Dave has never really had people. His bro was always in and out, an ephemeral presence he generally cropped into the background. His schoolmates had been cut out of his life by a fresh X-ACTO knife. His friends were omnipresent, true, with timezones meaning someone was almost always awake, but they were never truly present. There's something to be said for a physical presence.
Maybe that's why he's not sure how to act now that he's never alone. He's never had to handle the constant having of people - he's never had to deal with so many in person interactions at the same time. It's unsettling.
His saving grace might be that all the trolls feel the same way. From what he's gathered about their murder death planet, they rarely had extended interactions, and when they did, it tended to be conflict based. The remaining living trolls have etched out their territory, and they're as reticent to come out of it as Dave is to leave the confines of his claimed room.
Of course, Rose won't leave him alone, and now that murder-death spree has ended, even Karkat is becoming sociable. His door has a slow melody played across it as the days go on. Somehow, it wouldn't surprise Dave if Rose was responsible for enlisting them all in a rota of knocks. He can recognize who's going by, and for what, just by the way they knock. Karkat has an overzealous but kurt knock. Rose always taps twice, lightly, and repeats it every two minutes until he gets a response. Terezi just whacks it several times with her cane.
He's not all that bad. Rose just makes drama for the sake of it. Dave makes his appearance once a day, or at least, the closest thing to a day they can measure. The first time Dave's phone died, it lost all semblance of time, and the other gadgets they carried around weren't much better. Dave might be better off than the rest of the lot, but this far from the Medium, it's easier to ignore the constant ticking, and harder to ignore the pull of dilating circadian rhythms.
But still, he comes out for breakfast.
(If his breakfast is the same toast and apple juice every day on the meteor, just like back in Texas, no one comments. He certainly appreciates the mundane things in life, like fake apple juice and the wonders of a toaster. He doesn't consider why Rose doesn't appreciate these things anymore than she does.)
-- tentacleTherapist [TT] began pestering turntechGodhead [TG] at ??:??--
TG: hey sis whats up
TT: Synthesizing questionable materials, forming unbeatable plots, reading horrendous parodies of Earth culture, the usual.
TT: did you finally open that copy of 50 shades in the library?
TT: cause if so im not sure how i feel about twilight being earth culture
TT: I was more referring to the cross-cultural analysis I've been developing with Karkat.
TT: It's fascinating how many celebrities have appeared in roughly analogous forms across both cultures.
TT: yeah except theyve killed like half of them
TT: what fun is that, rose?
TT: they even killed troll ben stiller
TT: A terrible loss, I'm assured.
TT: Perhaps I should seek out some outside points of data, though.
TT: Karkat's bounds are admittedly limited.
TT: yeah limited to trashy romance
TT: youre studying one aisle of the bookstore
TT: or wait no someones memory of one aisle of one bookstore
TT: the bookstore doesnt exist anymore though and memory is fallible
TT: corroboration of eyewitnesses is key
TT: gotta ask them all separately though so they don't change each others memories
TT: I'm afraid the metaphor has gone over my head.
TT: it got a little mixed
TT: like your mixed drinks
TT: hows that going for you
TT: As well as one cares to hope.
TT: Synthesizing a nontoxic form of a toxin is difficult.
TT: we have apple juice
TT: how hard could any of the million types of alcohol be
TT: Well, you do have to sort out the other 9 million that aren't suitable for consumption.
TT: The meteor is not exactly equipt for this anyway.
TT: probably sensible
TT: i mean this game is designed for what teens?
TT: drinking alcohol is bad for growing bones or something
TT: Fair point.
TT: Eventually I may have to attempt moonshine.
TT: I may have better luck synthesizing that down.
TT: howre you going to make moonshine
TT: theres no moon
TT: Oh, you misguided youth.
TT: The ritual clearly states in absence of a moon, the light from a nearby star, thoroughly diluted, may be substituted.
TT: We have no shortage of that.
TT: yeah but everyone knows substitutions change the taste
TT: also moonshine isnt any likelier to be safe
TT: it kills hundreds of people every year
TT: A good thing we can't die, then.
TT: I'm going to go see if I can make it through another book or two.
TT: We don't truly have forever, and the library may yet prove useful.
-- turntechGodhead [TG] ceased pestering tentacleTherapist [TT] at ??:??--
Movie nights make the highlight, once they're done being the lowlight. Karkat starts them, complaining about the number of actors Earth never should have permitted to live. Dave declines, but Karkat insists that it wasn't a question, "insufferable ignorant", and Dave should report to the main room that night.
When Dave didn't show up, Karkat broke down his door and started the movie at full volume on some sort of bug computer hybrid.
After that, Dave came when Karkat requested, and eventually brought his own movies with him. The conversation started with "I refuse to sit through your pitiful Earth excuse for cinema" and ended with "Fair, but no cigar. We're watching it.."
When they turn the lights mostly off and Karkat passes Dave the popcorn ("So I don't have to listen to your inane ramblings"), Dave can almost pretend he's on Earth again.
Of course, on Earth, Dave generally didn't invite people home, and he definitely didn't dare bring anything unironic within Bro's earshot. Of course, on Earth, Dave didn't have a cape he could use as a blanket, and even if he did, he wouldn't be caught dead sharing it with a dude. Of course, on Earth, Dave didn't generally watch movies, and definitely not in his apartment, because there wouldn't have been popcorn and Dave wasn't stupid enough to turn the lights off. But the meteor isn't strictly Dave's apartment, so he supposes it passes, at least when a mostly Earth movie is on.
Even when the whole meteor crowds in, it reminds Dave a little of the few sleepovers he's been to. His brother never really made an effort to socialize him properly once he decided that Dave wasn't going to school anymore, and Dave's friends always seemed to fade away after the first night he would spend at their house. Still, he imagines this must be what a second or third or fourth or fifth sleepover feels like. Except, of course, they never watch horror movies. Only movies that promise to remind someone of home. (Admittedly, those categories aren't exactly mutually exclusive.)
Rose brings knitting, Kanaya brings sewing, Vriska remains civil and keeps her predictions to the end, Dave doesn't hoard the popcorn, Terezi refrains from slobbering over the entire TV, and if Karkat hates the characters, he only says it once. Even Gamzee quiets his constant air vent clattering. If they're all that domestic any other time, Dave would know he'd managed to land in a dream bubble.
Dave wouldn't tell Karkat, but he's started coming out of his room more, and it's a little because of the movies. After all, Dave only has so many memories of Earth cinematic masterpieces, and alchemizing them takes time and patience, and lots of hysterically horrible films they view to cheer them up, because Dave and Karkat can't seem to stop running into all the other memories they thought they left behind.
(If the Mayor asks him to come to Can Town after, well, he can't exactly say no, can he? And Vriska has been incessant about training lately, so he has to make a point to show he's not losing his abilities. And no one else knows about Earth alcohol, so how're they to monitor Rose?)
-- gallowsCalibrator [GC] began trolling turntechGodhead [TG] at ??:??--
GC: 1 4M 1N N33D OF YOUR 4SS1S4T3NC3
TG: want another comic or something?
TG: i told you youre out of freebies
TG: im no fool i know what my time is worth
TG: youre going to have to commission me or something
GC: R3GR3TFULLY MY R3QU3ST 1S OUTS1D3 TH3 BOUNDS OF YOUR 4CT1ONS 4S 4 C3RT1F13D COOL K1D
GC: 1 N33D TO T4LK TO YOU 4BOUT TH3 L4T3ST UPD4T3S TO TH3 M3T3OR M4P.
GC: 1 KNOW YOU W3NT 3XPLOR1NG W1TH ROS3 Y3ST3RD4Y BUT TH3 M4P 1S CONSP1CUOUSLY 3MPTY OF 4NY CH4NG3S
GC: SO SP1LL
TG: oh we didnt find anything new
TG: she was just showing me her lab
TG: which should be on the map
GC: W3 ST1LL DON'T KNOW WH4T'S OUT TH3R3
TG: okay but hear me out
TG: random monster assassins are neither heroic nor just
TG: also youre looking at the map
TG: licking the map?
TG: you know roses makeshift lab is like two feet away from the karkat designated safe zone
TG: its got good lighting and everything
TG: great place to practice putting on foundation
GC: TH4T'S NOT TH3 PO1NT.
TG: oh see you never really got to one
TG: so i figured id assume
GC: ROS3 H4S B33N SP3ND1NG MOR3 T1M3 1N H3R L4B TH4N OUT L4T3LY.
GC: 4ND K4N4Y4 1S ST4YING NOT4BLY F4R 4W4Y.
GC: SO 1 THOUGHT M4YB3 YOU KN3W SOM3TH1NG
TG: is that...genuine concern i detect?
TG: look im sworn to secrecy
TG: but i promise its not a total place of debauchery
TG: is that satisfactory
TG: okay well thats all the pitiful reassurances i have time for
TG: what is the saying
TG: irons in the fire
GC: D4V3. YOU H4V3 NO 1RONS. YOU N3V3R DO.
TG: well, preheat your oven, because im about to put some in.
-- turntechGodhead [TG] ceased pestering gallowsCalibrator [GC] at ??:??--
Can town occupies a liminal space in Dave's heart, a place he didn't know existed. He's not sure how it happened, exactly, but the Mayor has found a place.
Maybe it's because he doesn't talk.
Dave talks a lot, but he's always considered himself a quiet person. It's a contradiction. It's your heart beating fast enough you hear it, and your sharp inhale is still too quiet. It's when you don't know how to stop talking, but you need to talk without making noise. It's a craving for silence, but an existence measured in sound bytes.
In Can Town, David follows the Mayor's instructions. He builds townscapes and towers, labeling them all. Well, most of them. The Mayor prefers Rose's neat cursive when he can get it, but that's been a short commodity recently.
Right now, the Mayor has had Dave building up the suburbs. Urban development is strong, but the skyscrapers are tricky to build, so they're focusing their efforts where dreambubbles won't knock them over indiscriminate of the effort put in.
Dave's been gunning for another nightclub, but apparently that ruins the safety of the neighborhood for children. He's building a daycare instead. Their buildings have, in general, expanded past a singular can a building, and so Dave's trying to get the mismatched root vegetables to balance on top of each other. Hearty food should make for hearty children who won’t scream too much when their parents drop them off at daycare, waking up all the other kids, long into their afternoon nap.
The Mayor does not understand this. He understands as far as keeping the buildings stable, but he's on another project, with lanes of cans between them. He watches Dave, occasionally, and makes a gesture that Dave thinks has to mean "turn them on their side", because that's what he tries next and it works.
The Mayor always has a solution. He doesn't frequently leave Can Town, but every now and then Dave hears his knock on the door. The first time Dave heard it, he had no idea who it could possibly be. He opened his door out of pure bewilderment. The Mayor passed Dave a towel and started walking.
Can Town's reserve had burst. The Mayor probably didn't need help, but Dave still did, and then Rose was passing him breakfast, the toast fried in a skillet with some seasoning Dave couldn't place. Godtiers don't need to eat, and it's easy enough to miss breakfast with the dreambubbles compressing and dilating time.
(If it's funny to Dave that he never had a problem being dragged to nightclubs and being told not to complain, but he won't let the neighborhood kids even have that option, he doesn't mention it to the Mayor. Different strokes for different folks and all that.)
-- carcinoGeneticist [CG] began trolling turntechGodhead [TG] at ??:??--
CG: I CAN SEE THAT YOU ARE ONLINE.
CG: ANSWER ME, DAMMIT.
TG: whoa have some respect
TG: im a busy man
TG: you cant command all of my time
CG: I'M NOT.
CG: THIS IS FROM THE MAYOR.
CG: WELL, I'M ASSUMING HE WANTS ME TO MESSAGE YOU.
CG: HE KEPT GESTURING AT ME TO PULL OUT MY HUSKTOP WHILE ALSO POINTING AT YOUR LATEST ATTEMPT AT A PROPER HIVE.
TG: well if its for the mayor…
TG: why didnt you say so we couldve avoided this whole conflict
TG: dont hold out on me thats rude
CG: A SKYSCRAPER HAS BEEN TOPPLED. WE ARE IN NEED OF ASSISTANCE.
TG: couldnt reach it on your own?
CG: YOU'RE THE ONE WHO BUILT IT SO FLYING WAS NECESSARY FOR EFFICIENT MAINTENANCE.
TG: its okay nubs
TG: everyone has areas a little out of reach
TG: ill be right down
-- turntechGodhead [TG] ceased pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG] at ??:??--
John might be Dave’s best friend, but he’s a hard person to miss. Even cut off from his communication, John-ness radiates from what Dave has of him, and the vacuum where he isn’t is far from pressing.
When Dave manages to find a movie that’s almost (but not exactly - never exactly) National Treasure, he misses John painfully. When he's scanning through pesterlogs for proof of something or the other, and he goes too far, he can see each and every conversation with John like it's just outside his window. When Dave meets dead Johns in dreambubbles, he can feel the fact that John is gone for the next hour or so.
But when he moves away from those moments, there is none of that. John's presence is so corporeal that Dave always knew whether or not he was interacting with John. With Rose, her presence spreads into everything she is. With Bro, his presence lingers far past his physical form. With Jade, her presence breaths and spreads beyond herself. But John maintains his boundaries, clean as his two buck teeth.
It's hard to pretend that John is missing when he simply never was, at least not on the meteor.
Maybe that's why Dave doesn't take up Rose on her offers of not quite, never quite drinks. Rose has everything to miss. When she's not drunk, there's a longing behind her eyes, and Dave is almost sure he's caught her listening to the sound of a vacuum, just for white noise. Dave takes solace in the fact that Bro has never left a note on the meteor, never left his fingerprints somewhere Dave will have to find them. She lost her promise of the future - Rose and Jade were going to go to college together, if things worked out, or at least nearby. Dave gained a future for the first time, or maybe he just realized he could make choices.
Still, in moments of quiet, the lack of someone to miss is just as striking. Logically, Dave knows that he misses John, but it's hard to actively miss him. Not when John is so clearly not. Karkat is funny, but not because he makes jokes. Karkat likes horrible movies, but he doesn't think they're good. Terezi doesn't think Dave is cool, even if she says that. No one here has the same unfaltering innocence that John had.
Like a cauterized wound, it's hard to miss someone you aren't constantly reminded of. Dave never got a chance to photograph the four of them, so he has no pictures to hang in his room.
(If part of it is that Dave is too busy being relieved, he doesn't know what from. There's an absence of everything on the meteor, not just John, and a sense of collective mourning towards the mass of grief. Dave has no right to consider himself lucky to be free of anything, and he doesn't.)
-- tentacleTherapist [TT] began pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG] at ??:??--
CG: WELL, THIS IS UNEXPECTED.
CG: YOU HAVEN'T BOTHERED ME SINCE WE CANCELLED THE LITERATURE EXCHANGE.
TT: I do feel bad about that.
TT: However, I do not think wallowing in the vestiges of a dying culture was aiding me, and I was fooling myself into believing otherwise.
TT: I still appreciate the facilitated translations.
TT: Alternian literature, when viewed under an Earth lense, is fascinating.
CG: YOUR EARTH BOOKS WERE SIMPLISTIC AT BEST, AND MOST CONFLICTS WOULD'VE BEEN RESOLVED BY SIMPLY CONSIDERING MORE APPROPRIATE QUADRANTS.
TT: I recall you admitting at one point that quadrants would've created more tension.
TT: Benefit of the doubt aside, I do have a literary related concern for you.
TT: I seem to have misplaced a book, and was wondering if you still have any.
CG: I DEFINITELY DO, BUT I THINK MOST OF THEM ARE COPIES.
CG: IT WOULD HELP IF YOU COULD REVEAL THE TITLE.
TT: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
CG: YOU NEVER SHARED THAT WITH ME.
CG: WAIT, ISN'T THAT THE WIZARDS SERIES THAT DAVE MENTIONED?
CG: YOU HATE WIZARDS.
TT: It is more of a comfort novel.
TT: My copy has annotations.
TT: I don't think I could replace it.
CG: CAN'T REANALYZE A BOOK FOR YOUR STUPID PHALLIC IMAGERY?
TT: Ah, they were actually my mother's annotations.
TT: She cross-analyzed it for both universal consistency and realism.
TT: The book is not quite the same without her drunken scrawl on every page.
CG: WELL, I DON'T HAVE IT.
CG: I'LL HELP YOU LOOK, THOUGH.
TT: That would be appreciated.
CG: I UNDERSTAND.
CG: I ALMOST LOST MY FIRST GAME GRUB A WHILE AGO.
CG: SOLLUX GAVE IT TO ME, AND THE DAMN THING ALMOST WRECKED MY COMPUTER.
CG: BUT AFTER I FIXED IT THE GAME HAD MOST OF THE UNLOCKS AVAILABLE.
CG: HALF ALIVE ISN'T ALIVE ENOUGH TO REDO THAT.
TT: Nor is all-dead alive enough to remake annotations.
TT: It doesn’t have the same effect when you read it in a dreambubble, either.
TT: They’re too unstable.
CG: NOR PRIVATE.
CG: HAVE YOU ASKED KANAYA YET?
TT: She mostly stays out of my room, and the only other person who reads Earth books is Dave, who has a clear anti-Harry Potter stance.
TT: Especially for the last book.
CG: HE'S TOLD ME ALL ABOUT IT'S "obviously forced heteronormativity i mean if that were a person this would be a case for rape"
CG: STILL, IT MIGHT BE WORTH CHECKING IN WITH BOTH OF THEM.
CG: ALL OF US SEEM TO BE BREAKING OUT OF OUR HABITS.
TT: Thank you.
TT: Oh, and before I forget.
TT: I still have a few of your movies. I'll bring them by to you.
CG: THOSE PIECES OF SHIT? YOU'RE WELCOME TO KEEP THEM.
TT: See you in a few, Karkat.
-- tentacleTherapist [TT] ceased pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG] at ??:??--
Dave has never really had people. His brother raised him on a diet of anger and venom. His friends were cold and digital. They might have been close, but they were never the type he could call in the middle of the night.
He didn't mean to fall headfirst into this. He didn't mean to meet friends who didn't even share the same number of chromosomes as him. He didn't mean to let everything he came from fade as easily as the dreambubbles. He didn't mean to land on his feet.
He wasn't sure what he expected for himself, but he was sure he was never going to be any more involved in people. He's always known himself as a loner. That's why his brother pulled him out of public school and why his only friends were online and why the first time Rose taps him on the shoulder, he tries to attack her.
(He remembers that moment. She didn't try to stop him. It's not that she was too drunk to care. She just didn't stop him. She just waited. And he stopped. And she wasn't mad.)
He's not sure what he expected for himself, but this wasn't it.
Because Dave has never really had people, and now he does.