Chapter

25

KARKAT: SWIFER

KARKAT: SWIFER CAN YOU...

Karkat winces as the ground above him shakes and a scattering of dirt and debris rains down from the roof of the cave. His fledgling rebellion has found cover in the spiderweb network of tunnels running to and from the troll capital originally built to accommodate the transit of incestuous slurry from the boonies to the Mother Grub. Though technically regarded as a critical infrastructure project, the caves have never been used or appropriately surveyed by the world government. Back when all were on better terms, Jane was gracious enough to believe the maps Kanaya handed over were anything approaching accurate. With the tunnel entrances at the brood pit sealed, the rebellion was safe for now. But the presidential drones were testing the grounds relentlessly: closer and closer every day now.

It’s not the dirt that’s bothering him. Dirt is something you get used to, living hand-to-mouth inside a cave. It’s that persistent fucking leak directly above his desk that is driving him to distraction.

KARKAT: SWIFER!

Swifer Eggmop pokes her head into the chamber.

SWIFER: Aye aye Commander! What’s up?

Karkat pinches the bridge of his nose.

KARKAT: FOR THE LAST TIME, DON’T CALL ME THAT.

SWIFER: Why not, Commander? Yer the Commander, ain’t you?

KARKAT: NO, I AM NOT THE “COMMANDER.”

KARKAT: DID I EVER ASK TO BE IN CHARGE?

KARKAT: DID I EVER ACCEPT AN OFFICIAL APPOINTMENT FROM SOME OSTENTATIOUS MILITARY BOARD?

KARKAT: HAVE I EVER SUCCESSFULLY LED A CAMPAIGN AGAINST THE INCREASINGLY OPPRESSIVE REGIME THAT WE SUFFER UNDER ON A DAILY BASIS?

KARKAT: THE ANSWER TO ALL OF THESE QUESTIONS IS CATEGORICALLY AND CATASTROPHICALLY: FUCK. NO.

SWIFER: Well gee, Commander. I think it’s more of a symbolic title, representin’ how much faith everyone has in you.

KARKAT: WHAT FUCKING FAITH?

KARKAT: AS JUST DISCUSSED I HAVEN’T DONE A DAMN THING TO EARN ANYONE’S FAITH.

KARKAT: SO FAR ALL THIS “TROLL REBELLION” HAS AMOUNTED TO IS A WHOLE LOT OF DICK ALL, WITH AN ADDITIONAL SIDE SERVING OF JACK SQUAT, FOLLOWED UP BY A FINAL COURSE OF GETTING TO WATCH OUR TOP ANALYST, CLIPER BORDEN, BEING FORCED TO DANCE TO AVOID LIFE IMPRISONMENT IN A LABOR CAMP ON LIVE TELEVISION AND MAKING A COMPLETE ASS OF HIMSELF.

Karkat gestures toward the display screen showing a commercial for the next episode of Doing the Charleston with Notable Social Figureheads: Stars Versus Enemies of the State, with Your Host Jake English. Swifer’s taciturn broodmate Cliper is indeed making an absolute fool of himself in the recap from the previous week’s show, failing to keep time with the jaunty beat and struggling to knock his knees together with the required vigor. The fact that he is shackled at the wrists doesn’t seem to be helping.

SWIFER: Poor Cliper.

SWIFER: He could record a stat like nobody’s business but no one ever taught the boy how to dance.

SWIFER: If only we knew, this all coulda been avoided.

KARKAT: NO!

KARKAT: HE SHOULDN’T HAVE TO DANCE IF HE DOESN’T WANT TO.

KARKAT: THAT’S WHAT THIS IS ALL ABOUT SWIFER.

SWIFER: Oh.

KARKAT: BUT WHAT’S THE POINT IF I CAN’T EVEN SAVE ONE OF MY LIEUTENANTS FROM MORTIFYING PUBLIC EMBARRASSMENT FOLLOWED BY A LIFETIME OF HARD LABOR IN THE CAKE MILLS?

KARKAT: IF I CAN’T PROTECT MEMBERS OF THE SO-CALLED RESISTANCE FROM THE FICKLE AND CRUEL VAGARIES OF JANE’S INSANE, PASTRY-BASED SHADOW DICTATORSHIP, HOW ARE WE SUPPOSED TO PROTECT THE COMMON PEOPLE?

Swifer frowns and tugs at the kerchief around her neck.

SWIFER: Golly. Look Commander. That’s a big question that I think you gotta take up with someone more in the know than myself.

SWIFER: I just swif the floors.

KARKAT: OH, YEAH. RIGHT.

KARKAT: SPEAKING OF WHICH.

KARKAT: THE LEAK IN THE CEILING?

Karkat throws both hands in the air melodramatically. A drop of stale water plops off one of his nubby little horns.

KARKAT: YOU KNOW, RIGHT ABOVE THE PLACE WHERE WE KEEP ALL OF OUR FRAGILE LOGISTICS EQUIPMENT?

KARKAT: DIDN’T I TELL YOU TO FIX THAT A FUCKING WEEK AGO?

SWIFER: Well sir you told me to “take care of it” and I sure as heck took care of it!

KARKAT: THEN WHY IS IT STILL LEAKING?

SWIFER: Oh. By “fix” you meant that you wanted me to plug the crack!

KARKAT: WHAT THE HELL DID YOU THINK I MEANT?

SWIFER: I thought you meant for me to mop up the water that had gathered...

SWIFER: And then use that water to swif the bejeebus out of the floors.

SWIFER: Which is, by all accounts, what I did.

Karkat gapes at her, open-mouthed. She grins back, unaware of any mistake on her part. The only thing he can do is bury his face in his palms.

KARKAT: UGH.

KARKAT: YOU KNOW WHAT?

KARKAT: I’M GOING TO GET SOME FRESH AIR.

KARKAT: BY THE TIME I GET BACK I EXPECT THE HOLE IN THE CEILING TO BE “““SWIFED””” THE FUCK CLOSED.

KARKAT: OR AT THE VERY LEAST

KARKAT: PUT A FUCKING BUCKET UNDER THE LEAK OR SOMETHING.

SWIFER: Sir! Oh my gosh! A bucket? Sh-should we be seen...

SWIFER: Consortin’ with a bucket?

SWIFER: *Together*??

KARKAT: OH MY GOD.

KARKAT: GROW THE FUCK UP, EGGMOP.

He stalks past his blushing assistant with a belabored sigh. Karkat has lived with humans for so long that he’s grown used to seeing buckets regularly defiled. Now that he thinks about it, he realizes Jade has used more buckets to grow snap peas in her living room than any troll has used for the purposes of reproduction in the entire history of Earth C. The bucket taboo is largely emblematic at this point. An empty signifier for an endangered culture.

As he stomps through the winding tunnels, thinking very hard about this incredibly tragic thing, his speaker crab crackles to life.

KANAYA: Well

KANAYA: That Was A Lot

KARKAT: OH SHIT.

KARKAT: I DIDN’T REALIZE YOU WERE STILL ON THE LINE.

KANAYA: We Hadnt Finished Our Conversation About The Clandestine Transportation Of The Mother Grub

KANAYA: Which I Hope You Realize Is Still An Operation Of Grave Importance At Least On Par With The Terrible Threat Of The Leak In Your Office

KARKAT: SORRY. I KIND OF HAVE A LOT GOING ON RIGHT NOW.

KANAYA: I Can See That

KANAYA: Please Do Not Be So Hard On Swifer She Really Does Try Her Best

KARKAT: YEAH. I KNOW.

KARKAT: TO BE HONEST THAT WASN’T ABOUT SWIFER AT ALL. OR EVEN ABOUT THE LEAK.

KANAYA: Yes Karkat That Was Obvious

KANAYA: Rose And I Have Been Following The Dance Off Tribunals Very Closely This Month

KANAYA: Your Lieutenant Does Not Have A Chance

KANAYA: But Do Not Let It Weigh Heavily On You

KANAYA: Everyone Who Joins The Rebellion Knows That Being Exiled To The Cake Mills Is A Very Real Possibility If They Are Caught

KANAYA: That Includes You Karkat

KANAYA: If You Bear The Responsibility For The Lives Of Every Member Of The Rebellion Youll Crack Under The Stress

KANAYA: And As Much As You Are Loath To Admit It

KANAYA: You Are The Face Of This Movement

KARKAT: YEAH.

KARKAT: I HATE IT, BUT YOU’RE RIGHT.

KARKAT: FUCK YOU, YOU’RE ALWAYS RIGHT.

KANAYA: As My Wife Likes To Tell Me Often

KARKAT: UGH. FUCK HER, SHE’S ALWAYS RIGHT TOO.

KARKAT: HOW THE HELL DO YOU TWO TOLERATE EACH OTHER?

KANAYA: Quite Thoroughly Enthusiastically And Often

KARKAT: WOW. UGH. OK.

KARKAT: THAT’S ENOUGH OF YOU FOR TODAY.

KANAYA: Oh I Am Sorry I Did Not Mean To Rub My Interspecies Happiness In Your Face I Understand That Its A Sore Subject

KARKAT: THE ONLY THING THAT’S SORE IS MY EAVESDROP FUNNELS FROM LISTENING TO YOUR ENDLESS MOTHERING.

KANAYA: Karkat I Am Sure That If You Were To Just

KARKAT: DON’T

KANAYA: Call Dave And Ask Him To Join You...

KARKAT: WOW, IS THAT ANOTHER CAVE-IN I HEAR HAPPENING SUDDENLY ALL AROUND ME?

KANAYA: He Would Be At Your Side Instantly

KARKAT: KANAYA WE’RE BEING OVERRUN BY IMPERIAL DRONES! IT’S HORRIBLE! THERE’S DEATH AND FIRE EVERYWHERE, AND ALSO I CAN’T HEAR A FUCKING WORD YOU’RE SAYING, SO IF YOU WERE TO EVER TO ATTEMPT TO REFERENCE THIS CONVERSATION IN THE FUTURE I WOULD HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT

KARKAT: SO IT WOULD PROBABLY BE BEST FOR EVERYONE INVOLVED IF YOU’D DROP THE SUBJECT AND NEVER MENTION IT AGAIN!

KANAYA: Okay Karkat Have A Good Walk Ill Talk To You About The Mother Grub Tomorrow

KANAYA: Goodbye And Take Care

KARKAT: OH. YEAH. YOU TAKE CARE TOO. TALK TO YOU TOMORROW.

Karkat makes extra-triple sure that he’s actually hung up on Kanaya for real this time, by fiddling with the tiny claw on his speaker crab until it’s in the off position. The action of tuning his outdated wristwatch is interrupted by another earthquake rumbling around him. This one sounds different, however. He knows the sound of a drone strike like the back of his hand by now. It’s a low, creeping bellow that pulses through the ground in waves. This sounds more like an impact that left a crater. The last time something struck the planet that hard, it was Jade’s creepy undead corpse.

Karkat runs for the nearest exit and cautiously pokes his head out into the clearing above. There’s a figure in the smoke: her stumbling silhouette includes an unmistakable pair of horns. She takes two steps out of her crater before falling flat on her face again. Karkat runs to help her, putting her arm over his shoulders and dragging her out of the dust cloud from the impact.

KARKAT: MEENAH??

KARKAT: WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING HERE?

Meenah blinks up at him with a pair of eyes that seem different to him somehow, but he can’t put his finger on it. He has to admit, it’s been a long time since he saw her. She seems singed, woozy, but mostly undamaged.

MEENAH: woah shouty mcnubs that you

KARKAT: UH, THAT’S STILL NOT MY NAME. BUT YEAH.

MEENAH: nice

KARKAT: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO FIGHTING LORD ENGLISH?

KARKAT: DID THAT WORK OUT OR... WHAT?

MEENAH: nah it was a total wash

KARKAT: OH.

Karkat continues inspecting her without much concern for coming across as weird. He knows something’s off about her, he just can’t figure out what. Then a reflective gleam catches his eye. A gold ring on her finger. He glances back up to look in her eyes. They aren’t blank, like all the other fallen ghosts’ eyes are.

KARKAT: WAIT A MINUTE.

KARKAT: ARE YOU...

KARKAT: ALIVE???

MEENAH: yeah bitch

MEENAH: im back 38)

KARKAT: WHERE THE FUCK DID YOU GET THAT RING?

KARKAT: WAIT, YOU DIDN’T...

KARKAT: MEENAH, DID YOU ROB CALLIOPE?!

MEENAH: who

KARKAT: THE GIRL WITH THE HIDEOUS GREEN SKULL FOR A HEAD.

KARKAT: THAT WAS HER RING. I WAS UNDER THE IMPRESSION SHE NEEDED THAT TO LIVE!

MEENAH: oh

MEENAH: nah man

MEENAH: its not hers i got it from some other total sucker

KARKAT: WHO???

MEENAH: dont matter

MEENAH: complete bonehead chump you aint be hearin from again

KARKAT: MEENAH, ARE YOU FUCKING LYING TO ME.

MEENAH: nubs i wouldnt do that to you

MEENAH: not after all this time

MEENAH: ya girls fine this shits my own damn ring

MEENAH: capisces?

Karkat side-eyes the revived heiress, flinching only slightly at that last pun, before offering a reluctant nod.

MEENAH: what are you up to?

KARKAT: WELL...

KARKAT: THAT’S LIKE, A WHOLE FUCKING EXPLANATION.

MEENAH: splain awave nubby

KARKAT: I’M SORT OF IN THE MIDDLE OF STAGING A WIDE SCALE GRASSROOTS REBELLION AGAINST AN INCREASINGLY AUTHORITARIAN GLOBAL HEGEMONY THAT IS OPPRESSING OUR PEOPLE.

MEENAH: hmm

Meenah leans in, assessing Karkat with a rapacious, shark-toothed grin. It seems that whatever she’s seeing in this older, battle-hardened version of Karkat impresses her. She starts laughing, big and bright. She slaps him so hard on the shoulder that he nearly falls down.

KARKAT: ACK.

MEENAH: now thats what im TALKIN about

MEENAH: yeah i could use a new seacond in command

KARKAT: ACTUALLY, YOU’D BE *MY* SECOND IN COMMAND.

KARKAT: NO OFFENSE OR ANYTHING, BUT MY FACE IS ALREADY ON ALL THE POSTERS.

KARKAT: ALSO I DON’T EXACTLY HAVE THE MOST CONFIDENCE IN YOUR COMMAND ABILITIES CONSIDERING THE LAST TIME I SAW YOU, YOU WERE TALKING BIG ABOUT HOW YOU WERE GOING TO TAKE DOWN LORD ENGLISH, AND NOW YOU’RE EATING DIRT ON OUR SHITTY NEW PLANET LOOKING PRETTY FUCKING DEFEATED.

KARKAT: BUT TO BE HONEST, I NEED ALL THE HELP I CAN GET.

MEENAH: oh yea no problem

MEENAH: ill be your fuckin second guy

KARKAT: YOU WILL?

MEENAH: flip yes

KARKAT: WOW

MEENAH: yeah dude just point me at where the actions at i dont even give a fuck

MEENAH: water the orders boss

KARKAT: OK THIS IS LIKE

KARKAT: I’M NOT EVEN SURE HOW TO SAY THIS?

KARKAT: I’M ACTUALLY REALLY FLATTERED, AND KIND OF SINCERELY HONORED THAT YOU OF ALL PEOPLE WANT TO FOLLOW ME?

KARKAT: IT’S LIKE, COMPLETELY NOT AT ALL WHAT I...

MEENAH: youre ruining it dude

KARKAT: OH

KARKAT: FUCK. SORRY.

KARKAT: I MEAN...

KARKAT: HEY!

KARKAT: FISH ASSHOLE!

MEENAH: who me

KARKAT: YES FUCKING YOU. THE FALLEN FASCIST DIPSHIT WITH THE STOLEN RING.

KARKAT: GET THE *FUCK* IN LINE, BEFORE I *PUT* YOU IN LINE!

MEENAH: oh

MEENAH: oh wow

MEENAH: Y-ES

MEENAH: Y---ES SIR!!! 38D

Karkat reaches out and takes her hand. She has a very firm handshake. So firm that Karkat winces an eye shut when she squeezes and hopes that she doesn’t notice how much his smile has turned into a grimace.

Above them, the sky tears open again, and again. A new wave of ghosts pours in from Meenah’s doomed assault.

MEENAH: well here comes the caviarlry

KARKAT: THE WHAT?

MEENAH: the cavia—

KARKAT: I’M ALSO FUCKING ORDERING YOU TO STOP MAKING GARBAGE FISH PUNS FOREVER.

> ==>
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