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Straw Soldiers

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From the June 15, 2013 Seattle Times:




> Sweeps in the past, but not many...


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The first thought that graces your thinkpan when you open your eyes is, Fuck it’s early. (The next several thoughts involve something along the lines of: Wow, no shit troll Sherlock. Your unmatched observational prowess is a fucking wonder to behold.)

You half-consider closing your eyes and falling back into the comforting embrace of sopor slime-induced dreamless slumber because fuck anybody who has the gall to spout bullshit idioms like “the early chirpbeast catches the slimy dirt tunneler.” Seriously, trolls who roll out of the slime all bright-eyed and eager to face another glorious night of doing whatever the everloving fuck it is that they think is so wonderful about being themselves piss you off to no end. That’s not surprising, though. You’ve never met another troll who failed to piss you off in some way, shape, or form at some point during your acquaintanceship.

Your eyes are already closed and you’re hovering in the colorless void between awake and asleep when somebody is knocking on the door of your hive and goddamn it is so loud you half-jump out of your recuperacoon. Well. Now that you are hanging ass-end up out of your recuperacoon like a complete tool, you suppose you might as well get up and find out what this nookstain wants.
You take your sweet time wiping off the slime and pulling on some clothes. You figure that since this inconsiderate douche thinks whatever he has to say is so important it merits waking you up with the moons, it’s also probably important enough that he will wait while you make yourself presentable. Not that you’re self-conscious about your appearance because what self-respecting troll gives a fuck about that? Your only aim is to arrange yourself into something that is not vomit-inducing.

The douchebag at your door continues to pound away as you leave your respite block and it is getting louder. You can’t help wondering, is this pathetic excuse for sentient life wearing brass knuckles? Chain mail gauntlets? Is he pounding with a fucking sledgehammer?

It occurs to you to wonder where your lusus has gone. You rarely have visitors this early (strike that; you rarely have visitors, period), but the few times it has happened Crabdad has always been the one to deal with the nookwhiffer who got it in his thinkpan to come calling at such an ungodly hour. He must be out hunting or some other equally stupid shit, you decide. You wince as a particularly enthusiastic pound seems to resonate through the very foundations of your hive. I swear to fuck I am making Crabdad fix the door if this bastard breaks it down.
It is a testament to the fine integrity of your hive’s design that the door it is still standing when you finally reach it. The thing is practically jumping on its hinges, but somehow—and fuck if you know how—it’s managed to stay intact.

You grab the doorknob and the force of the pounding zings up your arm, strong enough to rattle your teeth. “All right! I’m here!” you yell as you fumble with the latch, and glory mothergrub hallelujah the knocking stops. Why didn’t I try that sooner? You wonder. But then, you already know the answer: Because past me is an idiot. Of course.

Grumbling under your breath, you open the door.

You’d been expecting a delivery drone, a neighbor, maybe even Sollux or Terezi because you wouldn’t put it past either of them to turn up on your doorstep with nary a word of warning like a complete douchelord. You had not been expecting to see two adults, both standing tall enough to need to duck in order to leer at you from under the doorframe.

The one on the left has a scar; a slash of fibrous tissue that runs straight across his eye and pulls half of his face into a grimace. His caste symbol is unfamiliar to you, but the indigo color is enough to tell you that he’s a highblood. The one on the right is a tealblood, a fact which he proudly proclaims to the world by wearing his caste symbol on every visible piece of clothing, including an ugly headband that looks like something troll Rambo would have worn if troll Rambo was in fact a complete piece of flaming barkbeast excrement. In contrast to the scowling indigo, his mouth is twisted into a cruel grin and he looks as though he is about to start giggling at the sight of you. You don’t notice any of this. Your eyes are glued to the high-grade military-issue sickles that they hold in their hands.

“Karkat Vantas,” says scar face, and you wince because oh shit, they know your name which means that they are actually looking for you and this is not just some outrageous and possibly humorous mistake like something out of an episode of Thresh Prince. These are real Threshecutioners here on real Imperial business which is likely to end with your real death.

You don’t waste time listening to the rest of what he has to say. Instead, you equip your sickles (which, you notice, are flimsier, duller, and altogether woefully inferior to the ones your opponents have at their disposal) and lunge. You don’t try for elegance and you don’t try for technique. Facing down two fully-trained and experienced Threshecutioners, you know the only scenario that does not involve puckering up to kiss your own ass goodbye involves a quick and vicious surprise attack followed by absconding the fuck out of there.

Somebody grabs you from behind before you manage to take a proper swing. Or, to be more precise, some bastard grabs the back of your shirt and your feet fly out from under you. Your shirt hitches up and you gag as your momentum causes the collar to dig into your neck. A callused hand grabs your left wrist. The thumb digs into the soft flesh on the underside of your wrist and burrows in until your arm goes numb up to the elbow and the sickle falls from your boneless hand.

You sweep your right hand back in an attempt to slice off the hand that’s holding you back, but another rough hand grabs your forearm and forces it against your back, sickle and all. A grainy voice snarls in your ear: “Drop your weapon.”

You tighten your grip on the sickle because fuck that noise you are not going down without a fight. The hand forces your right arm up, fast and hard. Something audibly pops. Pain roars through you; white pain that steals your breath and blots everything else out of existence.

The first thing you notice when you are able to process something outside of the pain is that whoever had hold of your shirt now has you in a one-armed bear hug with both of your arms pinned between your body and his. Your sickle is no longer in your hand. You don’t know whether you dropped it or whether he pried it away from you. Your shoulder is a tight knot of stabbing pain.

You hear voices arguing—one of them light and bouncy as though the whole situation is a big joke, the other the rasp of the troll that has you trapped. You think you hear something that sounds like “no damaging the goods” which makes not one single lick of fucking sense. You decide to puzzle over it later, after you’ve gotten the hell away from this awful clusterfuck.

You jerk against the arm that is wrapped around your chest. The movement causes the ball of fire that is your shoulder to flare, sending lightning spots snapping through your thinkpan. The edges of your vision begin to grow dim and oh fuck you can’t afford to pass out now nononoNO! You clench your jaw until your teeth hurt—a good, dull pain that chases away the shadows threatening to swallow you whole.

The Threshecutioners are still arguing.

“…need to confirm it,” says a voice that sounds as though it belongs to somebody who goes through life with a stick permanently inserted up his ass. (That one belongs to the scar-faced indigoblood, you decide. Because the only trolls who can manage to produce that intricate blend of bored condescension and douchey arrogance are pretentious highblood nooksuckers.)

“And here I thought we weren’t supposed to damage the goods,” rasps the troll who is holding you back.

“Ugh, not this hateflirting shit again,” groans the laughing voice. “Are you guys seriously going to make me have to auspitize your asses here? Because I will.”

The other two voices offer up appropriately scandalized variations of protest.

A hot spike of rage twists through your chest. These fuckers aren’t taking this seriously. They aren’t taking you seriously. To them, executing you is a throwaway chore; one that is so boring they have to make stupid quadrant banter just to stay awake. You are about as significant to them as a festering pustule on the backside of one the tiny creatures who inhabit the motes of dust swirling in the air around them. You decide then and there that just because you are unarmed and injured and just because your death is a cold, inevitable fact, that doesn’t mean that you need to make things easy for these bastards. No; if this pustule has to die, he is going to do his damndest to fuck these assholes up on his way out.

The Threshecutioners continue their banter as you consider your options. From the way your shoulder reacted to your previous attempt, ineffectual struggling is terrible idea. Fighting your way out with your minimal self-taught Threshecutioner skills is an equally dumb idea, especially since your sickles are on the ground and you have no way to retrieve or use them. You do the only thing you can do: you twist your head and sink your teeth deep enough into the beefy bicep you find there to taste blood.

The troll holding you lets out a bellow and boxes your ear. Stars scatter through your thinkpan but you hang on, refusing to let go until—OW FUCKING HELL GODDAMN SON OF A BITCH THAT ASSHAT HAS YOU BY THE HAIR! The pain is so unexpected you open your mouth to gasp. He takes the opportunity to pry you off.

You try to take another chunk out of his arm, but he still has hold of your hair and you can’t get close enough. You can, however, see the ragged wound you managed to tear. It’s weeping a steady stream of cerulean and it looks like it hurts like hell. You have just enough time to feel a vicious thrill of pride (because you did that; you made that douchebag bleed, never mind the fact that you had to resort to fighting dirty to do it) before he jerks on your hair again. This time you are ready for it, and the pain doesn’t make you gasp. Instead, you scream.

You keep screaming because you know you are now officially out of options for fighting back and you are pissed off and scared and in pain and you think that maybe, just maybe if you scream loud enough you can burst their eardrums and escape while they are busy writhing on the ground in abject misery. (At the very least, maybe they will think you are shithive maggots enough to actually be a threat to them and they will retreat to come up with a different plan, leaving you just long enough to run. The blood smeared across your chin certainly lends itself to the fuck-all crazy image you are going for.)

Over your own screaming, you hear the Threshecutioners shouting at each other, their interest in romantic overtures abandoned.

“Little shit bit me!”

“What are you doing?”

“What does it look like?”

“You can’t kill him. Not until we know for sure. That would be a severe breach of protocol.”

“Protocol? Protocol? He bit me! Fucker’s got it coming!”

“Just calm your ass down and confirm it, you imbecile.”

“Fine,” huffs the troll holding you.

Something swipes across your good shoulder, drawing a precise line of stinging pain. Your furious screaming dissolves into mute horror because oh fuck the cut is deep and they are going to see. You struggle against the troll’s hold, the pain from your shoulder overwhelmed by a combination of thinkpan-melting terror and the sweeps-engrained instinct to do everything in your power to avoid being branded as a freak with a capital “F.”

Apparently, that capital “F” also stands for the giant FUCK YOU the universe has served your sorry ass because your desperate struggling has done nothing to prevent the inevitable. You can feel blood—your disgusting mutant blood—oozing from the wound, hot and sticky.

There is a long stretch of silence. You can’t see the expressions on the Threshecutioner’s faces, but you can practically feel their revulsion rolling off of them as a palpable, smothering force. Not that you blame them. Seeing the repulsive sludge that runs through your vasculature is always enough to make you nauseous and you’ve had sweeps to become desensitized to it.

Finally, one of the Threshecutioners—the giggly one—says, “Huh. Just like the lusus.”

The words send a numbing chill through your bones. You know that you could pretend that the Threshecutioner might have obtained that information without killing your lusus, but you also know goddamn well that make-believe hoofbeast shit is for wrigglers and FLARP-playing losers. Goddamn it, Crabdad, you think. You’d better have given them hell.

“Confirmation complete,” says the asswipe indigoblood. “Proceed.”

On a purely logical level, you are acutely aware of the fact that you should be fighting back. The word “proceed” should not have merely lit a fire beneath the asshole of your survival instinct; it should have set off a GIANT FUCKING EXPLOSIVE FORCE deep within its bowels, triggering a shitstorm of desperate violence of such magnitude it would cease only with the Threshecutioners strewn in pieces around your hive and yourself completely empty and spent. Your limbs, however, have decided not to listen to logic, the traitorous bastards. No; your arms and legs have come to the consensus that they are perfectly content to dangle, limp as cooked noodles and just as useless.

You close your eyes, knowing that the end is about to come. In a way, it is a relief. You’ve known all your life that this was coming, and now it’s here. There will be no more hiding behind an unaffiliated caste symbol, no more going out of your way to avoid contact with other trolls, no more worries or fears about that far-off day when the Imperial ships will come only to brand you “unfit for contributing to the genetic slurry” and leaving you behind, dead with a generous side helping of humiliation permanently affixed to your memory. Instead, you get to die at the hands of Alternia’s most ruthless and lethal killing force. It’s an honorable death, which is more than you had hoped for and probably more than you deserve.

You are so wrapped up in coming to terms with your imminent death, you barely hear the indigoblood add, “And while you are at it, clean up your mess.”

There is a sudden, blinding pain, but the pain is coming from your shoulder of all places. For the barest instant, you can feel the dislocated joint straining against an immutable force until something gives and you are screaming because holy fuck, holy fuck, holy fuck it feels like there are a million hot needles buried in your shoulder and they are TWISTING and you are retching, you are going to be sick, you are going to—

It is at this point that everything goes mercifully dark. You slump forward against the Threshecutioner’s arm and into blissful unconsciousness.



> Gamzee: Troll best friend

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terminallyCapricious [TC] began trolling carcinoGeneticist [CG]

TC: hEeEeEeY bEsT fRiEnD!
TC: ArE yOu AlL uP aNd MoThErFuCkIn AwAkE yEt?
TC: gUeSs YoU’rE sTiLl AsLeEp.
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TC: aCtUalLy ThAt SoUnDs LiKe A pReTtY mOtHeRfUcKiN gOoD iDeA.
TC: I tHiNk ThIs MoThErFuCkEr Is GoInG tO hAvE hImSeLf A nIcE fUcKiN lAyDoWn.
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TC: FuCk, WhErE dO dReAmS eVeN cOmE fRoM?
TC: aRe ThEy AlL uP iN a MoThErFuCkEr’S hEaD oR wHaT?
TC: ThEy JuSt CoMe OuT oF nOwHeRe LiKe A mOtHeRfUcKiN mIrAcLe In YoUr SlEeP.
TC: dReAmS aRe MoThErFuCkIn MiRaClEs, My CrAb Bro.
TC: I’lL bE tAlKiNg To YoU wHeN i’M aLl Up AnD dOnE gEtTiNg My WiCkEd ShIt SleEp On.
TC: :o)

terminallyCapricious [TC] ceased trolling carcinoGeneticist [CG]



> Karkat: Wake

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You wake up in an unfamiliar room. It takes you a full thirty seconds to process this fact through the groggy haze swirling in your head. Your body feels weak and clumsy. You try to make yourself care enough to wonder what is going on, but your thoughts keep slipping in and out of one another in a senseless jumble:

Who’s knocking on my—

Head hurts I should—

Troll Gamzee, stupid fucking—

Crabdad where are—

You really need to focus on….

A distant notion that you have been drugged begins to make its way through the tangle of nonsense rolling around in your mind. You would be surprised if you weren’t so fucking tired and dizzy.

You lie there, letting your thoughts drift for you haven’t got the foggiest clue how long. The first concrete memory you have is realizing that your right arm—the one that had hurt so badly—is immobilized against your chest. The shoulder still aches, and it spits an angry bolt of pain through your side when you give it an experimental flex, just to remind you that hey, dumbshit, I’m still injured!—but it is nothing like the thinkpan-obliterating agony you had experienced before. In fact, you’d go out on a limb and say that it is pretty bearable—which makes absolutely no sense.

The room you are in is too dim to see much detail, but it doesn’t look as though there is much detail to see. Your ocular globes feast themselves upon a boxy shadow that looks like a desk, another boxy shadow that looks like a chair, and yet another boxy shadow that looks like another chair. It appears as though the only other thing in the room is the couch you are lying on, half-propped into a sitting position. You can’t see the couch and you can’t see the cushions that you are leaning against, but you would bet your bulge that they are boxy, too.

There does not appear to be anybody else in the room with you. You see nothing troll-shaped in the shadows and you don’t hear anything such as breathing, rustling, ass-scratching, or—fuck, why not?—bulge-stroking that would give away somebody trying to hide.

Cautiously, you start to sit up. There is an electronic click as the motion sensor on the ceiling registers your movement and suddenly the whole room is bathed in light. You suck in a gasp through your teeth, your ocular globes stinging and then you look around.

The room is exactly as bare as you had thought it was. The desk and chairs are all shades of metallic gray. Everything else—the walls, the floor, your couch—is stark white. Something unpleasant unfurls deep in your digestive sac in reaction to the room’s clinical feel; something that screams at you to get the fuck out of there right now.

You maneuver your legs over the side of the couch and only just begin to stand up when the door opens and two adults walk in, one male and one female. They are both tall, but not as tall as the Threshecutioners you had seen earlier. They also look…softer than the Threshecutioners. Their faces are rounder and the muscles in their arms and necks, while more mature and defined than your own, are nowhere near the tight cords of bulk you’d seen in the arm that had held you helpless back at your hive. Neither appears to be armed, but both of them are wearing long, white lab coats which make that uneasy feeling in your digestive sac intensify.

One of them, the female, takes a step towards you and says, “Karkat Vantas?”

The only response you give her is a scowl. You consider all of the ways you might conceivably manage to fight your way past her and get through the door, which is still hanging open. The male seems to follow your sentiments, as he casually flicks his lab coat back to reveal a wicked curved dagger hanging from a sheath on his belt. You hastily abandon any ideas about escape because you have already had one fucking awful encounter with adults today and you are in no hurry to subject yourself to more general unpleasantness.

“You are Karkat Vantas, are you not?” the female asks.

You give her a wary nod.

No sooner have you given your affirmation when the male lunges forward, dagger out. You take a surprised step back, cursing yourself because past you is seriously the worst you for taking his eyes off the guy with the weapon like a complete moron. The backs of your knees run up against the couch behind you and suddenly there is nowhere to go to get away from the dagger-wielding psychopath.

You see the dagger coming and try to throw up an arm to protect yourself, forgetting that your right arm is pretty much the worst thing in the world. You manage to throw up your left arm just in time. The dagger nicks your forearm. It’s a shallow, precise cut that barely even hurts, but it’s enough to allow a few drops of blood to well up.

You stand there, waiting for the killing blow to land because even though you haven’t got the slightest clue as to why the Threshecutioners didn’t kill you the second they saw that hideous candy red color, you know that there is no fucking way you are dodging death twice in one day. Except, apparently, you are.

The male is standing in front of the door, back where he started and he is looking at you with an expression that makes you exceedingly uncomfortable. The look in his eyes is nowhere near the revulsion that should have been there. Instead there is a hungry quality to it, so intense it is bordering on the edge of perverse arousal.

You quickly turn your attention to the female, whose slack-jawed surprise is far closer to what you might have expected. Well fuck me, you think. At least somebody has the sense to be appropriately horrified here. And then she shakes her head and whispers, “Remarkable.”

And that’s it. It is official. Your quota for bizarre-ass shit has been filled and you can take no more. You forget the fact that these are adults and that it is very likely that their blood color is much, much higher than your own and you squawk, “What the fuck?”

Neither of them seems to be fazed by your outburst. The female says, “I apologize for our forwardness, but we needed to see that…extraordinary blood color with our own eyes. Have the Threshecutioners told you why you were being brought here?”

“No,” you shoot back. “They had a hard time fitting that in between all the blackrom flirting and trying to tear my arm off.”

A frown passes over the female’s face; a quick, downward pull at the edges of her lips that passes like a spasm. “How is that shoulder?” she asks.

“Oh my god,” you moan. “Why do you care? Why am I not dead?”

“I realize this must all be very confusing to you,” she replies. “If you will calm down, I will explain.”

Somehow, you swallow back the urge to snap, “FUCK YOU, I AM CALM!” and instead you nod your head.

“My name is Cennia Ettino.” She gestures to the male behind her before adding, “This is my associate, Torkal Anorst. We are Aggressanalysts.”

Wow, no shit, you think with a pointed glare at her white lab coat.

“It has come to the attention of the Empire that you have an abnormal blood color,” she continues. “Under normal circumstances, this would be grounds for immediate culling, as I am sure you are aware. However, your unique blood color has qualified you to participate in a very prestigious and important program, should you choose to do so.”

She looks at you as if she expects you to commence having sloppy makeouts with her shit-kicking feet. You raise your eyebrows and say nothing, fuck you very much, so she reaches into her pocket, withdraws a photo, and hands it to you.

You take it from her and your lip curls at what you see. The thing in the photo looks like a troll that fell out of the highest limb of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down. Sure, it has two arms and two legs, but beyond that it’s a hot mess of pathetic. It has no claws, no horns, and its teeth are far too dull to be used for anything other than eating. (Seriously, you think, how the fuck did it make it out of the brooding caverns with nothing to use for self defense?) The yellows of its eyes are a sickly white. Its skin is a weird color that you have never seen before. It looks terribly vulnerable, and it gives you an acute sense of discomfort.

“What is it?” you finally manage to ask.

“That,” says Cennia, “is a human. They inhabit a planet far away from here called Earth. ”

You glance back down to the photo in your hand with a sense of relief. Of course that’s not a troll, you stupid nookwhiff, you think. Holy shit, did I really think that was a real troll? Apparently I missed the schoolfeed that included common sense.

“Earth is a newer planet than Alternia,” Cennia says. “It is still rich in natural resources that have not been present on Alternia in thousands of sweeps. Her Imperious Condescension has also expressed interest in the humans’ weapon-making capabilities.”

You don’t understand why she is bothering to give you these inane details. It’s not like you haven’t heard all of this before in practically every newsfeed ever in the history of your sad and pathetic excuse for a life. You can hardly turn on your husktop without hearing “Blah blah blah conquering planet bulgemunch in galaxy who gives a fuck blah blah blah natural resources blah boon for the Empire blah blah blah.” Cennia is still listing off all of the ways Earth is just so fan-autoerogenous shame globe fondling-tastic and you find yourself thinking, Thank you, captain exposition. Fucking hell. Will you just get to the point already?

No sooner has the thought rolled through your thinkpan than Torkal clears his throat and says, “The point, if you are going to insist on acting like a rude little maggot, is that attempting to conquer that pretty little planet and get all of these lovely assets for ourselves the traditional way would be a Very Bad Idea.”

You cringe and you are not sure whether it is because his voice is a weird, mumbling hiss that makes your skin crawl or whether it is because you don’t know how long he was poking around inside your thinkpan, rifling through mothergrub knows what thoughts, memories, and otherwise deeply personal shit without your knowing he was there. Cennia gives him a look as though to say, Oh look who’s talking about being rude you fucking hypocritical sack of shit before resuming her monologue.

“Preliminary observations suggest that humans tend to react to unfamiliar situations with suspicion and hostility,” she says. “They have had no interplanetary contact, so it is likely that they would react negatively to an emissary visit from Her Imperious Condescension. Even if they were to react more positively, the fact that they lack a standardized language or culture presents its own complications. Her Imperious Condescension, in her infinite wisdom, has prudently decided to forego her customary visit in this instance.”

You find yourself wondering whether these two fucktards actually subscribe to this “prudent and wise Imperious Condescension” crap. Despite your respect for her excellent qualities as a leader, you are pretty sure that the Condesce doesn’t give a shit about anything other than conquering alien planets and having every subject under her reign submit to her every whim, neither of which lends itself to “prudent” or “wise.” Ruthless? Yes. Bloodthirsty? Fuck yes. But prudent and wise? Fuck, maybe they mean it ironically, you think, only to end up feeling like a complete asscracker when you remember that yep, Torkal is still psychic and yep, he is probably still reading your mind. He doesn’t say or do anything to indicate that he has heard you. (Though you can’t be sure without looking in his direction and there is no fucking way you are resting your delicate ocular globes on his ass-ugly face any more than strictly necessary.)

Cennia is still talking. “A full-scale military attack is likewise inadvisable,” she says. “If we were to launch an immediate assault—“

Torkal cuts her off with a snort, and fucking hell you are pretty sure you hear something that sounds like a giggle bubbling up in his voice like a fart under water as he adds, “Those stupid creatures would destroy their own planet trying to prevent the inevitable. Remember those weapons Cennia mentioned earlier?”

You want to tell him that yes, of course you remember the fucking weapons she mentioned earlier because what does he take you for, some thinkpan-impaired imbecile? but Torkal doesn’t leave you any space to answer. “Detonate enough of them close enough to the atmosphere of a planet and you’ve got yourself a barren wasteland. And believe me they would need to detonate plenty of them just to make a tiny, insignificant dent in whichever brigade we sent their way.”

Cennia glances at Torkal as though she is trying to gauge whether he has decided to stop his cascade of verbal diarrhea before she starts talking again. “Of course the potential losses to our side are of little concern. However, if Earth’s natural resources are destroyed or made otherwise inaccessible, conquering it would be counterproductive. Her Imperious Condescension has developed a solution to this dilemma that demonstrates both her flexibility and cunning.”

Whatever this plan is, you very much doubt that Her Imperious Condescension was the one who came up with it because the Condesce you know is a supreme badass who would never resort to anything resembling the likes of flexibility or cunning. No, you (platonically) pity the poor bastard who was the one to present this idea to her. More likely than not, that chump ended up with a trident to the face.

“Pay attention,” Torkal breaks in, and fucked if there isn’t something in his already exceedingly fucked up slitherbeast hiss of a voice that makes you feel even more uncomfortable. “This is where you come in.”

Cennia gives Torkal another look that says Oh my fucking God do you ever shut your stinking gape-hole before she continues. “Our covert invasion operation of Earth has been in effect for several sweeps now. As an agent of this operation, it will be your responsibility to live among the humans, gathering information and carrying out missions undetected.”

Cennia keeps talking but you aren’t listening because that is it; you are done with this. You have bitten your tongue and let them have their say like a good little barkbeast because you thought this was all going to end in a nice, clean culling, but what they are suggesting is so much worse.

“Please tell me my auricular sponge clots are failing me here,” you say. “Tell me I did not just hear you say that you are sending me to some shithole alien planet where I will be nook deep in squishy hairless monkeys.”

Now it’s your turn to be on the receiving end of one of Cennia’s looks. This one says Wow your mental abilities are significantly slower than my already extremely low assessment of them and that’s sad. “That is correct, in essence,” she says.

You shake your head and try to take a step back to put just that much more distance between you and this fucking terrible idea. Unfortunately, the couch is still immediately behind you. Your knees hit the edge and you half-sit half-fall onto the couch like a tool. In the doorway, Torkal is laughing. You are too horrified to care.

Cennia appears to notice your distress. Her tone shifts away from the politely clinical tone to something that is almost sympathetic. “Of course we would not send you to Earth unprepared! Learning the language and cultural customs of the region you will be living in will require sweeps of intensive training. It will also take a significant amount of time for you to complete all of the necessary cosmetic alterations.”

“Cosmetic…alterations…?” you repeat. And oh, fuck you, you have gone from feeling horrified to feeling horrified and ill and your voice is little more than a sad croak.

“Surely you understand that going to Earth as you are now would defeat the purpose of a covert operation,” Cennia replies. “Knowing cultural customs and behavior patterns will not be enough. The only way to live seamlessly with humans is to look like a human.”

You look down at the picture that you are still holding in your hand, and then you quickly look away. They want to turn me into that, you think, and the thought makes you want to puke. You are pretty fucking sure that you can taste a hot wave of vomit rising up in your protein chute.

From what seems like very far away, you hear Torkal cackle, “I hear the horn removal surgery takes a long time to recover from; although in your case it probably won’t be much of an adjustment.”

And that’s it. That’s all you can take. You are not doing this. Fuck whatever happens, you are not letting them turn you into one of those things with dull teeth and dull claws and ugly as fuck everything. “You said I had a choice,” you say. “Well, I say ‘no thank you’ and fuck you for even planting such a repulsive idea in my think pan.”

Cennia seems to be put out by your bluntness, and Torkal’s face twists into an angry scowl. You don’t give a flying fuck. I’m going to die anyway, so fuck their hemospectrum decorum and fuck them, too, you think.

There is a long silence. Finally, Cennia says, “You are right. We can’t force you to participate in the program. I simply assumed that you would prefer this to the alternative.”

“Well I don’t!” you snap. “Just cull me and get it over with already!”

“Cull you?” says Torkal. “Oh, no. That’s not an option.”

“What the fuck do you mean ‘not an option’?” you demand, twisting your voice into a caricature of Torkal’s muttering hiss.

Torkal raises himself up to his full height, teeth bared in a snarl. You can’t read his mind, but you don’t have to be a psychic to know what he is thinking. It’s probably something along the lines of Oh my god you little piece of shit I am going to kill your insolent little ass, and then I am going to resurrect you just to kill you again, preferably in the most painful and messy way imaginable even though that impression of me was completely accurate and perfect in every way. For about half a second, it looks as though he really is going to go ahead and kill you. Then Cennia is papping one of his arms and murmuring something that would probably qualify as sweet pale nothings if she would have the courtesy to speak loud enough for you to hear it.

You are on the verge of shouting, “OH MY GOD GET FUCKING PILE” when Torkal deflates into a surly slouch. He sends a smoldering glare in your direction, but he manages to refrain from trying to strangle you with your own entrails. Cennia keeps her hand on his arm as she turns her attention back to you.

“All humans have the same blood color; one that does not exist on our hemospectrum,” she says. “Until now, we have recruited only rustbloods to act as agents because we believed that their blood color was the closest approximation to human blood color available. Yours, however, is a perfect match.”

And now it all makes sense. The final piece of this what-in-the-name-of-shit-is-going-on puzzle has fallen into place. You understand completely and now you know you are going to puke. I’m already halfway there, you think. I bet that’s what they are thinking. I bet they are thinking ‘fuck it; he’s already one of those things on the inside, might as well make the outside match.’

You don’t need to look at Torkal to know that his glare has evolved into a vicious leer. You can feel the bastard’s psychic footprint inside your thinkpan as vividly as a kick to the autoerogenous shame globes and it is practically screaming arrogance and cruel pleasure in response to your distress. You want him to get the fuck out oh my god seriously just go the fuck away but you have no idea how to block the assface out and your attempts to do so only seem to amuse him.

Cennia just keeps talking as though she does not seem to notice her moirail bad touching all of your most private and sacred inner musings. “We cannot allow this rare opportunity to go to waste,” she says. “If you refuse to participate in the program as an agent, we will need to analyze the mutation that produced your unique blood color. If we can isolate the cause, we might be able to induce a similar coloration in future agents.”

“In other words, you’ll be our personal lab rat,” Torkal sneers. “And I’ve got to say I can’t wait to open you up and see what makes you tick.”

Your mouth goes completely dry because the idea of Torkal—sketchy-ass creepy as fuck Torkal—grubbing around your insides is terrifying. You try to sound ominous and threatening, but your voice comes out about an octave higher than normal as you squeak, “Why the fuck would you have to do that?”

“Vivisection is one of many standard procedures for analyzing biological anomalies,” Cennia answers.

“It also happens to be my specialty,” Torkal adds, and goddamned son of a bitch the smile on his face is enough to send a cold shiver down your spine.

Cennia gives him a quick glance and paps his arm again before saying, “If you honestly prefer this option over going to Earth, we will be more than happy to honor your wishes. Are you certain this is what you want?”

“No!” you exclaim—too quickly. You hadn’t wanted them to notice just how shaken you are, but your abrupt, half-sobbed answer is pretty much the same as sparking up a giant neon sign that says I AM SO AFRAID AT THIS VERY MOMENT THAT I AM ABOUT ONE MORE HORRIFYING TURN OF EVENTS AWAY FROM SOILING MYSELF IN TERROR.

“Would you like a moment to weigh your options?” Cennia suggests.

You nod vigorously because yes you would like a moment to process all of the bullshit you have just been fed, thank you very much.

“We will return in a few minutes,” says Cennia as she herds Torkal out the door.

You hear Torkal say, “Choose carefully. I’d hate to lose a perfectly good test subject.” And then the door closes, a lock clicks, and you are finally alone.

For the barest moment, you consider trying to escape. A cursory glance around the room erases the idea from your head. The door is bolted shut and there is no other way out. No windows, no crawlspace, and the ventilation shaft on the ceiling would barely manage to accommodate your fist, let alone the rest of your body. Your sickles are gone. There is nothing in the room you can use as a weapon, and even if there was, your best arm is useless.

The photo is a crumpled mess in your hand. You had forgotten that you were holding it the second you heard the words “lab rat.” You smooth it out and stare at the ugly thing unblinkingly until your eyes begin to water and all the colors seem to run together. Then you roll it into a tiny ball and throw it across the room.

You want to go home. You want to go back to your hive and argue with Crabdad and watch romcoms and sleep in your recuperacoon until all of this bullshit goes away and leaves you alone—but you can’t. You can’t because Crabdad is dead and your hive doesn’t exist anymore because you know what happens when young trolls get culled; you have seen what the drones or the Threshecutioners or whoever did the deed does to the lusus and to the hive. You aren’t getting culled, but as far as that goes, you might as well be.

You can’t believe you ever thought that getting culled was the worst thing that could happen to you. You should have expected the universe to come up with something worse because if there is one thing you have learned it is that the universe is far more creative and spiteful than you could ever hope to be.

You already know what you are going to do and you platonically hate yourself for it because you know it is the coward’s way out. You know just as well as the next assmunch that the correct thing to do—the honorable thing to do—would be to refuse to die as anything less than a troll, and you know that you can’t do it. The idea of being poked and prodded and treated like a fucking freak by a bunch of Aggressanalysts for the rest of your life strikes a nerve in you which has been exposed and aching for sweeps. It hurts; it actually physically hurts to think about it.

When Cennia and Torkal come back, you look at the ground as you say the five words that will change your life forever: “OK. Send me to Earth.”



> Nepeta: See what Karkat is up to

Chapter Text

arsenicCatnip [AC] began trolling carcinoGeneticist [CG]

AC: :33 < *ac stealthily pawnces through an open window*
AC: :33 < *ac stretches luxuriously a bit sore after such a big leap and p33rs around the room wondering if cg is still asl33p*
AC: :33 < *ac curls around karkittys legs and purrsents him with the freshly beheaded corpse of her latest kill*
AC: :33 < *cg makes some remarks about how stupid role playing is but then he notices the generous offuring and decides to play along*
AC: :33 < *he says what do you want? I am tired and in a bad mood!*
AC: :33 < *ac is starting to f33l silly role playing all by herself*
AC: :33 < karkat?
AC: :33 < where are you?
AC: :33 < if you dont f33l like role playing thats ok!
AC: :33 < i can stop
AC: :33 < s33?
AC: :33 < its safe to come out now karkat
AC: :33 < i purromise i wont make you role play anymore! h33 h33
AC: :33 < ok i guess you dont f33l like talking right now :((

arsenicCatnip [AC] ceased trolling carcinoGeneticist [CG]



> Karkat: Have first encounter with human aesthetic sensibilities

Chapter Text

You feel exactly as though you have been kicked in the teeth by a hoofbeast. Actually, no. That’s stupid. If you had actually taken a direct kick to the face by a hoofbeast you would be dead, and you most certainly are not dead. The relentless, throbbing pain currently emanating from your teeth and causing you untold worlds of grief is testament enough to that.

What you are feeling is something more akin to a hoofbeast standing on your mouth. No; that’s also an incredibly stupid analogy because a hoofbeast standing on your face translates to the same fucking thing as a hoofbeast kicking you in the head: dead as a door hanging post.

There is something attached to your teeth; something that feels metallic and rough against the interior of your lips and cheeks. You have no idea what it is, but it is pushing on your teeth and you want it off. You try to prod at it with your tongue only to discover that your mouth is full of something dry and cottony.

A voice says, “Do not spit out the gauze yet, Karkat.”

You know that voice. It belongs to an adult, and that makes absolutely no sense because you have never spoken with, met, or otherwise engaged with a fully-grown troll in your entire life. Except oh, wait. Fuck. Yes you have.

You very suddenly remember that this impersonally polite voice belongs to an Aggressanalyst named Cennia Ettino. You also remember the circumstances under which you met this particular example of trollkind, up to and including your unbelievably stupid decision to let her send you to an alien planet.

Oh fuck, you think as it all comes rushing back. The Threshecutioners. Your arm which still hurts like fuck-all the second you remember that it is supposed to hurt. Torkal molesting your thoughts like a flaming piece of shit. The picture of that ugly-ass alien.

Son of a bitch, you think as that last one crosses your mind. You try to sit up but the room won’t stop moving and you crumple back onto the operating table. Part of you is distressed by the realization that this is the second time you have woken up drugged in this shithole in as many hours. A much, much larger part of you is preoccupied with raking your fingers through your hair like an idiot.

“Are you all right?” says Cennia’s voice. “Please allow me to help you sit up.”

Fuck you I am not all right, you think. Where are my horns? YOU CUT OFF MY HORNS AND TURNED ME INTO ONE OF THOSE HUMAN ALIENS YOU FUCKING—it is at this point that your fingers brush against the base of one of your still very much present horns. You breathe a mental sigh of relief at the realization that you are still much more troll than you are ugly alien thing.

“Ugh,” you groan as she maneuvers you into a sitting position. “What the fuck did you do?” That is what you try to say. Around all the wads of gauze in your mouth, it comes out sounding more like “Aww wadduck oo?”

“Try to refrain from speaking for the moment,” she says. “We have removed four of your teeth and you need to continue biting on the gauze until we get back to your room to ensure proper clotting.”

It takes you a moment to process what she has just said because even though your senses have stopped swimming enough to let you sit up, the anesthetic is still making your mind move about ten steps slower than usual. When the meaning finally catches up to the words, you shout “WHAT?”

She gives you one of her looks. This one seems to say, Oh my fucking Christ did you not hear what I just told you, you ignorant douche I mean really, what the hell is the matter with you? “I apologize,” she says. “Tooth extraction is often the only way to ensure that the dental straightening devices produce the desired results. Can you stand?”

You take your sweet time sifting through all of the bullshit that just came out of Cennia’s mouth. You have a fuckload of undoubtedly witty and appropriately scathing responses. Rather than gracing her with one of them, you settle with nodding your head because you are just too tired to be assed.

“Excellent,” she says. “Continue biting down on that gauze. I will explain what I can while we return to your room.”

She keeps a hand on your good shoulder as you slide off the operating table. You would slap her hand off, but you find that you do in fact need the support the second you are in a standing position and your legs suddenly decide fuck you, we are going to do whatever we feel like doing and right now we feel like making you look like a huge jackass.

It occurs to you as you wobble through the door and out into a white-tiled hallway that you and Cennia are alone. You realize that you should probably be using this opportunity to do something productive like FIGHT YOUR WAY FREE AND GET THE FUCK OUT OF THIS SHITHIVE MAGGOTS INSANE ASYLUM. You attempt to shrug her hand off your shoulder in order to make a break for it and promptly stumble into a wall. She doesn’t even break step as she grabs your arm and steers you in the correct direction.

She also never seems to shut the hell up. You are so preoccupied with not falling over your own feet like a complete fucktard that you don’t catch much of what she is saying. What little you do hear does nothing to make you feel any better. (“…rather silly, though ingenious invention.” “…a common practice on Earth….” “…at that point we will need to file your teeth down…”)

You are exhausted by the time she steers you into the featureless room with the boxy furniture in which you first met her and Torkal. You notice that somebody has swapped out the couch you had lain on earlier with a recuperacoon. It is as stark as everything else in the room and it doesn’t look half as comfortable as yours, but at this moment you don’t give a squeakbeast’s ass. All you want to do is sink into some nice, fresh sopor slime and go to sleep.

Fucking hell, Cennia is still talking. “I realize you must be tired—“ (No shit, you think. If you would fuck off and let me sleep I would be eternally grateful. I will build you an altar and make a blood sacrifice to it for you to analyze every day if you will just shut the fuck up and go away) “—but try not to go to sleep until after Averic has come by.”

Don’t care; go away, you think.

“You may spit out the gauze now. I will take it.”

Wait. What’s this? Was that actually something I give half a shit about? As a certain assfaced clown dumb shit would say, what a motherfucking miracle. You feel a funny twinge when you realize that you are probably never going to see said assfaced clown dumb shit again and—oh fuck you, you are not going to cry. It’s not as though never talking to him or any of those other bulgebiting lunatics again is that big of a loss or anything. In fact, maybe you’ll start regenerating all the brain cells you lost just from associating with them. Yeah, that’s it. You are certain you can feel yourself getting smarter already.

You quickly pry your thoughts away from that subject and resolve not to think about it again until you are alone (or preferably never again, though it’s likely you will agonize over it time and time again because you are just such a glutton for misery) and turn your attention back to Cennia. You take a certain amount of satisfaction out of spitting the slobbery wads of gauze out of your mouth and into her outstretched hand. You sneak a quick look up to her face to see whether she is properly grossed out and you are disappointed when you realize that her expression remains an unchanging mask of clinical professionalism.

“Remember to stay awake until you have seen Averic,” she says as she walks out the door.

“Fuck you,” you mumble after her (and god is it nice to be able to enunciate again, even if the shitload of metal on your teeth makes some of the consonant sounds come out weird and fuzzy). “I will sleep when I want to sleep.”

You start toward the recuperacoon with every intention of climbing inside just for the privilege of issuing a giant middle finger to Cennia and her orders. Halfway there, you end up plopping down on one of the chairs instead. If I’m going to sleep it is going to be uninterrupted and completely devoid of any more bullshit, you decide.

The shaky feeling that has been dogging you ever since you woke up on the operating table begins to recede, leaving behind a dark weariness that settles over you like a physical force. Slowly, your head begins to droop. You slouch forward to rest your head against the cool, metallic surface of the desk and your eyes are heavy.

I’ll close my eyes for two seconds, you think. Nobody will ever have to know.

No sooner have you closed her eyes when the door crashes open. You sit bolt upright, and then you try to put on a nonchalant face that says Sleeping? Fuck no; sleep is for losers and brainless shitheads! The expression that actually appears on your face does not convey this in the least. It looks closer to Shit; you caught me. I am a loser and quite possibly a brainless shithead as well. Man, I suck.

The troll standing in your room doesn’t seem to care that he caught you doing the one thing you were explicitly told not to do. He is also huge; bigger than even the Threshecutioners who kidnapped you earlier. With his biceps easily as big around as one of your thighs and a stony expression, he looks as though he would be perfectly at home in a Ruffiannihilator squad. His Aggressanalyst coat seems like a joke. (It does not help that the damn thing looks to be about two sizes too small and ends a good two inches above his belt line.)

“Averic, I presume,” you say.

He grunts something unintelligible that you choose to translate as, “Yes, you extraordinarily intelligent and charming example of trollkind. It is indeed as you say.” He follows this up by roughly grabbing your good arm and grunting something that you take to mean “I would be most delighted if you would be so inclined as to come with me, good sir.”

You have a hard time keeping pace with Averic as he leads you down the hall. Averic’s legs are so long that one of his strides is equivalent to about three of yours and you are forced to trot just to avoid being dragged. You are tempted to tell him to slow the hell down, but you doubt that his response would be anything resembling “Why yes, of course I will slow my admittedly uncomfortable pace to a more reasonable speed and might I add that I am deeply sorry for being such a terrible douche.” Instead you content yourself with trying to memorize the route back to your room because—who knows?—it might be useful to know your way around if you ever get the chance to make a break for it.

Averic finally stops in front of a door and enters something into the keypad on the wall beside it. (How he manages to avoid hitting two buttons at once and fucking up the input with his sausage-sized fingers you have no idea.) The door opens to reveal a room with a sink, a stainless steel load gaper, and a tiny ablution trap. Averic shoves you inside, and snarls “Ten minutes” before closing and locking the door behind you.

The first thing you do is take a look in the mirror hanging on the wall above the sink. You are relieved to find that you look the same as you always have. Your sclera are still a healthy yellow, your skin is still a robust gray, and your horns are still…er…nubby. You take a deep breath and then you bare your teeth.

You are surprised. From the feel of the dental straightening devices in your mouth, you had expected them to be a horrifying conglomeration of twisted metal. The neat rows of brackets and wire that greet you are downright inconspicuous in comparison. That doesn’t make them any less repulsive, you remind yourself. Less hideous than expected is still hideous.

You proceed over to the ablution trap and find a white towel with a bar of soap folded inside. You almost decide to skip the shower because you are so tired and there is absolutely nobody around to be offended your bodily musk except for Cennia, Averic, and possibly Torkal, and you don’t give two shits about what any of them think. Then you remember that you have spent the last fuck knows how long unconscious and at the complete mercy of a bunch of Aggressanalysts. The idea makes you decide that an extra hot, extra thorough shower is definitely in order.

As you remove your shirt—which turns out to be a pain in the ass due to your nigh immobilized right arm—you notice that you are wearing a thin, plastic wristband on your left arm. At first glance you assume it to be an identification bracelet, but you do not see your name or any other identifying features on it. You do notice that it is a bright, candy-red color identical to that of your blood; a fact that pisses you right the fuck off. You try to remove it, but the plastic is too durable to stretch or break. You decide to leave it for later because your ten minutes are ticking away and it would be a bitch to have Averic walk in on you when you are on the load gaper.

After the fastest ten minutes in the history of the universe, Averic is back. The insensitive bastard doesn’t even bother to knock or otherwise announce his presence. Nope; he just barges right in with nary an “Excuse me, but might I inquire as to whether you are ready to present yourself? I would hate to disturb you if you are indecent.” Luckily, you have already finished your ablutions and you are fully clothed.

Averic leads you back to your room with his usual level of charm and grace, which seems to be permanently frozen somewhere between uncouth grubfucker of the year and steaming pile of musclebeast leavings. He leaves with nary a word or a grunt, which is a-OK in your books.

Once you are alone in your room, you notice that somebody has left some food on the desk while you were out—a bowl of soup and two thick slices of grub loaf, to be exact. Your digestive sac takes the opportunity to remind you that hey, asshole, you have not eaten since who knows when and you are fucking starving, so even though the recuperacoon looks even more inviting than it had before, you decide to try to eat enough to make your stomach stop hating you so much.

Gingerly, you pick up a piece of grub loaf, scrutinizing it for any signs of tampering. You do not see anything to raise your suspicions. You bring it up to your nose and sniff, just for good measure (and goddamn it, doing that reminds you of a particularly aggravating and obnoxious blind girl and that lump in your throat is not a sob; you are not a wiggler for fuck’s sake). It appears to be perfectly blameless grub loaf. You take a bite and JESUS FUCK THAT HURTS! Chewing is something that is not going to happen at this point in time.

You drop the grub loaf back on its plate and turn your attention to the soup. After inspecting it the same way you did the grub loaf, you take a tentative sip. The soup is a chilled, watery concoction that tastes sweet like wiggler food. You drink the rest of it, relishing the feel of the cool liquid against your aching teeth and gums.

The lights dim as you set the empty bowl back on the desk. There is just enough light for you to avoid stubbing your toes on either of the chairs around the desk as you finally make your way to the recuperacoon and climb inside. The slime envelops you and you drop into a deep and dreamless sleep.


> Sollux: Wonder what is up with Karkat

Chapter Text

twinArmageddons [TA] began trolling carcinoGeneticist [CG]

TA: ok what ii2 your problem kk?
TA: thii2 ii2 liike the tenth tiime iive triied two get iin touch wiith you and youre 2tiill offliine.
TA: are you avoiidiing me or 2omethiing?
TA: fuck ii probably diid 2omethiing two pii22 you off and now you are giiviing me the cold 2houlder liike a liittle grub.
TA: you know what would be ape2hiit banana2 awe2ome kk?
TA: iif you would ju2t fuckiing TELL ME what your problem ii2.
TA: ii mean iif you really expect me two apologiize for 2omethiing ii dont even remember doiing then you are goiing two be waiitiing for a long tiime.
TA: you know what?
TA: fuck you, kk.
TA: iif you are dead 2et on beiing a pii22y jerka22 for no apparent rea2on far be iit from me two 2top you.
TA: me22age me when you deciide two 2top actiing liike a giiant douche.
TA: oh and 2orry for whatever ii gue22.

twinArmageddons [TA] ceased trolling carcinoGeneticist [CG]


> Karkat: Meet some other douchebags

Chapter Text

Two days. It has been two days since you woke up with your mouth full of metal. (Actually, to be completely honest you have no fucking idea how long it has been because as far as you can tell clocks are a taboo item in this shithole. Really, would it kill these fuckers to provide their prisoners with a decent timepiece? Whatever. The lights in your makeshift respite block have dimmed long enough to get in a decent amount of sleep two times since Cennia performed her unsolicited dental surgery on you. As far as you are concerned, that qualifies as two days, so that is what you are going with.)

The only troll you have seen in all this time is Averic, and you have decided that he does not count because talking to that nooksucking Ruffiannihilator wannabe is about as stimulating as talking to a wall. (You are seriously beginning to believe that the only phrase he is physically capable of uttering is “Ten minutes.” Everything else that has come out of his mouth has consisted of either unintelligible grunting or equally incomprehensible growling.) He has come by to escort you to the room with the load gaper and the ablution trap a grand total of six times, each lasting a generous ten minutes.

You have spent all of your remaining time alone and locked inside your room with absolutely nothing to do. No wait; that’s a fucking lie. You have actually been swamped with a myriad of stimulating activity. You have eaten six meals consisting entirely of grub loaf and sugary-sweet soup. You have tried to break the door down ten times. You have tried to hack the lock twenty-six times. You have tried to take off that fucking ugly bracelet seventeen times. You have counted the tiles on the ceiling five times. (There are 207. There should be 209 but there are two missing.) You have counted the tiles on the floor twice. (There are 233 of them. Seven of them are cracked.) Last but certainly not least, you have picked and poked at the straightening devices on your teeth so many times you lost count somewhere in the low hundreds. You are, in short, bored as fuck.

This is why, when the door opens and it is Cennia who enters the room, you are almost able to look past all of the shit that she has heaped on you thus far and be truly and completely happy that it is not Averic and that something is actually happening. Almost, but not quite.

“What’s this?” you say. “Do my ocular gaze globes deceive me, or is this somebody who knows what in the actual fuck is going on around here?”

“You appear to be recovering beautifully,” she counters. “How are you feeling?”

“How am I feeling? Is that a joke? My mouth is being perpetually violated by alien torture devices. How do you think I am feeling? I feel like shit!”

“Are you experiencing problems with the dental straightening devices? Any excessive bleeding or loose wires?”

You realize then that no; you aren’t actually having any problems with the things on your teeth other than the fact that they are there and you want them off. However, there is not the slightest chance in any of the seven layers of Troll Dante’s hell that you are about to admit this, so instead you say, “My mouth hurts like hell.”

Cennia graces you with yet another of her looks; one which translates to Holy shit you are such a whiny little bitch, I mean come on you sound like a petulant wiggler for fuck’s sake. “Some discomfort is normal. You have been eating all of the food that we provide to you, so I assumed that it was not too severe.”

Her tone suggests a question, and you know that she expects you to say something like “Oh my heavens you’re right. Silly me; I can scarcely feel these metal abominations at all!” You offer up a surly shrug instead.

The corner of her mouth quirks down. (Well fuck me, you think. She actually has emotions.) “Karkat, I understand that you were not recruited into this program voluntarily and I understand that you may harbor some platonic resentment about your circumstances. Personally, I do not care if you choose to behave like an ill-mannered boor. However, my associates have been advised to transfer you over to Torkal’s laboratory if you prove noncompliant. You would do well to remember this whenever you find it difficult to treat them or me with basic civility.”

Of course that shit with Torkal never stopped being a thing, you think. It’s never going to stop being a thing. You realize that Torkal will always be the specter that these bulge fondlers trot out any time you set one toe out of line. It makes you furious—you are furious with them and you are furious with yourself because they have you trapped. They know that you will do anything to avoid letting that creeper fuck around with your insides. It’s the reason that you agreed to all of this shit in the first place and it’s the reason that, when Cennia asks you to follow her, you twist your mouth into the most vomit-inducing sugary smile you can manage and follow her out the door like a good little barkbeast.

You continue raging against all past, present, and future incarnations of yourself as you follow her down the hall. You have trouble deciding which version of you is the biggest nookstain. (Past Karkat is clearly an idiot for agreeing to all of this in the first place. However, future Karkat is a monumental coward, as demonstrated by his amazing ability to be reduced to a spineless, bulge-quaking puddle at the mere mention of Torkal’s name. But man, present Karkat sure does present a strong case for the crown by being a digestion sac-turning cocktail of both past and future Karkat.) It’s a tough choice; one that you burn most of the walk to your ablution block pondering.

Cennia has been mercifully quiet all this time, but as she enters the code into the keypad on the door she takes the opportunity to open her gape hole and say, “When you have finished your ablutions, put on the clothing that has been lain out for you. It is the uniform you will wear while you undergo training.”

Sure enough, the moment the door hisses open you see a pile of neatly-folded clothing waiting for you on the floor in front of the ablution trap. You barely manage to hide your epic eye roll until after you hear the door close and lock behind you because really, who cares what you are wearing? Not you, that’s for sure. As far as you are concerned clothes are clothes and—Wait a second, you think. Something is seriously wrong here.

You paw through the clothing with growing trepidation. You see a gray pair of pants that are practically a mirror image of the ones you are already wearing, basic undergarments, a pair of black shoes which are nicer and newer than yours, and one long-sleeved black shirt. You do not see your symbol on any of it.

The perma-frown on your face deepens into a scowl. You have never thought of your symbol as something worth bragging about. Hell, you spent so much time worrying about the color (not the gray, but the color you knew it should have been; was meant to be) that you rarely ever thought about the symbol at all. Still, it has been a part of you since before you can remember and the thought of going without it here, in this place, makes you nervous.

You go through each piece of clothing again, just to be sure. Not only is your symbol nowhere to be seen; there does not appear to be any symbol at all. You are not sure what you think about that, but you do not like what it implies—no identity; nobody; not a troll; they are trying to ERASE ME—one bit and then you realize that you do not want to think about it anymore so you dump the blank shirt on the ground and retreat to the relative safety of the ablution trap. You turn on the water full-blast and spend the next several minutes thinking of nothing but the feel of the hot water hammering against your back.

After a stretch of time that feels dangerously close to your ten minute limit, you shut off the water, towel off, and begin to get dressed. The pants and shoes fit so well they could have been custom-made. (You wonder how Cennia came to know your exact measurements, as you have no recollection of her taking any. Then you decide that you are probably happier not knowing because oh son of a bitch they did it while you were unconscious, didn’t they? That is a creepy, creepy, creepy invasion of personal space, fuck you very much.) You hesitate with the plain black shirt in your hands. You are seriously debating tearing it to shreds and shoving it down the load gaper—“What shirt? There was no shirt. Looks like it’s going to have to be my old shirt or nothing, you piss-drinking nubsucker”—when there is a knock on the door and Cennia’s voice says, “I am coming in now, Karkat.”

Quickly, you pull the shirt over your head. It is the same as any other shirt you have worn in your entire godforsaken life, and yet it feels completely different. There is a distinct feeling of absence, like a comforting weight that you had never even been aware of has disappeared. You feel naked.

The airlock hisses, and then Cennia comes in, gives you an appraising look, and says, “It appears as though everything fits properly. Are you comfortable?”

You want to say, “Sweet bulge-grinding mother grub you are the shittiest excuse for an Aggressanalyst I have ever seen in my life. You have the perceptive abilities of a blind flybeast’s festering carcass. NO I AM NOT FUCKING COMFORTABLE! Let me wear my symbol, you giant throbbing pustule.” However, you have the feeling that Cennia will just respond to your usual brand of persuasion with yet another of her stupid looks, so you try for something a bit more diplomatic.

“I want to wear my symbol.”

“I’m sorry, but that is not permitted.”

Oh, I bet my undulating asshole you’re sorry! “Why? What difference does it make?”

“All agents of Her Imperial Condescension’s invasion mission are officially recognized as equal in status,” she replies. “There is no need for Hemocaste distinction when you and your fellow trainees are all at the same level. Personal symbols are inextricably tied to the Hemospectrum. They are therefore an unnecessary distraction. Now if you will follow me, it is time for you to meet your fellow trainees.”

You do not want to follow Cennia. As far as you are concerned, her equality schitck is a crock of steaming crap. (It does not help matters that her symbol is on prominent display—a looping, twisted design in deep green emblazoned across her chest and embroidered into the sleeves of her coat.) No, you do not want to follow Cennia and you do not want to meet any other trolls. You want to wear your symbol. You want to go back to your hive and troll your shit-for-pans friends and forget any of this ever happened.

You begin to weigh the pros and cons of pushing Cennia back out into the hall and holing up in this minuscule ablution block until you either come up with a plan to get your derriere out of here or die of starvation. Cennia seems to notice your reluctance. She grabs you by the wrist (screaming mother of fuck her grip is much stronger than you thought it was going to be. You can feel the bones bending and it hurts) and drags you out into the hall.

She marches you down a series of hallways, each as indiscriminately featureless as the last until you suddenly emerge into a room that reeks of burning grubloaf and frying grease. The room is spacious and open. One wall is completely dominated by a huge window, through which you have a lovely view of Alternia and its moons in all their glory against the stark backdrop of space. (You realize for the first time that holy flying shitballs you are on a starship. You then take a moment to properly berate yourself for not noticing this perfectly obvious little detail sooner because what kind of moron doesn’t notice something like that? Hint: the answer is you. You are that kind of moron.) Long tables with bench seats occupy the majority of the floor space. There are also more trolls than you have ever seen in one place in your entire life.

At a glance you guess that there are at least 200 of them. You see trolls milling around in clusters of four or five, trolls sitting at the tables eating, trolls skirting around the edges of the room looking dazed, trolls talking to each other, trolls fighting (you see a muscular one with serrated horns who seems hellbent on pounding the everloving piss out of some poor dupe off in the far corner)—trolls everywhere. The room is filled with a cacophony of voices echoing off the high ceiling and melding together into one big blur of sound that hurts your auricular sponge clots and makes your think pan ring.

“This is the communal nourishment block,” Cennia says, raising her voice to be heard above the noise. “You may eat if you are hungry. Please remain in this room until you receive further instruction. It is highly recommended that you use this time to acquaint yourself with your fellow trainees.”

You have no desire to do any of those things. The food looks incredibly unappetizing and the prospect of falling ass-backwards into a room full of complete strangers is frankly intimidating as hell. Unfortunately, Cennia has already disappeared back into the labyrinthine series of hallways and you do not know the way back to your respite block without her. Your options are officially: (a) go in and try to avoid making an ass of yourself or (b) continue to stand at the edge of the room like a tool. Reluctantly, you shuffle into the thick of the clusterfuck before you.

You try not to make eye contact with anybody as you search for a suitable place to sit—preferably someplace where you can stew over the abject awfulness of your life and everything in it without some douchemuffin flinging a constant stream word vomit in your face. Nobody seems to notice you as you walk past. You find an unoccupied stretch of table and claim it as your own without incident.

You are busy staring into the depths of the platter of something you cannot distinguish as animal, vegetable, mineral, or heaping mass of waste when somebody plops down on the seat beside you. You tear your attention away from the platter of questionable content to see a big, burly guy sitting there, looking at you with a grin that shows off a set of dental straightening devices that match yours and pretty much screams, “WARNING, WARNING: GIANT BAG OF DOUCHE!”

You open your mouth to tell this bulge fondling pissant to shove off, but before you can get a word out he points to your bound arm and says, “You fought, too, huh?”

“What are you talking about and why should I give a fuck?”

He shrugs. “I figured you got that”—he waves at your arm with all the grace of a dying cluckbeast—“when they came around to bring you here.”

This idiot with his stupid grin and his stupid horns (they practically point straight back over the top of his head and it is the dumbest thing you have ever seen) clearly does not understand how to read basic social cues. That is the only explanation you can provide for why he is still sitting here beside you asking stupid questions when you have done less than nothing to encourage him to stay. You are so preoccupied with analyzing the sheer depths of this guy’s stupidity that you do not realize he is still talking until he says, “So did you?”

“Did I what?” you ask, injecting as much disdain into those three syllables as you can possibly manage.

“Fight back!”

“What do you care?”

“Because I did. They broke my nose.” He proudly gestures to his nose—which, you notice is indeed a crooked mess.

“So what?” you say. “You think getting your ass handed to you by the Threshecutioner squad makes you special? Here’s a newsflash for you, you ignorant crotch stain: getting the shit beat out of you by Threshecutioners is pretty much the official inauguration ceremony to this fucktastic pukefest.”

“No it isn’t,” he says, and his grin finally falters.

And now you are confused. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Everyone else I’ve talked to thinks I was shithive maggots for trying to resist.” His expression goes sour as he adds, “Some of them actually volunteered for this.”

You shake your head. “You have got to be shitting me.”

“Go ahead and ask around. Near as I can tell, we are the only two trolls here who were decent enough to go down fighting.”

If what this doofus is saying is true, then he has managed to establish himself as marginally less awful than the rest of the seedflap stroking imbeciles in this room—an accomplishment which you suppose merits an introduction. You offer him your good hand and say, “Karkat Vantas.”

“Evrind Parmav,” he replies, reciprocating your handshake with a grip like a dead fish. He glances down to your stretch of table, which is still void of a plate, let alone any food and adds, “You should seriously try to eat something while you have the chance. They stop bringing meals to your room once they decide to let you come to the communal nourishment block with everybody else.”

“Where in mothergrub’s sacred quivering sphincter did you hear that?” you demand.

“I didn’t,” he answers. “I’ve been here for a while, though. That’s the way it always goes.”

“How long is ‘a while’?”

“I don’t know; about a perigee, I think,” he says with a shrug. “There were only about ten of us when I first got here.”

You give the platter of food sitting in front of you another look. It still looks about as tasty as dirt, but you decide to do your best to choke some of it down because sitting around later, hungry and branding past you a pan-numbing idiot for not eating when you had the chance would suck major bulge.

Evrind keeps talking while you eat. Despite your previous resolve to avoid speaking to or looking at anybody else in the room, you find that you do not mind his company. In fact, after two days of nobody but Averic and Cennia, you are grateful to be able to talk to somebody who does not have a stick permanently inserted up his waste chute. He tells you about how to find the respite block wing and how to find the communal ablution blocks (“You don’t get to use the nice private ones anymore. Those are just for newbies.”) He tells you about who is worth talking to and who is an asshole (though you probably could have figured out that the creeper in the corner pulling the wings off of flies qualified for the “asshole” category on your own). You tell each other about fighting the Threshecutioners (and subsequently getting your asses kicked).

You are still talking to Evrind when a shrill, electronic buzzing noise blasts through the room. The sound goes on for only a few seconds, but the room is dead silent by the time it stops. You shoot a questioning glace towards Evrind because seriously what the fuck, but he just makes a chopping gesture with his hands that you take to mean as shut up and listen.

Moments later, there is a hiss of static. Then Cennia’s voice crackles forth from a loudspeaker system in all its amplified glory. “Your allotted nourishment time has ended. Please return to your respite blocks and await further instruction. That is all.”

There is not a moment of hesitation. No milling around to finish conversations or last-minute attempts to shovel in the last few bites of breakfast-lunch-dinner-whatever-the-fuck-meal-this-is-supposed-to-be. You swear you see some girl two tables over drop a spoonful of soup that was halfway to her mouth back into the bowl. By the time Cennia’s voice stops echoing around the room, half of the trolls in the room are gone.

Already on his feet beside you, Evrind cuffs your shoulder just hard enough to hurt. “Come on,” he whispers. “Time to go.”

You take another look around the rapidly emptying room and shake your head. Jesus, you think. It’s like a flock of fucking woolbeasts.

“Karkat, come on,” Evrind repeats, and you notice that his tone has shifted to something bordering desperation. You raise your eyebrows, but the expression on his face is genuinely distressed so you get up and let him drag you towards the exit.

“Sorry,” he says once you have caught up with the crowd. “It’s a bad idea to let yourself get caught hanging around after they tell you to go somewhere. Trolls who do that tend to disappear, if you catch my drift.”

You think for a moment before answering, “If by ‘disappear’ you mean ‘end up dead and possibly dismembered by Torkal’ then yes; I catch your drift.”

“I have no idea who this Torkal guy is, but yeah. That’s the gist of it.”

Well that’s just great, you think. Thank you, Cennia, for being a complete shit stain and not sharing that important little tidbit of information. It’s not like I needed a manual or anything. A simple ‘Hey, Karkat, do not take an additional two seconds to finish chewing your food before following orders’ would have sufficed. Jesus fuck, you would think that if they are going to hand my ass over to Torkal if I fuck up and break any of their rules, they would at least be decent enough to tell me what the rules are, but guess what: you would be wrong.

You continue to seethe until you notice that the crowd in the hallway has begun to thin. A quick glance confirms your suspicions: some of the trolls ahead of you have begun to peel off from the group to disappear through the numbered doors that line the hall. Apparently, you have reached the respite block wing.

You are just beginning to wonder what in the fuck you are going to do because you have no idea which block belongs to you (because past you is a pus-weeping doofus who never bothered to notice—let alone remember—the number on the door that leads to his respite block) when Cennia materializes from the crowd and says, “Aha. There you are, Karkat. If you will follow me, I will show you the code you will use to gain access to your respite block.”

You don’t even have time offer up a proper goodbye to Evrind before she is herding you away. The best you manage is a lame wave in his general direction before the crowd closes around you and you lose sight of him.

Cennia leads you down the hall, back the way you came until you reach a door with the number “117” neatly stenciled on the front. She enters in a five-digit sequence on the keypad above the handle and then proceeds to drill you on it until you could recite it backwards in your sleep while concussed and heavily intoxicated on sopor slime.

Once she is satisfied that there is no way you will ever forget that completely pedestrian and nondescript combination of numbers, she says, “As of today, this code has been enabled to unlock your door from the inside as well as from the outside. The code will open the door at any time during active hours, but it will not work during the sleep time block because you are not permitted to leave your room during that time. For the moment, we ask that you do not leave your room for reasons other than to use the communal ablution block unless instructed to do so. Do you understand?”

‘Ask’ my ass, you think. You guys probably kill any idiot you see wandering the halls. Out loud, you say, “Yes.”

“Excellent. Please enter your room at this time.”

You type in the code (7-1-7-4-6). There is an automatic whir, the click of a deadbolt drawing, and then—holy shit, how unexpected!—you open the door and you return once again to the room with the boxy furniture and the 207 ceiling tiles and the 233 floor tiles and you very quickly resume being bored as fuck.


> Eridan: Consult with Karkat

Chapter Text

caligulasAquarium [CA] began trolling carcinoGeneticist [CG]

CA: hey kar wwhere the fuck havve you been
CA: i just got my fins on a brand spankin neww doomsday devvice
CA: youd better start gettin your affairs in order an all that other shit you land dwwellers do wwhen you knoww your flyin honkbeast is cooked
CA: damn it kar arent you gonna try an talk me dowwn from destroyin all that you hold dear or ridicule me or anythin
CA: ok you caught me
CA: i dont havve any doomsday devvice
CA: i made it up
CA: that wwasnt wwhat i wwanted to talk to you about anywway
CA: i just wwanted to ask your advvice about somethin
CA: its kinda important but i dont wwanna leavve it sittin in your queue
CA: so
CA: troll me back wwhen you get a second

caligulasAquarium [CA] ceased trolling carcinoGeneticist [CG]


> Karkat: How do I English?

Chapter Text

The morning (and let’s face it, you use the term “morning” very loosely here because the only means of differentiating time on this freefalling hunk of scrap metal that has the gall to call itself a space station is by the automated dimming of the lights which occurs at the end of every “day.” It would be far more accurate to say “the period of time immediately following your sleep time block”, rather than “morning”, but that is so fucking unwieldy and generally obnoxious to say it makes you want to execute a decorative and highly difficult spinning classical dance move off the levered device so “morning” it is) after you meet Evrind, you wake up with a terrible pressure pounding against the inside of your head. It feels as though all of the blood in your body has crammed itself into your pan and you can feel it throbbing in perfect synch with the rhythm of your blood pusher. It makes you want to retch.

You are convinced that this is unequivocally the worst thing that has ever happened to you or anybody else in the history of the universe and you suddenly feel very sorry for all the times you laughed at Sollux and called him a crying grub for trolling you just to complain about his head hurting. Holy flaming shit, if his headaches are even a sliver of what you are experiencing at this moment then past you is a huge sack of insensitive pail swill. You will never call him “stupid fuckwit” or “pathetic pile of cullbait” or “whiny little wiggler who poops hard in his own diapers” again if it will just make this pain in your head stop.

You are so miserable all you want to do is get back into your recuperacoon and sleep until the flesh-eating earwigs which have apparently replaced your brain decide to quit tormenting you and move on to a new victim. It is all you can do to refrain from tearing off your own auricular sponge clots when Cennia’s voice crackles from the intercom on your ceiling and prompts the creatures in your head to add “delightful tap dance on Karkat’s nerve endings” to their repertoire of how to make your life absolutely unbearable.

“Good morning,” says Cennia’s voice (and damned if she doesn’t sound downright cheerful. You would feel like breaking something if your head wasn’t in the process of making your life horrible beyond all belief.) “All trainees must now report to the communal nourishment block at this time. You may eat breakfast while you await further instruction. That is all.”

The idea of going to the communal nourishment block with its burning grubloaf stench and its greasy food and its LOUD AS FUCK ACOUSTICS is enough to make you feel physically ill. You are tempted to slide back into your nice, refreshing sopor slime and pretend that Cennia’s orders were never a thing that happened. Then you remember the way all of the trolls in the communal nourishment block had jumped to follow orders yesterday evening. You remember the half-raised spoonful of soup and through the awful throbbing, you remember Evrind’s words: “Trolls who get caught hanging around tend to disappear.”

Slowly, you haul your sorry ass across your respite block. Once you are standing outside, you discover a packet of papers clipped to the front of the door.

You glare at the papers as though they are the sole cause of everything that has ever gone wrong with your life. If you had even the slightest, most pathetic reserves of psychic power, the paper would obligingly burst into flame under the intensity of such a glare. Unfortunately, you are not some douchebag with a bifurcation complex and beastly psionic power, so nothing happens.

You spend a few more seconds glaring at the papers, just to show anybody who might care to look that you are in a fucking terrible mood and you are in no condition to be putting up with this reeking pile of mixed and blended excrement. Then you snatch the papers off the door and begin to read:


What a festering pile of bulgereek. You slowly shake your head. Who in their right mind could possibly be idiotic enough to believe any of this propagandafest? Still shaking your head, you turn the page and continue to read:


What in quaking asspurge is all this, you think. Whatever it is, you are in no mood to deal with it. You flip to the last page and see a map of the station. Well. At least that has some practical appeal to it; although you do find yourself wondering why in the name of fuck you did not receive one of these sooner. Would it have really been that difficult for Cennia to slip one of these to you in all the time you spent locked in your room? The answer is no. No; it would have taken absolutely no effort on her part at all.

You are tempted to continue in this vein of thought, but fuck it. Your head hurts and you have not seen a single, solitary troll since you left your respite block which means that everybody else is probably already at breakfast by now. Headache or not, you are not at all keen on the idea of having your ass handed over to Torkal on the first day you are allowed the tiniest sliver of autonomy. Taking advantage of your newly-acquired navigational tool (because fuck if you remember the way from last night), you make your way to the communal nourishment block, post-haste.

The room is packed when you get there. It is also LOUD AS FUCK, which prompts your head to send a spike of OH MAN OH GOD WHY pain through your being. You glance at the food on the tables. It is different from the swill that you somehow managed to choke down last night, but it looks just as repulsive and the smell of fried grease and god knows what else makes you want to turn skyward and spatter the heavens with your own projectile vomit. In short, everything is just as atrocious as you expected it to be.

You stand there at the edge of the room with the crowd and the food and the OH FUCK MAKE IT STOP NOISE until a girl scuttles past you and disappears into the crowd with all the frantic desperation of a flying squirrel with a string of firecrackers buried deep within its ass. (Well would you look at that, you are not the last one to arrive after all. You take a moment to congratulate yourself for being slightly less incompetent than you imagined.) Then you steel up your nerves and you slouch into the room.

Through the grace of whatever higher deity has decided to fuck around with you today, you manage to find a seat which is isolated enough from the crowd to minimize your chances of having to make inane conversation with any dumb shits who lack the intellect to understand that you are in no mood to deal with their bullshit. You proceed to spend the next several minutes willing the contents of your digestive sac to stay put while you stare into the depths of one of the many platters of unidentifiable “food” on the table before you.


“Your allotted nourishment time has ended,” says Cennia’s voice. (Well thank Her Imperious Condescension’s anointed butthole for that, you think. Now to go back to my respite block and sleep until this pan-rupturing headache goes away.) “Please proceed to the next location noted on your personal schedule at this time. That is all.”

Well fuck. It figures that the one time you are actually looking forward to returning to your respite block you would be ordered to do something else. You are very tempted to lose your shit at this turn of events. Instead you take a moment to collect your shit, ensuring that it is nestled safe within the confines of a drawn and tied burlap sack which you will wear on a string around your neck where it will dangle above your beating blood pusher for the rest of your life. Then you flip through the packet of papers that you totally had the foresight to bring with you until you come across the schedule that you skimmed over earlier.

Schoolblock A, you think. Spawn of a nook-spawning pus nugget. You are in no condition to be going to any schoolfeed at this moment. No; the only action you are prepared to undertake at this moment is collapsing face down on the table and staying dead to the world for the next several hours. Sadly, the room is already beginning to empty, leaving you no choice but to whip out your map and be on your way.

When you reach the schoolblock, you take a few seconds to stand there in front of the door, blocking the way for everybody else behind you while you look around the room like a gape-eyed idiot just to get your bearings. Before you is a staircase that leads down to a half-moon sliver of gray-carpeted floor far below. There is a small metal desk piled with a mess of papers and books in the middle of the floor space, and on the wall behind the desk is the biggest projection screen you have ever seen. (Damn you would love to watch a few of your romcoms on that screen. But wait. That’s a fucking stupid thing to think because you don’t have any romcoms anymore and even if you did you would have to be high as a sopor-slurping fucktard to attempt watching them in this room.) Tiers of desks with bench seats radiate out from either side of the staircase, curving out until they reach the walls. The chairs and desks are made out of some kind of cheap-ass plastic that tries to compensate for its subpar quality by coming in shades of navy blue and cream which probably have annoyingly pretentious names like “Twilight Elegance” and “Antique Ivory”. They do not fool anybody, least of all you.

The seating area is already half-full. Most of the trolls are sitting in tight knots of twos and threes, but you see a cluster of about twenty occupying most of the lower middle area, and there is another sizeable clump in one of the far corners of the room. You realize then that you have absolutely no idea where you should sit.

You scan the seating area again and you catch sight of a familiar pair of backwards-raking horns. Well polish my bulge and display it on top of last twelfth perigee’s behemoth leaving, you think. Is that Evrind? If not for the still very much present throbbing in your think pan, you would be dangerously close to contorting your face into a genuine smile because seriously, what are the odds of stumbling across the only person in this cesspit who you have spoken to without wanting to tear off your own autoerogenous shame globes and shove them up your waste chute just to distract yourself from rage-inducing levels of idiocy and bullshit? You have no idea what those odds are, but you are pretty sure that they are very slim and that you have beaten the fuck out of them.

As soon as you sit down beside him, Evrind turns to you with a dopey grin plastered on his face and says, “Hey, man, did you read that form letter?”

“You mean this phlegm-encrusted conglomeration of unfiltered nook waste?” you reply, holding up the letter attached to the front of the packet of papers.

He nods. “That’s the one.”

“Then yes. I read it.”

“What did you think of it?”

You take a moment to craft a response which adequately conveys the depths of your disgust. Then you say, “I would say that General Douchefist needs to pull his head out of his own waste chute, but since he already has his head buried so far up the Condesce’s waste chute he can probably taste whatever she ate for her last meal, that is a moot point. The whole thing is one giant ass squirt of shit-flavored platitudes.”

You scowl. In hindsight, that response was woefully insufficient. It does not express even a fraction of your disdain. Evrind seems to catch your drift, regardless.

“I know, right?” he laughs. “Oh, and get this: this is the same form letter they’ve been using for the past hundred sweeps at least.”

You shake your head, incredulous. “Are you kidding me?”

“Nope. That Edolst guy has been dead for about a hundred sweeps.”

“Where did you hear that?”

He grins again and you think that you would probably find his face to be amazingly punchable if you were feeling halfway decent. “I’m really into history,” he says. “Razayu Edolst was this small fry general a long time ago. He co-led an invasion campaign one hundred and twenty-four sweeps ago of some planet that nobody even cares about anymore. I guess he somehow managed to find time to write this little gem between ordering platoons of trolls to go get themselves killed.”

He looks as though he wants to keep talking about General Douche Thumper and though your limited exposure to Evrind thus far has shown him to be a perfectly decent specimen of trollkind, you can’t bring yourself to give any measurable increment of a shit. You have absolutely no recollection of ever hearing about a General Razayu Edolst in any of your basic schoolfeeds and you don’t particularly care to hear about him now.

You scan the room for something—anything—you might use to change the topic. Your eyes catch on a troll sitting alone in the first row—a bony-looking girl with long, stringy hair and no horns. You frown and squint your eyes, thinking that you must have just missed seeing them because god knows your own tiny little nubs can be hard to spot if you let your hair get too out of hand. Nope; her hair is flat against her head and you can’t see anything—nubs or otherwise—that resembles horns.

“Who’s that?” you ask, pointing to the hornless girl.

Evrind’s face contorts into a look of such sour distaste you might as well have been waving a maggot-covered slice of bleat beast genitalia under his nose. “Her?” he says. The single syllable is so heavy with contempt it might as well be dripping with it. You can practically see an acid-green pool of oh my Christ gross forming on the desk in front of you. “That’s Shrega.”

“What’s up with her horns?”

The revulsion on Evrind’s face intensifies even further. It might as well be oozing from his pores now, like fat beads of I am seriously about to barf sweat. “She doesn’t have any,” he says. “And she was born that way. Some kind of mutant freak or something.”

Something twists in your gut at the way he says the words “mutant freak.” It is the embodiment of everything you have spent so much of your life fearing; the reason you so desperately hid your blood color from even your closest friends; the reason you would never, under any circumstances, allow yourself to cry or blush or anything in public. You cannot imagine what her life must have been like—how she even managed to survive at all—with such a visible mutation.

Evrind seems to notice your distress. “I get what you’re thinking,” he says. “That walking abomination never should have made it out of the brooding caverns. Believe me I am with you on that one.”

You have a sudden urge to punch him right on his broken nose, headache be damned. Then you realize that even though Evrind has seriously misjudged your reasons for being horrified, it appears as though everybody else shares his sentiments: Shrega isn’t just sitting alone. There are plenty of other trolls doing that. No; there is a wide swatch of empty space all around her as though she has issues with offensively loud and rancid flatulence.

If you were a halfway decent person, you would go and sit with her—but as soon as the thought enters your head you know you won’t. Nobody in their right mind would be caught dead associating with the mutant freak. You know damn well that doing so yourself would be tantamount to erecting a giant neon sign over your head that reads “HELLO EVERYBODY. MY NAME IS KARKAT MCDUMBSHIT VANTAS AND THERE IS SOMETHING FUNDAMENTALLY WRONG WITH ME. YOU HAVE MY FORMAL SANCTION TO MAKE MY LIFE AS MISERABLE AS YOU SEE FIT.”

No, you decide that it is definitely wiser to avoid calling any excessive attention to yourself given the circumstances (the circumstances being, of course, that you, too, are a disgusting mutant freak). That is why you keep your ass firmly planted in your chair and you try your damndest to forget that you ever noticed the conspicuously isolated hornless troll at all.

Thankfully, Evrind is just as ready to move on from talking about Shrega as you are. He has already gone back to contentedly babbling away about General Who-Gives-A-Shit Edolst. You don’t mind this at all. In fact, General Edolst is now the most interesting topic in the universe and you will happily devote the rest of your life to researching every last detail of his life, right down to learning his bowel patterns and analyzing them for any sign of abnormalities.

Just when you think that Evrind might be about to broach that very topic, a nasally voice shouts, “All right, all of you shut the hell up and face forward, right now!”

You turn your attention forward and find that a troll has appeared behind the desk on the ground below you. The first thing you notice about the troll is that he is very short. If you had to guess, you would say that he is scarcely taller than you—a feat which would be remarkable enough for somebody your own age (because let’s face it, compared to some of your friends you are fucking stunted), but in an adult it is truly a wonder to behold. The guy’s shoulders are about as wide as he is tall, his shoulders and arms are thick with muscle and his legs are wide-set and equally huge. His face is an ugly miasma of pockmarks and scars, made all the more foreboding by a scowl so intense it looks as though he has allocated every facial muscle to that very purpose. You do not know what a bulldog is yet, but the second you learn what one is, this guy is the first thing that will pop into your head.

“It is my great displeasure to welcome you sniveling little shits into the only covert agent training program in the entire Alternian Empire,” he says. “My name is Migdal Rakura and I will be your language instructor. Before we get started, let’s get something straight: I am not your lusus. I am not your friend. I do not like nor do I give a shit about any of you. If you want to know my honest opinion, my first impression of you as a group is that you are all whiny, incompetent little grubs. However, because I am obligated to do so, I’m going to share some cold, hard facts about this program with you so you know exactly what you are getting into.”

Despite your reluctance to embrace anything about this royal crapper of a situation, you find yourself listening to Migdal not because you have to, but because holy shit, here is a guy you can actually relate to! He may be ugly as the infected backside of a snortbeast, but this is the first person on the operating side of this pukestain operation who seems to have just as much contempt for everything about it as you do.

“The first thing you need to know,” says Migdal, “is that very few of you are going to Earth.”

A wave of murmuring breaks out over the crowd. You can’t blame them because if you aren’t going to Earth then why in barfnugget fuck are you here? Migdal’s scowl becomes so deep his entire face might as well have turned into a giant canyon of SHUT THE HELL UP. When the whispering tapers down to a manageable hiss, he says, “By the time this program has run its course, only about ten percent of you are going to prove fit for deployment. The remaining ninety percent of you will face termination.”

The whispering that never quite died off explodes into a raging inferno of people losing their collective shit. There are people yelling, people jumping out of their chairs, people LOUDLY discussing this turn of events and GODDAMN IT YOUR HEADACHE IS BACK; AN IMPERIAL DRONE HAS RAMMED A CULLING FORK THROUGH THE CROWN OF YOUR SKULL ARE YOU SATISFIED NOW YOU ASSHOLES?

Migdal’s tinny voice cuts through the pandemonium like the sharp squeal of blades on glass. “Everybody SIT DOWN SHUT YOUR GAPEHOLES AND LISTEN!”

The noise stops abruptly, leaving a hollow echo its place. There is a scuffling sound as people return to their seats and settle in. Migdal stands, a fat ridge of vein throbbing in the center of his forehead as he waits for the room to be silent. Finally, he says, “I am assuming that you would like to know what you need to do in order to avoid kissing your own sorry asses goodbye. If that is the case, I suggest that you listen very carefully to what I am about to tell you. If that is not the case, then by all means, continue to act like a den of rabid howlbeasts. Either way, it’s no skin off my ass.”

He pauses, eyes scanning the crowd as though daring everybody before him to try whispering or coughing or farting—just try it—and see what happens. The room remains silent. With a sharp nod, he says, “All right then. Look to your left.”

The sound of you and two hundred other trolls shifting in their seats ripples through the room.

“Now look to your right.” You turn to look at Evrind (or rather, the back of Evrind’s head as he is also looking right. Son of a mothergrub fucking bitch does this stupid exercise actually have a point?) You can practically hear the creak of thousands of working neck muscles as the trolls around you move to do the same.

“Do you think that you are at least marginally more intelligent than what you see?” he asks.

You almost laugh at that because really? Of course you are smarter than this dumb fuck. If you were even close to approaching such depths of idiocy, you would be too busy cataloguing your nose excretions to function.

“You had better hope to high hell that the answer is ‘yes I am the most intelligent example of trollkind in this schoolblock’ because from now on your life depends on your ability to demonstrate that you are not as woefully stupid as your peers. Your schoolfeeds will have extensive progress assessments every perigee. By the end of your training, you will have faced about one hundred and fifty of these assessments and if you receive the lowest score on even one, you will be terminated, no exceptions.”

Another apprehensive ripple of whispering breaks out across the crowd. Migdal makes a furious chopping motion with his hand and the room quiets down again. He takes a moment to shoot a glare towards a little knot of trolls who take longer to quiet down than the rest of the group. Then he says, “Performing poorly on your assessments is easily the most common reason for termination, but it’s not the only way to get yourself killed. If you fail to cooperate with your cosmetic alteration regimen, you will be terminated, no exceptions. Fail to adhere to your quarterly schedule and you will be terminated, no exceptions. Fail to treat your superiors with proper respect and you will be terminated, no exceptions. In short, fail to exercise common sense and you will find your ass served cold, no exceptions. Are there any questions?”

The room remains silent this time. The silence stretches to a point that is on the border between “uncomfortable” and “FOR THE LOVE OF BULGEROTTING BULL WEEVILS SAY SOMETHING” before Migdal goes on.

“No questions? Well aren’t you just a bunch of the sharpest machetes in the adversary’s bloodpusher. If there are no questions, I will go on to the final point that I am required to tell you before we delve into your real work. If you have a question and you did not ask it for some unfathomably stupid reason, you had damn well better ask it now because I will not be answering any later.”

He looks around the room one more time, beady eyes two smoldering pits of contempt. Nobody moves or speaks. “All right then. From this point on, you are officially forbidden from using Alternian. You may not speak Alternian, you may not write Alternian, you may not type Alternian, and if you happen to be a telepath you may not engage in Alternian telepathically. If you do speak or write or otherwise attempt to communicate using Alternian at any time you will be killed on the spot, no exceptions.”

The room is dead silent for all of two seconds. Then some idiot two rows ahead of you yells, “What the hell?”

Migdal is on that guy with such ferocious intensity you can practically feel his rage searing the air around you. “I SAID NO ALTERNIAN, YOU CRYING LITTLE FUCKER! Consider this your one and only pass. If I hear one more word of Alternian, somebody dies. Have I made myself perfectly clear?”

The object of Migdal’s wrath has shrunk so far down into his seat all you can see of him are the tips of his horns. They bob up and down once, twice, three times; the only answer that poor bastard can give.

“Good,” grunts Migdal. “I can’t tell you how relieved I am to know that I have managed to penetrate your unusually thick skull. Now that I have your undivided attention, I will continue.

“Your other schoolfeed instructors will conduct their time blocks in Alternian for now. They will transition to using the target language as your skills develop. Regardless of what you hear, your ban against Alternian will still be in effect. If you speak so much as one word of Alternian to them, you will die.”

Migdal pauses again, though you can’t imagine why. You may be surrounded by idiots, but you would be genuinely shocked if anybody in the room was really stupid enough to say anything. Finally, Migdal says, “From this point on, I will be speaking to you almost exclusively in the target language. Consider this your first English lesson.”

He then proceeds to make the most terrible noises you have ever heard in your life. Seriously, what the hell is that shit? It’s all weird, moaning noises punctuated by equally weird percussive noises and…some kind of hissing noise, you guess.

You have no idea what the fuck Migdal is supposedly saying, but you do know that you hate this shitty language and by extension, you also hate humans for ever conceiving of it. If you could go back in time and find the human responsible for this travesty of a communication system, you would cheerfully shove a rocket up his ass and fire it into the nearest available supernova.

Everybody looks to be as profoundly uncomfortable as you are. You see a group of three trolls whispering to each other two rows ahead of you. You are half-tempted to turn to Evrind and say, “Well, that does it for me. I am checking out of this giant hivestem of panfuck.” However, you do not have a death wish, so you just sit there with your gapehole hanging open like a tool.

Eventually someone (and fuck if you know who) figures out that a particular sequence of growl-groan sounds means “Repeat what I am saying dumb shits”. Not long after that everyone is trying to abuse their poor speech boxes into producing sounds that resemble the ones Migdal is making. It is far more difficult than you would like to admit and you have a feeling that you sound like a colossal moron. Your only consolation is that everybody else around you also sounds like colossal morons.

After an unseemly stretch of time in which you have literally no idea what you are meant to be learning outside of English is a fucking horrible language, Migdal says in Alternian (sweet troll Jesus hallelujah, music to your auricular sponge clots): “All right. That’s all for now. You will be free to go shortly. But first, you three—“ (he points one sausage-sized finger at three trolls—the ones who you had seen whispering earlier) “—come down here.”

Everybody sitting in the general proximity of those three trolls immediately begins to look at them with awkward little side glances, looking at them while trying not to look as though they are looking at them. Not you, though. You look directly at the poor bastards, so you have no trouble seeing them exchange expressions that are all variants of oh shit.

“I’m sorry; did I stutter?” Migdal asks. His voice is thick with something that makes your bloodpusher thump out a Morse code message against your chest which reads DANGER DANGER RUN AWAY; RUN AWAY YOU DUMB NOOK-CRAWLING FUCK RUN AWAAAAAAY!

You would love to oblige but your legs have suddenly acquired the consistency of diarrhea and all you can do is sit with your ass firmly planted in your chair as Migdal goes on with, “I was under the impression that I was speaking perfectly clear Alternian when I said come down!”

The last word comes out a harsh bark that makes two of the whispering trolls flinch while the third outright cowers like a little bitch. They exchange a final look of pure misery. Then they get up and slowly make their way down to the bottom of the stairs.

Once they are standing beside him, Migdal adopts a confidential tone as he says, “You are probably wondering why I have called you down here.”

None of them say anything. Migdal doesn’t seem to mind. Circling the three of them like a hungry howlbeast, he says, “You are going to help me illustrate a very important point to your fellow trainees.”

Turning to address the rest of his audience, Migdal states, “In every sorry batch of recruits that I see come through here, there are always a few who seem to have trouble understanding that the words ‘No Alternian’ do not mean ‘No Alternian, but only when Migdal isn’t paying attention.’ Well, let me assure you: me and all of my associates are always paying attention.”

The three trolls have gone from nervous to terrified. The one standing in the middle—the one that had cowered—has gone white as your lusus’ ass. To their credit, none of them have cried, screamed, or lost control of their bodily functions yet, which is admirable enough given the circumstances.

The door of the schoolblock explodes open with such force it slams against the wall with a resounding crash. A hulking form comes barreling into the room and starts down the stairs. You do not recognize the massive troll as Averic until he has already passed you by because oh my Christ he is smiling. It is an ugly, cruel thing that is more of a grimace than a proper smile, but it is more emotion than you had thought he was capable of displaying. You promptly decide that you liked him better when he was an emotionless bulge wad.

“Ah. Averic,” says Migdal. “You are right on time.”

He waits for Averic to join him on the floor before he continues. “For those of you who have not met him, this is Averic. He is responsible for general security on our space station. He is also our primary executioner.”

The three trolls standing beside Migdal finally lose it at the word “executioner.” The one in the middle lets out a high-pitched shriek that would have prompted you to feel embarrassed for him if you weren’t so busy being horrified.

The other two trolls are more proactive. The guy on the left focuses on the desk and it is suddenly floating in a cloud of barf-green psionic energy, ready to become a nice, big projectile weapon. The guy on the right raises his hands in two tight fists which spark with arcs of blue-white electricity.

You have only just begun to wonder what might happen if by some miracle they actually manage to kill Averic when the desk crashes to the floor, the electricity fizzles, and both trolls are writhing on the ground. Voice silken smooth, Migdal purrs, “Attacking your schoolfeed instructor is a very poor idea. Especially when your schoolfeed instructor happens to be a leech.”

You shiver. Sollux told you about leeches once—trolls who absorb psychic power. He claimed that he’d caught one of them trying to steal some of his wicked shit computer equipment once and, upon trying to fry the fucker with a well-deserved psionic blast, had experienced “the most heinously disgusting feeling ever” followed by “the most debilitating weakness ever”, all peppered with “pain, pain, and just for variety: more fucking pain.” You are suddenly profoundly grateful that you have no psychic abilities and are therefore in no position to ever have to deal with such shit.

Down on the floor, Migdal pats the psionic troll on the head. “Thanks for the snack, kid. Averic?”

Averic leaps into action, his face a childlike mask of sadistic glee. He goes for the cowering troll first, snatching him up with ease. The poor bastard doesn’t even try to fight back. All he can do is stare, slack-jawed as the grinning psychopath puts one huge hand on either side of his head and squeezes until OH MAN OH GOD OH MAN YOU CLOSE YOUR EYES BUT YOU CAN STILL HEAR IT; HEAR IT POP LIKE A FUCKING GRAPE! You keep your eyes closed, but there is no way to block out the sound—CRUNCH-POP-SQUISH—as Averic dispenses of the other two trolls. Your digestive sac is roiling, you are sweating, and oh son of a bitch you are shaking. You are shaking and you are going to puke, you are going to puke, you are—Migdal is talking again.

“Consider this a warning. One word of Alternian and this will be you.”

You crack an eye open and instantly wish you hadn’t. Rust-red blood and chunky brain matter are everywhere. All over the floor. Splattered all over Averic and Migdal. On the desk. And the bodies—you slam your eyes shut, but the image is already seared into your thinkpan, ready to lurk there like a trauma spider and cause you untold levels of grief every goddamn time you close your eyes ever again.

“You are free to take your lunch; and remember: NO ALTERNIAN!”

You stand up, wanting nothing more than to get the fuck out of this miserable schoolblock and forget about all of the awful things you have been subjected to in it, but the aisle is already clogged with trolls. You have no choice but to wait for them to file past. They do so at a positively glacial pace—a situation made all the more frustrating for the fact that you can’t even yell at any of them for it.

You are forced to watch in silence as a troll after troll inches past. There goes a troll with corkscrew spiral horns and here comes one with serrated, vertical horns, and here comes hornless Shrega with her ocular gaze globes glued to the ground and her stringy hair hanging down into her face. Perhaps it is because she is one of the only trolls you know the name of, or maybe it’s because shit, she’s a mutant, too, but you suddenly notice something is different about her; something more than the obvious lack of horns. You watch her pass by, trying to place what it is that you saw and then you see it again: a brief flash of red around her wrist.

Goddamn, you think because for a while you had forgotten all about that stupid wristband that you woke up wearing three days ago. You begin to scan the wrists of all of the trolls that pass by. Not one of them has a wristband, let alone a bright-as-hell candy red one. You turn around to look at Evrind’s wrists, just to be sure and your suspicions are confirmed: no wristband.

It’s just me and her, you think as you finally get onto the stairs. We’re the only ones wearing these ugly-ass things. The two mutants.

Is that really what it’s for? You wonder. To mark out the freaks? The thought makes you shudder. Quickly, you twitch your long sleeve over the red band of shame. All you can do is hope that nobody else has noticed you wearing the thing. If what you have seen so far is any indication, being a mutant in this place makes you fair game for any manner of douchebaggery. You have no desire to receive said douchebaggery.

Fucking Cennia, you think. Everybody’s equal here my ass.


> Terezi: Begin to suspect

Chapter Text

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> Karkat: Observe assessment results


Chapter Text

Just when you think that your life cannot get any worse, the universe finds new and exciting ways to bite you in the bulge. Case in point, Exhibit A: Yesterday, Cennia and her crew of wonderbutts successfully removed your claws and replaced them with woefully inadequate clear nubs. (Seriously, how can humans live with these things? They aren’t sharp enough to be good for anything, and even if they were they are so brittle they are liable to break the second you try to do anything practical with them, like scratch your enemy’s eyes out or sharpen your sickles or slice open a can of roe paste so you can make roe cubes to appease your cantankerous lusus.) Exhibit B: Your hands are still two useless blobs of bandages and pain. Both of these exhibits lead us inevitably to Exhibit OH MY TREEFUCKING CHRIST ARE YOU SHITTING ME C: At this precise moment you find yourself standing in your respite block stark naked but for a thin film of sopor slime with ABSOLUTELY NO WAY OF PUTTING ON YOUR GODDAMNED CLOTHES. Although you do not believe in any higher power, you are pretty sure that if such divine beings did exist they would all be exchanging friendly bulge-bumps and laughing at you in all of your sopor-soaked, ass-naked glory.

Yes, you have had it with the universe and everything in it. If your rage could become a tangible thing, you would use it to fashion yourself a brand-new set of claws which you would use to tear the universe and any non-existent higher deities a collective new one. Sadly, you have yet to discover the means to perform such a feat and you are left with no choice but to try and find a more pragmatic solution to your current dilemma.

Gingerly, you clasp a towel between your bandaged hands and drag it over yourself as best you can. The slime comes off, but with your hands worse than useless it leaves a sticky residue that you cannot remove. (Ugh, you think. This is going to itch like a weeping crotch blister when it dries.) You grudgingly accept that there is no way in nook-fondling hell that you are ever going to muster up the dexterity to do anything about it and turn your attention to your clothes.

Never in your life has anything so simple been rendered so infuriatingly difficult. Somehow, you manage to thread your legs into your pants and are in the process of manhandling them into place when you realize that—surprise!—they are backwards. You proceed to struggle out of them, your mind devising a fine tapestry of curses and insults until you can properly vent your fury by giving the traitorous clothing item a well-earned kick. The pants sail across the room—and land directly in your recuperacoon. By the time you manage to fish them out of the sopor slime, they are thoroughly saturated with green goo.

You want to swear. You want to swear so badly and you can’t because the “no Alternian” rule is still in full effect and you have not learned any English swear words yet. (Even if you did know any English, you suspect that they would not be nearly as gratifying as any of your Alternian standbys.) The best you can do is slap the sopping mess of fabric onto your table and glare at it until you remember that you need to get to the communal nourishment block and you are no closer to being dressed now than you were five minutes ago.

You retrieve a fresh pair of pants and spend the next several minutes kicking, thrashing, and generally abusing the shit out of them until you finally manage to get them on. You are busy administering similar treatment to your shirt when the intercom begins to crackle.

“Good morning” says Cennia. “This announcement is for all trainees. Your first round of tests have been scored and processed. Results are posted in the communal nourishment block. Trainees wishing to view their scores may do so during the allotted breakfast time. That is all.”

You finish wiggling into your shirt and try to ignore the way your clothes seem to amplify the itchy, wet feel of sopor slime on your arms and legs. Instead you think of the test results hanging in the nourishment block. Six people are going to die today, you think. The thought makes you shudder, not because you think that you might be one of the unlucky bastards who did poorly enough to end up dead, but because seriously, six people are going to die today.

You want to get to the nourishment block before too much of a crowd gathers, but your abused hands are so awkward you can barely even touch the buttons on the keypad beside the door. It takes twelve—oh my god TWELVE!—attempts before you finally manage to punch in the code to unlock your door. (You want to swear so much it hurts! Holding back the flood of profanity welling in your chitinous windhole is making you sweat even more profusely than a certain freakishly strong, hemospectrum-worshipping creeper who you weren’t even really friends with—seriously, why are you even thinking about that mouthbreathing musclebeast bulge fetishist?)

By the time you make it to the nourishment block, there is already a large knot of trolls milling around a section of wall on the far side of the room. You allow your silent rage to soak into all of your senses like a fine marinade because wow, your hands and their inability to perform basic, everyday tasks have done the impossible and made your already miserable existence even worse. You wait until you are no longer seeing red (because fuck that color for getting you into all of this in the first place. Fuck it sideways with a rusty culling fork). Then you begin to weave through the crowd.

It hits you as you skirt through the fray: the sense of too-quiet eeriness you always get whenever you encounter a room full of fellow trainees. With this many congregating bulgebrains, the room should be alive with an unbearable cacophony of talking, yelling, laughing, fighting, screeching, threatening, joking, and all manner of incessant yammering. That it’s not—that the only sounds you can hear are scuffling footsteps and a few whispered, monosyllable exchanges that do not even qualify as conversation—is enough to give you an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of your digestive sac.

The press of bodies grows tighter around you as you near the wall. You are soon struggling against trolls moving in all directions—away from the wall, towards the wall, back and forth and in aimless, darting patterns which you assume are designed to aggravate you and everybody else with half a functional pan. You push past a girl with boy-short hair who is just standing still in the middle of everything for no conceivable reason whatsoever, almost knocking her off her feet. She says nothing because—ha—she can’t, but she gives you a look that says something along the lines of “Fuck you, you throbbing ass pimple if I could talk right now I would call you out on your cloddish bullshit like a screaming harpy; I swear to fuck this wordless glare barely conveys a fraction of my contempt for you and everything you stand for.” (Christ, you think. Is Cennia running a scathing glare schoolfeed? I should look into that shit.) Then you move one way, the crowd moves another and you’re up against the wall, face to face with six long reams of paper.

Nothing exists outside of those six sheets of black on white as you check the names at the bottom of each list. Annael Sevart. Smedus Menfor. Ellasa Penrik. Finien Caspet. Tarina Inglen. Melron Parnes. You let out a breath you hadn’t realized you were holding. Nobody you know.

It takes you a long time to locate your own name on each of the lists because as if having to sift through over two hundred other names wasn’t aggravating enough, the slurry-gulping dickmuffin that wrote the list decided to do so in English. You are forced to phonetically chew on every single blockish letter on the page until you trip over the sequence of sounds that make up the English approximation of your name. (It is hard not to wince when you finally do find it. The flat mouth sounds leach all the character out of it and turn it into a fucking travesty. Your lusus would be rotating in his underground interment chamber if he could hear it.)

The results are better than you expected. You managed to fall somewhere in the upper half of each list, and you are surprised to see that you curb stomped the shit out of almost everybody on the language test. You are not sure whether to be relieved or dismayed. Sure, you are one step farther away from Torkal’s “Let’s cut Karkat into pieces and see how much he screams” funhouse. On the other heavily bandaged grope digit, you are also one step closer to being nook deep in ass-ugly human creatures.

You are still trying to decide how you feel about the results when a large hand claps down onto your shoulder. You narrowly swallow back the urge to shout “Gah! What the fuck!” (because seriously, what the fuck?) as you wheel around to glare at the socially retarded barf nugget who thinks that sneaking up on people and scaring the shit out of them is an acceptable way to say hello. It comes as little surprise when you see Evrind grinning back at you.

“How is….” He trails off. You can practically hear the rusty spike wheels turning in his pan as he searches for the word he wants to say. He makes a face that indicates he is thinking really hard. (Or maybe he just really needs to use the load gaper. Fuck if you know.) Finally, he grins and says, “Score. Uh…scores. How is scores?”

You shrug. “Good. You?”

“Not bad.” He smiles and proceeds to point out his name on each list. You hate to admit it, but you are glad to see that his name is also in the upper portion of each list. He might be a grinning douchefist, but he is less irritating than pretty much everybody else in this putrid armpit of the universe, and although you can imagine an infinite number of events which would make things even shittier, not having him around ranks pretty high on the list.

“This…this one, two, three, four, five not bad,” he repeats. He points to the language test results and his smile falters. “This one bad.”

You follow his finger and your jaw drops because “bad” does not even penetrate the layer of filth surrounding the outer skin of this ball of stratified fuck you fruit. “Bad” is such a piss-poor representation of what your eyes are feasting on at the moment it is almost laughable. No, what you are seeing is so shitty your brain cannot summon up a word deplorable enough to describe it and you are instead forced to make one up. It is nauseapalling, that’s what it is.

Evrind’s name is not only towards the end of the list; it is a mere five names away from the very bottom. You do not understand how anybody could do so well on all of the hard shit and do so abysmally on the English test when all of the other tests were also written in fucking English. For the barest moment, you consider slapping the stupid bastard senseless because the whole thing just seems so goddamned reprehensible. Then Evrind is tugging at your slapping arm, leaving you with little choice other than to turn away from the list and give him a scowl which you sincerely hope conveys the same level of “what the hell you stupid douche” as your righteous fist of fury.

He bobs his head in the general direction of the tables, which are rapidly becoming islands of clusterfuck to rival the quagmire that you just finished fighting through. “We eats?”

You shake your head. “We eat.”


Your scowl deepens because goddamn it you are not letting this dumbass get himself killed over subpar alien verb conjugation. Not on your watch. “Not ‘we eats.’ We eat.”

You are rewarded with his thinking-really-hard-or-imminent-rocket-propelled-bowel-movement look. Then his face splits into grin which, if not for the dim light of cognition dawning in his eyes, would suggest that his capacity for higher intelligence was on par with a pan-addled assworm. “Understand!” he exclaims. “Thank you. We eat?”

“Yes. We eat.”

The two of you head for the tables. Despite the fact that pretty much every douchethumper and their lusus is already seated, you are fortunate enough to find two seats together. You examine the plethora of foodstuffs laid out on the table in front of you and—hot damn, are those waffles? Fortune has apparently decided to smile on you because fuck yes those are indeed waffles. There are plenty of Earth foods that make you want to vomit up everything which has ever passed through your alimentary canal since the day you hatched, but on a scale of “Congratulations; you have murdered me with this repulsive swill and I hope the chef is contemplating ritual suicide for shame” and “AAUUGHH THIS IS SO DELICOUS THAT MY SQUAWK GAPER IS IN THE THROES OF ORGASM AND CANNOT BE BOTHERED TO FORM MEANINGFUL WORDS SO HAVE SOME OBSCENE MOANING INSTEAD” waffles rank somewhere around “Pretty alright.”

You are all set to snag a couple of those steaming squares of fried wheat-dough and then you remember your hands. Your goddamned, bandage-encased, worse than useless hands. Even if by some unprecedented stroke of generosity on the part of the universe and everything in it you manage to get the waffles onto your plate rather than dump them in your lap, there is no way in the stub-rotting concentric layers of the brooding caverns that you are going to be able to manage silverware. Your options are officially (a) attack the food face first like a fucking animal or (b) starve.

For the barest moment, you consider it. There are no rules against breaking proper table etiquette and you were never renowned for your genteel disposition anyway. Then you shake your head. Fuck that, you think. I am not embarrassing myself for shitty Earth food and past me is a fart-sniffing dunderhead for even entertaining that idea. Besides, the bandages are coming off after breakfast. If I can’t afford to miss one measly little meal then I am a crying wiggler who still poops hard in his diapers.

Evrind appears to notice your predicament. Through a mouthful of charred snout creature flesh (goddamn it you cannot remember the English word for that shit), he says, “You not eat?”

You shrug, exasperated with yourself for not being able to remember the word and exasperated with him for being dumb enough to give a shit and exasperated with yourself again for looking like a pathetic wimp.

He swallows his bite of greasy charred flesh (bacon, you think. It’s bacon.) “Bad…er…bad tooths?”

Son of a fuck, you think. You had been so preoccupied with thinking about your hands and how awful your life was because of them that you had clean forgotten that Cennia had tightened the dental straightening devices before going to town on your claws. The moment you think about it, you are immediately aware of the unrelenting pressure on your teeth and gums and it is godawful. Thank you, Evrind, for reminding me of that. You piece of shit.

You feel like tearing your hair out. Your reserve volume of tolerance for today’s bullshit is already long gone and you are wallowing in a veritable ocean of unvoiced grief. If not for your silly aversion to dismemberment and other forms of general torment by one Torkal Anorst, you could spout an endless fount of vitriol for everything associated with this turd of a situation. Instead, you shake your head and say, “No. Hands.”

He stares at you with a dull gleam of stupid in his eyes. That his mouth is still half-full of bacon does absolutely nothing to help his case. You sigh and hold up your bandaged hands.

“Oh!” he exclaims. “Hands!” Then his expression morphs into one of horror. In a much more subdued tone, he repeats, “Oh. Hands….”

You steal a quick glance at his hands and sure enough, the lucky asshole’s claws are still in perfect working order. Maybe if your vocabulary wasn’t so stunted and if you weren’t so fed up with today you would try to say something to reassure him that it isn’t as bad as it looks, but oh wait, that would be a fucking lie because it is exactly as bad as it looks. Still, you offer up a shrug which you hope conveys some level of, Oh my god who cares just eat your food you gaping moron.

He seems to take the hint and directs his attention back to his plate of bacon and…a half-burned square of bread. (What is it with humans and burning the shit out of everything they eat? You wonder. Why is that even a thing?) You spend the rest of the meal wallowing in a cloud of surly silence.


> Kanaya: Express concerns

Chapter Text

grimAuxiliatrix [GA] began trolling carcinoGeneticist [CG]

GA: Karkat I Hate To Be A Nuisance And I Am Quite Aware That This May Be None Of My Business But Your Friends Are Starting To Worry About You
GA: As A Brief Side Note Perhaps I Should Clarify That When I Say Your Friends I Am Of Course Including Myself In That Category
GA: Terezi And Sollux Have Both Expressed Their Concerns To Me Directly And I Imagine That Our Other Friends Are Likewise Concerned
GA: It Is Not Like You To Fall Out Of Touch Like This
GA: I Understand You May Not Wish To Talk About It If There Has Been Some Sort Of Falling Out However I Am Asking You To Please Let Me Or Any Of Our Other Friends Know That You Are Alright
GA: Even If You Really Are Upset With All Of Us And No Longer Wish To Be Friends Please At Least Let Us Know That You Are Alive And Well
GA: We Will Not Bother You Again If That Is What You Want
GA: I Hope To Hear From You Soon

grimAuxiliatrix [GA] ceased trolling carcinoGeneticist [CG]


> Karkat: Receive more than you bargained for

Chapter Text

It is your favorite part of the day: that sacred stretch of time between the final nourishment and sleep cycle time blocks where you do not need to be anywhere or do anything and you are essentially one day closer to getting out of this craptastic place. Under normal circumstances you would be holed up in your respite block to decompress after a long day of dealing with shitty schoolfeeds and even shittier people. Not tonight, though. No, tonight you have decided to subject yourself to one last round of pan-boggling stupidity for reasons you cannot fathom besides the universal constant that past you is a masochistic jackass. (You cannot believe that past you not only conceived of this idea but actually decided to suggest the thing aloud. Past you must have been suffering from a particularly heinous hate crush on present you for doing so.)

Thank fuck the communal nourishment block—no wait, you know this English word: cafeteria—is almost empty. This is already going to suck massive amounts of seedflap and you have no desire to be doing this shit in front of two hundred other dipwads.

Across the table, Evrind looks at you with rapt attention. You sigh and say, “OK. Do ‘to read.’”

“To read. I read. You read. He read…reads?”

He shoots you a sheepish, questioning look. You want to tell him, Look I am not going to hold your fucking hand here. For all I know that nasty thing has been occupied with fondling your genitals or mining your mucusoid nose deposits since the last time I saw you so put on your grown-up interior bulge comforting garments and say the answer with some goddamn confidence. Instead you nod and say, “Yes. He reads. Now finish ‘to read.’”

“He reads. We reads—read. We read. They read.”

“OK. Good.” He grins, his face resplendent with all the dumb pleasure of a slobbering bark beast. “What do you read?”

He chews his lip then issues forth another idiotic grin and exclaims, “You read book!”

You nod because technically he’s right. Then you shake your head because that was piss-poor conversational grammar and you are not letting him get away with sounding like an ignorant dumbass. You decide to give him another chance. “What do you, Evrind, read?”

For the love of god say, ‘I read a book,’ you think. Look, I’ll even ask nicely: please say ‘I read a book.’ He says, “Uh…you, Evrind read book?”

You groan and pinch the bridge of your nose because shit, that was even worse and wow this is a lot harder than you had thought it was going to be. Sure, you had been expecting to endure stupefying levels of aggravation and idiocy but you were not prepared for this to devolve into a voyage on the S.S. Failboat quite this quickly. Your efforts with the verb “to read” are clearly going nowhere and you do not have the patience for this hoofbeast shit so you decide to switch tack.

“OK, new word. Do ‘to have.’”

“To have?” He frowns. “I have. You have. He…uh…he haves—“

You cut him off with a sharp chop of your wrist. “No.”

“I have. You have. He have—“

“No! Not ‘he have’. He has.”

His frown deepens. “I say he haves first time.”

You perform the most epic of facepalms. “Not ‘haves’; has! He has!”

“Is same word.”

Approximately two hours ago, past you had been laughably naïve enough to think that you would make it through this session without flipping your shit. Past you had clearly underestimated the profound depths of Evrind’s doltish nature because at this very moment your shit is soaring through the air, performing barrel rolls and somersaults. “No, stupid!” you snap. “Ugh, stupid dumb! The words are very different—listen! Haves and has. One with ‘v’ and one with no ‘v’.” Haaaaaavvvvves and haaaaaas!”


Ladies and gentletrolls we have finally cracked the thick shell of stupid encasing this dumb shit’s pan and are only now sinking into its soft depths. “YES!”

“Oh! Understand! I have. You have. He has. We have. They have.”

“OK, that is right.” You pick up a fork lying next to your empty plate. “What do I have?”

He looks away from you, staring into the depths of his empty plate as he mutters, “You have…uh…you have spoon? No. You have fork—a fork!” With a grin, he proudly proclaims: “You have a fork!”

It is the first complete sentence you have heard him utter since Migdal announced the ban on Alternian. A strange feeling flits through your stomach. For a moment you wonder if you are about to deposit the contents of your stomach in a smelly pile of stomach acid and partially-digested Earth foodstuffs onto the empty plate in front of you. Then you realize that you are proud and it is such a strange sensation you aren’t quite sure what to make of it. (Are you proud of him? You quickly conclude that no; you aren’t particularly proud of him for doing something he should have already been able to do almost a full perigee ago. But if you aren’t proud of him then that means that you are proud of yourself which is just not possible because the last time you were legitimately proud of yourself for anything was fucking never.) Still, this success has almost made you optimistic enough to attempt having him try “to read” again.

You are about to commend Evrind with a heartfelt “Good, that’s right” when a guy wearing a set of pretentious-as-hell pince-nez glasses says, “What you do?”

You open your mouth to tell this guy to piss off and mind his own business but Evrind, apparently emboldened by his recent success, says, “Karkat helps me…uh…English.”

The dude with the glasses raises his eyebrows. “Karkat Vantas?”

You frown and give this guy a closer look. He is tall and reedy with greasy hair and an upturned nose that makes it look as though somebody just shoved a handful of dried shit in his face. His horns are also so big that they would make you feel kind of squirmy and inadequate if you were any less confident in your own trollhood. You are pretty sure that you have never seen or spoken to this loser before in your entire life, all of which begs the question how does he know your name and should that concern you?

Like the socially impaired dimwit he is, Evrind does not allow you to decide whether or not you want this creeper to know your name. He just beams and shouts “Yes! Karkat Vantas!” You give him a sharp kick under the table for being a douche. He seems completely unfazed.

The new guy stares at you for a couple of seconds, just long enough to border on excruciating before he says, “Can I join?”

You blanch because fuck, the whole point of doing this when you are doing it was so you would be seen by as few people as possible. Bad enough that this tutoring shit could easily be misconstrued as pale smut by any onlookers, but to have somebody else joining in was pretty much the exact opposite of what you had wanted to happen.

“Why do you want my help?” you demand.

“You three or four English test, every time. I twenty or thir…thirty. I need…go up.”

You gape at him. Sure, you had realized that the test rankings were public knowledge, but you had always assumed that everybody dealt with them in the same manner than you did: check the names at the bottom of each list and then quickly sweep the rest of the list to locate where you stood. You had never even considered checking the names ahead of yours. It had never occurred to you that others might be doing so and that placing high on any of the lists might paint a giant, flashing target on your unprotected ass.

The guy is still staring at you, awaiting your answer. Evrind continues to be an obtuse piece of shit and answers for you with a cheerful, “Yes! You join!”

He smiles, then: “My friends also join?”

“No,” you scowl.

“Yes!” Evrind grins. You give him another kick under the table, harder this time. You note with satisfaction that this time he draws in a quick hiss of air through his teeth.

The guy doesn’t even have the courtesy to pretend he is going to take your protests seriously. He just smiles and takes off, presumably to round up a whole troupe of fart-huffers dumb enough to believe they will magically improve their English scores by breathing the same air as you. You turn on Evrind the second Glasses guy is out of earshot.

“Why do you say he can join us?”

Evrind doesn’t answer right away. You can see him mentally straining to process what you said, syllable by painful syllable. You half consider repeating yourself more slowly but you quickly jettison that idea when you remember that he was doing well enough with Glasses guy to think he needed to answer for you so fuck him. Nook fondler can use the practice anyway, you think.

“I not know,” he says. You are about to demand a more satisfactory explanation (or at least more satisfactory grammar, damn it) but he appears to be thinking about what he wants to say next so you let him be. Finally he says, “Many people is…are? Many people is fun.”

You let out a derisive snort. You are itching to give him a proper lambasting, one that would go something like this: Laying aside the fact that every single new person means a fresh assload of shit for me to take care of—and just as an aside, thank you for turning me into the station’s English load gaper; I really appreciate that you giant piece of snot. Laying all that aside, did you really not consider that these are the same people I am trying to help you get ahead of? Every person I help here is another person that is going to stay ahead of you. I never in my life thought I would behold somebody who was an even bigger fuckup than me in every way but now I know that there is a fuckup of such colossal proportions it has its own gravitational field around which all other fuckups orbit. Congratulations, jackass, you are that fuckup. Yep, that’s definitely how it would go if you only knew the English word for colossal, appreciate, and about one hundred others, give or take a few. Instead you just sigh and huff the word “Stupid” under your breath.

When Glasses guy returns he has not one, not two, but three bulgerots in tow. You proceed to spend the next hour leading them through stilted conversations and verb conjugations, fielding broken questions about prepositions, and trying to get everybody to shut up long enough for Evrind to have a chance to say something. It is, in your opinion, unquestionably the shittiest language lesson in all of paradox space. When the “Turn your shit up to high propulsion and get to your respite blocks for lights out, fuckers” fifteen minute warning bell rings, you are all too happy to excuse yourself with a polite “Good night, shitheads” and abscond out of that clusterfuck before anybody gets it into their pan to follow you. (Of course, you don’t actually say “shitheads” because you have yet to learn how to say that particular word in English. You do your best to convey the sentiment with your tone, nonetheless.)

You are hurrying to the communal ablution block so you can at least clean the metal around your teeth before you slide into the slime—God you hate going to sleep with all manner of mashed up food and shit stuck in the wires. The few times you’ve done it you’ve woken up with breath potent enough to melt a doorknob and it looks fucking disgusting besides—when you hear it: a quiet gasp followed by the sound of stumbling feet and a peal of cruel laughter. The sound is close—just around the next corner. You slow your pace to a conservative creep, wondering if one last piss before crawling into the ‘coon is worth getting involved in whatever is going on. You immediately tell yourself that yes it is worth it—what are you planning to do, piss in your own slime? Quit being a crying wiggler and get in there.

Cautiously, you peek around the corner. Two trolls are barring the way to the ablution block. One of them is a girl so tall her horns are inches away from brushing against the ceiling. Her arms and shoulders are rippling with so much muscle you would guess she was at least a teal blood if you didn’t know better. The other is a guy who is almost as tall as the girl, but wiry and twitchy as a nervous nut beast. You can tell he is the one who laughed because his lips are still quirked up in a rancid smile. Standing in front of them is the skinny girl with no horns—Shrega.

You hold your breath as she takes a step forward as though to squeeze between them. Even though you know what is coming, you still flinch when the girl lunges forward and shoves Shrega to the side, ramming her against the wall.

“Where you go?” laughs the big girl. “I say no go in. Stupid.”

Shrega stumbles away from the wall and stands in front of them, staring at the ground with her face hidden in a curtain of her stringy hair. With a voice that crackles like old paper, she says, “Please.”

The guy reaches forward and flicks the top of her head. “Ugly no horns,” he leers. “Make other troll sick. No go in!”

He lets out another cackle and Shrega’s shoulders slump. She nervously fingers the red band around her wrist—the one identical to yours. Your stomach clenches. You know you should say something—you are going to say something. This is bullshit, this is wrong; if they want to fuck with a mutant it should be you because sooner or later everybody here going to look like her but they will never ever be as fucked up and gross as you with the cherry cough syrup-colored muck oozing through your veins. You are going to say something, but the big girl notices you first.

“Hello,” she says, all sugar and grubsauce. “You go in?”

Mutely, you step forward. The guy shifts to let you pass. Shrega makes a break for it and the guy lets out a pulse of psionic energy that tosses her back against the wall and makes your hair stand on end. “Not you,” he barks at her. “You no go in!”

“You go in,” the big girl tells you. She waves her hand, motioning for you to pass.

You glance over at Shrega, pinned against the wall. You look at both of her tormentors, one after the other. You want to tell them to leave her alone, to stop acting like stinking wads of nook filth in the underwear of the universe (the kind that leaves stains, even). You duck past them and into the ablution block without saying a fucking word.


> Eridan: Air grievances

Chapter Text

caligulasAquarium [CA] began trolling carcinoGeneticist [CG]

CA: kar are you there
CA: damn it kar i really need to talk to you
CA: i didnt wwanna leavve my dirty laundry sittin in your inbox like a fuckin idiot but youre not givvin me much choice
CA: im wworried about fef
CA: i mean ivve noticed shes been talkin to that captor guy a lot evver since he lost his moirail or matesprit or wwhatevver the fuck they wwere
CA: seriously kar wwhat quadrant wwere they anywway
CA: anywway ivve noticed shes been talkin to him a lot lately and im gettin kinda wworried
CA: i mean i knoww me an her are DESTINED PALEMATES FOR LIFE and all but some of the stuff theyre sayin is startin to sound a little flushed and im gettin kinda
CA: i dunno
CA: kinda jealous i guess
CA: not like im wwaxin red for her because thats just dumb
CA: wwhoevver heard of a moirallegiance goin red anywway
CA: i mean really does that evver evven happen
CA: anywways i wwas just wwonderin wwhat you thought about it
CA: message me wwhen you get a chance kar
CA: seriously wwhere the fuck are you

caligulasAquarium [CA] ceased trolling carcinoGeneticist [CG]


> Karkat: Become immune

Chapter Text

You had thought when you first woke up in this place with your shoulder dislocated and without the slightest bugfuck clue of what was going on that it was unequivocally and forever the Worst Thing that had ever happened to you ™. Unsurprisingly, you had been wrong. Past you had gone on to reassign that title to an incredible variety of traumatic and bile-stirring events, including unsolicited dental surgery, the language barrier from hell, and the one instance in which you stubbed your toe so hard you felt it jangling up your spine. However, past you can go fondle a bag of diseased bulges because none of those experiences can compare to what you are experiencing right this fucking second.

You have been standing in line for nearly two hours now. Everything below your knees feels like it is a giant pile of engorged bruises slowly being consumed in gasoline-fed flames. If you were socially retarded enough to take off your shoes right now, there is no doubt in your mind that you would be left with two candy-red nubs of that weird-as-shit Earth dessert Jell-o. The fourteen other trainees enduring this particular example of cruel and unusual punishment could then rejoice because holy shit, Vantas brought dessert so dig right in and put him out of his abject misery.

The physical torment might be tolerable enough if there was anybody worth talking to. Unfortunately, you do not know a single one of these douchebags and you just do not have the will to abuse your limited English vocabulary into a rousing game of Meaningful Conversations with Strangers: Super Awkward Hallway Edition.

This hoofbeast shit has been going on for so long you are beginning to suspect that somehow you and fourteen other similarly stupid trainees managed to misread your schedules and convene at the same place at the same time for no goddamn reason whatsoever. A quick glance at your (folded, spindled, and mutilated) schedule reassures you that you are not as woefully mentally deficient as you had feared:


Shit, you think. I’m going to be late for the schoolfeed if Cennia doesn’t kick her stuck-up ass into high velocity. Your stomach executes a ten-point graceful honk creature dive at the thought because you are now officially between a culling drone and the sharpest prong of the Condesce’s trident. You do not know exactly when tardiness became a cullable offence, but Averic has recently taken to hiding behind the doors into the schoolblocks and culling the everloving shit out of anybody who happens to straggle in late. It doesn’t take many horrifying scenes of gory death for the message to get your pimple-encrusted asses to class on time to sink in loud and clear. You do not fancy the prospect of becoming random victim number who gives a fuck (mutant edition!) in one of these displays. In fact, the very idea is rapidly dragging you towards a full-on mental breakdown. If this line does not start moving in the next thirty seconds, you are going to take the plunge into full-on shithive maggots mania.

It appears that you are not the only one shitting disproportionate piles of angst over this dilemma. Two trolls—a girl your age and a guy whose huge eyes make him look all of three sweeps—peel off from the front of the line and head in the direction of the schoolblocks. As the line shifts forward, you notice another guy discreetly cut out from the back and follow them. You are seriously considering following suit when the girl standing in front of you turns around and says, “Why so long time?”

“I don’t know,” you reply.

“You thinking so long time for fix vaccine?”

“I don’t know,” you repeat. “I don’t care.”

She bares her teeth and hisses at you. (You make a mental note to avoid doing that yourself because the dental straightening devices just make the gesture look stupid.) Then she says the two most meaningful words anybody has said to you since you set foot on this godforsaken space station: “Fuck you.”

Your heart is soaring because even though you have never heard that first word before in your life, you are pretty sure it is an English swear word. It sounds like a swear ought to sound—short, harsh, angry. You especially appreciate the way it begins with a fizzling “F” and ends with a percussive “K”, like a hissing fuse burning down to ignite a mortar shell of obscenity. It may not be as good as any of your favorite Alternian swears, but this word already feels like an old friend—the kind of friend you might invite over to your hive for a feelings jam because you are just that close, you know each other that well, and—what are you saying? You would never make such a mockery of the pale quadrant! No, this word will be your moirail proper; you moderating and restraining its awesome destructive power and it acting as the conduit through which you expel your hatred and self-loathing.

The girl is already turning around but you need to confirm the meaning of this wonderful, beautiful word. “Wait,” you say. “What is fuck?”

She scowls. “Fuck is fuck. Bad word. Fuck you.”

Her words are bloated with vitriol but you are too excited to care. Your facial muscles are contorting into a position so strange and unnatural it hurts and—oh my fuck you are smiling. “Thank you.”

She looks at you as though aggressive flesh-eating fungus has erupted from your eye sockets. “No, stupid. Bad word! Fuck you!”

You try to summon up an inkling of proper outrage at the rudimentary insult but your head just isn’t in the game because you are still coasting on the fumes of imaginary pale vapors and your stock of piss and vinegar is at an all-time low. It’s going to take something a lot more exciting than a basic “fuck you” to ignite the odious fires of your pestilence center. Still, ignoring a perfectly good insult is almost as douchey as ignoring a compliment, so you pull yourself together and offer up a quick one-fingered salute.

At this point, you assume that the communication is essentially over. You are fully prepared for this onerous bitch to slip you one final well-merited rude gesture before turning around and leaving you alone. You therefore proceed to shit a metric ton of masonry stacking cubes when she lunges at you with all the rancorous fury of a cholerbear intent on eviscerating its prey. She is right up in your face, lips curled back over her teeth, a low growl reverberating in her throat and you hope this isn’t what it appears to be because there are people watching and this is just fucking embarrassing.

She takes another step closer and ooohh fuck, you can no longer delude yourself into thinking that this is just some platonic scuffle because now you can smell the pheromones. The pitch tension pouring off of her is so obvious she might as well have tiny spades flashing in her eyes.

“Whoa!” You take a step back and raise your arms, palms open. You have no idea what to say to this shocking turn of events except WOW THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY. On the one hand, this is your first hard and fast one hundred percent serious blackrom solicitation and you are flattered. On the other hand, you had always assumed your spade would arise from a longstanding, steamy rivalry with a special somebody who knew exactly how to ignite the blackest of your pitch fury, your belief in hate at first sight notwithstanding. Barring that, you had assumed that it would happen with somebody who at least knew your name for fuck’s sake. (What can you say? You are a romantic at heart.) It goes without saying that an open invitation from some crazy broad you met ten seconds ago in front of a bunch of strangers milling around a depressing hallway has never ranked high on your scale of quadrant fantasy.

You try to conceive of some way to convey all of this to her through the ever-present language barrier (oh, look, you found a new Worst Thing™!) while still maintaining some level of eloquence. However, she is still leering at you like she would like to bite your face off, so you panic and blurt, “No! Uh...thank you, but no.”

Goddamn it, you sound like a certain feckless moron with oversized horns who still spends way too much time playing games for girls. This is so embarrassing you want nothing more than to slink away to the farthest corner of the space station and wet yourself with shame.

She looks as though she is trying to piece together a sufficiently scornful response. You brace yourself for it because there are plenty of socially acceptable ways to turn down a caliginous advance and being a stammering jackass definitely is not one of them. Before the (completely deserved) oral onslaught can begin, Cennia emerges from a door across the hall and says, “Navani Smalas? Navani Smalas, please come forward.”

The girl gives you one last sour look (which, you note, does not hold a burning wax nub to one of Cennia’s looks) before following Cennia into the room.

You let out a breath you hadn’t realized you were holding once she is out of sight. Well, you think, there was nothing about that experience that was not completely terrible and humiliating. Thank you, Navani Smalas, for providing me with my daily dose of public shaming. Glad I can tick that off my to do list for today. Let’s see…there it is, right between “choke on copious amounts of anguish gland secretions” and “drive a barbed spike through the thickest portion of my—

A hand is on your shoulder. You turn around to tell whoever is touching you to fuck off (because hell yes that is totally something you can do now) but the guy behind you looks to be about as resilient as a handicapped hop creature so you tone your distaste down to a withering glare instead. “What?”

He stares at your shoes as though his eyes will melt out of his head if he looks at your face or anywhere else. “Please you not be angry to Navani. She just wanting black romance. Asking all troll. Not only you.”

A fierce heat spreads through your neck, cheeks, and ears at the realization that oh my shitting god she didn’t even think you were particularly hateable or strong rival material, she only wanted you for a one-pail fling. Way to misread the situation spectacularly, Mr. quadrant advice guru. For the first time since you were abducted from your hive you are grateful that you will never speak with your old acquaintances and colleagues again because at the very least you will be spared the supreme embarrassment of having any of them hearing a word about this, ever.

You set your jaw against the heat rising in your face (because fuck Cennia’s stale promises that “Everybody is of equal status here” you know exactly what will happen if any of these piss swigging assholes sees a hint of the schlock flowing through your veins). Embarrassment aside, you suppose you can’t really blame her for being desperate. There has been a rash of hookups ever since you learned just how fucked up and weird human romance is. Even in English, it’s pretty damn difficult to interpret the words “Only one quadrant” as anything other than “guess what, kids, normal, healthy redrom and blackrom and palerom and ashenrom are all going straight down the shitter the second you set foot on that godawful asscrack of a planet!” As a result, the floodgates of concupiscent and conciliatory emotions have opened and hormones have been flowing fast and thick. You have seen so many people trying to sneak in one last fling, one last grope, one last death rattle of real romance you might as well be living in a nonstop kinkfest of adults-only cinema. (Hell, just this morning you walked in on two dudes in the throes of concupiscent passion in the communal ablution block and goddamn it you will never be able to look at that particular load gaper the same way again. Two days ago you stumbled across a public feelings jam orgy, for fuck’s sake.) It was only a matter of time before it all worked its way around to you. Past you really should have invested some time into considering what to say when that happened so you could have avoided this whole ordeal, the inconsiderate bastard.

The dude behind you is still staring at your shoes. “You not be angry at Navani, OK?”

“Yeah, fine,” you mutter. “OK.”

And then you see the dark flush rising on this guy’s face and oh squealing grub shit he was auspisticizing you unobservant fuck and you are now ass end up in unwanted ashen sentiments. Between your newfound moirallegiance with the English word “fuck” and your thoroughly botched pitch and ashen solicitations you have unintentionally filled almost every goddamn quadrant in the last five minutes. Apparently you bathed in ready-for-sexy-times odor enhancement liquid this evening because there is literally no other explanation for this shitty turn of events.

This situation is rapidly devolving into a conga line of abject mortification; one which you are all too happy to leave behind when Cennia returns and says, “Karkat Vantas? Karkat Vantas, please step forward.”

The room Cennia leads you into reeks of disinfectant. Everything is antiseptic white or steel gray and the light is bright enough to make your eyes sting. It is, in short, everything an Aggressanalyst’s office ought to be. It is also approximately the size of a gnat’s ass. There is room for one small wheeled cart, one ridiculously uncomfortable folding chair, you, Cennia, and that’s it. (Those last two are questionable as far as you are concerned because even though you do manage to close the door after you, you are way closer to Cennia than you ever wanted to be and the sharp edge of the cart is mere millimeters from bashing into your crotch.) You are so unbelievably cramped that it is all you can do to resist laughing in Cennia’s face when she instructs you to “have a seat and make yourself comfortable.” You have to settle with thinking, Wow, are you shitting me? Besides the fact that this purulent ass crevice makes my tiny respite block look like a seadweller’s castle, you must realize that it is going to take some serious acrobatics to maneuver around your ass if I am ever going to plant my gluteal fat deposits on that chair.

Despite your misgivings, you manage to maneuver around Cennia without incident. You sit down on the chair like a champ. (Wow, you think. Look at me go. If chair-sitting ever becomes a competitive sport every trainer in the Empire will be positively shitting themselves to sign me on.)

“Remove your shirt.”

You hesitate for the barest fraction of a second because even here, even now, it is hard to overcome six sweeps of no bare skin ever, you do not let anybody see skin, you are too vulnerable, somebody will cut you and then they will flay you alive if the culling drones don’t beat them to it. Then you shrug off the black shirt and try not to let your teeth chatter as the cool air ghosts over your newly-exposed upper half.

Cennia prods at a patch of blotchy discoloration on your arm. “Have you experienced any pain or inflammation around the injection sites?”


You feel her poking at the blotches on your back. “The color appears to be spreading normally. We will wait for the pigment distribution to equalize before giving you another round.”

“How long until the next treatment?”

“That depends on how quickly the pigment spreads. Most trainees receive their second round of melanin about two perigees after the first but some receive it as early as one perigee or as late as three.”

“OK.” You try not to gag as the word leaves your mouth because it’s not OK at all and you have absolutely no way of articulating just how not OK you are with all of this because you are still confined to English. The fact that Cennia insists on babbling on in Alternian only makes the situation all the more supremely unfair.

“Do you have any other questions?”


“Excellent. In that case we will begin your vaccination regimen.”

She bustles through the drawers of the cart, withdrawing latex gloves, a handful of ethanol-doused towelettes in paper packets, a vial of clear liquid, a slender syringe. You try not to think about what is in the vial. You try not to think about the way you are about to give a troll you hate in the most platonic sense of the word the freedom to dump fuck knows what (rat poison? Distilled pus from a deep-tissue foot canker? Fuck knows!) inside you. You try not to think about the last group of trainees who came through the vaccination clinic, the poor fuckers who were still in quarantine after getting a cracked batch of this shit and ending up feverish and breaking out in maroon spots. You try really fucking hard not to think about all of that shit. You try and you fail fantastically.

“This first injection will protect you against varicella-zoster virus, the pathogen responsible for chickenpox and shingles disease in humans,” she says as she swabs your arm with cold antiseptic. You derive an inordinate amount of pleasure from hearing her trip over the English disease names because oh my copulating Christ her accent sucks musclebeast genitalia. Cennia does not appear to notice your amusement. She continues her monologue, listing all the gruesome symptoms of the diseases and—ow, damn it, feels like pinching with claws—jabbing you with the syringe without so much as an “OK, Karkat, here I go.” (Well paint my human claw nubs and call me barnacle-infested royalty, you think. Maybe she did notice me autoerogenously asphyxiating myself with unrefined laughter after all.)

You aren’t particularly interested in the finer points of human pathology but you certainly don’t put it past Cennia or whoever the butt-huffing hell writes the examinations to include a section all about human diseases just to fuck over less observant trolls. You therefore file “chickenpox” and “shingles” away as “human flaming molt disease A and B” for easy reference.

The next several minutes are a delightful rhythm of swab, stab, information dump, repeat:

Swab. Stab. Oh, hallelujah, you are now immune to mumps virus, rubella virus, and rubeola virus.

Swab. Stab. Thank the subjugglator’s fake-ass Mirthful Messiahs, you are now immune to poliovirus.

Swab. Stab. Corynebacterium diphtheria, Clostridium tetani, and Bordetella pertussis are now your bitches.

By the time Cennia decides she is done turning you into a pincushion, your arm is sore, your nose is stinging with the burn of ethanol, and your pan is overflowing with ample nightmare fuel for the next several days. (A virus that eats through your central nervous system? Fuck that noise. For a benign and overall harmless planet Earth sure does have a lot of shit that wants to kill you.)

You are putting your shirt back on—in the process of maneuvering your abused arm into its sleeve, in fact—when Cennia says, “I understand that some of the trainees waiting for the vaccination clinic left before receiving treatment.”

You shrug. “Yes. Two or three. A few.”

“Tell me who left early.”

“I can’t. I don’t know their names.” It’s not a lie, but even if you did know the names you sure as greased shit wouldn’t tell her. This place is horrible enough without people going out of their way to make things even shittier for everybody else, you think. You want the names then check your damn roster.

“Did they give any reason for leaving without obtaining proper clearance?”

“No. Maybe they did not want to be late to class.” Which was your entirely your own ass-ripping fault for being late.

She purses her lips and produces a look that says wow those stupid ass wipes are going to rue the day they hatched; yes it truly does suck to be them. Then she removes a green slip of paper from the bottom drawer of the cart. “Be sure and bring this with you to your history schoolfeed.”

You glance down at the paper with a sense of bewilderment as she presses it into your hand. There are no words, no pictures, no symbols or markings of any kind to suggest what purpose it might serve. Instead it emanates a rank, musky odor like dead leaves and liquefied garbage. You wrinkle your nose against the offensive smell. “What is it?”

“A permissive note. The scent will inform Averic that you are to be allowed into class without disciplinary action.

You gape at her because really? There is literally no way that this is not some ill-timed prank designed to make everybody within a six mile radius think you shit your pants. She cannot be serious.

But apparently she is. “You are dismissed,” she says. “Return to your schoolfeed promptly.”

You leave the little room firmly attached to the idea that Averic is going to take one whiff of that stench and murder you on principle. (You would murder you for going out in public with that reek wafting off you. Sure, you may not be terribly concerned with your appearance but there is still something to be said for basic hygiene and social fucking etiquette.) However, when you walk into the schoolblock Averic quietly steps aside and lets you pass.

You reserve one moment to ponder why anybody would ever think smell was the way to go for conveying “Do Not Kill” to the raging psychopath. (Is he really dumb enough he can’t read? What if he catches a cold and murders everyone?) You then proceed to spend the rest of the class learning about some doofus named Napoleon Bonaparte.


> Terezi: Break some bad news

Chapter Text

gallowCalibrator [CG] began trolling twinArmageddons [TA]

TA: 2hiit.
TA: ii’m a22umiing by iit you mean the thiing we both agreed not two do.
TA: damn iit.
GC: Y3P 4G41N
TA: 2o…
TA: diid you fiind anythiing?
GC: …
TA: tz?
TA: you have two a2k?
TA: that 2hiit ii2 grub 2tuff.
GC: H3R3

gallowsCalibrator [GC] sent file R3DGL4R3S_1NV3ST1G4T1ON

TA: what the fuck?
TA: ok. god.
TA: done.
TA: 2o what diid you fiind?
TA: ii’m watchiing iit riight now.
TA: 2hiit diid ii ju2t 2end everyone ten miinute2 of you role playiing?
TA: oh.
TA: oh FUCK.
GC: Y34H

gallowsCalibrator [GC] ceased trolling twinArmageddons [TA]


> Karkat: Wake

Chapter Text

TC: WhAt Is Up My InVeRtEbRoThEr?
TC: I jUsT wAnTeD tO sHaRe WhAt ThIs MoThErFuCkInG dReAm I aLl Up AnD hAd WaS.
TC: NaH, bRoThEr.
TC: I’m On AbOuT tHiNgS wHaT lOoK lIkE mIrAcLeS uP iN tHiS mOtHeRfUcKeR’s HeAd WhEn He’S aLl ClOsInG hIs EyEs.
TC: I’m NoT kNoWiNg AbOuT tHaT, bRoThEr.
TC: ThIs MoThErFuCkEr HaS a HaRd TiMe ReMeMbErInG wHaT tHe LaSt TiMe He CrAcKeD oPeN a FrEsH cAn Of MiRaClE sLiMe WaS.
TC: TaStEd FiNe To Me ThOuGh.
TC: ShIt, ThAt WaS tHe BitCh NaStIeSt WaLl Of GrAy I eVeR dId SeE.
TC: I cAn FeEl A bRoThEr Up WiTh GeTtInG hIs FuCkInG aGgRaVaTiOn On.
TC: I jUsT gOt OnE mOtHeRfUcKiNg QuEsTiOn.
TC: WhAt ArE aLl ThOsE bOxEs AnD cIrClEs MeAnInG?
TC: WhOa.
TC: MoRe MoThErFuCkInG gOrGeOuS cIrClE bOx DeSiGnS.
TC: I sTiLl dOn’T kNoW wHaT tHeY aRe AlL uP aNd TrYiNg To Be CoNvEyInG, tHoUgH.
TC: MaYbE yOu CaN hElP a MoThErFuCkEr OuT aNd SaY aLl WhAt YoU aRe WaNtInG tO sAy MoRe NoRmAl LiKe?
TC: (2LHQHQDDX5353DDX90 ²Õ#¬Ý‹Ù wÜ wÜ wÜ wÜ wÜ wÜ wÜ wÜe3P (,%( I" א ܯܯܯܯܯא ´‰Ót³p³pא א —š…„•Ð„•Ð’—³•¸„•ÐD–p1L‹s0D–w'‹s0p1LF²„•Ð•¸´…ÖªTèªTèˆ)ÙmÚmÚmÚmÚmÚmÚmÚmÚmÚmÚmÚmÚmÚmÚˆ)ÙªTèmRQ9
TC: e3P •h³p³pא ³p•hM,0 F²D–'M& nF²R ÕF²F²D–F²F²D–F²R ÕF²0 & n& nD–F²'M " 9""",%6+mRQuk
TC: Jn*Jn93 3M,I" e3Ót/l(P(PL(P(P(P*Jn'/l%n±%n±jtµLTo(2L(P%n±Im,m'/l%fvGÛ 2Ü 2Ü 2Ü 2Ü 2Ü 2Ü 2Ü 2Ü 2Ü 2Ü 2Ü&Rΰ¸Õ×°¸Õ×°¸ÕJk“HQLTo""9

You sign out of Trollian with a huff, wishing there was some way the program could translate your furious button mashing into one final rude gesture aimed in the general direction of everything associated with Gamzee Makara. What in bugwinged hell got into him, you wonder because sure, you might expect this kind of behavior from Sollux or Terezi but this was Gamzee for fuck’s sake. Even if somebody were to put a culling fork to your head, you couldn’t recall a single instance of him intentionally antagonizing you or anybody else. (Unintentional aggravation is, of course, another story entirely. That’s something that happens every time he opens his reeking misconception hole.)

You had planned to spend the bulk of your evening getting some serious coding done (and by “serious coding” you actually mean writing shitty, flawed ~ath codes that Sollux will rip to shreds the second he lays his freaky two-toned eyes on them). You even go so far as to open your ~ath software. It takes only a few moments of staring at the flashing cursor for you to recognize that Gamzee’s bullfuckery has thoroughly soured your appetite for anything that requires looking at your computer. You decide that a break is in order—one with several episodes of Thresh Prince and maybe even a certain romcom also starring troll Will Smith which most of your friends just do not appreciate but they can all just fuck off and die for having no taste in movies whatsoever.

You turn away from your computer and HOLY SHIT CRABDAD IS STANDING RIGHT BEHIND YOU! You get about one millionth of a second to wonder how in the name of everything profane and holy he managed to sneak up on you (because even when he is not screeching or snapping, 400 pounds of crab makes a metric fuckton of noise). Then he is leveling his pincers at you, an angry rattle building in his throat.

“OK,” you say, rolling your eyes. “I’ll get you some damn roe cubes. Cool your rumble spheres.”

To your surprise, the rattle evolves into something closer to a hiss and he snaps one of his pincers at you. You swallow back a gasp but you can’t stop yourself from flinching. You never know just how much of what you say Crabdad understands, but he has never attacked you outside of a strife, and certainly not when you are unarmed and unaware of his presence.

“Hey,” you say. You keep your voice low and even, more silky-smooth calm than you have ever managed in your life. Slowly—I don’t want to fight right now—palms out—look: I don’t have any weapons—you slide out of the chair and stand up. “What’s wrong?”

The movement only seems to heighten his agitation. With a furious screech, he scuttles forward until he is towering over you, trapping you against the wall. Only then do you notice the gash in his belly, deep enough you can see something rubbery and fibrous through the steady gush of too-red blood.

“Crabdad! What the fuck! Who—“ you trail off as you realize something is wrong with you. Your mouth is spitting out bizarre sounds that make your throat hurt. It hits you then that you are speaking English and no wonder Crabdad is upset—here he is bleeding to death and you can’t even be assed to speak the right language.

You try to say, “What happened? Who did this?” but the words come out in English. You realize with a jolt that you can’t say anything in Alternian because you have forgotten how to speak Alternian.

Crabdad screams and you feel the hair on the back of your neck prickle. He has never taken this tone with you before. He is acting as though he doesn’t even know you, like you are an intruder in your own hive which insane because even if you are making weird English noises at him he should still be able to recognize his own troll for god’s sake.

He raises one of his pincers and through the empty space you have an unobstructed view of your window. You catch a glimpse of your reflection in the glass. Your breath catches in your throat.

Your horns are gone. You sclera are a sickly white. Your teeth are dull and flat and your skin is a weird pinky-brown color. You are human—fully human—and you barely recognize yourself.

Crabdad’s pincers are flying for your face and you feel it connect, feel it crunch into one of your cheekbones—and then you wake up with a muffled shout.

Goddamn watered-down sopor slime, you think as your heart begins to settle back into its natural rhythm. You are relieved to see that the lights in your respite block are on, indicating that sleep cycle is over and you are free to get up because that is the third nightmare in a row—the shit-flavored cherry-topped dessert of a three course meal set—and you truly cannot manage another steaming helping of this garbage.

Most of the slime sluices off of your body as you drag your sorry ass out of your recuperacoon. The residue it leaves is wet and messy and, unlike regular slime, this shit drips and runs everywhere. It is also cold as a seadweller’s left vestigial heft sac. Your teeth don’t stop chattering until you are dry and fully-clothed, and even then you are nowhere near warm. No, strike that; you are barely even this side of “comfortable enough to function normally.”

The cold keeps you awake as long enough to get you out of your respite block, but the stimulatory effect rapidly wears off as you head for the cafeteria. It is not long before the effect of this dismal sleep cycle combines with a perigee’s worth of equally dismal sleep cycles to leave you feeling about as mentally capable as one of the heinous daywalking undead. Add a properly repulsive odor to your person and you have no doubt that a certain meddlesome fashionista broad would chainsaw the fuck out of you on sight.

You idly wonder how you will feel when the time comes for you to stop using a recuperacoon altogether. It does not take you long to decide that the answer is fucking terrible, that’s how you will feel. Trolls aren’t meant to sleep without sopor slime and fuck anybody—Cennia—who has the gall to claim that “you’ll get used to it”, especially when that person—Cennia—is no doubt enjoying the comforting, dreamless embrace of a proper recuperacoon every sleep cycle.

As you near the cafeteria, you are pleased to note a distinct absence of shuffling, grunting, chewing, slurping, scraping, clinking, or any other sound to suggest that there is a single living soul awake and about besides yourself. Ever since Evrind and all the other snot chewers you coached did so well in the last round of examinations, you have been unable to walk into a room without having a bunch of bulgestains in your face demanding that you explain the proper use of semicolons in intimate detail. Mealtimes have become especially pernicious gauntlets: your perfectly manageable group of Evrind plus three or four has exploded into a sprawling mob of about twenty, all clamoring to talk to you as though you are some sort of wizard who can fix their every language problem just by waggling your bulge at it. It will be a pleasant change of pace to eat a meal without all of those shitrags showering you with unwanted attention.

When you walk into the cafeteria, you are disappointed to see that you are not the first to arrive after all: there is already a troll sitting at the table closest to the entrance. You take a few steps closer, trying to determine whether it is anybody you know and then you come to a dead halt. Long hair, no horns—it’s Shrega.

You know that this might be your only chance to talk to her without anybody else around to see you. Surely it wouldn’t hurt to take a couple of minutes to show her that there is at least somebody who is capable of treating her like a person. Except…except you know that it can hurt because if anybody catches you hanging around with the designated social pariah it is going to raise some really uncomfortable questions, especially if somebody decides to fire up a few extra think panels and make a connection between the bands around your wrists—the bands that mark you both as freaks. You waste a couple of seconds wondering if you should just go back to your room before she sees you, wait until the cafeteria becomes crowded and boisterous and you don’t have to deal with this awkward situation. Then you realize that she is slumped face down on the table, sleeping.

You almost laugh because wow, you cannot believe you were generating that much drama over something as juvenile as where to sit in a near-empty public alimentary commons, especially when the solution to all your puerile woes was so blatantly obvious an unborn grub could figure it out. Any idiot knows better than to fuck around with a sleeping troll. At best you’ll end up with a split lip and mother grub’s leaking waste chute help you if you stumble across somebody with a particularly strong defensive reflex. You decide to do the sensible thing and quietly head for a different table.

You get an uncomfortable sensation in the pit of your stomach as you move to walk past Shrega’s table. Something in the way she is laying there makes your heart climb into your throat. At first you can’t quite put your finger on it, but then it hits you: she is too quiet, too peaceful. Even with the diluted sopor slime acting as a buffer, everybody you know has been suffering mind-bending nightmares every time they close their eyes—but here’s Shrega lying completely still and sleeping away without any slime at all. You frown at that and look again for any of the conventional signs of sleep terrors—even a tiny tremor or half-sighed whimper would do—and you see nothing. Does it have something to do with her mutation? You wonder. Does she just not need sopor slime?

It is not until you are within just a few feet of her table that you realize she is not breathing. It is not until you are standing right next to her that you see the blood (the perfectly normal maroon blood), but once you do see it you don’t know how you missed it because it is everywhere: on her arms, on her clothes, on the floor, smeared on the table around her head, coating the knife in her lap. A yawning hollowness settles into your gut as you realize that she is dead.

You don’t know what to do with this revelation. You’ve seen plenty of public cullings, but this is the first time you have ever seen a dead body up close and personal. Although you aren’t a craven pile of tearsnorts, you do not relish it the way you thought you would back when you used to boast to all your friends that you would be the greatest Threshecutioner the Empire has ever seen. Death is…messier than you expected. The stench of blood and torn entrails is bad enough alone, but with the smells of breakfast wafting through the background—Greasy bacon! Buttery toast! Grilled pancakes!—your olfactory bulb has no idea what the fuck is happening and you just feel kind of sick.

You realize that you should probably tell somebody that there is a dead body in the cafeteria before too many people end up starting their day with the same dose of morbid you just did. You are pretty sure that would be the considerate thing to do. Only problem is you haven’t got the faintest clue where you should go or who you should tell because it’s not as though there is some established protocol for dealing with dead bodies turning up at the breakfast table in this godforsaken place. (You have learned the Earth protocol for dealing with situations such as these and that is call the fucking police and keep your blistered ass the fuck out of it. You take a moment to appreciate the irony in that before you resume feeling confused and mildly nauseous.)

You do not know how long you stand there staring at Shrega’s body like an impotent sack of chickenshit. Your eyes are beginning to glaze over when a beefy hand latches onto your shoulder and a tinny voice says, “Come with me, now.”

Obviously, this is bothering you far more than you thought it was because you just let that hand steer you down the rows of tables, and out of the cafeteria. It never even occurs to you to turn around and see who belongs to that hand even though for all you know it might belong to a culling drone or Her Imperious Condescension, or even the goddamn Speaker of the Vast Glub herself Gl’bgolyb. When your brain finally deigns to return from its trip to the land of NOPE NOTHING TO SEE HERE LALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU, you are almost relieved to find yourself standing in a dark and empty schoolblock with the relatively innocuous Migdal.

“Let me see your left arm,” he says.

You frown but you don’t hesitate to hold your left arm out for inspection because Migdal is pretty much the only halfway decent and sane adult troll in this shitsack space station and you aren’t in a hurry to fall out of his good graces. He grabs your wrist and pulls on your sleeve, bunching it up around the crook of your elbow. You don’t like the feel of the cold air against your naked forearm. (Arms are easy targets; if anybody attacks you they’ll probably get an arm when you try to block and dark sleeves hide blood color a hell of a lot more effectively than nothing at all.) You like the way it exposes the red band there even less.

You are about to say, “What is it? What are you doing?” but then Migdal procures a pair of wire cutters and snips the band away from your wrist. The band flips to the floor. Migdal curses under his breath—in English! You take the opportunity to add “shit” to your slowly growing arsenal—and lays the wire cutters aside.

“Why was I wearing that red bracelet?” you ask. (And as a side note, yes, you do know it’s not actually a bracelet but you don’t know any other English word that means “circular object worn around the wrist”, so piss off.)

Migdal holds out the pieces of cut band in one hefty hand. “This? It was supposed to be a suicide watch.” His voice drops down to an irritable grumble as he adds, “Lot of good it did with Shrega out there.”

At first you are sure that you misinterpreted Migdal’s words. In a program that is designed to kill off practically everybody involved in it—a program that features perigee to perigee group culling, for ass-twitching sake—you can’t imagine why anybody would care a whit about preventing a willing volunteer from joining the growing ranks of dead trainees. Now that you think about it, you don’t quite understand Shrega’s choice in suicide method, either. Self-evisceration seems like a ridiculously unpleasant choice when you could just as easily refuse to take a test or insult the fuck out of one of the adults and get the same result a whole lot quicker with a whole lot less pain. And then, slowly you begin to understand. You have a fucking epiphany and it leaves a putrid taste in your mouth.

“What will happen to Shrega now?” you ask, just to be sure.

Migdal shrugs. “I assume Torkal will want to dissect her body. Even if she is deceased, he still may be able to identify the source of her mutation.”

You stare very hard at the ground, feeling like a dumb wiggler (one that got dropped on its head repeatedly in the brooding caverns and then headbutted its way through every trial on its way to the surface) for not figuring it out sooner. Of course all that manipulative weasel barf with Torkal was just as much a thing for Shrega as it was a thing for you. Of course Torkal wouldn’t want his victims to be mercifully dead before he started in on them. That would take all the shits and giggles out of his incredibly uplifting and life-affirming hobby.

“You should go back to the cafeteria,” says Migdal. “Cennia and Torkal will have cleaned everything up by now and I need to prepare for your language schoolfeed.”

You leave the schoolblock without complaint and head for the cafeteria. You take your sweet time getting there because you still haven’t forgotten the smell of pancakes blended with a side of warm innards and you honestly do not have much in the way of an appetite at the moment. When you finally reach the cafeteria, it is crowded. Predictably, you are mobbed by a pack of ten trolls begging you to explain present perfect tense syntax the second you set foot in the room.



Chapter Text

terminallyCapricious [TC] began trolling carcinoGeneticist [CG]

TC: fUuUuCk, KaRbRo.
TC: I dOn’T kNoW wHy I eVeN kEeP oN sAvInG aLl YoUr InFo EvEr SiNcE oUr RiGhTeOuS sIs TeReZi WeNt AnD gOt HeR iNvEsTiGaTiOn On.
TC: cHiCa AlL wEnT aNd ShOwEd Us ThE wIcKeD aSs tRuTh.
TC: NoW wE kNoW yOu ArEn’T eVeR gOiNg To Up AnD aNsWeR tHiS mOtHeRfUcKeR aNyMoRe.
TC: i’M aLl BiTcHtItS sIdEwAyS sTaRiNg At YoUr RuDe NaStY gRaY nAmE hErE, aLl WaItInG fOr iT tO lIgHt uP lIkE yOu’Re ThErE, mY bRoThEr.
TC: YoU kNoW wHaT tHaT wOuLd Be?
TC: tHaT wOuLd Be A rEaL mOtHeRfUcKiN mIrAcLe.
TC: :o(

terminallyCapricious [TC] ceased trolling carcinoGeneticist [CG]


> Be future Equius

Chapter Text

You do not wish to leave the embrace of your recuperacoon when Aurthour rouses you at sunset. You have enjoyed little rest of late, and his unwelcome intrusion awakens a flare of rage in your belly that demands outlet at once. It takes all of your restraint to direct your fury away from your lusus. (He was, after all, simply following your orders; orders which likely contradicted his own judgment. You had seen the quiet disapproval flash across his eyes, even as he bowed to indicate that he would wake you at the hour you desired. Even through your blinding rage, you recognize that it would be unseemly to reward such exceptional service with violence.)

You instead direct all of your anger toward one of the few intact robots that remain in your respite block. The next several moments are a blur of punching, throwing, kicking, and tearing. You do not stop until you have torn all four of its limbs off. Only then do you recover yourself enough to speak.

“Thank you, Aurthour. Your services are singular, as always.”

Aurthour inclines his head to acknowledge your praise as he sets about gathering up the mess of metal, wires, and springs scattered on your floor.

With your rage quelled, you take a seat at your workbench to delve into your current project: thirty-four sets of photo-sensitive devices to be grafted to the eye in such as way as to moderate the amount of light that passes through the pupil—a formal commission from the Alternian Empire. Small-scale projects such as these are not your area of expertise. It is incredibly difficult to employ anything in the way of delicacy with your prodigious strength. Integrating the bioware which will act as an intermediary between the photoreceptive devices and the ocular nerves presents its own difficulties. More often than not, you end up accidentally crushing your work between your fingers or encountering difficulties with the bioware and you must start over from the beginning. You are beginning to worry that you may not finish before your deadline. (The debauchery of such a thought sends a thrill through your body. You cannot hope to tamp down the wave of perspiration that follows, but you do manage to retrieve a towel in time to prevent any of it from ruining the fragile circuitry.)

To make matters more frustrating, your mind is continually wandering from the task at hand. Perhaps you have been driving yourself too hard, perhaps it is a product of too many days of working into the daylight hours, but you often find yourself wondering what purpose these devices will be destined to serve. It is quite obvious that the wearers will be using them under conditions of excessive light, but you cannot settle on any circumstance which would require such permanent adaptive measures. (Sustained diurnal activity? Long-term appointment to regions with especially excessive radiant energy? A military campaign on a particularly sun-baked planet?)

While you can imagine a variety of scenarios to explain the function of the devices you cannot fathom any practical reason behind your instructions to color all of the externally visible portions white. You are certain it cannot enhance the photomodulatory effect of the device: the color creates a glare and it has been fiendishly difficult to program the photoreceptors to compensate without diminishing their sensitivity. You can only conclude that the specification was solely for cosmetic purposes. (But why white, you wonder. Why not natural yellow? Why not any color on the natural hemospectrum?)

You try your best to wave away these inappropriate musings, yet they always tend to slither into your head just when you believe that they have been successfully banished and your pace suffers for it. There are many other distractions: Aurthour delivering meals which you eat as quickly as noble decorum allows. The vengeful screeching of your neighbor’s insatiable lusus. The screams of her victims. The occasional passing of a fine herd of majestic musclebeasts. Tonight, however, your neighbor is blessedly quiet and there are no fauna to admire. You work for several hours uninterrupted. It is therefore all the more aggravating when you discover that you have made a small error installing the bioware which sets you back farther than you were before you began to work tonight.

You leap to your feet with a snarl. The rage you felt upon waking is back full force. You sweep your room for another robot but there are no more intact. Another head-searing bolt of choler slicers through you as you realize that you have not had time to repair any of your broken robots as a consequence of your impossibly difficult commission. You drive your fist into the wall. The force leaves a dent in the stone. You punch the wall again and again and again and again and one more time until your fist goes through the stone and your knuckles are dripping blue. Then you snatch up the towel on your workbench and furiously mop away the sweat that is pouring off your face and neck.

You are still an embarrassing mess when you hear the laughter. You immediately turn to face the door, though you can easily identify the intruder without looking. Cold, biting, and designed to wound, it can only belong to your neighbor, Vriska Serket.

She does not wait for you to invite her to come in because you are both acutely aware that you will never do so. (Noble blood aside, you find her contemptuous and you take quiet solace in the fact that she lays one full rank below you on the hemospectrum. You treat her as a near-equal only because she has proven herself to be an unpredictable and dangerous adversary.)

“So this is what creeper Zahhak has been up to,” she cackles, easily gliding into your respite block. “Nasty ragegasms and lame-ass robots.”

You shoot a quick glance to your lusus, standing at the door where Vriska left him. Even with your eyes hidden behind your dark glasses, you are certain he can sense your discontent. You had instructed him of your desire to work undisturbed and you cannot under any circumstance understand why he would consider it appropriate to show anybody into your abode, least of all Miss Serket. You have half a mind to punish him for such gross disobedience. Then your eyes fall on the fresh glass of milk in his hands and you feel your anger recede considerably. You wait for him to place the offering on your desk and leave with a deeply apologetic bow before you lower yourself to addressing Serket’s personal barbs.

“What do you want?”

“Psh. As if I would want anything from you.” You are both aware that this is a lie. She rarely contacts you outside of demanding that you supply her with some form of your robotic expertise. Her mechanical arm—one of your proudest works—is testament enough to that. You remain silent and she continues with an easy drawl: “Nobody’s heard a peep out of you for the last perigee. I came by to make sure you didn’t do something lame like die.”

“Your concern is appreciated, but—“

She cuts you off with a barked laugh. “Concern? Please. I was hoping to score some easy lusus chow.”

“Well as you can see, I am alive and still strong as a musclebeast.”

“Yeah. I see that all right,” she says. She taps at the web of cracks radiating out from the hole you put in the wall. “Do us both a favor and talk to Nepeta before you bring down the canyon walls.”

You set your lips into a firm, angry line. You cannot abide casual discussion of your quadrant activities. It is a vulgarity which holds none of the depraved appeal of consorting with insolent lowbloods.

Serket pays little mind to your discomfort. She asks, “When was the last time you talked to her, anyway?”

“I have been extremely busy of late.”

“Doing what?”

Another bubble of ire rises in your stomach, directed at yourself this time. You know the danger of giving Vriska Serket even the smallest of openings. “That is none of your business.”

Something needles at the edges of your consciousness, a voice quietly insisting that you tell her—you can trust her, and what will it hurt? Tell her! You clamp down against the voice and it goes dead as you say, “If you are going to attempt to read my mind then you can leave immediately.”

“Oho!” she laughs. “Acting a little cagey, aren’t we?”

“Aurthour will show you out.” And sure enough, your lusus appears at your door, ready to do so.

Serket rolls her eyes. “Fine. But just remember that I know you’re up to something and I intend to find out what.” She attempts to point one menacing finger at you, but the gesture loses its dramatic flair as she ducks away from Aurthour. “Mark my words, I will find out.”

You watch Aurthour escort her out into the passageway beyond your respite block and wait until you can no longer hear their footsteps before you turn on your computer. Though your deadline still looms, you suppose that you can afford to take a short break after such a vexing encounter. You resolve to return to your work the moment you finish your milk.

Your Trollian icon is one of the first to appear on the screen. You hesitate for only a moment before you close the program. Much as you would like to contact your moirail, you do not have the time to devote to a proper feelings jam, and you have already decided that your next communication will include an especially long and intimate jam to compensate for your regrettable period of neglect. Instead, you bring the mouse to hover over a video file. It is an old file, one you received nearly a full sweep ago. You do not know why you chose to save it. You suspect it had less to do with a desire to archive its contents and more to do with your forgetting it was still there. You remembered it last perigee and you have watched it many times since then. You wish you could forget about it again. You open the file.

The screen fills with the visage of a young female troll—a greenblood by the snub of her nose, but with cheekbones that suggest a drop of blue. Most of the right side of her face is outside the frame and the image is of the crude, jerky quality unique to the most inexperienced of handheld camera operators. Her visible horn is relatively short but conical, and it juts unapologetically away from her skull as it tapers to its sharp point. You cannot see her eyes, but you know that they are red as the tinted glasses that hide them. She stares sightlessly at the camera for a few seconds. Then her mouth splits into a wicked grin that is just a touch too wide for her face.

“Good evening, ladies and gentletrolls of the jury,” she says. “Tonight it is the pleasure of the prosecution to bring to justice the despicable criminal, Nubbyhorns Grouchybutt. The accused stands charged of gross social negligence and just being a stupid douchebag in general. While this scofflaw has long eluded the murderous claws of His Tyranny, you can rest assured that tonight I, Neophyte Redglare, your humble servant of the law shall see to it that he is duly punished for these heinous crimes.”

There is a jumble of motion as the camera gracelessly changes perspective. You see a brief snatch of teal and red through the confusion—a legislacerator’s uniform, but too bright and too pristine to be anything more than a well-made costume. A hand covers the lens for a moment and then the image settles on a sustained view of the girl’s shoes as she walks along a gravel path.

The camera jerks with the rhythm of her steps. For several seconds your screen is a sickening blur of red, brown, and gray punctuated by the crunch of disturbed gravel. Then there is another moment of indecipherable movement before the camera settles on a cluster of lawnrings.

“Ah, the idyllic lawnrings,” says the girl’s voice. “So quiet. So safe. So boring. Little do these unsuspecting citizens know, there is a disgusting miscreant hiding in their midst!”

Another round of erratic camerawork follows this short narrative. Whispering gravel becomes the solid, purposeful sound of feet on pavement. A green splash of well-manicured grass occasionally dips into the screen, sometimes accompanied by trimmed shrubs or cheap ornamental rock sculptures.

The camera finally comes to focus on a hive which is remarkably unextraordinary aside from the obscene red awnings that haphazardly erupt from its walls. The camera lingers on the hive. One of its awnings is ripped and the grass is knee high.

The girl stage whispers, “We have arrived at the lair of Lord Grouchybutt. It smells like an even greater musty eyesore than usual. Deputy Pyralspite!—“ there is an offscreen squeak of some sort of stuffed toy—“Add offensive lack of property maintenance to the list of charges! Grouchybutt sure is racking them up tonight.”

The squeaking sound returns. “What’s that, Deputy Pyralspite? Could it be—yes! It does indeed appear that the culprit is still fast asleep, no doubt hoping to delay facing the shame of his guilt for as long as possible. What say we give this deceitful layabout a wakeup call?”

The tip of a cane raps on the front door. “Karkat! You’ve got company! Time to drag your butt out of the slime, you grouchy butt!”

There is a long pause. Far away, somebody’s lusus is barking. There is no sound from within the hive. The girl hisses something unintelligible under her breath. Then the cane is rapping with greater urgency. “Come on, Karkat, open this door! I swear I am not here to put you on mock trial, ancestor’s honor. Even if I was, I would let you off with a mild cane drubbing. Quit being a wiggler and open up!”

The door swings open a few inches under a particularly forceful blow from the cane. The girl reaches forward and prods it the rest of the way open. There is nobody standing behind the door.

The inside of the hive is dark, but the light of the double moons provides illumination enough for you to see that it has been ransacked. A pile of overturned furniture sits in the corner of what might have been a sitting area. Swatches of carpet have been torn up. Silver jags of broken DVD’s are strewn across the floor. There is no sign of the television screen which might have played them.

The hive seems to swallow up the girl’s voice as she says, “Karkat?”

The silence that follows is deafening.

The girl moves on to the nutrition block. The floor is a sea of broken dishes and scattered flatware. There is a shadow in the corner, huge and unmoving. The girl moves toward it slowly. A short, quiet gasp indicates that she has recognized what it is seconds before the image resolves enough to reveal the stark white form of an arthropodic lusus—you would guess one of the crustacean variety, but with the uppermost limbs removed and the carapace badly lacerated you cannot know for sure. What you can divine beyond any shadow of a doubt is that it is dead and that it has been in that lamentable condition for quite some time.

The girl clears her throat. When she speaks all of the mirth has left her voice. “I present the corpse of Karkat Vantas’ lusus. Based on this evidence and the fact that this hive has been looted dry, I’m going to go ahead and pronounce the defendant innocent by reason of being dead as a door hinge post. My apologies to the members of the jury.”

The screen goes dark. The glass in your hand shatters, raining broken shards and the last dregs of milk onto your desktop. A few shards dig into your hand. The pain rouses you out of the stupor that the video always seems to cast over you. You pick the glass out of your flesh, furious with yourself for devoting ten minutes to watching the sordid thing again when you cannot afford to waste a single moment. When your hand is free of debris, you toss a towel over the mess on your desktop to sop the milk until Aurthour arrives to clean it away. Then you return to your workbench.

You spend many hours making adjustments to the lenses you started with earlier tonight. You work until your neck and shoulders ache and your eyes sting with the strain of discerning ports and wires so thin they verge on transparent. You rise from your place only once, to draw the curtains against the rising sun.

It is nearly midday when you set aside the completed pair of lenses. You are so exhausted you can scarcely summon the energy to feel any inkling of the pride you know your accomplishment merits. All you want is to climb into your recuperacoon and enjoy a few blessed hours of sleep before sundown.

You start toward the recuperacoon, but halfway there you decide that you will check your commission list first so you might have some idea of what to expect when you return to your work this evening. You quietly pray that the measurements for the next set of lenses will be more accessible than the last. Even the slightest fraction of a nanometer can make all the difference.

You consult the stack of papers which contains your commission information—and then you feel a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. You have a myriad of problems to worry about. A crushing deadline. A wandering, sleep-deprived mind. An unstable neighbor who likely suspects you are up to something underhanded. A badly neglected moirail. However, this particular problem may be the most distressing of all: the following name on your commission list is Recruit #008: VANTAS, KARKAT.


> Resume being present Karkat at once


Chapter Text

You have officially decided that fuck the consequences, the next time you see Migdal you are ramming your foot so far up his waste chute he will taste the gum you stepped in three days ago. You had thought that Migdal was marginally less terrible than all the other douchebags in charge around here. You had thought that he was the exception to the universal constant that all adult trolls are terrible pieces of shit who enjoy seeing Karkat suffer. Apparently, your judge of character sucks because you now know that Migdal is a sadistic bastard on par with Torkal and Averic but with none of their redeeming qualities.

You have no idea what possessed him at the end of your English schoolfeed to remind you and all of your fellow recruits that your first-ever literary analysis composition was due first thing tomorrow. Those lacking the mental fortitude to avoid chewing their own snot might think he was trying to be helpful. As somebody with the capacity for basic rational thought, you know better. The fact that you have been unwillingly elevated to the position of goddamn Messiah of Syntax and Subject-Verb Agreement is common knowledge. Everybody knows, including all of your schoolfeed instructors and especially including Assbreath. (You have decided that “Assbreath” is Migdal’s new name because you are sure his lusus was a perfectly decent and acceptable guardian and you refuse to besmirch his memory by attaching any of its noble vocalizations to that rancid pile of nook filth.)

There is literally no way that Assbreath could have been unaware of the ramifications of his ever-so-helpful announcement. The son of a bitch had been watching you as he’d said it. It was like he was doing it at you, flinging the words with their shitty consequences directly into your face to leave you with a lap full of word feces that will stain the crotch of your pants for all eternity.

Sure enough, the second Assbreath dismissed the cohort, a mob of no less than thirty trolls descended on your vulnerable bulge in a maelstrom of printed pages and writing utensils. You had tried to fire a poisonous glare towards Assbreath as he sidled past the crowd on his way out the door. He did not seem to catch your sentiment of GO SANDPAPER YOUR BULGE AND COAT IT IN BATTERY ACID, YOU FUCKING FUCK! In fact, the slime chugger was smiling. Fucking smiling!

You do not know how long it has been since the schoolfeed ended, but you do know that you have been sitting in the same chair for so long your ass has gone numb. (You are seriously beginning to wonder if ass-amputation due to lack of bloodflow is a thing. Hell, even if it’s not a thing you are concerned because somebody someday will likely have to be the first ass amputee and the way things are going, it’s going to be you.) You have not had time to leave the schoolblock for nary a piss, let alone dinner. Your back hurts. You are tired. You are so hungry your digestive sac feels like it has inverted and bathed the contents of your abdominal cavity in its nutrient-liquefying acid in a final desperate attempt at gathering some form of sustenance. You are so ready to be done with this shit but there is no end in sight because the line of trolls waiting to see you just keeps getting longer every time you look at it.

With a resigned sigh, you divert your attention away from the black hole that used to be your stomach and direct it toward the pages of tiny print in front of you. The guy who wrote it must have had a typing quirk that involved copious abuse of the Alternian pause curl. That is the only reason you can imagine to explain why the sad fuck has barfed commas all over the page. There are commas after every other word, seven or eight in a row, commas in the place of periods, commas in the goddamn margins…it’s like looking at something crapped out by motherfucking Tavros Nitram. (Fucking hell now you’re thinking about all the asshole friends you used to have for the first time in weeks and no, no, no; you do not have time for this. La la la, that hitch in your throat is just a cough. Yep, there it goes; a nice big cough. Nothing to see here folks. Move along.)

The troll sitting next to you notices your consternation. “Oh,” he says. “It is not good?”

If you hadn’t been at this for hours straight, your response would be something along the lines of “Are you shitting me? It’s like curly punctuation marks erupted from every one of your orifices and descended on this poor, defenseless piece of paper like a swarm of pissed-off bees.” However, you have been at this for hours and you really want nothing more than to get out of this room as quickly as possible because you are legitimately concerned that dinner is going to end before you make it to the cafeteria and that would suck harder than mothergrub’s pulsating egg sphincter. You therefore decide to spare this drool slurper your usual verbal artistry and cut straight to the chase.

“Do you know how to use a period?”

He shakes his head no. Fuck.

“Do you know what a period is?”

“Is it…ah…human finish crumbs?”

“Yes.” A flutter of hope begins to stir in the depths of your thoracic cavity; hope that maybe this guy isn’t as fucked as you had initially thought. “Do you know how to use finish crumbs?”

The guy’s face falls. So does your hope. Its wings just go up in flames and it plummets all the way from your chest to the foulest region of your bowels. “Sorry,” he says. “I never used it before.”

FUCK! You feel like screaming. Your guts are roiling and you can’t tell if it’s a product of dealing with this bullshit for the past several hours or if it’s because you are still so damn hungry. With a heroic effort, you restrain your sudden desire to perform a violent head-to-desk maneuver.

“OK,” you say. “Let’s make this not awful.”

You then proceed to spend an unholy amount of time explaining that no, seven commas do not equal “extra-long pause” and yes, everybody who speaks English uses periods and no you cannot just shit a bunch of commas all over in the margins what the fuck are you even doing? By the time you are finished, Comma Guy has learned to reign in his pause curl fetish enough to stop failing so hard at life and write a coherent string of words and that’s something, you guess. You, on the other hand, have a sponge full of aggravation fluid, a stomach full of empty, and goddamn it, the line has gotten longer again.

You are on the verge of telling them all to go play a rousing match of hide and go fuck yourself for ten minutes so you can run to the cafeteria and cram down a few mouthfuls of terrible Earth cuisine when you hear the schoolblock doors open. You hear footsteps—lots of footsteps—and you decide that this is it; you are going to erupt into a giant fireball fueled by the intensity of your own ire because there must be at least six more trolls coming in and you are done with this. Congratulations cruel and ruthless universe, you think. You have finally broken Karkat Vantas under the crushing weight of your waste-encrusted hoof. I hope you’re fucking proud of—oh. OH!

You abruptly pull yourself back from the teetering brink of going apeshit when you notice that the newcomers do not appear to have any intention of joining the line. They are instead heading directly towards you. You decide that you are perfectly OK with this because holy shit on a stick would you look at that, each of them is carrying a platter heaped with a veritable assload of food.

“Hello, Karkat,” says the troll at the front of your personal dinner delivery drone chain. (You immediately recognize him as the pince-nez glasses guy from your first English session with Evrind. You have since learned that his name is Nulian Yanith because he has continued to ask you inane English-related questions on an almost daily basis.) You can hear muffled grumbling from the trolls waiting to talk to you, but screw it, they can wait another thirty seconds. You turn your attention over to Nulian as he says, “You did not come to dinner. We thought that maybe you are hungry, so we bring a dinner to you.”

You aren’t sure how to react to this turn of events. Sure, you’re glad that you have been delivered from the private hell of your innards attempting to digest themselves and you know that you should properly express your gratitude with a heartfelt “Thank you and piss off.” But you are having a hard time adhering to social conventions because this is the first time anybody has gone out of their way to make your life slightly less unbearable since Crabdad and you honestly don’t know what to make of it. Your response is consequently reduced to a lame, “OK.”

The members of the food-carrying caravan proceed to deposit their platters on the desk in front of you. You see salad, steamed potatoes and carrots, and an entire meatloaf. (The girl who sets this chunk of baked bovine flesh in front of you breathlessly says, “Also there was fish and noodle. We thinking you like this more. Is it OK?” You just nod with your eyes the size of nutrition plateaus because she is right and you only recall mentioning that once, how the fuck did any of them even remember that?) There are four kinds of dessert, five glasses of water, two glasses of milk, and a glass of juice that looks like either apple or white grape. It is more food than you can possibly eat in one sitting and for once in your life you have absolutely no idea what to say. This turns out to be ridiculously unfortunate because the trolls that brought you this shitload of food are now staring at you like they expect you to give some kind of acceptance speech on par with the emotional yet subtly humorous one given by Troll Will Smith when he won the award for most convincing portrayal of a midblood in a comedic military-centered television series.

“Wow,” you stammer. “Thanks.”

“It’s OK,” says Nulian. “Do you want some more?”

You almost start to laugh because he has to be joking. There is no way he could possibly be serious—except Nulian is one of the driest shitheads you have ever met in your entire life. You have never seen him so much as crack a smile, let alone do anything to suggest that he even knows what a joke is. In fact, now that you have gotten over the absurdity of the question, you notice that Nulian looks as fidgety as a cat in a room full of rabid dogs riding oscillating chairs. And it’s not just Nulian. All six of the trolls who came with him look nervous, as though your completely arbitrary assessment of their ability to carry trays of food without soiling themselves has the power to determine who will live and who will be asked to insert a spiked barb up the most unspeakable portion of his nether region.

You aren’t sure if you are comfortable with other trolls treating you like you are some highblood asshole, but you do have to admit that embarrassing as it is, it’s also kind of nice. You also have to admit that the staring is starting to cross the line from “annoying” to “creepy as fuck” so you finally say, “No. This is good. Thanks.”

Nulian nods. “OK, good. See you later then.” He and his merry band of snortblasters file out of the room looking inordinately pleased with themselves. You are just glad they didn’t do something dumb like bow.

You scan the line of trolls still waiting to see you and you are relieved to see that it hasn’t gotten any longer during the delay. (It hasn’t gotten any shorter, but you suspect that would have been asking too much.) The next person in line is a girl with cheekbones sharp enough to slice open a tin can. You motion for her to come and sit down as you brutally attack the mountain of potatoes on the platter next to you.

You had assumed from her height—shorter than even your own vertically-challenged self—that she was younger than you. The burgundy flecks dotting her eyes suggest otherwise. At the sight of those blotches of color, you feel an awkward twinge in the pit of your stomach that has nothing to do with your soon to be satiated semi-starvation. The notion that trolls who are older and supposedly wiser than you are actually interested in your advice is a hard fact nugget to swallow. If you were still on Alternia proper, you are pretty sure that these same douchebags would sooner beat the snot out of you than openly seek advice from some punk-ass little shit a sweep or two younger than themselves. Yep, surely that’s the one and only reason you find those blood-colored eyes to be so disconcerting.

You quickly divert your thoughts from all eye color-related topics and their theoretical implications that you are absolutely not thinking about at all. OH LOOK AT THAT, THIS CRAZY BROAD DIDN’T BRING ANY PAPERS FOR YOU TO LOOK AT—LET’S FIXATE ON THAT INSTEAD!

“Where is your composition?” You heavily suspect that she is going to say something infuriating like “Oh, I haven’t started it yet, tee hee!” You hope to fuck you are wrong because it is probably a real bitch to clean up the aftermath of spontaneous frustration combustion.

“I do not want help for that,” she says. You would normally respond to this shocking revelation with an incredulous “OK, please enlighten me as to what the fuck you are doing here”, but you have just taken a massive bite of boiled potato and your ability to enunciate is gone. An aggressive eyebrow raise is the best you can do. She seems to catch your meaning.

“I want to ask a question about history,” she says. “Is that OK?”

Your mouth is still full of potato so you nod and gesture for her to go ahead and get the fuck on with it already.

“OK. So John Booth killed the America president, right?”

You nod, still chewing away. (Shit, why did you take such a ginormous bite?)

“John Booth killed the America president. Then he said, uh…sic semper tyrannis, right?”

You nod again, wondering if she is ever going to get to the damn point. You also wonder if you are ever going to finish chewing this damn potato.

“So what does sic semper tyrannis mean?”

You mouth gops open, gracing everybody in the room with a lovely view of half-masticated boiled potato. You know you should probably close your mouth because that is fucking gross, seriously, nobody wants to see that shit, but at the moment you are too shocked to care. You allow yourself a moment to think, Did she seriously just spend three hours standing in line to ask me that? What the fuck? Then you decide to stop looking like a mannerless imbecile. You finally swallow your mouthful of thoroughly pulped potato before you squawk, “What?”

“What does sic semper tyrannis mean?”

You shake your head. “I don’t know.”

“Ugh, nobody knows!” she exclaims. “I thought that Karkat has to know it. You are best at English!”

“It’s not English.”

“It’s not?”

“Fuck no!”

“Oh.” She is quiet for a few seconds. Then she frowns and says, “If it’s not English then why did he say it?”

You shrug because it beats the hell out of you. It could have been a secret code or a customary human assassination cry or maybe John Wilkes Booth just thought that combination of mouth noises sounded cool. Cheekbones broad lets out a disappointed huff as she gets up to leave. You send a half-platter of food with her because you figure she must be just as hungry as you were and there is no way you are ever going to cram all the food in front of you down your own gullet.

You work through the next several trolls in the line, sharing your hoard of food and playing your designated role of forceful grammar enforcer without incident. The line has dwindled down to a paltry three or four people when the world suddenly decides that you are getting too damn cocky for your own good and reminds you that you are still its sad little bitch. You look up and your guts clench when you see that the next person in line is the tall, muscular girl you saw tormenting Shrega all those perigees ago.

Since assuming your title of English misconception waste receptacle, you have never refused to help anybody who asked. You do not want to help this girl. You want to tell her to go fuck herself because you know what she and her vomit-slurping friend would do if they had even the slightest inkling of what you are. (Or maybe it would be just her—you haven’t seen the psionic guy around lately, so chances are he got himself culled for being too stupid to live. Either way it doesn’t change the fact that she wouldn’t piss on you if you were on fire.)

You know it’s unreasonable. You know that she couldn’t have been the only one to shit all over Shrega’s entire existence. You know that today alone you’ve probably worked with plenty of other people who pulled the exact same bullshit. You don’t give a shit. You hate this feculent scumbag in the most platonic manner possible because she is a fucking terrible person. It takes all of your self-restraint to avoid showering her with a wave of scorn vomit the second she sits down.

You do not look at her face as you scan the pages in front of you. When you have finished reading her printed brain barf, you have no idea what you are going to tell her because technically speaking, she knows her shit. There are nouns and verbs and adjectives, all strung together in a more-or-less acceptable manner. You can’t find any spelling errors. The punctuation is fine (hell, she is one of the only people you have seen all day who not only attempted to use a semicolon but actually managed to execute that feat of pretentious grammatical assholery correctly). The problem is that she apparently had no idea what the assignment was. That is the only reasonable explanation you can imagine for what you are seeing here. It’s either that or she somehow managed to read all 200 pages of English literary classic and missed the entire goddamn point.

“Well,” she presses. “How is it?”

“Just a minute; I want to read it again.” You think that maybe you missed something the first time around; that maybe your brain has just crapped out on you after these past hours of abuse—but no. You did not miss a single pus-weeping word. It is exactly as bad as you first thought. You are now in the gut-spewing throes of genuine distress because you had honestly planned to give her a few generic advice capsules and send her the fuck away from your general vicinity as quickly as possible, but this is the sort of shit that could get her culled. Much as you dislike her, you can’t ignore the fact that she is a person. A spiteful, sleazy person with a total lake of empathy, but a person nonetheless; one whose death you don’t want on your conscience.

You are about to tell her that she needs to start over from scratch right the fuck now when the schoolblock door opens again. You glance over your shoulder to see who in nookhopping hell it is this time and you see Migdal advancing toward you.

He doesn’t waste a bulgerotting second on any bullshit social pleasantries. Instead, he just points a beefy finger at you and says, “You. Come with me. Now.”

You try not to cringe because oh nubrotting slither creatures that was his Definitely Not Fucking Around Voice. You’ve heard that voice often enough to know that the metaphorical excrement has just become real and some pathetic loser is about to have his ass handed to him. Usually, this would be of little consequence to you, but this time around you are shitting figurative wall blocks because this time the pathetic loser happens to be you.

You spend one sphincter-pulsing millisecond wondering what you have done to be in this position. Then your eyes fall on the mostly empty platters on the table beside you and you know. Is taking food out of the cafeteria is against the rules? you wonder. Fucking Nulian and his fucking troupe of spazmuffin scab chewers. No wonder they looked so pleased with themselves.

Your head is so full of boiling rage fumes you barely hear the girl exclaim, “What? No; I waited so long time—hours!” You do notice the bulge-shriveling glare Migdal fires at her because unlike any of Cennia’s stupid looks, it is fucking terrifying. The room plunges into silence as she along with a clump of people whispering their grievous malcontent wisely choose to shut the hell up.

Once you and Migdal are both out of the schoolblock, he says, “I realize you were in the middle of what likely qualifies as life-saving maneuvers for the more shamefully ignorant members of your cohort, but this conversation is not for public ears.”

Your sense of unease immediately intensifies into full-blown, innard-liquefying panic because ‘not for public ears’ is rarely a good thing. At best it means insidious intrigue that will get your sorry carcass ripped apart when it inevitably goes globes over bleat orifice sideways. (At worst it means if you start right now you might make it halfway through your pointless prayers for mercy before you are completely dismembered. Not that it matters—either way your shit is wrecked.)

“Do you know why I want to speak with you?” asks Migdal.

Your vocal apparatus is pinched so tight you feel as though you are forcing your response out word by word. “If it’s about the food from the cafeteria, I didn’t know—“

He cuts you off with a wave of his hand. The relief you feel is comparable to spontaneously delivering about six tons of pent-up waste to the nearest load gaper. You are not about to acquire a freshly-torn second asshole over the possibly contraband dinner delivery. You issue a silent apology to Nulian and his friends for ever doubting their intentions. They are all fine examples of trollkind and you are a heinous bastard for ever thinking otherwise.

“At about this point in the training process in every batch of recruits, your instructors meet to discuss how our remaining recruits are progressing. One of the things we do during that time is assess whether any of the recruits show potential for positions of leadership.”

Well. This conversation has taken a giant leap off the rails of the expected and driven straight into the territory of what the fuck village, population you and your properly shocked dimpled ass. You are now shitting wall blocks for an entirely new reason. You want a second to absorb what he is saying and determine if you are in fact interpreting it all correctly, but Migdal barely pauses before going on.

“I noticed it early on and it’s only become more apparent that the other recruits rely on you,” he says. “They seek you out when they don’t know what to do. They look to you as a leader. That is why I intend to nominate you for a position of higher command.”

Holy bulge-swinging spring weevils you were not misinterpreting. Are you dreaming? You must be having an uncharacteristically pleasant dream because otherwise this would be the first not awful thing to happen to you since you arrived on this crapsack station, but no—you surreptitiously bite the tip of your tongue and it hurts like fuck-all. You are definitely 100% awake.

Through your haze of surprise-musk, you hear Migdal saying, “You would still be with the ground forces and your training will remain the same. However, you would be in a position of considerable influence as compared to the majority of the ground troops. You would also handle more high-profile missions.”

“What type of missions?” The words leave your mouth before you can stop them. You grind your teeth together until they hurt because wow, way to immediately fuck up and interrupt your only potential benefactor to ask him a stupid question. Past you needs to get his shit together and start policing his delinquent squawk blister because this is definitely not the first time it has screwed you over.

To your relief, Migdal does not appear to be unduly perturbed by your inability to observe basic social etiquette rules that rank right up there with ‘don’t fart in public’ and ‘bathe on a semi-regular basis.’ He says, “It would depend on what is needed at the time of your deployment. High-level infiltration is one thing that comes to mind. You might be given command over a regional platoon of troops if and when the invasion turns violent. Of course, all of that assumes you don’t do something incredibly stupid like fail to complete the rest of your training.”

“Yeah,” you stammer. “I mean yes. Of course.”

You know you sound like an incompetent jackass but right now you can’t even find it in yourself to be embarrassed because holy flying jizzwaffles upper level covert affairs? Your own fucking platoon? This is the sort of thing you’ve fantasized about since before you were even old enough to be out of diaper nubs.

Migdal is talking again and it is all you can do to push the pause button on your internal power jerk off session and listen. “One last thing,” he says. “Keep in mind that your ass is not the only one on the line here. I don’t give a shit what you do once you leave this facility because at that point you are somebody else’s responsibility. However, if you manage to fuck up and do something cull-worthy while you are still in training then that will fall on me.

“I do not enjoy looking like a fool so rest assured that if you do anything to make me regret my decision, you will be begging Averic to cull you by the time I am through with you. Do you understand?”

You nod, your head bobbling on your neck with all the grace of a marionette on fire.

Migdal scowls. “I repeat, do not fuck this up.”

“I won’t.”

“Good. Now go back to whatever the hell you were doing before we had this little chat.”

You head back toward the schoolblock feeling as though you have imbibed copious amounts of soporifics. (Actually, you have never imbibed any soporifics because Crabdad was a responsible lusus and the only sort of pan-altering substance he allowed in your hive was sopor slime. Still, you imagine that this is the way you would feel if you had done such a thing.) It had always been your intention to become some bigshot leader. You had assumed that it would happen after sweeps of lethal and vicious service in the Threshecutioner ranks. (Never mind the fact that you probably wouldn’t have made it past the culling drones, let alone made the cut for Threshecutioner.) Now here you are still more than a sweep away from the day the Imperial ships would have come and you are already being offered your own platoon. For the first time since you were manhandled into this program, you begin to think that maybe your life isn’t going to suck.

When you walk into the schoolblock, you are amazed to see that your good fortune has continued: the room is completely vacant. Even the mostly empty food platters are gone. If you can sneak back to your room without encountering anybody on the way, you will be free to spend the remaining time before sleep cycle basking in the juices of your sweet success. You are looking forward to this immensely.


> Future Nepeta: Check in with your moirail


Chapter Text

aresenicCatnip [AC] began trolling centaursTesticle [CT]

AC: :33 < *ac issues a friendly gr33ting meow to ct*
CT: D --> Hello
AC: :OO < equius! you answered!
AC: :33 < i mean
AC: :33 < *ac circles cts legs and headbutts his ankles a few times*
CT: D --> You must realize that I will not join you in this f001ishness
AC: :33 < *ct purrtends to act annoyed but then he notices how happy the kitty is to s33 him*
AC: :33 < *he decides to role purrlay for just a little while to show the kitty how sorry he is for making her worry about him*
CT: D --> All right
CT: D --> I suppose there is no harm in indulging this juvenile diversion for a few moments
CT: D --> But you will understand that this is not to become a regular occurrence
CT: D --> This is an e%eptionally unusual situation
AC: :33 < yay!
AC: :33 < i mean yay! *says ac*
CT: D --> *I respond to the presence of the clawed female pretending to be a cat with a proper hello*
AC: :33 < *ac headbutts cts ankles one more time to show how much she missed him*
CT: D --> *I respond by doing something to suitably recognize the feline-obssessed female pretending to be a cat*
AC: :33 < *ac whispurrs psssst, try scratching behind the kitty’s soft and furry ears!*
CT: D --> Very well
CT: D --> *I scratch the cat who is clearly not a female wearing a 100dicrous hood behind the ears*
AC: :33 < *ac purrs and says why did you stay away for so long?*
CT: D --> I apologize for my absence, Nepeta
CT: D --> It was not my intention to remain a100f for such an ine%cusably long period of time
CT: D --> Fiddlesti%

CT:D --> *I said all of that*
AC: :33 < *ac leaps onto cts lap and bops him on the nose with one paw*
AC: :33 < *she says thats ok, just dont ever do it again!*
CT: D --> *I acknowledge the presence of the feline who is still not Miss Leijon on my lap and e%plain to her that I have been e%tremely busy of late*
AC: :33 < umm, equius?
CT: D --> Yes
CT: D --> Darn it, I mean *I say yes*
AC: :33 < im really happy that you agr33d to role play with me for once
AC: :33 < and i apurreciate that you are trying your best
AC: :33 < but it looks like you have something impurrtant to talk about so maybe we should stop role playing now
CT: D --> Yes, I agree
CT: D --> We will cease this nonsense immediately
AC: :33 < so why have you b33n gone for so long???
CT: D --> My current roboti% project is taking a great deal longer to complete than I had originally anticipated
AC: :33 < robotics purroject?
AC: :33 < is it the same one you were talking about last perig33?
CT: D --> It is
AC: :33 < wow it must be a really big job if you are still working on it
AC: :33 < you never did tell me what it was all about, though
CT: D --> I cannot divulge all of the details
CT: D --> However, I suppose there is no harm in revealing that it is a commission from the military
AC: :OO < thats so exciting!
AC: :33 < but it sounds like a lot of hard work
AC: :33 < are you ok?
CT: D --> I assure you that I am handling the pressure in a suitably STRONG manner
AC: :33 < vwiskers said you punched a hole through the wall
CT: D --> I
CT: D --> Nepeta, have you forgotten that I forbade you from speaking to Miss Serket or need I remind you that her propensity for double%ing makes her e%tremely dangerous even among noble b100ded trolls such as myself
CT: D --> I do not e%pect you, as a greenb100d to understand the difference between a%eptable and una%eptable treachery in the b100b100d echelons of society, but you will believe me when I tell you that her conduct falls far outside the realm of allowable perfidy
CT: D --> You will e%cuse my language, but what in the devil-dancing dickens possessed you to speak with her against my orders
AC: :33 < well it wasnt as though i had much of a choice
AC: :33 < you werent answering anybodys messages—not even mine!
AC: :33 < i asked vwiskers to check on you so i would know you were ok
CT: D --> I am touched by your concern
CT: D --> I count myself fortunate to have a moirail with such a STRONG sense of duty
CT: D --> However, from now on you must never disobey my orders
AC: :33 < is that an order?
CT: D --> Yes
CT: D --> I order you to never disobey my orders
AC: :33 < okaaay, sh33sh
AC: :33 < but did you really punch a hole in the wall?
CT: D --> I cannot deny it
AC: :(( < oh no!
AC: :33 < maybe we should get together for a real f33lings jam
CT: D --> Much as I would like to meet with you, I am afraid that I cannot afford to e%tricate myself from my work in order to visit your hive at the moment
AC: :33 < thats ok
AC: :33 < i can come to you!
CT: D --> Neigh
AC: :33 < why not???
CT: D --> The nature of my commission is highly classified
CT: D --> Sharing any information pertaining to it could lead to e%ecution
CT: D --> If you visit my hive there is a small chance that you will inadvertently a%ess that information
CT: D --> I do not wish to place you in undue peril on my account
AC: :33 < well then put your commission away somewhere i wont s33 it!
CT: D --> No, you will not come over
CT: D --> I forbid it
CT: D --> The risk is too great
AC: :33 < come on, equius, thats a crappy excuse!
CT: D --> Language
AC: :33 < ugh, sorry
AC: :33 < but im still coming over
CT: D --> No you are not
AC: :33 < yes i am
CT: D --> No
AC: :33 < yes
CT: D --> No
CT: D --> Our present di%ussion is sufficiently quelling my rage
CT: D --> I have not felt a single urge to break anything since we began
CT: D --> You will remain at your hive and I will remain at mine
AC: :33 < blaaaarrrraaruuughghh
AC: :33 < fine
AC: :33 < but it f33ls really weird doing this without a pile
AC: :33 < you have to purromise me that if we do it this way you wont disapurr again
AC: :33 < and that youll come to my hive as soon as you are done with your purroject so we can have a real jam and not just some lame chat on trollian
CT: D --> I give you my word and my honor as a b100b100d
AC: :33 < ok
AC: :33 < so why did you punch a hole in the wall?
CT: D --> I was merely frustrated over my poor progress
CT: D --> I was beginning to fear that I would miss my deadline
AC: :33 < oh no!
AC: :33 < that must have b33n really scary!
AC: :33 < *a purrky meowrail offurs worried mr zahhak an especially tender face pap as an expurresion of her sympathy*
CT: D --> Mr. Zahhak I mean I appreciate the sentiment
CT: D --> However, I have since developed a STRONG understanding of the fundamentals behind this particular brand of roboti%
CT: D --> I believe that I will meet the deadline with the proper perseverance
AC: :33 < i think you can m33t your deadline too
AC: :33 < nobody can beat you when it comes to robots
AC: :33 < you are simply the best there is!
CT: D --> Thank you for acknowledging my aptitude for roboti%
CT: D --> Your unwavering faith in my abilities is commendable and it bolsters my spirit as STRONGLY as the powerful flanks of an especially vigorous musclebeast
AC: :33 < h33 h33 youre welcome
AC: :33 < is there anything else that is furustrating you?
CT: D --> No
CT: D --> My mane complaints were simple worry over an approaching deadline and a dearth of proper interaction with my moirail, both of which are resolving as our conversation continues
AC: :33 < thats a furry sw33t thing to say
AC: :33 < but i can tell that there is still something bothering you
AC: :33 < you did that thing you do when you dont want to talk about something
CT: D --> E%cuse me, Nepeta
CT: D --> I haven’t the slightest idea what you mean
CT: D --> You will e100cidate at once
AC: :33 < you do too know what im talking about
AC: :33 < that thing you do where you look at the ground
AC: :33 < you do it almost every time we jam and it is so transpurrent!
CT: D --> Even if I did “do that thing where I 100k at the ground” as you allege, we are many miles apart
CT: D --> Just as I cannot lift you onto my e%ceptionally STRONG shoulders from my current location, you cannot know where I am directing my eyes from your location
CT: D --> Your claim is therefore 100% 100dicrous
AC: :33 < well my nose can smell a liar from so far away you dont even know
AC: :33 < also your webcam is on :PP
AC: :33 < the point is i can tell that there is still something bothering you!
CT: D --> Damn it all
CT: D --> Oh dear
CT: D --> I mean fiddlesti%
CT: D --> You will e%cuse my 100d language, Nepeta, but the topic to which you refer is not meant for casual di%ussion
AC: :33 < not even with your meowrail?
CT: D --> Abso100tely not
AC: :33 < why not?
AC: :33 < does it have something to do with your top secret purroject?
CT: D --> I refuse to pursue this vein of conversation any further
CT: D --> In any respect, it would be improper to devote all of our time to plumbing the depths of my feelings while neglecting to di%uss yours
CT: D --> We shall do so immediately
AC: X(( < hisssss!
AC: :33 < i knew doing this on trollian was a bad idea
AC: :33 < if i was over there right now i would tacklepounce you so hard right now
CT: D --> I command that you e%pound upon any feelings you e%perienced during my absence
AC: :33 < okay fine
AC: :33 < i guess we can talk about my f33lings now if that is really what you would prefur to do
AC: :33 < im not going to furget about this though
CT: D --> Very well
CT: D --> You will begin now
AC: :33 < i mostly just missed you
CT: D --> Did I make you angry
AC: :33 < i was angry at furst
AC: :33 < i thought maybe you were ignoring me on purrpose
CT: D --> I hope that my failure to perform my duties of moirallegiance did not lead you to do anything untoward
AC: :33 < well
AC: :33 < i did kind of slaughter a musclebeast and leave its carcass where i dropped it
AC: :33 < but i felt really pawful about it after!
AC: :33 < i even went back to try and salvage the meat even though i knew most of it would have gone bad
AC: :33 < i think somebodys lusus got it, though, beclaws i never did find it :((
CT: D --> I must say that I am STRONGLY disheartened to hear that you harmed a majestic and graceful musclebeast
CT: D --> Hoofever, I also recognize that you were under e%traordinary circumstances at the time, a significant portion of which were due to my own lack of decorum
CT: D --> Please continue
AC: :33 < well after a few w33ks i started to get really worried
CT: D --> And this was the point at which you made the rash decision to troll Miss Serket?
AC: :33 < yeah
AC: :33 < but like a said befur, its not like i had much of a choice
AC: :33 < you know what happened the last time one of our furiends disapurred like that!
CT: D --> I assume you are a100ding to Vantas
AC: :33 < it was bad enough losing him
AC: :33 < i was scared i lost you too
CT: D --> Nepeta, I will apologize once again for my ine%cusable behoovior; however, you must not waste another moment mourning Vantas
AC: :33 < how can i not f33l bad?
AC: :33 < i know he was grouchy sometimes but he was my furiend and yours, too
CT: D --> I did not consider him such
AC: :33 < yes you did
CT: D --> No I most certainly did not
AC: :33 < that is such bs
CT: D --> I assure you that it is the hoof
CT: D --> I mean truth
AC: :33 < nope! bs!
CT: D --> While his work ethic may have been admirable, I found him rude, obno%ious lowb100d trash scarcely worthy of our acquaintanceship
CT: D --> His caustic attitude was also a poor influence on you
CT: D --> I am glad that he is gone
CT: D --> We are all better for it
AC: :33 < okay i get it, you didnt like him
AC: :33 < i still f33l sad when i think about what happened to him though
CT: D --> You will not lower yourself to bemoaning his fate for one more second
CT: D --> That is an order
AC: :33 < but he never even did anything to deserve to die!
AC: :33 < even if you didnt like him, you have to admit that is kind of sad
CT: D --> Cease this f001ish talk at once
AC: :33 < no
CT: D --> Yes
AC: :33 < no
CT: D --> Yes
AC: :33 < no!
CT: D --> I cannot fathom what you hope to gain from this ill-guided grief when he is not even deceased
AC: :OO < what?
CT: D --> Oh my
CT: D --> You are not meant to be privy to that information
CT: D --> I demand that you disregard it this instant
AC: :33 < no way
AC: :33 < this is really big mews!
AC: :33 < how long have you known he was alive?
AC: :33 < why were you k33ping it from everyone?
CT: D --> Calm yourself, Nepeta
CT: D --> Now that the horse has left the gate I suppose I have little choice but to e%plain more filly
AC: :33 < filly?
CT: D --> Fully
AC: :33 < oh XDD
CT: D --> Once my deadline has e%pired I will divulge all I know with regards to Vantas’ position
CT: D --> Until then you are not to pester me for more information
CT: D --> I also forbid you from uddering a word of this to any of our mutual acquaintances
CT: D --> Do I make myself perfectly clear?
AC: :33 < but equius this is something all his friends should know!
AC: :33 < cant i at least tell pawllux or terezi?
CT: D --> Abso100tely not
AC: :33 < kanaya?
CT: D --> No
AC: :33 < what about gamz33?
CT: D --> While the very idea of deceiving the highb100d is repulsive, it is at this time a thoroughly necessary act of impropriety
AC: :33 < uuuuuaaaagghhgblaarugh!
AC: :33 < why are you being such a stupidhead about this?
CT: D --> I am not doing this simply to be a stupidhead
CT: D --> I will not rela% my orders because they are for the sake of your own safety
CT: D --> We will not di%uss this matter again until my deadline has passed
CT: D --> Now you will e%cuse me, I must retrieve a towel and return to work at once

centaursTesticle [CT] ceased trolling arsenicCatnip [AC]


> Present Karkat: Experience a catastrophe

Chapter Text

Three minutes. That is the minimum interval of temporal respite you require between waking up and subjecting yourself to your morning ritual of “Karkat Vantas Answers Insipid Questions About English That You Wouldn’t Need to Ask If You Stopped Aspirating Your Own Drool and Attempted To Give Half A Fuck During Your Schoolfeeds, You Shit-Ass Lazy Ignoramus.” You would think that the other trainees could find it in themselves to give you 180 seconds to quietly appreciate the aftertaste of shame that comes with watching your life slide a little farther down the shit-encrusted underground waste conveyance tubule every day. At the very least, you would think that they would be decent enough to leave you time to roll out of your human bed and cover your goddamn shame because you would fucking think that they would rather not be privy to seeing your naked bulge flapping in the wind. You would think all of that and apparently you would be wrong because the morning lights raised literally ten seconds ago and already some boorish asswipe is banging on your door. Slowly, you untangle yourself from the covers and execute a groggy one-fingered salute in the general direction of the door. (Flip off, you think. Flip the bird. Give the finger.)

The knocking grows more insistent as you kick around your room for a clean shirt. You mutter a string of curses under your breath because goddamn it, the English language can go perform a triple flip into the nearest pit of stinking entrails. Seriously whatever the bugfucking hell this douche is going to ask you are absolutely two hundred and eighty-one percent sure it can wait until you actually go to the cafeteria.

When you finally come across a shirt that doesn’t smell and isn’t too wrinkled, you snap, “Fuck off or shut up and wait!” The knocking comes to an obliging stop. You choose to take that as a good sign; that whoever you are about to deal with is at least competent enough to understand rudimentary English slang. (You once tried telling Evrind to “piss off” and ended up spending the following ten minutes defining the word “piss”, how you were not actually telling him to urinate, and explaining that you were telling him to leave you alone for a few seconds. It only got worse when you later stated that he was “pissing you the fuck off.”)

When you are acceptably clothed, you set your face into the deepest show of discontent you can summon, throw open the door, and snarl, “WHAT!”

The girl at your door—a regular at your English sessions—takes a step back and says, “I just want to ask you about” and that’s as far as she gets before she cuts herself off with a gasp and stands there with her jaw gaping open.

You wonder if perhaps your expression is a tad angrier than you had intended. You had meant to convey a healthy unit of annoyance with a side helping of you really couldn’t stand to wait another three minutes?—not I WILL FUCKING EVISCERATE YOU AND FEAST ON YOUR PULSATING INNARDS WITH SUCH RELISH YOUR LUSUS WILL FEEL IT IN HER GRAVE, YOU GIANT DAMN OFFENSE TO SENTIENT LIFE! To that effect, you sigh and, damping the edge off your tone, you repeat, “What?”

She continues staring at you with her mouth flapping open as though she is waiting for Cennia and her crew of ass clowns to insert some new form of dental torture into her gaping maw. You can see her jaw working as though she is attempting to speak. Nothing comes out.

Your scowl melts into an uneasy frown because you cannot fathom why she is looking at you like this and it is beginning to freak you the fuck out. Did you grow a third horn out the middle of your head while you were sleeping? Are you covered in some hideous rash? Have your ears begun weeping rancid brain fluid, leaving you mere moments away from a globe-smashingly unpleasant but mercifully fast death?

“What is it?” you ask. “What’s wrong?”

She gives you a couple more seconds of glassy staring before she spins on her heel and runs away.

You are not a vain troll. In fact, beyond attending to basic personal hygiene you have never really given half a fuck about your appearance. Even so, her reaction is unnerving and you have a very strong urge to get your ass to the bathroom and see what has rendered her into horrified speechlessness.

Your room is fairly close to the communal toilets. Even walking at a snail’s pace, you can usually cover the distance in less than a minute. This morning proves to be anything but usual because you are pretty sure you walk for an eternity, plus or minus a couple hundred millennia before you finally reach the white-tiled room.

You look in the mirror and your (too-hot) blood runs cold. You haven’t grown an extra horn, but you may as well have. Where your irises once carried the solid gray of pupation, they are now splotched with color and oh fuck no, fuck, FUCK, FUUUUUCK it is a bright, unmistakable candy red.

“No,” you whisper. You run your fingers over the skin below your eye and for half a second you find yourself wildly wondering how badly it would hurt to gauge your eyes out (answer: probably a shit ton because you are pretty sure you would not be able to do it in one clean sweep with these useless piece of shit fingernails), whether there is any plausible way you could pass the rest of your time on the station with your eyes closed (answer: who do you think you are? Terezi I-can-taste-the-colors-of-the-fucking-rainbow Pyrope?), the likelihood that you will miraculously acquire a pair of sunglasses within the next twenty seconds (answer: HAHAHAHA wow you aren’t even trying anymore, are you?) Then, a sick feeling slithers into your belly as you realize there is no hiding, there is no way out. The universe just decided that Karkat Vantas’ life has been too easy and pleasant these past few perigees and has chosen to rectify this awful mistake by forcibly inserting a hefty slice of congealed FUCK YOU pie into the darkest regions of your gullet.

You hear voices. Your nervous system goes into hyperdrive as you realize that the voices are coming closer and somebody is coming, SOMEBODY IS COMING AND THEY ARE GOING TO SEE. There is a terrible second in which all you can do is stand in front of the mirror, paralyzed and gaping. (A small part of you has the urge to break into hysterical laughter because wow this is the same face that girl was making back at your room. You could have one hell of a career as an impressionist if your life wasn’t officially over.) Then the rational part of your brain screams at you to hide, dumbass and the next thing you know you are diving into one of the empty toilet stalls. You lock the door behind you as the bathroom door opens and not one, not two, but three trolls enter.

“I still think you being stupid,” says one of them—a guy whose voice you can’t place right now due to the opaque haze of OH SHIT that has enshrouded your mind.

“Not stupid,” says a girl’s voice. “Uh…not smart either. Ugh, what word do I wanting to say?”

“Realistic?” a second girl’s voice supplies.

“Yes! I being realistic!”

The guy scoffs. “How you being re-al-is-tic?”

They reach the row of sinks just across from your hiding place. You feel a vague sense of gratitude when one of them turns on the tap—the rush of water provides just enough white noise to hide the sound of you hyperventilating like a stupid dickweed.

“There are no kismesis on Earth,” says girl number one. “I do not want getting so um…attach…then go to Earth and break kismesis. I think break kismesis now is better.”

“That is stupid!” the guy repeats. “I think being happy here is better.”

There is a sound of somebody spitting a mouthful of dental cleansing paste into a sink. Then girl number two says, “You won’t feel like that when you go to Earth and you have to break up your moirallegiance. You will cry and say ‘it hurts, it hurts! I wish I listened to Pylori!’”

“But maybe I not going to Earth,” says the guy and you suddenly realize that you know this guy, that he’s been to your English sessions on and off over the past several weeks. (You’ve told him the same thing practically every time: that he would be fine if he would quit forgetting his goddamn auxiliary verbs. Now here he is, forgetting his goddamn auxiliary verbs with all the consistently of a well-practiced typing quirk. You would probably yell at him about that if you weren’t in such dire straits at this very moment. As it is, you latch on to the grammatical error. Its familiarity grounds you—a precarious tether linking you and your imminently-lost shit.)

“No,” says girl number two. “You will go to Earth and cry and cry because you are being dumb.”

“Maybe I not leave here,” the guy retorts. (I will not leave, you think.) “Maybe I fail the tests. Then I be happy until I die and you two look like dumb.” (I will fail the tests. I will be happy.)

Girl number one snorts. “OK. You think so if you want think so.”

The tap shuts off and you hold your breath as the voices head toward the bathroom door. You hear the guy say, “Yeah, I think so because I right!” and then the door closes behind them and you are once again thankfully, blessedly alone.

You notice as you sit in the stall waiting for the voices outside the door to fade that you are shaking, actually shaking and you feel like you are about to be sick. You also notice with some level of disgust that you have broken out in a nasty cold sweat that reeks of rotting onions and rat piss. You know that you should probably do something about that, but with your stomach still performing all manner of backflips, flip-flops, and somersaults, you are legitimately concerned that the only thing you will accomplish if you expose yourself to a hot, steamy shower is that you will actually be sick. You don’t think you have it in you to deal with that shit today because you are far too busy attempting to deal with the hulking tower of shit the universe has deposited on your lap. (Besides, you think, one look at my eyes and nobody is going to waste a pants-pissing second being offended over a little common fear-stink.)

It’s not as though you had expected a hemanonymous troll tag and a hyperdiligent avoidance of careless cuts and scrapes to keep you safe forever. It’s just…you honestly had not expected to live long enough to see your eyes change and past Karkat in all his nook-twiddling glory had failed to plan for such a contingency. Consequently, you have absolutely no idea what in the name of grub-fisting shitballs you are going to do.

The flow of people coming and going begins to pick up. There is a steady gurgle of running water and flushing toilets. Conversations from different groups of trolls meld together into an unintelligible drone of noise. Picking out any single snippet of speech is about as easy as identifying the individual foodstuffs contained in a pukestain on the wall, but from what you can ascertain it all seems to stay within the bounds of quadrant banter, schoolfeeds, and other mundane chatter you would expect. There is nothing to suggest that the girl you had spoken with earlier has passed on what she had seen. (You do hear your name once and it makes your bowels clench harder than an ice water enema. You only relax when you realize that the person who uttered your name was merely advising one of her friends to see you about some ongoing English problem.)

Nobody seems to notice that your toilet stall has been occupied for an inordinate stretch of time. You try to use this small haven of privacy to formulate some course of action that does not suck harder than a turbo-charged dirt-eating appliance. This proves to be a failtastic exercise in failure because rather than churn out anything resembling a functional plan, your traitorous brain chooses instead to fixate on a bone-thin girl (…never should have made it out of the brooding caverns) with stringy hair (ugly…make other troll sick) and no horns (some kind of mutant freak…). You eventually abandon any illusion of plan-making in favor of silently yet ardently haranguing past Karkat for the integral role he played in delivering you into this clusterfuck of a situation. Seriously, if you could get your hands on that stupid ass you would force-feed him a brimming mug full of WAKE UP AND SMELL THE THORN-ENCRUSTED PLANT GENITALIA in the hopes that he would realize that the cosmos and every cotton-assed entity in them would never miss this prime opportunity to fuck with you.

The crowd dwindles down to just a few stragglers.The sense of panic that has been lurking at the edges of your consciousness lunges back into sharp relief with all the shit-stirring impact of a sinister denizen rising up out of the ruthless Alternian Sea. You know that soon the bathroom will be empty and you will have to leave because even now, after more than a sweep, trolls who get caught hanging around still tend to disappear.

The onions and rat piss panic sweat settles over you again. You catch yourself silently—shamefully—begging the five-four-three trolls left to stay just a little longer, to give you just a few more minutes because you are not ready for this oh god you are not ready for this! Three-two-holy fuck only one left. The door opens, squeaking on its hinge. You hear a set of hurried footsteps fading away—and then nothing.

You are dangerously close to another round of healthy hyperventilation. You close your eyes and see two trolls shoving a smaller troll against a wall, both of them leering with a jagged desire to hurt. Even though you know that the smaller troll shouldn’t have any horns—you saw this happening; you were there—you see your own nubs there, hear your own voice crackle with pain and fear as you whisper, “Please.” You bury your face in your hands because you can’t do it. You can’t become the new Shrega.

The bathroom door opens. An authoritative adult voice—one you don’t recognize—says, “Malingering is not tolerated. Leave immediately or face the consequences.”

You take a shaky breath and say, “I’m sorry” and then you cringe because your voice comes out hoarse and weak. It makes you sound pathetic and if there is anything you want to project right now it sure as puckering shit isn’t pathetic. You clear your throat and try again: “I’m sorry. I am feeling sick.”

“Do you need to be escorted to the medical wing?”

You take a moment to weigh the benefit of delaying your inevitable coronation as the station flogging post against the distinct possibility of being poked and prodded by Cennia on a day which had not been meant to include any such douchebaggery. On the one hand, you might manage to carve out another hour or two for ineffectual planning and anxiety. On the other hand, you have a sneaking suspicion that Cennia would contact Torkal and mother grub’s perverse slurry receptacle knows what he would want to do to you.

The adult’s voice cuts through your thoughts like a finely-whetted sickle: “Recruit, do you need to be escorted to the medical wing?”

“No,” you sigh. “Just…just give me a minute.”

You must sound much worse than you think you do because the adult is quiet for a moment before she says, “I can give you thirty seconds. Any longer and I will turn you over to Averic for disciplinary action. Is that understood?”

“Yes. Thank you.”

“Thirty seconds.”

You hear a set of footsteps walking across the room, hear the bathroom door open. You wait for it to close before you unlock the door to your stall and walk over to the row of sinks. Once there, you turn on the cold tap full bore and stick your head under the stream of icy water. The shock is enough to make you gasp, but it clears away the too-hot feeling of hysteria and calms your revolting stomach down to a more manageable grumble of malcontent. You count to ten, letting the water trickle into your ears and down the back of your neck. Then you turn off the water and stand up.

Somebody was charitable (or maybe stupid) enough to leave their towel next to your sink. Under normal circumstances, the thought of using somebody else’s skeevy towel would disgust you because there is no way to know where that towel has been and what horrors it has seen. Today you have more important things to occupy your anguish sponge than the remote possibility that the towel may have grazed another troll’s bulge. You grab the (damp, obviously used, fucking gross) towel and proceed to attack your dripping hair with such reckless abandon that your hands bash up against the base of one of your horns and you end up skinning one of your knuckles raw.

When you are finished, you look to the mirror one last time because maybe you are getting ahead of yourself here. Maybe your eyes were just a little bloodshot after another night of terrible sleep. Maybe it was some trick of the eye-searing fluorescent lighting that Cennia or Torkal or whoever the farting hell else was in charge of electrical management on this piece of crap station insisted on using in all the bathrooms. Maybe, just maybe your bloodthirsty and overall ornery as hell personality has garnered enough favor with the hideous deities of troll fortune for them to decide that just this once Karkat Vantas deserves a break. Then you remember that the hideous deities of troll fortune do not exist outside of pan-addled wiggler stories and even if they did there is no way they would grant you the steam off their nonexistent piss, let alone anything of actual value because sure enough, your eyes are still blotched with that repulsive color.

Your gut sinks as you realize that if anything your situation is even worse than you had initially thought. The splotches in your eyes are nothing like the little flecks that Evrind had bragged about for weeks before you or anybody else could see anything. These are big and bright and impossible to miss and the backs of your eyes are stinging and you suck in a deep breath that hitches in your throat because you are not going to cry, goddamn it, you are NOT GOING TO CRY.

You hear footsteps outside the door. The adult is returning. You toy with the idea of being a defiant little shit just to see if she really will take you to Averic because sure, death by Ruffiannhilator reject would hurt but it would only consist of one or two seconds of awfulness and then it would be over. No need to endure sweeps of Shrega treatment. No need for anybody to ever know your ugly little secret at all. (Except Cennia and Torkal, of course. And fuck, why not add Averic to the list because even though his brain is the size of a peanut you are pretty sure he would notice that wow, the head pulp and chunky bits leaking out of this fine example of trollkind are the wrong goddamn color.)

You know it would be an easy way out and for half a second you consider it. Then you remember Torkal and you realize that there is no easy way out, that there will never be an easy way out because the universe hates you and wants you to suffer. You also realize that even now, with all the metaphorical excrement in the world smashing against the whirling device, you can’t bring yourself to throw your life away. When you hear the door open, you turn away from the mirror, duck your head, and hurry past the adult before she can say a word.

You have to pass by your room on the way to the cafeteria. It occurs to you as you approach the door that you might be able to hole up there for another hour or two before Averic comes by for a truancy sweep. If you are lucky, you might manage to hack the electronic lock and fuck with its programming enough to jam it, buy yourself just a little more time—but no. You pass the door without missing a step because no amount of planning or preparation is going to change the color of the splotches in your eyes.

You realize that you are running. You know that you should slow down and savor the final few seconds you have left before the festering mass of nook waste known as your life comes to an end. Instead you decide to run even faster because fuck it, at this point you might as well get this over with as quickly as possible, just like ripping an extra-sticky bandage off the darkest and most sensitive regions of your crotch.

The cafeteria is so packed that nobody notices you when you get there, even though you come barreling into the room so fast any sane troll would assume that you were being pursued by a particularly rabid and pissed-off cholerbear. By an obscene stroke of fortune, you spot an unoccupied stretch of table in a sparsely-populated area of the room near one of the walls. Keeping your head down, you start in that direction.

You are sure that somebody will stop you because eye color aside, you can barely breathe without some assmunch demanding that you explain commas and semicolons and all the differences between them in excruciating detail. You are consequently shocked when you manage to plant your ass on the bench with nary a “hey, Karkat, how can the word ‘fuck’ be a noun and a verb and an adjective?”

A full three minutes pass. You are just beginning to think that maybe if you keep your head down and concentrate all of your energy into being inconspicuous you might actually be OK when you hear a voice—Nulian’s—say, “Hey, Karkat, I found you!”

Your mouth goes dry. Keeping your eyes fixed on your untouched plate of food, you say, “What do you want?”

A second voice says, “Can you help us with English now?”

“No,” you rasp. “I am busy. I can do it later.”

“Just one question?” another voice asks. (Goddamn son of a fuck how many of them are gathered around you right now?)

“Ask me later,” you repeat.

“But there is test next,” whines yet another voice. “We need help now.”

You are pretty sure you feel your insides shrivel. You know now that these assholes are not going to leave until you’ve answered all of their questions because that’s the way things work on test days. Your chest feels tight. You try to swallow around the lump that has settled in your throat but your mouth is too dry and you can’t breathe.

Nulian’s voice says, “Hey, you OK?”

A laugh flits up into the back of your throat and dies there because WOW YOU ARE SO FAR FROM OK THAT ANY ATTEMPT TO MOVE FARTHER AWAY FROM THAT NEBULOUS STATE OF GENERAL WELLBEING WOULD RESULT IN YOUR CIRCLING RIGHT BACK TOWARDS IT AGAIN. You hear another voice say, “He is, uh, what word? Uh, he is shake. Shaking.”

A hand brushes your shoulder and the contact is so unexpected that you jump, raising your eyes to the group of six-seven-eight trolls gathered around you. It’s only a momentary slipup, but it’s more than enough.

There is an uncomfortable five seconds of silence. Then it begins:


“Did his eyes…?”

“Oh my God!”

You can hear voices whispering, groping for the English word.

Nulian is the first to find it: “Mutant,” he hisses. If you were capable of producing any meaningful words at the moment, you would commend him because WOW, HE WON! HE FOUND THE WORD FIRST! GOOD FOR HIM!

There is a light trip of footsteps, a confused jumble of voices:

“What? Why you bringing me here?”

“Huh? What is it?”


“His eyes!”

“Wait, really?”

You feel as though you are collapsing in on yourself. You can feel yourself hunching into a defensive posture—shoulders down, arms tucked up against your body—and you try to stop because you can’t afford to look weak now. You need to look threatening, strong, and fierce; you need to convince these shitheads that you will rip their heads off and jam them up their own waste chutes if they fuck with you…but you can’t bring yourself to look away from your plate.

“Mutant,” repeats Nulian. “Freak!” (Well look at that, he’s a regular synonym repository. A real vocabulary whiz, this one.)

There are more voices now, bleeding together into a ball of nonsense: “I can’t see—eyes are—what are you--move, I want to—freak—wait, is he really—fucking bright red….”

A hand grabs the collar of your shirt. You jerk away with a yelp and oh shit you looked away from the table and there are at least fifteen fucking trolls crowded around you. You immediately slam your eyes shut—but you are too late. A collective gasp goes up from the crowd and then there is an explosion of sound—people shouting at each other, people shouting at you, pounding footsteps as the crowd grows larger, laughing—some fucker is laughing at you.

You want to get away. You would gladly run your ass straight to Torkal’s lab if you could just get out of this clusterfuck but you can’t because the wall is behind you and the table is in front of you and you are surrounded by a ring of people three deep. Something ricochets off your left shoulder. It leaves behind a starburst splatter of warm gooiness—mush. Somebody threw a bowl of mush at you.

A wave of raucous laughter surges up around you. You cover your ears because you can’t take this, you never wanted this, you just want it to stop—and then a voice is screaming, “STOP IT! STOP!”

It takes you a moment to realize that you are not the one doing the screaming. You crack one of your eyelids to see Evrind standing on the table in front of you, his body crouched into an aggressive stance and screaming, “STOP! DO NOT HURT! STOP IT!”

A troll towards the front of the group lurches forward towards you. You don’t know what he is trying to do, whether he intends to hurt you or whether he’s just some bumbling dunderhead who can’t avoid tripping over his unusually large and odiferous feet. Either way, Evrind pile drives one of his big fists straight into the poor fucker’s face.

There is a wet crunch that cuts through the confused tangle of sound and stops it dead. The guy reels back, clutching at his nose and moaning. A trickle of maroon blood is already dripping through his fingers.

On the table in front of you, Evrind is breathing hard, shoulders rising and falling with each breath. His hands are still clenched into fists.

Somebody in the crowd yells, “What the fuck, Parmav!?”

“I say stop,” Evrind replies. “So if hurt Karkat then I knock down.”

“What,” sneers a girl from somewhere off to your left. “Are you moirails now or something?”

“You hurt Karkat then I knock down,” Evrind repeats.

An uncomfortable murmur rolls through the crowd. Then, by twos and threes, the knot of trolls surrounding you disperses. Evrind stays up on the table, glaring after them until it’s just the two of you in your own freak bubble of seclusion.

“You OK?” he says as he clambers back down to the ground.

A hot spike twists through your gut. You want to scream at him that no, you are not ‘OK’ and it is going to be a long time before you are ever anything even remotely resembling ‘OK’, you shit-eating ignoramus! You want to kick his simpering ass and tell the son of a bitch to go and fuck himself and the hoofbeast he rode in on because you aren’t moirails and it’s not his place to be doing this shit for you. You have never felt more humiliated in your entire life.

Somehow, through the fog of shame and resentment fuzzing out your senses, you manage to grate, “Why did you do that?”

He shrugs. “You is—are. You are friend.”

You are about to tell him that fuck that, that was the most embarrassingly public example of a pale advance you have ever seen in your life and thank you so much for pissing a hot and steaming spray of mortification fluid into the noxious well of suck your life has become—and then it hits you. Human friendship. He’s trying to be human friends. You frown. The fact that Evrind’s actions fit with the weird, pseudo-pale elements of human friendship does little to quell your embarrassment. Still, you try to tell yourself that it might not be such a bad thing if Evrind has decided to buy into the whole human friendship idea. At the very least, you would have one person not going out of his way to make you miserable and hell, that would be one more than Shrega ever had.

“Hey, uh, Karkat?”

You keep your response clipped and irritable because even though you are not as pissed with him as you have every right to be, he is still not off the hook for embarrassing the shit out of you. “What?”

“Are you really a mu…uh…a-a mu….”

You know what he is trying to ask. Normally you’d give him the word, but fuck that. You have no desire to hear it again and if he’s already forgotten it then so much the better. Hoping he’ll get the hint and shut his gape hole, you send him a scathing glare to rival even one of Cennia’s most potent looks.

Evrind reels back as though he has been burned. You understand a half second too late that language-challenged or not, you’ve just answered Evrind’s question loud and clear. He offers up a shaky smile, an embarrassed laugh…but you can’t help but wonder if you hear something moldering under the easy laughter like a pile of dead carcasses under a thin layer of flowers.


> Future Nepeta: Spill the beans

Chapter Text

arsenicCatnip [AC] began trolling gallowsCalibrator [GC]

AC: :33 < *ac scales a tr33 and stealthily apurroaches your window*
AC: :33 < *ac scratches at the glass as gently as pawsible so her razor sharp claws dont leave any marks*
AC: :33 < *ac is sorry if she woke the sl33ping dragon but she is glad the majestic creature is awake because she has some furry impurrtant mews*

AC: :33 < its…oh wait
AC: :33 < ugh, i cant tell you

AC: :33 < i kind of purromised equius i wouldnt tell
AC: :33 < but he never said anything against helping you guess!
AC: :33 < h33 h33
AC: :33 < like a clue?
AC: :33 < well its about somebody we know and you will never guess who it is in a bazillion trillion years!
GC: 4L1V3 OR D34D?
AC: :33 < its…complicated
AC: :33 < nope!
AC: :33 < not even close!
AC: :33 < i know!
AC: :33 < k33p going!
GC: 4H4 1V3 GOT 1T
AC: :33 < you do?
AC: :33 < no!
AC: :33 < good guess though h33 h33 h33
AC: :33 < its someone who nobody has talked to in a really long time
AC: :33 < no
AC: :33 < but youre getting warmer
AC: :33 < yes!
GC: W41T R34LLY?
AC: :33 < well okay
AC: :33 < the first bit about karkat being alive is true anyway
AC: :33 < equius wouldnt tell me much so i dont know about the rest
AC: :33 < it might be pawsible though!
AC: :33 < i know!
AC: :33 < all this time we thought he was dead and now here he is purrfectly okay!
AC: :33 < what
AC: :33 < no
AC: :33 < he didnt really mean to tell me about karkat at all and he s33med pawfully flustered when i found out
AC: :33 < why do you k33p saying hmmmm?
AC: :33 < its starting to look kind of worrisome
AC: :33 < like maybe you are thinking about something but you dont really want to say it out loud
AC: :33 < i hope it is not that kind of a hmmmmm because that is the worst kind of hmmmm there is
GC: 1 C4N B3L13V3 K4RK4T 1S 4L1V3 BUT 1 4M NOT SOLD ON TH3 1D34 TH4T H3 1S OK4Y
AC: :33 < oh
AC: :33 < it was that kind of hmmm :((
AC: :33 < so you think karkat might be in trouble?
GC: 1 W1LL W41T
AC: :33 < fine
AC: :33 < just a sec

arsenicCatnip [AC] is an idle troll!

AC: :33 < okay im back
AC: :33 < yeah

AC: :33 < i guess i can s33 your point there
AC: :33 < but what if karkat put down his lusus and those marks came from looters who went through his hive after he left?
AC: :33 < no, not really
AC: :33 < but i can play the malevolent pitchfork-carrying entities advocate cant i?
AC: :33 < also maybe i just really want him to be okay
GC: F1N3
AC: :33 < maybe they werent his?
AC: :33 < i guess it kind of is dumb when you put it that way
AC: :33 < but what if he did decide to leave them behind and somebody else came through and clawed them all to shreds?

AC: :33 < okay i guess there isnt really much of an explanation for that one
AC: :33 < so what then?
AC: :33 < do you think he was katnapped or something?
AC: :33 < that is so sad :((
AC: :33 < there must be something we can do to help him
AC: :33 < he said he would tell me everything he knew about karkat after he finished his robotics purroject
AC: :33 < i can try to get more out of him earlier though
AC: :33 < wait!
AC: :33 < just to start out can you maybe pass this along to only a few people and tell them not to mention it to equius?
AC: :33 < i dont want him to know that i let the adorable kitty out of the paper or sometimes plastic purrchased goods toting device
AC: :33 < at least not until ive had a chance to warm him up to the idea
AC: :33 < he was really against it before
GC: >:]
AC: :33 < thanks terezi
AC: :33 < i will troll you as soon as equius decides to stop being a big dummy about all this

arsenicCatnip [AC] ceased trolling gallowsCalibrator [GC]


> Present Karkat: Downward spiral

Chapter Text

With the unquantifiable heap of irritating shit that you have dealt with in your life, you would think that it would be difficult to choose that one magical incident that qualifies as “Karkat’s most irritating experience to date.” However, if you were to look deep within your body of annoying experiences, you would find one special nugget of waste traveling within its putrid digestive coils that represents the culmination of all previous and future annoyances you have encountered or ever will encounter in your lifetime. As luck would have it, tonight is the night that the universe has decided to shit out that steaming turd of a situation for you to appreciate in all its nub-twiddling, bulge-diddling glory. What you are experiencing right now, at this very moment is therefore, without the slimmest shadow of a doubt, the most irritating thing you have ever experienced in your entire life.

You have been sitting in the same schoolfeed—the final schoolfeed of the day—for the past three hours. This would be enough to tweak your aggravation sponge even under normal circumstances because the schoolfeed lasts right up until dinner so you are always fucking starving by the end of it. (It does nothing to help matters that the subject—Earth economic systems—is one that you find to be brain-numbingly boring.) Even so, it’s not as though you are some snot-nosed little crying wiggler about it. You can handle a few hours of being hungry and bored just as well as any other minimally functioning troll. What you can’t handle is some blistered asshole sitting behind you and kicking the back of your seat nonstop for two hours and fifty-five minutes of the past three hours.

It had started out as a gentle, rhythmic tapping that you could have almost excused as accidental; some socially inept idiot getting squirmy and jiggling his foot without realizing he was hitting the back of your chair. The possibly innocent tapping soon evolved into focused jabbing that continued until about midway through the schoolfeed, at which point the son of a bitch sitting behind you decided to abandon all pretense of subtlety and just started straight up kicking the shit out of your chair hard enough to buck you forward in your seat.

If the experience wasn’t so goddamn obnoxious, you would have to commend the asswipe for his endurance. He has not let up once throughout the entire schoolfeed and unless he is wearing some heavy-duty steel toe boots (which you know for a fact he isn’t because where in the name of piss-toggling fuck would he have gotten them) his feet are probably sore as hell. As the situation stands, your aggravation sponge is filled beyond capacity and you are practically drowning in the resultant overflow of exasperation fluid. The only thing keeping you from immediately spilling an economy sized jug of retaliatory fuck you all over the region of his booger-encrusted face is the knowledge that disturbing schoolfeeds is a surefire insta-cull.

Your only option for dealing with this is to face forward and focus all your energy into channeling your ever-expanding frustration rage into hanging on the instructor’s every word. It is an exercise in patience which proves that contrary to what any nooksucker on the street might say, you possess greater reserves of self-discipline than even the most devoted auxiliatrices in the brooding caverns.

“Do not forget,” says the female instructor (kick, kick-kick-kick goes the crotch pimple behind you).

“Your next round of assessments will be coming up next week—“

Kick-kick, kick-kick-kick-kick….

“—so be ready. Questions?“ A smattering of people raise their hands. You scowl and narrowly restrain your desire to flip each and every one of them their own special version of the double bird because mother of squealing fuck you just want to get the hell out of this miserable schoolblock.

Kick, kick, kick-kick….

“Before you ask—“

Kick, kick, kick….

“—if anybody asks anything even remotely resembling ‘what is going to be on the assessment’—“

Kick, kick, kick, kick….

“—I will personally snap their horns off and create a trophy wall for them in my respite block.”

Kick, kick….

“So are there any questions?”

The forest of hands slowly withers like a sea of dying fungus.

Kick, kick, kickkickkickkickkickkickkick....

“No questions? Good. Dismissed.”

You jump out of your chair fully intending to whip around and give the oozing bag of shit behind you a piece of your mind (and quite possibly your fist for good measure), but he is already beating a fast retreat down his row and toward the center aisle. You consider going after him, but your row is already clogged with people lollygagging around for no conceivable reason whatsoever. (Seriously, you think. Do you people lack the mental capacity to talk about whatever the barfing fuck you think is so important AND walk at the same time? Would that really be such a hard thing to do?) The only way you are getting anywhere near the stupid shitstain would be to vault over your row and try to chase him down before he melts into the crowd.

You are still immersed in devising a strategy for making the leap to the row behind you without doing something stupid like bunging your shins on your chair when you feel a hand on your shoulder and Evrind is saying, “Hey. You OK?”

You twist away from the hand because goddamn it, you have told him not to do that. You don’t care if it’s something that human friends do; it’s too close to papping for your tastes and it feels fucking weird. You growl, “Yeah. I’m fine.”

“I felt…uh…kick? Kicking?”

“It’s fine,” you repeat and you are surprised to find that the majority of your boiling rage has dissipated to a more bearable simmer of mild choler. It may not be “fine” (in fact, you’re pretty sure that this qualifies as the exact opposite of “fine”), but aside from that first awful morning, your life has been remarkably not shitty since your eyes decided to out you to every bulge-doodling idiot on the station and you would prefer to keep it that way. Is it really worth harassing the sleeping culling drone over something as pathetic as chair kicking? The answer is abso-fucking-lutely not and past you is a remarkably stupid example of trollkind for even considering it.

“Come on,” you say. “Let’s go.”

You are pleased to see that the people who had been milling around in your row have removed their malingering asses from the vicinity during your exchange with Evrind and your path to the center aisle is clear. You are less pleased—though not at all surprised—to see that the aisle is still a clusterfuck. Of course nobody bothers to be a decent person and let you or Evrind out of your row because that would require them to endure mild inconvenience for the benefit of you and your fucking terrible mutant blood. Predictably, you and Evrind are the last two trolls out of the schoolblock and you end up trapped behind a band of inconsiderate fuckers walking so slowly you can only assume that they are trying to hide contraband game grubs in the deep recesses of their puckered assholes and walking any faster would cause the goods to erupt through the seat of their pants like a spring-loaded ass worm.

You want to shout, “You’re going to have to speed up or get the fuck out of the way because I am done dealing with bullshit today. My stock of bullshit has been selling like wildfire and I have no more to deal with so take a fucking rain check and come back never, you assholes.” The words are there ready to come out at a moment’s notice. You swallow them back with effort (because sleeping culling drones), but you can still feel them in the back of your throat just waiting for you to let your guard down.

Evrind tugs on your sleeve and says, “Are we practice English tonight?”

You make a show of rolling your eyes at the question because of course you are practicing English tonight because that is something you do every night, Evrind, you empty-headed moron. Secretly, in the darkest crannies of your being which you will never, ever expose to the light of day, you are relieved for the distraction. “Yes, we are practicing English tonight.”

He furrows his brow. “Practicing?”

“Yes. Practicing.”

“OK.” Under his breath, he repeats, “We are practicing. Are practicing.”

You wait for him to stop mumbling before you say, “Do you want to practice for any other tests?”

He chews his lip and looks up at the ceiling, clearly engaged in deep and meaningful inner reflection (or maybe he thinks the answer to your question is lurking around somewhere on the ceiling). Finally, he answers, “Um, eco-nom-ic?”

“Economic systems?”

“Yeah. I can’t…too many English vocabulary. They talk so fast. I don’t understand it.”

You frown. He’s been saying that more and more ever since your instructors made the leap to teaching in English full time. You don’t mind rehashing the schoolfeeds for him (hell, it saves you the trouble of having to fuck around with all that shit later), but you don’t like to think about what it probably means.

Other people are struggling too, you remind yourself. And they’re too fucking stupid to admit they need help. Aloud you say, “OK. We’ll do economics, too.”

The people in front of you continue to be piles of thoughtless nook waste and maintain a pace somewhere between creeping toilet mold and sentient tuber vegetable. When you finally reach the cafeteria, it is packed. A couple of perigees ago, you would have worried about finding a place to sit. Now you can look around the room and—oh look, there it is! Your own isolated little corner, way the fuck away from everybody else because apparently these dumb shits think that having the wrong blood color is as contagious as pan-rotting spore infection. (You are pretty sure that the intent behind this is to upset you, but after enduring perigees of constant badgering by everybody and their lusus about ‘English this’ and ‘English that’ you are more inclined to see it as a perk; the one good thing to come out of this shitty state of affairs.)

You get an uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach as you and Evrind skirt around the edges of the room on your way to your designated corner of banishment. You have become accustomed to the occasional half-whispered jeer (scum-freak-trash-MUTANT) or the odd bout of muffled tittering whenever you pass by a group of trolls. With the cafeteria as packed as it is, you were expecting the walk to your table to be particularly sucky—except tonight there is nothing. No derogatory remarks, no poorly-executed attempts to hinder you, annoy you, or otherwise jab at your anguish gland—nothing. In fact, you have the distinct feeling that everybody is actively trying to avoid looking at you.

When you reach your table, you understand. You have a fucking epiphany that ignites the pestilence centers of your brain and whips your simmering rage back up into full-on erupting fires of odious wrath. Past you really should have realized that something was up way back in the schoolblock, but past you is literally the stupidest version of you that exists so of course he didn’t notice a thing. The way the crowd had always managed to shift just right to keep you from leaving, the ridiculously slow pace of the ass whiffers walking in front of you—it had all been a means to delay your arrival long enough to orchestrate this exercise in nookbiting bullfuckery.

There are two full human formal place settings waiting for you. You see soup spoons and salad forks and dinner forks and dessert spoons and butter knives and three types of glasses, and even cloth fucking napkins folded into dainty floral designs—but all of the food that should have been on the table has been removed and some colossal pile of putrid bulge filth has taken the liberty of filling the plates for you. On one plate there is a large pile of something that looks as though it might have been chicken and mashed potatoes before it was thoroughly masticated and spat back onto the plate. The other plate holds a single half-eaten dinner roll.

Beside you, Evrind goes, “Oh….” Because wow, what the fuck else is there to say? He slowly approaches the table and examines the plate with the chewed-up something on it as though he is seriously considering sampling the nasty thing. Then he makes a face and just stands there looking like a wounded puppy.

You want to scream at somebody. You want to curse and yell and break something and goddamn it you wish you knew the flying nub biter who was responsible for this so you could kick his feckless little ass. You can put up with more than your fair share of shit. Dealing with Crabdad’s cantankerous nature and your old friends’ liquefied word feces every day from the day you pupated prepared you to deal with veritable oceans of rage-inducing inanities and crap in general, but this shit? This is going too fucking far and the fact that these pail sluggers decided that you weren’t enough, that they had to go and fuck with your friend makes it all the worse.

You may not be able to do anything to piss swiggers responsible for this, but you can at least do something to try and set that last bit straight because Evrind does not deserve to be punished for the giant cosmic joke that is your genetic irregularity. Taking a deep breath to smooth the quivering fury that is welling in your chitinous windhole, you turn to him and say, “You don’t have to stay.”

Evrind jerks as though you slapped him. “But I...I want to,” he stammers.

“Don’t be fucking stupid.”

“I’m not stupid.”

You roll your eyes. “You know that’s not what I meant.”

He just shrugs in response.

“Go sit with the other trolls. They’ll let you sit with them.”

“No,” he says, but even though he shakes his head you see his eyes settle on a knot of trolls and the appetizing, definitely not pre-chewed dinner which they are messily devouring like a pack of goddamn wild hyenas.

“I’ll be fine,” you press. “Go eat.”

He hesitates, eyes lingering on the trolls with the food and for one second you think holy fuck, he’s going to do it. He’s actually going to do it. Then he looks back to you and says, “No. It’s OK. I need…uh…I need to do English practice.”

“Fine,” you sigh because fuck it, you can lead the carnivorous ground worm to the rotting hoof creature carcass but it won’t do you a lick of good if he’s hell bent on being a recalcitrant shit. “Sit down.”

He smiles that stupid grin that makes you want to punch his face and takes a seat. You pointedly move the two plates and their disgusting contents out of the way before sitting down across from him. “OK,” you say. “Economic systems. Where do you want to start?”

You have been trying to detail the major differences between Earth socialism and Earth capitalism (and by “trying” you actually mean failing miserably because Jesus h. g. fucking Christ you had not realized just how far behind Evrind has gotten with his English vocabulary) for several minutes when you hear a set of footsteps come to a stop behind you. To your immeasurable credit, you manage to keep your focus on Evrind until he finishes his clumsy attempt to parrot back the meaning of embargo. Then you decide that you are sick of feeling the skin on the back of your neck curdle under the rancid breath of the socially impaired idiot standing behind you. You steel yourself because whelp, this is it; the excrement has finally struck the tines of the whirling device and say, “What do you want?”

“How is your dinner?” says the guy behind you and wow, what do you know, you recognize that snotty voice because it belongs to pompous bastard extraordinaire Nulian Yanith.

You scowl. Whether or not he is here to take ownership for the festering pukefest of an evening you have been forced to endure, you feel like turning around and beating his ass. It wouldn’t be hard to do: massive horns aside, the dude is wiry as a twig and you seriously doubt his lusus ever pushed him into anything resembling a proper strife. One good jab to the solar plexus and he’d be out for the count. You’d be a lying shitmouth if you said you weren’t tempted. Then again, you know how Nulian operates. You wouldn’t put it past the slimy little dirt crawler to have another troll or two posted nearby, ready to swoop in and save his scrawny waste chute the second things turn ugly. To that effect, you do not turn around when you growl, “Piss off.”

Nulian snorts. “Piss off?”

You don’t dignify his sad attempt to rattle you with a response. Instead you say, “OK, Evrind. Tell me about laissez faire again. Make me believe you know what it means this time.”

Evrind does not appear to have heard you. He isn’t even looking at you. His eyes are fixed on the troll standing behind you and the expression on his face suggests that he is contemplating disemboweling Nulian with his bare hands.

You kick him under the table hard enough to make him gasp (because fuck that shit, you do not need or want him fighting your battles) and say, “Evrind! Laissez faire.”

“Oh…uh…it’s when, when—“

A bony finger jabs into your shoulder. You grit your teeth so hard you can hear the grinding deep within your skull.

“—it’s when people can do a business thing.“

Another jab, harder this time. Your focus on Evrind reaches an intensity that any onlooker would classify as “really fucking creepy.”

“They do a business thing but um—“

A third jab in the same spot, hard enough to hurt. You ball your hands into fists, the levees restraining your unbridled grief and fury beginning to crack under the unrelenting stream of douchebaggery flowing into them.


Evrind goes quiet as you feel another jab. Nulian doesn’t let up this time, digging his finger deep into the meat of your shoulder. You realize that wow, great; this shitstorm isn’t going to resolve itself quietly because apparently somebody toggled the difficulty setting of your life up to “grub shit insane super hard mode”.

You begin to turn around in order to tell Nulian to his face to fuck right the hell off and your vision explodes into vicious snaps of white light when a fist crashes into the right side of your face. You reel back with a choked yell because fuck that hurt. A ribbon of blood dribbles from your nose and even though you know it’s stupid, you know everybody knows what to expect, your hands still fly up to cover the damage. The blood oozes over your fingers and down over your lips, hot and sticky.

Somebody—not Nulian—is laughing. You realize for the first time that Nulian is not alone and you damn past you to the hottest portion of troll Satan’s asshole for not noticing this important fact earlier.

You hear Nulian say, “Ugh, look at it. You should wash your hand.” And then Evrind jumps over the table and all hell breaks loose.

You are pretty sure that Evrind was aiming for the guy who hit you, but the momentum from his leap fucks up his aim and he hits Nulian on the shoulder instead. Nulian lets out an indignant shriek and makes as though to hit Evrind while he’s recovering his balance but you decide that nope, that shit is not going to fly. You have designated this area to be a no fly zone and nonexistent mirthful messiahs and other nonexistent semi-omnipotent deities help you, you are grounding this shit right here and now. You put both of your hands on Nulian’s gut and give him an open-palmed shove that sends him stumbling back into the table behind him. He wobbles on his feet and you charge after him, throwing all your weight behind your shoulder as you plow into him. He claws at you as he goes down, pulling you with him. There is a confused moment of scuffling limbs when you hit the ground, an impression of Nulian trying to scratch you with his useless clear fingernail nubs and then you have him pinned.

He squirms, trying to buck you off but you have at least twenty pounds of muscle on him and neither of you go anywhere. Somewhere close by, you hear the grunting, slapping, cursing sounds of Nulian’s accomplice and Evrind pounding the everloving piss out of each other. A crowd has gathered: you hear yelling (you think you hear somebody shouting “Yeah! Kill him!” and you have no idea who in fuckbuggering hell they are encouraging and who they want to see pounded to macerated pâté), feet shuffling, people crowding each other for a better look—but nothing to suggest that any of these lazy-ass voyeurs plan on joining the fray to help you. (You hear nothing to suggest that they are going to help Nulian, either, which you count as a small ass squirt of a blessing from the pantheon of shitty miracles.)

Nulian’s breathing morphs into high-pitched gasping as he realizes that you have him and nobody is coming to rescue his sorry self. Part of you—the vindictive, ornery part that just does not have any fucks left to give—wants to pound his face into mush. You want to see him humiliate himself and beg for mercy, send the message loud and clear to all the bastards watching that you do not screw with Karkat motherfucking Vantas. But then his panicked gasping turns into panicked keening and son of a screaming fuck, you look down into his fear-glazed eyes and you know that you can’t do it.

His glasses are sitting at an odd angle on his face, one of the lenses cracked. He growls at you as you reach for them and whips his head back and forth as though he intends to brain you with one of his massive horns. You put your hand on his forehead and shove his head against the ground with maybe just a smidge more force than strictly necessary.

“Don’t,” you snarl. He obligingly goes still and this time when you reach for his glasses he lets you take them. You examine the cracked glass. It’s deep, one step away from snapping the lens down the middle but the glasses look cheap as shit and you are pretty sure that they are the stupid, non-prescription kind that pretentious idiots wear to make themselves look more pretentious. You should probably break them on principle of him being an asshole, but you don’t. Instead, you put them back on his face at the correct angle.

Evrind is still slogging it out with Nulian’s friend. You can hear them yelling at each other, still hear the thud of fists on flesh. The crowd that had gathered around you and Nulian is beginning to drift away to watch them, drawn to the mayhem like the attention-challenged cretins they are. Nulian swings an arm up but it’s a weak attempt at a punch and you knock it away with ease. You lean in, getting right up in his face as you say, “You’re embarrassing yourself. Tell your friend to stop.”

The platonic hate boiling in the air around Nulian is so intense it’s like a cloud of smelly flatulence. He glares at you with a look that would cut through iron if the poor fuck had any sort of psychic ability whatsoever. (You are quietly thankful that the only power he seems to possess is the power of being a magnificent douche because you enjoy the simple things in life like having a head that is completely intact and attached to your body.) Then he spits in your face.

The gob of stringy saliva hits just below your eye. You jerk back, forgetting yourself for only a moment because augh, fucking nookwhiff piss weasel that was disgusting but it’s long enough for Nulian to roll free. He pulls himself into a crouch and immediately launches himself at you like a jet-propelled kangaroo hopped up on crazy pills. You end up in a tangle of limbs and it becomes apparent that wow, this idiot isn’t going to give up unless you knock him the fuck out, is he?

Nulian’s limited success seems to have stoked his drive to not get his ass handed to him because he is flailing so much it’s like trying to pin down a live eel in a vat of lightning greased lard. You grapple with him but you can’t pin him and you can’t get away and ow, FUCK one of his wild punches lands right on your nose and now it’s bleeding again. The blood is running down onto your chin, staining your shirt and it hurts, hurts, hurts, HURTS so much you can barely even see through the ball of fire that has erupted in the center of your face.

Your fist sinks into something soft. Nulian gags and rolls away from you with his arms hugged around his abdomen. He lies there sucking air and even though you know he’s incapacitated, you know that you can get away, you throw yourself after him because your face is still throbbing with an insistent harpy-bitch pain that screams at you to do whatever it takes to keep him down. You wind up to deliver a finishing blow that will keep Nulian from even thinking about fucking with you or Evrind ever again—and then there are arms around you, jerking you back.

You try to get away from those arms but they are wrapped tight around your torso. Nulian staggers to his feet, and slowly advances toward you. You suddenly understand that oh shit, this fucker is going to hold you down, keep you helpless until Nulian is done beating you to a pulp and then he’s probably going to beat your bloody, pulped remains into fine liquid form. You intensify your thrashing, all the while screaming at yourself for being a stupid idiot and not finishing Nulian off when you had the chance because you knew he would never do the same for you, that given the opportunity he would cheerfully rip your lungs out through your ass then piss on your grave, that—the arms around your torso slip. With all the knowledge that this is it; this is your one and only chance to get away and you cannot afford to fuck this up, you jackknife around and drive your fist as hard as you can into the guy’s face.

The room suddenly goes very quiet: all of the shouting, cheering, and general fuckery associated with large crowds of unruly trolls high on vicarious violence and aggression just stops. At first you have absolutely no idea what to think about this. Then you see who you just punched and OH MAN, OH GOD it’s an adult troll who stands barely taller than you but twice as wide with a face that could reduce weaker trolls to vomit-spewing trauma monkeys under the best of circumstances: Migdal. Holy deep-fried bulge-hopping FUCK you just punched Migdal in the face.

You take a step backwards and oh, look: you’re right next to a table. This turns out to be incredibly serendipitous because your legs then decide that fuck this shit we are ollie outie and the table is the only thing standing between you and a face plant to the ground. Your lips are working but no sound is coming out. This is probably for the best, as there is literally nothing you could possibly say to make this situation not completely terrible. It is all you can do to avoid cowering and evacuating your bowels right there in front of everybody as Migdal glowers at first you, then Nulian, then Evrind and Nulian’s friend in turn.

Migdal gestures toward Nulian and his friend and barks, “YOU TWO go to the bathroom and clean yourselves up.”

Bent double with his arms still wrapped around his belly, Nulian hobbles toward the exit. A few seconds later his friend follows, keeping his head bowed as though he is trying to hide his fantastically swollen black eye.

Migdal waits until they are out of the cafeteria before he yells, “YOU—“ (he jabs a finger in your face) “—and YOU—” (he jabs a finger at Evrind) “—come with me.”

You almost laugh because this is really all too much. You know your legs are going to crap out on you the second you let go of the table so you are not going to be following anybody anywhere, thanks. Except wow, look at that, you are already halfway across the cafeteria when did that happen? Your legs continue to demonstrate their amazing ability to do their job by falling into step alongside Evrind as Migdal leads you out of the cafeteria, down the hall, and into one of the empty schoolblocks.

Once you are inside, he turns to Evrind and says, “Did they knock out any of your teeth?” (You turn your attention to Evrind and notice for the first time that holy flying shitballs blood is gushing from his mouth. You are the worst friend in the entire history of the world for not noticing that sooner. It is you.)

“No; it’s OK” says Evrind. A glop of blood splashes over his lips, runs down his chin, and drips onto the front of his shirt.

Migdal frowns. “Go to the modification block and have Cennia take a look at you. She’ll want to check the straightening devices. God help you if they’re damaged.”

Evrind gives you a vaguely apologetic look before he ducks out the door. (You can’t imagine why he thinks he needs to apologize to you for anything. Maybe he is trying to apologize for pulling more of that confusing pseudo-pale human friendship crap, you think. Admittedly, you had been planning to kick him in the shin for getting involved, but you figure that being reduced to spewing his bodily fluids all over the place like a goddamn pressurized sprinkler device is punishment enough.)

Once Evrind is gone, Migdal rounds on you with his face arranged into the most pants wettingly intimidating scowl you have ever witnessed in your life. With a furious stabbing motion, he gestures to the livid bruise forming on his cheek and snarls, “I could have you culled for this.”

Your mouth goes dry because of course he’s right. You’ve seen trolls culled just for bumping into an instructor in a crowded hallway. Accidental or not, you are pretty sure that decking a teacher in the face is grounds for something truly special—and by special you actually mean too unspeakably terrible to imagine.

“I should have you sent directly to Torkal,” he continues, his voice building to a roar. His lips are drawn back, his teeth are bared, eyes flashing…he is in short, pissed. “If it were any other authority figure on this space station, you would already be on Torkal’s operating table. Am I making myself perfectly clear?”

You feel sick. You haven’t actively thought about Torkal for a long time now, but your subconscious was apparently busy at work imagining plenty of pan-scarring scenarios because you are immediately flooded with images of Torkal cutting you open, Torkal’s hands coated with your blood, Torkal gleefully juggling all of your internal organs around like a demented Subjugglator…. Your voice comes out as a shaking dry rasp: “Yes. I didn’t—I’m sorry. Please.”

He continues glowering at you just long enough for you to begin imagining even more Torkal-related horribleness (cold surgical tools, the smell of antiseptic, “our personal lab rat”….) Then he huffs out a sigh and his expression becomes a couple of degrees less terrifying.

“I’m not going to report you,” he says. You let out a breath that you didn’t even realize you had been holding. You are so relieved you are dizzy with it and you barely hear him grumble, “I should, but I’m not going to.”

Your mouth is still dry as a cracked piece of preserved hoofbeast genitalia submerged in desert sand. With a tremendous effort, you croak, “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me yet. I went to the cafeteria to speak with you and I very strongly doubt that you are going to like what you are about to hear. The fleet rejected my nomination.”

“What?” With everything you have been through in the last month, you had almost forgotten about Migdal’s promise. (Actually, that’s a bald-faced fucking lie. Migdal’s promise had been the last thing you’d thought about every night before you fell asleep and the first thing you’d thought about every morning when you woke up because it was the ray of light piercing through the turbid muck in which your life was firmly mired. You hope that you are hearing this wrong. You really fucking hope that you are hearing this wrong because tonight has been beyond shitty and you are not prepared to consume another helping of awfulness at the moment.)

Migdal curls one of his hands into a tight fist. The ropey tendons in his wrist pop into high relief and his hand shakes against the force. “Your blood color disqualifies you from consideration for leadership positions.”

“Oh.” You stare down at the ground. Of course you weren’t hearing things wrong. You aren’t sure whether you should feel angry or ashamed, but either way your face feels hot.

“I want you to know that I fought for you. Told them they were wasting a lot of potential, but they wouldn’t hear of it.” He mumbles something that sounds a lot like “Fucking bunch of short-sighted cretins” and punches the wall with a thud that reverberates through the schoolblock like a war drum.

You wait for the sound to die out. Then, keeping your gaze locked on the ground, you say, “So now what do I do?”

He shrugs. “Complete your training. Go to Earth with the other ground forces. Realistically speaking, very little has changed in that department. As for right now, go have Cennia make sure your nose isn’t broken.”

Between fearing for your life and eating a healthy dose of globe-shriveling disappointment, you had forgotten about your nose. You realize now that it still hurts like a bugwinged motherfucker even though the blood around it is turning crusty and cold.

“Yeah, OK,” you say. “I’ll do that.”

You are about to leave the schoolblock when Migdal claps a hand onto your shoulder, stopping you in your tracks. “Listen, Karkat. None of my nominees have ever been turned down before because my instincts are very rarely wrong on these matters. I made my recommendation because I believe you have the potential to do something outstanding with this operation. My thoughts on the matter haven’t changed.”

You aren’t sure who he is trying to convince with his ‘nothing has changed’ act, but you know that he’s lying through his teeth and from the contorted crater of pissed off frustration marring his ugly face, you’d say that he is even less convinced than you are. If your spirit wasn’t currently shattered into a million pieces under the cloven hoof of the disgustingly bloated entity known as “fate”, you would probably laugh at the futility of it all. Instead you offer up a stilted smile, a stale “thank you”, and then you are on your way to the dubious joys of Cennia and her merry crew of shitheads—a shitty ending to a shitty day. You hope to fuck that she is merciful enough to give you some real, edible food.


> Future Terezi: Tell Gamzee the good news

Chapter Text

gallowsCalibrator [GC] began trolling terminallyCapricious [TC]

GC: H3Y G4MZ33
GC: 10
GC: 9
GC: 8
GC: 7
TC: hEy ThErE mY jUsTiCe SlAmMiNg ChIcA.
TC: WhAt Is AlL uP wItH yOuR mOtHeRfUcKiNg SeLf?
TC: hOnK :o)
TC: KiTtEn SiS iS aLl On SeRvInG uP sOmE bItCh ShItTiNg InTrIgUe WoRdS?
TC: tHaT iS sOmE mOtHeRfUcKiNg WiCkEd ShIt.
TC: LaY oN tHe EnIgMa TaLk To ThIs MoThErFuCkEr.
TC: i’M jUsT gEtTiNg My MoThErFuCkInG cHiLl On OuT bY tHe WaTeR.
TC: ThInKiNg ThE oLd GoAt MiGhT bE cOmInG aLl SiDeWaYs ArOuNd HeRe SoOn.
TC: i’M uP aNd LoOkInG oUt WhErE tHe WaVeS aRe AlL aT mAkInG fOaM aNd ShIt LiKe A mOtHeRfUcKiNg MiRaClE.
TC: WiCkEd AsS fOaM bUbBlEs AlL wHiTe AnD dIsApPeArInG lIkE tHe bItChEs ShIt TiTs.
TC: dAmN sIsTeR tHiS iS sOuNdInG lIkE sOmE nAsTy HeAvY tAlK wHaT yOu HaVe To SaY
GC: 1 4SSUR3 YOU 1T 1S
TC: AlRiGhT, tHiS mOtHeRfUcKeR’s LoOk HoLeS aRe StArInG uP aT mY oWn hIvE nOw.
TC: i cAn’T sEe No MoRe MiRaClE oCeAn WaVeS.
TC: I cAn StIlL hEaR tHeM tHoUgH.
TC: hOnK hOnK :0)
TC: LaY iT oN mE, sIs.
GC: K4RK4T 1S 4L1V3
GC: G4MZ33?
GC: 4R3 YOU ST1LL TH3R3???
TC: wHaT?
TC: YeAh.
TC: i WaS jUsT tHiNkInG wHaT tHaNkS tO tHe MiRtHfUl MeSsIaHs ThAt KaRbRo Is StIlL alL aLiVe BeCaUsE tHiS iS oNe SiCk TwIsTeD gIaNt MiRaClE.
TC: AwWw, SiS wHy ThE mOtHeRfUcK nOt?
TC: i’M aLl FiSt FulLs Of SpEcIaL StArDuSt ReAdY.
GC: YOU C4N D3C1D3 1F 1T 1S 4CTU4LLY 4 M1R4CL3 4FT3R 1 H4V3 S41D 3V3RYTH1NG 1 H4V3 TO S4Y
TC: AlRiGhT cHicA.
TC: bUt DaMn, iF kArKaT bEiNg AlIvE aFtEr WhAt We AlL sEeN iSn’T a MiRaClE I dOn’T kNoW wHaT tHe FuCk Is.
TC: WhOa.
TC: i’M nOt EvEr HeArInG oF nObOdY eAtInG nO hEaD sWaDdLeRs BeFoRe.
TC: WhAt ArE yOu AlL uP aNd PuTtInG iN tHaT MoThErFuCkEr?
TC: yOu ShoUld CrAcK a FuCkInG fAyGo In ThAt FuCkEr.
TC: ThAt WoUlD bE sOmE wIlD bItCh ShIt.
GC: YOU 4R3 SO W31RD SOM3T1M3S >:/
TC: aW sHiT, wHy DiDn’T yOu SaY sO eArLiEr?
TC: I gOt To Be GeTtInG mY cOmMuNiCaTiOn On.
TC: gEt Us SoMe FuCkInG rEsErVeS aNd WhAt.
GC: W41T!
GC: G4MZ33????

terminallyCapricious [TC] ceased trolling gallowsCalibrator [GC]

GC: W3LL SH1T >:[


> Present Karkat: Worry

Chapter Text

Sometimes you really wish you could just shut your damn mouth. The more you think about it, the more you realize that you spend an absurd amount of time either actively saying something stupid or suffering the effects of the garbage that past you chose to vomit out of his misconception hole. Shit like: “OK, Sollux, I granted you remote access, now what” and “I guess I can answer a few English questions right now” or “I’d like to see you take that sopor pie and shove it right up your ass”…you could have avoided so much misery if you had just kept your gibbering seedflap shut. (Though to be perfectly fair, you’d had no idea that Gamzee was high—or stupid—enough to actually attempt that last one.) There are altogether too many examples of Karkat royally fucks himself over by his incredible inability to keep his babbling seedflap shut. You even find yourself wishing you could shut your mouth right now, though for entirely different reasons.

You are lying on a weird electrical reclining chair that would probably be comfortable if your arms and legs weren’t strapped down. (As a side note, fuck the putrid behemoth leaving who decided to attack an Agressanalyst last perigee. You are almost envious that the stupid shit got culled because at least then you would never have to endure this indignity. You fervently hope he spends the entirety of his afterlife tied down to a bed of nails crafted from the rankest shit available.) Above you, a light shines directly into your face, so bright your eyes are watering. A plastic wedge in your mouth forces your jaws open as wide as they will go. (On another side note, the nook-burrowing idiot who bit Cennia almost a sweep ago can go take a flying leap into a pile of festering bulges.)

Cennia’s face hovers into view, her eyes enlarged to grotesque proportions behind a set of magnifying glasses. She stares intently into the darkest reaches of your open mouth and purses her lips at what she sees there. (Or maybe she purses her lips at the smell. You purposefully avoided brushing your teeth this morning—the one act of passive-aggressive rebellion that nobody will ever bother punishing you for.)

“We are almost finished,” she says. “Keep your mouth open wide.”

You almost offer up a heartfelt laugh from the bottom of your derision nodule because wow, is she seriously going to pretend that you have any choice in the matter whatsoever? Unfortunately, your jaw has begun to ache with such a vindictive urgency that you have serious reservations as to its ability to withstand even the gentlest of scornful guffaws. You therefore silently pray that she will finish whatever the piss-hopping fuck she is trying to do before the bottom half of your face falls off.

She brandishes a thin strip of metal and ugh, that is really fucking unpleasant. This isn’t the first time she’s filed your teeth and it’s probably not going to be the last, but you are never going to get used to it. It’s not that it hurts—you know she’s only getting the outer bits, the stuff that isn’t made to feel pain, but the pressure is uncomfortable and the scrape of metal on enamel rattles in your head in a way that makes your whole vertebral column shudder.

“The dental straightening devices should be ready to come off after a few more minor adjustments,” Cennia says as she files away. This is the first good news you have gotten in a long time, so of course she immediately ruins it by adding, “When that happens, we will need to fit you with a maintenance device.”

You try to frown at this unwelcome bit of news. With your mouth already stretched as wide as it can go, the gesture only intensifies the ache that is consuming the lower half of your face. What you would really like to do is politely ask Cennia, ‘What the fuck is a maintenance device and how the fuck does it work,’ but that stupid plastic wedge has blown your ability to enunciate straight to shit. (You suppose you could ask her after she is done fucking around with the contents of your oral cavity, but that would require you to subject yourself to thirty more seconds of Cennia than strictly necessary, so screw that.)

Your inability to produce anything resembling intelligent speech turns out to be a non-issue because Cennia leaves no space for even the stealthiest interjection before she continues to ply you with her own special brand of verbal diarrhea.

“We will also complete your dental reshaping regimen at that time,” she yammers. (Scrape, scrape, scrape goes the file.) “That means that your teeth will be equivalent to human proportions in only a few more perigees.)

Joy of fucking joys, you think. One more way I’ll be less troll and more ass-ugly alien thing. My excitement has swelled to such obscene dimensions that it is completely immobilized by its massive girth and is forced to roost in an ever-growing swamp of its own filth. You can’t produce a proper scowl at the moment, but you do manage an eye roll of truly epic proportions.

Cennia does not seem to notice your disdain. She begins humming some tune you don’t recognize as she scrapes your teeth. You have no idea what has put her into such a good mood but if things continue in this direction it will mark the first time she has ever failed to give you one of her stupid looks. At one point, you might have counted that a feeble pinprick of a victory in this depressing hellhole. Now you are too jaded to give half a farting fuck.

Your jaw is screaming bloody gut-spewing murder by the time Cennia finally pulls that shitty piece of plastic out of your mouth. All of the muscles in and around your jaw are quivering with fatigue; you can feel the ligaments stretching like overloaded cables and it feels so good to finally close your mouth that it actually hurts. You run your tongue along your poor, abused teeth and try not to cringe. They are definitely flatter. At this rate it won’t be long before the only defensive tools at your disposal are your horns, which is barely one step above PAINT A NEON TARGET OVER YOUR BULGE AND LIE DOWN ON THE GROUND COVERED IN MIND HONEY. (Not to say you’re embarrassed by your tiny nubs. Most of the time you consider them a blessing, like when you are walking through doorways or under low-hanging ceilings or putting on your clothes without tearing them to shreds like pretty much everybody else you have ever spoken to in your entire life. But even you, in all your nubby-ass tiny horn pride have to admit that as far as weapons go they are about as effective as a set of blunt spoons.)

Cennia’s voice cuts through your self-pity globe stimulation party: “Are you feeling any undue discomfort?”

“No. It’s fine.” Actually, it’s not ‘fine’; your jaw still hurts like a screaming banshee but fuck if you are about to tell her that and have her give you a look that means holy fucking shit you are such a whiny little pissant that I am embarrassed for you; seriously just shut the fuck up already.

“Remember to stick to soft foods for the rest of the day,” she says as she works at the straps holding you down to her recliner from hell. Your arms come free, giving you the opportunity to massage your throbbing jaw. “Mashed potatoes. Soups. Pudding. The nutrient preparation staff has been advised that today is an adjustment day so there should be plenty of appropriate selections available.”

The straps holding your feet come free. You sit up and swing your legs off the edge of the weird reclining chair-bed thing. It is such a relief to be free of the restraints and the skeezy feeling of vulnerability that comes with them you barely hear Cennia say, “Your schoolfeed will have already started by now, so let me get you a permissive note.”

You try and fail not to make a face when she presses the stinking thing into your hands. Even after all this time, you still can’t ignore just how much these things smell like rotten sphincter seepage.

This is the point at which Cennia would usually dismiss you. You are already on your feet in anticipation of that sweet, sweet moment because you are on the verge of suffocating on the stinking cloud of clinical condescension that always hangs around her general vicinity. Much to your crotch-puckering chagrin, Cennia appears to have other ideas.

“Karkat, I need to ask you a question before I allow you to go.”

You barely manage to hold back a sigh because you were so close to deliverance from this awful room and all of the awful things in it that you could practically taste it and now the only taste in your mouth is the taste of shitty disappointment. “What is it?”

“You are friends with Evrind Parmav, are you not?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“Have you happened to see him today?”

“No.” You frown, a concerned thrum beginning to build in your belly. “What’s going on? Is he in trouble?”

“Not necessarily,” she replies, tugging at the fingers of her green surgical gloves. “I was merely curious as to whether you might be able to explain why he failed to appear at his appointed modification time.”

The thrum in your gut becomes an icy hand gripped around your chest. You shake your head. “I don’t know. Sorry.”

She gets an expression on her face that might count as a precursor to one of her looks, but then she apparently decides that she doesn’t want to ruin your flawless record and says, “Very well. You are dismissed.”

You hurry out into the hallway, but the Cennia-free air still stinks in a way that has nothing to do with the reeking permissive note clutched in your hand. You cannot invent a single plausible reason to explain why Evrind would skip a modification appointment. Sure, he may be dumb as a bag of dried mucous deposits in some respects, but he’s not stupid enough to intentionally do something that will get him culled and last you checked he could read and follow a schedule. God damn it Evrind, you think. What the hell are you doing?

You know that you should go directly to the schoolblock but some mystical force has turned your feet into rebellious little bastards and you are instead heading toward the dormitory wing. You forgot to bring a writing implement with you for the schoolfeed. Since your chances of finding anybody who will loan you one are about as high as having a flock of sparkling pixies fly from your ass, you decided to get one from your room. That will be your story in the unlikely event that you run into anybody. If Evrind’s room just happens to be on the way (spoiler alert: it totally is)…well, then you suppose there’s no harm in taking five seconds to check in as you pass by.

You hesitate to knock on Evrind’s door once you are standing outside his room. Part of you really hopes that he is in there, that there is some benign reason behind his missed appointment. For all you know, he might have done something dumb like trip over his sheets and crack his skull open or eat the orange-scented soap that has inexplicably begun to appear in all the common bathrooms. You wouldn’t put it past him and more importantly, you doubt that he would be culled if he was too injured or sick to move. You knock on the door.

There is no answer. You press your ear against the door, listening for any telltale sounds of breathing, moaning, or—fuck it, why not?—globe fondling and you hear nothing. A wave of crotch-wetting embarrassment sweeps over you. Who the chafing fuck do I think I am, his lusus? you think. Of course he’s not in there. He’s probably at the schoolfeed along with everybody else in possession of a halfway functioning pan.

You make your way to the schoolfeed, fully expecting to see Evrind’s stupid grinning face and feel like a colossal moron for wasting even one stale iota of your concern on him. When you reach the schoolblock, the seed of worry that has been planted in your bowels blossoms into a vile tree of blistered fuck you fruit. No matter how many times you scan the room, there is no sign of Evrind anywhere.

You take a seat near the back of the schoolblock and proceed to spend less time listening to the schoolfeed than you do inventing fake-ass reasons that Evrind could not have gotten his ass culled. They would have announced it, you think. They always announce it when anybody gets culled because they got a wild long-eared hop creature up their ass and did something stupid. Besides that, Cennia wouldn’t have asked me if I knew where he was; she would have known. (You try not to consider the possibility that the awful fuckheads in charge of this operation couldn’t be assed to page Cennia that oh by the way that Parmav kid won’t be coming around today because he’s a pile of eviscerated entrails and gore now. You also try not to consider the possibility that Cennia knew Evrind was dead and she was just fucking with you like a spiteful bitch.

Towards the end of the schoolfeed it occurs to you that you have not checked the medical block yet. The idea ignites a tiny glimmer of hope in your blood pusher and you latch onto it as desperately as a certain seadwelling asshole with a genocide complex latches onto a potential significant other. You spend the final ten minutes of the schoolfeed sincerely hoping that Evrind is lying in the medical block covered in oozing blisters or with his eyes swollen shut—anything as long as he is alive because he is the only friend you have left in this stinkhole and you don’t know if you can take losing him on top of all the other steaming bullshit you have been put through.

You are the first person out the door when your instructor dimisses the schoolfeed. Not that that matters—everybody behind you will be turning left, toward the cafeteria to enjoy a lunch of tepid soup, pudding, and the exceedingly weird Earth food known as “green Jell-o.” The medical block, on the other grope member, is to the right. You are consequently free to proceed toward your destination at a pace just a tick below EVERYBODY OUT OF THE GODDAMN WAY MY INNARDS ARE GOING TO SPEW ALL OVER THIS GODFORSAKEN CORRIDOR AND EVERYONE IN IT IF I DON’T MAKE IT TO A LOAD GAPER WITHIN THE NEXT THREE SECONDS.

When you come barreling into the medical wing reception area, the troll sitting behind the desk—a brownblood guy you’ve never seen before—gives you a snooty look that he can cram up his nook and says, “Hello. What is your medical emergency?”

“Oh. Nothing,” you pant. (Holy flaming bulgerot, were you actually running fast enough to get winded? That’s embarrassing.) “I’m fine.”

The receptionist guy looks as though he wants to tell you to piss off and quit wasting his time because sitting behind a desk and scratching your ass all day is apparently serious fucking business. To his credit, he demonstrates that he is not completely socially stunted by saying, “Is there something you need at the moment?”

“Yeah. Is Evrind Parmav in here?”

Receptionist dude scrutinizes you as though he is cataloguing every pore on your face and filing the information away to be used for his own sick pleasure the second you leave him to the privacy of his pointless desk job. “Who are you and what is your relationship to Evrind Parmav?”

“So he’s here?”

“I can’t disclose that information until you tell me your name and the nature of your relationship. Do you have an established quadrant relationship with Evrind?”

Even though you’ve learned to stop wasting the fucks you have to give on worrying about how the other recruits are interpreting the human friendship thing you and Evrind have going on, the bluntness of the question catches you off guard. You end up spluttering, “What? No! My name is Karkat Vantas and I’m just a friend. A concerned friend.”

Receptionist guy looks at you as though he is thinking about how you and Evrind are totally sharing a quadrant and doing unspeakably graphic, not-for-wigglers shit. You look at him as though you are thinking about how awesome it would be to punch his face. Finally, he types a long string of data into his computer and says, “Evrind Parmav was admitted several hours ago. You are welcome to visit him, but we ask that you avoid waking him if he is resting and that you limit your visit to no more than ten minutes. Just to perfectly clear, by ‘ask’ I mean that somebody will be around to drag your ass back out here if you exceed your allotted ten minutes. Do you understand?”

“Yeah. Which room is he in?”

Receptionist enters another string of text into his computer. “Room 24. Go through that door, take a right and it’s the fourth room on your left and don’t go wandering into the quarantine area or you’ll have to go through detox. I can tell you right now that you do not want to go through detox.”

You hurry through the door, throwing a hasty “thanks” to Receptionist guy over your shoulder as you go. You are careful to follow his directions to the letter because you have seen the poor trolls who were subjected to the horror known as “detox” and you have no desire to have all of your body hair burned off today, thanks. When you reach room 24, you find the door is closed. You knock, but you make sure to exercise some restraint because you do not want to be a piece of shit and wake Evrind up if he is asleep.

A voice from inside the room says, “Come in.”

You frown. The voice is definitely Evrind’s, but the words are garbled as though he is speaking through a mouthful of mush. You push the door open and barely suppress a knee-jerk reflex to recoil at what you see.

Evrind looks as though he has been professionally beaten. His lips are swollen like over-inflated bicycle tires. There is a lump the size of a small grapefruit forcing his left eye shut and his nose is even more of a fucked up mess than it was when you first met him. His right wrist is in a splint and oh Christ, his left horn is just GONE; snapped clean off less than an inch above the base.

You do an absolute shit job of hiding your shock as you exclaim, “Evrind! What the hell happened to you?”

Evrind appears to be just as shocked to see you as you are by his appearance. His good eye goes wide and in a voice that barely qualifies as ‘strained warble’, he says, “Karkat? No…no, no, no. I can’t…I—I can’t talk to you.”

“What are you talking about?” You take a step toward him and he shudders as though you slapped him. “Evrind, who did this to you?”

“They said…said they will take the other horn if…if I t-talk to you.”

“Who’s ‘they’? What the fuck happened?”

Evrind seems to melt into the bed, his large frame reduced to something small and frail as a matchstick. “Waiting for Cennia and they—they made a—a trap and Karkat, I can’t talk to you.”

A hot tongue of rage curls through your guts. Evrind’s rudimentary English aside, it’s not hard to deduce what happened. Fucking piss-crawling cowards, you think. Too afraid to take him one-on-one like a real goddamn troll. In your life, you have only wanted to kill somebody in earnest a handful of times—far, far less than the average troll—but you honestly think that you could snap the necks of every one of the trolls responsible for this without losing a single night of mal-adjusted sleep. “Tell me who did this. Was it Nulian?”


“His crotch-fondling friends?”


“Just tell me who it was and I swear to fuck I will make them pay.”

“No-o-o,” he wails and oh god his chest is hitching and he is crying, actually fucking crying. “I can’t say it. I can’t—I can’t talk to you!”

The fire building in your bowels begins to dissipate. You had wanted to find out who had done this to your friend and make sure that it never happened again. It was never your intent to get him all worked up and scared shitless. Wow, I am the crappiest friend in the entire universe and all the realms beyond, you think. If the mother grub ate all the ingredients that comprise terrible friendship then shat them all out into one single egg, then that would have been my egg. In a more subdued tone, you say, “Evrind, hey—“

“No! No; I can’t talk to you, I CAN’T TALK TO YOU!”

“Evrind, I didn’t—“

“Just…just g-go awa-a-a-y,” he sobs. “I can’t talk to you; go away.”

“But I—“

“Go away! Please. Just go away!”

“OK fine!” you shout. “Fuck you too, then.”

You leave the medical block with Evrind’s frantic mantra of “go away, go away, I can’t talk to you, go away” echoing after you and the knowledge that you are now truly on your own.


> Future Vriska: Get the lowdown from Tavros

Chapter Text

arachnidsGrip [AG] began trolling adiosToreador [AT]

AG: Taaaaaaaavros!
AG: Don’t pretend you don’t know I am here.
AG: I know you are online. Your Trollian tag is lit up like the flaming torch on top of last Twelfth Perigee’s 8ehemoth leaving.
AG: Come on Toreadoofus, answer me!
AG: That’s more like it.
AG: What the hell were you doing, anyway?
AG: Oh my god you were playing Fiduspawn, weren’t you?
AG: That game is even more lame ass than you. You have to admit that is pretty lame!
AG: I mean really? Who the fuck even plays that crappy game anymore????????
AT: uH, i DO,,
AG: I rest my case. Laaaaaaaame!
AG: Anyways, you should know 8etter than to keep me w8ting like that. I mean, if I am taking time out of my life to talk to you then you’d 8etter 8elieve it’s important! I don’t have time for you to 8e pulling this 8ullshit.
AG: I guess I can let it slide this time. 8ut next time I won’t 8e so forgiving. Can’t have every8ody thinking I’m going soft, can I?
AT: uH, NO,
AG: The correct answer is no, fuck noooooooo!
AG: So the next time you see that I am trying to contact you, you’d 8etter get those useless, floppy legs of yours under you and fucking hop to. Otherwise I’ll have no choice 8ut to make an example of you. Got it?
AG: Wow, Tavros. That was either the dum8est thing I’ve ever heard or the most pathetic, weak-slime attempt at a 8urn I have ever seen in my life!
AG: Either way, you should 8e em8arrassed. Hell, I’m em8arrassed FOR you!
AG: Antagonize you? Tavros, you haven’t even SEEN antagonizing yet! 8elieve me, if I was trying to antagonize you, you would know it!
AG: 8esides, you act as though I need a reason to talk to my good 8uddy Torea8ore. Like it has to 8e some 8ig, fucking special occasion for me to contact you.
AG: I m8nt it was an import8nt ev8nt for YOU, dum8ass! Not f8r m8!
AG: 8ut now that you mention it, there is something you are going to do for me.
AG: Of course you’ll do it. You’ll do it just to prove that you are slightly less useless than every8ody thinks you are.
AT: }:(
AG: Oh? Go ahead; name some8ody—ANY8ODY—who does not think that you are worthless. I dare you.
AT: uH,,,
AG: See? Every8ody totally thinks you are useless! Useless, worthless gar8age, that’s what you are, Nitram.
AG: 8ut I am here to do you a favor. I am giving you a chance to redeem yourself, and it is soooooooo easy.
AG: All you have to do is answer one little question.
AG: Yep. That’s it.
AG: There is some inform8tion going around; some rumor or some shit. I don’t know what it is, 8ut I do know that it is something 8ig.
AG: Kanaya Fussyfangs apparently doesn’t know anything a8out it yet, Terezi is 8eing a huge 8itch and refusing to tell me anything even though she totally does know, and no8ody else will even talk to me long enough to let me ask a8out it!
AG: I am starting to feel really out of the loop and I h8 8eing out of the loop ::::(
AG: So you DO know!
AG: WH8T? Of course you can tell me!
AG: Terezi is just 8eing a cagey 8itch so she can lord it over me that she knows something I don’t. 8esides, just 8ecause Terezi is doing something doesn’t mean you have to do it, too.
AG: I mean, if she did something dum8 like jump off a cliff, would you jump after her?
AT: uHHH,,,,
AG: Exactly! You already did that shit. No need to do it again, riiiiiiiight?
AG: The point is you should tell me what you know right now so we are all on the same page here.
AT: nO,
AG: Oh come on!
AG: Tell me!
AT: nO,,
AG: Tell me, Pupa!!!!!!!!
AG: Teeeeeeeell meeeeeeee!
AG: Hahahahahahahaha!
AG: Not until you tell me.
AG: That’s more like it.
AG: All right; I kept my end of the deal. Now you keep yours.
AG: Yeah, yeah. I solemnly swear not to utter a word of this to another living soul on pain of death and 8lah 8lah 8lah.
AG: Come on, get on with it!
AG: That wh8t?! Stop pausing for dramatic effect or whatever the fuck you are doing and T8LL M8!
AG: That’s it? That’s the 8ig secret?
AG: What a fucking letdown!
AG: I mean yeah, okay it’s nice to know that some whiny, shouty asshole we all thought was dead a sweep ago is alive all of a sudden. That’s cool I guess.
AG: 8ut holy shit, I thought this was going to 8e some ground-shaking news here. What the fuck is every8ody’s pro8lem?
AG: Okay, I guess that’s a little more interesting. 8ut I still don’t see why every8ody’s getting their undies in a twist a8out keeping it secret.
AG: W8……..
AG: Oh my god. You said this whole thing started with Equius, right?
AT: uH, yEAH,,
AG: Oh my god! Hahahahahahahaha!
AG: Pupa, I have to hand it to you. You really have no idea how helpful you have 8een.
AG: Aaaaaaaahahahahahahahaha!

arachnidsGrip[AG] ceased trolling adiosToreador [AT]


> Present Karkat: Receive some unexpected news

Chapter Text

Once, several sweeps ago, you got into a pissing contest with Sollux over who was a more capable adversary. He’d led off by blowing out all of the windows in his hive with his still-developing psionics and then entreated you to “match that.” Being young, truculent, and eager to piss on his parade, you had contorted your face into an expression that suggested you were in dire need of a load gaper, and strained to make something—anything—happen with your mind. When, after five minutes, you had yet to do something as lame-ass low-level as make your hair stand on end, your three sweeps self had come to the painful realization that your friend could do something you could not. You had immediately tried to hide your embarrassment by assuring him that “Your dumb psionics wouldn’t be able to do anything against me because I’d cut your head off first.” You had then proceeded to piss away the rest of that night and many hours over the following sweep trying to awaken the psychic abilities that were surely lying latent in the deepest crannies of your pan. That there was nothing there to awaken really shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise. The tyrannical entities of fate and genetics had barely seen fit to fart you into existence, so why in grief-weeping Alternia fuck should you have expected them to have endowed you with something awesome like badass flashing eye lasers or the ability to predict the future?

Lack of premonitory ability notwithstanding, you have known since the moment that Migdal entered the schoolblock that something is up. You are no field expert on the life and habits of Migdal Rakura because even though he is the only authority figure involved in this festering boil of an operation who doesn’t make you want to puke on sight, you have less than zero desire to follow him around and document all of the gruesome details of being his ugly self including (but certainly not limited to) how often, on average, he tends to take a shit. Even so, it’s not that difficult to know when he has something important to say. It’s something in the way he carries himself—a subtle but definitely noticeable shift from pissed-off and stompy toward pissed-off and purposeful.

You are not the only one who is feeling shit-roiling apprehension. There is a charged atmosphere in the room that is making everybody fidgety as hell. If you had even the most pathetic lick of psychic power—which, as we have established, you most certainly have not—you would suspect that there was some kind of low-grade telekill pulse in effect. Clearly, the other recruits have caught Migdal’s change in demeanor and are reacting accordingly. Or maybe they are reacting to the massive stack of papers that Migdal had been carrying when he entered the schoolblock; the stack of papers now sitting on his desk like a towering mound of white bird poop as he guides you and your cohorts through another awkward session of advanced English idioms. Migdal may be trying to fool all of you into a false sense of security with his talk of how easy it is to fall off of logs and make pie, but you see through his flimsy attempt at maintaining normalcy to the bowel-melting truth that some serious shit is about to go down.

After the most uncomfortable two hours of schoolfeed in the history of paradox space, Migdal finally says, “All right. That’s enough English for today but you are not dismissed so keep your asses in your seats for a few more minutes because I have an announcement to make.”

He glares around the room, daring you all to do something dumb like stand up and see what happens. (You wonder why he even bothers with the intimidation song and dance anymore because everybody who has made it this far knows better than to trifle with the hardass adult troll.) When he is completely satisfied that nobody is going to so much as scratch their own ass without his permission, he says, “I am going to take a moment to cater to those of you lacking the mental capacity for long-term memory and remind them that your final comprehensive examination will be taking place in only five short days. I’m sure that you all have burning questions about how the test will work and what will be on it, and luckily for you, I have been cleared to share that information with you. I also happen to be in a charitable mood.”

A forest of hands shoots into the air from the smattering of trolls sitting in the schoolblock. Migdal scowls at them. “I am not feeling charitable enough to take questions, so stop waving your limbs in the air like a bunch of halfwits. The way this is going to work is simple: I am going to talk, you are going to listen, and if I see another arm flapping in the air I will dismiss the schoolfeed and you will not receive any more information about the exam. Is that clear?”

The sea of waving arms immediately disappears. “Now then, those of you with more than one functioning brain cell will remember that you recently took a practice version of the final exam. All of the topics that were on the practice version will have their own sections on the final exam. The final may or may or may not include additional sections covering different material and no, I am not going to tell you what any of the extra content might be so absolutely do not bother to ask.

“Scoring for this exam will be different from your previous assessments. Of course, if you receive the lowest score on any section of the exam you will be culled, as per usual. However, your scores from each section will also be summed into a cumulative score. If your cumulative score places your performance in the bottom twenty percent as compared to your peers, you will be culled.”

Nobody says anything (you’ve all been conditioned by now to avoid saying anything when an instructor is speaking and the few trolls who never got the hang of that have long since been weeded out by Averic) but you see a lot of people shifting in their seats and exchanging anxious looks. Honestly, you can’t blame them (hell, you would probably be doing it yourself if people would quit treating you like a festering bulge blister and let you sit near them.) Shit, you think. That’s ten people, at least.

Migdal ignores the wave of quiet restlessness rippling through his audience. “I have your practice examinations here. They have been scored. You will notice that we have also graciously included your rank for each section as well as your overall cumulative ranking. Before I hand them back to you, I have one final information nugget for all of your feckless brains to consider.

“We intentionally issued this practice test without warning you that it was coming. Our goal was to determine which of you, if any, could perform at an acceptable level without prior preparation. Most of you performed as abysmally as expected. However, a select few recruits received scores that automatically qualify them for deployment. Therefore, the recruits with the top five cumulative rankings on the practice test will be excused from taking the final exam.”

The uneasy quiet dissolves into a roiling hiss of whispering which is the closest any of your schoolfeeds will ever get to globes-to-the-wall pandemonium. Migdal waits for the most pathetic example of anarchy in the entire universe comes to an embarrassingly polite end before he goes on. “I am going to call each of you down one by one to pick up your practice exams. Once you have received your practice exam, you are free to leave. Zylist! Come pick up your exam.”

You watch the troll with the last name Zylist—a girl with absolutely no defining facial features who you have probably met several times over yet you have absolutely no memory of having done so—hurry down to the lecture floor and retrieve her exam. She rifles through the pages as she climbs the stairs on the way to the door. You watch her face to see if you can gage where she placed, but she remains impassive and makes it out of the schoolblock without revealing jack shit.

It goes pretty much the same with recruits Yanith (fucking Nulian, you think), Wynalt, and Wulami, although you notice Nulian take a seat towards the back of the room, presumably to wait for his crotch-sniffing buddies. Then it’s your turn. You head down the stairs at a pace that is neither too fast (because you are not going to give any bulge thumper sitting in an aisle seat to “accidentally” stretch out their leg and send you tumbling down the damn stairs) nor too slow (because you do not want to give the impression that you are dragging ass).

Despite your general inability to formulate a single solid shit to give about this program or anything even remotely pertaining to your so-called life in it, you cannot help worrying about your scores because the thought of becoming Torkal’s personal chew toy is still as revolting as ever. You try to get a read on Migdal’s expression as you approach, looking for any cues that might tell you what to expect, but he barely graces you with a cursory glance. His beady gaze globes flick in your direction for a half second—just long enough to ascertain that you are indeed you and not some assmunch with a burning desire to know way more about your personal business than could possibly be considered healthy. By the time you reach his side, he is already barking out the next name on his list.

You try to play it cool and avoid looking at the sheath of papers in your hand until you are safely out of the schoolblock. It really shouldn’t be that difficult a task to accomplish—it’s not like you have anybody to wait for and the idea of hanging around the schoolblock just to watch fifty other stressed-out recruits pick up their tests sounds about as desirable as drilling a hole through your own pan. You last about three seconds before your mutinous eyes decide that fuck you, asshole; we will look at whatever we damn well please and right now that paper is the most fascinating thing in the entire world so let’s have at it!

There is a red number three inked on the upper right corner of the page. It takes a moment for the significance of that particular number to register, but when it does you come to a dead stop in the middle of the stairs like a boorish idiot. (Wow, way to block the way for everybody else who was harboring hopes of ever leaving the schoolblock. All we can say here is that is sucks to be them because they are now subject to the whims of your capricious legs and their innate inability to move in response to significant stimulation of your surprise palate.) No way, you think. That cannot be what I think it is.

You look again, fully expecting to see that your mind is playing shitty tricks on you—but no. There it is at the top of the page, as clear and insistent as an imperial drone presenting you with a filial pail: Cumulative rank: 3.

Your stomach performs a soaring acrobatic flip as you realize that you will never need to worry about Torkal getting his nasty-ass hands on you ever again. For one second you are drunk on your own elation, dizzy with it because it’s over, you made it, and Torkal can suck it. Then your throat clogs with mute horror as a second thought jolts through your pan: This is it; I’m really going to spend the rest of my sad and pathetic life on some wretched alien planet surrounded by hideous human-creatures.

Left to your own devices, you would happily continue standing in the middle of the aisle and sucking down your rotten cocktail of conflicting emotions like a complete tool for a ridiculously long time. You are saved from this embarrassing fate by a third realization: the fact that almost everybody left in the schoolblock is staring at you. You have yet another realization (Christ on an unleavened slab of grubloaf, at this rate you are about one more realization away from divine enlightenment) that you had better propel your ass into high velocity because the looks you are getting are heavy with the promise of blood—specifically, yours—if you continue to block the only way out of the schoolblock.

Once you are safely outside the schoolblock, you stop to thumb through the rest of your scores. (It’s not so much that you have to. You know that regardless the scores you received, you are never going to have to sit through another high-stakes kick-the-shit-out-of-everybody-else-OR-ELSE exam. In fact, you have a distinct desire to set the ream of paper in your hand on fire and shove it down the nearest available load gaper in celebration of your shit-tastic achievement. Still, this is one of the few things in your life that you have managed to not fuck up completely and you can’t help feeling the tiniest bit curious as to how you did it.) Trolls leaving the schoolblock file past you in whispering groups of twos and threes. A few of them give you dirty looks—probably because they have already figured out that you were one of the recruits excused from the final exam, but HA HA the joke’s on them because they’re the ones who are still at risk of being culled—but most of them just ignore you.

You are nearing the end of the practice test when you hear a cruel peal of laughter. You look away from the sheet of paper to see Nulian leaving the schoolblock with three other trolls. At first you think that he is going to try to fight you again, this time with a couple of his lackeys to hold you down—on on each side to make a shitty “let’s beat the snot out of Karkat sandwich.” Then you realize that he isn’t even looking in your direction. You are about to relax because you sure as greased heaving fuck are not going to push the issue if he isn’t, but then he turns to one of his friends and says something that makes your too-warm blood run cold: “I think we should all thank Evrind for being so stupid. He is going to save many, many lives when he scores lowest on every section.”

You don’t know if Nulian had intended for you to hear the load of nook discharge that he just hawked from his gape hole. You don’t know if he is even aware that you are standing within earshot. It doesn’t make much difference either way because you are too lost in your collective sentiment of oh fuck to focus on anything else.

The steady trickle of trolls passing you by has begun to dwindle considerably. You try to remember if you saw Evrind leave the schoolblock. The answer is no, you have no recollection of seeing a large, doofy-looking guy with only one horn but that’s really not saying much since you have been way too busy fondling your ego’s massively swollen shame globes to notice much of anything that has happened around you in the last ten minutes.

For an excruciating three minutes, you stand outside the schoolblock, watching as final dregs of your cohort pass you by. You see no sign of Evrind among them. When you are certain that the schoolblock is empty, you open the doors and peer inside.

You had hoped that you would not see Evrind there. You had hoped that he would have left with his new friends. You had hoped that Nulian was just being a stupid bastard who hasn’t got the faintest clue what the cloud of misconception and dumbassery spawning from his shout hole even means…but lo and behold there is one troll left in the schoolblock. He is sitting with his head down on the desk and even with one horn missing (especially with one horn missing) you’d recognize that stupid backward-raking style anywhere.

“Hey, Evrind.” He doesn’t look up or do anything to acknowledge your presence. You step into the schoolblock with a sigh and walk down the aisle and down the row until you are standing next to him before you repeat, “Evrind. Hey.”

He still doesn’t look at you but this time he shudders at the sound of your voice. (Fuck, you think. Is he crying?) After a long moment, he says, “What do you want?”

You frown because his voice is so tired and lifeless and not Evrind that you don’t know what to think. There is a stack of paper lying on the desk beside his head. Even with the front page half-obscured by one of the arms he has hugged up over his head, you can still see the words in the upper right corner: cumulative rank: 52.

“Let me help you.”

He sits up and oh fuck, his face is a blotchy mess of clear snot and maroon tears. He snorts up a truly impressive measure of nose mucus and scrubs at some of the more incriminating areas of his face with his sleeve. “No; I can’t talk to you.”

Your frown deepens into something so intense it hurts. Your facial muscles are straining with the effort of maintaining an expression that accurately conveys your level of utmost frustration. “OK, you know what? This whole ‘I can’t talk to you thing’ you’ve got going on here? This is bullshit.”

“You don’t understand. They won’t let me talk to you.”

“Well fuck ‘they’! I don’t care who they are or what they told you; they are a bunch of brainless ass wipes!”

He says nothing in response to your outburst, opting instead to sit there looking stricken and teetering on the edge of bursting into tears. Softening your tone (because goddamn it, you do not want him to start crying again), you say, “I know you don’t want other people to see me with you. Fine. Well, actually it’s not fine. It’s shit. But for now, we are going to be practical and pretend that it’s fine.”

Evrind doesn’t say anything but he doesn’t go back to crying, either. You take that as a good sign and plunge forward with, “Nobody has to see me helping you. You can come to my room or I can go to your room. Nobody would ever need to know.”

He sniffles back another noseful of snot and swallows down what must be a loogie of epic proportions. Then he darts his eyes around the schoolblock and, apparently satisfied that the two of you are truly alone, he croaks, “Can you make me pass the final exam?”

If you are being completely honest with yourself, you have no idea whether there is anything you can do over the next five days to ensure that he makes it. If you had just a little longer, if you weren’t starting so late in the game, if he wasn’t so far behind…there are so many fucking ‘ifs’ swarming around this rotting carcass of a situation that you could cut a solid slice of them out of the air with your sickle. Even so, you do not hesitate to say, “Yes.”

He looks at you with something that almost qualifies as hope. “I can help you, Evrind,” you press. “You’re my friend and I want to help.”

Evrind is quiet for a long time. You reign in your urge to make him answer, telling yourself that he may not be saying yes just yet but he also hasn’t said no, that this is the longest he has gone without screaming at you to ‘go away’ since the day you saw him in the medical block, and all of that has to count for something, right? Finally, he takes a deep breath, opens his mouth—and then the doors to the schoolblock swing open and two trolls come sauntering in.

The effect on Evrind is immediate. His eyes, so open and hopeful just a second ago, glaze over into two chips of hard ice and he jumps to his feet. Even in his normal easy slouch, he has several inches on you but now he is standing ramrod straight and towering over you by more than half a foot.

With his face contorted into a hostile scowl, he snarls, “No! Go away; leave me alone!”

You try to say “Oh my god, don’t let these fuck heads intimidate you” but you only make it through the first two words before Evrind shouts, “Shut up, you…you mutant freak!”

You jaw clenches at the words ‘mutant freak’ because even though you know he doesn’t mean it, even though you know he’s just putting on a show for the shit eaters standing in the back of the room the words still sting. With a great effort, you tamp down your growing desire to plant your foot up his ass and instead hold your hands out with your palms up. In the most placating tone you can manage, you say, “Evrind—“

“No!” he snaps. Before you can react his hands are up and shoving against your chest with enough force to send you staggering back into the chair behind you. You tumble down into an awkward sit with your ass only halfway on the seat, whanging the hell out of your back on the desk as you go. Evrind forces his way past you, waiting until he reaches the aisle to turn around and tack on two more parting words: “Fuck you!”

You watch him hurry up the aisle and out of the schoolblock, the two onlookers following close behind. Slowly, you untangle yourself from the chair and stand up. Shaking your head, you whisper, “God damn it, Evrind.”

Six days later it does not come as much of a surprise when you check the exam rankings and see the name PARMAV, EVRIND at the bottom of more than half the exam sections. What does come as a shock are the words printed underneath the results which succinctly announce:

All remaining recruits are to relocate to the medical block immediately following the next sleep cycle for horn removal procedures


> Future Eridan: Share some shocking gossip with your moirail

Chapter Text

caligulasAquarium [CA] began trolling cuttlefishCuller [CC]

CA: hey fef
CA: i hope youre there cause you are not gonna believve wwhat kan just told me
CC: )(i –Eridan!
CC: It )(as been so long since we last glubbed. I was starting to get WORRI-ED!
CC: )(ow are you doing?
CA: okay i guess
CA: been havving a hard time gettin my fins on a decent doomsday devvice evver since vvris quit givving them to me
CC: W)(ale t)(at’s probubbly for t)(e betta, don’t you t)(ink?
CA: wwhat
CA: howw is that a good thing
CC: I M---EAN t)(at we’ve glubbed about w)(y you reely s)(ouldn’t be trying to krill all t)(e land dwellers a bazillion times already.
CC: Beac)(sides t)(at, none of t)(ose devices ever worked!
CC: You would get so worked up and -EXCIT-ED every time s)(e gave you one and end up so upset w)(en it failed. Sometimes you even got )(urt!
CA: okay fine i get it
CA: apparently me bein bored all the fuckin time is the best solution to evverything
CA: can wwe please movve on to discussin something else noww
CC: S)(ore! You said Kanaya told you somet)(ing?
CC: O)( my glub! Did s)(e offer to auspisticize for you and S)(oallux? 38O
CA: wwhat the
CA: eww
CA: no
CA: as if i wwould evver wwant to share a quadrant wwith that ugly dirt scraper
CA: thats gross fef
CA: wwait no
CA: its fuckin insulting
CC: It was just a joke, -Eridan. G-E-EZ!
CA: wwell it wwas in vvery poor taste
CA: besides wwhat kan told me is far more interestin than plain old quadrant buzz
CC: Oo)(! I know )(ow muc)( you love quadrant gossip.
CC: It must be somet)(ing reely ---EXCITING!
CA: yeah an you are nevver gonna guess wwhat it is
CC: W)(at is it?
CC: Did Kanaya )(ave to exterminate anot)(er )(oard of t)(e undead again?
CC: Oo)(, oo)(! Did s)(e decide to give everyone free MAK----EOV------ERS?
CA: no
CA: no free makeovvers and
CA: wwait wwhat the fuck wwas that first thing
CC: Did s)(e decide to move )(er )(ive underwater?
CC: No wait, t)(at’s stupid. 38/
CC: -Er…did s)(e let Gamsea talk )(er into trying one of )(is pies?
CA: damn it fef
CA: i said you wwould nevver guess so quit guessin and let me tell you
CC: )(-E-E )(-E-E sorry.
CC: I was just )(aving a little fun!
CA: wwell stop cause wwhat im about to tell you is fuckin serious
CC: S)(-E-ES)(! Okay mister crabby pants.
CC: I am conc)(pletely searious now. Sea? 38|
CC: So w)(at is t)(is big news?
CA: you remember howw kar disappeared last swweep and wwe all thought he wwas dead
CA: wwell it turns out hes alivve
CC: O)(, I already )(eard about t)(at! Isn’t it ----EXCITING?
CA: yeah its pretty fuckin exciting all right an
CA: wwait a second
CA: howw did you already knoww
CC: Sollux told me about it )(OURS ago!
CA: oh of course
CC: Glub?
CC: W)(at’s wrong?
CA: oh nothin
CA: just gettin kinda tired of bein showwn up by some lowwblooded asshole wwith a fuckin mental disorder
CC: W)(at are you glubbing about?
CC: So )(e knew about Karcrab before you. W)(o CAR-ES?
CC: It’s not like it’s some big conc)(pefis)(ion or anyfin.
CA: yeah it is
CA: fuckin gutterblood is alwways findin neww and invventivve wways to stick in my craww
CA: i swwear its like hes doin it on purpose fef
CC: Are you S)(OR-E you two don’t need an auspistice? 38/
CA: wwhat
CA: fuck no
CA: i already told you i wwouldnt havve that air sucking mess in one a my quadrants
CA: not evven if he an i wwere the only trolls left on all of alternia an the future of our entire race hinged on us gettin together
CA: id commit ritualized suicide and spare myself the shame
CC: I don’t know….
CC: )(e’s kind of c)(arming once you get to know )(im. I bet you two could be fronds if you weren’t so focused on being irritated wit)( )(im all t)(e time.
CA: hes a fuckin pissblood fef
CC: 38O
CC: O)( my glub, -Eridan. RUD-E!
CA: its the truth
CA: hes a foul tempered uncouth disrespectful pissblood wwho has no business breathin the same air as us
CA: i cant understand howw you can stand spendin so much time talkin to someone so awwful and so little time talkin wwith your owwn moirail
CC: Wait. Is T)(AT w)(at t)(is is about?
CC: You t)(ink I’m neglecting you to )(ang out wit)( Sollux?
CA: no fef
CA: thats not wwhat i am tryin to convvey here at all
CA: wwhat im tryin to say is that as your moirail i think you should stop spendin so much time wwith him because hes a bad influence
CA: not to mention a fuckin liability
CA: remember howw he wwent insane and bleww up his matesprits hivve
CA: they nevver evven found the body because there wwas nothin left to find
CA: he fuckin vvaporized her
CC: If you’re talking about w)(at )(appened wit)( Aradia, you and I BOT)( know t)(at wasn’t )(is fault.
CC: Do you know w)(at I t)(ink?
CC: I t)(ink t)(at maybe you are a little s)(ellous of )(im.
CA: me
CA: jealous a him
CA: thats a fuckin laugh
CC: I’m searious, -Eridan.
CA: wwhy the fuck wwould i be jealous a him
CC: I don’t know. But if you AR-E…
CC: I just want you to know t)(at even t)(oug)( Sollux is a very important frond to me and I DO enjoy glubbing wit)( )(im a lot, at t)(e end of t)(e nig)(t t)(e troll in my pale quadrant is still YOU, -Eridan!
CA: yeah
CA: i got that
CA: thanks fef
CC: Any time! 38D
CC: <>
CA: <>

caligulasAquarium [CA] ceased trolling cuttlefishCuller [CC]


> Present Karkat: Reach the end

Chapter Text

You had known that losing your horns was going to suck. Hell, you still remember Torkal gleefully telling you all about the recovery time for the procedure like a sadistic, snot-gulping bastard because wow, casual banter about permanent dismemberment is not something that you tend to forget easily. Even without Torkal’s assurances to bolster your confidence in the actual degree of suckery that you were going to endure, you know just as well as any troll with a single functioning brain cell that breaking a horn hurts like a wailing grub-stomping motherfucker and you assumed that cutting them off couldn’t be much better. You had, in short, been prepared for the entire experience to suck harder than a blood-drinking swamp worm latched onto the most succulent region of your bulge. And yet, the moment you emerge from the chemical haze of anesthetic, you realize that you had not been prepared enough.

The room is spinning so fast that even the idea of moving or—fucking god forbid—sitting up makes you want to retch. It feels as though the bed is tilting at an impossible angle, like it’s decided to dump your ass on the floor because it is done dealing with your disgusting husk of a body. The only thing you can do is fist your hands in the sheets, close your eyes, and hang on and oh shit, oh SHIT CLOSING YOUR EYES MAKES EVERYTHING SO MUCH WORSE ABORT, ABORT, ABORT!

Cennia’s face looms into view over you, the only thing that has the decency to stay stationary as the room continues to rotate around you. Her lips are moving, but between the aftereffects of the anesthesia and the godawful spinning you barely even realize that she is speaking to you. It takes you a ridiculous amount of time to piece the patchwork quilt of word salad she is puking at you into comprehensible speech.

Finally, you understand that she is asking you if you can hear her. With a concerted effort, you manage to nod your head. This turns out to be a terrible idea because the movement immediately kicks the spinning into high-gear. You tighten your grip on the sheets, suck in a deep breath, and focus your entire being on not throwing up.

Cennia’s squawk hole is moving again. “Are you experiencing any pain?”

You try to assess what the fuck is actually happening with your body but the spinning and the tilting is so distracting you honestly can’t focus on anything else. You think that maybe you aren’t in any pain, but that does not make a single lick of goddamn sense considering what Cennia and her crew of shit rags have done to you and…and fuck, you wish that the spinning would go away long enough for you to figure this shit out.

Cennia repeats her question, more insistent this time. You think you hear an edge of concern there, which is funny because she has never given you the impression that she gives a single flying fart about your comfort before so why the fuck should she start now? Somehow, you manage to choke back your rapidly growing urge to vomit so you can croak, “D…dizzy….”

“Vertigo is an expected side effect of the surgery,” says Cennia. “The symptoms should begin to improve in a few days.”

She starts rambling on about all the secondary vestibular sensory systems that used to be in your horns but aren't there anymore and nerves and all manner of hyper-detailed anatomical bullshit that you just do not have the energy to deal with at the moment. You would try to go back to sleep just so you could get away from her ceaseless cascade of verbal diarrhea if closing your eyes did not suddenly make everything about a billion times worse and ugh, why is she putting her arms behind your back, what the actual fuck is happening?

You try to twitch away from her because you don’t particularly relish having her skeevy hands on you under the best of circumstances, let alone when you are completely incapacitated. The movement spurs the spinning back up into high speed. You sink back into her arms with a cold sweat beginning to settle onto your face. Her arms begin to move and you realize with a sense of dread that she is trying to get you to sit up.

“No,” you moan. “No; don’t. Please….”

She sighs and very slowly says, “Karkat, we have removed your secondary vestibular sensory organs. You need to allow your vestibular system to acclimate to the change."

You know that she is no doubt trying to explain why you are being subjected to this special brand of torture, but your brain is having none of it because right now you are diverting all of your think power towards not chucking up the contents of your stomach. From far away, you feel her arms come away from your shoulders, feel your back sink against a mountain of pillows propping you up into a half-sitting posture. The room continues to whirl around you, now with a delightful sensation of freefalling into an endless pit. You last a whole four seconds before your stomach finally rebels and you throw up all over the front of Cennia’s white lab coat. (You would probably find this hilarious if the gesture had granted you even the tiniest shitnugget of relief, but the room does not stop spinning and your stomach keeps trying to heave until your eyes tear up because it fucking hurts, make it stop.)

Through your continued retching, you feel Cennia’s hands guiding you to lie back against the pillows. You hear her voice say, “Try to relax, Karkat. I have administered an anti-emetic and it should take effect shortly.”

The words float around inside your head like confused insects. By the time the meaning registers, your gut is already beginning to quiet down to a more manageable grumble of malcontent. You suddenly notice that your entire body is soaked with sweat and you are shivering. A cloth mops across your face—Cennia cleaning away the sweat on your face and the puke on your chin. You want to tell her to stop because with you helpless as a grub the action feels too close to pale territory for comfort, but whatever she gave you is making you tired and it feels good to get all that crap off your face so screw it, you let her.

The drowsiness tugs at you like an insidious current beckoning you out into a vast ocean of colorless nothing. Soon you are too tired to care about Cennia violating your quadrant sensibilities. You are too tired to care that the room is still spinning and the bed is still tilting. You are too tired to care about anything at all. You close your eyes and you sleep.

This shit-tastic pattern of wake up, puke, fall asleep continues uninterrupted for several days until finally, you open your eyes and the room is not spinning. You have never been more grateful for anything in the entire sum of your sad and pathetic excuse of a life. (That’s not to say that you are some ungrateful bulgewipe. Your life may be 99.9% inane bullshit with an extra-large side helping of actual shit, but you’ve always taken time to appreciate the small things in life—things like how lucky the Empire is to have been graced with the presence of Troll Will Smith or how it’s been a whole five perigees since the last time somebody actively tried to cause you bodily harm just to see your disgusting blood color. But wow, holy flying Jesus on a skateboard made of flaming shit, there is nothing like three days of intense, nonstop vertigo to really put things into perspective. Now that you know that a room which has the courtesy to remain stationary is something worth being thankful for, your gratitude knows no bounds.)

You lie there, relishing the way the walls just sit there not moving. You offer up a silent note of appreciation to the ceiling for its exceedingly kind choice to also stay the fuck still. The bed also deserves special recognition for its incredible ability to not pitch around and try to throw you onto the floor.

After a few minutes of quietly enjoying the beautiful stillness of every inanimate object in the room, you decide to attempt sitting up. For the first several seconds, you are convinced that you have made the biggest mistake you have ever made in your life, that you pushed your luck and now you are summarily having your ass handed to you because everything instantly devolves into the now-familiar spinning sensation. Then the whirling slows to a gradual halt and hell fucking yes you just sat up without puking all over, look at you go, this is seriously better than winning a walk-on cameo role on an episode of Thresh Prince, well OK nothing is better than that because that would be the fucking pinnacle of awesome but goddamned if this doesn’t come close.

You are still celebrating your globe-smashing victory when Cennia enters the room. She takes in your upright posture with an expression of pleased approval (as she should because—guess what—you did it all by your own damn self).

“I expected that your vertigo would begin to resolve today,” she says. She brandishes a tray with a small bowl and a glass of water before adding, “I have brought you some basic nourishment. If you feel able, you should try to eat.”

Now that she has mentioned food, you realize that the only time you have spent not puking up everything inside your alimentary canal over the past three days was when you were drugged and sleeping. You are consequently so insanely hungry it feels as though somebody is boring a hole straight through your abdomen.

When she sets the tray in front of you, you are disappointed to see that the bowl contains only watery soup. Then you decide that fuck it, you’re too hungry to bitch about Cennia’s shitty culinary choices. You drink the soup down without bothering to come up for air and then immediately finish off the glass of water in three big gulps. The tiny meal barely makes a chink in the iron-thick armor of your newfound appetite.

Cennia appears to notice your disappointment. “I need to see how you handle that much before you eat any more,” she explains.

You decide that this is reasonable enough because despite your digestive sac’s insistent demand for more, more, MORE, your back and abdomen are still aching from all the abuse they have endured and the thought of going through any more is about as appealing as chewing on a piece of diseased cholerbear genitalia. Besides that, you are still coasting on the fumes of your happy discovery that the room has decided to stop playing the “Let’s see how much spinning Karkat can take before he yaks up his guts” game. You are just not in the correct frame of mind to be a cantankerous little shit for no good reason. Cennia predictably gives you the perfect excuse by adding, “If there are no problems, you can have some more later, after you are finished with Torkal.”

“Torkal?” you repeat. “You’re handing me over to Torkal?”

Cennia looks taken aback. “Karkat, I—“

“No! I did everything you assholes told me to do. I jumped through all of your stupid circular performance objects. I did everything right! You can’t do this!”

“Karkat! You are entirely misunderstanding my intentions. I am not planning to hand you over to Torkal for experimentation, though I may need to reconsider that line of thinking if you continue to scream at me.”

“Well then would you kindly explain to me what the fuck is going on? Because I thought the deal was that I would never have to see that creepy asshole again as long as I played by your shitty rules.”

Cennia purses her lips and you realize just a tick too late that shit, you just insulted her moirail, didn’t you? She treats you to a look that says wow, look who’s talking about being an asshole you insensitive sack of shit before saying, “Torkal performed your horn removal surgery. You need to see him so he can ensure that you are healing properly.”

You feel like you’ve just swallowed a gallon of ice water. You have devoted so much time and energy into ensuring that Torkal would never lay a single nasty grope digit on you that you cannot even process the idea that just three short days ago he was looming over your unconscious, unprotected self with a handful of pointy shit and free reign to do as he wished. The thought makes you feel ill and oh look, the walls are starting to spin again. You take a deep breath, waiting for the walls to stop moving (they do) and willing your meager meal to stay down (it does).

“Is that all he did?”

Cennia gives you a blank look. “Pardon?”

“He just did my horns? He didn’t go fucking around with anything else?”

“He most certainly did not,” Cennia exclaims. “Torkal’s application to perform additional exploratory surgeries was denied and I can assure you that he did no such thing because I was assisting him in the operating room.”

It occurs to you that this is the most flustered you have ever seen her. You suppose that it would upset you, too if some petulant little shit was calling your moirail’s character into question, but you can’t help it because Torkal is a scary bastard with a let’s cut Karkat into lots of little pieces fetish. You know that you should probably stop prodding the venomous sticking bug’s nest but you are far too worked up to comply with simple reason. You demand, “If you were there then why didn’t you do the surgery?”

“Because Torkal invented and perfected the technique and it is not my area of expertise. Now if you are quite finished asking questions, we should be going. Torkal is waiting for us.”

You aren’t finished asking questions. Hell, you could sit here asking questions forever if it would delay your meeting with sketchy-as-fuck Torkal that much longer, but her tone had left no room for argument and even though you are pretty sure she wouldn’t actually turn you over to her moirail this late in the game, you don’t particularly want to test your luck on that matter, either.

Slowly, you maneuver your legs over the edge of the bed. Cennia none-too-gently helps you to stand. There is a brief flash of the now-familiar spinning sensation and then whoa, shit what is this, why is everything tilting to the right? You sway on your feet and make a valiant effort to stay in an upright position but let’s be completely honest with ourselves here, the only thing that prevents you from executing a truly epic faceplant is Cennia’s hands on your shoulders.

You stand there, waiting for the floor to return to the nice, normal horizontal position it goddamn well knows it is supposed to be. It doesn’t. You try to take a step forward, but the weird tilt of the floor is disorienting enough when you are standing and walking only make it about ten bajillion times worse. Cennia is decent enough to catch you before you fall.

“What’s going on?” you gasp, trying to at least dredge up the coordination to stand on your own and failing. “Why is the floor—“

“This is the first time you have tried walking since the surgery,” Cennia interrupts, her tone clipped and utterly devoid of any hint of sympathy whatsoever. You are beginning to think that pissing her off was not your cleverest idea. “Your vestibular system will accommodate in time. Now come with me.”

You have no idea how she expects you to walk anywhere in this condition. You feel as though your feet are scrabbling with every step, like you are constantly on the verge of keeling over and everything you try to do to compensate the imbalance only makes it worse. Somehow, she manages to herd your unstable ass out of the room and out into the hall, where you promptly crash into the wall. You are pretty sure she let that happen on purpose, but you quickly discover that the tilting doesn’t seem quite so bad if you can keep a hand on the wall to steady yourself so—haha—the joke’s on her. By the time she drops you off at the examination room, you are hobbling along like a pro.

You try to avoid looking at Torkal as you stagger across the room and flop down onto the nearest chair. You are quietly grateful that you managed the maneuver without any mishaps because looking like a helpless jackass in front of Torkal is not high on your human bucket list (and on a side note, you are perfectly aware that humans use buckets as cleaning tools but the very idea of having something called a ‘bucket list’ is so ridiculously vulgar that even you are reluctant to use it for anything other than the vilest shit you can imagine).

Torkal’s weird hissing voice is still just as unsettling as ever as he says, “Already walking? Most recruits come to me in a four wheel device. Guess that confirms my theory. Smaller horns do correlate with faster recovery times.”

His expression suggests that he is being serious, but the leering psychic imprint he jabs you with makes you suspect that he is actually making a really rude remark about your horn size. You scowl and try your best to shut him out of your head. His presence dissipates to the edges of your consciousness to play silent spectator to your every thought and emotion like some sort of invasive mind worm.

You notice that there is a mirror on the wall directly across from where you are sitting. You try not to look because you aren’t terribly keen on seeing the sum of all the fucked up shit that they’ve done to you, but you have not seen a mirror since before the operation and you can’t hold back your morbid curiosity.

It is a relief to see that the top of your head is swaddled in bandages that conceal the damage from view. The bandages are wrapped so thick you can almost pretend that your nubs are still there and hidden under all the layers of cotton. It’s a comforting notion and even though you know that it is impossible, you let yourself cling to it until Torkal says, “Well, let’s see what we’ve got here.”

He leans toward you and you have to fight back the urge to flinch away from him like a scared little bitch. That obnoxious psychic haze of flatulence clouding your head crackles with something that you think is supposed to represent laughter. You pour all of your concentration into thinking the words FUCK YOU as hard as you can and you are pleased to note that the crackling laughter stops.

Torkal stands in front of you as he works at the helmet of white clinging to your head. You cannot see even the tiniest sliver of the mirror around his ugly ass, so it comes as a shock when he steps away from you with his hands full of cotton and you see what the bandages had been hiding.

You are surprised to see that your head has been shaved. (You immediately feel stupid for being surprised because wow, of course it’s shaved. You wouldn’t want a stray hair getting stuck in your think pan, would you?) With no hair to soften the impact, the alterations are like a physical affront. Your horns are gone. In their place are two shallow indentations, lined with a thin layer of metal. You note that the edges of the indentations are threaded as though something is meant to be screwed in and you cannot for the love of gibbering fuck conceive what that something might be. (Fake horns? you think and nearly laugh because the idea is just that goddamn perverse.) The lining extends beyond the border of the holes, leaving a thin rim of metal no more than a millimeter in width before it seamlessly blends into your skin. Son of a bitch, you think. They didn’t just cut them off…they fucking mutilated me.

Torkal moves to stand in front of you again, getting way too much up in your business for comfort. He is so close you can smell the residue of whatever carrion he last consumed sitting heavy on his breath. You brace yourself to feel pain as he begins to poke around the surgical sites, but the entire area is numb and the only thing you feel is a vague impression of the pressure of his fingertips ghosting over your scalp. You can’t help frowning at that because you know it should hurt and the lack of pain feels like a copout; your body’s way of utterly failing to acknowledge that you have lost a major part of your identity.

“These are healing fine,” says Torkal. “You’re definitely ready for the plugs.”

Your frown deepens. “Plugs?”

Torkal doesn’t have the decency to explain what in the raw fuck he is talking about. He just walks off to retrieve the plugs, whatever those are. You bitterly think that Cennia would have been more than happy to tell you what was going on even if she does have a stick permanently inserted up her waste chute and you berate yourself for antagonizing her earlier. You decide that from now on you will be nothing short of a perfect gentletroll while you are in her presence. You will say “please” and “thank you” and “yes, good madam” if it will ensure that you never have to deal with her nookwhiff of a moirail ever again.

When Torkal returns, he is carrying two thin buttons of metal topped with rubbery bioflesh. The edges of the metal are threaded and oh, you get it, you see where this is going. You are lucky that your observational abilities are so keen because Torkal does not bother to utter a single word to explain what he is planning to do. Nope, the insensitive swill gulper just goes right ahead and screws the first of the plugs into one of the indentations on your head without so much as a “By the way, I’m going to be fucking around with the shit we stuck in your head. I sure hope you are ready for that.” Masked behind the weird curtain of numbness that has decided to shroud the top of your scalp, the sensation isn’t terribly unpleasant. The sound of the threads grinding together as the mechanism screws home is an entirely different matter: it seems to reverberate in your head, a scratching vibration that sends an uncomfortable shudder all the way down your vertebral column until the threads lock into place with a dull click.

“This bioflesh is engineered to sprout hair at the same rate as your natural hair growth,” Torkal says as he goes to work with the second plug. (Scratch, scratch, click goes the plug.) “Once your hair grows back you’ll need to keep it at least two inches long to hide the rims. Got that?”

“Yeah. Sure.”

Torkal continues to fondle the top of your head like a creeper, presumably checking the fit of the plugs. His psychic presence continues to stomp all over the inside of your head, drinking in your abject misery like a fine cocktail of shaken anguish fluid and despair. Finally, he says, “OK, we’re done. Stand up and I’ll take you back to your room.”

You get up out of the chair and damn it the floor is still tilting about fifty degrees to the right. Torkal catches you before you fall. You almost end up falling anyway because really, you do not want Torkal’s gross hands on you. Ugh, you think. Why the fuck can’t Cennia be the one doing this?

“Cennia is busy preparing the next recruit for my evaluation so you’re stuck with me,” says Torkal and wow, did you seriously forget that he can read your thoughts? Yes, you most definitely did. Good job pissing off the psychopath, moron. You are just full of great ideas that are wonderfully conducive to your long-term survival. Go you.

Torkal manhandles you out the door and back to your room with a lot more force and a lot less patience than Cennia. There is nothing about the experience that is not simultaneously awful and humiliating and nothing can adequately describe the measure of relief you feel when he finally dumps you off in your room and leaves you alone.

You sit on the bed for a few minutes after he leaves, getting your bearings. Then you carefully stand up and shamble over to the tiny ablution block attached to your room. There is a load gaper in there, an ablution trap the size of a human postage stamp, and a sink that is barely fit to piss in. You are not interested in any of those things. Gripping the edge of the sink for support, you direct your attention to the mirror above the sink.

Your skin is that weird human color. Your horns are gone. You bare your teeth and they are flat and straight behind the braces. The only part of you that still looks at all troll-ish are your eyes—and even that looks fucked up and weird now that your irises have changed to that disgusting candy red. You are definitely more ugly human alien than you are troll now and you are every bit as hideous as you had imagined you would be.

I’ll never be able to go back to Alternia or join the fleet like this, you think. Earth is the only place I can go now. And even though you have known that your life as a troll was over the second the Threshecutioners appeared on your doorstep, even though you have known exactly what was going to be in store for you if you managed to evade Torkal’s operation funhouse, the thought hurts. You are grateful that you are alone right now because the emotional shitstorm that has been swelling inside you ever since the Threshecutioners kidnapped you finally breaks, pounding at you in painful waves. You promise yourself that this is the only time you will ever let yourself give in like this. Then you lower yourself down to the floor, bury your face in your hands and you cry.


> PRESENT Vriska: Bring Equius up to speed

Chapter Text

arachnidsGrip [AG] began trolling centaursTesticle [CT]

AG: Equiiiiiiiiuuuuuuuus.
CT: D --> What
AG: Oh, nothing. Just wondering what you’ve 8een up to lately. That’s all.
CT: D --> That is uncharacteristically civil of you
AG: Make any nasty lakes of sweat recently?
CT: D --> E%cuse me
AG: Fuck around with any lame-ass ro8otics?
CT: D --> Is this a joke
AG: Cry over any spilt milk?
CT: D --> If you are going to insist upon perpetuating this f001ishness then I will be forced to end this conversation at once
CT: D --> I have neither the time nor the patience to waste on your juvenile anti%
AG: Geeeeeeeez! Aren’t we a little finicky today?
CT: D --> Goodbye Serket
AG: Hey, w8! Don’t sign off yet. At least let me tell you what I came here to say!
CT: D --> Very well
CT: D --> What did you wish to disclose
AG: Oh, nothing much.
AG: Just that I heard you’ve 8een keeping secrets.
CT: D --> I haven’t the slightest idea what you are referring to
AG: Really? 8ecause I heard that Karkat Vantas is alive and Nepeta’s 8een a very 8ad moirail. ::::P
CT: D --> WHAT
AG: Hahahahahahahaha!

arachnidsGrip [AG] ceased trolling centaursTesticle [CT]


> Everybody: Join memo dii2cu22iion2 for iidiiot2

Chapter Text

twinArmageddons [TA] opened PRIVATE memo dii2cu22iion2 for iidiiot2
twinArmageddons [TA] invited gallowsCalibrator [GC] to memo

TA: come on TZ.
TA: plea2e do not leave me 2iitiing here talkiing two my2elf liike 2ome 2elf-ab2orbed douchebag.
TA: that 2hiit wa2 only ever funny when KK diid iit.

gallowsCalibrator [GC] joined memo

TA: hey TZ.
TA: do you want two help me moderate thii2 iincomiing 2hiit2torm?
GC: >:?
TA: >:??
TA: what ii2 >:? 2uppo2ed two mean?
GC: SO 1 W1LL R3P34T
GC: >:?
TA: there are goiing two be ten people iin here and about half of them are a22hole2.
TA: keepiing everybody on topiic ii2 goiing two be a biitch.
TA: al2o ii am probably goiing two be runniing a few hackiing iinterface2 at 2ome poiint twoniight.
TA: actually ii kiind of already diid.
GC: >:O
TA: no. hii2 hard driive wa2 full of robotiic2 engiineeriing bluepriint2 and mu2clebea2t porn.
TA: 2o much mu2clebea2t porn.
TA: whatever he know2 about KK, iit2 not on hii2 computer.
TA: ii wa2 thiinkiing that twoniight the hackiing would happen after EQ gave u2 a lead 2o ii would have 2ome iidea of where two 2tart.
TA: the poiint ii2 ii cant concentrate on what ii2 goiing on iin here and break a 2ouped up fiirewall at the 2ame tiime.
TA: well actually ii probably can but the re2ult would be pretty 2hiitty on both end2.
GC: OK 1 G3T 1T
TA: ok ju2t a 2ec.

gallowsCalibrator [GC] has been granted moderator privileges

TA: bam. done.
GC: H3H3
TA: diid NP ever get back two you?

gallowsCalibrator [GC] invited arsenicCatnip [AC] to memo
arsenicCatnip [AC] joined memo

AC: :33 < hi sollux
AC: :33 < hi purrezi
AC: :33 < where is efurryone else?
AC: :33 < *sigh* no
AC: :33 < he wouldnt tell me anything
AC: :33 < in fact he was furry upset that I spilled the legumes
TA: do you thiink he wiill 2tiill 2how up twoniight?
AC: :33 < oh i know he will!
AC: :33 < i dont know how much he will tell you though
AC: :33 < he is in a really terrible mewd
TA: oh my god
TA: TZ ii hope youre not planniing two turn thii2 iintwo a courtblock drama rp.
TA: becau2e ii diid not 2iign up for that 2hiit.
TA: god damn iit TZ.
AC: :33 < wait!
GC: >:?
TA: what.
AC: :33 < befur we start i just want to say dont go too hard on equius if you can help it
AC: :33 < i dont think he would k33p something like this from me unless he thought he was purrtecting me from something
AC: :33 < even if he is being a big jerk about it
TA: ok now ii know you are ju2t tryiing two pii22 me off.
GC: >:P
GC: H3H3
TA: whatever. let2 ju2t get thii2 2tarted whiile the niight ii2 2tiill young.

twinArmageddons [TA] invited adiosToreador [AT] to memo
twinArmageddons [TA] invited grimAuxiliatrix [GA] to memo
twinArmageddons [TA] invited arachnidsGrip [AG] to memo
twinArmageddons [TA] invited centaursTesticle [CT] to memo
twinArmageddons [TA] invited terminallyCapricious [TC] to memo
twinArmageddons [TA] invited caligulasAquarium [CA] to memo
twinArmageddons [TA] invited cuttlefishCuller [CC] to memo
grimAuxiliatrix [GA] joined memo
cuttlefishCuller [CC] joined memo

GA: Good Evening
GA: Or To Be More Accurate Good Evening To You And Good Morning For Me

adiosToreador [AT] joined memo

CC: )(i everyone!
TA: hii FF.
TA: and KN.
AT: hI,

arachnidsGrip [AG] joined memo
caligulasAquarium [CA] joined memo

TA: 2hiit. and TV.
TA: hii TV.
AG: Whaaaaaaaat? No hello for me?
AG: Don’t tell me you are in one of your 8itchy moods again, Captor.
AG: 8ecause if that’s the case I’m getting out 8efore this whole memo turns into a giant drama shitfest.

gallowsCalibrator [GC] banned arachnidsGrip [AG] from responding to memo

TA: what the hell TZ.
GA: And What Exactly Is The Message You Are Attempting To Convey
CA: oh come off it
CA: wwe all knoww her antagonizin nature is her finest quality
TA: well ii gue22 you would be the one two know that.
TA: beiing her ex-kii2me2ii2 and all.
CA: you shut your stinkin air hole sol
CA: at least i didn’t fuckin KILL my ex
CC: 38O
CC: ----ERIDAN! W)(at t)(e GLUB!
TA: fuck you, fii2h diick.
CA: fuck no
CA: this may come as a surprise to you but evven i havve standards
TA: oh my god that wa2 not a 2oliiciitatiion you creepy fuck.
CA: i kneww that
CA: i wwas makin a wwitty rejoinder
CA: i should havve knowwn you wwould be too obtuse to get it
TA: well maybe iit would be ea2iier two tell when you are beiing a pretend a22hole iif you diidn’t act liike an actual a22hole all the tiime.
CA: oh look wwhos talkin about bein an asshole asshole

gallowsCalibrator [GC] banned twinArmageddons [TA] from responding to memo
gallowsCalibrator [GC] banned caligulasAquarium [CA] from responding to memo

GC: F3F3R1 PL34S3 T3LL M3 TH3Y 4R3 NOT L1K3 TH1S 4LL TH3 T1M3
CC: Acs)(elly, t)(ey kind of are.
AC: :33 < maybe they just n33d a good auspistice!
AC: :33 < kanaya what if you
GA: No
CC: No
GA: Laying Aside My Own Doubts As To The Effectiveness Of Such An Arrangement It Appears That Their Mutual Quadrant Mate Has Her Own Objections
GA: You Cannot See It But That Remark Was Followed By A Question Noodle Meant To Convey Mild Curiosity Towards The Mutual Quadrant Mate I Just Mentioned
CC: Wait. Me?
GA: Unless You Are Aware Of Any Other Target Of Both Eridans And Solluxs Affections Then Yes You
CC: O)(. I wasn’t trying to make a comment about your abilities as an ausfis)(tice, Kanaya.
CC: I was just going to say t)(at I don’t t)(ink t)(ey are anglering toward ROMANTIC )(ate.
CC: I’m pretty s)(ore t)(at t)(ey ACS)(-ELLY want to krill eac)( ot)(er.
GC: 1T 1S!
GC: N3P3T4, YOU 4R3 SUR3 H3 1S COM1NG?
AC: :33 < yes! he purromised he would be here and he always k33ps his purromises
AC: :33 < he will be here soon, youll s33
GA: In That Case I Would Like To Suggest That We Unblock Vriska While We Are Waiting
GA: Eridan And Solluxs Behavior Was Distracting And Clearly Deserved Censure But Your Treatment Of Vriska Seems A Touch Heavy Handed Doesnt It
AC: :33 < yeah
AC: :33 < he ended up contacting me and throwing a big hissy fit
AC: :33 < it took me hours to calm him down :((

centaursTesticle [CT] joined memo

CT: D --> I will have each and every one of you know that I will abso100tely not be sharing any information with respect to Vantas tonight
CT: D --> My reasons for attending this shameful display are to inform you of this fact and to ensure that Nepeta is not compromised by this f001ishness
CT: D --> This situation has already surpassed the bounds of a%eptable impropriety
CT: D --> None of you shall question me any further on the matter
AC: :33 < hi equius!
CT: D --> Nepeta, I forbid you from participating in these disgraceful anti%
CT: D --> You will leave this memo at once
AC: :33 < no way! this is too impurrtant to miss
AC: :33 < im not going anywhere
CT: D --> Yes you are
AC: :33 < no im not
CT: D --> Yes
AC: :33 < no, no, no!
AC: :33 < you cant furce me to go anywhere so im staying
CT: D --> Very well
CT: D --> You may remain
CT: D --> However you will cease responding this instant
AC: :33 < raaaaaawwwwr! XPP

gallowsCalibrator [GC] unbanned twinArmageddons [TA] from responding to memo
gallowsCalibrator [GC] unbanned arachnidsGrip [AG] from responding to memo
gallowsCalibrator [GC] unbanned caligulasAquarium [CA] from responding to memo

AG: Oh my god who thought it would 8e a good idea to let Pyrope moder8 this clusterfuck?
TA: god damn iit tz ii diid not giive you mod priiviilege2 2o you could ban me from my own memo.
AG: Oh. Well that explains that.
TA: ok, ok. ii wa2 beiing a diick.
TA: poiint taken.
CA: wwell i havve to say its alwways refreshin to see somebody wwise enough to knoww their owwn shortcomings
CA: especially wwhen that person is a dense fuck in all other respects
CA: ok fine
CA: wwhatevver
CA: just tell the dirtscraper to lay off a my quadrants because i aint interested in his skeevvy ass
TA: yeah. 2ure. whatever you 2ay, ed.
TA: let2 ju2t get thii2 2hiity memo on track now that everybody ii2 fiinally here.
AG: He’s had plenty of time to get his stupid clown 8utt here.
AG: I say we start without him.
TA: 2econded.
CT: D --> No
CT: D --> Nothing shall commence without the highb100d
CT: D --> Neigh
CT: D --> The highb100d will arrive when he sees fit
CT: D --> Until then we must wait out of deference to the respect that his position demands
AG: Woooooooow.
AG: If I didn’t know any 8etter I’d say some8ody is STALLING!
CT: D --> Your failure to acknowledge the natural order of the hemospectrum is udderly reprehensible
CT: D --> I refuse to subject myself to such gross impropriety
CT: D --> If you continue to trample the bounds of societal decorum by galloping forward with the current proceedings, then I will have no choice other than to remove myself from the conversation immediately
AG: Oh my gooooooood are you even serious right now?
AG: I went out of my way to make a shitty horse pun and I h8 horse puns!
AG: Don’t you think the least you can do is take the stick out of your ass for a few minutes????????
AG: Helloooooooo! Alternia to creeper muscle8east fetishist Zahhak!
AG: Come on you asshole. Answer me!
AG: I c8n see th8t, you b8g dummy!
AG: OK fine. I’ll shut up.
AG: You tyrant.
GC: >:]
GC: >8]
AC: :33 < equius? are you still here?

centaursTesticle [CT] is an idle troll!

TA: 2hiit.
GA: Oh Dear
CC: 38(
CA: wwoww vvris
CA: wway to royally fuck THAT up
AG: Hey, how the fuck was I supposed to know he would go running off like a sissy the second some8ody decided to call him on his 8ullshit?
AG: If you want to 8lame anyone for this then 8lame Gamzee.
AG: Exactly! None of this would have happened if that 8raindead moron had just shown up when he was supposed to.

terminallyCapricious [TC] joined memo

TC: WhOa. LoOkS lIkE tHiS mOtHeRfUcKeR gOt HeRe AlL bAcKwArDs FuCkInG lATe.
TC: wAs I aLl Up AnD mIsSiNg AnY oF tHe MoThErFuCkInG cOnSpIrE tAlK?
GA: Allow Me To Assure You That You Have Missed Nothing Of Any Significance
GA: In Fact It Is Beginning To Appear As Though There Will Be No Quote Conspire Talk Unquote Tonight After All
CA: yeah and no thanks to you gam
CA: wwhere the fuck havve you been
TC: I wAs ReLaYiNg SoMe HeAvY pRaIsE tO tHe MiRtHfUl MeSsIaHs.
TC: yOu KnOw HoW tImE gEtS aLl BiTcHtItS cRaZy WhEn ThE wIcKeD sPiRiT cOmEs Up OuT oF nOwHeRe AnD fIlLs A fUcKeR wItH a PoWeRfUl UrGe To LaY dOwN tHe NaStY vErSeS.
TA: no. iim pretty 2ure nobody here ha2 any iidea what you are talkiing about riight now.
TA: waiit, really?
AT: yES,
AG: What, so now you think you’re some hotshot clown whisperer?
AG: Tavros, I have to hand it to you. Here I was thinking you couldn't possi8ly invent a made up fantasy even lamer than sad Pupa Pan wanna8e 8ut somehow you managed to come through.
GA: Personal Barbs Aside I Must Admit That I Share Vriskas Sentiment Of Mild Surprise And Disbelief
CA: yeah
CA: nobody can make sense of gams mystical clowwn mumbo jumbo
CA: not evven gam
TC: Aw YeAh.
TC: yOu PrEaCh It, BrOtHeR.
TC: ThE bEaTs ThEy FuCkInG fAlLiNg
TC: aLl ThE mOtHeRfUcKeRs CrAwLiNg
TC: JuSt To CaTcH a GlImPsE oF iT aLl uP iN hErE
TC: bEcAuSe My RhYmEs ThEy Be BaLlInG
TA: diid thii2 memo 2eriiou2ly ju2t turn iintwo a 2hiity 2lam poetry 2e22iion?
TC: YoU sAy YoU lAcK tHe UnDeRsTaNdInG
TC: oF tHe WiCkEd ReLiGiOn WhAt’S aLl Up In My HeAd CrAmMeD iN
TA: gz no.
TA: 2top.
TC: So LeT mE tOsS a ClOuD oF sPeCiAl StArDuSt WhAt YoU cAn GaZe In
TC: gEt YoUrSeLf A mOtHeRfUcKiNg EdUcAtIoN
TA: do not drop any more 2iick beat2.
TA: do not nur2e any more dropped rhyme2.
TA: do not perform any other 2en2ele22 metaphoriical action2 that de2criibe 2ayiing 2ucce22ive liine2 of ver2e.
TC: MaKe ThE gReAtEsT MiRaCle WhAt EvEr WaS aRoUnD
TC: bRiNgInG yOu Up So YoU’rE dOwN wItH tHe ClOwN.
TA: ii gave you faiir warning gz.
TA: now ii am goiing two have two ban you.
CC: W)(y can’t you let )(im stay?
TA: he ii2 hiijackiing the memo, ff.
TA: be2ide2 that nobody want2 two be 2ubjected two endle22 wall2 of bad 2lam poetry.
TA: iit2 ju2t iinhumane.
CC: W)(ale I was sort of -ENJOYING it!
TA: …you were?
CC: Y-----ES you seally crabby butt!
TC: FiSh SiS gEtTiNg HeR aPpReCiAtIoN oN tO tHe RiGhTeOuS vErSeS iS mAkInG mE aLl PrOpEr ThAnKfUl.
TC: hOnK hOnK :o)
CC: 38D
TA: what wa2 even the poiint of thii2 memo?
TA: 2omebody plea2e rea22ure me that we diid 2tart thii2 thiing wiith an actual purpo2e iin miind.
TA: well that2 iit. ii mu2t be dead becau2e thii2 ii2 hell.
TA: ii never expected hell two be 2ome 2hiity memo with endle22 2tream2 of terriible 2lam poetry, but here we are.
AG: 8LUH 8LUH I’m Thollucth Captor and I can’t go more than two thecondth without whining a8out how every8ody around me thuckth.
AG: Honestly, your 8itching is waaaaaaaay more o8noxious than their 8ad rapping.
AC: :33 < ch33r up pawllux
AC: :33 < the poetry might be kind of bad but you have to admit that they are pawfully cute together
AC: :33 < i will have to remember to update the shipping wall later!
CT: D --> Welcome highb100d
CT: D --> Please e%cuse my tardiness
CT: D --> I stepped away from my computer for a moment in order to retrieve a fresh stack of towels
CT: D --> Forgive me my insolence
TC: NaH, bRo. It’S cOoL.
CT: D --> No
CT: D --> My behavior is disgraceful
CT: D --> Your failure to correct me is likewise una%eptable
CT: D --> I command you to discipline me at once
CT: D --> Please
TC: uUuUuUhHh…
TC: :o(
CA: ok no
CA: i just endured a giant block a fuckin terrible slam poetry
CA: if this devvolvves into one a zahhaks dom sub fantasies I am gonna perform an acrobatic fuckin pirouette off the handle
CA: eq wwe get it
CA: youre scum gam is a disgrace and you get off on gettin ordered around
CA: noww lets skip all a that shit and get to the point of this fuckin memo already
CT: D --> Your commands are undiginified and po100ted with foul language
CT: D --> Furthermore tradition mandates that I ignore all orders from you thus preserving the noble feud between sea and land dwellers
CT: D --> Therefore
AC: X(( < grrrrrrr!
AC: :33 < equius stop trying to purrvent us from talking about karkat
CT: D --> I
CT: D --> Very well
CT: D --> Though I would STRONGLY prefer a reprimand from the highb100d I will settle for Ampora’s vastly inferior rebu%
CT: D --> You may proceed with the discussion if you feel you must
AG: Well there you have it, folks. This conversation is officially approved for all you muscle8east porn enthusiasts out there.
AG: Now let’s get this pu8lic entertainment exhi8ition on the road 8efore his royal sweatiness changes his mind.
CA: no
TC: SuRe ThInG, tAvBrO
AG: Fuck no!
TA: ju2t try two make iit quick.
AG: What’s there to summarize?
AG: Karkat’s alive, he got himself into trou8le and now we have to pull his shouty 8utt out of whatever hole he went falling into.
AG: 8am. There’s your crappy summary.
GA: Do We Know For Certain That Karkat Is In Actual Danger
AG: Gee, too 8ad no8ody here can answer any of those questions.
AG: Oh, w8…
CT: D --> I have already e%pressed my position on this matter
CT: D --> I will not disclose any intelligence pertaining to Vantas nor do I have any desire to do so
AC: :33 < then why are you still here?
CT: D --> Pardon
AC: :33 < if you really dont want to talk about karkat with us then why are you staying on the memo?
CT: D --> I must remane in order to rein in any talk that might place you at risk
CT: D --> Furthermore, even if I did have the inclination to discuss Vantas, which I do not, I would take great pains to prevent that desire from whinnying out because I am not at livery to saddle anybody with that informanetion
GA: Dot Dot Dot
AT: wOW,
AC: :33 < equius are you pawsitive you dont want to talk about karkat?
CT: D --> Neigh
CT: D --> I mean yes
CT: D --> I mean
CT: D --> I require a towel
CT: D --> What
CT: D --> The information was specified as classified, so yes
CT: D --> How could I
CT: D --> No I do not know their b100d color
TC: hUh?
TC: Uh, SuRe. WhAtEvEr YoU sAy, ChIcA.
CT: D --> Oh
CT: D --> Oh my
CT: D --> I
CT: D --> Oh dear
CT: D --> I fear that you may be correct
CC: O)( S)(OR-E!
CC: A)(em. --------------EQUIUS! I order you to s)(ell out everyt)(ing you know about Karkat RIG)(T T)(IS S------------EACOND!
CC: )(ow was t)(at?
TA: that wa2 perfect, FF.
CC: 38D
CA: wwell eq
CA: you heard the future empress
CA: spill it
AC: :33 < equius are you okay?
CT: D --> Twenty-two point si% millimeters
TA: what the hell ii2 that?
AG: Oh my god it’s a 8ulge size joke.
CT: D --> The very idea that I would lower myself to telling 100d jo% is positively revolting
CT: D --> I would find your implication thoroughly insulting if I was not already well aware of your routinely uncouth behavior
CT: D --> As it is, I will assure you that the measurement has abso100tely nothing to do with Vantas’ unmentionable regions
AG: Whew! That’s a relief.
AG: For a second there I was afraid Zahhak was developing a sense of humor.
AG: Guess the world isn’t ending after all.
CT: D --> Twenty-two point si% millimeters is the diameter of the ocular modifying devices the military commissioned me to fabricate, presumably to be worn by Vantas for martial purposes
AC: :33 < does that mean he was recruited?
CC: W)(ale…I know t)(at sometimes if somebubbly is a R-E-ELY good fig)(ter t)(e military will invite t)(em to join early.
CC: Maybe t)(at’s w)(at )(appened!
TA: what would they want wiith hiim?
TA: diid they need 2omeone two flaiil a 2iickle around liike a tool?
GA: I Am Afraid That I Must Also Express My Doubts That Karkat Would Have Been Recruited By Virtue Of Possessing Superior Combat Abilities
GA: While I Do Believe He Was Quite Capable Of Defending Himself Should The Need Arise I Never Experienced The Impression That Karkats Fighting Skills Were Unusually Exceptional
CT: D --> The devices are designed to moderate the amount of light entering the eye, primarily to avoid damage in the event of overe%posure
CT: D --> I have been commissioned to produce thirty-four sets
TA: who comii22iioned you?
TA: iif you giive me a name ii can trace iit.
CT: D --> There are several names on the order form
CT: D --> Wait one moment
CT: D --> I will scan it for you

centaursTesticle [CT] uploaded file cover_slip.img

TA: that work2. ii wiill be back iin two miinute2.

twinArmageddons [TA] is an idle troll!

CA: guys im startin to think that kar is in real trouble here
TC: i ThOuGhT wE wErE aLrEaDy PoSsEsSiNg Of ThAt KnOwLeDgE kErNaL.
CA: no i mean REAL trouble
CA: the kind wwe cant fix
CC: Water you talking about, -Eridan?
CA: wwell the military is really fuckin strict but evven loww levvel grunts get communication privvileges
CA: if they arent lettin him contact anyone they might havve him doin somethin really fuckin terrible
CA: i mean like medical experimentation or
CA: pail slavvery or
CT: D --> I do not believe the military would commission these devices for those purposes
CT: D --> It would be most ostentatious
AG: Oh please. You just don’t like the idea that your precious ro8otics project might 8e going to a 8unch of slaves and whores.
TA: ok ii’m back.
TA: mo2t of the name2 were dead end2 but there wa2 one that look2 liike iit miight be a lead.
TA: 2ome aggre22analy2t chiick named cenniia ettiino.
CA: agressanalyst
CA: fuck i wwas right
CA: fuckin medical experimentation
TA: no ed. ii dont thiink that ii2 what ii2 goiing on here.
TA: or at lea2t, not exactly.
CA: wwhat do you mean not exactly
CA: either it is or it isn’t and it obvviously is
CA: youre just pissed i stole your thunder
TA: 2omebody 2hut hiim up or iim hiitiing the perma-ban button.
CA: hey fuck you sol
CC: -Eridan, S)(OOS)(!
CA: oh come on fef
CA: its not like im makin some big embarrassin scene here
CC: I know but can you AT L-EAST wait until Sollux is finfis)(ed before you go glubbing your opinion?
CA: but fef
CC: PL-------EAS------E, -Eridan?
CA: i wwill stop
CA: in fact I wwont say anything else for the rest a this memo because clearly none a you cretins vvalues my input
CC: -Er…t)(at wasn’t w)(at I meant, but if t)(at’s w)(at you eely t)(ink t)(en okay.
CC: Go a)(ead, Sollux. It s)(ould be smoot)( sailing now.
TA: 2o iit look2 liike cenniia ii2 pretty iinvolved wiith 2ome kiind of traiiniing faciiliity.
TA: 2omethiing two do wiith iinvadiing a planet called oh my chrii2t are you 2hiitiing me?
TC: WhOa. ThAt’S tHe LoNgEsT nAmE fOr A pLaNeT i’Ve EvEr BeEn HeArInG oF.
GA: I Am Assuming That The Name Of The Planet Is Not Actually The Thing You Just Stated
GA: Please Reassure Me That This Assumption Is Correct
TA: 2hiit. 2orry guy2.
TA: iit2 ju2t thii2 planet name ii2 really fuckiing 2tupiid.
GC: WH4T 1S 1T?
TA: earth.
TA: no, ii am completely 2eriiou2.
TA: the planet ii2 actually called earth.
AG: Pffffffffwahahahahahahahaha!
AG: Who was the genius that dreamed up THAT flaming turd of a name?
AG: I mean they might as well have just named it DIRT and 8een done with it.
GA: Yes Or Perhaps Mixture Of Rock Clay Organic Matter And Sand
GA: They Could Call It MORCOMS For Short
TC: wAiT hOw MaNy MoThErFuCkInG pLaNeTs ArE wE dIsCuSsInG rIgHt NoW?
TC: CaN oNe Of YoU hElP a MoThErFuCkEr OuT aNd ShAre ThE kNoWiNg Of WhIcH oNeS wE aRe EvEn TaLkInG aBoUt?
TA: way ahead of you TZ. hackiing theiir databa2e a2 we 2peak.
TA: aaaand we are iin.
CC: 38O
CC: T)(at was so fast!
TA: the fiirewall wa2 weak a2 2hiit and they dont even have any of theiir data encrypted.
TA: iit look2 liike they ju2t a22umed they were two far under the radar for anyone two bother fuckiing wiith them.
AC: :33 < is there any information about karkat?
TA: iim lookiing.
TA: huh. judgiing by the ro2ter2 iit look2 liike they are only takiing people wiith burgundy blood.
CT: D --> Are you affirming that Vantas is a rust b100d
TA: why doe2 that even matter?
AG: Well that’s disappointing.
AG: After all that hemanonymous drama I was expecting him to 8e some kind of 8utthurt royal shit.
AG: Or may8e a mutant. That would have at least 8een kind of 8adass.
TA: yeah. wow. FUCK.
GA: Please Feel Free To Share With The Rest Of The Schoolfeed At Any Time
TA: ok 2o apparently the program ha2 been goiing for a whiile. theyve 2ent a few round2 of recruiit2 two earth already.
TA: none of them have come back.
TA: yeah. that wa2nt the thiing that had me crappiing buiildiing 2quare2 though.
TA: the group they are traiiniing riight now 2tarted out wiith 257 people.
TA: now they are down two only 34.
AC: :33 < oh no!
AC: :33 < how could that happen?
TA: iit look2 liike they have been culliing batche2 of recruiits every periigee.
CT: D --> That seems rather wasteful
CC: W)(y would t)(ey do t)(at?
TA: ii dont know. iit ju2t 2ay2 TERMIINATED.
TA: iit2 not liike they went go2h maybe we 2hould iinclude an explanatiion ju2t iin ca2e all the hacker2 out there get curiiou2.
TA: oh hey. ii found KK2 iinfo.
AG: Finally!!!!!!!!
CC: OO)(, OO)(! Tell us w)(at it says!
AC: :OO < what does it say?
TC: lAy On ThE mOtHeRfUcKiNg WoRdS wHaT hAvE tO dO wItH oUr bEsT iNvErTeBrOtHeR.
TA: ok cool your rumble 2phere2 guy2. geez.
TA: iit look2 liike he wa2 iinvoluntariily recruiited but we kiind of already knew that.
TA: holy 2hiit that ii2 a lot of mediical procedure2.
GC: >:?
TA: ii mean there are about a hundred entriie2 iin here that 2ay MEDIICAL PROCEDURE. none of them have any iinformatiion about what they were doiing but they are chronologiically dated and oh, get thii2 the per2on who diid mo2t of the procedure2?
TA: cenniia ettiino.
AC: :33 < the aggressanalyst?
TA: yeah.
TA: ii hate two 2ay iit but thii2 really look2 liike 2ome kiind of mediical experiimentatiion 2hiit.
CA: ahem
TA: what.
CA: medical experimentation huh
CA: funny seems like wwevve heard that somewwhere before
TA: ok fiine.
TA: you were riight, ed. Whoop-de-fuckiing doo.
CA: just so wwe are clear
TA: uh-huh. whatever you 2ay.
TA: 2uppo2edly he wa2 flagged a2 a 2uiiciide rii2k for the fiir2t couple of periigee2.
CC: O)( my cod!
CC: Are you searious?
TA: yeah. oh. waiit a 2econd.
TA: they flagged hiim agaiin four day2 ago.
TA: 2ame date a2 the la2t mediical procedure.
GA: I Cannot Imagine Karkat Wishing To End His Own Life
GA: If Nothing Else He Is Too Stubborn To Do So
GA: He Must Be Truly Miserable If He Is Actually Considering It
TC: :o(
CT: D --> You stated that the day he was flagged coincides with the day of his most recent medical procedure
CT: D --> This would suggest that the two are connected
CT: D --> The question now becomes which precipitates the other
AG: Does it really matter?
AC: :33 < we n33d to get him out of there!
TA: iif we are goiing two do 2omethiing we had better do iit quiick.
TA: he2 2et two deploy at the end of thii2 periigee.
GC: WH3R3 1S H3?
TA: the traiiniing faciiliity ii2nt two far from here. iit ii2 ju2t out2iide alterniia2 orbiit.
TA: we could get there iin a few hour2…
TA: iif we had a 2tar2hiip.
TC: So AlL wE aRe NeEdInG iS fOr SoMe MoThErFuCkEr To Be AlL uP aNd SuPpLyInG uS wItH sOmE wIcKeD aSs StArShIp?
AG: No shit, Pupa.
CC: We cod use MY s)(ip!
CA: wwhat
AC: :33 < i didnt know you had a starship fefurry
CC: It’s not very big and I barely -EV-ER use it.
CC: Acs)(elly sometimes I kind of forget I even )(ave it!
CC: But I am S)(OR-----E it will work just fin for t)(is.
CA: no fef
CA: wwe cant use your ship
CC: Glub? W)(y not?
CA: because it’s a fuckin terrible idea
CC: )(ow is it a teribubble idea?
CA: it just is
CA: listen to me guys
CA: wwe are gonna havve to find another ship because wwe cannot use fefs
CA: do you all got that
GA: Eridan If We Are Going To Rescue Karkat We Will Need A Ship And Feferi Is The Only Person Here Who Happens To Own One
GA: I See No Reason Not To Use It
GA: Unless You Were Planning To Explain Your Objections
GA: If That Is The Case Then By All Means Please Do
CA: ok i wwill
CA: fef howw many armies havve you raised so far
CC: W)(at?
CA: here let me answwer that for you
CA: none
CA: howw many followwers havve you amassed
CC: I don’t sea w)(at t)(at )(as to do wit)( ANYT)(ING we are glubbing about.
CA: wwhats that
CA: none again
CA: wwell then you must havve some immensely powwerful secret wweapon lying around somewwhere right
CC: -----Eridan w)(at the S)(ELL has gotten into you?
CA: oh wwait no you don’t
CA: wwhich means that if our current empress decided to fly her ruthless fuckin ass here and fork you dead there is nothin that could stop her from doin it
CC: 38O
CC: W)(y would you say somefin like t)(at?
CC: W)(y would you t)(ink it was okay to do t)(at )(ere?
CC: Or ANYW)(--------ER--------E for t)(at manatee?
CA: because its the truth fef
TA: hey ed?
TA: 2hut up.
CA: no sol
CA: you shut up
CA: im makin a point here
TA: what poiint ii2 that 2uppo2ed two be exactly?
TA: that you are a ma22iive douche?
CA: you can ban me wwhen i am finished but you guys havve gotta hear me out here
CA: look i wwill evven say please if you wwant me to
CA: just let me stay for like twwo more minutes
CA: please
CA: ok seriously can i say somethin wwithout evveryone jumpin dowwn my throat and screamin that they are gonna ban me
AG: Did you seriously not hear what Redglare the court8lock dict8or just said?
AG: If you have something to say then spit it out already and if you don’t then do us all a favor and shut the hell up.
CA: wwoww fuck you too vvris
CA: anywways the point i wwas tryin to make here fef is that you havve nothin to protect you from the empress if she decides to come after you an the only reason she hasnt done it yet is cause you havvent done anything to rock the political boat
CA: if wwe go disruptin a military training facility and they trace the ship back to you its gonna look like you are issuin a challenge against the condesce
CC: O)(. I guess I never t)(oug)(t about t)(at.
CA: there you see
CA: thats wwhy wwe cant use your ship
CC: Reely? Because I t)(ink it’s exactly w)(y we S)(OALD use my s)(ip!
CA: wwhat
CC: You said I )(aven’t done anyt)(ing to rock t)(e political boat. Maybe it’s time I started making waves!
CA: fef you are completely missin my point
CA: if the condesce thinks youre turnin into a threat there wwont be any time to pull together a proper army to fight back
CC: I appreciate your conc)(cern, -Eridan, but I can’t spend my w)(ole life )(iding like a scared little guppy.
CC: Besides, )(ow can I build an army to fig)(t for me if I never put mys)(ellf out t)(ere?
CC: And w)(at better way to do T)(AT t)(an by kelping our good frond?
AG: Helloooooooo, we are talking a8out fucking around with the military here.
AG: It’s going to 8e risky no matter how you cut it.
TA: are you 2ure you want two do thii2 FF?
CA: no
CC: Y----------ES!
CC: We will use my s)(ip and everyt)(ing will go SWIMMINGLY, you’ll see!
AC: :33 < yay!
TC: i Am AlL gEtTiNg My GrAtItUdE oN fOr ThE mOtHeRfUcKiNg WiCkEd BiTcH tItS mIrAcLe WhAt I aM wItNeSsInG hErE.
GA: Yes Thanks Are Indeed In Order

caligulasAquarium [CA] left memo

CC: )(u)(? ---Eridan?
AG: Oh gr8. More self-pitying drama from Eridan Ampora.
AG: What a surprise.
GA: No
TA: fuck no
AG: Sure, Tavros. Go right ahead.
AT: mE,
AG: I think the REAL question here is why NOT you?
AG: Hahahahahahahaha! ME?
AG: If you think I have any desire to put up with his o8noxious 8ullshit then you are even dum8er than I thought.
AG: 8esides, that’s crossing over into moirail territory and he’s already got himself one of those. Riiiiiiiight, Feferi?
CC: I t)(ink it would be best if we just leave )(im alone for now.
CC: )(e can always come back if )(e eels like it.
GC: W3 H4V3 4 SH1P 4ND W3 H4V3 4 D3ST1N4T1ON
CT: D --> I have a suggestion
CT: D --> You will listen and implement it accordingly
CT: D --> The lenses I was commissioned to make are nearly complete and the deadline for their completion 100ms a mere si% days from today
CT: D --> At that time the training facility will undoubtedly e%pect them to be delivered without delay
CT: D --> I propose that we send one or two of our present party to the facility under the premise of delivering the completed lenses
CT: D --> This would provide an e%cellent e%cuse for visiting the facility and allow an optimal opportunity to secret Vantas onto Pei%es ship with minimal risk of confrontation
TA: holy 2hiit.
TA: that ii2 actually a 2oliid iidea, EQ.
GC: Y34H
CC: I t)(ink it sounds GR---------EAT!
AC: :33 < me too
GA: I Do Not Have Any Particular Resignations
TC: I aM sO mOtHeRfUcKiNg DoWn WiTh It.
TC: hOnK hOnK.
AG: Hell why not? Let’s do it!
CT: D --> I was not aware that there was a competition at hand
AG: If that was supposed to be a joke it was really lame.
CT: D --> It was not
AG: You are so 8oring it 8lows my mind.
AG: All of the eye rolls. All of them.
TC: I’lL dO iT.
TC: fLoAt AlL aRoUnD iN tHe StArS wHeRe ThE mIrThFuL mEsSiAhS bE uNtIl I’m FiNdInG oUr NuB hOrN bRoThEr.
TA: no offen2e GZ, but fuck no.
TC: Aw, WhY tHe MoThErFuCk NoT?
TC: sO yOuR’e SaYiNg It’S tHe MiRaClE sLiMe WhAt’S pReVeNtInG tHiS mOtHeRfUcKeR fRoM pErFoRmInG tHe RiGhTeOuS rEsCuE mAnEuVeRs?
CT: D --> Your highb100d status would also present certain problems
CT: D --> It would be nigh impossible for anybody to believe that one of your position would be employed for such a menial task
CT: D --> In fact this would be true for any member of the nobility
CT: D --> Anybody possessing b100d in a hue of b100 or higher shall be e%c100ded from consideration
TA: wow eq. there are about 200 way2 you could have 2aiid that wiithout 2oundiing liike a giiant bulge and yet you 2tiill elected two 2ound liike a giant bulge.
GC: VR1SK4, 3QU1US, G4MZ33, 4ND F3F3R1
AC: :33 < ooh!
AC: :33 < ac will go!
CT: D --> No
AC: :33 < but it will be so much fun
AC: :33 < like a big live action role purrlaying game
AC: :33 < and you know how good i am at role playing!
CT: D --> I will abso100tely not allow it
AC: :33 < why not???
CT: D --> The risk is much too great
CT: D --> I would never forgive myself if something were to happen to you while you were in the facility and beyond the reach of my prodigious STRONGNESS
AC: :33 < but nothing will happen
GA: Actually Nepeta It May Be Better If You Remain Here
AC: :33 < oh no kanaya
AC: :33 < not you too
GA: Equius Has Already Compromised His Own Safety By Sharing Classified Intelligence
GA: As The Person Who Crafted The Devices He Is Likely One Of The Only People Outside Of the Facility Who Is Aware Of Karkats Whereabouts
GA: When Karkat Disappears It Is Very Likely Equius Will Be Held Suspect
GA: If They Discover That His Moirail Played A Role In The Ruse It could Put Both Of You At Serious Risk
GA: In Fact It Might Be Prudent If The Two Of You Were To Abscond To A Safe Hiding Place Until The Commotion That Is Sure To Surround Karkats Escape Quiets Somewhat
CT: D --> Yes
CT: D --> Such precautions are most reasonable
CT: D --> Nepeta you shall join me in e%ecuting these safety measures
AC: X(( < grrrrrrr! :((
TA: and meanwhiile our volunteer pool contiinue2 two 2hriink.
GC: H3H3
TA: 2crew iit. ii wiill go.
TA: we are down two eiither KN or me and iif we are a22umiing they wouldnt buy a blue blood deliivery guy then they 2ure a2 fuck arent goiing two 2wallow a jade blood workiing out2iide of the broodiing cavern2.
TA: iit ha2 two be me.
AG: Well there you have it.
AG: Six days from now we are firing a 8lind chick and a 8ipolar asshole into space on a starship from the possi8le future empress so they can attempt to rescue some shouty 8astard we all thought was dead until a8out two days ago.
AG: Oh and in the meantime some gross sweaty jerk is going to go running off into the wilderness with a girl who thinks she is a cat 88% of the time.
AG: Did I miss anything?
CC: I know! It’s so ---------------EXCITING!
TA: diid we actually do the thiing we 2tarted thii2 memo for?
TA: we actually accomplii2hed 2omethiing?
TA: ii don’t believe iit. iit2 a fuckiing miiracle.
TC: YeAh DoGg.
TC: mOtHeRfUcKiNg MiRaClEs AlL uP iN hErE.
GC: 1 TH1NK W3 4R3 DON3 H3R3
CC: S)(OR-----E!
CT: D --> Very well
TA: ok.
TA: now everybody out of the memo 2o ii can lock iit.
CC: BY-------E ---EV-----ERYBODY!

cuttlefishCuller [CC] left memo

GA: Goodbye And Best Of Luck

adiosToreador [AT] left memo
grimAuxiliatrix [GA] left memo

CT: D --> Good evening
CT: D --> We shall be in touch

centaursTesticle [CT] left memo

AC: :33 < bye efurryone
AC: :33 < good luck pawllux and purrezi
AG: Try not to do something dum8 like get caught or die.
AG: ::::P

arsenicCatnip [AC] left memo
arachnidsGrip [AG] left memo

TC: WhOa. WhErE tHe MoThErFuCk DiD eVeRyBoDy Go?
TC: oH. hAhA.
TC: PeAcE oUt AnD hAvE yOuRsElF a MoThErFuCkInG mIrAcUlOuS nIgHt ThEn, SiS.

terminallyCapricious [TC] left memo

TA: waiit TZ.
GC: >:?
TA: ii ju2t wanted two 2ay that out of everybody ii could be goiing up there wiith
TA: iim glad iit2 goiing two be you.
GC: AWWW >:]
GC: <>
TA: <>

gallowsCalibrator [GC] left memo

twinArmageddons [TA] locked PRIVATE memo dii2cu22iion2 for iidiiot2


> Eridan: Be in cahoots with Vriska

Chapter Text

caligulasAquarium [CA] began trolling arachnidsGrip [AG]

CA: vvris
CA: are you there
CA: come on
CA: you knoww i wwouldnt contact you unless i was desperate
CA: come on vvris
CA: please
AG: Oh my god, Eridan. What the fuck do you want?
AG: And 8efore you say anything, if this is going to turn into another lame 8itchfest a8out doomsday devices then I am ending this convers8ion 8efore it 8egins and putting your trollian handle right 8ack onto my 8lock list.
CA: its not
CA: i swwear
AG: OK. Fine.
AG: In that case I guess I can spare a few minutes to listen to your malarkey.
AG: 8ut let’s keep this short.
AG: I have got too many irons in the fire to waste my time on your melodramatic crap.
CA: i need a ship
AG: THAT’S your 8ig emergency? You fucked up a FLARP campaign and lost your prissy-ass galleon?

AG: Well 8oo fucking hoo I’m soooooooo sorry you no longer have your amazing fake pir8 ship which wasn’t really all that impressive to 8egin with.
AG: Why can’t you just 8uy another one? Or steal one from some8ody who is slightly less sucky than you?
CA: im not talkin about flarp vvris
CA: i mean i need a real fuckin ship
CA: a starship
CA: and i need it fast
AG: Oh, well in that case let me just drop everything and get right on that for you.
CA: really
AG: Fuck no!

AG: What makes you think I just happen to have a starship lying around? While we’re at it, what makes you think I’d hand it over to you if I did?
CA: vvris please
CA: i havvent bothered you for anything for a really fuckin long time
CA: i knoww you could get a ship if you really wwanted one
CA you havve connections
AG: Huh. Care to enlighten me a8out who these “connections” are supposed to 8e? 8ecause I have no idea what the hell you are talking a8out.
CA: dont play coy wwith me vvris

CA: evveryone knowws youre in good wwith some gamblignant fleet or some shit
CA: its wwhy you quit playin flarp last swweep
CA: wwhy keep doin the pretend pirate thing wwhen you can be the real thing instead right
AG: Wow, Eridan. And here I thought you were only deluded when you were thinking a8out your quadrant prospects.
AG: I’m flattered you think I’m hardcore enough to have a 8unch of 8adass space pir8s wrapped around my finger 8ut the fact is I have a8out as much influence over the gam8lignant rings as you do over the imperial fleet. In a word: ZERO.
AG: I quit FLARPing 8ecause we are going to 8e going off planet soon and I have hotter irons in the fire than storing up a 8unch of fakey fake treasure and made-up achievements. Not to mention the fact that I was sick of you trying to crash my campaigns all the time.
CA: i did NOT try to crash your campaigns
AG: ::::I
CA: wwell ok

CA: maybe i did try to horn in on a couple a your campaigns once or twwice
CA: but thats not important right noww
CA: the important thing here is that i need a ship in the next fivve days or sooner an i thought you might be able to get one but obvviously you cant so screww it
AG: Hey! I never said I couldn’t do it.
CA: so you wwill do it then
AG: Why do you need a starship all of a sudden anyway?
CA: i just do ok
AG: W8.

AG: You said you needed it in the next five days?
CA: yeah
CA: so
AG: Oh my god. Eridan, you are soooooooo o8viouuuuuuuus.
CA: wwhat

CA: i havvent got the slightest idea wwhat you are tryin to imply here
CA: i am the most subtle and refined troll you or anyone else wwill evver havve the privvilege a associating wwith
AG: God, it would almost 8e cute if it wasn’t so pathetic!
AG: Hahahahahahahaha!
CA: come on vvris
CA: at least tell me wwhether or not youre gonna do this for me
AG: Aaaaaaaahahahahahahaha!
CA: vvris

CA: are you still there

arachnidsGrip [AG] ceased trolling caligulasAquarium [CA]

Two days later a small starship touches down onto the narrow spit of land beside your hive. The craft is completely empty, running on autopilot with nothing to indicate that it had ever been manned at all save for a small card in the pilot’s chair:

Vriska card


> END OF ACT 2 (part 1/2)

Chapter Text

> Tavros: Check in with Gamzee

adiosToreador [AT] began trolling terminallyCapricious [TC]

TC: hi my main peanut butter blood brother.
AT: oH, hI gAMZEE,
TC: i’m fuckin fine, bro.
TC: honk honk honk :o)
TC: and all the motherfucking green stuff is dripping on out all over the floor.
TC: ignorant motherfuckers saying the wicked shit about this motherfucker.
TC: saying this motherfucker ain’t sharp.
TC: motherfucking laughing at this motherfucker.
TC: they was getting their mirth on.
TC: but now the motherfucking joke is on those laughing motherfuckers.
TC: :o)
TC: Do:
TC: honk :o)
TC: just kicked the wicked miracle slime.
TC: and watched it float away like a cloud of special stardust.
TC: ain’t been putting none of it into my thirsty squawk blister.
TC: show them how this motherfucker ain’t holding on to the heavy ignorance.
TC: up to our motherfuckin nub horned brother.
TC: i’ll be talking the wicked rescue talk with you soon, brother.
TC: honk.

terminallyCapricious [TC] ceased trolling adiosToreador [AT]

AT: }:(


> Feferi: Discuss matters with your loving matesprit and moirail

twinArmageddons [TA] began trolling cuttlefishCuller [CC]

TA: hey ff.
CC: )(i, Sollux!
CC: Are you and Terezi getting ready to leave your )(ive now?
TA: we actually left a whiile ago.
CC: O)( my glub I can’t bereef t)(at t)(e big nig)(t is fin-ally )(ere!
TA: oh yeah. we are doiing thii2.
TA: we are makiing iit happen.
CC: T)(is is SO ----------------EXCITING!
CC: Terezi remembered to pick up the lenses from ----Equifis)(, RIG)(T?
TA: ii told you liike two day2 ago that 2he diid.
TA: waiit diid ii tell you that?
TA: ii thought ii diid but iif youre a2kiing about iit then ii probably forgot.
TA: 2hiit, ii am the wor2t mate2priit. iit2 me.
CC: O)( PL------EAS-------E! I am S)(OR-E t)(at t)(ere are PL-ENTY of worse matesprits t)(an you and I would bet anyfin t)(at none of t)(em are as cute as you.
CC: Acs)(elly, I bet you are TWIC--------E as cute as any of t)(em!
TA: ii am glad two know that you are wiilliing two put up wiith haviing 2uch a faiilta2tiic mate2priit.
CC: W)(ale I think you are conc)(pletely pitiable just the way you are.
CC: AND W)(IL-----E W-----E’R----E AT IT
CC: O)( s)(oot.
TA: huh? what2 up?
CC: -Eridan is messaging me.
TA: dont an2wer.
CC: Sorry to krill the romantic mood, Sollux, but I reely s)(oaldn’t leave )(im glubbing.
CC: I AM )(is moray-eel, after all!
TA: tz and ii are goiing two hiit an out of 2erviice regiion iin a couple more miinute2.
TA: let2 keep talkiing untiil then.
CC: Well I guess )(e can wait if it’s just a few minutes.
TA: ehehehe you are 2o naughty ff.
TA: ehehehehehe.
CC: So )(ow muc)( longer until you and Terezi get to t)(e launc)( site?
TA: a couple of hour2.
TA: do you have the coordiinants programmed iinto your autopiilot app yet?
CC: Y-ES! I was so -EXCIT-ED aboat tonig)(t t)(at I put t)(em in DAYS ago!
CC: The autopilot glubbed t)(at it s)(ould only take twenty minnows to get to w)(ere you will be.
TA: iin that ca2e ii can me22age you agaiin 2o you can 2end the 2hiip when we are gettiing clo2e.
TA: that way iit wiill get there riight around the 2ame tiime we do and there won’t be a lot of tiime for people two notiice an unmanned 2hiip chiilliing out iin the launch hangar.
CC: That sounds reasonabubble to me.
CC: Sollux? Did you drift into t)(e no service zone?

twinArmageddons [TA] is an idle troll!

You shake your head as you minimize the chat window. Sollux is always so much fun to talk to, even if he is a little grouchy sometimes. Actually, you think his on-again off-again grouchiness is part of his charm. The way he gets all frustrated and mad at himself is so pitiable it makes you feel all filled with gooey flushed sentiments.

Speaking of grouchy mother glubbers…Eridan is still waiting for you. You kind of hate to say it, but his brand of grumpiness is not nearly as endearing as Sollux’s. In fact, you don’t think it’s particularly endearing at all. It’s tiring, demanding, mean-spirited, and…ugh, why are you letting your thoughts float down this path again? He’s your moirail and if there is one thing you know about moiraillegiance, it’s that it involves a lot of hard work! It’s just…sometimes you can’t help wondering how it would feel to have a moirail that wasn’t quite so high maintenance.

Your computer chimes to let you know that Eridan has written you another message. You know you shouldn’t keep him waiting any longer. (In fact, traditional pale quadrant etiquette dictates that you should have answered him right away. You don’t particularly give a glub about stuffy old quadrant conventions, but you know that Eridan is gaga for them and he is probably going to be even crabbier than usual on account of your ignoring them so blatantly.)

Swallowing back a sigh (he’s your moirail and this is your job, after all), you bring up Eridan’s chat window.

caligulasAquarium [CA] began trolling cuttlefishCuller [CC]

CA: fef
CA: hey
CA: wwhere are you fef
CA: fef i knoww you are online
CA: your troll tag says you are
CA: answwer me fef
CC: )(i, -Eridan.
CC: W)(at’s up?
CA: nothin much
CA: just wwonderin howw you are doin
CC: O)(. I’m fin, I guess.
CA: are you sure
CC: I t)(ink so.
CC: Unless you know somet)(ing I don’t?!?
CA: wwhy wwould you evven think that
CA: i wwas just thinkin you might be feelin kinda nervvous about tonight
CC: Not reely! I’m too --------EXCIT---ED to be nervous!
CA: youre not nervvous
CA: like not at all
CA: not evven a little bit
CC: No. S)(ould I be?
CA: i wwas thinkin you wwould be kinda nervvous wwhat wwith this bein your first real challenge to the condesce an all
CC: T)(at’s w)(y it’s so --------EXCITING!
CC: T)(is is t)(e first step towards setting all of my plans for t)(e t)(rone into mocean.
CA: arent you evven wworied about your boyfriend
CA: i mean he is goin on a dangerous mission
CA: wwhat if he doesnt come back
CC: Water you glubbing about? Of COURS-E Sollux is coming back!
CC: Alt)(oug)( now t)(at you mention it, maybe I am just a little conc)(cerned.
CC: BUT ONLY A LITTL-E BIT because I know t)(at everyt)(ing is going to go swimmingly and Sollux and Terezi will be t)(ere and back in no time.
CA: oh
CA: wwell if youre SO SURE evverythin is gonna go smoothly maybe i shouldn’t bother to make my offer after all
CC: Offer? W)(at do you mean “offer”?
CA: i wwas just gonna see if you might wwant me to come to your hivve and be wwith you wwhile they are goin after kar
CA: you knoww
CA: for moral support
CA: or in this case i guess it wwould be moirail support
CC: 38O
CC: -Eridan, t)(at is so sweet!
CC: Y-----ES, I would like you to come to my )(ive!
CA: you wwould
CC: OF COURS-E I would, you seally blubber butt!
CA: ok
CA: i wwill be there as soon as i can
CC: I’ll be waiting 38)
CA: oh fef can i ask you one more thing before i go
CC: S)(ore.
CA: did you send your ship to the launch hangar yet
CC: No. I was going to raise the anc)(or in anot)(er )(our or so.
CA: good
CA: thats perfect
CC: )(u)(? What do you mean?
CA: oh
CA: i just wwanted to make sure i could be wwith you wwhen you did
CA: it is a landmark evvent after all
CC: And w)(at better way to sailebrate t)(an by doing it wit)( my moray-eel by my side?
CC: I’ll see you soon, -Eridan!
CC: <>
CA: <>

caligulasAquarium [CA] ceased trolling cuttlefishCuller [CC]

Well that was way more pleasant than you were anticipating. You can’t remember the last time Eridan did something this thoughtful. Actually, you can’t remember him doing anything like this at all! It’s a nice change of pace and it couldn’t have happened at a better time.

There is no question about it: with your moirail at your side, your matesprit being all brave and heroic, and your imperial plans finally starting to get some wind in their sails, tonight is going to be a night you will never forget!


> Kanaya: Touch base with the fugitives

grimAuxiliatrix [GA] began trolling arsenicCatnip [AC]

GA: Hello Nepeta
GA: And Equius Assuming He Has Arrived At Your Hive
AC: :33 < hi kanaya
AC: :33 < equius just got here a few minutes ago
AC: :33 < he says to tell you hello and also
GA: And Also
GA: Question Noodle
AC: :33 < okay i kind of dont want to type this but equihiss wont stop bugging me until i do
GA: What Is It
AC: :33 < *sigh* equius says hello and also thank you for opening your hive to us as a sanctuary
GA: I Do Not See Why You Find That To Be Such An Objectionable Statement
AC: :33 < i wasn’t finished yet
AC: :33 < thank you for opening your hive to us as a sanctuary, a helpful gesture which is strongly appropriate and fitting for a jade blood such as yourself
GA: Oh
GA: You Are Quite Welcome Although It Might Be Best To Keep In Mind That You Have Not Arrived Yet And You Will Not Do So For Several Days
GA: Have You Selected The Route You Will Take To Reach The First Outpost Yet
AC: :33 < yep! it is going to be a furry long walk but equius thinks we will make it there just befur sunrise
AC: :33 < we are going to leave in just a couple minutes
GA: In That Case Perhaps I Should Let You Go So You Can Attend To Any Last Minute Preparations You Might Need To Carry Out
AC: :33 < that is purrobably a good idea
AC: :33 < equius is starting to get all twitchy
AC: :33 < kind of like a big muscular kitty that got into a patch of catnip h33 h33
GA: Please Contact Me When You Reach The Outpost And To Inform Me That You Both Arrived Safely
AC: :33 < we will! s33 you in thr33 nights, kanaya!

arsenicCatnip [AC] ceased trolling grimAuxiliatrix [GA]

You close the chat window and hesitate, your cursor hovering over another name on your chumproll. You have no desire to come across as intrusive, but a seed of apprehension has begun to take root in the bottom of your pump biscuit and copious amounts of sewing and topiary sculpting no longer presents distraction enough for you to ignore it. You bite your lip and click on the name.

grimAuxiliatrix [GA] began trolling arachnidsGrip [AG]

GA: Vriska I Understand That You Find My Concerns To Be Meddlesome At Times But It Has Been Four Days And You Have Not Answered Any Of My Messages
GA: This Silence Is Becoming Worrisome
GA: The Last Time You Acted This Way One Of Our Mutual Acquaintances Died Another Was Blinded And A Third Was Left Without Function Of His Lower Body Not To Mention The Injuries That You Sustained Yourself
GA: I Am Beginning To Believe That You Are Planning To Do Something You May Regret Later
GA: I Would Greatly Appreciate It If You Would Contact Me If Only To Disavow Me Of This Notion
GA: Please Do Not Do Anything Too Rash

grimAuxiliatrix [GA] ceased trolling arachnidsGrip [AG]


> Eridan: Execute plan

You forgot how much you hate being underwater. You hate the feel of it pressing in at you, so much heavier and more insistent than air. You hate the dizzying sensation of hovering over what might as well be a bottomless pit of oblivion what with the ocean floor being miles away and impossible to see. (Coincidentally, you don’t hate the fact that there is a creature living down there that could kill every troll in the universe in an instant if it ever experienced so much as a tummy ache because that is kind of fucking badass.) But the real reason you tend to avoid being underwater isn’t the claustrophobic pressure or the endless pits of doom or even Fef’s monstrous lusus. No, the real reason you prefer to stay out of the water is that it completely fucks your sense of style.

Some uncultured swine—probably landdwellers—might think that is a frivolous reason to avoid the environment that your body was designed to live in. Those cretins just do not understand the dramatic effect of a carefully groomed pompadour or a voluminous cape billowing in the wind. You can’t wear your cape underwater because it’s heavy and has the annoying habit of snaring around your legs and you can kiss your pompadour goodbye the second your head goes under the surface and really, when was the last time anybody ever managed to look imposing with their clothes trying to murder them and their hair floating around their head like a goddamned heavenly nimbus? Fucking never, that’s when. And all of that is just the shit you have to contend with when you are in the water. We are not even going to get into the way your clothes cling up against your skinny ass and turn you into a shivering drowned weasel when you come out of the water because that is just embarrassing. And yet here you are swimming for Fef’s hive, sans cape and sans pompadour, all because she is in dire need of her moirail.

You cannot fathom how she ever got the notion that she was ready to challenge the Empress. You also cannot fathom why nobody else was willing to take any of your perfectly valid concerns seriously. Clearly, the only solution here is to take matters into your own hands. Maybe once you are finished saving Fef from herself, she will notice what a great moirail you are and then she’ll finally realize that you are the only one who deserves to be the target of her flushed desires. The thought is enough to take your mind off the wretchedness of your appearance and send you swimming ever onward and ever deeper.

You spend much of the swim to Fef’s hive pondering exactly how you are going to make your move once the dust from all of tonight’s excitement begins to settle. (Should you just dive right in and announce your intentions to move this relationship to a more meaningful level? Or would it be better to remind her of just how much effort you put into making tonight happen first? You think the latter is the safer bet because it can’t hurt to have her thinking about some of the favors you’ve done for her, but you cannot deny that the former has a romantic boldness to it that cannot be ignored. It’s a tough decision but you are certain that you’ll make the right choice once you are in the heat of the moment.)

Fef greets you at the main entrance to her hive with a hug that would snap the ribcage of any landdweller like a bundle of dry twigs. Lucky for both of you, your seadweller body is far more resilient. The gesture still leaves you breathless but it doesn’t elicit a single bruise. Or at least, you’re pretty sure it doesn’t leave any bruises. You had forgotten just how goddamn strong Fef is.

“I am so glad you’re here, Eridan!” she exclaims. Releasing you from her death grip, she treats you to one of her exuberant smiles; the kind that makes you unsure whether to melt or whether to be annoyed by the relentless bubbliness radiating out of her. Then she says, “Come on; come inside!”

You ease through the door and follow her through the winding corridors of her hive. You are glad that she doesn’t seem to expect you to answer her as she chatters on about how tonight is going to be “so exciting” and “a first step towards changing the political tide” and how she will “always remember it forever.” Now that you are actually here, you are suddenly nervous as hell. You are legitimately concerned that your voice might come out all strained and crackly and give you away before you have even done anything. For the first time in your life, you are grateful that you are underwater. You are positive that you would be sweating bullets if you were above the surface at the moment.

The two of you emerge into a room you assume must be her respiteblock. The floor is a rich purple color, patterned with ivory inlays carved to resemble Gl’bgoly’b, the walls are a shade of purple two clicks brighter than the tyrian color pumping through her collapsing and expanding bladder based aquatic vascular system, and there are ornamented cages containing cuttlefish scattered everywhere. Yep, definitely a respiteblock. It occurs to you that you have never been in her respiteblock before now. Most of the few in-person jams you have had took place at your hive and Fef had never invited you into her respiteblock on any of the handful of times you had gone to her. Under any other circumstances, you would be fucking ecstatic, but right now you know you have bigger fish to fry. (Besides, there will be plenty of time for ecstatic reveling a couple of hours from now, when Fef realizes exactly who should be in her red quadrant.)

There is a desk in the corner. Most of the space is crammed with caged cuttlefish. The only space not covered with captive aquatic flora is occupied by a thin computing device that looks as though it is so costly it is outside even your incredibly generous price range. As though it is alive and perfectly aware that it has an audience, the ridiculously expensive piece of technological brilliance lets out a musical chime the second you lay eyes on it.

Fef trails off mid-monologue and hurries over to her desk. She fiddles with the touch screen mechanism on her tiny computer, skims whatever it is that has appeared on the screen, and then that broad smile flashes across her face again. She looks away from the screen and you swear her whole body is quivering as she says, “That was Sollux. He and Terezi are almost to the launch site and you know what that means!”

Shit. You had hoped that you would make it to Fef’s hive with plenty of time to refine your clumsy working plan into a sophisticated plot worthy of bamboozling any member of the aristocracy. But now here you are, less than five minutes after arriving and already Fef is motioning for you to come closer as she fires up the autopilot app on her computer so you can be right there by her side when she pushes the big green icon labeled “LAUNCH.” The only thing you can do is to fly by the seat of your pants and hope to hell you can pull this off.

You dart your eyes around her respiteblock, looking for something—anything—that might help you stall her; something that you can use to buy yourself just a couple more minutes to come up with a plan that does not suck. You see nothing.

Fef is growing impatient. She gestures for you to join her again, exaggerating the movement as though she is playing a game of charades with a particularly pan-fucked idiot. “Come on, Eridan. Let’s do this!”

You are about two steps away from reaching full on panic mode when inspiration hits. “Hey, Fef? Where’s Ψdon’s Entente?”


“Your double culling fork. Where is it?”

“Who cares? Come on; time to raise anchor and get this glubbing party started!”

“No, Fef!” You barely manage to tamp down the impulse to stamp your foot. The excited sparkle in her eyes hardens into a veneer of cool irritation. Hastily, you amend, “What we’re doing right now is a big deal. We’re making fucking history here! Don’t you think you should have your legendary trident on hand? You know, to make things all official?”

The edges of her mouth pull down into a frown. “I don’t think it’s that important, Eridan. I mean, you’re the only person who is here to see me do it.”

“Well yeah…but what if we took a picture for all the history texts? You’d have to have your culling fork for that. Otherwise how the fuck would anybody know you weren’t just…I don’t know, watching cat videos on TrollTube?”

She stares at you, scrutinizing your face as though searching for some form of deception. If you were the flighty type you might break under that stare—but you’ve had years of hardcore FLARP role play to hone your acting skills. You meet her stare without so much as a blink.

For a few seconds you are sure that she is going to just go ahead and push the button, ceremony be damned. Then she rolls her eyes and sighs, “Okray. Fin. I’ll get the glubbing trident if you’re so set on it.”

Setting aside her razor-thin computer, she crosses the room and throws open the doors to a large wardrobe closet standing against the wall opposite the desk. You can hear her grumbling under her breath as she leans so far inside that her head and most of her torso disappear. An idea occurs to you as you stand there watching her dig deeper and deeper into the depths of the wardrobe. It’s a sloppy idea, with none of the finesse you had expected to demonstrate here tonight, but right now you don’t have time for sophistication or finesse.

As quietly as you can, you begin to cross the room. Fef’s body stiffens as you approach, and for one wild half-second you think that she has somehow sensed your intentions. Then she begins to withdraw from the wardrobe and you realize that she must have found the trident, that she still has no idea that you have left your post at the door. By the time she is fully out of the wardrobe you are standing directly behind her, and when she turns around your faces are so close her nose almost brushes against your chin.

She lets out a sharp gasp, takes an uncertain step back. You immediately push her back as hard as you can. The momentum isn’t as strong as it would be on land, but it’s still enough to knock her off balance. She drops the trident and windmills her arms, using the water resistance to slow her backward tumble. Her face is a myriad of emotions—confusion, surprise, and then anger rapidly building to a scorching fury as she realizes exactly what you plan to do. She rights herself as you reach for the wardrobe doors. With a wordless yell, she launches herself towards the opening. At the same instant, you slam the doors shut and bear down against them with all your weight as she smashes into them from the inside.

The doors shudder and your arms strain to hold them but they remain closed. You know that you will not be able to hold the doors shut forever. In fact, you know that the second Fef gives it all she’s got, you might as well just throw open the doors and get out of the way. You frantically look around the respiteblock for something you can use to bar the door. Your eyes fall on the golden trident lying on the ground at your feet. Without a second thought, you scoop it up and slide it through the large pull handles on the wardrobe doors.

A millisecond later, the doors tremble as Fef rams against them again. The trident makes one hell of a racket as the doors judder up against it, and the whole wardrobe seems to shake—but the doors hold. There is a furious screech from inside the wardrobe as Fef throws herself against the doors again and again and again, and each time the doors tremble, the trident clatters, and the wardrobe stays closed. Fef screams, “Eridan, what the glub are you doing? Let me out of here!”

Voice as smooth as the best romance movie leading man, you say, “Sorry, Fef, but this is for your own good.”

“What? What are you talking about? Let me out!”

The doors shake as she slams herself against them again. You shake your head and pat the side of the wardrobe. Fef is yelling at you again, calling you a shitload of nasty names, demanding that you open the doors and let her out, screaming threats…you don’t listen to any of it because you know that you are doing the right thing and you are sure that she will understand once this is all over. Instead, you hurry over to her desk and scoop up her computer.

The autopilot app is running. You notice that the launch hangar coordinates are already programmed in and the launch button is a green, pulsating blot that is just begging to be pressed. You hit the smaller red icon at the bottom of the screen; the one labeled “CANCEL.” The launch button goes gray. Crisis averted, you think.

You nearly drop the computer when it lets out another chiming noise and then you curse under your breath. You’d forgotten that Fef had been talking to Captor just a moment ago. Quickly, you minimize the autopilot app to reveal the active chat window. You skim the chat log as quickly as you can. The computer chimes twice more as you read. Clearly, Captor isn’t going to have the courtesy to leave you the fuck alone. Looks like you’ll have to test your acting chops a little.

TA: iin that ca2e ii can me22age you agaiin 2o you can 2end the 2hiip when we are gettiing clo2e.
TA: that way iit wiill get there riight around the 2ame tiime we do and there won’t be a lot of tiime for people two notiice an unmanned 2hiip chiilliing out iin the launch hangar.
CC: That sounds reasonabubble to me.
CC: Sollux? Did you drift into t)(e no service zone?

twinArmageddons [TA] is an idle troll!

TA: hey ff. tz and ii are almo2t two the launch hangar.
TA: iit2 probably okay two 2end the 2hiip now.
TA: ff?
TA: are you there?
CC: Yes! I’m )(ere.
CC: But I can’t send my s)(ip to you.
TA: why not?
TA: what happened?
CC: O)(. Um.
CC: -Eridan STOL-E it!
TA: what?
TA: how the hell diid he do that?
TA: okay, okay.
TA: 2orry ii asked.
CC: )(e must )(ave snuck into my )(angar like a slippery eel and taken it.
TA: he know2 where you keep your 2hiip?
CC: Of course )(e does!
CC: I mean, )(e is my moray-eel so )(e’s come to my )(ive lots of tides.
TA: hey are you okay?
TA: that a22hole diidnt try two hurt you or 2ome 2hiit diid he?
CC: W)(AT? NO!
CC: O)( my COD, Sollux. )(e mig)(t act like a jerk sometides but )(e would N-EV-ER )(urt )(is own moirail. G-E-EZ!
CC: W)(y would you even t)(ink somefin like t)(at?
TA: becau2e he ii2 a fuckiing bulge and ii wouldn’t put iit pa2t hiim.
CC: W)(ale )(e didn’t and )(e wouldn’t!
CC: In fact, )(e’s messaging me right now!
TA: two 2ay what?
TA: that he ii2 a giiant 2hiithead?
CC: No! )(e said )(e’s sorry and t)(at )(e is only trying to kelp.
TA: tell hiim hii2 iidea of beiing helpful iis fuckiing jacked.
CC: I don’t know, Sollux.
CC: Remember how UPS-ET )(e was in the memo about using my s)(ip?
CC: Maybe )(e really DO-ES t)(ink )(e is protecting me.
TA: whatever. ii 2tiill 2ay he ii2 an a22.
CC: Oo)(! Sollux, -Eridan just sent me anot)(er message.
CC: )(e says )(e )(as a s)(ip we can use 38O
TA: really?
TA: how diid he 2uddenly get hii2 hand2 on a 2hiip?
CC: Vriska got it for )(im!
TA: that crazy 2piider biitch?
CC: )(-E-E )(-E-E. Yea)(.
CC: W)(at do you t)(ink? S)(ould we use )(is s)(ip?
TA: ii dont know, ff.
TA: ii really dont liike the iidea of hiim and her beiing iin cahoot2 wiith each other behiind everybody el2e2 back2.
TA: iit 2mell2 fii2hy two me.
CC: But t)(is could be our only c)(ance to save Crabsnack! And –Equius will be in searious trouble if we don’t deliver t)(ose lenses.
CC: Are you S)(OR-E you don’t want to go?
TA: ii dont know.
CC: W)(at does Terezi t)(ink about it?
TA: 2he2 not crazy about iit eiither but 2he 2aiid 2he2 iin iif ii am.
TA: what do you thiink ff?
CC: M-E?
TA: ed ii2 your moiiraiil. ii dont tru2t hiim but ii tru2t you. iif you 2ay he ii2 okay then ju2t thii2 one tiime, he ii2 okay.
TA: 2o what do you thiink?
CC: I t)(ink we s)(ould give )(im a c)(ance!
TA: all riight. tell hiim two 2end hii2 2hiip then.
CC: OKAY! Just a minnow.
CC: )(e says it will be t)(ere soon 38)
TA: thank2 ff.
TA: tz and ii are goiing two go over our plan2 agaiin now.
TA: do you want me two me22age you agaiin before we leave?
CC: No...I want to know t)(at t)(is is over and t)(at you and Terezi and Karkat are all safe t)(e next time we glub.
TA: okay. talk two you thii2 morniing then.
CC: Be careful, Sollux!
TA: ii wiill.

twinArmageddons [TA] ceased trolling cuttlefishCuller [CC]

You smirk as you close the chat window because that was an award-winning performance if you’ve ever seen one (even if the heart at the end did kind of make you throw up in your mouth a little.) Troll Will Smith has got nothing on you! You can’t wait to tell Kar all about this later—but first things first: you have to get your ship over to where it needs to be, PDQ.

You pull up Fef’s autopilot app and hurry through a new setup. Most of the data fields auto complete with the correct information. The only ones you change are the departure location (your hive’s coordinates) and the craft PIN (your bootleg ship’s). Minutes later you are pressing the LAUNCH icon.

A volley of resounding thuds pulls your attention back to the wardrobe. Fef is still screaming at you. You note with a frown that the names she is spitting at you now are more obscene, the threats more detailed and violent. You had intended to let her out of the wardrobe once you had your ship heading for the launch hangar in the place of hers. Now it looks as though you have no choice but to leave her in there a little longer.

With her tiny computer tucked under your arm, you leave her respiteblock, closing the door behind you to blot out the shouting. I’ll let her out as soon as she is calm enough to listen, you think. Then she’ll see that this was the only way things could have been.


>Terezi: Board starship

You would love to board the starship, but the starship hasn’t arrived at the hangar yet! As such, you and Sollux “Mr. Appleberry Blast” Captor are chilling at the edge of the massive airstrip in front of the hangar, playing the quintessential waiting game. Not that you are terribly averse to a little one-on-one alone time with your moirail. Why, if the task at hand weren’t so serious, the two of you would almost certainly be suffering a serious case of the pale vapors.

Pffft. Yeah, right. Neither of you are sappy-dappy romantics like the shouty doofus you are going to be rescuing in a couple of hours. Even so, you are grateful for the break. The walk to the hangar had been much longer than either Sollux or you had anticipated and the two of you stupidly took the whole distance all in one go. For the moment, you are perfectly content to lay sprawled on your back in the velvety grass growing along the edges of the tarmac and give your abused feet a breather. You suspect that Sollux is equally grateful for the break. Despite a bout of obligatory grousing, it wasn’t long before he was slipping off his shoes and sitting down beside you.

You inhale a deep breath that is redolent with the frozen salt-and-pepper scent of open night sky. You detect no glazed sugar-scented clouds or black licorice flying squeakbeasts. You also detect no sign of any approaching fish scales in burning oil starships.

Keeping your attention on the night sky (because you would rather smell frozen salt-and-pepper than Sollux’s stinky feet), you say, “So Eridan didn’t say when his ship would be getting here?”

“No. He just said ‘soon.’” He lets out an irritable huff before adding, “I hope his definition of ‘soon’ is more accurate than his definition of ‘helpful’ or we’ll be out here until next fucking sweep.”

You laugh because making fun of the person who is being a giant ass and screwing with your plans is clearly the best solution for everything.

Sollux rolls his eyes so hard you can practically hear them scraping against the boundaries of his ocular holes. “It’s not funny, TZ.”

You roll your eyes right back and say, “That last thing you said was funny.”

“I was being serious.”

You laugh two exaggerated “HA HA”’s just to piss him off. Then you stick your tongue out at him to let him know that you were just messing with him. He seems to get the gist of what you are trying to convey because he shifts positions so he is lying on his back beside you. The two of you lapse into a comfortable silence, staring up at the night sky in search of any sign of the ship that should be here any second if Eridan’s idea of ‘soon’ is anywhere in the general vicinity of correct.

You are taking a moment to appreciate the cotton candy pink of Alternia’s lesser moon when Sollux says, “Hey TZ? Did we make the right call here?”

“What? About Karkat?”

The grass whispers in protest as he shakes his head. “No. I mean about using ED’s ship.”

You stay quiet for several seconds, pondering. You are pretty convinced that Eridan isn’t trying to sabotage the rescue. In fact, you think he honestly believes all of the malarkey he was spouting about trying to keep Feferi out of harm’s way. Even if his methods are shit, his motives appear to be relatively benign. As for Vriska…you don’t trust her as far as you can throw her but you cannot think of anything she would stand to gain by making things difficult except nine brand new enemies. You are reasonably sure that she would prefer to keep at least one or two friends, if only to have somebody to listen to her dramatic posturing from time to time. Then again, you know that “pretty convinced” and “reasonably sure” wouldn’t be enough to prove innocence in any respectable courtblock.

A minute whiff of aggravation fluid is enough to tell you that Sollux is becoming restless for your response. You purposefully wait another twenty seconds because he can afford to hold his stampeding musclebeasts. Then you say, “I think we made the only choice we could. And now that we’ve made it, we have to see it through.”

“Yeah,” he sighs. “I guess you’re right.”

You think he might be about to say something more, but he doesn’t so you return your attention to the delicious cotton candy moon. A few minutes later, you are about to shift your focus over to the equally delectable citrus lime moon when you detect the faintest impression of burning oil fish scales from far, far away.

“I think I found the ship,” you announce.

“Where is it?”

You gesture in the general direction that you think the smell must be coming from. The smell of aggravation fluid is thicker than before as he says, “You’re literally pointing at like half the sky right now.”

“Keep looking; you’ll find it.”

You hear him grumbling about how he doesn’t have smell-o-vision, how the hell is he even supposed to see anything against a night sky that’s as dark as a dirt noodle’s asshole. Then he says, “Oh. OK, I see it now. Looks like you’re right, TZ. It’s definitely a ship and it’s definitely coming this way.”

You direct your attention back to the smell of fish scale silver and burning oil, following it as it grows stronger and stronger and…and…something weird is happening. Your head feels strange, your thoughts separated from your consciousness through a thick veil of fog in your pan. The ship is here, it has landed…but when did it do that?

You try to remember; you try to recall the roar of landing thrusters, the smell of burning fuel, the feel of the hot blowback whipping against your face and you can’t because the last ten minutes are wrapped in an incomprehensible cotton fluff fog. They are just gone and it makes no sense because people don’t just not notice a starship landing less than 500 feet away.

Your body is shaking. Your teeth are chattering and you are bathed in a cold sweat. A tendril of nausea is curling through your gut and you cannot understand why; when did you get sick, why can’t you move?

Sollux is limp on the ground beside you, a keening moan rising from his throat. He is just as heavily drenched with sweat as you are and there are waves of fear rolling off him, so thick the smell is almost enough to make you gag. You realize with a biting jolt that he is not just scared, but terrified.

Your mouth feels gummy as you say, “Sollux, what happened?”

Sollux does not reply—but a low voice rasps, “Hey there, legal chica.”

It takes you a moment to match the voice to the person it belongs to because you have only spoken in person a handful of times and the voice you are hearing now has none of the easy drawl that you are used to hearing there. When recognition finally dawns, you are shocked. “Gamzee?”

The volume of his voice ricochets back and forth between a manic scream and that first low, almost inaudible rasping: “WELL WHAT DO YOU MOTHERFUCKING KNOW? You got it in motherfucking one, sis.”

Your heart kicks into a rhythm that is three or four clicks faster. Beyond the bizarre volume fluctuations, there is a harshness to the tone of his voice that sets your teeth on edge. You swallow past a throat that feels dry as the Alternian desert sand to say, “What are you doing here?”

“WHAT TYPE OF MANEUVERS ARE YOU THINKING I’M EXECUTING HERE? I’m all up and going to rescue our shouting brother. FLYING UP INTO THE MOTHERFUCKING STARS to paint a wicked mural with the blood of them what took him from us.”

You can hear him approaching the spot where you are lying. It occurs to you then that you have not moved since you woke up. You attempt to make a fist, hoping that whatever has been done to you has not left you unable to defend yourself and are relieved when your fingers obligingly curl into a tight fist. Your body may still feel shaky, but you can fight if the need arises.

You quickly assess Sollux as best you can without moving from your position on the ground. He is still not moving, but his moaning has given way to shallow, rapid gasping. You are momentarily unsure whether to classify this as a good sign or a bad one, but the stench of fear pouring off of him has diminished considerably so you decide that it qualifies as a good sign. Still, he is in no condition for fighting. Whatever happened—and you are beginning to have your suspicions as to what that may be—it is taking him longer to recover from it than it took you.

Keeping your tone as neutral as possible, you say, “I thought that we decided it would be best if Sollux and I did that.” You wisely tamp down the desire to add you know, without the slaughtering people part.

“AIN’T LOOKING THAT WAY TO ME, CHICA. What my look holes are seeing is TWO MOTHERFUCKING JOKERS LYING ON THE GROUND like they’re all about to take a motherfucking slumber break.” Gamzee’s footsteps come to a stop beside Sollux. He prods Sollux’s side with the tip of his shoe. “THIS PISS BLOODED MOTHERFUCKER AIN’T EVEN LOOKING LIKE HE’S EVEN FUCKING AWAKE.”

You bite back the knee jerk reaction to snarl at him to get the fuck away from your moirail. You may have recovered enough to mount a surprise attack, get past Gamzee, and make a break for the idle starship, but you have definitely not recovered enough to do all of those things and also drag Sollux along with you. Your only hope is to keep Gamzee talking long enough for Sollux to recover enough to move.

You ask, “Are you responsible for that?”

“Heh heh. MAYBE I MOTHERFUCKING AM. And maybe I motherfucking ain’t.”

“What did you do?”

“NOTHING MUCH. Just laid down some of the wicked chucklevoodoos on you motherfuckers.”

Damn, you think. Despite your fervent hopes that they would turn out to be wrong, your suspicions had been correct. The Gamzee you know would never purposefully set his chucklevoodoos onto one of his friends. Hell, as far as you could tell the Gamzee you know didn’t even know how to use chucklevoodoos at all. You and most of your mutual friends had been of the belief that good-natured as he was, he was too dumb to ever figure it out at all—and that was assuming he even had the ability to begin with. You do not know what could have happened to transform that Gamzee into the focused chucklevoodoo machine standing here now but you intend to find out.

“When did you learn to do that?”

He laughs, a sound like pebbles rattling in his throat. “AIN’T NO NEED TO BE LEARNING WHAT’S BEEN ALL UP INSIDE A BROTHER ALL THE MOTHERFUCKING LONG.”

“Of course not,” you say. You risk momentarily taking your attention off of Gamzee for another quick assessment of Sollux and are relieved to discover that he is breathing somewhat normally now. There is still a mild tang of fear in the air around him, but it is a good, stress fluid-filled fear that is nothing like the debilitating terror you had smelled a minute ago. You return to focusing on the suddenly psychotic clown looming over you to say, “When did you start using chucklevoodoos?”

“Well I’m thinking it must have been the same time that I kicked the wicked miracle slime. THREW IT ALL THE MOTHERFUCK AWAY so I could be motherfucking sharp. AND NOW, this motherfucker is SHARP AS A NASTY SPIKE off the club of the ruthless mirthful messiahs and MORE FIT TO BE FLYING UP TO THE STARS THAN ANY OF YOU MOTHERFUCKERS.”

Sollux’s voice is hoarse but steady as he says, “Yeah, sure. Sorry to break it to you, GZ, but that’s not happening.”

“And why the motherfuck not?”

You try to think of a response that is not going to whip Gamzee’s insanity into an even greater fervor. Some small part of you is still holding out hope that you might be able to resolve this without resorting to bloodshed if you can just keep him talking. But even as you search for the words you know that there is nothing you can say that is going to allow this to end peacefully. Sollux seems to recognize this as acutely as you do as he says, “Because before you were just an idiot. Now you’re still an idiot but you’re shithive maggots to boot. I mean, maybe if we wanted everybody up there to get killed sure, but—“

“YOU SHUT YOUR MOTHERFUCKING SQUAWK HOLE!” Gamzee roars. “Fucking piss blood motherfucker needs to learn his motherfucking place. PLUGGED IN TO A MOTHERFUCKING SHIP! You’re nothing but a talking engine. A MOTHERFUCKING SPARKPLUG WITH LEGS.”

You wince because you know that of all the things that Gamzee could have latched onto, that was one of the few that could really hurt Sollux. With the Imperial ships arriving in only a few perigees, many of your more recent jams have been dominated with discussing his fears that his programming abilities will not be enough to save him from being relegated to a helmsblock. You have done your best to reassure him that nobody can do what he does with computers, that he is the most apeshit bananas awesome computer whiz you have ever heard of, and—above everything else—that he is not just a mindless piece of equipment to be stuck into a machine and then thrown away.

You want to kick Gamzee’s face in for potentially undoing at least three jams’ worth of progress on the matter, but Sollux is lying between you and him and Gamzee is too far away for you to get in a good shot. You and Sollux seem to be operating on the same wavelength tonight because his response is to snarl “fuck you, GZ” and kick Gamzee, striking him square on the kneecap with the ball of his foot.

Even though Sollux relies almost exclusively on his psionics for fighting just like the skinny-assed computer geek he is, you know that the kick was solid. It should have hurt enough to at least knock Gamzee off balance if not leave him rolling on the ground in agony. Gamzee barely seems phased. There is a grunt that might indicate a fleeting moment of mild discomfort—and then nothing. No yelling. No stumbling to the ground. Not even the slightest flinch.

You don’t see the juggling club (mainly because you being blind isn’t a thing you can just turn on and off at will) but you hear the drag of it against the air as Gamzee brings it down—hard. Sollux dodges, throwing himself so far to the side he ends up sprawled over the top of you with his bony elbow driving into your shoulder. An instant later the club hits the ground beside you, leaving a bowling ball-sized crater where Sollux’s head would have been if he’d dodged just a little slower.

Sollux is struggling to get up but the effects of the chucklevoodoo must not have fully worn off yet because his movements are so clumsy he might as well have about two or ten or maybe twenty too many distilled soporifics sloshing around in his system. You try to help him but you realize with mounting dismay that your own movements still feel more sluggish than where you would like them to be. The two of you end up ineffectually writhing on the ground in a tangle of limbs.

You can hear Gamzee laughing that sandpaper-and-pebbles chortle as he advances on you. The sound sends a shiver down your vertebral stack. Sollux swears under his breath and then he’s up and you’re up and you are about to run, but Sollux is swaying on his feet with Gamzee right behind him, club at the ready. You know that there will be no dodging this time. Sollux looks about two seconds away from falling on the ground and you are almost positive that Gamzee had been toying with you with his first swing, trying to scare the living hell out of the both of you for his own amusement before murdering the two of you in earnest. You throw yourself forward as the club whistles through the air.

If you had tried to push Sollux out of the way, you would have taken the hit intended for him full in the face, leaving you dead and him no less incapacitated than before. Luckily for you both, your lunge was not aimed for Sollux. Instead, you crash into Gamzee with everything you have in you. Gamzee’s entire body jerks with the impact and the swing goes wild, missing Sollux and only just grazing your shoulder rather than taking your head off. The blow sends a zing of numbing pain down the entire length of your arm. You are sure you’ll have a wicked bruise to show for it, but you are pretty sure nothing is broken and you’ll take a couple of bruises over a bashed-in pan any time.

Gamzee shoves you away from him then lunges after you as you are stumbling backwards. You can smell him coming like a grape Faygo nightmare of whirling juggling clubs, teeth, and claws. There is nothing you can do to get out of the way. Your cane is in your hand but you don’t even have time to bring it up to swing it at him, let alone draw the blade because you can already feel the wind off his clubs as he brings them down towards your face—and then a snap of appleberry-scented psionics sends him flipping away through the air.

His roar of rage is a continuous wall of (thankfully diminishing) sound until he crashes the ground fifty feet away. Then everything goes quiet.

You do not even entertain the possibility that the rough landing might have knocked him out. Instead you rush forward, grab Sollux by the crook of his arm, and run for the starship as fast as your legs will carry you.

You are only about a third of the way to your goal when you hear Gamzee chasing after you, honking as he comes. His voice is still fluctuating between low whispering and shouting, but you have no trouble determining that he is gaining. You will yourself to pour on just a little more speed. You are running so fast you are practically dragging Sollux behind you until he gets smart and propels himself forward in a fizzing cloud of psionics. (Though if he was really smart he’d quit worrying about hanging back with you and use his psionics to get his ass onto the ship about ten times faster.)

When you reach the ship, Gamzee is so close behind you that you don’t even have time to seal him out before he charges through the hatch after you. You can hear him winding back to throw one of his clubs, but this time you are ready for him. You wheel around and crack your cane across his face hard enough to hear the bridge of his nose snap. He drops one of his clubs to clap a hand over the damage as he reels back. You plant a kick to his abdomen that sends him tumbling back through the hatch to land square on his ass on the unforgiving tarmac outside. You pause only to kick his club after him before mashing the CLOSE HATCH button.

Gamzee launches himself at the closing hatch, but the barrier slams into place and he ends up hitting the reinforced steel with a dull thud. He immediately begins hammering against the barrier with his clubs but the door is strong and the only thing that happens is one hell of a racket.

“Holy shit, TZ!” Sollux yells above the continuous clang of clubs against steel. “Your arm!”

“It’s fine!” you shout back. “Just get us the fuck out of here!” He hesitates, standing in front of you as though he wants to say something else but you snap “GO!” and he hurries off for the control room.

You follow after him more slowly. Now that your stress fluid is receding, your arm is really beginning to hurt. Gingerly, you bring up the hand on your good arm to examine the wound. You are surprised to find your shirt torn, a thin trickle of blood staining the sleeve. The bruising is already welling up and making more thorough examination uncomfortable but you are relieved to find that the blood appears to be coming from nothing more serious than a thin scrape. Cautiously, you attempt to rotate the shoulder in a circular motion. You make it about a quarter of the way through the motion before another flash of pain zings down your arm. Although you are still reasonably sure that nothing is broken, it’s pretty clear that arm is going to be more of a hindrance than a help for some time. You thank your lucky stars that it’s not your dominant arm.

You feel the ship beginning to lift off as you reach the control room. Sollux is still working at the instrument panel and as soon as you enter the room, he says, “Hey, TZ, come here for a second.”

When you get to his side, he shoots a nervous look at your arm and says, “Are you sure you’re OK?”

“It’s fine,” you reply. You frown because you have never known Sollux to dote on minor flesh wounds. “Is something wrong?”

“I think we should have a failsafe. You know, in case this whole thing goes tits-up.”

Your frown intensifies. “Why do you think it’s going to go tits-up? Do you know something I don’t?”

“I’m not hearing either of our voices screaming with the imminently deceased if that’s what you mean.”

“OK. Good. So what’s the problem then?”

He slowly shakes his head. “It’s just between Eridan and Vriska pulling their shit and now this thing with Gamzee I’m just kind of…I don’t know…spooked, I guess.”

“Hey,” you say. You put a hand on his shoulder—not quite a pap, but a gesture of physical reassurance nonetheless. “If you don’t want to do this we won’t do this.”

He shakes your hand off then makes a face that suggests that he feels like a bit of a douche for doing it even though he knows that you really do not care. “It’s not like that. I’d just feel better if we had some contingency plans, just in case.”

“OK, what did you have in mind?”

He gestures to a screen on the instrument panel in front of him. “I’m working on programming in our return trip. The program can handle a shitload of alternate destinations. I’ve already done this for myself, but I want you to enter in a set of coordinates—not your hive—that would be a safe place for you to go. Don’t tell me where they are. Just enter them in.”

Your frown is back, deeper than ever. “You’re talking like you think only one of us is coming back.”

“I know. I’m sorry. I swear I’m really not hearing either of us with the imminently deceased and even if I was it’s not like we could do much to change that. Just humor me, OK?”

“OK, fine.” You pap his face and this time he doesn’t duck away as you say, “But I want you to know that it’s all or nothing here. Either we both come back together or neither of us do. Got it?”

He gives you a quick pap back before replying, “Yeah. I got it. Now enter in those coordinates already.”

You nod and turn toward the screen. After a moment of consideration you type in a set of coordinates for the edge of the forest, far enough away from your hive to be outside any Investigarroter squad sweep but within reasonable walking distance of a small city.

When you inform Sollux that you are finished, he smiles for the first time since you left his hive and says, “Thanks, TZ. Operation recover shouty asshole is now officially under way.”

“Hell yeah!” You grin back and the two of you share the most epic fist bump in the history of paradox space.


> END OF ACT 2 (part 2/2)

Chapter Text

> Karkat: Receive some unexpected visitors

You used to think that nothing could be shittier than your tiny asscrack of a private respiteblock with its shit-tastic desk and its shit-tastic chair and its extra super shit-tastic human bed but ten days in the medical block has thoroughly schooled you on the true meaning of shittiness. (Having a bunch of Agressanalysts wanting to take your temperature and blood pressure every fucking hour and waking you up multiple times every sleep cycle just to ensure they didn’t miss filling in a single box on their inane charts? Very shitty. Eating only Cennia-approved portions of ridiculously bland human food on a Cennia-approved schedule? Shit-tacular. Having to discuss in intricate detail exactly when and how frequently you used the load gaper on a daily basis? Hurry, hurry, hurry, ladies and gentletrolls, the shit carnival has arrived to expunge its putrid waste all over the flaming shambles of Karkat’s life!) Consequently, you are exceedingly happy to be back in your own respiteblock, having been cleared to leave the medical wing a mere two hours ago.

You know that you are not completely free of Cennia and her crew just yet. In fact, they will likely be visiting you later tonight to watch you walk in a straight line with your eyes closed and frog-march you around the station a couple of times. They claim that this treatment qualifies as “vestibular reeducation.” You think what they are really interested in is preventing you and all of the other recruits from doing something stupid like killing each other or conducting a weaponized raid on the cafeteria since there are no more schoolfeeds to keep you occupied. They really have no need to worry about you pulling any of that shit, though because right now you are perfectly content to stay holed up inside your block, appreciating the definite not-shittiness of all of its lovely features.

Goddamn, you love your desk. You love your chair. You love your human bed. You especially love the clothes nestled inside the drawers on the human bed because they are actual clothes and not bullshit paper medical robes. And those walls! Those blank and utterly featureless walls! They may look exactly like the ones in medical block but they are your blank walls enclosing your block with all of your shit inside. Clearly, it would be a privilege to spend the rest of your life in a room as fine as this. You decide that fuck Cennia and her nameless crew of Agressanalysts you are never, ever leaving this room again except to eat or piss.

A sharp rap on the door cuts through your reverie. You groan because wow, you just got through pledging the rest of your life to loving all 233 floor tiles in your room (you would love them all, especially the seven cracked ones) and now some insensitive fuck is going to tear you away from the object(s) of your devotion just like the antagonist in every rom-com ever. Seriously, what piece of swill has decided to insert their smelly bulge into your business now?

A voice outside your door says, “KK? Fuck, please tell me you are in there and not doing something stupid like stroking your bulge in the ablution block.”

Your heart stops. You know that voice. It’s a bit deeper than you remember it, but you would recognize that stupid lisp anywhere.

You say, “Schollucth?” Then you wince because the retaining devices Cennia gave you when she removed the braces make you lisp even worse than Sollux “how the fuck do I sibilant” Captor.

“Wow,” he intones. “Fuck you too, KK.”

Quickly—before he gets the idea that you are actually socially stunted enough to pitch shit on somebody you have not talked to in over a sweep—you spit out the odious metal and plastic contraptions and repeat, “Sollux?”

“What a relief to know you didn’t get any smarter over the last sweep and a half. Yes, it’s me.”

“And me!” another voice sings out. “You remember me; don’t you Mr. Gunpowder gray text?”

Of course you remember this voice. The way it always sounds like the troll it belongs to is about five million miles ahead of you and laughing at all of your comparatively woeful mental inadequacies. The way it always used to worm inside your listen ducts and take up residence in all the secret crannies of your pan, staying there for you to over-analyze every little tiny thing its owner said. Around the lump that has appeared in your windhole, you say, “Terezi?”

“You got it!” she exclaims with that same harpy cackle that has always been grating as fuck.

You lick your lips, wanting to ask them what they are doing here; how they are here—but you are pretty sure that the no Alternian rule didn’t stop being a thing just because a couple of old friends suddenly materialized out of nowhere. You can’t risk getting yourself passed over to Torkal, not when you are so close to getting out of here and—and what the hell are you thinking? Fuck the rules, that is Sollux Captor and Terezi Pyrope out there, do you really think they are going to appreciate your squawk blister vomiting out a cascade of surprise noises in motherfucking ENGLISH? No, if you are going to be plying them with a wall of surprise noise vomit the least you can do is make sure that it’s in a language they can actually fucking understand. So, for the first time in over a sweep, you speak in motherfucking beautiful Alternian to say, “What the hell are you doing here?”

Sollux says, “We’re busting you out, dumbass. Now shut up so I can finish hacking this lock.”

You feel a flutter in your chest. Your blood pusher is so light it feels as though it could just fly right up out of your thoracic cavity, erupt from your mouth, and float on up to the ceiling, dragging your sad and worthless body along behind as it goes because they came for you, after more than a sweep they actually fucking came for you! And then your joy turns to bowel-shriveling horror when you realize that oh shit they haven’t seen you in more than a sweep and they have NO FUCKING IDEA WHAT THEY ARE GOING TO SEE WHEN THEY GET THAT DOOR OPEN! You open your mouth to shout “No, wait” at the exact same moment that the deadbolt slides free and the door flies open.

Sollux is the first one through the door. He says, “The lock was open access inside and outside why the fuck didn’t you” and then he stops dead, the words dissolving into a startled hiss. You shrink back, stricken because he is baring his fangs at you. Your best friend is baring his fucking fangs at you.

Terezi bumps into Sollux from behind, hard enough for him to stumble a couple of steps forward. He stops hissing but his posture is so tense he looks as though he’s about one mild fear jolt away from either pissing himself or frying the shit out of you with his psionics or—fuck it—doing both. There are a few seconds of supremely uncomfortable silence in which you would gladly puncture your shame globes with a rusty spike hammer if it would just get you the fuck out of this awful situation. Then Terezi says, “Karkat, why do you smell like chemical coffee over peaches?”

“Because he’s fucking pink-brown….” Sollux seems to deflate a bit, a quizzical expression edging in around the totally justified revulsion. “What the fuck even is that color?”

You feel so wretched you wish you could shrivel up and break into a million tiny unidentifiable pieces like a dried-up molted nook worm exoskeleton that somebody stepped on. Fighting to keep your voice even (because it would fondle major bulge to embarrass yourself even more by doing something completely dumb like collapsing into a giant puddle of tears and snot), you say, “I don’t know.”

“What happened to your claws?” Sollux says. “Fuck, what happened to your horns?”

“OK, I get it; I’m fucking hideous!” you snap. “I’m still me, you rancid piece of trash.”

“Yeah,” he says. “Shit. I’m sorry. I just wasn’t expecting….” He makes a vague gesture towards you as though what he means to say is I just wasn’t expecting you to look like a fucking monster. You make a gesture of your own right back, one that says fuck you loud and clear.

“Well this is a truly heartwarming reunion,” says Terezi. “Makes me feel all warm and gooey right here.” She pats her chest over her bloodpusher and pretends to wipe away a single tear before going on with: “But let’s get real here for a second. We have about fifteen minutes to get out of here and a lot of station to cover. I’m going to say that it’s time to go now, kids.”

“Yeah.” You nod vigorously to show your wholehearted approval for this very reasonable course of action before adding, “You guys need to get out of here before anybody sees you.”

“We didn’t fly all the way out here just to say hello,” Sollux retorts. “You’re coming with us, idiot.”

“I can’t.”

“What the fuck do you mean you can’t?”

“I mean I can’t! Where will I even go?”

Terezi shrugs. “You’ll stay with one of us until we figure something out.”

“Oh, right. Because nobody’s going to notice some nasty-looking freak skulking around your hive.”

“Oh my god,” she moans. “Karkat, you look fine. If you’re really that concerned about it we’ll pick up some makeup and horn prosthetics. Now can we please just go?”

You look back and forth, from Terezi to Sollux and you realize suddenly that they came here for you even though you haven’t seen each other in over a sweep, and even though you are ugly as a canker-encrusted foot, they still want you to go with them. It occurs to you then that life on Alternia now wouldn’t be much different from what it had been before the Threshecutioners kidnapped you. Your secret had always deterred you from needlessly leaving the safety of your own hive before. (In fact, you had so rarely ventured outside that you barely even knew what your neighbors looked like, let alone knew their names.) Sure, you wouldn’t have Crabdad or your own hive and your secret would be a fuckton more visible, but you would be with your friends until the Imperial ships came, at which point you would have the same two options you’d always had: go rogue or die. You would never have to rot away on some awful alien planet. You would never have to speak English or worry about ancient Greece or think about the roaring twenties again. You would be free—really fucking free to live as a troll rather than spending the rest of your life pretending to be something you are not.

“OK,” you say. “Let’s go.”

You follow Sollux and Terezi out of your respiteblock and even though you know where they are going, you let them lead you down the hall, past the communal ablution block, heading for the elevator on the far side of station that will take you down to the receiving hangar. You notice as you walk that Terezi’s left sleeve is torn and stained with teal blood. Through the hole you see that her skin is a kaleidoscope of teal bruises and scabbed-over scratches, as though some inept fuck tried to maul her with a melee move but was too dumb to aim for anything vital. The halls are deserted, but you keep your voice low and hovering just above a whisper as you ask, “What happened to your arm?”

She stiffens. Sweeping her hand over the area, says, “What, this? It’s nothing.”

You shake your head. “No it’s not ‘nothing.’ It looks like somebody tried to take your fucking arm off.”

“OK, fine. If you must know, I ran into a door.”

You and Sollux both say, “What?”

“A door,” she repeats, biting off the two syllables with extra-crisp enunciation like she thinks you are both hearing impaired dirt tunnelers with half a brain between you.

You frown. “I’ve never heard of a door doing that.”

From the front of your three-person dinglehopper parade, Sollux says, “She ran into a door. Drop it, KK.”

“Oh my shitting Christ,” you gasp. “You did that, didn’t you? You guys are fucking black for each other.”

Terezi and Sollux exchange a look that very clearly says holy fucking shame globe sacks that is the funniest laugh pellet we have ever heard is he really THAT stupid before straight up bursting into full-on laughter. Through their continued guffaws, Sollux manages to gasp, “Holy shit, KK. Try a totally different quadrant, you moron.”

“Diamonds,” Terezi clarifies.

Your jaw drops so quickly your chin could chop a solid metal plate clean in half. “No shit?”

“Yes,” Sollux replies. “Now do you think you can manage to stop speculating on my love life long enough for us to concentrate on—“

“Somebody’s coming,” says Terezi.

Sollux trails off his rant and sure enough, now that he’s shut his wobbling seedflap you do hear voices echoing down the hallway behind you. “Shit,” whispers Sollux. “KK, is there a good hiding place anywhere around here?”

You chew your lip, considering your options. You are standing directly between the schoolblock wing and the storage wing. You immediately jettison the idea of using the schoolblocks because they are nothing but big, open space. Even if the three of you hunkered down under the desks, anybody could see you the second they walked in the door. (Besides that, you are pretty sure that they are all locked now that your schoolfeeds are officially over and those locks are good old-fashioned key and tumbler deals, totally impervious to computer hacks. The chances of making it into any of those rooms before getting caught are approximately less than fucking zero.) You rarely ever venture into the storage wing, but you have been there enough times to know that it is a miniature labyrinth of tiny rooms, some empty and some so full that all the random shit inside is precariously perched and waiting for some lame schmuck to open the door so that they end up buried under an avalanche of broken chairs, canned foods, and other crap.

“Come on,” you say, leading them toward the storage wing.

The voices are drawing closer—close enough for you to distinguish that there are definitely more than two or three of them. In fact, it sounds as though it is a small crowd around fifteen or twenty strong. You cut a sharp right to enter the maze of storage units and keep walking with Sollux and Terezi hot on your heels until the three of you round a bend, putting you out of sight of the main hall.

You don’t know which rooms are empty enough to accommodate the three of you and which are so loaded to the fucking gills that all the shit inside will come tumbling out and alert every single damn person on the station that DANGER, DANGER SOMETHING IS GOING DOWN IN THE STORAGE WING BETTER GET YOUR ASS OVER THERE AND SEE WHAT’S UP. You are about to pick a door at random and hope to fuck that the Storage Room Roulette gods are smiling on you tonight when you notice that the trolls you are attempting to hide from have entered the storage wing and are coming your way. You can’t see them yet but you can hear them well enough to pick out two snips of talk noises that set your digestive sac into churn and puree overdrive: “Vantas” and “missing.”

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that they are looking for you. (You manage to puzzle it out in less than a second and you are sure that Terezi cottons on to it even quicker than you do. Hell, Sollux could probably figure it out even if his mutated double brain decided to pull a complete short circuit shit fit.) The three of you exchange looks that are all varying degrees of oh SHIT. Then you hurry deeper into the warren of storage units because choosing a hiding place that is literally two doors away from the people looking for you would be about as intelligent as dousing yourself in cholerbear pheromones and tying yourself naked to a tree in the middle of the goddamn wilderness.

You take turns at random—left, left, right, left, right, right—until you can no longer hear any sign of the group of trolls behind you. Only then do you stop, take a deep breath, and throw open a door. Apparently you are a fucking master of Storage Room Roulette because the room contains only a couple of empty recuperacoons stacked in the far corner. You motion for Sollux and Terezi to go in before following them inside.

The motion-activated lights click on before you are even finished closing the door. One of the fluorescents sputters and burns out. The other seems permanently stuck at half power and it flickers like a goddamn strobe light. The effect is like something out of the climax of a super-low budget horror film with terrible acting and even more laughably bad special effects.

For a few seconds, the three of you stand there basking in the jackhammer rhythm of the flickering light and the smell of stale sopor. Then Sollux half-whispers, “So now what?”

“The hallway that we came in by is the only way in or out of here,” you whisper back. “Shit guys, I’m sorry. I didn’t think they would come in here after us.”

“God, Karkat, they haven’t caught us yet,” Terezi hisses. “That hallway might be the only way out but there’s like a bajillion ways to get to it from here. All we have to do is give them a little time to clear the hallway we need and then avoid them when we head back that way. We’ll be fine.”

“They’re looking for me. If they think I’m in here they’ll keep somebody in that hallway to make sure I don’t do exactly fucking that.”

Sollux shrugs. “Then we’ll fight our way past them and run like hell. They only think you’re in here. They don’t know that TZ and I are with you, too.”

“Hey, fuck you,” you scowl. “I could fight my way out solo and you damn well know it would be a fucking wonder to behold. They would enter it into the record books as ‘the day Karkat Vantas epically vanquished every fucker standing in his way with nothing but feet, fists, and pure fucking grit.’ People would read it and shit themselves in terror.”

Sollux looks as though he wants to share his completely inaccurate and worthless assessment of your fighting abilities but the distant sound of a door slamming prompts him to mutter “Fuck. We have to move.”

Terezi is already reaching for the door. You move to stand in front of her and say “Wait” because something terrible has begun to dawn on you like an invasive fungus unfurling deep within your gut.

“Karkat, we need to move now,” she says. Frowning, she makes another grab for the door and you block her again. From far away, another door slams.

“How did you find me?” you ask.

Sollux and Terezi look at each other as though they are both thinking the same thing—namely, what the hell is wrong with him who the fuck even cares? Finally, Sollux says, “EQ.”

“Equius Zahhak?”

Terezi nods. “Yeah. He got a commission to make some sort of ocular lenses for this program and saw your name on the list. Once Sollux knew where to look it didn’t take him long to hack in and find you.”

“Fuck,” you groan. Pinching the bridge of your nose, you say, “Guys, I can’t go with you.”

“What?” Sollux shouts. Another door slams, still some distance away but closer than the first two. Terezi punches his arm and he drops down to a furious whisper as he adds, “Why the fuck not?”

“These shitstains are going to go after that sweaty bastard the second we get out of here,” you reply. “They’ll go after him and then they’ll go after everybody he ever even fucking sneezed at.”

“Yeah, we know,” says Terezi. “We already made contingency plans for that. He’s absconding with Nepeta as we speak to someplace where they’ll both be safe.”

“No. You guys don’t get it. Wherever he’s going, it’s not going to do shit. These people are flying squeakbeast bugfuck shithive maggots insane. If I leave they will literally never stop going after him and everybody he knows until they find me and even then they’ll still cull the shit out of you and all our friends if any of you so much as pass wind anywhere within a ten million mile radius of them. None of you will ever be able to register your quadrant mates or join the fleet or do anything ever again.”

Terezi shrugs, all easy nonchalance and maybe if you hadn’t spent a good chunk of the first six sweeps of your life analyzing everything she did because she was Terezi fucking Pyrope and you were a stupid romantic piece of shit you could believe it. But even after being away from each other for so long, you notice the instant of hesitation and the tiny line that appears between her eyebrows as she says, “So we’ll go rogue then.”

You almost laugh because the idea is so bad and so stupid so completely unworthy of even momentarily gracing Terezi’s pan that it is fucking ludicrous. “No you won’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m not worth it, goddamn it,” you hiss.

There is a long, uncomfortable silence, breached only by the ever-nearing sound of slamming of doors. An image flits into your pan and sticks there like a scene from a movie stuck in freeze-frame: Sollux with his lips curled back and fangs on full display, hissing at you like you are the most horrifying thing he has ever seen in his life. The way he’d looked at you then—like you were less than a troll, like he really believed that all of the alterations Cennia has inflicted on your outside have leeched through to irreparably change the inside, too—should have been enough to hammer home the cold, ruthless reality that guess what dumb shit nobody, not even your own friends will be able to look at you and see a troll ever again. Hell, even if you were to traipse around wearing some shitty disguise, how long would it be before you fucked up and somebody saw what you really looked like underneath the fake horns and caked-on makeup? (Answer: not very fucking long because if there is one thing you have learned living in this craphole it’s that the forces of the universe will always align their streams of piss in such a way as to ensure that Karkat Vantas lives a life of abject misery and suck.)

You don’t know who you were kidding thinking you could go back and expect your life to be anything like what it was before. The excitement of seeing your old friends must have been too intoxicating for Past Karkat’s tiny brain to handle because it’s all so clear to you now. You allow your next run of words to spill out of your squawk hole like flood waters of putrescent reason and common sense bursting through a dam of stupid:

“OK. Let’s pretend for just a second that your lives wouldn’t be over even though we all know that they totally, abso-fucking-lutely would be so we can take a charming look at what my life would be like. Would I be able to go outside without shitty fake horns and a fucking gallon of makeup? No. Would I be able to re-join the fleet? I’m going to go out on an extending tree member here and say that the answer is fuck no because the military doesn’t take kindly to fucking deserters.”

You pause just long enough to take a breath. Sollux says, “KK—“ and that’s as far as you let him get before you continue your wild shitstream of a rant, whipping whatever the shit-scraping hell Sollux was about to say into submission.

“While we’re still discussing the topic of things that will be a major fucking concern in Future Karkat’s sad excuse for a life, let’s take a second to think about quadrants, folks. Do you guys really think anybody is going to want to share a pile with me when I look like this? No wait, better yet, how about you guys name off people who might actually consider pailing me and I’ll perform a beautiful interpretive dance to show you how violently they will puke up their guts every time they fuck up and look at my face. Who wants to go first? Oh, looks like it’s Sollux. Go ahead, Captor, start the fucking list!”

“Wow,” he says, raising his eyebrows so high they creep up above his glasses like two fuzzy caterpillars fleeing from the death beams he has the gall to call eyes. “Are you done with all that bullshit now, KK? Because all you did there was whine about how shitty your life will be on Alternia without giving me or TZ any reason to think that your life will be any less shitty on…what was the name of that alien planet again? Dirt?”

“Earth,” Terezi supplies.

“Yeah,” he says. “Thanks, TZ. So are you going to explain exactly why you think that whatever you have to look forward to on Earth is so much better than coming with us?”

“Don’t try to change the subject, you piece of shit,” you hiss. “Go ahead: name somebody—anybody who would let me auspisticize for them. Or how about somebody who would pap me without wanting to cut off their own globe-fondling hand and throwing it into a pit of fire.”

“Oh my god,” he groans. “Will you shut the fuck up already?”

You know that you should stop. You know you’ve gone far beyond the boundary of clarifying your point and rocketed straight into the territory of being a petulant douchebag—but the onerous fires of your despair palate have been stoked and you are on a fucking roll so you might as well continue to ride the train all the way to super douchebag central. You hiss, “No, you shut the fuck up. Actually, no. Tell me something first: would you want to pap this ugly husk of a face?”

He gapes at you, no doubt rendered mute by the mere idea of such a horrifying experience. Just as you are about to crow that you were right, so fuck you he says, “OK, you know what? No. I wouldn’t want to pap you—but not because of your stupid fucking face. In case you’ve forgotten, I already have a moirail, shithead.”

You are still piecing together a response to show your utter contempt for that weak-ass copout of an answer (because goddamn it, you want to win this fucking argument, never mind why) when bony fingers rake through the fuzz of hair that has appeared on your scalp since the operation. You go tense at the touch because goddamn it, you hadn’t even noticed Terezi sneaking up on you. You are about to whip around and ask her exactly what the fuck she thinks she is trying to pull here, but then she leans in from behind you and whispers into your ear: “I don’t get why you are so hung up on this, Karkat. If you want my honest opinion, I think it makes you look kind of pitiable.”

Of all the things she could have said to you at that moment that was literally the last thing you were expecting to hear. (Quite honestly, you could not have been any more shocked if she’d told you that she was actually a giant troll-eating dragon with six eyes and Subjugglator polka dots stuffed inside a Terezi suit and waiting for the most opportune moment to char the fuck out of everybody on the space station and eat them for dinner.) You are pretty sure that she is only saying this shit to shut you up. Even so, you can’t stop yourself from stupidly saying, “What? Really?”

“Yes, you dummy.” You feel her fingers tracking along your scalp until they pass into the numb area around the surgical site. Then all you can feel is a far-off impression of something ghosting along the top of your head, stopping to trace the metal rim that surrounds the space your right horn used to occupy. She asks, “Did it hurt?”

You shudder because you want to tell her that it was terrible, that it made you so fucking sick you couldn’t even stand up for days. Instead, you say, “It’s fine now.”

Shaking her head, she mutters, “Those fuckers.”

Her fingers are still exploring your scalp, gliding along with an on-again off-again pressure that actually feels kind of fucking amazing. You would be perfectly happy to stand there and let her continue massaging your scalp like this because this is the first time in a long time that anybody has touched you without intending to poke, prod, jab, cut, or otherwise medically alter you in some way—but another slamming door reminds you that wow, bulge breath, you still need to get your friends out of here before anybody sees them. You duck away from Terezi’s hands and say, “I still can’t go with you.”

“Why not?”

Without a moment’s hesitation you blurt, “They nominated me to lead a platoon.” For about half a second you feel just about as surprised as Sollux and Terezi look because wow, way to class it up by manipulating the truth to your friends, you mendacious piece of trash. Then you realize that this is the sickle that will pierce straight through the heart of any argument that they might use to get you to go with them and kill it dead in its tracks. Picking up your enthusiasm (because the only way you are going to get them to believe you here is if you sell this shit hard), you say, “That’s right; they nominated me for a position in higher command. What do you think about that?”

“No way,” Sollux breathes. “You’re shitting me.”

“Oh, I assure you I do not shit.” You can feel Terezi scrutinizing you, looking for any tells that you are lying but you know she won’t find any because—ha—you aren’t lying. Every last one of the things you are claiming happened actually did happen, never mind the fact that the whole thing ended up sinking ass-deep into a mire of shit and anguish fluid later. “I’m the third-ranked recruit in this program. They even said that the other recruits look to me as a leader.”

“Why didn’t you tell us about this earlier?” Terezi demands.

“Because past me is a stupid nookwhiff who was too busy choking on surprise juice over the fact that two people he wasn’t expecting to see ever again were suddenly barging into his respiteblock like a couple of cloddish assholes.”

“Well shit,” says Sollux. “We thought we were rescuing you. Apparently, this whole trip was fucking pointless.”

Terezi purses her lips and says, “Are you sure you don’t want to come with us, Karkat?”

You hesitate because you want to go with your friends so much it hurts. You want to go back so you can bitch at Gamzee with all his stupid clown shit and talk through high-minded shit with Kanaya and argue with Sollux over which of you is the better programmer (him) and which of you is the better fighter (you, of course). You want to shoot the shit with Terezi and exchange inane quadrant banter with Eridan. You’d be glad to role play with Nepeta or see if Tavros ever managed to grow a proper set of shame globes. Hell, you wouldn’t even mind dealing with Vriska’s bullshit or Feferi’s ridiculous bubbliness or having sweaty creeper Zahhak order you to order him around. But…you know that it wouldn’t be long before not just you but everybody would have to disappear into the woodwork of the Alternian wilderness and you already know that you would never be able to live with yourself if you were to do that to all of them. (Hell, some of them would barely even last a day out there. You wouldn’t put it past Gamzee to immediately eat something poisonous and die within the first hour or two after leaving his hive.)

Finally, you say, “The only good thing that would come out of me leaving with you would be the dramatic imaginary fanfare that would play to signal the end of my life and your lives and the lives of literally everybody we know and even that would be completely shitty because I would be the only one hearing it. I can’t do it. I’m sorry.”

“All right then,” Terezi briskly replies. “I guess that means we’re done here.”

You are about to explain that you really are sorry, that you know they must have taken a huge risk in getting up here and that you hope they don’t feel as though you’re just turning around and shitting all over them for their troubles—but then another door slams, close enough to make all three of you jump and you know you don’t have time for empty pseudo thank you’s.

“I’m going to go out there now and let them find me,” you say. “They’ll leave once they have me and then you guys should be free to go. Do you guys remember the way out?”

“What do you take us for?” Sollux scoffs. “A couple of brain dead morons?”

Terezi rolls her eyes and says, “We’ll manage.”

“OK,” you breathe. Keeping your eyes on the floor, you say, “I guess this is goodbye then.”

You are so intent on not looking at either of them as you reach for the door that it comes as a total shock when Terezi grabs you by the wrist and says, “Wait.” You are so surprised that you forget that you are supposed to be staring at the ground so nobody can tell how miserable you are. Instead, you whip around to face her—and then her mouth is on your mouth and oh…OH WOW, she’s kissing you. It’s pretty much the least sexy kiss in the history of the world because she is trying to shove her tongue into your mouth and you’re just kind of standing there like an idiot trying to process the fact that Terezi fucking Pyrope is kissing you how the FUCK did that happen? By the time you realize that Jesus fucking Christ on a one wheel device maybe you should be doing something a little more proactive here like wrapping your arms around her or shoving your tongue into her mouth she is already pulling away from you. Troll Casanova must be shaking his head and contemplating suicide in response to that pathetic showing.

Terezi doesn’t seem to be terribly put out by your complete failure to effectively swap saliva with her. She gives you this wide grin that is just this side of grubfucked insane and says, “For what it’s worth, I think you taste nice. Like delicious cherry candies.”

You look over at Sollux, trying to convey enough what the fuck just happened, seriously how did she do that without gagging sentiment that he might offer up some explanation for his supposed moirail’s bizarre actions. Instead he just gives you an irritable look and says, “Fuck that. You do not get sloppy makeouts from me for being a self-sacrificing piece of shit.”

“OK,” you say (because wait, what? Why the hell is he talking about sloppy makeouts now? Did the quadrant fairy somehow sneak her sparkly ass into this storage room and endow you with the gift of irresistible concupiscent attraction?) “I’m going now.”

“Take care of yourself, Karkat,” Terezi whispers.

“Yeah; don’t fuck anything up,” Sollux adds.

You tell them that you will and that you won’t (in that order, fuck you very much) and then you open the door and slip out into the hallway. None of the searchers are in your hallway. (You count this as a small miracle because you really had no clue how the hell you were going to explain why you were just chilling in a storage unit other than that you wanted to experience the thrill of fondling your genitals in a semi-public area while farting out noxious clouds of stink that could choke a healthy musclebeast to death.) You wander around, following the sound of slamming doors until you run into a short female troll working her way down the hall opening each door she passes and them slamming them shut, looking for all the world like an overgrown pupa throwing a temper tantrum against her lusus.

When she sees you, she says, “There you are. Why did you leave your respiteblock without authorization?”

After your brief English respite, you almost fuck up and answer her in Alternian. You catch yourself just in time and, in perfect fucking English, you reply, “I didn’t realize I needed authorization.” She gives you a doubtful look so you quickly add, “Cennia mentioned I should try to walk. For vestibular rehab.”

This time she seems to buy your dirty, dirty lie because she thumbs on the small communicating device attached to the collar of her shirt and says, “This is Judila. I found Vantas. Everything is fine. Returning him to his respiteblock as we speak.” Then she grabs you by the elbow and says, “Come on; let’s go.”

To her credit, she doesn’t frog-march you all the way back to your respiteblock the way Cennia’s medical staff does whenever they get their grubby hands on you for your actual rehabilitation sessions. (You swear to that those fuckers’ sole mission in life is to make you trip over your feet and fall on the floor like an inept shitwit.) Instead, she very nicely leads you back through the station and deposits you in your respiteblock with a mild “If you wish to make any other excursions beyond the ablution block or the nutrition block, please be sure to obtain the proper authorization first.” She is so goddamn pleasant it almost rots your perfectly straight teeth out (and now that you think of it you should probably put those obnoxious retaining devices back into your mouth before Cennia stops by or she will have your head on a pike and your bulge filleted and served on ice).

You proceed to whittle away the next several hours over-analyzing everything that you did or said around your old friends and mentally arguing with yourself over whether or not you made the right call even though you know in your heart of rotten, crusted-over hearts that you were absolutely, 100% right.


> Nepeta: Enjoy some quality time with your loving moirail

You can handle that! Between working on his commission and making plans to rescue Karkat, Equius has been so busy that the two of you have barely even had time to chat on Trollian, let alone see each other in person. In fact, you can’t even remember the last time you saw each other face-to-face. (Actually, yes you can! It was almost three perigees ago. You went to his hive for a surprise visit, even though the weather was really crappy that day. He spent at least ten minutes moaning about how you had come all that way in the rain and insisting that you change into one of the fresh sets of clothes that you keep at his place for just such a situation. Then the two of you settled into a nice pile of broken robot parts and had one of the best jams you have ever had!) You were so excited to see him tonight that the first thing you did when he walked into your hive earlier this evening was knock him onto his butt with an especially ferocious tacklepounce.

You would normally follow the tacklepounce with a nice long conversation about feelings or random stuff like his robotics projects or your most recent wall art masterpiece—but not tonight! Tonight you and he are absconding to the first of three outpost rest stops on your way to Kanaya’s hive and your goal is so far away that there hadn’t been a moment to lose if you were going to get there by sunrise.

The two of you and your lusii have already been walking for hours and as far as either of you can tell, you are going to have to keep walking for a long time. It’s a good thing he is so STRONG and you have such great stamina. Otherwise you might end up stuck sleeping out in the open wilderness with no sopor slime and no shelter to keep the local fauna from bothering you. (Not that you couldn’t defend yourselves from most animal threats. You could! It’s just that getting woken up in the middle of the day by a bunch of hungry great beasts would be really annoying because the two of you need your rest if you are going to make the other legs of your trip on time.)

You know that you should be keeping a sharp eye out for any roaming animals (because cholerbears and wolf beasts don’t only come out during the day) or traveling trolls (because it would completely defeat the purpose of absconding in secret if a bunch of people saw where you were going). Even so, you often catch yourself glancing up to the stars every once in a while. Tonight is the night that some of your good friends will be going up there to rescue another good friend and you can’t help feeling just a little nervous for them. Equius seems to be just as concerned as you are: you have noticed him looking up at the starry night sky with that broody expression he gets when he has something on his mind. (Really, with the two of you walking around with your heads in the clouds, it’s a good thing you have Aurthour and Pounce de Leon to pay attention for you.)

Neither of you have mentioned Karkat or Sollux or Terezi all night. It’s almost like you afraid that you will jinx the whole rescue operation if you say their names out loud, which is kind of dumb now that you think about it. The next time you see him looking up at the night sky, you decide that it is finally time to discuss the figurative prehensile trunk creature in the room.

“Where do you think Sollux and Terezi are right now?” you ask.

He is quiet for a long time; so long you start to wonder if he even heard you. Finally, he says, “I would imagine that they have reached the station by now.”

“I still kind of wish I could have gone with them,” you sigh. “Then I would at least know what was happening instead of having to be a curious kitty all night.”

“Yes, but you know very well why I forbade you to go.”

“I know, I know. It’s too dangerous.”

“That is correct. Your safety will always be of the utmost importance to me. Furthermore, although I am an exceptionally strong specimen of troll, even I am not immune to loneliness. I am glad to share your company on this long journey. Are you not glad to share mine?”

“Oh, I wasn’t saying I didn’t want to be with you, Equius!” you exclaim. “I just thought it would have been a fun opurrtunity for some real-life role play, that’s all!”

He goes quiet again. You dart another look up to the night sky, wondering if any of those shiny stars might actually be the station that Karkat has been living on for the last sweep. That inevitably makes you wonder what they have been doing to him that is so bad he would need to be flagged as a suicide risk and oh great, now you’re starting to make yourself kind of sad.

Before you can get too depressed, Equius’ voice breaks through your train of thought: “The extremely muscular male commands Miss Leijon who is clearly not a cat at the moment to stop fretting over not being a part of the rescue mission. He assures her that Captor and Pyrope are most likely performing adequately as we speak.”

You perk up, the familiar syntax bringing an excited flutter to your blood pusher. “Equius, are you trying to role play with me?”

“The extraordinarily strong nobleman demands that the agile feline-obssessed female before him properly reciprocate his valiant attempt at this childish game, lest he recognize the silliness of these antics and desists with this hoofbrained attempt to lift his moirails flagging spirits.”

Equius has never started a role playing scenario for you before! Trying to convince him to participate at all is usually harder than herding cats. Grinning, you reply, “The limber moirail would give the hulking muscle man a hug to show her apurreciation…if she wasn’t busy being a furocious feline huntress right now!”

“What, exactly, does the huntress expect to hunt? There does not appear to be anything in the immediate vicinity worth hunting and she will remember that she is not allowed to stray from the path.” He pauses for a beat before quickly adding, “Er…said the man pretending to speak to a huntress who is no longer Nepeta Leijon.”

“The huntress laughs and says ‘what are you, blind? There’s a huge rabid bear just up ahead!’” Equius looks as though he is on the verge of pointing out that there is not actually a bear anywhere in the area, but that’s no fun! You decide to give him just a little extra material to nudge him in the right direction. “Oh no! It looks like the nasty bear is menacing some helpless baby musclebeasts. The huntress runs ahead as fast as she can go, but it looks like she isn’t going to make it. The only way she can get there in time is if her great archer furiend slows the bully bear down by firing a couple of arrows into its thick hide!”

Equius looks abashed. For a moment you think that maybe you overreached just a little bit with threatening the helpless baby musclebeasts (even if they are only pretend helpless baby musclebeasts), but darn it, you want to see Equius let go and enjoy role playing for once and if there is anything that will get his attention it’s a majestic musclebeast in peril! Then, to your delight, he clears his throat and says, “Very well. If the bear is rabid then I understand—I mean the archer understands—that it must be relieved of its suffering. The archer notches an arrow to the bow and, assuming that the bow is resilient enough to remain in one piece under the strain of the archer’s ludicrous strength, lets the arrow fly.”

“The arrow only grazes the beast,” you announce. “Now it is even angrier! The huntress hopes that the archer will try again because those musclebeasts are on the verge of becoming a meal!”

“The archer notches another arrow. He aims more carefully and hopes that the arrow does not harm the bear more than necessary.”

“The aim is true! The arrow stops the bear in its tracks. The huntress leaps on the bear and quickly slays it befur it even realizes that is has been injured. Then she calls out to tell her archer friend ‘thank you for helping me stop the rabid bear! Now we should purrobably bury it so no other animals get sick.’”

“Did the baby musclebeasts survive?”

“Of course!” you exclaim. “The baby musclebeasts run up to the brave archer. One of them even nuzzles his hand to show how thankful it is to be saved!”

He smiles (which makes you smile because you have never seen him do that when you make him role play with you) and says, “The archer supplies the baby musclebeasts with a large pile of high-quality hay so that they will grow to be majestic and STRONG.”

“The baby musclebeasts eat up all the hay and run off. It looks like they have already grown stronger. Meanwhile, the huntress is busy digging a hole for the rabid bear. She says ‘gosh it’s hard work digging this hole. I wish that there was a strong purrson nearby who could help!’”

“The archer replies—oh my. Stop at once.”

You frown. “Huh? How come? Says the huntress.”

He shakes his head. “No, you misunderstand. The charade must cease at once. There is real danger afoot.”

“There is?” You sneak a quick look over to Pounce de Leon and sure enough, your lusus is standing stock still with his nose to the air and his tail lashing back and forth in choppy stabs. A glance towards Aurthour tells you that the butler lusus is similarly agitated: he is standing even more erect than usual and his head is tilted to one side as though he is listening for something. A moment later, you hear it: an almost imperceptible crunch of plant matter and earth that can only be footsteps of someone or something walking just out of sight on the path ahead of you.

Equius whispers, “Nepeta, you will climb a tree and hide at once. The lusii will remain here with you while I investigate this threat.”

“What?” you whisper back. “Equius, that’s stupid! It’s probably just a wandering antler creature or something and even if it’s not I’m not letting you go alone.”

“Antler creature or not, my orders are non-negotiable. You’ll do as I say immediately.”

“OK fine,” you sigh. “But you had better come back, you dumb sweatyface.”

He brushes your arm with the tips of his fingers—the closest thing to a real pap his insane strength will safely allow—and says, “I assure you I will be fine. Now up you go.”

With your trusty claw gloves, it doesn’t take long to shimmy up the trunk of the nearest tree. You are soon comfortably nestled in a notch between the principal trunk and one of the larger limbs. The surrounding foliage provides excellent camouflage—you are positive that nobody on the ground will be able to see you unless they know exactly where to look. Unfortunately, it also blocks your view of the ground and you can barely see Equius creeping forward as stealthily as he is able—which, you notice with mounting dismay, is not terribly stealthy at all. Even when he is completely out of your line of sight, his footsteps are so loud anybody with ears would hear him coming from a mile away.

I should have gone, you think, wincing as he crunches though a patch of particularly noisy dry leaves. I have way more scouting experience than he does. Ugh, why didn’t I think to say that before he went off on his own?

You have no sooner had this thought when Equius’ footsteps come to an abrupt stop. You frown and strain your ears for any noise to indicate that he is still making progress and hear nothing. The forest is so still it might as well be a petrified wasteland: there is not even a breath of wind to stir the foliage or the usual buzz of insects to break the silence.

Your apprehension increases as you continue to sit there waiting for Equius to return and give the all-clear. He should have been back by now, you think and the longer you wait the surer you become that something is very, very wrong.

You decide that orders or no orders, you need to go and make sure that Equius is alright. He’s always so worried about protecting me, you think as you quietly crawl along the length of the branch. But moirails are supposed to watch out for each other! When you reach the end of the branch, you leap for a nearby branch a neighboring tree. It’s a two-way street. You land on the target branch without a sound and quickly prime yourself to jump for another branch farther ahead. I hope he is OK.

You continue to make your way forward with more sneaky stealth than even the quietest kitty that ever did sneak. With every leap, you tell yourself that Equius will be fine, any second now I’ll see him crouching behind a tree or hiding in some brush even though you are rapidly becoming more and more certain that this will not be the case at all.

Leap. Equius is going to be so annoyed if he notices that I followed him. WHERE IS HE?

Leap. He’ll scold me until he is blue in the face! I SHOULD HAVE SEEN HIM BY NOW.


Leap. I’ll just have to scold him right back for scaring me like this! COME ON, EQUIUS, WHERE ARE—OH, NO. NO, NO, NO….

Your final leap has put you at the edge of a small clearing. The path is much wider here, and covered with soft grass that looks like it would be delightful to roll in. Little yellow flowers dot the ground at random and a small fairy ring of toadstools stands off to one side of the clearing. With no overhanging tree limbs, the light of the double moons pours into the open area and gives everything a surreal luminescence. The whole thing would be kind of pretty—if not for the fact that there are four tall, robed figures at the far end of the clearing carrying a very muscular and very unconscious troll with very arrow-shaped horns (one of which is very broken) away from you at an alarming pace.

You do not hesitate. You do not even think. You just launch yourself out of that tree and hit the ground running because there is no time to think, they hurt Equius and you can’t let them take him from you, YOU CAN’T LET THEM TAKE HIM AWAY! Stress fluid is fizzing through your veins, giving you the strength to run faster than you have ever run before. You cross the clearing so fast everything around you seems to be a wild blur and then you are a screaming nightmare of claws and teeth as you leap towards the nearest of the robed figures, ready to tear the bastard’s innards out and wear them as a trophy crown because nobody messes with your moirail, nobody is allowed to take him away from you!

A set of arms catches you from behind and maybe, if you weren’t so desperate to get to Equius, get Equius away from these people, SAVE EQUIUS it would occur to you to jackknife in your captor’s arms and slash his throat. But your rage makes you sloppy—all force and no restraint—and you throw yourself against the arms over and over, screaming at them to “Let me go, let me go! Equius, no! NO, NO, NO; LET ME GO!”

Something stings the back of your neck, an insect bite, a pinprick of sudden pain that vanishes just as suddenly. You try to struggle against the arms that have you but you are suddenly tired. Your body feels sluggish and your eyelids feel heavy and you just want to sleep, want to—Drugs, you realize. They drugged me.

The realization sends a cold bolt of fear through your belly—but you are so tired that you can barely even remember what you are supposed to do about it. With the last of your strength, you extend your arm, reaching out for Equius, reaching out…reaching…….ach………

Your last conscious thought is Equius…please be OK….


> Sollux: Be the hero, save the girl

What girl? The only girl around you right now is TZ and if the shit hits the whirling device you and she both know that she would most likely be the one saving you. If there is one thing that TZ is not it’s a pathetic, weeping damsel in distress. Now if it were KK we were talking about that would be different. You’ve seen him distressed and weeping more times in one day than you have seen TZ in either of those states in her entire life. Although last you checked KK was still a dude so try again, dumbass.


> Sollux: Abscond to safety

Now that is something you can do.

After KK skips out on you like a stupid piece of shit, you and TZ hang back in the storage closet for a few minutes to give the search crew a chance to clear out. You spend most of that time being completely pissed off. You are pissed at KK for pretending to be some kind of martyr, saying he was pulling this shit for the good of everybody else. Even though he was probably right, it doesn’t change the fact that he chose this place over you. He chose the people who kidnapped him and cut off his horns and ruined his teeth over you and although you would never admit it to a single living soul because you would never, ever hear the end of it, you are a little hurt. You two were friends for sweeps and although his constant drama and immature arguments were kind of annoying, you had assumed that he valued your friendship at least as much as you valued his which in this case would have meant choosing the people who actually gave a shit about him over the people who spent a sweep turning him into a fucking monster. (You try to ignore the niggling idea that by choosing them he was also choosing to keep you safe which meant that he was still indirectly choosing you. You also try to ignore the persistent thought that you would have done the same thing for him or TZ or FF or AA or any of your other friends in a second, you hypocritical ass.)

When you get tired of being pissed at KK, you decide that the person you should really be pissed at is yourself. After all, you had been the one looking at all the information about this awful place. All of the information that had convinced everybody that KK had needed rescuing had come from you. Maybe if you had taken just a couple more minutes to poke around, you would have found the real story: that underneath all of the worrisome musclebeast shit you were seeing, KK was living out his dream of becoming some hot shit military commander. Had you even looked for more information about what this program was actually doing on Earth? No. Had it even occurred to you to look at the recruit rankings? No. Instead you were content to go “hur durrrr, guys KK’s being experimented on! He’s going to kill himself! Oh noes what do?” like some stupid fucking tabloid reporterrorist. God damn it, why can’t you ever do anything right?

TZ doesn’t seem to be pissed at anybody. She just seems kind of sad, which is even worse because this whole situation is your fault which means that it is also you fault that she is sad. God, you are the shittiest moirail. It is you.

When you finally decide it’s safe to leave the storage room, you think that TZ is going to suggest going back and making KK come with you. Dragging his cherry-scented ass (that was how TZ had described it, wasn’t it? Cherries?) to the ship and tying him down inside, preferably with a nice big piece of tape over his mouth so he can’t spout any more bullshit until you have him planet-side. You want her to say it and if she doesn’t say it then you will. You tell yourself you are going to say it the whole time you walk through the mazelike storage wing. You tell yourself you are going to say it as you emerge into the empty main hallway. You keep telling yourself you are going to say it as you get on the elevator that will bring you down to the lower levels of the station and you continue to keep telling yourself you are going to say it right up until the doors close and the elevator car begins to descend because after all that planning and all that effort you cannot believe that you are just leaving KK here—but you don’t say it and neither does TZ.

The two of you don’t say a word to each other as the elevator takes you down to the ground floor. You are sure she must be thinking what you are thinking, something along the lines of what the fuck just happened and how do we break it to everybody that we failed HARD because in a couple more minutes, you and she will be back on Ampora’s ship and on your way back to Alternia. That’s OK, though. In fact, you are glad to be heading home because you are just done with this. You want to get off of this shitty space station, go back to your crappy little hive, feed your dumb lusus his mind honey and then climb into your recuperacoon and sleep until everybody forgets about this whole situation and your failboat handling of it. God you suck.

You are in the docking area and heading for the airlock that leads to your ship when something weird happens. It starts out as a weird tingling sensation, like all of your thoughts have turned into psionic energy and they are zapping the surfaces of your double-brain with wonky static electricity. You have only just noticed the tingling when it suddenly intensifies, jabbing at you from the inside and then pulling at something; pulling until part of you is suddenly outside of you. Your legs give out from under you and you gasp, not because falling on the ground like a ragdoll hurts but because you know this feeling. You have only felt it once before but you know this feeling.

TZ is kneeling beside you. You hear her say, “Sollux? Hey, what’s wrong?”

You want to warn her to run, get out of here NOW but all of your muscles seize up the second you open your mouth. Your body spasms and all you can say is “HAAAUUGHH” as your diaphragm goes haywire and forces all of the air out of your lungs.

TZ has her arms around you and is making one hell of an effort to pick you up, but another spasm hits you, followed by another and another until you are full on writhing and it won’t stop, fuck it HURTS MAKE IT STOP! The pain is so distracting that you barely even notice her standing back up, can barely even process the meaning of the words as she says, “Whoever you are, I know you’re there. Come out and face us instead of hiding like a stinking coward.”

The leech emerges from behind a wall of packing crates and takes his time as he saunters across the docking bay floor until he is standing between you and your airlock. He is a short troll, but wide and built with enough muscle to rival EQ in a sweaty body competition. His face is such a mess of scars it could only mean one of two things: either he’s had his ass handed to him a few times because he has no clue how to handle himself in a fight or he’s badass enough to have been in a shitload of nasty fights and survived. Judging by the way he carries himself and—oh, yeah—the fucking ginormous muscles, you’re going to guess it’s the latter.

With a nasally voice that sounds like it’s coming to you through a tin can, he says, “I was beginning to wonder when you would get back down here. Are you enjoying your stay on our humble little station?”

TZ doesn’t bother to play his little game. Instead she points to you and demands, “What are you doing to him?”

“What, this?” The pulling sensation momentarily spikes into a tearing sensation. You bravely curl into a tiny, tiny ball and moan as the spasms ripping through you increase in intensity. Then, just as quickly, the pain recedes back to a level that is just this side of bearable. You go limp and lay on the floor, gasping like a beached fish. The leech says, “I’m just restraining him so we can have a nice, civil conversation.”

“Cut the shit,” snarls TZ. “What do you want from us?”

“Your ship’s PIN was reported as stolen a few days ago. You’re going to have to come with me so you can answer some questions for the relevant authorities.”

You have got to give TZ credit. Even with the whole plan rapidly going tits-up, she doesn’t miss a beat. Without the slightest hesitation, she says, “The ship belongs to our employer. If it’s stolen then you should take it up with her because it’s not our problem.”

“If that’s the case we are not at liberty to release you or your ship until we have spoken with your employer. Regardless, right now you are coming with me.” TZ doesn’t budge. Neither do you, though your defiance has less to do with your outstanding personal mettle and a whole lot more to do with the fact that the leech is still sucking away at your psionic powers and it’s making you feel floppy.

The leech sighs. “You have two options here. We can do this the easy way—“ (he eases up on draining you enough you could probably stand if you really, really wanted to) “—or we can do this the hard way.” (You feel a rough pull and then your psionics are ripping out of you even faster than before. Your entire body rebels against the feeling, muscles firing at random. You try to bite back the hoarse scream rising in your throat and you fail miserably.)

“Stop that!” shouts TZ. You hear something—a whisper of metal against metal—and realize that she’s separated her cane to reveal the blades concealed within. “Let him go, now!”

The pain begins to intensify. It crashes through you in relentless waves and fuck you can’t take this your guts feel like they are melting. You try to roll onto your side because you know you are going to puke but your body is too busy twitching on the floor to listen and ugh, fuck you just yakked up a mouthful of bile and drool all over yourself. Gross.

You don’t notice TZ charging the guy but you definitely notice when he diverts his attention away from you to deal with her because the pain just shuts off. It happens so abruptly you are dizzy with the relief and for a moment all you can do is lie there on the ground trying to regain your bearings. Ten feet away, TZ is a blur of whirling, jabbing, sweeping blades as she bears down on her opponent with a cold, murderous rage that is outright scary as hell. The leech doesn’t seem to find her nearly as intimidating as you do. He doesn’t seem to have much trouble dodging the deadly blows and he knocks away the weaker strikes like they are about as threatening as a pack of flies buzzing around his head. You reach out for your psionics and—ow, fuck—you slam into a psychic wall that makes you see stars. The leech may not be draining you at the moment but he’s still focused enough on you to keep you from accessing your psychic power.

Without your psionics and with your body weak and aching from the residual effects of the draining, there isn’t much you can do to help TZ at the moment. In fact, you would probably just get in her way and slow her down. But just because you can’t fight doesn’t mean that you intend to lie on the ground like a useless sack of shit. With TZ attacking him, the leech can’t divert enough of his focus toward you to keep you completely incapacitated. You figure if TZ keeps him busy you can make it over to the airlock and open it and if you can open the airlock you and TZ might still be able to make a break for it.

You are still lying supine on the floor. Rolling over onto your belly takes a monumental effort and—oh yuck—you end up rolling right into the tiny amount of puke that didn’t end up all over you before, but you manage it. You quickly discover that your arms and legs are still too weak to allow you to stand up but you decide fuck standing up, crawling is a shit ton less conspicuous anyway. Slowly, you begin to move your abused carcass towards the air lock.

It takes you a long time to drag yourself across the docking bay floor. Your arms keep crapping out on you and making you fall face first on the floor like a tool. By the time you finally make it to your goal you are shocked that TZ and the leech are still fighting (though you do note with trepidation that TZ is starting to look tired while the leech doesn’t have a scratch on him). With the last of your strength, you haul yourself up to slouch against the wall so you can reach the keypad. Your fingers are shaking, but you still manage to type in the passcode on your first try and the airlock opens with a loud hiiiiiissssssssss.

You do not know if the leech had known what you were up to, but even if he hadn’t figured it out yet the airlock makes such a goddamn racket that it could raise the dead. He looks in your direction just long enough to create a wide enough opening for TZ to get a wicked hit on one of his big biceps. A gout of cerulean blood sprays from the wound. For one second you think that TZ might manage to duck around him on his wounded side and run for the airlock. Then the leech apparently decides that playtime is over because he lunges forward and, engulfing one of her forearms in his hand, turns around and hurls her across the room. She hits the wall hard and you hear something—probably her already wounded shoulder—go snap.

The leech turns his attention back to you and—fuck not this shit again ow, ow, OW!—your body immediately begins to judder against the strain as he sucks away at your psionics. You sincerely regret sitting yourself up against the wall because now that you are a convulsing mess you keep bashing your head up against it. Your mouth opens, trying to scream at him to “AUUGH STOP, FUCK, YOU’RE HURTING ME, STOP!” but the only thing that comes out is a long, toneless groan (which is probably just as well when you stop and think about it. It’s not as though he would have a single fuck to give about hurting you. Hell, for all you know the fucker gets off on that sort of shit.)

From far away, you hear TZ screaming at him to “Stop it! Stay away from him!” and only then do you realize that the leech is coming toward you. TZ’s shouts don’t stop him from advancing on you, but he does dial down the intensity of his psychic assault enough to let you lie on the ground without twitching. You think you might even be able to manage coherent words.

He grabs you by the ankles and begins to drag you away from the open airlock with about as much effort as hauling a bag full of feathers. Through your raw throat, you croak, “F-f-fu…f-fuck y-yoouuu.” You try to struggle but he’s still draining you and it’s about as effective as a dirt tunneler trying to wiggle out of a hungry bird’s beak. You have to settle with repeating, “F-fuuuuck yoouu, fffuck you….”

You hear running feet—TZ is running toward you. She is limping and her left arm is hanging useless at her side but she is still holding a blade with her right hand and when she launches herself towards the leech you know that this time he won’t be able to turn around and block her; this time the blade is going right into him to pierce his heart from behind; this time—something huge crashes into TZ before she can land the hit. She goes flying through the air, landing ten feet away and skids another five before she finally stops.

It takes you a moment to recognize that the thing that hit her is another troll because the guy is fucking huge. If the leech’s muscles would have made EQ proud, this guy would have him drowning in a pool of his own sweat. Goddamn his wrists are about as big around as your thighs. Your perspective is all kinds of fucked up from your position on the ground, but as near as you can tell this new guy stands at least two and a half times taller than the leech and you’d be willing to bet it’s closer to three.

The leech stops dragging you along the floor long enough to turn to the mountain of troll standing over you and say, “Thank you Averic. You may continue to neutralize the threat.”

Your despair gland releases all of its anguish fluid at once as you realize that not only is Averic ridiculously strong, he is also much faster than he has any business being. He bounds across the room towards TZ, reaching her just as she begins to stagger to her feet.

“No,” you whisper because sure, TZ is a fucking amazing fighter—but the monster coming for her now is bigger, stronger, faster, and way more experienced than both you and her combined. You know that she would be lucky to come out alive if she was facing him at her best. But now, injured and barely able to stand up, she doesn’t even look as though she could take down Tavros’ lusus, let alone go horn to horn with this terrifying fucker.

The fight barely even lasts ten seconds. TZ makes a desperate swing with her blade. Averic catches it mid-swing with his bare hand and jerks it out of her hand before snapping it in half and tossing the broken pieces across the room. TZ hits him with her fists but you suspect that it hurts her more than it hurts him because he doesn’t even bother to try and dodge. Instead he lifts her off the ground by the back of her shirt and then hugs her up against his chest with his massive tree-trunk arms. TZ screams and struggles against him but nothing she does seems to faze him. After a few seconds of bluster all of the fight just seems to drain out of her and she goes limp against his arms.

“Threat neutralized,” Averic grunts. “Awaiting further orders.”

The leech looks down at you, then over to TZ and Averic, and then back to you again. Then he says, “We only need one for interrogation. You may kill the spare.”


> Sollux: Be the hero, save the girl

How the fuck are you supposed to do that? You can barely move and as long as this son of a bitch keeps draining you, your psionics are useless. There is nothing you can do! Oh god why is he putting his hands on TZ’s head like that? What the fuck is he going to do to her?


>Sollux: Be the hero, save the girl

You can’t save her! You can’t even save yourself. You can’t do anything!

Holy SHIT is he going to crush her head in? Oh god, no, no, no, NO, NO!


> Sollux: Be the hero, save the girl

You can’t! FUCK YOU!


> Sollux: Be the hero, save the girl

There is one thing you can try. Just one. But you know it’s not going to work.

A long time ago, back when AA was still alive, some punk-ass leech broke into your hive and stole some of your computer shit. Soon after the incident, AA had shown up at your place with a box of throwing stars, insisting that you learn to use a non-psychic weapon so you would have something you could rely on in case your psionics were ever compromised. You’d bitched and moaned but she knew how to whip your ass into shape and eventually you learned to throw the stars with enough precision to be reasonably dangerous should the need arise.

You used to keep them in the box they had come in but ever since you fucked up and AA died you have taken to carrying a handful of them with you in a little leather pouch that is small enough to fit in your pocket. In fact, the pouch is nestled in your left front pocket right now….


> Sollux: Be the hero, save the girl

Very discreetly, you reach into your pocket and find the familiar leather pouch. You flick it open and soundlessly withdraw three of the stars inside. You take a second to line up your shot because you know you are only going to get one and you had damn well better make it count. Trying to land the shot you want is going to be a bitch because the leech is turned away from you, looking over to the spot where Averic has TZ. (The fact that your hands are shaking worse than a flighty junkie hopped up on crazy pills and your arms feel about as substantial as cooked noodles does nothing to improve your odds.)

Averic starts squeezing. You hear TZ gasp, see her scratching at the huge hands. Then you throw.

The stars zing through the air and even though it’s a hard shot the aim is true. (Yes.) Two of them dig into the leech’s cheek (hell yes) and one nails him right in the eye (HELL FUCKING YES). Roaring with pain, the leech lets go of you. Apparently the damage is enough to make him forget all about you because you feel a heady surge of power as your psionics snap back to life.

Quickly, before the leech realizes his mistake, you hit Averic with a blast that knocks him on his muscle-bound ass. He drops TZ but your psionics catch her before she hits the floor. You know you only have another moment or two before the leech recovers and starts sapping you again so you make your decision—be the hero, save the girl—and throw TZ across the room, through the open airlock and into Ampora’s ship. You hear her hit the ground harder than you’d intended and then she is screaming at you because she isn’t stupid and she knows exactly what you are planning to do.

She is struggling to get up, trying to get to the airlock, all the while screaming, “Don’t you do this to me, you piece of shit! You fucking hypocrite; don’t you do this!” The leech is looking at you now and you know that any second you’ll feel that tearing sensation and then there will be nothing to prevent TZ from hobbling back out here and getting herself killed for you.

You charge up—“Don’t you dare!”—and you hit the airlock with a blast that curls the metal in on itself, sealing off the only way in or out of the ship.

You listen for the sound of the engine charging, listen for any sign that she is doing the smart thing and flying that ship right the fuck out of here. The only thing you hear is her continued screams, made incomprehensible through the thick barrier of melted metal and plastic. Goddamn it TZ, you think. GO!

You don’t know why the leech isn’t trying to drain you yet but if he’s going to fuck around and dawdle then you are not going to let the opportunity go to waste. Scraping together as much psionic power as you can, you pour it out through the walls and then you stretch it, dumping it along the surface of Ampora’s ship, over all the metal paneling and super-reinforced plastic windows. You stretch it until the whole damn ship is sitting in a bubble of psychic energy and then you throw it away from the station as hard as you can.

From one of the docking bay windows, you catch a glimpse of the ship hurtling away from the station and you smile because you know that TZ is going to be OK now; she is going to make it. Then there is a sharp pull from inside your head and a cramping pain in your body as all of your muscles begin to spasm. You open your mouth but you find that you cannot even scream because this time he isn’t holding anything back. Your back is arching at an almost impossible angle as the muscles there clench and hold but at the same time everything in your abdominal region is contracting and trying to pull you in the opposite direction and it feels like you are being torn apart.

From far away, you hear the leech saying, “Very impressive. You are going to make one hell of a ship once we finish interrogating you.” And then everything goes black.


> Terezi: Open memo

gallowsCalibrator [GC] opened PRIVATE memo R3SCU3 M1SS1ON

gallowsCalibrator [GC] invited adiosToreador [AT] to memo
gallowsCalibrator [GC] invited arsenicCatnip [AC] to memo
gallowsCalibrator [GC] invited grimAuxiliatrix [GA] to memo
gallowsCalibrator [GC] invited arachnidsGrip [AG] to memo
gallowsCalibrator [GC] invited centaursTesticle [CT] to memo
gallowsCalibrator [GC] invited terminallyCapricious [TC] to memo
gallowsCalibrator [GC] invited caligulasAquarium [CA] to memo
gallowsCalibrator [GC] invited cuttlefishCuller [CC] to memo

grimAuxiliatrix [GA] joined memo
adiosToreador [AT] joined memo
cuttlefishCuller [CC] joined memo

GA: Hello Terezi
AT: hI,
CC: )(i Terezi!
CC: )(ow did t)(e rescue fis)(ion go?
GC: …
GA: That Does Not Sound Terribly Encouraging
GA: Are You Alright
AT: }:(
AT: oH NO,
GC: WH4T D1D H3 S4Y?
GC: Y34H
CC: W)(AT 38O
GA: Are You Certain It Was Gamzee
GA: I Have Never Known Him To Be Needlessly Violent
AT: hE DIDN’T, uH,
CC: Wait a seacond.
CC: T)(at dumb clownfish)( acs)(elly managed to )(URT you?
GA: I Am Afraid That Nepeta And Equius May Also Be Absent
GA: Nepeta Promised That She Would Contact Me When They Had Reached Their Designated Rest Area
GA: I Have Yet To Hear From Her
GA: Yes
GA: However Nepeta Did Mention That It Was A Particularly Long Distance
GA: They May Still Be Traveling If The Journey Proved More Taxing Than Expected Especially If They Happened Across Any Unexpected Delays
CC: W)(at? W)(y?
CC: W)(at did t)(ey do?

terminallyCapricious [TC] joined memo

TC: honk
TC: legal sister wouldn’t let this motherfucker in on the rescuing of our best karbro.
TC: i wouldn’t miss it for the motherfucking world.
TC: i’m not understanding the meaning you’re up and conveying with such wicked slander words chica.
TC: lay on the motherfucking question talk.
TC: i got the sick nasty violence all on up and out of my head.
CC: O)( my god. I mean cod.
CC: O)( my cod.
TC: only a mild motherfucking bit.
GA: I Hesitate To Ask But Was It Anybody We Know
TC: it was just some brother with a loud ass cluckbeast lusus.
TC: when i snapped their motherfucking bones.
CC: S)(oaly glubbing s)(it.
CC: You u)(, you don’t eel like krilling anybody else at the moment do you?
CC: Like if somebody )(appened to do somefin to glub up the rescue?
TC: what?
CC: I’m just being )(YPOT)(-ETICAL )(ere.
CC: But if somebody )(YPOT)(-ETICALLY did somefin t)(at mig)(t )(ave glubbed up t)(e rescue, w)(at would you do?
CC: )(YPOT)(-ETICALLY speaking?
TC: i don’t know.
TC: but at the moment i ain’t got it in my pan to be laying down the chucklevoodoos on nobody.
TC: i’m comprehending the words what i see on my screen.
TC: this motherfucker is ready to get his listen on.
CC: No. I mean, )(e )(ad anot)(er s)(ip for you to use and I know )(e didn’t R-E-ELY mean to make t)(ings )(arder for you and Sollux so I didn’t t)(ink I needed to say anyt)(ing and get everybody all worked up.
GA: Perhaps That Is What He Believed He Was Doing But I Have To Say That From My Point Of View It Comes Across As Needlessly Coercive
GA: Are You Certain You Are Alright With Him Acting This Way
CC: )(e was protecting me because t)(at is w)(at MOIRAILS do!
CC: Beac)(sides, )(is s)(ip got you up t)(ere just fin, didn’t it?
CC: T)(en w)(at’s the big seal?
GC: …
CC: Terezi, stop glubbing around )(ere.
CC: Tell me t)(at Karcrab and Sollux are wit)( you rig)(t now.
CC: Please?
CC: W)(AT?
GA: What Happened
TC: so you’re saying you left our best shouty brother up there?
CC: 38O
GA: That Is Terrible
CC: So water you trying to say?
CC: T)(at t)(ey turned )(im into some kind of ugly FR-EAK?
CC: Reely? W)(ale to eac)( )(er own I guess.
CC: Me?
CC: W)(at do you mean?
CC: Am I acting weird? Because I don’t t)(ink I am acting weird.
CC: I’m being NASTY?
GA: Calling Karkat An Ugly Freak Was A Bit Insensitive
CC: O)(. W)(ale I’m sorry if I am being a mean snapperfis)(.
CC: I guess I am just WORRI-ED about Sollux. You still )(aven’t told us w)(at )(appened to )(im.
CC: Is )(e okray?
GC: …
CC: Terezi, is Sollux okay?
GA: For Goodness Sake Terezi Will You Please Just Tell Us What Happened
CC: W)(AT?
CC: O)( my god t)(is cannot be )(appening. )(ow could you )(ave gotten yours)(ellves caug)(t?
CC: )(ow could you )(ave done somefin so glubbing STUPID?
CC: No…no, no, no!
CC: You’re lying! You )(AV-E to be LYING!
GC: 1 W1SH 1 W4S
GA: Feferi I Understand That Sollux Was Your Matesprit But You Cannot Blame Terezi For This
CC: )(ow is it –Eridan’s fault?
CC: No! It was Vris! S)(e was t)(e one w)(o stole it for )(im!
GC: >:?
TC: so what i am understanding here is that our rude devious spider sister is the one what’s behind every motherfucking thing that went wrong?
CC: Y-------ES! I M-EAN NO!
CC: Y-ES it wwas Vris and NO I’m not me! Shit I mean him.
CC: I’m not )(im!
TC: it’s going to be a long motherfucking walk what i got ahead.
CC: I’m not –Eridan! I SW-EAR IT’S M-E!
GA: Eridan It Is Alright You Do Not Need To Continue This Charade
GA: We All Know It Is You And It Is Frankly Embarrassing To Watch
TC: going to pay the spider bitch a fucking visit.
TC: and then i’ll feel the crack of her bones as i grind them into my special stardust.
GC: 3R1D4N?
TC: honk.
CC: shut up all of you just SHUT UP

terminallyCapricious [TC] left memo

GC: WH3R3 1S F3F3R1?
CC: FUCK fefs gonna fuckin kill me
CC: fuck fuck fuck fuck FUCK
GA: Eridan Where Is Feferi
CC: fuck off
CC: all of you just leavve me alone

cuttlefishCuller [CC] is an idle troll!

GA: Do You Believe That Was Eridan The Whole Time
GC: WH3R3 D1D G4MZ33 GO?
GA: I Know
GA: She Has Not Been Online In Days
AT: oH,

adiosToreador [AT] left memo

GA: Yes
GA: No
GA: And Much As I Hate To Present Even More Bad News I Am Beginning To Believe That Something Has Gone Seriously Wrong With Them As Well
GC: >:[


> Eridan: Freak the fuck out

No need to tell you to do that. Between the vaguely ill feeling in your gut and the hyperventilating, you are doing a pretty good job of that already.

Oh GOD you had only been trying to keep Fef safe and maybe get her to consider going red with you and now you’ve gone and killed her matesprit and you are pretty sure all of your friends hate you. How could Ter have fucked everything up so horribly? No, how could Vris have done this to you? Getting you a ship that would be flagged the second she laid her hands on it…you know she must have done it on purpose just to burn you. How could everything have turned out so fucking wrong? You never wanted this to happen!

Well OK, maybe you would have cheerfully wrung Captor's neck with your own two hands given the opportunity—but you weren’t stupid. You knew full well that hurting that scrawny little computer shit would sink any chance you had with Fef faster than a leaking rowboat made of lead. You had therefore devoted all of your energy into hoping that he would politely go curl up and die somewhere or—better yet—Fef would come to her senses and break up with him so her flushed quadrant would be open and easy pickings.

And speaking of Fef…how in the fuck are you going to tell her about this? You may have spent all night crafting speeches designed to win back her love and affection—but all of your grandiose rhetoric had kind of hinged on pointing out how nobody got hurt and everything had worked out for the best. (It would have gone something along the lines of “I know I locked you in a closet all night but look! Sol and Ter still got Kar back and now you have a little more time to build up a proper army before you challenge the Empress and by the way did I mention that Sol and Ter and Kar are all just fine?”)

For a minute you consider not telling her. Maybe you can just open up the wardrobe and go with your original speech. If you were really convincing, she might buy it and maybe you would still have a shot at not losing everything you have worked so hard for…but no. Even if she did believe you (which you are pretty sure she wouldn’t because you literally kept her locked in a wardrobe all night) there is no way you could prevent the others from contacting her and telling her the truth. And now that you are thinking straight, you realize that would only make things worse because you are pretty sure that they will go out of their way to make you look like a horrible monster. No, it is definitely better that she hear it from you first so you at least have a chance to paint yourself in a rosier light.

Steeling yourself, you quietly open the door to Fef’s lavish respiteblock and step inside. The room is deathly still. There is not a single peep from the wardrobe, not even when you gently knock on the doors and say, “Fef? You OK?”

For a moment you think that she might have somehow gotten out—but no. The trident is still in place and you are certain that if she had gotten out her first move would have been to come after you. You swallow an especially big gulp of water before you say, “I’m going to let you out now, OK?”

She does not answer. You sigh. “Will you at least say something?”

No answer. God, you think. She must be even more pissed that I was anticipating she would be….

“OK,” you say. “I’m opening the doors now.”

Carefully, you slide the trident through the pull handle loops and set it aside. You have only just begun to pull on the doors when they burst open and Fef comes barreling out, hitting you in the chest like an Heiress-sized bullet. The force is so great that it sends you tumbling and you end up executing a lazy flip in the water before you can recover. By the time you right yourself she is hovering in front of you and even though you are a good six inches taller than she is, she seems to tower over you.

Her voice low and dangerous, she says, “What did you do?”

“I’m sorry Fef,” you say. “I swear I just wanted to keep you safe. You have to understand that I was doing it for you.”

She snatches her computing device out of your hand—huh, you were so worked up that you had completely forgotten that you were even carrying it with you—swims across the room with and settles down to sit at her desk. She glares at you as though daring you to even think about taking one step closer to her before she begins to scroll through the open memo.

“Oh my glub, Eridan,” she groans. “Were you imperchfinating me all night? What is the matter with you?”

You notice her eyes tracking on the screen. Quickly, you exclaim, “Fef, wait! Don’t read that yet!”

“Why not? What did you do?”

“God, Fef, I swear I didn’t mean for this to happen. I just….” You trail off as you notice that she isn’t even listening to you as she continues to read. You hurry over to where she is sitting and make a grab for the device but she sees you coming a mile away and elbows you in the gut hard enough to make you choke. Still, you don’t give up because if you are going to have even the tiniest chance of redeeming yourself here you cannot let her find out what a fiasco this night turned out to be by reading that awful fucking memo. Wheezing through the pain in your gut, you say, “God damn it, Fef, you have to give me a chance to explain before you read any more!”

This time she doesn’t even bother to look at you as she shoves you away—hard. The force of it sends you flying until you smack into the wardrobe all the way across the room. You let yourself sink down to the ground with your face buried in your hands because she isn’t even going to give you a chance, is she? In a way it seems strangely fitting: she’s given you less than you wanted all your life so why should it be any different now, when your life is about to be over?

From across the room, you hear a gasp. “No,” she whispers. “Oh cod. No, no, no. Sollux….” She lets out a quiet little sob and when you dare to look over at her she is hunched over with her hair hiding her face from view.

“Fef,” you say. “I’m sorry.”

Approaching her cautiously, you say, “I was trying to protect you.”

You kneel down on the floor beside her and carefully put one of your hands on her cheek in one of the finest, gentlest paps you have ever given in your life. “I was just trying to be a good moirail.”

She shudders. “Don’t touch me.”

Your blood pusher clenches because surely you have misunderstood. Sure, she is upset with you, but there is no way she has just said what you thought she said. “What?”

“I said don’t touch me!”

You shrink back because she has never taken this tone with you before. In fact, you are pretty sure she has never taken this tone with anybody before. You try to sound calm and reasonable but your voice comes out as a pathetic whine as you reply, “But I’m your moirail.”

She barks out a choked-off laugh. “You really think that we can just go back to being moirails after this?”

“Can’t we?”

“Moirails are supposed to be able to trust each other, Eridan. How can I trust you after what you’ve done tonight?”

“But I did it for you!” you shout. “I did it to protect you! How can you not understand—“

“My matesprit is dead!”

The phrase seems to hang in the water between you, charging the room with an electrical atmosphere of accusation as the words ring through your pan: my matesprit is dead, my matesprit is dead, my matesprit is dead….

Very carefully you say, “Well maybe that’s for the best.”


“I mean, he was so much lower than you on the hemospectrum…how long do you think it would have been before he croaked and broke your heart? Not very fucking long at all.” The look she gives you suggests that she is either about to burst into tears or about to slap you. Quickly, you decide to change tack to something a bit less morbid: “Do you even realize that there is somebody else out there who pities you so much it hurts—somebody who deserves to be red with you so much more than he ever did.”

She gapes at you and some stupid, optimistic part of your pan thinks, yes she is finally getting it! Then she says, “Oh my cod. I knew you were shellous of him but I never thought you would do something like this. Eridan, how could you?”

“Wait, you think I did this on purpose?”

“Of course you did it on porpoise!” she retorts. “I’m not stupid, Eridan. You come here pretending to comfort me like a good moirail and then once my matesprit is dead because he used your ship you just happen to be here to take his place. That’s what you were planning, wasn’t it?”

You shake your head, aghast because oh god you cannot let her think that you planned for things to go this way; god damn it she will never fucking forgive you for this if she thinks that you planned this! You might as well be begging as you say, “No, Fef…I never meant for it to turn out like this. I swear!”

“You locked me in a closet all night.” The finality with which she says those words stops you cold. You try to think of an adequate response but everything you could possibly say to explain yourself—“I was protecting you” “I just wanted you to be safe” “I wanted to show you that I could be a good moirail” or rather, “I wanted to show you that I could be a good moirail so you would see how much I deserved to be your matesprit”—has already been said. You are still desperately searching for the words which will get you out of this mess when she quietly says, “Get out.”

Your jaw drops because this cannot be happening, she cannot be doing this to you. You try to say something smooth, something that will make realize how absolutely ridiculous and fucking unfair she is being. You say, “What?”

“I said that I want you to leave. Now.”

You don’t move. You can’t move because this is not happening. She’s bluffing, you think. God damn it, she has to be bluffing. Fef’s face contorts into a mask of rage and she screams, “Get out of my hive!”

“You can’t do this to me,” you hiss. “I did everything right and don’t you fucking dare try to say different. I fucked around in your pale quadrant for sweeps just waiting for you to figure out that I deserved better than that stupid bullshit quadrant from you, your majesty. Even tonight I was still playing by diamond rules like a stupid chump and hoping that you would finally wise up. I cannot fucking believe that after all I did for you, you still—“

Her trident flashes across the room so fast you don’t even have time to duck. You don’t know whether she is too worked up to aim well or whether she was intending the throw to be a warning shot, but either way you are lucky: two of the prongs graze across your forehead just below your hairline and the third glances harmlessly off your horn. The water around you begins to swirl with tendrils of violet blood—your blood. You instinctively clap a hand over the wound as the salt water surrounding you finds the damaged flesh and amplifies the sting.

“GET OUT!” she shrieks and this time you finally move because she is armed and in her element and possibly trying to actually fucking kill you. Her voice follows you as you go, “I never want to see you ever again! I will krill you myshellf if you ever come near my hive again!”

As you exit her hive and start the long swim back to your own home, you feel a surge of rage toward Sol for getting his stupid ass caught and toward Ter for letting him get his stupid ass caught and toward Vris for fucking you all over with a rigged ship and toward Eq for telling all of you about Kar and toward Kar for getting his stupid ass kidnapped in the first place. God, you are so fucking angry with all of them for fucking you over like this. You are so angry with all of them for making Fef hate you and above all you are absolutely fucking furious with Fef for having the gall hate you when you were being nothing short of a perfect example of moiraillegiance in every fucking way.

You decide right then and there that you are done with all of your so-called friends. If they are all too stupid to appreciate you then you sure as fuck aren’t going to give them the time of night ever again. In a few more perigees the Imperial ships will come and then you’ll make new friends—better friends who give you the respect that your royal blood fucking deserves. Your old friends were a bunch of pathetic nobodies. But you? You’re Eridan fucking Ampora and you are going to be something great.


> Straw Soldiers: Part 2

Chapter Text

Transmission released fleetwide on the 12th bilunar perigee of the 6th dark season's equinox:

 Imperial decree


> Months in the past, but not many...

Chapter Text

Your name is Karl Vantross. It is the first day of your senior year of high school and you and your parents just moved here from Los Angeles because your dad’s job decided to transfer him to their Seattle branch for no good reason whatsoever. Most people would think that moving away from your school and all of your friends right before your senior year would suck, but you’re OK with it because all of your old friends were assholes and your old school was equally terrible. Your interests include watching ridiculously terrible movies and pointing out their flaws and MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS, ASSHOLE. You have no idea what you will do when you graduate, but somebody once told you that it would be something outstanding, so you guess there’s that. If anybody asks, this is your story and you are sticking to it whether you like it or not.

Actually, you don’t like it. You don’t like a single shit-spewing word of it because it’s all a load of bullshit. If you were being totally honest, it should really go something like this:

Your name is (not) Karl Vantross. It is the first day of your senior year of high school and you and your “parents” just moved here from a hell of a lot farther away than Los Angeles because this is where the Empire decided you should be. Most people think that moving away from your school and all of your friends right before your senior year would suck, but you’re OK with it because they fucking killed people at the drop of a hat at your old school and you really didn’t have any friends there, anyway. Your interests include watching ridiculously terrible human movies and pointing out their flaws and doing your part to contribute to the total subjugation and domination of this worthless planet. You have no idea what you will do when you graduate. Probably whatever your “parents” tell you to do because they’re the ones getting all the orders from the Imperial fleet.

And speaking of parents…it is really fucking weird to be living in the same hive (house) as not just one but TWO adult trolls. Sure, you know all about basic human social constructs. You have seen enough awful human TV shows featuring awful human families as they go about their incredibly inane and awful human lives to know that human children have to live with at least one adult human caretaker and more often than not, two. The only problem is that past you, being the shining beacon of intelligence and common sense that he is, never considered that this would mean you would have to be subjected to the same situation until an Imperial commander was introducing you to these two random adult trolls and informing the three of you that they were now your “parents” and you were now their “child” and that as their “child” you had to live with them and follow their rules and as your “parents” they had to function as your pseudo-lusus and make sure you didn’t do something stupid like try to swallow a bottle of bleach or some shit. (Actually, until that incredibly awkward moment you’d had absolutely no idea that there were other facilities training other groups of trolls for this piece of shit operation—which is totally obvious now that you think about it. Wow, did past you seriously think that deploying tiny batches of twenty or thirty trolls every other sweep was any way to run a massive covert invasion? Apparently he did because this development was just as surprising and uncomfortable as a sudden bout of explosive diarrhea. It is a wonder that you didn’t just soil yourself right there in your surprise. Your only consolation was that the two adults seemed to be equally floored to see you as you were to see them. All you can think is thank fuck neither of them were on your station because having to call any of the shitheads who tormented you for half a sweep “mom” or “dad” would be all manner of nook-humped awkward.)

Your “dad” is a guy with a baby face that makes him look like he is barely old enough to be your older “brother” let alone mature enough to have contributed to your genetic slurry in any way, shape, or form. He spends most of the day in Seattle, working at some software company that you can’t be bothered to care about and he pisses away most of his time at home on the computer. Maybe if either of you had the tiniest inkling of a desire to pretend that you are actual human father-and-son pals you would ask him to show you a few things about coding because he seems to know his shit but—alas!—the two of you combined cannot summon up a single fuck to give about fostering bizarre alien familial affection ties. The two of you tend to avoid each other, him seeking you out only to inform you of the latest news from the fleet and you seeking him only to inform him that there is not a single roll of toilet paper to be had in the entire house and will you please get some more before we are all running around with bright red ass cheeks like a bunch of fucking apes. You are completely OK with this arrangement because from the few vocal exchanges you have had he seems like kind of a douche. You have no idea what his real name is (in fact none of you know each other’s real names because you were all forbidden from using them the second you left your training facilities). His human name is “Otto.”

“Nora”—your “mom”—looks as though she would have pulled off the rugged badass look before they took away her horns and fangs. You don’t know what the hell she did for fun and entertainment before she ended up getting recruited but you suspect it involved overdosing on shitloads of adrenaline because holy fucking shit as if strapping your ass into a combustion-propelled vehicle isn’t terrifying enough (and on a side note, what is wrong with humans; who the fuck thought it was a good idea to base their main mode of transportation on engines that fucking explode?) she drives as though she thinks she is in a constant drag race with Her Imperious Condescension’s flagship and turning a corner on more than two wheels is an automatic point reduction. She somehow managed to snag a post as a nighttime security guard which means she barely even needed to try and adapt to maintaining a diurnal schedule, the lucky broad. You rarely speak to each other because she is usually going to bed as you are getting up and she is usually getting up when you are going to bed. You are completely OK with this arrangement because unlike your “dad”, she will occasionally try to go through the motions of doing human mother things like asking you how your day was or even fixing you meals, which you guess would be kind of nice if she didn’t do it with a constant undertone of I don’t give a single squirting shit about you I am only doing this for show you horrible little leech. Consequently, you are not nearly as stoked as most human kids probably would be when you wake up to the smell of sizzling bacon and frying eggs.

You take your time selecting a pair of worn jeans and a plain tee shirt from your closet because it is 6:30 am, the bus isn’t coming for another hour, and maybe if you wait for the food to get cold you will not have to endure any of Nora’s resentful pretend human mom bullshit. You proceed to the bathroom and you wash your face, rake a comb through your hair and brush your teeth with all the speed and agility of an impaired turtle. Then you go back to your respiteblock (Bedroom, you remind yourself because you will never get away with calling it a respiteblock anymore and if you are never going to say it again then you might as well train yourself to stop thinking it, too). You pick up your brand-new backpack, open it up, rifle through everything in there a couple of times, to buy yourself a couple more minutes. (Pencils, pens, paper, ruler, three-ring binder, erasers, colored pencils…it’s like an office supply store vomited into your poor, defenseless Jansport.)

By the time you finally head downstairs you are sure that Nora will have decided fuck the ungrateful little shit I’m tired and going to bed because it is already ten past seven and you have barely ever seen her make it past six. You are so confident that you are going to go downstairs to an empty kitchen that you just about piss yourself when you walk into the room and find Nora sitting at the table and staring at you with a smile that has no business being on a living person’s face. (Seriously, you are half-tempted to tell her to give it back to the creepy porcelain doll she lifted it from because now there is some freaky toy running around out there without a mouth and when the fuck was the last time you ever heard of a doll scaring the shit out of some unsuspecting kid without a proper fucking mouth for shit’s sake.)

“Good morning, Karl,” she says.

“Why are you still up?”

Her creeper smile edges just a little wider and goddamn it, the fakiness of it makes her eyes look like they are glazed-over doll eyes. “It’s the first day of your senior year. I made you breakfast.”

You have to tamp down the instinct to wince. Her voice is sickly-sweet and airy but there is something else in it—something you cannot quite put your clawless digits on—that is nasty and unsettling, like a loogie of clear snot hiding in a can of whipped frosting. “What do you want?”

“Is it so hard for you to believe that I just want you to have a good start for your first day of human school?”

You want to say “Yes. Yes it is because I know you don’t give an actual shit about me.” Instead you just shrug and stand there with the knowledge that any casual observer would probably think you were being a massive bulge.

“Sit,” she says, indicating the empty chair directly across from the one in which she is currently seated. You slump your shoulders but do as she says and ugh, why the fuck is she still giving you that creepy doll face stare; you swear that it is at least ten billion times creepier up close than it was from across the room and something about it makes you feel like you are fucking naked for human Jesus’ ass-purging sake. Once you are seated, she motions to the covered plate sitting in front of you and says, “Eat.”

You remove the cover and are greeted with a plate full of scrambled egg, bacon, and two slices of toast with purple jam. Kept warm under the cover, the food is still steaming and it smells good. You immediately wonder if it is poisoned. Then you decide that no, you are pretty sure that even though there weren’t any explicit orders against “parents” killing their “children” or vice versa, it would probably get the humans riled all the fuck up and attract shitloads of attention that would blow the snot out of the “covert” part of your big covert mission and Nora has to be at least marginally smarter than that if she’s made it this far. You take a cautious bite of bacon and it’s good—better than the way they made it back on the station, where it was always either floppy and undercooked or burned black. (You never could figure out why the cooking staff seemed to have such a hard time mastering the charring of porcine belly flesh when they could do just fine with pretty much everything else.)

Even though the food is good, you really wish Nora would quit staring at you while you eat it because the longer you sit there with her giving you that weird doll stare, the more you start to get the feeling that maybe you were wrong about her not poisoning you. Hell, for all you know maybe she is just sitting there waiting for the flesh-eating maggots that she sprinkled into the eggs to come bursting through your abdominal wall and perfume the entire kitchen with the lovely smell of perforated entrails. (There is also the disconcerting fact that your flat teeth make a shitton more noise than your fangs ever did while they mash up your food. You aren’t exactly the most genteel troll in the universe—not by a longshot—but in the dead silence of the kitchen it sounds like you are a fucking cow and that is kind of really fucking embarrassing.)

You have almost cleaned the whole plate when Nora says, “You have some orders from the fleet.”

You gasp and damn near choke to death on a mouthful of grape jam and toast. Nora doesn’t bother to do anything decent like help you as you hork up a big old mouthful of half-chewed bread. Nope, she just sits there watching you with that creepy fucking stare as you slug down a mouthful of apple juice and try to keep your eyes from watering because damn it you do not even want to think about how Nora and Otto will react to the idea that their “son” is a fucking mutant. You dealt with that shit back on the station and you’ll be fucked upside-down and sideways before you have to deal with it again.

Finally, when you can actually manage to breathe without feeling like your throat is in the midst of a freak-out spasm, you wheeze, “What?”

Nora doesn’t even bother to say anything along the lines of “Gee that looked really fucking unpleasant; are you OK?” Her face remains an undisturbed mask of smiling porcelain doll creepiness as she states, “The fleet has sent your first formal orders.”

"Oh,” you breathe. You take a moment to ensure that you can actually enunciate like a person without devolving into another fit of asphyxiating yourself. Then you say, “So what are they?”

“I’ll tell you on the way to school.”

You frown. “I thought I was supposed to take the bus.”

A flicker of life finally graces Nora’s creepy dead-eye stare. “I’ll drive you.”

Your frown deepens because you really do not relish starting your day with a rousing round of OH FUCK OH GOD NO OH GOD WE’RE GOING TO FUCKING CRASH WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU EVEN DOING FUUUUUUCK! Of course, you do realize that riding a human bus has its own perils. Why, if every human sitcom that features school-aged children is to be believed then riding on those big-ass yellow vehicles is actual, serious fucking business. Still, you are pretty sure that those perils would be a lot heavier on the bullshit human drama and lot lighter on the impotent screaming for your insignificant life, so decide to keep angling for the bus.

“Just tell me now, before I leave.”

“You might miss the bus and then I’d have to drive you anyway.” Then, as though it explains absolutely everything, she shrugs and adds, “Otto was supposed to tell you when you got up but you waited so long to come downstairs that his carpool came and he had to leave for work.”

“OK fine,” you groan because you have just had an epiphany that—guess what, nookhopper—it doesn’t matter what you say; she just wants an excuse to take the car and play a lively game of “Let’s see how much globes-to-the-wall insane driving Karkat Karl can take before he has a nervous fucking breakdown and evacuates his bowels all over your custom leather car seat covers.” You pick up your backpack with a huff and channel all of your energy into aggressively scuffing your toes on the floor as you follow Nora to the garage because if she’s not going to listen to your completely civil and reasonable words—seriously, you didn’t even swear at her once: nary a “fuck” or a “damn” or even a lowly “hell” to be heard—then maybe your surly-as-fuck body language will convey the message loud and clear that you are just not in the mood for this bullfuckery.

Nora seems perfectly content to ignore your passive-aggressive recalcitrance. In fact, she is so distracted by the prospect of putting you into mortal peril that she even forgets to do the stupid fake human mom thing and yell at you for putting marks into the shitty linoleum. She looks as though she might actually start skipping as she approaches the car. It hits you as you climb into the passenger seat that this is the only time you ever see her doll mask smile evolve into something approaching real pleasure. It also hits you that you have no way of knowing whether it’s the driving itself or whether it’s the putting you into a state of pants-pissing terror that gets her so goddamn frisky. You try really fucking hard to ignore the idea that it is almost certainly the latter.

You know exactly what is coming when she turns the key in the ignition. Even so, it comes as a shock when the car goes from zero to fifty in two seconds flat, flying out of the garage like the final remnants of a rancid meal shooting from the darkest regions of some poor fucker’s bowels. You grab the armrests and hold on for dear life as Nora cuts a hard left onto the road, whipping the entire back end of the car into a tire-squealing fishtail. The car lags as though it’s about to die but Nora stomps on the gas and—gah holy fuck—it lurches forward like a fucking animal. You choke back the urge to yelp like a pathetic little bitch as the force of it throws you back in your seat (because holy grubsawing fuck it’s not like you’re some pooping wiggler that will squeal if anybody so much as farts in their direction) and then, with a fucking awful roar from the engine, the car screams off down the road.

You look over at Nora once the car settles into a steady speed of GET THE FUCK OUT OF THE WAY OR SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES. She is completely focused on the road and smiling with the same type of glee you’ve seen on wiggler’s faces as they pull all the legs off some of the crawly creatures back on Alternia. You see nothing to suggest that she remembers that she is going to tell you about your orders or that she remembers you have orders or that she even knows what the fuck an order even is anymore. You are kind of reluctant to do anything that will take her attention away from the road but the only reason you agreed to subject yourself to this ass-puckering romp through the land of OH GOD NO was so you could hear your orders from the fleet and you are damned if you are leaving this chugging vehicle without some fucking orders.

“So,” you say. “The fleet.”

“Mmm,” she mumbles. She takes a right turn that makes you white knuckle your grip on the armrests—fuuuuck you seriously come this close to rolling right off the damn road and into a ditch—before she adds, “They want you to make friends.”

For one moment you completely forget the fact that you are in a combustion-propelled motor vehicle that is most likely about to rocket off the road and leave you tragically dead in the middle of asscrack nowhere, USA so you can boldly exclaim, “They want me to what?”

“Make friends,” she repeats. And then, as if you are completely fucking stupid, she decides to clarify the glaringly obvious by stating, “Human friends.”

You shake your head because sure, you’ve spent the last sweep (oh, whoops, make that two and a half years) preparing to live on Earth and sure, you expected that to involve interacting with these human aliens on at least a semi-regular basis…but nowhere in the job description did it ever say that you were going to be doing something as utterly ridiculous as making friends with them. Did they forget that none of us are actually human, you wonder. Jesus fucking Christ on a hallucinogenic cactus next thing you know they’re going to expect me to fucking human marry one of them, too. You absolutely cannot fathom the reasoning behind such a weird order but you are damn well going to get to the bottom of it right fucking now.

“Why the fuck would they want me to do that?” you demand.

“I don’t know,” she replies. She glances away from the road for a split-second and in that moment all of the manic glee that had painted her face is gone, replaced with something dead cold and serious. When she speaks again, it’s with an intensity you haven’t heard from her before: “Your orders were specifically to make friends with humans. Try to seek out less popular specimens if possible.”

“Less popular specimens?” you repeat. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

She shrugs. “Less involved in the community, less familial connections…that sort of thing.”

You groan because wow, not only do you have to make friends with some weird and ugly human alien; you have to make friends with an unpopular weird and ugly human alien. From what you know about them, regular humans are already completely fucked up and backwards. You don’t even want to consider what one of them could possibly do that is bad enough to become unpopular when they are literally surrounded by unfiltered awfulness at all times.

Nora slams on the brakes as the car roars into the school parking lot. The car screeches to a stop, leaving a trail of skid marks longer than the ones that would appear in a giant’s underwear after a meal of nothing but prunes and laxative diet shakes. A few kids milling around outside the building turn and look at your car. You honestly can’t blame them because you would probably stare, too if you thought some psycho was about to run your ass right the fuck down.

You don’t do any of the stupid melodramatic bullshit that most movies featuring human adolescents seem to think the new kid in town needs to do to show that they are the new kid in town. You don’t sit there staring at the building in silent trepidation because you were here literally two days ago to pick up your schedule and you are in proud possession of at least one functioning brain cell so you can read the map they were decent enough to give you just fine. You don’t monologue to your ‘loving’ (haha, loving, that’s a fucking laugh) parent about how you are so sad that you had to move and how you’ll never ever make any new friends in this squalid dump. Instead, you pick up your backpack, open the car door, and get out like a normal fucking person.

Apparently, fixing you breakfast and providing you with a heart attack-inducing ride to school has maxed out all of Nora’s tolerance for maintaining the fake-ass loving mother façade because she doesn’t bother to say anything like “Have a nice day” or “I love you, sweetie” or even a gentle reminder to “Don’t fuck up too badly.” Instead, she shouts after you, “Remember: make some friends” before peeling out of the parking lot and leaving behind a cloud of smoke and the acrid stench of burning tires. Another group of kids turn around and stare at you like you’re the fucking psycho who thinks that you’re doing it wrong if you’re not going at least twenty over the speed limit at all times. You scowl at them and they quickly go back to discussing whatever the fuck they were so absorbed in before Nora decided to scare the shit out of everybody. Then you remember that you are supposed to be making friends and mentally kick yourself because wow, way to make an approachable and friendly first impression there, dipshit. You quickly walk into the building, the better to dispel any lingering connection that those jerks will make between you and the driver from Satan’s asshole.

The main hall is packed with human adolescents. There are tall ones and short ones and males and females and some wearing bright colors and some wearing all black and some wearing so goddamn much makeup that they would put Gamzee to fucking shame and every last one of them is ugly as fuck. (Of course, you are also pretty fucking hideous, so you fit right in. Go you!) Most of them are gathered together in little groups, jabbering at each other about meaningless shit like hyperactive screech birds. Some of them are attempting to navigate through the crowd to disappear into smaller hallways or through doors that presumably lead to classrooms. You decide to join the latter category because you are pretty sure that none of the people in those weird little tribes chilling in the hall are unpopular enough to satisfy your orders.

You weave through the crush of bodies—a feat made exponentially more difficult due to the fact that there is a group of about ten males are gathered in a circle and kicking around a colorful little ball right in the goddamn middle of the fucking hall and blocking the way for literally everybody like a bunch of stupid jackasses. Eventually, you manage to arrive at room C – 1, the site of your first momentous foray into the world of American human education. The room is mostly empty, though a few people have already claimed their seats, mostly in the very front or the very back of the room. You select a seat somewhere in the middle because you really don’t give a fuck and wait for the room to fill.

More humans trickle in at the minutes tick by. A few of them give you a brief glance as though to say wait, who the fuck are you? but most of them don’t give you a second look and none of them bother to say anything to you. You are completely fine with this because it gives you a chance to scope shit out and see which of them—if any—might be potential “unpopular human friend” material. You immediately rule out the ones that go out of their way to sit near each other. Then you begin to eliminate the ones that don’t seem to have trouble keeping a conversation going with the people sitting near them. (This proves to be a hell of a lot more difficult than it sounds and there is the added risk of somebody looking your way and thinking you are a creeper…which, admittedly, yeah. You kind of are being a creeper at the moment.)

By the time the human teacher walks into the room and the first bell rings, you have narrowed your list of “possibles” down to three: a dude near the front who is too engrossed in the thick book he is reading to look up and acknowledge that there are actually living people nearby, a surly-looking guy who looks like he wants to punch everybody in the face, and a girl who is clearly high on some kind of human soporific. Then the teacher calls the class to order (you are surprised to see that it takes her a couple of tries to get everybody to shut the hell up, though you suppose there isn’t nearly as much incentive to follow the rules when you aren’t at risk of being killed just for scratching your own ass out of turn) and you are nook-deep in the wonders of English literature.

By the end of the class, you have dumped all three of your “possibles” off your list. The book guy is clearly one of the teacher’s favorites and the way he always acts like he knows everything reminds you of Nulian. You sincerely suspect that the surly guy is an asshole because he spent most of the class period kicking the seat in front of him and giggling about it and orders or no orders, you would prefer it if your friends were not complete shitheads. The girl might be worth pursuing…but you have already spent enough of your life babysitting morons who spend most of their time soaring high as a fucking kite and you really don’t think you can bear being around another Gamzee. You therefore leave the classroom with a huge-ass purple book entitled The Language of Literature and not a single prospect.

The second and third class periods pass in almost exactly the same way: go to classroom, make a shortlist of likely targets, leave with gigantic fucking book and not a single one of your “possibles” remaining on your shortlist. You elect to make a quick stop at your locker before you head for your fourth period class because your backpack is more packed full than an Alternian slither creature on a feeding binge and you swear to sacred fuck that the thing weighs almost as much as you do. You have no idea as you enter in the combination and gleefully deposit Language of Literature, Holt’s Pre-calculus, and Landmarks in Humanities that the consequences of your totally mundane and logical decision will change your life forever.

Most of the seats have already been taken by the time you arrive at your fourth period classroom. You end up sitting next to some dopey-looking kid with spiky dark hair and square glasses. You fully expect him to ignore you like all of the other bulge wipes you have encountered today, but the doofy kid shocks the shit out you by cracking into a huge grin and saying, “Hey, new guy! I’m John. Who’re you?”

You take a moment to allow your surprise gland secretions to thin to a reasonable level (because whoa, shit this is the first human you have ever spoken with who seems like he wants to carry on an actual conversation) before you reply, “Kark—uh, Karl. I’m Karl Vantross.”

“Vantross?” he repeats. “Sounds kind of like Van Helsing!”

“No it doesn’t,” you scowl because wow, just your luck: you aren’t sitting next to just your average, run-of-the-mill idiot. Oh, no. You have managed to find the king of idiots in all his fecal-throwing, shit-eating grinning glory. “That is literally the stupidest thing I have ever heard in my life.”

“Well, duh it doesn’t,” John laughs. “I’m just messing with you.”

You give him a withering glare, the kind that would make anybody with the slightest ounce of social competence shrivel up into a dried-up husk of SHUT THE HELL UP. He doesn’t seem to get the hint because he just keeps flinging his incomprehensible word vomit at you.

“You do know who Van Helsing is, don’t you?” he asks.

“Yes,” you huff because—guess what—you are not even half as stupid as he is so the fact that you already know everything he knows and then some is a universal given. Of course you know this morsel of brainless human pop culture trivia. “He’s that doctor from the book about vampires. Dracula.”

His face takes on a solemn expression that is so heavily put-on it might as well scream I’m about to say something really fucking douchey right now so take cover before the storm commences. “Van Helsing is Wolverine.”


“You know, Hugh Jackman? Wolverine? He was Van Helsing.”

You sincerely hope that your dark scowl is enough to hide your sudden feelings of OH SHIT because you have absolutely no fucking idea what this asshole is talking about. You think you might have heard the name Hugh Jackman but your knowledge of human celebrities is obviously nowhere near where it should be because you can’t remember if he’s a singer or an actor or if he’s just one of those famous people who are famous for no fucking reason whatsoever. You guess that he is probably some actor and you also guess that he must have played Van Helsing in some Earth movie at some point…but then what the fuck does he have to do with some Earth woodland creature that is the rough equivalent of a miniature Alternian cholerbear? And what in mother grub’s oozing heft sphincter does the miniature cholerbear have to do with the doctor from the Dracula story? God fucking damn it, you cannot be fucking up this egregiously on your first ever proper conversation with a human, what the fuck is wrong with you?

Somebody sitting in front of you, a guy who looks like a douche-tastic flesh-and-blood version of the human Ken doll turns around and says, “Hey, Egderp. Leave the new guy alone.”

The goofy smile melts off John’s face like a bead of sweat disappearing into the dark regions of a plumber’s ass crack. “Hey, I was just—“

“Whatever you were just doing, he doesn’t want to deal with your shit. What’re you planning to do, blow him the fuck up or some shit?”

John’s reaction takes you utterly by surprise. He doesn’t tell the douche face to go fuck himself with a rusty fine-toothed comb. He doesn’t say anything at all. Instead, he just kind of seems to deflate a bit and stares down at his desk like he thinks that maybe if he looks at it hard enough, it’ll tell him what he should do and say. You realize with quiet astonishment that he is just giving up.

Ken-doll douche face turns around a bit more so he is facing you fully. “Sorry you had to see that, man, but Egderp is a dick. I was doing you a favor,” he says. He gives you what you are sure would pass for a winning smile if he didn’t look like such a fucking tool before he offers up his hand and adding, “Cory Manson.”

You look down at the hand in front of you. Look at John who, you realize with a sudden jolt of awkward, is still just sitting there staring into the boundless depths of his empty desk. Look at Cory’s too-perfect Ken doll face. And then you make your decision. Narrowing your eyes to poisonous slits of smoldering hostility, you say, “Listen here, Cory I-don’t-give-a-shit: John and I were having a nice, civil conversation until you turned around and crapped all over it so you can just fuck right off back to whatever vile stink pit you crawled out of this morning.”

Face aghast, Cory quickly withdraws his hand. “What?”

You execute an epic eye roll because he’s acting like you were speaking a completely different language even though you know for a fact that you were speaking very clear and precise English like the most considerate example of an invading alien species the universe has ever known. You wish this shithead could understand Alternian so you could give him a proper lambasting. Instead, you decide to keep things nice, crisp and concise: “I said fuck you.”

Cory obviously has never had to deal with anything in the way of trading real verbal barbs because he is so woefully unprepared that the best he can do is a stammered, “Yeah? Well…fuck you, too.” You flip him off as he turns back around, not because you are particularly angry with him but because repeating the same thing that your opponent just said in an insult-off is pretty much the weakest shit ever and you find his lack of imagination to be depressing as hell.

Once Cory-the-douche face is out of your business, you return your attention back to John and say, “So. What the fuck were you trying to say about Van Helsing?”

“Oh!” he exclaims. The smile is back, just as big and dumb as before but you think his eyes might be a little wet. You can’t be sure if what you are seeing are actual tears or if his eyes are just naturally watery because human tears are clear for some weird-ass reason. If they are tears he does a damn good job of covering them as he says, “I was talking about the movie. Have you seen it?”


“Oh. You should.”

“Why? Is it any good?” You are not sure whether you want him to say that it is a work of unparalleled cinematic brilliance or whether you want him to say that it’s a steaming pile of absolute shit. Either way, you suspect that watching it and ripping it to shreds will provide a good, solid two hours worth of entertainment.

John laughs. “No. It’s pretty terrible, actually. But I think you’d like it!”

“And why in the name of colorful flying fuck do you think that?”

John is about to answer but the bell rings before he can divulge whatever bizarre chain of human logic nuggets led him to conclude that you seemed like the type of person who would appreciate unsolicited shitty movie recommendations. The teacher doesn’t piss around long enough for him to offer up much of a response, either. The best he can do is grin and repeat, “Seriously, you should watch it!”

You proceed to spend the next hour listening to the female teacher talk about all the shit you can look forward to learning this semester, watching her walk the class through a painfully slow review of the human scientific method, and receiving a fucking enormous book named Prentice-Hall Biology. The classroom becomes increasingly restless as the hour progresses. You suspect that this is because the lunch period is next and your human classmates are preparing themselves to descend on the cafeteria like a flock of ravenous jitterbats. Their total inability to sit still disgusts you—though not as much as it should because you realize that you would probably be right there with them if not for Nora’s huge breakfast.

The classroom begins to clear out fast once the bell rings. You have yet to master the art of combining the actions of throwing all of your shit into your backpack and running out the door into a single fluid motion, so you are one of the last ones to leave the room. When you finally do manage to drag your sorry ass out of the room, you are surprised to see that John has waited for you.

“Hey, Karl,” he says. “Did you want to eat lunch together?”

You look at him and for just one second his dopey grin and laughing eyes remind you of someone—a burly troll with an infectious grin and a crippling inability to string together more than two words of English at a time. Then you remember that you are just looking at a kind of dorky human. You quickly remind yourself this guy will never be another Evrind for you. He’ll never be a Sollux or a Terezi or even an Eridan because he’s only human, after all. Even so, the guy hasn’t gone out of his way to make you particularly miserable, so you shrug and say, “Sure.”

He smiles and says, “Cool! I’ll meet you there—I have to get my lunch from my locker first.”

He disappears into the crowd with all the speed and subtlety of a silent fart puffing from somebody’s ass. You proceed to the cafeteria because you had not had the time or patience to bullshit around with packing yourself edible food this morning and you have a feeling the line to buy yourself a lunch is going to be absolutely fucking outrageous.

As it turns out, you were completely and totally correct in assuming that the line would be ridiculous. The lunch period is already half over by the time you finally manage to get through the line and acquire a basic soup-and-sandwich lunch. You make a mental note to never dawdle on your way to the cafeteria ever again as you pay for your meal and emerge into the dining area with your food.

At first you think you will have a hard time finding John because the cafeteria is really fucking crowded. You briefly wonder if maybe you should have just listened to Cody-the-douche’s warning that “Egderp is an ass” because for all you know John just wanted to make you look like a stupid fucking oaf just standing there in the middle of the room playing the world’s shittiest game of human Where’s Waldo. Then you spot him waving you over to a stretch of table in the far corner of the room.

You notice as you approach that something seems to be a bit off. A moment later it hits you: most of the other kids are sitting in little knots of five or ten, but John is sitting completely alone. Well cut off my globes and nail them up for Twelfth Perigee’s Eve, you think. Looks like the pernicious deities of troll fortune have decided to crack a heinous smile over the completely miserable excuse of an existence known as my life.

As you sit down, you decide that you had better confirm your suspicions before you go thanking any nonexistent beings for anything. You try to sound light and casual as you say, “Hey, John. Isn’t anybody else going to sit with us?”

He gets that crestfallen look on his face again, the one that had appeared there when Cory harassed him in the biology classroom. When he speaks, his voice has adopted a strangely flat quality: “No, Karl. It’s just me.”

“Is it always like that?” You immediately feel like a festering pile of bulge reek for asking, but you need to be sure and if there is any delicate way of asking somebody if they are loathed by their peers you have yet to hear of it.

He stares into the depths of his chocolate pudding cup for a long time. Then he says, “Yeah. It kind of is.”

You look at him, trying to figure out exactly why everybody in his entire cohort seems to dislike him enough to exile him to his own little corner of the room. Sure, he’s kind of doofy-looking and he apparently has fucking awful taste in movies, but he doesn’t smell and he seems surprisingly not horrible as far as humans go. You are at a loss.

John seems to take your silence as a sign that you have come to the conclusion that you are deeply offended by his very existence because he sighs and says, “Look, if you want to sit somewhere else—“

“Why in the leaking sack of human waste to the crotch would I want to do that?” you say. “This is perfect.”

He frowns. “It is?”

Fuck. “It’s fine.” He keeps looking at you like he thinks you are about to do something really fucking stupid like dump your milk over his head or whatever the hell it is that human bullies do when they have their prey at their mercy so you add, “Now give me some more fucking terrible movie suggestions.”

He brightens considerably at this request. As he begins to ply you with awful movie titles (Ghostbusters 2! Con Air! Deep Impact!), you take a moment to congratulate yourself because you are only about four hours in and Operation: Befriend the Unpopular Human Kid is on track to becoming a rip-roaring example of success.


> John: Answer chum

Chapter Text

turntechGodhead [TG] began pestering ectoBiologist [EB]

TG: hey
TG: you havent messaged me in a seriously long ass time
TG: are you still alive
EB: hi dave. yeah, i’m fine.
EB: i’ve just been kind of busy! it’s our senior year, remember?
TG: yeah i got that
TG: im sure you are up to your ass in drugs sex and shitty pop music just like every other good american teen
TG: id better watch myself lest you lay down some high school musical shit and go busting out into some crappy auto toned song and dance about the joys of sex ed
TG: but seriously are you actually ok
EB: yeah. i think so.
EB: everybody’s still kind of pissed at me, though
EB: also i’m banned from going to any official school functions for the entire year, including prom.
EB: actually make that ESPECIALLY prom.
TG: that blows but everyone knows official school functions are overrated
TG: watching high school sports is pretty much just watching a bunch of sweaty douche bags knock each other around and congratulate each other for being sweaty douche bags and dont even get me started on school dances
TG: school dances are the most awkward pieces of glitter encrusted crap to come out of the bowels of american adolescence
EB: yeah. i know.
TG: so
TG: any of your old friends come crawling back yet
EB: no :(
EB: i made a new friend though! some new guy who didn’t know any better.
EB: (hahaha)
TG: oh snap
TG: trolling the hell out of the new kid
TG: nice work man
TG: your pranksters gambit must be shooting through the roof and up into the clouds to goose some unsuspecting angel right on his feathery ass
EB: yeah…i think i might have to retire the prankster’s gambit for a while.
EB: it’s kind of the reason i got into this mess in the first place.
TG: what
TG: dude no
TG: thats like your trademark dorky thing
TG: everybody needs to have at least one trademark dorky thing
TG: its what keeps us from becoming assholes
EB: haha, got you good there.
EB: i could never retire the prankster’s gambit!
TG: jesus man dont even joke about shit like that
TG: i was legit concerned for you for a second there
TG: sitting here thinking you were turning into some kind of asshole before my very eyes
TG: promise me you wont ever become some copout conformist douche bag who is too concerned about stepping on everybody elses fragile little egos to appreciate a good joke
EB: pfff who do you think you are talking to here?
EB: i am still the pranking MASTER and that’s something that will never change!
TG: good
TG: oh speaking of pranking
TG: its almost halloween up in here
TG: got any major plans in the works yet
EB: not really.
EB: the house arrest only ended a month ago. i’m pretty sure dad will flip if i do anything too major, even if he does secretly think most of my pranks are pretty funny.
EB: i might go to a party, though.
EB: i may be banned from school-sanctioned social events but they never said anything about good old fashioned house parties!
TG: that sounds pretty sweet
TG: everybody knows house parties are where its at
EB: what are you going to do?
TG: totally going trick or treating
EB: really?
EB: isn’t that kind of embarrassing?
TG: hell no
TG: free candy is never embarrassing
TG: i will be rolling in the reeses and snickers
TG: wallowing in their sweet goodness like a cheap and dirty sugar whore
TG: besides im doing it ironically
EB: whatever you say.
EB: oh crap.
TG: what
EB: it’s eleven. i have to get off the computer now.
TG: oh
TG: that sucks
EB: wait isn’t it like one in houston right now?
EB: why the hell are YOU online? won’t your bro beat your ass?
TG: nah
TG: we are way too cool for curfews
TG: its like we have this sign like the ones in front of roller coasters that say you must be at least this tall to ride except for us its you must be at least this cool to fly in casa strider
TG: and curfews are like negative cool so they get booted out of the line and end up standing around with all the midgets and kids who still pee their pants
TG: also bro has a gig tonight
EB: oh.
EB: crap, i can hear my dad coming.
EB: gotta go!
TG: ok
TG: see you

ectoBiologist [EB] ceased pestering turntechGodhead [TG]


> Tavros: What are you doing?

Chapter Text

You have no idea what you are doing right now. Actually, that’s not quite right. You know exactly what you are doing, and that would be making your way towards the hive of the girl who, on top of tormenting you for as long as you can remember, paralyzed you from the waist down back when you used to FLARP. You have been up all day following the labyrinthine tunnels that run through the seaside cliffs near your home further inland and hoping that you reach your destination before your mutual friend who has apparently decided to go on a murder clown rampage gets there first. (You think you have a pretty good shot. He might be able to move faster than you, but you don’t think he knows about the tunnels and there isn’t any other way to get there during the day without the sun killing you.)

The problem is therefore not so much the what you are doing, but the why you are doing it that has you all kinds of confused. As previously mentioned, this girl has been nothing but horrible to you since the day you met her—and come to think of it, she was never content to limit herself to tormenting just you. She has been completely awful to almost everybody you know, and probably to a lot of people you don’t know, too. You really don’t have any reason to save her (and in fact, you might even have more reasons to want her dead.) And yet you know that you cannot just sit back and let Gamzee kill her.

You spend most of your long journey wondering what this says about you as a person. You like to think that it means you are better than she is, but you aren’t so sure that is right because she is strong and confident and you’re…well, not. Actually, a lot of people would probably say what you are doing is yet another sign of just how weak you are: too merciful to let another troll die. Or maybe they would just say you are being really stupid, going out of your way to save not just any troll, but the one you have wanted off your back for sweeps. Call it mercy or call it stupidity, either way it is still something the Imperial fleet would frown on under even the best of circumstances. (That’s OK, though. You had kind of planned on pulling a Pupa Pan and going rogue when the time came for the fleet to take your cohort away because you are pretty sure they would cull you the second they saw you roll up in your four wheel device. You therefore don’t really give much of a shit when people—mainly Vriska—try to tell you what the fleet will think about you and your woeful lack of potential.)

When you reach the end of the tunnel system, you emerge into a landscape that is so different from the seaside plains that surround your hive it may as well belong to an entirely different world. It’s all red rock and canyons without much in the way of vegetation except the occasional patch of scrub that is so dry it looks half-dead. Even the air feels different: you are so far inland that there is not even a hint of the briny ocean breeze to which you have become accustomed. Instead the air is dry with a musty smell to it that reminds you of old dirt.

The tunnel system has deposited you atop the summit of one of the many craggy rock formations scattered throughout this arid wasteland. You do not immediately notice Vriska’s hive from your vantage point and for a moment you worry that you might have taken a wrong turn at one of the many forks that you had come across on your way here. (Realistically speaking, that is a very possible and even probable thing that may have happened. You have never visited Vriska’s hive before and your sense of direction is passable but by no means extraordinary.) Then you see it at the far end of your rock formation: a hive that you are sure is huge and imposing when you see it close-up but looks to be about the size of a pebble from where you are right now.

You groan under your breath because you had really been hoping that the tunnel would be nice enough to end somewhere more convenient, like right next to her front door or maybe even inside her respiteblock. This is the farthest you have ever traveled on your four wheel device in one go. Your arms and shoulders are already knotted up and painful and you don’t think it will be much farther before you can’t go any more. Worse yet, although the tunnels had been somewhat maintained and generally manageable in your four wheel device, the terrain standing between you and your goal is much rougher. In the light of the rising moons, you can see plenty of treacherous dips and rocks that you will need to avoid, and the downhill slope is steep enough you are legitimately concerned you might fall out of your device which would be a major pain in the ass and probably painful to many other bodily regions as well. Under normal circumstances you would probably just turn back…but these are pretty far from normal circumstances and the thought of turning back now, after you have come so far and are so close just feels like a terrible letdown. With a sigh, you start forward.

Compared to your brisk pace in the tunnels, your progress down the hill is painfully slow. It takes much longer to navigate around all of the obstacles in your path than you had anticipated. Your shoulders are crying out for a rest by the time you are halfway down the slope. You would do anything to oblige, but you don’t think your brakes will hold on a slope this steep and losing control is pretty much the last thing you want to happen right now. You are beginning to think that coming down here was a really bad idea.

To keep your mind off of how uncomfortable you are at the moment, you decide to think about Rufio for a while. It has been a long time since you have thought about him. You worry that he might be upset with you for neglecting him, but of course he isn’t because he is your imaginary best friend and he understands you better than anybody else in the world! You pretend that he is here with you now and saying lots of encouraging things like “Don’t worry; you are doing a totally bangarang job!” or “You are being so brave…keep going!” Of course none of this actually makes your arms hurt any less, but it’s a nice distraction.

Your arms feel so wobbly by the time you reach the bottom of the hill that you barely have it in you to roll the final ten feet between you and Vriska’s front door. Now that you are finally here, you are surprised to see that all of the windows in her hive are dark. It almost looks as though she is not at home…but if she isn’t here you can’t imagine where else she would be. You knock on the door, tentatively at first and then you imagine how Rufio would do it and you hit it with a satisfying bang, bang, bang! There is no answer.

You clear your throat and say, “Vriska? Are you…uh, are you there?”

You listen for anything to indicate that Vriska might be coming to let you in and you hear nothing. You are pretty sure that she would make some noise even if she had no intention of letting you in just so she could taunt you about not letting you in, so you listen for anything to indicate that Vriska is actually home at all and you also hear nothing. You try the door. It’s unlocked. Hoping she hasn’t rigged her entryway with some kind of nasty booby trap, you open the door and roll inside.

You can’t go up the stairs to where her respiteblock must be but you don’t need to see her respiteblock to know that she isn’t here because the hive is a mess. Piles of broken eight balls and old FLARP dice everywhere. Shredded posters. A couch that looks like somebody used it for fencing practice. An ominous smell of food beginning to go rancid, like somebody left the thermal hull open. You aren’t sure how long she has been gone but that smell is enough to tell you that it has been at least a few days—long enough for more aggressive looters to have already made their move which would explain the mess. The idea makes you frown because looting is generally a thing that happens only when somebody isn’t coming back.

Did she get culled? you wonder. Your frown deepens into a borderline scowl because even though Vriska is one of the shadiest, meanest, and all-around most awful people you know, she is also one of the sneakiest people you know. She is way too savvy to get caught doing anything that would get her culled and you suspect that even if she did end up on the cull list she would find some way to slither out of it. Getting culled just doesn’t fit and you are pretty sure that is not what has happened here—which leads you to wonder if she didn’t get culled then where is she?

A crash of shattering glass pulls you out of your silent musings. It sounds like somebody has thrown something through one of the ground floor windows on the opposite side of the hive. You hold your breath, hoping that it’s not a looting party because you don’t have your lance with you and none of the piles of junk on the floor around you happen to be comprised of deadly weapons. You really hope that it’s just a random act of vandalism, that the culprit will be satisfied enough to move on. Tonight just does not seem to be your night: you hear a whisper of tinkling glass—somebody clearing the pane—followed by the scratchy crunch of it breaking underfoot as the intruder climbs through.

You scan the room for something you might be able to use to defend yourself and you see nothing. (Maybe I could toss one of those broken eight balls at their head, you think. Then you bury your face in your hands because the only thing that would accomplish would be to annoy them and that is a completely stupid idea and oh god why didn’t you bring your lance with you, you dummy?) You are on the verge of a full-on panic attack when you hear it: a low, gravelly voice whispering, “Spider sis, heeeey spider sis….” Gamzee.

You are about to call out to him but then his voice evolves into a manic howl that is so angry and so heavy with bloodlust and so not Gamzee that it makes you recoil as he screams, “COME OUT AND MOTHERFUCKING PLAY, SPIDER SIS!” For the first time since you left your hive, you begin to think that maybe Terezi had been right; that maybe there really is no way to calm Gamzee down because you have never heard him talking like this before. You have never heard anybody talking like this before and you have no idea what you are going to do.

Everything had seemed so simple to you back at your hive. You would go to Vriska, warn her about Gamzee, she would leave, and then you would talk to Gamzee and maybe lay down a little slam poetry with him until he forgot about wanting to hurt Vriska and went back to his hive. Now here you are with Vriska already gone—where? You have no idea—and Gamzee here much sooner than you had expected and oh god is he actually going to kill you if he sees you here what in the hell were you even thinking?

You know that you need to move, you need to hide, you need to get the hell out of here…but there is a pressure building in your head, wrapping around the bases of your horns and settling into your body and you can’t move. Your body is shaking, oily sweat beginning to pop out on your face and you are scared with a fear that reaches into you and turns you inside-out and numb. Your pan hits the word to describe the fear—chucklevoodoo—but it does nothing to lessen the impact because oh god he is coming and you can’t move, why can’t you MOVE?

Something is pricking at your eyes. A distant part of you realizes that they are tears. You wish they would stop because you don’t want to cry, not here and not in front of Gamzee but you can’t hold back a throat-wrenching sob when he enters the room because you are so damn scared and he looks absolutely terrifying.

Gamzee has always been tall but without his easy slouch he towers over you, so huge the tips of his horns brush the high ceiling above you. His makeup is a mess, completely flaked off in some areas and running into ugly swirls of smudge in others. He has a juggling club in each hand, both of them spattered with maroon blood. There is more blood on his clothes and there is something in his hair that you are pretty sure is a fragment of bone. His whole body seems to be twitching, like all of his nerves have been replaced with live wires and god, the smile on his face is like somebody took his normal gentle grin and twisted it into a cruel leer.

He takes one step toward you, two. Then he stops, a new expression edging in around the blood frenzy: surprise. Twirling one of his clubs with an easy grace to rival the most practiced Subjugglator, he says, “Hey, Tavbro. WHAT THE MOTHERFUCK ARE YOU DOING HERE?”

The weight of the chucklevoodoo lifts and the relief is as immediate and sweet as breaking the surface after being on the verge of drowning. You gulp air as you gasp, “N-nothing. Nothing. I was just…just leaving.”

You wheel yourself backwards, moving towards the door as though to emphasize this last point. He takes another step toward you. His grin takes on a mischievous edge without losing an ounce of its cruelty. “I’m all up and looking to find me some wicked spider bitch. YOU BEEN SEEING ANYTHING WHAT’S LIKE THAT, BROTHER?”

You move another few feet closer to the door and he follows. “She isn’t here, Gamzee.”

This time he moves first, closing the distance between you by half before he says, “And why the motherfuck not? YOU BEEN PLACING THAT BITCH ABOVE ME, BROTHER? Putting her above our dearly departed Karbro. WARNING HER OF THE RIGHTEOUS RETRIBUTION WHAT SHE DESERVES.”

You shake your head. You are out of the hive now, Gamzee still following as you continue to back away from him. If things continue this way much longer, you’ll reach the cliff’s edge and when that happens you don’t know what you are going to do. “She was gone when I got here.”

“You’re lying.”



“No; Gamzee, I swear—“


You wince because even though you are pretty sure he doesn’t mean it, the derogatory term still stings coming from him. You are about to assure him that you are not lying, that you are only telling him the truth, but he doesn’t let you say anything before he crashes on with, “I’m going to give you one motherfucking chance here, bro. ONE MOTHERFUCKING CHANCE BECAUSE I LIKE YOU. Where’s that spider bitch at right now?”

You stop moving because you have reached the cliff and there is nowhere else for you to go. Your options are now (a) roll of the edge to your death, or (b) stay where you are and get killed by somebody you thought was your friend. You cannot choose one or the other because they both sound equally terrible to you. Burying your face in your hands, you mumble, “I don’t know.”

“WHAT WAS THAT? Motherfucker better speak up. I CAN’T HEAR YOU.”

“Gamzee, please, I don’t….” You trail off with a gasp because you just looked up and saw something huge rounding the corner of Vriska’s hive. It’s big and white and scuttling along on eight legs, each of which are as big around as the trunk of a small fruit tree. You have never seen Vriska’s lusus before but you have heard enough horror stories to know beyond any shadow of a doubt that this must be it. You also know beyond any shadow of a doubt that it is heading toward Gamzee at an alarming pace. “Oh my god; Gamzee look out!”

You have no way of knowing whether it is something in your voice piercing through the fog of murder clown rage boiling in his pan or whether it is just an instinctive response, but whatever the reason Gamzee turns around. He turns around—but too slow. The giant spider is already adjusting her fangs for the killing bite, already crouched and ready to leap. It doesn’t matter that Gamzee is fast and it doesn’t matter that Gamzee is strong because the spider has him trapped—has you both trapped, really—and there is nowhere either of you can go that will put you out of reach of those fangs.

The only thing you can do is close your eyes and think no, not like this; please! You almost leap out of your skin when you get an answer. It is a rough answer that comes to you in a mental barrage, wave after wave of crashing instinct, response, and emotion: hunger, confusion, hunger, hunger, where is the girl? Hunger, fear, hunger, hunger, hunger, HUNGER…. If you were standing up the force of it would knock you off your feet. Lucky for you, you can’t stand up. The only thing that happens to you is a headache that begins in the back of your head and throbs all the way around to your temples.

Another mental assault hits you and this time you get the feeling that she is examining you and Gamzee more closely—sizing you up and sizing Gamzee up and trying to decide what to make of the both of you. The general impression you are left with is hunger, I’ve had better, hunger, hunger, hunger, EAT THEM NOW, hunger, hunger, hunger…. Quickly, you think no; you can’t eat us. Please don’t.

You peek open one eye to see that the lusus has neither retreated nor advanced. Instead it is standing stock still with all eight of its milk-white eyes fixed on you. You realize suddenly that wow, this is the biggest creature you have ever communed with and it is actually listening to you. Then Gamzee is saying, “Whoa, what the motherfuck is up with you, my main peanut butter motherfucker?”

“It’s fine,” you gasp because oh crap it’s hard to keep your connection with her and talk at the same time. “I have her. It’s fine.”

Gamzee is quiet long enough for you to re-establish your connection with the spider. You are beginning to contemplate asking her to please let you and your friend go when Gamzee says, “YOU FUCKING STRAIGHT AND PROPER MIRACLE WORKER MOTHERFUCKER. You all up and stopped that bitch. MOTHERFUCKING SAVED ME LIKE A WICKED APPARATION FROM THE MIRTHFUL MESSIAHS. Now I’m not having much of a fucking choice what to think about. NOW THIS MOTHERFUCKER HAS GOT TO DO WHATEVER BITCH TITS NASTY SHIT IS BEING NECESSSARY TO PRESERVE THE FUCKING MIRACLE.”

You are so focused on maintaining your link with Vriska’s lusus that it takes you a moment to register the words. It isn’t until Gamzee is advancing on the spider, clubs at the ready that the meaning begins to sink in. Aghast, you shout, “Gamzee, no!”

Your link slips momentarily. The spider lunges and you desperately think, no, please don’t! The spider stops. Gamzee doesn’t. His club comes down hard on one of the spider’s eyes, popping it like a grape. A gout of cerulean blood spurts from the wound and you see something clear and gelatinous oozing from the hole as the spider lets out a terrible sound—and remains standing perfectly still.

Gamzee is already going in for another hit. You scream at him, “No! Gamzee, stop! Please stop!” but the hit connects to the spider’s right mandible this time. There is a firecracker sound of chitin snapping and then a piece of her jaw is dangling, hanging on by only a few ragged strands of exoskeleton. The spider makes a noise so heavy with hurt you feel it in your own chest and still it does not move.

With the spider’s blood flowing fast and thick, Gamzee is an unstoppable nightmare of whirling clubs, horns, and flashsteps. You want to let the spider go because it’s not fair; it was only hungry and protecting its troll’s hive like she was made to do and it’s not fair—but you can’t. You can’t because the second you let her go she will go after Gamzee with her venom and her fangs and she will kill him and very possibly kill you, too.

You desperately want to close your eyes. You do not want to watch Gamzee killing this creature, but you know that you owe her at least that tiny ounce of respect because you are the one preventing her from defending herself and that makes you every bit as much to blame for her death as Gamzee. And so you watch and cry as Gamzee pulverizes the poor creature’s head with strike after strike after strike after strike. You watch as the spider’s body collapses and Gamzee lops off its twitching legs. You watch and try not to throw up as he smashes a hole through its vulnerable belly and the blood and entrails spill out onto the ground. You watch as he collapses into the mess, shoulders shaking and at first you think he is laughing but then it hits you that he is sobbing. He lays there, covered in the spider’s cerulean blood and crying as he tears at his own skin. You don’t notice it right away because it’s almost impossible to decipher anything of Gamzee through the mess of cerulean but then you see the purple welling up on his arms and you realize that he is hurting himself.

Something wells up in your chest when you see him lying there. You are still angry with him and angry with yourself and sad for the spider and you still feel kind of sick, but this new emotion swallows everything else up until the only thing left is a looming pity. You pity him even if he is kind of gross and weird and even if he is a crazy murder clown. Actually, you pity him exactly because he is a weird, gross, crazy murder clown.

You roll forward, toward the place where Gamzee is thrashing on the ground. The ground is so saturated with the spider’s blood that your wheels keep sinking into the mess and it ends up taking you a long time to reach him. By the time you make it to his side, his arms are covered in purple and he has started in on his legs.

“Gamzee,” you whisper. “Hey, come on, Gamzee, stop.”

The only thing he does to acknowledge your presence is to start attacking himself even more. You shudder as one of his claws snaps under the abuse, but he doesn’t even seem to notice. He just keeps dragging his claws along his legs, dipping his fingers into the blood, smearing it onto his face and—ugh, you really did not need to see that—licking it off.

You know what you need to do and you are kind of nervous because you have never done it before and it is starting to look as though he might kill you or kill himself or kill both of you if you screw this up. You had always assumed that your first shooshing would involve a lot more pile talk and a lot less blood, but you tell yourself that this is fine. You tell yourself that everybody’s first shooshing is different and that Rufio would be all over this like a pro so you should be, too. Then you carefully reach out and lay a hand on Gamzee’s bloodstained face.

“Shoosh,” you whisper. He goes stiff but he stops clawing at himself so you take that as a good sign. With a little more confidence, you repeat, “Shoooosh.”

He moves as though he wants to jerk away from your hand but you don’t let him, not even when he begins to growl from deep down in his throat. You pap him again and you shoosh until the growl dissipates down into a whine. He tries to swat your hand away but it’s a half-hearted attempt and if the way his eyes are beginning to drift into a lidded sense of contentment is anything to go by, you don’t think he really means anything by it.

You keep shooshing and papping him until his whole body just seems to let go all at once and relax. He leans into your hand before taking it in both of his and cradling it against his cheek. You let him keep your hand for as long as he needs it. He is still crying and at one point you think you hear him mumble something about missing Karkat and you think that is probably something you should talk about in a pile once he calms down a little.

Eventually, he stops crying and begins to stand up. You have just enough time to note that all of the manic energy that had been snapping through him back in Vriska’s hive is gone and without it he just looks tired. Then he is hugging you, which would probably be a lot nicer and more romantic if he wasn’t still covered in blood and smearing it all over you. (You don’t mind too much, though. You are too busy coasting on a serious case of the pale vapors to worry about your clothes getting ruined.)

“Are you OK now?” you whisper into his ear.

His voice is a torn-up wreck as he whispers back, “Yeah…I think everything is going to be all up and motherfucking alright now.”

“Good,” you breathe. “In that case we should probably get out of here. You can come with me to my hive if you want.”

He says that he would like that better than a bottle of the wicked elixir straight from the Mirthful Messiahs themselves. Then the two of you are leaving Vriska’s empty hive and dead lusus behind you, him pushing you up the steep slope all the way to the tunnels while you set to work composing some of the best-worst slam poetry for your new diamond to enjoy during the long trip home.


> Karkat: Survive Halloween

Chapter Text

You are going to murder John. You did not make this decision lightly. In fact, in the month that you have known him, you have been lenient enough to forgive a veritable shitload of murder-worthy offenses by one, John Egbert. (The stupid laugh and really fucking awful taste in movies had been easy enough to overlook but it had taken every single molecule of your pent-up reserve of magnanimity and all-around goodwill not to punch his face after the stunt where he SUPERGLUED YOUR GODDAMN HAND TO YOUR WATER BOTTLE.) But this is the dirt tuber pod that broke the harvesting drone’s back and left him wallowing in a puddle of his own bodily wastes.

You had assumed that John’s intentions were open and one hundred percent pure of any sort of stupid bullfuckery when he had approached you one week ago and invited you to go to a Halloween party with him. “It’ll be fun,” he’d said. “Staying home on Halloween is for losers and old people,” he’d said. “Come on, Karl, you’re not an old person so don’t be a loser,” he’d said. Past you, being a nook-diddling sissy who can’t withstand the irritation of a few moments of mild flatulence let alone somebody badgering at him nonstop for days on end, had finally caved like the weak-ass piece of shit he is and agreed to go just to get John to shut the fuck up. Now here you are, perched in front of your bathroom mirror with a plastic tray of shitty face paint, a few capsules of fake blood, and a rapidly overflowing aggravation sponge because your desire to put any of this gross crap on your face is so small it could fit inside the assholes of the microscopic critters crawling around on the dust motes swirling in the air around you.

Cursing John with every living part of your being—you really are going to tear him a new asshole to ensure that he has sufficient means of evacuating all of the shitty ideas festering inside him rather than puking them out as words and getting you involved in situations like this one—you dip your applicator sponge into one of the wells of waxy face paint. The disgusting glob of shit that you come away with doesn’t look like it has any business being anywhere near anybody’s face at any time under any circumstances, ever. It looks like it should be sealing a crack in somebody’s toilet bowl, keeping the water in their porcelain pisshole from settling in and spawning a flesh-eating spore mold infestation. (Of course, you wouldn’t recommend anybody use this crap for such an important purpose. You are pretty sure that you’d be better off flushing it straight down the crapper and taking your chances with the spore mold.)

You sit there staring at the crap on the applicator sponge. Fucking paint, you think. (And then, just for good measure: Fucking Halloween. Fucking party. Fucking John with his goddamn stupid horse shit about “Oh, just be a zombie, Karl; that’ll be EASY!” Fuck this whole fucking evening in every one of its heinous leaking orifices and kick it down to flounder in the stink of its own shame feces.) Then you set to work spreading the sticky crap all over your face.

The paint feels cold and greasy on your face and goddamn it, how the hell does Gamzee wear this shit every day? It doesn’t spread very evenly because it is literally the cheapest crap you could buy, but you still get a funny twinge in your gut when you finish your base coat and end up with a gray-skinned reflection staring back at you from the mirror. Not by any stretch of the imagination does it look like real, honest-to-fuck troll skin. The shade is too pale and the unevenness gives it an almost cartoonish quality—but it is still a hell of a lot more appealing than the gross human color you have grown used to seeing every time you make the mistake of looking into a mirror.

Shit, you think. Maybe I should have just constructed some terrible fake horns and gone as myself. Then you shed a single tear of grief for all of the brain cells that must have died to allow such a stupid idea to enter your head because what in the fuck would you tell everybody you are supposed to be dressed as? Costume party or not, you are pretty fucking sure that the fleet would have your ass in a second for putting yourself into a situation with the possibility—however remote—that you might at one point end up saying, “Why, yes I am a member of the alien race that is secretly invading your planet; how did you guess, you sly bastard?”

Quickly, before you have time to come up with any other epically bad ideas, you tear your gaze away from the mirror and attack your face with the rest of the color palette. You smear on half-assed cream-colored highlights, add some green and brown smudges, dab on some black around your eyes to ensure that you exude the proper degree of deadness. (Because god fucking forbid you end up looking like some shitty half-dead zombie that doesn’t even know how to be dead properly.) The first capsule of fake blood disintegrates in your hand when you try to open it and gets fucking everywhere—on the sink, on the counter, on the mirror, on the floor—and the whole bathroom ends up looking like a goddamn murder scene. (More specifically, it looks like a “Nora and Otto decided to team up with Torkal to murder Karkat, dump his gross blood all over the floor and roll in it like a bunch of fucking heathens scene.”)

You know it’s only fake blood—fake human blood at that—but the color still kind of sets your teeth on edge. You set aside a moment to wonder why in the piss-loving fuck past you ever thought that dressing up like a dead and bloody thing was actually a good idea. (Answer: he didn’t—this shit was John’s idea which is why you are going to kill him later.) Then you decide to stop being a crying little wiggler and mop up with mess with your shirt.

You open the second blood capsule a little more carefully than the first and successfully smear some of it around your mouth and on your arms. The end result may not be the finest example of cosmetic wizardry ever, but it’s definitely not bad for two minutes of half-assed effort, either. You don’t exactly look scary, but you do look passably unsettling and you are reasonably confident that nobody will need to ask you what the hell you are supposed to be. If nothing else, you have certainly met the minimal requirements for inclusion into Egbert’s Halloween costume party shitfest.

You see no sign of Nora or Otto when you come out of the bathroom. If they are sticking to their normal routine, Nora is probably just waking up and Otto is already glued to his computer screen, fully immersed in the artificial utopia of whatever the fuck he finds so enthralling about the human Internet. You don’t bother telling them where you are going when you leave the house because you are still perfectly content to avoid them whenever possible and it is highly likely that neither of them would give a single farting fuck anyway.

Under normal circumstances, John’s house is a ten minute walk from yours. Tonight the sidewalk is packed with parents walking their kids around to engage in the absolutely fucking insane act that humans refer to as “trick-or-treating.” (This practice has always baffled the shit out of you because what guardian in their right mind would trot their charge around, encourage them to accept food from total fucking strangers and then let them eat it? You get that humans aren’t as naturally inclined toward violence as trolls are, but goddamn, even Sollux’s dumb-as-globes lusus would know better.) It takes you an additional five minutes to weave through all of the superheroes, princesses, animals, fire fighters, wizards, mermaids, devils, and shit that you can’t even begin to describe before you finally arrive at John’s door.

John is standing there handing out fun-size Three Musketeers and Milky Ways to a flock of children dressed as…a bunch of yellow jellybeans wearing overalls and goggles what the fuck? He grins when he sees you coming, offers you a wave and goddamn it, did he seriously dress up as Nick Cage from Con Air? Torn-up wife beater, bloodstained bandage on his left arm, shit-tastic shoulder-length wig…fucking Christ, he totally did. You knew he was kind of a nerd but holy bulge-crawling snot beetles what a fucking nerd.

John quickly finishes distributing the candy to the yellow jellybean children. He turns around as they dissipate to shout “Dad, I’m going now” into the bowels of the house before hurrying over to you and saying, “Hey, man. Cool paint job!”

“Oh, it’s a fucking masterpiece all right,” you sniff. “And by masterpiece I mean something I shat out in like thirty seconds. But hey, thanks for having the decency to pretend that it is anything other than craptastic. And speaking of craptastic, nice costume.”

He rolls his eyes at you and says, “OK you’re doing that thing where I literally can’t tell if you’re trying to be funny or if you’re just being dick so I’m going to pretend your compliment was totally heartfelt and genuine and say ‘awww thanks, buddy!’”

“Nobody is going to know who you are supposed to be, dumbass!” (A middle-aged woman herding three kids in sheep costumes gives you a dirty look, presumably in response to your fucking unacceptable use of profanity. You consider expanding on your last remark because if the worst those kids have heard in their lives is a simple ‘dumbass’ then they are going to be miles behind their peers by the time they are adolescents. Then you decide fuck it, you don’t feel like getting into a passive aggressive bullshit competition with total strangers tonight and let it go.)

“Do you know who it’s supposed to be?”

“Well of course I know who it is and….” You trail off when you see the smirk creeping onto his face because you already know what he is going to say next and you just walked right into it like a stupid chump.

“Well then I guess somebody knows who it is then,” he says. “And don’t try and claim that you’re nobody because that’s just dumb.”

“OK, you know what? Fine. Enjoy having people asking who the hell you are all night.”

His face is just one big shit-eating grin as he says, “Oh, I will! Now come on; let’s go.”

The party is less than ten blocks away from John’s house but the crowd of trick-or-treaters has grown even thicker in the couple of minutes the two of you pissed away standing around talking about John’s stupid costume and it ends up taking you the better part of an hour to get there. (It does nothing to speed your pace when John insists on stopping at one of the bigger houses on the way there and waiting until a group of high school-aged trick-or-treaters comes to the door. At first you think he is completely batshit insane and tell him so, but you understand why he wanted to stop when a suitable group finally arrives: when one of the poor fucks rings the doorbell, the “scarecrow” sitting in the chair beside the door suddenly comes to life, howling like a deranged animal and scaring the everloving piss out of them and you. Of course John finds this absolutely fucking hilarious and—though you wouldn’t admit it under threat of extreme torture, death, or surgical shame globe removal—you do, too.)

You had thought that it might be hard to pick out which house was going to be your destination, but the second you see it you know that yep, that’s the one because despite being the biggest house on the block, there are no trick-or-treaters going to the door. After a moment of observation, you ascertain that the loud thrum of bass and low synth shaking all of the windows in their panes appears to be acting as a highly effective human child repellant. (You file this useful bit of information away for use in the unlikely event that you find yourself attacked by humans under the age of twelve.) There are a bunch of young adults milling around the open door. Most of them look to be older than you by a few Earth years, though you do see a few people closer to your age and—oh goddamn it, one of them happens to be Cory “the Ken doll” Manson.

John seems to notice Cory at roughly the same moment you do. He tenses up beside you but you have to give him a single sliver of grudging credit because other than that not terribly noticeable lapse, he keeps his shit together and continues toward the house without even breaking step. In fact, he very noticeably picks up the pace. (You end up having to break into a really un-zombie-like trot that makes you look as ridiculous as a moron trying to dance ballet in clown shoes to keep up but you can’t say that you really blame him.) He doesn’t exactly look at the ground as you approach the door, but you notice that he is very actively looking practically everywhere except in the general direction of Cory as though he is actually dumb enough to believe that if he can’t see Cory then Cory won’t be able to see him, either. You, however, do not take your eyes off the smarmy sack of shit. Consequently, you see him moving to block the door just in time to grab John by the back of his tank top and yank him to a stop before he goes crashing into the gross sack of human flesh that is standing in your way.

“Hey Egderp,” Cory smirks. “What the hell do you think you’re doing here?”

“Damn it, Cory,” John sighs. “Can we not do this tonight? Just let us through.”

Cory’s smirk gains about two more shades of amazing punchability but his voice is almost amiable as he replies, “No can do, man! This party is twenty-one and over only.”

“You’re only seventeen, douchebag.”

“Yeah, but I’m on the list.”

John’s eyes narrow to poisonous slits. For a second you think he might actually punch Cory’s stupid Ken doll face, which you would be totally, one hundred percent down with. Then he takes the easy way out and says, “What list?”

“Oh, you know. The ‘not a psycho who blows shit up’ list.” He shrugs and pulls his dumb pretty boy face into the most painfully insincere expression of sympathy you have ever witnessed in your life. (Holy nook spewing bulge rot, you think. If this were a stage production on Alternia the crowd would storm the stage and dismember him on the spot. They would place his head on a pike so all future generations of aspiring actors can look upon it and weep in shame.) Then he says, “I’m sorry, man, but you’re going to have to fuck off.”

John looks at the ground like he is actually considering doing as Cory said. You decide that fuck that; two can play at being an affable asshole and if Cory is hell-bent on going down that road with you then he is about to find himself sadly outclassed. In a voice so sweet it is practically dripping blobs of congealed sugar all over on the ground around you, you say, “Hey, Manson. If you’re already so bored of fondling your tiny genitals that you need to act like a huge asshole, remember that nobody will mind if you go play a nice game of hide and go fuck yourself.”

“Hey, screw you, Vantross!”

“Hmmm…no thanks. Sorry to break it to you, but insufferable pricks really aren’t my type.”

A furious flush of color rushes into Cory’s cheeks. His eyes snap with something dangerous, something that says that he is seriously contemplating separating your head from your shoulders and using it for a soccer ball. Completely unnecessarily (because you’re not stupid; you get it), he snarls, “I’ll kick your ass, you little shit.”

He takes a step toward you, balling one of his hands into a fist. You immediately adapt a relaxed fighting stance because you grew up strifing against a 400 pound crab of course you can take this pile of crap if he tries anything. Then a girl is saying, “Oh my god, Cory, just let them in.”

Cory continues to glare at you for another couple of seconds just to let you know that he would have totally kicked your ass even though you both know that is a dirty fucking lie. Then he lets out an annoyed huff and gets out of the way.

John smiles at the girl. “Thanks Judy!”

She doesn’t answer as the two of you go inside. She doesn’t even look in his general direction or offer any indication that she heard him at all. It’s hard to hear over the thump of the bass but you think you hear her saying something like “Jesus Cory, why can’t you just leave him alone?” Then John is dragging you out of earshot over to a table laden with a punch bowl, canned beverages, scoop chips, a shitload of dip, and about twenty fucking huge bowls of wrapped candy. (There is also one bowl of something that looks startlingly like a bunch of severed grub horns which you recall is a real, honest-to-fuck Earth candy just in time to avoid having a mild freak out and embarrassing the shit out of yourself and everybody around you.)

John selects a can of soda off the table, scoops up a handful of candy, and shouts, “Want to see if they have any sweet Halloween-type games?”

You shrug. He seems to take this noncommittal gesture as a sign of thunderous agreement because he grabs you by the arm and starts dragging you all over the damn house. He herds you through a kitchen where people are milling around drinking beer and eating pizza, cookies, and hot wings; past a big room where a bunch of people are pretending that their kind of gross-looking gyrating qualifies as dancing to the child-repelling music being put out by an almost comically huge sound system; past a little room helpfully marked “BATHROOM! PISS HERE; NOT THERE!”; through another big room packed with people playing the famous Earth college sport “beer pong”; and then finally to yet another big room with a couch, chairs, and a TV. (A few of your classmates are huddled around the TV and engaged in some shooting game like it is really fucking serious business). The place may still be smaller than even the shabbiest, laziest hives on Alternia but it is fucking huge by human standards and packed wall-to-wall with tacky Halloween decorations and people in costume. If you didn’t find everything about humans to be completely contemptuous in every way, you might be just a wee bit intimidated.

“Hey, check it out!” John exclaims. “They have bobbing for apples. Want to give it a try?”

You follow the direction in which he is pointing with an unsettled flutter in your digestive sac because you have never heard of “bobbing for apples” and you really hope it isn’t going to turn out to be some kind of weird-ass human sexual euphemism. You are therefore relieved to see that it appears to be nothing more offensive than a bunch of idiots attempting to drown themselves in a tub full of apples floating in water (though now that you think on it, that doesn’t necessarily rule out ‘weird human sexual act.’ Still, you notice that they appear to be trying to bite the apples so you are going to assume that is the object of the game and commemorate this as the moment you discovered the absolute nadir of this species’ sorry excuse for entertainment.) You decide that aside from having zero desire to look like a globe-tickling ignoramus, the water looks really fucking unsanitary and you have no need to expose yourself to all of the bacteria, mucus, dead skin cells, parasites, and other nasty shit must be floating around in there after fuck knows how many other people have molested it with their dirty gape holes. You therefore shake your head and say, “I’d rather pleasure myself with live jumper cables but don’t let me stop you.”

John shrugs and says “Your loss” before joining the line to publicly shame himself. The line for public shaming is surprisingly long, so you take a seat in one of the chairs to look around the room and see what other, presumably less brain dead people are doing.

You haven’t been looking long when the girl from outside—Judy—sits down beside you and says, “Sorry Cory was being such a jerk back there. He can be kind of insensitive sometimes.”

You want to tell her that whatever Cory is, “insensitive” barely begins to penetrate the excrement-mired surface but then she is already saying, “You must be new this year because I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t recognize you even without all that zombie makeup. What’s your name?”

You take a moment to debate whether it is worth getting to know this human girl because she doesn’t seem to fit the “unpopular” specification in your orders. Then you realize that you are being a bulge because even if she is an ugly human creature, she’s still a person who is just trying to be friendly and here you are thinking about order specifications and being a giant asshole. You decide that you had better amend that before she catches on to the fact that you are a complete bastard with the social skills of a puddle of pail swill so you reply, “I’m Karl Vantross.”

She smiles and says, “Nice to meet you, Karl Vantross. I’m Judy Cooper. Did you just move here?”

“Yeah. In August. From Los Angeles.”

She gasps and squeals, “LA? Oh, I have family down there! Maybe you’ve met them.”

A nervous twist jolts through your gut because damn it, you hadn’t counted on talking to somebody who knows anything about your fake area of origin. “Uh…no, I don’t think I have. It’s a really big city.”

“Yeah; you’re probably right,” she says. You congratulate yourself on diverting that potential crisis with some of the finest finesse ever witnessed in the history of Alternian covert invasion. Then she says, “So you’re friends with John, then?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“That’s nice of you.”

You frown because that was a really fucking weird response but the zombie makeup must be screwing with your scowling game because she doesn’t seem to catch your sentiment of what the hell? You kindly help her out by saying, “What in the name of god’s oozing ass pustule is that supposed to mean?”

“Oh crap, that was a really bitchy thing to say, wasn’t it?” You don’t say anything even though you are aching to say yes; yes it was because you are pretty sure that she doesn’t actually expect an answer. Your suspicions prove correct when she sighs and goes on to say, “I just feel sorry for him sometimes, you know?”

“No, I don’t know. Care to enlighten me instead of fucking around with all this cagey horse shit?”

She looks at you like she is trying to decide whether she should offended by your perfect frankness. Then a switch seems to throw and she laughs instead. “You say some really weird crap sometimes. It’s funny!”

“Oh, right. I’m a regular damn comedy act,” you grumble. “Look, are you going to tell me what the hell you meant when you said you felt sorry for John or not?”

“Well he used to have lots of friends and now hardly anybody will even talk to him.”

“Wow,” you scoff because you see right through her fake-ass sympathy act and you don’t believe it for a second. “You know, if you’re really that worried about it you are totally free to do something proactive like, oh, I don’t know, sit with him in the cafeteria or fucking talk to him yourself.”

“I know,” she sighs. “I guess it’s just that nobody really seems to know how to approach him after what happened.”

“Why? What happened?”

She gapes at you. “He hasn’t told you what he did?”

You feel a bit of a thrill as you realize that this is it; you are finally going to solve the shitty mystery behind why everybody avoids John like he’s carrying the fucking black plague when the only real social crime you have ever seen him commit is the perfectly forgivable offense of being a slightly annoying nerd. You are about to say the magic words “no, what did he do” and reap the spoils of the teenage gossip dump, but then a cell phone chimes and Judy’s too-wide brown eyes decide to defy the laws of physics and biology go about twice as wide as normal. Before you can say a word, she withdraws a cell phone from the depths of her purse, looks at the screen and groans, “Oh, crap!”

The next thing you know, she is standing up and saying, “Sorry Karl; I’ve got to go. It was nice meeting you.”

“Wait!” you exclaim because damn it, you thought that you and she had reached an understanding and agreed to cut the cagey horse shit. “What the hell did John do?”

Already beginning to walk away, she says, “It’s complicated. Just ask him!” Then she is disappearing into the crowd, leaving you to wallow in a frothing pit of curiosity and frustration.

Seconds later you see John coming your way. His head is a soggy mess, the wig sitting askew and looking more like a drowned muskrat than something anybody would ever want to allow anywhere near their head. He is grinning and brandishing a half-eaten apple like it’s a trophy but the smile becomes slightly less annoyingly sunny when he sees you.

“Hey, are you OK?” he asks.

You half consider demanding that he tell you right fucking now what the hell he did that was so terrible it turned him into a goddamn full-blown pariah. Then you realize that this is literally the happiest you have ever seen him and you don’t feel like being a diseased slab of drone genitalia and pissing all over it. “I’m fine,” you say. “Just thirsty. Where the fuck were the drinks?”

“Come on; I’ll show you.” He starts off toward the hall that will take you back toward the front door and you follow him back through the beer pong room (the crowd has gotten bigger and rowdier since you first passed through), past the bathroom (you can’t be sure but you are pretty sure you hear somebody puking in there), past the big dance room (something goes crash as you go by—you don’t know what it was but it sounds like it was something that was fragile and possibly valuable which has now been destroyed beyond salvage), through the kitchen (now the center of a shouting match between two dudes that seems to be going along the lines of “Fuck you, man”/“No, fuck you”/“Dude, you first”/“No, you”) and back to the room with the food and drinks.

You examine the spread, noticing that almost all of the beer cans are gone while the soda cans are virtually untouched. There is an orange drink in the punch bowl that looks like it is probably fucking awful, but the bowl is almost empty so maybe it’s actually really delicious and you are letting your natural prejudice against everything human get in the way of experiencing true culinary bliss. You decide to stop being a species-ist assbutt and give the orange drink a try.

When he sees you reaching for the ladle, John bats your hand away and exclaims, “Whoa, don’t drink the punch!”

You jerk your hand back as though human skin exudes toxic acid and his momentary contact has left a horribly disfiguring scar on both your flesh and your psyche. “Holy fuck, John, I’m just trying to embrace the spirit of this stupid holiday by partaking of a seasonal beverage. Don’t have a fucking shit fit.”

He fidgets in a way that suggests his bowels are in full revolt and he is in dire need of a toilet right this fucking second before he says, “Yeah I know, but I heard somebody spiked it with pumpkin vodka.”

“Pumpkin what?”

“Pumpkin vodka. You know; the liquor? Someone dumped like, two thirds of a bottle in there. So don’t drink the punch.” He pauses a beat before adding, “I mean, unless you want to get drunk.”

“Ugh, fuck no,” you say. You shudder because the fleet made it pretty fucking clear that until the invasion becomes violent you are to be nothing short of a perfectly upstanding—but not outstanding—American citizen and by “pretty fucking clear” you mean that they will very likely swoop down out of the sky and decapitate you if you get caught breaking any human laws. You are pretty sure that gaining a reputation for underage drunken shenanigans would qualify as “less than upstanding” by human standards (and therefore, “imminently cull-worthy” by the fleet’s standards), so you quickly select a can of soda off of the table instead.

As you pop open the can, you get the unsettling feeling that somebody is watching you. (And just to be clear, you are perfectly aware of the fact that there are about fifty other people in the room and some of them probably are giving you the odd passing look because you are standing right in front of the food and of course they are going to look your way when their stomachs start making the rumblies for picked-over party edibles. You are also perfectly aware of the fact that John is looking at you because the two of you are having a conversation. The sensation that you are experiencing at the moment is nothing akin to the awkward whoops I fucked up and looked at you from across the room now watch me redirect my gaze globes at something less offensive like that pile of musclebeast leavings. No; this is the uncomfortable feeling of somebody boring a hole through the back of your head while very possibly undressing you with their eyes.) You do a discreet scan of the room to see if there really is some asshole standing around staring at you like a creeper and—well would you look at that—some girl in a bumblebee costume is looking right at you. She tries to look away when she notices that you’ve caught her but whoops; too fucking bad, you have already decided that she is a creeper and no amount of innocent ocular redirection is going to change your opinion of her now.

You fire a glare in her direction that you are sure still manages to say Wow, next time try not making everybody ridiculously uncomfortable, you crazy broad despite the six inch layer of cracking paint on your face before you turn to John and say, “Who in fuckbuggering hell is that?”

“Oh, that’s Aria Mendell.” His face cracks into a particularly stupid-looking smile as he adds, “She was totally checking you out, man.”


“You should go ask her to dance—I think she likes you!”

Your throat goes so tight that your voice comes out about an octave higher than normal as you very cleverly repeat, “WHAT?” Then, for variety’s sake you say, “No!”

You know that you should really try to express yourself in something more meaningful than monosyllables but John’s assertion is so horrifying that you have been momentarily slapped in the globes with a temporary case of stupid. Past you had never developed a contingency plan for avoiding possible inter-species sloppy makeouts because it had never occurred to you that a human might at some point find you attractive. Now here you are, horribly underprepared and unable to handle the situation without flipping your shit. You silently curse past you and everything he stands for for putting you into this seedflap stroking situation.

“What do you mean ‘no’?” John huffs. “Come on, Karl, you’ve got to capitalize on this. She hardly ever even talks to anybody which works out great because you hate practically everybody, too. It’s like a match made in heaven! Er…unless you’re gay…? If you are, can we pretend that I didn’t say everything I just said?”

You chew your lip because how in the hell are you supposed to explain that your concern has nothing to do with his planet’s weird gender-based romantic practices and everything to do with the fact that you and she are totally different species and by the way your species happens to want to enslave hers? You don’t even know what stupid Earth label would fit for troll romantic orientations because you literally do not give a single dried-up pebble of a shit. Still, he is looking at you like he is legitimately concerned that he just took a giant shit all over your romantic values so you roll your eyes and say, “Not that this is any of your goddamn business, but no, John, I am not a homosexual. You can weep in joy now that you know that you have not offended any of my deeply fragile romantic sensitivities, dumbass.”

“Oh. OK. Are you sure you don’t want to at least go talk to her? You guys might really hit it off!”

You glance over towards Aria to see that she is looking at you again. You guess that she isn’t too bad-looking by human standards, but even if you were attracted to her—which, guess what, you aren’t—the fact remains that she is still human. (You will admit that the bee costume is sort of cute, but you aren’t half as apeshit about it as a certain asshat with a bifurcation complex would be.) You shake your head and say, “She isn’t really my type.”

John looks as though he is about to say something more in the vein of weird human romance but then all of the color drains out of his face and he breathes, “Oh shit.”

Frowning, you say, “What?”

“Oh my god, Karl, the cops are here.”

You turn around to look out the front window and sure enough, a patrol car is parked outside with its lights flashing and two guys in uniform are heading for the front door. A twist of apprehension winds through your abdominal cavity like a parasitic worm burrowing within the deepest regions of your ass because even though you doubt that the fleet is going to hand you your ass for getting caught at a party that was busted by the police, you sincerely doubt that it will put you in very good standing. Beside you, John continues to be a completely useless piece of garbage, gibbering, “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god….” His face is starting to turn a funny greenish color and you are beginning to worry that he is about to puke or faint or puke then faint and fall in his puke.

Apparently you are not the only ones to notice that the human law enforcement brigade has decided to pay a surprise visit and scare the piss out of everybody on the premises like the shittiest Halloween prank ever because the thumping music abruptly shuts off, leaving a comparatively quiet buzz of confused murmuring and exclamations of drunken disappointment. Two seconds later, the doorbell rings. A guy who looks like he might be in his mid-twenties hurries to the door, pauses there as though psyching himself up for some really serious fucking shit, then steps outside, closing the door behind him.

Each and every one of next one hundred and eighty seconds seems to stagger by like crippled bunny stuck in a quagmire of filth. The confused murmuring evolves into an anxious hum that seems to grow more oppressive with every slow and tortured second. After a minute or two, John discontinues his “oh god, oh god” mantra and graduates to staring straight ahead with a dazed look on his face as though he has allocated all of his higher mental functions towards not crapping his pants. You strain your ears trying to hear anything of what is happening outside between the police and Mr. Twenty-Something Jackhole but you cannot hear anything through the closed door—which, when you really stop to think about it, is probably a good sign because the only sounds that would carry through that barrier are screaming, gunshots, and possibly a particularly long and gruesome death rattle. It is, in short, the longest three minutes you have ever experienced in your life.

You are certain that the police will storm inside and start rounding up everybody in sight for forcible interrogation and incarceration the second Mr. Twenty-Something Jackhole opens the door. The universe decides to deal you an uncharacteristically pleasant surprise because when the door opens, he comes inside alone and announces, “Party is still on, folks!” A cheer ripples through the room before he adds: “At least, it’s still on if you’re twenty-one or older. Anybody under twenty-one needs to clear out right the hell now. Adios, kiddos, this is not a drill.”

A wave of discontented grumbling sweeps through the room and somebody—presumably a fellow member of the not-yet twenty-one club—squawks in protest. You can hear a few other people raising similar objection in other areas of the house as the news spreads. From the too-loud quality of some of the more vocal examples of whiny-as-shit malcontents, it sounds as though some people are already drunk enough to try to pick a fight over the unwelcome news. (One particularly asinine example of humankind is actually yelling, “Go ahead, try and throw me out! My mom’s a lawyer; if you touch me she’ll fucking sue your ass!”) You do not particularly feel like sticking around to watch the whole place devolve into a drunken brawl and from the way he is already edging toward the door, you guess that John has even less of a desire to continue hanging around in this dump than you do. The two of you beat a retreat to the door in the same way somebody would attempt to escape an angry and possibly rabid wolverine: quickly and with a giant assload helping of caution.

Once you are outside, John lets out a shaky sigh and says, “Sorry I freaked out back there, Karl. It would have really sucked if the police caught us, though. My dad would have killed me!”

“That’s understandable enough, I guess.” You decide not to mention the fact that whatever his parental unit would have done to him, it would very likely be a gentle caress to the shame globes compared to what would have happened to you.

“Hey, it’s not very late yet. What say we watch Ghostbusters 2 and gorge on leftover Halloween candy?”

You shrug and say “OK” because even though he has already forced you to watch that movie and it is pretty awful, it still beats the hell out of going back and sitting around at your own house with nobody to keep you company except Nora and Otto. As you weave through the thinning crowds of trick-or-treaters, you decide that despite all of the annoying shit you have endured, tonight has not been nearly as awful as you had been expecting.


> John: Pester Rose

Chapter Text

ectoBiologist [EB] began pestering tentacleTherapist [TT]

EB: hey rose!
EB: we haven’t talked in forever.
EB: how are you doing?
TT: Hello, John.
TT: I am quite sound in both body and mind.
TT: I assure you that my failure to maintain correspondence of late is not due to a lack of desire to keep in touch.
TT: My mother has taken it upon herself to enroll me into flight classes and my free time has consequently become very scarce.
EB: whoa, flight classes?
EB: so you can fly planes now?
TT: Not at this precise moment, but if all goes as planned I will receive my pilot’s license before the year is up.
EB: wow; that is so cool!
TT: To be perfectly frank, I would not have agreed with those sentiments at the outset because I was preoccupied with the substantial loss of my already limited spare time that these classes would require.
TT: However, I will admit that I find the experience to be quite…exhilarating.
EB: dang, i wish i could fly.
EB: it sounds like fun!
TT: Maybe we could attempt the traditional post-high school “road trip” once I acquire my license, though with the notable modification of flight in the place of traversing the American interstate highway system.
EB: yeah.
EB: we could bring dave and jade!
EB: oh, and maybe karl could come with us if we had room for him and it was cool with you guys.
TT: Karl?
TT: Who is this “Karl?”
EB: he’s a buddy of mine from school.
EB: actually, he’s kind of my only buddy at the moment.
EB: nobody else seems to want to talk to me since that whole fiasco last year.
TT: I am sorry to hear that, John.
TT: It must be difficult to experience such unmerited social stigma day in and day out.
EB: well it does kind of suck, but i’m fine.
EB: karl is a good friend. maybe even better than the friends i had before because none of them would ever watch any of my movies with me but he doesn’t seem to mind.
EB: we’ve already watched con air and ghostbusters 2 a couple of times each.
TT: Well that is certainly a demonstration of companionship in the highest degree.
TT: I am glad that you have found such an accommodating friend.
EB: oh, since we are on the topic of karl, i wanted to ask your advice about something.
EB: it’s kind of an awkward situation but i would really appreciate your insight.
TT: An awkward situation? Do tell.
EB: so there’s this girl….
TT: I see. Tell me more about this girl.
EB: well, i don’t really know her all that well so i don’t know what to tell you, exactly.
TT: Try starting with a name.
EB: ok. her name is aria.
EB: she moved to town a couple of years ago and she hardly talks to anybody.
EB: she seems nice but she is kind of creepy. kind of like perky goth but without the whole goth style thing.
TT: Ah. Do you find her attractive?
EB: i guess she would be kind of cute if she wasn’t so spooky.
EB: but that’s not the point. the point is that she’s been following karl around since halloween even though he doesn’t seem all that interested in her and the whole situation is starting to get really freaking uncomfortable.
TT: And how does this make you feel?
EB: i already told you that it’s really freaking uncomfortable!
EB: wait, are you implying that you think i have a crush on aria?
TT: I said no such thing. However, if your mind naturally takes our conversation in that direction what else am I to conclude?
EB: dang it rose, i asked for insight not a psychoanalysis workup!
EB: i just wanted you to tell me what you think about why she is following karl around all the time.
TT: I would think that the most obvious explanation is also the most likely: she has fallen victim to the tragic yet highly common affliction known in colloquial terms as “unrequited crush.”
EB: that’s what i thought at first, too.
EB: but the thing is she has never actually spoken to him, not even to say have a nice day or hey, you have a string of toilet paper on your shoe.
EB: all she does is sit there and stare at him. it’s really creepy!
TT: You did say that she rarely speaks to any of her peers. She may be too shy to approach him.
EB: maybe…but i don’t get a shy vibe from her.
EB: i mean she went to a halloween party in a sexy bee costume!
TT: Because clearly shy people can never have the desire to play sexy dress-up now and again, correct?
EB: ok, maybe that was kind of a dickish thing to say.
EB: but the way she looks at him doesn’t feel right for the whole mooning lover thing.
EB: (hehe. mooning.)
EB: it feels more like she’s just…watching him.
EB: like she’s some kind of wildlife biologist and he’s a new butterfly species or whatever the crap a wildlife biologist would want to observe.
TT: Perhaps she just finds him intriguing.
TT: After all, it is certainly not written that simple interest must always be of the romantic nature.
EG: i guess that’s possible…
EG: karl does say some pretty funny things sometimes.
TT: For clarity’s sake, when you say “funny”, are you referring to funny as in humorous or funny as in strange?
EG: it’s a little bit of both, to be honest.
EG: maybe she just likes listening to him come up with silly insults.
EG: wow, that sounds really dumb now that i typed it out.
EG: does that sound like something that could actually happen in the real world?
EG: somebody stalking another person just to hear them making up a bunch of insults?
TT: There are plenty of stalkers who have done much more for far less.
EG: i guess i won’t say anything to karl about aria then.
EG: i mean, it’s not like she’s hurting anything just by being kind of weird.
TT: Yet.
EG: what?
TT: Does she exhibit violent or psychotic tendencies?
EG: what???
TT: Cruelty to small animals?
EG: no!
EG: rose, you are kind of starting to freak me out.
TT: Apologies, John.
TT: I was joking.
TT: I seriously doubt that this girl is a potential serial killer.
EG: oh well that’s a relief.
EG: good to know that the chick who sits two rows across from me in calc isn’t on the verge of going batshit crazy.
TT: I aim to be a perfect bastion of reassurance and self-confidence, but right now I am afraid that I have to go.
TT: My flight class starts in half an hour.
EG: oh, ok.
EG: have fun up there. do a barrel roll for me!
TT: Of course.
TT: Goodbye, John.
EG: bye, rose.
EG: keep in touch!

ectoBiologist [EB] ceased pestering tentacleTherapist [TT]


> Kanaya: Where are you?

Chapter Text

Your head feels strange. There is a heaviness there as though your skull has been pumped full of wet cement, and a dreadful throbbing that seems to be emanating from behind your eyes and into the very center of your pan. Your mouth and throat are both terribly dry. You cannot recall any instance in which you felt so parched, not even the time you strayed too far from your hive when you were too young to know better and spent two days wandering the desert before your lusus found you. You had been feverish then and you are experiencing that same paradoxical phenomena of feeling both too warm and too cold right now. Groggily, you wonder, Have I lost myself in the desert again?

Even in your current state, the thought strikes you as unlikely. You have devised many strategies for navigating the desert without getting lost since then and they have never failed you. Your pan quickly abandons the notion, reaching instead for a more reasonable idea: Have I fallen ill?

The headache, fever, and general feeling of malaise certainly seem to lend credence to this thought. You realize that you are lying supine on something soft and comfortable with a thin sheet covering your body—all evidence that your lusus is caring for you. But that can’t be, you think. My lusus is dead.

This last thought brings with it a twist of alarm because you do not know where it could have possibly come from. You have no immediate recollection of your lusus’s passing—yet somehow you know that she is gone. In fact, now that you have begun to recover from the shock of waking in such a state you are beginning to realize that your surroundings feel nothing like your hive. Your hive is open, airy, and smells of all your sweet and fresh flora. This place feels close, heavy, and the smell is a foreign mixture of earth, wood, and rot. More distressing still, you have the distinct impression that somebody is quite nearby and from the steady whisper of their breathing, it seems that they are watching you.

You are suddenly glad that you have not yet opened your eyes. Whoever it is who is in the room with you seems content to let you alone as long as you appear to be sleeping and you are not yet sure that you wish to confront this mystery person while you feel so awful. You decide to keep your eyes closed and focus on maintaining deep, even breaths as you attempt to piece together the events that have led to your current situation.

Through the inscrutable fog enshrouding your pan, your memories of the past few days are choppy segments of disconnected nonsense: The Imperial fleet was coming…I left my hive…and now I am somehow here…? You wait for anything else to emerge from the writhing mists currently clouding your memory, but nothing further presents itself so you turn to decoding the significance of these three solid facts.

The Imperial fleet was coming. That must be why I left my hive. Was I going to see my friends off? You briefly entertain the notion, but the longer it sits in your mind the less likely it seems. Feferi was planning to remain planet-side under the protection of her lusus and last you had heard, Gamzee and Tavros had plans to go rogue together. (You hope that these arrangements work well for them, but you cannot help worrying that something will go wrong. Gamzee and Tavros are hardly cut out for survival in the hard Alternian wilderness and lusus or not, the time will soon come when the Empress will challenge Feferi.) In fact, only two of your acquaintances had plans to ascend with the fleet and you had no plans to meet with either of them. Terezi was ascending under a pseudonym and the two of you had agreed that a blind girl commiserating with one of the supposedly deceased Terezi Pyrope’s former acquaintances might raise some very uncomfortable questions. As for Eridan…after his deplorable behavior you have no desire to see or speak with him ever again. All of your other friends are either deceased or missing, which at this point is as good as dead. You decide that no; I was not going to see my friends off. I must have been on my way to the brooding caverns.

It is as though a spear of sunlight has lanced through the fog in your mind in response to this last thought. You clearly recall leaving your hive, the body of your lusus curled on the ground outside your door. She passed peacefully in her sleep, you think. She looked so beautiful. You recall starting off for the brooding caverns with the matriorb. A moment later, you recall retrieving the matriorb from within your lusus’s belly: digging elbow-deep into the incision, locating the spiny orb by touch alone, the sticky feeling of her already cool blood drying on your arms once you pulled it out. You recall walking for days, scarcely daring to stop and rest until you were out of the desert lest you be taken unawares by a brood of the undead. You recall your legs aching and your eyes growing heavy as you finally reached the forest beyond the desert…and then you recall a pinprick on the back of your neck—a sting, or perhaps a bite—followed by a profound exhaustion, and then…nothing but a wall of impenetrable black.

Have I been abducted? you think. Then you feel silly for even bothering to put the thought forward in question form because everything about your current situation suggests that this is almost certainly what has happened. You rack your pan for anything to help you identify who has taken you—even a momentary glimpse of a caste symbol or horn would do!—but you can recall nothing beyond the darkness.

You are beginning to think that it might be best to open your eyes and see precisely who you are dealing with, but you cannot immediately bring yourself to do so because you still feel terrible and you doubt that this mystery person was foolish enough to leave you in possession of your weaponized lipstick. The person in the room with you lets out a quiet sigh. You know that you could continue to pretend that you are asleep for quite some time, but something in that sigh says that this person has been here for some time and he or she is prepared to remain for as long as it takes to see you awaken.

You realize that it makes little difference whether you confront this person now or if you do so later because your circumstances are unlikely to change while you lie here pretending to sleep. I may as well do it now and get it over with, you think. And so, all at once, you open your eyes.

You find yourself lying on a thin mat on the floor of a very small, nearly featureless one-room hive. The walls and roof appear to be made of some strange mixture of mud, sticks, and leaves and the floor is nothing more than packed earth. There is just enough moonlight filtering in through the slit of a window for you to see a matching chair and desk in one corner, a single shelf devoid of any books or knick-knacks on the far wall, and a tiny chest tucked away in another corner.

Looking back at you is a slight girl one might mistake for fragile until they noticed the ropey muscles layered on to her diminutive form. Her wide eyes and sweet expression suggest that she is younger than you are, but there is a tempered fierceness lurking just beneath the surface that adds a hardened edge and matures her considerably. She is wearing a blue kitty cat cap over her messy, short hair and though you cannot see it, you know that she is wearing a matching blue tail because this girl happens to be somebody that you know.

“Nepeta?” you gasp.

She smiles broadly. “Hi, Kanaya!”

You begin to sit up, but the motion sends a flare of pain through your pan. You sink back down into a fully supine position and massage your temples before saying, “I was certain that you were dead.”

“Nope! Definitely not dead!” Then, apparently noticing your distress, her smile loses a bit of its shine and she says, “Oh, is your head bothering you?”

“To be perfectly blunt and honest: yes. It feels as though it is being squeezed in a vice.”

You see Nepeta wince. “Ooh, that sounds really pawful.”

Burying your face in your hands, you groan, “I assure you it is.”

“Hang on; I’ll get you something to help. Don’t go anywhere, OK?”

You are tempted to mention that you seriously doubt that you are in any condition to be going anywhere, but the throbbing in your pan seems to worsen every time you speak and it has already built to an intensity that is verging on unbearable. You therefore continue to lie on the bed with your hands over your face, hoping that whatever it is that Nepeta is bringing will work quickly.

A few minutes later, you hear Nepeta’s light footsteps and then she is pressing a small cup into your hand and saying, “Here, drink this. It won’t fix efurrything right away, but it’ll make you feel a little better.”

Careful to avoid spilling the cup, you gingerly raise yourself into a half-sitting position. The movement sets another bolt of pain flashing through your head so you do not hesitate to swallow down the contents of the cup you are holding. The liquid is cool, slightly viscous. It leaves a mild bitter aftertaste, but your parched mouth and throat rejoice at the moisture and the pain in your head quickly dulls to a relatively tolerable level of mild discomfort.

Setting the empty cup aside, you say, “Thank you, Nepeta.”

“You’re welcome.” She picks up the empty cup and turns it over in her hands before adding, “I figured you might have a purretty nasty pan ache when you woke up. Their knock out juice packs a real pawnch!”

You furrow your brow, the oddity of her statement igniting a sudden twitch of apprehension in your blood pusher. “’Their’ knock out juice? Who is this ‘they’?”

“Oh….” She worries her lower lip between her teeth, a furrow appearing between her brows before she answers, “Have you ever heard of The Collective?”

Your unease begins to grow because there is a levity in the way she says those last two words that suggests that they must be capitalized—not merely “the collective” but “The Collective.” Swallowing back your rising nerves, you reply, “I have not. Are they the ones who have detained us here?”

“Yep! But I don’t know if ‘detained’ is the right way to put it….” She puckers her lips into a little frown. “That kind of makes it sound like they kidnapped us or something.”

“I do not know how you arrived here, but I was rendered unconscious and brought here without expressing my permission. I believe that very much satisfies the qualifications for kidnapping ‘or something.’”

“Well, OK, yeah. That’s how Equius and I got here, too.” You are about to reiterate your contention that such actions are the very definition of kidnapping, but she leaves no space for interjection before she quickly adds, “But it’s not like we can’t leave if we want to!”

You nod and say, “I see” even though you really do not see at all. Then you say, “How long have you and Equius been here, exactly? Wherever here might be.”

“This place is a commune where a lot of Collective members live. Er…well not this place—“ (she sweeps a hand around as though to indicate the small room the two of you are in at the moment) “—this is just one of the hives in the commune. It purrobably wouldn’t be very comfurtable if all of them lived in just this one tiny hive!” She begins to laugh but quickly trails off when she sees that you do not seem to be sharing in her mirth. In a more subdued tone, she says, “Equius and I have been here for a while now. Ever since we left my hive for your place, actually!”

“And in all that time you have never chosen to contact any of your friends and inform us that you were both alive?”

Her face falls a bit at this last statement. “Well, I wanted to but the Collective didn’t really want us talking to anybody outside the commune for a while and Equius furbid me from doing it. I never even got to hear how the rescue mission went!”

“If you must know, it went very poorly,” you retort. You realize that it would be kinder to soften the details or perhaps even omit them entirely, but the idea that Nepeta and her moirail have been perfectly capable of alerting you or Terezi or any of your mutual acquaintances of the fact that they have been alive all along while you were worrying yourself sick on their behalf ignites something ugly inside you. All of the lurid details end up pouring out of you in an angry rush: “First of all, Gamzee absolutely lost his mind and tried to murder Terezi and Sollux and quite possibly would have harmed himself or several others if Tavros had not managed to pacify him. Next, Karkat refused to return with Sollux and Terezi despite evidence that he has been put through multiple cosmetic alterations, not the least of which includes having his horns completely removed. Finally, Eridan and Vriska undermined the entire mission by abducting Feferi and forcing Sollux and Terezi to use a stolen ship that ultimately resulted in Sollux losing his life and Terezi nearly losing hers. Terezi was devastated because Sollux apparently sacrificed himself for her sake and of course Feferi was beyond inconsolable because she lost not only her matesprit but she also ended her moiraillegiance with Eridan under the most dreadful terms possible. On top of everything else, we all believed that you and Equius had come to a terrible end. Quite frankly I am shocked that the two of you thought that it was alright to allow us to continue to believe that you were dead for several perigees when in fact you have been alive and quite comfortable all the while.”

Nepeta gapes at you as you race through your furious monologue, her eyes growing wider by the second. By the time you are finished, you are out of breath, your eyes are stinging with tears and your head is beginning to throb again against the sudden onslaught of emotion. For a moment the room is silent. Then Nepeta gasps, “Oh, Kanaya, I am so sorry! I had no idea efurrything went so badly. Now I feel pawful for letting everybody worry about us when there was already so much going wrong!”

“Would you mind explaining exactly why you thought doing so would be a good idea in the first place?”

“It was The Collective’s idea.” She must see the ire rising in your eyes because she quickly amends, “Please don’t be too angry with them! They were only trying to purrtect us. When we told them about what was happening with Karkat they insisted that we stay here so they could hide us and keep us safe.”

Another flare of anger curls through you. Your voice is cold as a glimmering steel sword and twice as sharp as you say, “And why in heavens would you think it was a good idea to tell them anything about our plans to rescue Karkat?”

“OK, this is going to sound kind of crazy but I swear that I am telling the truth.” She takes a deep breath, slowly releases it, and then she says: “They sort of think Karkat is some kind of a god.”

The words are so ridiculous that you are scarcely able to choke back your incredulous laughter. “They think what?”

She holds up her hands as though your words of disbelief are a physical force that she can bat out of the air. “I know, I know. I didn’t believe it at furst either. But Kanaya, they are all wearing these little necklaces with his symbol on them and they keep saying that it’s the ‘Mark of the Sufferer’ and there’s this cave with all these old drawings of a purrson who looks just like him but older and…well…I don’t really know what to think about all of it, but even Equius admits that there is no way it can all be a coincidence.”

“The ‘Mark of the Sufferer’,” you repeat. You are quiet for some time, trying to make sense of everything you have just heard. Finally, you shake your head and say, “I’ve never heard of anybody known as the Sufferer, but I never particularly cared for history myself. If the pictures that these people have are meant to depict this ‘Sufferer’ and if he resembles Karkat, then perhaps he was Karkat’s ancestor.”

Nepeta nods and says, “Yeah…that’s what Equius thought, too—but even he didn’t know anything about someone called the Sufferer. Oh, and if that’s not weird enough, wait until you hear this: there are a lot of drawings in that cave of people who look like our furiends—especially you and me and Sollux. There’s even one that looks like Equius shooting an arrow at the one who looks like Karkat, which I guess purrobably explains why some of them didn’t seem to like Equius all that much at first.”

You try and fail to keep a mild bite of skepticism out of your voice as you reply, “And I suppose that I am to believe that they think we are likewise holy entities?”

“Well…sort of. I mean, they keep calling me the ‘Young Disciple’ and acting like they are my servants. At first it was amewsing but now it’s sort of embarrassing.” A greenish flush begins to rise in her cheeks and she looks down at the ground before she goes on. “Anyways, apparently you’re the ‘New Dolorosa’ and…and I’m not expurrlaining all of this furry well, am I? Hang on; I’ll get someone who can do a better job.”

You want to tell her that she is doing a fine job, that you cannot imagine any easier way of explaining such implausible subject matter—but she is already hurrying out of your small hive. Now that she is no longer in the room with you and your pan is not subjecting you to the painful throbbing, you find yourself wondering who this hive belongs to. The empty shelf and clear desk suggest that it is abandoned, but primitive though it is, its pristine condition clearly indicates that it has been meticulously maintained. The only thing in the place that might lead you to believe that somebody lives there at all is the mat you are lying on, and even this lacks any type of personal decoration or mark.

You are just beginning to wonder whether the basic trunk might hold any personal belongings or if it is as empty as the shelf and desk when Nepeta returns, an unfamiliar female troll in tow behind her. The unknown troll is so aged she is bent almost double and her skin appears to be as thin and fragile as tissue paper. Much of her hair is gone and what little remains covers her scalp in transparent whisps as thin as spider silk. Her horns are dull and the ends appear brittle and chipped and you cannot even begin to guess her blood color or caste because she wears a featureless gray robe and the only symbol you can see is the one hanging from the silver chain around her neck—a symbol which, as Nepeta earlier ascertained, is identical to the one that Karkat used to wear.

The older troll steps forward and says, “Hello, child, and welcome to our commune. You may call me Nilosa.”

You are perfectly aware that the polite thing to do at this point would be to introduce yourself, but you are fairly sure that Nepeta or Equius have already shared your name with this woman. Under normal circumstances, you might attempt to alleviate the awkward situation by offering up a customary pleasantry such as “I am pleased to meet you”, but in this particular instance you are not at all sure that you are even remotely pleased to be meeting this person, so you remain silent.

Nilosa does not appear to take offense at your willful disregard for customary social conventions. Instead, she states, “I understand that the Second Signless, that is, the one you call ‘Karkat’ remains in the hands of the adversary.”

You shoot Nepeta a look of mild exasperation because you had neither expected nor wished her to immediately relay that information to your kidappers. Then you return your attention to Nilosa and say, “If by ‘adversary’ you mean the Alternian military, then yes.”

“Ah,” sighs Nilosa. She closes her eyes and lowers her head. “Such a shame. The members of the Collective who remained on Alternia had so hoped to lay eyes on the Second Signle—on Karkat again before the end of times.”

Nilosa’s use of the phrase “end of times” does not escape you. You are curious as to whether she had intended the words to be taken literally or figuratively, but you have a feeling that asking for clarification on that front will lead to more questions than answers at this point. You therefore decide to focus your attention for the time being on something more concrete yet still every bit as perplexing: “Lay eyes on Karkat again? I find it difficult to believe that you have met him. In all the sweeps I knew him he never mentioned anything to suggest that he was aware of the existence of a cult who believes that he is a god.”

“I would not expect him to remember meeting us,” she replies with a dry laugh. “He was a newly-pupated wiggler when his lusus passed through our commune.”

“I mean no offense when I say this, but I cannot imagine why any lusus would choose to bring their grub here.” You pause a moment before amending, “Actually, I do mean some offense, but only a small amount.”

There is a stretch of silence in which you hear Nepeta giggling from behind Nilosa. Then Nilosa says, “Allow me to give you a more comprehensive explanation. Do you feel up to walking a bit?”

You shrug. “I suppose I do.”

“Then please, follow me.”

You stand up and although the motion makes your head feel heavy it is nothing like the throbbing you had experienced earlier. Nilosa starts toward the door of the hive at a rapid pace that is so incongruous with her fragile appearance that it is nearly alarming. You quickly move to follow. It is only as you are stepping through the door that you realize that Nepeta is not following you outside. A glance over your shoulder reveals that she is neatly folding the mat atop which you had been lying. You see her look up, offer you a smile and a quick wave, and then you are outside.

It does not surprise you to see that you are still in the forest in which you collapsed, though from the extraordinary size of the trees and the thickness of the canopy high above, you conclude that you must be far deeper into the wild growth than most trolls would dare to venture. The forest floor is thick with small debris and gnarled tree roots, but it has been cleared of the impassible overgrowth that might have sprung up in such a remote location. There are many small hives scattered throughout the cleared area, all of them identical to the one you have just left. At first you estimate the number to be in the low hundreds, but as Nilosa begins to lead you away from “your” hive you begin to notice other hives built into the trunks of some of the larger trees and into the sides of hills and you realize that the actual number of hives in the area must be verging on an even thousand.

Nilosa leads you along a narrow path that seems to wind directly through the thick of the commune. You see trolls of all ages bustling about the commune: adults traveling from here to there or stopping to talk or laugh with one another, young children running in herds, older children going about menial chores or occasionally entertaining the younger ones, and a good number of elderly trolls interacting with trolls at every age, but none appear to be quite as old as Nilosa. It is difficult to discern blood colors with everybody clothed in featureless gray robes, but among the adults you see mostly burgundy, bronze, yellow, or olive irises—though you also see an occasional teal or cerulean, and at one point you even see an older male with seadweller fins. The impression you get is one of a great many trolls living together peacefully in a state of almost euphoric happiness.

You are not certain whether you find this incredibly unconventional way of life pleasant or mildly creepy; however you are certain that you find the way everybody seems to stop what they are doing to stare at you as you pass by to be decidedly unsettling. You feel a flush of surprise when you realize that some of them appear to be bowing to you. You consider asking Nilosa to do something to put a stop to this absolutely undeserved reverence, but the path seems to be lined with a continuous flood of people and there is no way to make your request with any degree of privacy.

After some time, Nilosa veers onto a larger path. The hives along this path are larger than the ones you have already passed and they look less like individual dwellings than places of gathering. There are even more people packed along this path and it seems as though they have all gathered here specifically to see you. Most of them are whispering among themselves as you pass. You hear many excited variations of “It’s her” and over and over, the words “New Dolorosa.” The number of trolls bowing to you steadily increases as you continue to walk. By the time Nilosa reaches the mouth of a small cave, they have begun to abandon mere bowing for full prostration and you are beginning to feel embarrassed in response to all the excessive attention.

You hesitate when Nilosa disappears into the cave. Your skepticism may be rapidly waning (for if this is all nothing more than a ploy to persuade you to let down your guard, it is the most elaborate and excessive ruse you have ever seen), but you are still not entirely comfortable entering a small space with a complete stranger without a weapon on you, even if that stranger appears to be much less able-bodied than you. The eyes of the crowd on your back persuade you to continue, if only to escape the gawking.

The inside of the cave is more open than you had expected with enough space for at least twenty trolls to comfortably fit inside. Despite its roominess, you are thankful to find that it is only you and Nilosa because you are certain that this is where Nilosa has been leading you and you are not yet accustomed to the constant staring for it not to be a distraction. Torches light the room in a soft, orangey glow and a quick glance around is enough to tell you that the walls are covered in old paintings. Even in the unsteady torchlight, you can tell that the paintings are skillfully rendered with an almost loving attention to detail that has not been lost to the ages.

The rock walls render Nilosa’s voice into a bone-dry echo as she states, “This is a sacred place. Although anybody is free to come here, it is the duty of The Collective to preserve its sanctity. Therefore, I must ask you to refrain from touching any of the images that you see here.”

“Of course.” Under regular circumstances you might feel the need to further ascertain that you will do no such thing, but it is difficult to force even those two words of assurance from your mouth because as you look at the walls more closely you realize that everything Nepeta has told you thus far appears to be entirely true. You see drawings of trolls who bear an uncanny resemblance to Nepeta, Sollux, and even to yourself in both appearance and in caste symbol. There are drawings of trolls who resemble your other friends as well—you see a few who look like Terezi, a few of Vriska, a few of Equius—but above all, there are hundreds and hundreds of drawings of a troll who you cannot deny looks very much like Karkat Vantas.

Nilosa does not seem to notice your near-speechless shock. “I have not brought you here to proselytize. I assure you, my intentions are merely to explain why you have been brought here and why we have detained your friends. However, in order to make my reasoning clear, I must share some details about the beliefs of The Collective. Whether you choose to adopt these beliefs as your own or whether you choose to adhere to only the historical evidence is entirely your decision.”

You nod, still too preoccupied by the incredible collage of drawings on the walls to manage vocal words.

Nilosa leads you to an image of a grub. The tiny nub horns suggest that it is meant to be yet another drawing of the Karkat troll, but in the place of the burgundy color you were expecting to see, the grub’s carapace is an impossible shade of red. You wonder if the color has been altered by the passage of time or if it was perhaps a mistake on the part of the artist, but then Nilosa says, “The story of the Signless begins many sweeps ago when a grub with mutated blood color appeared in the brooding caverns.”

If this is Karkat’s ancestor and Karkat’s ancestor was a mutant, then does that mean that Karkat himself is also a mutant? You frown at the thought, not because it repulses you but because you suddenly feel a painful swell of platonic pity for your old friend. No wonder he was always so reticent about his blood color….

Nilosa continues, oblivious to your quiet musings. “Due to his mutation, this grub was bound for a life of hardship if not immediate death. Even if he were to successfully complete his trials, the fact remained that no lusus would select a troll with such an unconventional blood color to call their own.

“However, a young Auxiliatrix happened to discover the young grub. Legend states that she was immediately drawn to the child and recognized his importance through an act of divinity. Whatever the reason, she chose to flee the brooding caverns with the child and raise him herself.”

As if to emphasize her point, Nilosa indicates an image of your double cradling the Karkat grub in her arms. “History has remembered this Auxiliatrix as the Dolorosa, and under her care the Signless grew into a healthy child and, in time, a healthy adult.”

So it appears as though my ancestor raised Karkat’s ancestor. For a moment, you are unsure whether you find this information to be shocking, heartwarming, or embarrassing. Then you decide that it is a combination of all three, comprised of a much larger proportion of the first two.

“The Signless was a visionary in his day. He preached many controversial ideas, upholding ideals such as mercy, kindness, and above all, equality among all blood colors. In time, his movement gained many followers.”

She leads you past a series of drawings depicting the Karkat troll speaking before crowds of followers, past images that you decide must represent the contents of the sermons that occurred at each gathering, and then she stops in front of a very large drawing of the Karkat troll with the Nepeta troll, the Sollux troll, and your double. “These were his most trusted followers: the Disciple, the Ψiioniic, and of course, the Dolorosa. They passed many happy sweeps in each other’s company.”

Nilosa lingers in front of the painting for some time, as though she is reluctant to go on. You are finally reaching the point at which you are no longer shocked speechless by shocking revelations regarding you and your friends’ ancestors, so you clear your throat and say, “I assume that something happened to challenge their happiness.”

When Nilosa speaks again her voice sounds flat and even older than her considerable years. “You are correct. The teachings of the Signless were the spark of a rebellion that bloomed into a brutal war. The Signless was executed for heresy and his followers were scattered. The Disciple fled into the Alternian wilderness and devoted the rest of her life to memorializing the teachings of the Signless. She created the drawings that you see in this cave.”

She hustles you past another series of drawings. You do not have time to examine all of them closely, but you do notice that the images here are less detailed and messier than the ones that had come before. You still manage to see images of a troll who could be Equius’s hatchmate aiming an arrow at the Karkat troll, the Sollux troll in biowires, your double crying with her hands bound in chains…. You are not one to shy away from unpleasantness but something in the way the images have been so sloppily rendered suggests that the very act of creating them was a terrible trial and the pain of the artist is so palpable that it makes your own heart ache. It is a relief when Nilosa stops before an enormous drawing of Karkat’s symbol.

“Even in the face of his own death, the Signless preached that a troll of similar blood hue and attributes would appear—a Second Signless who would bring his teachings to fruition. His followers set about creating a new breed of lusus—one specifically designed to care for the Second Signless when he should appear. When Karkat completed his trials, our lusus recognized him for who he was and brought him to the commune so all of the faithful might know that our messiah had returned. At that time, we formally assigned him his sign, as until that point he had none. Then we released the child with his lusus so that he might enjoy a normal upbringing.

“Not all of the members of the commune agreed with this course of action. There were many who said that the child should have remained here, under the protection of his followers. I was one of the most vocal proponents for allowing him to leave. I had hoped that his experiences in the outside world would ground him for his mission more effectively than a life of luxury and reverence. I had thought that his lusus would sufficiently protect him from any threat he might encounter. I was wrong.”

She sighs before going on. “Karkat’s disappearance created shock waves throughout the commune. Although I was prepared to accept full blame for my poor decision, it was not enough to prevent many perigees of bitter infighting. We were on the verge of a major schism when a group of younger followers spotted your friend Nepeta traveling through the forest with her moirail. You must understand that many of our followers see her—and you—as the living reincarnations of our sacred figures. When they returned here with the Young Disciple, the rejoicing that occurred prevented the death of our commune.”

“Ah,” you say. “So you chose to detain her here to prevent the collapse of your cult.”

“I admit that the time of her arrival was indeed opportune. However, we have not held her or her moirail here against their wills. When they shared word of their involvement in the rescue of the Second Signless, the commune recognized that they were in danger. We offered them our protection and they accepted. Their sequestration has been entirely voluntary.”

You press your lips together into a thin line. That is what Nepeta said earlier, you think. Their stories are certainly matching up so far…. “If their sequestration has been entirely voluntary as you so elegantly put it, then why did you feel the need to prevent her from contacting me or any of our mutual acquaintances to inform us of her situation?”

“We never forcibly prevented her from doing so. We merely suggested that she and her moirail avoid contact with the outside world for the time being for the sake of their own safety.” She must note your skeptical expression because she quickly adds, “I understand that they were en route to your hive when our followers took them. Is this not precisely what you were planning to do once they arrived?”

You remain silent for some time. Although you are not normally inclined to take a kidnapper at their word—one who has kidnapped you, no less—you do believe that these people sincerely revere Karkat’s ancestor and, by extension, Karkat himself. You are convinced that they would not do anything to willfully harm Nepeta, Equius, or any of Karkat’s other friends, yourself included. Finally you say, “Very well. I understand why you took my friends and why they have chosen to stay here but unlike them, I am not in any need of protection at the moment. If you will excuse me, I would like to see my friends one more time before I take my leave.”

You move as though to start toward the cave exit and Nilosa quickly shifts to block your way. “I would prefer it if you were to stay.”


“Because I have a job for you, if you would be kind enough to accept it.”

You had been devoting most of your attention toward staring longingly at the exit and planning another attempt to skirt past Nilosa but her words are so surprising that your focus immediately jerks back to her. Flabbergasted, you repeat, “A job?”

“The Collective wishes to offer the current heiress its full support when the time comes that she must make a campaign against the current Empress. In order to do so, we will need somebody to act as an intermediary between us and her. I would like to offer that position to you.”

You are taken aback. Your first reaction is to be happy for Feferi because the last time you had spoken with her she was still too distraught over the events of your failed rescue mission to put much energy into planning for her impending challenge. However, you cannot help wondering whether this remote cult is capable of providing a resistive force of any significance and, if able, what motivation it would have for involving itself in Feferi’s political conflict. Then you realize that it does not matter because you already have a job to do.

“I apologize, but I cannot accept that position. I must deliver the matriorb from my lusus to the brooding caverns and no offense, but this commune does not strike me as having any real military clout.” You pause for a beat before adding, “For clarity’s sake, this time I truly do not mean any offense.”

Nilosa smiles. “Child, this commune is only a small part of The Collective. Our numbers may not be what they once were and we may be scattered, but I assure you that we are still a force to be reckoned with should the occasion arise. As for the matriorb, have no worries. Our commune has connections with a good number of Auxiliatrices in the caverns. They will gladly accept it from one of our followers.”

“Why are you interested in Feferi?” The question leaves your mouth before you can stop it and it comes from as much pure curiosity as it does mild suspicion.

“It is written that the arrival of the Second Signless will signal the end of our world. I understand that Karkat is acquainted with the heiress and that she had a hand in your regrettably failed rescue attempt. Surely there is no harm in throwing our lot in with a fellow supporter of the Second Signless in the times of the apocalypse.”

Nilosa seems to hesitate for a moment, but you do not believe she has said all that is on her mind. You are proven right when several seconds later she adds, “If the apocalypse happens to take its time getting here…well, it would not hurt to have a comfortable relationship with the new crown Empress.”

You frown as you consider the older woman’s words. Nilosa may be devout, but she appears to have a bit of a scheming streak. If their forces truly are ‘a force to be reckoned with’ then might they not attempt a second coup d’etat the moment Feferi is installed into power? The possibility is worrisome but you quickly dismiss it. The followers hold such reverence toward Nepeta that her mere presence prevented the commune’s collapse and they appear to be equally obsequious towards myself. Nilosa may hold some sway over the Collective, but I doubt that even she could rally the followers to act against our explicit wishes. Finally, you say, “Very well. I will act as your liaison.”

Nilosa’s smile returns. “I am very glad to hear that. I shall send an envoy to the brooding caverns with the matriorb at once. In the meantime, you are welcome to stay here as long as you wish. I assure you that you will not regret this decision.”

Nilosa moves to allow you access to the exit. A lightness comes over you as you make your way to the mouth of the cave. You had not realized until now how little you had wished to spend the rest of your life underground, away from the open sky, the moon, and—above all—the sun that you have come to love so much. You still have reservations about trusting Nilosa completely, but you have a strong feeling that whatever the outcome, you will not regret the choice you have made tonight.


> Karkat: Disobey

Chapter Text

Now that you have been living with Otto and Nora for a good four months, you have finally settled into a comfortable schedule of avoiding the shit out of them which has made living together in the same house almost tolerable. After weeks of observing their daily patterns, you have determined that there is a period from 6:15 to 6:30 every morning between the time Otto leaves for his job in Seattle and the time that Nora returns from her work on the night shift in which it is you and only you present in your house. If you can manage to drag your sorry ass out of bed and out the door in that fifteen minute sweet spot, you get to enjoy a nice morning free of the dynamic douchebags. When you get home from school, Otto is always still at work and Nora is always asleep and the only thing you need to do to ensure that you do not have a close encounter of the asshole kind is stay holed up in your room until Nora leaves for her work and Otto retires to his room to fill a filial pail or whatever the fuck he does with his beloved computer all night. Once you reach that magical time, the house is yours until you decide to go to bed and start the whole crappy cycle of shitstained crap over again.

By careful adherence to this schedule, you manage to successfully avoid any and all contact with both Nora and Otto for almost four full weeks before Nora barges into your room late one Saturday afternoon and announces that she has the night off and the three of you are going out together for a “family dinner” so have your ass downstairs and in marginally presentable condition in the next twenty minutes or suffer the consequences. You sit there with your mouth gopping open in abject horror just long enough for her to step out of your room and into the hall. Only then do your poor squawk strings allow you to shout, “Why in the hell are we doing that?”

Nora pokes her head back into the room to say, “Because we are a happy American family, and we wouldn’t want the neighbors to think any different, would we?” She punctuates the remark with one of her mildly creepy doll smiles before adding, “Leave in twenty minutes—and put on some decent clothes before we go.”

You wait until she leaves and the door is fully closed behind her before you roll your eyes and flick her a quick one-fingered salute to convey your utmost willingness to comply with these stupid shenanigans. Then you decide that maybe she is right about the clothes thing because even though you do not give a single gently caressing fuck about how you look you know that most humans would probably shit a brick if you walked into some fancy-ass restaurant in—god fucking forbid—clothing that is actually comfortable. To that end, you take a moment to swap out your beat-up T-shirt and sweats for a button-down shirt and a pair of stiff-as-bulges slacks before you head downstairs.

You had thought that maybe this dumb eating together in public bullshit was the result of some sort of order from the fleet: Yes, we noticed that the three of you have not exchanged a single word in over three weeks and this is really fucking unusual for most Earth families so the three of you need to get your asses out to a crowded public place and affirm your undying love and familial affections for one another before the whole damn neighborhood starts to figure out that HOLY SHIT GUYS THESE FUCKERS ARE ALIENS. You quickly realize that you are totally fucking wrong on this front once you get downstairs and see Otto sitting on the couch with an expression on his baby face that is equal parts surprise and bewilderment because on top of being a complete piece of shit who hogs the house computer all the goddamn time, Otto is the only one allowed to touch the PDA that sends and receives transmissions from the fleet. There is literally no way an order from the fleet could come in without him seeing it. The whimsical goblin of shitty ideas must have decided to break into your house and unload his entire stock of bullshit into Nora’s barely functioning pan because as near as you can tell, this idea is hers and hers alone.

You and Otto exchange a wordless glance of pure misery. He almost looks as though he wants to say something to you, but then—thank fuck—your cell phone buzzes. You use this godsend of an opportunity to whip that shitty piece of plastic out of your pocket, plant your ass on the far side of the couch and pretend that he does not exist.

ectoBiologist [EB] began pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG]

EB: hey, karl.
EB: just checking to see if we are still on for getting together and working on that biology project tonight.
EB: i thought you were going to be here fifteen minutes ago.
EB: well thanks a lot for standing me up, asshole!
EB: karl, i was just kidding.
EB: it’s no big deal. just come over now!
EB: oh.
EB: well that sounds nice.
EB: a little traumatic maybe with all the ball-slapping, but nice.
EB: ew.
EB: so is this going to be an all night deal, then?
EB: nah! my dad can drive you home if we get done really late.
EB: see you in a couple of hours!

You are about to type a response that goes something along the lines of “SEE YOU LATER, ASSHOLE” when Nora snatches the phone right out of your hand and holds it up over her head. You would consider jumping to your feet and snatching it right back, but she is tall as a fucking giraffe and you are…not, and you have no desire to complete this shitty version of classic schoolyard bully imagery with a series of embarrassingly futile attempts to reclaim something as trivial as a goddamn cell phone. Instead, you remain seated and one hundred percent dignified as you squawk, “Hey! What the fuck!”

“No cell phones during family time,” she replies. “You can have it back after dinner. Now come on; time to go.”

You look to Otto with a final desperate hope that maybe he will get his feckless bulge in gear and tell Nora that this is a terrible idea and she should feel terrible for conceiving it because she sure as shit isn’t going to listen to a single word of it from you. Otto does nothing to improve your general opinion of him by failing to say a single fucking word. (The douche wad doesn’t even have the decency to glance in your general direction.) The only viable option you have left is to resign yourself to enduring an evening of whatever the dry crusty fuck Nora thinks qualifies as “family time.”

One ass-clenching, knuckle-whitening car drive from hell later, the three of you are sitting in the middle of an Applebee’s restaurant that is packed to the rafters with people. (Seriously, you are pretty sure that there are more people here than the entire population of Maple Valley. Where in the hell did these people even come from?) There are shitloads of families with kids and about half of the kids are throwing temper tantrums at any given second. The bar is packed to standing room only and every few minutes the crowd in there lets out a collective cheer or a collective groan of disgust, peppered with shouts of “CRAP CALL, REF” and “COME ON, DAWGS, KNOCK ‘EM DOWN!” It is the loudest example of a human restaurant you have ever seen in your entire life (which is, admittedly, not saying much because this is literally the first human restaurant you have ever set foot inside. Still, all of the schoolfeeds on the station had led you to expect something a hell of a lot quieter and formal than this. Hell, this barely qualifies as this side of civil.)

You order the most expensive thing on the menu just to spite Nora because—ha—you don’t have to worry your hornless head over earning and managing weird Earth paper money and she and Otto can both suck it if they have a problem because none of this was your idea. Nora orders some kind of a pasta dish and trips over the pronunciation like an idiot, much to your glee. (The fact that she practically has to shout to be heard over the noise from the bar and the kids and all the other sentient beings gibbering at each other around you is just the sweetened grub sauce on the leavened confectionary.) Otto orders a salad. You are pretty sure he picked the first thing he saw on the menu because he just could not be assed to look at it for more than five seconds.

Once the waiter leaves with your orders, Nora turns to you and says, “So Karl, how is your mission going so far?”

You gape at her because wow, holy shit there were so many ways she could have asked that same exact question without sounding like a creeper invading alien from a hostile Empire hellbent on subjugating this planet’s population, what the hell is wrong with her? “Can we not do this right now? I mean, it’s not like this is a really fucking public place or anything.”

“You think anybody is going to hear us in here?” Otto replies. A particularly loud shout of “C’MON REF GET OFF YOUR KNEES AND STOP BLOWING THE GAME” comes from the bar as if to accentuate his point. “Just answer the question.”

You shrug. “It’s fine. I made a friend. Everybody seems to hate him for some reason and because you are literally the dumbest people I have ever met in my life let me qualify that by saying that it’s that weird platonic human hate and not some kind of hot-as-balls caliginous passion or anything else your shallow brains might be imagining.”

“That sounds promising,” says Nora. “You should invite him over sometime.”

“Wow, I thought you had a one bad idea per night limit but paint my ass and call it a goddamn Subjugglator I guess I was wrong on that front. Why the hell would I want to do that?”

“Because I need to send a progress report to the fleet and tell them how our missions are going,” Otto replies. “How do you expect me to verify that you are following orders if I never see this friend of yours?”

“Oh my god I just told you—“

“I would feel better if I met him in person.”

You want to protest because fucking Christ, why in the nook-toggling fuck isn’t your word enough? Does he seriously think that you are stupid enough to lie about mission related shit and if so, here’s a newsflash: Karkat “the Pied Piper of unpopular assholes and other societal rejects” Vantas knows how to handle his shit on that front so sit down, shut up, and cram your face with gross salad you faithless piece of festering trash. You are sorely tempted to give him a healthy serving of fuck you but somehow you manage to hold back the flood of bullshit that is welling in your mouth because there is something in his voice, a steely quality underneath the usual veneer of douchebaggery that paints his every action which gives you pause.

Otto and Nora are both staring at you—he with a focused intensity that you have never seen from him before and she with that glassy-eyed doll face that always makes you feel all squirmy and uncomfortable. You don’t know why they seem to have their skid marked panties in a bunch over whether or not you will let them meet John of all people, but you do know that you are in no mood to put up with them staring at you as if you have just announced that you are the second coming of troll Jesus or some other equally fantastical bullshit. To that end, you sigh and say, “OK, fine. I’m going over to his place after dinner tonight. I’ll invite him to come over to our house next time we hang out since you’re both so set on it.”

“Good!” says Nora, all unicorn farts and creepy-as-shit smiles.

Otto nods. “See that you do.”

“Yeah, OK dad.” you grumble. “So now that we know all about my mission, how about yours? How about mom’s?” You pause for a moment, a frown settling onto your face as realization dawns: “Wait, what are your missions?”

Nora and Otto exchange an interesting look—one that you are inclined to interpret as aw, shit! Then Otto says, “We have a joint mission and it’s proceeding adequately. That’s all you need to know for the moment.”

His tone says the subject is fucking closed but his expression suggests that when he says “proceeding adequately” he actually means “failing spectacularly” and oh, now you get it. He can’t tell the fleet that we are all dragging ass down here, you think. I guess he figures that the fleet won’t kick their asses from here to next Sunday and back if at least one of us manages to come across as functional on a basic level. No wonder they’re more up in my business than a hyperactive nook worm.

Your food arrives soon after you reach this epiphany, cutting any further conversation short, thank fucking Christ. You grace the nice waitress with an extra-sincere “thank you” as she unloads your humongous plate of honey barbeque baby back ribs but there is absolutely no way you can pump the true depths of your gratitude into those two paltry little syllables.

Nora and Otto must have been more rattled by your unintentional reminder of their own incompetence than they let on because the three of you barely exchange a word as you eat. You do not mind this at all. In fact, you are 100% content to devour your delicious ribs and pretend that Nora and Otto are not here because this is the most delicious thing you have put into your meal tunnel in over a sweep and it’s a shame that Nora and Otto have to fuck up your appreciation for it by existing.

By the time the three of you are finally walking out the door, you are pretty sure that Operation: Fake Family Dinner was a resounding failure because there is no way that anybody in that Applebee’s could have possibly misconstrued the three of you as anything even remotely resembling a “happy American family.” (In fact, if the sidelong glances from the people in the booth across from you are anything to go by, half the population of Maple Valley has silently dubbed you “that dysfunctional family of assholes who talk like they are covert agents or some shit, god they are fucking weird.”) Conversely, Operation: Ensure Nora Never Suggests Another Fake Family Dinner Ever Again was a globe-smashing success and hell, at least you got some decent food out of the deal. Awkwardness aside, you are going to count this as one of the few ticks in the win column on your nonexistent life scorecard.

The drive back to your neighborhood is exponentially less sucky than the drive to the restaurant because—find a devout subjugglator and snort all his special stardust it’s a motherfucking miracle—Otto drives. Nora spends most of the ride haranguing him about how he is going too slow and oh my god why are we even stopping here? You spend most of the ride appreciating the way that you are not being thrown into pants-wetting mortal terror every half second. He may be a giant bag of douche, but goddamn Otto can stop at a stop sign like nobody’s fucking business.

As Otto pulls into John’s driveway, you are almost prepared to admit that perhaps you were a little hasty in your initial assessment of Otto’s character; maybe his ability to obey human traffic laws like a champ is indication that he is not, in fact, one hundred percent douche one hundred percent of the time. Of course the second this thought enters your head, Otto proceeds to fart all over it by saying, “Do not forget what you are here for tonight.”

“Yeah, yeah; I get it. Invite the human social reject over for tea or whatever,” you reply. Climbing out of the car, you add, “See you whenever.”

The car hovers in the driveway as you make your way to the front door. Any normal onlooker might think it was nothing more threatening than two loving and conscientious parents watching to ensure that their precious little darling doesn’t get ambushed by rabid frothing badgers on the way to his friend’s doorstep—but you are not a normal onlooker. You also happen to know that neither Nora nor Otto gives a single blustering shit about you so whole gesture comes across as really fucking creepy because fucking Christ they are waiting to see what John looks like, aren’t they?

Trying to ignore just how insanely uncomfortable you are with the glare of the headlights searing into your back like the eyes of a ravenous dragon lusus, you ring the doorbell. A second later, you hear a rush of footsteps and then John is opening the door.

“Hi Karl,” he says. “How was dinner?”

“It was fine,” you grumble. Without thought, you find yourself shifting to shield John from the glare of the headlights and block him from view.

“Oh, are those your parents?” John proceeds to kick your attempts to keep him out of Nora and Otto’s sight directly in the bulge by cupping his hands over his mouth, leaning halfway out the door, and shouting, “HI, KARL’S MOM AND DAD!”

You are so annoyed you could hatch a giant leviathan of fuck you, dumbass all over the city of stupid that makes up the vast majority of his brain. What the fuck is the matter with him? You think. Here I am trying to keep his stupid, shit-spewing ass safe and.... You frown as Otto responds to John’s shout with a quick beep on the car horn before driving off. What am I trying to keep him safe from? Your frown deepens further as another, far more disturbing question ricochets through your progressively stunned thinkpan: Why do I care about keeping his ass safe?

John’s voice cuts through the fog of what the hell is happening cloaking your mind: “Helloooo! Earth to Karl, are you still with me here?”

You come to the embarrassing realization that you have just been standing there staring off into space for you don’t even know how long. Feeling dazed and mildly dizzy, like coming up from a heavy dose of anesthesia, you say, “Yeah. I’m here. What were you saying?”

“I was saying that you should come in now because it’s cold as balls out here.”

You say “Sure, OK” but you don’t move at all.

John furrows his brow, a concerned look beginning to creep into his eyes. “Hey, are you OK? You’re acting kind of weird. I’m pretty sure this is the longest you’ve ever gone without insulting somebody.”

“I’m fine.” You arrange your face into your trademarked I’m a cantankerous shit so do not fuck with me right now scowl before adding, “Family dinners are just a giant, steaming pile of horse shit. Now let me in; I’m freezing my ass cheeks off.”

John seems to accept this as evidence that you are indeed OK because he moves out of the way to let you in. You, on the other hand, cannot help thinking, What in the name of holy nook-dripping spore mold is the matter with me? You take a moment to remind yourself that John is human, humans are not in any way remotely deserving of your friendship let alone your protection and therefore John is also not worthy of real friendship/protection/etc. and will you just get your head back in the goddamn game already? Then you follow him inside.

John’s house always smells like baked goods. Besides the Halloween party house, John’s is the only human home you have ever been inside so you aren’t entirely sure whether this is a human thing or whether it is specific to just John, but either way it’s a hell of a lot nicer than what your house smells like. Tonight you detect a scent of cinnamon and mildly burnt gourd that you immediately recognize as pumpkin pie because Nora went on one of her fake mom kicks and bought one of those a couple of weeks ago so you could have pretend human Thanksgiving. That pie had been cold and so sweet it had hurt your teeth but if this shit tastes half as good as it smells you might have to seriously re-asses your opinion of human pumpkin pie.

“Hang on a sec; I have to run upstairs and grab our notes from last time,” says John. He’s already halfway up the stairs when he adds, “Dad’s making hot chocolate in the kitchen if you want some.”

A bubble of masticated honey barbeque baby back ribs-flavored apprehension rises in your gut as John disappears upstairs. You really wish he hadn’t mentioned his parental unit because now you are going to look like an unmannered little shit rag if you don’t say hello and doing that is about as appealing as a rusty ice pick to the root of your bulge. The problem isn’t that Troy Egbert is an asshole. No; the problem is that despite the universal constant that all adults are entities of unfiltered awful who want Karkat to suffer, Troy Egbert is very definitely not an asshole. In the few times you have spoken with him, he has asked you how school is going and actually cared about the answer, made surprisingly amicable small talk about living in Maple Valley, and even offered to prepare an extra portion of dinner on the one occasion you stayed into the supper hour. Worse yet, from the inane shit that John complains about (“Ugh, Dad made cookies again. Want one?”; “Whoa, you don’t have a curfew? I have to be home by eleven—my Dad is so lame!”) you are pretty sure that Troy Egbert is exactly the type of parent who would stay parked in the driveway to ensure that his son made it safely to his friend’s front door because he actually gives a shit.

When you enter the kitchen, John’s dad is at the stove beating the shit out of the contents of a saucepan with a wire whisk. He looks up when you come in and the crow’s feet at the edges of his eyes deepen as he gives you a smile that is worth at least fifty of Nora’s fakey doll faces. “Hello, Karl. Are you hankering for some hot chocolate? There’s plenty to go around.”

“Yeah. I mean yes, please.” Fuck, you do not understand why it is so goddamned hard to act like a normal, functioning person whenever you are around this stupid adult human. It’s like your brain suddenly begins to suffer a monstrous case of constipation every time you open your mouth because you are trying to phrase shit as non-offensively as possible while simultaneously wondering why in the hell you are even worried about offending him in the first place. You know his opinion of you as a person counts for nothing—strike that, it counts for less than nothing. It has negative value and you should actually be trying to offend the fuck out of him to get yourself back onto the positive side of zero—but for some godforsaken reason the idea of losing his unspoken approval makes you feel unbelievably shitty.

John’s dad removes the saucepan from the stove and pours its contents into three large mugs, each bearing a truly hideous image of a harlequin. “You must be looking forward to your winter break. Will your family be doing anything for the holidays?”

You shrug because you have no fucking clue what horrors Nora and Otto are planning to inflict upon you when you are stuck at home for an uninterrupted two weeks. Then a burst of inspiration strikes and you say, “No…most of my family is still in LA.”

“Well if your folks are fans of good baking, feel free to invite them over to casa Egbert for some of the best red velvet cake in the state.”

You try and fail to keep your mouth from gopping open because that is a fucking terrible idea. The mere thought of Nora and Otto coming here and fucking everything up with their collective assholishness makes you want to vomit. You are pretty sure you can feel the baby back ribs roiling in your gullet as they consider making an encore appearance all over casa Egbert’s nice, clean table.

Quickly—too quickly, you exclaim, “No!” Then, in response to the startled look that appears on Mr. Egbert’s face, you amend, “They wouldn’t want to bother your family on a holiday.”

“It wouldn’t be a bother at all.” He places one of the harlequin mugs on the table in front of you before adding, “Any friend of John’s is as good as family here.”

You don’t know how to respond to this bizarre declaration so you elect to stare into the depths of your marshmallow-topped hot chocolate and silently freak the fuck out because no, no, no; this human is not calling you family, he cannot possibly mean that the way you think it sounds, this is some weird and manipulative bullshit and you are not going to fall for it, no siree Karkat Vantas is not some snot-chewing fool rolling in a mountain of his own feces and he is not falling for this shit. John’s dad sits there, patiently awaiting your response and utterly oblivious to your inner turmoil. Thankfully, John chooses that moment to insert his blemished ass back into the picture.

“Sorry about that Karl,” he says as he comes blustering into the kitchen with an armful of loose leaf notes, textbooks, and spiral-bound notebook. “I forgot I moved all of our project crap to my desk. Oh, the hot chocolate is done? Cool.”

He dumps the research material into a messy pile on the table in front of you, grabs one of the two mugs of hot chocolate remaining on the counter, and takes deep enough swig that he comes away with a marshmallow mustache which makes it look as though he has just attempted to snort a handful of powdered sugar up his cartilage nub and failed epically. His dad seems to take this as a signal to leave the two of you the fuck alone because he scoops up the final mug and leaves the room with a supplication to the two of you to “Have fun and work hard.”

John waits for his dad to leave before he says, “Bluh, sorry to inflict my dad on you like that. I hope he didn’t do anything too weird.”

Inwardly you are screaming that yes, yes he did do something weird; he implied that I am part of your human family and I don’t even care if that is a normal human thing to say he is totally ass-backward on that point because I am pretty fucking sure that human families generally do not have members who are on the wrong side of a full-blown covert intergalactic war. Aloud, you say, “He invited my parents over for Christmas.”

“Oh my God,” John moans. “Do me a favor and just ignore him when he says embarrassing stuff like that. I think he’s just too excited about me having friends again to know how to act.”

You aren’t entirely sure that you want to ignore it (what the fuck are you talking about, of course you do). It has been so long since Crabdad that you have almost forgotten how nice it feels to have a lusus to care about you (newsflash asshole: John’s dad is not a lusus and even if he was he’s not yours) and after seeing the way a human parent is supposed to act you have caught yourself more than once wondering what it would be like if Nora and Otto acted more like they were your real human parents (but they aren’t so quit being a fucking idiot, Jesus Christ what is the matter with you?) Of course you would never admit any of this to anybody anywhere. To distract yourself from this confusing bullshit, you direct all of your attention to the latter half of John’s statement and recognize it for what it is: a perfect chance for gathering some intel and doing your actual job.

John is already reaching for the stack of notes in front of you. Before he gets lost in the wonderful world of human cellular biology, you clear your throat and say, “Hey, John. Can I ask you a serious question here before we go all ass-deep into shit about endocytosis or whatever the fuck we’re doing tonight?”

“Yeah, sure. What is it?”

You take a moment to ineffectively try to imagine some way of asking what you are about to ask without sounding like a complete nook-biting bag of douche. Then you realize that there is literally no way of putting what you want to say in a diplomatic light so you suck it up and say, “What the fuck happened to make you lose all your friends?”

“Oh….” John frowns and diverts his gaze to the unopened textbook in front of him. You have a sudden realization that wow, even if there isn’t a diplomatic way of pointing out that somebody doesn’t have any friends you managed to hit on the absolute shittiest way of doing it. Good job, you insensitive ass sphincter.

You are about to apologize to John for being such a socially stunted piece of trash, but John surprises you because he suddenly looks back to you and solemnly states, “I kind of blew up prom last year.”

“You ‘kind of blew up prom?’ Forgive me if I am being a completely obtuse dick with a single, barely-functioning brain cell, but how in the flowery basket of steaming cow shit do you ‘kind of’ blow up prom?”

He lets out a chopped laugh before ever-so-kindly clarifying: “I mean I might have sort of set the venue on fire?”

You shake your head because what? “Well that’s about as clear as a pail full of jizz. Care to explain how you managed that?”

He laughs again, a humorless, tired sound. “It was supposed to be a prank. See, I had all this Silly String that I was saving for a special occasion and I happened to be on the prom committee last year so I thought hey, perfect opportunity, right? So I rigged the stage to shoot Silly String when they announced prom king and queen. Except the aim was off and…well, I didn’t realize that Silly String was that flammable.”

You look at him, incredulous. “So let me get this straight. You burned down your prom with Silly String.”

“No! Well, not exactly. I mean yeah, the Silly String caught on fire but that wasn’t the thing that fucked everything up. It was what happened after that really got everybody upset.”

He looks at you like he expects you to make some witty interjection but fuck that, you want to hear where he is going with this so you just gesture for him to keep talking, goddamn it. He seems to get the drift because he says, “The sprinkler system came on.”

“Are you shitting me?” you say. “That’s what everybody has their nuts in a twist over?”

He nods. “Yeah. Pretty much.”

“But that’s actually really fucking hilarious!”

“Well, I kind of thought so at first….” He trails off before sheepishly adding, “But the country club didn’t agree. And, uh…neither did the cops.”

“The cops,” you repeat. “You got arrested for a stupid prank?”

“Uh…yeah. Kind of.” He pauses for a moment, then noticing the look of holy fuck are you serious on your face he quickly adds, “I mean I didn’t go to jail or anything! I didn’t even go to juvie. They just made me help clean up the water damage and put me under house arrest for the summer. Oh, and I got suspended for the rest of the school year but that wasn’t so bad because I think everybody was really pissed with me right after it all happened. I had to change my Pesterchum handle because I got a couple of death threats.”

“Oh my fucking god,” you mutter. “Who in bull-squatting fuck makes a death threat over a dumb prank?”

“I don’t know. But yeah, long story short I blew up prom and everybody is still pissed at me.” He pauses and then, looking supremely uncomfortable, he says, “I don’t know why you decided to put up with letting everybody crap all over you just for hanging around with me, but—“

You cut him off right there because there is something in his tone—a tired note of resignation (“You don’t have to stay”; “But I…I want to….”) that reminds you of that fucking awful night on the station (“Don’t be fucking stupid”; “I’m not stupid…”) and even though you know that the circumstances are completely different, (“Go sit with the other trolls. They’ll let you sit with them”; “No….”) you feel something painful in your thoracic cavity because it feels exactly the same. “Let’s not get into this bullshit now, John. You are less of an asshole than everybody else at school and we are hereon and henceforth officially bros so shut the fuck up and stop worrying about it.”

“Oh….” He is quiet for a moment. Then he assumes a look of exaggerated shock to say: “Oh my god, Karl, are you saying I’m an asshole?”

“Don’t be a dumbass, John. Even if it does suit you, it’s really fucking unbecoming.”

He laughs and this time it’s the relaxed, mirthful sound you are used to hearing. “Aw, thanks for that, you giant asshole. Now remind me what the heck a Golgi apparatus is supposed to do.”

You sigh because fuck if you know; they never made you learn how human cells work on the station so this is all just as ass-spanking new to you as it is to him. The two of you proceed to scour the pages of your awful hand-written notes and your slightly less awful biology textbook for information about human Golgi apparatuses and mitochondria and endoplasmic reticulums (rough and smooth!) and ribosomes and all other manner of deeply involved microscopic shit.

Several hours and two empty cups of hot chocolate later, the two of you decide to call it quits on the wonderful and complicated-as-fuck-all world of human cellular biology because you are both on the edge of falling asleep in your own private lakes of drool.

John lets out a yawn of skull-cracking proportions and says, “Hang on; I’ll tell my dad you’re ready for him to drive you home.” He takes off his glasses and rubs at his eyes before adding, “Do you want to do your place next time?”

Otto’s words echo through your pan so clearly he might as well be whispering them directly into your ear and spraying his putrid breath into your olfactory bulb: Do not forget what you are here for tonight. You know exactly what you are supposed to say—what you should say…but your response erupts out of your mouth before you can even think about biting it back: “No!”

John looks taken aback by your vehemence (and actually, if we are being completely honest with ourselves here, so are you). Replacing his glasses, he splutters, “Wow. OK, we can meet here. Geez.”

“Sorry. We can’t do my house because…” you trail off, groping desperately for a plausible excuse. The best (and by “best” you actually mean “infinitesimally less stupid than all the other shit you could say”) you can come up with is “because my mom and dad work really weird hours.”

“That’s fine. I’ll uh…I’ll just go get my dad now.”

You nod, somehow managing to play it cool despite the fact that your insides have become a roiling mass of liquefied nails and acid because you just disobeyed a direct order if not from the fleet then from Otto, which—let’s face it—is basically the same thing and you have no reason, no excuse, nothing to explain it away. You wish you could say you didn’t know what is happening…but you do. You know exactly what is happening and it’s a terrible mistake, it’s a fucking joke, it’s absolutely stupid and sick and wrong…but you think you might have accidentally fallen in real human friendship with John.


> John: Answer chum

Chapter Text

gardenGnostic [GG] began pestering ectoBiologist [EB]

GG: hi john!!!!
GG: how was your christmas??
EB: hi jade!
EB: christmas was nice but it was cold this year.
EB: we had a lot of snow.
EB: also i wanted to tell you thank you for the pda computer thingy.
EB: i’m using it right now and it is really awesome!
EB: but it must have been super expensive!
GG: oh i didnt buy it…
GG: i made it!
EB: holy crap, you made this thing?
EB: that is so cool!
GG: i always say that people should have at least five computers on them at all times and most of the time you never even have one!
EB: hey my cell phone worked for mobile chats.
GG: bluh, that crappy old thing does not count as a computer!
GG: it doesnt even have internet on it and it hardly EVER picked up any of my messages
EB: well yeah…
EB: i don’t think your teeny island out in the middle of the pacific ocean is included in our service plan.
GG: that is why you needed a REAL portable computing device!
GG: now you dont have an excuse to not answer my messages right away, mister :p
EB: haha yeah i guess you are right.
EB: did my package get over to you on time this year?
EB: i hope it did…
EB: i sent it way back around halloween this time.
GG: yep!
GG: i got it just a couple of days before my birthday
EB: good.
EB: sorry it wasn’t something as cool as a brand new computer.
GG: what are you talking about???
GG: i totally needed new bass strings!
GG: also all my pumpkins died last year so i was thinking about ordering some new seeds but now i dont have to :D
EB: well ok then.
EB: but i still don’t think bass strings and pumpkin seeds are half as good as a new computer.
GG: well if you feel that guilty about it you could always make it up to me by visiting me next christmas!!
EB: hey, yeah!
EB: rose is going to get her pilot’s license soon…maybe she could fly us to your island.
EB: that would be pretty cool!
GG: oh, it wouldnt be cool…
EB: …it wouldn’t?
GG: nope!
GG: not cool at all!!!
EB: ok then….
GG: john you are supposed to say why wouldnt it be cool so i can make a joke here!
GG: sheeeesh >_<
EB: oh. well excuse me :p
GG: :p yourself!
EB: :p :p
GG: :p!!!!!
EB: ok fine. why wouldn’t it be cool for rose to fly us over to you next christmas?
GG: because i am in the southern hemisphere silly!
GG: it would be the middle of summer…
GG: that means it wouldnt be cool…
GG: it would be hot!
GG: hahahaha :)
EB: oh my god, jade that was terrible.
GG: more like your face is terrible :P
GG: but seriously it would be really great to see you guys next christmas—or any other time of the year for that matter!
EB: i guess we’ll have to talk to rose and dave and see if we can work something out.
GG: yeah!! i am already looking forward to it :D
EB: me too.
EB: whoops i should probably go. my dad just called for dinner.
GG: ok! talk to you later john <3
EB: bye, jade.

gardenGnostic [GG] ceased pestering ectoBiologist [EB]


> Eridan: Why are you so (un)happy?

Chapter Text

You had never realized just how awful your life was on-planet. Living in a drafty old wrecked ship. Consorting with land dwellers and—worse yet—treating them like equals. And your quadrants…fucking hell, the memory of all the stupid shit you were willing to put up with would probably be enough to make you furious if it wasn’t so goddamned embarrassing.

It wasn’t a matter of willful self-denial. In fact, not a day went by in which you did not know that you deserved more. The problem was that you never realized just how much more you, as a member of the violet-blood ruling class, higher than everybody except the goddamn Empress herself, truly deserved.

You were one of only nine violet bloods to ascend this sweep but the ship that came to collect the nine of you was just as massive as the ships that came to collect all of the lower blood castes. Where those ships were clunky things barely fit to hop a fucking puddle, yours was a graceful, smooth-gliding craft and so new you could practically still smell the fresh paint. From the second you set foot inside, you were treated to cool, climate-controlled air with a hint of ocean brine. The corridors are wide with gorgeous viewing decks to increase the feeling of openness, the common rooms are spacious and lushly furnished, and best of all, each and every one of you got your own private suite.

Your suite is easily three times as big as your crummy old hive. The upper level consists of a huge ablution block, a sitting area with a large viewing port, and a private dining block for those times in which you just cannot be bothered to dine with your fellow sea dwellers. There is also a recreation block with all the latest state-of-the-art recreational technology and a library packed to the fucking gills with volume upon volume detailing every notable accomplishment of the Alternian military back to ancient times. It is, to put it concisely, fucking excellent in every way.

The lower level is entirely underwater. Although the water temperature is maintained at a constant temperature and salinity for optimal comfort, you have only ventured down there once because goddamn it you still hate being underwater. From your brief exploration, you aren’t missing much. Sure there is a respiteblock fit for a fucking king with a shitload of expensive-looking art pieces rendered in precious metals and a second (smaller) recreational area, but beyond that it’s all open space peppered with some of the more benign examples of aquatic Alternian flora and fauna. (You had of course been put out that the only recuperacoon in the suite was located in the underwater respiteblock but one firmly-worded complaint was all it took to get a second one installed on the upper level. You opted to have it placed in the sitting area so that the first thing you saw when you woke up would be the absolutely breathtaking view of the stars.)

In addition to enjoying the lavishness of your private suite, you have been waited on hand and foot from the moment you boarded the ship. All you need do is ask and anything you could possibly want is yours: exotic food prepared on demand, entertainment (music and recitations seem to be the more common requests, but one of your fellow sea dwellers has taken a shine to ordering pairs of servants to beat the shit out of each other which, you have to admit, is actually pretty fucking hilarious), and even rare first edition prints of romantic classics like In Which a Young Midblood Female Troll, Under Pressure from Both Lusus and Moirail to Find a Suitable Concupiscent Quadrant Mate, Encounters a Male Troll of Noble Blood and Subsequently Seeks to Enter Caliginous Relations While the Object of Her Pitch Sentiments Secretly Harbors Emotions of a Decidedly Flushed Variety, etc. Not one to let such an opportunity go to waste, you have enjoyed a manicure complete with fine claw shaping, multiple full-body massages, and had your gills flushed. You have never had to bother with your own hair because you have had it professionally styled every evening and your horns are as smooth and sharp as the day you pupated after treatment with all the best oils and sanding techniques.

Of course, you are careful not to do or say anything to betray that you think this is the coolest thing you have ever experienced in your life. After all, this is just some crappy little transport shuttle. You have no doubt that all of this will look like outright squalor once you are in command of your own fleet. (What can you say? It’s all about keeping things in perspective and from your perspective this is just the beginning with respect to getting all the fame and glory that you always deserved.) And speaking of your own fleet, tonight is the night that you will be receiving the craft which will become your personal flagship once you put your superior knowledge of military strategy and tactics into action and acquire said fleet.

You have only just crawled out of your recuperacoon when a servant knocks on the door to your suite. You take your time selecting a gently pre-warmed towel from the dehumidifying storage unit built into the side of the recuperacoon. Slowly and with deliberate care, you clean away the slime from every inch of your body. Then you drape a silk robe over yourself (can’t have some land dweller trash losing his sight due to the radiance of your highly desirable self), stride over to the door and open it. With all the regal indignation you can muster, you say, “You’re early.”

The servant—a brown blood who barely looks a single sweep older than you—bows his head and replies, “Forgive me, sir. I was informed that you desired to be escorted to the docking bay at this hour.”

You barely manage to hide the smirk that tries to crawl onto your face. Of course you requested that your escort arrive at this time. You did so knowing full well that you would not be ready to leave until at least a full half hour later because showing the stupid fucking land dwellers how little they matter is standard protocol around here and what better way to accomplish that than by reminding them that your time is infinitely more valuable and important than theirs? (Not to mention the fact that it’s fucking hilarious listening to them apologize for no reason whatsoever.) Narrowing your eyes, you repeat, “You’re early.”

Head still bowed, the brown blood says, “Yes, sir. Of course. Please forgive my mistake. Shall I return later?”

With a prodigious effort, you swallow back the gleeful leer building at the corners of your mouth. “No; wait right there. I’ll only be a few minutes.”

The brown blood says “Yes, sir” but you and he both know that you are going to be one hell of a lot longer than that. To your credit, you maintain your façade of indignation until you close the door in his face. Only then do you allow yourself to crack a smile because this is it; this is how things are meant to be and it is fucking awesome.

You take a leisurely fifty minutes to complete your horn and claw care regimen, style your own hair (you miss your personal stylist already), select the clothes you will wear, get dressed, and eat a light breakfast. You take an additional ten minutes to peruse one of the hundreds of military annals in the library because you’ve kept him waiting this long so why not make it a perfectly round hour while you’re at it? When you finally open the door, you are decked in the most theatrical garb you own, your belly is full of delicious food, and your mind is still digesting all the minutiae of the final stand of General Razayu Edolst.

The brown blood is standing right where you left him. Careful to inject as much irritable haughtiness as possible into your words (because he is the one who fucked up, after all; not you), you say, “All right. I’m ready now, although I have half a mind to file a complaint for your fucking disgraceful service.”

You think you see him wince a bit. (Not that you can blame him. One of your cohorts has made it a habit to complain about every single servant who has so much as looked at her and you’ve seen the aftermath of some of the beatings those poor fucks had gotten as a consequence. You don’t actually have any intention of needlessly inflicting that on anybody, but this dumb sap doesn’t have to know that.) “I apologize for the inconvenience, sir.”

You scrutinize him for a few seconds, just long enough to see him squirm. Then you let out a big, gusty sigh and say, “I guess I’ll accept your apology this time. Just be glad you caught me in a charitable mood.”

“Thank you very much, sir.”

“Yeah, whatever. Just take me to the docking bay. I’ve got a ship to claim.”

The brown blood bows and leads you away from your suite. You follow him along several corridors decked with tasteful artwork, past a viewing deck with truly spectacular view of a distant super nova, and down a long set of corrugated metal stairs to finally arrive at the docking bay. It is a truly massive space, filled with neat stacks of crated cargo, herds of tech and mechanic crews, and—most importantly—dozens of beautiful new ships.

The second you step off the stairs, you are greeted by an adult violet blood who is hovering dangerously close to the end of his prime. “Ah, Ampora!” he exclaims in a tone that could only be described as downright jovial and pretty much the absolute antithesis of everything a fearsome, strong member of the ruling class out to be.“You are right on time. The mechanics crew just finished its final inspection of your ship. Come with me and we’ll get you sorted out.”

You wordlessly step forward, leaving the brown blood standing at the foot of the stairs. The violet blood (you never did bother to learn his name because clearly he’s a nobody if he’s working on a boring old shuttle even if he is technically a royal blood like you) continues to talk as you cross the docking bay:

“You will be excited to know that we have assigned you to the best ship available. Your preliminary assessments showed that you have an impressive knowledge of military history and you outscored all of your peers with regards to theoretical martial practices. Quite naturally, to the most promising recruit goes the most promising ship.” (You smirk at this because of course you outscored all of your peers. Your sweeps-long hobby of becoming the Empire’s greatest repository for military history has served you well.)

The violet blood leads you down a row of particularly impressive ships, each more imposing than the last. Your sense of anticipation grows to almost unbearable proportions because you can’t help wondering which will turn out to be yours. Will it be the one with the snappy vanity paint job? The one decked with enough weaponry to make even the wiliest Gamblignant wet themselves at the mere sight of it? What about the one with engines so big it might as well scream “speed demon” or the one that looks like it could single-handedly mow down a whole squadron of enemy ships? Then you catch a glimpse of the ship at the end of the line and your collapsing and expanding aquatic-based blood pusher skips a beat because you know beyond any shadow of a doubt that that’s the one.

The ship is big—almost twice as big as some of the rattly old tin cans you passed on your way here—but the lines are so fucking sleek it looks as though it could turn on a half caegar. Although it is clearly built for speed, you can see a healthy peppering of weaponry along the hull: two fully maneuverable main cannon turrets on each side along with scatterings of half-concealed smaller turrets to take care of any land dweller dumb enough to come too close. It is a clean steel gray, but with beautiful violet accents to further hammer home the point that this is a royal ship so stay the fuck out of the way. It’s dramatic yet tasteful, intimidating yet beautiful and above all else, it is absolutely cool as fuck.

“I think you will be very pleased with this ship,” says the violet-blooded old fart. “It is one of the most ambitious models we offer to new recruits and it has been outfitted with all the latest military-grade equipment.” He then proceeds to prattle on about advanced landing gear and plasma shields and all manner of technical crap that you only half-listen to because you really just want to get inside and try everything for yourself already for fuck’s sake.

You are so sick of hearing him drone on that you are on the verge of breaking something (preferably his scrawny old gobblebeast neck) when his voice suddenly adopts a conspiratorial tone. You immediately perk up because you are always up for a little intrigue and if his breathless half-whisper is any gauge this promises to be something especially juicy.

“It’s not every sweep we get a unit that scores beyond the limits of the psionic ratings index,” he says. “This sweep we ended up with five that did just that and yours scored so high that it is leaps and bounds ahead of the rest. In fact, there were a few inquiries from some very established military personnel.”

“Wait a second,” you say before he can go back to talking about the ship’s top-of-the-line humidifying systems or something equally boring and pointless. “Are you saying some big shot generals were vying for my helmsman?”

“Shocking, isn’t it? I don’t believe I have ever seen so much clamor over a fresh helmsman and you can believe me when I say that I have been around for a good, long while.” You are pretty sure that he has been around for ‘a good, long while’ and probably then some. Still, you pay close attention as he leans a bit closer to you and drops his voice down to a half-whisper to add, “If you want my professional opinion, I think that this ship has the potential to become one of the fastest and most feared in the entire fleet.”

You don’t have anything to say to that, mostly because you are too busy congratulating yourself over already being well on your way to being envied, respected, feared, and every bit as fucking great as you always knew you would be. The old violet blood seems to pick up on your developing fantasies of crushing everybody who dares to stand in your way because he quickly adds, “Of course none of that will come without the right leadership—and speaking of leadership, the fleet is expecting you to report for your formal initiation posthaste. I suppose that means I had better quit gassing on and let you board your ship so you can be heading out.”

Fucking finally, you think. Of course you don’t say that out loud because even though this old windbag is starting to go a little doughy around the middle, you are pretty sure he could kick your ass if he really wanted to and that would be really fucking embarrassing. You therefore say, “Yes, I suppose you’re right. Thanks a million. I’m sure we’ll be in touch.”

“Oh, one last thing,” he says as you start toward the boarding ramp.

You come to a jolting stop but you do not turn around. (This is probably for the best because it ensures that he does not see you rolling your eyes.) Through clenched teeth you grate, “Yes?”

“You reported that you have no experience flying a craft with a helmsblock modification. Is that right?”

“Yeah…. Is that a problem?”

“Oh, it’s no problem at all,” he replies. “The fleet will train you in all the tricks of the trade once you arrive. In the meantime, we have programmed your destination coordinates into the autopilot. Once you have engaged the ignition, the ship will automatically take you to where you need to go so don’t go getting adventurous and start mucking around with the controls. The last thing you want is to end up stranded somewhere and hope that somebody is feeling charitable enough to respond to your distress signal, right?”

He follows this statement with a deep belly