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You Are a Refugee From an Omnicidal Empire

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You know that the human guy, whose name you discover is John (you ask him if his last name's "Egbert", by any chance, but no, it's Swanson, so that's a Chekov's bullet dodged), told you to talk to this Temtos person, but what he failed to mention is that she's indigo.

After he exchanged a few words with your new guard and left, she's been glaring at you with what you're mostly sure is a generic "don't you dare try anything funny" look rather than anything personal, while you sat in the corner of your cell trying to be as unthreatening as possible. She doesn't seem much for conversation nor mutantblood sympathy, but... you don't think John has any motive to set you up like that.

At least now you know why he was so interested in your interspecies romance hijinks, from the way the human was stammering and falling over his words talking to Temtos.

After two minutes of agonizing deliberation, you finally decide to trust the one semi-ally you've made in this godforsaken place and gather the courage to speak up.


"Don't talk to me," she interrupts. "I don't want to be fired."

Her piercing stare isn't making you feel any better about this plan of action, but you forge on.

"John said I should talk to you," you blurt.

She snorts viciously and you wince. "What do I have to discuss with Imperial traitors?"

"I'm supposed to show you..." You're going to murder that human if the blueblood goes mad and tear you limb to limb in the glorious name of the hemospectrum. Digging a nail just below the puncture on your thumb from earlier, you squeeze out another bead of fresh blood. "This," you finish.

You move forward slowly, careful not to spook her, and hold the offending digit up to the gap in the bars.

Temtos stares at the speck of bright crimson.

She's not going for a weapon, which is an excellent sign.

"You're..." she starts, then stops. The troll looks both way down the corridor, and then leans in.

"What was your lusus?" she hisses, grabbing your finger through the bars and smearing blood across the back of her palm. She frantically sniffs it and holds it up to the ceiling light, inspecting the drying fluid as she turns her hand side to side.

"Crabdad?" you answer hesitantly.

"Not the species, the blood!"

"...same as mine?"

It was always a mystery why you got a matching mutantblood lusus. Even if it just happened mutated in the exact same way, what were the odds it would manage to find the one matching wiggler to raise? You've thought about chalking it up to "Sburb", but now suspect you might be about to find another answer.

"Oh no..." she's pacing around the corridor now. "...the next convoy's in three days, I can't..."

"Is this about me being the second coming of the Signless?" you cut in.

She swings around and juts a finger accusingly at you. "Yes! You should be on Alternia! You're supposed to be the new leader! Why are you here?"

"What the hell are you talking about?" you demand. "The Cult? Of the Sufferer? Are you part of it? What new leader? Why haven't I heard anything about this?"

"The Cult of the Signless!" she growls. "We stole you from the brooding caverns. We created your lusus. You wouldn't be alive if not for them."

You're feeling increasingly lost.

Gritting your teeth, you start again, "Do I know you?"

"No! I was just... it doesn't matter. I left the Cult. I'm not involved anymore." She sounds torn up at how to approach this. "But why aren't you on the motherworld?"

"What, you thought I was just going to sit there like a lame quackbird to get culled when the Ordeals come barrelling?" you growl.

"They were supposed to have contacted you on your eighth wriggling day, that was the plan! They must have been wiped in the Jupkavat raid? But I thought there was an active cell in Spitscorn..."

You're reeling too much to absorb what she's blabbering. So has there been this massive conspiracy all along to groom you into the leader of a revolution? A conspiracy that was apparently destroyed or disbanded at some point, leaving you to fend for yourself? How much of your wigglerhood was engineered by strangers? You don't have any memories of designing your hive, but a lot of regular trolls don't remember that far back anyway. Mutation aside, would you have even passed the caverns' trials on your own? Is that why you're such a shit troll?

And what's an indigoblood doing with an egalitarian cult?

"Hey!" You bang on the bars. "So are you going to break me out of this shithole?"

She pauses her fretting, gaze sharpening. "Oh. I... I want to, I would, but where are you going to go? If there aren't any more Alternia cells... I'm not even a member anymore. I have no way to contact anyone. I don't even know how to get you out of this complex. Will you fit in a suitcase? No, they search those. Ugh."

"If you get Dave and Sollux they have enough firepower to brute-force our way out," you say. "And we have a way off-planet, we just need the first guardian. You..." If she breaks you out, you can trust her, right? "You can come with us to Alternia. If you want. I'm making the assumption your superiors won't be terribly happy if you do help us escape."

She frowns skeptically. "The human and the goldblood? Can they take Class 8 Imperial pyrolancer squads? Energy aircraft? I don't know what the human can do, but we have blast shields against psionic attacks."

"They can handle it. Dave... you'll find out about his impossible bullshit when you meet him. And I guarantee your shields won't slow Sollux for more than a second—he's mutant too, and, uh, the descendant of the Ψiioniic."

You're half blowing hot air here: you're not certain they actually have the power to fight a small army, but between flight and time powers, you're confident you can at least escape, which is what you're banking on.

Temtos cocks an eyebrow of disbelief at you, checking the hallways again. "The Ψiioniic? Helmsman of the Battleship Condescension?"

"Yes, that fucking Ψiioniic. The one that boiled the Unsown Lake. The one the entire class of psychics was named after."

"Uh... well," she swallows. "Pardon. He's in the East Medicastigation Wing, along with 'Dave'."

"Well?" you ask incredulously. "What are we waiting for?"

She shifts uncomfortably. "Now? Don't you need time to plan, or anything?"

"Do you want to stick around for the psychic interrogaterrorizers to arrive? You're already incriminated if they start digging around in my mind. Look, Dave can take anything your people can throw at him no problem, and I know of a way to wake him up from whatever you're pumping into his bloodstream."

You think. Mostly you don't want to see what else this place has to inflict on you. You really don't want to know what "disincentives" that jadeblood was talking about, so the quicker you get out of here the better.

"We captured him before," she recoils, vaguely offended at your insinuation.

"He was holding back, and I'll guess you tranqed him right off the bat?" you speculate. If they're in the dark about his supernatural powers, he can't have been using any Knight of Time abilities or even his full range of physical skill. Blowing through reinforced walls with a single slice is not in any universe attributable to simply "enhanced strength".

Temtos presses her lips together in a tight line.

"Fine. But if I help you, you have to promise not to hurt anyone too badly."

You want to object that they're the ones holding you against your will, but you hold your tongue. You're asking a lot already from a stranger that you literally just met minutes ago, whose only reason to betray her team for you is your freakish mutant heritage. These are her friends, you remind yourself. She's entitled to a few concessions. Besides, to be fair, Dave's the one that broke in in the first place.

"Alright," you agree after a pause. "No promises, but we'll do our best " You're not lying. "Anyone in particular you want me to look out for?"

Her eyes widen, caught off. It's somewhat of a scummy thing to ask, but allies are hard to come and you don't want to accidentally gank her moirail and set her off if it comes down to it.

"John," she says. "He's the guy that was watching you just now. Caitlin, black woman with green hair, uses knives. Malron, oliveblood, asymmetric bipronged horns. Marjane, she's white, and... doesn't really have any identifying features. Um."

Christ. "That guy, black woman green hair, olive asymmetric horns, woman without any identifying features," you repeat back. "Got it. Now do you have the key?"

She exhales, resigned. "Don't need one."

Temtos flips something up on the other side of your door. You hear the scrape and clanks of disengaging metal, then the screech of a heavy bolt sliding out of its socket, and with a tug the door swings open.

Right, speedfab architecture. Parts smaller than a thimble are practically a luxury around here.

You step out into the hallway tentatively, glancing around to appraise your surroundings.

"No security cameras here, but once you leave the building the guards will catch on. We're going to have to make it quick," she informs you. She pulls up a floor plan on her phone and turns it to you, pointing as she speaks. "Your friends are being held here. Sentries are here, here and here, so you're going to want to go around this building, enter this fire exit and go into this room."

You stare at the route she's indicating.

"How likely are we to get into a fight through all that?" you raise with a note of queasiness.

She frowns. "Almost certainly."

You swallow and raise a finger. "Problem with that: I am not a combat specialist. And to be absolutely clear, by that I mean I suck pungent trunkbeast balls at anything remotely resembling violent confrontation and will go down like a sack of toddlers against a well-trained human, let alone professional guardshuntresses."

"Ah," she notes, disapproval pinching the corners of her eyes. Well fuck her, it's not like you had trolls to spar with other than you lusus who's been going senile for sweeps, which on second thought is probably their fault as well. How long did they have your dad fossilizing in cryosleep before they defrosted him for you?

Change of plans, then. "Here's an idea. How about I fuck back into the cell, and you go and wake Dave up."

Temtos crosses her arms. "And how do I do that?"


A loud clank sounds from the end of the hallway, cutting you off.

"What the hell is he doing out of his cell?" a gruff voice growls.

You snap around. There's a burly human standing at the bottom of the entrance stairway wearing glasses and a shirt and tie, pointing a pistol in your direction. The two of you freeze.

The troll next to you reacts first. "This mutant freak mouthed off at me," she growls. "I was going to teach him a lesson."

The human raises a radio to his mouth, keeping his firearm trained on you. "Prisoner is escaping. I repeat, prisoner is escap-."

Temtos draws and fires in a flash.

Pain erupts in your eardrums. Red blossoms on the newcomer's shoulder as his gun clatters to the floor. To his credit, he doesn't immediately crumple to the ground in shock, but the ragged scream and the way he's clutching the limp arm with the other shaking hand tells you he won't be in a state to stop you any time soon.

Unfortunately, his mouth and radio are working fine.

"Lamort is compromised! Lamort-" you hear through the ringing.

She lunges across the ten meters separating you from him and knocks the device out of his hand, crashing the human to the ground, but the damage is done.

You curse and begin running as your ally retrieves the weapon from the floor. Grabbing it from her outstretched hand as you catch up, the two of you sprint for the stairs, dodging the human's leg that kicks out to try and trip you. The sun's facing away from the entrance, so its glare isn't burning directly into your retinas, but you still have to squint and give time for your pupils to adjust as you scale the steps to the top and survey the situation outside.

You wouldn't go as far as to call it chaos, but people are scattering and swiveling around in confusion as a voice blares through the PA system, "Prisoner escaping from temp holding block. Guards on alert. Do not approach, return indoors and seek shelter in sublevels." A knife flies at you and you barely duck in time to avoid decapitation.

"Do you remember the route? I'll cover you," Temtos shouts over her return fire. Ignoring the ringing in your auricular sponge clots, you scan the buildings in sight, trying to match it to what you remember of her map, but the entire facility consists of featureless gray cuboids gridded out in a smooth stone basin. You don't even know where you are.

"No!" you scream back.

"Ugh," she groans. "Follow me."

The troll that was lobbing those knives has taken cover behind a crate—you think he wasn't actually a security guy, just armed for no reason, because trolls—and the few humans out in casual wear running away from you, so when Temtos makes a dash for it you obey.

Five seconds to cross the open stretch ahead of you, praying you don't get caught by the pepper of automated sentry fire from the distant western rampart, and next thing you're diving behind the partial cover of the building, pushing your back against the wall. Temtos moves forward, craning around the corner to scout the way forward while you watch your back, firing warning shots at the odd stab-happy imbecile sticking their head out to contemplate rushing you.

Something taps your shoulder and you jump, but when you whip around it's just your ally. She's beckoning you.

"Sigma Team's blocking the door," she whispers. "We're going to have to get past them or we'll be surrounded in no time."

"How? I don't suppose you can punch through this wall with your bare fists?"

"No!" she hisses.

"So what can we do? Take a hostage?"

"Where are we going to get one?"

You think. At first you consider ordering one of the cowering civilians to get over, but that's a little too villainous for your tastes, and probably not great for the metaphysical justice meter too.

"You?" you suggest.

"They know I'm working with you."

"I'll say I'm psychically controlling you. I'm a spooky mutant, I can have whatever secret powers I goddamn like. Do you think they'd shoot?"

"Well..." She hesitates. "Sigma's a bunch of pansies. It'll stall them long enough. Fine."

She hands you her gun reluctantly as heavy footsteps approach from around the corner. You fumblingly flick the safety on and stow it in your coat pocket. God, if this doesn't work you're so fucked. Your hands are clammy from nerves as you grip her shoulder and press your pistol to the back of her head, the troll flinching at the warm contact.

You step out into view, squinting against the sun.

The first thing you register is that they're all human. Sigma Team is a quartet of males in body armor, all of them wielding heavy-duty energy rifles currently trained directly at your head, Alternian make. The one in the front is wearing a dark visor with the diffuse corner glow indicating a holographic HUD, marking him as the leader. All of them freeze to a stop at the sight of you.

That's good. Humans would more squeamish about shooting through live barriers, you think.

"Get back!" you shout, hand trembling. "I'll shoot!"

"We know you're working with him, Temtos," the leader growls, finger not straying from the trigger. "Drop the act and surrender. I don't know why you're doing this, but we can-"

"Haven't you teat-suckling buffoons heard of mind control?" you roar. Your pump biscuit's beating at the speed of light. Those rifles will shred you like you're wet cardboard. A bullet you might survive, but one of those blasts? No amount of medical attention will make a difference.

The soldiers exchange doubtful looks.

"Back off," you repeat, walking closer. You hope Temtos is making a convincing show of being terrified for her life right now.

"Please. Dan," she chokes, as if reading your mind. You really are getting a lot of mileage out of shitty acting today.

They don't take their guns off you, but they do backtrack slowly as you advance. It makes tactical sense from their perspective: with you outnumbered and ranged options heavily weighted in their favor, they'd be stupid to let a troll into melee range. Besides, they think they can drag this out until reinforcements arrive.

"Don't come any closer!" the head human warns, but you ignore him.

It's a tense couple of seconds as you inch forward, stiffly aware that more hostiles are gathering as you speak, perhaps even on the other side of the doorway you're shuffling towards. All you can hear is the crunch of gravel underfoot and faint shouting and footsteps in the distance, approaching by the moment. Nevertheless, you eventually come to a stop next to the the fire exit you're meant to go through.

With a foot you attempt to push it open, but the door's latched. You kick it harder. It stays stubbornly put.

"Stop that!" he demands again. "Don't move!"

This is awkward. You hope it's not locked.

You finally remove your left hand from Temtos' shoulder and try the knob, hoping desperately that that doesn't too obviously give away the ruse, and it works. The door swings slowly open with a click.

"Stay right where you-"

You stumble sideways into the entrance with your hostage/assistant in tow and slam it shut, cutting off the second half of the human's frantic order. The lock slides in place right as you hear something impact the other side of the door, the bolt rattling under the force. Only after it holds through a few more slams and renewed human mumbling begins trickling through from the outside again do you let go of the breath trapped in your air bladders, glancing back at Temtos who's already sizing up your new surroundings. You hand her her gun back.

The interior of the structure is stark and lifeless, almost resembling an untextured low-quality model of a real building, the doors and their inset placards the only things breaking up the uniform gray. Even then they're hinged directly into the walls without as much as a frame, sealing flush with the surrounding material when closed. The hallway's deserted, presumably from the ordered lockdown, but you're not naive enough to think that there won't be guards on the prisoners.

It doesn't matter. All you need is a clear line to Dave.

Temtos jerks a thumb and you follow. The sound of shoes against the cold floor echoes down the corridor, probably warning everyone of your approach, but there's not much you can do about that without slowing your pace to a crawl.

You pass two closed doors and an out-of-service washroom, scare a balding man in a suit into a panicked flight when you pass the junction he's down, and finally halt as the other troll slows to a stop just before a double door and holds up a hand. There's a wide sign up above the doorway phosphorescing dimly, indicating "MEDICAL" in obnoxiously wide Latin lettering.

This is it. You've made it this far. Now there's only one thing left.

"Can you do your wake up thing from here?" Temtos whispers.

You considering explaining how god tier works, but decide it's not worth it. Instead you mutter, "I need line of sight and some time."

A faint sound of scuffling filters through from inside.

"Won't they just shoot him dead once he gets up?"

You shake your head. "He's unkillable. He'll deal with them when he wakes up."

You're sincerely praying that your faith in Dave's capabilities isn't misplaced.

"I'm putting a whole lot of trust in you here," she growls quietly. "This had better be worth it."

"Plan?" you whisper. "Do we just kick the door in and rush?"

"No! That's stupid!" she hisses back. She considers it for a second. "Why don't I surrender myself as a distraction, and you do your thing."

That's not bad, actually. You nod.

She sighs. "Go in three. Two. One."

The troll leaves her weapon on the floor, straightens up and raps sharply on the door twice.

"This is Temtos Lamort. I'm surrendering. Unarmed. Don't shoot," she calls.

A pause of silence elapses before another female voice speaks back from inside.

"Do come ~in," someone sings, dragging out the "i". "Hold your fire," the same voice says in a harder voice to somebody else in the room.

You see Temtos push the door open slowly and step forward, but from your position you don't have a good view of what's inside. You know there are least two armed hostiles, but probably more for the speaker to act so confident. You flatten yourself against the ground and edge closer, gun at the ready.

"What are you doing?" the unknown female snaps. "And where's Vantas?"

The angle of the light from the room isn't optimal. Moving any closer is going to place you in the cone of illumination, but from where you are you still can't see or do anything. You're just going to have to go for it and hope you finish the job before anyone catches on.

"Carmia," Temtos states, a hint of contempt worming into her deferential tone.

You take a deep breath and scoot forward the final few inches to get your head in the doorway proper.

The sudden harsh light stabs your eyes, but you resist the urge to blink it away. There are five trolls in there at the back of the room: four are in unmarked soldier gear holding an assortment of melee weapons and one of them a kinetic shotgun, but the fifth is an eye-mutate cerulean in a personal black and cobalt overcoat, weaponless. From the way she's holding herself and the general air of condescension about her, she's the one calling the shots.

In front of Temtos in the bed closest to you there's Dave in his bloodied and torn disguise, hooked up to an IV bag of faintly luminescent pink liquid. Further in you see a large machine with what looks like vacuum tubes fizzing with red and blue lightning, likely psionic suppression, but your boyfriend's bed is occluding where you assume Sollux is lying.

You observe all of this in the half second it takes you to identify your target and take aim, steadying your pistol to the best of your limited marksmanship.

Everything's in place, your finger poised over the trigger, but you hesitate.

It's the worst time for second thoughts, but now that you're here you find yourself reconsidering your assumptions, wondering if Dave might have hurt one too many people, if you've shot anyone and broken the rules, whether perhaps breaking into a place without direct provocation casts you automatically as the villain... if immortality even still applies here at all.

If you shoot and he doesn't get back up, how will you ever live with yourself knowing that you pulled the trigger?

That second of hesitation proves a critical mistake.

Your arm seizes up abruptly, followed by the rest of your body. You can't move your finger, you can't do anything, you try to wriggle yourself back behind cover but only manage to twitch a toe, and then the next moment that control is gone as well. Even your gander bulbs are fixed in place, anguish bladders stinging as your brain tries to blink and nothing happens.

The troll in cerulean smirks.

You've been controlled by Vriska before, unarguably one of the strongest psychics of your cohort, but even she could only manage some rough puppeteering over your body, nothing of such finesse. This person's locking every muscle in place with no apparent mental exertion as her three eyes glide from you to Temtos' stoic face and back.

(Of course. She's an adult, a blueblood, probably five times the age of anyone on Alternia. She's trained. What did you expect?)

You find yourself climbing to your feet, gun still in hand. The psychic even bothers with the charade of making you fix up your rumpled clothing as you step forward and take a place next to Temtos. Out of the corner of your eye you catch your new friend's fists clench.

Well, this is an unmitigated catastrophe.

"I suppose the profile wasn't lying," your controller sneers. "Midblood resistance, though I'd place you just under olive myself. A shame about your little rescue mission."

I have a bomb on me that's going to go off in forty seconds, you think. I'm willing to negotiate.

"Anything to say for yourself, Lamort?" she continues, fixing her gaze on your partner in crime.

Okay, she can't read your mind. Good. You thought not, since typically only yellow and below are susceptible to that, but it doesn't hurt to be sure.

Temtos stares this Carmia down with a steady glare.

"Idiots one and two, put her in a cell," Carmia orders. Scythe guy and sword dude file forward and grab Temtos by the biceps, roughly towing her out of the room. It looks a little silly since the blueblood's clearly heavier and stronger than her escorts, but they're the ones holding the weapons, so you're not laughing. "Varaxt, inform command that we have Vantas."

And there goes your last ally, ushered down the corridor.

Once the three are gone, the psychic steps forward and takes a moment to appraise you. You tense as she reaches up and pinches your chin, turning your head from side to side, prodding the bruising jaw and inspecting the graze on your cheek from a sentry shot you didn't register earlier. Her fingers are pressing with just a little too much force. Not enough to break skin or bone, but you're pretty sure it'll leave marks.

"I'm sure there's an absolutely fascinating story here," she purrs, stepping back.

She falls silent, shooting you a meaningful look, and you realize your tongue and jaw are at your command again. Is she expecting you to entertain her maniacal power fantasies with a story? What does she want, your dramatized autobiography? Or only how you broke out?

Tough luck, bulgewipe.

"Fuck off-" you start snarling, but she raises a hand and you bite your tongue. Hard. You can taste the sharp metallic tinge of blood in your mouth, but even the muscle control to grimace evades you. The only thing you manage to do is swallow.

The next thing you know, the barrel of your pistol has turned to point at your chest. You didn't even notice your own hand moving. Your breath hitches in your throat.

"Oh dear!" she cackles, daintily raising the back of her right palm to her mouth. What the fuck even is this lady? "That was incredibly rude."

She smiles, a terrifying malicious glint looming in her cobalt eyes. "Luckily for you, I am a magnanimous master. So."

Your wrist rotates, and the gun returns to its forward position. You almost breathe a sigh of relief, but then your arm snaps degrees to the side.

You only realize it's pointing straight at Sollux when your head and eyes move to focus on your target. It's the first proper look you've had of him, and fuck: he's of a sickly pallor, unconscious and manacled to the bed he's lying on, psionic energy pumping from a hemispherical helmet into the quietly sputtering machine.

She can't do this, right? They want you alive, she wouldn't-

"I understand these are your friends, no? Why don't I let you choose?" she simpers.

Your arm moves to the right and down, followed by your gander bulbs again after a disconcerting delay. Now you're looking down the barrel at Dave's prone body.

"Ma'am," the shotgun-holding troll behind mumbles. "I don't think-"

"Oh, shut it, Gammen," she snorts, fixing a piercing glare on her subordinate. They shrink into their corner.

The psychopath turns her attention back on you. "Ah, a classic," she declares. "What do you say?"

Holy shit. What the actual grubfucking hell is wrong with this person? Classic what? Sinistreamer game show feature?

You feel muscles in your arm release. You test your limb and find that you're only able to swing it between two positions, from Dave to Sollux and back again. If you weren't overwhelmed by the simultaneous horror and twisted hilarity of this situation you'd be impressed with the psychic skill needed to do this, the sheer number of muscle impulses she has to be coupling to confine motion to an arbitrary axis like that.

Since you don't have the luxury of contemplating applied psychophysiology, all that's going through your mind is the psychotic bitch is getting off on this. She wants you to kill one of them?

"Well?" she cackles again. Who cackles in real life?

You take a deep breath.

Well, you're not going to question your luck. You almost want to laugh at the irony: the real dramatic kind, not Dave's absurdist humor. Just like that, you've won.

You point the gun at Dave's gently rising torso and squeeze. No hesitation this time. The trigger starts to depress, and-

Your finger freezes.

"Oh," the crazy psychic huffs. She sounds almost disappointed. "Ahahahaha! Haha! Ha. You didn't really think I'd make you kill one, did you? We need you all alive, idiot."


"I guess you weren't with the human boy after all. Well! Command will be pleased with my discovery," she reasons, tapping her chin.

Okay. It's not over yet. You have some psychic resistance. She's strong, but she's distracted, and most importantly she's not expecting this. All you need is to move your finger half an inch more. One twitch. You can do this. You need to. People are depending on you to pull this off. It's your ticket out of this extended daymare of a hiking trip-turned-prison stint. All you have to do is concentrate.

Funnel every drop of willpower you have into one single burst of mental effort.





Your finger jerks.

The explosive gunshot rings through the enclosed space. The other three trolls flinch at the sound, their gazes snapping to your quivering hand in disbelief. Fresh wet red sluices over the darker shade of Dave's shirt, gushing out of his chest in fitful spurts. He heaves a rattling breath, chokes on the inhale, drowning in his own fluids.

"What did you do?" the ceruleanblood screams, fists in her hair. The other two have lifted their weapons, disbelieving eyes flitting between the flatlining human and you.

With a dying gurgle, the Knight of Time breathes his last.

It's the blood that goes first, its crimson draining back into the chest wound in impossible reverse, leaving behind an inky void of absolute black, a hole in reality shaped like dribbling fluid. Then the body goes, consumed by a flood of nothingness, its silhouette opening to a blank abyss.

You can't grin with your facial muscles locked up, but in your mind you're whooping in vengeful glee.

A supernova of color erupts under Dave's skin, and he rises.