It’s time to practice dreaming alone.
So much of it is knowing where you are in relation to everything and everyone else, the abstract and the real.
There’s a faint signal in your periphery that you think must be Prospit, and another one, further... There are points where things go soft, where you can let the scenes recede into some expanse of mundanity, and you slack your awareness a little, carefully, to find where they would take you: once you wander through a hivestem like your own but it's a gaping ruin and you're hiding in wall-shadows from the sunlight.
Another time you get caught for what must be hours, sleeping and waking and getting tugged down into sleep again, in some series of vignettes directed by the dooms of several anonymous trolls, suddenly brought from audio into full color: not an extraordinary dream, just a tastelessly nasty one and too real for comfort.
You resolve to be more careful with your control.
Still, every so often you glimpse or feel where he must be, in relation to you, closer or further, always just out of sight.
Things take different form, depending on the concepts that encapsulate them: a silhouette standing in the distance of a metropolitan street; a blinking light pattern in the periphery of your vision in the blackness that is and isn't space, red and blue, flickering, wavelike - and you force away the association of those colors with something, galaxy-lengths away in the dark; turn away and keep a steady heading in the opposite direction, using the ever-fainter pulses of something (light and intelligence and distant fear and rolling fuzzes of pain) directly behind you to hold your course through this cold and starless place.
You fly for what seems like hours before, incalculably far in front of you, a light, too cold to be Prospit, too small for a star - red - blue - numbers spoken in a far-off voice, the taste of electricity -
- and you freeze in place, because going forward will draw you closer and you can't afford that. But it's hard to stay frozen, too, in this aimless expanse; everything in proximity has a gravity to it...
impossible speed and deep resonant shuddering and you can feel the edges of what you're being drawn into, like leaning against the lip of the recuperacoon just before sleep - surface stresses and adrenaline drip and subtly off-course - and your vision is a bicolored blur, space is skipping or time is because you know you weren't this close -
but you've learned a few things, like forcing the imagery to throw a dream off course:
You're standing outside your hivestem, and there's something wrong. You can hear, very faintly, alarms from your mainframe - distress buzzing, bees trembling up against the window at a high pitch of frenetic complaint - but they don't leave through the vents and come find you, they're in there and you're out here for some reason, even though they clamor for repair...
...somehow you can hear them, see their complex dances even from outside: they are singing numbers beyond expected complexity, the system is overclocked, its capacities strained past maximum and you have an image, unasked-for, sudden and stark, of a bee pushing through an aperture too narrow for it, its abdomen gashed by the wall, except
the wall is space and the aperture is un-space and something is wrong and
this is not something you can engineer.
This should not upset you as much as it does.
Your bees are yours to see to, but not nearly so important and not - not nearly so yours; bees die all the time, you wouldn't, couldn't feel the need to protect them like this - (and where did that thought come from) you can tend a beehive but you can't wrap around it, can't hold and soothe bees, cannot -
That tells you where you are and where you are not, shakes loose the overhearing before it can resolve into a full connection, but it leaves you with a hollow ache in your bloodpusher. (When did I start feeling - how could I be -)
And maybe it is the best metaphor after all, because even if you could ease this somehow, you swore you'd try to keep your distance.
You repeat your promise to yourself. You will not walk through the door to your hive and face what you've locked on the other side. But it itches at you, still, tugs you toward the door even as the bees regroup and begin to heal their dancing into a pattern that you recognize, as the alarm-buzz fades.
And instead of drawing closer, you let the scene swirl around you and you fly, far and fast, closing doors and shuttering windows tight in your head, because with the strange simultaneity of dreams you already know: knowing and feeling this is about to hit you like a collision at speed.
Because if this were just your computer drawing itself back from the verge of shaking apart, you'd feel relief, you'd feel pride in this intricate almost-intelligence that you created, but never-
- never such a sense of utter rib-scraping tongue-sticking screaming loss that you were unable to be there while they suffered and struggled.
That it doesn't matter that they pulled through without you - that you've done something inexcusable by forcing them to, that you were woven into them as a need from the very beginning, a hand empty, no matter how much it carries, until it is held -
- none of those things are true of your bees at all, they're only true of the one whose mind and pain and hands lie behind every wall your stretched and bruised mind tries to raise, the only one who could even ask you to tie your thinkpan in ridiculous metaphorical knots like this without getting his face laughed in for his trouble...
...and you're thinking of him now. You're seeing his face wracked with migraine and his eyes closed and somehow, now, you can imagine him without being drawn into him. You're still yourself, flying to somewhere else, and as the hivestem recedes into the distance you don't hear even the faintest echo, not of calculations or of buzzing or of the thrumming of engines. Because you have a name for this, now, the constant listening and the openness and the reaching-in and the wanting to soothe and hold and pity. It's pity you feel for your ancestor -
Identify your variables and you can give them parameters.
Identify the shameful crack in your heart that will not aid you and will not aid him either and you can -
at least keep it at a distance.
When you wake, later, in your recuperacoon, you know your flight drew you all the way to the golden moon. It wasn’t the same kind of aware-dream, though, as you’ve been having, and the knowledge that appeared to you in the clouds was incoherent and strange.
It showed you murky confusing scraps about your own death; it gave you a vision of Aradia-but-not-Aradia, off in the distance, discovering something; and it told you: not yet. This is not for you yet.
Your life is already too full of omen and portent. You’ll be leaving Prospit alone for now.
This is Vriska Serket: Terezi Pyrope introduces you, brings you over to VK's enormous hive so that you can set up radio transmitters for a broadcast system that will attract swarms of hornets to a player's location. Nasty stuff, and one of many reasons why you avoid this particular kind of gaming.
You start rigging things and Serket is the worst kind of fiddly demanding blueblood - half the time you think she's trying to blackflirt with you, badly, and the other half of the time it's just obvious that she doesn't understand the technology. "I don't see why you're making such a big deal out of it, goldie," she says and even though it's not a standard slur for your hemocaste she makes it sound like one. "You just have to set it up right and it'll work just fiiiiiiiine!"
“No. It will not,” you say, mimicking her voice, “work fiiiiiiiine, not the way you’re telling me. It will break. It will run twice the amperage it’s built for, and it will burn the fuck out within days. By all means, waste a lovely piece of technology if that’s what you get off on, but you can find someone else to engineer it, because I’m going home and taking my thinkpan with me.”
You stalk off in the opposite direction. An hour later by the moons, suddenly you’re aware that you’re sitting up in a tree rigging the tech the broken way she wants it.
Something went wrong with your mind, something more than usual.
You look down, and you’re not sure how you made it up this tree - by the rips in your jeans, you must have climbed, but that’s totally unlike you. But you’re sure as hell not staying up here. You levitate yourself out of the tree, leaving the half-setup transmitter behind, and have just touched down on the grass when you hear a voice from behind you.
“Hey! Heeeeeeeey!” Vriska stands there, hands on her hips, slightly taller than you and wearing every unit of her height like it’s a fashion accessory. “Where are you going, hacker boy? You’re supposed to fix it!”
“No.” You’re starting to piece together what just happened and now you’re angry and your bloodpusher’s pumping fast and you don’t want any part of this. “I am not enabling your criminally idiotic design and I don’t want any part of your stupid fucking FLARP game.”
And this sense of pressure is creeping up on you in your head, everything feels weirdly effortful and murky like you’re sick with a fever, but something changed when your temper flared and now you’re keeping her out--
“Oh, is that right? What a shame - it seemed like you’d be so useful alive--”
“Vriska!” And Terezi is on the scene again.
“I wasn’t really going to!” Vriska keeps protesting, even after a disbelieving look from Terezi. “Who’s in charge here anyway?”
“No one!” TZ says merrily. “We’re Team SCOURGE! Team Charge is the other guys!”
You wonder if punning at Vriska would calm her down, if you had to face her angry in the future, or if that’s TZ’s special prerogative. The livewire tension breaks. Vriska punches Terezi in the arm, wham, a little too hard for the friendly grin on her face, and yells, “This isn’t over!” at you, even as she follows Terezi back into her hive, leaving you in the yard, shaking.
This is not your time, you know it’s not, but your body doesn’t know it and before you can decide to stay and chew anyone out you rise up on a gust of air and a surge of adrenaline and a crackle of light and take yourself home instead.
The wind is with you the whole way, and for a while you just lose your worries in the trance of concentration and the light of the moons.
You think you can feel... something, this sense of consciousness-radar the same as in your dreams, and you remember falling into his mind those times from deep exhausted focus and file that away in the back of your thoughts. There’s no danger of it now. The intrusions are gone; have been, since he’s become aware.
The trip makes you winded and you’re still a little freaked, but by the end of it you actually feel kind of good - or at least proud of your capabilities. The entire time, you’ve felt certain this will end in a migraine, but it doesn’t for once and maybe you're reaching a new plateau here, maybe your powers are settling out at a stable level at least for a while. You reach the hill behind your hive and walk from there, your skin cool from the wind, your core hot from the energy running through.
-- gallowsCalibrator [GC] began trolling twinArmageddons [TA] --
GC: 4R3 YOU GO1NG TO HOLD TH1S 4G41NST M3?
GC: H3LLO >:[
GC: 1’M R34LLY SORRY, 1 D1DN’T KNOW SH3 WOULD
GC: T4K3 4 L1K1NG TO YOU
GC: OR WH4T3V3R
GC: 1 3XP3CT3D SH3 WOULD B3H4V3 B3TT3R...
GC: 1F YOU 4R3 TRY1NG TO M4K3 M3 UNH4PPY BY ST4Y1NG S1L3NT
GC: 1T 1S WORKING
TA: don’t get your co2tume iin a twii2t, tz, ii wa2 2tiill gettiing home
TA: am ii mad? hell ye2. iit wa2 fuckiing iirre2pon2iible two iintroduce me two vk wiithout telliing me 2he wa2 liike murderou2 and 2hiit.
TA: wiill ii be angry at you forever? probably not.
TA: wiill ii remember two revii2e my e2tiimatiion of your judgment and ta2te iin friiend2? almo2t certaiinly. of cour2e the latter appliie2 two me two.
TA: iim not goiing two blow up your hu2ktop or refu2e two talk two you agaiin or any 2tupiid juveniile 2tuff liike that.
GC: GOOD, 1 L1K3 YOU
GC: 1 DON’T W4NT VR1SK4 TO K1LL YOU
GC: 1T WOULD B3 UNJUST 4ND 4LSO STUP1D
GC: SOM3T1M3S SH3 H4S GR34T 1D34S
GC: OTH3R T1M3S NOT SO MUCH >:[
TA: ii miight make iit 2o that every viideo you try two watch for a week rediirect2 to riichar a2tley
GC: OH GOOD >:]
GC: 1 L1K3 H1S MUS1C
TA: tz ii hope you know youre iincorriigiible
GC: 1 DO! 4ND YOU K33P 1NCORR1G1NG M3 >:]
TA: plea2e ju2t 2top.
You don’t want to meet Vriska Serket again.
But there are more interesting things than this hoofbeastshit drama to think about. Like a big meal and then ‘cupe. That these things are currently in the interesting category would make any number of your friends snark at you and possibly call you an impostor of yourself, but they are. You’re still working through the massive armload of quality groceries Aradia sent home with you, and this morning...
This morning it will have been three days.
When you finally go to find him, when you close your eyes and slip exhausted into sudden sleep, he’s not there; not right away. There’s a cocoon of static that you can’t breach at first, thoughts you don’t know quite how to parse, but you recognize where he is in the not-quite-real vectors of this place, and push toward him determinedly.
All through the last three days you felt sucked in every time your thoughts drew too close to his; you've spent hours using every ounce of will and trick of subterfuge you had to stay away. So when it takes almost the same mental exertion to push through the outer barriers of his consciousness as it did before to pull away - when reaching for contact is like swimming through sopor - you aren't prepared, but you force it. If you're up against his shielding and this is a test of breaching it, then you'll thread your way through this eerie, starry, vaguely buzzing space all day if you have to.
Reaching him is like solving an excruciatingly detailed three-dimensional puzzle that is simultaneously inside your head and outside your body and just the kind of challenge that you could be very good at.
(Later, you will realize you had all the warnings you should have needed. But the thrill of the task catches you up and, as thoroughly defensive as you’ve been against his gravity, you’re not on guard against your own poor judgment--)
You're navigating a dense, nebulaic starfield, lush with color and thick with mist and... weirdly interconnected, a thicket of translucent filaments that bridge each smear of light to the next and you have no sense from all your study of what part of space he's showing you, just that it must be space because you're in his consciousness and this has to be what he's seeing.
If seeing is the right word. Cerise and cyan and crackling on the surface with racing rings of light and the filaments drift and curl around you, too threadlike for flares, as your thinkpan sparks disoriented with intrusive scraps of geometries and structures, calculations and commands. Muffled thunder and a diffuse rolling peal of brightness vague and smeared out over the distance and - in stark medusaic silhouette these are not stars. You're -
- you’re being pulled under, again, and you know it moments before it happens but after it’s too late to stop it.
- in a groundless floating copse of burnt-out denuded trees, you're - hot and pulsing and slow-circulating liquid and - disoriented and temporarily blinded a filament brushes against you -
- sticky like a wire coated in mind honey and it convulses through you, a crazed electric-cold pinpoint pain, clicks your jaw shut and seizes up your legs and -
There are pieces of your thinkpan cut off, blank, just unreachable, your life between four and eight sweeps
(but I’m only - )
is a dull gray buzz, you can't - you can't spell words in your head, your whole - left arm floats there like it isn't yours -
- but the warning comes too late and the edges of your blank spaces sear and a shunt drips cold neurotrophin and it's hours
(some tiny part of you still knows itself, trapped here like someone stuck under a bench in a transit station after sunup, waiting tired and scared and bored for the day to pass and let you out)
as you feel every detail of each tiny molecular tear and stitch, each centuries-old dying cell body dissolving in on itself, the bloom of each new nucleus and the testing snap across the rebuilt synapses -
you fold out from a dwindled point into dimensionality again, there is (it feels bruised) language and facility and room to extend your thoughts, to breathe into being - you -
- you - there are two of you -
(there are two of you more than usual)
overlap and translucent and resolving into -
"Wake up," you're saying to yourself, "Wake up, you thoughtless, reckless excuse for a - oh, there you are."