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It was amazing, the lengths some trolls would go to, just to keep an entire subset of the species down. Really fucking astounding, actually, and almost depressing. Not disappointing, though. None of you had been surprised to learn the exact details of how inefficient the current helmsman system was, not when your subset species had proven time and time again that superiority was more important than any actual efficiency.

 

From underneath the control panel, Sollux swears, a lengthy run of multi-caste curse words that have Equius wincing, before he glances over to you and Feferi. "Er—"

Fef waves it off, which is about as unsurprising as the delighted look on her face. "Shhh, I'm trying to learn a new language!"

"My lady, it would behoove me to offer you my assistance with learning the language properly, instead of through—"

"Shhh!! Clam up, Equisquid, unless it's aboat the ship, I don't wana hear it!" The Captain's chair completely dwarfs her (unless she's perched on your lap, of course), but she sits it as regally as a throne.

Or at least, she did, right until she tucked her legs up and rearranged her latest project—an old fashioned star map, like the ones your distant Ancestors had used.

Gods, she's so fucking cute.

Sollux slides back out from underneath the console (you still think using psionics as a mechanic's creeper is cheating) and groans, twisting to stretch out his spine. It's accompanied by rising symphony of pops that has you wincing, and him smirking. "Alright, so, who wants the good news and who wants the bad news?"

Twelve sweeps of actual interaction have given him some practice in controlling his lisp; the fact that you're hearing it now is a sign of exactly how bad the bad news is going to be, and how scant the good news is. "Tell me," you say, and completely fail to miss the subtle straightening in his spine, the sparks at the corner of his eyes, and you narrow yours in a glare. Now is not the time for the two of you to be flirting pitch.

Sollux rubs the back of his neck as he avoids your eyes. Damn. "It's salvageable, to start with," he says, and shoves himself to standing, unfolding as he does. "But we're going to need to hit somewhere surfaceside, or find another ship, if we want to get the components we need to keep it going. EQ usually keeps a double stock of everything we need, but..."

"But what?" Feferi's fins are pricked, like she's picking up on some of the bubbling tension.

"Uh, well—this was the same one that wasn't in stock at the last place we hit. Remember? We were planning to make a stop in the next system to get what we need." He trades a glance with Equius, who's suddenly looking remarkably sheepish.

"Ah—yes, I, rather foal like I should apologize for my inability to acquire—"

Feferi huffs, slipping out of the chair, star chart still in her hands. "Glubbing shell, Equius! You work too hard. Go find Aradia, tell her I'm putting her on nap duty."

"Er, yes, of course," he says, the ever-present blue flush spreading further. Poor weird bastard's probably contemplating being ordered to go rest and relax, and getting sweaty over the fact that it's going to be Ara Megido, a rust—a maroonblood, fuck—doing the ordering.

You roll your eyes, and catch Sol doing the same—as well as the smirk he slings your way. "Flirt later, buoys," Feferi says. You're halfway tempted to call her out on doing the same, many a time, as well as the way she's been watching the growing tension with—fuck, okay, you can't afford to go there either. "Shoal what's the plan here?"

"She does remember that this is my ship, right? That I'm technically the captain, an' also therefore technically in charge?" If you don't take her blood hue into account, at least. Which you aren't. Usually.

"Pretty sure she gets off on it, actually," Sollux grumbles. He's got a point, but Feferi's still as intimidating at five and change as you are at six something, so you skip the agreement. "The plan is we hit the next possible location and pick up what we need. Between the two bitching mechanics you have on board, we can definitely cobble something together that'll get us halfway across the star system, much less to the next outpost FF's not on wanted posters at."

You wince, glancing sidelong at your heiress—for someone so used to being friendly, and, well, liked, it's been hard, going without interaction beyond the people aboard your ship. She hasn't even really been able to meet the majority of the crew, restricted to those decks and spaces that would allow her to safely roam. Slowly—slowly—you are converting more trolls to the rebellion's cause, and finding...new positions, for those that didn't. It's a tricky game, it's a risky business, and you will not have her involved in it before it's safe. "Sounds good to me. We'll make the necessary preparations and head on in."

"Good." Feferi's fiddling with a portion of her chart—sticks and shells and twine—and not looking at either of you. The glance you and Sollux trade passes over her head without reaction or comment, and your fins cant down. "Just keep me posted, I'll be in my block."

"Fef, why don't you raid my room for more shit?" You gesture at her construct, and feel a spark of relief when her expression brightens. "Just don't destroy anythin', yeah?"

"Oh my glub, Danny, I'm neater than you are!"

Good natured bickering smooths over many awkward moments between the two of you, and Sollux himself follows along after, chiming in (on her side, of course, the fucking asshole) every so often with complete and utter tangents.

 


 

Best laid plans go awry at the best and worst of times. It's something your Ancestor had written down, once upon a time, in the records and logs that he kept. You think it might've been about some incident in particular; you think it might have been about the almost coup, the sudden shift in power that had gone in and out again like a rushing tide: the Grand Highblood and his posse of clowns had been poised to take the Empress' favor, to gain the highest seats and honors, and then somehow, suddenly, the Orphaner Dualscar had proved his worth once more and won back his position again.

It was a devastating blow, one that the clowns had never fully recovered from, and the subsequent attempts at treason, overthrow, and other general insanity meant that enmity between seadwellers and purples ran deeps damned deep.

Not that you minded, though. It made for a fun time.

But it was something you kept in mind, best as you could, which was why you didn't let an incoming notification ruffle your fins. If your Ancestor just so happened to be in this sector of the galaxy, that was completely fine. You were handling business as usual, your "revolutionary" helmstroll handling tactics were the talk of the empire, you had nothing but Feferi to hide—completely business as usual.

Up until he decided to request a meeting, of course.

 

Your crew—your real crew, the scant few trolls you can trust to keep Fef safe on this goddamn heap of space rubbish—is more anxious than you are. Orphaner Dualscar is still a legend amongst the stars and seas, and you know him on a more intimate level than any other troll could imagine. Other than the Condesce, maybe, but she's always been a heinous bitch who only ever gave consideration to herself, you're the only troll he's spent time with, spoken to of his plans and on his thoughts. It's an honor and a privilege, in your opinion, to hold such a position of high esteem, but it comes with its...drawbacks.

For instance, this one: it's not just you he wants to meet with. It's your "revolutionary" helmsman.

You're just grateful he'd had a bad shock the one time he wanted to meet Ara. Something about a lowblood demon come to life? Ara and Sol both got cagey on the topic as soon as you'd asked, but you're pretty sure they'd been tellin' Fef shit they didn't dare say to you, you'll make a mental note to ask her on that one later.

The fact that he's requesting the meeting in your private quarters is another concern. Usually you can stash Fef there, somewhere safe that other captains wouldn't dare to go—you're not an Ampora for nothing—but he's your deeps damned Ancestor, it's not like you can forbid him leave of, well, anything

Not that you haven't considered maybe giving it a try.

 

You focus, instead, on the things you can control: between Sollux and Equius, all the adapted helmstech is scrubbed up to shining best, your quarters are more polished than the Imperial Palace, and Feferi's in the panic room that no one save you, her, and Sollux himself know about. Everything's perfect, everything's ready, and you are not going to lose your mind.

Mostly. You're mostly not going to freak out. It's a little bit harder to maintain that kind of chill when your Ancestor's ship is actually approaching, and you barely managed to get through the overly formalized greetings without stumbling over your vs and ws. Your Ancestor, on the other hand, is seabound enough not to bother with hiding an accent, and high ranking enough not to care when it does.

You're not going to admit that it's kind of hot.

 

Another thing you're aiming to emulate: for all that he could afford it, for all that he's likely worthy of it, your Ancestor enters without fanfare. You've read older descriptions of him, you know what he wanted and what he was like once upon a time—a sea prince preening in finery and proud of what he was—and you see what he's like now, and wonder what it would be like to grow into that kind of troll yourself.

Doesn't seem a bad way to end up and oh deeps he's asking you a question you gotta stop fucking staring.

(If you weren't such a fucking mess, you might notice that he's smirking at the sight of you all flustered, and spend a spare moment to wonder about that.)

"And this is Sol—lux Captor," you say, barely catching your slip. "He's our primary helmstroll. He handles the majority of our transit, and he's somethin'—something of a fucking genius when it comes to tech, gear, and just about any sort of communication you can manage. If he weren't already our internal computer system, I'd put him on the job as a sinisystem tech,  just to keep him onboard."

"Sounds like you've been building a good crew for yourself then, aye?" His chuckle is a deep thing, old and seaworn, and it runs straight down the length of your spine. Fucking hell, can't you just take a compliment and be proud of it? "Captor. Pleasure to meet you."

At least you're not the only one affected. Insofar as you can tell, Sol's got his "hot for Captain"—uh, Admiral, you guess—look on, and you'd be more smugly amused if it wasn't pushing several different buttons for you at once. "Admiral Dualscar. Eridan—uh, fuck, Captain Ampora, I mean, he's told us all a lot about you."

An eyebrow goes up, and you think it's in slightly smug amusement. "Nothing good to tell, I'm afraid. Now then. Eridan, I'm going to have to insist you secure the room completely," he says, and if your hackles weren't already raised, they're going damn high up now. "We've got a lot to talk about."

You've got no good reason to refuse him, so Sollux's questioning glance gets a nod, and you lead the way over to the laden table, before he can do it for you and take control of the meeting any more than he's already done. Tricky business, this playing politics thing, and you're not so sure that you're ready to let your Ancestor take this many liberties.

 

He takes up a chair in the way of all seaborn royalty; this is his latest throne, and he will bear with it for such time as he must. It's aggravatingly attractive, and you wonder if any of your quadmates feel the same about you. "What did you want to discuss, sir?"

"It's a simple matter, really," he says, swirling honey whiskey in his glass like he's examining each speck of gold. "Can't imagine that you thought I'd leave it alone for so long, at least. That little rebellion you've been brewing up, I believe?"

Your fins do not flare, your expression does not change; of the many things you would risk giving away with your over-expressive self, this is not one of them. "Sir?"

"Ah, we're playing dumb, then? Very well." He pulls a husktablet out of one pocket, and over his shoulder, you see Sollux tensing up. "I have the records necessary to prove everything, a'course. I don't like to go about making threats lightly, Eridan, I believe that's something we have in common."

Denial buys you no quarter, and when he slides the tablet over to you, it's all you can do not to swear. He doesn't bluff anymore, you know that, but seeing it laid out like this...

Everything. He has proof of everything, every deeps-cursed track you'd worked so hard to cover, every stars-claimed name you've added to the growing list. In fact, the only thing he doesn't seem to know about—

One deadly-bright point of Ψdon's Entente lands on the ocean-slow pulse in your Ancestor's neck, and you close your eyes in resignation. "Fef."

"It's not like he didn't know anyway, Eridan," she says. Gone is the amusement, the shining eyes and bubbling laughter; this is the Feferi that few trolls, save yourself, save the assassins her own Ancestors used to send, know—the Feferi very few care to remember. "I doubt you could give me a good reason not to slit his throat."

"What if I was the one giving them?" Your Ancestor does not sound surprised (you hadn't expected him to be), nor angry (which you'd maybe expected a little). If anything, really...well, you're going to be spending a damn long time wondering exactly why he sounds...pleased. "I'd been planning to have this conversation in slightly more amicable settings—" Feferi presses just a little bit harder, and you can see blood well up under the weapon tip, fuck "—but given I can't seem to mind being held at weapon-point by Your Highness, I suppose we'll talk like this."

"Fef, come and sit down," you say, and when her sharp-eyed gaze turns on you, you tack on a (slightly desperate) "please."

"Not happening."

"FF, c'mon." Sollux's eyes are crackling lightning at the corners, counterpoint red-blue, and you know he means business. "I got him." This is not much better for your chances of not popping a wiggly: Feferi threatening full grown trolls never fails to get you aching hot (this goes doubly so when those trolls have horns sets you know and fin colors you keep an eye on), and knowing that Sollux would dare to do so as well—

You're not saying you've got a thing for powerful psionics, because having a thing for the natural predators of seadwellers would be stupid in the extreme, but you're not saying that you don't sit a little straighter, that your eyes don't get a little bit of a gleam—

And you're not saying that same gleam isn't reflected in Fef's eyes, and your Ancestor's eyes as well.

Hm.

 

"Regardless of who's threatening me," Dualscar drawls, looking supremely at ease, "I'm not intending to return fire. While I've no idea how that changes the disposition of negotiations on your end, I'd imagine you can see how that changes things on mine."

You can. Easily, even—if he's not here to fight, then it's growing increasingly less likely that he's here to turn you in. If he's not here to turn you in, then maybe, maybe, you can spare him a moment of time to listen to what he has to say. You're still the Captain of this ship, even if no one but you seems to remember that. "Care to explain how? For those among us less inclined to consider options before pulling the trigger."

The smirk that nets you seals the truth of what you'd assumed. "My pleasure, descendant-mine." A glance up at Feferi has her trident slowly sinking down, and the Orphaner Dualscar lounges back in his chair, looking relaxed as if he's just swanned out of a spa night. You are envious of his chill. "I'd like to get in bed with your little rebellion, metaphorically speaking. It's my opinion that we could...be of use to one another."

You have not popped a wiggly, but it is embarrassingly close. Your fins didn't do a cute little flutter, but Feferi's definitely did. You didn't show a visible reaction, but Sollux's sparks had scattered stray, and you are not going to let on exactly how turned on you are but you do have to swallow a couple of times on account of your mouth's gone unaccountably dry. "I suppose we could arrange a conversation about that. Once we know exactly what you're looking for from us, in terms of use."

Dualscar laughs; laughter does interesting things to the bright violet tracing down his throat. You think—you're sure—that all three of you are locked onto it, staring at the jewel-like drop as it rolls down grey skin. "Well now, I would've supposed that was obvious. What else would someone like me be looking for from a coalition such as yours, hm?"

Power, your mind immediately supplies, and rejects, just as quickly. He has power in spades—flush, and ashen, and pale as well, even if high violet quadrants end up just for show sometimes, Dualscar could easily have anything he wants. Deniability, then, is your next guess, and it goes surprisingly well with your third, which is shenanigans. Oh. Oh, fuck. "You want a coup."

"Clever lad." It's nearly a purr of pleasure, and you can feel it roll down your spine, infrasonic in the extreme. "I don't just want a coup, though, I—"

The fluttery-finned haze you'd almost allowed yourself to settle into vanishes, quick as water pulling back into the sea, leaving you high and dry and angry. "If you're out for tyrian blood, your vendetta ends here, sir. Feferi is mine."

One eyebrow goes up, and Dualscar glances at your heiress—your princess, your tyrian, yours, not his, he can't have her too—then back at you. "Impressive loyalty, and no, I'm not interested in culling your pretty flushbait. Unlike )(er Imperious Condescension, who I grew up with, she didn't start at batshit ambitious and possibly insane, then spiral worse from there."

Even if you spot Feferi's fins fluttering, you're not going to comment, and you're not going to let yours do the same. "So what, you want to put her on the throne?"

"She can't do any worse than my tyrian," he says, and you blink. This is...this is a situation you didn't expect, out of everything you planned and prepared for. "I'm willing to give you an opportunity to consider my offer."

"If you're willing to stage a takedown of the current Empress, how can we trust you not to take down FF?" Sollux's protective streak is showing, and you only startle a little at the sound of his voice. He hates talking to captains outside of his clade beyond the necessities (and especially so when he can't sass in the groupchat), and you feel a little flicker of pitch-burning pride.

"You can't," Dualscar says, and even though his tone is conversational—philosophical? You'll go over the feeds with a fine-tooth comb later and debate expressions with Pyrope—you can see Sollux's hackles go up. Feferi, unsurprisingly, remains calm. "I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't come up with something to prevent it, but then again, I'd only want to remove her if she went down the same route as the previous Peixes has. Stay sane, lass, and you're golden."

"Tall order," she chirps, and your eyes go wide when it startles a grin out of Dualscar. Feferi seems delighted, though, her fins doing a quick little flicker that you recognize as pleased all too easily. "So you want to make a deal with us for a chance to put me on the throne. What do you get out of this?"

"Several things, not the least of which is another set of seadwellers who understand something of the position I've been put in." He laces his fingers together, surveying the lot of you. "A psionic who's aware of his position on the food chain. An entire rebellion of trolls who have proven they can work together without the standard structure of Alternian command...all of which is worth quite a bit, actually."

"And you'll be helpful to us how?" Sollux is sparking in the background, a baleful storm cloud with bulge and anxiety issues.

"For one, I know how rebellions get found and crushed, and I know how to prevent a rebellion from getting destroyed." He chalks one invisible point up in the air. "I have considerably more funds and influence than the lot of you put together, and I've had considerably more time to spread these things around and reap the rewards."

"And you know my Ancestor."

"Inside and out, yes."

Sollux snickers, and you have to hide your expression for a moment when he actually says: "Lmao gross."

Instead of getting offended, Dualscar's smirk hitches the slightest amount upward. "Indeed."

Out of the corner of your eye, you can see Feferi shifting in her chair, just a little bit. Another "hm" goes off in your mind, and before you can do more than shift the set of your fins slightly, she's shooting you a glare. "Anyway," she says, settling into her chair (your mind helpfully paints her basic-issue Fleet uniform over with the gauzy draperies of seadweller royalty), "we're willing to give your proposal due consideration."

"That's all I'm after, princess," he says, and you—

You don't quite notice you're on your feet until you're halfway across the table and in his space. "She's not your princess," you say, and hm, when did you bare your fangs in a snarl? That's new.

"Damn," you hear Sollux mutter. Aw, fuck. You must be making a hell of a scene, and—

Your Ancestor's fins flare out into a challenge. "You really want to try and threaten me, sugargrub?"

"Think I might," you say, violet-steady eyes meeting his. "Think I might like to challenge you here and now, even."

"You'd risk losing to me before your quads?" Dualscar's gaze darts between them, then back to you. "Risk me calling in on old seadweller traditions?"

You're pretty sure the shudder of pure want that runs down your spine is visible to everyone in the room. Even if it's not, the way your backfin flares definitely is. "I—"

His fins flick, amusement, contempt, arousal, you can't quite tell right now. "Or maybe you'd like to skip right to that, hm?"

Fuck, that sounds incredibly good right now. You can't even look at either of your quads, your face and fins are burning, you are dead and dying, this is it, this is how you go. "Glhk," you manage to say.

"That's definitely a yes," says Sollux, the absolute fucking traitor. "I mean, I personally would love to see you take him apart, or down a peg or two, or both, I'm not that picky."

Insulting Sollux is second nature to you, and you fire off a retort without a second thought. "That's a fuckin' lie, Sol Captor, you're the pickiest fuckin' troll I know."

"Focus, lad," Dualscar murmurs, and tips your chin up, and you nearly pail your pants then and there. "I'm going to hear exactly what you want, from your own mouth, understood?"

"I," you say, and have to swallow, because your throat's gone all dry again, "I want you to fuck me," your traitor mouth says, and you can feel your fins fluttering. "An' Fef, an' Sol, an', fuck, sir, please—"

"Tall order," he muses, and runs a thumb over your fangs. "Admittedly, I'm not averse to the thought of taking all three of you to bed. You make for a lovely set of colors, I don't think I'd much mind seeing them mix in a pail."

Are your knees weaker? You think they might be, you think that's probably the only reason he manages to heft you up like a sack of flour and toss you onto the concupiscent platform you'd forgotten is all too visible in your private quarters. You're only a little dazed—fluffy pillows don't make for much of a distraction—and you're rolling back up to face him, snarling, before he makes it all the way across the room.

Defiance, however, doesn't last long in the face of your Ancestor's sheer conceit: when you turn back to the fight, Fef's already taken your place in the strife, her trident held at the ready, only, only, only, you've never seen the particular move he does, with the Crosshairs, no less, how the hell did he get them out of your strifedeck, catching Fef's hit and rolling with it, his weight and momentum bringing her to the ground as it carries him forward and up—until he's got her pinned under the tip of the legendary gun the two of you apparently share. "Do you yield?"

She bares her fangs at him, and you press your thighs together, your claws kneading into the blankets under you, barely restrained desire. You've always known the red you feel for Fef Peixes is edged in black that flares up easily between the two of you, and you won't lie—as much as Sol wants to see Dualscar take you apart, you'd like to see your Ancestor help you break down her. "Fef," you hiss, barely aware of it, nearly strangled.

Deliberate in every movement, she looks at you, first, raising just a flicker more of your Ancestor's ire before she turns her attention towards him. "Make me."

"Gladly," he says, and you're damn sure he'd be ready to do just that, from the way he drags the sharp point of the Crosshairs downwards, catching at her uniform, cutting it through—or at least, he'd been ready to do that before static halts the gun exactly where it is. A slight tug, another smirk, fuck, if he's anticipated this much of the three of you, you'd really have been screwed if you stood against him. "Finally ready to join in, psionic?"

"I mean, I know a thing or two about seadweller traditions and victor's rights and whatnot," he says, blithe and unconcerned, as if the four of you are simply discussing the weather, or tea. "And right now you're two for three, sooooo."

"Asking me to make it an even set?" The thought doesn't seem to displease him at all. "I suppose I did offer that, didn't I?"

"You definitely did," says Sollux, and stops there. Your Ancestor moves like water and shadow, the gun sent right back to your strife deck (or maybe it's in his, now? or something shared? deeps damn, you're going to have to ask him about that later on) and setting himself up behind your kismesis' back is apparently the easiest maneuver he's ever performed. The next thing you add to your ask about list is exactly how many psionics Dualscar's been with—he drags his knuckles down Sol's back, and your kismesis topples forward into his waiting arm. "Hlghk."

"Sensitive, hm? Looks like your bulge just about spilled out from that, your records weren't kidding about your power rating." He tosses Sollux onto the platform next to you and heads over, not even breaking stride to pick Fef up on the way. "Three for three, as promised."

From the way he's looking you over, you've got a feeling that he's trying to decide on which of you is the most immediate threat. Sollux is still shivery, which knocks him down several points on the danger scale, but you're more than ready to go again, and Feferi's growling quietly from where he's got her pinned in his arms. It takes you a fraction of a second to decide on going after him while he's occupied with her, and within that fraction, he seems to sense your intent and decide on a plan to counteract it—namely, tossing Fef right at you.

You snarl, catching her in something of a roll. The two of you have trained together for sweeps, working off one another to cover weaknesses is second nature and—

Dualscar's hand closes around your ankle, and he yanks you out from under her, only releasing you when he can drop down into pinning your shoulders to the over-large concupiscent platform. Sprawled under him, all you can do is flare (and maybe bare your fangs in a snarl, and maybe try not to think about the tightness in your commander's uniform, or the way your gills opened up for a hot second). "Right then, that's settled."

"Wha?" You think maybe you're supposed to understand his words a little bit more than you do, but unfortunately, you don't.

"Get your psionic a uniform with a backplate," he says, as his hand curls into your hair, on the borderline of gentle and painful, right up until he yanks hard enough to tip your gills exposed. "Teach your girl not to go halfway feral the moment something—or someone—lays hands on you."

You would like to argue these points, to state your own case on the topics in question, maybe even get a chance to explain that you've been working on it, but his mouth closes over the left side of your neck set of seaparts and all you can do is keen.

"We'll work on it," he promises, as soon as you're too riled to reply, his voice just a touch too dark to let you settle, his mouth just a touch too close for any ease. "Decent strategy on the fly, I'll give you that." You're dimly aware of sparks in the air, of the scent of seadweller arousal in a pinker hue, and when you manage to steal a peek at your quads, they're caught up in watching you, pressed tight to each other. A snarl from Dualscar has them trilling their unhappiness as they disentangle, and another has your attention snapping back up to him. "Eyes forward, guppy."

You snarl. Of course you snarl, he's a full grown seadweller threatening you and your clade, and your instincts are all too close to the surface in situations of stress. Dualscar, however, doesn't seem the slightest bit fazed—his hand leaves your hair, curls around your horn, and yanks you up.

Kissing your Ancestor is like everything you've ever fantasized, and then again, nothing like that at all. He is infinitely more tangible than your fantasies, and you are both more and less like him than you'd ever imagined. Playing at his role in FLARP games with Vriska (and later, with Fef and Sol), offers you the unique opportunity to compare—

He's like a godsdamn force of nature and you are rapidly giving way, as elaborate metaphors and purple (violet) prose fail you, your fins fluttering when he licks into your mouth, hardly minding the cuts he picks up from your fangs. You taste violet, yours and his combined, and your hips jerk upwards against him, instinct overruling all rational thought once more. His claws sink into your uniform and drag downwards, shredding as they go, and before you can contemplate returning the favor on his impeccably tailored clothing, he's got your wrists up above your head and enough shredded cloth to bind them there.

"Stay," he tells you, amusement dancing in his eyes, and you snarl up at him. "I don't believe I gave you leave to challenge me again, Eridan."

Hearing him use your name is its own kind of arousal, and you offer up a needy kind of chrrrp, practically panting for his attention. It only seems to amuse him even further.

"Feel free to go ahead and pet him, the two of you." Dualscar himself seems to be occupied with undoing your mostly-whole pants, and you're assuming that Fef and Sol know better than to obey his orders right up until his hands land in your hair and Feferi's start stroking over your jaw. You keen—godsdamn traitors—and try twisting away from your Ancestor, into all the affection your quads have to offer.

Instead, Dualscar pins your hips down and pushes a finger into your nook and curls

You didn't know your bulge could spill out that fast, but it apparently can, and judging by the way he hikes your hips up, Dualscar doesn't mind at all. When he ignores your bulge completely, you kick up an indignant (and undignified) whine, only to turn it into a trill when he settles your legs over his shoulders—oh deeps, he's got more than half of you hoisted off the platform—and dives into your nook like he's intent on cleaning off every violet inch.

Your vocabulary drops to the range of regular seadweller vocalizations, clicks and chirps and trills, as your Ancestor eats you out. Pointed teeth tease at the edges of your nook and make no more appearance than that, a tongue the same temperature as your own delves deeper, and when he comes up—not for air, or a break, or anything, you can tell that it's just to look at you—his burning gaze makes your hips jerk in his grip, as much movement as he'll allow.

 

By the time he's gotten you worked up just to the edge of a trembling climax, you're almost sobbing as well, fitful little bursts of movement that chip away at what little pride you had left. Your body is shuddering, achy for something more than his tongue, and your bulge twists and tangles, leaving embarrassingly large smears of genetic material across your skin. "Not yet, I think," Dualscar murmurs, as he slowly lowers you back to the platform. You're dimly aware of your flush and your pitch, comforting warmth and soothing cold, stroking over your...heated? frozen? body. "How much can he take, then?"

You think someone's looking him over, and it's Feferi who replies. "If you're asking if you'll fit, then—yeah. Definitely."

"He's taken both of you at once, then, hm?" When you tip your head, trying to see better, maybe stop anyone from ratting you out on account of your embarrassing proclivities, you see your matesprit bare her fangs at him, and your hips jerk again when his hand wraps around her horn and yanks her forward hard enough that she has to brace on your thighs. "Well?"

"Yes," she hisses, eyes tyrian bright.

"It's not like he's the only one," Sollux mutters. You turn your head enough to nip his thigh. "Hey, ow."

"Good to know," Dualscar replies, his voice verging on a deep purr. You've got a very bad feeling about this, but your trill isn't enough to warn Sollux and Feferi away before he's pulling shit out of his sylladex that you've only ever seen in the harder core kind of seadweller pailvids Sol keeps in a folder and swears he doesn't watch.

 

That one, you're reasonably sure, is the one that Deepest Sea Adventures Between the Thighs of Seadwellers With Increasing Intensity, etc. claimed is a fucking life cast off of the Rift's Carbuncle, Fef's godsdamn lusus. It's not, but the smirk on Dualscar's face when he catches you looking at it tells you that he pulled it out deliberately, possibly even to piss you and Fef off. The one next to it is even more terrifying—Travels in Tidepools, etc. had described it as a "sex cucumber", and claimed to have "captured" the effects of a regular sea cucumber in pure, high-grade silicone, then swapped all of the "gross" parts out for goopy, clinging aphrodisiac. 

The toy that's definitely been carved out of some high quality violet gemstone is a little more in line with public seaborn sensibilities, as is the one nearly crusted over with little amethyst jewels and pearls of every hue and size. Picturing either one of them in your nook sends a shudder down your back, and you nearly drool at the sight of several little gemstone "massage wands". Heh.

And then Sollux makes a noise like a startled squeaky toy, and you realize he's discovered that seadwellers really do have a thing for pufferfish that no one's supposed to talk about. They're made soft, with squishy little spikes that drag and catch nicely along your nook, and Dualscar's gotten ahold of one that's roughly the shape and size of a cucumber (you're pretty fucking sure it inflates slightly too), and another set of squishy spiked "pufferfish" nook beads, in varying sizes.

 

Dualscar makes a sound in the back of his throat that has your attention snapping back up to him once more. Once he's sure he's got your focus (it takes a couple of tries, maybe, on account of you're aching for more attention), he jerks his chin towards the toys spread across the bed. "Go on and pick what you'd like to see in them, then, Captain Ampora. Consider it your last chance for a little bit of control."

"I'm goin' to snap off your bulge an' make you eat it," you mutter, tipping your head back onto the bed as you try to rearrange your thinkpan into something functional. "Deeps. Fuck. Okay, uh—fakey fake Gl'bgolyb bulge in Sol, he'll bitch an' moan a'course, but he can take it, an' the temperature fuckery an' the 'squirm' settin' will get him hot. Carved gemstone one in Fef, she hates not gettin' any motion an' if you make it so she can't move more than a fidget but it's buried in her, she'll be fuckin' soaked by the time you're ready to let her off it."

Indignant hisses and furious snarls are as much your reward as the sheer delight in your Ancestor's eyes, and you'd smirk more if he didn't roll his hips up just right. Fuck, he's huge, and you're still not sure you can actually take him, as trembly-ready as you already are. "Shall I tie them up as well? Or would you prefer that I leave them free?"

You're not in the mood to be anything like merciful. "Make them fuckin' pay, the traitors."

"If you're so sure," he says, and reaches up to haul them both over. You're reasonably sure you're in troll heaven, with the way they're both kneeling, nearly on display for you, uniforms half-stripped down, in Sol's case, and shredded to scraps in Fef's. "Strip down completely and spread your thighs, Captor."

For a moment, Sollux looks like he's going to put up a challenge, meeting Dualscar's gaze with his own surprisingly calm one. Then your Ancestor's fingertips—he'd still had a grip on Sol, damn, you'd forgotten to pay attention—uncurl, hovering just barely above his spine, a silent threat that has Sollux stripping down as quickly as he can. "Asshole," he mutters, lisp murdering the sibilants as Feferi gives him a sympathetic purr.

It's your turn to offer sympathy, a quiet little chirp, at the sight of gold-stained thighs. He's aching nearly as much as you are, as far as you can tell, and Dualscar doesn't even hesitate before sending him sprawling across you (your hips stutter against his back immediately, and you catch at his arms on instinct, barely getting a grip on one with your hands bound the way they are) and half-lifting him up, the same way he'd done with you. Half a bottle of lube goes down Sol's nook, and before he can do more than keen, your Ancestor's got the tip of the bulge buried inside of him.

Sollux's whines grow louder as Dualscar works it in, inch by inch, until it's buried completely between his thighs. From the way he's shuddering and jerking, you're pretty fucking sure the temperature's already getting to him, and equally sure that the movement setting's not yet on. Speak of the devil—or, at least, a matching remote in Dualscar's hand. "Before I get this turned on, psionic, I've got a deal to offer you."

"Nn?" His helpless, flutter-lashed act isn't fooling you, you know exactly how much Sollux Captor can take and Dualscar has yet to push him past his limit. You've got the feeling that maybe your Ancestor might know this as well, from the way he doesn't even take the bait, settling back onto his knees to wait Sollux out. "Fine. What?"

That smirk bodes ill for all three of you. "Restrain the princess until I'm done with Eridan. If you manage to do so successfully, I'll pail you second." Aw, fuck.

You twist, just enough to look up at Feferi, and she's one second away from going for Dualscar's throat. Sollux, however, only takes half a second to bind her up in psionics, pinning her arms behind her back, her calves to her thighs, and tipping her back onto the bed.

"Deal," he says, and shifts off of you, moving slowly to avoid jostling the toy buried in him more than he has to.

"You're a fuckin' idiot, Sol," you inform him, and have to bite back a cry when he sparks your bulge in retaliation. "I'm not wrong."

"Yeah, yeah. How exactly did you want her, Admiral, because—"

"Keep her spread like that." Dualscar switches out the bottle he'd been holding for a new one, and you bite down on a groan when he deigns to show you the label. Using warming lube on Fef is just fucking cruel. "Settle, Eridan, I know how to handle a tyrian."

"I'll bet you do," Feferi mutters, glaring at him. Sollux retaliates by filing her mouth with psionics, a variation on a ring gag that he knows the both of you hate with a very pitched passion. 

"Not bad." Instead of pouring the lube right into Feferi, he coats the gemstone toy with it, lets it slick over her nook as he teases her open with it. You're really beginning to question how much research he's done when he shoves the damn thing into her, leaving Feferi trilling as she tries to spill, trace amounts of tyrian leaking out around the toy. "Neither of you told me she's that sensitive."

"Yeah, well," you mutter, and Sollux, as far as you can tell out of the corner of your eye, offers a shrug. "You didn't exactly ask."

"I'll make a note for next time." And then he turns on the toy buried in Sollux's nook like the utter asshole he is and it's down to you versus him once more.

 

Your wrists are still bound, and you are still sprawled flat on your back; this is an absolutely untenable position save for the fact that you did lose to your opponent—the Orphaner freaking Dualscar in this case—and therefore, he has victor's rights over you. You'd complain about this if it weren't for the fact that you're so godsdamned turned on that you're shaking, again.

He doesn't even lay a proper hand on you, the bastard. No, he takes his time looking you over, tracing the doubled lightning over your horns and working down your body in teasing touches that you're pretty damn sure he's deliberately using to work you up even more. By the time he actually lets his bulge curl against your nook, you're a writhing mess beneath him once again. 

And then he has the gall to roll you over.

You thrash like a fish caught on a line, snarling invectives back over one shoulder as your Ancestor laughs at your plight, and you almost manage to get a snap in on one of his fingers when he jerks you up by the horns. "Don't lose track of your surroundings, boy," he says, and your jaw nearly drops.

Sollux has Feferi caught up in streamers of light, on her knees and barely able to move, her bulge already spilling out as her thighs tremble. You can easily tell how far gone she is, just looking at the way her fins are canted, at the way they throw out little ripples of movement every time Sollux's psi runs heavy over her skin—all three of you, four of you, even, know what psionic power does to seadwellers, and Sollux, at the moment, seems to be reveling in it.

Then again, it's a little hard to tell: with each twist of the tentatoy in him, his psi seems to surge, power levels bouncing back and up and down as his control slips. Your eyes go wide with admiration, fins spreading appreciatively as you take in the incredibly excellent view. It's pretty enough to make you consider forgiving your Ancestor for being a raging asshole.

Or, at least, it would have been, had he not hitched your hips up and shoved sheath deep inside of you.

 

You are incredibly grateful for the attention and preparation; Dualscar's bulge is the largest thing you've ever taken, and you're too wrecked to even vocalize for his first few thrusts. One hand keeps your hips in place, the other's tight enough around your horn to keep you upright, and you don't actually make noise until he makes a displeased noise and leaves you almost entirely—and then you whimper at the loss, and then you give him a strangled scream in reply, as he shoves back into you again.

Being pailed raw by the deepsdamn Admiral of )(er Imperious Condescension's entire fucking fleet does weird things to your sense of time. Each movement seems to take a goddamn sweep; each moment seems to run water-quick into the next, and you're not sure which sense is false and which sense is true. Sinking your claws into the sheets grounds you, until he catches you at it and hauls you further upright, and then you're whining in embarrassment as Sol and Fef eat up the sight of you, utterly shipwrecked and brought to violet ruin.

"Come on, then, lad," he murmurs against your fin, the complete lack of difference in temperature throwing your head for a bit of a loop. You chrr a question at him, and are rewarded with a hand around your bulge, stroking the same rhythm over you that his hips are setting. Something closer to a sob than you'd like to admit spills out of you, as pleasure builds—

 


 

You come to your senses slowly, in a way that makes you think you maybe came so hard you passed out. Certain things fade in faster than others: you're aware of the fullness almost immediately, as well as the scent and sound of Feferi's desperate arousal and Sollux getting mercilessly railed, but exactly what is inside of you, and your actual vision as well, take a little longer to return.

Blinking the haze from your eyes seems like it's going to get you nowhere, but then Fef makes an insistently wanting noise and everything resolves into crystal clarity.

 

Your wrists have been unbound, but Feferi's in a much worse position than you ever were. Dualscar swapped out uniform scrap ties for actual troll shibari rope, and you're getting the feeling that he's maybe a lot better at the art form than you (a troll who's hungrily read every fic and wiki and bio about him) ever knew. Movement's not an option, now, and the carved toy's amethyst barely shows beneath Feferi's near-constant spill of tyrian slick, her fins completely flushed as she struggles to move, aching for more attention than she's been allowed.

Sollux, meanwhile, is draped decadently over your bare-chested Ancestor. From the violet-gold coloring between his thighs, he's been there for a while, and both of them have already pailed at least once. Each.

You manage a questioning chirp, and Dualscar smirks down at you—Sol looks damn far gone, his hips moving jerkily, sparks of static and psi at the corners of his eyes and the tips of his fingers—and it's about then that you realize exactly what's giving you that feeling of "full". Your piece of shit Ancestor (did he seriously leave the shirt half-on with the buttons looking rather deliberately undone for the aesthetic?) had the brass to actually pail inside of you, and then, instead of letting you spill it out like any sane troll would, he'd shoved something up your nook and left you there to stew.

Snarling, you force yourself to your knees, and nearly pail yourself all over again.

"Ah ah," he scolds, still amused, and holds up a jewel-covered remote. Oh skies and seas and fucking stars, he'd shoved the custom job up your concupiscent parts, the actual asshole. "Best behavior, sugargrub, you've an audience."

"I fuckin' hate you," you mutter, and sink back down into a sit. Another plaintive whine pulls your attention right back to Feferi, and you have to wince—you hadn't noticed the ring gag at first, but damn if your Ancestor doesn't know what brand of pailtoys he's about.

"I'm well aware of that." If it weren't for the situation you're currently in, his dryly amused tone of voice might actually amuse you. As it is, you bare your fangs at him. Unfortunately for you, that seems to count as something less than best behavior, because he raises an eyebrow at you and flicks the remote on.

You keen, as each bubbling pearl and carefully carved gem digs into the walls of your nook, shaking hard enough to stir up the purely violet slurry mix inside of you. There's nothing left for your dignity, and you drop down onto your hands and knees, thighs spreading apart as violet leaks out around the edges of the decorous toy. The world swirls again, and you barely hang onto your sanity as you feel yourself pail—and hear your cries twinned with Sollux's, as your Ancestor spills another load of violet slurry deep inside your pitch.

 

To your great fury (and even greater dismay) Dualscar removes a pail from his sylladex and tips Sollux off his bulge and directly onto it. This is proof that he'd left you like this as a deliberate insult, and if you weren't so wary of that now (thankfully) dormant remote in his hand, you'd make your opinions on the topic known. Instead, you're left watching (and sulking, and jealous) as Dualscar carefully spreads Sollux's nook open and works at him until natural reactions take over and he spills violet-gold into a very oversized pail.

"Can't believe you have a fuckin' orgy pail," you mumble, and tack a grumble onto the end of the thought when it makes Dualscar laugh out loud. His laugh does not make you feel nice, or make your fins ripple, or anything else of the like.

"I can't believe you don't have one, your close crew's practically an orgy all its own." He flashes you a grin, and your eyes go wide—for a moment, it's like looking into a mirror. Then you find yourself, horror of horrors, grinning back, and he seems even more pleased, with the situation and himself. Smug bastard. "I've met the blueblood mechanic, and that terrifying rust you lot keep around."

"One a you is gonna have to explain to me what's up with Ara, someday," you say, and shift onto your side. "So are you leavin' Fef like that all night, or what?"

Dualscar settles Sollux down on the blankets, and your incredibly warmblooded psionic immediately curls up around a pillow, purring. You'd put even odds on him conking out in the next ten minutes, or staying awake out of spite, just to watch the rest of the "show". "Tempting as the prospect is, I think that might be too cruel for words," Dualscar says, looking Feferi over. She gives him a hopeful, pleading whine, and he moves across the platform to her.

 

You've never missed an opportunity to watch violets interact with your girl, and you're not about to start now. Besides, this is your Ancestor, the only other violet alive who can even claim to have your kind of experience with tyrians, to have anywhere near as many hours clocked at one's side. It is a masterclass in the Orphaner's role, taught by the expert himself.

And it's maybe one of the hottest things you've ever seen.

 

Absolutely none of the gentleness he'd used when trying not to break Sollux is on display here, he has no time for the teasing he offered you—his hands settle on Fef's hips hard enough to bruise, and he fucks her on the Ampora-hued toy until she's so close you can taste it on the air. When he stops, and she keens, writhing desperately against his hold, you can tell it's not the first time he's brought her this far along and refused her an end. A growl begins to build in the back of your throat, silenced by one look from her, one glare from him. For once, it's not your place to come to your tyrian's defense.

Utterly debauched noises spill out of Feferi's nook, along with the toy and fuchsia slurry, as Dualscar lifts her off the bed, and he captchalogues the ropes and binds on her in a move so swift you barely see it. You're wholly entranced, watching them move together, Feferi; shakier than you've seen her in sweeps, Dualscar, seaborn grace and Imperial glory personified. When he sprawls back on the bed, Fef somehow manages to stay upright, settled in his lap, and you catch yourself wondering exactly how long she'll last.

"Not bad, little princess," he drawls, running his hands up her hips, tracing the pinkish bruises he's left behind. "Now we're going to see how well you can ride me."

A snap of his fingers—you'll have to ask about his modus—has the ring gag disappearing from her mouth, and she works her jaw as she stares down at him, curls cascading over her shoulders, like she's trying to remember exactly how much she wants to talk. "Yeah?"

"Yeah," he parrots back, his fins flaring out. Oh. Oh. "Until your deepsdamned legs give out."

Feferi raises herself up on shuddering legs bracing on your Ancestor's chest. "And what happens if they do?"

"If, not when? Someone's got quite the bit of self-confidence, hm?" He cups her ass, squeezing until she whimpers, and tugs her just a little bit further forward, enough that the tip of his bulge can tease at the entrance to her nook. "When they do, I'm going to shove you down and pail you, Feferi Peixes, in any form or fashion I like."

"You do realize you're a fuckin' sadist, right?" You raise your head, hoping that neither one of them will notice exactly how interested you've become in this picture they're painting. "Like, that's crossed your mind a time or two? Stars, sir, does she get to ask why you're goin' hard on her?"

"She does," he says, eyes steady and tone even enough that you know you've stepped in it now. "You don't."

Her claws dig into his chest, drawing violet blood, and he hisses at her (it makes Sollux purr all smug, fucking adorable bastard). "Why?"

"Because I'd really like to see you break, princess." The Orphaner runs his hands up her sides again, thumbs stroking over her breasts, broad palms mapping her curves. "And I intend to find out exactly how you shatter before I get any further involved in your bid for the crown."

Feferi snarls at him, a noise cut short by Dualscar jerking her hips down as his roll up in one smooth movement, perfectly timed to fill her up completely, forcing her to take the entirety of his bulge. For a moment, you think he's won—her claws curl uselessly against his chest, and she's gasping for breath—then she pulls the last scraps of her dignity together and begins to move.

You've never been more flushed for this girl.

 

Her entire body is held taut, fins quivering, as she fucks herself slowly on Dualscar's bulge. Your Ancestor, meanwhile, is all barely contained impatience, bound by the rules of his own game, obviously wanting to absolutely destroy her, just as obviously unable to until she gives. From the set of Fef's shaking fins (and maybe even the fever-bright look in her tyrian eyes), you can tell she knows it just as well as you do, and you wonder, for a moment, if she's treating this like the pitch solicitation it so obviously is—an opportunity to to shake him up, to beat him now, even if she couldn't in the combat before. You have to admit, the mere idea's a little intoxicating to you, in love with your line's history as you are.

Dualscar growls with every movement she makes, little hip rocks up that Feferi checks with claws and chirrs, insistent on his obedience. It inspires the same mixture of arousal and fury in him that it does in you, unchecked lust threatening to raze self-control to the ground. Each warning stokes his wrath higher, and you can't help but make a very amused sound when she digs claws into his shoulders, drawing his ire down upon yourself.

You get maybe a second of warning, a furious glare, before he flicks the vibrator all the way up to the highest setting and turns you into a sobbing mess, left writhing on the platform.

Concern for you is her undoing; you'd feel guilty for a moment if you weren't so wrecked, if it didn't make you feel so fucking good. She turns to check on you, and Dualscar shifts, and her legs slip—

 

The little cry slips out of her before she can catch herself, this time, and Dualscar snarls in triumph, surging forward in a motion you can barely track. An arm under her thigh, twisting around and throwing her over his shoulder. You reach out for her, and he bares his fangs at you; Sollux shifts, trying to spark, but another growl from the Orphaner ripples along the low-frequency sound scale again, putting your hatemate back down in his place, as Feferi whimpers, barely braced on her elbows, hanging off the side of the bed as Dualscar presses even more bruises into her hips and thighs.

You watch through a watery sort of haze as he buries himself between her thighs once more, and this time, it's hard enough to make her spill, tyrian painting her thighs and his hips a amaranthine-swirled pink you know rather well. You're not sure exactly what he wants from her, but from the way he twists a hand into her curls, from the way he curves over her—violet wave breaking over a tyrian shore—you have a feeling he hasn't quite gotten it yet.

He is relentless, ruthless tyranny made whole, and you whine at the absolutely glorious sight of it, your sometimes-pitch brought low and made keening, her little cries brought up short every time he slams into her. Sol is watching, almost as hungrily as you, and when you glance at him for a moment's respite from the orphaner-and-heiress fueled lust burning through your system, he bares his own set of doubled fangs and uses his psi to twist the toy inside of you.

Screaming as you pail yourself—for the third? maybe fourth—time does not draw Feferi's attention, but your Ancestor laughs, low as the ocean trenches, deep as the bluest sea, and the sound makes you wail, your hips stuttering against the bed in a desperate plea. Feferi trills in reply, and Dualscar's claws cut tyrian lines as the noise runs right through him—you feel it, too, as far away from them as you are—and Sollux twists the toy inside you again, setting a steady rhythm that matches your Ancestor's, your pitch's weakened power still more than enough to fuck you up.

 

All three of you finish together, and a still-purring Sollux spills into his own hand not long after. Sheer determination is keeping you conscious, more than any extra energy, and you stay sprawled across the bed as Dualscar turns the toy inside of you off, as he pulls out of Feferi and settles her on the same pail Sollux used, as he tugs the toy out of you—slowly, the piece of shit smug bastard—and sets you down on the pail, across from Feferi—

You'd been plotting vengeance in your head, but you'd be lying if you said you didn't sort of forgive the bastard when Feferi immediately snuggles up against you, purring and nuzzling you over. Your hand curls into her hair, cupping the back of her head and holding her fast, as you pick up her purr, and try not to let it turn into a whimper as Dualscar works the both of you into spilling the genetic material you'd been holding.

"Not bad, for a beginner," he says, scooping the both of you off the pail easily and examining the royally gilded colors within. You try to bite him. "Work on your aim, lad."

The concupiscent platform is lovely and soft underneath you, and Dualscar does a trick with his sylladex that swaps the old sheets out for new before he slaps two sopor patches on each of you and sprawls out. You huddle around Feferi defensively, keeping both of you between him and Sollux, ready to hiss at him if he tries to come near either of them.

Instead, he pulls fluffy blankets out of his sylladex, twisting his wrist so that they spread right over the bed, instead of dropping into his hands. The softness distracts you enough that he can haul all three of you closer, and even though you try biting again, you're immediately assaulted by skritches and snuggles, and the affection lulls you to sleep before you can do more than gnaw on his shoulder a bit, Feferi still tucked against your chest, one of your hands on one of Sollux's horns.

 


 

A full day later (bracketed by a third of a night on either end) and you are pretending not to be a personal and professional embarrassment to your ship. This uniform's just as nice as the one your Ancestor had fucking ruined, and you're there to personally see him off, not even limping a little. When he's, uh. Looking, at least.

Feferi and Sollux haven't bothered to get up, and you're still grumbling about it, even though you're maybe just a little relieved. You're still not sure what to think of your Ancestor, but you've got an annoying feeling that it's going to be a while before you're ready to deem him "safe".

Besides, it'd been a chance to actually talk with him, hash out some basic plans for this partnership, without anyone chirping you for your indiscretions, or making unfair comparisons between you and a fucking hunk of an eight foot, full grown troll. You're doing your best, here, and you haven't even had your final adult molt.

Of course, you're also doing your best to pretend that Dualscar isn't seeming amused the entire time.

"I'll be back in a few perigees," he drawls, leaning against the corridor wall. You make a game attempt not to scowl at the thought. "Try not to miss me too much, sugargrub."

"As much as I'd miss a stubbed toe, sir," you mutter under your breath, then damn your fins to dry dock when his laughter makes them ripple. "Uh, I mean—"

"Like I said," says Raivis Ampora, the Admiral of )(er Imperious Condescension's fleet, the hero of your wrigglerhood, the glubbing prince of all the skies and seas. "You're not bad, for a beginner, and I'm looking to make you even better."

 

You're struck speechless, watching him go—your eyes follow his back all the way to his transport shuttle, then you stand at the window as it cuts a blinding line across the black void between your two ships.

For a moment—just for a moment, you think—maybe you saw him wave.

And you begin to understand your line a little bit better.