Our Lives On Holiday: Chapter 2

TA: you know were ju2t batteriie2 and war machiine2
TA: or what diid you ju2t thiink that aa and ii are paniickiing about a2cen2iion for 2hiit2 and giiggle2

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Happy bribe, Fi! And by happy I mean really depressing and self-destructive, and by bribe I mean Sollux.

This thing is apparently a longfic now. Homestuck fandom, why can’t I quit you.

CC: So )(ow’s it going wit)( Karcrab?
TA: ugh dont even get me 2tarted on kk
TA: he 2tiill refu2e2 two admiit anythiing ii2 wrong
TA:  2ollux you fuck2quattiing bull2hiittiing piile of tra2h iit’2 not even goiing two matter untiil a2cen2iion 2o quiit riidiing my bulge over iit
CC: )(a)(a! Sands like Karcrab!
CC: Maybe he’s got his own plans? S—-EACR-ET ones!
TA: ii2 that a hiint
CC: Naut reely. You know I don’t talk to )(im muc)(.
CC: But Ascension its)(ellf isn’t suc)( a big fin, you know?
CC: —Efin if I take over, it won’t be offis)(oal for sweeps and SW—-E——EPS!
CC: Naut until I can defeat Condesce.
CC: Being conc)(est, Karcrab mig)(t be D-EAD by t)(en.
TA: waiit w)(at
TA: ff w)(at makes you thiink that
CC: W)(ale, s)(e’s been gone FOR——EV—-ER! S)(e probably doesn’t efin R-E—-ELIS-E we’re at Ascension!
CC: It’s going to be a w)(ile before s)(e can make it back from the ot)(er side of the UNIV—-ERS——E.
TA: holy 2hiit
TA: ff do you not know how thii2 work2
CC: W)(at do you minnow? 38/
TA: 2he2 got a p2iioniic poweriing her 2hiip
TA: 2he can go a2 fa2t a2 2he want2 iif 2he whiip2 them hard enough
CC: W)(at?
TA: dont what me
TA: you know were ju2t batteriie2 and war machiine2
TA: or what diid you ju2t thiink that aa and ii are paniickiing about a2cen2iion for 2hiit2 and giiggle2
CC: I T)(OUG)(T you were worried about Karcrab!
CC: And that Araydia was worried about Tavros!
CC: Solelux, I have N-EV—-ER t)(oug)(t of you as a battery!
— twinArmageddons [TA] has ceased trolling cuttlefishCuller [CC] —
CC: Sollux?

Your hands are shaking.

You­ stand up with extreme deliberance, cross through your tiny hive to the nutrition block, and open the thermal hold. It’s embarassingly bare, with  only two large jars of honey, one half-empty. You’ll harvest your silicomb hives soon enough, but this should be enough to feed your lusus for the next few nights. You’ll probably have to order in some honey to tide things over until your bees produce enough to harvest again.

You decant some honey onto a plate, wide and shallow so Bicyclops doesn’t get his hand stuck in a jar like he did once in your fifth sweep. Instead of going up the shared staircase of the hivestem and forcing the door open, you climb out the window and push up against the sill.

Once you’ve fed him, Bicyclops is sedate. You take off the chains and replace them one by one after making sure they haven’t chafed or bruised him. The ritual and routine of the actions fills your mind, and you let yourself sink into it so you don’t have to think.

You’re brought out of it by your phone buzzing. Since Eridan is officially your kismesis now, you saw fit to give him unfettered access to you, and you and Aradia have worked out over the sweeps that you’ll still respond to your phone buzzing even if you’re stuck in a depressive episode.

It’s meant to be for if she – or Eridan, now – needs you.

CA: is there a reason that fef
CA: wwho hasnt said a goddamn wword to me after evverythin
CA: is askin me about helmsmen
CA: an is that reason sollux captor is an asshole

You stare at your phone. Feferi told Eridan she’d stick a fork through his ribs if he ever spoke to her again. You think he redeemed himself a little, during the whole FLARP thing, and by still bringing her lusii, but…

The thing about Eridan is that he does things for his own gain. Feferi knows that better than anyone.

TA: what are you telliing her
CA: wwell wwhen a hunk a metal an a psionic feel strongly about each other
CA: wwhat the fuck do you think im tellin her
CA: you need to talk to her about this
TA: why

There’s a long silence. You shove your phone back in your pocket and scratch Bicyclops’ right chin. He can pick up on your mood through lusii superpowers, and he’s starting to get riled up. You can feel the edges of a manic period coming on, and you don’t want to deal with this when you can’t stop words from flowing out your fingers.

Which really means you should deal with it now.

Your phone buzzes again and Bicyclops makes a displeased sound, a growl in stereo. You pat him as you read.

CA: because wwe had a fuckin gentlemans agreement sol
CA: fef
CA: throne
TA: oh my god 2hut up
CA: do you really wwant fef to be in charge wwithout knowwin wwhat she’s gettin into
TA: here2 an iidea
TA: how about you 2hut the fuck up over un2ecured connectiion2.
CA: clearly im just talkin about our wweekly stitch an bitch sessions sol
CA: get your panties outta a twwist
TA: fuck you
TA: fuck everythiing
CA: so youll do it then
TA: yes ii wiill fuckiing talk two ff
TA: ii would have thought youd want that honour though
CA: sol
CA: one day i am goin to cut your fingers off so you cant keep usin them to shovve your foot in your mouth

He goes offline after that. Things didn’t go well in Seadweller Reunion Land, then.

You double-check Bicyclops’ chains and take your plate back. On the way back down to your segment of the hivestem, you think of what to tell Feferi and how to say it.

You research Helmsmen. You do it out of a sick, sad compulsion to know exactly what will happen to you. You spent a night marking the points of your body where ports would be placed, of drawing lines around limbs and appendages that would be cut off. You have reams and reams of medical notes, psychothereaping notes, statistics on survival rates, studies on matching ships and subjects – you’d power a battleship, battery and war machine all in one, unless you can fake your power rating.

You know all this. There are walls built out of The Way It’s Always Been and the only way you can escape this fate is a complete revolution of Alternian society. The only way Aradia can escape this fate and be where she should be, on terra firma with mud ground into her skirt and trowel in hand, is a complete revolution.

Sometimes you think it might just be easier to go along with the way things are, but, perversely, you hear AA’s voice in your doom-prophet head sometimes and… it’s comforting. You want to keep hearing it, not have her lost forever to Helmsman duty. She never asks about her fate, and so you don’t listen too hard, but it’s still good to know that life will be normal for her, for whatever fucked-up version of normal exists for you two.

Trollian is blinking at you when you wake up your screen.  This is your life. It’s already not far removed from the life of a Helmsman.

— cuttlefishCuller [CC] started trolling twinArmageddons [TA] —
CC: Would it be so bad?
CC: W)(ale, I guess the fact that -Eridan won’t tell me a single fin means it would be!
CC: But if it was voluntary. Would ANYON-E volunteer?
TA is sending file 2uper2ecretre2earch2hiit.zip
TA: 2tart wiith the thereapiing record2
TA: #22 ii2 partiicularly exemplary
TA: there are 2ummariie2

You leave her to it. #22 ‘volunteered’ for Helmsman duty, so much as anyone can volunteer. She did it to stay close to her moirail. The moirail killed the Captain of her ship, took over through Dead Man’s Shoes, and dumped #22. #22, having been wired into a ship for a troll who no longer needed her, burned herself out in the middle of nowhere through a feedback loop that shouldn’t have existed.

By the time the ship was found, floating in the middle of dead space, the only things left were the records.

— carcinoGeneticist [CG] has started trolling twinArmageddons [TA] —
CG: SOLLUX, YOU BLITHERING SACK OF UNQUIET DEAD, IF YOU DO NOT RESPOND WITHIN THE NEXT FIVE SECONDS I’M GOING TO ASSUME THAT YOU’VE BECOME A REVENANT AND YOUR BUILDING NEEDS TORCHING BEFORE YOU SEDUCTIVELY MOAN ALL OF YOUR PLANS TO THE FIRST PUSTULE OF BAD SENSE THAT SHOWS CONCUPISCENT INTEREST IN YOUR ROTTED GLUTEAL FLESH DEPOSITS.

After skimming KK’s screed, you have determined that he has heard the news about you and Eridan and does not particularly approve. You can’t resist yanking his chain a little more. It takes your mind off of Feferi’s new schoolfeeding subject, at least.

TA: wow kk the one thiing ii dont need and you got iit for me
TA: you are the be2t at a2hen advance2
TA: iit ii2 you
CG: I AM SO DISGUSTED AND APPALLED BY THAT SUGGESTION THAT I THINK I JUST WENT PALE FOR YOU BECAUSE YOU THOUGHT IT WAS A VIABLE OPTION. PLEASE TELL ARADIA TO VACATE MY QUADRANT EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY, I NEED TO SHOOSHPAP YOUR DISGUSTING LISPY FACE.
TA: ii would pay good money two 2ee you and aa fiightiing iit out over me
CG: I KNOW YOU WOULD, YOU DEGENERATE. STOP TRYING TO DISTRACT FROM YOUR ROMANTIC FAILINGS BY POINTING OUT HOW YOU MAGICALLY FELL ASS-BACKWARDS INTO A PERFECT MOIRALLEGIANCE.
TA: 2orry kk but aa made me 2iign a contract
TA: ii have two 2ay how hot 2he ii2 at lea2t twiice a niight two you
TA: ju2t you
CG: FOR FUCK’S SAKE.
TA: ii thiink 2he want2 two mudwre2tle
CG: SOLLUX.
TA: naked
CG: NO.
CG: FOCUS. ERIDAN AMPORA, RUINING MY PLANS TO RUN AWAY AND LIVE A FRUITFUL LIFE AMONGST THE CUD-CHEWERS, SCREWING OVER THE ONLY PERSON WHO WILL TALK TO YOU ABOUT YOUR FRANKLY DISTURBING SEDIMENTARY WANKBANK.
TA: were a thiing ii gue22
CG: YOU GUESS.
TA: iidk kk
CG: YOU *GUESS*.
CG: DO YOU NOT KNOW IF YOU’RE SUBJECTING ME TO THE RISK OF BEING FOUND OUT BY A CASTEIST, GENOCIDAL IDIOT WITH MORE DOOMSDAY DEVICES THAN COMMON SENSE?
CG: BECAUSE I WILL KILL MYSELF NOW. I WILL WALK INTO THE MOST POPULOUS AREA I KNOW AND TRY TO GET MY BLOOD ON AS MANY PEOPLE AS I CAN WHILE SCREAMING ABOUT NEVER BEING ACCEPTED. I WILL TURN MY DEATH INTO A MOVING AND TRAGIC EVENT THAT EVERYONE WILL SPEAK OF IN HUSHED TONES FOR SWEEPS TO COME. SOMEONE WILL START A FUNDRAISER.
TA: kk you liike eriidan
TA: you have moviie niight2 wiith hiim a2 often a2 you have coffee date2 wiith kn
TA: you player
TA: ii thought you wanted me pale
CG: I WANT TO NEVER HAVE MET YOU.
TA: iit2 fiine
TA: ed2 not goiing two 2crew you over
TA: a2 far a2 ii know he2 at the 2tage where he thiink2 youre ju2t weiird-weiird in2tead of mutant-weiird
TA: iif youd tell me your 2ecret plan2 ii could make 2ure that nobody ii2 goiing two 2crew you over iincludiing me by acciident
TA: or you could ju2t
TA: you know
TA: accept my help liike a 2en2iible troll
TA: or tz2
TA: or ed2
TA: or anyone where you have an actual chance of not endiing up dead
CG: WE’VE TALKED ABOUT THIS.
TA: whoop2 ii gue22 were talkiing about iit agaiin
TA: kk we both know iim the one wiith the 2hiitty deathwii2h 2o what2 your excu2e
CG: IF I CAN’T MAKE IT ON MY OWN LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE DOES, IT DOESN’T COUNT.
CG: ASCENSION IS WHEN WE’RE JUDGED.
TA: tell me you dont have 2ome 2hiitty moviie plotliine fanta2y of beiing an underdog and proviing your2elf 2o iindii2pen2iible you cant be culled
TA: hey ii have a tiitle for you when you manage two fiight your way through the rank2
TA: ‘cullbaiit’
CG: GET YOUR SAD EXCUSE FOR A THINKPAN UNDER CONTROL, CAPTOR.
CG: AS THE POET ONCE SAID: CHECK YOURSELF BEFORE YOU WRECK YOURSELF.
— carcinoGeneticist [CG] has ceased trolling twinArmageddons [TA] —

You are fully capable of recognising that you could have managed that better. But somehow over the course of the last week - last night - last hour, it’s become clear that something is going to have to be done. Letting something happen to AA would be like cutting your hands off, or losing your psionics. You cannot imagine life without KK’s dumb grey text screaming at you.

The problem is that you’re passive. You’ve been slowly worming your way into the Imperial networks, but the drone files are backed up and synched almost instantly. Any changes need to be authorised and the ciphers change daily. You can tell it’s a Vigenere cipher, but the keys are complex enough that your computer can’t crack them in the few hours while they’re useful. Even secretly tapping into your neighbours for CPU cycles doesn’t help. It’s time to turn your focus elsewhere, but you can’t think of another way to get KK through than changing his status with the drone system.

Well. That’s the backup plan. The one that will be implemented in the stead of deposing Her Imperial Condescension. Every time you consider how much you and your friends need Feferi to succeed, a thin spike of fear drives through you. It’s good, though. It keeps you sharp. Without it you’d let things go and let things go until Ascension is here.

There’s half a sweep until Ascension. You don’t think it’s going to be enough.

CC: I’m S)(OR-E somefin more comfortable can be made!
CC: T)(is tech looks old 38/.
TA: iit ii2 NOT ABOUT the tech
CC: Sollux, I’m sorry.
CC: I )(ave to be -Empress for -EV—-ERYON-E, not just t)(e people I LIK-E.
CC: We’ve colonised so muc)( of nearby space that taking away interstellar travel would ruin us!
CC: I didn’t realise that the s)(ips were powered wit)( psionics, but t)(at doesn’t mean I can give t)(em up!
CC: Wit)( time we can come up wit)( somefin betta.

You stare blankly at the monitor. Time to a highblood means not in your lifetime.

AA would be such a perfect Helmsman. All it would take would be for some highblood with enough cash for a ship and a bottle of chloroform and by the time you knew it would be too late, again. You can’t do anything for her even when your own neck is on the line.

She’d… well, she’d probably just pity you more if she knew that you were even trying to protect her. Even though your powers are flashier, AA’s are more dependable. They don’t fuzz out when she gets a migraine, or flare in manic periods. They don’t wane away in depressive spirals. She’s far better-equipped than you, moody half-functional boy who almost murdered his moirail.

You are the worst-equipped person for negotiating with an Empress.

You crack your fingers one by one as you stare at Feferi’s words. They refuse to change.

CC: Sollux, please stop going awave.
CC: I need you, you know I do!
CC: W)(at if you oversaw t)(e c)(anges to t)(e s)(ellmsman system?

All of a sudden, you know what to do.

TA: not me
TA: aa
CC: Araydia? 38/
CC: You know moor about t)(e )(elmsmen t)(an s)(e does, don’t you?
TA: 2he can learn
TA: let2 be hone2t
TA: iif 2omeone wa2 made for beiing a mute piiece of hardware iit wa2 me
TA: beiing a helm2man would kiill aa
TA: 2he need2 freedom
TA: you take her on a2 advii2or and 2he’2 2uddenly protected a2 fuck
TA: fancy that
CC: -EF—ERRYON-E )(as you two wrong, don’t t)(ey?
CC: I wondered, you minnow. Ever since Eridan broug)(t )(er to me.
CC: You almost krilled her! But you’re not t)(e one t)(at needs pacifying.
CC: You’re working so )(ard just to make )(er )(appy!
CC: It’s ADORABUBBL—E, for a guilt complex.
TA: ju2t giive me a rea2on for wantiing you iin charge
TA: giive me one 2iign iit2 not goiing two be meet the new bo22 2ame a2 the old bo22
CC: I want to )(-ELP. It’s just going to be a long time, and t)(ere’s no c)(anging t)(at!
CC: I PROMIS—-E Aradia will N-EV-ER be a )(elmsman.
CC: I PROMIS—-E t)(at I will N-EV-ER make ANYON—-E unwilling and uncompensated do t)(e job.
TA: fiine
TA: giive my re2earch two aa and tell her what you want
TA: dont let her know iit came from me

Feferi agrees, and you finger the faded lines of marker along your arms that lie along a neural pathway. AA will figure out who did the research and berate you eventually, but by then you’ll hopefully have made all the difference you can.

The manic period hits hard later that night. You start six new ~ath projects and quit out of them after a few lines of code. You take ablutions and trim up your nails to make typing easier and run laundry to the shared hivestem facilities. You shamelessly open up the computers of everyone you know or who has ever shared a network with you and try another brute-force on the latest key, disguising the attack as heavy traffic to the shared storage - more specifically, the pale porn some idiot downloaded from the open net. You love idiots.

CA: sol
CA: are you evven fuckin alivve at this point
CA: wwhats fef talkin to me for
TA: ii’m great thank2 for a2kiing
TA: ii talked two fef
TA: fuck know2 why 2he’2 talkiing two you but hey don’t 2crew iit up
CA: wwhat
CA: howw
CA: oh my god i hate you
TA: you’re welcome
TA: come over and do me a favour

You meet Eridan at the door instead of just opening it with psionics, red and blue markers in hand. He’s confused when you hand them to him as you pull him inside, even more so as you pull your shirt over your head. The faint marks are still there from the last time you drew all over yourself, but even with a mirror and psionics it’s hard to do your back. This is where Eridan comes in.

“I come all a’ this way an’ you don’t even say hello,” he complains, unwinding his scarf.

You raise your eyebrows. “Do you care?” Before he can answer, you lie on your seating block on your stomach, exposing the full mess of circuitry that you managed to painstakingly draw the last time a manic episode hit you. “Here. Do it better. Thymmetrical, red on the right.”

“You are ten kinds a’ fuckin’ insane, Captor,” he says, and settles into straddling you. “Should I get a fuckin’ ruler for Your Grace?”

You gasp a little each time the pen touches your skin, too quiet for anyone to hear. You’ve thought about just getting the schematics tattooed on instead of redrawing them over and over, but the thought of getting the lines crooked makes that an impossibility. Eridan is firm with the pens, and you can tell that he’s drawing with a steady hand.

It’s a disappointment when he caps the red pen with a click that’s deafening in the silent space you had built for yourself. “If you’re goin’ to be wastin’ yourself on a Helmsman commission,” he says, and you can hear him sneering, “you’re goin’ to damn well be in my ship.”

You made your peace with your fate a long time ago. Intellectually, you know that it’s likely Feferi - untested, tiny, young - will lose to Condesce, and you’ll all lose alongside her. This, though, is a two-middle-fingers-and-a-fuck-you to that. You know the worst that can happen. It doesn’t scare you.

“Really?” you ask. And because nothing could fail you now, you roll off the couch and press Eridan against the floor. “Give me a reason why,” you say, and it echoes out to the world. All you needed was one good reason, and now you’ve got it. No matter what happens, AA is going to be fine.

Eridan bites you, and you don’t think you’ll mind going out with a bang.