It was a peaceful night on Alternia. The third autumn was one of the quietest seasons. Large, predatory animals were fat and sluggish in anticipation of hibernation. Nights were long and the climate is mild. Trees show brilliant colors and drop their foliage. But Karkat wasn’t enjoying the pleasant weather. He was stumbling home with a gash over the eye. He desperately wiped the hot blood off his brow, only for his sleeve to come away soaked. Fuck. He had to get home before someone saw what a horrific mistake of nature he was. Jesus, the safest time of the year is when he decided to become culling drone fodder? His moirail was going to fucking freak.
He hauled ass back to his hive, his basket hitting the back of his knees with every stride forward. His sun cloak billowing behind him. Karkat pulled up the hood so no one would see his candy red face. Lights glittered dimly on the dew that clung to the lawn rings. Light pouring out of every window. Too many windows. Too many places for someone to spot him from. Karkat’s heart raced at the thought of someone seeing his hideous blood. All he could hope for was that he moved quickly enough. His bellowsacs burned as he sprinted through the Alternian suburbs.
Finally, he saw the glowing windows of his own hive. Glinting faygo bottles were scattered across his lawn ring. Karkat screamed and screamed at his moirail to clean up his garbage, but the clown was hopeless. Absolute cull bait. But Karkat was relieved that he was home, he needed a fucking jam session. His sneakers landed on the concrete steps outside his door and he didn’t even bother wiping his feet on the mat before yanking his door open and flinging himself inside. As Karkat leaned up against the firmly closed door catching his breath he was secretly glad that Gamzee never locked the door.
“Best friend?” A guttural voice called from the kitchen. Karkat melted in relief.
“Gamzee.” He croaked. The clown came rushing at the call, violet eyes wide and wild at the sight of blood on his moirail’s face. In an instant clawed hands were pulling him into the ablution block by his blood-soaked sleeves. Karkat allowed himself to be seated on the load gaper while Gamzee rummaged his cabinets for bandages.
Karkat winced as gauze wiped away his blood. “What happened?” Gamzee growled, and Karkat could hear whines of alarm threatening to surface below the gritty growls.
“It was just an accident. I was picking fruit when I ran into a stingbug’s nest. I fell ass-backwards and hit my head on the way down. No one saw me.” Karkat forced through grit teeth. Gamzee shook his head at his moirail’s sorry state.
“My poor diamond.” Gamzee said absently, rubbing his fingers together. They glistened with blood. “Candy, candy red…”
Karkat’s gander bulbs narrowed. “What the fuck did you say?”
Gamzee didn’t acknowledge what he said. Karkat was unsure of whether Gamzee ignored the shit Karkat said to him sometimes or if he genuinely didn’t hear him. Gamzee trailed his thumb over Karkat’s cheekblades. Candy blood was smeared over his skin. “Miracles.” The troll whispered reverently. Karkat felt his cheeks flush red at that, evoking a widespread grin from Gamzee.
Karkat gasped when Gamzee’s tongue was the next thing to swipe over his face. Cleaning the wound. Soft kisses were pressed to the corners of his eyes while he cleaned his face of blood. “I love your miracle color, brother.” A soft voice said. “Most beautiful color I ever laid my lookstubs upon.” Karkat suppressed a weak whimper when Gamzee licked the blood off his cheek. He paid special attention to the wound, careful not to irritate the delicate scabbing. Gentle as a baby baabeast when he was near his eyes.
Slowly Gamzee began to make his way down Karkat’s cheeks and jaw, licking away the blood under his jaw, gently tilting his head up as he did so. Karkat couldn’t suppress his desperate noises now. Showing the neck was such an obvious sign of submission. Of trust. And who better to trust than his dear moirail? When he started sucking the soft skin there Karkat honest to gog mewled. Gamzee paused, giving Karkat anxiety. He couldn’t see his face. Fuck. How fucking embarrassing could he be?
But Gamzee’s eyes were shining with devotion, grinning like the meowbeast who got the milk. “My palest diamond.” He sighed, diving right back in to finish the job, hauling Karkat up by his legs. Karkat’s arms immediately came up to wrap around the highblood’s broad shoulders, as did his feet, hooking around each other so that he ensnared the clown in his grip. Gamzee tightened his grip around Karkat’s knees and began carrying him out of the bathroom. The ease of his highblood strength made Karkat dizzy. Or maybe that was the blood loss.
Gamzee gently laid Karkat back on the pile. Karkat squirmed back to get comfortable among the nest of blankets and stuffed toys while Gamzee crawled over him, quickly settling back in to lick at his neck and collarbone. Purrs rattled the more solid objects nestled in the pile; clown horns honked and clicked against various trinkets with the force of Karkat’s pleasure. Karkat pressed pale kisses into his diamond’s snarl of wild hair. Gamzee finally tore himself away from his moirail, sucking his fingers for blood in a surprisingly attractive display of hedonism.
“What does it taste like?” Karkat said breathlessly.
Gamzee looked up with a sleepy smile and affectionate eyes and said “like fucking miracles.” He reached his claws into his pajama pants and pulled bandages out of his loose pockets. Karkat closed his eyes and let Gamzee put bandages over his small wound.
“Can’t let my most precious diamond get an infection, now can I?” Karkat found himself shaking his head no in agreement. Gamzee laughed and indulged the needy hands tugging at his shirt collar, laying down beside Karkat and wrapping him up in his arms.
The sun rose on a peaceful pair of sleeping moirails. Curled safely in each other’s arms.
The next time Gamzee got the chance to get his appreciation on for his brother’s wicked miraculous color was in the second winter. The weather was brutal on Alternia. Food is scarce and trolls survive mostly on canned food and preserves. Everyone who has some sense stays inside during these unkind perigees. That was precisely what Gamzee and Karkat were doing. As they were trolls without lusus’ to look after them they usually spend the winters together. Gamzee stirred stew on the crisprange. He was attempting to get some of these canned vegetables to taste good. He lifted the wooden spoon to his lips for a taste and frowned. Kind of bland. Gamzee made use of the churned dairy product for some much-needed fat and threw in a blend of spices. Some rosemary and pepper and garlic powder. If he had any decent meat, he’d throw that in. But currently he was relying on the canned and dried ingredients he had. Some cluckbeast-flavored stock maker and canned potatoes and carrots. A couple onions he had left over for flavor. He would have to go hunting next season.
When Gamzee finally got the stew to a satisfying consistency he went and roused his sleeping moirail. Karkat stirred with a glare. “Gamzee,” he growled, “why the ever-loving fuck did you wait so long to wake me up? Half the night is gone already.”
“Aw, don’t even stress brother.” He replied, setting a bowl in Karkat’s hands. “You know the nights last motherfuckin’ forever this season. The nights barely got started. Munch on that while I get some snack mineral.”
“Spare the effort. You always season this shit to perfection anyway. I swear to gog you’ve rotted your pan away eating that soporific bullshit and the only thing you’ve got rattling around in your thinkpan is cooking skills.”
“Sure thing, best friend. A moirail has to provide for his palest diamond.”
“And its my job as your moirail to keep your whimsical clown head out of your waste chute.” Karkat returned.
Gamzee laughed at that, an awful honking abomination that barely qualifies as a laugh but is annoyingly endearing anyway. Karkat feels a rush on pale affection squeeze his pump biscuit. His ears flutter involuntarily as his face flushes red. Gamzee’s amethyst eyes shine. You are sickeningly pitiful for this clown bastard.
Karkat shoved the soup in his protein chute. It’s fucking heavenly as per fucking usual. Gamzee has a suspicious talent for cooking. Especially for a troll who barely had food growing up. His stupid Juggalo ass probably spent his grubhood eating crabs he could catch on the beach. Karkat’s mutant blood burned whenever he thought of that shitty lusus. Frankly Karkat was glad when the old goat died. Why anyone would need a murderous shrill barn beast as a custodian to begin with was beyond him.
Suddenly Gamzee was getting back into bed beside him, shoveling spoonfuls of soup into his protein chute as fast as he could. “You’re going to fucking choke to death if you eat that fast. Slow down, were you raised in a barn?”
His moirail just grinned, little pieces of corn were stuck in his fangs. Karkat cringed at the sight. “Cull bait.” He muttered, swiping his claws through Gamzee’s teeth to loosen the pulverized food.
More stupid clown smiles were directed at Karkat. “Thanks for taking care of me, brother. It’s always mighty appreciated.”
“I will snap your bone bulge off if you ever thank your moirail for doing their job ever again.” Karkat scolded. Gamzee ignored the empty hostility as he always did and settled his head on Karkat’s lap. Karkat simply set his bowl of soup on top of Gamzee’s head and continued eating. He’d learned long ago to ignore and indulge his moirail’s affectionate gestures in equal measure. Ignoring too much would hurt the clown’s feelings. Indulging too much led to more clingy behavior. It was one of the many trials they overcame to fit themselves into each other’s lives. They were better for it. More considerate. Tougher emotionally. Patient and pitiful. Karkat ran his hands through tangled curls while he ate his soup. He’s going to have to brush Gamzee’s hair when he’s done eating.
After finishing the bowl, Karkat rinsed their dishes and set them in the sink to be washed later. Soon they were sitting back in bed, Karkat ran a brush through Gamzee’s long hair. “I should cut your hair again soon.” He said to himself. Gamzee purred at the light scratching at his scalp.
“Brother?” He said suddenly.
“Yeah?” Karkat asked, only half paying attention.
“You know how a couple seasons ago I all up and helped you clean your wounds?”
Karkat snorted. “Yeah, you mean how you drank my blood like a starving rainbow drinker? I remember.”
“Aw, brother. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable or nothing like that.” Gamzee muttered. Karkat could hear that he was disheartened. He set aside his brush and sighed.
“No, Gam. Fuck, I don’t care. It was cool.” He assured, scratching lightly where Gamzee’s spiraling horns met his head. “What’s up with that? You usually don’t care when I make asshole remarks.”
Gamzee leaned into the conciliatory touch, worrying his lip between his fangs in thought. “No such worries, best friend. I have no cares when you say what’s all up on your pan. It’s just I’m a bit nervous to be talking about this.”
Karkat took notice of that. “Is this something we should talk about on the pile?”
After a moment of thought, Gamzee nodded. Karkat wasn’t strong enough to carry Gamzee to the pile like he always did. So, he took the juggalo’s hand, leading him silently to their pile. Karkat let Gamzee get settled while he turned the lights down low. Feeling jams always have to have the right atmosphere. He sat down beside his moirail, sitting with his legs crossed and his back up straight. He looked at Gamzee expectantly. It was his turn to speak now.
The clown sighed heavily. “I’m afraid you’ll get mad at me, diamond.”
“You know there’s no judgements in the pile. You can speak your mind here. You’re obligated to. It’s my duty to hear you out.” Karkat said patiently. He always shed his shit when it came time for his moirail to speak his piece. Feeling jams were no place for performative rage. Gamzee glanced over, violet eyes searching for something. When he didn’t find it he continued.
“Well, bro. It’s just your wicked beautiful color.” Gamzee said.
Karkat’s eyes narrowed at that. “My blood?”
“Yeah, it’s a motherfuckin’ miracle, my precious diamond. I love its rich candy red, I love how hot it is, like it’s got all your fiery passion all up and trapped in it. I love that it’s unique to you. Your color. It’s the very essence of my moirail. So precious to me. So treasured in my pump biscuit.” Karkat swallowed. Most of Gamzee’s words were vapid bullshit, but when he did get to talking, he could say the most romantic shit that ever hit his auditory clots.
“Okay? So why are you stressing over this shit?” Karkat pushed.
Gamzee sighed longingly. “Well, I never get to enjoy it. It’s trapped in your veins brother. There’s things I want to do with it, wanna drink it, paint with it…”
“Paint with it?” Karkat cut in. “Is this more clown murder bullshit? I’m I going to have to worry about your honking ass coming into our block and killing me so you can paint with my blood? Maybe cut off my head?”
Gamzee’s eyes shot open, wide and scandalized. “No!” He exclaimed. “I’d never hurt my best friend like that! Karkat I’d rather spill my own before I—”
“I know, dumbass. I know that.” Karkat interrupted again. “It just came without warning last time. I need to be ready if you start losing your pan again. I never wanna see you so crazy ever again. It was scary. Thought I had lost you, Gamz.”
Gamzee’s eyes were warm and loving. “No, brother. Pan’s all here, don’t worry about that.”
Karkat sighed. Gathering himself. “Okay. So, you’re not gonna lose your shit again. Great. Fantastic fucking news. So back to the blood issue, what the fuck are we going to do about that? How exactly are we gonna help you with this shit?”
“I don’t know. I’ve tried suppressing it, but it just won’t go away. I want to express myself in some way. Wanna give my highest respects to your miraculous motherfuckin’ colors. But I can’t up and be cutting you up.”
Gamzee looked up at Karkat like he was shithive maggots. “Why not? I can’t be hurting my moirail like that.”
Karkat shrugged, nervously fidgeting with his fraying pantlegs. “You won’t be hurting me that bad. Just like, a little cut on my wrist or hand or something. It’ll heal in a weak, tops.”
“You’re afraid of sharp objects.” Gamzee reminded gently.
“Yeah, I guess. But that’s a wiggler’s fear. You can just distract me. I gotta get over that shit someday anyway.” He said. “If you can’t suppress this shit then I’ve got to help you.”
Suddenly Karkat found himself trapped in Gamzee’s arms. Tightening around him in a pale hug that made his entire body tingle. Karkat grabbed onto his moirail’s shoulders and shuddered. Gamzee was purring with an intensity that sent shivers up Karkat’s spine. Claws were in his hair, Gamzee was kissing every part of him he could reach in blind pale affection. He whined into the clown’s hair.
“Brother, I’ll be the gentlest motherfucker on Alternia.” He promised. “You’re so brave for me. Such a loyal diamond for me. So motherfuckin pale for you, diamond of mine.”
Karkat nuzzled into Gamzee’s wild hair, trying to hide his fears away in the curls. He had to be brave now. Keep his promises to be a proper moirail. Protect his clown. He was the sole defender of his moirail’s bloodpusher. He wouldn’t fail this duty like he did as a leader.
In the next fifteen minutes Karkat laid back on the pile while Gamzee shambled around their hive, gathering different materials for their “miracle time.” He swallowed nervously thinking of the knife that entailed. But he forced himself to relax anyway. Gamzee would never actually hurt him. Even if he went shithive maggots again Karkat knew he would never lay hands on his most precious diamond. His pan may be rotted but his pump biscuit belonged to his moirail. Still, his own blood pusher pounded the whole time Gamzee was away.
When he came back Karkat couldn’t see the knife. He knew logically that Gamzee must have hidden it somewhere on his person. That relieved him and made him more nervous in equal measure. The only things Gamzee was holding was a jar, some bandages, and a bottle of water. Karkat looked up expectantly.
Some horn hidden in the pile honked under Gamzee’s knees as he leaned into the pile. Karkat allowed his body to be arranged in whatever way the clown saw fit. He couldn’t suppress the fearful whine that rose in his throat when Gamzee started rolling up one of his sleeves. Immediately Gamzee was there, silencing him with pale, affectionate kisses. “Worry none, brother. I’m just motherfuckin’ getting you ready. No sharp shit comin’ yet.” That only let Karkat relax a little bit, settling back into the soft comfort of the pile.
As soon as Gamzee seemed satisfied with Karkat’s arrangement he was bombarding the smaller with enough pale affections to make his head spin. Whatever embarrassing noises a troll could even think to conjure up fell freely out of Karkat’s protein chute while Gamzee slid his hands up Karkat’s shirt. His clawed hands ghosted over his hypersensitive skin, making Karkat tingle all over. They ran over his stomach and ribs and settled on his grub scars. Gentle fingers pressed into the soft spots while Gamzee settled the rest of his huge highblood body over Karkat. Encasing him in the safe embrace of his moirail while he shooshed right in his auditory clots. Warm pale breath caressed the shell of cartilage, Karkat flushed from the roots of his hair to the bottom of his ribs.
He writhed under Gamzee, clutching desperately at the back of his shirt while Gamzee brought his hands up to rub at the base of his nubby horns. Karkat could hear the fabric of Gamzee’s shirt tear as Karkat’s claws dug into it for respite. But Gamzee paid no mind to the destruction of his clothes. Carefully scratching and massaging the sensitive skin where his scalp stretched over the base of his horns. A hand brushed a stray lock behind Karkat’s auditory clot, grazing the soft skin there along the way.
Karkat gasped aloud when Gamzee sucked the underside of his jaw, pressing kisses into the nooks and crannies of his neck. A purple tongue poked out to lick along his collarbone and Karkat’s knees came up around Gamzee’s ribs. Gamzee felt a growl rise in his chest, possessive and pleased. The responsive pleasure of his moirail made him burn with pity. It squeezed his vascular system like a fist. So motherfuckin’ pitiful. He pressed pale kisses on his moirail’s wrists.
He was so wrapped up in his clown moirail’s delicious affections that Karkat didn’t even notice the fang pierce his wrist. Gamzee ran his tongue over the new wound, tasting the strong metallic headiness. Karkat finally noticed the sharp pain when he pulled away, revealing to his moirail the puncture mark, bleeding fresh with candy red. “See, best friend? All motherfuckin’ done with that unpleasantness. Now you’re all ready to give me your miracles.”
Ruby red eyes widened in surprise, looking up at his diamond. There was no knife, no cutting. He just bit him. Karkat didn’t even notice, didn’t fear the slice. And it never came. Gratitude filled his blood pusher and Karkat visibly melted in relief. Gamzee shooshed him again and kissed his forehead. Karkat felt a finger pass over his wound. Slowly, the frond traced its way over Karkat’s arm, doing lazy swirls in its wake. He felt the frond lift and land several times, starting new lines and slowly stuttering off. The pattern seemed random to Karkat, but his body was tingling. So relaxed in his moirail’s arms that he didn’t even have the energy to turn his head and look. So Gamzee had free range of the endless perfect skin on Karkat’s body.
Several times Gamzee paused to lick the blood that dripped down Karkat’s wrist and ran down his forearms. Lapping up the candy red syrup like the sweetest honey. His tongue peaked between his lips, licking whatever blood was left on them off. Savoring the taste. “So warm.” Gamzee purred, fingers painting more passionately.
Suddenly Gamzee started pulling at Karkat’s shirt insistently, Karkat arched his back and rolled his spine until his moirail was able to pull it off over his head. Karkat found himself shivering in the chilly air while Gamzee swirled his fingers over the broad expanse of Karkat’s chest. The painting he was making seemed to be vast. Stretching from where his wrist bled across his arms, dipping briefly into his underarms before sprawling across his chest. Gamzee was pushing the scrawling down to his waistband, warm purring signified how pleased the clown was. At least this endeavor gave them something to do.
Gamzee’s fingers lifted from his pants line and traveled up to his collarbone, spreading little dots and flowery motions across the skin of his neck. Karkat shuddered at the feeling of his own warm blood contrasting with the dried blood nearest to his right wrist. But Gamzee was still painting and Karkat kind of wanted to see where this was going.
When Gamzee was done his painting stretched from arm to arm, under his jaw just before his face, and stopping where his belt held his pants up. A wide grin broke out on the clown’s painted face. “Brother, you gotta see your beautiful self.”
“Mmhm.” Karkat hummed in affirmation. He held out his wounded wrist to his moirail, looking expectantly. Gamzee immediately retrieved the bandages he brought. Karkat whined when Gamzee dragged his tongue over the cut one last time. The clown smiled sheepishly.
“Sorry, best friend. You taste too motherfuckin’ good to resist.” Gamzee apologized as he wrapped the wrist with gauze. Karkat nodded and gratefully took the water bottle when Gamzee offered it.
“You didn’t lose that much blood, but you’ll probably still feel a little dizzy. I’m gonna help you stand up, okay motherfucker?” Karkat affirmed the offer with another tired hum. Gamzee pulled his diamond up to his feet, gripping his unwounded arm firmly, though he was very careful to not smear his painting. Together they shuffled to the full-length mirror that occupied the corner of their bedroom wall. Karkat gasped when he saw himself.
Widespread psychedelic swirls spread the length of his bare body; lines seemed to blur together, only showing glimpses of gray in between. His entire body glowed red, diamonds were interspersed in the gaps of the flowery imagery that wove around grub scars and warped around his jutting bones. Hidden diamonds everywhere. Countless diamonds. This wasn’t just a painting. It was a love letter. A declaration of eternal pale affection. Gamzee’s devotion shone brighter than his mutant hue.
Arms wrapped around his chest, Gamzee’s head rested on top of his shoulder. “You look so motherfuckin’ gorgeous, my palest.”
Translucent red tears stung at Karkat’s eyes. “Yeah.” He croaked. “It is.”
A hand papped his face, clear of blood. Karkat returned the gesture, papping the forearm that rested around him. They stood there for a while in silence. Mutually enjoying the fruits of Gamzee’s labor. Karkat was openly admiring himself for the first time in his living memory. Feeling no shame over his unusual color. If it was good enough for his moirail, what was to be ashamed of? He trusted his moirail, pitied him eternally. His moirail loved his color. That was all that mattered. End of fucking story.
“I should clean this off of you.” Gamzee sighed, sounding openly disappointed. Karkat couldn’t help but agree.
“Do you want to bathe together?” He asked hopefully. Gamzee grinned, all fangs and goofy endearment.
“That’s the best motherfuckin’ idea I ever heard.” The clown agreed.
Karkat sat on the lid of the load gaper while Gamzee drew a bath, occasionally sticking his hand under the water to check the temperature. Despite their differences in body temperature Gamzee had become accustomed to judging the temperature that would be best for his moirail. Always drawing the water much warmer than Gamzee would usually choose to make it. Karkat, being warm blooded, was much more easily affected by the cooler water. After it was satisfactory to Gamzee’s judgement they both climbed in. Karkat laid his arm over the side of the ablution trap, careful not to dampen the fresh bandage. Gamzee grabbed the soap and began to lather up his hands. Already the sticky dried blood was beginning to loosen in the warm water.
A lullaby lusus’ sang to wigglers reached Karkat’s auditory clots when Gamzee began washing him of blood. The water was tinged pink as Karkat’s skin was freed of the uncomfortable crust that had formed. Purring disturbed the calm surface of the ablution water, sending ripples across the flexible liquid surface. Bubbles bobbed over the waves caused by Karkat’s satisfaction. Gamzee’s song was interrupted by a return of such purring. He massaged suds into Karkat’s hair, occasionally stopping to give his horns some positive attention.
The clown reached over and grabbed a cup kept in the bath for moirail bath time. Neither troll liked to break the peace of pale ablutions to submerge their head in the water, so they kept a cup for the purpose of rinsing off their hair. Gamzee used his hand to shield his diamond’s eyes and poured warm water over his head. Bubbles melted off the inky black locks as they were flattened to his scalp. Karkat sighed at the feeling.
The water was noticeably pink from the blood, but both trolls ignored it as Karkat turned to return the favor. Soaping up his hands and getting to work on the clown sitting across from him. He went over the highblood’s shoulders, working his hands into his muscles and making sure he was free of knots in the back and shoulders. Finally, when he was relaxed to Karkat’s satisfaction he went to work on his hair. He was very careful not to exacerbate any knots in the highblood’s perpetually messy hair. There wasn’t much to do, since wasn’t a walking gorefest like Karkat was when this bath began. So Karkat just ran over his hair used a tool to scrape the blood out from underneath Gamzee’s claws.
Finally, they were both clean of the night’s festivities. Gamzee pulled the stopper out on the cooling water and let it drain. Together they made it back to their pile, Karkat plucked a blanket out of the pile and tossed it over his legs. Gamzee spread it out evenly over his moirail before Karkat invited him into the pile with open arms.
They nuzzled into each other’s company, and Karkat pondered the loss of his lusus. It wasn’t something he’d thought about in a while. But the lullaby that Gamzee sang to him in the ablution trap was the very same song his lusus would sing to him when he had daymares. Gamzee was there for him when his lusus died. He helped him get rid of the body, he helped him cope with the anxiety that always came with the loss of a custodian, and he fit so well into Karkat’s life that he’d been able to forget about the loss of his guardian. Gamzee was nothing like crabdad. He was easygoing and goofy and irresponsible, and he didn’t battle with Karkat every fucking day. If his lusus was a square, Gamzee was a triangle. But he somehow eased his loss. Somehow fit the lusus shaped hole left in Karkat’s life. A triangle fucking wedged into the shitty board of Karkat’s life. Karkat wouldn’t have it any other way.
Gamzee derailed his train of thought with a pap to the cheek. “Thank you, thank you so motherfuckin’ much.” Gamzee said earnestly. Karkat’s heart swelled with pity and he threw his arms over the clown before he could see what a sappy shit he was. But he knew anyway. Gamzee chuckled and returned the hug.
Soon they were cuddling in and going to sleep while the howling blizzard of a second winter raged outside. The rattling windows of the hive served as white noise for them to sleep to. All was well in the desolate Alternian suburb.