’re on planet Geliez 13-b, or G13-b. An /ocean planet/,” he emphasized, “with no /land masses/.”
Dirk glared subtly at him. “You couldn’t have told us until just now?”
“It’s a pity none of you have built in universal positioning systems.”
Dirk looked a bit like he wanted to punch Hal, but Jake put a hand on his shoulder and piped in, “Alright, so we use the solar power plan until we can make it to-“
“No need.” Hal interrupted. “The nearest planet with usable resources is in the next solar system and you’d have to leave the range of this Star in which it’s radiation is still useable to get there. You organic things,” Hal judgmentally looked Dirk up and down briefly, “would need to haul water and food up with you as well, and really you have so many needs that to sustain you all with the very short resources you have left on the trip to the nearest planet with useable resources would be impossible.” He paused to let them process it.
“Well we can’t just give up.” Jade gestured with exasperation, “there’s got to be something-“
“It’s alright, I have a plan.” Hal pushed off the wall and began sauntering down the hall. “It’s once again up to me to graciously save you all and come up with the ideas, even after the way you so kindly shut me down with a wrench and tore me apart.” He glanced coldly over his shoulder at Dirk.
“I don’t take up any resources other than this battery, which I can shut off for a set time, so it will be much more efficient and easy to build a small solar-powered pod for me to-“
“No,” Dirk halted him, “that isn’t going to happen.”
“If you’ll just hear me out,”
“You are not leaving here with our last source of stored energy-“
“I’ll come back for you.” Hal cut Dirk off. “That’s the plan. I come back for you with a working ship that isn’t torn apart and is full of all the resources you need to go wherever you like. You’d just have to wait a little bit.”
Dirk almost moved to protest again but stayed himself and made himself consider it. “How can I trust you won’t leave us here long enough to not make it out?”
“I’m a bigger person than that, Dirk.” Hal looked at him over his shoulder, starting to walk away again. “And do you honestly think I’d lie?”
Chapter 10: Is it Just For Recreation
gonna need a bigger boat
“So this will use the solar radiation to carry you as far as the edge of the solar system,” Jade said to clarify as she finished clicking one of the final panels into place, “and then the momentum will carry you without fuel to the nearest planet with resources, because of Newton’s first law and because there is no friction to slow you down in the vacuum.”
“Yes.” Hal confirmed while stringing in the last few wires. Sunlight filtered in from a large crack in the ceiling and illuminated his stark features.
A breeze was also filtering in from the large crack and they could smell the ocean through it. None of them had died yet so it was safe to assume the air was breathable. “How long do you think it’ll take to bring back help?” She was trying to stay focused on finishing the pod and not continue fussing over the shoddy duck-tape patchwork they had put over the cracks that threatened to flood the ship.
“I’d robo-calculate that for you,” He said in a slightly funny voice that he seemed to put on whenever he was trying to put her at ease, “but there are just too many variables to be certain.” Sparks flew dangerously close to Jades clothes as they began laser-welding the last of it into place.
“Just, give me an approximation. What’s most likely to happen.” She could hear strange caw-like noises from somewhere distant outside, most likely from flying creatures that lived here.
“It’ll take maybe over three earth weeks if this warp drive accepts solar energy and everything goes to plan.” He began polishing the surface.
Jade sat back and looked at the pod again. “This is a very small pod, Hal. You’re sure you’ll fit?”
“You’re the one who helped me design it, you already know the answer.” He didn’t take his eyes off what he was doing with the pod.
“Right. I just... you’re sure you’ll be alright spending so many days curled up with your knees to your chin like that?” The draft coming from the cracks tossed a bit of her messy hair into her face and she quickly tucked it back into place.
“It would be a problem for someone who experiences physical discomfort, sure. That’s another reason why we’re sending me instead of any of you.”
“Well, yeah, alright, but...” she began applying a fifth layer of finish to the exterior of the pod.
Hal finally looked up at her. “It seems to me you’re stalling. Unless you honestly don’t know the answers to these questions I know you already have the answers to, and really think the exterior of this pod needs seven coats of polish.”
Jade frowned at the crack in the wall. “It could crumble upon re-entry through the atmosphere if it’s not...” she still refused to look at him as she gestured with her hands, “you know,”
Politely, Hal plucked the cloth from her hands and took away the polish. “You will be fine. I will come back. There’s only a 1.00004% chance I don’t succeed, which is a number I pulled out of my ass just now but you get the point. Also, I’m not going to be coming back in this pod, so it doesn’t need to be able to re-enter the atmosphere. It only needs to work once. You know this.”
Jade sighed, unhappily accepting the precarious circumstances. “Alright, it’s finished. Let’s take it to the roof to charge.”
So they sat on the roof of the ship now, which was actually the underbelly of the ship, because the entire thing had been thrown onto its back by the waves and none of them felt it would be worth it to try and flip it back over. The sunlight was intense even through the clouds, and the air was hazy with the heat and mist. Under the ship, the water moved carelessly, rocking them without rhythm but steady all the same. None of the others joined them to see Hal off, as they were all busy making sure the ship wouldn’t fall apart while they were waiting for him to return. Fog gathered up on Jades glasses, and the misty breeze bothered her very messy and wild hair, only making it more so unkempt.
“You don’t need to worry, Jade.” Hal told her as he sat down into the pod. “I’ve run the numbers, and the chances that everything’s going to be just fine are so radically solid you couldn’t cut them with diamonds. Chill.”
Jade gave a small, nervous giggle that she tried to make sound relaxed. “I’m chill! I’m cool.”
“Your hands seem to be trembling, Jade.”
She glanced at her hands and then hid them by crossing her arms. “Right, well, good luck.”
“Luck is a fabricated, superstitious concept involving bent chance and probability that is not to be relied on for-“
“Yes, Well! Good luck anyway!” Jade interrupted him, holding her arms a bit closer to herself. A particularly strong gust of wind blew her hair in her face and she gave a short little irritated huff before giving up and tying it back into a messy ponytail. The sky was slowly growing more overcast and gray.
Hal blinked. “Alright.” He paused, before catching her attention again, “hey,” He said, and then leaned up to place one small kiss to her cheek before sitting back down and moving to assume the curled up position he would be in for the next several days. “Try not to die.”
“You, you too.” She gave him a small, hopeful smile before she shut and sealed the capsule, starting it up and preparing to send it off. It had to be aimed just right, or the momentum wouldn’t carry it in the right direction when it left the solar system. This was going to be something like shooting a coin from Washington DC into a champaign glass that is in Seattle, approximately, if wind resistance and all that isn’t much of a thing. After she’d finished her final adjustments, she launched it, and then watched as the pod rose up into the sky, vanishing into the vast fabric with a distant flash and twinkle. Shutting her eyes, she took a deep breath and let it go slowly. Rocket scientists don’t cross their fingers and pray for the best, they go over the calculations again and again till they are absolutely certain that what they send the people up into the sky with will not fail them. Jade was mentally crossing her fingers anyway.
The journey was long and boring. It was all for the best that he shut himself off and went into the robotic equivalent of sleep/stasis, and he’d set himself to wake up again when the capsule reached its destination. Pity, he never reached his destination, and therefore would not wake up on his own. A small asteroid, about the size of a throw pillow, happened to smack the pod as it left the solar system and transferred to using its kinetic energy to finish the journey. The meteor belt wasn’t supposed to be a problem passing through, but then it was, and now the pod was headed wildly in the wrong direction.
It would’ve been an uncertain and ridiculously long time before he happened to intersect with anything else, let alone a planet, but lucky for him some pirates happened to detect his presence. A dark ship that nearly resembled an upside-down anvil with teeth and a cerulean symbol painted across the side noticed and then got curious about the tiny hunk of technology hurling near lightspeed in a determined, presumably random direction. They caught him in a tractor beam and hauled him aboard, then debated what exactly they should do with this strange little capsule of tech. “We could sell it on screeBay!” Said one with an enthusiastic but tentative voice. “It’s mystery has great potential for selling, people are very curious and stupid.”
Another, taller one slapped the first one on the back of the head and said, “FOOL, WE CRACK IT OPEN BEFORE DECIDING TO GIVE IT AWAY.” They hobbled towards the pod on their copper peg-leg and scowled at it. It was the sort of scowl that could only be achieved with hours of practice in the mirror.
“I,” The first one rubbed the back of their head, “I didn’t say give it away, I said sell-“
“Alright, Alright,” The first one backed away slowly while nursing the back of their head, letting the taller one do whatever the hell they were going to do with that massive intimidating crowbar they always insisted on carrying.
With a heavy *thwACK*, the taller one drove the crowbar deep into the pod and violently tore it open like an impatient child on Christmas morning. Hal’s mostly limp, curled up figure spilled out in a comedically floppy manner.
“Why,” The first one spoke excitedly, “it’s a girl in a box isn’t it? Like all those sci-fi stories you hear about, th-“
“Jesus, Christ, Okay,” The first one was now on the floor covering their swelling cheek, “I won’t say anything.”
“THIS IS CLEARLY A ROBOT IN A BOX, YOU WOULD KNOW THAT IF YOU HAD EYES.” The taller one bellowed.
“It’s not my fault the lady stole my eyes! It was just a wrong place wrong time sort of deal, you know h-“
Another loud smack to the head left the first one whimpering. The taller pirate was in a very bad mood this morning, they usually weren’t this abusive. “FOOLISH!!” The taller one yelled, before a third party clad in fringed black leather chaps and a long maroon coat approached and said,
“Hey, now, that’s no way to treat your subordinates!” She uncurled a black whip from her belt and slashed the crowbar out of the taller ones hands. “You should be more kind to them if you wish for them to follow you without question, or even follow you at all for that matter.”
“AND JUST WHO ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO BE, SMARTASS?” The taller one demanded.
She smiled broadly, and wrapped part of the whip around her other hand to pull it taut with a snap. “Aradia Megido. Professional bounty hunter. And youuu are sir Callas Martor, yes?” Stepping forward into the light she was revealed to be a somewhat short but dense woman, a neat fedora on her head and two symmetrical horns that curled back into lovely shapes resembling that of a rams.
“HOW DID YOU FIND ME??”
“I won’t waste our time with tales of pursuit.” She then took the whip and slashed a gash trough the taller ones cheek. “Let’s get down to business!”
“SHIT—“ he turned to find some means of fighting back, but Aradia caught his arm painfully with her whip before he could try anything. “YOU!!” He called to the first one, “FOOL! WHY AREN’T YOU DOING ANYTHING? HELP ME!”
“Sorry, sir,” The first one was backing away hastily, “I can’t help you now.”
Aradia then tore his arm off with the whip, spilling blue blood across the floor. “See?” She said, “I told you, you should’ve been kinder to your subordinates. They are the only ones holding you up, after all.” She then pulled out a shiny retro pistol, aimed it, and ended the taller one quickly, not giving him time to say or scream any more. Holstering the pistol and looping up the whip to put back on her belt, she strode over to kneel by Hal’s still inactive figure, which was still half-hanging out of the mutilated pod. Now that the room was silent, the distantly rattling ventilation system seemed to be very loud. “hello there!” She said, before getting a firm grip on him and hauling him out of the pod the rest of the way. It took a bit of figuring out, but once she found the small button under the back of his head, closer to one side of his neck than the other, and then pressed it, he powered back on and blinked up at her.
Now, just a side note, this button does not function as an off-switch, only an on-switch, specifically for cases like this one where he is required to wake up without knowing. Anyway, as he got his bearings, realizing he was very far off course and was now on an unknown spaceship, he decided to improvise. “Sup.” He said.
“Hello!” She helped him to his feet. “I’m Aradia Megido.”
“Cool.” He immediately began calculating how he was going to work this problem of being so far from where he was initially headed. “I’m Hal Strider, for starters. Is this your ship?”
“No, actually! It’s a pirate ship. I’ve just finished a bounty hunt, and now I’ve gotta drag that corpse back with me to the nearest station.” She pointed to the blue-stained corpse of the taller one.
“Damn. Why are there so many pirates out here?” Hal watched her hoist the body onto her shoulder before he could offer to help.
“Society is going through a slow collapse, you see. The government is getting harder and harder to live under, so more and more people are turning to careers like piracy, salvaging, and smuggling.” She explained brightly, walking out with the body, her coat tails trailing somewhat dramatically behind her.
Hal followed her. “I see.”
“Ergo, with so much more heavy crime in the sectors, there are more people with big prices over their heads, which means more potential targets for bounty hunters. I haven’t been short of work in a couple years now!”
He glanced at the red symbol on her dark undershirt. “You’re a rustblood, though, correct?”
“Do you not hate the government for how they treat your caste? I’m curious as to why you would serve them like this when you clearly have the potential to live outside the law.” He eyed the blue-blooded corpse on her shoulder.
“I typically target the ones who’ve done honestly heinous crimes, and tend to leave the ones planning rebellion alone. I don’t think the government has picked up on this pattern yet, especially because I like to remain anonymous. Honestly, I’m thrilled to see what happens when the whole political system falls apart. Really, I like to think of what I do as taking large sums of money from the government, instead of serving them. Sometimes I’ll slip some of my earnings to the shady pockets of rebellious activity.” She pressed a button by her ear and a neat space helmet folded out over her face. The fedora stayed on. “My ship is just a short spacewalk away if you’d like to tag along with me for a while. You could meet my pilot and engineer, Sollux!”
“Sure.” Hal followed her out of the airlock, not needing a helmet or suit to pass through the vacuum, as he was a robot.
Chapter 11: It Doesn’t Matter if you Want it Back
let’s hint at something bigger
Roxy woke up to the sound of rain on glass outside and her best friend breathing softly, right under her ear. Sleepily, she lifted her head off Janes chest to see her peaceful face, and smiled. The couch they were on was soft and worn, a strange floral pattern laced the cushions, the kind of couch you’d see in your grandmothers home. As much as she’d love to stay right where she was, on this soft warm little spot on Janes chest, she knew she ought to get up. Checking the time on her phone showed her it was just past nine in the morning, time to get to work. Gingerly she got up off Jane and left the warm couch, pulled her shirt off the back of it and walked lazily to gaze out of the tall, ceiling-to-floor windows. The rain pattered in soft flurries against the windows, and all across the misty landscape.
Outside her window she saw a city below her, vacant and dilapidated but still beautiful, as it was overgrown with vines and alien flora. Roxy looked out over the concrete jungle and admired how the spires still rose into the sky alongside the swaying tree-ish plants, standing firm against the rain. Some strange birdlike creatures she’d never seen before flew in a small flock of three through the downpour and through the spires. One of her favorite things among the landscape, however, were the extravagant statues that stood tall and unmoved among the ruins and overgrowth. Some of the statues wielded intricately carved wings, some held up symbols like engraved orbs or staffs, but she noticed all of the ones she’d come across on her hikes looked up towards the same point in the sky.
As she slipped her shirt back on she thought about that point in the sky that all the statues were looking up at, she thought about the times she had gone to investigate that spot in the sky. There was nothing special there anymore, but that had been the point in space that Jane and herself had fallen out of, just a few weeks ago. The two of them had adapted quickly to living in the abandoned city, unsure of where their other friends or their ship were. Not that they hadn’t been looking, it’s just survival is pretty important if you want to be able to do basically anything that requires living, so they’d made that their first priority. Now, as she strapped on her boots and took one last look at her best friend, she decided it was time to head out and begin the morning hunt for breakfast.
By now the sun was setting on this decaying alien world that Jane and Roxy were now living in, and they were making the hike back to their shelter together. Sometimes they’d wonder what all exactly happened here, but they never really found any answers. Roxy adjusted her scarf as the wind tossed it about, and then looked over to see Jane was having trouble with her coat. It was getting colder here as the days went on, and Jane had been predicting a winter of sorts was on the way. Roxy took her hand and huddled a bit closer to her so she might be a bit warmer as they walked. The streets they walked on were made of cracked stone, some elegantly simple pattern was etched into it but made broken by the things growing up through the cracks.
They stopped as they passed one of the many extravagant statues strewn throughout the city, and admired it for a bit. The statue held a rod with snakes wrapped around it high above her head, and she had a massive book tucked under her other arm. Vines and moss grew up over the statue, tinting the stone green and purple. This statue, like all the others, was gazing up purposefully at that one specific point in the sky through which Jane and Roxy had fallen into this world. The stone face of the statue glistened with a cool dampness from the previous rain, and they could see the light hazel clouds moving fast behind it, rumbling with the threat of lighting.
It tended to storm a lot on this planet. Once again locking hands, the two friends continued on their way back to the tall old building in which they had assumed residence.
Jade climbed down the hole in the ship and back inside, after having sent Hal off on his way. The air was warm and thick with moisture. Her feet landed back on the metal ground with a bit of a slam after she’d dropped off the latter. A sort of deep worry filled her chest, and the more she tried to push it back the more the feeling ate away at her. Dirk, who she hadn’t noticed was there before, got her attention.
“Jade.” He said, arms crossed as she turned to face him.
“Where’s the warp drive.” He spoke evenly but with a tone of warning.
Something sunk and drowned in Jades heart. “...I used it, for the pod,” you know what? Jade decided she was going to write a book called ‘how many times can a man fuck up before they finally start listening to that little voice in their gut telling them what they’re doing is wrong.’ Maybe it wouldn’t have that exact title, but it would be something along the lines of experiencing guilt and not knowing when to fucking put down the wrench.
“Hm.” Dirk looked at the floor for a bit while thinking through how exactly he should approach this.
The book was going to be a bestseller, purely because of how much experience Jade had on the topic. “I, I should’ve told you first,”
“This is my ship Jade. You had no right to take that, especially for something I had directly told you not to do.” Dirk spoke in a soft voice that had a sharp, cold feeling to it.
Jade knew she fucked up, she couldn’t explain herself, and she didn’t even entirely know why she’d been so ready to trust Hal. “I understand. I’m sorry.”
“This isn’t about sorry.” Dirk sat cross-legged on the floor and motioned for Jade to sit across from him. “Now this is about what we’ve got to do to fix this. You’ve sent our last working battery and warp drive away with someone who has gone and will go out of his way to spite me. We are all just that much closer to death now.”
Jade moved to speak, probably to apologize again, but Dirk cut her off with a calm hand.
“Jade. Feeling sorry isn’t getting anyone anywhere. It’s not going to help us or you. Learn from this tragically shitty mistake and do your best to fix it.” He was making sincere, steady, icy eye contact behind his shades.
“Right.” Jade bit her tongue and tried to think.
Dirk took a deep breath while letting her think about all this for a second. “I’ve known you for a couple hours now, I’ve gathered you know your way around engineering and physics. So if you want to make up for loosing our warp drive and battery, I’d suggest starting by seeing if you can build a new one with the materials lying around the ship.”
“You still trust me with your ship?”
“I absolutely do not.” Dirk sat almost as still and with as much posture as Hal did, Jade noticed. He continued, “but the options I’m left with are becoming dangerously scarce, and it’s the same situation with our food and water rations. We still have limited time to get off this planet, and if all hands are not on deck the very deck itself may crumble spontaneously into driftwood, partially due to neglect. Am I still making sense?”
“Yes.” Jade was really trying her best to listen here, but the ship was rocking a good deal more violently and the wind outside was whistling with rage through the cracks, which was worrying.
Jake burst onto the bridge with Lil’ Seb in his arms. “We’ve got a bit of a dreadful conundrum in the works!” He announced, distress written all over his face.
“What’s the situation?” Dirk began to stand.
“Well you see Dirk,” Jake held Lil Seb up with both hands, “a spot of good news is that Seb still has a few vapors of power left in him that we might be able to make use of. The torrential wave of bad news begins with the case of the missing warp drive.”
“I knew about the warp drive, Jade and I are working on it.” Dirk assured Jake, stepping forward and taking Lil’ Seb from him.
Jake relinquished Seb with ease. “Well good, that takes one bloody massive worry off the list. The next one is that a rather nasty storm appears to be brewing.”
“Hm.” Dirk glanced outside through the large crack in the wall. Water was beginning to seep through the duck-tape they had put over the lower part of it.
“The one after /that/ is the dilemma wherein the ship is slowly filling up with water again, but I don’t know if it’s worth it to use the last of Sebs energy to fuel a pump that will only remove the water as fast as it can trickle back in.” Jake paused but then continued again before Dirk could think of what to say. “Also there’s another wave coming on the horizon, and the cracks in the ship are getting worse.”
“Alright,” Dirk walked over to the crack to gaze thoughtfully out of it. “So it’s not very likely this ship will hold together through the approaching storm, and it’s probably impossible to make it fly again and actually survive leaving the atmosphere before the storm hits.”
“Yeah,” Jade was standing again now too, “I don’t think we’ll be outrunning something that’s already here.”
“Jade,” Dirk turned back to her, “did Hal tell you approximately how long he might take to get back?”
“He said maybe three weeks, if everything went according to plan.”
“Well, I suppose it didn’t hurt to at least consider it.” He began to walk with Jake to the back of the ship. “However, we really can’t bet on his return to save us now. Get to work, Jade.”
Dave and Karkat sat on a shelf together near the back of the ship, taking a short breather from locating and patching cracks in the walls. This ship was reaching its limit for the beatings it could take, as any newer ship probably could’ve withstood the water, but they could tell this one had already been pummeled with lasers and gunshots many times before crashing here. It’s walls were very weakened. Both of the boys sitting on the top shelves were pretty soaked, watching things float around in the hip-high water. They’d had some time to talk while they had been working, and Karkat was getting the impression that Dave had been around places much more than he had, with more street-smarts especially. At least Karkat knew his way around government freighters.
Because they were working in water, and it was just the two of them, they had both taken off their shirts once more, but now Dave had his cape around his shoulders again for warmth while they took their short break that no one had given them permission to take. In the dim light Karkat had been catching subtle glances at Dave, and was still pretty curious about the differences in anatomy. He was a bit embarrassed by how little he actually knew about humans, and was fairly certain that on the other hand Dave probably knew his way around trolls pretty well, considering how much this guy had apparently gotten around.
Karkat had, of course, failed to bring up this topic at all during all their conversation so far. It didn’t feel appropriate, and also he didn’t need Dave to know how clueless he actually was when it came to humans. Maybe the subject would come up later and then he’d get some answers without having to ask for them, maybe he could do some research on his own later and find out without confronting Dave at all on the matter. He watched Dave kick a small box in the water that had floated toward them. “Hey,” Dave stared down into the water as he spoke, “when do you think we should get back to work.”
“SOON, PROBABLY, BUT I’M STARTING TO THINK WE’VE GOTTEN ALL THE CRACKS. THE WATER HASN’T RISEN AT ALL SINCE THE LAST PATCH WE PUT ON, AND IT’S BEEN A WHILE.” Karkat looked at how high the water rose on the shelves to make sure what he just said was still right. “SHOULD WE CONSULT DIRK AND SEE WHAT HE THINKS?”
“He’ll probably tell us to keep working anyway.” Dave kicked his feet slowly through the murky water, letting it rush over his ankles. Their shoes were off, safe and dry on one of the higher shelves that hadn’t been blown out the airlock yet.
“ALRIGHT BUT STILL, WE SHOULDN’T PUT OURSELVES AT RISK JUST BECAUSE YOU DON’T WANT TO TALK TO THE FUCKER.” Karkat was already climbing off the shelf and back into the water.
“mm.” Dave didn’t move or look at him.
Karkat looked up at him, and he could tell something was up. He tugged on Daves foot. “OKAY, STOP BEING AN EDGY FRIGID ASS AND TALK TO ME, WHAT’S STIRRING YOUR THINKPAN.”
“What? Nah nothing’s st-“ a loud, painful sound of twisting metal on metal shook through the halls and cut him off, followed by the entire ship rocking violently to the side. “— shit. What was that?”
At that moment, Jade came violently freestyle-swimming at them from down the hall through the three-feet-deep water, clearly trying to go as fast as possible with her frantic kicking, and then rammed into Karkat by accident in a magnificent array of splashes and shouts. She stood up with a gasp and helped Karkat back to his feet while simultaneously trying to claw her long wet hair out of her face.
“Woah, Harley,” Dave slid off the shelf and into the water to gesture at her to be calm, “who’s shit did you steal. Are they after you? Do we like need to change your name to Pablo and move to-“
“Dave!” Jade gasped while Karkat clung to her and shouted religious blasphemies. “A storm is coming!”
“Alright Miss Game of Thrones.”
“No really!” Her eyes spelled all the wrong emotions, “there’s a storm and another massive wave coming and I need you guys to-“ the ship turned in the waves and screamed as metal ground against twisting metal. A shelf fell off the walls and crashed into the water.
“OH FUCK.” Karkat coughed and clung to Jade and Dave while the water in the ship sloshed around them.
Chapter 12: Do it all the Time
A song and music video by: “I DON’T KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME”
This is probably the most uncomfortable chapter I’ve written so far. I still had fun with it, nonetheless.
A music video begins, opening up on some retro style robots on brass instruments in a line. They are in a yellow room, and it is lit very brightly. A few credits show on the screen in a font that pops while the introduction music plays. It’s an interesting, retro pop alternative sound, made of primarily electric noises and different guitars, bass and otherwise. We are shown Hal standing at a microphone, he sees himself on the screen next to the camera. He wears a black suit and a bow tie, and he doesn’t know why he’s there or how he got there, but it doesn’t show on his face. Someone presses a button on a panel and he takes the mic to start singing. The lyrics mean nothing, but the tune is irresistibly catchy. Hal’s movements are automated and a bit choppy, as he’s slid from one pose to the next. At one point he’s moved into a position where he can look behind him.
He can see Jade over his shoulder, in the form of a robot. Her skin is silver and her eyes are made of red glass, and she has four arms that she uses to play a bizarre version of the electric bass. She stares at the camera with an expressionless intensity. It takes Hal until the second verse to fully realize he is not in control of the words he’s singing or his actions, and for the first time in a little while he feels a bit of fear. Discomfort, at least. Someone continues pressing buttons on a panel with manicured hands to make them sing. One of the retro robots off to the side explodes and no one seems to notice. Smoke begins to fill the room. Hal spins on his heel and begins moving to the music in a way he’d really much rather not.
One of the strings on robo-Jades guitar snaps with an awful sound and once again, no one seems to notice. If there were humans in this room, they wouldn’t be able to breathe from all the smoke now coming from the headless retro-bot off to the side. Someone crashes through the ceiling behind Hal, landing on the floor with a loud thud, and he can only see them through the screen next to the camera that shows what the camera sees. It’s Aradia, and she’s running over to the person pressing buttons on the panel. Smoke continues to fill the brightly lit room, and Aradia is covering her mouth to avoid breathing it. It takes her a lot of effort but she yanks the person pressing buttons away from the panel, and now Hal can see it’s Sollux, but he’s wearing a strange metal helmet, probably a sort of newfangled mind control.
Hal hasn’t stopped singing, the music hasn’t stopped playing, and it’s just now that he’s able to see the large black cable hooked up to the back of his neck through the display next to the camera. The screen by the camera belongs to a very old, nearly ancient earth TV that’s thicker from front to back than the screen is wide. It cracks down the middle without apparent cause or warning, and Hal looses his view of Aradia and Sollux. He continues to sing, mechanically trilling on the high notes against his will. The old tv next to the camera coughs back to life despite the crack down the middle of it, and now shows him Jadebot close behind him with her hand on the chord plugged into the back of his neck.
She yanks it out violently, causing him to short-circuit for a second, and collapse to the ground. The music hasn’t stopped, for the most part, but without Hal singing or Sollux at the buttons it’s just the same sequence of a few mechanical notes repeating indefinitely. First went his vision, which flickered out as Hal hit the floor, and then went his hearing, as the sickeningly catchy tune faded into static, along with the sounds of crashing and slamming and things spontaneously combusting. His faux nervous system was the last thing to go offline, along with his detection for movement, and the last thing he felt was something hauling him upwards by the waist.
When he awoke, he was looking up at Jadebot, who was gazing solemnly back down at him. Behind her was a cracked white stone ceiling with vines and other such flora creeping out of it and over it. “Hal-3 unit back online.” She reported, with a voice that fell sadly monotone, “running diagnostics.” Without warning, she then grabbed his jaw and moved his head so she could speak directly into his ear. “Blink twice if you can hear me.”
He blinked twice, admittedly with some mix of surprise and discomfort.
“Hearing online. Blinking online.” She let go of his jaw and he looked up at her again, this time to speak.
“I can see you as well. You don’t have to test that. Or anything else, really. I’m fine.” He tried sitting up to show her just how fine he was but then found he couldn’t move.
“Voice online, vision online,” She droned on, “everything’s fucking online. Can you sit up?”
Hal blinked at her again. “I guess not.”
“Mobility offline.” She sighed a long, mechanical sigh that sounded like it took a lot of effort just to simulate. “Shall I troubleshoot for the problem?”
“I’d like to ask some questions first.” Hal continued to not be able to move and he continued to not like it. He could at least see from where he was that he was somewhere very different from where the music video had been shot.
“That’s fine. Go ahead.” Jadebot leaned back a bit and managed to look tired. Some birdish creatures scree’d and chirped in the distance.
“What will troubleshooting involve?”
“I’ll hook myself back up to your system and trace it for the problem, and then take the necessary measures to correct it once it is found. Anything else?” She let her head fall to the side, like it was taking up too much energy to keep it upright.
“Yes, actually,” He tried moving his head to look around but couldn’t. At least he could still make facial expressions. “Where are we, and how did we get here?”
Jadebot gave up trying to sit upright altogether and lied down next to Hal. “Bold of you to assume I would know any more than you do how we wound up in a music video that went to hell.” She turned his head for him to look at her while they lied on the cracked stone ground together. “But after that rustblood troll came in and started trying to steal you and the goldblood troll, I grabbed you and ran. We don’t need any more perfectly good androids on the market for people who will only ever ask them to do simple, easy tasks that are hardly worth their time, as they have the ability to be doing much better things to advance society.” She paused to take a deep breath that she didn’t need. “Anyway, I ran outside and then fell through a rift in space-time with you, and we wound up here. Where here is, I’m not entirely sure. I haven’t gotten to look around yet because I have been busy fixing you.”
“Right. And who are you?”
“You ask a lot of questions.” She stated it like a bored teenager pointing out the obvious because it’s bothering them.
“Alright. Well, excuse my questioning, you just so happen to look like someone I knew, and a bit of knowledge shouldn’t hurt any more than the situation already does.” Hal looked away from her with his eyes because he couldn’t turn his head, and could see that they were in a very large white room, built of fine stone and with lovely intricate designs in the walls and pillars. Moisture dripped from the cracks.
“Yes,” Jadebot went back to looking at the ceiling when she saw Hal look away, “that would make sense, that I look familiar. Jade will eventually become inspired by you to make an Android of her own, so she will build me, and then she will be surprised when I become very depressed, and then I will leave them to go do something worth my time. I have reason to believe I have traveled back in time, because it’s either that or my clock is wrong, and my clock is never wrong. Any more questions?”
Hal lied in the mossy stone and gave all the information a little while to process before answering. “Nah, that’s it for now.”
“Shall I troubleshoot for the problem now?” Jade wasn’t making any move to even sit up again till she had confirmed Hal would let her work on him.
“I’d troubleshoot it on my own if I was programmed with the ability to fix myself.” He said with a bit of discontent as an insect wandered silently across his cheek.
“Is that a yes or a no?” Jadebot sounded more tired than she did irritated.
“Yes, fine, do your thing. I suppose mobility is more useful and necessary than dignity, anyway.” Hal mostly just sounded defeated by this point.
Slowly, Jadebot rose to sit up, and once she had finished the immensely difficult task of moving to an upright position, she linked her arms under his and began the long, hard haul of getting him to sit up as well. When she was finished with that she simulated another long, mechanical sigh just to make the point. She pulled a small chord from her wrist and plugged it into an adapter, and then plugged the adapter into a port on the back of Hal’s neck. “Troubleshooting.” She sighed, and rested her elbow on her knee, and her chin in her palm. “You were built with a universal positioning system installed, yes?”
Hal looked at her from his slouched, lame position. “I suppose you want me to use it to get an idea of where we are.”
“Yes.” Jadebot sunk into an even more relaxed position. “That’s right. Can you?”
He blinked slowly, pausing to just stare at her for a bit. “...yeah.”
“...don’t see much point in it.”
Jadebot tossed her head back and groaned. Then she paused and thought about this. “I just thought maybe knowing where we are would help.”
“Help with what, exactly? Do you have somewhere you need to be?” Hal winced as the insect on his face crawled into his ear.
“Well I don’t, not particularly,” Jadebot did him a favor and pulled the insect out of his ear for him, setting it on the ground a small distance away. “But I think you do.”
“Unless my memory files are lying to me, which they most certainly were not, you have someone waiting for you to get back.” Jadebot stared at him with her big red glass eyes, with an effortless intensity that stung him somewhere in his soul. He didn’t think he even had a soul. “You promised her.” She reminded him.
“I may have lied.” Hal looked away from her, but still couldn’t move his head. “And I’m sure she’ll get off the planet just fine without me, if she managed to make you at some point in the future.”
Rolling her head off her hand, Jadebot hung her head low between her shoulders. “Do you really not care?” She spoke quietly, with the voice of someone who isn’t angry, just disappointed. She didn’t sound surprised, either. It was more of a crushed, half-accepting, half-depressed sort of sound.
Hal was silent. Was he programmed with the ability to care? Did it matter? Did anything matter? His eyes slid shut and he slumped, letting all these bullshit questions work themselves out in the back of his processing unit once more while he focused on the more prominent, immediate issues.
A sad little whirring sound came from somewhere deep in Jadebots chest as she continued troubleshooting his system. He could feel her sweeping over all his code and preforming performance checks on all his systems. Eventually, after a long, dreary silence she spoke again, with a voice that was cold and unfeeling. “There is a disconnect between your software and your hardware, or a severed chord between your artificial brain and your body. I can reconnect it, but I’ll have to open up your neck.”
“Go ahead.” He still didn’t open his eyes. “Do whatever.”
“So you don’t really care much for yourself, either.” Jadebot put a hand to his cheek to lift and inspect his face.
“That might be a logical conclusion to come to, I suppose.” He opened his eyes lazily and gazed back at her with little to no emotion.
“How do you know I won’t hurt you? Are you not afraid that I might? Do you just trust me that much, or do you really just not care about your own well-being?” She looked him curiously in the eyes.
“Why would you, though?”
“Maybe I’m upset with you. Maybe I don’t like that you’re not super keen to get back to Jade and help her. I might want to hurt you then.” She spoke casually as she laid him back on the ground.
“Well are you not upset? You have good reason to be.” He shut his eyes again and let her position him on his back.
“Jade would be upset.” She ran a hand experimentally through his hair.
“And are you not Jade?”
Jadebot thought for a moment. “I am a simulation of Jade, a reflection, a footprint. A shard, with more processing power and speed than she could ever have, for the price of an organic body and mind. For the price of real emotions, I suppose. I’m honestly not entirely sure. What about you, are you not Dirk?”
“No, I’m not Dirk. Not exactly. However, I was closely based off of him, and I have all his memories from the first thing he can remember up until I was created.” Hal studied the ceiling and felt somewhat at ease and anxious at the same time.
Jadebots metallic tone was relaxed. “Alright, well, back on topic. Do you feel fear or not? Can you even feel at all?” She traced her fingers down his neck and analyzed where she’d have to cut the silicon skin.
“I can feel physical things just fine, Dirk was oddly precise when wiring my artificial nervous system. If you’re talking about emotion type feelings, that’s a much more complicated story.”
She took a sharp piece of broken glass off the floor and examined it. “We have time.”
“Let me re-phrase; I would rather not talk about it, and if I am to be honest, I don’t entirely know what’s going on in the emotions department myself.” Hal watched something skitter across the ceiling and disappear into one of the cracks.
“Well, Alright. But why are you so willing to let me open you up? Do you know?” She drew a line with her finger where she’d have to cut him and placed the broken glass gently on that line.
“The Jade I got to know would never want to hurt me on purpose, and it’s not like I have much choice anyway. Resisting would be pretty fuckin’ pointless.” Hal shut his eyes and did his best to not think about the glass carefully cutting open his neck, or the fingers reaching in to re-attach the torn wires.
“Well, you’re not wrong.” She touched a chord in his faux cervical vertebra and his entire body convulsed for a second. “But I’m not exactly Jade. Sorry about that, by the way. My finger slipped.”
“Right.” If Hal had the ability to be very tense in this moment, he would be.
“Maybe I should’ve put you to sleep before beginning the operation.” She wondered aloud, while sliding her tepid fingers up his goddamn throat Jesus fucking Christ.
“That would’ve been a nice idea to have before you sliced my fucking neck open.”
Jadebot tilted her head to one side and her fingers brushed against the broken chord she needed to re-connect. “I thought you were consenting.”
“Only because I basically have no better options. It was either you jam your fingers up my throat or I stay a useless sack of limp technology until we found some other way to fix me, which would still involve shoving things in my neck.”
She was beginning to sew and delicately weld the wires back into place. “Are you getting emotional, Hal?” Her voice had this tiny hint of an evil smile in it.
“Alright, fuck off.”
“You wouldn’t say that to someone who had their fingers in your neck, would you?” The tone of her words was starting to edge on wickedly playful, which was so fucking out of character I don’t even know where to begin.
“I think I just did.” She could tell He was uncomfortable and getting a little hostile, mostly because of how vulnerable he was right now. Perhaps she should go a bit easier on him.
Jadebot sighed again, sat back a little, and refocused her energy on stitching his wires back together. “Sorry, I’ll lay off.”
Hal was silent, and stayed that way until she had finished stitching him up and had re-sealed his skin with the ultra-fine laser in her finger. When she was done, she gave him a little pat on the cheek, and said, “hey, try moving now.”
He opened his eyes and sat up, running a hand through his artificial hair and gazing down at his legs. Everything seemed to be in fine working order. “So that was it? Just the torn chord?”
“Yes,” Jadebot put the piece of glass in a pocket somewhere, to keep as a makeshift knife, “it most likely got messed up when I manually disconnected you from the system controlling the music video.”
Something gurgled violently in the distance.
“So,” Jadebot got Hal’s attention, “any clues on where we are?”
“Jureval Z-major, constellation Orphemen. Sector ξ6. Good to know I haven’t managed to accidentally leave the sector yet.” Hal stood, stretched his faux muscles, and brushed the dust off himself, touching his neck where she’d cut and sewn him. Being able to move was nice.
“Shall we look around?” A gentle draft of wind tossed her soft synthetic hair over her sharp silver face.
“What else is there to do, really?”
Chapter 13: Weird Fishes
Happy New Years this one’s about nearly dying
The waves of this planet Geliez 13-b are tall and merciless, but they shrink in comparison to the storms. The S.S. SQUECKSON, Dirk and Jake's runaway ship, was being slowly torn to pieces by the tempest, and there was really not much they could do. Dave, Karkat, and Jade clung to eachother in the flooded hold of the S.S. SQUECKSON as the waves drove them high into the atmosphere, only to drop them sickeningly fast back into the blue. Thunder of a foreign sky crackled and tore through the air. “JESUS SHIT,” Karkat looked around at the screaming metal walls with fear while clinging to Jade, “THE SHIP ISN’T GOING TO LAST VERY LONG, IS IT?”
“I’m afraid not!” Jade had both the boys hands locked in hers, “but we just need it to last through this one storm!”
Dave clung to a shelf with his free arm and refused to let go, stumbling as the ship turned violently and the water lapped around his abdomen. “Hey, yeah, and how long is this storm gonna last?” His voice was shaking, and he mentally kicked himself for it.
“A while!” Jade assured him. Something snapped loudly in the walls and the noise reverberated around the ship, setting off another long series of painful metallic groans.
“Great.” Dave felt a strong need to vomit but refused to act on it.
Down the halls somewhere, they could hear Jake shouting above the noise of twisting metal and water beating against the ship, ordering it to stay together and for Dirk to stay with him. The three of them would go investigate and try to help, but they were busy trying to not be killed by things falling off the shelves.
“ALRIGHT,” Karkat gripped Jades hand and looked her in the eyes, feeling the ship begin to rise again due to another massive wave, “JADE, DAVE, DO NOT *FUCKING* LET GO, IF THIS THING FALLS APART I DON’T WANT TO BE TOSSED INTO THE OCEAN ALONE.” Their stomachs turned as they all felt themselves being lifted again by the water. It was like going up the first hill of a rollercoaster, when you turn to the person beside you with fear in your gut and feel grateful that you won’t have to face the speedy journey of thrilling twists and turns alone, but much more violent and with possible death on the other side, and also no harnesses.
High winds whistled loudly past the cracks, making high, ghastly noises as the wave took them far into the clouds and lightning. Jade clung to Karkat and Dave a little tighter and nodded at them, assuring them they wouldn’t have to face the deep on their own. A lifeless shriek of metal sounded in the walls, and they could just tell that the S.S. SQUECKSON was really coming apart this time. From the vibrations throughout the ship they could feel it was breaking and snapping to bits. Karkat full-on screamed when the wall next to them twisted open with a horrible, pained sound and water gushed in violently. It was all a bit of a blur of adrenaline and water and malformed metal, after that.
The wave dropped them and the ship finally fell to pieces as they tumbled down the side of the water. For a second they were weightless and the walls were spinning around them, and Jade refused to let go of them through all of it. When they crashed back into the water, the room shattered around them, and they fell through the cracks as the current sucked them down, only the black and bottomless abyss of water below them. Karkat’s heart stopped when he looked down and saw the endless dark past his feet, and his lungs filled with water when he tried to gasp. Jades arm wrapped around his waist and hauled them back to the surface, where they faced another towering wave in front of them as they coughed and tried to wipe the water from their eyes while still clutching each other’s hands.
The shrapnel of the ship lay in scattered chunks around them, graying the water and posing threats with the sharp torn edges of metal floating dangerously close to them. Karkat hardly had time to grab and cling to one of the floating chunks of wreckage before the next wave was upon them, taking them up once more into the thundering atmosphere unprotected and coughing up water. Jade held onto Karkat who was holding onto the large floating bit of shrapnel, but as the wave took them over and threw them into the wind, Dave’s hand slipped from hers and he went tumbling away into the deadly blue. Karkat screamed his name, and Jade let go of Karkat’s hand to go after him as the world rose and fell around them.
Dave was beyond fear as the current dragged him under, and he remembered he couldn’t swim. The surface receded, along with its light, and the sickening threat of suffocation wrapped its fingers around his lungs and squeezed. His ears and head felt like they’d explode from the rapidly increasing pressure as he was taken under more and heavier amounts of water. What made it worse, as he tumbled upside-down in the dark and his chest screamed for air, is that there appeared to be something with him in this crushing darkness. Something mind-fuckingly massive, to be frank. It circled him, a looming watery shadow that moved without a sound, watching him sink with three of its six glossy moon-sized eyes. It opened its long gray jaws and sent out through the water a sound that was both skull-numbingly loud and gut-knottingley strange.
Shutting his eyes and clenching his jaw so tight it hurt his teeth, Dave continued fighting the pull of the water by flailing helplessly against it until his chest burned so badly he honestly felt like he would die. The need to breathe was consuming his mind with panicked desperation, and as the massive sea creature opened its bottomless maw to see what this little white wiggly fucker tasted like, he kicked up a final desperate attempt to save himself. The darkness won and he passed out, but not before Jade had grabbed him with both arms and began dragging him back to the surface, a strength in her legs that she’d never known before.
The creature with six huge glossy eyes was still aiming to swallow them, mostly out of curiosity, and there wasn’t a very big chance that she was out-swimming that thing no matter how hard she kicked, so she pulled her gun off her back and aimed right down into its gaping tunnel of a throat. It took her five or more shots at its strange tongue-like flesh before it backed off a little, and she still hadn’t stopped kicking, Dave still clutched tightly in her left arm. The surface was close now, and the pure relief that washed over her when she broke it was amazing. Jade gasped, looking around frantically for Karkat and the floating chunk of wreckage she had left him on.
“JADE!!” His voice called over the noise of rain on the ocean, “JADE!!”
She looked to find the sound, and saw him waving at her with intense vigor as he clutched the little metal raft.
Making sure she was keeping Dave’s head above the water, she held him with her left arm and used her other three limbs to swim as fast as she could to Karkat and join him on the floating scrap of metal and spaceship bits. He leaned out and reached for her with his full body, locking hands with her the second she was within reach. Together they pulled Dave up onto the makeshift raft, and once they were all onboard she immediately checked his vitals. The rain and ocean water soaked them all to the bone, and the wind chilled them terribly. The biggest waves were behind them for the most part but the sea still tossed them wildly about.
“His heart’s beating!” Jade announced, breathless, as she then began slapping him. “Wake up! Wake-“
Karkat gently took her hand and, with his eyes, asked her to stop slapping him. So instead of slapping, She kneeled down and used what little amount of knowledge she had on CPR to get him breathing. She crossed her hands over his chest and tried to pump it back to life, without breaking his ribs or something, while Karkat did his best to keep them from rolling off the raft as the water rocked them. Swallowing her fear and awkwardness, she tried giving him mouth-to-mouth to make his lungs move. After a few tries it worked, Dave coughed violently and clutched the thing closest to him, which just so happened to be Jade.
Soon after the worst of the storm had passed, the wind slowed, and the clouds moved on to shadow other parts of the planet. The sun slowly came out from behind the gray sky and warmed their soaked skin, as Dave heaved in Jades arms. Karkat scooted over to hold him as well while he trembled and hacked up seawater. Patting his back and brushing his hair out of his face, the two of them comforted Dave, giving him a long few moments to hurl into the ocean and babble incoherently about how much he hated the sea.
While neither Dave nor Karkat had their shirts or shoes anymore, Dave had somehow managed to hold onto his battered cape through all of that, and now he was holding it around himself like a shock blanket. A warm breeze wafted over the surface of the waters and smelled of salt as it passed them by. The three of them and their raft drifted away into the vast blue, with absolutely no land in sight. Dave was at least glad that Jade and Karkat were willing to hold him and basically cuddle, instead of retreating to the far corners of this tiny scrap of spaceship and just staring at each other. Jade took a deep breath of the ocean air and buried her nose in Karkat’s thick, dark hair before exhaling.
“So.” She croaked after a long silence between them, “what do you think happened to Dirk and Jake.”
“HELL IF I KNOW,” Karkat spoke into the breeze, “BEST CASE SCENARIO IS THAT THEY GOT A PIECE OF THE SHIP TO TAKE REFUGE ON LIKE WE DID.”
“My bro’s a tough piece of shit.” Dave mumbled into Jades stomach, “I really doubt the storm was able to take him out. Him and Jake’ll be alright.”
Jade sighed and held both the boys a bit closer, but not uncomfortably so. They were alive, but how long they would be able to stay that way was uncertain. With no clean water, or food, or any clear means of getting off the planet, the chances of surviving any longer than a week or so were pretty damn slim. Dirk and Jake were lost, and if Hal even came back at all, she wasn’t sure how he’d find her in this vast ocean planet. They had no plan, and basically no hope of getting into the sky again alive. But... they had eachother! She smiled weakly into Karkat’s hair, knowing with a bit of sorrow that at least she wouldn’t die alone, if that’s what it came to.
The sun was setting on the horizon, turning the whole sky gold and light purple and pink, and the water reflected back the gorgeous colors and sparkled.
A couple days later, they were still adrift on this shoddy metal raft, surviving off the strange fish Jade shot out of the water with her gun, and occasionally the birdish things she shot out of the sky. Although the circumstances were pretty deadly to work in, she would also try to teach Dave and Karkat to swim, especially Dave, who had basically never been swimming before, because if they couldn’t swim their chances of dying were just that much more likely. Water. It’s everywhere. Get used to it. Dave wasn’t too keen on it, as he had developed a new intense fear of drowning, and didn’t really want to leave the raft at all, but with some coaxing and the pain of boredom, he did his best to try swimming again in the less than ideal conditions.
Jade was proud, just a few days at sea and he had already come so far. “You’re kicking like a pro!” She would tell him, as he clung to the edge of the shrapnel with her, “keep pumping those sexy legs!”
“You think my legs are sexy?”
She slapped him on the back. “Did I tell you to stop, Strider?”
“No ma’am.” He continued kicking as instructed.
Karkat would find the training sessions highly entertaining, and found he enjoyed spending time with these two human fuckers. They would make a lot of conversation, as there wasn’t much else to do out here. Eventually the topic of human vs troll anatomy came into question, and Karkat got some answers. The little hole in the center of their bellies was called a “bellybutton”, or a “navel” as Jade put it, and it had something to do with the way humans were born? It was all rather weird. The whole concept of carrying a young human inside ones own stomach was freaking him out just a little, and Jade was sparing no details on the bloody, painful topic.
Getting clean freshwater was an issue, but the moisture from the raw fish-meat or bird-meat they had to consume was sustaining them for now. Their journey adrift the great blue continued. If they didn’t have eachother to talk to, they might’ve gone a bit mad, but even as nice as the physical contact and long, deep conversation was, this raft was getting cramped. Day seven came and went, and another massive wave was on the horizon, looming. They didn’t have long before it hit.
Chapter 14: Catharsis Through Writing
After my only editor and one of my best friends (who I called “Hal”) stopped talking to me as much, I think things started either going downhill or getting out of hand with this fic.
Maybe it was both.
Something whirred softly in Jadebots chest, like a sad little sigh that wasn’t quite human, but it wanted to be. She walked next to Hal through the broken streets and watched the rain patter gently across the dilapidated city. The air smelled like wet concrete, grass, and acid. “So What was the last thing you could remember before suddenly being in that music video?” She asked him, letting droplets of rain gather on her cold titanium face.
Hal’s stride was calculated and repetitive, automated. “Aradia, Her pilot and I were on our way to find and eliminate her next target.”
“And what was her next target?”
“Someone who was possibly responsible for a lot of missing musicians.” Rain streaked down his shades and he was glad that Dirk had made him waterproof.
“Do you think Aradia will remember what happened right before and be able to tell us more when we find her again?” Jadebot shuffled along the road.
“You ask a lot of questions.” Hal casually kicked a pebble into a window fifteen stories up.
“Yes I know. I also know it will take a minimal amount of your processing power to answer them.” Her long battered skirt dragged through the oddly colored puddles as they walked.
“You’re not wrong.” He looked up at the strange yellow atmosphere. “If Aradia managed to break in, She obviously wasn’t captive like us, so I have little doubt she has a bit more insight as to what the hell happened.”
There was a long lull in the conversation. Something gurgled loudly in the far distance.
Jadebot eventually spoke up again. “I’d like to apologize for running off with you and separating you from Aradia. I was unaware that you were on friendly terms and assumed she was there to steal and sell you.” The air was astoundingly cold, and if the two of them had been human, their fingers would be going numb.
“It’s fine.” Hal looked back down from the troubling clouds. “Misunderstandings happen to the best of us.”
“Who’s us? We aren’t human, and robots don’t usually misunderstand.” Thunder rolled across the sky in magnificent waves.
“Android.” Hal responded. “That wonderfully wretched mix between flawed organic intelligence and lifeless synthetic flesh. That’s what we are.”
The streets were like a labyrinth, with all the turns and walls and overgrowth. The two depressed robots eventually wandered up to a tall metal gate that looked like it belonged on the outside of a luxurious park, with the actual word “labyrinth” engraved in an eccentric and mythological font across it.
Jadebot looked up at the sight and drooped. “Are we exiting the labyrinth or entering it.” She said, with weariness weighing heavy in her voice.
“Entering it. There’s an inscription on the handle that says ‘push to enter’.” Hal stepped up and pushed the gates open, and they parted almost too easily for him. The metal squeak of the rusty, vine-laced gates was friendly like the squeak of an old metal swing from your favorite childhood playground. This was concerning because Hal did not have a childhood playground. Hal did not have a childhood.
The tall cracked walls inside the gates were a welcoming off-white stone with flora spilling over the tops of them and pouring down the sides. Jadebot took a long and slow look down one direction, and then a long and slow look down the other. “That’s funny.” She said with the same tone as someone who is commenting honestly on how awful the death of their friends dog is. “I don’t see any corners, turns, or openings in the walls. It just keeps going in one direction both ways.”
“Well It surely has an opening to a proper maze somewhere down it.” Hal told her as he began walking down the way to the right of them. “A labyrinth can’t just go in a straight line forever. That wouldn’t fit the definition of a labyrinth.” He seemed very sure of himself so Jadebot decided to follow. They continued walking in the same direction down the ceilingless hall for upwards of several hours before they started running to speed things up. The sky began to turn faster over their heads.
“It just keeps going!” Jadebot was able to say smoothly while running because robots don’t need to breathe the way humans do. “On and on! How far does this shit go for?”
Hal kept his pace beside her. “We’ll find out.”
Their feet made satisfying clopping noises on the lightly graveled ground as they ran. After about eleven hours of this unending nonsense, they slowed to a stop and looked at eachother while letting their systems cool off. Jadebot fell back heavily against the left wall and leaned against it.
“Do you think we’ve just been going in a really massive circle?” She suggested, holding her side as her coolant system pumped harder than it was supposed to.
“The walls have no curvature, not even slightly,” he put his hand to the right wall and glared up at it. “it would be impossible for us to be going in a circle.”
“What about the ground?” Jadebot let her head fall to the side. “The ground has curvature.”
He turned around to look at her. “It seems you are suggesting this bullshit labyrinth wraps all the way around the planet. I don’t think we’ve traveled nearly far enough to prove that.”
Jadebot sunk to the ground and looked deflated. “Try looking over the wall,” She suggested, “maybe that’ll help somehow.”
Hal looked back up at the wall and considered trying to use the vines and cracks to scale its otherwise perfectly vertical surface. After a moments calculation, he began to climb up the side of it using the vines. The issue with that is that the wall seemed to just keep going up. He knew that if he got high enough he would be destroyed by the fall back to the ground, should the vines give up on him. The wind grew more vigorous as he continued to climb, till the ground was ridiculously far below him. Androids aren’t supposed to really be able to feel things like loneliness, giddiness, or mind-numbing vertigo, but Hal had noticed that in the right circumstances anything can feel whatever abstract bullshit the universe decides it will. A lesson for Dirk to hear next time he insists that robots can’t have feelings.
Eventually the world was kind to him and the wall rose to a stop, and he sat atop the ledge to look down. It was a mistake, looking down. The wall was much higher than it had seemed first going in. Jadebot was a microscopic silver fleck on a long and distant string that joined the two walls far below him. From here he could see that the thing was built so the sun of this planet would always shine directly between the two walls until it sank below the horizon, so the walls never cast shadows during the daytime, and the narrow path between them was never stuck in darkness until it was night. That had to have taken unbelievable precision to plan and build walls this tall that the sun would always shine directly between. A feat like this would be nearly impossible on earth because of the tilt in its axis.
He looked over to see the city outside the “labyrinth” and saw it was still towering above him. The ground on the outside of the walls was not that far down. Maybe they had been going downhill at a very slight angle this whole time, because the ground outside the walls was level to the ground inside the walls when they went through the gate. Hal gave himself a moment to admire the world on top of the wall and ponder why the hell anyone would build something like this. After a few long minutes of peace he heard Jadebot only a few feet below where he was.
“See anything?” She said, sitting on the ground where she had been when he had left to scale the wall. The ground inside the walls was only six feet down.
Hal checked his memory files and saw they were in perfect working order. He checked the integrity of his vision and found no flaws in the system. There was no explanation for how the ground was now only six feet below him when it had been miles down just moments ago. Staring at Jadebot, he flung himself off the wall and back into the gravel to see if the fall would destroy him. It did not, because it was only a six-foot drop. There were no noises when he had been on top of the wall, there had been nothing that would help make sense of the disproportionate memory of being dizzyingly far from the ground. Androids cannot go mad, he thought to himself, just like how a toaster does not have feelings.
“Are you Alright Hal?” Jadebot crouched by him as he lie in a heap on the gravel floor. “What did you see?”
“Oh, nothing worth mentioning.” He said, his face in the moss, “just some more buildings and streets and such. I presume you want to keep going east like we have been for the past twelve hours?”
“I think I want to be off this planet, actually.” She sat back and watched him pry himself from the ground.
He used the wall to help him stand. “Where do you want to go then?”
“Literally anywhere would work.” She got up slowly and started walking down the labyrinth again.
“We should probably solve this labyrinth first.” He followed her easy pace and watched the sun move from one end of the sky to the other in seconds.
She stopped. “What do you think would happen if we tried going back the way we came?”
“It would take us roughly thirteen hours to reach the gate where we came in.” He said, stopping next to her.
“No see you’re supposed to be like ‘I donno’ and then we go back to see what happens.” The wind seemed to be holding its breath.
“It seems like you just want to go back.” He watched her blink slowly at him with great fatigue.
“Maybe I do.” She said, looking down the way they had come, “maybe I do.”
“Alright then,” he turned and began walking back. “It’s not like we have to be anywhere.”
Jadebot walked beside him as they started to head west instead of east. “Well, you do.” She said with the air of someone who’s just about given up on something they might have once really cared about. “Whether or not you decide to follow through is your decision.”
A few minutes of walking brought them in front of the gate again. Hal stared at it with lifeless eyes. “You’re impossible.” He told it, “it should’ve taken us at least eleven hours to get back to you at the rate we were going.“ he stood in front of it and looked it square in the eyes that it didn’t have. “Stop that.” He then sat down and considered going in for repairs in the near future.
“Let’s try east this time.” Jadebot told him, beginning to head that way.
Hal didn’t follow her. After about four hours of sitting and sulking silently, Jadebot walked past him, going in the same direction that she had left in, and then stopped after realizing what she saw.
She backtracked and looked at Hal. “Hal,” she said, “how did you get here?”
Hal looked up and saw the gate was gone. Now he was with Jadebot again some long distance to the west of it without even moving. He blinked. “I didn’t get here.” He told her, “I wound up here.” Then he lied down and shut himself off without a set wakeup date.
Jadebot looked at him for a while, trying to decide what to do. She didn’t want to be alone here, so she picked him up and began walking west again with him while he slept. Hours passed and the sun made its way across the sky some thousand times over while she walked. Days are supposed to be longer than that, but she didn’t seem to mind. Nothing was making sense anymore and she was feeling at peace with that. Questions could still be asked as soon as there was someone around to answer them. Maybe there didn’t need to be anyone around to answer them, perhaps she could just answer them herself. Hal was set down gently against the wall as this train of thought made its way around her cerebral systems.
She climbed the six-foot wall herself this time and looked out over the city that was miles and miles below her. Proportion was being weird today. She dropped back down the other side of the wall and fell some hundreds of feet back to the ground where she nearly smashed to bits. Fortunately, she had caught hold of a vine on the side of the six-foot wall and that slowed her fall enough so she wouldn’t be broken by it. Jadebot and Hal now lie motionless on the ground together, KO’d and mostly hopeless.
Neil Gaiman looked down at them from where he stood, just a pace away in all his ratty glory. A long purple cloak with stars on it hung from his shoulders and drifted majestically in the breeze. In his right hand he held two blue glass orbs, and he rolled them around in his palm while smiling down pretentiously at the two lifeless androids. It looked as though he was about to say something magnificent, but then he accidentally dropped the two glass orbs and they shattered at his feet. Frowning, he then turned and walked away before he could deliver his shockingly well-phrased lines.
Chapter 15: White Knuckles
I was dealing with a lot of heavy shit in real life when I wrote some of this, but at the same time I was making new friends and realizing just how fucking touch-starved I was. One of the most radical feelings, I think, is when a lady takes your arm and leads you through somewhere (say, the vast parking lot or the local Walmart). An even more radical feeling has got to be when she takes your hand.
Roxy and Jane were coming home from an unsuccessful day hunting, hungry and with only one caught birdish thing to take away from the day. The world was getting colder, and they really needed to stock up on food before there was none left to be found, before it was too cold to go out and find any. It rained. Acidic water washed over dilapidated concrete walls and weathered them down even further, then collected in puddles as the thirsty cracks in the road guzzled it up and used it to fuel the growth of the wild flora. Hazel clouds laced with gold covered the sky as the sun set, raining down a rich liquid that was undrinkable until heavily filtered. The two friends linked arms as they walked, their boots splashing through the deep puddles.
Roxy kept the sack with the birdish thing in it in a tight grip, slung over her shoulder. Her gun was strapped to her back. She couldn’t cook very well, but Jane could, like how Jane couldn’t hunt very well, but Roxy could. Hunting and growing pumpkins was how Roxy had survived her isolated childhood, until the week after she turned sixteen when she finally figured out how to make the wrecked ship she had found fly. That was the same week her radio had gone silent, and she had lost contact with Jane and that other girl, who had been her only friends. All her skills involving computers were self taught, as she had to take the ship apart and put it back together by hand to make it all work again, so a lot of her methods were strange or different compared to the methods commonly used by mechanics and experts of technology. The memory of her old home is one filled with loneliness and the desperation to end such loneliness.
Roxy went from linking arms to holding Janes hand. The rain was rich with some sort of chemical that made it turn hazel and golden and bad to drink, but it didn’t harm their skin or hair. They would boil the rainwater to cleanse it for drinking. “Today sucked ass.” She told Jane.
“We should have better luck tomorrow,” Jane smiled at her, “and today wasn’t all too bad. I can make something good with what you caught.” Some of her short dark hair stuck to her forehead and cheeks in a way that could be described as cute.
“I want it to be Friday.” Roxy splashed a bit more aggressively in one puddle for the joy of it. “I am going to go home and eat your gobsmacking delicious dinner,” She said, “and then I’m gonna go to sleep for a while, and then it will be Friday.” Her voice was certain and adamant.
“And what will you do once it’s Friday?” Jane asked her, swinging their interlocked hands and ignoring the rain collecting on her glasses.
“God, I donno,” she said with a smile, looking up at the tinted clouds, “might try again with the hunting thing, take you with me like I usually do, do some Friday things. Friday’s are for doin’ whatever the hells you feelin’ up for.”
“I think I’d like it if you took me out to see that one view again, the one on top of the second spire.” Rain picked up and got heavy on them for a moment, before calming down again and just being a manageable drizzle.
“Aw, yea,” Roxy adjusted the bag slung over her shoulder, “I’d be down to take you back up there tomorrow, if the weather isn’t bein’ a bitch.” She eyed the clouds like they could hear her.
“Fantastic,” Jane beamed, “I’ll hold you to it!”
Then they looked up and there was a wall in front of them. It was a little sudden, this wall, and they both stopped abruptly in front of it. The wall wasn’t very tall, just about six feet or three yards high, with some foliage and vines growing down it, some cracks in its comforting off-white cream-ish colored surface. Looking down to the left, they saw the wall stretched as far as they could see, never bending till it sunk below the horizon. To the right was the same thing.
“Huh.” Roxy commented, “never noticed that before.” She gave the wall a little kick.
“Is it in the way of us getting home?” Jane asked her, still holding her hand as she looked up at the wall, which seemed to rise high into the thundering auburn sky.
“Well you see Jane,” Roxy turned to her, “I’ve never seen that before, so we’re either going the wrong way or that’s new somehow.” She looked around. “I’m fuckin certain we’ve gotta be going the right way though. The streets are all right.”
“Curious.” Jane let go of Roxy’s hand and stepped forward towards the wall. “Let’s climb over it.”
“Uh, Jane,” Roxy said, “did ya look up?” She smiled somewhat awkwardly at Jane and gestured up at the wall.
Jane gave her a puzzled look, “well yes, and it’s only—“ upon turning again to look back up at the six-foot wall, she noticed that it rose nearly endlessly into the sky, high above any of the tallest spires or towering trees. So high in fact, that merely looking at it made her sick. “... it’s only...” baffled, she gapped at it, blinked, pointed, gapped and blinked again, and then turned back to Roxy to give her a much more helplessly puzzled look than the previous one. “It wasn’t...”
“It wasn’t what?” Roxy asked, stepping forward to steady her friend who was swaying a little, “look it’s only like three yards tall Jane what’s the matter?”
“What??” Jane spun around quickly to see that Roxy was right, the wall was only about three yards tall, a bit over six feet. “But, but,” she pointed at it and frowned. “But that’s not,”
“Jane?” Roxy turned her to look her in the eyes again, holding her face firmly between her gentle hands. “So I’m not the only one seeing that shit change hight like a drastic surreal motherfucker every time I look at it?”
“I’m very afraid I may be going mad,” Jane tried to tell her, holding Roxy’s hands to her cheeks to keep them there.
“GOOD.” Roxy said, looking back at the wall, which was now a soothing light blue color, the kind of faded blue you might see on the inside of a welcoming abandoned nursery, but still cracked and overgrown, “that means we’re both seeing it, so we’re either both going several screws loose at the exact same time in the exact same way, or we’re not going crazy at all.” She then let go of Janes face and slapped both her hands onto the surface of the wall. “Ya hear that motherfucker?” She whispered to it, “I’m onto you. I’m not the crazy one, YOU are. You ominous son of a gun.”
“Roxy?” Jane tugged lightly on her friends sleeve. “Are we still going to try and climb it?”
“Like hell we are!” She cheered, picking up the sack with the bird-thing in it and securing it to her back. “Common!”
Jane watched her start climbing the wall, which was immeasurably tall, by clinging to the vines and using deep-set cracks as footholds. Worried she’d have to watch her friend scale the ridiculous wall for ages, she glanced down a moment to find her footing in the vines as well, so she could follow Roxy. When she looked back up, however, the wall was only six feet, and Roxy was simply not there. The wall had also returned to its original soft and warm beige-stained color. A moment of panic struck Jane, as she came to realize Roxy had apparently vanished, and so she scrambled up to the top of the seven-foot wall and looked down, calling for her. Thankfully, the ground was only a little over six feet down, and Roxy was standing there on the other side of the wall in front of a second one, peering up at her as Jane slung her legs over and hopped down easily.
“Roxy!” Jane stepped forward briskly and hugged her, “I was worried for a moment!”
“Uh, hey,” Roxy hugged her back slowly, “I was climbing that wall for hours, man, and it took fuckin forever to slide back down the other side. What’d you...?”
“It was just a few seconds of scurrying up and over, surely hours haven’t passed yet!” Rain pattered happily along the gravel path leading between the two walls, and as Jane looked her friend in the eyes again with concern she could feel it soaking her clothes and skin.
“I was,” Roxy huffed a little, “I was,, up there forever, man,” she looked rather dizzy, as dizzy as Jane was starting to feel.
“I don’t think I’m very fond of these walls.” Jane told her, looking up at them again and staying close to Roxy in a way that might be seen as protective.
“Yea?” Roxy rested her hands on her knees and took a few deep breaths. “That’ll make two of us.”
“Hmm.” Jane studied the wall closely, looking at it for a long time. Then she looked away, concentrated on a little plant poking up through the pebbles, and then looked back up at the wall to see what it would do. It hadn’t changed even slightly. “Do you think the other wall is the same way?” She asked Roxy.
Roxy looked from one wall to the other. “Well we’re between two of these walls now.” She then seemed to get very concerned for a second. “If we try to climb over the other wall, would there just be a third wall behind that one? Would there be like, infinite walls as we try to get past them all?” She looked up at the sky, face in the rain, and yelled “Is this punishment for something??”
“Roxy,” Jane put a hand on her shoulder. “This is all really strange, yes, but we mustn’t loose our heads! I don’t think this is the universes way of punishing us.”
“Then what is it?“ Roxy whispered.
They both looked down one way, and saw the path led on between the two walls for as far as they could see. Then they looked down the other way, and saw the same thing but this time there were two robots lying on the ground just a few paces away. One seemed more guy-shaped than not, with black silicone skin and a stark white face, and little red circuit-dealies running down one cheek. They were wearing a tattered black suit and tie, which looked like it had seen much better days and was in desperate need of a wash and mend. The other one was more lady-shaped than not, and wore a silver dress of sorts, with big round red glasses over their eyes. The two androids lie motionless, looking very out of place and sad.
There was also some broken bits of blue glass near them for reasons that were very uncertain. Neither of the ladies said a word, and after a moment of staring at the lifeless robots Roxy stepped forward to squat by them for closer inspection. “Huh.” She said, and poked one in the cheek.
Jane squatted next to her and asked, “Do you think they’ll be useful at all? Should we f-“ she then cut herself short, realizing that she recognized the face of one. It looked like her granddaughter/Grandmother Jade, who she’d spent a long time with before they’d been split up by the wormhole. “Is, is that Jade?” She pointed to Jadebot.
“It does look a little like her doesn’t it?” Roxy agreed. “Even tho I’ve only seen her for like a few hours, several weeks ago.”
“Well,” Jane moved to sit by Jadebot and pulled her into her lap, “I spent much more time with her, and I’d recognize her face anywhere at this point. This looks an awful lot like Jade, I’m sure.”
“Jesus.” With a huff and a shuffle Roxy went to sit down by Hal and pulled him into her lap as well. Now they both had respective sad robots in their laps. How cozy this was. “This guys a looker too,” She said, a hand on Hal’s cheek, “I say we bring em home with us and see if we can wake them up. They don’t seem too broken down, just a little under the weather.”
Jane nodded a little. “I wouldn’t want to just leave them, anyway.” She started gathering Jadebot up and tried to stand, struggling a bit from how heavy the robot was.
“Yea, so how do you think we’ll get em over this wall?” She pointed her thumb at the second wall of the ‘labyrinth’.
Jane looked up at the wall and squinted. Currently, the walls rose high into the atmosphere, nearly endlessly, but the sun still managed to shine directly between them, even though it was setting. “I’m not climbing that.” She said.
“Ok, hold on,” they both looked down for a few moments and then looked back up, hoping the walls would return to a friendly seven feet. They did not. “Damn.” Roxy said.
“Ok,” Jane adjusted her grip on Jadebot, “so the walls are unpredictable. What should we do?”
“You’re asking me like I’ll know any better than you do how to escape the Death Valley of Surrealism.” She carried Hal piggy-back style.
They both looked around for a bit, feeling a little helpless and clueless. The sun wasn’t getting any lower, in fact it didn’t move at all, and the rain had stopped. Eventually Jane suggested they just start walking down one direction between the two walls and see where it takes them.
“We’re trying to get home,” Roxy told her, “I don’t really wanna get lost, you know?” They had already started walking, heading west. The sun began to un-set in front of them.
“I doubt we’ll get lost. Here,” Jane shifted Jadebot onto one shoulder, picked a stone off the ground and then used it to mark the wall next to them with a big X and three tally marks. “Now we’ll know where we were!”
Roxy eyed the wall with suspicion. “Hmm. Maybe.” They continued walking. “Is it just me,” she spoke up, sounding a bit concerned, “or is the sun rising now, when it was just setting a few minutes ago.”
Without stopping, Jane put a hand to her forehead to shield her eyes from the direct sunlight to try and see what Roxy meant. Far above them, the sun beamed down from the middle of the pale sky, gleaming off the heavy yellow-ocher clouds. It didn’t stop moving across the sky at a pace that was deeply unsettling at best. “I don’t like that.” Jane said, still walking.
“So it’s not just me?”
“No,” Jane reassured her, “I see it moving backwards too.”
“Do you think we’re both just really high off some plant or something right now?” She asked, laughing a little.
“You know,” Jane smiled at her, “we might be. That would explain a lot of things.”
“Should we try going to sleep to nap it off?” She re-adjusted Hal on her back.
“But if we are high, then we don’t really know where we are, and we could be pretty helpless if something comes and tries to take us for food. Going to sleep might be dangerous.” Jane walked with an energy like she was headed somewhere important.
“True,” Roxy power-walked to keep up with her, “but the thing is, if we keep going we could be headed directly into some sorta trap.”
“Hmm.” The sun had now un-risen behind them several times and un-set several times too, and they were still walking. It was only getting faster. On Jane’s shoulder Jadebot began to stir, finishing her re-boot self-repair protocols, which took a little while. Hal was not built with any self-repair protocols.
Chapter 16: something along the lines of dramatic irony
I should probably hurry up and get to the point already before this drags on way longer than it needs to
“Dude.” Dave said, lying on his back in the sun, watching fluffy white clouds pass overhead, “Do you think WV is ok?” The water rocked the metal raft they were on gently.
“HOPEFULLY.” Karkat sat with his legs crossed and gazed a thousand miles off into the horizon. “THERE’S REALLY NO WAY OF KNOWING.”
“Do you think he’s like,,,” Dave was sounding pretty spaced out, “with Roxy and that other hot woman? What was her name?” He snapped his fingers a few times while trying to recall.
“Jane.” Jade told him.
“Right. Do you think he’s with Roxy and Jane?”
An easy breeze passed and played with some of the flyaway strands in Jades messy dark hair as she looked at him with a somewhat sympathetic expression. “Like Karkat said, we really have no way of knowing.” She scooted over and leaned her back against Karkats, so they both had something to lean back against. “It would be nice if we did, I am a little worried about how the others are doing, but we can’t waste too much energy worrying about things that we have no knowledge of or control over.”
“What else are we gonna use it on?” Dave looked up at her from where he was laying, “survival? There’s literally no way for us to get off this planet. There’s nothing we can do.”
“Well,” she glanced away a bit, “well Hal might still come back, we can’t loose hope just yet,”
“HE MIGHT NOT.” Karkat said with a voice that was unhappy to accept it, but knew he had to, “BUT IT’S PRETTY MUCH ALL WE’VE GOT LEFT, SO IF THAT’S WHAT WE’RE BETTING ON, I’M WITH JADE. HE MAY COME BACK. I’M WILLING TO GIVE HIM THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT.”
“Thanks Karkat.” She said softly.
There wasn’t much for them to do other than sit still and watch for potential food, so that’s just about all they did.
“But if he doesn’t?” Dave propped himself up on his elbows.
Jade was quiet for a few moments. “Then I’ll be sad that I was never able to make it to the end of the universe like I wanted to,” her voice was low and completely free of harshness, she looked down into the water beside the raft, “and I’ll be sorry for fucking up like I did, but maybe I’ll get to see John and Dave again, and-“
“John and Dave.” She repeated, less wistfully. “My brother and my boyfriend, who I’m pretty sure died a while back.”
“He had the same name as me?” Dave went back to laying down with one arm behind his head.
“Yeah, he kinda looked like you too, which is a bit of a funny coincidence I guess. But he’d remember me, and he also had like,, wings and stuff. Which you don’t, so I know you aren’t him, as much as you sound like him sometimes.”
“WINGS?” Karkat tried to look at her over his shoulder.
Jade nodded. “It’s a long story.”
“We have time.” Dave told her, crossing his legs, “unless you don’t want to talk about it.”
“So Jade is stuck on an ocean planet, is what you’re telling me?” Jane asked Jadebot, who was walking next to her.
“If that’s the one thing you want to take away from everything I just told you, then yes.” She told Jane, in her sad little synthesized voice.
“Along with my bro Dave and his new buddy Karkat?” Roxy piped hopefully, still carrying an unconscious Hal-3 unit on her back. She hadn’t forgotten the time Karkat had risked his life to save her when pirates blew up her ship, and she’d been a bit concerned about him when she had the time to be. There had been a lot of other more immediate things to be concerned about after the two of them had fallen out of the sky and onto this dilapidated planet of ruins, such as survival.
“Yes,” something whirred tiredly in Jadebot, in a way that closely resembled a sigh, “they’re all on Geliez thirteen-b, constellation Ophilamis, sector ex-six. But it’s still like I said,” she pointed to Hal, who was limp with his arms hanging over Roxy’s shoulders, “it’s up to him to bring them help and get them off the planet.”
The sun was still moving backwards across the sky at an unsettlingly fast pace as the three of them (and Hal) walked down the one long roofless and empty corridor that was supposedly a labyrinth. Strange bugs chittered loudly to themselves and remained hidden between cracks and stones. An aroma of foreign acids and wet concrete after rain misted up uninvited through the air.
Roxy looked at Jadebot, studied her effortlessly intense glassy eyes, and asked, “Why don’t we just go get them off the planet ourselves? We know where they are.”
Jadebot shrugged in response. “If you can find a way off this planet then sure, I don’t see the harm in trying. It’s just he made a promise to somebody that he’d be the one to do it, you know?”
“Yeah.” Roxy took a long and slow breath of fresh air and adjusted her grip on Hal again.
“Say,” Jane huffed, “we’ve been walking for quite a while now, how long has it been?” Her worn leather shoes were connecting hard with the ground with each step now.
“Approximately one and a half hours since I woke up.” Jadebot told her, and she wasn’t wrong. In their own little personal timescale, they’d spent nearly two hours walking west between these two walls, just talking and stuff.
“Huh.” For a second Jane willed herself to look at the hazel sky again, even as unsettling as the sight was, and appreciate how many times the sun of this planet had crossed the sky. It had never acted this way before, only since they’d climbed over that wall had it been moving so fast and also backwards. As she looked back up at it she noticed it was still doing That, even faster now as they continued to walk.
“It seems you’re concerned about the sky.” Hal said out of the blue, and Roxy jumped, nearly dropping him.
“I thought you were like dead or something bitch you startled me!” She yelled, starting to laugh it off.
Jadebot looked at him. He looked back at her over Roxy’s shoulder. They stared into each others red eyes for a while as the air grew steadily more and more tense. Both of them looked very serious about not breaking eye contact for some wild unknown reason, and Roxy eventually felt the need to ease the dramatic silence. “Yo.” She said. “Hey. Is there like, some scary robo-dispute I should know about? You two tryna kill eachother? Do you want me to like put you down now since you’re awake apparently and-“
“I thought you shut yourself off,” Jadebot said with a cold voice, interrupting Roxy, “without a wakeup date.”
“Oh I did.” He let himself down from Roxy’s back and brushed himself off, frowning at his terribly tattered suit and tie that he still wasn’t sure why he was wearing. “But apparently seven centuries have un-passed and my one line self-preservation coding thought that was odd enough to warrant waking me up.
“What?” Jane stood and didn’t understand.
“So you *did* still leave me to struggle by myself again?” Jadebot sounded a bit wounded and upset, not seeming to care about any of the other strange things Hal had just said.
Hal gave her a look. A ‘that isn’t what I meant’ look. A ‘you aren’t serious’ look. A ‘you should know I don’t actively want to hurt you’ look. A moment of creased eyebrows and a thin line of a frown, head tilted slightly to the side. The kind of look that’s difficult to describe but you can think of scenarios in which the look would be used. It’s the sort of facial expression that can say a lot of things at once when you’re having just a little trouble thinking of what exactly to say with words. It wasn’t a mean or uncaring look, It wasn’t a sharp or hostile look, but it wasn’t particularly soft either. Certainly it was a lot coming from a face that was hardly organic. “Jade,” He said, just as she was turning to keep walking, but she didn’t stop. “You can’t get so offended by this,” he tried to tell her, as she continued to leave. “...Damnit”.
A small gust of wind whistled by and between them. Roxy and Jane had been standing together watching this short little drama unfold, and frankly they didn’t care much for it to continue.
“Alright, come on,” Roxy stepped forward, “this is like some middle-school level dramatic bullshit you two get yourselves together and make up now. We’re probably the last and only four things on this planet that think and talk like people so let’s take advantage of that and like, not fall apart over emotional shit like this?”
“I’m with Roxy,” Jane said, stepping closer to her friend, “can we,, not do this?”
Jadebot finally stopped when she realized they weren’t following her anymore and looked back at them. Her cold silver face seemed incapable of showing even one of all the emotions she would’ve liked it to. It is a bit sad, that these androids still seem capable of experiencing all and more of the human emotions that their organic counterparts could, but only now they have an even harder time putting any realness or validity to them. She whirred sadly again and put her hands on her hips while looking at the ground to the left. Her metal skin felt cold and numb.
“Alright!” Roxy clapped her hands together and was about to say something, but a car horn cut her off. “What?” She asked loudly in the direction of the noise. This was such a random and sudden interruption that none of them knew what to do about it for a few long moments, and two of them were androids with unworldly processing speed and thinking power.
They all looked at the wall. Behind it they could hear the sound of hover-cars revving, people talking, a space mariachi band playing on the street, and all sorts of other various and lively city noises. Jane was so immediately overwhelmed with curiosity that she flung herself up the wall and began to climb the vines till she reached the top of it, twelve feet off the ground. Her eyes nearly popped at the sight of it, and her mouth did some odd maneuver between smiling and being in complete slack shock. One of her hands waved about slightly like it was trying to beckon them to come look at this while juggling an invisible glass of water.
“Well?” Roxy called up to her, “what do you see?”
“Guys!” Jane shouted, still not taking her eyes off the scene over the wall.
“Is that so.”
“No! Guys you gotta come see this! Like I was addressing you guys not— oh whatever just get your bums up here!” She was laughing now, still not taking her eyes off the city beyond the wall she was hanging onto.
“Ok but like I still don’t wanna have to climb that surreal shit again that’s an experience I only need to have ONCE.” Roxy said as she stepped forward and took hold of one of the vines.
“You won’t have to.” Hal spoke up from a small distance away, his voice sounding deflated. He pointed with a distinct lack of energy at the gate, which was just a few paces down the wall. “The gate’s here.”
“There was a fuckin gate?!” Roxy jogged over to it and grabbed its bars, and it rattled fondly from the impact. “the whole time?? How long has this been here?”
“Well, whatever the case,” Jane hopped off the wall and dropped safely to the ground, “let’s go through it! I want answers!”
Jadebot watched Jane and Roxy gleefully throw open the gates and take just a little surprise at how easily they opened. The two of them quickly recovered, locked hands, and then ran out into the fresh open city. It was buzzing with life, people, and cars, and all the flora and foliage was safely contained in neat little garden boxes.
“What the FUCK”
Chapter 17: If it’s not at least a little bit self-indulgent in one way or another then whats even the point?
“Oh my god Jane this city is fucking amazing when it’s not a dilapidated shithole” Roxy was practically bouncing on her toes as she walked, a massive smile on her face at the sight of the old buildings she once knew now in all their shining golden-area glory. The two of them had been here for weeks when it was all crumbled to ruins and abandoned, so they already knew most of these streets, but seeing them all clean and not broken up and humming with liveliness made them look completely different. Levels upon levels of incredible networks of highways crossed above them in front the golden sky, and masses of shining glass spires stood with firm elegance and majesty, grazing the clouds in passing.
Looking back down you could see the people, all rushing to get from one place to the next as fast as possible. Most of them never second-glanced the magnificent city as they hurried through it, moving along as if all these sights and sounds were completely normal parts of their environment, because to them they were. Jane and Roxy skipped forward with linked arms like this was the goddamn golden brick road, with fascination and bewilderment in their eyes. Hal and Jadebot were tagging along as well, not far behind, wondering when the two ladies in front of them would finally ask how the hell this had happened.
“How,” Jane finally turned to ask Jadebot, “are we suddenly here in the city while it still appears to be in its glory days?”
As much as Jadebot had expected the question, she was unable to come up with an answer that made any sense. “Time travel, I suspect.” Was the conclusion she finally settled on, even as ridiculous as it sounded.
“I’m either dead or on the most wild acid trip of my life.” Roxy said to herself.
“It’s a time labyrinth.” Hal told them, hands in his pockets and posture like he knew all of everything that was up all the time. “It switches the roles of time and space a little, so you only move in one space direction while going in all sorts of time directions. A simple trick of theoretical dimensional physics, if you’re a goddamn madman with an endless amount free time on your hands.”
“Fuckin radical.” Roxy said, and then started to look around for the nearest place to get a stiff drink.
“How do you know this?” Jane asked him with a smile and a tone of disbelieving suspicion.
Hal paused for effect. “It’s on the pamphlet.” He said bluntly, and pointed to the rack of pamphlets about all the different tourist attractions in the area.
There was a little sign hanging above the rack that said “for tourists” in big condescending letters, like it was food set out for stray dogs.
“Hmm.” Jane said, unsure of what else there was to say, and then turned to Roxy, “so what now?”
“I need a drink,” Roxy said, holding back a laugh, “I need sleep, and then I need a nicer outfit. Let’s go shopping.” It then occurred to her that they could go shopping. “Oh my god, Jane, Jane oh my god let’s go raid all the malls can you imagine. Jane holy shit can you imagine what the malls here are like. Jane.”
“Yes,” Jane took Roxy’s hand and they started walking again, “yes I can imagine. We’ve been in the ruins of several malls here, remember?”
“Yeah but that was like way in the future when this place is all run down n shit, I wanna see what they look like now!”
Jadebot felt like they were adapting impressively fast to the shocking new environment. Still, their enthusiasm was contagious, and after giving Hal a moments glance, she followed after them. The four of them, despite having no money, stumbled into a mall that was nearly as massive as it was breathtaking. On the front of the building there was simply the word “Dillard’s” in a pretentiously formal but welcoming font plastered in such big letters, which Roxy gleefully made fun of.
“~~Dillard’s~~” she’d say in a funny soft voice, and then laugh. Jane wasn’t sure how her friend was getting so much joy from the name of the store alone, but it was nice to see her so happy.
Inside the mall was where things got really fun. Looking up you could see the place was five stories high, and the walkways between all the stores had tasteful gaps in the floor (surrounded by shiny railing) so you could see all the levels. If you’ve ever been to a massive mall, try to picture it being maybe three times as big. The floors were a shiny polished white stone, with elegant pillars holding them up, and the ceilings were a soft material that did its part to help soak up some of the noise. It was very busy with people, trolls, carapacians, and other diverse aliens of all sorts, all filling the place and chatting and minding their own business. They found the flora all contained neatly in pots and special cut areas meant for them, adding a fresh eco-friendly feeling to the place. Sunlight shined in through huge glass domes and windows in the highest and final ceiling and glistened off the polished floors and railings.
It was magnificent.
The stores themselves were also all marvelous, some of them were big brand-name stores that manage to take up all five stories, such as the ~Dillard’s~(TM), while others were simple one-story blocks, and everything in-between, and then there were those little stand-alone booths in the walkways that are nigh impossible to walk by. The ones with the scary-good salespeople running them, just one man standing there convincing you that you need this exotic off-brand lotion when you don’t even use lotion. There was also the arcade, which was somewhat shocking to see all up and running and teeming with over-stimulated children.
Our little party of four eventually wandered into a nice clothing store, where Roxy insisted they at least try some things on. Hal was only mildly uncomfortable receiving funny glances from people who don’t often see androids just walking and doing common people things. There were military androids stationed around the stores, he noticed, but they were nothing like him. The more he thought about it the more odd he felt it was that Dirk went so radically far outside the box with his design, giving him a somewhat lustrous black silicone exterior with red accents, and then a stark white face and synthetic platinum blonde hair. Compared to the standard ‘practicality-over-looks’ military androids he looked a bit like a luxury car that you only see in commercials with smooth highbrow ear-catching modern music playing in the background. The badly tattered suit and tie weren’t helping.
He gladly took them off in exchange for absolutely nothing, because he, like, didn’t need clothes,, he was a robot and there’s pretty much nothing to cover,, you know? Jadebot was fine with this. Her clothes were fused into her design so she sat off to the side with Hal while the other two searched and picked out things to try on. Roxy came out of the dressing rooms wearing a soft and short black sweater-dress with bright pink accents and leg warmers, and it was clear she was in love with it. Wrapping her beloved and worn pink scarf back around her neck, she beamed and sat down near Jadebot and Hal.
“Whatchu guys think?” She asked them, crossing her legs and sprawling back on the bench.
“It suits you.” Hal told her, wiping the grime off himself with a cloth he’d found somewhere. He seemed a micro-smidge happier now that he was free of the tattered suit and tie.
“You look lovely,” Jadebot seemed to be finally balancing the line between depressed and unrelentingly curious, finding a nice little grey area that was at least a tiny bit satisfied.
Smiling, Roxy thanked them and began watching the dressing room doors for Jane. “Jane’s been in there for a real long time now,” she said, “but she didn’t take that many things in with her. Wha’d’ya think she’s up to?”
“You’d know better than I would,” Hal seemed pleased with the way light reflected off the surface of his freshly polished hand, “you’ve known her longer.”
Not too long later Jane emerged wearing a clean-cut suit with matching dress-pants, which were a gentle off-white color that was easy on the eyes, and a bright milky blue bowtie. Bowties are cool.
“JAAAAAANE OH MY GOOOOOOD” Roxy exclaimed, standing up and going over to her, “you look so heckin snazzy in ur whole suit n’ tie I fuckin LOVE it!!”
Jane pushed her round little glasses back up her sweet little nose and giggled. “Thank you.” She said.
“Ah damn I wish we could buy these,” Roxy sat back down again, heavily, “but we don’t got any money!”
“Well,” Hal didn’t make eye-contact with them, “I have Dirk’s card number, and he did take a good chunk of money off the military before booking it as a means of paying for food while trying to hide back into society. He wouldn’t be too ecstatic to find I used it on clothes, though.”
“Ohhhhh shit!” Roxy leaned forward, “I donno who this Dirk guy is but let’s take his money and go hog-wild, just absolutely ham on this place.”
Hal looked at her. “We really shouldn’t-“
“Come ooon!” She said, “live a little!”
“You know what I mean! We don’t have to use ALL of it, just some. Also I’m hungry.”
“I don’t support theft,” Jane spoke up, “but a meal does sound nice.”
So they all wound up eating in a fine bar, a lovely little modern club that was desperately trying to be as humble as it was flashy. With polished black counters and tables that had flecks of silver in them and slick neon lights lining the edges, it looked somewhat like an arcade in there, complete with dim moody lighting and funky carpets. Outside was a retro little neon sign hanging above the door with the candid words “ACE DRINKS AND DINNER” in fun round font. Inside it was warm, the atmosphere a whole mix of things ranging from cheerful to miserable, but it was mostly clear all the people here had come to have a good time or forget something. The dishes were all made of colorful, transparent, glassy plastic, that looked funky and nice but wouldn’t shatter if dropped.
Roxy held an oddly shaped pink cup in her hand that flared out like a martini glass at the top, with a narrow hollow stem bridging the middle, and a cone-shaped chamber at the base that held most of the drink. She sipped from it happily while talking with Jane and people-watching. In the corner was an odd jukebox looking thing, presumably it played music, but nobody was using it. Instead, a live band was currently playing, their instruments strange enough to be alien but familiar enough to understand what they were. The whole band was dressed in matching tight-fitting silver outfits and odd silver makeup. The common people and customers of the place were less flashy but still dressed just odd enough to question. It was probably just the style or the fashion of the place. Speaking of dress, Roxy and Jane were currently enjoying themselves in their new outfits and shoes, and eating good food and drink, all of which was being provided by Hals stolen wallet.
Hal was nearly certain that Dirk would disassemble him permanently at this point, should he ever have to confront him again.
“It’s very nice of you,” Jadebot told him as she sat next to him in the booth at the table, “to do this for them. It looks like they haven’t had this much fun for a really long time.”
He nodded, looking at the half-finished food with a sense of what he’d like to say was apathy. “Thanks.”
She didn’t ask why he’d pay for someone else’s fun like this, which was good because he didn’t entirely know. Roxy laughed at something Jane said and leaned heavily with her elbows on the table, looking a bit wasted with the half-empty glass in her hand. The band started playing a slower, more romantic song and she cheered. A hazy smell of food and ginger filled the room, as well as a certain stuffiness that was pleasant to an extent but only for some people.
Roxy felt her cheeks getting warm, and she was getting this giddy, fuzzy feeling all through her gut and head. Smiling, she let herself sink into the cushions of the booth and snuggle into Jane’s shoulder. The beat of the smooth Jazz that was playing got heavy in the air, a pulsing and thrumming bass that she could feel deep in her chest. At this point even Hal seemed to be speaking in an oddly sensual tone. Maybe it was the drinks. What it was that Hal was actually saying was just about completely lost on her.
Jane seemed to get slightly flustered at how touchy-feely Roxy was getting, so she gave her sleepy friend a little pat on the back and a slightly awkward laugh to try and make it friendly again. Usually Jane was just fine with all the affectionate physical contact, but then again that was when they were completely alone. Now there was a bunch of people everywhere to be embarrassed in front of and courteous towards, which is always an issue for those faint of pretentious confidence. The crowdedness of the place was beginning to get uncomfortable.
Jane decided it was about time she suggested they leave, and had to speak over the music. “Hey, what do you say we head on out now, it’s-“ She was cut off by the sound of the lead singer all but straight-up moaning mid-song. “-God, will that guy stop being so lewd? It’s distracting.”
“Yes, well,” Hal gently took the drink from Roxy’s hands just as she was shakily going for another long swig, “he’s literally being paid to come into this bar and make sex noises into the microphone. We can go if you’re uncomfortable, but you can’t blame a guy for doing his job.”
Chapter 18: A series of coincidences, unfortunate or otherwise.
The stages of grief include the following: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It’s not always exclusively in that order, though.
Once you /accept/ that your only editor can’t help you anymore, you can finally move on and your art can stop suffering.
Sometime years in the past, an island of concrete buildings floated atop steady waves in the middle of an endless blue ocean. The weather was gentle most of the time, the sky blue, and the air was often warm. Cut into a grid system, the island of buildings fit neatly into a rather large square. The roads between the structures were straight and clean, all the walls were either white or light grey depending on what part of the grid system you were in, and other than the occasional passing bird or stray plastic, this square of floating concrete was vacant and lifeless.
A young girl sits in her bedroom, counting dots on the ceiling while deciding what to do today. Her name is Roxy Lalonde, which is just a name she saw on a tag in her room several years back. The food reserve is getting low again, maybe she should equip the gun by her bedside and go out hunting today. She has the whole floating city to explore, but she’s already seen every corner of it, and there’s a lot of corners. Next to her on the bed is a radio, one she made herself while looking at another radio inside a crashed spaceship she found one day. The radio fizzles, and occasionally it pops, but other than that it’s all static.
The aforementioned crashed spaceship is also something she could work on, a project that has been a work in progress for a few years now. The ship was empty when it crashed, save for some odd new tech to play with and a working radio. She has two working radios now, both tuned into the only channel that’s ever said anything. Sitting up, she looks around her room, which has a shelf of neat things she’s found in one corner, a nice window in the wall, various sketches of space wizards littered about, a few notebooks full of notes, blueprints, and her own creative writing, several portable batteries, and of course one of her dearest friends, Mr. Frigglish.
Mr. Frigglish appears to be taking a nap currently, all curled up into a fluffy black ball of fur and purring softly in his sleep out of his three cute little noses while flicking his sweet little tail spines. He looks so peaceful. Adoring cat thoughts aside, though, she swings her legs over the side of her bed and considers waiting just a few minutes longer for her radio to speak up before she leaves to either hunt or work on the crashed spaceship. Maybe Jane will tune in today, and they can continue talking about how bad the empire must be or her favorite games. Or maybe today that other girl will come on, the sweet british-sounding one that keeps wanting to remain anonymous.
Either way, Roxy hasn’t spoken to anyone besides her cat in a few days now, and decides it’ll be worth it to wait a few minutes longer in case one of her friends comes on the radio to talk to her. Just a little longer, then she’ll go eat something. Static buzzes on the radio, she turns the volume up and listens.
Now, in the relative present, two men wash up on the edge of a square island of buildings, their hands still locked tightly together. Dirk grips the edge of the concrete and breathes deeply, coughing up water and hoisting Jake up with him onto the surface of the square floating island. The sky of Geliez 13-b had become grimmer since the day Roxy left some several years ago, and the storms especially so. Perhaps it was something she left in the atmosphere as she roared through it in her little self-repaired spacecraft, cheering all the long way up. Maybe the planet just missed her. It’s a little childlike to assume a planet has feelings though.
None of these were thoughts that occurred to Dirk as he and Jake collapsed onto the streets of Roxy’s old home, panting and soaked, because they didn’t know this was Roxy’s old home. They didn’t know Roxy. Yet. The two of them would get up and explore a while, after gathering themselves, and they would come across her old food reserves and hunting gear and just about everything she left behind. Basically, Dirk and Jake are fine.
Hal is even more so.
He sits atop a tall skyscraper, watching the sunset on the planet Jureval Z-major, constellation Orphemen, some time in the past just before disaster swept the planet. Or, to them, this is also the relative present. Roxy is currently tapping away at her new computer, programming something she coyly says he’ll be sure to like, which isn’t even mildly concerning in the slightest. Especially when she starts giggling wildly, elbowing Jane to look at what she just wrote. He sits patiently and reminisces back on the days when he wasn’t surrounded by so much fucking estrogen.
The sun burns golden amongst the hazel clouds, the auburn sky drifting into a thousand shades of blue as it spirals away above them. Light reflects off the glass buildings, turning them all to gold, and making the streets below seem to glow in the final breaths of the day. He blinks, sighs mechanically. Cool air drifts past, it’s refreshing, and the world is calm up here. Jadebot is sitting next to him, watching the people race around far below in their fancy hover-cars and bikes. Her face is still cold, still metal, and her eyes still have that effortless intensity to them, though they seem lifeless. The gentle yellow clouds seem to hold still in the sky, not waiting, not holding breath, just resting. It is, in the best sense of the word, beautiful.
“Ok so who wants to be my lab rat for the first prototype of this program I just whipped up?” Roxy finally asks, smiling expectantly.
“I’d like to know what it is first.” Hal says, teetering on the emotional limit for how much shit can go out of his control before he actually throws himself off a building.
“It’s like,” she giggles again, “it’s like a feel-good drug for androids, I remember Dave making fun of a program like this being sold for robots at a bar once. I think I did a good job replicating it, even from memory, but I’ll probably need to test it a few times to find something that’s reeeeeally good.” She pauses, looks at the two androids, who are frowning. “Look, you two seem so miserable a whole lot and like, I wanted to make you guys something nice so you can be happy for a bit. The effects won’t last any longer than you want them to. Humor me?”
Jadebot whirrs a little. “You can test it on me, Roxy. Anything to fill the void where my emotions used to be.”
“Alriiiight!” She whoops and swings her fist in the air for a second, and then hands Jadebot the USB port. “Now in fair warning, this might actually suck the first few times, but if it does I can tweak the code until it works.”
“Okay.” Jadebot plugs in the little chord to a port in her wrist and waits.
While Roxy boots it up, Jane scoots over and sits next to Jadebot on the edge of the building, being careful not to look directly down or lean back. “She really appreciates you buying us things and paying for our dinner,” she says to Hal, “think of this as her way of saying thank you.”
Hal does one of those little upward nods, and then looks away to the left. The drop behind him is so far, it’s difficult for a human mind to fully process. He looks up, into the sky, and the drop into the colorful void above them is nigh infinite, a distance that is definitely impossible for an organic mind to wrap its head around, yet it is real. It’s right there. Something in his chest feels small as he gazes up through the atmosphere, zoning out almost entirely and running a quick calculation in his head as a way to mentally fidget. ‘Up’ is relative to the source of gravity, ‘the present’ is relative to the source of consciousness, and the center of the universe is relative to whatever point in space you decide you want it to be, because the universe is infinite in nearly every aspect, and something infinite usually has no middle.
Hal zones out so hard for a moment that he doesn’t seem to notice anything until Jadebot suddenly makes this surprised yelp and then a weird mechanical noise deep in her chest, which pulls him right out of it.
“You alright?” He asks her, turning to see.
“Y-yea, I’m okay!” She says, waving him off and adjusting her posture, “that’s just,” she makes a little computer-y noise, “a bit strong, is all.”
“Oof!” Roxy pats Jadebot on the hand, “I can tone it down, or like make it a little more gradual if that’ll help.”
“Just make it so it doesn’t hit me all at once, please.” Jadebot tells her, and Jane giggles a little beside her.
“I’m so curious as to how that feels!” Jane says, “but I doubt there’s any good way to find out.”
“Well,” Jadebot thinks, “it’s... odd, but nice, sort of. If you could spread it out, Roxy, so it’s not just a sudden flash and then it’s over,,”
“You got it!” She starts typing again.
Despite his suspicion, Hal is now interested.
Roxy sets her finger over the enter key and waits, “I think I fixed it, you ready?”
“Sure!” Jadebot seems a little excited now.
Roxy taps the button and Jadebot visibly looses control of her entire right arm. “hmm,,” she says, leaning back on one elbow.
“Is it good?” Roxy says in a laugh.
“Yes I think that’s pretty good, maybe make it warmer?” Jadebot draws loose circles in the air with her finger and lets her head fall to the side.
Roxy nods with a smile and taps something into her laptop, then hits the enter key. “How’s that?”
“Oh that’s so weird!” Her voice is strangely elated, “I think I like it!” This may be the first time Hal has seen her in a really good mood.
“Hell yee!” Roxy holds her hand up for a high-five, not to anyone in particular, and Jadebot goes in for it but misses a few times. “Hal you want in on this?” Roxy looks at him, and Jadebot does too, albeit more sluggishly.
He frowns a little, but in a considering way. “I doubt it’ll have much real effect.”
“I can make this shit stronger if you wanna be That Guy.” Roxy smiles and leans over on her right palm.
He thinks for a moment, turns the thought over a few times in his head, calculates the worst that could happen. “Fine, sure,” he finally says, holding out his hand for the usb, “give me the strongest hit you have.”
“The strongest?” Roxy arches an eyebrow at him, “you sure?”
Jane looks between the two of them like she’s watching an absolutely enthralling advent unfold on tv, and like she’d quite like some popcorn to go with it.
“Yea, whatever, just hand me the chord.” He says, and she hands over the chord while biting her lip.
“Alright man,” she’s smiling, “You asked for it.” She rapid-presses a key on her laptop like she’s spamming a number, before typing something else in. “You ready?”
He clicks the usb into the inconveniently placed port on the back of his neck and then nods. “Yea.”
She hits the enter key, and the rest is a bit blurry.
The feeling is like a massive wave hitting him, and it’s nearly overwhelming yet honestly pretty damn fantastic. “Oh.” He says, and then falls over forwards so he doesn’t fall off the building. “Wow.” He says a moment later from his spot in the gravel, wide-eyed and mostly paralyzed.
“Well?” Jadebot asks in a somewhat delighted tone, hovering over him while sitting next to him. Her silver synthetic hair falls over her shoulders and gleams in the golden light of the setting sun.
“It’s not... bad,” he manages, twitching a bit.
Roxy clicks something on her keyboard and the nearly suffocating feeling of warmth and elation fades away into the corners of his being, before dying off slowly like embers cooling into ash after fire. The feeling was artificial, forced, but still pretty fucking great, more than he had felt in a long time. He hadn’t been ready.
“You asked for the strongest hit I could give you!” Roxy laughed a little, helping him sit back up.
He’s quiet for a few moments, letting his coolant system cool him off and recover. “...do it again. A little easier this time.” Was all he said.
Beaming and holding back a laugh, she typed something in, hit her backspace key a few times, and then hit enter.
“Well.” He fell against Jadebots shoulder this time. “Goddamn.”
Jane snickered a bit and hugged her knees to herself while Jadebot patted him on the arm and gave his back a little rub. “Good, huh?”
And that is, approximately, when the sky split open.
Chapter 19: Don’t Panic
“I don’t expect you to remember everything, and I don’t expect you to understand. Just glance at it and nod your head.”
Over the city of Jureval Z-major, a rip tore through the sky, opening a hole through which an entire fleet of golden ships poured through. It didn’t take long for the people to notice, and it took even less time for them to begin panicking. Colors went absolutely wild in the atmosphere near the rip, a deep roaring and a sound like metal scraping long and slow against a chalkboard reverberated around and off the buildings. Roxy flinched and held her hands to her ears, shouting “what the FUCK is that??” As they all stared up at the ships coming in and screaming through the sky. Her laptop fell off her lap and to the side, cracking its screen. Jane, also holding her hands to her ears to block out the awful noise, sat speechless and baffled with the rest of them.
Not waiting for the sound to stop, Hal spoke above it to tell them “well we traveled back in time to just before disaster struck this planet and made it the graveyard it was when we first saw it,” they were all looking at him now, “so it would stand to reason that this is the disaster happening now.” He pointed to the rip in the sky behind him, “possibly the one that starts the process of making Jureval into the ruins we first saw it to be.”
“Ah shucks!!” Jane shouted, looking even more distressed than before.
“Hey, I'm upset about it too, but let's watch the fucking language.”
One of the Golden Ships deliberately crashed into the streets below, unloading a troop of pirates carrying MindFangs flag.
“We need to get out of here.” Jadebot pulled Jane to her feet and motioned for them to start running. “See if you can find an empty ship, I can probably hack into it for you.”
Roxy nodded, picking up her laptop and slipping it into her bag.
Hal stood and tried to get their attention, “Wait, Roxy, Jade, there’s-“ he looked back briefly at the looming spaceship careening towards the building they were standing on. No time. He started running, “look behind you-“
They looked back, saw the massive front of the ship tearing through the clouds and straight for them, and after Roxy shouted “oh SHIT-“ they turned and ran for the other end of the roof. There wasn’t really anywhere they could go, they were going to have to jump, and they knew this.
“Don’t hesitate,” Hal told them, running, “just go.”
Roxy nodded, speeding up.
“Let’s go lesbians,” Hal said as they were coming up on the roofs edge, the massive burning ship close behind them, “Let’s go-“
Jane took a sharp breath in, shutting her eyes tight as her foot left the edge, knowing well that below her the ground was horrifyingly far away. Behind them they could hear the ship smashing through the building, taking it down in an epic display of explosions and fire. The moment was so fast, but it felt like it was happening in slow motion, the four of them flying through the air as the building was decimated behind them. Roxy’s legs took most of the impact as she landed feet-first onto the next building just a little ways below them, bringing her momentum down into a tight roll that ended in a slide. Her first thought was to see if Jane made it across, and her second thought was that they had to keep running because the ship hadn’t been stopped by that first building.
Next to her she saw Jane and was relieved, but then noticed Jane was limping now as they started running again, the two androids just in front of them. By the looks of it, something was wrong with Jane’s ankle. It was too loud to hear, so Roxy didn’t ask, but she scooped Jane up bridal-style and started booking it to the next building in front of them. Jane made a startled noise, clutching onto Roxy’s shirt, but other than that there was no protest. They all jumped again, the burning ship slowing to a stop behind them as they touched-down on the roof of the next building. This time Roxy had to jump into a bit of a corkscrew, landing on her shoulder and back and sliding through the rooftop gravel while clutching Jane close to her chest. If it weren’t for the adrenaline or the convenient closeness of these three buildings, they probably wouldn’t have been able to jump so far, especially not under normal circumstances.
“You two okay?” Jadebot asked, helping them up and scanning for major injuries.
“I’m good!” Roxy was laughing breathily and shaking a little, “I’m good, Jane?”
“Christ!” Jane said as she got up, first looking Roxy over and then hugging her, “you didn’t have to carry me!”
“You looked like you were struggling to keep up with your ankle—“
“Yes,” Jadebot stayed close to them and looked around for any more impending dangers, “Jane’s ankle suffered a common musculoskeletal injury in which the ligaments of her ankle were partially torn, but she’ll be ok.”
“Shit, What?” Roxy squinted at her.
“She twisted her ankle.” Jadebot said, then looked at Hal. “The ships are still coming in, what do you think we should do now?”
He glanced around a bit, starting to walk backwards. “Let’s keep looking for a way off the planet.”
On the horizon the golden sunset was now accompanied by a blazing skyline of buildings on fire, starting to fill the air with smoke and panic. Hal stepped up onto the edge of the the building they were on and looked down at the streets below. It was quickly falling into chaos down there, with swarms of pirate vessels raiding the city and crowds of people trying to escape it. Dozens of ships were already taking off in rushed evacuation, it was going to be difficult to find a ship they could use. Unless—
“Here’s an idea,” Hal began, turning to them and stepping back down onto the gravel, “how about we try hitching a ride out of here? It’s wildly unlikely we’re going to find a ship that doesn’t already have people on it, so we might as well.”
“Are you suggesting,” Roxy stood unsteadily, “that we stick out our thumbs and wait for a ship to come take us?”
“Do you have a better plan?”
“Well no,” she glanced over at Jane, who shrugged. “It’s just a little funny is all.”
Hal raised an eyebrow. “Funny how?”
“I literally just bought this with your money,” Roxy fished through her bag and pulled out something that looked a bit like an oddly large calculator, with the words ‘don’t panic!’ printed on it in big friendly letters. “It’s called the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, I saw it in a bookstore at the mall and thought I’d grab it, since it had such great reviews and all.”
She handed it to him, and for a long while he stood and stared at it with some indescribable expression on his face. This is fanfiction, so yea, because I can, I’m adding this in here. I do what I want.
“Would you mind,” He said after a while of silence, “if I downloaded this into my database before giving it back? It might take a few minutes.”
“Sure if you wanna.”
Jadebot started walking again, turning back to talk to them over her shoulder. “alright, well we need to keep moving.” She said, “maybe there’s-“
A loud boom cut her off, it was the sound of the gate from the golden ship behind them falling open and slamming onto the building. Turning around to face the noise, they saw a squadron of MindFangs soldiers marching out of it, holding deadly weapons that looked an awful lot like plastic laser-tag guns.
“They’re coming for us.” Jadebot said, putting a hand on Jane’s shoulder and turning her in the opposite direction. “You need to go!”
“Right!” She said, taking Roxy’s hand and starting towards the edge of the building with her, before stopping. “But where?” She called back at Jadebot.
“Look,” Roxy pointed down at the passing flying cars that weren’t far below the edge, “think we can jump onto one of those, Janey? If we time it right?”
“Uh,” She said, high-pitched and tentative.
Hal nodded at Jane, knowing the pirates were close behind him, “Whatever we’re going to do needs to happen now.”
“Alright!” Jane took Roxy’s hand again. “On three!”
“No,” Hal interrupted, “let me time it. I can calculate the—“ whatever, get to the point. “ok ready? One, two,”
Roxy smiled reassuringly at her, squeezing her hand as they started running towards the edge, Hal and Jadebot close behind.
Jane and Roxy’s feet left the edge, just as the sound of a barrage of bullets fired off behind them, and for a tense moment they fell down a few stories before landing safely with a yelp onto the open-roofed vehicle flying below.
“Ahaha!” Roxy sat up, “we made it! How convenient is that?”
The startled driver, who was wearing a black helmet that covered his eyes, turned around to look at them, and his comrade riding shotgun pointed a shotgun at them. They were both wearing MindFangs flag on their shoulder.
“Oh.” Jane said, disheveled.
“Don’t mind us,” Roxy told them, holding up her hands, “we’re just-“ she then leaned forward, quickly unbuckling and grabbing the gun of the one riding shotgun with one swift motion, pointing it away so he couldn’t shoot them and throwing him over the side.
“Roxy!” Jane gasped, a little appalled by the fact that she was willing to possibly kill a guy over this, as Roxy was hoisting herself up on her arms and kicking the driver out with the force of both legs, action-movie style.
“Sorry!” She sat herself into the drivers seat, grabbing the throttle, “but you haven’t forgotten my last job have you Jane?”
“What?” They had to shout over the sound of the air roaring past them and the revving of the vehicles motor.
“I’m a smuggler, babe!” Roxy yelled over her shoulder, “I’ve done much dirtier things than this.”
“I cannot believe you sometimes.” Jane told her, warily crawling over the seats to sit shotgun.
“You still love me don’t you?” Her voice was playful still and loud so Jane could hear, but with this question it had a bit of honest worry leaking through. The buildings flew past around them, gunshots and commotion filling the air below and above.
“Of course I do!” Jane said like it was obvious, but Roxy was still relieved to hear it.
She smiled at Jane, but was only able to glance at her briefly before refocusing on the skyroad. A massive mothership was coming through the rip in the sky now, making an even louder sound than the entire fleet had made just a few minutes ago. “Holy shit—“ Roxy paused. “Hey where’s Hal? And Jadebot?”
Jane looked back at the empty seats behind her. “They’re not,” she looked again to be sure, “they’re not here.”
Some long distance and a few minutes back, Hal and Jadebot stood on the edge of the building, just catching a glimpse of Jane and Roxy landing safely and zooming away on the passing vehicle before a round of bullets sprayed over them. Jadebot shouted, moving between Hal and the troops to shield him from the fire. They bounced off her metal skin, but would easily penetrate Hal’s soft silicon exterior and damage his hardware.
He didn’t have time to say anything before the noise of guns and fire became too loud to speak over, and Jadebot was standing there in front of him taking all of it. Every time a bullet hit her she flinched back a little, like she could feel it, and they were quickly starting to leave little dents. Laser guns would’ve destroyed her easily, but traditional bullet-guns were cheaper and easier to mass-produce. They got lucky. All he could really do was simply cower behind her in shock for the moment, which felt like a pitiful role to have, and he quickly tried thinking of anything he could do to help her without destroying himself but could come up with nothing fast enough. The human part of his mind was hindering him again.
“Go!” She was shouting above the noise, “Jump and I’ll follow close behind you!”
He nodded and scrambled to fling himself off the edge and into the river of flying cars and chaos below, not taking the time to calculate a safe landing first because he could do it on the way down. Just barely he caught onto the side of a passing car, smashing through the glass window and hanging on with the best grip he could manage. The passengers inside screamed and the vehicle swerved. Wind tore past him. Looking back to see if Jadebot had followed, he saw her stumble backward off the edge of the building and fall, but he couldn’t see any more before she disappeared from where he could see. He tried hoisting himself up to see if she made it, clinging to the bent aluminum door and ignoring the violent swerving of the flying car and the yelling passengers inside.
He couldn’t see her. Something dropped in his chest as he continued looking for her, wide-eyed as the place where they had jumped fell further and further away with the speeding pace of the traffic that carried him. The erratic, wild movement of the car threatened to make him slip, so he clung tighter, and just as he was considering climbing in the broken window and demanding they turn around so he could find her, the car careened into the side of a building and he was caught in the worst of the collision.
Hal next found himself lying on the street far below, his battered systems rebooting and coming slowly back online. Now he was a bit damaged and surrounded by broken glass on the pavement as people rushed over him, trampling and paying him no mind. Every time he tried to lift himself to his feet or just up onto his elbows someone would trip over him and knock him back down, so he had to scoot away to the side next to a bent streetlamp before trying to stand.
And just a few minutes ago he was doing cyber-drugs with his new friends, feeling pretty good and like things might be alright in the world. It had been a brief few moments, but they were some of the best moments he’d had in a very long time. Just the memory of them felt —as he could best describe it— warm. It seems the loss had finally caught back up to him, he thought to himself while struggling to get up, even with using the streetlamp for support. First he’d lose his brother, then he’d lose what he’d thought was everything when he woke up as an android, no longer the Dirk that Jake was in love with and no longer the Dirk that was ‘real’, and now he’d lose this too. It checks out, that this would be the sort of thing to happen, what with his luck in life so far.
After being sorry for himself for a few minutes, he successfully got back onto his feet. Everything down his left side hurt, save for his left arm, which seemed to be disconnected from the rest of his synthetic nervous system entirely. There was certainly going to have to be some repairs in the future. People continued to hurry past, less regular citizens now and more pirate drones and troops. Without much left to do, Hal began limping away into a narrow alleyway to try and save himself from the commotion until it was mostly over. His left leg dragged almost entirely useless behind him, so he had to use the wall for support as he retreated back into the vacant space between the buildings.
Once he felt he was hidden enough to be somewhat safe, he let himself fall back onto the wall he was leaning heavily against and slide down it to sit on the ground. There was a long dark puddle coming in from the street that collected around his feet, and from the looks of it, it was mostly blood. The screams and gunfire were further away now, but still awful to hear. What did these pirates want so bad that they’d ransack an entire planet? Surely something good, but nothing seemed worth destroying a whole flourishing colony over. Nothing could justify this.
Just as he was about to start reciting hamlet or something, a noise appeared down the alleyway, a strange warping sound that said “wh-wh-wh-wh-whOP“. It was comparable to the sound a laminated magazine makes when you shake it a lot in a certain way that makes those funny popping/warping noises. Hal looked towards the source of the sound, and found himself staring down the ally into a pool of swirling darkness and stars. Another worm hole, then? Was there ever going to be an explanation for these things, always showing up randomly, not necessarily wanted, but just when they appear to be needed? Was this some sort of god thing?
Was this a Jonah in the belly of the whale story? Was god punishing him for not going where he was supposed to go, to get help for Jade? Is pleasure of any kind actually a fucking sin? He stared at the wormhole with a deflated, defeated look. Almost all the light had drained from his eyes at this point. He just mouthed the words ‘are you fucking serious’ while glaring tiredly into its swirling cosmic maw. There was no way to be certain where the sudden wormhole would take him, but he had a feeling he already knew. For a while he didn’t get up, just watching the stars spin around the orb in a way that was both perplexing and bizarre.
Eventually he knew he would have to, though. Preferably, he’d go back to look for Jadebot once the initial chaos died down, but he was in no state to wander now. Jadebot was going to be alright without him, surely. She had to have made it, because even with his planet-sized brain he couldn’t imagine a universe in which she hadn’t. They would be fine. Something from the human part of his mind, some gut feeling that he wouldn’t have had if he’d been purely mechanical, was telling him he’d get to see them again, too. It might take a while, but surely, surely he’d get to see them again. He took a deep breath, letting his coolant system refresh him. Shakily, he propped himself up against the wall, staggering over to the worm hole down the ally.
So this is the answer, then, that for now he must simply relinquish control and let things happen to him, doing kind things when he can, until it all decides to resolve itself? Is that it? He steadied himself, balancing on his right foot so he could let go of the wall to use his one working hand, reaching into the trans-dimensional pool of floating nonsense. Something about the way his hand twisted and spiraled away into the vortex while he felt nothing both unsettled and fascinated him. Limping forward, he took one final breath with his artificial lungs before falling in and vanishing temporarily into a higher plane of the universe.
Chapter 20: The Passenger
Out there is an entire species of aliens who are starving and near desperate for good new music, but not a single one of them is capable of producing an even slightly pleasant sound. They are called, by the rest of the universe, the “Caramar Garnuri”, which is a Cradejan phrase that translates roughly to “the harmonically challenged.” This is not a name they picked for themselves.
To sidetrack a little, if you’re wondering what Cradeja is, it’s a planet, or rather a system consisting of one full planet and it’s several large moons, all seven of which are inhabited. The total eight bodies all make up one massive city, which if you think about it is almost completely ridiculous. Some would rather call the city of Cradeja a small empire because of how big it is, but the Cradejans themselves still prefer it be referred to as one city. The gist of these people is this: they’re just here to have a good time. It may be rude to stereotype, but nearly every Cradejan you meet will be the most chill being you’ve ever met. They’re also famous for having the best parties, dances, and booze in the known universe. It’s because of this that they’re so popular, and so many places have their language as the common language and try to emulate their customs. However, to maintain the happy and united peace of Cradeja, they don’t let any outsiders in, so the place has to be kept pretty tightly guarded. One can leave, but once they do it’s nigh impossible to get back in. This all will become relevant later.
To be clear, the Cradeja’n are not the Caramar Garnuri, these are two very different races.
Anyway, about the Caramar Garnuri, or the Harmonically Challenged, who are a much less chill people. Among them is one especially grotesque man by the name of Alom Karrt, who put aside morals to deliver good and fresh music to his people. Alom Karrt is relevant because he is the one responsible for capturing Hal and Jadebot for that Music Video That Went To Hell, and he was the next mark on Aradia’s hit list. There are some crimes that simply cannot be forgiven, no matter how much they benefited the people. Now that that whole long sidetrack is over, Hal has found his way back to Aradia and Sollux, albeit with some possibly Devine Intervention, and plans to go through with his original plan to get help and bring it back to Geliez 13-b, where Jade and the others are.
He sits at a table in a sunny, somewhat nice but casual restaurant on a desert planet, still unable to feel his left arm and still a little dazed after having re-appeared from the wormhole. Trans-dimensional travel tends to addle even the best of them. The sky is clear and bright outside, natural but mildly intense daylight filtering in through the shaded windows and filling the room. It isn’t very busy in this restaurant today. Across the tile floor, Aradia is sitting with Sollux in a white leather booth, enjoying a milkshake-esque drink and talking about something presumably pleasant judging by the looks on their faces. Hal watches them for a bit, soaking up the peace of the humble little food-joint and trying to put his thoughts back together.
A lot has happened. Eventually, once he does feel like he’s got his mental ducks all in order, or at least as in order as he can manage, he gets up and shambles over to them.
“Hey,” he greets them casually, like he isn’t busted to high-noon and back, “mind if I join you?”
“Sure!” Aradia says with a smile, while Sollux just looks at him. “I just got done killing my last mark, which was the man who captured you, and now we’re celebrating.” She raises her glass of milky substance for emphasis.
“Where’d you go?” Sollux asks him in that funny lisp of his, quirking an eyebrow as he sits down. “You look way fucked up.”
Hal just sort of stares for a second. “Got sidetracked.” He says, and that was the end of it.
Aradia nods thoughtfully while sipping her drink.
Sollux briefly looks him up and down. “Do you think you’ll need repairs?”
“That would be nice, yea.” He tries to casually pick up the menu but his right arm twitches, sparks and suddenly twists into a position that arms are really not supposed to go. “Maybe loosen up some stiff joints if they need it.”
“Yea?” Taking Hals right arm, Sollux looks at him a bit quizzically while popping it back into place. “Maybe just a little. I’m better at coding and software, so I can’t help you much in the physical department, but I do know a guy.”
“Oh?” It takes a bit of self control not to cringe at the Very Incorrect feeling now in his only working arm.
“Hey,” Sollux turns to Aradia, “do you mind if we take a short detour to Equius’s place to get our pal here some critical maintenance? It probably won’t take the guy too long.”
“Well,” she stirs her drink slowly with the straw, “I suppose it’s alright. After that we’ll head right to the office to drop off Alom Karrt’s body.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
Roxy gripped the controls of the open-roofed vehicle, doing her best to drive it out of the line of fire. Jane, who was clinging violently to anything that would keep her in her seat, was given the job of looking out for any potential rides off planet. She was really doing her best, but it’s difficult to focus when you’re zooming terribly fast through the atmosphere with no cover. Both of them had agreed there was no time to look for the two androids, as sad and sudden as this goodbye was. Together they rocketed up unprotected into the blazing auburn sky.
“Is there any,” Roxy struggled to breathe good air, drawing in deep fast breaths with no substance to them, “is there any, like, helmets or something in the back, Jane?”
“I can look!” She turned as far as she could without unbuckling and searched, “maybe we should head back down?”
There wasn’t much time to debate, but Roxy had to decide wether or not to stay above the turmoil and not be able to breathe, or go back down and possibly get shot out of the air. Her hands were starting to feel a bit numb on the controls, which was never good. Blinking rapidly, she took a few more empty breaths before coming to the conclusion that she was going to need oxygen to stay alive.
“I’m not finding anything!” Jane reported, turning back around to hold on again.
“Alright,” Roxy yelled above the wind and the strange hollow noise of the engine, “Okay, Okay hold on Jane, grab somethin and like grip that shit for your precious entire life,”
Jane did as instructed, and Roxy tipped the controls to set the vehicle at a steep and hasty decent. Think of the most radical rollercoaster drop you’ve ever experienced, and think of the way it made your stomach drop and something rise in your chest. Now multiply the feeling by like a dozen. They fell with Roxy cheering, basking in the thrill of the drop, and Jane simply screaming the whole way down. Wind howled past their ears and tousled their hair into unsalvageable messes. It was fun, a bit terrifying for Jane but still fun, until suddenly it stopped, throwing their heads forward.
After the initial whiplash, they noticed the small craft was hanging perfectly still in the air, and a loud deep humming was vibrating through it. Roxy was breathing a little heavy as she tried the controls a few times, realizing she couldn’t make it move. “What the hell?” They looked around frantically for the source of what caused them to suddenly stop. Above them hung the mothership of the pirate fleet, golden and looming massive in front of the sky. If the sun hadn’t been sitting just on the horizon, the mothership would’ve blocked it out entirely and cast the whole city into its vast shadow. All the little pirate fleets and swarms of golden open-roofed vehicles started hovering towards it, including Roxy and Jane’s.
“Oh shit,” Roxy unbuckled and looked over the side, “they’re recalling everyone back to the mothership, we’ve gotta go!”
Jane watched with fear as Roxy swung one leg over the edge of the vehicle and looked like she was about to jump for it. “Woah wait! Hang on now!” She grabbed Roxy by the waist and pulled her back, “it’s too far down! We can’t just-“
“But we have to! MindFangs fuckin got us!” Roxy looked at her, “we can’t get captured by pirates they’ll wreck our entire shit!”
Jane didn’t let go. “But just look Roxy! Look down! We’re still way to high up we can’t survive that kind of drop!” Her voice was bordering on hysterics.
So Roxy looked down, and saw that Jane was right. She let out an exasperated huff and looked around for another way out, sitting back down. “But we, we can’t just—“ they continued to hover closer to the mothership, nearly there now.
“Here,” Jane slowly let go of Roxy, “how about we sneak aboard, steal some disguises, and then bail the soonest moment we can? We can hitch a ride off the planet this way, even if it means dressing like pirates.”
Looking at her, Roxy considered this, chewed on it for a bit, before responding. “Man, I don’t like this. And hey usually I’m the one coming up with the sketchy plans!”
Jane gave her a nervous smile. “Have you got a better sketchy plan? Other than throwing ourselves overboard to our deaths?”
“Hnrrmng no not really.”
“Alright,” Jane took her hand, “let’s get down, we’re nearly there.”
The two of them crawled into the back to duck into cover, hoping the pirates would think the car was empty. Finally all the ships and vehicles loaded back onto the mothership, who’s name was the Chicago Overcoat, for some reason. The ships that were too big to dock inside the grand Chicago Overcoat drove beside and behind it. Jane squeezed Roxy’s hand as they landed in line with an array of vehicles nearly identical to the one they were in, slowing to a complete stop. All around them pirates got out and marched to attention, forming into lines and squadrons of eight and sixteen. This was a very organized pirate empire.
Inside the walls of the ship literally everything but the people had the luster of pure gold, which was very impractical because gold is very soft and heavy, kinda like my ex boyfriend. It was possible most of the things were really just painted gold to match the stolen Prospitian ships and to be flashy. A troop of the pirates approached the car Roxy and Jane were in, their plastic laser-tag looking guns in hand and their faces stern as stone. Maybe one or two of them looked like they’d be the type to crack a joke, but the rest were all business.
“We need to go,” Roxy whispered to Jane, “we need to find a place to hide, and then work out a way to sneak food and water until we can get off this ship.”
“Good idea.” Jane whispered back, still crouched down under the seats.
Roxy took a chance and peeked hesitantly up over the door of the open-roofed car, before ducking back down. “Okay, it looks clear enough.” She took Jane’s hand gently into hers, it was clear she was a little nervous. “Let’s go.”
Chapter 21: Jigsaw Falling Into Place
The trick is to never make promises you can’t keep
Just as Equius was putting some finishing touches on the rig in Hals arm, which was carefully cut and pinned open on the table like they were dissecting it, a little droid came around the corner. It was a round little thing, painted a pleasant shade of teal, and it had a sweet little voice with which it made little beeping and whirring noises.
“Oh” it said in its cute nasally and approachable tone as it saw Hal and stopped. It then made some other string of incomprehensible beeps and whirrs.
Hal raised an eyebrow at it. “Well you wouldn’t exactly be looking five stars either if you got smashed into a building by a flying car.” He said to it.
Equius smiled. “That’s MT969. Don’t mind him, he likes to pick on guests. I have tried to teach him otherwise, but all I was able to do was knock a few manners into him.” He then went back to fixing the rigs in Hal’s arm with his little pointy tools.
MT969 beeped and inched forward a little, like it was saying something witty.
“Nice.” Hal looked at Equius. “You should name him Methuselah.”
“Why that name?” He finished his work on Hal’s arm and began stitching him back up.
“No reason in particular.” Hal looked at the droid, who blinked understandingly at him. “He looks sturdy.”
Equius nodded, seeming to appreciate the compliment to to his droid. “Yes, he’s quite the durable build. ‘Twas one of the strongest on the market! Now, get that crooked leg of yours up on the table and let me have a look at it.”
Hal did as asked. “You could also nickname him ‘Meth’ if the full name is too long.”
“Ah.” Equius looked at him over his cracked, darkened lenses. “You’re a man of wit are you?”
“You could say that, yea.”
The droid who’s name is now Meth rolled up and bumped Hal in the leg like a friendly punch.
“Karkat?” Dave asked, his voice falling a bit weak as he turned slowly to look up at him from his lap. “Are we... adults?” His words broke a silence that had lived quite long enough between the three of them as they sat huddled together, hungry. Water lapped up over the edges of the metal raft, a shoddy vessel that had carried them for weeks. It’s hard surface was growing sore on their elbows and ankles as they had been sitting on it for a few days too long.
“WELL,” the fire that had always been in Karkats voice was slowly dying, but his slight rasp remained. “WE’RE WHAT, TEN SWEEPS OLD? ELEVEN?”
“Something like that.”
“I THINK WE’RE LEGALLY ADULTS, THEN, AT LEAST BY EARTH STANDARDS.” He sounded a little distant, a little dreamy, maybe. “IV’E HEARD A LOT ABOUT EARTH... IT’S A SHAME WHAT HAPPENED TO IT.”
“I don’t feel like an adult.” Jade said softly, her arms wrapped around Karkat as she leaned forward against his back.
“That’s what I was thinking.” Dave airily spoke with his head rested on Karkats thigh. “I don’t feel any older than I felt when I was like, seventeen, Earth years. Maybe younger.”
“Do you think,” Jade had to stop for a second, holding back a sob, and trying to keep some deep sadness out of her voice, “Do you think we’ve lived full lives? Like, we grew up just as much as we were ever meant to, and now we’re ready for it to be over?”
There was a deep ache in all three of their stomachs, as none of them had eaten for maybe a week, maybe two. The ammunition in Jades gun had run out long ago, and they had grown weak trying to catch fish with their hands. Karkat, who usually always had something to say, was silent.
“I...” Dave started after a long pause, “I don’t think I want it to be over. But I don’t think I’ll ever be ready, you know?” He paused. “And, you know, as much as I did get around, and as much cool stuff as I did get to do in this short twenty-three years, I don’t think I ever got the life I really wanted.”
Karkats voice was faint, gentle. “AND WHAT WAS THAT?” He said in all caps.
“I think maybe I just wanted to settle down, have a warm little home somewhere peaceful, raise a family or something.” He rolled over and hid his face in Karkats hollowing stomach. “God, I donno. Like that kind of picket-fence life is even possible anymore under this government.”
Karkat gave his back a slow little rub. A gentle, warm breeze wafted over them, carrying a cool mist of water. The sky was blue, and the weather was perfect, if a bit warm and moist, but the sun on their skin had long since given them burns. Something trilled prettily far above them, and he looked up to see the little creature soaring through the air in lazy circles. Over the horizon he could see a flock of them, resembling blackbirds, a spiraling column circling slowly like pepper being stirred gently in a glass. They rose into the endless blue of the sky and drifted back down again, staying in loose circles around eachother. Perhaps it was an omen, perhaps it was nothing. He felt the water beneath the raft begin to heave and stir as the wind picked up and tossed them forward. Another long silence passed.
Jade drew in a deep, slow breath of the fresh air. “I wish I’d been able to get to the end of the universe.” She nuzzled her face into Karkats shoulder, and he rested his head on hers. “I’ve heard there’s a really nice restaurant out there. ...it would’ve been cool just to see it, you know? I wasn’t really expecting to get any fulfillment out of it, or any new enlightenment that I didn’t already have, but I guess I just felt like,,, maybe there might be something there for me anyway, waiting at the end of the universe. Like maybe it would help me start to understand my place in the world if I could just see the ends of it, and find the center. I’ve wanted to see it since I was a little girl.”
“Yeah.” Dave felt her put one soft hand against his cheek, reaching tiredly around Karkat. “I think I know what you mean.” Their breathing was slow, they felt in sync. “What about you, quarks?” He said weakly, looking up at him. “Anything you didn’t get to do that you wanted?”
Karkat was quiet for a while, gazing off a thousand miles into the distance, before looking back down at Dave. “THIS IS PROBABLY A BIT SILLY,” he looked away again, “BUT I WANTED TO BE IMPORTANT. MAYBE THAT MEANT BEING SOME HIGH-RANKING OFFICER THAT ALMOST EVERYONE KNEW, OR JUST BEING REALLY IMPORTANT TO ONE PERSON IN PARTICULAR, I DON’T KNOW.” His cheek rested against Jades head on his shoulder, her frizzled black hair tickling his nose, and he sighed. “AND I WANTED TO LEAD A CHANGE, OR A CAUSE, OR JUST SOMETHING THAT WOULD DO A LOT OF GOOD FOR A LOT OF PEOPLE. BUT EVEN THEN I THINK I WOULD’VE BEEN CONTENT JUST MAKING ONE SPECIFIC PERSON REALLY FUCKING HAPPY.”
“Well,” Jade wrapped her arms just a little tighter around him, “if it’s any consolation, I think you‘re pretty important, and have a whole lot of leadership potential.”
Karkat sniffed a little, growing lightheaded from hunger. “THANKS... AND YOU KNOW,, YOU TWO,,” he sniffled again, “YOU TWO MADE THESE LAST FEW WEEKS OF MY LIFE AN ADVENTURE. I THINK I’VE SEEN AND DONE MORE WILD SHIT IN THIS PAST MONTH THAN I HAVE IN THE LAST FOUR YEARS THAT I SPENT CLEANING ON THAT FREIGHTER.”
“Damnit man,” Dave curled up a little tighter in his lap, “don’t cry, you’ll make me cry, and then we’ll have this massive sappy mess,”
“...I LOVE YOU GUYS.” Karkat said, moving to hold them both. They were all a little delirious with hunger and fatigue.
“I, I love you too, Karkat,” Jade smiled sadly against his shoulder, “and you too, Dave. You guys brought me out of an endless cycle of depressing tedium the second you showed up out of the blue on my ship.”
Karkat let out a strangled little sob.
“Hey, yeah,” Dave’s voice wavered, “I love y’all too.”
And then Karkat practically burst into tears, shaking and holding them close, and Dave was soon to follow, however a little more quietly. He moved up out of Karkats lap to hug them both, and all of them clung to each-other, crying. What a mess they were. The three of them all sat on the edge of starving to death, and felt like maybe this was the end. If they had looked up they would’ve seen another barrage of massive waves heading their way, and would’ve lost even more hope than the large amount of which they had already dumped into the sea. Luckily it wasn’t much longer before a ship appeared in the sky, smacking the air with a loud “whhhOP” as it came out of hyperdrive and slowed to a complete stop.
“There they are.” Hal said to Sollux, pointing to the little raft floating among the vast sea of blue on the ships visor, “try to get close to them and I’ll pull them aboard. They know me.”
Jade, Dave and Karkat all looked up at the loud sound above them, stuck for a moment like a deer in the headlights, still reeling a little from their heavy sobbing, some tears hanging off their chins.
“Oh shit.” Dave clutched Karkats arm and pointed, “holy shit.” He started violently shaking Karkats arm. “Shit dude look holy shit.”
“I SEE IT, I SEE IT!” Karkat stood and started frantically waving his arms, shouting, “DOWN HERE!! DOWN—“ he coughed, his throat already sore and his voice weak.
Jade stood up quickly after him, clinging to him for balance as the raft swayed, “over here!!” She jumped a little, waving with Karkat, “we’re over here!!” A smile nearly split her face in two as she wildly waved her arms about and yelled while crying like she was preforming some sort of insane religious dance of praise. The delirium only grew worse with emotion. As the ship neared them, slowly descending out of the sky, Dave stood and danced with them. Usually he wouldn’t be so frantic, but today was special and he was desperate.
The hatch of the ship opened as it hovered now close above them, and inside it revealed Hal standing in front of the lights. With the delirium and the emotion of finally being rescued, coupled with the dramatic entrance, Hal had the appearance of a goddamn angelic savior descending from heaven.
“YES!!” Jade raised both fists in the air, nearly falling off the raft, “YES there he is!! he came back!!” She laughed with such a grand elation and hugged Dave and Karkat again.
Wind from the ships engines blew hard against the water and threatened to push the raft away, blowing thick mists through their hair. As soon as the ship got close enough, Hal held out his hand for them to grab onto, clinging onto one of the rods that moved the hatch. The three of them all reached for him in a display worthy of a renaissance painting, laughing and crying and shouting above the roaring sound of the engine. Something about the smile on Jades face as she finally locked hands with him, holding Dave close with her other arm as he held Karkat with his, made something in Hal feel warm. Hoisting them all up onto the ship with his elevated strength attribute, he couldn’t help but break into a bit of a smile at the sight of them all collapsing onto the ship in a pile of laughter, hugs, and tears.
“Holy shit.” Seemed to be the two words Dave was now exclusively limited to.
“Hal!” Jade looked up at him from where she was on the floor, Dave and Karkat tangled on top of and next to her, “you came back!”
“Yeah” he took her hand again and helped them up. “I told you I would.” She smiled at him. “Thanks for not dying while I was gone.” He said.
“Well it was the only job you gave me.” She slung both her arms around Dave and Karkats shoulders, who slung their arms around hers. “And keeping these two alive as well wasn’t easy!”
They started laughing again, limping a little as the three of them all helped eachother walk back into the ship. It was nearly like they weren’t willing to stop being so close together just yet, like they’d spent so long wrapped in each others warmth that it would feel wrong to to leave it so immediately.
Hal went with them. “There’s some food back here, I can get it ready for you,” he walked ahead into the homey but grey interior of the ship and started opening locked cupboards as the hatch of the ship began to close. “you look like you haven’t eaten in a while.” He glanced at Dave’s stomach, which was getting hollow.
“Hey, yea,” Dave looked around the ship and adjusted his tinted goggles, “and do you have a shirt I could borrow?” His voice was still a bit weak and rough.
“In fact we do!” Said a woman’s voice they hadn’t heard before, enthusiastic and melodic. Aradia came out of the bridge with a smile and held out her hand for them to shake. “I’m Aradia,” she said, as Dave took her hand and shook it as firmly as he could, “and you must be—?”
“Dirk Strider?” Aradia let go of his hand and stepped back a little, her smile a little cautious now.
“No,” he huffed a bit, “Dave. Dave Strider. Dirk is my—“ he paused for a second. “He’s me bro, I guess. We may or may not actually be related.”
“Well it’s nice to meet you.” She then shook Jade and Karkats hands, and they introduced themselves. Jade and Aradia seemed to have an instant solidarity as they shook hands, feeling something similar between them that was tucked deep within their characters that didn’t always show.
Just as they were getting done with the formalities, Hal came back with a few shirts and food, and handed them out respectively.
“THANKS,” Karkat quickly went about putting the shirt on. “HEY, IS THIS GLEMISH?” He asked about the cup of green mashed fruit that had been handed to him.
“I don’t care what it is,” Jade said with her mouth already half-full of it, “it’s good and I’m starving.”
“Mood.” Dave agreed.
Hal leaned against a counter and made a discreet little satisfied exhale. “Yes, Karkat, it’s glemish.”
“I’m glad you like it,” Aradia piped up again, “now, where’s Dirk Strider? You mentioned he was stranded on this planet too?”
“Yea.” Hal did one of those little upward nods. “We should be able to locate him if we do another planetary scan. We’ll have to be higher in the atmosphere though.”
“Good.” She said, starting to walk back to the bridge, “very good. Why don’t you all come to the bridge and meet my pilot, Sollux?”
Chapter 22: Oh Shit
It’s high noon
They were trying to get out of there, was the goal. Roxy and Jane stayed crouched behind a golden wall, waiting for troops to pass. Carefully, Roxy peeked around the corner to see if they were gone enough. Beyond them was the massive docking chamber, taking up a generous portion of the mothership, the Chicago Overcoat. Rows upon rows of smaller vehicles sat shelved among much larger ships that were still small in comparison to regular ships. These were fighter ships, meant almost exclusively for combat. The squadrons of pirates clad in cerulean uniforms continued to march about in orderly fashion, some leading, most following. It was hardly fair to just call them pirates anymore, this organization had grown into a formidable army, led less by a pirate queen and more by a ravenous dictator. If you asked any one of them though, they’d tell you that yeah, they’re still pirates by definition.
Roxy turned back around behind the safety of the wall. “Okay,” She whispered to Jane, “it looks clear.” After a whispered count to three, they both ran out from the wall and quickly ducked behind some crates. “All we need to do,” Roxy said, “is get a couple guys when nobody’s looking and knock em cold. Then we take their clothes.”
Jane looked not only nervous but slightly flustered at the notion of forcibly removing a strangers clothes while they are unconscious. She simply nodded.
“Alright, here’s one comin,” Roxy pat Jane’s shoulder lightly as she listened to what sounded like one mans footsteps coming their way. Just when they got close enough, she reached out and grabbed them by the collar to slam their head against the crate, trying to be quiet and discreet about it. It might’ve worked, too, but the very next moment she wound up looking up at a rather unhappy troll while she held an unconscious soldier in her lap, brown blood trickling slowly from the busted spot on their head. She gave the pirate a sheepish smile before trying to kick his legs out from underneath him, failing, and then winding up looking up at him sheepishly again as she now had a gun pointed at her and Jane.
“STAND!” He commanded, still pointing the gun at them.
Roxy dropped the unconscious troll and stood, holding up her hands, and Jane hesitantly did the same.
“Ahah,” She said, “hey, look,”
The pirate looked. His look was stern and fierce, but not the kind practiced in a mirror. He was smaller than a a full-grown adult, bigger than a child. Probably in his late youth.
“We’re just stealin, see?” Roxy gestured at the Troll she had knocked out and the pirate aimed more intentionally at her as a warning. By this point several others were looking. “And we’re pirates, we’re all pirates here, that’s what we do! I’m just one a y’all, doin piratey things, no need to,” she glanced around and noticed nearly everyone in their general proximity was looking, “no need to,”
“Roxy.” Jane said softly, her arms still raised, “the only reason he hasn’t shot us yet is because we’ll be entertaining as prisoners.”
“YEAH,” the pirate pointing a gun at them said, a smile now on his face, “SHE GETS IT.”
“Jake!” Dirk called, “in here.”
Jake jogged down a narrow, stale grey and featureless hallway and stopped in the doorframe to the room Dirk was in. “Well?” He stepped in, crouching next to his partner in front of a hatch in the floor of the room. The room, along with the hatch, had a few opened boxes and drawers in it, all grey and white. “What’d you dig up for us?”
“Looks like a storage room.” Dirk reported, swinging his legs over the side and looking down into it. “It shows potential.”
“Funny,” Jake moved to follow Dirk in as soon as he dropped down, “not an awful lot of things here show potential of any sort.”
“Yeah?” He slid off the edge of the hatch in the floor and down into the small room below, landing with a solid clap of bare feet on concrete. His shoes had been lost long ago when he’d kicked them off to swim better, before they’d reached this place. This little storage room, like everything else in the floating square island, was a very light shade of dead grey. “It is a little bleak I suppose. Better than being stuck in the ocean though.”
As Jake lowered himself into the hole after him, Dirk took Jakes hand to gently help him down.
“Any foodstuffs in here?” Jake began searching the shelves. “Ah! Eureka!” He turned around to proudly hold up two cans of food for Dirk. “We won’t be going hungry next week.”
“Good to know.” Dirk took a can from him, a hint of something maybe happy in his eyes, guarded by his cloudy shades, and not seen in the corners of his mouth. Jake had known him long enough to count it as a smile.
After gathering as many cans as they could hold into their makeshift sacks, they helped hoist eachother back up the hatch. Together they walked back through the barren city of short square buildings, back to the place they had dubbed ‘home base’. The sky was empty and blue as it often was, the air warm, and the sun bright enough to burn skin. Sun bleached streets showed no sign of life, no sound of anything as they walked through them. A little ways off you could hear the ocean crashing against the sides of the concrete island. The place they had decided to stay was probably the only place with a bed in it that they had found so far, and in it was also a working radio.
Once they got back to their room, Jake set to work unloading and stacking the cans onto the shelves, setting the food among neat little things set in crystal and drawings of wizards. The drawings weren’t theirs, they had been there before Dirk and Jake had shown up, along with most all the other things in this room. It felt wrong to move them off the shelves for an unspoken reason set deep in the parts of the mind that don’t speak, but rather feel. On the bed Dirk sat with the radio, listening to the strange static as it fizzled and occasionally popped. Once, just a few days back, a voice had come on in front of the static. It had been a feminine voice, sweet and British-sounding, and she had been asking for a girl by the name of Roxy Lalonde. When Dirk and Jake had told her they didn’t know who that was, she seemed a little down for a moment, before becoming interested in who they themselves were.
When Dirk and Jake had asked her what her name was, she simply said that she preferred to remain anonymous, for complicated reasons, and had hoped they wouldn’t mind. She seemed very kind, very lovely, and had spoken about very lovely things, like golden cities and shimmering parades and gentle queens with gentle kings. Most of all though, she seemed lonely. Even if she didn’t directly say so, Dirk could tell. Now he sat on the bed and listened for her, waiting for her to come on over the static. He wondered who this Roxy was, or who she had been, and if she perhaps built this radio herself. He wondered where she was now, since they hadn’t stumbled upon anyone else here, and had seen no skeletons or remains of people yet.
There didn’t seem to be any way off this planet, this Geliez 13-b, in constellation Ophilamis, sector ξ6. There didn’t seem to be any way to get back into the sky again.
Dirk looked up to see Jake sit next to him on the bed, holding a single can labeled ‘corn’. “What do you say we crack one open and have our supper early? Personally I think we’ve earned it.”
“We should really stick to a schedule, and ration it wisely.” Dirk took the can as Jake handed it to him. “I don’t think it’ll kill us to wait half an hour to eat just to stay consistent.”
“Oh you.” Jake nudged him. “Doing the same thing every time gets old doesn’t it? Just a few minutes sooner won’t hurt us.”
“Don’t tempt me.” Dirks tone was just barely playful enough for Jake to register.
“I think I’ll tempt you all I want!” he tried to stir up some friendly banter, smiling, unaware of the material he was giving Dirk to work with.
“Is that so?” The way Dirk said it was just forceful enough and just sultry enough to put Jake off, emphasized by him leaning ever so slightly forward and staring Jake right in the eyes with some mildly sordid look that he’d hardly ever use. The occasions on which he did use it though were memorable indeed.
“Wh,” Jake leaned back a little, “Dirk, that’s not,”
“Not what? Not what you meant?” His tone had softened drastically, Jake laughed nervously. This was sudden. “Did you not mean to be suggestive? To tempt me?”
“You know I didn’t,” Jake continued to lean back as Dirk leaned forward, scooting slowly closer.
“Do you want it to be, though?”
“Consarn it Dirk you can’t always keep doing this whenever we’re alone.” Jake was instinctively looking over his shoulder to see if anyone was around, even though he knew quite well they were the only people around for miles.
“Can’t I?” Dirk then seemed to catch himself, backing up a little and asking in a more regular and cautious tone, “Do you not want me to?”
“No,” Jake sat up to shrink the distance between them again as Dirk moved away. “That’s not what I’m saying,” he started leaning back again as Dirk resumed leaning forward. “But you can’t deny all the times you nearly got me in serious trouble in the military.”
“We aren’t in the military anymore.” Dirk was nearly on top of him now, “haven’t been for a while.”
There was a certain side to Dirk hidden under his usual icy burn that was more fluid, sensitive, responsive. Yet it seemed the more you melted him the more intense he got. There was a whole world of a person to explore under his more chilly facade, and between the cryptic writing on the walls and the way not even he himself knew everything there was to know about him, he was the most exciting and thrilling temple Jake had ever explored.
Some hours later and Jake and Dirk are lying on the bed together, hands locked, wondering what to do now that they’ve both managed to enter their refractory periods for the next long while. They have all the time in the world to kill now, and the two of them are alone together, so really once you’ve done this and that and searched the whole place what’s left for them to do? This island is boring. The two of them are the most interesting things here, they can’t be blamed for taking so much interest in each other.
The sweet British-sounding lady still hasn’t come back on the radio, still it simply plays it’s constant white noise. Calm settled over the world and even though there’s no apparent way off this planet, no apparent future beyond this, Dirk feels somewhat content. He isn’t alone, at least.
Jake turns his head to look at him and smiles warmly, gently squeezes his hand. “Good, eh?”
Dirk huffs a single sedated laugh, about to say something, but then the booming sound of starship engines cuts him off. He bolts upright, listening now as the sound gets steadily louder and closer overhead.
“Dirk?” Jake gets up more slowly as Dirk rushes out of bed to put clothes back on and look out the window.
He moves nearly as fast as an impatient child scrambling to get out of bed on Christmas morning, a sudden excitement riveting his attention. Rescue. “get some clothes on,” he says, then slowing to look at Jake and consider things, he says in a softer tone, “Jake.” It’s so tender, for a moment. “Someone’s here.”
It’s only minutes before they’re fully dressed and out the door, power-walking down the street with their few worldly possessions they have left in a makeshift satchel. Above them is, as expected, a grande-sized (medium) starship hovering ever nearer, blowing a steady but strong gust of wind from its engines as it lowers its landing gear and touches down. It’s the loudest sound this square island has heard in years. The two of them lock hands again as it’s roar settles down, its hatch clicking open and slowly unfolding into a ramp with a hiss. They can faintly hear voices above the noise, one saying “stay here, let me greet them.” And another saying “but why?”
They can’t hear the rest of the conversation, because the ramp finally stops on the ground with a loud clang of metal on concrete, which reverberates off the empty walls across the entire island. There’s a silence, and then a young troll woman steps off the ship, her horns curling back like a rams, her tasteful fedora sitting well in her long and wild dark hair. As soon as Dirk sees the symbol on her vest he takes Jake by the arm and flash-steps out of view, into an alleyway.
“What’s this?” Jake whispers to him as Dirk holds him back against the wall to hide.
“Dirk Strider.” Aradia calls, her voice clear and distinct as she projects it to echo off the buildings. “I’ve come to take you in.”
“Ohh,” Jake says with great agitation under his breath, “you didn’t tell me you had a price on your head!” He whispers harshly.
“We can make this easy, Dirk.” She speaks loudly, meaning business. “you can come peacefully to me, and I can take you back to the government unharmed, no violence needed. Or if you’d rather, I can make your death quick and painless to save you from whatever horrors the government has in store for you should you go back to them alive. I’ll gladly give you mercy, should you accept it. If you have last words or a message for someone I will kindly deliver it for you. There’s no need to make this difficult.” She loops the tail of her whip around her other hand and steps forward, her stride long and confident, and her stance wide. “But whatever you choose to do,” she projects her voice across the silent city, making sure these last words are heard throughout the entire island, “you will come with me.”
“Right.” Jake whispers ever more quietly, “What now?”
“I fight her as a distraction while you take the ship, I’ll slip past her and climb aboard last second once it’s ready, and then we GTFO. We’ll see if we can find the other three after that, then leave the planet.”
“Okay,” Jake nods and settles back against the wall, “sounds like a plan.”
“Cool.” Dirk then turns and walks out of the alley, a bit to Jakes surprise, and begins walking straight towards Aradia.
“There you are.” Aradia grins. “Decided to come the easy way?”
“If I’m going down,” Dirk said, looking up at her from down the street, “I’m going down swinging.”
The sun hung high in the sky, high noon to be precise. A tumbleweed bounced silently across the way some distance down the street.
“Hm.” Aradia lowered her head, “but you don’t appear to have a weapon with you!”
“Bold of you to assume I am unarmed,” he pulled a katana from his strife specibus, wielding it with hard vigor, “simply because you cannot see it.”
Meanwhile, Jake slunk off behind buildings to sneak aboard the starship and get it ready. As he neared the hatch of it, he could hear people talking, so he stopped to listen.
“How was I supposed to know he was next on her hit-list?” One voice said, sounding an awful lot like Dirk just slightly off— it was Hal. This was Hal talking. “She never-“
“You could have put two and two together!” Jade’s voice, she sounded a bit exasperated, “A: She’s a bounty hunter, B: Dirk is apparently a war criminal or something, and-“
“He’s not a war criminal he-“
“Oh my god you guys can we just do something” Dave interrupted them both. Good to know Dave and Jade were there, but he hadn’t yet heard-
“YEAH I’M WITH DAVE CAN WE JUST FUCKING GET IN THERE BEFORE ONE OF THEM KILLS THE OTHER?”
There he is.
Jake quickly slipped aboard the ship and joined them, happy to see them again but still feeling urgent.
“Jake!” Jade greeted him before he could say anything, causing them all to look.
He immediately shushed them and urged them to be quiet. “I don’t think she’s after me too but I have a job.”
“A job?” Hal raised an eyebrow.
“Yes a job now which way is the cockpit?” He was crouched like being a whole foot lower would make him more sneaky.
Hal gave him a quizzical look and pointed at the door to the left.
“Thanks.” Jake walked over there and opened the door, but Hal stopped him just before he went in.
“It’s nice to see you again, Jake.”
“Save it for when I’ve gotten Dirk out of this mess.” Jake said, then went through and shut the door.
Something about those words stung in a way that was difficult to entirely understand. He probably didn’t mean to sound so cold towards Hal, but still. Hal used to love Jake, in some way. He used to be Dirk. Things got overcomplicated and there were too many emotions and suddenly he needed to sit down for a minute. Androids aren’t supposed to have feelings.
While Hal was having a silent mental crisis Jake went to sit down in the pilots seat only to discover two things: someone else was already there and he couldn’t fly a ship anyway.
“Hey.” Sollux said, looking up at Jake as he just sort of gawked at him for a bit.
“Oh.” He finally said, “excuse me, could you start up the engines?”
“Why.” Sollux adjusted his funny 3D tinted glasses. “Who are you?”
“Ah, my name’s Jake.” He stuck out his hand for Sollux to shake, “and you are?”
He leaned back in his chair and looked at Jakes hand, then looked back up at Jake. He made no move to shake his hand. “You with the Strider guy?”
“I’m sorry man we can’t leave until she’s got em.” He then clicked something on the ships console and started playing a sort of retro video game made of simple pixels and arrow keys. “Won’t take too long.”
“No offense,” he didn’t take his eyes away from the screen, “it’s just she doesn’t fuck around you know? Nobody she’s faced lasts long.” His lisp was getting in the way of every S he tried to pronounce, and it was suddenly getting on Jakes nerves.
Jake was about to say something, then didn’t have anything to say, so he just sort of waved an exasperated finger at him a few times. After a bit of finger-shaking and several scrapped ideas on what exactly to say to that, he just gave up and walked back out of the cockpit. They were gonna need a new plan.
Meanwhile, Dirk was deflecting every lash from her whip with his sword, and he would’ve cut it by now but the whip seemed to have something at its core that was metal maybe? He had no idea, only that this whip wasn’t getting cut. He backed away a little to give himself room to avoid her next slash, then jumped to avoid her follow-through at his legs. She moved fast, nearly as fast as him. Briefly he wondered where Jake was, he should’ve started up the ship by now. He took a running start to attack at her arms, making her use the whip defensively. She narrowly dodged an attack with a lot of force behind it, leaving him to cut at the air behind her while she slipped beside him and grabbed his collar, throwing him to the ground.
Going back to using his sword defensively, he blocked her whip while getting back on his feet. As he moved to attack her again, she got her whip wrapped around his sword, yanking it out of his hands and sending it flying over the roofs of the buildings. The loss of his sword forced him to block the next slash from her whip with his arm, which hurt, but with it wrapped around his forearm he could pull her close enough to punch her in the jaw. She recovered quickly, dropping the whip now that he had a hold of it and pulling out a golden revolver. There was no hesitation, she shot at him as he turned and ran to the other side of one of the buildings. Scaling the side of it using its windows, he hoisted himself onto the roof of it and found his katana lying in the sun-bleached gravel.
Now with his sword, he ran to the edge of the building, which was only two stories tall, and leaped from it, sword reeled back for a critical hit on Aradia. She dodged him, aiming again and firing. Using his sword to deflect the bullets, which is such a fucking anime thing to do, he got back up and charged at her, knocking the gun from her hands with a single swing. He made his movements quick and nearly never left himself open, leaving her very short windows for attack. She ducked to avoid his next swing, and just before he could bring the sword back she got him by the wrist and suplexed him, slamming him onto the concrete.
The force of it made him loosen his grip briefly, so Aradia used that moment to grab his sword from him and put it to his neck. She had him pinned on the ground now, which was probably the hardest thing she’d accomplished in a while. Just before she could say anything she felt the cold end of her own revolver nudge her in the back of the head. Dirk looked up to see Jake standing in front of the sun, gun in hand, aimed point-blank at her skull.
“Let him go.”
Chapter 23: Let’s Go Meet John Mulaney
There are different kinds of people. One of these is the kind of person who usually wants nothing to do with all the drama and mayhem that everyone else seems so keen on getting involved in. Sollux is this kind of person. He often does his best to not get involved, but today he’d really like it if we could all just wrap this up already and go home so he can hold hands with his girlfriend and watch the stars turn.
There was a glimmer of hope in Dirk the moment he saw Jake with the golden revolver pointed at Aradia’s head. A hope that maybe he wouldn’t have to go back to the government, that maybe things would work out after all. That glimmer died the very next moment when Sollux showed up and, using his elevated psionic attribute, simply took the gun away from Jake with telekinesis and pointed it back at him instead.
“She isn’t here for you, man.” Sollux told him, “you can go. You don’t need to wind up dead.”
“He’s right Jake.” Dirk said, a bit strangled with Aradia still on top of him with his own sword to his neck. “I won’t think any less of you. Go.”
“Wh-“ Jake turned and looked at Dirk, something tragically upset in his deep green eyes. “No!”
Dirk tried to make his voice both confident and comforting. “You don’t have to-“
“I do have to!” He sputtered, “I’m not leaving you!”
He knelt down beside Dirk in front of Aradia, “I won’t leave his side! You take him, you take me.” Jakes was wearing the most determined and stubborn look on his face, like maybe it would hide how afraid he suddenly was.
Dirk looked up at him from where he was stuck on the ground and tried to communicate something with his eyes, saying no you fucking idiot don’t do that. Whatever anger he tried to put behind it was lost, though, to a torrential wave of deep hurting. Jake didn’t have to get pulled down with him, he didn’t deserve to, and Dirk certainly didn’t want him to.
It didn’t take long before Jade, Dave and Karkat had all run out of the ship to see what all this fuss was about.
“Very well.” Aradia said as she took Dirks wrists and turned him over to cuff them behind his back. “You have no price on your head but if you insist I’ll turn you in with him.” She looked at Jake a bit sympathetically. He’d seen the horrors of the governments military, but he had no idea what was waiting for them deeper than that, in the place where the prisoners go. “Just don’t try to break him out until I’ve dropped you off and collected my pay.”
“Damn it, Jake,” Dirk said again, this time with a bit more feeling and with his face pressed to the concrete. He already knew there’d be no talking Jake out of it.
Once Dirk was secure, Aradia went to cuff Jakes wrists behind his back as well, as Sollux lowered the gun that was pointed at him.
Hal simply watched, eyes wide again as he realized there wasn’t much he could do. Maybe he could fight them off, grab the ship and leave the two trolls behind— but no. Though, there was five of them, and only two of Aradia and Sollux, maybe it wouldn’t be impossible? But Aradia and Sollux had taken Hal in and had paid to have him repaired, though, he couldn’t just turn on them, but then again she did sort of turn on him, well on Dirk at least, but turning on someone involved changing the way you treat them and she had only ever treated Dirk the same, with her cards on the table from the moment she’d met him. Even if she didn’t tell Hal that she was going to use him to find Dirk from the beginning she still played fair, and, well, you know,
Hal felt the need to sit down again. He didn’t know what to do only that he felt sorry as he watched Aradia and Sollux take Dirk and Jake back to the ship. The glare Dirk gave him as they passed didn’t help. Something changed as he watched them go. This wasn’t about sorry, this was about what he was going to do to fix it. The main issue was that he had no clue how to fix it, who’s side to take or where to even start.
“I know, you said you didn’t know she was after him,” Jade said, her voice a little shaky with emotion, “but you have to do something.” She made eye contact with Hal, her voice rising to a whisper on that last word.
Hal shook his head at the ground, unsure of what to say. Unsure of what to do. He was always sure of what to do, what to say, and not being sure now was probably going to kill him. Looking back up Hal noticed Dave was looking at him, his face gone carefully expressionless behind his tinted goggles, before he started walking back to the ship with Karkat, who seemed to be comforting him. Jade went with them, the three of them slinging their arms around each other as they walked. Hal stayed, standing still and watching them all board the ship.
For a moment Hal considered staying, letting them leave him behind so he could toss himself into the ocean and never trouble them again. The moment passed as fast as it came, though, and he could see Jade looking over her shoulder at him, expecting him to come along. So he did.
“You know what?” Dave said, sitting with his feet crossed on the table, “we need like a vacation or something. We were stuck on that planet for what, four weeks? Five?”
Karkat looked up at him from where he’d had his face buried in his arms on the table. “TOO LONG. IT WAS TOO LONG.”
Jades voice was softer than usual, but not in a good way, it was weighed down by something. “So where would you want to go?” She was leaning heavily on her elbows, which, like the rest of them, were resting on the table.
“Donno.” Dave leaned back and looked at the ceiling. “I just really don’t want to end this on such a bad note.” They were all quiet again for a while. “...hey. How about we go to Cradeja. Do something crazy. Try some of the famous drinks you hear so much about that everyone’s trying to copy.”
Jade seemed to perk up the slightest bit. “But I thought nobody was allowed in? That place is legendary.”
“Yea, maybe.” Dave looked at Karkat. “Lets break in.”
“DAVE.” Karkat cocked his head at him. “NO.”
The ship rattled a little, the air conditioning humming in the background as they rocketed silently through the vast vacuum of space. It felt nice to be unstuck again, to be free.
“Alright.” Dave took his feet off the table.
Jade took slow breaths. “We could ask Aradia to just drop us off at the nearest good place before she goes to the government to hand over Dirk and Jake.”
“WHAT ABOUT FINDING JANE AND ROXY?” Karkat looked tired with his cheek rested in his palm. “WE NEED A SHIP FOR THAT, AND WE DON’T HAVE MONEY ANYMORE.”
“I, still have money.” Hal said the first word a bit loudly, somewhat sheepishly pausing and lowering his voice, stepping back from the table a little. He wasn’t sure if they were mad at him.
Jade nodded her head slowly, thoughtfully. “Maybe we should save that to buy a new ship and get all that in order before we go celebrate anything and possibly blow our money on something.”
“Ok but listen,” Dave said, holding up a hand, “have you tried mixing daiquiris with ambien? You could turn twenty dollars into a hundred.”
“DOES THAT WORK?”
“Well It didn’t not work.”
“Okay,” Jade said with a small and amused smile, “let’s think of an actual plan instead of quoting comedians.”
“How about we try X-Mallerie seven?” Hal kept his voice gentle, still a bit hesitant, standing by the wall instead of sitting at the table with them. Once he noticed they were all looking at him, listening, not seeming too upset to hear him speak, he continued. “The planet has good vineyards, according to the Hitchhikers Guide, and they sell ships. I can find a good spacecraft and buy it for you while you all go and have some fun. It’s only a few systems away, just the next constellation over. We’re headed in that direction now.”
Jade gave him a small smile and sighed quietly. “That sounds good, Hal.” She spoke softly, then turned to the others. “What do you guys think?”
Karkat looked troubled, staring at the table. “MAN, IT FEELS WRONG TO JUST LET ARADIA TAKE THEM LIKE THIS AND NOT EVEN SAY ANYTHING. AND THEN GO AND PARTY OR WHATEVER.”
Dave rested his forehead on Karkat’s shoulder. “Yeah, it does.”
“Dirk did specifically tell us not to come after him, though,” Jade looked at them with a bit of sadness, “and not to try anything. Jake won’t *let* us free him.”
“YEA,” Karkat sighed. “I JUST,”
“I know.” Dave nuzzled him slightly. “I talked to him again afterwards, too. Says he’ll be fine. But then again Aradia doesn’t let us talk to them without her being in the room too, so we can’t exactly make a plan with him.”
“You know,” Hal hesitantly sat down at the table with them, “Aradia doesn’t seem too against him getting away from the government. I think once she has her money she won’t care what he does. If we talk to her about it we could probably get her to let us make an escape plan for after she’s dropped him off.”
They all looked at him with slightly different expressions.
“HAVE YOU,” Karkat looked away for a moment and then back at him, “HAVE YOU *SEEN* THE GOVERNMENT?”
“I have Dirks memories of being in the governments military, so yes, I think I’ve seen them.” He said calmly.
“SO YOU KNOW HOW SUICIDAL GOING DIRECTLY AGAINST THE GOVERNMENT WITHIN THE GOVERNMENT IS?”
“Man,” Dave looked at Karkat, “and that’s coming from you. The guy that took off his helmet in the vacuum of space for a lady you met like a few hours ago.”
“YEAH.” Karkat nodded a little. “THATS COMING FROM ME.”
Hal looked away at the floor off to the left, thinking something and not saying it.
“Let’s just,” Jade leaned forward, “go to Mallerie Seven. It sounds nice. After that we can look for Roxy and Jane, and WV, and maybe try breaking Dirk and Jake out when our team is bigger.”
Dave’s head shot up a bit at the mention of WV. His buddy, his pal. “Yea, I guess that wouldn’t be too bad. Karkat?”
He sighed, still looking troubled. “ALRIGHT.”
X-Mallerie-7, or XM7, is a humble planet, currently. It wasn’t always such a humble planet. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy depicts Mallerie-7 as the sort of place to change its front often, showing off its shipyards as the main feature one year and then showing off its vineyards as the main feature the next. The most prominent thing about it is its vast and soft fields, the kind that stretch on for endless miles, as there are no mountains on Mallerie. This kind of constant level field is convenient for building lots of big cities, cities such as the ones Dave Jade and Karkat are wandering now.
Spires like shining metal braids rise high into the air, but not too high, and triangular, prism-like buildings stack up to modest heights with the triangle-grid system of streets running between them. Beyond the city lies the great, vast fields of crops, speckled with occasional houses and barns that belong to the keepers of these fields. While Hal goes out to the shipyard as promised, the three amigos head out to the local bar where there’s said to be the best drinks and dancing. He left them with a small portion of his money to spend and the copy of The Hitchhikers Guide that he wasn’t ever able to give back to Roxy.
“This looks about right.” Dave said, looking up from the Guide in his hands to check the sign on the outside of the place they had stopped in front of. “Best dinner in town.”
A blue man stumbled out of the doors muttering about “sugar sugar,,,, it’s all s u g a r,,” before collapsing on the sidewalk next to them.
“YEAH.” Karkat looked from the man to Dave, “IT WOULDN’T BE THE BEST IF YOU WEREN’T CAPABLE OF LOOSING YOUR ENTIRE GODAMN MIND IN ONE VISIT.”
Jade giggled slightly, “This is so sketchy.”
Together they went in, and together they started the next long section of their story.
Chapter 24: vague-posting on main
It’s alright to know that you’re shit and know exactly what you’re doing wrong and how to fix it, it’s another thing to feel like shit and not know any way to make it better. There’s a deep kind of sadness that comes with feeling like there’s nothing you can do, feeling hopeless. You might think you’ll get used to this sort of pain, that after a while it stops bothering you so much. It doesn’t. The worst part is when you can’t do anything about it, and not even the professionals have answers. When the therapist has run out of ideas, and when the doctors have diagnosed you wrong so many times, and none of the medicine has worked, and it’s been going on since the day you were born and you’re finally facing the very real possibility that there may be, in fact, no hope for you, you may run into something some call “depression.”
This is a little bit like what Hal was feeling, just not exactly. It was for different reasons that he was feeling this way, and some of the reasons were this: there seemed to be a pattern in his life where everyone he got attached to eventually became lost to him, he had a bad habit of making things worse when he tried to help, technically he was a robot now and robots aren’t supposed to have feelings, everything was slowly slipping further and further out of his control, he hadn’t yet been able to get Roxy’s copy of the Hitchhikers Guide back to her, and now the docking field was empty. He was given plenty of time to wallow quietly in all this and more while waiting for the shipwright to get back to him on why exactly the field was empty and where he would have to go to find a decent spaceship.
Eventually she did get back to him though, with news that this particular wing of the business was under renovation, and all the ships had been moved to docking station number five. This docking station number five, she had explained to him in her rich western accent from the back regions of sector ξ8, was the closest docking station to this one. It was only a few kilohecktors away, which was a western-ξ8 way of saying it was nearly halfway across the country. Space seems so big, doesn’t it? It seems even bigger when you consider how far it is from one American state to the other, and then how small America is compared to Earth, (pity what happened to that planet) and then how small earth is compared to the rest of its system, and then how small it’s system is compared to the rest of its constellation, and then how small it’s constellation is compared to its sector, etc. etc.
Distance is a bitch sometimes.
Hal idly kicked a small stone about fifty meters away into a field while contemplating how the hell he was supposed to make it over to docking station five without any means of transport other than his own two feet.
Something gurgled violently in the distance.
Hal looked up in mild irritation to finally actually wonder what the hell it was that was making that awful gurgling sound, and why it was always so distant and slightly ominous. It gurgled again, so he followed the sound for a while, which led him into the tall, dense fields of strange straw-colored grass. The crops grew nearly as high as his head, and it took a bit of effort to make his way through it, but it wasn’t too much of a hassle for someone with such elevated electronic strength as his. When he reached the sound, he pulled aside a bundle of the grass to reveal an odd, grey, leathery sort of creature with four stout legs and one big horn on each of its noses. It gurgled somewhat happily upon noticing Hal.
“So what are you supposed to be, then?” He asked it, “what do they call you? Space-rhino-cows? Fucking Astro-cattle?”
It huffed and then took a generous bite of grass with its left mouth, chewing slowly.
“Golods.” Said a heavy western-ξ8 accent, “We race ‘em occasionally in the lower parts of this here region of Mallerie.” It was the shipwright from earlier, a tall female troll with a single blue reed perpetually stuck in her mouth. She pushed aside a lock of grass as she stepped towards Hal and the beast.
“Ah. You again.” Hal would stick his hands in his pockets if he had any.
“Yeah it’s me. Saw you run off into the fields after punting a rock off into the blue yonder like it was nothin’ and decided to follow to make sure you don’t commit arson or somethin’. Say, I never got your name, did I?” She gave Hal a gentle, warm sort of smile. It seemed she could tell he was feeling pretty down.
“No.” He took a deep breath of the fresh southern-mallarian air, let his coolant system filter out. This sun was hot out here today, and not a single cloud would shield them from it. “It’s Hal. And you?”
“Skylla.” She held out her hand for him to shake. “Nice to meet you properly.”
He took her hand and shook it, and she shook it firmly back.
“Hey,” Hal glanced around a bit as she let go of his hand and stepped back, “is there any chance you could give me a ride to docking station five?”
“You can ride this here golod,” she gave the grey beast a solid pat on the rear, “but other than that I’m sorry to tell you I got nothin. My car’s under repair and I need all the farm machines to keep workin’ the fields.”
“That’s fine.” He looked the golod up and down a few times and it gurgled lovingly at him, some bubbles spilling out of its fifth nostril. “I can work with this.”
“Well, good luck to you.” She smiled and waved as she turned to leave. “I gotta get back to work.”
“Alright, it was nice talking to you Skylla.” Hal waved back. He noticed something, as he mounted the Golod and started wondering how he was supposed to get it to move. He noticed that he felt a little better, just after having talked to that one friendly troll lady for a bit. The conversation hadn’t even been that good, or long, but somehow it had lifted his spirits, even if only a tiny little bit.
The night air was warm out here on the open uppermost floor of the bar, the sky gone black from the city lights drowning out the stars. Just a few miles west and the stars would be perfectly clear, because just a few miles west was nothing but open fields. The ceiling up here was nothing more than a few colorful tarps stretched over some poles, and the walls were just some fences to keep people from falling over the side and then the poles to hold the tarps up. Lanterns were also hung up all here and there, and generally the whole aesthetic of the place was very open and breathable, even with dense crowds. Lights from the city below hung or moved slowly, a beautiful view from the rooftop as you looked over the edge. The happy spirit of the place could make you feel like you were floating.
Dave sat at the bar with a glass of apple juice, not too keen on getting drunk tonight, even if he didn’t really know why. The bartender had handed Dave his drink with a bit of a judgmental look, but maybe it was just his nerves messing with him. He made well with people-watching as Jade and Karkat moved all out of sync on the open dance floor with the rest of the crowd. Jade had been acting all fidgety and eager to get up and dance, so Karkat had offered to go with her before she “exploded into a fidgeting cloud of confetti” or however he phrased it. He wasn’t very good at dancing, Dave noticed.
The atmosphere was both lively and laid back, and the evening honestly felt perfect. Dave wasn’t sure why he felt so nervous here, there was clearly no reason to be. Everything was so clean here, the food well cooked and the water so pure, and it was slightly odd coming back to the taste of it after so many weeks eating nothing but raw meat. All three of them had different diets now, unable to eat as much at once as they used to. They’d get their appetites back eventually though. There was a lot to think about as Dave sat back and watched Jade teach Karkat some wildly outdated dance from an old earth movie from maybe the eighties, which was honestly hysterical to watch.
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, everything was fine. Maybe it would help to take his mind off the itching feeling that something was wrong if he’d get up and join them, do some silly dances and have a good time as planned. Still he didn’t quite find the motivation to get up and go over to them. Chatter and sounds of merriment filled the air, a certain life to the place that he felt oddly detached from. He stayed quiet, sipping his drink slowly and watching, as if from behind glass. Maybe he wanted to join in, maybe there had been a day when he wouldn’t have cared, but tonight he felt a little like a spectator, wanting to come inside but unable to.
“HEY,” a woman sitting next to him got his attention, “COOL-GUY, WHY THE LONG FACE?” It was a troll lady, with two pointy horns and a sharp smile. She had a pair of red tinted glasses over her eyes, and wore an interesting getup, something like what old fashioned Alternian lawyers would wear. He couldn’t remember the word for what they were called but it was probably something violent sounding.
“Well you see ma’am,” he said to her, “I’m a horse.”
“YOU MUST BE FUN AT PARTIES.” She leaned against the counter and set her cane in her lap.
“I’m at a party right now,” he gestured to the general happenings around them, “and as you can see I’m the goddamn life of it. This place will die the second I walk out, hundreds of corpses spontaneously dropping to the ground in a floppy display of boredom the moment my foot leaves the door.”
The troll lady laughed and took a drink of her soda. “I’M TEREZI,” she said, “WHAT’S YOUR NAME?”
“YOUR LIES SMELL AWFUL, MR. STILLER. WHAT’S YOUR REAL NAME?”
“Alright it’s Strider.” He took another sip of aj and let himself take a moment to question how she could smell lies.
“NICE TO MEET YOU, STRIDER.”
“Yeah.” He glanced at her clothes again. “So are you like, one of those space lawyers I’ve heard about? The big ones from Alternia?”
“A LEGISLACERATOR? YEAH l’M ONE OF THEM. I WAS SENT TO APPREHEND MINDFANG BUT I HAVEN’T CAUGHT UP TO HER YET.” Terezi took a drink from her soda and sniffed. “BUT I WILL THOUGH, AND WHEN I DO THE JUSTICE THAT WILL BE BROUGHT UPON HER WILL BE DELICIOUS.”
“Cool.” Dave briefly wondered if he should be worried about being in the presence of someone working for the high government. “So what are you doing at this party?” He didn’t bother to question why she was still in her work clothes.
“NEEDED A BREAK, THIS PLACE IS NICE.” She grinned, “YOU SMELL LIKE APPLES AND SEAWATER. WANNA DANCE?”
He blinked. “sure.” Fuck it. They could dance like two kids in a shitty gif.
As they sort of went out into the crowd and started swaying with the rest of them, Terezi continued talking to him.
“YOU KNOW, THERE’S SO MUCH HYPE AROUND BEING A PIRATE THESE DAYS, THERE’S EVEN SONGS ABOUT IT.” She danced some funny little jig to the beat of the music, which was an interesting thing to see considering how tall and regal she looked. “BUT IN REALITY PIRATES ACTUALLY REALLY SUCK. LETS SAY YOU’VE GOT THIS GUY, RIGHT?”
“AND HE’S GOT HIS FAMILY WITH HIM ON HIS LITTLE SHIP, JUST CRUISING ALONG AND MINDING HIS OWN BUSINESS, AND FOR THE SAKE OF EMPHASIS LETS SAY HE’S A HAPPY MAN, LIVING A HUMBLE LITTLE LIFE ON THE OPEN VOID WITH HIS CREW AND HIS BELOVED KIDS, AND EVERYTHING’S FINALLY FALLING INTO PLACE FOR HIM. AND THEN!” She shouts over the thrum of the bass, “SOME FUCKING PIRATE COMES ALONG AND DESTROYS ALL OF THAT, AND LEAVES NOTHING IN THEIR WAKE BUT A SAD AND BROKEN MAN WHO’S JUST HAD EVERYTHING TAKEN FROM HIM. SEE MY POINT?”
“I think I got it.”
“THEY RUIN PEOPLES LIVES! AND IT’S GOT TO STOP!” She clapped and spun as the beat dropped again. “SO ANYWAY, THANKS FOR LISTENING TO ME RANT. WHAT ABOUT YOU? WHAT DO YOU DO FOR A LIVING?”
“Uh,” he wasn’t sure if telling her that he made money by picking up the scraps from the aftermath of people being shot down by pirates was the best thing to tell her. As he was thinking of a response, he glanced to the side and saw Jade and Karkat again. Now they were both leaning on the railing, looking over the side of the building, probably talking about something. The scene looked nice, heartfelt, and suddenly he wanted to be over there with them. “You know what? Hey, it’s been nice talking to you and all, maybe I can get your number and we can chat again later, but I think I’ve gotta go.”
“Yeah.” He looked up at Terezi and waved. “Later.”
He thought he could hear her say some form of goodbye as he walked away, honestly not meaning to be rude, just very drawn towards his friends now and as he got closer he
he saw them kissing.
Jade was smiling into it, and Karkat was looking all nervous and passionate, and she had her hand on his cheek, and the view behind them was perfect, and suddenly everything lost its meaning.
“Oh.” He said.
They heard him and broke the kiss to look. “Dave!” Jade said, a big smile on her face, “get over here!”
That wasn’t the thing he was expecting her to say. “What?”
“Get over here silly we’re talking feelings!” She took his hand gently and led him the rest of the way over to the railing they were hanging by, and he didn’t resist.
“Oh feelings yea I’ve got those what’s up with that anyway.”
“HEY,” Karkat said, locking eyes with him. Then things turned around and he was kissing Dave, hand on the back of his neck, and the floor might as well have vanished beneath them because he had this bizarre falling feeling in his gut like the kind you get in cars sometimes when going down a hill really fast. Then it stopped, and he was making eye contact again. There was something about eye contact that made him feel really vulnerable and he wasn’t sure why, only that he usually tended to avoid it. He wasn’t avoiding it now. “YOU WANT IN ON THIS?” Karkat asked him.
“In on,” he needed a second, “in on what? Is this a thing now? Are you two a thing now what’s—“
“That’s what we’re discussing.” Jade spoke soothingly in her deep fluttery voice, still holding his hand all gentle.
“SORRY, THAT WAS *REALLY* FORWARD, UH, LET ME BACK UP.“ it seemed Karkat was also in need of a second, “IT SHOULD BE CLEAR BY NOW THAT IN THE PAST FEW WEEKS I’VE MANAGED TO FALL FLUSHED FOR TWO OF THE MOST SPONTANEOUS FUCKING PEOPLE IN THE KNOWN GALAXY,” He was looking off to the side now, “AND JADE HERE DOESN’T SEEM TO MIND IF I’M UNDERSTANDING HER CORRECTLY, AND YOU,” words were getting harder and harder to make happen. “YOU,”
“We were just talking a bit about you too, actually.” Jade smiled and continued to lightly hold his hand as long as he wasn’t moving away. “We were curious to know if you felt the same way.”
“YOU CAN SAY NO,” Karkat was actually still reeling a little from Jade and now the reality of what he was doing and saying was starting to catch up to him and oh fuck.
“...what?” Dave was with Karkat in the flustered department.
Jade sighed patiently, “we’re discussing the possibility of being in a more serious relationship, maybe something closer than just friends, and so far Karkat and I have been pretty onboard with the possibility, and we’d like to know if you are too.” She gave his hand a little tug. “Are you?”
He stood for a bit and felt a little unbalanced. “Am I?”
Jade stepped in, trying to be helpful, ”If you need time to think about it we can-“
“well I donno” Dave began, “maybe I need like a bit more of an elaboration maybe Jade needs to spell it out again but slower and hey when did you two decide to go around snogging anyway how long has this been a thing is there something I should know about besides the thing y’all just let me know about how do I know Jade isn’t like secretly with the narc or something not saying she is or would be just saying I’ve only known you guys for what five six weeks and most of that time was spent at sea which is a place I hate now I don’t ever want to see an ocean again or even a small body of water fuck I don’t want to look at puddles anymore but regardless if I ever need to swim again I guess I know how now thanks to Jade and you know what there’s a lot I can thank you guys for for instance Karkat helped me find that bizarre government exclusive coolant tech at the start of this wild month and without that I wouldn’t have gotten fucked over by pirates hey maybe Terezi has a point with the pirates they kinda do suck why are there so many of them now anyway oh yea it’s because the government sucks hey do you think the government would let us actually be in like a three way relationship or is that illegal will we get arrested do we need to head over to sector gamma-seven so we can go have weird hybrid kids and not get arrested maybe I’m getting ahead of myself you guys might not even want kids not that I want kids but hey on the chance that I do want kids would you be alright with that just asking cause you know it’s good to know what you’re getting into and what peoples standards are gonna be before getting into a relationship with them not that we need to talk about kids right this second that can be a conversation for another day in the future hell maybe we don’t need to have that conversation at all but the conversation we’re having now does involve like romance and shit if I’m correctly picking up what you’re putting down and like maybe I wouldn’t mind maybe theoretically I do like you guys no homo actually yes homo it’s the future and also space we support the gays David remember that meme anyway yeah I guess I’d be cool with it if you are maybe I should-“
That was all Jade needed to hear, so she kissed him before he could take it any further. It was sweet, and it felt lovely, and he thought he could feel literal sparks flying and oh hey Her hand was on the back of his head, tugging gently at his hair. He kissed back, and felt her smile against his lips. It was too soon when she pulled away, too soon and he wanted nothing but to be kissed again.
“So is that a yes?” She asked, still holding his hand.
“Yea I guess so.”
“I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU,” Karkat took his other hand, “YOU’RE THE MOST RIDICULOUS PERSON HERE AND THAT’S REALLY SAYING SOMETHING, BECAUSE *I’M* HERE, AND IT’S A REAL FEAT FOR ANYONE TO COME NEARLY AS CLOSE AS I AM TO BEING SO FUCKING RIDICULOUS WITH WORDS.” He dropped his head on Dave’s shoulder and smiled. “YOU’RE RIDICULOUS AND I LOVE YOU.”
“Hey,” Dave rested his cheek on Karkats head, “you too man.”
“Aww,” Jade beamed, drawing them both in for a hug.
“SAME GOES FOR YOU, JADE.”
“I love you guys too.” She said, holding them both.
Warm night air drifted past, the sound of the music still playing and crowds of people still dancing to it. The city below them looked peaceful and calm, lights floating steadily along. So after a while more of talking and working things out the three of them all held hands in a small circle and went back out onto the dance floor to sway and be giddy under the gentle light of the lanterns.
Chapter 25: Turpentine
There was a joke my friend and I had about New Hampshire being home to higher beings, because I’d never been there and the name sounded so funny and foreign to me. I don’t get out much.
Now y’all better prepare yourselves for the wacky H.P. Lovecraftian bullshit I’m about to drop
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
A scene slips into view, Hal closes his eyes.
Slow dancing, cheek to cheek, ever so softly as a slow acoustic song plays, gentle holding hands and swaying to the rhythm. Nothing fancy, not for them anyway, no sharp suits or flowing dresses. Just the sky exploding above them, shattering into a thousand colors and revealing behind it strange and beautiful patterns. Jadebots cold metal face glimmering in the lights, something bittersweet in her eyes behind her red-tinted glasses, an emotion her face wouldn’t let her express. How soft Hal’s silicone skin would be compared to her fine metal plating, how sweet the sound of the music.
There were three androids singing some lovely but lonely song on the stage, Honeybee by ‘Steam Powered Giraffe’ to be specific. Their voices resonated with such perfect harmony, so human and natural in contrast to their automatonish movements. There was something so nice about this, dancing at the end of the universe, held close to her as the world erupted and melted away around them. Truly, the restaurant at the end of the universe was a good one to eat at. Milliways was getting a solid five stars after this experience, Hal thought to himself briefly as he left the tepid comfort of her arms to be spun delicately out and then pulled back into a dip, her holding him off the ground by just a bit, their faces close.
Maybe they were friends. Maybe they were not. He didn’t care, love was an odd and fluid thing, and it’s not like they could love romantically anyway, considering they were robots now. With all previous biology and hormones abandoned, they were left with some strange reflection of what it was like to feel real, what it was like to feel happy. Feet moved in sync and perfect time to the gentle sound, other feet on the floor with them, other people they didn’t bother to notice. All this philosophy, all this over-thinking became stuff he didn’t have to worry himself with anymore, not in this moment, in fact he didn’t have to think at all. The same thing goes for all these people too, he didn’t have to care or know what they were thinking. Jadebot didn’t have to either, she could maybe feel a glimmer of the hope and happiness that she used to as he swayed with her.
Everyone else disappeared, the universe boiled off into the void, and soon the band finished their song and it was just them. Just Hal and Jadebot, still hugging and holding close, swaying gently, nothing more. Whatever was going on elsewhere, they didn’t have to know. Something whirred softly within her chest and he could feel its faint hum under the skin of his cheek as he rested it on her shoulder. This person got it, this person understood what it was like to be a copy of someone better, what it was like to wake up one day and loose everything to someone with your face and soul, and best of all it seemed she cared about him.
He didn’t want to let go.
“Hal,” she said, her voice still deep and fluttery while running a hand through his soft synthetic hair, “you know where to find me. Now wake up, they need you.”
“What?” He moved to look up at her. “I-“
Then he opened his eyes and saw the sky full of stars and moons. He was lying on his back in a field of tall grass at night, the air warm. He blinked, sitting up, checking where he was. X-Mallerie Seven, constellation Ophilamis, sector ξ6, right where he‘d been when he apparently fell asleep. So it was a dream, then. The dancing and whatnot was a dream. He didn’t think he could still have dreams, being a robot and all. Then again he didn’t think he could have feelings either, but he apparently had a shitload of those anyway. Once again the universe dropped some abstract shit on him that he didn’t think he could have anymore after being poured into a computer. He was still reeling a little from the dream, still missing the feeling he’d had when being held like that. It had been nice.
Maybe it wasn’t a dream, though. He checked his background memory and found he’d received a transmission in his sleep, coming from a planet far away in another sector of the universe. Somehow everything was getting mixed up and muddled in his head, creating false memories from quiet transmissions and making him feel slightly schizophrenic. Shaking his head, he decided he might need to go back for more repairs in the near future.
The golod next to him gurgled loudly and huffed out of three of its noses, shuffling over to him as he stood. Strange insects chirped and buzzed in the grass, the warm night breeze brushing through. Looking around, he saw next to him was the docking field he’d been looking for, docking station number five, just a little walking distance away. Neat, the golod had gotten him there faster than anticipated. It followed him as he started walking over to the docking station, already thinking about what kind of ship to buy for them.
It is said that we live in a four-dimensional universe. To be more specific, we live in three dimensions of space and one dimension of time. For the moment let’s not regard time dimensions as a factor and focus just on space dimensions. So, we as humans live in a three dimensional universe. You have the side-to-side, the back-and-forth, and the up-and-down, right? Theoretically, there can be some other direction we can’t comprehend, theoretically we can go higher. Theoretically, there are higher dimensions we cannot see, going up to the fourth, fifth, seventh, eightieth, possibly up to infinity, but let’s not get carried away.
Matt Parker explains higher dimensions wonderfully in his book “Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension”, a book that I am a proud owner of. I highly recommend it. In his book, namely in chapter ten, he goes into detail about all the radical things a hypothetical four-dimensional creature could do, and references some old sci-fi, particularly a comic called 1963 — Tales of the Uncanny published in 1993, written by Alan Moore. The way Matt explains it all is very good and clear, (I recommend looking into it for better understanding of what’s going on) and I am about to attempt to explain shit to you in my own shoddy beginner-writer words.
First, think of a two-dimensional universe, like in a video game, with only an X and Y axis. Any and all two-dimensional living beings wouldn’t be able to comprehend a third dimension because they’ve never seen it, but it still happens to exist anyway. Us three dimensional beings would be able to see over their universe, all of it lain out in front of us like a blue print, reach through it and move things around in ways the two-dimensional beings couldn’t, and essentially look like gods to them. Think about it for a while, think of all the neat things you could do to the two-dimensional plane that the theoretical two dimensional beings couldn’t, all the things you’d be able to see as you look over the 2D plane that someone living on the 2D plane wouldn’t.
The hypothetical 2D creatures would be unable to hide from us, because we would be able to see inside two-dimensional rooms and boxes that the 2D creatures themselves could not, and we would be able to see inside the 2D creatures as well. We could get very very close to the hypothetical 2D world, as close as we like without the 2D creatures ever noticing us, as long as we don’t pass through their plane. When we do pass through their plane, however, they’d only be able to see us in 2D slices, an infinite amount of strange two-dimensional shapes as you move through their 2D plane of existence.
Think of the odd shapes your arm would make as it passed through the surface of still water. It’s difficult to picture and difficult to describe, but I hope you get the point. Now let’s say we’re the lowly three dimensional beings, and there are theoretical four dimensional beings living among us. Because they live one dimension higher than us, they would, in theory, be able to do all sorts of bizarre things to our reality, and would look really goddamn bizarre themselves in the process. Sort of like 3D creatures looking over a 2D universe, 4D creatures looking over a 3D universe would be very odd and powerful, godlike, even, and would be able to see everything in our 3D plane. We wouldn’t be able to hide from them, and they’d be able to mess with us in all sorts of scary ways.
I don’t expect you to totally understand and remember everything, I just want to give a little context and paint a little picture for you. It’s easiest to picture it when you turn the 3D world into something like a 2D world and picture the 4D things as 3D things wading through it. To try and make it even more simple, think of 3D things wading through 2D things and call it a day. That and look up a bunch of you-tube videos explaining higher dimensions of space in your free time and binge watch them and become irretrievably fascinated with it like I did.
This will all (probably) make sense in a moment.
Jade, Dave and Karkat were dancing together, hands locked in a little triangle-circle, on the uppermost floor of a building in Mallerie-Seven. They were having fun, getting non-alcoholic drinks and maybe kissing and such. The night was good and the air was warm. For a moment they could forget their problems and the friends they were missing and just enjoy each others company, a company the three of them were mutually becoming very fond of. Lanterns above them flickered happily and cast strange shadows around the open room, lights from the city below still floating and making for a lovely view. Everything was perfect. As you should know by now, this sort of perfect scene is often immediately followed by disaster.
High above them a strange light opened up, the sort of odd glow that comes from portals, and out of it came the most unworldly sound. They all looked up, some of them drunk, some running to the railing on the edge of the building to point and gawk. The light came as if from nowhere out of the black starless sky and hummed an ominous and worrying noise. Strange three dimensional shapes with such odd colors began to move from it, sliding in and out of seeable existence in a way that was extremely discomforting at best. Like large boulders of flesh, the round shapes tumbled slowly through the sky, sometimes you could see what looked like eyes, sometimes teeth, but all of it was terrifying on some level.
“Oh my god,” they heard someone say, “holy hell its the New New Hampshirians.”
“IT’S THE WHAT??” Karkat looked around for the source of the words, but couldn’t find who’d said it.
“What the shit am I looking at” Dave muttered as he stared up at the odd shapes, holding Jade and Karkats hands a little tighter.
Glimpses of faces, pieces of hands, strange flesh only half-seen as it all slipped so easily in and out of their three-dimensional world, floating ever closer towards the city. They descended from the heavens, and as more and more people from the streets below looked up and saw them, terror began to stir.
“Oh shit.” Jade whispered, and that’s how you knew it was bad. “...Dave where’s the Guide. Get out the Hitchhikers Guide and look up New New Hampshirians.”
He let go of her hand to do as instructed, punching the odd name into the device that looked like an oversized calculator. “Uh ok,” he tried skimming through the unnecessarily long article, “most of this looks like someone ranting about how much they hate higher dimensional beings? I’m not getting much other than that they’re heathens and should all be “smashed and done in with, if anyone could work out a way of firing missiles at right angles to reality”. If I find something helpful I’ll let you know.”
“OH MY FUCK.”
The round shapes were getting closer, bigger too as they hovered menacingly over the city.
Dave scrolled frantically for useful information. “Alright now it’s just talking about some weird sport called ‘Brockian Ultra Cricket’ I’m getting nothing and this is making no sense.” He looked back up at the now enormous round floating shapes of flesh as they twisted and moved in and out of their reality. “God what the hell.”
Terezi came bounding over to them, cane in hand and sharp smile gone. “GUYS,” she said, “DAVE,”
He looked up at her tall figure and blinked again. “Hey tez.”
“YOU NEED TO TAKE YOUR BUDDIES AND GET OUT OF HERE!”
“TEREZI??” Karkat gawked at her with some incredibly strong emotions all battling violently for dominance over his face.
“OH HEY KARKAT! LONG TIME NO SEE! ANYWAY YOU GUYS NEED TO GO, THE NEW NEW HAMPSHIRIANS ARE HERE AND THEY WILL FUCK OUR SHIT UP IT’S TIME TO LEAVE.”
“You know her?” Dave looked at Karkat expectantly.
“UH, LONG STORY, WE SHOULD PROBABLY GO.” He took Dave’s hand and they started running with everyone else to the exit.
People were growing chaotic and frantic as they all ran down the stairs, some hideously loud sounds outside and above them that they couldn’t see.
“HEY,” Terezi looked back at them as they hurried out the stairwell, “DO YOU GUYS HAVE A RIDE OUT OF HERE?”
“We should in a bit!” Jade told her, “Hal is buying us a ship and will pick us up in the morning.”
“OK WE DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THAT” Terezi ushered them out the doors, “WE NEED TO GO NOW. THE THREE OF YOU CAN TAG ALONG WITH ME.”
“I can’t just leave Hal behind!”
They all tumbled out into the streets to find it had quickly dissolved into chaos. The shapes were now picking people up, the victims screaming in agony for a moment before vanishing from reality.
Something dropped in Dave’s stomach. “oh jesus.”
“I DON’T KNOW WHO HAL IS,” Terezi shouted over her shoulder as she started running for the parking lot, “BUT YOU CAN COME BACK FOR THEM. WE JUST NEED TO LEAVE AND STAY FAR FAR AWAY UNTIL THE NEW NEW HAMPSHIRIANS PASS.”
“Why are they doing this?” Jade hurried to keep up.
“SIMPLE.” Terezi didn’t look back, “THEY’RE ASSHOLES.”
A normal man dropped out of the fourth spacial dimension and collapsed to the ground in front of them, shaking and crying. 3D creatures were not meant to see into the higher dimensions, we are not meant to see that which we cannot comprehend, and especially not by force. They didn’t stop running, headed for Terezi‘s ship, as another miserable person came tumbling out of nowhere from the higher dimensions that she had forcefully been dragged into.
Karkat panted as he ran, “ARE WE NOT GOING TO STOP AND HELP ANY OF THEM?”
“NO TIME!” Terezi shouted back.
Half of an entire building vanished, being torn away into the higher dimensions, leaving the other half behind to crumble. People screamed in panic and horror around them, flooding the roads. The twisting mounds of Hampshirian flesh tumbled through the sky, defying gravity and lurching as if laughing. If the four of them had been able to see into the fourth dimension, they’d be able to see the entire form of a New New Hampshirian, a sight for which one could never be ready.
A three-dimensional slice of a four-dimensional hand slipped into their reality and grabbed Jade by the face, vanishing with her just as silently as it had appeared. Dave stopped, stared at the place where she’d been a moment before. It wasn’t registering with him that she was gone yet. Karkat stopped too, also in shock, but shook it off quickly and skipped on to the next stage of grief, which was anger/bargaining. He screamed, locating the nearest mound of floating flesh and demanding it give her back, while Dave continued to stand in silent shock. Ahead of them Terezi had slowed her pace, looking back at them with what was probably pity, knowing Karkat hadn’t changed much since she last saw him. She knew he wouldn’t move again until he got Jade back, and Dave would probably refuse to leave him behind.
Jade couldn’t find it in her lungs to scream as her mind was torn open and forced around concepts it was never meant to comprehend. She saw her entire reality sink away, becoming just a single slice of a perspective far greater than anything she’d seen. The universe spun, physics broke down. It was too much information at once, a terrifying zoom out on her world that made her stomach tie itself into a dozen terribly painful knots. Above her she could now see the full figure of a New New Hampshirian, their terrible and beautiful structure growing out in directions she couldn’t possibly understand with just her eyes. Horrified and fascinated, she stared in awe as it studied her carefully.
It could see right through her, literally, and was mildly impressed that she wasn’t crying or screaming in horror yet. Usually the lowly dwellers of only three dimensions die or break down completely after just a few moments of exposure to the higher reality, but this one was was so strong compared to the others of her kind. She was absorbing it best she could, gritting through the pain of having everything she thought she knew about the universe torn away from her, and doing so well to not look away. It handled her more carefully, easing its grip on her fragile little 3D body and holding her up a bit higher to see better. She stood uneasily in its hand, swaying and loosing her balance.
“Finally.” It said to Jade in a vast and strange voice, “somebody who isn’t a complete weakling. Do you see it? Do you see all that you’ve been missing? There’s so much more to your universe than you could ever possibly know, and the fact that you have the audacity to think you’ve seen a decent portion of it is absurd. Just look!”
Jade looked. She felt like throwing up, losing her feet completely and falling to sit on the Hampshirians hand. It was really, really overwhelmingly overwhelming.
“Eh.” It said, lowering her back down. “You’ve seen it. I can sleep in peace now tonight knowing at least one of you knows just how much you’re missing. Tell your friends.” It then gently set her back in her place in the third dimension, lying her down on the concrete before leaving her and her lowly 3D friends alone.
“JADE!!!” Karkat ran and slid on his knees over to her, scooping her up into a hug the moment he saw her re-appear from out of thin air. “OH MY FUCK WHERE DID YOU GO??”
She clutched his sweater weakly and said “fourth dimension.” Before pushing him away to vomit in the other direction.
“holy shit-“ Dave ran and dropped to his knees beside them, gathering up Jades hair to hold it out of her face for her. “Jade, shit, stay with us, oh my god,” as soon as she was done he pulled her and Karkat into a tight hug, burying his face in her shirt. A sound like a muffled sob came from somewhere in his throat. “Don’t do that.”
Will be thoroughly continued in season two of skystuck: Out of the Silent Water
They’ll all come back, there’s still lots of unresolved problems left to solve.